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Plane Conversation

6 April 2014 Leave a comment

Sunday, 31 March.

My flight out from Logan International was delayed due to weather and, unexplainedly, ‘air traffic control’. We left about two hours late.

The weather itself would have made for an interesting ride. Our landing approach at Newark was low and slow, and below us the not-very-distant lights flashed in and out of view behind uncharacteristically dark wisps of cloud. Throughout the long descent the plane would shudder now and again from (it seemed to me) the strain. When we landed I remarked to the passenger on my right, ‘Hard work,’ but when the pilot’s voice came on a moment later, it was as cool and level as always.

While the weather had made for a bumpy ride, the flight actually passed quite quickly and enjoyably. The passenger in the next seat was (I discovered in conversation) a geologist and planetary scientist. Some of her recent research had been about magnetism and what we could observe from moon rocks. While the moon at present doesn’t seem to have a magnetic field, it apparently used to have one some time in the region of 4.5 billion to perhaps as recently as 1.2 billion years ago.

The most recent vaguely planetary thing I’d read about was the centaur (not quite a dwarf planet, not quite an asteroid) around which rings had been observed to have formed, and I asked if ring formation was mostly a matter of gravity or if magnetism was a significant factor. I was told that it wasn’t, but in any case this led to an interesting bit of conversation about gravity and magnetism, in that whereas gravity as a kind of metaphor has leached into songs and comic strips and epic movies, magnetism seems mainly to be associated with magical machinery, or the mysteriously superhuman (Magneto?). As compared to gravity, anyway, magnetism seems rather more subtle a power.

At some point, my fellow traveler mentioned her acquaintance with Carleton (I was wearing the t-shirt) through one of her supervisors, and also expressed her condolences about the sad event last term. We talked more about mutual acquaintances, NUS and Singapore among them. She’d been a student at UC Berkeley at some point, a fact which came up around the time I was looking through some of my photos from San Francisco from winter break (I was working on the write-ups). Pagey had been at Berkeley for a summer, and I’d visited a friend at Berkeley over winter as well. I mentioned that Pagey liked San Francisco, but had warned me about an overdue quake, this being something which reduced San Francisco’s appeal for her. My new friend told me about the annual conference of twenty-five thousand geologists in San Francisco, and how it was bound to happen on that week, when no one would be able to process the data.

While musing about some of the serious math behind geological models in general, I thought of the early chapters of a book I’d just started reading. I’d picked up Neal Stephenson’s ‘Reamde’ on my last trip to Strand Books in NY (making it three books from three visits in the process). Some of the early bits were about the generation of the digital world of ‘T’Rain’ (an online game-world in the book-world), and how the close attention to the geological aspect of it had several important implications for the generated world and the story in general. The book in question happened to be sitting in my backpack, so I took it out for a bit.

All of the above made for a short ride. I started writing this up while waiting for my connection (also delayed) at Newark.

Categories: Vagaries Tags: ,