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February 2009

Random News Generator

The SCMP fills its sports pages by selecting stories from the news agencies and foreign newspapers.  Unfortunately, the selection process seems to be somewhat random, such as when they gave readers in Hong Kong the impression that Graeme Souness might be re-appointed as Newcastle manager

Or this, which appeared on the back page on Thursday:

Benitez will be gone by Sunday, bookies say

Agence France-Presse in London
Feb 26, 2009

One of Britain's leading betting firms said last night it had stopped taking money on Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez becoming the next English Premier League boss to be sacked. Willliam Hill said the Spaniard was a 20-1 outsider on Tuesday afternoon to be the next manager to leave his post.

But despite the fact that both Manchester United and Arsenal were playing in the Champions League on Tuesday, William Hill said Benitez was "backed off the boards" to have left Liverpool by the weekend.  They cut the odds to evens and then suspended betting last night.

"The level of interest on Rafa getting the sack is unprecedented with over 300 calls logged [yesterday] alone," said William Hill spokesman Rupert Adams. "We would be very surprised if Rafa is still the Liverpool boss by midnight on Sunday."

Well, I'd be very surprised if he wasn't still in charge on Monday morning, all the more so after Rick Parry announced that he will be resigning as Chief Executive at Liverpool Football Club.


Read all about it

This week's Economist suggests that the Kindle might be the saviour of newspapers

The growing popularity of electronic books could offer hope for newspapers

THINGS are suddenly hotting up in the rather obscure field of electronic books and their associated reading devices, the best known of which is Amazon’s Kindle. A new, sleeker version of the Kindle was unveiled on February 9th. Just days earlier, Google said it was making 1.5m free e-books available in a format suitable for smart-phones, such as Apple’s iPhone and handsets powered by Google’s Android software. Amazon said it was working to make e-books available on smart-phones as well as the Kindle. Plastic Logic, the maker of a forthcoming e-reader device, said it had struck distribution deals with several magazines and newspapers.

The iPhone, meanwhile, has quietly become the most widely used e-book reader: more people have downloaded e-book software (such as Stanza, eReader and Classics) for iPhones than have bought Kindles. Might e-books be approaching the moment of take-off, akin to Apple’s launch of the iTunes store in 2003, which created a new market for legal music downloads?

It's an interesting idea, and I'd happily pay US$10 per month for my daily fix of The Guardian, but there are a few problems to overcome first.  For starters, there's the price of the Kindle ($359) and the fact that it's only available in the United States (and I figure that Hong Kong is unlikely to be high on their priority list).

However, there is speculation that Amazon will start to offer support for the iPhone (and presumably the iPod Touch as well), so maybe there's some hope.  Or maybe Apple will create an iBooks or iNews application similar to iTunes (using USB synchronization), and some people think they will launch a tablet computer, for which that would be an obvious application. 

I've been reading newspapers on mobile devices for more that ten years, starting with the Handspring Visor, using Avantgo to download various newspapers (including The Guardian).  By current standards it was very primitive, but at the time I was very impressed to be able to sit on the MTR reading the same day's Guardian (well, parts of it).  The biggest limitations were that the website had to create a special cut-down version (to fit the smaller screen) and Avantgo set a maximum number of kb (though you could pay to increase this). 

Next came Mobipocket.  The SCMP adopted it because of their stupid paywall, but its best feature was that anyone could write a script to extract content from any newspaper (or any website).  One kind person wrote a script to extract the whole of The Guardian each day.  Which was fine until the website was re-designed and the script would pick up nothing.  Then came Mobipocket Creator, which was supposed to make it easy for anyone to do the extract themselves from any website - and it worked (up to a point), but it also had many frustrating features, and rather than fix them they abandoned the product.  Gee, thanks, guys.

These days, both Mobipocket and Avantgo take the easy option and use RSS feeds.  Which is all very well, but it isn't the same as reading a newspaper. So I am currently using Sunrise XP and Plucker, which works reasonably well for The Guardian (though I had to create a simple HTML file to serve as a contents page), but it can't handle sites which split articles over multiple pages (yes, that means you, The Times of London). 

So I'm certainly on the lookout for something better, whether from Amazon or Apple or anyone else.


The blame game

The collapse of Oasis was accompanied by claims that the directors did not agree with each other on certain key issues.  Now we have legal action in prospect:

Two Oasis founders sued over share sale

Two founders of defunct Oasis Hong Kong Airlines have been sued over claims that they orchestrated a deal to buy worthless shares in the company's operating division.  Reverend Raymond Lee Cho-min and his wife, Priscilla Hwang Lee, allegedly gave a green light to a US$4.8 million plan without company approval or an independent valuation of the money-losing unit, according to a writ filed in the High Court.

The couple, who could not be reached for comment last night, also failed to disclose that they had a personal stake in the deal, said the lawsuit filed by Oasis Mezzanine Funding, the airline's capital-raising division.

"Raymond Lee and Priscilla Lee failed to disclose or declare to OMF their conflicting interests" and had a duty not to "engage in secret profiteering or self dealing", the writ said.  Instead, Mr Lee and his wife "misappropriated" US$4.8 million that was raised based on an "unjustifiable and grossly overstated" US$350 million value for Oasis Hong Kong Airlines, the lawsuit claimed.

The cash-starved unit ran the airline's day to day operations, the writ said.  The couple allegedly ordered that Oasis Mezzanine Funding buy shares in Oasis Hong Kong Airlines, the writ said.  But Oasis Hong Kong Airlines' value in September last year was "not more than zero" and would now be "negative", the writ said.

Oasis, the world's first budget long-haul airline, grounded flights in April after operating for less than 18 months.  About 700 staff lost their jobs and around 50,000 passengers were affected.

Mr Lee had said the carrier went under because of higher-than-expected costs for jet fuel and planes.  News reports earlier this year suggested that the airline fell apart after investors disagreed with Mr Lee about whether to pump more money into the airline.

In May, a High Court judge ruled that Mr Lee and other Oasis founders had placed the company in voluntary liquidation to avoid paying a HK$170 million debt owed to the Bank of China.  Meanwhile, the writ said that Mr Lee and his wife, a former executive director at Oasis, had ignored requests for a valuation report or evidence that the company approved the plan.

"The share purchase transaction was not properly authorised by OMF," it said.

Oh dear.  There's obviously a rule at the SCMP that Oasis has to be described as "the world's first budget long-haul airline".  It wasn't a budget airline in any meaningful sense of that phrase.

Continue reading "The blame game" »


Zebra sighted

A few weeks ago I suggested that there aren't any zebra crossings on public roads in Hong Kong.

Apparently I need to get out more, because there are a few scattered around.  In fact, last week the sub-Standard reported an accident on one in Shau Kei Wan:

The driver of a light goods vehicle was arrested after a 70-year-old woman was knocked down and killed on a zebra crossing in Shau Kei Wan.  The incident occurred around 6am yesterday on Oil Lai Street in front of the Aldrich Bay Government Primary School.

The woman, surnamed Ma, was admitted to Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital where she was certified dead at 6.40am.  The 47-year-old driver of the goods vehicle, surnamed Wong, was arrested for dangerous driving causing death.

Owing to its location near the school, Eastern District Council member Hui Ching-on wants the zebra crossing upgraded to one with traffic lights.

I suppose it would be asking too much for drivers to learn how to approach zebra crossings.  The problem with having so many crossings with lights is that drivers don't have to think - they just have to watch the lights (though in my experience even that is sometimes too difficult).