Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Pompeii, at a Studio Near Me

Years ago I caught the eye of a young woman traveller, lost my balance and ungracefully scraped my backpack along a two thousand year old wall, in of all things, the ancient town's brothel.

When it comes to ancient ruins, little has impressed me more than Pompeii, apart from perhaps the much better preserved neighbouring site Herculaneum. But then it's hard to fathom the size and age of the Great Pyramids—more than twice the age of Pompeii—or to wander the tiny houses and lanes of Beidha just outside of Petra in Jordan—at twice the age of the Pyramids. If you've lost track, that's more than nine thousand years ago; one of the earliest human settlements ever found.

Last summer I didn't have to go far to revisit Pompeii, as the set of the just-released movie is so close to my parents' house that my mother is often woken up by the sound of action movie gunfire. One of the owners of the giant Cinespace showed me around ancient Rome, the heights of Notre Dame cathedral and the inside of an American big city police station; keeping my promise not to post these photos until after the movie's release.

Coincidentally, one of my brothers was at the real Pompeii with his family at the same time. Further, the day before I was having some random drinks downtown, talking to what appeared to be a pro-golfer. I turned to speak to my friend for a moment, and then turned back to continue the conversation. While my back had been turned, Kiefer Sutherland, one of the stars of Pompeii, had walked up and wished the golfer a happy birthday, and then he had taken off.

Within the past year, I've been uneventfully inside the calderas of two massive volcanoes. The first is Ngorongoro—near the site of some of the earliest and the most famous hominid fossils at the Oldupai Gorge and famous volcanic mud footprints of Laetoli. The second is Taal, just outside of Manila. Thankfully there is no volcano in southern Etobicoke. And hopefully a supervolcano won't end our time, preserving the odd cranial fragment, metatarsus or footprint for future palaeontologists to uncover.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Facebook Fraud

You've got to Like this video about Facebook fraud...

I still don't quite understand brands getting involved into people's private social media feeds and conversations—essentially, I don't understand why brands are on Facebook.  I can understand advertising, but always find begging for Likes to be a reach. 

I've always suspected there was a great deal of fraudulent "Likes" and this video nicely walks through what has always been obvious to me; I just have never been sure why it isn't obvious to the marketers on, or the investors of, Facebook.

While I was consulting for a firm doing special development projects for eBay China in 2006, I visited a click-farm outside of Shanghai that was legitimately "mining for gold" for one of those massively multiplayer online role-playing games like "World of Warcraft". 

In a dingy unconverted warehouse, dozens of people, each handling up to four or five screens, created virtual wealth. At the same time, these types of click-farms were also churning out hundreds of thousands of confirmed registered users (CRUs) in exchange for real dollars via through eBay's affiliates program.

Over a few quarters eBay had hundreds of thousands of new inactive accounts for which eBay had spent hundreds of millions of dollars on. I watched the eBay staff try to weasel out of explaining to the then-CEO Meg Whitman about the low engagement of the few active CRUs. After two years and at least $1 billion of investment wasted—beyond the user acquisition debacleeBay China was quietly sold to Hong Kong-based Tom Online.  

And now people have been removed from the equation. Later, in another Shanghai office, I've also seen automated scripts that would vary the IP addresses to vote or Like things online.

And so the saga continues.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Brain Orser gets another Gold via proxy

It seems Canada has had another men's figure skating gold medal slip away. Patrick Chan ended up with a silver, with gold going to Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu, coached by the Canadian two-time winning silver medalist Brian Orser.

A few months ago I shared a few drinks and two hours of conversation with Orser and he told me about the bright star he was coaching... Hope my current boxing trainer – former team member and coach of the Croatian national team – says the same about me too.

Likely not, but he is very impressed with my cross, calling other boxers over to watch. He once suggested that I avoid bar brawls for the other person's sake.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Chinese New Year Concert

Planes, trains and automobiles, from the Catalan Pyranees back to Canada to a front row seat for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Chinese New Year concert hosted by none other than Dashan. 

Expectedly, I spent most of my time watching Yuja Wang’s 王羽佳 legs instead of her hands as she marvellously tackled Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Years ago, I had previously heard Lang Lang perform the same piece from the same seats. Guess which performance was more titillating; however I’ve yet to see Lang Lang in heels and miniskirt.  

A nice touch was knowing that the conductor Long Yu’s 余隆 first time to attend a foreign orchestra’s performance was this very TSO orchestra back in 1978, one of the first orchestras invited post-cultural revolution. And now he was conducting them, after having risen to lead the China Philharmonic, Shanghai and Guangzhou Orchestras. 

Further, cellist Jian Wang 王健 performed as a soloist; this was the once ten year old boy from the celebrated documentary From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China who is now touring the world as a soloist.

I was blown away by The Triple Resurrection, written by Tan Dun 谭盾 who had also composed music for Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Yuja Wang, Long Yu and the celebrated Taiwanese-American cellist Cho-Liang Lin 林昭亮 performed a blend of his various movie scores juxtaposed with perhaps the most stirring operatic overture, Wagner’s Das Rheingold

The night closed with Song Zuying 宋祖英 in full Miao regalia singing about fond memories of her mother’s swinging basket—a Freudian allusion?—and singing songbirds—presumably uncaged, and undead and not nailed to the perch. Struck me as odd that she was using a microphone; perhaps Miaoling Mountain naturally amplifies the voice as I’ve never seen a performer on such a stage require vocal assistance. Just last week at the Paris Opera Bastille I snoozed through Massenet’s terribly boring Werther, with none on stage requiring electronic megaphonic gadgetry. 

The last time I saw Dashan/Mark Roswell was at the Canadian pavilion of the Shanghai Expo where I told him how interesting it was listening to him host an event in English, French and Chinese. He doesn’t repeat himself in each language but conveys the key points in a very organic fashion. Nothing is more draining for the multi-linguists in an audience to hear the same concept thrice—especially jokes, which sound forced when repeated. 

However, I'm looking forward to a full repeat of last night's concert in the upcoming Year of the Sheep.