NOC, Graham Street — Calm amid chaos

It’s a cutie. From the small street side bench to the peaceful interior, NOC Coffee Co. is a find worthy of the navigation involved.

Artful coffee in the Aussie style, with the requisite alternatives for non-coffee fiends: the chai and green teas, not to mention the passion fruit. And who wouldn’t mind a bit of that now and again? The traffic, a mixture of joggers, backpackers who frequent the aforementioned seating, and the occasional suit who’s clearly strayed from their prescribed working zone.

What sets this place apart is the interior. Petit though it is, it provides a sense of space in the minimalist style. Perfect for a discreet tete-a-tete, against a backdrop of soulful music. A place to begin, or indeed end, an affair, perhaps.

NOC Coffee, 34 Graham Street, Hong Kong

Modern History Related Reading (Summer 2018)

A mix of modern history related reading (some of which are actually novels set in modern historical context), that have enjoyed:

  1. The Churchill Factor – How One Man Made History, Boris Johnson. A rumbling romp of a read. (Amazon)
  2. Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, Herbert P. Bix What was surprising to me was just how involved he was in operational details.  (Amazon)
  3. 1944 – FDR and the Year that Changed History, Jay Wink.  A fantastic book. Absolutely gripping. (Amazon)
  4. American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, Kay Bird. The story of gifted, sensitive, complex man. (Amazon)
  5. The Dead Hand – The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race, David E. Hoffman. How close we came to oblivion on many occasions. This is by far the most detailed book of the Soviet side of the arms race in technology terms.  (Amazon)
  6. Churchill’s Hour – A Novel of Defiance, Michael Dobbs. Dobbs has done an adequate job telling a fantastic story, with a reasonable degree of accuracy. Perhaps one for the beach. (Amazon)
  7. The Railway Man, Max Lomax. A remarkable tale. (Amazon)
  8. The Doomsday Machine, Daniel Ellsberg. What really comes through here is not just the Mathematical detail of the thinking, but the sense in which they have built this state-machine, which is way out of control. (Amazon)
  9. Yalta – The Price of Peace, Serhii Plokhy. A heavy read but well worth it for those interested in the origins of the Cold War. (Amazon)
  10. The Guns of August, Barbara W. Tuchman. That we know how it ends makes it all the more painful from the first page onwards. (Amazon)


How to build a new Facebook

So I’ve been thinking about this problem. #deleteFacebook. There’s a simpler way. And a better way. It’s probably worth a lot. And someone should write it. It needs fleshing out, but here’s roughly how it would work.

Let’s start with the problem. At its core the issue is quite simple. Facebook is Big Brother. It’s a central database. It owns everyones information. That is a fundamental problem. And a huge problem. No entity that has this kind of information can ever be trusted. And no tweak or fix will work. But, it must be admitted that FB has many benefits. Rather than list them here, in short: you can stay in touch with a wide array of friends, and friends of friends. And you can ‘see what’s going on’. With all the benefits and disadvantages of that (and there are a few of the latter, as there are in social life).

So here’s the idea. Build a social network based on peer-to-peer technology*. Every user keeps their own data themselves in their own private cloud service (e.g. iCloud, Dropbox, on their own machine/device, or whatever service they use). And have their client (the App) ‘talk’ and connect to other clients that are ‘on-line’ of friends they are aware of. Those clients in turn can talk to other clients and thus establish in ‘real time’ a social network for the user. But importantly in this arrangement the user keeps complete control. Their data stays in their cloud. Their contacts are their’s and these App/client exchanges data with other user’s clients when on-line in a peer-to-peer sense.

This system and approach offers the vast majority of the functionality that FB does today. The functionality that people value, e.g. the news feed, sharing of updates, sharing of pictures, etc. But it would also allow users complete control – as their data stays with them. When online their network is established and ‘live’**. When off-line they are completely disconnected. A user could decide in real time and at any moment what to share and what to see. In essence what’s being described is like a large virtual cocktail party, with your App standing in for you. And the room spanning your entire contact list, and their contact list, and theirs***.

Implementing this program is not particularly complicated. It’s probably an interesting summer vacation project. The App can be built using pretty easy coding, and on top of existing cloud storage and peer-to-peer protocols. The key for this to work well is not technical. However it is key for this service to achieve network ‘economies’ of scale quickly.

These network economies of scale can be established in two ways. Firstly, the App when first set up should guide you through deauthorising your FB account. In the process, your data from FB that you value can be imported: the friends list and the photographs basically. Deauthorising is an involved step which many people can’t navigate through. And FB makes it hard because it threatens their business. So this App can help there. Once it’s imported your friends list and relevant data, it can simply send out invites to your friends (under your control) inviting them to this new network.

Secondly, the client App can be left on running in the background (persistently), keeping your network live, or switched off, as any given user desires. It would, obviously, offer the same features to post news to ones newsfeed (which is only public when you’re on-line) and messaging. And it’s completely under the users ownership and control.

What’s described is simple. It offers the benefits of FB. And it does away with Big Brother. Whoever does this first and manages such a land grab to get scale, with a compelling application, stands to do the world a big favor. There are also multiple business models that can be wrapped around this. On the other hand, it’s so simple to write — and a commercial model may be an impediment to uptake — it should probably be under the GNU license, with an open protocol for the client-to-client communications.

So there it is. A New Facebook. One that offers an alternative to what we have today. It puts the benefits of social networking back into users hands and under individual controls. That’s where it belongs.

– Carl J. Harris

* For those old enough to remember this, the architecture described is not new, it resembles the old Fidonet from the 1980s, or even dare I say it Napster. The App ‘talks to’ other Apps on line by other users in the given users own directory. And it’s only aware of them. It would be significantly easier to write these days given all the components above exist as modules and APIs.

** It’s perhaps worth mentioning that such an arrangement wouldn’t have been practical back in 2002–3 when FB was developed because the clients weren’t on-line frequently enough, so a central database was necessary for the network to hit critical mass. With connectivity today, that is no longer the case as most users are on-line most of the time, the data can be kept in their client. There is no need for a centralized database at all.

*** The depth of connections which the App ‘sees into’ and your App allows others to see into would be under your control.

This article first appeared on Medium here

Favourite Films

Okay so this follows an interesting late night dinner conversation. Hot on the heels of that is my absolute list of Top 20 favourite films. For now at least. Helpfully one hopes, with the relevant iTunes links where possible:

  1. The Shawshank Redemption. A haunting story of the strength of the human spirit (iTunes)
  2. Touching the Void. Perhaps one of the best mountaineering adventure stories of all time (iTunes)
  3. Heat. Crime. Big artistic shots of LA (iTunes)
  4. Shiri. From 1999 and an early global breakout for Korean cinema. Artistic. Stylish. Irrepressibly violent (IMDb)
  5. Gattaca. That it remains stylish to this day, 20 years later, says a lot (iTunes)
  6. Ronin. Works on many levels. None the least the fantastic scenes of the French Riviera (iTunes)
  7. Sliding Doors. Not only is Gwyneth Paltrow glowingly optimistic, but this movie is wonderful at conjuring up the different paths life can take, pivoting as it does on seemingly small events (iTunes)
  8. The Quiet American. Quite a lot about this adaptation of Graham Greene’s view of the American view stays true to this day (iTunes)
  9. Twelve O’Clock High. As memory serves, this movie is actually used in a leadership class at Harvard Business School. Quite right too (iTunes)
  10. Dr. Strangelove. Insane, logical, and fantastic (iTunes)
  11. Atomic Blonde. A recent addition to the list. Wonderfully snap shots the perhaps forgotten sense of depression, and of things falling apart, in the late 1980s. Great music too (iTunes)
  12. Flight. Robert Zemeckis is trying to say something here. Worth a watch (iTunes)
  13. The Insider. A whistleblowers story that says much beyond that (iTunes)
  14. The English Patient. A classic. Love, adventure, and broken hearts, in the desert (iTunes)
  15. Crimson Tide. A Big Movie. Leadership and character (iTunes)
  16. Dirty Dancing. For the sound track alone. It just makes one happy (iTunes)
  17. Margin Call. A statement on capitalism. In this humble writer’s view, under appreciated (iTunes)
  18. The Remains of the Day. Hopkins and Thompson’s wonderful rendering of Ishiguro’s best seller (iTunes)
  19. The Thin Red Line. Epic. Brutal. Clinically captures the Pacific Theatre War, and in so doing sheds a glimpse on the human spirit (iTunes)
  20. Apollo 13. If we could do all that in 1970 one, at times, wonders, what on earth are we doing today? (iTunes)

Coco Expresso, Anton Street

Five years on Anton Street marks Coco Expresso as a reliable stalwart of Queens Road East.

This lower shophouse is a tight squeeze, so you aren’t going get to hang out and look cool. But for a quick hit and run — with a dab of delicate humanity thrown in — it gets the job done. A solid range of the basics, zippy service, and few enough nibbles to ward off browsers. Coco is focused and stays on point. Hopefully, not unlike this review. Coco Expresso

2 Anton Street, Wanchai, Hong Kong

Bambito Gesha

Not a place, not the name of a mid 1970s Bond girl, nor even a line of heroin, although perhaps it should be. Bambito Gesha is a lavender resonant extravaganza of a washed coffee, manicured to perfection, and served in Pour Over style, at Hong Kong’s Cupping Room (review to follow in a future edition).

We are informed it hails from Panama. It certainly has hints of the sweet aromas of that sticky clime. On the sip it tangles and feels a tad naughty: more Hungarian dessert wine, than the Riesling of its description. Its pristine complexity is just reaching for a romantic entanglement in the early evening, more one suspects, than the attentions of this sole late afternoon workaday correspondent. Suggest enjoying while the going is good. The Cupping Room

The Cupping Room, 32 Swatow Street, Wanchai, Hong Kong

Vive la France, à Wanchai

It’s basically a place for the ‘Ladies who Lunch’. But get there at the right time (8-9am) and you can enjoy this puppy relatively undisturbed. Kick back in one of the leather arm chairs, sit at the wooden social table, or just hide away surfing the decently okay internet. This locale is technically a bakery — and one might debate the Belgium / French angle here — but one with range. Although this author, unadventurous Englishman that he is, prefers to stick to the Pain au Chocolate, or the occasional waffle, there’s baguettes, tartines, croissants,… and the jams, if you can actually nab them, exude fabulousness. For coffee think ‘Big Bowl Belgium’. It’s just the thing for a relaxing Sunday morning. Get there early though: this place fills up, and when it does the sounds from the riffraff, bouncing off those refined glass doors make Barnes Wallis’ invention look pedestrian by comparison. Le Pain Quotidien

Le Pain Quotidien, Shop No. G40-41, The Avenue, Lee Tung Avenue, Wanchai, Hong Kong

A decent coffee shop a button away

Not strictly a review of a coffee shop but useful, one hopes. The short version. It would be neat to have a button on the front of one’s iPhone that could pop up a screen suggesting decent coffee shops in walking distance, like this:

One could then press it and get, e.g. this:

The application Workflow achieves this. It’s great. Once the app is installed once needs to install a ‘workflow’ for the coffee location. The iOS version can be found here, with the link below it being the specific utility to locate the coffee shops:

Workflow by Apple

The Coffee Academics, Wanchai

Yes it’s expensive. Yes it’s a chain. Yes I know they are trying too hard. But dude, at least they are trying. A fantastic set of choices: from the standard latte fare of the Classic Menu, through to the more experimental and to be recommended, sugar rush of an Okinawa, to be found in The Signatures area. This recovering management consultant is tempted to point out that the ambiance, 1980s Spotify music run though a DAC, the funky uniforms, and hand crafted coffee range is just meant to drive up prices on the basic products. Well it’s Hong Kong: get used to it. The staff are great, and who doesn’t miss 1980s music? Coffee Academics

35-45 Johnson Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong

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