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a beautiful morning

Sep. 19th, 2006 | 09:02 am

I've been meaning to write about this for a while, but I've had a hard time getting back into the journalling frame of mind. Right now I'm in Jersey City, NJ - just settling in. This story is from earlier in the summer, when I was with my family in San Diego.

We'd been hiking a bit, Max (my younger brother) and Annabelle(my younger sister) and I, on some of the trails around east-county. Mostly it was Max and I trying to keep up with Anna, as she does a lot of hiking up in Arcada(some know her as 'Trail-Boss').

It was on the way to another trail...name escapes me... that we spotted the Iron Mountain trail-head off the 67, just around where Poway Road starts west. It seemed cool, and within our limited ability, so we decided to do it the following day. Of course, this was in the middle of summer, in east-county. So, yeah, hot. Between 110 and 120 in the middle of the day. We figured it would be best to tackle this one early in the morning, and why not shoot for a sunrise? So we set all the alarms for 5:00am.

We hit the trail about 5:30, and at 5:45 were greeted with:

.. the first little bits of sun.

I'm not really a morning person, I do my best work late at night. I do regret not seeing this every day, though. It's like missing the beginning of a movie. Feeling inferior to all the other movie-goers, chipmunks, crickets and rocks that get to enjoy the whole thing with a complete understanding of the plot....

As we continued along the trail, gaining a bit of elevation, we noticed clouds rolling in from the east. Now and then, from the corner of my eye, I'd glimpse a flash of lightening.

Lakeside hadn't had any rain for months, so this was all very exciting:

Finally, just as we reached the top of Iron Mountain, after months without rain, the wind picked up and the drops began to fall. We stood on the rocks, with the wind and rain rushing around us for a few minutes - until fear of lightening drove us down.

It didn't rain again in Lakeside for another month, so I consider that morning a wonderful privilege.

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Home again, home again

Mar. 5th, 2006 | 02:02 am

So here I am with Sanam, eating pesto and rewatching season 5 of the Sopranos. Season 6 starts on the 12th, after a year long hiatus, so you've got time to catch up if you're intrigued. We've been hiding indoors a lot - I have, anyhow; the air is shockingly cold in Boston. Things I've been noticing:

* Amazing diversity of faces, haircuts and heights.

* Lack of scooters.

* How bleak the streets seem without said scooters, Taiwanese vendors or vegetation.

* How much older Boston is than Taipei. The subway, compared to the MRT in Taipei, reminds me of a mine-car ride at Disneyland. Taiwan has the jungle to compete with, forcing a constant turnover, constant fight against humidity and tree-roots, not to mention earthquakes and typhoons. Walking around in Boston I feel like one of those Incan mummies, or a Siberian mammoth .. in a natural freeze-dryer with the red-brick streets and pre-Constitution churches.

* How much I've missed all the little delights of Trader Joe's. My personal favorite: toasted bagel with egg-less egg salad and feta cheese.

* How much I've missed Sanam.

My flight was less horrible than I'd been led to believe it would be. I slept periodically, ignoring the 'King of Queens' and rolling through the hours.. slowly shifting attention from one meal to the next. Worst experience was immigration in Detroit, where I was offended/disgusted by rude staff. Wondered about implications of being hostile and unfeeling to tired travelers for 9 hours a day at the rate of 120/hour.

Saying goodbye to dear friends in Taiwan was pretty awful.

More soon..

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Feb. 8th, 2006 | 04:14 pm

Work continues at http://www.creaturebreeder.com

As you can see, you can now view a family tree for any of the creatures. Max has been hard at work producing farm-accessories (plants, fountains, etc) which you can now purchase in the store.

Get ready for lots of new stuff in the near future.

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Hua Lien

Feb. 7th, 2006 | 10:53 pm

I've been meaning to make a trip to the east coast for a while. Just opposite Taichung, over the mountains, is a town called Hua Lien, gateway to Taroko National Park. This park, its marble gorges in particular, are considered Taiwan's most spectacular natural attraction.
It would have been great if we could have just taken a bus through the mountains, straight across the island, but the central highway (constructed during the Japanese occupation) is often out of service due to earthquakes.

The only alternative was to take the bus up to Taipei, about 2 hours, then ride a train down the east-coast to Hua Lien, another 3 hours. The track hugs the coast closely, pinched between the mountains and the sea. Agriculture is everywhere, as evidenced by the irrigation...

Killed some time writing a scheme program for notating juggling patterns.

It's difficult to escape the mountains in Hua Lien, they dominate half of the sky.

After checking into our room, at the Hua Lien Hero House, we went out to the beach, and to the night-market. New Year celebrations were still raging....

Kids were setting off firecrackers everywhere...

The next day we got up early and hired a driver to take us out to the park. The structure below is dedicated to the workers who died while constructing the roads and trails through the gorge. It has been rebuilt three times due to earthquake damage..

And here it is in context..

Across this train platform..

..and then up a series of switch-backs.

The rocks everywhere seem to be on the verge of splintering. Actually, the original designer of the park was killed by falling rocks while inspecting some post-earthquake damage.

The famously beautiful marble formations...

.. and then across this suspension bridge..

..seen here in context.

.. and the view from the top.

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Sun Moon Lake

Feb. 7th, 2006 | 08:30 pm

Recently took a trip down to Sun Moon Lake, about 2 hours south-east of Taichung. The surrounding town is pleasant, much slower than Taichung..

The driver who took us to, around, and from the lake had an old friend, a lakeside resident, who gave us a good price on a boat ride. We stopped off on this little floating island in the middle of the lake.

This island was apparently an important feature in Formosan (Taiwan's aboriginal people) rituals, until 1934 when a Japanese dam increased the depth from 6 meters to 25 meters.

The floating bits are not very thick.

By the time we got to the Wenwu temple (dedicated to Confucius) the clouds had moved in, and the view of the lake (usually very good judging from the postcards) was obscured.

The effects of mist and rain did, however, afford some nice photo opportunities:

Finally, stopped in to a wood-working shop on the way back and spotted this guy, who we nicknamed Grandfather:

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Jan. 1st, 2006 | 10:44 pm

You'll notice that there are no pictures in this post, and if you look closely you'll notice that the pictures from the last couple posts were not taken with my camera. This is because my camera was stolen a few weeks ago at the Taichung Museum of Art. I hesitated to write about it, feeling stupid for leaving it on a bench (albeit for only a minute or two), and not wanting to give the impression that things just disappear willy-nilly in Taiwan. Not a great loss in any case, I bought that camera freshman year at UCSB and it was never very dear to me. It was somewhat ipod-like in that it traded quantity of features for a smaller profile and overall sexiness, however I never found its poor image quality and crappy picture-card reader very sexy....

I went for a massage the other day, not something I've ever done before, but I've recently had some sitting-at-a-computer-for-too-damn-long related pains in my upper-back. There is an intriguing massage parlor that I pass every day on the way to coffee, intriguing because the people who work there are all blind. The sign out front depicts a smiling woman giving a thumbs-up as her shoulders are rubbed by a man whose eyes are drawn as slits. I thought this was a bit strange at first, fairly sure that this would be a no-no in the states (right?), but so would the 'luck' of the mentally-retarded being used to sell lottery tickets, or people banging there foreheads on the sidewalk for handouts, or tooth-paste called 'Black Person!" with a grinning, top-hat wearing caricature on the tube, and this massage thing actually makes some sense to me; one deprived of sight should have more tactile sensitivity, and less sensory distraction, be better able to zone in on the task at hand, right? I'm sorry that I can't offer a fair evaluation, having never had a professional massage from a person WITH sight, but they did find the afflicted areas very quickly, and it was thoroughly agonizing (its supposed to hurt right?)

We went to the Ministry of Sound for new year. This club is in Taipei so we took the bus in around 3pm, had some dinner, hung out a bit, went to the club, participated in festivities, and finally caught the bus back to Taichung around 5am. I was pleasantly surprised that I lasted for that long - my body usually gets defensive and throws a headache or wave of fatigue if I threaten to push it that far. The club was pretty standard, large. Of special interest were the 30 or 40 Russian(eastern-European-looking, v. tall, pale) models that the management brought in. I assume they were brought in, or else their tour bus broke down, and they all have a special weakness for dancing on raised platforms. Sort of an odd scene though, teaming throngs of Taiwanese surrounded on all sides by gaunt, hot-pants clad blondes, jets of flame and steam periodically shooting out of the walls...

I've been slowly making the transition to using the Emacs editor full time (emacs is a text editor for programmers, invented long before I was born, an example of why 30 years of technology can't top one good idea). Traditionally I've used a combination of Scite on windows and Vim on linux, but I was really intrigued by the extensibility of Emacs - and the extensions that are already available (SLIME for lisp is v. cool). I've got all the major/minor modes for all my favorite languages (and those I am obligated to use for work e.g ASP, *shudder*).
I'm realizing how crap my typing is - and how painful it is to re-learn all of the most basic commands --- moving the cursor, backspacing etc. It strikes as a worthwhile discomfort though, like dancing in toe-shoes, or painting with noxious poisons..

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dont mind this stuff

Dec. 11th, 2005 | 11:45 pm

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Dec. 11th, 2005 | 09:02 pm

The latest: a weekend trip to KenTing, a small beach community on the southern tip of Taiwan.

Below, in blue, you see our driver, shouting. We found him in Kaohsiung (2nd biggest city in Taiwan, halfway between Taichung and Kenting): we'd only just de-bused when he ambushed us, undercut the U-Bus(popular intercity bus) and talked us into riding with him in his mini-van. What you see in the picture is about a half hour from Kenting, when he handed us off to his nephew, who would eventually hook us up with a place to stay..

Mostly rural in this area...

...then the road moves out to the coast.

Finally, in Kenting. Very reminiscent of Isla Vista: small, has a few cafes, bars, a couple surf-shops. Most striking were the two cuspid shaped peaks visible from everywhere in town.

Our thai-food feast, on the first night. Absolutely wonderful...(hopefully the deliciousness is conveyed by the fact that we were compelled to take pictures of our food, again)

I don't think I've got any readers who've never seen a sunset over the beach before, but now I can say with authority that they have them in Kenting, too.

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simulated annealing

Nov. 10th, 2005 | 08:59 pm

Above: a copy of a small section from Gong Xian's 'Landscape Scroll'; the original is over 60 feet long. Working with black ink/paper has been a really interesting challenge. Ink is a bit less forgiving than oil paint, you can't just wipe it off, so certain things have to be planned for. Take the foreground trees for instance; those strips of paper have to be white, free of ink, from beginning to end. There are fewer opportunities to adjust, or shuffle the elements, so the painting becomes rigid more quickly. If one looks at painting as an optimization problem (maybe a dangerous analogy, but what the hell), the ink painting is more likely to settle into a local maximum (unless you already solved the problem before you started.)

Watching/listening to Hank, it was always very clear that the process of making the painting was also the process of solving the problem. An essential idea was "it's never too late" to make a major change. The algorithm known as simulated annealing has a similar spirit,
from Wikipedia.org:
Given an incredibly hard problem, such as finding a set of 100 numbers that fit some characteristic, for which attempting to brute-force the problem would result in several million years worth of computation, this technique attempts to quickly find a "pretty good" answer by adjusting the current "set" (in this case some random sequence of 100 numbers) until a "better" answer is found (the way the adjustment is done depends on the problem). The new set of numbers, or "neighbor", if more optimal, is then used as the current set and the process is repeated.
Sometimes a problem may arise when one approaches what is known as a local minimum, in this case, a set of numbers that is the "most optimized" for its current "region". In an attempt to find a better optimization, this technique may use various methods to "jump out of" the current "pit", such as searching for better optimizations randomly by a factor of the inverse amount of the previous adjustment.

I'd say this "jump out of the current pit" is roughly analogous to shuffling elements of a painting in the interest of improving overall "value" of the solution. The global maximum is not visible from within the local maximum, so one needs to step back and make changes on a larger scale.

For ink-painting these large-scale changes are difficult to make within a single painting, and might instead take place over the course of several paintings.

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one duck, please

Nov. 2nd, 2005 | 10:47 pm

A mob is forming, demanding an update (see 1 comment on last post), so I'd better hop to it. I apologize for the lack of illustration, maybe next post I will have some pics of paintings, but for now 'ying wen' will have to suffice.

Chinese is going well. Some days better than others, but the trend is positive. I'd say I can now parse at a conversational speed, provided the vocabulary is simple. It's wonderfully satisfying to understand what people are saying.

I've got a language exchange partner, ( he speaks English & I speak Chinese ) who I meet with three times a week. He's a masters student in Computer Science (Ad-Hoc Mobile networks) so we have a lot of fun talking about the latest slashdot posts (Google pissing Microsoft off by hiring OpenOffice developers, Microsoft subsequently launching chairs at the googleplex). He and his friends are so used to typing with the Chinese phonetic alphabet (zhuyin), they sometimes forget their characters.

We are slowly mapping the most delicious food in Taichung. Last weekend we had Peking Duck (Beijing Kao Yia) - they keep the ducks, golden & glistening & glowing, on hooks outside the restaurant, and there's a big sign featuring Donald Duck (Disney doesn't bother enforcing it's copyrights here), so it's hard to miss. It's great fun to order. "yi zhe yia". One duck. They take the duck, slice off the choice pieces, array them radially on a platter, and serve with soft bread (almost a tortilla) and brown sauce (almost A1). Its heavenly. Like a strange, duck burrito (the word 'burrito' summons up heart-wrenching visions of freebirds past..) They take the rest of the duck, chop it with a cleaver, and saute it with vegetables. Feeds 3.

We went to the local pool the other day. There were two slides going into the kiddy pool area, one shaped as an elephant, the other as a giraffe. The slides themselves, cut into the bodies of the the animals, were painted red.

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