“Sense of security, like pockets jingling…”

Growing up, my knowledge of a midlife crisis could be summed up thus:

1. Old guys driving fast cars
2. One of my favourite songs, “Midlife Crisis” by Faith No More
3. A state of mind for the meek

Well, I was a presumptuous young hoon when it came to point number 3 – because the concept of mid-life crisis seems to be a thing. And it scares the living shmoozies out of some people my age or thereabouts. According to Wikipedia, mid-life crises are a thing or aren’t a thing depending on the research. Whatever it is, people can engage in deep life reassessment as they near or reach middle age – something of a place marker for review, reflection and planning. Some initial questions:

1. Am I content with what I’ve done?
2. Am I content with where I’m going?
3. I really need to start thinking about retirement. WTF, retirement?!
4. Did I do enough stupid things in my pre-midlife days to feel like I’ve ‘lived’?
5. Could I have done better?
6. Will I ever stop creating lists?

I feel as though I have done plenty – so I’m okay with Q1. I reckon there was a bit of stupidity in that plenty, so Q4 is sorted. Q2 is tricky – though it’s difficult not to back the decisions made up until now. That said, Q5 is a doozy – I passed up at least 3 great career opportunities in my time so far due to indecision, misplaced loyalty and sheer naivety. A bunch of business opportunities were either ill-timed or exited too quickly – a web design business in 1996; an online accounting business in 2002; a growing consultancy business in 2006… quite a list now that I look back – so a firm ‘no’ to Q6.

Which leaves Q3. This is the one that irks. As a younger tacker I always thought people preparing for their retirement in their early 20s were boring sods living too far in the future – sacrificing the present unnecessarily and valuing thrift over experiences. That’s probably partly the case. For example, by not investing in property early (when every person and their 5 year old around me seemed to be buying up property left, right and centre, in many cases burdening themselves with heavy mortgages) I felt unencumbered and able to travel, start businesses, experiment with creative pursuits, just living for the sake of it…

Then sometime last year, this concept of ‘midlife’ became apparent. And I freaked out.

Not getting any younger. Kids will need their schooling funded. Need a house somewhere. Body is going to start doing strange things. Will the savings be enough… Need to beef up the retirement account… the words of the Faith No More song (and title of this post) ringing in my head…

So instead of buying music, gadgets, pants, or a really fast car – I started buying shares again (for the record, I actually did buy a car as well – a Volvo – very un-midlife crisissy). Week in, week out, I tracked the market and loaded up on as many shares as I could afford. I started longer-term savings plans, padded investment banker coffers through managed funds, discovered ETFs… and found this all quite interesting – even fascinating – for the first time in my life.

I remember having a so-called “Dollarmite” account when I was about 6 years old. This was the bank savings account marketed to 6 year old school kids in an attempt to teach long-term savings skills while building that bank’s brand awareness from a young age… It obviously left no lasting impression on me as far as early savings go, and as it turned out I have not banked with that bank since becoming an adult.

I needed a pesky, very real midlife crisis/stressor/place marker to ram the point home. I needed a midlife crisis to realise that midlife crises really exist in some way, shape or form. Thankfully, courtesy of this flexion point I am in a far more comfortable state of mind than I was 12 months ago.

Interestingly, the most unexpected of middle-aged people around me tend to be buying fast cars – so I can only assume that’s really a thing too. So, with the benefit of experience, I can now sum up a midlife crisis as:

1. Old guys driving fast cars
2. One of my favourite songs, “Midlife Crisis” by Faith No More
3. A complete, shock to the core wake-up call

Good night.

TL;DR: Lived and did a bit, thought the concept of a midlife crisis was BS as a youngster, then had something of a midlife crisis, made a bunch of investments and lived happily ever after.

Typhoon Usagi whirling its way to Hong Kong

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Typhoon Usagi is headed straight for Hong Kong, putting to rest any well-laid plans for a cruisey Sunday evening by the harbour.

The Hong Kong Observatory this evening downgraded Usagi from an all-conquering ‘Super Typhoon’ down to a supposedly meeker ‘Severe Typhoon’, meaning winds will reach only a breezy 150 km/h.

With typhoons on the mind, have a listen to one of my favourite tracks of the year – “Hurricane” by MS MR:

It’ll blow you away… Okay, perhaps that’s stretching the theme a step too far.

2012 Music Highlights

It dawned on me tonight that I hadn’t heard much new music this year, aside from a dash of Triple J streaming every few months. Besides perennial favourite Triple J, I usually turn to Pitchfork Magazine for trustworthy introductions to good new music. Fast forward three hours and below are my highlights of Pitchfork’s highlights for Aug-Nov 2012.

  • Autre Ne Veut: “Counting” [melodic electro hiphop]
  • S-Type: “Billboard” [instrumental hiphop somethingorother]
  • Angel Haze: “Werkin’ Girls” [rap] Note, the link will download an mp3. Profanity warning.
  • Philip Glass: “73 – 78 (Beck Remix)” [instrumental lo-fi/experimental]
  • Tame Impala: “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” [synth alt/psych rock]
  • Crystal Castles: “Wrath of God” [electro/goth/synth rock/trance/what? whatever it is, it is good]
  • Still Corners: “Fireflies” [alt synth pop] Note, the link will download an mp3.
  • Susanne Sundfør: “White Foxes” [alt dark electro]
  • Bat For Lashes: “Marilyn” [ethereal synth]
  • Jay-Z / Kanye West / Big Sean: “Clique” [rap/hiphop] Note, scroll down the page to find the play button…
  • Sky Ferreira: “Everything Is Embarrassing” [alt pop] Note, the link will download an mp3.
  • AlunaGeorge: “Your Drums, Your Love” [moody electro pop]
  • Swans’ “Mother of the World” felt interesting at the time but I am unlikely to listen to it again, ever. But go listen to it once if for nothing else but to appreciate the subtlety amidst the monotony.

    Shanghai Recommendations for First Time Visitors

    Shanghai was home for six years. The glory years. I originally wrote this as an email for a colleague on the eve of her first visit to Shanghai back in 2010. Several others have since taken the same list and come back with positive feedback, so it appears that these beacons of brilliance continue to shine.

    1. Morning Shanghai

    The best Shanghainese restaurant in Shanghai. It has two outlets, one providing an underground Shikumen experience in Xujiahui, the other taking pride of place on the fringes of the bund. The latter, its interior a throwback to 1920s Shanghai opulence, is situated inside the Astor Hotel, built in 1846 and situated next to the historic old Shanghai bridge. Make sure they give you the Chinese food menu. Do not miss the deep fried mandarin fish with sweet and sour sauce, or the preserved veg/bean curd rolls. Enjoy the velvet and the chandeliers.

    2. Taikang Rd: Kommune Cafe / Shopping / Art / Other Goodness

    Taikang Rd is home to the largest of Shanghai’s happening artsy districts and also housed my old business. By the time I had left in 2009, it was halfway through a massive transformation that brought an influx of new retailers, restauranteurs and business hopefuls. Though its lost a bit of its raw charm, don’t miss this place. Make sure to stop by the Kommune Cafe – a Taikang Rd establishment owned by a close mate and still the best cafe in the district (nay, city!).

    3. Lost Heaven

    Excellent Yunnan-style cuisine in a venue with a soothing, dark ambience. Located in the French Concession, this place is always packed, so book ahead. It always satisfied. Some of the best food you’ll find anywhere.

    4. Vue Bar

    This bar sits 30-odd stories up the Hyatt on The Bund hotel. It has sweeping, priceless views across old and new Shanghai. If you go to Morning Shanghai restaurant (above), then go to Vue before or after, as it’s a few minutes walk away. On every trip back to Shanghai since I left, I have re-visited this place to gaze and reminisce.

    5. Glamour Bar

    Another must do. Owned by a Melburnian and now an establishment venue, Glamour Bar has an old Shanghai vibe, excellent bar, and fabulous views across the Huangpu river. It is the sister of the famous “M on the Bund” restaurant upstairs (or downstairs?) in the same building. Visiting Australian dignitaries often eat/have  events at M, but I never rated it higher than the restaurants mentioned above. Many others would, though…

    6. Park Hyatt lobby bar

    Why? Because everyone deserves to have a drink 400+ metres above Shanghai. On a clear day/night, the views and perspective will take you to a higher place. A few floors up in the same building, there’s a glass-floored attraction that’s meant to be rather decent.

    7. Yu Garden (old buildings, tea, souvenirs, restaurants)

    Go for the sights, a tea ceremony and “Shanghai xiao long bao” (steamed pork dumpling with soup inside). For the latter, find the restaurant at the top floor of the building in the middle (by the pond). It gets very, very busy here, but is definitely worth a visit. However, if it’s raining, I’d recommend staying away, only because you’ll have a hard time finding a taxi out of there.

    8. East Nanjing Rd / Nanjing Rd pedestrian street

    Why? Because it is super crazy, super big, and so super busy that it’ll simultaneously amaze and annoy you. Go at night for extra dazzle. Start at the bund near the Peace Hotel and keep going until you hit People’s Square. It’s everything good and bad about New Shanghai in a thirty-minute stroll.

    9. Barbarossa

    If you do the above stroll, keep going along Nanjing Rd until you see People’s Park on the left. Barbarossa is a bar/restaurant suitable for singles, couples, families who want to eat/drink/dance/whatever. It’s everything to everyone and one of the few versatile venues I’ve seen that actually works. It is set amongst a small lake, trees, museums, skyscrapers and old Shanghai folks playing cards.

    10. Dragonfly massage

    You’ll be walking around and you’ll need a massage. Dragonfly caters mainly for expats/discerning (soft) locals but they pack a decent massage in a very soothing environment. You could also chance it at any of the other many massage places around, but if you want a safe bet, head to DragonFly and tell the masseuse to go as hard/soft as required. Don’t leave Shanghai without having a massage – here or elsewhere. Family tip: Avoid the places that masquerade as hairdressing salons…

    Finally, some notes on transport…

    Taxis – Ubiquitous and very cheap. If you have a choice, stick to the Dazhong/light blue, Qiansheng/green, or Jinjiang/white taxis (in that order). Most drivers don’t speak English, so get your venues transcribed in Chinese. There’s also an English help line – or there was before/during the Expo, which you can call on demand.

    Metro – Efficient but usually chockers. Worth a go to observe the shenanigans alone. Also ubiquitous and very cheap.

    Maglev – You’ll need to take the Line 2 metro to Longyang Rd station and then interchange, or taxi to Longyang Rd station and follow the signs to the maglev. Fourteen minutes to the airport? Do it.

    Top 5 Tracks for Week Ending 2010-07-09

    I love lists. So here’s one that I might – just might – continue to share over time: The top 5 tracks that are hugging my ears in a particular week. Last.fm does a stellar job of tracking raw plays over time, but what follows is not necessarily a list of the most played tracks in a given week. No, these are the tracks that run through my head as I try to fall asleep, and which remain there when I wake up:

    The National – “Conversation 16

    This track meanders around for a bit, lulling you into a false sense of peace until it notches up and sends you hurtling into an unfortunate corner of self-reflection. Powerful music makes you think, even if the lyrics bear scant resemblance to those thoughts. And with lyrics like, “I was afraid… I’d eat your brains… ’cause I’m evil”, it’s just as well.

    Pendulum – “Propane Nightmares

    I heard this for the first time on a recent flight and it rocked my world. It’s continued to rock it ever since. An absolute pumping killer of a track, it was released on Pendulum’s 2008 album “In Silico”, and it simply takes you places. Best track off the album, no less. Plus the band hails from Australia, and therefore deserve your love and attention.

    Faithless – “Not Going Home

    The opening track of Faithless’s recent’n’decent 2010 LP, “The Dance”. Vocalist Maxi Jazz is just the master of cool, with a voice that continues to demand respect. He’s the type of guy you want MCing just about everything. The fact that he’s now aged in his 50s makes him all the more brilliant.

    This track will be a dancefloor annihilator (if it isn’t already) with its addictive rhythm, regulation constant bass beat, subtle troughs and lofty peaks. It has shades of Faithless doing dance at their best: it’s one part “God is a DJ”, a smidge “Salva Mea,” with a pinch of “Insomnia”.  And the oft repeated, “It’s not over, I’m not goin’ home till I can take you with me, I’m not goin’ home…” just bloody well works. For me. And many others, I suspect.

    Beach House – “Walk In The Park

    Some tracks just have it. This is one of them. Moody, airy, sweet, and unwaveringly right. Easily one of my favourite tracks of the year, and if it doesn’t make my 2010 best-of, give me now whatever it is that I would have to smoke to delude myself into omitting it later.

    Hybrid – “Formula of Fear

    One of the best tracks off what might end up my favourite album of the year: “Disappear Here“, the latest release by one of the most influential electronic acts of the last decade – Hybrid. This is a sugary yet pounding track that serves as the crescendo for the first half of the album. Check out the live video!

    Most phenomenally of all, my wife approved of all these tracks. That is a rare and momentous occurrence, so enjoy it while it lasts. Animal Collective’s “What Would I Want? Sky.” and The National’s “England” should probably have made this list. But I decreed that it must contain a maximum of five tracks. So there.

    Google-CN Biffo / Small Business Perspective (Part 1 of X)

    Note: I sat on this post for a while. It then went hurtling out of control towards 3000 words. Risking the post remaining in ‘draft’ mode for eternity, here’s part 1 of X of an X-part rant…

    Oooeeee 1.3 billion people!

    Profits await the occasional foreign entrepreneur in China, but not without sacrifice and some turns of a blind eye.

    In the first few weeks of doing business in China, I confirmed that I’d need to put up, shut up, or leave. Of course, I was well briefed on this prior to first visiting the country, but youthfully believed it worthy of a boundary test anyway.

    A close friend organised a meeting with members of the Communist Party Youth League at a leading Shanghai university. We discussed Australia-China relations, debunked each others’ cultural myths, and skirted – but nevertheless acknowledged – some of the more sensitive topics of the day. While most of those present were happy and willing to engage in the discussion, there was one member present who, with smiles masking his intent, reminded me on a few occasions where I was, thank you very much, and the acceptable limits of public discussion for an individual who wanted to live in China.

    Though I ran small businesses in China, the general corporate rules applied across the board. There are a raft of regulations to be complied with, some of which go against the grain of ‘Western’ norms. Google, nor any business really, was exempt from these. I am not going to dissect Google’s exit from China at all, as it’s been adequately covered to a level I couldn’t achieve gracefully. Google it instead :)

    For a primer, check out these great perspectives and narratives on the situation and its major stakeholders. No, I am not going to look at whether Google should have stayed in China. I applaud the fact that they will not be, and relate to some of their sentiment.

    Whatever, man.

    The pragmatist in me has no problem with the Chinese government’s policy of censoring information. I’m not a Chinese citizen. Those who are will change the system when it becomes necessary to do so.

    China’s extended crackdown on mainly foreign-based social Internet sites in 2009 annoyed and frustrated many expats including myself, but also riled some of the country’s intellectual progressives. Whether that action and future moves likes it will, over time, create some catalyst for change, we’ll just have to wait and see. Don’t expect it anytime soon.

    Chinese netizens have been said to be the greatest losers in Google’s decision to quit China, but the Chinese Internet community is savvy enough to quietly organise ways and means to get the information they want. They’ve done it for years and will continue to do so. Separately, there is also a concern about Baidu monopolising China’s search market. This also seems a flawed argument. On the contrary, it provides a huge market opportunity for a raft of competitors (Tencent, Sina, Microsoft, anyone?), not to mention the upstarts and copycats that may well now spawn. Google will take a commercial hit, sure, but the Chinese Government lost this battle. Not only was there a significant loss of face, with one of the world’s most well-recognised brands extending their proverbial middle finger, it also seemed to show an ultimate lack of confidence in the country’s business practices and environment. This is something a foreign business just does not do.  Not publicly, anyway.

    Small business and the threshold of tolerance

    In the course of doing business in China, I and other small business owners tolerated all sorts of random information-control-related rubbish, several of which I will list in a follow-up post. There is not much room to whinge, granted, as every foreign business owner operates in China by choice. We would bitch and moan amongst ourselves nevertheless, and this co-counselling helped many in the small business community maintain some perspective and control of their emotions in a tough operating atmosphere.

    Over the years, I came to know many foreign peers running businesses in China. For those of us who went through the hassle of incorporating Chinese corporate entities and maintaining a local payroll, there was a common bond. We would often meet – sometimes officially through chambers of commerce and other business groups, but mostly casually over a beer or three – to discuss the wide range of problems and annoyances we all continually faced. Many of those problems, naturally, had to do with THE DARN SYSTEM. Uncertainty about antiquated labour laws, accounting rules that evolved faster than accountants could handle, and regular surprise regulations that had to be complied with last week, all contributed to an unpredictable environment for a small business. For those who hung around for at least a few years, this environment became an accepted and expected cost of doing business in China. Dealing with randomness became standard operating procedure.

    The 2009 crackdown, however, did have a marked impact on how we conducted business (the unreliability of Google Docs being just one of many problems), and on how we communicated with the outside world. Despite the many business storms weathered over prior years, this was the point when my passionate entrepreneurial zeal in China started to wane. Together with frequent perspective-polarising trips to Hong Kong throughout 2009, I started to question why I was in China, and what level of regulation I would be willing to tolerate to keep leading a business there.

    <To be continued>

    AJ’s Sri Lankan Cuisine: Hoppers and more in Hong Kong

    Despite being born in Australia, my Sri Lankan heritage dictates that every few months, I will crave a disproportionately large serving of hoppers. They are one of the greatest food exports from the resplendent isle. 

    Plain hopper, up close and personal

    Plain hopper, up close and personal

    Hoppers are hemispherical rice flour and coconut milk pancakes, crispy along the sides while soft and fluffy in the middle. The base mixture is usually fermented overnight to impart a richer flavour. Eaten with both savoury and sweet accompaniments, they are what food dreams are made of.  

    Anyhow, six years in Shanghai meant six years without a Sri Lankan restaurant  (that we were able to find, anyway). The only friends who knew how to make hoppers left Shanghai before we could share the joy, so hoppers became a twice or thrice-a-year event on trips back to Melbourne. A travesty. We could have sourced the correct hopper pans and made them ourselves, I guess, but that would have required effort. 

    Having recently moved permanently to Hong Kong,  my wife and I were elated to learn of a newly-opened Sri Lankan restaurant in the city. Well, not quite the city, more like 50 minutes from Central on public transport, but a 50 minutes happily travelled for hoppers. 

    AJs Restaurant - Exterior View

    AJs Sri Lankan Restaurant - exterior

    The restaurant, AJ’s Sri Lankan Cuisine, is located close to the pier in Sai Kung. There are several ways to get there, and these are explained well on Sai Kung’s wikipedia page. We took the MTR from Central to Choi Hung via Yau Ma Tei. From Choi Hung MTR station exit C2, there were normal buses 92 and 96R, and a constant stream of the crazy-but-efficient minibuses (route 1A), to Sai Kung pier. The scenic bus ride was about twenty minutes in duration. Arriving at Sai Kung peer, getting to AJ’s was a cruisey five-minute walk south along the waterfront. If confused, look out for the Sri Lankan flag flying from the roof of the restaurant. 

    The friendly proprietor and chef, “RJ” Muthu Mudalige, wasn’t sure whether I contained traces of Sri Lankan nuttiness or not, but suspected something was up when I engaged him in a discussion about hoppers, among other things. His restaurant has been open since late 2009. While manning the kitchen of local tourist-friendly restaurant Anthony’s Ranch, RJ decided to set up his own operation, and AJ’s was born. 

    AJs Restaurant - Interior View

    AJs Sri Lankan Restaurant - interior

    A pleasantly small and unpretentious space, AJ’s seats around 30 people at full capacity. If the various ornaments and wood-lined interior weren’t invoking a bit of Sri Lankan nostalgia, the wall flag and LCD-screen slideshow of beautiful photos certainly were. 

    The attractively-priced 68 RMB brunch menu is a recent innovation at AJ’s, offering a choice of main course, starters consisting of RJ’s special spicy carrot muffin and fruit salad, and a choice of drink including good quality Ceylon tea. We chose the hoppers for the main course, of course, and with our eyes typically bigger than our stomachs, decided to order a cashew nut curry (unique to Sri Lankan cuisine as far as I know, and a must-have for my wife and probably yours, too), a seeni sambol (a caramelised, spicy onion dish), and fish cutlets. The hoppers came with a small serving of katta sambol (basically, a spicy dip), but I highly recommend ordering at least one curry to get the full Sri Lankan experience. 

    Two egg hoppers flanking a plain one

    Two egg hoppers and a plain one

    As mentioned above, plain hoppers can be eaten with both savoury (curries, sambols) or sweet (jams, condensed milk, coconut concotions, palm sugar, etc, etc, etc… oh man) accompaniments. My favourite, though, is the egg hopper, which is simply an egg cracked into the middle of a cooking hopper. The eggs are usually done ‘over-easy’ so that you can dip the crispy sides of the hopper into the egg, if that’s your thing, as it is mine. I can usually eat four of these without blinking an eye or taking a breath. I have had no food coma that matches the severity of a hopper coma, but it is always worth it. With some restraint – some would call it poor form – I only had two egg hoppers at AJ’s. They were great: not too rich and not too light. The coconut milk and salt in the mixture were well apportioned, and the yeastiness was at a comfortable level. The egg yolk wasn’t runny, which was the only slight disappointment, though in fairness to the restaurant, we did not specifically request it. I forgot to ask RJ about the hard yolks, though I presume this is to make the egg hoppers more acceptable to a wide base of (typically runny-yolk averse?) patrons. Boohoo to that! Next time, we will make a request-for-runny in advance. Again, the egg hoppers were still great to eat, with the right amount of salt and good texture. RJ mentioned that the hoppers are usually available for brunch only, so if you intend to head out to Sai Kung for dinner, it would be wise to call a day ahead and talk to RJ about your hopper requirements to avoid disappointment. 

    Sri Lankan Cashew Curry

    Sri Lankan cashew curry

    The cashew curry was excellent, if not a bit too well-endowned with cashew nuts and peas (which could well be your thing, and who would I be to judge?). Neither too oily nor too spicy, it was a great dipping choice for the plain hoppers. The seeni sambol, though, was too raw and mild for our liking. 

    Seeni sambol

    Seeni sambol

    Usually, seeni sambol contains a generous portion of onions very well fried together with maldive fish to create a sharp and spicy side dish that has the eater craving for plenty more (despite the potentially unpleasant side-effects a few hours later), but this version was just too much like regulation stir-fried onions. We quizzed RJ about this, who understood our consternation, and explained that the recipe was to appeal to a broader (presumably Chinese and European) palate, and was important to ensure his customers weren’t making like afterburners the following morning (my words, not his!). He mentioned again that next time we visit, we could place an advance order for the spicier, more ‘authentic’ version of seeni sambol. We’re already looking forward to that! 

    Fish cutlets

    Fish cutlets

    Fish cutlets are another personal favourite. They are small golf-ball sized portions of joy, rolled, lightly breaded and deep fried. Absolutely no one can beat my mother’s version, but RJ’s were well executed using mackerel and an even mix of pepper, spices, and finely sliced vegetables. We’d certainly order them again next time. 

    As my wife and I are vegequarians/pescatarians/vegetarian wannabes, we couldn’t try the lampreis, another Sri Lankan must-have. Lampreis is a selection of condiments and meats (seafood and vegetarian options can sometimes be found, but not yet at AJ’s) served on a bed of either plain or flavoured short grain or basmati rice, then wrapped in banana leaf and steamed. This process infuses the contents with the aroma of banana leaf, and the outcome tends to be absolutely unforgettable. Many food dreams are made of this, too, and lampreis usually vies with hoppers for a Sri Lankan’s meal of choice. The table in front of us tried the chicken lampreis and were full of praise. 

    Proprietor and Chef: "RJ"

    Proprietor/chef/nice guy: "RJ"

    For Sri Lankans reading this, Elephant House drinks are available at AJ’s! For everyone else, I recommend trying either the Ginger Beer or Creaming Soda. Whenever I visit Sri Lanka, I go through at least one Elephant House-branded drink a day, which is both necessary and good for the soul. 

    There were plenty of other food favourites that we weren’t able to try, including the fish curry, eggplant moju, lentils, kotthu roti and string hoppers. We’ll be saving those for future trips back to AJ’s. I love a restaurant with an approachable and humble, yet on-task owner, and RJ certainly fits that bill. His passion is understated due to his mild character, but it is well evident in the quality of his food. 

    Check out AJ’s website and full menu.

    For those with excitable and adventurous taste-buds, a lust for spice, or an intrigue for the hopper phenomenon, I recommend this restaurant highly.

    Social media, its ‘gurus’, and personal branding

    Note/edit: Some people have actually been offended by this post. A few people even unfollowed me on Twitter after reading this. If you’re going to be offended, please read on, and please do unfollow me if you’re offended. I would prefer, though, that before you unfollow me, you engage me and challenge my opinion, because that’s what this whole Internet thing should be about.

    My friend Fernando Gros recently wrote an excellent post on his website about the distraction/noise of social media, the time cost to be considered, and the folly of so-called social media gurus.

    Here’s my response/rant:

    On social media and distraction

    The whole thing started to go wonky when some clever sod coined the phrase “social media”. It’s a headline and PPT-friendly label, and not much else. The Internet is inherently social. Internet Relay Chat, bulletin boards, and newsgroups, to name three examples of services that were widely available in the mid-1990s, all provided similar levels of social interaction to today’s social media services. They were not better, by any means, but they were comparable, and usable with minimal (if any) training. They demolished the barriers to cross-border mass communication and collaboration among the masses.

    Why wasn’t it regarded as social media back then? The marketing fraternity wasn’t yet on board. It was mostly techies, derided for their geekiness but quietly admired for their command of these mysterious new communication tools.

    I enjoy what ‘social media’ (or the evolution of the Internet to where it is today) has done, giving the average, non-techie person avenues for expression that they previously did not, or could not, understand or use. That’s all fabulous. The positive aspects of democratised access to information and greater freedom of expression is beyond debate.

    However, with any great freedoms come the eventual negative side effects. We have to wade through large chunks of information chaff. We are bombarded with spammy or dubious requests for our attention. Unhealthy groupthink develops across multiple topics and geographic boundaries thanks to largely anonymous thought (read: conversation) leaders. Dodgy ‘facts’ and straight out lies spread exponentially.

    This is the price we pay for unregulated communications. Would I wish to change that? No. One grins and one bears it, for the positive aspects make it worthwhile. And the fakers eventually get weeded out. Regulation would just bring more trouble, distorting the field in favour of the biggest and loudest.

    On personal branding

    The most enjoyable people online are those who use the Internet not to recreate themselves, but to simply express themselves. For millions of introverts in particular, these are the soapboxes they never had, or were ever capable of utilising.

    Brands are useful façades for attraction and recall, but it’s not until you actually use the product or service that you can assess that brand’s real worth. It gives companies a chance to succeed and thrive in a competitive marketplace. Similarly, online tools do allow individuals to seek an audience and provide compelling reasons to engage – something funny, informative, controversial, bizarre. I enjoy that the Internet has raised the average person’s potential to engage and be engaged. It’s a human development that works to level the playing field. Internet services aside, most of us personally brand ourselves in everyday life anyway. What we eat, who we associate with, where we go, what we wear, the music we listen to…

    On social media gurus

    Like many dodgy businesses, self-professed social media gurus trade and thrive on the ignorance of others. That is what bugs me most.

    It’s the Internet: there are no rules. It is a self-defining, self-correcting, constantly-evolving system where even the base infrastructure driving the whole thing is liable to change. Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and other services have only been popular for a handful of years. The Wikipedia entry for social media cites references that go back a mere five years. Something new will be released today, tomorrow, or next week that could eclipse or leverage into insignificance any of the services listed.

    The iPhone has already saturated the world with innumerable ‘social apps’ that compete for our attention. Augmented Reality applications are starting to emerge, and though they are mostlyconfined to small mobile devices, the iPad and similar products will move this in an exciting new direction of innovation. Who knows where that will go? The semantic web is also only just starting to nudge its way into mainstream awareness, and could flip the whole system on its head depending on how it evolves and who invests in its evolution.

    And, sadly, at each of these evolutionary steps there’ll be individuals and companies flogging their ‘expertise’ in the latest and greatest trend, and suckers will fall for it.

    Installing Windows 7 off a USB drive on an HP Mini 2140

    So the time came to move my netbook’s operating system to Windows 7, easily Microsoft’s finest release on every count including speed, reliability, usability and security.

    Being technically inclined, and having installed various versions of Windows (back to tardy Windows 3.1) on machines of all shapes and sizes, I wasn’t expecting much drama. However, it took several missteps and two days of trial and error to conquer this one. If you own an HP Mini 2140 and want to install Windows 7 via a USB key, save yourself time and anguish, and refer to my guide below.

    Note: You may wish to consult your local IT superstar if things get too techie for you. Alternatively, leave a comment to this post if you’re really stuck. I’ve tried to keep things as low-tech as possible given writing time constraints.

    The Objective

    Install Windows 7 on an HP Mini 2140 netbook using a USB key/pen drive/hard drive/other.

    Several websites insist it is easy to install Windows 7 using a USB key, which is necessary since most netbooks do not have an inbuilt CD/DVD drive (the media of choice for consumer Windows installations). I consulted several of these sites, but they didn’t have specific instructions for the HP Mini 2140, which flatly refused to comply with any notions of simplicity. So…

    The Problem

    The HP Mini 2140 ignores the attempt to boot using the USB key, and makes it impossible to change the boot order after the first attempt.

    The Solution (Short)

    • Ensure the boot order of the “USB Hard Drive” is set to “Second”, NOT “First”.
    • The size of the USB key should be set to 3072 MB. More information below.

    The Solution (Long)

    There are different steps to be taken depending on which operating system you have installed. This solution works when preparing/installing from a Windows 7 beta or ‘release candidate’ version. It should also work from Windows Vista, though I have not tested it.

    Special care needs to be taken when preparing to upgrade from Windows XP or older operating systems, so check out this guide before continuing (skip the USB key preparation section below and replace it with the instructions from the site mentioned).

    i. Prepare the USB key

    Check out and follow all steps in this great tutorial at Into Windows. If you want to be ultra-cautious (and follow exactly what I did to achieve a successful installation), change the following:

    CREATE PARTITION PRIMARY –> CREATE PARTITION PRIMARY SIZE=3072

    I got the above partition size tip from from the AbstractCode website – thanks! It is possible that you will have installation success without making the above change to the partition size. However, since I did not have time to test it myself, I won’t assume that it works. If any of you try it, let me know it goes.

    By this stage, you should have a ‘bootable’ USB key with all the Windows 7 installation files copied over. If not, please re-read all the instructions carefully at IntoWindows and repeat the steps in order.

    ii. Double-check the contents of your USB key to make sure all the Windows 7 installation files have been copied over.

    Check the total file size and number of files (highlight all folders/files, right-click, and select “Properties”) on your USB key. Check these figures against the total file size and number of files from where you copied the original Windows 7 installation files. If they match, proceed…

    iii. Change the boot order of the HP Mini 2140.

    1. Restart the PC.
    2. Press the F10 key before Windows loads again. This will load your BIOS management/”Computer Setup” program. If you don’t know what the BIOS is, don’t worry. If you  really want to know, consult Google. Suffice to say, do not change anything except what is indicated below.
    3. Use your arrow keys to move to the “System Configuration” menu, and arrow down to select “Boot Options”
    4. Arrow down to the entry called “USB Hard Disk”. By default, this is set to “Fifth”. Use the left/right arrow keys to change this to “Second”. DO NOT change it to “First”. If you do so, for some reason the PC refuses to boot from the USB key, and then prevents any further change to the “USB Hard Drive” setting on future attempts (the USB Hard Drive option will thereafter say “USB Legacy Support” rather than “First”, and you will not be able to modify it. This can be undone by selecting “Restore Defaults” from the File menu, saving the settings, and restarting). After you’ve changed the order to “Second”, press F10 to accept the changes.
    5. Arrow back across to the File menu, then select “Save Changes And Exit”

    That’s it. The PC will automatically restart. The sanity-saving tip was found via the NotebookReview forums.

    iv. If the above instructions have been followed correctly, the Windows 7 installer will start automatically upon restart.

    Let the installer do its thing. You will be prompted for various details as per the usual Windows 7 installation procedure.

    v. Ensure to remove the USB key before the installer restarts the PC the first time, or else the installation procedure will go back to the start.

    If you forget, and wonder why the installer’s back at the start again, don’t fear/hyperventilate. Just remove the USB key and manually restart the PC by sliding the power switch and holding it for about 10 seconds (this will force the PC to switch off). Switch it on again and the installer will resume from the correct position.

    vi. Follow the rest of the on-screen instructions, and enjoy using Windows 7!

    Eclectica 2008

    Here’s the track sequence of my best-of-2008 mix, “Eclectica 2008”. I thought it would be ready for CD cutting tonight, but alas, there’s still some audio editing to go. I’ll get there before 2010. Really. When it’s ready I’ll update this post with more info…

    [Update 1: It’s done. Fertig. Finito. If you’d like a copy, contact me using the form on the front page of this site, or @ me via Twitter

    [Update 2: I’ll post a spiel about the Eclectica concept and the rationale behind this specific track sequence ‘soon’]

    1. Juno Reactor – Inca Steppa
    2. Ashes Divide – Enemies
    3. M83 – Kim and Jessie
    4. Coldplay – Lost!
    5. Puscifer – Momma Sed
    6. Kings of Leon – Closer
    7. Oasis – Falling Down
    8. M83 – Skin of the Night
    9. Death Cab for Cutie – Graveyard Fires
    10. Moby – Live for Tomorrow
    11. Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts i/9
    12. Tricky – Past Mistake
    13. Cut Copy – We Fight for Diamonds/Voices in Quartz/Hearts on Fire
    14. Ashes Divide – The Ritual
    15. Juno Reactor – Pretty Crime
    16. Keane – Playing Along