View from Lola's Lookout, compromised by the gray weather but still gorgeous, and Henri enjoying the sunset, tired after a full day of x-country.
Purpose one: writing a travelogue to describe my various trips.
Purpose two: muse.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
View from Lola's Lookout, compromised by the gray weather but still gorgeous, and Henri enjoying the sunset, tired after a full day of x-country.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Our use of the phrase the "Dark Ages" to cover the period from 600 to 1000
marks our undue concentraion on Western Europe. In China, this period
includes the time of the Tang dynasty, the greatest age of Chinese
poetry[...]. What was lost to Christendom at this time was not lost to
civilization, but quite the contrary. No one could have guessed that
Europe would later become dominant, both in power and in culture. [...]
Our superiority since the Renaissance is due partly to science and
scientific technique, partly to political institutions slowly built up
during the Middle Ages. There is no reason, in the nature of things, why
this superiority should continue. [...] It seems not unlikely that,
during the next few centuries, civilization, if it survives, will have
greater diversity than it has had since the Renaissance. There is an
imperialism of culture that is harder to overcome than the imperialism of
power. Long after the Western Empire fell, [...] all European culture
retained a tincture of Roman imperialism. [...] I think that, if we are to
feel at home in the world after the present war, we shall have to admit Asia
to equality of thoughts, not only politically, but culturally. What changes
this will bring about, I do not know, but I am convinced that they will be
profound and of the greatest importance.
This already sounds prescient, and it looks like the 21st century will prove Russell right on the mark.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
I am interested in kidnapping stories, I think because I am interested in freedom, and kidnapping is a personal, severe abridger of freedom.
Unlike many movies that say they are based on true events, the events inspiring this story did happen. Look up Jesse James Hollywood, the real-life culprit.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Climbing Johnny Vegas. The balanced rock on the left is pretty cool. If you look closely, you can see the V of a rappel anchor.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
It has been interesting to watch the economics debate during the recent crisis. What I have noticed is that a Keynesian approach is used as a matter of course by the Federal government, which is depressing, but also that this time around, Keynesians have been in need of defending their ideas, which is encouraging.
One knee-jerk Keynesian is Jim Jubak, who writes for MSN Money. There are parallels between Jubak and Keynes. Like Keynes, Jubak is a successful investor. Like Keynes, Jubak is not an economist. Like Keynes, this does not stop him from making economics commentary.
In a recent article, Jubak blamed a reduction in Federal spending for the recession of 1937. He claimed that Federal spending decreased by 18% in 1937. This did not sound right, so I looked it up. I collected data for receipts (Recs), outlays (outs), spending change (inc), GDP, GDP Increase (GInc) and spending as percent of GDP (S/GDP) for the years 1935-1939:
Federal spending shrank 8% in 1937, not 18% as Jubak claims in his article. There are also several items he omits from his account. In 1935, when Federal spending was first cut since 1927, the economy grew by 11%. In the period he describes, 1937 and 1938, while spending slowed, receipts grew dramatically (37% and 25%), representing a large, effective tax increase. Lastly, the economy grew an impressive 10% in 1937, so while there was a recession later in the year, a better understanding of how the growth and the spending were aligned in time is necessary.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Not only that, but Tim Harford gets more interactive by allowing readers to respond. The last exchange (June 14) is particularly funny.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
One of the reasons I am reluctant to use security software is that they typically install several services, an email plugin, browser plugins, and some of them even mini-port drivers. It would take a pretty nasty virus to have worse impact on your system! (Of course, security software do not propagate aggressively). I wish there was a passive security package I could run only whenever I choose.
I installed Free avg, then deactivated the extraneous services, drivers and plugins, thereby getting almost what I wanted. Yet, after several scans, deletions, and reboots, I still had a problem that the viruses had introduced, which was that I could not start certain programs or processes, such as procexp.exe, regedit.exe or even the anti-virus scanner and update programs.
At first, I thought that avg had missed a virus. I tried to deactivate or kill different processes that might host a virus, but still I had the problem. I could run the programs after I renamed them -- for instance, I could not run "procexp.exe," but I could run the same program renamed to "sysinternals_procx.exe." Thinking that there must be a malware system-hook running in one of the Windows processes, I checked each one and searched its image for 'procexp.exe,' still without finding it.
Searching the registry instead, I found that the virus had added the programs I could not start to this key:
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Image File Execution Options
Each program had a "Debugger" subkey, with the "ntsd -d" options. 'ntsd' is the debugger (NT Symbolic Debugger), and -d tells it to attach to the kernel debugger -- which typically will not be present, thus failing the launch altogether.
I wrote this up in case you have, or get, the same problem. If so, just delete the 'Debugger' subkey under each program found at the registry key indicated above.
Since I am on the subject: Reading about convictions against black hats in the news, I have several times been disappointed at their light sentences. I looked it up for this post, and according to the Cybercrime watch list, it seems as if courts are issuing punishments more in line with the severity of the crimes now. The author of "Melissa" was caught and convicted, the damage was estimated to US$80M, and the perpetrator got 20 months in jail and a $5,000 fine.
I think the damage is underestimated, though. They have to account for all the money and time we spent in prevention. Symantec makes $6 billion a year (mostly) selling anti-virus software. A big portion of that is a dead-weight loss we spend in protection against the digital vandals.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Here's a quote from a letter they published in the current issue:
When I considered taking a degree in economics almost 50 years ago, I
was told that the exam questions would be the same from year to year, but that
the correct answers would differ each year.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Today I experienced some world-class dining in San Francisco, with professionally trained waiters. Though I prefer Asian to European food, I think the European tradition has the waitering art down. Food was served, cups were filled, plates removed, etc, with no interruption in conversations and you barely even noticed. With the best service, you don't have to flag, your needs are anticipated.
I once saw a movie about a young man tending hospitality school somewhere in Switzerland. He was doing well, but his friend had been there for years and failed several exams. By the time our hero takes the exam himself, he is doing it with the laggard friend. The referee poses the question: to which side should wine be served. They both agree that wine should be served to the right of the guest. The referee then asks if there are any exceptions. The laggard cannot think of any, but our hero says that you can serve wine to the left of the guest, if he or she is leaning to the right in conversation. Our hero passes and the laggard fails again.
It is a fictional movie with a dramatic story, but I believe they correctly showed the expected attention to detail in the high-end waiting profession.
Monday, July 27, 2009
The gift is a Rose of Jericho, which I got at Christmas, from my step-brother and his wife as my almondgift (transliterated from the Danish). Though I knew that it was going to unfold, I was impressed with the dramatic transition. The two pictures below are taken just a couple of hours apart.
For the record, I believe a fascination with plant life and organic wonders is perfectly compatible with technophilia. I'm a geek, through and through.
My Moral Dillema comes from a vow to never kill a tree, which I made when I was 18. Though I'm still an environmentalist, I am much more sanguine now than I was then. Still, a vow is a vow.
Last year, PG&E came to take down a dying oak that were threatening some power lines. I was notified, but not asked, so I did not feel conflicted about this part. Hower, the stump is sprouting.
I would really prefer to see the tree die, and make room new shrubs and trees, such as the new maple I planted nearby. I wonder if killing off the sprouts is a violation of my vow. If I weed the sprouts, am I killing the tree, or am I killing weeds?
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Monday, June 29, 2009
T. T. T.
Put up in a place
where it's easy to see
the cryptic admonishment
T. T. T.
When you feel how depressingly
slowly you climb,
it's well to remember that
Things Take Time.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
As a bonus, I want to share a link to David Brin's essay on Tolkien: Enemy of Progress. Tolkien's seminal work, Lord of the Rings, is one of my favorite books of all time. I hold The Enlightenment to be the foundation of modern progress, freedom and prosperity. Thus, I enjoyed Brin's juxtaposition of the two. Plus, having your most cherished works and authors subjected to sage critique is a healthy excercise.
In general, there is a lot of Great Pop out there. A lot of junk, but many gems as well. I have found that I enjoy blogging, so when I am not traveling, I will point to more good stuff. I created a "Great Pop" tag for that purpose. I hope you enjoy.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Every year, about ten million Chinese students compete for about five million college placements. A critical factor is the Chinese SAT, the main difference being that it lasts for two days.
The Chinese students call it Gaokao. Take a look at some of the open-ended essay questions. How would you do? Bear in mind that these questions are always tailored to the education the students go through in their schools, but it is still interesting to ponder.
Pictured is Tree, a Chinese student I met and became friends with on the way back from Japan to Shanghai. I hope he did well in his tests this year.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Water is important to Japanese designs. In their version of Feng Shui, it's best to have some kind of water running through a setting. Thus, you'll see little brooks and ponds in unexpected places.
The little canal on the right, which I noticed in a historical neighbourhood in Takayama, could be mistaken for a gutter, but water will flow through it at all times.
Though I'm no Feng Shui nut, I do find the presence of water both aesthetic and soothing.
This stream in Kyoto had steps so you could literally walk across -- or through, depending on your perspective -- the stream.
Pond designed as part of the restoration of Osaka Castle.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Monday, May 25, 2009
The central piece in a playground is a cool structure for kids to climb on. Yet, when adults build cool structures, at least in Europe, they don't make them climbable. I think there is some aesthetic rule that dictates people should not defile a beautiful piece.
The Chinese and Japanese have no such inhibitions. If they build something big worth looking at, they attach something so you can walk it, climb it, or otherwise ascend it and check it out from the inside and the top.
When I went up into the Pearl Oriental tower, there was a "sightseeing walk." The name was not that inspiring, but I was surprised to find out that this was a glass surface exposing you to all of the 250m of air underneath you. It was really cool.
The Sightseeing Walk in Oriental Pearl Tower
Compared to the World Financial Center, I thought the Pearl Oriental Tower was the better experience. You don't get quite the same exposure in the former. The World Financial Center had a cool space-theme going, though, with moody electronic music and interesting light effects.
In Tokyo, I went to view the International Forum, and again, was pleasantly surprised that they had built ramps so you could walk along the insides. It enabled me to view the structure from another perspective and get a better appreciation. The Kyoto Train station had the same feature, with stairs and 'skywalks' enabling you to walk up and down and across the appealing structures, viewing it and the surroundings from different angles.
Inside the World Financial Center
I don't want to hear another word about American Consumerism. When it comes to retail, Asia has America whipped twice over.
Everywhere you go, there are shops, markets, stores, malls, merchants, joints, marts, street-vendors, cafes, restaurants, businesses, pitchers and peddlers. If I hiked for three days into the desert, a hawker would show up offering a marked-up drink. It would probably be cold, too. They are nothing if not crafty.
Ads are ubiquitous. I have never seen a higher density of advertisements as on the Japanese metro cars. China doesn't seem to have any codes or norms about sound pollution, so speakers and multimedia ads blare at full volume wherever there is a concentration of people. I saw lots of clever marketing gimmicks. In Beijing, there was a long LCD display in a train tunnel, where an ad would animate and then follow the train for a minute, perfectly aligned so that it would display right outside the window.
China and Vietnam do not seem to have any zoning or licensing restrictions. Any joker can sell junk straight from the sidewalk, and any wheezer can run a laundry out of the back door. Thus you get the traditional hutong, where businesses of all kinds are crammed together. Hutongs have charm, but they are essentially strip-malls with history.
The retail market was not introduced by the West, or by tourism. Some of the local markets are older than Jamestown. I can be driving in the country, out where they almost never see a foreigner, and suddenly traffic comes to a stop because a market is in progress.
In Kyoto's history museum, they had created a model of how a market street in 17th century Japan might have looked.
The oldest tradition is perhaps around the temples, where peddlers sell incense, oil and other offerings and gimmicks to the worshippers. When you mix retail with religion, I don't think you can get more consumer oriented.
It shouldn't surprise us that people want to spend their money, but the point is that it is not a western thing. Hard as it is to believe, compared to Asia, America's consumerism seems a bit muted.
Osaka must have the largest retail area in the world. The shops and malls continue for miles in all directions. There are underground, maze-like tunnels with even more shops and cafes. As elsewhere, half the stores carry women's clothes and bookshops double as reading room for students and the stingy.
The Superbrand Mall in Shanghai is probably the largest mall I have been to. You can get the sense of its size only in one dimension: in the other two, it seems to sprawl on forever.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Japan is a land of ironies. For instance, it's the cleanest country I've even been to, but you can't find a garbage can anywhere. I was carrying my trash around for days. It's expensive, but few places take credit cards and few ATMs work with your card. The latter is not just an international problem: you can walk past a bunch of unused ATMs, then see one with a long line of locals. I learned to look for 7-11, where the ATMs consistently worked with my card.
My dad would have loved Japan. He would have loved the food, and the attention both diners and chefs pay to the meal quality and experience. He would have loved the baths. He would have loved the nifty toilet seats with heating, spraying, mini-flushes, automatic lids, etc. I saw toilet seats with more complexity than programmable VCRs.
The legendary Japanese politeness is real, and an interesting study in the difference between politeness and friendliness. I found the Japanese almost consistently polite, but few were outright friendly. On several occasions, I had the sensation that a Japanese not speaking a word of English would receive much better help in America than an American not speaking a word of Japanese is likely to receive in Japan. Barring some Beavis Redneck tending counter.
That said, I did meet some truly friendly people. In Fuji-Yoshida, a lady in a tea shop gave me a free treat and some prints of local scenery. In the same place, I met a sculpturist, Ishibori. He makes some really interesting figures, check out the gallery. They didn't speak much English, but showed interest nonetheless. I enjoyed this experience of generosity. I wouldn't call it an isolated incident, as I experienced this kind of warmth several times while in Japan. In general, though, I found Japanese people curiously passive and intransigent.
One of the advantages to traveling without a set itinerary is that you discover neat things that don't get much attention in the guidebook. By chance, I got to Matsumoto later in the day than I had planned and chose to spend the night there. By chance, in the hotel I stayed at, I saw something about a historical castle in town. I took a few hours the next day to go and check it out.
It happened to be one of the oldest, perhaps the oldest, original castles in Japan. It was certainly older than anything I saw in Kyoto. It was also a more fulfilling experience, because you got full access to the inside -- all the historical buildings in Kyoto were restricted.
The castle doubled as a history museum, with an old gun collection, historical samurai armor, pottery, art and other artifacts. It was more tourist friendly, with descriptive texts in English. Overall, I had a better view into history here than my entire time in Kyoto.
I'm back in my beloved Hong Kong, free speech land.
On my last afternoon in Shanghai, I had coffee on the Pudong side of the river. The sun was shining on the boats drifting by while China's national flag wafted in the breeze. It was perfect for my last hour in the People's Republic of China.
Now that I have unfettered Internet access again, I hope to catch up on my blogging a bit.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Once I'll be able to post normally again, things will be out of order, or at least out of chronology. I will do my best to get back to the regularly scheduled program.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
I learned to look for the vegetable displays outside the restaurants. At first, I thought these indicated a vegetarian restaurant. I think it means that the restaurant serves Kaiseki. They are delicious meals, though the tab can run up with all the little dishes. The prices look innocent, but soon you've ordered for $50 worth of items.
The reason they are vegetables out front is probably that meat would go bad.
There was a disparity in the quality of savory foods in the restaurants and noodle-shops, vs. the sub-standard sweets they served in the tea-rooms and coffee-bars. A good friend of mine has a theory that you cannot make good deserts without good dairy. Japan in a way both proves and counter-proves this. Throughout Asia, the dairy is mediocre. One casualty from this is that after twenty years of insisting on a little cream in my coffee, the last couple of months I have been drinking it black. I'm sure the low quality of dairy is at least partially responsible for the varying quality in Japanese sweets, of which there is a plethora. Yet, you can find the occasional gem, as in the near-perfect green tea ice-cream I had at Tempura Fukamachi.
Parfaits are served in nearly all their "coffee and cake" places. One I got in Tokyo was quite good.
This noodle shop in Osaka serves the best noodles ever.
These noodles are so good, one meal here converted me to a noodle fan.
These noodles are so good, I could have dinner in another place, then come here and have noodles for desert.
These noodles are so good, if you visit, I dare you not to finish the bowl.
If you decide to look for it, go from Namba subway station towards the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium. It will be just past a McDonald's on a road something like "Nansai." (Citing from memory, which is unreliable with Japanese proper nouns).
One of the advantages to paying $200 for a world-class barbecue, besides the perfect food, is the decor and the views. Kamon is at the top of the Imperial Hotel, where you can look over the Imperial Palace and get a rare view of the interior of the Imperial Gardens.
Of course, I had some of the worlds best sushi too, at Kanesaka in Tokyo. I had to wonder how you get sea-food to be so consistent in quality and flavor. I think they need to send a qualified cook, or team, down to the fish market every day, perhaps multiple times in a day, and pick out, by hand, the best of the best of each type of fish. That's time-consuming, and you need trained people to do it. I'm sure they pay a premium both for the quality and for the skimming. No wonder world-class sushi is expensive.
It doesn't hurt to have access to the world's largest fish market.
Monday, May 11, 2009
According to this theory, I should feel great on Mt. Fuji, coming from the Alps and then spending three days in Tokyo. This was so. I didn't really feel the altitude until well above 10,000 feet.
I couldn't reconcile this with another datum about high altitude climbing, which is that it can be dangerous to go down when you are acclimatized, spend time low, then climb back up. I think I realized what's happening in this case. When you go down after altitude, your cells will compress from the added pressure. You will retain the red blood cells, perhaps even produce more, now that your body is more comfortable. When you climb back up, you will feel great, not being much restrained from the low oxygen. However, your cells will still expand, and if you don't give it the time to do so slowly and uniformly, you will get sick. Edemas occur when cells of different kinds expand at different rates in the low pressure of high altitudes.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Yesterday I climbed Mt. Fuji. It was a bit touch and go, not with the climb itself, but in getting to the start. Not to mention the timing with the weather.
Fuji from Fuji-Yoshida
I had reserved a hotel in Fujiyoshida, not knowing the bus to the mountain actually leaves from Kawaguchiko. I got up early in the morning and hiked over to Kawaguchiko at 5AM, but the bus wasn't running that early. I had conflicting information about it from the web. The bus only runs from around 9AM to around 3PM this time of year (May).
I ended up taking a taxi to 5th station. It cost $130, but I figured it was my only chance to climb Fuji.
The climb wasn't hard. I did need an ice-axe the last 300 feet before the crater, but I wasn't about to turn around at that point! There was a runout 1000 feet below me, so I went for it anyway. Notwithstanding my comments about the Japanese and their crampons in my last post, on Fuji, the last 1000 or 2000 feet would have been faster with crampons. Had I been there earlier in the day, it would have been uncomfortable without them.
View of the North Alps
I did the Kawaguchiko route, mostly because I thought that was the one I could get to. It comes up to the crater about 120 degrees away from the actual summit. I went the long way around, which was a mistake as the snow was getting soft and it was a trudge.
View North towards Tokyo, on the crater, and on the summit
Compared to Mt. Shasta, I felt Mt. Fuji was about half the effort. Climbing Mt Fuji the route I used corresponds pretty closely to climbing Shasta from Bunny Flat to Thumb Rock. Except you start a little higher at 7,800', end a little lower at 12,500', and you might feel a little better from more oxygen at the lower latitude. When doing Shasta, Thumb Rock is three quarters of the way in elevation, but due to the exponential nature of altitude, often it is little more than half way in time.
The Actual Summit from across the Crater
Thursday, May 7, 2009
From Tateyama, I went down to Takayama, which was a tourist trap I promptly made my escape from by taking the bus to Kamikochi. Kamikochi is famous for its natural beauty. I didn't see the big attraction to Kamikochi itself. Sure, it's a nice river valley, with good views of the surrounding mountains, but all the hotels, shops and crowds give it a city-park feel and there isn't much to do. Kamikochi makes Yosemite Valley look like the backcountry.
Kamikochi from Nishiho ridge
However, it does work well as transit to the surrounding alpine destinations. I had wanted to make it up to the Dakesawa hut, but it turned out to be closed, having been crushed in an avalanche. I ended up going up to the Nishiho-sanso instead, and I loved it. Sanso is a Japanese hut. Nishihosanso is up on a ridge, so protected from avalanches and you get better views. The drawback is, there is only that one ridge to ascend. Climbers do use it to reach routes on Mt. Okuhodaka, Japan's third-highest peak.
Sunset view from Nishiho-sanso
Not having any equipment with me, I just wanted to climb up Mt. Nishihodaka.
The Japanese must really like crampons. At both Tateyama and at Nishohosanso, when I told people I didn't have crampons, I got the ominous little "ooh." Yet, on neither route did I encounter any sections where I would have wanted crampons. If I had carried them, I never would have donned them. I saw many Japanese hikers or climbers wearing crampons through miles of perfectly good snow.
Okuhodaka from around Nishoho-doppyo
I made it up past Nishoho-doppyo, a worthwhile destination in itself. It got a little more technical from there. I would call it class two, with a couple of short class three sections where I skirted a hard patch of snow. Although I got some exposure, there was really only one spot where I would have been a goner if I fell.
On Nishoho-doppyo, on the way up
At the sanso, I met the nicest Japanese people so far. I find that outdoors people tend to connect, even across language and cultural boundaries. I got a new friend, Hiro, who shared his lunch and was terribly concerned about me. I felt bad about making him concerned, but fortunately he got good reports of my progress.
Nishiho-sanso is recommended, but if you go, bring a stove to melt snow. They charge $3/500ml of water.
On Nishohodaka Summit, descending from the summit, and Nishihosanso