That Was the Week That Was

Somehow I survived the week.  No, I’m not going to bore you with the details.  Instead, here’s a round-up of stuff that caught my eye over the past several days.

First, from Modern Toss, via Boing Boing, The Periodic Table of Swearing:

Next, from Failblog, this wonderful excerpt from a history book.

Yes, it does say, “walking out from his mother’s Patriotic and Revolutionary Vagina.”  No, source isn’t noted, so no idea where this is from or if it’s for real.

How to opt out of Apple’s iAD data collection.  If you’re using a mobile Apple device, you probably want to do this.  It only works on devices running iOS 4.

How Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix grossed $938 million worldwide but Hollywood accounting practices show the film $167 million in the red.

From the SCMP, the China Institute of of City Competitiveness, a non-profit think tank based in Hong Kong that assesses various conditions in cities in the region puts Macau ahead of Hong Kong in government integrity – based on the fact that Hong Kong has “rowdy” protests.  Taiwan ranks ahead of Hong Kong in terms of “competitiveness” (I’m sure it reads better in Chinese).  And Hong Kong is behind both Shanghai and Shenzhen in terms of innovation.  They also say that Hong Kong is not one of the “top ten harmonious cities” to live in – Jinghua, in Zhejiang province, is number 1.  Yet I don’t think I’ll be moving there any time soon.

Speaking of competititititivity,Joyce Lau on her blog posts one of her recent IHT articles discussing how Hong Kong has become a major hub for art auctions yet is unable to produce any world class art locally.    I could probably write an extremely long piece myself on why I think this is but I’ll save that for another time.

Back to Boing Boing, where they have this beautiful photo from JPL of a “Magic Dragon” constellation.  You can see it pretty clearly in the infra-red version of the photo below.  I think I know what my next tattoo is going to be.

Planning a trip to Miami any time soon?  Then you’ll want to read Disco Rick’s Top Ten Strippers Under 40.

Prince declares the Internet is over.  He’s shutting down his web sites and distributing his new CD as a free give away with a British newspaper.  Yes, you can find it online via the usual suspects.

Got an Octopus card?  Ever stop to wonder what they do with all that data they’ve collected about your spending habits?  According to the SCMP, if you’re in the Octopus reward “scheme,” you can opt out of letting them share your data with their “partners.”  This is wrong.  The default should be opt out, not opt in.

A Hong Kong lawyer says it’s suspicious that all the people who bought flats at 39 Conduit Road and then backed out, helping Henderson to inflate the cost of luxury housing in Hong Kong, as if it’s not already high enough, all used the same law firm and all presented documents that used the same words and phrases.  Oh really, Sherlock?  Ya think?  Meanwhile the government has asked Henderson to explain why they refunded deposits after the “sales” of these 20 flats fell through.  Henderscum.

An online gallery of almost all the covers from the great magazine Omni.

Photos and info for the 5 top places for beef brisket noodles in Hong Kong, according to CNNGo.

Last for now, the American Society of Cinematographers polled their members on the best cinematography in film in the past 10 years.  The top 5:

  1. Amelie
  2. Children of Men
  3. Saving Private Ryan
  4. There Will Be Blood
  5. No Country For Old Men

So how was your week?

Links O’ The Day

Not much time so not much commentary ….

I liked Life as a Bon Vivant’s review of this congee place in Jordan.

A very cool wristwatch, looks like a cassette tape (daddy, what’s a cassette tape?) and the little reels actually spin.

Americans spent $168 million on virtual mobile goods last year.   That’s a lot of nothing!

Taste test of Japanese curry mixes.

Round-up of the “big” reviews of the iPhone 4 so far – Pogue, Mossberg, etc.   In a nutshell, they all pretty much love the phone and hate AT&T.

Kubrick vs. Scorsese – Wonderful montage of the two filmmakers I feel most connected to.  (Kubrick’s from the Bronx and I worked for him for a short period.  Scorsese & I went to the same school several years apart, had the same teachers, each got our first gig at CBS sports – never met him although when I lived in Manhattan, for some reason location scouts came to look at my apartment as a possible location for King of Comedy.)

Rolling Stone mag puts its controversial profile of General McChrystal online, something they rarely do.  But in this case it was being excerpted in so many other places, I guess they had no choice.

The iPad has sold 3 million units in 80 days, putting it on track to become the fastest selling mobile device ever.  And with so many territories still to roll out, it should maintain or even quicken its pace.

Last but not least, via CNNGo, this piece at Lonelee Planet highlights Japanese ads featuring beautiful girls in bikinis holding up mugs of beer.  I know at least one of my steady readers is gonna enjoy this one.

Incompetence, Foxconn & the Internet (unrelated)

This stuff caught my eye today.

First, from the NY Times, the first in a series of 5 essays stemming from an observation of a remarkably stupid bank robber, “his stupidity protected him from an awareness of his own stupidity.”  The stuff here is blindingly obvious, yet because it’s not the sort of thing we normally think about, perhaps it’s not quite so obvious?

But when you’re incompetent, the skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is.  In logical reasoning, in parenting, in management, problem solving, the skills you use to produce the right answer are exactly the same skills you use to evaluate the answer.

Next, also from the NY Times, we think we know so much about Foxconn.  Or do we?  Here’s a look at the life of a 24 year old man who works the night shift there.  Be thankful for whatever twists of fate have served to keep you from a similar life.

His task is to help complete 1,600 hard drives — his workshop’s daily quota — and to make sure every one is perfect. Seated in the middle of the assembly line in his black Foxconn sports shirt, cotton slacks and company-mandated white plastic slippers, he waits for the conveyor belt to deliver a partly assembled rectangular hard drive to his station. He places two plastic chips inside the drive’s casing, inserts a device that redirects light in the drive and then fastens four screws with an electric screwdriver before sending the drive down the line. He has exactly one minute to complete the multistep task.

And now for something completely different, a very long and thoughtful piece on the Internet, Everything You Need to Know, written by John Naughton, in the Guardian.  Here’s an excerpt:

One of the things that most baffles (and troubles) people about the net is its capacity for disruption. One moment you’ve got a stable, profitable business – say, as the CEO of a music label; the next minute your industry is struggling for survival, and you’re paying a king’s ransom to intellectual property lawyers in a losing struggle to stem the tide. Or you’re a newspaper group, wondering how a solid revenue stream from classified ads could suddenly have vaporised; or a university librarian wondering why students use only Google nowadays. How can this stuff happen? And how does it happen so fast?

The answer lies deep in the network’s architecture. When it was being created in the 1970s, Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn, the lead designers, were faced with two difficult tasks: how to design a system that seamlessly links lots of other networks, and how to design a network that is future-proof. The answer they came up with was breathtakingly simple. It was based on two axioms. Firstly, there should be no central ownership or control – no institution which would decide who could join or what the network could be used for. Secondly, the network should not be optimised for any particular application. This led to the idea of a “simple” network that did only one thing – take in data packets at one end and do its best to deliver them to their destinations. The network would be neutral as to the content of those packets – they could be fragments of email, porn videos, phone conversations, images… The network didn’t care, and would treat them all equally.

By implementing these twin protocols, Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn created what was essentially a global machine for springing surprises. The implication of their design was that if you had an idea that could be implemented using data packets, then the internet would do it for you, no questions asked. And you didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission.

And, uh, well, I’m pretty freaking tired tonight, so that’s it for now.

Asleep at the Twheel

Forgive the godawful pun in the title but hopefully people will know from that what I’m referring to.   And if you’re on Twitter then you know that they have so many service outages that it’s no longer news when the system goes down.   And in the past week, they’ve had daily outages as their system has buckled under the weight of people tweeting the World Cup games play by play.

Even so, Tuesday’s outage was an epic one by almost any standard.  I don’t know how long the service went down but it was for a decent amount of time.  When they got it back online again, they got the service kind of working – you’d send a tweet and the system would tell you it wasn’t sent so you’d send it again, only it had been sent, so tweets were getting repeated 5 or 10 times or more.  Even worse, timelines were gone and people who’d sent out thousands of tweets were seeing a world in which they’d never sent one.  Eventually the whole thing came back to normal.

Everyone is screaming, “How could they not anticipate the extra usage they’d get thanks to the World Cup?”  And the answer is, they did.  They knew it was coming but they still couldn’t deal with it.  Check out this post on the official Twitter blog.

However, we were well aware of the likely impact of the World Cup. What we didn’t anticipate was some of the complexities that have been inherent in fixing and optimizing our systems before and during the event.

Not having been in the room, it’s too easy to point fingers and say, “Eeediots!”   And it ain’t over yet, though hopefully will be better managed in the future.

Over the next two weeks, we may perform relatively short planned maintenance on the site. During this time, the service will likely be taken down. We will not perform this work during World Cup games, and we will provide advance notification.

To an outsider like me, it looks as if they didn’t have a proper upgrade plan in place or didn’t execute the plan properly.  It also looks like they didn’t build a proper escape hatch into that plan so that they could get back to some semblance of normal when it was clear that things were going wrong.  The thing is, I can’t find out exactly how much money Twitter has raised – it’s at least $35 million.  Granted they are running the kind of service that’s extremely expensive to run – the number of servers they need, the amount of bandwidth they’re using.  Even so, with this kind of money … and with the hope that some day some how they will figure out how to monetize the service, sell the company or go public and the early employees will all be billionaires … they should have the cream of the crop working for them.  They should have people who’ve done this before, who can do it in their sleep, can do it blindfolded with one hand tied behind their backs.   Here’s what they offer if you work there:

Though we’re still growing, we offer all the things you’ll find at a big company—like competitive salaries and full benefits. Plus, everyone gets a meaningful stake in the company’s long-term success. Also, we have a team whose sole purpose is to keep you happy and make the company an even better place to be. Cold towels on a hot day and unique activities like wine making for a good cause are characteristically Twitter.

  • Competitive salaries
  • Stock options
  • Medical, dental and vision
  • Employee assistance programs
  • Life and disability insurance
  • Vacation days & time off
  • Maternity & paternity leaves
  • 401k
  • iMacs, Macbooks, Macbook Pro
  • And much more…

Nothing too extraordinary, but not too shabby either I’d imagine.  So the question which will probably remain unanswered is, why aren’t they doing what they do better?  And how many heads are going to roll this week?

Rise of the Mobile Internet

In the past couple of weeks, two people in my company attended conferences in the region and sent back a wealth of data and I found the stuff on the mobile internet to be the most interesting.  Da Big Boss was at the World Economic Forum in Saigon and left some stuff on my desk (or, more likely, had his secretary do it but never mind, it’s the thought, right?) and Da CTO (who reads this blog) was at (I think it was called) Echelon in Singapore and was tweeting stats from presentations there all week long.

The point is, the mobile internet is growing faster than you think.  It’s growing so fast that it will soon surpass the, um, immobile internet.  The landline business was disrupted by mobile phones.  I’ve seen that; you’ve seen that.  And now mobile phones and other mobile devices are supplanting desktop PCs.  This is especially true in the third world, where people can’t afford PCs and don’t have broadband connections to their homes but are snapping up smart phones and tablet devices and netbooks and accessing the internet on the go via 3G and public WiFi.

(Another paradigm shift taking place – here in Sai Kung, where you can’t get a 30 mbps broadband connection, people are already canceling their DSL lines in favor of Netvigator’s pocket WiFi and Smartone’s USB stick thing.  Some homes here can’t get a connection faster than 6 mbps (I get 8 ) and these devices promise 7.2 – though how well they actually deliver that here in the boonies is open to question.)

The latest addition to this wealth of information can be found in a great presentation from analyst Mary Meeker.  The entire slideshow can be found over at Business Insider.  If this is the sort of thing that interests you, this will definitely interest you.  (Yeah, I know.)  Henry Blodget pulls out the following bullet points that are all worth repeating:

  • The iPad is one of the fastest-selling gadgets of all time (1mm in 28 days)
  • Android smartphone shipments almost now equal iPhone shipments (Apple’s app leverage may disappear fast)
  • Global 3G wireless penetration just hit 20%, which is usually the inflection point to very rapid growth
  • Mobile app and search usage is up 2X year over year
  • iPad Internet usage is more similar to desktop usage than smartphone usage (more pageviews)
  • Japan shows the potential for mobile advertising: Japan mobile ad spending now $11/user, up from $1 per user six years ago.
  • Japan shows potential for mobile commerce: 19% of Rakutan’s sales now from mobile.

I can personally attest to the point about internet usage habits on the iPad.  In two months, I’m using Safari far more than I ever did on the iPhone in two years.

The iPad is only just getting released around the world and it will continue its astonishing sales for the foreseeable future.  And I can’t see any reason why the iPhone 4 won’t be a huge success.  As Meeker says, the mobile internet is ramping up faster than “desktop” internet and Apple is at the forefront of this.

Nokia and the Symbian OS continue to have huge market share in important developing markets such as India and Indonesia.  Market share for the Android OS continues to grow.  And RIM is holding on.  Apple is not the only game in town but it remains the 800 pound gorilla in the room.  (Check slide #4 in Meeker’s presentation.)

So, a byproduct of the above, it astonishes me that some commercial web sites are still only Flash and don’t offer non-Flash alternatives from the landing page.  Such as the web site for Sun Hung Kai’s New Town Plaza in Shatin.  Yesterday, my gf and I are sitting around, trying to work out what to do for the afternoon.  I suggest to her that we follow the herd to this mall.  She asks what’s there.  I grab my iPad, google for the URL, go to the site and find out that it’s Flash-only.  All I could see in Safari was the background wallpaper for the site.  Nice that they offer an English option but some day they’ll wake up to the fact that a large part of the population in Hong Kong is viewing the net on the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad and can’t view their site.  I couldn’t tell my gf what was there and we ended up going someplace else.  (Yes, I was at home and could have gone downstairs to my PC but that’s hardly the point, is it?  What if we had been sitting at Hebe 101 or Paisano’s having lunch at the time?)

What I didn’t know about yesterday was Artefact, but I found out about it this morning via Download Squad.   Go to Artefact’s web site, enter the URL of the stone age Flash site you want to view and it will transcode it on the fly so you can view it in Safari.  Well, don’t go there yet, it’s just a concept that’s under development at the moment.  But if these guys don’t succeed with this, someone else will.

And, oh, Facebook, get your freaking act together.  Where’s your native Facebook app for the iPad?  Why does your iPhone app still not offer all the functionality of the web site?  Get your game on because even with a 500 million user base you can be disrupted too.