Saturday Shopping in Aspen

By cjohnson | August 6, 2005 3:36 pm

Got a bit of shopping in, partly because I needed some supplies, and partly because it’s fun to just wander around Aspen (if you don’t let several of the people get to you). It’s a sunny day, and lots of people are out enjoying it. I’m stocking up for a medium-length hike up to Cathedral Lake tomorrow with Cliff Burgess and David Tong (two other physicists on the workshop here). This will be fun since we’ll take it at a nice pace (none of us are the mountain-climbing physicists of the “death march” variety), enjoy the scenery, and talk about everything under the sun including physics. (Come to think of it, we’ll probably go well beyond what can be found under this sun, or any sun, for that matter.) Who knows, we might write a paper on what we’ve figured out when we return!

Yep, there’s still a good supply of totally pointless stores selling overpriced ridiculous knick-knacks. These are the vast majority of the stores, in fact. The great thing about Aspen is that it has at least one of each of the really useful stores that you need, selling stuff at regular prices. There’s a fantastic hardware store (where I got a 4mm hex key wrench for a handlebar project) and a sort of old-fashioned General Store that has lots of useful things from a pharmacy to a newsagents to good supplies of art materials. There’s an excellent bakery selling good bread, at least two shops well-stocked with good wine, and a wonderful independent bookstore. (The grocery stores are fine for the basics). So I don’t mind the high-end tat-shops (find them quite funny actually -you won’t believe some of the stuff they’re selling) at all; this is a tourist trap after all.

shopping.jpg Of course, there’s the Saturday street market. There’s a lot of tat there too, but there’s always a few good stalls selling fresh produce. Yes, the peach lady who I always get peaches from each year was there, and (yes!) the people selling the freshly roasted peppers are here again! The still-warm peppers (in the hot, steaming plastic bag, next to the loaf of bread) have now pleasantly filled the whole apartment with their amazing smell and I wish I could share this scent with you.

Bit of calculating, cycling (after installing some bar ends on the handlebars of the Brompton for wider firmer gripping), cooking, and then maybe taking in Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and that’ll be the day for me.


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Food and Drink, Personal, Travel
  • Cian

    After frequenting the excellent 3 Quarks Daily filter blog for a few months, I decided that I prefer group blogs to individual ones. It seems that in a group situation the contributers are always aware of themselves, thinking “what will the rest of the guys this of this post, eh?”. It usually keeps unchecked rambling to a minimum. That and the fact that I like the community-vibe thing. It’s like fighting the morning work traffic on a bus or train rather than carr-ing (spell check?) it on your own.

    So when I found out (through 3QD) that the forces behind the intruiging Orange Quark and Preposterous Universe blogs were getting together with some of their like-minded physics pals to form a new Uber Blog, I made straight for the add bookmark button.

    So far, I must say, I think it’s been a sucessful venture on practically every front. You guys regularly provide links to interesting stories, stimulating opinions on a range of topics, thorough reviews on modern physics, and still manage to find the time to inject a bit of humour into proceedings.

    My only issue with CU, I hate to say, is the occasional appearance of these random, pointless and un-interesting posts. Clifford, while it’s obvious that you can (and do) make many really worthwhile, absorbing posts, why do you then go and tell us what you went and bought at the supermarket?

    I know it’s your (plural) blog, who am I to say what should and should not be posted, why don’t I go and start my own etc., but I’m not trying to be offensive or anything – I really am sorry if my clumsy writing gives that impression. I’m just trying to tell you how I feel: when I visit the site and scan the new posts, my heart sinks a little if I see the name Clifford at the top. I can’t help it!

  • Clifford

    Love you too, Cian! Best, -cvj

    P.S. Do try and get one of those lovely fancy browsers with a scroll bar. 😉

  • Sean

    Have to come to Clifford’s defense here, as he is too shy and self-effacing to make the case himself. Of course, on any blog that chooses not to limit itself to a very narrow range of topics, some people will inevitably not be fond of some subset of the posts. I know for a fact that there are people who read CV and skip all of the science posts! To my own mind, the grocery-shopping posts are an integral part of the atmosphere. String theorists are a dime a dozen, but not many of them appreciate a nicely roasted pepper.

    But, mostly: glad you like it so far, Cian. Thoughtful feedback is always appreciated, even if we respectfully disagree.

  • Peter Woit

    I agree, it’s terrible when Clifford writes these charming and whimsical posts about the everyday details of life, since it denies me an opportunity to viciously and mercilessly attack his views on string theory.

    Hmm, that bread, the peppers and the fruit do look delicious (not so big on yellow vegetables myself though).

  • Cian

    Maybe I am being a little petty. The pepper appreciation point is well taken, Sean. Indeed it is probably these differences that keep me coming back here to CV!

    Anyway, keep up with the good stuff guys, no doubt I will be terrorising these parts some time again in the not-too-distant future.

    PS Clifford, I can’t decide which would irk me more – if you continue to post your day-to-day deatils or if you caved and cut them out altogether! I suspect (and secretly hope) it will be the former, since I think it’s in keeping with the whole internet ethos to post what you want when you want to.

    Slán for now

  • amanda

    Actually, as a student I am totally fascinated by these kinds of posts from cvj. I’m not being sarcastic: the fact that there exist people out there who can do physics research without constantly being gripped by anxiety is deeply reassuring.
    Actually, to speak truth, it would be nice to see a posting from any of the gang of the form: god, I haven’t published a paper in x months, oh no, I’M DOOMED!!! Or do people at your level somehow grow out of that feeling? Do any of you ever fear that the creative juices will ever run out, and wonder what you will do if that happens? Sorry if this is too personal or offensive….

  • Clifford

    Thanks Sean, Peter and Amanda.

    Amanda, your question is excellent. As I sat here with my coffee, waiting for my steel-cut Irish oatmeal to slow cook, (occasionally stirring it so that it won’t stick) wondering if the weather will be good for the hike on which I’m about to leave, (get the message Cian?) I had a little time to think about it.

    I think that there was a time when I worried about the raw number of papers I produced. At some point, I stopped, and became more concerned with making sure that I uncovered some good physics regularly, which of course has some correlation with number of papers, but less so. In other words, I’d be really happy with one really good paper with some good physics in it for a given year rather than five or six with routine computations. Of course, people (funding agencies, your Deans, your colleagues, etc) do -if given no other information- measure just volume and nothing else, and so it is natural to worry about volume when you’re younger. Now that I am less concerned with volume, and more with developing an interesting specific direction of research over a longer period, I must also put time into building awareness amongst my colleagues in the field of what is actually in those fewer papers. So time is taken up with giving seminars, having discussions, and making contact between mine and other people’s research, etc. (One does not do physics in a vacuum, but as part of a community which relies on public funds for support.) Also, I like to think that I contribute to physics in several other valuable ways: discussions and guidance of graduate students and postdocs, and contributions to workshops and schools through discussions and lectures. All of these are valuable (and, to speak to your concern, at least partly *measurable* ) contributions to physics research later in one’s career. As a younger person you do less of the latter, and so it is natural to worry about just volume (played off in balance against quality), since that is the measure that you have most control over.

    Do I worry that my creative juices will run out? No. I’ve found that the more physics I know, the more ideas I have. (I can have a lot of fun sitting in a random seminar and feeling lots of ideas sparking off from so many of the things being presented, for example. When younger, I was just confused by a lot of what was said.)

    The enemy is not the running out of good ideas, but rather the lack of time to work on them and explore them. That is the fear, if anything, as you get older and more busy, but you learn to not panic about it. One way of not panicing is to try to make sure that those things that sap one’s time are worthwhile things to do as well, so then there is not a feeling of time being completely wasted.

    Thanks so much for raising this interesting point, and do keep posting comments. I really want to hear from more younger people on a variety of issues, whether it be cvj’s frivolities, or the “deep stuff” from the others. :-)



  • Becky

    Oh, you had to mention the fresh-roasted peppers from Aspen’s street market! Mmmmmm. (They keep surprisingly well in the freezer, by the way, although I suppose that defeats the purpose of them being “fresh” roasted.)

  • citrine

    I don’t mind a non-Physics topic per se – whether it be animal, vegetable, mineral, political or otherwise – but I’d like to see a fresh and astute take on the subject. 😉

  • Steve

    What I like about physics blogs like this one is that you can go from very technical threads to ones about everyday life and activities, such as shopping. It adds the welcome human touch since many people still seem to think of a scientist as just an ice-cold computer mind not much interested in anything else.

    Incidently, the peppers would go great with a well-done steak, some mushrooms and scoop of mash potatoe, all washed done with very very cold beer.

  • Steve

    Correction. That should be: scoop of mashed potato, all washed down with very very cold beer. No “e” on potato”:)

  • Jacques Distler

    There’s a famous story that, when Ken Wilson became a professor at Cornell, he had only three publications to his name. Hans Bethe chided him for breaking a nearly perfect record, because two of the three “weren’t any good.”

    The stuff Wilson is famous for (the Operator Product Expansion, the Renormalization Group) came later, after he already had tenure.

    I certainly wouldn’t recommend trying to repeat Wilson’s path. But I tend to agree with Clifford on the whole quality vs. quantity debate.

  • Abbas Raza

    Since you seem to appreciate feedback, here are my two cents: I tend to agree with Cian in that I personally do not find details of bloggers personal lives (of the here’s-what-I-had-for-dinner-last-night variety) particularly compelling. (Maybe you have to be an A-list celebrity for people to have that much curiosity about you, as the sales of tabloids attest.) Having said that, I have enjoyed many of Sean’s personal stories from conferences, travel, etc., and I didn’t mind Clifford’s characterization of Aspen (it sounds awful to me, but I am allergic to those stores with the fancy arty knickknacks–reminds me of Woodstock, which I visited recently). I don’t see why you should respond sarcastically, Clifford, to a reasonable expression by a readers of what they like to see on the blog. You should be glad to get the feedback. (Be more thick-skinned, man!) Your comment above in response to Amanda’s question is interesting, though. Overall, you guys do a GREAT job, and thanks for that.

  • Clifford

    Abbas Raza – There is a thin line between sarcasm and humour. Be more perceptive, man! In other words, give me the benefit of the doubt, please. I appreciate your comments. -cvj

  • Clifford

    Steve, your suggestion is an excellent one, although I might make a substitution on the steak. Thanks! -cvj

  • Clifford

    Becky, glad to hear you like the roasted peppers too. I did not know that they kept well in the freezer. I will try that when I have too many to consume in a short time… (I’ve eaten a ton of them already while they were hot!) -cvj

  • Cian

    Perhaps I should clarify my earlier point a little. I don’t have a problem at all with people’s stories about their day-to-day lives… as long as it leads somewhere! I think it’s great when someone can expand something unusual or interesting that happened to them last Thursday or whatever to a larger social commentary, or point out a pattern in life that many people can appreciate.

    A trivial story about my cat’s food preferences, offered on it’s own, is just that: trivial. Nothing more! And that’s all harmless of course, but it’s not going to keep me coming back for more!

  • Mark

    Amanda, that’s a great question. Clifford gave a very nice answer about the quality vs. quantity of papers and I agree with pretty much everything he said. A lot of it applies to me also.

    Speaking for myself, I do indeed occasionally worry about my creativity dropping off, or having gone some amount of time without writing a new paper. These days I’d say I worry less, because I’ve gone through such worries a number of times and come out the other side, and so I suppose that, when I’m faced with such worries nowadays, I recall that things have always gone well before and that helps.

    I should say that, looking back, such worries usually come when I’m not working well for another reason (personal, or health related, or any number of other things) and are not really a reflection of something intrinsic in my work or creative abilities. Most physicists continue to have useful and interesting ideas, for the reasons Clifford explained.

    Of course, tenure helps one not to worry. By this, I don’t mean that one needn’t be so productive when tenured (one is still working just as hard). I mean that some of the pressures to write a large number of papers are less then, and one can perhaps focus a little more on quality, and some of the other fulfilling aspects of being a physicist.

    For what it’s worth, perhaps the most important piece of advice to a young physicist who is occasionally gripped by such anxiety is to try to stop the anxiety preventing you from doing that next piece of work that will convince you there’s nothing to worry about. Some people just freeze up, and that, of course, can be a problem.

  • Travis

    Mark, your last paragraph is definitely something I can relate to. I have a problem with anxiety and often completely freeze up due to it. It is something I often have to struggle with so that I can continue with what has to be done. I find that the next piece of work often comes very easily once a clear that hurdle, even though my anxiety had been making it seem impossible to do.

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  • Cliff

    I must confess that I’m a blog virgin, but came to take a look since Clifford said he’d posted the pictures from today’s hike. Very interesting! I may be hooked now.

    I particularly liked Amanda’s question – I remember having the same questions when I was a student. One of the drawbacks of physics compared with other subjects is that you have to study for so long before you can really see the “frontier”. (The same is not true in math, say, where one can state unsolved problems in terms which a high-school student can understand.)

    And as a student you are mostly exposed to well-posed problems, and so your performance doesn’t give you a sense as to how you will perform once you have to formulate problems on your own, as in research.

    The good news is that once you get to the frontier, there is no shortage of interesting problems laying around. It kind of reminds me of a time I took my kids to visit a beach on which fossils could be found. At first they seemed very hard to find, but once you found your first one all of a sudden you could see fossils everywhere.

  • Abbas Raza

    Actually, Clifford, I don’t think there is a line between sarcasm and humor, as they are overlapping sets: some sarcasm is humorous, and some humor can be sarcastic. Per your request, though, I give you the benefit of any doubts about your humorous intentions. I know that you are new to blogging, and I suspect that you will find that without the tonal and body-linguistic cues and clues of face-to-face speech, remarks are often misinterpreted on the web, despite your admirable attempts at using emoticons to accent your writing.

  • Abbas Raza

    Oh, and one more thing: what led me to lean toward a more negative opinion of your response to Cian, rather than the charitable and humorous one that you are urging now, was that while you thanked several people for their responses to your post, you rather pointedly left Cian out. This left me, obviously mistakenly, to assume that you only like to receive fan mail.

    I am trying to be as perceptive as you rightly encourage me to be.

  • Clifford

    Ha Ha! This seems to have botherd you a lot, Abbas….. Remember your advice about thick skin?! 😉 -cvj

  • Clifford

    Cliff, Welcome to the blogoshpere. And thanks for your comment on that important issue raised by Amanda. I hope we have more discussion of this sort on this topic, either on this thread, or maybe a as a result of a later post. To continue your thought: I particularly like the fossil analogy in describing the finding of problems -or even good ideas- to work on. It gets better with experience. I must hasten to add that just because one can think of lots of problems and good ideas, it does not mean that they translate automatically into good physics. That’s where the hard work comes in. We earn our daily bread by trying to beat these ideas into really worthwhile physics results. This can take weeks, months, or years, depending upon all sorts of variables. The year-or-more long projects are the ones that people who are more senior tend to engage upon, for the reasons of pressure to produce that several of us have mentioned earlier. -cvj

  • amanda

    Just a quick *thank you* to all who responded, especially CVJ and Mark! Just one observation though: I really don’t think that tenure has anything to do with this…my observations suggest that the tenured people are no more or less anxious about where their next paper is coming from. It’s a question of self-confidence and personal style I guess…anyway thanks again!

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