<CharlieDigital/> Programming, Politics, and uhh…pineapples


Battling Heroin in Afghanistan, Chinese New Year, Work, and Family

Posted by Charles Chen

Heroin in Afghanistan

A cool story on how some enterprising individuals are working to battle the heroin trade originating in Afghanistan:

A former homeless drug abuser from Swindon is the unlikely champion of an initiative that aims to fight Afghanistan’s vast narcotics economy – with fruit juice.
James Brett, 39, who once spent a year living rough before becoming a fruit juice magnate, is behind a scheme that aims to replace opium fields with pomegranate orchards.
Mr Brett’s scheme will begin in March with 100,000 pomegranate saplings in the eastern province of Nangahar. He hopes eventually to plant 175,000 hectares (432,250 acres) of orchards across the country.

This is all sorts of awesome (well, because I love pomegranates :-P)!

Chinese New Year!

Happy Chinese New Year! (Year of the Ox)


I've been working through Eric Brechner's I.M Wright's Hard Code.  I'll have more on this in the coming weeks as I continue to digest the awesomeness of this book.  Excellent pieces on software engineering and dealing with the mess of it all.  Highly recommended reading.  I finished this up on my trip to Taiwan...


It's been a long 2009 for me already.

My grandmother passed away near midnight on January 8th.  It's kind of strange, I wasn't all that close to her, but in the aftermath of my weeklong trip to Taiwan to attend services, I feel a sudden sense of emptiness. It's a sort of spiritual/cultural/familial emptiness...an uncertainty about the future of my ties to Taiwan and to my family there.

I was quite surprised that my family wasn't as emotional as I would have expected; but then again, to reach the ripe age 88 is not a terrible fate.  It was quite sudden for my grandmother, who was about as energetic and lively as a 8 year hold hopped up on a few bottles of pop.  My goodness, you would not believe the copious amounts of food that she could consume for a frame no bigger than 5' (maybe).

She was from a different generation, a generation that saved every yuan, ate every last grain of rice, and lived simple, disciplined lives.  She was stubborn to the end, from what I heard from my aunts, but it was her way of expressing her love for her family.  I think the following phrase best summed up her view of her matriarchical role:

The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.
-- Nelson Henderson

So I've been pretty depressed through all of this.  The Chinese place great emphasis on the family name and as the only son of her only son, it seems that the tradition of the Chen family will end with me as my children will surely grow up as Americans who may never really connect with their Chinese heritage.  I have an itch now to sell my house, store most of my stuff with my mom, and move back to Taiwan for a few years to better learn Chinese (I'm conversational on a 3rd or 4th grade level), get to know my aunts and cousins, and enjoy the awesomeness that is Taiwan.

For now, it's just a pipe dream.


The Coolest Thing I’ve Read This Year

Posted by Charles Chen

Well, so far anyways:


While it has seemed an impossible goal for nearly 100 years, scientists now believe that they are on brink of cracking one of the biggest problems in physics by harnessing the power of nuclear fusion, the reaction that burns at the heart of the sun.
In the spring, a team will begin attempts to ignite a tiny man-made star inside a laboratory and trigger a thermonuclear reaction.

As a side note:

Until now, such fusion has only been possible inside nuclear weapons and highly unstable plasmas created in incredibly strong magnetic fields. The work at Livermore could change all this.

The sense of excitement at the facility is clear. In the city itself, people on the street are speaking about the experiment and what it could bring them. Until now Livermore has had only the dubious honour of being home of the US government’s nuclear weapons research laboratories which are on the same site as the NIF.

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