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28.6.08

Thank-yous to Cat and Karin 

My friend and colleague Cat Morley blogged that Maomao Publications will be publishing a book called Blogs: Mad about Design. Designers Who Blog, Cat’s blog, has made it into the book, to be published in Spanish and English, and it looks like she has very generously chosen yours truly as one of the featured banners. Thanks, Cat!
   Meanwhile, I was interviewed by Dr Karin Sawetz of the very comprehensive Fashionoffice.org, with a single question, one that she sprang also on Felizitas Auersperg of Piratin and Paola Suhonen of IvanaHelsinki: ‘What movie has to be seen for its great costumes?’
   There are many, such as Hotel with Rod Taylor, but the one that I always marvel at is Stanley Donen’s Arabesque, starring Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren. Surf over to Karin’s site for my answer.
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27.6.08

It’s official: you can’t get Botoxed any more 

[Cross-posted] Just as —the company that parodies its own logo—sent out notices to the in 2006 on how to use its name, and suffered a small backlash from some quarters, is trying to protect its by doing something similar.
   We received a letter from Allergan’s associate for the Asia–Pacific, Nicole Wilson, today, informing us that Botox is a trade mark of her employer and that it should not be used generically to describe other botulinum toxins. This makes some sense because I am not even sure if people know Botox should refer to only the Allergan product.
   The DLE brochure included with her letter details how Aspirin, Thermos and yo-yo became generic terms and includes a how-to guide for using the Botox trade mark.
   Generally, at Lucire we will signal a proper trade mark with capitalization. Hence, we write Formica and, as you see above, Aspirin and Thermos, though yo-yo has crossed the line into everyday for us. Search around the site or in our print magazines and I am sure you will see Latex.
   We will write Google as well, and to my knowledge, we have always written Botox with a capital.
   We are asked in the letter to put the symbol next to Botox, which I cannot see happening because of our own house style. Basically: if we don’t do it for ourselves, why should we do it for anyone else? It’s simply not part of regular text composition. It would only, therefore, appear in advertorial if it were something we were setting.
   And if we applied the suggested standard in a , we would have to see the symbol at least a dozen times per page when it comes to those pages showcasing products.
   Meanwhile, the brochure gives some interesting examples that I wonder if it will be easy to enforce them in a busy sub-editing or editing situation:
Incorrect usages
She is receiving Botox.
Botox the patient.
(The use of Botox as a verb.)
Botox’s proprietary information … (The use of Botox in the possessive.)

   We patrol the usage of our logo and name, too, telling people about the case it’s meant to be set in, so I can see where Allergan is coming from, but these are going to be tricky.
   The key to is finding that affinity with readers and writing in an accessible tone.
   In the first example, we are meant to say, according to Allergan, ‘She is receiving Botox injections’ or ‘Botox therapy.’ Now we’re aware, we’ll keep an eye out but this is one that I think will slip through every now and then because of common usage.
   The second one will hardly occur in written text, but I have to admit to Googling things—Google says I should say, ‘search with Google’. I think any change to the Googling example has come a bit too late—but we would never talk about Googling in reference to searching in Yahoo! or Windows Live. But I can go along with this: Botox is not a verb, and it was never conceived to be a verb. Allergan has caught this in time, I believe.
   The third one is rather unreasonable, however. To say a word cannot be formed into a possessive goes a little too far. For the second example, since the trade mark was never conceived as a verb, Allergan is right to clamp down. At a stretch, the first one is tolerable and even understandable. But to limit the usage of everyday English rules—that this one noun is so special that it cannot be turned into a possessive? (It also asks that it not be turned into a plural, i.e. no Botoxes.)
   We do not, for example, play the game where, if a company insists that its trade mark be all uppercase, that we follow. There is a house style here, and we would open the floodgates if everyone insisted on their own. Even advertisers don’t get greater accommodation: last year, we wrote Audi Allroad Quattro (Audi thinks the model’s name is all lowercase).
   However, what we can definitely promise Allergan is that we would never refer to a rival product or anything in the botulinum toxin category that it does not make as Botox—which is the same standard we apply to Lycra, Lurex and similar names that have either fallen, or are in danger of falling, into generic usage. But the third request is plain weird—and, as far as I know, this is the only time someone has said that their trade mark cannot be turned into a possessive.
   We’ll help Allergan, but within reason.
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21.6.08

What recession? 

I was chatting to a company head serving a high-income, premium niche. And he’s felt no . He’s wondering if he should.
   For his company, sales are up and he’s even been able to focus on the higher-priced items at the expense of the lower ones.
   The general wisdom is: the rich niches do weather things well, but the premium sector feels recessions first and the effect . There are exceptions, of course.
   My own experience when at the bottom of the scale in the 1980s was similar: I didn’t really feel the pinch of the post-1987 closings till 1991 or thereabouts.
   As my company moved up the pecking order, we did indeed sense sooner rather than later.
   But the company I began writing about—there aren’t that many in the sector and I have no desire to reveal any confidential information—is not exactly selling a necessity. If there was an economic downturn, it would have sensed it first, not just because it serves a premium niche.
   Another company in fashion design says its experience shows that a predicted global recession is less relevant to as it knows of high net worth individuals leaving their US and European bases for our shores and bringing their wealth with them.
   These could be exceptions rather than the rule as perception is reality when it comes to , and New Zealand is too closely tied to the global , thanks to the path set by the Labour Government of 1984–90.
   But the perception might well be based less on fact than fearmongering.
   April and May 2008 showed increases in here, which one of my clients says is due to New Zealanders ‘just getting on with it.’ They, he believes, remember the earlier recessions and one cannot just cease marketing or operating. The trick is to be more careful about it.
   However, talk of a recession could be a way for technocratic business interests to oust a government that has grown a little too institutionalized to be effective.
   They are quite happy to return to power a conservative opposition, not because policies will change drastically (after all, National voted for a lot of the same, unpopular things that Labour proposed), but because it has fewer ready connections in the establishment having been out in the wilderness for nine years.
   That means the technocrats believe they will be more the focus of National’s efforts in its first term than the interests that Labour had picked up in its nine years.
   It’s also why the () fail to expose just how closely National has voted with Labour on many bills in Parliament, particularly during John Key’s stint as Leader of the Opposition.
   I would be stupid to ignore the basic fact that high fuel prices are making people’s lives difficult and this is having an effect on many things in commerce. However, ‘getting on with it’ might not be a bad mantra to have, because it will be up to citizens, not governments, to keep the moving.
   A National victory is not a panacea, especially as it will fail to make any real dent in the price of crude and the declining value of the US dollar. The fact that it may be elected in at the same time there is a change in the US White House might make it appear effective, but it will only be a conjurer’s short-term trick.
   Ladies and Gentlemen, it is up to us.
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15.6.08

When institutionalization is troublesome 

One theme that has been emerging—or I am reading way too much into it—is . In the casual posts I put on to my personal blog over at Vox, the theme has come up a couple of times: once in a post about oil consumption dropping (really), and once in the Yale Class of 2008 speech from the Rt Hon Tony Blair.
   Uncharacteristically, the oil post was a little more serious and I had been thinking about reposting it here for a few days.
   Some of us look at large such as the UN and see not an effective group of people, but an impotent gathering bogged down in . Political parties themselves, once they are too big, seem to exhibit the same behaviour—watch as the New Zealand Greens are beginning to duke it out internally now. The that is apparent in the also gives rise to reporting sloppiness as journalists target sensationalism ahead of truth.
   Masters’ and doctorate candidates might be interested in studying how to keep an organization dynamic and entrepreneurial in the face of growth—and how might adapt themselves to such a world.
   The oil consumption post has a very interesting graph:



I wrote:

So if oil consumption is going down, and the law of supply and demand holds, why are prices at an all-time high? The Historian gives some decent horse sense on this—and it should remind us that the oil companies have a vested interest (and the MSM are too dumb) to keep the panic going.
   According to this graph, which I haven’t looked further into: global demand on oil is decreasing. The US dollar is weak, so prices are high relative to that dollar—but high oil prices should have less of an effect on other countries who are converting their own currencies to US dollars to purchase crude. Let’s also not forget that OPEC is a cartel that sets its own prices, and the oil companies are setting their own prices, too, raking in multi-billion-dollar profits per annum.
   He also points out there is speculation—which means the bubble will burst at some stage.


   It was really a comment that inspired this post: ‘The reason can also be from the institutional investors taking over the commodity futures market over the last 2–3 years.’
   We have institutions to blame for this, just as we might point to other institutions that are keeping the human race from progressing in other spheres. They are geared to profit, not —and that money can only be squeezed, at least in the western world, from private citizens.
   It’s why there is some wisdom out there that points to small groups being more effective given so many inhumane organizations, and we return then to the theme that the internet is a great equalizer and leveller in allowing those groups to emerge.
   I would like to partly counter that by saying that large institutions can be run effectively if the core, the and the are properly directed, either to service the public or some great cause.
    and a lack of education are the enemies of these institutions, just as they are the enemies of a successful nation.
   ’s empire is an effective example of a good , because of its underdog position. This approach sees its staff adopt a ‘We try harder’ approach that one might associate with Avis. And it should be noted that it once worked for Avis, too.
   Success breeds growth, which may explain why in some organizations, the rot sets in after a while. Virgin has been fortunate in some respects. But it has also been very skilful at choosing people with the right mindset. Others have been less fortunate, and we see the decay come in—and allegations of corruption made, such as against the UN.
   In the 1970s and 1980s, it was the received wisdom (of the postwar ) that governmental organizations were decaying and a new approach was needed. A generation on, with the rich–poor gap rather more sizeable than it was in 1980, it is apparent that that wisdom was either wrong or the rot has set in to the privatized organizations.
   The New Zealand Government’s decision to renationalize the railway is, in such a context, not a bad idea in terms of inspiring new organizational behaviours. The danger is that the same party had been telling its citizens that the technocratic, monetarist is superior to the since 1984. It almost seems to have picked up the railway because it was proved to be an unwanted asset of the technocrats, cast aside for the taxpayer to pick up the tab.
   What the railway needs for success is a rebrand in a huge way: needs to inspire its population with the idea of excellence in public service, as one might find in Singapore or at Absolut Vodka. It will be quite hard to overturn the 24 years of indoctrination. But it is not impossible to reinstil those behaviours, ones that actually existed in New Zealand in the middle of the 20th century. (On a related note, the appeal of such a drastic change is also why Sen. Obama’s campaign has been successful, because people instinctively realize there is something rotten with the institutions of the status quo.)
   It’s also institutionalization that is preventing the truth about oil prices to get out to the public. Last month I discussed alternative fuels and the Muldoon administration—and while my friend Jim Donovan put up very valid arguments against them, the fact remains that the media neglected to talk about the topic. Similarly, the domestic media has missed the above and some very simple facts.
   Just last week I was listening to the radio—one of the foreign-owned stations that seem to populate the FM airwaves (probably Coast)—and the DJ gave one of the less intelligent commentaries about oil prices I had heard.
   Petrol prices in New Zealand rise and fall based on American news—something that is not that relevant when it comes to how much we pay for oil. When there is a rise in the US dollar oil price, but the New Zealand dollar has strengthened over the same period, then that rise should not be felt at the pump as greatly.
   Let’s assume oil prices are at US$120 a barrel and there is no inflation between 2000 and 2008. (Of course, it was less than $120 in 2000 and more than $120 now.)
   In 2000, with the New Zealand dollar at an all-time low against the greenback, we would have had to fork out NZ$300 to get that barrel.
   In 2008, with the New Zealand dollar having gone back to around 1982 levels against the greenback, the equivalent is NZ$154.
   So for a New Zealand company buying oil, it actually costs less.
   However, I am ashamed to note that once you factor in the real prices, we are looking at these figures:

2000 price of crude, US$27·39 (real, not adjusted), equalling NZ$68·48
2008 price of crude, US$134, equalling NZ$171·79

Pump prices—and I know I am ignoring refining costs and a whole bunch of other stuff—are:

2000: NZ$0·97 per litre
2008: NZ$2·14 per litre

This actually means the rate of increase New Zealanders are experiencing is not as bad as the oil prices offshore based on New Zealand dollars, even if our prices are rising more quickly than Europe’s.
   Whatever the case, I think it’s worth informing the public—especially on whom we might be able to blame these price rises. And that demand and supply have nothing to do with these high prices, because demand is actually dropping—so we can stop blaming the Americans for their big SUVs and the Red Chinese for buying new cars.
   The targets are most likely the speculators, institutional investors, price fixers, the corporations and the cartels.
   And it seems to lend some weight to isolating a small country from these threats, where it makes sense—and in other areas, developing a better model in isolation to show the world how things might be done.
   Finally, may I quote Mr Blair: ‘The world in which you, in time to come, will take the reins, cannot afford a return to twentieth-century struggles for .’
   And hegemony is the worst form of institutionalization. It emerges because we, as humans, haven’t discovered how to get on, preferring to be superior to someone than allowing both parties to be equally happy. Earlier in the same speech, Mr Blair said:

A few days before that, I was in Jericho. If you look up from the town centre, to the left is the Mount of Temptation, where Jesus stayed 40 days and nights. To the right, you can see Mount Nebo where Moses looked down on the Promised Land. And right in front of you is the Valley of Jordan.
   My guide, a Muslim, turned to me, and said, ‘Moses, Jesus, Muhammad—why in God’s name did they all have to come here?’
   But in God’s name, they came, and for centuries, their followers have waged war in the name of prophets whose life work was in pursuit of peace.


   The core message—the vision—was corrupted by followers, in that quest for power, borne from ill education and small minds.
   Hence so many organizations fail after their founders pass away—the great mind is gone, along with the direction, and the scavengers swarm.
   And why, as individuals, we ultimately hold the power to group with like-minded citizens, forming small groups to do the things that need to be done for in this world.
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10.6.08

Another ‘What the …?’ from Microsoft Word 

Many people know I believe to have been concocted by skinheads, the writers of the Michael Fish hurricane gag and William Shatner’s toupée.
   I am one of the last remaining people using because on WordPerfect, I can set the and point size (i.e. ) and margins, and type away. Miracle of miracles: the text stays in that font and with those margins until I tell it otherwise! I know, it’s radical.
   Every time I use Word the margins can change, the font can change, even the entire formatting (I will be doing a bulleted list, for example, and it decides for me that I no longer am doing one) will change.
   Sometimes I want to enter my own paragraph indents but Word adds them for me, which I can see would be helpful to some—but not when that text gets imported into InDesign or some other program. It totally warps the layout. And if it adds indents, why doesn’t it add one to the paragraph before? No: it leaves that one with the manually inserted indent so you can’t do a global search-and-replace.
   Of course, since people send me Word files I have no choice but to do the odd piece of work on the Microsoft program.
    trainers look at me like I am a completely helpless incompetent and swear black and blue this never happens to them, but I think this is part of the skinhead–Fish–Shatner conspiracy.
   I can show any of these experts that this crap happens to me every time I use the program. Set typeface. Set point size. Set margins. Type. Word decides after one or two paragraphs that it does not approve of my style and that Times New Roman 12 pt with one-inch margins is superior.
   There is no freaking way on God’s great earth that Microsoft Word is the most efficient way to (we used to say compose or type).
   And answer me this, Word-trainers, what heck is going on here?



   Here I am, responding to some interview questions. Each time I type magazine (I did it a few times to be sure), the I is capitalized! (They’re the two redlined words. No s***, I know it’s wrong. But I typed it correctly.)
   And no, I did not feed in an automatic replace setting. There is nothing in there (that I can see) that would suggest that the word magazine should be replaced by magazIne. Yes, Word buffs, I have gone in to the Autocorrect menus.
   I am going to import this text into WordPerfect, answering it, then exporting it back into Word format.
   I guess no one has ever had to type the word magazine in Word in the history of word processing for this not to be picked up.
   For all those pedants (like me) complaining about young people and all their weird capitalization, trying to make things look “trendy”, don’t blame them. It’s the software doing it.
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4.6.08

A big Vista bon voyage 

Bon voyage to Natalie, heading on vacation to Melbourne in the morning. Safe travels—and don’t lose your luggage! (Not that she is likely to, but I keep an eye on this astrology malarkey.)
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Dissecting an Obama victory 

It’s been interesting watching the dissect the Clinton campaign with a whole range of experts saying why she will not be the nominee for the presidency. I would venture to say these are the same experts predicting a win a year ago.
   It’s that which I have found remarkable today as Sen. becomes the presumptive nominee for the Democratic Party, rather than the very strong likelihood that Sen. Obama has won.
   For months, the have been promoting Sen. Obama heavily. One reason is that he is newsworthy to the left. More often than not, his race is used as the reason behind that promotion. In essence, most New Zealanders, and I would say most non-Americans who watched the news from the , were left in little doubt that he would take the Democratic Party contest.
    sells in American , and probably politics in many western countries. got people used to thinking about a president in 2000 by forming his cabinet while lawyers battled Florida. When he did win, only diehard Democrats tried to tell the American people they had been hoodwinked. Everyone else awaited the January 20, 2001 swearing-in. Go back a few years and Tony Blair, too, gave an inevitable image of a Labour victory in 1997.
   This time, Sen. Obama has done the same, and it has been a well thought-out campaign: his book, writing from a humanist perspective and admitting any faults that his rivals were likely to dig up; a consistent scheme (the use of the Gotham typeface, for example); and vagueness (to give his opponents less of a target).
   On some of these aspects, Sen. Obama has fielded a very different campaign. Only vagueness seems to be the common thread with other winners. A pre-campaign book was clever as well as admitting to things no other potential presidential nominee would, such as his having tried cocaine.
   In fact, when he began getting specific after a challenge by Sen. Clinton, he actually lost traction.
   I do not pretend to like all of Sen. Obama’s policies if I were to look at his voting record in the Senate, any more than I find myself in accord with Sens. Clinton and .
   As a minority, I am glad that a barrier has been broken in American politics. Even though Sen. Obama is , he has been branded an through his father’s homeland, showing just how people are habitual pigeonholers. If by the quirk of genetics he had his mother’s skin colour, would his race have become such an issue?
   That one matter shows how far his campaign has come, in a country that would not have fathomed a “black” president other than in fiction, in the form of Morgan Freeman or Dennis Haysbert.
   We can accept God being played by Morgan Freeman, but a black president?
   While having huge African–American support, I totally understand the campaign Sen. Obama ran in terms of race: he plain didn’t mention it.
   I wouldn’t.
   Any member of any in the world, whether that minority is black, yellow, brown or white, who has been brought up on the idea of hard work and dignity, would not make race an issue—with perhaps the exception of others making race an issue for him or her.
   I think that earned Sen. Obama brownie points among many of the United States’ immigrants and people descended relatively recently from immigrants.
   It finally proves so many of those lessons from our parents right: that if you work hard, you can become a leader.
   Once upon a time, parents said that but knew that it would take a miracle for a minority to get there, whether we are talking about the US or New Zealand.
   Barack Obama is proof not only of his own abilities, but he represents the hope that the presidency is no longer governed by skin colour, but by sheer hard work. That speaks to a large part of the electorate, including .
   In some ways this has allowed his policies to be overlooked, which is actually unhealthy for democracy. Americans need to be voting on who can bring them true honour and meaning. But just as Sen. Obama began attacking Sen. ’s policies as he presumed himself the nominee, it will be up to Sen. McCain to reveal his opponent’s policy shortcomings.
   However, it was not always in the bag.
   Those same MSM experts seem to forget that Sen. Clinton, using a campaign that broke the rules on branding (a confused message and confused visual communications) got so close to Sen. Obama that it actually was a miracle she survived and gained as many votes as she did. Writing in a country that has had two successive female prime ministers and, at one point, women in the Governor-General’s and Chief Justice’s role as well, the gender difference means far less to me. What I saw was a clumsy campaign that had more traction than logic would allow me to admit.
   Sen. Clinton’s progress was nothing short of amazing considering she did not play from the rulebook, and we brand consultants will have to at least acknowledge her case and say: anomalies exist in .
   The question is now whether there is a , but Obama aides are dead set against it. Equally, Clinton aides would not want their senator cosying up with Sen. Obama.
   If the Clinton image of “will say and do anything for the top job” is accurate, and as Sen. Clinton herself mentioned the possibility of assassination, I would not consider the senator from New York to be a vice-presidential nominee if I were Barack Obama. I might get “Arkancided” in the hope of her succession.
   But right now, Sen. Obama has a Democratic Party to reunite and invigorate, something that Sen. McCain may have difficulty doing for an uninspired GOP. Sen. Obama has visibility on his side, reaching internal as well as external audiences.
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2.6.08

Why Yves Saint Laurent’s passing is so felt in fashion 

[Cross-posted] ’s passing is such a shock to the because he was the world’s greatest .
   When we broke the news on Sunday night at Lucire, it was obvious that we were marking the end of an era.
   The casual observer might say that the end occurred in 2002, when Saint Laurent retired to his house in Marrakech. But while he remained alive, there was always that link to one of fashion’s pure geniuses.
   Saint Laurent, perhaps like Mozart, did not have formal training when he created clothes for his sister and mother. He was talented enough to be accepted into the Chambre Syndicale. When he created the trapèze look at in 1958, he was not following some great - projection. Nor were advisers present with studies about liberating women when he gave the world le smoking or the safari look.
   It was only with hindsight that we, the media, made the connections for him, hiding the real inspirations that he had in his quest to become France’s greatest couturier.
   The great irony is that as his influence grew, so did the , which meant his name became so tied up with marketing, business, financial projections and trend forecasts.
   While that brought Saint Laurent wealth, it was always clear that he was happiest simply being a créateur. It was a sign that it was better to preside over a genuine maison de l’amour than seeing if money bought happiness.
   His passing perhaps marks the demise of a pure couturier who drew from something within, finding the essence not only of his muses, such as , but of himself.
   Today’s couturiers, while incredibly talented, are also more calculated and savvy. Saint Laurent could leave the calculations and savvy to his lover and company president, .
   I am not saying one method is better than the other. But I do miss that era where we praised Saint Laurent because he was simply so good at what he did, setting the for the simple reason that he did not watch the Zeitgeist.
   Today’s designers, such as Gaultier and Ford, and even to an extent Saint Laurent’s contemporary, Lagerfeld, have a more balanced outlook, which obviously have kept them away from the down sides of Saint Laurent’s behaviour: his severe depression and his reclusiveness, especially during the 1980s.
   It is also Yves Saint Laurent the recluse, the victim of school bullying, the man who saw himself as a latter-day Swann, that also makes today’s story all the more compelling. But again, it hides that single-minded desire, one which few of us would dare to do because we know of its personal cost.
   When President Sarkozy made him an Officier of the Legion d’Honneur, the title of ‘hero’ wasn’t inappropriate for Saint Laurent.
   He is a hero for that reason, and he has set the bar so high that it will take an extraordinary person to beat his record.
   The Proust connection—Saint Laurent as Swann, by his own reckoning—does point to how he saw himself, cast out by society. It is invalid, because we are all the poorer now.
   We have lost one of the purest ; one fewer great figure on whom we can not only report, but bask in his genius.
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1.6.08

Nein, nein: nine 

Hop on over to Edwin’s blog at Vox and see if you agree that he’s been conned by Royal Mail.
   He purchased an album for his stamps, and the website says it ‘holds 30 Miniature Sheets.’
   When he received it, there were nine miniature sheet holders inside.
   Upon complaining, he was told, ‘The Album can hold 30 mini sheets but does not come with this number of sheets in the album.
   ‘Additional pages can be purchased PA699 costing £3.45 for a packet of 10 plus a handling charge of £1.45 to a UK address.’
   If it says a product holds 30 miniature sheets, then it should be able to hold 30 miniature sheets—and come with 30 miniature sheet holders.
   There is no sign anywhere saying that the holders are an optional extra. And how did Royal Mail come up with the grand total of nine? It’s not mentioned anywhere.
   Royal Mail later sent Ed another 10 holders. He needs 11 more to get what was originally promised him.
   At best, this is confusing, but it does look like Royal Mail is being intentionally .
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Note

Entries from 2006 to the end of 2009 were done on the Blogger service. As of January 1, 2010, this blog has shifted to a Wordpress installation, with the latest posts here.
   With Blogger ceasing to support FTP publishing on May 1, I have decided to turn these older pages in to an archive, so you will no longer be able to enter comments. However, you can comment on entries posted after January 1, 2010.


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