Sunday, October 28, 2018

Visiting world heritage rice terraces of YuanYang China 1/2

My goal for this visit to China was to see the rice terraces of Yuanyang County, Yunnan – a world heritage site. I've wanted to go ever since seeing this photo on the Bing homepage.  The photo is by Jialiang Gao, who has an impressive collection of photos on wikipedia - and an equally impressive number of uncredited photos on posters and tourist guides around the region.

Like many things in China - the scale is most impressive. Supersaturated telephoto pictures like the one above make it look like painted terraces going on for infinity - but seeing them in person in the context of the larger mountain still is quite impressive. If you can't visit yourself, please take a tour YuanYang on Google earth:

The terraces are stunningly beautiful, and part of that is knowing how much effort went into building them, all manual labor by people sometimes waist deep in mud and always using hand tools. The scale is so vast that you can barely see the people when there in person.

Up above all this - there is a little tourist villa - with a jacuzzi I could see through the floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the terraces. I travelled there to see the terraces myself – but sitting in a jacuzzi watching working people pile mud for kilometers around me ... seems a bit too similar to the Monty Python sketch with Arthur and the "peasant."

To make things at least slightly better, the actual farm workers don't appear to live in poverty. They have nice houses with out-of-place looking water buffalo wandering everywhere. Lots of babies and kids lived there, tended to by the older generation - but middle aged people and young adults seemed to be completely missing. Likely off working in the cities. After thousands of years, I'm afraid this World Heritage Site will quickly become an archeological site.

One thing that was interesting - is that the colorful local dress you often see in pictures of women from Yunnan - that actually is the way they really dress - and not even just on special occasions it seems they wear super-colorful headgear non-stop, even while working in the fields.

OK now for just a bit of detail on how to get there in case you want to see it in person for yourself. First fly to Kunming (one of the biggest cities you've never heard of - with a metro area population of over 6 million).

Then take a train to Jianshui, a nice little historic village (population 490,000). From there - the rice terraces are only a 3 hour drive away. There are tourist busses, but I shared a cab for a total price of about $80 for the day, which included gas for the trip - and stopping whenever we wanted to get out and take pictures. (email me to get the contact info of the local driver who was awesome).

Even the local Baidu maps was directing us down roads that were too narrow to drive down, but Google maps definitely cannot be trusted at all navigating the more remote areas since it doesn't even have roads in the right locations.

Some particularly scenic places were actually in just about the right google maps locations here and here.

And here are a few more photos that I took along the way. Notice the water buffalo in this one:

Stay tuned since the next post is going to be all about the engineering of these things!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Back in China

I'm back in China! Look here for more lessons on signage - and a probably giant post about rice terraces. This photo is actually part of a photo sphere - which you can probably see live on your phone with this link:

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Powdered sugar lightening pattern

I found this cool pattern on the side of a plastic takeout container, the pattern is made from powdered sugar.

It looks reminiscent of Lichtenberg Figures from lightening strike burns, but not exactly. Any ideas how it could have formed ... perhaps something to do with static electricity?

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Star naming on blockchain with Astro Ledger

I'm very excited to release a totally new project letting you name a star on blockchain built with the decentralized application platform Ethereum. It was built with the help of a small team, primarily Aleeza and Tony, but please check out the full Astro Ledger team.

The idea came to me as I was listening to blockchain podcasts driving back from the Falcon Heavy launch - and glanced out the window to see some stars. The podcast happened to be extremely boring ... so I just turned it off and imagined a future where the news coverage of an awesome exoplanet discoveries - includes the name of the star system it was found in, not just the boring ID number.

The FAQ page has lots of info about how to name a star but the key idea is that there is a card for each star, and if you own the card then you get to name the star. The ownership of the cards is handled by a smart contract and it is fully decentralized so that the names are as secure as the Ethereum cryptocurrency is.

The revenue from the star card auctions will go to Astro Ledger grants and the flow of all the cryptocurrency is completely transparent. We expect people to apply for grants in a similar style to the way the Awesome Foundation works, and actually we won an awesome foundation grant to build Astro Ledger:

This is the link to my personal "deck" or collection of star cards and screenshot where you can see some of the names I've chosen for stars. Shannon, is named after one of my heroes Claude Shannon.

This is a screenshot of what the auctions look like:

I really like this project because it incorporates a lot of elements that I really love, specifically: outer space, neat art, and a bit of edgy controversy that makes for an excellent topic of discussion!

I can talk/chat/comment about this all day so please feel free to communicate!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Schengen temporary visa stay time tracker

Americans are only allowed to stay in Schengen Europe for 90 days out of the previous 180 days. Below is a link to a spreadsheet you can copy and use to track how much time you have left to stay - and the date you must leave by.

Input the dates that you enter and leave Shengen

The results are listed below.

Comments and feedback welcome!

*No warranties with this spreadsheet sorry!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Trip to Falcon Heavy

Back in 2011 Aryeh and I drove down to Cape Canaveral to watch the very last space shuttle launch. (Read, all, about it on the blog).

This year I'm attempting to watch the first launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket (see static fire below).

Along the way I've stopped at Savannah Georgia - where an art student was collecting vaguely constrained notes from random people - that will then be turned into art. I wrote this slightly overdramatic bit with some questionable facts and terrible handwriting. I'm writing about the overview effect: if I ever hear back about what art they turn it into - I will be posting about it here!