Thursday, June 29, 2006

Flashes of Brilliance

Somewhere in between chasing wild geese and my own tail I seem to have a couple of spare minutes in which to write a brief update. As thunder rumbles outside I sit here, awake only from coffee and adrenalin fumes as all other power sources were used up some time ago. I was thinking last night of writing a post about how amazing it was that even though Beijing is supposed to be so polluted I've been remarkably healthy these last eight months. How ironic then that I sit here slightly feverish sipping on vile TCM. All in the line of work however.

Within a matter of minutes the sky has turned from a misty grey to a browny black and there's constant lightning forking across the city - I love thunderstorms and this is a goodie! There may be a slightly soggy Japanese student wishing he'd taken my advice. More on that shortly.

Perhaps the one in Beijing isn't quite so spectacular in terms of contrast but to put picture to theme, here's an utterly spectacular photo of a supercell.

Of late I've been keeping to my promise and have been going in pain-staking detail through the notes from the summer school which preceded Strings. I've also made a commitment in an attempt to kill two birds with one stone (or it may be a klein bottle). The ITP is not a teaching university so there are no undergraduates. This means that I'm not getting any teaching experience (apart from English corner which though very enjoyable is more a free discussion session chaired by me with the occasional quiz that I throw in). However, there are occasionally courses run by the professors on various topics, many of which I would love to attend if they were not almost all in Chinese. So, I've decided to take the matter into my own hands and offered to teach a group of students a course on geometry, topology and physics (following Nakahara) which will not only force me to get some teaching experience but it will also force me to get a deeper knowledge of the subject (I feel pretty happy with most of the book already but it'll be good to be forced not only to understand it myself but also to have to explain it to others - usually the best test as to whether you really do understand something).

So, come September I hope to teach a very understanding class a topic with which I only have a passing knowledge. The subject of the book I mentioned is something which is used as the first language of string theory but for the work I've done in the past, most of it is unnecessary. Should be fun!

Anyway, so that's a few months off yet. For now I have office company. When I was in Japan a few months ago I spoke with a PhD student about some of my ideas. We kept in contact and I arranged a visit for him to come to the ITP for a couple of weeks so we could talk more extensively and try and start up a collaboration. Through various crossed wires I was expecting to get some funding for this though that has fallen through and so we're funding this trip ourselves (or at least out of my travel grant). Not the best situation but if we can get some good work done then it will be well worth it. Tatsuya arrived this afternoon from the Yukawa institute via Osaka, and we quickly got down to discussing what work we would be doing together. After some dinner he asked if rain was imminent to which I replied, looking wisely at the clouds, that it was unlikely for a couple of hours. I asked if he wanted me to walk him back to the hotel but he insisted that he knew the way and would be absolutely fine. The difference between a ten and fifteen minute walk in this case is rather important as somewhere between those time frames the heavens decided that I didn't know my cumulonimbus from my streptococcus and set a deluge on the city. There's a moral to this tale though I wouldn't trust me on what it is.

OK, the thunderstorm has turned into one of the most dramatic I've ever seen. I'm heading outside.

2 comments:

Benjamin said...

Oh, wow, you had your first two couchsurfers. Was it fun? I love the idea, but that website was so lousy. Somebody needs to run it and run it well, with a powerful server and an attractive website. I wonder if an internet corporation will soon step in to the role. Hope you're well, Jon x

Jonathan Shock said...

Hi Ben,

Yeah, it's a fun experience and a wonderful opportunity for travel. The website wasn't great as I presume it had grown organically from a small venture to something really serious. I think that there are more professional versions of the same thing out there. Will see what I can find.

Hope to chat soon,

J