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30.3.09

As Wagoner falls, what is GM’s next step? Brand rationality should be job no. 1 

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/29117764@N08/ has become the casualty of the American ’s finger-pointing with his resignation today, his hand forced by the Obama administration.
   The press has centred on this rather than explore the union’s role in the industry’s difficulties. For those of us old enough to remember it, it all smacks a bit of the days of ’s effective in the 1970s.
   If we look at , perhaps part of Wagoner’s behaviour deserved to be lampooned: catching a private jet to Washington to ask for a bailout wasn’t a good look. And it’s true that did push trucks, but then, so did every one of the American . Even Toyota joined the Big Three in a lawsuit when California tried to impose fuel economy standards. Everyone’s been complicit in selling large trucks, even the American media’s Japanese-brand heroes.
   It is unfair to gloss over some of the good that Wagoner did, when they should be mentioned.
   GM’s Adam Opel AG unit has put out some good cars of late, and last year took the Car of the Year award in Europe with its . Buick sells well in . GM has moved toward a more integrated R&D structure than its rivals at Ford, managing to adopt a model using centres of excellence for engineering platforms—so that the next Opel Corsa will have huge Korean input, and the Chevrolet Camaro was engineered in Australia. The could be a world-beater and GM has been willing to be braver with its R&D processes.
   There’s a lot that GM can build on—but maybe someone other than Wagoner should put the next stage into action.
   That is, if that person knows what the next stage is.
   It’s in the home market where GM, as Ford, as Chrysler, has been making mistakes. If I could see the need for fuel-efficient cars at the turn of the century for the US market, then there’s no way the Whiz Kids at these companies couldn’t. They were fooled by their own excess.
   The real problems are reflected in how unmanageable GM has become over the years with its subsidiaries and . It has let fail without new models—it pales in comparison to the plethora of models Volvo has managed to develop under Ford. Legacy costs with the unions are another problem, which deserves another blog post altogether.
   There has been talk over the years about trimming the GM brand portfolio, but I wonder if this is a wise thing.
   This is no longer the era when we live by counting beans, but by how brands resonate—and consequently how well they can sell. The problem is not so much that GM has so many brands, but that they have become confusing for customers.
   British Leyland—once the world’s second largest car manufacturer, and now a mere unit of the Red Chinese government—shows what can happen when brands are trimmed.
   There, the loss of brands such as Triumph meant that the streamlined Austin Rover Group in the 1980s could not compete in the sports saloon and sports car sectors. As people become more greatly segmented, what a company can’t afford to do is lose its brands.
   Triumph died with a lot of goodwill still out there—which is why BMW, which acquired the name through taking over Rover in the 1990s, is too scared to ever let the name go. It knows that Triumph occupies the same market it does.
   I warned about the demise of the low-cost Plymouth line when DaimlerChrysler killed that—and I bet Chrysler now wishes it still had it to field captive imports or smaller models now for entry-level buyers.
   The trick is to find a way for the brands to resonate with consumers once more, and no one seems to want to talk about that.
   GM knows that to kill a brand it would have massive payouts to make to dealers and lose certain segments of the market to competitors. It would also lose economies of scale, and its cost per unit would rise greatly over the next decade.
   The other problem with killing brands is the consumer mindset.
   A couple of years ago I talked about brand rationality as the new decade began—not rationalization. People only want so many brands in their minds and those brands should only offer so many products. It looks like it’s time to explore these very ideas.
    knows this. While in Japan, a country with a very different buyer behaviour to western markets, it offers subcompacts such as Vitz, Ist, Passo, Porte, Raum, bB and Rush, it knows that to export such a wide range would be commercial suicide elsewhere.
   It would rather sell more of a certain model, such as the Yaris, while leaving others to be sold under different brand names such as Daihatsu and Scion.
   ’s greatest success in markets like New Zealand came when people understood the range of Escort–Cortina–Falcon; and even GM itself experienced sales’ growth when it was able to bring some logic to its range there with Barina–Astra–Vectra–Commodore. Toyota took the mantle when it was able to organize Starlet–Corolla–Corona in the 1980s. And BMW has been doing it for decades with 3–5–7.
   In the , it makes some sense to field Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac, Pontiac, Saturn and Saab; less so Hummer and GMC, which never made much sense during my lifetime.
   In each of these brands, there is a way to find an ideal selection of models that the consumer can understand.
   GM has already made some headway with this by effectively turning Saturn and Pontiac into import brands, fielding offerings from other parts of its empire that appeal to their buyers’ attitudes toward them. There’s no reason this cannot continue: Opel can engineer for Saturn, Holden for Pontiac. It has always amazed me that cars like the Corsa D are not sold Stateside. The Brazilian Chevrolet Vectra—Astra H sedan in Europe—could have been a decent Saturn.
   Saturn could have the current models plus Corsa, Meriva B and Zafira; Pontiac might survive on a future rear-wheel-drive mid-sized car and the VE Commodore.
   Chevrolet, the all-American brand, has adorned Korean- and Japanese-designed models over the years. It’s the core line that should field a full range, but do three of each type: three passenger car lines, three SUVs and three minivans. Of course, it should keep iconic hero models such as Corvette and Camaro.
   Cadillac has become better organized than most with its tiered range. It just needs to improve its quality. It certainly has more cachet than Lincoln.
   That leaves Buick and Saab. GM has done its level best to kill Saab. While it should remain it really should be considered alongside Saturn. If Saturn fields smaller import models, perhaps the Saab name could be used for larger ones. The problem is that competitive, newer models are still some time away. Stateside, GM might not have much choice but to rebadge the Opel Insignia with the Saab name and see if this attractive new model can find buyers, as a stopgap. Its large US-only SUV fills a gap in the market-place as a performance model with some of Saab’s cachet.
   Buick, meant to plug the gap between Chevrolet and Cadillac, still needs to do that, and its latest Lacrosse and Lucerne models are competitive for now. Some think that Buick should be China-only—just as Holden is Australasia-only and Vauxhall is UK-only—but we run the danger of losing the premium segment that neither Chevrolet nor Cadillac can sell to.
   Cost-wise Buick could continue with smaller models and have a twin spawned off the Holden Commodore platform. Already Buick in China sells the Holden Statesman as the Park Avenue, a far more advanced car than anything sold Stateside with that name. While it may offend Buick loyalists, Chinese exports could sell Stateside—especially if the choice is killing off the brand versus sustaining it. The quality of models such as the Park Avenue is considered high, and a tiered range of Regal–Lacrosse–Park Avenue (or more accurately their successors) could work in the US in the 2010s, just as it does in China today.
   The key is to make sure GM cars get sold in as many markets as possible, as sensibly as possible. It’s just that few have taken a look at GM , preferring to base their solutions on what they can chop among the US range. And since GM’s failures have been in part down to its inability to put its international models on sale, it seems foolish to not consider models that the company has already spent billions on elsewhere. It’s do or die time, and it’s stupid to put the blinkers on just because a vehicle was —Not Invented Here—in the US.
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How the world has changed in 200 years 

I was shouted this on Digg today, and it’s a fascinating look at how the world has changed since 1809 in terms of life expectancy and wealth. Presented by Hans Rosling, the original is at Gapminder.

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29.3.09

Avidiva lifted 

[Cross-posted] I spent a day helping friends—one with her CV and another, Jennifer Hamilton, with her website. This is how girl group Avidiva’s site looks today after doing something very simple: adding two pink bands left and right. It’s made a lot of difference.

090329 Avidiva home page

   What are friends for if they can’t help out with a bit of web design every now and then?
   We also updated the photo gallery and noticed how some competing groups have adopted the same idea since we put one in back in 2003. Ditto with the Avidiva blog. But it’s great that we can share these ideas—it’s not as though we have a monopoly over photo galleries and blogs!
   We also added two extra demo tracks, if you are musically inclined:

Avidiva—You Really Got Me Avidiva—Candyman
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25.3.09

I began studying for exams when I was one year old 

Photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrsbickerson/[Cross-posted] I came across an article from the BBC website (through Emu’s blog) where an American expert says that kids are reading too early.
   This comes in the wake of UK government proposals that kids should be taught to earlier.
   Dr Lilian Katz says could be put off , and too early harms boys more than girls. She also points out that in Scandinavia formal education begins at six or seven.
   This is at odds with my experience.
   As I had to sit an to start at age two, I had to begin studying for them at age one. I would say that before two I knew the alphabet and had numerical skills, being able to count to 99 very easily. I had to—the join-the-dots puzzles beckoned.
   My examination for kindergarten, which I had to do solo with only the examiner in the room (no, it was not easy, and I was terrified) consisted of putting shapes in holes. Which, incidentally, I had not studied for.
   When I think back, I must have bluffed it, because I remember crying through most of it.
   (Chatting to Dad tonight, he says this could have been a prep exam at another institution. Now that he mentions it, I have a vague recollection that I aced the actual one at kindy. Or at least it was less traumatic. I had assumed until today it was the kindergarten exam. Hey, 1975 was a busy year.)
   I had nightly from age 2½ at kindergarten, of handwriting. Pretty standard, really, to anyone who has ever lived in .
   As I was Dux at my primary school in New Zealand and Proxime Accessit (salutatorian to our American friends) at high school, I don’t think the early start put me off learning.
   And today I still consider myself very much a student, still learning.
   The only difference I had with most kids is I took the ages of four to five off because of emigrating (spending a year watching Play School, The Brothers, Days of Our Lives, Des Britten and Sesame Street is not a bad thing), and because my parents did not know there was such a thing as pre-school in . Instead, I geared up learning a few key English phrases (‘Please may I go to the toilet?’) to start the primers.
   The thought of not having a formal education till five, six or seven sounds ridiculous to me and I imagine would be crazy to most people from my culture.
   I am sure Dr Katz has observed that by and large, oriental children can do rather well at school, even if I am furthering a stereotype here. But I did indeed observe this myself through my primary school career.
   A late start sounds like total and utter bollocks to me, though unlike the professor I don’t have a big sample to work from.
   But I wonder if she has made any examinations of the east Asian experience.
   While I believe I did start too young in having homework or sitting an entrance exam, there surely is a happy medium between what is normal in and what is normal in the occident. Kids are aching to learn—and want to—as they absorb the world around them.
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If it doesn’t make you happy, don’t do it 

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/comicbase/ on FlickrOther reasons I might be tiring of are its constant unreliability and redesigns. Granted, the latest one (of its home page) had far better consultation with the user base than the major change last year, which must go down as 2008’s biggest online gaffe.
   I didn’t object to the change because it was one of those that had to be experienced before one could form a decent opinion of it. It’s not that good, and I dislike the ‘Highlights’ column, where subscription to certain interest groups were recorded. As I put it on Twitter: I didn’t need to know that I had friends in to bondage. And as my friend Dan Gordon put it: he didn’t need to know that he had friends who liked Kim Kardashian.
   There are groups and fan pages and the one for Lucire, which I had set up, doesn’t seem to work properly. Prior to the latest round of changes, it took the Lucire ‘Insider’ RSS feed (which mobiles also use) and updated it whenever necessary. No longer: all last week I had to import articles manually, despite Facebook claiming, ‘If you confirm this import, we’ll check the feed every couple of hours for new posts you've made, and add anything we find to your Facebook notes.’
   It hasn’t happened yet.
   I see notifications I don’t want, I find applications I never OKed as green-lighted on my privacy list, and now an automated task—something computers were meant to be good at—adding to my chores because on Facebook, it’s not automated.
   It’s all weakened the Facebook for me, one which was on a high back in the closing days of 2007.
   If I might borrow from David Aaker, my of Facebook aren’t positive any more and my perceived quality of it has gone right down.
   I’m glad Facebook has kept on growing, and I’m glad that the company can make a buck with it. I love it for the school reunion it let me put together last year and for providing me with tools to organize future ones. It is a channel that I can’t ignore. But now, because it increases my labour and because it doesn’t increase any sense of leisure, being on it is a task rather than a pleasure.
   And social networking sites, as far as I know, should be about the latter. I should be happy to go on them.
   Given what I wrote earlier today, that’s exactly how I want it.
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I’m saving my brain cells for me, not social networks 

Photograph by http://www.flickr.com/photos/detectivesteve/ on FlickrI have said this before, but I think I might have finally got bored of Twitter and Facebook.
   They are both important tools. And in some ways, great tools. They made me wonder: what on earth did I do before they were around?
   Getting on with business, that’s what.
   Those were the years I built a great network around me, one which I still rely on today for a lot of the things I do.
   I had always known this but it came to a head when our router at head office failed on Sunday. I enjoy the times without the ’net as I plough through old emails and get a sense of fulfilment. I found I had missed it. And when tackling emails written in 2005 last night, I was ticking things off my to-do list.
   When things were trying at this company about three to four years ago, I blogged as a mental escape. It was useful to do it, anyway, as it helped promote the companies and in the early days, I got a lot of traffic.
   Now without the negative influences that were around back in those days, I did discover that there was one habit I didn’t shake. Web 2·0. I got deeper and deeper into that world—blogs, Facebook, Twitter.
   There’s nothing wrong with any of it, except when you already have really good web properties about, why was I contributing to someone else’s bottom line?
   Or, for that matter, neglecting those who came to support us?
   Facebook is addictive, as is Twitter. But for the times you are on either, thinking you are chilling out, you’re still using brain cells. I often wondered why I was more tired after having frequented the sites, thinking my brain was coasting on neutral.
   I’m not going to cease going to either as they are vital for modern marketing, and you don’t give up on over a thousand people. I have friends on both whom I want to keep in touch with and it has become a habit for them. Fair enough: I was there not long ago.
   However, I have deleted Facebook from my Firefox pull-down menu and it’s helped my sanity considerably. I started early on Twitter, in 2007, though I didn’t use it regularly till a few months ago. Again, it’s helped a lot with traffic, but I see the stuff I have to do on our own sites, and simply get a bigger buzz from that.
   It’s time to move on, especially now that both are , and the feeling of being part of a small community of like-minded people wanting to change the world is no longer there—the same thing once happened on email when spam got out of control. Do I really need a microcosm of the world when I have the real thing right outside my doors?
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23.3.09

Being sold shares by a Boiler Room? 

Photograph by nudecowboy at http://www.flickr.com/photos/29079609@N02/One question I posed to Jim and Natalie at last Thursday’s Vista Group meeting was: have either of you been getting calls from people trying to sell shares? Natalie said no, and Jim replied that the people calling me were the subject of a movie, Boiler Room.
   It certainly fits. Of the six companies that have called me flogging shares this year, they all have the same MO. They all ask the same questions. They ask me what I have invested in and how much I would put toward them. Four of the six were American and called at the worst times, because they hadn’t gone to school the day they studied the existence of time zones. The fifth was also American but did know about time zones. The sixth claimed to be based in London.
   In Boiler Room, it turns out that the so-called operation was a Mafia front, and if the methods are so close globally, I am not surprised.
   They also go on about their successful stock picks. I could also tell you the number of times I guessed the gender of my friends’ unborn children. I would simply not tell you the number of times I got it wrong.
   They remind me a lot of the emails that used to go around telling people to invest in certain stock, possibly to push up the price. With cheaper international calling, they have turned to telephony to do the same thing.
   They all give their names, which is interesting. The latest company, where I heard from two people, told me theirs. If you venture on to Google, there is a grand total of two references to that company—hardly confidence-inspiring. Both are at their domain.
   There are no sites that refer to them.
   I won’t name these folks since I treat all calls, including those where I cannot prove for a fact the caller is dodgy, as confidential. I have no proof either way so I’ll have to presume innocence. But it’s absolutely stupid to refer someone to a website when a Google search is a standard procedure nowadays. Check the website and you can tell it’s totally off-the-shelf. The copy is stolen off an existing website—in fact, I found one which had identical content, save for the company name. The photographs are definitely from a library.
   Secondly, the company they expect me to purchase stock in is equally laughable. I don’t know how these chaps get listed but maybe the requirements for the or in the US aren’t very stringent—or the is so busy that it never gets round to investigating.
   If you look at the URLs of both the and the “energy company”, they follow exactly the same convention. Coincidence?
   The latter company has a pretty clear Whois record and it doesn’t take long to reveal everything you need to know about its CEO.
   Go a bit further and you can find that every piece of communication about the company has been put there by itself. While it might appear at a respectable domain like the Reuter one, it’s a . There are no references to the company penned by an independent body.
   I did think there was something funny when the MO was identical for all six firms. If Jim’s right, then I know why. And I’ll be telling them just what I think of them next time they call.
   If you get these calls, ask for their information straight away. Ten to one they’ll fit with what I’ve written above.
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Tata Nano’s significance reaches far beyond India’s shores 

Tata Nano in Lucire
[Published originally in Lucire] This morning at Lucire, we received a news advisory about the launch of the in Mumbai today.
   The Nano, which we covered excitedly in Lucire in January 2008, as well as on this blog in 2006, represents a positive step for the Indian .
   Priced at Rs. 1 lakh, the Nano was conceived as a vehicle to safely transport Indian families, who may otherwise have opted for a motorcycle.
   The way has grown in the last few years, there is a huge automotive culture—and the Nano will contribute to that. The meets emissions’ and safety requirements, according to Tata. And if it means lives will be saved because families have the protection of a car shell rather than the exposed nature of a motorcycle, then we support it.
   But more importantly, we see potential for the Nano to go well beyond India. While export models to some countries would need more mod cons than the basic model—and , from the beginning, stated its intentions to produce a deluxe model—it is a no-nonsense that is being launched at a time when western models are getting heavier and, often, unnecessarily ostentatious.
   It reminds us of the times when Volkswagen entered a North American market sick of excess—a situation that repeated when the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic hit the same country in a land of oversized Buicks and Mercurys. It also reminds us of the mass mobilization that happened in Italy when the Fiat nuova 500—another “people’s car”—was launched in 1957 and the BMC Mini, which really took off in the 1960s. The latter was a classless car.
   With Germany having had a horsepower war in recent years, and a growing green movement on the other end, the Tata Nano could be more a sign of one’s support of common-sense value.
   While targeted at families who cannot afford a 800—considered till now one of India’s most affordable cars—Nano has a classless style to it that we believe could make a real statement in the west.
   While it is still powered by the internal combustion engine, it could get 62 mpg (Imperial) from a 33 hp engine. That’s better than any Toyota Prius could do, by some 10 mpg.
   With global fascination after the success of , this could well be India’s year. And Tata Nano could be the second phase of India’s 2009 rise, something which we observed as a trend that started over a decade ago. Incredible India indeed.
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21.3.09

Thanks to Twitter, my blog visits rose 



If you needed any proof of the power of Twitter, look no further than this blog’s visitor statistics. While Alexa is only a proxy at best, this blog has not really ranked that well since its début in 2006. Its three-month running average at Alexa is a 569,445 ranking—hardly anything to write home about.
   I blogged about my criteria for following Tweeters on Twitter on March 15. By March 18, when I imagine my post got mentioned among the community, the hits started rising and Alexa reports 216,996. Audience reach went from a dismal 0·00019 per cent to 0·00064—a trebling. That’s despite a drop in the pages per visit from 1·8 average to 1·5 on March 18.
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Insight about the Honda Insight 


Above: The 2000 Honda Insight for the US market.

I get a bit bored of the this includes The New York Times today quoting ‘analysts’—saying that the (which got way better mileage than the , and which was on sale in the US before the Prius) did not succeed because it didn’t signal to others that the was a . And that’s why the new Insight looks like a Prius.
   Bollocks. If I remember correctly, the Insight looked far more distinctive than any car on the market at the time, including the Prius. (The Honda Civic IMA Hybrid—my preference among the Japanese models—meanwhile, did look like a regular Honda Civic.)
   People have short memories. The first Prius—the one that was on sale when the Insight was—looked like a dull econobox that seemed inspired more by the 1975 Corolla 30 than anything else. It was only the second-generation model, from 2004, that had the more familiar shape.
   Still, the environmentally conscious flocked more to the Prius than the Insight, despite its granny looks. Actually, I know a few grans who would probably disapprove of the .
   The Insight was an efficient small car that looked like something in the 2000s should, with its rear wheels partly covered and getting over 80 mpg (Imperial). That makes any Prius look like a gas guzzler.
   And had enough faith in its 1999 Insight to launch it in the US for the 2000 model year. It didn’t wait for years as Toyota did.
   The Insight didn’t do well because it cramped down the back, and Americans used to their SUVs and overhead-valve V8s couldn’t fathom the idea of an engine having less than a litre in cubic capacity. Consequently, Honda built around 18,000—a tiny number compared to the Prius.
   But it was far more advanced than anything Honda had ever built. Or, for that matter, anything Toyota offered. Insight had aluminium and plastic bits, a wonderful lean-burn engine, and a drag coefficient of 0,25.
   This time, Honda has built a new Insight with a Prius-like shape, using stuff from its parts’ bin, and made it a bit larger. It should do well, but we shouldn’t buy the mainstream media’s assertions that it looks the way it does because its predecessor wasn’t distinctive.The new Honda Insight is unoriginal where the first was fresh, and stylistically, it plays to expectations rather than exceeds them.
   Karmically, I wish Honda well, but the new car hardly lives up to its of ‘The Power of Dreams’ when it aims to conform. I can’t help but notice the irony, especially those who will buy the Insight because they think it makes an original statement about their green credentials.


Above: This time around, Honda is all about conforming with its new Insight rather than pioneering.
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In the presence of power 

Photographed by Simon Young, www.simonyoung.co.nzLast Thursday’s Vista Group lunch was particularly good, although Mark di Somma was absent after all his jet-setting. Jim, Natalie and I got down to business, after I forcibly made Natalie walk further by giving her a lift (I ran into her en route, offered her a lift as she was 150 yd from Vista and parking 200 yd away). We did discuss -beating in the 200 yd back, and left the more morbid subject of an online repository of funeral videos when we saw Mr Donovan.
   More positive is that Jim and I were in the presence of a power company mogul—Natalie is one of the folks behind Flower Power, an that aims to offer lower prices and, in time, a separate venture where customers can offset their . (Natalie is one of those rare people who practises what she preaches about the .) It’s tied in to the opportunities provided by a power retailing online market-place, Powershop, which I had never heard of, though I am told it is heavily on . Of course, in this day and age, heavy TV promotion has little correlation of whether people have heard of you.
   Powershop has a that is about as trite as I can imagine (I have seen it all before); at least Flower Power itself has gone for something far more fun and enjoyable.
   And in this day and age, any saving on one’s power bill is welcome.
   Our opinion: this is going to fly. Why not one’s power retail selection? If we buy groceries by shopping around, we might as well buy power accordingly, and this time I can say I know the boss. And she’s way prettier than the old dude from my present power company.
   We seem to be more in accord about the ANZ National Bank group’s “accidental” overcharging of customers this time (‘Oops, did we do that? Let me fix that now’) and Natalie seems more convinced that the Bank of New South Wales, I mean Westpac, could give a more honest deal. I had closed the last ANZ account we had, after which the bank put our used counterfoils in the bin (naughty, naughty—that’s customer property). They would have gone into banking heaven and ANZ would have had some serious explaining to do if it were not for a hurried phone call I made that got to the bank just as Document Destruction Services walked in. (Well, when they handed me back the chequebook folder, you just assume your own property would be in there, right?)
   Vista Café putting chorizo and pasta on the menu was duly noted.
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15.3.09

My top 10 criteria for following a Twitter account 

Flickr photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/purplelime/I’ve made the odd wrong call over the years. One was the . When I saw the first in the early 2000s, I couldn’t see them going anywhere. They were pretending to be proper with no proofreading or even fact-checking, and I looked down on them. Some, I suppose, that still carry on their nonsense with a high-and-mighty approach, without realizing what blogs really are, should still be looked down upon. But those who embrace the blogging culture, seeing it as a means to create dialogue and to share ideas, get my vote.
   Twitter was the same. I was probably one of the early adopters of in April 2007. But I couldn’t see a need for Tweeting. Being predisposed against cellphones and the limits of the single SMS message, it reminded me too much of them. Now, with a particularly “noisy” Twitter account (a lot of posts for the few followers I have), I am obviously a convert, because I engage with like-minded people. It reminds me more of the early days of the internet, when it was more club-like than the spam-infested waters we chart today.
   I don’t particularly enjoy it, however, when some Tweeters go on about shoulds and shouldn’ts on Twitter. There do not appear to be hard and fast rules yet, especially something that is as limited expression-wise as Twitter. One post on the blogosphere attacked one Tweeter for spamming. The complaint? He sent notes of thanks to other Tweeters, but because they were not private, direct messages, and everyone among his followers could see them, they were considered .
   I disagreed, and, judging by the comments, so did many others. My argument was that I knew full well what sort of Tweeter the person was when I signed up. In fact, I liked the fact he was so respectful and was willing to engage in one-to-one . When you know what you’re getting into, it can’t be spam. If you didn’t like the Tweeter, a removal request—an “unfollow”, in Twitter parlance—works. Unlike spam.
   These personal messages probably upped my own total where I engage in dialogue directly with followers. And while I have had a few leave, the overwhelming majority have stayed on. What might be a bit disconcerting is the fact I have had thousands of Tweets for the 700-odd people who follow, which might discourage others from signing up. (The Lucire Twitter account, I have noticed, has roughly the same number of posts as it does followers.)
   I guess it depends what one goes for. I never look at the noise ratio, while others might. When figuring out whom to follow, I look at these factors, and it really is a first-impressions approach. These might not be yours, and because everyone uses Twitter their own way, it is not meant to be a definitive list. These points are just my ones, as valid as the next person’s.

1. Do I know the person?
   If I am a friend, especially a real-world one, then I will likely follow regardless. End of inquiry.

2. If I don’t know the person, do I admire what they do?
   There’ll be some whose work I plain like, so I don’t care if they don’t follow me back. I think highly of them and I want to see what they are thinking.

3. Is the person’s following-to-follower ratio roughly one to one?
   If so, it suggests that they are willing to engage one-to-one with people. Some celebrities, with the notable exception of Tweeters such as Stephen Fry, are notorious for having many followers but not too many people among their following category. That suggests they enjoy having that adoration—but aren’t willing to put a bit back toward their fan base. No dialogue or engagement there, and the relationship is no different to when I see them on telly or True Hollywood Story. (You can check who’s following you back using friendorfollow.com.)

4. Are the Tweets of value?
   I have been guilty of letting an automated service—I forget its name because so many Twitter support services are called Twitter-this or Tweet-that, and are not well branded—repost my blog headlines on to Twitter. Some people found them of value. But many others do not because it’s too “robotic” for them. They want to see that the Tweeter has engaged people one on one. I have a mixture of both now, with the real posts outnumbering the automated ones, but if all I see are automated ones, I will think twice. If they are relevant, I might follow. If they are not—today I saw one that just listed the songs the Tweeter was listening to—then I won’t.

5. Has the Tweeter engaged?
   I like seeing the one-to-one . If the Tweeter has sent single messages to someone else (they’re the ones beginning with an at sign), it means they might do that with me and inspire me. Or, I can help them and they might accept my advice. Basically, there is a two-way street.

6. How many Tweets has the person made?
   I will think about quantity, too. If there are only three, then there’s a smaller chance I will follow, unless (1) applied. If there are no Tweets at all, then that’s a big turn-off.

7. Has the Tweeter been repeating posts?
   There’s nothing more discouraging than seeing the same URL posted in six of the last ten Tweets the person has made. It suggests to me that they are there to spam.

8. Has the Tweeter posted things I’ve seen before?
   There’s one going around now about getting 19,530 new followers or something like that, accompanied by a link. Many Tweeters have this on their accounts. I have never clicked on the link they provide but it looks too to me. I might be wrong, but it’s another turn-off.

9. Is the account real or fake?
   This is tied in to points (4) through (8) above. There are some accounts that are probably created by computer. You can tell who they are because they will have a nonsense combination of letters or even digits in their usernames, there will be a picture of a scantily clad and well endowed woman as the avatar, they come in groups as the script goes through the web, and they all say the same thing. I block these and file a spam report with @spam, run by Twitter.

10. Is the follower really there to engage or to pump up their number?
   There are a few whose MO is to come in to Twitter, follow you, expect you to follow back, and after a few days, they disconnect. I hadn’t wised up to this initially but I spotted a few after a while who did just that. Because I try to keep a reasonable following-to-follower ratio, I don’t want to follow someone who had “unfollowed” me, and that’s how I learned of these people. They would come back a few weeks later and try the same thing, like clockwork (possibly it is clockwork, i.e. a software script). I believe I have blocked one; you might find it quite amusing to observe their repeated techniques. One has been by my account eight times.
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11.3.09

Dr Sun Yat-sen writes to Henry Ford on the development of China 

[Cross-posted] This had me captured for a while today:

Letter from Sun Yat-sen to Henry Ford, 1924

A 1924 letter from Dr , the father of modern , to , discussing the economic and international development of the country. An amazing historical document backing up how Dr Sun saw China, combining his beliefs and his knowledge of and self-determination. He was also prescient in saying that China could be the centre of the next world war if it did not set itself straight. Naturally, a man of Dr Sun’s knowledge and training had perfect written English—much like modern .
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5.3.09

Another strange phone call 

From http://flickr.com/photos/22452330@N00/This is a that came in at 2.20 a.m. today:

Caller: Hi, may I speak with Jack Yan, please?
Me: Speaking.
Caller: It’s Jim *** from Madison Who’s Who. How are you?
Me: Jim, it’s 2.20 a.m.
Caller: What was that?
Me: It’s twenty past two in the morning.
Caller: Oh, Jesus Chr … [hangs up]

   Tell me, what is worse?
   1. Not realizing that not everyone on the planet lives in US eastern time, not even after dialling 011.
   2. Using the Lord’s name in vain.
   3. Hanging up on someone to whom you’ve told all your info and not apologizing for doing something stupid.
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4.3.09

Lagonda is back—but will it fly? 

[Cross-posted from Lucire] We get a lot of information about press conferences and at the , we have been seeing them come in thick and fast. Renault, Volkswagen, BMW, etc. But the most intriguing was for a brand I never expected to see in an email: .
   Lagonda is a that celebrates its centenary this year—though it has not enjoyed continuous production over the last 100 years. Somewhere during its history, David Brown bought the company to complement his other acquisition, , and for many of us Lagonda typically adorned four-door versions of Aston cars.
   These were low-slung motorway expresses, and the last cars to bear the name, if you do not count show cars, were converted versions of the Aston Martin Virage around 1993, which had Lagonda badges.
   But when the Aston Martin Rapide—the four-door version of the DB9—made its début, Aston boss Dr Ulrich Bez said it would not wear a Lagonda badge.
   This week, at , we saw why: the group had very different ambitions for the marque.
   The vehicle that was shown is the opposite to what I expected from Lagonda: it is a chunky, high four-seat four-door with four-wheel drive.



   It’s too early to tell what will happen. Many years ago, the majority of commentators outright dismissed the , saying the betrayed the ’s values. I was in a minority who went on record to say that the car would be a hit. It was, and ’s core sports cars’ remains intact.
   But the Cayenne was a . We are talking about reintroducing a brand that has not been on a production car since 1990, kept alive only in the hearts of certain people.
   The obvious argument against the new Lagonda Concept, if it makes production, is: does the world need a new SUV?
   Assuming it isn’t an SUV—no one mentioned the term at Genève, after all—the second argument is: haven’t we had all the crossovers we can handle?
   Lagonda is betting on several things. First, that it will create a new segment of vehicles without competing with the likes of Rolls-Royce and Maybach. Others would be too tied to their heritages and Lagonda has the opportunity to reinvent itself specifically for the needs of a rich clientèle. Secondly, that regardless of a recession, a luxury niche will always be around—and it has launched its 1976 saloon during a recession that went on to do rather well in the Middle East. (Never mind the first one did not appear off the production line for another two years.)
   The press release reads, ‘“The Lagonda is the of the future,” says Aston Martin Lagonda Chief Executive, Dr , “a combination of total usability, a new form and new and materials.”
   ‘Lagonda is committed to innovative new technologies, new materials and elegant forms, creating a functional luxury for the near future. Critically, the brand will allow the exploration of alternative powertrain solutions including flexfuel, low emission diesel and hybrid systems. Lagonda will epitomize the intersection of craft, design and technology with Aston Martin’s established high performance expertise.’
   This is not unheard of. Within the Ford group, when Aston Martin Lagonda was within Dearborn’s ownership, there was an intent for the company to be the test-bed for the latest technologies. What has happened is that this will has been transferred to Lagonda first.
   The Lagonda Vignale show car of 1993, styled by Moray Callum (brother of Ian Callum, head of Jaguar design) was not a low-slung vehicle, and given its positive reception at the time—when Aston announced it would be the first division in the Ford group to get the latest technologies—the company may have felt that a modern reinterpretation was not without merit.
   We have a few doubts. The Vignale had a sense of elegance to it, which the Lagonda Concept does not. This is, of course, subjective.
   Given Lagonda’s backers in the Middle East, the company may well have some market research among potential clients that say a future production version of the Concept will fly. And the fact that Dr Bez, at the press conference, mentioned Russia first, is significant. There is, among a certain segment of the population, a market for butch-looking, inelegant large cars.
   Essentially: just because the Concept looks like a behemoth to occidental eyes—and even my oriental ones—doesn’t mean it won’t go down well in Bez’s stated export markets of ‘Russia … emerging markets in the Middle East, South America, India and China.’ Only if things go well (this is what Aston Martin Lagonda probably means by ‘as well as responding to demand from the dynamic, innovation-focused consumers’ that it mentions afterwards) will it head to ‘Europe, North America and the Far East.’ These aren’t priority markets.
   He continued, ‘The intention is for Lagonda to enter the market place with a unique performance luxury product, a vehicle that combines exceptional ability with unsurpassed elegance, inside and out. … Lagonda will create a new kind of customer relationship, instilling the spirit of travel, adventure and style into a single, formidable package.’
   It will all be in the way Lagonda itself, and rich brands like this never got to where they were by being . And that may well be why you won’t see this in next year’s Lucire Car to Be Seen in shortlist.
   Since it’s not uncommon to see Lagondas with production runs of seven, the company is not expecting to sell a lot of cars. With the prices that they are likely to command—prices which will make an Aston Martin seem cheap—they will probably make a profit, too.
   It’s not what we’re about—but somehow Aston Martin Lagonda’s shareholders might not complain.
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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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