The Other End of Sunset

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Chinese whirlwind (no, not Typhoon)

Ok, starting in an airport, rather than on a plane. Wanted to do something different!

It’s really humorous to fly in the United States. I get the opportunity to take off my Pumas – that have no room for anything interesting other than my feet – and put them through the X-ray machine. But fusing materials of the sort used by the shoe-bomber-guy aren’t dense or metallic and so in general wouldn’t show up on normal X rays. And a simple visual examination would reveal “bomb making materials”. Sigh.

But I experienced a new high for security today. I am carrying a bottle of water, from which I was drinking. It’s clear plastic. Water is, barring impurities, clear as well.

The security ace at the metal detector asked me to put the water bottle through the X-ray machine. After it had already passed through the metal detector WITH me.

Ok, let’s review.

Clear plastic. Technically, you can see through it.

Clear liquid. Again, you can see through it. If you are worried about submerged mirrors, turn the bottle and tilt it while looking at a solid edge through the liquid.

And I was drinking it – it’s not gasoline.

So what are you X-raying for? Recall that X-rays identify density differences. What are you hoping to accomplish? Other than slow down the line that is….

I mean, really. Who trains these brain surgeons?

Happy Easter, by the way.

So I just got back from China. I left on a Saturday at about 1pm. I was lucky, two of my pals were on the flight with me, which makes an 11 hour flight go a bit faster. Someone else to laugh with when things are odd.

We landed in Beijing Sunday evening, and took a bus to the hotel.

I'm hell on infrastructure, and, sure enough, the hotel lock didn’t work for me when I got there. It turns out that the electronic licks on the doors in the Grand Hotel aren’t …well, so grand. (You knew I was going to say that, right?)

I was in China to go to a day and a half of seminars on doing business in China – some history, some context, and some humor – and to give a talk at Beijing University.

The seminars were interesting – involving outside speakers talking about their business or their perspective – and some folks from my company doing skits about famous events in China or offering perspective on how Chinese situations have arisen.

The skits were my favorite part.

My favorite skit showed the differences in living standards in china over the past 30 years, by comparing expected wedding gifts and standards from the 70s to today. Apparently there are “three essential things” that brides expect on their wedding day, or so. In the 70s, the 3 things were a bicycle, a sewing machine, and a watch. In the last time period – today, I guess – the expectations are a BMW, foreign travel, and a new apartment. That’s a lot of change in 30 years.

I gave a talk in china to a bunch of students. There were a few hundred of them. I was actually nervous – not a normal feeling for me in giving talks. Not surprisingly, many of my jokes weren’t appreciated. Not that they were mean or whatever, they just didn’t get them all. I didn’t really understand how much humor is linguistically connected.

I also had a different challenge – the talk I give has references to graph theory, and talks about tokenizing, and use of data-rich “reasoning” in place of Artificial Intelligence. It’s a cool talk, even for a pointy-hair boss like me. But after a couple of those references got treated blankly, I realized that they had none of these basic computer science concepts. So I had a challenge – I knew they studied more applied stuff, like ERP implementation and database administration, so I had to rework my examples and concept references to match their experience. Normally I can give that talk in my sleep. Not with this added twist. Made the talk more fun for me, at least.

Didn’t seem to impact them, at all, actually. I might as well have stuck with the original examples. Guess I got value out of the change, though.

After my whirlwind trip to China, I made a quick jaunt to that lovely city in the Southwest, to give another talk. I ended up at a bar, trying to go dancing with my friend. We were very excited to see a listing for a punk cover band at the bar – how cool would that be? To be able to listen to the Pistols, maybe the Clash, or even something odd like TSOL?

However, it didn’t work out so well…

A song was playing when we walked in. I said “hey, that’s ‘rockin’ the casbah’”. Cool. My friend said, no, that’s Social D, not the Clash. Hmm. So we listened, and tried to recognize, and still weren’t sure. The lead singer told us at the end of the song that it was the Clash. Cool. I was right.

However, you can imagine how bad the band must have been for us to be unable to figure out if it was the Clash or Social D. I don’t recommend it.

And nobody was dancing. At all. What’s the deal there? I mean, it’s punk, not like it is supposed to be great music. You just jump around. Whatever.

I spent a lot of time in my friend’s convertible. It was sunny and warm there. The top was down a lot. I have a farmer’s tan now. But it was very nice enjoying the warmth! I never wore a jacket. Sweet!

It was stormy today in the Bay Area. It’s stormy everyday it seems. Perhaps we will have some sun this week. Or someday in the future. But I'm not exactly sure.

I may have found another motorcycle to buy – it’s an Italian sportbike, made by a company you have never heard of, that is no longer made. I mean, really – isn’t that the entire point? I can’t ride a sportbike well enough to be worthy of the seat. Italian bikes are, in general, terrible. And the bike was probably bad even by Italian standards (or else it would still be made, all other things being equal). In my warped little mind, a bad bike plus a bad rider equals cosmic parity. But, good grief is that bike sexy. Really. It’s terrific. And I want one. We’ll see. I’ll let you know.

Nothing weird or emotional in this post, just random facts.

And a final question: Why is the taxi ride to the office from the airport in that Southwestern city SO MUCH more expensive than the ride from the airport?

And, really, the final question: Why is nobody worried about the hamsters?