Jack Yan
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The Persuader

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



13.08.2020

More Wikiality—and this time it’s about me!

Goes to show how seldom I ego-search.
   Here’s something a Wikipedian wrote about me in a discussion in 2010:

Jack Yan is not a notable typeface designer. He has never laid a hand on mouse or trackball to operate a font editing application. He tells some graphic designer employees of his what he wants them to draw with software, and has them do all the work of drawing and solving all the design problems involved in creating and designing a typeface and its fonts. As a professional typeface designer myself, Yan’s involvement in type design and font production does not qualify him as a typeface designer. Not even close.

   The user is called James Arboghast, whom I’ve never heard of in any of my years in the type design business.
   Now, you can argue whether I’m notable or not. You might not even like my designs. But given that Arboghast has such a knowledge of our inner workings, then maybe it would suggest that I am?
   Based on the above, which is libellous, let me say without fear of committing the same that, in this instance, Mr Arboghast is a fantasist and a liar.
   I’ve no beef with him outside of this, but considering that I was the first typeface designer in this country to work digitally—so much so that Joseph Churchward, who is indisputably notable, came to me 20 years ago to see if we could work together—there were no ‘graphic designer employees’ around who had the skills. At least none that I knew of when I was 14 years old and deciding which bitmaps to light up on an eight-by-eight grid.
   There were still no such people around when I began drawing stuff for submission to ITC, or when I began drawing stuff that I digitalized myself on a hand-held scanner. I certainly couldn’t afford employees at age 21 when I asked my Mum to fork out $400 to buy me a really early version of Fontographer. And there were still no such people around when I hand-kerned 1,000 pairs into my fonts and did my own hinting. Remember, this was pre-internet, so when you’re a young guy in Wellington doing this work in isolation, you had to know the skills. I might even have those early drawings somewhere, and not that long ago I found the maths book with the bitmap grid.
   If I didn’t know about the field then I certainly would have been found out when the industry was planning QuickDraw GX and I was one of the professional typeface designers advising on the character sets, and if I didn’t know how to solve design problems, then the kerning on the highway signs’ type in this country would not comply with NZS. (The kerning is terrible, incidentally, but government standards are government standards. It was one of those times when I had to turn in work that I knew could be far, far better.)
   Every single retail release we have has been finished by me, with all the OpenType coding done by me. All the alternative characters, all the ligatures, all the oldstyle numerals and accented characters in languages I can’t begin to fathom. Latin, Cyrillic and Greek. I’ve tested every single font we’ve released, whether they are retail or private commissions.
   The only time a team member has not been credited in the usual way was with a private commission, for a client with whom I have signed an NDA, and that person is Jasper Luki, a very talented young designer with whom I had the privilege to work at the start of his career in the 2010s.
   The fact that people far, far more famous than me in the type field around the world, including in his country, come to me with contract work might suggest that, if I’m not notable, then I’m certainly dependable.
   And people wonder why I have such a low opinion of Wikipedia, where total strangers spout opinions while masquerading as experts. The silver lining is that writing the above was a thoroughly enjoyable trip down memory lane and a career that I’m generally proud of, save for a few hiccups along the way.


Filed under: design, New Zealand, technology, typography, Wellington—Jack Yan @ 05.06

09.08.2020

How Jaguar Land Rover can still win its Land Rover Defender IP case against Ineos

I haven’t read the full judgement of the Land Rover Defender case, where Jaguar Land Rover sought to protect the shape of the original Defender under trade mark law, to prevent Ineos from proceeding with the Grenadier.
   According to Bloomberg, as reported in Automotive News, ‘The judge upheld the findings by the IP Office that while differences in design may appear significant to some specialists, they “may be unimportant, or may not even register, with average consumers.”’
   On the face of it, this would appear to be a reason for upholding JLR’s claim—but the Indian-owned Midlands car maker seems to have muddled the cause of action it was supposed to have taken.
   I’ve already taken issue with its inability to protect the L538 Range Rover Evoque shape in China under that country’s laws, and while that judgement was eventually overturned in JLR’s favour, the company could have saved itself a great deal of stress had it filed its registration in time. It had been ignorant of Chinese law and wasted time and resources pursuing Ford Motor Company affiliate Landwind for its Range Rover Evoque clone, the X7. I sense Landwind could have afforded the ultimate fine.
   Here I think arguing copyright might have been a better method. The Land Rover Station Wagon shape hails from 1949, and with 75 years’ protection, the company is covered till 2024. You don’t need to show a registration, and the onus of proof, once objective similarity is found, is on the defendant. That test of objective similarity, unlike that in trade mark, is not based on what the average consumer thinks, but on what specialists think. And the scenes à faire doctrine has been adopted by precedent in the UK.
   Maybe that was the game plan all along: to fail here, and to proceed using copyright later. I’m sure the plaintiff knows this. Now, armed with the judgement’s findings—that the differences are insignificant— Jaguar Land Rover can pursue a copyright claim using these as evidence.
   To me, the Grenadier is sufficiently similar. Some point to the Puch G as another source of inspiration but I can’t see it. And since a court has ruled that they can’t see it, either, then Jim Ratcliffe and Ineos had better not break out the champagne just yet.


Filed under: business, cars, design, India, UK—Jack Yan @ 11.29

05.08.2020

Reaching the end of Facebook

With the new season of Alarm für Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei nearly upon us, I decided I’d pop into my Facebook group (I’m still an admin) to see what had been happening. I’ve been there a few times this week and I have discovered some of the site’s latest features.
   Groups: these now have three posts. That’s it. Three. It doesn’t matter how long they have been running, Facebook doesn’t want you to be bothered by history or anything so stupid. Therefore, after the third post (fourth if you’ve just posted something), you’ve reached the end. Saves heaps on the server bills, since I guess they’re not as rich as they would have us believe.
   (This bug has been around for years but now it’s the norm, so maybe they eventually figured out it was a cost-saving feature.)


On groups: welcome to the end of Facebook. This is the last post.

   Comments: don’t be silly, you shouldn’t be able to comment. This is a great way for Facebook to cut down on dialogue, because they can then just propagate nonsense before an election. We know where Zuck’s biases are, so they want to be a broadcaster and publisher. You can select the word ‘Reply’ in the reply box, you just can’t type in it. (Again, an old bug, but it looks like it’s a feature. I’m still able to like things, although on many previous occasions over the last decade or more that feature was blocked to me.)


Commenting: they let me have one reply, but replying to someone who has replied to you? Forget it, it’s impossible.


In the reply box, you can highlight ‘Reply’ but you can’t type in there. That would be too much to ask.

   Notifications: these never load, had haven’t done for a long time. Remember the ad preferences’ page? They don’t load, either, so Facebook has now extended the “circle” to notifications. If you don’t see notifications, you won’t need to continue a thread—not that you could, anyway, since they don’t let you comment.


If you knew what your notifications were, you might stay longer and post stuff that makes sense. No, Facebook is for people who want to spread falsehoods among themselves. You have no place here.

   Messages: why not roll out the same spinning circle here, too? They should never load, either, because, frankly, email is far more efficient and everyone should just give up on using Facebook’s messaging service.


Time to go back to email: if you were ever silly enough to rely on Facebook for messaging, then you’re out of luck.

   I once thought that I encountered bugs on Facebook because I was a heavy user, but as I haven’t even touched my wall since 2017, this cannot be the reason. I also used to say their databases were ‘shot to hell’, which could be the case. And I still firmly believe I encounter errors because I’m more observant than most people. Remember, as Zuck’s friend Donald Trump says, if you do more testing, you’ll find more cases.
   I’ve even found the “end” of Instagram, at the point where nothing will show any more.


The end of Instagram: when you can find the limit to the service.


No one’s posting much these days. In the early 2010s, there’d be no way I’d ever get to see the end of my friends’ updates.

   Solution: don’t use Facebook. And definitely don’t entrust them with your personal data, including your photos—even if you trust them, they’ll potentially get lost. From what I can tell, the site’s increasing inability to cope suggests that its own technology might fail them before the US government even gets a chance to regulate! And—the above topics aside—it may be time to regulate Facebook and pull in the reins.


Filed under: internet, politics, technology, USA—Jack Yan @ 12.02

31.07.2020

You can’t bank on the Wales (or, why I closed our Westpac account)

At some point as a young man, my Dad worked at a bank. He had a formal understanding of finance—despite his schooling being interrupted by the Sino–Japanese War and then by the communist revolution, he managed to get himself a qualification in economics, and had some time working for a bank.
   I was taught all about promissory notes, bills of exchange, cheques, honourable accounts, balance of payments and foreign exchange as a teenager. He impressed on me why certain things were sacrosanct in banking, the correct way to draw a cheque, and why the Cheques Act 1993 in this country was a blight on how bills of exchange were supposed to work. Essentially, I grew up with what might have been a 1950s or 1960s idea of what banking is, things that were still mostly observed by New Zealand banks into the 1980s and the 1990s.
   Today [Wednesday, July 29] I opened a new business account at TSB, with whom I had banked personally since 2007, as had Jack Yan & Associates. I will be closing the account at Westpac, because it’s clear to me that they don’t believe in the fair dinkum banking values that my father taught me. By the time you read this, the closure should be a fait accompli, as I don’t wish them to put up more obstacles than they have already.
   Westpac held my mortgage on the old house, of which I had paid off 88 per cent before I sold it. I began my banking relationship with them in 2006, for reasons I won’t go into here. My parents had banked ‘on the Wales’ when they were new immigrants in 1976, and stayed with them for some time.
   Very early on, I noticed how confusing their statements were. You can contrast theirs to everyone else’s in Aotearoa, and believe me, I know: I’ve banked with a lot of people. Trust Bank, Countrywide, POSB, National, ANZ—all the usual suspects that a Kiwi growing up in the 1970s through to the 1990s will have encountered. No, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank, but they seem to exist in their own bubble.
   I got caught out once or twice on not getting a mortgage payment sorted because of the confusing statements. And there was one time that Westpac decided to be relentless about it, by setting a bot on me. The bot would call at various hours hounding me to sort this out, with a pre-recorded message, and if you hung up, it would call again. And again. And again. Never mind that you haven’t had a chance to enquire with the bank as to what was going on. This amounted to a breach of the Telecommunications Act, and I put this to them before the activity ceased. And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   You are stuck with the buggers, and over the years I’d make the payments. As many of you know, some of our companies’ income comes from abroad, which I always regarded to be a good thing, since it helps with foreign exchange and this country’s balance of payments. Twice, I think, I needed a top-up because a client was slow to pay, and I would clear that within 30 days. As interest rates changed (the mortgage was floating), the bank would, from time to time, send a letter saying I could reduce my mortgage payments and still keep to the payment schedule, and in 2010 I took them up on it.
   As some of you know, in 2015 Dad was diagnosed formally with Alzheimer’s disease and eventually I became his full-time carer as his condition worsened, with predictable results on my work. But hey, Westpac has all these posters around their branches with Dementia New Zealand logos telling us how great they are, and how they can help. Since Dementia New Zealand won’t acknowledge or respond to my complaint about this (Dementia Wellington, on the other hand, had), let me publicly say that this is bollocks. My experience tells me that it appears to be a feel-good exercise that counts for nowt for a bunch of arrogant twats in Australia.
   My branch was great. They were decent, hard-working and friendly people, and many of them stayed for years—always a good sign. But outside of the branch is where you’ll find the rot.
   In 2019, my partner and I found a home we wanted to purchase. After Dad went into a home in July 2018 I had begun renovating the old place anyway. The new house was a step up, and by the time we factored in all the costs, we would need to borrow under 20 per cent of the total purchase price.
   Westpac wanted to see the balance sheets, as was their right to, and I’ll say now that they weren’t rosy. Of course not, not when you’ve been a caregiver. However, by this point I had got back in the saddle, and I could show them contracts that we had secured.
   Apparently this wasn’t good enough for that 20 per cent. The fact I had been a caregiver and had an account at a bank which had a Dementia New Zealand endorsement carried absolutely no weight.
   The mortgage officer said that according to the balance sheet, I couldn’t even afford the mortgage. Turns out he didn’t know how to read a balance sheet and the ‘Mortgage repayments’ line therein. And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   Apparently, the fact my income was coming from abroad was a concern. Yet it was never a concern for Westpac in 13 years when I was paying the mortgage with that foreign income. Earning foreign exchange for your country and helping with its balance of payments are, seemingly for Westpac, a bad thing. I suppose it would be to greedy Australian bankers, who love to see a weakened New Zealand subservient to other nations. If you adopt this viewpoint when examining how Australian-owned publications here behaved (I’m looking at The Dominion Post from that era), then it actually all fits neatly, given their editorial bias. And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   I know some of you in banking will be going, ‘But there are the anti-money-laundering requirements,’ which I get, but what about the idea of an honourable account? Other than what I outlined above, I was a good customer, and every other bank will tell you the same: I kept honourable accounts. But maybe honour isn’t a thing for Westpac.
   Never mind. We approached two mortgage experts who worked tirelessly for us, and whom I heartily endorse here. Lynne Russell, an old friend of mine, was the first I approached. And Stephanie Murray was referred to me by a good friend from school. Both ladies went to second-tier lenders, told us that the foreign income was the problem, and proceeded to get us the best deal possible. Stephanie won out because of the interest rate, and she noted that the lender, Avanti Finance, was quite happy because I had a good credit rating. But while most Kiwis were enjoying home loans at around the 4 per cent mark, ours was nearer 11 per cent (and this was the lower one). Stephanie, and later my own solicitor, noted that my problem was not unique, and they had clients who were also earning money from abroad who the banks shut out. This is a grand mistake in my book, because these are the very people we should be rewarding and encouraging. You’ve heard of export earners, right, banks? We usually talk about them in positive, glowing terms. Turn on the news. Get schooled.
   We still had renovations to do. At least Westpac would give me a top-up to get that sorted, surely. After all, we had already engaged a builder and he needed money for materials.
   Um, no. Westpac shut off that avenue completely. From memory they could give me a couple of grand, and that was it. This was despite my having a six-figure mortgage that I had whittled down to around a fifth, a relatively small five-figure sum. At all other times, it was fine, even when I enquired about purchasing a car. But not any more. And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   Harmoney came to the rescue there and we were approved within 24 hours. Interest rate: 14·55 per cent.
   I had set up the direct debits with Avanti using my honourable (or so I thought) Westpac account.
   Except Westpac had one more trick up its sleeve. They seemed intent on making sure we would never move, so, without notice, they doubled my mortgage payments. They kept going on about how I was falling behind. No one at the branch could explain why, not even one of their most senior staff. If I hadn’t caught one of the debits, I would have defaulted on an early payment to Harmoney. Fortunately, I spotted it in time, and pulled some money from a TSB account to plug the gap.
   And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   But all together, they were reasons.
   We sold the house, discharged that mortgage, and thanks to my very talented partner and her skills in money management and property investment, we managed to get our finances in order. I won’t elaborate on this since I regard this part as private, but let’s say Westpac should have had faith in us since we carried out what we proposed we do.
   It was only when the Westpac mortgage was discharged that the bank apologized for doubling my mortgage payments and gave a reason for doing so.
   Remember that letter in 2010 which said I could reduce my payments without affecting things? Turns out that affected things, and they wanted to grab what they could to make up for lost time. Not that they thought it was important to tell me any time between 2010 and 2019. They only played this at a customer’s most stressful point, and buying a house is one of the most stressful things you can do as an adult.
   So much for me being such a massive risk to Westpac. We told them our game plan to get to where we are today, and we carried it out to the letter. Two well educated, well qualified and intelligent people. Yet we were viewed with suspicion from the first moment we said we wanted a new home. So how do they treat people with less education or with a shorter history? If they are the Dementia New Zealand-friendly bank how do they treat those who haven’t had to deal with dementia? The branch was awesome and did right by us but as they’re not the ones approving things, then I can only expect that others are treated far, far worse.
   I felt they only apologized because they had thrown everything at us and realized we had a greater resolve.
   This experience teaches me that if you’ve kept up a decent history with Westpac, earned foreign exchange, and helped with your country’s balance of payments, then they will shit on you. Since sharing parts of this story on Twitter, I’ve heard of similar unreasonable treatment by Westpac toward hard-working New Zealanders. The moment they learn you need them, you’re on their radar, and they will block every avenue you normally would have—avenues that you exercised literally just months before, like the top-up. Because why have a customer who is freed of their grasp? That’s just not good for business. Better to keep them impoverished and not let them move to a nicer home. Better to let them know who’s really in charge. And, ladies and gentlemen, that explains a great deal about why foreign ownership can be troublesome in so many quarters—and why I’m happy to take this account to TSB. Thanks to Kerry Gribben and Panith Ear at TSB’s Wellington branch for sorting me out and making it totally painless. And Kerry was a total pro in not slagging off a competitor, especially given where he once worked (he didn’t tell me, but he knew a lot about Westpac’s processes!).

I had to choose a New Zealand bank on principle. The Cooperative Bank was on the radar, and they were really friendly, though I thought their charges were a little high and TSB looked better capitalized on the figures I could find. However, my respect goes to Brian Batchelor at the Wellington branch for being thoroughly professional. It would have been nice to have gone there, since Medinge Group banks with Coop in the UK, and a mate of mine who did some contract work for them says that our Cooperative (a different and unrelated entity) are genuine about their promises to customers.
   Kiwibank didn’t even reply to emails when we were trying to get a mortgage, and rejected all PDFs and ZIP files I sent their despite them saying their email systems could accept them. They just gave up all contact, so I figured they didn’t need the business. And I hear they don’t do foreign exchange anyway, which is just bizarre for a state-owned bank that should be encouraging foreign exchange in these economically tricky times. SBS had no nearby branches (technically, Blenheim isn’t that far but you can’t drive there without an amphibious car). Sometimes, you just go back to what you know.

Today (Friday), the day I am posting this. Westpac accounts shut (despite a massive queue at Lambton Quay). Really nice young chap behind the counter. Except I have 35 cheques on which I want the duty refunded. He didn’t know how to do that and wrote down the helpline number. I called that. Eighteen minutes later, the rep there didn’t know how to do that and referred it to my branch. I really need them to pay me back the NZ$1·75 on principle and then I will consider the matter closed.


Filed under: business, globalization, New Zealand, Wellington—Jack Yan @ 03.59

26.07.2020

Autocade reaches 20 million page views


Above: The 4,243th model entered into Autocade, now on 20,008,500 page views: the Maxus G50.

Autocade’s passed the 20,000,000 page-view mark, sitting on just over 20,008,000 at the time of writing, on 4,243 models entered (the Maxus G50 is the newest), an increase of 101 models over the last million views.
   As it’s the end of July, then it’s taken just under four months for the site to gain another million page views. It’s not as fast as the million it took to get to 18,000,000 or the previous million milestone.
   To be frank, the last few months have been a little on the dull side for updating Autocade. No Salon de Genève meant that while there were new models, they weren’t all appearing during the same week at one of the world’s biggest car shows. And it’s not all that interesting talking about another SUV or crossover: they’re all rather boxy, tall, and unnecessary. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that we have certain behaviours that aren’t really helping our planet, and surely selfish SUVs are a sign of those?
   I don’t begrudge those who really use theirs off-road, but as a statement of wank, I’m not so sure.
   So many of them seem like the same vehicle but cut to different lengths, like making cake slices and seeing what remains.
   During the lockdown, I put on a bunch of older models, too, which made the encyclopædia more complete, but I imagine those who come to the site wanting data on the latest stuff might have been slightly disappointed.
   It does mean that we didn’t see much of an increase in traffic during lockdown here, but the opposite.
   As is the tradition on this blog, here was how the growth looked.

March 2008: launch
April 2011: 1,000,000 (three years for first million)
March 2012: 2,000,000 (11 months for second million)
May 2013: 3,000,000 (14 months for third million)
January 2014: 4,000,000 (eight months for fourth million)
September 2014: 5,000,000 (eight months for fifth million)
May 2015: 6,000,000 (eight months for sixth million)
October 2015: 7,000,000 (five months for seventh million)
March 2016: 8,000,000 (five months for eighth million)
August 2016: 9,000,000 (five months for ninth million)
February 2017: 10,000,000 (six months for 10th million)
June 2017: 11,000,000 (four months for 11th million)
January 2018: 12,000,000 (seven months for 12th million)
May 2018: 13,000,000 (four months for 13th million)
September 2018: 14,000,000 (four months for 14th million)
February 2019: 15,000,000 (five months for 15th million)
June 2019: 16,000,000 (four months for 16th million)
October 2019: 17,000,000 (four months for 17th million)
December 2019: 18,000,000 (just under three months for 18th million, from first week of October to December 27)
April 2020: 19,000,000 (just over three months for 19th million, from December 27 to April 9)
July 2020: 20,000,000 (just over three-and-a-half months, from April 9 to July 26)

   Unlike the last entry on this subject, the Alexa ranking stats have been improving, despite the slow-down in traffic.


Filed under: cars, China, internet, media, publishing—Jack Yan @ 11.09

23.07.2020

When not having something drives creativity

I hadn’t expected this reply Tweet to get so many likes, probably a record for me.

   It is true. That book was NZ$4·99 in 1979, when it was offered through the Lucky Book Club at school, at a time when many books were still priced in cents. Some kids in the class got it, and I admit I was a bit envious, but not having a book in an area that interested you can drive creativity. While my parents didn’t make a heck of a lot in the 1970s—we flatted and didn’t own our own car at this point—they would have splashed out if I really insisted on it. After all, they were sending me to a private school and their sacrifice was virtually never going out. (I only recall one night in those days when my parents had a “date night” and my maternal grandmother looked after me—and that was to see Superman II.) But when you grow up having an understanding that, as an immigrant family that had to largely start from scratch in a new country, you have a rough idea of what’s expensive, and five bucks for a book was expensive.
   As an adult—even when I was a young man starting out in my career—I did not regret not having this book.
   Someone in the thread asked if I ever wound up buying it. I never did: as a teenager I managed to get my hands on a very worn Letraset catalogue, which ultimately proved far more interesting. But it is good to know that, thanks in large part to my parents’ and grandmother’s sacrifices, and those in my partner’s family who helped her in her earlier years, we could afford to buy this book if anyone in our family asks for it.

Were we fleeing anything when we came to Aotearoa? We left Hong Kong in 1976 because my parents were worried about what China would do to the place. In other words, what’s happening now is what they hoped for me to avoid. They called it, in the 1970s. And here I am.


Filed under: design, interests, New Zealand, typography, Wellington—Jack Yan @ 09.44

22.07.2020

Have we stopped innovating in online publishing?

For a while, we’ve been thinking about how best to facelift the Lucire website templates, to bring them into the 2020s. The current look is many years old (I’ve a feeling it was 2016 when we last looked at it), which in internet terms puts this once-cutting edge site into old-school territory.
   But what’s the next step? When I surf the web these days, so many websites seem to be run off one of several templates, and there aren’t many others out there. After you scroll down past the header, everything more or less looks the same: a big single-column layout with large type.
   I know we have to make things responsive, and we haven’t done this properly, by any means. The CSS will have to be reprogrammed to suit 2020s requirements. But I am reminded of when we adopted many of the practices online publishers do today, except we did them nearly two decades ago.
   Those of you who have been with us a long time, and those who might want to venture into the Wayback Machine, might know that we provided “apps” for hand-held devices even then. We offered those using Palm Pilots and the like a small, downloadable version of the Lucire news pages. We had barely any takers.
   Then Bitstream (if I recall correctly) came out with tech that could reduce pages to a lower resolution and narrower pixel width so those browsing on smaller devices could do so, and those of us publishing for larger monitors no longer needed to do a special version.
   So that was the scene 20 years ago. Did apps, no one cared; and eventually tech came out that rendered it all unnecessary. It’s why I resisted making apps today, because I keep expecting history to repeat itself. I can’t be the only one with a memory of the first half of the 2000s. As a non-technical person, I expect there’d be something like that Bitstream technology today. Maybe there is. I guess some browsers have a reader mode, and that’s a great idea. And if we want to offer that to our readers, it can’t be too hard to find a service that we can point modern smartphone users to, and they can browse all sites to their hearts’ content.
   Except I know, as with so many tech things, that it isn’t that easy, that in fact it’s all so much harder. Server management hasn’t become easier in 2020 compared with 2005, all as the computing industry loses touch with everyday people like me who once really believed in the democratization of technology and bridging the digital divide.
   Back to the templates. I wrote on NewTumbl yesterday, ‘Remember when we could surf the web pretty easily and find amazing new sites, and creative web designs, as people figured out how best to exploit this medium? These days a lot of websites all look the same and there’s far less innovation. Have we settled into what this medium’s about and there’s no need for the same creativity? I’m no programmer, so I can’t answer that, but it wasn’t that long ago we could marvel at a lot of fresh web designs, rather than see yet another site driven by the same CMS with the same single-column responsive template. Or people just treat a Facebook page or an Instagram feed as their “website”, and to heck with making sure it’s hosted on something they have control over.’
   And that’s the thing: I haven’t visited any sites that really jumped out at me, that inspires me to go, ‘What a great layout idea. I must see if I can do something similar here.’ My very limited programming and CSS design skills aren’t being challenged. This is a medium that was supposed to be so creative, and when I surf, after finding a page via a search engine, those fun moments of accidental discovery don’t come any more. The web seems like a giant utilitarian information system, which I suppose is how its inventor conceived it, but I feel it could be so much more. Maybe the whole world could even get on board a fair, unbiased search engine, and a news spidering service that was current and didn’t prioritize corporate media, recognizing that stories can be broken by independents. Because such a thing doesn’t really exist in 2020, even though we had it in the early 2000s. It was called Google, and it actually worked fairly. No search engine with that brand name strikes me as fair today.
   I am, therefore, unsure if we can claim to have advanced this medium.


Filed under: design, internet, New Zealand, publishing, technology, Wellington—Jack Yan @ 12.18

08.07.2020

Back on RNZ’s The Panel: on Hong Kong’s new national security legislation


Public domain/Pxhere

What a pleasure it was to be back on The Panel on Radio New Zealand National today, my first appearance in a decade. That last time was about the Wellywood sign and how I had involved the Hollywood Sign Trust. I’ve done a couple of interviews since then on RNZ (thank you to my interviewers Lynda Chanwai-Earle and Finlay Macdonald, and producer Mark Cubey), but it has been 10 years and a few months since I was a phone-in guest on The Panel, which I listen to very frequently.
   This time, it was about Hong Kong, and the new national security legislation that was passed last week. You can listen here, or click below for the embedded audio. While we begin with the latest development of social media and other companies refusing to hand over personal data to the Hong Kong government (or, rather, they are ‘pausing’ till they get a better look at the legislation), we move pretty quickly to the other aspects of the law (the juicy stuff and its extraterritorial aims) and what it means for Hong Kong. Massive thanks to Wallace Chapman who thought of me for the segment.


Filed under: business, China, culture, Hong Kong, media, New Zealand—Jack Yan @ 10.28

25.06.2020

Switching to a Chinese OS solves another Instagram bug

Whaddya know? Uploading an Instagram video with an Android 7-based phone is fine if it’s on a Chinese OS and not a western one.
   This was a bug I wrote about nearly two years ago, and I wasn’t alone. Others had difficulties with their Android 7 phones with getting Instagram videos to play smoothly: the frame rate was incredibly poor. The general solution posted then was to upgrade to Android 8.
   I never did that. Instead I would Bluetooth the files over to my old Meizu M2 Note (running Android 5), and upload to Instagram through that. It wasn’t efficient, and soon afterwards I stopped. By 2020 I gave up Instagramming regularly altogether.
   With my switch over to a Meizu Chinese OS (Flyme 8.0.0.0A, which on the M6 Note is still Android 7-based) earlier this week, I uploaded one video and it appears to be perfectly fine.

   So all those who wrote on to Reddit and elsewhere with their Android 7 problems, this could be a solution—though I know it won’t appeal to those who aren’t familiar with the Chinese language and would rather not get lost on their own phones. Those who managed to upgrade their OSs have likely already done so.


Filed under: China, internet, New Zealand, technology, USA—Jack Yan @ 09.19

23.06.2020

After 18 months, some progress on the Meizu M6 Note

That was an interesting day in cellphone land. I collected the Meizu M6 Note from PB last Friday and switched it on for the first time in the small hours of Tuesday.
   I originally wasn’t pleased. I had paid NZ$80 for a warranty repair (there is provision under the Consumer Guarantees Act 1993 in some circumstances) and was told at the service counter that all that was performed was a factory reset, followed by a week’s testing. In other words, what I had originally done, twice, before bringing the phone in. I replied that that was not going to work, and was told by the PB rep that maybe I shouldn’t have so many apps open. Conclusion: a newer phone is far less capable than an older one.
   But he wasn’t the technician, and as I discovered, Joe had done more than a mere factory reset. When I switched the phone on, it was back to square one, like the day I bought it, complete with Google spyware. I wasn’t thrilled about this, but it suggested to me that the ROM had been flashed back to the beginning.
   Meizu’s factory resets don’t take you right back to factory settings, not if you had rooted the phone and removed all the Google junk.
   To his credit, this was a logical thing to do. However, within 10 minutes it developed a fault again. The settings’ menu would not stay open, and crap out immediately, a bit like what the camera, browser, and gallery had done at different times. All I had done up to this point was allow some of the apps to update, and God knows what Google was doing in the background as messages for Play and other programs flashed up in the header. The OS wanted to update as well, so I let it, hoping it would get past the bug. It didn’t.
   So far, everything was playing out exactly as I had predicted, and I thought I would have to head to PB and point out that I was taking them up on the three months they guarantee their service. And the phone was warranted till December 2020 anyway. Give me my money back, and you can deal with Meizu for selling a lemon.
   However, I decided I would at least try for the umpteenth time to download the Chinese OS, and install it. Why not? Joe had given me a perfect opportunity to give this another shot, and the phone appeared unrooted. The download was painfully slow (I did the same operation on my older Meizu M2 Note out of curiosity, and it downloaded its OS update at three to four times the speed—can we blame Google for slowing the newer phone down?) but eventually it got there. The first attempt failed, as it had done countless times before. This was something that had never worked in the multiple times I had tried it over the last 18 months, and I had drawn the conclusion that Meizu had somehow locked this foreign-market phone from accepting Chinese OSs.
   I tried again.
   And it worked. A fluke? A one-off? Who knows? I always thought that in theory, it could be done, but the practice was entirely different.
   It took a while, but I was astonished as the phone went through its motions and installed Flyme 8.0.0.0A, killing all the Google spyware, and giving me the modern equivalent of the Meizu M2 Note from 2016 that I had sourced on Ebay from a Chinese vendor.
   I may be speaking too soon, but the settings’ bug disappeared, the apps run more smoothly, and as far as I can tell, there is no record of the phone having been rooted. I had a bunch of the APKs from the last reset on the SD card, so on they went.
   Meizu synced all contacts and SMSs once I had logged in, but there was one really annoying thing here: nothing from the period I was running the western version of the phone appeared. The messages prior to December 2018 synced, plus those from the M2 Note during June while the M6 was being serviced.
   It appears that the western versions of these apps are half-baked, and offer nothing like the Chinese versions.
   With any luck, the bugs will not resurface—if they don’t, then it means that the read–write issues are also unique to the western version of the M6 Note.
   I’ve spent parts of today familiarizing myself with the new software. There are some improvements in presentation and functionality, while a few things appear to have retrograded; but overall, this is what I expect with a phone that’s two years newer. There should be some kind of advance (even little things like animated wallpapers), and with the western version, other than processor speed and battery life, there had not been. It was 2016 tech. Even the OS that the phone came back with was mid-decade. This is what the western editions are: out of date.
   The only oddity with the new Chinese Flyme was the inability to find the Chinese version of Weibo through Meizu’s own Chinese app store—only the foreign ones showed up on my search, even though the descriptions were all in simplified Chinese.
   These mightn’t have been the developments that Joe at PB expected but if things remain trouble-free, that NZ$80 was well worth spending to get a phone which, for the first time in its life, feels new. The other lesson here is to avoid western-market phones if you don’t find the Chinese language odd. I had already made enquiries to two Aliexpress sellers to make sure that they could sell me a non-western phone, ready to upgrade. Hopefully that won’t need to happen.
   Next week: let’s see if I can shoot some video and have that save without killing the gallery, the bug that kicked all of this off.


Filed under: business, China, design, New Zealand, technology, Wellington—Jack Yan @ 10.41

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