Friday, June 29, 2007

More on SciTalks

I considered the potential for a video lecture repository while spending a month in sleepy Kyoto over the winter, doing research at the Yukawa institute. I discussed the possibility of setting up such a website with a friend: what capabilities would be necessary, what platform we could build it on, how people would upoad videos and what they would be able to say about them. However, lack of time and lots of research got in the way and it stayed as a project on top of the pile of other 'urgent - to be dealt with later - projects'.

I spoke, not about my plans but of the use of video lectures previously here.

Anyway, in the mean time someone else has taken the plunge and created just the platform. Currently it has a basic user interface which allows users to upload the url for a video. Each video has a section for a comment, the time and a voting system.

This is a good start but only a very basic system. I e-mailed Lee Vodra at SciTalks to pose a few of my suggestions and to see how the site would develop and I have been very impressed both with the lengthy response and the possibilities. I think that this is one of the most exciting projects in the academia/multimedia cross-over yet to come out of/onto the web - the possibilities are awesome.

Lee tells me that there is a version 2.0 of SciTalks which will implement many changes to the format and flexibility of the site. This is due to come online in a few months.

My initial questions were on the subject of a more refined system for comments where information about the level, prerequisite knowledge, audio and video quality etc. could be included with the video and added to by more multiple users for each entry. However, it seems that these are only the beginning of something much more far-reaching.

One of the biggest additions is going to be a social networking side to the site. Lee hopes that people will start to put together curricula for courses from the videos and this is really the basis for a powerful form of open-source education. Something which MIT has been trying for a while but because of the lack of videos in many courses, it is little better than having the books to work from.

The possibility to build a list of lectures on string theory, for instance, going from the basic to the very specialised, having only the clearest presentations at each level is very exciting. I must have seen a dozen or so online lectures on string theory but the overlap was huge and trying to find just the right level was not easy. With a team of interested students and academics watching videos from around the world, the appropriate lectures should soon be sieved through.

In my e-mail to Lee I mentioned tagging and the fact that I find the use of folders, both on my desktop and on the internet an inefficient form of data storage. Lee commented:

'User tagging and RSS feeds are the two most common requests so far. I'd love a tag cloud. (I'm fond of them anyway, and yes, folders feel outdated.)'

On the topic of a more organic user-oriented site Lee states that:

Once social networking gets into the mix, the site and its community could turn into something amazing, and I'm sure people will use it in ways we can't even imagine, although I'd really like to see online schools form up. Meanwhile, I'd be really psyched if you'd join and put together a playlist. If you have a bunch of videos that we haven't got together on the site, you can just send an email with a bunch of URLs and I'll see that they get up there.)


There's a whole science to social networks and with each one we build, it becomes a deeper and more nuanced endeavor. I have some videos saved up for when we switch over that deal with social network design. There's a lot to consider and the devil's in the details.

So, please help to spread the word about this and see that it is used and developed in the most effective ways possible. I've sent a list of many links to them but I'm sure there are many that I don't know about so get posting.

Random images

I've been in contact with the people over at SciTalks about extensions and the future of the site. There are some incredibly exciting prospects for it but it deserves my full and undivided attention to write about it.

For now I will just urge you to go over there and start posting videos to build up the database. I'm told that the short URL problem has now been fixed.

For now I'll give you a couple of slightly random images.

The first is from my office window a couple of days ago, taken at about 2 in the afternoon. The sky changed from the usual hazy grey to a dark brooding mass of fast moving clouds, thunder and lightning over the course of about half an hour. This was just before the rain really started pelting down:

and secondly a picture of a painting from the school I visited with my uncle when he was out here. We went to play parachute games with the kids (photos of the afternoon are here). Following the games we walked around the school and found this painting in the main lobby. It was a little while later that I found that this is a painting of the businesswoman who had founded the school and commissioned the picture. You can form your own opinions.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Hints, tips, and pointers

It transpires that the Flickr problems from yesterday were Yahoo-wide, which temporarily became unavailable out here. It's back on again but we'll see what happens over the next few days.


I discovered a nice speed-up for Acroread which seems interminably slow these days. It turns out that when you load Acroread there are dozens of plugins which load up automatically. Most of these are completely unnecessary for every-day use. There are three or four vital plugins. If you download Adobe Reader Speedup and run the small setup program, most of the plugins will be disabled and Acroread will load in a fraction of the time and waste less space.


I've just received the proofs for a magazine article about, emm, me! It's a strange one and I'll post it up here once it's been published.


An interesting paper today on a subject I've been flirting with for a while. I'll just point it out here and hope to discuss it in more detail when I've the time.

Erdmenger, Ghoroku and Kirsch: Holographic heavy-light mesons from non-Abelian DBI. Some interesting looking results but it'll take me a while to go through everything.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Flickr really blocked this time

Previously there was a work around to view Flickr here in China as the photo server itself was blocked by URL name only. This was well known about. Now the site has been completely blocked here, at least in Beijing. In fact this is about the most concrete block I've seen since I came here.

I'm told that this is a layer 7 (application layer) block, which is apparently serious.

Posting photos is going to be tough I think.

I will miss China greatly when I leave it in just a few months but there are some things I will be glad not to have to think about.

State of flux

Recent developments have radically changed two of the projects I'm working on which means that I'm now feeling in a bit of a state of chaos, in a good way, I think. This means that besides juggling last night in a flood-lit parking lot with the Beijing juggling club from 10pm till midnight last night (our venue was being deconstructed next to us as we played, ready for another shopping mall or similar) and English corner tonight, I've lots to be getting on with.

The talks from Strings 2007 (see previous posts for links) are coming online and they are good quality recordings on the whole.

A few quick photos from Tsinghua gardens from the weekend where I sat and worked on Saturday in the sun, overlooking the lily ponds.
Just a selection from those on my Flickr site.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

String blogging

Jacques Distler is currently blogging from Strings 2007. If anyone knows of other stringy bloggers then please let me know and I'll add them to the list.

Videos still to come.

You set 'em up...

You've got to love the Chinese method of demolition (taken from my balcony window).


The juggling club I went to last week has this week been shut down by the government. They need the space for another faceless skyscraper so we are going to be on the move tonight to look for another place to play.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Google Reader having problems

I thought that the GFW may finally have started playing with my feed reader but it seems that Google Reader is genuinely having some major problems today. Scouting around for a few minutes I've opted for an external reader for now: RSSOwl, which has good reviews. I've also been astounded at the number of feeds that some people subscribe to: often 1000+. I'm not sure how people keep up and get anything else done.

Strings '07

Strings 2007 starts today in Madrid. The videos from the week of talks on the year's progress should be available online, linked from this page.

It was pointed out last year the importance of keeping close connections between the experimental community so that those working in the many interesting but often deeply theoretical aspects of string theory do not lose sight of the ultimate goal of science.
The first talk this year is on 'Status and prospects of the LHC machine and experiments'. (Schedule here).

With some interesting and appropriate timing Witten has today released his long awaited paper on three dimensional gravity. I look forward to watching this talk in particular but the others which are of particular interest to me are Beisert on 'strong/weak interpolation in the spectrum of AdS/CFT', Kallosh on 'testing string theory with the CMB', Bern on 'the UV finiteness of N=8 SUGRA' and Sugimoto on 'baryons from instantons in holographic QCD', though there's lots more of interest besides.

Besides Witten's paper today there is the pre-print 'Quark Mass in the Sakai-Sugimoto Model of Chiral Symmetry Breaking' From Evans and Threlfall where it is claimed that by studying the rotations around the vacuum manifold in a holographic model of QCD the goldstone mode studied in the original Sakai-Sugimoto model is not the correct physical state and that the original formulation which only includes massless quarks can be extended simply to incorporate massive fundamental matter and a massive pseudo-goldstone boson. The similarity of the quark bilinear condensate as a function of quark mass compared to the form in the non-supersymmetric D3/D7 cases with non-constant dilaton is interesting and it looks like there is more to explore here, especially in looking for agreement with the Gellmann-Oakes-Renner relation.

The weekend has been enjoyable and there's plenty to write up when I have a chance.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Linear, or otherwise

I've just presented a blackboard talk to the students on 'The linear confinement problem in AdS/QCD', a topic which I'm particularly interested in studying more myself. I spoke about the papers by Karch et al. 'Linear confinement and AdS/QCD', Csaki and Reece 'Towards a systematic holographic QCD - a braneless approach' and Shifman 'Highly Excited Hadrons in QCD and Beyond', all of which are clear and inspiring for future research.

I've rather given up on the summer school, which was either too elementary or a little too hand wavy, or just too intensive on subjects I have only a passing interest in (4+ hours in one day on CP violation from the B-meson sector is more than I can take). There's talk on several Beyond the standard model conferences in the far West of China and down in Yunnan which would be lovely to go to but they're not quite in my area. I'm keeping an eye out for a good cosmology conference, before the KITPC program which starts in September.

Cosmologists, string theorists and string cosmologists should all come to China for this program!


After completing most of the preparations for my talk yesterday I headed over to D22, a local bar with an eclectic mix of people, music and events, to watch one of their movies. Having seen clips on TV various times I was keen to see The General from 1927 with Buster Keaton. It's a beautiful film, dated and cliched but Keaton is such an incredible physical actor that everything else apart from his balletic movements and amazing expression are rather overshadowed. Slap-stick, especially of the modern variety doesn't do it for me, but Keaton is so seamless and so expressive that it's a joy to watch.

Looking at still photos of Keaton it's a strange contrast to the expression that come from his movements and if anyone knows a good biography of him I would be intrigued to know why this contradiction is so vast.


Having met him in person a little while ago, I had Jonathan Tel's 'Freud's Alphabet' shipped to me, courtesy of my sister, from England. This is a fictional account, based on the true story of Freud's last few weeks spent in London with terminal cancer. The book is split into chapters labeled alphabetically with Freudian symbols and the book becomes increasingly dreamlike and non-linear as Freud drifts in and out of his morphine haze. Tel's turn of phrase is playful and powerful in equal measure and as long as you don't require linearity and clarity in your stories this book is an interesting journey into dreams, metaphor and the subconscious. Well worth a read.

This links in to the Mario Vargas Llosa book I read while in Japan on the subject of a Storyteller in a Peruvian tribe, which is equally dreamlike, non-linear and imaginatively written. It's been too long since I read it to give it an in depth review but Llosa's story telling, both from his own narrative style and that conjured up for the storyteller's tales of a magical reality weave into each other naturally and give an eloquent picture of an ancient art.

I'm reading another Steinbeck now and enjoying this one as much as ever...expect a review soon.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

On video lecture resources II

In a previous post I wrote about the benefits one can get from using and distributing video lecture courses. The main problem I saw with this was number and dispersion. There are many great video lectures on highly specialised subjects though there isn't a single repository where one can both find the source of the videos and also find the quality and suitability of a given recording. I spent a lot of time in Kyoto in the evenings watching the videos from a variety of sources and learnt a good deal from these hours back at the guest house.

The problem seems to have been partially solved, as pointed out by Coturnix from A blog around the clock.

SciTalks (not viewable in China without a proxy!) is a repository of video lectures where one can vote on the videos (having quickly registered). There are currently a few lectures on string theory, though I happen to know that there are many courses (usually covering 3-6 lectures) available online on the subject. I also know from my time spent in the States a couple of years back that there are several departments which run full year courses on string theory. I put out a plea here to put one of these on video and let those who are not lucky enough to be in a department where there are researchers able to run such an extensive course on the subject to see them. I can't imagine that in this age of vast data storage capabilities and ridiculous speeds of broadband that this would be difficult, so please help out those around the world who don't have the chance themselves.

MIT has an open source attitude to educational materials and there are some great video resources coming out of there, but it's not as extensive as it should be.

So, what can you do if you're not a lecturer and don't have access to a lecturer who can make such a video? Well, search the web for videos, watch them, register on Scitalks and link to them on the site in order to let others know what is worth watching. I'll supply a list of resources at the end of this post.

It would be great if you could vote for specific criteria for any video: level, sound quality, video quality, clarity of presentation, prerequisite knowledge etc. but such things don't seem to be available yet. I had grand plans of writing such an online database myself and may still do so if it looks like Scitalks will not be able to add such capabilities.

Anyway, as I mentioned before, I think that video lectures are a truly invaluable resource which should be taken advantage of. If possible, watch the lectures with other people and talk about what you see. I've done this with the theory students in the ITP here in Beijing and though the language was occasionally a problem we got some good discussions going on the subject of the holographic principle and black holes. Books are great, and cannot be replaced, but they can be supplemented by other media. I'd really be grateful for feedback and other people's opinion on this and especially I'd like to know if some of the great theory graduate courses in the US can be videoed and given to the rest of the world.

A small list of places to start finding videos to add:

Pacific Institute lecture courses
Perimeter Institute lectures (only viewable in IE)
Mathematical sciences research institute
ASTI lectures online
CERN videos
Spires sources
Serkan Cabi's extensive list

There are a few to get started. Please help to put these together so that grad students, young researchers and established professors can benefit from the wealth of material currently sitting in dark corners of theory group web spaces.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Beijing jugglers

Through a series of rather strange coincidences and lucky geography I ended up having dinner with a Couchsurfer who was in Beijing for a couple of days last night. We chatted AI, computer science (his major) and traveling stories and then headed to a local bar for a quite drink outside. Both he and I are jugglers and I mentioned that somewhere within a couple of miles of where we were there was supposed to be a juggling club, though I knew no more details. As luck would have it, it was just 20 yards from the bar we were sat and so as soon as we saw clubs flying we escaped the rather quiet crowd to go and spend some time throwing things, catching things and (in my case more frequently) dropping things.

Having never joined a juggling club my progress has been rather slow and solitary. I've struggled to master five ball juggling for a few years now but within a few minutes of being at the club, one of the members pointed out a key fault and I doubled my catch rate almost immediately. With jugglers there looking confident with four clubs and doing lots of passing tricks I hope to come again and learn more from this friendly group. If anyone else wants to come along then lookup the Google group here.
juggling 3
juggling 1

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Early sunset

Lectures are continuing. I'm thinking about a talk I'll be giving on Friday for my boss's group. Just popping into the office quickly to check what's been happening in the world. I can only read the headline that Gatecrasher seems to be on fire. This is sad news indeed, Several fine nights spent in that very special Sheffield club. I just hope that the place isn't occupied right now.

There are few benefits of having the sort of pollution we're experiencing at the moment. It does at least provide us with some rather strange sunsets.
Artificial sunset 3
Back to the lectures...

Monday, June 18, 2007

Ups and downs

During the weekend my music in the flat was accompanied with the sounds of a pneumatic drill and a sledge hammer demolishing the chimney outside my window, from above. In fact given the confined space this is probably the best way of doing so, but it does look strange, especially when the workmen are standing precariously with no sign of safety gear.
Tower 3
(Safety gear in the above picture was quickly removed)

I managed to ignore this until the truck arrived at one in the morning in order to have bricks thrown into it and I became seriously unimpressed. I managed about 4 hours of disturbed sleep, which made the lecture this morning on experimental particle physics in China harder to sit through than it need otherwise have been. Talk of the future luminosity of BEPIII producing around 10^10 J/psi per year was extremely impressive. This was the first talk in a week long summer school on particle experiment and phenomenology, some of which I know already and some of which I've never studied in much detail (lectures on B-physics especially). So I'm sitting with my laptop, working and listening when they get onto topics I haven't covered.

The CAS campus is currently awash with conferences and schools on all manner of topics, from spectral analysis to logistics, and from quantum phases of matter to cosmology. I was astounded by the figure given to us today that the graduate school of the Chinese academy of sciences has 33000 graduate students! After 2 years in China I probably shouldn't be surprised by such figures any more, but it's still pretty mindblowing to me.


A quick weekend round-up, not including the usual cafe reading/work.

Saturday night was a rather spectacular one as I went with two friends, one of whom knows all the bar managers in Beijing, to the champagne party opening night of Haiku, set to become Beijing's most classy bar, taking over the top spot from Centro. The party was organised by Moet and Chandon and the contortionists contorting on the podiums and models slinking around with bottles of the finest made for a rather surreal evening. We managed an hour or so of people watching before our bottle was dry and we decided to make a move to rather more affordable destinations. Haiku has both a Japanese and Mediterraean restaurant attached and the Japanese restaurant, which has fish flown in freshly from Tokyo is supposed to be superb. Owned by the American born Chinese entrepreneur Alan Wong, famed in Beijing and Shanghai for his Hatsune restaurants (voted best Japanese restaurant in Beijing last year, Haiku looks to be another good bet for great food. At roughly 200 kuai per person (15 quid) it's very expensive by Beijing standards but I can't imagine getting anything decent in a Japanese restaurant in London for that price. If I get there for a meal I'll be sure to give a full review.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A hill with a view

Just to prove that Beijing isn't all smokestacks and highrise buildings:
Beijing sunset
drum and bell towers
Jingshan temple

These were taken at Jingshan park a couple of weeks back. Along with the CCTV tower and Xiangshan this is one of the best places I've found to get a good view of the city.

Monday, June 11, 2007

A little of everything

Big nights out have been put on hold for a while, but the flood gates were opened again over the weekend with some fantastically impromptu 'not being home at a reasonable hour'.

Friday evening I was feeling tired from the week, but with slightly itchy feet. Bumping into one of the new, few expats in the campus I suggested we go for a quiet beer at a local bar. Being new to the area I thought I'd show him some of the more interesting places. There are plenty of expat hangouts in Wudaokou but most of them don't excite me much in terms of a decent night out. They tend to feel cliquey and though I'm happy to sit with a coffee in there on a Sunday afternoon reading or working, I often steer clear of them for big nights.

So, we ended up in Club 13, a very small local music venue where I've seen everything from punk to bluegrass and from ska-metal to electronica (a Korean/Japanese duo who made music with their Mac and children's squeaky toys - A Chinese friend of mine left in a state of panic after a few minutes mumbling something about noises from hell, a fair comment to be honest).

Anyway, the line up for Friday night was metal and though I wouldn't listen to this at home the few concerts I've been to have always had a lot of energy, a fun crowd and lots of amusing hair. The bands on offer were no exception and the hair quota was both through the roof and, on occasion, in the lights.

Between sets we went outside to talk 'the trouble with Chinese' and the history of string theory - always a pleasure.

By a little after midnight we were rocked out and the local area tour continued to the nearby hip-hop club. Another place which, though it may not play my favourite music, is always a good venue to have a good time and people watch - many people taking themselves extremely seriously on the podiums with most others simply enjoying the party. Hip-hop is big in China in both it's home and away forms and the locals really buy into the clothes, the dance moves and even the walk. Well worth going to a Chinese hip-hop club some time to see what it's all about.

2.30 came around and I found myself in a taxi going in unknown directions and ending up with friends in a karaoke club. Another Chinese experience which isn't to be missed. For non-Chinese speakers there's always a range of classic copy-write violating Western songs to be chosen and the ability to sing is not a prerequisite - believe me. In a room with just a few friends, the atmosphere is completely different from the painful full bar of strangers feel in the Western take on karaoke.

Saturday morning take II never really happened but I struggled to get some work done in the afternoon back in the expat bar I'd shunned the previous evening. A few coffees later and I was ready for some real research. Research in fact for my next postdoc position which will be in Santiago de Compostela. A French friend, currently learning Spanish before heading to South America, had told me about a party organised by the Instituto Cervantes which is the hub of Spanish culture in Beijing, and indeed in many other places around the world. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to meet some Spaniards and find out more about where I'd be heading later in the year I made my way by bus (not a trivial task in Beijing) to the East side of the city. This is the side where most expats live and heading over there which I do every couple of weeks always feels like stepping into another world. People are no longer spitting on the floor in the restaurants, the beers cost 3 quid a piece, the music is loud and frequently sung by Filipino duos and the neon is dazzling. Though there is a lot more going on in the East and there are some great events taking place, I wouldn't trade where I live for the 'more civilised' side of the city.

Anyway, the party was enjoyable and the Spaniards and South American's like to party. With free sangria flowing, Latino hips did their thing on the dance floor and popular songs were sung with knowing glances. We spent part of the evening with members of the Venezuelan consulate who, when they weren't salsaing everyone else into obscurity, were a lot of fun to chat with. It was also great to hear people rave about Santiago, though the rain was mentioned frequently.

The party started to die down a little before 2 as people made their way to other nightspots, so we headed to China Doll, one of the most fashionable clubs in the city. One of the lovely things about Beijing is that though there are some pretty decent clubs, I've never seen a dress code at any of them. That may mean that I haven't been to the right clubs, but the staff at China Doll, frequented by local models and businessmen with too much to spend, didn't blink as I walked in wearing my most casual out-on-the-town clothes. The music is laid back, slightly loungy house but on Saturday night it didn't hold our attention for long enough, so we departed for fish and chips, sat outside on a bench in the only authentic chippie in the city. I rarely pang for any food from back home but the occasional indulgence doesn't go amiss.

Yesterday was a little more work, some time at the gym, a fine meal in a local Sichuan restaurant with 6 others in the evening and a very slow after dinner pint in the beer garden, with the smells of street food mingling with the petrol.

Anyway, I thought I'd indulge as I haven't been talking much about social aspects out here recently. This week is going to be busy, my Couchsurfer will be heading off tomorrow, only to be replaced by another in a week or so, English corner should be back on, Chinese lessons continue, student supervision in string theory is on-going and my research leaps about in fun and unexpected directions.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Flickr block work-around

There's currently uproar on Flickr about the China block. There would be more if the help thread within Flickr was not blocked too. There is now a Firefox addon that will allow access to your photos.

This has now made it to Spiegel online.

Friday, June 08, 2007

The death of physics

This really saddens, though sadly does not surprise me. This has been a while coming as my friends in England who are physics teachers can attest to.

This open letter to the AQA board and Department for Education from Wellington Grey about the loss of physics in GCSE physics makes my heart sink. It outlines the fact that the precision of the sciences which is the very thing which attracts so many - the pursuit of truth in a world where so much is indecipherable - has been replaced by politics, sound-bite and skepticism.

Calculation is no longer involved in the GCSE physics syllabus, and this is a crime. I still remember many eureka moments from my physics career, in school and in university. All of them were related to coming up against a problem which wasn't simply a matter of 'common sense' but could be tackled with the strict rules of a mathematical formalism. You got an answer, a number, a yes or no. Something which could be compared to the real world. You had something which made the real world even more solid, more comprehensible, something which allowed you to both understand and manipulate the world around you.

This, it seems, is no longer the case. Now, with the information you learn in the sciences at school, you can argue with your friends in the pub about the benefits of renewable energy, but you will be remembering a list of facts which have been dictated to you. Non-mathematical facts about reality are much harder to manipulate and reuse in other, interesting ways than their mathematical counterparts. We will end up with a nation of parrots who can do nothing more than quote the views of previous scientists, and not even understand where the facts come from, let alone come up with their own theories.

Anyway, I would urge you to read the letter in its entirety, as depressing as it may be.

(Thanks to Flip Tomato who has an article on this same piece)

Flickr blocked in China?

The photos in Flickr seem to be blocked in China. This is a really strange move. I'm a member of the Beijing Photographers Flickr group and everyone is finding the same thing. We presume it's the GFW as all the photos are viewable via proxy.

If anyone has any information regarding this I'd be very interesting to know what's going on, and why.

(Update: Flickr help has lots of info on this. It seems to be a GFW problem)

On the subject of the GFW, I've stopped using Tor now. It was too slow and by writing a proxy file which redirects to alternative IP addresses automatically, sites like wordpress and blogspot should be accessible. For those without an easy to find alternative IP address I now use the PhProxy add-on for Firefox, which allows a single click to go to any page by Proxy.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Language exchange

The summer cold is disappearing, work is going in the right direction, a host of new Couchsurfers are about to turn up and things are as non-stop as ever.

In my not so spare, spare time I've been doing some audio recording work for a publishing company out here which produces teaching material for schools. I have, give or take, a reasonably 'standard' British-English accent and this is rather sought after out here where the majority of English speaking expats are from the US, Australia or Canada.

For a couple of early mornings over the last week I've spent around 3 hours sat in a recording studio reading at varying speeds from very, very slowly to a reasonably fast, but clearly annunciated, rate on a variety of topics from Sherlock Holmes to cross-species animals (I've learnt a great deal about zonies, ligers (the largest cats in the world) and wolphins) and from World domination by China in 2057 to the history of global discovery. I've read poems and taught unknown millions of Chinese children how to say 'I love you' in Indonesian, Spanish, French and a variety of other badly pronounced languages.

I'll try and find out just how many Chinese children will be speaking with my accent over the next few years and should be able to get hold of a set of the language courses when they are published.

It's been another interesting experience, although I've found that talking almost non-stop for two and a half hours, at a very slow pace, can be exhausting. This has also meant some very long days, but the pay that one can get to do this sort of work is hard to turn down when you spend most of your time on a local wage - not that a local wage is hard to live on when accommodation is heavily subsidised.

I read recently that Beijing is one of the most expensive cities in the world. I can only imagine that this is almost entirely down to the cost of housing, which can be extortionate. One could easily live on a dollar a day out here if it were necessary.


Anyway, later today I'm picking up a Couchsurfer from Malaysia who will be staying at my flat until next week. Couchsurfers from the States, Russia and the UK will be staying over the next couple of months.

Chinese lessons are back on this evening after a short hiatus and though I've been steadily working through the audio courses, I need to find some hidden minutes to go through the characters. Spare minutes are hiding from me more and more these days.

...Mathematica has finished spitting out numbers, I'd better find out what it all means.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Emergent Phenomena

This eight minute video is extremely exciting. I'd come across the ideas behind using semantic links within photos to create a whole much more powerful than the sum of its parts, but this short movie from a recent conference is well worth a look to see the incredible potential from something as simple as tagging. I've written a post a while back on tagging within personal computers because the idea of folders seems completely outdated to me. The post seemed a little dry, so take a look at the movie and realise what power can be gained from this new, but incredibly simple concept.

The link for the video came from Bad Astronomy Blog and you will find more information on this sort of system in Data Mining - one of my favourite tech blogs.

This step seems to be the difference between a random collection of cells to a brain with neurons connected by synapses. The numbers involved with such combinatorics are mindblowing and the emergent phenomena will be fascinating to see.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Big soup

A few sets of lectures on the birth of string theory, from those who were there can be found here.

I'm frantically coding at the moment but I wanted to post these pictures from The Bird's Nest. Taking my family and friends to the airport on Wednesday we asked the taxi driver to stop by the Olympic village, and though you can't go into the grounds, you get a reasonable view from outside:

Bird's nest panorama
Bird's nest details
Click for larger.