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Kowloon Tong by Paul Theroux

I came across my copy of this book recently, and it made me wonder whether it is the worst "Hong Kong" novel ever written by a well-known author. 

The characters are two-dimensional, the plot is flimsy, and the author knows nothing about Hong Kong - as demonstrated by the fact that the factory owned by the main character is located in that well-known industrial area of Kowloon Tong.

Truly a dreadful load of old nonsense. 

Not really news

RTHK have an RSS feed called "Instant News". Currently these are the 5 stories at the top of the feed:

Serbia and Montengro reach knock-out stages of WBC

Milan make offer for Ronaldo

Keane set for Sunderland

Boro stun Chelsea in Premiership

Ajax out as Arsenal progress

What's the point of that?  I expect RTHK to give me news about Hong Kong, not international news or sport, both of which I can get from other sources.  If there's a typhoon coming or someone has been beaten up in McDonalds then that's what I expect RTHK to be telling me about.

Monster House

I blame Pixar.  Nowadays every movie studio wants to have its own computer animation, but whilst they invest millions in the latest technology they seem to neglect basic stuff like storylines and characters.  The result is terrible old tosh like Polar Express, Madagascar and Chicken Little. 

Monster House was therefore a pleasant surprise.  They seem to have decided that it might be better to start with a good story and decent characters and then worry about the CGI - rather than having all the technology and hoping that this would be enough.

Two caveats - this is a bit scary for young children (hence the IIA certificate in Hong Kong and PG elsewhere), and computer animation still produces very strange-looking people (which would be why Pixar and the rest mainly have non-human characters in their films). 

The house, on the other hand, is terrific, and there is really no reason why computer animation always has to be aimed at very young children.  One of the many things to like about this film is that the writers have managed to resist the temptation to pepper it with jokes that will go over the heads of children.  So, whilst it is probably unsuitable for younger children, it certainly should appeal to those who are a little older.

The two boys featured in Monster House are about 10 years old, and one of the themes of the film is their awareness that they are growing up - brought sharply into focus by the arrival of a girl of a similar age.  Together they explore the house and - well, I'm sure you can guess the rest. 

It doesn't outstay its welcome, it's funny, it's mildly scary, and it has a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.  Other film makers please note.

It's just common sense, innit...

From the usual source of intelligent comment on all things Hong Kong - yes, it's the SCMP letter column:

I appreciate the efforts by Friends of the Earth and other green groups to create a greener world. But I wish they would offer more constructive criticism. I refer specifically to their findings on inside temperatures.

On buses, for example, the temperature might have been set at 25 degrees Celsius. But when the buses start filling up, carbon dioxide and body heat raises the temperature inside the buses. This is common sense.

Moreover, every time the door is opened, heat from outside enters the bus, raising the temperature inside. And when there are just a few passengers left, the bus is likely to be too cold as a result of the reduced body heat.

May I suggest to bus companies that drivers and/or attendants at bus terminals should adjust the temperature inside the vehicles at various times of the day, according to the anticipated number of passengers.

DOREEN HO, North Point

What are those things called again?  You know, the ones that regulate the temperature?

Ah yes, thermostats.

A lot of hot air

Yesterday when I was standing waiting for a minibus I was very conscious of the hot air being pumped out by a succession of KMB buses as they waited to pick up passengers, and today The Standard has a story today about the over-use of aircon that makes passengers too cold and pedestrians too hot.   

One Citybus along route 8X, dubbed the "fridge route," registered temperatures of 15.1 degrees Celsius when the outside temperature was 31.2 degrees.

I hope my fridge is colder than 15 degrees.

Roy Tam Hoi-pong, president of Green Sense which conducted the survey, warned of "air-con sickness," wherein a person is hit with cold symptoms and a headache because of the sudden change in temperature.

"When the bus is too cold, and people are constantly going from a hot to cold environment, it weakens their immune system and makes it easy to catch colds," said Dr Alvin Chan Yee-shing, a Medical Council and Hong Kong Medical Association council member.

"Patients often complain that they feel more congested, or get stuffy noses, when sitting on a bus."

So, what's the explanation?

A spokeswoman for Citybus and New World First Bus said customer feedback and advice from the air- conditioning suppliers led to a "suitable" temperature setting in the buses.

An automatic thermostat control system also adjusted the temperatures. But because the environment inside a bus is subject to many conditions, the vehicle cannot maintain a stable temperature like inside an office, the spokeswoman said, adding the opening and closing of doors, time of day, length of journey and number of passengers all affected the inside temperature.

A KMB spokeswoman offered the same explanation, adding that if the temperature had been taken near the doors, there would have been much higher readings.

Well, yes, it would be warmer by the doors when they are open, but once they close there is usually an icy blast of cold air to lower the temperature again.  The upper deck of a bus has no doors and the windows don't open, so surely it must be possible to keep the temperature fairly constant at around 25 degrees.

However, she said KMB air- conditioned buses are set at 23 degrees.

That's 2.5 degrees cooler than the government's recommendation, but obviously it's a whole lot better than 15 or 16 degrees.

Zinio = rubbish

Back in January I was amused that Business Week wanted to pretend that stopping publishing the magazine outside the US was somehow a good thing.  They refunded the balance of all subscriptions, and offered two ways to continue reading the magazine - one was to have it sent from the US by steamship, and the other was to read it electronically using Zinio.

I made the mistake of signing up for the cheaper, quicker (and, as it turned out, worst) option, thinking that I could print out the sections I wanted to read.

Sounds like a good plan?  Er, not really. 

Yes, the Zino applicaton looks quite attractive, but it is big and resource-hungry - someone should have told the designers to drop the "clever" animation that shows a page turning when you move through the magazine, and just make it small and fast.

In fact, the magazine metaphor is pretty dumb.  Do I really want to read something that looks exactly like a printed magazine (adverts and all)?  Why can't I have one window open with the contents and then another for articles I want to read?  Why can't I zoom in or out as much as I want?  Or search?

Printing is equally hopeless.  I should be able to click on article and have it print in the background (instead you have to select the pages and then select print and then wait while it prints - and it's very slow).  I should be able to select to print on A4 rather than having to answer messages on the printer about loading 'Letter' paper (Acrobat can do this, of course).  Hopeless (and a Google search turns up the news that someone from The Guardian seems to agree that Zinio is rubbish).    

Given that printing is so painful, how about letting me read it on my PDA?  I can read Acrobat's PDF documents this way, but Zinio doesn't offer this function.  It's a PC or nothing. 

It also gives me an irritating message when I start up the PC telling me that it has found a new issue of Business Week but I have already downloaded it.  Why bother telling me this?

Oh, and one more thing.  The email address I gave to Zinio (and no-one else) is now being used by spammers.  Who did that, Mr Zinio?

Mild peril and frequent jousting

I suppose they're trying to be helpful (from The Guardian)

In 1993, Jurassic Park became the first film to be released with a warning line. It scraped past the British Board of Film Classification with a PG rating because the distributors agreed to admit that it might be "unsuitable for young children". Four years later, the BBFC began supplying "consumer advice lines" on its website, starting with Jurassic Park 2, which it described, less than snappily, as: "Passed PG for scary scenes of violence that may be unsuitable for sensitive children or those under eight."

This information, it has to be said, has become increasingly colourful. There is the ever popular "contains mild peril", which was applied to March of the Penguins, as if it were a film about running with scissors. Then there was "contains mild language and horror, and fantasy spiders", which accompanied Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and even "contains moderate emotional intensity" (Swimming Upstream), a damning review if ever I read one. Anyone thinking of taking their children to the new Jack Black movie, Nacho Libre, should consider that it "contains moderate and comic wrestling violence" - words that might as easily describe an average child's day.

Sadly, following the results of a BBFC focus group, the board is trying to cut down on some of its strangest phrases. "Mild peril", for instance, is being replaced with "scary moments". "Moderate torture" too now finds itself out of favour, as some people see it as a contradiction. "Can you have 'moderate' torture?" asks Clark. How about a Chinese burn? "Possibly ..."

Before I let her go, I ask Sue Clark, the BBFC's head of communications, to settle the controversy over A Knight's Tale. This film's consumer advice line, "contains frequent jousting", is considered a masterpiece among fans of the genre, although there are those who insist the words were never used. According to Clark, that description was indeed considered, but ultimately rejected. "We have to be careful not just to produce a piece of information for the sake of it," she explains, before admitting, "I have to say, I do laugh at some of them."

Not as much as you might laugh when reading the description of a film on a dodgy DVD, but that's another story.