Tuesday, May 30, 2006

25 worst tech products

PCWorld published their chosen 25 worst tech products of all time which were reviewed by the magazine in the last 25 years. It makes funny reading and is revealing for IT managers who could reflect on these failure examples. You may wish to read the article to see why they are so bad.

The Complete List of Losers

1. America Online (1989-2006) - Awful software, inaccessible dial-up, rapacious marketing, in-your-face advertising, questionable billing practices.

2. RealNetworks RealPlayer (1999) - Lots of advertisement; tracking user habits without telling them. I still use it to watch rm files, but disable all other functions.

3. Syncronys SoftRAM (1995) - False and misleading claim on adding RAM by software.

4. Microsoft Windows Millennium (2000) - Buggy OS, incompatible with many hardware and software.

5. Sony BMG Music CDs (2005) - Its copy protection software was a spyware in itself.

6. Disney The Lion King CD-ROM (1994) - Its graphic interface was incompatible with many computers, and caused them to crash, when children were playing the game during Christmas.

7. Microsoft Bob (1995) - A Windows desktop interface that no one used.

8. Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 (2001) - Very vulnerable to be hacked, dangerous to use. I gave it up and opted for Firefox.

9. Pressplay and Musicnet (2002) - Primitive online music service which no one wanted.

10. dBASE IV (1988) - A buggy product that turned the good reputation of dBase II and III upside down. I was a faithful user of dBase, but changed to FoxPro upon the introduction of dBase IV.

11. Priceline Groceries and Gas (2000) - Priceline is right for air tickets and hotels, but not for groceries and gas.

12. PointCast (1996) - This news distribution service with push technology used up bandwidth and crashed systems.

13. IBM PCjr. (1984) - Small computer but too small to type on and too weak to run large programs.

14. Gateway 2000 10th Anniversary PC (1995) - Poorly configured and poorly performed made it a failed product.

15. Iomega Zip Drive (1998) - Having much problem in destroying all data on it, quickly replaced by CD. Isn't it a standard issue of many government desktop systems but no one use it.

16. Comet Cursor (1997) - This program which changed your cursor into funny icon was actually a spyware. I once downloaded this program, but quickly deleted it; not interested in the cartoon icons anyway.

17. Apple Macintosh Portable (1989) - This portable was 4-inch-thick and weighted 16-pound.

18. IBM Deskstar 75GXP (2000) - Fast, big, and highly unreliable, this 75GB hard drive was quickly dubbed the "Deathstar" for its habit of suddenly failing and taking all of your data with it.

19. OQO Model 1 (2004) - The 14-ounce OQO Model 1 was the "world's smallest Windows XP computer" which was hard to read and to type on. It is better to use a PDA.

20. CueCat (2000) - it was a cat-shaped bar-code scanners. Readers scanned the barcodes inside the ads in magazines and newspaper and be directed to advertisers' websites. Bad idea.

21. Eyetop Wearable DVD Player (2004) - Imagine wearing the screen on your eyeglasses and walked as you watched DVD and got motion sickness.

22. Apple Pippin @World (1996) - An Apple game console which was slow and with little games to play.

23. Free PCs (1999) - Free PC with contract with ISP. The free PC were low end models no one wanted.

24. DigiScents iSmell (2001) - Emitting appropriate scents as you browsed websites suitably encoded. Another bad idea.

25. Sharp RD3D Notebook (2004) - The 3D effect slowed things down, and it was visible only at a narrow angle.

Some of them are familiar products which we actually used. We may not have used AOL which is widespread in USA owing to its enormous advertising campaign. But I have tried Realplayer, IE6, dBase IV, and Iomega Zip Drive. All have their own problems. It is a good lesson that new is not better. We must not blindly follow advertisement but have to exercise judgement, which is something managers are good at.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Mozart and Haydn 莫扎特與海頓

香港管弦樂團沒有團長已經有一段時間,在這期間,團長工作有時由副團長兼任,有時又請來客席團長,客串一兩場音樂會。今晚(5月26日)的音樂會,由夏定忠 John Harding 指揮。John Harding 是小提琴家,他亦曾被邀請作為港樂的客席團長;今天看到消息,他將於9月,即下一樂季,正式出任港樂團長。這是一個好消息。

今晚的鋼琴獨奏由唐偉 David Tong 擔任。唐偉是澳門人,早年移民澳洲,很小時已露鋒芒,現時仍在 Juilliard 進修,但已屢次與著名樂團演出和灌錄唱片。看見華裔年青音樂才俊達到世界級水平,我總覺得高興。

莫扎特停不了。這個音樂會略述莫扎特的一生,有他的降E大調第一交響曲 Symphony No.1 in E-flat K.16,降B大調第27鋼琴協奏曲 Piano Concerto in B-flat K.595 和A小調迴旋曲 Rondo in A minor, K.511,還有海頓的降B大調第98交響曲 Haydn's Symphony No.98 in B-flat。


Saturday, May 13, 2006

Italian night 意大利之夜

今晚(5月12日)是港樂意大利之夜,演奏的樂曲有羅西尼的威廉泰爾序曲 Rossini's William Tell overture,陳怡的敲擊樂協奏曲 Chen Yi's Percussion Concerto,舒伯特的意大利風格序曲 Schubert's Overture in the Italian Style,和孟德爾遜的第四交響曲-意大利 Mendelssohn's Symphony No.4 Italian。




Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Cheating by cell phone

I have been watching the news these few days on the saga of the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA) and wondering what went wrong. HKEAA, in devising examination questions for English Language exam of HKCE, included the address of the website from which one of the question originated. It was alleged that some students took advantage of this information and used their cell phone to browse the website and, again alleged, got the answer to the question.

It appears to be a case arising from the advance of information technology, or a case of information technology not properly managed. On the outset, the culprit of the case was the display of the website address in the examination paper. Why did some silly persons do something like that? The excuse of HKEAA was that the origin of the material had to be displayed for the reason of copyright. I think this is a stupid excuse, normally taken by an inflexible bureaucracy. The rigid rule was to acknowledge authors in order to get away with copyright law. First, on the practical side, acknowledgment was for the benefit of the readers to know the true origin of the material, and to give credit to the original author. However, for an examination paper which is only seen by students for a short while, putting down the original website address does not serve such purpose. Second, to address copyright, the permission of the author should be sought instead. It is not like that the material was casually mentioned or reviewed. The material was used for a purpose, and actually the examination paper setter could be making a profit out of it.

HKEAA has been skillful and the media were led down another track. Taking advantage of the complaints of the students that someone might have got the answer using a cell phone, the bomb was moved underneath the table of someone else, that cheating by the use of cell phone should be condemned. A witch hunt is now going on with HKEAA going to the police and seeking witnesses who were in the examination halls on the examination day.

Bringing a cell phone into the examination hall is always prohibited, the main reason being its disturbance to others. Even if HKEAA could get away with the first sin of putting the website address in the examination paper, it should be blamed for not doing its job right in allowing cell phones in the examination hall. HKEAA again shifted the weight and put the blame back to the students by calling cheating. Now the whole community is talking about student integrity, while there is still no proof that any student actually browsed the website within a couple of valuable minutes of examination time and remembered the content and came back to write a good answer. But HKEAA is temporarily off the hook.

Now the power of information technology. It is generally agreed that almost all the knowledge of the world is within reached by almost everybody. The reason is that knowledge is now being digitized and distributed around the world in websites, to be fetched with simple devices in an instance. Knowledge is gathered under websites, and website addresses are the keys. It is not like quoting an author or the name of a book. It is like saying the knowledge is put in which page of a book in which library in which street in which city. Just that in a flat world one can get to that page instantaneously. Quoting a website is like putting a book by the examination table. It is just a matter of how to flip that book.

If HKEAA is not to be blamed, can we blame the cell phone? It is this device of information technology that allegedly gave instant access to the knowledge. Personal devices are so powerful these days that many people travel the world and get connected to any person and any knowledge through them. However, to be practical again, I wonder how widespread is such technology to secondary students. I know only a few people who regularly use their high-tech cell phone to browse the Internet. Also, only a handful of websites can be browsed easily through the small cell phone screen. Even the best cell phones, or PDA phones, cannot let you browse wide and long text with ease. Just imagine a wiz kid hiding in the toilet for ten minutes browsing a website through a small cell phone screen and came back memorized a model answer. This wiz kid does not have to take public exam. Any chancellor will gladly welcome him directly to the university.

Political sentiment and group behaviour are hard to predict, in particular when education officials came out to take the arrows for HKEAA. The whole thing could just be a red herring dreamed up by some students when they curiously saw the website address in an examination paper.

I have sympathy to the students who devised creative ways of cheating. I heard stories about students copying gists of books, mathematical equations, scientific formula in secret locations in small prints. I cannot help wondering that if they spent so much effort in copying all these valuable materials carefully, they should have already know these materials. This is what revision is all about.

In my time, we were forbidden to take a calculator into the examination hall. All calculations had to be done by heart and by hand. Time changes. Calculators are now allowed. The human race evolves and we go up another level in getting knowledge. Cell phone browsing website during examination may now be a fantasy. But more advanced devices are on the way. Devices such as tiny size computers, wear-on computers, computers fit on your glasses, or implanted somewhere on your body will make them unnoticed in the examination halls. However, devices are not knowledge. Knowledge kept by you is not necessarily yours. One needs to internalize knowledge before ideas can be expressed in the examination papers. Many universities have open book examinations where students can freely refer to the materials. In those examinations, there are open ended questions for which one cannot copy an answer from somewhere. Learning has taken a step higher. For now, we still dwell on the question of who went into the toilet and used the cell phone to browse the website provided by HKEAA.

Monday, May 8, 2006

Why be moral

There is still one more topic from the book Philosopher at the end of the universe which I wish to make some notes before putting it back on the bookshelf. The sci-fi movie mentioned in the book is Hollow Man, starring Kevin Becon as a scientist who worked on the technology of invisibility. He tested on himself and became invisible. When he was invisible, he did many things he would not normally do, like taking advantage on Elizabeth Shue, killing the boss of the research institute, and eventually trying to kill all his co-workers in the laboratory. When he could get away with murder, no one know what he would do.

Hollow Man is an updated version of the Invisible Man series of movies of the 50s and 60s. In fact, such story was first told by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato (柏拉圖 427-347BC) in his book The Republic. The story is known as The Ring of Gyges. In the story, Gyges the shepherd accidentally found a ring on an ancient skeleton in a hidden cave. He took the ring and went back to his fellow shepherds. He then found out when he turned the ring inward, he became invisible, and heard what the other shepherds said about him, thinking he was not there. Gyges then headed off to the capital, where he took over the queen, murdered the king, overturned the country, and established a new dynasty. The moral of the story, considered by Plato, was whether Gyges had done good or bad. He raised the fundamental question of why be moral, if you have the ring of Gyges?

Humans can have at least two sorts of reasons for doing something. One reason is what we want. This can be called prudential reasons. We have prudential reasons because we have interests, and because we have desires. Our prudential reasons are a function of what we want. There can also be a second reason that we sometimes do something because we believe, rightly or wrongly, that it is the right thing to do, or a moral reason. In many situations, moral reasons and prudential reasons conflict with each other and some people choose to do things morally. The question then becomes: why act from moral reasons rather than prudential reasons? Why allow the moral reasons to outweigh the prudential reasons.

If one believes in god, then god is always watching us. Such appeal to god transforms moral reasons into prudential reasons. It is in the long-term interests to act morally so as not to be sent to hell. However, the increasing secularization of society gives rise to a problem. If there is no belief in a moral god, then one cannot collapse moral reasons into prudential ones. So what reason do we have for acting morally?

Another theory to answer this question involves replacing god with society. Thomas Hobbes (霍布斯 1588-1679) considers that human beings are all egoists. We will do whatever we can to get whatever we want. However, in a society where everyone is doing what they can, there are bound to be conflicts and consequences. It makes sense to form a sort of contract with other people, a contract which places certain restrictions on our freedom in return for certain restrictions on others. This is the social contract theory of morality. For the contract to work, there are two conditions to be fulfilled. First, others are a threat and they provide a risk to the satisfying of our interests; second, others are a help and they are useful in the furthering of our interests. However, there are many human beings who fall outside the scope of social contract morality, such as infants, children, senile, mentally disadvantaged, physically disadvantaged. As such the theory fails to provide justification for acting on moral reasons all the time.

David Hume (休謨 1711-1776) looks at the question in a simple way. He proposes that human beings are born nice people. We like each others and thus act morally towards other human beings. Stories like Hollow Man and Ring of Gyges are just hypothetical. Deep down we have a benign personality. Critics consider this not a justification at all, but only a casual explanation of the behaviour of some people. At times when people can get away with murder, they may not act morally because of the absence of consequences to the actions.

The strategy of both the religious-based and social contract answers to the question lies in trying to reduce moral reasons to prudential reasons. Immanuel Kant (康德 1724-1804) looks for the answer in a different way. His theory is consistency. If you are immoral then you are inconsistent. Immorality reduces to inconsistency. According to Kant, a morally right action is always one that is done with a good will, good motive or good intention. A good motive or intention is one that turns on fulfilling one's duty. Our fundamental duty is what he called the categorical imperative: "I ought never to act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become an universal law." Morality is the universal law that everyone practises. To not act morally is inconsistent.

To address Kant's theory, the author looks at the interpretation of the question in two different ways: first, why should I be moral? and second, why should people in general be moral? We can understand why people in general should follow the universal law, or else there will not be an universal law. However, one person acting immorally is not a self-undermining or inconsistent policy for oneself.

In the end, the author admits that both moral reasons, prudential reasons and logical reasons cannot satisfactorily provide an rational answer to the question of why be moral. Questions without a rational answer are not irrational. They are just arational. The choice to let one's life be guided by moral reasons or self-interest is an arational choice. It is ultimately one of self-definition., guided by your image of the sort of person you want to be.

Broadway Hits 百老匯名曲


這幾場音樂會請來舒爾茲 Elizabeth Schulze 指揮,還有女高音露諾森 Anne Runolfsson,女中音麥雅杜 Andrea McArdle 和男中音馬奎爾 Michael Maguire。幾位歌者都獨當一面,曾在百老匯音樂劇演出,Anne Runolfsson 和 Michael Maguire 曾演出歌聲魅影 Phantom of the Opera,而 Andrea McArdle 是小安妮 Annie 的主角;但看這張照片,小安妮已經長大。


演唱的名曲有 The Wizard of Oz 的 Over the Rainbow,My Fair Lady 的 I Could Have Danced All Night 和我特別喜歡的 On The Street Where You Live。還有至愛名曲 The Impossible Dream,出自 Man of La Mancha;這首歌譯為我歌我夢,好似缺少了 Impossible 的含意;其實這首歌主要的意義在不能實現的夢;塞萬提斯寫唐吉訶德的故事時,可能是想諷刺某些人固執卻不智的行為,盲目的陷入自己的問題中而不自知,但當這個故事流行後,唐吉訶德卻被捧為英雄;這和魯迅的亞Q正傳的後果差不多。

閒話不說,今晚精彩的曲目當然不能少 Phantom of the Opera 的名曲,有 All I Ask of You, Think of Me 和 Music of the Night,又有 Annie 的主題曲 Tomorrow,還有一曲 Les Mis 的 Bring Him Home;這曲我在數年前看這個劇時已很喜歡。今晚還有熱鬧的樂曲 Chicago 的 All that Jazz,Mamma Mia 的 Dancing Queen,和 Cabaret。Encore 時再來一首 NewYork New York,使音樂會在很興奮的氣氛中結束。

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

IP addresses

A LegCo question was asked today on whether Internet Protocol (IP) addresses are regarded as a type of the "personal data" so defined in the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance (Cap 486); and whether the Government will adopt measures to prohibit the disclosure of IP addresses to third parties without the authorization of the owners? This is a issue more related to IT management than IT the technology.

The official reply:
"An Internet Protocol (IP) address is a specific machine address assigned by the web surfer's Internet Service Provider (ISP) to a user's computer and is therefore unique to a specific computer. An IP address alone can neither reveal the exact location of the computer concerned nor the identity of the computer user. As such, the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (PC) considers that an IP address does not appear to be caught within the definition of "personal data" under the PDPO. That said, whether an IP address together with other data constitutes "personal data" under the PDPO will have to depend on the specific circumstances surrounding the case.

ISPs in Hong Kong are bound by the PDPO. As data users, ISPs need to comply with Data Protection Principle 3 which provides that personal data shall not be used, disclosed or transferred for a purpose other than for which they were collected at the time of their collection (or a directly related purpose) in the absence of the data subject's prescribed consent. The exact location of a computer or the identity of a computer user cannot be traced using an IP address alone. To trace an account user (in the case of a dial-up customer) or the physical address of a user's computer (in the case of a leased circuit or broadband customer) that has made use of a particular IP address at a particular point in time, one must have the IP address, the time of use of the IP address and the appropriate IP assignment logs kept by the ISPs. The provisions of the PDPO together with the relevant licence conditions in the licence issued to ISPs are sufficient to prohibit the unauthorised disclosure of information collected by ISPs.

The Privacy Commissioner is separately conducting an in-depth research on whether an IP address can be regarded as "personal data" under the PDPO. Apart from a study of the judicial decisions of local and overseas courts on "personal data", the Commissioner has also sought the views of privacy commissioners of other jurisdictions on the scope of coverage of "personal data" in their respective jurisdictions, as well as consulted the professional views of a senior counsel on issues relating to the scope of "personal data". Should research findings conducted by the PC reveal that an IP address should be treated as personal data under the PDPO, disclosure of such information would be regulated by the Ordinance."

If you are confused on such yes and no answer, typical of bureaucratic statement, the simple answer is yes. ISP will protect IP addresses. To obtain information related to IP addresses from ISP, a court order is required. It is like protecting the HKID card number. You can make up any HKID card number which could belong to someone. But the HKID card number alone is not secret. It is the identity of the person associated with the HKID card which is personal data. Please do not think ISP are remote entities. Many IT managers managing their own networks have such personal data in the form of IP addresses in their possession. Need to think PDPO.