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October 2005
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November 2005

Trouble with goldfish

Simon Jordan's excellent fortnightly column in The Observer offers a fan/owner's view of some of the things that are wrong with modern football. This week it's spoilt players:

The wider issue, though, is addressing the source of the problem: the over-protection of players through weak management and nannying. Last April a Fulham player liaison officer told the papers about some of his tasks. He said he'd been called out to Alain Goma's house because 'Goma's goldfish was swimming in the wrong direction'. He'd been called to rescue a player lost on the London Underground ('he was helpless'). He'd been called out by Fabrice Fernandes who kept waking up in the morning with a wet head, and discovered the player had been 'sleeping by an open window'.

You may not be surprised to hear that he has been charged by the Football Association in regard to something he said about referees.  Top man.


When in Rome...

Does it make any sense to buy a DVD of a programme that is broadcast on TV in Hong Kong?  That I could watch or record for free (well, maybe the cost of a DVD-R disk or two)?

Obviously the answer is yes.  For a few reasons:

(1) Laziness (remembering to record the program)

(2) Time (being able to watch it when you've recorded it). Actually this is (1) again because I could put it on a DVD and save it for when I do have time.

(3) Stupid damn commercials, especially TVB Pearl's policy of ignoring the breaks put there by the producers and having them whenever they feel like it.

(4) Additional stuff/subtitles/quality (a bit marginal)

but the main one is

(5) To watch the programme as it was originally intended, without nannyish alterations (idiotic stuff such as hearing Anthony Jnr say "Damn You" to his mother and then being reprimanded by his father for saying "the 'F' word").  Yes, I have complained about this before

The insane thing about this is that (as far as I know) TVB could choose to transmit The Sopranos, Six Feet Under and similar without this silliness (there is a little-used 'M' certificate available for this purpose from whichever nannyish government body decides these things).  They already transmit these shows after midnight so it shouldn't really be a problem.

So, three cheers for Now Broadband TV.  They have decided that Hong Kong viewers can be treated as adults and watch 'Rome' in the version that HBO viewers in the States and BBC viewers were able to enjoy.  Mind you, the warning caption at the start of the show is something else (you name it, they've got it).  Somewhat weirdly, they have done this by setting up a channel (104) which currently exists solely to transmit one programme, but perhaps they will extend this to other HBO offerings.

Actually, I have to say that I'm kinda intrigued to know what is left of 'Rome' after they have excised the nudity, sex and gore.  Well, I suppose there's the Senate...   


Cheese Wars

I was (you will be unsurprised to learn) more than a little intrigued to see that ATV World were showing a programme called "Cheese Wars" on Monday night.  What would it be about?

Well, yes, cheese.  Though it was decidedly light on actual cheese, and was more the story of a group of West Country farmers who had been rather badly let down by Dairy Crest, the company that distributes their cheese to supermarkets - oh, and which also happens to be a formidable competitor, marketing their own brands such as Cathedral City (which is actually not bad for a factory-made cheese). The farmers don't have any legal agreement with mighty Dairy Crest, who just buy their cheese when they feel like it, and (remarkably enough) they were selling quite a lot of Cathedral City, and rather less of the farmer's cheese.  

Understandably, the farmers wanted to reduce their reliance on Dairy Crest.  So they hired an expert on cheese marketing, to help them to create their own brand and sell it direct to supermarkets.   Sadly they seemed to have found the Tung Chee Hwa of cheese marketing.  He said that he wanted to get their cheese into 100 supermarkets in the West Country for test marketing, but he managed to get it into precisely zero supermarkets.  His brand ideas were "Bite Me" and "Farmer's Pride", but these went down like a lead balloon.  Then someone in one of the focus groups suggested "West Country", which is what they eventually adopted.  Perhaps the farmers could have thought of that one themselves...   

Then, having failed to do what he had promised, our marketing man did what he had been told not to do, and talked to Dairy Crest about the new brand - and even agreed to work more closely with them.  Maybe this was the only viable option, but the farmers could have done that themselves, rather than hiring a marketing director on a fancy salary to create a new brand precisely so they were less dependent on Dairy Crest.

Anyway, it seems that they haven't given up on this idea, and now have a Farmhouse Cheese Makers website.  What I learned from reading the website is that two of the members of the farmers' co-op are the producers of Keen's cheddar & Montgomery cheddar - and if you want traditional English cheddar made from unpasteurised milk, these are two of the top names.  Yet it seems that in order to stay in business, they also have to sell cheese to Dairy Crest at bargain prices.  Big business triumphs again.


Bunch of idiots

It's November, so it must be time for my annual anti-Symantec rant.

I needed to renew my subscription for Norton Internet Security, so (after finding my way through their badly-designed website) I discovered that for a few dollars more I could upgrade to Norton Internet Security 2006. 

Well, why not?  It seemed like a bargain.

One reason is that when I placed my order I couldn't download the product.  Should be so straightforward - the email said that I could download the software from "my order page", and (like an idiot) I kept trying to find the download icon, assuming that maybe I'd done something wrong.  No, I hadn't - they had.

I complained, and a few days later they informed that there was a "problem", and my credit card had not been debited (hmmm...) and suggesting that I could order again.  I did, and (amazingly) this time it worked. 

I have discovered one 'gotcha' already.  When you install the software, it changes your homepage, and then the software refuses to let you change it back because it might be a hacker doing this.  Amazingly, the way it does this is to create a warning window that it doesn't actually display.  Brilliant.


Driving test

Just an ordinary day on Hong Kong's roads.

Watching drivers frantically and pointlessly changing lanes before entering a tunnel where (gasp) they have to stay in one lane for a few minutes.

Sitting in a bus that was trying to pull out from behind a broken-down vehicle, watching drivers doing all they could to stop this happening.

Drivers rubber-necking because there was a minor accident, perhaps keen to have an accident of their own.

And don't even get me started on minibus drivers... 


The elimination game

Well, season 3 of The Apprentice is coming to an end on Star World, with two women (Tana and Kendra) the last two left standing.

I have to admit that around week 11, my shortlist would have included Tana (and Bren, Alex and Angie) but not Kendra.  Somehow she and Craig seemed to have coasted through as the weakest members of the team that kept winning (Magna).  They were helped by the way that their more high profile teammates got picked to join Net Worth and then seemed to fall apart when they got there - the best example of this being Alex and Bren messing up the Staples and Solstice tasks.   

Continue reading "The elimination game" »


Play your cards right

The credit card business in Hong Kong is incredibly competitive.  There's no need to pay an annual subscription - most cards offer one or more years free, and then you just have to threaten to cancel to get them to waive the annual fee.

Apart from the introductory gifts there are a variety of special offers, some of which seem to make no sense at all.  For example, DBS is offering a $20 coupon for every $60 you spend at Pizza Hut.  The coupon is only valid for about two weeks, but when you use it there is no minimum spending requirement. 

However, the part I find truly puzzling is that they are going to so much trouble to encourage customers to use their credit cards when they have a pizza delivered, when I'd have thought that would be the very last thing they would want.  Surely they want the drivers to take cash and get back for the next delivery, not spend time taking an imprint of the customer's credit card.

On top of that, DBS give you 90 days credit on your $80 pizza.

Desperate or what? 


Full English breakfast

You may have noticed that I am fascinated by the Atkins Diet and why (or if) it works.  Obviously Robert Atkins himself didn't know the answer, and so he came up with scientific mumbo-jumbo instead, but in spite of that it clearly is an effective diet (for some people, if you are sensible).

I think it's been clear for some time that what actually happens for people who follow Atkins successfully is that they eat less, with unsurprising consequences for their weight.  Now there is scientific evidence that a high-protein diet makes you feel full, which is why you eat less (from The Guardian):

Finally, a scientific explanation for why eating endless steaks on the Atkins diet helps people lose weight: the masses of extra protein send messages to the brain to stop eating.

"The current findings provide an answer to the question of how protein-enriched meals decrease hunger and reduce eating, unsolved up to now," said the researchers in a paper published today in Cell Metabolism.

According to Robert Atkins, the late founder of the most famous of the low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets that were hugely popular a year ago, the eating plan works because cutting down on carbohydrates prevents insulin peaks which cause sugar to be stored as fat, and increasing protein intake makes the kidneys work harder, using up more calories.

But his ideas have never held up experimentally - except for one. "It is well known that protein feeding decreases hunger sensation and subsequent food intake in animals and humans," said Gilles Mithieux of the University of Lyon, one of the authors of the new research.

Well, that seems to make sense. 

I believe that the latest fashionable diet is from Australia and also stresses the advantages of eating protein rather than carbohydrates - so even though Atkins was wrong, proving that he was wrong has led to the discovery of something more sensible.


The hump

Where I live, they have some speed humps in the road.  Damn stupid things - many drivers (especially taxi drivers) drive fast and then brake just before the speed humps.  Drivers of small vans just ignore them completely.  So, what's the point?

This report in The Observer says that it's much better to replace speed humps with more subtle traffic calming:

A major report for the Department for Transport reveals that 'psychological' traffic calming works. Painting the road different colours, taking out white lines or planting things in the way of sight-lines on corners can be used to make roads look narrower, or bumpy or windy. Drivers then feel less safe and drive more slowly - a principle adopted most radically in one town in the Netherlands which abolished all signs and road markings.

The four-year study by the Transport Research Laboratory found that many optical tricks were successful in slowing speeds: in simulator tests all speeds fell when the measures were introduced, some by an average of more than 4mph; and in one test in Latton, Norfolk, average speeds fell by up to 8 mph, and the speeds of faster drivers by even more.

The most successful measures, likely to be used in future, were using red bricks to make the road look narrower and small areas 'built out' into the road with trees, shrubs or wooden posts, said the report

My first reaction is that I don't understand why it needed a four-year study to reach these obvious conclusions.  Speed humps are largely ineffective because many drivers see them as a challenge - how quickly can they accelerate away from one speed hump and how late can they brake before the next one.  Perhaps they enjoy an uncomfortable ride, and don't pay for their own petrol, or perhaps they're just stupid.  Who knows?

If you can fool a driver into slowing down, he won't even realize that this is happening, and will almost certainly drive at a steady speed, which is safer and more economical. 

Less cheese and more driving, and soon this blog will be worth as much as Fumier.


Letter of the Week

There's a splendid letter in today's SCMP Technology section from someone called Jay Bhatt.

I read your article "Desperate wait as industry fumbles with TV distribution" (October 25) on the entertainment industry's problems with television distribution in Hong Kong.

One solution would be to get Now Broadband to cut a deal with the Big Four broadcasters in the United States - ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox - to distribute their channels, preferably in high definition, on NOW's platform. I am sure Hong Kong subscribers would not mind paying, say, $20 to $30 a channel or $100 a package a month to get quality US programming in high definition with Dolby Digital surround sound and the works.

PCCW has said it will start high-definition feeds in December. If it got the Big Four on board too, it would not even have to reformat (pan and scan) the shows for Hong Kong television. The broadcasters could just pass the whole channel through directly.

Star World is a good case in point. It feeds through much of Fox's programming (both Star and Fox are owned by Rupert Murdoch), including American Idol, Malcolm in the Middle and The Simpsons. Star will further monetise this content by showing it on NOW Broadband, starting in January, for a monthly fee.

The reason I feel people download their TV here is that:

1) the shows broadcast here on terrestrial and even satellite TV are rubbish; and 2) the good US shows broadcast here are years behind what is available in the US.  TVB, I believe, recently started season two of The OC while the US is well into season three - and this is just one example.

Perhaps the Broadcasting Authority and Hong Kong broadcasters should contact their US-based counterparts and try a new approach that would provide quality programming to viewers while giving money back to the stations, which in turn could support the development of new shows.

It may also help reduce, although not necessarily eliminate, illegal downloads of TV shows.

Jay Bhatt

Kowloon

You gotta love the fact that someone who is apparently familiar with the jargon ("monetise this content" indeed) knows so little about the broadcasting industry. 

There may possibly be a few tiny obstacles to be overcome before this can happen - for example, there's the small matter of the legal rights to all these shows.  Would TVB and ATV pay for the Hong Kong rights to shows that had already aired on another channel months earlier?  Possibly not.  Do ABC, NBC and CBS even own the international rights to all the shows they broadcast?  Er, no.

This, of course, explains why BBC Prime is rubbish - they don't show anything that the BBC can sell to other broadcasters or on DVD.  They don't show programmes that belong to other organizations.  Old editions of Top Gear?  No problem.  Swiss Toni?  Certainly, sir.  The Office? Extras? Spooks? Rome?  Possibly not.

But, hey, if someone would offer me BBC1, BBC2 and Channel 4 for HK$100 a month, I think I could be persuaded to sign-up.  Somehow, I don't think it's going to happen, though.