Jack Yan
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    The Persuader

    My personal blog, started in 2006.



    21.11.2014

    Bypass Auckland when you can

    It’s a shame I had to write this to Auckland Airport today (salutation and closing omitted):

    I’d like you guys to know that on Monday night, your inter-terminal bus never came. Passengers (around 20) were waiting at the stop at domestic from 9.45 to 10.15 p.m. The airport staff I spoke to were really surprised at this, too.
       I don’t mind the walk but there was an elderly lady among the passengers who didn’t enjoy the gales blasting through that night. I helped her with her huge bag to international, and I am sure another passenger would have helped her if I wasn’t there, but it’s a shame this had to happen.
       During our walk, we never saw the bus pass us, so it looked like the 10.30 p.m. finishing time that you advertise was not observed that night.
       I hope you can look into it.

       And Novotel, no, it is not cool that if someone orders a drink at the restaurant, pays for it, and decides to finish the remainder in his room, that you would try to charge him again the following morning (note: at 6.30 a.m., before any cleaning crew came) for consuming an ‘in-room beverage’. Thank you for not charging when I disputed it, but, again, it shouldn’t have happened in the first place. (Having no free power outlets by the desk but two where the kettle is also seems a bit odd.)
       It’s more reason for travellers to come to Wellington, where we’re fairer.


    Filed under: business, culture, New Zealand—Jack Yan @ 00.25

    06.11.2014

    Top 10 terrible TV show ideas

    I chose my professions because I would be absolutely useless creating TV shows. Here are my top 10 ideas, none of which would likely fly on telly.
       Downtown Abby. Eight Is Enough sequel. Abby and Tom Bradford move to a swanky San Francisco apartment, now that the kids have left home. But good help is hard to find these days. Dick van Patten and Betty Buckley reprise their roles.
       The Fresh Prince of Bel Fast. Set during the Troubles, about an Irish lad growing up in Bogside, a predominantly Catholic part of Derry City, being touted by gang elements. After getting into trouble playing football outside his school, his mother decides to send him to his uncle and aunt in a wealthy Protestant enclave in north Belfast.
       Samantha Who. Doctor Who spin-off, carrying on the adventures of the Doctor’s daughter who was extrapolated from his DNA in ‘The Doctor’s Daughter’. Since the Doctor has left, she has adopted a new name, and is trying to discover more about her father’s past.
       The Apprentice: Death Row Edition. They’ve tried the celebrity version; now it’s the turn of people who have been forgotten by society. The winner gets out of jail. The loser each week, unfortunately, has to hear the words, ‘You’re fried!’
       Life on Veronica Mars. Kristen Thomas wakes up 35 years ago after being struck by a Chrysler Le Baron. Is she mad, in a coma, or back in time?
       The Postman Pat. Pat drives his Royal Mail van in a post-apocalyptic landscape.
       Colombo. In the tradition of the foreign-set Van der Valk, Zen and Wallander, the BBC sets its new cop drama in Sri Lanka, with a glass-eyed, raincoat-wearing detective with a penchant for kottu.
       O’Jack. Similar idea to the above, but set in Northern Ireland, about a bald RUC detective who is partial to Oatfield’s toffee, solving crimes on both sides of the divide.
       American Horror Story. A reality show with cameras following the 2014 mid-term Senate elections.
       Game of Thrones. Yet another home makeover show, but focusing only on the water closet. Participants have to deal with plumbing, toilets, tiles and interior design. Minor appeal perhaps, but you’d never think those other ones would do so well, would you?
       I jest, but I really would watch some of these (except for The Apprentice: Death Row Edition, which is just sick) over some of the crap on television today.


    Filed under: humour, TV, UK, USA—Jack Yan @ 11.55

    05.11.2014

    Shanghai, 1987 v. 2013

    Originally on my Tumblog, but the graphic wouldn’t fit properly with the template.

    Amazing. There’s an entire generation who will have no concept of Shanghai being a city without skyscrapers.


    Filed under: China—Jack Yan @ 12.07

    17.10.2014

    Autocade hits 5,000,000 views: what are its most read and least searched?

    With Autocade exceeding the 5,000,000 page view milestone (it’s on 5·12 million), I thought it might be fun to look at a few of the models on the site: the most popular, the least loved, and the first on the site.
       Looking at the stats, here are the most popular models. These shouldn’t be surprising: for a long time, our page on the E100 Toyota Corolla was the most-read. That’s since been overtaken by the Ford Fiesta Mk VII, the Toyota’s rival, the Nissan Sunny (B14), and the older Nissan Bluebird (910), probably thanks to a link from Wikipedia.

    2008 Ford Fiesta Trend.jpg
    1. Ford Fiesta (B299/B409). 2008 to date (prod. over 1,000,000 Europe only to March 2011). 3-, 4- and 5-door saloon. F/F, 999 cm³ (I3 DOHC), 1242 cm³ petrol, 1399 cm³ diesel (I4 OHC), 1388, 1596 cm³ petrol, 1498, 1560 cm³ diesel (I4 DOHC). Ford’s global small car, part of European Fiesta lineage with nameplate returning to North America for the first time since 1980. Four-door for Asian and North American markets. Regarded as class leader, excellent chassis and handling. Showed small-car interpretation of ‘kinetic’ design theme which débuted on larger Ford Mondeo Mk IV. Minor facelift in 2010, more substantial, Aston Martin-esque facelift in 2012, with Ecoboost three-cylinder and 1·5 diesel added.

    Nissan Sunny 1800 Super Touring Type S.jpg
    2. Nissan Sunny/Nissan Sentra (B14). 1994–2000 (prod. n/a). 4-door sedan. F/F, F/A, 1295, 1497, 1597, 1838, 1998 cm³ (I4 DOHC), 1974 cm³ diesel (I4 OHC). Undistinguished front-wheel-drive sedan with more limited markets; Europe and many western markets were now selling only the Pulsar (as the Almera). No station wagon as Sunny range trimmed. Sold in numerous Asian countries. Sentra in México, with 2·0-litre option. In production in Thailand till 2000. Coupé called Lucino in the home market, a separate line.

    1980 Datsun Bluebird.jpg
    3. Nissan Bluebird (910). 1979–86 (prod. n/a). 4-door sedan, 5-door wagon, 2-door coupé. F/R, 1595, 1598, 1770, 1809, 1952 cm³ petrol, 1952 cm³ diesel (I4 OHC), 2393 cm³ (I6 OHC). Squared-off Bluebird began Nissan’s 1980s’ rise, dropping its alphanumeric model codes in many markets. Badged Datsun for export initially, with Nissan badges appearing in 1981. Sold in US as 810, 810 Maxima, and then Maxima from 1982. Conventional, despite sharp, boxy styling. End of Japanese production 1983. Facelift in Australia in 1985.

    Toyota Corolla (E100).jpg
    4. Toyota Corolla/Holden Nova (E100). 1991–9 (prod. n/a). 4-door sedan, 5-door liftback sedan, 4-door hardtop, 3- and 5-door hatchback sedan, 5-door wagon, 5-door high-roof van, 2-door coupé. F/F, F/A, 1296 cm³ petrol, 1974 cm³ diesel (I4 OHC), 1331, 1497, 1498, 1587, 1762 cm³ (I4 DOHC). Dr Akihiko Saito, in charge of the Corolla programme, wanted to create the most refined Corolla possible, with Lexus-style comfort. To some degree, the team succeeded, but the car’s price went up in Japan during a recession. Roomy, but heavy, and less competitive alongside other small cars, including Koreans. Sales were initially slow. Longer wheelbase. Short-tail hatchbacks still Corolla FX in Japan. Liftback actually part of Sprinter range in Japanese home market. Four-door hardtop coupé from 1992 called Corolla Ceres. Last Corolla built in Australia, where it was also the Holden Nova from 1994 to 1996.

    2004 Toyota Corolla.jpg
    5. Toyota Corolla/Toyota Huaguan/Toyota Limo (E120). 2000 to date (prod. n/a). 3-, 4- and 5-door sedan, 5-door wagon, 5-door minivan. F/F, 1364 cm³ diesel (I4 OHC), 1398, 1598, 1796 cm³ (I4 DOHC), 1995 cm³ diesel (I4 DOHC). Corolla grows to its biggest size up to that point but limited by Japanese taxation requirements (setting the maximum width to 1,700 mm before it goes into a higher tax bracket). Shortened Toyota Vista (V50) platform, 2,600 mm wheelbase. Torsion beam axle at rear, replacing independent rear suspension. Sedans sold as Corolla Altis in some Asian markets. Wagons named Corolla Fielder, with hatchbacks taking Corolla Runx and Allex names (the latter replacing Sprinter). Corolla Spacio denoted a minivan model, sold as Corolla Spacio in Europe. Toyota Matrix, a different small van or tall hatchback, sold in US, renamed Corolla Matrix in 2005. Platform shared with Pontiac Vibe (or Toyota Voltz). Competent small car, hatchbacks in fact quite stylish, though interior design dull. Mid-life facelift 2004 in Japan. Japanese production ended 2006; some other countries 2008; continuing in China into the 2010s as Corolla EX, running alongside E150 successor.

       But what of the least popular? It’s unfair to go to the bottom of the statistics’ page, because you’re going to get a newer page that might become popular later. The following four are models which I’ve seen at the bottom of that page even after they had been on the site for a while, suggesting not too many are searching for them.

    2012 Riich X1.jpg
    1. Riich X1. 2009 to date (prod. n/a). 5-door sedan. F/F, 1297, 1497 cm³ (I4 DOHC). B-segment city car with SUV looks, exported as Chery Beat to some countries. Meant to have been absorbed into the Chery range when the Riich marque was killed off in 2013, and continued to appear on Chery’s export site, though it vanished from domestic listings. Based on the Riich M1.

    1973 Pontiac GTO.jpg
    2. Pontiac LeMans. 1973–7 (prod. n/a, incl. 4,806 GTO). 2-door coupé. F/R, 231 in³ (V6 OHV), 250 in³ (I6 OHV), 260, 301,350, 400, 455 in³ (V8 OHV). Unreliable, thirsty GM Colonnade model line, with poor gas mileage (improving somewhat for 1975). GTO offered as an option for one year only, and more driveable than other LeManses and even previous GTOs, but fans tended to forget this model. Luxury LeMans for 1973 and 1974, renamed Grand Le Mans in 1975. Related to Pontiac Grand Am (1973–5), and other GM intermediates including Buick Century (1973–7), Oldsmobile Cutlass (1973–7) and Chevrolet Chevelle (1973–7).

    2007 Buick Park Avenue.jpg
    3. Buick Park Avenue (WM). 2007–12 (prod. n/a). 4-door sedan. F/R, 2792, 2986, 3564 cm³ (V6 DOHC). Chinese-assembled version of Holden Statesman (WM), but with differences such as visually large grille, different bumpers, and no indicators and vents in wings aft of the front wheels. Smaller Australian-built 2·8-litre unit related to one from Cadillac CTS available on Chinese edition, along with 3·6 from Holden Commodore (VE), later both replaced by 3·0. Otherwise mechanically similar to Statesman. Killed off in 2012 due to slow sales.

    1998 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Z34.jpg
    4. Chevrolet Monte Carlo (W-body). 1995–9 (prod. 376,483). 2-door coupé. F/F, 3135, 3791 cm³ (V6 OHV), 3350 cm³ (V6 DOHC). Chevy brings back the Monte Carlo nameplate for a two-door version of the Lumina. Z34, with extra equipment, featured DOHC V6, replaced by smoother but less powerful 3·8 in 1998. New four-speed auto in 1997. Good value for money, and a comfortable, long-distance cruiser. Average in terms of reliability.

       Finally, the oldest photos on the site tell us which articles I wrote first. A few of the oldest photos have been replaced for quality reasons, but it’s safe to say the following five cars were among the original ten or dozen entered on to Autocade.

    Renault Mégane II.jpg
    1. Renault Mégane (X84). 2002 to date (prod. n/a). 3-, 4- and 5-door saloon, 5-door estate, 2-door coupé–cabriolet. F/F, 1390, 1598, 1998 cm³ (I4 DOHC); 1461, 1870 cm³ diesel (I4 OHC). Surprising shape for 2002 launch, a total departure from earlier Mégane, with Renault designers showing their creativity. Hatchbacks have vertical tailgate with a bustle; saloon, estate and coupé convertible more conventional. Successful seller for Renault not just in home market, but in Germany. Revisions to range 2005. As before a Scénic minivan offered but this time in short- and long-wheelbase (Grand Scénic) versions, though not marketed as a Mégane despite ‘Mégane’ tag appearing in the C-pillar. (See separate entry at Renault Mégane Scénic II.) Turbo model claims 165 ch; RS delivers 225 ch. Hatchbacks replaced 2008 in France, estate in 2009. Saloon replaced by Fluence in South America 2011, though continued in Iran at Pars Khodro with 1600 and 2000 models; Grand Tour (estate) in Brazil to 2013.

    Trabant P601.jpg
    2. Trabant P601. 1964–91 (prod. 3,000,000 approx.). 2-door saloon, 3-door estate, 2-door utility convertible. F/F, 595 cm³ (I2 OHV), 1093 cm³ (I4 OHC). East German subcompact car descended from DKW, made with cotton-based plastic (Duroplast) bodyshell. Sold in UK till 1965. Made with 595 cm³ engine (26 PS) until 1989 when larger and cleaner Volkswagen Polo 1·1-litre engine adapted under licence. Estate variant called Universal. Utilitarian “off-road” convertible model called Tramp. Kitsch value toward the end of its life as a relic of the DDR, but unloved for most years.

    2008 Ford Falcon G6E.jpg
    3. Ford Falcon (E240/FG). 2008–14 (prod. n/a). 4-door sedan, 2-door utility truck. F/R, 1999 cm³ (I4 DOHC), 3984 cm³ petrol, 3984 cm³ LPG (I6 DOHC), 4951, 5408 cm³ (V8 DOHC). Extensively revised series launched in February 2008 with three grilles, for regular Falcon, G6 (which replaces the Futura and Fairmont nameplates) and XR. V8 engine restricted to sporty XR8 model only. No station wagon (EA169 platform carried over on facelifted model briefly). Very little change in fuel economy figures compared with predecessor. V8 produces 290 kW. FG designation supposedly meant to evoke memories of now-defunct Fairmont Ghia nameplate. Marketed as larger than Mondeo Mk IV, but in fact smaller in key dimensions except overall length. At time of launch, petrol models gained a five-star ANCAP safety rating, one up on its main competitor, the Holden Commodore (VE). EcoBoost turbo four from 2012, when FG also had a minor facelift. Smaller 5·0 Miami V8 for XR8 from 2013.

    1970½ Ford Falcon sedan.jpg
    4. Ford Falcon. 1970½ (prod. 26,000 approx.). 2- and 4-door sedan, 5-door wagon. 250 in³ (I6 OHV), 302, 351, 429 in³ (V8 OHV). For half a model year (built January–August 1970), Ford transferred its Falcon nameplate from the compact model to the intermediate Torino–Fairlane bodyshell (117 in wheelbase for sedans; curiously, the wagon was on 114 in), making the Torino’s engine options available. Still marketed as an economy car, the last American Falcon is characterized by its swooping design. After 1970, Falcons were made only in Australia and Argentina (with an assembly plant for Australian models in New Zealand).

    Hyundai i30.jpg
    5. Hyundai i30 (FD). 2007–11 (prod. n/a). 5-door hatchback, 5-door estate. F/F, 1396, 1591, 1975 cm³ petrol, 1582 cm³ diesel (I4 DOHC), 1991 cm³ diesel (I4 OHC). First Hyundai designed specifically for Europe, rivalling Volkswagen Golf. Designed in Rüsselsheim, Germany with excellent dynamics, among the best for the Korean brand. Quality survey in Germany in 2010 put the car at the top. Estate added at end of 2007 and sold in some markets as Hyundai Elantra Touring. Sister car to Kia Cee’d (2006–12), released earlier, but lacks that model’s three-door hatchback style.


    Filed under: business, cars, general, New Zealand, publishing, Wellington—Jack Yan @ 07.02


    The descent of social media as a debating tool

    Jo Komisarczuk referred, on Twitter, this piece by Rory Cellan-Jones. The title, ‘Twitter and the poisoning of online debate’, gives you a good indication of the topic, and it centres around an incident dubbed ‘Gamergate’. While I haven’t followed the Gamergate controversy, I am told that it centres around sexism and misogyny in the gaming industry, to the point where, in Jo’s words, ‘women are now scared to talk about it publicly’. Cellan-Jones refers to Twitter attacks on women, including threats of rape, and:

    And for weeks now women in the video games industry have been under attack. There have been death threats, “doxing”—publishing personal information online—and all manner of insults directed at women who have expressed views about gaming deemed unacceptable by some gamers.

       It’s disgraceful, though sadly not altogether surprising, that this sort of misogyny carries on in the 21st century—but when the gender gap has not closed and the way women are portrayed in media is still generally slanted against them, it reminds all of us that there is a great deal of work to do in treating everyone fairly and respectfully.
       Twitter, however, isn’t helping.

    For a long while, Twitter was different, a place where people were who they said they were and were aware that a tweet was a public statement for which you could be called to account. Now though, a rash of spam and so-called sockpuppet accounts have started to poison this well too. High profile users under assault from such accounts find that they block them, only for new ones to pop up instantly.

       I Facebooked earlier today (ironically, despite my saying I was decreasing my interaction on the service last night): ‘Like so many other technologies (e.g. email) it starts off with new, optimistic early adopters. Then the low-lifes, spammers and bots start coming in.’ You could also add one politician’s wife whose sole intent on Twitter was to launch attacks.
       I saw a lot of trolling in the 2013 campaign but none in 2010, and put it down to mere politics, but to be reminded by Cellan-Jones that this happens to people who aren’t putting themselves out there to be elected is disappointing. Those of us who seek public office should, by the very act of running, expect it, but I never had threats of harm directed at me. If we’ve descended into this, having to field personal attacks and threats, then what is the point of some of these services? These aren’t even conflicting opinions, in the cases I observed last year, but people out there for the sake of shit-stirring, to be reactive—it is effectively pointless. Does this not discourage everyday people from putting themselves out there, at a time when we keep saying we want our representatives, be they political, social or commercial, to be folks who are in touch with us?
       You can see these same arguments apply to the blogosphere and Nicky Hager’s point that attacks on private citizens dissuades others from standing for public office. You can take similar arguments into other areas: if you make a position so unsavoury, then we miss out on good people who could become great leaders.
       We can’t expect people to keep migrating to new services where the trendy, friendly early adopters reside, since they never have the reach. Restricting freedom of speech goes against some of our basic values. Making your account private to only a handful means creating a bubble, and that doesn’t serve you. Confucius might say that education and self-regulation are the key, but that could depend on whether netizens want to be on these social networks to speak out against this negative behaviour in the meantime.
       We might say there is nothing new under the sun, and these latest incidents simply expose behaviours that were prevalent for years. Even if that were the case, it’s not too late to change things. We’d all prefer a level of civilized debate and a decent exchange of views—and it may be up to everyday people to simply ignore the attackers and trolls, and not give them the satisfaction of knowing that got to someone. If it gets to a point where a crime is committed (e.g. a threat of harm is made), then the authorities should be involved. As to the victims, we should convey our support to them.
       Or is there yet another way?


    Filed under: culture, internet, leadership, politics, technology—Jack Yan @ 05.53

    16.10.2014

    Where the action is on social media, and it’s not Facebook

    I’ve blogged several times about the bot problem that Facebook has, and this is an issue that runs alongside the click farms that operate on the website.
       One of my groups has over 12,000 members, and it’s a magnet for click farm participants, who target these bigger ones. And when you look through the Facebook users we’ve blocked, they are predominantly based in Morocco, with a smaller number in Algeria and Tunisia.
       They’re very obvious, and their purpose is either to spam (one that accidentally got through proceeded to do just that) or to legitimize themselves for when they are asked to like a page for a client. This all makes engagement worse, and it helps the bottom line for Facebook and the click farm companies paying these people a pittance.
       When I look through the blocked list, it almost looks like we’ve been racial profiling, although my moderators and I will look through each name to check. Of course we want more members—but we want legitimate ones.
       The sad thing is the number of groups, other ones with membership in the tens of thousands, who accept these click farm contractors. They obviously aren’t as strict, but in accepting them, they become accomplices to their deception. They’re nearly as bad as those who accept friend requests from bots—I found one yesterday who had accepted requests from over a dozen bots. You really have to ask: why would you accept people whom you don’t know?
       All this is getting to the point where Facebook is just another tiresome site, and if it weren’t for the management of groups, the promotion of some businesses, and keeping in touch with a number of friends, I wouldn’t log on. Over the past week I’ve only irregularly updated my status—I compare this to the heavy use I had on Facebook when Timeline came out. I equated status updates to getting instant gratification, that someone out there cared. You can update all you like these days, but you might hear nowt.
       Which is no bad thing as we head into summer. The action, as some predicted long ago, is shifting. Instagram is where that gratification now takes place, at least for me, despite having a third of the numbers following me. Facebook was perhaps wise to acquire it, and while bots are a problem on Instagram, too, presently I encounter fewer of them each day than on Facebook (it wasn’t always this way). Of course some enterprising companies are trying to sell fake likes there, too, but Instagram hasn’t attracted corporate accounts to quite the same degree, yet. Those fake likers aren’t yet hurting engagement, and it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if the site continues to grow.   
       Social media continue to fragment as we head into 2015. Whatsapp, Snapchat, Wechat and Viber allow for more intimate conversations; Instagram allows one to interact with a newer community. Facebook looks very dull indeed at this point, with its bots and click farms plaguing the entire system, no doubt adding to the company’s less and less credible claim of how many users it has.


    Filed under: business, internet, marketing, technology—Jack Yan @ 13.41

    10.10.2014

    The demise of Auto Katalog, and little to fill the void

    It’s sad to read the news that Motor-Presse Stuttgart will not publish the Auto Katalog annual this year. That means last year’s, the 57th, could have been the ultimate edition.
       There are complaints on Amazon.de, and I was all ready to buy a copy myself—typically I would have an order put in through Magnetix in Wellington (and wait the extra months).
       Auto Katalog is part of my childhood, too. While my father had various Grundig books through work, which were my introduction to the German language, it was the 1978–9 number of Auto Katalog that got me absorbing more Deutsch. To this day I have a vocabulary of German motoring jargon that is nearly impossible to get into conversation. And to name-drop, I owe it to Karl Urban’s Dad for my first and second copies—he gave them away to me after a new issue came in the post.
       My Auto Katalog collection has a gap between 1980–1 and 1986–7, which would have marked the first year I saw it on sale in New Zealand. They were pricey—over NZ$20—but for a car enthusiast, well worth it. The sad thing is that they declined in quality in the 1990s, and by the 2010s there were noticeable omissions and errors. (MG, for instance, finally showed up in an appendix last year, though the marque had returned to mass production in China many years before.)
       Nevertheless, as an extra reference for Autocade, they were invaluable, and I always found their structure more suited to research than the French Toutes les voitures du monde from L’Automobile, which I would pick up in France or in French Polynesia. (I’ve now ordered the 2014–15 edition online, as it’s not available locally.)
       There was great support for Auto Katalog, and I can’t imagine Motor-Presse not making money off it, but the announcement in August—which I only read in the wake of noticing that the 2014–15 issue had not gone on sale abroad—indicates that such information is more readily available online.
       Well, it’s not—not really. There may be national sites, and there are a few international ones (Carfolio and Automobile Catalog) but none pack the information quite as nicely into a single, easily referenced volume as Auto Katalog. That’s where we’re happy to pay a few euros. And, like Autocade, there are omissions: if these other sites are like mine, then they have one chief contributor and a few very occasional helpers. All three sites are trying to create a history of cars, too, not just new models, so we can never fully keep up with the current model year while we fill in the blanks of the past.
       A few years ago, a Polish company put together several volumes of what are regarded to be the best international car references this side of the 21st century, but even that did not last long. The research and presentation were meticulous, according to friends who bought it, but the language left something to be desired. It was never available here, to my knowledge, and by the time I found out about them, they had dated.
       We had also discussed doing a printed version of Autocade, but my feeling remains that there are just too many gaps in the publication, although proudly we do have information on some very obscure cars on the market today that even Auto Katalog had missed.
       If Auto Katalog does not return, then it’s likely its spiritual successor will be found in China. Here is the most competitive car market on earth, with the greatest number of models on sale: it would make sense for a future publication to use China as the starting-point, and have other countries’ models filled in. China would also have the publishing and printing resources to compile such an annual, with the chief problem being what the Poles found, despite a multilingual population and even a lot of expats in China, making such a publication less accessible and readable. (That is a challenge to prove me wrong.)


    Filed under: cars, China, internet, media, publishing—Jack Yan @ 04.40

    09.10.2014

    How many Facebook bots do you see in an evening? I count over 250

    Last month, I Tweeted Facebook, asking them to raise the reporting limit for bots. Right now, you can report around 40 bot accounts before a warning box comes up asking you to slow down. If you do another 10, you are barred from reporting any more for 24 hours—even though you are trying to help Facebook clean up its act.
       I said that the rate of increase in bot accounts was exponential, and that raising the limit to 200 immediately might be useful.
       Tonight, the 200 barrier has been broken. In other words, in one evening, not counting click farms (which are also hitting our groups like crazy, with a growing number from Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and Tunisia daily), I came across 277 bot accounts on Facebook. All because I have a few groups and I was checking to see who was joining.
       And here I was, thinking that over the last few weeks, when I was seeing a maximum of six daily, that Facebook had this problem under control.
       Obviously, the bot nets found a way through whatever defences Facebook had.
       I won’t republish the list of 277 here. There might be slightly fewer as there could be doubling-up in my list—you can lose your place at night copying and pasting. If you do want to have a peek at what bot accounts look like, the second part of the list at my Tumblr blog will give you an idea. And if you’d like to report them, you’re most welcome to—though since it’s neither your job nor mine, I wonder why we should bother. Facebook loves to brag about its numbers of how many people it has using the site. If in order to fool advertisers it shows a quarter-on-quarter increase by counting the bots, then maybe we should let it be, and eventually let the site fall over (and let’s face it, the frequency of that happening has increased, too).
       All of which point to a website that is becoming less and less useful as a marketing tool—no wonder the likes of Ello saw an increase in usage in the last few weeks.


    Filed under: business, internet, marketing, USA—Jack Yan @ 14.28

    29.09.2014

    What’s at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue again? Maybe Sarah Palin used Google Maps

    I see the media are laughing at Sarah Palin when she referred to the White House being at 1400 Pennsylvania Avenue.
       And yet no one laughed at Google in 2009 when it didn’t know what was at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
       Google Maps was new to me then and I installed it. I had heard so much about how you could check out landmarks. So I typed in ‘1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC’. This is what it showed:

    6a00e54ee56f0788340133f38e331c970b

       Mrs Palin and I have very different political beliefs and I’m not a fan of hers, but I’m curious why no one had a go at Google in 2009. Such an error by one of the largest companies in the US deserves more ridicule than whatever she said, which is akin to President Obama’s 57 states and his mispronunciation of corpsman, or Vice-President Biden’s belief that a hypothetical President Roosevelt could go on television in 1929.
       This was not version 1 of Google Maps, but version 5.
       This means that in five versions of Google Maps, no one had checked where the White House was. And do you wonder why I don’t have much faith in Google?
       At the time, I wrote:

    Nothing around here even looks like the White House. Can any American readers please explain what I am doing wrong, or is this another one of those computer glitches that only happens to me?
       If I have done nothing wrong, then here are some possibilities of what has happened:

  • the White House doesn’t exist and never did. I only dreamed that it did;
  • the White House only exists in fiction, like Ernie Wise’s wig;
  • the boss of Google voted Republican;
  • the White House has been moved to another location, like they did with the Museum Hotel;
  • the White House has been blocked from Google Earth for a 9-11-related reason;
  • UFOs have beamed up the entire White House;
  • the Manhattan Project has beamed up the entire White House.
  • A Washingtonian confirmed that when they typed the same address into Google Maps, they got the same result, so it wasn’t just me.
       Since 2009, this error has been remedied.


    Filed under: internet, media, politics, technology, USA—Jack Yan @ 10.50


    An expatriate’s view of Occupy Central and what Hong Kong wants

    Equal access: an audio recording of this blog post can be found here.

    I know I’m not alone among expats watching the Occupy Central movements in Hong Kong. More than the handover in 1997, it’s been making very compelling live television, because this isn’t about politicians and royalty, but about everyday Hong Kong people.
       I Tweeted tonight that if I were a student there, I’d be joining in. While the idea of direct elections is a recent development—they started in 1985 for the Legislative Council, it’s important to remember that all UN member nations should permit its subjects the right of self-determination. It doesn’t matter when they started, the fact is they did. The latest protests aren’t about Legco, but the election of the Chief Executive—the successor to the role of Governor—which Beijing says can only be for candidates it approves.
       Legal arguments aside, protesters are probably wondering why they could enjoy free and fair elections under colonial rule from London, and not by their own country from their own people.
       I cannot speak for Beijing, but their perspective is probably more long-term: in the colonial days, the Legislative Council was appointed by London, not voted by Hong Kong subjects, for most of its existence. The Governor was always appointed by London. Surely what it is proposing for 2017 is far better?
       And given that the Chief Executive currently is selected by an election committee of Beijing loyalists, then 2017 presents something far more open and akin to universal suffrage.
       Those are the issues on the surface as I understand them, but they ignore some of the history of Hong Kong.
       Hong Kong was a backwater until 1949, when the Communists revolted, and refugees poured in. My father was one of them, having made the trek from Taishan with his mother and sister. Other members of the family had got there on other journeys. The stories can happily fill chapters in a novel.
       He recalls in his first days in Hong Kong, police officers had three digits on their shoulder. ‘I don’t know how many policemen there were,’ he recalls, ‘but there couldn’t have been more than 999.’
       Hong Kong’s population swelled, and the colonial authorities found a way to accommodate the new arrivals.
       I don’t have the exact figures but at the dawn of the 1940s, the population of Hong Kong was 1·6 million, and it was close to 2½ million in the mid-1950s. When I left in 1976, it was 3 million.
       The reason most people went there and risked their lives to escape the Communists: freedom. Most were skilled workers and farmers fearing prosecution.
       Dad recalls that in the lead-up to the family home and farm being seized things were getting tough at school, with false accusations made against him by teachers and students. The vilification of land-owning families had begun.
       The day he left, he saw a notice on the front door and the family departed for Hong Kong, where my paternal grandfather already had contacts from his military days.
       Assuming a million people came across from the People’s Republic of China, then it’s not hard to imagine a sizeable part of the modern population of Hong Kong to have grown up with negative impressions of Beijing.
       Those same impressions saw to the mass exodus of Hong Kongers in the lead-up to the handover, with most expecting doom and gloom despite assurances under the Basic Law—though of course many have since returned to Hong Kong since things hadn’t changed as badly as they feared.
       They were the reasons my parents left in 1976. My mother simply thought a generation ahead and figured that by the 1990s, it would be hard to leave Hong Kong since some western countries would start going on about yellow peril again. (She was right, incidentally.)
       While in the post-colonial days, there is more contact between Hong Kong and the rest of China, it will take a while for those impressions to subside.
       It would be fair to say that culturally, we are predisposed to taking a long view of history, and the Cultural Revolution and the mismanagement of the economy in the earlier days of the People’s Republic stick in our minds.
       Even if the PRC proved to be a benevolent nation and made no wrong moves since 1997, the suspicion would remain.
       It hasn’t been helped by June 4, 1989 and its aftermath, continued censorship within China, and, more recently, some Hong Kongers feeling that they’re a second class in their own city when mainland tourists pop over for a holiday.
       Then you get people like me who cannot understand a word of Mandarin, which these days tends to be the second language many people learn. When the language of the colonials is easier to grasp, then that doesn’t bode well for our northern friends. There’s a sense of separation.
       This may explain a natural resistance to Beijing, because the way of life that the Chinese Communist Party envisages is so very different to what Hong Kongers believe they should enjoy.
       Scholarism, meanwhile, from which Occupy Central has spawned, has come from this culture: a group protesting the introduction of ‘moral and national education’ as a compulsory subject in Hong Kong. The subject was seen by opponents to be pro-communist, with the teaching manual calling the Communist Party an ‘advanced, selfless and united ruling group’.
       It’s hard, therefore, for Hong Kongers who grew up in this environment not to be suspicious of Beijing.
       That explains the solidarity, the sort of thing that would have inspired me if I was a young uni student today in Hong Kong.
       Now we are looking at two sides, neither of which is famous for backing down.
       One possible resolution would be for Beijing to accede yet bankroll a pro-Beijing candidate come 2017, which could, in the long term, save face, but provide the protesters with a short-term victory. It’s not what they are fighting for—they want everyone to be able to stand for the post of CE—but it may be one way events will play out.
       Hong Kong isn’t prepared to risk its economic freedom and progress, and it remains proud of its stance against corruption which has helped the city prosper. Citizens also place faith in the rule of law there, and the right to a fair trial.
       Beijing, meanwhile, isn’t prepared to risk the danger of an anti-communist CE being elected and having that trip up the development of the rest of the nation.
       I have to say that such a fear is very remote, given the overriding desire of Hong Kongers to get ahead. If Hong Kongers are anything, they are pragmatic and ambitious, and a Chief Executive who is imbalanced to such a degree would never get elected. With the rise of the orient and the sputtering of the occident, the “competing” ideas aren’t so competing anyway. The United States and Australia have laws either enacted or at the bill stage in the name of national security that they can hardly serve as an ideal model for democracy. After all, Edward Snowden went to Hong Kong first.
       The Cold War is over, and what is emerging, and what has been emerging, in Hong Kong and the rest of China since the 1990s has been a distinct, unique, Chinese model, one that has its roots in Confucianism and which takes pride in the progress of the city.
       The ideal Chief Executive would more likely be a uniter, not a divider, balancing all sides, and ensuring those they represent a fair go. They would be a connecter who can work with both citizens and with Beijing.
       Under my reading, there shouldn’t be any concerns in Beijing, because pragmatic Hong Kongers would never elect someone who would risk their livelihoods or their freedoms.
       And when Beijing sees that such a development can work in Hong Kong, it could be a model to the rest of China.
       Taiwan, too, will be watching.


    Filed under: business, China, culture, Hong Kong, politics—Jack Yan @ 10.31

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