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absent mindedness


With everything else going on I forgot something pretty big today. Just as I was sitting down to eat lunch today at school, I spontaneously blurted out "shit! fuck! shit!" When asked what was wrong, I explained "I think I'm supposed to be in court today!"

It's true... I was summoned for Jury duty about a month ago, and I went through a lot of shit but ended up getting it delayed for a month. They rescheduled it for this week. And I remembered to call last Friday to see if I needed to report on Monday. And the recorded message said that no... I didn't need to come in Monday, but I should call back Monday evening to see if I should report on Tuesday. And my number was in the next block which makes it very likely I'd have to go in. Monday evening we had so many people come by to look at the place, and I'd been running around all day worrying about other stuff, that I completely forgot to call. And it took me all the way till afternoon today to realize it.

As I frantically searched the web for any phone number that was in some way associated with the courthouse, I realized I didn't even remember what my number was, so I wasn't sure if I could even learn anything from calling their recorded line. After a couple phonecalls, though, I managed to find an "emergency line" for people who were supposed to come in and weren't going to make it. I called that, wondering if they'd be pissed that I was using their emergency line after the fact, when they already knew I hadn't made it. But as things have been going lately, it magically turned out perfectly fine... I was indeed supposed to be there this morning at 9am, but when I asked what to do now she said "no problem, I'll just give you a new number and you can come in tomorrow instead." Whew... narrowly escaped being fined for contempt of court! :) This probably happens all the time I guess, but in the future I really need to be more careful about checking my todo list every 24 hours or less. "Call Jury line" was on there, but I just hadn't looked at it. So now I just called and verified that I need to be in tomorrow at 9am instead. As long as I don't forget by the time I set my alarm tonight, I'm good. Come to think of it, as soon as I finish typing this I'm going to take care of that.

This happens to me a lot, and it seems to be getting worse. I really need a better way of remembering things I have to do, especially when they aren't a part of my usual routine. I write everything down on my todo list, but for some reason I often forget to check it. I think I need to just set a time and start checking it at that time every day to make sure.

After that fiasco was avoided, I met with Tom Banks who just got back from various travels (Strings 2005 in Toronto, followed by a visit to Princeton). He came back with somewhat shocking news, at least to me. He wants me to forget about Matrix Theory and work on something competely different (debunking some of the Cyclic Universe ideas put forth by Paul Steinhardt and friends--whom he ran into while at Princeton). I will make a separate entry on this when I get a chance, but basically I'm a little uncertain of whether I'm going to do what he suggests or keep working on what I'm working on. I think the Matrix Theory stuff is a lot cooler, but I agree with him that it will be longer term than we thought and it would be kind of nice to get some quick publishable results. We also had an interesting conversation about Lee Smolin, whom I didn't realize was a friend of Tom's until after I brought him up. Then again, not surprising since High Energy Theory is a pretty tight circle of people who all tend to know each other at least somewhat. I recommended that he read Smolin's latest paper (which I found very interesting--from my admittedly inexperienced point of view), but he seemed pretty against the idea saying that reading Lee's papers is usually very frustrating since they don't see eye-to-eye on many things. Nevertheless, I'm hoping curiosity might get the better of him and he'll decide to check it out anyway. More on this later. Life is going by at a blinding pace; I've been writing new entries on a daily basis now, but new stuff just keeps happening and at some point I won't be able to keep up.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 3rd, 2005 04:33 am (UTC)
Add "check todo list" to your todo list :)

Thats exactly why I'm not registered to vote. No Jury duty. I'd rathar see our government go to hell in a handbasket than have to sit in court.
Aug. 3rd, 2005 06:08 am (UTC)
never updated my license, so I just mail in my SD county verification or Almeda county stuff accordingly

....apparently I've got a phone bill trying to chase me around for $10 4 months after I canceled my last 3 addresses, if t-mobile can't keep up....on the other hand come to think of it my parents got my tax refund, not me, bummer
Aug. 3rd, 2005 06:36 am (UTC)

As long as I don't forget by the time I set my alarm tonight, I'm good. Come to think of it, as soon as I finish typing this I'm going to take care of that.

Jesus christ, I suck. The only thing that saved me this time (5 hours later) is my livejournal addiction... I can't go to bed without reading something on lj, and I happened to read this again which reminded me that I never set my alarm... even after thinking 5 minutes before I stood up that I needed to do it. :(
Aug. 3rd, 2005 07:01 am (UTC)
Advice from an attorney: "Simply don't receive jury summons. They're just delivered by mail, with no proof the intended person actually gets them. So 'nope, never got it' is never challenged, and won't land you in trouble the way actively trying to get out of it can."

The cyclic universe idea... isn't this "big bounce" scenario effectively ruled out by the recently observed accelerated expansion?

It's not surprising T.B. and L.S. don't see eye-to-eye. T.B. is gung-ho for string theory, and L.S. is open to alternatives like LQG. This paper in particular is about background independence -- one of the favored arguments for LQG and against strings.
Aug. 3rd, 2005 03:32 pm (UTC)
Ah, thanks for the advice on the summons. I hadn't even thought of that, I should have just ignored it from the start... they didn't even send it to the right address, but it ended up getting forwarded to me.

The cyclic universe idea... isn't this "big bounce" scenario effectively ruled out by the recently observed accelerated expansion?

We know now that the expansion is accelerating, so if it continues to accelerate, which is the simplest assumption... then there will definitely not be a big crunch. But some theorists work on models where the cosmological constant which causes the acceleration is actually dynamic... so that it might one day turn around and go the other way. While this seems a bit unlikely, it's not ruled out. The real problem with the cyclic universe is that there is instability during the bounce which causes the expanding phase to be completely different from the contracting phase (making the whole thing non-predictive). Steinhardt thinks he's shown that the instability would not cause a problem, but Banks thinks there is a glaring hole in his assumptions. I really need to make another entry on this though; don't have time to explain further now.
Aug. 3rd, 2005 01:56 pm (UTC)
I don't know if it would be useful to you, or even if it's a very good paper, but Linde wrote an amusingly snarky article about standard inflationary theory vs. the cyclic universe: http://www.arxiv.org/abs/hep-th/0205259.

Regarding background independence, my impression is that most string theorists are hoping for a background independent formulation of the theory, but I'm pretty sure Banks at some point has argued that there cannot be such a formulation of quantum gravity. Do you know if that's still his opinion?

My advice, for whatever it's worth given my similarly limited experience, would be to do the shorter-term project while continuing to read and think about the longer-term one.
Aug. 4th, 2005 12:50 am (UTC)
Thanks, I'll take a look. I read most of this paper today: http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0404480

while I was waiting to get selected for Jury (which never happened... I have to go back tomorrow and wait again while they finish the selection process). The first section of the paper is titled "The Cyclic Manifesto"! Could they sound any more dogmatic? :)

While we were talking about the instability issues in the bounce, a cosmologist poked his head in the door as he was walking by and said "Hey! If you're writing an anti Cyclic Universe paper, let me know, I want in!" and then kept on walking.

A big personal gripe I have with the paper I read today is his use of Bayesian reasoning to say that the probability of a cyclic universe is much much greater than the probability of an inflationary universe. Unless I'm completely misreading it, the reasoning is what I would consider "laughable"... he says that because inflation predicts huge volumes of spacetime which don't have stars in them... and because we see stars... it's less likely to be true. Completely ignoring the fact that if there weren't stars we wouldn't be around to not see them. I can't stand when people discount the anthropic principle, yet they go ahead and use their own (equally or more) ad hoc Bayesian priors to replace it. I guess it's a pet peeve of mine. Anthropic priors may not be the most objective predictive criteria for distinguishing theories, but they're a heck of a lot better than the crazy logic being used here. (But that's my opinion. Nothing Banks mentioned had anything to do with that.)

Regarding background independence, my impression is that most string theorists are hoping for a background independent formulation of the theory, but I'm pretty sure Banks at some point has argued that there cannot be such a formulation of quantum gravity. Do you know if that's still his opinion?

Yes, I'm glad you asked. That does still seem to be his opinion, and I was somewhat surprised and perhaps disappointed to hear it. I wasn't sure if it was just him or everyone who thought that, because I did get the impression somewhere that background independence was at least considered desirable, if not impractical. But Tom fairly clearly expressed the attitude to me yesterday that it was not something string theory should hope for in any way. I was disappointed because if he's right, then physics will always seem a bit incomplete to me. But that could just be an emotional reaction without any real reasoning behind it. I was also somewhat under the impression (or maybe just hoping) that Matrix Theory was more background independant than perturbative string theory. But to my surprise, he says that if anything, it's more background dependant than the rest of string theory. I didn't understand his explanation of why. And then he went into a lot of stuff about causal diamonds and other stuff which sounded really interesting but was way over my head.
Aug. 4th, 2005 03:33 am (UTC)

at least considered desirable, if not impractical

meant to write: at least desirable, if impractical. Damn double negatives!
Aug. 7th, 2005 06:27 pm (UTC)
I keep meaning to read this Cyclic Universe paper you linked to, but I haven't managed to get into it much without getting distracted. That sort of Bayesian reasoning does sound pretty suspect to me, though.

I read (well, "skimmed" is probably the more apt word) Banks's "Critique of Pure String Theory a few months ago, and I thought it was pretty interesting. It seemed like he was making the claim that quantum gravity appears to be entirely different depending on the asymptotics of the background: in AdS, you know quantum gravity is equivalent to a CFT; in flat space, there seems to be a holographic matrix theory correspondence. In deSitter, no one really knows what quantum gravity is, but it apparently is a theory with a finite number of states.

Now, I'm a little bit confused about this; after all, in a real theory of quantum gravity, wouldn't you think you could take flat space and deform it somehow by adding a small cosmological constant and continuously reach a deSitter theory? There's probably some reason why this doesn't make sense, and it probably has something to do with Banks's ideas about "asymptotic darkness," but there's some logic there I don't entirely follow. I should probably re-read that paper, and some of his others, but they're all so wordy.... Maybe if you figure out his argument you can summarize it in your LJ. :-)
Aug. 3rd, 2005 06:11 pm (UTC)
Jury duty? Worldwide taxation? No, thanks: I don't need US citizenship.

Being an H1B was even better: no FICA and no medicare.
Aug. 3rd, 2005 06:51 pm (UTC)
I've successfully ignored at least 4 jury duty summons without repercussions or even having to say "nope, never got it". I'd expect that flakiness is more typical than people who are duty bound to their civic responsibilities, so no enforcement.

To bad the IRS wasn't the same way...
Aug. 4th, 2005 04:47 am (UTC)

Too bad the IRS wasn't the same way...

Ouch, I hope you didn't find out there hard way. :) IRS bastards.
Aug. 7th, 2005 09:35 pm (UTC)
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )


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