Monday, April 23, 2007

Walking marriage: till death? how about next month?

The Mosuo people of southern China have a custom called walking marriage, where a man and woman in a relationship live apart from each other and are not bound together by any formal ceremony. This relationship may last anywhere from months to years. All children born are raised by and stay with the mother. The women are the head of the household, so the most respected member of the family is the Grandma.

Here's how it works: A girl turns 18 and she is allowed to start seeing guys. When night comes, single guys walk by and knock on the house door. The girl will check him out and either accept or reject his request. My first thought was, "Sex on the first date?" Not quite. Usually it progresses like a normal relationship: talking, watching anime together, scheduling the next visit. If a man gets rejected, he is allowed to come back again. On the return visit, she would typically reward his persistence and invite him in. If he turns out to be a loser (woman's intuition) she'll kick him to the curb and the guy will not come back. No means no.

As an American, I tend to automatically impose my cultural rules on them. Their marriage setup somehow seems wrong, uncivilized perhaps. But I can't pinpoint why. I know different does not equal wrong. Maybe because you cannot take their lifestyle and implant it directly into American society. I think it needs some degree of isolation to work. Otherwise, it's going to attract swingers and gawkers. You know some guy will be lurking, waiting to take advantage of a fresh break-up. The village pimp.

Let's look at some problems that might arise. When a couple divorces in America, the child is usually raised by a parent or step parent combo. This causes more of a strain on the child and usually has long term undesirable effects. With the Mosuo, after a couple separates, the child continues to be raised by the household. So nothing really changes. What about feelings between the couple after separation? They don't feel anger or jealousy? How is the break-up so clean? Maybe there is just less at stake. It's not looked at as a failure, therefore less emotionally charged.

Unknowingly going against the mainstream, their walking marriage system has worked for hundreds of years. With increasing development in China and more tourism to the Mosuo's homeland, I wonder how long this practice will remain intact.

Monday, April 9, 2007

The future of flying

In the last century, we've seen a big change in the way we move around. Horses to cars. Boats to planes. Rickshaws to segways.

Faster! Faster! Faster!

So what's next? Most of the technology we're developing now will be usable in our lifetime, assuming YOU the reader are not 80 years old. Current government tech, like [top secret text removed], or non-government tech, like X prize sub-orbital spaceflight may be the next big transportation related industry. This has big implications for our personal and professional lives. Imagine if you could get to anyplace on the earth in under 2 hours. Businessmen off to China for an afternoon meeting. Taking care of a family member in India when they're recovering from illness. Traveling to the Dead Sea just to float around. Detroit to Chicago, that's only 3 minutes. How am I supposed to get drunk in 3 minutes? Mile high club? Better hurry up. What if the price of travel is so inexpensive, it's cheaper to fly home at the end of the night instead of getting a hotel room.

It's inevitable the technology will be there. The main bottle neck is still going to be checking in, waiting for bags. Security! My fetish of smuggling fruit into foreign countries. Perhaps we can streamline flights by prohibiting checked luggage or using retinal scanners as ID or letting robots pat you down instead of humans. I don't feel quite as bad being groped by a robot. If flight 2.0 doesn't require runways, maybe we can build vertically or integrate airports into tighter spaces like downtown areas. I think the most important thing to preserve is the miming of what to do in an emergency. Arms out to the side. Arms flapping like a bird. And please don't frighten me with the truth. Only happy thoughts.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Target conspiracy theory

A new Target store just opened by my house so yesterday I decided to stop by and check it out. As I was walking down an aisle, I got a text message so I glanced at my phone and noticed there was no signal. There were a few jitters, enough to let a text through, but otherwise it was stuck at zero bars. With my head down, eyes watching the signal bar, I robotically started walking back towards the front of the store. As I approached the exit, tantalizing the security guard with the possibility of their first shoplifter, the signal spiked back to 100%. I was trying to recall if this was normal cell phone behavior inside stores, but I seem to remember lots of moms always yapping away at the grocery store. Often in the checkout line! Also, confused husbands making desperate calls to their wives, or mistresses.

I believe Target has purposely blocked cell phone usage in their store for an unknown reason. What might their motive be? To increase checkout speeds? No. They want you there longer to make an impulse buy. (A toenail clipper and some breath mints. Now I'm ready for a date.) I believe their plot is far more sinister. Imagine having your customers' full attention and a PA system to exploit their minds. Brain washing! Subliminal messages to control how you shop. Trained to make purchases for years. Identity. You stop questioning why and accept. You like it. Second nature. Next time you're at Target, don't look at what's on your shopping list. Look inside yourself.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Ginseng vs. caffeine

Conclusion: Ginseng seems better in almost every aspect over caffeine, but I can't get over the taste.

Here's my take on ginseng vs. caffeine. Over the past month or so I've been switching off between drinking coffee and ginseng when I'm tired. First off, I don't drink either too frequently, maybe once or twice a week. Most mornings I have tea, so the effects of coffee or ginseng are quite noticeable. And for clarification, when I say "drink ginseng", I mean "drink a ginseng beverage", specifically water that had (or still has) a ginseng root soaking in it. Usually a small amount of sugar is added to make it more bearable, although it doesn't help much. This and other bizarre drinks can be found at your local Asian grocery store.

On the days I have coffee I feel really hyper. Usually I shake my leg or play air drums to burn off the excess energy. But after the spike it's all downhill. At the end of the day I'm really dragging and I don't feel like using my brain. Ginseng on the other hand is very subtle and sometimes you forget you even drank it. The feeling is hard to describe. If you drink it on a day you didn't get much sleep, it makes you feel like you got the normal 7-8 hours. If you drink it on a day you're refreshed, it gives you more focus and concentration.

But as I stated in my conclusion, the taste of pure ginseng is absolutely disgusting. I know this is subjective and there might be some people who enjoy the flavor. But it's a pretty safe bet this product won't sell in the states. I'd like to see more R&D from companies like Hansen's or Glaceau to produce a better flavored, healthy ginseng drink. Right now though, energy drinks like Redbull and Monster rule the convenient store shelves. So how much marketing is required to open U.S. consumers' eyes to ginseng?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Using Yahoo! Pipes to tweak IGN/Gamespot feeds

I was up way too late last night, finally having a chance to play with Yahoo! Pipes, or as it has become known to me, crack pipes. Like any good drug, it's easy to get started, but hard to walk away. All GUI based, drag and drop goodness. I sat in my dimly lit room letting my mind wander. Thinking this is something truly new and innovative... and wondering where to begin. I decided that looking at other people's pipes is a good place to start. But nevermind specifics. I'm here for a purpose.

Problem: IGN and Gamespot both offer PSP rss feeds containing news, updates, reviews, etc. Lot's of information every day. Too much information! It gets to the point where I stop paying attention because the signal/noise ratio is so low. It's all noise, useless posts! I want a feed with just game reviews.

Solution: Pipes lets you take a feed, apply some logic, spit out a new feed, and make it available to the world. In my case, any post that contains 'review' in the title passes through. Every thing else is filtered out. The result is a low volume feed with just game reviews. Here are the two pipes I created:

The filter box, kind of like an if-then in traditional programming, is just one of the many operations available. There seems to be an active community of developers forming and more (advanced) operations will be released in the future.

So when I see you pass me in the hallway at work the next morning trying to hide your red eyes -- relax -- don't look away. I'm hooked on the crack too.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Opposing views on summer vacation

Opposed to summer vacation by Tim:

With the increasing trend towards globalization, I believe American children today will be faced with more competition upon entering college and finding a job. These children seem to be less motivated than their foreign counterparts and less likely to go on for more advanced degrees. How are we going to cut it 15 years down the road? I believe the biggest factor is parental involvement, but our education system definitely has some room for improvement. One such improvement is the year-round school schedule.

I recently heard a professor talk on this subject, (OK, he was actually talking about Chinese New Year) and he explained the history of summer vacation. A large percentage of the population were farmers 100+ years ago and these families needed their children to work the fields over the summer. Fast forward to present day where we still have the same system in place. Kids are busy playing outside or with video games. When school starts again they can't remember what's going on and spend several weeks reviewing old lessons.

Like everything in life, there must be balance. Going to school 9 months straight, then relaxing for 3 months hardly seems balanced. So by taking away, or rather redistributing these 3 months, are we depriving the youth of happiness? This instance of happiness will happen in a flash and then be a memory for the rest of our adult lives. A more tangible, long lasting happiness is having the freedom to choose what we want to do for a living. If we don't start competing at the global level, then this choice will be a memory too.

In support of summer vacation by Tranchiturn:

The familiar is often desired, and so maybe that is the reason why I support the current school calendar. I remember always looking forward to summer because it was a REAL break. No middle-of-winter crap where you don't really even have time to get into anything because you didn't plan it out beforehand (and you have a paper due on Monday). As cheezy as this is, I think it's true that summer break is to children as the american dream is to adults. Summer break (when I say that I mean the full, American, 3 month break) helps to mold children into a different kind of adult than those from strict, working class nations. This, I suppose, will also be a point used in the opposite direction by the Antagonist.

For example, the bad characteristics of some union members can probably be traced back to summer break. But summer break is what keeps dreams alive, American Dreamz. Dreams of being a sports/rock/creative arts star or an entrepreneur. If children go to school all year long, they are trained to work constantly, during a period which they probably have the most potential to be happy, and to do what they want. This eventually leads to a hard working adult, who works however many days during the year, and is convinced that a one-week trip to Florida is a "vacation." Maybe this would create a "happier" or at least more content person, because they don't really know what they're missing, or maybe it's something closer than we think to Communism.

Summer is potential, and like any potential, it can be wasted. Some kids will grow up lazy, or at least average, and every summer, forget 3/4 of what they learned during that year. Others will do things they couldn't do during a couple-week or even a month vacation, will remember what they learned, and will be HAPPY. Maybe this will yield an adult population with a larger proportion of the lazier, 3-steps-forward-2-steps-back people, but it at least gives everyone a CHOICE. This is what the modern Summer Vacation is about: WORK is not the meaning of life, SCHOOL is not the meaning of life (or a means to it). No one knows the meaning of life, but with a Summer Break, you have the freedom to do what you want to do. For those 3 months, no one is deciding for you that the purpose of your life is to work just to survive or just because that's what everyone does.

Attending school year round for the majority of childhood will produce harder workers, steadier emotions (less extreme happiness and less depression), more competition, and ultimately, the kind of population desired by economists and believers that the greater good is achieved by furthering technology as quickly as possible--the closer to robots, the better. Summer break focuses on the individual and will result in an unsure future, emotional highs and lows, and more extreme sports (for example), like normal humans. After all, if we're working more, what are we really working for? Do we subconsciously do this to ourselves because we don't know what our purpose is, but we convince ourselves that working hard will at least lead to SOMEthing?

Editor's Note: Tranchiturn (Shawn) may write from time to time on Mental Benefits of Black Fungus. He currently maintains his own blog, The Simplifier.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

US frequency allocation chart

I was reading a post on O'Reilly Radar about Google's effort to cover Mountain View with free wifi. They linked to a chart on NTIA's website that shows the frequency allocation in the United States. It brought back fond memories. One of my favorite university professors had the same chart hanging in his lab. Maybe I'll print (or plot) it out to recreate that college atmosphere in my cubicle.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Comparing multiple stocks in Google Finance

Google Finance lets you visually compare multiple stocks within one chart. You can also link directly to this graph by passing parameters via URL. For example, to view a graph of Microsoft, Apple, and Google, use the following formatting:

This is useful if you want to compare all or a subset of stocks in your portfolio. Just bookmark the URL. Ideally, Google Finance will incorporate a "link to this page" feature, similar to Google Maps. This would allow a user to customize their chart and save the results. One complaint I have with this direct linking method is the inability to pass other information via URL, such as time span, ie. 1 month, 3 months, 1 year. Also, if you pass more than 3 stocks, only the first 3 are visible by default, meaning you have to select a check box to bring up each additional stock. With more than 3 stocks selected the chart starts to get cluttered, but I would still like this option.

In the example mentioned above, I was playing with the time axis and noticed an interesting trend over the last 3 years. Since February 2004, Microsoft's value has remained flat, while Google has increased 333% and Apple has increased almost 650%.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

MGS: Portable Ops reminds me of wardriving

I've been playing Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops for the PSP and there's a new recruitment feature that I find interesting. In most stealth action games like Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell, I usually go on a killing rampage each level. Shoot some bad guys, maybe blow em up, then drag the remains to a dimly lit area and continue on to finish the mission. There's usually little or no incentive to go through the level stealthily. Portable Ops changes this. Any bad guy you knock out or shoot in the head with a stun dart you can drag back to your van and take as a hostage. After a couple days pass in the game, he gets converted (brainwashed) to join your side. Each team member has certain stats and you assign him to a specific group, which gives you more intel or makes you recover health quicker, etc. Its to your benefit to grow your team, so you are always looking for ways to knock a guy out instead of killing him.

Another way to recruit new guys is through a menu option called Access Point Scan. This searches for wireless networks nearby and generates a new team member randomly if the signal is strong enough. The interface is minimal, only showing a real time graph of signal strength. However, its very stylized with pulsating colors, making you feel like you're hacking into some secret network. If the signal is around medium strength you can tap the circle button like mad to boost the meter. We all have our favorite button mashing memories. For me, its the in-between stage sequence from the Simpsons arcade game, where you need to blow up you balloon the fastest. Note, the Access Point Scan does not actually connect to the wireless network. It just sees what's out there, regardless of encryption.

I'm not sure about the technical details of the scan. You can only generate one new soldier per wireless network per game. So if you play through the game a second time you can use the same network again. I don't know if this filter is based on SSID (network name) or BSSID (mac address of access point). I would assume they check by BSSID so you can't keep changing your network name. However, if you have a linux based router/access point combo, like the WRT54GL, you could possibly change the MAC address to trick the game into thinking you're on a different network. [ifconfig eth0 hw ether 01:23:45:67:89:AB] But that would be cheating!

The access point method of recruitment really encourages you to bring the PSP with you to snag networks at a friend's house or in public. This aspect of hunting down wifi networks really reminds me of wardriving. Going out and seeing how many networks you can find in a given trip. It might sound kind of dull in text, but its kinda exciting when you end up some place new or some place you shouldn't be. I've become border line obsessive, holding my PSP while driving down the road, endangering the lives of children. At the end of the day though I know it was worth it, because I have a new imaginary friend.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Dog riding on person's back

Here's some photos from chinaren that got posted last weekend. I'm not sure what type of dog this is, but I think its called bomei in Chinese.

Update: I think its a pomeranian.