Jack Yan
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    The Persuader

    My personal blog, started in 2006.


    Autocade reaches 7,000,000 page views, growing at its quickest rate

    I was surprised to see that Autocade managed its 7,000,000th viewer some time this month, five months after the 6,000,000th. Considering it took three years to get to the first million, this means people are willing to use Autocade more regularly as a resource on the web. As something that started on the side, this is very heartening news, especially as there have been relatively few updates since the 6,000,000th due to general busy-ness.
       Here’s how the numbers stack up:

    March 2008: launch
    April 2011: 1,000,000 page views (three years for first million)
    March 2012: 2,000,000 page views (11 months for second million)
    May 2013: 3,000,000 page views (14 months for third million)
    January 2014: 4,000,000 page views (eight months for fourth million)
    September 2014: 5,000,000 page views (eight months for fifth million)
    May 2015: 6,000,000 page views (eight months for sixth million)
    October 2015: 7,000,000 page views (five months for seventh million)

    There are presently 3,258 individual model line entries on the website, so at this rate it’ll be some time in 2016 before Autocade gets to 3,500. Number 3,250 was a Chinese car, the Besturn B90 (above left), although with the economy there slowing, it’s likely there will be fewer new models. It had been very hard keeping up with the pace of change there, although many significant new models made it on to the site during the boom years.
       The Frankfurt show saw many débutantes, which will begin appearing over the summer break when I get a few moments to oversee their addition.
       In 10 days’ time, meanwhile, Lucire will celebrate its 18th anniversary, proving many naysayers wrong.

    Filed under: business, cars, China, media, New Zealand, publishing—Jack Yan @ 06.04


    The best mouse to buy might be a dead-stock one made in 2005

    With the mouse being the culprit on my main computer causing mouse and keyboard to be unresponsive in Windows 7 (I’ve still no idea when Windows 10 arrives and Microsoft has been no help at all), I decided to shop for a new one again.
       The failed mouse was one I bought in 2012, which also made it the most short-lived. Made by Logitech, I had expected better. It replaced a 2002 Microsoft mouse which was my daily unit, and that had failed around 2013.
       Another Logitech, a few years older, was already giving up the ghost when plugged into the office Mac, and I transferred that to an old Windows machine that we use very irregularly for testing. It was fine there, but the fact it only works on Windows (and Linux, as I later found out) meant that it’s faulty in some way.
       One thing I did know, although mice fail in my care less easily than keyboards, is that quality was important. Some months ago, Corporate Consumables advertised old-style Microsoft mice for NZ$12. Considering that type isn’t made today, I assume it was old stock they were trying to get rid of. It was the most comfortable I had used last decade, but it appeared that the NZ$12 sale was successful: there were none left.

       I headed again to Atech Computers on Wakefield Street, as Matthew had always looked after me and knew I could be fussy. He sold me a Lenovo mouse (above), which he believed would have better quality than the Logitechs, and let me try it out. It was fine at the shop—it was more sizeable than the Logitech—but after prolonged use I discovered it wasn’t wide enough. My ring and little fingers were dragging on the mouse pad, but since there was nothing technically wrong with it, it wouldn’t be right to return it. Lesson learned for NZ$30: it’s not just the length, width is important, too. That Lenovo is now plugged into the Linux PC and the older Logitech put aside for now. I might wind up giving it away knowing that it’s not in the best condition, having given away quite a few recycled PCs of late from both myself and a friend when she got new gear for her office.
       Corporate Consumables had let me see a dead-stock Microsoft Laser Mouse 6000 on my earlier visit and I decided I would give that a go. Armed with the Lenovo, I went to the Wellington office to compare the two and the width was, indeed, right. It was a bit closer to the 2002 model I had. It was narrower, but the sculpted design meant I had somewhere to rest my ring finger, within the body of the mouse. Although manufactured in 2005, it was still in its packaging and Corporate sold it to me at a very low price.

       I don’t mind that it left the factory a decade ago, if, roughly, the newer the mouse, the shorter the life. A 10-year-old mouse might last me another decade or so. A few years back, I bought a Microtek Scanmaker 5800 to replace a faulty 5700: although it was obsolete and I bought dead stock, it was at about a third of the price of what it was when brand-new last decade, and it plugged into my system without any software alteration. As long as a gadget delivers the quality I want—and the 5800 gave better results than a newer scanner with a plastic lens, for example—then I don’t really mind that that particular model isn’t the latest thing. Even the office printer was in a box for about five or six years before it replaced something we bought in 2003 that had gone kaput.
       Have mice changed that much between 2005 and 2015? Not really: they do the same thing, more or less, and the old ones might be better made. I’m perfectly happy with bringing something forth into October 2015 that isn’t a De Lorean DMC-12 with a Mr Fusion on the back.

    Filed under: China, design, technology, USA—Jack Yan @ 14.06


    Bugs galore: frozen while using Firefox; keyboard and mouse unresponsive when using Windows 7

    Last week was an interesting one for computer bugs. Apple took 42 attempts to install the latest Itunes update on one Mac (and that was the good one that normally presents no issues with updates), but, to its credit, once it was done there were no further problems. Windows, however, gave me a few headaches and I’m recording the solutions here for others who might have the same, since what I’ve read online doesn’t always apply.
       The old laptop was freezing every time I used Firefox. God help us, I even downloaded Chrome when I was in the Philippines, since it was the only browser compatible with YouTube, to which I had to upload a few videos for work. (Internet Explorer kept producing an error, with YouTube saying I had to get the latest version, and Microsoft saying I had the latest version.) And no, I didn’t accidentally turn on my search history since the dates don’t even correspond, and I was using another account.
       Fix: remove Avast. The bug had been plaguing that work machine for a few weeks and I had an inkling it was Avast. One of the team had accidentally allowed an Avast 30-day trial to proceed, which was the root of the problems. It was roughly at this time the issues began. I had downgraded back to the standard one, but things were so irreparably damaged that the only solution was removal altogether. That laptop is back to AVG, although Microsoft Security Essentials is recommended to me.
       My main desktop computer, which is running Windows 7 (since Microsoft has been completely silent on how to upgrade to Windows 10, with the advisory box giving me no clues other than I am in the queue), began freezing me out earlier this week. Twice at night the keyboard and mouse became unresponsive, although the computer itself had not hung: things were happening in the background normally. I had to do a hard reset twice that night, and had a painless day for the subsequent day, but then the bug recurred around 10 times on Friday.
       In the meantime, should this happen, putting the computer to sleep works, which, like most bugs, seems to be the opposite of the advice you get. I was still able to access the computer via VNC on Android, and control it through there. Putting the PC to sleep (discovered entirely by accident) and then awakening it worked in getting keyboard and mouse control back.
       You begin suspecting certain things.
       Keyboard and mouse faulty? You would hope not, since I spent NZ$160 on the former, though it is under warranty. On two occasions I heard a USB disconnect sound. However, both were checked and appear to be fine. I altered some USB sleep settings, but they made no difference (and were put back to default).
       Hacked? Actually, yes. I run TightVNC, and there were repeated hacking attempts from IP addresses in the US, the Netherlands and Colombia of late. These were added to the firewall and the TightVNC program updated to the latest version. The Event Viewer had picked these up.
       But the bug persisted and even became more regular.
       Was it to do with the Windows Error Reporting service? I had not signed up, and it was switched off, but I still went into the Task Manager and disabled the associated tasks. No joy, nothing changed.
       One person wrote that they experienced this error after downloading the Intel update driver utility, which I had done so, too, after Microsoft advised that I had Intel issues and was unable to upgrade to Windows 10. That was in August, but it was close enough to the September bug—and I had been away, after all—that it was a possibility. I removed it, but, the bug continued.
       I did the usual disk checks and verified the hard drive.
       What finally worked? Removing everything by Apple with the exception of QuickTime. It turns out that not only was the Itunes update problematic on a Mac, it could freeze you out on Windows. That meant removing every updater, Itunes, any Apple utilities connecting you to portable devices, and an Apple service called Bonjour (which had generated a lot of errors in the Event Viewer). Till Apple sorts itself out with Itunes, that’s the thing you should avoid. Although having used it for the first time in many, many years, only to be told that what I wanted to buy was not available to New Zealanders (who, incidentally, could have watched the same programme for free from the copyright owner’s website), I’m not entirely sure why anyone would. At this rate, I won’t be using it again in a hurry, at least not for another few years till someone asks, ‘Can I download Itunes on to your computer?’

    Postscript: A few days after writing this post, which included a trouble-free day, the problem recurred, and this time, there was nothing in Event Viewer at all. After even more investigation, it turns out that in Windows, a faulty mouse can knock out your keyboard. Go figure. Of course, that could lead to a full post about mice.—JY

    Filed under: internet, technology—Jack Yan @ 00.23


    Volkswagen’s scandal won’t spread to other German car groups

    If you want a humorous take on what happened at Volkswagen this week, the above video sums it all up.

    During my 2010 mayoral campaign, I noted that if New Zealand did not diversify its economy to have more of a focus on technology, there could be a problem. Relying on primary products (I didn’t say dairy specifically) wasn’t something a western economy should be doing and, of course, one signal that things would change in Wellington would be my idea for free, inner-city wifi. I wasn’t trying to be a smart-arse; I was just pointing out an obvious fact, one that has taken many years for others to be concerned about, with Fonterra payouts dipping. News travels slowly.
       Right now, this Reuter article (sorry, folks, having grown up in New Zealand where ‘NZPA–Reuter’ was in the newspapers every day, the plural form doesn’t come naturally to me) suggests that the Volkswagen débâcle could harm other German car makers. How great that harm is depends on how tied those brands are to the German nation brand. The danger is, according to the article, that with the German car industry employing 775,000 people, and car and car parts being the country’s most successful export, a dent in their reputation could have drastic effects for an economy. According to Michael Hüther of the IW economic institute, the car industry is at the core. Having other industries that are strong is important to any economy, and Germany has ensured that, despite one taking a knock, it has others that will keep it ticking over. Nearly 70 per cent of the German economy is in services. There will be worries in foreign exchange, but I doubt we’re going to see other German car makers tanking because of this.
       But Volkswagen, some argue, is very wedded to the German psyche. Its founding, which no one really talks about because you’d have to mention the war, ties it to the state, and its postwar resurrection was borne out of the British Army wanting to get the people of the former KdF-Stadt some gainful employment. It was the great German success, the company whose Käfer became a world-beater, overtaking the Ford Model T in terms of units made.
       The VW symbol is very German, borne from their graphic design ideas of the 1930s. The German name, the quirkiness of the Käfer, its relative reliability, and its unchanging appearance probably tied VW and Germany closer together in terms of branding. For years, you would associate Volkswagen with ‘Made in Germany’, just as you would with Mercedes-Benz and BMW, even if a sizeable proportion of their production is not German at all today. (Mercedes and BMW SUVs are often made in the US; Volkswagen makes its Touareg in Slovakia. Volkswagen is one of the biggest foreign players in China, and in Brazil it’s practically considered a domestic brand.)
       Think of the postwar period: Germans weren’t always smart about how to market their cars. BMW had a bunch of over-engineered cars that were completely unsuited to the market-place, such as the heavy, baroque 501; it wound up making the Isetta under licence toward the end of the decade because it was in such deep trouble. Volkswagen eschewed fashion in favour of a practical little car that, too, placed engineering ahead of marketing fads. From this, the idea of German precision engineering was enhanced from its prewar years, because engineering was, by and large, top priority. Mercedes-Benz, being far more successful at selling its luxury cars to the rich than BMW, cemented it and added cachet and snobbery.
       It was only the foreign-owned makers in Germany that went for fashion, such as Ford and Opel, selling convention to the masses wrapped in pretty clothes: the Ford Taunus TC had styling excesses demanded by Ford president Bunkie Knudsen at the time of its development, but it broke no new ground underneath.
       Nevertheless, any time Ford sources from Germany, whether it’s for the US market or here in New Zealand, the notion of “German precision” seeps through in the marketing; when the sourcing changed, as has happened with the Focus here, it’s very quietly dropped. The German car manufacturers carved themselves a nice, comfortable niche, thanks to an earlier era which, to some extent, no longer exists.
       Mercedes-Benz decided it was not about ‘Made in Germany’ some years ago, favouring ‘Made by Mercedes’, and turned itself into a marketing-led organization; quality suffered. Volkswagen, in its quest to become the biggest car maker in the world, and the master of everything from Škoda to Bugatti, did what GM did years before, by allowing each brand to maintain its character but sharing the stuff that customers didn’t see. It, too, became more marketing-led, and it’s not had a stellar performance in owner surveys for a while.
       You could say that there has been a gradual separation between the brands and what we hold about the German national image in our minds. The “Germanness”, which once accounted for the companies charging a premium, has been decreasing; Volkswagens, in many parts of the world, are affordable again, even in the US where the NMS Passat is built locally in Tennessee. South African- and Mexican-sourced Volkswagens in New Zealand are cheaper in constant dollars compared to their predecessors of a generation before. The German image is not gone altogether—the name, graphics and the æsthetic of the product see to that—but it does mean the effects of the scandal might not spread to other brands as much as some commentators think.
       The original study that showed Volkswagen was cheating on its emissions’ tests in the US, which is nearly two years old by now (it makes you wonder why it only surfaced in the media this week), also showed that BMW performed better than what it claimed. It’s not impossible for the other manufacturers to separate themselves from Volkswagen, because their individual brands have become strong. Thanks to the weaker relationship between Volkswagen and the German brand, this scandal will likely confine itself to the single car group. It’s not great news for the world’s biggest car maker, but its compatriots should see this as an opportunity more than a threat.

    Filed under: branding, cars, culture, globalization, marketing, media, USA—Jack Yan @ 14.50

    YouTube switches on my search history again, all in the quest to get more personal data

    Check your YouTube settings: even if you switch off your search history, Google may turn it on again

    Here I was, telling friends that 2014 marked the first year in which I didn’t have to call Google out over something, be it privacy breaches, deceptive conduct, or simply not measuring up to its claims.
       As usual, I spoke too soon, as tonight I stumbled across another example of Google saying one thing and doing another. All in the quest to get data on you, without you knowing.
       Last time that happened, Google had to change its practices regarding its Ads Preferences Manager, a system where it claimed you could opt out, where it then inserted an opt-out cookie, but, when you weren’t looking, removed the opt-out cookie and began tracking your preferences again. Now, if only it sold diesel cars, there’d be an uproar in the US media.
       But it was all sorted very quietly, with the Network Advertising Initiative forcing Google, its largest member, to stop its deceptive conduct.
       This was a year before the Murdoch Press exposed Google for hacking Iphone Safari browser users, for which the company was eventually fined $17 million, or four hours’ earnings. Again, if only it was selling diesel cars, the fine would be a thousand times greater.
       This one’s related: the tracking of your history on YouTube. Google wants to track your data so it can customize advertising to you, since Doubleclick, its advertising unit, makes milliards a year. I had suspected it was going on in July 2014, since the site was delivering a large number of motoring advertisements to me, but needed to gather more proof. Like the investigation I made into Ads Preferences Manager four years ago, I should have checked Google’s settings; at the time I didn’t, thinking that Google would be incredibly stupid, callous and ignorant to manipulate user settings again after getting busted twice in the last five years for disrespecting them. But when the punishment is four hours’ earnings, with hindsight, of course, it wasn’t afraid.
       I have had my YouTube history turned off for years, ever since I first discovered Google’s cheating over monitoring. However, in 2012, YouTube had switched this on again, without my intervention. You could argue that I had forgotten, that I must have switched it back on myself, as unlikely as that would be. Nevertheless, I was sufficiently concerned that I blogged about it in November, noting that I had found myself with a YouTube viewing and search history earlier that year. It’s something I would have deleted and turned off again in 2012.
       What did I find when I checked my YouTube history today, now that Google has revamped its account management interface? You guessed it: a search history. It’s not complete—it doesn’t have everything I’ve searched for—but it does begin again on July 23, 2013. This jumps ahead to August 14 and 23, then October 3; June 23 and 30, July 3 and 4, 2014; then August 24 through 27, 2015. You have to ask yourself: how does Google have a search history for someone whose search history was turned off in 2012 (and even before then)? The only conceivable answer to me is that Google switches it on again without your permission, and it was indeed on again when I visited the Privacy Check-up pages today.
       I also have a watch history, with videos in March, April, November and December 2012.
       I shan’t be deleting either, as this will serve as a record of the fact Google still messes around with our privacy settings regularly. But I will say again, today, that I had to “pause” the search history for YouTube again, and I’ll check in again later, although not three years later, to see if Google switches it back on.
       I was surprised to find that I have a YouTube account, and Google gave me the option to delete my zero videos, playlists, subscriptions and subscribers. However, if I proceeded, and I might after this investigation, the above histories would also vanish.
       We may have another Ads Preferences Manager case on our hands, one where the US and tech media will just shrug its shoulders and proclaim Google to be the Almighty on which their jobs hinge. At worst, some states’ attorneys-general will go after them for another few hours’ pay.

    Filed under: internet, media, technology, USA—Jack Yan @ 12.08


    Alarm für Cobra 11 changes direction again, with Daniel Roesner as Paul Renner

    First publicity photograph of Daniel Roesner as Paul Renner, photographed by Frank Hempel/RTL.

    First publicity photograph of Daniel Roesner as Paul Renner, photographed by Frank Hempel/RTL.

    Poor Vinzenz Kiefer. The co-star of Alarm für Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei, which commemorates its 20th anniversary next year, will be written out of the show, and not by his choice.
       Since the departure of Tom Beck as Ben Jäger a few years ago, the producers of the long-running German action series decided to take a darker turn. Cobra 11 has always been able to reinvent itself with the times, hence the long run, and the light comedy that crept in to such awful episodes as ‘Babyalarm’ or the predictable “bad guys with automatic weapons” plots of ‘Codename Tiger’ (which even had a homage to Michael Bay) was deemed to be at odds with what viewers wanted. Out with Beck. In with Kiefer, a grittier looking young actor who had had a single guest outing in Cobra 11 some years earlier in another role, as a troubled young offender called Dennis Kortmann out to avenge the death of his younger brother.
       The new character of Alex Brandt (incredibly close in name to Kommissar Rex’s Alex Brandtner, played by another short-lived Cobra 11 co-star, Gedeon Burkhard) seemed tailor-made for Kiefer, now 37, a deep, highly talented actor. Brandt had a back-story, caught amongst corrupt police officers which saw him go to prison, something that Cobra 11 producers tried to inject in the mid-2000s when Gedeon Burkhard replaced the ever-popular Réné Steinke. The writers and story editors introduced story threads that spanned the whole season. It was all in keeping with the Zeitgeist, but, ratings dropped, despite a spectacular season finalé inspired by Vantage Point but much more cleverly executed within the 45-minute running time. We finally saw some acting chops from the entire cast: star Erdoğan Atalay got to exercise his not inconsiderable talent as family man and cop Semir Gerkhan, and there was even a hint of “will they or won’t they?” between Brandt and Katrin Heß’s Jenny Dorn—who had previously been in a relationship with Niels Kurvin’s Hartmut Freund character. Yet on occasion, Alarm für Cobra 11 was even beaten by Germany’s Next Top Model, a show which it usually trumped. And Kiefer is the fall guy.
       Burkhard, too, presided over what was considered a darker, moodier season of Cobra 11 in 2007–8, yet ratings fell, and he was given the axe.
       It’s a given that the reinventions help the series, but the obsession with ratings has meant Cobra 11 returning to a level of humour and escapism each time the network, RTL, panics. In a Facebook poll this author set up with 786 respondents, fans regard Tom Beck as the best co-star (565 votes), with Kiefer a distant second (116). Old stars such as Steinke still hold up (67) despite their departure nearly a decade ago.
       Why ‘poor Vinzenz Kiefer’? Today, his successor, Daniel Roesner (top) was announced, which means Kiefer has to complete and, later, promote his work knowing that Alex Brandt may well be killed off (the fate of less popular co-stars) and that he’s on his way out. Alex Brandt may be the gloomy, moody DCI, but behind-the-scenes photos shared by Atalay and Heß show that there are plenty of hijinks, with everyone getting on well. Heß posted her sadness at the announcement her colleague would be given the boot on Instagram and Facebook, and Atalay ceased posting to his social media altogether (although whether that was the reason is unknown).
       Roesner has the ingredients for the escapist audience: he excels in light comedy, he has a friendlier face, and he is already known to Cobra 11 audiences for playing Tacho, whom we first met in 2010 while at the police academy. His character, along with Axel Stein’s Turbo, was so popular that he was brought back for a second guest spot in 2011, and Action Concept, the makers of the series, attempted a TV pilot called Turbo und Tacho, where it is revealed that his full name is Andreas Tachinski.
       Roesner won’t be playing Tachinski this time; instead, after a haircut and a new wardrobe, he’ll be playing a cop called Paul Renner, and whether he designed Futura or not while working at the Bauhaus has not yet been explained. His presence will likely see a return to the escapist, self-contained scripts, with the characters turning more two-dimensional again.
       Beck’s years proved that the show can rebound, but the past two with Kiefer gained him a loyal following, too. The core may well want escapism but Kiefer probably brought viewers who could leave; assuming they knew Cobra 11 had transformed to begin with. Do we want our TV heroes to be light while things are tough; or do we want them to reflect the hard times we have today? Whether RTL has calculated correctly or not will be seen when Roesner’s episodes start with the 20th anniversary of the series; but it will be looking to reclaim the Thursday night prime-time slot more regularly than Cobra 11 has been doing in the last year. Expect huge promotions for the 20th—and to establish Roesner in the new role as RTL attempts to get its audience back.

    This piece first appeared in Lucire Men.

    Filed under: business, culture, internet, TV—Jack Yan @ 10.26


    7-7, 10 years on

    Remembering the victims of 7-7 today. Ten years on. RIP to my friend Colin Morley.
       I’m glad we toasted you this year at the Medinge London dinner, and we filled in the newer members on who you were, and why for many years we named an award after you.
       Medinge has changed greatly over the last 10 years but it’s the memory of people like Colin who help remind us of our purpose.

    Filed under: general—Jack Yan @ 11.10


    Facebook’s still deleting drag accounts and keeping bots

    Some interesting bugs out there on Facebook that my friends are telling me about. One has been removed from all her groups, including one that I run (we never touched her account), another cannot comment any more (an increasingly common bug now), while Felicity Frockaccino, well known on the drag scene locally and in Sydney, saw her account deleted. Unlike LaQuisha St Redfern’s earlier this year, Felicity’s has been out for weeks, and it’s affected her livelihood since her bookings were in there. Facebook has done nothing so far, yet I’ve since uncovered another bot net which they have decided to leave (have a look at this hacked account and the bots that have been added; a lot of dormant accounts in Japan and Korea have suffered this fate, and Facebook has deleted most), despite its members being very obviously fake. Delete the humans, keep the bots.
       Felicity didn’t ask but I decided to write to these people again, to see if it would help. There was a missing word, unfortunately, but it doesn’t change the sentiment:

    Guys, last year you apologized to drag kings and queens for deleting their accounts. But this year, you have been deleting their accounts. This is the second one that I know of, and I don’t know that many drag queens, which suggests to me that you [still] have it in for the drag community.


    Felicity Frockaccino is an international drag performer, and you’ve affected her livelihood as her bookings were all in that account. This is the second time you deleted her, despite your public apology and a private one that you sent her directly. What is going on, Facebook? You retain bots and bot nets that I report, but you go around deleting genuine human users who rely on you to make their living. Unlike LaQuisha Redfern’s account, which you restored within days, this has been weeks now.

       That’s right, she even received a personal apology after her account was deleted the first time. I had hoped that Facebook would have seen sense, since Felicity has plenty of fans. The first-world lesson is the same here as it is for Blogger: do not ever rely on Facebook for anything, and know that at any moment (either due to the intentional deletion on their end or the increasing number of database-write issues), your account can vanish.

    Meanwhile, my 2012 academic piece, now titled ‘The impact of digital and social media on branding’, is in vol. 3, no. 1, the latest issue of the Journal of Digital and Social Media Marketing. This is available via Ingenta Connect (subscription only). JDSMM is relatively new, but all works are double-blind, peer-reviewed, and it’s from the same publisher as The Journal of Brand Management, to which I have contributed before. It was more cutting-edge in 2012 when I wrote it, and in 2013 when it was accepted for publication and JDSMM promoted its inclusion in vol. 1, no. 1, but I believe it continues to have a lot of merit for practitioners today. An unfortunate, unintentional administrative error saw to its omission, but when they were alerted to it, the publisher and editors went above and beyond to remedy things while I was in the UK and it’s out now.

    Filed under: branding, business, internet, marketing, technology, UK, USA—Jack Yan @ 00.09


    Why Facebook’s errors might be increasing

    Now that I’ve figured out that Facebook only works on alternate days (or at least evenings, since it gave up the ghost again for the early afternoon), I’m back into my usual swing of things. It’s not so much that I spend that much time on social networks, but getting to the bottom of things interests me.
       The other angle is that having spent my teens watching this technology develop (I saw the original War Games at the cinema), and knowing how much these companies are worth, I have an expectation about where the level of service should be. Frequently, it’s not, and it’s worth calling them out, showing people that the emperor has no clothes, and reminding all of us that size is nothing to be scared of. (It’s like my usual quip about banks: how come a cheque took 24 hours to clear in 1976 and five to seven days in 2015? Are computers seven times slower today?)
       The feedback has been interesting. I’ve run into a lot of people with the same problems, which at least gives me some clue about the reasons. The problems tended to be focused on Europe and the US east coast, suggesting that there was at least one server with writing difficulties. Given my experience on Vox, mentioned in my last post, this doesn’t surprise me. Hard drives develop faults, and at least Facebook has more back-up systems than Vox did, which probably restored the account (one hopes).
       One friend asked whether I was being targeted. I suppose I encounter these issues frequently, which is why I theorized yesterday that adding to an account that has 6 Gbyte of data might be problematic. I don’t know if the others had Facebook accounts with a lot of data. But it’s another theory that remains with me. (My joke was that it was proving difficult to shift 6 Gbyte of data to and from the NSA.)
       Another friend sent me his screen shot this morning, showing that he could not post a comment to my wall, confirming what I believed: that there was something wrong with my account and saving data to it. But it had nothing to do with me.
       Interestingly, I did run into one netizen who completely disbelieved the situation, saying she had never encountered anyone with such problems before. I could only conclude that we moved in different circles, although the errors I confronted were no different to the ones that hit Facebook users worldwide for in October 2013 (including major TV networks and companies), or for around 35–40 minutes in June 2014. Luckily she and her entire circle were spared (or was this down to an incredibly short memory?), but the people I knew weren’t so lucky, getting caught out in both outages. Those were fixed more quickly because millions were caught out; Facebook is less likely to get round to faults that hundreds or thousands experience as quickly.
       The fact is Facebook’s amount of errors is increasing annually, and these outages are becoming more commonplace. You can argue that having a website that mucks up every once in a while is tolerable, but, looking back at the bugs I filed at Get Satisfaction, I can’t agree. Facebook’s silly bug of failing on the 1st of the month seems minor compared to a site on which you could no longer post, like or comment—its three cornerstone activities.
       It’s why I report spambots and spammers, because it’s the responsible thing to do (would you, in the real world, ignore a physical hazard?) as Facebook has some compromised accounts that are months, if not years, old, that need to be seen to, because they take resources away from the rest of us.
       I also post about these mainly to give other netizens some solace that they aren’t alone. The one thing people wonder when they confront these errors is, ‘If I’m alone, will this ever get fixed?’ In Vox’s case, the answer was a firm no: I left the site at the end of 2009 when they couldn’t fix things; a year later, the place would close down completely. This is not a fate that Facebook can ignore, although it is far better resourced than Six Apart was when it came to that site, and the scenario will not play out like that or on such a brief time-scale.
       And, of course, Facebook is worse than Google when it comes to keeping people informed or having some kind of support (even though Google’s support is completely dismissive the moment a matter falls outside the norm—but surely that was the reason one visited their forums to begin with). Bringing a bit of extra pressure may have helped get LaQuisha Redfern’s account reinstated, as well as that of another friend last week when I fired off a complaint to Facebook directly over its ridiculous passport policy.
       In 2011, Bob Cringely believed that Facebook would peak in 2014, and I have to say that has come to pass. The novelty wore off some time ago (Timeline helped give Facebook more life), our lives are getting busier, organic reach is in the toilet, and the frequency of bugs will drive people away. Thank goodness for its shareholders that it diversified.

    Filed under: internet, technology, USA—Jack Yan @ 13.02


    Remember when you could post, comment and like on Facebook? Those were the days

    Let’s see: Facebook doesn’t work on Wednesdays and Fridays. Check. Thursdays are OK though.
       It’s another one of those days where the Facebook bug that began on Wednesday (though, really, it’s been going on for years—including the famous outage of 2013 where what I am experiencing happened worldwide to a large number of users) has decided to resurface and spread. Not only can I no longer like, comment, post or share without repeated attempts, I cannot delete (Facebook makes me repeat those attempts even when a post has been successful, but doesn’t show me those till an hour later) or upload photos to messaging without repeated attempts.
       The deletion is the hardest: while commenting will work after three to twelve repeats, deletion does not work at all. The dialogue box emerges, and you can click ‘Delete’. The button goes light for a while, then it’s back to the usual blue.
       And this happens regardless of platform: Mac, Windows, Firefox, Opera, Android, inside a virtual machine, you name it. Java’s been updated as have the browsers on my most used machines; but it seems the configurations make no difference.
       I am reminded how a year ago I had even less on Facebook. Quite a number of users were blocked for days (Facebook isn’t open on weekends, it seems), but eventually the message got through and things started working again.
       My theory, and I’d be interested to learn if it holds any water, is that older or more active accounts are problematic. I mean, if spammers and spambots have more rights than legitimate users, then something is wonky; and the only thing I can see that those T&C-violating accounts have over ours is novelty. Facebook hasn’t got to them yet, or it tacitly endorses them.
       As one of the beta users on Vox.com many years ago, I eventually found myself unable to compose a new blog post. It’s an old story which I have told many times on this blog. Even Six Apart staff couldn’t do it when using my username and password from their own HQ. But, they never fixed it. It was a “shrug your shoulders” moment, because Vox was on its way out anyway at the company. (The domain is now owned by another firm, and is a very good news website.) Unlike Facebook, they did have theories, and tried to communicate with you to fix the issue. One woman working there wondered if I had too many keywords, and I had reached the limit. I deleted a whole lot, but nothing ever worked. It suggested that these websites did have limits.
       Computer experts tell me that it’s highly unlikely I’ve reached any sort of limit on Facebook, because of how their architecture is structured, but I’m seeing more and more of these bugs. But we are talking about a website that’s a decade old. My account dates back to 2007. Data will have been moved about and reconstituted, because the way they were handled in 2007 is different to how they are handled now. There have been articles written about this stuff.
       What if, in all these changes over the last eight years (and beyond), Facebook screwed up data transfers, corrupting certain accounts? It’s entirely conceivable for a firm that makes plenty of mistakes and doesn’t even know what time zones are. Or deletes a complainant’s account instead of the pirate’s one that she complained about. (This has been remedied, incidentally, the day after my blog post, and a strongly worded note to Facebook on behalf of my friend.)
       The usual theory I hear from those in the know is that certain accounts are on certain servers, and when those are upgraded, some folks will experience difficulties. That seems fair, but I would be interested to know just what groups us together.
       Last time I downloaded all my data off Facebook, and this was several years ago, I had 3 Gbyte. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest that that was now 6 Gbyte. That’s a lot to handle, and when you multiply that by millions, some will result in buggy accounts. Ever had a hard drive with dodgy fragments? Or a large transfer go wrong? Facebook might have better gear than us, but it’s not perfect.
       I don’t believe for a second that certain people are targeted—a theory I see on forums such as Get Satisfaction, with Republicans blaming Democrats and Democrats blaming Republicans—but I do believe that something binds us together, and it is buried within the code. But, like Vox, it may be so specific that there’s nothing their boffins can do about it. You simply have to accept that some days, Facebook does not let you post, comment, like, share, delete or message. The concern is that this, like random deletions, can happen to anyone, because these bugs never seem to go away. Looking at my own record on Get Satisfaction, they are increasing by the year.

    Filed under: internet, technology, USA—Jack Yan @ 05.47

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