Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Last night as the sun set and the temperature wavered above 30 degrees, the air felt like nettles. Dark clouds blew quickly across the sky and swirls of dust came straight at you whichever direction you faced. A little before 9 the storm broke and forks of lightning darted across the mountains to the West of the city, the clouds magnifying the light overhead. For half an hour the rains came and seemed to clean everything and during that time I walked outside feeling cleansed and pummeled by the rolling thunder. Those dashing inside or sprinting with umbrellas clearly thought me a fool and in the sweltering heat I thought the same of them. It was only after the storm had passed, the temperatures dropped and I got back to my apartment that I realized the real reason that they'd all darted for cover. On washing my hair which had begun to feel a little strange I discovered a sink covered in muck and grime, picked up by the rain and deposited on the city. Walking around today, the cars parked last night look like they've been off-roading for a month, all covered from bumper to roof in a coating of sandy mud. I shan't be wallowing in the joys of summer rain any time soon.

I commented over the winter about how impressed I was that even in temperatures below -10 people didn't seem concerned about frostbite and spent a considerable amount of time and energy keeping themselves warm outside. I realise now that the temperatures have risen, that the reason I thought that so many people enjoyed this masochistic behavior was because a small percentage of an awful lot of people is still a lot of people. It doesn't take a large fraction of 14 million to look like Beijing is busy and only now that everyone is coming outside do I see the population in its full capacity. The streets are even more crowded, the roads even more congested and the cycle lanes at even higher potential of pile-ups. I'm starting to see China and its population troubles in full glory.

Now, with just an hour to go before I depart on a voyage to Nanchang I realise that in the time I will be on the train tonight I could fly back to Oxford and have a decent sleep at the other end. I could fly London to Moscow over four times. This place is big and the ride I'm about to take is a relatively short distance. I'm pleased this isn't the 72 hour ride to Urumqi in the East of the country which some have to face without a seat. So, the talk is written, books are packed and supplies for the journey have been purchased. Jiangxi province looks like an interesting one but I shall report first hand on what I find.

Jiangxi is the Pink province towards the bottom right, not far from Taiwan.

I'm currently making my way through a fun book by John Baez (nephew, I believe, of Joan) and Javier Munian on "gauge fields, knots and gravity" which is mostly covering ground that I know but in an interesting and enlightening way. When something suitable crops up I shall make some comments here. When the GUT paper comes out, which should be in a week or two, I shall attempt to explain that in reasonable detail too. I would advise having a read of This Weeks Finds which this time is not too mathematical and has some strangely fascinating comments on ice!

Zorba the Greek is packed as well and though I haven't had a great deal of time to dip into it recently it's a lot of fun and certainly comment-worthy.

Right, final preparations to make so hopefully the next post should be from Nanchang.


P.S. In a slightly tired state today I typed "birthday reminder" directly into the address window of my browser (Firefox) instead of typing it into a search engine. Before I noticed, google had been contacted and took me straight to the first site that is found when you type in "birthday reminder" - genius! The moral being, if you know that typing "John Baez" into google will find his site as the top search, type it in the address bar and you'll go straight there. I don't know which plugin I'm using which allows this (I'm guessing this is simply the power of the google toolbar) but it's a clever one.


Luca said...

Nope, it's not google toolbar which I don't have but just plain Firefox.
Btw I'm curious to know how you can explain AdS/CFT without GR or QFT.

Have fun in Nanchang

Jonathan Shock said...

Yeah, so am I! :-s