“The Hong Kong Government Sides With the Rich”

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Great front page article in the NY Times today.  Some excerpts:

A surge of discontent is washing over this harbor city of 7.2 million people

the underlying resentment voiced by many here is that the city’s political-business machine is rigged against them.

an elite beholden to the Chinese Communist Party has increasingly dominated the economy and opportunity, as well as politics.

“The government has sided with corporations, the rich.”

dissatisfaction with the way the Chinese government was handling Hong Kong at its highest level in a decade, with 52 percent of Hong Kong residents saying they were dissatisfied. Alienation runs highest among the young, with 82 percent of people ages 21 to 29 saying they were dissatisfied, and 65 percent of people in that age bracket saying they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with life in the city.

But the city’s income inequality has risen since China resumed sovereignty

Communist Party elite and their associates play an increasingly prominent role in the city’s business establishment. Six of the 10 biggest companies on the Hong Kong stock market’s Hang Seng index are Chinese state-owned companies, with chief executives who are appointed by the Communist Party.

Critics say Chinese patronage politics has warped the economy, shutting out qualified people and skewing wealth distribution.

“Hong Kong nowadays becomes corrupt, and becomes not performance-driven but relationship-driven.”

The Chinese government has promised to allow the popular election of the chief executive starting in 2017, but it has indicated it would retain control of choosing candidates to weed out those not loyal to Beijing.

China has already said it rejects the proposals for nomination by public petition, which would allow potential candidates to bypass a nominating committee dominated by Beijing loyalists.

“I am personally extremely disappointed and in many ways very pained to see what is happening to Hong Kong barely 17 years after the handover.”  Anson Chan

Happy days are here again. This land was made for you and me. Maybe not so much.

 

 

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This is How Stupid & Petty China Is

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From the SCMP today:

Mainland customs have detained a shipment of paper boards to be used for making ballot boxes and voting booths at a Hong Kong unofficial referendum on electoral reform, the poll’s organisers said on Thursday.

It is not immediately clear about the amount seized and if the confiscation will affect the plan on Sunday.

Paper. Blank paper. Oh my lord.

The government of the “Peoples” Republic of China is now afraid of blank paper?

Just as a reminder, Article 27 of the Basic Law: Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration; and the right and freedom to form and join trade unions, and to strike. 

Article 30: The freedom and privacy of communication of Hong Kong residents shall be protected by law. No department or individual may, on any grounds, infringe upon the freedom and privacy of communication of residents except that the relevant authorities may inspect communication in accordance with legal procedures to meet the needs of public security or of investigation into criminal offences. 

I hearby call upon the government of China to arrest the customs officers who have confiscated this shipment of BLANK paper because they have violated the Basic Law.

Okay, it’s a bit of a stretch …

 

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Foot in Mouth Disease

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A Chinese newspaper on Hong Kong’s recent “PopVote” exercise:

… an “illegal farce” that was “tinged with mincing ludicrousness”. 

Much more on this later, when I have time.

Gary Oldman defending Mel Gibson in an interview in Playboy magazine:

“Mel Gibson is in a town that’s run by Jews and he said the wrong thing because he’s actually bitten the hand that I guess has fed him. But some Jewish guy in his office somewhere hasn’t turned and said, ‘That f—–g kraut’ or ‘F— those Germans,’ whatever it is?”

John Cleese doesn’t like the most recent James Bond films:

“The big money was coming from Asia, from the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, where the audiences go to watch the action sequences, and that’s why in my opinion the action sequences go on for too long, and it’s a fundamental flaw. The audiences in Asia are not going for the subtle British humor or the class jokes.”

UPDATE – Gary Oldman has issued an apology. It’s not entirely convincing but, well, at least he had someone go to the trouble of writing it up for him and emailing it to the world.

“I am deeply remorseful that comments I recently made in the Playboy Interview were offensive to many Jewish people. Upon reading my comments in print — I see how insensitive they may be, and how they may indeed contribute to the furtherance of a false stereotype. I hope you will know that this apology is heartfelt, genuine, and that I have an enormous personal affinity for the Jewish people in general, and those specifically in my life.”

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Here’s How Bad Paranoia Is Getting in Hong Kong

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This is probably deserving of a longer post, with plenty of links, but I’m constrained by time today.

Anyway, here’s the thing. Occupy Central (a proposed nonviolent protest) is getting closer and Beijing loyalists calling themselves the Silent Majority are now trying to spread fear that this will lead to mass riots and the complete destruction of Hong Kong. (BTW, the Occupy Central website must be one of the shittiest web sites in history, complete with a link for “English” that still brings up Chinese language menus and text, as well as other links that just don’t work at all.)

A website called PopVote that was going to allow people to vote on the topic of universal suffrage in Hong Kong was the victim of a massive Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack that more than likely originated in mainland China.

The China government issued a white paper about Hong Kong that basically said “hey guess what mutha fucka, Hong Kong is part of China” and people started freaking out.

It was revealed this week that major Hong Kong banks have pulled all advertising from the pages of Apple Daily, the one major Hong Kong daily newspaper that is seen as being pro-Democracy. Apparently these banks have been told that their ability to continue to do business in China might be jeopardized by their continuing to run ads in this newspaper.

And Apple Daily recently broke the news that China and Britain are working on a US$30 billion trade deal that apparently would require Britain to express support for how China has been running Hong Kong since the handover (or the return, if you prefer).

Newspapers all reported how ten people (TEN people) staged a protest asking Britain to take back Hong Kong from China.

For 17 years, Hong Kong has had a government led by three inept buffoons whose priorities have clearly been set by the mainland government that appointed them rather than the 7 million people who live here, so things have been varying degrees of bad. But it seems that all of these events and news stories coming one after another are making people more and more paranoid.

To the extent that an almost-global 30 minute outage on Facebook yesterday was thought to be the work of another China-originated DDoS attack. It wasn’t.

Here’s Facebook’s explanation of the outage:

Late last night, we ran into an issue while updating the configuration of one of our software systems. Not long after we made the change, some people started to have trouble accessing Facebook. We quickly spotted and fixed the problem, and in less than 30 minutes Facebook was back to 100% for everyone. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does we make sure we learn from the experience so we can make Facebook that much more reliable. Nothing is more important to us than making sure Facebook is there when people need it, and we apologize to anyone who may have had trouble connecting last night.

From a political point of view (and an economic one, and perhaps a quality of life one) things are rapidly going downhill. But the world doesn’t revolve around Hong Kong and not everything is China’s fault.

Anyway, bring on Occupy Central. I don’t think it will change a thing. But it will be interesting.

 

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PCCW / Netvigator – A High Quality of Service?

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Following my previous post on Netvigator, I wrote an email to Netvigator customer service asking why they wanted to increase the price on my service by 50% while still offering the same service. Here is a part of the canned response I received:

Please kindly be informed that our service plan price has been adjusted
as we need to constantly invest to improve our service, in order for us
to maintain a high quality of service.

Said “high quality of service” where I live is an antiquated copper line advertised at 8 Mbps but in actuality never more than 5 Mbps for downloads, and well under 1 Mbps for uploads. For this they now want me to pay HK$298 (almost US$40) per month. I’m curious to know what this investment is. But I will never find out.

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KFC in Hong Kong

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No – not Kentucky Fried Chicken. Korean Fried Chicken.

Fried chicken in Korea has been huge for years and its popularity has been spreading around the world. The Hong Kong food scene is one of trends, and this is one of the current “hot” items so there are an increasing number of places serving it. I’m always lagging a bit behind the trends, but last night we finally jumped on the KFC train by going to Chicken Hof and Soju, supposedly ground zero for the KFC trend in Hong Kong.

This small place in TST doesn’t take reservations and reportedly most nights people will line up for hours for one of the few tables here. On a rainy Sunday night at 9:30, we were seated immediately.  (The place stays open till around 4 AM every night.)

There’s one big table inside that seats at least a dozen, and people are seated randomly around the table. Then there’s 5 or 10 booths along the sides. The place is dark, the TVs are blasting K-Pop videos, and the staff are just wearing their street clothes so it can be a bit confusing at first to figure out who actually works there.  The menu is in English, Chinese and Korean, with plenty of pictures.

The menu offers four different variations on KFC. The menu (at least the English menu) does not tell you that can order a plate that’s a combo of different styles, something we discovered after seeing other orders coming to our table, but it was too late for us to ask for a combo.  So we only got the “original” sweet and spicy style.

kfc

 

(Apologies for the crappy iPhone photo.)

You get a plate of pickled white radish and a plate of lettuce with Korean-style Russian dressing and glasses of water as soon as you sit down.  For HK$160, we got a veritable mountain of fried chicken. We didn’t know that the portions were going to be so huge so we’d ordered a second dish – barbecued pork belly for $190, which was also a freaking huge portion.  (I thought this was really good, too.)

The chicken was great. I might have preferred the dry variation to really taste their breading. The sauce on ours seemed reminiscent of American style barbecue sauces – in that it was very sticky – but the flavor was unique, both sweet and spicy at the same time.  I found it more than spicy enough though my wife didn’t find it spicy at all – obviously your mileage will vary. Despite the sauce, the breading was still crunchy and the chicken was perfectly cooked – fully cooked but still nice and juicy on the inside, which is the whole point of fried chicken.

I had three or four pieces of chicken, my wife had the same amount, and we only had half of what was on the plate!  So no wonder this is doing so well, because in Hong Kong people tend to value quantity over quality – but I’d say in the case of this place the quality was there too. We ended up taking away half the chicken and more than half of the pork – it won’t be going to waste.

This area of Kimberley Road and Austin Road has a concentration of Korean restaurants, and there are at least half a dozen different ones around there doing KFC – some as the main item on the menu, others where it’s just one of dozens of choices.  I thought Chicken Hof was terrific and would gladly return but we’re going to explore a few more of these places in the coming weeks to decide on a favorite.

So, the inevitable question for my readers in HK – what’s your favorite KFC place in HK? Which one should we try next?

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Led Zeppelin Super Deluxe Editions Are Out

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Finally, after years of deluxe and super deluxe editions from so many artists, the deluxe and super deluxe editions of the Led Zeppelin albums are rolling out.  Just a few quick notes here for people who may not be aware of them.

First and most important – these are new remasters supervised by Jimmy Page. I haven’t spent a lot of time listening to them yet and haven’t compared them to previous editions but they definitely sound a bit spruced up.  You can buy these as deluxe edition 2 CD sets (or digital downloads) but I opted for the “super deluxe” editions, something that I rare do, because these are important albums to me.  These boxed sets are huge and heavy – I think each box weighs about 10 pounds. They’re selling for US$116 each on Amazon.

Last week saw the release of the first 3 albums. The others will come later this year.  Here’s what you get.

ledzep1

 

Led Zeppelin I

  • 72 page 12×12 hard cover book (photos, credits, article reprints, tour info, no new essays)
  • Reproduction of original press kit, including 2 8×10 glossy photos
  • Numbered edition 12×12 artwork of album cover
  • 2 CDs each packaged in cardboard sleeves
  • Bonus disc is complete concert Olympia, Paris, October 10, 1969
  • One vinyl LP (180g) of original album in original cover
  • Two vinyl LPs (180g) of the Paris concert
  • certificate with details to download FLAC tracks (zip file 1.8 gig)

ledzep2

Led Zeppelin II

  • 88 page hardcover book
  • numbered artwork
  • 2 CDs in cardboard sleeves
  • 180g vinyl of original album in original gatefold sleeve
  • 180g vinyl of bonus material
  • The 8 bonus tracks here include alternate mixes, rough mixes, backing tracks
  • Certificate for downloading FLAC tracks (zip file 1.6 gig)

Led Zeppelin III

ledzep3

  • 80 page hardcover book
  • numbered artwork
  • 2 CDs in cardboard sleeves – the sleeve for the original album duplicates the dye-cut cover w/ spinning artwork
  • 180g vinyl of original album in original gatefold sleeve, with dye-cut cover & spinning artwork
  • 180g vinyl of bonus material
  • The 9 bonus tracks here include rough mixes and backing tracks
  • Certificate for downloading FLAC tracks (zip file 1.8 gig)

For many of you, the regular deluxe editions should do just fine. The Paris concert and a lot of this studio outtake material has been available on bootlegs forever, though not at this quality. The real draw is the Jimmy Page remastering.

As for the albums themselves? I think Led Zepp II is the strongest of this batch. It’s album #4 that everyone wants, of course – for me Led Zep IV, House of the Holy and Physical Graffiti are my favorite LZ albums. As for albums 7 through 9, when they come out, I’m not so certain I’ll need to have the massive editions of those.

But I’ve been known to change my mind in the past.

 

 

 

 

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New Gadgets – Amazon Kindle Fire HDX and Jawbone Up24

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A week-long visit to New York City is coming to a close. I’m here because it was my mom’s 93rd birthday this week.

My mother’s relationship with technology is unique. When people hear that a 93 year old woman has a computer, does email and is on Facebook, they assume that she must be some kind of tech wizard – and perhaps it’s true for someone her age. But in the 20 years she’s had a computer, she actually has learned very little about how it operates. She can bring up a browser and click the right buttons to look at email, Facebook and Amazon. But she has no idea of how to do a web search, doesn’t know how to forward an email (or find any email that has dropped down from the first page) and doesn’t know what cut-and-paste is. She’s still on Windows XP and uses an older version of IE. Be that as it may, she gets by.

However, at 93 years old, her eyesight is failing and she gets tired very quickly. She has trouble seeing the computer monitor and also no longer wants to sit in a chair in front of the monitor. While that might seem to suggest a laptop, that didn’t seem like a solution to me. For her, even the MacBook Air would be a heavy thing to hold on her lap and the heat would really get to her, not to mention the expense. So a tablet computer would be the way to go.

As an Apple fanboy, you’d think that I would naturally suggest an iPad for her. But I didn’t. I got her the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX with the 8.9 inch screen.  Why did I make this choice? It’s very simple. I can be anywhere in the world and log into Amazon using her account and obtain content for her that will automatically appear on the Amazon device without her having to do a thing. Whether she wants a movie or a game or a book, I can do it for her.

We went for the 8.9 inch version, significantly more expensive than the 7 inch version, because she tried the 7 inch one in a shop and it was just too small for her.

ka-slate-01-lg-hover

There is one other thing that Amazon offers that I don’t think any other tablet maker has. You can hit the “help” icon and then click on a yellow button and you will get a live person talking to you and showing you things right on your screen. Amazon says that their staff can view the screen but not access the camera to view the person. They also say that the average wait time after pushing the yellow button until you get to a live person is 15 seconds. So far we have not tested this feature out.

She’s had it for two days now. I’ve installed Skype and Facebook and a few other odds and ends. The screen is beautifully clear (resolution is said to be just a hair less than the iPad’s retina display) and speed of opening and running apps seems good. The OS is Android, with some extensions from Amazon, and it seems to work pretty smoothly. I think Amazon has come up with a really good device here.

There are just a few issues that I want to highlight. The first is Amazon’s elegant hardware design. There are just 3 buttons for this thing – a power on/off button and two buttons for volume control. These are on the rear of the device, small with tiny white icons and very flush against the rest of the back. Basically this means that my mother can’t see them. And when I tried to teach her to slide her fingers down the back of the tablet until she felt them, that doesn’t seem to work too well either. Finally I put two small pieces of white masking tape along the top and bottom of the power button and that seems to have solved that. She’s going to have a hard time seeing where to plug in the micro-USB cable to charge the device but one of the two pieces of tape is right by the charging port so I hope she will be able to work that out.

The second is that while you can resize most things on the screen, you can’t resize the navigation icons. There’s a tiny white house for “home” and a tiny white “back” arrow key and they remain tiny no matter what you do. Once I get home I will have to search through Amazon’s app store and see if they have any accessibility apps that help with this.

I think/hope that this will work out for her.

My other new gadget is one for myself, the Jawbone UP24 fitness tracker.Jawbone_UP_35831719-2-10

I’d previously had the Nike Fuel (which I got as a gift) and stopped using it after a month or so because I wasn’t finding it very useful. The Jawbone seemed like it would be useful because it tracks sleep as well as fitness. I have Obstructive Sleep Apnea and I don’t use my CPAP machine.  I knew that this probably wouldn’t be able to show exactly how the OSA is impacting my sleep (the last time I did a test in a sleep center, it showed I was waking up approximately 50 times per hour; those events are too brief for the UP24 to notice) but I was curious to see what this could show me. Also I have gained a bit of weight in the past 6 months and I know I need to lose that and I hope that this can help me with that.

After about a week with this, I’m liking it, with some reservations.  The nicest thing is that the UP24 has bluetooth and is constantly connected to my iPhone as long as the phone is in range. I don’t have to take any action to sync it with the phone app.

The Jawbone app is much better in many ways than Nike’s app. Nike has this concept of “Nike fuel” and they don’t explain how that relates to anything in the real world. Jawbone stays away from such silliness. Jawbone also has an app store with a few additional apps and I expect that the device will become even more useful with iOS 8.  The device has no screen of its own, unlike the Nike Fuel, just two LEDs to show status. All of the display is on your phone app.

In terms of day time use, this thing basically counts footsteps. You input your height and weight and age and it tells you approximate calories burned. But I don’t know if it can measure the difference between walking up hill or down hill. There’s no way it can know if you are walking empty-handed or carrying a 20 pound bag in your arms. And it presumably can’t tell the difference for a one mile hike in 20 degree C/50% humidity vs. 35 degree/90% humidity.  You can input some of what you eat during the day to get a comparison of calories consumed vs calories burned.

The other issue I’m having with it is that you have to push a button to let it know you’re sleeping. And then it automatically makes a guess as to when you wake up. So for example, last night I went to bed at 11:30 and pushed the button. It shows me how long I took to fall asleep and how much was “light” sleep vs. deeper R.E.M. sleep. But I woke up to go to the toilet around 2:30 AM, forgot to push the button when I lay down again, and as a result it “thinks” I only had 3 hours of sleep last night.

Over all, I find this a very well thought out device. The reviews all seem to suggest that wearable tech is very flawed but that the UP24 is the best of a flawed bunch. I think it’s definitely better than the Nike Fuel.

The true test of the Jawbone UP24 will be a long term one. Once the novelty of having this wears off, will I still continue to use it? That will depend on whether or not I’m finding the information it provides useful.

Anyway, my NYC visit comes to an end today. Naturally last night was the first night in which I went to sleep at a normal time and slept for 7 hours, more or less. So I’m finally in the NYC time zone exactly when it’s time for me to return to Hong Kong, so I get to be a wreck for a few days after I get home. Oh joy.

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King Crimson Lives!

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My wife thinks I have too many all-time favorite bands and albums. With that in mind ….

King Crimson is one of my all-time favorite bands. They started in 1968 and they’ve undergone massive changes in line-up and sound over the years, guitarist Robert Fripp being the only constant, and I thought done was done. Aside from their still astonishing debut album, my favorites of theirs include the 3 album run in the early 70s of Larks Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black, and Red (Starless is a song I still play pretty constantly). I saw them twice around 1973 or so and they were amazing to behold and hear live. (One of those times was at the Boston Orpheum, where the opening act was Roger McGuinn doing a solo acoustic set. One of the strangest pairings I’ve ever seen.)

And now, the NY Times reports that they’re back, with a U.S. tour set for this fall. This is the 8th line-up of the band and the roster promises something interesting indeed.  Three, count ‘em, three drummers (Gavin Harrison, Bill Rieflin and Pat Mastelotto). Tony Levin on vocals and bass (and, undoubtedly, stick), two guitarists (Fripp and Jakko Jakszyk) and back in the fold, Mel Collins on flute and saxophone. 

I’m sure we won’t get to see them in Hong Kong. But I imagine there will be albums and hopefully concert videos.

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Weight

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graham

Graham Elliot, chef and one of the stars of the US version of Masterchef, has lost 155 pounds. I may have found some of them. My trip to the U.S. tomorrow won’t help matters. Diet starts once I return from the U.S. – and after I finish off all of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups I’ll probably be bringing back to Hong Kong.

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