Sunday in the Park With Dogs

Sunday afternoon, 25 degrees and not a cloud in the sky, just the usual grey from the pollution.  This is the season that has the weather that I wait all year for.  If some days are diamonds, this was definitely one of them.  And while I’ve sometimes thought about moving away from Sai Kung, this is one of those days that makes me think, “Why would I ever want to go anywhere else?”   Yes, another Sunday down to the waterfront with dogs and camera.

It was a picture postcard kind of day.

Notice those tents?  Apparently someone in the District Council took offense to open land that was just sitting there, green and nice for people to enjoy.  Can’t have 10 feet of space in which no one is selling anything, now, can we?  And so now we have a flea market.

These dogs were definitely attracting the most attention.

Look closely and you’ll see that not only has their fur been dyed, their toenails have been painted.

Bogey and Spikey love coming down here because of all the attention they get – without dye, paint or funny clothes.  Not only do they get to play with lots of other dogs, they get dozens of people wanting to pet them and some wanting pictures.

Of course, they have a lot of competition.

It’s almost astonishing to me how friendly everyone is on days like this.  Everyone is smiling.  Everyone talks to everyone else.  There are no walls.

I guess not everyone’s equally happy to be there.

Of course, over by the pier, people were busy shopping for their Sunday dinner.

Others were just chillin’ and enjoying the day.

And yes Skippy-san, there was no shortage of attractive women either.

About the only problem with today is that it had to end … and tomorrow is back to the usual grind.

Bonus pic:  t-shirt of the day

I Sent Them a Photograph of My Middle Finger

Are there more profits to be made on the Internet by being bad rather than good?  There’s lots of money out there waiting to be picked up.  All you need is an idea.  And the idea can even be something along the lines of “be famously evil to make money.”  Check out this story in the NY Times:

… she found the perfect frames — made by a French company called Lafont — on a Web site that looked snazzy and stood at the top of the search results. Not the tippy-top, where the paid ads are found, but under those, on Google’s version of the gold-medal podium, where the most relevant and popular site is displayed.

Ms. Rodriguez placed an order for both the Lafonts and a set of doctor-prescribed Ciba Vision contact lenses on that site, MyI’s The total cost was $361.97.

The NY Times article provides a hyperlink to the web site named above.  I’ve removed it and changed the name of the company for a reason that will be come clearer as you read on.

The next day, a man named Tony Russo called to say that DecorMyEyes had run out of the Ciba Visions. Pick another brand, he advised a little brusquely.

“I told him that I didn’t want another brand,” recalls Ms. Rodriguez, who lives in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. “And I asked for a refund. He got rude, really obnoxious. ‘What’s the big deal? Choose another brand!’ ”

With the contacts issue unresolved, her eyeglasses arrived two days later. But the frames appeared to be counterfeits and Ms. Rodriguez, a lifelong fan of Lafont, remembers that even the case seemed fake.

Soon after, she discovered that DecorMyEyes had charged her $487 — or an extra $125. When she and Mr. Russo spoke again, she asked about the overcharge and said she would return the frames.

She soon discovered that she’d entered a world of pain.   When she called Citibank to contest the charge, she started getting a barrage of phone calls and emails telling her to cancel the dispute.  The guy emailed her a picture of the front of the building where she lives and threatened her with sexual and physical violence as well as law suits.  And someone called Citibank pretending to be her and cancelled the credit card dispute.

By then, Ms. Rodriguez had learned a lot more about DecorMyEyes on Get Satisfaction, an advocacy Web site where consumers vent en masse.

Dozens of people over the last three years, she found, had nearly identical tales about DecorMyEyes: a purchase gone wrong, followed by phone calls, e-mails and threats, sometimes lasting for months or years.

“This might sound like exaggeration, but I feared for my life,” she says. “I was actually looking over my shoulder when I left my apartment. Because I had no idea what he was capable of. Psychologically, he had gotten to me.”

So why would this web site behave in this way?  It turns out it’s all part of an ingenious plan.

“Hello, My name is Stanley with,” the post began. “I just wanted to let you guys know that the more replies you people post, the more business and the more hits and sales I get. My goal is NEGATIVE advertisement.”

It’s all part of a sales strategy, he said. Online chatter about DecorMyEyes, even furious online chatter, pushed the site higher in Google search results, which led to greater sales. He closed with a sardonic expression of gratitude: “I never had the amount of traffic I have now since my 1st complaint. I am in heaven.”

See, the more posts this guy gets that mentions his web site, whether positive or negative, serves to increase his Google Pagerank.  He shows up higher and higher on the search page, people click on the link and buy from him, and he’s just getting richer and richer.

The NY Times talked to some people at Google about this but got far from definitive answers.

Is it true, as Mr. Borker says, that Google is unable to distinguish between adulatory buzz and scathing critiques when it scours the digital universe and ranks the best and the brightest?

… what about people, like Ms. Rodriguez, who search by using brand names, like “Lafont” and “Ciba Vision”?

A crucial factor in Google search results, the spokesman explained, is the number of links from respected and substantial Web sites. The more links that a site has from big and well-regarded sites, the better its chances of turning up high in a search

Web advocacy sites like Get Satisfaction are vast and score high on Google’s augustness scale. The spokesman surfed the Web as he spoke and said he could see scads of links between and DecorMyEyes. But nearly all of those links, as well as those from other consumer sites, were tales of woe and obscenities.

So, again: Can’t Google separate catcalls from huzzahs?

While searches for this specific web site yield all of the complaints about the company, those who search merely on brand names don’t get to see that.  And while Google does incorporate consumer rankings from sites like Yelp into search results for things like restaurants, they’re not doing it for online shops yet.   And all of this makes the owner of that site so happy that he even agreed to sit down with the NY Times reporter for an interview.

Mr. Borker perks up, explaining his business philosophy like a professor unveiling new research, talking at a frenetic pace, tossing in plenty of profanity and ending sentences with “do you understand?” to make sure I’m keeping up. His accent carries a hint of Brooklyn and only the faintest trace of Russia.

“When I fly to Las Vegas I look down and see all these houses,” he starts. “If someone in one of those houses buys from [my company] and ends up hating the company, it doesn’t matter. All those other houses are filled with people, too, and they will come knocking.”

Selling on the Internet, Mr. Borker says, attracts a new horde of potential customers every day. For the most part, they don’t know anything about [this company], and the ones who bother to research the company — well, he doesn’t want their money. If you’re the type of person who reads consumer reviews, Mr. Borker would rather you shop elsewhere.

When he first heard about Get Satisfaction, it was by e-mail from one of the site’s employees, who was trying to mediate on behalf of unhappy customers.

“They wrote to me, ‘We’d like to talk to you; we should take a proactive approach.’ ” Mr. Borker sneers and rolls his eyes. “I sent him a photograph of this,” he says, raising his middle finger.

“Look,” he says, grabbing an iPad off a small table. He types “Christian Audigier,” the name of a French designer, and “glasses” into Google. [His company] pops up high on the first page.

“Why am I there?” he asks, sounding both peeved and amazed. “I don’t belong there. I actually outrank the designer’s own Web site.”

Mr. Borker doesn’t regard himself as a terror. He prefers to think of himself as the Howard Stern of online commerce — an outsize character prone to shocking utterances.

Interestingly, this guy was an NYC police cadet and worked for Lehman.  He also operates another web store under a different name via Amazon and runs that one completely honestly “because Amazon doesn’t mess around … the company just kicks you off its site if you infuriate customers.”

So what can one do to avoid this?  If you do a lot of online shopping, every now and then you’re going to want to get something from a site you’ve never heard of before.  Maybe they have something you can’t find on Amazon or Ebay, maybe they have a cheaper price.   The only thing you can do is to check out these sites carefully before placing your order.  Something as simple as a Google search or checking some of the consumer protection sites mentioned in this article.

And it’s interesting how the NY Times knowingly plays along with his little game because they, a well-respected site with a Google Pagerank of 9, not only mention his company multiple times in the article (each mention is hyper-linked) and the article essentially includes all of the keywords that will simply serve to push this guy up higher and higher in search results.  Actually I suppose my own search rankings would go up if I included that name, but I’d rather not.

R.I.P. Belkin TuneCast Auto Live

Thursday was a cloudy day.  A friend had told me that sound quality would worsen on cloudy days and that turned out to be true.  Driving to work I was listening to Oasis’s Time Flies compilation and it sounded like I was listening to a cheap AM radio.

So Thursday night before Thanksgiving dinner (very nice turkey dinner with all the trimmings at Doghouse with my gf and a couple of non-American friends) I returned the Belkin to the shop from whence it came.  They’d previously told me that I could exchange it for something else if I didn’t like it.  And so I did, but they tried to get their “revenge.”  I wanted a USB 3.0 hub and they told me the price was HK$640 but “special price for me” of just HK$580.  I hadn’t checked the price on these but it seemed wrong for a 4 port hub, even a USB 3.0 one.  So I stocked up on printer ink.   Then went to a friend’s shop and the hub, exact same model, was HK$380.  Caveat emptor indeed.

Today, Saturday, off to Mong Kok and to Nelson Street to hit all the car audio shops.  I went into half a dozen.  All had pretty much the same stock at pretty much the same prices and the staff in each shop couldn’t really give me too many details; they just kept handing me brochures which were all in Chinese of course.   By the time I hit shop #6, I pretty much knew what I wanted.  In the last shop, the prices were slightly cheaper.  There were three older women working in that shop and I think I got the discount because they were laughing so hard from my Cantonese – what little I know I tend to speak with a Bronx accent.

At any rate, one hour later, Sony Xplod installed.  Bluetooth for both hands free calls and audio streaming from my iPhone, USB plug on the front that works with anything and everything from memory sticks to iPhones – plug the iPhone in and control it from the head unit or remote control.   On the drive home, cranked up Nicki Minaj’s new album (which is not as consistent as I was expecting but has plenty of fun moments) and the sound was what I wanted (though I found myself thinking, “Hmmm, should I be getting a subwoofer for the car?”).   (FYI, my gf was concerned about draining the battery on the phone.  I do have a car charger but didn’t have it with me.  I noted that the phone’s battery was at 100% when we got in the car and after an hour drive, music streaming via Bluetooth for that hour, the battery was at 97%.)

Johnny’s Rotten

Imagine boarding a flight from London to Australia, settling down in your business class seat, and finding that the guy sitting next to you is former Sex Pistols singer and reality TV star John Lydon aka Johnny Rotten.  Close to a thrill?  Not for singer Jay Kay of Jamiroquai.

“He is a f**king nuisance. I was seated next to him on a flight and the whole trip he just kept farting. It was totally foul. He kept saying, ‘Oh, that wasn’t me’ or ‘The meal smells a bit off, don’t you think?’ He drove me insane.”

Kay says that next time he’d prefer to sit in economy class rather than next to Lydon.  “At least I’d be able to breathe a bit. They banned smoking in the air and they should ban farting.”

It may not have occurred to him that Lydon was making an editorial comment about Jamiroquai’s music.  (Via The Awl.)

More Chrissie Chau and Vonnie Lui

I’m grateful to sites like this for providing me with English translations of Hong Kong gossip from the local newspapers and magazines.   But every now and then a picture will make me pause, and not always for good reasons.  Like these two of Chrissie Chau.

Those stockings and those boots just get my mind a-boggling.   I mean, who thinks that this is a good idea?  Who finds these clothes attractive?  And where can I buy the same drugs that person is taking?

Now, from an earlier story on the same site:

That’s Vonnie Lui Hoi Yun on the left and Hiro Hayama on the right.  The photo was taken at the wrap party for the heavily promoted upcoming Category III film 3D SEX AND ZEN: EXTREME ECSTASY (3D YUK TUEN PO ji GIK LOK BO GAM).   This may not be an exact translation, but Hayama is quoted as saying, “I was sucked dry everyday at work.”  No wonder he’s smiling.

Digital Beatles

Following Apple’s announcement that the Beatles’ songs and albums would finally make their appearance this month in the iTunes store, it seemed as if everyone who commented on this had the same thing to say:  Who cares?  They made the assumption that anyone who wanted Beatles music had already ripped the CDs or downloaded the music via some torrent client.   Apple, as always, seems to have had the last laugh.

In sales figures provided to Billboard, Apple says that in the first week of availability the Beatles sold 2 million individual songs and 450,000 albums worldwide (1.4 million songs and 119,000 albums in the US).   Here Comes the Sun was the best-selling song and Abbey Road was the best-selling album.  In the U.S., Apple sold 13,000 downloads of a “digital boxed set” that included the original albums, the two Past Masters compilations and a 1964 concert film for around US$150.  “Sources say the U.S. album sales tally of 119,000 counts each box set as one unit, while Apple’s worldwide album sales tally counts each box set as multiple sales units.”

The huge marketing campaign behind this more than likely provided a sales bump for Beatles CDs  as well.  The Beatles’ songs are not yet available in Amazon’s MP3 store so Amazon did huge discounts and promotions for Beatles CDs to counter the Apple blitz.

Who bought this stuff?  No published research on that yet.  However, SoundScan reports “the Beatles’ first-week track sales equaled about 6.4% of all U.S. track sales for an average week. That’s more than Island Def Jam Group, Warner Bros. Records or Capitol Records each sold in the week ended Nov. 14, when their respective market shares were 5.6%, 5.3% and 4.5% and track sales totaled 21.3 million units.”  No matter how you look at it, those are impressive numbers.

Belkin TuneCast Auto Live

Geeky stuff.  Feel free to skip if car audio is a meaningless topic for you.

So, now that the old SpikeMobile is gone and the new one is here, I need to figure out the audio entertainment options.

The car comes with a relatively nice standard set-up – the head unit holds a single CD and is capable of playing CD-Rs with MP3 files on it.  There’s a six disc changer inside the armrest but that’s only capable of playing regular CDs.  There’s AM & FM radio, of course.  What there isn’t is any sort of auxiliary input that would allow me to connect an iPod or an iPhone, which is my preferred way of listening to music in the car.   I can wake up in the morning, download an album, transfer to my iPod Nano in seconds and then listen to it in the car during my hour-plus commute.   But it’s not an option with my car – I double checked was told that this option didn’t start to appear until the 2009 model (mine is 2007), when they added a “media socket” into the glove box for connecting other devices.

Without an AUX input, there are only two solutions that I know of.  The first would be to replace the car stereo altogether, which is expensive and also changes the look of the dashboard, which is quite nice right now.  I’d actually done this two cars back – getting a Pioneer head unit that had an iPod cable (so that I could connect the iPod and select songs/see what was playing on the Pioneer’s screen and using the Pioneer’s controls) and also Bluetooth, which allowed for hands-free phone calls and Bluetooth audio streaming.  I kept that when I got the previous car but decided to include it with the car when I sold it off last week.

The other option is an FM transmitter, something that connects to the output of the device and then broadcasts the signal to an unused FM station on the car radio.

Hong Kong FM radio is kind of unique in my experience.  There aren’t many stations here compared to the US.  And because of HK’s physical geography, the few stations we have broadcast their signals across multiple frequencies.  Find an unused station, start driving, go around some bend and all of a sudden there’s a signal coming through loud and clear.

The last time I tried one of these devices was four years ago and it seriously sucked.   First you had to load a data CD into iTunes – each FM frequency was a “song”.  Sync to the iPod.  Get in the car.  Fiddle around on the FM dial till you find what seems like an empty station, play that “song” on the iPod to set it to that frequency, fire up your music and then start to drive, only to find out 5 minutes later that the frequency that seemed dead is quite active.

I was hoping that in 4 (or 5?) years the technology had moved on and last night I took a chance on Belkin’s TuneCast Auto Live.  Nothing to load into iTunes or the iPod itself.  Plug this into the cigarette lighter and hit a button on the device and it scans to find a station that it thinks is clear.  Then set the radio to that station and bam, you’re ready to rock.  It retails for $70 in the US but Amazon sells it for $37, far cheaper than shops in Hong Kong.

So I got in the car yesterday morning, plugged it in, hit the button and it chose a frequency in less than a second.  Got the music going, got over a hill and around a bend and, sigh, the station wasn’t clear after all.  So pushed the scan button again, it found another frequency it liked, and I was good to go for the rest of my commute.  The only place it didn’t work, oddly enough, was in the garage at Cyberport and, later in the day, at Taikoo Place.  The rest of the trip, it was fine.   Coming home, it did start beeping and squawking a tiny bit at the entrance to the Eastern Tunnel, the rest of the trip it was fine.

Belkin also makes a free iPhone app called ClearScan Live (the link is to the U.S. iTunes store).  This app uses the iPhone’s GPS to determine your location and then compare it to a crowd-sourced database of supposedly clear frequencies to recommend the best frequency for you.

So on day two, I downloaded this app to my iPhone and used it to set things up.  The whole GPS thing falls under the header of BFD if you ask me.  One could simply input one’s location and query a database and get a result set back, no?  Anyway, it came up with two stations, both of which I’d already found.

Tonight, a different route home and trouble.  The music played fine from Cyberport almost to Shatin and then RTHK 4 kept creeping in.  It’s bad enough when it’s just a split second or two, horribly distracting when it seems to have switched over permanently and there’s nothing one can do except to shut off the radio till one hits a red light and has time to play with it.  But 107.9 got me home.

The other problem is that with this set-up, all one can effectively control is the volume.  If you want to skip a track, you have to fumble around for the iPhone, hit a button, swipe, find the “skip” button on the phone’s screen; basically forget about it while driving.  And since the car’s head unit only displays the radio station, there’s no way to glance over and get a song title.

Last, you lose something in converting even MP3s to an FM signal – frequency response is reduced, dynamic range is reduced.  And of course it doesn’t offer a hands-free solution for phone calls.

So it sort of works – at least it works better than similar devices did a few years back.  But for me, it’s a far from optimal solution.  If I was just a weekend driver, it wouldn’t be a big deal.  But I’m spending an average of 2-3 hours per day in the car and so it makes a big difference to me.

How long will it be until I get so frustrated that I go over to Mong Kok and get a replacement car stereo?  Certainly not before the next paycheck.

I Often Find British English Funny

Late breaking news in the SCMP:

Former Civic Party lawmaker Mandy Tam Heung-man on Tuesday pleaded not guilty in the Eastern Court to allegations that she had offered an advantage to voters before the 2008 Legislative Council election.

Well, duh, why would one choose one candidate over another unless one perceives that the candidate offers some advantage?  At least that’s the American English view of things.

But in British English, I suppose that by “offered an advantage” they mean she offered a bribe of some sort.

The ICAC said Tam had allegedly offered an advantage in the form of a free seminar as an inducement to vote for her in the accounting constituency election.

So that’s the bribe?  Giving a bunch of accountants an undoubtedly boring lecture on accountancy in exchange for a vote?   I suppose that’s illegal here but I don’t really know, to be honest.

So did it work out?

At the time of the alleged offence, Tam had been the incumbent lawmaker representing the accounting constituency.

She lost her seat to Paul Chan Mo-po in the election.

So in the eyes of the voters, she didn’t offer any advantage.  And she lost the freaking election so it’s not as if she gained some advantage by offering this advantage.

But that leads to another question.  A candidate isn’t offering cash bribes.  She’s not offering favoritism.  She’s not offering gifts.  She offered a way for people to get out of work for a few hours and catch up on their sleep.  Did that perhaps get Li Ka-Shing upset, some of his staff were away from the office during working hours and his daily report on guava sales was delayed?   So did he call his puppet Donald and said, “Use all the forces of darkness at your command to make this monster suffer as she has made me suffer!”

I mean, is that really such a big thing?  Is that the kind of corruption that the ICAC gets off on investigating?  Taxpayer money was spent on this?   In a place where the mega developers are allowed to advertise 450 square foot apartments as 600 square foot apartments and to use art work depicting those apartments in settings that only exist in the artists’ imaginations?

My office features a small airless, windowless room used for meetings that the staff have dubbed the ICAC room, no doubt because it resembles a police interrogation room.   It takes too long to say “ICAC” so I’ve taken to calling it the “Ick Ack room.”  And that’s how I feel when I read about the ICAC devoting their time and our money to investigations of this nature.  Ick.  Ack.

iPhone 4 No Longer Available From Apple HK Web Site

Not sure if this is old news but haven’t seen it anywhere else so …..

If you check the online store on Apple’s HK web site and you’re looking for the iPhone 4, it says “Currently Unavailable” and there isn’t even an option to pre-order one.

Word around town is that Apple has decided for the time being to only offer the iPhone 4 to mobile carriers 3 and SmarTone and not to sell it direct to customers.   I’m told that SmarTone has a 1 week waiting period on orders, 3 has a 2 week wait.  Of course they both require that you sign a 2 year contract.

Every shop in the Wanchai Computer Centre quoted the same price for iPhones last night.  HK$6,400 for the 16 gig model, HK$7,200 for 32 gigs.  One dealer told me that every shop in the centre is getting their stock from the same importer.  And they all advised my friend (he was the one looking, I’ve had my iPhone 4 since it first came out in HK) to sign a mobile contract and get it at the discount price rather than a premium.  Of course one can only do that if one is a HK resident

Video Games – Bigger Than You Know

The latest Harry Potter movie grossed US$61.5 million in the US on its opening day.

Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops video game grossed US$650 million in its first five days.

I used to work for Warner Bros.  I now work for a video game company (but not Activision).  I’m just sayin’.