Thursday, December 27, 2007

Why is organizing photos a baffling ordeal?

If you know me, you know that I like to take photos. I have two cameras, one of which is compact enough to fit in my pocket so that I can capture rare or interesting things at the spot. I know that people often wonder "when can I get your pictures?". Organizing photos is a demanding task for me. It's not just a simple matter of transferring files from the memory card to the hard drive. There are many other little tasks, and I will explain why

Photos

Exif

JPEG files produced by digital cameras usually contain Exif metadata (data about data). What it records includes a number of things such as time, aperture, shutter speed, orientation, and other camera settings.

Orientation

While taking photos with portrait orientation, Canon cameras still store the photo in landscape orientation, but flip the orientation information in Exif. As a result, not all software recognizes this method of orientation. Photoshop, ACDSee, Firefox, and IE don't recognize Exif orientation. So for maximum compatibility, I have to rotate these photos manually. There are many software that can do this. But most destroy or partially destroy the original Exif information. The only one that does not, at least for Canon-camera-captured photos, is Canon's own ZoomBrowser application.

Timestamp

As I said, Exif includes timestamp. The file system, NTFS in my case, also records timestamps. NTFS records the timestamps in UTC internally, and displays with user's time zone setting. When I change my system's time zone, the timestamps on my file system appear to shift as well. But this is not the case for the timestamps in Exif, as it is part of the file. I leverage this difference to indicate where the photo was taken, at least in what time zone. I make sure that the timestamp in Exif is the local time where the photo was taken, while the NTFS timestamp is in the time zone of my system. But wait, why am I telling you this? How does this impact my organizing photos? Rotating photos changes the NTFS timestamps. So I have to correct the NTFS timestamps after rotation using ACDSee.

Videos

Canon cameras capture videos in Motion JPEG, a compression scheme that doesn't really compress much. Therefore, videos must be recompressed. And my choice of codec is Xvid. Here are the steps that I must perform to convert MJPEG to Xvid.
  • Extract the audio (wav file) from the original video
  • Convert the wav file to mp3
  • Encode the video with Xvid as the video codec, and the mp3 as audio
  • Inspect the quality of the new video (watch two files side by side)
  • Validate that it is indeed encoded with Xvid and mp3
  • Restore the original time stamp
  • Delete the old copy and rename the new copy

Publishing

There are thousands of websites that provide photo service. But I'm not satisfied with any of them. The problem? Size and scale. These websites usually shrink the image size. If the size can be preserved, then most likely they limit your upload capacity. If you know me, then you would know that size and completeness is a big deal to me. There are no free online solutions for 9GiB of 8600+ files. What better place is there than my own hard drive? So I used JAlbum to generate HTML and thumbnails, then I host them with Apache. This process is also time consuming (computer time). I'm looking for alternatives.

Text description

People often ask me why I don't add text to the photos. I could, even with the complex process described above. But it's not the action of adding text that takes most of the time. It's the time spent on deciding what to write. If I were to write anything at all, I must look up the right references, provide background stories, and most important of all, write them in both Chinese and English. I tried this with my trip to Paris and England. And it proved to be a time consuming task as well.

Since it is a complicated process, it is best for me to accumulate the photos for a while and do them in batch. I can achieve economies of scale by performing the same tasks repeatedly in a shorter amount of time.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Scale of large things

We often hear "project A will cost $X million" or "something will cost $Y billion" on the news. Do we really understand how big these amounts are? Studies show that a group of people would spend a lot of time to decide how to spend a US$3000 budget, and relatively less on a multi million dollar budget. The reason is simple: we know how big US$3000 is. For your convenience, I've compiled a table of large monetary values. While I was doing this, I realized that the number of units sold is also a frequently mentioned figure on media. So without further ado,

Monetary
Source Date Thing US$ TW¥ CN¥
IMF thru Wikipedia 2006 Nominal GDP of the World 48.25 tr. 1559.77 tr. 356.82 tr.
IMF 2006 Nominal GDP of the U.S.A. 13.19 tr. 426.58 tr. 97.59 tr.
White House 2007 Outlays of the U.S. Federal Government 2.78 tr. 89.85 tr. 20.55 tr.
IMF 2006 Nominal GDP of the P.R.C. 2.64 tr. 85.50 tr. 19.56 tr.
IMF 2006 Nominal GDP of France 2.25 tr. 72.81 tr. 16.66 tr.
HM Treasury 2007 U.K. Government expenditure 1.20 tr. 38.70 tr. 8.85 tr.
IMF 2006 Nominal GDP of the R.O.C. 364.56 b. 11.79 tr. 2.70 tr.
IMF 2006 Nominal GDP of Singapore 132.16 b. 4.27 tr. 977.42 b.
IMF 2006 Nominal GDP of Vietnam 61.00 b. 1.97 tr. 451.12 b.
Forbes 2007 Bill Gate's net worth 59.00 b. 1.91 tr. 436.36 b.
Yahoo Finance 2007 Microsoft's revenue 54.07 b. 1.75 tr. 399.90 b.
Directorate-General of Budget, Accouting and Statistics, Executive Yuan 2007 Outlays of the R.O.C. central government 51.46 b. 1.66 tr. 380.62 b.
Yahoo Finance 2007 Microsoft's gross profit 40.43 b. 1.31 tr. 299.02 b.
Yahoo Finance 2007 Amazon's revenue 13.15 b. 425.14 b. 97.26 b.
IMF 2006 Nominal GDP of Brunei 11.56 b. 373.77 b. 85.51 b.
Apprentice 505 2006 Cruise line industry 10.00 b. 323.30 b. 73.96 b.
NY MTA 2007 Total operating budget of NY MTA 9.72 b. 314.09 b. 71.85 b.
Apprentice 504 2006 Americans spend this much on cereal 6.00 b. 193.98 b. 44.38 b.
IMF 2006 Nominal GDP of Madagascar 5.50 b. 177.78 b. 40.67 b.
Department of Budget, Accounting, & Statistics, Taipei 2007 Taipei government expenditure 4.39 b. 142.05 b. 32.50 b.
Yahoo Finance 2007 Amazon's gross profit 2.46 b. 79.53 b. 18.19 b.
Washington Metro 2007 Budget of 2007 1.89 b. 61.14 b. 13.99 b.
IMF 2006 Nominal GDP of Eritrea 1.16 b. 37.50 b. 8.58 b.
IMF 2006 Nominal GDP of Liberia 614.00 m. 19.85 b. 4.54 b.
Yahoo Movie 1997 Cumm. gross of the movie Titanic 600.79 m. 19.42 b. 4.44 b.
Yahoo Movie 2004 Cumm. gross of the movie Shrek 2 441.23 m. 14.26 b. 3.26 b.
Reuters thru Wikipedia 2007 Official list price of Airbus A380 319.20 m. 10.32 b. 2.36 b.
Taipei MRT 2006 Revenue of Taipei MRT 311.78 m. 10.08 b. 2.31 b.
Yahoo Movie 2003 Cumm. gross of X2: X-Men United 214.95 m. 6.95 b. 1.59 b.
NY MTA 2004 Long Island bus operating budget 100.60 m. 3.25 b. 744.04 m.
Department of RTS, Taipei 1988-2006 Per km cost of high volume lines (Taipei MRT) 89.58 m. 2.90 b. 662.51 m.
IMF 2006 Nominal GDP of Kiribati 70.00 m. 2.26 b. 517.72 m.
Taipei MRT 2006 Pre-tax profit of Taipei MRT 31.55 m. 1.02 b. 233.34 m.


Unit
Source Start End Thing Unit
ITWorld.com thru Wikipedia 2001/10/25 2006/1/15 Windows XP 400.00 m.
Sony thru Wikipedia 2000/3/4 2007/9/20 PS2 Worldwide 120.00 m.
Wikipedia 2001/10/23 2007/10/15 All iPods 119.00 m.
Sony thru Wikipedia 1994/12/3 PS 102.49 m.
Wikipedia 1983/7/15 NES 61.79 m.
Motorola thru Wikipedia 2004/11/8 2006/7/18 RAZR V3 50.00 m.
Nintendo thru Wikipedia 1990/11/21 SNES 49.00 m.
gamecubicle.com thru Wikipedia 1985/9/13 Super Mario (All-stars excluded) 40.24 m.
GameDaily Biz thru Wikipedia 2000/10/26 2007/9/13 PS2 US 39.10 m.
Nintendo thru Wikipedia 1996/6/23 2005/3/31 Nintendo 64 32.93 m.
Wired thru Wikipedia 1988/10/29 Sega Genesis (Mega Drive) 29.00 m.
Xbox.com thru Wikipedia 2001/11/15 2006/5/10 Xbox 24.00 m.
Nintendo thru Wikipedia 2001/9/14 2007/9/30 GameCube 21.66 m.
ownt.com thru Wikipedia 1988/10/23 Super Mario 3 (All-stars excluded) 18.00 m.
Punch Jump thru Wikipedia 2005/11/22 2007/9/30 Xbox 360 Worldwide 13.40 m.
Nintendo thru Wikipedia 2006/11/19 Wii 13.17 m.
GamePro thru Wikipedia 1998/11/27 Dreamcast 10.60 m.
IGN thru Wikipedia 1998/4/1 StarCraft 9.50 m.
GameDaily Biz thru Wikipedia 2005/11/22 2007/9/13 Xbox 360 US 6.30 m.
Sony thru Wikipedia 2006/11/11 2007/9/30 PS3 5.59 m.


Note: Using the following exchange rates
US$ = TW¥ 32.33
GB£ = US$ 2.03947
US$ = CN¥ 7.396

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Vegetables

Year 1997
People: "You eat vegetables!? I didn't know you eat vegetables."
Me: "Yes, I do."

Year 2007
People: "You eat vegetables!? I didn't know you eat vegetables."
Me: "Yes, I do."

Year 2017
People: "You eat vegetables!? I didn't know you eat vegetables."
Me: "Yes, I do."

Bracket

I think brackets should be used in regular writings, where appropriate. For example, in the article "Free My Phone" that I posed earlier, it says
  • breaking the link between (the producers of goods and services) and (the people who use them)
If the brackets were omitted, it could be interpreted as
  • breaking [the link (between the producers of goods and services)] and (the people who use them)
which is wrong.

Let me give another example that is more relevant to our daily life: "Combo meal includes beverage, desert, soup or fries". Which one is it?
  • (beverage, desert, soup) or fries. (3 or 1 item)
  • beverage, desert, (soup or fries). (always 3 items)
Let me give yet another example from a computer game
  • red (wolf meat). (the meat is red)
  • (red wolf) meat. (the wolf is red)
In fact, Civilization IV has adopted the use of brackets when appropriate to describe tech tree prerequisites. For example, fiber optics requires "computers and (plastics or satellites)".

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Free My Phone

One day I read this article written by Walt Mossberg, the principal technology columnist for the Wall Street Journal, on October 21, 2007 about the ridiculous cell phone market system in the U.S.. The original article is here (contains video). For your convenience, I've added Wikipedia links here.


Suppose you own a Dell computer, and you decide to replace it with a Sony. You don’t have to get the permission of your Internet service provider to do so, or even tell the provider about it. You can just pack up the old machine and set up the new one.

Now, suppose your new computer came with a particular Web browser or online music service, but you’d prefer a different one. You can just download and install the new software, and uninstall the old one. You can sign up for a new music service and cancel the old one. And, once again, you don’t need to even notify your Internet provider, let alone seek its permission.

Oh, and the developers of such computers, software and services can offer you their products directly, without going through the Internet provider, without getting the provider’s approval, and without giving the provider a penny. The Internet provider gets paid simply for its contribution to the mix: providing your Internet connection. But, for all practical purposes, it doesn’t control what is connected to the network, or carried over the network.

This is the way digital capitalism should work, and, in the case of the mass-market personal-computer industry, and the modern Internet, it has created one of the greatest technological revolutions in human history, as well as one of the greatest spurts of wealth creation and of consumer empowerment.

So, it’s intolerable that the same country that produced all this has trapped its citizens in a backward, stifling system when it comes to the next great technology platform, the cellphone.

A shortsighted and often just plain stupid federal government has allowed itself to be bullied and fooled by a handful of big wireless phone operators for decades now. And the result has been a mobile phone system that is the direct opposite of the PC model. It severely limits consumer choice, stifles innovation, crushes entrepreneurship, and has made the U.S. the laughingstock of the mobile-technology world, just as the cellphone is morphing into a powerful hand-held computer.

Whether you are a consumer, a hardware maker, a software developer or a provider of cool new services, it’s hard to make a move in the American cellphone world without the permission of the companies that own the pipes. While power in other technology sectors flows to consumers and nimble entrepreneurs, in the cellphone arena it remains squarely in the hands of the giant carriers.

The Soviet Ministry Model

That’s why I refer to the big cellphone carriers as the “Soviet ministries.” Like the old bureaucracies of communism, they sit athwart the market, breaking the link between (the producers of goods and services) and (the people who use them).

To some extent, they try to replace the market system, and, like the real Soviet ministries, they are a lousy substitute. They decide what phones can be used on their networks and what software and services can be offered on those phones. They require the hardware and software makers to tailor their products to meet the carriers’ specifications, not just so they work properly on the network, but so they promote the carriers’ brands and their various add-on services.

Let me be clear: Any company that spends billions to build and maintain a wireless network deserves to be paid for its use, and deserves to make a profit and a return for its shareholders. Not only that, but companies like Verizon Wireless or AT&T Inc. should be free to build or sell phones or software or services.

What Is Needed

But, in my view, they shouldn’t be allowed to pick and choose what phones run on their networks, and what software and services run on those phones. We need a wireless mobile device ecosystem that mirrors the PC/Internet ecosystem, one where the consumers’ purchase of network capacity is separate from their purchase of the hardware and software they use on that network. It will take government action, or some disruptive technology or business innovation, to get us there.

To my knowledge, only one phone maker, Apple Inc., has been permitted to introduce a cellphone with the cooperation of a U.S. carrier without that carrier having any say in the hardware and software design of the product. And that one example, the iPhone, was a special case, because Apple is currently the hottest digital brand on earth, with its own multibillion-dollar online and physical retail network.

Even so, Apple had to make a deal with the devil to gain the freedom to offer an unimpaired product directly to users. It gave AT&T exclusive rights to be the iPhone’s U.S. network for an undisclosed period of years. It has locked and relocked the phone to make sure consumers can’t override that restriction. This arrangement reportedly brings Apple regular fees from AT&T, but penalizes people who live in areas with poor AT&T coverage.

Apple has also, so far, barred users from installing third-party programs on the iPhone, though the company announced last week it will open the phone to such programs early next year. (Web-based iPhone programs–those that run inside the Web browser–have been available from day one.)

These restrictions have rubbed some of the luster off the best-designed handheld computer ever made.

A few other “smart phones” sold primarily to businesses have been freer of carrier restrictions on third-party software and services than typical cellphones. But even these handsets, such as Palm Trēos, Windows Mobile devices, and BlackBerrys, have been partly crippled by carriers in some cases.

As a technology reviewer, I have met with multiple small companies that had trouble getting their programs onto consumers’ phones without the permission of the carriers; getting that permission often requires paying the carriers. Sure, there are some clumsy workarounds that can evade the carrier barrier, but it’s nothing like the ability small software companies have had for decades to offer their products for installation on Windows or Macintosh computers.

We also need much greater portability of phone hardware. Because the federal government failed to set a standard for wireless phone technology years ago, we have two major, incompatible cellphone technologies in the U.S. Verizon Communications Inc. and Sprint Nextel Corp. use something called CDMA. AT&T and Deutsche Telekom AG's T-Mobile use something called GSM. Except for a couple of oddball models, phones built for one of these technologies can’t work on the other. So that limits consumer choice and consumer power. If you want to switch from AT&T to Verizon, you have to swallow the cost of a new phone.

But the problem is even worse. The government didn’t require the CDMA companies to include a removable account-information chip, called a SIM card, in their phones. So, unlike people with GSM phones, Sprint and Verizon customers can’t keep their phones if they switch between the two carriers, even though they use the same basic technology. And, the government allows the GSM carriers to “lock” their phones, so a SIM card from a rival carrier won’t work in them, at least for a period of time. Techies can sometimes figure out how to get around this, but average folks can’t.

The carriers defend these restrictions partly by pointing out that they subsidize the cost of the phones in order to get you to use their networks. That’s also, they say, why they require contracts and charge early-termination fees. Without the subsidies, they say, that $99 phone might be $299, so it’s only fair to keep you from fleeing their networks, at least too quickly.

But this whole cellphone subsidy game is an archaic remnant of the days when mobile phones were costly novelties. Today, subsidies are a trap for consumers. If subsidies were removed, along with the restrictions that flow from them, the market would quickly produce cheap phones, just as it has produced cheap, unsubsidized versions of every other digital product, from $399 computers to $79 iPods.

The Federal Communications Commission is selling some new wireless spectrum that will supposedly lead to fewer restrictions for technology companies and consumers, but it’s far from certain that the carriers, with their legions of lobbyists and lawyers, will allow such a new day to dawn. Google Inc. is making noises about trying to bust open the cellphone prison, with new software and services, but that’s no sure bet either.

Remember Landlines?

We’ve been through this before in the U.S., though many younger readers may not recall it.

Up until the 1970s, when the federal government intervened, you weren’t allowed to buy your own landline phone, and companies weren’t able to innovate, on price or features, in making and selling phones to the public. All Americans were forced to rent clumsy phones made by a subsidiary of the monopoly phone company, AT&T, which claimed that, unless it controlled what was connected to its network, the network might suffer.

Well, the government pried that market open, and the wired phone network not only didn’t collapse, it became more useful and versatile, allowing, among other things, cheap connections to online data services.

I suspect that if the government, or some disruptive innovation, breaks the crippling power that the wireless carriers exert today, the free market will deliver a similar happy ending.

Email me at mossberg@wsj.com.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Hypercorrection

I have a tendency of hypercorrection with language. For example, "This is the sort of English up with which I will not put!" (no preposition at the end of a clause). Since English is not my native language, real examples are best illustrated in Chinese.

One example I can think of in English is the refusal of using redundant acronyms, such as "PIN number" and "ATM machine".

Picky eating kids

When kids (say 5 to 8) are picky on the dining table, parents usually say "Did you know? Many people in the world don't even have enough food…". And the kids would say "Then we should give them what I don't want to eat". Does this sound familiar? The reason that this repeatedly happens is because kids think in this way

Some people don't have enough food → this is a problem → the solution is to give them food → I happen to have some I don't want

But the adults think like this

Some people don't have enough food → what if I was in that position

The missing link is "what if I was in that position". Most kids of age 5 to 8 cannot put themselves in others' shoes and think. This is a proven fact in psychology.

In fact, parents make exactly the same mistake in this scenario. Parents do not think "what if I was a 5-year-old…"

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A tale of souls and swords, and ridiculous breasts

...And it wouldn't be a Soul Calibur without some lass with crazy huge mammaries. Though in this installment, Namco has opted to give the already impressively big Ivy a next-gen boob boost. You can see the difference below. And what's with that costume, anyway? More...

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Large numbers and East Asian languages

A large number is usually written with commas separating every 3 digits (e.g. 123,456,789). The system is established this way only because many western languages have a decimal superbase of 1000. That is to say there are no new names for powers of 10 between one thousand (103) and one million (106). 105 is constructed with 102×103. This is not the case for Chinese, Korean, or Japanese. These languages have a decimal superbase of 10000. So a large number like 123456789 should be written as 1,2345,6789. Different languages have different standards. The following table is a simplified illustration of the major standards in the world.
CountryStandard
France, much of Latin Europe123 456 789,00
Germany, the Netherlands123.456.789,00
the U.K., the U.S.123,456,789.00
India12,34,56,789

(more details at here)

In the past, financial and accounting industries in the Chinese, Korean, and Japanese speaking countries have employed the U.K./U.S. standard. It is understandable when computer systems had little resources for such customization. But now Windows and Mac OS have been completely translated. Windows even supports various decimal separating schemes described above, including the Indian numeral system (see screenshot). I have to wonder why isn't the East Asian scheme supported. I am disappointed in two groups of people because of this.

  • Microsoft.
    They're supposed to be the leader of software localization. They have failed to do it.

  • Speakers of these three East Asian languages.
    Just because some people who work in the financial industry or some of the bilingual people are accustomed to the U.K./U.S. format does not justify its usage in these three language. There is not enough root-grass demand for a change.

By the way, Vietnamese has a superbase of 1000.

See also 數字多位分節之我見.

This has been debated on the style guide discussion on the Chinese Wikipedia. I will counter some of the arguments against the "a-comma-per-4-digit" scheme.

Hindu-Arabic numeral isn't a Chinese thing to begin with
No, it is not. But it isn't a European thing in the beginning either. The Europeans adopted it and eventually the thousand separator evolved out of need and natural linguistic construction. And the Indians use a system different from the Europeans'? Why? Because it's how they say it!


A comma for every three digit is an established world standard
Wrong! As the table above shows, there are several standards.


Chinese pride has blinded your judgment
If there were any blind pride, I would argue not to use any Hindu-Arabic numeral at all in the first place.


Chinese speakers are accustomed to read and write the U.K/U.S. system
It is so only because there has not been any alternative. Trust me, if you're a native Chinese speaker and you start reading and writing like 1,2345,6789, you will get used to 4-digit-per-comma very soon. Imagine this:

ItemNumeral, U.K/U.S.Numeral, ChineseChinese
Population of Taipei260,0000260,0000260 萬
Population of Taiwan23,000,0002300,00002300 萬
Population of China1,300,000,00013,0000,000013 億

Now, which one is more natural?

Safari for Windows

Safari for Windows was released on 2007-06-11. It has some serious problem with internationalization. It doesn't display Indic scripts.

Safari


Firefox



In addition, when a page contains mixture of traditional and simplified Chinese characters, two different fonts are used. For the example on the right, the simplified characters 维 and 历 are rendered in Ming font, while the traditional characters (or characters common to both systems) are rendered in sans-serif. Apple can probably get away with internationalization because their website says so.

Usability issue: Hotkey Ctrl-+, Ctrl--, and Ctrl-0 for enlarging or shrinking font size don't work. Pressing enter after clicking on a radio button doesn't submit the form. It crashed within 5 minutes I started using, and continue to crash later.

Google Maps

Try searching for the driving direction from Boston to Paris on Google Maps.

Blue Screen of Death

Seoul Subway


New York Subway


Blue Screen of Death

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Google Earth Taipei road map

Google Earth now has Taipei road map!! Including lanes (巷) and alleys (弄)!



So does Google Maps. It also has MRT routes.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

White Chicks and Gang Signs

Don't do that please, I beg you. This applies to everyone, not just white chicks.


Sunday, April 29, 2007

Gapminder

People usually want to live in the comfort of their own belief and stereotypes. And media, to attract more audience, would fall into the vicious cycle of presenting exaggerated stories, making stereotypes, and back and forth. In an age when the amount of information is increasing exponentially, we must not only read carefully edited news, but also the raw data. Some of the latter task can be aided by technologies now.

Hans Rosling's 21 min. talk at the 2006 TED Conference in Monterey, CA highlighting novel ways of presenting global statistics.

Search statistics through Google and watch it move with Gapminder. Google Subscribed Links makes it possible to search deep into Gapminder's moving graphs visualizing world development. Spring 2006.
Subscribe
Go straight to the graph


A presentation for UNDP Human Development Report 2005 in English and some other languages. Human Development Trends was produced in 2005. Available in English, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Russian, Spanish & Swedish.
Download


Related links

Friday, April 27, 2007

Wide screen

In recent years, there is an increasing trend to advertise "wide screen" on laptops. It seems that a wider screen shows more than a narrow screen. But it's all relative. One can say that a wide screen is a short screen, and a narrow screen is a tall screen. And I personally prefer tall screen over wide screen on a laptop. Why? The price of a LCD display is approximately proportional to its size and the number of pixel. For example, Dell 2007FP (20.1", 1600×1200 = 1.92 megapixels) is US$379 on PriceGrabber, and Dell 2007FWP (20.1", 1680×1050 = 1.764 megapixels) is US$369.95 on PriceGrabber. So if I'm paying roughly the same amount, I'd like to have as many pixels as possible. The number of pixels here is not really the simple product of the height and the width. It's how many are actually utilized. Most websites are built to be 800×600-friendly, and most sites have vertical scroll. If my screen width is larger than 800, then it is likely that I'm "wasting pixels" on the left and right, although enough websites are multi-resolution-friendly. Most blogs are fixed width. By the same token, many contemporary DVDs video have a aspect ratio of 1.85:1 or 2.35:1. On a screen that is 4:3 (or 1⅓:1), there would be black areas on the top and bottom. These are the two major cases where the pixels are wasted. And I have to ask myself, which one scenario is more common for myself? It's websites. When I'm reading a web page, what good is the extra 80 pixels on the horizontal axis, while I could have 150 extra pixels on the vertical axis, and possibly avoid some scrolling?

You may have a different use case. But you have to think about it for yourself. Marketing people do not have your best interest in mind.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Why is my life boring?

Two reasons.
  • I insist on doing the right thing
  • I insist on efficiency, consistency, and completeness

As a result, I spend so much time upholding these two principles, and I don't have time for anything else. Or my life has become so routine because of efficiency. So when people ask me on Monday how my weekend was, I don't know how to answer because any answer I can give would be the same as the answer I gave last week, and it would be boring. What am I talking about? This is best illustrated by examples

  • I eat the same food over and over again. This is a result of evaluating all kinds of factors like price, lead time and tastiness. It doesn't matter what my metric is. The point is because I insist on the optimal solution, I end up eating the same thing. If I deviate from the routine pattern, it would violate the optimality.
  • I keep all the mail from charity organization. I hope that one day I can donate to them all because this is the right thing to do. Also, I have to spend time eliminating the duplicate mail from the same organization, otherwise my space is not efficiently utilized.
  • I keep all the coupons from all kinds of restaurants hoping that one day I can use them. Saving is a good virtue. But I have to eliminate the ones that expire. Time is spent on that.
  • I write blog, like many others do. But when I write my blog, I have to do it in two languages because some of my audience prefer English over Chinese, while some others prefer the other way around. And because I want to write something meaningful and original, and don't want to have silly things like "I'm just eat two burgers and I'm still hungry, hahaha", I spend so much time thinking about my arguments, evidence to back up my claim, background research, and even proper links to Wikipedia and correct HTML syntax.
  • I keep my address book clean, to a degree that somebody would call obsessive. But all I'm trying to do is for completeness and correctness. All I need is a complete current address (many of my friends have to provide two, on in the U.S., one in Taiwan), land line phone number, cell phone number, email, IM IDs. Also, I need to make customized portraits for my own cell phone. As a result, people just come to me for contact information. What am I? Yellow book?
  • When I see some interesting thing on the internet such as videos or photo collection, I am obligated to download them. I hope that I can go back and re-enjoy them some time in the future, reuse them for creative work, share them to people I know, or just for the record. This means that I have to spend time actually downloading them, categorize them properly. Sometimes I have to write code to perform massive download, or by brute force manual effort. Maintaining them is also a tremendous effort, such as removing duplicate copies. Duplicate copy is fine, it's the "almost identical" copy that causes the trouble. A video can be as long as 40 minutes, and I have to watch two copies side by side simultaneously to compare the quality. After all, maintain the best quality is the right thing to do, and removing unnecessary copies is an efficient utilization of my disk.
  • I have obtained many DVDs in a relatively cheap method. But now I have a huge backlog of unwatched DVDs. I feel like watching these DVDs has become a responsibility. If I don't watch them, then the effort I spent on obtaining them cheaply would be a waste. That would be a contradiction. But I just don't have the time. And I have to watch DVD and eat at the same time. If I did two things separately which could be done simultaneously, it would be inefficient. Now that DVD watching has become a scheduled activity.
  • When I share my photos, I strive for completeness. I don't use online photo gallery service because they always have limits. I use my own computer as a server to serve the 7500 photos that I have to share. But every time there is an update, the gallery has to be rebuilt in different languages and it takes an hour. And before generating the gallery, I have to categorize the new photos properly, and make sure that the time stamp is correct.
  • I spent so much time on Wikipedia because it is the right thing to contribute.
  • My electricity company offers automatic debit from checking account, or one-time credit card payment. If I go with the automatic debit, I would lose interest and the opportunity to build up my credit. To optimize, I have to manually go through the payment process every month.
  • When I play video games, such as an RPG, I have to optimize my character. That means I have to do external analysis, usually with many Excel work sheets. The beginning would be very difficult. What is supposed to be an entertainment has become a math problem.

These are a few examples where my time is spent. This is why my life is boring. This reminds me an interesting saying: "America is a boring heaven, Taiwan is a happy hell". Americans do make more money, probably because American works are more efficient so more things get done. But at the same American life is boring and routine, just like my life is. Go to work, go home, watch TV. Taiwanese life has much more varieties. There are many things to do after work. And many things are 24 hours. Maybe it is also because a portion of the work force is dedicated to those 24 hour operations, Taiwanese don't make as much as a whole. It's off the topic. Let me give another example. American politics is boring because these politicians are doing the right thing (more or less). Perhaps more laws are passed and the citizens are more protected. But C-SPAN is boring. In contrast, Taiwanese politics is like a soap opera. Nothing gets passed in the legislative body, but the news is much more interesting.

Bottom line, efficiency and doing the right thing is an incompatible concept with an interesting life. How do you balance the two?

P.S. I spent 4 hours writing this (including translation and proof reading).

Monday, February 26, 2007

Suggestions to the denomination lineup of the United States dollar

Currently the commonly used denominations of the United States dollar are , , 10¢, 25¢, $1, $5, $10, and $20. Other currencies may have other kinds of arrangement. One must wonder if there is a better lineup than this seemly arbitrary one. In this post, I present you my sincere suggestions as a 6.5 year long currency collector.

Eliminate the penny


What is the optimal smallest unit of cash transaction or accounting? Economic theory dictates that the smaller the smallest unit, the more it stimulates competition, which is a good thing. But this unit cannot go indefinitely small, as there are also cost associated with handling and counting these petty units. Such cost includes labor counting, wrapping, and distributing. There are good arguments and counterarguments at this Wikipedia article - Efforts to eliminate the penny in the United States, which I will summarize here

  • cost of production
    It costs more than the face value now. Prices of all metal have been increasing at an alarming pace in the past 5 years. See here.

  • Distribution costs
    It costs 3¢ per penny.

  • Lost productivity and opportunity cost of use
    With the average wage, it takes 2 seconds to earn 1¢.

  • Limited utility
    Many vending machines and bus fare machines do not accept pennies.

Some people are worried about the additional inflation this action may bring. However, if the merchants do not change prices during the switchover, the statistical experiments show that the impact is extremely low to customers. Wikipedia quotes study which concludes a 1/40 cent per transaction gain to the customers. Another similar study conducted for Canada shows that with 1 item the rounding produces less than 0.06 cent of impact per transaction in average, and even less with more items.

But ultimately, it comes down to the cost/benefit analysis, the benefit being the above mentioned better competition. As a common person, without the resources and manpower of the government, think tanks, or consulting firms, I can only resort to a comparative study and a historical study – look at what other people do, and what the Americans did. I will talk about the methodology and the result later on the next section.

Replace $1 bill with $1 coin


In modern societies, lower denominations are coins, higher denominations are banknotes. Why? A coin lasts for decades, while the life of a bill depends on its value. The lower the value, the faster it circulates, and the shorter the lifetime. The manufacturing cost of a coin is much higher than that of a bill. But in the long run, the cost of using a coin may be cheaper if the lifetime of the bill is less than a certain threshold. For this reason, there exists a mathematical optimal cut-off point between coins and bills. Is it now the time to replace $1 bill with $1 coin? In 2000, Bernard Unger of the Government Accounting Office reported to Congress that switching from a dollar bill to a dollar coin would save the federal government $522 million a year. In this post, I will resort to comparative study again.

Comparative study


25 "richest" countries/regions are selected. But there are two primary methods of calculating income: nominal GDP and GDP at purchasing power parity. The nominal value is just the sum of economic output as-is, and then converted by exchange rate. PPP adjusts price differences from one economy to another. In other words, it measures output relative to an imaginary index good. 25 richest from both lists are combined to make 27 countries/regions. The source is the IMF (nominal and PPP). Wikipedia has copies which are sorted (nominal and PPP). The smallest coin, the larges banknote, and the smallest banknote in each country/region are listed and converted into various meaningful values for comparison. Mainland China is also included in the list just for my own curiosity. However, only the original 27 countries/regions are used for ranking and average.

Result


In this table, we will find that the smallest coin, the largest coin, and the smallest banknote in Norway are 50 øre (0.5 krone), 20 kroner, and 50 korner respectively. By a straight conversion to the U.S. currency, they are worth 8.13¢ (!), $3.25, and $8.13. By this comparison, penny being the lowest denomination in the U.S. ranks 24th among the 27; quarter being the largest denomination in the U.S. ranks 26th, and $1 ranks the 25th. This is simply not in sync with the economic status of the U.S.. It ranks the 3rd if using PPP and 8th if using nominal.

From now on, these three values will be written as a tuple, like (1¢, 25¢, $1).

If changing the value of the U.S. to (5¢, $1, $2), then the U.S. would rank (7th, 23rd, 22nd). There are still room to "improve" on the largest coin and the smallest bill. (5¢, $2, $5) means (7th, 16th, 17th). Remember, this comparative study is based on the assumption that most people are sane and do the right thing.

However, prices are different in each country/region. Prices in Norway are 49% higher than in the U.S.! so 50 øre in Norway cannot buy as much as 8.13¢ in the U.S., but only 5.44¢. This is where the ratio between nominal and PPP comes in. The current value (1¢, 25¢, $1) ranks (24th, 25th, 25th). Jumping to (5¢, $2, $5) means (8th, 17th, 18th).

The same process can be repeated for relative value to GDP per capita. I used the nominal value because it is the value measured in their respective currencies and prices. The result is similar.

Enough with the numbers, what does this mean? The U.S. dollar is in a low position relative to its economic rank. That means these three numbers have room to grow upward. I have to admit that raising the smallest unit from 1¢ to 5¢ is a big step, both from an absolute and a relative perspective. But the pressure of replacing the $1 bill with $1 coin is imminent. Heck, the results even show that it is about right to use a $2 coin. Canada issued CA$1 in 1987, CA$2 in 1996. Australia issued AU$1 in 1984, AU$2 in 1988. The U.K. issued £1 in 1983, £2 in 1997. It is already late to replace the $1 bill.

Historical study


measuringworth.com is a good website for querying relative value using various metrics. GDP deflator usually gives the smallest ratio, while relative share of GDP gives the greatest. To make a convincing argument, I will use the GDP deflator to conservatively state the relative value in 2005 of some amount in the past. Let's see how much 25¢, 50¢, and $1 in the past would be worth in 2005.

25¢ 50¢ $1
1900 5.133875 10.26775 20.5355
1950 1.705075 3.41015 6.8203
1960 1.3396 2.6792 5.3584
1970 1.0238 2.0476 4.0952
1980 0.52155 1.0431 2.0862
1990 0.34545 0.6909 1.3818
2000 0.28185 0.5637 1.1274
2005 0.25 0.5 1

So if people in 1900 didn't have problems spending what would be at least 20¢ in 2005 as the smallest unit, and people in 1950 didn't have problems spending what would be 6.8¢ in 2005 as the smallest unit, why should we have problems using nickels as the smallest unit? By the way, the half cent coin was rendered obsolete some time in the 19th century.

By the same token (no pun intended), $1 coin is more than appropriate. The value of the quarter had been more than a 2005 dollar up until early the 1970s. They didn't have problems, why should we?

Take advantage of $2 bill or even coin


Eliminate the quarters and replace with 20¢ and 50¢


For every $2 bill/coin produced, two $1 bills/coins are saved. For this reason, the more denominations, the more cost saved. So why not $3, $6, $7? I believe that if a denomination is less than twice of the next lower one, the setup would be suboptimal. I wish I could prove this mathematically, but I have yet to come up with a proof. And because we live in a decimal world, $0.1, $1, $10, $100 ..., are a must. If we combine these two requirements, it would only leave three lineups: 1-2-4-10, 1-2-5-10, 1-2.5-5-10. A number four is hardly seen from physical currencies, anywhere in the world, although it did exist. So the first one is out of the question. The U.S. dollar is a funny thing. Sub dollar denominations are 1-2.5-5-10, denominations higher than a dollar are 1-2-5-10. Which one is better? We can study this through "average usage". Assuming 100 different sub-dollar amounts, from 0 to 99¢, have equal probability to occur at each cash transaction. For example, there is 1/5 probability to use zero, 1, 2, 3, or 4 pennies. Therefore, the expected usage is 2. (1¢, 5¢, 10¢, 25¢) => (2, 0.4, 0.8, 1.5), an average of 4.7 coins used for each transaction. The table below illustrates expected usage for any given lineup, expected total number of coins used for a transaction, expected total weight of coins under different weight assumptions.

Denominations (¢) # of coins Weight Assumption (gram)
1 5 10 20 25 50 100 200 Current Hypo Euro My
1-5-10-25 2 0.4 0.8 1.5 4.7 17.3194 17.3194 18.058
1-5-10-25-50 2 0.4 0.8 0.5 0.5 4.2 17.3194 15.1494 16.218
1-5-10-20-50 2 0.5 0.4 0.8 0.5 4.2 18.6132 16.4432 16.692
5-10-20-50 0.5 0.4 0.8 0.5 2.2 13.6132 11.4432 12.092 10.004
5-10-20-50-1 0.5 0.4 0.8 0.5 0.4 2.6 16.8532 14.6832 15.092 12.804
5-10-20-50-1-2 0.5 0.4 0.8 0.5 0.4 0.8 3.4 24.4532 22.2832 21.892 19.604
Weight Assumption (gram)
Current 2.5 5 2.268 5.67 5.67 11.34 8.1 9.5
Hypothetical 2.5 5 2.268 5.67 5.67 7 8.1 9.5
Euro 2.3 3.92 4.1 5.74 5.74 7.8 7.5 8.5
My 2.3 3.92 5.67 5.5 7 8.5

In this table, the "current" weight assumption is the weights of the American coins, including the gigantic 50¢ coin. The weight of the quarter substitutes for an imaginary 20¢ coin. And I made up the 9.5-gram weight of an imaginary $2 coin. The "hypothetical" weight assumption changed the weight of the 50¢ coin to something more practical.

The current system results in 4.7 coins which weigh 17.3194 grams. If 50¢ coin is used, either 20¢ or 25¢ would result in 4.2 coins. So which one is better given this tie? 20¢ is better for two reasons:

  • It is easier to make human mistake with quarters when change is a number like 38¢, 43¢, 84¢, 93¢.
  • Inflation is inevitable. Eventually, 10¢ will become the smallest unit of account. That will leave 25¢ in an awkward position.


Therefore, I conclude that the 1-2-5-10 setup is the best setup.

Following with the use of 20¢ and 50¢, eliminating the penny will reduce the expected number of coins to 2.2 with a weight of 13.61g! Even if $1 becomes a coin, the usage only increased to 2.6. The current size of the 50¢ coin is a legacy specification. If I change it to 7 gram, then the (5¢, 10¢, 20¢, 50¢, $1) setup would result in (2.6 coins, 14.68g), not a bad gain from the original (4.7 coins, 17.32g), eh?

A $2 coin will increase the expected number of coins and weight somewhat. If that is a concern, the use of a $2 coins can be deferred. However, $2 bill must be a substitute.

So if the advantage of a 50¢ is so obvious, why don't people use it? This Wikipedia article has a thorough explanation.

What can we learn from the euro


The euro was designed when there was no euro. They must have designed it to avoid all kinds of silly things learned from the history, because it would be much harder to correct once the physical currency is in circulation. Euro is a 1-2-5-10 setup from 1 cent to €500, which confirms my previous claim. There are 8 euro coin denominations. 1, 2, 5 euro cent form a group, which is copper in color, smooth on the edge. 10, 20, 50 euro cent coins from a second group, which is gold in color, scalloped on the edge. 2 and 20 euro cent coins also have lightly different edges, to distinguish themselves from peers of their respective groups. €1 and €2 are bimetal, with fancier edges.

The sizes of the euro coins generally increase with value, which is only intuitive, unlike the American coins. The 5 euro cent coin is slightly larger than the 10 euro cent coin, the 50 euro cent coin is slightly larger than the €1 coin. This is done to enlarge the size difference within each "group" I defined earlier. This combination of color, edge, and size is a perfect design for common users, visually impaired people, completely blind, and tourists.

If the American currency was to be completely redesigned, what can be done, assuming a 5¢, 10¢, 20¢, 50¢, $1, $2 lineup?

Make 5¢ smaller than 10¢


It is only a legacy that the current nickel is bigger than the dime. When the U.S. was on the gold/silver standard, the quarter and the dime had to be a certain size, in silver with certain purity. So the size of the dime was defined like that and still remains the same until this day. Nickel, not made of silver, was not constrained by this. So they probably decided not to make the nickel even smaller than the dime, which would be ridiculously small. Now in the 21st century, it is only natural to make 5¢, which would be the smaller coin in my design, smaller than 10¢.

Replace 5¢ and 10¢ with copper plated metal


Copper color coins represent lower values in most places in the world, including the U.S. itself. The interior metal should be some cheap metal, like zinc ($1.64/lb) or aluminum ($1.31/lb). The edge of the 5¢ coin shall be smooth (cheapest to make), and the edge of the 10¢ coin shall be smooth with a grove to distinguish from the 5¢.

20¢ and 50¢ gold in color


You might be wondering, why don't I choose silver color for mid tier coin, and gold color for high end coins because people usually think of gold being worth more than silver. Unfortunately, silver color coins are usually made of cupronickel. 25% of nickel is typical. And nickel is the most expensive metal among the common ones to make coins. Nickel costs $19.92/lb, while copper costs $2.81/lb. Choices of gold color metal includes aluminum bronze, which is typically 92% copper, 6% aluminum, and 2% nickel, or Nordic gold, the composition of 10, 20, 50 euro cent that is 89% copper, 5% aluminum, 5% zinc, and 1% tin.

The edge shall be scalloped and Spanish flower

$1 and $2


They shall be made with a silver color metal, like cupronickel, or bimetal. One of the coins shall have intermittent scalloped and smooth edge; the other coin shall have inscription on the edge.

Arabic numerals


Come on! It is absurd not to have any Arabic numeral on coins. By the way, do you know that the presidential $1 coin is the first coin to have Arabic numeral in modern time?

More security features on banknotes


The designs of the Federal Reserve notes have not changed much since 1928. It was until the late 1990s and early 2000s when they upgraded $5 and above to "large portrait", and then added colors. If all other countries were doing things much earlier than the U.S. did, then there has to be something wrong with the USD. It's not rocket science!

Color


The background color has been solid white for decades, or very light khaki. Color background was only added to $20 bill in 2003. If you take a new $10, $20 or $50 and inspect the background closely, you will find that it is not solid color, but fine lines. This is a hard thing to replicate, as most printing machines are only capable of printing small dots of different color, in a manner similar to a computer screen. Just look closely at a photo in a magazine. I welcome this change. But at the same time I am disappointed. This technology was available in the early 20th century, at the latest.

Not only the background must be printed with thin lines, the paper itself must be made with color. Color should be added as early as the stage when the material is in liquid state, a different color for each denomination. If counterfeiters overcome the difficulty of printing, they can get $1 bills, bleach them, and print $100 on them. Fully utilizing color prevents them from doing so.

It is unfortunate that only background colors are added to the new "color" bills. Foreground objects on the back side are still green; and foreground objects on the front size are still black. Changing the foreground color so that it is different for each denomination helps the visually impaired.

Sizes


If the bills increase in size with their values, it helps the completely blind, and gives an extra clue to machine readers. It also helps preventing the "bleaching" counterfeit described above.

Hologram


Banknote security features are something the more the merrier. Hologram is simply a nice thing to have. All denominations of the euro, the pound sterling, the Bulgarian lev, and the Canadian dollar have holograms.

Symbolism


Some people are reluctant to see the current setup changed because they fear that the long-lasting symbols will disappear. I beg to differ. True symbols always live on, in one form or another. The French franc was once an important currency in Europe. It was the basis of the Latin Monetary Union. The 1 French franc coin has featured "the sower" since 1898, interrupted briefly in the 20th century. When inflation took its toll, and France had to introduce "new franc" as 100 old francs, the sower was still on the 1 franc coin. It's not just that, the design was identical, except metal composition and size. Even when the euro replaces the franc, the sower is still on French euro coins. If they don't want to see Washington and the Great Seal go, I totally understand that. This problem can simply be resolve by placing them on the $1 coin.

Inevitable


Humans are creatures of comfort. We all like to use the things we're familiar with. The lack of change in the American currency may be attributed to political and financial stability. But people's unwillingness to change for the better (like the metric system) is another big factor. Economic theory says that inflation is inevitable, and a small amount is healthy to the economy. If the change doesn't happen now, it will happen sooner or later. We must look forward, not back.

Implementation

Rounding


Rounding is easy, with computerized registers. Doing it manually is also trivial. Like the two Eurozone countries that uses 5 cent as the smallest cash unit, Finland and the Netherland, items can be priced to cent. If paid with non-cash methods, such as credit card or check, they are paid to the precise cent. Only when cash is used, prices are rounded to the nearest 5 cents. And rounding occurs after the total is taken.

Public awareness and distribution


It is easy. As long as they stop printing the $1 bill, people will be aware, and the $1 coin will be distributed. Failure of doing so only shows one thing: lack of will. To start, they can give change only in $1 coins in post offices and federal establishments that deal cash with the public. And the federal government can "ask" state governments to do the same, such as DMV's. They can hang posters in the post offices, a very cheap way to increase awareness. Plus, if they are truly determined to carry the plan out, news reporters will report.

Vending machine and parking meter


Many vending machines are already capable of accepting the $1 coin. In fact, companies that make these machines prefer eliminating the $1 bill, to save maintenance cost on bill validators. Parking meters in my city accept the $1 coin too!

Summary

  • Eliminate the penny, make 5¢ the smallest unit for cash transactions, but just cash.
  • Make use of 50¢, and replace 25¢ with 20¢.
  • Replace $1 bills with $1 coins.
  • Make use of $2 as bills or coins.
  • More colors on bills.
  • Variable sizes of bills.

Related Wikipedia articles


Related external links



This post is also linked from
What material for debased nickels?
Where have all our pennies gone?
What is happeneing to our pennies?
Thegm @ StumbleUpon

Friday, February 16, 2007

Topdim Bahtimni on Uzbek Google

It is amazing, someone in Mainland China used Uzbek Google with simplified Chinese interface to search "Topdim-bahtimni" (search result) and landed on this post.

Daylight saving in 2007

The Bush administration, with the infinite wisdom, decided to extend the length of daylight saving time by 4 weeks (most of the times) starting in 2007, in the name of energy saving. Yes, it will save electricity consumption, and the number of barrels of oil saved will be emphasized in all kinds of reports. However, productivity lost to system upgrade/change in the software/financial/aviation industries is much harder to measure and will less likely surface on these reports. Well, if it is energy they're trying to save, what about promoting public transportation, gradual tax increase on gasoline, subsidy to alternative fuel? Of course, they picked a route that would result in the least opposition from the public or big corporations.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Google Ditu

http://ditu.google.com/
Cannot search 重慶 (Chongqing in traditional characters)
Can search 重庆 (Chongqing in simplified)
Cannot search 台北 (Taipei) or 香港 (Hong Kong)
There is a path from Hangzhou to Shanghai
There is no path from Nanjing to Shanghai
It is politically correct on South Tibet and Aksai Chin

Monday, February 05, 2007

Accurate anniversary

In today's globalized life style, figuring out the anniversary has become a baffling ordeal. Besides the problem of time zone, some years are longer than others. Therefore, I give you this simple Excel file to compute *what I think* is the accurate anniversary. It is based on the following rationale

  • One year is 365 + 97/400 days (There are numerous definitions of a year in science and calendar systems. But I chose Gregorian calendar, the calendar we use, for simplicity). So if I had been born at 1/1/1970 7:20 AM, then "one year" from then would be 1/1/1971 1:09 PM. Note that it's roughly 6 hours later because of the 97/400 days.
  • Time zone offset has to be compensated. If I had been born in UTC+8 time zone, and I moved to UTC+7, then my birthday (or more precisely, time of anniversary), would be 1/1/1971 12:09 PM local time.
  • The word "birthday" implies a whole day. So the date/time of the anniversary plus and minus 12 hours defines the "day of anniversary". Following the above mentioned example, I could celebrate my first birthday, in UTC+7 time zone, from 1/1/1971 12:09 AM to 1/2/1971 12:09 AM.

In the Excel sheet, all you need to do is to fill in the blue cells. And the rest are computed. I use my real birth time as a demonstration.

This also takes care of the problem of events on 2 / 29.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Tone and body language

One of the biggest flaws of humans is that we only hear the tone of voice, rather than the words; we only look at the faces and body language, rather than the facts and information.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Legislative violence

On Wikipedia, the first and the most extensive example of legislative violence is the Legislative Yuan of the Republic of China. Same on the Chinese version.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Shanghai

According to my estimation, per capita GDP (PPP) in Shanghai will match the level of Taiwan. But this simple average does not address the issue of the gap between urban and rural areas, the distribution of wealth, and other structural issue of economics. Besides, the definition of municipality is more like something in between a metropolitan or a region. Comparing Shanghai with the whole Taiwan may seem inappropriate. The area of Shanghai is approximately equal to ¾ of Hsinchu County and City, Yilan, and everything north of them, or Delaware.

When I was collecting data, I found this article, which states that China (didn't specify whether it's mainland China or the whole China), in between 2025 and 2030, will reach the level of Korea in 1991 or 1992, and becomes a developed country in between 2055 and 2065. The blog has many interesting posts. I added it to the links on the right column.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Technology news in Taiwan

I am tired of those so called "mainstream" print media in Taiwan. When they talk about "tech news", most of them are about the increase/decrease of production, revenue, and the up and down of stock prices. These are "tech industry news", which are more business than technology at the core. Indeed, those are useful information. And as media, they have the duty to report it. But not all readers are investors. On the contrary, most are consumers. The impact to consumers is usually briefly mentioned. Is this product like microwave oven, which will change the way we do things, or is it just a trendy thing? Is there any obvious short coming? Substitute? Cons and pros? You hardly see those.

This could be attributed to the manufacturer's state of mind that lasted for decades. Manufacturers do not need to worry too much about what the consumers want or need. All they need to take care of is the number: capital, income, expense. The challenge that Taiwanese firms face right now is not how to make things at a very cheap cost and with a superb quality. They've already achieved that. The challenge is to choose a path. They can continue their current course, and be the leader. Or they can sell their products directly to consumers, then in turn establish their brands. The latter would cause an immediate problem: their customers would become competitors instantly. It's too early to tell. I seem to deviate from the original topic too much.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Apple

Steve Jobs said that there will be more iPhone applications by the time it is released. Apple will control what applications make it onto the iPhone. He said "You don't want your phone to be like a PC. The last thing you want is to have loaded three apps on your phone and then you go to make a call and it doesn’t work anymore. These are more like iPods than they are like computers." While I believe that they have the best intention of providing better software, this strategy is totally a double edge sword. The reason why PC is still the dominating platform is not because Windows or the software that runs on it is so much better than those of Mac. It's because everyone can make PC hardware and the OS/software can be easily pirated. What's my point here? Openness. Although I am in no way demanding Apple to let everyone pirate their OS/product, but being open is absolutely important to a product like smart phones.

The example Steve gave could happen. But bad software will be eliminated by natural selection. Is Apple implying that smart phone users are not smart enough to make the selection so that the smart people at Apple will make the selection for the 10 million customers they anticipated to have? My phone is a Windows Mobile 5. If you press the on/off button, the touch screen will shut down and all inputs are locked. However, what they fail to do is to let the music continue being played when everything else is locked. I had to turn to a third party software. If Microsoft employs the same strategy, this software will probably never see daylight. It makes me wonder if Apple will reject a certain software because it will cannibalize its profit elsewhere (e.g. iTunes), hurt its beloved partner Cingular Wireless from AT&T (e.g. VoIP software like Skype), or some small utility that will expose iPhone's deficiency (like my personal example above).

Apple's lawyer team is cracking down blogs that provide links to screenshots of Windows Mobile skins that look like iPhone's in the name of copyright infringement. (another report). First, it is already questionable to take action against the skin. It is like McDonald's taking action against a small mom and pop's burger shop because the wrappers look too similar to McDonald's (while the burgers taste differently). Please, it is just a skin. Second, it is just beyond absurd to threaten a blogger who simply reported the thing. The blog doesn't even provide the skin itself.

If this is not for chilling effect, then what is it?

In addition to Cisco, LG is considering suing Apple for similar design. Now we know who has the habit of copying!

Taste your own medicine, Apple! (The same proverb in Chinese is "a taste of your own fruit" (自食其果), which gives it an extra pun!)

This is like when Intel tried to register a well established acronym (was it RAM, DRAM, or SDRAM, I don't remember) as a trademark so that everyone else can't use the name anymore (in favor of RDRAM). They tried to win by law instead of better products. Nobody uses RDRAM nowadays.

If you know me for years, you will know that my criticisms on Apple's products have been technical. From time to time, there are appraisals too. Now Apple just falls into the "uncool" category in my book.

I was contemplating buying an Apple's laptop. (In case you haven't noticed, I didn't use the proper product name because I'm afraid of legal trouble about trademark infringement!)