24 April 2007

Big Big World

22 April 2007

America the Green

Just in time for Earth Day, I recently subscribed to America the Green (ATG) podcast, with Carolyn Parrs, Irv Weinberg, and John Biethan. I figured I can't claim to be environmentally concerned without being regularly informed myself. The mainstream media can only cover so much environmental issues. I need to know more about the green issues and podcasts, for me, is the best way to go.

The first podcast of ATG I happened to listen, Saying I Do To A Green Wedding, was interesting but doesn't apply to me. It was educational and interesting nevertheless, with topics about farm raised seafood, conflict-free diamonds, biodiesel transportation, etc. Yet the second podcast that I came across, Rethinking Recycling with Justin Stockdale, was where I learned something both disheartening and fascinating. Mr. Stockdale told the listeners that landfills are made to ensure their contents don't decompose. The trash in the landfill is kept dry so that they don't decompose much. No decomposition means no liquid coming out of the trash, no chance of leakage into the landfill's surrounding. Likewise, less smell comes out of the landfills as a result of no decomposition. Supposedly, there was a case of a newspaper found in a landfill that's still readable. So much for bio-degradable diapers, too. If those Pampers end up in a landfill, the sh!t won't go anywhere!

21 April 2007

Ubuntu and BitTorrent

As a Mac user, I see no reason to mess with Linux other than to see what's all the fuss there is. I am not interested in hosting my own web server or mail server, so Linux server is out of the question. Linux on the desktop still has years to catch up with Mac OS X's beautiful GUI, supposedly, so there's no attraction there either. However, with all the Intel-based computers I rescued off the street, some with hard drive, memory, CD-RW drives, etc. intact, I'm tempted to turn one of them into a Linux desktop. With broadband access, I can just download some distro as an ISO image file, burn the file to a CD, then stick it into the host PC, and, oh, some hours later I'll have a Linux desktop. Of course I haven't gotten around to doing all that because while the whole process can be put into one sentence, actually doing it takes much more time. Or, as mentioned in Every OS Sucks, a comedy song by Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie, even though the fun is in the technical details, I have a girlfriend and things to do, or to be exact in my case, I have a family and things to do.

From what little I heard, Ubuntu seems to be the easiest-to-use Linux distro out there. Just boot it up and it'll automatically detect everything for you. I've thought of giving Ubuntu a shot and the recent roll-out of a new Ubuntu, nicknamed Feisty Fawn, seemed to be just the ticket. Alas, demand for Feisty was high and all the mirror sites were overwhelmed. However, I was able to download a torrent file and got the new distro via the BitTorrent client Azureus. Recall that the last time I checked out BitTorrent technology, I concluded that there was nothing to it other than for pirating movies. Well, here's a perfectly legit use of BitTorrent. After getting my own copy of Ubuntu Desktop for i386, I became another distribution channel of what I just downloaded, or in torrent lingo, I help seed the resource. Well, it seemed easy to become a seeder, but it took much mucking around to really become a useful seeder. Supposedly my NAT (network address translation) was not setup correctly such that people couldn't get to what I offer. I had to read the Azureus FAQ over and over, trying to fully understand a whole slew of seemingly foreign terms like seed, peer, leech, snub, tracker, etc. In the end, it was a matter of configuring my DSL router to allow incoming traffic to a port Azureus expects to make data available to. I have been doing my part in making the data available to the public since three days ago. I plan to maybe keep up the service for about a month. I'm not too keen on keeping my computer up too long as it wastes electricity that way. The file itself is about 600 MB but according to Azureus I've uploaded more than 5 GB of data. Now, only if I have the time to actually make use of the file...

19 April 2007

Down With Smoking

One aspect of my recent trip to China that was negative, beside the initial monotony, was second-hand smoke. I've been living in health-conscious New York City for so long that it is a given that eating out automatically means it should be a smoke-free experience. Not so in China, or any other places that still think it's perfectly fine to light up anywhere smokers feel like. I think Asians such as Chinese and Vietnamese simply love smoking. Maybe it's only because I know more Asians than people of other races, but most Asian men I know are smokers, especially outside of the U.S. It didn't help at all that our host, Uncle P, was a heavy smoker. I cannot recall if he smoked much back in 1994, perhaps because it was a shorter stay and we didn't have dinner with many people. He sure did during my second visit. He lit up before the meal, during the meal, after the meal, in the bus, off the bus, around children or with no children around, so on and so on. He may be excused because he lives in China, where such behavior is perfectly acceptable, sad but true. What was extra disappointing was that in our big group was an uncle on my wife's side. He lives in NYC all these times and must know the rule. Whether he followed them in NYC or not I didn't know, but he sure enjoyed his smoke very much during this visit, lighting them up almost everywhere. Whatever restraint he might have regarding smoking while in NYC simply went out the window. Of course 9 out of 10 men who went to the various dinners that I attended were smokers, but again, they were Chinese in China, where smoking is still allowed in public places. Nothing ruins a good meal like a whiff of second-smoke in the face. I tried my best to avoid the smoke but I am sure my lung blackened much during the visit. About the only place that prohibited smoking was McDonald's. I'd rather die from heart disease or whatever Mickey D's food bring, at least it's my choice, whereas with second-hand smoke it's someone else's bad decision and rude behavior that do the harm.

Luckily, Hong Kong's new smoking ban just took effect Jan 1st of this year, so my HK visit was extra pleasant. When the smokers in the group had to fill their needs, they had to step outside just like back in NYC.

17 April 2007

Recycling in China

Every now and then, the news would have a story about some environmental problem in China as the country catches up to Western standard. The Yellow River is overused for some industry, sand storm blasting Beijing because of destruction of trees, you name it. So it was comforting during my recent visit to see most of the public trash receptacles having separate containers for recyclables and non-recyclables, such as shown in this photo, taken at the San Ya Nan Shan Cultural Tourism Zone in San Ya, Hai Nan Island. In some other places, I spotted plastic containers set aside just for the purpose of collecting used batteries. Of course, it's one thing for the government to make available the recycle bins and it's something else for the average person to be aware of them. Even in my office in the U.S. of A., the recycle bins often have non-recyclables in them.

Just as some U.S. states have bottle-recycling laws, whereby empty soda cans and bottles are worth a nickel or more each, in China, there's a market for plastic, glass, and paper. Bottles for drinking water had some value, as I saw old ladies here and there collecting them. In Tai Cheng, I noticed many people wandering on bicycles, with a wagon behind them, picking up recyclable items. They usually have a glass bottle mounted on the bike's handle bars, on which they would tap periodically to draw attention to themselves. Perhaps they pay a small price for the materials, or got them for free, what I know for sure is that their wagons usually had things in them.

15 April 2007

The Rough Ride Home

The long oblication finally came to an end this morning. Technically, it happened yesterday, as it is now 11:15 a.m. on Monday, 16 April 2007. Thanks to the time difference, we "gained" twelve hours by the time we landed - it was already 2 a.m. 4/16 in Hong Kong but we set our clock back to 2 p.m. 4/15. Some kind of Time Travel, eh?

It was a rough ride at times. Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, when the plane was shaking from collision with jet streams, I was thinking that I wouldn't make it home to post another blog entry. Or be in the office the next day to whip up some more KiX scripts. By the time we reach JFK, the weather was bad and the plane had to circle the airport a few times before actually landing. Sounds of people throwing up could be heard here and there in the cabin. I normally have no problems with motion sickness, but during the wait to land I was starting to develop a headache. Perhaps the sum of the rough landing, the run in the rain to get the car, and jet lag was too much for me. I had a nasty headache but it went away after a few hours of sleep, sans dinner.

Still, it's good to be home.

13 April 2007

What's New in Hong Kong

At the hotel I stay at, Harbourview Horizon, the club house is open until only 9 p.m. I got back at 8:30 and quickly whisked away the kids to the club house for them to enjoy a few precious minutes in the playground. These same kids were complaining about sore feet from walking all day, but now had the energy to slide, run, and crawl. Kids!

I didn't expect Hong Kong to change much since my visit in 1994. After all, how much more advanced can it be? Well, it can and it is.

I already mentioned about the subway's glass partition, but another obvious change is the use of RFID tickets. Back in 1994, entering or leaving the train platform requires feeding the ticket to the turnstile. For us tourists who buy single-trip tickets, this still holds true, but for the locals the Octopus card is the way to go. Without even taking the Octopus card out of their wallet/purse, most people simply put it atop the card reader and off they go. It is similar to the system in use in some office buildings. How I wish the NYC subway would evolve to the next level and use the same method. It is very frustrating to slide the dang MetroCard too fast or too slow.

Victoria Peak is probably to Hong Kong as the Statue of Liberty is to NYC - you have to go there when you are in HK. For me, another reason was for my Son to enjoy yet another train ride. He loves train very much. I remember the Peak that I visited in 1994 only had a few telescopes to look around. There was a path to walk about, perhaps lined with local artists hawking their wares. The Peak that I visited yesterday was a multi-story mall. There was a post office, a video game parlor, Madame Tussaude Wax Museum, souvenir shops, fast food restaurants, etc. Sadly, another change is the higher level of pollution noticeable from the Peak. I don't know if I have any 1994 photos taken from the Peak, but supposedly if I do, I would be able to see the difference. All the building tops are now covered in smog. One entrepreneur on the Peak viewing platform claimed that he can "clean up" the smog in the photo. I suppose he would take pictures of the tourist and then digitally add them to a clean HK skyline.

During my 1994 visit, I stayed briefly at the apartment of my future wife's Uncle on her mother side. Near the apartment was the "new" Dragon Center mall. What made the indoor mall special was that it had a working rollercoaster. Supposedly, for safety reason, the coaster is no longer used, but the tracks are still there. I tried to photograph the tracks but for whatever reason a security guard didn't let me. I don't see why. Even with 911 and threats of attacks to the NYC subway, no law has yet been passed to ban photographing in the NYC subway. Maybe the guard just liked to pick on us tourists. Other new additions to Dragon Center are the ice skating rink and arcade zone.

Hong Kong Subway

I've just had my full day in Hong Kong. As someone who loves mass transit, I was amazed anew by the Hong Kong subway. They now have added glass screens to separate the people waiting on platforms. Only when trains arrive in the station do the doors on the glass screens open up to admit and discharge passengers. Amazing! No need to worry about someone having seizure or some drunks falling onto the track.

12 April 2007

Hello From Hong Hom

On Thursday, in the afternoon, we took a train from Guang Zhou to Kowloon, Hong Kong. The trip completed the transportation modes we used on this vacation - airplane from JFK to HK International on Lantau Island, bus from Hong Kong to Guang Zhou, short boat ride during a theme park visit in Hainan, and now train. We even had a cable car, like a ski lift, when we visited Monkey Island, prior to checking into the Waika Hotel. The last night we were in Taishan, my Son and a cousin also got a moped ride around rural China, thanks to Uncle P.

It feels almost like home while in Hong Kong, just that people drive on the "wrong" side of the road. We arrived in Tsim Sha Tsui, a tourist area, at night and neon signs were everywhere. The sky two floors up in almost all directions were just neon signs of stores trying to grab our attention. We decided to eat Vietnamese but it took a few queries with the local to find one. Even then, the small store had to have an employee walk us two blocks to the bigger store to accommodate our group of twelve.

BTW, the China Firewall isn't in use in Hong Kong. I can finally write new entries and see them exactly as how the world sees them.

11 April 2007

Vacation Day From The Vacation

Yesterday, some time during the long wait for the pantyhose shopping spree to end, I decided that I would regain from the herd some control of my day. I decided that I won't be leaving the hotel the next day, i.e. Wedn. April 11. The Wife and her family etc can go anywhere they want, I just won't be a part of the herd, at least for the day. The Wife reassured me that they would visit some local tourist spot and there won't be a shopping event, but I stood my ground. I feel guilty about not being with my Son but there were many adults in the group, someone better be a responsible adult and not just go ga-ga at the sight of a SALE sign or be in deep conversation about the good old days and pay no attention to the kids.

I started the day with dim sum with the Wife's old classmates. Well, it was really she and her chums eating and talking at one table while Son and I ate at another table in the same room. I can take that. It's something to do for the Wife, not for some distant relative's fifth cousin. After the Wife left the hotel with the Son, I took a nap, watched TV, read a sci-fi paperback, and listened to a This Week In Tech podcast on my iPod, with a nap or two here and there. Then I had lunch in the Western restaurant in the hotel lobby - porkchop and Coke. Originally, I wanted seafood pizza, but just because it was on the menu didn't mean the chef on hand could make it. After lunch, I plunked down another 15 yuan, or about $2, for another hour of Internet time.

So much with complaining. I did enjoy a few moments here and there. Borrowing a page from my sister's blog, below is a list of differences I noticed between this China visit and that from my first visit back in 1994. It may not be 1994, it may be 1993, but for argument's sake, I'll assume it was 1994.

  • Water. Back in 1994, at the home of Uncle P, where I stayed at, water had to be obtained from a hand pump. That was better than going to the public well, but still it was an inconvenience. On this trip, I learned that indoor plumbing has arrived to this part of rural China, even though the pipes are outside the walls, not inside them. Only in newer buildings would one find indoor plumbing with the pipes out of sight. In older houses, it would be too much troubles to knock down the walls to hide the pipes, would it not?
  • Paved Roads. One night during my 1994 visit, Uncle P and I had to ferry the Wife's maternal grandma home on bicycles. There were some large pieces of kitchen equipments, maybe a wok or a rice pot, and they were tied to the bicycle I rode on. Uncle P took care of carrying grandma on his bike. The distance wasn't that great, but the trip was difficult because the road consisted of dirt and rocks, with puddles here and there. It was nighttime and we had perhaps only a flashlight, the moon, and the stars. Our two bikes were the only traffic on the road. More than 10 years later, the road is now paved and lit. Traffic consists of many trucks, mopeds, and even some cars.
  • Telephone. I recall that prior to the visit, while in Hong Kong I had to go the post office to send a telegram to Uncle P. Then after we arrived, I had to walk the narrow path across some rice paddie to the village post office to send a letter to the U.S. I don't remember if the USPS had started using self-adhesive stamps back in 1994, but at the time in the village the village post office had a jar of rice glue on the front counter for attaching the stamp to the letters. Nowadays, many families in the village have telephone and many people walk around with mobile phone, some even with those Borg-like Bluetooth headsets. I noticed that many houses' outside walls have phone numbers scribbled by hand. Uncle P's daughter said the writings are advertisements for some services.
  • Internet Access. Back in 1994, even NYC didn't have wide adoption of broadband Internet access and the village probably had zilch. Now the Net is reachable via DSL, which is understandable since DSL works over phone lines. I don't know about the big cities, but I can see that cable TV is not yet available in the village. The phone had become a necessity so DSL adoption is natural, but watching movies and TV shows on cable TV is still a luxury. I borrowed Uncle P's PC one day and access was so-so. At the Waika Hotel in northern Hainan Island, my Son tried to play some game on PBSKids.org and it took forever to load. In general, anything half the world away took time to load. Not surprisingly, I haven't seen a single Mac computer. It's so much easier to cobble together a motherboard and some adapter cards to make a PeeCee running on Windoze. BTW, at 15 yuans/hour, my Internet time at this hotel, the Sunrise Hot Spring in Taishan, is the cheapest I found on this trip. At Waika it was 20 yuan/half-hour and at Holiday Inn Resort in Sanyan (south Hainan) it was 30 yuan/half-hour.

My one-hour computer time is almost up. I do have photos further supporting some of my findings listed above, but even though I have the necessary hardware to transfer the photos to this computer, I don't want to risk messing up the PC. It's a Windoze PeeCee after all, who knows what kinds of problem I may introduce into it by just connecting it to a digital camera. Speaking of PC problems, a few days after I first used Uncle P's PC, his daughter had to rebuild the machine from scratch because it crashed. Piece of Crap.

10 April 2007

Taishan, Second Stay

I am on my second stay in Taishan, or some rural area of it to be exact. I had the false hope that on the first stay I did my part in visiting the in-laws' relatives, neighbors, and friends, but no... Today we visited a friend of my father-in-law, but the worst part came when the women in the group descended upon some store that sells pantyhose and bras at very good price. I don't know how much money they saved, but I was bored to tears after the many hours waiting for them to finish their shopping. Marriage, schmarriage, what a compromise...

08 April 2007

China Trip

I finally found a few quiet moments to compose a second blog entry while on vacation. I see that there is one comment to the first entry, but viewing it is equivalent to previewing the blog, which is filtered out by the China Firewall. I'll just have to wait until I am outside the Firewall, or back in the U.S. of A. On second thought, I am able to see the comment as an email message in my Gmail inbox.

This trip so far is mostly an oblication, just a word I made up - a combination of obligation and vacation. The trip started out in the inlaw's home village and everything was for meeting all those relatives on the wife's side. No fun there, although I probably have some new faces for the extended family tree I maintain. Also, there's plenty of materials for future blog entries. In no particular orders, I can see future entries on the following topics:

  • bullshit, the real type that comes out of the bull, not those found in politics or some corporate offices
  • indoor plumbing with exposed pipes
  • squat toilets
  • Internet access
  • rural landscape
  • community life
  • Hainan tourism
  • homesickness

01 April 2007

Testing The China Firewall

Can a blog entry be made on qaptainqwerty.blogspot.com while being inside China? The good news is Yes, but the bad news is that the finished entry, or probably the whole domain of blogspot.com, cannot be viewed.