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Enter the Dragon

Enter the Dragon

We did it. We took a vacation to China. It was a long two weeks, but to summarize, it was an excellent experience.

In terms of planning, our friend had already done all the leg work, so all we had to do was to commit. It was a quick commit, which surprised me. Anyways, China was always intriguing.

Our visit included Beijing, Xian, Guilin, Yangshuo, Chengdu, Yangtze River Cruise and Shanghai. Planes, trains, automobiles, boats, rickshaws and lots and lots of walking were involved. A friend’s fitbit clocked 93 miles of walking.

We witnessed a nation that has taken great care to preserve its past and is on a breakneck speed of modern development. Museums were top class and vied with Bullet Trains and MagLevs to excite the visitor. Gardens lulled us into a sense of wonder as we explored their tasteful designs. Overall, China has laid out the red carpet for visitors by making many destinations very tourist friendly. Other nations could learn a lot on the tourism aspect from China.

A first time visitor to China would be well served by hiring a guide that speaks your language. While airports, train stations and major highways have English signs, it could be disorienting to do it yourself. We had guides pretty much on every day of the trip.

China is a huge country. Over it’s history there have taken place many conflicts pitting dynasties. Two dates-1911 and 1949 keep being mentioned often. 1911-the year that dynasty rule of Qing ended and China became a Republic. 1949 was when Communist party took over and continues it’s dominance to date.

It’s important to note that China succeeded in resisting European Colonialism although the British and French waged the subterfuge Opium War in the mid 1800s.

Residential high-rise buildings dot the skyline in the cities and small towns. Everyone is concerned about the housing bubble.

Is it a coincidence that we didn’t see any homeless people in our 2 weeks while the CPC Congress was in session? I asked guides in various cities and their unanimous answer was that China does not have a pan handling and homeless issue.

The Terra Cotta Warriors complex was breathtaking. That something built in 221 BC and was undiscovered until 1974 begs the question as to how much we still don’t know about our ancients?

Beijing was underwhelming, but the Great Wall was breathtaking. We marveled at the engineering and labor effort it must have taken to build it. We walked the Wall for 2 hours and in some places it was super steep.

We heard this constant refrain-the young people have left for the big towns and cities and none to continue some traditions. In parks and public places we regularly witnessed Chinese seniors playing Chinese Chess, Mahjong and watching their grandchildren.

Chinese smoke. A lot. That was the number one turn off in the trip. The running joke was that the Air Quality issue was 75% industrial and 25% human chimneys.

Chinese seem mostly indifferent to religion. Buddhism and Taoism are the leading philosophies. The temple in Ghost City dedicated to Yama (God of Death in Hinduism) was surreal.

You will fall in love with Pandas, even though they just lounge and eat juicy bamboo most of the time. They do have a Zen attitude, it seems like.

Hot pot is not to be missed in Chengdu. We managed to do a vegetarian version and it was an awesome culinary experience. 8 people sitting around the table turning red faced, fighting non cooperative noodles and sniffling a lot during a rainy evening, while consuming super spicy food is what one writes home about.

The buildings in Shanghai sport sleek designs and leave you with a sense of awe. The Yu Garden area is a buzzing shopping area and nestled in it is a 400 year old garden, that has a view for every step you take. A delightful way to spend an afternoon.

The Maglev topping 431 km/hr covers a distance of 30 Km (18.6 mi) in 7 minutes. The ride is a religious experience, if you are into that sort of thing.

Something tells me this will not be our only trip to China.

Some pictures from the trip below.

Tianamen Square, Great Wall
Tianamen Square, Great Wall
Tianamen Square, Great Wall
Tianamen Square, Great Wall
Tianamen Square, Great Wall
Tianamen Square, Great Wall
Tianamen Square, Great Wall
Tianamen Square, Great Wall
Tianamen Square, Great Wall
Tianamen Square, Great Wall
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Recent Books & Podcasts

Recent Books & Podcasts

This summer, my reading picked up significantly. The Seattle Public Library is just an awesome asset. I did not spend a dime to read or hear any of these books

  1. Sapiens. Listened to the Audiobook, which made it very enjoyable. I would have missed a lot of the detail, had I started with the e/physical book. This is a must read for anyone curious about the human species. I got a lot of insight and empathy on species extinction and animal suffering perpetrated by the unstoppable progress of Humans
  2. Essays by the late GM & Coach of the 49ers Walsh, creator of the famed “West Coast Offense”. It’s sometimes dry reading, so feel free to skip around. His story on how to create an organization where everyone from the lowest responsibility worker to the top leaders follow excellence in every activity is quite aspirational, but if put in place is scalable.
  3. Camino Island — John Grisham. Kept us entertained in our summer drive to Fort Collins, where our daughter joined the Veterinary program
  4. Decentalized Applications by Sriraj Raval. Still reading this, but it is a both deeply technical and a business oriented perspective on how to create applications that utilize the blockchain.
  5. The Gene — I’ve not completed this in full yet. I’m blown away at the level of research into this complex topic and how easily Siddharth Mukherjee presents this to an average reader
  6. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight — An exhaustive account of Phil’s experience of starting and growing his famous sneaker company. Sometimes belabored, his journey is indeed fascinating.
  7. The Originals by Adam Grant. Chockfull of real life examples, Adam makes a case where against the grain thinking has propelled people and the world forward.

Podcasts of Note

The one that Tim Ferriss did with Phil Hellemuth was very good. Phil Hellemuth is a word class poker champion. Tim Ferris with Ray Dalio is also superb.

Kara Swisher’s podcast with Scott Galloway was phenomenal in that Scott painted a picture of how Amazon could rule your life. He predicted Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods a week before it happened.

How I built this — Episodes with Alexis and Steve from Reddit, WeWork with Miguel McKelvey and Whole Foods Market with John Mackey

Freakonomics — The Stupidest thing you can do with your Money. A take on Low Cost indexing.

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St Helens Hike

St Helens Hike

[this was originally published in my previous blogging site — highaltidude.wordpress.com and importing in medium did not preserve original publish date]

A few weeks ago, we climbed Mount St Helens. My second time summiting this beauty of a mountain and the first time for the other 12 people in our group. It turned out to be a great experience. For all of us.
 
 If you plan to climb St Helens, you need to get permits way in advance. On a lark, I went ahead and planned for 19 permits in February, hoping to convince my family and some close friends to do the hike. I was prepared to help train, organize and make it successful for everyone. In a few weeks, we had 18 permits secured and began to plan the training schedule.
 
 The Helens hike is not technical — meaning you don’t need ropes or specialized rock climbing equipment. It is however still a challenging climb due to varied terrain of rocks, boulders, snow, ash. You would start around 3500 feet and go up all way to 8000 feet at the rim. The descent was way more challenging than the ascent the first time around and I expected no different this time. We were a large group at different levels and experience. We had high schoolers, middle schooler and a pre-middle schooler in the mi . 
 
 Local trails such as Tiger mountain. Mt Si, Rattlesnake ridge, Poo Poo point were excellent weekend hikes to get the group to train together. Sure, many schedule snafus meant many did not make most hikes, but the pressure was on.

Fast forward to a few weeks before July 30th, the planning for the hike day begins in earnest. The Gear list, camping list and assignments were prepared. I could sense the excitement and tension build up in the air as many realized that this was now serious business. Many folks were still traveling and my expectation for a successful climb kept scaling back (just internally). 
 
 My 19 permits became 13. I was wheeling and dealing in permits on purmit.com days before the climb. 
 
 Two days before the climb, we decided to forego camping and stay in the Lone Fir Resort. I was disappointed, but in hindsight it turned out to be the right thing to do. I wanted to relive the perfect starry skies and the strange midnight sounds from the Gifford Pinchot forest.

July 30 5:45 AM — The group assembles at Climbers Biouvac. We set off.

7:15 AM — After a casual hike through the woods in single file, each person strategically placed in the line, we reach the end of the tree line

8:15 AM — We have made up our way over the first boulder stretch. Mt Hood and Mt Adams come into view as the group climbs into a landing area. I assess how each one is doing and make a mental note of who will need most encouragement to make it up

Everyone there?

9:30 AM — We have followed the boulders and the wooden markers for what appears to be an eternity. I estimate at least 4 more wooden markers before the dreaded ash and stone field for the final slog. Like a football coach, I shout encouragements to everyone. The kids did not need any. They were cruising.

Moonscape, anyone?

10:30 AM — A quick snap back shows how high we had climbed. You just want to keep taking the landscape, but it was time to move on for the final slog.

Final Slog over fine gravel and ash

11:30 AM — Yes! The summit. The rim, The exotic view of the growing lava dome. And everyone in the group makes it. Time to rest, reflect, restore, recover.

Spirit Lake

Fab Four?

Steam on Baby!

The icing on the cake as my fellow climber called it — a mountain goat running on the edge of the cornice at top speed showing off her prowess.

12:30 PM — The long climb down begins. Group split up between glissaders and plain walk downers.
 2:00 PM — The glissaders keep going away from the mountain. Decision is made to traverse back up to the main hike path, In retrospect, incorrect decision to keep glissading after the first landing. The traverse back to the hike path is ardous and slow. Walk downers wait until the group is together again. Phew!

Glissading fun

4:00 PM — Slow going down through the boulders. Didn’t the way up seem much easier? We reach around 6000 feet. Meet folks that I sold permits to and say Hi.

6:00 PM — Finally back to the tree line. That was one tough descent. But safe. Relief all around.
 
 7:15 PM — Back to Climbers Biouvac. Chow down some Mexican on the way by forcing the restaurant to open up. Drive back home. Make it safe. Tomorrow is another day.

That was one heck of a 14 hour hike. Totally worth it. Waiting for Feb 10 2013 for the permit site to open its doors again. Ready for another adventure. I am sure my group will join me again. The mountain air is an addiction.

Originally published at highaltidude.wordpress.com.

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Summer of 2016

Summer of 2016

It has been a quiet yet busy summer. Quiet outside, busy inside. Since June, I took technical responsibility for eventsfy.com, where we bring the best performing arts events to your attention. Jayashree did a lot of art festivals and kept our weekends busy with that.

Naturally, I have been in a writing funk. I decided to pick up day to day coding despite a hiatus of almost 10 years. I don’t know about you, but when I’m in a coding zone, I tune away the rest of the world. If a bug is not fixed by the end of the day, I don’t sleep. It didn’t help that I was also doing dev ops for the site, so any issues buzzed my phone within seconds. Respects to the talented developers out there who get it right the first time most of the time. But overall, it continues to be fun.

Things are more stable now. We are collecting more events and the traffic to the site shows signs of steady increase. With a cache in place, performance has also improved.

The availability of a myriad of open source solutions and APIs is a god send. I thought it a challenge to develop and deploy a cache for our service. The Redis cache came to my rescue and I had it working on my local machine, AWS and the Pair data center in very short time. Many such examples.

Over the fall, we will undertake a UI refresh for the site and bring in more event feeds. We want up and coming independent artists to have a place where they can list and manage their event and bring their fans into one place.

I had a chance to make this in my wife’s studio under her able guidance. Fluid Acrylics with use of an air compressor to move the fluid around. I had a river delta in mind.

Push Pull

Happy days to you.

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Online romance

Online romance

Typically, when a single adult wanted to find a date, he/she would ask friends or co-workers for recommendations. After a few dates they would likely discover their mutual interests and figure out if they want to go steady.

The advent of mobile apps has accelerated the trend of finding the love connection online. There are now a myriad of apps that have fragmented the industry. Some apps have evolved to meet the changing needs of users and new apps have emerged to create new trends (backed by lots of controversy). There exists tons of claim about the prowess of their match making algorithms.

Match, okCupid, Tinder, Zoosk, FriendScout24 and eHarmony are some of the popular names.

These apps/sites are not independent companies for the most part. Match owns OkCupid, Tinder, Meetic and Plenty of Fish among others. Match itself is owned by IAC. Spark Networks owns Jade, ChristianMingle and BlackSingles.com. In this business, scale is very important and companies acquire others to boost customer base. Recent financial results from Match shows credence that online dating apps are making money. Dating revenue for Match for the financial year was $260 million.

Despite seeming consolidation, the acquired properties continue to operate as their own brand. Why could this be? One would think that cost of operations and cost of customer acquisition is probably more efficient with one brand. Likely reasons for the continued separation are:-

  • Each site is targeting to different demographics and risks dilution and customer churn by moving to one brand.
  • They have not yet figured out how to create ONE matching model that works for all demographics, so a technical challenge in integrating new acquisitions.

With machine learning, we assume that with more data set available to the model, the algorithm learns and performs better. If users report on the success or failure of their matches, that provides a feedback loop for the model to improve itself.

For centuries, Indian match makers have followed a match making algorithm. It does not take into account aspects like an individual’s interest and is purely based on positions of the stars and planets at one’s time of birth. Each person gets a grid with planetary positions (called a horoscope). Two people are deemed suitable for marriage if their horoscopes match. Highest number of matches is 10 and is considered potential marital bliss. This is my simple understanding. The horoscope is a worthy consideration as a data point for the machine learning models.

I attended a AI/ML Summit organized by Madrona yesterday. Great event. That got me into thinking about applications where ML is already in use, hence this story.