April 2006


The title is too irreverent of the master, but that’s the best summary I can think of. We spent the whole morning waiting in line for the Rijksmuseum, which has only a few rooms open due to construction. The only things worth seeing are a few Rembrandt’s and Vermeer’s, and some nice crafts. We bought the combo ticket that’s also valid for Van Gogh and Rembrandt/Caravaggio exhibition, so hopefully today there’s no more waiting in line.

Had lunch at 1e Klas in the train station, recommended by a tour guide, which isn’t bad at all. Then took a 1-hour boat tour on the canals. Sharp contrast to Venice, where almost every angle is picture perfect. Still interesting though, watching lively lives going on.

Then walked around the old town and to Rembrandtplein for coffee break. Walked back through the “new town” and saw another huge playground besides a church. Had “dinner” at De Wildeman, a beer bar recommended by Michael Jackson and what a treat! No time to write about it now…

Walked through the Red Lights before and after dinner. What a scene. Most ladies don’t look attractive at all. Chinatown is right beside, sometimes within the district. Chinese are fearless!

WordPress seems to have problem with uploading, so no more PODs.

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Weather now seems like #1 reason that we loved our Spain trip so much. Winter in Germany and Austria is miserable. Summer in Italy is too hot. Let’s hope Spring in Belgium and Paris is a little better, because…

Keukenhof was fantastic under the sun, which sun went out about noon, and mid afternoon it started to drizzle. First everyone ducked in a large pavilion, then everyone wanted to leave so there’s a huge traffic jam. We tried to go opposite of traffic and go see the flower fields, but made a couple of wrong turns and stuck in traffic for almost an hour. We can only imagine how stunning the fields would look like in a perfect day, which is probably rare in spring–well let’s leave that for our next visit, together with the rest 3/4 of Keukenhof!

Came back to Amersterdam’s “most famous pancake house” (according to Rick Steve, and the restaurant itself), which is ok but not great. Then went to Anne Frankhuis close by. It’s incredible that there’s still a line at 8pm (it closes at 9), soon I found out it’s because there’s really nothing to see and everyone lingers to make something out of the 7.5e entrance fee. I wonder how many visitors complain, like Norbert did. It’s definitely not a fun place, and it’s not supposed to be. It’s interesting to know that Anne rewrote her diary once, and if I’ll ever read it, I want to read the two versions side by side–if she didn’t tear up the old one.

Walked to the central station to get canal boat tour info. Not many interesting things to see along the way. Amsterdam boasts more canals than Venice, but it’s way less charming, though we haven’t seen the best district (Golden Bend). Or it’s just the gloomy weather.

Today is museum day, because it’s again overcast. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll see a bit of sun to go see the windmills.

Picture of the day:
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Write something when Jin’s kids getting ready to go… We’re really here! Norbert picked us up from Schipol last morning, going back to the 3-room apartment, picking up the family for Blomencorso. It’s really cold: no sun, windy, temp at most 10C. There’re thousands of people lining up in the street of tiny Sassenheim to see the parade, must be 10 times more than the number visitors the town sees in all other days in a year combined.

In the afternoon we went to Haarlem (must be where New York’s Harlem came from, part of the original New Amsterdam). It’s a nice town, the center is too toursy, though. The Grote Markt is filled with a theme-park like playground, with a huge swing swinging people up higher than the top of the church tower. The church has many shops occupying the ground level, a really bizarre scene–the Dutch is obviously more commercial than religious.

Had dinner in a Chinese restaurant called Nanking, recommended by Rick Steve. It’s surprisingly good–much better than what we expected. The signature Indonesian “rice table” combo, which has one big plate of sauteed chicken and beef, 8 small tapas-style dishes, and rice, is tasty and filling. The waitress is from Wenzhou, a relative of the owner.

Today the sun came out and the temp will be in lower 10’s, so we’ll go to the huge Keukenhof flower park, the tulip-growing area Bollenstreak, and hopefully with time for the windmills of Zaanse Schans, Holland’s most stereotypical scenes. Go Dutch!

BTW there’re a couple open hotspots here and one has pretty good signal. I’ll write as long as it’s open, and we have time besides organizing pictures and planning and playing with the kids and Skyping with families in China and …

Picture of the day:
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Now this is why Manhattan is Manhattan: a perfect Spring afternoon in a museum of private art collection and Central Park.

We went to the Frick Collection for a special exhibition on Goya’s last works. Turned out there’re lots of goodies housed in the mansion of Henry Clay Frick. The museum entree fee is $15, but with J’s Goldman ID we got in free. Corporate America is good!

The Goya exhibition only takes up 3 small rooms (2 underground) with around maybe 40 compositions in painting, drawing, lithograph, and miniature painting on ivory chips. The breadth and scale is no comparison to what we saw in Madrid’s Prado Museum, but its focus is quite significant: the last 4 years of Goya’s life (1824-1828) when he self-exiled to Bordeaux. The pieces are from all over the world, mostly Prado.

The permanent collection is very impressive, with pieces from Renaissance, Flemish, to pre-Impressionism masters like Titian and Rembrandt. I like the English collection of Constable and Turner in particular, since I’ve never seen them in galleries. I hate the many French Rococo paintings by court painters like Boucher, though.


Coming out of the museum, we bought some quick food and sat down in Central Park for lunch. Then we strolled around Central Park mostly to practice photography for our upcoming European trip in just a week. Little did we expect that we’d run into one of the most celebrated Manhattan residents: a red-tail hawk called Pale Male. It started to make a 5th Av window top his nest in early 90’s, had 3 mates (first died in the Catskills, second died on Met’s roof from eating a poisoned pigeon), and several broods. Today a new brood is expected to be hatched, so there’re many cameras and telescopes pointing toward the nest waiting for the new chicks to appear.

The moral of Pale Male’s story is anything can happen in Manhattan, and anyone can survive…

There’s an extraordinarily large number of bloggable events today. There’s usually none. Somehow they’re all connected in a metaphysical level, or at least I hope so…

First of all I finished some work, which is kind of rare lately 🙂 Well not really finished, but at least I got the code to a first milestone where I can send out a review request to my temp supervisor in the project. He’s a stereotypical geek hacker, old, but still a hacker. He’s taller than me, walks in a peculiar way, talks and writes succinctly and often cryptically. He wrote most of the basic utilities in our system with more comments than all other developers combined. It’s fun working with him.

In the meanwhile (really, I did work) I read Allen Ginsberg’s Howl after glimping an NYTimes book review for a book published on its 50th anniversary. I learned his name after reading Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, which I liked a lot. It’s very much like the novel in their spontaneous, sacrificial, and scandalous spirit. I read somewhere that Ginsberg held poetry reading sessions in the Village for many years, where, like so many cultural (or counter-cultural) and intellectual places in 50’s-70’s throughout the world, has become tourist sites.

Chatted with HH about their Spain trip in the planning, which brought back fond memories of our trip in 2003 as our first time in Europe. We still feel it’s the best one by far for many factors, including weather, food, and sheer amazement. Barcelona remains the only place we’d want to live in.

Back home, a real cool and useful battery charger arrived. Now this is a rather long and possibly boring story. We bought the Canon S2 camera, and unexplicably it uses 4 AA batteries instead of Li-ion, which we have a bunch for J’s old S230. I bought a charger and 8 AA NiMH batteries from eBay a while ago for the cordless phones and shaver, but the charger only takes 110V. So I ordered a package of Sony charger and 4 batteries from Amazon, hoping that 3 batches would be enough. When the camera arrived, to my dismay the 1700mAh batteries were drained in just a few minutes. When looking for more powerful batteries I saw someone mentioning the LaCross BC-900 charger. I bought it with 2-day shipping, because it’s not in immediate stock. After a few days it’s shipped, but the tracking number was wrong. I called in and got no help, so I wrote an angry feedback email. To my surprise and pleasure, Amazon responded in one day and refunded the shipping charge, and I still got the charger in time. Now THAT’s customer service!

The most significant event of the day is the PBS program on the Tank Man. It turns out to be a condensed description of 6/4, followed by very recent reports and interviews on China today. We have actually never seen such a full collection of 6/4 footage, and the later part is very provocative in exposing the huge growing social and economical rift between the have’s and have-not’s. It covers many things that I’ve been thinking of lately, and will make me think even more.


Here’s the next day, still quite eventful. I talked with Roger and got further direction for coding, which is really nice. It’s the first time I feel like a real programmer during the 5 months at this job.

Next up: the NY Public Library. I can’t believe I completely missed it in the last 5 years. It’s an incredible and free source of books, CDs, and DVDs. And it’s as convenient as ordering from Amazon. Now THAT’s technology put to good use! Yesterday I got Rick Steve’s France, Belgium, and Netherlands and “84 Charing Cross Road” DVD, which we watched tonight and I’ll cover it later. Today I returned the Beer Guide to Belgium and Netherlands, and Hendrik van Loon’s Tolerance.

I read the Chinese translation of Tolerance in high school. I loved the book, though I had heard of almost none of the people mentioned in it (and remembered their names from it). One obvious thing the book imprinted in my head is the word tolerance. The rights to think and speak freely. The mindset to be tolerant and tolerative. The motto “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” However, should you tolerate other people’s intolerance? What if you presume other people to be intolerate, but in fact it’s you who’s still being intolerate? That’s a logic dilemma I cannot answer now.

cover


84 Charing Cross Road
is a collection of letters between a New York writer and a London used bookstore, written in the 50’s and 60’s. It’s made into a movie in 1986, played by Anne Bancroft, Anthony Hopkins, and Judy Dench. My parents saw the movie lately and liked it very much. I feel it’s a bit dragging, but still lovely and thoughtful. It feels kind of weird when Ms. Hanff and Mr. Doel started to talk to the camera. Sure the director means they’re talking to each other, but it breaks the smooth, calm, and empathetic depiction of their respective natural lives as their relevant or irrelevant letters are read by offscreen voices. Anyway it’s still a good movie about real and true human spirits and nature.

We bought an S2 for J to use in our coming Europe trip (yeah!), because she finds the picture quality from her S230 too inferior compared to my Digital Rebel (what da ya expect). In one of the European travel websites we found this guy Luc making really nice pictures, and he said he just bought an S2, so we got one too. The 12x zoom can save me from changing lenses when using my new 24-70 L and 50 fixed.

The new S3 doesn’t seem too much of an upgrade from S2, S2 is a nice S1 upgrade, and S1 was a much waited Pro90 IS upgrade, and Pro90 is my first digital camera bought in 2000. Life comes full circle 🙂 A comparison of major features of the Pro90 line, with my current 300D and dream 5D:

Pro90 IS

S1

S2

S3

300D

5D
Date

2001-01

2004-02

2005-04

2006-02

2003-08

2005-08
Pixel (million)

2.6

3.2

5

6

6.3

12.7
Sensor size (mm, inch)

7.18×5.32

5.27×3.96 1/2.7″

5.76×4.29 1/2.5″

5.76×4.29 1/2.5″

22.7×15.1

36×24
Zoom and 35mm-eq

10x (37-370)

10x (38-380)

12x (36-432)

12x (36-432)
Aperture

2.8/3.5-8

2.8/3.1-8

2.7/3.5-8

2.7/3.5-8
Shutter

1/1000-8

1/2000-15

1/3200-15

1/3200-15

1/4000-30, bulb

1/8000-30, bulb
Continuous drive (fps, max)

0.6, 5

1.7, 24

2.4, no

1.5/2.3, no

2.5, 4

3, 60
LCD size (mm)

1.8

1.5

1.8

2.0

1.8

2.5
Weight (g, incl battery)

680

469

505

510

645

895

Here’re some nice features on S2 that I didn’t know it has:

  • MF-point zoom: in MF, when adjusting focus point, the focus block is magnified. Otherwise it’s really hard to get precise focus in the tiny focus block in the small LCD.
  • Flash sync: 1st-curtain or 2nd-curtain. I heard of front/back curtain, which is the same thing, whether flash when shutter just opens or is about to close. It makes a big difference in slow synchro, e.g. if you shoot a moving car at night, 1st-curtain makes the headlight trail goes in front of the car, which is weird, so you’d use 2nd-curtain.
  • Shortcut button: there’s one button where you can assign to a variety of functions, including very useful ones like ISO and AE Lock. Even my DRebel doesn’t have this (the hacked firmware provides it).
  • Video zoom: together with 640×480 30fps and stereo mic and no time limit, it’s perfect for our travel video clips. 7min fills up 1GB, though.
  • Take picture during video shoot: the video will be blacked out briefly, but you won’t miss a still picture opportunity while shooting video.
  • It has a speaker so you can hear audio during video playback. Also you can put any audio file on SD for playback during self-timer. It’s also for voice annotation but I don’t feel that’s useful.

Now if only it has GPS!

It started at 8pm, here’s a live (was for a while) recount. All notables are alumnus.

First piece is John Williams conducting the school orchestra playing a Schumann. Not impressed: students are students.

Then Renee Fleming sang two opera pieces. Not impressed: I never like opera. Maybe I’m not old enough yet.

Emanual Ax played a Brahms quintet movement with the Juilliard String Quartet. Quartet is another thing that I’m not old enough to enjoy. The sound is terrible: I hope it’s just because I’m listening through TV’s speakers. The strings sound not too bad like “killing a cock”, but not too far from “pulling a saw”, and the piano sounded out of sync. JSQ has always been one of the premier quartets in the world, and although Ax isn’t selected into Philips’ Great 20th Century Pianists, he’s been a constant presence on stage lately, so it must be mic placement and mixing.

Then to my surprise, Kevin Spacey introduced the drama division, which I never knew there is, what a shame. Students played a piece with Kevin Kline (among alumni like Christopher Reeves, Robin Williams, and Laura Linney). Not bad.

Then two dance pieces. I don’t like the music. Noisy meaningless modern.

Perlman is still Perlman. He played the Schindler’s List theme composed by who else but the tireless John Williams. It’s the most beautiful melody Lord Williams has ever composed. Surely beats Star Wars!

Then Wynton Marsalis, incredibly also an alumni, introduced a student jazz band with a cherubic Japanese playing the bass (BTW there’re lots of Asian faces in the school orchestra, nice).

Robin Williams popped out to say a few wacky words of congratulations. He’s always funny as hell. First line: “Thank you Juilliard, for letting me study, but not graduate.” Last line: “Nice place, a bit like prison, but with cello…”

Now 13-year-old Peng Peng is playing 1st movement of Rachmaninoff No. 2 (it’s the finale piece). I don’t know what is bad and what is worse this time: Mic placement and mixing? John Williams? The school orchestra? This oh-so-not-cute boy? Or my ears?

God it’s finally over. It’s played so god-damn slow! I always find the opening extraordinarily moving as the strings lift off from the heart-pounding piano strikes, always evoking an image of a huge grey tettered bird soaring over the endless frozen Russian field in the last day of winter, calling life to rebound. Mr. Peng & Company do try to fly but stumble at every flapping of their oh-so-tender wings, picking up dirt and frozen rotten potatos along the way.

I’m a bit ashamed to say that it’s my favorite piano concerto, because it’s such a popular one. The first CD I bought in America was a used Rubinstein/Reiner/CSO’s what-else-but Rachmaninoff 2 and the Paganini Rhapsody. The most memorable purchase was after the China Orchestra/Lang Lang concert last year with Lang Lang’s signature, including what-else-but Rachmaninoff 2 and the Paganini Rhapsody. I’ve heard a few other performances on TV and I’m proud to announce that I’ve heard the worst tonight.

Am I asking too much from this new supposed phenom from China? Is it fair to compare him to Kissin’s “legendary” double Chopin concertos performance at about the same age? Peng Peng looks like a 30-year-old with the huge glasses and artificially agonized face–give me a break! Haven’t we seen enough of that from Lang Lang and Li Yundi? Speaking of Lang Lang, he does play well and flamboyantly like a rock star, but people are saying that his constant touring does not leave enough time for him to practice and improve. Even the name Peng Peng is an obnoxious ripoff from Lang Lang, since his Chinese name is actually 龚天鹏 (took me the longest time ever to find something from Google).

Hopefully Juilliard can teach him something, or he can at least look up to the list of Van Cliburn, James Levine, Ma Yo-Yo, Nigel Kennedy, Miles Davis (dropped out, what da ya expect) and Alan Greenspan (he studied saxophone) et al to learn something himself.

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