Feb 242009
 

My son is learning Mandarin, so when I went to Hong Kong recently, I asked what I should bring back. His teacher suggested a Mandarin dictionary; it sounded like a good idea to me. Finding one to buy ended up being more of an odyssey than I expected though.

The hotel had an English-language Yellow Pages, which seemed like a good place to start. Bad assumption – there was a category for Bookbinders, and one for Books – Wholesalers, but no retail books. Even if they had had a listing there, it’s doubtful it would have done me much good. It turns out that the Hong Kong Yellow Pages lists addresses in terms of the name of the building the store is in (e.g., Prosper Commercial Building, or Tai Sang Building), with no hint as to which part of Hong Kong it might be in, let alone which number on which street. I guess they expect people to know which building is where.

One of my tourist guides mentioned that Dymocks (which I always think of as an Australian store) is near the Star Ferry terminal, so after the required trip on the ferry (well worth it), I stopped off there. They didn’t have any Mandarin dictionaries, so I bought another book and asked the cashier where to find one. Her answer? “Commercial Books, on Sugar Street, ask when you get there, everyone knows it”. So I went down to Sugar Street, walked along it twice, up and down stairs at the Commercial Building, before finding the actual bookstore is called “Commercial Press” and it’s on Yee Wo Street, near the intersection to Sugar Street. Close enough I guess, I did find it eventually.

Of course, I don’t speak any Chinese language, so I needed help to find what I wanted. I completely bamboozled the first bookstore employee I asked for help, she couldn’t believe she understood what I was asking for and asked someone else for help. They showed me lots of books on learning Mandarin, and English-Mandarin dictionaries, before finally believing that maybe I did want a Mandarin dictionary with no English and showing me those.

As an aside: if you see a book in Hong Kong with a large number on a sticker on it, the number is the percentage of the normal price that you pay, not the final price. So if the sticker says “85”, you don’t pay $HKD 85, you pay 85% of the normal price (which is on the back of the book). This can, ahem, be quite a different price.

Feb 232009
 

I’m thinking of registering a couple of domains. GoDaddy annoyed me with their lame Superbowl ads, and their registration system is equally annoying (far too many screens, all with options I have completely zero interest in). Does anyone have recommendations for good basic registrars? What I want is basic .com|.org|.net, as well as .ca (separate registrars for all of these are ok). I don’t expect to host at the same place I register, so I don’t care about their hosting packages or email setups. A reasonable price and a straightforward way to set the DNS servers is what I’m looking for. Reminders of registrations that are about to expire come in handy as well.

BTW, please don’t flame registrars you don’t like in the comments. Just tell me the ones you do like (adding a sentence on why would be helpful). Intemperate comments run the risk of being deleted.

Feb 222009
 

I’m slowly recovering from the whirlwind that was Northern Voice this year (I’m one of the organisers). All our hard work paid off, we had the usual last-minute glitches but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, to make new friends and contacts, to learn new things, to discuss issues they care about, and to have fun.

On Friday I spent most of my time on the registration desk, apart from introducing the conference and listening to Stewart Butterfield’s keynote. Saturday was a little different; I made it to lots of sessions (both keynotes, Aidrie’s panel, my own panel, bits and pieces of other talks/panels). What I took away from all was a sense of community, a sense that the people attending are truly interested in sharing their knowledge and experiences, in being genuine. Even though some blog from a purely personal standpoint, and others from a professional, there was discussion about how to be genuine, how to show who you are within whatever limits you find reasonable (some people blog about their children, others don’t, for example). I’m looking forward to watching the videos of the sessions I didn’t manage to make it to; we only had three sessions concurrently but lots of good topics. The energy in the whole space was amazing.

Saturday night after we got home, we found Vancouver was in the top ten for two trending Twitter topics: Northern Voice and the Canucks. As someone tweeted (sorry, can’t find it now), that really shows that Vancouver people understand how to use these tools for communication. I feel proud, as one of the organisers of Northern Voice, to do my little bit to help, by giving people who care about these things an opportunity to get together and discuss them. And it’s fun – at a Serious Conference we could never get away with putting out a basket of yarn and telling people to make their own lanyards (yes, we had some of those white elastic things for those uncomfortable with the notion). Lots of people gravitated to the bright fluffy stuff, or used multiple strands, creating their own bit of wearable art. And then there was the Moose collection — Rahel Baillie donated her collection of moose as a fund-raiser for the conference, so we had these moose statues and ties and kitsch spread over one corner of the registration desk. Again, not something you can do at a Serious Conference. Which doesn’t mean to say we didn’t talk about serious topics, there were lots of those, and lots of discussion about them.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s Northern Voice.

Feb 172009
 

Tim had a business trip to Hong Kong, and since I’m currently underemployed, I thought I’d tag along. It was only for a couple of days, which is a shame given how much there is to and see in Hong Kong. It was also my first trip.

First impressions are that Hong Kong is clean and very organised. You arrive at the sparkling new airport, right outside the arrival doors there’s a booth to sell tickets to the train (if you’re doing this, get the traveller pass that covers the MTR and the train trip, it’s very convenient), the train is on the same level as the arrivals hall and whisks you into Hong Kong, to be met by a shuttle bus that takes you to your hotel. All very useful for the jetlagged traveller (and in my case, one with a bad cold to boot). The only oddity was being told to take off my hat in the airport for what looked like a camera and was likely a thermal imager (aftermath of the SARS outbreak, one suspects).

The shuttle to the airport drove along some of the main roads in Central, and my first impression was how much like Singapore it looked. Lots of traffic, tall shiny buildings with lots of glass, concrete overpasses over the roads, interspersed with palm trees and other vegetation.

Walking around Wan Chai the morning was a little different – there were no palm trees there, although there’s still the same crazy traffic. I walked along Gloucester Road to the beat of an alarm that everyone ignored, walking by gleaming bathroom fixture companies and jumbled hardware companies, over to Victoria Park with people walking around slowly, stretching as they go, and then back along Hennessy Road, one of the main shopping streets on Hong Kong Island. The oddest thing to me was that I was taller than many people on the streets, both men and women.

This part of Hong Kong is reminiscent not only of Singapore, but of New York, London, and almost every Chinatown I’ve been to. Chinese herbalist shops jostle with global names (in particular Starbucks and McDonalds, but also well-known clothing and phone companies), the people mostly speak at least one Chinese language as well as English, the English is accented with UK pronunciation. They drive on the left, and mostly walk on the right like the English do.

At lunchtime I headed back to the hotel and discovered the pedestrian overpass system. A bit quicker than the streets, and a lot safer than trying to cross the roads. It was also noticeable that the people using the overpasses (which lead through shopping centres and hotel lobbies) were, on average, taller, better-fed, and much more expensively dressed than those walking on the streets below. The typical business apparel seems to be dark suits, for both men and women. Pinstripes seem to be considered flashy.

Hong Kong is intense. I walked through much of Wan Chai, Central, Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok, just looking at things and absorbing the atmosphere. I saw lots of obviously poor people, but few homeless people and the only beggars I saw were in the tourist areas of Tsim Sha Tsui. I marveled at the mid-levels escalator system, and at how thin all those buildings look from the top of Victoria Peak. You can tell that Hong Kong does not have a significant risk of a large earthquake by how close the apartment buildings are build to each other, and how tall they’re built, even on the reclaimed land. The buildings on the mid-levels look like they’d bang into each other when swaying in a big quake.

I want to go back and see more.

Feb 172009
 

By default, OpenSolaris doesn’t broadcast the hostname on the local network, just the IP address. To rectify this, find out what network interface you have (often nge0) by running ifconfig -a. It’ll be the one with the IP address given by the router (i.e., not 127.0.0.1).

Then, as root, edit the file /etc/default/dhcpagent. Find the line # CLIENT_ID=, delete the # to uncomment the line, and append your hostname. Find the line # REQUEST_HOSTNAME=no and change to REQUEST_HOSTNAME=yes. As documented in that file, you also need to edit your /etc/hostname.<if> file, where <if> is your network interface (often nge0), adding the line inet hostname.

You can then either reboot the machine, or renew the DHCP lease on a console on the machine (since it will disconnect you from any SSH sessions). As root, first execute ifconfig <if> dhcp release to discard the current lease, then ifconfig <if> dhcp start to start DHCP on the interface again. Complete documentation can be found through the man ifconfig and man dhcpagent pages.

Result: I can see the hostname through the DHCP server now, which I couldn’t before, but I still can’t see it from the Windows box. So that’s another piece of the puzzle to track down.

Mind you, I need to give the Solaris box a static IP address for serving websites, so the DHCP naming thing is moot. It would be nice to be able to ssh <hostname> from other machines on the network rather than using the IP address though.

Feb 102009
 

Australians learned so much from the Ash Wednesday bushfires (I was living in Melbourne at the time and still visit as often as I can); there was a sense that although everyone knew bushfires are capricious and dangerous, that there were things to do to mitigate them. That all changed this week.

The combination of years of inadequate rainfall, record high temperatures, and arson meant there was no escape, no hope for those caught in the bushfire’s path. There are thousands of people out there fighting for people and animals, hoping and praying for the rain that is the only solution. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation Melbourne news site tells the story.

I can’t find the right words to express my sorrow and sympathies for those who lost family and friends in this horrific way. All I can do is point people who want to help to some of the appropriate venues. There’s the Australian Red Cross, the Australian Salvation Army, and some organisations to help with animals and wildlife.

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