Sunday Aug 10, 2008

Playing God with the Weather

One of the official Chinese news outlets for English, Xinhua, writes about how Beijing disperses rain to dry Olympic night. Sounds clever, doesn't it? But is this more a case of cutting off your nose to spite your face?

Rain, in Beijing, as in many other cities, performs two roles:

  • provides water to everything on the ground and
  • "washes" the air.

So, by making the opening ceremony rain free, they've all but guaranteed the rest of the event to have lower air quality. How do I know this?

I've lived in Beijing during this time of year and the air on morning/day after a rain event is always much nicer than it was the day before.

So why is it so humid in Beijing? The prevailing wind direction from most weather patterns that affect the city is onshore (wind blows from the sea to the land.) During summer this brings lots of hot moist air from out over the ocean, over the land until it meets the mountains that border Beijing, trapping it. About once every 2 weeks they get a westerly wind pattern and all that crap gets blown out to see - clear skies usually last less than 48 hours.

I'm sure the only people who are surprised about the condition of the air in Beijing are the IOC folks that haven't spent any real time in the city and lapped up whatever the Chinese told them. The Chinese people won't be, anyone who has been to Beijing won't be, athletes maybe (because they've been duped by the IOC.)

So the buildup of bad air continues and one is left to wonder if the Chinese authorities will insist on playing God (and make things continually worse) for the entire event or will let nature look after itself.

Update

As has been reported today, rain over the weekend has washed away some of the smog. Maybe the organisers of the opening ceremony should offer an apology to the cyclists for denying them some cleaner air.

Sunday Nov 25, 2007

Does the leader of your country speak fluent Mandarin?

ON the weekend just past, Australia went to the polls to vote for who should form the federal government of our country. The result? Another member of the axis of fools (Blair, Bush, Howard & ...) has fallen by the way, presenting Australia with a new leader - Kevin Rudd.

Amongst the many articles being written about this outcome over the weekend, comes this blog entry - John Howard, Australia and the world. In the final paragraph it mentions something that could significantly change the way in which Australia interacts with Asia: the Primeminister elect of Australia speaks fluent Mandarin.

Of course, this isn't exactly news. In 2004, the ABC presented a profile of Kevin Rudd. How well does our Primeminister elect speak Chinese? There's a sample on youtube here.

What now for the future, hmm?

Monday Jul 02, 2007

Nevada, Solaris 10 Update 4 - IPFilter and Zones

Back in "Using IPFilter between zones for firewalling", I mentioned that our project to enable IPFilter between zones had been approved. This project was made a part of OpenSolaris (or nevada) late last year and in "Packet Filtering Hooks integrated into Solaris Nevada", I mentioned that the project had been successful. But the missing ingredient: how do I use this?

Out of the box, if you start using IPFilter with Solaris Zones (using shared stack instances), you won't be able to intercept those pesky packets that are going directly from zone to zone. There's a hidden button that you need to push in ipf.conf called intercept_loopback.

How is this button used? At the top of your ipf.conf file, you need to have a line like this:

set intercept_loopback true;

Note the ; at the end of the line. Similarly, to disable it, replacing "true" with "false" is sufficient.

NOTE that as this line implies, all loopback traffic will now be intercepted, including loopback (lo0) traffic, so you may need to be more careful about what you block vs pass.

Saturday Jul 22, 2006

Shanghai Destruction

Down south, in the bustling city of Shanghai, a similar fate to the many os Beijing's hutongs (see "Beijing hutongs demolished").

People are being evicted as old makes way for new in Shanghai. Corporates are buying land up at criminal prices and people being given 1 day's notice that they are being moved on.

I wonder how many developers and Governments in other parts of the world (particularly those that are democracies) look on these events with green eyes of envy, wishing they could mould the earth to their whim with the relative ease of how it is achieved in China. Shouldn't it be that way everywhere?

Tuesday Jul 04, 2006

Earthquake near Beijing

Yesterday, at 11:56am local time, the earth moved for us. Here at Sun, our building did a little sway in response to a small earthquake some distance away. For me, sitting next to a window, I could see the building move against the view of the ground outside.

So how big was it? The USGS web site has in its report that it measured 4.9 on the reichter scale. In the ChinaDaily newspaper, the story today mentions 5.1. The USGS website also says 90km south of Beijing, the newspaper 120km. After reading a story yesterday about unauthorised reporting of current affairs in China leading to fines because of accuracy concerns. If a common paper such as the ChinaDaily can't get its facts straight (and I'm inclined to believe USGS over ChinaDaily), what hope does this law have of achieving accurate information being disseminated?

Saturday Jul 01, 2006

Chinese consumer numbers

In a front page article of the China Daily today, it looks at the income of Chinese people buying luxury goods, such as digital electronics devices, fancy watches, etc. The column article goes on to break up surveyed consumers into 3 groups - first-world, second-world and third-world.

In their survey of 40 million people across 10 cities, the breakdown was roughly 15%, 80% and 5% respectively. The average annual income is 218,000RMB (US$27,250) for first-world spenders, 19,680RMB (US$2,460) for second-world spenders and the third-world group are those who are poverty stricken. Compare that with numbers for the USA, where the average income fell in 2001-2004 but is still at least twice what the top group in China earn.

So when you're preparing that business plan for expansion into China and thinking about those 1.3 billion people, remember that unless you're selling food, currently your target market is less than 200 million.

Wednesday Jun 21, 2006

Smoke chokes Beijing

How to stop the smoke?

Beijing has a pollution problem. Part of that problem comes from burning off of straw in the provinces surrounding it. Officially this is banned, so the column says. If it is banned then someone should be out there enforcing the ban, not twiddling their thumbs and mumbling. No wonder I see so much flagrant violation of common law every day - nobody actually enforces anything apart from censorship of the media. Fine the farmers 3000 yuan if they get caught burning off, each time they get caught. Yes, that's a huge amount of money to them, but the consequences need to be severe or else they'll just ignore the rules - like they do now. If the farmers have low incomes and cannot afford to pay for other ways in which to dispose of the straw then I have some suggestions:

  • 1. Increase the cost of whatever it is they sell so they make more money to use more expensive ways to dispose of straw
  • 2. Government subsides the construction of alternative methods of disposing of straw

Beijing's problem is a problem for the world. Everyone needs to be looking at finding ways to cut greenhouse gasses. Burning straw and the pollution it puts in the atmosphere is a global problem and needs to be stopped. It is compounded in Beijing because of local conditions - both weather and geographical. If the worst comes to worst, just relocate the farmers and prohibit that kind of farming close to Beijing. As it stands now, 20,000,000 people or more suffer for days because nobody has helped these farmers find a better solution.

Pilots Pose Problem

This column is almost laughable. It would seem that China is just starting to wake up to what it means to have competition and some of its employees, such as pilots, are learning that they don't have to put up with the poor living and pay conditions offered from working as a state employee. Well isn't that a shame? You know what we do in other places of the world to combat that? Increase working and living conditions and pay to be more competitive. That is the only real alternative here. Otherwise, when it comes time to train and become a pilot, the better pilots will always choose to work with the better - non-state run - airlines and the state-run airlines will become home to 2nd rate pilots. Would you choose to fly on a state-run airline if you knew that the pilots were 2nd class? Probably not. The real solution here is for the government to get out of the business of airlines and leave it to companies that are not state-run or state-backed and can respond to changing market conditions more rapidly and more appropriately than with contracts to lock in pilots for years and years. Such contracts could be far worse for China Eastern - if they lock pilots in and have poor contracts that do not let pilots escape if they want to, why would pilots want to work there to start with?

Tuesday Jun 20, 2006

Questionable English Exams

Inside the China daily today, and away from their front page, a story titled Questionable Exam looks at the problems in China regarding their English grading system. And you know what? I've seen the output of this process - CET grade 6 students who can have a lot of trouble understanding basic questions.

The story mentions that the exam system should be scrapped because students are just learning how to pass the exam. This is what happens in all places that you have standardised tests.

There is also another fundamental difference in what's going on here - there is a history of Chinese being taught what to know. That is what you are told is correct and you can't ask questions because there are no other answers. This critical thinking and questioning is what I would consider vital for any nation that aims to be involved in innovation. If China wants to become an innovation nation then it needs to change the way in which people are taught here, from when they are a young child, all the way through to university.

China's Linux Firewall

A lot of public criticism is made of commercial companies for giving in and helping the Chinese Government or just acuqiescing to their requests without much (if any) resistance. But what about open source products and projects? Should those who build open source projects just turn a blind eye to their software being used to build this kind of infrastructure? If someone told Linus, today, that Linux was the foundation of the "Great Firewall of China", could be reasonably be expected to do anything except say, "yeah, so what?"

If the 3rd version of the GPL is going to include anti-DRM clauses, why can't it also include anti-censorship or otherwise forbid it being used against other certain morals that are widely held in the western world? But given the lack of respect by the Chinese for IPR, in general, would they even care if they violated the GPL?

Wednesday Jun 14, 2006

Cyling in China

On Saturday the 10th of June, I went for a ride on my bike here in Beijing. My target was to reach the mountains to the north. The air was relatively clean - I could see the destination I was heading for (unlike if I was to do it today.) On the way out it was a rather extraordinary sight along the roads I took - there were green clothed police/army people along the road and at every intersection. At some intersections I passed, traffic was being held up and not going anywhere. It wasn't until maybe half an hour of travelling that I finally saw the reason why - a black car motorcade, complete with police escort, went zooming by.

The trip took me out of the city of Beijing and into some of the more rural areas around it. I passed through a town called "Shahe" and got close to the Ming Tombs before weather indicated it was time to turn around.

Anecdotes

In Beijing, when you buy a bike, you get just the bike - seat, wheels, tubes, chains, frame, etc. No accessory kit to repair tyres, etc. It simply isn't necessary as there are plenty of bicycle repair shops around. How much does it cost to get a puncture repaired? 1 RMB per hole. Oh, you may also get a basket on the front or pack rack on the back (for your girlfriend to sit on.)

So what did I carry with me on my trip out? Camera, top, money, keys. No water or food. Why not? China is relatively densely populated and the bike is still the preferred mode of transport for a lot of people. To support this, where we might have gas stations for people to fill up their cars, the Chinese have road-side stalls for you to get a soft drink or bottle of water from. On a hot day there is an added advantage: their drinks are kept in coolers and can be ice cold. This is a bonus in two ways: don't have to lug around drink and you get a cold drink, not a hot/warm drink. Food? Stop at a gas station or find a store close to the road and buy something. My preference is chocolate with nuts.

Defending bikes

There is a lot of misunderstanding and perhaps anger towards the cause of road traffic problems in China, causing articles such as this one about 'China urged to back-pedal on bikes' to be written. What I find most bewildering is that anyone who plans against or tries to ban bikes doesn't understand what the problem is because it isn't just bikes - it is also pedestrians.

How can this be? In Beijing, there are pedestrains in numbers at the corners of intersections for busy roads between the hours of 9am and 9pm in numbers that most westerners will never see. This alone isn't the problem. It is the attitude of both bike riders and pedestrians that is the cause of the problem (and cars too, to a lesser extent.) When it comes to crossing a road, everyone wants to get to the other side as quickly as they can - regardless of what the traffic lights say. For cars, this is a bit hard, so for the most part they respect the lights. But for cyclists and pedestrians, they have long worked out they are small enough and can move quickly enough, to execute a successful (partial) crossing before the lights change. I see this every day and it causes no end of headaches for drivers in the city.

One solution being adopted in Beijing is to employ minor traffic police that stand at each corner of an intersection. Sometimes there are 2 per corner - one for each direction of pedestrian traffic at each corner. They're equipped with whistles and red flags. Their job - to keep the cyclists and pedestrians in order and not to (attempt to) cross the road until the light is green for them to do so.

I'm almost convinced that this is a cultural problem, although what the root cause is defeats me. I see it in other parts of daily life in China too - people get in the lift and the first thing they do is push the "close door" button. Nobody wants to wait for others to get in (if they can help it.) I've seen this in the building I work in and in the buildings I've lived in. I see the same attitude with their subway/metro/trains - you have to push your way off a train, those getting on never stand back to let people off. Are all three issues different symptoms of the same problem? Or are they all different problems? Whatever the case, some of this (the train issue mostly) has forever changed the way I see Chinese people, en mass. But if the root of all three is the same and can be attacked, then maybe there will be fewer problems with bikes, pedestrians and cars on the roads in China, along with flow on effects of people being more considerate of others getting off trains too.

Tuesday Jun 13, 2006

China military exports

On the front page of China Daily today, an article appears titled 'Patience key to solve Iran nuke impasse'. This article is quite hard to find on their website. The Iran commentary is uninteresting but in a second section, under the same title, the author (Le Tian) comments on China selling arms (weapons - guns, helicopters, etc) to other countries around the world. What Le Tian doesn't mention is that what is being called for is greater accountability in China's export trade of arms. How would this help? To be more accountable means to be more open. By being more open it becomes easier for China to fight accusations by being able to point at facts rather than say "trust us". As for my position on arms sales, I'd refer you to a 2005 movie titled "Lord of War". It is said that the movie is in part based on fact. I believe it is an entertaining movie that is also educational. The sad part, in my eye, is it is all too believable. If you haven't seen it, watch it.

Whether it is by coincidence or not, China Daily today has two extra articles on guns - "China targets illegal explosives, guns" and "Crackdown to target illegal guns, explosives". So the sale of one gun can earn a farmer 3 times what he makes in a year on his farm. I think there are some very powerful incentives there to dabble in this field. Maybe a good way to help make selling illegal firearms less attractive would be for the Chinese government to subsidise farmers more. Of course this would need to come at some cost to the budget in China but wouldn't it be money well spent? That said, if there were 100,000,000 farmers at this wage level (not unbelievable in a country of 1,300,000,000), then the budget cost would be 200,000,000,000 RMB (200 billion RMB) or USD$25,000,000,000 (USD$25 billion). That's a lot of pennies in anyone's book.

Monday Jun 05, 2006

Fish die from pollution

The front page of China Daily today had a picture of pond filled with dead fish. The caption underneath mentioning that it was possibly caused by a near by factory and had an estimated loss of 300,000RMB. While that is only US$37,500, in local terms, a typical college student needs about 3,000RMB per month to survive. Enough to support 8 college students for a year.

The paper version doesn't expand on the picture, but online, there's an article "Pollution costs China US$200 billion every year."

Through China's lack of sufficient regulations and problems with local governments enforcing environment laws, China is rediscovering all of the problems western countries have been through rather than learning from our mistakes. This isn't the first time something like this has happened and it certainly won't be the last. Not until local governments are held accountable for their (in)ability to enforce local law will anything meaningfully transpire. Who has the power to put the boot into local governments in China? I'm not sure. If China's President can't do it and the NGO's can't do it, is it left up to the people? One hopes not. The local governments should be brought into line first and foremost by President Hu Jintao, although maybe this can't happen soon enough!

But as a developing nation, it should be prepared for ecological degradation to continue. Only when the environment and its ecology are put above profit in important will protection of the environment really be achieved. China's problem in all of this is that protecting the environment and being a green producer cost more money. That means factories are more expensive to build and goods cost more to make and buy. This will not please the overseas companies that come to China for cheap manufacturing.

Thursday Jun 01, 2006

Air quality in Beijing

The Chinese Government convieniently provides a web page reporting the air quality in a number of major Chinese cities. What this web page doesn't tell is what it looks like outside. Today we have grade 3A air pollution with an index value of 112. The average visibility has been about 2 miles.

The last time I did any serious exercise outside was Saturday, when the pollution was "grade 1", with an index value of 32 (it was overcast in the morning with some light rain.) The exercise? 2-3 hour bike ride in the afternoon, after the rain stopped. The following day, Sunday, was our token blue-sky day for the week/fortnight, however, the air was not quite as clean.

Wednesday May 24, 2006

More on China's military

In a local newspaper, The China Daily, there is a story on the Pentagon report, comparing it with cold-war days. For the sake of mentioning it, the China Daily puts Chinese spending on their military at USD$30.bn whereas the LA Times says that this number is understated and should be at least USD$50bn, if not closer to USD$100bn.

The problem for China, as I see it, is that compared to all of the other countries in the world (exlcuding India), it has a massive population with an equally large army. It is quite natural for others to fear this.

If you're a 4' dwarf, it doesn't matter if the 6'6" giant standing next to you is aggressive or not, when he tells you he works out a couple of times a week and trains in martial arts, you are going to feel some level of fear.

That aside, I'm sure the American military would love another cold war to justify their government spending billions of dollars more than they need to on defense and so it is in their own self interest to produce reports; such as the one that has been produced.

The unfortunate point of all of this is that for the ordinary person in the street, like you and me, we have no way of knowing what the real truth is and are left with lots of conflicting information from Governments that none of us trust 100%. Amongst all of this, we still have to make up our own mind about what is really going on in this world.

The world vs China?

In a story in The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post (and a second story there), and The Age talks of China's military build up and what it means for the USA.

In the comment list for the Washington Post story, it seems that many people have missed the comments on China possibly moving to threaten Japan.

My question is, would the world just stand by and watch if China took action against Taiwan? Would it make any difference if it were Japan? I can understand that the Chinese might feel the need for some retaliation, but my personal hope is that the world is becoming a more peaceful place. Of course this would appear at odds with the current Bush administration in the USA but I'm not a supporter of what the USA has done in invading Iraq or Afghanistan. Is there a chance that the next world war will be everyone vs China just in order to hold the Chinese back?

As an Australian, I don't beleve that China is far enough away and worry that their greedy eyes see the vast natural resources (iron ore, copper, uranium) there, with a miniscule population (by comparison with theirs) as being ripe for invasion and conquering. Maybe that is just paranoia on my behalf.

Could or would China use its economic strength to prevent others from entering into any fray it found itself in?

Maybe there is a lesson in the Iraq invasion for China: when you invade a country that does not want you, it is not enough to just conquer them militarily. And so if China did invade Taiwan, would that be the start of endless civil unrest? Is that what China would want as the outcome? Would the public in Taiwan take up the call of being a martyr? Of course it seems that America is unable to learn lessons like this or else Vietnam should have been the lesson that said to them "do not invade Iraq."

My only hope is that the desire for everyone to live peacefully outweighs whatever personal or political objectives someone might have. In the end, it should not matter whether Taiwan is independant or not. What matters is if they are forced to change the way they live because of who governs them. The only real difference is to the egos of a handful men, both in mainland China and Taiwan, about who gets to tell who what to do.

Can't we all just live peacefully and get along?

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avalon

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