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)!
Emails from me have become a little scarce recently (sorry!), mostly due to competition from my blog. For those that haven’t visited it yet, a blog is roughly an online journal, with articles on … anything I feel like, really. Mine is at http://langabi.name, and I will mention a few articles from there later in this email.
2005 has seen my theoretical physics PhD efforts moving along, and I’m now mostly finished with coursework and am involved in more serious research. The project we’re working on at the moment has to do with improving and investigating some of the mathematics in a conjectured correspondence between, on the one hand, a string theory microscopic description of black holes; and on the other, an obscure but relatively easy to approach string theory model called topological string theory. It’s an exciting area to be working in, as the last few years have seen the first plausible models for a quantum description of black holes – and a possible resolution of the longstanding debate about what happens to information when it falls into a black hole.
On more mundane issues, I’ve been promoted to an office on the top floor of my building – right across the corridor from last year’s Nobel prize winner, and around the corner from my advisor. Mostly, this is intimidating, but it’s good to feel like a part of the research group. My Fulbright funding has finally run out, so I am teaching and marking for the second year undergraduate general physics course. The material is easy enough to teach, but it has been taking a vast amount of time away from research, which has been very frustrating. Hopefully some plans we teaching assistants have come up with between ourselves will make this coming term a little more manageable.
My mother was able to visit me in Pasadena (Los Angeles) in February. This was an excellent opportunity to convince her that our apartment does indeed contain both food and furniture; that my apartment mates and friends here are great people; and that I am doing some work.
June was spent in the beautiful town of Boulder, Colorado, for a string theory summer institute. Aimed at post-graduate students, the four weeks were spent in lectures and workshops from some of the world’s leading string theorists. I certainly learnt a lot about areas that I wasn’t as familiar with beforehand, and I had the chance to meet many of the big names, and 50 other string theory students.
While there I finally decided to buy some rock climbing gear, and since then have been climbing at least once most weeks. Mostly this has been at in an indoor climbing gym as part of a Caltech-offered PE class, but I’ve also been able to climb outdoors a few times. The best trip was to Red Rocks, just outside Las Vegas, with two of the students I had met in Colorado in June. We spent four days climbing in the beautiful and colourful mountains each day, then returning to the jacuzzi in our hotel in the evening, and finally heading out to the Strip for some dinner and laughing at people. We were there over Halloween, so saw more Elvis’s than any sane person should ever have to. Really an excellent trip and hopefully not the last of its kind! More at http://langabi.name/blog/2005/11/21/climbing-at-red-rocks
I spent August in Southern Africa. My family and I visited the Victoria Falls (and white-water rafted the great Zambezi river), and spent some days walking with the elephants in the Okavango Delta in Botswana (more at http://langabi.name/blog/2005/09/06/walking-with-the-elephants). Then I spent an excellent two weeks with friends in Johannesburg, and had some very useful physics conversations at Wits University.
Life in LA continues to feature its usual absurdities (the movie-star governor, the traffic, the pollution, the image-obsessed people, and then the clearly image not-at-all-obsessed people). I was able to live the Hollywood dream a little when Ahmed Kathrada, of Robbin Island fame, was in LA to launch his memoirs in the US. Since I know him, I was able to get invited to the launch, so was in the audience of around 150 including the likes of Sidney Poitier, Samuel L. Jackson, Quincy Jones, and many others. I also played Hollywood tour guide to the incoming international students at Caltech, as a volunteer for orientation – so apparently I’m becoming an expert.
Next year will hopefully see the research take off, since I need to complete the next hurdle – my oral candidacy exam – sooner rather than later, for funding reasons. I may also, if things work out, be able to attend the 2006 Strings conference, to be held in Beijing. And of course I’m looking forward to my next trip home!
Seasons greetings to everyone, and my best wishes for 2006!