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Click for San Francisco, California Forecast

San Francisco, USA

 

Battery Spencer

Golden Gate Bridge

After all these years living in San Francisco, walking and biking the Golden Gate Bridge no less than 30 times, I have finally make it to Battery Spencer above the bridge. On the Marin end of the bridge I rode my bike up the sleep slope to get there. The reward is a most glorious view of Golden Gate Bridge and the bay.

2007.09.23 [] - comments

 

Safe travel destinations?

When I am planning for travelling, especially to some more exotic destinations, the discussion is often steered toward the question - Is it safe? The underlying concern is the place maybe crime infested or perhaps an active target of terrorism. To the more experienced travellers this is often rejected as an undue concern. The standard rebuff is New York and LA has a higher crime rate than that of the destination.

Yet this question never goes away. People do not assess risk objectivity but base on some impression that can be very biased. Probability is such a thing that is hard for ordinary people to grasp rationally. In case of travelling, I find that the perceived risk is inversely proportional to the familiarity of the destination.

Consider New York, London, Madrid and Bali as examples. Each of them have subjected to multiple terrorist attacks. When Bali was bombed in 2002, some people discount it as an one-off incident. When it was bombed again in 2005, people are really scared and tourism plummeted. In case of New York and London, except the first few weeks after an incident, I have not heard anyone want to avoid them due to safety concern. Madrid sit somewhere in between. People perceive it as more risky than London but less risky than Bali. The perceived ranking or risk is roughly Bali > Madrid > London > New York.

Rather than base on any objective risk assessment, I think this is more a factor of familiarity. The ranking of familiarity for many outsiders are roughly New York > London > Madrid > Bali. Ask anyone in the world their impression on New York and London, they are likely to come up with hundreds of images - Statue of Liberty, Big Ben, multinational companies, the British royalties, celebrities and politicians, media and art references and their long and colorful history. This create an air of excitement that easily drown out the relative few violent incidents happened. On the other hand what do people know about Bali? Some superficial images of beach resorts and sightseeing spot? Unfortunately, for some people, the bomb attacks actually jump in front as their primary image of Bali. News of terrorism travel far and wide while domestic affairs receive little attention elsewhere. So the few incidents easily dominates outsiders' impression of the place.

The bottom line? Subjective risk is often very biased. The more familiarity you have with a place the less risk you will perceive.

2007.09.20 [] - comments

 

Movie Review - The Bridge

The Bridge (2006)
Director: Eric Steel

The Bridge is a controversial documentary about the people committing suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.

The first thing I notice about the film is that it is so beautiful. Even though Golden Gate Bridge has been photographed countless times, it never appears as attractive as in this film. The architecture, the geometry, the nature environment, the beautiful dance of light and fog. People walking on beaches, surfing, or sightseeing on gorgeously sunny days. It is just perfect. Perhaps just a perfect place to end it all?

The subject of this film is its dark side. People was seen jumping off the bridge in this film. When the friends and families of the victims are interviewed, you realized there was a tormented person behind each incident. Whether it is mental illness, financial or relationship issue or any combination of above, life has became unbearable for them. Yet it was never an end it all action. Their death often leave the friends and families agonizing over the whole matter.

The film is controversial because it has witnessed the entire action on film. It brings us down a slippery slope of voyeurism. I think this can be in part justified by forcing people to come face to face with it. I have lived in San Francisco for 8 years. The Golden Gate Bridge suicides only come across to me as some sort legend. When you visit the bridge, it is so beautiful you never believe someone will actually do it. Maybe we have some incidences in the past but not today? But no, it is real. It happens regularly, in broad daylight in front of many tourists. You will also see there are real people behind who are suffering from it.

This really leads to the perpetual discussion of building taller fences on the bridge as a suicide barrier. I am convinced that it will be effective. And that we have a moral obligation to do so.

2007.09.16 [] - comments

 

Nuclear Energy - The Power to Save The World?

Last night Long Now Foundation has presented a seminar of the title Power to Save the World by Gwyneth Cravens and Rip Anderson. To summary its theme in one sentence - nuclear fuel is THE magic fuel that will save the world from destruction.

With the looming risk of global climate change, nuclear power is making a come back. It is the only power source that can generate significant power today with minimal green house gas emission. Note that this isn't an energy corporation wolf in sheep's clothing trying to push their agenda. This idea is advanced by many conscientious people and environmentalists, after weighting the risk and benefit, have considered nuclear power is preferable to burning coal and the risk of global climate change. This position also pit them against other unconvinced environmentalists.

There isn't many earth shattering new data coming from the seminar. It is more of revisiting many fact and data that I already know that force me to reconsider my opinion. Uranium is a highly concentrated fuel. Very little of them can generate great deal of power. Coal is horrendous. Besides the green house gas emission, burning coal throws out tons of toxic waste, including mercury and some uranium. It is responsible for serious pollution and a great number of fatalities each year. And we have to consume tons and tons of coal to fuel our energy need.

What about the danger? What about the Chernobyl disaster? They are quick to point out Chernobyl has serious design flaws and was not enclosed in a concrete containment shell as any nuclear reactor should have. The only other incident in the 50 years of history of nuclear power generation is the Three Mile Island accident, which resulted in no deaths or injuries.

Of course I don't just take his word for granted. The April 2006 issue of National Geographic ran a story on the Chernobyl disaster on its 20th anniversary. From the article I can validated the direct death toll was in the tens, much lower than people have feared. It was a catastrophe nonetheless. But it is a catastrophe those extent has now been understood. On the other hand, global climate change is an unknown risk. What will happen if the ocean stop acting as a carbon sink one day? It could be a catastrophe of epic proportions. It is actually comforting to understand a worst case scenario than to face some unknow risk.

Long Now foundation has many stellar presenters in the past. Gwyneth and Rip are rather old school in comparison. They talk slowly and has few climax or punch line interspersed. The lack of style is more than made up by substances. Moreover Rip has used an excellent parable in his closing, which I will retell here.

Once upon a time the river has flooded and threatened a village. There was an old man remain in his house. Police has came to his house and asked, "Do you want to leave in our car?". The old man refused and said "No I am not leaving in the car. God is going to save me." Later the water has flooded the streets. A rescue team on a boat has came to his house and asked, "Do you want to leave in our boat?" The old man has again refused and said "No, I am not leaving in the boat. God is going to save me." Later water level has raised even more and the old man was stranded on the roof. A helicopter has came to his house and asked, "Do you want to leave with us by the helicopter?" The old man has again refused and said, "No, I'm not leaving by the helicopter. God is going to save me". So the water keep rising and the man was finally drowned.
Upon his judgement day the old man asked "My Lord, I have believed in you all my life. Why didn't you come to save me?" The God said "I have seen you stranded and I have sent a car, a boat and a helicopter to rescue you. What more do you want me to do?"

Rip then asked, now we have found fuel that contains a lot of energy, emit no green house gas and has a deposits large enough to last well into the future. What more are people looking for?

2007.09.15 [] - comments

 

Blog maintenance

When I first started creating this website and my blog, I wrote most of the software on top of Apache myself. I want this to be a learning experience as a webmaster. A very good learning experience it is, I did not have to put in too much time as the software is rather simple. But overtime, things need touch up here and there. Some reorganization is needed to make it friendly to search engine. The layout and presentation also need some fine-tuning. The trouble of building my own website is these maintenance task tend to be deferred and piled up.

Finally I have taken some time to build an index for my past articles. I have also adopted some microformat to help the search engine to find my articles. I feel good after completed long neglected work today.

2007.09.06 [] - comments

 

Home Coming - Asia Trip 8/8

About 150 km to the west of Guangzhou is a rural community known as the village of Tung's clan. This is my ancestral homeland, the place where my father was born and raised. Although he has left for Hong Kong with a few brothers and sisters when he was young, they still maintain strong connection and return regularly to the village. On the other hand I am an urban boy born and raised in Hong Kong. I known very little about the village besides the occasional stories from my parents. I have only make one visit when I was small. I remember very little about the trip beside an impression that the village is a dirty place.

After so many years I suddenly have the urge to visit my village on the way. This was the last stop before I return to Hong Kong. I met with my parents in the nearby city Zhaoqing. It was many months since we have last seen each other. We shared a hotel room and went for dimsum the next morning before making the trip to the village.

Family Shrine

We are hosted by our cousins and nephews. They were really glad to have us visiting. It is not often for them to have guests in the village. So our visit has created some festive atmosphere. They have already finished harvesting the year's rice crop. So my nephews have a lot of free time to show me around. I have visited Tung's family shrine. The building was once collectivized but the ownership has since returned to our clan. What remains is a rather barren building.

Harvesting

I must have learned lot more about the world. My village does not seem so dirty to me this time. After a few weeks in China's backwater countries, even the squat toilet there failed to shock me. On the other hand, life remain poor in China's rural communities. For young people, the village seems to have little to go for.

* * *

From Zhaoqing I have temporary parted with my parent to take the high-speed ferry home. They would rather return by train because it only costs half as much. But after living minimally for weeks, this last trip is an easily justifiable splurge for me. After all it was an emotional moment. I wish to end the trip in a more romantic way.

The ferry ride can be described as calm and uneventful. We were seated comfortably inside the sealed compartment. Hong Kong movie was played during the trip. It has been a long time since I was surrounded by Hong Kong people all speaking Cantonese. Somehow this didn't feel so exciting.

As the ferry approaching Hong Kong, we sailed pass the site of the new airport, the new suspension bridges and finally the Central reclamation area. Upon landing at the China Hong Kong City terminal, I headed directly to Tsim Sha Tsui's waterfront promenade, to see the harbor, and to feel Hong Kong.

1996.11.17


2007.09.03 [, ] - comments

 

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