Archive for April 2011


One year on, the same issues remain pressing

23.04.2011

In 2011, the issues that I spoke about during my campaign remain as pressing as they always did.
   We still need better, wider and earlier consultation, whether we streamline current processes or create new ones for citizen engagement.
   We still need to build a city-wide wifi network, one which exists but needs a few top-level negotiations to make it work—with a real plan for expanding it to both lower socioeconomic areas and the eastern suburbs. It’ll create an infrastructure which will encourage more businesses built around teleworking, with a consequence of helping with traffic.
   It is a long-term plan, but just as roads were once the solution for 20th-century problems, the internet infrastructure is the solution for early 21st-century ones.
   Although, I must say, the ability for New Zealand to attract international investment for technological businesses has been hampered severely by central government and the copyright amendments.
   If you were an investor, you’d now think twice about investing in a country that has a presumption of guilt with an ill-defined concept of file-sharing. If you wanted a legislative minefield, there’s always the People’s Republic of China.
   If you were in the high-tech industry, you’d think twice if an MP equated the internet to Skynet, which, I might add, did not become self-aware on April 21, 2011. (Was this the reason for rushing the bill through under urgency, Mr Young?)
   I don’t know the government and the opposition’s motives, unless their will is to see New Zealand remain a low-wage, primary-products-focused economy bending to the whims of American lobby groups.
   New Zealand needs to capitalize on its creative advantage, Wellington even more so. We’re already behind the eight-ball on this, but our small population means we should be able to move more quickly.
   And start doing things that are right not just for three-year outlooks, but 30-year ones.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, leadership, New Zealand, politics, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


Stefan Engeseth hits 1,000 posts on Detective Marketing blog

21.04.2011

Stefan Engeseth and Jack Yan
Martin Lindeskog

Congratulations to my good friend Stefan Engeseth on reaching 1,000 posts on his blog today!
   It’s even more of a milestone when you realize Stefan is not blogging in his native tongue. Add to that the fact that he suffers from dyslexia.
   But we follow his blog because we admire several qualities about him: his willingness to examine new ideas; his open-mindedness; and his love of learning, and sharing that knowledge with us all.
   You can add one more in my case: because he’s one of my closest friends and one of the most decent and generous human beings I have ever met.

Happy Easter, everyone!

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Posted in branding, business, internet, leadership, marketing, publishing, Sweden | 4 Comments »


It’s nice to be believed

21.04.2011

The bug I wrote about a few days ago that’s emerging when I use Autocade is now filed with Telstra Clear—and it’s been escalated.
   For years I would report various faults, including with Telstra Clear, and I would not be believed. What a difference now that I am believed.
   For around two years, no one at Telstra Clear believed me when I told them that the internet went down when it was windy. They kept blaming me and how I used my computer. I guess the wisdom was that wind caused computer operator misuse. Until one day, I said, ‘I know what your script says. I have done [x, y and z]. Now, here’s what I want you to do.’ The technician came down from Palmerston North and confirmed there was a loose wire. He then called another technician. Zero marks for efficiency, though the error was eventually fixed.
   Or the Vox error, which went on for months in 2009, blocking me from using the service. When I complained to Six Apart, which ran the now-defunct blogging platform, it was apparently my fault. Or my ISP’s. Or the internet’s. Until, again after a long, long time, I gave them my username and password. Only then did they confirm that something was wrong: they could not log on as me even from their own HQ.
   Even Mozilla took its time, though happily, when they got on to it, they were remarkably quick in solving my reported bugs. And these days, I find I am not disbelieved there.
   Now that Lucire is on Cloudflare, I’m also finding that speedy service and, last night, confirmation that they did, indeed, suffer a DDOS attack. There are no doubts there, either—just rapid acknowledgements and very personal service, answering my concerns about various settings, the Google bot, and the way Cloudflare works.
   The latest one is the Google Ads Preferences Manager, though I was told today at our monthly Vista lunch by Jim Donovan that he had been checking his, and found that his opt-out had been respected. I wonder if Google is only respecting the choices of Chrome users.
   I have had a few friends discover their Ads Preferences Manager behave the same way as it does for me, but maybe there are some people for whom it’s working.
   Nevertheless, the Network Advertising Initiative, to whom I have informed of this issue, has not responded, which I imagine amounts to being disbelieved.
   All I can say to the disbelievers is this: I am a reasonably intelligent person. I have been playing and working with computers since 1978. That means, if I say there is a bug with your service, there is a greater chance that I am right, than there is for your belief that I mucked up.
   This time, it’s plain nice for Telstra Clear to come back to me without questioning how I use my computer. Or saying I pressed the wrong button. Or used the wrong finger in pressing that button. Here’s hoping it can be resolved for, as the tech told me yesterday, it’s very hard to identify an intermittent error. (However, today it is not intermittent: I have been consistently unable to get on to Autocade without adding www to its URL.) From my point of view, it’s just great that the right people are dealing with the right issue in my world.

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Posted in business, internet, New Zealand, technology, USA | No Comments »


Facebook resets email preferences, after it removes gay photo as ‘abusive’

20.04.2011

Not only does Google Ads Preferences Manager reset on a regular basis and bugger what your preferences are, Facebook has today reset (at least for myself and one other friend) email settings. ‘Set emails to spam.’

Facebook email preferences

   Why Facebook does this regularly, I have no idea—but this is relatively minor compared to their removal of an EastEnders pic of two blokes snogging because it was ‘abusive material’.
   The homophobic argument is that seeing gay images could affect young people. If that were the case, with all the straight images that we get bombarded with from day one, there wouldn’t be any gays in the world.
   You’d think with the furore going on about the removal of a perfectly innocent photograph—from a pre-watershed soap opera—Facebook would be more careful today. (From what I read, it has yet to apologize to the person who uploaded the photograph as his profile image.) So now they’ve annoyed not only people who support equal rights for the gay community, but all those who hate spam and who took the time to tell Facebook of their email preferences.
   I want to make it clear that I do not believe that the events are linked. But it’s pretty poor to put your foot wrong twice in such a short space of time.

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Posted in culture, internet, technology, USA | 7 Comments »


National thinks the internet is ‘Skynet’ as copyright amendments pass second reading

13.04.2011

This would be humorous if the implications of the copyright amendments were not so serious:

Also speaking in favour of the bill, National MP Jonathan Young compared the internet to Skynet, the fictional artificial intelligence network in the Terminator movies that tried to destroy mankind.

That was in the National Business Review.
   I believe it’s also fair to hold the Prime Minister to account.
   This is the same man who, in 2009, thought this legislative amendment was a bad idea.
   He now thinks it’s a good idea, I imagine because it was passed under urgency and he can get away with it.
   The leader of the Opposition may indeed have flip-flopped on things, but I think he took a tad longer. The Prime Minister, on this issue once again, shows that principle is not one of his strong suits.
   Especially in light of the TPPA negotiations, this government seems hell bent on ceding our sovereignty to foreign lobbyists.
   In what I believe is a tactical mistake for them, Labour supported the amendment, too.
   The first big issue for the General Election has just crept up—the internet-savvy public is far larger than politicians think—and it plays right into the minor parties’ hands.

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Posted in internet, leadership, media, New Zealand, politics, technology, USA, Wellington | 5 Comments »


Errors abound in the New Zealand internet as government flip-flops again

13.04.2011

This one hasn’t happened for a while (over a year), and, the last time I blogged about it, I managed to solve the issue—after putting up with it for years prior to that. (The solution before December 2009 was to wait for the computer’s foul mood to pass—hardly scientific.)
   Unfortunately, this fix no longer works on Firefox 4. Deleting mimetypes.rdf does nothing and the error remains.
   Here’s the bug: when accessing Autocade, I got this message many times today on Firefox, Seamonkey and IE8. If I Tweet about it and ask others to head there, they don’t experience it, so, you might think it’s confined to me only. However, a search reveals that it happens to other people, but on other sites, and usually, only temporarily.

Autocade error message

   The error, which I’ll note here for the search engines, is that the PHP page is an ‘application/opensearchdescription+xml’ one and cannot be opened.
   The last few times I confronted it over the previous 12 months, I added www to the address (to get www.autocade.net) and I was fine again. This fix worked this afternoon, but it doesn’t work any more.
   I don’t think it’s the browser. If I use a proxy server, the page opens fine. I’ve tried this on two computers now, each with a different OS.
   Since it’s on our own dedicated server, I can assure you we haven’t made any changes our end, other than add content. Last time, I checked with our hosting provider and they can’t see anything wrong there.
   Which, in my mind, due to a process of elimination, leaves the ISP. They denied (last time I enquired, in 2009) that they were to blame.
   So no one admits it’s their problem. Any clues on whodunnit?

Incidentally, and maybe this is related since it’s all on the same server, I have had two New Zealand-based friends over the last few weeks say they cannot send emails to me any more. The emails all bounce back and they have had to resort to using the telephone. If it keeps up, I might suggest they buy a fax machine.
   Our server is based abroad, and I have to wonder if some of our ISPs no longer resolve DNSs properly any more. I’ve had the same email address since 1995 and we haven’t had reports from other countries having difficulty emailing us.
   Considering this government has now sneaked in a copyright legislation change under urgency (presumably to help American and foreign lobbyists), after PM John Key flip-flopped on the issue in 2009, very few things surprise me about the poor state of the internet here.
   The new law, which has likely passed by now, says a rights’ owner merely needs to allege an infringement for the accused to be automatically guilty. It is then up to that person to disprove guilt.
   If you find that my Twitter avatar has been blacked out, this is why.

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Posted in internet, leadership, media, New Zealand, politics, technology, USA, Wellington | 1 Comment »


A great first few days collaborating with Keith Adams on Autocade

10.04.2011

I’m pleased to announce that automotive writer and historian Keith Adams is now collaborating with me on Autocade—and doing an incredible job.
   Keith has been as good as his word: not only has he fulfilled his promise to work with me on Autocade, he has got so much into the spirit of the site that it’s hard to distinguish which entries are his and which are mine on style alone. He’s adopted very quickly to my quirks—there are a few which, were I to do the site from scratch, I wouldn’t have (it would have been easier for I4 to denote inline four cylinders, for example).
   You will see his entries in the history (Kadams is his handle), though in a couple of cases, moved pages will show me (WikiSysop) as the author when it was actually him.
   I’ve linked Keith’s AROnline site—or, as it was once called, The Unofficial Austin–Rover Resource, for years, because I was one of many fans who enjoyed the work he did covering the history of British motoring. I’ve read Octane because of him. So when I said in a press release last week that I could not think of a better collaborator, I meant it.
   Keith’s knowledge of marques such as Bizzarrini is superior to mine, and he’s been able to add entries for such models as the Audi 100 and Peugeot 405. (I blame my own laziness for the absence of these models till now—my motoring books are not in this office and I usually bring out one volume at a time to check facts on Autocade.) He’s logically divided the Saab 9000 entry into Marks I and II (any Fiat 500 fans are welcome to break up the 1957–77 entry), which now makes more sense. Eeriely, I have often found myself on the site at exactly the same times he is.
   Last week, Autocade crossed the 1,000,000 page view barrier, and, with Keith’s help, we’ve shot past 1,400 models.
   So to celebrate, here are three entries that combine the best of Keith’s and my work on Autocade, and to give you an idea of how international we’re getting. Thank you, Keith!

Image:Peugeot_405.jpgPeugeot 405. 1987 to date (prod. over 3,933,716). 4-door saloon, 5-door estate. F/F, F/A, 1360, 1587, 1761, 1905, 1998 cm³ petrol, 1769, 1905, 1997 cm³ diesel (4 cyl. OHC), 1761, 1905, 1998 cm³ (4 cyl. DOHC). Hugely important mid-sized Peugeot, riding on a modified Citroën BX platform, that hit the market square-on, rivalling the Ford Sierra and Opel Vectra A. Agreeable Pininfarina styling (and closely resembling the Alfa Romeo 164) and excellent road manners made this an appealing driver’s car, although build quality lagged behind the best of the opposition. Mid-life facelift in 1993 introduced more practical boot, with lower loading lip and folding rear seat. Western European production ended 1997; continued in Iran under IKCO with both OHC and DOHC versions of 1·8-litre engine (in GLX and SLX trims), including CNG variant.

Image:Peugeot_Pars.jpgPeugeot Pars. 1999 to date (prod. unknown). 4-door saloon. F/F, 1761 cm³ (4 cyl. OHC), 1761 cm³ (4 cyl. DOHC). Facelifted version of Peugeot 405, modernizing front and rear for 21st century, and built by Iran Khodro. Sixteen-valve DOHC from 2003 in 16V model, replaced by luxurious ELX in 2004. Well regarded dynamically; used by officials. Produced alongside original 405 in Iran. CKD production in Egypt and other countries.

Image:2011_Peugeot_Roa.jpgPeugeot Roa. 2006 to date (prod. unknown). 4-door saloon. F/R, 1599, 1696 cm³ petrol, 1599 cm³ CNG (4 cyl. OHV). The Rootes Arrow lives on, but with a Peugeot 405 clone bodyshell. Basic model offered by IKCO of Iran, blending the platform of the obsolete rear-wheel-drive Paykan with a more modern interior and exterior. Initially offered with 1·6 petrol and CNG engines; G2 model from 2010 has 1·7 unit.

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Posted in business, cars, interests, media, New Zealand, UK | No Comments »


Two years on, the mainstream media wake up over BYD’s ethics

10.04.2011

I said it in 2009, and apparently, so did a diplomat whose note was leaked via Wikileaks: BYD might not stand scrutiny in a non-Chinese court over its vehicles.
   When I raised it, a few BYD fans (agents?) came commenting, trying to pick holes in my post, though they were unable to deny that the company had been unethical. If someone needs to come and attack without substance, then it’s almost always a guilty conscience that motivates them. If anything, they confirmed every statement I made.
   That time, I highlighted two publicity images that Toyota and BYD had used, even though BYD said the F0 model is exclusively its own work. It’s a little hard to explain these two photographs, then:

Toyota Aygo

BYD F1

   I wrote at the time:

BYD’s general manager, Xia Zhibing, has been quoted as saying, ‘The BYD F1 [as it was originally called] is a model developed by ourselves and we hold the intellectual property right for it.’
   I guess there’s no shame at BYD, and that the ideals of truthfulness in Confucianism haven’t made a return to parts of Red China.
   Come on, Mr Xia, the only contribution BYD has made to the 2007 photo is in Adobe Photoshop! If you are going to lie about it, don’t make it so obvious by using someone else’s publicity pic first! At least use CAD to generate something new!

   The argument still holds when you examine the door shapes of the BYD F3 and G3, and the E120 Toyota Corolla; or the F6 and the XV30 Camry, though at least neither model has been cursed with retouching of Toyota publicity photographs. From the Reuter article:

One Honda source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, cited BYD’s F3 model in particular as a known copy with Toyota Corolla and Honda Fit attributes.

   It’s interesting that this has only recently come to light at Reuter, when the story was very obvious to most of us motorheads two years ago.
   Most of us know that copying goes on and China, Red or otherwise, is certainly not the only guilty party. There’s some hidden story about the original Nissan March and the Fiat Uno, for example, but usually, when these things are done, the designers do enough to get around an expert’s judgement, just in case one gets called up in court.
   BYD, however, hasn’t really done enough to cover its tracks. It’s one thing to be inspired, it’s another to leave clues everywhere over the finished product.
   Before 2009, I honestly thought BYD was a Toyota licensee, and while it would be very difficult (as the Reuter article points out) to prove copying or copyright infringement on a component-by-component basis (as so many parts are commodities), it’s actually not as difficult to examine the overall bodyshells and for a plaintiff to find evidence of objective similarity. Things might be a millimetre out here and there, but the argument would be familiar to anyone in the type design industry: Megaron is still Helvetica.
   Arguably, some of the technology is BYD’s (and the Reuter article has something to say about its efficacy), but there’ll need to be some investment in the look of the cars if the company doesn’t want to get an injunction filed against it by some Japanese automakers, as I said in 2009.
   It’s not as though the company is incapable of producing cars inspired by other manufacturers but with enough of the details hidden—some of BYD’s niche models could pass muster in a non-Chinese court.
   The BYD e6, the electric car on which a lot of the company’s hopes hinge, actually looks quite smart.
   However, the mainstream models, the ones in which Warren Buffett has placed so much faith with his BYD investment, don’t.
   There are so many Chinese car manufacturers that deserve to do well, because they’ve played the game properly. While their conduct during the last days of MG Rover in the UK left something to be desired, SAIC is going about its expansion largely the right way. Chery has been commissioning some wonderful work from Italy. Geely and Riich models might look derivative, but there’s no doubt that it’s their own work. I wouldn’t buy a Lifan, but I’d talk them up before I’d talk up BYD.
   BYD’s advantage is in its electric models, if they ever appear. The Reuter article leaves the reader in little doubt that the technology there might not be all that it is cracked up to be, either.
   The irony is I would really love the idea of all-electric cars to succeed and be affordable. If they came from China, I would have no objection, because it would mean that the world’s fastest-growing car-buying nation might be able to arrest its rise in carbon dioxide emissions. Even the Politburo’s subsidy for electric cars is a sensible move.
   But there is so much talent in a country of over a billion that copying, as the Chinese car industry moves into a more mature phase, does it no credit—and that could prove the undoing of BYD unless it sets its sights only on exporting the e6 and not the existing F-cars or the G3.

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Posted in business, cars, China, design, media, USA | 3 Comments »


It’s about content, especially when reality is more appealing than reality TV

10.04.2011

The Apprentice logo
It’s shows like The Apprentice that have kept me away from watching TV.

I was surprised to learn, in conversation last week, that TV viewership is up, while print is down.
   Shows you can’t base too much of what the general public does on your own experience.
   I estimate my magazine and book consumption is roughly where it was for the last half-decade, but I watch around seven hours of broadcast television (not online stuff) per month at the top end.
   The reason I have a television set is to show DVDs, and little more. If I had a more advanced unit, I might consider sticking USB sticks containing short films from friends into it, but it’s little more than a display unit for other media.
   It surprises me, because I would say I watched a lot of telly in the 1970s and 1980s.
   As to newspapers, the last time I bought or subscribed to one was 1993.
   My attention does seem to be on the computer, and that’s been growing since the 1990s.
   Part of it came from the business—getting news from Reuter Textline, for instance—but when a lot of this stuff became mainstream and everyone could get it, I joined in.
   I don’t think it’s down to the fact that a lot of it is free—though having said that I do not miss the Murdoch Press’s paywalled (sic) publications one iota—but the fact that everything can be tailored to my tastes. As much as I rip into Google, I have always said Google News was a fine product that allows me to do just that. (I use the UK one, ever since the US one turned into something unusable.)
   What it boils down to is the long shift from top–down media to participatory media, something that’s not new, by any means.
   At the core, it’s all driven by content.
   My dissatisfaction with, say, the newspapers, was due to the small amount of international coverage we were getting in the early 1990s. The Dominion had cut its coverage down to less than a page a day. The last time I saw a copy of The Dominion Post was at the airport on a flight—I collected it from the gate—and spent more time on the crosswords than I did on the world news. It’s not as bad as a single page, but it could be better. (Don’t get me started on the wasted opportunity of not reducing the page size with its last redesign, especially as I only seem to read it on the plane.)
   And telly is much the same. I simply found shows of yesteryear more appealing—but it’s not as though shows of a similar ilk aren’t being made. They just aren’t shown by the terrestrial channels.
   With my apologies to those friends who like these shows, I just cannot find competitive cookery shows, the various Idols or Simon Cowell’s X Factors terribly interesting. Even when I appeared on TV regularly here, I didn’t watch the show. I have not watched a single episode of Survivor, and if the Donald gets his way and The Apprentice is set from the Oval Office, I still wouldn’t find it terribly interesting.
   I was one of those idiots who stayed up to watch Hustle or Daybreak, and these days, about the only things I do watch are Top Gear and Doctor Who. (Lucky for Prime.)
   Shows cut from everyday experiences bore me, especially this genre called ‘reality TV’, especially when there’s something more interesting. It’s called ‘reality’.
   In a city like Wellington, there’s always something to do, and everything’s so close by, it wouldn’t surprise me if that particular genre of television was more dead here than in some other cities. And, if you really wanted to emulate television, you can even see roughly the same people each week.
   While there is some truth in saying that a lot of content has become a commodity—check out some of the sites that Google News has let in occasionally—the good stuff, content that is differentiated and smart, is still prized. (Strangely, that’s the Murdoch Press argument for its paywall—but I guess we all have different ideas over the definition of prized.)
   So upping my television watching or even newspaper-reading is dead easy. Customized printing is already here, or will it be down to tablet apps? Either way, that’s one way to deliver a decent newspaper experience that I might subscribe to.
   However, I can’t see television exactly catering for my whims in the near future, not while more people watched Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Masterchef for Sweatshop Kids—or whatever the heck that has diversified to—than Life on Mars (the original) down here. Bringing up the percentage of drama to where it once was would work for me and the tiny minority that I represent, and commercially, it looks like we aren’t worth it.
   Anyway, I am hooked on this ‘reality’ at the moment, and it’s in part thanks to reality TV breaking me out of my old habits. I didn’t think I’d be grateful for reality TV, but, there you go, I am: it got me away from the box.

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Posted in business, culture, interests, media, New Zealand, publishing, technology, TV, UK, Wellington | 2 Comments »


The new Honda goes at over 400 mph

07.04.2011

I have to hand it to Honda. The next new model from the Japanese firm is faster than the NSX and its old Formula 1 cars. It goes at Mach 0·72.

HondaJet

   The simplified version of Honda’s history goes something like this.
   Once upon a time, Mr Honda wanted to make cars. He wasn’t sure how, but he did know how to build a motor-scooter, so he did.
   After a while, he figured out how he could build a motorcycle, so he did.
   After a while, he figured out how he could build a small car, so he did.
   After a while, he figured out how he could build a big car, so he did.
   After a while, he figured out how he could build a luxury car, so he did.
   After a while, he figured out how he could build a sports car, so he did.
   Even after Mr Honda died, his company progressed along the same lines.
   After a while, they figured out how he could build a mid-sized truck, so they did.
   Now, it looks like they’ve figured out how to build a jet plane.
   If you read Soichiro Honda’s biography, even a summary of it, you’ll find that this man had a great sense of adventure about him—something that is now interwoven into the company. When it comes to brands, Honda has done remarkably well—as has Acura.
   As Jeremy Clarkson once put it, the difference between Toyota and Honda is: Mr Toyoda wanted to make money. Mr Honda wanted to make cars.
   The Honda brand can easily extend to aircraft, and it wouldn’t surprise me if this side of the business followed a similar trajectory to earlier Honda ventures.
   It transcended land-based vehicles a long time ago, and it has such goodwill when it comes to engineering excellence and next-generation technology, that the idea of HondaJet should be easy to grasp.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, culture, leadership, marketing, technology, USA | 2 Comments »