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November 2006

Just call me yellow

Yesterday I was watching an episode from towards the end of series three of Six Feet Under, and Nate was complaining that Lisa (his wife) always played the Wiggles to their baby daughter - not that I can ever recall hearing the singing of the improbably cheerful Australians on any previous episode in this series of the show. 

Then today, I came across this headline: Yellow Wiggle forced to quit (you'll have to click on it to find out more).  Will anyone notice when his understudy takes over?  Unless they plan to retire the colour yellow in his honour, I suppose..

As an aside, I have to say that series three is a bit of a low point for Six Feet Under, but fortunately dreary Lisa is on her way out and Brenda is heading back so I assume things will improve.


Stupid

I came across this truly terrible website from Page One.  Then I read this (from the BBC) about websites being user-friendly (or not):

Web usability consultants Webcredible assessed the websites of 20 of the UK's most popular High Street retailers. It cited confusing search results, poor navigation and complicated checkout procedures as the worst mistakes.

Independent research shows that as many as 83% of internet users leave a website because they can't find what they are looking for," said Trenton Moss, director at Webcredible.

That would be me, then.  Whoever designed Page One's website has totally lost sight of what users want, and instead has tried to be far too clever.  If there is any useful information on this website (like, for example, addresses and opening hours of their bookshops) I certainly can't find it.

The lesson here is that if you really insist on using Flash, you should also offer a simple (i.e. HTML) version of the site.  That way, people might just be able to use the site rather than cursing and then giving up.

On a similar subject, I am getting very annoyed with Amazon.  They seem to have "enhanced" their service by adding third-party vendors, but it's only after you've added the item to your basket and tried to check-out that they tell you that "there seems to be a problem" - namely that this vendor doesn't deliver to Hong Kong.  But Amazon, you know that I live in Hong Kong, so why even bother to show me anything from this vendor, let alone allow me to add their merchandise to my shopping basket?


Pleasant surprise

I don't have very high expectations when it comes to food on board a plane (well, certainly not in Economy, which is where I usually end up), so when I get something good it is worth mentioning.

My pleasant surprise was Cathay Pacific's Paneer with rice.   Cubes of Paneer (Indian restaurants usually call it "Indian Cottage Cheese", which I have always found a rather unhelpful description) which had presumably been fried and then had some, er, curry-type sauce added. 

I've heard that the best chance you have of getting decent food on a plane is to request the Indian Vegetarian option.  It sounds like good advice.


No deal

I see that my estimable colleague Fumier QC has beaten me to the punch in reviewing the local version of Deal or No Deal.  I watched a few minutes of it last Sunday night, and although I have never seen the British version (which stars the formerly ubiquitous Noel Edmonds) it only took a few minutes to figure out what was going on (I haven't seen the show, but I did read this quite entertaining article in The Guardian which explains how it works).

Deal or No Deal first appeared in the Netherlands (it's owned by Endemol, the 'Big Brother' people), then Australia, and it has been quite a phenomenon in the UK, where it is extremely popular amongst daytime TV audiences (highly desirable demographics - young people with ASBOs, the unemployed, geriatric former barristers...).  It has also been entirely responsible for reviving Noel Edmonds's career, which seemed to have been killed stone dead by the BBC a few years ago when they finally cancelled Noel's House Party (several years too late, it has to be said).  Now he's back and apparently one of the highest-paid broadcasters in the land - thanks a lot, Channel Four.

It's basically a game of luck - the contestants have to choose the order in which to open the briefcases (each of which contains a sum of money from a HK$1 to HK$3,000,000), and they win whatever is in the last one they open.  Well, OK, a small amount of judgement is required when 'the banker' appears and offers the contestant a sum of money to stop playing and give up what they might have won had they continued.   

On the Channel Four version they have boxes, and they are opened by fellow contestants, but TVB Jade employ a selection of glamorous models (a.k.a third runners-up from Miss Hong Kong past, present and future) to hold the briefcases, open them when instructed to do so, and smile throughout.  What with that and the total absence of Noel Edmonds, I think I have to say that TVB's version is superior in almost every way.


Classified PR - Cheese shop

In the interests of research I have visited the new cheese shop in Central, which is housed in Classified PR

It's in a slightly out-of-the-way location at the far end of Hollywood Road, but they have created a special humidity-controlled room for the cheese so that it does not dry out (although most people keep cheese in the fridge, this is not really ideal because the humidity is so low).

They have close links with Neals Yard Dairy, which is the best place in London to buy British cheese - they supply most of the cheese, and they also trained the staff at Classified PR.  The range of cheeses is currently small but they have chosen well - for example there's Montgomery's Cheddar, Kirkham's Lancashire and Appleby's Cheshire, all of which are made by people who really care about their craft (no, not Kraft).

Prices are probably a little higher than elsewhere in Hong Kong, but considering that they look after the cheese so much better (and know more about it) I would have no hesitation in recommending  it.


Hong Kong Phooey v2

Way back when, there was quite an entertaining spat on here concerning a blog called Hong Kong Phooey that briefly burst into life and then disappeared again. 

I suppose that it was inevitable that someone would use the same name again, and so here is the second incarnation of Hong Kong Phooey.  A crowd-pleasing mix of tech stuff and other odds'n'ends, but sadly nothing likely to upset anyone enough to generate 39 comments on one post (ah, happy days...).

Meanwhile, the honourable Mr Fumier has been pestering me to link to Hotel Splendide.  Maybe I will.


Let me in, I'm an Executive!

As you may have noticed, I find the letter column in the SCMP a great source of amusement.  This letter was published yesterday:

Racial discrimination

It happened again! Last Sunday, I went shopping in Central with a Filipina friend who is a sales and marketing executive for a satellite television service company in Hong Kong.

At the IFC tower, she felt a need to use the toilet and went to the one on level P1. Unfortunately, there was a long queue of people waiting, and she decided to use the one on P3 instead. She was asked by the attendant if she was a Filipina. She confirmed that she was and the attendant then told her rudely that she should not be using the facility.

I was furious when I heard what had happened.

Why can't a Filipina use those toilets? The toilets are there for public use. This is very clearly a case of racial discrimination. Filipinos contribute to our economy, not just as domestic helpers, but also as engineers, managers, accountants and other professionals.

JOEL TRINIDAD CATAGUE, Tsuen Wan

The part I loved was where the letter writer goes to great lengths to stress that his friend is "a sales and marketing executive" (i.e. not a domestic helper).  If he had simply said that his friend was a Filipina wouldn't that have made the point about racial discrimination just as effectively?

I suppose the writer is also Filipino, and I'm sure that the management of the IFC don't stop him using the toilets, so I wonder what sort of discrimination we are talking about here? 


Good Evans

It seems a long time ago that Nury Vittachi was writing the mildly satirical Lai See column in the SCMP.  As you may recall, Nury felt that he had been 'sacked' for political reasons, and doubted the official line from the paper that it was simply time for a change.  The problem for the SCMP was that the column was handed over to a succession of hacks who pretty much killed it off until Ben Kwok took it over and made it a moderately entertaining read again.  One of the guilty men was David Evans, who seems to have overcome the minor disadvantage of a distinct lack of talent as a writer to enjoy a long career at the SCMP, churning out rubbish to fill the gaps left between the syndicated features.  

In last week's Sunday Morning Post, he was at it again.  I read his piece on Christina Noble and her charity, and wondered once again how it was possible for a professional journalist to turn in such a badly constructed piece of writing.  I actually read it a second time to see whether I had somehow missed the point, but I was still just as confused.  It seems I was not alone, and (somewhat bizarrely) the paper published a letter of complaint yesterday:

What's the point?

The column on Irish philanthropist Christina Noble (Post Magazine, November 12) was so without substance that I was amazed it got published at all, let alone in a prime English publication like the South China Morning Post. The article is muddled in search of a purpose.

The story is related with monotonous simplicity. It begins with Ms Noble having a dream, which is never revealed, followed by a sequence of events as uninformative as they are uninteresting. The first question that pops to mind upon reading it is: what were its author and his editor thinking?

I can live with the fact that the secret was not disclosed. I don't even mind navigating the flat passages. But I believe part of an unwritten agreement between a writer and a reader is that the reader is entitled to some kind of payoff after investing a certain amount of time reading a story. On finishing this article, the only thing I gathered is that Irish people have a tendency to begin their conversation with "Jesus".

The story's headline promises dreams can change your life. It might be right. I think I will find a better way to spend my Sunday mornings than reading stories like this.

JACK TEH, Clear Water Bay

Well, yes indeed.  My feeling was that Evans must have interviewed Christina Noble but either not made very good notes or not quite understood what she had said.  In spite of this he still wrote it up and submitted it, and no-one bothered to check it.  Perhaps it didn't help that the editor of the Sunday Morning Post was recently sacked, and no replacement appears to have been appointed.

I thought that the funniest part was that the paper should print a letter which was so critical of one of their own journalists.  That, and the SCMP being described as "a prime English publication"...


You're so vain

The problem with the final task in The Apprentice is that by this stage we (normally) already know who's going to win, and it's quite a challenge for that person to make such a big mess that it makes any difference. Tana did manage it in series three - she looked the most likely winner but chose the final task to demonstrate that she was terrible at man management - but that's the only time it's happened.

This time around it was obvious that Sean was the stronger candidate, and he knew that all he had to do was to avoid stupid mistakes. So he made sure everything was under control, and he greeted Trump when he arrived, and that was enough.  Lee had a few problems (not surprising with the team he choose), but somehow everything turned out OK in the end. 

To the boardroom, and Lee proved once again that he is good in this environment. He tried to convince Trump that his youth made him a 'true apprentice' and that he deserved credit for "stepping up" 4 times to be project manager. Nice try, but Sean was obviously a stronger candidate, and Lee was really admitting that by arguing that he had more potential. 

Here's the strange thing. Each week in the boardroom they analyze the performance of the teams and particularly the members of the losing team. In previous years the same thing happened in the final task. Yet this time (at least in what was broadcast) there was nothing specific about the merits of the two candidates apart from stuff about their education (which seemed to be a tie). Nothing about the mistakes that they had made or what they had done well. Nothing about the success of the events or how much money was raised. I suppose that both teams had done equally well, or maybe Lee did slightly better and that didn't fit in with the script? 

Then Trump asked his children for their opinions, but they had nothing to say. In fact, the only person willing to venture an opinion was Caroline, who praised both candidates but clearly favoured Sean. They also had an online poll, which was apparently strongly in favour of Sean though the actual figures were not announced. 

Trump asked the two of them which of the two adverts for Trump properties jobs they preferred. Sean chose New York to be with Tammy Mr Trump, and Lee said that as a New Yorker he also had to make the same choice. It's possible that if Lee had chosen Hawaii he might have been hired as well (I doubt that Sean would have objected). Never mind, because Trump hired Sean on the night, and Lee a few days later (though not for the Hawaii project). 

All very dull, really. Well, except for a few things that amused me. 

  • The doors in The Apprentice have fascinated me for some time. For the "live finale", the fired contestants trooped out on to the stage through a doorway. Amazingly, as each one came out they had to hold the door open for the next person (or not, when Tammy let the door slam in Allie's face). Did they do a rehearsal? Didn't they realize how clunky it was?
  • The woman from the charity for Lee's task was pretty scary, and there seemed to be a real chance that he would just fall apart under her withering assault. Disappointingly, at the end she seemed to be very happy with the event, though we never really found out how things turned out that way.
  • Lee somehow managed not to meet Trump when he arrived at his event, though he did eventually find him and lead him to seat - and, er,  give him a can of Diet Coke. Such a basic mistake to make.
  • Then there's Lenny, of course. It's hard to imagine a worse person to look after the celebrities (well, OK, maybe Brent). Anyway, Jamie Pressley was not happy with Lenny and called him a "little apprentice boy".
  • Oh, and Sean sneaking off for some hair gel in the shopping mall - and all the nonsense with Tammy.