Archive for March 2020


The team approach

31.03.2020

At the end of the last century, the National Government announced its Bright Future programme. Their research had identified that one thing holding back our national competitiveness was our devotion to the team rather than the individual, when in fact there have been many times New Zealand individuals have made immeasurable contributions and had not been fêted. It compared us with the US, where someone like Bill Gates—I seem to recall he was held up as an example—could be recognized by many as an innovator, while the equivalent Kiwi wasn’t generally known. One of the first moves was to knight Angus Tait, the Christchurch entrepreneur.
   These Kiwi pioneers are still around—people like Dr Sean Simpson of LanzaTech, for instance, using bacteria to consume carbon monoxide and turning it into ethanol—but other than news programmes, they’re not part of our mainstream, and part of me wonders if they should be. They are doing work that should be rewarded and recognized.
   However, the team spirit that New Zealand exhibits all the time, and admires, such as the All Blacks, the Black Ferns, or yachting’s Team New Zealand, could help with the COVID-19 pandemic, as it’s invoked in our response. The four-week lockdown ordered by the New Zealand government has, from what I see out there, been generally accepted, even if I’ve publicly Tweeted that I’d like to see more testing, including of all those arriving back on our shores, including the asymptomatic. (I note today that the testing criteria have been loosened.) The places held up to have done well at “flattening the curve”, such as Taiwan, have managed it because, it is believed by the Financial Times and others, there is a community response, and, I would add, a largely homogeneous view when it comes to being in it together, helped in part by experience with the SARS outbreak, and possibly by the overall psyche of ‘We have an external threat, so we have to stick together.’ Each territory has a neighbour that it’s wary of: Taiwan looks across the strait at the mainland, since there hasn’t really been an armistice from 1949; Singapore has Malaysia as its rival; and South Korea has North Korea.
   Across Taiwan, there have been 13·5 cases per million population, or a total of 322 cases; New Zealand is currently sitting on 134·5 per million, or 647 cases. Singapore is on 158·7 per million, or 926 cases; South Korea, which is now seeing a fairly low daily new case increase, is on 190·9 per million, or 9,786 cases.
   I support the Level 4 approach in principle, and having the lockdown, and while we aren’t accustomed to the “external threat” as the cited Asian countries, we are blessed with the team spirit that binds Kiwis together. We are united when watching the Rugby World Cup or the America’s Cup as we root for our side, and the unity is mostly nationwide. There are some on the fringe, particularly on Facebook, based on what others have said, with ideas mostly imported from foreign countries that are more divisive than ours.
   On that note, we might have been very fortunate to have the national culture that we do to face down this threat—and not have any one person standing out as we knuckle down together. Even those who are seen regularly delivering the news—the director-general of health, for instance—do so in humble fashion, while our own prime minister goes home after we go to Level 4 and answers questions in her Facebook comment stream via live video. Even if economically we aren’t egalitarian, culturally we believe we are, and it seems to be keeping us in good stead.

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Posted in business, China, culture, leadership, New Zealand, politics | 1 Comment »


Boris Johnson is hardly Churchillian

29.03.2020

I’ve heard world leaders describe the fight against COVID-19 as a war, and there are some parallels.
   As any student of history knows, there was such a thing as the Munich Agreement before World War II. I’ve managed to secure the summarized English translation below.

   For those wondering why the UK initially thought herd immunity would be its official answer to COVID-19, placing millions of people in danger, I’ve located the following document, which was previously covered by the Official Secrets Act.

   The British PM confirms he’s been in contact with the virus in this video from the Murdoch Press, cited by The Guardian’s Carole Cadwalladr:

   No doubt he followed it up with a rigorous hand-washing, as advised by his chief scientific officer, Sir Strangely Oddman.

   Now, of course, he has contracted COVID-19. He likes drawing comparisons to Winston Churchill, but nothing here suggests he measures up.

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Posted in culture, humour, leadership, politics, UK | 1 Comment »


Is there a type that works from home more easily?

27.03.2020

Olivia St Redfern has featured yours truly in her lockdown day 2, part 1 podcast, so I decided to record another response.
   It brings to mind something Steve McQueen once said. ‘I’m not an actor. I’m a reactor.’ As in, he could react to a line from another actor.
   Anyone who has seen McQueen in a film, certainly anything post-Blob, would dispute that—the king of cool was an excellent actor. But for now, as someone who had avoided doing a podcast for two decades, I “react” to Olivia’s episodes, and recorded a response on Anchor:

   At some point I might do an entry independently but considering the first has only had one listen (out of hundreds who might read a blog post of mine), then there’s not a huge incentive! (Update: that episode has doubled its audience to two.)
   History tells us that it took a while for Melrose Place to be seen as more than a 90210 spin-off, for instance. And Joey never managed it post-Friends.
   This second one does make one point about working from home. As mentioned before, I’ve been doing this since 1987, so the only difference with the lockdown (and the days leading up to it) is that I don’t feel as “special”. But I also know that not everyone is enjoying their work arrangements, such as this British QC:

   I posted my 12 tips for working from home, but when chatting to Amanda today, there might be a bit more to it than that. Maybe there’s something about one’s personality that makes working from home easier.
   While I have things to do each day, I don’t make lists. I’m more substantive than procedural. In the daytime, I try to answer emails or see to urgent stuff. I almost never do accounts at night: that’s another daytime pursuit. I know to reserve time to do those but I don’t religiously set it to 2 p.m., for instance. The beauty of working from home is flexibility, so why re-create a regimented schedule?
   At night I tend to do more creative things, e.g. design and art direction. My work day is extended because I enjoy my work.
   My advice to those making the shift is to do away with the lists. Know the direction and get things done as the inspiration hits you. It’s meant to be calmer than the bustle of office life.

People should find exponential growth an easy concept to grasp, at least those of us of a certain age. Heather Locklear taught all of us with Fabergé shampoo.

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Posted in business, culture, humour, interests, internet, marketing, New Zealand, TV, USA, Wellington | No Comments »


Responding to Leisure Lounge

26.03.2020

During the 2011 ‘snowpocalypse’, my friend, the drag queen Olivia St Redfern, produced a series of streamed video programmes called Leisure Lounge. If I recall correctly, the intent was to give people, who had not experienced snow in our city (it’s a once-in-70-year event), some light entertainment. I called in as ‘Charlie’ (with apologies to John Forsythe) with the catchphrase, ‘Good morning, Angels.’ We didn’t have a ton of viewers—they were in the double digits—but those who did watch were loyal.
   Now we’re in a national lockdown for ‘coronapocalypse’, Olivia’s started again with Leisure Lounge, but this time as a podcast, where you can follow her progress each day. It’s quite fun to share the experience, and she welcomes responses. However, I found the Anchor recording method terrible (it messed up a five-minute response I sent to her yesterday), so I redid it for her today. You’ll need to listen to the second episode for context, and, if it’s of any interest, here is my reply.

   After all that, I may as well continue doing the odd podcast as well—something I had the opportunity to do 20 years ago. Better late than never.

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Posted in culture, humour, interests, internet, New Zealand, Wellington | 1 Comment »


A quick look at COVID-19 on a per capita basis

24.03.2020


Virusncov.com

I don’t think it’s easy for most of us to make sense of the number of COVID-19 infections, especially as we’re recording more new infections daily. This website has some useful stats, and I was interested to see how we compared per capita.
   I know others might get more utility seeing how we creep up the scale (I notice a few of these graphs) but as a snapshot, I found this useful. I’ve thrown in other countries for comparison’s sake. The numbers deal with total infections (i.e. no subtractions are made for recovered cases).

COVID-19 cases per 1,000,000
Italy 1,056·9
Spain 751·6
Germany 347·1
France 304·4
Sweden 204·3
South Korea 176·3
USA 139·7
UK 98·1
Singapore 87·2
Australia 84·1
Mainland China 56·5
Canada 55·5
Hong Kong 47·7
New Zealand 32·2
KSA 16·2
Taiwan 9

   I realize our numbers are set to rise because of Kiwis coming home and the virus incubation period, and the numbers will be reflecting our border situation and containment measures from two weeks ago rather than today. I’m looking forward to the day when the daily announcement of new infections shows a drop.

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Posted in globalization, New Zealand | 1 Comment »


The FT covers lawsuit alleging Facebook knew about inflated metrics

21.03.2020

I’ll be interested to read the judgement, should it get to that point: Facebook is being sued over allegedly inflating its audience numbers, and COO Sheryl Sandberg and financial officer David Wehner are also named.
   The plaintiff alleges that Facebook has known this for years. The suit dates from 2018 but there are new filings from the lawsuit.
   I’ve blogged on related topics for the majority of the previous decade, and in 2014 I said that Facebook had a bot ‘epidemic’.
   Finally another publication has caught on this, namely the Financial Times. The FT notes something that I did on this blog in 2017: ‘In some cases, the number cited for potential audience size in certain US states and demographics was actually larger than the population size as recorded in census figures, it claimed.’ Its own 2019 investigation found discrepancies in the Facebook Ads’ Manager tool.
   The complaint also says that Facebook had not removed fake and duplicate accounts. Lately I’ve found some obvious fake accounts, and reported them, only for Facebook to tell me that there’s nothing wrong with them. On Instagram, I have hundreds, possibly thousands, of accounts that I reported but remain current. Based on my user experience, the plaintiff is absolutely correct.
   Facebook only solves problems it puts its mind to, and all seem to be bolstering its bottom line. This is something it could have solved, and since it’s plagued the site for the good part of a decade, and it continues to, then you have to conclude that there’s no desire to. And of course there isn’t: the more fakes there are, the more page owners have to pay to reach real people.
   Over a decade ago, I know that it cost a small business a decent chunk of money to get an independent audit (from memory, we were looking at around NZ$6,000). Facebook doesn’t have this excuse, and that tells me it doesn’t want you to know how its ads actually perform.
   As I said many times: if a regular person like me can find a maximum of 277 fakes or bots in a single night, then how many are there? I’m surprised that not more of the mainstream media are talking about this, given that in 2018 Facebook posted an income of US$22,100 million on US$55,800 million of revenue, 98·5 per cent of which came from advertising. Is this one of the biggest cons out there? Here’s hoping the lawsuit will reveal something. Few seem to care about Facebook’s lies and erosion of their privacy, but maybe they might start caring when they realize they’ve been fleeced.

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Posted in business, internet, marketing, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


Twelve things I do to keep balanced while working from home

17.03.2020

When I was 13, my father became self-employed after being made redundant at his work. By choice, my mother did the same when I was in my early 20s. They both loved the lifestyle and I imagine it was inevitable I would do the same in my career, beginning at a time when I was still studying.
   As some who self-isolate because of the coronavirus pandemic say that their mental health is affected, I thought I’d share how I’ve been based at home for over three decades.

1. For those working, make sure it’s not just one project. There’s nothing more wearing that having just one thing to work on the entire day. I always have a few projects on the go, and make sure I switch between them. The second project should be a lighter one or be of less importance. Even if it’s not work, make sure it’s something that gives you a bit of variety.

2. Make sure you have a decent work set-up. I find it important to have a monitor where I can read things clearly. Also I set mine on a mode that restricts blue light. If you’re working at home, it’s not a bad idea to have comfortable settings on a screen. If your monitor doesn’t have a native mode to restrict blue light, there’s always F.lux, which is an excellent tool to make screens more comfortable.
   If you’re used to standard keyboards and mice, that’s great, but for me, I have to ensure my keyboard is either at around 400 mm in width or less, and my mouse has to be larger than the standard size since I have big hands. Ergonomics are important.

3. Find that spot. Find a comfortable space to base yourself with plenty of natural light and ventilation. At-home pet cats and dogs do it, take their lead.

4. Stretch. Again, the cats and dogs do it. Get out of that chair every now and then and make sure you don’t get too stiff working from your desk. Exercise if you wish to.

5. If you relax to white noise or find it comforting, there are places that can help. One friend of mine loves his podcasts, and others might like music, but I enjoy having the sound of web video. And if it’s interesting, you can always stop to watch it. One site I recently recommended is Thought Maybe, which has plenty of useful documentaries, including Adam Curtis’s ones. These give an insight into how parts of the world work, and you might even get some theories on just what landed us in this situation in 2020.
   When Aotearoa had two network TV channels, I dreamed of a time when I could have overseas stations accessible at my fingertips. That reality is now here with plenty of news channels online. If that’s too much doom and gloom, I’m sure there are others that you can tune into to have running in the background. Radio.net has a lot of genres of music.

6. Find that hobby. No point waiting till you retire. Was there something you always wanted to learn about but thought you’d never have time? I recommend Skillshare, which has lots of online courses on different subjects. You learn at your pace so you can delve into the course whenever you want, say once a day as a treat.

7. I do some social media but generally I limit myself. Because social media are antisocial, and they’re designed to suck up your time to make their owners rich (they look at how much attention they capture and sell that to advertisers), there’s no point doing something draining if you’ve got some good stuff to do in (1). However, they might be cathartic if you want to have some human contact or express your feelings. Personally, I prefer to blog, which was my catharsis in the mid-2000s, and which I find just as good today. It’s a pity the old Vox isn’t around these days as there’s much to be said for a long-form blogging network.
   Sarb Johal started the #StayatHomeEnts hashtag on Twitter where Tweeters have been putting up some advice on what we each do to keep entertained. I just had a scroll down and they’re really good!

8. Many of us have this technology to chat to others, let’s use it. We’re luckier in 2020 that there’s Facetime, Skype, Google Hangouts, etc. I had thought that if we didn’t have social media, we’d be finding this an ideal opportunity to connect with others around the planet and learning about other cultures. I remember in the early days of the web how fascinating it was to chat to people in chatrooms from places I had never visited. I realize these days there are some weirdos out there, who have spoiled the experience for the great majority. But I’m sure there are some safe places, and if they’re not around, see what friends are in the same boat and form your own virtual networks. Importantly, don’t restrict yourselves to your own country.

9. Don’t veg: do something creative. For those of us with a creative bent, draw, write, photograph, play a musical instrument—something to de-stress. I can’t get through a day without doing one creative thing.

10. Anything in the house that you said you’d always do? Now’s your chance to do it, and hopefully you’ve got your tools and equipment at home already.

11. If you’re in a relationship, don’t get on top of each other—have your own spaces. Having said that, seeing my partner helps as I used to go into town a few times a week for meetings; because I see her each day, that need to meet up with colleagues to get out of your own headspace isn’t as strong.

12. Take plenty of breaks. You’d probably have to anyway, in order to cook (since you’re not heading out to a café) so structure in times to do this. It soon becomes second nature. Don’t plough through till well after your lunchtime or dinnertime: get a healthy routine. Remember that self-isolation means you can still go for walks, just not into crowded places or with someone. When we self-isolated in January over an unrelated bug, my partner and I headed to a local park that wasn’t busy during the day and we were the only ones there.

   Normally I would have a small amount of meetings during the week but as I get older, they’re actually fewer in number, so I can cope with not having them.
   Do you have any extra tips? Put them in the comments and let’s see if we can build on this together.

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Posted in culture, interests, internet, New Zealand, technology, TV | 1 Comment »


Don’t rely on an algorithm to choose your brand ambassadors

14.03.2020

Here’s a cautionary tale found by Lucire travel editor Stanley Moss. His words: ‘Photographer Dmitry Kostyukov recently experienced a rich dialogue with an algorithm belonging to a Scandinavian swimwear company. He’d been auto-mistaken for a Y chromosome, and digitally invited to become a brand ambassador. Dmitry accepted, and received the sample suit of his choice, an influencer name and instructions on how to photograph himself wearing the product. This exposes one facet of what advertising has become, commodified advocacy. Following is the text of his statement about the project, filled with reminders of what today constitutes the new paradigm of product promotion. Caveat emptor.
   In other words, don’t leave your marketing in the hands of a program. I haven’t followed up with Bright Swimwear, but I hope they’ll run with it, not just to show that they are ‘progressive’, but to admit that there are limits to how algorithms can handle your brand. (They haven’t yet.)
   If the world desires more humanistic branding, and people don’t want to feel like just a number, then brands should be more personal. Automation is all right when you need to reach a mass audience with the same message, but cultivating personal relationships with your brand ambassadors would be a must if you desire authenticity. Otherwise, you just don’t know the values of those promoting your brand.
   Fortunately, I took it in good humour just as Dmitry did and ran the story in Lucire, and you can reach your own conclusions about the wisdom of algorithms in marketing, particularly in brand ambassadorship.

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The British approach to coronavirus: by Grabthar’s hammer, what a savings

14.03.2020


Still from AFP video

I’d far rather have the action taken by our government than the UK’s when it comes to flattening the curve on coronavirus, and the British response reminds me of this 2018 post.
   Just because the chief scientific adviser there has a knighthood and talks posh isn’t a reason to trust him, his judgement or even his “expertise” if science says otherwise.
   When my father went into hospital in September 2019, the doctors’ lack of treatment—because they determined he was ‘dying’ and that that was sufficient reason to deny him the essentials of life and that it would be a ‘miracle’ if he regained consciousness, whereas my partner and I determined he was ‘dehydrated’ (we were right)—I was forced to ask the palliative nurse about this so-called ‘policy’. Dad did, after all, wake up after we demanded he be given saline and sustenance within hours, leading me to wonder just why a team of doctors were so obsessed with killing him.
   ‘Who’s next?’ I asked.
   She looked at me quizzically.
   ‘Who’s next? Is it the differently abled? Homosexuals? Jews? I’m sorry, but the parallels are all too evident to me.’
   During this time, a Dr Mark Jones in the UK came into my Twittersphere and we exchanged a number of Tweets.
   Mark essentially said that this was an unwritten UK government policy, and showed me numerous examples of elder neglect and abuse in his country. Maybe I should say ‘our country’ since it’s the only one I have a current passport for, having got too busy to renew my Kiwi one (not that it would have much use at present).
   The reasons were financial. The fewer OAPs there were, the less they’d have to pay out in pensions.
   Therefore, it was no surprise that Dad’s treatment at a British-run rest home compared less favourably than Te Hopai, where he wound up, although in Bupa’s defence they have taken our complaints seriously, apologized, and have invited us to see the improvements.
   The less generous might have branded Mark a conspiracy theorist but Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, seems to advance a position directly compatible with Mark’s observations.
   From what I can make out, he’s quite happy for the UK to get infected with coronavirus with the expectation that 60 per cent of the Union will develop immunity—although from all my reading of this approach, a proportion of older people who contract it will die. It appears a callous approach to just let a disease come—the UK isn’t closing its borders or banning mass gatherings, but instead is welcoming its microbic visitor with crumpets and tea. Yes, they are advising those who feel sick to self-isolate, and that is sensible, but it’s the rest that makes little sense.
   Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson preempts this as he said without emotion, ‘Many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.’
   Even Jeremy Hunt appeared to break ranks with the government in one interview.
   The likely result will be a thinning out of British OAPs.
   When I first told my partner this, she was shocked, but I advanced my own conspiracy theory: ‘If you begin with the premise that Dominic Cummings is out to destroy Britain—its institutions, and now its people—then all of this fits his agenda.’
   The new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, after Sajid Javid found himself in a position where even he couldn’t go along with what was being peddled by 10 Downing Street, making you wonder just what horrors await, will doubtless be thrilled at the savings to the UK pension fund.

PS.: Thank you, Tomas Pueyo (the man in the screen), for reacting the way you did to Prof John Edmunds’ position that the UK has given up on containing the virus and that people will die. You have spoken, silently, for many of us.—JY




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Posted in media, politics, TV, UK | 1 Comment »


Roger Nichols performs the original Hart to Hart theme

13.03.2020

In 2013, I wrote a small note on my Tumblog about Roger Nichols’ theme to the TV series Hart to Hart. The music was played as the opening and closing themes in the pilot, and as an incidental theme to many episodes later, but few remember it. I’ve even seen websites proclaim that the Mark Snow theme that most of us know was the ‘original’, not unlike how The Love Boat attempts to exorcise the two pilot films starring Ted Hamilton and Quinn Redeker as the captains.
   The tune was later commercially released by the Carpenters as ‘Now’, among the final songs recorded by Karen Carpenter. However, that was with a different set of lyrics, and the original by Leslie Bricusse has never been heard. I suggested in 2013 that the closest might have been Mariya Takeuchi’s recording in Japanese, though that has since vanished from YouTube.
   However, there is now a post on YouTube at almost the original tempo, performed by Nichols himself, but the Bricusse lyrics remain unheard. You’d think that there’d be a fan somewhere who has the inside story.

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