Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Happy Holidays

 
Dear Friends,
    I hope you all have a wonderful Holiday season, and a very happy New Year!
    I am now finishing my 5th month in Hong Kong, and while I certainly miss NY (most notably for the chicken parms and burritos), I am enjoying the experience very much. As some of you know, I've had the chance to travel to Macau & Beijing, both of which were incredibly memorable experiences. A few highlights include walking nearly alone on the Great Wall being able to see China sprawling out in every direction, and eating some of the best Portuguese food I have ever had in Macau.
    For 2009, I wish you all the best and hope that you will achieve your goals. I look forward to hearing from all of you soon.
    All the best,
        - Simon Mikolayczyk

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Gweilo Premium

I am slowly becoming aware of the tourist or gwilo premium which is following me around.

The first instance I encountered it was in Beijing. I bought some meat on a stick on the side of the street (yes, I ate it, yes it was good) for CNY 20/stick. The following day, at another stall, more meat was on the menu and I couldn't resist, this time it cost me CNY 3/stick.  In both cases, I was only to order by pointing, and then pay what was shown to me either on a calculator or fingers.

On Friday, a co-worker who speaks Canto, took me to a local restaurant and ordered us dinner. When I've ordered sweat and sour pork here it normally costs me HKD 140, at this establishment the quality was not only better, but the price was only HKD 40. Again, I will never be able to go to this restaurant on my own due to the language barrier.

As I am quite humored by this, I am going to try and start documenting these little instances. Perhaps also consider trying to learn the language.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Pictures: Dragon's Back

Hiked stages 7 & 8 of the Hong Kong Trail yesterday, ending at Shek-o for some great Thai food. Here are some pictures of the stunning views from on top of the ridge line.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

At last

For the past 4 months, I've been missing some of the little things from home; chicken parm, rude cabbies, and TV. Tonight, I came across this proxy service, which at least means that I can get on Hulu and watch senseless clips of American sitcoms that aren't approved for distribution elsewhere in the world. Technology is a wonderful thing - I would encourge anyone living abroad to give it a spin.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Americanism

This coming week will mark 4 months in Hong Kong for me. As is apparent from my drop off in posting, I've now settled into a routine and am living a bit of a "local" life. Other than work, I haven't had too much time to do much else. A rough plan to get to Japan this weekend fell apart, and so I took a little trip home: I wandered down to McDonald's tonight and had a wonderful double cheese burger - even with the fountain soda not tasting quite right, it is amazing that the burger and fries taste just like they would in the Mid-West.

Last weekend I partook in a Sedan Race around the peak. Back before the Peak Tram, the Hong Kong elite would be carried up the mountain in a sedan. This has evolved into a charity race, where the sedan's are decorated and then raced. Aside from the spectacle, it was quite hard to lug this 60+ kg thing the 2.1km around the course, but was all good fun.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

3 Months

Last week marked three months in Hong Kong for me. As you may have been able to tell be the drop off in postings, I've settled into a bit of a "local" groove over the past few weeks, and find myself not running off to more sights (as I've seen alot of them) and working a bit more (a product of the markets I suppose). While all this is fine and dandy, I did want to take the opportunity and reflect for a moment on what I've done, and what I will be doing.

The transition from tourist, for me, took place when I started craving people asking me for directions. As Hong Kong is a bit of a tourist city, there are usually a half dozen or so people I see on any one day standing on a street corner with a map looking lost. For the first few months I was actively dodging them, as I barely knew how to get from my apartment to work. Now I walk by them with a smile in the hope that I can (showoff and) provide them with directions. I'm sure this novelty will fade shortly, but for now it does make me feel like I'm starting to get the hang of things.

The rythm of my days is also turning into routine. Initially, I spent my weekends running around like a headless chicken - now I have my regular haunts and am slowly accepting the fact that this isn't like college (or New York) with friends all over the place. So, for the moment, I find myself focusing on things like getting fit, which doesn't require a rowdy crowd.

The next two months, I suspect (/hope) will fly by. I'm already looking forward to Christmas and being in Germany. The thought of seasons is rather appealing as it is still 28+ C everyday, and rather humid. What to expect from 2009, I'm not entirely sure at the moment - I suppose there will be further adventures.

Random observations:
- I constantly find native Chinese speakers saying "more better" in English. While I am sure this is a translation issue, it still makes me laugh everytime as the word "funner" flashes in my mind.

- At times I feel like I'm in the string quartet playing as the Titanic sinks; I need to revisit my thoughts from a few weeks ago and update in light of recent developments, but that's more involved than I care to get right now.

- I stumbled across this a little while ago, the comment grosses me out, as there are constantly people belching around me.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Beijing


As per my pictures below, I'm just back from a weeks vacation, which took me to both Macau and Beijing. I've talked about Macau before, and suffice it to say that the pool was relaxing and the food was wonderful.

Beijing was an experience I'm hard pressed to sum up.

On the first day there we went for a walk to just get to know the city a bit. Looking at the map, we should have headed due east and hit the back of the Forbidden City. However, we very quickly ran in to a 12 foot high wall blocking our progress, forcing us North. This was repeated throughout our stay as there are countless walls all over the city preventing you from walking through certain areas. We did finally make our way to the back side of the Forbidden City, and then around two little lakes which were lined with bars before heading out into a residential bit at the suggestion of Lonely Planet for an easy walk to take us to the Olympic Stadium. 5 miles later we did make it to the Water Cube, I would encourage anyone else to take a taxi (and have yet to fully vent on the guide book).

This raises an interesting point - everyone in China drives like mad. Any surface that has been paved will be used by a car (it happened more than once that I was confronted with a car coming towards me on the sidewalk). Also, on a three lane highway, they will usually drive five across. Signaling is discouraged, honking is used to let someone know you're passing them, and I don't think they've been taught that there is a break peddle.

The second day took us into the Forbidden City. I think the pictures speak for themselves. It amazes me that this was a residential space until the 20th century, unlike some European castles that fell out of use long ago. We also walk through Tienanmen Square, and then headed south to the Temple of Heaven. This walk was remarkable, because apparently city planners have realized a lot of people follow that path, and wanted to ensure it's pleasant. As such, they've apparently razed the hu tong that was there, and are in the process of building a quaint shopping street. When we walked down it, we thought it was very nice, until realizing that all the shops are still vacant - master planning at its best.

Day three we hired a car through the hotel - for RMB800 he took us to the Great Wall. We went to the Mutianyu stretch, which is not the closest and not the farthest away from Beijing. Unlike the guidebook, I don't think you could get there with a taxi flagged down on the street. Both because of the less touristy aspect of this part, and because we were there early in the morning, there were stretches where we were the only people on the wall - an amazing feeling. The Wall has been the hardest part for me to digest: I've seen big old castles before in Europe, and understand that building a stone fortification a few hundred years ago was common, however this was built a millennia ago, runs thousands of miles, and is built on top of a mountain. There were parts we had to crawl up on hands and knees, and I can't imagine what it took to build it so long ago.

On our last day we went to a few of the markets. First the antique market, which was fairly mellow and worth the trip if you're looking for furniture, or an imitation antique record player. Then the Silk Market, where you can buy any counterfeit / surplus major brand of clothing. Both were fairly uneventful, however on the way back to the hotel we stumbled into the food market. We had gone looking for it the previous night without much success, but suddenly fried scorpions, battered moths, and crispy sea horses were surrounding us.

Here are the walks we did through Beijing:
- Day 1
- Day 2
- Day 4

Random thoughts:
- We arrived on the last day of a Golden Week, so all the factories had been shut down, and the pollution was not too bad - still remarkable to see this while landing.
- Eastern beliefes view it as bad to hold in evil spirits, and there is a constant burping and hacking sound accordingly.
- English will get you no where - we relied heavilly on a postcard with sights written out in English and Chinese and then had to point.
- Peking duck in Beijing was focused almost entirely on the skin, with the restaurant throwing out the meat.
- Yes, this was hanging over the urinal

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Vacation Pictures



I'm back from vacation, and will write more about Beijing soon. For now, here are some pictures:
I hope you enjoy them!

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Splurge

I've been asked by one or two what my thoughts are on the current state of banking, and the pending attempt at a bail out of the financial system. Frankly, my views are still developing, so as an attempt to work through some of this, here is how my opinion is forming and how I've come to understand the situation:

Cash for Trash in the NYT does a good job of laying out how we ended up here:

1. The bursting of the housing bubble has led to a surge in defaults and foreclosures, which in turn has led to a plunge in the prices of mortgage-backed securities — assets whose value ultimately comes from mortgage payments.

2. These financial losses have left many financial institutions with too little capital — too few assets compared with their debt. This problem is especially severe because everyone took on so much debt during the bubble years.

3. Because financial institutions have too little capital relative to their debt, they haven’t been able or willing to provide the credit the economy needs.

4. Financial institutions have been trying to pay down their debt by selling assets, including those mortgage-backed securities, but this drives asset prices down and makes their financial position even worse. This vicious circle is what some call the “paradox of deleveraging.” 
The Times correctly points out that the current plan intervenes at phase 4. This is, in a sense, trying to put a band-aid on a gushing wound. It is the wrong place in the chain to effect a change. So, lets step back to phase 1: how do you stave off the surge of housing foreclosures? One route would be to help individuals with their mortgages - this would result in lower defaults, trickling through to less distressed investments held by banks, resulting in healthier balance sheets. $700bn in available funding divided by ~300 million people in the US equates to roughly $2,325 per person. Unfortunately, I don't think that this would do much to dent most individual mortgages, and you quickly encounter a problem of distribution. So there does not seem to be a way to stop the problem at phase 1, easily.

Before diving into details, it's important to consider history: in this case there is Sweden from about 10 years ago. While the similarities are certainly there, there is the small problem that there are more than 5 banks in the US, meaning that a government take over of all of them is not possible. But, there are important lessons to learn - the taxpayer should get part of the upside and decisive action can have meaningful results.

Fast forward to last week. As the banking industry is in the midst of change, Goldman is out raising capital. For the premium brand in banking, only a splashy deal will do, enter Warren Buffett and a $5bn investment. The interesting thing here is that the cost of this capital to Goldman is as high as 17%, meaning that this is a very expensive infusion.

This then lays out what return could be possible if the intervention is executed in a manner acknowledging the history of taxpayer upside in government lead banking bailouts and the potential financial upside in a market in crisis. Which leads me to my first conclusion, the plan needs to provide for taxpayer upside.

Taking another look at the phase 1 question is also worth a moment of thought. By buying these securities, individuals' mortgages are actually owned by the government. The government is then in the position to decide whether to foreclose on those homeowners who fail to make their payments, or to aggressively work with these borrowers to find a way for them to keep their homes. By the way, did I mention the government could make 17% on $700bn ($120bn), which could be used to help these homeowners? Some will say "why do the negligent homeowners get the upside?" To which I can only respond that by keeping them in their homes, the slide in property values is likely to stop, and thereby help all homeowners, (and make mortgages refinancable, meaning that the toxicity of assets is further reduced).

This leads to the second conclusion; a bailout could actually be "good for main street." I wont get in to the politicking that is now in full swing in Washington, or go into the merits of alternative proposals, with one exception: what happens if we do nothing?

Overnight, WaMu was seized and partially sold to JP Morgan, making it the largest US banking failure, ever. In this case, the seizure was, apparently, done to prevent the FDIC from taking a sizable hit from stepping in to support the bank. If the FDIC runs out of money, it turns around and borrows from tax payers. Accepting that WaMu wont be the last bank to fail, and acknowledging that the FDIC might run out of money, this takes us back to square one. Additionally, considering that JP Morgan will be raising additional capital to finance the partial acquisition, there aren't too many healthy banks left willing and able to step in, making it all the more likely the FDIC will have to borrow from the taxpayers.

Bringing me to my final conclusion: By splurging now, and doing so in an organized way, which can be structured to provide the tax payer with potential upsides, we are retaking control. Waiting will only cause us to end up in a similar position, but without the benefits of being on the front foot.

Other reading
  • I haven't touched on the consequences caused by the short selling ban, as I have not formed a final opinion
  • Here are a few other source for background reading

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Tian Tan Buddha



I played tourist today (
pictures), and took the Ngong Ping Cable Car up to see the Tian Tan Buddha. The cable car ride is 5.7km, and takes about 20 min. It connects Tung Chung to Ngong Ping Village, and the views on the ride are amazing. Most striking was clearing the last ridge and seeing the Tian Tan Buddha sitting on top of a hill in the distance.


Upon arriving in Ngong Ping Village I didn't particularly know what to expect, but was slightly disappointed upon realizing that it was a tourist village. This means a bunch of shops (including a Starbucks) in a row that was made to look "authentic" through some clever scene building.

A short stroll away is the Po Lin Monastery, which is at the base of the hill leading up to the seated buddha. The statue is the largest seated buddha in the world, and requires you to climb 260+ steps to reach its base.

While definitely worth the effort to go see, this has been the most touristy sight I have been to in Hong Kong. I am amazed at the throngs of people pushing up the stairs to the statue, and am slightly humored by the "take 1 photo for every 5 steps" mentality. On a more serious note, in the monastery everyone was taking pictures, which I found slightly odd as there were also quite a few people there worshiping.

I am now nearing the end of my second month here. While I can't claim to have seen everything, I do get the sense that I've hit most of the big sights now. If anyone has any recommendations, do let me know. Also, I'm going to Beijing in two weeks, and would enjoy any insights...

A few observations:
- whoever decided to market umbrellas as sun block to Asians - great move. I, however, hate you - they are always on my eye level and not a day goes by where I don't get hit in the face by one.

- posing for pictures; ok, I get it makes them more interesting, but how many peace signs do you want to see when you get home?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Pictures: Macau

 
I spent the weekend in Macau. My picture are up, and hopefully I'll get around to posting how we were kicked out of the Casino...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Visitor

This past weekend I had a visitor waiting for me in the shower:

 
I also came across the biggest waste of an air conditioner I have ever seen:

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Caving In - sort of

Since being here, I find myself walking around a lot, and while at times I enjoy the sights and sounds, other times I was craving music. My shuffle is great for the gym, but leaves a bit to be desired for anything more. So I decided it was time for a new iPod. This being Hong Kong and all, I went on an adventure to Mong Kok and came away with a 2G iPhone for slightly more than a new iPod, and for $10/month get data service.

That now means that I have caved - I suppose. After a few days with it, there is no way I'm giving up my blackberry, so caving might not be the right phrase... Nonetheless, I'm using it for music and a bit of surfing as I wander around.

While I will leave other to debate the quality and superiority of one phone or another, I have a much simpler observation I wanted to share. With the release of the app store, everyone knew that this was going to be a global product. All the developers were aware that it would be sold all other the world. However, numerous apps I have downloaded are for use in the US only - whether expressly or implicitly. Some just wont start up, others can "find" me in their program but didn't load in a map of the area, meaning I have an empty screen. 

This, in a world which is flat, simply should not happen. Build your product so it doesn't rely on text messages, and load in a world map instead of a US map. It isn't that hard, is it?

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Real World

Offline is the new Online, or so I've read, and quite frankly I'm not surprised by this "trend." In the last month, I have spent both more time online and more time offline than I can remember in the recent past. That is to say, while in NYC I usually had a browser open while sitting on the couch and was consuming the internet passively (facebook updates, blogs, nyt.com 15x a day). Since moving, I've jumped online for specific things to go do offline (information about sights, travel planning, finding people to watch football with etc).

This step from passive to active has also caught my attention in a few other areas. Much like the trend mentioned, MeetUp has released an ad that is encouraging people to get out and do stuff (well "MeetUp" specifically - which by the way they charge for the postings). I've also seen repeated pleas in the past few weeks for people to comment on blogs - the feedback loop is nice for the authors, but again the emphasis on being an active participant rather than a passive consumer.

For a while I've been of the opinion that the next big thing (if I can use an overused phrase) will be bridging the gap from On to Off. Companies that manage to do that, will become more robust enterprises than the web services we see at the moment. When someone has something tangible (or a way to share something tangible) they derive more value from it and therefore are willing to pay for it - hence why MeetUp is one of the few services able to charge a fee.

But more important than what trend comes next, is the realization by my generation that there is more to do than sit back and passively observe what goes on around you. We have been criticized as not caring, or too self-involved to notice, but it seems we may be at the point where we are ready to engage. So, most of you will be reading this on a Saturday morning, go do something with you day and with those around you.

Friday, September 05, 2008

pop culture

For a long time, I've been reffered to as pop-culturally ignorant. While this was mainly in jest, and due to the fact that I missed out on all the 80s movies durring my childhood, it is now truely the case. I was walking down the street and and there was a gagle of girls posing for pictures with what I can only assume is some Chinese pop star. It did make me realize just how out of place I am here at times.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Queueing

This one is for Tom and David:

Everyday at lunch, I get frustrated. I stand in a well organized M/M/3 or 4 queue and within moments it deteriorates into multiple M/M/1 queues and inevitably I end up at the back of the longest. I stand there and can only throw my hands up as a wave of people push past me on every side in the firm belief that they'll be better off - and this from a culture that prides itself on efficiency.

While I doubt Americans have the upper hand in this, and are capable to puzzle together the right way to queue, I am thankful for the operational engineers who slap up some good old fashion barriers and force people to stand in line the most efficient way possible.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

... and dreaming

This weekend I found out that many domestic helpers sleep under the dining room tables of the employers. In this city where 1 in 4 living in Central are supposedly millionaires, this gap between rich and poor is astonishing. It makes me understand the Sunday crowds sitting out in the public spaces - but I still can't quite wrap my head around hiring someone and having them sleep under my table.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Month 1; Hong Kong



This weekend, I didn't play tourist for the first time since I've been here. Instead, I had a mellow couple days, including a boat trip with some family friends today.  So while I don't have anything too exciting to share, I do have a few small tidbits of observations.

I was having a conversation about how the waters surrounding Hong Kong have been severely over fished in recent years, and the local fishermen are therefore not able to earn a living anymore.  While this sad fact appears quite true, this weekend I came across a new type of fisherman - two guys on a boat with nets, fishing garbage out of the harbor - which they then presumably are able to sell to a recycling plant or something similar. I find it remarkable how, with the right incentives, cleanup efforts can become a business.

As mentioned I visited some family friends for lunch today. I had to take a taxi to the south side of the island, and as my tweet mentions, I didn't have much faith in the cabbie. While it took awhile to find the place, I have to say the patience that the driver had was remarkable and he even had his dispatcher relay when the language barrier became too much to deal with.

Tonight I also went to the Michigan Alumni meet-up to watch the football game. The showing was fairly good, with about a dozen people in attendance. While time delayed, I did manage not to peak, and was surprised by moments of promise that the team showed. Sadly, the slingbox that the bar was using, cut off the last 5 mins of the game, but I'm told I didn't miss much. Next week, we are hoping to be able to watch the game live - let me know if you're in Hong Kong and want to watch...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

HKD 13.97

7-11 is the convenient store on every corner here. Much like in the US, the staff leaves to be desired in most cases. To their credit, they seem to be largely bi-lingual (Canto & English), so maybe I should cut them some slack. Nonetheless, the guy working at the 7-11 in my building consistently does the following: he'll ring up my purchase, which will come to $13.97, and then say to me $19.37, or $17.42 and say $14.72 (so it's not always to my detriment, which leads me to think he's not trying to swindle me).

I wonder if in Canto the number orders are said differently - much like in German - or if my sales clerk needs a refresher in English. Anyone know?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

the Asia version of

As I've come to know Hong Kong a bit better, and am less preoccupied by my surroundings, I've started looking at the thousands of people constantly surrounding me. As I look at these strangers, I've found myself often thinking "huh, if so and so were Asia; that's what he'd look like", and even more bizarrely how he would act. I don't know whether it is me missing home and wishfully imagining, but it has become a fun new game to play as I roam the streets.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Kowloon


Yesterday, I jumped on the Star Ferry for the quick ride over to Kowloon. The ferry was quite enjoyable, and for HKD 1.70, it's hardly expensive. It's a bit more "authentic" than Central, according to some - but to me it just seemed like an expanse of malls and small shops selling more trinkets. While I'm sure some of the Indian tailors who try and convince you to buy their wares make very nice shirts, being solicited on the street is just not that appealing to me; and reminds me a bit of walking down the street in Hamburg... but for a different reason...

As I already mentioned, I spent Friday stuck inside because of another typhoon (this one got up to T9). Beyond that, this week has been fairly uneventful, as I've continued to sweat in the heat and humidity.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Weekend Reading Aug 22

Weekend reading;

  • Sponsoring Recklessness (The New Yorker)

  • Venture Capital Survey Silicon Valley First Quarter 2008 (Fenwick)

  • Dr. Doom (NYT)

  • Venture Capital Awakens In City That Never Sleeps ($$$ - WSJ)

     

  • History of Kowloon (various)


    Happy weekend, happy Typhoon day

 

Typhoon! #2

We are again at Typhoon 8. I am sitting in my apartment, and there are sheets of rain coming down outside. Seems less windy than the last one, but I can't see Kowloon - which normally seems a stone throw away. In preparation for this one, I stocked up on food last night, and tried to be adventurous by buying some of the more "local" foods. I'm convinced it's a matter of preparation, but the dumplings I bought were terrible. Thankfully toast is broadly toast here like it is at home.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Same Old

In talking with a friend, I was recently reminded that I used to write about "boring" things. While I am now on the far side of the world and supplied with plenty of exciting things to write about, my old interests certainly haven't suddenly vanished. I thought a few comments on the small Hong Kong entrepreneur were therefore in order.

I live on Hollywood Road, which is the heart of the antique district. There are countless little shops, presumably sole proprietorships, which sell everything from upmarket antiques to copies of the little red book and towels with pictures of Mao on them. While I certainly expect there are people who buy from these places, it amazes me that so many try to start these businesses, and I'd be curious to know how successful they are. In the end it must be a question of supply and demand, but nonetheless I am surprised by the numbers on the supply side.

As I've mentioned a few times now, on Sundays all the domestic workers have the day off and congregate around Central. On first glance there are thousands of woman relaxing and playing cards on their day off. Upon a closer look, it is apparent that there are a range of entrepreneurs capitalizing on this market. These range from more formal marketing events by corporations featuring raffles and concerts, to women providing services to each other like manicures and pedicures or selling knock off purses.

I suppose the lesson out of this is there are opportunities everywhere, it's just a question of seeing them and then capitalizing. I am, however, still in search of a start-up tech scene.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Victoria Peak - Pictures

 
Pictures from my journey up to Victoria Peak. The views were quite nice, however the bus ride up was a tad scary as the incline is severe and the bus driver seemed whole indifferent to diving with any caution.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Kuan Yin & Sui Tsing Pak Temples - Week 3

On Wednesday, I may have eaten cat. I'm not sure, but it's possible. I ordered half a rotisserie chicken, and when it was delivered started in on my dinner without much thought. About half-way through my meal, I realized that the meat didn't exactly have the characteristics I would expect of chicken: there was no drum stick, there were no chicken bones, and there wasn't the crispy chicken skin - There were two fairly large pieces of white meat. I'll leave it as mystery meat at best, cat at worst.

Last night I bounced around a few bars on LKF. The best part was the roof deck at the LKF hotel.


Today, I went neighborhood shopping trying to find an apartment. I spent some time this morning in Happy Valley, which is where the horse track is on Hong Kong island. While quite nice, it's a bit too far out and a bit too local for me I think.

This afternoon I walked around the area right by my apartment, and shot a few pictures. A few interesting things I found out:

- I live on the corner of Hollywood Rd. and Possession St., which is where the British orriginally planted the Union Jack when they landed.

- The neighborhood was razed in the late 1800s due to plauge.

- There are two temples down the street from me, I took the time today and stuck my head into Sui Tsing Pak Temple, which honors the pacifying general. Next door is Kuan Yin Temple. It honors the god of mercy, which is apparently popular amongst prostitute.

I also tried to take the Peak Tram up to Victoria Peak; but the line was entirely too long for me so I'll have to take the bus up at some point.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Blah Blah Blah

I was saying today that I'm forgetting some of the random things that I encounter, so before they slip my mind:

- I keep hearing the phrase "blah blah blah" used by people to describe locals talking. It seems a bit derogatory when it's used - but I can't quite figure it out.

- The cars drive on the other side of the road, but I still get in on the right, which means when they pull over (to the left) I get out and step into traffic.

- The market has a dumpling section and a ramen section that fills an entire isle.

- I live by a street called "cat street" and it is actually full of stray cats.

- It never stops raining - and it rains hard.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Junk Cruise & Macau - Week 2 in Hong Kong

I've already mentioned (and here) the Typhoon (level 8) that rolled through, so I wont go into that again. Simply suffice it to say that it rained - a lot. Even on Thursday (the day after) and I got drenched.

The week at work went well, and I'm starting to hit a groove.

On Friday night I went for a few beers, and watched the start of the Olympics. In the bar it was quite nice - the diverse audience here meant that people were cheering for just about every country that came out. In stark contrast, if I switch on the TV at home I can't even find a live broadcast of the events (so I've resorted to my sling box).

Saturday, I was invited along to a Junk Cruise. Essentially a day out on the ocean, with a load of booze and some really good food. Afterwards we went to Wan Chai for a few beers, which I am told is also the place for something"quick and easy." The bar scene was good, but it was strange to see the, shall we say, women of the night selling their wares.

Unfortunately, my third local meal, consumed on the Junk, did not sit well, and you can guess how my day today was. I did venture out on the ferry to Macau so I could activate my visa. The hour on the ferry was interesting and I snapped a few pictures. I will have to venture back to actually roam around and see everything up close and personal.

Observations:
- I found out that my "right to stay right" observation is actually widely recognized and has an actual name: "The Hong Kong Sway"
- The office has all sorts of juice box local drinks; I've been trying them slowly, and had the "Lemon and Honey" drink, it tasted terrible.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Typhoon! - in pictures

 
A few shots from my window today. Largely uneventful, but certainly a few good gusts and more rain than I have ever seen come down that quick, but as my boss pointed out; no A/C units flying past...

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Typhoon!

 
I woke up to a level 8 typhoon warning this morning, which means work is canceled. More humorously, in the official warning about the storm, the government reminds:
4. Since seas are rough, you are advised to stay away from
the shoreline and not to engage in water sports.

5. Owners of neon signs are reminded that they should now
arrange for the electricity supply to their signs to be cut
off.
So I'm trapped in my apartment for the moment - we'll see what comes next.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

More Pictures - Aug 3

I'm trying to spend the better part of 1 day per week being a tourist, we'll see how long that lasts. Here are my pictures from todays exploration on Causeway Bay - a nearby shopping district - and Stanley - a water front town on Hong Kong's southern coast.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Hong Kong

I have now spent my first week in Hong Kong, and continue to stumble around without a proper sense of which way is up. I arrived last Sunday, and walked off the plane after my 16+ hours of flying, to be hit by a wall of heat and humidity. For a moment I relaxed, thinking I was at the start of a Caribbean vacation, only to be pulled back to reality when confronted with the throngs of people streaming around me.

The drive into Hong Kong took about 30 minutes, and went over the "Golden Gate Bridge of Hong Kong" and through Kowloon. All of it had a gritty industrial feel to it. As you can see from the pictures, the apartment I'm staying in is small but quite nice, and is slowly starting to feel comfortable.

I went on a longer walk last weekend, which took me through Central, which is the main finance center. On Sundays, many of the house staff have their day off, and they congregate in this area. As a consequences I spent much of the time wading through women sitting on sidewalks.

Work kicked off Monday, and I'll suffice it to say that it started with a bang and hasn't really stopped. There's a lot to do, and not enough sets of hands.

Friday night saw me at an Indonesian restaurant, where the food was good, but my stomach wasn't quite prepared. I suspect this will be a recurring theme in the coming weeks and months. After dinner, I was shown Lan Kwai Fong, which is one of the main drags of bars, and includes a German bar by the name of Schnurbart (Mustache). Last night I started off in SOHO (South of Hollywood) at an Irish pub, and was then swept along to two different "members" clubs. The clubs were essentially clubs as I would know them from NY, only a bit smaller and trying to be a bit more elite.

A few other first impressions:
- I tower over people.
- It is constantly hot - resulting in me wanting to take 4 - 5 showers a day.
- In NY it's "right to go right" when you're walking towards someone on the sidewalk, because that's what cars do. I therefore expected it to be "right to go left," but as with a lot of things here it's just keep walking straight...

side notes:
I've taken flickr out of the stream as I don't want to swamp it with pictures, but will let you know when new ones go up.
My US cell phone is setup to forward to here, local call for everyone at home, don't be strangers (but do remember the 12hr time difference from NY).

Friday, July 11, 2008

July 11th; weekend reading

Not much this weekend, trying to get some other stuff ready:

happy Friday 

 

Friday, July 04, 2008

Moving

As I will shortly be leaving the US for the next few years, I'm starting to think about what I want to setup to be able to take a bit of home with me. Here's what I got so far, let me know any other ideas you may have:

  • Skype - I can forward my mobile number to skype and then have that find me wherever I am
  • Slingbox - to make sure I can watch good ol' American tv
  • Kindle - hesitant on this as the wireless wont work abroad, but it would let me get around lugging a ton of books with me (although a lot of the titles I have n my cart aren't on the kindle...)
  • iPhone - cheapest in the world available in Hong Kong; I just might have to...
  • New digital camera
 Anything else that you would recommend?

July 4th; Weekend Reading

Just a few this week;
Happy 4th of July! 

Friday, June 27, 2008

June 27 - Weekend Reading

Not much this week - let me know if you're reading anything interesting...

Enjoy the weather and the soccer

Thursday, June 26, 2008

content agregation

I spent a moment tonight clicking through some web services I've come across lately, and haven't had a chance to play with too much. They all relate to organizing information, and do it in slightly different ways:

Twine - I suppose it's supposed to be a super charged del.icio.us with some social layer. Apparently there is also some predictive element to it, but that wasn't readily apparent to me. Frankly, I found it confusing - but it shows some promise, and could be useful for planning a trip with a group of people because you can all contribute bookmarks to one "twine." We'll see if I go back [I have invites if you're interested]

Evernote - fresh into version 3, I think they've got a neat idea. You send in your data (whether web clippings, text emails, or photos) and they catalog it and extract information for easy searching (including text in pictures). I've tried using it with my camera phone, but the camera isn't good enough - it would be ideal for taking pictures of business cards or wine labels... [I have invites if you're interested]

SecondBrain - similar to friendfeed, they try and aggregate all the content you push onto the web, and then let you search / track / group it. While possibly useful to keep track of everything, not sure of the appeal of having yet another feed of crap to try and manage.

Interestingly, the first two work a lot better with plug-ins. I'm not at my normal computer, and suddenly have realized how customized a browser becomes, and how I am loath to use things that aren't right in front of me - someone should work on that.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Weekend Reading June 20

This weekend's reading preview:

I think that's it for this weekend, hopefully a margarita wont interfere with these plans as happened last weekend. Let me know what you're reading...

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Weekend Reading

Most weekends Paul Kedrosky posts a peak at his weekend reading. I've often picked up a good article or two as a result. Additionally, as I've mentioned, I've been using instapaper quite a bit and putting off some reading till the weekend myself. As such, I think I'm going to try and follow the same idea, and post what I'm reading over the weekends. While tonight it is a postmortem, I'll try and put something up Friday or Saturday going forward. Hopefully you'll find an article or two yourself, and maybe join in the conversation.

- Time to Put Investment Banking Back in Its Box (Bloomberg)
-
Can Google Trends Predict The Election? (TechCrunch)
-
The Next Bubble: Priming the markets for tomorrow’s big crash (Harpers) - this prompt the creation of Environmental Bubble
-
The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits (Wharton Press) - first half

Sunday, March 23, 2008

News Sources

For the past 5/6 years, I have started just about everyday on www.wsj.com, it has been my connection to the business world and has kept me abreast of what I need to know (as a young professional, this is quite a bit). However, since the recent sale to News Corp, the site has been changing; first it was subtle - the number of political stories has been increasing. Now, it's just plain obvious - music reviews in the breaking news area. While the business news is still there, this is causing me to question the trustworthiness of the Journal, and I've begun to seek out other sources for information.

A lot of my news now comes from a smattering of blogs in google's reader - my concern here is it is a slanted world view; while this is great for tech news, no one blogs about merger trends in the steel industry, at least to such an extent where I would view it as a credible source. So while I view this as my customized news paper, and this is an avenue to one part of the world - it's not all encompassing, or better said encompassing of what I need to know.

At work I now have a bloomberg - the TOP function is great as it offers an ever changing stream of news. My gripe here is that I'm not watching the screen at all times, and the frequent updates mean I miss stories.

I've been exploring other news websites (ie www.ft.com) and have found them good - just not great. There is something I particularly like about the WSJ.com layout - the river of news concept I suppose - and it's hard to dig through a site for important stories, which are buried under four links.

It seems, the difficulty lies within the fact that I'm not looking for just any news (because then CNN.com or something like digg might push up the stories that I'm interested in. Instead, I'm looking for news that is of relevance to my job and my interests. And while I'm just complaining - I think somewhere in there is an idea for someone to grab on to.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Juror #4

As a young professional living in New York, I have spent the past 5 days fulfilling my civic duty by sitting on jury duty. I have purposely put off writing about the experience, as I hoped to wait until it ended and then capture it in its entirety. After my first two days of sitting in the pool of potential jurors, I was tempted to rant about the mindless waiting. After a day and a half of testimony, I was inclined to go on about the silliness of requiring 12 people to agree to something obvious. After nearly two days of deliberation, which ended in a hung jury, I wanted to vent about the details that resulted in our impasse. Frankly, the experience inclined me to believe that our system does not work. To be blunt, in my mind - beyond a reasonable doubt - a crack dealer was not brought to justice.

After taking the past few hours to collect my thoughts, and catch up with what has been going on in the rest of the world since my sequestration, I am now at a more levelheaded point, and I am able to take stock. While I have digested the dramatic events surrounding Bear Sterns and scoffed at the succession of political scandals in the tri-state area, the item of greatest note was something Josh drew my attention to.

I do not want this viewed as a testament of my political leaning, nor do I post it here to try and sway anyone, I simply found it a compelling view of the state of our nation. Undeniably, Obama's message was focused on the racial stalemate in the US. I also do not want to detract from this important point, but rather add to it by explaining what else I took away from his speech. In a country founded on the goal of achieving a more perfect union, it reminds me of why, last Wednesday, I looked forward to potentially serving on a jury. Additionally, it emphasizes that we all have obligations to help achieve the goal set forth by the founding fathers. While the past few days have been difficult and filled with feelings of anger and ignorance, feelings only to be further exacerbated by not reaching a verdict, it is precisely this jury process that makes our country work. Therefore, I will not bore with my rant about what a waste the past 5 days have been, but rather remind of the importance of these mundane obligations and encourage embracing them with an open mind and no prejudices.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Next Bubble

We are in the midst of the collapse of the housing market, and the ensuing credit market's turbulence. It seems, however, that the next bubble is already starting to build. This is hard to admit for me, as the build up appears to be coming in an industry near and dear to my heart: the environment.

There is a definite push of investment into the field; estimates point to circa $3.0bn of investments in 2007. But I am skeptical about many of these investments - just how many different solar cell manufacturers are sustainable? and how many community bike sharing projects will actually work?

This push of investment is again creating a wave of fictitious wealth based on valuations which may not pan out. While there is certainly a place for many of these technologies, and I am a huge supporter of environmental improvement through technology, it is concerning to see dollars chasing these investments in a fad like manner, especially when considering the vital importance of these technologies panning out in an effective manner.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Dark Green

For some reason, there was a whole heap of green in front of me today. I was doing my normal check of blogs this morning, when one of my co-workers made some remark about Tree Hugger, which prompted a conversation about how most environmentally friendly advice is based on living in a house rather than an apartment.

He, being a darker shade of green than myself pointed out a few things which I found interest: There's a place in the East Village that does a much better job with recycling your waste than the city can do (yes, you have to pay them and bring your recyclables to them, but at least that way you know it's being done right). Also, he reminded me of switching to green power, as generation and delivery are now separate services you can choose you provider and there are some offering only sustainable energy. Lastly he reminded me of the evils of bottled water (which we have everywhere in the office). While I'm inclined to look into carrying my trash halfway through the city, and already have green energy, this last point gave me something to think about.

It was mere moments later that I came across this illustration:


And this prompted me to action. Yes, I admit it's not the biggest move I could have made, but I starting looking for a better way to keep water on hand. It's been shown time and time again that tap water, especially in developed regions, is as good, if not better than, bottled water. So I figured this is as good a source for water as any. This raised the next problem, transport. I've repeatedly read that nalgenes leach unwanted chemicals into water stored in them. This led me to Sigg bottles, which apparently don't carry this risk (correct me if I'm wrong). Anyway, we'll see how it works once my impulse purchase arrives.

After all this, Tom posted a note on his savings with a programmable thermostat. While I have Manhattan Steam to heat my apartment (which lacks any of the luxuries of control a thermostat brings) this on/off notion did make me connect a dot to another post I came across today: Vanessa Farquharson finished a year of small green changes today, one of which was to stop using a fridge. While I still need a fridge, I am going to push that thermostat higher (ie less cooling) and remove some of the things in it like condiments that don't need refrigeration (ie less volume to keep cool) and maybe achieve some savings that way - we'll see where I go with that.

In sum, while I started today complaining about not being able to undertake a lot of these green ventures in an apartment in a city, there is actually quite a bit that can be achieved through small changes if one is aware and acts consciously. To finish my day, my co-worker reminded me to turn out the lights, a simple act which often goes undone in apartment building hallways - maybe I'll try and convince my co-owners that we should put some timers on those as well...

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Amie Street

I've recently bought my first few songs on Amie Street, and am liking the service more and more. The pricing structure is conducive to exploring for new music, and today a significant amount of new music was added from fairly well known artists (Radiohead's Thom Yorke, Cat Power, Pavement, etc.). Granted, the selection is still far from what iTunes or Amazon offer (the later of which is an investor), but they seem to be adding more and more.

Beyond being DRM free, one of my favorite features is that the songs you buy are stored on the site. This means that you can stream your music from anywhere, and should something go wrong with your computer, you have a backup source (this has always been one of my fears with iTunes).

The other interesting bit is that you can setup a stream of the music you purchase. You can take a look at mine here.

This combination is slowly making Amie Street something I can't live without. Alright, that's a bit of an extreme statement, but nonetheless - do check it out and let me know what you think.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Bikes

I came across this video of someone moving by bike in Brooklyn. It reminded me of this story on Afrigadget. While the bike is great for moving one person around, it quickly reaches its limit when you want to transport anything else. While the Brooklyn move benefited from trailers and a rickshaw, this is still does not seem that optimal.

Trackback

In a continued effort to improve my blogging knowledge, my curiosity finally led me to investigate trackback, which many people have at the bottom of their posts. Turns out this is a simple little way for you to let someone know you've referenced their blog, and it allows conversations to span multiple sites as opposed to being stuck in the comments section.

I quickly, however, realized that Blogger doesn't really support trackback, and I started playing with the idea of moving to wordpress. Thanks to this post on trackbacks I have been able to figure out a way around this problem. Check out the manual trackback pinger as well.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Mother Online

My mother has started her first online venture by selling books on Amazon. Take a look here or here, or here for her "storefront" and maybe even consider being her first customer...

I think it's a great idea, and might even grow into something with a bit of elbow grease.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Web TV (con't.)

A few months ago I posted about creating content for video blogs. I've been playing around with my apple tv for the last day, and there is a growing amount of content which does just this. Interestingly, none of the video blogs have advertising on them yet (at least the ones which I've watched). Again, I'm tempted to see how this could play out - on the one hand it reminds me of my high school radio station, which was a flop because of a lack of professionalism, on the other hand this is a chance for low(er) budget production to get some legs.

As I said in my last post - anyone have ideas for content?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

New TV Setup

I've been itching to write about this for the past few weeks, but kept wanting to wait for the apple tv update before passing judgment. It came out today, so here's my new tv setup:

I traded my NetFlix membership in for an apple tv and a new airport with faster wireless and the ability for NAS. While I was frustrated when apple didn't push out the "Take Two" update as promised two weeks ago, I've been toying with the setup a bit.

I've ripped the few DVDs I own onto the hard drive attached to the router, and I've moved my iTunes library onto the drive as well. This has freed up quite some space on my laptop, and while I can't claim to notice a improvement in speed, it is nice to know that when this thing bricks (which is only a matter of time) I'll have my important files somewhere else. While this means that I can't access my music on my laptop when I'm away from home, I've come to the conclusion that I usually have an iPod handy, so really I was carrying it around in duplicate.

The files are also copied onto the apple TV, which means I have access to them when the computer is off, which is a plus. Also, having my dvd's "on demand" is nice, and I suspect it will result in some of them getting watched more than they otherwise would have. I used handbrake to rip them, and while this was largely painless a few of them are apparently in a format not supported by the apple tv (although they were all ripped with the same settings), so I'll need to play around with this somewhat.

Today the new software was pushed out, and it completes the setup very nicely. While the movie library is not yet huge, there's a decent selection. The interface is intuitive and everything seems to start right quick. I am currently using wireless, but as the thing sits on top of my router I plan on running a cable just to prevent any possible hic-ups here.

My one complaint so far is that I will loose my netflix queue. Often enough I stumble across movies and think I'll want to watch it later, as far as I can tell this isn't accounted for yet on the apple TV.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Instapaper

I've been pushing out websites I find and like in my Tumblog lately, but Instapaper seems to be changing the way I "surf" the web and therefor I thought I'd ramble on about it for a second. Often enough, especially at work, I find myself bumming around the web and finding something interesting that I either don't have the time or concentration to read at that moment. Normally, I'd then have the option to either bookmark it, trapping the link on that computer, or tagging it with del.icio.us which immediately pushes the link out to a whole bunch of people who I may not want to share it with.

Enter Instapaper; one of the cleanest simplest websites I've seen in a long time. With a button in my browser I tag a page, saving it to my instapaper page. I can then go to that page from any computer and see which links I've marked and which I've read. That's it. Simple. Easy. Quick. I suddenly find myself reading a lot more content which I would otherwise have forgotten about.

Takes All Types

After scoffing at facebook and this trends of apps for it with things such as "super pokes" and "sheep" for the past few months, I took the plunge and installed an app for the first time: Takes All Types. This is not some game or fad, but actually takes your information and attempts to do something good with it.

Apparently, blood is extremely perishable and can not be transported great distances. As such, while many people donate, there are still blood shortages throughout the country. In an attempt to remedy this, Takes All Types registers your blood type and location, and then sends you a message if there is demand for your type of blood in your area to encourage you to donate.

I'm curious to see if this trend of doing something useful with the boring social network can catch on. In the meantime, I suggest you register.

[where: 10017]

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

RSS Feed

To the seven of you subscribed to this feed - apologies for the double and triple posts in the last few days. The short version - a river of news with all my feeds creates a feedback loop, so it's not going to work.

In fixing this I've been able to combine del.icio.us and flickr into the main feed. I've decided to scrap Twitter as I barely use it. Lastly, I needed to break out tumblr into a separate feed, which you can subscribe to here.

You can still find everything at www.mikolayczyk.com

Friday, January 25, 2008

More Mac Problems

So I ranted awhile ago about my problems upgrading to Leopard. After trying to watch some dvds in the last few days, it seems that the disc loading problem is actually a general problem, and not just related to the upgrade disc.

I've since been digging deep to try and find out what's wrong with my MacBook. Turns out there are no references to this problem on the Apple website. But, I've found this site, which points a finger at a superdrive 2.1 firmware upgrade as the culprit for a lot of peoples similar problems. Lo-and-behold, they even have links to the Apple website with explanations of the problem. HOWEVER - Apple has deleted all these entries on their website, and all references to a 2.1 superdrive update.

Clearly, this is a further example of Apple failing to sufficiently support its products. In this situation, they even go a step further; they've pushed out a destructive update and then covered their tracks rather than either acknowledging their mistake or attempting to provide a fix. This is the SECOND time this has happened to me; a few months back they killed my mac's battery with an update. Is this acceptable behavior for a company lauded for its user friendliness? No

As it pointed out on the site identifying the problem - this is the kind of thing that makes me consider switching back to a PC and its generic swappable parts.


***update***

Some people are report success with http://forum.rpc1.org/viewtopic.php?t=42953&sid=7a19b1238543a5e4a43d12770bbd27c1
I'm not - try at your own risk

The Local Web

This morning I read Fred Wilson's post on outside.in and other efforts to make local content more prevalent on the web. I've since signed up to be able to contribute content to outside.in, and I'm looking forward to trying it out in the weeks to come.

My initial concern, at least in my zip code, is that there are a few blogs which seem to dominate the site. This is further problematic for me, because they are blogs to which I already subscribe, and hence I end up having a lot to skip or read twice. I suppose it will become a question of adjusting how/where I read certain information, but frankly that might be a bit too much to ask. Maybe, if more content starts to flow through these hyper-local sites this won't be such a concern.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

URL Purchase

For awhile I've been toying with the idea of buying www.mikolayczyk.com, today I pulled the trigger and am pleased to say you can now find this blog under the URL. While I'm pleased to control my family name on the net, I think curiosity is more what prompted my purchase. I keep reading about these squatting companies that earn money through buying and selling virtual real estate, and while I doubt mikolayczyk.com will be my ticket to riches, I am keen to find out how the whole system works.