Wednesday, August 18, 2010

IDC RoBoCoN, Shanghai

Hiya Putz,

I've been in Shanghai for the past two weeks, building robots with students from countries whose flags are in the picture to the right. The format was much like 2.007, with a contest field and kit of materials, except that here we were in teams. The objective for this year's contest was to collect balls from the “river” and deposit them in bowls. My team created a tilting bulldozer and a kind of funicular to do the job. Unfortunately, a bad solder connection knocked us out of the running in the 2nd round. The tools available were primitive compared to the equipment at MIT, so the finished products were significantly more crude. Nevertheless, it was great fun designing and building these machines.

I stayed at a visitor hotel on the Minhang campus of Shanghai Jiao Tong University. The weather there was more hot and humid than anything I have ever experienced. Just walking around outside, I could get soaked in sweat.

The five other MIT students and I played soccer with the Brazilians and Thai several evenings. I was pleased that we could all relate so strongly with the sport. I did not have too much trouble with the language as everyone spoke at least a little English. The Singaporeans were especially helpful as most of their population speaks both English and Chinese.

My first day off, I explored downtown Shanghai on foot. I managed to get some spectacular views of the city by making my way to the top of some of the skyscraper hotels. These two shots are from the top (66th floor) of the Royal Meridien looking east across the Huangpu. The bright strip is Nanjing Road, a big shopping and tourist trap. If you look closely, you can see that some of the buildings on the Pudong side of the river have been transformed into huge video advertisement displays. I also went up the beautiful Shanghai World Financial Center (the slender and well-cut one with the hole in the top). The haze of smog prevented me from seeing beyond about 10 miles. The city development is astounding. Cranes and construction sites are everywhere, and the high rises stretch out as far as you can see. I was very impressed with all of the civil engineering. The subway system is excellent: frequent, cheap, clean, fast, extensive, and well marked.

I visited the Expo on two occasions, but only went inside of a couple pavilions. The lines were exorbitantly long and the exterior architecture beat anything that there was to see inside. I could not understand how the thousands of people were willing to wait the often more than 2 hours to see a bunch of propaganda. My favorite was the Polish pavilion. Outside, they were piping some excellent Chopin adapted for orchestral rock. I also enjoyed the mini Tibet pavilion. It had a linear set of LCDs displaying scenes of Tibetan landscapes rushing by to emulate the views from a train.

Lovely, gigantic tensegrity structures hold up the vast fabric awnings over the central Expo axis. Thunderstorms struck both afternoons while I was there.

The Chinese pavilion was certainly impressive, but it reminded me of a bunch of Lincoln Logs. I attempted to get to the top (there is a great garden up there), but apparently only VIPs are allowed.

I made a point to take the maglev train on my way back to the airport. Fast and smooth, but judging by the sparse ridership, it seems to be operating at a heavy loss. As my train passed the other, the coach was jolted twice in quick succession as it hit and exited the other's shock wave. Here is a video of me hurtling along at 300 kph.

To end, a not so great picture of me on the Bund (waterfront), which some Chinese tourists were all too willing to take, and an interesting mural on the Malaysian pavilion.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Oh why not

Some of the delectable food available in China ;P
(I purposefully asked for dishes I wouldn't be able to get in America). I think my relatives called them 木虫, although that must be one of several common names. They actually taste quite nice. If you close your eyes, all you can tell is that you're eating something friend, crunchy, and small. :D

The kids I was with were squeamish about eating this dish, actually. But they do really like pig tails (dish visible to the left back).

EDIT: 8.7.10:  Actually, they are 竹虫, bamboo bore / worm [larvae]. Not wood insects. Sorry, I don't know my insects.

(yes, this is a cross-post from my blog)

Sunday, August 1, 2010


Watch them hunt us all week.

Happy Shark Week