Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Great Moments in Business

I don't know whether to be depressed or to laugh at this round up of the dumbest moments in business for 2004 compiled by Business 2.0. The usual cast of characters turns up, and the quote from Bill Gates is sadly in character.

Book Recommendation - Skinny Dip

It isn't often that you read a book where somebody is murdered on the first page, there is corruption, blackmail, people getting shot, and you find yourself laughing out loud.

This is the first book by Carl Hiaasen that I have read, and now I am hooked. There must be something about South Florida - like Lawrence Sander's novels featuring McNally, Hiaasen paints very broad portraits of some truly weird characters.

A breezy, entertaining read. Highly recommended.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Book Recommendation - Paranoia

Paranoia, by Joseph Finder is a great read. It has all the elements of a good thriller, with the added detail of corporate politics, technology, and enough twists and turns to keep you guessing to the end. I enjoyed it tremendously, and was motivated to find his other novel High Crimes, which is on my "on the shelf, waiting to read" list.

Highly recommended

Book - State of Fear

This is a review, not a recommendation. State of Fear, by Michael Crichton is not a novel, nor is it a thriller. Rather, it is a thinly disguised attack on the science of global warming, and by extension, the role of media in propogating received wisdom instead of critical comment.

One has come to expect slickly written stories from Crichton, with little character development but intriguing science and plot. In this case, the reader is drawn into the book anticipating a good story, but realizes quickly that this is in fact an extended essay which talks down in a patronizing tone to the reader.

Why didn't Crichton just write a non-fiction book covering the same material? He obviously feels strongly about the subject of global warming, and the fact that there is an extensive bibliography at the end speaks to his extensive research. Is he right that the current focus on global warming is misguided? I need to read his sources to make up my own mind.

I can say that great chunks of the planet are poisoning themselves through uncontrolled development. One only has to visit China to realize that a blue sky and clean air are only memories for the people living there.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Book Recommendation - The Broker

I am a sucker for thrillers, particularly ones that involve politics and technology. Although I have gotten rather tired of the "lawyer as hero" and the plot holes in Grisham's novels, the cover blurb for "The Broker" sounded interesting enough to invest the bucks.

As a bonus, you get to learn a little Italian, a fair bit about Bologna, and you need to ignore the technology as a mix of the improbable and the out of date.

"The Broker" is a fast paced story, the writing style is terse, and it is an easy read. It definitely makes me want to go back to Northern Italy. A great way to spend an afternoon.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Tracking Your Book Collection

I have been having "unfortunate" moments when buying books. I happily purchase something I have been looking for, only to find that I had already bought it some time before.

In my own defense, this is less the onset of senility than the realities of living in Singapore. I often read about a new book in the Economist, Wall Street Journal, or from an Amazon recommendation. I clip the article, add the book to my Amazon wishlist, and then try and find it in a local bookstore. There are two major retail stores, Kinokuniya and Borders, but prices and availability are affected by the distance and small market. There is usually a lengthy delay before new books arrive here, and we get product from the US and UK, often with very different covers. I also tend to prowl bookstores while on busines trips.

All of which is to excuse my bad habit of buying duplicates.

I solved this whole problem with CD's by computerizing my collection, and gave up and manually entered all my DVD's into a data base. Books however are a different problem, because there are so many, and so much information to track.

I have been looking at an interesting program that promises to solve the problem. Like CD tracking programs that are able to look up the track and artist data by downloading from the Internet, Book Collector from Collectorz uses the ISBN as a key to look up information from a number of different sources, including Amazon, the Library of Congress, and various national libraries around the world. A company called Intelli Innovations Inc. apparently has a similar product that ships with a hand scanner to eliminate the need to enter the ISBN manually.

The result is an entry for every book with cataloging information and a picture of the cover. With the Pro version of the program, you are supposed to be able to export the data, something I need, so that I can put a copy on the Nokia 9500. It is all very well to have a list, but it is only useful if you have it with you when you are buying. The trial version does not allow exporting, and the web site only refers to a third party program called ListPro for Palm and CE devices. Nothing for Symbian. I would be happy with a dBASE format export...

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Scanning Books

With Google's announcement that it will be working to scan in the Harvard library, and Amazon making books searchable on-line, I was wondering about the technology behind all this.

This article from Boing Boing has a reference to work at Stanford, and this article from USA Today has a description of a couple of different machines and how they are used.


Interesting web site/blog that covers the world of search and online research.


Friday, January 14, 2005

Replacing Windows

I have more than the average number of Microsoft battle scars, having used PC's since they were invented, then having to manage them in large corporate environments as a CIO. Until XP Pro, the word stability and Microsoft only occurred in sentences with the word none.

With XP, things calmed down enough to actual use one's PC for work instead of just cajoling and threatening the damn thing to keep it running. And then something pretty predictable happened from a convicted monopolist. While the price of the hardware has come down from an average of US$4000 to US$1000 for a fully loaded PC, the price of the operating system has gone up instead. I paid $49. for my first copy of Windows, and the price now is more like $300.

So, what are the alternatives? And don't tell me Apple because I prefer to have some choice in my vendor and I don't value the apparent benefits of belonging to a cult.

LINUX is constantly being promoted as the great hope. I have been trying various distros since Red Hat first came out. I really wanted to like it, and I kept loading each subsequent version on whatever old PC I had lying around. Each time though, I would get going, only to be stumped by some completely arcane procedure I was supposed to know to do something simple like looking at my files on a network share. Too hard.

And then I read an article about XANDROS. The article claimed that this was Linux for the desktop, ready for Windows users, easy to install, completely compatible, and with the right version, you could even run legacy Windows apps. With high hopes and deep skepticism, I fired up BitTorrent and downloaded the free ISO CD image from their web site - XANDROS Open Circulation Desktop. It took a while to get the whole thing down, then a few minutes to burn the image to a CD.

My test unit this time was an old Dell Dimension with some wrinkles to disturb any installer - an old Adaptec SCSI card driving a Pioneer SCSI CD-ROM, ATI video card, 768Mb RAM, and a couple of ATA hard disks. I popped in the CD and reset to let it boot from the CD. About 15 -20 minutes later I had a fully functioning computer that looked very familiar - sort of windowish.

Everything worked. I could see all my other computers on the LAN, could read my Windows files on the XANDROS machine and on the network shares, could surf the net, everything. Wow.

Just for Christmas, XANDROS has announced their latest release, version 3 which has been getting rave reviews here and here.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Book Recommendation - 1968

It seems impossible to be reading about 1968 as history. It seems like yesterday, until your kids look at you blankly when you talk about hippies, sit-ins, summer of love and so on. Kurlansky does a good job of looking at 1968 as a pivotal year around the world, though his personal political biases regularly interfere with the reporting.

If you lived it, or if you are trying to figure out what somebody is talking about, this is a good place to refresh and learn.

Book Recommendation - Eastern Standard Tribe

I had heard of Doctorow through his work at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but didn't get around to reading his books until recently. I'm hooked, and it is not just because he is Canadian...

Very original writing that extrapolates from current trends - my favourite kind of social science fiction. Highly recommended.

Book Recommendation - Altered Carbon

Wow! Cyberpunk meets noir detective story.

Richard Morgan's first novel introduces so many believable concepts that one is drawn into the whole thought process that treats bodies as so much meat to be replaced when damaged or inconvenient.

A fast paced read that gives you a whole new way to think about where society and bio-engineering is heading.

Book Recommendation - Baroque Cycle

A long favourite author, Neal Stephenson, released a huge book called Quicksilver and indicated it was volume 1 of a trilogy called the Baroque Cycle. I hate waiting between books, so I bought it and put it on the shelf. This was followed by The Confusion, which met a similar fate. The final volume, The System of the World, came out in October 2004.

With my new found time schedule, I was able to tackle this massive trilogy. And what a ride. First off, though Stephenson is known as a science fiction writer, these books are set in the late 1600's and end in the early 1700's.

Some immediate impressions:

  • You have to be more interested in the journey than the destination.
  • I now know more about London than I ever expected to know.
  • Names I mostly knew from school, such as Newton and Hooke are now very real to me.
  • I love these kind of books.

So, here is the Amazon reference if you want to give it a try:

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Updated history of Hutchison Mobile Data Limited (HMDL)

Finally had time to add some more detail to the HMDL history that I have been meaning to complete for years now. Never have time when working, and it is getting harder to remember the detail and order everything happened in. Definitely something I need to get done once and for all.

As I look for new business opportunities, it is interesting to try and draw some lessons from past successes. Was it just easier in the early 80's to start companies? Was it Hong Kong? Was it the fact that the dinosaur telcos were not involved and they are now? Or was I just too young to know better...

The History of HMDL

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Nokia 9500 Review Posted On CNet

"Psion meets communications"

whanafi on 13/12/2004, 03:28 PM

As a long-time Psion user, I was always smugly content to know I had the best PDA in the biz. While others were pummeled into the Microsoft vice of contacts and nothing else, I had a device that allowed me to have custom databases, document readers, games, Office compatibility and a vibrant freeware community. Oh, and the Psion Series 5MX ran for a month on double As.

Now Nokia has brought (most) of the wonderful EPOC operating system and applications to the 9500, and it is a real treat to be back in business with the added convenience of Web browsing and email. The Wi-Fi works but don't expect to be able to browse a LAN network. File transfers are easily accomplished with the MMC card which runs a native FAT file system. Pop it into your PC, copy files on or off, then back into the 9500.

As a phone, it is pretty primitive and I really miss the joystick from the Nokia 6600--the round button on the 9500 is imprecise and you mostly end up in the wrong menu. As a PDA, it is excellent. As a phone, it is tolerable. 9 out of 10.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Nokia 9500 Communicator - The Psion Lives!

After managing to abandon the PDA market to inferior devices, the Psion has been resurrected as the Nokia 9500 Communicator. Just in time too, as my Series 5MX recently died. Better than the Treo, and much better than the iPAQ devices, the 9500 is a delight to use. Details here.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Book Recommendation - The Monster in the Machine

This book is by my sister, Zakiya Hanafi, so it must be good.