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Archive for April, 2011

“The Fat Years”

Posted by sprague on April 16, 2011

Chan Koonchung (陈冠中) author of 2013, The Fat Years (盛世:中国2013年) spoke at the Beijing ex-pat bookstore, The Bookworm recently. The book’s premise of a dystopian near-future where China dominates the world, will be popular in the West when they release it in English sometime soon, but meanwhile I have a few thoughts.

Chan Koonchung

The central idea of the novel is that the people are unhappy and somehow not really free, in spite of their material possessions. One part of the plot revolves around a strange realization that the country has lost a month on the calendar, which nobody can recall.

A few ideas occurred to me while listening to the author:

  • Hong Kong, where the author is originally from, is really a different place. Though dominated by the mainland, its identity is being forced into sharper focus because of the looming merger of political systems set to happen fifty years after 1997.
  • Beijing, which the author describes as his favorite place on earth, is experiencing extremely rapid change, particularly since 2000. The idea of a “lost month” in the novel comes from the experience of living here and regularly realizing that major changes happen all the time and never being able to pinpoint exactly when or how.
  • The author does not believe that the Communist Party is simply another dynasty. The ancient Chinese belief in a cyclical view of history is just not true anymore in the face of the force of modernity. China is just another nation-state that must confront liberalization and democracy just like every other aspiring emerging country.

Just a few new ideas to add to my highly-incomplete picture of China, and a mental note that I must learn more about the Hong Kong (and Taiwan) perception of this place if I really want to understand it.

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Italy, with 60 post-war regime changes, is more stable than Syria

Posted by sprague on April 16, 2011

Nassim Taleb in an excellent @knowledgwharton podcast:

comparing Italy with Saudi Arabia. Italy is an example of mild randomness in comparison with Saudi Arabia and Syria, which are examples of wild randomness. Italy has had 60 changes in regime in the post-war era, but they are inconsequential…. It is a prime example of noise. It’s very Italian and so it’s elegant noise, but it’s noise nonetheless. In contrast, Saudi Arabia and Syria have had the same regime in place for 40 some years. You may think it is stability, but it’s not. Once you remove the lid, the thing explodes.

Worth listening to the whole 30 minutes. He also says the “jobless recovery” is no recovery at all — it’s a recession temporarily masked by terrible economic policies that will make it long-term worse.

Italy, with 60 post-war regime changes, is more stable than Syria

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“Communist” Chinese like the free market more than Americans do

Posted by sprague on April 9, 2011

67% “regard the free market system as the best on offer” vs 59% for US.

“Communist” Chinese like the free market more than Americans do

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Interactive communication is growing much faster than broadcast communication

Posted by sprague on April 5, 2011

During the period from 1986 to 2007 … [world-wide] general-purpose computing capacity grew at an annual rate of 58%. The world’s capacity for bidirectional telecommunication grew at 28% per year, closely followed by the increase in globally stored information (23%). Humankind’s capacity for unidirectional information diffusion through broadcasting channels has experienced comparatively modest annual growth (6%).

Interactive communication is growing much faster than broadcast communication

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Easy way to download Project Gutenberg books to Kindle

Posted by sprague on April 5, 2011

Most people know that there is a free Kindle app for iOS that will let you read books from Amazon’s Kindle store. Apple also offers a free iBooks app. Fewer people have heard of Project Gutenberg, where you can download over 30,000 free books, and fewer still have heard of the Magic Catalog from FreeKindleBooks.org.

If you already have the iBooks or Kindle apps installed, simply go to Magic Catalog on your iOS device and tap the appropriate link for whichever app you are using (MOBI Edition for Kindle, EPUB Edition for iBooks).

(Via TUAW.)  I tried this and it works great!

Easy way to download Project Gutenberg books to Kindle

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