Posts tagged ‘Hong Kong’

Google Fi Review, and (Finally!) International Roaming Rates May be Set to Drop

For years I have been frustrated with the costs of trying to take my cell phone on international travel.  Yes, one can buy cheap sim cards locally, but you obviously lose access to your domestic phone number for the duration (leaving aside dual-sim phones and some tricky and expensive forwarding tricks).  If you wanted to keep your phone number so people can still reach you on the number they already know, you were in for some crazy roaming charges -- particularly on data.  I use Verizon (mainly because my business takes me to out of the way places where Verizon is the last available carrier) but until recently their international rates were awful, charging one 50 cents per text and $25 per 100mb of data in addition to a $25 a month international plan fee.

I use a lot of data when overseas and outside my hotel room, so I really wanted a cheaper data plan  (Google maps is a lifesaver when one is walking streets with signs all written in Thai).  My go-to solution in the past was to have a T-Mobile account I turned on and off on an unlocked phone (an old Nexus 5).  T-mobile has plans that allow unlimited text and data without roaming charges in most countries, and it is still a good international solution, though I met with a few technical irritants in some of the countries I have visited.

A while back, I accidentally killed my old Nexus 5 and bought a new Nexus 5x with the intention of swapping in my T-mobile sim card from the old phone.  However, I saw an article that said the Nexus 5x was one of the couple of phones that would work with the new Google Fi service, so I signed up to try that.  $20 a month unlimited domestic calls and text and unlimited international texts.  Pretty cheap international calling rates and the phone defaults to calling by wifi if possible to save any charges.  Data at $10 per 1GB anywhere in the world, with any unused data credited at the end of the month (so the $10 is pro rated if you use less, essentially).

I used the phone in Thailand, Singapore, and Hong Kong, and not just in large cities -- we got out in the smaller cities well away from the tourist areas of Thailand.   Service was flawless everywhere with one exception (discussed in a minute).  Wifi calling worked fine and I had a good signal everywhere, even in smaller towns.  Charges were exactly as promised.  It was a very impressive service.  It uses the T-mobile network in most places, so I am a little reluctant to make it my full-time service because when I tested T-mobile several years ago, it just didn't reach far enough to the out-of-the way domestic locations I visit, but I plan to try again.  I would really love to be on this service rather than Verizon and believe it would save me a lot of money.

I only had two problems with it.  The minor problem was that I had some issues with wifi calling disconnects in one hotel, though this could easily have been due to the notoriously low-bandwidth of many hotel wifi systems**.  Switching off wifi and making a regular cell call worked fine.  Google says that the service automatically chooses between wifi and cellular based on bandwidth and conditions, but it may be this algorithm needs more work.

The more irritating problem was that the phone would simply not get a cellular data connection in Hong Kong.  I contacted Google service (this was a great process that involved sending them a message and them calling me back immediately, a better process in my mind when travelling internationally).  After some fiddling around, the service agent checked came back to me to say, "known problem in Hong Kong with internet access.  You will need to buy a local sim card.  We know this is a hassle, so we just credited your bill $20 to offset the cost."  It would have been better to not have this hassle -- I was switching sim cards every night to see if I had any texts at my domestic number -- but I thought they dealt with it as well as possible, and they were a hell of a lot more helpful than T-mobile was when I had an international roaming issue with them.

Under the T-mobile and Google Fi pressure (which really means due to T-mobile, since Google Fi is largely possible because of T-mobile), I am starting to see cracks in the pricing of Verizon.   They seem to have a new plan that allows one to keep their domestic data, text, and voice pricing and allowances while roaming internationally for a $10 a day charge.  This is still more expensive than T-Mobile and Google Fi but literally an order of magnitude, and maybe two, cheaper than what they were offering for international travel a year ago.

**Footnote:  I have way more sympathy for hotels and their wifi systems.  We installed a wifi system in a 100 site campground in Alabama.  That system has become a data black hole -- no matter how much bandwidth I invest in, people use more.  Every night it seems like there are 300 people on 100 campsites all trying to stream a movie in HD.  I am not sure it will ever enough, and we get no end of speed complaints despite having an absurd T1 bandwidth into the system.  I can't see myself ever investing in such a system again.

Postscript:  It is a good habit to point out data that is inconsistent with one's hypotheses.  I am incredibly skeptical of US anti-trust law, particularly since it seems to have morphed into protecting politically-connected competitors (e.g. cases against Microsoft and Google) vs. protecting consumer choice.  I will say though that the killing of the acquisition of T-mobile by AT&T seems to be a godsend for consumers in the cell phone business, as T-mobile has become a hugely disruptive force generally benefiting consumers.

Try To Spot Who Has Been Left Out

Here is Kevin Drum, where he quotes from an Op/Ed about a new Southern California "Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy"

The plan includes expansion of housing near public transit by 60%....and projections of more than 4 million new jobs — with public transit within half a mile of most of them. Amanda Eaken of the Natural Resources Defense Council praised it as "the strongest transportation plan" in the history of "car-loving Southern California."

.... SCAG's new plan is born of the realization that as a region, we have to grow up, not out. That doesn't mean Hong Kong skyscrapers in Whittier and Redlands. It does mean more apartments near light-rail stations and more vibrant mixed-use areas like the ones in downtown Pasadena, Ventura and Brea. It doesn't mean wresting the car keys from suburban commuters. It does mean making jobs and housing accessible via foot, bike, bus and rail.

Here is his comment on this:

In theory, a plan like this should have almost unanimous support. Developers like it because they can put up denser buildings. Environmentalists like it because it's more sustainable. Urbanists like it because it creates more walkable communities. City governments like it because it creates a stronger tax base.

There's really only one constituency that doesn't like it much: every single person who already lives in these communities and hates the idea of dense, high-rise construction near their homes. So there's going to be fireworks. It'll be interesting to see how the NIMBY bloc gets bought off.

Can you spot which group of people whose  preferences have been left out?   He considers the preferences of planners, developers, environmentalists, urbanists, and current community residents.  That's everyone, right?

Yeah, except for the freaking people who are moving in and actually shopping for a home.  Apparently if you are looking for a place to live in California, everyone except for you has a say in what living choices you will find.  Want a suburban home on an acre of land -- you are out of luck (unless you get an existing one that is grandfathered in, but those are really, really expensive because they are what everyone really wants but no one in power in California will allow to be built).  Your chosen lifestyle has not been approved by your betters.

 

Who Defused the Population Bomb?

Fred Pearce has a nice article (in Grist of all places) about how the Population Bomb essentially defused itself.

For a start, the population bomb that I remember being scared by 40 years ago as a schoolkid is being defused fast. Back then, most women round the world had five or six children. Today's women have just half as many as their mothers -- an average of 2.6. Not just in the rich world, but almost everywhere.

This is getting close to the long-term replacement level, which, allowing for girls who don't make it to adulthood, is around 2.3. Women are cutting their family sizes not because governments tell them to, but for their own good and the good of their families -- and if it helps the planet too, then so much the better....

And China. There, the communist government decides how many children couples can have. The one-child policy is brutal and repulsive. But the odd thing is that it may not make much difference any more. Chinese women round the world have gone the same way without compulsion. When Britain finally handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997, it had the lowest fertility in the world -- below one child per woman. Britain wasn't running a covert one-child policy. That was as many children as the women in Hong Kong wanted.

This is almost certainly one of those multiple-cause things, and we have always had the hypothesis that wealth and education reduced population growth.

But the author makes an interesting point, that urbanization, even in poorer countries, may a big driver as well.  After all, in the city, food and living space for children are expensive, and there are fewer ways children can support the family (I hadn't thought of this before, but I wonder if industrial child-labor restrictions, which mainly affected cities, had an impact on birth rates by making urban children less lucrative?)  In fact, urban jobs require educations which are expensive  (even if they are free, non-productive family members must be fed and housed for years).

Why Does The US Appear to Have Higher Infant Mortality?

I am sure you have seen various rankings where the US falls way behind other western nations in terms of infant mortality.  This stat is jumped on by the left as justification for just how cold and heartless America is, and just how enlightened socialized medicine must be.  However, no one seems to bother to check the statistic itself (certainly the media is too incompetent to do so, particularly when it fits their narrative).  Statistics like this that are measured across nations are notoriously unreliable, as individual nations may have different definitions or methods for gathering the data.

And, in fact, this turns out to be the case with infant mortality, a fact I first reported here (related post on medical definitions driving national statistics here).  This week, Mark Perry links to an article further illuminating the issue:

The main
factors affecting early infant survival are birth weight and
prematurity. The way that these factors are reported "” and how such
babies are treated statistically "” tells a different story than what
the numbers reveal.  Low
birth weight infants are not counted against the "live birth"
statistics for many countries reporting low infant mortality rates.

According
to the way statistics are calculated in Canada, Germany, and Austria, a
premature baby weighing less than 500 kg is not considered a living
child.

But
in the U.S., such very low birth weight babies are considered live
births. The mortality rate of such babies "” considered "unsalvageable"
outside of the U.S. and therefore never alive
"” is extraordinarily
high; up to 869 per 1,000 in the first month of life alone. This skews
U.S. infant mortality statistics.Norway
boasts one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world. But when
the main determinant of mortality "” weight at birth "” is factored in,
Norway has no better survival rates than the United States....

In the United States, all infants who show signs of life at birth
(take a breath, move voluntarily, have a heartbeat) are considered
alive.

If a child in Hong Kong or Japan is born alive but dies within the
first 24 hours of birth, he or she is reported as a "miscarriage" and
does not affect the country's reported infant mortality rates....

Efforts to salvage these tiny babies reflect this classification. Since
2000, 42 of the world's 52 surviving babies weighing less than 400g
(0.9 lbs.) were born in the United States.

Hmm, so in the US we actually try to save low-birthweight babies rather than label them unsalvageable.  Wow, we sure have a cold and heartless system here.  [disclosure:  My nephew was a very pre-mature, very low-birthweight baby who could have fit in the palm of your hand at birth and survived by the full application of American medical technology.  He is doing great today]

Adjusting Data to Get the "Right" Answer

On several occasions, I have discussed how much of the reported temperature increases worldwide in the last century are actually the results of adjustments to the actual gauge measurements.  These upward adjustments in the numbers by climate scientists actually dwarf measured increases.

Thanks to reader Scott Brooks, here is another such example except this time with measurement of sea level increases.  Dr. Nils-Axel Morner is the head of the Paleogeophysics and Geodynamics department at Stockholm University in Sweden.  He has studied sea-level changes for 35 years (emphasis added).

Another
way of looking at what is going on is the tide gauge. Tide gauging is
very complicated, because it gives different answers for wherever you
are in the world. But we have to rely on geology when we interpret it.
So, for example, those people in the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change], choose Hong Kong, which has six tide gauges, and they
choose the record of one, which gives 2.3 mm per year rise of sea
level. Every geologist knows that that is a subsiding area. It's the
compaction of sediment; it is the only record which you shouldn't use.
And if that figure [for sea level rise] is correct, then Holland would not be subsiding, it
would be uplifting.

And
that is just ridiculous. Not even ignorance could be responsible for a
thing like that. So tide gauges, you have to treat very, very
carefully. Now, back to satellite altimetry, which shows the water, not
just the coasts, but in the whole of the ocean. And you measure it by
satellite. From 1992 to 2002, [the graph of the sea level] was a
straight line, variability along a straight line, but absolutely no
trend whatsoever. We could see those spikes: a very rapid rise, but
then in half a year, they fall back again. But absolutely no trend, and
to have a sea-level rise, you need a trend.

Then,
in 2003, the same data set, which in their [IPCC's] publications, in
their website, was a straight line suddenly it changed, and showed a
very strong line of uplift, 2.3 mm per year, the same as from the tide
gauge. And that didn't look so nice. It looked as though they had
recorded something; but they hadn't recorded anything. It was the
original one which they had suddenly twisted up, because they entered a correction factor, which they took from the tide gauge.
So it was not
a measured thing, but a figure introduced from outside.
I accused them
of this at the Academy of Sciences in Moscow I said you have
introduced factors from outside; it's not a measurement. It looks like
it is measured from the satellite, but you don't say what really
happened. And they ans-wered, that we had to do it, because otherwise
we would not have gotten any trend!

That
is terrible! As a matter of fact, it is a falsification of the data
set. Why? Because they know the answer. And there you come to the
point: They know the answer; the rest of us, we are searching for the
answer. Because we are field geologists; they are computer scientists.
So all this talk that sea level is rising, this stems from the computer
modeling, not from observations. The observations don't find it!

I have
been the expert reviewer for the IPCC, both in 2000 and last year. The
first time I read it, I was exceptionally surprised. First of all, it
had 22 authors, but none of them  none were sea-level specialists. They
were given this mission, because they promised to answer the right
thing. Again, it was a computer issue. This is the typical thing: The meteorological community works with computers, simple computers.

Geologists
don't do that! We go out in the field and observe, and then we can try
to make a model with computerization; but it's not the first thing.

I am working on my next version of a layman's guide to skeptics arguments against catastrophic man-made global warming, which you can find here.

Adjusting Data to Get the "Right" Answer

On several occasions, I have discussed how much of the reported temperature increases worldwide in the last century are actually the results of adjustments to the actual gauge measurements.  These upward adjustments in the numbers by climate scientists actually dwarf measured increases.

Thanks to reader Scott Brooks, here is another such example except this time with measurement of sea level increases.  Dr. Nils-Axel Morner is the head of the Paleogeophysics and Geodynamics department at Stockholm University in Sweden.  He has studied sea-level changes for 35 years (emphasis added).

Another
way of looking at what is going on is the tide gauge. Tide gauging is
very complicated, because it gives different answers for wherever you
are in the world. But we have to rely on geology when we interpret it.
So, for example, those people in the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change], choose Hong Kong, which has six tide gauges, and they
choose the record of one, which gives 2.3 mm per year rise of sea
level. Every geologist knows that that is a subsiding area. It's the
compaction of sediment; it is the only record which you shouldn't use.
And if that figure [for sea level rise] is correct, then Holland would not be subsiding, it
would be uplifting.

And
that is just ridiculous. Not even ignorance could be responsible for a
thing like that. So tide gauges, you have to treat very, very
carefully. Now, back to satellite altimetry, which shows the water, not
just the coasts, but in the whole of the ocean. And you measure it by
satellite. From 1992 to 2002, [the graph of the sea level] was a
straight line, variability along a straight line, but absolutely no
trend whatsoever. We could see those spikes: a very rapid rise, but
then in half a year, they fall back again. But absolutely no trend, and
to have a sea-level rise, you need a trend.

Then,
in 2003, the same data set, which in their [IPCC's] publications, in
their website, was a straight line suddenly it changed, and showed a
very strong line of uplift, 2.3 mm per year, the same as from the tide
gauge. And that didn't look so nice. It looked as though they had
recorded something; but they hadn't recorded anything. It was the
original one which they had suddenly twisted up, because they entered a correction factor, which they took from the tide gauge.
So it was not
a measured thing, but a figure introduced from outside.
I accused them
of this at the Academy of Sciences in Moscow I said you have
introduced factors from outside; it's not a measurement. It looks like
it is measured from the satellite, but you don't say what really
happened. And they ans-wered, that we had to do it, because otherwise
we would not have gotten any trend!

That
is terrible! As a matter of fact, it is a falsification of the data
set. Why? Because they know the answer. And there you come to the
point: They know the answer; the rest of us, we are searching for the
answer. Because we are field geologists; they are computer scientists.
So all this talk that sea level is rising, this stems from the computer
modeling, not from observations. The observations don't find it!

I have
been the expert reviewer for the IPCC, both in 2000 and last year. The
first time I read it, I was exceptionally surprised. First of all, it
had 22 authors, but none of them  none were sea-level specialists. They
were given this mission, because they promised to answer the right
thing. Again, it was a computer issue. This is the typical thing: The meteorological community works with computers, simple computers.

Geologists
don't do that! We go out in the field and observe, and then we can try
to make a model with computerization; but it's not the first thing.

I am working on my next version of a layman's guide to skeptics arguments against catastrophic man-made global warming, which you can find here.

I vote for Noble House

Nick Gillespie at Reason asks folks for their favorite business novels.  I vote for Noble House by James Clavell.   Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged has a great deal of influence on me, but that book is ultimately about government making business impossible, not about the conduct of business per se.  Noble House is a sympathetic and hugely entertaining depiction of business people being business people in as close to a libertarian environment as we might find (1960s Hong Kong) in the modern world.  Sure its not real business -- too much deal making, not enough productive investment, but it is a novel for god sakes, and not a seminar on the capital asset pricing model.

PS - Is there anyone out there who has read both novels and would rather hang out in a bar with Hank Reardon than Ian Dunross?  I didn't think so.

PPS- Personally, I think this business novel is good too.

Favorite Fiction Book about Business

First, I will say there are no books out there about what business is really like, probably because reality can be pretty grim -- I don't think that people would be hanging on the edge of their seat reading about a manager arguing with the Department of Labor about a fine for his minimum wage poster not being in the right location.  Maybe if Dave Berry wrote it.

Anyway, most fiction that involves a business is either about some rapacious capitalist who is stealing or killing or destroying the environment or whatever or it is a sort of Machiavellian opera ala Dallas or Dynasty. Few actually portray a business leader as a hero.

For business people that are heroic and multi-dimensional, and exempting Atlas Shrugged as in a class by itself, I recommend James Clavell's Noble House.  This zillion page book covers but 8 days of time in early 1960's Hong Kong, but is epic none-the-less.  I just finished reading it a second time and I enjoyed it even more than the first time.