Reading List

Reading List

Bangkok recommendations

A friend asked me for Bangkok tips and tricks for his sister. I thought I may as well publish them here in case they’re useful to anyone else.

Cultural day trips

Grand Palace is a *must*. Need “respectable” clothing (no shorts, exposed shoulders or figure-hugging clothes. Or you have to queue to borrow other clothes & pay a deposit)

Wat Pho – with huge reclining Buddha. Close to grand palace.

Canal trip – at pier opposite grand palace you can get a long-tail boat up the quiet canals on the other side of the river. 20 mins, and you’re in the countryside surrounded by temples and coconut fields. Can be expensive on a tight budget (but you should always haggle for anything.) There’s a commuter boat (“express boat”) that goes up the Chao Phraya river. It’s 14 baht (about 35p). You can go as far as Nonthaburi, which takes about 30 mins, and is a very nice trip. Get out, poke around the market, then buy a ticket back.

The three above can all be packed in 1 (exhausting) day if you’re short on time.

If you’re there on a Sunday lunchtime, the 5* Shangri-La hotel has a buffet & tea dance. High society BKK ladies and their very camp Latin dance teachers do the fox trot while the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra play light classics, while you eat great Thai/ Western food next to the river and drink all the tea and coffee you can manage. Open to all, for under £20/ head.

Restaurants: there are many, many good restaurants in BKK. All street food is good; if a place has lots of customers, you can trust its quality. One of my faves is “Cabbages and condoms” – set up by Mr Meechai who basically stopped AIDS in its tracks in Thailand by encouraging condom use. It’s good, simple food at reasonable price, and proceeds go to family planning education for hill tribe people etc. (“And remember, our food is guaranteed not to cause pregnancy.”)

In restaurants, to signal for the bill, raise your hand, point your index finger downwards and draw a circle. The Thai word for bill is “checkbin”. It’s fine to hold up a bottle of beer and 2 fingers, for example, to ask for 2 more bottles of beer. “Not spicy” in Thai is “mai pet”. “spicy” is “pet”. If she doesn’t eat meat (nutter) I wrote How to eat vegan in Thailand.

Shopping – locals go to MBK, a giant shopping mall where you can buy practically anything from $4 t-shirts to giant teak furniture. It’s airconditioned, has great reasonable restaurants (try ‘Fuji’ for japanese food on floor 6, IIRC). Posh shopping can be done in Siam Square (next door) and its associated malls. Or, at weekends, go to Chatuchak market for a real Thai experience. Haggle. You get what you pay for.

Longer day trips: Kanchanaburi – Bridge over the river Kwai. You can stay overnight cheaply or negotiate a taxi to take you from BKK, drive you around and return you. Ayutthaya – a beautiful ancient capital full of old temples. The elephants parading through town at sunset as they return from working in the jungle is breahtakingly spectacular.

When in Thailand: all food is good; Thais are scrupulous about hygiene. Ice is edible, too – it’s bought from factories. Bottled water is cheap and trustworthy. Always, always make sure you have some next to your bed or you’ll dehydrate overnight. If your urine isn’t clear, drink more water. Salt in Sprite makes good rehydration fluid. You can clean teeth etc in tap water in BKK -= water is clean just heavily chlorinated.

Skytrain BKK is very good if she’s near a station.Lots of steps. Buy a stored value card.

Taxis are very cheap and *obliged* to use meter within BKK. If they won’t, simply get out. Many drivers don’t speak English; get a card with name of hotel written in Thai to show driver.

Tipping isn’t normal or required. I might leave loose change, eg if a bill was 490 baht, I’d leave the 10B change.

Smaller shops don’t take credit cards.

Avoid Koh Sarn Road; it’a full of gap-year entitled wankers getting drunk with fellow Westerners, in what they regard as a theme park staffed by yellow people.

Never, ever engage in conversations about the king, except to say how great he is. Generally, avoid politics or religion. Never touch someone’s head or point with your feet (or point your feet at anyone). If she has a partner, holding hands is the maximum public display of affection possible. Public kissing might as well be fucking and will shock people. Generally, displays of emotion are considered toddler behaviour.

I like to have a drink at at sunset to see the temple of the dawn glowing. Also Riva Surya hotel has a nice outside terrace for watching the river at happy hour.

If she wants to see sleaze, Nana Plaza / Soi Cowboy are racier, cheaper and less touristy than Pat Pong. The Thermae for late-night drinking surrounded by desperate hookers, rent boys, ladyboys and clients is great fun.

Wear factor 7 billion suncream *all the time*. It’s one of the hottest cities in the world, and this is the hottest time of the year: drink water, all the time (6 litres a day, minimum).

Unless you’re there for business, casual clothing is fine. (But reasonably modest; it’s a city not a beach.) Wear comfortable shoes; pavements are uneven and you have to walk up lots of steps to cross roads by footbridge.

oh: and generally, BKK is a very safe city. Certainly safer for women than lots of western cities. Just take reasonable care with valuables, money etc. I leave passport in hotel safe.

One weird trick to get online — designers hate it!

At the Google Progressive Web Apps afterparty last night, I had two very different conversations within five minutes of each other.

Conversation #1 went

Hey Bruce, lucky you weren’t at REDACTED conference last week. They were bad mouthing Opera! One speaker said, “Anyway, who cares about Opera Mini?”

In the time it took to drink another 5 bottles of free beer (two minutes), conversation #2 happened:

Oh Bruce, hi. We’ve just raised £100million in funding for our business in Asia, and 35% of our users are on Opera Mini.

What’s the difference? Well, for a start, one was apparently said by a European designer to a room full of European designers, in Europe. The second is the word “users”: the second conversation focussed on the fact that a technology is used by human beings, which is always, always the point.

Now, I don’t care about Opera Mini per se (I’m not its Product Manager). In the same way, I don’t care about walking sticks, wheelchairs, mobility scooters or guide dogs. But I care deeply about people who use enabling technologies — and Opera Mini is an enabling technology. It allows people on feature phones, low-powered smartphones, people in low-bandwidth areas, people with very small data plans, people who are roaming (you?) to connect to the web.

Sure, I get that Opera Mini can frustrate some designers and developers; your rounded corners, gradients and JavaScript-only APIs don’t work. But CSS isn’t content, and a progressively enhanced website will work (albeit more clunkily) with JavaScript throttled after 3 seconds. (I wrote Making websites that work well on Opera Mini if you want more information on how Mini works.)

I ran the stats today. Of more than 250 million Opera Mini users, 50% are on Android/iOS and 50% are on feature phones. The second group almost certainly have no choice in which browser to use to get a full web experience. That’s 125 million people that designer-on-stage doesn’t care about. People like Donald from Nigeria, people like Silma from Bangladesh. People.

The top territories for Opera Mini use are India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Bangladesh and South Africa. Because conversation #2 was about tangible stuff – millions of pounds, and numbers, let’s look at the economic growth of these nations full of interlopers to our WWW (Wealthy Western Web).

Country Population PPP Growth Rate
India 1,251,695,584 $6,300 7.3%
Indonesia 255,993,674 $11,300 4.7%
Bangladesh 168,957,745 $3,600 6.5%
Nigeria 181,562,056 $6,400 4%
South Africa 53,675,563 $13,400 1.4%

(PPP= Gross Domestic Product per Capita, figures from CIA World Fact Book)

Sure, those PPP numbers might be low compared with the home countries of designer-on-a-stage and audience, but how do the growth rates compare? These are dynamic, emerging markets. Who cared about China ten years ago?

If you don’t care about Opera Mini users in these areas, you can bet your competitors soon will.

Reading List

On Ad Blocking

At SynergyFest Mobile World Congress, I was asked a number of times whether Opera is looking at Ad Blockers and my general opinion of Ads. Here’s what I replied (with the BIG FAT DISCLAIMER that this is my personal opinion, and not that of Opera).

Firstly, yes; Opera is looking at Ad Blocking, and has been for quite a while (you’ll find lots of popular adblockers in our desktop extensions store). We know that Ads slow down the Web, and for many users, they’re expensive: the New York Times reported

Visiting the home page of every day for a month would cost the equivalent of about $9.50 in data usage just for the ads.

Many Opera users in emerging economies pay much more of their income for web access than I do in the UK, and we want to make the web more affordable for those people.

(The fact that we’re looking at it shouldn’t be taken as a commitment to anything, by the way. We look at everything our consumers demand and our competitors implement, of course.)

But let’s talk about ads themselves. “Ads are evil” isn’t an mature argument; we need to be more nuanced than that.

For example, the other day I was reading a serious political article. Underneath it was a “related article” – just some clickbait nonsense about “The Best Breasts of 2015”, designed to sell advertising, and paginating excessively in order to maximise “hits” (whatever that means) and worsening the user experience. Now, I’ve got nothing against breasts (in fact, I’m at the age when I’m growing my own) but this is preposterous crap and deserves to die in a fire.

Later, I was reading a blog post about a band I like, and in it was a text ad, telling me that the band were playing near me the week later. I didn’t know that, so clicked through and bought a ticket – and the gig was very good.

Both were ads; one was stupid, the other was very useful. What’s the difference? To me, it was intrusiveness and (related to that) contextuality. An ad about a band next to an article about the band is highly contextual, and thus less intrusive. That it was a text ad, so light to download, made it less intrusive too, because it didn’t delay the page loading or make the screen reformat. Neither did it autoplay a heavy video, make noise or obscure the content.

So the challenge for Ad blocking is to block the crap and allow the good. I don’t know if anyone knows how to do that infallibly.

There’s also the question of revenues. We’ve been trained to expect “free” content on the web, and that’s largely paid for by ads. Before I joined Opera and became an Internet Tycoon/ over-promoted gobshite (delete as you see fit), I had a reasonably popular blog. (This very one! And still the same 2003 design!)

Because it was reasonably popular, I paid a fair amount of money for server costs etc. As sole breadwinner with two young children, those costs were a burden, so I ran ads which paid my hosting and bought me a few pints. I don’t know that I would have pulled the plug without those ads (I like the sound of my own voice too much) but other people in my situation might, and it would be a huge loss to the Web – and therefore to consumers – if independent content producers’ voices disappeared as a result of advertising revenues drying up.

So, Ad-blocking is a must, I think. But it needs to be done intelligently, and (probably) over a few iterations before we (Opera, and the wider web ecosystem) get it right. And if that encourages the advertising industry to do their work with less intrusive, bandwidth-hogging nonsense, and therefore more utility (to consumers and to their clients), we’ll all gain.


Since I wrote this, Opera released a developer build of our desktop browser, with a built-in ad blocker that makes sites about 50% faster, and some 90% faster.

This led to good conversations about ads, publishers’ revenue and how the industry is changing:

Reading List

Literally trillions* of people asked me “Bruce, how do Smart Alerts in Opera Max work?”. So I blew Opera’s video budget on this 2 min explainer, featuring an eggbox and a Where The Wild Things Are puppet.

(*metaphorically trillions)

On the proposed Opera buy-out

I’ve had a few tweets, DMs and emails asking about the proposed buy-out of Opera by a Chinese consortium. Here are some answers to your questions (none of this is new; it’s publicly available in Lars’ statements to the press and Opera’s consumer blogs, but I know that many of you are techies who won’t necessarily read those). I apologise for not getting back to you earlier; the news broke on my last day of a press tour of India and I only got back yesterday.

Firstly, it’s not a done deal. An offer has been made, and Opera’s board has recommended that shareholders accept it. But shareholders need to vote and governments need to be consulted.

If the deal goes through, the shareholders change (because current shareholders would sell their shares to the Chinese consortium) but, as Nuno Sitima (Opera’s Lord of Mobile Stuff) wrote,

the people behind Opera remain the same. The same teams will be developing and delivering the [products].

Many of you asked why we’re doing this. It gives Opera access to 500 million Chinese customers of the consortium, and investment to grow bigger. I am not a Biz Guy so I’ll just quote the press release:

The transaction would give Opera access to the extensive internet user base of Kunlun and Qihoo in China as well as the financing and other support of the Consortium that would allow for the full potential of the Company to be realized.

Lastly, and most importantly, I’ve had Opera customers ask about the security and privacy of their data. The answer is simple, and reassuring (I hope):

Assuming the deal goes through (see first point above), Opera plans to continue operating as a stand-alone company (see Nuno’s quote above). We are a Norwegian company subject to Norwegian (EU/EEA) privacy laws. Our shareholders may change but our legal obligations in this respect will not. All data will continue to be handled in accordance with our Norwegian legal obligations — nothing changes in this respect.

(And, yes, I remain employed; thanks to all of you who asked after me personally and offered me other jobs. But, honestly, despite still looking great in a mankini, my pole-dancing days are behind me.)

Reading List

I’ve got a new job!

TL;DR, I’m moving from Developer Relations to become Opera’s Deputy Chief Technology Officer. Or maybe Deputy Technology Officer, because “Deputy Chief” is almost oxymoronic. Anyway, call me “Bruce”; it’s more polite than what you usually call me.

Co-father of CSS Håkon Wium Lie continues to be CTO, and I’ll be working with him, the Communications Team, the product teams, and my lovely colleagues in devrel, to continue connecting the unconnected across the world.

In some ways, this is simply an evolution of what I’ve been doing for the last couple of years. In a more profound way it’s a return to basics.

My first real exposure to the Web came about working in Thailand in 1999, when I was convalescing after my diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. Because M.S. is very rare in Asia, I could find no English language information to tell me how quickly or painfully I would die.

But I’d read about this new-fangled Web thing, and there was an Internet Café near my apartment, so I typed in “Multiple Sclerosis” into Alta Vista and found something extraordinary: a community of people around the world supporting each other through their shared diagnosis on something called a “website” – and I could participate, too, from a café in Pratunam, Bangkok. All strangers, across the globe, coming together around a common theme and helping each other.

I knew immediately that I’d stumbled upon something amazing, something revolutionary, an undreamed of way to communicate. As an English Literature graduate and ex-programmer, I was fascinated, by both the communicative potential and also the tech that drove it. By 2002, I was Brand Manager for a UK book company publishing on books for web professionals, and our first, flagship book was on Web Accessibility.

From accessibility, I began to advocate the general concept of open web standards on my blog and with various employers, so that everyone could access the web. Then, after being invited to join Opera in 2008, I started advocating HTML5, so people could connect to an open web that could compete with the proprietary silos of Flash and iOS. After that, I began beating the drum for Media Queries and Responsive Design so that the people in developing nations (like I was in ’99), using affordable hand-held devices, could connect and enjoy the full web. Then I proposed the <picture> element (more accurately: a very naive precursor to it) so that people with limited funds for bandwidth could connect economically, too. Then I agitated, inside Opera and outside, for Progressive Web Apps, so people could have a great experience on the open web, not those pesky walled gardens.

The common thread is people and getting them connected to each other. This matters to me because that happened to me, 17 years ago (spoiler: and I didn’t die).

A third of a billion people use Opera’s products to get them online, fast and affordably. I want to be part of making that half a billion, then a billion, then more; not by stealing customers from competitors, but by opening up the web to people and places that currently have no access. That’s a lot of people; there’s a lot to be done. It’s a big job. I’m a n00b and I’m gonna fuck up from time-to-time.

Bring it on.