Been a crazy few months

Since I last posted in August there’s been weddings, funerals, multiple countries, a workshop I organized, a conference where I spoke, not to mention all the usual craziness. I can’t even begin to summarize everything, so let’s just skip most of that and focus on recent events.

For most of January I was on the road, I only spent 3 days in Hannover. I was lucky enough to attend QIP in Singapore and then the fantastic Sydney Quantum Information Theory Workshop. Both conferences were pretty amazing in their own ways.

QIP, as ever, was loaded with tons of the best and brightest in quantum information theory. I was really lucky to be given the opportunity to talk. I find talking at big conferences like QIP a pretty humbling experience. There are so many brilliant old heads and bright PhD students that while speaking I find it hard to not feel like the dumbest person in the room. Still, I didn’t actually pass out on stage so that is a big plus. All the talks were taped and can be watched at the conference website, which I think is pretty awesome as I’ve been able to re-watch some of the good ones. Unfortunately, it means that I’ll be haunted by my own talk…

The Sydney workshop was one of the best I’ve been to for ages. The organizers planned a great schedule with a really nice bunch of speakers. There was a lot of interesting math and physics going down in a really friendly atmosphere. It’s been years since I hung out with the Sydney quantum information theory types, so I guess I missed how much that community has developed. It was really great to see how vibrant and active those groups are.

After a hectic couple of weeks conferencing I had a little holiday in Brisbane. That was definitely one of my weirder visits home. Brisbane was pretty smashed in January floods, it was terrible watching it happen from afar. Arriving there a few weeks later I was amazed how much work people had done to clean up the city. You could sense the determination to rebuild and the community spirit absolutely everywhere. Catching up with old friends and family I heard so many stories about the trials they endured and the efforts of the clean up. It’s nice to see that for such a big city Brisbane still is as friendly as a county town.

Well, now I’m back in Hannover writing papers and prepping for teaching in the next semester and hoping that Winter will end soon…

Below are some photos from my travels in the last few months:


Faermannsfest 2010

It’s fair to say that my weekend has been dominated by Faermannsfest 2010. This is the first festival I’ve been to where I literally had to walk less than 20m from my front door to the grounds. I’m actually sitting at my kitchen table right now looking at the festival grounds!

For those of you that don’t speak German, a “faermann” is a ferry-man. You know, the guy who pilots a ferry across a river. The Faermannsfest is an annual festival held here in Linden (clearly the funkiest of Hannover suburbs :-)). The location is on two sides of a creek, with a bridge joining up the two sites – hence the association with ferries. Oh, look, the festival promoter was good enough to add a link to google maps.

As ever, the Lindenish crowd was mellow and varied. Lots of hipsters, families, punks and intermingled with the normal folk. For the Brisbane folk – imagine it is something like the old 4ZZZ Market Day, or maybe a small version of the Valley Fiesta.

The best band that I saw was probably Karamelo Santo, they were a ska outfit coming from South America. They really managed to get the crowd moving with a very chilled out vibe.

In between having a bit of a dance and drinking beer, I managed to take quite a few photos. If you’d like to check them out, I’ve put some of them up Facebook (for those of you that are my friends) and on Picasa.

Must. Overcome. Fear. Of. Posting.

Over the last few months I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which I communicate with my friends, family and colleagues.

Looking now at my clock widget, I have clocks telling me what time it is in Singapore, Brisbane, Los Angeles, New York and Berlin covering time-zone difference of 18 hours. The reason for having so many clock widgets is that the people that I want to communicate with on any given day are spread across a pretty wide region and it’s good to have some idea when they’ll be awake.

For the most part, I communicate with people via quick skype/gmail chats, tweets/facebook, or short emails. I’ve been keeping this up for a few years now and I’m realizing that many of those that I’m close to really only ever get to see glimpses of half-thought-through snapshots of the ideas in my head. It’s becoming clear to me that this is a pretty terrible way of keeping those relationships that I really care about.

One fix to this problem is, I guess, to hit that little green call button more often. Unfortunately, the times when I can freely call someone rarely fit with the times that they can take that call.

Of course, I could spend a lot more time writing long emails to people. I actually did this for a while. The problem that I found is that as the time between emails drags on, those emails get longer and longer and I get less and less likely to actually ever send it. On top of that, the absolute social awkwardness that is me makes me feel weird whenever I email someone out of the blue. Especially when you haven’t spoken to that person in years.

One of the things that I find very strange about becoming an increasingly old physicist, is that I regularly butt my head up against some new problem for a while only to realize that I knew the solution years ago and had completely forgotten that I knew anything about it.

When I lived in Austria I really struggled with my poor German speaking skills. My inability to speak the language meant that many of the conversations that I had were either short, or I couldn’t convey full essence of whatever it was that I was trying to communicate. I guess people probably felt the same way whenever they spoke to me in English.

I found that while I was in Austria I increasingly turned to the internet to get my daily fix of communication. For the most part this began through my old blog, Quantumbiodiscs, and then later as part of the LP hivemind.

While blogging didn’t always help me to keep in touch of others, those that new about the blog could easily keep tabs on me.

So, why did I (effectively) stop? I guess there were really 2 things that, together, cut down my blogging activities.

The first was that I moved to Bristol. In Bristol it was a lot easier to communicate with people on a daily basis – so much of my ranting was done to my colleagues and others in the lunchroom as opposed to random folk on the intertubes. Also, as time went on in Bristol I became much more involved with my work. Increasingly I found that I was more likely to read a paper or to think through some whacky QI thoughts than to spend time putting together a good blog post.

The second thing was that I began to develop a bit of a fear of posting to LP. Now, don’t get me wrong interwebs, I really enjoyed writing for LP and working with all those involved. They really are a fantastic bunch of people. I also think that the LP collective worked wonders during 2007 Oz election campaign. Unfortunately, it seems that this was clear to many other Australian political tragics.

By the time I joined LP it was already getting pretty big. That didn’t bother me so much, in fact I thought it was a great thing (hell, I still do). But at some point after the 2007 election I made that horrible mistake that Wile Coyote always made, I had run out over the edge and then looked down.

After the 2007 campaign there was a lot of academic analysis of the effect of the new interwebish media. It became clear from this work that LP was very widely read and also had a large influence on the media at that time. While this might seem like good news, to my addled brain it made me think that maybe I should spend longer than 15 minutes writing a blog post and actually put some serious work into my blogging.

I guess gradually, the realization that I was throwing some fairly raw thoughts out there spooked me. The net effect of the spooking, work and life in general pushed my output down to zero.

Now, as time goes on and I realize that moving home every couple of years is actually taking a toll on my relationships with people that I care very much about I realize that, possibly, my writing can help the situation. I’m reluctantly realizing that I’m rarely ever going to be able to spend long afternoons chatting with my dearest friends over (good) coffee. But maybe if I keep this blog up to date then at least they might have some chance of keeping track of what’s going on with me.

So long and thanks for all the chips!

It’s been a really long time since I last posted here. Mostly, that’s because in the last few months I’ve been leading a rather nutzoid existence.

Some time back I posted that my contract in Bristol was ending and I was looking for work. Well, I went grant and postdoc hunting and eventually I decided to take an offer of a postdoc in Hannover in Reinhard Werner’s group.

Even since I made that decision I’ve been applying for visas, packing, throwing away loads of stuff, re-packing, throwing away more stuff, finding homes for various pieces of furniture and sending big boxes of stuff to various places. Oh, and there’s been leaving drinks like 15 billion times (or at least it feels like it).

Now I’m on my way to Germany (I’m actually writing this on the plane, I guess I’ll post it later) and it’s all suddenly much less about organizing and much more about doing. Doing is always a lot more exciting.

Somewhat weirdly the Lufthansa in-flight magazine has a feature on Bristol in it! They describe it as a "crazy, laid back" city. I think that somewhat paradoxical description fits pretty well. I doubt this needs to be said, most people that know me know that I’m going to really miss Bristol. I’ve made loads of really great friends and done so many wonderful things. I’ve been trying to think what I’ll miss most: Maybe bugging the guys in the office all the time with my incessant prattling? Having drinks with friends in ultra-hip or ultra-un-hip surrounds? The music and art? Good pie (and ale)?

Now, away from the reflective and back to the exciting. I’m (hopefully if the paperwork is sorted) starting my new job next week! It’s going to be interesting to adjust to another group’s style of working, hopefully I manage to do it quickly! I’m a little concerned that my skill set is very different to that of a lot of the people in the group, but I guess that just means that I’m gonna have to learn more (and hopefully I can teach the others some new tricks as well). Oh, and I’m gonna have to get a lot better at German!

In any case, the next few months are going to be very interesting. There’s going to be loads of challenges but there are also going to be heaps of opportunity to experience new things.

Oh, and at some point I might have to change the name of this blog. I need to think more about that.

Looking for work

Observant readers may have noticed that I have added a few new pages to this blog recently – a “Research” page and a “CV” page. Those of you who have hung around the sciencish blogs enough will realize that the appearance of these sort of pages is normally a pretty clear symptom of someone looking for a new job.

I’ve now been living and working in Bristol for almost 20 months. I don’t know if my colleagues realize this but I have really enjoyed working here. The Quantum Information group and the Theoretical Computer Science group have really been a wonderful collection of folk to work with. I would strongly recommend Bristol as a place for anyone to pursue these lines of research.

Quite a few people have asked why I am leaving if I enjoy my job in Bristol so much? Well, I could say the answer is money, but I probably could have hunted down money to stay if I really wanted to. I guess part of the answer is that I don’t want to commit to staying here in the long term, staying here probably won’t get me to where I want to be in two or three years time. On top of that I’d very much like to live somewhere that makes it easier to see my girlfriend (who lives in Germany) more often.

So, right now I’m writing this blog post when I should be polishing up my research statement to send off to prospective employers… Why am I procrastinating? Well I guess it is because this is the part of being a scientist that I hate the most. Applying for jobs has the tendency to make me focus on all my own failings, it makes me think about all those things in my career that I should have done better.

One thing that I take some comfort from has been the direction that my own research has taken in the last year or so. Being around people who encourage my whacky ways has helped a lot and now I’m pursuing questions that I think are genuinely interesting and, thankfully, it seems that other people also believe this.

Now, back to the job applications… cross your fingers for me if you are so inclined!

Crazy undergrad music flashback

For some reason I can’t put my finger on I thought of these two fantastic songs today…

The first is “All I need” by Air, I’m pretty sure this video clip would have to qualify as being my favourite of all time. The second is “Drinking in LA” by Bran Van 3000 – which I just generally think is an awesome song.


Winning the victory

My title is a bit weird no?

The internets are abuzz with commentary on Obama’s victory and, like in everything, there is a lot of politics being played out in this commentary.

A lot of conservatives are out there trying to downplay Obama’s success. Expect to hear a lot of “it wasn’t really a whitewash” or “he only won because of the economy” or “because he is black” (I’m looking at you Janet Albrechtsen and you sure as hell are not getting a link) or any number of variations on these themes.

At first glance this is just bitterness. It isn’t. The conservative movement is trying very hard to cut down Obama’s mandate for change.

The Republicans have an obvious reason for doing this. They are wounded badly and are fighting to keep any shred of political capital that they have left. However, I’m sure that we will see the Obama victory downplayed by many around the globe as those who have benefited from the tactics and issues championed by American conservatives over the last 20 to 30 years try to halt the progressive forces that have been unleashed by the Obama campaign.

Make no mistake. Obama’s victory is a huge event. Please don’t forget this in the coming days, weeks, and months!

Obama has won by a huge margin and in the process his campaign has overturned may of the myths of modern politics. Think on this, an African American has been elected President. What’s more, he is a liberal who has had to suffer from race-baiting and red-baiting throught that campaign. He still won, and he stuck to the issues. That is huge. It is a lesson that should be learnt the world over.

The Obama campaign won partially off the back of “new media” support. Obama’s rise gained momentum from his popularity on the web. His campaign’s ability to harness new technology as a tool for getting their message out has been a major contributing factor to their success. It has helped them to respond to attacks faster, to craft the message in the MSM and also to harness support both in terms of votes and funds. This is a huge lesson that cannot be emphasized enough. They have established a new model for campaigning which many in political circles will be envious of.

I wonder how many of Europe’s leaders will head the lessons of the Obama campaign? Here in the UK politics is still driven by memes that are established in the MSM. People here still don’t seem to have realized that the Government and the MSM can be challenged, and even driven, via pressure from a solid netroots movement.

Finally, and my words really fail me here, I’m so happy that I was able to witness yesterday’s victory. It gave me so much hope that the world can actually be changed for the better and that so much of the negative politics that I have grown up to accept as “fact” is really nothing of the sort.

Here is Obama’s victory speech for those who haven’t yet heard it. It is really something special…