Thursday, February 28, 2013

Where am I .... all the time

Okay lets start by clearly stating the futility of position, every defintion of position requires a reference frame. It would be pretty messy to define where I am relative to the centre of our galaxy at all times, the super-massive blackhole makes measuring time there pretty messy as well. I could define my position better in ECEF or ENU or in most cases Platte Carre. I set out to build a project which could define where I am at all times for the posterity and essentially keep a track of my spime. My spime is the only thing I have absolute natural rights to, everything else can be taken away and be subject to argument with sufficient legal juggling. Come to think of it even the personal spime is not inviolate, meh reading to much Hannu Rajaniemi. Android My Tracks is pretty good, but a phone sometimes feels like too many eggs in one basket, I don't want to leave it lying around in the car dash gathering sunlight.

The project is mainly based on a Seeeduino stalker board with a convenient Bee socket. I plugged the UBlox Neo-6M based GPS Bee there. Data logs go to a 2GB SD card and Lipo power is backed by a 1w solar cell. The GPS constantly spits out NMEA strings which get logged to the SD card as long as power and space is available. A log with 2 days worth of data took up 45Mb, so I can hold about 3 months of data. Unfortunately the 2000mAh battery died after 2 days of continous use, with some solar recharge while in use. Since the battery death, in order to prevent melt down in harsh sunlight and continuous use, I have added a USB charger option as a stop gap. This should hold the fort till I plug in the quartz/heat powered charger for use while hiking and the mini windmill for use while wind surfing. Eventually the SD card will blow off into star dust after I have had my fun and extracted and time and location of said fun, but hey SD cards are more expensive per-ounce than gold.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Baby food and Poker machines - Snapping stuff in MongKok

The biggest story making headlines while I killed time between city walks in HongKong was one featuring "Baby Formula", including an event just a few steps from me at the MongKok East station. Someone taking lights over was cornered and searched for baby food by citizens and angry mothers.
Australia is one of the wealthiest nations in the world in per-capita terms and most of our wealth is locked up in the Australian dream - house. In contrast it is quite difficult for young people to own a house in HongKong, so the consumption tends to be high in other areas. People eat out more often, since the living areas are small and can be a hassle cooking.
 People invest more in personal appearance, buying jewellery, clothes and watches. Admittedly I am very poor at brand recognition, but the greek links to Doxa made me remember that particular brand. Personal investment is also apparent in all the rush for cosmetics and offers for private tuition. Image and wealth you can carry about on you is everything here. Just like the pokie joints pretending to be video game parlours.

There is a tension between pro and anti-Falun gung groups. The posters for both factions are displayed side-by-side near the star ferry terminal, right next to the anti-communist party booth. The Harbour city mall with its clientele of mostly mainland buyers is nearby. The rebelliousness may be filtering back along with the baby food.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Living and dying in the Sunderbans

This is a well established wikipedia fact the the Sunderbans are the world's largest single block of Mangrove forests. It is difficult to grasp the scale and density of it unless you are drifting around in the countless rivers cris-crossing it for an entire day. A couple of days ago, I did just that. Nothing as dangerous as what the locals do - strolling into the deep forest with a pass bought for AUD50 or so and spending days at end collecting fish and honey. Occasionally falling prey to tigers or crocodiles. At least they get to see the elusive tiger briefly. They keep doing it since profit margins are huge, some AUD4000 per month, better than sitting exams and waiting for a government job.

Public river transport
On the same day we saw human footprints heading into the jungle and after drifting around a bit more tiger footprints crossing the river. Crocodiles were everywhere, sunning themselves. We even saw a juvenile croc, looked rather harmless. One of the anecdotes we picked up was about a tiger losing his back legs to a croc while crossing the rivers.
The khal and kumir 
Those who don't earn their living from the forest have taken to clearing it and planting rice. The conservation efforts are ongoing to protect the forest and reduce land clearing. The big cyclone in 2009 - Aila, caused stormsurges and deposited salt on most of the rice fields. This has sent people back to the forests, until the salt tolerant rice comes along. The other noticeable thing was the profusion of solar panels, since most of this area is off the grid. Often there were separate panels supplying separate rooms and one clearly identified for the TV, attached to a satellite dish.
The musicians
The television is a rarity only afforded by the rich. The local live music and theatre scene seems to be pretty active. You can often spot musicians on the ferry heading to a gig on a pushbike with a dhol strapped to their back. Tourism is catching up to provide some more support and even more exposure for the area. It provides an alternative to "jungling", our cook lost her husband to a tiger. However local tourism can be quite destructive, since the locals tend to dump rubbish everywhere and get drunk and drown themselves in the river. Not much different from stories I read about Australians in Laos.

Sunset boat ride
It is a beautiful place, but in the danger of disappearing under the pressure of people. The great economic importance the forests have in their non-destructive use is keeping them from destruction. Things may go slightly awry if urbanisation finally catches up, being off the grid is actually good for this place.

Two weddings and Tiger Footprints

It is that time of the year when I visit my family in India and throw in a drive by tour of another place in Asia. This trip is almost round the world in its scope - Adelaide, Singapore, HongKong, Kunming, Kolkata, Dubai .... back. There are always memorable things at each spot. Singapore airport is just too familiar, but on 2 flights I sat next to Capgemini employees flying in and out of China (from Australia and to India). Something huge is brewing.

Hong Kong skyline
The highlight of HongKong was the busy life-style, crazy shopping and the hybrid cultural wedding. The lights make for great photography and testing out of my new 4/3 camera. Some serious lens shopping coming up. The wedding was a fun, great venue, good scale and +Rowan Fry looked understandly over the moon. The best part was the entrance in traditional chinese gear, he would have made a rather respectable official in imperial china. I wish them a happy life together.

Last week I attended another wedding in Bengal. The contrast was stark, the rush, the colours, the food. The only thing that was constant was the hot wire cut foam decorations, the flowers and the suit I wore to the other wedding. The wedding invitations extend to whoever bothers to come, I hardly knew anybody, not even bride and the groom. Felt a bit like a wedding crasher, till we went to see the bride's dad, he was laid up with all the stress from getting the feast organised for some 600 people.
Devil is in the detail
The last few days we toured the Sunderbans with a Backpackers group aimed at foreigners, much more relaxed than trying to do it packed like sardines in local style. There seems to be zero-respect locally for the Sunderbans, since the majority have not been lucky enough to see the tigers, all believe no tigers exist. They should perform 3D photogrammetry on tiger footprints, lay out some tiger sized dolls and change the holiday season to coincide with tiger mating season. Only then will people believe tigers do exist. Saw plenty of crocs though and some crazy tourists to keep us company. I was both local and foreign, had fun teaching Bengali - managed to teach a Canadian to count to ten. Should start some word association based Bengali learning kit.

Tiger paw prints