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November 2009

Liar Liar

What would happen if we always told the truth?  It’s the theme of that Jim Carrey film that was on TVB on Sunday night, and Ricky Gervais’s The Invention of Lying.

More specifically, what would happen if we all told the truth on those stupid health declaration forms that we have to fill in?  Yes, I have had contact with someone who had a cough and a fever.  Yes, I do have a bit of a sore throat.  What would they do if everyone told the truth?  They surely don’t have the resources to check whether everyone with a cough or a sore throat is really sick.

Of course the absurd thing about this is that the symptoms they ask you to lie about aren’t even particularly relevant to H1N1.  Most people with a cough or a sore throat don’t have H1N1, and many people with H1N1 don’t have a fever.  So what does it all achieve?  


EPL returns to Cable TV

Three years ago, PCCW’s Now TV put in a knockout bid and won the Hong Kong rights to the English Premier League without Cable TV being able to make a counter-bid.  This time round, Cable TV were more prepared, and PCCW dropped out of the auction, saying that they declined to pay over the odds - because they would have to pass on the costs to their customers.

This is, of course, true, as I pointed out some time back, but PCCW didn’t seem so concerned three years ago when they they paid close to US$200m, and then charged customers an extra HK$150 per month for their EPL coverage.  Without it, they have to reduce prices again, but the new price is HK$148 per month for Now Sports, ESPN, Star Sports and Eurosport, significantly more than the old price for Star/ESPN. Certainly they do have more than just the EPL - Spanish football being the latest addition – and they have an introductory offer of HK$98 and no-one actually pays the full price they advertise.  In a rare concession, they even say that customers who have existing contracts will get some form of credit.

Maybe it’s all been worthwhile for PCCW because it has undoubtedly gained them subscribers, many of whom will keep the boxes and at least some of the channels (in theory you can subscribe to one single channel, but of course they have better deals if you take more).

We don’'t yet know what type of service Cable TV will offer.  There was a lot of uninformed speculation (some of it here) about what would be available from PCCW, and it turned out to be about as good as one could have wished (every single games live, some in HD, and some available on-demand), but more expensive. 

Cable TV are hinting at price increases, but nothing has been announced.  Last time round the EPL coverage was included in their basic package, but since then they have started offering different combinations of channels and it seems highly likely that there will be a premium cable sports package (based around the EPL and the Champions League).  They do do now have an HD service, but I don’t think they have any video-on-demand facility (if they did, it would have to be provided through the converter box).


Waggling wings, floating turbines, and dead dogs

I take the optimistic view on climate change – that mankind is sufficiently inventive and resourceful to overcome the problem.  A recent article in New Scientist magazine (Better world: Top tech for a cleaner planet)highlighted a few interesting ideas that are under development:

Waggling wings

Modern passenger planes are masterfully streamlined but the aircraft are still burdened by turbulence that forms as a result of friction between the plane's skin and the air that passes over it. Wind tunnel tests now show that if only a small part of an aircraft's wings were made to oscillate from side to side, the resulting decrease in drag would reduce fuel consumption by 20 per cent.  [UK: under development]

Floating wind turbines

Conventional offshore wind turbines are fastened to the seabed with giant thick monopiles. This limits their use to shallow waters, but the strongest winds are often far offshore, where the water is deep. So why not let the turbine float like a boat, anchored to the seabed with huge chains? In June, Hywind, the world's first full-scale floating wind turbine, was anchored 10 kilometres off the Norwegian coast. The 2.3-megawatt turbine floats in 200 metres of water. It will begin feeding power into the grid this month.  [Karmøy, Norway: available now]

On the other hand, here’s a more radical suggestion – kill and eat your pets:

How green is your pet?

SHOULD owning a great dane make you as much of an eco-outcast as an SUV driver? Yes it should, say Robert and Brenda Vale, two architects who specialise in sustainable living at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. In their new book, Time to Eat the Dog: The real guide to sustainable living, they compare the ecological footprints of a menagerie of popular pets with those of various other lifestyle choices - and the critters do not fare well.

As well as guzzling resources, cats and dogs devastate wildlife populations, spread disease and add to pollution. It is time to take eco-stock of our pets.

To measure the ecological paw, claw and fin-prints of the family pet, the Vales analysed the ingredients of common brands of pet food. They calculated, for example, that a medium-sized dog would consume 90 grams of meat and 156 grams of cereals daily in its recommended 300-gram portion of dried dog food. At its pre-dried weight, that equates to 450 grams of fresh meat and 260 grams of cereal. That means that over the course of a year, Fido wolfs down about 164 kilograms of meat and 95 kilograms of cereals.

Well, OK, they may not actually be recommending killing and eating them…

 


Idiots

I love personalized number plates.  If you really want to tell the world that you are stupid and vain, what could possibly be a better investment?

They’re also splendidly banal - I’ve seen "Auto", "King Kong" (the driver of this vehicle appears to have spent all his money on his stupid number plate, and so has none left over for indicators), and “Dinosaur”.  What’s that all about, then?


Room for two more on top

This week there was an accident involving a double-decker bus that toppled over, resulting in two deaths.

On Wednesday there was a letter in the SCMP complaining that double-decker buses are an unwelcome colonial legacy.

Double-decker buses are yet another of the mindless colonial imitations of London (the others include wearing black business clothes suitable for cold and damp climates). No safety engineer could possibly argue that the buses are as safe in Hong Kong, where there are more sharply curved roads, more steep grades and higher winds than there are in London.

The double-deckers are also a hazard to other drivers since they often block drivers' views of roadside signs and even, for those immediately behind the buses, the signs overhead. It may be that the double-deckers augment the passenger capacity of the buses and may be more cost-effective than single-deck vehicles. But shouldn't safety come first?

Not long ago, there was a horrific accident with a double-decker bus on the Tuen Mun Highway, with multiple fatalities.  How many more people must lose their lives before the government realises that these vehicles, while appropriate for London, are dangerous in Hong Kong?

Eugene Eoyang, Mid-Levels

Well, well, what a great thinker we have here.  It “may be” that double-deckers carry more passengers?  Surely there’s no doubt about that.  We may have “higher winds” in Hong Kong, but I can’t ever recall a bus being blown over in a typhoon.  We may have “more sharply curved roads” but why is a double-decker bus less able to negotiate a tight bend than a single-decker? 

Two letter writers have subsequently pointed out that the real problem may be the drivers rather than the vehicles.  Well, yes, that could be it.

Anyway, it got me thinking about where else in the world you can find double-deckers, and indeed there a few former colonies (Singapore, Sri Lanka and Canada), but they are also to be found in Germany (Berlin), Turkey, China, Japan, and Russia, amongst other places.  So I think we can assume that double-decker buses are used for logical reasons, not to imitate London.


Deceptively spacious

Hong Kong's a strange place, and never more so than in the weird world of apartments. Developers are allowed to advertise the gross floorspace of an apartment, which includes balconies, bay windows, and (most outrageously) your share of the the common areas, such as the clubhouse, gardens, lift lobbies, etc.

As far as I know, you can't sleep in the lift lobby, so what really matters is how much usable space you have inside your apartment. You might think that a 1200 square foot apartment is big enough, but how will you feel when you discover that it's really only 840 sq ft? That's a big difference.

That so-called 1200 square foot apartment might have 4 bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, three bathrooms, and the domestic helper's broom cupboard. Fitting all of that into 840 sq ft is obviously something of a challenge, and some developers spend much more time on over-blown advertising rather than making good use of the limited space, and so you have to deal with small and odd-shaped rooms.

Not that you are likely to realize this if you visit a "show flat" in a shopping centre that is supposed to show you what you are buying. When you walk round with 500 other people you probably won't realize what a difference it makes to remove the doors, put in glass walls, and all the other subtle tricks of the developers. You may think the bedroom looks spacious but overlook the fact that they've combined two tiny rooms to create one of a reasonable size - but, yes, people do buy brand new apartments and then knock down the walls.

Then there's the furniture - yes, there's a bed in the bedroom, but how big is it? That table and chairs? Surely they're not all chosen to make the room look bigger?

My favourite development of the last couple of years, Palazzo, goes for the typical "quart in a pint pot" effect. Having two en-suite bedrooms (out of four) might sound attractive, but what will it look like when you've loaded the rooms up with beds and wardrobes and other things you might need? Cramped, I fear.  The medium-size apartments have only one en-suite bedroom, and once you have installed a standard-sized bed, there's scarcely room for anything else - and that's the "master bedroom". Needless to say, the other two bedrooms are tiny.

One special feature is that the helper's broom cupboards rooms don't have windows. Fresh air? Natural light? I'm sure there's nothing in the rules to say that has to be provided, and you have to wonder how many employers will allow their helpers to switch on the aircon.

Yes, there are views of the racecourse. You could undoubtedly watch the racing, but if you wanted to see which horse is winning you would need very powerful binoculars (or a TV might be an altogether more practical solution).

Yes they have happy smiling concierges offering an array of services, but who's paying for that? Yes, you are, through the monthly service charge.

The smaller apartments are at the back (no racecourse view, but Fo Tan Industrial Estate is glorious on a clear day). One of these was featured in the Sunday Morning Post a few weeks ago, with complaints from the lucky gentleman who had bought it "off plan". He seemed to be disappointed that the bedrooms would all need tailor-made (dolls house sized) furniture. It seems that he was fooled by the advertised gross floor space and the show flat. However, I have seen the brochure for The Palazzo and it is fairly clear about the gross and usable floor space, but I suppose if they advertise a 717 square foot apartment you might expect that's what you would get.