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 Hong Kong’s standards were decades out of date compared to new scientific evidence on the effects of pollution, and promises to upgrade continued on and on again.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.
If you have a couple of hours to kill, and remember what it is supposed to look like, you can now watch the ‘remix’ version of Star Wars, containing 100s of different clips sent in my fans of the film.
I’ve been on a bit of a World War I kick lately. I realized a few months ago that I basically knew only the rough outlines of the Great War, and couldn’t tell the difference between the First Battle of the Somme or the second (or third). It’s led to some new reading material, like the The First Day on the Somme which I’m moving through right now, along with a number of free eBooks such as the Story of the Great War by Churchill, Miller and Reynolds, which is available for free download in many places (all eight volumes).
So it’s with this bit of interest I caught an advanced screening of War Horse the other night in Hong Kong. I hadn’t heard much about this film being so far removed from the “upcoming releases” and rarely seeing any trailers, but the pre-release buzz, based on the book and the play, was pretty strong. Steven Spielberg was directing so the film has all the grandiose cinematography that we’ve come to expect from his sweeping epics. A relatively young and unknown cast (unless you watch quite a bit of British TV).
War Horse tells the story of a horse (surprise) during the first World War I. A beautiful thoroughbred is bought by a drunken farmer in a petty spat with his landlord and adopted by the farmer’s son. The boy teaches the horse, which should be racing as ascot, how to pull a plow and behave around the farm. But the drums of war are approaching and when times get tough on the farm, the horse ends up in the service of a British cavalry unit, led by Sherlock Holmes (well, the actor Benedict Cumberbatch) on their way to the front.
Act II takes place with the British forces, and is quite the “pip pip” and all that of massive horse charges (beautifully filmed by the way) and tragic consequences of the ‘Flower of England’ going to war in the trenches. Another act with a refugee family before the horse finds himself in the service of the Germans, pulling large artillery pieces through the trenches past the corpses of many a horse that has pulled before.
The final act sees the unification of the whole story, with the farmer’s son now on trench duty in the First Battle of the Somme (1918) (there was another in 1916 for those who don’t know). Will the horse and master reunite, or is it a chance encounter of two ships simply passing in the night.
The film was enjoyable, but for me I think I suffered from “over expectations”. Some of the reviews have been positively gushing, even reports of Kate Middleton sobbing as she saw it at the London Premier. But for me it wasn’t quite all there. The lead character is a horse, of course, but having an emotional connection with a horse is something that just didn’t come through it for me. That it was able to move through the war from one side to the other and stay out of harms way was great and all, but as a film, the horse never jumped into something more, something I could relate to or have a deeper connection with. When human actors appeared, they came and went before you barely got past your stereotypes.
There are good moments, wonderful moments of the film. But while I’m all for a good cavalry charge, it doesn’t quite make a movie (ask the directors of The Lighthorsemen). In fact, for those who have never seen this nearly unheard of film, let me just show you the most important scene. If you are in a rush, spin to minute 3:27 for the be all, end all of cavalry charges in film. The horse charge in War Horse ranks right up there though. It was visually amazing and stunning in the display of the tragic futility of modern warfare against a more ‘noble idea’ of warfare on horseback.
I guess one other thing is that I don’t really “get” horse films. It seems there is a whole genre of films based around horses that attract this subset of film goers who just “must” see every movie with a horse. It’s kind of like “ski” movies. You can take any idiot (and they do), pair them with some girls in bikinis (because skiing is all about bikinis) and then films a few minutes of guys going down a slope and people will pay money, over and over again to watch this. There is a built in audience for horse and ski movies, and I’m not in either crowd.
This film thankfully isn’t as violent as Saving Private Ryan, but neither is it as memorable. The relationship you had with the men under Tom Hanks command is stronger than those you’ll form in this film.
Should you see it? Yes. Should you expect a life-altering two hours? No. Just go with the concept you’re going to spend two hours watching something beautifully films and you’ll come out pleasantly satisfied.
Opens in Hong Kong the first week of February, after Chinese New Year.
I couldn’t think of a better translation, but you get the general idea from above what’s going on here.
On Youtube, where you can find just about anything, there are quite a few guys in Japan who have filmed incredibly complex train crashes involving toy PLARAIL trains. These are plastic battery-powered Japanese toy trains that zip around on blue Tomica track, of which there is quite an abundance in my own home. These Otaku train guys film massive competitions between various train types across multiple track layouts to determine once and for all who is the strongest.
My kids are hooked.
There are literally hundreds of these videos. My boys watch them over and over again to the point they know which trains will succeed and which will fail, and more complicated, which track layouts we should attempt to duplicate here in the house. “No daddy, build the one with six bridges and four crossing points” (and by the way, my son says ‘points’ instead of ‘switches’–darn British-based education system over here).
With both sons home for the Christmas holiday, it doesn’t take long for the toys to become “boring” and playing to become “dull”. So we’re having to scour the net for new things to do, and that led to cutting out paper and making stuff.
First up was some Doctor Who Tardi(ses) or whatever is the plural of Tardis. The boys got “Where is Doctor Who” for Christmas so they are having fun looking for the Doctor and Rory and Amy in a book filled with Daleks and Cyberman.
The Chinese media has been digging into the finances of Zhang Shuguang (张曙光), the engineer once dubbed “the grand designer of China’s high-speed rail.”
Following the crash of two bullet trains that killed dozens in China, issues of railway corruption have been covered pretty heavily in some of the media in China. This report actually did some digging into US property and tax records to discover that while he was working for $2,200 RMB a month (about $300 USD) he was able to buy an $860,000 USD house, paying cash.
For those who don’t follow me on Google+, I’ve talked recently about the new buses that are to be introduced in London based on the iconic Routemaster designs. These new buses, built in Northern Ireland, will be placed into service over the new few months years and will bring a hint of the old style with a liberal dash of the new design. Personally I think it’s a beautiful looking bus.
I’m not mocking the new bus or the rollout, but bringing this up as an example of even the best laid plans sometimes fall apart. So many in the tech industry see a new product get launched and then go absolutely bat crazy bonkers when something doesn’t work immediately, on day one, the way it should work after three years of beta-testing. I’ve had to deal with this as well when creating some new product or site and having little bugs pop up unexpectedly that we didn’t have the time, money or staff to debug properly.
That’s kind of why whenever I see a major site like Google or Yahoo or CNN go “down” I take a screen capture of the page. Even they have problems now and then such that my own foibles don’t seem quite as bad.
Anyway, can’t wait to get to London and try out this new bus.
I guess I should feel lucky I had time for even these 12.
Basically these are the 12 books I read this year, in no particular order.
Steve Jobs biography
Arsene Wenger biography
The Quants (Wall Street Math guys)
Deadly Choices (about the vaccine / autism debate)
Defence of the Realm (MI-5 History tome)
The World According to Clarkson
Delivering Happiness (history of Zappos)
Cold Steel (the battle of steel industry giants)
The Black Swan (the effect, not the ballerinas)
Too Big to Fail (Lehman Brothers, the US government bailout of AIG, et al)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (I was sick one day and re-read it)
The Facebook Effect (history of the Facebook)
Finding time to read is harder and harder. I managed to get a few of these in digital form rather than paper, since buying them over here in Hong Kong is such a pain in the butt. I don’t really have a review of most of them. They were all kind of well, interesting enough for me to buy or get them but not necessarily things that changed my life. Delivering Happiness is something I recommend to others, and the Facebook Effect for those who want to know more than the move.
Next year I have a bunch of classics (read — past their copyright and free) e-books already loaded on to the iPad. I’m reading some of the history of World War I, something I don’t know enough about. I’m also going to try and read some more spy novels. I have a Wallander book or two lying around that is about half done which I should eventually finish. This was also the first year my science-based reading went down a bit. Guess I didn’t have enough time to focus.
In yet another “we’re still here” messages, the US Air Force conducted an elephant walk of F-16 fighters in Korea as part of an exercise. An elephant walk is what guys called it when planes were lined up along the taxiway heading off on missions back in World War II and the name has stuck ever since.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen the US play a more active role in Asia, primarily as a counter to China. On July 4, 2010, the South China Morning Post, in a likely ‘leaked’ story wrote about three US Ohio-class submarines simultaneously appearing at ports throughout Asia. In the last year the US has also decided to play a role in the South China sea / island disputes, and recently signed a new treaty with Australia on the positioning of US Marines down under.
Is this just a coincidence this photo is out and on the net and getting talked about? Possibly, but even if it is the case that this is just random, I don’t think the policy makers mind too much the connection of this photo with the other actions going in Asia today.