Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Nearly out of here

People who have been reading Samizdata will know that I am presently in Seoul in South Korea. I am on my way home to Australia for Christmas. The reason that I am here is that when I was booking my ticket in January, it turned out that one of the cheapest options was to fly on Korean airlines, and that gave me the option of a stopover in Seoul. As I had never been to Seoul before, and as the idea of coming here had some appeal, I said sure, and booked a five day stopover.

The other advantage of stopping here was that it gave me a chance to fight my jetlag more or less in peace without friends and relatives expecting me to talk to them and/or do other activities at times of day when I was not fully functional. As the jetlag involved a nine hour time shift flying east (to here - ten hours to Brisbane), this was particularly good. That time shift is about the worst possible, as it means that after the journey your body things that you should be going to sleep at pretty much the exact time you have to get up.

There are two ways of dealing with this kind of time shift, and they can loosely be referred to as "forwards" and "backwards". Forwards involves staying up later each day until your personal time is the same as that of the place you are. Backwards involves going to bed earlier. Staying up later is usually physiologically easier, but with a nine hour east shift, it means you have to adjust a total of 24 minus 9 hours - that is a total of 15 hours. Backwards is harder, but you have to adjust nine hours only. Which is great, except that adjusting nine hours in this way is an extremely difficult thing to do.

However, if you only adjust five hours, then you can (say) get up at midday and go to bed at 4am. If you are on a business trip, or if you are visiting family, this is not really practical. On the other hand, if you are on a holiday this can be fine. If you want to sample the local nightlife, it can be actively good. And when you go home at the end of the trip, you only have five hours forwards to adjust, which is an absolute piece of cake.

This is what I did when I went to Shanghai earlier this year, but it is not what I have done on this trip, as on this trip I need to adjust completely in time for a family visit. This is a shame, as Seoul is a city that stays up really late. It is possible to go shopping at four o'clock in the morning. Shops that open at 11am and close at 5am are quite common.

This is no doubt great for a lot of people. However, if you have been leaving your hotel at 7am and then wandering around for the portion of the day where there are few things open, it is not always so good. Particularly when it is winter.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Time to return, I think

This blog has been semi-abandoned for the last year, and it was fairly abandoned before that. People who read Samizdata will know I show up there from time to time, but that is pretty much all the blogging I have done over the last year. The strange thing is that I have been getting the urge to blog in ways that are a little too esoteric for Samizdata, and I am not sure that everything I write belongs there. So, I probably do need my own blog again.

In truth, though, I need a redesign. I think I have conceded Patrick Crozier. And some of the pictures have vanished. (I still have all the originals and could bring them back if I were to make an effort, but I am not sure I am going to make that effort). I think the new blog is likely to be at least 50% a photoblog, too, partly because posting photos is less work, at least it is if you take a lot of photos (as I do).

For the moment, though, I might blog here.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Comments that got out of control

This was intended to be a comment left on this post at Jackie's blog, but it got out of control

If you consider the "World camera market" to be the total market for devices that are capable of taking pictures in some way, then the Motorola V3 RAZR is probably the best selling camera of all time. But that doesn't make Motorola an important player in the world camera market in actual fact, because the camera in the V3 is terrible and few people use that particular phone as a camera other than very occasionally. (It is fine as a phone, however). But if you choose carefully how do define the market, you can produce a market share of anything you want. The "market leader" in the camera industry is most definitely Canon, for the simple reason that amongst people who treat photography with a vague level of seriousnous or better, it is clearly the leading brand. It may be that within a few years time people start using their phones the majority of the time as their main cameras, but it is a good way off. And for the sort of photographers who carry an SLR, it will be "never", because lenses will never get small enough. (The question of "share" is also very important. Are you talking the percentage of the number of cameras in the world by volume, by value, by the number of photos taken, by the number of photos taken that are actually shown to somebody later, or what. All Dave Winer said is that Apple are the "market leader' in music players, which I don't think is necessarily even saying they produce the largest number by volume).

And I actually think that cameras and phones are much better suited to be in the same device than are music players and phones. (Why this is I will get to). Generally I just don't buy the idea that mobile phones are going to evolve into these multi-purpose devices that we use for listening to music, surfing the internet, reading our e-mail, et cetera. There are two reasons for this: one aesthetic and one practical. The aesthetic reason is that the more functions you put into the device the less simple it is to use, the more complicated the controls and the menu system, the more general a lot of its user interface becomes, and the less good the user interface is at any particular task. I think with portable devices we are headed for a world in which devices are going to be focused on doing one thing (or a small number of complementary things) really well, rather than doing a huge variety of things. The two portable devices I own that are the most pleasant to use are my iPod (which is just really good at being a music player) and my Blackberry (really good at doing mobile e-mail). I certainly do own multi-purpose smart phone type devices with everything but the kitchen sink in them, but these are more useful as backup for when something goes wrong with the dedicated devices than the devices that I would generally choose to use. In truth the mobile phone industry doesn't appear to have a clue as to how to get the user interface for a music player or an e-mail reader right (although Sony-Ericsson are doing best), which is why I have no intention of doing either of these things on a phone on a regular basis soon. But still I own phone that do these things.

The practical reason is battery life. The more functions you build into one device and which you use regularly, the more power it uses. Playing music is battery intensive, and if you use a phone for playing music a lot, then you phone is constantly running out of power. For many people this is a great social faux pas. Having separate devices means separate batteries, and individual batteries lasting longer. This is a big deal, and it isn't going to change soon.

And as for the iPod dying in 2006, we did get a lot of stories as to how it was in decline in the first half of the year, now that I think about it. Apple had a great Christmas in 2005 with the 5th generation full sized iPod and the 1st generation iPod nano, which were at the time very competitively priced given their capacities. In the first half of 2006 Apple was preoccupied with moving its computer line to Intel and didn't release any new iPod models and didn't drop the price on the existing models (despite the fact that the cost of flash memory in particular dropped precipitously, so that the iPod looked expensive compared to the competition) and large numbers of analysts and journalists assumed that sales have dried up. Apple didn't say anything until releasing financial results in July, at which point it revealed that sales were in fact extremely good (which is presumably why they hadn't cut the price). They have now released significantly cheaper and somewhat upgraded new models, and are going to clearly have another good Christmas. The iPod to me looks as a product to be in rude health, and is the product that is defining the market.

As for what is happening in Asia, there is actually an interesting story there. The iPod seems as dominant in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore as it is here. (It is no coincidence that these are probably the three richest and most fashion conscious cities in Asia). It has a significant but not gigantic share in Taipei. It is not a player at all in Seoul, but Korea is in so many ways a world of its own. My recent experiences of China are indeed that the iPod has a fairly low market share. When I have wandered around the electronics arcades of Shenzhen and Shanghai in recent times I have seen large numbers of cabinets full of all kinds of MP3 players that are not iPods, in all kinds of shapes and bright colours. However, these are I still haven't seen many people using their phones to play music. People are still buying MP3 players as dedicated devices. Mobile phone manufacturers (especially Motorola) are designing mobile phone models specifically for the developing world, and the sweet spot seems to be cheap, elegant and stylish (which people do care about everywhere), and work well as a phone. Music players are nowhere in sight. When people in China want a music player, they buy a dedicated music player. (Photograph taken in an electronics shop in some rather remote corner of Shanghai where the locals really found it quite surprising to see a westerner like me).

However, even in Shenzhen, iPods are in pride of place at the front of the store, and they are what the teenagers are staring at longingly in the shop windows. It is clearly just about money. People buy non-iPod players because iPods cost too much. While most people have to ultimately make do with something cheaper, an iPod is clearly what they aspire to. I saw lots of people with iPod shuffles in Shanghai - a model almost completely lacking in useful features if you ask me - but people spend a lot of money on it in local terms because it is an iPod.

However, if there is a threat to the iPod's dominance, and there has to be one at some point, this is where it is. We have a lot of non-iPod MP3 players that are being produced for Asian markets. A lot of effort is going in to their design. It may be that in this highly competitive market someone gets the design of a player for the Chinese market exactly right in an unexpected way and this new product conquers the world. It may be that the parts for a full features MP3 player become so cheap that the (steadily declining for several years now) prices of genuine Apple iPods are forced down to the point where a relatively high overhead company such as Apple can't make money, at which point Apple possibly does lose much of the market. But that's a way off.

Basic point: I think it is much more likely that the electronics artisans of Shenzhen and Taiwan are going to ultimately defeat Apple in this market than are Nokia or Sony.

Friday, July 21, 2006

This will all end. Just not yet.

This description of the completely over the top Moscow nightclub scene reads so totally like descriptions of the Tokyo bubble circa 1988. That ended gradually after the stockmarket and real estate bubbles collapsed. However, Japan's political system was and is something resembling a democracy, and the Japanese economy was real, and modern, and actually made stuff, or at least some portions of the Japanese economy did, whereas Russia is becoming darkly repressive and the "economy" is just high energy prices and nothing else. An economic or political shock could be nasty, one fears.

Somehow, though, one expects Zaphod Beeblebrox to show up at any moment. The unending party on Stalin's boat sounds almost like something that Douglas Adams made up. Adams' work is even funnier now than it was in 1979. He had the ability to parody the future, somehow. Just the other day, an ATM did actually tell me that it was always glad to serve me. Really.

(Link via Arts & Letters Daily).

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Is it just me?

Or is there something deeply endearing about the thought of Natalie Solent as a little girl, her kind and sympathetic Miss Marple like Englishness and razor sharp mind already there, (her destiny as a libertarian no doubt in place, but a way to go to get there), hiding behind the sofa from the Daleks, observing the precise details of the sofa carefully, and just generally figuring out the important questions of life (How the hell do they go up a set of steps?) faster than most of us.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

I don't mind this answer

Your results:
You are Spider-Man

You are intelligent, witty,
a bit geeky and have great
power and responsibility.


Iron Man
Green Lantern
The Flash
Wonder Woman

Click here to take the Superhero Personality Test

Monday, June 26, 2006

That was just awful

Italy eliminated Australia from the World Cup with a very dubious penalty with five seconds of stoppage time to go. Obviously, I don't care, and the sick feeling I feel in my stomach came for some other reason.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Place dropping, and I am making some attempt to be back

When I last posted to this blog three months ago, I was in China. Since returning to Britain on that trip, I have been to Ireland, Australia, Singapore, Malta, and Switzerland, and I have been quite busy back in London. I think things shall be a little quieter for the next few months, and I am hoping to get back into the swing of blogging a little. But we shall see.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Some problems are common

I am informed by a neutral third party that OxbloggerPatrick Belton is in Pakistan, and that he is able to post to that blog but not read it, as blogspot is blocked but blogger is not. As it happens, I am in exactly the same position, as I am presently in Shanghai in China, and blogspot is blocked by the great firewall of China. Blogger sems to be fine, however.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Yes, there is a problem with the pictures on this blog

I need to move them to a different host site. Hopefully I shall have time to do this in the next few days.

Monday, March 06, 2006

I didn’t go to evil medical school for seven years to be called Mr Evil!

My countryman Patrick Porter over at Oxblog takes slight issue with co-blogger David Adesnik referring to him as "Dr", because although he has done everything he has to do to get his Ph.D. (or actually as this is the other place, I suppose it would be a D.Phil), because he has been informed by his university that he cannot use the title "Dr" until he has been granted "permission to supplicate". I have not heard that phrase before, because although Oxford and Cambridge are very similar instituions, one way in which they are distinguished is by having different weird archaic language for weird, archaic customs that are in fact exactly the same. (I was once told that I could not use the title myself until "I had had the degree conferred upon me by a congregation of the Regent House").

However, it is a truth universally acknowledged by doctoral students (and doctoral graduates) everywhere that one may use the title the moment one has been informed that one has passed, whether or not this information is conveyed officially or unofficially. Another equally well understood convention is that if one has passed, examiners will inform you of this immediately upon completion of the oral exam, whether or not they are supposed to or indeed allowed to. (This leads to a certain amount of euphemism. My oral exam concluded with one of my examiners raising his eybrows at the other, the other examiner nodding, and then the first examiner informing me that "The Board of Graduate Studies forbids me from telling you the result of this examination now. However, you have nothing to worry about". In truth, although I had been nervous at the start of the examination, I wasn't terribly worried by this point, as I was aware that I was handling the questions I was being asked petfectly fine).

So typically, therefore, people start using the "Dr" title, when they have been informed that they may not use the title, and indeed when they have been informed that they may not be informed whether they will be allowed to use the title in future. But they do anyway.

In my case, although I could have had the degree conferred in absentia, I put off having it conferred for a further three years, as it took this long for me to arrange a time when both I and my family could come to England again to attend a graduation ceremony. (Sorry, I mean a Congregation of the Regent House). Although I was technically not supposed to use the title "Dr" for those three years, I did. And nobody cared. I had gone through what Patrick described as the King Hell Road Trip that is a Ph.D. and I had earned it, damn it. (However, the bureaucratic exercise to get from this point to the degree can still take a while, and people know this and therefore ignore it. Don't get me started on how the Board of Graduate studies lost my dissertation). A few months after my exam I received a letter from the university informing me that the degree had been approved (and reiterating that I was still not supposed to call myself Dr), and if anyone (an employer or a professional registration board, generally) wanted proof that I had the degree, this letter was perfectly adequate for them.

So congratulations Dr Porter. Enjoy the blogging.

Of course, it is also generally considered okay to be pompous about the "Dr" for six months or so after starting to use it. After that, we generally only use it professionally, when writing particularly rude letters to organisations that have given us particularly bad customer service, when filling out credit card applications, or when talking to Germans. (And then there is the question of whether one should put "Dr" before one's name or "Ph.D." after when using it professionally). Any use of it in excess of this is considered a bit of a wank. As indeed may be this post.

Update: Actually, thinking about it some more, there is one time when "Dr." is frequently used, and that is when greeting a colleague who you know from your Ph.D. program, particularly when you haven't seen them for a while. ("Dr Jones. Good to see you.". "Dr Jennings. How are you? I am absolutely splendid."). I suspect military types who went through boot camp together have similar rituals.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

That Palace of Culture does get around

Saturday, February 25, 2006

More from last weekend


The Saxon Market in Warsaw is build around a disused football stadium. The market isn't exactly inside the stadium, but it is built on the rim at the top of the stadium, the various stairs and slopes on the outer sides of the stadium, and the ground around the stadium. When I was there last weekend, the inside of the stadium was covered with snow. It is really a remarkable place.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I think it may actually be more a matter of "Polish parents want their kids to love English, actually.


That said, to fully function in the modern globalised world, I think you do need English, so you might as well start early.
I've been lazy about my redirections, but here is a roundup.

I have just posted a piece on Samizdata about the classic geek movie Tron, and why it didn't win an academy award for Best Visual Effects.

A couple of days ago, I posted a piece about searching for Danish cheese in a Carrefour in Warsaw.

The day before that, I posted a piece on Stalinist-Gothic-Vampire architecture in Warsaw.

I have a couple of other posts that I put up in the last couple of months for which I cannot presently find beacuse Samizdata's archives are screwed. I will post even more belated redirections when I do find them.

Monday, February 20, 2006

This is me trying to be too arty
I love the modern globalised world

I am sitting in my flat in London, eating some delicious kabanosy Polish sausage, that I bought a few hours ago in Poland. I think this is cool.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The English language could use this word


The sign just points to one of those little shops that selll computer components and accessories, and where the owner builds made to order computers for customers and does laptop repairs, often on a "no fix no fee" basis. (These shops often have one or two pay for use internet computers in the corner, too, so they can be useful if you can't find a more conventional internet cafe).
I am in Warsaw

I had a very trying trip here this morning, which involved (amongst other things) having my credit card eaten by a ticket machine at King's Cross Thameslink railway station, and sitting in an aeroplane on the ground at Luton airport for more than two hours before we were able to get underway. But I had a pleasant afternoon just the same. I was last here in 1992: at that point the city was a huge expanse of grey concrete blocks going in all directions to the horizon, surrounding a small but very beautiful centre that was rebuilt post war and one of the most ludicrous Stalinist buildings ever created. The ludicrous Stalinist building is still there, but it is now surrounded by a variety of other stuff. And the rest of the city has much more colour, and there are newer buildings. I am going to try to explore some of the outskirts of the city tomorrow. I suspect that some of the more interesting new developments have occurred there. (As always, that would be easier with a car, but I am doing this trip without one).

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

You scored as Serenity (Firefly). You like to live your own way and donĂ¢??t enjoy when anyone but a friend tries to tell you should do different. Now if only the Reavers would quit trying to skin you.

Serenity (Firefly)


Nebuchadnezzar (The Matrix)


Moya (Farscape)


Bebop (Cowboy Bebop)


Babylon 5 (Babylon 5)


Galactica (Battlestar: Galactica)


Deep Space Nine (Star Trek)


Millennium Falcon (Star Wars)


SG-1 (Stargate)


Enterprise D (Star Trek)


Andromeda Ascendant (Andromeda)


FBI's X-Files Division (The X-Files)


Your Ultimate Sci-Fi Profile II: which sci-fi crew would you best fit in? (pics)
created with

Sunday, February 12, 2006


I have a sort of tangentially on the winter Olympics but mainly on the Australian Institute of Sport piece over at Samizdata.
What am I?

Yesterday, I went into a travel agent to enquire about fares to Australia at Christmas. The rather bubbly and helpful girl behind the counter gave me some information and then asked me "Have you been to Australia before?"

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Saturday evening song lyics

Sit, good dog, stay, bad dog, down, roll over
Well here's a good man and a pretty young girl
Trying to play together somehow,
I'm wasting my life, you're changing the world,
I get drunk and watch your head grow

It's the good times that we share
and the bad times that we'll have
It's the good times
and the bad times that we had

Well it's been a long slow collision,
I'm a pitbull, you're a dog,
Baby you're foul in clear conditions
But you're handsome in the fog

So I need some fine wine, and you, you need to be nicer
For the good times and the bad times
That we'll have

Sometimes we talk over dinner like old friends
Till I go and kill the bottle,
I go off over any old thing,
Break your heart
and raise a glass or ten

To the good times that we shared and the bad times that we'll have
To the good times
and the bad time that we've had

Well it's been a long slow collision,
I'm a pitbull, you're a dog,
Baby you're foul in clear conditions
But you're handsome in the fog

So I need some fine wine and you, you need to be nicer
For the good times
and the bad times we know will come
I need some fine wine
and you, you need to be nicer
you need to be nicer
you need

For the good times
and the bad time that we had

Good times, bad times
Sweet wine, bad wine
Good cop, bad cop,
Lapdog, bad dog

I need some fine wine and you, you need to be nicer, by the Cardigans, from the Album Super Extra Gravity

(More regular blogging is likely to resume here soon).

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Back in London

Must sleep now.
I am in Valencia in Spain

However, I have found some WiFi pretty much in the last moment before I have to go home, so right now I need to get off the internet and head for the airport. More when I am back in London.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


This morning I received a package from the Home Office, which included a letter telling me that my application for permanent residency status in the United Kingdom had been granted, and which also contained my passport. This is good news all round. One good thing is that I am no longer grounded in this country. I have been unable to travel for the last several months, and this has been getting me down. I was tempted to go to Paris for lunch tomorrow, but decided that this would be a little too expensive. (A return train ticket with this little notice would be about £100). However, I might go to Spain next weekend.

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