Remember to breath

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Driving across inland Australia is not at all like being in the lab

 

It’s incredible how much the Australian landscape looks nothing like a laboratory. I just spent a week travelling through the interior not by plane or train but by car. And for no particular reason other than it is a really great way to spend a holiday.

The trouble with research is that it is all about details. While details are critically important for progress to be made and problems to be solved, the constant focus on details can create a closed mind-set. The result is that we researchers can forget to look up from our daily pattern of struggling from one detail to the next and see the broader picture of what we are working towards.

Taking regular breaks should be compulsory for anyone working in research. This provides time for rethinking projects, reassessing priorities and even some problem-solving.

Driving holidays are really useful for this sort of time out. Kilometre upon kilometre of clear thinking space complete with great music and a multitude of snack food. Nothing speaks of leaving the lab behind like passing mobs of kangaroos and emus in the open plains.

Of course other holidays are great for time-out and clear thinking. The key is to get away from the lab bench and that’s the hard part. There’s so often ‘just one more thing’ that needs doing and then the next time you look up, 6 months have passed.

My mentor once told me that it’s always a bad time to have holidays, but if you don’t plan for them, you never take them. Sage advice. Now I lock in holidays far in advance and work around them. And every single time, I am completely flat out busy getting things done before I go and yet I always return refreshed and eager.

Any sort of break is essential to clear the head and see all the mistakes that can happen when spending all the time looking at details. We just need to remember to take that break.

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Teleporting through the holidays

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The wibbly wobbly timey wimey experience of the holiday period

Teleportation and time travel have ignited our imagination for over a century and yet, in so far as I know, neither technology currently exists. While we wait for science reality to catch up with science fiction, there is one way we can and do experience these phenomena, and that is over the holiday period.

Star Trek is the prime example of teleportation used as an effective mode of transport with more favourable outcomes than those depicted in, say, The Fly. My childhood of long car rides and my adult life of even longer plane rides have been plagued with teleportation fantasies.

H.G. Wells created a Time Machine for his intrepid protagonist to travel into the future. The younger version of me was never impressed by this. What is the point of having a time machine if you don’t go into the past to see dinosaurs? A waste. Like buying an expensive sports car just for driving around town.

Of course the car as a time machine in Back to the Future made perfect sense for traveling to places with both fuel and roads. The DeLorean may not cope in dinosaur times but I would be willing to give it a go.

Traveling through both time and space is a tantalizing prospect made famous in Doctor Who with the TARDIS. The possibilities of combining the two concepts in one clunky police box are seemingly endless and surely warrant further research.

Recently, teleportation research has yielded impressive results. Although so far this involves teleporting the state of a particle up to a few meters and not, for instance, me with my luggage to somewhere over the other side of the world. Useful for super-fast internet, not so much for avoiding airport lounges.

As for time travel, there is still much conjecture about whether or not it is even possible. But it is. Because every year at this time many people experience what could only be described as being teleported through time and space. They enter a time warp around December 24th and the next thing they know, it’s early January.

What happened during that between-time is never clear. Only fuzzy memories remain of being very, very full but still finding room for pudding, of being surrounded by lots of people who look vaguely familiar, and, at one point, there being a lot of pretty bright lights and a feeling of heartfelt love for whoever was standing next to them at that moment.

This is the first year for many years that I haven’t worked through the between-time and it’s been amazing. I need to document this time for future reference because certainly by next week it will feel as though I never left work. Which is kind of like traveling through time and space.

I think I’d prefer a TARDIS.