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October 2006

IE7 - not working very well

Internet Explorer 7 is now available, and will be automatically installed this week if you are not careful. 

They've finally added tabbed browsing, but it still seems inferior to SlimBrowser (one of a number of products that use the insides of IE and then make it do useful things).  From my perspective, the tabbed browsing function in SlimBrowser works exactly how I want it to work, and I haven't yet found a way to make IE 7 do the same.  Also, the tabs in IE are too big and it doesn't arrange them in rows (yes, I do open a lot of tabs).  Also, they have done a rather weird re-design that has moved the 'refresh' button to a less obvious place and hidden away most of the menus.  I think is how Vista will look.  I don't think I like it.

The other good thing about SlimBrowser is that you can define groups of websites to open with a single click.  You can now do the same thing in IE 7, but in a slightly different way.  Except that there seems to be a bug, because after opening all the sites it then gives up and IE closes.  Even more annoyingly (but unsurprisingly), SlimBrowser now also has the same bug.

So I'm using Firefox instead.


A bicycle with seats

The SCMP had another go at analyzing Oasis Hong Kong Airlines on Sunday, but I think they're still missing the point by asking "can an airline be both budget and long-haul?" 

As I have said before Oasis really have very little in common with budget airlines such as Southwest, Easyjet and Ryanair - the world's least favourite airline.  They haven't taken out the toilets or reduced legroom to cram in more seats, they do have seatback TVs (even if the films are a bit old), and they do serve complimentary food.  They also offer business class (which no other budget airline offers, as far as I know).

Also, if you were planning a budget airline, I don't think you would start out by operating on one of the most competitive routes in the world (BA, Cathay, Virgin, Qantas & Air New Zealand curently fly direct between Hong Kong and London, with a host of other airlines offering indirect services).  Nor would you fly from a high-cost airport such as Chek Lap Kok.  That's certainly not how Ryanair or Easyjet started out. 

So I'm sticking with my theory that Oasis is not a budget airline, and that the description of it as the "budget airline with frills" is about as helpful as describing a car as a bicycle with four wheels and seats and a roof and an engine.

Yet the Commercial Director of the company, Kenneth Chad, is quoted in the article as saying that Oasis are "Easyjet meets Emirates".  This is a bit puzzling, as if someone was starting a new supermarket and said that it was "Fortnum & Mason meets Aldi".  I'm sorry, but you really can't have it both ways.  Mr Chad thinks that the key to this puzzle is high utilization, and that long-haul gives higher utilization.  This may be true in the sense of the number of flying hours you can get from a plane, but what really matters is how much revenue you can generate per day.  Anyway, I am sure that the same thought must have occurred to every other airline, and you have to wonder how Oasis could get significantly better utilization from their fleet than say Virgin or Cathay.  With great difficulty, I suspect.

However, Mr Chad rightly points out that Oasis have to get established first.  He says that they can then start to worry about utilization later, but I think there is another way of looking at. 

As things stand, Oasis are simply operating the planes they purchased from Singapore Airlines in the same configuration as when they bought them (and trying to offer competitive prices).  It suits them to be known as the "budget airline with frills", but I think they must know that this doesn't really make any sense and that they will have to re-think their business model before too long.   Rather than trying to offer the cheapest economy seats, perhaps they could offer a lower-priced 'premium economy' service. Or switch to all-business service similar to MAXjet or Eos.  Or even, who knows, become a real long-haul budget airline - but I think they'd have to be fairly desperate to try that.   

Meanwhile, the official Russian explanation for the problems Oasis had last week (Russia delays flight of Hong Kong Boeing for security reasons) is that:

the application for a flight over the Russian territory submitted by the airline “did not conform to the established form.” Moreover, it was submitted behind schedule, specifically less than “12 hours before the flight”.  

However, it seems that Oasis will continue to avoid Russia for the time being.  In spite of the initial statement that this would not add anything to the flight time, they have now conceded that it will add an extra hour to the journey.

More on Oasis:

One day late (26/10/06)
Weeks rather than years (24/10/06)
What's the story? (03/10/2006)
Up in the Sky (07/09/06)
Missing the point (as usual) (07/07/06)
Cheaper flights (06/07/06)
Even more options (05/07/06)
In the holiday mood (13/04/06)
I hate Heathrow (02/02/06)


Did he really mean that?

This made me laugh: 

"Knocking down somebody's home is not a simple matter, although we use professional social workers to help."

- Tsang Cheung-chuen, Assistant Director of Buildings

I wonder how they help?  Maybe they keep a large sledgehammer in the office for just such an occasion, or perhaps they are trained to use wrecking balls...    


Not flops at all

I suppose that by definition any attempt to list the 10 Biggest Computer Flops of all time is probably doomed to failure.  The very fact that something can be remembered means that it made an impact - the real failures are probably the ones that we can't remember.  Even given that problem, this is an odd list.  The author tries to explain what he means, but leaves me even more confused:

What do all of these stories have in common?  Yes they were all mistakes (at the time), but almost all of them paved the way for some of the largest success's in computing history.  Sometimes for the same company, sometimes for other companies.  The lesson here is persistence, determination, and perseverance. 

Well, first of all I think it's just wrong to say that many of these were "mistakes at the time", and even the ones that were mis-conceived were not neccessarily "flops".  Surely a flop is something that was expected to be a huge hit but didn't live up to expectations, rather than applying hindsight and saying that they might have been much bigger.  Anyway, here's the list: 

  1. The Xerox Alto
  2. NeXT computer
  3. IBM PCjr
  4. Apple Newton
  5. Apple 3
  6. Apple Lisa
  7. Microsoft Windows ME
  8. Microsoft Bob
  9. IBM OS/2
  10. Gary Kildall's CP/M

I don't think the Xerox Alto belongs on the list at all.  I suppose it's possible to imagine that Xerox could have carried on developing the idea and sold millions of them, but that was never their intention.  Instead it was a highly innovative product that demonstrated what could be done, and a precursor of the modern personal computer, and not a flop at all.

I suppose CP/M is in this list because it could have been chosen as the operating system for the IBM PC. However, the deal was never done (there seem to be conflicting accounts as to the exact reason) and Bill Gates managed to do a deal for them to use MS-DOS instead.  Who knows what might have happened if IBM PCs had run CP/M, but the fact is that CP/M was not a flop - in fact, it was highly successful.

OS/2 is interesting, because it was originally a joint venture between IBM and Microsoft.  When the latter decided to focus on Windows NT, IBM carried on and there was a time when it seemed possible that OS/2 might become a serious rival to Windows, but it was not to be.  It's probably fair to say that this was a flop because IBM had high hopes for OS/2 but ultimately had to give up on it (and eventually got out of the personal computer business altogether).

Windows ME wasn't so much of a flop as a dud.  If it had killed off Windows then it could certainly be regarded as a flop, but instead it was nothing more than a minor setback.  Around that time there were a whole series of different versions of Windows (98, 98SE, ME & 2000), and I guess that ME was only ever going to be a step on the way to Windows 2000/XP.  The sensible thing to do was probably to stay on Windows 98 until Windows 2000 came along, and I don't think Microsoft cared too much which version you purchased.  So, I'm afraid that it doesn't deserve to be on this list even if it was rubbish. 

To be honest, I can't even remember Microsoft Bob.  It was certainly a failure, but I think that the word "flop" implies that it was supposed to be a big success but it bombed, rather than just being an idea that didn't work out.  Anyway, didn't Microsoft later use a similar concept for the extremely annoying Office Assistant ("It looks as though you are writing a letter.  Would you like some help?".  Er, no thanks). 

As for Apple, I thought the whole point of the company in its early years was its heroic failures - great ideas that never quite worked.  Somehow it survived, and then started getting things right.  You could probably pick any number of their products and label them flops, but I'm sure that some people would argue that they were actually wonderful. 

One genuine flop I can remember from a long time ago was a personal computer called the Camputers Lynx.  It was much hyped as a superior alternative to the Sinclair machines that were popular at the time, and it did have a good keyboard, but it was over-priced, with a weird version of Basic and very little commercial software available.  Now that's what I call a real flop.  Yes, I'm afraid I bought one.


One day late

Well, it seems that Oasis finally got their inaugural flight to London off the ground, almost exactly 24 hours late.  Not a good start, but at least everyone knows about the company now!

What amuses me about this is that everyone seems to have fallen for the 'budget airline" angle.  It's all very well to quote the price for a one-way fare exclusive of taxes, but when you double it and add taxes it isn't really so much cheaper than the special offers from the established airlines - and these prices only apply for a limited number of tickets. 


KISS

It never ceases to amaze me the way that contestants on The Apprentice "over-think" the tasks they are given. The classic example was when they were asked to promote a product in a sports store and one team put on a great event but actually reduced the sales of the product compared to a normal day!!

Another thing to watch for is when an all-male team is given a "guy task" and they are sure that it's going to be easy for them. There have been a few of this, notably one with a sports car in an earlier series, and you just know that it will all go wrong.

So it was that three men (Sean, Michael & Lee) were very happy that they were leaving the hair salon behind and heading for a football game where they could do guy things (selling steaks from Outback Steak House). And they were sure to win. We saw them secure an exclusive arrangement for the cheerleaders to perform next to their tent, give out fliers to lots of people, and generally look as if they were on top of things. 

The girls also wanted the cheerleaders, and dopey Michael nearly let them have some of them, but once that distraction was out of the way they got on with selling more food at a higher price, and delivering it (so they could take larger orders). Sure, the guys had the cheerleaders, and an eating contest, and a "money pit", and lots of fun, but they didn't sell enough food (or possibly their prices were too low). So they lost. 

In the boardroom, Lee and Sean focused on Michael's willingness to let the girls have some of the cheerleaders rather than insisting on the exclusivity they had negotiated. Carolyn felt that this proved that he wasn't tough enough to run one of Trump's companies, and I'm sure she was correct.

However, that doesn't mean that it was correct to fire Michael rather than Lee. The reality is that there are probably only a few of the candidates who could actually do the job for which they are competing, and Trump fires usually some of them at an early stage for making a small mistake or saying the wrong thing in the Boardroom. Then there are the contestants who can only have been chosen for entertainment value, but whom Trump would never be crazy enough to hire. Which leaves us with the contestants who are neither one thing nor the other, including both Lee and Michael.  Lee seems too inexperienced to win, but is a good enough politician to survive countless visits to the Boardroom, Roxanne seems competent without being outstanding, Allie has been inconsistent, and I really have no idea how Michael has survived this long.

So, if you ask me, Lee doesn't deserve to win, but this is hardly an outstanding group of candidates and somebody has to get the job, so I suppose anything is possible. I saw one suggestion that Trump should fire the lot of them and hire Rebecca instead.  Hey, that works for me. 

Anyway, the reason that Gold Rush lost was because Lee did a terrible job as Project Manager, so he should have been fired. That's how it works, isn't it?  Yes, Michael is dopey, but it would seem perverse to fire him for being willing to let Synergy have some of the cheerleaders when that clearly wasn't the reason why they lost.  They either needed more people to sell the food, or higher prices, and they would have won.  Lee got the strategy wrong and should have paid the penalty. However, Trump agreed with Carolyn that Michael had demonstrated his unsuitablity for the job, and so he fired him.  Another lucky escape for Lee, I feel.

Continue reading "KISS" »


Weeks rather than years

At the beginning of the month, both the SCMP and The Standard ran stories about Oasis Hong Kong Airlines not having received government approval to operate (see earlier post).  The Standard was particularly alarmist, quoting a government spokesman as saying that it might take years.   However, the company appeared to be optimistic, and it seems they were correct, because last Friday the Civil Aviation Department issued the company with their Air Operator’s Certificate.  You can read the company's press release here, and their first flight is due to depart tomorrow afternoon.

The SCMP's story was negative in a different way, reporting that travel agents were advising people to use other airlines.  This prompted a curious reply from one of the agents, saying that Oasis were an important business partner and their company had not advised people against booking with them.  This was published as a letter rather than a correction, so I think they were saying that the individual employee who had made the comment was not reflecting company policy.  As I said before, travel agents will surely prefer to sell more expensive tickets on the established airlines, but I suppose they have no wish to upset Oasis.  Equally, I don't think Oasis are relying too much on travel agents to sell their tickets.

Later this week, Air New Zealand start flying to London, and they have some special offers - their Premium Economy at HK$8,700 (plus taxes) seems like a good deal as they have more legroom than Virgin & BA, and they also have more legroom in economy than anyone else flying this route.  Competition has to be a good thing!!   

UPDATE: The BBC News website first reported that the first flight took off as scheduled - and then changed their mind and informed us that it had been delayed because of problems getting permission to fly over Russia.  I think they hope to fly on Thursday instead.  Not a very auspicious way to start business.


Your closed ones?

The BBC had a story last week about the Beijing authorities efforts to improve the quality of English (Beijing stamps out poor English) and a follow-up with some examples sent in by readers (Signs in 'Chinglish').

This is indeed a rich vein of comedy, but one that is fraught with difficulties.  So I try to avoid throwing too many stones from this glass house.  Incidentally, I came across this site that attempts to explain why it is so difficult to translate from Chinese to English.

I do make a few exceptions to this rule.  Large international companies that must have access to native speakers really ought to check their translations before they are finalised...

100_0968_copy


Scare stories

I have now got round to reading Senator Inhofe's speech about how global warming is all a hoax perpetrated by self-interested scientists and the media.  Before I get to that, though, I have been reading New Scientist magazine:

"Further global warming of 1 °C defines a critical threshold. Beyond that we will likely see changes that make Earth a different planet than the one we know."

So says Jim Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. Hansen and colleagues have analysed global temperature records and found that surface temperatures have been increasing by an average of 0.2 °C every decade for the past 30 years. Warming is greatest in the high latitudes of the northern hemisphere, particularly in the sub-Arctic boreal forests of Siberia and North America. Here the melting of ice and snow is exposing darker surfaces that absorb more sunlight and increase warming, creating a positive feedback.

Earth is already as warm as at any time in the last 10,000 years, and is within 1 °C of being its hottest for a million years, says Hansen's team. Another decade of business-as-usual carbon emissions will probably make it too late to prevent the ecosystems of the north from triggering runaway climate change, the study concludes (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol 103, p 14288).

and an editorial:

AMONG climate researchers, the consensus is growing that global warming may be close to a tipping point beyond which runaway feedbacks could take hold, creating what George W. Bush's top climate modeller this week calls "a different planet" (see "'One degree and we're done for'"). Yet the political discourse that should be helping us find ways to respond to such warnings remains a mess.

Last week, the Royal Society in London sent a measured complaint to the oil company ExxonMobil, asking it to end its long-standing and extensive funding of lobby groups that the society says "misinform the public" on climate change. What response does it get? Nothing from ExxonMobil and its lobbyists, whose contempt for one of the world's oldest scientific institutions seems to rival their contempt for good science. Instead, we get lectures from climate change sceptics, such as the UK-based Scientific Alliance, which claims the Royal Society wants to "close down debate". It further charges that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the cornerstone of scientific consensus-building on the issue, has become politicised.

This is farcical. The Scientific Alliance and its ilk have done more than anyone to politicise this debate, and now they have the cheek to claim purity of purpose. There is plenty of room to discuss the nature and extent of climate change, but the politically and commercially motivated abuse of science carried out by some climate change sceptics and those who back them needs to be exposed for what it is. Let the contrarians speak, by all means. But bullying, like censorship, has no place in scientific debate.

Sadly, I think that the last thing that Senator Inhofe and friends want is a real scientific debate.

Continue reading "Scare stories" »


More misunderstandings

Earlier this week Henry Tang said that the government would consider introducing some exemptions from GST (Tang unveils sales levy concessions - subscription required):

On the public's call for daily necessities to be exempted from a GST, Mr Tang said he would consider exemptions on public transport, medical fees, and primary and secondary school fees. The exemptions would cost the administration a total of HK$1.4 billion.

Today the SCMP has a rather curious editorial on the subject (Rigorous GST debate should be encouraged). 

What is disappointing is that the government has responded primarily to the populist arguments but dodged the intellectual ones. It is difficult to understand why it has opted to do that. One would have thought officials would try to win opinion-makers over to their side, so they could be enlisted to help secure public support for a GST. Instead, officials have chosen to go down the populist route too [by announcing exemptions].

The major thrust of intellectual dissent targets the government's rigid view of how it should manage its finances. Critics have questioned the need to treat land sales proceeds and land premiums as capital revenue that can be used only for infrastructure spending. Given the recurrent nature of such receipts, they wonder if there would still be a need for a GST if all or part of these revenues could be used for recurrent purposes. Arguably, the Hong Kong way of auctioning development rights already amounts to levying a sales tax on everyone, albeit indirectly through high housing costs.

Well, it was OK up until that last sentence, which is just nonsense.  The facts are that a substantial part of the population live in public housing and so do not have to pay this indirect tax.  Well, to be strictly accurate they do pay a small part of it in an even more indirect way (because rents from commercial buildings get passed on to customers as higher prices), but that is insignificant compared to the high housing costs paid by the rest of the population.

Since the government wants to introduce GST to extend the tax base, with the unspoken justification being that many people who benefit from public housing should also pay some tax, one might hope that the SCMP leader writer could get the facts right.  Especially when they are calling for a 'rigorous' debate on the real issues.