Back to work, despite everything

I decided to ignore work for the entire Memorial Day weekend — I don’t even think I saw any IBMers other than Diane. Instead, we geocached our neighborhood on Saturday and Monday, and visited friends for a cookout on Sunday (caching their neighborhood while we were there). We also made our first trip of the year to the Los Gatos Farmer’s Market; wild salmon is back, as are ripe peaches, plums, and apriums. Yummy!

Tuesday, although the holiday weekend was over, none of us made it to the office (or school). The father of one of the girls in Jeff’s class had died during the weekend; school was closed so that anyone who wanted could attend the funeral and shiva lunch. Diane and I both know the family, so we wanted to attend, too, so we worked at home before and after the ceremony and gathering. I can’t say I was very focused on work, though I tried.

Today, we were supposed to get back to normal, and all was going swimmingly until I started the rental Prius. Or, to be more accurate, I tried to start it. The 12-volt battery had gone flat over the long weekend (I don’t think I left any doors open, but maybe…) and couldn’t get the car going. I didn’t have time to call Hertz for assistance, so we carpooled, and I only got to work 45 minutes late.

When I got home, I called Hertz, and they said they’d send out a truck to jump the car so that I could drive it back to them and swap it. While I was waiting, I decided to try again, and the car started (very reluctantly) — so I phoned Hertz to cancel the service call and drove to the nearby Hertz Local Edition. Usually, if I have battery problems with a car, I hope the engine won’t die again until I’ve had a chance to drive it far enough to recharge the battery — but with a Prius, the engine stops as part of normal operation!

I made it there with no problems; I even restarted the car, but I could tell that things weren’t quite right, and so I was happy to swap for a Kia Spectra. It’s definitely not as nice a car as the Prius, but it’s much nicer than the Chevy Cavalier I suffered with last week — my only real complaint with this car is that the radio doesn’t sound very good.

We’re still on The List for a new Prius at four dealerships in the area; two of them have given us ETAs of next week, which would be just fine. I suspect we’re not the only ones on multiple dealers’ lists, either.

Oh yeah, I mentioned “work” in the title of this post, didn’t I? Power stayed up in my wing all weekend, so I didn’t have to do anything with my wiki server (and I could have left my refrigerator plugged in, though defrosting it was a good idea anyway). And I am continuing to work on my report and proposal to the CIO’s office, with increased urgency; I have a call scheduled for next Tuesday to make the case.

Where’d the week go?

I’ve been running heads-down all week, making some progress on several fronts, but not enough on any of them.

At work, I’ve had three major projects going this week:

  • writing what I hope will be a significant report to the CIO’s office
  • building a combination blog and status report aggregator for my team (in other words, working with a colleague to put WordPress on a machine that he controls, playing with the theme, and pointing people at it)
  • trying to migrate a wiki from MoinMoin to MediaWiki in hopes of getting it off the machine in my office before what I thought was going to be a lab-wide powerdown for the long weekend. There is no clear path between the two wiki syntaxes; I got partway there by writing a new formatter for MoinMoin, one which produces something close to MediaWiki markup, but the results still need manual fixup. But the good news is that they don’t plan to turn off power in my wing after all, so there’s no urgency.

At home, I’ve been spending too much time doing work — e-mail is never-ending, it seems. But in my spare moments, I’ve also been working on building a migration path from Manila to WordPress (well, most likely to RSS2.0 so that I can use the existing migration tool in WordPress from there); I’ve learned a lot about Python’s SOAP support in the process, since I’ve had to get around some non-well-formed XML produced by Manila (pages with subscribers or trackbacks are the ones affected). I’m not quite there yet, but I have hopes of moving content this weekend.

That, of course, assumes I do anything with the laptop at all this weekend; last night, I was sufficiently beat by the time I got home that I left it in the briefcase instead of working. And I enjoyed not working so much that I didn’t even check my mail this morning until I arrived in the office — and, sure enough, the world did not stop spinning because I waited. I’ll have to keep that in mind next week.

It looks like a great weekend for geocaching, too — temperatures are going to be very pleasant, and we don’t have anything on the calendar after services tomorrow (Diane’s reading Torah, so we have to be there). I picked up a Zire 31 at the Shir Hadash gala earlier this month with the specific idea of using it for paperless caching — it’s time to act on the idea.

Hmmm…3:37 on a Friday before a three-day weekend…I think that’s close enough to a full day for me!

Finished!

One of my colleagues and I have written a series of articles about “Needless Complexity”, and the last one was finally published today on IBM’s Think Research website.

The four articles are:

[Updated, November 12, 2014: The articles on Think Research have vanished; I’ve reposted them here.]

And the nice folks at Magnolia Audio-Video just called to let me know that the TV is fixed and wanting to arrange a delivery time. I’m afraid it’s going to take longer to arrange the delivery than it took them to repair the TV, since I’m stuck in all-day meetings at work for the next few days.

The little green cup

I’m in Beijing for a meeting of the Technology Council of the IBM Academy of Technology. I had an uneventful, if occasionally very bumpy, flight from SFO-PEK; though I kept my windows closed for most of the flight, I did get a couple of pictures en route. While over Siberia, I got a shot of what seems to be a frozen river:

Siberian River: Siberia looks cold to me! After that, things got boring again outside the window until we were roughly here:

China airmap: when I looked out the window and saw something I couldn’t identify:

China from 38,000 feet: I don't know what these are.  Farms?  Whatever they are, they're enormous! Since we were at about 38,000 feet, the picture covers many square miles — I guess it’s something agricultural, but I have no idea what.

Getting through Immigration and Customs at Beijing Airport took all of 60 seconds. In contrast, I spent an hour in line last year at Narita.

Beijing Airport is also a pretty welcoming place — this was the first thing I saw after leaving customs:

PEK airport scene: though I decided not to indulge.

The trip from the airport to the hotel (Shangri-La Beijing) was easy (the hotel limo helped, I’m sure), and check-in was instantaneous — I was met as soon as I entered the hotel by someone who greeted me by name and took me to my room. I did have to sign the registration slip, but not until I was in the room. I could get used to this….

I arrived on Sunday; the hotel had a special Easter brunch. I wonder what Chairman Mao would have thought.

CFP2003: Day Three

Plenary 12: Auto ID

The technology has been around for years, but now it’s gotten
inexpensive enough to use pervasively. The panel wants to increase
awareness of the uses and abuses of the technology.

Mark Roberti of RFID Journal is the first
speaker. RFID technology begain in WWII with the British RAF’s IFF
(Identify, Friend or Foe) system. The US military started using it at
Los Alamos to track trucks carrying nuclear materials — that system has
evolved into EZ-Pass and similar automated toll systems. In the
meantime, the USDA developed a passive transceiver (“tag”) to track
cattle — the system had to be passive and unpowered because cattle
don’t come with AC outlets. Currently, a tag costs 40 cents; three
years ago, it was $10. And experts see tags costing less than five
cents in the next few years — which would make it possible to “extend
the Internet to objects” (MIT Auto-ID lab). The benefits include
reduction in theft (2% shrinkage is common in stores) and efficiency
because you can find your inventory and assets (P&G has a billion
dollars in “unfindable assets” at any time!).

Another use is maintaining authenticity — pharmaceutical companies want
to tag drugs to deter counterfeiting. A pharmacist would use the RFID
tag to verify that the drug about to be dispensed was real.

And companies have announced “smart appliances” which would use RFID
tags of items you’ve purchased to automatically set washing machines or
reorder products.

Katherine Albrecht of CASPIAN got
interested in the area by looking at grocery store loyalty cards and the
database infrastructure behind them. TIA has expressed interest in
using such databases (and every commercial database) as part of their
tracking in the interests of national security. Of course,
companies such as grocery stores and A. C. Nielsen are very
interested in creating detailed dossiers of their customers
(and have been for years). Her concern here is that RFID tags in
consumer products will extend those dossiers into the home.

Benetton, Prada, Michelin, and Gillette have already announced plans to
put RFID tags on consumer products. In response, CASPIAN is calling for
a boycott of Benetton. Benetton has responded by saying the read range
of the tags is only a couple of feet, but CASPIAN counters by pointing
out that doorways (for example) provide a choke point where RFID tags
could easily be read and tracked. CASPIAN also wants a world-wide
moratorium on consumer applications of RFID technology until regulations
are put in place.

Richard Smith of
ComputerBytesMan was
next. He began by asking the audience how many people use EZ-Pass (a
few) and pointed out that by using it, we make the trade-off of
convenience for trackability; users depend on the data only being used
for its proper purposes. But there’s already some overflow — for
example, you can pay for gas or parking with your EZ-Pass; in Boston,
they use EZ-Passes to get information on traffic flow and speeds (but
they don’t issue speeding tickets based on the data). He sees RFID
being added to license plates in the future (not optionally), creating
more and more opportunities for database entries and tracking for all
of our travel.

The next step is using RFID for people tracking instead of object
tracking — for example, RFID-enabled building access badges (such as
the one I used to have before I lost it!). After that, he sees
RFID-enabled shopper loyalty cards, which offer significant tracking
opportunities.

The ultimate use of RFID is
Verichip, which will inject an RFID chip into people (it’s been done for dogs and cats for a while). After 9/11, interest in “chipping” people increased significantly, but this is still a radical-edge application.

In the panel discussion, both Mark and Richard mentioned that the current announced plans for the technology are limited to the supply chain, but Richard pointed out that the danger is that once the tags are in the world, there will be huge temptations to use them for marketing and security uses and become people trackers.

The Auto-ID Center at MIT has plans to add “kill switches” to tags, so that they can be permanently turned off at the point of purchase of the consumer product. That would improve privacy, but would prevent the tags from being used downstream, for example in assisting in recycling when items are discarded.

Then there was a debate about whether the Auto-ID Center and the companies supporting it are seriously interested in privacy. It’s amazing how reading a neutral statement in a snide voice can color its contents. Katherine claims that there are no actual privacy advocates involved in the Auto-ID Center.

Simson Garfinkel was first at the mike — he is a member of the Auto-ID Center’s advisory board (one of those non-existant privacy advocates). He said that all-out attacks against RFID chips (which already exist) are not going to be successful; there needs to be intelligent use of the technology. And, for example, the “kill” technology should only kill part of the ID, so that the waste stream information might stay active while the serial number would go away. Saying “it’s bad and we should stop it” is not going to work (unless you can make it illegal, which seems unlikely) — the question is “how do we use it responsibly”.

An audience member made a very good point: “it’s not a technology problem — it’s a data policy problem”.

Several people didn’t get to make their points (err, ask their questions), which is a first at this CFP. Good panel, and one which reminds me very much of the CFPs of old.

Stupid Security Awards

As if the EFF Pioneer Awards, the Brandeis Awards, and the Big Brother Awards weren’t enough, this CFP has added the Stupid Security Awards. Again, Simon Davies of Privacy International is the MC (this time in his own persona, unlike last night, when he presided over the Big Brother Awards as Her Majesty The Queen).

He gave the New Yorker Hotel a Dishonorable Mention, not only for demanding (and copying) photo ID at check-in, but also for refusing to loan a conference attendee a pair of scissors because they were a “security risk”!

Delta Airlines won the “Most Egregiously Stupid Security” award for requring a mother of a four-month-old to drink a bottle of her own breast milk to demonstrate that it wasn’t a threat to the staff on the plane.

The “Most Counterproductive Security” award went to a policeman who checked a pair of shoes out for explosives by slamming them down — apparently if they didn’t explode, they were ok.

“Most Inexplicable Security” went to San Francisco General Hospital, which treats many homeless people. After 9/11, they started requiring ID of people entering through the front door — but all side entrances were left completely unguarded. The staff and patients started using those side entrances, and the corridors filled with people desperately looking for the emergency room!

“Most Intrusive Security”: a lot of security measures seem to focus on attractive young women, and many security guards take great care in carefully checking out such individuals. The Michigan State Prison demands that any woman entering the prison (as a visitor) must wear a bra “for security”. One woman who could not wear a bra due to irritation needed medical certification to be able to visit her husband.

There is much more at the website; visit it.

But the real point is not the stupdity of these examples — it’s the danger in having the illusion of security and winding up with less real security, not more.

Plenary 13: Keynote from the Right and the Left

The speakers were former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) and Rep. Jerry Nadler
(D-NY).
Rep. Nadler was first elected to Congress in 1992; he represents New
York’s
8th District (includes the WTC, the ACLU office, and this hotel —
he says his district “goes from Nathan’s to Zabar’s”).
Rep. Barr is now a consultant to the ACLU; he was in Congress
1995-2003.

Rep. Nadler: Privacy is not a left/right issue. Without the
right
to be secure from governmental intrusions, all other rights are at risk.
Our system of constitutional liberties is not a danger, it has secured
us from dangers into which other nations have fallen. In wartime, we
often restrict liberties — then apologize 25-30 years later (and the
historians say that the restrictions don’t help anyway), and it appears
that we’re doing it again. When people ask questions, the answer is not
a reasoned argument, it’s an ad hominem attack or an attack on the
questioner’s patriotism.

In the run-up to the PATRIOT Act, the Judiciary Committee agreed
unanimously on a bill; it never came up. The Administration supplied a
substitute 278-page bill on Wednesday at 10am; the vote happened at 1pm.

PATRIOT II, drafted in secret by the Justice Department, may soon be
considered by Congress. Congress has not seen it, and the Justice
Department denied that any such bill existed, but then it was
leaked. He thinks that the plan was to keep the bill secret, to wait
until something happens, and then to introduce the bill and claim that
it has to be passed instantly for national security — but that the
person who leaked the bill derailed that plan.

Some of the more important issues being considered now:

  • TIA: Would involve the Defense Department in domestic law
    enforcement
    (not barred by law); no requirement for warrant — it would be
    investigate first, probable cause later. The Wyden Amendment put
    restrictions on the deployment of TIA and its use against American
    citizens; Feingold and Nadler said that
    TIA couldn’t be developed without explicit Congressional authorization.
    Wyden Amendment passed.
  • CAPPS II: The government would classify individuals based on secret
    information as red, yellow, or green — you would not have access to the
    information used to classify you.
  • Information sharing between law enforcement and Defense Department.
    Military agencies are not restricted to acquring info pursuant to a
    search warrant, but they can’t use that information for law enforcement
    purposes.

Nadler wants to require a privacy impact statement for every new federal
regulation, much as an environmental impact statement is required today.

Government’s unprecedented claim of the power to detain someone with no
charges, no habeas corpus, no lawyers, no judicial review, no recourse,
forever.
The Justice Department says the courts have no jurisdiction to review a
declaration that someone is an “enemy combatant”. Magna Carta
required the King to have justification to hold someone — this is the
first attempt to go against that precedent since then. Nadler is
drafting legislation which will extend the judicial power of the US to
anyone held by the US (so the “no jurisdiction in Cuba, even though
we’re holding people there” argument
will not work), and that the writ of habeas corpus shall not be denied
without a showing of probable cause (except a prisoner of war). “We
rebelled against George III for far less than that….I am not
advocating
rebellion but we must remember the core concepts of liberty.”

Rep. Barr: Even though the right to privacy does not appear
explicitly
in the Constitution, it is fundamental. In a tribe, there is no privacy
— no private property, no private decisions. In a civilized society,
the concept of privacy arises — individuals have the right to private
information and private property. If you look at the wording of the
Bill of Rights, it’s obvious that they presume the notion of privacy.
If there is no right to privacy, why would you need the Fourth
Amendment’s restrictions against the government’s ability for search and
seizure? The First Amendment incorporates privacy in affirming the
right to have ideas. Privacy is fundamental to freedom.

Information is fundamental, too. It is the currency of power in the
21st Century. Access to information, the ability to accumulate
information, is key — it’s the way you get things done and have the
power to influence events. The ability to protect information, to keep
it private, is important to freedom.

When you look at the legislative process, you need to keep in mind some
immutable laws of government.

  • Government always wants more
    power.
  • Government never surrenders power once granted (or seized). So you
    need to get things right the first time because you rarely get a second
    chance.
  • Privacy is finite; when government gets the power to access
    information, they keep it and use it — they take that power from we,
    the people.
  • Executive branches hate oversight (Republican or
    Democratic); they will not voluntarily expose themselves to oversight.
    Congress needs to ensure that oversight mechanisms are in place and
    used.
  • The Executive Branch never admits error. They never say that
    “we had the power; we just didn’t use it correctly” — instead, they
    say “we need more power or money, so Congress needs to give us more”,
    and that almost always happens. The root cause is never examined. As
    an example, after TWA Flight 800, there was a rush to give the
    Government more power to “fight terrorism” — luckily, cooler heads
    prevailed and no legislation was passed, but that was the initial
    reaction (and of course, the problem was not related to terrorism at
    all).

He believes that CAPPS II and TIA throw the Fourth Amendment away.

The only way to prevent such intrusions is to stay in contact with our
Representatives and Senators and keep them aware of our concerns. Most
Representatives and Senators don’t track these issues as closely as
Nadler does,
so the only way that they’ll care is if their constituents tell them how
important they are. Without such, we’ll continue to see the knee-jerk
reaction to incidents and the government will continue to acquire more
power and citizens will have less privacy.

Q&A: (again, there were people waiting at the mike when time
ran out)

Katherine Albrecht of CASPIAN asked whether there are
plans to
add RFID to cash (she claims that will happen in Europe by 2005). Both
Nadler and Barr said that they have never heard anything about such
plans.

Jim Casper of the North Dakota legislature: Why didn’t the
36 members of
the Judiciary Committee stand up to stop the passage of the Patriot Act?
Nadler:
Both he and Barr were…he voted against it, both because of the issues
and the process. The rules of the House provide that you cannot vote on
a bill which has not been in print for 24 hours, but the Rules Committee
routinely suspend those rules and they did that for the Patriot Act as
well. 66 Members of the House voted against the bill, some because of
the process. Barr: He happened to notice a provision tucked
into an
airport security bill last year which would have given security officers
the power of arrest and got it deleted, but if he hadn’t happened to see
it, it might well have become law. This happens all the time (not just
in security issues) and it’s a terrible way to legislate. The budget
left out many projects because a page fell out on the way to the
printer and it wasn’t discovered in time!

Henry Farrell: I didn’t hear any mention of the effect that US
laws
have on the privacy of individuals outside the US. Examples: EU and
Canada have been forced to share information on travellers with the FAA
without even the CAPPS II safeguards, and the requirement that
biometrics be added to passports if the holder ever wants to enter the
US (which means all passports). Nadler: I believe that privacy
is a fundamental human right. The Constitution says “no person”, not “no
citizen” shall be deprived of life, liberty, etc, without due process.
The bill he and Feingold introduced on the TIA says you can’t do it at
all; Wyden’s only affects US citizens. I was not aware of the
particular instances you cited, and very often, we’re not aware of the
implications until someone brings it to your attention, and if the
implications are not on citizens, no one may bring it to our attention.
Barr: We’d have better legislation and law enforcement if we
operated
in an international context, if we coordinated with other countries and
developed international protocols and consistency. That said, there are
things that a nation may need to do on its own initiative, such as
requiring manifests for flights entering the US. Nadler: The US has a
right to protect its citizens and borders; there is no human right for
anyone else to come to the US. We need to balance security concerns
with privacy and liberty concerns — not in haste, but they do have to
be addressed.

Lunchtime Concurrent Session: Authentication

This session was held in a long, noisy room, with no mikes or projector.
It wasn’t very easy to follow, but Steve Bellovin gave a good talk about
the differences between authentication, identification, and
authorization, and the need to collect only the necessary information
for the purpose, rather than collecting all possible information “just
in case”. He referred to an National Research Council study on the
subject which is currently available on their
website, as well as
a
post-9/11 report called “ID’s not Easy” which discussed what problems
a national ID card might actually solve and implications which would
follow depending on what information was collected.

Plenary 14: What are the New Intellectual Property Regimes, and do they threaten or advance free expression?

In 1998, Congress enacted the DMCA. It has several components. One concerns the liability or non-liability of ISPs in the communication of possible infringing material on the Internet. This sets up a dual regime — “mere conduit” ISPs have no liability, while “host service providers” (ones who rent space) will not be subject to liability if they comply with the notice and takedown procedure set forth in the statute. The next piece is the provisions on legal protection of technological measures which provide copy-protection (in other words, making hacking copy protection a criminal offense). And there is a portion which deals with copyright management information, making it illegal to remove or tamper with the identification of the work, its author, or conditions of use and sale in a way which would encourage or enable copyright infringement.

There has been judicial activity since the DMCA was passed.

The two speakers gave presentations which hit rather different issues; neither of them led to an easy summary (at least not by me!).

Brief Interlude

There was a wonderful “Carabella versus CAPPS” animation (which may show up on the Carabella page of Privacy Activism‘s website some day.

And CFP 2004 was announced, with Deirdre Mulligan as chair and Berkeley as the venue, probably in mid-May of 2004.

Closing Keynote: Larry Lessig

And now we approach the end of the conference. I will have to leave before the end of this session, so I will urge you in advance to listen to the MP3 recording of the session (and all of the main tent sessions), available at http://www.cfp2003.org/cfp2003/program.html (today’s sessions won’t be up quite yet, of course).

Larry talked about criticism through creative work; he says that it was once free but is being increasingly controlled. The message which lawyers miss is that “criticism is effective when it speaks the language which the culture understands.” This kind of criticism is the hallmark of a sane culture.

The question is not “what makes these freedoms possible?”, but “what made these freedoms possible?”, because the situation is changing. There is a great increase in concentration of media ownership — and that has changed the culture that people see and live in. That didn’t happen because of the magic hand of the market, but because of governmental action making concentration more favorable.

For example, in 1994, the FCC eliminated the FinSyn rule, which meant a change from 70% of prime-time TV being independently produced to today’s situation, where 75% of prime-time TV is owned by the networks.

Larry then drew a distinction between Walt Disney creativity (taking themes from the culture and remixing them) and Disney, Inc., creativity (extending copyright terms into the indefinite future). And he said that part of us is due to one meme from computer culture has crept into the rest of the culture — binary thinking, which results in people thinking only in extreme terms.
Instead, we need to demonstrate non-extreme points (such as the Creative Commons license options).

Larry’s final message: Free culture by resisting control and concentration.

And now, as the Q&A begins, I need to fold my tent, claim my luggage, and bid the hotel and the conference adieu. Cheers!

[Updated 10 March 2006 to correct the spelling of Simson Garfinkel’s name.]

A birthday surprise

Keeping the economy going

I bought a TiVo over the weekend. It’s an interesting toy — I used it to watch the local TV news last night in 10 minutes (skipping the two-hundredth story about possible changes to airline security, among other things); this was the first time I’d watched the local TV news in years. I guess that’s an improvement. We also taped…err, time-shifted…an episode of Home Improvement which we hadn’t yet seen, and it’s already building up a backlog of possibly-interesting shows for us to watch in our copious free time.

But that’s not really why I bought it — I bought it to have a backup plan for recording the first episode of Enterprise, the new Star Trek series, which premieres tomorrow evening, during Kol Nidre services. I don’t entirely trust my VCR right now — if I try to record in S-VHS, I get horrible noise bars in the picture, and cleaning the heads with a cleaning tape doesn’t help. So having a TiVo gives me a second chance to get a clean copy of the show. Any other use is entirely coincidental. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Weather Report

We had quite a thunderstorm last night — the radio and TV claimed that the rain would be north of San Francisco, even as drops were starting to fall at my house, 50 miles south of the city. And then the heavens opened, and the lightning started, and the thunder boomed — it was almost like being in Florida on a typical afternoon. I guess summer’s over.

Mystery no more

I found how who sent me the chocolate — a friend from work. Thanks, John!

Soul food

Today is the second day of the W3C Advisory Committee meeting. Lunch today was a surprise: it wasn’t a ten-course banquet. Instead, we were treated to a buffet, which was mostly Western foods (there were a few Chinese-influenced dishes, too, such as rice, tuna-fish pasta, the desserts, and, of course, spaghetti). They even had lox (but no bagels); that’s soul food to me!

Last night, I took lots of pictures at our dinner and a show at Ocean Park. Take a look, but be patient; it’s a big page.

Things to buy in Hong Kong

Everyone knows that Hong Kong is an amazing place to shop. Of course you can buy electronics, clothes, and luggage here, but did you know that you can buy ISO 9002-certified water here?

Jeffrey, you’ll be happy to know that I was able to buy something else here, too.

And in case you read the phone saga in Saturday’s posting, I’ve updated it to add the name and address of the shop where I bought the phone and had good customer service.

Sunday — shopping day

One of the side effects of being trapped in the Advisory Board meeting all day Saturday was that I missed calling home when I planned to, and when I got back to my room, there was a message from Diane asking me to call. So I did — and woke Diane up because it was 2:30am in California. I think she was glad I called, but it would have been far better had we been able to get in touch a few hours earlier (or if I had been able to call when I’d originally promised). And I couldn’t call from my room, anyway, because the hotel charges an outrageous fee for international calls — and they also levy a heavy surcharge if you dial the local AT&T access number, so I felt compelled to go to the lobby and use a payphone to avoid being ripped off.

I decided this was not a good situation; the obvious way around this was to get a local mobile phone. I’d spent part of Friday trying to get my UK phone unlocked so I could use a local provider — I even checked the Web for ideas, but all I found were people asking how to get their phones unlocked and no answers. So I decided to buy yet another phone.

I wanted a cheap phone, but one that I could take with me on future trips, so it had to be a dual-band GSM phone. And it had to be unlocked, so I could buy a local SIM in other countries — this turned out not to be a problem; unlike the case in the UK or US, almost all phones sold here are sold outright, and you buy connectivity separately.

I followed a very careful procedure to decide where to shop — I rode the elevator to the ground floor, went out the front door of my hotel, turned right, went to the first phone shop I found, and asked for the cheapest dual-band phone they had. Five minutes later, I was the proud owner of a Mitsubishi Trium — as a properly suspicious consumer, I did make a point of checking out the phone to make sure it worked before I left the shop, and it did.

But when I tried using the phone from my room, I discovered that the phone wasn’t just inexpensive — it was cheap. When I made a call, the phone made funny buzzing noises, as though a circuit board was vibrating; I hadn’t been able to hear the problem in the shop because of the noise there, but now it was obvious.

I was afraid I’d be stuck with the problem — many Hong Kong electronics shops are less than scrupulous (it’s not unknown for a customer to get back to the hotel and find that they’ve bought an empty box). But I decided to go back and complain anyway.

And much to my surprise, the shopkeeper was actually helpful and willing to work with me. At first, he thought the problem might be the quality of the network connection, so he lent me a SIM for a different network and had me make a test call — I couldn’t tell if there was a problem in the shop, so he let me take the phone back to the hotel to try it; it didn’t help.

So then he let me take several different phones back to the hotel to try them — without holding anything as security other than the old phone. I was impressed; I know that I certainly wouldn’t have gotten anything like that service at Fry’s!

Eventually, I bought a much higher-end phone, a Motorola P7689. The phone works nicely and has lots of nice features — I wish I could use it at home, but that would require changing my US mobile service to a GSM provider, which would be a hassle; and GSM service in the US is still pretty spotty.

[Added May 1st: The shop at which I bought the phone was Motech Phone, Shop 22, Ground Floor, Star House, phone +852 2972-2988. I’m still happy with the new phone, by the way.]

After solving the phone problem, I went out with one of my W3C colleagues and wandered through Kowloon for the rest of the day. We even did a little more shopping. At times, we picked random stores just to get into an air-conditioned environment (the weather reminded me of South Florida, and why we no longer live there), but Carl did have some goals in mind, so we spent quite a bit of time in various branches of Yue Hwa Chinese Products.

Then it was back to the hotel and back to work — the W3C Advisory Committee meeting began at 6pm with the New Member orientation (as an Advisory Board member, I felt an obligation to be there), and then the Welcome Dinner. We had a fairly simple dinner, just ten courses (fourteen or more courses are not unheard of!); I ran out of gas after eight courses, and called it a night.

Shabbat Shalom from Hong Kong

I was out quite late Friday night, celebrating; late enough, in fact, that I didn’t want to stay up to edit and annotate the pictures I took yesterday while sightseeing, but I’ve finally gotten caught up, and the travelogue appears below.

After playing tourist all day, I went to Shabbat services at the United Jewish Congregation of Hong Kong. It was a fairly small group because it’s a four-day weekend here, but it was a lively service anyway. And going to services gave me a nice feeling of connectedness, even though I was almost 7000 miles from friends and family.

Oh, and the celebration? After services, several people went to dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant, Pasta e Pizza, and they invited me to join them. The food was good — one of the pizzas used Thai basil and was absolutely delicious — and the company was pleasant.

Shabbat Shalom!

Friday’s travelogue

Friday morning arrived a bit earlier than I wanted — 4am, when I woke up very hungry (the cookie I had for dinner was not enough, I guess). Luckily, the minibar in my room had snacks, not just drinks, so I was able to have a nosh and then got back to sleep until the alarm sounded at 7:30.

It took me a couple of hours to deal with my e-mail and have breakfast, but eventually, I was ready to handle the day’s business — wandering around Hong Kong while adjusting my body clock, so I’d be ready for the W3C Advisory Board meeting on Saturday. I decided to try the walking route through Kowloon suggested in the guidebook I’d picked up (Fodor’s Hong Kong).

The route starts at the Star Ferry dock, right next to my hotel. The Star Ferry crosses Victoria Harbour, which is a very busy harbour — there are vessels going in all directions almost all the time.

829 hk from waterfront 2.:

The next stop on the tour was the Victoria Clock Tower, which is the last remaining part of an old railway station.

833 victoria clock tower 4:

After admiring the Clock Tower, I continued along the waterfront. There’s a two-level walkway; I walked along the upper level and gazed across the harbour to Wanchai, where I’ll be spending next week at WWW10. In particular, I’ll be spending most of the week at the Convention Centre, the large building in the center of the picture below.

835 hk from waterfront 4:

I went back to ground level, to wander around the Cultural Centre. Sudenly, I was set upon by maurauding gangs of English students who had been given the assignment to interview tourists about their experiences in Hong Kong. I’d only been on the ground for 14 hours by this time, so my experiences were pretty scanty, but I was happy to help them out as best as I could — but my price was a picture.

837 with my interrogators:

The tour left the waterfront at this point, and so did I. I walked up Chatham Road South, entering a far more commercial area, There are so many shops and businesses that the building fronts don’t have room enough for signs, so they extend over the street:

838 signs on granville:

Some of the signs made me wonder:

839 yuppie sauna:

I decided not to find out just what a Yuppie Sauna was; I also declined to take up any of the invitations being thrust into my hands to visit tailor shops — I wouldn’t mind having some shirts made while I’m here, but there’s probably a better way to decide where to have it done than to pick a random shop.

The walking tour continued through commercial areas, over to the Golden Mile on Nathan Road. Eventually, the book directed me to Kowloon Park, which was a wonderful oasis in the midst of the commotion.

842 context of fountain in kowloon park:

Last year, I’d bought a GSM mobile phone while I was in the UK; it was very handy to have there, but Orange doesn’t yet offer international roaming, so I’ve been unable to use it elsewhere. I knew that electronics shops here sold pre-paid SIM cards so that you could have a local Hong Kong number on your phone, so I brought the phone with me to see if I could use one with my phone. But when I tried using a local card, the phone displayed an “Illegal SIM — enter code” message. I hoped that someone would know how to unlock the phone, but I guess I was going to places which were too reputable to know such things, and after trying a few shops, I decided it was time for lunch.

One of the things I’d been asked by the English students was how well I liked Chinese food. I hadn’t had any yet in Hong Kong, and thought I should fix that situation. Fodor’s recommended the Happy Valley Noodle and Congee shop, which was conveniently located across the street from my hotel. I got there towards the end of the lunch rush and had to share a table — fortunately, the guy I shared with didn’t smoke and spoke English, so we had a pleasant conversation. I decided to stick with something familiar and ordered chicken with cashew nuts, and it was excellent.

After lunch, I went back to my room for a break. I looked across the harbour and thought it was time to visit Hong Kong proper. I splurged for a first class ticket on the Star Ferry (HK$2.20, about 30 cents US) so I could ride on the top deck (riding down below would have saved HK$0.50, 7 cents US).

847 star ferry from star ferry:

The ferry crossing only took a few minutes, depositing me in the heart of Hong Kong’s financial district, which, like all such, is populated largely by enormous bank buildings, with a few small buildings thrown in for contrast.

848 banks a plenty:

Where there’s money, there are places to spend it. The Landmark is a luxury shopping center, with stores like Christian Dior, Kenzo, and Tiffany. There’s also a Pizza Hut, which struck me as an odd thing to find in such exalted company, but I guess even rich people gotta eat.

People also have to get around — and in Hong Kong, they use almost every conceivable means. There are subways, taxis, ferries, and trams; like the Star Ferry, the trams are two-level, but I don’t think there’s a price difference for the two levels.

850 tram:

One of the problems with Hong Kong is air pollution — it’s so bad, in fact, that they devote expensive downtown real estate to pollution monitoring stations. This one is right across the street from the Landmark.

851 pollution monitoring station:

And here ends my Friday travelogue; from this point on, I spent my time going to and from Shabbat services.

UA 805 to Hong Kong and the first few hours there

This was the first time I’d planned to fly United in International First Class — I’d gotten an operational upgrade on a flight from Amsterdam to Dulles a few years ago, but that was on a smallish plane (probably a 767, though I’m not sure any more), and the flight was marred by having the sinks not work in the F and C lavatories. United offered passengers in F a confirmable upgrade as a makegood, which I eventually got to use — I wonder if they gave anything to the people in C. But I digress.

This flight was supposed to be on a plane with sleeper seats, and when I checked in at the counter, the agent said that was the case. But ten minutes later, after I cleared security and walked to the First Class lounge, the situation had changed; the agent there told me that they’d had to change equipment to a non-renovated plane. I don’t know if I would have spent the miles to upgrade if I had known there wouldn’t be a sleeper seat, even though I wasn’t planning to sleep going West anyway; but I decided I didn’t want to try to switch back to Business. As things turned out, I don’t have a seatmate (First Class is just slightly more than half-full), which is nice; Business Class is nearly full, as usual — only six empty seats.

The entertainment system isn’t working quite right on the plane, either — there’s no audio programming (but the movies work), and there’s a horrible noise everytime they use the PA. It’s worse in coach — there’s no audio at all, so unless you can read Chinese subtitles, you can’t tell what’s going on with the movie. They made an announcement that they’d be giving out vouchers in Hong Kong because of the problem with the movies.

I watched Sleeper, which was funny, though it’s really dated now — not because of the future scenes, but because of all of the references to things happening in 1973 (and Diane, you’re right — Jeffrey’s not ready to see it quite yet!). I also had lunch; here’s the menu:

  • To Begin: Roasted prawns with vegetable Napoleon or Sliced Parma ham with grilled asparagus. [I passed on that course.]
  • Garden Fresh Salad, which was mostly lettuce with one tomato and a couple of olives.
  • Main Course:
    • Filet mignon with chanterelle mushroom sauce, with basil mashed potatoes and zucchini puff
    • Salmon and sea bass in a zucchini wrap, with Israeli couscous and tomato basil sauce
    • Golden sesame chicken with citrus sauce, with fried rice and a vegetable medley
    • Stir-fried pork with bell peppers and Shanghai noodles, with shiitake mushrooms and Chinese seasonal greens

I chose the salmon and sea bass, which was pleasant though somewhat dry. I asked for steamed rice, as well, which was pretty gummy, so I wound up eating the couscous and found that I liked it.

I only paid attention to the white wines; they had a Hanna Russian River Valley 1998 Chardonnay and a Meursault 1999, Bouchard Pere et Fils Burgundy. I chose the Burgundy, which was very smooth and tasty; I’d be happy if I can find a bottle at home.

And I quite enjoyed the Sandeman’s Porto with the cheese course. The ice cream sundae was OK, too, but not as good as the Porto and cheese.

They aren’t boarding Godiva chocolate any more; the best mid-flight snack is M&Ms. But they had a chicken entree left, so I had that as a second meal; it was OK, but not outstanding — the fish was better.

The pre-arrival meal is a choice of New England clam chowder with shrimp and mixed pork, or a fresh seasonal fruit plate with creamy yogurt. I’m up for the fruit.

I asked the purser for a copy of the Business Class menu, and now I’m happier that I upgraded. The entrees were BBQ short ribs with Robinson’s special sauce, stir-fried scallops with Szechuan garlic sauce, and roasted chicken with green curry sauce. And instead of a selection of cheeses, the only offering was whipped pesto cheese with sauteed sliced bread — I can’t even picture that!

I should have had my camera out when we were flying over California; the wine country looked just beautiful. But I didn’t, and much of our trip was clouded over, but I did get a few shots of the Kuskokwim River in Alaska, near latitude 62N, longitude 155W.

Kuskowim 4:

It sure looked cold down there, but not as cold as my first sight of Russia, near Provideniyn, just after crossing the Bering Strait.

Near Provideniyn, Russia:

Then I waited until the plane crossed into the Eastern Hemisphere and celebrated by watching Bedazzled, another movie that Jeffrey is not ready to see (but I enjoyed it; I’d like to see the original).

As I write this, we have 5 and a half hours left in the flight; we’re still over Russia, just west of Japan.

The rest of the flight continued uneventfully; eventually, we arrived at the new Hong Kong International Airport, and I took the Airport Express to Kowloon and my hotel.

The Airport Express is interesting — it’s very modern, very clean, connects with free buses to get you to your hotel, and is fast. It’s also cheap; my ride was HK$80 (about $11 US), compared to the hotel shuttle bus at HK$125 (which would have taken longer, too). They have a very simple four-stop system, and an interesting indicator of where you are on your way.

airport express:

And now I’m in my room at the Marco Polo HongKong, with a truly wonderful view across Victoria Harbour of Hong Kong Island.

from my room:

The Star Ferry terminal is ten floors below me; I’ll go over to Hong Kong island tomorrow. Right now, it’s been a very long day and it’s time for bed.