So I went down to Los Angeles to give a talk at the University of South California (go trojans!). This was a fun adventure and I will tell you all about it. In some sense, this is a story of certain fun aspects of academic life. You go see some friends, give a talk about some topic and a lot of good comes out of it. Sometimes, you even get to have a pack of fierce dogs attend your lectures …
This goes as follows: seminars are one of the most important tools to communicate ideas. Science does not happen in isolated islands. It is a collective effort. We read each others papers, we try to extend them in various directions and we apply the ‘good ole bag o’ tricks’ to new problems.
Also we ask people over to give talks because it improves the speed at which we acquire new information. If I read papers, I might get really stuck in a passage because there is some intuition that eludes me. However, if I have the author right in front of me, I can ask questions until I understand.
Doing it by e-mail is not the same. If they are visiting you, or you are visiting them, you can get immediate feedback and go forward a lot faster. This is good for the progress of scientific inquire.
Moreover, you get to talk about other stuff (like politics and blogging, education, you name it) and make new friends, meet old friends and do all those social things that make us human, like going to a bar and having a few drinks.
So this time around I went to LA to the USC. I visited the high energy theory group there and gave my talk. The fun part is that I went there by train, rather than driving. Fellow co-blogger Clifford Johnson
(one of my hosts) was very happy because he has been speaking wonderful stuff about the LA public transportation system. I have been very busy lately doing my usual work, and I didn’t have time to prepare a talk before going to USC, so I took the train from Santa Barbara to LA to have some time to write my talk.
The three hour train ride gave me an essentially uninterrupted block of time to prepare (I had already downloaded the relevant papers). Moreover I got to take a nice picture
of the landscape as I was traveling from the train that I am including here.
I made it to LA on time (the train was early), followed the instructions to take the red line to 7th street/market, and from there I took the F-Dash, landing in USC one hour before I was expected to! Chaos ensued and was quickly resolved by a couple of phone calls and then everything was fine. Phew!
I had a lovely afternoon with the local folks, drinking coffee (remember how important it is) and just talking fun things, some physics, some not. We went for the usual `dinner with the speaker’ at a lovely little place near USC, after which I went to my room and did all the traditional ‘finishing touches’ on the talk.
Morning came, had a huge breakfast where I was staying. I didn’t take a picture because I am ashamed of how much I can eat if given the opportunity, or better yet -because I am so considerate- so that you, the reader, doesn’t get plate envy. I dressed myself properly for my talk (a habit I have), answered a whole bunch of e-mail etc etc and finally made my way back to USC at about 10 am.
The talk was at lunch time, and there was a hungry hound pack as an audience. They had some incisive biting remarks during my talk and howled in pain at my jokes. The wolf leader was
Nick Warner, and the dogs were his way of keeping speakers honest (on the threat of some really nasty thing happening if the audience is not satisfied).
By the way, just so that people don’t get the wrong impression, the dogs are really sweet and they love to chase squirrels.
I’m still alive and well, so I think I survived the experience with dignity.
I talked about three dimensional conformal field theories and had some wise things to say at the end on how to write papers in the subject. I’m not telling.
After eating lunch and having some after-talk physics discussion, I spent part of the afternoon getting a tour of the USC campus.
The University boasts some very beautiful art-deco buildings. We saw courtyards and libraries and the new building that George Lucas is building. We speculated if one was required to use a storm trooper outfit to get inside the building or not and other such fun ponderings that
I will not reproduce here.
I visited some other physicists at USC and made my way back to the
Blade Runner police station also known as Los Angeles Union Station (Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies). This was a curious piece of trivia that I learned
from the fellows at USC. I went to Olivera street and saw the local sights, had some dinner and now I’m on the train writing this post.