Big Brother is watching you surf

Most mornings my commute begins with an E11 bus that has to orbit Tung Chung twice in order to achieve escape velocity and set course for the vertical wilds of Hong Kong island; and since the bus isn’t heavily used (nor accurately scheduled) it’s fairly normal for me to end up loitering at the bus stop, marvelling quietly at the genius of JCDecaux, for anything up to 20 minutes. These last few mornings, I’ve been particularly enjoying a bus stop advertisement for Hong Kong’s new Wifi.gov service, bringing you, the citizen, free wireless Internet in selected government locations!

(“Selected”, incidentally, is insidious marketing-speak. Cathay Pacific’s in-flight magazine claims that the full range of in-flight movies is available on all 747 and 777 aircraft and selected A330s. Did somebody actually select them? Why can’t they just use the perfectly adequate and considerably more honest word, “some”?)

Anyway, I have digressed. The Government Wifi’s advertisement claims three security measures to be in place on their public networks. I quote:

  • Encrypted channel
  • Content filtering
  • Peer-to-peer blocking

Did you recognise the handwriting of the Ministry of Truth? Only one-and-one-third of these is a security measure. To wit:

Encrypted channel: I guess they mean WEP or WPA, i.e. encrypted wireless traffic. This is a bona fide security control which will protect the confidentiality and integrity of the users’ wireless traffic. This guy is off the hook.

So what of the other two? Peer-to-peer blocking is almost a security measure. Peer-to-peer traffic can consume a lot of bandwidth, thereby having an impact on the availability of the system. But how on earth is content filtering a security measure? Say I want to surf http://www.midgetsanddonkeys.com. Using my laptop at home, I can do so; using my laptop in HK Central library, I can’t. In what way does that make me more secure? Of course, it doesn’t.

I’m being disingenuous, of course. The government’s intention is clear and in fairness I support their technical constraints. People in public libraries shouldn’t Torrent movies, nor should they surf the kinds of web sites that might frighten the horses (especially if the horses are taking part).

All I’m objecting to is the rebranding of “censorship” as “security”. We have enough of this to deal with in airports, and in the other avenues of our daily life. Inconvenience is not the same thing as security; restrictions are not the same thing as security; surveillance is not the same thing as security; and censorship certainly isn’t.

Metis: Truly a miraculous airline

Take a look at the web site for Metis TransPacific – the new budget airline that claims to fly between Macau and Vancouver.

Now take a close look… because it smells fishier than a Wellcome wet-market on a hot day.

They seem to have a 757-200 with a fuel capacity of 43,490 usg. That’s a tad more than Boeing’s claimed capacity (11,489 usg). In other words, their 757 is a fuel tanker, with no room for passengers or cargo. Or perhaps it’s made up.

They’re not mentioned on either MFM or YVR’s web sites.

The picture of “their” 747 on their web site is a photoshop of this picture from Airliners.net. (Oh, and it’s a 747-300, not a 747-400 as the Metis caption states.)

Their logo (see the 747 picture) is a photoshop of Bali Air’s logo.

And according to SkyTrax, if you try to book tickets they e-mail you asking you to wire money to their HK bank account.

Interestingly, if you attempt to add any of this information to their Wikipedia entry, a user called “metis1” reverts it.

It’s just possible… just possible… that Metis may not exist and may be taking money for bookings that will never lead to any actual flights. And even if they do exist, I am not going to fly with an airline that thinks it can get nearly 44,000 gallons into a 757.

Caveat emptor, in spades.

(Edit: If you actually manage to make a reservation, it takes you to a PayPal payment gateway where the 1,500 MOP has magically become US$1,500 … and the itinerary actually does claim the MFM to YVR flight will take place non-stop on a 757-200…)

HK Magazine Bullshit – An explanation and some examples

Like most expats in Hong Kong, I’ve been reading HK Magazine pretty much since I arrived in the city. It’s free, it’s readily available, and it contains regular, useful information about where to eat and what’s on, as well as pages of classified ads. My previous apartment was found through HK Magazine, and they are responsible for my awareness of several very acceptable eateries. In short, I rather like HK Magazine.

Even so, there is a bee in the balm and a fly in the ointment, not to mention what I just found in the embrocation. They do have a tendency to propound the most astonishing bullshit (in the Penn and Teller sense) about pseudoscientific and unproven “wellness” techniques, as well as other assorted new age rubbish. I’m not taking a swipe at their advertisers. The magazine regularly carries advertisements for nonsense including (but not limited to) psychics, homeopaths, ear-candlers, and practitioners of “dissolving body fat using radio frequency”. They need advertisers in order to survive, and as with all advertisements the emptor should bloody well caveat. No, I’m referring only to their editorial material.

The first time I was genuinely appalled by such a column in HK Magazine was a few years back, when they ran a piece about applied kinesiology. AK is quackery in its purest form, relying on a combination of ideomotor effect and gullibility on the part of the patient. The HK Magazine “journalist” had both, in spades, and she wrote a gushing piece about the practice without even considering for a moment the desirability of a sceptical counterpoint. The editorial policy of HK Magazine has not changed, so now I intend to use my humble blog as a forum for highlighting these outpourings of bullshit as and when the need arises.

Let’s kick things off with a couple of recent examples.

November 3rd 2006: In the column “Lunch 2.0” Angie Wong and Farah Masters provide suggestions to the readers for alternative lunch break activities. One such suggestion is colonic irrigation. “As unappealing as it sounds,” says the article, “colon-cleansing is very beneficial for your health.” No it isn’t. It’s entirely unnecessary and has no benefit at all. In fact, it may lead to constipation. Dr Stephen Barrett, who investigates quackery, reports that the consensus of the mainstream medical community is that “colonic irrigation […] has considerable potential for harm”, including bowel perforations, serious intestinal infections, electrolyte imbalance and heart failure. At least six deaths are known to have been caused by colonic irrigation. There must be better ways of spending your lunch break than that.

November 17th 2006: In the column “Beads of Wisdom”, HK Magazine intern Hayley Thomas discusses crystal bracelets. It’s overtly a style column, and with the rather well done photos accompanying it, the piece could have been a perfectly decent opportunity to plug some fashionable mineral jewellery. Sadly Hayley feels the urge to start wittering about “programming” the crystals so that they store “vibrations”. Sure, crystals are aesthetically pleasing but, Hayley, they’re just pretty fucking rocks, okay? They don’t enhance healing, or wisdom, or luck, and they can’t “store” vibrations. Look up the meaning of “vibration” if you’re not sure about it.

So there you have it – just a couple of examples. I expect we can count on HK Magazine to keep me well supplied with similar ranting material in the future.

It’s a miracle!

I have a message for all the people who see Jesus, Mary the (alleged) virgin, or the name of Allah on their toasted cheese sandwiches, pomegranate pips, or bathroom door woodgrain.

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Pareidolia.

Or to put it another way: in a sufficiently large set of random data (e.g. the universe) you will find whatever you are looking for, pretty much all the time. Think about that before you base any more decisions on it. Thanks.