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June 2008

Apprentice Week 6 - adverts

Last week, Matthew was fired for being an 'awkward character' and Saira had a lucky escape and a big falling out with Paul. 

The teams are picked up by a London bus with an advert for 'The Apprentice' on its side.  They get a phone call from Sugar, who wants the teams to prepare an advertising campaign for one of his own products.  It's interesting that Sugar couldn't be bothered to turn up - buit then he really doesn't like advertising people, and I suspect that his idea of the perfect advert is a sign scrawled on a piece of cardboard saying "Apples, 4 for £1". 

Miriam and Paul 'step up' to be the project managers.  Paul needs to do well here, because after a dynamic start he has failed to impress recently.

Is it going to be the e-mailer?  No, it turns out to be a prototype CD player with a 10 disc changer that is supposed to sell for £99. The teams meet with Sugar's son and find out what message he wants them to put forward.  He's going for value for money and user-friendly, and possibly innovative.  I'm going for cheap.

No surprises from Sir Alan - he tells us that he doesn't want the advertising to be 'arty farty', but do the teams know that?   

Advertising agency creative director Keith Courtney is brought in to give advice.  It seems he doesn't like the product, calling it "cheap and tacky".  Well, at least we aren't getting all the fake bonhomie that characterizes the Trump version of the show - Sugar hates advertising people, and they aren't keen on his products. 

Saira is talking slowly and clearly to Paul, as if she were dealing with an idiot. "This part now.  Is about being creative."  They argue about their strategy and there is a lot of gesturing going on.  Paul tells Saira that "we are already forming a picture of how the advert is going to look."  He draws a picture with his hands.  Saira argues back and then folds her arms.  All is not well. 

Continue reading "Apprentice Week 6 - adverts" »


Prince Caspian - a stupid adaptation

Having watched the film (which opened a few weeks ago in Hong Kong), and read the book, I have to say something about the horrible job they have done of adapting this children's classic for the cinema.

In the book, the story starts (as it should) with the Pevensie children.  They are on a railway station somewhere in the countryside, when they are suddenly whisked off to Narnia.  Later they are told the story of Prince Caspian and why he has summoned them back to Narnia. 

The film, on the other hand, starts with Prince Caspian escaping from the castle, and although a rather cursory attempt is made to explain the story, the main focus is on excitement.  And action.  Then Caspian finds the horn and immediately summons the children (something that takes much longer and is given far greater consideration in the book). 

In the film version the children are at Strand underground station in Central London when the call comes.  Presumably they did this because it helps to make it clear that the story is taking place during World War II, but it also enabled them to add two unnecessary plot points - Peter Pevensie being caught up in a fight, and his sister Susan fending off an unwelcome admirer.  These two themes are developed further as the film goes on, with Peter and Susan both falling victim to the screenwriters' attempts to "modernise" the story.

Then there's the way that the Telmarines are given a vaguely Spanish accent just to make it clear that they are the bad guys.  So much easier than giving us the 'back story' that is in the novel, and typical of the unimaginative way that this has been put together. 

Some people seem to think that the basic narrative structure of the book would not have translated well to film.  I disagree, and in fact I think it would have made a lot more sense if they had left it alone - though I suppose we'd still have had the inevitable CGI and extended battle scenes.

Maybe they'll find a decent director for the next one.


Rush hour in the middle of the day

Another day, another no.8 storm signal  in Hong Kong.

This one was somewhat unexpected, because Tropical Storm Fengshen was originally supposed to be heading towards Taiwan, but it changed direction and went right past Hong Kong.

The no.8 signal was raised late last night, and early this morning it was very windy and very wet, but the storm passed by and the signal was lowered after 12½ hours.  

I've complained before about the madness that overcomes everyone when a no.8 signal is raised during working hours and everyone tries to get home at the same time.  Of course, something similar happens when the signal is lowered during working hours and most of the population rushes to get to work simultaneously.

The problem here is that government thinks that people can't be trusted to use their common sense.  So they have rules (here's a 23 page booklet), and of course they don't want to be too generous to employees so the standard rule is that employees have to be back at work 2 hours after the no.8 signal is lowered.

Two hours may sound long enough - but that assumes that you know straight away that the signal has been lowered, and then of course you may have to wait for shuttle buses and other forms of transport to re-start - and of course they are usually extremely busy.  Funnily enough, it is often quite windy and rainy during a tropical storm, so queuing up for buses is not exactly a pleasant experience. 

In a sane world, there would be an announcement, and people would get back to work if they needed to do so, or stay at home if not.   


Trump is puzzled that no-one is taking him seriously

I find myself drawn to the Celebrity Apprentice (TVB Pearl, Saturdays 8.30 pm) with a sense of grim foreboding.  How many ways can it go horribly wrong?

Several, as it turns out.

In week one, it was nothing more than a contest to see which "celebrity" could get their friends to pay the most for a hot dog.  Omarosa (who apparently qualifies as a celebrity because she was a contestant on the first series of The Apprentice - back in the days when it was quite good) was made project manager.  She told the ladies' team that they shouldn't rely on their celebrity, but instead needed to impress Trump with their business acumen.  Er, what?  The ladies lost, and Trump didn't fire Omarosa for this idiotic strategy - but he did fire one of her team for not calling Hugh Hefner and asking him to pay $10,000 for a hot dog.

In week two it was a relief to discover that there was a real task.  The men won easily. 

Week three was one long advert for Kodak printers.  Gene Simmons was moved across to the ladies' team as their project manager, and decided that there was no need to listen to the client's ideas.  He is "Mr Outside the Box" he told us, and he sent just two of his team (Kely Galan and Nely Furato) to meet the Kodak executives.  Rather than listening, they talked, and so they didn't get what it was that Kodak wanted them to say.  Not that it really mattered, because Gene Simmons wasn't going to take any notice.

The men did all go to the meeting, they did listen, and they did understand what Kodak are selling (cheaper ink).  They won.

Then we had an example of the biggest problem with this format.  Gene Simmons was not going to do any of the things that a losing Apprentice contestant would normally do.  He wouldn't accept that he was wrong, he wouldn't blame any of his team members who had made mistakes, he just smiled and said that everyone had done a great job.

Trump, of course, was puzzled.  Who was this man?  Why did he not want to play the game?  Why did he not care whether he was fired?  Er, maybe, Donald, it's because he's a multi-millionaire rock star, who is happy to be the star of the show for the first 2 or 3 weeks and then exit on his own terms.  

Trump was reduced to spluttering "You're doing yourself a tremendous disservice" and trying to persuade him to bring back Nelly Furato because the Kodak executives didn't like her.  Of course he refused.  Idiot daughter Ivanka didn't get it either: "I don't understand Gene's decision, and it could be his downfall."  Er, no, it couldn't.  Well, except that he wants to be fired!!

In the UK they do a one-off celebrity version of The Apprentice.  Only one celebrity gets fired, and of course it's all done in a light-hearted way.  Watch and learn, American TV executives. 


Revolting parents, supine journalists

The story of the week in Hong Kong's First Free English Newspaper (HKFFEN) seems to be the "revolt" by parents against a fee increase by the ESF (English Schools Foundation).

We all know that The Standard (HKFFEN) is run on a shoestring, and in this case it seems clear that the revolting parents have fed a series of stories to the paper, which is only too happy to have something to fill up its local news pages.  It started on Monday (Parents revolt on ESF fee hikes):

Parents of English Schools Foundation students have launched a signature campaign against planned tuition fee rises.  More than 300 signatures have been collected since an online campaign began a month ago, according to Hong Kong University associate engineering professor Albert T Yeung, whose two children have been attending ESF schools for 10 years.

Yeung fears a hike in fees could result in some parents sending their children overseas, especially as it would be the third rise in as many years.  Tuition fees are set to increase, pending Education Bureau approval, by 7 percent to HK$58,100 a year at primary schools and 5 percent to HK$89,250 at the secondary level.

The Standard was so pleased with story that it followed up on Tuesday (Protests grow over ESF fees)

More parents of English Schools Foundation students have stepped forward to complain about the impending rise in tuition fees.  Parents have also criticized the ESF for charging miscellaneous fees for items such as sex education.

Hong Kong University associate engineering professor Albert T Yeung, whose two children are ESF students, said South Island School forces parents to shell out more than HK$10,000 for laptop computers.  Another ESF school charges parents HK$40 for compulsory sex education classes for Primary Six students. "If parents do not pay the extra HK$40, their children will not be allowed to attend the classes," Yeung said.

More parents?  Er, but isn't this the same parent they quoted on Monday?  The very same parent about whom Fumier was rather unkind (The Yeung Ones), in fact.

On Wednesday the story broadened out (Cash row grows as more schools seek to lift fees), though we were also reminded that "English Schools Foundation parents have lashed out at proposed rises of up to 7 percent and yesterday 100 expatriate police officers joined the protest" and there is a picture of ESF boss Heather du Quesnay looking pensive, perhaps after reading HKFFEN. 

On Thursday, there was a report from Wednesday's meeting (ESF chiefs fail parents' test):

Angry parents last night vowed to continue their campaign to stop rises in tuition fees after a meeting with English Schools Foundation chiefs to address the issue ended in acrimony.  About 50 parents bombarded ESF chief executive Heather Du Quesnay and her senior management with questions during the two-and-a-half hour meeting at Beacon Hill School, Kowloon.

But what's this?

The [Education] Bureau says it has received 30 applications to increase fees from direct subsidized schools for the 2008-09 school year.  St Pauls Co-educational College, Mid-Levels, is seeking a 25 percent increase to HK$60,000 per year, and St Margarets Girls College, also Mid- Levels, has applied for a 25 percent rise to HK$50,000 for S1 to S3 pupils.

The bureau says it takes into account teachers salaries and improvements to school facilities when considering applications.

By Friday hyperbole was the order of the day (ESF finances to face scrutiny by officials):

Education chiefs are to examine the financial plans of the besieged English Schools Foundation before they decide on the organization's application to increase tuition fees. The Education Bureau admitted yesterday that it was alarmed by the recent row between the ESF and parents who have accused the organization of channeling money into its private independent schools - Discovery College and Renaissance College.

In a written reply to The Standard, the bureau said it "will not approve ESF's investment plans per se, but will look at its financing plans including investment in capital projects in the context of its overall budget when examining its fee proposal."

No story here.  The Education Bureau always have to approve increases in school fees, and so their statement says nothing new or interesting.  Did they even say they were 'alarmed by the recent row'?  That's not a direct quote.  One ESF parent is quoted in the story - any guesses who it might be?

Albert T Yeung, whose two children have been attending ESF schools for 10 years, urged the bureau to seriously monitor the ESF's governance. "The government has failed to monitor the ESF, and it has been greatly unfair to our children as subvention to ESF students has decreased despite skyrocketing inflation in recent years."

Skyrocketing inflation in recent years?  Are you sure?

[Update] Oh, I see Fumier is still on the case.

Continue reading "Revolting parents, supine journalists" »


East is the new West (VS238 reappears)

A couple of years ago, Virgin added a second daily flight to London to their schedule to start in November.  I mentioned it, but then they quietly dropped it before starting the service.

Now it seems to be back, but unfortunately it is an afternoon flight from Hong Kong, arriving at Heathrow (boo) in the early evening (Virgin to go twice daily to Hong Kong):

Virgin Atlantic is to increase its Heathrow-Hong Kong service from daily to twice-daily by December.
The new flights will be added in two stages. Second daily services will be added at the end of October, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, with flights departing Heathrow at 16.00 and arriving at Hong Kong at 12.30 the following day.

Return flights, on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, will depart Hong Kong at 14.15, arriving at Heathrow at 19.20 the same day.

Second daily flights will then be added to the remaining four days of the week in early December.
Virgin’s new services will complement its existing daily service which connects Heathrow with Hong Kong and Sydney.

Virgin Atlantic chief executive Steve Ridgway said: “East is the new West and this second daily service will offer our passengers even more opportunities via Hong Kong, which is the third-busiest long-haul route out of Heathrow after JFK and Dubai.”

East is the new West.  What does that mean?

Virgin did briefly have a second daily service a few years ago (only 3 days a week), but that was also an overnight flight.  


Euro 2008 on Now TV - a town called Basil

Now TV seem to be doing a fairly good job of covering Euro 2008.  All the games are available in High Definition and on-demand, and channel 632 has 24 hours a day of live games, re-runs, previews and highlights.  They even have re-runs on 660 (HD), which they don't do for the EPL.

There is syndicated English commentary as usual, and John Helm seems to be the main man rushing around from city to city (or maybe pretending to do so), though I think there are others as well.

Rather unexpectedly, Now also have a highlights show available on-demand, and it even has English commentary.  Mark Grainger (former Hong Kong international) is the man who gets to talk about the games.  He was previously employed by TVB to  provide some football expertise alongside Andrew Sams, their all-purpose sports presenter, but here is all on his own, and none the worse for that.

It's not easy to commentate on highlights of a game, but Mark does a reasonable job.  However, I feel I must point out the Swiss city is not normally pronounced Basil...


Apprentice week 5 - modern art

Just a brief summary of week 5, in which the teams had to choose an artist and then sell their work.

I thought the wrong person got fired.  The two teams both chose the same artist, and so it was down to the artist to select which team to work with.  Saira and Raj had visited the artist, and there was absolutely no connection - all they talked about was money - and Saira's follow-up phone call was quite hopeless.  On the other team, James did a brilliant job of schmoozing, and of course they chose his team (First Forte) to represent them.

Their was a brief moment of tension when it appeared that the less expensive paintings that Impact took (as their second choice were easier to sell), but in the end it was a clear victory (at last) for First Forte.

Matthew and Paul were both uncomfortable dealing with modern art, but it's hard to see what relevance that has to working with Alan Sugar.  I'd have fired Saira for failing to understand the importance of building up a rapport with the artist, but project manager Rachel didn't even bring her back - which looked an awful lot like a case of female solidarity.

Mind you, Matthew came up with a splendid excuse for not being able to sell - it was all because he is so tall and can't hear what people are saying.  He also seem resigned to his fate, thinking it was simply a matter of time before he was fired, so in that sense maybe Rachel chose well.  However, Sugar really should have given her a hard time for not bringing back Saira.   


The Apprentice - Harrods

As usual, things pick up straight after last week's boardroom survivors return "home".  Tim would be surprised if Adele didn't get fired.  Amazingly, he actually tells her this rather than being two-faced.  That's not going to work, is it?

The next morning they are summoned to the nearest corner shop.  Sir Alan tells the contestants that the proprietor "has got, believe it or not, a very broad portfolio of skills in running his business".  We see a dirty sign saying "newspapers sold here".  The task is going to be about their total organizational skills in a retail environment.  Sir Alan apparently has a friend who runs a corner shop...Harrods.  Oh, stop, Sir Alan, you're so funny.

They have to run a unit in Harrods. Sir Alan tells them that they will have Harrods staff to help them, and they need to treat them with respect.

Tim volunteers to be project manager (again) and James allows himself to be persuaded to run Impact.  He seems to have the right approach, but Paul is not impressed.

Tim, meanwhile, says his team need a mission statement.  Whoops.  They don't need one of those, do they?

We see Adele having a tearful phone call with her husband.

Impact walk around the store picking up products, but they will need to check that they have at least 40% non-Harrods brand products. Paul seems to be having trouble with the maths. First Forte take their time going through the list of merchandise and then run around the store checking the items.  They are first to finish, and their list is accepted.

It turns out that 76% of Impact's products are Harrods own brand.  That's not even close to 40%, is it?  They have to make some quick adjustments.

On the second day, the teams have to set up displays in their areas.  Harrods staff have been instructed to give them some guidance about what might be wrong, but not to tell them what they should be doing.  Adele is not happy about this.  Saira is also not happy, even though she is "such a positive person". 

First Forte have recruited a face painter, a pianist and someone to demonstrate the toys.  Impact seem to have nothing.  They seek out the manager of the toy department, who observes that they have "all dodgy products".  That could be a disadvantage. 

They are getting desparate.  Paul dresses up in a bear costume.  It seems to work.  At 4pm, the provisional sales figures are surprising - Impact are leading by £400. 

Adele is getting stressed.  She is blaming Harrods staff.  That's probably not going to go down well with Sir Alan.

The teams suddenly have sales vouchers to give away.  They go crazy offering them to anyone who will buy anything, and Saira offers a £50 voucher to the first customer to buy a bag costing about £250.  She gets a sale, and that could be enough to win them the task.

Indeed it is.  The final results are Impact £3295, First Forte £3108.  Tim needs to pin the blame on someone - probably Ben (who admitted he found it tough), or more likely Adele (who had narrowly escaped last week, and seems to be struggling with being away from her family).

It's going to be Adele, and without Tim having to do anything.  She criticizes one of the Harrods employees, saying he had the wrong attitude and was rude and arrogant.  Nick doesn't agree - he thinks he was very professional and did what he was told to do.  Which is also what we the viewers saw.

Ben sees his chance and criticizes Adele for being emotional.  She blames the rest of the team, and then admits that she has 'personal and emotional problems' and says she wants to leave.  Sugar is having none of it, and insists on firing her for being disrespectful to people - though he can't quite bring himself to say "you're fired".

In the taxi home, Adele says that she was the easy target (which is true), because she was such a threat to the rest of the contestants because of her "very entrepreneurial background" (which isn't) and that she had a strong chance of winning the competition (no she didn't).  


Warning - a few thunderstorms somewhere near Hong Kong

imageimageThunderstorm warnings still annoy me.  There's been one in force all day today, but actually if you look at the Lightning Location Information from the Hong Kong Observatory you will see that there hasn't been any lightning over Hong Kong for nearly two hours (up to 7pm).  So what are we being warned about?

I get annoyed mainly because most private swimming pools close when the warning is raised.  However, government-run swimming pools stay open, which suggests that they must think it is safe (I think they reserve the right to ask you to leave the pool if a bolt of lightning strikes a slumbering lifeguard, thereby waking him up).

There may possibly be some good news because the Observatory's lightning location site is being upgraded  (press release):

An alert will be provided automatically when there is lightning within a 15km range of the specified location. The new service is to help the public assess the risk of lightning during outdoor activities.

Well, I hope swimming pool operators will take notice of this and only close pools when there is a real risk of lightning in the near vicinity.

It seems to me that Hong Kong has gone way over-the-top in its response to perceived weather threats.  Of course it makes sense to take precautions when there are 200 lightning strikes in an hour (as was the case this morning), but when there are a handful out at sea or across the border, what's there to worry about?

Only a few weeks ago, the Jockey Club ended up with large quantities of egg on their face after cancelling a race meeting because of a storm on a Saturday (accompanied by a no.8 signal), only to find that it was long gone by the time racing was due to start on Sunday. 

In fact, it's not unusual for everyone to rush home when the no.8 signal is raised and find that there is nothing worse than heavy rain and some wind.  It can be quite surreal walking around a busy area such as Causeway Bay an hour or two after the signal is raised to find that the place is almost deserted (apart from TV crews trying to film the bad weather). 

image [Later] Ho hum.  There were no thunderstorms between 5 pm and 7 pm, and only six between 7 pm and 8 pm.  Now we have an amber rainstorm warning in force.  Which is fair enough, but why not lower the thunderstorm warning in the early evening when there weren't any storms?