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Massive crowds on hand for iPhone 4S launch in Hong Kong 24 hours prior to sale.

Mother and child sleeping in line for an iPhone 4S

I can’t begin to accurately describe the scene on the walkways outside the Hong Kong Apple Store.

Last night, an unofficial line of about 400 people was broken up by police and security details as the lack of organization and chaos was leading to some tense scenes, even some fighting.

Today the lines are back, and organization is being forced on those waiting by the police and security officials.  “Cattle pens” have been set up to keep the iPhone line sitters from milling about, cutting in line, getting distracted, etc.  Police using crush barricades have made nearly 45 pens along the Star Ferry walkway outside the Apple Store, and are filling each pen with about 20 people.  When someone tries to leave a pen to go to the bathroom or get some food, security officials photograph them with a digital camera so they will be allowed to re-enter their sorted pen.

But this isn’t enough.

The 45 pens stretch nearly the entire distance of the Star Ferry walkway to just a few hundred feet from the ferry entrance.  The surging mass of 100s who have yet to be penned are now stuck behind the last pen and the entrance to the ferry.  Security officials (including some from Apple) are now building new pens on the other side of the walkway to shepherd in the waiting masses.

The scene is pretty surreal.  These are not “Apple Fanboys” by any stretch, but low income migrant workers from places like Pakistan, Indonesia, etc.  There are men, women, old grandmothers, even some infant babies who are bundled up tight for the long night ahead.  There are also plenty of wannabe-Triad boys, gathered together with funky haircuts and tattoos, many of them with their faces covered by surgical masks (and it’s not because they have a cold).  Each iPhone they are able to buy will bring a profit of about $100US, which is the same as a weeks wages in some of the lower income jobs in Hong Kong.  If the limit is 5 iPhones per person, they’ll each clear a month’s worth of work so you begin to understand while they are willing to sleep outside all night.

'Blue Berets' of the PTU squads arrive

UPDATE 5:00pm:  I added some more photos from this evening.  Police have dispatched a platoon of riot police known as a PTU unit.  The line extended at one time down the ferry bridge and onto the street, but after some reshuffling of the ‘pens’ they seem to get everyone back up on the bridge.  It also appears that they are not allowing anyone else to enter the line, but I can’t tell if that was a temporary thing or permanent change (my Cantonese isn’t that good).

Hong Kong iPhone 4S line starts 72 hours prior to launch.

They love their Apple gear in Hong Kong, and they also love to line up to get it.  In fact, this line of about 150-200 people outside the Hong Kong Apple Store isn’t even “official”–it’s just people milling about waiting to get into the official line that will start “soon” according to some in the know.

The local paper (paywall) reported that a scuffle broke out between some of the early liner-ups-to-line-up and some more recent professional line sitters, predominantly South East Asians hired by the iPhone smugglers of Mongkok and Mainland China.

Here are some pics of the wackiness.  We’ll have more Friday when the iPhone 4S goes on sale at the Apple Store in the IFC Mall.


Attack the Block movie review – from turning it off to cult classic in just a few steps.

Now on DVD

Ok, I’ll be honest, the first time I watched this movie I got about 20 minutes into it and I turned it off.

Why?  Perhaps it was the rioting in London that was taking place, and the fact you can easily picture all the lead characters actively stealing TVs or looting police cars.  Or maybe it was the hip-hop meets Jamaican South London accents and slang required not only the captions to be on but a couple of hits to urban dictionary just to follow the plot (see my Attack the Block slang dictionary).  It might also have been the fact the film was billed as a horror movie, and basically I hate what has become of horror movies (torture porn and vivisection documentaries).  But eventually my own stubbornness forced me to come back to the movie and finished what I started.  I watch the whole movie from beginning to the end (88 minutes later).

And then I did it again.

And again.


Thank god I went back to this film.  This was a lot of fun!  It was a refreshing look at a tired genre (alien invasion) done with just enough comedy to keep me laughing when I wasn’t looking down at my shoes (to avoid a few bloody scenes).

Attack the Block tells the story of an alien who lands in a South London tower “block” public housing unit.  It falls into the middle of a mugging by a gang of youth led by the aptly named Moses (John Boyega — more on him in a moment).  After killing the initial alien, they take the corpse back to the local drug dealer’s “weed room” where they meet Ron (Nick Frost) the resident horticulturist and Nature Channel afficiando.  They also meet up with the drug kingpin guarding his stash who allows the boys to store the corpse in the “Fort Knox” growing facility because of the chance to make some money selling it to the tabloids.  But before they can contact The Sun, more aliens fall to earth, prompting the boys to run out to bash a few more skulls.  Unfortunately, these new aliens are not like the Gollum-like alien they first encounter, but are, in the apt and t-shirt ready words of the youths, “big alien gorilla wolf motherfuckers”.  The rest of the movie has them fighting their way back to the block where they can engineer a battle with the alien horde.

Who you gonna call?

The film is being praised as not only a reinvention of the alien invasion flick (after Independence Day to the worn out Battle Los Angeles) but also as a social commentary, with the youths spurting out lines that betray far more knowledge than you would expect from your local street urchins.  The language is fresh from the street (though you will need some translation) and the story is as much comedy as it is sci-fi adventure tale.  The acting was very strong, with Nick Frost, the only guy you’ve ever seen before, playing a supporting role behind the cast of new faces.  From a film perspective, I was having a bit of fun identifying “scenes” here and there. The directors really studied their movie history and this is not just some slap dash filming going on but some real ‘sets’ that were carefully staged with good cinematography in mind.

As for the monsters, the big alien gorilla wolf motherfuckers, well they are just cool.  Yea, it’s almost low budget in how minimalist they are, but they’re scary, they’re mean, and well, they look like big alien gorilla wolf mofos.  I’m surprised I didn’t see more of these at Halloween, but expect next year they’ll be out in force.  I also expect to see them in a sequel, and god a video game would be so awesome.

The film is rated R for language and for a few bloody scenes, but the squeamish can turn their heads away before these three incidents (the police in the van, the parking lot, and in the smoke filled hallway).  This film is headed for cult status and excels at the take of a alien invasion from a personal standpoint (boringly done in War of the Worlds and Cloverfeld).

I really enjoyed it.  Perhaps it was because I was expecting so little that I found the surprise to be so memorable.  The acting by the lead John Boyega as a solemn but mentoring street leader has caught the attention of Spike Lee, who has already cast him in a new movie about Mike Tyson.  Expect to see Boyega’s name for many years to come if he can repeat the believability he did in this role.  Definitely worth a look.

p.s. the trailer doesn’t do the movie justice.



UPDATE:  Oh yea, the soundtrack was also pretty good too.  A mix of reggae and some new sounds from Basement Jaxx, et al.

Attack the Block slang dictionary

Just finished watching Attack the Block and found it surprisingly refreshing after a dismal run of rather badly done invasion films.  I’ll write a longer review later, but one thing that was interesting was some of the South London street slang that was prevalent in the film.  For those who are thinking of watching, here is a cheat sheet I made up of some of the slang.


Allow it - don't worry, leave it.
Bangers - fireworks
Believe - Accept something as true.
Bare - many, a lot, large number
Brap, blat - sound of a gunshot, bang
Bruv - brother, friend
Bully van - police van
Butters - ugly
Ends - neighborhood, area
Fam - close friends, family
Feds - police, government
Innit - isn't it
Murked/Merked - killed, or badly defeated
Ps - £ British pounds
Peak - impending danger
Po Pos - police
Shiv - knife, stabbed.
Strap - a gun, get armed
The block - housing estate, tower block.
Wagwan - what's up?
Wraps - paper used for carrying drugs, usually cocaine
Big Gorilla Wolf Motherfuckers - alien

Here is my review of Attack the Block.

The First 24 Hours at Fukushima

Interesting report is out today from the IEEE Spectrum about the first 24 hours at Fukushima.  While TEPCO has been rather quiet about the goings on, the authors and nuclear engineers have tried to ‘reverse engineer’ what happened by putting together public statements and other data.

One of the more interesting tidbits came a few hours into the disaster, when the control room couldn’t even get power to turn on the lights, let alone look at the monitors that were reporting how data from sensors within the reactor.  The crew scrambled for an emergency solution, to the point they ran out to the parking lot and grabbed car batteries from various vehicles and hot-wired some form of power to get the machines back online.

As the operators surveyed the damage, they quickly realized that the diesel generators couldn’t be salvaged and that external power wouldn’t be restored anytime soon. In the plant’s parking lots, workers raised car hoods, grabbed the batteries, and lugged them back to the control rooms. They found cables in storage rooms and studied diagrams. If they could connect the batteries to the instrument panels, they could at least determine the water levels in the pressure vessels.

TEPCO did have a backup for the emergency generators: power supply trucks outfitted with high-voltage dynamos. That afternoon, emergency managers at TEPCO’s Tokyo headquarters sent 11 power supply trucks racing toward Fukushima Dai-ichi, 250 km away. They promptly got stuck in traffic. The roads that hadn’t been damaged by the earthquake or tsunami were clogged with residents fleeing the disaster sites.

A tad technical at times but definitely worth reading.



Finished the Steve Jobs biography. My review and thoughts.

Well I finished the Steve Jobs biography.  At first it seemed rather daunting until I realized the last 100 pages or so are an index and notes and whatnot, and then I noticed the font is rather large and spaced out a bit more than the normal dime store crime novels I usually read.  Managed to read the whole thing (on my iPad) in under a week.

A few takeaways from the book, for those considering reading it.

1) It’s a good history of Apple as much as it is a biography of Steve Jobs.  If you are someone who knows the basic story, much of the book will be rather like re-reading a copy of Forbes or something, with an occasionally paragraph or two thrown in about some of the inner conversations that were going on during that time.  I was actually hoping that there would be more of his personal recollections (i.e. thoughts) about how certain things went down.  Many of his conversations with the author seemed almost for ‘show’–i.e. he knew he was being recorded.

2) Steve Jobs was a bit of a jerk, to say the least.  In fact, I kind of wondered if he had a bipolar disorder or something.  Some of what he was doing was beyond just ‘getting his way’ or ‘pushing the envelope’ but somewhat more severe.  The book is filled to the brim with examples of fights, but there is one rather telling moment toward the end in which the author points out:

“The nasty edge to his personality was not necessary.  It hindered him more than it helped him.  But it did, at times, serve a purpose….”


I think my biggest fear is that people are going to take as a lesson they should ‘act like Steve Jobs’ and be a jerk and a yeller and a fighter, rather than consider they should ‘think like Steve Jobs’, and look at different approaches and focus, like a laser, on the things that make a difference.  I can see half-assed attempts, primarily by assholes already, to justify their pathetic office behavior as “it’s what Steve would do” but they haven’t an ounce of the talent or vision for what he was fighting to develop.  God forbid I end up working for a yeller without conviction.  I think my laughing in his face is just going to make him even angrier.

3) Apple is very strong now.  I think about some of the crappy goalkeepers I’ve seen playing in soccer who have had their star rise by the fact they are surrounded by a good defense.  It’s easy to stop 10 shots a year when those are the only 10 you face.  Apple has a very strong team in place.  They don’t have any crappy goalkeeper.  They don’t need a goalkeeper-the rest of the team is strong enough.  They’ve basically be working through all the iterations of all the problems and successes Apple has had over the last decade.  Product inventory management, supply chain production issues, design and vision–these are things that are being pushed by the various heads of Apple from the ground up rather than from the top down.  As a fan it’s good to see that they will have some leaders in place for the next few years to keep up the process of making great machines.

4) Steve Jobs’ family was something I knew very little about.  While I knew the story of how he met his wife, and that he had a previous daughter, and probably could have mentioned he had three other children, I hadn’t the foggiest as to their names, interests, goals, etc.  I had never seen a wedding photo of Steve Jobs nor photos of his kids.  For such a public face he really did do a great deal to shield his family from the spotlight.  While I was reading the book I finally said “ok, just where the heck does he live in Palo Alto” and took a look at the google maps view, only to discover I had been in that neighborhood a half dozen times myself, even favoring a Chinese restaurant nearby on more than one visit.  Guess I just never pursued an interest in his personal life and he never held out his family that publicly.


So, is it worth it?  Yea, probably.  You’ve heard most of the juicy bits.  There are other smaller stories inside which also are interesting.  I personally found the description of Johnny Ive and Steve Jobs looking at a knife kind of interesting.  Both thought, at first glance, that it was wonderfully designed, but then they both noticed a small hint of glue that connected the blade to the handle and quickly put down the knife, upset that the manufacturer had taken the easy way out.  They also pointed out the influence of Steve Jobs father, who noted that a fine carpenter would never put a piece of plywood on the back of some furniture just because no one would see it.  Lessons like these are why the insides of a Mac are almost as beautifully laid out as the outside casings.


Obama Sauce, made from real sea urchins

File this under #WTF or #CRAZYJAPANESE

I was in the City Super grocery store in Hong Kong when I just had to snap a picture of this. Obama Sauce. It’s about $12-$15US a bottle, and from the description sounds basically disgusting. But before you go off and say ‘whacky Japanese’ you should remember in China they have Obama Fried Chicken.