Saturday, June 18, 2005

Homesick (I wanna go to the Valley Fiesta!)

Crap, it's a Saturday afternoon and I was busily working (aimlessly surfing the net), when I realized that in a couple of weeks my home town, Brisbane, has it's annual Valley Fiesta. Damn, I wanna go home so I can spend the best part of a week drunk wondering around watching good bands, going to art exhibitions, eating good food and checking out cool fashion.
Oh, I haven't explained what the Valley Fiesta is yet have I, well normally it's a weekend where you wonder around drunk watching good bands, going to art exhibitions, eating good food and checking out cool fashion....
The "Valley" is an area of Brisbane that has a bunch of pretty decent nightclubs (Okay I'll admit it also has a bunch of pretty crap nightclubs as well, but no-one remembers them and they don't survive long...) packed into a fairly confined area. It also has numerous art galleries, lots of fashion boutiques (so you can get clothes to wear to said nightclubs and exhibitions at aforementioned galleries). Oh and the Valley music scene is famous for churning out great Australian bands, they are particularly supported by clubs such as Rics, The Troubadour, The Rev, and The Zoo.
Anyway, the Valley Fiesta is normally a weekend where Brisbane celebrates, well, The Valley. All the clubs run good gigs, the fashionistas do their fashion parade things, and the artsy people appreciate art. The city council chips in by shutting down some streets to whack up some stages for the biggest bands. Basically, it's one big party. This year it is running from Wednesday the 6th of July to Sunday the 10th (in Bris Vegas weekends are a bit flexible). Last year the Hilltop Hoods headlined, and about 200 000 people showed up to watch... It was a pretty crazy night...
Damn I wish I could just fly home for a week...

Monday, June 13, 2005

What's awesome on my ipod this week

This week I'm totally into a "best of" Billy Bragg album I bought on the weekend:

Must I Paint You a Picture: The Essential Billy Bragg - by Billy Bragg

OK, so normally I just focus on a song or two, but this week I'm changing the rules (Billy would be happy about that). If I were to focus on a song or two (or, more precisely, three) it would be hard, there are a hell of a lot of really good songs on this album. But just to be quirky:

To have and have not - by Billy Bragg

To have and have not - by Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards

I've chosen this song, and the wicked cover by Lars and the boys, because it sums up what Billy is all about. Politics, dammit, politics. Billy is pissed, and still is, that this is a world where people can work hard, try to do the right thing, and still end up getting screwed over. This has been his fight all along. He spent the best part of the 80s fighting Thatcherism in Britain, specifically he played a large part in encouraging the youth to get politically active. Anyway, musically the song rocks. The singing isn't perfect, but you don't care because the emotion is all there and it all just fits into place. I guess that's what good folk music is all about. The punked-up cover by Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards (pretty much Rancid in disguise, at least for this song), is pretty much perfect. As Lars put it - the song seems to be written for them by Billy, even though they didn't exist when he wrote it.

Anyway, I said I wasn't going to post about individual songs. I guess I lied a bit. The reason I love this album is because it reminds me so much of my angry, angry political youth (anger is additive, two angers is bigger than one). The first time I got into Billy Bragg was when I was about 17, a really good friend of mine (Dim, to all those that know me) introduced me to his music while we were camping on an island just off Bris Vegas. At the time I was a pretty vehement anarchist. I had spent way too much time reading about history and politics and I was pissed at the world. Billy, was perfect.

A great thing about Billy's lyrics is his ability to punch out catchy one-liners. In Sexuality Billy professes,

"Safe sex doesn't mean no sex, it means use your imagination.".

Another classic, which speaks volumes the more you think about it, comes from A new England,

"I saw two shooting stars last night. I wished on them, but they were only satellites. It's wrong to wish on space hardware.".

My favourite line though comes from Waiting for the great leap forwards, where Billy emphatically exclaims,

"The revolution is just a t-shirt away.".

Actually, Waiting for the great leap forwards, is far and away my favourite Billy Bragg song. Everytime I hear I'm filled with regret. Any regular readers should, by now, realize that I'm an idealist. I'm always torn between what my instincts are saying I should do and what the world around me is telling me I have to do. Politics is my passion. I've been obsessed by it since I was about thirteen years old. However, I'm a physicist. I chose this path as a purely pragmatic decision. I always wonder if I didn't turn my back on something important, that maybe politics is what I should be spending my time doing.

Billy's song is aimed at me. Well, it's aimed at all of those who yearn for a real change in our society, yet seem to be unable to find it within themselves to actually work to change it. I'm pretty sure Billy puts himself in the same camp. Ultimately there is something, but I can't work out what, that seems to temper our spirits. If we want change, we have to start with ourselves, but this is something that seems impossibly hard. It is also something that is probably very easy.

Why do I think Billy feels as though he is unable to grasp this sense of change himself? Well it's pretty much because of this line:

"Mixing pop and politics, he asks me what the use is? I offer him embarrassment and the usual excuses. While looking down the corridor to where the van is waiting, I'm looking for the great leap forwards. ".

Oh yea, for all the physicists out there, hopefully this line will get you thinking,

"And in the Soviet Union a scientist is blinded by the resumption of nuclear testing and he is reminded that Doctor Robert Oppenheimer's optimism fell at the first hurdle.".

So does anyone out there think that I made the wrong decision? Should I be doing politics or physics????

Friday, June 10, 2005

Shout out

Ok, so I have to give the Paris Hilton of Physics, Caolionn O'Connell, a major shout out for successfully defending her thesis. Well done Caolionn!!!! Oh, and if you didn't want to be known as the "Paris Hilton of Physics" you should never have used the phrase in your blog! :-)
Which leads me to wonder. If I was a "celebrity of physics", who would I be?

Friday, June 03, 2005

Public (dis)service announcement

So, for some time I've been thinking about this post. Should I put it up, should I keep it under wraps? But, in the end I've decided that censorship is a bad thing. People have to decide to use information as they see fit and I do not have some divine power to know what is and isn't good for people. So, here goes.
My list of PhD killing websites:
  1. PhD comics. This website is a masterpiece. A comic strip about unmotivated grad students for unmotivated grad students. Brilliant on so many levels....
  2. Homestarrunner. Again, absolutely brilliant. This website is what the internet was supposed to be. It's funny, quirky, updated regularly and continually innovative. Particularly awesome is "Strong Bad's emails". These are updated every two weeks and are frequently hilarious - though, not everyone finds it funny, and you kinda have to have a tortured mind to really find it side splitting. Oh yea, you should also try playing "Peasants Quest".
  3. Stick cricket. You can spend hours on this site. Though it will pretty much only appeal to grad students from countries that play cricket. The game is pretty damned hard and pretty damned addictive.
  4. Quantum Diaries. This is a collection of blogs by particle physicists put together for the "year of physics". There is a hell of a lot of reading on this site.
  5. Webdiary. This is pretty much for Australians. It's an online bloggish forumy type thing mainly about Oz politics. Once you get absorbed in one of the arguments you can watch your day disappear. Particularly controversial articles will often get 100+ comments. It takes a long time to read all of them...

Okay. That's enough for now. Sorry if I've destroyed anyone's PhD's. I know at least a few you are writing up now - please try to stay away from these sites!!!! For the rest of you, well, enjoy them if you haven't been to them already.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

What's awesome on my ipod this week

This week on my ipod I'm featuring:
I wrote Holden Caufield - by Screeching Weasel
and to accompany it I strongly recommend the following book:
The Catcher in the Rye - by J. D. Salinger.
Screeching Weasel are a punk band from Chicago. I wrote Holden Caufield was the last song of the album "How to make enemies and irritate people". In my opinion it is their best album, though I haven't heard anything of theirs post-1997. "How to make enemies and irritate people" was an interesting album, the style of punk is very poppy, a lot of beach boysish sounds and lots of feel good not-so-serious music. Most of the songs are short and snappy with some amusing subjects. One of my favourites is "99", an ode to the girlfriend of the 70s spy-spoof character Maxwell Smart.
In the last three songs of the album the mood changes dramatically. The music style is still pop-punk with a surf edge, but the subject matter gets a lot darker. "Kathy isn't right", "Kathy's on the Roof", and "I wrote Holden Caufield" seem to be an exploration of the effects of depression and mental illness.
The final song, "I wrote Holden Caufield", gets it's title from the main character of J. D. Salinger's famous novel "The Catcher in the Rye". The opening line of the song is pretty powerful:

I loved you for the minute that you decided to tell me the truth, I heard you,
and that night I cried for you.

If you would like to know more about Screaching Weasel you might want to check out Ben Weasel's blog.
The reason I chose to feature this album is that I just finished reading "The Catcher in the Rye". The book is a story told in the first person about a few days of a 16 year old boy's life. The boy, Holden Caufield, is struggling to come to terms with the death of one of his brothers several years earlier. He finds it hard to get emotionally attached to anything and lies continuously to avoid getting too close to anyone.
It's a funny thing reading emotionally powerful books like this. I always find myself getting drawn into the book. I get pretty obsesive about it. I find that for the period over which I read the book it kinda becomes my life and the mood of the book dominates my thought processes. It's one of the reasons that I don't read as much as I probably should. I get into a book, and then I can't put it down for a couple of days and then it's over again.
I'm a madman sometimes. I really am.

Postcard from East Germany

Sorry for the lack of posting lately. No good excuses, just me being slack.
Last weekend I visited Leipzig with my girlfriend, Sarah (in blue). We went there to visit her friend Marlen (in red). It was a really fun weekend. The weather was spectacular, most of the time the temperature was in the 30s, not something I really expected.
On Friday we went to a lake near Leipzig to just chill out and soak up the sun. I took this picture while we were there:

Notice the power station on the other side of the lake. It's all a bit different from what I'm used to and it's really easy to make jokes about East Germany and pollution and all that, but the reality of it all was that it was a really fun day.
Probably the only down side to the weekend was travelling home. Something that is really cool about Germany is this website. Basically, this website is an organized form of hitchhiking. People post to it if they are driving somewhere and have space in their car and then you can ring, sms, or email these people to get a lift. It's a cool idea. Anyway, I had a lift from Leipzig to Munich on Sunday arvo. It's about 400 km or so. It took 7 hrs and 35 mins to get to Munich!!! The roadworks were crazy. We spent more than half the time stuck in traffic jams. Fortunately, it only took 7 hrs and 35 mins. If it had taken 7 hrs and 40 mins to get to Munich I would have missed the last train to Innsbruck and would have been sleeping at the station!