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28.6.09

Choosing to remember Michael Jackson 

I’m firmly an officious bystander in the whole “ thing”: I am sad people have lost a son, a brother and a father. But since the mid-1980s I have not been a big Michael Jackson fan. His death, while premature, is not going to make me suddenly say that I adored the man and his music. I’m not one of those people who made every single item on Amazon.com’s top 10 a Michael Jackson one. I’m not going to join his page and leave a tribute.
   But I do not think he was a nonce. When the go on about child molesters ad nauseam, I am not surprised that some accused Jackson of molestation. Paranoia alone could have seen to that. Some may have seen dollar signs and took the man for a ride. Psychologically, I don’t think the man was capable of forming the sick thoughts that pædophiles have.
   He may have paid off some of his accusers, but think of it this way: if you are a lawyer and your client has the mentality, or tantrums, of a child, what do you do? A father might encourage his son to stand for the truth and go through even a difficult experience to build his character. Someone less close, knowing the person had millions, might just advise paying up to spare a fellow human being more emotional pain than he seemed capable of handling. Michael Jackson seemed like one such person: the stresses we might choose to bear were anathema to him.
   That is, perhaps, how one should think of Jackson: a man who preferred to live some form of childhood than recognize that he had reached adulthood. In his interviews, during the legal cases, Jackson came across in words and manner as a man deeply hurt, as a child might be. Visually, however, his damaged appearance through continual swayed many of us into thinking he was a monster. It is easy to be fooled by what one sees, and Jackson was the victim of his own choices in that respect.
   I am not excusing him fully. I am not going to say that Michael Jackson lacked an adult’s mental capacity. He was able to reflect on his own mortality, according to his ex-wife Lisa Marie Presley on her MySpace page. He knew what was going on, even if he chose to shield himself from it.
   But he was a deeply troubled man, with a very different perspective on life because of his experiences. He chose himself to be as defined by his as his music. Just as with shaving her head, many chose to poke fun at the person rather than say that they needed to be protected and looked after. Jackson’s plastic surgeries and his strange complexion were signs, in my layman’s understanding, of someone who chose to dissociate himself from his true . This was not about race, as many want to paint, but about a man who never understood who he was.
   Still, I have devoted a post to him. One part of it was seeing the negative comments pages with his videos are attracting on . He did not deserve many of them. The other part is that there was a Michael Jackson, once, who was a great performer, who never divided opinion as deeply as he does today. I choose to remember hits like this one.

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24.6.09

Twitter ratio update, June 2009 

Image by dwnews on FlickrI decided to follow up my Twitter ratios’ table from May with a revised one. A few politicians have been taken out, a few non-Americans have been put in, and I inserted one friend (who is famous anyway) as someone told her that her ratio wasn’t very good. (I beg to differ, after feeding her following–follower ratio in to the Quattro Pro spreadsheet, and knowing how she uses Twitter.) I also added new-tech guru Loïc Le Meur in there just to see where people in his industry might be.
   Interestingly, some following numbers went down for a few celebs. This could be due to Twitter fixing up its count: as of today, there were some bugs on Twitter leading to these numbers being inaccurate. The biggest drop in ratio was with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, who experienced a huge jump in follower numbers (they increased eightfold). A similar thing had happened to English actor Stephen Fry earlier this year, which forced his ratio down, too.
   As before, Karl Rove, California First Lady Maria Shriver, President Obama and Britney Spears maintained respectable ratios, and are in the top part of the table. Obviously, a higher ratio suggests (assuming the Tweeter has interaction) that the person embraces two-way communication. However, a poor ratio is not a reflection of the person’s grasp of the service: it could mean anything from someone who is careful about whom they followed back (initially, I only followed people I knew in real life), or someone who has not been able to keep up with the influx of followers.
   I expect to have better ratios given that they are meant to be representative of the people, and falls in ratios for some high-profile names—who do not have Gov. Schwarzenegger’s excuse of an eightfold increase—are disappointing.
   Those at the bottom of the table perhaps see Twitter as a top–down broadcast medium for themselves, rather than one where they can interact with their audiences, or are simply very inactive on the service. I have already said my piece on how I feel about that.
   For average Joes like me, I would be rather be in the middle of the table or above; for celebrities, 2 to 20 per cent indicates some acknowledgement that Twitter is not a one-way medium for them.

PersonLinkFollowingFollowersRatio
Karl Rove60,14164,67392·99%
Maria Shriver69,32678,33588·50%
Gov. Bobby Jindal22,93427,38083·76%
Congressman John Boehner10,34012,46982·93%
President Barack Obama774,4121,521,24650·91%
Britney Spears394,1192,001,33919·69%
Kathy Ireland3,06915,66619·59%
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger64,155438,54114·63%
Stephen Fry54,871582,8629·41%
John Campbell3093,9337·86%
Summer Rayne Oakes1141,7056·69%
Sir Richard Branson6,564131,2755·00%
Sen. Barbara Boxer48010,4434·60%
Mayor Gavin Newsom23,481598,8383·92%
M. C. Hammer26,357890,4242·96%
Loïc Le Meur69427,8762·49%
Jonathan Ross3,939329,5541·20%
Phillip Schofield1,997193,6571·03%
Vice-President Joe Biden15625,9030·60%
Philip Glenister37020·43%
Gov. Sarah Palin4137,1010·11%
Shaquille O’Neal5271,371,8750·04%
Mischa Barton1641,9070·04%
Hugh Jackman33352,9440·01%
Lance Armstrong851,145,9510·01%
Ashton Kutcher1742,362,1850·01%
Sen. John McCain55844,3850·01%
Martha Stewart29866,1880·00%
Ellen DeGeneres262,105,7080·00%
Oprah Winfrey141,642,6920·00%
Al Gore81,063,3400·00%
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Classic tales in Tweet form 

Photograph by http://www.flickr.com/photos/faith_forever_photos/My friend Marie Young Tweeted about two 19-year-olds getting a book deal. As far as I can make out, as the article is not clear about it, they are rewriting 20 classics in form.
   So, does that mean we will get the following (as I Tweeted back to Marie)?

@flyinglens I wonder, e.g. Cinderella: nasty stepsisters! Gone to ball, OMG, left shoe behind! Prince C. brings it back. Thank goodness!

@flyinglens Or, : Mum tried to hook Jane up. Darcy can be an SOB, but he does good stuff, cool! Nice ring! Yay Gardiners!


   Scary stuff.
   The predictions were right: Milton Glaser’s I heart NY symbol will become, by the middle of the twenty-first century, classical .
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16.6.09

Saab can reach for the sun, under Christian von Koenigsegg 

Koenigsegg QuantI never expected this a few years ago, but a few weeks ago, it was becoming more likely: Koenigsegg will buy , says The New York Times.
    and say there is now a memorandum of understanding, contingent on loans from the European Investment Bank, guaranteed by the Swedish government.
   I am confident. strikes me, in the conversation I had with him some years ago, as someone who is not afraid to answer questions directly. He is accessible, and he loves cars.
   People also had doubts about how Jaguar and Land Rover would fit with , which made subcompact cars and heavy trucks in India. Yet, Tata has shown a readiness to push forward new models that Ford never had the guts to do. We need to look at the style and the national .
   I think we might see information on a bunch of products inside Saab that the company was never permitted to do under GM ownership, either because they were too risky or that the funds were going to other . Saab fell into a GM-division funk like Saturn did. But new ideas have been bubbling under there, and while $600 million is nowhere near what it will cost to get some of them out—given that the funds have to cover everything from salaries to plant upgrades—the Swedish people are not short on ingenuity.
    has shown us that a little country can have leadership or near-leadership positions in so many things, from cellphones to defence technology to music. Once upon a time, the Swedish state even owned Absolut Vodka.
   I know the economies of scale are not looking that good for Saab: it sold fewer cars in more territories last year than MG Rover in its final year (2004–5) before that fell into administration. However, could make the same argument about economies with many Swedish products before they took the rest of the world by storm.
   And Christian has been thinking of a lot more than supercars. What the world seems to have ignored is that he showed a solar electric sports’ saloon at Genève this year, designed by our mutual friend Joachim Nordwall.
   Could it be released with the Koenigsegg ? Probably not. As a Saab? Most definitely: it is a natural fit for the .
   GM, Honda and Toyota may have dabbled in but Koenigsegg may well outflank them all.
   Most of us will agree that the GM ownership of Saab has not been that successful and the division has been starved of new product for years. GM’s great contributions have been a few Opel Vectra platforms, rejigging a Subaru Impreza for the US market and put Saab badges on it, and reworking a deleted Oldsmobile SUV.
   When I was growing up, Saab was known for the Combi Coupé (a fastback, liftback coupé—not particularly common in the 1970s) and the early Turbos, then a great UK campaign connecting the car maker to the aircraft manufacturer. Stefan Engeseth says the company could have done quite well with a retro-modern version of the ur-Saab, the original postwar model with aircraft technologies incorporated. I am not so sure about now, but I agree that during the years of the New Beetle and the last Ford Thunderbird, a limited-edition ur-Saab could have been chic.
   Logic tells us that things are not sorted with the new ownership. The numbers do not add up, the new products are going to be expensive to get out, and how many of those forward-thinkers that Saab was once known for are still in the firm?
   But logic also told us that it was impossible for Sweden to be putting out a supercar that would take the world’s imagination. Christian has done that. Conventional thinking also says that a solar–electric car is too left-field. I beg to differ.
   Saab quality with Koenigsegg innovation sounds like a pretty potent mix to me.
   With hindsight, I wish I had made a few more calls then just so I could say I spoke to the boss of Saab, and show off that I do know a bit about automotive . I say with a lean R&D model, Christian can take the risks with , world-beating Saabs that make a decent leap ahead of the rest of the industry.
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Swine ’flu reports make it sound like we are dropping like flies 

Swine ’flu was long predicted by the Doctor Who writers. Except that time it was caused by Daleks.

Pig slave from Doctor Who

   I am so sick of the fear-mongering in the at the moment that has caused a rush on Tamiflu. This is not big news anywhere else, and it should not be big news here. Headlines like ‘Swine flu toll at 109’ hint at fatalities (this is not the case) and, once again, makes me question The New Zealand Herald’s agenda in this. Or the Ministry of ’s.
   How are your shares looking today? (Up 2·2 per cent on the 11th, says the Murdoch Press.) Has the PM asked his Merrill Lynch friends to buy up some stock since April 27?
   We need to get a lot of this into perspective, and while I was corrected by my friend Dan Gordon on the effectiveness of Tamiflu, we still have some serious viruses out there that I suspect are really killing people.
   Swine ’flu is not, contrary to the impression from the top-of-the-news treatment metered out by everyone from the Herald to National Radio, one of the signs of the apocalypse.
   Of course we should be vigilant and take the necessary precautions this winter. But we should also be asking other questions that seem to have slipped the minds of some media.
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14.6.09

Where have all the chat rooms gone? 

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/alexeizm/One of the topics raised by Summer Rayne Oakes, author of Style, Naturally and a scientist and strategist in her own right—not to mention Lucire’s editor-at-large—was why fell out of favour this century.
   During the last week, and I had plenty of good chats, but this is probably one that relates directly to some of the issues I discuss on this blog.
   The obvious answer is all the odd people who used to venture into these chat rooms, often wanting to get on to a sexual topic. I’ve encountered my share, and it seems that women are targeted even more. These were always at non-sex spaces, and even they would attract those looking to get off on discussing these topics.
   But that can’t be it. This is partly my memory giving chat rooms a bad name. The overwhelming majority of I had on them were productive and only a handful had visitors whose minds were on sex.
   Yet in the last 10 to 20 years we’ve also seen the rise and fall of the email and online . may have had something to do with that. But the also seem to be less well frequented: in fact, I found it very odd when someone referred me to a newsgroup earlier this month on, of all things, Karl Malden’s nose. A newsgroup? Do people still use those?
   There have been the rise and fall of MySpace, and the rise and seemingly continued rise of and .
   Anyone who has been on Twitter for a little while can see that many people out there have their own websites now. The blogging revolution that people such as Helen Baxter predicted has come to pass: people are expressing themselves, and everyone is vying for their share of the audience. Some do it by being sarky (some of the celebrity gossip sites come to mind), others by being deceptive (a few so-called news sites attacking people), and, hopefully, the majority are there just trying to get by with some honest reflection and communication.
   But in this quest for self-expression, the victim seems to have been communicating in a common space. We still want to share, but we expect readers to come to our space to do it. The chat room, which worked on the idea of a central location that was common to one’s interest, has given way to everyone playing host to a variety of subjects, and netizens pop by to the one that suits their subject area. Ultimately, they are found on a search engine, not at something as neutral as Egroups.
   In other words, we no longer go to the community centre, we play guests at people’s homes. Except this is done virtually. And the relationships, seemingly, are more shallow.
   Unless it’s a blog that I have great affinity with, I’m unlikely to visit again. Last week, Ashes to Ashes finished its second series on BBC1. I frequented blogs that reviewed the finalé. I might leave a comment. But they are unlikely to be places I’d revisit, certainly not till the next series begins in 2010. By then I am likely to have forgotten who they were.
   There have been some wonderful readers on this blog whom I have come to admire and respect. But there are also many whom I do not know beyond their single comment.
   I’m wondering whether the has given rise to the sort of deep connection that one can form personal or professional relationships on, because our contact is more fleeting. Certainly it cannot work alone: something must complement the blogosphere if two people are to form any sort of relationship. In that vein, the old discussion groups seem to be more self-contained.
   When I look back at my dozen or so years managing discussion groups and blogging, many of the strongest bonds are still with people I met on discussion groups. Someone like Simon Young falls into that category. Others I know in person, before they even became bloggers, such as Johnnie Moore.
   The blogs have opened the door to my meeting other people. I’m sure Cat Morley, whom I met on the blogosphere, and I, would get on famously if we met face to face. Jim Donovan falls into that category. But Jim and I meet almost monthly, and we’ve opened the door to that more extensive contact.
   Maybe I’m not one of those “celebrity bloggers”, so blogging has not resulted in a rise in my work. It has helped a bit with my profile. But it is a surface medium, one that hasn’t supplanted the chat room or email group. It is a very wordy business card or a calling card.
   Yet we humans still seek those deeper relationships. They are not to be found on Facebook groups, because at the end of the day, Facebook is about keeping in touch with those one already knows. It is a in the literal sense: people are there with brains switched off (I know I am), socializing. While I have met people through it, I am not convinced that it is a medium where one can espouse those deep thoughts in a group, the same way some of us used to on email groups. There are so many people there that it lacks the feel of a chat room or a discussion group, where there were regulars. Its one great benefit, as far as I can tell, has been the fact that the majority of the conversations have been clean and so far, no one has engaged me in a discussion about sex on a Facebook group about, say, freeing a jailed journalist.
   So the answer to Summer Rayne’s question may be that we have ventured too far into becoming talkers and not listeners. The shift to the blogosphere has allowed us to come forth overwhelmingly, because we could, all of a sudden. For those of us not wishing to write posts as long as this (1,000 words and counting), Twitter has become that great substitute, where 140 characters are all that are available. Everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame, and since few of us wish to debase ourselves on , the blogosphere and Twitter allow us to control the message.
   I somehow think we will congregate again. I know some people who have set up Ning groups, to some success. A friend of mine, and a former Lucire beauty columnist, frequents one devoted to young mothers. We must get to a point where everyone who wants one has their own blogs or Twitter account, and we get sick of talking without any certainty over whether anyone is listening.
   People are creatures who wish to communicate, and that implies a two-way dialogue. Blogs were meant to deliver just that, but I’m waiting for the next online revolution that restores that two-way street.
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6.6.09

“Super-city” Auckland was a fait accompli before legislation was even passed 

The first I ever heard of the proposal was in The New Zealand Herald, after a business trip. It was the main headline of the day. As I board the plane, I grabbed the .
   The headline read something along the lines of, ‘We’re going to be a super-city’.
   When I read the actual article, there was no such move mentioned. In fact, a commission had reported its findings, and the article did not conclude whether Auckland would or would not become a “super-city”, i.e. one where many of its individual councils would be amalgamated into one.
   I wanted to blog this at the time but didn’t think it that vital. After all, it wasn’t as though I was running for of Auckland. As a proud Wellingtonian, the item wasn’t top of my list.
   As legislation has passed making way for the “super-city”, and with groups deeply concerned about representation (given the Treaty of Waitangi’s provisions I can fully see why), it does seem there are a few things that need to be ironed out.
   I remain sceptical. Some feel the amalgamation would make the city less to ratepayers. Some feel that it’s an excuse to sell of Auckland’s assets to foreigners, continuing policies that have not enhanced New Zealand’s industry or society.
   Nearly a year since the Herald article, I am only slightly better informed, but what concerned me was that first piece I read.
   It is nearly never good news if a foreign-owned newspaper reports something as a fait accompli in its headline when the article below it offers nothing to support those words.
   Which made me wonder: what agenda does an Irish–Australian newspaper have in this whole thing?
   If you begin looking at it from that point of view, it gives a little bit more, albeit not much, suspicion to those people who have their doubts about the technocrats.
   Apart from the hikoi and the dull, everyday minutiæ of passing legislation (the latter being something few of us would care about), the negatives have not really been reflected in the media. Māori were painted as undemocratic by the , somehow offending PM ’s idea of “one person, one vote”, when the real fact is that the Treaty of Waitangi makes certain guarantees over joint .
   That issue, I know, opens up another can of worms, which was not the point of this post. But frankly, I don’t think the Māori view, one that concerns all of us, has been fairly represented in the reports I have encountered.
   So we know from the media alone that foreign interests want this “super-city” to go ahead. We know that some local interests do not. And we know the rest of us have a big question mark over what the heck the PM and the ACT Party’s Rodney Hide are on about, because we don’t live in Auckland.
   Now we have the Hon MP, one of Parliament’s more intelligent members, suggesting Wellington should consider doing something similar.
   I might agree if the motives are to create a city that would be a rival to Auckland and attract investment and jobs.
   Mr Dunne’s stated belief is that having amalgamated councils which had been competing, rather than cooperating, would make sense. In that sense, I agree with him.
   As long as is not put on the block and the resulting council provides the same, if not better, representation for its citizens.
   Nevertheless, Auckland still gives me some cause for concern. Granted, I am grasping at the tiniest straw here in creating my suspicion. But that straw was in a very large Miller as the Herald’s lead story that day, and on this occasion, I do not think it was sloppy that saw such a gulf between headline and copy. Not for the biggest story of the day. There was something more to it. And we should be vigilant, certainly more than I have been, about our biggest city’s affairs.
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2.6.09

GM says it’s writing Chapter 1 in new TVC 

I know it probably makes the world of sense to right now to get its hands on taxpayer money and reduce the number of .



But it made a lot of sense to British Leyland, too.
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1.6.09

Virtually wrong 

[Cross-posted] I’m quite a big fan of the work of , not because he is a (and an underrated one at that), but I get the messages he puts in to his movies. After viewing a few of his films over the last week on DVD, I was surprised to find this claim about his film Simone on IMDB and, one of my must-dislike sites, :

Al Pacino’s character, Viktor Taransky, is based on Ray Kurzweil and his female alter ego Ramona.

I do not know for a fact if this is true, but I do know that Mr Kurzweil’s ‘Ramona’ demonstration was in 2001. According to Mr Niccol’s father, whom I have spoken to on numerous occasions, Simone was written before The Truman Show, which débuted in 1998. So unless Mr Kurzweil had some proto-Ramona in the mid-1990s, then the claim on IMDB and Wikipedia is fictional.
   But you try correcting something on Wikipedia. A friend of mine attempted to remove some false information about his wife, but was blocked, so the inaccuracy (possibly ) stands. I once put in something about an actor and it was removed because it was ‘original research’. So, my conversation with Mr Niccol senior would be branded the same.
   The other Wikipedia experience I recall was providing an authoritative view on the capitalization of the definite article, along with supporting evidence, and I got severely shot down by some who refused to acknowledge it, despite their requesting a professional come in and settle the argument. Folks, if you don’t want it, don’t ask for it.
   Conclusion: things like Wikipedia are merely a collection of gossip and inaccurate rumour, which is given weight if it has been published in a less-than-reputable source. I’d give it a wide berth.
   Somehow, given the message of Simone, on how the spread fictions because people prefer to believe them, Mr Niccol may well love the way life has imitated art in the virtual world.
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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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