The Dream of the Great Firewall of China

Yesterday evening we found out that none of the Chinese websites are reachable.

ZM said maybe the fiber-optic cables are broken? I thought that was too drastic. But i don’t want to believe it is some kind of sick joke that the Great Firewall of China is playing. “Experimenting of cutoff all communications? because it can?” I tried our usual trick at playing mouse and cat with GFWoC, unplug our DSL modem and plug it backin, in the hope of getting a new IP. It usually works when we couldn’t reach one particular site. Never had to deal with the situation when all the sites are down.

Turned out ZM was correct. The 7.1 and 6.7 earthquake hit Taiwan also damaged 6 out of a dozen fiber optic cables lieing in the southern China sea. What’s amazing is that each cable is only 2/3 of an inch in diameter, that is only 1.67 centimeters!

It is fascinating that such a thin cable could carry so much data from continent to continent. It is amazing that all of them would be laid in exactly the same location. I guess no one thought of putting in a disaster recovery plan for that. Considering the funcky geological formation the area has…

We will see how long it will take for the rest of world to reach China, or vise versa. Meanwhile, everyone maintaining GFWoC could go home and have a peaceful New Year. Nature did a much thorough job for them.

On the other hand, maybe when the fibers are finally repaired, the entire China netizens would have learned how to use Proxy? thus rendered GFWoC useless? One can always dream. 🙂

We shall see.

Free Smile! Free Hug!

Heard a hilarious news on BBC as I was walking to the shuttle stop this morning.

“Only 9% of Chinese smile to strangers. According to a new survey conducted by Chinese media. That got Shanghai worried. The city is going to host the upcoming world class blahblahblah… The city hired X numbers of free smilers on the streets, to smile at strangers and to teach local residents how to smile to strangers. There was an similar effort by volunteers earlier this year in Beijing, they were offering free hugs to strangers on the street until the police detained them.”

I laughed out loud. That is the difference between China and France. Could you imagine the city of Paris to hire a bunch of volunteers to stand on Paris street corner and smile to strangers?

Paris Inspired Topic: French Revolution and Marxist

It has been six years since I last came to Europe. I was expecting more immigrants on the streets of Paris. Surprisingly, I didn’t see too many headscarved women. But I did notice that lots of souvenirs peddlers were African immigrants. Gui asked me who were peddling these trinkets on the streets before? I thought for a while, nobody. I don’t remember peddlers on the streets of Paris before.

How interesting.

While we were in Paris, we were constantly comparing the French to the Chinese, Paris to Beijing, Paris to Shanghai, Parisians to Shanghainess.

One thing that puzzled me was why communism never flourished in France?

The French revolution is every bit as bloody and maddening as any Communist Country’s revolution. But why didn’t it go anywhere? Why did it just fizzle?

As we walked the maze-like alleys of the Latin Quarter, as we climbed the steps of Montmartre, as we wondered the quietness of cemeteries, as we pondered the such familiar rudeness of Paris service staffs, we tried to figure out.

The French’s forever suspicion attitude toward anyone or anything the resembles previlege could have been a sure sign of its inclination toward communism. But there maybe a couple of other factors prevented it from becoming red. Its free spirit and easy-living attitude. Deep down, maybe, just maybe, French is too bourgeoisie to care about maximize efficiency or productivity. They care, rightly so if you ask me, more about having a good cup of coffee, a delicious piece of pastry, a nice dinner, and a good conversation than about having a revolution.

Or it maybe because the French revolution happened too early, there is no The Maoist or Marxist to guide them? There is no theory to help them keep the fruit of their revolution? Without the shinny beacon of Communist Manifesto, with nothing better to model after, they settled for the dictatorship of Napoleon?

Then I came upon this: The French Revolution and Socialist Tradition, and I realized how upside down my thinking has been.

To say all of this is not the same thing as saying that the revolution died or that the revolutionary faith, for it is a faith, had simply run its course. The French Revolution did not directly produce the 19th century ideologies known as socialism or communism. But the Revolution did provide an intellectual and social environment in which these ideologies, and their spokesmen, could flourish. In other words, the history of the socialist tradition is something more than the words of Marx and Engels (the subject of Lecture 24). We must remember that Marx and Engels, major prophets of this tradition that they were, were educated in the peculiar circumstances of late 18th and early 19th century revolutionary activity. What, after all, would Marx and Engels have been had it not been for the French Revolution?

That settled it. 🙂

Plaza Reial – The Prettiest Square in Barcelona

It’s one thing to turn off the bustling Rambla, walked through an arched doorway, and entered into the warm toned Plaza Reial. It is something completely different to wander around the maze-like old town‘s back alley, and to follow its twist and turns, to come upon little neighborhood grocers or a butcher shop (often unexpected because none of them has signs as you walked down the alley, then suddenly there is, an oasis of commerce opportunities amidst the quiet and desolate cobble stone pathways, which was occasionally punctuated by a hurrying local), then there you see it, an archway of light and sun, at the end of one such dark and still alley.

As you walked closer to the light, as you walked into the light, the sudden joy and warmth you would feel, was simply overwhelming. At that moment, Plaza Reial suddenly assumed a complete new importance and a brand new kind of prettiness.

Then you find an empty chair under the palm, in the shaded sun, you sit down, started admiring the after lunch crowd to disburse, observing local elders spread around the square’s bench, reading newspaper, or talking to each other, snooping on the lucky residents of the square making phone calls on their balcony, or having a loud conversation with neighbors three balconies away, while the fountain happily bubbling away. You would find yourself grasping for a reason why would you ever want to leave.

The magic of the old continent.

Girona – The Overwhelmingly Beautiful Medieval City

Girona is a pleasant surprise of the trip. Completely unexpected for me.

I was only considering it to be a transit point. A place that we must stop for a while in order to go from A to B. A being Paris, B Barcelona. There was no G.

When Gui told me that we should plan on spending the day in Girona, I was a little shocked, “for what?”

“It sounded like an interesting place, very well preserved medieval town, conquered first by the Romans, then the Moors, then the Catalans. It was attacked by pretty much everyone in the neighborhood. ” That does sound interesting, especially the Moorish part.

I’ve seen plenty little medieval towns in the South of France. The narrow walk ways cut through fortress-like walls, Churches on the top of the hill, where all road leads to. Lots of stone walls, cobble stoned streets.

But Girona was prettier.

The maze like streets were fascinating.

The buildings were well preserved from outside, and extremely modernized from inside. All glass and steel, plus decorative rough stone walls thrown in for good measure. The genius of Spanish architects (or is that Catalan?) shone through in all the lovely curves and artistic touch in the little places: door handles, signs, lamp shades, etc..

After four full days of walking in Paris, my tired feet were begging for some rest. But this pretty little town attempted me so, that i couldn’t stop wandering among its mysterious alley ways. From day to night.

During our wandering hours, one of us always exclaimed, at every turn, at every new alley we managed to step into, every bridge we found through the dark entrances, “Why is it so quiet?” “Why isn’t there more tourists?” “Why are we the only guests here?” Gui was the only sane one, ‘What are you guys saying?isn’t it great?! We have this lovely place all to ourselves!”

We have to thank Ryanair for the discovery. More people start to discover this pretty town because Ryanair chose GIrona-Costa Brava Airport its airport for Barcelona.

Our host told us that Girona actually has the highest income per household in the entire Spain. That explained all the quiet but still well run businesses, shops, bars, tapas tavern, restaurant, etc. etc.

I loved this description from Gui’s travel book, “Rough Guide to Barcelona”, on Girona.

“The ancient walled city of Girona stands on a fortress-like hill, high above the River Onyar. It’s been fought over in almost every century since it was the Roman fortress of Gerunda on the Via Augusta and perhaps more than any other place in Catalunya, it retains the distinct flavour of its erstwhile inhabitants. Following the Moorish conquest of Spain, Girona was an Arab town for over two hundred years, a fact apparent in the maze of narrow streets in the center, and there was also a continuous Jewish presence here for six hundred years. By the 18th century, Girona had been besieged on 21 occasions, and in the 19th century it earned itself the nickname “Immortal” by surviving 5 attacks, of which the longest was a seven-month assault by the French in 1809. ”

Overwhelmingly beautiful medieval city.

Girona photos (click the photo below to see more):



All photos from the trip: Paris, Girona, Figures, Barcelona





Breakfast at Q

Since we live within walking distance of Haigh-Ashbury, we haven’t tried any breakfast places outside of our neighborhood (dimsum excluded). For dinner, we frequent Clement Street for its asian cuisines.

Then there is Q, on Clement, between 3rd and 4th Avenue.

It looks like an happening place during dinner time, but we are rarely in the mood for American food at dinner time. The weekend when we went to get our new cellphones from the Chinese run cellphone store on Clement, we walked by Q. It is serving breakfast, too!

So we checked out Q’s breakfast the next day, armed with our newly acquired cellphones.

The decor was cute and fun. I especially liked their various designed tables. The portion was huge! We thought Pork Store Cafe had large portions. This place’s entry could feed a cow. I didn’t feel slightest hunger until 7 or 8pm that day. I liked my breakfast burrito. ZM liked his omelet. But unfortunately they don’t seem to serve ZM’s favorite breakfast item: sausage. 🙁 So i’m afraid we won’t be coming back any time soon.

Q
225 Clement St (@3rd Avenue)
San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 752-2298
Hours
* Mon-Fri 11am-11pm
* Sat 10am-11pm
* Sun 10am-10pm

More cellphone photos at Q: Picasa Album

Stranger Than Fiction

The appearance of this trailer has been so frequent, on TV, and in movie theatre, that I’m completely desensitized by the time this movie actually came out.

But Gui really wanted to see it, over Borat. So we went and i liked it. 🙂 It just shows the importance of having friends who are wiser than you.

Luckily, there are enough little cute filming techniques and details in the movie that were NOT shown in the trailer to keep me interested. The acting of both Will Ferrell and Emma Thompson are excellent. Will’s Harold Crick, the IRS agent lives in solitude, is so understated, and yet even more funny than his usual over-the-top type of roles. Emma’s Kay Eiffel, the crazy and gifted author, is superb that (in Gui’s words) “you forget it is Emma Thompson the moment you lay eyes on her.” She is able to act out all the little quirky ways unique of an author, the things you would never imagined an author will do for a book, but when you see it acted out by Emma, you’d think, yeah, that rings true. That’s exactly how an author would act/thing/imagine/react. Dustin Hoffman did a good job, too. Although obviously pales under comparison, when standing along side Emma Thompson.

It is a fun little movie. A perfect date movie, with intelligence, for once. 🙂

What is BGP?

Geek Alert.

When I was in my first job, I worked with a bunch of networking nuts. This is the real network that wires computers together, not those virtual ones where you go look for a date. I was more into software and web dev than networking, but they tolerated me and let me tag along. One of them, R, a well-respected mgr, once had a chat with me and said that most of the areas in today’s tech world are somehow connected. All you need is to know one area really well, then you pretty much can branch out anywhere, and won’t have much trouble understanding them quickly. He himself started with networking the OSI seven layers, and haven’t had any trouble since.

I remembered that. Now I think i started to feel the benefit finally.

Was talking to one of the network guys at my current company the other day, and he mentioned “BGP”. I had to stop him in mid-sentence to ask, “What is BGP?” He was a little shocked at my ignorance, “Border Gateway Protocol, it is how we announce our route to the rest of the net.” “Ah! I see.” The truth is I did understand. But i don’t think he believed me.

I later looked it up on Google anyway just to confirm what i think i understood was correct. Border Gateway Protocol. Then i found something else that’s interesting. There is a firefox plugin, called Blogger Web Comments for Firefox. Every page you go to, on the lower right corner you will see a little icon indicating whether any blogger has commented on this page. I haven’t been using it much, but today i got curious. Which kind of geek will comment on “BGP”?

There turned out to be a lot of them. One of them is particularly intersting. It’s title is “Geek’s Secret Life”,
http://secretgeek.wordpress.com/2006/01/17/efficency-of-large-corporations/

In this article, he said, “…My personal opinion is of course that it’s too difficult for H. (who probably doesn’t even know what bgp is or stands for).” heehee. I’m glad at least now I’m slightly more geeky than this H.

Babel


According to the stories of the Bible, the Tower of Babel was a tower built by a united humanity to reach into the heavens. Yet they were only seeking to make a name for themselves instead of worshipping the God who created them. Because of this open defiance, God stopped their efforts by confusing languages so that no man could understand another. As a result, they could no longer communicate and work was halted. The builders were then scattered to different corners of the Earth. This story is used to explain the existence of many different languages and races. The tower of Babel was never finished.
– via gorillasushi.com

The name of the movie is thus Babel. A movie that Film Critic at the New Yorker, David Denby didn’t like.

I liked the trailer and was disappointed to learn that the New Yorker hasn’t approved this movie. and if on movie db, you see a 3 star next to the title. To see or not to see this movie?

My dilemma was easily solved, because ZM was eager to see it. I told him the review wasn’t great. The New Yorker apparently doesn’t have the same convincing grip on ZM as it did on me. So off we went, on this Friday evening. It is also our excuse to check out the new theatre in the Bloomingdale mall, the new Century Theatre, half a block away from Metreon.

I’m so glad I went.

I really liked the movie.

The director artfully captured the authenticity of these three places: Morocco, Tokyo, and Mexico (or rather the border of US and Mexico). There was a strong sense of place for each location. The acting was excellent (except Cate Blanchett. Her superb acting had no where to go. That was a waste. Anyone can play a neurotic American tourist, not sure why he picked Cate).

The story tied together nicely, too. Even though the story lines were so diverse, and all happened in such different locations in today’s world. I didn’t feel the movie being too long. It was a good two and half hours. I enjoyed every minute of it.

It is amazing he could hold audiences attention while spinning the globe, and keep us interested in every story, with such drastic difference of their backgrounds, from the dusty poverty struck rural villages of Morocco, to the ultra modern metropolitan of Tokyo, to the racial tension in Mexican border. I’m thoroughly amazed at the director’s ease, gliding from scene to scene, without breaking our interests.

A master who truly understands his craft.

It is a feast to the eyes.

The undercurrent of the theme identified by the trailer: “the confusion of speeches. a.k.a. Babel” quietly surfaces among this “babel” from time to time, with the help of some beautiful music. Like how Chieko(the deaf girl) was in a disco, how Brad Pitt trying to make himself understood among the villagers, how Amela, the illegal Mexican nanny trying to explain to the border control why she had the kids…

then there is the big fuss about America versus Morocco, the terrorist link, the diplomatic tension. The stopping of the ambulance, the innocent kids with a rifle.

There was also the humour. Don’t know what David Derby’s problem is. Maybe it is not as a cliche? Not as predictable? I didn’t mind the fatalism in the movie. I didn’t mind the randomness of the events. How close things are to catastrope, and all for nothing. No grand scheme here. But isn’t that what the world is? The real life?

The movie captured life so well. Iñárritu didn’t try to polish it up, it is no MTV, nothing like Syriana, which had flashy montage and the fast drum beat of modern high drama. This movie has all the details of daily life of the people in their land.

Fascinating.

David Denby said:

… (Alejandro González Iñárritu) he creates savagely beautiful and heartbreaking images; he gets fearless performances out of his actors; he edits with the sharpest razor in any computer in Hollywood; and he abuses his audience with a humorless fatalism and a piling up of calamities that borders on the ludicrous.

Funny that I didn’t feel fatalism, nor did i think anything there is ludicrous. I certainly didn’t feel abused, and i find plenty of humour in the movie. Things illustrated in the movie could be happening right now around the world. David Denby probably needs to get out more. :p

The Tokyo Trial

It is one of the hit movies in China this year. I was surprised at how informative it is, and how unpretentious.

The Tokyo War Criminal Trial had little publicity in the China that I grew up, because it was conducted by Communist Party’s enemy – The Nationalists, who has been retreated into Taiwan since 1940’s. As a result, I knew nothing about it till I watched The Tokyo Trial last weekend.

The movie was surprisingly impartial given today’s anti-Japan mentality, and fanantic nationalism infested majority of Chinese media. In addition to act out some of the crucial parts of the trial in the courtroom, the movie narrated a Japanese family’s suffering during and after the war. Another surprising appearance is the Last Emperor of China, Fuyi’s testimony. It was amusing.

What infuriated me was the fact that Emperor Hirohito was not tried. It was like having the war criminal trial in Germany, but didn’t try Hitler. I did some googling, and came upon this article from the New York Times.
The Price of Conquest: New York Times

During the war Hirohito and Hitler were linked in the popular American mind. Some American politicians thought the imperial institution should be extinguished and Hirohito tried as part of the policy of ”unconditional surrender.” Others said that the preservation of the imperial institution and of Hirohito was essential as a means of keeping order and blocking Japan’s descent into chaos – and ”chaos” came rather quickly after 1945 to mean Communism. It was British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin who recalled that by driving Kaiser Wilhelm into exile in 1918 and threatening to try and execute him, the Allies of World War I had deprived Germany of constitutional monarchy and opened the door to Nazism.

Bevin’s view prevailed. The Emperor was stripped of divinity and direct political power. But he was protected from indictment, and from giving evidence. He was exonerated through silence. The Tokyo trial was full of leads pointing directly to the Emperor, but by unspoken agreement among the defendants, the prosecution and the bench, these leads were never pursued. The prospect of trying and convicting the embodiment of the Japanese nation was psychologically and politically too disruptive to contemplate.

The fear of communism seemed such an easy scapegoat for everything that the US did wrong in the last century, from Tokyo trial to Vietnam. It is like how the Bush Administration uses “Terrorist” nowadays, isn’t it?

I wonder if the lack of remorse in Japan till this day has anything to do with the fact that the Emperor escaped his trial.

If this movie is to be trusted, the day Japan regains its military power will be the day for the next war making. Scary thought.

The Inner Life of a Cell




There is an eight minute long animation video on this page:
Cellular Visions: The Inner Life of a Cell
. It renders the microscopic world in 3D. The result was gorgeous and fascinating. It is hard to believe that all these busy activities are happening right now inside each cell of our body! Harvard is now showing this short anima to every freshman on the Biology intro class. If I were shown this on my first day of college, I might not end up in the world of computers. 🙂

FreshAir: Murder in Amsterdam

Was listening to Terry Gross interviewing Ian Buruma, who authored Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance.

When asked about difference between the US and Europe regarding absorbing immigrant populations, Buruma made an interesting point. He said that ironically enough, one of the reasons that Europe is now falling short in their effectiveness of absorbing immigrants comparing to the US might be: EU being such a welfare state while the US is not. When the US is not a welfare state, the new immigrants are forced to work. By working they had to interact with the US culture/language/people, and as a result become part of it. While in Europe, all the immigrants need to deal with are mainly government officials who distribute the welfare check, it left a humiliation mark on their face, makes them more angry. At the same time they have no need to interact with the host country’s culture/language/people. They stay apart as a result.

That’s the first time I realized the benefit of having such lousy welfare system. Interesting.

Manolo Blahnik

If you are like me, you would have heard of the phrase “Manolo Blahnik” for the first time from Sex and the City.

When Carrie Bradshaw, the shoe-loving central character of the HBO TV series Sex And The City, took a wrong turn after lunch in SoHo she found herself on one of New York’s grungier side streets and face-to-face with a mugger. “Please sir,” she pleaded. “You can take my Fendi baguette, you can take my ring and my watch, but don’t take my Manolo Blahniks.” Unfortunately for Carrie, the mugger did just that and ran off with her favourite pair of strappy sandals.
Manolo Blahnik/Show Designer

Later Carrie calculated her annual shoe spending and came to the realization that the amount of money she spent on shoes would have been enough for a downpayment in NYC.

Actually, I didn’t even remeber the designer’s name. Just some ridiculously expensive shoes. Crazy women. For $400 a pair, i didn’t have any need to know the name of the shoe. Later when my friend J mentioned the name “Manolo,” I felt a minor shock. You mean, people actually do know the name of this shoe designer? And people actually BUY them? Outside of a TV series set in NYC? WOW!

But i never bothered to look them up when i do go shopping. Partly because I, again, forget the spelling of the last name.

Then when we were in Vegas, we saw these $3500 Manolos. I was amuzed but hardly impressed. Another marketing scheme aimed for those brand-name-crazed women, I thought. Shrugged it off.

Low and behold, Gui sent me this link from National Geographic today, and I was hooked.

Politically correct or not, there is an irresistible urge to pet this shoe; put it on a leash; take it to bed. It is a Manolo Blahnik high heel, and for more than 30 years, Blahnik has designed shoes that are the accessory to a fairy tale: Shoes made of rhinestones, feathers, sequins, buttons, bows, beads, grommets, rings, chains, ribbons, silk brocade, bits of coral, lace, fur (from farm-raised animals, he adds), alligator, ostrich—everything, perhaps, but woven unicorn forelock.

I got curious and started doing a little research. Next thing i knew, I fell in love with Manolo Blahnik’s original sketch of his shoes. Stilletos are not my thing. I know I would never ever wear a pair of Manolo. But looking at the illustration he did for his creation, how could anyone not feel attracted to them? They are, truely, modern art.

I even start to understand why Madona has compared Manolo Blahnik’s shoes to sex. Take a look at this, doesn’t it look sensual to you?



Here are some of these illustrations I could find from the internet.

Even better, there is already a collection of all of his drawings up to 2003 in a book!
manolo blahnik drawings.

In Retrospective

Reading all my journals starting from college years. I’m now somewhere in 1998. Came across a quote i noted down after reading “The Heart of the Matter” by Graham Greene.

…the rare occasion when one takes such interests in a stranger’s life. The youth often mistaken it for ‘love.'”

What makes it ironic is that when i noted this done, i was doing just that, “mistaken my own sudden interests in an almost stranger’s life for ‘love.'” How blind could I be? And Why did I note it down and then promptly ignore it?

It was like the rational side of me screamed out, “read this! You are making a mistake!” The irrational part of me took one look at it and kept on walking down its merry way. Unfortunately the irrational part seemed to be winning for the most parts.

But I eventually landed on my feet. Oh Well. Youth must do what youth must do. 🙂

Sin City

I’ve been indulging my fascination with Sin City – “Las Vegas” – ever since my weekend trip.

It probably all started with a casual comment from my friend B while we were leaving Wynn. She was wondering when will the gardeners of Wynn have a chance to care/move/replace flowers/plants in the botanic garden at Wynn. Because during the day, it was full of tourists, at night it was full of gamblers/drinkers/party-goers. She concluded that it must be around dawn. As she reached her conculsion, we reached the front door and the door man opened the door for us. So i thought, these are the people who really know the stories of the city. All the behind the scene gossip about casino owners, celebrities and in general the real life behind this non-stop show that we see.

So I’ve been googling like mad since my return. First on blackjack rules, the statistics, the basic strategy. Then on designers/owners/developers of the casino/hotels that i liked: The Venetian, Bellagio, Wynn.

I want to know who made these places and which kind of people they are. I want to know who work and live here, and which kind of people they are. I wasn’t disappointed. Came across a couple of good residents view of Vegas, one in Chinese, one in English.

Turned out that Mirage, Treasure Island, Bellagio and Wynn are all designed/build by the same guy: Steve Wynn. He seemed to have an obsession with water.
The Venetian owner is a different guy: Sheldon Adelson, who happened to be the number 3 on the richest American list on Forbes.com.

It is truly an intersting place, that’s full of colorful characters.

Here Comes the Tapas!

Two more cafes opened on campus this week. One of them is a tapas place! I was estatic when i learned that. Here is the description of the tapas cafe.

Pintxo – Pronounced PIN’-cho, which is a pinch “en Espanol”. Here you will find an adventurous concept as we tackle the tapas, small plate’s concept, and incorporate small portions from around the world. We of course will start with exploring the Catalonian region of Espana and will take you beyond heights ever experienced! Your taste buds are in for a ride…are you ready? One strategy recently discussed; come with a few of your friends, split up, skip the lines, grab a few different dishes and meet at your pre-determined table. Then, share your dishes “family style” and enjoy!

So the first day was Catalonian region, second day Corsica region, third day South and Southwest of France.

I managed to remember bringing my camera on the third day, so i can share with you some of those lovely sights in my tray:


Chilled Pepper Soup with Softshell Crab
The Basque country close to Spain flavors its food with spicy Piment d’ espelette, which is used for this soup, with
A side of Parmesan Reggiano Crispy Soft Shell Crab,
Strauss Creamery Lemon Yogurt, Sumac,
Yellow Tomato Concasse, Basil infusion.
Loved the crab, not too sure about the soup though.


Cold Tapas
Fried Taro chips, couscous, sauteed green beans,
Foie Gras Pate,
Smoked Trout on a salad of fennel, Braeburn Green apples, and pistachio with preserved lemon yogurt.
The smoked trout was especially tasty.


Premium Gold Angus Beef Hangar Steak
Bordeaux Sauce with crispy shallots
Desert on the side:
Rose Water Marshmallows
Macerated Blackberries and Nectarine.
Steak was tender, and the sauce gave it a surprisingly fruity flavor. Every bite was a pleasant surprise. It was like a dry red wine managed to leave a fruity aftertaste in your mouth, entirely unexpected and very lovely.


Seared Tuna with Lemon Zest
toasted pinenuts, Yuzu Infused Oil.
Loved this one, the crest on the edge of the tuna is SPICY, Yum!


Petaluma Farms Chicken Truffle Mousse Canneloni
Trumphet Mushroom Beurre Blanc
Even though this plate looked less attractive than the rest, I was very glad i didn’t pass it off. The mushroom sauce was rich and delicious, and the chicken mousse combined with the canneloni flour wrap provided an enjoyable, almost cake like texture.

Ah, what a satisfying meal! It looked like a piece of art, too!

See larger photos here.

Vegas!

Vegas was never my type of town. I avoid it by all means.

Before this weekend, summer of 1998 was the last time i was in Vegas, for a conference. It was before this new wave of new hotels being built (both Bellagio and Venetian opened in the fall of 1998). I remembered i spent most of my spare time sitting in my hotel room watching History Channel, at the time there was a series on Alexander the Great. I loved the show. Hated the endless rows of slot machines I must navigate from the front door to the elevator. The interior of a casino was so depressing. People sitting in front of slot machines, their faces expressionless, their movement mechanical. It felt like death. Everything looked dark, gloomy, and cheesy.

The only highlight that i enjoyed from that trip (other than Alexander the Great) was a night i spent with my fellow co-workers in a bar at New York New York, it was a blues bar, quiet, with a older black man singing the blues at the piano. We drank martini and smoked cigar. Maybe i liked it cuz it was not cheesy or loud, like everywhere else in Vegas. Maybe I liked it cuz it didn’t look like vegas.

That was my second trip to Vegas. The first time i went when i was still in college. Vegas’ night dazzled me. I disliked the gloom of the casinos at first sight. But i was amazed at all the light and spectacles one could see from the street and in the shops. I liked ceasers palace’s painted sky. But that section was rather short.

I didn’t have much expectation about vegas this weekend. I figured there would be now enough new hotels and attractions for me to check out during the day, and there will be plenty of alcohol and good food to keep me happy at night. I can handle one weekend in Vegas.

I was pleasantly surprised.

Because Vegas has grown up. The cheesy vegas built with the old money was slowly fading away. Vegas now is being built with the new money from the 90’s, lots lots of money. Came along with the money is a classier taste, a more creative design, and endless ambitions. The newly rich of the US has been yuppified. Maybe money does age well, like a good wine.

The new hotels are beautiful, grand, and fantastic. Even the casinos are not so hateful looking in these new hotels. Especially in Bellagio and Venetian. The casino is less gloomy, lighting is more closely resembling one’s own living room. It is comfy and cozy. Chandeliers in the casinos are tastefully done. In Venetian, the ceiling is as usual painted with gorgeous renaissance images.

There is a new theme, too. Americanized Europe.

Europe has its over a thousand year’s history and deep routed culture heritage. The United States has money, lots of it. So Europe has Venice, and Paris. The US can capture each city in its finest moment — Venice in the early morning, and Paris in a early spring evening–freeze it, built it from ground up in the center of a desert. What’s more, it is new, clean, not smelly, perfectly air conditioned, no need to deal with troublesome foreign language, and they are 10 minutes walk apart from each other.

Looking at Venetian’s gorgeously painted ceilings and exquisite details of each element of its interior (from lamp to door knob), one realized that the US really has nothing to feel inferior about herself comparing to Europe. Everything here is just as grand, beautiful, and aesthetically pleasing as any European palace, and these are newer, more elaborate, brighter, with certain sense of creative repackaging in a modern sense. It is as if Europe the old man one day wake up and was 500 years younger and dressed in Armani instead of medieval knight armor.

The ultimate representation of capitalism.

I also just realized that with most of American cities been built to its capacity back in the 1950’s, Vegas is the only place left where one could see all the newly created wealth at work in physical forms. Each wave of development represents a new generation of wealthy tycoons, the theme represents the current aesthetic inclination. i.e. Greek Parthenon versus Roman Coliseum.

Rushdie has long ago claimed that today’s celebrities are the new gods. We worship them and we crucify them. They behave just like the ancient Greek gods, full of genius, talent, and humane weakness. If that’s the case, then today’s Vegas is our Athene. We built temples (hotels) to worship our god (money).

Itinarery:
-Flew in Friday evening

-Check in The Venetian, we ended up in Venezia tower, the nicer/newer part of the hotel

-Had buffet dinner at Rio (not as good as many of us remembered, but enough to fill us up and get ready for a night on the town)

-Went to Shadow Lounge at Ceasers Palace, where PURE lounge is the main sensation, the line of people trying to get into PURE was out of control, supposedly people wait till 2am in the morning to reach the door! The attraction of Shadow lounge are these two walls flooded with pink lighting, and projected on it are video clips of human sized shadow of dancing women. Similar to those ipod billboard one sees everywhere. Except these women was shown as if they were naked, cuz you get to see their nipples when they dance side ways. The lighting and the projection was cleverly done. It created the illusion that the women were dancing on a hidden stage in real time behind a screen, right behind the bar. It was sexy, classy, and simple to operate. Turned out Friday was Mexico’s Independence day. We had a few guys and gals waving Mexican flag and dancing on the table from time to time. The ambient was lively and happening. I liked it here.

Saturday woke up early, checked out Venetian’s Grand Canal Shoppes, Wynn, Fashion Show Mall, Bellagio (had the most expensive bowl of noodle for lunch in Bellagio), Paris. Wynn’s interior used simple lines, and dark wood framing against white. It is like a supersized Crate and Barrel, only prettier with the Barcelona style mosaic tiled walkway, and nicely maintained botanic gardens. Bellagio is elegant, Dale Chihuly‘s hand-blow glassworks were seen throughout the vincinity, airy and light, too pretty to be true. The music fountain took my breath away. The Chinese restaurant in Bellagio, Jasmin, provids the VIP view of the fountain. The menu indicated a bowl of tofu costs $30. After we watched the fountain dance by the lake, seeing how great a location Jasmin has on the lake, my friend sighned, “of course, that’s why a bowl of tofu costs 30 dollars. You are eating the view.”

– Saturday evening, Dinner at AquaKnox, Party at Tao nightclub. Both places were excellent. Everything we had at Aquaknox was excellent, from appetizer to desert. Truly an amazing feast. When i was in beijing earlier this year, friends were showing me various clubs and bars. I was under the impression that Bejing has surpassed the US in their club creation capability. But seeing Tao, I realized that Beijing still has a long way to catch up. But i must admit i felt a little disturbed seeing all these stone budda statues surrounding this three story space, which was filled with overflowed desire and lust. Maybe i worry too much. Budda can find serenity from within.

More Photos:
The Venetian
Wynn, Bellagio, and Paris.

More Dale Chihuly’s work here.

For the Love of Football… (update II)

… or Mathematics.

Just finished reading this today:





MANIFOLD DESTINY
by SYLVIA NASAR AND DAVID GRUBER
A legendary problem and the battle over who solved it.
Issue of 2006-08-28
Posted 2006-08-21

The story in summary sounds so trite. A hundred years old math problem was finally proved, TWICE, within three years. On November 2002, it was proved by an eccentric Russian mathematician Grigory Perelman, who lived a seclude life and refused to accept the famed Fields Metal that the committee wanted to award him. One year after Perelman posted his proof of the problem on the Internet in three installments, it was again re-proved by a group of Chinese mathematicians led by the famous once-Fields-Metal-winner Shing-Tung Yau, who really really wants a Fields Metal for it.

The math problem in question is the Poincaré conjecture, which is “about the characteristics of three-dimensional spheres, which, because it has important implications for mathematics and cosmology and because it has eluded all attempts at solution, is regarded by mathematicians as a holy grail.”

The article traced both mathematician’s professional life and their vastly different attitudes toward mathematics.

Perelman is shy and is living a quiet life as an professor in St. Petersburg, relatively unknown before he posted his proof of Poincaré. He loves long walks around St. Petersburg and he loves opera. He refuses to accept the Fields Medal because

“It was completely irrelevant for me,” he said. “Everybody understood that if the proof is correct then no other recognition is needed.”

Perelman loves Math. Nothing else matters.

Shing-Tung Yau, on the other hand, loves something else. Yau has led a distinguished career. Won a Fields Medal at thirty-two, became the first Chinese to won a Fields. He is currently “a professor of mathematics at Harvard and the director of mathematics institutes in Beijing and Hong Kong.” He mingles with high officials in China such as the now retired Chairman Jiang Ze Min. All these are not enough. Yau’s goal is to become “the next famous Chinese mathematician” after Shiing-Shen Chern steps down.

*Chern was the author of a famous theorem combining topology and geometry. He spent most of his career in the United States, at Berkeley. He made frequent visits to Hong Kong, Taiwan, and, later, China, where he was a revered symbol of Chinese intellectual achievement, to promote the study of math and science.

Sounds like Yau has determined their proof of Poincaré (although 2 years later than Perelman’s) will be that magic step stone.

Perelman does it for the love of math.
Yau does it for the love of recognition.

When i was swallowed by the heat of FIFA world cup, i had a moment of realization–that the best footballers play for the love of football. The most amazing match was usually one where the team expressed themselves best through this game, like music or art. Right then and there i thought, is that why Chinese football sucks so much? Because there is rarely any Chinese athlete plays sports for the love of it or for the freedom of self-expression. They play like soldiers on a battle field. Forced, inprisoned. There is no individuality, no self-expression. There is only competition and rigid discipline. Only in very recent olympic competition, could we see a glimpse of some individuality showing through. To free a nation’s mind will take a long long time.

Now the nation is swiped under the craze to gain fame and money.

Sad.

At the end of the New Yorker article,

Mikhail Gromov, the Russian geometer, said that he understood Perelman’s logic: “To do great work, you have to have a pure mind. You can think only about the mathematics. Everything else is human weakness. Accepting prizes is showing weakness.” Others might view Perelman’s refusal to accept a Fields as arrogant, Gromov said, but his principles are admirable. “The ideal scientist does science and cares about nothing else,” he said. “He wants to live this ideal. Now, I don’t think he really lives on this ideal plane. But he wants to.”

Regardless how many destruction western civilization has imposed on the world, the fact that idealistic and pure passion was valued so highly till this day proves its power.

I wish i could say the same about Chinese civilization.

Now the question is, do you think the world is becoming more like the west? or more like China?
==============
Update (8/28/2006):
Okay, i wasn’t been fair. Matthew pointed out to me that in the same article there was a good Chinese mathmatician, too. 🙂 And sis said that politics is everywhere.

The fact is that China wasn’t like this before. The traditional intellectual used to care a lot about form and purity. Fighting for fame and recognition used to be considered very bad form for an intellectual. But now, the entire nation is taken over by greed. I missed the lost tradition. And i am kept on reminded of that saying “The death of civilizations makes me tremble for the fate of our own, which has given so much less to posterity. – Irfan Orga”

Update (9/5/2006):More amusing development regarding this article and the main characters:

  • Three Mathematicians (Dan Stroock, Michael Anderson, Joe Kohn) quoted in the New Yorker article supposedly either published their clarification/apology on the net or emailed them to Yau. All i could find is this version with Chinese translation mingled with original text. Not sure where are the sources in English.
  • Yau himself is experiencing a huge wave of criticism from all sides right now, because he openly criticized one of the most prestige university in China: Beijing University. He claimed that the University has hired many “fake” professors from over-seas universities to boaster its image and paying them large sum of money to keep it up. Needless to say, many professors employed by Beijing University has since stood up and fought back. As a result, Yau’s name has become well known in China recently.
  • Is Yau employing “no publicity is bad publicity” tactic? or am i worried over nothing — that Chinese traditional culture is still well and alive, not tolerating someone so anti-tradition (not humble enough) like Yau? I’m leaning toward the former.

There is no a wikipedia entry for this whole ordeal: Manifold Destiny (article)

A Flickr Badge Hack

Warning: This is a bit geeky.

I’ve always liked the idea of having rotating images on a web pages, so everytime a user refreshs the page, the look and feel changes slightly. But the only way i knew before was to write a javascript to rotate through a list of image names. It gets old after a while. I thought of crawling all the known image directories on my site and then collect the existing image path, then there is the question of non-uniformed size of each image. A webpage looks nice with a horizontal photo might not look as nice with a vertical one. Certainly there are scripts out there to resize the images to the desired size. Then there is also the possibility of storing your image file path in a db and just look it up there. Both seemed lots of work and maintenance.

For example, i liked the little image on the upper right corner on this site. It is a finite number of images that author scanned and nicely cropped for this use alone. But it is a limit number of choices, and it requires lots of work to create those images to fit that location.

V A G A B O N D I N G

Anyway, all these possibilities went through my head before there is flickr.

Now there is the “badge” concept created by flickr. Most people place their flickr badge on the side of their blog, and let it go on rotating and even flashing on by itself. It didn’t occure to me to use flickr badge to do what i always wanted until i saw Jason Goldman’s blog yesterday. He used the flickr photo badge to decorate his otherwise plain template.

So i emulated how Jason Goldman used the flickr script and modified the look of my Chinese blog. After some twicking of the layout, I was happy to call it finished. When i showed it to ZM, he liked it too, but the first thing he did was mouseover the image, and then the amazing thing was the title of the image was shown as the mouse move from image to image! I loved it so much that i went in my flickr and batch edited all my image title to make them meaningful. Lots of them are in Chinese. Then the trouble came.

Flickr’s badge generation javascript assumes everyone’s webpage is in UTF-8 encoding.

Mine wasn’t.


When i started setting up my Chinese blog, i didn’t really understand the world of encoding that well. At the time, all the Chinese pages i’ve ever seen were in “gb2312.” I figured out how to setup mine (using MT at the time) that way. Later when i switched to WordPress, i should’ve known better and taken the opportunity to convert everything into UTF-8. But by then i’ve accumulated so many articles in gb2312, i got lazy and was worried i might mess things up. So i ended up in gb2312 again.

Flickr, like all the other cutting edge websites(e.g. Google), uses UTF-8. So it could support multiple language on the same page. What Flickr badge generation script did was to assume the rest of the world is as clean and cutting edge as Flickr itself. It would have been an easy fix if i can access Flickr’s source code (time for Flickr to be open source, maybe?). All it needs to do is check the http header in the http request, identify the requesting page’s language setting, and return the image’s title in the correct format. Encoding conversion is easy to do on the server side.

But what was I to do now? I could file a bug on Flickr help and then wait. Except i can’t bear the ugly messed up encoding everytime i move my mouse over the image on the header.

So i set out to fix it from my side.

First i tried to insert an iframe on my gb2312 blog page, set the iframe’s source to another html that has encoding of utf-8, placed the Flickr badge on that utf-8 page. It works well with IE, but not with Firefox. 🙁

Then I started looking for something similar to php’s iconv on javascript. Since iconv in php has been so easy to use, i assumed it is a no brainer. But after googling around for 20 minutes and not finding anything useful, i started to realize it is not as easy as i thought.

Encoding conversion requires access to a huge amount of character resources, which are not available from client side. Sure i can try AJAX, but just for an image title, it seemed a little overkill. I might as well try to do this from server side. (actually i havn’t used AJAX, but i have a little project in mind so i can learn it. That’s another story.)

So my final solution is a relatively simple one.

I took the one-liner javascript from Flickr badge generator, executed on the server side using curl, took the returned value, converted from utf-8 to gb2312 using iconv, and then write it out to the page. It worked beautifully, on both IE and Firefox.

-php function that execute curl and return the http response (a very useful common function that can be used in many places, e.g. to fix douban.com’s badge for books/music/movies.)


function getResponse($post_url) {

    $ch = curl_init();
    curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_URL, $post_url);
    curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_RETURNTRANSFER, 1);

    // Execute the http request.
    $response = curl_exec($ch);
        
    if (curl_errno($ch)) {
      echo curl_error($ch);
    } else {
        curl_close($ch);
    }

    // Return the response to the page
    return $response;
}

-php snippet that i placed on my header template:


<?php

// Send the request and receive a response
$querystring = <place your flickr javacript url here>;

$transmit_response = SendRequest($querystring);

$tempstr = iconv("utf-8", "gb2312", $transmit_response);
print ("<script language="JavaScript">".$tempstr."</script>");

?>

*Update: dotann just told me that changing the entire blog from gb to utf-8 is a matter of setting a configuration in mysql. Much easier than this hack. Now think about it. even AJAX might not be that bad. But i guess i just want to see if this kind of conversion can be done. 🙂

Food Heaven!

I thought I just died and woke up in heaven!

Last week i went to a new cafe at lunch time. It is called Cafe 7 (because it is the 7th cafeteria the company opened so far). The food didn’t look that superb when i got them. Maybe cuz they were in massive containers and doesn’t come in the decorative presentation that you see in a upscale restaurant. But when i had my first bite! Oh My! I felt like i was hit by a train headon. I couldn’t believe it. It was up scale French Bistro quality food. I could easily pay $50 per person in a yuppie restaurant in the city over the weekend and still won’t have as good food as this. The soup was heavenly, the fish was tender and flavorful, the veggie was fresh and tasted like nothing i had experienced, the pasta made me moan, the table bread made me drool, and the desert was decadent. I cleaned my plate and wished i didn’t become full so fast.

Here is a typical menu at Cafe 7 (they change daily):

Café -7 / Lunch Menu for Thursday, August 17, 2006

Table Bread Baskets
Assortment of Artisan Breads
Russian Rye, Assorted Pretzels, Salted Bread Sticks, Sour Wheat, Kalamata Olive, Walnut-Cranberry-Raisin. If you have nut or seed allergies, avoid table breads.

Today’s Bread Basket Spread:
*Saffron Aioli Saffron, Egg Yolks, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, White Wine, Salt and Cayenne Pepper

GREENS

Composed Salad of the Week
Taste of Japan!
Mixed Organic Greens, Sesame Crusted Ahi Tuna Marinated Cucumbers (Rice Wine Vinegar, Sugar), Carrot, Enoki Mushrooms, Wakame Seaweed, Asian Vinaigrette, Crisp Wontons

Create Your Own Salad
Lettuces: Organic Field Greens, Chopped Baby Romaine, Baby Spinach

Salad Toppings:
Roasted Skinless Chicken Breast Strips, Housemade Pickled Vegetables, Grilled Sweet Corn, Balsamic Figs, Citrus Sections, Kidney Beans, Hard Boiled Egg, Edamame Beans, Navy Beans, Olive Oil Croutons, Cottage Cheese, Spicy Peanuts

Chilled Pasta Salad of the Day
Farfalle and Tuna Salad: Chilled Pasta, Flaked Tuna, Mayonnaise, Pickle, Red Onion, Celery, Herbs, Spices, Lemon, Bell Pepper, Grated Egg

Today’s Dressings:
*Creamy Non-Fat Basil (Yogurt, Basil, Garlic, Agave Syrup, Shallots,White Balsamic Vinegar)
Citrus-Lobster Vinaigrette (Lobster Oil, Fresh Citrus Juice, Shallots, Garlic,
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
**Balsamic Vinaigrette
Classic Caesar

SOUPS

*Chilled Curried Carrot Soup
Pureed Carrots, Celery, Onion, Thyme, Bay Leaves, Ginger, Tomato, Curry, Apple, Milk
Garnished with Sweet Milk and Kaffir Lime Foam

Golden Chanterelle Mushroom Soup
Sliced Chanterelles, Chicken Stock, Onion, Fresh Herbs and Spices, Garlic, Madeira
Garnished with Black Truffle Crouton

Mussel and Corn Chowder
Steamed Mussels, Sweet Corn, Onion, Garlic, Celery, Carrot, Fish Fumet, Clam Juice, White Wine, Fresh Herbs and Spices, Brandy, Milk
Garnished with Fresh Corn, Potato, Basil Oil

Russian Beef and Cucumber Soup
Cubes of Tender Beef in a Rich Veal Broth with Onion, Tomatoes, Cucumber, Mushrooms, Pork Sausage and Black Olives
Garnished with Lemon Crème Fraiche, Dill and Caraway Seeds

DELICATESSAN

Sandwich of the Week
Claudia’s BLT (Yes, Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato!)
Sliced Bread, Crisp Applewood Smoked Bacon, Mixed Organic Greens,Heirloom Tomatoes, Basil Aioli, Smoked Salt and Black Pepper
(Available at the Delicatessen or in the Grab & Go’s)

Create Your Own Sandwich
Assorted Artisan Breads, Sliced Tomato, Romaine, Red Onion, Bread & Butter Pickles, Dill Pickles, Pepperoncini, Fontina Val D’ Aosta Cheese, Cheddar Cheese, Sliced Mozzarella Cheese, Cave Aged Emmentaler Cheese

Avocado, Grilled Vegetables, Roast Tomatoes, Balsamic Portobello Mushrooms, Smoked Turkey, Roast Beef, Black Forest Ham, Assorted Salami

SIDES

*Herbed Spaetzle
Housemade Herbed Dumplings, Caramelized Onions, Grain Mustard-Crème Fraiche, Butter

**Curried Lentils
Lentils cooked tender with Sweet Onion, Garlic, Madras Curry, and Tomato and Fresh Herbs

**Three-Grain Pilaf
Red Rice, Black Rice and Bulgar Wheat, simmered with Sweet Onion, Vegetable Stock, Fresh Herbs and Spices

**Pea Sprout Sauté with Grilled Corn
Wilted Pea Sprouts, Grilled Corn, Cumin, Black Truffle Oil

**Vegetable Medley
Warm Daily Summer Produce Tossed Lightly with Apple Vinaigrette
(Steamed Preparation Available)

Main Plates

Grilled Scallop Brochettes
Two-each Jumbo Scallops, Cremini Mushrooms, Peppedews, Chipotle Glaze

Mini Duck Sliders
Whole Ground Duck Meat, Sautéed Onion, Garlic, Herbs, Spices, Fontina Val d’Aosta Fondue, Baby Bun

Cantonese Roasted Chicken Breast
Roasted (Skin on) Breast of Chicken basted with a Sauce composed of Honey, Rice Wine Vinegar, Ginger, Sherry, Hoisin and Five Spice
Garnished with Sliced Scallions

Brick Oven

**Archie’s Veggie Pizza
Classic Crust, Housemade Tomato Sauce, Spiced Firm Polenta (Fennel Seeds, Garlic, Basil, Parsley), Wild Mushrooms, Pistachio Creamless-Cream

Smoked Chicken, Pesto and Sausage Pizza
Classic Crust, Classic Pesto, Smoked Chicken, Assorted Pork Sausage, Roasted Peppers, Fontina Val d’ Aosta, Sweet One Hundred Tomatoes,Red Onion

Sweet Corn, Ricotta and Spinach Calzone
Masa (Corn) Crust, Seared Onions, Tomato-Marsala Sauce,
Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese, Sautéed Corn, Wilted Spinach, Basil Leaves

Piazzon’s Italian “Hoagie”
Soft French Roll with Sautéed Wild Mushrooms, Onions, Sliced Salami, Ham, Provolone Cheese, Mozzarella, Rosemary, Oregano
Served with Tomato Sauce on the Side

Sweets

*Cinnamon Crème Brûlée
Creamy Custard Infused with Cinnamon, Turbinado Sugar Topping

**Earl Grey Poached Apricots and Plums
Sweet Plums and Apricots Poached in Aromatic Earl Grey Tea Syrup, With Hints of Lemon and Orange
Flourless Chocolate Brownies with Chocolate Chips
Pecan Sandies with Apricot

Frozen Yogurt!
Caramel Pecan or Vanilla Frozen Yogurt with the Following Toppings:
Heathbar, Chopped Almonds, Peanut Butter Cup Crumbles, Butterfinger Crumbles

Confetti of Candies

Just when i thought Cafe 7 is “as good as it gets.”

Today i found out we just opened the 8th cafe, and it is clled “The American Table,” which “will be serving regional American cuisine with a focus on Native American ingredients utilizing methods taken from the different cultures that settled each region.” I went there today and I knew, Cafe 7 got competition, and the quality of my life just went up another notch. Life could be this good! I must have done something right to deserve this. Everyone who had come to our cafe before should consider taking a number and getting in line, you have no idea what you have been missing. This is the kind of restaurant that you would make reservation 3 weeks ahead of the time, had to put up with snooty service, expensive parking, waiting in long lines before sitting down, paying $50+ plus and might still not get the right entry and felt cheated. With Cafe 7 and 8, i guarantee you won’t be disappointed. This is what heaven really meant to be, i hope. And it is FREE!

My lunch consisted of:
Corn bisque with shrimp
This didn’t make it to the chef’s menu that he sent out today, but it is so so so good.
Fried Frogs Legs with Crystal & Fine Herb Butter
Buttermilk battered legs with crystal hot sauce and tarragon, chives, and parsley, bearer blanc.
Pan Roasted Pork Chops
with Mashed Potatoes & Fancy Creamed Corn with a Herbed Pork
(The best pork chop i’ve ever had, never though pork chop can possibly be this tasty)
Southern Polenta Spoon Bread
With onion broth, red peppers, and fresh thyme.
Sweet Potato Cakes with Trufflata
Sweet potatoes, goat cheese, eggs, thyme, shallots, and flour. With roasted chanterelles, oyster mushrooms and truffle oil garnished with fresh herbs.
(Oh My God! Someone pinch me now, is this for real? explosive with flavor? I feel guity eating it.)
Almond Bread Puddin
With a creamy huckleberry Anglaise
(hM! hM! HM!)

The dishes that i would’ve tried if have had a backup stomach.
Coriander Crusted Tuna with Braised Summer Veg
Seared tuna and veg to bolls that have been braised in ver jus, olive oil, thyme, bay leaves, and roasted lemons.
Summer Veg & Tofu Pot Pie
Patty pans, onions, wax beans, Yukon potatoes, and tofu in a light Creole cream sauce with parsley, chives, and a drop of truffle oil topped off with puff pastry.
(This was covered with a thick layer of puffy filos. highly recommanded by my co-worker but i was too full to try it. :()
Duck Confit Salad with Baby Arugula
Fresh blueberries and with balsamic vinaigrette
(I didn’t even make it to the pizza/salad counter, but saw this after i came back from lunch and reviewing the menu)

“The American Table” the full menu of 8/17/2006:

MEAT

Fried Frogs Legs with Crystal& Fine Herb Butter
Buttermilk battered legs with crystal hot sauce and tarragon, chives, and parsley, bearer blanc.

Coriander Crusted Tuna with Braised Summer Veg
Seared tuna and veg to bolls that have been braised in ver jus, olive oil, thyme, bay leaves, and roasted lemons.

Pan Roasted Pork Chops
with Mashed Potatoes & Fancy Creamed Corn with a Herbed Pork

VEGGIE

*Summer Veg & Tofu Pot Pie
Patty pans, onions, wax beans, Yukon potatoes, and tofu in a light Creole cream sauce with parsley, chives, and a drop of truffle oil topped off with puff pastry.

*Southern Polenta Spoon Bread
With onion broth, red peppers, and fresh thyme.

*Sweet Potato Cakes with Trufflata
Sweet potatoes, goat cheese, eggs, thyme, shallots, and flour. With roasted chanterelles, oyster mushrooms and truffle oil garnished with fresh herbs.

PIZZA

Quail Fig & Arugula
fresh pizza with brown sauce and goat cheese.

Crawfish Roasted Corn
topped with red bell peppers, onions red sauce and white cheddar.

Pork Po Boy Sandwich
With Swiss cheese and coleslaw.

COMPOSED SALAD

Butter Lettuce Salad
Point Reyes blue cheese tossed pecans, summer pears and bacon.

Duck Confit Salad with Baby Arugula
Fresh blueberries and with balsamic vinaigrette

*Mirliton Salad with Vine Ripened Tomatoes Onions & Dill

Pickled Shrimp Salad
Fresh cucumbers, and red onions. The shrimp is pickled with spices, lemon juice and champagne vinaigrette.

**Water Melon Salad with Watercress
Red bell peppers and red onions.

Hot and Sweet

Almond Bread Puddin
With a creamy huckleberry Anglaise

Strawberry Clafoutis
A Thick flan cake with fresh Santa Cruz strawberries and a strawberry caramel

Cold & Creamy

Chocolate Tart
With cinnamon whipped cream

Butter Pecan Ice Cream

When time go bad, when we can’t afford to have this kind of free lunch, instead of closing them down or making them suffer in quality, i wish they would turn these cafes into restaurants and open them to the public. I would pay to come and eat here.

Neural Theory of Language

I stumbled onto this particular show on podcast: Neural Theory of Language, it is part of the KQED Forums program, a talk with Jerome Feldman, EECS professor at UCBerkeley, and an author of “From Molecule to Metaphor: A Neural Theory of Language.” . I kept on rewinding it as i listened, learned something new every time. An amazing field.

How our brains work? How do we learn knowledge? What exactly happened biologically when you learned a new fact?

1. Our brain is completely different from a computer. Computer processes information in a linear fashion, while our brain is vastly parallel.

2. neurons are slow, but our brain is fast. The reason being most of our “knowledge” is hardwired between neurons. There are two forms of knowledge of our brain, one that relies on chemistry in the brain that is similar to a kind of “computation” to go from one neuron to the next. But when it comes to something we learned really well, there is minimum computation, but mostly direct “wiring” between one neuron to the next. The learning process is a process of subtraction, to reduce the multiple paths existed, and as a result to reduce “computation” required. I’m fascinated by this aspect of the talk. So when we were given a piece of knowledge, such as, Mr. Feldman was born in Pittsburgh. The moment this information was given, there certainly wasn’t a hardwired connection instantly created. Instead, there was a chemical reaction that “added weight” to certain path and resulted in a connection.

3. Children learn language by map an abstract concept, i.e. a word, with their real life experiences. When a child started learning to speak, he/she already accumulated roughly one year worth of experiences. The learning to speak process is a process of “subtraction,” a process of “hardwired.” So if there is to emerge a human-like robot, a simulation of real life experience is mandatory.

4. People who were bilingual since childhood are better equipped to acquire more languages because their neuron structures were adapted in certain way that become optimal to learn new languages. Neurons are most active at growth during childhood.

This professor’s favorite phrases are “That’s not my area of expertise, so i can’t comment on it.” “This is not my theory but … ” It is obvious that this area of research has been divided into very thin slices that each expert only takes on one and dives deep. But for us non-academic people, this sounds funny, because we could hardly grasp the basic knowledge of the landscape, how could we tell which leaf on a particular tree that belongs to Professor Feldman?

“Three Times”

It wasn’t easy to sit through this 139 minutes movie. I’ve been trying to look back and to figure out why.

The very run-down Roxie theatre in the Mission has definitely seen better days. The chairs were old and uncomfortable. The theatre was either pitch black or torture-light bright, depends on whether the lone bulb was on. The screen was small, and for some reason, the 4:30pm show in the Sunday afternoon was very popular. So the already tiny place was crowded with people. All these don’t add pleasure to the movie watching experience. But that is not really the main reason. We’ve seen plenty artsy fartsy movies in tiny rundown theatres, and we’ve enjoyed plenty of them.

The movie is very slow. But that’s not the reason to not liking it. We’ve enjoyed “June Bug”, which is plenty slow with stationary frames that shows still-life like scenery with nothing happening for minutes on end. We liked “June Bug.”

My eventual conclusion is the lousy 1/3 of the movie happened to be the last 1/3, making it extremely hard to finish watching till the very end. The movie composed of three love stories happened in 1966, 1911, and 2005, shown in that order. All three love stories were acted out by the same pair of actors: Zhang Zhen, and Shu Qi. Both actors are good. Shu Qi was exceptionally good.

I actually enjoyed watching the first two stories.

1966 became interesting and even humorous after I got over the slowness, and settled to enjoy all the long narrative of May opening and closing the shop shutters, of them going across the river on make-shift looking boats. The story is sweet and subtle.

1911 was weird because it adopted silent movie tactics by displaying the dialogue immediately following the scene where the acting happened and dialogue silenced. It became like a play. All that emotions left unsaid, the up and down of a woman’s hope and disappointment. Her smile and tears. His self-righteous talk of nation and country and freedom, and his awkward silence when it came to her future and freedom. In addition, I loved the unique music that she sang throughout this story (It is called 南管古歌 in Chinese, can be loosely translated into Southern Song). Even though i have no clue what she was singing about. Ebb and flow of the music worked like magic, gave the story a sense of time and place.

I couldn’t stand 2005.

The story of 2005 is titled “The Dream of Youth”, while 1966 is “The Dream of Love” and 1911 “The Dream of Freedom.” So the story of 2005 was young and foolish. Is that the accurate decipher of today’s time? Meaningless chaos, betrayal, drug, noise that youth hailed as music, senseless sex. What really gets me was how the story of 2005 was not really a story. It makes no sense whatsoever. It is about a young girl that was lost, aimlessly wondering toward an abyss, draging everyone around along for the ride. It is the time of MTV. But it is not fit to be shown in the same slowness of an ancient Southern Song. Try to stretch any MTV clip from 3 minutes to 30. If i could use that as my background music and having access to the internet or my daily chores, then fine. But please don’t do this to me while i’m stuck in the dark and old threatre, dying to get out.

Throughout the story, the last 1/3 of the movie, i kept on remembering the Turkish writer Irfan Orga’s words: “The death of civilizations makes me tremble for the fate of our own, which has given so much less to posterity.” Only if the director of “Three Times” — Hou Hsiao-Hsien –could have put it so eloquently……and so quickly.

——–
Reference:
Here is a really good summary of the movie. Gui thinks it is actually better than the movie itself. 🙂 It is in Chinese, the article title means “Whom have you met during the Best of Times?” In Chinese, the movie’s title is actually “The Best of Times”
最好的时光里你遇见了谁?

Things that You Learn at a Shuttle Stop


I took the late shuttle on Thursday. It was far less crowded than the 7:45 bus. Usually there were 5-6 of us waiting at the stop rather than the 10-20 during the earlier time.

It was hot. We all sorta huddled behind the Muni shelter, in the small piece of shade surrounded by blazing sunlight.

I was reading an article from a back issue of The New Yorker, a story about a dessert lab in New york city. It sounded more like a “dessert bar.” I was vaguely aware of some random conversation going on around me. Suddenly the guy who was talking to the group, pointed at the article from behind me and exclaimed,” I LOVE that article!” I was completely startled. Before I was able to conjure up a response, he continued, excitedly, “OMG! I love that article so much that I blogged about it. And I tried to find an on-line copy…” I asked him whether he loved it because what it talked about, the dessert sounds amazing, or because of the writer. He said that he loved the way the author writes. “I can’t explain. But i just think his writing is fantastic. I loved it so much that I bought the author’s book called ‘Heat!'”

I continued reading the article on the shuttle. Another passenger of the shuttle asked him more about the article. He explained that the author used to be the editor at the New Yorker but fell in love with cooking after interviewing/visiting this dessert lab he described in this particular article. The editor eventually quit his job and went to Italy to study cooking.

Later on, I looked for that article on google, just typed in the article’s title and the author’s name, up came on the 4th slot was a blog. I opened it up, it was by this guy at the shuttle stop! I spent the rest of the evening reading his blog’s archives. Turned out to be excellent reading. I collected his RSS.

His name is Omar, and he loves podcasting. This is the nth time i’m hearing this term, “podcast.” I asked around and finally understood how it worked–“Which planet are you from?” co-worker commented when i revealed my ignorance. Following Omar’s advice, i spent the evening downloading podcasting and listening to them: BBC Documentary Archive, NPR Books, best of KFOG, Bill Moyers on Faith and Religion, etc. etc.

I’m hooked! Downloading as much as i can find onto my ipod and will start listening on my shuttle ride. 🙂

Things are definitely more interesting when you no longer drive solo 2 hours a day commuting.

The Dessert Lab, article by Bill Buford in The New Yorker, June 26th, 2006.
Omar’s blog on this New Yorker article
– Google Video (FREE): Charlie Rose: an hour with author Bill Buford, An hour all about food, cooking, and restaurants with author Bill Buford. His new book is “Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany”

A Pig’s Heaven

Summer heat.
Spare the Air Days.
High Gas Prices.

One needed to be reminded of the good moments in life, so when looking back, we won’t forget life used to be so good. And Good Days don’t last. 🙁

I’ve decided to take advantage of the company shuttle stops at my neighborhood (actually, it is more like the neighboring neighborhood cuz it is 10 blocks away from my apartment), I changed my daily schedule a bit.

Getting up at 7am (okay, 7:15am), leaving home at 7:25am, walking across the park to the other end of the Cole Street, taking the 7:45pm shuttle, arriving at work at 9am.

This morning i suddenly realized that i could take advantage of such a early arrival by picking up breakfast, which usually serves till 9:30am that used to be too early for me.

At 9:10am this morning, i sat at my desk, drinking a papaya smoothie, devouring foofoo stuff like “Low Country Crab Cake Benedict”, crispy Nitrate–free Bacon, and a piece of heavenly pastry that has caramelized almond on top, with custard in the middle of foamy bread (does that sound good? it is GOOD).

I’m very proud of myself, because i could so easily stuff myself up like a pig. Here is why:

Oasis Breakfast Menu 7-17 until 7-21

Smoothie Bar

Chef’s Recommendations

Wild Strawberry
Blue Monkey
Angel’s Tropical Paradise

Create smoothie of your own

Hot Cereals
**Scottish Steal-Cut Oats
*Stone Ground Grits

Hot cereal condiments:
Brown sugar, toasted nuts, butter, cheddar, golden raisins, & dried apricots

Low-fat, fat-free, soy milk, or rice milk

Tropical Treats
1 or 2 weekly yogurt, fruit, nut, & grain parfait
Fresh organic seasonal fruit (on platters)

Sunrise Grill
Daily Offerings

Farm fresh organic scrambled eggs
Scrambled egg whites
Tofu scramble (available on request)
Egg Beaters (available on request)
Roasted organic breakfast potatoes
Chicken-apple Sausage 2-oz link
Vegetarian Sausage Patty
Nitrate–free Bacon
English muffins

Weekly Specials

Burrito
(Chorizo, whole eggs, green onions, potatoes, queso fresco, cilantro)

Low Country Crab Cake Benedict

Johnny Hash
(Ground turkey, sweet potatoes, red bell peppers, yellow onions,
jalapenos, taro root, tomato juice)

With The Grain
Assorted Bagels
Assorted breakfast breads
Assorted Scones & Muffins
Assorted Danishes

Extra Touches

Smoked salmon platter (capers & shaved red onion)
3 seasonal organic fruit jams, compotes, or marmalades
Cream cheese & Lite cream cheese, Low-fat cottage cheese
Low fat flavored cream cheeses: 3 daily from Izzy’s
Ketchup, salsa, jalapenos, sour cream

Margarine & Whipped Butter
Whipped TangerineCompound Butter

Isn’t this worth getting up early for? Anyone interested in coming in for breakfast? 🙂

Zidane’s Achilles’ Heel

A few amazing aspects of soccer is its unpredictability, drama, and of course, the beautiful play.

Before the final, I thought Italy the better team. They played wonderfully in their overtime against Germany. They were also more creative, more fluid, and more talented in their play. France, on the other hand, seemed very disciplined, They could stifle any team’s aggression and forcing their opponent into a net from which they couldn’t master any meaningful attack. As a whole, games that involved the revived France seemed dull (vs. Spain, vs. Brazil, vs. Portugal). France commanded respect for their success in breaking their opponent’s flow. But as an audience, i much prefer Italy’s dynamic and the sense of fun.

The World Cup final on July 9th turned out very different from what i had expected. Even though Italy still won at the end. Something was amiss.

First of all, Italy played very well in the first half, despite the referee’s overreacted penalty kick award to France five minutes into the game. It was like the France-Portugal game all over again. I was furious! But Italy got even soon enough. It was a beautifully played first half. I was happy, all was well.

Then came the disappointing second half. Italy decided to just lay back and wait for attack to come to their door. France didn’t disappoint, they organized attack after attack, and Italy didn’t seem to care.

The overtime is not any better, all my hope for Italy to pull another Italy-Germany game was vanished. Italian players continued playing half dead. France was still organized and spirited. What the hell was wrong with the Italians! They looked like ready to give up the cup already!

Then came the unthinkable. The quiet, humble, cool Zidane was sent off for astonishing violent behavior on the field, away from the ball! The video feed repeated the replay over and over again, from various angle, starting from various point proceed Zidane’s attack on Materazzi.

Watching Zidane walking past the gold cup, disappearing in the tunnel, it was a sad moment.

Even with one man up against the 10-man team, Italian players still looked like they could hardly walk, let alone to run.

Italy won PK for the first time in their career and they got the cup.

I was happy for Italy, but watching the French team scattered around the field, dumbfounded silence surrounded them. Something was nagging me. What did Metarazzi say to Zidane to cause all this? If Zidane didn’t leave, he could very likely have won the cup for him, for his team, for his country, because he was so well known for his amazing PK. And with his nerve of steel presence, the team would have gone through hell with him to get the cup.

What was said that was so bad could cause him to throw all these away? Especially to someone like Zidane, he looked so quiet, so humble in this entire world cup competition? Who is Zidane?

Before I started spilling out Zidane’s biographical details, looking at recent headlines out of Europe might help to setup a stage.

-Nov. 2, 2004, Holland filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered in the name of Islam
-Sep. 2005, Flemming Rose, the cultural editor of Jyllands-Posten, commissions twelve cartoonists to draw cartoons of Islamic prophet Muhammad, initiated Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy
-Oct. 27, 2005, first night of riot in Paris Suburb Clichy-sous-Bois, initiated 2005 French civil unrest.
-June 05, 2006, The New Yorker magazine profiled Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, who directs her fury toward Islam

If you have walked the street of London or Paris recently, it was not hard to recognize the diversity of today’s Europe. Immigrants have taken over a significant percentage makeup of the European society. And Zidane is one of them. He became the idol of many immigration youth. he is well-loved in France.

Zidane is the 2nd generation of an Algeria immigration family. He grew up in a rough neighborhood of Marseille: La Castellane. He had a record of outburst of violence on the field, all resulted in instant red card:

1998 against a Saudi Arabia player
2001 against a Hamburger SV player

Both were triggered by insulting remarks from the opponent players, targeted at either Zidane’s family, race, or immigration background.

What made Zidane’s background more complex was his family belonged to a tribe in Algeria that was called Berber people, they were historically anti-Arabic.

First of all, the red card that Zidane received in all three occasions (including yesterday against Italy) was well-deserved, and inexcusable. Now we know what is Zidane’s Achilles’ heel, he won’t take any insult against his family/race/origin. Is it a smart move? Certainly not. In the typical Hollywood ending, the hero will bite the bullet and let the insult come and go, but he will win the cup at the end and laugh back at Materazzi then. But this is not, thank God, a Hollywood movie, and Zidane showed that he was human after all, despite his flawless playing on the field. His god-like statue throughout this cup competition.

I wanted to sit back and think about Materazzi’ action, so he is the smart one in this whole episode, isn’t it? He could pick the right moment to stab at the hero, and aimed at his vulnerable spot. Materazzi got his reward, his tactic worked. Does that make him a great football player, though? Does that make him a nobler human being than Zidane? Certainly not.

Does Italy really deserve the Cup? after what they did to Zidane? I’m not so sure.

Gui thinks I’m very subjective in coming to this conclusion. Maybe. I am not looking for any excuse for Zidane’s outburst of violence. He screwed up at the end. But I admire him for his principle and how he stood up for himself and his family all these years. I hope he would become wiser as time goes by, and he won’t fall for such dirty tactic again. I like what his teammate said later, “Zidane can hold his head high,…. There are more to life than football.”

And looks like I’m not the only one thinks so! With a twist of fate, Zinedine Zidane won the Golden Ball award for the World Cup’s best player! 🙂

And “semi-finalists Portugal won Fifa’s most entertaining team award.” hahaha, FIFA does have a sense of humor.

Reference:
-An interview with Zidane in December 2003: Zidane said : I come from and I am still proud to be who I am : first, a Kabyle from La Castellane
-CNN News: The Zidane mystery