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November 2007
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January 2008

Digital TV - maybe

Today is the day when digital terrestrial TV (DTT) comes to Hong Kong.  But only in some parts of Hong Kong (apparently covering 50% of the population, but excluding most of the New Territories).  And only if your building has the right equipment installed.  And only if you have the right type of set-top box.

So it seems I am going to miss out on the delights of digital TV, such as they are. 

These apparently include an HD version of Jade but not Pearl, which is kinda odd given that many of the shows on Pearl are from US and are available in HD.  It's hard to see what HD is going to add to the wooden sets and wooden acting of the average Jade "drama". 

That's not all.  According to Saturday's SCMP, ATV is going to launch a 'cultural' channel:

Plus TV will showcase RTHK television classics - including Below the Lion Rock, Chinese opera shows, as well as documentaries on museums and collective memories - on weekends from 10pm to 11pm. It will also feature at other times documentaries and music programmes produced by the BBC, CCTV and the Discovery Channel, and will be launched by Asia Television and RTHK.

RTHK assistant director Cheung Man-sun said he was glad to have the opportunity to provide the public with more choice.

And I bet ATV is glad to have lots of cheap content.

Today both English language newspapers report a Friends of the Earth "survey" about people replacing their TV sets for digital TV.  Hong Kong's first FREE English newspaper has the funniest  headline (Half a million sets likely to be dumped in HD-TV frenzy) and a story that is equally, er, splendid:

Nearly half a million television sets are set to be junked after the launch of digital television tonight. The enhanced sights and sounds of high-definition TV will be broadcast free by Asia Television and Television Broadcasts from 7pm.

Those living in Kowloon peninsula, the northern part of Hong Kong Island, part of Sha Tin and eastern areas of Lantau will initially be able to receive HDTV broadcasts.  This will allow better viewing of next years Beijing Olympics, including Hong Kongs equestrian events.

But there is a negative side to HDTV, Friends of the Earth said yesterday. The group fears nearly half a million TV sets may be junked in landfills next year amid the craze for HDTV.

Of the 2,075 people polled by the group between July 23 and December 19, nearly one-fifth said they will buy an HDTV set to watch the new broadcasting channels.

Er, well, I'm not so sure that people of Hong Kong are really going to go crazy for the "enhanced sights and sounds of high-definition TV". Love the clichés, though - keep up the good work.

Continue reading "Digital TV - maybe" »

Personality of the Year

I see that Time magazine are insisting that their decision to make Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin their "Person of the Year" should not be regarded as an accolade:

TIME's Person of the Year is not and never has been an honor. It is not an endorsement. It is not a popularity contest. At its best, it is a clear-eyed recognition of the world as it is and of the most powerful individuals and forces shaping that world—for better or for worse.

Shaping the world?  I think not.  The whole point of Putin is that he is trying to make Russia stronger, both economically and politically.  He is not very interested in the rest of the world.

So why chose him as Person of the Year?  It must be because he's so very different from "Western" politicians in the way that he is happy to cultivate an image of being both ruthless and charmless.  The Russian people clearly hold him in very high regard for what he's done for their country, and many in the rest of the world have a more grudging admiration for his achievements.     

I have to admit that the photograph of Putin on the cover of their so-called double issue is really rather splendid, portraying Putin as both belligerent and indifferent:

Charm is not part of his presentation of self—he makes no effort to be ingratiating. One senses that he pays constant obeisance to a determined inner discipline. The successor to the boozy and ultimately tragic Boris Yeltsin, Putin is temperate, sipping his wine only when the protocol of toasts and greetings requires it; mostly he just twirls the Montrachet in his glass. He eats little, though he twitchily picks the crusts off the bread rolls on his plate.

And so on.  Yes, he's an interesting character, but was he really the most important or influential world leader in 2007?  No, which is why it is an accolade.

I can't help thinking that China has had a much greater impact on the world in the last 10 years than Russia.  Yet in the last twenty years they have picked Soviet/Russian leaders three times (Gorbachev got it twice in 1987 and 1989, which is probably fair enough), but you have to go back to 1978 and 1985 for Deng Xiaoping, and no Chinese leader has won it since.  Hu Jintao was a runner-up this year, and got a whole page in Time as his reward, but he's probably too dull to become Person of the Year.

In fact, looking at the list of the winners in the last 20 years, many of the selections look very eccentric indeed.  Ted Turner?  Jeff Bezos?  You?  Of course, every recent American president (bar Gerry Ford) has been chosen at least once, and most of them twice, which probably tells us all we need to know.

Continue reading "Personality of the Year" »

Old bags

What is it with big stupid Hong Kong companies?  They have a good idea and then they back down when just a few people complain.

First it was ParknShop.  They stopped giving each customer 3 or 4 plastic bags whether they needed them or not, and said that bags would only be available on request (with a voluntary levy of 20 cents per bag).  Yes, that's right, a voluntary levy - they would give you free bag(s) if you requested them.  Seems fair enough, but people who wouldn't insist on their free plastic bag were not so reticent when it came to telling everyone else how unreasonable it was. 

Anyway, faced with complaints from a few plastic bags addicts. PnS quickly abandoned this scheme

Those of a more cynical disposition felt this was all too convenient, and that PnS never really intended to implement this scheme - if they had, they would have given people advance warning and explained exactly how it was supposed to work (and where the $0.20 levy would go). Instead they have gained a lot of generally favourable publicity without doing very much.

Then it was HSBC, who announced that the minimum withdrawal from their ATMs would be increased from HK$100 to HK$300.  Cue totally predictable outcry about impecunious pensioners who would be unable to get at their money.

Uh?  HSBC offer an account with an ATM card that would still have allowed withdrawals of HK$100, and anyone with less than HK$300 in their account you could still have withdrawn HK$100 or HK$200.

How many people really need to withdraw less than HK$300?  Why should I have to wait in line so that someone can withdraw $100? 

Anyway, HSBC rapidly caved in and abandoned their cunning plan.  But, hey, we now have lovely new green plastic bags.

Oasis wins an award

I see that Oasis has won an award.  Cathay must be a bit worried, because they have come up with a curious style of advert that tries to make out that they are a budget airline (except, of course, so much better, lah).  And, yes, they only use to advertise services to Vancouver and London (the two Oasis destinations).

Meanwhile, Oasis appear to be trying to move their Business Class upmarket (with price increases to match, no doubt):

businessOasis passengers will soon receive the ultimate business class service experience, with increased one-to-one service from flight crew, incorporating, amongst other new touches, a full split meal service.

Oasis is moving away from the standard on board catering service and instead offering its businessOasis passengers a quality restaurant-like service, where each course of the meal is presented, then cleared, before the next is delivered. After the main course the crew will offer a service trolley featuring sumptuous dessert and cheese rather than pre-plated choices, so the customer can select the after-meal delights for themselves.

The meal will be provided on high quality new crockery, with new cutlery and glassware, and a stylish, custom-made Oasis mug.

The new mug will feature in a new and luxurious tea and coffee service, where a range of biodynamic and fair-trade certified teas will be offered in a wooden presentation box for passengers to choose their tea of choice: English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Green, Peppermint, Lemon Valerian or Chinese Tea.

Ho hum - biodynamic tea in a wooden box. I still think that they'd be better advised to keep it simple. 

Continue reading "Oasis wins an award" »

Entirely Predictable

One of the headlines on the front page of today's SCMP is Kevin Sinclair dies after long battle with cancer.  John Diamond, another journalist who was killed by cancer, had something to say about the way that the disease is presented in this clichéd way by lazy journalists:

"I despise the set of warlike metaphors that so many apply to cancer. My antipathy has nothing to do with pacifism and everything to do with a hatred for the sort of morality which says that only those who fight hard against their cancer survive it or deserve to survive it - the corollary being that those who lose the fight deserved to do so."

No surprise, then, to find this in the SCMP story:

In a letter to the Sinclair family to express his condolences, the chief executive said he was moved by the courage and tenacity that Sinclair displayed during his book signing.

"Although born a Kiwi, to me, Kevin typified the undaunted Hong Kong spirit - a fact borne out by the enormous mental and physical effort it must have taken to finish his book, and Kevin's determination to see his friends and colleagues at the FCC even at a time when he was gravely ill. It was an honour and a privilege for me personally to have been able to talk to him that night, and to have received a copy of his book."

Or to put it another way - if some people "battle bravely" and demonstrate "courage and tenacity", what about the rest?  Well, you don't see headlines like this: Loved Ones Recall Local Man's Cowardly Battle With Cancer, do you?  Except in The Onion, of course.

Bad advice

Astonishing advice in Friday's SCMP (Get ready to opt out of junk phone calls, faxes):

Hongkongers will be able to block annoying advertising text messages, prerecorded phone calls and promotional faxes from next year but there is still no quick-fix solution for junk e-mail.

The enacting of the second phase of the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Ordinance would ban commercial electronic messages with three do-not-call registers - for fax, SMS and pre-recorded phone calls - in phases starting from tomorrow. All 14 million fax and phone numbers in use in Hong Kong will be able to register to block advertising messages by dialling the hotlines at any time except between 11pm and midnight.

Senders of commercial electronic messages would be in breach of the ordinance if they continued to deliver messages to the numbers in the list after the bans came into force next year.

But a register would not be set up for e-mail users to reject spamming, the Office of the Telecommunication Authority said yesterday.

"Overseas experience reveals that such registers can become a goldmine for professional spammers," said Ofta director Marion Lai Chan Chi-kuen. "It is more realistic not to set it up."

Yes, but...

Assistant director So Tat-foon said the nuisance caused by junk e-mails could be resolved by making an "unsubscribe" request to the message sender.

That's the very last thing you want to do!  Many junk emails are sent on a speculative basis to email addresses that may or may not exist.  Requesting to unsubscribe simply confirms that the email address exists and is being used. 

Mr So added that under the ordinance, the subject of a commercial e-mail must not be misleading.

"If an e-mail sender was a promotion of product or service, it could not write 'Merry Christmas' in the e-mail subject title," he said.

Well, yes, good luck with enforcing that one.  What will they do when the email turns out not to have originated in Hong Kong?  Aren't companies allowed to send an email to their customers wishing them a happy Christmas or a prosperous New Year and also mention their products or services? 

It's not true

I like to think of myself as rational and logical.  Sadly, the world is full of people who believe that all sorts of stupid things are true, and usually these untruths are not only repeated but they are reinforced by doctors, and other people we tend to believe.

Is it really dangerous to use your mobile phone in a hospital, on a plane, or at a petrol station?  No, no, and no. 

Can you catch a cold just because you are out in the cold?  No.  Will antibiotics help with that cold?  No. 

The Guardian reports on some more of these (Heard the one about reading in dim light being bad for your eyes? It's just a myth):

They are the universal pearls of wisdom that explain some of the more puzzling things about the human body and help people live healthy lives: don't read in dim light, drink eight glasses of water a day and don't use mobile phones in hospitals.

The problem is: there is no evidence to suggest that these gems of advice are actually true. In a study out today researchers have scoured through leading databases of medical research to test whether any of the most commonly held beliefs among doctors and patients bear any links to reality.

The two doctors behind the research wanted to remind their colleagues that anyone could get things wrong and suggested that doctors should think twice about commonly held ideas that might not be based on evidence.

"We got fired up about this because we knew that physicians accepted these beliefs and were passing this information along to their patients. And these beliefs are frequently cited in the popular media. We didn't set out to become myth busters," said Aaron Carroll of the Regenstrief Institute in Indianapolis.

Wild guesses

 There's a bizarre story on the front-page of the SCMP today (HK's star stock-picker revises market target - subscription required):

Lee Shau-kee picks stocks pretty well for a 79-year-old grandpa who spends his mornings in massage and meditation. And Mr Lee says the market isn't going to climb quite as fast as he once thought.

As he has done with increasing frequency, the Henderson Land Development  chairman has again changed his targets for the market, now predicting the blue-chip index will hit 30,000 around the Lunar New Year and 33,000 in the autumn. He toned down his predictions after the monetary tightening and credit crisis tripped up the market. His earlier targets were 30,000 by year end and 33,000 by the Lunar New Year.


It's a lovely graph, and it shows that all of Mr Lee's predictions have turned out to be, er, rubbish.  Especially the first one.  Not that the story itself says anything as disrespectful as that.  Oh no. 

Second-hand food

If you ask for a "doggy bag" at the end of your delicious Cantonese meal, the chances are that the waiter (or maybe one of the diners) will pick up a pair of chopsticks, turn them around, and use them to put the food into the take-away container.

OK, so you've probably avoided getting someone else's saliva on the food, but let's think about where the hands (that were holding the chopsticks) might have been.

No, on second thoughts, let's not.

The Rooster

Another few words of wisdom from my desk calendar, this time for the Rooster:

A pioneer in spirit, you are devoted to work and quest after knowledge.  You are selfish and eccentric.  Rabbits are trouble, Snakes and Oxen are fine.

Career: Gossips lead to possible lawsuits.  Therefore, think twice before you act.

Fortune: It's an uneven ride through the year.  Don't invest all at one time; otherwise there is nothing left in your pocket.

Romance: Love relationship is very emotional.  Try to control your mood and don't force others will.

Such wise words, lah.