Forever

I don't watch a lot of TV shows, but when I do, I binge them. One of the weekends a couple months ago I did nothing but sat in the couch and finished the only season of "Altered Carbon", partly to procrastinate doing my taxes. I was going to write about it then, but death and taxes got in the way.

Altered Carbon is set in a future where all your memory is instantly recorded in an electronic implant, and your memory can be restored into any body as long as the implant is not damaged. There's a side effect every time you switch body though, doing it too often and your mind gets damaged. The super rich make nightly backup of their implants and clone their bodies so they can essentially live forever.

A lot of the show is about the implications of "forever". As a side effect of the mind living forever, bodies are disposable, except for the religious few who believe lives are meant to end. Those who truly live forever have God-like status, and because they never die, wealth and power is not concentrated in families but in individuals. Ever complained about your parents still treat 30 year-olds like kids? That's nothing compared to 250 year-olds treating 200 year-olds like kids. Wedding vows are short and sweet but keeping them truly takes forever.

While I procrastinated with my taxes I also came across another Korean movie, The Beauty Inside. The main character, Woo-jin, wakes up with a different body every day. He lives by himself and nobody knows about his secret except his mom and his best friend. To everyone else, he's always a stranger. Instead of forever, everything in his life is transient.

In additional to having 100 different pairs of glasses and all the sizes of shoes, Woo-jin also has to live with other life inconveniences like not being able to speak Korean if he wakes up as a foreigner or the awkwardness of his best friend asking to have sex with "him" on the days he's a woman. Being a Korean movie, obviously the main obstacle Woo-jin faces is finding a girlfriend. Vernon Elliot still loves his wife when she re-sleeves into a man's body, but Woo-jin lives outside of the dystopian world of Altered Carbon where that is the norm.

The rebels in Altered Carbon lives in a world of forevers and fights for a world where everyone eventually dies. In Woo-jin's world everything lasts for only one day but he longs for forever. In both worlds the characters are not defined by their bodies but by their minds. If we are what we speak and anchoring are true to some extent, are we really only our souls or are there more to our non-disposable shells?

by khc on Mon May 21 18:49:05 2018 Permlink
Tags: movie

Least Recently Used

Finally have a weekend free and motivated/nudged enough to do some spring cleaning. Way too many people have written about Marie Kondo's book that I didn't have to read it to know her number one principle: to keep only those that spark joy.

Being a sentimental being makes following that simple rule a little difficult. My brain is filled with memories and every little thing is a key to unlock a particular period of my life. If our online, digital experience is characterized as abundant and cheap, then perhaps my offline, physical collection is too sacred to be disrupted.

But alas, they have to go. Google miraculously made deleting emails and photos a thing of the past, with essentially unlimited storage for everything for the low low price of free. In the physical world the cost of having things is much higher. So I've adopted a classical eviction algorithm: the LRU.

Obviously I am not the first person to have come up with using LRU for tangible things. And much like computers rarely implement perfect recency tracking because of performance concerns, it's not possible for me to remember exactly when I've used what. Instead of asking myself if the items spark joy, I simply ask myself if I've used them recently. If it's a no, it needs to go. Obviously I don't want to throw away my passport or my spare car key so various pinning policies need to be in place. I also came upon a few photo prints of value, which I digitized and physical copy discarded:

Of course, those prints with me shitfaced will never see the light of day again. Ever.

High school year book, gone. Letters from exes, skimmed them one more time but no time to dwell. Photo book from kindergarten, okay I was just too cute but even there not every picture is worth keeping. Have to make progress everywhere.

Obviously there's more to de-messifying then simply throwing things away. Doing two loads of laundry also helped. Also, at times the process felt more like garbage collection than eviction. Some of this is still ongoing and there are also thing that are recurring. If only evicting things from my own memory is as easy.

I haven't read Messy but its defense of actual messiness seems to be half-hearted. There's state of being and state of mind. Much like in programming, there is code that's necessarily complicated, but most of the time it's just technical debt. Sometimes it's a necessary evil due to time constraints but no one will ever call messy code a virtue. Messy code is a state of being, not state of mind.

Fixing up the mess takes time and effort and reward is often uncertain. Much like code, physical mess is often not dealt with until it's too late. Tim Harford tries to remind us to think more like an Homo Economicus and consider opportunity cost more often, but we rarely know the price we had to give up to get into this mess.

by khc on Mon May 14 21:44:02 2018 Permlink

Words

(Old post from elsewhere)

Recently discovered Amazon prime video's selection of Asian movies. Sad Movie, a Korean movie that I randomly saw when I was visiting Hong Kong in 2006, is also on there so I re-watched it. The movie contains 4 mostly independent love stories: a workaholic mom and her son, a firefighter and his girlfriend, a costume mascot and an artist who worked in the same park, an unemployed guy who started an unconventional business in order to keep his girlfriend.

The main characters in those (sad, duh) stories all had trouble expressing their love for different reasons, and in the end they had to communicate their feelings through non-verbal means. That's very Asian, in the sense that stereotypically we are more shy about telling others how we feel.

Compare that with Cyrano Agency. The name is a reference to Cyrano de Bergerac, but I like to think of it as a Korean version of Hitch instead. Unlike Hitch, which put a lot of emphasis on actions, staffs from Cyrano Agency gave their customers carefully scripted dialogs to woo their prospective girlfriends. The customers were to follow the scripts exactly, and wore spy equipment so that they can be given immediate feedback or the next line in case they forgot what they needed to say.

As in Sad Movie, the suitors were portrayed as bad with words and had troubles expressing their feelings. And yet, through the help of the Cyrano agents they were able to deliver the perfect punchlines and ultimately win the hearts of those they were pursuing. In both movies, characters' desire of genuine exchanges is not diminished by their lack of abilities to give them.

There are a few lines from Soo-jung (firefighter's girlfriend) that I thought summed up this aspect of both movies quite well. I wanted to write something about what she said right after the words appeared on the screen, so I think it's good to end this with those lines:

"I keep doing sign language, so I forget how to speak. I remember how to say it with my hands, but not with words. It stays at the top of my tongue. But there are words that even if I remember, I can't say. Maybe I just wanted to hear it from you first."

by khc on Wed Dec 31 17:29:00 2014 Permlink
Tags: writing movie

Much ado about Hong Kong

I wrote this long comment on Hackernews in a thread about 20 years anniversary of handover from UK to China. Reproducing below:

Writing as someone who left Hong Kong when he was 14 who still visit every couple years, so take what I write with a load of salt.

I really think HK is over, as in it will never return to its peak glorious days. Much of the prosperity of HK came from being a middleman between China and the rest of the world. That position is eroding because China is slowly opening up. For example, of the top 5 container ports, 3 are in mainland China and HK is #5. HK was the busiest as recently as 2004. Why ship to/from HK when you can ship directly to/from China?

Much of the ruling elites (many of whom are/were businessmen or have business ties) understand this, and realize China has a lot more soft power over HK than what the Basic Law guarantees. The end game is clear, HK will become just another Chinese city, the Establishment is hoping that by pandering to mainland, they can slow down the process and maintain their self-interest. The more positive way to think about it is, if China allows, HK can become the Shanghai of the south instead of a little brother to Shenzhen.

Meanwhile, the poor. I grew up quite poor in HK and a family of 4 shared one studio. The kitchen and bathroom were shared with another 4-5 families. 4 of us slept in ONE bunk-bed. Life got much better after I was 7, because we moved to public housing in the suburb. You see, there's always a big divide between the rich and the poor, but all the public subsidies made life bearable.

A big part of HK's government revenue come from land sale. And land is more valuable when it's not used for public housing. That and immigration means the wait to get public housing is getting longer and longer. Immigration is supposed to increase revenue too, but as mentioned because a big part of revenue come from land sale and immigration doesn't increase the amount of developable land, the overall effect is smaller.

Normally one way to deal with this is impose immigration quota, but I looked into this a few years back and apparently for family reunion, HK government does not control the quota and have to accept however many the mainland sends over. For obvious reasons many in HK have family-ties in China so politically having a smaller quota would not be popular either. I don't have numbers to prove this, but there's a general sentiment that infrastructure is not growing fast enough to accommodate population increase.

I don't know what HK can do honestly. Politically it's in an impossible situation.

by khc on Thu Jun 29 14:08:13 2017 Permlink
Tags: rant

Epilogue

30 days and 7 cities later I returned to San Francisco. I've already written about my itineraries but there are a few observations that I want to add.

Money

In 2017 I expected to only need Euro when I travel to Europe. Unfortunately I had to use 4 different currencies for the 6 countries I went to. Hungary uses their Forint, Czech Republic and Sweden with their different Krona. Imagine the embarrassment when I handed the barista with a krona and was told it's not a Swedish Krona when clearly it said Krona on it (Swedish Krona is worth about 2.7 times as much).

1 krona

I get it, different economies want to be able to inflate/deflate their currencies. But as a traveler it's very inconvenient to keep track. To add to the confusion, there were two versions of Swedish 1 Krona coins in circulation.

Of course, I could always use plastic instead of paper. But as I mentioned in the Stockholm post America chip and signature cards aren't always accepted in Europe. I had the most trouble in train stations (at both Barcelona and Stockholm) and also wasn't able to drink myself out of the trans-Atlantic flight misery (the flight attendant was very nice and offered me a free beer for embarrassing myself, but surely that's not enough for a 10-hours flight). There were also plenty of places that wouldn't accept credit card at all. Such as train stations in Prague. Which brings me to the next topic.

Public Transportation

In general public transportation systems are really good in Europe. That said, as my friend Andrew likes to say, it's European good but not Asian excellent. Like I mentioned, in Barcelona the day passes were only valid from 05:00 - 23:00. And of course people who live there don't use day passes so no one could tell me when the pass stops working and it's not printed on the ticket itself. I got on a bus around midnight and to my surprise the ticket wouldn't validate, and with my limited Spanish eventually I understood that the ticket was "no good" for "noche". Thankfully on the buses they gave you change so I didn't have to have the exact amount.

In Vienna, Google Maps didn't have public transit directions and you buy bus tickets at cigarette stores (because they were cheaper there than buying them on the bus).

In Prague, the ticket machines generally only accepted coins and not paper. Many tram stations didn't even have ticket machines. If you had a local sim card I gathered that you could just text a number and get a ticket that way. In the main train station I found machines that would accept paper money but the maximum denomination accepted was 1000 and the ATMs only gave me denominations of 2000... The tickets were only $1 each so I could forgive a lot of their flaws.

3 days pass

In Germany, we stuck with day passes after the whole fiasco with getting a 10-ride ticket. Turned out for adults each ride took two stamps so 10-ride was really 5 rides which didn't split evenly between two people.

In Stockholm, you could get an app to buy subway tickets but they were notoriously expensive. Each ride was 43 SEK which was almost $5. They were valid for 75 minutes so sometimes you could rush through and get two trips out of each. Also, you get a QR code for the mobile tickets which you could scan at the station, but someone had to physically press a button to open the gate for you at the turnstile. So good luck if they were busy answering questions from tourists.

Food

I found the Austrian-German food to be pretty boring although the Turkish food in Berlin was quite good. Food in Stockholm was generally uninspiring with the exception of the fish soup. The reindeer stew was hit and miss. I am already too spoiled by food in San Francisco but tapas were genuinely better in Barcelona. Czech and Hungarian food was okay, but things were cheaper there (especially in Budapest) so fancier restaurants were more affordable. Hipster places in Europe were just lesser versions of what I could find in San Francisco so I would avoid them next time.

There were lots of cafes everywhere in Europe although as a black coffee drinker I found most of their coffee just so so. Interestingly if you order an Americano many places would serve you an expresso and water in a separate cup. Only in Germany do they understand what "regular coffee" means. Still, I went to cafes more often than I usually do because I was walking around all day and so that I could use their wifi. I also ate more ice-cream there in a month than I do here in a year.

Many restaurant there charge for still water and often time that could be more expensive than a pint of beer or a glass of wine. It's perhaps not a wonder that Europeans drink so much. Supposedly Swedes drink less than Americans and coincidentally tap water there is free at restaurants. I've always liked Spanish wine but Hungarian wine was a surprising find. Anyone know where I can find that in SF?

by khc on Wed Jun 21 13:38:45 2017 Permlink
Tags: travel
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