Well, I’ve now been back in the US for a few days short of a month, after a fantastic holiday in South Africa. Thank you to everyone that was a part of the holiday, it was far better than I thought possible beforehand!
This email makes reference to a number of photos, so I’ve finally created the start of a personal webpage, at http://www.thornhill.co.za/~paulcook. It has the first set of photos, and all the previous Caltech News email I’ve sent.
Returning to LA was something of an anti-climax — most of the people I know didn’t do anything as exciting as travel halfway round the world, so while I felt like the holiday had been a major event, most people hadn’t really noticed. All too quickly it was back into the routine of work, which is why I’ve had so little of interest to email out!
I’ve made a few changes to my courseload. I decided to drop one of my four courses from last term, namely General Relativity. This term the course was focusing in a lot of detail on the calculation of gravitational waves emitted from cosmological sources, which is useful to some peope, but not to me at my stage of life. So rather than waste extraordinary amounts of time on that, I dropped it! And it felt REALLY good! I’m now involved in two reading courses with other Caltech students. One is supposedly attached to a professor, though he doesn’t come to the sessions. Instead, each course is a group of about 5 students, who take turns to present successive sections of the textbook that we’ve decided we need to know. There follows some discussion, and perhaps some solving of exercises from the text, and then we move on to the next course. It’s a little strange trying to make sure I do the necessary work when there are absolutely no marks involved at all, but it’s a nice experience, and I’m learning a lot.
The most … interesting event of the last few weeks was this most recent weekend. I was invited on a “mystery expedition, involving sunglasses, convertibles, Hollywood and photos.” Who could say no? It turned out that Brenda, a friend here, along with Peter and myself, were taking Brenda’s giant stuffed bear (Baloo from the Jungle Book) on a photo tour of LA. The graphics art centre here makes calendars if you provide photos, so she was making a calendar for her boyfriend. So off we went, in the convertible that Peter is using for a few weeks. First stop was Hollywood, and the walk of fame — we even got Baloo into a limo for a quick shot. Seems people are really friendly when you’re carrying a giant stuffed bear! Then a quick cruise down Sunset Strip and through Beverley Hills, and on to the beach at Santa Monica. We borrowed a lifeguards stuff to do a Baywatch shot, and then a few more, before heading home! It was a strange outing, but actually quite fun! I haven’t got the proper photos yet, but have a look at some “concept shots” taken with my cellphone, at http://www.thornhill.co.za/~paulcook/Photos/Baloo%20does%20LA%20-%20Jan%202004/index.html.
Walking around everywhere has really started to get on my nerves recently, so I’ve been looking at prices for cars, and car insurance, which is expensive here. There’s a decent SAAB convertible, 1989 but low mileage, available (the same as was used for Baloo’s photo tour). Have a look at the pictures at http://www.thornhill.co.za/~paulcook/Photos/Baloo%20does%20LA%20-%20Jan%202004/Convertible/index.html– comments appreciated! But I couldn’t wait for it, so gathered my courage and credit card, and went and bought some wheels! I now have a bike! 18 speed! With brakes even! So its top speed is not that great, but it’s even more open to the world than the convertible!
I’m being exposed to two major aspects of US culture at the moment. On the one hand, the Democratic Party primaries continue, whereby each state selects which of a field of candidates they want to support to compete with George Bush in the presidential election. There has been some major shifts in the field recently, as support for Dean has fallen in favour of Kerry. Seems that initially people supported Dean because he was the most outspoken and critical of Bush and current US policy, and that resonated with a lot of Democrats. More recently, people have become scared that he is too outspoken to win the moderates in the US, and so are going with the more reserved Kerry — precisely because he is more likely to appeal to more conservative voters. An interesting tradeoff! The US is extremely polarised at the moment — about half the country loves Bush, a little under half hate him, and there’s very little middle ground. All of which means there’s an awful lot of money going to both sides at the moment!
The other side of US culture was the superbowl yesterday — the final of the American Football league. The game was so-so, but it seems that everyone watches for the adverts — it’s the most expensive time on air in the whole year, so companies really go to town. There are even shows the next day that re-analyse not the game, but just the adverts! It’s a crazy place…
Well, that’s all for now! Good luck to all with classes and work, and enjoy the summer!
Oh yes, and if there’s anything that anyone would like me to write about, please let me know, whether it involves the US, LA, or my life here in particular. I’m running out of things to write about!
Thanks, and keep well!