Archive for March 2020


Coronavirus: the weakening of globalization, and the lessons to learn

12.03.2020

A generation ago, I don’t think many would have thought that globalization could be brought to its knees by a virus. They may have identified crazy politicians using nationalism as a tool, but probably considered that would not happen in developed economies and democracies sophisticated enough to withstand such assaults.
   This course correction might be poetic to the pessimist. Those who emptied their own nations’ factories in favour of cheaper Chinese manufacture perhaps relied on appalling conditions for their working poor; and if China were incapable of improving their lot—and you can argue just why that is—then with hindsight it does not seem to be a surprise that a virus would make its leap into humankind from Wuhan, itself not the shiny metropolis that we might associate with the country’s bigger cities. Those same corporations, with their collective might, now find themselves victim to an over-reliance on Chinese manufacture at the expense of their own, with their primary, and perhaps only, country of manufacture no longer producing anything for them as the government orders a lock-down.
   I argued months ago that failing to declare the coronavirus as a matter of international concern a week before the lunar New Year was foolhardy at best; perhaps I should have added deadly at worst. Here is the period of the greatest mobilization of humans on the planet, and we are to believe this is a domestic matter? If capitalist greed was the motive for downplaying the crisis, as it could have been within China when Dr Li Wenliang began ringing alarm bells on December 30, 2019 and was subsequently silenced, then again we are reaping the consequences of our inhumanity: our desire to place, if I may use the hackneyed expression, profits above people. And even if it wasn’t capitalism but down to his upsetting the social order—the police statement he was forced to sign said as much—the motive was still inhuman. It was the state, as an institution, above people and their welfare.
   We arrive at a point in 2020 where one of Ronald Reagan’s quotes might come true, even if he was talking about extraterrestrials. At the UN in 1987, President Reagan said, ‘Perhaps we need some outside universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.’
   This might not be alien, but it is a universal threat, it is certainly indiscriminate and it affects people of all creeds and colours equally.
   Our approaches so far do not feel coordinated globally, with nations resorting to closing borders, which prima facie is sensible as a containment measure. You would hope that intelligence is being shared behind the scenes on combatting the virus. I’m not schooled enough to offer a valuable opinion here so I defer to those who are. But I’m not really seeing our differences vanish, even though we are being reminded at a global level of the common bond that Reagan spoke of. This is a big wake-up call.
   Examining the occidental media, there appears to be a greater outcry over President Donald Trump closing the US from flights from the EU Schengen zone than there was when China faced its travel ban, suggesting to me that barring your nation from people within a group of 420 million is a bigger deal than barring people from a group of 1,400 million. One lot seems more valued than the other lot.
   What I do believe is that we have made certain choices as a people, and that while the pure model of globalization raises standards of living for all, we, through our governments and institutions, haven’t allowed it to happen. We’ve not seen level playing fields as we were promised. We’ve seen playing fields dominated by bigger players, and for all those nations that are sucked into the prevailing mantra that arose in the 1980s, we’ve allowed our middle classes to shrink and the gap between rich and poor to grow. The one economic group that assures prosperity has been eroded.
   As it’s eroded then we’re looking at economies that favour the rich and their special interest groups over the poor, rather than investing in public infrastructure and education.
   No wonder many lack faith in their institutions, and their willing and continued pursuit of the monetarist order over humanistic agenda.
   Yet at the one-to-one level many differences disappear. It’s not helped by social media, those corrosive corporations that seek to separate through algorithms that encourage tribalism, but those that take the time to have a dialogue realize that we are in this together. Within these elaborate websites lies some hope.
   My entire working career to date has been mostly one where individuals and independent enterprises have formed contracts to do business, creating things that once didn’t exist through intellectual endeavour. We have done so outside elephantine multinationals, within which many imaginations have been stifled. We are people who can think outside the square—and all too often, the inhabitants of the square reject us anyway.
   When the world comes back online, I hope we have learned some lessons about the source of our troubles. We’ve willingly let certain institutions get too big at our expense; we’ve allowed a playing field slanted in their favour that encourages a race to the bottom by outsourcing to underpaid people; and as a result we’ve allowed unhygienic conditions to flourish because they’re “over there”, instead of holding corporations and nations to account. It will take us making choices with our eyes open about policies that champion individuals over big corporations; genuinely creating level playing fields where entrepreneurship can flourish at every level and benefit all; ensuring that we properly fund education and other long-term investments; and having strong foreign policies that can constructively call out injustices by suggesting a better way. We need to do this over the long term. The big corporations have mustered global power and so must individuals. Nationalism is not the answer to solving our problems: it is a reaction, a false glimpse into the past with rose-coloured glasses. It is no more a reflection of our past than a young northern lad pushing his bicycle uphill to Dvořák’s ‘New World Symphony’. Nostalgia is often inaccurate.
   Whether you are on the left or the right, whether you love Trump or Sanders, Ardern or Bridges, we’re simply lying to ourselves if we think the other political side is our enemy, when it’s in fact institutions, political or corporate, that have grown too distant to be concerned with anyone but those in power.
   Call me an idealist, but we could be on the verge of a humanistic revolution where we use these technological tools for the betterment of us all. Greta Thunberg has done so for her agenda, and we have a chance to, too: a global effort by individuals who see past our differences, because we have those common bonds that Reagan spoke of. Let’s debate the facts and get us on track, resisting both statism and corporatism at their extremes, since they’re sides of the same coin. What empowers us as individuals? In the system we have today, is there a party that can best deliver this? Who’ll keep the players honest? When we start asking these in the context of the pandemic, the answer won’t be as clear as left and right. And I’m not sure if the answer can even be found in major political parties who wish to deliver more of the same, plus or minus 10 per cent.
   Or we can wait for the coronavirus to disappear, carry on as we had been, keep dividing on social media to help line Mark Zuckerberg’s pockets, and allow another pandemic to venture forth. It can’t be business as usual.

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Posted in business, China, culture, globalization, politics, social responsibility, technology, USA | No Comments »


Z cars

11.03.2020

I did say I’d blog when Autocade hit 4,100 models, which it did yesterday. Proof that the hundredth milestones aren’t planned: the model was the Changan Zhixiang (長安志翔 or 长安志翔, depending on which script system you prefer) of 2008, a.k.a. Changan Z-Shine. A less than stellar car with a disappointingly assembled interior, but it did have one thing many period mainland Chinese cars lacked: a self-developed engine.
   It shows the nation’s quick progress. The Zhixiang was Changan’s (back then, we’d have written Chang’an) first effort in the C-segment, after making microvans, then A-, then B-segment cars, with quick progress between each. The Changan Eado, the company’s current C-segment sedan, might still be rather derivative, but the pace of improvement is still impressive.
   After 1949 through to the late 1970s, Chinese cars in the PRC were few in number, with mass production not really considered. The first post-revolution cars had panels that were hand-beaten to the right shape in labour-intensive methods. Some of those cars borrowed heavily from western ones. Then came licensed manufacture (Jeep Cherokee, Peugeot 504, the Daihatsu Charade at Tianjin) as well as clones (Citroën Visa, SEAT Ibiza). By the 1990s some of these licensed vehicles had been adapted and facelifted locally. The PRC started the new century with a mixture of all of the above, but by the dawn of the 2010s, most Chinese press frowned upon clones and praised originality, and the next decade was spent measuring how quickly the local manufacturers were closing the gap with foreign cars. It’s even regarded that some models have surpassed the foreign competition and joint-venture partners’ offerings now. Style-wise, the Landwind Rongyao succeeds the company’s (and Ford affiliate’s) Range Rover Evoque clone, the X7, with a body designed by GFG Style (that’s Giorgetto and Fabrizio Giugiaro, the first production car credited to the father-and-son team’s new firm) and chassis tuned at MIRA. The Roewe RX5 Max is, in terms of quality, technology, and even dynamics, more than a match for the Honda CR-V—a sign of things to come, once we get past viral outbreaks. Styling-wise, it lacks the flair of the Rongyao, but everything else measures up.
   But the Zhixiang was over a decade before these. Changan did the right thing by having an original, contemporary body, and it was shedding Chinese manufacturers’ reliance on Mitsubishi’s and others’ engines. To think that was merely 12 years ago, the same year Autocade started.

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I prefer the 99 per cent who don’t rely on Google

10.03.2020


Almost three screens of apps, none of which require Google.

I had a good discussion on Twitter today with Peter Lambrechtsen, and if you want to have a peek, it’s here. He’s a really decent guy who makes some good points. But it does annoy me that my partner, whose phone is a stock standard one, with all the Google and Vodafone spyware, cannot run Über, either, and that it wasted half an hour of her life yesterday. Between us we’ve lost 90 minutes because of programs in two days that don’t do what they say on the tin.
   I have several theories about this, and one of Peter’s suggestions was to get a new phone—which is actually quite reasonable given what he knows about it, though not realistic for everyone.
   Theory 1: the people who make these apps just have the latest gear, and to hell with anyone who owns a phone from 2017. (Silicon Valley is woke? Not with this attitude.)
   Theory 2: the apps just aren’t tested.
   Theory 3: the apps are developed by people who have little idea about how non-tech people use things.
   We got on to rooting phones and how some apps detect this, and won’t function as a result.
   I’d never have rooted mine if there wasn’t an easy manufacturer’s method of doing so, and if I could easily remove Google from it (services, search, Gmail, YouTube, Play, etc.). Nor would I have touched it had Meizu allowed us to install the Chinese operating system on to a western phone.
   I wager that over 99 per cent of Android apps do not need Google services—I run plenty without any problems—but there’s less than 1 per cent that do, including Zoomy and Snapchat. I live without both, and, in fact, as the 2020s begin, I find less and less utility from a cellphone. So much for these devices somehow taking over our lives. You get to a point where they just aren’t interesting.
   So why does the 1 per cent become so wedded to Google?
   You’d think that app developers would believe in consumer choice and could see the writing on the wall. A generation ago, Microsoft’s bundling of Internet Explorer got them into hot water. More recently, the EU fined Google for violating their monopoly laws. People are waking up to the fact that Google is wielding monopoly power and it’s bad for society. Why contribute to it, when the other 99 per cent don’t?
   If I build a website, I don’t say that you need to have used something else to browse it: there’s an agreed set of standards.
   And I bet it’s the same for Android development, which is why there are now superior Chinese app stores, filled with stuff that doesn’t need Google.
   We prefer open standards, thank you.
   While these tech players are at it, let us choose whether we want Google’s spyware on our phones—and if we don’t, let us banish it to hell without rooting them. (Next time, I’m just going to have to ask friends visiting China—whenever that will be—to get me my next phone, if I haven’t moved back to land lines by then. Just makes life easier.)

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Reconnecting Facebook on IFTTT

10.03.2020

A few days ago, Facebook became disconnected with my IFTTT applet, which takes the Tweets made on the Lucire account (which themselves are fed through another service) and reposts them to Lucire’s Facebook page, so that none of us have to visit either.
   IFTTT is good enough to send an email to tell you things are broken, but all their ‘Fix it’ links that you get taken to do not remedy the problem. You’ll just get IFTTT’s ‘There was an error during check process.’
   After an hour, which actually necessitated my visiting that horrid Facebook site to see if there was anything there (there isn’t), I found the solution. This is from my reply on Reddit to someone asking something similar, when they got stuck (it seems with both Twitter and Facebook). Italics added other than the one in the last sentence.

Head to https://ifttt.com/settings
Go to Linked accounts
Click on Link your account

This should show what you need to link, in my case, Facebook—I clicked on that, it took me to a verification page on Facebook, I allowed it. Twitter will be the same, and I think you’ll have to select Twitter as well.

Then head to https://ifttt.com/my_services
Select My Services
Choose Facebook pages
Go to Settings
Select Edit your account info

This will take you to https://ifttt.com/channels/facebook_pages/post_activation#_=_ and the page will ask: ‘Which Facebook page would you like to use with IFTTT?’ Select the one you want, then click Update.

For Twitter, I imagine you would have to go to the My Services page again and choose the Twitter account you want to connect, and tinker with the settings.

Then if you head back to your list of applets, run the check again, and it should work.

   I’ll leave this here for anyone else who might come across this problem. It may well be me, since this is the third time I’ve had to do it in the last few months, once because I tried to delete my Facebook account and this was holding me back.

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Autocade turns 12

07.03.2020

Autocade turns 12 today, as it’s now March 8 here in New Zealand. From zero models to 4,093 (the Hyundai Avante XD is the latest); and as I write this sentence, it’s netted 18,683,611 page views. Just four years ago this month, it had only managed eight million.
   Just this week, I added two public notes of thanks to Carfolio, with whom we’ve done a bit of an information swap, on the site. Admittedly that swap has been in our favour. The first fruits of that were four Toyota models. It shows that we motorheads have been able to find each other and work on a spirit of cooperation, to make the web more informative and useful.
   It’s a far cry from those early days when the site got its first few models; it took four months to get to 500. The timing wasn’t great, considering the Global Financial Crisis was beginning to happen around us, and more people were being sucked in to Facebook. As a hobby, I carried on, because it was a satisfying use of my time.
   I’ll leave a stats’ breakdown when we get to 19 million views, and no doubt I’ll do another post when we get to 4,100 models.
   Stuart Cowley, who shot the first Autocade video with me fronting it, has a few more up his sleeve that he’ll edit in due course. I’m open to seeing what the future will bring for the brand.
   Having one independent web publication that’s survived 22 years and counting, and another that’s now 12, is perhaps quite rare these days.
   Since I began writing this post, Autocade has gained another 73 page views.
   I’m grateful for all the support out there—thank you for all your views, feedback, generosity, information, and your shared love of cars.

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Posted in business, cars, internet, media, publishing | 1 Comment »


Fixed Vivaldi’s poor type display, thanks to wmjordan

07.03.2020

It took two months but I finally got there.
   Vivaldi now displays type normally though the browser interface is slightly messed up. But I’ll take good type display, thanks.
   On the MacType forums, a user in China called wmjordan was in the same boat but had found a solution. In their words:

For the recent version of Vivaldi 2.10, 2.11, you need to create a shortcut, and modify the command line, append the "--disable-lcd-text" parameter behind the executable name, and MacType will work on the web page content window. The "--disable-features=RendererCodeIntegrity" parameter is recommended by snowie2000.

my command line:

vivaldi.exe --disable-lcd-text --disable-features=RendererCodeIntegrity

   I used the latter method, but the type was still quite poor for me. I had to do one more thing: start Vivaldi in Windows 8 compatibility mode.
   It’s messed up the top of the browser a little but it’s a small price to pay to have everything readable again.
   Snowie2000, the main dev for MacType, says a registry hack is their preferred workaround, at github.com/snowie2000/mactype/wiki/Google-Chrome#workaround-for-chrome-78.
   It turns out that Chrome 78 (and presumably Chromium 78, too) did indeed have a change: ‘Starting from Chrome 78, Chrome began to block third-party DLLs from injection. But they provided a way to disable the protection either from the command line or by policy.’
   I was right to have investigated which version of Vivaldi represented the change earlier (it was 2.9, which equated to Chromium 78). After testing wmjordan’s suggestions out on 2.9, I upgraded to 2.11, and it was still fine.
   Opera GX is still the more resolved browser (works as it should out of the box) but there are some aspects of Vivaldi that I’m familiar with after two-and-a-half years (to the day). Looks like I’ll be going back to it for my main browsing, but I know I’ve found another great browser along the way, and I’ve updated my Firefox, too.

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Directwrite isn’t the culprit

03.03.2020

That was confusing. Yesterday’s blog post was representative of my thinking: given that certain people were upset when Chromium took away the Directwrite toggle in 2016, and type rendering on Chromium-based Vivaldi deteriorated significantly for me with v. 2.10 (it turns out v. 2.9 was the turning-point), then did Chromium only switch fully to Directwrite for me earlier this year? Luckily I wrote a caveat: ‘There’s a possibility that what I saw from 2017 actually was Directwrite, and whatever they’re using now is yet another technology that no one has made any note of.’
   Snowie2000, one of the developers of MacType, suggested I try Cent Browser, arguably the only Chromium browser that still has a Directwrite toggle: you could still disable it in favour of GDI.
   Cent Browser by default is marginally better than what I was seeing on Edge, Vivaldi 2.10 and others, but once I turned Directwrite off, I saw a very different display, with far heavier type.

Cent Browser, Directwrite switched off

Cent Browser, default

Edge

   It wasn’t what I expected to see, and without taking issue with those who support GDI rendering in Chromium, it lacked fidelity (at least for me) with what the type looked like in print. I can see clearly why it has its adherents: it is superior to the default. But, in other words, what I experienced on Vivaldi between 2007 and January 2020 was using Directwrite, and whatever is going on now is using something else, or ignoring other settings on my PC.
   Yesterday I theorized that if the change happened between Chromium 77 and 78, then I should see that in the source browser. I installed a v. 77 from the repository. As you know, these are stand-alone and can run without a full installation. What I saw was the inferior rendering, so the “switch” didn’t happen then. It may have happened, as I was told on the Vivaldi forums, with Chromium 69, something I am yet to confirm.
   Therefore, whatever Chromium is doing isn’t something that’s been documented, to my knowledge, except for here. And Opera and Opera GX, if they are based on Chromium 79, seem not to be afflicted by this bug. Or they are interacting with other programs I have in order to keep the type rendering faithful, with decent hinting and contrast.
   The question is: what is causing the far inferior type display on Chromium today?

PS.: Trials on Chromium 68 and 69—they’re the same (i.e. poor type display). This may have gone on for quite some time.—JY


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Has Directwrite arrived on my Chromium-based browsers four years after everyone else?

03.03.2020

After considerable searching, the bug that I reported to Vivaldi, and which they cannot reproduce, appears to be one that the general public encountered back in 2016, when Chromium took away the option to disable its Directwrite rendering. I don’t know why I’ve only encountered it in 2020, and as far as I can tell, my experience is unique.
   It’s a good position to be in—not unlike being one of two people (that I know of) who could upload videos of over one minute to Instagram without using IGTV—though it’s a mystery why things have worked properly for me and no one else.
   When I switched to Vivaldi in 2017, I noticed how the type rendering was superior compared with Firefox, and it was only in January this year when it became far inferior for me. Looking at the threads opened on type rendering and Chromium, and the screenshots posted with them, most experienced something like this in 2016—a year before I had adopted Vivaldi. If my PC worked as theirs did, then I doubt I would have been talking about Vivaldi’s superior display.
   There’s a possibility that what I saw from 2017 actually was Directwrite, and whatever they’re using now is yet another technology that no one has made any note of.
   I’ve posted in the Vivaldi and MacType forums where this has been discussed, as my set-up could provide the clue on why things have worked for me and not others. Could it be my font substitutions, or the changes I’ve made to the default display types in Windows? Or the fact that I still have some Postscript fonts installed from the old days? Or something so simple as my plug-ins?
   Tonight I removed Vivaldi 2.11 and went to 2.6. I know 2.5 rendered type properly—Bembo on the Lucire website looks like Bembo in print—so I wondered if I could narrow down the precise version where Vivaldi began to fail on this front. (As explained earlier, after 2.5, no automatic updates came, and I jumped from 2.5 to 2.10.)
   It was 2.9 where the bug began, namely when Vivaldi moved from a Chromium 77 base to a 78 one. This is different to what Ayespy, a moderator on the Vivaldi forums, experienced: version 69 was when they noted a shift. Yet Opera GX, which works fine, has a browser ID that claims it’s Chrome/79.0.3945.130 (though I realize they can put whatever they like here). Brave, Chrome and Edge look awful.
   We can conclude that not all Chromium browsers are created equally (goes without saying) but I understand that the rendering isn’t something that each company (Vivaldi, Opera, etc.) has fiddled with. Therefore, something I’m doing is allowing me to have better results on Opera, Opera GX and Vivaldi versions up to 2.8 inclusive.

Vivaldi 2.8

Opera GX

Firefox Developer Edition 74.0b9

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Posted in design, internet, technology, typography | 1 Comment »