Sunday, October 21, 2012

Smoggy View

Today I woke up to lightning, thunder, and a nice rain at about 6:30am in Shanghai.  It hadn't rained here in weeks, which is nice for wandering around in this warmer than average fall, but things tend to get pretty dusty and grimy without a little rain to rinse them (and the air) clean, so the rain was very welcome.

But it didn't last.  Something like 5mm actually fell, and the rain didn't knock the pollution out of the air, it just added some humidity to an already humid week and seems to be making the smog hang significantly thicker than usual.
Looking northwest at the smog.  Like the plant and the
cushions on the window seat though?

Above and right are a couple of shots I just took out of my office window to illustrate my point.  Eeew.  When these pictures were taken, about 11am, the pollution was in the "Very Unhealthy" category and the EPA recommends that "People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should avoid all physical activity outdoors. Everyone else should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion."  That's why I'm staying inside.  ;)

The amount of pollutants in the air is definitely harder to gauge by looking at than I would think though, so luckily there are monitors to take the guesswork out of it.  The really harmful stuff is super small (2.5 micrometers in diameter) and stays suspended in the atmosphere for a long time.  Particles this small can go straight into your bloodstream through your lungs, and are therefore what is monitored by the U.S. Consulate here in Shanghai.  Check out their website for a good description of what they measure and hourly updates of what the PM2.5 count is at the Consulate building in Shanghai.  You can also check out their Twitter feed.

(Why it's posted on Twitter - which you "can't" get to from within China - is a slightly complicated story, which you can read about if you just Google "u.s. consulate shanghai air quality monitor" and read the WSJ and other stories.  The "official" (and reasonable) reason is that, in China, Americans primarily use Twitter, not Weibo, the Chinese equivalent, and since Americans are who the U.S. Consulate is there to educate, Twitter is what gets used.)

It's also worth comparing the U.S. readings to China's own readings, which are sometimes wildly different.  But not as bad as Beijing's Chinese versus U.S. readings, I hear.  Try the Shanghai Daily Air Quality page and the Shanghai Environmental Monitoring Center, but you'll have to get Google to translate it for you.  The Chinese authorities also measure totally different things and report them differently, so there is oftentimes good reason for the readings to be different.

So yeah, I'm just going to hang out inside today and catch up on some of the reading that I've been ignoring lately.

Update (1:09pm China Time): Newest U.S. Consulate pollution reading puts the level at "Hazardous".  Dang.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Your bill is late. Again.

I wrote this a while ago and didn't think that I should post it when it was fresh, but this was a semi-common mental self-commentary that I used to have while working as a manager at the self storage place...
So lemme get this right: your company knows it has a bill that is due on the 1st of every month and is the same amount every month, but you only process checks on the first Tuesday or Thursday of every month.  Meaning that if the first of the month is on a Friday, you're not going to cut a check until the following Tuesday, the fifth of the month.  Plus, it's sent on a horse and buggy by thoroughly modern sorting and transportation methods through the U.S. Postal Service from another state, so it's going to take at least three additional days to get to me.

Yes, you're being assessed a late fee.  No, I don't care that it's going to break your system to cut an out of cycle check.

Have a good day, now!

I would have liked to say it out loud to a few people though...  ;)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Extend Your WiFi Network!

In the process of getting settled into the girlfriend's apartment here in Shanghai it became painfully obvious that while the "premium" Huawei router included in the internet package may be good at reporting my internet activity to Chinese officials, it does a terrible job of getting WiFi through the ridiculously thick concrete interior walls.

I can take care of the former issue with a good VPN subscription that encrypts and then routes all of my internet traffic through California.  The latter issue wasn't a problem while sitting on the couch in the living room, three feet from the router, but when we decided to set up an office in one of the spare bedrooms on the other end of the apartment, the lack of a reliable internet connection became problematic.

Luckily, I brought along my old Linksys WRT54GL wireless router when I came to China, so I hoped that I could bridge the two routers onto the same network and therefore have a strong network connection in the office.  After a bit of searching, it turns out that I had my jargon wrong, and that by connecting one router to another with a cable to extend the range of the network, I was actually cascading the routers, and this is incredibly easy to set up.  Best of all, you don't have to mess with the original, primary router, which is good, because it's all in Chinese and I don't know the admin password.

All you need to do is follow the instructions on this Cisco Knowledge Base article, but here's the basic rundown with my commentary:

  • Disconnect your computer from your existing network.  
  • Plug the secondary (new) router into your computer via one of the LAN connections (not the WAN, we're not going to use that one).  
  • Connect to the secondary router by typing its address into your web browser (probably 192.168.1.1).  
  • Change fourth octet of the router's own IP address to something different than the existing router's, because it is probably 192.168.1.1 also, and that will cause a conflict.  I chose 192.168.1.250, but you can use anything between 1 and 253.  
  • Disable DHCP so the new router doesn't try to assign IP addresses to the devices that are connecting to it.  The original router will still do that and they will just get passed through.  
  • Make sure the SSID (name of the wireless network) and the wireless security settings are exactly the same as the original router.  This way your laptop / phone / etc will pass from one router to the other totally seamlessly.  
  • Optionally (not noted in the Cisco post, but mentioned in a couple other post I read), change the default broadcast channel so there's no overlap between the two routers.  I have no idea if this is actually needed or helpful, but the original one seemed to be set to channel 5, so I changed the new one to channel 11.  If you, like me, can't access the original router, you can use something like WiFi Analyzer on your Android phone to check it out.  
  • Make sure you save everything at each step, or else you're going to have to redo it all.  
  • Disconnect your computer from the new router and unplug the power from it, too.  
  • Get a really long ethernet cable, plug one end of it into one of the available LAN ports on the original router, and dangerously string it from one end of your house to the other.  Or run it in some less exciting way, like under the carpet or through the walls, but in this rented apartment with concrete walls and wood floors, I'm going to stick it to the wall with 3M Command hooks and call it good.  (Those things are great, btw.)  
  • Move the new router to its new home and plug in the power cable and plug the ethernet cable into one of its LAN ports (again, not the WAN, the original router is still taking care of that).  
That's it!  It's actually easier than my lengthy commentary makes it look.  You now have two routers broadcasting the same wireless network that you can move between without issue.  Setting it up this way also allows you to keep sharing network resources (drives, printers, etc), because your still on the same segment of the network (third octet of the IP address).  At some point in time you should also have changed the default password to access your router from "admin" to something a little harder to guess.

Now, to actually bridge two wireless networks together (no cable in between the routers), you need different equipment than I have.

If you're having this problem, too, I hope this helps!  One of these days I'll follow up with pictures of the office and its awesome view.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Electoral College Is Good For Colorado

This is what happens when I wake up at 5am the morning after having dinner with a couple of east coast liberals and can't get back to sleep...


Electoral college is the only thing that keeps smaller states relevant to national, two-party politics. While it's far from a perfect system, no one outside of Colorado would care what the 5.1 Million Coloradans think about anything if it weren't for the fact that whoever wins at least 51% of our votes gets the power of all of nine of our Electoral College votes.

If “popular vote” advocates had their way, the only places that would matter to politicians on a national scale would be the population centers – Southern California and the East Coast
Sorry Rust-Belt factory workers. Sorry ranchers. Sorry hunters, fishers, hikers, motorcyclists. Sorry fly-over states. Unless you live in a large population center where politicos deem worthy of spending their time, your concerns no longer matter and will dictated by those who probably have never even seen your state.

No national politician would waste their time traveling through Colorado, Ohio, or Iowa unless they knew that they needed to get enough of their supporters to turn out to tip the whole state in their favor. Otherwise they would spend all of their time pandering to the coasts and never even think about the states that have a total population lower than the particular metropolis they're fundraising in that day.

Of course, this results in some pandering the other way, too. The Farm Bill wouldn't be nearly as much of a mess if Iowa weren't a swing state. No one would care about National Forest logging rules if Colorado weren't a swing state. This can go either way depending on how and if these thing affect? your daily life, but it does bring otherwise dull issues to the national spotlight from time to time.

I think the Framers knew what they were doing when they decided on the Electoral College system of presidential politics – giving “smaller” states a little more leverage against their “big” neighbors in a two-party system.  This does screw up any chances of a viable third party, but that's an issues for another day...

Sorry for the rant.

Good FAQ on the Electoral College here.  

Saturday, September 01, 2012

I'm in China!

Well, I made it to Shanghai, China a week ago last night, and it's been a whirlwind ever since I touched down and I haven't had time for a proper update yet.  

...And I still don't right now, so this is just a quickie to confirm that I am here, I am taller than almost everyone, I'm the only one with a beard, I still can't read or speak Mandarin, and the food is (for the most part) amazing.  

I haven't taken as many pictures as I had planned, but I got some good phone-shots, so I'll post those soon. (This one is the view out the living room window on a slightly hazy day.)  And then I'll bust out the good camera and the little video recorder and post the results.  

Monday, July 02, 2012

Improv Broccoli Salad

Last night I needed a side dish, so I would be eating something other than just meat for dinner.

I've had some pretty good broccoli salads in the past, and that seemed like it would go well with barbeque beef brisket, but I had never made it before. But since I had just bought a head of broccoli, I thought I'd give it a go.

And ya know what? It turned out great! Not bad for four ingredients.

1 head of broccoli, cut up into smallish, bite-size pieces

(as small as you have patience for)

1 apple, cut up into small pieces

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup poppy seed salad dressing (I'm sure it would work with pretty much whatever type you want to try)

Combine everything in a bowl, stir together, and consume. Makes about four good size servings and is darn tasty.

23:59:60?!

The concept of the leap second is fascinating to me. Since our definition of a second isn't actually based on the length of a day (the time it takes for the Earth to rotate on its axis one time), rather the vibrations of a cesium atom, and since the gravitational energy transferred to the moon through tidal forces are slowly slowing the earth down, they've gotta throw a leap second in every once in a while. Most recently on June 30th, which apparently causes some computer servers to pee themselves a little.

It would be totally weird to see your clock go from 59 seconds to 60 seconds, then back to zero seconds instead of the usual 59 to 0 pattern. I might pee myself a little if I wasn't expecting it.

Kinda sad the moon is drifting away though. :(

Read about it at Accuweather.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Doodle a Drive-in or D-Day?

I love Google's occasional doodles on their homepage, and I love the evolution from the early, simple ones to the latest HTML5 craziness.  But I've never really understood how they have chosen which historical occasions and figures to represent.

For example, today, June 6, is the anniversary of D-Day, the day in 1944 that Allied troops stormed the Nazi held beaches of southern France and began the eventual push towards victory in World War II.  9,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded.  It was kind of a big deal.

But on the Google homepage today there is an homage to the first drive-in movie theater, which opened on the same date in 1933.  Really neat presentation and very well done, but the gravity of the events aren't the same.



That being said, while D-Day 1944 was a great victory for our side, a bunch of people lost their lives and I'm sure it wasn't a pretty picture.  The opening of the first drive-in movie theater, on the other hand, is a shoe-in for awesome, lite-hearted remembering for those old enough and exploration for those too young to have ever been.

And I love drive-in movies and the culture that they represent, so I'm definitely not unhappy with their selection.  But maybe Google will do something D-Day related to the 80th anniversary in 2014.  I hope they do.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

CyanogenMod 7.2 on LG G2x

I've been using my first Android smartphone, the T-Mobile G2x (LG Optimus P999) - the first dual core smartphone out there - for about a year now and I'm still pretty happy with it.  Of course, I can't ever leave well enough alone, so after dealing with the random rebooting issues for the first few months and imaptiently waiting to see if LG or T-Mobile was going to do an over the air update to fix it, I went the Root and ROM route with CyanogenMod 7 last August (see this post for more info).

All has been well, and the usability and reliability gains over the stock ROM have been astounding.  My battery life is literally 50% better than stock, I get the notification lights that I so desperately missed, my phone only shuts off when I tell it to, and I get to have a slight smug superiority over those with stock phones.  ;)

But since Android 4.0 / Ice Cream Sandwich launched, oh, seven months ago now, I've been hoping it would trickle down to my, now old, phone in the form of CyanogenMod 9.  There seems to be a pretty good enthusiast base for my phone still, and there has been good progress mentioned in some of the forums, but no stable builds for my phone yet.

Since I needed to do something with my phone, and since CyanogenMod 7.2 RC2 had been released earlier this month, I decided to flash that to my phone and see what the differences were.  As always, I got nervous and searched for instructions (the most clear were here), but everything went extremely smoothly.  (Here's a good place to start get started modding your T-Mobile G2x.)

And the verdict is... there's no obvious difference.  But as least I can rest easy knowing that my phone is as up to date as it can be at the moment.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I Think I'll Reflect On The Federal Reserve...

If you've got an extra 75 minutes on your hands and want to learn about the origins and mission of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank (and who doesn't?), then you should definitely tune in to the Fed Chairman's four-part lecture series at George Washington University.

Ben Bernanke delivered his first lecture to a business class called "Reflections of the Federal Reserve and its Place in Today's Economy" today (March 20) and the Chairman is scheduled to lecture again on March 22, 27 and 29 from 12:45 - 2pm Eastern time (10:45am to 12:00pm for us in the Mountain zone).

I watched today's live stream and was definitely not bored, nor did it feel totally over my head.  Having just heard about it this morning on the radio, I obviously didn't do the assigned reading - and I'm not sure that I will - but Mr Bernanke did a great job of covering the "Fundamentals, History, and Principles of Central Banking" in a way that even someone in a flyover state like me could understand.  ;)  He was a university professor for several years, after all.  A pdf of his PowerPoint presentation and the recorded video of his lecture (when it's posted) is available on the Federal Reserve's website, here.

The Fed Chairman's lectures make up the first four sessions of a spring term course at GWU that is being professionally recorded, probably at taxpayer expense.  All ten sessions will be taped and should be posted to YouTube, but the final six will not be steamed.  I am definitely going to try to watch at least the first four with Mr Bernanke, and maybe even try to keep up with the reading.  The Federal Reserve and its role are something that I think most people, myself included, don't know much about, and I would certainly like to understand better.  Also, this course could serve as a little reminder of what being in school is like, in the event that I do eventually decide to go back.

[Okay, so I wrote this post on Tuesday afternoon, but then the computer peed all over itself and I couldn't actually publish.  Today (Wednesday) I did the aforementioned reading, and I think I have decided to try to stick with the course.  This is going to cut into my new-found "pleasure reading" time, but the more you read, the better you get at it, right?]

Also, The Evolution of Bernanke’s Beard is awesome.

Side note... I highly doubt that the links to these videos and resources will be any good after this class session (in the case of GWU) or Mr Bernanke's time as Chairman (in the Fed's case) are over.  All of the videos should end up on YouTube, and with any luck will stay there, but the class syllabus will probably be replaced with next year's version.  I've uploaded the basic html of the syllabus page to my public Dropbox folder, so it should be available for a little longer if anyone needs to find it.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Ford's 999cc of Awesome!

Ford's new global engine for the Focus and Fiesta (as well as several other Euro Fords) looks to be one of the coolest pieces of automotive engineering from any company in a long time.

The Fuel Economy of New Hybrid Small Cars, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, is pretty good.  The best of the bunch, of course, is the 2012 Toyota Prius 1.8L at 50 miles per gallon combined city and highway.  That's good, but the other cars in that class range from just 34 (Honda CR-Z) to 44 (Honda Civic Hybrid) combined MPG.

And while these 40+ MPG small cars will help you save at the pump, the hybrid system is still heavy on the scales and on the pocket book, making these cars significantly less fun to toss around in the curvies and to write that payment check to your bank every month.  Under ideal conditions, disregarding maintenance costs, and with a pretty cheap hybrid Civic, you would still have to drive over 86,000 miles to pay for the hybrid option in gas savings.  Many people who buy new cars will never keep them that long (especially in a hybrid when you have to pay for new batteries at around 70k, yikes!), and therefore should not spend the extra cash, just to satisfy their green enviro guilt.

But I didn't start writing this post to bash on hybrids.  If that's what you gotta do to sleep at night, you go right ahead. ;)  What I wanted to write about is Ford's miniature new powerplant for their smaller cars.  It's simply a marvel of engineering and the most power-dense engine Ford has ever produced.
Ford's new 1.0L EcoBoost three-cylinder.  Kinda close to nuclear fusion efficiency.  (Photo: Ford)

The mini marvel I'm talking about is the new for 2012 (2014 in the States) 1.0L 125 EcoBoost.  This little thing (the block is about the size of a sheet of notebook paper) packs over two horsepower per cubic inch (which is a whole lot, fyi) and motivates the Focus 5-door to 56.5 combined MPG. That's right, one-point-zero-liters (999cc to be exact), three cylinders, direct injection and a turbo charger can churn out 125HP and 147ft-lb of torque, while still only emitting about 185g of CO2 per mile driven.  Pretty impressive efficiency and a work of engineering.  Its exhaust manifold is even integrated into the head so the hot exhaust can be cooled by the engine coolant to prevent burning up the turbo under part throttle conditions; instead of the current method of cooling them with extra fuel - which is effective, but not very good for mileage.

Read the Ford Focus 1.0 Ecoboost Zetec review at Autocar.co.uk and Motor Trend's 1.0 EcoBoost European Spec First Drive and imagine getting 50 MPG in something that is actually fun to drive.  Then be blown away that this Ford 1.0 is ‘to get 177bhp’ in different trim.

If you read the above linked articles, I'm sure you've gleaned this, but the 1.0 EcoBoost gets the same power as the current 1.6L un-boosted gas engine, a bit less than the U.S. 2.0L (but with the same torque - the stuff you feel in your butt when you accelerate) and crazy, better-than-a-hybrid, good mileage.  I'm sure it won't be a rocket off the line, but the smaller and lighter motor between the front struts should make it nimble and easy to drive through the curves.

Anyway, this motor is Europe only for now, of course, but I can't wait to give one a test drive when they hit our shores.  I'm also curious how our 5,000 foot elevation will effect the turbo motor compared to the serious tole the thin air takes on naturally aspirated motors.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Ryan Gosling's latest meme - Lindy Hopping!


I'm not sure if I fully understand this recent meme, but "Ryan Gosling, Lindy Hopper" is quite entertaining.  And you should probably check it out.



It's not included on the semi-reliable "Know Your Meme" website's Ryan Gosling page, but the evolution is obvious from what is already there.

Monday, January 16, 2012

I must not drink enough!

Today, on the anniversary of the beginning of prohibition in 1919, I came across an interesting (if not terribly well written) article in the NYT last week about the prevalence of binge drinking. It makes me look reealllly good.

However, I have two problems with the article, which are below. See if you catch the same things I did, or if I'm totally misinterpreting something.  (My emphasis.)

Binge drinking prevalence increased with household income. About 20 percent of people who earn $75,000 or more annually reported binge drinking. However, the data showed that people with lower incomes tend to binge more frequently and consume more alcohol per sitting.
and
Over all, states with the highest age-adjusted prevalence of adult binge drinking were in the Midwest and New England, and included the District of Columbia, Alaska and Hawaii.

Now, in the first one, they may have meant that a higher proportion of wealthier people binge drink, but of those poor people who do binge drink, they tend to do it more frequently, but they didn't say it very clearly.

The second one has no explanation.

And while I consider the amount of drinking that I do to be on the higher side of what is reasonable for someone of my age, I'm apparently waaay behind the curve.  I don't remember the last time I had nine drinks in a sitting [wait a minute, could that be a correlation?], and I definitely don't do that five times a month!  Sheesh, bunch of drunks out there!  

Reminds me of this exchange from Marketplace Radio just before New Years that finds that walking drunk is 800% more dangerous than driving drunk (per mile traveled).  Worth a listen / read.  

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Afilumaphobia - The Fear Of Running Out Of Yarn

Is there a name for the stress induced by the fear of running out of yarn when you are half way through a crochet project?  If there's not, there should be... Abibliophobia is the fear of running out of reading material, so I'm sure I'll think of something.  Just gotta figure out what the Latin for "yarn" is, and it should fall into place.

[Ten minutes later...]  Apparently there wasn't really a Latin word for yarn, but khorde is Greek for "gut string", which is probably what was used as one of the original yarn-like things.  Filum is thought to be the root of fiber, so maybe that would be the best fit.  Therefore, my newly christened word for the fear of running out of yarn is Afilumaphobia.  Not sure if that'll stick of not, but it's worth a shot.

The reason I bring this up is that Tuesday night I started (and subsequently finished Wednesday) a new crochet project with some really nice, expensive yarn.  It was a really neat pattern (which I kinda altered / flubbed), but the yarn I got was not the weight that I was looking for.  I was looking for a "super chunky" (4 wpi-ish) yarn that was part wool and part something exotic, but I ended up with a "bulky" weight (9 wpi-ish).  The yarn is really nice, 50% merino wool and 50% yak, and super soft, but because it was about half the weight I was looking for, so I decided to work it with two strands at once, trying to get the same chunky effect as with the original yarn, and although frustrating to get started, I think it went well.

Shot of my Yak cowl before blocking and while it's actually still a scarf.  Almost done!
But because of this change it took more yarn than I originally thought, so when I was a little less than half way through with the original pattern I started to notice the two balls of yarn shrinking much faster than I thought in the bag I was pulling them from and got really worried I wouldn't have enough to finish.  Each hank was only 125 yards, and i was using twice as fast as I thought!  (See Afilumaphobia, above.)

Ordinarily this wouldn't be too big of a deal -- just go to the store, try to find the same dye lot, and buy some more.  But this yarn was $20 a ball, and due to my lack of planning ahead, I had absolutely no opportunity to go get more before my deadline.  Fortunately it all worked out fine, and I just ended up making it one row shorter than I intended.

I think it will be fine, since the yak seems to have really good loft and did a lot of reading about "blocking" your projects as a final step to even out the stitches and get the fibers to relax and soften up a little.  To block a project you basically soak it in the sink, squeeze it out, and lay it out in the right shape, and let it dry.

I had never done a project that I figured could benefit from blocking, so I gave it a try this time, and wow, is really did soften up!  And even more surprisingly, it stretched out by nearly 20%!  Whoops!  I could have made it significantly shorter and added that last row to make it thicker.  Oh well, live and learn.  Now I've just got to turn the scarf into a M√∂bius cowl by giving it a twist and sewing it together.  I'll follow up with pictures of the finished product and maybe even a model shot!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

So that's why they call it that. Or not.

Didn't see that one coming...

Just read it again.

See what they did there?

Yeeeaahhh... strange.