Jack Yan
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The Persuader

My personal blog, started in 2006. No paid posts.



22.02.2020

Could this happen one day at GM?


The MG line-up in New Zealand. Could it be part of a bigger portfolio of brands later this decade?

In the context of what has happened with Holden, and Peter Hanenberger’s thoughts on the direction of GM, I wonder how far away we are from seeing these headlines:

Cash-strapped GM sells passenger car brands to SAIC to focus on trucks and SUVs

and:

SAIC builds passenger-car brand portfolio with Wuling, Baojun, Chevrolet, Roewe, MG, Buick and Cadillac

You can almost think of MG as Pontiac and Roewe as Oldsmobile … With the decimation of the GM line-up globally, and the segments they no longer field (e.g. C-segment cars in many markets), will they even have the investment needed to sustain the car brands?
   I know they are saying this was all necessary to fund the electrification of the range and autonomous tech, but isn’t this the same company that nixed the EV1 and failed to make the Volt a Prius-beater?
   The Chinese state wasn’t about creating “Chinese Leyland” when they forced SAIC and NAC to merge. They had much grander plans.


Filed under: business, cars, China, USA—Jack Yan @ 11.50

19.02.2020

Social media produce some terrible clairvoyants

I see Billie Eilish is singing the next James Bond title song, and it sounds pretty good.
   The last one, ‘Writing’s on the Wall’, wasn’t one of my favourites and while I didn’t mind Sam Smith’s composition, I felt a female voice might have suited it better. On a Bond music forum on Facebook (when I was still using it), I voiced disappointment, only to get comments in the thread essentially saying, ‘Everyone who dislikes this song is a homophobe.’
   Up until that point I had no clue about Smith’s sexuality—didn’t care then, don’t care now. I didn’t think much of this until tonight, when it dawned on me that when I say I’m not a fan of Brexit, on busier social media threads I’ll get, ‘Stop calling British people racists.’
   In neither case was homophobia or racism even hinted but it puzzles me that people can somehow go into Mystic Meg clairvoyant mode and see things that aren’t there—and get it completely wrong. And that has to be one of the things wrong with social media these days: people far too much in their own heads to even see what is right in front of them, letting their imaginations run riot. Could they be projecting? In any case, a discussion, or even an argument, is pointless if parties are unwilling to stick to the facts in front of them, preferring to go into snowflake mode and fling out accusations. It does them little credit.
   And folks wonder why so many of us have social media fatigue and would be quite content if certain sites vanished overnight.


Filed under: culture, interests, internet—Jack Yan @ 13.25


Peter Hanenberger’s unintended post mortem of Holden


The 2009 Chevrolet Caprice SS, sold in the Middle East but made in Australia.

I came across a 2017 interview with former Holden chairman Peter Hanenberger, who was in charge when the company had its last number-one sales’ position in Australia. His words are prescient and everything he said then still applies today.
   He spent over four and a half decades at GM so he knows the company better than most. Since he departed in 2003 he had seven successors at the time of the interview; and I believe there have been a couple more since.
   A few interesting quotes.

‘It’s [now] a very short-sighted company.’
It feels like it. The sort of retreating it’s done, the dismantling of global operations, and the failure to see how global platforms can achieve economies of scale is something only a company beholden to quarterly stock price results will do. And it doesn’t help its longevity.
   Even Holden, which looked like it was going to simply depart the passenger-car sector at the end of last year before a full withdrawal now, tells us that there doesn’t appear to be a long-term plan in place that the US management is committed to. Not long ago they were going on about the two dozen models they planned to launch to field a competitive line-up.

‘For me General Motors was a global player. Today General Motors is shrinking to an American company with no foresight, which is in very bad shape, which has missed the market.’
Remember Hanenberger said this in 2017, when it still had presences in many Asian countries. In 2020 it very much looks like GM will be in the Americas (where it still fields reasonably complete line-ups, although God knows if they have anything in the pipeline to replace the existing models) and China. Russia, India, Australia, New Zealand and Thailand are gone or going, and western Europe went in 2017 before the interview.

‘Maybe it fits into the vision of Trump; America first. But how the world is going to work also in the future is not because of America first and America only. It’s global. I think there will be no GM in the near-future.’
Everyone else is desperate to do tie-ups while GM retreats. I think GM will still be around but it’ll be a Chinese firm.

‘I couldn’t give a shit what they thought in America.’
I don’t mean this as an anti-American quote, but I see it as a dig against bean counters (whatever their nationality) fixated on the short term and not motorheads who know their sector well.

‘For me Holden didn’t have enough product, and the second one [priority] was I wanted to get these cars they had into export. For me it was very clear the products they had could be exported and they should go on to export.’
You saw the failure of this in the early 2010s when Holden failed to keep its Middle Eastern deals, and the US models returned. It could have been so different, though I realize GM was very cash-strapped when they needed the US taxpayer to bail them out.
   Bruce Newton, who wrote the piece, says that the Middle East was worth up to 40,000 units per annum, with A$10,000 profit per car. It cost Holden A$20 million to develop them for left-hand drive. I’d have held on to that sort of opportunity for dear life.

‘There was nothing going on that was creative towards the future of Holden as in Australia, New Zealand and toward the export market. They just neglected this whole thing.’
That was Hanenberger when he visited his old workplace in 2006. With product development cycles the way they are, it’s no wonder they were so ill placed when the Middle Eastern markets lost interest in the VE Commodore and WM Caprice (as the Chevrolet Lumina and Caprice), and China in the Buick Park Avenue.
   It’s an interesting interview and perhaps one of the best post mortems for Holden, even if it wasn’t intended to be so three years ago.


Filed under: business, cars, China, leadership, USA—Jack Yan @ 07.36

18.02.2020

One News is hard to miss on TV, but hidden on the internet

I wanted to see what TV1 news (I can never remember its official name with all its rebrands over the years—is it One Network News, TVNZ1 News, One News, or something else?) had on GM’s decision to shut Holden, but I missed both the six o’clock and the Plus One screenings. I headed online with some trepidation because I recall that I could never find the most-watched programme on the channel on previous occasions. This time I decided to document my attempt.
   Usually I would get stumped by the log-in process that made me lose my place, so this time I decided to log in first.

Nowhere to be seen. Ah, but it’s a TV1 show, so what if I go to the TV1 page?

Nope. Under news and current affairs, we have Breakfast, Seven Sharp, Fair Go and Te Karere. There’s a 1 News link at the top, what if I go there?

No joy, at least not for the full six o’clock broadcast. I did spy a Kiwi category, and surely TV1 news is Kiwi-made. Let’s see …

Apparently only the Tonight and Midday bulletins count as Kiwi-made.
   Despite my searching for it around 8 p.m., it wasn’t under ‘What’s new on TV’ either. Something that finished broadcasting an hour ago isn’t new.
   By this time what I do is go on Twitter to ask for help and eventually someone finds it for me, which isn’t the most efficient way of doing it, but in the past that’s how I’ve solved it.
   Tonight I put news into the search box and got it there after doing all the above, but why does TVNZ make it this hard? It’s their flagship news programme.
   And Conan Gorbey on Twitter found it for me tonight. Thanks, Conan!


Filed under: design, internet, media, New Zealand, TV—Jack Yan @ 08.39


Asus ROG Strix Evolve: a gaming mouse for a non-gamer

My early 2000s Microsoft Intellimouse 1·1 is still the perfect shape for me. After getting the second-hand one into service last year, I thought that I needed a spare. I’ve several other mice, including no-brand ones, that are a decent size, but I got used to having the forward and back buttons on either side.
   Microsoft makes a Classic Intellimouse these days, but it’s based on a later design, and it appears the side buttons are on the left only, which seems to be the convention in the late 2010s and early 2020s. It’s also had some reviews criticizing the quality, so I knew I couldn’t go with the latest.
   I headed back to Recycling for Charity, where I sourced this Intellimouse, but judging by the stock, I’m not alone in my preference. All that were left were smaller mice, making me wish that I bought multiple Intellimouses a few years ago and stocked up. This surely is a massive hint to mainstream mouse makers on a latent, forgotten market.
   After sampling some during spare time at Noël Leeming in Porirua, which did fit my hand, I opted to look online. The Noël Leeming ones were mostly Logitech, and my experience is that their mice last about two years. I wanted quality.
   After much searching, one mouse that matches the dimensions of the Intellimouse (125 mm × 65 mm × 40 mm) with one millimetre out on the height is the Asus Republic of Gamers (ROG) Strix Evolve, and our old friends at Just Laptops in Albany had them on special at under NZ$70 plus freight. That’s a lot more than the NZ$3 I paid for the used Intellimouse and the NZ$25 I paid for the Microsoft Laser Mouse 6000 in 2015, but with Asus claiming that the switches were good for 50 million clicks—probably 10 times more than regular mice—I decided that three times the price for ten times the longevity (at least in one respect) was acceptable. And it had two switches on each side, which I could program.
   It arrived a (working) day later. A lot of the gaming features are lost on me: the option to have lighting effects, choosing your own colour or having it cycle, for instance. I don’t necessarily need DPI switching. It’s simply vital that I have something my right hand is comfortable with.

   The mouse comes with a second set of covers, so you can raise it slightly to suit your hand. I tried all permutations: left high, right low, vice versa, both low, both high, before deciding on having both sides in the raised position. The rubber side panels help with grip, and they aid comfort.
   The first negative is that the forward end isn’t as wide as I was used to. The Microsoft mice are a reasonable width all the way down, and the Evolve is slightly narrower. That means my ring finger touches the mouse pad more on the side, as it did with an earlier Lenovo (plenty of those at Recycling for Charity, incidentally). I thought I wouldn’t be able to get used to it, as I didn’t with the Lenovo, and it does continue to be a slight problem. In other words, I haven’t quite got the perfect mouse and it’s a lesson about buying online when your requirements are this strict (though again I wouldn’t have considered this a major problem if manufacturers weren’t skimping on materials and giving people repetitive strain injuries).
   Asus hasn’t deceived about the measurements: it is 125 mm wide at its greatest width, just as Microsoft has it on theirs.
   I may put up with letting my ring finger drop and go along the mouse pad for the time being just for comfort’s sake and see if I’m OK with washing the pad more regularly. Or adjust my hand positioning slightly. But I know I cannot use the modern mice.
   One Tweeter noted that maybe the mouse manufacturers are finally appealing to women, and I had to agree it was nice for us men to experience just once what it’s like for them in a usually male-designed tech world.
   The other features are excellent: the ability to program the switches, which I did very early; and I can turn the lighting off as I see no point to it if my hand is on the mouse obscuring most of it. Then again, I’m not a gamer.
   The mouse wheel and switches are far more solid than anything I’ve encountered, making the 50 million-click claim believable. I do occasionally hit the right button inadvertently, probably out of unfamiliarity, and I must hit the DPI switch from time to time, again accidentally.
   Nevertheless, I’m going to keep my eye out for second-hand Intellimouses. Mine has become the back-up again, and really I didn’t think I was asking for much. Microsoft had a perfect design for which the tooling must be long amortized, so it makes you wonder why they don’t just trot it out again and make a bundle more off us.


Filed under: design, New Zealand, technology—Jack Yan @ 02.09

17.02.2020

The death of Holden

GM pulled out of Russia and India, so with hindsight, those of us Down Under, with a far smaller total population, shouldn’t have thought we were particularly special.
   Even where GM remains, such as South Korea, there’s a broken model range, with a big gap where the Cruze used to be.
   It’s becoming apparent that GM, with no more right-hand-drive markets to cater for, will be a company that only offers full lines in China and the Americas.
   Some GM-watchers have been calling for the demise of Holden for years, just as they had called for the deaths of Oldsmobile and Pontiac years before. But as I argued in a letter published in the (also-defunct) Condé Nast Portfolio, each brand occupies unique territory, and, had they not been diluted, could still appeal to certain buyers that more mainstream ones, e.g. Chevrolet, cannot reach.
   Holden was always a tough case in Australia, where we noted it was very tied to nationalism. Once local manufacture finished, its sales plummeted.
   It wasn’t the case in New Zealand, where all cars had been imported for decades and we never had the sense that Holden was our ‘own car’. However, GM New Zealand (as it then was) had created a handful of Holdens unique to this market that the Australians never saw. Once upon a time, it was a more independent beast.
   When Holden ceased Australian manufacture, sales didn’t drop the same way in this country. With Kiwis loving entries in the CD market, the Commodore isn’t an uncommon sight, and remains the choice of the police.
   But the same argument of economies of scale applies to New Zealand, a country with a population of five million: GM had no desire to allow this country much wiggle room compared with Australia. Whatever happened there would necessarily happen here.
   Those 600 jobs that are going include redundancies in New Zealand.
   Over the years it had seemed Holden was on life support. There was a golden age where the HQ series and its derivatives flew the Holden flag high, but after the oil crises, there was a real possibility the company could have bit the dust in the mid-1980s, becoming an import-only operation.
   A plan circulated within GM to replace the top Holdens with Cadillacs, while the rest of the range would be made up of cars from around the GM empire—which, in those days, included Opel and Isuzu.
   But the Australians won the day and the VN Commodore got the green light. By the end of the 1990s, Holden was in great shape, including an export programme for cars based off the VT Commodore.
   You could say history repeated itself with the global financial crisis in the late 2000s—where GM, keen to continue, asked for US$50,000 million from the US taxpayer. But perhaps more importantly, it sold the controlling stake in its venture with SAIC of China to its Chinese partner for a mere US$85 million. That was one deal that allowed GM to raise funds elsewhere, but it also saw the beginning of a technological transfer to China. Even after GM bought back the share, SAIC would get control of the JV’s sales’ company.
   Numerous SAIC cars were built on GM platforms—the Roewe 950, for example. Cars made by GM ventures began appearing with SAIC-owned brands—the MG Hector in India, a rebadged Baojun 530, for one; it also appears as the second-generation Chevrolet Captiva in some other markets. Once upon a time GM might have earned a royalty for any car built on its tech, but it’s unlikely here as the two companies share in the profits.
   While SAIC hasn’t succeeded with MG Down Under, you notice more of a push these days, and it has already made an impact in New Zealand with the Maxus commercial line-up, rebadged LDV. Export sales aren’t a big deal for the Chinese giant, but with the Chinese economy slowing, they could be eyeing up more international markets.
   With SAIC keen to get more of the action for themselves, GM’s operations in many of its outposts became irrelevant.
   Holden held on for dear life and arguably had one of its more competitive ranges for years—but in this context, GM might not have had much choice.
   It has little to do with the consolidation of markets and all to do with much higher-level strategic decisions. After all, hardly anyone in China will have grown up with idea of Holden being Australia’s own car.

This post also appears in Drivetribe and Lucire Men.


Filed under: business, cars, China, New Zealand, USA—Jack Yan @ 11.34


Returning to Firefox?

I wonder if it’s time to return to Firefox after an absence of two years and five months. After getting the new monitor, the higher res makes Firefox’s and Opera GX’s text rendering fairly similar (though Chrome, Vivaldi and Edge remain oddly poor, and Vivaldi’s tech people haven’t been able to replicate my bug). There’s a part of me that gravitates toward Firefox more than anything with a Google connection, and I imagine many Kiwis like backing underdogs.
   Here are some examples, bearing in mind Windows scales up to 125 per cent on QHD.

Vivaldi (Chrome renders like this, too)

Opera GX (and how Vivaldi used to render)

Firefox

   Opera renders text slightly more widely than Firefox, but the subpixel rendering of both browsers is similar, though not identical. Type in Firefox arguably comes across with slightly less contrast than it should (especially for traditionally paper-based type, where I have a good idea of how it’s “supposed” to look) but I’m willing to experiment to see if I enjoy the switch back.
   In those 29 months, a lot has happened, with Navigational Sounds having vanished as an extension, and I had to get a new Speed Dial (FVD Speed Dial) to put on my favourite sites. FVD uninstalled itself earlier today without any intervention from me, so if that recurs, I’ll be switching to something else. I don’t like computer programs having a will of their own.
   A lot of my saved passwords no longer work, since I change them from time to time, and it was interesting to see what Firefox remembered from my last period of regular use. I’ll have to import some bookmarks, too—that file has been going between computers since Netscape.
   The big problem of 2017—Firefox eating through memory like crazy (6 Gbyte in a short time)—could be fixed now in 2020 by turning off hardware acceleration. It’s actually using less right now than Opera GX, and that’s another point in its favour.
   I also like the Facebook Container that keeps any trackers from Zuck and co. away.
   I did, however, have to get new extensions after having resided in the Vivaldi and Opera space for all that time, such as Privacy Badger.
   If I make Firefox the default I know I’ll have truly switched back. But that Opera GX sure is a good looking browser. I might have to look for some skins to make common-garden Firefox look smarter.


Filed under: design, internet, typography—Jack Yan @ 07.56

15.02.2020

In the 1980s, I thought society would evolve to become more efficient and smarter

Growing up in a relatively wealthy country in the 1980s, after getting through most of the 1970s, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the world would just keep getting better and things would make more sense as humans evolved.
   From a teenager’s perspective: home computers, with a modulator–demodulator (modem), could bring you information instantaneously and from around the world. As an immigrant kid, that excited me: contact with people “back home” and from other places, making communication quicker. You could hear from others, and you could help others who needed you. And if you didn’t have a computer that could connect to a bulletin board, there was Teletext, which gave you regularly updated information through your TV set.
   Cars were getting more aerodynamic, which meant they would use less fuel, and that was understood universally to be a good thing. MPVs were very practical vehicles that had small footprints yet fitted a lot of people, or stuff, inside. Here in New Zealand, natural gas-powered dual-fuel cars were mainstream, and that meant we weren’t reliant on overseas oil. They also didn’t pollute anywhere near what petrol did—they burned cleanly.
   And since saving energy was understood to be a good thing, who knew? Before long solar power would be the norm for new homes and we’d be putting electricity back into the grid.


Alex Snyder/Wayne National Forest/Creative Commons

   I also heard about recycling for the first time as a teen, and that seemed like a good thing—all that old paper and plastic could have a second life.
   People were interested in being more efficient because no one wanted a repeat of the oil shocks of the 1970s. Nor did we want the government imposing carless days on us again.
   That same teenager would have thought that by the dawn of the 21st century—if the US and Soviet Union behaved—we’d have evolved to have recognized that we had the tools to make things better.
   When the internet came to our house in the 1990s, I saw it as a direct evolution of the 1980s’ optimism. It made sense.
   So through that lens, a lot of what the world looks like today doesn’t make sense.
   We have connected computers, milliards which are handheld, yet some of us are addicted to them and others use them to express outrage, rather than delight in having any contact at all with people thousands of miles away.
   SUVs outsell regular cars in some size segments. They are less aerodynamic, use more fuel, and are less efficient. We have American companies—Ford in the US and Holden here—saying that they’ll stop selling cars in most segments in favour of utility trucks, crossovers and SUVs. Petrol is expensive, and I complain about it, but I guess no one else thinks it’s expensive. Dual-fuel cars are a thing of the past here, for the most part, yet lots of people marvel at hybrids, conveniently forgetting we were decades ahead in the 1980s.
   And solar power isn’t the norm.
   We still, happily, recycle—but not everything we collect winds up being recycled. We have an awareness, but if we kept on progressing as I expected us to when I was Greta Thunberg’s age, then we wouldn’t have Greta Thunberg reminding us that we haven’t.
   I wonder if others in middle age realize that humans have the potential to go forward, and in many respects we do—but collectively there are enough of us who go backward and prevent any real advance in society.
   I like to have the same optimism as teenage me about the future. In terms of myself, many things bring me happiness, particularly in my personal and work lives. Yet in terms of society, I wonder if I can be as optimistic. I know deep down that we are interested in efficiency and treating our planet better (or we say we are), so then who are the ones holding us back, and what are we doing that stops us moving forward? Is it personal greed, hoping others will pick up the slack? Many of us choose products and services from companies that align with our views about what we want—yet are we doing the same when it comes to politicians?


13.02.2020

Andrew Yang’s campaign: #YangGang was just the beginning


Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons

On Andrew Yang’s run for the Democratic nomination in the US:

If Mastodon ever stops supporting that Javascript, I wrote: ‘Pretty stoked at what Andrew Yang has managed to achieve. Certain forces tried to minimize his coverage, to give him as little legitimacy as possible (sounds familiar). Yet he also normalized the idea of an Asian American presidential candidate, paving the way either for himself in 2024 or for someone else. ’. Those forces include some of the Democratic activist media.
   It’s a damned shame. Yang didn’t vilify Republicans, listened to both sides, and was a pragmatist with solutions. Granted, there were areas his policies fell short, but at least he presented the optimistic side of American politics, something so rarely seen in what we outsiders perceive to be such a negative, murky world. Now Americans (and those of us watching from without) will likely face a shouting-match campaign.

And found on the web: a cellphone with a rotary dial that its creator, Justine Haupt, claims is more practical for her, and where calling is faster than with her modern phone. No apps, no SMS, but if you’re after something to call people, it does the job admirably. Her frequently dialled numbers are stored, so it’s only new numbers where she has to dial. The dial also serves as a volume control. Since I’m getting sick of apps, and I can’t be alone, Haupt may be on to something.
   In her words: ‘A truly usable rotary-dial cellphone to replace my flip phone (I don’t use a smart phone). This is a statement against a world of touchscreens, hyperconnectivity, and complacency with big brother watchdogs.’


Filed under: design, politics, technology, USA—Jack Yan @ 07.14

12.02.2020

Five stars for Dell’s P2418D monitor


Working at night: the making of this blog post

I had to put in a good word for Dell’s P2418D monitor (earlier post here) after the multiple negative reviews left by one person.
   If I had to write something negative, it would be about their website blocking me from submitting my positive review by claiming I was using an ad blocker. I wasn’t. But I do have ‘Do not track’ turned on and I wonder if that is doing it.
   Eventually I got the review through on my eighth attempt by using a vulnerable browser: one with no privacy plug-ins, allowing all cookies, with all the default tracking that Big Tech likes.

After reading another reviewer’s multiple entries, I had a few doubts about this monitor, but I’m glad I bit the bullet anyway. I bought mine in 2020, so they may have ironed out the bugs.
   First up, the QHD resolution is a great thing to have. Windows 10 automatically scaled everything 125 per cent for me, and the programs that were a bit fuzzy were easily sorted—you just go into the properties and make sure that they use their own magnification and not the OS’s. I’m actually more productive as a result of being able to see the finer detail. I work in publishing and it’s great to be able read the smaller copy on a spread. Before I would have to zoom in and out to do a lot of my work.
   I don’t really need 27 inches as I don’t want to move my neck to see the different corners of the screen: 24 is plenty for me. I actually have a feeling 27 inches would decrease my productivity, but that’s just my personal preference.
   I’ve noticed no backlight bleed, the edge is fine for me and the desktop appears normally. As to the prompts that appear when the monitor goes into sleep mode (one source of complaint for one reviewer)—for me it doesn’t sleep for ages (it must be my settings) and when it does, I’m usually out of the room. In three weeks I’ve seen those prompts once.
   I had a problem with the driver—Windows’ security settings prevented me from opening the executable—but I was able to open it using an elevated command prompt. The controls you need for resolution, brightness, contrast, etc. are in there, too, if you don’t wish to fiddle with the buttons on the front of the unit itself.
   All the cables are included (USB 3 downstream, Displayport, power), and it’s been great having USB ports on my monitor. It’s allowed me to tidy up the external HDs a lot (I run three). Going from DVI-D to Displayport has been useful, too—I know I shouldn’t notice 1 ms improvement in speed but I really sense that I do!
   The blue-light-blocking comfort mode means I don’t get sore eyes if I work late, another bonus.
   I’m glad someone makes QHD at this size—in fact, I know Dell does 4K at this size, too. But QHD is fine for me—of the programs not using Windows’ scaling, I don’t want the menus to get too small! A great investment to my everyday computing.

   Hope that redresses the balance a bit more for Dell. I get that the other person is annoyed, but stick it all in one review, please!


Filed under: technology—Jack Yan @ 13.40

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