Wednesday, December 27, 2006

World Heritage: Year in Review

Looking at last year's update of five sites inspired me to take stock of this year's total.

Looks like it's five again!

  1. In early April, I went to Cologne and saw the cathedral.
  2. Later that month, Christina and I headed to New York and took in the Statue of Liberty.
  3. In June, I traveled to Russia and saw St. Petersburg.
  4. In September, we went to England. One World Heritage Site we saw was the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape.
  5. Another was the Ironbridge Gorge.

For the second year in a row, Christina made it to a site I missed (which is only fair, given I made it to two she missed), Suzhou. If only I didn't have to go to these conferences...I wouldn't be traveling so much in the first place, I guess.

That brings me to 34 sites. Over 4%, finally! At this pace, I probably have a couple more years to go before I hit 5%.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Travelers' Century Club Update

I've been going through my old posts and tagging them with labels like "travel" and "go". In the process, I've come across a number of old posts I had forgotten about (and some with typos that had stayed there for years).

One of the old posts is one about the Travelers' Century Club, an organization of those who have visited 100 or more "countries". At the time, I was at 15 or 16, depending on how you count. Now I'm up to 22. New additions:

  • China, People's Rep.
  • France
  • India
  • Puerto Rico
  • Russia
  • Switzerland
Wow. Still not even close.

Now I'm 18K...and 1K...

Well, the American Go Association's new ratings are out, and my rating is finally up to 18 kyu! I was 10-7 in tourneys I entered as 19 kyu. I hope I can do well enough at my new ranking to earn another promotion. I was going to enter one last weekend, but the lack of a new ranking, combined with being exhausted after getting back from China with a cold, dampened my enthusiasm enough to keep me from going. My next tournament will either be the end of January (if I feel like driving down to Richmond) or the beginning of February.

In other news, I've earned Premier Executive 1K status on United Airlines. What is 1K status? Well, originally United only had two characters to signify status, so 1K=100K=100,000 miles. I like to think of 1K as "1 thousand hundred miles". So did I really fly 100,000 miles this year? That seems like a lot (around the world 4 times). Not really. United gives a minimum of 500 miles for each segment flown. That policy padded my stats a little, but the real bonus is the 150% credit for first and business class. (There was one penalty, where if you take a 1-stop, United only gives you credit for the direct routing. That cost me 70 miles.) I added everything up, and by the end of the year (after flying back from Arizona), I will have actually flown "only" 95,960 miles. The new status is, I think, what got Christina and me upgraded on our flight out here to Arizona, so it already seems to paying dividends.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Thursday in China

Careful readers will note the omission of "Wednesday in China". On Wednesday, Christina took the camera and headed to Suzhou for an excursion. A link to her pictures will follow.
Also, on yesterday's post, it came to my attention that some people were having trouble displaying the picture, which was hosted on a server in China. So I made a local copy.

On Thursday morning, I ducked out of a few of the conferences more skippable talks to head to Amy's Pearls with Christina. (Look here for a picture of Tony Blair looking particularly goofy visiting the shop.)

In the afternoon, after the conclusion of the conference, we went on a city tour for which we had signed up. The guide was better than the one we had on Tuesday. Still, I noticed a certain commercial theme to the tour.

First we went to the Jade Buddha Temple, which has two buddhas brought to Shanghai from Burma in the late nineteenth century. They are carved out of enormous pieces of rare white jade. We were told a story about how the priest who had transported them from Burma left them in Shanghai because they were too heavy to transport. Not too heavy to move from Burma, but too heavy to move to his final destination in China? That didn't make a lot of sense. After touring the temple, we were taken to the monk's tea room, where we learned about the restorative properties of Chinese tea, and then were given an opportunity to buy some.

Next up was a tour of the French Concession. Fortunately, we didn't repeat the tour of the shikumen from Sunday -- probably because one guy had spent too much time in the Jade Buddha Temple gift shop and we were running late. We walked around for a few minutes and then got back in the van.

The People's Square also got the walking around for a few minutes treatment, but at least we got a nice picture of ourselves in front of the Shanghai Museum.

Our final stop was the "Treasure Gallery". Here was an opportunity to "learn" about pearls and purchase them at higher prices than Amy's.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

At the Conference in China

The organizers just posted pictures from the conference I attended in Shanghai. There I am talking with Scott, with whom I went to graduate school.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Tuesday in China

Tuesday was a half-day at the conference. The afternoon was set aside for the conference excursion to Zhouzhuang, a picturesque water village the Chinese have turned into a major tourist attraction. After about an hour and fifteen minutes on the bus, we walked around Zhouzhuang, which is a village on canals. They called it the "Venice of China", but I have to think Venice has more going for it than canals, a few picturesque bridges, and vendors trying to sell you stuff. We toured a 14th century house and an 18th century house, and it was interesting to see something more traditional than Shanghai. Then they turned us loose for another hour or so to buy stuff. We made a few purchases, including a portable go set that I was particularly fond of.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Monday in China

After I spent all day at the conference, we boarded a bus for the Bund. The Bund is center of the old colonial part of Shanghai built by the British. The conference had organized a dinner at a nice Chinese restaurant. It was interesting trying the different foods, and there was traditional entertainment with dancers and musicians.

Afterwards, we got back on the bus and headed nearby for a river cruise. It was basically and opportunity to take pictures of the skyline while rap music (Ludacris, among others) played in the background.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Sunday in China

After slightly more than 24 hours travel time, we arrived in Shanghai Saturday night. Exhausted, we ordered room service and went to sleep. The next morning, our mission was to sample Shanghai's rampant consumerism...I had forgotten to pack most of my shirts, so I needed to buy a few before the conference. I plotted a walk from our hotel to the French Concession's Huaihai Road shopping area.

Unfortunately, this walk took us past the now-closed Xiangyang Market, which specialized in knock-off designer goods. As far as I can tell, former vendors hang out outside the demolished market and plead with you to come to their new location. What's worse is that they follow you for blocks to do so. I've never seen vendors that pushy in India or Mexico -- which is saying something. At one point we ducked into a Starbucks and left via a back exit into a hotel in order to ditch them.

Eventually, we made it to the department store and got my shirts (yay). It was a little bit challenging to figure out my size, but we did find one shirt labeled with a conversion chart. Also, I'm apparently in the upper end of the size range in Shanghai (Yao Ming not withstanding). Then we were able to walk back, sample some more souvenir-oriented shopping and do a little bit of sightseeing.

We stopped into two museums. One was the Shikumen open house. A "shikumen" is a 19th-century-style Shanghai stone house. They're disappearing rapidly as the city gets redeveloped, but it was interesting to see what life in Shanghai was like before the skyscrapers. The other museum was the location of the first national congress of the Chinese Communist Party. It was interesting to read the...ahem...propaganda. The biographies of the attendees noted that several formerly loyal party members for some reason decided to go over to the enemy and had to be executed. Also, Christina was amused by the reproduction of the first meeting that showed Mao towering over the other delegates, who were listening with rapt attention. (Sorry, no pictures allowed.)

About halfway back, we encountered the persistent hawkers again and grabbed a cab, which ended up costing $1.50. We wondered why we didn't just take a cab in the first place, other than the walk being good for us and allowing us to experience the city on our first full day. The cheap cabs were one of the most convenient things about Shanghai...even the hour-long ride to the airport cost less than $20.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Return of Search Engine Madness

Six years ago (have I really been blogging that long?), I posted some of the queries that were directing traffic to my site. Google now has something called Google Webmaster Central that once again helps me determine for which searches I rank high.

Something more exciting (like China pictures?) when I recover from this cold.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Math Blog Back from the Dead

About a year and a half ago, I told you about a new weblog I had created to keep track of my math research. Well, only a year and a half later, I have updated the weblog.

Lest that seem particularly tardy to you, the subject of the post is the re-formatting and re-submission of a paper derived from Chapter Four of my dissertation, which I finished, uh, nine and a half years ago. Better late than never!

I'm hoping that in the coming year, I'll post (and do math research) with more regularity. In fact, I'm hoping that announcements of new research developments aren't so rare that they merit a posting here, too!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Almost Famous

Right now, if you go to the home page of the Gazette newspapers -- suburban Maryland community papers -- you'll see that the number one newsmaker is yours truly. Well, to be more honest, I was one of the more local competitors. Others were quoted in the associated article.

I ended up going 2-3 at the tournament...which was a relief after losing my first 3 games (including the one pictured). That's a total of 5-4 over the two weekends, which I'm hoping is enough to raise my rating up to 18 kyu, rather than the 19 kyu where I've been stuck since May.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Weekend of Gaming

I had quite the 3-day weekend of game-playing. On Friday and Sunday, I went to EuroQuest, a board gaming convention north of Baltimore.
I am trying to catch up with the modern web. Instead of posting most of the pictures here, I'm putting them in a web album which you can see by clicking above. I had a good time at the tournament, playing a couple of new games as well as some old favorites. I qualified for the semi-finals of the Puerto Rico tournament. At that point, I discovered that I was not into the whole tournament experience as much as the rest of the players. I probably would have been happier sticking with "open gaming".

One of the odder experiences I had at the tournament was running into three brothers who went to my high school, including one I who was my debate partner at the 1987 debate nationals. Of course, I also ran into two other people from my high school, but seeing Paul and Martin is a more expected, but still enjoyable, experience.

I left early on Friday because Christina and I had been invited to a surprise 40th birthday party for someone. The gaming tie-in there is that people started playing Karaoke Revolution. Christina and I did a duet of Love Shack -- fortunately the female lead has more lyrics, so we were able to complete the song.

On Sunday, I participated in the first UMBC go tournament. I came in first in the weakest division with a 3-1 record and took home a book as a prize. I think I moved up from 19 to 18 kyu there, so I'll have to study the book hard if I want to do well at next weekend's tournament.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

East Coast Stash, West Coast Stash

During a trip to New Jersey a couple of years ago, I attempted to go to Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash, Kevin Smith's comic book store. Arriving after 6 pm, I found the store closed. Looking through the archives, I apparently found the experience so depressing, I failed to blog about it.

Well, here I am in California, and on my way to the conference, I drove past the West Coast location of the Stash. This time, I made it there while the place was open. I guess I expected a wider selection of comic books from Kevin Smith. If you want to get action figures, stuff signed by Kevin Smith, or Kevin Smith souvenirs, however, this is the place to go.

I post this mostly as an excuse to display the pictures of the two locations. I'll let you guess which is which.

Apologies to those of you on the mailing list, if you haven't been receiving updates. I've been having problems with my web host, or Blogger, or the interaction between the two...I'm not sure.

Friday, October 06, 2006


In our continuing quest to visit World Heritage sites, we went to the Ironbridge Gorge, one of the birthplaces of the Industrial Revolution. It's home to the world's first -- you guessed it -- iron bridge. After visiting the Ironbridge Gorge Museum, we walked to the bridge and grabbed some ice cream.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Tempest

For Christina's birthday, I got her (and me) tickets to the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of The Tempest, starring Patrick Stewart. So on our second Friday night in the UK, we headed to Stratford-upon-Avon to see the play. Beforehand, we walked around a little bit and had the best fish and chips I had while in England. (Other than that, was pretty bad.) Sadly, no pictures from the play, since they don't allow cameras.

It was very enjoyable. Patrick Stewart, of course, was very good, and so was the guy who played Ariel.

Friday, September 29, 2006


The day after our visit to the Big Pit, Christina and I went looking for some place to explore. I recalled from my first visit to Britain that it was fun to get Ordnance Survey maps and follow the footpaths. We looked around Tewkesbury for a place that sold them. We eventually found one, but not of the local area. We had to drive for 20 minutes or so to Ross-on-Wye, which was in the area covered by the map.

We parked near the church, where they were ringing the changes. Christina found an open door to the bell tower, and in fact on that day they were inviting the public to observe the ringing. It was pretty neat to see, and we were assured we were seeing some of the finest bell ringers in England.

After perusing the map, I realized there was a path that took us along the river. About a mile or so away was something labeled as "Wilton Castle" that looked promising.

It provided the sort of minor excitement that the day seemed to call for. We walked back towards the town center and enjoyed some ice cream before heading back to our car.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Big Pit

We had a lot of fun during our recent visit to the UK, and one of the highlights was our visit to Wales' "Big Pit" museum. The museum is part of the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape, a World Heritage site.

If you're ever anywhere near Southern Wales, I recommend visiting this place. The highlight is where they take you underground into a "disused" coal mine. Your guide will be a real Welsh coal miner. (When someone referred to him as "retired", he explained that since the museum only runs 10 months a year, he works in a mine the other 2 months. And then went off on a rant against the Welsh Assembly.) It was really quite an experience bumping our heads through the mine and seeing how mining used to be done in the heydey of British coal.

The excitement of our visit was when a woman in our tour group started to feel faint. She had to be taken back to the surface then, but the ground station took a while to respond. In the mean time, a 6-year-old boy started to panic -- we had just heard about all of the gases that can kill you in a mine. The guide did a great job of cheering the boy up -- he was still nervous the rest of the trip, but he made it.

Sorry, no pictures of the mine. We had to give up our cameras, watches, cell phones, or anything else with a dry cell battery.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Santa Barbara

Greetings from England. We're doing a ton of stuff here, and I have a bunch of pictures to post. But first, I should clear the queue with my last set of pictures from California.

First, here's my annual beach barbecue picture:

You can contrast 2000, 2003 and 2004...

I got to show Christina Santa Barbara, which she enjoyed, although not as much as San Diego. We went to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, where the highlight was one of two Siqueiros murals extant in the United States.

More later of our UK adventures. For now, I'm going back to my weekly UK adventure of listening to the Skins lose a football game in the middle of the night. Hopefully this week will turn around...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Busy Saturday in California

We had a busy day last Saturday, our last full day in the San Diego area.

First, we went to the Mysterious Galaxy bookstore for an author signing. Given that Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle were to be there, I bought not only A Mote In God's Eye, which they co-wrote, but also Niven's classic Ringworld. When I found out that Niven had failed to show, I figured at least I could get Pournelle to sign. Then I found out that Pournelle was not there, either. Sigh. At least I got Fred Pohl to sign one book -- the experience marred by an awkward conversation with him when he noted my name was spelled the same way as "Jon Sherman," who I eventually determined to be "Jon Stewart." Also, I returned Ringworld.

And I didn't have to wait in the huge line...that was the Anne McCaffery line. Christina did, however, and got two Acorna books signed.

After the book signing, we headed off to Del Mar to watch the races. Between us, we ended up about $5 up (not counting admission, parking and food). I bet mostly based on the horses' can I lose if the horse has as part of his name the conference I'm about to attend. Answer: I couldn't.

I did manage to lose out on an exacta when the second place finisher was disqualified for interference. Fortunately, I had placed a bet on the new second place finisher to place, so it wasn't a complete loss.

It was fun, though, and something we'll probably do again when we return..if it's during racing season.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Wish I Was in Tijuana...

We had a bit of fun yesterday with an excursion south of the border. We come out here often enough, and we had a nice trip last summer to the border town of Tecate. Unfortunately, while Tecate has plenty of authenticity, it lacks for souvenirs. That isn't a problem in Tijuana.

We parked a short walk from the border and took the bridge over the border crossing. We attempted to take a couple of pictures at the border that we could blend seamlessly, but failed on that account.

After we made our way past the many souvenir sellers (with only one purchase), we were feeling the need to get out of the heat. We ducked into Cafe La Especial where we enjoyed some authentic Mexican food.

We wandered down the streets and picked up a few more items; we made an abrupt U-turn when we reached the open-air drug market in front of the jai alai stadium.

For some reason, there were a bunch of donkeys painted like zebras. We avoided them.

It was definitely just fun to walk around a Mexican town for a few hours and have a meal. We'll have to make this a regular occasion, although maybe we'll try to make it beyond Tijuana to one of the beach towns.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

My rating did what now?

Well, the new American Go Association ratings are up. After my 3-1 record at the last tournament, my rating went from 19.0 to...19.1? (That's a drop, for those who aren't familiar with the rating system.) I'm still 19 kyu, just as I have been since May. (My 2-2 record in Richmond in June moved me from 19.3 to 19.0.) Given that my opponents went 3-7 in games not involving me, strength of schedule definitely hurt me. And I can consult AGA ratings FAQ question #8, "I was 3 and 2 in my latest tournament, yet my rating actually went down! What kind of a crazy system is that?"

I probably won't make it to a tournament again until late October. I'm hoping to study and improve by then. I guess at that point, I may have the choice between entering at 19 kyu and having a good shot at another trophy, or entering at 18 kyu and having a shot at kick-starting my rating. We'll see.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Winning Record

Well, we got back from San Diego pretty late Friday night. On about 4 hours of sleep, I picked up my friend Paul and headed for a go tournament. This one was called the "Congress Tune-Up", as it comes a few weeks before the 2006 US Go Congress. Though I won't be attending, it seemed a good way to build on my 2-2 record from the Virginia Open.

My first game was against a 20-kyu player. Since I'm now at 19 kyu, I gave him a one-stone handicap...that means he went first, but I didn't get any points as compensation (except for half a point to break ties in my favor). The game went very smoothly for me. At one point, I thought I saw a subtle attack that started with putting a large group of his stones in atari. He didn't notice the atari, however, so I was immediately able to take the large group of stones. After I successfully killed off an invasion of his, the outcome was obvious, and he resigned. (Paul later beat the same player for his first win of the tourney...proving that this guy just couldn't handle Arundel High.)

My second game was against a 27-kyu player. I had to give him 8 stones, which seemed like a lot...I'm not used to playing white (being the higher ranked player). My opponent played very slowly and conservatively. We got into a long, drawn-out ko fight. We didn't resolve that fight, but I tried invading a corner he controlled. He blundered, and I successfully took it over, killing about 30 of his stones in the process. He was running out of time, but he finally resigned, conceding there was no way to turn the tide.

My third opponent entered at 21 kyu. She seemed confused about how the handicapping system works...I had to explain that she got two stones, but had to put them in specific locations. She started her play with a couple of unorthodox moves, which made me fear that she had no idea what she was doing and that the game was going to be a pushover. After a while, though, I realized she was in pretty good shape in the game, and when she pulled off a fairly advanced maneuver called the "monkey jump", I knew it would be hard to win the game. I used up more time in that game than any other I've played, and at the end it looked pretty close. When we counted things up, it was 44 to 44 -- a tie, just like my last game in Richmond. But this time, I was playing white and won the tie, so I was off to a 3-0 start!

My final game was against a 15-kyu kid I lost to in May. I ended up losing that one by 4 stones. Close, but after the rest of the day, I couldn't complain too much.

When the tournament director posted the final results, I was in first place in the upper-mid kyu division (consisting of four players), so I got to go home with a trophy and a prize (a vase). Not bad. Undoubtedly this will push me to 18 kyu, so I'll have to get better if I want to keep tasting victory. The next tournament I know of is in late October, so I've got plenty of time!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Courtesy of World 66, here is the updated map of Canadian provinces I've visited.

I'd love to see the other parts of Canada.

Quick trip to Vancouver

I'm in Vancouver for 3 days for the second half of a conference. I hear that it's a lovely city, but I haven't seen much of it. With two exceptions, I've just been at the hotel and the university. Here are some pictures of the two exceptions (for some reason, I didn't take any pictures of the hotel or the university.)

On Wednesday night, there was a public lecture in a room with a nice view of North Vancouver.

Last night was the conference dinner at Sun Sui Wah. It was a very enjoyable Chinese restaurant. I applaud the organizers for not doing another dinner catered by some hotel or university. We had a 10-course meal, which took about two-and-a-half hours to serve and eat.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Greetings from Vancouver, where I have a Mercedes for my rental car, an upgrade to a hotel suite, and one fewer piece of luggage than I did when I departed home. Thumbs up, Avis & Hilton. Thumbs down, United.

I noticed that the new FIFA soccer rankings are out. The US is at 16, down from 5 before the World Cup debacle. 16 seems a little bit high, but then again -- we were the only team Italy couldn't beat.

I really enjoyed watching the World Cup -- so much so I bought the video game. I like international soccer and get excited at World Cup time. But besides that, there aren't too many other opportunities to get excited about international soccer. (Looks like I found one back in 2000.) There's the World Cup qualifying, and what else? There's the Gold Cup, but that's a blip on the radar.

So I've decided to try to follow Euro 2008. Like the World Cup, it has an extended qualifying period. It also contains most of the exciting teams from the World Cup (mainly omitting Brazil, Argentina, the US and Mexico).

Confusingly enough, even though qualifying is supposed to start on September 2nd, there are 3 matches scheduled for August 16th. Based on the FIFA rankings, they shouldn't be too exciting. There's Belgium (57) v. Kazakhstan (140), Faroe Islands (169) v. Georgia (87) and Estonia (82) v. FYR Macedonia (70). OK, the last one might be expected to be close, especially since it's at Macedonia. But I don't know that I'm going to interrupt our trip to California to find those on TV somewhere. September 2nd is more promising, with a full slate of games.

I suppose I should give a shot to our local club team, but I find club soccer (whether MLS or foreign) harder to get excited about. Maybe I'll try going to a game at some point.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Still No Power

Greetings from the College Park Hampton Inn, our home away from home, at least for tonight. It's got all the modern conveniences -- air conditioning, hot water, Internet access...that our house lacks at the moment. According to PEPCO's map, outages in PG County are down to 1,697. Unfortunately, we're one of them. There's a tree on the power line down the street and no sign of PEPCO, so the prospects seemed dim for a restoration tonight.

Here are some pictures I took yesterday.

The first one shows our broken tree after the tree guy had done some initial work. We're hoping it'll survive, but we're not sure.

The second one shows the damage done to our fence, either by the initial treefall or the subsequent tree work.

The next two show that the damage isn't too post has to be put back into position, the top bar has to be popped back in, and we're most of the way there.

The final picture shows our next-door neighbors' front yard. I suspect this tree will cause further problems restoring power after the one a couple door down is taken care of.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


We had quite a storm yesterday afternoon. In terms of sheer tree destruction, it beat Isabel. There, we had to go to the end of the block to see a downed tree. This time, we had only to go into our back yard. That was the second biggest tree on our lot. If I remember correctly, that's a 4-foot fence, which would make that tree around 50 feet tall -- snapped in half by the wind.

We weren't the only ones with tree trouble. Our next-door neighbor had an oak fall across the alley behind our house. Glad we don't park back there! The scene was reported up and down the block. Both of our next-door neighbors had huge branches come down in their front yard. (By huge, I mean tree-sized.)

Fortunately, the destruction seemed to be fairly localized. The green area in the map is the area with the most customers out of power -- our ZIP code and an adjacent one. I'm hoping that means we're at the top of the priority list -- unlike Isabel, where the whole metro area needed help. (You can check PEPCO for an updated map -- in the time since I uploaded the copy here, a third ZIP code has gone green.)

Saturday, July 01, 2006

I stuck around St. Petersburg...

My last big excitement of my trip to St. Pete was my visit to the Hermitage museum. It was an organized tour, which had its plusses and minuses. Plus: I wasn't afraid of getting mugged. Minus: I didn't get to choose what we got to see. We spent about an hour on the Winter Palace (cool), an hour on the treasures of the czars (yawn, and they didn't let us take pictures), and an hour on pre-18th century art (cool, although I was more interested in the rooms of Matisses and Picassos that they reportedly have).

The very distinct Russian Baroque style was similar to that of Peterhof.

They had a number of paintings by Rembrandt.

They also have two of the approximately 18 existing Da Vinci paintings.

The room containing them was very popular.

Here's a sculpture by Michaelangelo.

And of course, here's the final entry in my "Big Head Trilogy".