My identity gets stolen ... in a scientific review

You can pretty much tell who wrote a supposedly anonymous review of a scientific paper. Just look at the papers the reviewer cites. Reviewers very often cite a whole bunch of their own papers and say that you need to address/acknowledge the issues raised in those papers, etc. etc.  This is a rather cheesy way to raise the citation count of one's own articles, but it is quite widely practiced.

Editors these days mail out the complete set of reviews to all the reviewers at the same time they send them to the authors.  That is how I found out that someone had essentially stolen my identity in a review -- their review was full of citations to my papers.  Worse, their final recommendation was to reject the paper, and the editor actually did this.

I am tempted to email the author of the paper -- he is a sort of acquaintance -- and deny writing that review and say this reviewer was stealing my identity by peppering his negative review with citations to my papers!

Engineers of Victory, but in a book club?

As with most book clubs, women are the majority in ours and so, all the book selections tend to a distaff taste.  It was my turn to select a book last month and I simply picked the next book on my pile of books to read.  This was an atypical book for any book club -- whereas many books have "reading guides" with pointers for book club discussions, this book (now, as I write) doesn't.

The book I chose was Paul Kennedy's "Engineers of Victory".  The book talks about 5 problems that the allies need to address if they were to win World War II and about the series of small bottom-up innovations that made it happen.  It is an engrossing book if you are interested in how innovation happens in large, diverse enterprises (science in general or even weather forecasting in specific is one such enterprise, so I am very interested).

But the book is also a long, hard read for anyone not interested in military strategy or familiar with the geography, timeline and general contours of the second world war.  As I was reading the book, I started to feel guilty for imposing it on a group of people none of whom would have picked the book on their own.  The reason for the long, hard slog is because there are so many people who are obsessed with military history, especially of World War II. Paul Kennedy needed to carefully marshal his arguments against those who would argue for a single brilliant coup that turned the course of the entire war (such as breaking the enigma codes or the development of radar).  He starts out by describing how hard a problem is, why the allies were deficient in that area and then walks you through the history of the innovations and changes in strategy that allowed the allies to turn the tide in that realm.

For example, one problem the allies faced was to protect trans-Atlantic shipping from U-boat attacks. At the beginning of the war, U-boat attacks were devastating. By the end of the war, the U-boats were no longer a threat. What happened? A series of small innovations, from changing how convoys of ships were organized, to better engines in planes, to refueling flights, to aircraft carriers, to lights on planes, to ships that could fight back ...  The book is also about managing such change, and building a society nimble enough and confident enough to accept these improvements as they come along. Absolutely fascinating stuff.

But would it go over in a book club? On the one hand, this was the smallest book club meeting we've ever had, but on the other, those who'd come had engaged with the book.

Japanese Old People

How screwed up is Japan demographically speaking?

In Japan:
  1. More adult diapers than baby diapers are sold.
  2. There are more elderly shoplifters in Tokyo than there are teenaged ones.
  3. Old people on farms have twice the voting power of young people in cities.
Numbers 1 and 2 will probably get all the derision, but it is #3 that actually causes problems for Japan.

Beijing Blues

I spent last weekend in Beijing, enroute to the US from my work trip to Qingdao.  This was my first time to Beijing, and I was looking forward to it.  But even as the train came into Beijing, it was as if a pall was descending.  By the time we were 100 km from the city, the air was milky white and visibility was down to a few hundred meters.

The smog obviously played havoc with sightseeing. For example, in the Forbidden city, I could hardly see beyond one gate to the next.  Strolling around the lake in the summer palace, you could hardly see around the corner. All those picture postcard views under clear-skies? They must have taken them after a thunderstorm or something. Those sights were simply not to be had.

On the other hand, there is nothing like travel to bring new perspectives on things.  Beijing was the first place in China where I was essentially on my own . So, I learned to recognize Chinese characters.  Because so many subway station names end with "men" or have "qian" in them, I know those characters. Bei=north and jing=capital, so I learned to recognize those two letters as I did the characters for "dong" or "east", and "nei" for "inner".  My eyes no longer gloss over when I see Chinese writing, and that's quite cool.

Since I had only one two days there, I decided to pack as much as I could into those two days and I maximized my use of public transport.  I took the subway and buses everywhere, learning to navigate the system.  The subway is quite well signed (in both English and Chinese), so it was quite easy.  I got into Beijing Friday afternoon and managed to see the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven that day itself.

I also booked a car to take to the Great Wall near Mutanyu (a lot less touristed than Badaling) on Saturday early morning.  "My own car," I specified, "so I that I stop only at the Ming dynasty tombs and at Mutanyu and nowhere else."  The travel agent agreed, but the driver who came to pick me up at the hotel said he had to make extra stops at a jade gallery, a foot massage place, etc. "it's part of the tour and it is included," he kept saying. I refused -- I did not want to spend half my vacation dealing with hard-sell.  Finally, they agreed to refund me my money and let me go my way.

That is how I ended up going to Mutanyu all by myself.  The person I asked for directions gave me this chit of paper:
It was a rather funny scene.  She quickly wrote down the Chinese characters, then took a deep breath and carefully wrote down the English pronunciation "huai rou qi che zhan".  I took a bus to that place from Dongzhemin and then hired a taxi to take me to the foothills of Mutanyu.

Mutanyu is famous for its cable car ("run by an Austrian businessman", the ad copy read) but there is also a nice steep path to the Wall.  I took the steps up, walked along the wall for a couple of guard stations and took a different trail back down.  It was very nice, but the smog was not far away, so the scenery was always rather shrouded.

I managed to get back to Beijing after hiking the Great Wall by 2pm on Saturday.  So, I had enough time to do a quick lunch at a fast-food place at the train station and make it to the summer palace.

Talk about a place being crowded.  The summer palace was really, really crowded. Not as bad as the Louvre, but quite bad.  But even in that crowd, I guess I stood out because a couple of groups asked me to pose with them for their pictures.  If you ever see a picture of me with two grinning Chinese freshmen or several weather-beaten farmers, that's why.

When the summer palace was near closing, I went off to the Olympic stadium, walked around there and finally called it a night.

Sunday morning, I visited the Confucius temple.  These stone tablets are inscribed with the names of Confucian scholars -- those who passed his examinations!  Forget about having a graduate thesis stored in a dusty library.  These stone tablets are how you really make a mark!
The temple is full of stone steles that mark a variety of imperial pronouncements, and each of the steles is in its own pavilion.  It's all rather impressive.

After this, the Lama temple which is just a block away from the Confucius temple was a big let down.  The sandalwood Maitreya is quite impressive, but that is about it.

After that, I went back to the hotel picked up bags and went to the train station where I could catch the Airport Express to the airport.  The plane was scheduled to leave at 3.45 and I was at the train station a little before noon.

Enough time to do another bout of Chinese fast food.  This time, I didn't know where to pay.  Everything in China is huge, and it turned out that I was the wrong side of the restaurant.  The counter where you ordered and paid was on the other side of the wall.  And in any case, I didn't know the name of the dish I wanted. So, I pointed to a pot and gave the cook some money.  She asked me some questions pointing at some spices. I shrugged saying I didn't care what she put inside the soup. She called a colleague who went over, paid and brought back a card that he swiped.  This brought up an order and the cook now made it for me:
A little convoluted of a process, but I think this is the way things work in a low-trust society.  Everything is monitored closely.   The noodles were delicious and the cook was all smiles to see me attacking it with gusto.

So, between Friday afternoon 2pm to Sunday noon,  I saw pretty much all the sights in Beijing:  Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Mutanyu Great Wall, Summer Palace, Olympic Center, Confucius temple, Lama temple. The only thing I didn't go to see (and it was a conscious decision) was Tienanmen Square.  And I did it all with public transport.  Try doing this in an American city. Pollution or not, Beijing rocks.

Life in Qingdao

The best place I went to Qingdao, a sea-side town in China, was the Zhan Shan temple.  A quiet, awesome, working temple.  Better than the Temple of Heaven or the Lama Temple in Beijing in my opinion. This was one of the buildings in the front courtyard:

The thing I will remember most about Qingdao, though, are the couples being photographed on the beach. See if you can spot all eight couples in this photograph. It's a wonder they manage to keep out of each others' wedding albums.

In the ability to capture all the idiosyncrasies of Chinese style, this guy stands out:

Rolled-up T-shirt? Check. Man-purse? Check. Cigarette? Check. Personal grooming in public? Check.