Monday, November 30, 2009

Up the Cyber?

So ya
Thought ya
Might like to go build this code.
To feel the warm thrill of compiling
That space cadet glow.
Tell me is something eluding you, runtime?
Is this not what you expected to see?
If you wanna find out how to use this old code
You'll just have to lick some psychedelic toad!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Maia's Thanksgiving Day poem.

My 9-year-old daughter wrote a poem today:

Hilarious Uppie
Fast moving hands
typing on the laptop keys
My Dad

Monday, November 2, 2009

Geekin' it up on my last day in China

I spent my last full day in China wandering Shanghai with a former rPath coworker, Xiaowen, a Shanghai native who is now back in Shanghai as a Program Manager for Microsoft.

Our first stop? A Shanghai Linux User's Group (LUG) meeting in a restaurant across the street from my hotel! Along with socializing, the meeting consisted of two talks, one on iPhone application development and one on Google's Street View camera technology.

A familiar site at LUG meetings everywhere--geeks with laptops and projectors:

After the LUG meeting, we wandered over to the 1930s-era Shanghai exhibit located under the Urban Planning museum. (At least that's where Xiaowen told me it was--I got lost in the labyrinth!) I learned a little written Chinese from her and was probably overly amused that the symbols for "train" mean, literally, "fire car."

We then headed to the Huangpu River by taxi in order to cross the river by ferry. Interestingly, locals carry pre-loaded fare cards that pay not only subway and bus fares, but also taxi fares! Taxi drivers swipe the card as you leave--very slick! The ferry cost us 7 cents each, and we were surrounded by commuters on motorcycles and scooters. The view from the river at night was stunning:

We wandered around Pudong a bit (I'd already wandered there the day before with some classmates), and then we hopped the subway for her part of town, Xujiahui. It looked like a scene straight out of Blade Runner:

Dinner was at a nearby restaurant in a former convent with a 19th century royal rail car attached to it. We ate in the rail-car dining room (I'm a huge train geek). Soy-marinated duck and fish heads with chiles! Mmmm!

I was briefly concerned about getting back to my hotel--the subway system appeared to need a reboot:

A first sighting for me--a completely empty subway station!

More great lectures in Shanghai

We attended two more outstanding lectures at the CKGSB campus in Shanghai, one by Professor Jeongwen Chiang, "Strategic Marketing in China," and one by Professor Leslie Young, "Modern China's Growth: Comparison and Contrast with the US."

Professor Chiang:

(Unfortunately, I was a dolt and neglected to take a picture of Professor Young.)

Professor Chiang's lecture was fascinating, covering the market impacts of, among other things, demographics in China, economic growth, China's one-child policy, regional economic imbalances, cultural norms and relationships, an emerging consumer middle-class, and product branding. Of particular interest was the dramatic and wide-ranging impact of the one-child policy.

Professor Young's lecture was fascinatingly provocative--possibly the most provocative lecture I have ever attended.

(Where do I even start?!? Perhaps with the fact that he earned a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Oxford at the age of 20?)

Professor Young's lecture was a very wide-ranging comparison of the Chinese and US economic systems, with emphasis given to recent responses to the economic crisis (including assertions that some aspects of the structure of the Chinese economic system--such as government control over land ownership--gave it an inherent crisis-response advantage over the US), the nature of economic competition between the US and China over recent decades, and the structure of capital creation and government control of "Communist Capital" within the Chinese system.

Professor Young also tossed some bombs into the classroom with statements on touchy topics such as US policy and future competitiveness, religion, and the perceived and relative value of various types of freedoms, pushing most--if not all--members of the class outside their comfort zones.

I'm still astonished at how outspoken some of the professors were in their criticisms of various policies of the Communist government over the past 60 years. To be sitting two blocks from Mao's mausoleum on Tian'anmen Square and hear a professor describe aspects of life under Mao as "miserable for 30 years" was certainly not what I had expected!

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Our first stop after arriving in Shanghai was the Yuyuan Garden, a beautiful Ming Dynasty garden now surrounded by urban Shanghai:

A nicely juxtaposed skyline:

What a city! View from the 58th floor of the hotel, Le Royal Meridien:

Our hosts:

We toured General Motor's Shanghai production facility. GM making cars in China? Here's why!

(Apparently, Buicks are considered hot, trendy cars in China.)

At the Shanghai Acrobat show, ERA. They rode eight motorcycles inside this ball!

Closing dinner, atop the Shanghai Art Museum. Our hotel is in the background center:

The day after classes ended, a group of three of us rode the Shanghai Maglev train, the world's fastest scheduled train with a top speed of 268 MPH (431 KM/H). A first-class round trip to and from the airport at that speed cost a bit over $20 (160 Yuan).

The driver:

Top speed!

Kinda looks like a fish, huh?

An ad for a ride at Disney World?

The columns in the airport maglev station are decorated to resemble the coils of electromagnets:

Looking down through the floor of the tallest observation deck in the world, over 1500 feet up the Shanghai World Financial Center:

Beijing was an interesting city, but Shanghai was a *fun* city! (I'm glad we went to Beijing first: had we gone to Shanghai first, Beijing might have seemed a disappointment afterwards.)

One thing I realized as I was about to leave was that I could not recall seeing a single soldier in Shanghai. (We saw quite a few in Beijing, though admittedly some of them appeared to be serving in a ceremonial capacity of one sort or another.)

I also realized, upon leaving, that I rarely heard sirens in China--even the sirens of ambulances! I'm used to hearing sirens frequently--typically several times per day--even in relatively tiny Charlottesville. Seems very odd to hear them less frequently in cities of ~20 million people!

An incredible lecture in Beijing

Our third CKGSB lecture in Beijing was given by Professor Ming Huang, a double Ph.D. (Physics and Finance), and entitled "Financial Markets in China." It was utterly fascinating, and I consider it to have been one of the best lectures--on any subject--I have ever attended.

The lecture (which included extensive amounts of Q&A) covered the structure of the various financial markets in China, the banking system, private equity financing, foreign investment, mergers & acquisitions, the impact of the Chinese government on the markets and economic growth (and vice-versa), the impact of the recent financial crisis, behavioral finance, and the Chinese version of the government-service/private-industry "revolving door."

The range of topics and their content proved to be quite mind-bending at times to someone like me--a person used to western capitalism and with admittedly preconceived notions about Chinese Communism that were based upon "vintage" Soviet and Eastern European Communism.

Judging by discussions with some classmates at lunch, a number of us of us would have loved to sit and listen to Professor Huang speak and answer questions for the rest of the day--we were almost disappointed at the lecture's "short" 3 1/2 hour duration!

Professor Huang:

Prior to Professor Huang's lecture, a small group of us traveled across Beijing to a Cisco office with one of our classmates, a Cisco employee, for a demonstration of Cisco's Telepresence video-conferencing technology. This was seriously cool!

(The fellow in the picture was sitting in a room in Herndon, Virginia.)

The rain showers that fell on us the evening before (at the Great Wall) had cleared the smog from Beijing's air, and the morning commute back across town to attend class was under blue skies and rainbows of a different sort:

Friday, October 30, 2009

Some amusing signs & translations...

Seen just after exiting the Forbidden City:

I didn't have the courage to order the "stir-fried wikipedia" (either with or without the pimientos):

Instead, I ordered perch and also tried fried bees--dipped in honey--and some bullfrog stew.

They're serious about communications safety on the Great Wall:

No thanks, I'll pass:

Shop was closed, so this photo will have to serve as my brave man certification:

Little help here?

Unlikely this is a bad translation--but it sure is an interesting product name! luggage doesn't fit in my wallet!

All the best vampire parties are held here:

"Naughty Family"? Apparently, it's a pet company of some sort--boarding, veterinary care, etc.:

Various signs around the Shanghai Maglev train stations:

This might be my favorite sign in all of China:


Counterfeit? Ya'think?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tian'anmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall

Our first program day in Beijing started with an introductory lecture from our academic hosts, the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (CKGSB), related to investing in China. It covered various categories of and legal frameworks for investment, as well as other big-picture items.

After the lecture, we set off on a tour of Tian'anmen Square and the Forbidden City. (Our hotel was located about two major city blocks from Tian'anmen.) Due to the ongoing 60th anniversary celebration of the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC), the Square was a sea of poeple and celebratory displays.

We set up for a class picture with the Forbidden City entrance as a backdrop, something that seemed wildly amusing to some of the tourists: they set up in a semicircle opposite us and starting taking pictures...and then we started taking pictures of them taking pictures of us. A camera duel ensued:

For some reason, this is one of my favorite pictures from the trip--a solider with Mao's picture and the entrance to the Forbidden City in the background:

The feeling of being surrounded by history is simply unbelievable within the forbidden city. These Fu Lions (Guardian Lions) are from the Ming Dynasty.

I'm surmising that the rating system I encountered in the Forbidden City is somewhat less historical:

After playing tourist for the afternoon, I decided to try a Chinese massage: 90 minutes for 160 Yuan (< $25). The foot massage (which started with an herbal foot soak) was quite good, but the rest of the massage was only so-so. So I decided to try another one the next day!

After the second day's lecture, "Globalization of Chinese Companies," from the dean of CKGSB, we headed to the north-western outskirts of Beijing, to the Great Wall.

More history-saturated coffee-drinking:

The best-timed rainbow I have encountered in my entire life. A sublime scene:

Dinner on the Great Wall, done good and proper. (No room on table for food!)

After returning from the Great Wall, I met up with the tailor who was making my suits in order to do a final fitting. Good progress on one, but the other wasn't yet ready for a fitting before I departed Beijing (it later turned out to need some tweaking, which will have to be performed here in the U.S.). I also took delivery of my $15 (!) custom-made dress shirts, all of which fit perfectly.

After the fitting, I tried another massage. This one was perfect--it took my neck and back a solid two days to recover from it. :)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Beijing: Summer Palace, Tian'anmen Square, and custom-made suits!

I started exploring Beijing on October 10th. First stop: the historic Summer Palace, in northwestern Beijing, with some Darden classmates (Sarita Chauhan, Mark Brown, and Alex Zoppos). The cab ride from downtown Beijing (we were staying at the Grand Hyatt, about two blocks from Tian'anmen Square) took nearly an hour...and cost us all of 58 Yuan (about $8.50).

At the front gate to the Palace, I grabbed a snack at McDonald's--ironically, the first time I'd eaten anything in a McDonald's in years! I got a spicy chicken sandwich, which was made of dark meat and quite tasty.

The Summer Palace is simply a beautiful place to walk (and climb) around and take pictures. At the front gate, I started my streak of being photographed drinking coffee in front of various historical sites around China:

Amusingly, taking pictures of the Buddhas inside the temples isn't allowed, though the signs warning against it are ambiguous (appearing to forbid only flash photography). This one got me yelled at by what I initially thought was a policeman:

Though visitors can't photograph the icons inside the temples, vendors are allowed to set up inside them to sell relics and culturally significant Kobe Bryant playing cards. :)

At the top of the Summer Palace hills sits the Tower of the Buddhist Incense (also known as the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha). This might well be the most beautiful building I have ever seen. Unfortunately, the below picture (taken with an iPhone 3G) doesn't come close to doing it justice:

(Some better pix.)

We took the subway back downtown from the Summer Palace (for 2 Yuan--about 30 cents). The Beijing subways are incredible--smooth, quiet, and amazingly clean. Due to the 60th anniversary celebration of the founding of the People's Republic, the Tian'anmen Square subway station was complete bedlam (akin to DC on July 4th)--a Saturday-evening crush of people trying to exit through an insufficient number of turnstiles, police on bullhorns, the works. An obligatory "I was here" shot:

After dinner, a group of us headed out to a tailor shot to measure for some custom-made suits. We haggled our price down to $120 (!) per suit. (Mine were an extra $38 due to custom-made vests; I prefer three-piece suits.) We also got custom-made dress shirts for $15 each, and I returned the next day and had a beautiful cashmere topcoat custom-made for about $150. (I was unable to negotiate much off the topcoat price--I think the cost of the materials constrained my haggling margin.)

For pure entertainment, I also decided to see how cheaply I could obtain a knockoff Rolex on the street. I ended up haggling down to just under $3 per watch for a his/hers pair, though, amusingly, at that price the seller refused to throw in the packaging (a little pillow and a cardboard box).

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Getting to Beijing

I departed Richmond, VA October 8th on Air Canada (I used AmEx points & scored a great deal on business-class tickets), connecting through Toronto, Ontario to Beijing. I hit the lottery in Richmond and was "invited" to pass through the new L3 full-body imaging scanner for the first time--huzzah for cheap thrills!

Had a great view of Niagara Falls on the way into Toronto--my first time flying into Toronto! (I've flown my own plane into Ottawa a couple of times.) There was a bit of drama boarding our 777 for Beijing: a passenger on the inbound flight on the aircraft had a medical emergency, and the resulting emergency response and stabilization of the passenger delayed our boarding by nearly an hour.

The flight from Toronto to Beijing went up over the polar icecap and then down over Siberia. Despite leaving Toronto around 4pm and flying "overnight" to Beijing, the sun never set during the flight. I arrived in Beijing completely mentally upside-down, having been subjected to sunlight for over 24 straight hours. (The great-circle route from RIC through YYZ to PEK.)

The portions of the Beijing airport I saw were absolutely gorgeous--very new and just downright immaculate:

The drive from the Beijing airport to the hotel downtown was surreal: we (myself, a travel-agency representative, and our driver) got caught up in a roadblock for approximately 15 minutes, during which time police blocked egress from the airport at an on-ramp crossing in order to allow a VIP motorcade to pass. After the motorcade had passed, we turned onto the same on-ramp and then proceeded to overtake the motorcade on the airport highway, peering into the three-car procession of Mercedes from our limo as we blew past them and their police escort. (Good to see ineffective but very showy and inconvenient security procedures are a growth industry worldwide!)

Some initial items of comparison and interest: the air quality in Beijing was just as horrid as I'd been led to expect, smoking was allowed nearly everywhere indoors, and passing through Chinese Customs was quicker than a typical pass through US Customs.


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Charlottesville, Virginia, United States