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.

UMTS — nice where it works

I’ve been looking for a good answer to connectivity while travelling for quite a while. Most of the time, I find myself paying $10/day for high-speed connectivity at my hotel and at T-Mobile hotspots — it’s great, but it’s not available everywhere. And I haven’t quite talked myself into signing up for the $30/month T-Mobile plan because I do want to be able to use wireless at places other than airports and Starbucks (I can’t afford to drink that much coffee!).

So when AT&T Wireless announced their UMTS service last week, I was very interested. 300kb down, 50kb up — not bad. And IBM is willing to pay for the equipment and service, so I gave it a shot.

I got the Novatel Merlin U520 UMTS modem, since I was looking for a strictly-data service. I took it home, installed the software, and was on the air in minutes. And it worked at the advertised speed. It even worked in my office. I was happy (though the software is somewhat goofy!).

Last night, I decided to try an experiment — I set up my laptop on the passenger seat and had it connect to the service as I drove. I intended to start an audio stream and look for dropouts.

But I didn’t get that far. The modem showed “no signal” in the parking lot. That didn’t bother me, because my phone often shows “no signal” there. But I expected the modem to connect as soon as I got into the flats.

It didn’t. I didn’t keep a constant eye on the modem, but I glanced at it from time to time, and the first time I saw connectivity was only a mile or two from my house.

This morning, I used the modem at home, and again, I was happy — especially when we had a brief power outage, and my connection stayed up even though the house router went down (hmmm, maybe I should get a UPS!).

Then I drove to IBM’s Silicon Valley Lab for a meeting. My cellphone had full signal, but the modem showed no signal. So I came up on the building wireless LAN and did some investigation. It turns out that the Merlin U520 is UMTS-only; it doesn’t fall back to GPRS/EDGE, and so it’s useless in a non-UMTS area, which is most of the country. And so it won’t solve my problem of needing connectivity while travelling.

AT&T Wireless offers two UMTS data-capable cellphones which do claim to fall back to EDGE/GPRS data rates. They’re awfully large, but it’s probably worth trying one as an experiment on an upcoming trip. Otherwise, it’s back to Starbucks.

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.]

Officially Old

I got to invite many of my friends and colleagues, some of whom I’d known for close to 20 years (none of my earliest colleagues from my years in Boca Raton are out here), and we had a pleasant lunch at the Fish Market in San Jose, which IBM paid for (that’s always a sign of a good meal!).

1227 after lunch:

[From left: John Patrick, Diane Goldman, me, Tony Rall, Jon Reinke, Glenn Deen, Brad Wade, Diane Reese]

I had considered holding the lunch on a trip to the East Coast, so that my immediate manager and more of my offical teammates could be there, but then I wouldn’t have been able to have my best friend and most important colleague present.

1225 at fish market: At my QCC celebration lunch

One of the customs at a QCC lunch is that the employee’s manager sends out notes to the employee’s friends asking for letters of congratulations which are then printed out and put into a binder which is presented at the lunch. My friend Sam sent me such a letter; Sam, this photo is just for you.

Missing and Weakest Links

Other than having my QCC lunch, things have been pretty quiet. Last night, though, I was unhappy; my Internet connectivity vanished for no apparent reason (I had all green lights on the DSL modem, but my router couldn’t talk to the Internet). I couldn’t reach my ISP by phone last night, so instead, we watched the special Star Trek episode of The Weakest Link. It was a lot more fun than the regular episodes I’d watched near the beginning of the show’s run; even the sniping and back-biting didn’t seem too serious. And I was glad to note that each star’s charity got a $10,000 donation even if the star was eliminated (a change from the usual game).

I finally reached my ISP today just before lunch; they didn’t see anything wrong, and by the time I got home, nothing was wrong. I hate trying to fix intermittent problems.

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!

Hot and Sweaty Sightseeing

This morning, I woke up and decided that I was ready to go home, so I called United and changed my flight from Tuesday to Monday. I’m enjoying Hong Kong, but the heat and humidity are getting to me; also, I’d be hanging around by myself on Monday (unlike the past couple of days, when I’ve had friends to travel with). And finally, the Fortune Global Forum starts Tuesday at the Convention Centre; some of the guests include Bill Clinton and the President of China, Jiang Zemin. Protests are expected, and my hotel is conveniently located between the protest area and the conference centre. While I’m sure the protests would be educational, I think I can do without learning what tear gas smells like, so I’m bailing out in the morning.

But today, I still had more sightseeing to do — this time with yet another colleague from IBM. He hadn’t been to Kowloon, so we hopped the Star Ferry to the dock at Tsim Sha Tsui. On the way over, I saw a bunch of people in yellow T-shirts.

956 special olympics:

Yellow, of course, is the colour of the Falun Gong, who are proscribed in China, hassled in Macau, and more or less tolerated in Hong Kong — but they aren’t going to be allowed to protest at the Global Forum; instead, they’re being kept across the harbour in Tsim Sha Tsui. So I put one and one together and figured I was seeing a Falun Gong demonstration in progress.

I was wrong; it turned out that the people in yellow were there for the the Hong Kong Law Enforcement Torch Run on behalf of the Special Olympics. But there were people giving out information about Falun Gong at the Star Ferry dock, and it didn’t look like the police were paying any special attention to them.

958 falun gong:

After our near brush with politics, we turned our attention to the view of Hong Kong island; it was a bright and sunny day, and the view was stunning.

951 from kowloon:

I could even see my hotel (the building just to the left of the really tall building) and the Convention Centre (the low building towards the left, projecting into the harbour).

953 from kowloon:

We wandered around for a while and eventually had lunch at Harbour City (it was air conditioned, which was very important at that point in the afternoon!), then took the Star Ferry back to Hong Kong side; I couldn’t resist taking one last shot of the Convention Centre and my hotel.

963 hkcec and hotel from ferry:

Then my friend took off for the south side of Hong Kong, but I was wiped and decided to go back to my room and cool off. Here’s what the Star Ferry and dock looked from the 36th floor.

965 ferry dock from room:

After cooling off for a while, I decided to make one last shopping trip, this time to Times Square, a less-touristy spot at Causeway Bay. Like the Times Square in New York, there’s a Jumbotron to entertain the crowds.

968 times square:

I think this Times Square has more shopping opportunities than the one in New York; I poked around for a while, but the sheer magnitude of the place defeated me. The 9th floor, with ten or fifteen different electronics places, truly impressed me. Anyone who thinks Americans like to shop has never been to Hong Kong.

And now this American has to pack. I have resisted the temptation to buy another suitcase; it’s time to find out if that was a wise decision or not.

Hong Kong Saturday

I started the day with a trip to the health club at the Grand Hyatt (the Hyatt and the Renaissance share some facilities, which seems odd to me, but who am I to argue?). I was already hot and sweaty by the time I got there, but I persevered and actually spent some time exercising. Then it was back to the room to recuperate before taking off for a long day’s sightseeing and shopping.

I spent the day with a friend from the conference; since today was sunny, we decided to make the trip to The Peak [Caution! Page has horrible sound effects which start automatically!] and see if the view was worth the trek. And because today was hot, we decided to take the Peak Tram rather than walking up the 373 meters and thousands of steps.

Both decisions were good. But before we got to the Peak Tram, we took a regular surface tram route along Johnson Road, passing streets like this one:

927 from tram:

And then we ducked into The Landmark (expensive shopping centre) to grab a quick cold soda at Pizza Hut to fortify us for the trip to the Peak Tram. A few minutes later, we were on the tram, and then at the Peak Tower.

935 peak tower:

As is far too typical of tourist spots, the Peak Tower is loaded with kitsch; there’s a Ripley’s, a Madame Tussaud’s, and, of course, tons of tacky souvenir shops. We ignored all of those and went outside to enjoy the view — and the fact that it was a good ten degrees cooler than it was nearer sea level!

The view from The Peak is unbelievable, and I know these pictures don’t do it justice. But here are a couple of attempts anyway. First, a picture of downtown Hong Kong and Kowloon.

941 hong kong:

Here’s the view looking the other way, towards Repulse Bay.

937 back side:

And they’re still building — I wonder how much apartments in this building will go for? It’s on a hill above The Peak and should have an even more impressive view.

936 going up:

But after a while, and after lunch, the siren sound of the city lured us back, and we took the tram downhill.

944 tram:

The tram dropped us near the famous Bank of China building, which looked impressive from The Peak and even more so from across the street.

947 bank of china:

I could also see the Hong Kong Convention and Exposition Centre, where I’d spent most of the week (and where I could have been attending Developer’s Day; I heard later that attendance was pretty light).

948 hkcec:

The rest of the day was spent shopping.

950 no fakes:

And then for dinner, we went to Pasta E Pizza, where the Thai basil on the Pizza Verde was as good as it was last week. I’m going to have to try making that combination at home.

Tomorrow should bring more sightseeing, but for now, it’s time for bed.

Hotel reviews and the opening of WWW10

I’ve tried life on both sides of Victoria Harbour now, and I think I should have stayed on Kowloon side. Last night, I moved to the Renaissance Harbourview, adjacent to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, where WWW10 is being held. The Marco Polo HongKong, where I’d been for the past few nights, is a little bit on the old-fashioned side (they have metal keys, not keycards — can you imagine?), while the Renaissance Harbourview is tres modern and clean. But the Marco Polo HongKong works much better as a place to stay — or at least it does for me.

At the Marco Polo HongKong, one of my challenges was remembering where I’d stashed all my stuff — the room had a walk-in closet with the minibar, as well as a regular closet, and at least two dressers. At the Renaissance, I didn’t have enough drawers to store all my socks and underwear, and my suitcase is sitting in the middle of the room because there’s nowhere to hide it.

At the Marco Polo, there were electrical outlets everywhere and a hair dryer built-in to the bathroom; at the Renaissance, I can only find one outlet, and it’s not very handy, and of course the hair dryer isn’t built-in either.

At the Marco Polo, they had a switch by the door marked “please save energy” so that you could turn off all the lights when you left, but the air conditioning kept going to fight off the heat and humidity. At the Renaissance, there’s a slot well inside the room where you put your keycard, and that activates the lights and A/C — of course, you have to be able to find the slot in the dark to begin with! And the A/C is not very strong, so it takes a long time to cool down the room. But I’ve already beaten the system; it doesn’t check to see if it has a hotel key; anything the size of a credit card will work, and I have a large supply of such cards with me — the card that I bought to add value to my phone account was perfect, since it had no other use once I’d called Orange to update my account, and it has no information which could be used against me (like a credit card number or frequent flyer number).

My room at the Renaissance does have an enormous picture window, much larger than the one at the Marco Polo — but the view from Kowloon was better. And I liked the neighbourhood around the Marco Polo better than Wanchai — the area immediately adjacent to the Renaissance is sterile, but a few blocks away, you’re in the remains of the old Wanchai (see The World of Suzie Wong for more details).

The good news at the Renaissance, though, is that I get Marriot points for staying here, while nights at the Marco Polo were wasted.

WWW10

893 opening

I’m typing this during the opening session of the WWW10 conference. A tradition in this conference series is to have an opening ceremony which partakes of the local culture, then a local politico officially opens the conference. I don’t remember what local color or politico they found for WWW6 in Santa Clara, but the conferences in Melbourne, Toronto, and Amsterdam had interesting ceremonies, and this conference continued.

We began by having the chair of the conference corporation (Nigel French) and the local politico (Carrie Yau, Secretary for Information Technology and Broadcasting for the Hong Kong SAR) “dot the eyes” of the lions, who then proceeded to get the conference off to a roaring start.

895 jumping lion:

Ms. Yau then gave a brief welcoming talk, and now Tim Berners-Lee is giving his view of the Web and its full potential. I’d already heard versions of Tim’s talk three times in the past week, so I have to admit I haven’t been paying rapt attention to it this time around, but it’s clear that practice adds polish.

Community

Happy birthday, Dave.

Susan, you have my condolences and sympathy on the death of your grandfather. Thanks for sharing the good times like his 100th birthday celebration with us.

Jeff, sorry to hear you’ve been dot-bombed.

Falling Behind

Now that the conference has started, I don’t have connectivity during meetings, and so I have less time to read blogs (not to mention trying to keep up with e-mail from my daily job), so forgive me if I fall behind in keeping up with you for a few days. I’ll keep posting during odd moments — but I’m not betting on many good pictures until the weekend.

Amen, brother!

Joel says:

There is nothing that makes me close a web browser faster than going to a home page that plays stupid background music.

This seems almost too trivial too complain about. If your company home page plays stupid background music, stop it.

I couldn’t agree more. I still remember encountering the AT&T ad on the USA Today home page that made a stupid knocking sound and saying “let me in!” every time you went to the page (including returning from an article); that was the day USA Today fell off my list of online news sources to check periodically (and you’ll note I didn’t provide a link here, either!).