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June 2006

Incredible

Last week's Economist had an article about Ray Ozzie, who is taking over from Bill Gates as Chief Software Architect for Microsoft.  Who he, you may be asking:

Mr Ozzie personally wrote a million of the first 3.5m lines of code for the first successful collaboration software, Lotus Notes. At a time when nobody had heard of the world wide web, Lotus Notes already offered “workspaces” not unlike today's wikis. Mr Gates watched with his usual mixture of emotions towards innovations by others - envy and grudging admiration. These probably gave way to anxiety when IBM, Microsoft's partner-turned-enemy, bought Lotus in 1995 for $3.5 billion.

Ah, Lotus Notes, my favourite piece of software in the whole world.

What made me stop and wonder, was this quote (my highlighting):

One reason why Mr Gates is so drawn to Mr Ozzie is that, as Mr Gates has said, “Ray is incredible at thinking of the end-user experience,” an area where Mr Gates, whose own genius is weighted towards business strategy rather than software finesse, has a less stellar reputation.

Lotus Notes may be very powerful and awfully clever, but the "end-user experience” is not one of its strengths.  So what is Bill Gates thinking?

The Guardian had another, more credible, theory:

Mr Ozzie's influence is expected to push Microsoft further into highly developed web applications and knowledge sharing programs, areas where Microsoft is feeling the pressure from such companies as Google.

If Ray Ozzie could develop something with the power of Notes that was not so user-hostile then that might just work.  The other way around is just too horrible to contemplate


Spot on

Maybe one of the problems with the English commentary on the FIFA World Cup is that the commentators feel under an obligation to offer us "insight" and opinions rather than sticking to describing what they can see.

After a few minutes of the Brazil vs. Ghana game, our man offered the insight that referees had "probably" been told to issue less cards.  Or maybe not, because a few minutes later the cards started coming out, and eventually Ghana were down to ten men.

When Spain scored against France, we were told that this was "decisive" because few teams have recovered after falling behind.  Er, well there was Australia against Japan, Brazil against Japan, Argentina against Mexico, and (as it turned out) France against Spain, so spot on with that one.

Later, when Puyol was booked our man felt that the referee had made a mistake and the card should have been red.  Er, no.


A good rail system

The commentator on one of the recent World Cup games was enthusing about the efficiency of the German rail network.  I think the commentator was John Helm, but Cable TV never tell us who is commentating so I may be doing him an injustice.  What I'm trying to figure out is how he managed to be at the England vs. Ecuador game and the Portugal vs. Netherlands game on the same day - either the rail network must be extremely efficient or all the commentators sound the same (apart from the excellent Martin Tyler, who it certainly was not).    

Or maybe he only goes to one of the games and does the commentary for the other one remotely.  Eurosport used to provide almost all of their football coverage from a studio in West London, and one UK radio station provided "unauthorized" commentary by sitting some experts in front of a TV set.  I'm not sure anyone could tell the difference.

However, John Helm (or whoever it is) obviously wants us to know that he is actually in Germany.  Unfortunately, being there doesn't seem to help much - for example, when Michael Owen went off injured, "John Helm" told us that this would disrupt Sven's master plan because England would start hoofing the ball up to Peter Crouch.  No, of course they didn't, because as we know, Crouch is good with his feet and not so good with his head.  He's got a good touch for a big man, you know.   

The other annoying part of the commentary is that they seem to be obliged to say "FIFA World Cup" and "FIFA World Cup stadium" every few minutes.  Oh, and if Sepp Blatter is at the game we always get a shot of him, because he's an important person.     


"Our actions were illegal and wrong. We will not repeat them."

Receiving "unauthorised" overseas satellite TV signals is not illegal under the Broadcasting Ordinance.  Yet a bar in Sai Kung wrote an open letter "admitting" that they had been naughty:

"We did not pay the fair price for this programming. We now recognise that our actions were illegal and wrong. We will not repeat them."

They were forced to issue this public apology because the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association (Casbaa) took legal action and Poets (the bar) could not afford to defend themselves in court, and so settled the case.  From the SCMP (subscription required):

But why, if the problem is so widespread and the number of bars taking unauthorised feed so great, has action only been taken against one, privately owned bar in Sai Kung? Why did Casbaa not send out a stronger message by taking court action against a number of offenders, or by targeting a bigger and better-known bar?  The owners of Poets declined to speak about the case, saying they had put the dispute behind them, but friends say they seriously considered contesting the case in the High Court and would have done so if it had not been for the huge legal costs involved.

"They were receiving and paying for a satellite service that might be unauthorised but isn't illegal under current legislation," one friend said. "They believed it would have been a difficult case for the broadcasters to win. They also believe the reason Poets was chosen as a target was because it was a small bar that couldn't afford to fight back.

"As it was, the costs of the case almost closed Poets down. But if the broadcasters had taken on a bigger bar with more resources, they might have found themselves with a real fight on their hands."

Casbaa chief executive officer Simon Twiston-Davies responded that it was "unfair to the organisation and unfair to the industry" to suggest that Poets had been targeted because it had limited resources.

"We don't pick on small players. We don't pick on anybody," he said. "We moved forward on that particular case but there have been many, many others where we didn't find ourselves obliged to take legal action. Instead, we came to amicable arrangements where they have legitimised their service."

The interesting point here is that if Casbaa took on a bigger company they might well lose the case.  So they threaten legal action and then settle before it gets to court (they asked Poets to pay HK$100,000, but settled for HK$30,000 and the letter mentioned above).  In spite of this action, many bars in Hong Kong still use "unauthorized" satellite signals from overseas:

Noel Smyth, managing director of sports bar chain Delaney's and Dublin Jack in Lan Kwai Fong, said the proliferation of unauthorised satellite systems in Hong Kong bars was at least partly due to the high cost and patchy quality of legitimate services.

Major chains subscribe to unauthorised satellite systems and authorised broadcasters because they want to be sure that key sporting events are available to their customers. "They [Casbaa] know about it and they are not delighted but they accept it so far because we subscribe to the authorised channels as well," he said.

In spite of there being a reasonable number of sports channels available on Now and Cable TV, many sporting events are still not available here on any of those channels, and, even when they are, the coverage tends towards the inane.  Understandably, bar owners resent this state of affairs.  Yet Casbaa want the law changed to make it illegal to watch unauthorized satellite channels. 

Fortunately there is little chance of the government doing that, so this pantomime will continue. 


Puzzling

One of the more puzzling sights of the World Cup so far (apart from watching England, which is another matter) was the Japanese fan shown on TV celebrating after their team's draw with Croatia.

Why celebrate?  It wasn't exactly a good result - to qualify, Japan now need to beat Brazil, which is tough enough, but even that is not enough - they also need to win handsomely to boost their goal difference, and to hope that Australia do not beat Croatia.

I know it's largely academic, but I had thought that if Australia drew with Croatia that would also eliminate Japan (because Australia beat Japan in an earlier game).  Not so, it seems.  Although FIFA originally said that results between the two countries would be considered before goal difference, they seem to have changed their minds - and not done a very good job of letting people know.

And what was with the whispering commentator for the Germany vs. Ecuador game last night?


Fooling no-one

Banks obviously make a bit of an effort to "disguise" the letters they send out with credit cards inside (by not putting the company name on the back, and a using special address).

Doesn't really work, though, because when an anonymous looking envelope arrives in the mail, my first thought is that it must be a credit card.  The very fact that it does not have any company name on it makes it very unusual, and the piece of cardboard inside is another giveaway.

Are thieves patiently waiting for an envelope that has "your new credit card" printed on the outside, or can they figure this out the same way that I can?    


He's got a good touch for a big man

England have never won their opening two games in the World Cup.  Or at least that's what the commentator kept telling us during last night's game.  Well, they have now.  Of course there is the small matter of two poor performances, but it's the points that count, right?

Well, maybe. 

I am wondering why I bothered to stay up to watch last night's (well, OK, this morning's) game, but possibly it was for the comedy moments.  Frank Lampard came up with an impressive number of different ways of failing to score, but none came close to Peter Crouch's hilarious combination of stabbing the ball wide with an outstretched foot and falling over.  Surely it must have been easier to score?

Yes, I know he got the goal that mattered, but you've got to worry when you are relying on Peter Crouch to score.  It's a good thing England have Defoe and Johnson in reserve in case they are needed.  They are there, aren't they?  Sven brought them along as cover, didn't he? 

Help!


World Cup 2006

During the 1998 World Cup there was blanket coverage on the terrestrial channels in Hong Kong, with several games shown live on all four channels.  ATV World had the BBC commentary, and TVB had the international commentary, whilst there was Cantonese on Home & Jade.  I never understood quite why they needed to do that when 99% of all TV sets sold in Hong Kong have Nicam - couldn't they have shared the games as ITV & BBC do in the UK? 

How things have changed.  For this World Cup, TVB Pearl's coverage consists of a very brief programme after the 9.30 news - I haven't caught it yet, but I suppose it must just be the goals.  That's not quite all, because TVB Jade has an extended highlights show at 11.00 (with a break for the news), and if you switch to the English audio you get Andrew Sams and Mark Grainger doing their best to talk you through the games.  Are TVB too mean to pay for the full commentary, or is it technically too difficult to edit the games with English commentary?

I believe that the terrestrial channels are only allowed to show the games a certain number of hours after they have finished.  As I recall, for the last World Cup (or was it the European Championships) TVB had a highlights show at breakfast time, but that's not happening here.  Watching games a full day after they were played doesn't really have much appeal.

Meanwhile Cable TV has full live coverage of all the games.  It's in their own unique style, but fortunately during the games they do have English commentary (similar to the EPL coverage, but without summarisers).  There is no pre-game or post-game analysis, but at least we get the games.

Perhaps they should have signed-up Ron Atkinson.  He was dropped by both ITV and The Guardian after making racist comments, and is now offering his comments for free at Selfcast.

One other thing - who designed such horrible and obtrusive graphics, and how did they manage to get the Korean names the wrong way round?  The commentator managed to say the names correctly, so why couldn't they display them properly?  Poor show.


Him again

Pierce Lam is at his pompous best in the SCMP letter column (Linguistic prejudice), complaining that the English Schools Foundation is selecting children based upon their ability to communicate in, er, English:

Hong Kong is about the only city in the world that tolerates a partly publicly funded institution with an admission policy that discriminates against most of the population on linguistic grounds.

It is the English Schools Foundation's declared policy to give preferential admission to native English speakers. One practical effect of such a discriminatory policy is that local Chinese children are excluded from the plush facilities bestowed on the foundation by the colonial government. ESF primary schools keep turning away local Chinese children who would have no problems of admission if sent to schools in England, Australia and North America, simply because their Chinese-speaking families have been long-standing Hong Kong residents.

Spoken language may incarnate prejudice. How many foreign-born Chinese children articulating in fluent English have been "seen" to speak Chinese in admission interviews because of their non-western looks?

The ESF was set up to provide education using English as the medium of instruction. So, logically enough, they only admit children who can communicate in English - the majority of whom are (unsurprisingly) local Chinese.  Yes, local Hong Kong Chinese, whatever Pompous Pierce may choose to believe.

I missed this marvellous letter when it was published by the SCMP last Thursday, so I am grateful to the author of the following letter (published yesterday) for drawing my attention to it.

Letter writer Pierce Lam ("Linguistic prejudice" June 1) has been lambasting the English Schools Foundation for what seems like eons. He obviously has some long-standing grudge. Mr Lam, why don't you tell us what the big bad ESF has done to you?
JENNIFER EAGLETON, Tai Po

Well, yes indeed.