Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Euroblog Part Deux

I am still on my whirlwind trip through Europe. Kristen and I just spent a few days in Amsterdam after finishing up in Geneva, and I gave my first real external talk ever there. I was incredibly nervous beforehand, but Kristen made me practice a bunch of times before the actual day. For some reason, the practicing was much worse than the actual talk (and not just because practicing made it easier). But the talk at the University of Amsterdam went quite well. The only problem was that it was WAY too short. Like half the time it should have been. I was pretty embarrassed, but I think it was probably ok - no one minds when a talk is really short, and now I know I can add in a bunch more slides (I actually took out a significant number because I thought it was too long). I also have to say, one person in the audience asked a question which called the accuracy of my results into question, and I felt like I handled it pretty well. I think I rallied on the next slide and just continued on, after thanking him for the comment. Actually, I'm pretty sure he was right about what he said - it shouldn't invalidate our results, but I think it might actually lead to something more interesting than what we already have. Which means that I'll have to spend some of my vacation time in Paris figuring it out. But that's ok, it'll be cool if it comes out correctly.

Anyway, so I felt really good to have finished the first talk. Now we're in Paris in our TINY hotel room. But we're right smack in Montmarte in a really cool part of town, and I think we're going to really have fun. I've never been to Paris, so I'm really looking forward to this. I'm trying to break out my incredibly rusty francais, so we'll see if I can get people to talk to me. It never really worked in Montreal, but perhaps Parisians will abide my crappy french.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

South African Lampoon's European Vacation

The month of January came and went in a blur of post-Christmas/post-safari activity. The entire month was spent hunkering down and working to get some research accomplished and then a talk written for my upcoming...


... which is where I am, now. If January was a month spent in preparation, February is a month spent in travel. The Low-Down is this: I left on February 7th to fly to the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland, for the CERN Winter School on Strings and Supergravity. After a week of this, I am next traveling to Amsterdam to give a talk on my recent paper at the University of Amsterdam. We're spending about 4 days there and then moving on to Paris. This part is not work - I'm going there just to spend some time in Paris, where I have never been. We're there for five days, and then taking the train under the English Channel to London, where I am scheduled to give a talk at King's College, London. After three days in London (by which I expect all my money will be gone), we're off to Swansea, in Wales, where I'll give a talk at Swansea University. Then most likely (this is still up in the air) we're going to go up to Edinburgh for a few days to see Scotland (which I've always wanted to see), and finally back to London to fly home to Cape Town. All told, we're going to be in Europe for about a month - we're getting back to CT on March 5th.

Oh, and by the way, when I say "we," I'm not using the royal "we" - I managed to convince Kristen to come with me and turn it into a fun European vacation. Ok, so it didn't actually take that much convincing, as she loves Europe and the artsy atmosphere. But honestly, it is a HUGE boon to me to have her with me, not ONLY because she makes the whole trip WAY more fun, but it is really nice to have some support, as these will really my first real external research talks - I've given a few talks at conferences, but only in postdoc or grad student sessions, and not as the main speaker. So I'm very nervous, and it is an enormous help to have her here to make sure I don't totally freak out.

So it's a week after the trip's beginning, and I'm now sitting in the Geneva airport, having spent the week in lectures at CERN. It was a really nice set of lectures, especially the four that we had by Samir Mathur on the Black Hole Information Paradox within String Theory. I found these really fascinating, and I have to say they kind of reinvigorated my hope in String Theory. After this is all done, I'd like to try and write an entry on the topic, since it's super interesting - I mean, who doesn't want to know more about black holes?

This trip here from SA was actually pretty hectic, as we flew through Doha, Qatar, and missed the one flight from Doha to Geneva (stupidly, our travel agent booked us to have a 40 minute layover there - which we expected to be tight, but it turned out our gate had closed even before we got off our first flight, which was on time!). So we had to catch the flight to Zurich, instead (6 hours later) and then another flight to Geneva. Annoying. And we're supposed to have the same thing on the way back, so we need to figure out how to deal with that.

Anyway, hopefully the trip and all the talks will go well. I'm excited about Paris and Edinburgh (the two places where I'm NOT doing work stuff). Hopefully I'll update a few more times during the trip to give my sense of Europe. Bon voyage!