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February 2009
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Digital TV the Hong Kong way

Last year I pointed out that TVB were not providing an English language commentary for the Rugby Sevens on Jade HD, even though there is an dual language option.

Well, it was exactly the same again this year - if you wanted English commentary you had to watch Pearl with its grainy pictures.  Well done, those people.

Well, what did we expect when the government gave away the digital spectrum to TVB and ATV?

Last week ATV announced that they are going to ditch most of the new digital channels they launched last year (His TV, Her TV and Plus TV).  Yes, these are the channels that went off air from 8-10 pm each evening (when the HD channel was broadcasting). 

Although they did have some English language programs (quite a few documentaries on Plus TV and football and tennis on His TV), the SCMP doesn't bother with listings for any of the digital-only channels and ATV doesn't have English information on its website either, so you are unlikely to know anything about these channels.   

ATV's new service will include a channel from Taiwan, the CCTV channel they already have, and (if I've understood it correctly) the HD channel is going to be on air 24 hours a day, but with only a few hours of HD and the rest of time devoted to their news channel.

Sounds enthralling.

Thanks for calling

Continuing my occasional series on Hong Kong's least loved companies, now it's the turn of PCCW, or more specifically Netvigator.  Or, to be precise, the complete nonsense that it is their interactive phone menu system. 

I wanted to find out more about their 30 mb/s fibre broadband.  Their website give a phone number and says you have to press '8'.  Well, yes, but that only gets you to the first of about 9 levels, and there's still a lot further to go before you can speak to a person who could provide details and arrange the service.

Bizarrely, the vast majority of the options seem to be dead ends, where all you get is a recorded message - and if there's a way to go back up a level it isn't explained.

They're a technology company, aren't they?  So why can't they design a system that allows callers to be connected to the right department quickly and easily?  You know, to buy something? 

I'm not an expert on these things, but how about having a 2 digit code, so (for example) if I press '33' I get direct through to someone who can sell me a 30mb/s fibre connection.

Yes, that's right, I'm going through all of this to spend money.  I'm not sure why I bother.

Dead famous

Here in Hong Kong we have had the hilarious Edison Chen saga, in which we have had to face up to the horrible reality that pop stars have sex with each other.  No, really they do - and apparently some of them take drugs.  This is obviously just too shocking for many in Hong Kong, and poor old Gillian Chung had to quit showbusiness for a year because of the hostile public reaction after the naughty photos of her and Mr Chen appeared in inboxes everywhere, and is only now making a very tentative comeback. 

In the UK, meanwhile, tabloid headlines are dominated by Jade Goody, who discovered that "bad" behaviour (on Big Brother) actually makes you more famous and more wealthy.  Her career (if you can call it that) has certainly had its ups and downs, but since she announced that she has terminal cancer the media has become totally obsessed with her.

For the last week or two (at least) the tabloids have been writing about her final days or hours, and OK! magazine has even published a tribute issue.  Which is ever so slightly premature, what with her still being alive and all that. 

The justification for all this is that the money she is earning will go to her two children, but it's hard to avoid the conclusion that having found fame from living her life on TV, she regards it as normal to end her life in the media spotlight, and newspapers are only happy to go along with the story, utterly banal as it all is.  Even the serious papers can join in by condemning their downmarket rivals. 

What's worse?  In Hong Kong way, management companies create celebrities, pre-packaged with a wholesome image that often bears no relation to the truth.  In the UK, reality shows such as Big Brother make ordinary people famous, and the more ghastly they are and the worse their behaviour the more money they can earn.  No need to hide way after a scandal, just milk it for all it's worth.  

Less rewarding

A few weeks ago, HSBC announced that it was changing the conversion rate for Asia Miles, so now you need 15 reward points to get 1 Asia Mile (rather than 12:1, so it's 25% worse).  Compared to other cards that is very mean indeed - some cards give double or triple points, whilst others have significantly better conversion rates.

Now they have announced that (for some of their credit cards), they will no longer offer any reward points for paying bills online. 

Thanks a lot, HSBC.

One more thing.  Whoever designed the "bill payment" section of Online@HSBC (or whatever it's called), deserves a special award for truly awful web design.

What's needed here is a simple, clean, logical design that allows the customer to select a bill, enter the amount and press a button to confirm.  How hard can that be?

It needs to be easy to use for the 95% of transactions that are straightforward.

That means that I shouldn't have to specify the bill type.  If it's an insurance premium it should make that the default type (but allow me to change it).  Likewise, if it's an electricity bill, I shouldn't have to select 'electricity bill'.  If I am doing a more exotic transaction give me an option to change the bill type, but otherwise don't bug me!

Likewise, if I always use my HSBC credit card to pay bills, why not make that the default and let me change to a different payment method if I choose to do so, rather than forcing me to select it every time.

Incredibly, they can't fit this small amount of information on to one screen, so you have to scroll down to find the "confirm" button.  That's ridiculous.

Getting customers to use online self-service applications saves companies a lot of money, so the least they can do is design them to be easy to use (and credit here to American Express, who have finally made their site easy to use).

The issues facing the city...turn out to be some trees in Fo Tan

Hilariously, Tim Hamlett seems to have filled a whole column in today's SCMP by writing about the road that runs outside his window:


A veteran journalist and Baptist University academic, Tim looks at the issues facing the city.

Sui Wo Road has its origins at a small roundabout in the smoky industrial heart of Fo Tan. It winds its way upwards in serpentine fashion past housing estates and schools, until it reaches the top of the hill behind the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery. Here man and nature meet and contend, with mixed results. At the end of the road there is a car park. At least it was clearly intended to be a car park. There are neither "no parking" signs nor "P" signs.

At certain times of the year the police explicitly forbid parking. Behind this legal ambiguity there is a stretch of grass which runs round the back of the last estate on the left. It is separated from the back wall of the estate by a wide path. Eventually the path turns sharply to the right down the hill, and you come to a lookout point. This is a platform jutting out from the hill, with a pavilion constructed in the traditional Chinese style, if the traditional Chinese style admits reinforced concrete. It is sometimes known as the "Lions Lookout" because a Lions Club paid for it. I would like to name the benefactors, but the two large stones commemorating the original construction and a recent refurbishment have no English outside the Lions logo. They are munificent but monolingual lions.

The lookout was once of some administrative importance. Official visitors to Hong Kong would be escorted up there to look down on the huge building site in the valley below and would "be briefed" as the press release invariably put it, on the progress of the works. Nowadays the official guides have moved on to more recent wonders and the lookout point is left to morning visitors in search of exercise and evening visitors in search of a quiet place to cuddle in the dark.

Or for veteran journalists to practice the bagpipes, according to one blogger who may be a neighbour of Mr Hamlett. 

The stretch of grass continues, now pathless, past more housing estate until it reaches the top of the slope behind Sha Tin College. There are two other landmarks. One clump of bushes by the car park is popular with minibus and taxi drivers looking for a place where they can park and - um - "P". You can smell it in the summer. Also by the car park the builders who levelled the hill top which became this flat place left some of the larger rocks they had come across. The rocks simply sat in a clump on the grass. A kind observer might have described it as a garden in the Zen style. For 30 years or so the grass was occasionally cut by a small group of ladies with Strimmers, and the clippings were taken away by the male members of the team in plastic bags. And that was all.

Stop already.  The excitement is too much for me.