Archive for November 2010


Police issue videos of fourth Pike River explosion

30.11.2010

New Zealand Police has issued two videos from the Pike River coal mine, which shows the fourth blast on Sunday. These are probably the clearest yet, and give an idea of how terrible the conditions must be within the mine. May the 29 men who were trapped and who possibly perished there two Fridays ago rest in peace, and that their families can find some solace.

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Posted in internet, media, New Zealand, TV | No Comments »


TrueStory: My Christmas at Downstage on the 8th

30.11.2010

Some distinguished and famous people, and I as the token undistinguished person, form the cast of TrueStory: My Christmas at Downstage on Wednesday, December 8 at 7.30 p.m. We’re going to talk about our Christmas experiences, and all proceeds are going to the Wellington City Mission.
   Host Tim Gordon will be joined by: Dame Kate Harcourt (actress and broadcaster), Hilary Beaton (playwright, director and Downstage CEO), Gareth Farr (musician, composer and Arts Laureate), Jenny Pattrick (novelist, The Denniston Rose), Dave Armstrong (playwright and screenwriter, Le Sud, Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby), Rangimoana Taylor (actor, director and storyteller), and myself.
   Tickets can be booked at Ticketek.

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Posted in culture, interests, New Zealand, Wellington | No Comments »


Testing the search engines

30.11.2010

Blekko

I hadn’t heard of Blekko, a search engine, till last week, so armed with a new entrant, I wanted to see how they all compared.
   Blekko’s very pretty, and I’ve told Gabriel Weinberg, the man behind Duck Duck Go, just what it is that makes it attractive. Most of it is the modernist design approach it takes. But is it more functional?
   I have a couple of tests. You may have heard me dis Google’s supplemental index, where pages it deems to be less important wind up. But who makes that determination? And what if there is a page in there that is actually relevant but Google fails to dig it up?
   Google says the supplemental index doesn’t exist any more, but the fact remains that it fails to dig up some pages, especially older ones. So much for its comprehensive index.
   The first test, therefore, is one I have subjected every search engine I encounter to: will it find a 2000 article on Lucire about Elle Macpherson Intimates’ 10th anniversary? It is probably the only article on the subject, and because of this test, I’ve even linked it this year so it can be spidered by the search engines. Last month, Google could not find it, though in 2000–1, it was very easily found.
   If the search engines are as intelligent as their makers claim, it should be able to figure out these concepts and deliver the pages accordingly. The page itself is very basic with no trick HTML—just plain old meta data, as you would imagine for a ten-year-old file.
   Will the search engines find it now, with a few more inward links?

Duck Duck Go: 1st
Blekko: not found, though it locates a reference made on this blog and two others in Lucire, one going back to 2001, at positions 1, 2 and 12
Google: 73rd, with blog entries from here referring to it at 5 and 42, and another link in Lucire at 6
Bing: 1st with old frameset at 2nd
Ask: 7th

   Here’s the second test. In Wired, Google bragged about how its index could find a page about a certain lawyer in Michigan (mike siwek lawyer mi). Unfortunately for Mr Siwek, most of the top entries quickly became those about the Wired article and he was lost again in the index.
   Mr Don Wearing, a friend of mine, is a partner in a shoe retail chain. If I typed “Don Wearing” shoes, which of the search engines will deliver me an entry referring to Don Wearing specifically and not some guy called Don who happens to be wearing shoes? (Not long ago, the best the search engines could do was around 12th.)

Duck Duck Go: 2nd
Blekko: says ‘No results found for: “Don Wearing” shoes’ but actually finds the article at 5th
Google: 3rd
Bing: 2nd
Ask: 5th

Not bad: an improvement all round.
   OK, how about speed of addition? Let’s see if the search engines will find the last entry in this blog, added a few hours ago. I’ll use the search term “Jack Yan” TPPA.

Duck Duck Go: not found
Blekko: not found
Google: found the main blog page
Bing: found a link to it at MyBlogLog
Ask: not found, but came up with seven irrelevant results

   This is just a quick test based on three examples that might not reflect everyday use. However, the first two frustrated me earlier when I went to hunt for them on Google (and before I had heard of Duck Duck Go), which is why I remembered them, so admittedly Google was at a slight disadvantage in this test as a result. I never went to Bing or Ask regularly.
   Therefore, I’m not going to draw any conclusions about who is best, but I will say that Google is quicker at finding new material. I would, however, encourage others to give these other search engines a go and see how effective they are. I’m very happy with Duck Duck Go, especially as it does not second-guess my queries with Google’s annoying ‘Showing results for [what Google thinks I typed]. Search instead for [what I actually typed]’. No, Google, I did not type my query wrong—so give me the results already!
   I prefer Duck Duck Go’s approach, which is to treat the web more as a research medium. There is no hiding pages: it just delivers the most relevant result to what I typed, which is why I originally moved to Google at the end of the 1990s.
   Judging by the above, I’m not convinced Blekko is ready for prime-time (which is why it still has a beta tag).
   Of the five tested, it looks like it’s still the Duck for me, complemented with Google News. I’m way more impressed with Duck Duck Go’s privacy policy: no search leakage, no search history, and no collecting of personal information to hand over to law enforcement or, for that matter, the Chinese Politburo.
   And in a year where people have shown that they care about privacy, Duck Duck Go seems to make more sense.

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Posted in business, design, internet, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


TPPA could turn the clock back

30.11.2010

During the campaign trail, people tended to ask me if I was left or right. While I cheekily said, ‘Forward,’ many a time (and had at least one imitator), there’s something to be said for abandoning what are, effectively, nineteenth-century constructs.
   And unless you are DI Alex Drake in Ashes to Ashes, you need not concern yourself with constructs.
   What society needs is a dose of right or wrong, because all the constructs do is blind people to seeing a contrary argument if they happen to have branded it “left” or “right”.
   There’s no ‘I can see your viewpoint’ because that viewpoint is never aired.
   Fortunately, we didn’t have too much of this problem during the mayoral election though I did have a few people express surprise that I had once run for the Alliance. Meanwhile, Mayor Prendergast was surprised on the night of our TV debate that I sat with Young Nats—though three of them were, indeed, on my campaign.
   If we are all proclaiming we are “independents” and deny any connection with the larger parties, then surely the best quality we could have is to be non-political and unite people from “left” and “right”?
   And, as I also said on the campaign—and long before that—I know of very few people who are “all left” or “all right”.
   A while back, I had a discussion with the co-leader of the Alliance, Kay Murray, and she mentioned that there was a certain policy where the Alliance and ACT saw things the same way.
No Ordinary Deal: Unmasking the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement   It was with this frame of mind that I read Prof Jane Kelsey’s piece in INM‘s New Zealand Herald today.
   New Zealand is to host the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) talks on December 6, in which, says Kelsey, we would be ‘deepening our commitment to free market policies that affect our jobs, our social and cultural well-being, and ultimately the sovereignty to make decisions as a nation …
   ‘The TPPA would lock us into a model where markets and big businesses rule, ignoring the reality that it has failed.’
   I applaud the Herald for publishing Prof Kelsey’s op–ed, given that there are certain media part of larger groups that may have reasons to limit New Zealanders’ awareness of globalization.
   As much as some would like to hide the figures, the reality is that many globalist policies have failed to generate New Zealand enterprise. They have not enabled us to take advantage of the internet by providing a system geared against us as producers. The level playing field with which Labour tried to sell the promise of Rogernomics in the 1980s, thereby appealing to the fair play nature of New Zealanders, never materialized. And it desperately needed to.
   The result has been a largely technocratic system that has seen foreign enterprises already dictate much of what is done here in business—including accounting practices that have seen taxes that would have once been due here go offshore.
   To those National supporters that were part of my campaign team, I said: I am not against some of your party’s principles. I remember the National where progressive Kiwi-owned enterprise was on the cards as a given, and I believe in that. The main parties no longer really want to discuss this topic, if my memory of the 2008 General Election serves me correctly.
   I would not want to speak for them, but I suspect the younger members of this group would agree with me, having grown up in an era where values and social responsibility have been emphasized more than in the decade—or generation—before. Humanism is sometimes best delivered at the local level by organizations that know their community best, though there obviously are exceptions. They are no dummies: they will have observed this themselves, and may well have judged that market theory needs to be tempered by good (and not overbearing) governance.
   Having your formative years in a recession might be a good thing if you are forced to consider things at that community level. We’ve had quite enough “me decades” in the last 30 years that it’s about time we had a “we” one that had long been forecast by some in the marketing trends’ business.
   And I wonder whether the Prime Minister sees it quite this way.
   I almost wonder whether he favours having a small group called the information-rich and a larger group called the information-poor as this seems to be the next divide that certain forces are poised to take us in.
   In fact, I’ve had Prof Kelsey’s new book, due to be launched this week, for the last fortnight, and it makes excellent reading. And while given to me by friends on the “left”, it takes no political stance and analyses the TPPA for what it is.
   I had no idea that when I received it as a gift I was getting it pre-publication.
   No Ordinary Deal: Unmasking the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement has been edited by Kelsey and contains essays dealing with each aspect of the TPPA.
   If we thought that the fight against the Copyright Act amendments was tough, TPPA will see a new round, where there will be an assault on internet users’ rights to protect the US entertainment industry.
   Prof Susy Frankel, one of the authors, notes in the book:

It is possible that the TPPA negotiations will require more stringent protections of digital copyright works and more confind exceptions to those protections than the New Zealand law provides …
   The AUSFTA makes all reproductions of copyright works, even those transient in nature, a copyright infringement. New Zealand law does not make the creation of transient copies that allow the Internet to function a copyright infringement. This is important because it means that people cannot be sued for simply using the Internet and looking things online.

This means New Zealand’s unique digital copyright laws could be clawed back to become closer to US law, but there is equally a risk of what is permitted here, thanks to how we define fair dealing versus fair use, narrower.
   Meanwhile, Kelsey warns in her Herald piece:

Ironically, the government may also guarantee rights to foreign firms that it refuses to recognise for Maori under the Treaty of Waitangi.
   US firms are demanding even easier foreign investment rules that would be locked in for all time, when opinion polls show New Zealanders want to stop more land falling into foreign hands. Likewise, the idea of stemming currency speculation by introducing a financial transactions tax may be prevented by these “trade” rules.

All of which hint, to me, at the continuation of a slanted playing field where we remain at the bottom.
   Indeed, when it comes to services, Kelsey is right to point out (in her book) that:

The negotiating positions of governments participating in the TPPA seek to enhance the comparative advantage of their domestic firms, so as to boost their countries’ export earnings from services and strengthen their national economies …
   Achieving [the Obama administration’s goal of trebling services’ exports] would intensify the dominance of US corporations within other countries’ service markets. The US already reports a surplus in its cross-border trade in private commercial services with negotiating TPPA parties, standing at US$10·5 billion in 2008.

We are in part countering the imbalance with tourism at the moment, but given that there are other services—and we spent a good deal of the last generation building our service economy—we may expect an assault from the US.
   These are not the only sectors, but New Zealand needs to brace itself for a continued weakening of our economy should we put all our chips into the TPPA.
   I can say this with some greater cred that I am no longer campaigning: strengthening this country’s economy and building jobs is imperative, and we need to embark on that before opening us further to foreign private enterprise.
   I would prefer to see policies that enhance New Zealanders’ innovation and enterprise, aid our exports, build our infrastructure so we are content providers, and balance these needs with those who are disadvantaged. We need to reverse our continued slide into indebtedness through innovation and that our government, regardless of its label, needs to “govern” to ensure a balance for all citizens.
   It is too tempting, and too easy, for the New Zealand Government to believe it can relive the days of the boom—one that was founded on very little substance, mind—by effectively turning the clock back. Taking the technocratic experiment one step further by now removing the advantages we enjoy in intellectual property and services—now that manufacturing and energy have gone—isn’t something I can see working.
   Having backward policies isn’t going to suddenly take us in to the boom of yesteryear and make the economy rosier, and the Prime Minister, who apparently was no stranger to hard work if his PR is to be believed, needs to realize this.
   He needs, indeed, to position himself and his party to work even harder to promote that idea of progressive enterprise, rather than a route in which we are sold up the creek again. Assenting to the demands of foreign governments, lobbyists and corporations is not the way to do it.

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Posted in business, internet, leadership, media, New Zealand, politics, social responsibility, technology, USA | 3 Comments »


Putting a full site feed on a Facebook fan page is not a good idea

29.11.2010

Even though more young women are spending time on Facebook at the exclusion of other sites, last night I decided to stop connecting the Lucire RSS feed in to its Facebook fan page.
   We began the fan page very late, having relied on using a Facebook group. And even then, these were promoted half-heartedly.
   Despite the small numbers on the fan page, the links on Facebook were getting several hundred views each. Non-members were popping by to have a gander as well as those following us.
   That meant we were doing our supporters out of potential hits. And guess who gains? Facebook advertisers.
   Of course, this is only sensible business practice as far as Facebook is concerned. But we decided that we would rather put up links manually and invite readers to come over to our site instead.
   This is not just about making sure our advertisers got a bit more exposure from a few hundred folks.
   For Facebook page members, it means getting the news early. Facebook sometimes took up to two days to import a news item from our feed.
   It also allows viewers to see a post as intended—Facebook’s imported items stripped out the videos.
   In fact, many years ago, we pasted everything in manually and it didn’t do any harm to the growth of Lucire‘s presence on Facebook.
   I don’t know how this will work. Will we get a few more hits as a result, or will Facebook users prefer not to exit the environment of Mr Zuckerberg’s site?
   I believe users will click through, because the Lucire brand can be trusted. They wouldn’t be our fans if they didn’t have some trust in us.
   Feedback is, of course, welcome.

Of course we can see the lack of logic behind putting up posts inside Facebook. It’s a tactic we’ve recommended to clients, because they did not have a strong web presence and Facebook provides the best way in which they can engage with their audiences. But for a publication’s website, it can be a lousy idea.
   New features can hit you one by one, and you go along with their introduction, sometimes out of enthusiasm. Really, we should have kept our brains switched on, and remember the adage I often repeat: technology is here to serve us, not the other way round. Putting our feed into Facebook was an example of serving the technology: the feature was available and we opted to use it, without any strategic purpose.

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Igovt hates my answers

29.11.2010

I signed up to the Igovt site for the New Zealand Government today, allowing citizens a single log-on for e-government services (such as the Companies’ Office, where we have to file annual returns). In case you forget your password, you can choose from a variety of security questions they can ask you.
   The following examples are not what I wound up using, because on both occasions, Igovt would not allow the answer.
   ‘What was the primary school you attended the most?’ was the first question. I faithfully put, ‘St Mark’s Church School’. The site returned: ‘Answer is invalid.’
   The cheeky part of me thought, that since this was a site run by the state, only state schools were permitted.

Igovt doesn't like my answer

   I tried another question. ‘What was your father’s place of birth?’
   I entered, ‘Taishan, China’. The site returned: ‘Answer is invalid.’

Igovt doesn't like my answer

   Now, I’m pretty sure that I know better than the New Zealand Government just where my Dad was born.
   Or, I thought, maybe they don’t let people with foreign-born fathers register? That you have had to have been here for a couple of generations. This was part of the Johnny Foreigner policies that someone inside the Department of Internal Affairs implemented.
   Seriously, I think the website has a problem with anyone who punctuates: the apostrophe and the comma were too confusing for it. I’ve written to the DIA to tell them of these bugs and, meanwhile, I’ve opted for some other question on the list. The answer for that question, sadly, is more ambiguous than the precise ones I required for my original choices, but I was running out of options.
   On a more pleasant note, the Igovt website is very nicely designed, and the new interface for the Companies’ Office site is very attractive indeed. The facelift is long overdue, but I am very glad it’s come. Whomever did the redesign did a very good job.

Companies' Office website

Meanwhile, I read that some documents, which weren’t exactly top secret but accessible to thousands of American civil servants, have made it on to Wikileaks. Good.
   Sometimes greater transparency is all our world needs, and the difference between what we had rumoured and what Wikileaks has revealed is that the new stuff has the stamp of approval of the US Government. I really don’t see various world leaders feeling upset at their perceptions as recorded by people inside the US. Most national leaders, one hopes, are not dummies, who will be more than aware of where they stand with the US.
   Now, had the documents been about aliens and UFOs, I would get excited.

PS.: The Department of Internal Affairs confirms there is a punctuation bug. Helen Coffey of the DIA informs me, ‘This fault has been identified for the next release due in the second quarter of 2011.’ Good on the DIA for responding in a timely fashion and for being transparent about its website’s fault.—JY

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Posted in design, humour, internet, New Zealand, politics, publishing, USA | 3 Comments »


Farewell, Leslie Nielsen

29.11.2010

A quick tribute to Leslie Nielsen—the ‘OC’—and the world’s favourite Danish–Canadian guy, who died today at age 84.

And don’t call me Shirley, either.

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The big and the small of it

29.11.2010

Spotted on the Lucire website today, an advertisement for Consumer magazine.
   It’s a Flash animation, suggesting that not all car insurance policies are perfect. The opening frame shows a car with oversized coins for wheels, and the wheels shrink to a more standard size at the end of the animation.
   The copy reads, ‘Car insurance / Get the cover that fits’.
   All I could think of was:

Consumer ad

Ford Kuga

Consumer ad

Ford Fiesta.

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Posted in business, cars, humour, internet, marketing, media, New Zealand, publishing | No Comments »


Retro moment: the first American Ford Granada

28.11.2010

Ford Granada advertisement
Above: The US Ford Granada in a contemporary advertisement, as posted at americangranada.com.

Not the European car, but the American one of the same name: the Ford Granada was marketed as a US alternative to a Mercedes-Benz. Not as overstyled as, say, the Ford Maverick, this was an extremely heavy car, and Ford’s marketing emphasized how it was as good as the Mercedes-Benz, at a similar size.
   There’s not much by way of the Ford identity in this car’s design: it comes across as a pastiche of the Merc and something that Lee Iacocca would dream up. It was, after all, the 1970s—probably the last decade occidental car companies tried things without regard to how models might look in their range.
   The heaviness may be due to the amount of standard equipment. Iacocca was quite happy to lavish his era of Fords with gear. There’s little mention of his involvement with the Granada, not even in his autobiography, but it seems in line with his approach with the Mustang II.
   While there’s still some “Fordness” to the overall look, e.g. in the waistline, I don’t remember contemporary Fords having this type of grille, and the later Granada (and related Mercury Monarch) facelifts continued to give this line a different style to the others. (On a side note, there was also an ultra-plush Granada called the Lincoln Versailles, which was not that successful; the equivalent in recent times, of a modern Ford sold under all three brands and looking about the same, was the CD338 Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln MKZ [née Zephyr].)
   I remember contemporary reports that swallowed Ford’s claims and published diagrams on how similar the two cars were (PR info from Dearborn?), and I even have a Kiwi friend in Whitby who loves his Yank Granada. Fascinating looking back at these cars, 35 years on—and how branding plays a far greater role in automotive design today than it did back then.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, design, interests, marketing, media, publishing, USA | No Comments »


Amazon begins charging dormant-account fee

25.11.2010

Here’s a new clause in the Amazon Associates’ contract that I never spotted before, which is available publicly for viewing. European countries have a similar one, with differences in the currency.

If you have not earned any advertising fees in the 3 years prior to any given calendar month, then on the first day of that calendar month we may charge you an account maintenance fee that will be deducted from your unpaid accrued advertising fees. That account maintenance fee will be the lesser of $10 or the amount of unpaid accrued advertising fees in your account. Further, any unpaid accrued advertising fees in your account may be subject to escheatment under state law.

At least they give you three years before deducting a maintenance fee, but one wonders just how troublesome it is for Amazon to keep one’s account open when you make zero sales. It could be worse: it could be Commission Junction, which starts charging after six months. Many people have cried foul over that one.
   However, we are cancelling our Amazon.fr account as a result because we don’t score many sales there. It makes us wary of Amazon, however, because this sort of clause is a real turn-off and brings a cloud over the service.
   I notice that while we received emails notifying us of the change for the UK, Germany and Europe, we never received one for the US. I was surprised to find, when writing this blog post, that the US agreement has changed, too.
   I think this only encourages us to look at alternatives, rather than make us push Amazon more. Certainly if I were starting a website today, I’d look for an affiliate programme that does not have such a clause. And who’s to say that the next big bookstore site isn’t in China or India, prepared to compete on this very thing?

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Posted in business, China, India, internet, marketing, publishing, USA | No Comments »