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16 Jan 2006

Christmas letter 2005

Filed under: Caltech News (emails), Personal — paulcook @ 11:44 pm

Note: this post will be boring for regular readers of this blog. It’s my attempt at a “Christmas letter”, for email distribution. But for completeness I’m posting it here too!


I’m starting to write this in Idaho, as a guest of my apartment mate, Mike Adams. Time and funds mean that this year I’m spending Christmas in the USA – and Mike’s family has been generous enough to host me for a week, and even to buy me some Christmas presents! Most people I’ve mentioned it to have been surprised to hear that I was heading to Idaho, as it is not renowned as a tourist destination. But it has been an excellent week of relaxation, spent reading, watching movies, eating and walking in the surrounding hills. I was even able to instruct a Christmas dinner party of 15 in the correct way of pulling Christmas crackers (complete with coloured paper crowns)!

3 Oct 2004

Caltech News 7: Of furniture and foolish presidents

Filed under: Caltech News (emails) — paulcook @ 8:01 pm


First off, thanks to everyone that I was able to see and spend time with in South Africa, it was a fantastic trip, and I’m really pleased once again to have such great friends! The trip was filled with some work and a few lectures I gave at Wits, as well as trips with friends, and a hike along the Wild Coast with the family, that was amazing. Altogether, a fantastic time!

I arrived back safely into Pasadena and Caltech, and straight into the dual trials of setting up a new apartment, and sorting out the start of the academic year. It’s been a rather crazy week!

20 Jul 2004

Caltech News 6: Of islands and exams

Filed under: Caltech News (emails) — paulcook @ 8:00 pm

Hi all,

It has been a long time since I’ve sent an email to this list of people, so I’m sorry to those that haven’t heard from me for a while. There are also a few getting this for the first time, let me know if you’d rather not get future editions!

I’ve wrapped up my first academic year at Caltech in the last few days. Lectures ended about a month ago now, but since then I’ve been starting the first hints of some real research, as well as studying for and writing one of my qualifying exams. The courses have been very useful, and I can now claim I have at least some idea of what it really means to say that I’m studying string theory. I’m going to have to spend at least one more year in pretty fulltime coursework and reading before I can really say that I know what is happening, but the work is interesting (if sometimes rather challenging — especially some of the problem sets). The courses don’t have tests or exams, so marks are based on problem set (tutorials). It’s nice in that one doesn’t have the pressure of an exam, but does mean that one has to make sure that one is actually learning stuff during the course — so I’m going to have to spend some of this summer break actually learning the work we did!

3 Feb 2004

Caltech News 5: Of photos and football

Filed under: Caltech News (emails) — paulcook @ 7:58 pm

Greetings all!

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!

12 Nov 2003

Caltech News 4: Studying starts, big time

Filed under: Caltech News (emails) — paulcook @ 7:59 pm

Hi all,

As you may have noticed, this is the first email in quite a while. Writing the qualifying exam a few weeks ago put me substantially behind on all my problem sets, and I’m only now approaching catching up. I have 3-4 new problem sets (tutorials) due every week, so there’s not much time to try to catch up! Hence the delay in sending this news, as well as replying to other emails. My sincere apologies, and I’ll try as much as possible to keep up! Thanks to all those that have emailed me!

So after the partying of orientation week, things have got a lot more serious. The courses are mostly quite interesting - I’m doing 4 courses, one of which is on material I’m already pretty familiar with (and isn’t taught that well anyway), but the others are new material and interesting, if somewhat difficult! For those of you that are interested, I’m taking Relativistic Quantum Mechanics (the easier course), Quantum Computing, General Relativity and String Theory. The last is the most difficult course - it’s a big subject, and builds on material which I’m not all that familiar with to begin with. But it’s being taught by an expert in the field, who’s doing a good job. So as long as I can keep up, it should be good!

24 Sep 2003

Caltech News 3: Of movies and many exams

Filed under: Caltech News (emails) — paulcook @ 7:56 pm

Hello all,

First, a commercial aside: As you’ll have noticed, I’m sending out BIG emails every now and then with news. This doesn’t mean that you should feel that you need to reply with an equal-length reply! I’d love to hear any short one-liners of news, and I’ll then send a shorter, more personal reply. Sending regular news as a bulk, big message makes sense at the moment for me.

So quite a lot of stuff has happened since last I wrote. The weekend before last we went to Universal Studios, a large theme park designed around the Universal Studios movies. They have a tour of the studio itself, including all the sets that have been used over the years - so we were subjected to simulated earthquakes, flash floods, shark attacks, and so on. It was all quite interesting, particularly how close the different sets are to each other - wild western in one street, modern New York right next door. There were also all sorts of other rides and shows, such as Terminator 2 in 3D, a special effects demonstration, and so on. Definitely worth a visit in you’re in the area sometime :)

5 Sep 2003

Caltech News 2: Of physicists and flower gardens

Filed under: Caltech News (emails) — paulcook @ 7:54 pm

Hi all,

Apologies to those who may have heard some of the following news, in personalised replies before now. You’ve had a sneak preview. But hey, people spend lots of money to see movie premieres, so don’t complain! Thanks again to those that sent emails to me — it’s fantastic getting gossip from back home!

Been a few people asking about the dates I be back in SA during December. So here are they! Arriving 17 December in the morning, jetlagged and trying desperately to make sure I haven’t any trace of strange accents (on pain of death from a number of people). I’ll be leaving again on 5 January. I’ll definitely be in Johannesburg for some of the time, but may also go to Cape Town, depending on who else will be there.

3 Sep 2003

Caltech News 1: Intro

Filed under: Caltech News (emails) — paulcook @ 7:53 pm

Hi all!

Having managed to get internet access through the Caltech wireless network, I’ve finally had a chance and time to write some of the last few days’ news!

I have now finally arrived in Caltech, and moved into my accomodation. The first few days in Los Angeles were spent in an orientation programme organised by Fulbright, at the University of California at Los Angeles campus. It’s a very large university, about 40 000 students. We lived in on-campus apartment housing, just a block down the road from Sunset Boulevard, Belagio drive and Bel Air (which, if you don’t know the name, is a subsurb with lots of movie stars in it. Apparently.)