Saturday, April 26, 2003

This is what happens when there is no longer an empire

Once upon a time, the British invented sports like football (soccer), rugby, tennis, cricket, and golf. Now though, they are reduced to inventing Extreme Ironing. Somehow, though, this is a sport that only the British could invent. In fact, let me rephrase that. This is a sport that only the English could invent.

Friday, April 25, 2003

Signs that aren't of the apocalypse.

When our pop charts a couple of months ago became filled with schoolgirl Russian lesbians, I was (quite seriously) of the belief that this indicated that we (and obviously also the Russians) had reached a level of civilization higher than any before. The presence on the internet of a prime number shitting bear makes me feel ever more confident of this conclusion, even if this time it is the Finns and not the Russians who are responsible. (via Brian).
North Africa

Glenn Reynolds has the following to say about missing tourists in Algeria

There's some weird stuff going on in the Saharan region, all across Africa. Someone should pay attention. Or perhaps someone already is, and that's what's prompting this behavior in response.

There is indeed some weird stuff going on in North Africa. There has been weird stuff going on in North Africa for a long time now. The 1990s were full of stories about moderate muslims being kidnapped from their homes in the middle of the night in Algeria, and their obviously post-torture bodies being found weeks later, and assorted political murders in Egypt. The media failed to do much more than mention these, and shrug their shoulders about an incomprehensible part of the world. (This was approximately my attitude too. I knew something was happening, but not what, and I focused my interests elsewhere). It wasn't until the events of September 2001 that we looked in that direction and discovered what an appalling state it was in, and just how ghastly Islamic extemism had become. When it was just Algerians murdering other Algerians we looked away, and nobody went to investigate what was actually happening and why.

Someone now needs to do this. This is no doubt horribly dangerous. But somebody needs to get the full story of what is happening and why.
A thought

It is April 25. Anzac Day. The 88th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings by mostly Australian, New Zealand, British and French troops in 1915. In this single failed campaign, more than a hundred and twenty thousand people died in nine months, around half of who were Allied troops and the other half Turkish. I do have some thoughts that I want to share on the subject, but I am busy because I am giving a talk this evening, and do not have time to do the subject justice.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.

I'm off to hear William Gibson read from Pattern Recognition, a novel I read several months ago, and meant to review, but somehow didn't. More blogging (possibly on that) when I return.
3G arrives, or does it?

In 2000, probably the key moment in telco and tech boom idiocy occurred when five telecommunications companies paid a total of 22.48 billion pounds for so called "3G licences" - licences to operate the next generation of mobile phones in Britain. This new technology was supposed to provide much higher data speeds over mobile phones than did traditional 2G services, thus enabling things like video phones, photo messaging, and a myriad of other applications that hadn't been invented yet. Everybody got caught up in the hype, and astounding sums of money were paid.

Since then, we have had the bursting of the bubble, an acknowledgement that nobody much could come up with business models to make 3G financially viable, the ackowledgement that the original schedules (many required by law) for the setting up of 3G networks were unrealistic because the technology (UMTS or W-CDMA) mandated for use in Europe didn't work, the Japanese mobile operator NTT DoCoMo (which was first to launch a service using W-CDMA) had to recall its phones twice, and the competing American technology CDMA2000 did work and got a head start in Japan, Korea, and the US, as well as one or two other places.

Of the five licences, four were issued to the existing mobile phone operators in the UK: Vodafone, BT Cellnet (now O2), One2One (Now T-Mobile) and Orange. These companies concluded that they were going to need 3G licences to compete with each other, and if they didn't get one each they were doomed. A variety of other companies also entered the auction. From a game theoretic point of view, the auction was extremely well designed, as it forced the incumbent operators to pay the same price that the new entrants paid, and there was a lot of competition to be the new entrant.

In any event, the fifth licence was awarded to a consortium led by the Hutchison Whampoa conglomerate of Hong Kong.

Now the history of Hutchison in the British mobile phone business is interesting. In the 1980s, Britain had two analogue mobile phone operators. These were BT Cellnet, the mobile subsidiary of the former wireline monopoly, and Vodafone, a new company that was founded to operate mobile phones. BT did not run its business especially well, so Vodafone took the lead in the market. (In most markets, the traditional phone company took the lead initially and in fact still has the lead, due to already having market presence and customer relationships. In the early 1990s, the British market upgraded to digital GSM. Each of the two analogue operators was given a digital licence, and two new digital licences were issued. One was to One2One, which was then a subsidiary of Cable and Wireless, which in the form Mercury Communications was at that time the principal competitor to BT in wireline busineses. The other was to Hutchison, which set up its network to trade under the name Orange.

One2One achieved the fate of third and fourth operators in most markets. It lagged in network coverage, and tended to only pick up low value customers. Orange on the other hand was marketed far better than any of the other networks. It launched later than One2One, but had national coverage when it did so. It promoted itself as a premium service, and offered good customer service.

And this worked. In terms of premium customers and a reputation for service, Orange didn't take too long to outpace Cellnet. Eventually it caught up with Cellnet in absolute customer numbers, pushing Cellnet into third place. (Eventually One2One was also able to do this, pushing Cellnet (later O2) into fourth place, creating a situation where despite all its advantages, the (now demerged) mobile subsidiary of the former telco monopoly is staggeringly in fourth place in the market. Cellnet/O2 is considered a classic case of just mindblowingly bad management). Orange was extremely valuable, and Hutchison eventually sold it to the German operator Mannesman $15 billion dollars. Essentially, in 1992 nobody realised how valuable second generation mobile licences were going to be. This, combined with the fact that Orange was managed and marketed extremely well meant that Hutchison made a huge profit. (Mannesman was later acquired by Vodafone. As Vodafone was not allowed to own two British mobile networks, it was compelled to sell Orange, and Orange was then ultimately sold to France Telecom. The Orange brand were perceived as such a good brand, that France Telcom then rebranded all the other mobile networks that it owned with the "Orange" name, including the one in France.

However, at the time of the auction of 3G licences in 2000, Hutchison decided that it could do the same thing again for 3G services. However, Hutchison decided to do this in a much larger number of countries than before. As well as buying a licence in the UK, Hutchison also bought licences in Australia, Austria, Denmark, Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, Italy and Sweden. Their strategy is to roll out new networks in all these countries. They are doing so under the brand name "3", and this roll out has just started. They are selling advanced multimedia mobile phones, providing voice calls, picture messaging, internet services, video phone calls, and the like.

Because 3 are a new entrant, if they want any customers at all, they have no choice but to roll out their 3G networks. This is contrary to what most of the other operators are doing at this point. Most of the other operators are stretching their 2G GSM networks as far as they can go in order to provide picture messaging and similar services, and are delaying the 3G roll out because of the high capital costs of building it. They can get most of the revenues that they think they might be able to get at the moment from a 3G network from GSM data services running over GPRS, and this can hopefully help them pay for the 3G licences which they now regret buying. 3 on the other hand either roll out the 3G network or they have no business. Which is why 3 are the first operator to launch a UMTS 3G network in the UK. They have been advertising the network quite hard in the last couple of months, with the emphasis being particularly on their phones' ability to do video phone calls. This makes a certain amount of sense, as theirs is the only network that can do this.

In any event, I yesterday walked into a branch of Phones4U in Tottenham Court Road. Phones4U sell phones operating on all mobile networks, and I have received good customer service from them in the past. (I purchased my last new phone from them, and the salesman did a particularly good job of selling me a deal that was right for me rather than merely one that was expensive). The shop contained a display of a number of phones running on the new 3 network, and publicity material about what they could do. A salesman walked up to me and started a conversation.

"Tempting, isn't it?"
"No. Well, I think I will wait six months to see how it goes".
"Okay. But they are good"
"I think I will wait a little while to see if they work".
"Oh, they definitely work. Do you want a demonstration?"

The salesman then went off and got an actual phone, as distinct from the dummies that were on display. He fiddled with it for a while. He then apologies, and said that they were new and the problem was with him and not the phone. He went off and got another salesman. The other salesman fiddled with the phone a bit, before telling me that they could not demonstrate the video phone calls to me right now because the network was congested. However, if I would like to come back in 15 minutes, it might be working then.

I didn't come back in 15 minutes. I might come back in a couple of days, though. As for what happened, there are several interpretations. Firstly, the "network congestion" explanation was ludicrous. It is a brand new network, and there is lots of spectrum. Part of the point of 3G is that it is supposed to be less susceptible to congestion than 2G. Also, 3 would be lucky if their customer numbers are in three figures at this point, so for the network to be congested, it would have to be so inefficient that "congested" in fact meant "The technology doesn't work". As for other explanations, simplest is simply that the salesmen were not very familiar with their new product, and didn't really know how to make it work. This would fit perfectly with telling me to come back in 15 minutes. The salesman would have then spend the 15 minutes trying to figure it out. A second possibility could be that network coverage is poor, and the phone couldn't connect to a 3G network. UMTS phones are designed to connect to a 2G network if they cannot find a 3G network, so it might be that the phone was working for simple but not difficult operations for this reason. This would not necessarily indicate anything wrong with the technology, but it would mean that it is fairly useless for now. (If you look at this coverage map this is illustrated but not explained. The yellow bit, with "voice and pictures" is a GSM network being roamed onto, and which belongs to someone else. The bit labelled "video" is the genuine 3G network).

A final explanation is that the technology genuinely still does not work, and that the unending teething problems of UMTS are still ongoing. If so, this would be bad for Hutchison, and bad for anyone who hopes to ever generate a return on the enormous amount of money spent on 3G licences. If this is so, it could mean that Hutchison is also doing the other operators a favour. By being compelled to launch first, it can iron all the bugs out on their behalf.

In any event, my net response was to not be very impressed. With licences and networks and stuff, something like 30 billion pounds has been spent on 3G in the UK since 2000. And if this is all we have to show for it, it isn't very impressive.
One more thing to buy when I get a job

My very own sub-orbital spaceship. (Okay, it needs to be a good job). Amongs other things, it looks like the sort of thing that every James Bond villain needs. Plus, "Proteas" is just the right sort of name. "Mr President, if you do not have twelve billion dollars transferred to my Swiss account in the next hour, then you will have to face the consequences of project Proteas".

Also, Dale Amon gets to do really cool things.

Sometimes things cross my desk which are so interesting I have to just pass them on verbatim. I've been expecting this one for years. In 1999 I walked under the wings of the Proteus high altitude aircraft in the Rutan hanger at Mojave. I knew immediately that Rutan had to be thinking of this as a first stage prototype.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Day four update

There are three absolutely top notch batsmen in the present Australian test cricket team. These are Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, and Matthew Hayden. If asked to list the top five batsmen in the world, I would include these three in my list, I think. (The rest of the Australian top order consists of Justin Langer, who is also outstanding, but not quite in the same class as the other three, captain Steve Waugh, who used to be as good as any of them, but is now past his best, and Darren Lehmann, who came into the side when Mark Waugh was dropped six months ago. In normal circumstances, the top order also includes Damien Martyn, who is of similar quality to Langer, or perhaps a little behind).

If I was asked six months ago who was the best batsman in the Australian side, the answer would have to have been "Matthew Hayden". Since then he hasn't been out of form especially, and nobody has been worried about him especially, but he has not been scoring runs with the brilliance of the previous couple of years. Ricky Ponting has instead been the star, and he has received good support from Langer. Which was why, yesterday, Hayden likely felt that he needed some runs. It was a golden opportunity, with Hayden starting the day on 15 and Australia likely to bat for about two sessions before declaring the innings closed and setting the West Indies a target.

In the first half hour, Hayden and Ponting went along nicely. They didn't score extremely quickly, but certainly scored faster than they did the previous evening. Ponting continued to look the form player, and Ponting's second century of the match appeared to be there for the taking. Hayden didn't play flamboyantly and played a limited range of shots, but However, as sometimes happens, he got an edge on one to the keeper and was caught for 45. Lehmann then joined Hayden at the crease. Hayden continued to play decently but without real aggression. Lehmann on the other hand (perhaps under instructions from Waugh) after a while started to push the scoring rate a bit. He gave one chance - a shot to gully that really should have been caught. He hit two enormous sixes mid way through the middle session, helped Hayden to his hundred, and then decided to attempt to really push the run rate. (Assuming Steve Waugh intended to declare at tea, Lehmann had time to bring up his second century of the match if he really got a move on. However, when he did this, the weaknesses in his technique became very visible. His footwork was a dreadful mess, and his innings looked like the ugliest of one day innings' in the last five overs. Scott Wickstein commented the other day that Lehmann's technique has been spoiled by playing too much one day cricket, and he may be right, but the best one day players do not get into this kind of mess. Did Ponting's? footwork look like this in his brilliant century in the World Cup final? No way. Does Gilchrist ever look like this in one day games? No. Does Andrew Symonds ever look this bad? No. With Lehmann playing like this, he was very vulnerable to a bowler who genuinely bowled a good ball at the stumps, and Dillon was smart enough to notice this and bowl a good yorker. Lehmann was out bowled for 66. Steve Waugh declared at that point, setting the West Indies a target of 407 to win.

My thoughts on this are well done to Hayden. He was in a position where it would be good for him to score a century, and he was able to put one together when he needed to. He's all class. On the other hand, it may be uncharitable for me to call for the dropping of a player who has just scored 160 and 66 in a test match, but I am going to do this with respect to Lehmann. He clearly doesn't have the technique to succeed against good opposition. Australia have two more tests against the West Indies, then two against Bangladesh, then two against Zimbabwe. In that time, Lehmann could score quite a lot of runs. Then, however, some time soon he will encounter a genuinely good bowler in an opposing side, at which point Lehmann will look like, well, Dean Jones against Richard Hadlee, or Robin Smith against Shane Warne. Except that Lehmann isn't as good a player as either Jones or Smith, and he is capable of coming a cropper against lesser bowlers than Hadlee or Warne. There are potentially better players out there (Michael Clarke, for instance), and Lehmann isn't that young. Better to go with someone else, in my opinion. (I was less than impressed by the "black c---s" incident, too. The man really should know better).

I think Waugh made the declaration around the right time, but I don't think the target was big enough for me to be entirely comfortable. I think Australia should have been able to score more runs in the match up to now. They should have scored 50 more leading up to the declaration in the first innings, and they should have scored 20 or 30 more in the evening on the third day. This game was always likely to end up with Waugh setting a target around tea on the fourth day. Given that, making this target as big as possible should have been the number one target. Australia lost a total of seven wickets in two innings out of a possible 20. Surely they could have got a few runs. It might have meant losing a couple more wickets, but who really cares. Australia have not played many matches like this lately, and it shows.

Still Australia got off to a good start, with Smith and more importantly Ganga out early to good fast bowling. At 2/12 it looked like Australia might win it easily. Then, however, Lara and Hinds got together and put on a good century partnership. Perhaps it wasn't so easy out there. It looked possible that the West Indies might finish the fourth day not exactly in a winning position, but at least with a certain amount of momentum going their way. However, MacGill got the wicket of Hinds in the second last over, with a ball that ran back onto the batsman's stumps after he hit it. The batsman was perhaps a little unlucky that it rolled onto the stumps, but he did play a bad shot, so he can't really complain. The intiative was therefore back with the Australians at stumps, which they wanted.

Still, Lara and Sarwan were batting. Another 300 is required from 90 overs with 7 wickets in hand. If Lara can bat all day, the West Indies will win. If he doesn't, they won't, and they will likely lose. That is now pretty much all there is to it. Lara is certainly capable of doing it, but the odds will be against him. If he does do it, then Steve Waugh will have to take a fair bit of the blame. A side that scores a total of 7/814 in its two innings of a match really shouldn't lose. They probably won't, but I think that if Waugh's captaincy had been better it would be out of the question entirely.

Update: Lara scored a brilliant century, and the West Indies got to lunch without losing another wicket, but it was not enough. Lara was eventually out for 122. The West Indies were all out for 288. Some fine bowling from Andy Bichel started the end for the West Indies, and Stuart MacGill took the key wicket of Lara. Steve Waugh will now no doubt receive praise for his good judgement. Australia win their eighth test in a row against the West Indies, and retain the Frank Worrell trophy, although they need to at least draw one of the two remaining tests to regain their top place in the ICC World Test Championship. Still, a tremendous way to celebrate England's national day. Blogging from me shall resume once I recover from the party.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Getting annoyed with the protectionist anti-modernity anti-globalisation anti-science anti-American left, part two

After going to McDonald's yesterday I thought it would be nice to go to see a movie. I often go to the Prince Charles Cinema off Leicester Square, which shows repertory and second release films at a very cheap ticket price. I checked their website to see what was on. I went to their website, and I absolutely groaned when I discovered that they were having a "Not in our name" day. They even apparently had Ken Loach along to introduce some of the films. Yes, they appeared to be protesting the British presence in the recent victory in Iraq. (Presumably they scheduled this when they were expecting a quagmire). This was annoying, because I just wanted to see a film but I didn't really feel like a day of rampant anti-American. I wasn't going to go to any of their "Not in our name" screenings without heckling Ken Loach, loudly singing the star spangled banner in the middle of the film and consequently getting lynched, and I concluded it just wasn't worth it. Plus, "all profits are to the stop the war coalition", and was certainly not giving them any of my money.

However, it is interesting to see the list of films they were actually showing.

"Proud Arabs and Texan Oilmen"

This video sets out to answer the question why the Gulf War happened. Drawing on war footage, some of it never shown on British television before, it includes interviews with Tony Benn, Noam Chomsky, Alan Clark, Michael Ignatiev, Rana Kabbani and Olga Maitland.

Oh, splendid. I am so sorry I missed Noam. I think I might go with "Because Saddam Hussein launched an unprovoked attack on Kuwait" but I would no doubt be accused of being simplistic. (And sure, making sure that Saudi and Kuwaiti oil was secure was obviously part of it. And yes, the Americans were too close to the Saudis. And some of them still are. Thankfully, though, this second war means it is actually possible to back away from them).

The UN served as a rallying point for the US led onslaught on the Gulf, but it failed to deal with the aftermath and has been unwilling to resolve any of the other conflicts that still divide a world where the one remaining super power calls the shots. The promised 'new world order' has proved to be a chimera.

The UN has been unable to resolve anything since the first war. Yes, I'd pretty much agree with that. The Americans were too concerned with preserving the multilateral coalition at the time, so they didn't finish the job. Thus we had a decade of sanctions that were used as a tremendous anti-American grievance by the fundamentalists of the region. If the second war had not taken place, this festering sore created by the "multilateral" UN model would have continued. I don't think this speaks very well of the multilateral model.

Next film. "No Man's Land". Exceptionally fine film illustrating the absurdity of the war in Bosnia. Nothing directly to do with the war in Iraq. All I can really do is observe that the war in Bosnia went on and on for much of the 1990s, many people died and many atrocities occurred, the UN and Europe were unable to stop it, and finally it was stopped through American military action. You can argue that America was at fault because it didn't use its military to stop the war sooner, but quite frankly a better example of why American military action is sometimes called for is hard the imagine.

Next film. Something called "Not in our name".

'Not in my name' is a powerful new documentary film which tells the story of the U.S. led war on terrorism you DIDN'T see on TV. Why is dropping bombs on or firing cruise missiles at innocent civillians not considered 'terrorism' by the Western military?
'Not in my name' explains the background to the attacks on Afghanistan,

Let me explain the background to the attacks on Afghanistan. Barbarians who want to return the entire world to the seventh century attacked New York, and killed 3000 people who had done nothing but get up and go to work. Amazingly, the Americans were outraged by this, and therefore they observed that the evil people who had done this were based in Afghanistan, which was also incidentally ruled by the most barbaric regime on earth. They removed this regime from power, and frankly the world should be grateful. The Afghans certainly appear to be grateful. Seriously, I think you have a peculiar world view if you think there is something wrong with the idea of the Americans retaliating because their greatest city was horribly attacked.

charts the growth of the anti-war movement and offers a chilling insight to the dangers of U.S. led imperialism. Which country will NATO attack next?

I don't think NATO is going to attack anyone much, because the alliance has been shown to be completely useless. Lets assume they just mean "Les anglo-saxons".

Who are the REAL terrorists?

Well, for starters Al Qaeda, the Iranians, the Syrians, the North Koreans, Hamas, the PLO, various unpleasant groups in Egypt and Algeria, far too many Saudis, anyone who uses suicide bombing. Those kinds of people who attack innocent civilians, generally. Sounds like a dreadful screed and I am glad I missed it.

Okay, the last film. Next we have David O Russell's "Three Kings". Really good movie. The message of the movie is that the American's really screwed the Shia Muslims of Basra by encouraging them to rise up in 1991 and then letting Saddam Hussein slaughter them. Yes, not America's finest hour. Also, though, not a very good argument for allowing Saddam to stay in place and continue slaughtering them. I will observe that thanks to the second war, these same Shia Muslims are now permitted to practice their own religion without persecution for the first time in a couple of decades.

Okay, so I think they had two dreadful screeds that I had not previously heard of, and two really good movies. I am not sure that these movies collectively make the point that American action was wrong, however.

However, I really just wanted to see a movie. Instead I went to see "Blue Crush" at the local multiplex. It was pretty good, too.
British English

Patrick Crozier has been comparing various expressions from British English with equivalent expressions from American English, in order to figure out which form of the language is better. Might I suggest he compare the British expression "bank holiday" with the American expression "public holiday". The Americans clearly win this one. A public holiday is a day in which the public is on holiday. In Britain a "bank holiday" is exactly the same thing. Everyone gets a holiday - not just bankers.

In Australia we follow the American usage of "public holiday". When my sister visited me in England a few years ago, she was quite confused by the "bank holiday" usage. There was one of these a couple of days after she arrived. When I mentioned that it was a public holiday and most things would be closed, she said that from what she had heard it was only a "bank holiday" so she expected most things to be open. You see, in Australia we do actually use the expression "bank holiday". A bank holiday is a day on which the banks are on holiday, but on everyone else has to go to work. You may think that actually having such things is a little silly, but I submit that there is a certain logic to the description.
Oh shit

French Guard
I'm French! Why do think I have this outrageous
accent, you silly king-a?!

What Monty Python Character are you?
brought to you by Quizilla
Getting annoyed with the protectionist anti-modernity anti-globalisation anti-science anti-American left, part one

Yesterday, I walked into a McDonald's at lunchtime, as I occasionally do. McDonald's are having certain problems with their business at the moment. These are the fairly standard problems that any business encounters when it saturates its market. There are no new places to expand into without cannibalising additional business. Plus, there is more competition, and this competition has a big advantage over McDonald's itself, specifically that its food is better. McDonald's over the years has focused on providing fast service take away food at low prices, but has had difficultly expanding the menu. Recently, though, it has become clear that many people are willing to pay five or six pounds for lunch instead of three or four if this means higher quality food. A new market segment called fast casual has arisen to cater for this market. This attempts to provide equally fast service, but better quality food, perhaps a more pleasant environment to eat in, and perhaps even crockery and metal cutlery for people who eat in.

To counter this, McDonald's has been expanding its menu to provide food that is hopefully more appetising and appealing to customers. This is all good. I approve of this. McDonald's haven't traditionally sold very good food, and I am all in favour of improving choice and quality.

However, when I sat down with my food yesterday, I read the following.

Old McDonald's had a farm. New McDonald's replaced it with an organic one

I recoiled in horror. McDonald's selling organic food? Surely it couldn't be. But it was. McDonald's have been infiltrated by the idiotic and offensive organic food movement. I am in favour of free trade, globalisation, technology, the green revolution, artificial nitrogen based fertilizers, intensive agriculture, mass production, genetically modified crops, feeding the world while using the minimum amount of farmland, that kind of thing. When I go into McDonald's I want to feel reassured that the organisation I am patronising is on my side, and is the sworn enemy of the Jose Boves of this world. I don't want to see them sucking up to pseudoscientists in order to appease the squishy left. And I certainly don't want to find myself botcotting their food because they are on the side of the anti-green revolution barbarians. But that is where we seem to be. All my illusions are shattered.
Cricket update

Okay, we are now three days in to the second test between Australia and the West Indies at Port of Spain, Trinidad. I predicted a high scoring match, and that is what we have had so far.

Loosely, there are two ways of winning a game of test cricket. One way is to have extremely good bowlers that are capable of bowling out almost any opposition. Teams that have this sort of bowling are involved in very few matches that are drawn, and they generally win a lot, because getting a bowling attack like this together is relatively difficult. Occasionally two sides with bowling like this meat, and the results can be very unpredictable. Games can be very short, and tend to swing rapidly from one side to another, and the games in a series will generally be widely different from one another. Australia are normally such a side. Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath are this kind of bowler. The other bowlers (especially Gillespie and Lee) are effective, but not always on their own. They are much more useful when they have Warne or McGrath keeping things in control at the other end.

The other way of winning a cricket match is through what may be described as a battle of attrition. This is how you attempt to win if you don't have great bowlers. You hopefully bat first, you score a lot of runs, you then bowl tightly and try not to concede runs rapidly, and you make sure you field well and take your catches, and hopefully you can be ahead when the game is played out. Games played this way tend to go for the whole five days. Quite a few of them are drawn. The trick is to play a series like this without making mistakes or having batting collapses. It's about discipline. However, a team which plays this way is generally in trouble if it comes up with a team with great bowlers that plays the first way.

England in recent years have actually become pretty good at playing the second way. It was very effective against Sri Lanka and India during the last English summer (although they did lose one match to India). However, they went into a series against Australia at the end of last year trying to play the same way, and got thrashed, because they couldn't cope with Australia's better bowlers.

In the present match, Australia are without Warne and McGrath. Their choice was therefore to play as aggressively as always, and hope that Gillespie, Lee, and the other bowlers could step up their games. Or, they could play the game of attrition. This is not necessarily such a bad idea, because they have the resources to play that way very well. They have outstanding batsmen, their fielding is terrific and they have great discipline. The West Indies on the other hand have batting that is great at its best but incosistent, sloppy fielding, and very questionable discipline.

So, going into the match it was interesting to see what they were going to do. Australia batted first, and got off to a good start. Unfortunately, both openers Langer and Hayden (who needed some runs) were out early on day one, both to shocking LBW decisions. After that, however, Australia had no trouble batting at all. Ponting looked superb in scoring a double century, and while Lehmann's technique looked at time questionable, he scored a maiden test century, and kept going to score 160. Gilchrist had scored 101 not out when Steve Waugh called an end to it at 4/576. This was curious. The West Indian bowling was inadequate, and Australia could have scored 700, 800 or 900 if they wanted to. If you were playing a game of attrition you would have done that, so Steve Waugh seemed to have faith in his bowlers to get the West Indians out quickly. On the other hand, if he had been batting for a declaration, one would have thought he would have told his batsment to score runs faster leading up to it. My feeling was he was rather caught in two minds with respect to what to do.

The declaration looked well timed at first. Both openers were out cheaply thanks to good bowling from Lee and Gilchrist. However, after that, the West Indians dug in. Lara batted very well for 91, but was out just before stumps on day 2. Sarwan played well for a while, before being out for 26 just before lunch on day 3. Once again, the star was Gangu, who scored a fine 117, his second consecutive test century. It's just great to see a playing rise to the occasion the way he has in the last couple of matches. He looks like he now feels he belongs in the team. Later in the day, he was seen nonchalently signing autographs between overs while fielding on the boundary. His home crowd certainly enjoyed watching him.

The West Indies kept scoring runs and occasionally losing wickets. 68 from Samuels helped them to 408 all out, trailing by 168. Steve Waugh did not have the option of enforcing the follow on, and it is pretty clear that when he declared he thought the West Indies could be bowled out for less than that. Personally I think he should have waited for another 50-100 runs before declaring in the first innings. I think he was two aggressive given his reduced bowling resources.

In any event, Australia needed to score several hundred runs in the second innings before declaring and trying to bowl out the West Indies for not too much again. They may still do that, but their start yesterday evening was puzzling, to be honest. They weren't helped by the fact that Langer was given clearly incorrectly out lbw by umpire De Silva for the second time in the game. He didn't look happy, but he walked off. Australia then only scored 31 runs off 14 overs before the close. This was strange, because if they really wanted to bat towards a declation I would have expected more than that. The bowling was still inadequate, so it couldn't have been that hard. it was almost as if they were playing for a draw. Earlier in the game Steve Waugh was perhaps too aggressive, and now the Australians seem too defensive. I think Steve Waugh is not used to being without his best bowlers, and he is not quite sure what to do.

Of course, drawing the match and then going into the third test 1-0 up with Glenn McGrath returning would be just fine from the Australian point of view. However, I would like to at least see them try to win the match. (I think they probably will. I am just not quite sure what they were doing for 14 overs yesterday). However, I don't want to see them try too hard. Losing a match for being too aggressive after two generous declarations is not something you ever want to happen.

In other cricket, the one day final between India and South Africa in Bangladesh was abandoned after it was washed out both on the scheduled day and the reserve day. This was a shame, as it promised to be a good game.

Monday, April 21, 2003

This is so cool

Scott Wickstein asks the important questions. In particular, just precisely what is it with Korean electronics company LG and the internet refrigerator? LG have been running a campaign in the UK, in Australia, and probably in the rest of the world drawing attention to the fact that they now sell the world's first internet refrigerator. I actually wondered about this myself, and having done a little research I can at least explain LG's rationale. They believe that we are ultimately going to want to network all our appliances. It may well be that we want to turn on the oven or the microwave, or the iron or the vacuum cleaner before we get home. (Another good reason for networking such things is diagnostic: if they develop faults they can report the fact that they need repairing). If this future is going to unfold, then it makes sense to have an always on internet connection to the home. Given this, the logical device to have this always on connection to is the refrigerator, because that is the only appliance that is switched on all the time. The refrigerator will function as a server, and all the other appliances can function as clients, and the refrigerator can switch them on and off as needed. Hence the internet refrigerator. (I suppose the other possibility might be an internet connected VCR).

I rather like the Korean consumer electronics companies. They know that they are perceived as relatively downmarket brands, and so they are willing to experiment and try almost anything in an attempt to improve their positions. Sony wouldn't dream of a large marketing campaign to promote internet refrigerators, because they know there is a fair chance they would end up looking silly and it would hurt their carefully crafted image. However, LG don't care, as their image is already downmarket. However, if this thing works, then they are the ones who benefit.
More reasons for loving girls from Ohio

From one of the nicest comments that has been left on this blog in a while, I learn the following.

(a) If the American college girls had really wanted to give me the slip, this would have been obvious. In particular, they probably wouldn't have asked me to explain the laws of cricket. (There is a certain strange logic in this, yes).

(b) Despite the fact that I am now moving through my thirties, I should still attempt to start conversations with American college girls in Parisian restaurants if I want to.

This makes me feel much better.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

A stunning piece of urban design

This post is essentially going to be a photo essay. I hope that downloading all the pictures is not going to drive my readers using dialup crazy.

I list "urban design" as one of my interests in the bar to the left of this blog, and long term readers will know that I am particularly interested in urban regeneration. As part of a major global shift from manufacturing to services, cities worldwide have in recent decades have been losing industrial jobs, and areas that were once industrial (or supported industrial areas) have been slowly becoming office and residential areas. On thing which particularly fascinates me is how the large and monolithic buildings and other structures of the industrial age can be regenerated to form a part of modern cities. There are some very simple manifestations of this - warehouses converted into apartments for instance - that many people are familiar with. However, some of the more complicated ones can be more interesting.

One dramatic change that has occurred is the so-called "materials revolution". Today, we have composite and synthetic materials that are many times stronger, lighter, and thinner than the metals, brick, and wood of the industrial age. This means that additional functionality can be added to existing buildings without putting undue pressure on their foundations, and the new structures that convert an old use to new often have a spindly quality about them. They almost make buildings converted in this way look like they have spider webs attached to the sides of them.

Thus you get such structures as the Hungerford Bridge across the Thames, where two new cable stayed footbridges have been build on the sides of a massive 19th century railway bridge. Also visible in that photo is the London Eye, the huge Ferris Wheel on the south bank of the Thames. Aesthetically this is quite similar: we have a modern spindly structure next to the quite massive and functional structure of the buildings surrounding it.

Railway structures and other disused transport infrastructure are often availiable for reusue, and in London you tend to see this in a fairly ad hoc way. The arches of active and disused railway viaducts are filled with restaurants, car repair workshops, markets, and businesses of other kinds. An indoor sports centre consisting of swimming pools, indoor soccer arenas and various similar facilities that exists in the enormous Bishopsgate viaduct in the East End is one of the coolest places in London. There is even regeneration of earlier infrastructure in one or two places. A walk around Peckham in South London reveals a long narrow park, which is a little below street level. Every time the park intersects with a street, the level of the park drops some more and goes under a bridge. The bridges have a 19th century logo of some kind on them, and the letters "G.S.C". It isn't too difficult to figure out that the "C" stands for "Canal". So what we have is a disused canal converted into a park. (When you do a little research, you find that the full name is "Grand Surrey Canal"). I do not know when this particular piece of urban regeneration took place, but it is quite an interesting one, although in a rather run down and hard to find location.

In London, this type of thing is done on an ad hoc manner, and often by the private sector. When you go to Paris, you expect it to be different. And that is what I found. While wandering around near the Gare de Lyon, I walked under a railway viaduct, in well maintained condition, but apparently not in use. Interestingly enough, I saw a staircase going up into the middle of it with people going up and down. This was interesting, so I walked up the staircase. On the top of the viaduct, to my surprise I found a leafy pedestrian boulevard down which lots of Parisians were taking an afternoon walk.

I walked along it a little bit, and sort various other access points to it, including disabled access in the form of ramps and lifts. At one point I saw some sporting facilities in an empty space to one side, half way between viaduct level and street level. This was very impressive, and the architects who had designed it had clearly gone to a lot of effort to get it right. I was especially impressed by the trees planted on top of the viaduct. Hopefully they were some species that would not grow roots that would tear the viaduct to pieces. However, I was on my way somewhere else, so I decided to find out where this viaduct went from and to, and come back the next day for a better look.

A little research indicated that the viaduct began at the Place de la Bastille, near the new opera house, and headed towards the edge of Paris. The viaduct followed the start of a former 17km railway right of way going into the Paris suburbs. The walk is known as the Promenade Plantee, and goes for approximately 4km, starting with the viaduct, and then following the path of the railway through cuttings, tunnels and under bridges. Here is a schematic of the whole thing.
(Stolen from here, where there is a larger version).

The railway was closed in 1969, due to the opening of an underground express railway, line A of the RER. In any event, the next day, I walked to the Bastille, up the steps and onto the viaduct and walked along it.

As you walk along it, there are regular sets of steps etc giving access to the street belong. At several points, I walked down and looked back at the viaduct. The arches of the viaduct are filled with art galleries and similar, and the viaduct is thus known as the Viaduc es Arts.

The arches look a bit like the arches with businesses inside them in British railway viaducts, but they are cleaner and less grungy.

However, the walk goes further than just the viaduct. At a couple of points, the viaduct has clearly been demolished, and has been replaced with newer structures on the same level. Here for instance the viaduct has been replaced with a lightweight bridge and a building that incorporates the walkway into its structure.

After a couple of kilometres, you get to the end of the elevated viaduct. The promenade continues, over a lightly cable stayed pedestrian bridge and then down an avenue between buildings, presumably municipal housing.

Then there is actually a tunnel under some more municipal housing. (I am not sure if the housing was there before the promenade, or the tunnel had to be added later. In any event, the tunnel is perhaps the least attractive part of the whole promenade, even if the designers have put a few artificial waterfalls inside it for effect.

For the last couple of kilometres of the promenade, we enter a railway cutting instead of a viaduct. It is perhaps not as spectacular as the viaduct, but it is still an extraordinarily pleasant walk. We still use the old railway infrastructure: bridges and tunnels. As on the viaduct, ramps, steps and various other additions have been made to make the promenade as pedestrian friendly and disabled person friendly as possible.

Eventually we reach the end. A silly spiral staircase has been added to allow you to get up to the road at the end. (There are also ramps not visited in the picture.

At that point, I noticed that the railway infrastructure continued. In particular, the tunnel under the road at the end of the promenade has been blocked. I wondered why this was. However, once I walked up the spiral staircase to the road, all was clear. The road turned out to be La Periphique the orbital motorway that has been built more or less precisely on the boundary between the city of Paris and its suburbs. This tunnel leads out of the city into the supurbs. Parisians are rather disdainful of their suburbs. This was clearly a Parisian project, and the architects couldn't seriously imagine pedestrians actually wanting to go into the suburbs. Therefore they didn't facilitate it. I shall make another post on this subject in a day or three.

Still, though, this is a stunning, stunning, stunning piece of urban design. It is possible to go for what almost feels like a 4km country walk from the centre of Paris to the city limits. As a way of reusing old infrastructure, this is just marvellous.

(Some of these pictures are a bit too big for my 800x600 screen on my laptop. On a larger screen they probably look fine. Still, I might edit them tomorrow. For now, though, bed).

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