Jurg Ott, Beijing, China
Last updated 6 Sep 2015 (under constant
is my blog, where I record interesting and useful
things I have
learned in life. I spent the first ⅓ of my life in Europe (in
Switzerland, to be exact) obtaining an education, the next ⅓ in the
United States (Seattle and New York) building a scientific career, and
now plan to spend another ⅓ (well, perhaps not quite) in Asia (Beijing).
This and That
- (5 Sep 2015) Fungal infections.
If skin is not naturally acidic enough (see Natural Health Recipes
below) one may need to make it more acidic. This is particularly
relevant for parts of the skin (like the feet) that tend to be moist
for longer times. The same fungus that tends to grow between toes also
seems to be able to grow under toe nails and color them black. I have
seen advertisements for treatments of such conditions. However, a very
simple solution exists: Put a drop of anti-fungal liquid (like
"FungiCure") at the tip of each affected toe so the liquid seeps
between toe nail and skin. Do this every one or two days until the nail
is clear again. Works very well but it may take several weeks for a
complete cure. It is good to repeat this once every few weeks to
- (4 Sep 2015) Linux. Over
the past few years I tried seveal Linux systems. My office PC (Dell
server with 96 GB of RAM) was delivered with SUSE Linux. However, it
turned out that this (commercial) system cannot read external disks
formatted with NTFS. So I replaced it with openSUSE (KDE desktop),
which is free and more suitable for research than SUSE. It reads NTFS
external disks just fine and is generally very nice. In the end, my
favorite Linux system if Kubuntu. After installing several Linux
versions on a laptop and no longer being able to use wireless, Kubuntu
was the only system warning me that proprietory drivers may have to be
downloaded for full functionality. After following the proposed link I
have wireless again.
- (26 March 2014) Ranking values in a spreadsheet.
Recently I used Microsoft's Excel to rank a set of values. It turned
out that the resulting ranks are fine unless ties are present. For
example, consider the values 5, 4.4, 4.4, 3, 2, 1. Excel assigns ranks
1, 2, 2, 4, 5, 6. However, proper ranks should be 1, 2.5, 2.5, 4, 5, 6.
I put up a pdf document to show how ranks can be properly computed in a spreadsheet.
- (12 June 2013) Comparing train and plane on the Beijing-Shanghai
route. A business class ticket on the high-speed costs about the same as an Air
China coach class ticket but there are major differences in service.
Train seats are quite comfortable with ample space between rows of
seats, and seat backs can be lowered much farther than on the plane.
However, Air China offers a good breakfast with a choice of
Chinese or Western style, with various drinks, including coffee
and often beer and wine. On the train, you get a measly set of dry
cookies and soft drinks and water but no coffee. Flight attendants all
speak English but train personnel generally don't. Of course, you see
more when riding the train; for example, you observe that
pollution is not confined to big cities but covers wide swaths of land.
Nonetheless, the train ride is very smooth (as opposed to Amtrak's in
New York) and it runs at a sustained speed of 302 km/h (190 miles/hour).
- (1 Jan 2013) Compiling
Free Pascal in Ubuntu Linux. In my early days (1970 -
1980), I did all my
programming in Fortran but then switched to Pascal and have now for
many years been using Free
Pascal on Windows PCs. My
current PC runs 64 bit Windows 7, has 4 hard disks with 1.4 TB capacity
each, and 48 GB of memory (RAM). I recently wanted to compile some
programs for Linux but a cross-compiler from Windows to Linux is
find. So I installed Ubuntu
Linux, a charm of an operating system! Here
are some guidelines so you don't have to stumble upon the same problems
This will install Ubuntu as a
program within Windows (dual boot) that you can easily delete if ever
there is a problem. At boot time you can choose between Windows and
Ubuntu. The lastest Ubuntu version, 13.02, no longer supports wubi, but
installing on the hard disk may be a better option anyway.
the compiler from Ubuntu rather than from the Free Pascal website: In a terminal
session (ctrl-alt T), type fpc
to see whether it is already installed. If it is
not, the system will
respond with a suggestion on how to get it installed.
- I have all my data and programs on an external 1 TB disk
(ID = Passport) connected to the PC with a USB port. When I boot Ubuntu
while the external drive is connected I will see that drive as
/media/jurg/Passport and can access any folder on it I
- Copy a program, for example, ti.pas,
from your Windows drive to your favorite Linux location, for example,
Documents folder under your Home folder
(while programs compile in a folder outside of Ubuntu, it seems they
cannot be made executable).
- Open a terminal Window and change to your Documents
~/Documents). Compile the program by typing fpc ti or fpc
ti.pas. You will then see an executable file, ti,
in your folder.
- Run it by typing ./ti rather
ti. If you type ti then
the system will expect the ti
executable to reside in the standard folder for programs.
- The Ubuntu
pocketguide is very useful even though it is written for an
earlier version of Ubuntu.
- (11 August 2012) When I travel to meetings I often stay at
different hotels in different countries on the same trip. I have found
it convenient to do all my bookings through the "booking.com" website.
That way I always have a list of my current bookings and their
conditions. The website shows hotel rooms that can be canceled without
a fee, which is usually what I prefer so I can make changes at will.
Most recently, one of these hotels charged a reservation to my credit
card without my even having stayed there. I sent email to "booking.com"
and was amazed that I got a response within a few hours. The matter was
resolved the same day with a refund from the hotel.
- (7 February 2011) Another piece of advice for American
citizens (men, say) planning to marry a Chinese -- when the question
comes up where your baby should be born, you should insist that the
birth should take place in the US. If your wife gives birth in China
then the baby will be a Chinese citizen. This in itself is not a
problem; the baby can still get a US passport and is a US
citizen. However, for the baby to leave China, if this is desired, the
baby's US passport needs a special stamp from the Chinese government to
the effect that the baby loses Chinese citizenship. If your wife does
not want this to happen she can easily prevent it, for example, by
hiding the baby's original birth certificate, which is one of the
documents required for that stamp. In that case, there is absolutely
nothing you can do; the baby must stay in China, even the US embassy
will be unable to assist.
- (13 April 2009) Susan Boyle, the successful 47 year old
singer contestant in the UK. With her beautiful voice and her
characteristic looks, she very much reminds me of Edith Piaf, the
French singer who fascinated a generation of people all over the
world but whose name may not mean much for today's young generation.
Both of them were not young anymore when they became famous and up
until then did not live in great luxury. Touching.
- (10 April 2009) Doctors in the U.S. are under pressure to
perhaps more than necessary. The reasons are that (1) this boosts
income and (2) if a procedure is not done and the patient later finds
it should have been done then American patients tend to take their
doctors to court. Anyway, I have been the victim of this situation. My
doctor reommended a prostate biopsy as my PSA level was 5.3, a trifle
higher than the official upper limit. I hear from colleagues that in
the presence of cancer the PSA level will go up to 30 or 50 and often
way above 100. Still, I follwed my doctors advice. As a precaution he
prescribed antibiotics, a new type which, according to the pharmacy,
has the tendency to cause tendon problems. Sure enough, my Achilles
tendon got sore and I can only walk with a limp and some pain now.
Facit: Patients need to make informed decisions rather than blindly
following their doctors' recommendations.
- (19 April 2008) A piece of advice for American citizens
interested in marrying a
-- I was in this situation and had to decide whether to get married in
China and then request an immigrant visa for my wife, or have the
friend/fiance come to the US as a visitor and get married in the US.
Now I know: The latter is much simpler (but I had chosen the former).
Obtaining an immigrant visa for a spouse living in China is a lengthy
and complicated process that takes way more than a year; even a
non-immigrant visa for the spouse to come to the US and wait there for
the immigrant visa takes more than a year. I am told that once married
in the US, it is fairly easy to have the spouse stay and wait for an
- (14 December 2007) My motto at this point in my life: "Non,
je ne regrette rien" (Edith Piaf, 1960).
- (11 August 2007) Setting up my new Palm Treo 750v
for China Mobile. Spending half my time in New York and half
in Beijing, I
currently keep a mobile (cell phone) at both places, each with a local
service provider (China Mobile and T-mobile). To reduce costs and also
to get away from the locked phones and locked SIM cards of American
companies, I decided to use only one service provider, China Mobile,
for both countries. So I bought a Sony Ericsson M600i in Beijing for
1740 yuan RMB (US$230). It looks great and with an additional 1 GB of
memory holds a lot of pictures and music. However, I was unable to set
up SSL email accounts (secure connection). An email inquiry sent to the
company went unanswered apart from an initial automated
acknowledgment of receipt. Thus, I purchased a Palm Treo 750v
smartphone in Hong Kong (HK$4280 = US$550; list price is HK$5980) to be
used with my China
Mobile SIM card, which I had been assured by experts would work. Back
in Beijing, I wanted to access the internet but
the phone reported it required "different settings". I sent an email
request for information to the Palm company in Hong Kong and, lo and
behold, got a reply within two hours. Based on their instructions I
called the China Mobile hotline (10086 from a landline) and talked to
an English speaking consultant. He mentioned that they did not have any
Treo phones in their database and was sorry he was unable to help me.
When I requested specs such as APN (access point name) for another GSM
mobile he said that would not work as these specs are all different
(!). He nonetheless gave me the requested information for a Motorola,
which was what I needed (see below). Now internet and email (Yahoo Mail
Plus, Rockefeller University) worked fine but text
messages did not work. After another email to Palm HK, I was instructed
to perform a hard reset -- and this did the trick. Evidently, the phone
had not been properly initialized in the store, where I bought it. It
may be a good thing to do such a reset whenever you buy a phone
somewhere. I must say, these people at Palm HK were real life savers
(for a smartphone novice like me).
After a hard reset,
the programs distinguishing the 750 from the 750v model are gone and
phone no longer recognizes Chinese characters, for example, in text
messages. But installation of CE-Star
Treo 750/700 restored Chinese characters and preserved text message
For those of you who need to set up a Palm Treo
750v with a
China Mobile SIM card, here are the steps you need to take: Click on Start, then Settings.
On the Connections tab,
click on Connections.
Under My ISP,
click on Add a new modem connection.
convenient name such as ChinaMobile and choose Cellular
Line (GPRS, 3G). Cick on Next,
under Access point name
enter cmnet. Click on Next
and leave everything else blank. That's it. It's really very easy, now
that I know how to do it, but it took me quite a while to find all the
relevant information. After clicking on Connections,
under My Work Network,
you may click on Set up my proxy server
and enter 10.0.0.172 as its
internet address but in my experience this is not even necessary.
Sep 2006) Language
can teach us much about
communalities between populations. For example, a list of numbers of
individuals surviving given age groups (survival analysis) is called a life-table.
In German, however, the same thing is known as a Sterbetafel (=
It's like a glass being half full or half empty. On the other hand,
many things are similar in otherwise different populations. For
example, consider the little man called Rumpelstilzchen in
brothers' fairy tales ("Ach, wie gut, daß niemand weiß,
daß ich Rumpelstilzchen heiß"). As soon as the miller's
daughter knows his name, his power over her is lost. Compare this with
current American usage of words. Race
has often been used to marginalize people, so we are not to use this
word any longer -- it has now been replaced by ethnicity (bad
if the name connected with it disappears!). Similarly, conservative
America no longer likes the word sex
to identify whether an individual is male or female, so it's been
replaced by gender.
Nomen est omen!
Natural Health Recipes
you are allergic to
one of the commercial shampoos, here is
a way of preparing your own completely natural and mild shampoo.
I obtained this recipe many years ago from a lady in
very well, leaves no allergic side effects.
- Combine in a bowl an egg yolk, a good table
brandy), a few drops of vinegar, and a few drops of castor oil (ricinus
oil). The latter may be omitted but is said to be good for the scalp.
- Beat this mixture for about 1 minute. Let it stand for a
minutes; it will get creamy. This is your shampoo.
In most men past a
certain age, benign prostate enlargement
occurs. Nowadays this is not life-theatening but in earlier times it
led to death when the urinary tract was completely blocked (Casanova
died this way). While there seem to be various medications available
for this condition, a natural and very effective treatment exists: Tea
made from the Small-Flowered
Weideröschen in German), Epilobium
parviflorum. Well-known in Europe, this
plant has been collected for a long time (Treben 1988) for its use
against prostate enlargement and even prostate cancer (Treben 1980); it
is also beneficial in cases of urinary infections in men and women. My
mother used to collect many plants in the fall. They grow wild on
borders of meadows and along paths in the forest. The plant is a
perennial growing to 60 cm. It is in flower from summer through autumn.
The flowers are hermaphrodites (have both male and female organs) and
are pollinated by bees and hoverflies. Flower diameter is approx. 6-9
mm and leaves are 3-7 cm long. The whole plant may be collected
although the leaves seem to be what's most useful. Be sure to collect
the small-flowered variety. Dried leaves or whole plants are available
from many herb farms. Note: This information is based on the cited
literature and personal experience and experience from people I know;
it is not based on "approved" medical knowledge. My doctor sports a
strange smile on his face when I tell him about this herb but it works
Fungus on skin.
is not acidic enough to fight off fungus
infection. Such infection, particularly on the face, appears as reddish
patches. While there are ointments and creams one might apply, a
simpler remedy was recommended to me many years ago by a young doctor
in Switzerland. You take a small bottle (½ to 1 cup) of 70%
alcohol and dissolve a small amount (what fits on the end of a kitchen
knife) of salicylic acid (a white powder, the active ingredient in
aspirin) in it. Apply this solution once or twice a day to the affected
skin and the fungus is likely to disappear. Perhaps boric acid will
achieve the same thing, I'm not sure. I have been told that diluted
vinegar is preferable to this recipe as it is more natural.
(5 Sep 2015) For several years now I simply crushed an aspirin tablet
in 70% alcohol. Works very well in most cases. If a fungus is resistent
to this mix then a more aggressive solution are over-the-counter
concentrated solutions of organic acids (brand names like FungiCure).
Epsom Salt and cancer. My parents gave me a small
written by Hortense Meylan in the 1930's. She quotes French doctors who
are convinced that epsom salt (magnesium sulfate, Bittersalz) can cure
cancer, even at an advanced stage. It seems
she herself was a medical doctor -- she quotes several patients that
she successfully treated and cured of cancer. The pamphlet is
written in German, translated from French, and made available here (file size 4 MB)
Books I've Read and Why I Like Them
of My Life
de Seingalt (Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1997,
Translated by Willard R. Trask from the original French version written
around 1790. Very well written, pleasant and entertaining, this book
offers a glimpse into life in the 18th century in Europe, particularly
The Art of Love
by Hong Ying
paperback). Originally written
in Chinese, this book is said to be an erotic novel, which it is.
However, it is also a tragic story in the classical sense of Greek
tragedy -- the main character, Julian Bell, was always afraid of
"losing his freedom of choice" [by staying with one and only one
woman]. This trait inevitably led to the tragic end of a love
story. Quite a few men (and some women) are of this type; probably the
most well-known example is Casanova. I was deeply moved by this book
and consider it a masterpiece.
World of Suzie Wong
by Richard Mason,
originally published 1957,
made into a movie, and reprinted 2004. A touching love affair between
the prostitute Suzie Wong and the artist Robert Lomax, set in Hong Kong
of the 1950s.
Emperor to Citizen,
the autobiography of Pu
of China (Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, China, 1979). Interesting
book written by Pu Yi, first-hand account of life at the Qing court. It
will literally give you an insider's view of the Forbidden City in
Beijing. See photos.
Grapes of Wrath
written 1939. This is
one of the classics of American Literature, a captivating story of poor
farmers migrating from Oklahoma to California. Even though I read this
book many years ago it is still vivid in my memory.
Tatiana's Sex Advice
Creation by Olivia
Judson (Henry Holt,
New York, 2002). Contrary to what you might think, this "definite guide
to the evolutionary biology of sex" is a scientific book. It was
written by a scientist for a lay audience. Fun to read, the book
describes many, often strange ways how reproductive practices have
evolved in living beings, and how the "battle of the sexes" is being
fought by males and females in different species. Much of it was new
and enlightening to me as
- Think big and kick ass in business and life
Trump and Bill Zanker (Harper Collins,
New York, 2007).
Even though Donald Trump's reputation is not very
good I was recently watching an interview with him on TV, and I liked
what I heard. Then I saw this book in the bookstore -- the title really
turned me off but I figured I wanted to see what he has to say, I'll
read it on the plane and then throw it away. But now, I must admit I
find this a very good book. There is a lot of wisdom in it although I
don't quite like Trump's character of attacking and seeking revenge,
but life is what it is I guess. I prefer Trump's chapters over those
written by Bill Zanker. The latter come across more as an advertisement
for his Learning Annex. The book contains many funny stories about
local and national celebrities, and Trump does not hesitate to speak
his mind. I will keep this book so my baby can
read it when she is old enough to read English.
Jury Duty -- Behind The
In New York I served as a juror several times but one case
is so funny
that I want to write it down here. It was about 1998 in Superior Court,
where an unanimous vote is needed for a guilty verdict. The accuser was
a man who claimed he had been robbed by the accused, a working girl
(prostitute). Both were black, that is, African-American -- you will
see why this is important. At one point the working girl took the stand
to testify. She claimed the man had not been robbed, on the contrary:
He was unable to perform when he was with her so he demanded the money
back from her but her pimp would not hand back the money. For most of
us jury members, it was uncertain what exactly had happened but it was
pretty clear that there was insufficient evidence to convict the sex
worker. So, all but one juror were unanimous and ready to go home
except for one black man. Eventually he gave in and explained: "I don't
want to hold this up any longer but I'll tell you why I know the
working girl is not telling the truth. I have served in the army for
many years and have never seen a black man unable to perform with a
prostitute." With that he voted against his better knowledge and the
girl was exonerated.
- I just (June 2006) ran across an article on Larry King in the
issue of AARP
King (born Lawrence Harvey Zieger), a well-known U.S. TV
interviewer and currently 72 years of age, is married to his 7th
wife, Shawn, 26 years his junior, and has two sons
and 5) with her .
- From AARP
Bulletin May 2006: Nearly half of all Americans age 65 and
take five or more prescription drugs daily, and only 11% of seniors
take no medications.
Software, Useful Computer Programs
programmers don't program in Pascal but I still find Free Pascal
and powerful for Windows and Linux (same code may be compiled under
either OS). This compiler has been very useful for my scientific work.
- Treben, Maria (1980) Gesundheit aus der
“Verein Freunde der Heilkräuter”
- Treben, Maria (1988) Health from God’s Garden. Healing Arts