Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Google Vs. The Great Wall of China

I'm really enjoying the latest row between Google and China as it's pits two giants against each other despite the fact that both are battling it out in different contexts. For all the talk about the Google Book Project or the DMCA, Google's pulling out of China has seemingly deserved little attention from Western media. Google is certainly pulling no punches as it has decided to monitor the status of Google in China. Google has launched a website that makes it easy to see how things are going down -- and it's not very pretty to be honest.

Instead of simply withdrawing from China, Google has decided to redirect traffic from to — their site hosted out of Hong Kong. This version of Google hosts unfiltered results — something that likely isn’t too popular with Chinese officials. Moreover, Google stopped censoring its search services—Google Search, Google News, and Google Images—on Users visiting are now being redirected to, where it offers uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China and delivered via our servers in Hong Kong. Users in Hong Kong will continue to receive their existing uncensored, traditional Chinese service, also from Essentially, Google has decided to let China make the call — instead of shutting down the service themselves, it’s now going to be up to China to pull the plug.

As a snapshot in historical context, this is very much a tense standoff between multinational corporatism and state nationalism. As a result, Google Inc. partners in China are said to follow billionaire Hong Kong Li Ka-shing's lead and cut links with the U.S. Internet company after it defied the nation's self-censorship rules. Li's Tom Online Inc. has already stopped using Google's search engine on its portal and media buyer Zenith Optimedia; advertisers it represents may also switch to rivals after Google began this redirection of its mainland users to an unfiltered offshore site. Not surprisingly, China Mobile Ltd. has a deal with Google to provide mobile and Internet services. What is going to transpire? As we said earlier, this is a game of chicken, with both sides fairly rigid in its position and solidified in its respective empires.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Hong Kong Central Library

When I first stepped foot into the Hong Kong Central Library, I had immediately realized had entered the library of the future. The Central Library, the largest of the 76 public libraries in a city of 7 million people, is the main library of Hong Kong. Located at the intersection of Moreton Terrace and Causeway Road in Causeway Bay, the Central Library is a 12-storey high building in with an area of 9,400 sq. metres plus a floor area of 33,800 sq. metres, built at a construction cost of HK$690 million. What are some of the features which make HK Central Library on par with the best knowledge institutions of the world? Here are just a few:

(1) Intelligent Building - The Hong Kong Central Library is an intelligent building, using the most advanced architecture. Intelligent Buildings concepts include a purpose is to control, monitor and optimise building services, (eg. lighting, heating, security, CCTV, and alarm systems, access control, audio-visual and entertainment systems, ventilation, filtration and climate control, and even time & attendance control and reporting (notably staff movement and availability). This is also called building automation, which is essentially a control system using a computerized, intelligent network of electronic devices, designed to monitor and control the mechanical and lighting systems of a building

(2) State-Of-The-Art Multimedia - Called the Multimedia Information System, the MMIS is an example of all-embracing use of information technology and computer application in the Hong Kong Central Library. As such a three level audio-on-demand and video-on-demand system are set up. In order to enable more public use of the first level video and third level audio and video of the AOD/VOD system, about ninety Asynchronous Transfer Mode terminals are installed in the library. In other words, the library allows its users the most advanced technologies available.

(3) Global Repository - has been designated as the legal depository library in Hong Kong for nine global organizations: Asian Development Bank, European Union, International Labour Organization, International Maritime Organization United Nations, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, World Bank, World Trade Organization; and World Food Programme.

(4) Looking Back, Moving Forward - Because of the Central Library's sheer size coupled with its unique facilities, it even hosted the Hong Kong Library Association's 50th Anniversary conference. HKLA held the international conference in 2008, called "Looking Back, Moving Forward: Asian Libraries in the World of Information" which focused on the key issues and challenges which face libraries in Asia.

(5) History & Culture - Very much an educational institutional as it is a technological masterpiece, cultural symbolism is highlighted throughout the building. In particular, memorial plaques dedicated to famous modern Chinese writers in the library emblazon the library, one of them was for the witty and erudite scholar-novelist Qian Zhongshu (錢鍾書).

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Vancouverism and 2010

The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver has come and gone. It has forever changed the city. Vancouver is also known for its unique Vancouverism. Characterized by mixed-use developments, typically with a medium-height, commercial base and narrow, high-rise residential towers to accommodate high populations and to preserve view corridors, Vancouverism is an urban planning and architectural technique pioneered in Vancouver, Canada.

Vancouver is somewhat unique among large North American cities with such a large residential population living in the city centre, and no expressways connecting the core to the suburbs, and still being able to significantly rely on mass public transit for its citizens. It these reasons contribute to the fact that it is consistently ranked among the most livable cities in the world. Not to mention its gorgeous landscape during the spring, summer, fall, and winter seasons. Perhaps Vancouver should also be known in Vancouverism for its knowledge capital. Why? Here are some main features:

1. Libraries - If anything, Vancouver has some of the most gorgeous libraries in the world. Its Central Library in Library Square occupies a city block in the eastward expansion of downtown Vancouver. Centred on the block, the library volume is a nine-story rectangular box containing book stacks and services, surrounded by a free-standing, elliptical, colonnaded wall featuring reading and study areas that are accessed by bridges spanning skylit light wells. The library's internal glass facade overlooks an enclosed concourse formed by a second elliptical wall that defines the east side of the site. This glass-roofed concourse serves as an entry foyer to the library and the more lively pedestrian activities at ground level. Public spaces surrounding the library form a continuous piazza with parking located below grade. The building's exterior is often said to resemble the Flavian Amphitheatre in Rome

2. Social Media community - Vancouver has one of the most vibrant, trendiest Web 2.0 communities in the world. An urban city, the majority of these companies are clustered around downtown. Some of the best Web 2.0 writers and bloggers hail from Vancouver, BC. Mitch Joel's 6 Pixels of Separation, Miss 604, Stephen Hui, Rob Cottingham, and the Search Principle are but a few examples social and semantic media trendsetters.

3. Open data / Open Access initiatives -Some of Vancouver's public institutions are progressive minded. Just take a look at the Vancouver City Archives. It's been luring open-source and open-data enthusiasts to a meet-up in January with the promise of free coffee, free Wi-Fi, and free information. Holding such an informal social and coding session is not only a logical fit for the direction the archives is taking, but certainly opens up new opportunities for what the Semantic Web is going to look like.

4. Multiculturalism 2.0 - One of the most culturally and ethnically diverse in the world, almost 60 per cent of people in Vancouver are expected to be a visible minority by 2031. As such, Web 2.0 has changed the way multicultural citizens perceive, interact, and communicate - particularly so in the city of Vancouver. In fact, it is often new immigrants who arrive in Canada that have better survival skills and have used the Web extensively for research before arriving in Vancouver. These immigrants tend to be urban, wealthy, and the most technology adept and often ahead of the trend. As a result, in multiculturalism 2.0 city, one's individual online identity is replicated like one's cultural identity, which is fluid and not limited to “websites about websites."

Friday, March 05, 2010

Bibliothèque nationale de France

This is one of the most historic, most beautiful libraries in the modern world. Tracing its origin to the royal library founded at the Louvre by Charles V in 1368, the Bibliothèque nationale de France expanded under Louis XIV and opened to the public in 1692. With library's collections swelling to over 300,000 volumes during the radical phase of the French Revolution when the private libraries of aristocrats and clergy were seized, the library became the Imperial National Library and in 1868 was moved to newly constructed buildings on the Rue de Richelieu following a series of regime changes in France. At one time or another - 1896 to be exact - the library was in fact the largest repository of books in the world.