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    The Persuader

    My personal blog, started in 2006.



    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

    23.04.2015

    Slides and a podcast: my MMBA 505 lecture and Access Granted, episode 45

    As promised to the MMBA 505 class at Victoria University of Wellington last night, here are my slides. My thanks to Dr Kala Retna for inviting me along as the guest speaker. To the students: thank you for attending at such a late hour. MBAs are hard work.
       I just realized I used to have a whole page of downloadable slides, which I believe we removed when we redid the site for the 2013 Wellington mayoral election. It might be time to reinstate the page with the presentations I’ve been doing here and abroad.
       Thoughts on Leadership is probably self-explanatory as a title, with my main five points being:

    1. Be the first.
    2. Prove something can be done when conventional wisdom says it can’t be.
    3. Change the world for the better.
    4. Break glass ceilings wherever you can find them.
    5. Find the people who understand your vision.

    The first four tend to be the “rules” that have guided me, while the fifth is one I had to learn the hard way some years ago, and can retitled: ‘Find the people who understand your vision and don’t get suckered by those who spout buzzwords.’ As a firm we tend to be a bit more of a closed shop than we used to be, and like any other, we get our share of fakes trying to ride off our coat-tails. Lucire seems to attract quite a few, in particular, which is what the fifth point addresses in some part.
       For a bit of levity after the academic stuff, there’s always this great podcast by Mike Riversdale and Raj Khushal, published today with me as their guest, as part of their ongoing Access Granted series. Only a little bit has been cut for commercial sensitivity, and the rest is a bit of light-hearted banter—the sort you’d have between mates, and I have known Mike and Raj for many years—with no hair-pulling.


    Filed under: business, humour, internet, leadership, media, New Zealand, technology, Wellington—Jack Yan @ 03.12

    21.04.2015

    There can be only one, unless you forget to register your design: the Range Rover Evoque and the copycat Landwind X7


    The stunning original: the Range Rover Evoque.

    There has been a lot of ongoing press about Landwind’s copy of the Range Rover Evoque (a road test of the Evoque comes next week in Lucire, incidentally), one of my favourite Sloane Ranger SUVs. There’s no way Landwind would have come up with the design independently, and, if put before most occidental courts, there would be a finding in favour of the Indian firm.
       People are right to be upset, even in China, which has plenty of firms these days that spend millions on developing a new car and hiring the right talent. The days of SEAT Ibiza and Daihatsu Charade rip-offs are not completely gone, but if you read the Chinese motoring press, the journalists there are as condemning of copies as their colleagues everywhere else.
       The impression one gets in the west is that this is par for the course in China in 2015, even though it isn’t. While there have been firms that have gone from legitimate licensing to copying (I’m looking at you, Zotye and Yema), the reverse has tended to be the case in the Middle Kingdom.
       The latest article on the Landwind X7 appears in Haymarket’s Autocar, a magazine I’ve taken since 1980. I even think Autocar is being overly cautious by putting copy in quotation marks in its headline. It’s a copy, and that’s that.
       Landwind has maintained that it’s had no complaints from Jaguar Land Rover, while JLR CEO Ralf Speth says he will complain. Considering it’s been five years since the Evoque was launched, and news of the copy, and Landwind’s patent grant from 2014, has been around for a while, then saying you will complain in 2015 seems a little late.
       In fact, it’s very late. What surprises me is that this is something already known in China. I’m not the most literate when it comes to reading my first language, but as I understand it, a firm that shows a product in China at a government-sponsored show, if it wishes to maintain its “novelty” and prevent this sort of piracy from taking place, must register it within six months, under article 24 of China’s patent law:

    Within six months before the date of application, an invention for which an application is filed for a patent does not lose its novelty under any of the following circumstances:
    (1) It is exhibited for the first time at an international exhibition sponsored or recognized by the Chinese Government;
    (2) It is published for the first time at a specified academic or technological conference; and
    (3) Its contents are divulged by others without the consent of the applicant.

       The Evoque was shown at Guangzhou at a state-sanctioned motor show in December 2010, which meant that Jaguar Land Rover had until June 2011, at the outside, to file this registration. JLR reportedly missed the deadline [edit: with the patent office receiving the application on November 24, 2011].
       The consequence of missing the period is that an original design becomes an “existing design”. While it’s not entirely the end of the road for Jaguar Land Rover in terms of legal remedies, it is one of the quirks of Chinese intellectual property law, which, sadly, is not as geared to protecting authors as it is in the west.
       The approach one would have in, say, a common law jurisdiction, to prove objective similarity in the cases of copyright (and, as I understand it, a similar approach under patent), does not apply there. (Incidentally, this approach is one reason BMW could not have won against Shuanghuan for its CEO, which is usually mentioned by Top Gear watchers as an X5 copy. Look more closely and the front is far closer to a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado’s, and there’s neither a kidney grille nor a Hofmeister-Knick. It’s a mess, but Shuanghuan could easily argue that it picks up on period SUV trends, like the triangular sixth light found on an Opel Astra is part of a 2000s æsthetic for hatchbacks.)
       If you go back to November 2014, the South China Morning Post reported on this matter, again quoting Dr Speth in Autocar.
       He’s found it ‘disappointing’ for a while, it seems, but back in 2014 there was no mention of going after Landwind. An A. T. Kearney expert backs him up, saying, ‘… copying by Chinese original equipment manufacturers is still possible and accepted in China.’ It’s increasingly unacceptable, but, there are loopholes.
       I’m not arguing that this is right, nor do I condone the X7, but you do wonder why JLR hasn’t taken action. The above may be why JLR has stayed silent on the whole affair.
       This is why I read nothing on any action being taken by JLR when the Landwind was first shown, when a patent was granted (a year ago this month), or when the X7 was last displayed at a Chinese motor show.
       The SCMP piece is a much fairer article, noting that Chinese car makers have become more sophisticated and invested in original designs. It also notes that consumers are divided: while some would love to have the copy, another felt ‘ashamed about Landwind,’ points usually ignored in the occidental media.
       Land Rover has traditionally been swift in taking on copycats, and it had fought Landwind’s EU trade mark registration in 2006. This firm is known to them.
       Landwind, meanwhile, has a connection to previous Land Rover owner Ford, through Jiangling, which has a substantial Ford shareholding. Could some pressure be brought through Ford?
       For now, Jaguar Land Rover’s trouble with its patent registration has yet to make it into the western media. It’s doubtful that state media have ganged up on Jaguar Land Rover, considering it has a partnership with Chery, and invested in a new plant in Changshu. It really needs to be asking its lawyers some serious questions.


    Filed under: business, cars, China, design, general, India, media, UK—Jack Yan @ 03.04

    20.04.2015

    Musings on making friends with mobiles

    I see Google has messaged me in Webmaster Tools about some sites of ours that aren’t mobile-friendly.
       No surprises there, since some of our sites were hard-coded in HTML a long time ago, before people thought about using cellphones for internet access.
       The theory is that those that don’t comply will be downgraded in their search results.
       After my battle with them over malware in 2013, I know Google’s bot can fetch stale data, so for these guys to make a judgement about what is mobile-optimized and what is not is quite comical. Actually, I take any claim from Google these days with a grain of salt, since I have done since 2009 when I spent half a year fighting them to get a mate’s blog back. (The official line is that it takes two days. That blog would never have come back if a Google product manager did not personally intervene.)
       When you’re told one thing and the opposite happens, over and over again, you get a bit wary.
       To test my theory, I fed in some of our Wordpress-driven pages, and had varying results, some green-lighted, and some not—even though they should all be green-lighted. Unless, of course, the makers of Wordpress Mobile Pack and Jetpack aren’t that good.
       Caching could affect this outcome, as do the headers sent by each device, but it’s a worry either for Google or for Wordpress that there is an inconsistency.
       I admit we can do better on some of our company pages, as well as this very site, and that’s something we’ll work on. It’s fair enough, especially if Google has a policy of prioritizing mobile-friendly sites ahead of others. The reality is more people are accessing the ’net on them, so I get that.
       But I wonder if, long-term, this is that wise an idea.
       Every time we’ve done something friendly for smaller devices, either (a) the technology catches up, rendering the adaptation obsolete; or (b) a new technology is developed that can strip unwanted data to make the pages readable on a small device.
       Our Newton-optimized news pages in the late 1990s were useless ultimately, and a few years later, I remember a distributor of ours developed a pretty clever technology that could automatically shrink the pages.
       I realize responsive design now avoids both scenarios and a clean-sheet design should build in mobile-friendliness quite easily. Google evidently thinks that neither (a) nor (b) will recur, and that this is the way it’s going to be. Maybe they’re right this time (they ignored all the earlier times), and there isn’t any harm in making sure a single design works on different sizes.
       I have to admit as much as those old pages of ours look ugly on a modern screen, I prefer to keep them that way as a sort of online archive. The irony is that the way they were designed, they would actually suit a lot of cellphones, because they were designed for a 640-pixel-wide monitor and the columns are suitably narrow and the images well reduced in size. Google, of course, doesn’t see it that way, since the actual design isn’t responsive.
       Also, expecting these modern design techniques to be rolled out to older web pages is a tall order for a smaller company. And that’s a bit of a shame.
       It’s already hard finding historical data online now. Therefore, historical pages will be ranked more lowly if they are on an old-style web design. Again, if that’s how people are browsing the web, it’s fair: most of the time, we aren’t after historical information. We want the new stuff. But for those few times we want the old stuff, this policy decision does seem to say: never mind the quality, it’s going to get buried.
       I realize Google and its fans will argue that mobile-friendliness is only going to be one factor in their decision on search-engine ranking. That makes sense, too, as Google will be shooting itself in the foot if the quality of the results wasn’t up to snuff. At the end of the day, content should always rule the roost. As much as I use Duck Duck Go, I know more people are still finding us through Google.
       What will be fascinating, however, is whether this winds up prioritizing the well resourced, large company ahead of the smaller one. If it does, then those established voices are going to be louder. The rich melting pot that is the internet might start looking a bit dull, a bit more reflective of the same-again names, and a little less novel.
       Nevertheless, we’re up for the challenge, and we’ll do what we can to get some of our pages ship-shape. I just don’t want to see a repeat of that time we tailored our pages for Newtons and the early PDAs.


    Filed under: business, internet, publishing, technology—Jack Yan @ 09.00

    11.04.2015

    It’s taken me a long time to blog about sheep

    Living in New Zealand, of course PETA’s latest graphic (on the right) is going to get a few of us commenting. (The above comparison graphic was found on a US Facebook user’s page.)
       A friend of mine, in the US, rightly questioned whether he could believe New Zealanders on this, because we have an interest in ensuring wool exports continue. PETA, meanwhile, is a non-profit set up for the welfare of animals.
       I’m glad he questions, because without people like him, we would be accepting things told to us via media without analysis. He is right to call me out on this. We should be doing it more often, in a civilized atmosphere.
       Putting aside first-hand eyewitness accounts of sheep-shearing, where are the interests?
       PETA’s interests include its US$51 million revenues (its own figures) and the US$47 million it says it needs to keep itself going each year.
       In comparison, the New Zealand Wool Board, which is part of the state and funded by a levy, lost NZ$270,000 according to its latest annual report, on revenues of NZ$11 million. Annual expenses are NZ$3 million.
       You can take the NZ numbers and shave roughly about a quarter off them to get US dollars.
       For our wool board to do our work and keep our wool industry going, it requires about 5 per cent of what PETA does per annum.
       What interests would be served by our wool industry if sheep were left in the state PETA claims is typical? None. It’s in the industry’s interests to make sure that the coat is shorn carefully so that the sheep can grow a new coat for the next season. The medical bills from having a sheep that badly injured would far outweigh anything a farmer could get from wool.
       Running PETA is an expensive business, even if it is a non-profit, and it relies on these campaigns to get contributions.
       I believe in animal welfare, and in many cases, PETA does a good job of highlighting important issues. We’ve even received a ‘Certificate of Appreciation’ from them for working with them on causes where we see eye to eye.
       But occasionally, you have to take its messaging with a grain of salt, and this appears to be one of those times.


    Filed under: business, internet, New Zealand, USA—Jack Yan @ 05.05

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