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October 10, 2019 -

Reading Time: < 1 minute

Quartz reports the NBA-China spat draws global attention to Hong Kong protests:

Politicians from across the spectrum—from Ted Cruz to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—have warned the NBA not to compromise America’s respect for free speech and bend to China’s will. The Washington Post (paywall), the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal (paywall) have advised the league in strongly worded editorials not to be complicit in Chinese censorship. The Daily Show‘s Trevor Noah devoted a segment to the NBA firestorm, with a pretty comprehensive list of China’s offense-taking in the last two years.

And basketball fans have added oil to the issue, as Hong Kongers might say, by taking protest messages directly to NBA games. Fans attending pre-season NBA games in the US have worn t-shirts or held up placards bearing messages of solidarity with Hong Kong, including during an exhibition game between the Washington Wizards and the Guangzhou Loong Lions.

China has a long history of bullying American companies, but this is different. China wants a major US company to punish an American-born citizen, who lives in America, for speech made while on US soil. And unlike other companies that have been forced to change their websites or pull products, the NBA is a company with millions of fans who follow its every move.

There are also few things Americans hold dearer than freedom of speech — it is one of the few issues left with bipartisan consensus, where Americans of different backgrounds and religions and socioeconomic status have common ground. Now millions of people — including millions of sports fans who previously knew nothing about the Hong Kong protests — have been galvanized in opposition to China and in support of freedoms in Hong Kong.

Make no mistake, this was a massive strategic blunder by China.

October 4, 2019 -

Reading Time: < 1 minute

Hong Kong ‘not in a state of emergency’, says city leader Carrie Lam as she introduces anti-mask law (SCMP):

Hong Kong’s embattled government has announced plans to ban people from wearing masks at public assemblies, as it struggles to control the increasingly violent civil unrest gripping the city. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s administration, under mounting pressure from its political allies to put a stop to nearly four months of anti-government protests, imposed the ban on Friday through legislation by invoking a tough, colonial-era emergency law that has not been used in more than half a century. Sources have said the new law could entail a jail term of up to one year or a fine of HK$25,000, and would apply to lawful assemblies as well.

Blocking traffic, throwing Molotov cocktails, setting fires, vandalizing MTR stations, and hurling bricks at police station windows are also illegal, so why would protesters suddenly obey this law?

Furthermore, police are usually badly outnumbered and struggle to arrest even the most violent of protesters. Why do they think they’ll be able to arrest potentially thousands more people illegally wearing masks?

Protesters in Central on 4 October

Protesters take to the street in Central, Hong Kong, minutes after Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced the mask ban on 4 October.

September 23, 2019 -

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The Apple Watch has grown and evolved so much over the years that the latest iteration, the Series 5, is basically an entirely different product from the original (now termed “Series 0”).

The Siri watch face was introduced in 2017 to fulfill the watch’s initial promise: provide the information the user wants in the context and moment the user wants it. It sounds like the ideal reason to own a smartwatch, but it didn’t really work. The watch face, which presents bits of data on cards (pictured below), mostly contained the weather forecast and reminders to stand up and breathe.

Last year Apple opened up Siri to developers, greatly increasing the amount of data that could potentially be shown. Relevance is the most important for a service like this, so users were given the option of selecting which apps should have access to Siri. Here’s the key: it was easy to figure out how to do that. Open the Watch app on the iPhone, tap Siri watch face, and voila: a selection of data sources that can be turned on or off. Great!

Ah, maybe not so great.

Watch Screenshots

I love the idea of the Siri watch face and think it could be the primary and most useful face for most people. I’d love to see the weather when I wake up in the morning, the time of my first meeting, maybe a news headline or two, and when the Canucks game starts (they are played in the morning here in Asia). Throughout the day different apps could push information to me that I want or need, when I want or need them.

It all sounds fantastic, but it’s never really worked that way. I tried the Siri watch face for a while when it was released with watchOS 4 before reverting to another face. When Apple opened things up in watchOS 5, I thought I’d give it another shot to see if it got any better. I was eager to pick the data sources, which were conveniently right where I expected them to be: on the Siri watch face screen in the Watch app on the iPhone. I mean, makes perfect sense, no?

No.

Today, with watchOS 6 installed, I again thought of giving it another shot. I went to customize my settings but there was nothing there. No data source selection. I tapped around both the phone and watch trying to find this mysterious setting before eventually succumbing to Google.

So, dear reader, I will save you the time and reveal the odd place this setting is located. These instructions assume you’ve already added the Siri watch face to your “My Faces” section. Here’s how to find the data sources:

  1. Open the Watch app on your iPhone.
  2. Scroll down until you see “Clock”, then tap it.

Clock
3. Scroll down to the very bottom of the page, where you’ll find “Siri Face Data Sources”. Tap that.

Clock Settings
4. Start tapping away.

Data Sources

I have no idea why settings for a Siri watch face wouldn’t belong in, you know, the Siri watch face settings. But who am I to second-guess a trillion dollar company?

Now that I’ve found it, I’m excited to see if the watch face is any more useful. Fingers crossed.

September 18, 2019 -

Reading Time: 13 minutes

Truth be told, this wasn’t supposed to happen. Hong Kong has been beset by protests and and unrest all summer, adding more uncertainty to a city already filled with anxiety. It was time to get out of the mayhem and take a break. I spent some time looking for seat availability using points and was shocked to uncover a business class ticket to New York City for just 85,000 Asia Miles. I’m in.

I didn’t know it at the time, but those 85,000 miles were going to get me a lot more than I anticipated. When I got to the gate, the Cathay Pacific gate agent scanned my boarding pass and the machine beeped. She looked up and shuffled through some boarding passes on the counter, then grabbed one and handed it to me: “You’ve been upgraded,” she said with a smile.

I travel a lot, and I’ve been upgraded a handful of times to premium economy or business class — but never to first. I have long wanted to give it a try, but it never made much sense: overseas business class on most airlines is plenty comfortable, and the food is about as good as you’ll get anyway. So why pay so much more, in cash or rewards points?

But who am I kidding — of course I was pumped when she passed me that new boarding pass, because this isn’t just any old first class seat. It’s the Hong Kong to New York flight — the flagship route on Cathay Pacific. It’s the pinnacle of what Cathay Pacific offers its guests, and something I may never experience again.

The first class experience

Cathay flies a 777-ER between New York and Hong Kong, with a 1-1-1 configuration in first class. There are just six seats — ahem, “suites” in Cathay’s parlance — right at the front of the aircraft. Back in business class (I love saying that) Cathay uses a 1-2-1 configuration. Each first class suite is about double the size of a business class seat.

There is no stepping over passengers and squeezing into this seat. Everything is extended and spread out, with plenty of table space, a private closet, storage, and a physical seat that is wide enough to leave items beside you and never bump into them. The flight attendants offered welcome drinks after I sat down, and being 9am I opted for orange juice.

A unique aspect of first class is the complete lack of overhead bins. The suites are large enough for each one to have its own storage closet, and anything that doesn’t fit in there can slide in under the ottoman. Having no overhead bins really opens up the cabin and makes everything feel more spacious and less crowded.

Each seat has a 17 inch touch-screen monitor for Cathay Pacific’s in-flight entertainment (IFE) system. I almost never use the in-flight entertainment anymore, instead filling up my iPad with magazines and podcasts before boarding. I wasn’t going to break routine on this flight, so my first act after sitting down was to switch off my monitor. (I obviously can’t review Cathay’s entertainment offering as a result, but I hear it’s pretty good!)

Underneath the monitor was a very spacious storage compartment where I put my Cathay-issued noise-cancelling Bose headphones, amenity kit for males, and other items like my boarding pass and passport.

It seems obvious, but one thing I really enjoy about flying in premium cabins is the table space, and this suite is no exception. There is plenty of room for a bottle of water, coffee, iPad, Kindle, a travel wallet, and any other reading material that I would want to keep close by during the flight. There’s even a hidden little compartment for valuables.

Caviar and champagne

After I put away my luggage and got comfortable, the fight attendant came over carrying two navy blue garment bags and asked me if I would like the pajamas in medium or large. This being Asia, and me being from North America, “large” was the much safer bet.

Then another flight attendant passed me the menu: we would get lunch and dinner on the flight, with a few options for the on-demand snack service. Full on-demand dining has been attempted by several airlines, often with mixed results. It’s a nice perk, but it’s not a deal breaker. Plus, on-demand dining is a lot more work for flight attendants.

I looked at the menu but, as usual, had no plans to eat right after takeoff. I’m a bit peculiar on flights because I would rather eat before boarding to leave more room to spread out and relax, read, or do some work. Sometimes busy flight attendants can leave empty trays on the table for extended periods of time, which has always been a minor nuisance to me.

I had grabbed a croissant and coffee in the lounge earlier, so I told the flight attendant I’d be happy with one of their signature Cathay Pacific drinks once we reached cruising altitude. Cathay actually has a track record of some pretty delicious signature cocktails and non-alcoholic drinks, and rare is the day that I don’t enjoy one. The flight attendant told me the signature cocktail for the flight would be the Pacific Sunrise, a combination of champagne and Drambuie with a hint of orange and lemon. The non-alcoholic option was the Cathay Delight: a kiwi fruit-based drink with coconut milk and a touch of fresh mint. That’s the one I picked (remember it’s 9:30am, people).

When the Cathay Delight arrived it was even better than I expected, with a consistency more like a smoothie than a juice. As I enjoyed the beverage I thought of an article penned by Lucky, the eccentric personality behind the popular travel hacking site One Mile at a Time, about the more mundane parts of his job reviewing airlines — and one of them was ordering food for the sole purpose of writing about it, even when he wasn’t hungry. So, dear reader, in the spirit of a full and complete examination of Cathay’s first class offering, I decided to suck it up, take one for the team, and make the ultimate sacrifice: I ordered the king prawns. You’re welcome.

I’ll discuss the prawns in a moment because there were plenty of other dishes lined up first, and one of them stole the show: caviar and champagne. I am not a regular caviar consumer (is anyone?), but I developed a strong appreciation for it during a stay in St. Petersburg, Russia, a couple of years ago. Caviar can also be hit-or-miss, but this was a massive hit — a home run. Cathay serves Calvisius caviar, which comes from Italy, served with the traditional garnishes of blinis, chives, creme fraische, and chopped eggs. The flight attendant also poured a flute of Krug 2004, a rare treat. This dish alone made me grateful that I decided to order lunch.

Next up was a tomato, orange and basil soup, which was good if not particularly noteworthy. It was followed by a vitello tonnato with truffle mascarpone cheese, a dish I suspect you might not be familiar with. Here’s what our good friends over at Wikipedia have to say:

…a Piedmontese (Italian) dish of cold, sliced veal covered with a creamy, mayonnaise-like sauce that has been flavored with tuna. It is served chilled or at room temperature, generally in the summertime, as the main course of an Italian meal or as “an exceedingly elegant antipasto for an elaborate dinner.”

This was probably my least my favorite dish during the meal, and definitely the least flavorful. I left enough of it behind to concern the flight attendant, who asked me if there was any problem. I replied that it was fine, but was saving room for the entree. (Hey, it’s partly true.)

Now to the main course: the king prawns arrived having been pan-fried and served with lemon herb garlic butter, asparagus, and millet. Putting lemon herb garlic butter on anything makes it better, so it’s no surprise the prawns were magnificent. The dish was also noteworthy because it wasn’t heavy, which can sometimes happen when “fried” and “butter” come together.

If the caviar was the star of the show, the runner-up was the dessert: a pumpkin coconut sweet soup. Hong Kong is known for almond tea and coconut or sesame desserts, so I expected something like that — but this was different. Unfortunately the flight attendant brought it over just before some fairly severe turbulence, so a lot of it ended up spilling onto the table. The parts that made it into my mouth, though, were absolutely excellent: it was sweet but not too sweet, not too heavy, and it’s coconut and pumpkin. Need I say more?

The most comfortable bed in the sky

I only got around three hours of sleep the night before, so after filling my face I was ready for a nap. I told the flight attendant I would probably nap a bit later — envisioning reading for a bit with the seat comfortably reclined — but she jumped to attention at the word “nap”, darting into the galley and coming back with a mattress pad. I stood to the side as she transformed my seat into a beautiful, cozy-looking bed.

This is one of the more notable differences between business class and first. Business class has lie-flat seats, but they are quite narrow without a lot of room to maneuver. The first class bed was much wider, longer, more comfortable, and the bedding was top tier. In short, this was basically better than any bed I slept in until I was about 35.

Being first class, the pampering couldn’t stop with just the mattress pad. Passengers flying long haul are also given pajamas — and not just any pajamas. I’ve been fortunate to have traveled enough to actually compare pajama offerings by major airlines, and Cathay beats American, Etihad, and United hands down. These are made with 100% pure cotton and come from a stylish, boutique fashion shop in Hong Kong called PYE. But don’t be calling them “pajamas”; Cathay and PYE are proud to offer “sleep suits”. Here’s a description from PYE’s website:

The sleep top, featuring a double sided collar, can be worn either up as a Mandarin collar or down in a classic pajama style. A single button sewn with a bright red thread adds a subtle signature to this special co-branded product. The sleep suit also comes with a pair of matching slippers and an eye mask, packaged in a variation of PYE’s reusable tote bags.

Decked out in my “sleep suit”, exhausted and with a full stomach, I fell asleep almost instantly after my head touched the pillow. There would be no reading. I slept for about five hours, waking up periodically by some turbulence along the way.

Post-nap munchies

When I woke up I was extremely hungry. I saw the flight attendants had left behind a box of pralines and bottle of Evian, but I figured now was a good time to try the snack service. My heart was set on the hamburger purely for novelty’s sake, but I have had it before so wanted to try something new. My options included roast duck with lai fun noodle soup, shrimp and fishball laksa (this was tempting), and Movenpick ice cream. I opted for the afternoon tea set and a latte.

This is a good spot to mention Cathay’s coffee service, which has been on point for a while now. Their lattes and cappuccinos are much better than one would expect, if not quite at the level rivaling the best boutique coffee shops. I remember the days of re-heated black tar on board aircraft, so almost anything is an upgrade on that.

The tea set was basic but hit the spot. The scone and clotted cream with strawberry jam were excellent, while the key lime cheesecake and savory options were just okay. I didn’t want to eat too much because dinner service would begin in a couple of hours. As I nibbled on mini cakes I hauled out the iPad Pro and began writing this review, making use of all of the available table space.

Descent into New York City

There was still about six or seven hours to go, so I went back to sleep. This time I regret to report that I selfishly slept right through the dinner service. Here’s what I missed:

  • Starter: Seasonal fresh fruits
  • Main Courses (choice of):
    • Pan fried black cod, asparagus, shimeiji mushroom, capsicum, carrot mash and parsley cream sauce
    • Stir fried chicken, black beans, broccoli and steamed jasmine rice
    • Tagliolini, porcini and Kalamata olives
  • Dessert: Key lime cheesecake and mixed berry compote

If I was awake at the time, I probably would’ve opted for the cod.

It was a flight attendant who eventually nudged me awake to inform me that we’d be landing in New York soon. The shades were being opened and it looked like a spectacular day with blue skies and sunshine.

Having just woken up, I asked the flight attendant if I could bother her for one more latte. She glanced at her watch and looked a bit nervous, as we were getting closer and closer to landing. To her credit, and my great appreciation, she agreed and brought me back a hot latte shortly thereafter. It hit the spot as I gazed out the window.

Before wrapping this up I should also mention the amenity kit. Cathay Pacific has teamed up with Aesop to give customers a male or female travel kit (I guess Cathay didn’t get the memo). The male kit contained the usual items: toothbrush, toothpaste, mouth wash, comb, moisturizer, disposable razor, shaving cream, that kind of thing. I don’t think it was missing anything and appreciate the kit as a perk in first class, but it also didn’t stand out either. It was one of the few items on the flight that was run-of-the-mill — good, just not great. The problem is good stands out when everything else is great.

Wrapping up

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I didn’t see enough value in first class to justify the cost – in points, miles, or cash – when business class is already so comfortable. That still holds true today, and it’s partially why this flight was so special: it may never happen for me again. It was a glimpse into a different world, with different service standards, different food, different amenities, different snacks, and even nicer hardware like the Bose headphones and 17 inch touchscreen monitor. It’s a luxurious experience geared towards passengers who don’t think twice about dropping US$20,000 for an airline ticket, but still can’t quite afford to fly on their own Gulfstream.

Cathay Pacific doesn’t have the prestige that it once had, even before it got tangled up in Hong Kong’s summer of protest. But the airline remains one of the best in the world, and service on their Hong Kong-New York route was a good reminder of why. Today’s upstarts from the Middle East and Singapore might have more bling, but Cathay still has that quiet, classy confidence that has served it well over the years. I suspect that will keep many of its customers — at least first class ones — loyal for a long time to come.

August 9, 2019 -

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The unrest in Hong Kong over the last two months has been all encompassing, dominating discussions at work and out with friends, while news coverages oscillates between showing the very best of Hong Kong (two million people marching through the city) and the very worst (violence). In some moments it seems like maybe things are looking up; other times one feels nothing but despair. One of my colleagues came into my office the other day and closed the door behind her, then began to cry. Several times close friends here have asked me if I will leave Hong Kong, and it breaks my heart.

I haven’t written much on here about the unrest because so many people are doing that already. I’m also not quite sure what to say — I live in Hong Kong, but it’s more than that: it’s home. I love it here; I love nearly everything about it. So this isn’t just some juicy news story, it’s impacting my life in many different and personal ways. Having said that, I’m among the luckiest ones because it’s relatively easy for me to pack up and head out — something very few of the seven million Hongkongers can do.

So I’m skippin’ town for a while.

Earlier this year I discovered a travel secret (well, a secret to me): Cathay Pacific award availability opens up quite remarkably during the week before departure. I had spent hours trying to figure out a way to get to North America by experimenting with airline awards programs and cities, but no combination worked well enough for me to take it. That changed last weekend, when several business class seats on Cathay opened up to New York City. It didn’t take long for me to snap one up.

I’m already looking forward to the 16 hour flight, because I’ll be able to turn off my electronic devices and read a magazine or book. In fact, if you’ve got some suggestions for some excellent fiction, please let me know in the comments. I’m always looking for something new. I’m not sure if I’m more excited about the flight, or the fact I’ll be in New York City! The truth is I think both are going to be great. I’m already slotting Sadelle’s and Katz’s into the itinerary.

I don’t have the foggiest idea of what to expect when I return to Hong Kong at the end of the month. I hope against all reason that some reasonable, middle ground is found that preserves what makes Hong Kong so special and gives hope to the next generation. Unfortunately that isn’t looking likely.

I’ll be following closely as events unfold.

July 29, 2019 -

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Protests have rocked Hong Kong, where I live, since early June when one million people took to the streets in a peaceful march against a piece of legislation that, if passed, would have permitted the extradition of fugitives in Hong Kong to Mainland China.

I wasn’t born in Hong Kong, but I have lived here for over a decade. I bought my first home here. I have a Hong Kong Permanent Residence card, giving me nearly all the same rights as any other born-and-bred Hongkonger. I work here. I’ve built a professional and social network here. I’ve put down roots here. What I’m trying to say is Hong Kong is home and I care deeply about it, so watching the protests has been an emotional rollercoaster from inspirational to heartbreaking to fury, then back again.

That rollercoaster hit a new low last Sunday night, July 21. Following a protest in Sheung Wan, the neighbourhood I live in, protesters took the MTR metro service back to their home communities. Many protesters live in the rural areas of Hong Kong, including a village known as Yuen Long. The protesters, clad in black – part of the protester uniform here – arrived at the Yuen Long MTR station and were met by around 100 vicious men in white shirts who proceeded to violently pummel the mostly unarmed protesters. The attacks, the most violent so far, reached a depressing new low. I watched one particular video were a young man begged on his knees not to be hurt; he was shaking with fear, unarmed, and could very well have been a teenager. It was painful to watch. I don’t know when he eventually stepped out of the train car because the video ended shortly after a “white shirt” entered the train and punched him hard, in the face, knocking him right off his feet.

I’ve gotten softer as I get older, and I just couldn’t stomach watching more horrific videos. I know and work with people just like those who got off the train that night facing a bloody, terrifying scene, bracing themselves for violence.

I did come to a very late to this realization though: the best content about the Hong Kong protests — both on-the-ground reporting during the clashes as well as political and economic impacts — is undoubtedly on Twitter, yet few people get to see it. Yes, some Tweets and videos get embedded into news stories from time to time, but that doesn’t nearly do the amount of “reporting” justice. The whole protest ecosystem is represented on Twitter, including protesters using both Chinese and English, the Hong Kong Police Force, journalists, professors, politicians, and other prominent members of society. Not having a Twitter account, or not knowing how to use it, shouldn’t be a barrier to information. Twitter can seem like a noisy, crowded space most of the time, but the reality is few people use it in Hong Kong and its global audience is a tiny fraction of the size of Facebook’s or Instagram’s.

I came across an excellent list of 100 people on Twitter to follow for coverage of the Hong Kong protests by the Taiwan Gazette. They did a fantastic job compiling it, so I’ve taken those names and created a list within Twitter so anyone on the social network can easily add it to their account. It also allows anyone, even those who have never used Twitter and don’t have an account, to follow along.

Links & Resources:

Twitter has crashed on me a couple of times, so if you spot a name missing from the list please give me a shout. I’m also wide open for suggestions, so if there’s somebody you think deserves a mention I’d be happy to add them.

July 22, 2019 -

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I use the word “finally” because Cathay Pacific has done an excellent job with signature lounges in several cities worldwide, with Bangkok, London and Vancouver coming to mind as some of the best. Yet one of the company’s biggest markets — probably the biggest market — has notoriously been left underserved.

I had a good friend of mine, who covers the aviation industry in Hong Kong, explain to me a while ago that cities in Mainland China have strict control over the operational and catering contracts for companies operating inside airports, which naturally restricted what Cathay could do. He told me a couple of years ago, informally, that those contracts would expire around 2020 and Cathay had plans to overhaul their lounges then — and it looks like the first shoe has dropped.

Cathay has unveiled a gorgeous lounge inside Pudong Airport in Shanghai, one that takes its design cues from its other premium lounges in Hong Kong and elsewhere. Cathay might even be on a roll — the perception within Hong Kong is the airline has slipped over the years, but the worldwide survey conducted by Skytraxx had Cathay moving up two spots to fourth best airline in the world globally in 2019. Its lounges are commensurate with that standing, and maybe even better.

The new lounge at Pudong has what you would expect: large, spacious seating, hot and cold food options, some baked goods, and plenty of room to get some work done with Wifi and power outlets. Of course, I’m not really doing the place justice — here’s Cathay’s marketing speak for one section of the lounge in particular:

A particular highlight of the lounge is the Terrace, an L-shaped, open-ceiling verandah that allows guests to take in panoramic views of the apron and runway while seated at one of the dining tables or bespoke Solo Chairs, which come with a built-in reading lamp and individual side table.

The design of the Terrace is similarly reflected in the open-ceiling food hall, where passengers wanting a pre-flight refreshment can enjoy the convenience of self-serve international hot and cold dishes, freshly baked treats, cheeses and cold cuts that can be picked up from the Servery counter. A variety of wines and spirits are also available at the self-service bar, giving guests the ability to mix their favourite pre-flight cocktails.

I eagerly await my first experience with the “bespoke Solo Chairs”.

The lounge officially opened on July 18, and is operational from 5:45am to 9pm daily. You can find it near gate D69 in terminal two. I hope to pop in there within the next few weeks and see how it measures up against The Pier, the reigning champ (IMHO).

Additional Reading:

Images from Cathay Pacific

July 12, 2019 -

Reading Time: 2 minutes

We had a brainstorming meeting with some of the millennial Management Trainees at work today, and we went around the table talking about which apps have left an impression with them, either though design, functionality, or anything else.

One trainee mentioned Planto, off-handedly mentioning it integrates local bank accounts, securities accounts, and even Octopus, the cash card used widely here since 1997, into a single dashboard. I had never heard of it, but made sure to download it as soon as I got back to my office.

Planto is supported by the University of Hong Kong’s Entrepreneurship Center iDendron, which helps to nurture and grow the startup ecosystem in Hong Kong. The founders say the goal is to demystify finance and provide simple, actionable financial advice for people who might be intimidated when the issue of investing comes up.  

I’ve signed up and integrated my accounts — despite serious security concerns. I’m known to throw caution to the wind sometimes, and this is one of those times! I want to take the app for a proper spin, because it’s rare for Hong Kong to get new fintech apps like this. Hong Kong is a very small domestic market, so most of the exciting companies in this space are in the UK, US, or Mainland China.

I am not recommending this app, only pointing it out. We need to ask serious questions before providing a third-party company with universal access to all of one’s bank and securities accounts; so do as I say, not as I do. That said, if you end up giving this app a shot let me know what you think.

July 11, 2019 -

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I do all of my writing, whether on iPad or the Mac, in Ulysses. It’s a fantastic, simple but powerful Markdown app that looks great and includes a built-in file system. It also has a very diligent development team that updates the app on a regular basis and ensures it embraces all of the new features of each successive release of iOS.

One of those features is called Split View. Up to now, it’s been impossible to open two windows of the same app side-by-side on the iPad. For instance, if you want to keep Safari open to check Gmail on the left while reading news in another window of Safari on the right, you’re out of luck. (Nobody should be doing this anyway, as the Gmail app is a much better experience!) Users can open two different apps on an iPad screen at the same time — and three if you have the larger, 12.9 inch iPad Pro — but two windows of the same app? Nada.

That’s why Ulysses’ announcement in May that it decided to implement the feature itself was a nice touch, and a shining example of app developers listening to their customers. The functionality works great, and I’ve already used it multiple times.

Everything was going along smoothly until Apple unveiled iOS 13 at the Worldwide Developers Conference in June: the iPhone maker baked the feature right into the operating system. Good news for users, maybe not so good for Ulysses which appears to have wasted a lot of resources building its own, custom version.

What would you do in this case? Keep the hard work of your staff or drop it and embrace Apple’s solution? This is from Ulysses’ official blog:

After a bit of debate, weighing our options and evaluating user expectation, we decided to… switch Ulysses to the native Split View. It‘s a tough call because we believe our implementation is a bit more polished. However, the native Split View will soon be available across all apps, and we want to fit right in. So we decided to rather support the system standard (and benefit from future updates) than to maintain our version till it inevitably breaks.

This does mean, however, that we are going to remove our own implementation, as soon as our iPadOS release ships. This also means that Split View in Ulysses will only be supported on iPadOS or newer — in order to implement the system Split View, we need to cut out our own version completely.

It must have been tough making this decision, knowing the team worked hard on something innovative, useful, and in-demand. It was even a differentiator from other similar writing apps, and something worth bragging about! But Ulysses did the right thing. Ultimately it’s about the customers, and as people got used to Apple’s implementation it would’ve seemed strange to manage Split View in a different way just for Ulysses.

Ulysses made a clear decision to put the needs of its customers and greater app ecosystem above its own interests, and for that it should be commended. It doesn’t happen often enough.

July 9, 2019 -

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I worked in China’s state-run media machine way back in the mid 2000s, so I’ve seen how the authoritarian propaganda sausage is made — and it’s not exactly sophisticated (or appetizing, if we extend the metaphor). Chinese leaders have a monopoly on information in China so it’s relatively easy to get messages out to a domestic audience, but winning over people outside China — many of whom have been taught to be skeptical about media messages generally — has consistently proven to be a mountain too high to climb.

I’m no flag-waving fan of the Chinese government, but I’ve argued before that it’s not all bad. There are some legitimately good stories to tell about the country’s development, and on some hot-button issues China’s side rarely gets told. This is an institutional failure: the party controls the media, so the media must work to make the party happy for staff to keep their jobs and continue getting paid. That makes party officials the primary audience, and nothing makes Communist masters swell with pride like schmaltzy nationalism on TV. Rinse, repeat, and here we are today with Chinese propaganda stuck in the Soviet era.

Up until 2016, the US had traditionally been quite mindful and sensitive when dealing with China; both sides recognized the importance of the relationship and understood that conflict – hot or cold – could be catastrophic. The election of Donald J. Trump as US President blew that approach out of the water, and China’s media apparatus has proven to be ineffectual in operating in this new, social media-driven, acerbic international PR environment.

The South China Morning Post has an excellent piece looking at China’s media troubles and asks this question: is China’s propaganda machine losing the public relations battle with the US? The answer, in my view, is yes.

“…while US President Donald Trump has tweeted about China more than 100 times since the start of the trade ar last July, the Chinese government has been far quieter.

Analysts say this communication asymmetry has allowed the US to dominate the trade war narrative, as Beijing relies on its carefully managed state media coverage for its side of the story, which struggles to engage international audiences.

The hurdles for the bureaucratic Chinese propaganda machine centre on its lack of understanding of the Western public, restrictions for coverage to toe the official line, and existing preconceptions about China.”

I live in Hong Kong and get a steady, daily diet of China news, and yet I’m not sure I could explain China’s argument against US accusations of intellectual property theft, for instance. The US media – and the President himself on Twitter – has done an admirable job of hammering away on China, repeating US complaints incessantly and winning broad support, while Chinese media have been slow to respond. It can take days to work out an official response, which frequently comes across as clumsy and ineffective. (Frequent attempts to come up with catchy phrases or insults is truly cringe-worthy.)

China’s amateur, unsophisticated messaging and dithering over the “correct” way to report the news is quite literally harmful to the country’s national interests.

China’s achievements over the past 30 years – the rapid growth of the economy, establishment of a huge middle class, re-invigorated military, national prestige – shouldn’t be discounted. But in a way, that was the easy part: China was mired in poverty and traumatized by the Cultural Revolution when Deng Xiaoping decided it was time to let the cats catch mice. Unleashing capitalistic instincts and leveraging a massive population to build a globally-competitive manufacturing sector was a logical next step and made a lot of sense — but now what?

China has long resisted western forms of communication, culture, and governance, but the reality is state media must learn how to communicate effectively and win support from stakeholders outside of China. If it doesn’t, it risks threatening the very culture and form of government it aims to protect.

The country is no longer an underdog; it’s operating in countries around the world, strengthening its military and becoming more assertive in protecting what it considers national interests. It has made clear its ambition: not only be a power alongside the United States, but to exceed it. It can’t pull that off without a slick, nimble, sophisticated media machine capable of making a case, winning arguments, and persuading people around the world. China’s amateur, unsophisticated messaging and dithering over the “correct” way to report the news is quite literally harmful to the country’s national interests.

Donald Trump is despised among huge swathes of the world, even picking fights with long-time allies. There is potential for China to capitalize on the mistrust of the US president, make a compelling case for itself, and ramp up cooperation with countries feeling insecure with the messages coming out of Washington. China’s failure to make any headway is a sign of how far it still has to go.

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