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    The Persuader

    My personal blog, started in 2006.



    21.06.2015

    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.

    https://www.facebook.com/DoubleFFs/

    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

    30.05.2015

    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

    29.05.2015

    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

    26.05.2015

    Five or ten years, your Kiwi passport is not a valid government-issued ID, says Facebook

    Sometimes you wonder if the big players on Silicon Valley exist in a parallel universe.
       Google, of course, is a firm that makes little sense to me: one that usually says one thing and does another, in almost every encounter I have had with it. And you know they can’t be that smart if, for many, many versions of Google Earth, they had no idea what was at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC.
       Facebook, naturally, observes these same traditions. Last year, I lost access to the website for 69 hours, when it decided posting, liking and commenting were no longer necessary features, and withdrew them. No one really seemed to mind when they couldn’t write on my wall: other than a few exceptions, folks just shrugged it off. We are, it seems, extremely accepting of having a buggy website where nothing works.
       Fast forward one year, and posting, liking and commenting are things that occasionally work on Facebook when it feels like it; most of today, they didn’t. But that’s nothing compared to a friend who has had her entire profile deleted.
       The story shows once again what geniuses must work at these firms.
       First, she found some photos of hers on another profile, so she complained through the usual channels. Instead of deleting the pirates’ photos, Facebook deleted her account instead.
       When she appealed, Facebook asked for proof of identity. She provided her New Zealand passport.
       But, according to Facebook, New Zealand passports are not a valid form of government-issued ID. Her other forms of identity were invalid, too.
       I’m interested to know how the brains’ trust of Facebook works. If a passport is not a valid government-issued form of identity, then what is? Is there something Facebook knows about that far exceeds the power of a passport? Am I to believe my American friends have held out on me all these years about this mystery form of super-identity?
       Or, of course, Facebook believes, and we have had proof of this, that no one lives outside the Pacific coast of the United States. This explains its ongoing bugs at the 1st of each month where the site’s functionality is severely reduced because it isn’t the 1st of the month in California. So if your passport doesn’t “look American”, it can’t possibly be valid.
       Here is a woman with over 50,000 fans in her business and who has been planning her wedding via the site, who has now been shut out.
       It does seem that Facebook is doing this willy-nilly. We also know its apology for shutting drag queens’ accounts last year to be insincere, when LaQuisha Redfern found herself locked out with no means of appeal.
       And yet, proven spammers (people who have spammed, and their spams reported to Facebook) are allowed to maintain their accounts. Spambots—and I found a bot net of over 90 recently (down from 277 a day, so Facebook is getting better)—are OK, too, because Facebook staff cannot tell the difference between a legitimate human being and a bot. While it deleted most of the 90 I identified, it strangely left a handful up, even though a pattern had been established. A few were old accounts that were hacked with their identities changed, but apparently that’s enough to fool Facebook into thinking they are legitimate human beings. A bot net I uncovered last year took multiple, repeated complaints before Facebook realized that they were actually bots that wrote random things on each other’s walls; never mind that what was written was incomprehensible. Literacy, it seems, is not a requirement at Facebook.
       If Facebook is deleting real humans, or, in my case, limiting its functionalities to us (although I would have thought posting, liking and commenting were pretty fundamental to the site), and maintaining bots (because, as we know, Facebook uses bots to make money), then it’s only a matter of time when it’s just a massive bot net communicating with each other, there to con companies into paying for more bots to follow them.
       Facebook it has done a lot of things right when it came to IP protection and enforcement when I have approached them. Generally, I don’t find them as offensive as Google. But just how it could have got this case so wrong is beyond me.


    Filed under: business, internet, New Zealand, USA—Jack Yan @ 11.05

    09.05.2015

    Autocade hits 6,000,000 page views: a few quick figures


    The Dongfeng Fengshen AX7, or a Renault with a Peugeot engine (and I don’t mean the PRV V6 or the old Douvrin), entered into Autocade this week.

    With Autocade hitting 6,000,000 page views earlier this week, here’s a quick anorak’s run-down on the rate of growth. In short: it’s about the same in terms of page views, one million every eight months.

    March 2008: launch
    July 2008: 500 encyclopædia entries (four months for first 500)
    December 2009: 1,000 (17 months for second 500)
    May 2011: 1,500 (17 months for third 500)
    December 2012: 2,000 (19 months for fourth 500)
    June 2014: 2,500 (18 months for fifth 500)
    December 2014: 3,000 (six months for sixth 500)

    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)

       I’m happy that it’s become a useful resource for so many people. Another blog update when we hit another milestone, but if cars are your thing, pop by to the website or the Facebook page (where there are more auto-trivia).
       The latest entries are from the Dongfeng range (the Fengshen AX7 SUV has just gone up as the 3,170th model line—or, as I cheekily put it, a Renault with a Peugeot engine): one model line short of having all the current ones up. With the growth of the Chinese market, it is important for one site, at least, to chronicle the changes there. We’ve steadily been filling some of the gaps at the old US Oldsmobile brand, too, with all the Toronados now in Autocade.


    Filed under: cars, China, internet, media, USA—Jack Yan @ 05.44


    The political caricatures of old have taken human form, but they’re still nothing like us

    That’s another British General Election done and dusted. I haven’t followed one this closely since the 1997 campaign, where I was backing John Major.
       Shock, horror! Hang on, Jack. Haven’t the media all said you are a leftie? Didn’t you stand for a left-wing party?
       Therein lies a fallacy about left- and right wings. I’ve never completely understood the need to pigeonhole someone into a particular camp, when I would say most people on this planet hold a mix of views from both sides. Now that politicians are not unlike caricatures—there has been a “rightward” shift where the policies being adopted by some are so outside economic orthodoxy that they look like what their Spitting Image counterparts would have uttered back in the day—this holds more true than ever. We know what subscribing to certain parties’ views fully and completely is like: we risk looking loony, and, if taken too far, we risk becoming loony.
       But the spin doctors and advisers aren’t in to transparency. They are into their talking heads conveying what they feel the public responds to, hence Mitt Romney, once an advocate of universal health care in his own state, becoming an opponent of it when he ran for president; or, for that matter, Ed Miliband’s insistence on the ‘budget responsibility lock’, to demonstrate that he had a handle on the economy, when Economics 101 told us that austerity isn’t a good way to help the economy along and Miliband began sounding like Cameron lite.
       My support of Major in the 1997 General Election, which went against the prevailing view at the time, was down to several reasons. Unlike Cameron, Major didn’t practise austerity, but he did practise conventional economics with the government going more into deficit through increasing spending during the early 1990s’ recession, knowing the stimulus to be affordable, and knowing it had to be paid back once the economy was healthy again. It is interesting to note Sir John’s own goal while campaigning for the Tories in this General Election, when he said at the Tory Reform Group annual dinner, ‘We need to acknowledge the fact we have a pretty substantial underclass and there are parts of our country where we have people who have not worked for two generations and whose children do not expect to work.
       ‘How can it be that in a nation that is the fifth richest nation in the world, that in the United Kingdom we have four of the poorest areas in Europe? I include eastern Europe in that question.’
       How indeed. The John Major who was prime minister will have answered that easily, and his own record illustrates just why he avoided such consequences in the 1990s that Cameron was unable to.
       The second reason was that I really believed the ‘classless society’ speech, and if you have read his memoirs, or even biographies written about him, then there was a real personal experience woven into that. Critics will point at the fact the speech was written by Antony Jay (Yes, Minister) or the fact that Britain invented To the Manor Born and such sitcoms, but, generally, why should only certain classes have the ability to excel and do their best? Everyone should have that opportunity, and the measures implemented under the Major premiership, while not as far to the left as traditional socialists would have wanted, struck a good balance in my view in an immediate post-Thatcher period. We should always be wary of sudden shifts, whether they’re swings from the left to the right, or vice versa. A pragmatic approach seemed sensible.
       Third, it was precisely that Major was not a Thatcherite, even if Margaret Thatcher might have believed him to be when she made him Chancellor of the Exchequer, a job that he wanted most of his political life. But what we had in his very shrewd opponent in 1997 was Thatcherism, or at least monetarism. As we know from Tony Blair’s and Gordon Brown’s early move in allowing the Bank of England to be free of political control, their belief that this would avoid boom-and-bust cycles was not realized. However, the evidence does show that the freedom has coincided with a period of low interest rates and stable inflation, but equally one can credit the work of the Tories in handing New Labour a booming economy in May of that year. As Major noted at the time, it was rare for a government to lose while the economy was improving, but the Labour campaign, ably assisted by biased media at the time, and the easy pass Blair got from the British establishment despite being very, very vague about his policies, was hard to beat. All he had to do was utter ‘Change’ and ‘It’s about New Labour, new Britain.’ It hid, to those of us watching the General Election and the year before it, New Labour’s Thatcherite aims. I am not even that sure what Blair, Brown and Peter Mandelson were doing in the party to begin with.
       This might be contrasted with a Tory party weakened through allegations of sleaze (and we know now that no party is any less sleazy than the other, but it depends on when you are caught out) leading Major to fight a campaign largely alone with the occasional publicity boost from the Spice Girls. No matter how specific the PM got, it didn’t matter. (Or, as I had told many of my design classes at the time when I was teaching, the Conservatives’ Arial was no match for Labour’s Franklin Gothic, a typeface family that, incidentally, was used by Thatcher in her 1983 election campaign, and by Labour in New Zealand in 1999 and 2002.) It was frustrating to try to discern what Labour’s specific policies were from Down Under, watching the General Election campaign with keen interest. And those lack of specifics worried me from the start, which explains why when I ran for office, I issued a manifesto early in the game. I liked being first, even if the electorate didn’t put me there.
       Whether you agreed with Labour or not, and many would argue that the Blair and Brown years were not stellar, the divisions in their party—which I imagine we will see reemerge in the next few days—indicate that even within there is a great deal of polarization. The Thatcherites are in there, except they are called Blairites. And while Sir John put his weight behind his party out of loyalty, and from his earlier political years witnessing how ‘Labour isn’t working’ (the Wilson–Callaghan years must have been formative for him given his age), his comments at the dinner are telling on just where modern Conservative economic policies under George Osborne differed to his own and those of Norman Lamont. If people are suffering, if they aren’t getting their shot at the ‘classless society’, then is the place any good? If the class divide has grown, contrary to Sir John’s own views, and weakened Britain as a result of the contraction of economic players in it, then even the “right” can’t support that. To me, I thought conservatism was letting everyone have a shot, and about solid, national enterprise, and this century hasn’t given me much faith that that applies very widely.
       Labour might have campaigned on that and on preserving the NHS although having listened to Miliband, I was never totally convinced. Perhaps, I, too, had concerns about Labour vagueness, and until this General Election I had not followed the Shadow Cabinet closely enough to know the thinking and histories behind the players. That area, I will leave to others to comment. In some respects, the caricature comment I made above applies to Labour, too.

    Contrasting the Tories this time with the party I knew a bit better through observation—the two terms of John Major—I feel they are very different. And, sadly, I draw parallels with the National Party here at home, where people attempt to compare incumbent John Key with Sir Robert Muldoon (1975–84), and I simply cannot see the parallels other than the colour of the branding.
       Sir Robert resolutely believed in full employment, the rights of the unemployed, the state ownership of assets, energy independence, and his ability to fight his own battles. Had attack blogs been around then, he wouldn’t have needed them. I do not agree with everything about his premiership, and his miscalculation of public opinion over the Gleneagles Agreement and the environment is now part of history. However, his terms are still being misjudged today, with an entire generation happily brainwashed by both the monetarist orthodoxy of the 1980s and a prime-time documentary (The Grim Face of Power) aired after his death (probably to avoid a defamation suit) to belittle his legacy. (The contrasting documentary made many years later, Someone Else’s Country, was buried on a weekend afternoon.) We did not have to wait months for a telephone, nor did we not have cars to buy; yet the belief that the electorate has a collective memory of only five years means we haven’t a hope of comprehending fully what happened thirty years ago. But to those of us who pride ourselves on a decent memory, and I believe if we seek public office we must have one, then things were never as bleak as people believe. He was sexist, yet I do not believe him to want to preside over a divided New Zealand, and his own books reveal a desire for unity. Unfortunately, looking at a man born in 1921 through the prism of 2015, plenty of his sayings look anachronistic and passé, but once context is added, the New Zealand we look at today looks more divided.
       We, too, have an underclass that has emerged (those begging for change weren’t there two decades ago, nor were so many food banks), through economic policies that have weakened our businesses. Both major parties deserve criticism over this. For a country where experts have said we must head toward technology to end our reliance on primary products, other than software patents, we have had a strange record over intellectual property with a prime minister who was against certain copyright amendments before he was for them (and voted accordingly). A New Zealand resident who adopted the same rules over copyrighted materials as Google and Dropbox has been indicted by the US Government—that’s right, I am talking about Kim Dotcom. It’s a reminder that we haven’t done enough for our tech sector, the one which governments have said we should aid, which can help our overall economy.
       We are hopelessly behind in how much technology contributes to our economy, and we have done little to support the small- to medium-sized businesses that form the backbone of our economy. Instead, we have been selling them short, welcoming ever-larger multinationals (who usually pay tax in their home country, not ours) and giving them more advantages than our own. Since when has allegiance to these foreign players ever been part of politics on the left or on the right? If we are to support businesses, for instance, we should be negotiating for our own milliard-dollar enterprises to make headway into new markets. Xero et al will thank us for it. Globalization is as much about getting our lot out there so they can pay tax back here. Politicians should be patriotic, but toward our own interests, not someone else’s.

    Therein lie my many posts about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement on my Facebook. It is precisely because I support business that I am against a good part of what has been leaked so far. (I am aware that many trade agreements are negotiated in secret, so there is nothing new there.) It is precisely because I believe in a level playing field for Kiwis that we should be careful at how we liberalize and in what sectors and at what pace we should do it. The curious thing there is that the substantial arguments (obviously against it) have come from the “left”, or friends who identify as being left-wing, while some who have identified as being right-wing have bid me an indignant exit from the discussion by attacking the players and not their utterances, and yet somehow the lefties are branded the woolly, emotional wrecks?
       As I wrote last year, ‘All I want are facts, not emotional, ideological arguments. On the evidence for me, things are leaning toward the anti side. I come from the standpoint of the market being a man-made construct and people are not numbers.
       ‘… [T]here are cases going on with tobacco companies where they are using IP to argue that plain packs are contrary to trade agreements. So where do you draw the line with public health versus a foreign enterprise profiting? I’d like to see healthy people not taxing the system, and plain packs were a foreseeable development IMO for a tobacco manufacturer. [I know this is an argument that is typically trotted out, but I use it since there is at least one case out there.] A wise tobacco company would have acquired businesses in other fields (as some have done), just as Coca-Cola, seeing the tide turn against sodas, have bought up water, energy drink and juice businesses. It’s wise investing, and it’s progress.
       ‘There is nothing wrong with the notion of a trade tribunal but what has been emerging from the leaks are ones where corporations can be compensated for loss of profits based on, say, plain packaging. If a government is democratically elected to implement such a policy, and corporations have always understood investments to be subject to the laws of the land (including the risk of divestment in some), then should their rights trump that of the citizens? This is the danger here, and this is the heart of the sovereignty argument.
       ‘Another example is with software patents, which our country has voted to do away with. It’s been shown that that would spur innovation.
       ‘The tendency is that TPPA is against these moves, although given the secrecy we do not know for sure. But reading other IP provisions it does not take a big leap of the imagination.
       ‘… Do I believe in global free trade? Absolutely. But I also believe in making sure that people have the means the buy the stuff I sell, and to me this treaty (based on what has been leaked) does not ensure that. I also believe in social responsibility and that citizens have their basics looked after so they can participate in commerce. I am pro-innovation, especially in smaller enterprises where some great stuff is taking place, and we have reasonably robust IP laws already and conventions that govern them. I’m not saying I have a complete alternative that replaces it, but some of the work we have done at the Medinge Group touches on these issues.’
       One argument in favour is: if we are not party to this, then does this mean we will get shut out of it? I’m not entirely sure we will in that we are already one of the freest markets in the world, although I welcome arguments and past examples. In the areas I know well, the absence of a free-trade agreement with the US, for instance, have never hampered our firm exporting there, but I realize for our primary producers there have been obstacles. But do such agreements mean unimpeded access when it’s so easy, even under WTO, to erect non-tariff barriers? And why should corporations’ rights trump citizens’, as opponents are quick to point out?
       ‘At the end of the day,’ to borrow a phrase, all human systems are imperfect. And the market is just as human as any other. My belief is that your own citizens, and their welfare, must be placed first, and we should support our own people and our own businesses. The political caricatures that certain parties have now rendered into human form don’t necessarily appear to understand this, certainly not by their actions. This is at the crux of the arguments that I saw from Labour supporters in the UK General Election, and to some extent from those who opposed National and ACT in our one last year. Labour’s loss here, too, in my view, can be placed on a leader who himself came across as unsubstantial on TV as his opponents; and his refusal to resign can be contrasted to the behaviour of Miliband and Nick Clegg yesterday. He could have always pulled a Nigel Farage.
       The sooner we get away from notions of “left” and “right” and work out for ourselves where we’d like our country and our world to head, we will start working together without these false divisions. I might add that “being Asian” in this country is yet another false division. No wonder most people are sick of politics, politicians and “politics as usual”, because most of us cannot be bothered pigeonholing ourselves. We just want to do what’s decent and honourable and have the chance to get on with it.


    Filed under: business, globalization, media, New Zealand, politics, technology, UK—Jack Yan @ 03.24

    05.05.2015

    Even on Instagram, they prefer bots to legitimate users

    Instagram bans are like Facebook blackouts or Google blacklists: no matter what the company says your time-out is, it’s considerably longer.
       Day 1 was Sunday, when I noticed that the likes I made via Ink 361 didn’t stick. I went back to Iconosquare (Statigram) and this message flashed up:

       The wisdom online is that this is a 24-hour ban and I should be back to normal. It’s Tuesday, and I’m still barred from liking unless I go to Instagram itself.
       I’ve been reading that the like limit is around 120 photos and videos per hour, and I haven’t come close to that. I don’t even see 120 photos per hour through following 500-odd people. Other posts at the above-linked page suggest you need 50 seconds between each like. Rot.
       Instagram really needs to come clean about this, as none of this computes. Some thoughts I’ve had over the last few days follow.
       1. Instagram recommends accounts you might like. If you follow them, inevitably you will like the things on them. Of course I’ll like more media as a result. Yet if you do this, you’ll get banned. Where is the logic behind this?
       2. Instagram penalizes you for being quick with apps or being quick on your cellphone. Makes no sense: the fact I’m skilful doesn’t mean I’m a bot. I’ve also behaved in exactly the same way since November 2012, but I may follow more accounts that pique my interest because of (1).
       3. If you don’t want us liking stuff, then recommend to us some accounts we might hate.

       4. I’m not sure how to change the way I like things. I either like things or I don’t. Be more specific.
       5. I don’t use a bot. You guys do. You host thousands of them, and they spam us all the time. The ones I see and report have media going back three weeks to six months, so clearly you ignore the reports netizens make.
       6. Further to (5), Instagram can’t tell the difference between legitimate users and bots.
       7. I report a lot of bots, including bot-likers. Maybe you guys are sick of those who report bots, because those bots are keeping your share price where it is, as I suspect you claim them as legitimate users.
       8. Just admit that you guys don’t like these external websites using your API and we’ll be fine. Admit it. You’ve already forced the sites that use ‘Insta’ and ‘gram’ in their names to change, yet you don’t have a monopoly on either prefix or suffix. Just another typical US site with too many lawyers.
       I have sent feedback to Instagram but I doubt I’ll hear back. Of course, if I don’t, I shan’t know which of the above is at play here.
       As with most websites, I’m just an average user. Yet it shows that following the rules is bound to get you on the bad side of these guys. I hardly think that’s the message their friends in Wall Street want to hear, that Facebook and Instagram are overrun with bots while legitimate users get blocked.

    PS.: I found this page dealing with Instagram limits. I know for a fact I was nowhere near these.—JY
       P.PS.: The ban was lifted on Saturday, May 9, i.e. six days later.—JY


    Filed under: business, internet, USA—Jack Yan @ 01.58

    04.05.2015

    How a car accident makes you grateful

    The trouble with all the yellow-peril reporting that’s far more prevalent than it should be in Aotearoa is when something happens to you that may get people thinking about a stereotype.
       Back in March, of course, we had one writer justifying racism toward (east) Asian tourist drivers in the Fairfax Press, when the facts show that Aussies are the worst of the tourists when it comes to causing accidents on our roads. That’s no surprise, since there are simply more Aussie tourists driving on our roads; yet, as I pointed out in March, no one really seemed to mind how many accidents tourists were causing when the bulk of them were Aussies, Brits and continental Europeans.
       Then we had another one a few weeks later from the same newspaper group that suggested the increase in corrupt practices among New Zealand companies was due to immigration from countries such as China, tying in the story to a Deloitte report to give it legitimacy—except the report makes no such claim.
       With the exception of journalists like Dave Moore of The Press (part of the same newspaper group) who prefers to cite motoring facts and back them up rather than rely on hearsay from their grandfathers, it seems pretty easy for some in the media to draw a stereotype of the corrupt, incompetent Chinese driver. Those who think that we have completely moved past drawing pigtails (I said pigtails, not ponytails) on Chinese caricatures are wrong; while there aren’t such negative portrayals in our media, it seems incredibly easy, almost a default position, for some less responsible types to fall back on unrealistic conclusions. After all, The Dominion Post said my accent is hard to understand on its p. 1 some years back, and as many of you pointed out to them via the social networks, no one in the real world knows that they are talking about. (Note: I received a Twitter apology from the editor-in-chief.)
       The trouble comes when the fantasyland concocted by some starts impacting on everyday life, which is, of course, some of the discussions that US residents are having right now over how black Americans are portrayed. The peaceful protesters don’t get covered, because they are less newsworthy; the violent looters do, and it becomes dreadfully easy for the less cosmopolitan to equate being black with being violent.
       After a car accident on Friday, where everyone was exemplary, I couldn’t help but have these thoughts go through my mind. I found myself telling friends, ‘I had an accident, but the other driver was at fault,’ even though my friends know of my love of cars, and my above-average abilities with them. I double-checked with the police officer that he clearly understood me, when I should never have doubted his objectivity. My radar was alert for anyone who might fall back on the stereotype, even though I live in a city, with an urban population that generally has more contact with minority cultures and know that the fantasyland concocted by certain people is designed only to appeal to the ever-shrinking market of xenophobes in society.
       The ages of most of the people involved were under 30, so I really had nothing to fear: the other driver, the police officer, the witnesses, and the schoolboy who, as a responsible young New Zealander, called the emergency services for us. One witness offered her lounge for us to rest and get over the shock. The officer was scrupulously professional, not letting on any emotion (the Dieter Bonrath poker face school of policing, for the Cobra 11 fans out there) as he gathered his facts; he became friendlier after it was established we were both decent folks willing to help, and there was no booze involved. The ambulance staff were ultra-friendly and we had to assure them that we were all right and they should head off to the next gig where there may be a greater need for them. The other driver was honest, considerate and took responsibility, although she was in shock (as was I for some time, though I probably hid it better), yet her first utterance was to ask if I was all right. That says volumes about her character. Not only was this an urban population, this was a young urban population for whom skin colour is far down the list of priorities. Ditto with me: I can’t tell you what races people were. I just remembered everyone sounded like me. You know, like Sir Anand Satyanand.
       But it is a worry when your thoughts go toward defending yourself from the stereotype, because years of living in a place where you are the minority have taught you to be alert. Granted, no one shoots at us, since our cops are unarmed for the most part, but I began to get an appreciation for the hands-up gesture among black Americans in their country. It’s a symbol of so much, including ensuring that no one ever mistakes you for being armed, because of the negative associations that are portrayed. You nevertheless worry if anyone around you bought into fantasyland, because you know the less intelligent do: you’ve seen it. (I hasten to add that this is not a criticism of any particular people, because I am well aware that if you go to a place where my race is the majority, there will be a certain segment of the population there that holds negative and false stereotypes of others.)
       Race relations in this country have improved markedly since my arrival in 1976, so this is heartening. I don’t see things like refusal of service to people of my colour (yes, it has happened in the last four decades), and the stories of my great-uncle and others, of having stones and rocks thrown at you by fellow Kiwis because of their colour, seem foreign and distant. Last Friday was a reminder that most New Zealanders look at others fairly, regardless of their origins. That was a silver lining. Lucy Knight’s instincts kicked in to defend a Chinese New Zealander whose handbag was being stolen by a young man, and Mrs Knight got a serious head injury for her intervention, requiring months of surgery and rehabilitation. I doubt she evaluated the race of thief or victim before stepping in, and, rightly, The New Zealand Herald didn’t care, either. Go to your social media feeds, and by and large, racism is frowned upon. Last Friday was a fantastic reminder of the good of the place I have proudly called home most of my life. A place where xenophobia is virtually dead.
       We’ve come a long way, and we just need to weed out the last little bits of this strange fantasy where it’s apparently desirous that Aotearoa looks something like Midsomer but without the deaths. The reality is that the Midsomers of this world (by that I mean any society that adopts a Luddite position in part through having its head in the sand) are terrible at trading and stagnate. We’re in a global society, we’ve a lot to gain from working with others in different nations, and we’re really not that different across the planet. As someone once pointed out to me, the Palestinian Dream looks an awful lot like the American Dream.
       And, if you’re truly proud of your country, you’d naturally want to share, secure enough in your belief about the place to know that the fundamental things about it will never change. New Zealand will always be New Zealand, with an independent, determined outlook, and those who come get it. The more we share, the more we all get it. That’s a good thing.


    Filed under: cars, China, culture, media, New Zealand, USA, Wellington—Jack Yan @ 10.40

    03.05.2015

    In the Empah, the royal baby is 8 lb 3 oz, thank you


    The Cambridges with their new daughter in her first public appearance; photograph from the Press Association.

     
    I haven’t followed the news of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s new baby much, but I was interested to note that when Kensington Palace announced her weight, it was in Imperial only. None of this foreign metric rubbish in the Empah, thank you:

       I’m not complaining, since I still have weights and heights in Imperial in my head, being of that “transition generation” that was taught both at school. I still need to do mental arithmetic when the news tells me, ‘The suspect is 183 cm tall.’ I can tell you because of this Tweet, the royal baby and I weighed the same at birth; had they told us this in metric, I couldn’t have made the comparison.
       I am wondering if the choice not to cite the weight in metric was intentional. Judging by my feed, there are plenty of royal-watchers younger than me. Forget pounds and ounces, they might not even know who Gorbachev was. I occasionally refer to the old weights and get puzzled looks, so, outside of the United States, are they still that familiar to people?


    Filed under: culture, internet, media, UK—Jack Yan @ 05.45

    02.05.2015

    It’s full circle for style.com: back to its origins in fashion retail

    Originally published in the online edition of Lucire, May 1, 2015



    Top Earlier today, attempting to get into Style.com meant a virus warning—the only trace of this curiosity is in the web history. Above Style.com is back, with a note that it will be transforming into an e-tail site.

    If there’s one constant in fashion, it’s change. The other one, which we notice thanks to a number of our team being well schooled on fashion history, is that trends always return, albeit in modified form. Both have come into play with Style.com, which announced earlier this week that it would become an ecommerce site.
       When Lucire started, we linked to style.com, but it wasn’t in our fashion magazines’ directory. It was, instead, in our shopping guide.
       In 2000, that all changed, and it began appearing under our fashion magazine links, where it was until today. An attempt to log in to the home page was met by a virus warning, preventing us from going further. We figured that this was part of the transformation of the website as it readied itself for the next era, discouraging people from peering. However, having had these warnings splashed across our own pages two years ago courtesy of Google’s faulty bot, when our site was in fact clean, there was a part of us taking it with a grain of salt. In either case, given the impending change, it was probably the right time to remove the link.
       This evening, Style.com is back and virus-free, with an overlay graphic announcing that the website will be changing. Plenty of our media colleagues have analysed the closure over the past week: the Murdoch Press has gossiped about how the layoffs were announced, WWD suggests editor-in-chief Dirk Standen didn’t know it was coming, based on rumours, while Fashionista puts it all into context by analysing just where ecommerce is within the fashion sector, and that content should be the answer over clothing sales.
       What is interesting is no one that we’ve spotted has mentioned how the style.com domain name (we’ve carefully noted it in lowercase there) has effectively come full circle. Perhaps we really are in the age of Wikipedia-based research, as this fact is not mentioned there at all.
       When Lucire launched in 1997, style.com was the website for Express Style, later more prominently, and simply, branded Express, a US fashion retailer. It’s not hard to imagine that had Express remained at the URL, it would have become an e-tailer; it has, after all, made the move into ecommerce at its present home, express.com. Like a fashion trend that comes back two decades later, style.com has gone back to its roots: by the autumn it’ll be e-tailing.
       The omission from the above paragraph is the sale of the style.com domain name by Express to Condé Nast in the late 1990s. We never completely understood the need to start a new brand to be the US home of Vogue and W; for many  years, typing vogue.com into the browser in the US would take one automatically to Style.com. Then, somewhere along the line, Condé Nast decided that vogue.com should be the online home of Vogue after all.
       But having made the decision to forge ahead with Style.com, Condé Nast did it with a lot of resources, and took its site to number one among print fashion magazine web presences in a remarkably short space of time. It devoted plenty of resources to it, and it’s thanks to Style.com that certain things that were once frowned upon—e.g. showing off catwalk collections after the show—became acceptable. Designers used to enjoy the fact that we and Elle US delayed online coverage, the belief being that the delay ensured that pirates could not copy their designs and beat them to the high street.
       To get itself known, Condé Nast bought advertising at fashion websites that were better known, including this one (yes, in 2000 that really was the case), at a time when online advertising cost considerably more than it does today.
       The muscle from the best known name in fashion publishing changed the way the media interacted with readers. Designers figured that if they wanted coverage, they would have to accept that their work would be shown nearly instantly. We became used to that idea, so much so that we now have to show the catwalk videos live in the 2010s.
       In some ways, the change makes sense: we’re talking about an Alexa rank in the 4,000s, which translates to plenty of traffic. The name is known, and most shoppers will make some association with Vogue. The official word is that Franck Zayan, formerly head of ecommerce for Galeries Lafayette, will helm the revised website, and he’s reporting that brands are coming on board rapidly.
       One shouldn’t mourn the loss of Style.com as a fashion news portal, since the content we’re all used to is bound to appear at Vogue. And in all the years we had it in our magazines’ directory, it was listed under our Vogue entry anyway. We await the new site to see what Condé Nast will do with it, and it may yet return to the spot where it once was in the 20th century, in the shopping guide.


    Filed under: business, internet, media, New Zealand, publishing, USA, Wellington—Jack Yan @ 02.14

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