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November 2005
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January 2006

December 2005

Sent to a barren rock

Fumier has already mentioned this, but never mind (from The Guardian):

When a middle-aged man swore at airline staff after he was refused a drink on a flight from Manchester to Tenerife, he got a sunshine break he had not bargained for. The pilot diverted the charter plane and dumped the troublesome holidaymaker 300 miles from his destination on a barren volcanic island off the west coast of Africa.

Well, a barren volcanic island with "several luxury hotels and a golf course".  Moreover, The Guardian reports that he "was was not detained in a cell and was released to enjoy the island's famed tranquillity for 36 hours" before leaving the island.  So, not much of a punishment, really. 

The remaining passengers arrived in Tenerife nearly four hours late, and it must have cost the airline a large amount of money to make this detour.  Was it really such a good idea?

Perhaps they were worried that he might have wanted to smoke.


Phil Space

You see, I said it wasn't Conrad, and now it's official - Phil has owned up to being the man behind Flagrant Harbour, the awfully enthusiastic new blog that suddenly appeared fully-formed a few weeks ago.  He's a Brit, you see, and spelling is not his strong point.  Plenty of other clues.   


Chicken Little

As for Chicken Little, it's rubbish, and certainly not worthing braving the appalling AMC booking system.

Disney haven't had a hit for years, and most of their recent efforts have been panned by the critics. Not exactly true, of course - Disney have had several hits in the last 10 years, but all of them have come from Pixar, which makes it rather unfortunate that they have managed to fall out with them. Maybe the deal can be salvaged with the changes at the top of Disney, and some say that the recent deal between ABC and Apple (for TV shows to be made available on the iPod) is part of an attempt to persuade Steve Jobs (wearing his Pixar hat) to change his mind. Anyway, Disney are working on their own computer-generated animation, in the hope of becoming less reliant on Pixar, and Chicken Little is their first offering.

Sadly, it's a horrible mess. It's both too short and too long - too short to properly develop the characters and the storyline, and too long for the plot they have cobbled together. In fact, it's as if it was put together by a hyperactive child who was worried that we might get bored with a simple tale - so that is dismissed in the first half-hour, then it inexplicably veers off at a tangent before delivering an entertaining (but somewhat odd) finale. All very confusing.

It also lacks subtlety. To a large extent the story is about a father and son relationship, but someone must have worried that viewers might not figure it out, so one of the characters spouts psycho-babble about 'closure' that will surely go over the heads of children and annoy most adults. Pixar would have left it for viewers to figure out for themselves, meaning that the kids would have taken it at face value and adults (or at least some of them) would appreciate that there was something to think about.

So what's left? We get fat people gags, and we get a bubble gum gag that is almost a direct copy of a much more effective gag in Toy Story 2, and we get some slapstick.

Yes, I am being a bit unfair, because there are some funny gags, and parts of it are well-written, but this is Disney, so expectations are high, and you can't help but compare it to the Pixar gold standard. Unfortunately there really is no comparison, and the really scary things is that these are the guys who have the rights to make future Toy Story movies.  Please guys, agree a new deal with Pixar!


Screen Test

Animated films are invariably dubbed into Cantonese by local performers, and it is this version of the film that plays on most screens in Hong Kong - without English subtitles.

Fortunately, the original English version is available in a few places, which for those of us in the Kowloon and the New Territories means the AMC cinema in Festival Walk. Nothing wrong with the cinema (actually it's quite a pleasant place to watch a film), but their telephone booking system is agonisingly awful, having apparently been designed by someone with a grudge against the human race.

Its sheer awfulness is compounded by a total lack of common sense. To book a ticket you need to know the film number or listen to a list of all the available films - but the idiots don't print the film numbers in their advert in the SCMP. So far so stupid, but they haven't figured out that if you call the English number you most likely want the English version, so you have to listen to a list that includes Harry Potter and Chicken Little in Cantonese (one show of each per day) before it finally gets to the eight shows per day of the Chicken Little English version (at no.9).

You may be wondering if they are showing 9 different films, and the answer is that they are not. As definitive proof that this is a system designed to frustrate the customer, they actually ask you to choose the screen on which you want to watch Harry Potter or King Kong. Obviously you don't care - all you want to do is choose a convenient time, but somehow you are expected to pick a screen first. Would it really be so difficult to set the system up so that you could choose the film first and then listen to all the showtimes?

It takes a fraction of the time to make a booking on the Internet for UA Cinemas, you can choose your seat, and they have machines to issue the tickets (no queue). They do charge a booking fee, but personally, I'd willingly pay that and their higher ticket prices to avoid the pain of dealing with the AMC automated phone system. Or perhaps just wait for the DVD.


The shortest day

The Winter Solstice is celebrated on the shortest day of the year (i.e. today) and it is traditional to visit your family for a special dinner (no, sorry, that doesn't mean a Big Mac and large fries).  I think we are celebrating the fact that from here on out the days get longer - though compared to the cold and dark December afternoons in the UK I hardly notice the difference.  Anyway, here's the official line:

This celebration can be traced to the Chinese belief in yin and yang, which represent balance and harmony in life. It is believed that the yin qualities of darkness and cold are at their most powerful at this time, but it is also the turning point, giving way to the light and warmth of yang. For this reason, the Dong Zhi Festival is a time for optimism.

The strange thing is that although it is one of the most important festivals of the year, it isn't a public holiday. However, most offices do close early, which is better than nothing.  So, after a short day today we have a full day tomorrow, and then it's Christmas (yes, OK, some people have to work on Saturday morning).  Whoopee.


Digital TV

I was rather surprised to read about the plans that ATV and TVB have for digital TV (from The Standard):

Television Broadcasts and Asia Television, Hong Kong's terrestrial TV operators, have pledged to invest at least a further HK$400 million each to roll out high-definition television (HDTV) services in the city by the end of 2007.

Both are required under their broadcasting licenses to begin HDTV services by 2007, a Broadcasting Authority spokeswoman said Monday. The government body has approved the companies' plans for HDTV, in which each has committed to spend a further HK$400 million by 2009, she said.

Isn't there an opportunity here for the government to auction the available frequencies to the highest bidders rather than just giving it to the dullards who are already boring the population with their dreary programs?  It doesn't sound promising, as the SCMP reports:

ATV proposes to launch four new, standard resolution channels providing programmes on show business, culture, trade news, finance and shopping information. The broadcaster also aims to provide 14 hours of prime time HDTV programming per week.

Yawn, yawn.  Rubbish doesn't get any appealing because it's broadcast in high definition.


Things I don't understand (1)

Couples who have a shared email address.  What's that all about, then?

I suppose it made sense a few years ago, but these days there are plenty of perfectly good free email services, most notably GMail (more storage space than you could possibly need, and the option to save copies of emails in Outlook), and adding a 2nd email address to an existing account only costs a few dollars a month. 

Oh, and people who use work email for personal stuff.  Don't understand that at all. 


It's back

I think the word is hubris. 

In week 2 of the latest Apprentice, the men's team were delighted when they were told that the task was to develop an advertising campaign for Lamborghini.  What could possibly go wrong?  Chris works in advertising and the rest of the team are all, er, men. Throughout the task they exuded confidence, and yet they came up with a dull and confusing campaign that they roceeded to explain in minute detail.  "Here's the car, and here's water, which could kill us and yet we need it to stay alive" (I paraphrase slightly).

Continue reading "It's back" »


Noisy

I don't want to sound like one of those crazy people who write letters to the SCMP, but...

When they introduced Idiot TV on buses, I thought most of the complaints were overdone - yes it's annoying, but I found it quite easy to ignore.

Now they have apparently decided to turn up the volume so that we can't ignore it.  Even when I am listening to music on my MP3 player I can still hear their brainless presenters talking rubbish in the background. 

I predict that they will tell us that their research shows that most passengers enjoy watching this nonsense, and most of them are deaf (on account of shouting at each other all the time).  Or perhaps it's to drown out the people who talk loudly into their mobile phones on buses.  It definitely wouldn't be because they want to be able to charge more for advertising.  Oh no.


Not the full picture

I notice that E@L has acquired a bargain price Philips Plasma TV, whilst Shaky has already replaced his with something new and shiny from Pioneer.  I still remember the first time I saw a plasma TV on sale in Hong Kong, and I think the price was HK$100k (US$12,800).  Now they start at around one-tenth of that price and Fortress and friends fill their stores with them. 

Which is where things start to get a bit tricky.

Time was when all you had to decide was the screen size and whether you wanted to pay extra for a big name brand.  All TVs were pretty much the same, with minor variations such as Nicam and flatter squarer tubes to make it mildly interesting.

Now you have to choose between old-style CRT, LCD and Plasma, and between HD and a variety of other standards, with a huge range of prices.  Yet when you go into the average shop it is almost impossible to see the difference in quality between the cheapest and most expensive.  I've looked at cheap sets that appear to have very good sharp pictures, and sets that cost a small fortune and yet have murky pictures.

I suppose there are a couple of explanations for this.  The first is that the average electrical store offers far-from-ideal viewing conditions, and the second is that the best sets are designed for high-definition TV and the next generation of DVD technology (Blu-Ray etc.), neither of which are yet available.  Plus, the idiots use large-screen TVs to advertise other products and special offers, usually with VCD-quality pictures.         

Or perhaps it's the fact the people who run Fortress, Broadway and the rest are happy to treat us like idiots who know nothing about the products but love special offers.  Fortunately there are some specialist stores that do nothing but sell plasma and LCD TVs.  They turn down the lighting to create an environment that is more relaxing and closer to the conditions where you would watch TV at home, and they even appear to have used some care in deciding what to show on the screens.  Yes, that is The Incredibles you are watching.  We have Toy Story and Finding Nemo if you'd prefer.  Pixar plays very well on a plasma screen, in case you hadn't noticed.

Maybe they can even explain the differences between a set costing little more than US$1,000 and one for US$8,000.  There's always my theory that it's all a scam and the expensive ones are just there to make the US$2,000 sets look cheap.  Answers on a postcard please...