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Andrew

My Geek Travel bag

I just got back from a trip to Japan with this on my shoulder.  Yea, it was heavy.  Too heavy.  I’m thinking I’m going to have to find a new solution next time.  The camera was quite a bit of the weight but so too was the MacBook.

 

So what did I take?

Canon 40D

iPad 1

iPad 2

Regular Glass / Sunglasses

Noise canceling headphones

Earbuds

$500HKD (cab fare home from airport)

$200USD (emergency money)

$200,000 JPY

15′ MacBook Retina

Canon battery recharger

Plug adapters

MicroUSB charger

2 iPad Chargers

SIM card adapter

HSBC Bank key

Thunderbolt-Ethernet adapter

Macbook charger

iPad cable

MicroUSB cable

Mini USB cable

Passport holder & Airline/Hotel cards

Mini-wallet

Main-wallet

All of this fit into my backpack for the trip.  There was also a ‘cable bag’ that went along in the suit case with plenty of other cables and whatnot that I wouldn’t need on the short flight (4.5 hours) to Tokyo.

 


How to rank medals by country in the London Olympics.

As we near yet another Olympics, the old debate about how to rank Olympic Medals is likely to come up once again. I’ve written about it in 2008 and 2010, so probably best to do an update as we kick off the London Olympics in 2012.

Under the Olympic Charter, there is no “official” list of medals by countries.  It is forbidden:

The IOC and the OCOG shall not draw up any global ranking per country. A roll of honour bearing the names of medal winners and those awarded diplomas in each event shall be established by the OCOG and the names of the medal winners shall be featured prominently and be on permanent display in the main stadium.

Since the games in Australia however, the press office started to issue “advisories” showing how nations were doing, and in these advisories the rankings were by the number of Gold medals first, followed by Silver, then by Bronze the so-called ‘Gold First’ standard.  The United States media, and their counterparts in Canada, have consistently ranked medals in a different manner, the so called ‘Total Medals’ standard.  In 2008, this led to a ‘split’ where the world’s media declared China the “Winner” of the 2008 games as they had the most Golds, but the US media also felt the US did the best as they had the most “total medals”.  However, in 2010, Canada had the most Golds, followed by Germany, then the United States, which also had the most medals.  This confused many in the European press as the official Olympic tally from the Vancouver Press office was listing in the ‘Total Medals’ format which showed Canada not have the best record.

At the close of the 2008 Olympics, IOC President Jacque Rogge said that the IOC had no position on which table is better.

“China has won the most gold medals and the United States of America won the most total,” International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said during a news conference Sunday. “I believe each country will highlight what suits it best. One country will say, ‘Gold medals.’ The other country will say, ‘The total tally counts.’ We take no position on that.”

So as we move into the London Olympics, I found it interesting to see the official ‘medal table’ on their website goes both ways.  Those who want the Gold first standard can click the sort button by Golds, but those who prefer the Total medals count can sort by the totals.

We won’t likely see a determination as to what is better / worse in this Olympiad, but more and more voices are starting to complain the emphasis on “Gold” is neglecting the development of some athletes and sports in countries with limited resources to put forward for their Olympic team.  Whether we see a further discussion about this after the Olympics remains to be seen.  Maybe I’ll do another post when we get to 2014.

 

How to Sign Up for Weibo in English

UPDATE: Through a little URL sniffing I found this English-sign up page.

More and more I’m hearing folks ask me how do you sign up for Weibo in English, so I thought I’d make a quick little guide with the help of my translator (i.e. wife).

The easiest way to do this is to download Google Chrome and get the translation extension that will translate, on the fly, any webpage.  Now the English-Chinese translations are never quite perfect, in fact, they’re usually quite a bit worse than say English-Spanish or English-French, but you can get the general idea of what is going on through those plug-ins that will do the translation for you.

If you don’t have Google Chrome, here is what the first two pages say when you get started with Weibo.

Goto http://www.weibo.com

Click the Blue button at the top right.

 

That will take you to the details screen, where you enter the details as follows.  When you click the submit button at the end, you’ll get an activation notice saying that an email has been sent your email address.  Click the link there and you should be good to go.

 

 

 

Now, as for who to follow, I’m creating a list of English-speaking Weibo users on another site.  Will have that up shortly.

 

Gaming industry going ape about “Watch Dogs”.

Gaming industry going ape about “Watch Dogs”.

A new first person shooter / hacker game in which a dystopian future in which the anti-hero of a computer hacker makes his way around following his opponents.  Hints at a tablet interface as well.

In a year that some are calling a “meh” version of the E3 expo, one new title has emerged as the clear buzz game that nobody knew about a week ago.

Tesla Model S sedan rolls off the production line and into the driveways of CEO Elon Musk and VC …

Tesla Model S sedan rolls off the production line and into the driveways of CEO Elon Musk and VC Steve Jurvetson. 

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk assured his investors at their annual shareholders meeting Wednesday that the company's long-awaited second car, the Model S, is almost here. In fact, it's sitting in his dr…
lightpollute

Is light pollution harming the space program?

I know, a pretty ridiculous claim. Perhaps.

But I as I sit here in Central Hong Kong, looking up at the night sky (on those days when you can actually see through the air pollution in Hong Kong) isn’t quite the same experience I had as a boy growing up in rural Illinois.  Now that my own children are starting to take an interest in outer space, the wonders of looking up at the night sky and point out objects is something lost for them due to the abundance of light radiating upwards from Hong Kong Island.  The incredibly cool iPhone app “SkyView – Explore the Universe” which is an augmented reality astronomy program, doesn’t quite work that well when I have to point out “you see the blinking light on the Bank of China? Behind that is Venus”.

What happens when the power goes out.

 

Follow this line to outer space.

A classic scene from the must see movie October Sky comes at the beginning when the townspeople of tiny Coalwood, West Virginia step outside on the night Sputnik is flying by, looking up on the dark sky until they can see the fast moving speck of light heading across the night sky.  With this observation (and hundreds if not thousands of others around the country) the space program was launched.  I myself remember seeing the moon during the days of the Apollo program and saying to myself “Mission Control is in the moon”, my five-year-old self not knowing any better (and my older self much more disappointed to discover we did not already occupy the Moon).  Does a child who has never seen the moon wonder similar thoughts?  I wonder if the lack of seeing the stars will keep my sons from dreaming of visiting them one day.  I wonder if the lack of stars present to most Americans as we see the new urbanization and suburbanization off the farms has started to diminish our support for sending people up into space.  How do you drum up support to send probes or people to someplace most people cannot even see?

Beyond the technical implications of sending rockets into space, the other importance of a clear night sky is that there is something about the unpolluted night sky that actually helps ground a person a bit better.  While I’ve spoken of looking up and dreaming of the stars and places yet unseen, there is also a sort of a epiphany others reach when seeing the vastness of the universe.  That is that you, as an individual, really are not that important. Your life, your entire being, in a universe made up of billions and billions of stars and planets, well, quite frankly, is a bit unimpressive.  This also means, however, that the problems and troubles that you face are also equally unimportant.   Trouble at work, disagreements with friends, etc. — it’s of little importance overall, really.  While the initial shock of your worthlessness might be rough to take, the resulting freedom from worrying about the other stuff is actually pretty liberating.

Those who have never really seen the stars have never really come to this realization.  Some are actually frightened when they do see the sky for the first time.  It’s a oft-quoted remark that during the Northridge Earthquake in Los Angeles a decade ago a number of 911 emergency calls were made regarding “strange clouds of light up in the sky”. People were seeing the Milky Way for the first time and actually a bit concerned.   That the ordinary person is now shocked to find out we live in a vast universe is distressing.  I’ve yet to hear anyone on reality TV shows speak the wisdom of one who has seen the other spiral arm of the Milky Way.

Astronauts too have spoke of similar realizations when seeing the stars and the heavens.  Here is a great interview from Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell on his return from the moon and many other Apollo astronauts have reached similar realizations.

We learned a lot about the Moon, but what we really learned was about the Earth. The fact that just from the distance of the Moon you can put your thumb up and you can hide the Earth behind your thumb. Everything that you’ve ever known, your loved ones, your business, the problems of the Earth itself—all behind your thumb. And how insignificant we really all are, but then how fortunate we are to have this body and to be able to enjoy loving here amongst the beauty of the Earth itself.

— Jim Lovell, Apollo 8 & 13 astronaut, interview for the 2007 movie In the Shadow of the Moon.

It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.

— Neil Armstrong

If somebody’d said before the flight, “Are you going to get carried away looking at the earth from the moon?” I would have say, “No, no way.” But yet when I first looked back at the earth, standing on the moon, I cried.

— Alan Shepard

But for now, without the stars to gaze upon I’ll just have to make due with an iPhone app and a few glow in the dark stick on stars.  I’ve heard that on some of the outer islands of Hong Kong you can get a pretty decent view of the stars if you get far enough away from the people. I gather the MTR doesn’t stop at those places though.

 

 

 

 

Avengers. My movie review.

Another Summer, another Marvel comic book movie.

Had a chance to catch Avengers, or Avengers Assemble for those in the UK, because, after all, Emma Peel and John Steed are the only Avengers the UK needs. While not really a comic fanboy, I have read more than my share during my youth, though never really venturing into the Avengers or X-Men or any of the other superhero “teams”.

So as a slightly interested observer, what’s my one word synopsis for this newest comic offering? How about “fun”. Well actually it’s a bit more than that. It’s definitely better than some of the Marvel films of recent years, maybe even one of the best. I think the  folks at Neonpunch are not that far off when calling this “awesome” though they are far bigger fanboys than I.

The stage has been set for this movie for the last couple of years, with S.H.I.E.L.D and Sgt. Fury being introduced in sort of a cameo way across a multitude of Marvel films over the last few years. Over the past five years we’ve had:

The movie stars Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Chris Evans (Captain America), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Stellan Skarsgård (Dr. Selvig) and Clark Gregg (Agent Phil Coulson). These are all reprising their roles from the other films. There’s also a neat scene with Harry Dean Stanton, the original Repo Man, and of course the cameo by Stan Lee that we’ve come to expect in these comic book adaptations.

So real quick, basic plot summary without too many spoilers. Loki, the “brother” of Thor, teams up with some Chitauri lizard dudes to attack and rule the Earth. The various superheroes comprising the Avengers “assemble” together to meet this threat. I mean, really, is there much more of a plot needed?

Want.

In between this and the finale you have a few internal squabbles with Avengers battling one another as they come to grips with the fact they need to fight together against a far bigger threat. You also have some cool scenes of the S.H.I.E.L.D. flying aircraft carrier, which was probably the coolest of the tech in the film. There were also quite a few “glass”-based computer monitors, kind of like the Corning / Microsoft “visions of tomorrow” monitors we’ve seen in futuristic viral videos. While for some watching this movie made them want to go home and suit up in their own superhero costumes, for me it had me going home wondering “how many monitors could I fit on my desk, really“.

The story was actually pretty tight, but I do wonder how it would gel with someone who hasn’t seen some of the other films. The cosmic cube of Tesseract which was in Captain America and Thor plays a vital role in this films, and characters like Agent Coulson, who we’ve seen through the last several films are also quite important. Not sure if a non-comic book fan, non-movie goer would get this, but then again, if you have’t seen the previous five movies and are going to this one ‘cold’ what are you thinking?

Want, also.

As far as the acting goes, basically the first half of the movie was Iron Man, and the second half was the Hulk. While the story is being set up you find yourself basically waiting for the next Tony Stark quip and witty sayings while everyone else does their superhero bits, some of which came across as a bit wooden. But the second half, or more appropriately, the finale, is really all Hulk. The Hulk’s simple comic touches outdoes the cracking witticisms of Robert Downey Junior, and when the Hulk meets Loki “monologuing” it was definitely the high point of the film. From taking out the giant armored turtlefish (yea, you’ll see) to simply wiping the floor with Loki, the Hulk simply stole the show.

If I had to nitpick, I guess I would quote Loki when he talks about people being ants and he the boot. In all too many alien invasion movies we see the aliens come down and due combat with the Earth “one on one”. If you are a superior civilization with advanced technology, the last thing you are going to do is go around trying to kill each and every person in each and every corner of the planet. No, you’re going to nuke the place from above and then clean up after the smell is gone (i.e. just like you do with bug spray and bugs). I’d also have to say the 3D is pointless. I found myself barely noticing it when it was taking place, and wishing it was more prevelant in other scenes. I mean, if you are going to show Scarlett Johansson’s curves in spandex, why can’t that be in 3D?

Anyway, this isn’t going to have you talking to your friends about the meaning of life, but if you are sitting around this weekend and want a good “fun” movie that your geek friends think is “awesome” and that you’ll probably enjoy while eating some popcorn, you won’t go wrong this film.

p.s. Thanks to the folks at Norton Hong Kong for the passes.

How watching cartoons helped me realize I’m an uncultured slob.

I’d like to say that I “discovered” Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki this week, but the truth is a bit more nuanced. I’ve known of some of the later films for some time now, from Howl’s Moving Castle to Spirited Away which even won an Oscar a few years back. But like the first drops of rain that has you questioning “is it raining” my experience with their films has been on the periphery, rather than a torrential soaking.

But now that I have kids the excuses have come to an end.

About a month ago I made the kids sit through “Arrietty” or The Secret World of Arrietty as it was called in the US. We followed that up this week with My Neighbor Totoro which has been on basically daily rotation with the boys. Watching the giant forest spirit Totoro bounce and pounce and smile has the kids humming along the theme song, even though the lyrics are in Japanese. We followed up with Kiki’s Delivery Service and I watched “Spirited Away” the other night while nursing them through some colds (thank god for the iPhone). The kids watched a bit of Ponyo but it was in Japanese so they tired quickly from the subtitles.

Ghibli is called the “Disney of Japan” but that’s really a misnomer. The cartoons are far more complex than your standard good vs. evil with an odd speaking sidekick that passes for Disney animation today. Often told from the perspective of a young female lead (as compared to the more male-dominated cartoons of Hollywood)

Since 1984, under the auspices of its founder and chief auteur, Hayao Miyazaki, the studio has rolled out a succession of dense, ambitious fantasy adventures, almost all of them led by strong, intelligent, independent-minded girls. Miyazaki’s movies are exciting and fantastical, often involving flying machines, ecological disasters, clashing civilisations and precarious spiritual values – all rendered in clean, colourful, hand-drawn animation. His heroines also tend towards a certain type. They are adventurous and active, but also compassionate, communicative, pacifist and virtuous. Their “female” qualities and childish innocence are often what resolve the crisis at hand and bridge conflicting worlds….

“He thought heroism was much more complicated than that black hat/white hat stuff,” explains Helen McCarthy, a British author who has written extensively on Miyazaki and Japanese animation. “By making the hero a girl, he took all that macho stuff out of the equation and that gave him the freedom to examine heroism. His career has been a very beautiful building of an idea that the feminine doesn’t preclude the heroic.”

There is also quite a bit about a casual, rural lifestyle that comes out in several of these films. The sounds of the crickets and grasshoppers and the rainbow of fresh flowers and plants are common elements in many of these films, harkening to perhaps a more simple way of living through the more complex reality that we now face. I think one regret about Hong Kong is that my boys have not played in the mud frequently enough, worried as we are about the polluted air or dengue-fever dripping mosquitoes.

You’d think PIXAR and Ghibli would be almost opposed to each other, but apparently there is a great deal of mutual respect between the two.  Miyazaki has visited the PIXAR offices where he found all sorts of stuffed animals and other hints of Ghibli merchandise strewn about, and Pixar employees would often get together to watch these films, even giving Totoro a small cameo appearance in Toy Story 3 (I guess I should mention that Disney has the rights to distribute Studio Ghibli movies in the USA).

But as I sat googling more information about the films and whatnot, I found myself frequently pulled back to Youtube for musical clips from the different films. The soundtracks of some of these films has been all I’ve listened to this week, and got me to realize that I’ve been away from classical (even the neoclassical music) a bit too long. Such is the life of an uncultured slob.

Most of the works are done by a Japanese composer named Joe Hisaishi, sort of a neo-classical star in the world of music and one that I think has been far too overlooked in the USA. While he produces some catchy songs like the Totoro theme, sung by all kids in Japan and even a few adults, and even some John Williams-esque marching songs like the Castle in the Sky, he also has some deeper music, dripping with emotion at times. The Path of the Wind, which is sort of an ambient track throughout much of Totoro, is a hauntingly beautiful piece.  I actually discovered a full concert from the Budokan celebrating 25-years worth of music, and am already working on getting the DVD from Japan.

I think a hidden secret in the world of classical music is that many of today’s musicians actually got their first introduction to classical music from Bugs Bunny. The Rabbit of Seville is actually ranked as one of the top cartoons of all time and many kids learned classical music from Saturday morning fare.

So now I’m playing these songs to my kids, hoping that some of the hooks and rhythms stand out in their mind as they grow older.  My oldest, who has a good understanding of music, is already recognizing certain songs and saying “Dad, stop humming Totoro” before he starts humming it himself.

Anyway, here is a bit of a playlist for you to peruse.  Close your eyes and try to visualize your own cartoon as you hear some of these songs.  It’s not hard to do.

Path through the Wind

Kiki’s Delivery Service

Laputa Castle of the Sky (time to storm the castle)

Tonari No Totoro Theme

And if you have the time, a full concert at the Budokan by Joe Hisaishi. I’m still trying to find the DVD of this.

HSBC ‘Lonely Boy’ Rugby Commercial. I still like it.

Eventhough the Rugby Sevens have long since passed, I’m still watching the commercial. It was filmed in front my friend’s house in a funky part of Hong Kong with narrow streets and lots of little restaurants. Now I’m hungry just thinking about the street food over there.

Going viral to catch an African war criminal

In the next few days, you are going to start seeing signs all over the net for KONY 2012.  No, he’s not a politician–far from it, he’s Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lords Resistance Army in Uganda and a total and complete scumbag.

Internet savvy users around the world are pushing for his arrest in a coordinated effort this year to capture him.  Last year 100 US military advisors were put on the ground to train the locals to help find him.

So join the Facebook group and post away.  Expect your social media feed to fill up with this in the next few days.

 

Hong Kong Air Pollution app is now online.

Well that only took about a year.

When I moved to Hong Kong the air pollution that month was quite obscene.  Schools were closed and outdoor activities around the city were cancelled as the air pollution indexes officially “topped out” in both Hong Kong and cities across the mainland (due to pollution, some weather, and a bit dust storm up North).  Unfortunately I hadn’t a clue what the Hong Kong Air Pollution Index meant, and what was the difference between a reading of 100 or say 200 (on the scale of 500).

So I did some investigating and found the issue of air pollution and how to measure it is highly complicated and controversial.  Hong Kong’s standards were decades out of date compared to new scientific evidence on the effects of pollution, and promises to upgrade continued on and on again.  I decided there had to be an easier way to know if it was safe to send the kids outside or not.

I built a Hong Kong air pollution website which is primarily a math exercise.  Those looking for funky graphics will find themselves sorely disappointed.  But it enabled me to get a handle on the math behind air pollution equations, and from that I was able to start displaying the air quality in Hong Kong by using other standards from different countries.

“This would be a cool app” I thought, and started on the path of teaching myself how to develop an iPhone app.  I got pretty well along, with one or two major hitches, so I decided to hire a freelancer.  That went badly.  We didn’t communicate well and promises of “another week, another week” stretched into months.  I finally gave up and hired a professional software company that was able to put out a finished product in very quick order.

So now the Hong Kong Air Pollution app is online and ready for business.  And just in time for the release, the air quality in Hong Kong has mellowed quite a bit.  A monsoon hangs over Hong Kong keeping the air pollution down and interest in monitoring somewhat subdued.  But I’m sure in a few weeks we’ll start to peak up against the warning limits once again and we’ll start to see some more downloads.

The app is free on the App Store, but feel free to click the ads if you want.