kottke.org posts about China

The Chinese black market iPhone tradeSep 20 2014

Casey Neistat visited several Apple Stores in NYC on the eve of the iPhone 6 launch to observe the folks standing in line. He found that many of those in line, particularly right in the front, were Chinese resellers.

The iPhone 6 won't be available in China for several months, so a lively and lucrative black market has sprung up. The video shows several typical transactions: two phones (the maximum allowed per person) are purchased with cash and then the people sell those phones to men who presumably have them shipped to China for resale.

I remember last year, when the iPhone 5s came out, there was always a line of mostly Asian people outside the Soho store in the morning, even months after the launch. (via @fromedome)

Time zone offset mapFeb 28 2014

Stefano Maggiolo made a map of how much the time zones of the world vary from solar time. The darker the color, the more the deviation.

Time zone offset map

Looking for other regions of the world having the same peculiarity of Spain, I edited a world map from Wikipedia to show the difference between solar and standard time. It turns out, there are many places where the sun rises and sets late in the day, like in Spain, but not a lot where it is very early (highlighted in red and green in the map, respectively). Most of Russia is heavily red, but mostly in zones with very scarce population; the exception is St. Petersburg, with a discrepancy of two hours, but the effect on time is mitigated by the high latitude. The most extreme example of Spain-like time is western China: the difference reaches three hours against solar time. For example, today the sun rises there at 10:15 and sets at 19:45, and solar noon is at 15:01.

Something to note: China is about as big across as the continental United States and has only one huge time zone. (via slate)

Modern ToiletSep 12 2013

When I was just out of college, my dad and I went to Beijing. One of my anxieties about the trip concerned my left-handedness, specifically going against the custom of not using your left hand (aka your bathroom hand) to eat. It turned out fine; the semi-expected reprimand never came.

Times have changed. Now, in Shanghai, you can go to a restaurant called Modern Toilet, which is actually one in a chain of Taiwanese stores that are toilet themed.

Modern Toilet

We are a group of "muckrakers" following our dreams. It all started when one of us was reading the manga, Dr. Slump on the toilet -- and the rest is history. In the beginning, we mainly sold ice cream -- a big pile of chocolate ice cream sold in containers shaped like a squat toilet. This humorous spin became a great success.

Susannah Breslin visited the Shanghai Modern Toilet and offers this report.

Upstairs, I took a seat at a table. My seat was a toilet. The table had a glass top. Under it, there was a bowl. In the bowl, there was a plastic swirly turd. The place mats were decorated with smiling turds.

(via @claytoncubitt)

Leisure activites in China's factory townsJul 17 2013

In one of the most unlikely career moves of all time, Stefon has successfully made the jump from Weekend Update to the venerable pages of The Grey Lady. His first story is a look at leisure time activities in the towns outside of China's tech factories.

The hottest nightclub in this factory town is a neon-encrusted dive down the road from the industrial park where iPhones are made 24 hours a day. Tucked behind an open construction site, "Through the Summer," as the nightspot is known, had it all on a recent Saturday night -- plastic whistles, fruit plates, a toddler with a mohawk, counterfeit light sabers and a bawdy comedian who imbibed beer through his nose.

Homemade inventions from ChinaMay 09 2013

This is amazing: Alan Taylor rounds up some homemade inventions from China, including DIY submarines, giant motorcycles, home-built robots, and can't-possibly-fly airplanes. I can't pick a favorite, but this homemade welding mask is outstanding:

Homemade Welding Mask

Ok, and this giant motorcycle:

Giant Motorcycle

Oh, and this rickshaw-pulling robot:

Rickshaw Robot

And, and, and... (via @faketv)

How to prevent protests in ChinaMay 08 2013

Taking a page from Orwell, officials in Chengdu, China endeavored to prevent recent protests by moving the weekend and scheduling security exercises at the same time and place as the scheduled protest.

As text messages circulated calling for another protest, authorities decided to fiddle with the calendar: For many, Saturday became a workday, and the day of rest was moved to Monday, May 6. So as Saturday dawned, schoolchildren straggled reluctantly back to class, and employees at government-run work units discovered the day was taken up by urgent meetings.

See also how Georgia ended the country's drug problem:

But the more radical steps involved brutalizing the addicts themselves. Saakashvili mandated as aggressive a drug policy as any country has attempted since Mao Zedong threatened to execute all Chinese opium fiends and "cured" about five million of them overnight. If you think New York's stop-and-frisk rule is invasive, try Georgia's: Cops can stop anyone at any time for no reason and force him to urinate into a cup. Fifty-three thousand people were stopped on the street in 2007, or about one in 20 of the young men in Georgia. About a third of those passed dirty urine; first-offenders were levied a fine of several hundred dollars. One more dirty test amounted to a criminal offense.

"There was such an unprecedented drug war," Otiashvili says. "What was going on-and still goes on-in Georgia doesn't happen anywhere. No country puts people in the prison for a positive urine test."

(via @tylercowen)

Unbelievable photos of Beijing's toxic skyJan 31 2013

In Focus has an arresting series of the air pollution in Beijing and other parts of China...including a few photos you can click on to toggle between normal and supersmog.

Beijing Smog

Earlier in January, the air quality was literally off the charts for 18 hours in Beijing.

Draft of US climate assessment report releasedJan 14 2013

On Friday afternoon, a government advisory committee released a draft of a federal climate assessment report, which pretty much meant that no one saw it, aside from the few journalists who were tasked, at that late hour of the week, with writing something about it. The upshot of the report? Bad news and there's not much anyone is doing about it. From Mother Jones:

Say what you want about the Obama administration's relative ignoring of climate issues: Many of his top scientists are paying rapt attention, and they think we're about to get our butts kicked -- although dumping the news at 4 p.m. on a Friday gives some indication of where it sits in federal priorities.

Anyway, what does the report say? From Nature:

Coming just days after news that the United States experienced its hottest year on record in 2012, the draft report says average US temperatures have increased by more than 0.8° Celsius since 1895, with a sharp spike since 1980. It also provides an update on the litany of impacts being analyzed by scientists. There is "strong evidence" that global warming has roughly doubled the likelihood of extreme heat events, contributing to droughts and wildfires, according to the report. Permafrost is melting in Alaska, while much of the country is experiencing more extreme rainfall and winter snowstorms.

And from Bloomberg:

The 60-member panel approved and released a draft report today that says many coastal areas face "potentially irreversible impacts" as warmer temperatures lead to flooding, storm surges and water shortages.

"The chances of record-breaking, high-temperature extremes will continue to increase as the climate continues to change," the panel said in its report. Temperatures are predicted to increase, on average, by 2 degrees to 4 degrees in the next few decades, according to the report.

The panel of scientists from academia, industry, environmental groups and the government prepared the report, and its findings are the closest to a consensus about global warming in the U.S. Reports in 2000 and 2009 by the U.S. Global Change Research Program concluded carbon-dioxide emissions since the Industrial Revolution have led to a warming of the Earth's temperature, which threatens to cause extreme weather, drought and floods.

The report also highlighted decreasing air quality as a side effect of the changing climate. This weekend, the air quality in Beijing was off the scale for about 18 hours. The scale goes from 0-500:

Good: 0-50
Moderate: 51-100
Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups: 101-150
Unhealthy: 151-200
Very Unhealthy: 201-300
Hazardous: 301-500

The readings in Beijing topped out at 755. My friend Youngna is there and these two photos she took of the CCTV building two days apart shows how bad the pollution is there:

Beijing Pollution

The colorful Danxia mountains of ChinaOct 18 2012

Danxia refers to a "type of petrographic geomorphology" found in China. What that means is you get these mountains that look as though they were decorated with crayons by a five-year-old channelling Dalí.

Danxia Mountains

That shot was taken by Melinda ^..^ on Flickr...you can find dozens of her Danxia photos here. A kottke.org reader suggests that Tiny Wings creator Andreas Illiger was influenced by the Danxia landforms in developing the iconic scenery for the game.

Tiny Wings Danxia

Not a bad theory. (thx, christopher)

Chinese firm to build world's tallest building in only 90 daysJun 15 2012

Chinese construction company Broad Sustainable Building has announced plans to build the world's tallest building...in just 90 days. When finished, it will be 220 stories high, 10 meters taller than Dubai's Burj Khalifa.

This may sound impossible, but BSB has been constructing buildings quickly by making parts ahead of time and then just putting them together on site. Prefab skyscrapers. In the past two years, the company has built a 15-story building in 6 days and a 30-story hotel in just 15 days:

(via @daveg)

More views of the Tiananmen Tank ManJun 06 2012

I've seen several versions of the iconic Tank Man photo but here's a little-known wider view that shows just how many tanks the guy was holding up.

Tank Man WideLarger version here. There is also, amazingly, video of the incident:

You'll note at the end that the man is hustled off by a group of people. See also the Tank Man of Tiananmen (via @polarben)

If it's not Scottish, it's carpMar 19 2012

Asian carp were imported decades ago by catfish farmers to clean out the catfish pens. These carp escaped in the great catfish escape of 1983 (previous clause is more "truth" than "fact"), and don't have enough natural predators to prevent them from multiplying rapidly. The carp are spreading so quickly, President Obama recently allocated over $50 million to eradicate them. No one in the US really noticed this move. Chinese internet users, on the other hand, memed the story out in a variety of different ways.

To understand why Chinese netizens have taken such an interest in the story, it's absolutely essential to know that the most popular dinner-table fish in seafood-crazy China is carp, bar none...Add the fact that Chinese covet wild carp -- an expensive treat compared to cheaper, more common farmed carp -- and poetry ensues.

I like the use of the word 'poetry' to describe Internet explosions.

(via @moetkacik)

Chinese Oreos are tube-shapedJan 30 2012

Well some of them are. The plain old American Oreo didn't sell so well in China, so Kraft had to rethink everything about the cookie.

It turns out that if you didn't grow up with Oreos and develop an emotional attachment to the cookie, it can be a weird-tasting little thing. And this started a whole process in the Chinese division of Kraft of rethinking what the essence of an Oreo really is.

Key terms in this article include "the essence of Oreoness" and "Twist, Lick, Dunk".

What are young Chinese thinking?Sep 15 2011

Adrian Fisk recently traveled through China asking the young people there to write anything they wanted down on a piece of paper. The results are interesting.

"After watching television I have many ideas, but am unable to realize them." Yunnan, Luo Zheng Chui, 30 years old, farmer.

"I'd like to see any supernatural thing such as alien, UFO, mysterious thing." Chan Jie Fang, 28 years old, supervisor in bag making company in Guangdong province but learning English in Guangxi province.

"We are the lost generation. I'm confused about the world." Guangxi, Avril Lui, 22-years-old, post-grad student.

More are available on Fisk's site (click on New Stories and then Ispeak China). (via @bryce)

Fake Apple Store in ChinaJul 20 2011

Not content to knock-off simple iPhones and iPads, some enterprising Chinese have built an entire fake Apple Store in Kunming, China. It's an actual store selling actual products but is obviously not affiliated with Apple in any way.

Fake Apple Store

Being the curious types that we are, we struck up some conversation with these salespeople who, hand to God, all genuinely think they work for Apple.

Even if it's fake, it's real. (via stellar)

Permanent traffic jamAug 24 2010

A traffic jam in China's Heibei Province has been going on for nine days now and may last a month.

The traffic jam has sparked some entrepreneurial spirit for local residents, which has added to traffic-hostages' annoyance. One truck driver complained that vendors were selling instant noodles for "four times the original price while I wait in the congestion."

Tom Vanderbuilt, who wrote the book on traffic, notes that the jam is on its way to becoming a small settlement. (via mr)

Sticky rice mortarJun 17 2010

Chinese masons used to make mortar using sticky rice. The practice originated at least 1500 years ago.

The secret ingredient that makes the mortar so strong and durable is amylopectin, a type of polysaccharide, or complex carbohydrate, found in rice and other starchy foods, the scientists determined. The mortar's potency is so impressive that it can still be used today as a suitable restoration mortar for ancient masonry.

(via history blog)

Rent a white guyJun 15 2010

Chinese companies are temporarily hiring white men to pose as fake businessmen.

One friend, an American who works in film, was paid to represent a Canadian company and give a speech espousing a low-carbon future. Another was flown to Shanghai to act as a seasonal-gifts buyer. Recruiting fake businessmen is one way to create the image -- particularly, the image of connection -- that Chinese companies crave. My Chinese-language tutor, at first aghast about how much we were getting paid, put it this way: "Having foreigners in nice suits gives the company face."

(thx, goob)

The flipper bridgeJun 14 2010

In Hong Kong, cars drive on the left while in the rest of China, they drive on the right. If you're building a bridge between the two, you've got to come up with a clever way to switch lanes without disruption or accident. Behold, the flipper:

Flipper bridge

The only way that could be more cool is if one of the lanes went into a tunnel under the water or corkscrewed over the other lane in a rollercoaster/Mario Kart fashion. Lots more on the NL Architects site.

The Four Great Inventions of ancient ChinaApr 08 2010

They are as follows:

the compass
gunpowder
papermaking
printing

There are also many other inventions, including fermented drink, forks, and the noodle.

Pollution in ChinaNov 05 2009

How bad is the pollution in China? James Fallows reports.

The Chinese government does not report, and may not even measure, what other countries consider the most dangerous form of air pollution: PM2.5, the smallest particulate matter, tiny enough to work its way deep into the alveoli. Instead, Chinese reports cover only the grosser PM10 particulates, which are less dangerous but more unsightly, because they make the air dark and turn your handkerchief black if you blow your nose. (Spitting on the street: routine in China. Blowing your nose into a handkerchief: something no cultured person would do.) These unauthorized PM2.5 readings, sent out on a Twitter stream (BeijingAir), show the pollution in Beijing routinely to be in the "Very Unhealthy" or "Hazardous" range, not seen in U.S. cities in decades. I've heard from friends about persistent coughs and blood tests that show traces of heavy metals. "I encourage people with children not to consider extended tours in China," a Western-trained doctor said. "Those little lungs."

Update: Here are some pretty compelling photos of Chinese pollution. (thx, kurt)

Update: Stephen Voss has a set of Chinese pollution photos along with an accompanying story.

Ikea as tourist attractionAug 25 2009

For many Chinese, the Ikea in Beijing is not just a store, it's a lifestyle amusement park with free admission.

Bai mapped out a five-hour outing. First, they had hot dogs and soft ice cream cones at noon. Then they enjoyed a long rest lounging on the beds. Bai kicked off her sandals and sprawled out on a Tromso bunk bed. The 36-year-old homemaker made herself comfortable and even answered passing shoppers' questions about the quality of the mattress. "It's soft and a great buy at this price," she told a young woman, pointing to a dangling price tag. After that, Bai and her family took group pictures. By 5 p.m., it was time for another meal, so they headed to the cafeteria and ate braised mushrooms with rice.

The tank man of TiananmenJun 03 2009

The NY Times Lens blog, which has been really good right from the start, has a great story today about the photographers who took the pictures of the man in the white shirt staring down the tanks in Tiananmen twenty years ago.

As the tanks neared the Beijing Hotel, the lone young man walked toward the middle of the avenue waving his jacket and shopping bag to stop the tanks. I kept shooting in anticipation of what I felt was his certain doom. But to my amazement, the lead tank stopped, then tried to move around him. But the young man cut it off again. Finally, the PSB (Public Security Bureau) grabbed him and ran away with him. Stuart and I looked at each other somewhat in disbelief at what we had just seen and photographed.

I think his action captured peoples' hearts everywhere, and when the moment came, his character defined the moment, rather than the moment defining him. He made the image. I was just one of the photographers. And I felt honored to be there.

Update: The Lens story prompted photographer Terril Jones to share a previously unpublished photo he'd taken of the tank man from a unique angle.

Update: From Lawyers, Guns, and Money:

The thing is, Tank Commander is far more dangerous than Tank Man. Tank Man can simply be shot; most seem to believe that Tank Man was later executed, far out of sight of the international media. The regime survives if Tank Man dies, even if the death of Tank Man isn't the optimal outcome. The regime dies, however, if Tank Commander refuses to run over Tank Man. Eisenstein used the Odessa Steps to demonstrate the corruption of the Czarist regime, but the regime didn't die until the soldiers refused to shoot the demonstrators. The successor regime didn't die until Boris Yeltsin climbed on a tank in August 1991. While there's some mystery as to the fate of Tank Man, I don't doubt that the CCP found Tank Commander and put a bullet in the back of his head at the first opportunity.

China's success at erasing historyJun 02 2009

James Fallows reports that China has been very successful in erasing the Tiananmen Square protests from the official record.

I have spent a lot of time over the past three years with Chinese university students. They know a lot about the world, and about American history, and about certain periods in their own country's past. Virtually everyone can recite chapter and verse of the Japanese cruelties in China from the 1930s onward, or the 100 Years of Humiliation, or the long background of Chinese engagement with Tibet. Through their own family's experiences, many have heard of the trauma of the Cultural Revolution years and the starvation and hardship of the Great Leap Forward. But you can't assume they will ever have heard of what happened in Tiananmen Square twenty years ago. For a minority of people in China, the upcoming date of June 4 has tremendous significance. For most young people, it's just another day.

As the June 4 anniversary of the crackdown approaches, the Great Firewall of China has been strengthened by adding Twitter, Flickr, Hotmail, and Bing to the list of sites that are unavailable by China's internet users. (via snarkmarket)

Harrowing commuteFeb 24 2009

Locals in Beichuan county in China's Sichuan province, including children commuting daily to school, have to use a zip line to get across a river because the bridge that collapsed during the May 2008 earthquake has never been rebuilt. (via wsj)

Update: The residents of Los Pinos, Colombia use a zip line to get across a 1200-foot-deep gorge every day. Each rider brings her own pulley, rope, and piece of wood to act as a brake. (thx, noah)

Building bridges with rocketsNov 25 2008

The world's highest bridge, the Siduhe Grand Bridge, is nearing completion in China's Hubei province. The bridge is so high off the ground that the Empire State Building could fit under it with over 350 feet to spare. To get the initial cable from one tower to the next, the builders used precisely aimed rockets!

so you've erected the enormous towers on each side of the deep valley, deeper than any valley previously bridged. how do you get a pilot cable from one tower to the next? previous solutions have included: attaching the cable to a kite and flying it over (e.g. niagara falls suspension bridge), carrying one end by helicopter (e.g. akashi kaikyo bridge) and floating one end on a boat (e.g. brooklyn bridge). the brains behind the siduhe bridge decided to ignore all those options and break another record instead. they attached the 3200ft cables to rockets and accurately fired them over the valley, becoming the first people to do so.

Illegal toilet seatsSep 29 2008

As a companion to an offline article about illegal logging, the New Yorker has a video that traces illegally cut wood in Russia to distribution and manufacturing centers in China and eventually a finished toilet seat is shipped to Wal-Mart in the US.

The Walls of ChinaSep 04 2008

Great Wall of ChinaName: The Great Wall of China
Date of construction: 6th century B.C. through 16th century
Built to keep out: Invaders from the north
Status: Tourist attraction and UNESCO World Heritage Site
Little known fact: You actually can't see it from space.
 

Green Wall of ChinaName: The Green Wall of China
Date of construction: 2002 through ~2050
Built to keep out: The Gobi Desert
Status: Mixed
Little known fact: Prior to the Wall's erection, the Gobi was advancing south at 3 km per year.
 

Great Firewall of ChinaName: The Great Firewall of China
Date of construction: 2002 (and even earlier) to present
Built to keep out: Ideas
Status: Trivial to circumvent but still annoying
Little known fact: Google, Yahoo, AOL, Microsoft, Skype, and MySpace all self-censor their services for use in China.

Great Wall photo by mooney47.

James Powderly's story of his Beijing detentionAug 29 2008

James Powderly, New Yorker and founder of the Graffiti Research Lab, was one of several Americans detained in China earlier this month for attempting to display protest messages related to Tibet during the Olympics. After 6 days in custody, he was released and sent back to the US. He's given a few interviews about his experience, all really interesting. From The Brooklyn Paper:

After more than a day of continuous questioning, cops drove the artists and activists - who assumed they were headed to the airport for deportation- to a Beijing jail, where they were stripped, photographed, screened, separated from each other, and placed in cells with other prisoners. Powderly joined 11 other prisoners in a cell with only eight beds, no potable water, and bright lights that illuminated the tiny room 24-hours a day to keep the detainees from sleeping.

And from Gothamist:

Would you say the interrogations were torture? Well, I think probably, a lot of people might disagree, even some of my other detainees might feel like what they received wasn't torture. And relative to what someone might receive on a daily basis at a place like Gitmo it certainly is not particularly harsh. It's kind of like being a little bit pregnant, we were a little bit tortured. We were strapped into chairs in uncomfortable positions, we were put into cages with blood on the floor and told we would never live, we were sleep deprived the entire time. There was an interrogation every night and they kept us up all day. They never turned the lights off in the cells. We were fed food that was inedible, we were not given potable water. Any time you threaten and take the numbers of family members and take down home addresses, there's an element of mental torture there. There's physical torture in the form of us having to sit in uncomfortable positions all day long and spending the night strapped to a metal chair inside of a cage. We all have cuts and bruises from that, and some of my peers were beaten up a little bit.

There's also a brief video interview and an article at artnet.

Powderly also stated that before he left, $2000 was extracted from his bank account by the Chinese as a fee for his plane ticket to the US. I know James a bit from Eyebeam, and for whatever stupid reason, when I first read about his detention, it never occurred to me that the detained Americans would be interrogated...I thought the Chinese would just hold them until the Olympics were over and send them home. To be interrogated to the point of mistreatment...well, glad you're home, James.

Chinese homemade airplane not a hoaxJun 29 2008

After the video of a Chinese farmer's homemade airplane started circulating around the web late last week, commenters on several sites cried hoax, and I received several emails and tweets questioning my mental health for believing such a thing exists.

But the video wasn't obviously fake; home-built airplanes aren't rare, I have no reason to doubt the ingenuity of the Chinese farmer, and I'd rather believe in the wonderfully improbably than be cynical about everything I see. A second video of the plane has been uploaded to YouTube which, in my mind, corroborates the existence of the flying contraption (it's actually an autogyro) beyond a reasonable doubt.

Chinese homemade airplaneJun 26 2008

Video of a Chinese farmer flying his homemade airplane. Nice landing! According to a post at IfGoGo, the plane is referred to in Chinese as "shanzhai huaxiangji". The "shanzhai" part literally means "little mountain village" but has developed into a slang word that denotes something homemade or counterfeit.

Date back to 2007, due to an open (maybe leak?) source of MTK platfrom (a wireless communication development platform), there are millions of cell phone factories burst out in south China. These factories made lots of famous-brand cell-phone-copies in a short period of time. They just copied the outline and software design from Nokia, Apple iPhone etc. The manufacturing cost is very low so many people are involved. However, these cell phones are not all completely copied. They are even totally redesigned and added a lot of features. A brand called "NCIKA" even went very popular in China. People're even joking that the farmers in big mountains can develop and design a cell phone too. So many people call it "Shanzhai Ji" (Ji means machine in Chinese, here means cell phone) and then the name is widespread in China.

Since then, many funny/weird stuff from ordinary people are called "shanzhai" something, and that's why this plane is named "Shanzhai Huaxiangji" in Chinese :)

Chinese restaurant name changesJun 19 2008

The Chinese are encouraging their restaurants to change the names of some of their dishes before the Olympics start. Those dishes due for a name change include:

- Bean curd made by a pock-marked woman
- Chicken without sexual life
- Husband and wife's lung slice

Owls lost in translationAug 11 2007

A summary of one of the several Chinese knockoffs of Harry Potter, courtesy of the NY Times:

Snape breaks into Hogwarts and rescues Lucius Malfoy from Azkaban Prison. Harry believes that he can defeat Snape and Voldemort only by strenuously practicing charms. Professor Slughorn, inspired by a book from the East provided by Cho Chang called "Thirty-Six Strategies," devises a plan enabling Harry to seize Snape in the Ministry of Magic. But Gryffindor's sword, which hung in the headmaster's office, assassinates Professor McGonagall.

When Harry confronts Voldemort at Azkaban, the Dark Lord tries to win Harry over as a fellow descendant of Slytherin. Harry refuses, and together with Ron and Hermione, kills Voldemort instead. Now what will Harry do about his two girlfriends?

In another of the books, Harry is assisted by Gandalf. No appearances by Han and Chewy, AFAIK.

Manufactured Landscapes is a documentary about EdwardJun 20 2007

Manufactured Landscapes is a documentary about Edward Burtynsky and the photos that he's taken in China of the Three Gorges Dam, factories, and other vast industrial projects. Trailer is here and it's available on DVD at Amazon. (thx, scott)

Update: Manufactured Landscapes is playing in NYC at Film Forum starting tonight through July 3.

Julian Dibbell on Chinese who farm gold (Jun 19 2007

Julian Dibbell on Chinese who farm gold (and perform other for-pay duties) in online games like World of Warcraft. "Nick Yee, an M.M.O. scholar based at Stanford, has noted the unsettling parallels (the recurrence of words like 'vermin,' 'rats' and 'extermination') between contemporary anti-gold-farmer rhetoric and 19th-century U.S. literature on immigrant Chinese laundry workers." Dibbell's Play Money was a great read and deserves wider readership than it originally received.

WeirdConverter for height/length and weight...forJun 10 2007

WeirdConverter for height/length and weight...for learning that 45 Panama Canals = 0.56 Great Walls of China or that 381 cans of soda = 23.2 spider monkeys.

Update: Measure is a app for the Mac that converts between ~3000 difference measurements. (thx, devin)

Chinese writing is oldJun 07 2007

Missed this from a couple of weeks ago: Chinese writing may be 8,000 years old, far older than the previous estimate of 4,500 years.

World map of where Wal-Mart gets itsApr 18 2007

World map of where Wal-Mart gets its products. China dominates, Russia and most of Africa doesn't exist, and Europe is tiny. (via fakeisthenewreal)

Think locally, act globallyJan 16 2007

Back in December, Philip Greenspun was debating the gift of a water buffalo to a poor family in Asia through Heifer International, but he found out that the animal is merely a symbolic gift:

A friend got a water buffalo for Christmas from her dad. She won't actually take delivery of the animal. The Web page says that it will be given to a family in Asia. If you read the fine print on the page, however, it turns out that there is no actual buffalo and no actual family and you won't get a photo of your family and your buffalo. The money simply gets dumped into the common fund at the charity. We are trying to decide if this is the crummiest possible Christmas present.

Bob Thompson, currently a resident of Yunnan province in China, read Greenspun's post and offered to help him donate an actual water buffalo to an actual family in the area. Greenspun and his friend Craig MacFarlane took him up on the offer and an animal was purchased for ~US$460 and given to a family in need:

Water BuffaloThompson made an 8-minute video of the whole process which is well worth viewing. (thx, tom & eric)

PopTech day 2 wrap-upOct 21 2006

Some notes from day 2 at PopTech, with a little backtracking into day 1 as well. In no particular order:

The upshot of Thomas Barnett's entertaining and provacative talk (or one of the the upshots, anyway): China is the new world power and needs a sidekick to help globalize the world. And like when the US was the rising power in the world and took the outgoing power, England, along for the ride so that, as Barnett put it, "England could fight above its weight", China could take the outgoing power (the US) along for the globalization ride. The US would provide the military force to strike initial blows and the Chinese would provide peacekeeping; Barnett argued that both capabilities are essential in a post-Cold War world.

Juan Enriquez talked about boundries...specifically if there will be more or less of them in the United States in the future. 45 states? 65 states? One thing that the US has to deal with is how we treat immigrants. Echoing William Gibson, Enriquez said "the words you use today will resonate through history for a long time". That is, if you don't let the Mexican immigrants in the US speak their own language, don't welcome their contributions to our society, and just generally make people feel unwelcome in the place where they live, it will come back to bite you in the ass (like, say, when southern California decides it would rather be a part of Mexico or its own nation).

Enriquez again, regarding our current income tax proclivities: "if we pay more and our children don't owe less, that's not taxes...it's just a long-term, high-interest loan".

Number of times ordained minister Martin Marty said "hell" during his presentation: 2. Number of times Marty said "goddamn": 1. Number of times uber-heathen Richard Dawkins said "hell", "goddamn", or any other blasphemous swear: 0.

Dawkins told the story of Kurt Wise, who took a scissors to the Bible and cut out every passage which was in discord with the theory of evolution, eventually ending up with a fragmented mess. Confronted with this crisis of faith and science, Wise renounced evolution and became a geologist who believes that the earth is only 6000 years old.

The story of Micah Garen's capture by Iraqi militants and Marie-Helene Carlton's efforts to get her boyfriend back home safely illustrates the power of the connected world. Marie-Helene and Micah's family used emails, mobile phones, and sat phones to reach out through their global social network, eventually reaching people in Iraq whom Micah's captors might listen to. A woman in the audience stood during the Q&A and related her story of her boyfriend being on a hijacked plane out of Athens in 1985 and how powerless she was to do anything in the age before mobiles, email, and sat phones. Today, Stanley Milgram might say, an Ayatollah is never more than 4 or 5 people away.

Lexicographer Erin McKean told us several interesting things about dictionaries, including that "lexicographer" can be found in even the smallest of dictionaries because, duh, look who's responsible for compiling the words in a dictionary. She called dictionaries the vodka of literature: a distillation of really meaty mixture of substances into something that odorless, tasteless, colorless, and yet very powerful. Here an interview with her and a video of a lecture she gave at Google.

In this week's installment of the hotAug 08 2006

In this week's installment of the hot new show, Secret Agent: Beijing, Maciej turns the wrong way down the street and ends up with a whole bunch of new friends in law enforcement.

In advance of the 2008 Olympics, the ChineseJun 23 2006

In advance of the 2008 Olympics, the Chinese are destroying the hutongs of Beijing, the tiny alleyways that connect the city. Includes a photo slideshow of the destruction.

On Chinatowns. "Like many crowded Asian cities,Feb 07 2006

On Chinatowns. "Like many crowded Asian cities, Chinatown has mastered the art of the vertical, inspired by languages that can be written up and down, not just side to side."

Manhattan's Chinatown didn't bounce back after 9/11 andJan 25 2006

Manhattan's Chinatown didn't bounce back after 9/11 and the city's Chinese are moving elsewhere in the city to find cheaper rents. (via dg)

A recently unveiled Chinese map -- aJan 17 2006

A recently unveiled Chinese map -- a reproduction of a 1418 map -- may show that the Chinese discovered the Americas more than 70 years before Columbus. There is, however, some question about the map's authenticity.

Who invented noodles?Oct 19 2005

4000 year-old pot of noodles found in China, settling (for now) the "hotly contested" question of who invented the noodle.

Bats may be the source of SARS. "Sep 30 2005

Bats may be the source of SARS. "Researchers found a virus closely related to the Sars coronavirus in bats from three regions of China".

Slate ruminates on Danny Way's giant skateboardAug 11 2005

Slate ruminates on Danny Way's giant skateboard ramp. Videos of people actually using this beautiful monstrosity are available on Way's site. Oh, and he jumped The Great Wall of China on a skateboard earlier this year.

Danny Way, a pioneer in distance andJul 08 2005

Danny Way, a pioneer in distance and height skateboard jumping, will be attempting to jump the Great Wall of China on a skateboard tomorrow. He'll trying to break a couple records along the way as well: height out of a skateboard ramp and speed on a skateboard.

Henry Blodget goes DVD shopping in ShanghaiApr 07 2005

Henry Blodget goes DVD shopping in Shanghai at a fake restaurant. That reminds me, I should write up my Beijing CD-ROM shopping experience sometime.

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