Archive for August, 2007

Third world trains?

August 30th, 2007 2 comments

There has been a series of indignant articles (couldn’t find the most indignant ones, but here’s one of them) in the SMH over the decision of the NSW government to award the contract for the next generation of CityRail trains to a consortium that will outsource the construction to Changchun Railway Vehicle Company in China. Every time the company is mentioned in the SMH, it is followed by the tagline “a company with little experience of supplying rolling stock to developed countries” (or words to the effect).

So yesterday, riding home on a rickety 1970s CityRail train with dirty seats, dirty floors, mismatched window panes and the suspension of a blender, I realised just how misguided the Herald’s “consternation” is. If you want third world trains, then CityRail has got to be the perfect specimen.

Badly maintained? check. Unreliable timetable? check. Crappy ticketing system? check. Hired goons who terrorise passengers? check. Lack of basic station infrastructure (rubbish bins)? check. Breaks down every two hours? check.

By contrast, rail systems in China are by and large reliable, on time, clean (if crowded), and well maintained. Rides are more comfortable because they’ve bothered to build suspension into the trains and properly maintain the tracks. The newer double decker trains have all the comforts and conveniences of the Millenium trains, but with smoother rides and without the regular breakdowns. (I couldn’t find any photos of Chinese trains – but here are some of the new Shanghai South station.)

What’s more, Changchun Car Company is in fact a joint venture with Bombadier of Germany, which builds carriages for Paris, New York, Hong Kong, Toronto, and Chicago, among others.

So instead of the xenophobic drivel from the SMH, it is more likely that we will finally get some trains that meet first world standards! Then if only CityRail would improve its running to 1930s standards, we’ll be about as well off as Mussolini’s Italy.

* * * * *

Speaking of xenophobic drivel from the SMH, this article is so ridiculously biased and misinformed it is not funny. Writing about Taiwan, and the 2008 Olympic torch relay controversy, reporter Mary-Anne Toy regurgitates undigested Chen Shui-bien’s propaganda by the chunk. She assumes that Taiwan is an independent country, which has nothing to do with China, and that Taiwan by rights should be in the UN and should be treated as an independent country by China and the rest of the world. For example, she talks about “24 countries that recognise Taiwan…” Anyone with any semblance of knowledge of modern Chinese history will know that those 24 countries recognise the Republic of China government (or Taiwanese government) as the government of China. No country recognises “Taiwan”, per se – but President Chen Shui-bien would clearly like you to think otherwise, and Mary-Anne Toy duely regurgitated his version.

I don’t know if she is seriously out of touch with reality, or whether she was just bought by the Taiwanese government’s hospitality (the telling line, in bold in the online version: “Mary-Anne Toy visited Taiwan this month as a guest of its government.”) The truth is, polling consistently show that the vast majority of Taiwanese want to preserve the ambiguous status quo, and only a small minority want to push for independence, or believe that Taiwan is a country independent from China. And, of course, Mary-Anne Toy cares nothing about what the rest of China thinks. They’re all commie-nazis anyway, so who would care what they think?

I think I will stick with Fin Rev. They might care only about money, but at least they don’t pretend bias is neutrality.

Categories: Events, Random facts, Technology, Travels Tags:

UNSW law revue review

August 25th, 2007 No comments

 Went to see UNSW law revue yesterday. Not having gone to the USyd one, I can’t really compare … and Ewok‘s claims about a skit dissing USyd’s quad did not prove true.

My favourite bits were:

  • “Hi, I’m PC”, “Hi, I am PC from the PRC”
  • “Ma ma mia” and Italian diving – especially the Catholic priest one and the Caesar one*
  • Asian licence (“I need my licence to transfer to Newsouth!”)
  • Net speak (“ROFL” *rolls on the floor laughing*

[*for those who weren’t there…. bunch of togaed senators stab Caesar. Caesar: “Et tu Brute?”. Enter Mark Antony. “Oh no, it’s Mark Antony”. Everyone cries “Ma ma mia!” and rolls on the floor clutching one leg. Referee runs up, blows whistle, and says “Penalty!”]

My not so favourite bits are:

  • the long long band number.
  • the big lights flashing directly into my eyes during the musical numbers – now I can totally empathise with people who get seizures from flashing cartoons.

Overall, I think there were quite a lot of good skits, and a couple of mediocre ones (badly controlled pace, stretched out too long, crap punch line, bad acting etc). Enjoyable, but not consistently brilliant. I give it 3 starst out of 5.

Drove home via South Dowling – M1 – M5. Never driven on that bit of M1 that connects to M5. Had no street lamps, was dark, raining, and trying to figure out how to demist the window. Navigator (Ewok) living off Google Maps on his mobile instead of a street directory… It was good fun.

In other news, my dad has repaird my (19 years old) Darkwing Transformer! His knee joint got broken at some point in those 19 years. but that’s okay. He can still stand, at least.

Categories: Events, Reviews, Travels Tags:

public service announcement

August 23rd, 2007 2 comments

I was on the train at Bankstown station, when this Asian lady startle me by tapping me on the shoulder, and mumbles something unintelligible. Then she said in English – “I need three dollar – I lost my wallet – I need three dollar”, looking plaintive. I was contemplating how much change I had on me ($1.65) when I realised I’d seen her before – almost a year ago, just oustide Bankstown station – with the same “I lost my wallet” story and the same expression. That time, I had no change on me, and I had felt guilty for letting down someone who was probably genuinely in need. This time, however, I got a bit suspicious (and plus, I didn’t have $3), so I just shook my head at her.

She settled down on a nearby seat (looking somewhat relaxed by this stage), and then two stations later got up and went around everyone on the carriage with the same story – no response – and went upstairs.

Normally I wouldn’t be writing blog entries about people who ask for money on public transport, but I guess what’s different here was that I was actually unsure whether she was genuine. I guess part of it is that she was Asian, female, and fairly mature (40-50s?) – not your typical “spare change, guv?” demographic. So I wonder whether she did genuinely lose wallets twice in a year – and it so happens that I was there on both occasions? Given the improbability of that, what drives her to put on such an act (one that involves a certain level of effort, I feel, more than just the casual “spare change, mate” from those loitering around the entrance of Redfern station)?

Categories: Events Tags:

RIP laptop

August 20th, 2007 1 comment

My ASUS laptop screen has died, after months of death throes. Well, the screen itself isn’t dead – it still lights up when I start it up. but no signal is getting through, so it just goes from blank to a slightly more grey blank.

Not being very diligent when it comes to backing things up, I spent 3 hours getting my law notes off the laptop and onto the PC. At first, I thought it would be easy – just plug in another monitor and copy it to disc. However, Windows XP, being so smart, blocks off the output once you get to the login screen.

I tried to get around that by going into DOS, but then realised that DOS (or maybe just my circa 1993 command of it) can’t burn to CD or copy to USB. In the end, I went back to the (invisible) login screen, and operated blindly to log in.

So no more laptop… back to the stone age with pen and paper. *sigh*. If you have a spare $2000 lying around, please send it to Tommy’s Laptop Fund – email for details.

Categories: Events, Technology Tags:

Torts study session

August 15th, 2007 2 comments

Hosted a study session for 1st year Torts students today with Enoch. Drawing on lessons learnt in sessions past, I think we did a fairly good job of publication, preparation, and execution. Probably the biggest drawback was the timing – we needed to make the time suitable for our friends in 1st year, but this meant we couldn’t get many facilitators, and one class (out of five) could not attend the session.

Still, there were about 40 students attending, which was a healthy turnout (for our image and our accounts). I just hope the students took away enough useful info from the session to help with their quiz next week. Hopefully, if this all goes well, we could look towards expanding the scheme and pushing for the faculty to adopt what is clearly a successful model of operation in other faculties/unis. It’s pretty bizzare that it falls to a non-official student club to run what the faculty should be running.

Next time, hopefully 1) there will be more facilitators, 2) a better room that you can actually move around in, 3) whoever wrote “disagree” to “the facilitators met my expectations” won’t turn up, 4) my tutoring student with the hardcore death stare doesn’t turn up.

Categories: Events, Law Tags:

Iron chef off SBS… again…

August 4th, 2007 No comments

Iron Chef won’t be on SBS tonight (schedule) for the second week in a row, and no word on when it might be back on. It’s been displaced by “Great Australian Albums – Woodface By Crowded House”. This is the second time this year that SBS has jerked its Iron Chef fans around. Back in January, Iron Chef was replaced – no warning – by the creepy (and crappy) American abomination called Iron Chef America – complete with an obviously Caucasian man dressed in a Chinese shirt waving a Chinese sword around in a tatami covered room, claiming to be Chairman Kaga’s nephew. Following “audience feedback”, Iron Chef America got axed and the original Iron Chef was restored. And now it’s been taken off with little explanation. I don’t know what the programming dudes up at SBS are thinking.

Speaking of programming, I’m still waiting for Nine to bring on the new season of Hotel Babylon. I loved the first season last year, and Channel Nine claimed to be continuing it this year – but no sign of it as yet, 8 months into the year. I might have to go find DVDs in the UK.

Categories: Reviews Tags:

Sydney uni rant #238

August 4th, 2007 4 comments

One of the most disappointing things for me this semester is that I am forced to do Criminology and drop Public International Law. To be honest, I have absolutely no interest in criminology, and very little in jurisprudence in general. It’s not because I’m intellectually opposed to jurisprudential theory. I just don’t have the sociological/philosophical grounding to appreciate it. For me, studying jurisprudence is like a blind man listening to a gallery curator describe a painting. I can hear and understand everything she’s saying about the difference between Modernism and Post-Modernism, but I can’t engage with the painting myself, nor can I try to paint a picture myself. In other words, interesting, but utterly useless.

What makes it worse is that I am forced to drop Public International Law to do Criminology, because the degree structure requires at least one jurisprudence subject – Criminology being one – and I need to do it now if I go on exchange next year. Public International Law is actually interesting to me, and probably the subject I have been most looking forward to in this degree. Now, chances are I won’t ever get to do it.

I understand the rationale behind the Jurisprudence requirement in a law degree. What I don’t understand is why they want to pretend they are offering a comprehensive education when it is anything but. To parrot Howard, it’s about choice, the freedom to choose. If I choose to learn nothing but black letter law with the odd dash of human rights, then I should be free to – just as another person who wants to do six units of jurisprudence is currently able to.

But then, the Sydney law program is much better structured than anything the E+B (Economics and Business) faculty can cough up, a fact of which I was painfully reminded during the investment banking interviews. I realised that, whereas 3 1/2 years of law has given me a reasonably comprehensive understanding of major areas of law, commerce has given me zilch. Up until 3 weeks ago, I had no idea what free cash flow was, or the difference between EV/EBITDA versus P/E, and the haziest idea about weighted average cost of capital. The problem there is that there’s too much choice – and no guidance from the faculty as to how you should make those choices. The problem is exacerbated for double degree students, who are restricted to doing one subject per major in their other degree — so you can’t do both Mergers & Acquisitions and Derivative Securities; and yet you have to do Trading and Dealing – probably the least educational of all finance subjects. The Finance pre-Honours program is even more of a joke. You get taught by a Horrible Creature from Outer Space, who marks on a whim and spends most of the class ranting against successful investment banks. Not a sight to inspire confidence in the honours program.

 So kids, don’t be fooled by their so-called “international accreditations”. Do your commerce degree at UNSW.

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