Archive for April 2015

Slides and a podcast: my MMBA 505 lecture and Access Granted, episode 45


As promised to the MMBA 505 class at Victoria University of Wellington last night, here are my slides. My thanks to Dr Kala Retna for inviting me along as the guest speaker. To the students: thank you for attending at such a late hour. MBAs are hard work.
   I just realized I used to have a whole page of downloadable slides, which I believe we removed when we redid the site for the 2013 Wellington mayoral election. It might be time to reinstate the page with the presentations I’ve been doing here and abroad.
   Thoughts on Leadership is probably self-explanatory as a title, with my main five points being:

1. Be the first.
2. Prove something can be done when conventional wisdom says it can’t be.
3. Change the world for the better.
4. Break glass ceilings wherever you can find them.
5. Find the people who understand your vision.

The first four tend to be the “rules” that have guided me, while the fifth is one I had to learn the hard way some years ago, and can retitled: ‘Find the people who understand your vision and don’t get suckered by those who spout buzzwords.’ As a firm we tend to be a bit more of a closed shop than we used to be, and like any other, we get our share of fakes trying to ride off our coat-tails. Lucire seems to attract quite a few, in particular, which is what the fifth point addresses in some part.
   For a bit of levity after the academic stuff, there’s always this great podcast by Mike Riversdale and Raj Khushal, published today with me as their guest, as part of their ongoing Access Granted series. Only a little bit has been cut for commercial sensitivity, and the rest is a bit of light-hearted banter—the sort you’d have between mates, and I have known Mike and Raj for many years—with no hair-pulling.

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Posted in business, humour, internet, leadership, media, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | No Comments »

There can be only one, unless you forget to register your design: the Range Rover Evoque and the copycat Landwind X7


The stunning original: the Range Rover Evoque.

There has been a lot of ongoing press about Landwind’s copy of the Range Rover Evoque (a road test of the Evoque comes next week in Lucire, incidentally), one of my favourite Sloane Ranger SUVs. There’s no way Landwind would have come up with the design independently, and, if put before most occidental courts, there would be a finding in favour of the Indian firm.
   People are right to be upset, even in China, which has plenty of firms these days that spend millions on developing a new car and hiring the right talent. The days of SEAT Ibiza and Daihatsu Charade rip-offs are not completely gone, but if you read the Chinese motoring press, the journalists there are as condemning of copies as their colleagues everywhere else.
   The impression one gets in the west is that this is par for the course in China in 2015, even though it isn’t. While there have been firms that have gone from legitimate licensing to copying (I’m looking at you, Zotye and Yema), the reverse has tended to be the case in the Middle Kingdom.
   The latest article on the Landwind X7 appears in Haymarket’s Autocar, a magazine I’ve taken since 1980. I even think Autocar is being overly cautious by putting copy in quotation marks in its headline. It’s a copy, and that’s that.
   Landwind has maintained that it’s had no complaints from Jaguar Land Rover, while JLR CEO Ralf Speth says he will complain. Considering it’s been five years since the Evoque was launched, and news of the copy, and Landwind’s patent grant from 2014, has been around for a while, then saying you will complain in 2015 seems a little late.
   In fact, it’s very late. What surprises me is that this is something already known in China. I’m not the most literate when it comes to reading my first language, but as I understand it, a firm that shows a product in China at a government-sponsored show, if it wishes to maintain its “novelty” and prevent this sort of piracy from taking place, must register it within six months, under article 24 of China’s patent law:

Within six months before the date of application, an invention for which an application is filed for a patent does not lose its novelty under any of the following circumstances:
(1) It is exhibited for the first time at an international exhibition sponsored or recognized by the Chinese Government;
(2) It is published for the first time at a specified academic or technological conference; and
(3) Its contents are divulged by others without the consent of the applicant.

   The Evoque was shown at Guangzhou at a state-sanctioned motor show in December 2010, which meant that Jaguar Land Rover had until June 2011, at the outside, to file this registration. JLR reportedly missed the deadline [edit: with the patent office receiving the application on November 24, 2011].
   The consequence of missing the period is that an original design becomes an “existing design”. While it’s not entirely the end of the road for Jaguar Land Rover in terms of legal remedies, it is one of the quirks of Chinese intellectual property law, which, sadly, is not as geared to protecting authors as it is in the west.
   The approach one would have in, say, a common law jurisdiction, to prove objective similarity in the cases of copyright (and, as I understand it, a similar approach under patent), does not apply there. (Incidentally, this approach is one reason BMW could not have won against Shuanghuan for its CEO, which is usually mentioned by Top Gear watchers as an X5 copy. Look more closely and the front is far closer to a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado’s, and there’s neither a kidney grille nor a Hofmeister-Knick. It’s a mess, but Shuanghuan could easily argue that it picks up on period SUV trends, like the triangular sixth light found on an Opel Astra is part of a 2000s æsthetic for hatchbacks.)
   If you go back to November 2014, the South China Morning Post reported on this matter, again quoting Dr Speth in Autocar.
   He’s found it ‘disappointing’ for a while, it seems, but back in 2014 there was no mention of going after Landwind. An A. T. Kearney expert backs him up, saying, ‘… copying by Chinese original equipment manufacturers is still possible and accepted in China.’ It’s increasingly unacceptable, but, there are loopholes.
   I’m not arguing that this is right, nor do I condone the X7, but you do wonder why JLR hasn’t taken action. The above may be why JLR has stayed silent on the whole affair.
   This is why I read nothing on any action being taken by JLR when the Landwind was first shown, when a patent was granted (a year ago this month), or when the X7 was last displayed at a Chinese motor show.
   The SCMP piece is a much fairer article, noting that Chinese car makers have become more sophisticated and invested in original designs. It also notes that consumers are divided: while some would love to have the copy, another felt ‘ashamed about Landwind,’ points usually ignored in the occidental media.
   Land Rover has traditionally been swift in taking on copycats, and it had fought Landwind’s EU trade mark registration in 2006. This firm is known to them.
   Landwind, meanwhile, has a connection to previous Land Rover owner Ford, through Jiangling, which has a substantial Ford shareholding. Could some pressure be brought through Ford?
   For now, Jaguar Land Rover’s trouble with its patent registration has yet to make it into the western media. It’s doubtful that state media have ganged up on Jaguar Land Rover, considering it has a partnership with Chery, and invested in a new plant in Changshu. It really needs to be asking its lawyers some serious questions.

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Posted in business, cars, China, design, general, India, media, UK | 2 Comments »

Musings on making friends with mobiles


I see Google has messaged me in Webmaster Tools about some sites of ours that aren’t mobile-friendly.
   No surprises there, since some of our sites were hard-coded in HTML a long time ago, before people thought about using cellphones for internet access.
   The theory is that those that don’t comply will be downgraded in their search results.
   After my battle with them over malware in 2013, I know Google’s bot can fetch stale data, so for these guys to make a judgement about what is mobile-optimized and what is not is quite comical. Actually, I take any claim from Google these days with a grain of salt, since I have done since 2009 when I spent half a year fighting them to get a mate’s blog back. (The official line is that it takes two days. That blog would never have come back if a Google product manager did not personally intervene.)
   When you’re told one thing and the opposite happens, over and over again, you get a bit wary.
   To test my theory, I fed in some of our Wordpress-driven pages, and had varying results, some green-lighted, and some not—even though they should all be green-lighted. Unless, of course, the makers of Wordpress Mobile Pack and Jetpack aren’t that good.
   Caching could affect this outcome, as do the headers sent by each device, but it’s a worry either for Google or for Wordpress that there is an inconsistency.
   I admit we can do better on some of our company pages, as well as this very site, and that’s something we’ll work on. It’s fair enough, especially if Google has a policy of prioritizing mobile-friendly sites ahead of others. The reality is more people are accessing the ’net on them, so I get that.
   But I wonder if, long-term, this is that wise an idea.
   Every time we’ve done something friendly for smaller devices, either (a) the technology catches up, rendering the adaptation obsolete; or (b) a new technology is developed that can strip unwanted data to make the pages readable on a small device.
   Our Newton-optimized news pages in the late 1990s were useless ultimately, and a few years later, I remember a distributor of ours developed a pretty clever technology that could automatically shrink the pages.
   I realize responsive design now avoids both scenarios and a clean-sheet design should build in mobile-friendliness quite easily. Google evidently thinks that neither (a) nor (b) will recur, and that this is the way it’s going to be. Maybe they’re right this time (they ignored all the earlier times), and there isn’t any harm in making sure a single design works on different sizes.
   I have to admit as much as those old pages of ours look ugly on a modern screen, I prefer to keep them that way as a sort of online archive. The irony is that the way they were designed, they would actually suit a lot of cellphones, because they were designed for a 640-pixel-wide monitor and the columns are suitably narrow and the images well reduced in size. Google, of course, doesn’t see it that way, since the actual design isn’t responsive.
   Also, expecting these modern design techniques to be rolled out to older web pages is a tall order for a smaller company. And that’s a bit of a shame.
   It’s already hard finding historical data online now. Therefore, historical pages will be ranked more lowly if they are on an old-style web design. Again, if that’s how people are browsing the web, it’s fair: most of the time, we aren’t after historical information. We want the new stuff. But for those few times we want the old stuff, this policy decision does seem to say: never mind the quality, it’s going to get buried.
   I realize Google and its fans will argue that mobile-friendliness is only going to be one factor in their decision on search-engine ranking. That makes sense, too, as Google will be shooting itself in the foot if the quality of the results wasn’t up to snuff. At the end of the day, content should always rule the roost. As much as I use Duck Duck Go, I know more people are still finding us through Google.
   What will be fascinating, however, is whether this winds up prioritizing the well resourced, large company ahead of the smaller one. If it does, then those established voices are going to be louder. The rich melting pot that is the internet might start looking a bit dull, a bit more reflective of the same-again names, and a little less novel.
   Nevertheless, we’re up for the challenge, and we’ll do what we can to get some of our pages ship-shape. I just don’t want to see a repeat of that time we tailored our pages for Newtons and the early PDAs.

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It’s taken me a long time to blog about sheep


Living in New Zealand, of course PETA’s latest graphic (on the right) is going to get a few of us commenting. (The above comparison graphic was found on a US Facebook user’s page.)
   A friend of mine, in the US, rightly questioned whether he could believe New Zealanders on this, because we have an interest in ensuring wool exports continue. PETA, meanwhile, is a non-profit set up for the welfare of animals.
   I’m glad he questions, because without people like him, we would be accepting things told to us via media without analysis. He is right to call me out on this. We should be doing it more often, in a civilized atmosphere.
   Putting aside first-hand eyewitness accounts of sheep-shearing, where are the interests?
   PETA’s interests include its US$51 million revenues (its own figures) and the US$47 million it says it needs to keep itself going each year.
   In comparison, the New Zealand Wool Board, which is part of the state and funded by a levy, lost NZ$270,000 according to its latest annual report, on revenues of NZ$11 million. Annual expenses are NZ$3 million.
   You can take the NZ numbers and shave roughly about a quarter off them to get US dollars.
   For our wool board to do our work and keep our wool industry going, it requires about 5 per cent of what PETA does per annum.
   What interests would be served by our wool industry if sheep were left in the state PETA claims is typical? None. It’s in the industry’s interests to make sure that the coat is shorn carefully so that the sheep can grow a new coat for the next season. The medical bills from having a sheep that badly injured would far outweigh anything a farmer could get from wool.
   Running PETA is an expensive business, even if it is a non-profit, and it relies on these campaigns to get contributions.
   I believe in animal welfare, and in many cases, PETA does a good job of highlighting important issues. We’ve even received a ‘Certificate of Appreciation’ from them for working with them on causes where we see eye to eye.
   But occasionally, you have to take its messaging with a grain of salt, and this appears to be one of those times.

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

Farewell, Manhattan: switching to the Cooler Master Storm Quick Fire TK Cherry MX Brown


QuickFire TK
The Cooler Master Storm Quick Fire TK, with white case.

On Tuesday, my Manhattan keyboard, for which I gave a glowing review on Amazon, gave up the ghost. I’m not entirely sure why but through its lifetime, there were two things wrong with it: the first was that regular typing wore off the keys’ markings (not an issue since I touch-type, and they were in Arial, so it was a pleasure to see them gone); and the wiring was conking out, as it would disconnect itself from the USB for about five seconds a day.
   I tend to buy these things based on their practical value, and I’ve gone through my history of finding the right keyboard elsewhere. However, on Tuesday, I found myself needing one pretty quick smart.
   Now, I could have moved another keyboard from one of the less utilized machines, but, faced with the prospect of finishing a book chapter this weekend, I didn’t savour the prospect of typing on a membrane keyboard. Sadly, those are all that are left here, other than the scissor-switch one on my Asus laptop.
   As I headed out to town, there weren’t many alternatives. I looked in the usual places, such as Dick Smith and Noël Leeming, knowing that they wouldn’t have what I sought: a decent keyboard operated on scissor-switches, that was a maximum of 16 inches wide. (I can tolerate maybe an other half-inch on top of that at a pinch.) If anything, I only popped by these stores because they were en route from the Railway Station into town and I was using public transport that day. But, if there was a fluke and there was something that was the equivalent of the dead Manhattan, I probably would have got it.
   To save you clicking through to the old post, I dislike reaching for a mouse (and I’m getting progressively fussier with those, too), and the 16-inch width is something I found I was comfortable with after years of typing. I also need a numeric keypad since I type in European languages, and Windows wants you to use the numeric keypad, unlike Mac.
   I visited Matthew Sew Hoy at Atech Computers on Wakefield Street. He knew my plight because I had told him on previous visits: that’s the beauty of going to a smaller store and getting personal service. He remembered the story instantly. And he had just the thing: a mechanical keyboard for about 10 times the price of the old Manhattan.
   I have long been a fan of the Cooler Master Storm Quick Fire TK, which suits my requirements to a T. The trouble always was the price: I have seen them go for over NZ$200, and I’ve toyed with bringing one in on a business trip. However, Atech had two, starting from NZ$160.
   Over the years I had eyed the TK with Cherry MX Blue switches: the clicky ones. My Pinterest is full of blue-switch compact keyboards. This was familiar territory to me, and probably most people who are my age and up. Keyboards should make a little click noise as the keys are depressed: that’s the mechanical switch getting activated. This is the reason mechanical keyboards cost more: modern ones, the $20 variety you see at Dick Smith, don’t have individual switches underneath each key. They only have a sheet with a printed circuit and contacts underneath, sending electronic signals to the computer. This makes it wonderful for keyboard manufacturers, who can churn these out at low cost, but the typing experience is less than satisfactory, especially if you type a lot.
   Sadly, and this is a consequence of living in a small country, Matthew only had the TK with Cherry MX Brown switches, which need medium force without returning the satisfying click. However, to use, in terms of the strokes and strength needed, it would be roughly the same. I sampled it at the shop, decided it was worth splashing out, and bought it.
   For such an expensive device, the first one he sold me had a fault. The left shift key and the virgule (slash) both thought they were question marks, and the keyboard had to be returned. Matthew swapped it for the other keyboard, which initially was more expensive, without charging me the difference. I’m now the proud owner of a Cooler Master Quick Fire TK in white, with Cherry MX Brown switches, and it’s not quite the combination I had planned on when spending so much on a keyboard.
   But how is it to use? I’ll admit I still look somewhat enviously on those who bought their TKs abroad and managed to get them with blue switches, but I am definitely faster typing on the new one. And that is a good thing when you need for your typing to keep up with your thoughts. I’ve finished off more emails this week than I had done in a while.
   I am frustrated with the odd typo I make and I wonder if this is to do with the lack of familiarity. Because I touch-type, I am hitting the u and the i together on occasion, or the full stop and comma together, and making similar mistakes, and I don’t recall doing that quite as often on the Manhattan. I’m sure these keyboards differ in their positioning by a millimetre or two, leading to these errors.
   The unit is also higher than the very slim Manhattan, which means my wrists are raised. I haven’t found a position where they are as comfortable as they were with the previous keyboard, and the wrist rest itself is too low relative to the TK to make any difference. That is proving a problem.
   The reason for the height, presumably, is for the feature I don’t need: illuminated keys. I’m not a gamer and I’m not typing in the dark. However, for those who use their TKs for such purposes, I can see how they would be ideal. To fit in the lights beneath, I imagine the designers had to raise the entire keyboard by a few millimetres, making it less comfortable to type on.
   The final negative to the keyboard, and one which I knew I would confront, is how the numeric keypad and the cursor keys are all together. You have to take Num Lock off in order to get the cursor keys to work, much like in the old days of the early IBM PC compatibles. This has slowed me down as I switch between modes.
   In this respect, I have travelled back to when I began using IBM compatibles in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Back then, the keyboards were mechanical and the cursor and numeric keypads were all in one lot, and there’s a certain retro charm to this arrangement. Without the clicking noises, it reminds me of the mechanical switches on my first microcomputer: the Commodore 64. I really have gone back to the future, appropriate in a year when Claudia Wells (the original Jennifer Parker before she morphed into Elisabeth Shue) has been Tweeting about Lucire.
   I may be one of the few non-gamers to have invested in a TK, with typing efficiency and practicality as my main aims. When I posted pictures of it on my Instagram, I received plaudits from other serious gamers and geeks with expensive computers, calling me ‘Dude’ and making me feel very welcome as a fellow TK owner. Looking online, the white case is a rare one, so I wound up unwittingly with a keyboard that is slightly more cool than the everyday black one. I sense that Matthew prefers the white one as well, and that I didn’t know how lucky I was (although I am very grateful to him for knocking the price down and giving it to me as a direct replacement).
   Where does this leave me? I have a decent enough keyboard which is efficient for the most part, and from which I can expect a far longer life than the Manhattan (Cooler Master reckons each key is good for 50 million hits, five times longer than on the Manhattan, and ten times longer than on any membrane keyboard). I no longer put up with five-second daily outages. The way the keys are designed, I won’t have to worry about the markings coming off (the glyphs are etched). I have multimedia controls from the function keys, which are a bonus, and one reason I liked the old Genius scissor-switch keyboard that got me on this path to finding the right unit. As I type, I ponder whether I should invest in a higher wrist rest, or whether my seating position needs to change to cope with the higher keyboard. I imagine that as my fingers adjust to the minute differences, I can only get faster with my touch-typing, and I’m looking forward to the efficiency gains. But, there are those Cherry MX Blues on Amazon. The grass might look greener there, but apparently the white case puts me up there with the über-gamers and the cool geeks.

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Posted in business, China, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | 2 Comments »

Did Facebook really mean it when it apologized to the drag community for freezing their accounts?


I’m getting quite used to the hypocrisy behind the likes of Google and Facebook. Remember last year, when Facebook received criticism for freezing accounts because users did not use their real names? It’s not dissimilar to the furore that came up when Google brought in the same policy a few years ago, affecting the people you might expect: people who were hiding from abusive ex-partners, for instance, and those in the drag community.
   Facebook eventually apologized, with Chris Cox offering a heartfelt statement on behalf of the firm here.
   But, in usual fashion, the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing at Facebook.
   Even though I believe Mr Cox’s apology to be sincere, Facebook’s systems are still whack. Remember, this is a website that continues to freeze parts of its site on the 1st of each month because it’s not the 1st in California—probably because its boffins don’t know there are time zones that tick over to the new month before US Pacific time.
   One drag queen friend waited till January before her account was reinstated and, today, LaQuisha St Redfern lost hers, and Facebook did not offer her the opportunity to appeal. Her name has been banned.
   I know that’s two people caught up in the strange policies of Facebook, but after getting this bad rap in October, what’s with not even giving someone the opportunity to appeal this decision? Did Facebook even learn from it?
   This is a company that permits spammers to go on there en masse, and prevents you from reporting any more than 50 before banning reports from you for a day. Considering I’ve run into 277 a day, an upper limit of 50 is madness.
   This is a company that says it’s against click-farms, yet has been proven to use them. I’ve been reporting them, too, and according to Facebook’s own support pages, the company allows them to stay.
   In other words, Facebook puts spammers ahead of drag queens.
   I’ve written to Mr Cox, very politely, and thanks to Magenta Gutenberg on Twitter, I’ve found this petition to allow performers to use their stage names on Facebook. At Google, we got lucky because we found someone who cared about his company’s reputation when my friend Vincent lost his blog. Will we be as fortunate at Facebook?

PS.: To answer my last question, the answer is yes, though one wonders whether we would have been as successful without pressure from different parties. LaQuisha’s account was restored just after 6 a.m. GMT on Easter Day.—JY

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Posted in business, internet, USA | 1 Comment »