Archive for January 2011


My second cousin’s in Outlaw Territory

22.01.2011

I’ve made a brief mention, in the past, about my second cousin Vivian Lee, who is quite the illustrator. Her work will be published in the second volume of Outlaw Territory, out February 1. You can order it now from Amazon and it will be dispatched after release.

Tags: , , ,
Posted in general, interests, publishing, USA | No Comments »


Mapping friends on TouchGraph

20.01.2011

Although my piece on Social Media NZ about my scepticism toward Quora was published today, written while in a mood of being “virtually socialized out” (one that has not totally passed, incidentally), I did get a buzz with TouchGraph, which is an app that my friend Laura used on her Facebook in 2009. I only saw the results of her graph this week.
   TouchGraph graphs together your friends, and while it makes no call on the quality of your connection, it does show how you are connected to different groups, and gives an indication of the size of each clique.
   It took a while with my 1,800 or so—expect a longer wait if you’re in the multi-thousand camp, but the animation is quite neat. Java is required. The result, which took every one of my connections, was quite a jumble:

TouchGraph

But it should be a jumble. Every one of my 1,869 “friends” are on here. And if I were to highlight one of them—either in this graphical version or by name in a column to the left (not shown in the above graphic)—it shows my connection to that person, and how that person is connected to others in my friends’ list (i.e. our mutual friends). The colour coding gives an idea of the clique, so, in this one, all the colours are around me—I belong to all my cliques.
   It starts getting very interesting when you begin selecting one person and placing them at the centre. This omits all the people in the graph that are not connected to them, and shows the groups of people you are connected to through that one person.
   Let me pick Lucire’s US west coast editor, Elyse Glickman:

TouchGraph

There’s predominantly one group—many work connections, unsurprisingly—in the purple; and a few other folks outside that group. Our networks, Lucire, Berkeley and Victoria University of Wellington, are shown on the periphery, presumably with an indication of size.
   Connecting with my friend Johnnie Moore, I see:

TouchGraph

A lot of the Medinge Group is represented in amber.
   Through Medinge CEO Stanley Moss, many in his Indian circle now appear as well as Medinge members and directors:

TouchGraph

   A similar idea is apparent through my friend Stefan Engeseth, but with Swedish connections highlighted:

TouchGraph

   Allan Haley is one gentleman I have had dealings with since the 1980s. It was very interesting to see how we all connected in the type community:

TouchGraph

while there seemed to be a sizeable number connected through Laural Barrett, Miss New Zealand 2007, and the pageant world that I’ve been involved in:

TouchGraph

   The app can be reached on Facebook at www.facebook.com/apps/application.php?id=3267890192. Have fun—it might liven up those Facebook blues.

Tags: , , , ,
Posted in culture, internet, technology | No Comments »


One danger of linking your YouTube and Google accounts?

19.01.2011

A hypothetical situation here, between two Gmail users (I don’t use Gmail, so you know this is hypothetical).
   User 1 is in to some sick stuff and has been watching it on YouTube, using an alias for his YouTube account name. However, his account is linked to his Google account.
   User 2 is a regular Joe, who also has a YouTube account connected to his Google account,
   User 1 sends User 2 an email from Gmail. User 2 is then asked by Google to connect with User 1 on YouTube.
   By default, User 1 hasn’t turned off his history. User 2 visits YouTube and sees his contact’s link on the home page. He clicks through to see what else he has in common and discovers his friend has some very strange favourites chosen.
   User 2 really didn’t need to know that about User 1.
   We can make this a lot worse. Let’s say User 1 is a Member of Parliament. Or a celebrity.
   I won’t ask whether the above scenario is possible as it is based on fact, the wording modified to protect the people involved. I also have a limited understanding of Gmail. As I can no longer log in to YouTube, I can’t confirm the above scenario for myself with my own friends, but I have no doubt this is how things play out on linked YouTube–Google accounts.
   But I know this much: for those who don’t want to connect your YouTube and Google accounts, good. You might be part of a growing club. And if you happen to be in to some odd things, your privacy is preserved.

Tags: , ,
Posted in internet, USA | 3 Comments »


Opel is not a snob brand

19.01.2011
George Cole as Arthur Daley
Arthur Daley, Opel’s last New Zealand spokesman: ‘Never mind the Capri, Tel: I sell Opels now.’

In the Fairfax Press, General Motors has apparently confirmed it will bring in Opel-branded cars to sell alongside Holden-branded ones.
   It’s an obvious move. For years, a good part of Holden’s range was Opel-designed. Like Vauxhall, the model name was the same as the Opels on the Continent, but with Holden in front, with the exception of the Opel Corsa (called Holden Barina).
   In fact, New Zealand fielded the Holden Vectra before Australia introduced this model with the B series. The two markets have often differed—those old enough might remember the Holden-badged version of the Isuzu Aska, assembled locally as the Camira in favour of the Australian model.
   Australia, which I believe still has tariffs on motor cars, found the Opel-made product increasingly expensive, especially against Hyundai, which has carved huge inroads into the market.
   In the mid-2000s, the Opels began disappearing in favour of Daewoos. The Opel Corsa C gave way to the inferior Daewoo Kalos. The Opel Vectra C, never facelifted, gave way to the Daewoo Tosca. The Daewoo Lacetti was inserted below the Opel Astra G and H, though the latest Lacetti Première, badged Holden Cruze, has supplanted both the former Lacetti and the Astra.
   In other words, Holden’s product was outclassed at every level by its principal rival Ford—certainly on this side of the Tasman, where CD-segment vehicles sell particularly well. Maybe Holden had Ford licked on price, but in terms of brand equity, it was falling fast. Perceived quality? Forget it. Brand loyalty? Don’t think it’s going to happen. There is very little that’s desirable about a Daewoo, though I admit to appreciating the Winstorm SUV’s styling. The car as a commodity? That’ll be the Daewoo.
   The Astra still has a lot of fans in Australia, so the plan is to bring in that model at least—and as affordable, European cars, positioning roughly where Volkswagen is. Corsa, Insignia and others will come in as well, with both a new dealer network and some Holden dealers.
   The analysts have found that in Europe, Chevrolet (Eurospeak for Daewoo) has not cannibalized Opel sales. No surprises there. Take me: an Opel customer. I wrote to Holden some years ago, when they threatened to bring in the Daewoo Tosca, that there was no way in heck I would get one of their cars. I’m willing to bet that I wasn’t alone in feeling that way, and the fact the Tosca looks like a Seoul taxicab helps my argument.
   Why not, I said, bring in Opels and pursue a unique model strategy, as GMNZ did in the 1980s and 1990s?
   The question now is price. Opels were sold here in the 1980s at a premium and found few customers. It was only with the 1989 introduction of the Vectra A, at a reasonable price, that GM began clawing back market share in that segment. New Zealanders didn’t seem to mind whether the car was branded Opel or Holden, but when it did become a Holden in 1994, it made marketing a great deal easier.
   Fairfax hints that Opels will carry a premium in Australia. But it rightly points out that Ford has European-sourced models that are competitive. However, I can make one thing very clear for New Zealand: if GM decides to reintroduce Opel into this market, where there are no tariffs on cars, it’ll have to be positioned against a lot of the competition from Ford. I have a feeling most Kiwis know they are buying German engineering when they head to the blue oval, with the exception of the Falcon, and Ford’s marketing has said as much.
   We’ve had a different history from the Australians, and the brand has different connotations. It’s certainly not premium, and there’s very little reason for it to be. Ford might have had Dennis Waterman as Terry McCann singing the Minder “feem toon” do a dealer ad here in New Zealand, but, remember, GM had George Cole, as Arthur Daley, sell the Opel.
   George Cole is not premium.
   Mainstream European brands have failed time and again with premium pricing here. Peugeot lost sales when it began having ideas above its station. Renault has consistently got its pricing wrong and missed plenty of opportunities.
   I have a feeling some of this is due to New Zealanders being world travellers. In a small country, we have to look outward. And that brings us exposure to international brands very readily.
   We’ve also had plenty of used Japanese imports—including ex-Japan Opel Astra Gs.
   It may account for why we don’t fall for the fake snobbery that automakers have tried to slap us with for many years. We seem to adopt best practice on so many things because I believe we’re an accepting people.
   Transparency will be the order of the day. GM can’t afford to have Kiwis reject a brand for having ideas above its station should it go ahead with a similar effort over here. It has to balance (our relatively small) volume carefully with cannibalization. It has to consider whether it would like to have Holden’s brand equity continue to dip.
   Mind you, we could have avoided all this if in 1992 GM did what I suggested then: badge the whole lot as Opel.* It would have ruined the blokeyness of the Holden brand, but it would have had products that appealed to buyers of B-, C- and CD-segment cars. In 1992, a big Opel Commodore, VP series, wouldn’t have been too bad, would it? And we’d have hopefully avoided this Daewoo experiment that has made ‘Australia’s own’ synonymous with ‘Made in Korea’.

* I know, with hindsight, this would have been a rotten idea, especially with New Zealanders embracing the VT Commodore in 1997. It’s hard to imagine that model having greater success here with a non-Holden badge.—JY

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in branding, business, cars, marketing, New Zealand, TV, UK | No Comments »


McAfee did good: a software company that didn’t jerk me around in ’10

19.01.2011

A new computer arrived at the office, Firefox 3·6·13 was installed on it. Boom goes the dynamite (thanks, Jen—since I watch very little television I had no idea of this reference). It wasn’t the ‘unmark purple’ bug, either (sample size so far: 1).
   It’s a different set-up to the rest. For starters, it has both Chinese and English OSs. The fonts are installed differently—it’s using no font management software. I intentionally kept it different because, stupid me, I keep wanting to give Firefox the benefit of the doubt!
   I’ve been trying to give it a go since v. 1. With the new computer in, I’ve been going back through our archives to see if there were some programs I had to install. I found Firefox 1 and 2—neither of which, you might recall, passed my typography test (neither does Opera 10·63 or the new 11 that my Dad uses, but that’s another story).
   Firefox 3 was just such a godsend that it’s a shame that it became a crash-prone program after 3·5. It just seems a shame to abandon it after they did some really good work on kerning pairs, alternative glyphs and multilingual support.
   Where there’s a gripe against Mozilla, there’s one against Google. At left, Google Dashboard continues to insist I have one blog. Not to my knowledge: I haven’t had a blog on Blogger for nearly a year. So, just what private information of mine have you held on to, Google? I wrote to you, snail mail, to say I disagreed with your terms and conditions for this service.
   Its brand, in my mind, is in the toilet: I read the official version of why we had to merge our YouTube and Google accounts, and my entire reaction was one of scepticism.
   But, refreshingly, I am very happy with one program. As I installed McAfee on to the new machine, I had to note that it’s only had one major fault over 2010. It’s run largely faultless, or with only very minor niggles, for a considerable amount of time. Given that McAfee is a huge security suite, which I have had my fair share of problems with—including sarcastic tech support idiots earlier this century—it really looks like they listened to a lot of our gripes. It is not perfect, but at least it doesn’t crash four times a day, or slows down to such a crawl that I have to have a second computer on just in case. The one time I had to go to tech support, I had a volunteer (Pete) who was courteous and professional—quite the contrast to the deliberate obtuseness of Google.
   McAfee, in my book, you did good. From someone who has used VirusScan since 1989: keep it up.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in branding, business, internet, marketing, typography, USA | No Comments »


Surely something all Chinese can agree on

18.01.2011

It’s 2011, which, by my calculations, is the centenary of China kicking out the corrupt Ching dynasty.
   It’s the one event that both Republicans and Communists can agree on as being positive. It’s why Dr Sun Yat-sen is such a uniting figure for all Chinese, as the father of the nation.
   I can’t speak for all expatriates, but personally, I think this is an anniversary worth celebrating.
   Twenty-eleven might be the time to put aside the usual animosity and all the political rhetoric. Like New Year, we can look forward to some unity surrounding the formation of a Chinese republic.
   And since we’re unlikely ever to get the two sides agreeing on much more, then maybe a Chinese commonwealth is an idea we should entertain?

Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Posted in China, culture, Hong Kong | 2 Comments »


Firefox betas and me: a summary

15.01.2011

For those who found the last post too technical, too long, too boring, or too repetitive, a summary:

Firefox betas and me

Bear in mind I haven’t drawn for a while, except typefaces which I know I can modify (and which I spend a lot more time on). I’m no Hugh MacLeod, OK?

Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Posted in humour, internet | No Comments »


Jack tries another Firefox beta—we all know what happens next

15.01.2011

Title says it all. Except this time, it’s not just the fonts. No link in a Google results page is clickable: in fact, Google hangs the entire browser (though I can still scroll up and down—yay). The program, after clicking on the close icon, stays in the Task Manager for at least 10 minutes (I force-closed it after that). The fonts are, as before, unresolved:

Firefox 4 Beta 9 display
Firefox 4 Beta 9 display
Firefox 4 Beta 9 display
Firefox 4 Beta 9 display
Firefox 4 Beta 9 display

   But, I hear you say, these are all sites that you have done, Jack, or which you’ve modified, so it’s obviously you being crap at web design. (Forgetting for a moment that these sites all work on Firefox 3, IE8 and Opera; Chrome has some difficulties with embedded fonts.)
   Fair call. Let’s look at some other sites, then, done by people who have collectively forgotten more about web design than I have ever learned. For this exercise I won’t pick sites that have specified Verdana and Georgia, because, for some reason, they work fine. Must be Mozilla cosying up to Microsoft or something.
   Aisle One. They know a bit about web design.

Firefox 4 Beta 9 display

Hmm. Or This Next?

Firefox 4 Beta 9 display

Now, Creative Review. Surely they will have a good choice of typefaces and have it all working.

Firefox 4 Beta 9 display

Maybe not.
   Or, you might say, it’s your fonts, Jack. You’ve specified fonts you’ve designed and they’re obviously not as good as the stuff from your competitors. (Ignoring that of the above, the text set in Lucire works on the This Next site, and my fonts appear in the embedded lines in our own company’s sites.)
   I thought Khoi Vinh, the former design director of The New York Times, would know what he was doing. Here’s how his blog looks:

Firefox 4 Beta 9 display

In fact, the only typeface that displays correctly is one of mine. Linotype Helvetica does not.
   How about Adobe Systems? They make fonts, and they use specify them on their own site.

Firefox 4 Beta 9 display

Ditto: my font appears, theirs doesn’t. (The Adobe home page is fine: its Myriad embedded font comes down OK; for the Reader page, I have Myriad installed, and I can’t see it in the top line.)
   I’m back on the crash-prone Firefox 3 and when I get a bit of time, I’ll send this feedback on to the developers. I hope they get the font issue fixed but in three betas, they haven’t. And I have to search on Duck Duck Go (no complaints there) because Google doesn’t work with Firefox 4.
   Given my concerns about Google over the last wee while, that’s one error I can live with—but I doubt if 99-plus per cent of netizens will.

PS. Here is the nearest bug I could find, and it has been going on since Beta 1. This user is seeing Neue Helvetica displayed as gibberish—not boxes, but random characters in the correct font. The advice from some Firefox users on the support forum is ‘delete Helvetica, use Arial’. This, to a design professional, is the same as ‘have toothache, pull out all teeth’.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in design, internet, technology, USA | 4 Comments »


All I wanted to do was to say, ‘Thank you,’ to Telstra Clear

15.01.2011

I seem to be to computers what Frank Spencer is to life.
   Long-time readers will know that in 2009, Vox locked me out. We went round and round for months, with the company suggesting all sorts of solutions, usually putting the blame back on me or the ISP.
   I had tried logging in to blog from three cities till I got fed up, gave them my password, and said: log in from San Francisco, where your offices are. And tell me if you can get in.
   Only then could they confirm that I was, indeed, (effectively) blocked from using the service, but no one knew why. It was never remedied. I left the service in December 2009. It ultimately closed in September 2010, pissing a lot of people off in the process for the short notice it gave, taking a multitude of sploggers with it.
   Through 2010, it was the constant crashing of Firefox (one down already today—I expect three more), despite Mozilla claiming it was its most stable release ever. I’m not alone: as I meet more friends and discuss it with them, they all report constant Firefox crashes. The difference is I have an obsessive–compulsive streak so I stay on it. Fact: Firefox 3·6 is the most crash-prone browser Mozilla has ever made. And how can you misuse a browser when all you do is blog and surf?
   Let’s not forget Google and all its constant mess-ups (here’s one), or Facebook in 2009 making false accusations over copyright that could not be appealed.
   The latest is with the folks at Telstra Clear, whose website seems to behave at odds with what they believe.
   It all began when I sent a tiny suggestion via its site about Telstra Clear’s decision to end the unmetered broadband for Ziln and Ecast TV.
   I got a very nice email from a Susan Taite and I wanted to thank her for her courtesy.
   I clicked on the link in the email, ‘To access your question from our support site, click here.’
   Unfortunately, I could not log in at all, despite having only three passwords since 2000. None of them worked.
   I called the company and listened to several numbers from Carl Doy’s Piano by Moonlight to make sure my thanks to Susan was recorded. Two Telstra Clear reps responded, one to pass on the thanks and one to sort out my access problems.
   I was told a new password, which, interestingly, was my 2006 one but all in uppercase.
   I could finally log in to the Customer Zone but could not fill out my profile. My postal address would disappear from the field immediately after entering, and I failed every one of its Captchas. After yesterday’s blog post, I began taking screen shots of the Captchas and my responses, just to make a point:


Neither of these were, apparently, correct.
   So I told them.
   Again, a very nice person responded, Luke Tipa, who gave me my password again (in lowercase) and noted:

Although there are no known issues with Customer Zone at the moment, this does sound like a fault and I apologise for any inconvenience it has caused. Can you please advise what username you were trying to set up as a Customer Zone profile so I can see if this has been partially or incorrectly created by our system.

This is already music to my ears: someone believing me instead of blaming me with ‘You must have entered the Captcha incorrectly.’ Thank you, Luke.
   However, to respond to Luke, I had to click, again, ‘To access your question from our support site, click here.’
   Guess what? It doesn’t work.
   I tried re-entering the Customer Zone, which I still could at this point, to see if I could get to the support site. If it’s there, I couldn’t see it. Support seems to be totally separate from the Customer Zone, or, perhaps, one cannot reach it if one has an incomplete profile on the Customer Zone. And, as we now have established, it is impossible for me to complete my profile in the Customer Zone because the Captcha always says I am wrong—that’s 100 per cent of the time.
   With me so far?
   So, I had to fill out yet another support request from scratch and paste Luke’s and Susan’s emails into it so the customer service rep could see that this has been going on for a while. This time, it was to tell Luke the username I was trying to use.
   New person responds:

You should be able to log into the Customer Zone website with your account number: … and account password … [in uppercase this time] I have checked that your account has not been locked and everything is fine from our end. If you still can not access the Customer Zone website, please let us kow [sic] how you are logging in.

This is the classic ‘It’s your fault’ response, but I can’t hold it against Karolina, because she’s only telling me what she knows after checking Telstra Clear’s system, and she worded things politely enough.
   So I told her. I’m using the link you give. I use the passwords (upper- and lowercase) and all I ever get is this:

And when I now click to enter via the Customer Zone, all I now get is this:

Your system, just like Vox’s, has it in for me.
   Here’s another thing: despite my constant failure to complete my profile, I have six automated emails from Telstra Clear, which came long after my attempts to register, thanking me for registering. So can I indeed fail a Captcha and register? If so, how come I can’t get in to the site?
   Bear in mind this all began because I was trying to send a thank-you note. What can I say? No one has yet made a Jack-proof website.
   To those of you who were able to blog at Vox from 2006 to its demise in 2010, whose Firefoxes don’t crash, and who can use the Telstra Clear site, you don’t know how lucky you are.
   And people want me to do online banking. Not while websites remain totally unreliable I won’t. I want a bill of exchange, in print, which is governed by an act of Parliament (Bills of Exchange Act 1908) that I know, and which hasn’t been corrupted by poor drafting.
   I am available for bug-testing. But I expect to be paid.

PS.: Karen Hardie at Telstra Clear finally sorted it all out (January 16)!
   1. The passwords are not case-sensitive.
   2. My original password—which, I might add, has worked for most of the last decade—doesn’t work today because the new system hates punctuation. Karen changed my password to omit the punctuation and I was able to get in and create a profile. My address still disappears on entry but the Captcha now works!
   3. The Telstra Clear Customer Zone and the support site (telstraclear.custhelp.com) are actually two separate sites governed by two different passwords. I was never given one for the latter—which suggests a problem with their emails always providing me a link to the latter. It’s also a little tricky considering both sites look exactly the same—I think it was natural to presume that one password would work on both of them. I explained in my final response that since I had accomplished what I needed to—sending feedback and a message of thanks—I would decline to set up yet another account for custhelp.com, and I was satisfied with the registration process for the Customer Zone. Phew!—JY

Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Posted in business, humour, internet, New Zealand, technology | 3 Comments »


What the suck?

14.01.2011

I think Telstra Clear’s Captcha for its Customer Zone is broken. I wish I took screen shots of each failed attempt now, since it’s kicked me off after five tries.
   But this one was intriguing. I never expected to see a quaint s, especially in a context as digital as a Captcha, in usage in 2011:

Telstra Clear Captcha

Who am I, Shakespeare?

Tags: , , , , , ,
Posted in humour, internet, New Zealand, typography | 4 Comments »