Consummate dilettantism!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Prosperous Time: China 2013

The Prosperous Time: China 2013


Part 1

The Near Future


The First Long-Lost Friend

A month is gone. I mean, a whole month is gone, it’s just vanished. Usually January is followed by February, which precedes March, which comes before April, and so on, but now it’s different, now March comes after January, now February is April, it’s skipped a month.

         I said to Fang Caodi, forget it, don’t go looking for it, it’s not worth it, life is short and bitter, just live it well.

          A man of greater ability would not have been able to convince him. But to tell you the truth, if you really wanted to find that lost month, Fang Caodi would be the man for the job. Throughout his life, he has had many months disappear, or perhaps have their existence be reduced to non-existence – his experiences resemble a strand of fragments, unable to be organized into stories. He appears at odd times in odd places, or, many years after having seemingly vanished from the face of the earth, he returns triumphantly from the brink of eternity at some unexpected hour. Such a person might be likely to do things that are behind the times, such as going to find a missing month.

          I hadn’t noticed its disappearance at first, and despite other people saying it had indeed vanished, I am of a skeptical sort. Every day, I read the papers, go on news websites, and watch China Central Television and Phoenix Satellite Television, and so I consider myself a fairly knowledgeable person when it comes to these kinds of things. Could such a major event so easily slip under my nose? I trust myself, my understanding, my intelligence, and my ability to make independent judgments.

          On the afternoon of February 17, I had left home and, as part of my daily routine, was walking towards the Pacific Century Place Starbucks when someone suddenly ran in front of me and shouted with a gasp, “Teacher Chen, Teacher Chen! A month is gone! It’s been two years!”

          He was wearing an unassuming baseball cap; I couldn’t make him out.

          “Fang Caodi, Fang Caodi.” He said his name twice and took off his hat, revealing a bald head and a ponytail tied with a rubber band.

          “You’ve started calling me ‘teacher’ now too?”

          With an air of importance, he added, “A month is gone! Teacher Chen, Teacher Chen, what do we do? What do we do?”

          “It’s not just a month that’s gone now, is it?”

“No, no. Teacher Chen, Teacher Chen, a month is missing, you know too! What do we do?”

Speaking with this man is tiring indeed. “When did you get back to Beijing?”

He sneezed. I gave him a business card: “Don’t get sick. It’s colder now, don’t go running around like this anymore. Let’s meet up later – my phone number and e-mail address are on the front.”

He put his cap back on and took the card. “We work well together; we’ll find it.”

          It was only as I watched him run off in the direction of the foreign embassies that I realized he wasn’t exercising.

He was running somewhere.



Pay me $5,000 and I’ll translate the rest of it. Only half-joking.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Genetics, culture, and success

Barbados is a country that's 80% black but that has one of the highest literacy rates in the world and one of its lowest crime rates (on par with Japan). Not coincidentally, the smartest black people by far I met in Beijing were Barbadian*. Yet these blacks are the descendents of African slaves brought over en masse from Ghana and Nigeria. This suggests to me that culture is far more important than genetics in determining success of countries and populations.


*One of them, having studied Chinese for a mere two years, was getting an engineering degree from a Chinese university. His curriculum was entirely in Chinese. This is, needless to say, extremely impressive.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Genetics/practice in developing high-level skill

Interesting post here. Comments are good too; check this one out:


This is also seen in the shows about various elite military units. The "selection" process isn't really about training. It's about whittling down 125 men to the 13 genetic and psychological freaks that possess the required skills.

THEN the training begins.

This was hammered home in a different TV special that demonstrated the ability of various special forces members to control core body temperature in extreme environments. They soaked one in ice water for an hour, and baked another under heat lamps. Environments that would cripple a normal person in 10 minutes had no detectable impact on performance after an hour of exposure.

And, different specialists were selected for different abilities. The pilot couldn't endure the apoxia, the ranger couldn't handle the disorientation of spinning maneuvers.

In other words, the people who make the news, in either sport or combat, are not like you. No amount of training will ever get you there.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Beijing Subway

Spent some time studying the subway today. Two observations:


*The conductor does nothing but push a lever to make the train go forward. He also gets out of the train at every stop to make sure no one is crushed in the doors. Everything else is done automatically.

*The doors open for exactly 20 seconds at every stop, an amount of time longer than it feels.


The Beijing Subway is more technologically advanced and much cleaner than the New York City Subway, but it lacks its character. In particular, no one plays music, sings, or performs, with the exception of some singing beggars you’ll come across every so often. (They’re not very good, though.)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Languages By GDP

Came across a very interesting chart over here:



“This short article provides one picture of the economic significance of different languages, with a breakdown of the percentages of world GDP by language. Not only does it show the current breakdown, but it also provides data for the years 1975 to 2002 to show modern trends. The most notable feature is the steady rise of Chinese and slow relative decline of Japanese and most European languages. Korean and Indic languages also show growth over that period, though slower than Chinese.”


Now here’s the same chart over the period 2003-2010 (projected from 2003):



More current data can be found here:


Total GDP per language area in 2008 in billion US dollars at market exchange rates (as a % of world GDP in parenthesis) >> population in 2008 (UN figures for the countries and territories making up each language area, not the actual number of speakers) :


1- English: 19,837+ (32.6%+) >> 481.7 million+

2- Chinese: 5,210 (8.6%) >> 1,358.1 million

3- Japanese: 4,924 (8.1%) >> 127.2 million

4- German: 4,504 (7.4%) >> 96.4 million

5- Spanish: 4,364 (7.2%) >> 416.8 million

6- French: 4,097 (6.7%) >> 426.7 million

7- Italian: 2,332 (3.8%) >> 60.3 million

8- Russian: 1,959 (3.2%) >> 189.0 million

9- Arabic: 1,914 (3.1%) >> 342.1 million

10- Portuguese: 1,913 (3.1%) >> 249.2 million

11- Dutch: 1,267 (2.1%) >> 24.6 million

12- Korean: 973 (1.6%) >> 72.2 million

13- Malay-Indonesian: 931 (1.5%) >> 263.7 million

14- Turkish: 729 (1.2%) >> 71.5 million

15- Hindi-Urdu: 570 (0.9%) >> 720.8 million


And perhaps the most interesting of all, GDP by number of speakers:


GDP per capita per language area (at market exchange rates):

Dutch: 51,466 US dollars

German: 46,703

Japanese: 38,722

Italian: 38,699

Korean: 13,472

Spanish: 10,471

Russian: 10,365

Turkish: 10,200

French: 9,602

Portuguese: 7,676

Arabic: 5,596

Chinese: 3,836

Malay-Indonesian: 3,530

Hindi-Urdu: 791


I’ve been saying all along that the Netherlands was awesome. Sort of surprised to see Italian so high up, though.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

China's First Internet Gaming Law / 中国第一部网游专项法规实施

中国第一部网游专项法 规实施 各方详解四大看点

Saw this on CCTV this morning, the caption, of course, being "
保护未成年人是核心" (protecting the children is the core [of the law]). What will the law do? A lot of good stuff:

1. People are going to be required to provide their real names (backed up by ID) when gaming.
2. Forced player killing is now banned, due to fears that killing other players in video games will lead to killing other people in real life. (:blink:)
3. New restrictions on online markets.
4. You have to have at least 10,000,000 yuan in registered capital to be a gaming company. The point here is to reduce the number of online games. If there are only big companies, the games are easier to control.

Whether this law can be enforced effectively/will have an effect is questionable, but it reveals the government's increasing eagerness to control the internet. "Protecting the children" my ass.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

More Bible Fun

Anyone read Judges 19:1-30 lately? I mean, reading the Old Testament every Saturday kinda steels you to some of the more "inappropriate" stories, but I was nevertheless surprised to stumble upon this, which I had somehow missed. Basically, here's what happens:
A Levite (a member of a certain Jewish tribe) goes and gets married to this woman in Bethlehem. She ditches him (they don't say why) and goes back to her dad's house, with the guy in hot pursuit. He stays at the dad's house for a while, eating and drinking, and then starts off on the journey to bring her back to his place. They stop off at a town along the way, where a nice old man lets them stay at his house. Then, in a scene strongly reminiscent of the attempt at gay gang rape in Genesis 19, a mob surrounds the house and demands the man come out (so that they can anally rape him). Instead, the old man, like Lot, offers his virgin daughter and the Levite's wife up to be raped. The Levite then gets fed up and gives the relentless mob his wife (I assume she consented), whom they proceed to rape all night long. She dies on his doorstep the next morning. He takes the body back to his house, where he dismembers it and sends a piece to each tribe of Israel, as a reminder of how terrible things have gotten in the country.
This is almost as fun as the time where Moses kills all men and women in the city and gets the Israelites to take the little girls as virgins "for themselves" (yeah, I wonder what that means...). Oh, and then they sacrifice some of them to God. Sweet.

How To Keep A New Year's Resolution, And Also Informational Content

I've figured it out -- life. How stuff works. How you can use a program like this not only to do well in school and master Chinese, but also to run your life and brainwash yourself. Here's how:

Have you ever read a really good, moving book, movie, or motivational speech? You felt really good about yourself for a few days afterward, resolved to change your ways, but inevitably failed -- am I right, or am I right? (Right. In fact, I'm always right -- get used to it.) Why? Because the enthusiasm faded away. But if you've got an SRS program to remind you of why you felt motivated in the first place, then everything's chill, right? Theoretically, you can maintain a consistent level of motivation all the time, making permanent change inevitable. SRS the quotes, mister! You can SRS quotes! SRS images, moving content, audio! Whatever the hell you want! It's your life -- do what the shit you want with it. Just like you do with Chinese -- remind yourself not of words but of ideas. Like advertising. But for good things.

And the cooler thing is, you can do the same thing with arguments or facts. Want to become a debate master? Just memorize your arguments and your facts -- most debates are just repetitions of old debates anyway. The winner is simply he who's memorized the most steps. (The same with chess; the best players are those who've studied the most old games.) You forget stuff, but you don't have to -- not with your brain in a file on your desktop, you don't! And interestingly, this way, you won't be as easily able to brainwash, because when you caught up in a whole new set of facts or theories or a certain school of thought, you'll always have the other ideas in your SRS to serve as a buffer, keeping you safely away from radicalism and firmly anchored to reality. You'll become a composite of ideas, rather than a parrot of one. I mean, you'll have all the facts at your disposal! You can make your own ideas with them even after you've long forgetten the original arguments! Isn't that cool?!

Sorry, got a bit sidetracked there -- the important point is that we humans only have a limited time here on earth, so we've got to take in as much shit as possible. This is not a trade-off situation here: this is fucking zero-sum, my friend. You waste time watching no-content cartoons, you simply loose time. Boom. Gone. Never gone get it back. It is striking how much time we waste when we could be absorbing information -- while walking (put some informational content on your MP3 player to absorb), while watching TV (watch something fun and at least somewhat informative -- military channel's my pick), and even SRSing (maximize your time -- you're doing Chinese sentences, so make those sentences facts about 70s pop stars; learn about them and Chinese at the same time!).

Maximize. Beat the boss. Win the game.