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31.10.09

Campaign graphics for Your Wellington 

I blogged today on my free wifi ideas at Your Wellington and mentioned that there are campaign graphics to download. There’s a feature with the Mimbo theme we’re using at yourwellington.org where the images are automatically resized (it’s a built-in feature that I’d prefer not to tamper with), so they are here instead. Whether or not you agree with the issues, you might like to use these so we can generate some healthy dialogue at Your Wellington. Or, if you would simply like to support my candidacy for Mayor of Wellington in 2010, please feel free to take and post the graphics. Just link them back to yourwellington.org.
Your Wellington Your Wellington
Your Wellington Your Wellington Your Wellington

   It’s early days yet, so feedback is more than welcome.
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Notes from my Sunrise appearance 

It was very enjoyable heading over to the TV3 Wellington studio for my spot on Sunrise last Thursday. It was the first time I mentioned my Wellington mayoral campaign on live network television, even if the rest of the segment was about getting rid of unwanted images on Facebook.
   Below are some of the script notes I had in front of me—typically I prepare these even if I never read from them. Props to Helen Baxter.

You can get your photographs off the web. A lot of servers are hosted in the US, and they are bound by what is called the . There’s a standard form that is used for the details, and you make a declaration to say you haven’t lied about it. This covers a lot of US services such as Blogger, Wordpress and .
   The catch is that you must be the owner, not the subject. Most of the time, this means that the only person who can make this complaint is the person who took the photo. As long as that person’s your friend, you should be OK.
   My experience is it takes between three and six days to get it sorted.

However, Facebook is sort of a law unto itself. Its feedback is atrocious. Most users have to figure things out for themselves and there is no longer even an acknowledgement from Facebook that they are looking into your issue.
   If you go into the help pages, you’ll find people having issues that date back many months.

First rule: behave yourself.
   Second rule: on your Facebook, you can actually set your albums so different people can see them. You put your friends into different categories. I recommend that if you have drunken photos that you post, stick them into their own folder and make that folder accessible only to your closest friends. Even if you have thousands of friends—or thousands of Twitter followers like Ali—studies show that we still only have about six and a half “real” friends. If you don’t know who the six and a half friends are, figure it out.
   Third rule: be proactive about it all. Use the Facebook privacy settings. There is even a setting in there that allows people to use your photos in ads, so you need to go in there and set that to ‘No one’.
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22.10.09

The US car industry is looking familiar 

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/eraserhead5/The largest in the land was effectively nationalized. It then killed more and product lines, even ones that could have survived.
   , hanging on to unloved mainstream sedans such as the Avenger, was in a deep crisis and needed a European manufacturer to take over its operations.
   , resisting the urge to go cap in hand to the government, stayed its course and solidified its market share, despite its own union troubles. It managed to shore things up and grow from there.
   USA 2009? No, UK in the 1970s.
   This is not a political post—it’s just pointing out how repeats itself. I also have a funny feeling the US scenario will play out the same way as the UK one did.
   British Leyland was broken up further and its “volume” operations—despite making fewer cars than London Taxis International—are owned by the Red Chinese state.
   Chrysler UK no longer exists. Its plants wound up making Peugeots.
   Ford UK might not be as strong today as in the 1980s, but it still has a good market share.
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Tourism Tech notes and slides up 

I told the audience at my Tourism Tech keynote that my speech notes and slides would be online at the event’s site. I’ve had a few requests in the days after as they hadn’t been uploaded, which is totally forgiveable: if you knew that co-hosts Nicky and Simon had been up since 3 a.m. of the day of my talk, and still tried to keep going by 10 p.m. to entertain a few of us, then the delay is acceptable.
   So for completeness’ sake, please head to the ‘My stuff’ parts of this site. My speech notes are linked from here, and the slides from here.
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Ask a genius 

From Stefan Engeseth’s blog, a very clever programme from a mutual friend of ours working with the Nobel people.





Here’s your chance to ask a really smart guy a question. Now, this is engagement. Something a mayor should do.
   There’s a bit more at the Nobel YouTube channel and the Nobel Prize site. Additionally, as Stefan points out:

If you are in Stockholm, you can ask questions at the special YouTube pod stationed at the Nobel Museum during October 20–24. Free admission will be given to visitors who ask a question to John Mather at the Nobel Museum, Stortorget 2, Gamla Stan.

   Even if you don’t ask, walking around Gamla stan would be a pleasant way to spend an autumn day.
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Letting my imagination run away, or: can you bank on the Wales? 

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/nettness/A couple of months ago, confirmed they had sacked the employee who had originally, mistakenly, given $10 million to a couple when they requested a $100,000 loan. The couple eventually scarpered and are believed to be in . Either that or they are partying away at Lord Lucan’s place.
   I was initially a bit upset over the firing, because given the way banks work, the manager should have caught this earlier, too. However, it appears her dismissal was related to a second error. In the words of the former Mrs Federline, ‘Oops, I did it again.’
   It makes me feel a bit better blogging about something that happened to me. Namely about the teller at Westpac who handed over $1,000 to me last week. Let’s hope he won’t get fired for his error as it was an innocent mistake, and the has since sorted the matter out.
   I withdrew $1,000 by writing a cash cheque—except he forgot to take the cheque.
   And I stress that he was one of the most polite tellers I have come across for a long time. He seems like the sort of guy who would learn from the mistake. And he’s lucky that I am way too decent to pocket $1,000 dishonestly.
   Effectively, the bank mistakenly counted out $1,000 and handed it to me.
   I returned home to listen to an answerphone message from his boss, who seemed a bit panicked. Westpac says it has deducted my account with the amount and asked if I would destroy the cheque.
   If it were not for CCTV, I could have replied, ‘What the devil are you talking about?’ And Westpac would have to admit that it handed over unrequested money to yet another man.
   There are things that Westpac does right—namely by the folks at my own branch, who have always been highly professional and beyond reproach. So there was no point in prolonging the bank’s agony. The matter was resolved.
   However, I can’t help but feel that the Westpac has been tarnished here, given the $10 million mistake was the first thing I thought of.
   It’s not really the image that the bank wants, yet, being a foreign-owned business, it’s unlikely going to just for one country. Historically, whatever Australia got, we got, with local adaptations in promotions.
   Chatting at my bank of choice today, TSB, I said to the staffer: ‘What if Westpac is actually a front for international money-laundering through Triad gangs?’
   I mean, they recently got stung to the tune of $961 million when the Inland Revenue Dept. sued over back taxes (also not good for its brand). So right now, it might want to find ways of lightening its taxation burden.
   I didn’t do finance at uni, so maybe there is some complex going on here.
   And since we get stereotyped by some ignoramuses for all looking the same, or, according to a former Tauranga MP now less relevant than the Fonz, we are supposedly all connected to Triad gangs (something which even more ignorant people believe), what if the bank is under some secret instructions to hand money over to any Chinese person?
   There we are, Spooks scriptwriters, a plot line for you. Now can I meet Keeley Hawes?
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Crossing cultures with Cindy King 

Cindy King interviewed me last week on cross-cultural matters and she gave me permission to post the interview, which was conducted on Twitter. (We tagged the posts so others could follow them.) However, I think it might be better if I sent you to her page, since she was the one who did all the hard work, and deserves the hits to her website. The Twitter interview is about two-thirds down the page; the earlier part was an email-done Q&A (we actually said most of the stuff in there in a Skype call prior to that—normally I would not be as candid with emailed questions).
   Props to Cindy for keeping the macron in the word Māori, which I intentionally typed in to the first part of the interview.
   I’ve had quite a few calls from France, such as Cindy’s, over the past few weeks. Looks like things are beginning to come right there business-wise. Malheureusement, l’entretien est en anglais.
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21.10.09

A Ford site without the blue oval 

Anyone spot what my gripe is about this screenshot from the Ford Motor Co.?

Ford Motor Company website

   If you discount the photograph of CEO Alan Mulally, there’s not a single on the page. Even in the photo it’s not complete.
   One argument might be that Ford doesn’t want to associate the whole company with the Ford , given that it also has Lincoln, Mercury and Volvo that it wishes to give equal time to. (How the mighty have fallen. Remember when we had to write Mazda, Land Rover, Aston Martin, Jaguar and Daimler on to the end of that? The time before last when it had four , the fourth was Edsel.)
   Unfortunately, for most of the world, this argument falls on deaf ears. I specifically mean those markets—virtually every one outside North America—where neither Lincoln nor Mercury is sold.
   Ford, as the corporation, is associated with Ford, the with the blue oval.
   And this does not seem to be a good time to skimp on that association.
   In the US, Ford is receiving more acclaim than Chrysler or GM because it hasn’t used taxpayer funds, and it was the only company to have models in the top 10 as a result of the government’s programme.
   And that translates wonderfully to the brand—which is why the badge adorns the cars. A mere ‘Ford Motor Company’ in seems out of place in a day and age when consumer power is stronger, and the omission of the logo harms the overall of Ford. Even with Massimo Vignelli’s Helveticization of American , the Ford blue oval remained present—and in my book, , at 78 years of age, still has yet to put a foot wrong.
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17.10.09

Bring back the online meritocracy 

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/somewhatfrank/Last Thursday’s meeting (all in attendance: Natalie, Jim, Mark and myself) touched on, after a long discussion about education and a briefer one about my mayoral campaign, . Has it peaked?
   Jim spoke highly of , ’s , and I was surprised to hear that its market share has grown very strongly since launch. Originally, I was a bit sceptical about Bing (it insisted I was in the UK when I used it in New Zealand, for example) but Jim makes a good point: it is geared toward those who wish to shop, and has an unparalleled (so far) interface that takes people to sites where they can buy the products they seek.
   My concern over Google is its new algorithm and the long-discussed supplemental index. Search engine boffins have talked about the latter for some time and how negative it might be for a website. Google, instead of addressing the problem directly, merely removed the words supplemental result from those that it had deemed to be second-class pages, not worthy of a high ranking on the service. Some pages were labelled second-class, never mind how good the content is on them. Score 1 for the Fonz and 0 for Richie Cunningham.
   Google is, of course, in the search business—or maybe the online one—so it makes financial sense to increase revenue for the areas that make money. However, I wonder if this is at the expense of its utility.
   We know there are some obvious trends out there. People have Tweeted, for instance, surviving emergency landings on planes or the protests around the time of the Iranian elections. This might not be (we can debate the term later) but it is relevant. People want to read this real-time, or, at least, very personal involvement in an event, without the filters of the .
   A meritorious search engine, one that judges the merit of the content before it judges the wallets of the site’s backers, is what netizens want. Once upon a time, Google was it. Now I wonder.
   For Google, with its reliance on and incoming links, will bias its results toward the establishment these days. Think about what you have searched for lately: aren’t fewer, but still authoritative, individuals coming up on p. 1?
   The citizen journalist, to use the term loosely, is penalized even if (s)he has been honest with meta tags, because those results aren’t going to be up top. The little guy is not that visible on Google, but the establishment is. You’ll have to keep flicking the search results’ pages to find the independent voices.
   To be fair, many established media sites deserve to be ranked highly. There is a difference between a Tweet and a well researched story that has background information and proper . And this must put Google into a quandary: is it a research tool, or an medium?
   Those who might want the recent Tweet aren’t after in-depth news, but an impression, or a fleeting headline, of what is happening. In the majority of cases, that does not qualify as research. Those who want the full story want an understanding of something, and what they are doing with Google is research. Therein lies a split.
   None of the search engines have perfected this, but it means there is room for one that will. So I am picking on Google unfairly. Perhaps there is space for a two-column layout: one for the in-depth stuff and another for the Tweets? The real estate is there on a search engine results’ page, regardless of the . People have learned from the fussiness of Hotbot in the late 1990s.
   Or perhaps Google can go back to the days when the big site and the little site were given the same consideration based on their content and how honestly their webmasters had gone about organizing it? Then there would be no concerns about any split: people would get what they want.
   Of course, the big won’t be supported as much, and the advertisers with money to spend on Google Ads won’t be seen with the big names as often.
   But at least, that way, it’s a . It still would penalize the fakes who use doorway pages and deceptive redirects. It would not reward the blogs where no attempt at writing descriptions has been made. It rewards content and, as we have heard when it comes to internet matters, content is king.
   I often say that when things get complex, simplify. I am one of those people who believe the search engines’ function is that of research, not entertainment. That means a search engine should pull out the most relevant results, supplemental or not, for the user. It should not be about pulling out just the latest or the most linked-to sites such as Reuter or AP, but anyone who has something relevant that should be heard.
   Some consideration must go back toward rewarding that honesty. These days, being honest isn’t counting for nearly as much when this search engine ranks its pages.
   There is an additional reason for my request: we make no progress as a species if all we know is the immediate, collective-memory stuff. Throw in relevant results about where we have been, and we might avoid making the same mistakes as a human race.
   Bring back the internet meritocracy—and if Google won’t, then somebody else should. We thought AltaVista would stick around as the premier search engine 10 years ago—so we know that anything can happen in this market, almost overnight.
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11.10.09

The Apprentice, Kiwi-style 



I’m having a hard time envisaging the version of .
   I rather like the UK version of the show (above). gives a very different style to , and I hope we Kiwis will give our own take.
   The issue I have with the American edition is that the tasks are somewhere between seventh form and first-year uni in terms of complexity, yet egomaniacs who are not used to getting on with one another fail dismally at them. (This is me generalizing and I specifically exclude at least one friend who has been on this show. And I imagine I have just stated the formula behind the programmes.) All these years, I felt smug about how much better Kiwis—who celebrate teamwork more than individuality—would do given the tasks.
   Now my fears are coming to the surface for one reason: what if we suck just as badly? What if the folks who go on the show are picked because of some level of narcissism and the esprit de corps that Kiwis have as a default behaviour takes a back seat? And then, to make it worse, first-year B-school students think that being an uncooperative moron is de rigueur in the business world?
   And providing these guys are not hired for more than 90 days, I suppose the Kiwi Don will be able to say, ‘You’re fired,’ instead of, ‘We need to go into a consultation regarding your dismissal while you have a right to lodge a complaint with the Employment Tribunal,’ or whatever crap we are supposed to say as bosses.
   So, who will be our Donald? Thérèsa Gattung? C. Rankin? My former economics’ classmate ?
   My friend David suggested that Rob Muldoon, if he were not dead, would have been perfect for the role.
   We effectively need a rich guy who is cutting, and chances are the producers will want a white male as well. When I go through the potentials in my mind, there’s not a single person I am afraid of, or think, ‘I would feel intimidated in a meeting with him.’
   One of the few rich guys I admire in this country is Peter Jackson, but I can’t see him being enough of an ass to front this sort of show.
   Any former All Blacks at the top of the financial tree who could at least intimidate a few young Kiwis? Someone who can deliver some politically incorrect comments (which comes back to Sir Bob, who could also box your ears, literally)? Or a big McDonald’s franchise holder who can assign losers to work on the chips with the phrase, ‘You’re fried’?
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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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