Ivan Zimine on open events for technology and science and programming for non-geeks

Ivan is a scientist and technology populariser. I have have collaborated with Ivan to run two WorkCamps. WorkCamps are un-conferences where we discuss the changing nature of work, collaboration, incentives and renumeration. In this recording Ivan talks about what prompted him to run the WorkCamp. We also talk about his other interests and a programming course that he is running for non-tech people.


Container Terminal 9

I was in Tsing Yi in Hong Kong. From my window I could see the Container Terminal 9 stretching all the way to Rambler’s Channel. I have always been curious about how well the global logistics system works.

And then I wondered about the history of containers. Who first thought about moving things in metal boxes? How did so many companies and ports standardize on the size of containers? How does the system work so well?   A search on Amazon, and I found The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger .

Learn how a truck driver went on to build the container shipping system.

Across the Sea of Japan

I went to Niigata because I wanted to see the Sea of Japan. I had never previously been to the western part of Honshu. it was good that I went there - it was warmer and the sky was clear. Japan sea seems bluer and more rough. There was hardly anyone on the beach. 
Mousan found tis plastic bottle on the beach. There was Korean text on the bottle. It says “Elite”. The design of the bottle and the printing looked much simple compared to what South Korean sport.  We speculated that it must be from North Korea. Looks like sunscreen, Wow!! it must have drifted from the East coast of Korea, a journey of 900 kilometres. 

Omoide noto - Memory Notebook and iWinkd

So we are in Kyoto and staying in this lovely ryokan - a traditional guest house.

And what do we find here, a dairy...

Some stories inside, most are in Japanese

and one in Chinese too

You will find in this many of these guesthouses. They are called Omoido noto, or memory notebook. Guests can leave their experiences of Kyoto and the guesthouse in this diary. 

Omoido noto is like a blog of a place. I like this concept. How can we use this. Early in 2008, we build a service called iwinkd. 

Conversations with Future Readers

I had loaned out this one book on some esoteric topic. While it was still on loan to me, I received an email informing me that someone else has reserved the book.  Wow, there is someone else who is interested in the same topic as me. 

Couple days later, I was at the library returning the book. The librarian was printing the reservation ticket for the person who has booked the book. I asked her if I can leave a note in the book pointing the next reader to my blog post (about the book) and inviting him/her to discuss the book with me. The librarian quoted some privacy rules and brushed me off. 

This was one of the situations that prompted us to build iwinkd. We were figuring out what would be a totally non-intrusive way to get two strangers to talk about an object that they both encounter and care about. 

So I am reading this book Fatherland by Robert Harris.

And I want to connect with future readers. One of the initial ideas we had was to leave my email and blog address. I figured that might not work. I needed a neutral space where people can come in. Lets see how this works on iwinkd:

I head on to iwinkd and create a message for the future readers.

iwinkd comes back with the tag for your message.

Place this tag somewhere in the book. One can use a post it.

Someone else encounters to book couple of weeks later and finds the tag. The new reader types in the tag at the iwinkd website.

He reads the message that I left for him. And decides to leave a comment.

Hopefully, we can keep talking about the book. 

Good to be a monkey in Prachuap Khiri Khan

Somehow I wandered into the town of Praphuap. The idea was to keep traveling north from the Thai border but I guess this is the northernmost I will go to this time round. The sea side here hosts couple of mobile bars in the night. There is a night market with good local food. I spend the time learning Thai from some students, talking to a food vendor who loves her dog deeply, and trying lots of local foods. 

Growing up in 1960s China

I always bore my friends or their parents in China into telling me about life in the 1950s, the 60s and the 70s. I love looking at old brownish photographs from those days.


I am reading “The Attic” by Guanlong Cao. He talks about his growing up in China, 20 years after the revolution. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in studying modern history of China. You read about distant and near events unfolding from the point of view of the family. Interesting are author’s description of Shanghai street markets of his childhood days.

The Sikhs had been brought to Shanghai by the British during the colonial times, primarily to serve as gate watchman. After the revolution their quiet personalities carried over into their new, meager business. Off in a corner of the market a tall gloomy Indian crouched beside the hind leg of his horse. A huge white turban rode above a pair of deeply socketed eyes. Patiently he waited for a rare customer to come over for a cup of freshly squeezed mare’s milk. As a ritual some mothers like to feed their newborns a few spoonfuls of horse’s milk. They believed that the galloping speed of the horse would boost the quickness of their babies’ mind.

And the food!

Sticky-rice balls, fried rice cakes, scallion pancakes, steamed bread, meat-filled buns, boiled sesame dumplings, seep-fried pork steaks, skewers of barbecue lamb, fragrant steam and greasy smoke rose and lingered above the Penglai market from dawn until midnight.

Now, we are hungry, more details about the book at Amazon.com: Books: The Attic: Memoir of a Chinese Landlord’s Son

Judge Dee

One movie I like a lot is “The name of the Rose”. It is a detective story set in a Benedictine abbey in early 1300s. Sean Connery plays a monk investigating a series of murders in the abbey. I have been searching for similar historical detective fiction. The other day in the library I found a book called “The Chinese Gold Murders” by a Dutch author Robert Van Gulik.

The hero in the book is a smart and righteous magistrate called Judge Dee, who solves couple of murder cases and uncovers a smuggling racket. The stories are set in the Tang dynasty (676 AD). Judge Dee was a real person by the name of Di Renjie. He lived from 630 to 700 AD. He rose from the rank of the magistrate to eventually become the prime minister. Chinese writers in the later periods started using his character in detective stories. Most of these later stories were fictional.

Van Gulik was a scholar of Asian history and a Diplomat. He revived the character of Judge Dee. Initially he translated some of the existing stories. Later he went on to create his own stories based on the Judge Dee character. The stories are very detailed with colourful portrayal of the cities and the society. Van Gulik also illustrated the books and each of the books. In his drawings, Van Gulik used later day Ming period costumes as the Chinese writers generally do. Each book story features at least one nude.

judgedee_clip_image001jpg

To make a little girl smile

You can travel half the world but.

I often meet fellow travellers who lament that they have not travelled to many countries. It is often the complaint of those of us who come from less wealthy countries and less welcome passport -  we always lose out on the exchange rate and have to go through extensive visa process before we can travel.

I tell them about this one time in Bangkok.

The Korean enclave at Sukhumvit is one of my favourite places. Whenever I am in the city, I often end up here for a bowl of cold noodles. This time around, I was at a travel agent’s, looking to find a way to Pyongyang. There were some raised eyebrows; not many go to the North. The travel agent looked for a book for the airport code. With a knowing smile, I said, “try FNJ.” The travel agent was probably now convinced that I was a spy or a nuclear weapons dealer.

Through the glass door, I could see a little Korean girl with a giant water gun. It was the second day of the Thai water festival, and kids all around Thailand were spraying people with their water guns. The little girl looked up expectantly at people walking by — mostly serious looking neighbouring Korean shopkeepers. She was hoping to get their approval to soak them. Most just glared at the little girl. She gave up and sat down in a corner with a sadding face.

I excused myself from the travel agent. I walked out to the little girl. I raised my hand in surrender and called out to her. “Chingu” (chingu = friend). She looks at me stunned, but soon enough her face turned happy. With a loud shriek and fierceness of a North Korean secret agent, she emptied the water gun on me.

You can travel half the world. But, there is no point if you can’t make a little girl smile.

Lovely toys

I was in the sleepy little town of Huanglongxi in Sichuan province of China. One of the street vendors had set out this game. I tried but could not get even a single ring around the lovely toys, while the local kids laughed at my “foolish” throws. I plan to practice at home and return soon.

ah the lovely toys I will get you soon