What I will miss

With only ten days left before leaving Hong Kong, it is time to start wrapping up my experience here. When I created this blog, I was supposed to reflect – dissect – living in Hong Kong, and on some few occasions I actually did so. Now, I’ll make it easy for myself and just list what I will miss. Probably, I will not fully realize these things until much later.

  • The skyscrapers, the buildings, the infrastructure, the airport, the skyline. Sweden has nothing, and I mean nothing that even compares. London seems like a village in comparison. I say it now, I can say it again – Hong Kong has the best skyline in the world.
  • Public transport. Fast, efficient, cheap, clean, the Octopus card, always on time. There are basically no possible complaints against HK’s public transportation system. I thought Sweden had a good system, but… no.
  • Shopping, especially the gadget shopping. Wanna do some shopping in the evening? Sure. 9 PM? Sure. 12 PM? Definately! Sunday, saturday, new year – doesn’t really matter. And although it can be confusing and hard to compare prices, there is a certain feeling to those shopping malls with loads of small stores, each crammed with gadgets, stuff, clothes or whatever. It is such an experience! And mostly, quite cheap.
  • Being able to go in t-shirt from April to November/December. Sure, in the spring it is very humid, but it beats Swedish, or British, weather any time. I still can’t grasp how I will survive back in Sweden, when I am already suffering here with temperatures just dropping to 15 degrees C.
  • Eating out. When a dinner costs from 20 HKD/2 Euro/20 SEK, up to 30/40, there is no point in cooking. I will have a hard time getting back to the kitchen in Sweden (either that, or coping with paying 100, at least, for a dinner). Sure, home-cooked food can taste really good, but honestly – most of the time somebody else better cook it 😉
  • The Vibe. I guess it is the same in most big cities, but seeing such alive city, going to Starbucks, shopping, seeing all cultures, business, old and new, poor and rich is the vibe, and even though Swedish cities might be alive (in the summers), they lack the range of sights, events and cultures.
  • Okay, I have to admit it. The women. My wonderful girlfriend Shirley is not an exception (and she have to excuse me for this… 😉 ), but there are plenty of very stylish/cute/beautiful girls in Hong Kong. In addition, the fashion is more colorful and exciting than typical for north European fashion. “Blond, tall and sexy”, the Swedish motto, just seems boring. Luckily, Shirley will come with me to Europe, so I won’t really have anything to miss in that department.
  • The campus. Waking up everyday with a view like this beats most things. And then I discovered, the Chinese University of Hong Kong has even better views! I have yet to see a Swedish campus that is even remotely beautiful.
  • Traveling. Hong Kong is a perfect hub for traveling, and I have still a lot to see. Like Japan. I have seen Europe before, and even though I surely will enjoy some traveling there I will wait anxiously for the day that I can go back traveling in Asia.
  • International contacts. This is essential, but nothing that is specific to Hong Kong. In an international environment you will meet people from different countries and backgrounds every day. Sure, I am not the guy that starts chatting with everyone just to know their story, but in Sweden there are, more or less, only Swedes. I will try my best to get back in the international arena, ASAP.

Of course, there are a few things I won’t miss:

  • The hazy sky. A few days, Hong Kong has wonderful sky. But most days, it is either cloudy, misty or hazy. Or all of them. It partly depends on the climate, partly on the massive pollution from China. At least I can say that Sweden can get some wonderfully blue skies, and that both in winter and summer.
  • Being away from friends, family and hobbies. Of course, this is not really Hong Kong’s fault, but going back to Sweden, the one most important thing is that I can get back to the people I used to spend time with and do the stuff I like – such as roleplaying or having family dinners. There were no real substitute in Hong Kong, although I met many good friends and had some fun sessions of gaming, it was always temporary.
  • The apartment. Sure, it was like a palace compared to student halls, but going back to Sweden, I can look forward to my own home, my own stuff, my own design. More space to store stuff, more comfortable chairs, better kitchen, etc.
  • The food culture. I have mixed feelings about this. Some Chinese food is really good, but I can probably find that food in Sweden too. However, the food I can’t find in Sweden, such as pig intestines, strange seafood, old eggs, grainy sausages, will not be missed. I have tried it, and I didn’t like it. Let’s leave it at that 😉

PS3 having problems with wireless connection

After coming back from the Asia Game Show, I fired up my PS3, and got a new reason to write something about my only problem with PS3. The Sony Playstation 3 does not just work with all routers or access points. Yes, it is semi-officially confirmed (see below):

It all began when I tried using the wireless feature of PS3 with my nimble Asus WL-530g router. The wireless connection will set up fine, even the internet connection test, but then it will disconnect after approximately 30 seconds. This will keep on happening and every time a notification message will be displayed in the upper corner of the screen – even when playing games. On top of this, the Playstation Network account will sign in and out. Surfing the web still works, if you are prepared to have to reload pages often. This problem has been noted before in forums, such as here.

Evidently, this is an unacceptable situation. I called the Sony Hong Kong support and inquired about the problem. The problem was not immediately recognized, but after my second call, I got some facts on the table. The (simplified and freely quoted) discussion went something like this:

Support: “The PS3 can have compatibility problems with different routers. We have not tested them all to function properly with PS3
Me: “How come normal computers have no problem using my router, or almost any router, for that matter?
Support: “The PS3 is not a computer. It does not work in the same way.
Me: “So, buying a new router is my only option? How can I know which router that actually works with PS3?
Support: “Most Buffalo and Linksys routers will work, but not all. We will try to post an official list of supported routers on our web site or through other channels.

I suspect that the PS3 is not a computer is a different way of saying “computers have stable wireless networking code, we do not”. Of course, technically, PS3 is quite much like a computer and in any case, if computers and handhelds have no problems dealing with any normal router, how come PS3 fails? Apparently, Sony sees the wireless ability more as a cool, extra feature than a really needed one. They still hope people just use their cables. But hey, wireless is the future and PS3 should embrace it.

Let’s see if that list of compatible routers show up. If it does, Sony indirectly admits their error. A list will in any case be a great help for anyone with these problems or any future PS3 buyers. As the support guy also said, future PS3 system updates might remove these router problems – and I believe him, I just hope it will be soon enough. Soon I will be able to test with some more routers to see if the support was right. If anyone reading this has problem with their wireless, or if their wireless works fine, why not post the brand and model number of your router for reference?

Asia Game Show

In spite of having pressing deadlines, I decided on an impulse to join Ryan for the Asia Game Show. The show, taking place at the Hong Kong Convention And Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, was mostly a big display for Sony – it seems like they are gathering some more hype around the PS3 now than previously. There were plenty of gaming booths – approximately 30-40 PS3 booths, if not more, and lots of PSPs too. That was not, however, the main attraction. The main attraction were the many models wandering around with a crowd of photographers. Their job were, of course, to bring attention to different shops and booths at the expo, but people were too busy taking photos to buy much :) Still, I bough Restistance: Fall of man (a great PS3 FPS-game!), the movie Underworld in Blu-ray (so I have something to test on the PS3) and some gadgets. There were plenty of dirt cheap gadgets. The memory cards were especially cheap – 1 GB for 89 HKD / 9 Euro / 80 SEK.

Now, I will let the photos speak for themselves. Take a look at the complete Flickr photo set, or take a peek at some of the photos to the left.

Myths about e-mail spam harvesting

user [at] domain [dot] com . Looks familiar? We are all quite used to those nifty ways of rewriting an email address to something that will look like Greek to the Evil Spam bots. There are many other alternatives, like JavaScript or not using the mailto: tag (as it would make any difference…). However, I would say there are a lot of misconceptions and faulty assumptions concerning this. Maybe even myths. My aim here is to, from a slightly technological perspective, show that most of these methods won’t be very effective against a determined e-mail harvester, and also suggest some methods that would have a greater chance of actually protecting your inbox. Worth stating here is – I’m not a spammer and I’m not familiar with their practices. I’m merely guessing how spammers would do it.

So, what is a spam bot? It’s in most ways similar to what’s usually called a spider or robot – a program from a search engine company that crawls the web for content. I’m not familiar with any special spam bot, but there are some basic assumptions to be made. A bot will read the raw data of a web page – that is, the HTML code, not the site content itself. And as the purpose is to find e-mail addresses, it will just search through the file for appropriate address patterns. It will go from site to site using the links or using an existing index of sites (you can even use Google to find e-mail addresses).

In the pre-spam days, people just wrote their < a href="mailto:yada@yada.net">yada@yada.net< /a> and everything was fine. But then the spambots arrived. Anyone familiar with regular expressions will know that it is notoriously easy to match an e-mail address. And, as the spam bot is reading the HTML, there is no point in changing the link text – the mailto:address is the important part. Basically, if the email address is stated in clear text anywhere in the HTML, the spam bot will most certainly find it.

So what other options do we have? Rewriting the address in a human-readable form that won’t be recognized by spambots. The common one is user[at]domain[dot]com or variants thereof, such as user(at)domain(dot).com or just user at domain.com. The problem here is that these are just mere variations of the computer-readable e-mail address syntax. It’s almost too easy to just change your regular expression to accommodate for these new ways of writing an email-address. The problem is that people are writing it in almost the same way everywhere – and that’s the key to making it computer readable – predictability. You can make an expression that matches user[any-symbol-goes-here]domain[any-symbol-goes-here]com. It can recognize an address string on the top level domain (.com, .net, etc) to make sure it is an email address – there is a limited amount of top-level domains, and people can hardly omit them in risk of not getting the mails to the right destination.

You can always make more elaborate ways of writing your e-mail address of course, and probably, you can fool the spam bots. But writing your e-mail such as “take my user name and put it before my domain name, the one in the address bar in your browser” is hardly convenient, and you can easily confuse people by writing “user [ youknowwhattowritehere, right?] domain . [look in the address bar!]“. So what to do? There is always JavaScript.

The popular method of using JavaScript to obfuscate your e-mail address is mostly based on writing the characters in another format. For example, you can write them in integer ASCII code, in UTF code or hexadecimal. In the HTML-file, it will look like gibberish, but when the string is put through a JavaScript function at load-time it will all render as nice text on the screen. The problem here is the same as before. There are only a few string conversions built into JavaScript and it’s quite trivial for a spam bot to recognize ASCII-codes and convert them to readable format. Still, given some thought, you can make it very hard for the spam bots. For example, by writing the ASCII codes with a pre-added value will make any normal conversion unreadable – but your own JavaScript function will subtract the given number before converting. Of course, you will probably have to write the number somewhere in the code, but it’s certainly a non trivial task to make a spam bot that can understand JavaScript code in that way. Or is it? Actually, it’s not hard to imagine a spam bot with JavaScript capabilities. If the bot can run JavaScript, it doesn’t matter at all how fancy your obfuscating function is – if it’s readable when it’s rendered, the bot will see it. The bot might have full capabilities of rendering a web page like a modern browser making it even harder to find alternatives.

So, what options do we have left? There is a smart and simple solution – images. Write your e-mail as an image (either a pre-made image file or through the graphics library of PHP, for example). Of course, you can’t link it to your e-mail address – but you can link it to a pop up contact form that makes it easy to send a mail to you. However, beware – there is technology to recognize text in images, and you can bet some of the spammers can get this technology. That’s why so many sites nowadays give you a confusing image with hardly readable text on a horrible background when you try and register. You could also write your e-mail like this, but then we have passed the point of user-friendliness, haven’t we? People don’t want to decode something to write you an e-mail.

There is no perfect solution? Nope. If lot’s of people start using a method, you can bet the spammers will find a way to interpret it, if possible. But there are very safe alternatives, making the probability quite low that the spammers will get your address. The basic rule is – either use something really smart, or just use something unique. Few people write their email addresses backwards – if you do, the spammers will probably not catch it. By just writing the address like user[blurb}domain.com will make it hard – notice that the brackets aren’t matching. Another great way is using a form for sending mails on the site – and do you want to make it really secure, add a validation image that isn’t computer readable (such as KittenAuth). When adding the form, make sure the e-mail address is not written somewhere in the HTML form – write the address in the PHP code. Another method is to use Flash – if done well, it will look good, be user friendly and very hard to interpret for spammers. In the end, however, I am sure the spammers will find new tools to dig emails, and we have to find new ways of protecting ourselves.