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November 2004

Anti Anti-Virus

I have previously complained about all the hype that surrounds spam and viruses on the Internet.  I am not about to change my mind, but I am currently getting rather annoyed about viruses.  Or rather anti-virus software.

My wife has an email account, but doesn't use it very much.  I check her email for her in the evening, and currently she is getting around 10 messages containing viruses every day.  A couple of days ago I got a few myself, sent to a non-existent email address (well, the first part was non-existent, but obviously the domain is valid). 

The annoying part about it is the way that Norton Anti-Virus deals with this threat, popping up endless messages and requiring you to click on a link to discover the subject and author of each offending email.  Only then does it delete either the attachments (or the whole message).  This wouldn't be too bad if these messages arrived at different times of the day, but a whole string of them one after the other is mighty irritating.  How am I supposed to remember which of the messages contain viruses?

I am sure the software could be a whole lot smarter, especially as most of these messages are repeated every day and use the same email addresses as the alleged sender.  Why can't Norton just delete the attachments and stick the messages into a special folder rather than requiring me to do anything?  It does that fairly successfully with spam, so it can't be difficult.

Norton Internet Security is also an annoying piece of software.  I have it loaded on one PC that is not always connected to the Internet, and from this I have discovered that every few days it goes through some sort of authentication check and switches itself off if it can't call home (or, presumably, if you have an illegal copy of the software).  It also has a curious feature that is supposed to block ads, but which also blocks useful content, rendering some web pages unreadable.  Once you figure what it is doing you can switch it off, of course, but who would guess that Internet Security means removing part of a web page! 

Symantec also decided that it needed to remind me 30 days before my subscription (for their anti-virus service) expired.  OK, that's fair enough, but I resent the same warning popping up every single day thereafter until you re-subscribe.  Bunch of weasels.

A good catch

The Guardian reports that well-educated Japanese women are desperate to meet and marry British men.  Admittedly this intelligence comes from an agency which has a financial interest in arranging such matches, but even so I feel sure that it must be true.

According to Destina Japan, professional women in Japan are increasingly looking overseas for romance because they feel Japanese men do not understand their need to work.  [..] "Japanese women like the fact that British men have a modern attitude to family life as well as a respect for the traditional aspects of the Japanese culture."

British men - best in the world.  I must remind my wife just how lucky she is! 

Rant of the week

I think I overlooked this rather fine rant from Henry a week or so ago.  He is complaining that Internet fraud against banks is only a problem because a small minority ignore all the warnings and click on links that take them to fraudulent websites.  Yet HSBC are now making life more difficult for all of their customers in an attempt to reduce their losses, forcing you to fill in a paper form to register the accounts to which you may wish to transfer money. 


As it happens, The Times had a story about this on Saturday, with a rather misleading headline and introduction (if you can't read it the headline says "Victims of internet bank fraud will have to pay up").

BANKS will no longer honour the debts of victims of internet fraud after a sudden rise in attacks against online accounts, The Times has learnt.  Britain’s 14 million internet bank customers have faced a month of intense bombardment from fraudsters trying to access online accounts in devious “phishing” scams.

In fact, what the banks (in the UK at least) are planning is not to refuse to honour these debts, but to stop doing so automatically.  Instead they will investigate each case individually to determine whether the customer was at fault.  If the customer was stupid or negligent they will have to stand some or all of the losses themselves.  If the customer did nothing wrong, the bank will still absorb the loss.

Seems fair enough to me. 

Still unbeaten

This is a rather heartening story, I think.  You may be aware that just over two years ago Wimbledon Football Club was bought by some businessman or other and moved to Milton Keynes (70 miles away).  They now play in front of tiny crowds in a hockey stadium and are near to the bottom of League One (the league formerly known as the Third Division).

The fans of Wimbledon quite reasonably decided that Milton Keynes was not for them, and set up a new club, AFC Wimbledon.  They had to start near the bottom of the non-league pyramid, but they do play home matches somewhere considerably closer than Milton Keynes, and they have attracted huge crowds (especially considering the level they play at).  They have been successful on and off the pitch mirroring the abject failure of the "old" Wimbledon, and won the Combined Counties League in only their second season.  Now they are top of Ryman League Division One.  There's still some way to go, but they will presumably pass the "old" Wimbledon on the way down in a few seasons time, and then emulate them by entering the Football League.  Forty years ago, the old Wimbledon were in the Isthmian League (as it was then called), and eventually they made it all the way to the Premiership.

Anyway, the reason for mentioning all of this is that the BBC is reporting that AFC Wimbledon now have the longest unbeaten record of any English club (76 games).  Long may it continue!

Weaselwatch: 40% per annum guaranteed

You've probably noticed this advert in the newspaper:

40% per annum guaranteed

At first sight the headline suggests it's for an investment plan, but if you read the text you discover that it's about avoiding paying tax.

Their point is that if you are a British national you may be liable to inheritance tax, unless you can prove you are domiciled overseas.  They claim that "long-term expatriates can apply for non-domiciled status".  I am not an expert on tax, but I think this is misleading.  Domicile is a matter of fact, based on your circumstances.  You don't need to apply for it! 

If the British Inland Revenue chase you for tax you can declare that you are domiciled overseas, and they may check that this is true and ask for proof, but otherwise it's exceedingly simple.  For a few years after I moved to Hong Kong they sent me an annual tax return, I duly filled it in saying that I was domiciled overseas, and that was the end of the matter.  Now they don't bother anymore.  There may be a few special cases where your country of domicile may be a matter of dispute, but for most people it's no problem at all.  Which might explain why this company has a 100% success rate helping clients apply for non-domiciled status.

Regardless of all of that, the headline is obviously untrue.  Their point is that your estate might be subject to 40% tax.  Well, maybe, but that's a one-off payment.  Not 40% per annum.  Weasels.

However, you have to give them credit for grabbing my attention.  If I ever want some help in doing something that I could perfectly easily do myself, I certainly know who to call. 

Under pressure

There's an interesting article in today's Independent about Chinese attitudes towards education and the achievements of ethnic Chinese in UK schools.  Their parents are first-generation immigrants, most of whom moved from Hong Kong ("the impoverished enclaves of the New Territorites") to the UK, and they all believe education is very important: 

"The answer to the question 'is education important?' was universal," say the report's authors Dr Becky Francis and Dr Louise Archer, from the Institute for Policy Studies in Education at London Metropolitan University. All pupils and parents, from whatever social class or whichever gender, said that education was vital - a finding researchers may be unlikely to reproduce with almost any other ethnic group. Government figures show the likely repercussions - 75 per cent of Chinese pupils gain five or more GCSEs at A-C level, compared with 55 per cent of white pupils and 34 per cent of black Caribbean pupils.

And yet...

Stereotypes, even when positive, can work against you, however, and Francis says this has been the case, particularly with the girls. "Many teachers described Chinese girls in negative terms, as excessively quiet, overly diligent and repressed," she says. "So girls can feel that popular assumptions about 'cleverness' are 'a big pressure'. Actually, when we talked to girls we found this view of them wasn't particularly true, and these views are far too simplistic."

Both Francis and Archer are keen that the ability of teachers to turn a virtue (willingness to learn) into a problem is more widely recognised in schools that have Chinese pupils. They say their research has implications for other high-achieving groups - Indian pupils nudge up against the Chinese in the achievement tables.

Pressure from parents to get their children to perform well at school.  Something we all know about in Hong Kong!

Scary stuff - Hong Kong bloggers on TV

I know I am always complaining about Hong Kong TV, but this time it's serious.  Putting Phil Ingram and Randall (BWG) on TV at a time when children might be watching is really very irrresponsible.  They were on RTHK's Media Watch (shown earlier this evening on TVB Pearl) along with Dan Gillmor, who is promoting his new book.  Seemed a fairly sensible report.

Phil has more.

Weaselwatch: Treo troubles

My Treo is getting more and more troublesome.  I have been trying to resist the temptation to buy a replacement, and the good news (for my bank balance) is that I can't find another smartphone that I want (or at least not for a sensible amount of money).

Anyway, this leaves me with no option but to pay PalmOne HK$1,500 for a replacement unit, in the hope that in a year or two I can find a reasonably priced replacement.  I'm not a thrusting young excecutive*, so I don't need to be able to read my emails in the lift, and I feel I can live without being able to take pictures, have a video conference or play games using my phone. In fact, if my Treo 270 worked it would probably be exactly the device I want.  So, much as it pains me to pay PalmOne HK$1,500 to replace my faulty unit with one that works, I can't think of a better option. Hmmm, I wonder if I could write about my exciting journey on the MTR?

Last time my Treo broke down, all I had to do was go to the Handspring distributor's office in Quarry Bay and exchange it.  This time I ended up speaking to someone in the Philippines, who sent me an email with instructions to take the phone to a specific DHL centre, from whence it will apparently be sent to Singapore.  Then a few days later, a replacement unit will be despatched from somewhere via DHL.  No wonder I have to pay so much money!!

Being able to hand in the phone at another DHL office would make this a great deal more convenient, but apparently this isn't allowed.  When I made this request I was first told that it would cost extra, but when I asked how much I'd have to pay, they changed their story and said that it wasn't possible.  How difficult can it be to receive the item in, say, Tsuen Wan and ship it off to Singapore?  Isn't that exactly the service that DHL provides? The people in the call centre are polite and helpful, but they are incapable of deviating from the script that is in front of them.

* I've mentioned this subject before, but I recently met another former colleague of mine who now has a Blackberry (issued by the company), and he seems to have a love-hate relationship with it - he complains about it but also explains how useful it is. Ah, but it's very handy to be able to reply to all your emails before you get to the office in the morning, don't you know.  Very useful when you need to contact people in different parts of the world. Right...

His girlfriend has a simpler hate-hate relationship with the wretched thing, and has been known to throw the device outside when it beeps in the evening. Email is enough of a nightmare when it dominates your working day, but not being able to escape from it even outside working hours is surely enough to drive you mad.

The Guardian on China

This week, The Guardian is running a series of articles about China.  I'm sure this has already been mentioned by other bloggers who are quicker off the mark than I am, but never mind.  I have been a reader of this newspaper for a long time, and although I don't always agree with their viewpoint, I usually find it a good read (and a useful counterpoint to The Economist).  Anyway, you can find all the reports here.

The articles I have read from series (so far at least) seem to be pretty good, and better than a lot of the rubbish that is written about China (some of it in this very same newspaper in the past).

Some of the articles that I have found interesting: Food city (Brit finds some Chinese delicacies a bit hard to stomach), Going for gold (medal factories) A tale of two countries (life as a migrant worker) and Home alone (the problems of the only child).

Worth a read, I think.

Wrongful dismissal

The Apprentice is back, and after designing toys in the first week the teams were asked to create a new ice cream flavour in week two. Perhaps in week three the challenge will be writing your name using joined up letters. I am not a fan of reality shows, but thankfully The Apprentice has generally managed to avoid many of the irritating aspects of that genre. Sure it's artificial, but at least success or failure generally seems to be based on competence rather than popularity, and the mechanics of the show have been relatively unobtrustive. Up till now.

Also, slightly unexpectedly, Donald Trump has helped the show by making sensible choices, and where they have seemed questionable it was more a matter of having so many candidates who richly deserved to be fired that it was merely a matter of who should go first. Up till now. Sadly, all of that seemed to go out of the window in the second show of the second series (shown on Saturday on TVB Pearl). The problem was a bit of meddling by the producers, who decided that if 'immunity' was good enough for Survivor it must be good enough for The Apprentice. Last week, Bradford won immunity by being the Project Manager for the winning team, so when he was on the losing team this week he was safe and couldn't be fired.

However, Bradford had other ideas, and felt that he could afford to waive his immunity because his good performance meant that he wouldn't get fired. He rationalised this by saying that it would help him to win the respect of his team-mates, but I am not convinced that he had really thought it through - if he had done he might have remembered that this wasn't Survivor, and popularity actually counts for nothing. Anyway, I rather doubt that his fellow competitors would have respected him any more for it.

Perhaps he hoped that Donald Trump would be impressed. Er, no - turns out he actually thought it was a very stupid decision. Even so, I was convinced that he was going to tell Bradford how stupid he had been but sack Ivana (good name, eh?) for being a hopeless Project Manager. In fact he told him how stupid he was, but also that he was the most impressive candidate of the four who were sitting in the boardroom - and then fired him anyway. All the team members were obviously shocked and surprised by this decision, understandably so. Had Donald Trump gone mad?

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