Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Guidebook To China

In preparation for my recent visit to china, I stopped at Barnes & Noble and looked over the tourist guides. After some comparison, I bought a copy the Lonely Planet guide to China - it had a good balance of history and practical information.

While surfing the net a few days later, I ran across the 1942 equivalent of the travel guide:

Click HERE to read the document.

Back then the US and China were both at war with Japan. The Japanese had invaded china in 1937, and were engaged in a brutal occupation. The guidebook was for American GI's, mostly the USAAF, who were stationed in China. After the war, GI's were stationed all over the country to supervise the surrender of the Japanese army.

For a 1940's document, the guide is remarkably free of racial stereotypes.It contains useful information about culture, language, and shopping - all the things you'd expect. Many of the comments about Chinese culture ring true. The advice is pretty good too, even by todays standards. I suspect that we've changed a lot more since 1942 than the Chinese.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Master of the Nets

The formal Chinese garden must adhere to seventeen essential elements. This includes water, rocks, walls, and feng shui. On my recent visit to China, I had the pleasure of visiting the "Master of the Nets" garden in Suzhou, just outside of Shanghai. Many people consider this garden to be one of the best in the world.

Part of the experience of a formal garden is to stroll through it, watching as each "scene" unfolds along your passage. I only had an hour, so I settled for a quick walk through, and a detailed study of a single view. I could have spent all day there.

I always make my drawings from the actual location, rather than a photograph. It's interesting to compare the finished drawing to what the camera sees. (I didn't have my camera so I had to rip off this excellent photograph by Gareth Davies. The original site is HERE.)

Nobody's perfect

The IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.) is the world's leading professional association for the advancement of technology. If anyone knows how to build a great website, it should be these guys.

"Users may experience intermittent service disruptions at this time. We apologize for any inconvenience and as we work to resolve these issues."

Monday, July 21, 2008

Tabla Rasa

As an occasional writer, I have an deep seated fear of the blank page. A blank page represents mostly bad things - procrastination, writers block, un-begun tasks, and failure. I suspect that prolific writers see things differently - to them a blank page is an invitation to express themselves - a welcoming opportunity.

I've noticed that technical writers have a method of dealing with the blank page. They simply state the obvious:
"This page intentionally left blank"
This has always seemed like an oxymoron to me. It's self-referential in a deeply postmodern way. There are several websites dedicated to this concept. (Look HERE, and HERE.) Not suprisingly, Wikipedia has a page dedicated to the subject. HERE.

As a computer programmer I'd refer to this as a "NO-OP", or no-operation. Back in the old days when computers were programed with bits and bytes, we wrote code in assembly language. Assembly programming is very tedious because at that low-level, you have to tell the computer exactly what to do, including when to do nothing at all. For your benefit, I've included a sample of assembly language programming:

sub edx, 8
jg .loop
nop ; do nothing, little grasshopper

This code fragment demonstrates the "nop" instruction in its native habitat. The "nop", or NO-OP is special, because it does nothing. It seems self-contradictory to have a programming command that tells the computer to do nothing. It's necessary because computer must be told EVERYTHING - computers are just that stupid. On a philosophical level, NO-OP is zen-like.
A monk asked Zen master Jōshū , : "Has a cow Buddha-nature or not?", Jōshū answered: "Mu". (Nothing)
Nothingness is all around us. Several weeks ago I bought a spindle of recordable computer CDs. The very last CD in the pack was blank. (If I were a songwriter, I'd find this especially disturbing.)

Several company have made a business out of selling nothing. They manufacture what's known as "void fill machines", which produce bags of air. These bags are very useful for shipping, because air makes a great lightweight and low cost filler. It weighs practically nothing and gives a whole new meaning to "air mail".

© 2008 Raoul Rubin