Hear Ye! Since 1998.

Archived Posts for July 2008

Please note: The posts on this page are at least 3 years old. Links may be broken, information may be out of date, and the views expressed in the posts may no longer be held.
30
Jul 08
Wed

Back in Sydney…

… with a cold unfortunately. Trying to pack for the US but am not in the mood to do much of anything at the moment. In my zoning out, I just realized that I’ve slept in six different places over the last six nights: the resort in Redang, friend’s place in Singapore, Aunt’s place, the plane, my place and my parents’ place. Post on Singapore is yet to be written…

29
Jul 08
Tue
23
Jul 08
Wed

Some things I’d like to do in the States

In no particular order…


Hear Obama speak live


Visit the Googleplex


Hike Yosemite


Dine at The French Laundry


Eat at an In-and-Out


Drive the Big Sur


See Joshua Tree National Park

Click for full sized image
Watch a Shuttle launch


Swing by the Monterey Bay Aquarium – “Maybe he’s singing to that man!” (props if you can pick the reference)

21
Jul 08
Mon

The iPhone purchasing experience

I typed this up on the plane but haven’t had a chance to post it until
now. I rocked up to the Apple Store on the Saturday before last, which
was pretty much the only place left in Sydney with 16gb models still
in stock. At 3pm, the line was still out the door and we were advised
to expect a 5 hour wait, and even then there was no guarantee that we
would get one. The main problem was time – it takes at least 10-15
minutes to process the paperwork for one customer and even with what
seemed like ten Optus reps there it was still slow going. (There was
virtually no wait for Vodafone and Telstra.) An Apple employee came
out and told us that although there wasn’t a problem with stock, time
issues meant that they would be cutting off the iPhone queue a good
3-4 hours before the store’s 8.30pm closing time.

When they closed the queue at 5pm, I made it through by only about 4
or so people.

Waiting in the line outside the store, you get subjected to a lot of
commentary from passers-by. It is always the same type of comment,
either, “What are those people queueing for? What’s so good about the
iPhone?” or, “Check out those losers!”

The storefront display consisted of several massive iPhone models, on
which were displayed a video demoing the iPhone. It looped every few
minutes. I was bored so I pulled out my mobile and looked to see how
many Bluetooth devices there were in the vicinity. As expected among a
tech crazy crowd, there was a large number of them, but the one that
caught my eye was called “Apple store display”. I tried to pair my
device with it but of course was unsuccessful (it’s a two party
process). Several minutes later there was some activity behind the
glass and when I turned to see what it was, I realised that my pairing
request had triggered a dialog box on the window display which said
something like, “Pairing request from: Stu’s T610″. I was amused and
was making plans to change my mobile name to “your mum” (I know, how
mature of me). However clearing the dialog box from the display took
much more work than I would have expected. A security guard walked by
and read out my name from the screen. “Stu, eh? Very clever. Now we
just have to find out who Stu is.” I kept very quiet.

A girl arrived with a screwdriver set and discovered she needed an
Allen key to open the housing. Then she lost one of the screws down a
ventilation grate. Eventually she pulled a 17 inch MacBook Pro from
the housing, managed to knock loose the cabling and stuffed up the
video display. Several unfruitful reboots later, a small gathering of
onlookers were inspecting the scene and I was increasingly suffering
in my embarassed silence. It took them about 20 minutes to get the
display working again.

The iPhone as a piece of hardware is work of art. It’s firmware/
software is decent, but still leaves a lot to be desired. Luckily,
software is easier to fix that hardware. There are a ton of UI tweaks
that should be made (highlighting text, cut and paste, safari links to
open in new window, auto-align home screen icons without pushing them
to the top-left of the page). Safari needs Flash support and caching
functionality. It also needs some way to dynamically render HTML pages
so that the width of the pages isn’t fixed at load-time. Bluetooth
functionality needs to be uncrippled (eg, so contacts and files can be
transferred to other Bluetooth devices). The biggest gripe I have is
the lack of a user accessible file system. I’m sure it’s a DRM thing,
but it means you can’t attach files to emails (apart from single
photos), or transfer documents to the phone for offline reading (eg
PDFs) without resorting to poor workarounds. This really cripples the
iPhone. I’m sure some of these things will be addressed in future
firmware updates or applications.

GPS works excellently, now we just have to wait for third parties like
TomTom to provide a realtime driving application which doesn’t need to
go online to load the maps. The best application I’ve found so far is
Shazam. It blew my mind. Basically you hold the phone up to whatever
ambient music is playing, and Shazam will identify the song for you.
The service has been out for mobile phones for some time, but it’s
free for iPhones.

16
Jul 08
Wed

Bound for Singapore

Customary departure post, but this time I don’t need to wait for a
public terminal! This is never going to get old…

And I got patted down for a random explosives check again. This is
going to be my first flight on an A380.

Click for full sized image

14
Jul 08
Mon

This is the life…

Great weather too!

Click for full sized image

12
Jul 08
Sat

Longest queue of my life

Five hours in a queue…

Click for full sized image

10
Jul 08
Thu

Cities and Ambition

Paul Graham wrote a great article on the different kinds of messages that US cities signal to their inhabitants.

New York tells you, above all: you should make more money. … What I like about Boston (or rather Cambridge) is that the message there is: you should be smarter. … As much as they respect brains in Silicon Valley, the message the Valley sends is: you should be more powerful. … Cambridge as a result feels like a town whose main industry is ideas, while New York’s is finance and Silicon Valley’s is startups.

One of the more interesting points from that article is that what gives a city its particular “strength” is the notion that everyone there values the same thing – the peer recognition factor and how everyone is on the same level and frame of mind. It makes certain cities sound like big special interest clubs.

It’s in these more chaotic fields that it helps most to be in a great city: you need the encouragement of feeling that people around you care about the kind of work you do, and since you have to find peers for yourself, you need the much larger intake mechanism of a great city.

iPhone plans

Ok, several days ago I said that Optus’ iPhone 3G plans weren’t too bad. I find it incomprehensible why, given that the iPhone is launching tomorrow, Vodafone and Telstra waited until today to release their plans. To me it seems like terrible organisational skills – it’s not as if the iPhone is a secret – the release date has been known for weeks. And not only have they given their customers less than 24 hours’ lead time to review and digest their gratuitously complex plans, the plans themselves are pure crap. They are horrendous! For example, everyone thought Vodafone was holding out on an announcement so it could undercut Optus – but Optus’ plans turn out to be the best ones. Miniscule data limits really don’t do much for Australia in terms of IT innovation. One of Telstra’s not-cheap plans offers 5MB free data. Five megabytes? What the hell? That’s the perennial problem with technology that relies on telcos in Australia – accessing the infrastructure is just too damn expensive (just look at broadband and internet hosting costs). I’m going to have to wait until I get to the States before I buy my iPhone.

One paragraph book reviews

Books I’ve read in the first half of 2008 (in order of preference):

THE NEW NEW THING, Michael Lewis
Reviewed earlier.

SUNDIVER, David Brin
STARTIDE RISING, David Brin
UPLIFT WAR, David Brin
The first of Brin’s Uplift trilogies, this is very good sci-fi with a novel approach to galactic politics where patron races “uplift” animals into sentience. Startide Rising was a dual Hugo and Nebula award winner and is easily the best out of the three novels. Each novel is unconnected with the other, but they all are set in the same universe. Recommended.

THE LOGIC OF LIFE, Tim Harford
If you liked Freakonomics, The Logic of Life is similar. It covers some fascinating insights. I quite like behavioural economics books.

GROWING UP ASIAN IN AUSTRALIA, Alice Pung (ed)
This book is an anthology of tales written by Asian-Australians – from fresh migrants to x-th generation Australians. It’s a good idea, but a bit hit and miss. The misses are the boringly predictable stories. For example, the opening story is about the writer growing up regretting not being able to speak in her mother tongue. There are some try hard stories in there too, which are best skipped. One which raised my suspicions was written by a Thai chap whose parents ran a Thai restaurant. There’s a line in there about him rolling his eyes at whites not being able to use chopsticks… but of course the Thai culture doesn’t use chopsticks! However, there are more than a few diamonds in the rough, though – especially the stories that are just written without the writer being self-conscious that they are Asian. I found the stories told by Eurasians and other mixed race Asians fantastic. There are also several stories written by gay Asians which are highly entertaining – they don’t sound like they have a chip on their shoulder. Also features a cool story by Tanveer Ahmed, a psychiatrist who is better known as the Bingo Commissioner with the put-on Indian accent (“Nooooo bingo!”).

BANK, David Bledin
A fictional account of life as an analyst in the M&A division of an investment bank. Light, entertaining reading.

HOT COMMODITIES, Jim Rogers
Jim Rogers co-founded the fabled Quantum Fund with George Soros and he’s bullish on commodities. He takes a look at how the forces of supply and demand – both at a global and local level – affect prices of various commodities around the world. It’s more interesting than it sounds, and Rogers has an easy-to-read writing style which is full of personal anecdotes. (I’m currently reading another of Rogers’ books, Adventure Capitalist, and it’s shaping up to be the best book I’ve read this year.)

RINGWORLD, Larry Niven
THE RINGWORLD ENGINEERS, Larry Niven
Ringworld is another winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards. Ringworld is pretty engrossing. The novel takes place on a ringworld so the setting is unique (if you’ve played Halo, you’ll be familiar with the concept of a ringworld). There are two more books in this quartet that I haven’t read yet.

GITTINOMICS, Ross Gittins
Gittins writes about various aspects of Australian life and how economics factors into them. Good, but not as good as his columns in the Herald. The Logic of Life was a more interesting look at behavioural economics.

DEN OF THIEVES, James Stewart
Den of Thieves recounts the insider trading days of the 1980s, centering around people such as Drexel junk bond king, Mike Milken and arbitrageur Ivan Boesky. Long, but quite interesting.

ABSOLUTELY FAKING IT, Tiana Templeman
Tiana Templeman won free accommodation at about a dozen really expensive hotels around the world. However, she didn’t have a lot of money so she went backpacking. Interesting concept with a lot of potential, but unfortunately the book isn’t very well written. There are some interesting bits, but for the most part, it’s a little too self-conscious and boring in places. And by the time she got to Hong Kong, she and her partner were so tired they didn’t even want to step out of the hotel. What the?

  9:00pm (GMT +10.00)  •  Books  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
7
Jul 08
Mon

A little too ambitious

My travel itineraries are notorious for being overly complicated, but can I just note for the record that: (a) trying to organise a weekend trip to a foreign country; (b) with 2 weeks’ notice; (c) with several people who are spread across four different timezones; and (d) via email, is an exercise doomed to failure.

  10:17pm (GMT +10.00)  •  Travel  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
3
Jul 08
Thu
2
Jul 08
Wed

Site tweaks

Made a few minor additions to the site. I’ve decided to start using Twitter, so I’ve put a Twitter feed on the sidebar. Twitter also links to my Facebook profile (on which, until now, I have not been updating the status line). I’ve also added a link to “Other notable posts” which has a list of some historical posts, just in case you were bored and wanted something to read (but there is some quite good reading there, if I do say so myself).

Made a couple of changes to the backend as well, including a “Liveblog” feature where I easily update a post as a live event unfolds – each update is automatically timestamped (a snide running commentary of a law school lecture, perhaps? :). In anticipation of the iPhone 3G giving me round-the-clock access to email, I also updated the backend email interface to accept jpg, gif and png posting, as well as audioblogging and video posting.

1
Jul 08
Tue


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