Archive for January 2011


The music of goodbye: farewell John Barry

31.01.2011

It was with great sadness that I wrote an obit about my favourite composer, John Barry, today, and published it on the Lucire website.
   While Barry didn’t have to do with fashion per se, his music was often fitting themes to each era. Who can write a complete history of 1960s’ music without some of its anthems: Barry’s Goldfinger and Born Free themes must rank highly (the Academy thought so with the latter; ironic considering Born Free’s producer did not), and the haunting ‘We Have All the Time in the World’? Barry fans like me will point to even his 1970s’ output as brilliant, regardless of the merit of the film: Murphy’s War, King Kong and The Deep work as stand-alone works as far as I am concerned. This blog itself is named for a TV series for which Barry wrote the theme, The Persuaders. Somewhere in Time remains as haunting now as it did then; Barry’s contribution to Out of Africa made the film seem larger than it really was. John Barry had style—and style is the currency my magazines deal in.
   It’s easy to point to Barry’s major works, as the obits have done, but as I type, I can think of The Glass Menagerie, Across the Sea of Time, Masquerade and Swept from the Sea as excellent scores, too.
   Barry once said that he was very visual. It’s an odd comment from a composer, but what he probably meant was that he could find music to complement scenes that he saw. For someone who wanted to be a film composer since childhood, and taking every opportunity to get there, his is a career that many of us would rightfully envy. He loved what he did, was acclaimed for it, and managed to live his daily life in reasonable privacy.
   I understood the visual comment but it was hammered home best when, driving around Oriental Bay, I saw one of the ferries go out. At the same time, Barry’s Raise the Titanic theme came on my tape deck (this was a while ago).
   Now, a Wellington–Picton ferry is not the Titanic, but I was amazed at how well the theme complemented the sight of a ship in the harbour. It was then I realized just how hard it would be for a musician to convey images, and just what Barry meant. I defy anyone listening to the Raise the Titanic theme (presuming you can find it—mine was not conducted by Barry) to not get nautical images in your head when it’s played and your eyes are shut. That’s how good Barry was.
   I always knew at some point I would write John Barry’s obit. I didn’t expect it so soon, but then, I imagine, no one did. He’s the only celeb whose obit-writing caused me to tear up; when composer David Arnold Tweeted that he felt that ‘Mary’s Theme’ from Mary, Queen of Scots was fitting, I teared up a little more.
   For me, John Barry’s music is the music of my teenage years and my 20s. So much of what I did, I did to a Barry soundtrack. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’s CD accompanied me into my first trip to Switzerland—like the experience with the ferry, it went with the snowy landscapes. As I bombed around Monaco and the South of France, it was The Persuaders’ theme (which I even referred to when I wrote a story about the experience). It was a further bond with my good friend, Richard Searle—when he got me out of some legal issues many years ago, a Barry biography was my gift to him; when I met Donna Loveday, the curator, Barry came up again—she even used one of his compositions at her wedding.
   It’s like a little bit of myself died today—that’s the feeling I get from the news. I never met John Barry nor did I meet anyone who knew him. The closest I got was Richard telling me he had been to a Barry concert, of which I was very jealous.
   But I am a fan, and will remain so till my days end. He was the only musician whose career I can say I followed for a majority of my lifetime. So this is how it feels to lose a celebrity whose work you truly admired.

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Posted in culture, interests, media, UK, USA | 3 Comments »


One for the Japanese-car buffs

30.01.2011

And with this, all the Toyota Coronas are on Autocade, with the exception of the Corona Mark II models (really forming a line in its own right).

Image:Toyota_Corona_EXiV_(ST200).jpgToyota Corona EXiV (ST200). 1993–8 (prod. unknown). 4-door hardtop sedan. F/F, F/A, 1838, 1998 cm³ (4 cyl. DOHC). Larger EXiV, still twinned with Carina ED, continuing the same formula as before. Wider than the 1,700 mm limit imposed by Japanese taxation laws and more expensive as a consequence. Rounder lines. Four-wheel drive from 1994. Deleted 1998 as these styles became less popular in the compact- and mid-sized sectors.

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Posted in cars, interests | No Comments »


There’s got to be a morning after Quora

25.01.2011

This blog post was originally published at Social Media NZ. Michael Moore-Jones has written a post in response here.

I read with interest Michael Moore-Jones’s review of Quora. He is very enthusiastic about the new website, and with some good reasons.
   I’m still in the “wait and see” camp. I joined, part of that 2011 rush he wrote about, though I had heard of the site earlier. However, I stumbled into Cwora, the spoof site, before I ever signed up into Quora.
   Quora is attractive for now because of the people on it. The folks who invited me I both respect, so, like other networks in their infancy, you think there’s a nice community of well educated people on it. But, will it always stay that way?
   I’m not entirely sceptical. I think Quora can grow, just as any other social network with a bit of momentum has grown for a period.
   However, I look at the flip side, too.
   I’m writing today after a few quiet days on Facebook and Twitter. The quietness is either down to winter blues (if you are in the northern hemisphere) or summer holidays (in the southern). Or, you can be cynical like me and say that people are “virtually socialized” out, that, after all this time on the two networks, we’re looking for other stimuli. Maybe real life?
   Facebook is, as it has been to me since I joined in 2006, a tool. I admit I have been suckered in to having it as a time-waster as well. But that seems to be out of my system. I’ve organized school reunions on it; I’ve played quizzes on it. Other than as a tool to talk to people, it no longer holds much appeal to me as a social network where I want to waste time.
   Twitter was ruined when the Twitbots started trawling the Twitterverse for other accounts to follow. I used to delete them as they came in. I can’t be bothered any more. Bots, follow away. Last week, I had nine consecutive bots follow me before I Tweeted a whinge and cheekily got a human (who un-followed and re-followed).
   Perhaps it’s the economy kicking off again. There are things to do, things we put on hold for a few years while we reoriented ourselves. Facebook—forget it, it’s not important. Tweetbots, why should I care?
   I wrote a few years ago, for one of the Happy About series of books predicting the following year, that people would go back to brands they trusted for online entertainment. That hasn’t happened—Facebook has continued to grow and become something that Altavista, Infoseek, Go and the like failed to in the 1990s. It has become a portal, somewhere where people go to before they even venture to the loo each morning, and where they can springboard to other places. Forget Google: Facebook has edited your interests for you.
   But is it happening now? That we’ve become so used to Facebook that it’s invisible? And if it is invisible, then maybe we’ve incorporated it into our lives so it’s no longer a novelty. We take it for granted, like television or radio. As a medium, it is noise. It’s just there.
   Not long ago, we of the Gen X years sat round the telly and enjoyed our two state-owned channels. There was a shared culture of everyone watching the same things. Because there was nothing else to watch. Television was the novelty and, oh, the choices we had with two channels! And, in 1989, the choices we had with three!
   Where is that wave of excitement now? Television might try to innovate with Tivo or HD, but I watch so little of it now. Very, very little on prime-time even piques my interest, when all that seems to reside on the terrestrial channels are reality shows (I live in reality, thank you—I don’t need Mark Burnett’s version of it), NCSIS: Duluth, Law and Order: the Unit without Alicia Witt and Everybody Loves Ramsey.
   In the early 1990s, it was the ’net. So we all rushed to it. We all got email addresses—I’ve had mine since the late 1980s. But who among us doesn’t now see email as vanilla, as noise, and even as an annoyance?
   The appeal with email in, say, 1992, was a growing number of people on it. Usually our peers. And those who were not our peers were well educated people who had some similiarities to us. The business people on it were often trying to learn beyond their borders, as was I. I looked at telex machines and marvelled years before. I saw War Games and marvelled. Now this stuff was becoming real, on the screen in front of me.
   Then the spammers came and ruined it.
   But, never fear, there were blogs. Blogs were the next frontier, and so many blogs were worth following and reading.
   Then the sploggers came and ruined it.
   YouTube, what a great way to watch videos!
   Then the commenters came and ruined it.
   The pattern repeats, and while Quora compares favourably to the likes of Yahoo! Answers (which has also, in some part, been affected by netizens who just want to vent and be cheeky), will it ultimately become vanilla?
   It seems there are two choices. One is to get big and risk the same-old downward trend of the other services. The other is to think small.
   LinkedIn, despite falling into a funk in the middle of the decade for me, seems to be back with a vengeance—but as a fairly closed network where they’ve insisted that you only connect with those you know and wish to do business with. On Facebook, we might waste time. On LinkedIn, we’re talking about commerce—would we happily lend our name to being someone’s connection? If you tell me you have 5,000 connections, I might think twice about your worth to me—whereas on Facebook, I’ve ceased to care about one’s number of “friends”.
   A Small World, which some have labelled ‘Snobbook’, revels in its exclusivity—I’ve certainly been picky in whose invitation I accept, again, thanks to the site’s strictness.
   Yet I have come to trust both brands. They are still tools, but neither has been ruined in the eight and six years I have been on them respectively.
   I’m going to hold back on being as enthusiastic as Michael. We are on the hunt for the next big thing, but I have a feeling it’s going to be something even more radical—as in, upgrade-your-gear-or-miss-out radical. Luddites queue here!

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Posted in business, culture, internet, media, New Zealand, publishing, technology | 4 Comments »


The real experts are fixing Firefox 4

25.01.2011

Good news: there have been more developments with Mozilla as they work on the rather serious bug (the one where you can’t read a damn thing) in Firefox 4 Beta.
   John Daggett at Mozilla created logging to help identify the problem, and I ran the latest nightly build to get the logs back to him. We’ve identified the troublesome area. Another expert, Jonathan Kew, today identified what caused the break and has created a patch.
   I’m glad this finally got to the attention of the people that matter. Once it did, the fixes are proceeding apace. I have to admit it took a while, and the initial filings of the bug seemed to have been ignored, but once it got into the system after Boris asked me to cc him, the Firefox initiés are trying to make the next incarnation of the browser top-notch.
   I believe it took reporting it to both Mozilla Support and Bugzilla before it got noticed—that’s the strategy I’ll take in future if there’s a bug of this nature.
   I also kept the buggy Beta installed, so I could help with troubleshooting.
   For once, I’m looking forward to the next Firefox Beta with optimism. It might even be worth holding on to till the final release.

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How will Chevrolet go down in Korea?

25.01.2011

Last week, GM announced it would drop the Daewoo marque, as it has done through Europe, in its native Korea, in favour of Chevrolet.
   The company will also be renamed GM Korea, a name it once had nearly four decades ago.
   While most will think this makes sense, so GM can concentrate on unifying its Chevrolet brand globally, I have to play devil’s advocate.
   We know that GM opted to use Buick as its first brand in China in the Communist era because it had generated a lot of goodwill prewar. And it worked: Chinese people, somehow, knew that Buick was a quality brand, even though there were very few cars in China in the 1930s. In the 1990s, 60 years on, Buick sold pretty much everything it made through its joint ventures in China.
   This might be due to Chinese people valuing history and a sense of brand loyalty in an era where foreign brands were still fairly new in the People’s Republic.
   What about Korea? Of course, South Korea is no stranger to brands and consumerism, but where does Chevrolet fit? Is it as well placed as Daewoo, which has seen years of financial disgrace as a car company?
   If we took the Chinese experience, then we might look at the last car GM sold as a Chevy in the Korean market:

Image:Chevrolet_1700_Wagon.jpgChevrolet 1700. 1972–8 (prod. 8,105). 4-door sedan, 5-door wagon. F/R, 1698 cm³ (4 cyl. CIH). Holden Torana (LJ), made by Saehan of Korea. Essentially a facsimile of the Australian original, but for an unusual station wagon model that looked more like an Opel at the back. Robust, but a failure on the Korean market, thanks to a perception that it was thirsty (the oil crisis did not help; Korean engines were generally smaller at this point). In theory replaced by facelifted Camina in 1976, though it ran alongside it.

   Not exactly a success. The supposed successor, the Camina, sold even fewer, despite having a smaller engine.
   If Koreans had the same conditions as the Chinese, then this one model sold as a Chevrolet in Korea will instil negative brand associations in the Korean market.
   Daewoo hasn’t exactly had the history of Buick. It emerged as a car marque only in the 1980s, taking over from Saehan, so it may well be disposable. It’s also not like Datsun of Japan, which had plenty of years established worldwide. Nor is it like other storied GM brands such as Vauxhall and Holden, which are restricted to one country or one region.
   Koreans have also seen major brands such as Goldstar, or Lucky–Goldstar, become the much simpler LG. Walk around Seoul and you see plenty of KFCs and Pizza Huts.
   But there’s still a part of me that says a nation that has very few expatriates might just prefer their locally made cars to have local brands.
   Koreans have a perception that foreign brands invite the tax authorities to investigate you, which is why so few people buy non-Korean cars there. So how will Korean-made and Korean-developed, but foreign-badged, cars go down there?
   It hasn’t been done with rival brands Hyundai, Kia, Ssangyong or Samsung, the latter two having foreign owners.
   GM will have to be careful how Chevrolet is marketed, to ensure that it’s perceived, at least in Korea, as a Korean brand that just happens to have an American home and a French pronunciation. Because if there’s one thing branding can do, it’s to make people overlook the actual country of origin in favour of the perceived one. This is why Japanese giants such as Suntory sell fruit juices in New Zealand as Just Juice, Fresh-Up or Bay Harvest—brands with histories in New Zealand—and we do not see Bill Murray on our airwaves getting lost in translation in a commercial.
   Sure, Daewoo has been owned by GM for years, so every car buff in Korea knows that the name change means nothing. Some of the range—the Alpheon and the Veritas, for instance—hail from China and Australia. But the everyday person in the street might be a bit more comfortable buying a Daewoo Alpheon than a Chevrolet Alpheon—because no one really wants the revenuers sending a letter saying they’re going to be audited.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, China, culture, marketing, New Zealand, USA | 3 Comments »


Rupert Murdoch has it in for Google more than I ever could

24.01.2011

Rupert Murdoch
Monika Flückiger/Creative Commons

And people thought I was de-Googling my life or being mean to Google. What about Mr Murdoch and his entire firm?
   We all know his comments about how he wanted to block Google News’s bot and had spoken out against that. While little happened on that front with the exception of The Times going behind a paywall, it does appear that MySpace now blocks Blogger and Blogspot.
   This thread from a MySpace user on the Google forums was fascinating to read.
   If you attempt to link to Blogger via MySpace, this is the message you’ll get:

Sorry, you have reached a link that is no longer accessible due to one or more of the following:
—A reported spammer site
—A reported Phishing Site: A site designed to trick the user into giving up user name and passwords.
—A site which contains malware
—A site that currently contains a lot of spam
—The user entered HTML syntax was inaccurate.

   MySpace responded to the user:

We’ve recently discovered that BlogSpot pages are being used by spammers to send spam, so all links to that site have been disabled. Although you or your blog may not be associated with or linked to spam or spammers, to protect all MySpace Profiles from spam, phishing, and online scams, all links to BlogSpot are blocked.

   When he pushed more, asking, how on earth a blog could send out spam, MySpace replied:

BlogSpot pages are being used by spammers to send spam, so all links to that site have been disabled. Although you or your blog may not be associated with or linked to spam or spammers, to protect all MySpace Profiles from spam, phishing, and online scams, all links to BlogSpot are blocked.

   You might think: who cares about MySpace? But it is a very interesting, though perhaps not the best thought-out move, from this News Corp. subsidiary, that will likely wind up annoying legitimate users. As much as I dislike Blogger, I have to agree with the MySpace user’s queries: how on earth could linking to Blogger allow Blogger to send spam back to MySpace?
   Still, everything I’ve said over 2010 about Google is nothing like an instruction from Rupert Murdoch—and this perhaps shows just how much the firm is prepared to get into Google’s way.

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Posted in business, internet, media, publishing, technology, USA | No Comments »


All it takes is someone to care

24.01.2011

Thank goodness for Boris, who commented on one of my Firefox posts here. Since he’s been on here, he’s asked me to file a new bug report, and he’s now getting a bunch of Mozilla boffins to investigate the font display error that I’ve been having since I’ve begun to download the v. 4 betas. Hooray!
   This is a public thank-you to Boris, for giving a damn, and, from what I can tell, having the expertise and the connections to look in to this bug. The number of techs now working on the bug has increased (from one to four), and I’m finally feeling hopeful about the Mozilla development programme for its next-generation browser.
   I would have hated to have dumped Firefox 4 on release if it was the only program I could not read. The suggestions on the Mozilla support site have included removing Helvetica from one’s font menu, because it had seemed to one of the helpers there that both Helvetica and Lucida were causing problems. (I don’t want to take a dig at this guy because he is, unlike the Google person I wrote about last year, genuinely trying to help.) I pointed out that it seemed to be these two because of their wide installation base and frequent appearances in CSS specs, and the fault still lay with Firefox 4 itself.
   I don’t know whether to call Boris’s attention a fluke or the system working—I had been on this like a dog on a bone, and I guess eventually one of my messages in Bugzilla would get noticed. Whatever the case, I’m grateful for it, and for playing a part in getting a pretty serious bug remedied.
   What I do know is that the equivalent on Chrome has been ignored on the Google forums, so Google has continued to put out a browser that can neither handle SVG font embedding properly (confirmed by Andrew when he tested it) nor display bolds (see my titles at my Tumblr)! The <b> and <strong> codes seem to be foreign to it, unless you program in what they mean in your CSS.
   Assuming the boffins get to the bottom of the Firefox 4 bug, I suspect we will see a very sharp, typographically advanced browser released in the New Year. Let’s hope it doesn’t crash four times a day!

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Posted in business, design, internet, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


Ricky Gervais offends … actually, I don’t know whom

23.01.2011

Normally I think Piers Morgan is a plonker, and the time Jeremy Clarkson punched him at the BAFTAs remains one of entertainment’s best stories.
   However, I have enjoyed Life Stories, and he has been a worthy successor, in my mind, to Larry King. Of course it’s not the same show, but the important thing about interview shows is getting the guest to talk (Jonathan Ross take note). The Ricky Gervais interview was the first Piers Morgan Tonight I have seen.
   As to Gervais hosting the Golden Globes, I didn’t have a problem with his jokes. There were no jokes based on race or sexuality, as Gervais says in his interview (embedded below). I don’t believe he’s even offended anyone who’s religious. There were plenty about the Hollywood machine and current affairs. It just so happens that a lot of the people in that room are the subject of what society deems ‘current affairs’ today. And don’t people love topical humour?

   I have a lot of contacts Stateside and none have mentioned to me that they were offended. So all these media reports, mainly from the US, making Gervais out to have offended so many don’t ring true to me. Have most of these journalists gone up to some of Gervais’s roasted victims and enquired?
   A few journalists have tried to get some quotations, but they’re in the minority. One Hollywood Foreign Press Association rep was apparently offended, and that ‘several celebrities’ called up with complaints. Yeah, so offended that (s)he wouldn’t put his or her name to the remark, and revealed that the Association was not above reprimanding someone because they didn’t share the same sense of humour. And here I was, thinking the Golden Globes were supposed to be about the work. Maybe not:

Ricky will not be invited back to host the show next year, for sure … For sure any movie he makes he can forget about getting nominated. He humiliated the organization last night and went too far with several celebrities whose representatives have already called to complain.’

If that’s how the Association works unofficially, maybe Gervais was 100 per cent right to have aimed some of the jokes at it. (As to which member this was, find the one who keeps saying ‘For sure’, has a narrow mind, can’t see much worth in their name, and is the sort of person who thinks it’s right to target Gervais in their work but that it’s wrong for Gervais to target others in his.) The member might not have realized that even prior to hosting, Gervais said he wouldn’t be back for 2012.
   I agree with Gervais’s hint, though he does not say this expressly in Piers Morgan Tonight, that if some of these celebs were actually so narrow-minded as to be offended, they would not have got to where they are. In some of the post-Globes coverage I’ve seen at Lucire, there is no mention of celebrities fuming at one of the parties out of offence. You’d have to be quite petty to have a Ricky Gervais joke spoil your evening—because you’d then have to go after every single journo who wrote a cross word about you, and a not unsubstantial number of bloggers, too.
   So some reps apparently called the Association. Reps making mountains out of molehills to show their indispensability, perhaps?
   This isn’t about a US–UK humour divide, either, though I saw one remark that a British host could get away with this style in Britain. Didn’t the Americans come up with The Simpsons, whose early episodes had this very sort of humour, or The Critic and Family Guy? Or, if we are to look at live-action, Murphy Brown? Doesn’t Jon Stewart do something like this every weekday? Aren’t Sarah Palin jokes the sort of fodder Hollywood types engage in on an hourly basis?
   It’s too bad, because the 2012 Golden Globes’ ceremony will likely be a tepid affair hosted by someone entirely inappropriate and lacking. Just because a few prima donnas got their knickers in a twist because of their own behaviour (how dare Gervais talk about something that everyone knows about!), and a few other people got offended on behalf of some celebrities who themselves have already shrugged off the jokes.

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Posted in culture, humour, interests, media, TV, UK, USA | 2 Comments »


YouTube loses a bit more of my info

23.01.2011

I was glad that Larry Page has now taken the reins at Google again. Maybe we can bring back a bit of the pioneering spirit rather than the MBA-heavy, establishment-thinking, netizen-offending, privacy-breaching culture of recent years. If there’s one thing that’s helped raise Google’s stock in my mind, it’s this appointment.
   Meanwhile, it doesn’t mean I have stopped my gripes about Google. Today, I noticed that YouTube has made the fact that we can connect to it using our Facebook accounts that much more obvious. It might be, I thought, a way to ensure that Google does not hold all of our personal information and have it spread around a bit more. It might be an answer for those of us who do not want to connect our YouTube and Google accounts.
   I clicked on the link out of curiosity and was given the usual window:

YouTube wants to access my Facebook info

No problem so far, but I thought it looked incredibly familiar.
   Here’s why. I had already done it ‘More than 6 months ago’ (read a few years ago):

YouTube wants to access my Facebook info

I don’t know what connecting a second time does, but netizens might want to check if they have already connected their YouTube and Facebook accounts. I have no idea, other than seeing the message on some YouTube videos, how to get to the first window shown above—there are no links from other YouTube pages, from what I can tell.
   Meanwhile, even without having an account, YouTube will still be able to compile a ‘Recommended for You’ section, based on cookies and what you have already browsed on its site. It’s to make it easier for Doubleclick to sell ads. The compilation of the section is in their terms and conditions of access, so there’s not much we can do, other than to block the YouTube cookie. You will still be able to watch YouTube videos without the cookie.
   The result of all Google’s recent insistence to merge our YouTube and Google accounts, sadly, has been my removal of the YouTube app from Facebook, blocking of the YouTube cookie, and keeping my YouTube and Google accounts separate. I know I’m in the minority, but as far as I’m concerned, Google has shot itself in the foot again.

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Posted in business, internet, USA | No Comments »


No surprises as Firefox 4 reaches Beta 10

23.01.2011

Tried Firefox 4 Beta 10 on another computer altogether—the new machine in the office. No font management software on this one, which rules out anything that could have been doing. I don’t need to say much more. The font problem is the same as on Betas 7, 8 and 9; and the fact that Google results’ pages crash the browser may be down to McAfee Site Advisor, which I have installed, according to one of the experts at Mozilla.
   A few people have had a semi-related font issue (here’s one on CNet from 2009, and here is a thread on Mozilla), but seemingly not enough for Mozilla to deem it an issue they need to fix. Pity the other browsers are so below par.

Firefox 4 Beta 10
The Firefox Update loading screen on Firefox 4 Beta 10. Didn’t really need to go beyond this to know that the font-rendering system is stuffed.

PS.: Discovered on the Mozilla site that a grand total of 40 people have this problem. But I am glad I found that a few folks have had this identical issue, at long last. Nothing had surfaced in the search engines before this.

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Posted in design, internet, technology, typography | 1 Comment »