Saturday, July 05, 2003

I really love the Onion

As well as being a dazzlingly spot on (and at times very close to the bone) parody of a regional newspaper, the Onion contains some of the smartest reviews of popular culture around. The people who write for it have to have a spectacularly good feel for popular culture to get the parodies right, and they use this without the parody in the review section. This couple of lines from their review of Terminator 3 has to be my favourite quote from a review in a while

Terminator 3 finds his good cyborg once again squaring off against a more technologically advanced evil cyborg from the future, this time a foxy lady Terminator (newcomer Kristanna Loken) who's sort of like T2's shape-shifting Terminator as redesigned by the editors of Maxim. With her big eyes, stiff gait, and robotic voice, Loken suggests a cross between the ultimate sex doll and the little-girl robot from Small Wonder, only all grown up and ready to kill.

Thursday, July 03, 2003

Around the blogs

I have a brief piece on Wimbledon and cricket at Ubersportingpundit, and a piece on national anthems and July 4 at Samizdata.
Hutchison Telecom Update

The half finished post on Hutchison Telecom's bizarre Australian "business" that accidentally got posted yesterday has been finished. It is down the page here.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Weird stuff in my refer logs

This is intriguing. Is noise pollution a big problem in Bangladesh?
Tiny Cricket thingy

Yesterday, England tried to play Zimbabwe at Headingley. Sadly, though, there was lots of rain. After lots of delays, England batted first in what had been reduced to a 25 over game. Zimbabwe bowled pretty well, and good bowling from Streak and Blignaut reduced England to 4/81 off 16.3 overs: not very good for what was supposed to be a 25 over game.

Sadly though, it then rained again and the match was abandoned. Zimbabwe and England too three points each.

Not much to say. Zimbabwe are clearly a better one day side than test side. Zimbabwe have three more games in the tournament: one against England and two against South Africa. If they can win one more game (and they might, as they are playing okay) they have some change of making the final, depending on other results. If they can win two (a tall order) they will definitely make the final. A South Africa v England final looks to be overwhelmingly the most likely possibility, but Zimbabwe's participation is not impossible.

Update: Of course, when the rain did come down, England captain Michael Vaughan (thankfully back from injury) was batting quite well, with 35 off 45 balls. Under the rules, the finish of the game was allowed to be delayed one hour from the scheduled time, but this time had been used up already due to the late start. Vaughan said that since it stays light until at least 9pm at this time of year, then the powers that be should consider changing the rule to allow a further extension of play in order to get a result. This cricinfo article suggests that it is in fact ICC rules that restrict the extra time to one hour.

Of course, the situation is actually more complicated than this. There are also cases where day games are played on ground with floodlights and it would be possible to extend play into the evening if the lights were turned on. So, it would make sense for different rules to apply in different times and places. Interestingly enough, when I check the ICC playing conditions that apply for one day internationals, they seem to be very flexible. Condition 12.6 simply says that "The participating countries may agree to provide for extra time where the start of play is delayed or play is suspended". It seems to actually be the current rules for games in England that restrict the extra time to one hour. So, it doesn't look like we can blame the ICC here.

This is a shame. If the rules were such that games start in the morning and that play can continue until 9pm if necessary, I think there would be very few times when you would not get a result. If the players want this (and by Vaughan's comment they seem to) then this should really be looked at.
The world's stupidest mobile phone business

Scott Wickstein has some follow up comments on my recent Samizdata piece on mobile phone technology. (There is now a lengthy further discussion in the comments section of that post, which some people may want to read, although it does get fairly geeky towards the end). In particular he points out the mess that Hutchison telecom appear to be making with their recently launched 3G network in Australia. I agree, but there are two separate issues here. One is the mess being made by Hutchison specifically, and the other is the problems with the 3G technology in general.

In order to understand all this, it is necessary to go back in time somewhat, and to look at the history of the Hutchison company. The telecoms business is all an offshoot of a the Hutchison Whampoa conglomorate belonging to Hong Kong tycool Li Ka-Shing. In the early 1990s, a lot of countries issued 2G mobile phone licences, and in most cases they issued more licences than there had been 1G (analogue licences). Hutchison bought new entrant licences in a lot of places, and built and operated networks under the name "Orange". In most instances (but not all) these networks became very successful and Hutchison sold many of them to other players at the height of the telco boom and made a huge amount of money.

When 3G licences were issued in the late 1990s, Hutchison attempted to do the same thing again. They bought 3G licences aimed at new entrants in a whole host of countries, and they are now attempting to build networks and market share as new entrants. However, it seems much harder this time, as the technology doesn't work yet, the incumbents have a lot more market power than was the case when 2G went into operation, and there are economies of scale that apply to 2G that do not apply to 3G yet. It is possible to provide new services using 3G such as video calls, but people don't appear to want this.

Now, however, we go to Hutchison in Australia. Here, the mismanagement is mind-boggling. To start out, there were only three 2G (GSM) licences issued in Australia in the early 1990s. These were awarded (on a tender basis rather than auction) to Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone. Hutchison did not get one. The next round of spectrum auctions in Australia were in 1998, when two licences were issued for spectrum in the 800MHz band formerly used by analogue services. Telstra and Hutchison bought these, and both built networks using the American technology known as CDMA. In many ways this is a superior technology (particularly in rural areas) but far fewer CDMA networks have be built in the world than GSM, and Nokia in particular is in the GSM camp. While Nokia makes CDMA handsets for the US market, it for a long time refused to supply them in Asian markets. This restricted Hutchison's product (again sold as "Orange") because the phones they had were mostly Korean and didn't appeal to the fashion conscious. Despite a lot of advertising, this, mixed in with the late launch compared to other operators led to Orange picking up very few customers in Australia. (They have an astonishingl lousy market share of about 2.8%. The market share otherwise is something like Telstra 45%, Optus 35%, Vodafone 17%).

For some reason, when more GSM licences went on sale in Australia in 2000, Hutchison spent something like $800 million Australian to buy one of these. Nobody knows why, as they have since done nothing with it. It just seems they pointlessly poured $800 million down the drain. (OneTel also bought a GSM licence at this point, and with the help of Lucent built a network, but this was switched off when OneTel later went bankrupt).

Thuse there are actually five 2G mobile phone networks in Australia. Telstra owns two (one CDMA and one GSM), Optus owns one (GSM), Vodafone one (GSM), and Hutchison one (one CDMA). (There was also one more (GSM) network that belonged to OneTel, but this was switched off when OneTel went bust).

Now we get to 3G. There are actually two separate technologies for 3G phones, UMTS (W-CDMA), which is European, and CDMA2000, which was invented by Qualcomm of the US. Existing CDMA networks can be upgraded to CDMA2000 without buying new spectrum, but UMTS requires new spectrum. (It is possible to build a CDMA2000 network in new spectrum, but not mandatory). If you have an existing CDMA network, then it seems to make sense to upgrade to CDMA2000, because the cost is a lot less. Also, there is the small fact that CDMA2000 actually works, whereas UMTS doesn't really yet.

In 2000, 3G licences went on sale in Australia, and as the number of people who wanted licences and the number of licences available were approximately the same, they didn't cost much. All the incumbents bought licences. At present, Hutchison are the only company to have built a network. However, they have built it using the UMTS technology that is incompatible with their existing network, and which doesn't work. (They have done this because Hutchison have globally decided to use the UMTS technology everywhere, and they are just obeying instructions from head office). Telstra on the other hand are upgrading their existing 2G CDMA network to CDMA2000 and at the same time have a licence to build a UMTS network if they discover later that this is the technology that is becoming dominant worldwide.

Thus we have a situation where Hutchison in Australia have built two incompatible mobile networks, have spent 800 million dollars on a licence for another incompatible network that they haven't built, and with all this they have managed to obtain less than 3% market share. This boggles the mind.

(And as for video calling being an application that nobody wants, I couldn't agree more. Picture messaging is clearly an application that people do want. (I am in Venice. Here is a photograph of the canal. You are stuck at work. Nah nah nah nah). People however generally do not want the other person to see them when they talk. There are two many issues of clothes, make-up, bad hair days, and the like. The stupid thing is that this was discovered by AT&T in the 1970s. AT&T actually wasted an enormous amount of money discovering it. Now, however, we simply have companies with no memory learning the lessons of the past all over again. The reason Hutchison have promoted video messaging as their killer application is that it is the only way they can really differentiate themselves from the competition. It is the only feature that they presently have that their competitors don't have. They are desperately clinging to it, because without it their whole business case collapses.

Oops: A half-written draft of this article escaped into the wild here. I shall finish it later. Since Scott Wickstein already left a comment, I will leave it up for now, but I will replace it with a finished version later.

Further Oops: It got partially updated, but then my computer crashed and I lost some further changes. This post is doomed.

Update: It's finished. Yay.
A small milestone

The blog has just had its thousandth comment posted. (I think around 350 of the comments posted have been me responding to other comments, but I don't have an exact number). I find the comments section here to be rather cozy, almost like friends having a chat around a fire on a cold winter night with a good bottle of port. So thanks, everyone.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

A great Aussie invention

In Australia, beer bottles generally come in two sizes. The larger of these is known as a "long neck" and holds 750ml of beer. Typically, beer from such a bottle is poured into glasses, and may be shared by more than one person. Smaller bottles are known as "stubbies", and these used to be normally hold 250ml of beer, although 375ml is now more common. Typically, the top is removed from a stubby, and the beer is consumed directly from a bottle. (To achieve the full Australian male experience, this should be done while standing around a barbecue and occasionally prodding sausages with an oversized fork). Around 20 years ago, when I was a child, a change came over the design of the stubby. This was the invention of the "twist top". Rather than having a single round glass rim, the glass in the neck ot the bottle forms the shape of a thread. A standard metal top is fitted over the thread. This means that the bottle can be opened either using an opener, or by tightly wrapping your hand around the bottle top and twisting until the top comes off.

In Australia, this was an important innovation. It allowed men standing around barbecues to open their beer without needing to find an opener. And they could show their manliness by not flinching at the small amount of pain felt when opening a bottle this way. They could pretend that they in fact had hands toughened by manual labor in the somewhat mythical Australian outback. That kind of thing.

Before moving overseas, I just kind of assumed that this important innovation had affected beer bottle design elsewhere as well as in Australia. However, apparently not. I have not seen the twist top anywhere else. Beer bottles elsewhere seem to need openers. Foreigners have no need for the standing round the barbecue and opening beer bottles with their hands ritual. Curious.
BT Sucks

My usual e-mail address,, is not working very well at the moment. I am receiving e-mail, but at unpredictable times after long delays. If you really want to contact me, please send e-mail to, which I shall check regularly today. Alternately, if you have received mail from me in the past, and you hit reply, you will find that the e-mail will go to a third address at a different ISP. This address is still largely spam-free, so I am not posting it on the web in any form.

Monday, June 30, 2003

It's picture time

When in Bilbao recently, it was good to see that figures from authentic Basque culture are being used to instruct the people in how to correctly use a rubbish bin

So how do you say "Have a cow, man" or "Eat my shorts" in Euskera, anyway? I particularly like the picture of Barney on the beer can, which careful readers will observe was actually photographed on a different bin

Something that annoys me

I have a piece on bag searches in Australian shops and the related civil liberties issues over at the White Rose
A good effort

A few weeks ago, I commented that in its home matches this season the West Indian cricket team had lost every match they played when the series in question was still undecided, and won every "dead" match after the series was decided. At the time there was one series to go: the two match test series against Sri Lanka. As I have written on this blog, the first match was drawn due to rain, so this in a sense broke the West Indian jinx. However, when it came to the crunch in the second test this weekend, it is nice to see that the West Indians came good. At the end of the second day's play, Sri Lanka were 5/129 in their second innings, a lead of 146 runs. The West Indies needed to bowl Sri Lanka out as quickly as possible and hope that their fine batting lineup could get the runs in a peculiarly low scoring match. In particular, it was time for Lara to play what is known in cricket as a "captain's knock", an innings in which the captain demonstrates to his teammates how it is done.

Before that, though, there were wickets to be taken. As it happened, Corey Collymore continued the job he started on Saturday evening, taking a total of 7 wickets for 57 runs. Despite a little resistance from Dharmasena and Vaas, Sri Lanka were bowled out for 194, setting the West Indies a very gettable target of 212, by most standards not very much, but (if achieved) the highest innings score of the match. The West Indies lost Gayle very quickly and Hinds with the score on 50, but after that Sarwan and Lara did the worlk with little difficulty. Sarwan was out for 82 with the scores level and one run required to win, and Lara did what was asked of him, being 80 not out at the end. In a way it was a shame that the target wasn't a few more, as that way Lara could have completed his sixth century in his last six matches against Sri Lanka. Anyway, the West Indies won the match by seven wickets and the series 1-0, with Collymore being declared man of the match and of the series. (That second award seems a little hard on Lara to me).

And so ends the West Indian home season. The West Indies dominated cricket from about 1980 to 1993, before falling into dreadful decline, and losing to just about everyone. This season they have shown signs that they are on the way back. They played well at times in the World Cup, thanks at least partly due to some great batting from Sarwan. Sadly, the combination of defaults, rain, and an upset in a game not involving them cost them a place in the second round of that tournament. They then went on to lose to Australia at home, but that happens to everyone. Thankfully, they showed some good moments in that series, and Lara batted superbly. Finally, they ended the season on a high note with this win over Sri Lanka. The West Indies play South Africa in South Africa at the end of the year. That should be good. I love watching West Indian cricket, particularly Brian Lara when he is in the sort of form he has been in recently. I must try to go there in four years: perhaps for the World Cup, perhaps for the Australian tour that follows it.

Briefly, South Africa played Zimbabwe in Canterbury yesterday. South Africa batted first and scored 5/272 off 50 overs thanks to 125 not out from Jacques Kallis, his second successive century in this series. This was always likely to be too much for the Zimbabweans, whose batting lacks the depth needed to chase that sort of score. The Zimbabweans made a reasonable fist of it, at one point being 2/146 off 33 overs, but after Friend and Flower were out the wickets tumbled, the Zimbabweans scrambling to 9/226 off the 50 overs and losing by 46 runs. Zimbabwe will likely have to win two of their last four matches to make the final, which is a tall order for them.

Apparently we are going to have Krispy Kreme in Sydney very soon. Perhaps I should return.

Update: Further research informs me that the store is open, and in fact that the only Krispy Kreme store outside North America is in Penrith. This is not where I would have picked it to be. Not that there is anything wrong with Penrith, particularly. It's just that the place is suburban and somewhat nondescript, although it does have a nice river running through it. That said, I can just imagine the store amongst all the other franchise operations outside Panthers World of Entertainment, next to the far less classy Spur Steak Ranch (one of the few Spur Steak Ranches outside Africa, but still not especially classy).

That said, it is probably somewhere else in Penrith entirely.
Sadly, they don't make film stars like this any more

Firstly Gregory Peck, and now Katharine Hepburn has died. She was 96. As we say in cricket playing countries, she had a good innings.

Sunday, June 29, 2003

A man and his mobile phone

I have a lengthy piece over at Samizdata on trends in mobile phone technology.

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