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LJ 10/20 entries back [Feb. 5th, 2012|06:48 pm]
Funny thing happening on my friends page - I can only skip back one page and no more. If I try to cheat by changing skip=10 to skip=20, nothing loads. What am I doing wrong?
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Anyone still here? [Jan. 1st, 2012|12:29 pm]
It's been a very long time since I last posted on here, and I suspect it'll be even longer till the next time. LJ has a very small group of people using it, it's a pain in the neck even to put up one photo and write about it, and it doesn't work well with my smartphone which, given my only available time is while commuting, is a deal-breaker. Besides, I don't tend to write much any more. Those of you who are also on facebook can follow me there. Those who are not used to keep in touch with Messenger; however, I tried to resurrect it only to discover that they've deleted the block feature and I keep getting spam from machines who claim to be 24/f and looking for a f*** (or rather, to f*** my credit card), so I have uninstalled it. I know that distractogirl and Janvier are not on facebook. Who else?

For those of you not in the loop via (a) my family or (b) facebook, I'm now a father. Esther Sakura was born on 17th December and she's a cutie. There are loads of pictures there.

Over and out
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Irreverence and its importance [Jun. 7th, 2011|07:58 pm]
Friends: The One with Dave and Sam's Trip to Ibiza

If I were required to sum up the article linked above in two words, they would be these: entertaining drivel. Notwithstanding this, its very existence - online, and on paper in my motherland - caused me to put down my smartphone and start thinking. Is this the freedom for which I am occasionally reminded that my forebears fought? I have to conclude that it is. For the fact that we mock our politicians is symptomatic of the fact that a) we know they are humand and b) we do not trust them, and the fact that we can show this reminds us - and them - that they are accountable.

In Hong Kong, I cannot imagine anyone writing a similar article about Donald Tsang, Beijing's sycophantic tool at the head of this pseudo-city-state. It might be that there is nothing to write - beyond the fact that his sole statement of individuality is his peculiar habit of wearing a bow tie at all times, he is a two-dimensional former civil servant - but I think it more likely that the printed press has no leeway, and the blogosphere is immature and insufficiently politically-educated to do much except rant about policies its contributors don't like. Consider the mainland and the outlook is even more depressing.

In fact, the only outlet of silliness in Hong Kong is the irritating Long Hair, who together with the few other genuinely elected politicians regularly gets booted out of the LegCo chamber for disorderly behaviour. I have sometimes wondered whether his ridiculous exploits are a genuine attempt to make Hong Kong people wake up to their lack of representation, or whether he is secretly a Beijing plant designed to discredit the Pan-Democratic camp*.

So enjoy your drivel, my fellow Brits, and watch like hawks for any erosion of your right to silliness. Something darker will be lying beneath.

*by the way, the political spectrum among electable politicians in Hong Kong is not Socialist-Conservative as back home, it is almost entirely Socialist and the spectrum is from Pro-Beijing to Pro-Democracy. The unelected politicians and civil servants who run the show are pretty conservative, though.
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(no subject) [May. 6th, 2011|08:08 pm]
New meme. I read this reported in the Telegraph; thought I'd answer it. Apparently Country Life considers these essential skills.

Every young man and woman should know how to:

1. Cook three different dinner party menus
Cannot... I can just about cook for two!

2. Say 'Can you help me please' in Arabic, Cantonese, Urdu, Spanish and Russian
Don't bother in Cantonese, they all speak English here. Surely Mandarin would be more useful? Qing wen yixia... The others I can't manage at all.

3. Play a musical instrument, even if it's the tom-toms or a mouth organ

4. Ride a horse to jackaroo standard
What is jackaroo standard? I've never even tried, so i doubt it.

5. Be a 'tech whisperer', able to fix and set up the latest techno-gadgets.
I'd like to think so.

6. Talk about five classics of English literature with authority and passion
Passion perhaps, authority no, I always talk a load of...

7. Perform resuscitation on someone who has stopped breathing

8. Know how to grow carrots from seed, distinguish five native trees, identify twenty flowers and arrange a bunch
No, I have brown fingers.

9. Handle a shotgun, skin a rabbit, gut a fish and pluck a pigeon
Sadly my experience is lacking in all of these areas.

10. Repair a bicycle puncture and fix the chain

11. Dance the eightsome reel, waltz to Strauss and bop to Lady Gaga
Nobody bops! Anyway, I have two left feet so I'll pass on the dancing.

12. Taste the difference between a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay and know how to mix a mojito or margarita
Not so good here, try me on beer.

13. Write a memorable thank-you letter
Always late but generally competent (but my wife adds: hard to read).

14. Recognise Mozart, Elgar and Handel
Easy, the three are worlds apart. Don't ask me titles though.

15. Put up a shelf and change a plug
And more besides.

16. Tie a bow tie, bowline and Bloody Butcher (fishing fly)
One out of three; I scorn those wearing ready-made ties.

17. Sail a boat across The Solent
I once sailed a topper off the Costa del Sol, I guess it doesn't count.

18. Carve a joint of meat
Neatly, no.

19. Tell the difference between Gothic, Baroque and Palladian architecture
With reasonable confidence.

20. Make a speech, entertain an audience with a joke or an anecdote, and sing at least two songs by heart
Working on this one. I can sing a lot of songs by heart though not all are suitable for mixed company.

21. Drive a tractor, reverse a trailer, renew engine oil and change a wheel

22. Find their way round five capital cities
Hmmm... London at any time and Paris to a certain extent; confident anywhere else as long as I have a map. Is that allowed?

23. Host a party and put others at their ease
Not really a social expert, I'll pass on this one.

24. Sustain a 10-shot rally at tennis
Depends on my opponent. Table-tennis ditto but I am much better at it.

25. Build a bonfire and lay a fire

26. Perform three good card tricks
Not at all, two left hands also.

27. Identify five constellations and find the North Star
No, I grew up in London. The light in the sky is most likely an aeroplane.

28. Score a cricket match

29. Talk knowledgeably about five British landmarks
Only if they are Engineering landmarks. See also my response to skill no. 6.

30. Uncork and pour a bottle of Champagne
Without style but also without spilling it everywhere, yes.

31. Iron a shirt, sew on a button and sew up a hem
Two out of three.

32. Amuse small children for at least an hour with magic tricks and story telling
How small? I used to help in a primary school.

33. Read a map, pitch a tent and pack a rucksack
Yes though not with any great skill.

34. Be authoritatively acquainted with at least one work by da Vinci, Constable, Degas, Turner and Canaletto
Recognise yes, acquainted definitely not.

35. Know how to manage a bank account
This should be higher up the list, I think, and also include tax return abilities. By the way, I just filed mine online in HK, it took me 10 minutes and my bill for the year is rather less than HK$1000 - Mr Osborne, take note.

36. Slip away from a football riot
Been there, done that.

37. Address a member of the Royal Family
Your Majesty for the Queen, Your Royal Highness for everyone else, and after that Sir or Ma'am as appropriate (correct?).

38. Complain effectively but politely in a restaurant
I've been known to do it, and not just in restaurants, but it's not one of my strengths.

39. Deliver a lamb
Oddly, no!
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Learning Chinese, another post [Jan. 20th, 2011|11:22 pm]
Scene: The office
Will and Glenn are fixing a spreadsheet. June is looking on.

June: "rock weight" yinggoi hai y'ah yi ah~ (translation: Rock weight should be 22)
Will: (Types 22 in the rock density box).
June: Wah! Lei teng dak ming?! (translation: you got it?!)
Will: Of course, you know I understand some, and anyway you said rock weight in English!
June: Yes, I know. But you should have learnt yi sap yi, not y'ah yi.
Will: But you said y'ah yi. You always say y'ah yi. Everyone does.
June: Yes, but it's slang. You should learn the proper Chinese.

Sigh. I think this is one of the reasons it is so often said that Cantonese is so tough to learn, even when you're in Hong Kong. It really isn't tough - the grammar is a piece of piss, the sounds aren't too hard and the only real problem is the tones. But when you learn one thing from a textbook which has a set idea of what Cantonese/Chinese 'should' be with a blind indifference to what is really spoken, and when that view is also drummed into Chinese people at school, the textbooks become useless and the students become disillusioned.

This example is especially ridiculous, because can you imagine learning English without learning contractions? Imagine first that the textbook teaches that the only way to express the negative is to say is not (in case the class smartass pipes up that his cousin who lived overseas taught him to say isn't, the teacher points out that this is slang nobody learns). Then the kids go to the UK and find out that contractions are the order of the day and everyone uses them. This is not 'slang', it is usage.

Since I've started ranting, I will get something else that's been bugging me off my chest. If you subscribe to the PRC view, Cantonese is a dialect of the Chinese language. If you are a linguist, Cantonese is a dialect of the Yue Language. I am not going to debate whether the PRC or the linguists are right, it's a dangerous politically and emotionally charged discussion, but I want to talk about 'Written Cantonese', which supposedly doesn't exist.

There is a myth that Chinese dialects (PRC definition) all have a common written language. Consider the sentence "I am not a Chinese":
我不是中國人 Wo bu shi Zhongguoren
我不是中國人 Ngo bat see Junggwokyan
我唔係中國人 Ngo m hai Junggwokyan
The first two are written in Standard Chinese and the third is written in Cantonese. The first one is romanised using Hanyu Pinyin for Mandarin; the second and third are romanised in Cantonese.

If I were to say the second one with Cantonese pronunciation I would still be understood, but I would sound really strange to the listener. The most common response I get when I speak standard Chinese with a Cantonese pronunciation (usually because I can't remember or don't know the Cantonese word) I am told "that's the written version". Is it wrong? I don't know, because the teaching of Standard Chinese and also Standard Mandarin has complicated the issue, but I think not. However, if I were to say the third one in a Mandarin pronunciation (assuming that one exists, which is not always the case for these localised characters) it would definitely be wrong and unintelligible to a Mandarin listener.


I noticed three different ads today that were written in what was unmistakably Cantonese, not Standard Chinese. This is not uncommon in Hong Kong and makes me very happy. But June's attitude persists among locals and it frustrates me that Cantonese is relegated to this second place status. And unfortunately, this comes back to the unavoidable question; is Cantonese a dialect or a language?
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Making land [Jan. 8th, 2011|10:04 am]
History of Reclamation in HK, abridged:

When the British forced the Chinese to cede HK to us in the 19th Century, we gained a strategic harbour surrounded by a fairly useless chunk of mountainous terrain (the only naturally flat land in HK, apart from Happy Valley, is in the northern New Territories which we didn't get our hands on until 1898). Unfortunately, for what was to come, flat land was pretty much a necessity. So we shovelled a lot of rubble, building debris, rubbish, even fire debris, off the coastline until there was more coastline. This was the first stage, and formed the tram route, among other things. It still manages to cause Engineers nightmares when we come to build basements. Unfortunately, the top layers of soil under the sea are 'Marine Deposits' - soft black clay with the consistency of toothpaste and which takes years to consolidate and gain strength as the excess water eventually drains out. Moreover, if you tip stuff in like that, it causes 'mud waves'... which are extra thick parts which will consolidate even more later.

After this was realised, the next generation of reclamation started. Dredgers would remove all the soft marine sediments down to decent founding material, and then dump nice graded fill (generally) on top of that, which settled predictably and became stable. That formed the bulk of reclamation in the 20th Century. Probably the last major reclamation to adopt this method was the 2% added to HK's total land area during the construction of the airport and related infrastructure in the 1990s, but don't quote me on that one.

However, in recent years we have a growing environmental awareness both in the engineering community and our regulatory authorities and clients, but also among the general public. We are all intimately familiar with the favoured swimming routes of Chinese White Dolphins in the commercially important waters off western Lantau; and we are aware that these marine deposits are actually pretty nasty materials and if you dig them out you have to dump them somewhere - and simply, there is nowhere we are allowed to dump this vast quantity of material amounting to thousands upon thousands of tonnes. So the latest tendency is towards constructing 'Drained Reclamations' - where you install vertical drains to encourage the excess water out of the marine deposits and therefore they can gain strength in 1-2 years instead of 10-20 years. During which time you might expect them to settle 1m for every 5m thickness of deposits. At which point, the design even for basic stabilityb gets tedious.

This is where I come in, and why I am typing this in the office on what is supposedly my Saturday off. Bummer.
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Late Summer in Japan and Hong Kong [Aug. 23rd, 2010|09:08 pm]
This morning's weather in Osaka was reminiscent of the finest mornings of the English summer; you know, when the sun is shining in a way that instructs you to get up and enjoy it because it won't last long. The air was warm and fresh and the birds sang with the cicadas in discordant harmony. It was a shame to enter the clinically air-conditioned no-man's land of international air travel in Takaida, and emerge blinking at Quarry Bay.

After an unproductive afternoon in the office, followed by a brief but acquisitive trip to the Hong Kong Central Library (Collins, Lawrence, Wodehouse), I head back through Victoria Park. On the all-weather pitches, boys are playing football - except for the last one where inline skaters are circling silently. As I pause to buy a drink from the vending machine, the heavens open and the footballers, the skaters and the Filipinas dash for cover. I join them, darting from awning to overhang in a zigzag path to the bus stop, where the huge yellow 5X waits for no man whatever the weather.

In Kennedy Town, the thunderstorm has cleared the air, but not the streets. It is the seventh lunar month. The 7th night, a few days before, was Qi Xi; one of several festivals that vie for the curious title of the Chinese Valentine's Day. The 'Ghost Month' as it is also known is the first reminder that Autumn is setting in; even more so for the emigre Englishmen for whom the ubiquitous bonfires of Hell Money and offerings of food at the roadside are jumbled reminders of Harvest Festival, Hallowe'en, and Guy Fawkes'.
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(no subject) [Jun. 14th, 2010|10:30 pm]
Oil spill 'will shape how US thinks about environment'

What a superb piece of hyperbole. Add that to the continued reference to BP as British Petroleum and we Brits are on the same level as terrorists who fly planes into towers killing thousands of innocent citizens. Oh, didn't you know? BP deliberately destroyed its rig and sacrificed a lot of money and public image just to attack the American people and their ideals.

"In the same way that our view of our vulnerabilities and our foreign policy was shaped profoundly by 9/11, I think this disaster is going to shape how we think about the environment and energy for many years to come," he said in the Politico interview.

Actually, I think that the point that he is trying to make is fair enough. But 9/11 is becoming a modern-day Godwin, and it's very easy for the sensationalist press and the casual reader to ignore this. Certainly BBC's headline on the main pages "Oil spill is environment's 9/11" was misleading.*

*Yes, I know the BBC carries the same level and quality of reporting as a red-top tabloid these days.
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Spin [May. 11th, 2010|09:04 am]
I haven't really had time to comment on the current situation, but I had to rant about this gem from Lord Adonis:

"No one party can command a majority in the House of Commons. Fifteen million people voted for Labour and the Liberal Democrats combined, last Thursday. Only 10 million people voted for the Conservative Party last Thursday.

"There would be absolute democratic legitimacy behind an arrangement between Labour and the Liberal Democrats. But obviously there are a lot of negotiations to come."

That's a bloody beautiful bit of spin, Lord Adonis. Putting aside the fact that nobody votes for two parties 'combined' under first past the post, 10.7m voted for the Conservatives, 8.6m for Labour, and 6.8m for the Liberal Democrats. 10.7+6.8=17.5; 8.6+6.8=15.4.
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SEEP/W [Apr. 30th, 2010|02:16 pm]
I'm currently learning another finite-element software, GeoStudio SEEP/W. The first step is to read the manual, which is very educational as the software was developed by an academic team (rather than a design company, which is the usual case). I thought I'd share a couple of gems.

First, it's not a manual: In general, this book* is not a "how to use SEEP/W" manual. It is a book about how to model. It also describes how to engineer seepage problems using a powerful calculator, SEEP/W.

Second, it waxes lyrical, poetic even: The fact that mathematics can be used to simulate real physical processes is one of the great wonders of the universe. Perhaps physical processes follow mathematical rules, or mathematics has evolved to describe physical processes. Obviously, we do not know which came first, nor does it really matter. Regardless of how the relationship developed, the fact that we can use mathematics to simulate physical processes leads to developing a deeper understanding of physical processes. It may even allow for understanding or discovering previously unknown physical processes.

In other news, anyone has any suggestion how to program an Euler spiral into Excel so that I can plot it using AutoCAD with very short straight point-to-point lines? I have start and finish points (E/N), start tangent, start radius (which may be infinite - ie straight), and a parameter 'A'.

*it's definitely a book - cover, frontispiece, 8-page TOC and 290 pages of text/diagrams.
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