Saturday, February 28, 2009

All Hail Clinton

The many-faced question of china shown through the headlines today. Hillary Clinton completed a successful diplomatic mission to Beijing (which by 1860s standards is pretty fucking impressive) without publicly criticizing China's human rights problems. On the same day, China released a report criticizing U.S. human rights abuses in retaliation for the State Department's own section on China in their annual Human Rights report. What people in the states don't hear is this. On the same day, I can magically get to where previously it told me there was no such address.

With one hand, trying to maintain international legitimacy and relevancy, on the other hand loosening its grip; now that's an entity worth talking to.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Plus Side

New city, new name. Referring to the plus side of Greenwich Mean Time (+08:00).

Why does everyone like me?

For all the well-deserved anti-Americanism in the world, perhaps no place is it better deserved than in China. The Chinese individual takes massive burdens on himself for the betterment of the American individual. One example is the competitively low wage a Chinese laborer accepts in exchange for keeping the price of a Tonka truck, or a Kitchen-Aid food processor down. Another could be the relatively slim purchasing power of a Chinese citizen based on a national policy of currency devaluation vs. the Dollar, again seeking to keep prices low for you’re average Joe-Six-Pack (esp. if he’s drinking Tsingdao). Now both these arguments are reversible, that they have positive macroeconomic effects, and net-positive social effects, but one that does not is that same average Joe-Six-Pack’s proclivity toward China-Bashing.

I’ve been a lot of places and met a lot of people, and I know the difference between wide-spread national stereotypes (See: France; Cheese-loving surrender-monkeys, America; George W. Bush), and translating those into personal stereotypes. But the unfortunate frequency with which Americans confuse the two regarding China is belied in the media. National insults rightly stir national animosity (whereas the Europeans have a lot less to complain about), especially when Americans so frequently fail to clarify the subtle difference between Chinese People, and their disagreement's with their government's' policies, or with corporations' lack of safety oversight while seeking higher profits. But nowhere in the world have I found such uniform and unambiguous goodwill directed at a simple foreigner (外国人). I have now been welcomed to Beijing several times.

Arguably a large part of the pleasant attitudes is sheer interest. I have been approached by more than one stranger, bus-ticket-collector, student, or barker wanting to know why I am visiting, and how I like it. They are sure to comment on my ‘excellent Chinese’ even if I only manage one word in a conversation.

I am still relatively new here, but I know that if I were Chinese, I would have some serious reservations about how Americans regarded Chinese. But perhaps that’s just because I’m neurotic. Either way, that was a freebie.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Unbearable Inertia of Being

Lo those many months ago, back in September, I had just turned the wise-old-age of twenty three when Lehman Brothers, a company I knew only by the people who had applied to work there, was on the edge of bankruptcy. After the Bear-Stearns incident, I publicly avowed that I simply didn't know enough to say whether the treasury aught to act fast to throw billions of dollars their way and prevent their 'collapse.' But had you cornered me (or more likely, I cornered you) after a few beers and insisted on talking over the day's headlines (say, in grassroots--oh, the good times) I probably would have said that Paulson "should just let the damn thing fail" to see what happens. Little did I know he was apparently listening.

Regardless of what I knew about the commercial paper market at the time (par example; i knew that it existed), my opinion would have been founded on a profound belief in momentum. The legs of this belief system are two-fold and follow this simple line of logic: a) the world economy is huge; simply inconceivably complex and massive. b) it appears to be going swimmingly, and as long as it appears to be so, why should anything change?

Frankly, I am, and was, aware of what is my (and i trust many others') tendency toward this operational assumption. Modern America is (maybe, was) simply stable. There is nothing to fear, because nothing will change, and nothing will change because there's no reason for it to. But it is so tempting a delusion (at least when considering world systems) that even the aware buy into it.

Anyway, I brought this up to perhaps explain how my person has reacted to a drastic change in environs. First, there was almost no stress until I actually had to leave for the airport. Typical in these kinds of cases, I apparently maintained the delusion until the very end. Next, on the plane, I embraced a sort of micro comfort. I was fortunate enough to have a seat wider than most, and this, plus the extra sandwiches I brought made the flight super nice. After landing, survival instinct and adrenaline kicked in, and I managed to get here with very little trouble, and even saved some money by taking a cab rather than the university's hired coach.

But after the necessary things came time for reflection--not voluntary reflection, unavoidable reflection--and it was only in the dark moments following arrival in my room that my person reacted to this drastic change. It did so first by sleeping. I spent most of the day in bed, and when I couldn't get my mind to shut down, I started watching movies. Very rarely will I watch a movie alone, and it is mostly when my brain needs to turn off, which it very much needed.

Only now, two dark days later, am I starting to cope. The shock of the situation may have badly bruised my psyche, but I just don't know if there is any other way. Who doesn't love inertia?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Thank you, internet games.

I still remember the first time I downloaded "Macromedia Flash player." I was in middle school, probably, and it was required to play some long-forgotten internet game.

I'm thinking about this because I am now working on my own website, and considering using several elements of flash. It is a fantastically useful and powerful tool, and is installed on more than 90% of internet-roaming computers (or traffic, not sure). But it occurs to me: How many of those flash-ready computers have it installed because the child of the family did so on an internet game site. I know nowadays, when I am prompted to install plugins (silverlight, quicktime, the dreaded wildtangent), I usually decline, and look for the same content somewhere else. If I were a visitor to my site, I would not install some unfamiliar plugin just to listen to some third-rate recordings of seventh-rate songs.

But like windows, flash will never disappear--it's too dug-in. Plus, unlike windows, it's very well-done.

Friday, February 13, 2009


I read somewhere recently a prediction that I would have sympathized with if not downright agreed with but only a few months ago. They said the state would 'sublime'--changing phase straight from a solid fact to a gaseous ghost without ever liquefying. To be sure, I think this would be a great thing--solving plenty of the "foreign policy" problems that we have come to accept as natural--and I was hoping *our* generation might make progress toward.

As usual, the gaping exception that everyone knows about but likes to ignore is China. Evan Osnos wrote a great article following the Olympic torch fiasco about the "angry youth" and explosion of Chinese nationalist anger. If taken alone, this is evidence enough that nationalism, and it's obnoxious cousin, the state, are nowhere near dead, or even gaseous.

But recent experiences on have served to emphasize how premature the "post-state world" may have been birthed. The site is an english-language news aggregator about Hungarian politics, and one of the few forums in the world (at least in english) where people still frequently discuss the Trianon partitions. But the fact that there remains a loyal, and significantly-sized subset of Europeans dedicated to the reestablishment of at least the Hungarian side of the empire means we should perhaps look in our own backyard before shouting across the street.

Oh yeah, and I bought a pre-Trianon map of Hungary for the wall. They sell them everywhere.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Smart Timers

There's a lot of really cool things that MicroControllers can do. The other day, Cat wanted to unplug my computer while we made dinner to avoid consuming the energy lost in keeping the transforming circuitry in the AC/DC converter powered up. While this is a laudable goal, the energy consumed by a dormant charger is typically very low--on the scale of 400ish mW, and frankly, it would kind of be a pain in the ass. However, the IEA's recent policy guide, "Energy Efficiency Policy Recommendations"(PDF) states that, depending on the member country, anywhere from 2 to 11% of residential electricity consumption is consumed by appliance "standby modes." In America, land of wide, open plains of plasma screen, this means television standby modes. And America is almost certainly toward, if not at, the 11% figure.

So why can't television manufacturers make more efficient TVs? The standby mode exists so that when a TV is turned on, it turns on right away--without keeping power across it, and literally keeping the screen warm--the TV would take anywhere from 5 to 15 seconds to turn on. Television manufacturers know that people buy TVs in stores, based on first impressions, thus a needlessly wasteful amount of power is consumed for convenience.

What would be really interesting, is if someone included a short timer script on the IC. If televisions kept track of when you watched them, it could know when to warm up, based on the end-user's trends. Given that the circuitry is almost already all there, this would require an infinitesimal added cost with a small R&D budget. Timing programs could be tuned to more conservative or more liberal energy use by the end user, and also used to advertise the 'greenness' of the product.

But television manufacturers won't willingly include such circuitry, as very few people would actually use it--just like they won't willingly meet the IEA's 1watt standard for appliance standby--which is why this opens up a great opportunity for someone to develop a 'smart green' power strip. This could do the same thing--track when users use appliances plugged into each port, and then turn them on or off automagically based on when they most frequently use them.

Pipe dreams, but like i say, microcontrollers can do some cool shit.