Monthly Archives: June 2008

Web-based role-playing game to learn…Chinese

Ever wanted to learn Chinese? If so, rush to Zon!

To make sure that you get the real feel for China, your avatar first arrives as a tourist in Beijing Airport’s Customs zone (I must have been unlucky since each time I arrived it was a bit more crowded than in the game). You will then move on to the airport’s lobby, to the hotel lobby and finally to the streets! At the different stages, players encounter quests, have access to learning materials — including live Chinese tutors — and are able to organize and participate in social activities. The game even comes with some kind of traditional Chinese music.

Zon

The overall goal for the player is to fare well and advance socially and economically, with players moving from “tourists” to “residents” and finally to “citizens” of modern China – note that becoming a Chinese citizen is a rare feat for foreigners and usually a great honour. Let’s hope that the developers enhance the game to include a trip to the Olympic Stadium or to Lhassa…

Telecom competition at last?

Beijing is taking another shot at increasing competition in the telecommunication services sector. The new round of restructuring will merge the existing six state-owned companies into three giants who will be able to compete in all segments (mobile, fixed, value-added). Let’s not get too excited though. Lessons from other countries tend to show that it is no easy task to grab market shares from the incumbent. Also, the hoped-for competitive markets tend to turn into duopolies or oligopolies with two dominant players.

The real challenge (and litmus test) for Chinese policy-makers will be to open the fixed and mobile market to both private domestic and foreign investors. In theory, foreign investment is capped at 49% by China’s World Trade Organization commitments; in practice none of the restructured companies will find a significant value in getting an important/strategic investors on board. For sure they will be backed by the government who keeps seeing the telecom sector as both a sovereignty and security issue.

At the end of the day, it is the Chinese consumer and the Chinese economy which might suffer from the government’s unwillingness to open even more to competition.

A universal phone charger?

The Alliance for Universal Power Supplies (AUPS) – an industry standards group that seeks to enable universally compatible and eco-friendly products and services – is counting on China to lead the way towards a universal phone charger.

Because every new CE device comes with a charger, some 3.2 billion power supplies will be designed and shipped in 2008 alone.

China is the first country to pass a law requiring a USB interface for cell phone chargers: all cell phones designed after June 14 2008 must use a USB charger to be sold legally in China. With a production above 500 millions mobile phones for 2007 alone, China’s standardization effort (enlightned self-interest, at last) is poised to have some impact beyond its borders. Let’s also hope that someone, in a not-too-distant future, tackles the standardization of the charger’s other half …the plug!

Power [cyber] games

According to Akamai, China and the USA lead the worlds as the the two biggest sources of Internet traffic attack (with respectively 17% and 14% of overall DDoS and hacking attempts). This is not too surprising since both countries have the largest number of Internet users – more interesting though is Taiwan’s 3rd place. The statistics seem to be confirmed by a recent study which found that more than half of the hacker attacks on computer systems of South Korea’s government and public agencies came from China. Similarly Indian officials claimed that the Chinese were constantly scanning and
mapping India’s official networks.

Some [conspiracy theorists] went as far as arguing that China’s attacks may be responsible for two major power blackouts in Florida and the Northeast. While there has never been any official government accusation of China involvement in the outages, its role is not explicitly ruled out.

According to US cyber-experts “what makes the Chinese stand out is the pervasive and relentless nature of the attacks”. China’s military history is one of asymetric warfare. Waging cyber-warfare is simply adapting to current practices as, for sure, they are not alone playing that game.