Archive for February 2011


Chloé chief sees China moving to more understated luxury—or is it?

28.02.2011

Geoffroy de la Bourdonnaye of Chloé believes the mainland Chinese market is moving toward more understated luxury.
   I believe there’ll always be a mixture. The understated buyer is emerging probably because of saturation by more extrovert brands—and often, buyers want to get something different, rather than conform.
   And the top-end luxury brands have probably been devalued in any case.
   With the affluent Chinese already buying, say, cars with a grille, it wasn’t a surprise to find some brands ape that ĂŠsthetic. Who hasn’t been copied? There are downmarket cars from Chinese manufacturers with Mercedes-style grilles from a variety of manufacturers, for example.
   Don’t laugh too loudly in the west: it wasn’t that long ago that the 1975 US-market Ford Granada looked like a Mercedes pastiche. Even Ford’s own advertising sold it as a Mercedes rival. Hindsight tells us it was not.
   I say it’s sometimes differentiation, or the consumer desire for it, that drives trends—so what de la Bourdonnaye observes is one such trend in motion in China.
   The consumer knows that just because something has a luxury ĂŠsthetic doesn’t make it well built—which is why we’re seeing improvements in quality in Chinese products. It also explains the relatively restrained looks of Chery’s Riich car range: it’s meant to be premium, but it hasn’t gone too far overboard. (The G5 may be derivative, but it’s also not outlandish.)
   While the theory of market homogeneity has had plenty of critiques over the years, there is some truth in saying that the Chinese market is reflecting others as the practice of branding matures. It’s not as though the Chinese consumer is behind—even while the Bamboo Curtain was a few layers thicker, people within the mainland’s borders were able to discern one brand from another—but the world market is globalizing even further with China’s input.
   Chinese tastes will drive more of the global consumer market. We’re already seeing it with the US—the Buick LaCrosse is a joint US–Chinese design–and it’s bound to influence other sectors.
   A number of forces are at work, and ChloĂ© seems to be a beneficiary. But it needs to be aware that it’s not just this shift to understatement—and, like all brands, it will have to continue moving with the times.

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Dealing with the social networks

27.02.2011

Everyone deals with their social networks differently, which is great. It shows that we are in charge of the technology and how it serves us, rather than vice versa.
   But with nearly sixty outstanding invitation requests to me on LinkedIn and five on A Small World, I thought I’d share mine.

Twitter
I’ll follow back real humans for the most part. But if your Tweetstream is filled with quotations from famous people, or coupons, I’m grouping you with the bots, even if you have some real Tweets. If I want to know what Benjamin Franklin once said, I’ll grab a book on him. I don’t need to see his stuff on Twitter.

Facebook
It seems to be such a default network now. I used it as a tool for business and my mayoral campaign. People I know and trust: you get full access to me, with the exception of a few private albums for a handful of friends. People I kind of know: you’re on limited profile, which means a few more albums and info on friends are blocked to you. Organizations pretending to be people and customers I don’t know: you get something even more limited, sorry.

LinkedIn
I admit I connected, in the early days (2003–4) to a few I didn’t know, mainly people I met online through business groups. These days, I’ve changed my policy, and I’d disconnect from a few if I could. If we emailed once in 1999 or spoke once on the phone in 2004, that does not make us potential LinkedIn connections, unless that dialogue was earth-shatteringly brilliant. (Sending me a reminder of how brilliant it was in the invitation request is a good idea.) Being part of my LinkedIn network means an endorsement of sorts: it means I am willing to recommend you to a friend for your expertise, and I need to know you won’t mess it up.

A Small World
Since ASW is very strict on connecting, then if I don’t know you, then I won’t connect to you. Don’t presume that because we have a connection on the other sites that I am automatically going to connect to you here. If you saw my name on a forum and that is the only time you have seen me, then I won’t connect to you. I treat ASW as private, not a business network (that’s what LinkedIn is for). That also means I’m not a source of invitations for complete strangers.

   I’m sure people have rejected connections to me for their own reasons, and that’s absolutely fine. The important thing is that these networks work for us, and we don’t get caught up in the myth of numbers. Quality, not quantity.

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Giving our young people a fair go

26.02.2011

Earlier this month, I gave a workshop talk to the Leadership and Development Conference for the New Zealand Chinese Association in Auckland.
   I’ve just uploaded the speech notes, and as I did so, I wanted to append a few more thoughts.
   The topic was identity—not just branding, but personal identity.
   My self-critique ex post facto was that I spent insufficient time discussing my mayoral campaign, which, I am told, was the one area the audience wanted to hear more of. In the hour’s space, I spent more of it on the theories behind personal branding.
   It’s not hard to see why the young Chinese New Zealanders who attended this conference wanted to hear more about politics. First up, the title of the conference was a big clue. If you weren’t interested in leadership, you wouldn’t be there.
   Secondly, they’ll have grown up in a far more equal and fair society than I did. Which means they have more opportunities to seek the jobs they want. They won’t be limited by societal expectations and the false stereotypes will be waning.
   While there have been mayors of Chinese ethnicity in New Zealand for the last 40 years, it has only been in recent times that men like Meng Foon and Peter Chin have surfaced and brought a modern face to these positions.
   With the departure of Pansy Wong from Parliament, ‘Asians’ are underrepresented more than ever.
   God knows how many times I have heard the BS line of ‘But Chinese people aren’t interested in politics.’
   Funny, considering China has had politicians for most of the last five millennia and I come from a long line of them.
   And that’s the experience I should have shared more of with the Auckland audience. If we’re to be better represented, then we should be giving young people the courage to do what they want to do.
   If they’re interested in politics, then by all means, they should seize the day, and who gives a damn what their ethnicity is?
   The good news is that I didn’t experience much racism on the campaign trail. Our media were above board on this front, which shows some level of maturity has come into New Zealand society. Bias came in due to politicking in at least one case, but, generally, the fourth estate did well.
   I noticed a couple of instances where my lack of council experience became a talking-point. This is despite three of the last five mayors lacking council experience.
   Considering the structure of Wellington City Council needs fresh eyes to examine it, not being part of the furniture and having a healthy scepticism toward Humphrey Applebys might be a good thing.
   But they were valid concerns for some people, though to be dismissed by a few members of our media because of it means that fresh ideas won’t surface in our society, at least not till the idealism has gone out of them through groupthink and establishmentarianism.
   What would have been worth discussing with the audience was the idea that there will always be forces that try to include and exclude. I’m not pointing fingers because we all do it. The whole debating season I had with my five opponents was about oneupmanship.
   However, it would have been a great exercise to have looked at how they could overcome exclusion in their careers. And without changing their names.
   It would have tied neatly back into my criticism of the Uncle Tom behaviour.
   I apologize for furthering another stereotype: I realize Tom was a far more noble character in Uncle Tom’s Cabin than what people would believe today. I use the term only as a shortcut.
   The behaviour, I am sorry to say, has existed among our own race, too.
   I feel it’s still a concern when I see certain people who buy in to comfortable stereotypes, and use them to shoot down someone. Worse still, when they use them to shoot down someone of their own colour.
   It serves neither the majority nor the minority.
   And given that the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders gave me a fair go, you’d hope that we’d have seen an end to the Uncle Tom mentality.
   That would have been a great debate.
   Fortunately, there were equally members of the Kiwi Chinese community who were extremely encouraging toward my candidacy, because they had grown up with racism not unlike my own experience. They tried to redress the balance wherever possible, and I was extremely grateful for that.
   So many used their contacts to make life easier for my campaign—and it was through those and many other efforts that we punched well above our weight. Netting a third of the numbers of the victor on a tenth of the money is no mean feat.
   The good still outweighs the bad when it comes to race, and it can only get better for our young people. If all Kiwis get to do the things they are most passionate about, without prejudices about what they “should” be doing, they will ultimately benefit New Zealand.

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Volvo unveils its China strategy

26.02.2011

Volvo press conference

Volvo has announced that it will build a plant in China, and seeks approval for a second, in what it calls its second home market.
   It was inevitable, though for the long-term survival of the brand, it’s not a bad idea.
   Through Geely’s acquisition, it can potentially leapfrog other foreign car brands inside China by having more than a domestic partner: a domestic owner.
   There won’t be much toing and froing as Geely can call the shots with Communist Party authorities.
   The company already has a technology centre in Shanghai to deal with design, purchasing and manufacturing decisions.
   The new Chengdu plant, says Volvo, will only build Volvo cars—there will be no Geelys going through there.
   Volvo also says it will not affect jobs in Europe, which can be believed at this stage: the plant should be sufficient to deal with growth in China and the eastern hemisphere, where Volvo could be a lot stronger.
   While Volvophiles won’t be upset about most of the developments above, there will be one that will concern them.
   The company says that Volvo Car China’s new-product development will be done in Shanghai, not Göteborg. Göteborg will take the lead on hybrid and electric cars globally.
   Given the volumes involved—Volvo is targeting 200,000 cars per annum by 2015 in China—I’m not sure if it means that China will get its own range of cars. The likely scenario is that there will be a single, global range at these numbers.
   So how will the balance of global Volvo NPD be shared between Göteborg and Shanghai?
   Volvo suggests that HQ remains in Sweden on one hand, but, according to Freeman Shen, senior vice-president and chairman of Volvo Cars China Operations, says, ‘The Volvo Car China Technology Centre in Shanghai will develop into a complete product development organization on an international level. It will have the competence and capacity to work together with the HQ in Sweden, participating in Volvo Car Corporation’s work process for developing entirely new models,’ says Freeman Shen.
   I’m not criticizing Geely’s competences because if you look at its latest models, the company has certainly come a long way. Chinese designers, if nothing else, are fast learners, and knock-offs are becoming things of the past if 2010’s new models are anything to go by.
   And as a Swede is heading over to China to help set up the plant, one envisages that similar training in the Volvo design and creative process will be in the offing.
   Otherwise, there won’t be much separating Volvos from other car lines with the exception of a grille with a diagonal bar.
   But the press conference still leaves questions unanswered about how the NPD process will work.
   Nevertheless, allowing Volvo to pursue innovation is good news. Ford permitted it to happen but so much platform development was done elsewhere. Volvo remained in charge of global safety for Ford models, and gave the old S80 platform to a variety of cars, including the current and previous Taurus.
   The difference is, the parent company’s platforms weren’t half bad to begin with. I’m not so sure about Geely’s.
   I do, however, like the idea of an innovative, world-first Volvo that can get its new developments in safety and alternative energies out to the market before the competition. No more will the firsts be moderated by Dearborn.
   Innovation has not deserted the company—it has announced a V60 diesel plug-in hybrid—but we will not know what the new Volvo will look like till a model, with no Ford heritage, surfaces in a few years. That will be an interesting development.
   Geely chairman Li Shufu says, ‘We continue to uphold our principle that Geely is Geely and Volvo is Volvo. A more globalized, more focused luxury brand will turn our vision of a growing and profitable Volvo Car Corporation into reality. The company will continue to contribute to the development of the global automotive industry by introducing world-first innovations that make an outstanding brand win in the market-place.’

That doesn’t really settle it though.
   I have some concerns with Mr Li’s market positioning, because there are Swedes, indeed many Europeans, who don’t see Volvo as a luxury brand.
   Thanks to Ford, Volvo was edged upmarket to avoid competition with its own models—but it means its market share at home has been severely reduced.
   Earlier this century, most Swedish taxicabs were Volvos—today Mercedes-Benz and Toyota serve a proportion of the local market as Volvo could not offer the smaller models it once did.
   And if its home market share continues to decline, never mind how China goes: Volvo will be increasingly inaccessible to first-time car buyers in Sweden. Its need, then, to retain brand values might be weakened.
   Speaking hypothetically, if these world-first innovations are created merely for luxury models, then how long will they take to get to the everyday market?
   I remember an era when Volvo didn’t skimp on safety and innovations for even its lowliest models. And Volvo-as-luxury seems to fly in the face of that.
   The reality is, if Volvo is going to find more volume in the orient, then the luxury positioning will be more dominant.
   It’s going to be easy to foresee Volvos going all over the east from the Chinese plant, to allow for greater profits. Renault and Peugeot are sourcing from plants in Korea and Malaysia to serve the eastern hemisphere, and as far afield as eastern Europe, at more reasonable prices. It would not be a bad idea for Volvo to follow suit: it’s not in the hallowed realms of BMW, and its pricing needs to reflect that.

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Google’s new algorithm will likely weed out content mills

25.02.2011

I’m not enough of a bastard to only dis Google, because they have made a pretty good move today.
   Google’s new algorithm, it is claimed, will weed out content farms, one type of site that has annoyed us here regularly.
   These are sites that just pinch others’ content automatically. Because search engines pick them up, people visit their pages. Those pages are filled with ads—quite often supplied by Google. The content-pinchers make money, but the people who took the time to create the piece don’t.
   I wrote, not a long time ago, that Google Blog Search had become entirely useless. That’s no exaggeration: head in there, and a lot of the blogs are scraped: they are duplicates of other sites.
   In fact, when Vincent Wright’s blog was deleted, and I helped him to get it back, the Googlebot was trying to delete those scraped blogs. It’s just a shame that the Google machine was so damned useless at helping legitimate people get their blogs back, and intentionally stonewalled us to get some weird kick. If it were not for the Blogger product manager’s intervention, Vincent’s blog would still be in cyber-oblivion.
   So the move, in principle, is a good one.
   Google claims, ‘If you take the top several dozen or so most-blocked domains from the Chrome [Personal Blocklist] extension, then this algorithmic change addresses 84 percent of them, which is strong independent confirmation of the user benefits.’
   Let’s just hope that Google won’t mistakenly take out legit sites again (I have to ask what the other 16 per cent consists of!), though the fact that there has been some correlation with human editing (sites chosen by users for the Blocklist) helps.

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Christchurch in happier times

25.02.2011

Christchurch, as it once was. These are some of the images that appeared on my old Vox blog (or, what is left of that).


The Cathedral, as shot from my room at the Millennium Hotel


The Holiday Inn


The ceiling of the Isaac Theatre


Taxis and a tram



Gloucester Street


Manchester Street


New Regent Street Mall

   Christchurch was home to a lot of lovely classic cars. Right now, it really doesn’t matter if they survived—more important are the people and the families. These were nice mementos of earlier visits:


Iso Fidia, one of 146 of this type made


Volvo 1800S


1959 MGA, by Latimer Park

   Christchurch, you will be great again. You will outshine the beauty I saw on my last journey, because Cantabrians are among the strongest people in the nation.

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Glimmers of hope for the people of Christchurch

24.02.2011

As jobs are vital to any economy, there is, at least, a glimmer of good news from Christchurch’s manufacturing sector.
   Tait, Sanitarium, and Steel & Tube appear to have escaped major damage, says The New Zealand Herald.
   It’s not much solace to those who have lost everything from homes to limbs to family members, though I console myself by saying that it’s better some things have been left standing than the destruction having been, literally, total.
   Hopefully these engines of commerce will begin turning, at least bringing back a little life into the local economy. Those who work there, I’m hoping, might recover some semblance of normality—I know my solution has tended to be to keep busy, even in situations when life feels emptier than usual.

Earlier on Thursday, I delivered bags of Farmbake Cookies and eight litres of water as part of my first contribution to Arise Church’s charity drive.
   The Church is sending down containers of supplies from Wellington to Christchurch on a truck, and tell me that it is repeating the feat on Friday.
   So for those of you who missed today’s two containers, head to 44 Wigan Street (off Taranaki, one down from Abel Smith) between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Friday.

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Firefox 4 Beta 13 passes my tests

24.02.2011

Firefox 4 Beta 13 works, and I have not found any bugs with it.
   I may be wrong, but I believe this is the last beta before release.
   What’s amazing is that the bugs I have been complaining about for a long time have each been fixed. In other words, the reporting system works.
   While for many versions, most of the Beta 4 text was unreadable, eventually bug reports to both Mozilla Support and Bugzilla got things on the radar.
   That took a bit too long for my liking, and you do have to persist. But once I was “in the system”, things got resolved fairly quickly.
   One of the Mozilla boffins created a patch that I could use to tell him what fonts I was using, to trouble-shoot the unreadable UI.
   When those font issues were fixed, I noticed that there were still some errant numerals—a bug that Chrome also has. The difference: at Mozilla, it got fixed. Someone (Jonathan Kew) believed me, had at the back of his mind what it was, and wrote code to sort it out.
   We all worked it out together, with a layman like me providing screen shots and some public domain fonts on request, and the real experts then doing the hard yards.
   The main thing was that I was believed and it was confirmed, on each occasion, that I had a valid complaint.
   Unlike a certain other browser from a company which, I must say, did a good job with the Google Person Finder in the wake of the Christchurch earthquake.
   I don’t deny they do good sometimes—it’s just that they slip up far too often other times.
   The Chrome bug reporting and forums are about as useless as those for Blogger.
   Features I’m discovering in Beta 13 are really nice, now that I am no longer being distracted by the wrong fonts displaying.
   The box in which I am entering this text can be resized—not something I could do on Chrome or Firefox 3.
   More fonts’ kerning pairs are being read (see above left): someone at Mozilla likes typography. Some text-sized pairs look a little tight, but that’s a small complaint.
   Some alternative characters in OpenType fonts are showing up—whether that was intended or not, I don’t know. But it seems Firefox 4 is, at least, accessing them.
   It’s not a memory hog: I estimate the memory usage is on a par with Firefox 3.
   The promise of Firefox being reliable seems to have been realized: it took me days to crash Beta 12, and Beta 13 is so far, so good.
   The user interface is cleaner—not Chrome-clean, but pretty good.
   The speed seems improved, though I still feel Chrome is quicker. But I’d rather wait the extra hundredth of a second and have the page displayed properly.
   Hopefully, once installed on my system, Firefox 4 is going to work a treat. Well done, guys.
   If you’re going to have speedy R&D, it sure pays to have a system which embraces user experiences, working as much in parallel with your own team as possible.

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To the bastards who did over Donna Manning’s home

23.02.2011

Donna Manning’s home was burgled yesterday. You have no idea how angry I feel.
   Even if I didn’t know her, I would, right now, want to go “Gene Hunt” on the thieves.
   To the person or persons who did over the Mannings’ place: you are the worst kind of human being.
   You have taken advantage of a family that has lost a daughter, sister and a mother and added to their suffering.
   You have acted without any thought or compassion that any normal human being would have at a time of loss.
   You are scum.
   Even worse, if you knew who they were.
   If you saw the photo of their suffering and spotted an opportunity.
   While we all sympathized with the Manning children, you decided to do over their home.
   I will tell you this: you sick freaks had better run.
   Because there’ll be fences who have more compassion than you do when you confront them with these goods.
   And don’t think the law’s too busy to deal with you.
   Donna Manning was well respected in Christchurch.
   After the judge has thrown the book at you, your fellow inmates will know exactly what to do on your arrival.

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We all belong to the Christchurch region

23.02.2011
Good Living
Above Good Living, November 11, 2009, with Angela Stone and Megan Banks. Or, the day I met Donna Manning, who produced the show.

I drove in a total daze today. The last time I felt like this was September 12, 2001,* the day of the World Trade Center attacks.
   And then I learned a colleague I had met was among the dead in the CTV building.
   I felt ashamed. Ashamed that Donna Manning was not someone who was top of my list of people to text when the earthquake happened.
   After the first lot of friends all responded to say they were OK, I was playing the probability game: that if seven out of seven were fine, then it would likely stand that the percentage would hold if I contacted eight.
   Not so.
   But, I tried to tell myself, I only met Donna once, on November 11, 2009. It’s not like we were best friends.
   Yet in those few hours I thought she was a tremendously nice lady, professional, and respectful.
   I grabbed her card, which I still have, with the hope that we would continue to keep in touch.
   We didn’t.
   So it’s a bit hard to explain why I feel a friend has been taken from me—even though it was someone I only met briefly.
   Maybe someone can be a friend even on the briefest of meetings. I say to my friends living on the other side of the world that our friendships remain strong, even if we only see each other once every decade. We catch up as though no time has passed.
   And Donna Manning, in her accommodating, welcoming manner, realizing she had a guest and colleague from out of town, might be one of those people who you feel that level of connection with, quickly.
   It’s not a desire to “belong” to a tragedy. I ruled that out quickly. I counted myself as lucky that those I knew well were all OK. I lost a friend and colleague in the London attacks on July 7, 2005, and I didn’t feel a longing to be “part” of it. I didn’t blog about it much, and kept my feelings to myself and our mutual friends. I was sorry I lost a friend, and I felt the pain his widow had when she was searching for news of him. Maybe a terrorist bombing seemed so unreal, while earthquakes are something that are known to us Down Under.
   This case, I think, is part of the humanity in all of us: while we were lucky enough not to have experienced the Christchurch earthquake first-hand, we feel a sense of unity with those who did.
   This is not anything to do with nationality, as the international rescue crews have ably demonstrated by rushing to our aid. Whether they are our Australian brothers and sisters, or whether they have ventured here from Japan, the Republic of China, or Singapore, or even further afield, they see people to help and tasks to do.
   Just as we in New Zealand felt for those in HaĂŻti, or in Australia as floods, bushfires or cyclones reached them in recent times.
   Now, we want Cantabrians to know that we might not know what they are going through but we understand loss and grief. We empathize with them for their loss.
   When I saw a photograph of Donna’s kids and ex-husband in an Associated Press photograph, my fears were confirmed. I wanted to reach out to tell them just how I felt for them.
   I wrote a few words about how I felt at the time, though that’s not much to someone who has lost a mother.
   We don’t have a desire to belong to the tragedy because we already belong to the tragedy. It has affected other members of the human race, and that’s qualifies us for immediate membership of this tragedy. They suffer, and we all suffer.
   On my Facebook and Twitter accounts, there’s no difference in the sincerity of the writer when they wish the people of Christchurch and the Canterbury region well whether they are locals or Swedish, German, Dutch, American, English, or any other nationality.
   On my Tumblr, that universality was felt in one quotation I cited—based on how many people it resonated with.
   There’s no difference in the helplessness we feel, whether we are a ferry crossing and a few hours’ drive away, or whether we are 10,000 miles away.
   If we could come and bring back your loved ones, we would.
   If we could bring back all our colleagues at CTV and The Press, we would.
   If we could bring back those Japanese students who perished in that language school, and to have them go home to their Mums and Dads happy for their Kiwi experience, we would.
   All because we know our feelings of grief that we felt in our own tragedies and we do not wish them on you.
   Yet tonight, the Manning and Gardiner families experience those very feelings of loss.
   I grieve for a colleague, and, I would like to say, a friend. Someone who touched me positively in my life.
   I am so sorry for you all.
   And I am so sorry to all those who are awaiting news, or are dealing with the horrible news that someone has been taken tragically before their time.
   I don’t want you to feel this down, but I know you do. And I wish, I truly wish, you didn’t have to go through this.

* In New Zealand, it was already September 12, 2001 when the attacks commenced.

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