Archive for the ‘business’ category


Medinge Group at Dutch Design Week: the contribution from Aotearoa New Zealand

19.10.2020

My partner Amanda and I are part of Medinge’s presence at Dutch Design Week this year.
   Since Medinge couldn’t celebrate our 20th anniversary due to COVID-19, some of our Dutch members, helped by many others, took the opportunity to get us into the event, which is virtual this year.
   We had done a lot of work on Generation Co earlier in 2020, thanks to a load of Zoom meetings and emails. This takes things even further, but builds on it.
   The programme can be found here, and is titled ‘Putting the Planet First: a New Orientation’.
   The description: ‘Instead of thinking about the 3Ps—your challenge is to adopt a new perspective. Always put Planet first. Then people. Then profit.’
   After signing up for free, you can head into our virtual rooms.
   From the page: ‘Only 21/10/2020, 10:00–13:00 lectures and livestreams from members of the Medinge Think Tank: a group of brand experts and visionaries from around the world whose purpose is to influence business to become more humane and conscious in order to help humanity progress and prosper. With international speakers who have worked on these rights and bring in the perspective from indigenous people who co-exist with the rivers.’
   On Tuesday the 21st at 10 a.m. CET is Amanda’s presentation on the Whanganui River, which was given the rights of a legal person in legislation enacted in March 2017.
   Amanda worked at the Office of Treaty Settlements at the time, so this is really her talk. I just set the laptop on the table, with a microphone generously lent to me by my friend Brenda Wallace. Then I edited it in video-editing software with all the skill of an amateur.
   But that’s the year of COVID-19 for you.
   The way the talk came about was in discussion in 2019 with my colleagues at Medinge Group. The concept of legal rights on natural resources and indigenous rights came up, as did the case of the Whanganui River, which is known beyond our shores.
   They had no idea Amanda worked on it, and proudly I mentioned her role.
   From then on she was part of the programme, and it all came together last Friday.
   In the talk, you’ll see me on a much lower chair than her, propped up by a bag of rice that slowly sags as the recording wears on.
   There’s only so much furniture at her Dad’s studio but it was the most comfortable place we could think of for the filming.
   More important are the contents of her talk, which I thoroughly recommend. She worked really hard on the responses over a few weeks to make sure it was thoroughly rigorous.
   It’s followed by a talk from my good friend and colleague Sudhir John Horo. Pop over, it’s going to be a really eventful day in virtual Eindhoven.

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Posted in branding, business, culture, design, leadership, marketing, New Zealand, politics, social responsibility, Sweden, Wellington | No Comments »


If you’re in the ‘New Zealand can’t’ camp, then you’re not a business leader

04.10.2020


Which club is the better one to belong to? The ones who have bent the curve down and trying to eliminate COVID-19, or the ones whose curves are heading up? Apparently Air New Zealand’s boss thinks the latter might be better for us.

From Stuff today, certain ‘business leaders’ talk about the New Zealand Government’s response to COVID-19.
   We have Air New Zealand boss Greg Foran saying that elimination was no longer a realistic goal for us, and that we should live with the virus.
   This is despite our country having largely eliminated the virus, which suggests it was realistic.
   No, the response hasn’t been perfect, but I’m glad we can walk about freely and go about our lives.
   Economist Benje Patterson says that if we don’t increase our risk tolerance, ‘We could get to that point where we’re left behind.’
   When I first read this, I thought: ‘Aren’t we leaving the rest of the world behind?’
   Is Taiwan, ROC leaving the world behind with having largely eliminated COVID-19 on its shores? It sure looks like it. How about mainland China, who by all accounts is getting its commerce moving? (We’ve reported on a lot of developments in Lucire relating to Chinese business.) The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has adopted policies similar to ours with travel and quarantine, and I’ve been watching their infection figures drop consistently. They’re also well on their way to eliminating the virus and leaving the world behind.
   We are in an enviable position where we can possibly have bubbles with certain low-risk countries, and that is something the incoming government after October 17 has to consider.
   We are in a tiny club that the rest of the world would like to join.
   Let’s be entirely clinical and calculating: how many hours of productivity will be lost to deaths and illnesses, and the lingering effects of COVID-19, if we simply tolerated the virus?
   Work done by Prof Heidi Tworek and her colleagues, Dr Ian Beacock and Eseohe Ojo, rates New Zealand’s democratic health communications among the best in the world and believes that, as of their writing in September, we have been successful in executing the elimination strategy.
   Some of our epidemiologists believe the goal can be achieved.
   I just have to go with the health experts over the business “experts”.
   I’m not sure you could be described as a ‘business leader’ if you are a business follower, and by that I mean someone who desires to be part of a global club that is failing at its response to COVID-19. GDP drops in places like the UK and the US are far more severe than ours over the second quarter—we’re a little over where Germany is. Treasury expects our GDP to grow in Q3, something not often mentioned by our media. As Europe experiences a second wave in many countries, will they show another drop? Is this what we would like for our country?
   I’ve fought against this type of thinking for most of my career: the belief that ‘New Zealand can’t’. That we can’t lead. That we can’t be the best at something. That because we’re a tiny country on the edge of the world we must take our cues from bigger ones.
   Bollocks.
   Great Kiwis have always said, ‘Bollocks,’ to this sort of thinking.
   Of course we can win the America’s Cup. Just because we haven’t put up a challenge before doesn’t mean we can’t start one now.
   Of course we can make Hollywood blockbusters. Just because we haven’t before doesn’t mean we can’t now.
   Heck, let’s even get my one in there: of course we can create and publish font software. Just because foreign companies have always done it doesn’t mean a Kiwi one can’t, and pave the way.
   Yet all of these were considered the province of foreigners until someone stood up and said, ‘Bollocks.’
   Once upon a time we even said that we could have hybrid cars that burned natural gas cheaply (and switch back to petrol when required) until the orthodoxy put paid to that, and we wound up buying petrol from foreigners again—probably because we were so desperate to be seen as part of some globalist club, rather than an independent, independently minded and innovative nation.
   Then when the Japanese brought in petrol–electric hybrids we all marvelled at how novel they were in a fit of collective national amnesia.
   About the only lot who were sensible through all of this were our cabbies, since every penny saved contributes to their bottom line. They stuck with LPG after 1996 and switched to the Asian hybrids when they became palatable to the punters.
   Through my career people have told me that I can’t create fonts from New Zealand (even reading in a national magazine after I had started business that there were no typefoundries here), that no one would want to read a fashion magazine online or that no one would ever care what carbon neutrality was. Apparently you can’t take an online media brand into print, either. This is all from the ‘New Zealand can’t’ camp, and it is not one I belong to.
   If anybody can, a Kiwi can.
   And if we happen to do better than others, for God’s sake don’t break out the tall poppy shit again.
   Accept the fact we can do better and that we do not need the approval of mother England or the United States. We certainly don’t want to be dragged down to their level, nor do we want to see the divisiveness that they suffer plague our politics and our everyday discourse.
   Elimination is better than tolerance, and I like the fact we didn’t settle for a second-best solution, even if some business followers do.
   Those who wish to import the sorts of division that the US and UK see today are those who have neither imagination nor a desire to roll up their sleeves and do the hard yards, because they know that spouting bullshit from positions of privilege is cheap and easy. And similarly I see little wisdom in importing their health approaches and the loss of life that results.
   I’m grateful for our freedom, since it isn’t illusory, as we leave the rest of the world to catch up. And I sincerely hope they do.

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Posted in business, cars, China, culture, leadership, media, New Zealand, politics, typography, UK, USA | No Comments »


Two big reasons not to use Gmail

03.10.2020

I was absolutely shocked to learn this is how Gmail works.

   As you’ll read in the thread, this has been confirmed by other Gmail users.
   That should rule out ever using Gmail for secure communications. Not that you should be using a service like that for anything important, but the fact is Gmail has become ubiquitous, and I believe a lot of people don’t know any better.
   Just imagine being able to receive some emails meant for your rival by signing up to an address that varies from it by a full stop or period.
   Secondly, we’ve noticed a large amount of spam where we can trace (via Spamcop) the origins back to Gmail. Oftentimes they have Gmail reply addresses, as in the case of 419 scams (where they may use another ISP or email service with a “sacrificial” address to send them). Why would you risk being among that lot?
   Add this to the massive list of shortcomings already detailed here and elsewhere and you have a totally unreliable platform that doesn’t really give a toss. They didn’t care when they removed my friend’s blog in 2009 and then obstructed any attempt to get it back, until a product manager became involved. They didn’t care when their website blacklisting service libelled clean sites in 2013, telling people not to visit them or link to them. And they don’t care now.
   There really is no reason to use Gmail. You’ll risk your emails going to someone else with a similar address, and you’ll be among the company of unethical actors. I can truly say that if Gmail weren’t this ubiquitous, and used by so many friends, I’d just set up a rule on our server and block the lot.

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Posted in business, internet, technology, USA | 3 Comments »


Recovering mailboxes and tables of contents in Eudora after an extraordinarily massive crash

12.09.2020

I’ve used Eudora for around 25 years as my email client and in the early days, when the inbox got too big, I had it crash every now and then, necessitating the program to rebuild the table of contents. From memory I’ve lost some emails back then, too, and had to ask friends to re-send. But, by and large, it’s been largely stable, and since Windows 7 I don’t recall it crashing so badly that I would be up shit creek. Till last night.
   Normally, Eudora has back-ups for its in- and outboxes (which it renames with 001 and 002 suffixes) so in the case of a lost ’box, you can rename the old ones and hopefully not lose too much. But what if a crash was so severe it would take out not only the in- and outboxes, but also the content of the back-ups, as well as your third-quarter email folder? That’s exactly what happened.
   I haven’t gone back into Windows to find out what caused the series of crashes but it seems to have begun with RuntimeBroker.exe and ntdll.dll. I’m not even going to pretend I know what all this means:

   So what do you do when you’re up shit creek and renaming mailboxes (which I’ve had to do when we had a fuse blow) doesn’t work?
   The most recent back-up I had was from September 5, and a lot happens in email-land for me over the course of six days. But it was the most recent, and it had to be the starting-point. So, first up, I retrieved them from Windows Backup and put them into a temporary folder (you can’t put them into the original folder).
   The third-quarter ’box’s contents were still there, but the table of contents had been corrupted, but it had six days’ worth of changes to it. I renamed this to Q3 In (2), closed Eudora, and placed the backed-up third-quarter mailbox and table into the Eudora folder.
   Then it’s the laborious process of seeing how they differ. The best thing to do—and why Eudora remains superior to so many later programs—is to line up the mailbox windows side by side, size them the same, sort them both by date, and begin going through screen by screen. If the first email and the last email are identical, chances are the ones in the middle are identical, so you’re only looking for the emails in the corrupted table that are newer. You then have to shift them one by one into the backed up one. I deleted the identical ones from the corrupted mailbox and by the end of the exercise I had over 4,200 emails in the trash.
   The status (read, replied) is gone after the transfers but it’s a tiny price to pay for completeness.


Above: The remnants of the exercise, after discarding trash and duplicate emails from the corrupted third-quarter mailbox.

   Then the inbox. Same story: there was a 001 ’box that had survived the crash but none of the tables of contents were usable.
   In this case, it’s fortunate we use Zoho as our email service. I went into the trash folder, where all checked emails wind up after POP3 access, and transferred everything from the 5th to the present day into the inbox. Fortunately, from there it’s not difficult to do a fresh POP3 access. Again, I closed Eudora, put the backed-up inbox into the main Eudora folder, and simply checked my emails. You do lose once more the status of the emails—you won’t know if you’ve replied to them—but at least you have an inbound record.
   The outbox was a very sad case, and unfortunately the news is not good. Here, the table of contents was complete but the mailboxes (all of them) were blank. Therefore, clicking on the table of contents’ entries actually deleted them because the mailbox was corrupted. Strangely, all showed the correct sizes.
   There’s no easy way here. You can’t take sent emails from Zoho and put them into your inbox expecting Eudora to be able to download them. The only solution I found was to forward each one, one by one, to myself from within Zoho. Then I placed them into either my third-quarter outbox or the active outbox. My own name appears in the recipient column, and the dates are wrong, but, again, if completeness is the aim, then it’s a small price to pay. Sadly, of the three recovered ’boxes and tables of contents, it’s the least elegant.
   I imagine I could edit each email as a text file within the outbox and allow the table of contents to generate new entries, then recompile them into a new table, but after you’ve spent hours doing the first two ’boxes, you’re not keen on such a technical solution after 3 a.m. And there’s also no guarantee that the table would generate properly anyway.
   Windows was the culprit here, as Eudora has always been very stable, and crashes like this are exceedingly rare, if you keep your in- and outboxes to reasonable sizes. I’ve never seen the back-ups get wiped out as well. A good case study in favour of regular back-ups, and maybe I might need even more frequent ones.

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Posted in business, New Zealand, technology | 1 Comment »


The accidental 9-11 post: their Republicans and Democrats still have the same concerns

11.09.2020


Above: I photographed this gentleman praying at Ground Zero during the 9-11 commemorations in 2005. A very moving day and my first return to the site since 2001.

This was never meant as a 9-11 post. I recorded this a few days ago, after chatting to my US friend Jerry, who had voted for Trump in 2016. I concluded that Americans largely had the same concerns, regardless of whom they voted for, yet other interests were stoking the divisions because they had everything to gain from the infighting. I also discussed the shift of their political centre from President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s day to today. Back then, the people of the US showed unity, and I still believe they can if they wished, and rid themselves of the vitriol that comes through social media.

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Thoughts shared on Big Tech

28.08.2020


Tip of the iceberg. Something happening with greater frequency: I can highlight ‘Répondez’ or ‘Write a reply’ in Facebook’s comment boxes, but I can’t actually comment or type in them. But I can make graphics outside of Facebook and paste them in. This was a bug I used to see perhaps once a year, but now it’s every time I go on (a few times a week).

It’s interesting to note that someone as noted as Doc Searls encountered a Facebook bug, which prompted me to comment with the below.

Few things work on this site now. I’ve frequently been unable to share since I joined in 2007. Every now and then I can’t like things, and regularly, Facebook removes the choices of hearts, sad face, angry face, etc. If I type a link, Facebook sometimes appends some letters from the status update to the end of it, so when it generates a preview, that results in a 404. Every now and then, with increasing frequency, whatever I type into a status update appears in all caps and bold type (and no, I don’t have caps lock on). On almost all groups I see three posts—nothing older. Notifications and messages fail to load over 90 per cent of the time. Often I cannot comment, but I can highlight the words ‘Write a comment’, so I have to resort to making an image featuring text and paste it in the comment box! I cannot see my advertising preferences: they have not loaded for the last few years, even if I leave the window open for an entire day while I am out (I only get a spinning wheel).
   I’m no tech, but as a layman what I see is a website disintegrating, with more and more bugs weighing it down. Above is what I experience now but if I go back over the years (especially when there was a Getsatisfaction forum), there were other bugs. I still remember when Facebook stopped working on the 1st of each month! But 2020 certainly marks the year when I get a whole bunch of bugs simultaneously.
   My theory has always been that Facebook’s resources are all spent hosting bots that there is nothing left for legitimate users!

   I didn’t even add that I can’t see any Facebook video now (they don’t play at all), and there’s no point posting Instagram links as, despite the two companies having the same parent, Facebook won’t show the image:

   As to the new look, I have very little confidence. When asked why I was switching back to the classic template, something which will be impossible soon, I wrote (not that these schmucks will care):

You can’t tag companies when editing text. You have to begin writing on a clean line, often retyping the post to do it. Waste of time, you’re making Facebook less and less relevant.
   When looking at groups people in a group queue have joined, you can’t see as many, which makes it harder for group admins to detect fake accounts (as you guys are pretty useless at doing it).

   When a friend (a person of colour in the US) wondered why she was seeing a lot of attacks against the Republican National Convention and none against the Democrats’, even though she is apolitical, I responded (inter alia):

Facebook has plenty of ex-staff and insiders who point out it will always amp up things to get people upset or outraged, as scientifically—thanks to the work of Professor Fogg at Stanford—people engage more with these. Armed with what they have collected, the algorithms will make a call one way or another to ensure they show you things that will provoke a reaction. As the algorithms have been designed predominantly by white American men (and I know: not all white American men fit into this), I really believe they won’t take in the experiences of people of colour like us, and arguably they won’t understand the international nature of your work. For instance, Facebook used to stop working on the 1st of each month, as our walls would freeze on the 30th or 31st. We would have to wait till it was the 1st in California, which meant in our summer, we would have to wait 21 hours each month for Facebook to work normally. These folks aren’t smart when it comes to “outside California”, let alone outside the US.

   To confirm my theory, I looked on my wall and was being fed multiple posts by a Facebook friend I barely knew—someone whose request I must have accepted over a decade ago, with whom I have had no interaction. He is an American, and was dismissing the protests and the existence of racism in his country. Why would Facebook show me that of the 2,300 people I am connected to? Simple: to provoke a reaction. These were views contrary to what I believe in, and it probably gathered that. It’s no longer about being connected to your friends—and hasn’t been for a long time. It’s the outrage machine, where they want you to fight.
   And this is me, someone who no longer goes on there for personal stuff, still encountering bugs and its ongoing negativity like there was no tomorrow.
   I stand by my saying that Mark Zuckerberg is a compulsive liar on Radio New Zealand National on Tuesday in the ‘I’ve Been Thinking’ slot before The Panel, where yours truly made his début as a panellist. (Prior to that I called in as a guest, once in 2010, and once in 2020.) Facebook is a site that now does more harm than good.

   Finally, I will leave you with this gem (every now and then I come up with one) from Twitter:

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


How Jaguar Land Rover can still win its Land Rover Defender IP case against Ineos

09.08.2020

I haven’t read the full judgement of the Land Rover Defender case, where Jaguar Land Rover sought to protect the shape of the original Defender under trade mark law, to prevent Ineos from proceeding with the Grenadier.
   According to Bloomberg, as reported in Automotive News, ‘The judge upheld the findings by the IP Office that while differences in design may appear significant to some specialists, they “may be unimportant, or may not even register, with average consumers.”’
   On the face of it, this would appear to be a reason for upholding JLR’s claim—but the Indian-owned Midlands car maker seems to have muddled the cause of action it was supposed to have taken.
   I’ve already taken issue with its inability to protect the L538 Range Rover Evoque shape in China under that country’s laws, and while that judgement was eventually overturned in JLR’s favour, the company could have saved itself a great deal of stress had it filed its registration in time. It had been ignorant of Chinese law and wasted time and resources pursuing Ford Motor Company affiliate Landwind for its Range Rover Evoque clone, the X7. I sense Landwind could have afforded the ultimate fine.
   Here I think arguing copyright might have been a better method. The Land Rover Station Wagon shape hails from 1949, and with 75 years’ protection, the company is covered till 2024. You don’t need to show a registration, and the onus of proof, once objective similarity is found, is on the defendant. That test of objective similarity, unlike that in trade mark, is not based on what the average consumer thinks, but on what specialists think. And the scenes à faire doctrine has been adopted by precedent in the UK.
   Maybe that was the game plan all along: to fail here, and to proceed using copyright later. I’m sure the plaintiff knows this. Now, armed with the judgement’s findings—that the differences are insignificant— Jaguar Land Rover can pursue a copyright claim using these as evidence.
   To me, the Grenadier is sufficiently similar. Some point to the Puch G as another source of inspiration but I can’t see it. And since a court has ruled that they can’t see it, either, then Jim Ratcliffe and Ineos had better not break out the champagne just yet.

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Posted in business, cars, design, India, UK | No Comments »


You can’t bank on the Wales (or, why I closed our Westpac account)

31.07.2020

At some point as a young man, my Dad worked at a bank. He had a formal understanding of finance—despite his schooling being interrupted by the Sino–Japanese War and then by the communist revolution, he managed to get himself a qualification in economics, and had some time working for a bank.
   I was taught all about promissory notes, bills of exchange, cheques, honourable accounts, balance of payments and foreign exchange as a teenager. He impressed on me why certain things were sacrosanct in banking, the correct way to draw a cheque, and why the Cheques Act 1993 in this country was a blight on how bills of exchange were supposed to work. Essentially, I grew up with what might have been a 1950s or 1960s idea of what banking is, things that were still mostly observed by New Zealand banks into the 1980s and the 1990s.
   Today [Wednesday, July 29] I opened a new business account at TSB, with whom I had banked personally since 2007, as had Jack Yan & Associates. I will be closing the account at Westpac, because it’s clear to me that they don’t believe in the fair dinkum banking values that my father taught me. By the time you read this, the closure should be a fait accompli, as I don’t wish them to put up more obstacles than they have already.
   Westpac held my mortgage on the old house, of which I had paid off 88 per cent before I sold it. I began my banking relationship with them in 2006, for reasons I won’t go into here. My parents had banked ‘on the Wales’ when they were new immigrants in 1976, and stayed with them for some time.
   Very early on, I noticed how confusing their statements were. You can contrast theirs to everyone else’s in Aotearoa, and believe me, I know: I’ve banked with a lot of people. Trust Bank, Countrywide, POSB, National, ANZ—all the usual suspects that a Kiwi growing up in the 1970s through to the 1990s will have encountered. No, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank, but they seem to exist in their own bubble.
   I got caught out once or twice on not getting a mortgage payment sorted because of the confusing statements. And there was one time that Westpac decided to be relentless about it, by setting a bot on me. The bot would call at various hours hounding me to sort this out, with a pre-recorded message, and if you hung up, it would call again. And again. And again. Never mind that you haven’t had a chance to enquire with the bank as to what was going on. This amounted to a breach of the Telecommunications Act, and I put this to them before the activity ceased. And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   You are stuck with the buggers, and over the years I’d make the payments. As many of you know, some of our companies’ income comes from abroad, which I always regarded to be a good thing, since it helps with foreign exchange and this country’s balance of payments. Twice, I think, I needed a top-up because a client was slow to pay, and I would clear that within 30 days. As interest rates changed (the mortgage was floating), the bank would, from time to time, send a letter saying I could reduce my mortgage payments and still keep to the payment schedule, and in 2010 I took them up on it.
   As some of you know, in 2015 Dad was diagnosed formally with Alzheimer’s disease and eventually I became his full-time carer as his condition worsened, with predictable results on my work. But hey, Westpac has all these posters around their branches with Dementia New Zealand logos telling us how great they are, and how they can help. Since Dementia New Zealand won’t acknowledge or respond to my complaint about this (Dementia Wellington, on the other hand, had), let me publicly say that this is bollocks. My experience tells me that it appears to be a feel-good exercise that counts for nowt for a bunch of arrogant twats in Australia.
   My branch was great. They were decent, hard-working and friendly people, and many of them stayed for years—always a good sign. But outside of the branch is where you’ll find the rot.
   In 2019, my partner and I found a home we wanted to purchase. After Dad went into a home in July 2018 I had begun renovating the old place anyway. The new house was a step up, and by the time we factored in all the costs, we would need to borrow under 20 per cent of the total purchase price.
   Westpac wanted to see the balance sheets, as was their right to, and I’ll say now that they weren’t rosy. Of course not, not when you’ve been a caregiver. However, by this point I had got back in the saddle, and I could show them contracts that we had secured.
   Apparently this wasn’t good enough for that 20 per cent. The fact I had been a caregiver and had an account at a bank which had a Dementia New Zealand endorsement carried absolutely no weight.
   The mortgage officer said that according to the balance sheet, I couldn’t even afford the mortgage. Turns out he didn’t know how to read a balance sheet and the ‘Mortgage repayments’ line therein. And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   Apparently, the fact my income was coming from abroad was a concern. Yet it was never a concern for Westpac in 13 years when I was paying the mortgage with that foreign income. Earning foreign exchange for your country and helping with its balance of payments are, seemingly for Westpac, a bad thing. I suppose it would be to greedy Australian bankers, who love to see a weakened New Zealand subservient to other nations. If you adopt this viewpoint when examining how Australian-owned publications here behaved (I’m looking at The Dominion Post from that era), then it actually all fits neatly, given their editorial bias. And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   I know some of you in banking will be going, ‘But there are the anti-money-laundering requirements,’ which I get, but what about the idea of an honourable account? Other than what I outlined above, I was a good customer, and every other bank will tell you the same: I kept honourable accounts. But maybe honour isn’t a thing for Westpac.
   Never mind. We approached two mortgage experts who worked tirelessly for us, and whom I heartily endorse here. Lynne Russell, an old friend of mine, was the first I approached. And Stephanie Murray was referred to me by a good friend from school. Both ladies went to second-tier lenders, told us that the foreign income was the problem, and proceeded to get us the best deal possible. Stephanie won out because of the interest rate, and she noted that the lender, Avanti Finance, was quite happy because I had a good credit rating. But while most Kiwis were enjoying home loans at around the 4 per cent mark, ours was nearer 11 per cent (and this was the lower one). Stephanie, and later my own solicitor, noted that my problem was not unique, and they had clients who were also earning money from abroad who the banks shut out. This is a grand mistake in my book, because these are the very people we should be rewarding and encouraging. You’ve heard of export earners, right, banks? We usually talk about them in positive, glowing terms. Turn on the news. Get schooled.
   We still had renovations to do. At least Westpac would give me a top-up to get that sorted, surely. After all, we had already engaged a builder and he needed money for materials.
   Um, no. Westpac shut off that avenue completely. From memory they could give me a couple of grand, and that was it. This was despite my having a six-figure mortgage that I had whittled down to around a fifth, a relatively small five-figure sum. At all other times, it was fine, even when I enquired about purchasing a car. But not any more. And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   Harmoney came to the rescue there and we were approved within 24 hours. Interest rate: 14·55 per cent.
   I had set up the direct debits with Avanti using my honourable (or so I thought) Westpac account.
   Except Westpac had one more trick up its sleeve. They seemed intent on making sure we would never move, so, without notice, they doubled my mortgage payments. They kept going on about how I was falling behind. No one at the branch could explain why, not even one of their most senior staff. If I hadn’t caught one of the debits, I would have defaulted on an early payment to Harmoney. Fortunately, I spotted it in time, and pulled some money from a TSB account to plug the gap.
   And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   But all together, they were reasons.
   We sold the house, discharged that mortgage, and thanks to my very talented partner and her skills in money management and property investment, we managed to get our finances in order. I won’t elaborate on this since I regard this part as private, but let’s say Westpac should have had faith in us since we carried out what we proposed we do.
   It was only when the Westpac mortgage was discharged that the bank apologized for doubling my mortgage payments and gave a reason for doing so.
   Remember that letter in 2010 which said I could reduce my payments without affecting things? Turns out that affected things, and they wanted to grab what they could to make up for lost time. Not that they thought it was important to tell me any time between 2010 and 2019. They only played this at a customer’s most stressful point, and buying a house is one of the most stressful things you can do as an adult.
   So much for me being such a massive risk to Westpac. We told them our game plan to get to where we are today, and we carried it out to the letter. Two well educated, well qualified and intelligent people. Yet we were viewed with suspicion from the first moment we said we wanted a new home. So how do they treat people with less education or with a shorter history? If they are the Dementia New Zealand-friendly bank how do they treat those who haven’t had to deal with dementia? The branch was awesome and did right by us but as they’re not the ones approving things, then I can only expect that others are treated far, far worse.
   I felt they only apologized because they had thrown everything at us and realized we had a greater resolve.
   This experience teaches me that if you’ve kept up a decent history with Westpac, earned foreign exchange, and helped with your country’s balance of payments, then they will shit on you. Since sharing parts of this story on Twitter, I’ve heard of similar unreasonable treatment by Westpac toward hard-working New Zealanders. The moment they learn you need them, you’re on their radar, and they will block every avenue you normally would have—avenues that you exercised literally just months before, like the top-up. Because why have a customer who is freed of their grasp? That’s just not good for business. Better to keep them impoverished and not let them move to a nicer home. Better to let them know who’s really in charge. And, ladies and gentlemen, that explains a great deal about why foreign ownership can be troublesome in so many quarters—and why I’m happy to take this account to TSB. Thanks to Kerry Gribben and Panith Ear at TSB’s Wellington branch for sorting me out and making it totally painless. And Kerry was a total pro in not slagging off a competitor, especially given where he once worked (he didn’t tell me, but he knew a lot about Westpac’s processes!).

I had to choose a New Zealand bank on principle. The Cooperative Bank was on the radar, and they were really friendly, though I thought their charges were a little high and TSB looked better capitalized on the figures I could find. However, my respect goes to Brian Batchelor at the Wellington branch for being thoroughly professional. It would have been nice to have gone there, since Medinge Group banks with Coop in the UK, and a mate of mine who did some contract work for them says that our Cooperative (a different and unrelated entity) are genuine about their promises to customers.
   Kiwibank didn’t even reply to emails when we were trying to get a mortgage, and rejected all PDFs and ZIP files I sent their despite them saying their email systems could accept them. They just gave up all contact, so I figured they didn’t need the business. And I hear they don’t do foreign exchange anyway, which is just bizarre for a state-owned bank that should be encouraging foreign exchange in these economically tricky times. SBS had no nearby branches (technically, Blenheim isn’t that far but you can’t drive there without an amphibious car). Sometimes, you just go back to what you know.

Today (Friday), the day I am posting this. Westpac accounts shut (despite a massive queue at Lambton Quay). Really nice young chap behind the counter. Except I have 35 cheques on which I want the duty refunded. He didn’t know how to do that and wrote down the helpline number. I called that. Eighteen minutes later, the rep there didn’t know how to do that and referred it to my branch. I really need them to pay me back the NZ$1·75 on principle and then I will consider the matter closed.

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Back on RNZ’s The Panel: on Hong Kong’s new national security legislation

08.07.2020


Public domain/Pxhere

What a pleasure it was to be back on The Panel on Radio New Zealand National today, my first appearance in a decade. That last time was about the Wellywood sign and how I had involved the Hollywood Sign Trust. I’ve done a couple of interviews since then on RNZ (thank you to my interviewers Lynda Chanwai-Earle and Finlay Macdonald, and producer Mark Cubey), but it has been 10 years and a few months since I was a phone-in guest on The Panel, which I listen to very frequently.
   This time, it was about Hong Kong, and the new national security legislation that was passed last week. You can listen here, or click below for the embedded audio. While we begin with the latest development of social media and other companies refusing to hand over personal data to the Hong Kong government (or, rather, they are ‘pausing’ till they get a better look at the legislation), we move pretty quickly to the other aspects of the law (the juicy stuff and its extraterritorial aims) and what it means for Hong Kong. Massive thanks to Wallace Chapman who thought of me for the segment.

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Posted in business, China, culture, Hong Kong, media, New Zealand | 1 Comment »


After 18 months, some progress on the Meizu M6 Note

23.06.2020

That was an interesting day in cellphone land. I collected the Meizu M6 Note from PB last Friday and switched it on for the first time in the small hours of Tuesday.
   I originally wasn’t pleased. I had paid NZ$80 for a warranty repair (there is provision under the Consumer Guarantees Act 1993 in some circumstances) and was told at the service counter that all that was performed was a factory reset, followed by a week’s testing. In other words, what I had originally done, twice, before bringing the phone in. I replied that that was not going to work, and was told by the PB rep that maybe I shouldn’t have so many apps open. Conclusion: a newer phone is far less capable than an older one.
   But he wasn’t the technician, and as I discovered, Joe had done more than a mere factory reset. When I switched the phone on, it was back to square one, like the day I bought it, complete with Google spyware. I wasn’t thrilled about this, but it suggested to me that the ROM had been flashed back to the beginning.
   Meizu’s factory resets don’t take you right back to factory settings, not if you had rooted the phone and removed all the Google junk.
   To his credit, this was a logical thing to do. However, within 10 minutes it developed a fault again. The settings’ menu would not stay open, and crap out immediately, a bit like what the camera, browser, and gallery had done at different times. All I had done up to this point was allow some of the apps to update, and God knows what Google was doing in the background as messages for Play and other programs flashed up in the header. The OS wanted to update as well, so I let it, hoping it would get past the bug. It didn’t.
   So far, everything was playing out exactly as I had predicted, and I thought I would have to head to PB and point out that I was taking them up on the three months they guarantee their service. And the phone was warranted till December 2020 anyway. Give me my money back, and you can deal with Meizu for selling a lemon.
   However, I decided I would at least try for the umpteenth time to download the Chinese OS, and install it. Why not? Joe had given me a perfect opportunity to give this another shot, and the phone appeared unrooted. The download was painfully slow (I did the same operation on my older Meizu M2 Note out of curiosity, and it downloaded its OS update at three to four times the speed—can we blame Google for slowing the newer phone down?) but eventually it got there. The first attempt failed, as it had done countless times before. This was something that had never worked in the multiple times I had tried it over the last 18 months, and I had drawn the conclusion that Meizu had somehow locked this foreign-market phone from accepting Chinese OSs.
   I tried again.
   And it worked. A fluke? A one-off? Who knows? I always thought that in theory, it could be done, but the practice was entirely different.
   It took a while, but I was astonished as the phone went through its motions and installed Flyme 8.0.0.0A, killing all the Google spyware, and giving me the modern equivalent of the Meizu M2 Note from 2016 that I had sourced on Ebay from a Chinese vendor.
   I may be speaking too soon, but the settings’ bug disappeared, the apps run more smoothly, and as far as I can tell, there is no record of the phone having been rooted. I had a bunch of the APKs from the last reset on the SD card, so on they went.
   Meizu synced all contacts and SMSs once I had logged in, but there was one really annoying thing here: nothing from the period I was running the western version of the phone appeared. The messages prior to December 2018 synced, plus those from the M2 Note during June while the M6 was being serviced.
   It appears that the western versions of these apps are half-baked, and offer nothing like the Chinese versions.
   With any luck, the bugs will not resurface—if they don’t, then it means that the read–write issues are also unique to the western version of the M6 Note.
   I’ve spent parts of today familiarizing myself with the new software. There are some improvements in presentation and functionality, while a few things appear to have retrograded; but overall, this is what I expect with a phone that’s two years newer. There should be some kind of advance (even little things like animated wallpapers), and with the western version, other than processor speed and battery life, there had not been. It was 2016 tech. Even the OS that the phone came back with was mid-decade. This is what the western editions are: out of date.
   The only oddity with the new Chinese Flyme was the inability to find the Chinese version of Weibo through Meizu’s own Chinese app store—only the foreign ones showed up on my search, even though the descriptions were all in simplified Chinese.
   These mightn’t have been the developments that Joe at PB expected but if things remain trouble-free, that NZ$80 was well worth spending to get a phone which, for the first time in its life, feels new. The other lesson here is to avoid western-market phones if you don’t find the Chinese language odd. I had already made enquiries to two Aliexpress sellers to make sure that they could sell me a non-western phone, ready to upgrade. Hopefully that won’t need to happen.
   Next week: let’s see if I can shoot some video and have that save without killing the gallery, the bug that kicked all of this off.

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Posted in business, China, design, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | 1 Comment »