Friday, February 09, 2007

One day

Okay, here is a very delayed answer to Arun's question what I actually do over a day. Let's take yesterday which makes a good example. Starts like this: BlackBerry beeps at 8 am with an invitation to a workshop. I accept, and spend the following 1/2 hour trying to open a window and get some fresh air into my apartment. Which turns out to be impossible because the window (sliding glass) is frozen shut from the outside. I have the ingenious idea to use a hair dryer, which involves first finding the extension cord (I find it in a box together with the book on vector analysis I've been searching for some months now). Reaching for the the upper rim of the window however, I fall from the bed, drop the dryer, and topple over the night desk. Which crashes the hair dryer. I tell myself it was a stupid idea anyhow. If the window is frozen shut better it's closed than open, no? Another email beeps in with a referee request from a Canadian Journal I've never heard of.

Since the outside temperature fell below -20 C last weekend, I've retreated to indoor running which is thoroughly depressing. After warming up with scratching off several layers ice from the car, I run some miles on the 'fast'-lane which means, well, faster than all the people from the retirement home who take their morning walk in circles. On the way back I stop at Starbucks, which provides quality time scribbling on napkins, and I convince myself that an idea I thought was dead isn't so dead after all. At 10:30 am the BlackBerry begins beeping frequently, that being about the time when comments on the blog start coming in. I remember there's a seminar at 11 am by Nima Arkani-Hamed where I meant to go. So, I rush home, take a shower. And realize to late I can't dry my hair because the stupid dryer is broken.

I arrive at PI 3 min to 11 with ice hanging from my head, grab a cup of coffee and go hear Nima's talk. Something about compactifying the standard model down to 2+1 dimensions with an argument why this implies the standard model also has a landscape problem. If someone could explain me why electrodynamics in 2 dimensions makes sense, and are the large dimensions stable? During the confusion drop, the dead idea that wasn't so dead at Starbucks dies again. I make some sketches for a new painting, and take a note to get coelin blue. Lunchtime: we discuss a colleagues almost finished paper - well, actually the problem whether it's too long, or too messy, or what is the correct use of the words 'proved' and 'proven'.

I squeeze in 15 minutes blogging which results in yesterday's plot about the apparent seminar duration, and check the new papers on the arxiv. At five to 2pm an email beeps in telling me there's a quantum gravity seminar where I should go, so I grab another coffee. While the speaker is explaining something about spin networks, I read the recent Discovery magazine, which has an interesting article about RHIC. After the seminar, I answer the emails that have accumulated during the day, even find some minutes to read my favourite blogs, and to leave more or less intelligent comments. I try to figure out how I best transfer a conference fee in Euro from Canada to Poland, and end up asking my mum.

At 4 pm there is the discussion group on foundations of quantum gravity, speaker yesterday Lee Smolin about the problem of time. As you should have noticed by now, time is a serious problem. But the seminar turns out to be one of the most interesting ones I've heard lately, despite or maybe because the somewhat unfinished and confused argumentation. In 90 minutes Lee raises enough questions to keep me occupied for the rest of my life. I still can't make up my mind whether or not the universe is just a mathematical machinery, but I settle on the opinion of time not being fundamental. At least temporarily.

On the way back from the seminar room, I bump into Simone who I meant to talk to regarding my workshop proposal for October. It turns out we agree on the important points, so I'll just submit the text as it is. I notice Simone is probably the only person in the world who can wear a bright green T-shirt in Canadian winter without looking either nuts or silly or both. Returning to my office I find the door shut and realize a) my key card is inside, and b) my office mate is in NYC, so I have to c) get the security guy to open the door - on the way to whom I d) come by my snail-mailbox where I find an enormous amount of past due bills for the BlackBerry (argh), and a note from the German Science Foundation in reply to* my email from last May (only 8 months processing time, that's progress). Back in my office, I eventually have time to read papers, look up some details, and take notes. Interrupted by phases of staring out of the window in a mode of California dreaming, and answering incoming phone calls on skype.

Thursday evening there's pub night at PI, where I go and have a glass of wine. Lucky me, I end up sitting with Lee and Nima. After one hour my not-so-Boltzmannian brain feels like a bubble of nothing and I leave early. Gee, there's a limit to the amount of new information I can process in one day! Back in my office I notice it's too late to stop by the artist store and get the blue I ran out of, but at least I buy a new hair dryer. While in the store I get an email regarding my last paper, which 'kindly draws my attention' to somebodies interesting (but completely unrelated) work, and would I please add a citation?

Back home I manage to burn dinner so completely the fire alarm goes off. Hey - this is a first, at least I know now that the alarm actually works. Unfortunately, I still can't open the window, so I open the door which prompts my neighbor to comment something about my cooking skills. The rest of the evening I push back and forth the undead idea, replying to an email every now and then, and fall asleep on the couch.

Summary: 50% accumulating input, 20% processing input, 10% administration, 10% complete waste of time, 10% quality working time

I should add though that thre sminars pr day is th xcption, this was a prtty busy day. Hy Arun, I'm still waiting for my supply of vowls. but I hop this answrs your qustion ;-)


Footnote: They have finally realized I'm not coming back.

27 comments:

cvj said...

Ha! That's a funny coincidence. I was writing a blog post earlier today about a "typical day", and then saved it mid-scribble and wrote an ILC post instead.

For a typical day, your 10% quality working time is quite an achievement actually... congratulations!

-cvj

cvj said...

Wait.... you have to pay for the Blackberry? I thought Perimeter made them available to all workers as part of the "package", and to glue you all together into one powerful collective hive mind. :-)

-cvj

Rae Ann said...

Your day sounds very interesting and exhausting. The hair dryer thing sounds like something that would happen to me too. ;-) If would write about my days but it wouldn't be so interesting.

Bee said...

Hi Clifford,

looking forward to reading about your typical day :-) I had a nightmare yesterday, I dreamt you had renamed and moved asymptotia.com and I couldn't find it. Regarding the BB: PI covers emails + general service, but since I don't have a land-line I use the BB as a cellphone which I pay for on my own (if I don't forget about it that is).

Hi Rae Ann,

if its entertaining it was at least good for something ;-)

Best,

B.

cow_gone_mad said...

I counted 3 coffees (If I suppose you took coffee at Starbucks), thats enough to keep you awake?
-H.

Bee said...

I'm not a coffee junkie, I dope with gummy bears and diet coke - had I mentioned every one of those, the post would have been twice as long. How did it go w the exams?

Bee said...

For a typical day, your 10% quality working time is quite an achievement actually... congratulations!

Indeed, if I compare myself to friends and colleagues I think I'm doing pretty good, and isn't that sad? Working in a private institute has the advantage that I don't have to teach. Though I don't mind teaching, right now I really appreciate the extra time. Think about what we could do if we had 50% quality time!

Best,

B.

cow_gone_mad said...

It went as good as possible, just I got a seminar sheduled for 16:00 (exam was at 11:00).
How cool is that? (Actually I much prefered that to it being today).

Cheers,
H.

cvj said...

"I had a nightmare yesterday, I dreamt you had renamed and moved asymptotia.com and I couldn't find it."

Oh Bee, don't worry. I've no plans to do that. If I were to, you'd be among the very first to know where it is. So you can sleep easily on that score.

I've blogged enough today, so I'll finish the typical day post some other time soon.... and write that other post we were discussing too. I can see a nice time window coming up.

Cheers,

-cvj

Lumo said...

Hi Bee,

we (the United States of America) send the best particle physicist to you (Canada) to report the newest key findings about the landscape to be a property of field theories (in 2+1D), too. You come to his seminar with frozen hair related to inside running and a stupid broken dreyer - surely you didn't mean Olaf - and then you focus, apparently for the rest of your life, on a crackpot talk about the problem of time.

Wouldn't it be a better idea for the U.S. not to throw pearls to the pigs, or what's the English counterpart of this saying? ;-)

Best wishes
Lubos

Bee said...

well, we (pigs) surely appreciate the shining brilliance of the pearl and its inspiring presence. time might come when I know what to do with his findings. as usual, I object on the word 'crackpot'.

If you (the US) harbor the pearls, we'll keep the pigs at bay. good for competition, bad for progress. Nima is the kind of guy I admire from a distance. Too much energy in one place for Mrs. Piggy.

Have a nice weekend (if you turn off the Cernettes I would consider reading your blog again).
Best,

B.

Lumo said...

Cernettes are cool, don't be so jealous. ;-) If the result of a few more weeks is to filter the readers to get a higher fraction of the music-loving nice people as opposed to the music-hating ones, it will be a pleasure to continue. ;-)

Bee said...

I don't mind music, it's just not so really enjoyable if it gets imposed on you when you'd prefer to read. If you want people to visit your blog because of the background tune instead of your writing, that's probably a good filter ;-) How about putting a player in the side-bar?

Uncle Al said...

Reserve a whole weekend and have a large freezer. 8 qt pots, big cans of stewed tomatoes, tomato paste, chili beans, spices, vegetables... Chubs of 20% fat ground beef (pour off the fat after browning; gravy separator), cheap London broil on sale. Lots of smallish rounded plastic bowls, plastic wrap.

Pot of meat and mushroom spaghetti sauce. Line plastic bowls with plastic wrap, fill with sauce, fold over and freeze. Pot of chili then refrigerate. Next day pop out the solid sauce, add label, cover tops with more plastic wrap, load the freezer. Apportion and freeze the chili. Make beef stew and refrigerate. Next day cycle beef stew into the lined bowls and make hamburger stroganoff (less the sour cream and noodles). Refrigerate than then freeze that.

Take a frozen lump out to defrost the night before. Cook up some rice or pasta, microwave the defrost, dump atop. There is a day or two of dinners.

Spaghetti sauce, chili, beef stew, hamburger stroganoff, eggplant parmesan, lasagna, bulgogi... Apportion, wrap in plastic, freeze. One full weekend of manic cooking and freezing will hold you for 2-3 months of good eating.

Reserve some time saved for letting dark chocolate melt in yor mouth.

Rob said...

read at Clifford's you wrote 'Theoretical physics in the 21st century isn’t done by lying under a tree waiting for the apple to drop. It’s a tough job.' Surely sounds like.

I am not a physicist but last year visited a friend postdoc in the USA (CA) thinking he won the jackpot being paid for an extended vacation overseas. didn't take long to realize I stole his last 10% quality time and he ended up working 150%. understand now better pressure on him. thanks for the post, very interesting, Bee should write more about daily life

-Rob

Arun said...

For this post, Bee, I owe you a year's supply of Es, or is it ease?

A question - would 30% quality working time and 30% input time (and corresponding less input processing time) make you into a "loner", or a "social outcast" in the physics community?

Another question - if compactifications of the standard model introduce a landscape problem, isn't that a general indication that compactification is a BAD idea? Banish them!

Bee said...

Hey Arun,

I'll try to steal some E's at your blog ;-)

A question - would 30% quality working time and 30% input time (and corresponding less input processing time) make you into a "loner", or a "social outcast" in the physics community?

Well, if you'd ask my colleagues they would tell you I am already a loner. But wait, I'm not a loner, I'm just an INTJ ;-)

The thing is that less input time doesn't mean less input processing time. It's just that insufficient processing time means for me I always have the impression that I missed something, didn't really understand something, and I'm left with questions over questions that I'd need more time for to sort out.

Maybe I am just too European, or belong into the last century, but imho the amount of time spent in seminars is generally too much - everywhere I've ever been (even though I belong to those who frequently skip seminars). That's maybe a problem of our rushing modern times, or I am just too slow. See, I am capable of playing with a new idea thrown at me, but I wouldn't want to work on it until I've really looked into the details on my own. That's most often a delay I don't have time for. Take e.g. Nima's talk. It's interesting. Might lead somewhere. Or might not. It will take some while for me to tell, but you know, you go to lunch with the guys and they expect you to say something intelligent.

But I don't think of quality time as being time spent alone. Indeed, I'd say equally important is the time spent in discussions and conversations with people who follow similar ideas. That's were I make the best progress. PI is doing a great job in keeping the time wasted with administration as small as possible, but I know it's not like this everywhere.

So, my take would be just to slow down and filter seminars better. Do we really need a seminar every day? Why is there this constant need to advertise ideas that have just come up and whose value is completely unknown? Can we please go back to smaller group meetings, working sessions, lower peer pressure, allow working on ideas that are thoroughly out of fashion, ask the questions that make people roll their eyes towards heaven but that still nobody has answered, can we not work on the hip stuff and still have a career?

Again, I should add, for me PI is the place of places, but even here it's easy to loose track of what you wanted to do in the first place. And I can't stay here - that's always in the back of my head. So much to do, so little time.

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Another question - if compactifications of the standard model introduce a landscape problem, isn't that a general indication that compactification is a BAD idea? Banish them!

my words! I think there should be no compactification in the first place, thus no problem with how to do it. But: then you need some other mechanism to confine gravity to 3 dimensions since our world kind of looks 3-dimensional?

If you find the time, listen to Nima's talk (it's worth it). I wonder if this isn't just restating the fact that we don't know why we live in 3+1 dimensions. Now if you compactify one further dimension, you create a landscape of possible vacua. Okay. Good. Does that solve any problem? If anything, it says it's no surprise there's a problem, okay. Maybe this is a way to get a grip on the landscape. Surely the standard model is the more approachable context there, however, so far I don't see how this helps. But I haven't had very much quality time thinking about it. Also, I didn't quite get the point with the neutrino masses, coincidence? I should try to figure that out. Do you have any input on it?

Best,

B.

CarlBrannen said...

The seminars are supposed to be where you get quality time. Just try to settle down in a position that doesn't cause you to snore.

Arun said...

Well, Bee, if you're not aware of every new idea there is, are unable to make intelligent comments about every new idea, and instead are focussed more with a small group that is examining intensely a set of closely related ideas, then wouldn't it change your interactions with the physics community in general?

Clicking on your Nima link gives:

" You are not authorized to view this resource.
You need to login."

Why we live in 3+1 dimensions is a fundamental/interesting question or not depending on the framework within which you ask the question.

In any case, the answer includes that idea that every postulated extra dimension is small. So the question morphs to - why is every extra dimension small?

Because General Relativity has given us the idea that geometry is dynamic, we want answer from dynamics to this question. But right now the only answer amounts to "Because!".

On the other hand, GR doesn't give a hint that any of our 3 dimensions does want to curl up.

Perhaps by examining what goes wrong if for some unknown reason ("Because!") one of our 3 dimensions wants to compactify, we will find out about the dynamics that govern compactification. Pardon my skepticism.

Bee said...

Hi Arun,

sorry for the broken links. It seems all of the seminar's URLs have shifted since yesterday, I've fixed that.

then wouldn't it change your interactions with the physics community in general?

Well. I was more thinking to change the physics community in general ;-)

the answer includes that idea that every postulated extra dimension is small.

Not necessarily. The question is why every extra dimension is unobservable.

GR doesn't give a hint that any of our 3 dimensions does want to curl up.

Right. That's why I don't see how it helps to know that qft in 2+1 dimensions has a landscape problem, when the question I'd really like to answer is why we actually have 3+1 dimensions?

It occurred to me we had an earlier post on the question

Why do we live in 3+1 dimensions

The +1 goes to Lee.

Best,

B.

Arun said...

I could have put it briefer this way - we study compactifications in string theory, not because compactifications are natural in string theory, but because they're the only way to save the theory.

Bee said...

I could have put it briefer this way: compactification is the only known way.

Arun said...

>>> The question is why every extra dimension is unobservable.<<<

Yes, sorry, it is not because extra dimensions are necessarily small. But in all cases, can we say there is an energy barrier to observing these?

BTW, the Nima link still doesn't work for me. Don't worry about it on my account, I can wait for a preprint.

I also feel guilty making your blackberry buzz. This really needs to go to a mailbox where you can ignore it for days. So that is it for now. :)

a quantum diaries survivor said...

Hi Bee,

cool post, and I laughed a couple of times.

One thing - I am probably the last person who should note this, since my 20+ years of education were useless since I forgot everything - but, IMO, electrodynamics in 2D is useful. Think of a parallel-plate capacitor, with closely spaced electrodes.

Cheers,
T.

PS hey why is it that I have to write the letters twice in the box to get my comment through ? I feel abused!
;-)

Bee said...

Hey Tom,

thanks :-) I'm not saying ED in 2D isn't useful, I'm wondering what it would look like as a fundamental theory, no homogeneous charge in the 2D submanifold. The potential doesn't fall with 1/r, indeed I think it doesn't fall at all (probably increases with ln r). Now what? I'm not thinking fixed boundary conditions (parallel plates) that are stable by assumption.

Best,

B.

Arun said...

Got to the Nima talk indirectly. Have watched the first 25 minutes of it. The Standard Model of his talk means the Standard Model + neutrino masses + GR.

The point of his first 25 minutes is that this Standard Model has some non-trivial vacua, specifically, a continuum of AdS3 x S1 vacua, characterized by the Wilson loop of the photon around the S1. It relies on the fact that the cosmological constant is fined tuned to be small and positive. No string theory here.

What makes me a little confused is that I thought our problem is that we do not know how to compute the vacuum energy to zeroth order, in the first place. That is, our computation doesn't give the expected (large) answer. But here the one-loop correction to the potential is computed and is crucial to the result.

The basic point is if you're given the Standard Model Lagrangian, you cannot compute which vacuum of its infinite number of vacuums do we live in.

Fun!