Friday, September 24, 2010

How to use an iPhone over Ethernet

Okay, you're not really doing iPhone directly over Ethernet, and you'll need a Mac close by to do it, but this is a trick I find handy in hotels that offer wired ethernet for free, but where they charge for WiFi (like Marriott Changfeng Park in Shanghai).

Set up your Mac (I use a MacBook Pro) to do internet sharing over Airport, and you can become your own WiFi hotspot, easily connected to from your iPhone or iPad.

Under System Preferences (available under the apple menu), under "Internet and Wireless", select Sharing, and do this:

Internet Sharing (Mac)

Note: I have file sharing turned on as well, but that's not necessary (and normally it's a good idea to keep it turned off).

Also, remember that you'll have to uncheck the Internet Sharing box before you can select different ways of sharing your connection.  You'll want to select "AirPort" to create the WiFi hotspot.


Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Treason by the book

A few thoughts about China in the 1700s while reading this excellent book by Yale Professor Jonathan Spence.

First, note that China in those days was no backwater. It compared pretty favorably to any other place on earth at the time. In many ways it was blessed with some significant advantages over any other country:

  • The Emperor controlled a large empire very effectively, collecting and coordinating intelligence, dispatching troops, and making decisions that quickly affected people over thousands of kilometers.
  • Information traveled quickly and efficiently: a courier could go halfway across the country and back within weeks -- an impressive feat in a world of rough terrain and hand-built roads and bridges.
  • In the book there are surprisingly few women, particularly since the late Qing would be ruled by one.
  • The Chinese people and their rulers had great respect for education, with special rewards -- lifetime, easy employment -- for those who scored high on a standardized test system.
  • Book-writing was everywhere: publications were so ubiquitous that it wasn't practical to send all of them to the Emperor, even when it might matter to a treason investigation.
This was the early 1700s, during the time of Isaac Newton and a half-century before the American Revolution. Measured in military or logistics terms, China was at least as advanced as anything in Europe. This was an Emperor with the intelligence and ability, not to mention the assets and infrastructure worthy of a world power -- in fact, he was clearly ruling THE world power of his day.

But the Emperor also showed the weaknesses of a political system with so much power centered in a single individual. He made terrible mistakes, the kind of idiotic and juvenile actions that we find recognizable in amateur bloggers today:
  • Hurriedly rushed to publication a large book,  Awakening from a Delusion, whose only affect was to give a national audience to a man guilty of treason (the title of the book).
  • Lack of fact-checking meant third parties were misquoted, resulting in justifiable anger, and a lowering of credibility overall for the Emperor.

Even when counseled otherwise by all his advisors, this Emperor continued to insist on his own way of dealing with what, in wiser hands, would have never reached the precarious stage it did.

I'm sure other royals in other empires made similar gross errors, but China in this case was particularly harmed because of its greater consolidation of power. A misstep by a European royal would have merely given more power to a wiser Continental rival, but China's centralized government made all mistakes lethal on a much wider scale that required centuries for recovery.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

[Book] When China Rules the World

I don't recommend this book.

The author, a journalist, read widely about China and I appreciate his excellent summary of sources at the end of the book, and he captures many interesting facts along the way.

His analysis makes several mistakes:
  • Assumes a linear progress of history. The unseen parts of the future are far more important than what you can see, but he doesn't appreciate, for example, how unimaginable new inventions might revolutionize the demands Chinese people have on openness and democracy.
  • Forgets that "Western Society" is old too.  American culture didn't begin in 1776.  Christianity had as much political affect on Europe as the various dynasties had on China.
  • He associates "The West" just with democracy and ignores a more universal liberal tradition that has put great value on new ideas and progress for a very long time.
  • Ignores the huge elephant of why China, after thousands of years plus a century of humiliation, finally is rising.  Could it be that the rise is caused by China's acceptance and imitation of Western capitalism?

Summary: the eight ways that China's rise will affect the world
  1. China is a civilization state, not a nation-state. [i basically agree with this]
  2. China will use a tributary-state system [not sure I understand, but there may be a point here]
  3. Distinctively Chinese attitude toward race and ethnicity. [irrelevant]
  4. China is a continental-sized country. [just another play on the concept that it's a huge country]
  5. Chinese political power doesn't have the concept of civil society outside government. [i agree]
  6. Chinese modernity is distinguished by the speed of its transformation [seems a weakness in its ability to rise]
  7. China is a communist country [but he admits it isn't really one any more]
  8. China will combine the characteristics of a developed and a developing country. [another weakness]

Testing, testing

Is this thing on?
Photo on 2010-08-28 at 15.11.jpg
One unfortunate part about switching to Mac last year is that I've been unable to use the excellent Windows Live Writer blogging software (cuz it's Windows only). Everyone says I need to get MarsEdit -- the standard for Mac blogging -- so finally today I downloaded it and am taking it for a spin.

What do you think?

Next: try posting to my Tumblr blog.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Is it safe to drink Beijing tap water?

The water in our Beijing apartment looks, smells, and (yes I risked it) tastes just fine. But is it safe to drink?  Nearly everyone I know -- foreigners as well as locals -- refuse to drink water straight out of the tap, and some of the more paranoid types use bottled water for virtually everything except bathing. It’s pretty common among ex-pat households to keep a bottle of mineral water in the bathroom for brushing teeth.  Even though the water appears to be just fine, “you can’t be too careful”, they say, and you never know what the city government lets into that water, or the pipes that carry it to my tap:  lead?  pesticides? heavy metals?  We know one family that makes their Ayi (housekeeper) painstakingly wash and dry every leaf of lettuce before eating it.

I’m not that paranoid, but I am curious, so on my last trip to Japan I bought a water testing kit from Kyoritsu Labs, a small company that sells low-cost test packs for people like me.

Well water test kit from

The kit, which I bought in Tokyo at Tokyu Hands for 1,365 yen (less than $20), comes with 5 test tubes, each containing a small amount of reagent. You pop a pin on the tube, insert a small amount of the water to be tested, and after a few minutes compare the color of the mixture to a color chart in the instruction manual.

They give you two copies of the pH test tube, so for practice I tried it on a sample of distilled water:

pH test for iron (Fe).

The result looks pretty close to the 7.0 that means neutral pH, what you would expect.  Looks like the test works, at least on this.

Next I ran the same test on the tap water:

pH test for Beijing tap water.

A pH level of 8.0 means the water is fairly alkaline.  Since the human body keeps blood at a range of 7.35 to 7.45, some people (including the Singularity champion who I respect, Ray Kurzweil) think drinking alkaline water is healthy.  In fact, some health nuts buy expensive machines ($1000+) so they can drink it all the time.  Anyway, the point here is that probably the pH levels in my tap water aren’t bad.

Next, I tested iron (Fe) and found nothing, which is good.

pH test for iron (Fe).

What about water hardness?


The water is slightly hard: between 100 and 200 total calcium plus magnesium. This is obvious from taking a shower: it feels like the shampoo won’t come out of your hair, and it’s not easy to get a good lather going with a bar of soap.  But, at least according to the World Health Organization, this doesn’t seem to have an effect on health.

Another test, for Chemical Oxygen Demand, doesn’t check for any chemicals per se, but just the level at which oxygen is absorbed in the water, considered a proxy for the amount of organic compounds (i.e. living things).  The closer you can get to zero the better, but our level is under 5 and considered fine.  To give you some perspective, Switzerland apparently has a law prohibiting the dumping of water that is over 200.  As you can see, that’s not us:


The final test measures nitrite ion concentration, which is associated with sewage and/or fertilizer.  Ideally, this would be zero, but ours tests at just under 0.5 parts per million (ppm).  The US Environmental Protection Agency sets the limit at 1 ppm, so we are okay, though of course I wish the number were lower.Nitrite-Ion = 0.2. Well water test kit from

This kit is intended for testing well water, which is the closest I could find to what I wanted, so these are the only tests included.  I’ve asked around and can’t find a test kit for lead or other heavy metals that seem to bother people the most, at least for long-term exposure.  If you know of any low-cost, portable tests for this, please tell me in the comments.

The bottom line is that I wasn’t able to find anything that proves we shouldn’t drink the tap water.  This means nothing, because of course those who are paranoid careful will fear something I wasn’t able to test. On the other hand, I didn’t test the bottled water at all, so it’s not like you’re really safe that way either. As always moderation and common sense seem to be the best policy, but I’m reassured that at least on a few basic measures, the tap water here is not obviously dangerous.