Of screens and plumbing

Jeff’s been out of school this week for Passover, so we decided to take today off, too, and go see The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. We went to the 12:30pm showing, which was mostly empty (though there were a few truefen who were dressed in bathrobes, carrying their towels with them, just in case) — I think this movie would have been better in a more crowded house so that the laughter would build more.

The movie was mostly faithful to the book — to the point that I could recite a lot of the lines (though I didn’t). And when it moved away from the book, I found myself wishing it hadn’t. But, after hearing the original radio series, reading the books, and watching the TV series, seeing yet another treatment (even though it was on the big screen, with special effects) didn’t do much for me. Most of the reviews I’ve seen gave the movie 3 or 3-1/2 stars; I’d give it 2-1/2 at most.

I’m looking forward to seeing Serenity this fall, and I hoped that they’d show the trailer, but they didn’t. Almost all the trailers were for Disney movies — the best of the lot, by a long shot, was the trailer for Chicken Little, which played very nicely off Hitchhiker — even to using Louis Armstrong’s It’s a Wonderful World (which Hitchhiker didn’t use — at least they did use a bit of Journey of the Sorcerer when they showed The Book).

And on the small screen….

Our HDTV is still down; we called Magnolia Audio-Video, where we bought it, and their repair guy came out and diagnosed the problem as being in the ballast board or the power supply. It’s fixable at a reasonable price (much better than what I’d expected), but it has to go to the shop — unfortunately, there was some confusion, and it didn’t get picked up on Thursday as we’d expected. The pickup is now scheduled for Sunday — the good news is that we’ll get a loaner HDTV, so we’ll be able to watch on a reasonably-sized set again while we wait for ours to be returned.

Lemon Rinds, yes — Half Lemons, no!

Diane made an interesting chicken dish for Seder, one which calls for several lemons. We have a lemon tree in the backyard, so we always have a good supply, and when she had half a lemon left over, I didn’t see any particular reason to save it. And I knew that it was a good idea to send lemon rinds down the garbage disposal, so when I’d finished with the first batch of rinds, I sent the spare half-lemon after them.

A few minutes later, I realized that this hadn’t been a good idea, as the water started to back up in the sink. I tried using a plunger — no dice. Liquid Plumr didn’t help, either. So, as we finished dinner and got ready to redeem the Afikomen, I called our regular plumber, who was, as I was afraid, closed (it’s a small family-owned business) for the weekend. I didn’t want to wait until Monday, so I looked through the ads in the Yellow Pages and picked Drain Patrol pretty much at random. The plumber showed up just as we were finishing the fourth cup of wine (almost perfect timing), and took care of the problem at a tolerable price, in plenty of time to let us clean up and go to bed at a reasonable hour.

Next time, though, I’ll save the extra lemon, or just toss it in the garbage.

20 inches sure isn't very big

When I came home from China, I discovered that our nice 52-inch DLP HDTV wasn’t working (as far as I can tell, the fan seems to have failed, and I’m not sure how to fix it myself — if anyone knows of a good repair shop in or near Los Gatos, drop me a line at fixmytv at d2j.us). This is the second failure of the TV in less than three months, which doesn’t make me a happy camper — and it made Diane and Jeff even less happy while I was gone.

So tonight, I moved our backup TV into the family room and hooked it up; it’s a 20-inch JVC, and boy, does it look small. I even had to dig out a cable to convert S-Video to regular video, since that’s the only input on this puppy — but it works.

I am very happy with the remote control decision I made last year — I got a Harmony 688. That meant that I was able to reprogram everything to work with the little TV in just over 15 minutes — far easier than it would have been with any of the other universal remotes I’ve tried.

I would like to get the Panasonic TV fixed (it’s a 52DL52, if that helps anyone with hints), but I can’t say that I’m a happy customer at this point.

China, 2005

The Technology Council of the IBM Academy of Technology met in Beijing in March, 2005; I spent a couple of extra days in Beijing to meet with people at IBM Research and to give a guest lecture to the “introduction to e-services” class at Peking University (oh, and to do some sightseeing).

Not the Red China of my youth

Today was my last full day in China, and once more, I discovered that it’s most definitely not the “Red China” I learned about as a child. Just a few examples:

  • CNN has been “All Pope, all the time” for the last 36 hours or so. If I want to hear about anything else going on in the world, I have to turn to CCTV9, which is run by a State-owned company.
  • I spent part of the afternoon at The Malls at Oriental Plaza, which is what Valley Fair would be if Valley Fair’s customers had money.

    1007 rolls:

  • I also spent part of the afternoon wandering through Dashalan, which is an old area, laced with hutongs which are filled with shops of various kinds. One shop, graced with this sign:

    1006 sign:

    sold merchandise which was very definitely not G-rated (also not office-safe!). I don’t think Mao would have approved, much less the Gang of Four.

On the other hand, I spent the morning in purer cultural pursuits, wandering around the grounds of the Temple of Heaven (Tiantan), an official World Heritage Site. This is a huge park, about 2.7 million square meters, filled with buildings from the Ming and Qing dynasties, where the Emperors would offer sacrifices to Heaven.

I took a taxi from the hotel to the South Gate:

925 - south gate:

where I was faced with a choice: Pay 15 RMB for park admission, or 35 RMB for a “through ticket”. I decided to splurge, and I’m glad I did.

Soon after entering, I saw several people writing Chinese characters on the ground, apparently with water. I don’t know the significance of what they were doing — whatever it was they wrote didn’t last long.

927 - writing:

The first opportunity to take advantage of my “through ticket” came soon, when I reached the Lingxing Gates:

929 - lingxing:

931 - lingxing:

which guard the Round Mound, which in turn contains the Heavenly Centre Stone. By tradition, one’s voice becomes especially sonorous when standing on the stone — but I couldn’t detect any difference when I tried it.

937 - on the stone:

(Perhaps I should have said “Beam me up, Scotty!”?)

My next stop was the Animal-Killing Pavillion:

940 - sign:

where I made what was apparently an unauthorized visit to the interior of the Pavillion; soon after I took this picture, someone chased everyone out of the Pavillion.

941 - interior:

The Imperial Vault of Heaven (also known as the Hall for Appeasing Gods) was the next historic site:

944 - vault:

But first, I paid a visit to one of the park’s 4-star-rated facilities:

945 - 4 stars:

(Later, I encounted one at the North end of the park which was only rated at 3-stars, though I thought it was just fine.)

There are a number of buildings inside the Imperial Vault of Heaven, as well as the Echo Wall (which I couldn’t test, since I was there by myself). The buildings include the East and West Annexes, where they store the divine tablets of the Gods, as well as the Imperial Warehouse itself.

But the rest of my visit to the Temple of Heaven must wait.

Always have a Plan B

This afternoon, I gave a talk on “The Emergence of Service Science” to the “Introduction to E-Services” class at Peking University. The talk went well, I think — their English was far better than my Mandarin. I spent the morning with the professor’s grad student (who is also a full-time IBMer at the China Software Development Lab) — he played tour guide for me and took me to Dashilar (shopping, though I didn’t buy anything, and my first sight of Beijing’s hutongs), Tienanmen Square (where I snagged my first Chinese geocache), and the Forbidden City (where I snagged my second Chinese geocache).

act of carelessness:

I took a lot of pictures, which I’ll edit and post some time when I’m more awake (hmmm, I think I said that yesterday, too). I would have had even more, but I forgot to charge my camera after yesterday’s all-day expedition, and my battery died soon after entering the Forbidden City. But I had a plan B — my cellphone camera; unfortunately, the lens is dirty and the pictures didn’t come out well, hence the shot of the sign above (which I took with the cellphone — it was the best shot I took with it, too).

Dinner tonight was interesting; two of my colleagues and I went to Ding Dine Xiang, a Mongolian hotpot place. Mongolian hotpot is almost exactly the same as shabu shabu, so it wasn’t as exotic as we had expected when we picked the place. Ordering, on the other hand, was a bit of an adventure, because the place didn’t have an English menu. Our waitress was able to tell us that they had lamb and beef (which was fine with us), but that was as much as we were able to communicate — but then she called the manager and he spoke enough English for us to know what we were getting. I think the waitress was much more flustered by the inability to communicate than we were. And the food was excellent (especially when dipped in sesame sauce). I’d happily go back on a future trip to Beijing.