December 2009


The gift-giving holiday wisked past me with my wife asking what I wanted for Christmas. I threw in the usual I want a new laptop. My current home computer,  Tabby, is six years old. For a laptop this is old! But Tabby still works ok. In fact I partitioned its 80GB hard drive and installed Windows XP Professional Tablet edition on the C Drive and Windows 7 Ultimate on Drive D. Both worked very well (side note: Win7 boots much faster than XP on this Celeron 800Mhz machine). Bear in mind that Tabby has a 1.2GB RAM (256MB base memory and 1GB on the expansion slot).

I do envy people using the iPhone not so much because of its sleek, cool design but because of what it represents – the opportunity to have a single device to make phone calls and also to do some light computing work – like micro-blogging. But for the type of work (video editing, writing, surfing like help – all at the same time) I do, the iPhone ain’t the slavehorse for me.

I thought about a Netbook. These devices are becoming more gorgeous the longer you hold on from buying one. The new Asus EeePC T91 for example is almost everything I want in a slavehorse except it is uses the Intel Atom processor – which for the uninitiated is not designed for anything beyond surfing the net, writing on a word processor, or watching a video – one at a time. The minute you load a game on a Netbook, it stops being a thing of beauty.

Mind you laptop prices are coming down faster than underwear. Today the cheapest laptop can be had for as low as HK$4,500 (US$576 ) – or about the price of a Sony Vaio P series (a slick Netbook but a Netbook nonetheless). But I am veering of course from this discussion.

What I want is something similar to what Sports Illustrated claims will be the new digital magazine of the future (read 2010 if you believe their advertisement). If you haven’t seen it, click here. I promise its going to knock your socks off.

Of course it probably needs a digitizer (pen and mouse) and a keyboard, plus a stand so I can look at it like a normal laptop while typing or editing videos.

Will this device really come out in 2010? Who knows? A lot of people are throwing their weight on the rumored Apple tablet due out in early 2010 (I say early because the months keep getting pushed back). But I don’t trust Apple to come up with a device that has everything you ever wanted plus more. Sure they could come up with a sleek new design that is generations ahead of everyone else is. But Apple also has a tendency to deliver just enough to wet your appetite and then force you to wait for the next generation for some of those features you wanted in the device at launch (Just look at the iPhone 3GS and its built-in camera -most smartphones come with 5 megapixels).

Apple also has a tendency to not include everything on the device on day one and built-in. Instead the vendor creates an ecosystem of add-on suppliers to give you the special digitizer, the superduper speakers, the pouch to carry your new toy, etc. So much new must-buy add-ons are tied to owning an Apple device purchase. Plus on top of that you are locked in to Apple technology the minute you get sucked in to buying one of its devices. Its just the way Apple works (Can you update your iPod music using software other than iTunes? I don’t think so).

I would love to see Microsoft Surface installed on a portable device. I think it has everything anyone would ever want in a computing device.

If only they could bring it down to a truly portable formfactor.

For now, I will hold off any new purchase and patiently wait for things to come. I just hope Armageddon doesn’t arrive until after I’ve tried my hands on the next best thing.

Happy New Year everyone!

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Merry Christmas

On Christmas eve I am reminded that I haven’t bought any presents for anyone. This is no excuse on my part. My being sick for the past 2 days can’t be an excuse since I usually like buying things in advance. No its just darn laziness plus finding the one present that each recipient will really like and use.

But Christmas was probably not like this all the time. The Bible tells us that Jesus was born into a poor family and under very bad conditions. Except for a donkey, his parents had nothing with them except for some clothes they took with them on a trip. No friends or relatives to share the joy and pain of childbirth. Just strangers – shepherds and wise men. No banquet table! No feast fit for a king. Just a choir of angels singing praises to the heavens, and a humbled parents

Two thousand years later, we remember His birthday by decorating our homes, streets and public places with tinsel. We buy gifts for friends and family. We prepare kingly feasts and invite the people we care about to share our bounty with us.

And for a moment, we wish others peace and good will.

That is the extent to which we remember the spirit with which He came into this world.

We’ve twisted the meaning of Christmas to one that invokes gift-giving and sharing with family. When I was in school we were taught that He came into this world to share peace and love with everyone – friends, family, strangers and enemies. I am sure he had more of the latter two and the former two. Yet today, we share with the former two and ignore the latter two altogether.  

We continue to spend billions building weapons that kill in the name of peace. In the name of peace. What an irony! Rather than spend on social welfare, healthcare and improving the lives of the less fortunate, we build bunkers, buy guns, and put up missiles. All in the name of peace and security.

In truth I have no answer to the proverbial question: when will we have true peace? Perhaps at the end of the world. I hope not. It definitely won’t be in my lifetime unless a miracle happens. But I hope it does come eventually if not in my children’s lifetime, in their children’s lifetime.

Enough said. I’d like to leave you all with this little animated card from JibJab. Have fun and Merry Christmas!

Click here to see my gift to you.

Wikipedia defines Sashimi (Japanese: 刺身, pronounced [saɕimiꜜ]; English: /səˈʃiːmiː/) as a Japanese delicacy primarily consisting of very fresh raw seafood, sliced into thin pieces and served with only a dipping sauce (soy sauce with wasabi paste or other condiments such as grated fresh ginger, or ponzu), depending on the fish, and simple garnishes such as shiso and shredded daikon radish.

Since having my first taste of sashimi in high school I’ve always detested this delicacy. I love almost everything Japanese – Sony, Toshiba, Nikon, Canon, and even Tempura (天麩羅, tenpura, also written as “天ぷら”), a popular Japanese dish of deep fried, battered seafood, or vegetables. I can even have a bite or two of sushi (寿司, 鮨, or 鮓), vinegar rice topped with other ingredients, such as fish, shrimp, eel and octopus.

So why am I writing this? I was in Tokyo from December 17-19 to attend a business meeting. I was invited by my host to join them for dinner Friday evening. The restaurant they picked was Nadaman, on the basement of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. According to my host, Nadaman is famous throughout Japan for the quality of the cuisine it serves.

For the December 18 dinner, my host treated us to a fine selection of Japanese cuisine in true Nadaman tradition. Unfortunately my host had difficulty translating the names of each of the dish that was served so to avoid giving you the wrong names, I will just publish the photos of each dish and let your imagination run wild.

Appetizer

Nadaman Appetizer

First of main course

Nadaman - main course #1

Second of main course

Second main course

Third of main course

Third in the main course

Fourth of main course

Fourth course

Dessert

The dessert

As I said at the beginning of this blog, I’ve never liked sushi much less sashimi. And for the five years I brought customers to Japan to enjoy a traditional meal (or two), I’ve always passed up the chance to eat the best sushi and sashimi in town. But on this trip, I decided I couldn’t say “no” to my host and so I sucked up enough courage and ate my fill of sashimi. And I can tell you, it was worth every bite.

Oishii.

If Obama can do it...

I’ve never stayed longer in Tokyo than five days but each visit allows me to validate my observations about her people and culture. If you ignore the memories of World War II and the Western movies surrounding the myths of the Japanese Yakusa, you can only see a people that appear to live in quiet solitude. This is evidence at the airport as soon as you land. Conversations are often done in quiet altough not-totally muted voices. It’s as if in-built into the Japanese psyche is respect for the persons around you irrespective of whether they are family, friends, acquaintances or strangers. This demeanor is almost alien to many cultures in Asia that see loud (and often irritating) conversations in public places as their God-given right – all the while ignoring this kind of behavior’s impact to those in the periphery.

Let me explain, imagine you are inside an elevator quietly waiting for your stop. In comes two adults and a child who begin a loud, boisterous conversation unmindful of the impact of such loud discussions to others in the confined space.

Another example, a passenger in bus begins a conversation with another person on his (her) mobile phone. This passenger is talking very loud as if the person at the end of the line is having a hard time hearing him (her). All the while people around the passengers are starting to look at the noisy person.

Why can’t people be mindful of the persons around them. In Japan, you will find signs on trains and on buses that ask people not to use their mobile phones. To respect the rights of others. People still communicate using their mobile but most of the conversation is via SMS. If the Japanese people can do it why can’t others.

Sometime ago, a man was talking very loudly on his cell phone while riding a bus. To his surprise someone behind tap him on the shoulder. The noisy man, later dubbed “bus uncle”, was infuriated and demanded that the guy who tapped him on the shoulder to apologize for his action. Who is right in this instance?

What do you think? If this were in the US, would bus uncle be able to do this? In Japan? I will leave you with the observations of another traveler to Japan so you know its just not me.

I’ve always thought that tolerance is a virtue but sometimes I wonder why others don’t seem to care.

This weekend as I was finishing off a video interview on security, I thought it would be good to flush out my Thinkpad X200 memory by rebooting the PC. Next thing you know I get a blank screen with a message:

Windows could not start because the following file is missing or corrupt:
\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\CONFIG\SYSTEM

You can attempt to repair this file by starting Windows Setup using the original Setup CD-ROM.
Select ‘r’ at the first screen to start repair.

Unfortunately this is my office’s property and I was never given the original Windows XP CD. So I waited the next day and called up our tech support guy for help. As soon as I describe the error message – over the phone – he tells me that I only have one option – reformat the hard disk – start over.

Hang on, this is a 4-month old laptop. Its literally new, granted I make it work like a horse (since I work like one for my company and I get paid like one too). He tells me to find a USB drive and backup everything. I explained to him I have to travel to Tokyo on Thursday on business. I think he didn’t hear me. All he said was for me to wait until Wednesday when he comes to the office to install all my programs.

I can tell you this is typical in Hong Kong (and probably elsewhere in the world). My wife’s desktop also had some problems on Monday and her outsourced tech support company sent her a newbie who mucked up her email data.

Outsourced tech support people don’t give a hoot about your problem. They don’t feel accountable to fixiing your tech problems even though that is what we pay them for.

Here are a few tips of keeping tech support away:
1.Power off and on. Sometimes its really a software glitch and switching off and on does the trick. Works with mobile phones too.

2. Install anti-virus and anti-spyware software and keep them up-to-date. If you connect to the Internet or receive emails or are the recipient of other people’s data by way of USB memory sticks, do yourself a favor – get protection.

3. Check cables and power outlets. Sometimes it happens. You switch on your desltop and nothing happens. Before you panic check out the sockets and cables. This happens to my old iMac. When it fails to boot up, I unplug and plug the power cable. It seems to work most times (thank goodness).

4. Backup everything that is important (and not so important). I have 2 external drives at home and two at work. I still don’t get to backup everything because I don’t have a “for dummies” backup software to backup my data. So when my laptop failed to boot and the tech support guy told me to format my hard drive, you can tell I wanted to hang him by my laptop’s power cable. External USB hard drives are now really affordable (US$120 for 1TB). Go get one.

5. Do your research. Vendor websites and forums exists that talk about nearly every conceivable tech problem. When my external USB drive for my iMAC failed several years ago because of a Mac OSX firmware upgrade, the shop where I bought the drive told me they will re-format it. I told the guy to wait until I found an alternative. And sure enough a lot of patience and research later, I printed out the instruction set that allowed him to safely recover my hard drive without reformating it. And yeah, I still paid him to do it even though I literally told him how to do it – yeah, I’m stupid.

6. Someone said that if you remove all the possibilities, whatever remains no matter how improbable is the right answer. Tech support people may sound like geniuses to you and me, but in reality this is all they do to solve a problem. Based on experience, they follow a sequence of steps until they come to what is the answer to your problem. (its the same steps applied to rule 2).

7. Sometimes software glitches do happen. When a software seems to not work no matter what you do, it may be time to uninstall and reinstall it. A rule of thumb my friends and I have come to agree is that for operating systems, its worth doing a complete re-install after 2 years. By then you’ve accumulated enough gunk that you do need to start fresh even though your laptop may be due for an upgrade by then.

Other sources for DIY tech support
Web Worker Daily
Home DIY Support
Tech Support Guy

I live in Hong Kong where life is often ruled by time. My work demands excessive amount of time so much so that its often difficult to find large puddles of time where I can sit down and do nothing, especially during week days. Even lunch you will find me reading emails or scouring through notes of things to do or write about. As a result my entries on this blog are often erratic. I spend 6 hours of sleep and probably a total of an hour for meals. Traveling accounts for maybe 2 hours, including times I need to meet people outside the office. My wife onced said I work 17 hours a day – an exaggeration no doubt but it reflects her concern that work takes precedent over family life. I am trying to change my ways but its hard to change habits you pick up as an adult.

Reading is a luxury these days and often the pile of stuff to read just gets higher and higher. A few years ago I subscribed to audible.com thinking it would be better if I listened to books instead of reading. Today I have about 30 audible books. I’ve probably listened completely to only two. Most of the others remain unplayed. Why? The audible books ranged from an hour to as much as 12 hours long. I live in Hong Kong. I don’t have a car. I take the train to get to work and travel time is 15 minutes. I found it hard to start and stop listening to an audio book – trying to follow the flow of ideas that could literally take me days or weeks to finish.

Then came iMinds. An Australian company founded by Olivia Wood, a former book and publishing executive, who saw an emerging trend (translate: opportunity) in “Education/Entertainment” consumer products and the proliferation of personal technology in all aspects of modern life.

If you think about it many a discussion in bars and pubs are around short snippets of discussions and that people huddle around those who have the wider breathe of knowledge. Forget deep subject matter knowledge. Go wide and shallow! This is how standup comedians keep their audience entertained and focused. The discussions are never dealt with in very deep detail – otherwise you start to becoming boring.

The ipod and phones with built-in mp3 functions are the ideal platform to store these snippets of knowledege. iMinds strategy of doing away with digital rights management (DRM) is also a good way of ensuring that its content gets propagative to as wide an audience as possible. Afterall the only way to ensure the digital media is able to play in as many platforms as possible is to use the most widely used audio format today – mp3.

The choice of 8-minute as the right length of time for majority of its content is great (at least for me). Its just long enough to get enough knowledge without becoming boringly long.

According to the iMinds website, they cover twelve main categories of interest: Ideas & Concepts, Politics, Law & Business, The Arts, History, People & Places, Medicine & Inventions, Sports & Action, Crime, War & Conflict, Pop Culture, Science & Nature, Culture & Religion, Mystery & Conspiracy and include individual topics such as The U.S. Federal Reserve, Evolution, and The Seven Wonders of the World.

I find the heavy emphasis on Americana suggests that a business decision was made early on to focus on the US market. I read Chuck Lawton’s (wired.com) review and he obviously had a wider sampling than I did. But I do agree with him that the quality of production is on par to content produced by audible.com and other production houses. At least for the samples I had an opportunity to listen to the voice of the reader was clear and engaging. Like Lawton I ended up going to Wikipedia to read a bit more about what I just listened. It makes me wonder whether this would be an ideal companion content in some of the upcoming electronic book readers due out in 2010 – at least the ones that support Internet browsing and MP3 playback. There is another business opportunity here for you.

Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose. ~From the television show The Wonder Years

Often times when I travel to a foreign country my hotel room becomes my sanctuary where I can escape from what I often consider a very topsy-turvy world. However, whether for business or pleasure, I find most hotels to be nothing more than staid representations of a temporary place for sleeping. At least until recently. I was invited for a couple of night’s stay at a resort off the coast of Phuket in Phang-Nga, Thailand.

I thought it quaint and troublesome that I had to take a 45-minute ride via speedboat after a three and-a-half hour journey by air from Hong Kong. The first sign that this was different from all the places I’ve been to was not the rickety steps I had to take to disembark from the private speedboat. It was the welcome smile and gentle greeting of my butler – Rihanna as I tried to find my footing after those first few steps coming out of the water.

My wife and I were escorted to our villa by Rihanna where she gently showed us the various amenities of the 181 sqm villa including our private salt-water swimming pool, the guest reception area, and the teardrop-shaped bathtube that overlooks what can only be describe as a forest. There are two showers – the standard indoor shower and an outdoor shower.

The bedroom room was luxurious in its simplicity. A 32″ plasma TV hung from across the bed while a split-type airconditioner kept the room cool. The bedroom had large glass doors that overlook the swimming pool and on a cool day, you can open these glass doors to take in the natural breeze that permeates the island. The rest of the villa’s amenities including mini-bar and ward robe were all in keeping with the Resort’s theme of ecology friendly environment.

If you’ve ever lived in far out remote places like Boracay in the Philippines and Kota Kinabalu in Langkawi, electrical power (or the lack of it) is a constant reminder that you are not living in the city (or very near one). This Resort is no exception. I am not saying there is constant lack of electricity. If any the Resort owners see to it that the standby generators are just seconds away from whenever the local utility operator decides to cut power. So it was that throughout my stay, I experienced power interruptions if only for a few seconds at a time to remind me that all things man-made can be fleeting.

The Six Senses Hideaway Yao Noi is not your typical hotel or resort. It doesn’t boast a wide array of restaurants that many hotels boasts like key attractions. The entire resort of 56 villas is served by just two restaurants called “The Living Room” and the “Dining Room” But what it lacks in quantity it makes up in quality. According to one of the staff I spoke to, 95% of what is served on the dining tables are home-made. Indeed, for breakfast there was an assortment of fruit-based jams that all smelled like they were made that very morning. You tell the staff your preference and a butler stands in wait to take your order and serve it at your table.

There are no buffet tables at the Six Senses Resort even when you are holding your own private party in your villa. But the quality of the food will leave you wanting for nothing more.

Just as a side note, I stayed at the JW Marriott Resort in Phuket following my stint at Six Senses and I swear that there is a vast difference in the quality of the food at Six Senses from conventional resorts like the JW Marriott Resort. At the Six Senses the aroma and taste leaves you feeling full and contented. At JW Marriott the quantity doesn’t make up for the bland taste of what should be mouthwatering Phad Thai fried noodles.

As a testament to the concept of sustainable living, the Resort grows its own vegetables. Outside our villa are rows upon rows of eggplants and lemongrass.

The Living Room overlooks the private beach and the tranquil sea. You can literally spend several hours just eating very slowly as the sun sets into the horizon. There is also a bar, called the Main House, for those late afternoons when you want to contemplate life over drinks of wine. If you fancy a read and forgot to bring along a good book, the Library is just a few steps away offering contemporary reading materials. You also have access to DVDs if you don’t fancy the programs that fed into your bedroom via satellite.

Souvenirs can be purchased at the Gallery. What surprised about the items on sale is that the prices are not that exorbitant compared to most other hotels I’ve stayed at. I’d dare say the price-quality of the items sold were comparable to equivalent branded products from the likes of Marks and Spencer.

Recreation comes in the form of spa and massage treatments. The resort runs a yoga classes every day. Moving around the resort comes in the form of golf carts you can call from almost any time of the day and into the early hours of night. My wife and I took leisurely walks during our stay to and from the villa and restaurant, bar, gallery and library.

As the name implies, the Six Senses Hideaway Yao Noi is a hideaway. It beckons you to leave the noise and worries of modern day living and retreat back to nature. Amenities like soap, shampoo and lotion all carry the distinct aroma of lemongrass and other aromatic herbs. There is a temptation to just stay in your villa and wile the time away.

When Six Senses decided to build a Resort on the island, one of the chief concerns was maintaining the island’s natural contour as much as possible. So it was that no single villa is 100% identical to the other. The terrain is hilly throughout the resort. There is sufficient golf carts to ferry most passengers around although walking is just as refreshing (though may not be as relaxing on a hot Summer’s day). Much of modern day technologies like Internet connection and mobile phone service is kept hidden from view.

If you need anything, your butler is but a phone call away.

So how much is all of this? I can tell you its not cheap. The resort has special offers encouraging guests to book as early sa 60 days in advance. Depending on the villa type, room rates start at US$460++. The return transfers from the airport all the way to the Resort will set you back US$271. So this is a place you don’t plan to come on a regular basis unless you got cash to spare. But for that once in a lifetime getaway, the memories you create will last you a lifetime.

I left the Six Senses Hideaway Yao Noi Resort with a heavy heart because I felt that the 3 days, 2 nights stay was simply too short. The Danish couple that arrived at the same time as we did were staying for a week, the recommended period of stay at the Resort (if you can afford it).

Would I come back to the Resort in the future? If I could afford it yes. Would I recommend it to others? Definitely! Whether I make it back or not to the Resort, I now have a place in my memories of the Resort and from time to time, when pressures of work weigh my heart down, I will look deep into my soul to revive those cherished memories of the Six Senses Hideaway Yao Noi – a bit of tranquil paradise in a world gone mad.

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