Making use of “Museum Day Live!” … Amazon bookstore … thinking/indulging in my random thoughts

Originally written on Sept 23, 2017 :

While searching for “what to do in NYC this weekend” last night, I realized that this Sat. (today/Sept. 23, 2017) is this year’s “Museum Day Live!”, ie., a day of free entrance to many museums. I’ve made use of this opportunity once some years ago with my Mom. But this time, I’ve picked two museums, “The Rubin Museum of Art” and “Morgan Library & Museum”, out of the museums which normally require fees. The rule is just that one email address for one ticket for each museum and I walk/visit fast.

“Rubin” vs “Morgan” is like Asian vs Caucasian and/or Religion (Hinduism/Buddhism) vs Aristocracy …

The Rubin Museum of Art was said to be focused on Himalayan art and I mainly saw religious art from India, Tibet, Nepal and somehow Mongolia 🙂 It’s mainly Hinduism and Buddhism, esp. Tibetan Buddhism. As usual, religious materials don’t really touch my heart and I tend to view the artwork superficially. Probably Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photos about Mahatma Gandhi and esp. those when/after he was assassinated, have appealed to me the most. The Indians seemed to really love him. Gandhi symbolizes India’s Independence. History is not like physics that one can do and repeat various experiments to verify. One can’t really take out a piece (such as a person like Gandhi) in history and calculate reliably to figure out what would have happened (such as whether India would be independent anyway without Ganhdi). HK’s news these days can’t avoid mentioning the idea of independence even though the news item itself may be an attempt to suppress it. To me, uttering/protesting in independence is a reaction to the oppressive political atmosphere. Unfortunately, there is no simple formula one may follow in history or politics to succeed. I can’t help thinking of Lee Kuan Yew who relied on the British and Malays to get rid of the Communists (~Chinese) — his political rival, and less than 2 years after joining the Malaysian Federation, Singapore was expelled from Malaysia and became independent (with an ethnic Chinese majority population) due to racial conflicts etc. I don’t think Lee Kuan Yew was really so magical that he’s the mastermind behind and intelligently designed all these. But he was certainly an opportunist with some sly or crafty surviving skills in politics. I imagine that if HK were one day becoming independent, there was probably something very significant happened to China and the Communist Party. I guess both Gandhi and Lee understood the British (and the Malay in the case of Lee) very well which helped them succeed. Focusing on just HK and ignoring everything in Mainland China probably wouldn’t help the cause of independence. It’s back to the same old principle of “know your enemy and know yourself” in the art of war that Hollywood movies have recited more than once.

Only in the latter half of wandering around in the Morgan Library and Museum, did I realize that this “Morgan” is the “Morgan” in J. P. Morgan (Chase) and Morgan (Stanley). I felt really ignorant and stupid. The arts there didn’t really impress me much. The saving grace is the classy library portion of the complex. Being there, I could try to imagine myself a little bit like wandering inside the Bodleian Library of Oxford. I don’t go to nightclub or disco but visiting library is really my thing 🙂 I could easily imagine myself to be indulged in a personal library such as this rich fellow’s !

Trotting towards the Penn Station, I came across the Amazon bookstore and immediately decided to catch a later train in order to pay this place a first visit. Entering the store, not sure why, my mind immediately thought of old bookstores such as “Borders”. has helped kill many bookstores and now it opened its own ?! Hmm … I guess this bookstore shows/sells the most popular books or gadgets that people want in After the last 10 years or so reading some New York Times Best Sellers, I could recognize many popular novels or at least the authors. After a bit of effort, I found the few shelves of “Science and Nature” in which the only physics books were “Brief History of Time”, Lisa Randall’s book trying to link dark matter with dinosaurs and a few of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s. I think this bookstore is completely about popularism and probably nothing else. It doesn’t seem to allow you to find anything outside the mainstream.

Before taking the subways to visit the above Manhattan museums, I actually went to borrow book(s) in Jamaica. I guess, as I “traveled” alone, I could do a lot of things in the most hasty and efficient manner that I wanted to. People may ask why one wants ‘efficiency’ or this or that in travel. I guess that’s the privilege of solo travel that you can choose something no matter how ridiculous it is. It’s got me to think that it’s like life as well. Travel = Travel(x1, x2, …) and Life = Life (y1, y2 …). Everybody could pick their most beloved factors to decide what they want to do and not to mention that, even for the same factor, you could formulate or treat it very differently. Unlike gravitational force F = GmM/r2 (which is kind of true everywhere … until you get too close to a huge mass), there is no such thing for the meaning of life. If the gravitational law is different from Canada to USA, it’d not be called a law. The meaning of life is even different from person to person, not to mention from country to country. Therefore, universally, there is no common meaning, or can we say it’s meaningless ?! … This explains why somebody want to live to save people while others want to kill people. Like “natural selection” in evolution, when people want to live together, the doctrine of saving people and helping each other gets to prosper, through Confucius or Moses or Jesus …It then becomes what is called “moral”. But this is just pragmatism, nothing really fundamental. In some crime scenes, people often say that they don’t understand why people can make such and such cruel act. But why not ?! In all the thousands of years, making use of Confucius, Jesus or moralism, you can only try to educate or brainwash people to “do good”, but there is nothing fundamental there and things don’t have to be that way. Everything is just artificial. People can define their Life = Life(killing people, ….) and the Sun tomorrow will still rise from the East. Though there will be (legal) consequence if you kill, the law of physics or chemistry or biology would not stop you from doing so. If electron mass were not ~0.5 MeV, the Universe would be very different. But if Kim and Trump started Nuclear War tomorrow, most likely there will still be some people left after the Nuclear War … Even the species of homo sapiens becomes extinct, the electron mass won’t change and electrons continue to exist and behave in whatever way electrons have been doing for billions of years.

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How to earn a few bucks while reading a book …

Originally written on Aug. 19, 2017 (Sat.):

People often give a lot of different meanings to (probably meaningless) life … but I very often think life is about how to waste ( — people use “spend”, “make use of” etc. but “waste” is closer to my appetite / taste / sentiment / philosophy … ) one’s lifetime.

Having been living in USA for over 20 years, it’s my common knowledge that if you care, you can often make a phone call to ask your utility (and other) companies to reduce their service charges etc.; or if you don’t care, your utility costs will just quietly increase 🙂 Verizon has made a $5 increase in my “phone+internet” bill. I’ve thought a bit and concluded that I care 🙂 Today (Sat.), I finally called.

In terms of getting to talk to a person in Verizon on phone, weekend is worse than weekday as there aren’t many staff available etc. and there is longer wait.  Even worse, a couple years ago somehow (without my explicit consent) Verizon started to route my phone call to their Chinese (Cantonese/Mandarin) speaking staff in their customer service dept. (after their computer system could identify me by phone no. etc., I guess).  And these Chinese speaking staff don’t work in the weekend (like today) and so when I followed their regular phone instructions, I ended up with a message telling me to call them back in the weekday. Moreover, due to my (limited) statistics, I somehow feel that I’d gain more benefits if I talk to English-speaking staff in the customer service 😦 🙂

Just like for any other animal, “evolution” drive manifests itself 🙂 Very soon after the above phenomenon, I found an almost scientific (scientific — as it’s repeatable and should work for everybody …) method to bypass those Chinese-speaking staff or get to talk to Verizon customer service dept. in the weekend. One just needs to call “technical support” and then they would route you to the English-speaking customer dept. staff who work even on Sat.

Today, “technical support” (of Verizon) has just kept me waiting for maybe 10 minutes or so. After a little explanation, they transferred me to the customer service/billing personnel. I knew it’d be long but today it’s really long, like >2 hours !  Leaving the phone in “speaker mode”, I was reading Haruki Murakami’s book and wondering whether he’s again been nominated for the Nobel Prize this year and would this year be finally his ?!  The Verizon phone-waiting music and advertisement has got a few different styles that cycled repetitively … After ~1.5 hour, I began to lose hope. I decided to leave the phone on and drive out to the nearby Home Depot to pick up the toilet seat that I’d ordered, which just arrived this morning. I think I came back home probably ~25 minutes or so later.  And interestingly, the phone music was still playing !!!

I kind of almost gave up and told myself to maybe call them during the week … and was about to go out for lunch.  But soon after 1 pm, the phone music suddenly stopped and a lady finally spoke out.  My mood was cheerful and I didn’t need to argue or plead (though one minute into the conversation, I did humor her with their guilt of keeping me wait for >2 hours), that lady checked for promotion + discount and came back a couple minutes later with a result of $6.01 deduction 😁 Even more saving if taxes/fees are included … As I said, you have to care enough to call to get those stupid promotion/discount; otherwise, they wouldn’t do this automatically.

Though I have to wait a bit to see all the nos. materialized in the actual Verizon bill, I felt like winning a battle … even though it’s not against certain dictatorship or white supremacy, hehe 🙂 I don’t remember I’ve ever waited for so long and ended up with something fruitful.

In any case, what a “good” waste of time ! … ( Well at least, many pages of Murakami’s book has been read. )


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Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity

9780735213920When I borrowed this book (from the library), my purpose/intention was to try to see whether I may learn something about the theory of loop quantum gravity.  At the end, though I don’t feel that I have grasped too substantially about the theory of loop quantum gravity, the author does seem to make the readers feel very straightforward to accept that the space at the smallest level is quantized (as quanta of gravity).  It seems to be the most natural thing in the world.  “Of course !” one may exhale in one’s mind.  Probably, only the part that the space as a sort of substratum or backdrop has disappeared is slightly more difficult to thoroughly comprehend.

The other thing that the readers would learn well from this book is that time doesn’t exist at the fundamental level. Because we never measure time in reality but only other physical variables such as how many beats for each oscillation or how many ticks of a stopwatch, and their relationship. In particular, time does not exist in the Wheeler-DeWitt equation, the solutions of which has given rise to “loops” — first found by the famous Lee Smolin together and Ted Jacobson, p.159. Which was the beginning of loop quantum gravity. In p.249-252, the author has explained quite well about “Thermal Time” by comparing time to heat as kind of an average of many variables. Time, like heat, doesn’t exist at the most fundamental level but it exists as a useful and convenient variable. In fact, the entire Chapter 12, “Information”, including “Thermal Time”, has done a good job in explaining the information theory, probably not because I have read about this subject quite a number of times.

Another distinct and interesting “tidbit” that I’ve learnt from this book is that black hole or the universe would explode or bounce back (Big Bounce) if they get squashed or contract to (presumably approaching) the level of the quanta of space/gravity due to quantum repulsion. The quantum repulsion is not explained clearly (eg. in p.207-208) as “All of this is still at an exploratory stage” (1st line of p.209). Nevertheless, it’s said that when the space is very very small, the universe is just “spread-out cloud of probabilities in which time and space wildly fluctuate” (3rd-4th lines of p.208). ( As a side note, the author still uses the word “time” here though time should not exist at the fundamental level. Maybe, the author is just using an average sense of “time” as it’s what most readers are familiar with anyway ? Or, even the author himself can’t get rid of the old habit of thinking of time ?! This is just one of the places where I might have been confused or bewildered after the idea of “time doesn’t exist” was so ingrained in my brain. ) It seems to me that these loop theorists must like some kinds of cyclic models of the Universe, contracting and bouncing back. But what if the Universe keeps expanding and even in an accelerating pace as we’re observing now, which leads to no scenario of contraction ?!

Even though the quantized space has been so well explained, the loop quantum gravity itself is not really convincingly explained.  Though the readers may learn about the “spin network” as the quantum state of gravitational field and later “spinfoam” as a sort of spacetime structure, when a reader comes across the author’s 3 equations of loop quantum gravity on a T-Shirt in Fig. 7.7 on p.191, s/he probably doesn’t feel delighted or excited as those 3 equations were not really explained (not to mention derived) but they were there just to show that the theory of loop quantum gravity can be summarized in a T-Shirt 😦   By the way, the word “spin” is used only because the result involves half-integers which are like spins in quantum mechanics.

On p.187-190, the author explains that the probability of any physical event can be calculated by summing over all possible spinfoams, using the equations of loop quantum gravity (of course !).  Apparently, they take advantage of the two techniques used heavily in quantum field theory and for Standard Model, Feynman diagrams and the lattice approximation — as in “lattice QCD” I guess (as the author doesn’t say explicitly).  These two tools are so famous and broadly exercised and yet they haven’t helped the loop theorists produce useful results that we can verify experimentally ?!  The only example that the author has mentioned is the spectrum of (cosmic) background radiation as predicted by loop quantum gravity.  They are hoping that the wide-angle fluctuations they have predicted, which are different from those theoretical predictions that do not take quanta into account (p.218-219), may show up and be verified in future (satellite/space) experiments with enough precision.

One thing I don’t really share with the author’s enthusiasm is his tendency to tell us again and again that the philosophers/scientists thousands of years ago already had the same ideas of the modern dates. Once or twice may be OK or even cute but there are just too many of this kind of “forced analogy” (in my opinion) in this book. The most long-winded example is probably in p.97-106, where the author tries to tell us that Dante’s poem “Paradiso” has described 3-sphere as in Einstein’s finite universe without border. And of course, Democritus knew pretty much everything, certainly not just atoms, but even the information theory (p.242). Maybe, Italian readers would enjoy reading these frequent mentions of ancient philosophers (even though they’re not Italians). But it’s just too much for me. Sometimes it’s even given me a feeling of going to the Bible to look for answers for modern scientific problems, which is obviously opposite to the scientific and experimental spirit of this book.

In the first paragraph of p.89, on p.214-215 and p.220-221, the author apparently mentions the LIGO’s discovery of gravitational wave in 2015/2016. This is definitely an addition to the original Italian version which was first published in 2014. By the way, the author does make use of the absence of discovery of supersymmetry at LHC/CERN (or elsewhere) to his advantage, to at least give the loop quantum gravity a little “+” in comparision to (super)string theory 🙂

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QBism … cute but not useful yet ?!

9780674504646QBism: The Future of Quantum Physics

I am a little disappointed with what I have learnt from QBism (Quantum Bayesianism).  The subject that I’ve really got a clearer and better understanding from this book is the frequentist vs Bayesian interpretations of probability.  I think I’ll probably never forget what their main difference is.

The QBism solution for wavefunction collapse is explained on the 2nd paragraph on p.133: “In any experiment the calculated wavefunction furnishes the prior probabilities for empirical observations that may be made later.  Once an observation has been made … new information becomes available to the agent performing the experiment.  With this information the agent updates her probability and her wavefunction—instantaneously and without magic.  The collapse sheds its mystery. Bayesian updating describes it and finally makes the missing step explicit.”  My immediate reaction was “What ? …  Is that it ?!”  As of now, I can’t really appreciate the beauty of this so-called “solution”.  It’s more like a “quip” or like a lawyer manipulating some legal interpretations to suit his/her needs.  Maybe, as usual, quantum mechanical stuff has never been easily understood and/or appreciated, especially not quickly.  Its beauty or extraordinariness may sink in for me in the future years …

The GHZ experiment described in p.162-169 is very interesting.  In its simplicity, theoretically, one event can prove quantum mechanics right and the classical prediction wrong.  Nevertheless, this is just “common” quantum mechanics, not really due (soley) to QBism.

The only potential contribution from QBism mentioned in this book is the “quantum law of total probability” along with QBists’ efforts to try to express the quantum rules in terms of probabilities rather than wavefunctions (p.226-230).  Unfortunately, they have not found a proof yet even after involving “a small coterie of mathematicians and mathematical physicists” (4th-5th lines from the bottom of p.228) for a decade.  There, the term that distinguishes the quantum version of the total probability from the classical counterpart is an integer called the “quantum dimension” of the system, which “has nothing to do with space or time but with the number of states a quantum system can occupy” (19th-20th lines on p.229).  This dimension is said (p.230) to be more fundamental than Planck’s constant but it seems that QBists haven’t found a “practical meaning” of it.

The cost of adopting QBism seems mainly the requirement of an agent who sets a prior probability and then updates with a posterior probability.  It is not a concern for me and even not really a “cost” to me, especially compared to the “Many-Worlds Interpretation”.  Though I am not sure whether QBism can ultimately provide a bridge between psychology and physics, like what Marcus Appleby speculatively suggested (p. 230-231), essentially all quantum mechanical issues are related to certain observation and/or measurement which always requires at least one agent.  … Ah ! … of course, writing up to here, the other issue of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics as to what happened to the physical processes when there was no consciousness to observe or measure, like in early big bang epoch, is probably also or especially a difficulty for QBism  🙂

p.197 (17th line): definitely, there is an omission of a full stop “.” in the sentences ” … begins to change The law starts …” after the word “change”.

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Dubai, UAE, from my experience

Deira, Dubai (2016-11-3) :

So I have been to Dubai, UAE. 😎


Along Baniyas Road (at the edge of Dhow Wharfage, Deira)

Its metro system is connected to the airport and therefore the transport from the airport to one’s hotel is the easiest.

The first mission I have assigned myself today was to buy a postcard and mail it. But it’s far more difficult to find a postcard than I have expected.

The metro ticket system is unnecessarily complicated. Eg. if one buys the red Nol ticket (a popular option for tourists), it has to be used for only one of the 3 options, 1 zone only or 2 zones or >2 zones, for the first time and future top-up’s, one can’t mix. And if one wants to buy a daily pass, it has to be another red Nol ticket and that can be topped up only for daily passes. Their chat room staff told me something different/wrong a couple weeks before.

For the metro ticket logistic reason (to stay within one zone !), I have confined myself in Deira in the first afternoon. Unexpectedly, the Al Ahmadiya School and the Heritage House were closed for maintenance. So, the rest of the tourist spots in Deira are mainly various Souks ( Spice Souk, Gold Souk etc. ) This is the traditional quarter of Dubai and it’s not the most charming kind of tourist spots. Wandering around with temperature > 30℃ did make me dig deeper into the philosophical question of “what’s the meaning of travelling ?” again 😅 … From another perspective, these souks here in Dubai are like a modern upgrade compared to those I visited (for example) in Marrakesh/Casablanca of Morocco in 2013.

I have come across many small (at least not very big) “trading stores” outside the Souks. They looked to me like grocery stores but when I tried to buy something, I was told that unless I bought an entire cartoon (box) of it, they didn’t want to sell me just a single item.

Among all the shops in the northwestern corner of Deira that I have passed by this afternoon, there seem to be Africans and all kinds of Asians (my definition of Asians are simply people from the continent of Asia), certainly many Indians/Pakistanis/Bangleshis … There seem to be a non-negligible no. of Chinese (though not overwhelming yet). Chinese are not just tourists but many seem to be doing business here, which are not just restaurants but also hotels (with Chinese names and slogans to appeal to Chinese), shops selling clothes, utensils and all sorts of products (made in China ?). I happened to stop in front of an electric shop trying to grab something from my bag and then I noticed that the shopkeepers all seemed to be Chinese. I took a more careful look and found that their displayed products included big power supplies and/or regulators, some with ~30000 VA (!) from “CHiNT”, something our Lab. may use. I guess these Chinese business people probably have been in Dubai for quite some time (?), just like their Indian counterparts (for example). The Chinese central govt. is having a grand scheme of a new silk road … but I wonder whether this kind of things had already happened without and before the Chinese central govt. tried to tell Chinese business people what to do. The Chinese central govt. perhaps was merely reacting to realities instead of being a genuine initiator. Just some thoughts …

In the evening, I’ve made a bit of effort to find the Afghan Kebab House off Deira St. as it was recommended by a few websites. Probably, I should have ordered a stack of naans with lamb, rather than chicken buriyani — Indian (!) — that I ended up ordering, I couldn’t say that I had enjoyed it. The only merit is that it’s less than 1/3 of the price in my hotel. 😐

Burj Khalifa etc. (2016-11-4):

After some internal/mental struggle, I bought the ticket online — before I arrived at Dubai — at the price of 350 AED (US$96.65) to visit the world’s highest observation deck on a non-prime hour (500 AED on prime hours). This 828 m tallest structure in the world (for now) had its original observation decks at levels 124/125 (452/456 m). But after it was surpassed by a tower in Shanghai and then another even taller one in Canton, they created a new observation deck in late 2014 at level 148 (~555 m). My struggle was whether to spend more than 200 AED to visit this “At the Top SKY”. The “At the Top” at levels 124/125 would cost only 125 AED (non-prime)/200 AED (prime). The webpage mentioned that “you will be personally escorted to a dedicated elevator” which was just untrue. I was just one of the many high-fee paying suckers shepherded by a couple staff. There was nothing personal about it  And on the way down from levels 124/125, the “SKY” visitors need to use the same elevator as the others. The warning or notice said it’d take 30 minutes or 45 minutes for the waiting queues at level 125 and 124. I of course picked the one at level 125 and though it’s not really 30 minute’s wait, it’s probably 15-20 minutes.


Reflection of myself by the glass window of the 148th floor observation deck of Burj Khalifa

Since I have gone to this highest observation deck, I am now qualified to say that the extra fee is not worth it. The “SKY” package offers some tea (and dates) at the bottom and some juice and chocolates at the top. Though I drank a glass of lemonade and a glass of orange juice plus 4 pieces of chocolate, I still don’t feel it’s worth the extra 200 AED — which is ~always true for me, just like a more expensive meal has never made me feel more proportionally satisfied. Before buying the ticket, I read that some bloggers had the same dissatisfaction … but I decided to have this planned dissatisfaction anyway.

I took a picture by reflection of myself from the glass wall at the highest deck. My image immerged in the background of more “direct” photons (though through longer path) I thought of doing this before the visit and it actually worked at night ! A joy of a mission accomplished or an experiment succeeded. This is slightly more creative than asking a bystander or taking a selfie 

The observation deck at level 148 is considerably smaller than those at the levels 124/125.  One saw pretty much the same thing from either higher or lower observation deck and the image of the Dubai city far below is probably clearer from the lower levels.  On the lift to go up to level 148, I saw the largest floor no. was 154 but the staff told me that there are more than 160 floors. The price of 125 AED is actually about the same as the price to go up to the observation deck at One World Observatory in Manhattan (which is the highest in the western hemisphere) and the levels 124/125 at Burj Khalifa is a better bargain as it’s 70 m higher than the One World Observatory at ~382 m.

This is also the 3rd time that I paid to visit a skyscraper at night. The previous two times were at Taipei’s 101 (when it was the world’s tallest building) and New York’s Empire State Building on a July 4th watching fireworks.


From the balcony of Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House

I somehow woke up after half past two in the afternoon, thanks to some weird state of remnant jetlag and not committed to sleeping very early in the morning … I managed to visit only Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House in Bur Dubai before I realized that I very likely couldn’t finish my earlier plan of visiting the Al Fahidi area. It’s fortunate that I didn’t try adventuring to visit another place or two before hurrying to Burj Khalifa. Because when I arrived at the Burj Khalifa reception desk, it’s almost 17:40 and they advised arriving 15 minutes before the reserved timeslot (18:00 for me).

Between the Dubai Mall metro station and Dubai Mall, there was a long walk (> 1 km or something like that) though there are many segments of motorized moving walkways to help you. The Mall (largest in Dubai) is truly huge and finding Burj Khalifa inside the Mall was considerably more difficult than expected. To save energy and time, I have asked many staff how to get to Burj Khalifa.

Maybe the metro is slightly slower than I thought, or Dubai is really huge. The metro line, after leaving Deira and Bur Dubai, seems typically in the middle of some wide highway-like roads far away from buildings. Probably at least some hundreds of meters before one could reach a building. After some 7 trips (at least, depending on how one counts), its average frequency is probably not as frequent as the Hong Kong MTR system but probably like New York metro system or slightly better. This Dubai metro system started to operate in Sept. 2009 and it still looks reasonably new and modern. It has two lines up to now and the two lines intersect at 2 distinct/discontinuous locations. Its most interesting or avant-garde feature is that it’s driverless ! But I’ve noticed one good feature, ie. inside the gates, there are toilets, which seemed decently clean, seemingly in each metro station (that I’ve visited)    Another feature that is not so useful to me is that each metro train seems to have a couple cabins only for women and children and another gold class cabin which charges double on the passengers.

Walking in downtown Dubai or those malls, people have appeared to be more affluent than those in Bur Dubai and Deira. From my limited observation, the visitors at the top of Burj Khalifa seemed not entirely different from those that I had seen at the One World Observatory, ie. mainly Caucasians and Asians. There were more Asians (including Middle Easterners) in Burj Khalifa. Dubai may be truly Asian in its Asian diversity. I have seen many Southeastern Asians and Chinese in Dubai’s service industry (hotel, restaurants and tourist spots like Burj Khalifa). I often felt that I had seen Thais but they were probably Filipinos. And I think I most likely have come across Chinese in service industry rather than Koreans and Japanese — some googling reveals that there are many workers from Philippines and China. I think I can’t confuse them with many Iranians here in Dubai …

Another feature that was mentioned in tourist guides and my personal observation has confirmed is that English seems to be the working language in Dubai ! I overheard staff of some facilities (hotel, metro stations or malls) speaking English to communicate with each other over their walkie-talkies etc. In Dubai, English practically is more widely used than Arabic as it serves a link between various ethnic groups as well as in European expat community and business/tourism sectors — slightly modified sentence from the 2nd paragraph on p.127 of “Pocket Rough Guide Dubai” (2nd edition/Sept. 2016). A very interesting feature indeed !


Dubai Fountain (of Dubai Mall) in the Burj Khalifa Lake at ~8 pm just outside the Burj Khalifa

….. Just remember to add a few words about the water fountain performance (Dubai Fountain) in front of the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall. It’s probably the most amazing of its kind. The water jets actually twisted and bent reminding you of women doing belly dancing, especially under the influence of the Arabic music. It’s not shown in the photo but the water jets went very high often. The water fountain performance happened every half hour at night. I arrived just before 7:40 pm and I decided to walk around the “Burj Khalifa Lake”. I walked very fast — another silly thing that a solo traveller could decide to do instinctively —and just managed to come back to the origin around 8 o’clock. One couldn’t walk entirely on the promenade around the Lake . It was a bit broken as a small portion was interrupted by construction and some parts were obstructed by hotels/shops. I had to walk around those parts.

Metro, bus, tram and abra all over Dubai (2016-11-5) :


Crossing the Creek between Bur Dubai and Deira

On the 3rd day, in addition to the metro, I have taken 3 new modes of transportation available in Dubai, from the oldest abra (wooden boat) to the newest tram, as well as the buses, which have allowed me to visit many places efficiently. Except the abra, a daily pass (of 20 AED, valid only until the midnight of that day) covers all the above transportation. I haven’t had the joy of using the daily passes for years. While all other modes of transportation were used more or less out of necessity, taking abra to cross the creek between Bur Dubai and Deira was just to gain the fun and experience and it’s the best bargain in town for only 1 AED (only 27 US cents !) per ride.


Jumeirah Mosque before the speech of the guide was given

I have somehow also paid 20 AED to visit the Jumeirah Mosque which is the only mosque in Dubai that is open to the public with a tour at 10 am every day except Fridays. The fee included something to eat (dates, pastries and pancakes) and drink (tea and water) 😁 The mosque was considerably smaller than I have expected. The main part was the explanations given by the guide(s) and the discussion afterwards. I somehow thought or hoped that it’d be a cultural event but really, it’s a religious event as the Muslim lady with an obvious British accent mainly told us about the 5 pillars of Islam. She was very eloquent; but had I known what the subject was, I probably wouldn’t have paid to join, especially that it’s taken me more than 30 minutes to walk in quick pace for ~3.4 km in a hot day to get there from the World Trade Centre metro station. Probably the only thing she’d mentioned that was unique to UAE was that the govt. actually gives a subject to the Iman in every mosque to discuss every Friday and so all mosques in UAE discussed the same subject ! Some sort of systematic control …😁

Dubai likes to build the tallest this or the largest that. But strangely, I haven’t found the largest mosque or anything close to it ? It makes one wonder what their leader is thinking 😎 … Probably smart !

After the abra, the 2nd best bargain was probably the Dubai Museum. For the same 3 AED, there were much more to see in this museum than the Sheikh Dared al Maktoum House. From outside, the fort didn’t look that big but it actually had underground floors and rooms. I have also wandered around the beautiful quarter of Bastakiya nearby but I didn’t bother going into any of those small museums (even if they were open).


Inside Madinat Jumeirah with Burj Al Arab in the background

After that, everything was modern and commercial. From the Mall of Emirates metro station, Google suggested a meandering path (on foot) to go to Madinat Jumeirah which would take more than an hour. However, I was not that stupid and I have simply walked straight and through a construction site. It took less than 25 minutes (in my pace). The most important purpose going there was to take a shot at another icon of Dubai, Burj Al Arab.

Leaving from both the Jumeirah Mosque and Madinat Jumeirah, I somehow thought of using the buses as I tried to avoid the same walking paths to go back to the metro stations. At the end, I have used the same bus no. 8 along Jumeirah Road (to go east) or along Al Sufouh (to go west). For tourists, taking buses is typically more difficult than taking the metro. But the Dubai buses seemed quite good, as it’d announce the next stop (in Arabic and English) and if you have some ideas of stops, it’s not really too difficult to find the right stop to get off, especially with the help of Google Map and the bus driver.  Fortunately, it’s also air-conditioned.


In the beach of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Jumeirah Beach Residence.

The most westward place that I have adventured to in Dubai was the areas of Dubai Marina and Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR), which is more than 30 km from my hotel in Deira. Getting off the bus, this place with all the highrise hotels and residential buildings next to the beaches and the Arabic Gulf immediately gave me some sort of déjà vu feeling. It probably looked like Hong Kong. Dubai didn’t look like a city among the most densely populated city in the world, except here. I also thought about Chicago in north Michigan Ave. where there is a small stretch of tall buildings next to the beach but it’s too small compared to this JBR. Maybe, the long stretches of Copacabana, Ipanema etc. in Rio de Janeiro of Brazil are closer in comparison. Here the buildings seemed more closely packed. In Copacabana etc. of Rio, the beaches next to the ocean are completely unobstructed and open to the public. But here in “The Walk” (~promenade) at JBR, the beaches seemed often hidden by various hotels. At the end, the last photos were taken after I sneaked into the Ritz-Carlton Hotel area  While I was strolling in “The Walk” or the Dubai Malls, with so many Caucasians, sometimes you forgot whether this was in Europe or US (except of course Europe or US probably didn’t have such a massive and closely packed collection of hotels and residential complexes next to the beaches) rather than somewhere in the Middle East.

The last public transportation that I have tried was the new tram which opened in late 2014. It’s still a small network mainly around the areas of Dubai Marina and JBR. It looks like the metro but it’s on the ground level, rather than in an elevated track as in the metro system. And this new tram system was not “driverless” as I did see a driver at the front of the tram. As a tourist, all these were just like new toys to play/use

Even though Dubai may not be the most interesting tourist spot (to me), this trip has still been quite rewarding.   The diversity of the population in this mega city and the feature of English as the lingua franca have almost been eye opening.  It’s meant to be an expensive place but I’ve managed to spend not too much, by eating in the food courts of the malls and cheaper restaurants, instead of the best but most expensive hotel restaurants.

The UAE citizen population in Dubai is said to be only slightly more than 10%.   The rest are mostly foreign workers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Phillipines etc.  Apparently, there are more Indians and Pakistanis than the UAE citzens   Though I don’t know how UAE really treats the foreign workers/immigrants, I tend to admire this kind of diversity and it only adds marks to my impression towards Dubai and UAE.

Compared to my flights between USA, Korea and Hong Kong, my flights between Hong Kong and Dubai were quite empty.  I’ve got all the 3 seats on one side of the plane to myself on both flights and some other people had all the middle 4 seats to themselves.  The Dubai airport (DXB) also seemed to be not too busy at all.  It might be my limited observation and statistics but it probably didn’t bode well for this ultra-modern-looking city.  Not sure whether the low oil price would rattle the country or Dubai.  But I probably have more to worry about myself or my own country than Dubai and UAE 

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About the book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind”

9780062316097I feel that I have learnt a lot of from this book, both in knowledge (such as the genus of Homo at the beginning of the book) and a few ideas which seem so obvious now but somehow I haven’t realized before.  ( Well, the principle of equivlance has been “obvious” enough ! )  Though I might have some vague and confusing ideas about these biological / archaeological / anthropological knowledge, I certainly haven’t been able to remember their names and (exact) definitions.  Let me write down a few simple things before I forget:

p.4 (lines 16-18): “Animals are said to belong to the same species if they tend to mate with each other, giving birth to fertile offspring.”

p.6: Homo neanderthalensis were in Europe and western Asia, Home erectus in East Asia and Homo soloensis in Java, Indonesia.

p.14: Around 70000 years ago, Homo sapiens spread from East Africa to Asia and all over the world.  Other Homo species (humans) have vanished and there are two theories of explanation, “Interbreeding Theory” (eg. Sapiens & Neanderthals in Europe / Sapiens & Erectus in East Asia) and “Replacement Theory”.  The latter “has been the common wisdom in the field as “it had firmer archaeological backing” and “more politically correct” (last paragraph on p.15) 🙂  Nevertheless, there started to have some evidence of “interbreeding” from DNA analyses (p.16) since 2010 though the extent seems small (eg. 1-4% or 6%).

I certainly have felt very rewarding to learn all the details.  But towards the end, the discussions, theories and the author’s extrapolations have become more and more speculative.  One realizes that they’re probably no longer any “standard model” of history but the opinions of the author’s.

One message in this book has come across as a bit of a surprise, even though it’s obvious as an afterthought.  The author told or reminded us that not just various religions, most things in our lives are actually only our imagined ideas such as liberalism, limited liability companies or countries.  Sapiens have been able to dominate the world mainly due to this kind of superior cognitive ability to take over the world from other human species and other animals which may be bigger in size or faster in speed etc.  The author calls it “The Cognitive Revolution”.  Though we all know that human rights are not apples that one may grasp (to eat), when I was told that ideas such as human rights or liberalism are just (like) different kinds of religions, I still feel a bit shocked or lost.  It’s probably like one’s religion has been attacked.  Nevertheless, when one reflects on this, all liberty, equality etc. are merely what we have in our brain/imagination.  I probably don’t think in the same way as the author does, as I think believing in one’s individualism or liberty is different from religion that one doesn’t need to believe a God or what miracles have happened.  Belief in liberty is more like a demand or upholding a principle rather than a religion.  However, I have to admit that after all, it’s probably not less ephemeral or volatile than any religion ?!

I thought I was familiar with the idea of the Scientific Revolution but the author has still managed to tell me something refreshing.  The author calls the Scientific Revolution “a revolution of ignorance”  (12th line on p.251) as people have discovered that there are/were many things that we don’t/didn’t know yet.  This has made us feel that tomorrow will be better than today, due to all kinds of scientific and technological advancement.  This then allowed the emergence of growth which has been translated to the explosion of the credit giving.  As tomorrow’s pie would be bigger than today’s, the abundance of credit has allowed capitalism to grow even until now.  Before the Scientific Revolution (~1500 AD), people didn’t see any way that tomorrow would be improved upon compared to today (as people then thought that they knew everything they needed to know), they didn’t believe that the pie could be bigger tomorrow; and therefore, credit giving to a person was betting on that person being able to grab a piece of the pie from somebody else, instead of a new or bigger pie 🙂  This has suppressed credit giving.  How interesting and insightful !

In Chapter 11, “Imperial Visions”, the author told us that there has been no real justice in history (but, in my words, only victory and defeat).  Our thoughts have been heavily shaded by various empires.  Since I am most familiar with the history of China, when the author discussed about the situation in China, I feel that it resonates with me.  Let me write down two such instances.  On p.197 (lines 12-21): “In Chinese political thinking as well as Chinese historical memory, imperial periods were henceforth seen as golden ages of order and justice. In contradiction to the modern Western view that a just world is composed of separate nation states, in China periods of political fragmentation were seen as dark ages of chaos and injustice … Every time an empire collapsed, the dominant political theory goaded the powers that be not to settle for paltry independent principalities, but to attempt reunification. Sooner or later these attempts always succeeded.”  On p.201 (lines 23-31): “In China the success of the imperial project was even more thorough.  For more than 2,000 years, a welter of ethnic and cultural groups first termed barbarians were successfully integrated into imperial Chinese culture and became Han Chinese … More than 90 per cent of the population of China are seen by themselves and by others as Han.”  This just feels so true.  All the rulers have made use of patriotism and unity to their advantage and somehow it has worked so thoroughly with the so-called Chinese !

When I first saw the title of the last chapter “The End of Homo Sapiens”, I told myself that the author must be talking about the environmental disaster to this Earth.  But this is not the case !  He actually meant that we would create some sort of superhuman (by DNA modification or other technologies) who/which are truly superior to us.  But I believe in this case, the author’s guess is not necessarily better than mine and everybody else’s.  Hehehe …

While I had some expectation (after I noticed that the author is homosexual), the author didn’t say too much about this topic.  Nevertheless, he has written quite a bit about human cruelty towards animals, especially domesticated animals.  After reading what he told us on p.91-97 of the 5th chapter, I now almost feel guilty in eating any chicken or pork or beef.  I am wondering whether the author is a passionate animal lover.  The last sentence of p.379 says: “Perhaps it is also wrong to consider only the happiness of humans.”  Overall, the author didn’t have too many good things to say about the 2nd revolution in this book “The Agricultural Revolution” which he has called “History’s Biggest Fraud”, the title of the 5th chapter.

This book was said to be published first in Hebrew in 2011 and was later translated to English (~2014) by the author.  I guess during the translation, he has added something.  On p.375 (6th line), the author said: “it was written in 2014” and on p.409, at the 17th line: “In 2013 the project received a grant” and then at the 20th line: “the world of 2014 is already…”.

I haven’t noticed any typography etc.  The only place that I’ve frowned a little is: “a more easy way”, on the last two lines of p.176.  I’d prefer “an easier way”.  The editing and proofreading is apparently superb.  The quality of paper of this book is probably the best that I have ever remembered for a popular modern book that I’ve read.  Though it has made the book considerably heavier, it has allowed colored pictures to be printed throughout the book and it also reflects well on the quality of this book.

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Reading about the LIGO project … their struggles and coming of age

Modified from an email written on Aug. 14, 2016:

9780307958198I’ve just finished reading a new book “Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space” published a few months ago, written by Janna Levin who is a professor at Barnard College of Columbia University.  Somehow, my summer student this year is from Barnard College which is a women’s college that somehow doesn’t merge fully with Columbia U. (unlike Radcliffe and Harvard) while Columbia U. accepts their own women students.  ( I haven’t heard of Barnard College before I read my student’s resume earlier this year. )

The book is better than I have expected in terms of the descriptions about the internal struggles and conflicts in the LIGO collaboration, especially in their earlier history. The book tells you something about cosmology and astrophysics but I don’t think one would easily find inspiration from this book in this aspect.  It’s the human characters, their chaotic behavior and the process how to get to build a BIG project that I have gained the most satisfaction.  You need to fight with and/or convince your colleagues and then the NSF (in this case, not DOE) and the Congress etc.

I have always heard of LIGO like everybody else but I had treated it like another desperate effort for decades (almost like SUSY or superstring theories … though not quite as they’re after all largely an experiment).  Though I feel I know about Kip Thorne (from his books or recent involvement in making movies like “Interstellar” etc.), I’ve never heard of the other two LIGO founders, Rai Weiss and Ron Drever.  In this book, the most you’ve learnt are about these two persons (among other characters) in addition to the entire LIGO project/experiment.  I didn’t even know that at least in the early days, LIGO was mainly a collaboration between Caltech (Kip & Ron) and MIT (Rai).

The author herself is a cosmologist and astrophysicist but in writing this book, she’s more like a journalist.  Almost always, she’d tell you where the quotes or the stories have come from …. almost as “rigorously” as in physics journals.   Her writing style in this book is often poetic.  But mingling this feature with the scientific description and personal gossips seems to form a bizarre product.  I’ve often needed to consult with dictionaries even for some words that I thought I knew.  Maybe, the author could be even less self-aware of herself while writing the stories of this book. [ A cruel comment (from me) ! … I know 🙂 ]  It’s probably really difficult to get rid of a physicist’s ego.

I guess the book is published this year mainly because of the announcement/publication of LIGO/VIRGO’s “Observation of Gravitational Waves from a Binary Black Hole Merger”.   From reading most of the chapters, I’ve felt that she didn’t know of the discovery while writing most of the book.  The last chapter “Epilogue” was probably added almost like an after-thought.  In the “Acknowledgments” (the last line on p.213 and the first line on p.214), the author reveals that the book was originally meant to be longer.  It now has only 215 pages up to the Acknowledgments (with additionally LIGO/VIRGO collaboration list + Notes + Index → >~240 pages).

The entire LIGO project at the end integrates to about a billion dollar (3rd line from the bottom on p.185) compared to the initial ~$194 million dollars (5th line on p.135) in their 1989 proposal under the leadership of their first director Robbie Vogt.   My laboratory is trying to build a new collider called eRHIC (on top of RHIC) and the general belief is that we need to build it under a billion dollar; otherwise there is no chance for funding approval.   The LIGO/VIRGO collaboration list in their paper has more than 1000 authors but it’s still not nearly as many as (say) the Atlas Collaboration, one of the LHC experiments at CERN.  I’m well aware of the internal fights and conflicts that can happen in a big collaboration.   I read with amusement how Rai found it difficult to work with Ron in the early days and how ugly the fight between Ron and Robbie was.

When the speaker from LIGO/Columbia University came to our laboratory to give the talk about the gravitational wave discovery, he kind of predicted at the very beginning of his talk that Thorne, Weiss and Drever would get the physics Nobel Prize this year 🙂  This is quite likely even though it may not be this year.  But this book’s author actually reminds us that the LIGO events have not been corroborated by some sort of  telescope measurement (LIGO not being a telescope) as Jerry Ostriker has advocated all along (p.156-157).  From this book, one reads that Ron Drever didn’t seem to be able to work well or share decision-making with other people ; whereas Rai probably seems to be the most down-to-earth experimentalist who is still trying to improve the precision of their instruments and reduce the noise here and there, when he’s now over 80 ages old. In the later stage, Ron has largely left the picture (though Rai, Kip and latter LIGO directors all tried to get him back to LIGO) while Kip has had other endeavors (such as movies !).  Rai seems to be the constant in the LIGO project.  It’s sad that Ron now apparently suffers from dementia (just like my mother !).  { I wonder whether this may prevent him from getting the Nobel Prize ?! }  I certainly didn’t know about Ron’s sickness when I watched the discovery announcement in Feb. 2016.

At the end, it’s probably always the personal interactions that are the most interesting in all the book reading.  Though not as shocking as when I first read about Schrödinger’s private life in P. Woit’s book “Not Even Wrong”, I feel that I’ve learnt quite a bit about the personalities of Kip, Rai and Ron and LIGO even seems to have a pseudo-personal character in my mind.  Furthermore, though I’ve read about Joe Weber’s bar measurement story before, his image and character (to me) has now become even more vivid than before.

One new word to jot down here is “inspiral” : when two binaries (black holes or stars) generate ripples at the expense of orbital energy, they spiral a bit closer to each other → “they inspiral” (12th line on p.152).

p.69 (10th– 11th lines): I think “It is” in “It is true central operations are primarily maintained in a trailer” should be “Its”.  p.106 (10th line from the bottom): “principle” in “…the principle reason to do …” should probably be replaced by “principal”.  p.120 (14th line) : “malintentions” should probably be “malintents” ?!

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