Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Glasshouse Effect

The reactions I have encountered regarding the Perimeter Institute usually come in a three step scenario:

    b) ... but its in WATERLOO... (alias: the-end-of-the-world), funny faces come with this point, and
    c) But they have this cool building!

On the websites of the Perimeter Institute you find the following amusing sentence summarizing the alleged end-of-the-world problem:

"Perimeter's founders recognized from the outset that in order to establish a Waterloo-based Institute of the highest international standing it would be necessary to create a landmark building, both functionally and aesthetically, to attract and retain the very best researchers the world has to offer."

Now, after the first three weeks, I can tell you

b) Waterloo is better than you'd think. E.g. it is indeed possible to buy eatable cheese and chocolate. Besides this, one gets dinner after 8 pm, and so far nobody has asked me whether we do have fridges in Germany. I'll comment on the Canadian liquor disaster another time.
c) The building looks interesting, yes. But you feel like sitting in a glasshouse. A glasshouse in a zoo, with visitors waving at you and taking pictures. No kidding, it belongs to the sightseeing schedule in the region. I can hear the tourists with their digital cameras telling their kids: Look! A theoretical physicist! He's eating the chalk. Wait, it is a she!

I am looking forward for someone to throw peanuts at me.

Yesterday, Stefan took one million photos of the building. The glasshouse effect is most impressively shown on this one:

    My office is on the uppermost floor the third from the right. I share this room with Stefan Hofmann, who currently is on a trip to Germany. The small windows are where you find the printers.

    To get a three-dimensional impression look at these great 360 degrees images:

    See also: You're BEAUTIFUL...

    And a word in total privacy: Happy birthday mum! Tried to call, but I always get the fax mashine, what's wrong there?

    Update Jan 10th 2007: The new websites have more of the panoramic photos!

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    1. Lol! Bee,
      Is that him singing
      Sounds remarkably like the original

      Great line at the end. lol!
      Can't be that boring surely!!!
      Else we'll have to open a chat line and start video conferencing.

      So Stefan visiting eh? Hi Stefan!

    2. I liked their old building. There was something romantic about doing research in an old brick hotel (or whatever that cool building was.)

    3. Oh yeah! I thought it was hilarious when we (two undergrad students who had been invited there by mistake) were waved to by tourists and photographed (after the tourists checked with us) literally minutes after sitting down.

      As for Waterloo, at least you have lot's of fun physicists to party with ;)

    4. Hi Quasar,

      yes the singer is pretty good, eh? It's not boring here at all, lots of seminar and stuff, I was just looking for an opportunity to link to the song :-)

      I actually have a webcam, but it never really works from windows to mac, I should see whether skype has made some progress there. What software do you use?

      Hi Dave,

      I have never been inside the old building but I walk by frequently. It looks much warmer than the new one, I also like the bricks but esp. the tower :-) I should make some photos of that building as well.

      Hi fh,

      *lol* see: you are one of the rare species 'physicist theoreticus'. What do you mean with you have been invited 'by mistake'? I actually thought the same thing when I was invited last year, now I live here :-)



    5. A glasshouse in a zoo, with visitors waving at you and taking pictures.

      Halloween approaches. Get a suitable rubber mask...


      ...and turn around from the blackboard into the staring crowd on Valentine's Day.

    6. Hi quasar,

      yes, I was at Waterloo - unfortunately, was, I am back in Frankfurt, Germany (there is most probably a village named Frankfurt somewhere in Ontario, like the Heidelbergs, Bambergs, Breslaus, Mannheims ;-), since this morning.

      Indeed, when taking all the pictures, I felt like some tourist bothering all the hard-working people at the PI...

      Hi Dave,

      the old building with the tower, I first thought it may have been a church. But as we can read on page 26 of the PI's Visitors Guide:

      Old Post Office, 35 King Street North (King and Dupont)

      This landmark was built from 1911-13 by the federal government to house the post office and offices for the Department of National Revenue. The Waterloo Board of Trade (which evolved into the Chamber of Commerce) had lobbied for the building with the help of local member of Parliament and future prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King.

      In the 1980s, the post office was bought and occupied by one of Waterloo's computer software businesses, Mortice Kern Systems (MKS). The full clock tower - which had been removed from the building in 1956 - was reconstructed in 1987 while the building was owned by MKS. Once MKS outgrew the building, Time Square restaurant opened in 1995 and closed in August 2001. In 2002 the building became the first home of Perimeter. Since Perimeter relocated in October 2004, the building has remained empty.

      Sabine told me that PI's administration is supposed to move back to the old building.

      it is indeed possible to buy eatable cheese and chocolate

      Not just cheese and chocolate, but also diverse kinds of sausages ;-). I guess that is a heritage of the strong community of German immigrants from the first half of the 1800's, as is the local beer.

      Remarkable turns of tides of history:

      While Waterloo's (today larger) southern twin town was founded as Berlin by mostly German immigrants, and street names such as Bl├╝cher Street and Wellington Street attest to the British-German alliance against Napoleonic France, the name of Berlin was not politically correct anymore in 1916 and was changed to Kitchener, after Herbert Kitchener, the British General and Politician.

    7. Sorry, jet lag at work: I scrambled the informative links to Wikipedia about

      Kitchener, the town in Ontario


      Herbert Kitchener, the British General and Politician

    8. Parts of the administration have already moved back into the old building.

      Btw, news from the moving guys: instead of 10-20 days, its now 25-30 days. But that's actually irrelevant because the carrier refuses to deliver the stuff completely due to a misunderstanding regarding the insurance. Which is neither done by the moving company, nor by the carrier, and I have actually no idea what the problem is at all, or who has which problem.

      My furniture isn't even yet in Canada, but still in the US! They call it in transit.

      Best, B.

    9. Hi Sabine, welcome to Waterloo! I enjoyed your talk at the workshop.

      Waterloo is a place that people seem to either love or hate. Personally I quite like it, but you have to know the good places from the not-so-good places. Fortunately, most Canadians have been asked whether they live in igloos enough times that we know better than to question the existence of refrigerators in Germany.

      PS The PI pictures are great - I just made one my desktop background.

    10. I so much would like to visit PI one day...

      Isn't it a dream? A place where all you are supposed to do is fundamental research.

      Ah. Now back to the real world.

      Best wishes (and good luck!)

    11. Hi William,

      glad you liked my talk :-) I actually didn't like it, but now I have recorded proof that I can speak before 9 am. There are people in the world who might be surprised by this.

      Come and see me some time, and show me the better places of Waterloo! So far I have to say I like it better than I thought I would. Maybe it just reminds me of Germany. I am also thrilled to see people drive reasonably. Meaning, when the light turns yellow, they don't hit the brakes, and traffic doesn't come to a complete halt if theres some pedestrian on the walkway who looks like he might maybe have considered to cross a street at some point in his life.

      Best, B.

    12. Well, nobody I've ever met likes their own talks, but it was one that I was really able to take something away from. I knew about generalized uncertainty principles from working with Achim, and Lee Smolin gave one of his quantum gravity lectures on DSR, but I didn't realise that the two were really equivalent.

      Perhaps I should stop by some time after one of the seminars. Having lived in California as well (Santa Clara) I can say that I even though the weather was nice, I still prefer Canada. And perimeter certainly seems like a great place to work.

    13. Hi William,

      :-) Thanks! That is good to hear, sometimes it is hard to get any feedback on the talks.

      Yes, its kind of interesting how many people are working on one of the topics generalized uncertainty/minimal length/DSR/modified dispersion relations without realizing that they are actually talking about the same thing. I mean, if you think about it its kind of obvious that you can't do minimal length without DSR and both necessarily implies a generalized uncertainty. The relation to a modified dispersion relation is not one-to-one (since its a scalar product). This is also essentially the reason why Joao has this funny freedom of choice for the Lagrangian in his recent paper

      Could quantum gravity be tested with high intensity Lasers?

      (He wouldn't have that problem if he had indeed started with DSR not with MDR, but anyway).

      Yes, come and see me some time. Ulrich Harbach -- the guy who gave the talk after mine -- will be here again for a week in mid/end of October and we really hope to get some work done then!



    14. BTW, when I just arrived at PI (still without internet at home) there was a group out on the lawn taking wedding photos with the building in the background. No kidding. The Canadians are really weird.

    15. a group out on the lawn taking wedding photos with the building in the background

      That sounds a little bit crazy indeed. But on the other hand, Waterloo may be a charming place to live, but there are not so many beautiful or remarkable landmark buildings which can be used as a nice background for a wedding photo - or am I wrong? Maybe the old Seagram destillery, or this insurance company building at the corner King Street / Union Street?
      Not everyone can have the fancy Phillipsruhe Castle :-)


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