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March 2004
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May 2004


Hey look, I can do dull as well as the next man (see story below) Since Simon is away in China and not posting this type of stuff, I think I need to fill the gap. So, can anyone explain this phenomenon?

Quite often, by around 5 o'clock I have nearly finished the things I think I need to do for the day, and I am contemplating leaving fairly promptly.

However, in the next hour someone will ask me something, call me, or send me an email, and I will end up with another task that I reckon I could (or should) finish before I leave. So by the time it gets to 6.30 I realize that I'm not going to get it all finished much before 7, and I'm certainly not going to get away promptly as I had hoped.

On the other hand, if I'm still quite busy at 5 o'clock, there's a pretty good chance that I'll finish (or at least reach a convenient breakpoint) before 6.30 and will be able to get away reasonably early.

Dull website gets even duller

I know I'll get into trouble for writing this, but I don't think I really care.

I periodically check Hong Kong's most boring website to see whether they have managed to write anything even mildly interesting (no), and whether they have got over their obsession with blogging (apparently they haven't).

I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw that the latest subject of grave concern to them is the layout of the South China Morning Post. Apparently the front page dated 21 April has no less than three examples of single lines of text appearing at the top or bottom of columns. Gosh. This is a subject so dull that it makes the 'Media Follies' section of Spike look positively fascinating, and I can only assume that it was written by a sub-editor. No-one else would notice, surely?

Incidentally, it also seems like complete tosh. I happen to have a copy of The Times at home, and a quick scan through the first few pages shows that standards have apparently fallen there as well, for it has countless examples of exactly the same thing, as if it mattered. Which it really doesn't.

That explains it...

Interesting piece in the paper on Sunday by Tim Noonan, who is convinced that Cable TV will drop ESPN and Star Sports this summer, now that they have exclusive rights to the English Premiership. He's probably right, but I find it very strange - normally cable TV companies want to have as many channels as possible so that they can offer their viewers a good choice. The other thing I don't understand is that in the UK you have to pay extra for Sky Sports, whereas Cable TV offer it in their standard package (yes, I know you can subscribe to a more limited selection of channels, but I don't think most people do).

Noonan thinks that ESPN and Star Sports will end up on Now Broadband, which presumably means that subscribers will have to pay for those channels if they want them. So what is stopping Cable TV doing something similar and offering them as 'pay channels', with the added bonus of intelligent EPL coverage?

Meanwhile, it seems that the overseas TV rights are proving very lucractive for the Premier League, and will probably make up the shortfall in the domestic rights.

Best thing on TV

I've recently finished watching season four of The Sopranos - on DVD rather than the bowlderised version on TVB Pearl.  I ordered it back in November, it was stolen and then replaced (did I mention that before?), and I finally got around to watching it just at the time that it was running on TVB.  Actually, I thought that I had missed it on TV, but yes they do show it a full 15 months after the HBO in the States.

It almost goes without saying that The Sopranos is one of the best things on TV.  You can argue that it isn't as good as it was, but then what is?  The impressive thing is that the show's creator David Chase seems to have a clear idea of the show's progression - season one was about Tony Soprano as a child (and Livia's son), season two was about him as Janice's brother, season three was about Tony and Carmela as parents, and season four was about their marriage.  Over the four series, the main characters have developed, and a host of others have come and gone.      

If you haven't yet watched season four and plan to do so, the rest of this article is one long spoiler, so you might want to stop here.

Continue reading "Best thing on TV" »

British ice cream from China

I can't be the only person to have noticed that a fairly well-known brand from the UK is now available in Hong Kong - Wall's Ice Cream. The story behind this turns out to be slightly stranger than I had expected.

Mountain Cream is a familiar name in Hong Kong. What I hadn't realized was that it used to be owned by AS Watson (yes, it's Li Ka Shing's Hutchison group again) but was acquired by Unilever about 5 years ago, whereupon they changed the logo to be the same as all their other ice cream brands worldwide.


When I first saw this logo I thought it looked familiar but I couldn't immediately place it. In case you're thinking I must be incredibly stupid, the explanation is that the logo was on a beach umbrella next to a swimming pool, with no ice cream anywhere in sight.

Unilever sell the same stuff all over the world, but with different brand names. So what you buy in the UK as Wall's Ice Cream, you can buy in much of Europe as Carte d'Or (I think) or in Hong Kong as Mountain Cream. What I hadn't realized was that the Wall's brand was launched (very successfully) 10 years ago in China .

Now Unilever seem to be launching Walls as a premium brand in Hong Kong, alongside Mountain Cream. Predictably enough, the ice cream now being sold in Hong Kong under the Wall's name is manufactured in China. So what I thought was a famous British brand actually turns out to be Chinese ice cream!

It's a small world.

Conrad, tell me it's not true!

According to The Economist:

America has made discouraging comments about [Mr Wiranto's] candidacy—but no Indonesian court has tried him for any wrongdoing, let alone convicted him. Golkar's leaders, apparently, considered Mr Wiranto's chequered career less of a liability than the corruption scandals dogging his rival, Akbar Tandjung.

Wouldn't that be interfering in another country's election? So perhaps The Economist got it wrong.

Not quite what it seems

This story has been widely reported in the UK. It's about a journalist who got a job in a prison and took some photographs. He was charged under the 1952 Prison Act, with conveying a digital camera into the jail and conveying the camera and "digital information" - the photographs - out again.

The trial has since collapsed, but what I find puzzling is the assertion that the prison authorities should have known that this character was a journalist because that was what it said in his passport. Makes them look a bit stupid, you might think. The Guardian reported the original story thus:

Called to an interview in November, Mr McGee was told to present his passport at the gate as proof of identity. It gave his occupation as journalist.

In fact, British passports haven't shown the holder's occupation for many years. I have a red British passport that was issued about 8 years ago, and there is nothing there to indicate my occupation. I also have a black British passport that was issued about 18 years ago, and that has no space for occupation

Nevertheless it's a widely believed myth, and it is sometimes used as a (lazy) question when journalists are interviewing someone who has been known to act and sing, or walk and chew gum, or whatever - "so what does it say in your passport?" The answer is -nothing at all.

So, what's the explanation? According to The Guardian (free registration required for this page):

The passport contained an Indian visa dating from February 2000 with the word "journalist" written next to it, but nobody spotted it.

Which makes it much more understandable that no-one noticed. If a passport is used as proof of identity all you would look at would be the page with the name and the photograph. So, not quite as stupid as it might have seemed.

How much fat?

Go into any supermarket and you will find products labelled as "xx% Fat Free".

Fair enough, and I can understand 99% fat free, or 97% fat free, but I have great difficulty with products that claim to be "90% fat free". That's 10% fat, and I very much doubt that you'd be able to get away with describing that as "low fat", which id what "xx% Fat Free" is trying to imply. My first reaction is that 10% seems like quite a lot of fat, and it is probably a product that is best avoided. Which is probably not what they intended.


Startling new research reported by RTHK:

Obese children are more likely to suffer heart attacks and strokes earlier in their adult life. That's according to a Chinese University study comparing the health of normal and overweight youngsters. The head of the research team, Professor Woo Kam-sang, said the results revealed a huge difference. However, he said that after a period of regular exercise and a controlled diet the condition of the obese childen improved.

Er, thanks - I'd never have guessed that.