Responding to terrorism

Andrew Sullivan and I both experienced the IRA terrorism in the UK during the 1970s, and the way the British government responded. Reflecting on the news from Gaza, Andrew writes:

For years, IRA terrorists bombed Britain’s pubs and shops and eventually nearly killed the entire cabinet in the Brighton hotel bombing. Those terrorists lived among the population in both the republic and Ulster? Did Britain bomb Ireland in response? Were republican areas in the north sealed off and pulverized as happened in Gaza? Were British casualties one hundredth of Irish casualties in response?
None of this happened. Margaret Thatcher no less accepted what became known as an “acceptable level of violence” because the alternative would a) have caused domestic outrage and b) made the situation far, far worse and recruited a new army of terror. Again, one has to ask: why is Israel different?

The answer is obvious. The people of Britain knew, intellectually and emotionally, that the Irish were people like themselves. The Irish were not alien, they were not other. Ideas like religion and race inherently divide the world into “us” and “them”, and sustain this lie by defining “them” as intrinsically inferior to “us”. That’s what leads to apartheid, and to what Israel has become.
I know I’ll get into trouble here for including religion in this argument. The problem is, even a gentle, non-violent form of religion has to stand behind the idea that there is a difference between adherence and non-adherence, between those who are “in” and those who are “out”. Otherwise why would membership matter? As a non-religious person, I believe that what’s important is what we do, not which groups we belong to, what passports we carry, or which religions our parents subscribed to.

The week's twitterings – 2010-05-30

  • Question for all: What/when was your #firstflight ? Mine was an Aer Lingus Vickers Viscount turboprop, LHR-DUB, in 1961 #
  • Question for all: What/when was your #firstrealflight ? Mine was an Aer Lingus Vickers Viscount turboprop, LHR-DUB, in 1961 #
  • Turkish GP: Vettel chucks it all away and throws a tantrum. If Horner continues to support him, it'll split the team. Webber rightly furious #

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"Stupid robots. Stupid weather."

A lovely snippet from one of my favorite aviation bloggers, Aviatrix Canada:

A before-bed weather check reveals:

METAR CYLL 240500Z AUTO 31012G19KT 9SM -RAUP OVC007 01/00 A2967 RMK SLP071 MAX WND 31019KT AT 0454Z

The AUTO group indicates that human observers have gone home and robots are doing the reporting. The -RAUP group indicates that the robots have observed light rain and unknown precipitation. I always like to imagine for a moment that that it means a biblical plague like frogs or anvils or blood, but so far it never has been. The unknown is probably snow or related white frozen precipitation. Stupid robots. Stupid weather.

Sea otter and seals at Pigeon Point

We enjoyed our visit to Pigeon Point Lighthouse in February so much that we went back there this morning. No elephant seal this time, but plenty of things to see. Check out the gallery here. I got a series of shots of a Sea Otter eating; they’re at extreme zoom, but still pretty clear. (DSCN0902-DSCN0910, plus a detailed blow-up at the end.) Then there were about a dozen Harbor Seals hanging around in a photogenic manner on a rock below the lighthouse.
And yes, of course we went back to Cameron’s for lunch. Beer, buses, and bangers-and-mash. How could we not?

Sea otter (detail)

Sea otter (detail)

Harbor seals

Harbor seals

Spending a day in Hong Kong before your flight

Over the last year, I’ve travelled to Shenzhen in China five times, and I’ve got it down to a fine art. On several occasions I’ve provided colleagues with a cheat-sheet on how to deal with such things as Shekou ferry tickets and immigration paperwork. But on my last trip I tried something new, and I thought I might as well document it here.
Flights from Hong Kong to the US and Europe tend to leave at two times: late morning, and late at night. On my previous trips I had been booked on late morning flights, which meant that I barely had time to get from the hotel in Shenzhen to the airport. This time, I was going to Europe, departing on a Saturday evening flight to London. My initial impulse was to spend the day exploring Hong Kong, but I wasn’t sure what to do with my bags. This is how I worked it out, organized as a “how to” for my colleagues:

  1. Take a taxi to Luohu (Lo Wu) station in the center of Shenzhen.
  2. Go through China emigration and customs, followed by Hong Kong immigration. Don’t forget to hand in your departure slip, and complete a Hong Kong visit form.
  3. Buy a Metro ticket to Central Station. You’ll need HK$ to do this, and the vending machines won’t accept HK$50 bills.
  4. Take the Metro: East Rail Line from Lo Wu to Kowloon Tong; Kwun Tong Line from Kowloon Tong to Mong Kok; Tsuen Wan Line from Mong Kok to Central. (Be sure to change at Mong Kok, because it’s trivially easy: just walk across the platform.)
  5. At Central Station, follow the signs for In-Town Checkin. (Note: verify here that your airline participates in the program – if not, this whole plan is inapplicable!) Eventually you’ll go through a turnstile and take an elevator up to the In-Town Checkin floor.
  6. Buy yourself a one-way Airport Express ticket to the airport from the vending machine. You have to do it now, not later, because you’ll use the ticket to gain access to the airline checkin area.
  7. Check in for your flight. If you are checking any bags (as I was), do this now. Ask what time you should plan to leave for the airport.
  8. If you have any carry-on bag(s) that you don’t want to lug around Hong Kong, there is a Left Luggage office at the other end of the building. Show them your boarding pass and passport; you’ll pay when you collect your bags.
  9. Now you’re free to explore Hong Kong for the day!

In my case, I left the Huawei hotel in Shenzhen just before 9am, and I was checked in by 11:30. This gave me plenty of time to walk up the hill and find an English pub for lunch, with Boddingtons and WiFi. The longest delay was at Hong Kong immigration: lots of people wanted to visit Hong Kong for the day. I didn’t stay in the city as late as I could have, because I wanted to take the Airport Express during daylight. (As it turned out, there wasn’t really anything to see from the train.)
UPDATE: My Hong Kong photos are here.

Three weeks on the road with a iPad

I just got home from an almost-three week business trip to Shenzhen and Nice. I had to bring my bulky work laptop along, and so I decided to leave my MacBook Air at home and use the iPad for all of my personal stuff. I brought along the BlueTooth Keyboard and VGA-out adapter; the camera adapter kit wasn’t available when I left. So how did it work? And if I hadn’t had to lug the work laptop, could I have done it with just the iPad?
The short answer is no – certainly not with the current iPad software. Single-tasking is a real killer. I would fire up Skype on the iPad, start a voice call (and why isn’t there a camera?), and then realize that I needed to refer to an email message. The impulse to Cmd-Tab to switch to Mail was palpable. Eventually I got into the habit of using Skype on my iPhone for the voice call, leaving the iPad free to check email, PDFs, web, etc. So I was basically using two iPhone OS devices all the time. This is an expensive way of doing multitasking. And when I needed to simultaneously Skype and check email and take some notes, I had to break down and use the work laptop (still running Windows XP, of course).
The iPad certainly had some obvious advantages over a laptop. With no camera, and no USB slot, it passed scrutiny with the security people in various facilities. It was an excellent way of carrying around hundreds of PDF files in a convenient form factor, and displaying some of my presentations to a few colleagues. (But too many wound up getting mangled beyond readability.) It was excellent for note-taking and back-of-napkin sketching. And I passed the time on my long flights around the world by reading books using the Kindle iPad app and watching videos from iTunes U. (I particularly recommend the Stanford University EE380 Computer Systems Colloquium presentations.)
I found that I didn’t really use the BlueTooth keyboard very much, and I didn’t use the VGA-out at all. Like many, I had misunderstood this device, and didn’t realize that it was only supported by a handful of applications. If it supported full screen mirroring, it would be much more useful. Since I had no way of transferring pictures from my Nikon P90 to the iPad, I had to wait until I got home before I could email any photographs or upload them to MobileMe. (See Hong Kong here and the Marc Chagall museum here.) Fortunately I had an 8GB SD card, so I had plenty of space (I used about 2.3GB during the trip), but the delay was irritating.
At the end of the day, though, the most frustrating thing was the lack of a camera. The iPad ought to be the perfect video-chat device, and the lack of a camera is inexcusable. Video calls via Skype are one of the few ways of making long business trips tolerable, and I didn’t realize how much I missed them.
So the iPad remains a great portable media player, ebook reader, and casual web browser. But on my next business trip I’ll be taking my MacBook Air along….
UPDATE: Ron asks me why I use the Kindle-on-iPad app; why not just convert everything to ePub format and use the iPad’s native Reader? The answer is that I own a Kindle, and I also use the Kindle iPhone app. I like to be able to read on whichever device is handy, and have Amazon keep my reading position in sync across all of the devices. I’m also anachronistically straitlaced about licensing and copyrights: once I’ve decided to buy some content under a license, I will not violate that license. I don’t strip DRM, or rip copy-protected DVDs, or anything like that. If I’m not willing to live with the consequences, I’m not going to sign a contract.

The week's twitterings – 2010-05-23

  • At the plenary at TM Forum #mworld2010 in Nice. We're invited to Tweet about it, but conference wifi doesn't cover the auditorium! #FAIL #
  • NYTimes on Goldman Sachs < institutionalized conflict-of-interest stinks; break 'em up #
  • #mw2010 day 2: Profitable Cloud Services summit. Everybody declares "vendor agnosticism" but without effective standards how can this be? #
  • Now we're discussing the Enterprise Cloud Leadership Council – a forum for customer driven standards, not vendor-driven. About time. #mw2010 #
  • TM Forum's ECLC is defining a customer-driven de facto standards IaaS private cloud reference model. The consequences could be huge. #mw2010 #
  • Why would you design an Amazon-like IaaS service, and make the self-service response time 3 days rather than a couple of minutes? #mw2010 #
  • Tired of vendor presos that imply the audience is dumb, the topic is complicated, and the best strategy is "trust us". Guess who. #mw2010 #
  • Fun with #hp in Monaco during #mw2010 #
  • More fun at the casino on Monaco with #oracle during #mw2010 #
  • Fun with #oracle at The Casino in Monaco #
  • Fed up of completing 90% of the web checkin process and being told "Sorry, you have to checkin with an agent". @unitedairlines, DL,… WTF? #
  • Went to the Chagall Museum in Nice yesterday. Extraordinary, magical, luminous, spiritual, sensual. I'll upload pix when I get home tomorrow #
  • RT @jamesurquhart RT @bernardgolden: Good "cloud manifesto" by @staten7. #cloudcomputing<This shouldn't be controversial #
  • RT @UnitedAirlines Happy bday Tware! Retweet this for chance to win 2 RT tickets to Hawaii! #twarebday5 #
  • Last day of a long trip: 10 days in Shenzhen and a week in Nice. It'll be good to get home tonight. NCE-JFK-SFO will make it a long day, tho #
  • TMF #mworld2010 was really valuable. The ECLC ref impl for IaaS could be very significant: #cloud standards driven by real customers! #
  • No ash cloud issues, and NCE-JFK gets in 40 minutes early. Am I ungrateful if I think this just makes my layover longer? #
  • Why I try to avoid JFK: DL had 8 long-hauls arriving at the same time. Immigration overwhelmed: hundreds of people waiting for over an hour #
  • Home sweet home….. #

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The week's twitterings – 2010-05-16

  • Back on Twitter, finally, after a week! Curse you, Great Firewall of China! Thank you, @publicvpn #
  • Finally got around to configuring VPN on my iPad. Nice to rejoin the real web. It feels like the Great Firewall is more active than before #
  • Sipping a pint of Boddington's at the "Yorkshire Pudding" on Shelley St. in Hong Kong. Free wifi! Tonight I fly HKG-LHR-NCE, ash permitting! #
  • The fog has burned off: I must buy a hat before exploring Hong Kong this afternoon. I can see why people drift in and wind up staying here #
  • Arrived in Nice from HKG via LHR, checked in, turned on TV, and the pre-show for the Monaco GP is on. Shower, rehydrate, and soak it up!! #
  • There seem to be more commercials during the Grand Prix on TF1 than there are on SpeedTV. Didn't think that was possible…. #
  • However the ads on TF1 are significantly more cool than most of those on US tv. Love the Nespresso "falling piano" ad with George Clooney. #

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Iain M. Banks: Transition

Here’s my review at of the new novel by Iain M. Banks, Transition:

Insidiously exquisite, ultimately essential (5 stars)
I’ve always loved Iain M. Banks’ science fiction novels, especially his “Culture” books with their huge sentient spaceships and breathtaking worlds. The Player of Games is a particular favourite. And Ive also enjoyed what I think of as his various experiments: The Algebraist, and Matter.
This isn’t a “Culture” book. There are worlds – or at least a multiverse – but no spaceships. Bits of it are about the present. The characters are all recognizably human (there are no aliens or sentient machines), which doesn’t say as much as you might think. But it’s unmistakably by Iain M. Banks.
I’ve never been able to get into Iain Banks stark and gritty fiction, like The Wasp Factory or Whit. “Dark“, “twisted” novels are just fine, up to a point, but I’ve always found that Banks goes just past that point. Friends tell me I ought to try The Crow Road, which is supposedly dark, twisted, and funny. Maybe.
This isn’t dark. It’s twisted, in many ways. The characters are all recognizable to the modern eye, which doesn’t say as much as you might think. But it’s unmistakably by Iain Banks.
At least one reviewer said that he(?) couldn’t be bothered with this, and gave up after about 100 pages. In my case, I started it on a plane, got distracted, and tentatively decided that I would wait until I got home from my present business trip to finish it. But after a couple of days I found that I couldn’t stay away. It was as though the skein of this odd book had got snagged on a hangnail, and I couldn’t shake it off. (Ugh. Try another mixed metaphor.) I found myself reading it (on my iPad, using the Kindle reader) at every opportunity I got. Over breakfast. In between meetings. In my favourite cocktail bar here in Shenzhen.
Part of me wants to proclaim that it’s the best thing I’ve read in years. Other bits of me are still confused. I think that this is a very commendable thing. More books should have these effects.
I think that will suffice. I recommend it to the curious and the flexible among you.