The Government’s Bad Diet Advice –

Instead of accepting that this evidence was inadequate to give sound advice, strong-willed scientists overstated the significance of their studies.

Uncertain science should no longer guide our nutrition policy. Indeed, cutting fat and cholesterol, as Americans have conscientiously done, may have even worsened our health. In clearing our plates of meat, eggs and cheese (fat and protein), we ate more grains, pasta and starchy vegetables (carbohydrates). Over the past 50 years, we cut fat intake by 25 percent and increased carbohydrates by more than 30 percent, according to a new analysis of government data. Yet recent science has increasingly shown that a high-carb diet rich in sugar and refined grains increases the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease — much more so than a diet high in fat and cholesterol.

via The Government’s Bad Diet Advice –

Sigh, science is hard.

HT Yang

What Do Chinese Dumplings Have to Do With Global Warming? –

Cooling is already responsible for 15 percent of all electricity consumption worldwide, and leaks of chemical refrigerants are a major source of greenhouse-gas pollution

Calculating the climate-change impact of an expanded Chinese cold chain is extremely complicated. Artificial refrigeration contributes to global greenhouse-gas emissions in two main ways. First, generating the power (whether it be electricity for warehouses or diesel fuel for trucks) that fuels the heat-exchange process, which is at the heart of any cooling system, accounts for about 80 percent of refrigeration’s global-warming impact (measured in tons of CO2) and currently consumes nearly a sixth of global electricity usage.

But others, like the hydrofluorocarbons that are popular in China, are known as “supergreenhouse gases,” because they are thousands of times more warming than CO2. If current trends in refrigerant usage were to continue, experts project that hydrofluorocarbons would be responsible for nearly half of all global greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050.

via What Do Chinese Dumplings Have to Do With Global Warming? –

Food waste –> refrigeration in production chain –> better food quality –> more food demand –> more food waste

Possible mitigation: development of low-cost low-power (well insulated) storage.

HT Nancy

Pollution Rising, Chinese Fear for Soil and Food –

One-sixth of China’s arable land — nearly 50 million acres — suffers from soil pollution, according to a book published this year by the Ministry of Environmental Protection. The book, “Soil Pollution and Physical Health,” said that more than 13 million tons of crops harvested each year were contaminated with heavy metals, and that 22 million acres of farmland were affected by pesticides.

via Pollution Rising, Chinese Fear for Soil and Food –


UC courses ponder food’s culture, future – SFGate

The workshop will include field trips to urban farms, food parties and guest speakers from food security organizations such as People’s Grocery in Oakland. How the workshop of 30 to 35 unfolds will depend on the participants, but it will use storytelling, singing and movement to explore rituals, culture and memories about food.

via UC courses ponder food's culture, future – SFGate.

Edible Education 103: Telling Stories About Food and Agriculture. The course, in its second year, is open to undergraduate and graduate students; 300 free seats are also available to the public.

China Is Building an Army of Noodle-Making Robots – Robots – Eater National

In the face of rising labor costs, Chinese restaurateur Cui Runguan is selling thousands of robots that can hand slice noodles into a pot of boiling water called the Chef Cui. Runguan says in the report below that just like robots replacing workers in factories, "it is certainly going to happen in sliced noodle restaurants." The robots costs $2,000 each, as compared to a chef, who would cost $4,700 a year.

via China Is Building an Army of Noodle-Making Robots – Robots – Eater National.


HT Pranjal

Day 13: Great Wall, Ming Tombs, Summer Palace, Peking Duck

I thought I was all caught up with writing, but realized last night that I missed writing about Day 13. Oops. Well here it is, and the last 3 days will follow.

Our second day in Beijing was designated as one of our touristy days.  With Nancy’s family friend as our guide, we adventured through the Great Wall, the Ming Dynasty Tombs, and the Summer Palace, and everything was super pretty.  Beijing is cold at this time of year (colder than Boston), and the Great Wall is a windy place. As soon as we arrived, we found a bunch of kids huddling behind a wall for warmth. Along the way, we were approached by a peddler selling Great Wall magnets, and we stopped to talk prices, not realizing that this kind of thing is prohibited. Part way through our haggling, the peddler grabbed back all the magnets and ran off. We thought he had gotten impatient with us, but then we saw two Great Wall security people running after him. So that was interesting, and we felt bad for getting him into trouble. I guess these peddlers need to make a certain amount of profit before getting kicked out. Anyway, we actually wanted those magnets, and luckily the gift shop at the entrance sells them too and gave us the price we asked for without any argument. The price went down from 1 magnet for 45 RMB to 3 magnets for 30 RMB (4.75USD). As usual, later on, we learned that that price was only OK. I did a bit worse haggling over a panda hat I spotted, but it was about 6 times cheaper than my giraffe hat. ><; We had a great time walking around the Ming Tombs and Summer Palace, but the entire time, I just wished I was more familiar with Chinese history. One day… We also drove around Tianmen Square, the Forbidden Palace, and the Birds Nest (Beijing National Stadium, Beijing Olympics 2008). As it turns out, we didn’t have time to really see anything at all.  And if I hadn’t mentioned this before, everything in major Chinese cities (buildings, streets, bridges, signs, etc.) are lined with LEDs. Shiny!

We had our first and only meal at an American fast food chain, but it was good because McDonalds (as well as KFC) is super popular in Asia. For dinner, we had authentic Peking Duck, and it was delicious. We had something like the 1.4 millionth duck that that particular restuaurant had prepared for human consumption, which is a crazy number. They explained that the ducks require 5 years to grow up and 45 minutes to cook. We had duck tongue, which was pretty funny to eat, duck blood soup, duck remains soup, and little duck-shaped desserts. And, of course, there was the actual duck meat, finely prepared.

Day 12: Yonghe King, Tsinghua University, Beijing Hackerspace, New Years Maker Party, emergency accommodations

Our first day in Beijing was a pretty crazy one as well. Our train arrived in Beijing around 8am, at which point we met up with Nancy’s family friend and went for breakfast at this food chain called Yonghe King. That was sort of freaking amazing because my family is actually largely from Yonghe, Taipei, Taiwan. I was already missing Taiwan food at that point, so it was great to have a Taiwan style breakfast. Learning about Yonghe King probably made my day. <3 food.

Day 12 was a real whirlwind of activities. We got a quick tour of Tsinghua University (China’s top tech school) with Nancy’s family friend, followed by meeting Professor Koo’s students at his Toyhouse, followed by meeting 6 Tsinghua CS students, followed by visiting SkyWorks (one of the hackerspaces at Tsinghua). I enjoyed SkyWorks a lot; they even had resources for software projects in the form of mobile phones and server hosting. The hackerspaces we’ve seen in China didn’t have as much in terms of machine tools as MITERS, but all of the hackerspaces that I have seen (except for SkyWorks and Noisebridge) seemed to lack software resources. Anyway, all of this was arranged fairly last minute, so I was surprised that we were able to meet people and have great conversation… on New Years Day, and also the week before their final exams. But, Tsinghua does have 30K students with an emphasis on engineering, so maybe that made it reasonable to find students. The Toyhouse students gave us their insights on Professor Koo’s “radical” teaching methods–essentially student-taught project-based classes instead of professor-blabber-based classes. A lot of work and suitable for only some areas of study, but they teach you how to learn on your own, they said. From the CS students, we learned that the college GPA of Chinese students pretty much determines exactly the next step (grad school, industry, studying abroad, going home), or at least that is the mindset of a lot of students. SkyWorks showed us that not all students focus 100% of their efforts on their GPA; some do work on projects of their own, for commercial purposes, etc. 
OK, so that was just the morning until early afternoon. Then, we visited Beijing Maxpace, the Beijing hackerspace (北京创客空间), a new media art exhibition, and attended a maker/hacker new years party. The Beijing hackerspace was tiny. It’s a room only slightly larger than my dorm room, and there were about 20 people there awaiting our arrival — space is hard to find in Beijing?We took a look around, chatted for a few minutes, and exchanged stickers. This trip has taught me that hackerspaces are crazy about stickers. And stamps. Here, I got a second stamp on my hackerspace passport (the first was at Chaihuo, the third in Tokyo). MITERS has neither stamps nor stickers yet, oops. The new media exhibit was neat; it was like the media lab, but orders of magnitude less cluttered. The new years party consisted of people from a whole bunch of different makerspaces and places. We did introductions, watched maker-y videos, and had good food and pleasant conversation. We pulled up yet another documentary of MITERS (produced by NYU students) and also the MASLAB 2011 highlights video, and I talked about MASLAB for a bit. Yay robots and presenting in broken Chinese! I need to find a way to learn/use technical vocabulary in Chinese.

At this point, Julian was seriously food poisoned (probably got infected on Day 10), and so we scrambled to find a suitable place to stay for the night. Originally, Josh and Nancy wanted to crash on the concrete floor of the place of the party, which I wasn’t too crazy about but was willing to entertain. Amazingly, with a lot of help from the Beijing hackers, especially Wang ZhenFei (王振飞), we made our way to our home for the next two nights.

At the end of the day, I was just confused at how we managed to do so much and meet so many people in a single day.


Day 11: Chenghuang Temple, Shanghai Hackerspace, Shanghai to Beijing, the New Year

Surprisingly, our trip has been pretty full of Taiwanese people. This is undoubtedly biased because I am on this trip and most of our factory tour relations were tied to Taiwan, but I have been told that a lot of the hackerspace people in China are Taiwanese too. The night of Day 10 consisted of a dinner at a Taiwanese place with my family friend. Yay Taiwan food. We were in some area of Shanghai where there is a large concentration of people from Taiwan… imagine Chinatown, except with Taiwanese people… and in China.

The family friend we stayed with ordered in breakfast for us, which was super nice and tasty. After a lot of hours of figuring out the rest of the day, we parted and went off to Chenghuang Temple (城隍庙) for some culture, touristy shopping, and good eats. At this point in our trip, we started thinking about purchasing souvenirs, so we obtained quite a few stuffed dragons. I just realized that we forgot to haggle, but we did walk around asking 4-5 different vendors for their prices before settling on one. It’s pretty neat to see what different vendors will quote depending on how foreign / touristy we look. I had the best luck when I asked without the others around. This particular vendor actually had 2 clerics who gave me 2 different prices — yes, I asked them both and then took the lower one. We also had soup buns, which are like bread bowls, but replace the bread with a bun.

We only had about an hour there before we rushed off for our (but really Nancy’s) presentation at Xinchejian (新车间), the Shanghai makerspace. Attendance was around 50, which was pretty freaking incredible. We showed my (actually Ben’s) MITERS documentary from my anthropology class, and I’m very glad that finally came in useful. There I met Professor Ben Koo at Tsinghua University in Beijing (as mentioned before, also Taiwanese), who gave us a lot of helpful information and even helped us with our plans the next day in Beijing! After the presentation, we had about 45 minutes of mingling before we rushed off to the train station to catch our train to Beijing. Everyone was very awesome, and everything was way way too rushed. As usual, we almost missed the train (this really needs to stop happening), but the traffic cleared up about halfway there and our 100USD tickets were saved. We got a soft sleeper compartment, which consists of 4 soft bunks for sleeping and a communal table that we used to pile all of our food. On the train, I realized that, for sanitary reasons, I actually prefer squat toilets to sitting toilets in Asia (this does not apply in Japan). Then the new year came (at least on this side of the planet), and though everyone else was already asleep, I found the train ride to be a very nice way to welcome the new year.



Day 8: Colibri, Great Wall Industry, Chaihuo

Guanxi in Asia, which is the idea that everything is relationships, is quite something. Our tours for the day were made possible by the following relation: my friend’s father’s elementary school friend and his wife. One of our visits from Day 6 was made possible by the relation: my father’s brother’s wife’s college classmate.

We visited Colibri, an automation machinery design company and a small quantity high precision machine shop, and Great Wall, a consumer electronics assembly company. Great Wall was our only company visit conducted primarily in Chinese. It seems like a bunch of the places we have seen are fairly empty because of a combination of a bad economy (needing to pay more for operators) and because of the seasonal migration home for many plant workers. It would be cool to see some of these places again at their full capacity. As we saw it this time around, there was plenty of space to operate and move around, but we’ve been told that the plant floor can also be a sea of people during the peak season.

Also, en route to Colibri, as we exited the subway station, we were greated by a long line of illegal motocycle taxis. The transportation / taxi situation is really interesting in Shenzhen; it was the greatest “culture shock” I felt during our short stay in China. It’s a huge mess of taxi meters that don’t mean anything, drivers colluding, black taxis, illegal motorcycle taxis, and official taxis with unethical practices.

Later that day, we were tipped off that the taxi ride back to the hotel should not cost more than a few tens of RMB, but we had happily paid 110RMB in the morning for the same distance, so Nancy and I resolved to fix this on the way back. We started our price at 40RMB, but were unsuccessful with the first taxi driver, and the price was bumped up to 80RMB almost immediately. The driver wasn’t willing to drive us for 80RMB, so we decided to move on, but by that point, there were about 6 other drivers hovering around us, taunting either us or the first driver — I couldn’t really tell. Probably nothing bad would have happened, but it was 6 of them and only 4 of us, so I felt some chills, stood up straight, and walked calmly out of the ring of drivers. Feeling uncomfortable, we proceeded to walk down the line of cabs and resolved to take the first cab that would drive us for 80RMB. Immediately, one of the drivers from the ring ran up to us and agreed to drive us for that rate, so we patted ourselves on the back, and headed over… but realized he was not an official taxi driver, so we started our task over. The taxi drivers seemed to be colluding! There was this ~100RMB barrier for foreigners that the taxi drivers seemed extremely opposed to breaking. I believe we ended up paying a driver 90RMB to take us home and away from all that mess.  

Our lunch was at a traditional Canton place with managers from both plants (+ friends), where there was basically a miniature market indoors with living sea creatures, tubs of vegetables, and counters stretching down a long corridor full of plates of potential dishes and you walk down ordering what you want. And then the sea creatures are slaughtered and the dishes are cooked, fresh. Our dinner, by contrast, was on our own, so being the college students that we are, we wandered into a giant supermarket and bought random pastries and things. We were later berated by real people for not eating a real meal.

We spent our evening at Chaihuo (柴火创客空间), the Shenzhen makerspace (our first makerspace visit in Asia!), where they had a show-and-tell organized, and they even advertised our attendance [src]. The space is very neat; it is divided in half, one part for working, the other for chilling and eating — ingenious. Their space is also super clean and organized, something I would not in a million years have expected. Attendance was in the 20s, and people talked about Seeed Studio, an upcoming Makerfaire in Shenzhen, a robot kit project, programmer board design, light sensors, etc. We talked about our projects and fielded questions about MITERS and MIT. Josh and Julian presented in English, and then Nancy and I presented in Chinese. Nancy was extremely well received, which was really nice to see. I mostly talked about my computer vision projects (Everything in the Kitchen Sink, Kinect Symphony Conductor, Maslab). Afterwards, we broke off into free form talking, and I was pleasantly surprised to see interest in my work. I feel like I don’t have a great sense of the place that software holds and its role in China. I know the strength of China in manufacturing, hardware, and electronics, so at first glance, software seems to be something on the backburner, something to get around to, something not quite valued. I very much hope to learn more about role of computer science in China. Anyway, I enjoyed our short time at Chaihuo very much.

I think at this point in the trip, I also started feeling super self-conscious about how Asian I looked — or rather, how Asian I don’t look. Multiple people were surprised that I spoke Chinese… and I’m in freaking Asia! Some combination of my height, my pale skin, my brightly colored clothing (why is everyone wearing dark clothing here?), my accent and lack of Chinese vocabulary, and my mannerisms probably gives it away, but I wish I knew the key factors that gave it away. I later felt redeemed (basically as soon as we left Shenzhen) because people started being surprised that I was from America. 🙂

Day 7: Seeed Studio, SEG electronics market, dinner with Asia Optical, family time

Happy new year! We’re on our way from Shanghai to Beijing. Everyone is sleeping, and for whatever reason, I’m opting to write blog posts.

Protip: if you find yourself in a huge unfamiliar city with a population of 20 million and multiple city centers and have an engagement in an unfamiliar place about 40 minutes away, allot 3 hours to navigate there.  That’s how long it took us to get to Seeed Studio to tour their space and have lunch with their CEO Eric Pan. Seeed Studio is basically the Chinese version of Sparkfun, and they supply small quantities of electronic parts as well as kits. I had never been to a space like that before, so that was neat. Eric and Steve (Engineering lead) took us out to eat amazing Hunan food, where the restaurant was decorated super patriotic because Mao Zedong (毛泽东) was from Hunan Province. I learned the term Manong (码农), which is essentially like “code monkey” and carries negative connotations. It is also interesting that Eric suggested we meet Ben Koo, described to us as a Taiwanese guy who is advocating the maker movement in China, because I got to meet him just a few days later in Shanghai (in fact, earlier today 12/31). It seems that the maker community in China is quite well connected.

We later went to the SEG electronics market, which was several buildings full of mouth-watering electronics of all kinds. Julian proposed staying there for the entire rest of our stay in Shenzhen. Nancy walked around contemplating whether or not to buy things. I got 50x vibrating mini-motors for my swarmbot project for about 12USD (and are 4.70USD apiece on digikey), w00t. Then we rushed back to Changan for a dinner with officials from Asia Optical and my dad, welcoming us to Shenzhen.  I have to say, despite the fact that Shenzhen is a place of crude manners, everyone has been super welcoming of us. Anyway, at this dinner, we saw their customs of intense social drinking — continuous shots 37 proof alcohol for several hours.  And the night ended with a couple hours of chilling with my dad. I’m really lucky to have seen my entire family on this trip. 😀