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Tag Archives: chinese

  • Chinatown’s Kitchen Network
    I though this was an interesting article about how the various Chinese restaurants in SmallTownUSA get cooks (because owners don’t want to slave in a kitchen forever). I don’t think a similar thing happens in Toronto, although I can’t really tell because I never see the cooks. However, the wait staff at a couple of Chinese restaurants that I frequent are consistent.

    Rain lives with five co-workers in a red brick town house that his boss owns, part of a woodsy development near the restaurant. The house is tidy; there are three floors covered with white carpeting, and each worker has been supplied with an identical cot, a desk, a chair, and a lamp. “Some bosses don’t take care of the houses,” Rain said. “If they’re renting the house, especially, they don’t care. The rooms will actually smell.” Every restaurant worker has a story of sleeping in a dank basement or being packed in a room with five other people. Many complain of living in a house that has no washing machine, and being forced to spend their day off scrubbing their grease-spattered T-shirts in a sink.

    Rain’s boss, in contrast, is fastidious. The house has a granite-countered kitchen, but he forbids the employees living there to use it; instead, a hot plate and a card table have been set up in the garage. Outside, the building is indistinguishable from the other town houses, aside from a tin can full of cigarette butts on the doorstep. The shades are kept drawn.

  • Why do people earn what they earn?
    A look at a couple of professions/industries and trends as to why some people in one job earn more than another.

    But the server-as-secret-weapon tells only part of the story. After sifting through lots of academic papers and speaking to economists, I came to think of the depressed pay for cooks relative to waiters as a sort of “dream penalty” at play.

    Spend a day asking middle schoolers what they want to be when they grow up and I guarantee you’ll never hear “waiter,” “actuary,” or “portfolio manager.” Instead, their dream jobs tend to reflect activities they participate in: the performing arts, writing, teaching, cooking, and sports. So perhaps it’s no coincidence that there are so many underpaid actors, reporters, teachers, cooks, and minor league baseball players out there.

  • Super-Intelligent Humans Are Coming
    A discussion about whether (or more correctly, how soon) we will see humans who have IQs of 1000! No discussion about how they will fit into society though, which I think is another problem.

    Each genetic variant slightly increases or decreases cognitive ability. Because it is determined by many small additive effects, cognitive ability is normally distributed, following the familiar bell-shaped curve, with more people in the middle than in the tails. A person with more than the average number of positive (IQ-increasing) variants will be above average in ability. The number of positive alleles above the population average required to raise the trait value by a standard deviation—that is, 15 points—is proportional to the square root of the number of variants, or about 100. In a nutshell, 100 or so additional positive variants could raise IQ by 15 points.

    Given that there are many thousands of potential positive variants, the implication is clear: If a human being could be engineered to have the positive version of each causal variant, they might exhibit cognitive ability which is roughly 100 standard deviations above average.

  • Detroit State of Mind
    What is it actually like to buy one of those really cheap houses in Detroit and work it back into a liveable state.

    Then we found the tall, red brick home standing just off a grand, tree-lined avenue, a house with (53!) new windows, a newish roof, and all the inner workings spared by the roving bands of scrappers that plague the city. We jumped. It had been on the market for a year and a half at $22,000. We got it for $17,000—three flats’ worth clocking in at some 4,000 square feet, with two fireplaces and a garage to boot. The bar and jukebox and pool table in the basement hinted at a past as a speakeasy, and the icebox delivery door in the back landing charmed me, as did the original built-in cabinets. Hardwood floors waited under the carpet, and a park grill set in concrete in the back yard under a pine tree promised cook-outs under the stars. Updating the plumbing and electric would just take a couple weeks, the contractor said.

  • What if Age Is Nothing but a Mind-Set?
    One idea in the scientific community is that you age because you think & believe you are old. There have been some experiments done, but is it true or not?

    She recruited a number of healthy test subjects and gave them the mission to make themselves unwell. The subjects watched videos of people coughing and sneezing. There were tissues around and those in the experimental group were encouraged to act as if they had a cold. No deception was involved: The subjects weren’t misled, for example, into thinking they were being put into a germ chamber or anything like that. This was explicitly a test to see if they could voluntarily change their immune systems in measurable ways.

    In the study, which is ongoing, 40 percent of the experimental group reported cold symptoms following the experiment, while 10 percent of those in control group did. Buoyed, Langer ordered further analysis, looking for more concrete proof that they actually caught colds by testing their saliva for the IgA antibody, a sign of elevated immune-system response. In February, the results came in. All of the experimental subjects who had reported cold symptoms showed high levels of the IgA antibody.

  • How to Get Into an Ivy League College—Guaranteed
    I have no problems with the business model that this guy uses, although I agree it’s an arms race. I think most people get caught up on the fact that it’s “guaranteed”. It’s not really guaranteed. The agreement is that if it doesn’t happen, you’ll get (some or all) of your money back.

    Ma says his biggest loss over the years was a $250,000 refund he sent back to the parents in China of a kid rejected by seven Ivies in 2011. “I way overshot,” he says. (Still, that girl ended up attending Cornell, which wasn’t among the eight colleges the family agreed to guarantee. “The mother wasn’t happy with Cornell, can you believe it?” Ma says.)

  • Escape from Microsoft Word
    Some funny examples of why Microsoft Word is difficult to understand (if you ever had to use it for long documents, you might agree)

    A friend at Microsoft, speaking not for attribution, solved the mystery. Word, it seems, obeys the following rule: when a “style” is applied to text that is more than 50 percent “direct-formatted” (like the italics I applied to the magazine titles), then the “style” removes the direct formatting. So The New York Review of Books (with the three-letter month May) lost its italics. When less than 50 percent of the text is “direct-formatted,” as in the example with The New Yorker (with the nine-letter month September), the direct-formatting is retained.

  • How the Shinkansen bullet train made Tokyo into the monster it is today
    The largest effect of the bullet train seems to be that it made most of Japan one giant metropolis with the name of Tokyo.

    In the early 1990s, a new Shinkansen was built to connect Tokyo to Nagano, host of the 1998 Winter Olympics. The train ran along a similar route as the Shinetsu Honsen, one of the most romanticised railroads in Japan, beloved of train buffs the world over for its amazing scenery – but also considered redundant by operators JR East because, as with almost all rural train lines in Japan, it lost money. There were only two profitable stations on the line – Nagano and the resort community of Karuizawa – and both would be served by the new Shinkansen. A large portion of the Shinetsu Honsen closed down; local residents who relied on it had to use cars or buses.

  • Why We Keep Playing the Lottery
    Some ideas as to why people keep playing the lottery even though it’s almost impossible to win

    Selling the lottery dream is possible because, paradoxically, the probabilities of winning are so infinitesimal they become irrelevant. Our brains didn’t evolve to calculate complex odds. In our evolutionary past, the ability to distinguish between a region with a 1 percent or 10 percent chance of being attacked by a predator wouldn’t have offered much of an advantage. An intuitive and coarse method of categorization, such as “doesn’t happen,” “happen sometimes,” “happens most of time,” “always happens,” would have sufficed, explains Jane L. Risen, an associate professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago, Booth School of Business, who studies decision-making. Despite our advances in reason and mathematics, she says, we still often rely on crude calculations to make decisions, especially quick decisions like buying a lottery ticket.

  • Rental America: Why the poor pay $4,150 for a $1,500 sofa
    Similar to how the lottery preys on poor people; new business models are springing up to keep poor people in debt

    By the next day, the Abbotts had a remade living room, two companion pieces, both of the same blended material, 17 percent leather. The love seat and sofa retailed, together, for about $1,500. Abbott would pay for hers over two years, though she still had paying the option to pay monthly or weekly. The total price if paid weekly: $4,158.

  • Billie Bob’s (Mis) Fortune
    Yet another story about a normal person who won the lottery, only to find his life going sour

    Gerstner says Bonner told her that he had finally hooked up Billy Bob with Stone Street. Bonner told her that Billie Bob would receive $2.25 million in cash in exchange for ten years’ worth of his share of the lottery winnings, worth more than $6 million gross. Gerstner says she immediately knew it was a very bad deal for Billie Bob. She was also concerned about the legality.

  • The Downsides Of Being a Dad
    An article that argues that maybe it doesn’t matter if you spend a lot of time with your kids

    I spoke with roughly a dozen experts and posed an identical scenario to each one. Say you have three fathers: one coaches his kid’s Little League team; one shows up to the games and cheers the kid on from the sidelines; and the other drops his kid off at practice. Is there any data to suggest that a kid’s long-term success is determined or even influenced by which type of father he has?

    And the answer, from each of the experts, was the same: nope, none, zero.

  • What Happens When You Enter the Witness Protection Program?
    I was expecting this article to have all sorts of Hollywood stories about criminals being whisked away, and having to live a new life; but no, the focus is mainly about the program itself rather than interesting plot twists

    The Witness Protection Program does face new challenges since its mob heyday and the period described in WITSEC (Shur retired in the 1990s). The first that most consider is the impact of the Internet. Even if it still seems ordinary for an adult in a small town not to use social networks, risk is amplified by the increasing number of digital traces our lives create. In addition, companies and organizations now have much higher expectations for finding a paper trail (or digital record) for any individual, making it harder to create a credible new identity.

  • Why Chinese patients are turning against their doctors.
    Usually when you read about problems in China, it’s about pollution or free speech. Here’s an interesting look at their medical system.

    I heard countless tales of overwork among Chinese doctors. A leading radiologist in Shanghai told me he’d heard that the record number of patients seen in a day is three hundred and fourteen. “That was at the Shanghai Children’s Hospital,” he said. “One doctor, 8 A.M. to 6 P.M., ten hours, two minutes per patient.” According to a study conducted in Shaanxi province, the average visit to a doctor’s office lasts seven minutes, and physicians spend only one and a half minutes of that time talking to the patient. As a result, patients tend to be pushy, crowding in doorways and entering without knocking. Joe Passanante, a doctor from Chicago who did a stint at Beijing United Family Hospital, told me that he was once performing CPR on a woman when the parents of a girl with a fever walked into the room. “Here I am pushing on a dead person’s chest, trying to revive her, and they’re asking me to see their daughter,” he recalled.

  • Why do we have blood types?
    Interesting article about the evolutionary reasons why we have blood types – and the pitfalls in our civilization before we realized the concept of blood types

    Landsteiner found that the clumping occurred only if he mixed certain people’s blood together. By working through all the combinations, he sorted his subjects into three groups. He gave them the entirely arbitrary names of A, B and C. (Later on C was renamed O, and a few years later other researchers discovered the AB group. By the middle of the 20th century the American researcher Philip Levine had discovered another way to categorise blood, based on whether it had the Rh blood factor. A plus or minus sign at the end of Landsteiner’s letters indicates whether a person has the factor or not.)

  • Are the robots about to rise? Google’s new director of engineering thinks so…
    Ray Kurzweil is a new Director of Engineering at Google whose mission is to “bring natural language understanding to Google”. But he thinks that robots will pass the Turing test by 2023 so is that all he is doing there?

    Peter Norvig, Google’s research director, said recently that the company employs “less than 50% but certainly more than 5%” of the world’s leading experts on machine learning. And that was before it bought DeepMind which, it should be noted, agreed to the deal with the proviso that Google set up an ethics board to look at the question of what machine learning will actually mean when it’s in the hands of what has become the most powerful company on the planet. Of what machine learning might look like when the machines have learned to make their own decisions. Or gained, what we humans call, “consciousness”.

  • My Life and Times in Chinese TV
    What it it like working as a Western-educated intern at a state-run TV station in China? Surprisingly dull

    In the SMG car that she told to drop me off at the subway, before returning to the office to file her tapes, Zhang Xian explained that what we had just shot would not appear on ICS for a few weeks—until long after Burn the Floor had left the country. The point was not to inform viewers about a specific cultural event that they could attend, but to record that such an event had happened, and let the ICS audience participate in two to two and a half minutes of its afterglow.

  • Street Fighter: The Movie — What went wrong
    This article looks at why the first Street Fighter movie was so horrible. But it reads like a fluff piece. The director did no wrong, but it was a combination of stakeholders, schedule, poorly behaving actors, and luck that did it in. I’m not so sure about that. Also the writing was pretty bad and given that the director was also the writer, I’m not sure he should get a pass at it.
  • The Flight of the Birdman: Flappy Bird Creator Dong Nguyen Speaks Out
    A quick look at the person who made Flappy Bird.

    As news hit of how much money Nguyen was making, his face appeared in the Vietnamese papers and on TV, which was how his mom and dad first learned their son had made the game. The local paparazzi soon besieged his parents’ house, and he couldn’t go out unnoticed. While this might seem a small price to pay for such fame and fortune, for Nguyen the attention felt suffocating. “It is something I never want,” he tweeted. “Please give me peace.”

  • How clones, fear, sanitisation and free-to-play soured Apple’s iOS gaming revolution
    The mobile game industry sucks, basically because of clones and freemium games. Here’s some more indepth analysis into that

    Lovell puts this kind of risk aversion down to “creative fear”. “A lot of my clients are starting with an endless runner simply because they want to learn the free-to-play business in a known genre,” he says. “Think of it like a journeyman wood maker who had to do some basic pieces in order to understand his craft.”

Even before I went on vacation this year, my (second) cheap Chinese tablet was broken. It somehow got itself into an endless boot loop where it would hang at one of two logos during boot (the fullscreen image or the animated Android word logo). To be honest, I wasn’t actually using that tablet much except to play my alt Happy Street account so it wasn’t actually a big loss that I couldn’t get it to work – it just irritates me that it somehow broke.

I’ve been trying to fix it on and off for awhile now; again, not too seriously because I don’t actually need to use it. But when I did try it, I wasn’t getting much success. I knew that I had exactly the Eken T10A tablet, and although it is relatively popular, there weren’t a lot of posts on how to solve my problem. I finally solved my problem this past week, and factory reset the tablet. Here’s how I did it:

  1. Download the AllWinner A10 drivers (link from this post)
  2. Download Livesuit (link from this post)
  3. Download firmware for the Eken T10A – I used this one, which I think is for the T10 but it seemed to load fine. But I didn’t do a full test of the device to see whether it provided all the necessary drivers.
  4. Use a Win7 or earlier computer so you can load the unsigned drivers for the device
  5. Follow these instructions to flash the firmware using Livesuit (especially the one where you have to press the power button once ever second until the dialog box pops up)

After this headache, I’m kind of through with cheap Chinese devices. I couldn’t even find a recovery image for this Eken T10A! Nexus-level devices are now pretty cheap and there are many more hackers using those (and thus better support) so I’m just going to get those when I have techlust.

I buy lots of stuff from China – nothing important, just various electronics and plastic-based merchandise that is extremely cheap to produce over there. Typically for small things, my go-to source is to look for it on DealExtreme.

I’ve had good success with DX, so I have confidence when buying from there. I’ve bought from other China-based sites before, but because so many pop up and disappear, I’m not sure whether they’re trustworthy or not. With DX, even though sometimes the prices are a few dollars higher, I’m relatively certain that I will get the item in about 3 weeks (I’ve experienced a couple of DOAs or missing packages, but usually they refund my money or send it out again).

In fact, I buy from DX so often that I started getting curious. How much money have I spent propping up the manufacturing industry of China? Luckily for me, I have PayPal records of all my purchases so I spent an evening entering the data into a spreadsheet.

Since August 2007, I’ve made 62 different orders at DealExtreme. I typically try and batch my orders so that they’re less than $20 in value (to avoid custom fees). Even then, 60+ orders is a lot – and comes up to just over $1000 USD spent at DealExtreme! $1000 seems like a lot of USB cables and various electronic knick-knacks, but I’ve bought some more expensive items, such as a lot of LED light bulbs, EZ-Flash, and some musical instruments. In total, I’ve bought 197 items from DX.

Crossing that $1000 threshold surprised me, but I don’t think I’m going to stop buying from China. Besides, that’s just a year worth of Starbucks, and I get much more happiness out of random stuff from China.

I ended up buying this knockoff of the Grand Carrera Calibre 36 even though I didn’t really want to. Well initially I wanted to buy it, but then I bought a whole bunch of real and fake watches in a flurry, so now have a surplus of watches and insufficient time to wear them.

The reason why I bought this watch was because I had a $10 coupon due to my other counterfeit Carrera being broken on arrival. I complained to the site and they offered me a $10 coupon to “fix the watch”, but of course I had to buy something to get the money. So I ended up getting this watch for around $30 instead.

It looks like its real, and is pretty massive. I sprang for the version that shows the date for an extra few bucks and it seems to work. But I just haven’t had the opportunity to wear it to really know whether it’s a good knockoff or not. Sigh, such problems.

While I was looking at military watches and NATO straps, I ended up buying a cheap Chinese automatic for only $12 shipped! I can’t believe it actually keeps time (well I haven’t worn it enough to really know). Here’s what I looks like:

I actually like how it looks! Now I just need to get a good NATO strap to go with it, and find time to wear this watch…

The only bad part about this watch, given the price, is that there is an awful Winner logo on it. That’s another Chinese watch company, but I don’t feel it fits with the watch so would rather it not be there.

Last year, when I bought this Eyki watch, I started researching the Chinese watch company. They made some decently designed watches, and one that caught my eye was their Hamilton Ventura “tribute”. The Ventura is an iconic watch because it’s shaped as a triangle – even if you’re not a watch fan, you might recognize it because it is the watch that the MIB wear!

It’s not a counterfeit but rather a tribute because while Eyki gathered inspiration from the Ventura, it bears its own name and design. However, it is clearly modeled after the Ventura so I’m not sure how they can get away with it (maybe they are protected because they are in China). Anyways, I wanted one so I bought one on Ebay for about $60.

After I received it in the mail, I was a bit perturbed by a few things:

  • The case height is really high, especially compared to the surface area of the watch
  • The band sucks (no surprise since it came from China) and I ended up buying a couple of bands (one metal, one a better leather) but it still didn’t look or fit right on my wrist. I think the fit of the bands were thrown off because the watch is so small

I ended up putting a NATO strap on it and it’s wearable. I still think it’s cool, but the execution is lacking. Of course, I wouldn’t spend a couple of hundred on a real Ventura so I’m not losing out.

I was browsing around on a Chinese knockoff site when I came across a sale on this watch – it was going for $30-something from $80. I didn’t know the brand but liked how it was clean and crisp with a high contrast dial. I didn’t need that many complications, just the time and date are fine!

Later after ordering it, I found that that it was a replica of a Bell & Ross, specifically this one. On some random website, it goes for more than 3000 pounds, but who knows if that is true.

It arrived after a month and looks to me like a pretty good replica. There are lots of text and finishings that seem accurate, but who knows for sure because I’m not going to get the real version! Good thing it didn’t come broken like my last watch because I’m not supposed to unscrew the back.

One knock against this watch is that it is too big for my wrist. It’s not as big as some of the large watches that I’ve seen (i.e., not the size of a pop can) but it’s still a big square on my wrist which doesn’t sit flush. The glass is also not glass – it’s just plastic. Well you can’t expect too much from a $30 automatic, at least it wasn’t $80!

Earlier this year, I bought a counterfeit Tag Heuer from China for about $40 (instead of ~$3000). I liked the design of the watch, and it’s too bad that it’s a counterfeit otherwise I’d be happy to wear it all the time. On the other hand, one of the reasons that I bought it was that it is a relatively accurate copy of the Carrera Calibre 16 – you can see that the band isn’t a generic Chinese one.

Of course after I decided to buy it, I had to wait a month for it to arrive. Finally it did, and when I opened the package, I noticed that one of the smaller hands had fallen off! I sent an email back for an exchange, but wasn’t expecting a quick reply (it was right during the Chinese New Year break). Instead I tried my hand at fixing it myself. I was able to open it and found that the hand had snapped off!

In the end, I was able to fix it with some super glue. At least without close inspection you don’t know anything is wrong.

Overall, the operation of the watch is not bad. It’s not too thick and is an automatic which I fancy. If it wasn’t a counterfeit I would wear it everyday (until I get a cooler one)

I have this techlust for Android gadgets frequently, and I blame the Chinese market for its cheapness – both its price and build. This has caused me to buy a 7″ tablet which wasn’t actually very usable but a kinda fun hacking exercise for a few months. Then I bought a larger 10″ tablet which is still quite servicable and an adequate HTPC replacement (but not really a great living room computer).

Since that purchase, I have been lurking on some Chinese sites looking at phones. Apparently phablets (large phones that are almost 7″ tablet size – think Galaxy Notes) are quite popular in Asia, so Asian manufacturers make lots of them. There are a lot of Samsung clones (S3 or Notes) that look pretty similar (from online screenshots at least) and are sub $200 delivered. Wouldn’t it be nice to have one?

Then there are the “high industrial design quality” phones that have been designed and sold to the Chinese market. If you follow tech blogs, you may recognize some of the manufacturers like Xiaomi or Meizu. I was actually seriously thinking of buying the Jiayu G3 because it’s a 4.5″ Android 4.0 phone for ~$200! Although you must be aware that the Chinese phones are not pentaband and won’t work with the WIND frequency range, so my justification would be that I would use this phone as my “American” phone when I’m in the States.

Strangely but luckily, all this techlust for Android devices disappated after I received my Nexus4. I guess I just wanted good hardware at a good price, and the Chinese way was the easy way to do it (although you don’t always get good stuff).

  • Last Call
    Here is an article whose headline predicts that American society will become drunkards like the British one, but in disguise is actually a description of how the beer industry came to be ruled by two brands.

    And so, for eighty years, the kind of vertical integration seen in pre-Prohibition America has not existed in the U.S. But now, that’s beginning to change. The careful balance that has governed liquor laws in the U.S. since the repeal of Prohibition is under assault in ways few Americans are remotely aware of. Over the last few years, two giant companies—Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors, which together control 80 percent of beer sales in the United States—have been working, along with giant retailers, led by Costco, to undermine the existing system in the name of efficiency and low prices. If they succeed, America’s alcohol market will begin to look a lot more like England’s: a vertically integrated pipeline for cheap drink, flooding the gutters of our own Gin Lane.

    Although, I don’t really see this horizontal integration as as big of a problem as they say; the soda industry only has two players too.

  • Monopoly Is Theft
    After looking at Scrabble recently, here’s an article about Monopoly players and the making of Monopoly.

    The widows of Eugene and Jesse Raiford testified, as did seven other witnesses who claimed to have played monopoly as many as twenty years before Darrow marketed his game. Anspach even put Robert Barton, the former president of Parker Brothers, on the stand. Barton, who was pivotal in helping Darrow secure a patent for his “invention,” admitted under oath that he was fully aware of the game’s history and that he knew Darrow had not in fact invented it. The judge was unmoved. He dismissed Anspach’s complaint, ordering all unsold copies of Anti-Monopoly to be “deliver[ed] up for destruction.”

  • Making Gangnam
    A look at Harmonix’ new cash cow and how the process to bring Gangnam Style to Dance Central 3 for Xbox Kinect worked.

    Dixon will dance the routines herself. Near her standing desk is a dance pad and a Kinect. The entire Harmonix office is full of these dance stations, in fact. Easy to overlook amidst the general sprawl of equipment and mess, but they are there. Like the state-of-the-art motion-capture studio hidden in the basement and the various other pieces of NASA-grade tech left lying around.

  • The Myth of American Meritocracy
    A very good and very long article about how Asians are under-represented in the Ivy League, how Jews are way over-represented and how Harvard admission policies could be improved.

    The statistical trend for the Science Talent Search finalists, numbering many thousands of top science students, has been the clearest: Asians constituted 22 percent of the total in the 1980s, 29 percent in the 1990s, 36 percent in the 2000s, and 64 percent in the 2010s. In particular science subjects, the Physics Olympiad winners follow a similar trajectory, with Asians accounting for 23 percent of the winners during the 1980s, 25 percent during the 1990s, 46 percent during the 2000s, and a remarkable 81 percent since 2010. The 2003–2012 Biology Olympiad winners were 68 percent Asian and Asians took an astonishing 90 percent of the top spots in the recent Chemistry Olympiads. Some 61 percent of the Siemens AP Awards from 2002–2011 went to Asians, including thirteen of the fourteen top national prizes.

    Yet even while all these specific Asian-American academic achievement trends were rising at such an impressive pace, the relative enrollment of Asians at Harvard was plummeting, dropping by over half during the last twenty years, with a range of similar declines also occurring at Yale, Cornell, and most other Ivy League universities. Columbia, in the heart of heavily Asian New York City, showed the steepest decline of all.

  • Operation Delirium
    A look inside the chemical warfare testing that the US military performed on its own soldiers in the last century.

    To demonstrate the effects of VX, he was known to dip his finger in a beaker containing the lethal agent, then rub it on the back of a shaved rabbit; as the animal convulsed and died, he would casually walk across the room and bathe his finger in a Martini to wash off the VX. “I thought they were crazy,” a doctor who served under him told me. “I was going to New York, and Colonel Lindsey tells me, ‘How about taking a vial of nerve gas to New York to make a demonstration.’ And I am looking at the guy and thinking, If I have an accident on the Thruway, I could kill thousands of people—thousands of people. I said, ‘No. It’s that simple.’ ”

  • Bikini Atoll: Site of One of History’s Most Infamous Science Experiments
    A beautiful look at what happened to Bikini Atoll and its people after the atomic bomb tests that the US military performed on the islands. The story is sad for the original inhabitants, although very few of the original residents are still alive. The next generation(s) don’t have much of a connection, so now all that is left is a relic that nature is reclaiming.

    From there we board an open aluminum boat for the last eight miles to Bikini Island. As we head out into the atoll’s protected lagoon, we pass buoys that mark the sites of some of the warships sunk during the bomb tests, now moldering, their cannons still intact, under 180 feet of water. Down there is the Nagato, the flagship of the Imperial Japanese Navy, from whose bridge Admiral Yamamoto launched the attack on Pearl Harbor. Finally, we land at the island’s only dock and are greeted by some of the men who live on Bikini, part of a five-person skeletal force paid by the Bikini council to look after the remaining infrastructure.

  • The Battle for Best Buy, the Incredible Shrinking Big Box
    Best Buy is in a trouble and the recently ousted founder is hoping to buy back in and help it recover. Sounds like Apple’s story, but the result will probably not be the same?

    The battle for Best Buy is more than a Lear-like attempt to regain control. It’s also about the future of stores in the age of digital goods, same-day delivery, and apps that’ll tell you in an instant whether the 80-inch TV you covet is cheaper somewhere else, turning stores like Best Buy into “showrooms” for online competitors. It’s an expensive way to go out of business: Best Buy pays for the building, salespeople, and cash registers, and (AMZN) rings up the sale. Showrooming hurt Borders bookstores, and chains that sell hardware, toys, clothing, sporting goods, and groceries are vulnerable too.

  • How a Videogame God Inspired a Twitter Doppelgänger — and Resurrected His Career
    The story of respected game designer Peter Molyneux and where he has taken his career after leaving Microsoft

    But while the games were funny and some even fun, most weren’t exactly revolutionary. They tended to wrap rote mechanics—catching objects, dodging enemies, beating a timer—in an eccentric skin. Capone estimates that in the end only about 15 games were “really interesting.” That’s not a bad ratio, especially when you consider that the purpose of Molyjam wasn’t to produce a bunch of great games but to celebrate the creative act itself. Still, in a game jam inspired by Molyneux, the most Molyneuxian touch may have been the sense that when the fog lifted, the results fell somewhat short of all the impossibly overblown rhetoric.

  • The Island Where People Forget To Die
    On a Greek island, people live a long, long time. If you like fast forwarding to the end of things, the reason is because they have a varied & healthy diet, their society promotes inclusiveness and they forget over estimate how old they actually are.

    The data collection had to be rigorous. Earlier claims about long-lived people in places like Ecuador’s Vilcabamba Valley, Pakistan’s Hunza Valley or the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia had all been debunked after researchers discovered that many residents didn’t actually know their ages. For villagers born without birth certificates, it was easy to lose track. One year they were 80; a few months later they were 82. Pretty soon they claimed to be 100. And when a town discovers that a reputation for centenarians draws tourists, who’s going to question it? Even in Ikaria, the truth has been sometimes difficult to nail down. Stories like the one about Moraitis’s miraculous recovery become instant folklore, told and retold and changed and misattributed. (Stories about Moraitis have appeared on Greek TV.) In fact, when I was doing research there in 2009, I met a different man who told me virtually the exact same story about himself.

  • Boss Rail
    It is well known to Chinese people that the Chinese government is corrupt, but there seemingly was not a cause to rally around to complain until a Chinese high-speed rail accident. It took me 3 days to read this article because I got distracted, but it is good throughout.

    China’s most famous public-works project was an ecosystem almost perfectly hospitable to corruption—opaque, unsupervised, and overflowing with cash, especially after the government announced a stimulus to mitigate the effects of the 2008 global financial crisis. It boosted funding for railway projects to more than a hundred billion dollars in 2010. In some cases, the bidding period was truncated from five days to thirteen hours. In others, the bids were mere theatre, because construction had already begun. Cash was known to vanish: in one instance, seventy-eight million dollars that had been set aside to compensate people whose homes had been demolished to make way for railroad tracks disappeared. Middlemen expected cuts of between one and six per cent. “If a project is four and a half billion, the middleman is taking home two hundred million,” Wang said. “And, of course, nobody says a word.”

I’ve blogged about a couple of fake, knockoff Chinese watches; but it is quite surprising that my favorite, and day-to-day watch this summer is one made by the Chinese manufacturer Eyki.

I came across this watch while I was looking at counterfeit ones. It caught my eye primarily because of the band. The band has a nice textured pattern, looks like it is made from a canvas material (but it is actually backed by some faux leather), and the colors complemented each other. The second thing that caught my eye was the watch face. The font on the numerals give it a retro look, and there is a slightly off-color asymmetrical pattern under the hands. The third thing that appealed to me was the price, it was just over $10 shipped to my door!

I’ve been wearing it for a month or two now, and it has held up well. I am a bit afraid that the face will scratch, but it hasn’t yet. Although it is supposed to be waterproof, I have also been careful about that; but mostly because I’m not sure how the band will react to water. The band itself does seem to attract dirt and grime, so I’m not sure how long it will last. Like many other Chinese watches, the movement is very loud but seems to be accurate. The arms are glow in the dark, and have sufficient paint to glow as well as some of my name brand watches. One other thing I don’t like is that the watch face is thick, but many Chinese watches are like that.

All-in-all, it’s a good and cheap purchase.

  • All the World is Staged
    Look into the shady world of bet-fixing being done on football matches by the Chinese triads

    As his network grew, Perumal signed legitimate contracts with national federations in countries unaware of who he really was, such as Bolivia and South Africa, paying them as much as $100,000 to arrange their friendlies, often pairing them against higher-profile teams that were just looking for ready-made exhibitions. Perumal would set up the matches, promote them — and select the referees. Many friendlies go off without FIFA sanctioning, so often all a fixer like Perumal needed to do to stage an international friendly was find a stadium and pay a day’s rent.

    The matchups would attract the attention of bookmakers and the international betting market — if also a curious amount of red cards, penalty kicks and offside calls. FIFA paid refs only $350 per match, almost inviting the fix. “Every member association is responsible for organizing and supervising football in its country,” says FIFA spokesman Wolfgang Resch. “The control of referees and officials falls into it.”

  • The Ultimate Counterfeiter isn’t a Crook – He’s an Artist
    Another story about a scammer, but this time it’s about a German who tried to create the perfect counterfeit US $100.

    In 2002, just back from a trip to Majorca, Kuhl met up with a sometime associate of his named Sinan Elshani, who was known simply as the Albanian. Kuhl began complaining about his never-ending debt. Elshani commiserated and said he knew a way for both of them to get rich: print counterfeit stamps. He was acquainted with the right people, who would not only pay for the machines and supplies but also buy Kuhl’s fakes. He even promised to cover Kuhl’s studio rent. Kuhl eventually agreed.

    But it quickly became clear that they couldn’t obtain the right inks for their fakes or make the perforations look convincing. At that point, Kuhl says, he tried to back out of the deal. Elshani told him it was impossible: The client had spent a lot of money on the equipment. Unless Kuhl could cough up 50,000 euros, Elshani said, the artist risked an unpleasant visit from members of the Albanian mafia.

    Kuhl didn’t think he could pull off the stamps, and he claims that Elshani told him he’d have to make dollars instead. In any case, the false start with the stamps got him thinking about ways to improve his fake banknotes. “It’s just how my mind works,” he says. With Elshani pressuring him to pay off their Albanian creditors, Kuhl agreed to crank up his printing press.

  • Hello, I Am Sabu
    The story of one of the masterminds behind Anonymous and LulzSec who happens to live in the projects in NYC.

    That one of the world’s most influential hackers was the denizen of a New York City housing project struck many as cognitively dissonant. It shouldn’t have. In many ways, he’s a product of the culture of poverty he was brought up in. It’s a culture that produces outlaws of many different stripes. Monsegur was born in 1983, when his ­father was 16. His mother deserted the family, and his father entrusted his son to Monsegur’s grandmother Irma, 40 at the time. Irma, born in Puerto Rico, never mastered English, but she was devoted to her grandson, a quiet, well-behaved child whom ­everyone called Bubi. But child care was not his grandmother’s only vocation. She was “a player,” as a family lawyer said, and her apartment was a stash house for the family’s heroin business. Sabu’s father was a lead distributor, as was his aunt, a long-haired beauty; Monsegur was described as a delivery boy. Heroin was good business, and for a time, “the family was really powerful in the hood,” said a neighbor. ­Sabu’s father led the life of a successful entrepreneur, seeming to change cars and women monthly. He liked to peel bills from a wad of cash and treat all the neighborhood kids to ice cream.

  • Newton, Reconsidered
    As the Apple Newton nears its 20th anniversary, Time magazine takes a look back at how that revolutionary tech fairs in the age of smartphones and post-PDA.
  • Welcome to America, Plese Be On Time
    I’ve been curious what visitors to Toronto would want to visit and this link is similar. What would people from other cultures need to know about America before they visit?

    You might say that global food cultures tend to fall into one of two categories: utensil cultures and finger cultures. The U.S., somewhat unusually, has both: the appropriate delivery method can vary between cuisines, and even between dishes, and it’s far from obvious which is which. Baked chicken is a fork food, but fried chicken a finger food, depending on how it’s fried. If you get fried pieces of potato, it’s a finger food, unless the potato retains some circular shape, in which case use your fork. And so on. Confused yet?

    The addendum is classic

Like the last watch I blogged, this watch is not an original Chinese design. I’m not sure whether to call it counterfeit or a knockoff – it’s not a counterfeit because it’s not an exact copy of an existing design, but a design that loosely fits the lifestyle/image of an existing watch. However, it’s not exactly a knockoff because it is clearly an Omega logo with the Seamaster trademark.

The watch itself is not spectacular but not bad. It tells the time and hasn’t fallen apart yet. I guess whether it is a “good” watch or not depends on how well it can pass for an Omega – I think if you just glance at it, you might think that it is real; but the thickness of the face and the band can easily tip you off that it is fake. Also, I wore this watch for about a week to try it out, and the band smelled for the entire week! Well, it’s a cheap novelty/thrill for under $5 shipped.

I haven’t heard of the Nixon brand until the last year or two, and I didn’t really pay attention to them as I thought they were a surfer/skater brand. Independently, I found this cool watch, with a silicon band, for $3 online. I like silicon bands because I don’t have to take it to someone to resize the band (although I should invest in a kit that does this). It turns out that this $3, shipped, watch is a counterfeit of The Newton by Nixon.

It’s a pretty good knockoff; the brand NIXON is even imprinted on the side. The only differences that I can tell is that the clasp is not yellow (which is fine, as it still works in the color theme), and the watch face is not exactly the same yellow as the band. That’s ok though – I’m quite happy to pay $3 for a $150 watch!

I like this watch because it is a sharp yellow that contrasts with the darker shades that I wear (in the winter). The use of dots for hour and minute hands also make it unique – in fact I’m not sure how it works; I think the hour hand is on a disc that turns, while the minute hand floats (maybe on another sheet or with a magnet).

In terms of complaints, I don’t have many. I guess the only ones are that I’m not sure whether the face will get scratched (it is plastic) and the strap holes don’t seem to be cut cleanly (but doesn’t obstruct their usage).

Beats By Dre has been a huge fashion statement in the last couple of years. If you walk around sporting one of these, it signals that you are willing to drop a couple of bills ($300+ for studios, $180 for earphones) on music while pirating the songs that you’re listening too!

The price itself is a bit crazy. $180 is a ridiculous amount to charge for earphones, you can get earphones for ~$1 shipped from China! A 18000% markup is beyond Monster ripoff territory (and I’m sure they contributed their marketing expertise in addition to their technical expertise to this project). The price is one of the reasons why there are a lot of counterfeit Beats, such as those seized in this raid in China (of course).

I don’t need Beats but I set out to get a pair (fake of course) for fun. The question is, how much would I have to pay. On Craigslist, there are many being sold for $60-$80 range – more than a 50% discount, but still expensive. Online, you can get Beats (with the box and etc) for $10-$20 shipped. Great, that’s more affordable! I ended up getting a pair for $4.20USD shipped (no box) which is about a 98% discount on the actual price+tax (actually this is my second try buying them online, as my first try, for ~$10, never got shipped to me).

I tried them out and they seem alright. I have had other pairs of in-ear earphones, and this one is comparable (the fit in my ear seems to be better). I don’t know if there is truly a sound quality difference between fake and real Beats but to my ear, the fake ones seem fine! If you inspect it closely, you can tell that they are fake, the paint is not as precise nor complete, but as long as someone isn’t in your intimate space, they can’t tell that you only spent $5 on a set of $180 Tours!

I no longer read up on Apple news, and this news doesn’t affect me at all – but I am really confident that the iPhone 5 is going to be announced momentarily.

Why do I have this feeling (aside from the fact that iPhones get released every October)? Well I was browsing on DealExtreme earlier this month and saw iPhone5 cases being sold – some of them were already sold out! While it is a Chinese outlet, DX is fairly reliable, so if they’re selling cases then I expect it will work with the real iPhone5. If they’re selling out then places like the PacMall shops are stocking up just in time for the new iPhone announcement (well 4 weeks in advance since shipments take forever to arrive). Book it!!

When I get lazy with blogging, I just post links to some neat stuff around the web:

Last weekend, I woke up with an idea and embarked on a weekend project. Nah I didn’t build a shed or anything, as most of my ideas are geeky – it was YAAA (Yet Another Android App). This one is a bit offball, I decided to make an app where you could learn Chinese. It’s basically a glorified (well actually “scaled down” may be a better word) flash card app, and it’s entirely focused on food items.

The actual “flash card” capability of the app, and underlying database was easy to do – I finished it in a couple of hours. But I’ve spent a lot more time on figuring out what Chinese characters to add (mostly thanks to Google Translate, Wikipedia, and an Asian Legend menu). I spent an even longer time drawing.

Flash cards by themselves are pretty boring – you need a strong motivation to WANT to learn to use it. I also didn’t want to add a silly score mechanism to make it a “game”. I ended up adding badges to unlock on various occasions or combination of actions. Hopefully the mystery around the badges will cause people to use the flash cards more.

Of course, I’m not a graphic artist, so the badges themselves are difficult to create. To do this, I started experimenting with Isometric Pixel Art, which is pretty easy if you don’t have any artistic talent. Here are the first badges I created:

Now I just need to decide and draw an icon for my app before I can release it.

Dubai on Empty
A short but entertaining article packed with colorful descriptions of Dubai.

No one dreamed of this. Twenty years ago, none of this was here. No Narnia. No seven-star hotels. No tallest prick buildings. Just a home of pastoralist tented families herding goats, racing camels, shooting one another. And a handful of greasy, armed empire mechanics in khaki shorts, drilling for oil. In just one life span, Dubai has gone from sitting on a rug to swiveling on a fake Eames chair 100 stories up. And not a single local has had to lift a finger to make it happen. That’s not quite fair—of course they’ve lifted a finger; to call the waiter, berate the busboy. The money seeped out of the ground and they spent it. Pretty much all of it. You look at this place and you realize not a single thing is indigenous, not one of this culture’s goods and chattels originated here. Even the goats have gone. This was a civilization that was bought wholesale. The Gulf is the proof of Carnegie’s warning about wealth: “There is no class so pitiably wretched as that which possesses money and nothing else.” Emiratis are born retired. They waft through this city in their white dishdashas and headscarves and their obsessively tapered humorless faces. They’re out of place in their own country. They have imported and built a city, a fortress of extravagance, that excludes themselves. They have become duplicitous, schizophrenic. They don’t allow their own national dress in the clubs and bars that serve alcohol, the restaurants with the hungry girls sipping champagne. So they slip into Western clothes to go out.

Lot 800: The Bainbridge Vase
The story of the most expensive antique Chinese piece (for now) that sold for 43 million…pounds! That’s like $80 million then. Of course, with a piece that expensive, it’s never simple.

That is because the future of the vase is nothing like resolved. Within days of the sale, there was speculation on the internet that the bidding had been rigged by Chinese agents, seeking to bump up prices ahead of the big sales in Beijing two weeks later. Then, in December, a respected American dealer expressed doubts about the vase’s authenticity. Since February, there has been a drip-drip of stories in the British press, mostly unsourced, questioning whether the anonymous buyer—a mysterious “businessman in Beijing”—is going to pay, or pondering the possibility of a conspiracy involving the Chinese state.

President Trump? ‘I’m Very Serious’
A look at Trump’s potential entry into the 2012 election. Sounds like he is ready:

In the deposition given by Trump in the suit he filed against O’Brien, Trump was asked whether he has ever “not been truthful” in his public representations of his properties: “My net worth fluctuates, and it goes up and down with markets and with attitudes and with feelings, even my own feelings, but I try,” he responded. When lawyers asked him whether he had ever exaggerated when describing what he owned and was worth to the press, Trump said: “I think everybody does. Who wouldn’t?” When a lawyer asked, “Have you ever lied in public statements about your properties?” Trump replied: “When you’re making a public statement, you want to put the most positive—you want to say it the most positive way possible. I’m no different from a politician running for office.”

I’m probably going to burn through a bunch of instapaper articles during my upcoming trip, so I’d better blog my backlog first:

PR for the PRC
An (unsurprising) story of being an (English) transcriber for the People’s Republic of China. Guess what, things are always positive.

Love you and leave you
This article is the story of (hundred of) millions of parents in China who leave their young kids behind to go to the big city. No, not for the bright lights, but to make enough money to raise their kids! It is a sad story, until I remembered that people from HK having been doing the reverse of this for last few decades!

The Final Days of Favre
The tragic story of Brett Favre?

The Forger’s Story
Yet another story, this one is of an art forger. He doesn’t do it for the money or fraud!

I cleared a couple of Instapaper articles while waiting for some work to be done on the car:

  • Cultural Exchange: Jonathan Kos-Read is ‘the token white guy’ in Chinese cinema
    i.e., The reverse Jackie Chan.
  • The Fall of Niagara Falls
    This article’s an interesting one because we are so close to Niagara Falls, NY and because we pass by there so often. It talks about the Seneca casino and why it is a pure dump immediately once you cross over the border. It doesn’t sound like the conditions will improve very soon.
  • The Cheating Cheaters of Moscow
    The culture that is Russia:

    Wandering spouses have become a common trope for the women of Moscow. “Men’s environment here pushes them towards cheating,” Tanya told me, adding that, these days, a boys’ night out in Russia often involves prostitutes. Tanya and her friends are young, educated, upper-middle-class Muscovites, but talk to any woman in Moscow, and, regardless of age, education, or income level, she’ll have a story of anything from petty infidelity to a parallel family that has existed for decades. Infidelity in Moscow has become “a way of life,” as another friend of mine put it—accepted and even expected.

  • Algorithms Take Control of Wall Street
    Although this article is a good primer on how high frequency trading is affecting the investment industry, I found the most fascinating bit to be an article in the sidebar:

    Before ujam’s AI can lay down accompaniment, it must figure out which notes the user is singing or playing. Once it recognizes them, the algorithm searches for chords to match the tune, using a mix of statistical techniques and hardwired musical rules. The stats are part of the software’s AI and can generate myriad chord progressions. The rules-based module then uses its knowledge of Western musical tropes to narrow the chord options to a single selection.

    Taken to an extreme, hits can truly be manufactured. You just need to write a interesting hook and then the music can write itself.