Nov 192009

Here are some of the photos I took in Hong Kong, in February 2009. I was planning on writing more about it, describing the photos, but somehow life got in the way. So here they are, without much in the way of embellishment. The things that caught my eye: mostly contrasts. I was fascinated by the contrast between the old and the new, old buildings reflected in shiny new windows, cats sitting in stores calmly watching the bustle in the street outside, the rickety old ferry in the reclaimed harbour, palm trees and gardens overshadowed by skyscrapers whose tops are lost in the clouds. A fascinating city, I'd like to go back some time.

Feb 242009

My son is learn­ing Man­dar­in, so when I went to Hong Kong recently, I asked what I should bring back. His teach­er sug­ges­ted a Man­dar­in dic­tion­ary; it soun­ded like a good idea to me. Find­ing one to buy ended up being more of an odys­sey than I expec­ted though.

The hotel had an English-language Yel­low Pages, which seemed like a good place to start. Bad assump­tion — there was a cat­egory for Book­bind­ers, and one for Books — Whole­salers, but no retail books. Even if they had had a list­ing there, it’s doubt­ful it would have done me much good. It turns out that the Hong Kong Yel­low Pages lists addresses in terms of the name of the build­ing the store is in (e.g., Prosper Com­mer­cial Build­ing, or Tai Sang Build­ing), with no hint as to which part of Hong Kong it might be in, let alone which num­ber on which street. I guess they expect people to know which build­ing is where.

One of my tour­ist guides men­tioned that Dymocks (which I always think of as an Aus­trali­an store) is near the Star Ferry ter­min­al, so after the required trip on the ferry (well worth it), I stopped off there. They didn’t have any Man­dar­in dic­tion­ar­ies, so I bought another book and asked the cash­ier where to find one. Her answer? “Com­mer­cial Books, on Sug­ar Street, ask when you get there, every­one knows it”. So I went down to Sug­ar Street, walked along it twice, up and down stairs at the Com­mer­cial Build­ing, before find­ing the actu­al book­store is called “Com­mer­cial Press” and it’s on Yee Wo Street, near the inter­sec­tion to Sug­ar Street. Close enough I guess, I did find it even­tu­ally.

Of course, I don’t speak any Chinese lan­guage, so I needed help to find what I wanted. I com­pletely bam­boozled the first book­store employ­ee I asked for help, she couldn’t believe she under­stood what I was ask­ing for and asked someone else for help. They showed me lots of books on learn­ing Man­dar­in, and English-Mandarin dic­tion­ar­ies, before finally believ­ing that may­be I did want a Man­dar­in dic­tion­ary with no Eng­lish and show­ing me those. 

As an aside: if you see a book in Hong Kong with a large num­ber on a stick­er on it, the num­ber is the per­cent­age of the nor­mal price that you pay, not the final price. So if the stick­er says “85”, you don’t pay $HKD 85, you pay 85% of the nor­mal price (which is on the back of the book). This can, ahem, be quite a dif­fer­ent price.

Feb 172009

Tim had a busi­ness trip to Hong Kong, and since I’m cur­rently under­em­ployed, I thought I’d tag along. It was only for a couple of days, which is a shame given how much there is to and see in Hong Kong. It was also my first trip.

First impres­sions are that Hong Kong is clean and very organ­ised. You arrive at the spark­ling new air­port, right out­side the arrival doors there’s a booth to sell tick­ets to the train (if you’re doing this, get the trav­el­ler pass that cov­ers the MTR and the train trip, it’s very con­veni­ent), the train is on the same level as the arrivals hall and whisks you into Hong Kong, to be met by a shuttle bus that takes you to your hotel. All very use­ful for the jet­lagged trav­el­ler (and in my case, one with a bad cold to boot). The only oddity was being told to take off my hat in the air­port for what looked like a cam­era and was likely a thermal imager (after­math of the SARS out­break, one sus­pects).

The shuttle to the air­port drove along some of the main roads in Cent­ral, and my first impres­sion was how much like Singa­pore it looked. Lots of traf­fic, tall shiny build­ings with lots of glass, con­crete over­passes over the roads, inter­spersed with palm trees and oth­er veget­a­tion.

Walk­ing around Wan Chai the morn­ing was a little dif­fer­ent — there were no palm trees there, although there’s still the same crazy traf­fic. I walked along Gloucester Road to the beat of an alarm that every­one ignored, walk­ing by gleam­ing bath­room fix­ture com­pan­ies and jumbled hard­ware com­pan­ies, over to Vic­toria Park with people walk­ing around slowly, stretch­ing as they go, and then back along Hen­nessy Road, one of the main shop­ping streets on Hong Kong Island. The oddest thing to me was that I was taller than many people on the streets, both men and women. 

This part of Hong Kong is remin­is­cent not only of Singa­pore, but of New York, Lon­don, and almost every Chin­atown I’ve been to. Chinese herb­al­ist shops jostle with glob­al names (in par­tic­u­lar Star­bucks and McDon­alds, but also well-known cloth­ing and phone com­pan­ies), the people mostly speak at least one Chinese lan­guage as well as Eng­lish, the Eng­lish is accen­ted with UK pro­nun­ci­ation. They drive on the left, and mostly walk on the right like the Eng­lish do. 

At lunch­time I headed back to the hotel and dis­covered the ped­es­tri­an over­pass sys­tem. A bit quick­er than the streets, and a lot safer than try­ing to cross the roads. It was also notice­able that the people using the over­passes (which lead through shop­ping centres and hotel lob­bies) were, on aver­age, taller, better-fed, and much more expens­ively dressed than those walk­ing on the streets below. The typ­ic­al busi­ness appar­el seems to be dark suits, for both men and women. Pin­stripes seem to be con­sidered flashy.

Hong Kong is intense. I walked through much of Wan Chai, Cent­ral, Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok, just look­ing at things and absorb­ing the atmo­sphere. I saw lots of obvi­ously poor people, but few home­less people and the only beg­gars I saw were in the tour­ist areas of Tsim Sha Tsui. I marveled at the mid-levels escal­at­or sys­tem, and at how thin all those build­ings look from the top of Vic­toria Peak. You can tell that Hong Kong does not have a sig­ni­fic­ant risk of a large earth­quake by how close the apart­ment build­ings are build to each oth­er, and how tall they’re built, even on the reclaimed land. The build­ings on the mid-levels look like they’d bang into each oth­er when sway­ing in a big quake.

I want to go back and see more.

Sep 082008

On the way to Bal­is­age in Mon­tréal, the plane flew very low for the first part of the trip, about 19 000 feet (about 5800 m), to escape the smoke from fires in the Okanagan. Unusu­ally for me, I was in the win­dow seat and decided to take some pho­tos of Mount Baker and the oth­er moun­tains as we flew by. Mount Baker is famil­i­ar to every­one in Van­couver who can see far enough south; when we lived in an apart­ment in Yaletown we could judge the weather and the air pol­lu­tion by how clear Mount Baker looked. Fly­ing by with such a good view gave me a good chance to see what it looks like from the oth­er side.

Mt Baker

The rest of the pho­tos from the set are up on Flickr, tagged with “moun­tains”, should you be inter­ested.

Feb 202008

I went to my first fibre retreat ever over the week­end (actu­ally, a four-day week­end, includ­ing Valentine’s Day, which struck me as iron­ic). The organ­isers of the retreat did a great job, given that the hotel was being ren­ov­ated, with some of the res­taur­ants and pub­lic spaces closed, and work­ers crawl­ing over much of the rest of the hotel’s pub­lic spaces. It was run just like a tutorial-style con­fer­ence, with three-hour classes where the instruct­or talked a bit, showed a tech­nique (for tech­nique classes) or samples of end res­ults (for the artist­ic ideas classes), and then got you to try it out while they came around and helped. There were lots of tables set up for inform­al get-togethers, out­side the classrooms and the mar­ket­place.

The dif­fer­ences to tech con­fer­ences were obvi­ous — not a laptop to be seen, although I’m sure some people went back to their hotel rooms at the breaks to blog or check email, given that many people appeared to work at loc­al tech­no­logy com­pan­ies, and the male/female ratio was even more skewed than for most tech con­fer­ences (I saw about five men at the retreat, out of about 200). The mar­ket­place was busy selling as well as show­ing (unlike exhib­it halls at most tech con­fer­ences), though the vendors looked just as exhausted by the end of the four days as I can remem­ber being after long days on the booth at any oth­er con­fer­ence.

I learnt a lot (I’ll post more details of the knit­ting high­lights on my craft­ing blog), saw a bit of Tacoma (where the retreat was held), met a few people, and hung out a lot with Eve and Yvon­ne. Culin­ary high­lights included a yummy din­ner at Wild Ginger where we downed a good bottle of cham­pag­ne (Inflor­es­cence Blanc de Noirs brut, 100% pinot noir, from Jean-Pierre Bouchard and Cédric Bouchard), Eve’s home-made borekas, and a good quick tagine, which I’ll be mak­ing again. 

I’m slowly catch­ing up on sleep; just like any con­fer­ence it was pretty intense and was both invig­or­at­ing and exhaust­ing at the same time. 

Jun 272007

Most years I get to speak at the XML Sum­mer School put on by CSW in late July in Oxford, England. Last year I didn’t go since I’d just had a baby 6 weeks before and the fam­ily suc­ceeded in talk­ing me out of it. This year I’m going again. It should be a lot of fun; the idea of the school is to get a bunch of experts as teach­ers who go along with the attendees to all the social events, so the attendees can ask ques­tions while every­one is in the pub or wan­der­ing around the Old Bodlei­an Lib­rary. Ques­tions while punt­ing are best not dir­ec­ted at the punter, of course, and the rest of us are usu­ally too busy laugh­ing any­way.

With ses­sions on web ser­vices (includ­ing iden­tity and secur­ity), con­tent and know­ledge with XML, XSLT, XSL-FO and XQuery, Teach Your­self Onto­logy (that one’s new this year!), Build­ing XML Applic­a­tions, and XML in Health­care, there’s lots to choose from. I’ll have to choose which days I attend care­fully, there’s always too much going on.

I’m speak­ing in the Trends and Tran­si­ents track (which I chair each year, even when I’m not there) with Jeni Ten­nison and Dan Con­nolly; I’m talk­ing about Web 2.0 while they’re talk­ing XML Pro­cessing and Micro­formats respect­ively. I even got my present­a­tion deck fin­ished, and only a couple of days late! For the last ses­sion of the day, I get the oth­er track chairs to spend five minutes telling us what they think are this year’s hyped or under-appreciated tech­no­lo­gies, fol­lowed by a pan­el ses­sion of all the day’s speak­ers. There is always some con­tro­ver­sy around people’s opin­ions, even of these sup­posedly dry tech­nic­al sub­jects. For a sample, check out the You­Tube video of Bob DuCharme’s talk (rant?) last year (the video and sound quality’s not great, but adequate).

CSW is offer­ing a spe­cial deal this year, speak­ers get a spe­cial code that people can use for a dis­count on regis­tra­tion. So if you are think­ing of attend­ing, email me for the code, either at my Sun email address or my Tex­tu­al­ity email address. Unless you’ve already got a code from one of the oth­er speak­ers of course…