Dust flux, Vostok ice core

Dust flux, Vostok ice core
Two dimensional phase space reconstruction of dust flux from the Vostok core over the period 186-4 ka using the time derivative method. Dust flux on the x-axis, rate of change is on the y-axis. From Gipp (2001).

Monday, June 27, 2016

The last time I saw my son, he was playing with a Rubik's cube, but didn't know how to solve it. Somehow in my absence, he has mastered the thing, and now enters speed championships, solving it in about 15 seconds, which is pretty good, but not good enough to win.

So I asked him how he learned how to solve it. I had learned how to solve the first couple of rows, but never successfully memorized the algorithm for solving the last row--but this algorithm isn't the one used by speed cubers in any case. He told me that he first learned how to solve it the slow way on the internet, but he really wasn't able to say how he learned to solve it quickly.

He told me that he actually figured out how to solve a different puzzle--one composed of tetrominoes that have to be fit together into a square--and solving this somehow helped him figure out how to solve rubik's cube quickly.

I don't see the connection between the two puzzles, but there it is.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Xuchang and Liu Bei

One high-speed-train stop south of Zhengzhou is the city of Xuchang. I had never had cause to go there until a couple of weeks ago, when I spent half a day there. Like many cities in China, it has was formerly a capital city.

Xuchang Wenfang Pagoda, south east of the old city

The pagoda above was my first stop, but unfortunately it didn't seem to be open for climbing. There was a museum on the grounds showing some other famous pagodas around the world (including the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Eiffel Tower)!

The old city had a wall and a moat, and although I couldn't find any trace of the wall, the moat remains and is something of a tourist attraction. At least you can take a boat trip along the waterway if you like.

Xuchang was named one of China's most livable cities. While it is hard to comment on it, I did like it for its size (relatively small compared to Zhengzhou), and excellent market. The downtown area is very pedestrian friendly, but outside is a warren of multi-lane expressways.

I realize livestock at the market isn't everyone's cup of tea. I certainly wouldn't know how to kill and pluck a chicken. But lots of other people do. When I was in Guilin around Chinese New Year, I saw a woman waiting for a bus with a live duck in a bag. It kept poking its head out of the bag, and she kept pushing it back in.

I try to picture it happening in Toronto.

There are two palace complexes in the old city--one formerly belonging to Liu Bei, and the other to former Prime Minister Cao. The history of the conflict between these two is summarized here, and although Liu Bei has been somewhat idealized as a sort of Confucian philosopher king, probably most Chinese know more of his story as told through popular soap operas rather than real history.

Liu Bei's palace, from the public square across the street.

Bell Tower. Every place in China has a bell tower and a drum tower.
Note: the naming rights were not purchased by Bell Canada.

Concubine's residence

View from the top.

Judging by the height of the buildings near the complex, there must have been some ordnance limiting new construction to the height of the temple at the heart of the palace.

On to the Prime Minister's palace.

The poetry-composing pavilion

 Tumult in the greeting hall.

Stage in the poetry-composing pavilion

The former Prime Minister's palace also had some underground hangouts for soldiers--a series of tunnels and storage areas equipped with various traps and murder holes.

Somehow, according to travel sites, I missed the most important tourist sites in Xuchang. But I was happy anyway.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Lots of excitement

. . . over Brexit. But I'm not convinced that this is the earth-shaking moment some seem to think.

Sure, it may mark a sea-change in the evolution towards larger polities. But I have always been skeptical of that movement. I have always wanted to see us evolve back towards city-states.

Gold had a nice move, but I'm always suspicious of moves that are tied to political/economic events. They tend to reverse quickly once everyone realizes that the world isn't going to end. Additionally, over the past decade, sharp moves tend to be in opposition to long-term trends. When the fast moves are down, that seems to happen when the long-term trend is upward. Sharp upward moves in the gold price were common in the late 90s, at a time when the long-term trend was still downward.

So, let's see how yesterday's close looks on our long-term graph of USDX vs gold.

This is a straight graph of the US dollar index vs the gold price. If gold simply moved in opposition to the dollar, then the graph would trace out a single isoquant (one of the yellow hyperbolae). In truth, while the graph does follow isoquants fairly often, there are also shifts from one isoquant to another, sometimes involving moves in which both the gold price and the US dollar index rise together (the blue trend line).

I have interpreted the movement along the blue line as a signal of deflation (provided we are moving toward the upper right). In the past several years, there have been two distinct pulses along the blue line - from late 2009 to mid-2010; and the last four months or so of 2014. I have been expecting a resumption of the impossible trend for some time. Yesterday's close does give us a one-week move in this direction, but we would need to see at least a couple of months of follow-through before identifying another deflationary impulse.

Last week's move is small compared to the movement along the blue trend in 2010.

In the reconstructed phase space portrait of the product of the gold price and the dollar index, Brexit looks like it may have forced a move out of an area of attracted that the system has been occupying for the last three years.

There have been little pop-ups like this at different times during the last three years, and none of them have stuck. The last time we had a break-out from this zone of attraction was in late 2011, culminating in the move in the gold price through $1800. Given the number of times the system has threatened to break out without doing so, we still need to wait and see.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Gold in China

Something happening here . . . at least in Zhengzhou.

Last year, every bank sold gold in bar form, from about 5 g up to 500 g ingots. Today, I can't find any banks selling it.

Last year there were numerous stores selling gold and silver coins and ingots around the city. This is what a typical store looks like today.

Until a few weeks ago you could buy slightly overpriced gold, or very overpriced silver here. Now you can buy scooters.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Train (station) in vain

Zhengzhou is a rail hub in central China. It sits at the intersection of two of the busiest high-speed train networks in the country. The train has become such a mainstay of life here, that people don't think much of commuting a couple of hundred km--and many take day trips of over a thousand km.

But it may be that the high-speed rail system is overbuilt. Recently (last Tuesday), I took a short trip to Xuchang. I left at high rush hour. Last year, the station would have been pretty busy at this time of day. This year, not so much.

Looking towards the main entrance.

The departures level viewed from the food concourse.

Technically, the system works wonderfully well. But I can't help wonder if maybe too much of it has been built.