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# Thursday, July 6, 2006

Seeing as I had quite a few hours to spend in Beijing and no agenda what-so-ever, I figured I'd just go with a guided tour. While a good idea in concept this proved to be impractical because the guided tours provided by the hotel require a reservation at least one day in advance. I suppose I could try and look up a different guided tour, but as hardly anyone speaks English in Beijing it didn't seem worth the time.

I took my luggage on me and started walking around Jianguomen district; although the area directly near the hotel is strictly geared to tourists it was still a fascinating walk. For starters, DVD shops are rampant (I saw at least 7 different stores in a two-street block) - I wouldn't be half-surprised to find out that these were mostly pirated/fake DVDs, particularly considering the kind of people who were attempting to lure me inside. In fact, just about everywhere salespeople were practically dragging me inside their stores to look at their merchandise; I suppose it's a good thing that I'm about 10cm taller than the average Chinese, and an annoyed look was usually enough to make them back off. It wasn't nearly as easy with the beggars and street urchins though, firstly because they're much more persistent and second because it's a lot harder to ignore a child and/or give him/her an angry look. The day before one of my Japanese associates made the mistake of giving a kid some change, and we were busy fending off other kids for the rest of the way.

Tiananmen East Station (source)

Just walking about Jianguomen got old after a couple of hours, and I was looking for something more intelligent to do, at which point I decided to do some sightseeing. Tiananmen Square seemed like the right place to visit, and since I was already in tourist mode I figured I'd take the subway instead of a taxi. This turned out to have been a very good idea for two reasons: first, the Beijing subway is quite efficient, with two stations directly on either side of Tiananmen Square (not to mention saving quite a bit of time and money on the cab ride); second, it provided a fantastic opportunity to witness Chinese culture firsthand. I was the only European anywhere in sight on the subway both on the way there and the way back and the train was packed. At one point I was standing near one of the doors and a women came in - the Chinese are an amazingly small people, this particular woman was probably around 1.45m tall - and almost ran into me. She looked up and, to my utter amusement, gave an incredibly fearful look and practically ran away to the other side of the subway car.

This would be a good opportunity to mention that the Chinese women are absolutely beautiful. Besides the fact that they are an apparently slim people (I saw ridiculously few obese, or even mildly fat, people during my time there), the percentage of good looking women in China is amazingly high, as is just how beautiful they are. Going back to Israel was something of a downer in this respect...

Beautiful drawing on rice paper

Anyway, 3 Yuen and about 10 minutes later I was standing at the outskirts of Tiananmen Square. I walked the perimeter to get a good look around (and was surprised at how serious the looks on the honour guard's faces were). The National Museum of China is located directly in front of the square; I realized this when a woman (who spoke very good English) addressed me and tried to get me to go to an art exhibition just above the museum entrance where "some of her work is shown." Regardless of my artistic inclinations - or, more to the point, lack thereof - I was completely put off by her tendency to shower me with ridiculous compliments to get my attention. I do not appreciate a compliment from someone who doesn't know me at all and has an agenda. I did, however, consider going into the museum when a young art student who also spoke very good English approached me. Where the previous woman failed due to dishonest praise, this kid won my attention with sheer enthusiasm and happy disposition. I followed him to the art gallery (which, as he promised, was air conditioned - a very good thing when you're walking around with 15kg of luggage and it's 35 degrees centigrade!) and spent the next hour looking at various drawings while the art student explained the various techniques. His own work was (to my untrained eye) techincally impressive but didn't really inspire me; a series of four drawings on rice paper depicting the four seasons really impressed me, though. The drawings had several details in common (house, boat and birds) but were completely different in spirit. For a short while there I actually considered buying all four, as they were so engaging, but the cost was prohibitive (starting price of 400 Yuen - over $50 - per painting). I eventually bought the drawing for autumn (picture on the left) for my mom and after a bit of haggling got the price down to 250 Yuen. I was probably ripped off, but my negotiation skills are still rather lacking and, frankly, the kid was really doing his best and deserved his commission.

Tiananmen Square (source)

After leaving the art gallery I strolled around Tiananmen Square for almost an hour. It is huge, packed with tourists and duly impressive irrespective of its history. I didn't have the time to go the Forbidden City (according to people I spoke with, this alone can take an entire day) and didn't have any other reasonable plans, so I eventually took the subway back to Yonganli station (near the hotel) and headed to a local massage parlor for another hour of rest and relaxation. Although not nearly up to the standards of the hotel masseur (and significantly cheaper at that) it was still very pleasant. After a shower and a rest I still had almost five hours before I was to leave for the airport. Deciding to avoid exerting myself again - spending 10 hours on a plane in a drenched shirt is not my idea of fun - I searched for a local internet café. A local Starbucks was supposed to have wireless internet access, but apparently didn't - no-one could tell me why; I settled on a small ice-cream parlor which had wired access and spent almost an hour there.

I was trying to decide what to do next when my brother reminded me he's looking for a new pair of headphones. I googled a bit and three minutes later had a couple of speciality shops to visit. The sites were completely in Chinese, so I asked the owner of the establishment I was sitting in to copy down the address of one of the stores (whose name I can't even pronounce) onto a note. Not only was he willing to do this, but he called the store directly to make sure that they'll still be open by the time I got there; I've come to the conclusion that the Chinese people are amazingly curteous and helpful if you can get over the language barrier. The shopowner explained that the shop is located about 20km away so I decided to take a cab; it was a smart move in that I would have gotten completely lost had it not been for the taxi, and a less-than-smart move in that it turned out to be a fairly expensive (in Chinese terms) 45 minute ride. I had no idea what to expect when I got there, and was completely dumbfounded to find that I've just entered a huge mall (almost as large as the biggest general-purpose mall in Israel) completely dedicated to electronics! It would've been heaven had it not been for the fact that I arrived just minutes before closing time. The shop numbering scheme didn't make a whole lot of sense and I was getting extremely anxious, thinking that when I find the shop it'll be past closing time. I also got a lot of curious stares from the completely Chinese shopkeepers and customers, apparently not used to having a European guy moving purposefully about their mall with a large bag...

New hi-end toys

When I finally found the shop, its owners were apparently just preparing to close down. After all the effort it took to get there I wasn't about to let them close down before I've had my fill; I asked (using mostly sign language, as the shopowner didn't know a word of English, nor did any member of her family - which were all present by the way) to hear the Beyerdynamic DT880 headphones. I've been reading about these cans for a while and they've been said to compare favorably to my aging Sennheiser HD600; it seemed to be a good time to replace the latter, and I was interested in what Beyerdynamic had to offer. I'll leave the detailed review for a later post, but suffice to say I was extremely impressed with these cans. I then requested to listen to headphone amplifiers; I spent about five minutes each with amps from G&W Tsinghua University (a Chinese manufacturer of hi-end audio equipment which was previously unknown to me), including AT-F100 and the (apparently very popular) TW-J1. Neither one really struck a chord with me, so I gestured to the shopowner that I'm interested in other equipment; she then pulled a brand new box from a storage cabinet and took out a T-2.6F headphone amplifier from the same manufacturer. I was so utterly blown away that I took out my credit card on the spot and bought two pairs of DT880 and the T-2.6F: about $260 for each can - not cheap compared to the US, but about 30% lower than the price in Israel - and an additional $350 or so for the amp.

When I was done with the shop I took a cab back to the airport, which took over an hour but still cost only 100 Yuen ($14 or so) including the 10 Yuen for the expressway toll. The cabby apparently didn't know precisely where to go because although he did get me to the airport, he dropped me off quite far away from the terminal entrance; this was especially annoying with all the luggage I was carrying (a couple of plastic bags, my laptop, the large side bag and now also the relatively heavy headphone amp in a cardboard box). I made it through customs and check-in to find one of the smallest but best-kept lounges I've yet been to; it was very clean, very quiet and very comfortable. I spent a couple of hours there before the flight back and had a very pleasant time (despite a spotty wireless internet connection) before it was time to get on the flight to Istanbul. The flight back was almost exactly the same as the flight to Beijing, so if you're interested in the details you can check out the previous post.

Thursday, July 6, 2006 2:23:34 PM (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
# Tuesday, July 4, 2006

I'm currently on El-Al flight LY075 to Hong Kong. Imagine my surprise when I turned on the laptop and found an active wireless network; then ponder upon just how baffled I was to find that it points to the Boeing Connexion log-in site. Finally, imagine my utter astonishment when the internet connection proved to be working, reliable and even quite fast!

Intercontinental flights will never be the same again.


Tuesday, July 4, 2006 6:40:46 AM (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
# Monday, June 26, 2006

Image source
I'll pick up where I left off: Beijing International Airport. I'm getting the feeling that all airports are alike, psuedo-European and industrial; on the inside, Beijing International Airport is exactly the same as Ben-Gurion or Atatürk, the only difference being the faces that scrutinize you over the counter. I must admit that given China's image in western journalism I've felt somewhat apprehensive at this point, but the officials there are as efficient and courteous (if not more so) than any other government agency I've ever dealt with. Oddly enough I was required to fill in customs and health statements before I was allowed in the country. I never could figure it out: why would anyone bother asking you a question such as "do you carry a horrific, easily contractible disease?" - presumably if I were I wouldn't be travelling in the first place, and if I were travelling with a contagion for some clandestine reason I certainly wouldn't tell anyone about it. I had a vague and apparently misplaced belief that a non-democratic government would be less prone to pointless bureaucracy. Ever the optimist.
The difference between China and, well, everywhere else I've been to up until that point, became pronounced the minute I stepped out of the airport gate. There are a lot of people in China. As obvious as that may be when looking at the numbers (approximately 1.3 billion according to the CIA factbook), it only really becomes evident when you actually walk the streets of Beijing. Israel is a very small country, both in size and in population (6.2 million, same source) and the difference is staggering. I was so overwhelmed at the sheer volume of people moving about that, after getting out of their way, I had to simply sit down and shake it off. The previous picture hardly does it justice.

I then took a shuttle to Jianguomen, which I was told was near the hotel I was to stay in. This proved to be both a fascinating experience and a really bad idea: fascinating because I got to experience a little slice of Beijing immediately after landing, and because it forced me to learn new ways to communicate. The average resident of Beijing (including bus and taxi drivers) does not speak a word of English. This is also why taking a shuttle bus was a very bad idea. Aside from it being very small (unlike myself and my luggage) and without any air conditioning (it was 35°C outside!), it also dropped me in what I then thought was the middle of nowhere, with no map and hardly any way of asking for directions. I walked around a bit but was soon exhausted, what with the heat, the lingering tiredness from the flight and the bloody luggage; I eventually stopped a taxi and had it drop me off at the hotel, which turned out to be about 10 minutes' walk away from where the shuttle dropped me off. This would be a good time to mention that taxis in Beijing are quite cheap; a short ride costs 10 RMB (about $1.25 US), and even an hour-long trip to the airport cost 100 RMB including toll. That is amazingly cheap compared to Israel -- I'm wondering if this has anything to do with the Chinese government subsidizing the prices in preperation for the 2008 olympics.

Speaking of the olympics, I'm still awed by the sheer scale of the modifications, reconstruction and improvement efforts in Beijing. The Chinese government evidently takes the olympic games very seriously from a public relations standpoint, and is sparing no expense in preparation. I imagine that if the 2008 olympics were to take place in Israel, the same efforts on a much smaller scale would probably begin a few months before the games.

Jianguo Hotel lobby

My next stop was the Jianguo Hotel Beijing. Located two seconds from the Yonganli subway station and ten minutes (by subway) from Tiananmen Square, the hotel is pretty much a standard 5-star European hotel, with the exception of a magnificent artificial river-garden running smack in the middle of it. Although not bad by any means, I was somewhat disappointed at how artificially European the hotel is; everything from the large, golden lobby, the wooden architecture in the guest rooms, the oversized dining room with its inevitably ridiculous decor ("old masters"-inspired paintings and even a full-size harp in the corner!) and finally the diner which serves American-style food (to which I'm not partial even at the best of times). I mean, this is China! Where is the Chinese decor?

Jianguo Hotel guest room

Anyway, having found myself fully checked into the hotel and post-shower by 16:00 (local time) I had several hours to burn until the business associates I was to rendezvous with were slated to arrive. I spent a couple of hours doing some work and also finishing up the first post on the trip; this still left me with about three hours before said associates arrive. I sent the suit to be professionally ironed (I can certainly use an iron, but not nearly as well as a professional) and then elected to happily spend the next two hours getting an oil massage. Having read some books that discuss Chinese culture - albeit from a fiction standpoint - I should've realized Chinese pragmatism extends to sex just as it does to business, but I was ill-prepared for the barrage of overt questions and propositions. It appears that the Chinese business culture comprises chiefly of two principles: you'd better haggle and everything is for sale. European puritanism aside, I wasn't interested and settled for a simple massage with no added value; suffice to say that it was the best massage I've ever had, so evidently there were no hard feelings on the hostess' part (Chinese pragmatism in action?).

I spent the rest of the evening and the next morning's breakfast in pleasant conversation with our business associates. The next morning we went to the business meeting which was the original purpose of this trip; for obvious reasons I won't go into details. We then proceeded to a restaurant situated very close to where the meeting took place; I'd offer a name or address, except that I can't read Chinese and absolutely none of the restaurant's staff could speak English. Ironically this was never a hindrance - we made do with a combination of sign language and the pictures in the menu. We were served several dishes (pictured on the right); the dish nearest the rice bowl was quite possibly the best dish I've ever had. It was a mixture of hot green and red peppers with bacon (I think it was bacon. I couldn't really ask and would rather not know) stir-fried in some sort of soy-based sauce; the combination was utterly staggering, and I sincerely hope to find a dish worthy of this one at some point in my life. The other dishes were also terrific: chicken in some sort of sweet thick sauce, and a mix of vegetables with goose and bacon (the dish nearest the camera). All of this along with rice and lots of juice meant that I was soon completely satisfied, and then came the really pleasant surprise: although all three of us were unable to tackle even half the food, the total cost of the meal was less than 200 RMB (about $25). I've had meals that cost as much for just myself in Israel, and were certainly not up to this quality!

It was time to bid farewell to my pleasant companions who had to catch an early flight, and also about time to get out of the damned business suit (it was stifling hot!) and find something to do for the next few hours (it was about 13:00 at this point, and I only had to be at the airport around 22:00...). I'll blog about what I did during that time in the next (and final) post.

Monday, June 26, 2006 10:58:43 PM (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
# Sunday, June 25, 2006

OK, I concede the point: Notepad++ is awesome! I configured Total Commander so it brings up Notepad++ on edit, and it's ridiculously useful: you get syntax colouring, line numbering, tabbed windows and more at the cost of a slight increase in startup times (it's about 200ms slower than Notepad on startup, and it's worth it). I feel really stupid for not having tried it before.

Also, I've always shied away from application launchers, but have decided to finally give Slickrun a try. So far it's only mildly useful (I used to do the exact same thing with batch files) but that might change. I'll post an update in a month or two.

As a sidenote, although the Natural Ergo 4000 is a terrific keyboard I've decided that the IBM Model M is still the better of the two. I think I'll try the black 104-key Customizer next, except that you can't get those in Israel. Ideas?

Sunday, June 25, 2006 8:51:37 PM (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
Software | Personal

Around 21:00, June 22nd 2006, Neve Shalom.

Roger Waters appears on stage for the first time in Israel.

This is the biggest thing to happen here all year, and one of the most important events in my life. I'm still finding it a little difficult to find the right words... and as they say, a picture is a lot more economic, so:

Image by Assaf Carmeli. Click here for more pictures

54,000 people singing in unison the lyrics for some of the best known rock songs in history. It was a three-hour aureal orgasm.

I want to go back.

Sunday, June 25, 2006 4:11:26 PM (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
Music | Personal
# Thursday, June 22, 2006

Remember Nuclear War? If not, slap yourself on the wrist and go download it. Right now, like.

One night a couple months ago (before my laptop hard drive woes, which are nay over by the way) I found myself unable to sleep at 5 in the morning. I figured a couple of rounds of Nuclear War would do well to alleviate my sleeplessness; I fired the game up and after 10 minutes was hit by a sudden inspiration. The game is turn-based, and the controls are exceedingly simple: mouse cursor and left click. Since I was still looking for something useful to do with my newly acquired PDA it struck me that the game would work extremelly well on a stylus-equipped PDA or phone, and I was wondering if someone made a version for Pocket PC devices. A quick search through Google assured me that this is not the case, and since I had the next day off I fired up Visual Studio and started working.

At that point I figured that a simple rewrite wouldn't do. I wanted an identical version of the original game. Since New World Computing is no more, I figured the chances of getting the source for a 1988 game are a little on the slim side. At a whim, I fired up IDA Pro and started working. A couple of days later I managed to disassemble most of the graphics code and image decompression (LZ78-derivative) and wrote a utility to help me extract the game assets. It features picture and palette display, histogram and font parsing:


Interesting technical footnote: the palettes were embedded in the data segment; I wrote a regex-based parser for IDA's assembler output for this purpose. The palettes were in the VGA 0..63 scale, but some values are also higher and have to be clamped, which gave me quite a bit of grief until I noticed this.

With the game assets ripped I could proceed to write some actual code, however this posed an interesting dilemma: I want the game to be completely faithful to the original, but disassembling the game logic and AI is a huge task. I originally estimated it would take a month to complete the reverse engineering, but given that it's already been two or so months (discounting my laptop's downtime) it seems my guesstimate was woefully inadequate. This is where I turn to you for feedback: should I keep going in this direction (meaning the alpha version will probably take another several months to be released), or should I just write my own game logic and AI code, get a release out and then proceed with reverse engineering?

Let me know your thoughts. Also, if you want to create better (higher quality, different) graphics and music for the game get in touch -- I'm aiming for a very spartan first release (to keep it in a reasonable timeframe), but once I'm done with this baby the sky's the limit.

Thursday, June 22, 2006 6:28:35 PM (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
Personal | Gaming
# Monday, June 19, 2006

As I mentioned in my previous post, my previous travel experience is somewhat limited. The one aspect of this trip I had absolutely no way of preparing for was the hours I was about to spend in airports and airborne. The travel arragements included a short (1.5 hours or so) flight to the TAV Atatürk International Airport in Istanbul and a connection flight to Beijing Airport, both by Turkish Airlines. Unlike my previous trip to Turkey, this time the flight was far longer (the connection flight to Beijing takes 9-10 hours); also, in stark contract with the previous trip's charter flight, this time I was to fly business class. Proper food? Legroom? What a concept!

I arrived with my gear at Terminal 3 of the Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel-Aviv. Proceeding to check my baggage in, I've encountered the first of the many perks of business class: radically reduced lines to security and check-in (all airlines have a dedicated desk, and the TA airport has a special X-Ray line for business class passengers as well.) After checking in and exchanging some currency (along with passport control and additional security checks) I proceeded to the passenger hall and then did some shopping in the duty free shops there. I still had a while before my flight, and it was then that I made use of the second major perk in business class: the CIP lounge.

The Dan Lounge in Ben Gurion Airport

Turkish Airlines make use of a CIP lounge operated by Dan hotels and is an extremely welcome respite from the bustling mess that is the passenger hall. Aside from wireless internet access - which is actually available in the regular passenger hall as well, but that isn't necessarily true for all airports - the CIP lounge features comfortable seats, private bathrooms, a private meeting room (for those who require it and will pay extra, of course) and refreshments. Most importantly, it's uncrowded and quiet; having spent a total of over 10 hours in airports in the span of three days I've learned to appreciate the relative peace and quiet of the CIP lounge. I can't imagine what spending those hours would be like in the regular passenger halls. The Dan CIP lounge in Ben Gurion airport (section B) is fairly small compared to the lounges in Istabul and Beijing (more on those later) but is perfectly equipped: comfy seats, sodas, light food and some alcoholic beverages if that's your thing.

Boeing 737 interior diagram (source)

My next station was the Turkish Airlines Boeing 737-800 airplane headed to Istanbul. I've flown in a charter 737 flight before, and even at 14 could vaguely recall the airplane as cramped and uncomfortable; I was hopeful that the business class section would be radically more comfortable, but alas that was not the case. The 737 is fairly small (39.47 metres in length and only 3.76 metres wide, internally [source]) and quite uncomfortable. The Turkish Airlines plane was configured so that the business class seates were slightly further apart (for a little more legroom), but each row still contained triple seats (as in the diagram) which do not comfortably accomodate an above-average sized person. The middle seat was converted into an armrest/cup holder though, so at least I had some freedom of movement. Despite the short flight (less than two hours) the food was actually excellent: the main dish was a halibut fillet with saffron rice, shrimp and calamari. Being generally averse to fish, I was very much surprised at how good the dish was.

The Atatürk airport in Istanbul was where I made my home for the next 4 hours or so. I met a pleasant guy called Haim on the way and we had a beer at the local cafe (at about three times the proper price); he's a real-estate entrepreneur doing business in China and had some insights to share about the culture there. After strolling about the duty free complex (which is over thrice as large as the one in Tel-Aviv) for a bit I proceeded to the CIP lounge, which is considerably larger than the one in TA. The lounge is decorated in Ottoman style and is very appealing. Despite the large variety the refreshments are fairly basic; wireless access was spotty and somewhat problematic and the restrooms weren't nearly as highly maintained as in TA. The couches were rather comfortable though, and I put them to very good use. Unfortunately I was unable to find any pictures of the lounge on the 'net.

A330-220 business class seat (source)

The Airbus A330-200 airplane which was my transporation from Istanbul to Beijing was an extremely welcome change from the 737 which brought me to Istanbul. At a length of 58.8 metres and a maximum internal width of 5.28 metres, the plane (and the business class seats in particular) is spacious and comfortable. There is as much legroom as you could possibly want, and the seats are wide enough to accomodate large persons as well as small (although I could use a few extra centimetres for my legs). The Emirates Airlines plane depicted on the left is somewhat different from the one I took - the seats on the Turkish Airlines airplane were somewhat larger and had an adjustable led-based lamp above of the arm-rest. On the back of each seat (facing backwards, towards the passenger in the next row) is an LCD screen which can be controled via a remote control unit inside the arm rest (where it can be seamlessly stored for takeoff, landing and taxi). A fairly large selection of movies was available on an individual basis; since I had my laptop with me I didn't make any use of this feature, but there were some pretty good flics (e.g. From Russia With Love) if one was inclined to watch them. Also featured was an in-flight map, an external camera (particularly cool during takeoff/landing) and some intercontinental communication features I had absolutely no use for.

The service on this flight was absolutely top-notch: helpful, efficient (and attractive!) stewardesses cater to the passengers' every whim. Other than regular soft drinks, sodas etc., alcoholic beverages were served, and not cheap-ass drinks either: several brands of wine (both Turkish and foreign), Johnny Walker Black Label and even Glenfiddich Antique (18 years old). I was fairly tired and opted for a glass of Graham's Port Late Bottled Vintage (Portuguese sweetened red wine) which was terrific. Food was surprisingly not quite on par with the previous flight, but at least we got to use proper cutlery (Israeli security procedures do not allow metal cutlery on flights to/from Israel).

Between all of this grandeur and sitting among all of those people in business suits made me crave some balance; out came the laptop and headphones, and two Buffy episodes later I was finally tired enough to fall asleep. I woke up just in time for the pre-landing breakfast, and I'll tell you the rest in the next post.

Next up: China, shopping and the way back

Monday, June 19, 2006 10:12:40 PM (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
# Wednesday, June 14, 2006

My travel history is not a particularly interesting one: a trip to London with my parents when I was 14, another trip to Turkey last year. Other than that, nada. So it was with particular interest that I took on a business trip to China: for starters, I was eager to get into the business side of things at Monfort. Second, I am fascinated with Chinese culture and have been planning a trip to China in ages. Lastly, it's a paid business trip to another country... I'm being paid to do things I would never have been able to afford on my own. Obviously, I said yes!

Going on a business trip is quite different from going on a vacation and has its own set of rules. I had to get a business suit, business cards and similar crud. I'm not a big fan of clothes in general (Israel is extremely hot and I'm very averse to heat) and uncomfortable, constrictive clothes in particular, so it's no surprise that I have never worn a business suit. There is a whole etiquette involved: colour matching, the type of jacket, button placements etc. These are mostly trivialities, but it gets a little more interesting with ties: the first and last time I ever wore a tie was for my Bar-Mitzvah party, and my dad put the tie on for me. This time it wasn't really an option as I was going to Beijing on my own. Luckily the 'net has once again proven to be an indispensible information repository, and over a weekend I was able to successfully teach myself how to tie a half-windsor knot from scratch. (This might be a good time to note that, externally, I can't see any difference between half-windsor, full-windsor or four-in-hand knots. They all look alike to me.)

Image courtesy

I'm usually inclined to do my homework before going into a new venture; in this case it meant doing serious reading on business suit etiquette (as mentioned above) and an overview of both Japanese and Chinese business culture (since I'll be meeting both). At least in theory business cards are a major aspect of oriental business culture - such cards are prerequisites for businessmen from either culture, or those interested in doing business in the orient. There are even customary rules on how to present business cards: either one hand (always the right) or, preferably, with both hands, with the written side facing the other party. Some sites go as far as to recommend double-sided business cards, one side in English and the other in whichever language is relevant to your uses. Finally, it makes an impression to hand out the cards from a holder (pictured on the right). These are supposedly easy to come by in any gift shop (which are abundant in Israel for some reason), however I found this out a little too late and was unable to obtain one in time for my outgoing flight. I figured I'll just pick one up at the airport, but apparently none of the shops in either the Israeli or the Turkish duty free zones carry such products.

A major difference between this trip and any other I've ever been on is packing detail: packing the suit takes special attention. I'm a pretty experienced hiker so packing is a trivial task for me; I usually pick the smallest necessary bag and pack just what is necessary (or useful) for the purpose of the trip. Although a suitable strategy for hikes through Israel or trips to Turkey, this strategy proved inadequate because of the suit: I used a folder for packing the suit shirt, and a special carrying bag for the jacket and pants. I'm only going for a few days so I didn't pack a large bag or suitcase and settled for a medium-sized carry-bag... which turns out to have been a mistake. Although I carried very little on this trip, the jacket bag wouldn't fit in under any circumstances (not without twisting the jacket inside) and I had to carry it with me everywhere (duty free, lounge, plane, etc.). I'm definitely picking a proper suitcase for the next trip. The special shirt folder also proved inadequate and I had to have the shirt ironed again.

I figured the few things I'll be needing before and during my flights can be kept in the laptop bag. This includes a wallet, glasses and the various documents (flight tickets, passport) I'll be needing on my trip. This would've been a wise decision if it weren't for two factors: I needed some extra space for the stuff I bought at the Israeli duty free zone (The Da Vinci Code and a bottle of Rémy Martin XO Excellence), and the damn suit carry bag kept bothering me. I think I'll go with a small traveller's bag next time.

The one thing I didn't plan properly was a camera. I could've borrowed my dad's camera (Minolta Z2), but it's large and unwieldly. I wanted to buy a compact digital camera and figured I could buy a mainstream camera for a reasonable price in the Israeli duty free. This also turned out to be a mistake, because the price for the camera I was initially interested in (Canon Digital IXUS 50) was considerably higher than the price I could get even inside Israel. No luck in the Turkish duty free zone either, so it's mostly a question of whether or not I can find the time in China to look up a camera.

Next: the actual flights.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006 9:34:14 PM (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
# Sunday, June 11, 2006
  • I've been keeping hella-busy lately; this in itself wouldn't keep me from posting, but it's keeping me from coming up with good ideas for posts. Sorry about that, it's only temporary.
  • I'm going on a business trip to China in a couple days. I hope to have some pictures and stuff posted when I'm back.
  • Easy Star All Stars - Dub Side of the Moon is as listenable as it is funny.
  • I've ditched Gaim, at least until the next beta. Aside from being ugly, it's currently too quirky and slow. Since I can't really stand Miranda the only viable alternative at current is Trillian.
  • I've had to reinstall my machine at work... experiences in a separate post.
  • ReSharper 2.0 is at version #251, which supposedly fixes a lot of performance issues.
  • Oren Eini's posting like mad, make sure to finger his blog occasionally.
  • I'm rennovating my home theater setup. Current candidate list: Panasonic TH-42PHD8, Paradigm Monitor 9 v4, Paradigm CC-370, Denon 2601. Regardless, I would appreciate any pointers in the same price class.
Sunday, June 11, 2006 11:46:06 PM (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
# Tuesday, June 6, 2006

There are some extremely nonobvious repercussions to switching domains, a few of which we were unfortunate enough to encounter here at Monfort.

The first of those is that certain source control providers (such as Vault) consider the host name an integral part of a check out atom; since the domain name switch resulted in a change in all host names, the direct result was that after the switch our developers were unable to do anythign with files that had been checked out before the switch. Although Vault is based off of SQL Server I couldn't figure out how to "surgically" take care of the problem; changing the host record in the check out object table had no apparent effect. I thought this might have to do with client/server side caching, but restarting both did not have the expected result. To save time, we eventually worked the problem out by undoing all check outs server-side from the administration tool and manually checking the files back out.

The second problem was much less obvious: some of our projects make use of cryptographic key containers for signing .NET assemblies; after the switch we started getting "8013141C errors" (Windows will not format this error message). We tried reinstalling the key container only to get an "Object already exists" message from the sn tool. Yaniv, one of my colleagues, managed to find an article with the apporpriate solution: apparently one needs to update the ACL on Documents and Settings\AllUsers\ApplicationData\Microsoft\Crypto\RSA\MachineKeys. Simple, but not trivial.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006 6:30:30 PM (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
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