Blog » 2006 » May

29 May 2006

Quote of the day

Filed under: Stuff — paulcook @ 7:27 pm

Overheard from person in front of me at Subway, when asked whether he’d like oil and vinegar:

“I don’t know. Is it good? I don’t know. What is vinegar? Hey Jim [fictional name of friend], is oil and vinegar good? Whatever. Just … whatever.”

Yes, that’s right, “What is vinegar?” He was speaking in a normal American-English-as-a-first-language accent, and looked about college age.


EDIT: See second comment below. Ah, culture shock…

Self-doubt and String Theory

Filed under: Personal — paulcook @ 1:39 pm

With two days left to my oral candidacy exam, I’ve been having an extra-strong experience of the emotional roller-coaster that is grad school in string theory — or, I imagine, any other advanced science.

The problem is, there’s just so much to know. Sure I’m learning things too, but it’s amazing how quickly the perceived relative sizes of the learnt and un-learnt bodies of material change in size over the course of even a day.

It is great to periodically realise that a particularly tricky area (in the most recent case, topological string theory), while still tricky, is easier than it was two years ago — and my resulting understanding is a lot deeper.

Unfortunately, the sense of knowledge often lasts only briefly, until someone’s question, or another paper, makes one look at the concept from another angle. All too often the nice, strong concepts out of which understanding has been built, turn out to be wafer-thin from another perspective, and the whole house of cards comes tumbling down.

And of course, there’s that constant niggle: there must be easier and better-paid jobs out there… But, would I be happy?

Well, back to work…

25 May 2006

Apportioning the Internet

Filed under: Digital revolution, Politics and philosophy — paulcook @ 8:51 pm

The control of the infrastructure of the Internet is a controversial issue. Recently in the news was the refusal of ICANN, the governing organisation of the domain name system, to approve an application for the creation of a “.xxx” domain — aimed at sites providing pornographic material. The issue is deciding just who actually made the decision. But it’s definitely not the only issue of global fairness in Internet infrastructure.

The problem is that ICANN makes domain name decisions which are then effectively binding on the world (though China may be thinking of breaking ranks). But in general, the rest of the world has to follow suit if the Internet is to continue to work smoothly.

24 May 2006

Yay for China!

Filed under: Personal — paulcook @ 3:23 pm

Just got back from picking up my passport from the Chinese Consulate — along with its brand new Chinese visa. And what a pleasure the process was!

I’m used to visa application processes that require reams of paperwork and supporting documents, take forever and cost a fortune. This one took 20 minutes to apply, 10 minutes to pick up (three business days later), and only cost $30. It must be about the easiest and cheapest visa I’ve ever acquired!

This brings to 11 the number of visas in my current passport, which I’ve had since November 1999. At a conservative estimate of $50/visa, that makes $550 I’ve spent on visas. And it is conservative, considering that restarting my study program now would require spending $180 on a single US visa — which might well only be valid for a year.

Of them all, only the Chinese visa would be required for a citizen of the EU or US. So that’s at least $520 I’ve paid as a result of being a citizen of a developing country. Seems rather bizarre that developing world citizens should have to spend so much more to travel.

Anyway, it’s now a week left to my huge oral candidacy presentation. So it’s back to the physics!