Wednesday, April 30, 2008

For your entertainment...

My old camera bit the dust... the one with the video capability. I never really used the video function till about a year and a half ago anyway, but I decided to dig up most of my videos and put them on YouTube. If you are really bored, you might find some of these interesting...

um... Christmas

What a great tie!

View from a ladder on the roof of my apartment in Sendai...

Some very wonderful people

More wonderful people

English tongue twister

Grace Chapel, lunch time

Kitchen, after lunch, and out of focus

My camera died. This is Takuma leading worship at church in the evening.
Chorus trans.: "praise King of all kings, Savior Lord, Heaven's great God"

Masato on drums, Ai on piano, Takuma on guitar, Erei and Kawakami sensei singing, Megu on the keys and also doing vocals

You wonder who the engineers are who make these things...
(Biwa sensei said he loves the coffee, but he's too embarassed to stand infront of the vending machine to ever get any)

Student mandolin club. Go figure.

"Prink Plank Plunk"

The bassist was a kick in the pants. To bad you can't see his expression. Got to hand it to people who love their instruments

Then, I've got a couple more on my youtube page if you want to see still more. Anyway, enjoy

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

China, - last day

Before I begin this, I made a cut against "apologetics types" in a recent post, which was unfair and based on an isolated incident. I have a lot of respect for a lot of "apologetics types" so, if you are one of them, I apologize for the comment.

This last page wasn't written in China, I think it was written a couple weeks later in Sendai.

We spent one more day in Beijing, but because I didn’t write a journal page for it, it's hard to remember what happened. Funny thing, journals. I couldn’t take many photos either. But I did meet up with my friend Chenggang, who was one of my best friends at Penn State.

[Insert: we met up near the train station at a McDonalds. We took a bus and the sub to various places, before getting off at kind of a cool old alley-way. We found people selling various things, and found a building where a dozen artists were working, painting these kind of pictures.]

[She seemed to be in charge]

[Painting bamboo]

He was visiting for a year, from Peking University. He met us when we got out of the train, and took us on a tour of his university. Peking University is really an amazing place. It’s got beautiful parks, and buildings, and a lot of history. It also regularly vies with the nearby Qinghua university for the “best university in China” spot. More foreign exchange students come from Peking University than any other university in China, I was told. Because you don’t pick your school in China, they basically ship all the best and the brightest to this school. It was pretty neat walking around. Also, I guess they have some pretty special library there, the biggest in all of Asia.

[Peking University, some big building]

[At the park]

[Chenggang, and some historic campus building]

[Hmmm... I wish my campus looked like this]

[Catching fish... the stream through the park was remarkably clean]

[I guess it was graduation day...]

[Leaving the university]

It was great to hang out with Chenggang, he seems to be healthy, and doing well. After we took off, we found a strange little “American café” that was supposed to be like American culture. The guy who owned the place gave us drinks on him, which was really nice. Got to admit, it was a pretty nice place, if I went to that university I’d probably hang out there.

[Mari and the manager]

[The interior...]

Hmmm after that, because the following day will be my birthday, they take me to a really nice restaurant where you pick what you want to eat and fry it over a little barbecue type thing. It tastes really good, and it’s a lot of fun. That was really nice of them.

[Heh heh heh]

We hang out with Liu Kai for a while, and eventually go back to the same hotel we stayed at the night I arrived.

[Hanging out with Liu Kai the night before I leave]

The following morning, I grab a taxi at dawn, and head to the airport. The taxi driver can’t speak any English, so I get to practice my Chinese. My Chinese, while being for completely useless for practical things like getting from A to B, is actually not to bad conversationally, and I had a decent small conversation with him, but I totally forget what it was about. Anyway, then I flew back, took the Shinkansen back to Sendai. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a trip that was so jam packed with memorable, incredible things.



[really, the end]

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Reports like this are chilling, and a reminder that we can't forget the Christian brothers and sisters in North Korea. It has got to be a totally different world in that country, the people have no idea what is going on outside, and we have very little idea what is going on inside. BBC news is generally hesitant to point out persecution towards Christian groups in the manner used in that report, which would lead one to suspect that the actual brutality of what is going on is probably a lot worse than is being reported. So, please keep the brothers and sisters in that country in prayer.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Misc. notes, ezekiel

Hmmm this post might get me in trouble. If someone older and wiser wants to/can legitimately call me on it, that would be fine.

Christians, at least, mainstream American evangelical apologetics types, have always been fond of claiming that a major evidence of the reliability and authority of scriptures comes from fulfillment of prophecy. When you look at books like Daniel, who predict the various actions of countries so accurately that it's claimed authorship is too difficult a pill for liberal scholars to swallow, you can see why. But a lot of prophecies that are made aren't fulfilled in such a straight forward manner. I was reading through Ezekiel a little while ago, and have been reading through Isaiah more recently, and it seems, from reading some of the prophecies in these books, that we are pretty pick and choosy about the types of prophecies we brag about.

For example, Ezekiel's prediction of Nebuchadnezzar completely destroying Tyre. I've looked at a lot of apologetic "defenses" for the prophecy. But, I can't help but think that by the time the apologists are done with the passage, they've really, really, really messed with the natural reading of the text. This could just be an example of the poorness of the English language at conveying something written in another language, I might grant that. But if you just read chapter 26 you think "wow, Tyre is in trouble. Nebuchadnezzar is going to really kick their butts." Then, you read history books, actually you don't even need to do that, you read chapter 29, and you find out that he did no such thing. He beat up the mainland pretty bad, and got a submission declaration from Tyre, but he didn't destroy Tyre as bad as all that, and didn't come away with spoils. You can say the "He" in the previous verses is referring to Nebuchadnezzar and the transition to "they" is referring to, um, people not his army, but this seems a rather in-elegant solution to the problem.

There are several interesting reactions to this that are easily noticeable doing a search on the web. In addition to apologetics types trying to splice words and argue that Tyre was actually on the mainland at the time, you have quite a few people harping on this as a proof text for failed Biblical prophecy. "Ezekiel was wrong, so you all prophecy's bunk" etc. Pretty standard, unsurprising stuff.

What is most interesting is Ezekiel's own reaction to this: nothing. Herein lies the major problem for both the previously mentioned camps. In chapter 29 he admits quite cheerfully, or rather, un-hesitantly, that Nebuchadnezzar did not emerge victoriously from his attack on Tyre. He spends no time defending his prophecy of doom. In fact, I find it a little ironic that the apologists feel the need to defend his writings more than he indicates that he did.

But for the people who would like to claim that scripture is un-trustworthy based on this prophecy, this admission is also a major problem. If Ezekiel and the subsequent Jews who revered his prophecies as words from God, weren't worried about this "failed prophecy," then more than likely people who are using this as a major proof text for obviously failed prophecy are the ones who are reading it wrong. Or, to put it differently, if this be the obvious case of failed prophecy that it is claimed to be, it would not have been included in the canon - if Ezekiel was not speaking of God, then he was a liar. A liar does not report failed predictions. If I, not being a prophet, predicted a president's method of death and subsequently failed to see it come to pass, I would not include it in my prophecy compilation, toward the end of my life.

Ok, but step away from the whole Tyre thing. I've been reading through the prophets, sometimes blitzing sometimes plowing, but in many cases it seems like the way things are fulfilled is not always straight forward. If you look at many of the prophecies Matthew draws from to show how Christ was the fulfillment, and you actually go and read the prophecies he's quoting, in many cases the connection is not immediately apparent. Well, at least if not looking at it from a hind-sight perspective. Some of Isaiah's stuff, it's like "wow, that really fits." But if all I was given was the Psalms, I never would have thought that "they divided my clothes" would be referring to a Messiah.

Hmmm I can see I did not get as far as I wanted or write down what I was thinking with sufficient clarity but it is almost 2:00 AM and I've got a ways to walk to get home, so I'd better take of now. Maybe I'll follow this up later.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


When it comes to my experiments, nothing ever seems to be as easy as I'd expect. I don't want to say "easy as I'd hoped" because it's no fun if it's easy. But, there are times when I wished that when I think I've finally figured out the solution to a problem, that would, infact, be the time that I actually really have figured out the solution to a problem. For example, I came up with this really cool code that up until now worked amazingly well at noise reduction when I'm processing recordings from my rig. Then I tried this new technique that would allow me to take better data than my previous measurements but require only about 1/4 the time (3 hours instead of 12).

I made the measurements last night, (got home at 11pm instead 7am like normal) and am processing the data today. And just looking at the data, I can see it is good. I was hoping i could just sort of plug it into my super code, and voila, out would pop these amazing results. I came into the lab this morning imagining how great it would look.

But when I use my code to compute actual values I get a huge mess. It doesn't make any sense. If I take a sort of defunct, older version of a code I used to process other data with, and sort of parse up the measurements and take out the good portions then stick them all together, I can get a good picture of the measurement. And, as suspected, the measurement is perfectly fine.

So why isn't my totally butt-kicking adaptive moving power spectrum swept sine analyzer code, that makes cool snake-like pictures while it's processing the data, coming up with anything better than a scatter-plot????

And this concludes my Saturday.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

China day 13

Ok, today we get up, take a shower in the wonderful shower at Bob’s and head off to see the terracotta statues. Myron’s really stoked about this. It’s 40 km away, but unlike Chengdu to Leshan, traveling this distance only costs 6 kuai not 140 kuai. Weird. On the bus, I witness one of the strangest, and coolest things I’ve seen this whole time in China. There is a western, blonde girl who can speak Chinese fluently on the bus, who is leading her group of Americans around (they are also going to see the terracotta statues). She sits down next to a Chinese guy on the bus, and wants to practice her Chinese with him. Turns out, he can speak English, and after listening in on the conversation, I was totally shocked. The Chinese guy was a Christian, and was evangelizing the girl. He was telling her the God-honest gospel, right there on the bus. A Chinese guy. To an American girl. In central, communist China. She was pagan as I’ll get out, and if she hadn’t found this as unusual as I did, she probably wouldn’t have given him the time of day. But as it was she listened the whole way through. Finally the guy got off, but wow… that was amazing.

We finally get to park where the statues are. It’s a big place, and we don’t really know where to go, despite the fact that Myron has been here before. It is also starting to rain. We manage to find the building that houses the main exhibition, before the rain really starts to fall (once again, my student discount saves me a lot of money). Pretty impressive, I guess.

Actually, I found it a tad towards the boring side, compared to the other amazing things we’ve done/seen, people we’ve met, etc. But, here is one totally amazing thing: the steel swords of the warriors had barely corroded. I found this more fascinating than the whole array of hundreds of warriors. They had actually figured out how to alloy the swords with Chromium, so they wouldn’t rust. And this was 250 BC?!?! Imagine seeing a sword over 2000 years old, that has barely rusted. It is very strange. Also, there was a 2000 year old bronze replica of the horse-drawn chariot thingies that they rode win. It looks more like a turtle or clam though, it’s really interesting.

It really starts to pour. We stop at the main museum building, and I have to use the bathroom so I head off to find it. The bathroom is really nice black marble, etc, but it’s disgusting, pee is everywhere on the floor. I slip on it, and tear open my little toe on a sharp pee-stained corner. Crap, I’m gonna get some sort of horrible infection, and I’m bleeding all over. [Background – few weeks earlier, in Sendai, to avoid a car I ran into the curb and made a bloody stump [later note: ok, that's a wee bit of an exaggeration] of the same toe, so this wasn’t a pleasant experience. But, at least I didn’t end up getting an infection.] We head out of the museum, and it is just pouring rain. All these people keep calling to us, trying to sell us umbrellas – for 15 kuai. For some boneheaded reason, we refuse to buy them unless they come down to 5 kuai. They just shake their heads. We finally find the bus back to Xian and it looks like we’ve been through a car wash. The ride back is wet. I am really irritated at Myron, [probably irrationally], and vice versa, but we are gun’mer (our new vocab word) so we can’t stay angry for long. By the end of the ride, our problems are ironed out.

Back in Xi’an, it is still raining hard. Our “soft sleeper” (luxury ride to Beijing – the only tickets we could find, and they cost us an arm and a leg. 400 kuai! Then again, that’s only 50 bucks. In the states, that would have been a real bargain) doesn’t leave until late that evening, so we are stuck in the rain. The kind souls at Bob’s let us leave our stuff there, and open up their recreational facilities to us. First though, we go looking for something to eat. Not bad food, has good Gan bian dou jiao, but the other dishes are only OK. Which, means really really great, but not as great as a lot of the food we are used to by now. We return to the hostel, and just sort of kick around. Really nice guys for letting us stay there during the rain storm. Mari and I play ping pong, and she schools me.

If I had played much ping pong in my life, and was good at ping pong, I’d care, but as it is I don’t. Ok darn it, I care anyway! I get better but she still schools me. Then this other guy wants to play. I’m like, “are you good?” and he says “well, I can play a little” but he says it in such a way that you know he thinks he’s good. He gets up to play Mari, and he totally creams her. I try to help her out by taking pictures, with flash, of them playing right when he’s about to hit the ball. I think this is really clever but he doesn’t like it and asks me politely, in such a way that you know he doesn't mean it politely, to quit.

[Can't you see him getting angry?]

Anyway, we order dinner one more time, and I practice my 3 instruments that I’ve bought so far. Good times. After telling those guys goodbye, we head over to the train station and get on our soft sleeper. Soft sleepers, unlike hard sleepers, are only 4 to the room, and you get your own TV to watch. We couldn’t all be in the same room, Myron is in one room over. Mari is being a total nut, and wants to see me do tricks on the bunk railings while the other two guys aren’t in the room.

She’s a total nut case, and we have a lot of fun, probably to the irritation of the bunk fellows below us. Oh well, they don’t get to sleep in the same room as an American girl very often, so they probably don’t care too much. Eventually, I find the C-pop station, and watch it. Wow… so different. Watching the top 10 vids now… Chinese rap? Just doesn’t seem right. And now there’s one coming on that's about marriage?? Wow this is so weird. They practically idolize marriage in this video. It’s like this great thing where you live happily ever after. Couldn’t get farther from the pop American concept if you tried. Sigh, what a foreign country.

[One more journal entry left.]

Thursday, April 03, 2008

China day 12

Day 12

I wake up with the light. My contacts are off, so I can’t see well but I can tell we are going through mountains. Yess!! The sun hasn’t fully risen yet. I grab my camera and use the screen to see.

We are passing through Shanxi.

This is surreal. I can't believe a place like this actually exists.

It's like... those silk paintings. They actually look like that.

I'm deleting photos like mad to catch these mountains. The battery is going to run out... blast. We sit down next to the window with a guy named Liu Sheng Lai. He tries to talk with us. His Chinese is pristine and clear, but it is way too fast. I make a mental note of why it is important to speak slowly to people who don’t understand your language well. He is interested in us. Maybe he is more interested in Mari. Mari spends a lot of time testing out our travel book “handy Chinese phrases” on him, and he buys us a drink. Eventually, we arrive at Xi’an, which is two characters. I got in an argument with Myron about this. I thought he was pronouncing it wrong, because I thought it was a single character pronounced “Xian” [which sounds more like Shien]. But in fact, it is two characters, pronounced “Shee an.” Except, they don’t really pronounce the n on the end, or it’s more nasal, so it’s like, “Shee-aa.” Whatever. The point is, I was wrong and it was really embarrassing cause I hate being wrong. But oh well.

Xian looks dirty, the sky is brownish/grey, like Beijing, and there are army trucks with army personnel around. Looks more, I dunno… communistic? Soviet era? Also, the city looks a little dirtier. Around the train station is an absolutely huge mass of people, and they are not a polite crowd. In other words, my first impression is, “ugh” [but that changed]. We are staying that night at a place called “Bob’s Guest House.” Sounds seedy - but it’s actually not. It was about half a mile from the train station, which was really convenient. The manager looks like he could be Elton’s brother and the staff are just regular young people. A really harmless place. The charge per night is 40 kuai (about 5-6 bucks) and the rooms are really excellent: clean, 3 beds, and… we have our own bathroom! And it’s clean?! This is unheard of, for 40 kuai a night. Also, we have a television, not like it will do us much good though. Oh yeah, and it is air-conditioned, and in the shower-like atmosphere of Xi’an in the summer, that is a good thing. Also, there are lots of [pirated] movies to watch downstairs, and they make food. Sometimes they don’t have what’s on the menu, depends on what’s available that day. But at least that means it’s fresh, and it certainly tasted good. [in short, if you go to Xi’an, Bob’s Guest House is not a bad place to stay].

Next up, we made our way to the Xi’an city walls for biking.

Before this point my camera ran out of Batteries, and had no more space for film [I wasted it all on the stupid Panda’s. Oh the regret!!]. But Myron lent me his [thanks Myron]. Now, about the city walls:

I had first heard about them at an Acoustical Society of America conference from my Dad’s grad student Dudley. He was telling me how tall they were. We were walking downtown, and pointing to a ledge on a tall building, he said “hmmm… they’re probably about that high.” I totally didn’t believe him.

Xi’an is actually a famous city because it was the ancient capital of China. It was basically similar in size and stature to Rome, at the same time, but in ancient China. As a result, there are some spectacular architectural left overs from its legacy. The walls surrounding the city are positively enormous. They dwarf anything I saw in England, and this was surprising to me. Myron mentioned that once before he and his friends biked around the city on the walls, so I insisted we do that again. Ironically, the charge to get onto the wall cost as much as a night at the hostel, but I had a student discount so for me it was only 20 kuai. (heh heh heh).

We biked around the city walls – 14km in circumference. I guess China has a thing for long walls. The ride was bumpy, and the bikes aren’t good, but I managed to catch some great air at portions of it.

After that we went to the Muslim quarter. First though, we had to CROSS STREETS! Crossing streets is always insane in China, but in Xi’an it was like gambling with your life. It’s Frogger for keeps. And while you are standing on the white line between one of the 5 lanes, you just sort of hope that the bus baring down doesn’t want to change lanes where you are standing. Anyway, after that harrowing experience we walked to the Muslim section. Can’t look at the mosque (can’t remember why, it was either closed or outrageously expensive) but there is a large flea market nearby with lots of nifty stuff being sold. Most interestingly there is a vendor selling painted verses from the Bible. I ask if she is a Christian. She says she is not. I wonder why she is selling verses. Maybe because Christians are a guaranteed market, when they pass through, I dunno. This place has a fair amount of Western tourists.

We walk for a ways and go to another street full of interesting shops. Things look a little higher quality here. I see a shop selling some really cool small paintings. Turns out the lady who ran the shop painted them herself. My eye catches a cool painting of a horse. Myron tells me to try to get it for 15 kuai. She won’t go lower than 20. In reality? The thing is worth way more than that, and I feel bad trying to get the price any lower. 20 kuai isn’t even 3 dollars [well, maybe now it is] and it’s a real painting. The lady is a total kick in the pants, a lot of fun.

I wander to another location, and find a street vendor selling bamboo Dizi (Chinese flutes with a membrane to make a buzzing sound). I’ve always wanted one, so I start haggling the price. Some girls find this really funny, and I get a small crowd around me, watching. Finally, I get the price down to 50, and they cheer but the vendor doesn’t look to happy. Whatever. Got my Dizi.

We are all tired from all the biking/walking so we head back to the hostel, pile into the lounge downstairs to watch a movie and order dinner. Down there I meet a girl named Chie, who is from… SENDAI!!? Wow, that is so weird. Turns out she was only in China so that she could get a permit to go to Tibet, but they wouldn’t let her for some reason. She was kind of ticked off about that, but was enjoying Xi’an anyway. I got to practice my Japanese, too, which was fun. All the movies are pirated, and the copies completely suck. Oh well. At least when they finally remembered my dinner, it tasted good.

[Final journal will probably be in a week or so.]