Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Set for the Next Month

This morning I had a temporary window of VPN connectivity, so I scheduled flashback blog posts for the rest of my time in China (while listening to Ed Sheeran--I love the line "I'll never try to win you over like a step-father").

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Everything's Dead Now

A few months ago, my VPN stopped working at work. But my work had a VPN service we could use. I had avoided it, because it didn't seem legitimate for one branch of the state to provide the tool to circumvent another branch of the state, but once there was nothing else I could do, I started using it.

Last month, my VPN stopped working at home. So anything I needed to do online (aside from family history work--a shout-out to Ancestry.com for working better without a VPN than with one) I had to do at work.

Last week, my work decided to switch VPN services. Gaining access to the new VPN requires applying to HR (why not IT, I wonder). I decided to not do it.

There have been some improvements in using my VPN at home, though (which is how I'm writing this), but I no longer have reliable Internet connectivity to anything that matters.

I return to America in 30 days.

I have a plan to run "best of" blog posts for that time, but since I'm not really comfortable identifying anything on this blog as "best" (let's be honest: it's all crap), I am going to do more of a "on this date" type of thing. Then I'm not making any claims to superiority, just to passing time.

In related news, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said this week that American businesses are beginning to wonder if they are welcome in China. He's just being polite: it's painfully obvious to everyone that Americans are no longer welcome here.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Chinese Elevators

Our apartment building seems to pre-date elevators (I'd estimate construction as somewhere in the mid-1980s), or at least come from an era when elevators were incredibly scarce. Many buildings in our neighborhood bear evidence of this, as well. Here's how you can tell: add-on external hallways on alternating floors.

Chinese apartment buildings don't have internal hallways. Instead, a small collection of apartments on each floor will have doors opening onto a stairwell, and a building might have four or five of these stairwells. An important part of your address is not just your building number, but which door of the building you use. Neighbors with a common wall often have to go to the ground and exit the building to visit each other.

Back when elevators were rare, instead of building an elevator for each door, construction plans would feature one set of elevators at the end of the building, with stuck-on hallways protruding from the building to allow residents to transit from stairwell to stairwell. And to limit the costs of these external hallways, they only appear on alternating floors. So our elevators go to odd-numbered floors and you then use the stairs to access the other floors.

Our elevators don't share an operating program, and this gives rise to the bane of our building: people on the 13th floor who call both elevators because they're not sure which one will show up first. We live on the fifth floor, and we often watch both elevators go past us to 13, only to come back down with one person in one of them. This would be so easy to fix with just a computer program that could coordinate elevators, like most other buildings have. Just because the hardware is from the 80s doesn't mean the software needs to be, too.

Another inefficiency of our elevators comes from the Chinese nationals who won't ride the elevator with Westerners. If we get in one, they often turn and wait for the other one, or if they get in one and see us coming, they make no effort to hold the door. This blog post about the mathematics of elevator coordination doesn't mention if the algorithm accounts for xenophobia or not. Hey, you have to protect your credit score, right?