Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Has Microsoft has lost the plot?

The online search business is getting super-competitive. I just received an email from points.com telling me that I can earn frequent flyer points if I switch my online searching to Microsoft Live Search.

Sorry guys, Google is far superior to Microsoft Live Search, so I have no intention of switching to an inferior product just to earn frequent flyer points.

In any event, another condition of earning the points is that your browser has to be Microsoft's Internet Explorer. I use Firefox – and I have no intention of changing that either.

These days I use Microsoft products ONLY when there is no viable alternative (such as the XP OS on my PC).

Microsoft made me super-cranky in 2006 when they deleted more than 600 travel photographs from my MSN Groups site 'David's Asia Pix' which had taken me years to build up and caption. I never did find out why they did that.

I tried writing to Microsoft to find out what had happened to my photos, but there are no contact addresses for technical support on any of the MSN Groups sites.  Even when Microsoft sent me the notifications for the annual charges for storing these photos in MSN Groups, and I replied to those mails, all I got back was an automated response saying they were ‘unmanned’ addresses.

After several weeks of trying to hunt down an email address to report technical problems in MSN Groups, I eventually found a ‘feedback’ mail address to which I was able to send my email.  But lo and behold all I got back was another automated response saying my feedback “would be taken into consideration” but I wouldn’t get a personal reply.

So after wondering whether Microsoft was being staffed by robots, I tried sending emails to various corporate addresses that I found on other Microsoft sites, asking them to forward my query onto the relevant technical support department – but no responses and no replies.

At the end of the year I even resorted to sending a snail mail letter to Microsoft in Seattle, but that was nearly two years ago and I still haven't got a reply.

So I came to the conclusion that Microsoft must have grown into such a large monolithic organisation that it is no longer possible for ordinary human beings to have any contact with them. 

I put a lot of work into posting my photos and writing the captions, so to say that I was displeased with Microsoft is an understatement. I vowed never to buy another of their products if I could possibly avoid it.

But there is a silver lining to this story. My annoyance at not being able to get any reply from Microsoft prompted me to buy a Mac – and WOW, I never knew what a pleasure personal computing could be.  No crashes, no viruses, no blue screens and the software actually works ALL of the time.  So perhaps I should be thanking Microsoft for ignoring me because otherwise I would have never have known what life was like on the Apple side of the fence.

POSTSCRIPT: Out of curiosity I just checked my old MSN Groups (it's always been there minus the photos) and now I see there is a notice on the top of the page advising MSN Groups users that Microsoft will be closing down its MSN Groups sites in February 2009.

I clicked on the link that said 'Why is MSN Groups Closing?' and this is what you will see:

“Because we are dedicated to providing our customers with the most current and user friendly technology available today we made the difficult decision to close the MSN Groups service.nbsp; This decision is part of an overall investment to update and re-align our online services with Windows Live. In the long term we believe that closing the service is the best way to continue to offer innovative, best of breed services that help you stay in touch with the people you care about. We plan to launch a new Groups service this fall, but unlike MSN Groups, Windows Live Groups will focus on offering a place for small groups to collaborate. A service for small, medium and large groups is available now with our online partner Multiply.”

“Because we are dedicated to providing our customers with the most current and user friendly technology available today . . ."!!! Have you ever heard such garbage?

If Microsoft were truly “dedicated to providing its customers with user friendly technology", it would seamlessly transition its MSN Groups to the new platforms – not shut down a service that tens of thousands of people around the world have put millions of man-hours into developing.

Other web providers always make sure new services are backwards compatible – it's a golden rule if you don't want to alienate your customers.

I really think that Microsoft has lost the plot.

(I also wondered whether the 'nbsp' at the end of the first paragraph of Microsoft's explanation in italics above was really a non-breaking space HTML entity accidentally left in, or whether the writer was intending to say – as the Urban Dictionary defines the acronym 'nbsp' - “no bullshit please”)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The ASEAN Golden Melodies Festival

I have been trying to log onto the ASEAN Golden Melodies website during the week (www.aseangoldenmelodies.com) to get the list of winners from the event that I attended in Ho Chi Minh City last weekend, but I keep getting error messages.

I managed to get hold of a list of the winners direct from the organisers yesterday, so I will post those here in case anyone else is looking for them. I've also posted a few photographs from the concerts below. The photos are a bit soft as I shot them all at 1000 ISO from where I was sitting (the distance was too far to use flash).

ASEAN Golden Melodies Festival 2008 winners:

Folk categories -

- Gold Medals: Ms Hong Ngat (Vietnam) and Mr Reynaldo Raymond Pagi (Malaysia)
- Silver Medals: Mr Dam Vinh Hung (Vietnam) and Ms Nur Nadia Fadilla Abu Bakar (Malaysia)
- Bronze Medals: Mr Hendra Sudarmanto (Indonesia) and Ms Putri Norizah Ibnor Riza (Brunei)

Pop categories -

- Gold Medals: Ms Nur Nadia Fadilla Abu Bakar (Malaysia) and Ms Ngoc Anh (Vietnam)
- Silver Medals: Mr Minh Quan (Vietnam) and Mr Dam Vinh Hung (Vietnam)
- Bronze Medals: Ms Nykó Macá (Philippines) and Ms Dio Annisa Hapsari (Indonesia)

The two photos above were taken during the opening sequences

Above: Dam Vinh Hung of Vietnam won silver medals in both the folk and pop categories

Above: 14-year-old Pimnara Varahajirakul from Thailand was the youngest performer

Above: Daw Lé Lé Win and Ye Yini Wai Lwin from Myanmar perform a folk song

Above: Guest artiste from Korea

Above: Hong Ngat of Vietnam won a gold medal for her folk song

Above: Putri Norizah Ibnor Riza from Brunei won a bronze medal in the folk category

Above: Guest artiste from China

Above: Dio Annisa Hapsari of Indonesia picked up a bronze medal for her pop song

Above: Nykó Macá from the Philippines was the other bronze medal winner in the pop category

Above: Minh Quan and Dam Vinh Hung from Vietnam (left) were silver medal winners whilst Nur Nadia Fadilla Abu Bakar from Malaysia (right) picked up both a gold and a silver

Above: Reynaldo Raymond Pagi of Malaysia won a gold medal in the folk category

Above: The three girls from Indonesia (Dio Annisa Hapsari), Brunei (Putri Norizah Ibnor Riza) and the Philippines (Nykó Macá) were my favourites – they didn't win golds but at least they won bronze medals. Dio Annisa's singing partner from Indonesia, Hendra Sudarmanto, also won a bronze medal – he was very good too.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Cute Vietnamese girls & hot Kazakh music

I was looking for some information on the Internet this afternoon about the Vietnamese singers who appeared in the pop section of the ASEAN Golden Melodies Festival last night. I couldn't find what I wanted but my search did lead me to this video on YouTube labeled 'Cute, pretty, hot and sexy Viet'. The song is great (and the girls are pretty cute too).

The person who uploaded the video - which has been watched more than half a million times (I wonder if it's the music or the girls that's pulling them in) - said he wanted to demonstrate that Vietnamese girls have 'class' - apparently someone had posted a comment that Vietnamese girls don't have any class. (I am not so sure that all the girls in the video are Vietnamese though).

I initially thought it was a Vietnamese pop song, but after listening to it a couple of times I realised that the language was not Vietnamese. The language was familiar, but it wasn't until I did a bit more research that I identified it as a song by a group from Kazakhstan called Do-Mi-No (in Kazakh the name is written as Do-Mи-No).

The name of the song is variously written as Ayim ai, Ayimay or Ajimaj.

I also found a video of the group performing the song live at a concert:

I will check to see if they have anything on iTunes when I get back to KL. I like their music.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Massage upselling, Saigon style

After two nights on planes and six days in conferences and meetings in the past two weeks, I felt like I needed a good massage to loosen up my stiff back.

As the next two festival concerts are not until Saturday and Sunday nights, I headed down to Dong Khoi in the evening where I knew there were a couple of reputable massage places. In fact there turned out to be six or seven now, and all were using attractively dressed hostesses in colourful ao dais handing out brochures to attract customers to the competing establishments.

One of the hostesses approached me to offer a one hour massage for US$11. That sounded like very good value for money – even for Vietnam – so I said okay.

As I followed her towards the entrance of the nearest massage place (which was where I thought she was from) she beckoned me to carry on walking past. We then crossed the road, and went around a corner to another place. It seems some of the massage places plant their hostesses near the entrances to their competitors to draw customers away.

As we walked down the street I became a little concerned about where she was taking me, but the place we ended up at was very well equipped – clean and modern with showers and lockers and proper massage tables.

When we arrived in the reception the manager greeted me and asked me if I would like 60 minutes for US$20 or 75 minutes for US$25.

I replied: “But your hostess just told me that one hour is $11.”

The manager then said that the $11 was for a ‘hard’ massage without any oil, but the $20 massage was for a ‘more relaxing’ massage with genuine aromatherapy oils.

“Chinese men like the hard massage because they like pain,” she said. “But foreigners like you don’t like pain.”

“But your choice”, she added. “You can have the $11 massage if you like,” beckoning towards a heavily built middle-aged masseuse who was sternly staring at me as if to say “you’ll regret it if you choose the $11 massage.”

“Or you can have the relaxing $20 massage,” this time beckoning towards a slim and very attractive young masseuse who was smiling sweetly at me.

I imagined the heavily built woman kneading her knuckles into my muscles muttering “pain, pain, pain” as she dug deeper. And then I thought of the slender young masseuse running her soft fingers over my body and the relaxing aroma of the essential oils.

“I’ll take the $20 massage,” I said.

It was a good choice. It wasn’t quite my fantasy of the soft fingers running over my body, but she was a very good masseuse. She had an unusual style – a sort of cross between Swedish massage and Thai, and she did a lot of stretching of the muscles. In fact I would say it was one of the best massages that I have had for a long time, and I felt very energised after it.

Massage in Ho Chi Minh City is very good value for money and those places along Dong Khoi are clean and reputable (I expect there are some ‘dodgy’ places around like there are in any big city, but I don’t think you’ll find them along Dong Khoi) but beware of the prices that are quoted by the hostesses on the street – it’s just the ‘Asian way’ of getting customers in the door before they start the ‘upselling’.

More toxic food from China

A story in yesterday’s Straits Times reported that some people in Japan had been taken to hospital after eating green beans from China. Their mouths had become numb. Tests subsequently revealed that the beans had 34,500 times the permitted residue of pesticides on them. After the recent melamine cover-up and last year’s food scandals, I wonder if anyone going to feel safe eating food from China again?

More fun with Air France

The rituals with the wigs wasn’t the only ‘fun’ I had with Air France yesterday.

As I was heading to Ho Chi Minh City to be an honorary judge in the ASEAN Golden Melodies Festival, I didn't want to risk losing my suit if my bag went astray en route (both Paris and Bangkok have bad reputations for losing bags) so I packed my suit trousers in an overnight bag and carried my suit jacket on the plane.

When we arrived in HCMC yesterday I asked for my jacket back (one of the flight attendants had hung it up in a closet for me) but they couldn't find it. As the rest of the passengers left the plane they checked all the closets at the front and back of the plane, but still they couldn't find it.

So I was left on an empty plane, sans jacket, with the flight crew discussing amongst themselves where my jacket could possibly have disappeared to. Then one of them noticed a blue Air France steward's jacket hanging in one of the empty closets. Apparently the jacket didn't belong to any of the flight crew on board. It then dawned on everyone what had happened - one of the flight crew from Paris had got off in Bangkok and taken my jacket instead of his (they were both dark blue in colour).

As this flight crew was returning to Bangkok, they promised to find the steward and recover my jacket, and send it back to HCMC with a crew on Saturday (which was Air France’s next flight to HCMC).

That left me in a dilemma because I needed a jacket for last night, as the opening concert of the festival was going to be televised and I would be involved in making some presentations to the contestants. So although I really needed to have a couple of hours sleep before the festival opened, I had to spend the time chasing around HCMC looking for a jacket to fit me.

That wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Vietnamese men are much slimmer in build than most western men, and I couldn’t find a jacket to fit me. If it fitted across the shoulders and the arm length was right, I couldn’t button it up at the front. If it fitted around the chest, then the shoulders were too big and the arms too long. So I ended up having to buy one that fitted across the shoulders, but which I couldn’t button up at the front – at least that would look better on TV than one with arms that were too long.

The concert started at 8.30 pm and went for two and a half hours. By 9.30 pm I was having great difficulty staying awake. I had to keep suppressing yawns and forcing my eyes open whenever one of the cameras panned across the judging panel seated at the front. By 10.30 pm I felt I needed matchsticks to keep my eyes open. Somehow I managed to make it through to 11.00 pm when the concert finished. I was back at the hotel a little before midnight and I was asleep 10 seconds after my head hit the pillow.

PS (added 18 October): My jacket was delivered to the hotel at 5.00 pm on Saturday afternoon. Thanks Air France – that’s very efficient service given the number of pairs of hands that my jacket must have had to pass through from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City. Ironically if I had packed my suit in my suitpack as I normally do, my jacket wouldn’t have gone missing (because my suitpack arrived fine) – but alls well that ends well.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A fun flight with Air France

I managed a few hours sleep on the flight from Paris to Bangkok. It's been a few years since I've done a long haul flight with Air France and I was pleased to see that the quality of the food onboard was still very good - much better than most other airlines.

After a brief stopover in Bangkok we took on another crew for the flight down to Ho Chi Minh City. After take-off the captain came on the intercom to announce that this was a 'special flight' because it was the last flight of one of the flight attendants. After the captain's announcement most of the male flight attendants donned women's wigs. I am not sure of the significance of that - maybe it's some sort of ritual for Air France flight attendants who leave the airline.

The female flight attendants all had the same hair style too - but in different colours. Their hair was like that when they boarded so I wasn't sure if they were wearing wigs as well. I was going to ask one of them, but then had second thoughts in case she was not wearing a wig and might be offended by me asking.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

CDG airport's friendly security staff

I wasn't looking forward to my transit at CDG this afternoon. It isn't my favourite airport (although I would rather transit in Paris than Heathrow). I usually go through terminal 1 - which always reminds me of an ant farm with all the tubes connecting the various levels - but as I was traveling with Air France all the way to Ho Chi Minh City, I would only have to transit between terminal 2F and 2E. They are much newer than terminal 1 but it's a long walk from F to E and there are no luggage trolleys for transiting passengers. I was carrying my camera bag as well as an overnight bag, so I had sore shoulders by the time I got to 2E's security check. By that time I had decided that CDG was an airport that I definitely didn't like.

But my opinion was somewhat tempered by the time I got through security. They were extremely efficient - and surprisingly friendly. In fact in all the travels I have done, it would be probably the only airport security that I would describe as friendly.

That is not to say it was an easy transit. Everything had to come off - jacket, belt (but fortunately not shoes) and for the first time ever I was asked to remove all the items from my camera bag - camera body, lenses, flash unit, chargers and filters - and place them on a tray to be separately scanned. But the security staff were polite, smiling and friendly - and all spoke good English, apologising for the 'inconvenience' - and then wished me 'bon voyage' as I left the security area. Traveling would be much less of a hassle if all airport security staff were as friendly.

Kiss and fly

As my taxi approached Nice airport we took a lane that was marked 'Kiss and Fly'. I was worried for a moment that the taxi driver might try to kiss me for a bigger tip, but fortunately he made no attempt to do so (I was keeping my distance though as he was unloading my bags - just to be on the safe side).

I suppose the 'Kiss and Fly' label is a tourist-friendly way of saying 'No waiting'. I thought it was a nice touch.

Late starters in Juan-les-Pins

I had booked a taxi to take me to Nice airport at 12 noon so I decided to take a stroll down to the beach at about 10.00 am after packing my bags.

I stopped at a café for an espresso and noticed how quiet Jean-les-Pins is in the morning. There was a couple having an orange juice in front of me, but otherwise the main street was deserted.

I walked down to the beachfront at about 10.20 am and still none of the shops were open.

When I got to the beach, that was completely deserted too. The beach chairs and umbrellas had been set up, waiting for customers, but it seemed that nobody was out of bed yet.

I headed back to my hotel at 10.30 am wondering whether the residents of Juan-les-Pins had been abducted by aliens overnight, or whether 10.30 am is just too early to start the day in the south of France.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Cool autumn days in Cannes

I’ve just finished two days of meetings in Cannes. It’s a beautiful time of the year to be here. Clear blue skies (albeit a little hazy) and the temperature hovering around 20 degrees. For me, this is what I would describe as a pleasantly cool day. But not everyone would agree.

I was sitting on a bus waiting to go back to Juan-les-Pins when the guy in front of me answered a call on his mobile. In a distinct north-country English accent he said: “Yes I am in Cannes now. It is so hot here - boiling hot in fact.”

If he thinks this is hot, he should do a trip to the middle of Australia in the middle of summer where the temperature can be more than double what it is here today. Then he really would be ‘boiling hot’.

As I was waiting on the bus I was watching people play pétanque in a park across from the bus stop.

According to Wikipedia, about 17 million people in France play the casual form of pétanque. I noticed it was mainly men who play the game, but there were a few women as well. I suppose you could say that France is the only country where women have boules.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Friendly service at the Hotel Ambassadeur

It’s quite common to see people staying in hotels leave the restaurant where their breakfast buffet is served with a muffin or an apple in their hands – for a mid-morning snack I suppose.

But not so at the Hotel Ambassadeur in Juan-les-Pins where I am staying.

Here nobody dares take anything out of the restaurant. There is a large sign on the door that says any guest who takes any food items from the restaurant will be charged 40 euros extra. I guess that’s more in the nature of a fine than a ‘charge’ because the breakfast buffet is only 22 euros (I use the word ‘only’ in a comparative sense because in Malaysia 22 euros would buy you dinner for two with wine included).

Maybe the hotel manager is a graduate of the Robert Mugabe School of Hospitality.

But I don’t think whoever designed the layout of the rooms went to any school at all. Check out the photo below to see where they located the in-room safe.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The most beautiful village in France?

A short tour to Les-Baux-de-Provence (usually known as Les Baux) was organised this morning for those conference delegates who were not leaving until the afternoon. I will actually not be leaving until tomorrow as I am going down to Cannes for a couple of days of meetings there, so I joined them. Les Baux promotes itself as The Most Beautiful Village in France, so I wanted to see it for myself.

Les Baux is not far from Arles - about 20 km or so to the west in the Alpilles (‘little Alps’) - and on the way we stopped by the famous windmill near the village of Fontvieille which is the subject of Alphonse Daudet’s collection of short stories Letters from my Windmill.

Due to time constraints we had less than an hour at Les Baux, but it was just enough time to walk up to the top of the rocky outcrop on which it is built to see the lovely views over the Alpilles and the Provence countryside.

To the east and south of the village there are olive groves as far as the eye can see:

And to the west many large mansions built in the typical Provence style of architecture with swimming pools and beautiful gardens – country retreats for the rich and famous I suppose:

The actual village was quite interesting – narrow cobbled streets and old buildings which have been well preserved or renovated – but I think the claim to being the most beautiful village in France is a little misleading because it not a ‘real’ village anymore, in that it has been given over entirely to the tourist trade with lots of restaurants and souvenir shops (the restaurants looked good though – although we didn’t have time to try any of them).

Only a couple of dozen people still live in the village now – most of the people who work in the tourist trade live in the valley down below:

I learned that bauxite – the rock from which aluminium is extracted – was first discovered at Les Baux in the early 1800s, and that’s how bauxite got its name. Somewhat surprising I thought because bauxite is a rusty red colour, and all the hills around Les Baux are made of white and grey rocks.

Whilst its claim to being the most beautiful village is France is a little suspect, it’s definitely worth a side trip whilst in the area, if only for a lunch stop and to see the beautiful country around Les Baux.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Arles: City of dog turds

I elected to skip the farewell dinner tonight to catch up on a backlog of emails at the hotel. After a couple of hours on the laptop I decided I needed some fresh air to clear my mind, so went for a short walk along the stone ramparts between the old city and the Rhone river. It seemed to be a popular spot for the locals as well, as many were walking their dogs along the river in the cool evening air. But I wasn’t getting much fresh air. All along the ramparts there were dog faeces - syn: excrement, turd, shit, crap – call it what you like, it was everywhere. And it stunk. Combined with the smell of stale urine every time I passed a tree, I was holding my breath more than I was breathing. After a couple of hundred metres, I gave up and went back to the hotel.

I do not understand why Arlésiens allow their dogs to defaecate along what would otherwise be a lovely river walk, thus spoiling it not only for themselves but for visitors to the city.

In metropolitan cities of France, dog owners these days are required to scoop up their pets’ poop and place it in a plastic bag for disposal in special bins (for sure, visitors to France know that it wasn’t always like that) but it seems that provincial cities like Arles have yet to catch up with these modern practices. That’s a pity because it spoils the attraction of Arles as a tourist destination. Arles – an ancient Roman city with many well preserved monuments – is worth a visit, but when you have to sightsee by walking along the road casting your eye to the ground every five seconds to be sure that you don’t step on a dog turd, it detracts from the enjoyment of the visit.

The only place that I can recall going to which was worse was Naples.

I took a photograph along the river walk, but it’s a pretty disgusting sight, so I will post a few photographs of the old city instead. I don’t want Blogger listing me as an adults-only site for posting obscene content.

Arles is also famous as the city where Vincent van Gogh painted many of his best paintings (it’s also where he cut off his ear when suffering depression). It is also where Jeanne Calment, the person with the longest ever recorded lifespan (1875-1997) was born and lived all of her life, and the birthplace of Christian Lacroix, the fashion designer.

So it’s a place that deserves to be cleaned up. Mr Mayor, please note.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

A swinging soirée and a smoky suit

I thought last night’s speeches were bad enough, but tonight was even worse. Tonight’s dinner was hosted by the President of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur regional council, who is also an MP. So I suppose that justified him talking for twice as long as the Mayor last night. I thought he would never end.

We arrived at the dinner venue – a place called Patio de Camargue - at 8.00 pm, for what was billed as a ‘swinging soirée’ with ‘Chico and the Gypsies’. Chico and his musicians kept us entertained whilst we waited for the dignitaries to arrive, which wasn’t until after 9.00 pm. By the speeches started I was getting really hungry. Whilst the President was talking, the catering staff started bringing out plates of pizza and placing it on the tables. I leaned over to take a piece and one of the waitresses brushed my hand away saying “Not yet!” So I waited until she wasn’t looking and then grabbed a piece. When she saw me eating it she gave me a real dirty look. I just grinned back at her.

Whilst we were waiting for the formalities to start, I wandered around outside where some cooks were preparing paella and goulash in some enormous cast iron skillets. I was about to take a photograph of one of them when one of the cooks threw some logs on the fire underneath. That caused a cloud of ash to explode into the air (see photograph below) and I suddenly found my blue suit covered in grey ash.

I tried to brush the ash off my jacket but wasn’t very successful. I ended up with grey streaks all over it. I only brought one suit on this trip as I needed to travel light as I was using trains and buses in France. So I can’t get it dry cleaned until I get home. I will have to tell people that it is the latest fashion from Malaysia – blue with grey streaks.

I managed to get a better picture after the ash had cleared. Some of the ash must have settled on the food (that’s raw prawns that the cook is stirring in, not ash) so I guess that explained the slightly smoky flavour. My suit has a distinctly smoky aroma now too.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Shut up, s’il vous plait

This evening the conference delegates were invited to a cocktail reception hosted by the Mayor of Arles at the Cloître Saint-Trophime off the Place de la République.

It was a nice venue for a reception (see picture above) and there were some lovely French wines on offer, but the speeches were way too long. About 15 minutes into the Mayor’s speech, some of the Asian delegates at the back started chatting amongst themselves (they were getting bored as there had already been one speaker before him and I don’t think many of them understood French). After a couple of minutes of this, one of the mayor’s aides came down to the back looking most annoyed and started ‘sshhing’ all the delegates.

Obviously he had never been to a cocktail reception in Asia. I don’t think I can ever recall a reception in Asia where everyone stopped talking. Of course, if politicians would learn to speak more succinctly, they might hold the attention of their audience a bit better.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Double take number plate

Walking along the road near my hotel this morning, the number plate of a car parked by the side of the road (illegally I assume because it had a parking ticket) caught my eye:

For a second or two I thought: “How can this car have two numbers – 81 AND 13?” Then of course I realised that I was in France, and the word ‘and’ doesn’t mean anything.

But I wondered how the parking inspectors in the UK would handle writing the ticket if the driver took it over the Channel and parked it illegally.

Monday, October 06, 2008

French checkout etiquette

After a comfortable 13 hour flight to Paris, a three and a half hour TGV ride down to Avignon, and 50 minutes on a local bus, I eventually arrived in Arles where I am attending a conference this week.

After checking into my hotel I took a walk up the street to a supermarket to buy a few provisions.

When I got to the checkout I placed my basket on the checkout counter and waited for the cashier to finish serving the customer in front of me.

The cashier handed some change to the customer, closed her till, and then turned to look at the goods in my basket.

“Monsieur!” she exclaimed.

“Oui?” I said, wondering what the problem was.

“Monsieur!” she said again, pointing to the basket.

“Oui?” I said again. I looked at what I had in the basket – two bottles of water, a bag of grapes, a packet of nuts and some yoghurt. What had I bought that was causing her so much consternation?

Then she stepped back from the counter and put her hands on her hips and said again – this time in a very exasperated tone: “Monsieur!”

She seemed to be quite annoyed, and there was a queue building up behind me, so I said “Quel est le problème?” (“What is the problem?”).

Suddenly she relaxed. She must have realised from my poor French accent that I was not a local.

“Monsieur,” she said – much more quietly now – “It is not my job to lift the items from your basket.”

I had just had my first lesson in French checkout etiquette.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The incongruity of the Malaysian press

What is it about the Malaysian press that prompts them to report on a person's death in so much gory detail?

For example, a story in today's Sunday Star about a bus crash in Johor Bahru includes the following paragraphs:

“The impact of the crash caused the driver's heart to be torn from his body and sliced into two. One part of the heart was in the bus and the other flung outside.

“The victim's son, in his 20s, was seen weeping over his father's body while the heart was placed inside a tissue box.”

Do we really need to know that?

I would imagine that kind of reporting would cause a great deal of distress to the victim's family.

And when I was getting a haircut yesterday, I was reading another local paper which had a photograph of some jewelery shop robbers who had been shot dead by the police after a high speed car chase.

The photographer had taken a low angle shot (for dramatic effect no doubt) showing one of the robbers with his brains blown out in the foreground and blood trickling from his mouth towards the camera.

And yet if a newspaper in Malaysia publishes a photograph of a stone statue in a park or a museum, or the work of a master painter in an art gallery, they must place a black box over any bare breasts.

There's something incongruous about pictures of dead bodies being okay for the public to see, but not the top half of a stone statue.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Moore's Law applied to flash drives

Today I bought a 4GB USB flash drive from a local supermarket for RM39 (about US$11). Coincidentally I came across an old receipt in my desk drawer for a 64MB flash drive that I had bought almost exactly six years ago (4 October 2002 to be exact) which cost me RM299 (about US$80).

I suppose that could be cited as a excellent example of the application of Moore's Law. Not only has the price come down to about one eighth of what it was six years ago, but the capacity of the flash drive has increased by over 60 times.

If that trend continues we'll be buying 4TB flashdrives in another five years for a couple of dollars. The mind boggles.

I suppose if that happens there'll be no need for CDs, DVDs and so on. Everything will be on cheap flash drives that you can just plug into your TV, computer or whatever. People will be able to carry movies on a key ring.

An interesting consequence of that will be for all those countries in Asia that currently prohibit the import of DVDs unless they have been submitted to their country's censorship board for approval.

When DVDs become a thing of the past, will they require every traveller to declare their flash drives in case they are carrying on their key ring a movie that is contrary to their political, cultural or religious beliefs?

I wonder if those countries have even started to think about how technology and Moore's Law is shortly going to make all of their archaic censorship laws redundant.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Palin 'ready to be President'

I came across a blog today written by Dr Alan J. Lipman, a US professor, author and media commentator. His political leanings are pretty obvious, but some of the stuff he writes is very funny. This story of the meeting between Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin and the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, for example:


But some of his blog entries are more serious. I hadn't seen this transcript of an excerpt of one of Katie Couric's interviews with Sarah Palin until I read his blog. I've reproduced below his blog entry as well as the transcript because the comments Dr Lipman makes before and after the interview excerpt is what makes it so scary to realise that this woman could be just a heartbeat away from being President of the United States of America (Dr Lipman's comments are in italics):

John McCain chose (Sarah Palin) as his Vice Presidential candidate.

He is 72 years old. He has been treated for a very serious illness. Four times.

He says that Sarah Palin is "ready to be President."

We are currently in what may be the most serious economic crisis in American history.

COURIC: “Why isn't it better, Governor Palin, to spend $700 billion helping middle-class families who are struggling with health care, housing, gas and groceries; allow them to spend more and put more money into the economy instead of helping these big financial institutions that played a role in creating this mess?”

PALIN: “That's why I say I, like every American I'm speaking with, were ill about this position that we have been put in where it is the taxpayers looking to bail out. But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health-care reform that is needed to help shore up our economy, helping the—it's got to be all about job creation, too, shoring up our economy and putting it back on the right track. So health-care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions and tax relief for Americans. And trade, we've got to see trade as opportunity, not as a competitive, scary thing. But one in five jobs being created in the trade sector today, we've got to look at that as more opportunity. All those things under the umbrella of job creation. This bailout is a part of that.”

Read the above again.