Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday, Smithsonian style

In DC,  you're either at the mall or on The Mall. Crowds in Dino hall, Natural History Museum.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

More than art

Lichtenstein "Modern Head", formerly situated near the World Trade Center, NYC

Si si, je suis un rock star

Originally uploaded by martin_kalfatovic
Keri and I were quite popular at the Yonghe Temple, it was quite clear we were being mistaking for world famous celebrities, when, in fact, we are mere information scientists, biblio informaticians, nay, mere librarians.

So yes, just librarians, but as Keri said, "rock star was a career option."


Title of post courtesy Bill Wyman:

Je suis un rock star Je avais un residence
Je habiter la A la South of France
Voulez vous Partir with me
And come and rester la with me in France.

Mounted police @ Ten Penn

This beautiful horse has been at Tenth St. and Penn. Ave. for the past couple of days.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas...

at this Beijing Starbucks! Holiday music on the tunes, all the decorations up. They do Christmas right here!

I didn't get a picture of the Hagen-Daz employees in their Santa caps (fyi, this was a premium Hagen-Daz, with a maitre'd and wine)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Chrysanthemum tea

at Ten Fu's Tea, Beijing

My favorite Forbidden City photo

Taken right near the rear entrance.

Beijing air - "Crazy Bad" on Friday

Well, as if I needed the US Embassy to tell me!

US Embassy: Beijing Air Quality Is 'crazy Bad,' As Pollution Index Slides Off The Charts

BEIJING (AP) - Air pollution in Beijing was so bad Friday that the U.S. Embassy, which has been independently monitoring air quality, ran out of conventional adjectives to describe it, at one point saying it was "crazy bad."

The embassy later deleted the phrase, saying it was an "incorrect" description and adding that it was working to revise the language to use when the air quality index goes above its highest point of 500, which means the air is considered hazardous for all people by U.S. standards.

What would Mao say?

Walking along Wangfujing Street in Beijing is like going down the fanciest, gaudiest Capitalist market places anywhere in the West.

I don't really care what Mao would say, it just makes me angry that so many people died and so much treasure was spent by both sides in a struggle that should never have occurred in the first place.

The Great Helmsman

I guess I'm in one of the last generations that can look at this site and remember back to what China and this portrait of Mao meant to Americans.

'If seven maids with seven mops ...

'If seven maids with seven mops. Swept it for half a year, Do you suppose,' the Walrus said, 'That they could get it clear?' - Lewis Carroll

There is an amazing amount of sweeping that goes on in Beijing, and yet, well, everything seems to remain rather dusty ...

Look Out! The slope is steep and the road is slippery

"Look Out! The slope is steep and the road is slippery"

As Keri said, "that just calls out to be a country song".

Sign on the way to the top of Jingshan Park.

Poor visibility in Beijing

Here is a picture of the Forbidden City from the top of Jingshan Park. You can barely make out the second set of gates.

It did clear up a small bit later in the day, but not much.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Temple of Heaven

A quite amazing complex of temples, parks, walkways, and feral cats. You can't tell from this picture, but it was quite crowded. It was getting towards evening (this was around 3:30 pm) and the sky was gray from the pollution.

Taxi to the Great Wall, Mutianyu

Great Wall at Mutianyu

We decided to not go to the Badaling section of the Great Wall since Chris and Keri and already been there. Instead, we went to Mutianyu. It was about a 90 minute ride from the Fragrant Hill area, but pretty smooth going.

Once you get to the Wall, you're surrounded by the trinket sellers. We decided to take the cable car to the top and then walk around. There was still a Beijing haze over, but the sky did peek out a bit. We pretended it was just fog.

We took the cable car back down, but then decided to walk back up to go down the alpine slide (yes, hard to believe). We left Chris at the bottom and scaled the approximately 11,364 steps to Tower 6 and then walked along to Tower 8 only to find the slide closed. Luckily, we were able to take the ski lift back down.

Bought some tee-shirts, found our driver, and back into downtown Beijing (a mere 2.25 hours later - most of which was the last couple miles in downtown traffic).

Night riders

Can't imagine riding at night, in the dark, in the haze, in the traffic. These were just a few in the line of cyclers zipping past while I was waiting for a cab.

I like the way this picture turned out with the lights and the haze

Proustian Olfactory Memory of Beijing

I think that the smell that I'll most remember from Beijing is the smell of burning coal. When I turned the corner in my Xiangshan neighborhood one morning, I found a lot full of these trucks being loaded with coal.

The coal, burned in the open, also explains the massive air pollution.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hazy Beijing Day

Originally uploaded by martin_kalfatovic
For the first four days I was here in Beijing, I was treated to beautiful, clear blue skies. I was wondering where the famed pollution was. Well, it arrived today.

The sky was a dull red/yellow, in the afternoon when the sun started to set, it was a huge, dull red ball in the sky.

As it turned to night, it was like a heavy fog, but you could almost tasted and feel the air.

Smithsonian at Institute of Botany Library

I always like looking at old card catalogs and finding "Smithsonian" entries. This one is from the library at the Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Master Control box for the electronics in room 539

Originally uploaded by martin_kalfatovic
At first I thought that this master control box in the Fragrant Hills Empark Hotel was a bit silly. But now, after a couple of days, it's really nice to be able to turn on and off all the lights and switches from one handy spot. No more forgetting to turn out the foyer lights and having to get out of bed. Simply press "foyer" and boom boom, out go the lights.

So what if the clock is wrong and I can't instantly know the time in Bangkok, I have the power!


An amazing number of cats here at the Institute of Botany. These two handsome white cats really wanted to come inside. Meow!

The East is Red

Remember that great old ditty, "The East is Red" from the days of the Cultural Revolution? Well, today, the East looked pretty red as the sun rose over Beijing on a crisp and slightly foggy morning.

Chicken Crackers and Baiju

Best place to learn about a country is in the grocery store. Here in Beijing, we decided to skip dinner (after a big lunch) and just did some shopping for snacks.

So, who could resist "Chicken Crackers"?

Also available was a full size selection of alcohol, including a wide selection of "Baiju", aka "Chinese Water" or "White Lightning"!


Monday, November 15, 2010

Blue Cowrie Beer

For when you need to wrangle up some seashells

Stick out your Yuan, here comes the Yam Man

So, what could be better for breakfast than a freshly baked, steaming hot yam?

Look no further, here comes the Yam Man!

I almost walked past the Yam Man, but the smell of hot sweet potatoes (they're not really yams you know, whole other root vegetable that we rarely eat) said that I had to stop.

I pointed and gestured "1 yam", he pointed and gestured "2 yuan". Deal done. He grabbed a yam stuck it in a plastic bag, yuan changed hands and off I went with my hot, charred, and very tasty yam.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Fragrant Hill Empark Hotel, night

The well lit sign to the hotel. The guards at the front station are always friendly with a cheerful "good morning" or "good evening"

Na La Restaurant

Had braised spicy lamb (very good), spicy egg plants with buns (very good), crispy prawns (ok), pea shoots with carmalized onions (very good), rice (best steamed rice I've ever had!), dessert with dragon fruit, and a bottle of Dynasty Dry Red Wine. Very nice.

Our greeters at the door:

Our Mongol door man:


Wofo Si

Temple of the Reclinging Buddha (Wofo Si). Nice temple (filled with VERY FAT CATS), the Buddha was quite spectacular, 15 feet long, all bronze and the largest in China.

Hot Pot Spot

Stopped along a little alley way for lunch and had a hot pot for lunch. You picked out the pot you wanted (each and everyone slightly different) and then they cooked it on the propane powered burners.

You then went to go sit in this little room on the otherside of the alley:


Here we are sitting along the wall, it was packed when we got there. I promptly knocked over a big baking tray of rising dough, but picked it up and put it on the side (it was later used, so no harm done).


And here's the finished hot pots:


Atop Xianglu Peak

Chris and I, as the only two Western men caused a photo frenzy when we posed on top of Xianglu Peak. Keri took the photo because she didn't want to add to the frenzy.

a "Good Wall", not a "Great" Wall

Went to the top of Incense Burner Hill (Xianglu Peak, one of the highest points in Beijing), we took the cable car (ski lift) and didn't walk up. There was a nice wall though along the route, good, but not great.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Along Ring Road 5, Beijing

Dusk settling in on Beijing as I road in a taxi from PEK to the Fragrant Hill Empark Hotel

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sometimes less is more (when it comes to data)

Originally uploaded by martin_kalfatovic
In a project I work on (the Biodiversity Heritage Library), we always say “BHL is important because it’s a complete (planned at least) of a type of data (biodiv lit)”. Generally speaking, we don’t data to support this assumption, but a firm called Infochimps is designing metrics and data analysis that can quantify this assumption; here’s an interesting post by Eric Hellman (on his "Go to Hellman" blog which you should all ready by the way) about scaling data value, Eric has a longer/fuller discussion, but the key point in relation to BHL  is the following:
Kromer has noticed that the price (or perhaps cost) of a partial data set follows a non-monotonic curve (see graphic). Small amounts of data are essentially free, but a peak value is reached when portions of the data set are extracted from the full data set.
Kromer has noticed that the price (or perhaps cost) of a partial data set follows a non-monotonic curve (see graphic). Small amounts of data are essentially free, but a peak value is reached when portions of the data set are extracted from the full data set. If we were discussing book metadata, for example, peak value might accrue for a set of the 100,000 top selling books.
There's much less value, according to Kromer, in having a large incomplete chunk of a data set. Data for 10,000,000 books, for example, would have less value than the 100,000 book data set, because it's not complete. Complete data sets become extremely expensive because of the logistics involved, and because of the value of having the complete set.
In the BHL context, substitute “Google” for 10m books and “BHL” for 100k books. The BHL data set, acquired at a higher unit cost than the Google data set, is of more “value” because of the coherency of the data (operations on a small, coherent set of data will return greater value than on large incoherent data sets). So, the current ~85,000 BHL volumes online could be of more value than the entire Google Books set.