The Romanov Prophecy

I ran out of books between Shanghai and Tokyo and thankfully Narita airport has an excellent selection of English books in the terminal. I picked up The Romanov Prophecy by Steve Berry, an author I’ve never read before. The book attempts the Dan Brown style of fast action mixed with history and is only suited for airplane reading and nothing else. There’s not much too the book as it’s just a collection of events strung together by a relativly bizare plot of the restoration of the Tsar in Russia. Like I said, if you’ve got a nine hour flight coming up in your life and you’re looking for a easy read, this one isn’t bad for that.

Gong Xi from San Francisco

I’m back in SF and getting “used” to being back in the States. It was a bit wierd after I got off the plane with the lack of honking on the roads, jostling on the streets and the general chaos that is Shanghai. Although, when I was on Irving street near 19th, it’s not much different than being in China with nearly every sign being in Chinese (and I can read a few now!) and crazy traffic. The thing that I do love about and missed of San Francisco is the diversity in the people. I boarded an N-Judah at 19th for downtown and nearly everybody within sight was of a different nationality all just doing their thing.

RedYawning Code Updated

I finished the cleanup and have deployed the code to the site. Hopefully it’ll be better, but it’s such a huge change (all under the hood) that there are bound to be issues. I’ve already seen an instance of connection exhaustion happen without any rhyme or reason. I also built a status page where you take a peek at various numbers on the service (mostly for my debugging).

Updates to RedYawning, Part 1

I’ve been working on retrofitting RedYawning and to share some of the changes I’ve made. They’re not live on the site yet, but they will be in a few weeks.

  1. Moved away from ID based URLs: the current URL scheme in RY was a hack of IDs and name based URLs (e.g. /user.aspx?userid=1 versus /users/hyperionab/user.aspx). I’ve encapsulated the URL generation logic and cut apart the old cruft. There are a bunch of broken URLs all over the site right now, which is a major reason I haven’t switched to the new code yet.
  2. Adding a Connection Manager: instead of having each ASPX page manage its own connections, I created a simple connection manager to the data store. Components can request connections and they have to put them back when they’re done. A thread cleans up connections that haven’t been let go and that are not executing. The connection manager also keeps track of how often connections have been used and the calling stack. It’s been super useful already since I’ve been able to find a couple of bad situations were there were connections being wasted.
  3. Reduce the number of exceptions: in the code, exceptions were being thrown everywhere, often caught then rethrown. A lot of the unavailability was due to this. So I’ve yanked a bunch out, threw in some extra logging in the cases where I want to keep track of Bad Things and now eat a bunch of exceptions thrown from the data store. Since most of the instances of the exception reaching the user were on writes, I’ve torn out exceptions all together on non-critical writes so the user will always be able to get to data.

Part 2 is going to be a lot of code clean up and data access optimizations. Stay tuned.

Old Town Shanghai

On Sunday I did (for the second time) a walking tour of “Old Town” Shanghai that’s in the Shanghai Lonely Planet, the area south and west of Yuyuan (Yu Gardens) where the only real remains of old lane homes exists. I’m not sure there’s any formal definition of what Old Town here is but the streets of the most interest in the area are Dongtai Lu, part of Renmin Lu, West Fangban Lu, Wenmiao Lu and Dajing Lu. It’s my favorite part of Shanghai, it feels full of energy and locals just doing their business and some parts of it are actually quiet, unlike most other places.

I started near Yuyuan on Fangban Zhonglu where are plenty of tourists to see the gardens and quickly escaped the area as quickly as possible. However, since it’s Chinese New Year (or Spring Festival as it’s officially translated) next weekend, so there were plenty of vendors out selling red things that were intricate and beautiful to look at.

 

As you walk from Fangban Lu to Dajing Lu, there are plenty of little alleys that lead to peoples homes and sometimes shops such as bike repair men or shoeshine men. There are often little water spigots facing the street from the homes, too, often making for cool pictures. Scenes like the ones below are typical of the area and of the area’s charm as well. It feels really down to earth and disconnected from the megalopolis that is the rest of Shanghai.

 

On Dajing Lu lives an active fish and meat market. You can see things being hung up to cure or dry. In the picture on the left below, you can a person’s laundry hung right next to some hide-type-of-thing. The bins on the other picture contain live fish, crab, lobsters, etc.

  

On Dongtai Lu is an “antiques” market selling memorabilia from the days of Mao and the Ming and Qing dynasties. I’ve been told that a lot of the goods here are manufactured fakes specifically for the market. It’s an amazingly quiet street and makes a really pleasant stroll. The picture on the bottom says something of “down with America” along with the bottom and something else equally inflammatory to Japan, Germany and France in the middle. If somebody can read Traditional Chinese well, I’d appreciate a translation.

 

Along Tibet Road (can’t remember the name in Chinese, Xi something Lu), there’s a pets market that sells ridiculously cute dogs and cats, plus turtles, crickets, grasshoppers and other animals. The picture on the right has a few cats and rabbits in the same cage, which was a bit unusual.

 

And lastly, on Wenmiao Road is an Confucian temple that is lost in a swarm of vendors selling DVDs, jewelry, and snacks. You can see on the left part of the temple plus some vendors and on the right is a snack I bought for 4 RMB ($0.50). It’s a fried bread and noodle patty that’s folded in half with an scrambled egg wedged between the two half’s. It was a delicious cholesterol bomb!

  

Generally there are people all over selling these tasty treats, including the roasted yam pictured below. It turns out they roast them on those metal canisters and it’s possible that the canisters were at some point chemical containers, so roll the dice if you decide to buy one. Tasty all the same.

Rainbow Six

Soon after I got to China I finished reading Rainbow Six by Tom Clancy. The book is written in the typical self-aggrandizing Clancy, chock full of details that nobody really cares much about. It’s written as a pop-fiction action book and that’s sure what it is. It made for great airplane reading and it truly had well written and page turning action sequences. The action sequences were the only glue holding the book together, as the pages in between ended just being debriefing from the last or prep for the next for one hostage incident to the next. Overall it’s a typical Clancy, a fun read when there’s nothing else to do.

A Short History of Nearly Everything

If you can’t tell, I’m catching up on posting about recent readings so there’ll be a few more of these.

Last week (or so), I finished A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.  It’s a heaving novel pop-science novel that contains, well, just about everything. The book starts off at the dawn of time and then takes the reader through subatomic particles, to evolution, to geology, to ice ages and finally to global warming. It’s pretty well written, in a conversational tone that means it a bit more approachable. If you’ve been looking for a good science/history of science book this one fits that bill well. Throughout the book are stories of the inventors/discoverers/finders lives and the often strange experiences that happened along the way to some particular scientific finding. While quite long, it kept me engaged through it’s entire course.

Magical Thinking

Just finished reading Magical Thinking by Augusten Burroughs, a hilarious book about his life. It’s a bit in the same vein as David Sedaris books: a series of wild stories from his life, revolving around growing up in the East Coast and living in Manhattan. I highly recommend it to any one looking for a laugh out loud book in this quasi-genre of gay ex-addict comedic writers.

Chopstick Cultures

These observations here come from my experience in dining in Shanghai which I’m not sure how representative they are of “proper”/”good” Chinese manners, so take it with a grain of salt as an Indian American in China. My internalized rules for how to use chopsticks and the etiquette come primarily from Japanese culture, due to Ami. I didn’t really realize it until I came here that every Asian country has a slightly different set of chopsticks (e.g. in styling) and ‘rules’ (e.g. in etiquette).

Chinese chopsticks are more tubular versus Japanese ones that come to a point. In Korea, they’re made of metal but I’m not sure how they taper. The Chinese ones make it a bit difficult to pick up rice, which seems to explain the that in Chinese eating, the rice bowl can be brought up to your mouth and the rice can effectively shoveled in to your mouth. I hear in Korea the bowls are made of metal normally which then forces you to use your chopsticks to pick up rice and bring it to your mouth. It’s considered rude to bring the bowl to your face.

The placement of chopsticks when you’re done eating is also interesting. It’s very horribly bad to poke your chopsticks in to rice with the pointed end down. It’s supposedly part of funeral ceremonies, so making the symbol at lunch or dinner is a Bad Thing. In Japanese eating, most of the time people place their hashi (chopsticks) parallel to each other on top of a bowl or a plate. In Chinese eating, it seems appropriate to place your chopsticks anywhere (like in an empty bowl), modulo the rice rule.

I’m certain there’s much more that I don’t know or can’t recall, but it’s pretty fascinating all the same. All these cultures a few thousand years ago came from the same seed and now are quite so different yet so much the same.