November 2006 Archives

The Pope's Children


I've been reading The Popes Children, by David McWilliams at the moment.

I'm not finished yet, but one paragraph got my attention this evening:

This can also be regarded at the consumer version of the old arms race. When the Soviets put a man into space, the Americans had to do likewise simply to be seen to be in the same race. Then the Americans put a man on the moon and the Russians responded by putting two. The Americans send a probe to Mars, arm themselves with thousands of warheads and explode a bomb in the Nevada desert. The Russians respond. Finally, Ronald Reagan adopts the Star-wars program and the Russians run out of money. So the American willie was bigger after all.

From: The Pope's Children, pp132, © David McWilliams 2005, 2006

Now, apart from the fact that McWilliams can't spell willy, he apparently believes that the Russians put two men on the moon. This makes me seriously doubt the quality of his research.

Finger on the close button


For some reason, for the the last few days I've been getting irritated by that stalwart of the Hong Kong office culture, Mr. Finger-on-the-close-button.

He (or occasionally she) is the one who's finger gravitates to the close-door button in the lift just after he's entered. Usually, this is when other people are still trying to enter the lift. In extreme cases, this can be when other people are still trying to leave the lift!

The door won't actually close on someone — there's a sensor which prevents that — but it'll partially close and open again, which restricts the access width and is pretty annoying when people and trying to get in (and out).

At the root of this behaviour are the same impulses which drive the Cross Platform Sprinters and the Train Door Shovers: Lack of consideration and Self Centeredness.



Recently there was a spate of whinging in the letters page of the SCMP about employing Native English Teachers (NETs) with 'regional' accents. These letters usually took the form of Home Counties Englishmen aghast that anyone could understand the garbled vowels and forced consonants of anyone from north of Watford, west of Reading, or south of Guildford. In their minds, a 'regional' NET was either Rab C. Nesbitt, Worzel Gummidge or Jimmy Nail.Or even worse, American! The Horror!

They feared that impressionable young minds exposed to such regional accents would end up speaking like Glaswegian dockworkers and be tragically unable to communicate with anyone. Well, anyone other than Jimmy Sommerville, or Billy Conolly, presumably.

As an Irishman, I'm naturally blessed with the most mellifluous of accents and it's only fitting and natural that my children should follow my lead in pronounciation. (In English only; learning my Cantonese pronounciation would do them no favours.) I've figured that having an actual native speaker of English at home would render them immune from the worst excesses of language education.

Imagine then my consternation, imaginary reader, when Number One Daughter wreaked havoc on the perpendicular pronoun!

"Look at the new boy, fulled wuth drid", she recited one evening.

Kiwis! Yat ho lui had been contaminated by kiwis, a dreadful disease where the 'i' and the 'u' are swapped around in the brain. Extreme cases can lead to a spastic jerking movement known as hakka, which unfortunately has nothing to do with the pleasant lady who cleans our building.

Make them pay


Make them pay

The government seems to be helpless in tackling the problem of the influx of mainland women coming to give birth in Hong Kong, overstretching our medical services and incurring bad debts for the Hospital Authority. I would therefore like to suggest some effective measures.

Out of respect for life, we cannot turn away mainlanders who really need to give birth here. However, the government should not allow these women to leave Hong Kong until they have settled their hospital bills. Since the Hospital Authority has a huge deficit, perhaps they could be forced to do chores, such as cleaning the floors. If they have no intention of paying, they should be jailed for several months - as a warning to other mainland women intent on abusing our medical services.


Wow, put women who have just given birth into involuntary servitude or jail! This may be a new low for the SCMP letters page.

UPDATE: it reminds me a little of the following exchange (from Blackadder the Third):

Edmund: Well, according to `Who's Who', his interests include flogging servants, shooting poor people, and the extension of slavery to anyone who hasn't got a knighthood.

Prince George: Excellent! Sensible policies for a happier Britain!

So what can be done about this actually rather small problem? Deny residency to any child born here if neither of the parents are ordinarily resident or if the mother has clearly come to take advantage of getting residency for her child. It may not be easy to legislate, but insisting that some judicial review of the child's residency status is required if neither parent is ordinarily resident in Hong Kong or has a Hong Kong ID card should do it. That wouldn't interfere with most births, and would remove the reason that most of the mainland women who have their babies here do so.

The fact that there is a relatively small number of women who leave the SAR after giving birth without paying their bill is actually quite a small matter. The real issue is the growing number of youngsters on the China side who have Hong Kong residency and have the right to turn up and live off welfare payments/get public housing. Our welfare handout is small for a Hong Konger, but for a mainland Chinese it's a pretty substantial amount. (CSSA Standard Rates)

Jon Jensen's Resumé


Here's a nice graphical resumé for a web designer type: Jon Jensen's Resumé. I'm not sure I'd like to show overlapping full time positions on *my* resumé though!

Via Eric Meyer's Distractions.

Palin's Travels


Today's discovery: Palin's Travels, the books and travels of Michael Palin.

Joy to the World


From the unlinkable SCMP comes this gem on Saturday's letters page:

Joy to the world

It is a rare day when news from the scientific world brings joy to the masses, but Wednesday was one such day. Your story "Deal sealed to build experimental reactor to harness nuclear fusion" (November 22) reported that seven of the world's leading nations plan to invest the equivalent of HK$99 billion to build a reactor which might provide "as much energy from a litre of seawater as from a litre of petrol or a kilo of coal".

Four hundred scientists will kick-start the project and, if successful, "fusion technology will be rolled out across the world".

That really is great news - practical fusion is something we as the human race should have developed back in the 1950's, just after the development of the H-Bomb (which uses much of the same principles).

The words of the old song Happy days are here again; The skies above are clear again shall, thankfully, sound a swansong for all scaremongering, doom-saying, tree-hugging environmentalists. No more shall they command time and space in our newspapers, magazines and cinemas and on our televisions. Their end is nigh.

Science will give us the freedom to enjoy all the fruits of our labours, including free rein to buy gas-guzzling 4x4s without guilt. The greenies can take comfort in cultivating - and selling the produce from - their vegetable patches on Lamma and Lantau (organic, naturally).

So here we have the knee-jerk reaction of the right-winger. Now that there is cheap electricity, apparently we can go on using fossil fuels as though they were infinite. We can ignore the damage to our environment and let Northern Europe have a climate like Siberia. Glaciers as far south as Kansas City? Apparently OK with J. Charleston.

The claims of the green movement that excessive production of greenhouse gasses and over use of fossil fuels are destructive to the planet are not based on some jealousy or luddite tendencies, but on the fact that these activities are destroying our planet. The well funded (by oil companies!) movement to decry these facts is suicidal and will lead to horrendous environmental disasters. The lockstep in which right-wingers march in complete agreement with these corporations is nothing more that the brainless adulation of aspiring fascists. They are as nothing to those whose jackboots they sniff after.

The reality is that Practical Fusion implies cheap electricity which implies a revival of the GM Electric Car (). Rapidly rising Oil costs imply the death of the infernal combustion engine. Rapidly decreasing electricity costs lead to a rise in public transport and electric vehicles. How's about all power for Hong Kong transport comes from a small fusion station on Lamma? All taxis are electric. No more diesel, no more coal based power. Clean skies on days when the wind isn't coming from the north...

Cheap power will allow us to maintain our lifestyles while reducing our output of greenhouse gases and our reliance on fossil fuels. This will mean that the climate of northern Eurpone won't become another Siberia as the Gulf Stream stops, the fish stocks in the world's oceans will halt and eventually reverse their current decline, and places like Australia might be viable to live in for another few years. I, for one, would miss the Great Barrier Reef, the Jungles of Indonesia and the low lying islands of Polynesia, even though I have never been to any of these. I would like to visit them someday, and I would like that my children, and their children, would also have that choice.

It will also allow countries like the US to cease relying on the Middle East for their energy, which will decrease the overall terrorist threat. Indeed, countries which are currently sources of terrorists, like Saudi Arabia — home of Osama Bin Laden and 15 of the 19 9/11 terrorists — will be plunged into long needed revolution as the value of their fossil fuel resources diminish. (Always assuming that we can find a way to make cheap plastics, of course.) The oil curse, where nations with oil and few other resources turn into fascist dictatorships in pursuit of the almighty dollar, should be a thing of the past.

The irony is that, for a fraction of the cost of the war in Iraq, the world could have been nearly four years down this road already. If only the President of the USA wasn't completely beholden to oil companies...



Hats 'n' Coats


You can tell it's winter in Hong Kong because, as the temperature drops below 25 °c, all the woolly hats, scarves and overcoats get dragged out and people start to appear as if they'd just stepped off the piste.

We're not quite a the North Face jackets yet, but they journey into work this morning was a bit bizarre for the numbers of jackets and scarves on display while I'm still in shirt-sleeves thinking that's it's pleasantly cool.

RSS fixed

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Oops!, my RSS feed was broken. The link was pointing to an old feed. The new one should be correct in the side bar ad here: RSS Feed.

Thanks to Spike for the heads-up.

Uncritical of spam

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TVB's Money Magazine just had the most uncritical piece on unsolicited electronic messaging I've seen since the last time I listened to a spammer.

There was some token mentioning of how excessive spam can cause a waste of time and loss of messages, but the entire body of the piece was from the point of view of the direct marketers, claiming that any legislation on unsolicited commercial messaging would affect their businesses and how people really want to be sold to at home anyway. And one gem: "Some people want to receive offers about holidays".

Yes, legislation and do-not-call lists will have a negative impact on telemarketers, spammers, robotic telephone calls and other intrusive selling practices. That's the whole point! That business model is intrusive and invasive and nobody wants it.

No, "opt out" is not a good model for unsolicited commercial emails, because the damage to the recipient is multiplied: First, she gets the spam, then she has to jump though the unsubscribe hoops, causing at least one more email to be sent. (And, incidentally, confirming to the spammer that a real live person reads that email address, so the spammer will then be able to sell a list of confirmed active addresses to another spammer, thus increasing our hapless victim's spam load.)

(*Never* click on the unsubscribe option on a spam. All it does is confirm your address. Just delete it. I used to recommend reporting them, but the few ISPs who still allow spammers are little more than criminal scum these days, and will happily pass your details on to the spammer.)

"Opt In" is where someone elects to receive commercial emails. If you're on a mailing list,or you've subscribed to updates from websites, you'll be familiar with this. It's the only proper and ethical way to do email marketing: compile a list of people who are interested in your product, and who have said they wish to receive information about it. It's also more efficient marketing as it's going to be far easier to sell to someone like that than to someone who's not interested in your stuff.

Spam is theft. Theft of time, theft of resources and theft of goodwill.

Theft of time: the recipient must spend time to delete or report spam mails received.

Theft of resources: the emails or calls use bandwidth on the network and take up disk space as well and incurring extra computer resources to process. For automated phone calls, they can come to you when you're overseas and you get hit with roaming charges for unwanted calls. (When I'm in Australia, my phone bill doubles mainly due to automatic calls like that.)

Theft of goodwill. After having your inbox flooded with offers for pump'n'dump stocks, rolex watches and pharmaceuticals (viagra, cialis, etc), are you going to consider actual buying one?

Spam is theft, spammers are thieves.

Last Star Ferry to Central


On Saturday, November 11, the Star Ferry sailed for the last time from Tsim Sha Tsui to Edinburgh Place. The Central terminus has now been moved to the new Ferry Pier Complex, about ten minutes walk away.

The new Central pier is a garish and charmless monstrosity, too far away to attract the amount of casual traffic that the old one did, and too exposed to be comfortable in the summer time.

The old pier (and Queen's Pier, next to it) are being landlocked as part of the process of reclaiming even more of Victoria Harbour to build the Central and Wanchai Bypass, so the 15% of total trips in the average day which don't use Public Transport can be subsidised even more by our tax-dollars. Not to mention destroying whatever is left of the harbour.

Mac Facts?


Dave Horrigan's Mac Facts (subscription required) Columns in the SCMP is usually an OK read but today:

The first thing I check on a buggy Mac is whether the hard disk or database are full. The hard disk should have at least 10 per cent free space. Fifteen per cent is better. Like any Unix-type OS, once it's almost full, it will corrupt files. The cure is to remove unwanted files or put in a larger hard drive.

I won't disagree that a bigger hard drive can be necessary, but saying that all Unices will start to corrupt your data when nearly full is complete rubbish. I've been using Linux and other Unices since 1999, and that's something I've never seen happen.

This article: deals with the subject of keeping your Mac in tip-top condition and seems more informative.


The latest version of Open Office is pretty good - it can handle some pretty hairy Excel spreadsheets and can even print directly to PDF, a very useful feature.

But, there are still some show stopping problems with it.

  • It uses semicolons instead of commas in formulae? What?!
  • It requires the '=' sign to start a formula instead of '+' like Excel.

Look, if you want people to change from the market leading spreadsheet product (and undoubtedly Microsoft's best software product), you can't do it by changing all of the finger macros that real spreadsheet geeks (like me) have developed from using Excel for years. Thirteen years or so, in my case.

If I can't sit down and make a simple spreadsheet with some VLOOKUPs and COUNTIFs on absolute row or column ranges without having to scour through the online help, I'm simply not going to change.

Oh, and make the macro language something modern like perl or python. Or better yet, provide an API so that any language can be used.

Letting the days go by...


More Excel Usability Flaws


I came across the following dialog box at work today:


(click image for a larger version.)

So where's the OK or Cancel buttons? Gaah!

Indonesian Domestic Helpers


I was out earlier on and noticed a group of Indonesian Domestic Helpers that seemed to comprise all of the types of the young lassies that you see out and about every day here.

There was the ordinary DH, in jeans and t-shirt, looking just as her Filipina colleagues would. (Although they'd rant on about her being a Muslim...)

There was the devout one, wearing the hijab to protect her modesty by covering her hair.

The third member of the group was the butch, possibly a lesbian,probably just prefers to have short hair and not get hit on by predatory Pakistanis all the time.

Finally, there was the party-girl. Wearing skin tight jeans and a top apparently made of string, and not a lot of string either, clearly out for a good time.

Cosplay in Hong Kong Park


Out and about earlier on, I spotted these cosplayers in Hong Kong Park.


My son was amused by them: he even identified the show they were playing, but he only knows the Chinese name, not the English or Japanese name.

Cosplay is a fancy word for dressing up and pretending to be characters from a TV show.

My son, the Linux geek


My son, all of four years old, playing KDE games on an old laptop running Linux.

just like daddy

Random Thoughts


Today's random thought.

American Documentaries about esoteric subjects try to engage the average guy by disguising the whole thing in sports metaphors (10 most poisonous spiders, 20 most carnivorous sheep, etc). BBC documentaries are not afraid to show boffins (geeks) being excited about things which appear to be as dull as ditchwater and then they explain just why these are exciting.

This leads, in my opinion, to a better class of presenter from the BBC. They must know their subject, and preferably be a boffin themselves. They should be passionate about their subject and expect the viewers to pay attention. This leads to a higher class of documentary, where the presenter clearly expects you to care about what he's saying and to take pleasure in the wonder of what he's showing you. (c.f. David Attenborough in, well, anything, but The Blue Planet, plus just about everything he's ever made, springs to mind. Also see: Carl Sagan.)

When it's reduced to "10 fastest/weirdest/most orthogonal", it becomes a soundbite show, treating the viewer like an idiot with a short attention span.

Neil Gaiman on Hallowe'en


Neil Gaiman on Hallowe'en:

Fear is a wonderful thing, in small doses. You ride the ghost train into the darkness, knowing that eventually the doors will open and you will step out into the daylight once again. It’s always reassuring to know that you’re still here, still safe. That nothing strange has happened, not really. It’s good to be a child again, for a little while, and to fear — not governments, not regulations, not infidelities or accountants or distant wars, but ghosts and such things that don’t exist, and even if they do, can do nothing to hurt us.

Via: The Sideshow.

Church by State?


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This page is an archive of entries from November 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

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