You lose, they win

It seems that online poker is the latest way to make a fortune.  Not by playing it, of course, but by owning the websites where people play.  The Guardian reports that the owners of the most popular website (PartyPoker) are going to become billionaires when the company floats.

Don't surprise me - several of my friends in the UK seem quite keen on playing online.  And writing about it on their blogs, naturally enough.  Sadly, I only understand about 20% of what they write, not having played poker of any kind for several years, and never having played online.  And, truth to tell, when I did play all those years ago, I wasn't all that good - though, as I recall, that didn't stop me winning some of the time, much to the irritation of the so-called experts.

The Guardian piece says that online gaming sites have their eye on China, figuring (not unreasonably) that when a nation of gamblers gets easy access to the Internet anything might happen.  Given the popularity of fleapits in Macau and those bizarre cruises to nowhere, playing on the Internet has got to be an attractive option. 

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. 

Weaselwatch: Don't buy a Treo!

Why is that so many gadgets are just too damn clever for their own good?

I have a Treo 270. If it worked properly it would be a good smartphone (phone + PDA). If it worked properly, which sadly it does not. Charging its battery ought to be as simple as plugging in the power cable, and sychronizing it ought to be equally straightforward. Sadly not. The brilliant minds at Handspring (now PalmOne) decided that it would be better to have a single cable that both recharged the battery and synchronized with the PC. Sounds clever, eh? I wish it was...

Treo270connectionHere's a typical frustrating experience. Plug in the cable. No response (a red light should come on). Fiddle around with the cable. Red light comes on. Red light goes off. Fiddle some more. Red light stays on. Press the button to synchronize. Bad idea - this disturbs the connection. Red light goes off. Eventually decide to charge it up first and synchronize later. Treo thinks otherwise, and fiddling with the cable causes it to try and synchronize anyway. Try to press the button to clear the error message when it fails to find the PC. This breaks the connection and the red light goes off.

Or there's the times when the red light is on but it isn't actually charging (don't ask me why). So I switch it on (which more often than not breaks the connection), or I try to switch to the phone application to see the battery icon (which - oh, you guessed). Or it spontaneously tries to synchronize and it displays an error message, and again I have to try to select the phone application to check if it is really charging. Also, I frequently have to do soft and hard resets to get it to respond.

Treo270_homeHalf the problem is the physical shape of the phone and the relative weight of the phone and the cable, both of which make it unstable. Because the base is not flat, touching the phone or the cable can easily disturb the connection. A cradle (as with the Handspring Visor) would probably help, but they don't supply one.

I have tried reporting this to PalmOne, and after suggesting all the obvious things they admitted that there was a problem. However, their best offer is that I pay them HK$1,500 for a replacement unit. I don't see how it can be an expensive problem to fix - the screen, the keyboard and electronics are all OK and it is just the connection that is dodgy. Also, I really resent having to pay that much for a phone which is now obsolete.

The easy way out is to buy another smartphone, but my dilemma is that the obvious choice is the Treo 600. I certainly don't feel like giving more money to PalmOne, and there is the obvious risk that I'll end up with another lemon. This phone has already been replaced once because the screen stopped working after about three months!


I've recently received a lot of very helpful emails.

I have lost count of the number of emails I have received telling me that my SunTrust account is suspended. I don't even know what a SunTrust account is!

Dear SunTrust client,

We recently reviewed your account, and suspect that your Suntrust account may have been accessed by an unauthorized third party.Protecting the security of your account and of the SunTrust network is out primary concern. Therefore, as a preventative measure, we have temporarily suspended your SunTrust account.

In order to regain access to your account please click the link below:

[link deleted]

You will be asked for some sensitive account information to establish account ownership and avoid Credit Card Fraud.

For more information about how to protect your account, please visit Suntrust Security Center.

Sincerely,The SunTrust Security Department Team.

Then there's the email telling me that there might be a problem with my eBay account. Amazing as it may seem, I don't have an eBay account:

Subject: TKO NOTICE: eBay Registration Suspension - FIELDS LEFT BLANK

Dear valued customer,

Our records indicate that you haven't submited the correct information to update your account. Please re-update your account. You HAVE to fill all the tabs in the form.

Do not respond to this email, as your reply will not be received. If you would like to update your eBay account please use this link: [link deleted]

Thank you for your patience in this matter.

Regards, Customer Support (Trust and Safety Department)
eBay Inc

Thanks a lot, guys.

Chain Mail

I get rather irritated with Internet chain letters.  Fortunately I don't receive many, but when I do I check them against lists of known hoaxes.  Most are stupid or misguided, but some do have an element of truth.  Normally they usually include a warning of some kind, and presumably some people take notice of them and avoid using certain shampoos or putting water in a microwave.

What I find puzzling is that as this rubbish passes around the world, it often get altered along the way, so people are obviously spending their time updating them before sending them to 50 friends.  Here's one I received recently.

Continue reading "Chain Mail" »


Is this the worst-designed website of any major organization in Hong Kong? The entry page is bad, but if you select 'English' the next screen is even worse. It looks as if an assortment of pictures and links were scattered randomly across the page. Spectacularly awful.

Stupid viruses

I'm getting rather bored with the latest virus (MyDoom). I have received a few of these email messages containing attachments, and also the follow-ups claiming I have sent out messages containing viruses.

I am intrigued by the logic behind this one, which seems to be aimed at people who will open an unexplained attachment from an unfamiliar sender even when it does not promise anything exciting. It may appeal to wannabe geeks because of the technical gibberish ("The message cannot be represented in 7-bit ASCII encoding and has been sent as a binary attachment) in some versions, but other than that why bother opening the message?

I looked carefully at the first one, didn't recognize the sender, and deleted the message. Then I noticed something on Shaky's site about the virus, and discovered that I was right to delete it. Now my virus checker has caught up, and tells me that there are nasty things in some of the incoming emails and deletes them for me.

The messages claiming I have sent viruses are bizarre, because they refer to an email address that I never use for sending mail, and come (with one exception) from people who I don't know. So I ignore them.

The problem with email, as I have mentioned before, is that it holds a horrible fascination for many people, and they waste a lot of their time reading messages that they should really ignore, and (presumably) opening attachments and clicking on links. Which, of course, is why companies send spam emails - even if only 0.01% of recepients respond it's still worthwhile.


I blame the Geeky Kaiser.  He mentioned BlogJet, and so I thought I would try it out.  It's a useful little program for composing posts, and lets you do more clever formatting than Typepad allows.  Like colors and bullet points.  Unfortunately it seems to be incompatible with the Typepad editor, so if you start with one you really have to carry on with it rather than switching over half-way through writing a post (as I did with the post below about salmon, which explains why it was such a mess earlier on). 

The main advantage I can see (apart from colors and bullet points) is that you can compose off-line and save your work as you go along.  I was using WordPad, which is fine except that you can't create hyperlinks.  Yes, I know Word could do that, but I avoid it because it uses characters that don't always display properly through a browser.  For example, Hemlock was obviously using MS Word (or something similar) during his stint on The Gweilo Diaries having complained about the unfriendly MT interface. 

Talking of Hemlock, I notice that he has updated The World's Most Authoritative Guide to Hong Kong Blogs and included this blog, along with Fumier and other fellow upstarts.  He gives me "full marks for admitting [I am] not especially exciting" and says that I write about my "apparently staid and not overly eventful day-to-day life".  Actually, I thought the one thing I was not writing about was my day-to-day life.  What I have tried to do is provide some observations on everyday life in Hong Kong, and these inevitably tend to be fairly mundane.  However, clearly I am not competing with Conrad or Shaky, and if anyone wants to read about that type of lifestyle then this is not the place to come.  The title of the blog is meant to emphasis that I'm just an ordinary guy living in the New Territories, not a typical "expat" on a generous package living in Mid-Levels and enjoying the Wan Chai nightlife. 

Actually, one problem about doing a blog is that it's difficult to know what other people think about it.  Other bloggers tend to be very polite, and in truth we rely a bit too much upon links and commenting on each other's blogs for it to be any other way.  Sometimes there are differences of opinion, such as Glutter's recent attack on bloggers who "like to put photos of girls half their age semi-nude up on the net", and her consequent removal of links to certain un-named blogs, but these seem very rare.  I kept out of that controversy, though it seems that in Glutter's opinion my silence constitutes support for Conrad et al. 

So I do find it interesting to read opinions on this and other blogs (as long as they are vaguely intelligent, which rules out the idiotic Blogwatch), even if I don't agree.  Any other comments would be very welcome.


The BBC has asked various well-known people to predict what will happen in 2004. Mostly banal stuff like Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles getting married. A year ago they asked the same thing, and now we can see whether they have come true. Two of the predictions were spot-on:

POLITICS - Tony Howard, veteran political commentator, said Tory leader Iain Duncan-Smith would resign, and Michael Howard would be his successor.

TRANSPORT - Christian Wolmar, an expert on the UK's travel woes, predicted that against people's expectations, London's congestion charging scheme will not be a flop.

The congestion charge was a big success, and is going to be extended. My favourite prediction is this one:

TECHNOLOGY - Trevor Baylis, inventor of the wind-up radio, predicted this would be the year for wind-up laptops.

Er, maybe not. Guess what he is predicting for this year?

Mobile phones will become mini televisions in 2004. Pocket TVs have been around for many years and colour screens on mobiles are now common. The one drawback would be the drain on battery life. But, true to form, Mr Baylis has a practical solution - wind-up "dynamo" chargers, which are already available for standard mobiles.

Mad inventors - don't you just love 'em?