Archive for the ‘business’ category


What Vodafone’s Super Wifi is really like in practice

04.04.2021

While I saw Vodafone’s Super Wifi commercials, I never thought to act on them, since (mistakenly) I thought it was something to do with cellphones. Might have been the gadgets they used in the commercial.
   But, after talking to Raghu, their sales’ rep in Pune, a city outside of Mumbai that I know well, he convinced me to upgrade not just my cellular plan (which was from 2012 when a gig of data were a lot) but the home internet to Super Wifi.
   This is really a layperson’s post as there isn’t much online about it, at least not from a New Zealand perspective.
   The set-up consists of the Vodafone Ultra Hub (a modem that I was already familiar with, since I had mine since 2018), and two TP-Link Deco X20 units, which are for all-home wifi. The idea is that they transmit the wifi signal over the house. They’re equipped for wifi 6, which really just tells you the speed—and not 6G was I was told on the phone (a minor slip).
   I knew about mesh wifi units since a friend had already told me how she and her partner used them in their home.
   We’re in a 290 m² home so I had a suspicion that the two units would be insufficient, but Vodafone’s protocol is to begin with two.
   The Ultra Hub is identical to the old one—the copyright notice on the box says 2017—so I’ll be returning it. The two Deco units plug in, one to the Ultra Hub, the other in another part of the house. The theory is that they communicate between each other.
   I downloaded the TP-Link app first before plugging in the Deco units—in fact I had them the day before—and I was fortunate that it could be found at a public APK site, since I do not have Google, and, God willing, never will, on any cellphone of mine.
   It’s a remarkably easy to use app, fortunately, with a Speedtest built in.
   I’ve always had problems at one end of the house where I have a desktop PC that’s not wifi-enabled, and putting in a PCI-E adapter wouldn’t work due to space restrictions inside the case. My only option to pick up wifi would be a USB 3 adapter, which coincidentally was also made by TP-Link (it’s the Archer T9UH).
   I disliked the D-Link Powerlink units, which, despite the manufacturer’s claims, lost 90 per cent of their speed between the two points. The signal at the modem end would come in at speeds of between 700 and 1,000 Mbit/s, but 40 to 90 Mbit/s at the other end was commonplace. The 1 Gbyte promised by all the marketing was a fantasy.
   The previous owner of this house also used Powerlink units, but at different points.
   Computer geeks still tell me these are good and I suspect they could work well in smaller homes or ones with newer wiring.
   For context, using the old Saturn fibre cable that I had installed in 1999 at the old house, I would easily see over 300 Mbit/s via a cat 5 ethernet cable. Having to live with speeds between a ninth and a third of that in a house with Chorus fibre was tough going, and life proved too busy to get an extra internal cable installed.
   I was glad to see the tail end of those powerline units as I was promised that 600 Mbit/s was going to be possible at the end of the house with the mesh.
   It wasn’t. In fact, the second unit failed to pick up the first, and I was forced to bring it closer to the first in another room.
   Speedtest’s first result was 106 Mbit/s down and 58 Mbit/s up, which was an improvement, but not a good one, and far short of the promised levels.
   The TP-Link app had a Speedtest result of over 916 Mbit/s no matter where I went. I didn’t realize that it was giving me the results at the point of entry on the first Deco unit.

   Therefore, it should show a higher number. When I realized this, I began running Speedtests via speedtest.net, and was disappointed to see, even at the first unit via wifi, results in the 120 Mbit/s region.
   I called tech support. The first person didn’t know much, but I explained that Raghu had promised two additional mesh units should my experience not be up to expectation. She said she was only authorized to send one. I decided to take it. She was also authorized to give me unlimited phone data for seven days in case I needed to use the cell as a hotspot.
   I called again later and got to speak with a tech, Paul, who had the units at his home, and could tell me more.
   First, the X20s have two LAN ports on the back. I had read somewhere that these were for the modem-to-unit link exclusively. It turns out that was wrong. You can plug in an ethernet cable and run it straight into your computer—rendering my purchase of the TP-Link Archer adapter redundant. Secondly, I should employ a wifi test if I really wanted to see what was going on: I should plug in a device via ethernet into the Deco unit.
   The results were then markedly different: between 600 and 700 Mbit/s from the first unit, but still low numbers with the second.
   The third unit arrived and this helped somewhat, with 300-plus Mbit/s in a ground floor room when connected via ethernet.
   In the meantime, I had got back in touch with Raghu and suggested that a fourth unit might do the trick, and get me at least back to the speeds I had in the late 2010s. Interestingly, he was only authorized to send two, which meant I would be in possession of five such units, all of which I had to pay the courier charges for.
   Units four and five arrived. The fourth unit went into the upstairs office and I had a 3 m ethernet cable running from it, on the floor, to the PC. The speeds were still poor: 178 Mbit/s down, 175 Mbit/s up.
   One thing TP-Link’s app does not tell you, at least not in diagrammatic form, is how the Deco units are all connected. I discovered through the web interface (tplinkdeco.net in a browser, using the password that you signed up to the app with) that the office one was stretching to get its signal from the first one—and not the other two in the house.
   This Reddit page told me what I needed to know: you reboot the unit that you want reconnecting elsewhere. I did that, and it found the third unit in the “den” (as we call it) and speeds went up to between 200 and 270 Mbit/s both down and up.

   I’m still dealing with speeds lower than what I had in 2018 using a 1999 cable but getting into the 200s is a far sight better than being in the double digits. If I have any serious downloading to do, there’s always the option of the laptop and a direct connection from the Ultra Hub, where I can work away at 700–900 Mbit/s.
   I’ll continue to tinker since the laptop managed to get over 300 Mbit/s during the tests, and I believe that that was down to the location of the office Deco unit. However, I’m hampered by the 3 m ethernet cable and I’m going to need 5 m, possibly (no one sells a 4 m). Possibly going to a cat 7 cable might do the trick there, too.
   So there you have it, a real-world trial of Vodafone New Zealand’s Super Wifi. Not as great as promised but less of a let-down than what powerline modems do in real life. And yes, you can hook ethernet cables from the units to your computer.

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Computing in 2021: Gmail’s advertorial spammers, Facebook bots, and Twitter fatigue

25.03.2021

I’m not entirely sure I need to block out the email addresses here since they’re likely to be burner Gmail accounts, but I’ll give these spammers the courtesy they don’t deserve.
   As shown below, they’ve been coming for over a year; there’s a chance I may have even received them in 2019.




The text of the latest reads:

Hello,

I hope you’re well!
   I am currently working with a number of clients in placing guest blogs/sponsored articles on high-quality sites, such as yours. I recently came across your site and, after having a quick read through some of your more recent posts and articles, I think it’d be a great fit for some of the sorts of content campaigns that we frequently work on.
   I work with a range of clients across different areas such as fashion, lifestyle, home decor, legal, travel plus loads more. Would you be interested in working together on one of our future/upcoming content campaigns?
   Looking forward to hopefully working on a campaign together soon!

   First up, I already know they never visited since the latest refers to Lucire as a ‘blog’ in its subject line. Just because you run Wordpress doesn’t mean it’s a blog.
   A more crazy one recently actually requested we publish something at lucire.net, which is a brochureware site with no posts on it—so I don’t think they are even hunting specifically for Wordpress-driven sites. Anything will do.
   Last year, I replied to one of them, thinking they could be a legit enquiry for advertorial. It went nowhere, since, as far as I know, they were just after backlinks, and not prepared to pay what a commercial advertorial purchaser would.
   I wouldn’t have been any the wiser if they didn’t keep repeating the messages, and it seems that during the last few weeks they’ve shifted into high gear. And when you know they’re spam, the innocent experience that you had in 2020 suddenly becomes a supreme waste of time.
   I know, all the signs are there: they run Gmail accounts and there are no signature files or details of what company they represent. Gmail, to me, has plenty of spammers, and it is not the service used by professionals. (When 200 people can share the same email address, why would you?) But there was that charitable side of me wondering if the first one was just someone who had shifted to working from home and trying to make a buck. I didn’t really think, since I’m not of this mind myself, that it was spam and that I was a mark.
   I now have common phrases from the spams fed in to my filters so these will just go into the trash folder. I’m posting this in case others have received these spams, and wish to do the same.

Here’s a recent Tweet of mine. Not altogether an accurate one, but when I wrote it I genuinely believed Facebook claimed it had 2 milliard users.

   As Don Marti says, the fact Facebook even has to claim this tells us they are fighting a losing battle.
   On one of the groups I administer there, I’d say over 99 per cent of the members’ queue are bots. Here’s a typical screen in botland, I mean, Facebook:

   These are common patterns and I see them all the time; they all use a variety of responses but they all come out of the same program. ‘I will seriously abide!’, ‘Yes bro’ and ‘OK bro’ are pretty common, and there are others.
   The thing is, I’ve seen these for years, reported each one as a fake account (since there is no option for ‘they are using automated software’), and in 99 per cent of cases (no exaggeration; in fact I may be underestimating), Facebook tells me there is no violation of their terms of service.

   This can mean only one of two things: Facebook is too stupid to realize that an account that feeds the same things into group questionnaires constantly is a bot or running some sort of software that is not permitted under its own terms; or these accounts exist with Facebook’s blessing.
   In the queues, legitimate humans are being outnumbered by over 99 to 1, and if this is a representative sample of Facebook’s current user base (I’m betting I see more accounts than the average person), then hardly anyone is on site any more. I wouldn’t know, I only check client pages and this queue for the most part.
   But if you wish to waste your money advertising to bots on the Facebook platform, then be my guest. Zuckerberg and co. are already getting enough money for doing nothing useful.

I wonder if I’m getting more Twitter fatigue after 14 years. I have built up a fun network there, especially of car people that I made a point of following over the last couple of years. But the cellphone keyboard is such a fidgety, impractical and slow device, I’ve found myself starting to respond, even writing the first few words of a Tweet, then giving up. This has had wonders on my email inbox as the number of messages drops. I’m getting through stuff.
   Fortunately for Twitter, Jack Dorsey hasn’t come across as big a dick as the Facebook and Google people, and the man has been doing some good with his money, like donating US$1 milliard to COVID-19 research. Yes, Twitter still has some major problems, especially when it comes to censorship, but when someone says, ‘I can afford to give that away because I’d still be a rich bastard with the US$2 milliard I have left,’ it’s actually a contrast to Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg. Unlike the latter, he also hasn’t been publicly lying and calling us ‘dumb f***s’.
   Even so, more often than not I now find myself stopping. Is Tweeting that really worth it? Who cares? So I have a different opinion to that person. I don’t need a global audience for it. If I feel strongly enough, and have the time, there’s always long-form blogging.

Finally, here’s a page explaining just why Google is corrupt.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


It’s not hard writing clear terms and conditions

25.03.2021

We’ve had a ‘Highlights’ section in our T&Cs for a while, but today I thought I’d take another look at them. Without reading them again, I drafted these:

• We don’t know anything about you unless you tell us.
• When you do tell us stuff (like signing up with your email address) we store that offline, not on the cloud.
• When you comment on our sites, we don’t see your IP address.
• The businesses we work with might get data on you without us knowing because we’ve used their programs. But we’ve tried to work with companies in countries with stricter data laws, e.g. our feedback forms are with Aida in Germany.
• We have ads on our sites, and they might pick up info about you. We recommend you opt out of ad networks setting cookies on your system through Aboutads.info and related services.

   The law degree kicks in and I wasn’t quite able to replace the existing ones, but hopefully the final highlights suffice (links removed here, but they are on the page):

• We don’t know anything about you unless you tell us.
• When you tell us stuff (like signing up with your email address) we ultimately store that offline, not on the cloud.
• When you comment on our sites, we don’t see your IP address.
• We don’t have a Google Analytics account so we don’t collect stuff on our sites for that.
• However, the businesses we work with might get data on you without us knowing because we’ve used their programs or plug-ins. We’ve tried to work with companies in countries with stricter data laws, e.g. our feedback forms are with Aida in Germany.
• We have ads on some of our sites, and they might pick up info about you (e.g. through cookies). They don’t share this info with us. We recommend you opt out of ad networks setting cookies on your system (for example, click here, here or here). We also recommend you opt out of Google Analytics tracking you.
• More details are below.

   While there are more bollocks below these on the page, covering our arses in various situations, including historical ones, fundamentally the above is what we follow.
   We used to have a record of IP addresses and we never did a thing with them, and when our servers were rejigged in 2013, we stopped collecting them. I’m sure some plug-ins on the sites know what they are, and they’re bound to be in the logs, but no one here has the time to look at them. I don’t think anyone’s peered that those logs (save for debugging) for over two decades.
   Anyone who’s read this blog knows why I don’t have a Google Analytics account, and long may it remain that way. I seem to recall finding a way to make sure I could never access that part of the Google Dashboard when I was granted access to Medinge’s analytics. We’ve none of our own.
   I do know what pages are popular on the sites but that’s from aggregated data. And frankly, that’s all I need to know.
   It’s really how I expect to be treated by others and it’s not that hard to do this online. Who needs complicated T&Cs which even the company can’t follow? Strip away the jargon, and both you and we win.

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March 2021 gallery

05.03.2021


 

All galleries can be seen through the ‘Gallery’ link in the header, or click here (especially if you’re on a mobile device). I append to this entry through the month.

Sources
Ford Taunus by Otosan, 1992: more at Autocade.
   Tipalet advertisement, sourced from Twitter. Based on what my parents told me, this wouldn’t have appealed even then!
   Fiat Ritmo Diesel, Tweeted by Darragh McKenna.
   Emory University letter, Tweeted by Haïtian Creative.
   The Jaguar XJ-S was first marketed as the S-type in the US—more at this Tweet from the Car Factoids. More on the XJ-S here on Autocade.
   Bree Kleintop models Diff Charitable Eyewear, shared on Instagram.
   Alisia Ludwig photographed by Peter Müller, from Instagram.
   The Daily Campus, February 19, 2021, and Metropolitan Police newspaper quote, sourced from Twitter.
   Ford Cortina Mk II 1600E two-door, one of 2,563 made for export only. Source: the Car Factoids on Twitter.
   Alisia Ludwig photographed by Weniamin Schmidt, shared on Instagram.
   Ford Cortina Mk II 1600E advertisement, sourced from Twitter.
   Morris 2200 HL advertisement: more on the car at Autocade.
   More on the Dodge Charger L-body at Autocade.
   More on the Samsung XM3, also at Autocade.

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There goes the neighbourhood

05.03.2021

Demolition has commenced on 1–4 Māmari Street, across the road from where I lived for over three decades.
   I’m not against change and my feelings toward the development have already been recorded here.
   It was with a tinge of sadness that I saw the demolition crews there and the only wall left standing was part of the north side to no. 4.
   Right now the sections, littered with debris, are letting in plenty of summer sunlight.
   But not for long.
   I’ll remember Gus and Lyna Bourke’s place at no. 2 which I understand they bought after the war. Lyna was widowed by the time we met her in 1983, and she had an incredibly low-mileage silver Hillman Hunter in the garage. As her eyesight failed, the car stayed in there, and it was in incredibly good nick by the time she passed in the 1990s. We always had good chats and Lyna was our “neighbourhood watch” as she kept an eye on the street from her living room.
   Frank and Carol Reading and their family at no. 3 were probably there for a decent half-century, and they were incredibly good neighbours. Frank passed only a few years ago but they had wisely bought the Bourke residence as well in the 1990s, plus no. 4 decades before, so I imagine that made life easy for the developers who only had to purchase from two sellers to build on the site.
   We visited the Reading house many times over the years to help each other out, and that was the great community we had in the cul-de-sac back then. On our side of the street there were frequent chats over the fences with nos. 12 and 14.
   The old street changed a lot when both nos. 10 and 11 went on the market in 2018, then it was our turn in 2019. And now it has had its biggest change in probably a century as those old weatherboard bungalows from the early 20th century were demolished.
   I realize same-again McHouses aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but as one famous architect recently told me: it’s hard to get creativity consented. And the demand is there, so this was inevitable. I already felt that the old street was a memory, but one that could be refreshed on a revisit; but now it really is a memory. Contrast this with the other neighbourhoods I’ve lived in Wellington, which have remained largely the same, or were subject to far slower developments after our departure.
   Just as well I got the neighbours together in 2011 to stop the council taking away the right turn into the street. With 24 dwellings there in the near future, they’re going to need it more than ever.

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A post shared by Jack Yan 甄爵恩 (@jack.yan)

And yes, the above video was on Instagram, which is going the way of Myspace and Facebook, I believe. I haven’t been on there for nearly a fortnight and the feed held little interest to me. Near-daily ’Gramming from 2012 to 2019 was enough.

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Reduced Facebook? Australia is the lucky country

18.02.2021

Whichever side you are on with Facebook imposing a ban on Australians sharing news content, this says it all about the level of intelligence over at Menlo Park.

   In Australia, Facebook has not only de-platformed legitimate governmental bodies and non-profits, it has de-platformed itself.
   Maybe taxing these companies would have been easier, and the proposed legislation isn’t perfect, but I think most people see through Facebook’s rather pathetic tactics.
   It’s crying foul, saying it would have invested in local media in Australia, but won’t any more. But since Facebook lies about everything, I’ve no reason to believe they ever would have helped media organizations anywhere.
   And notice how quickly it was able to shut off pages, and remove an entire country’s ability to share news—yet it still struggles with removing fake content about COVID-19, extremist content and groups, bots, videos of massacres, and incitement of genocide and insurrection. It has struggled for years.
   We all know that Facebook can do as it wishes with a singular eye on its bottom line. It doesn’t want to pay Australian publishers, so it quickly acts to shut off what Australians can do. But fake content and all the rest—that makes them money, so it doesn’t act at all, other than issuing some empty PR statements.
   We all see through it, and this is probably the best thing it could have done. If people spend less time on its stress-inducing platforms, they will be healthier. And returning Facebook to what it was around 2008 when we shared what we were doing, not what the newsmedia were reporting, is really a plus.
   It’s a splendid own goal that benefits Australians, who will ingeniously find solutions pretty quickly, whether it’s telling their friends about articles via email (which is what I used to do pre-social media), finding alternative services, or, not that I advocate this, resorting to outright piracy by pasting the entire article as a Facebook status update. No news in your feed? There are services for that, like going straight to the sources, or using a news aggregator (if you don’t like Google News, the Murdoch Press actually has one in beta, called Knewz. Who would have guessed that the only organization that stepped up to my half-decade-old demand for a Google News rival would be Murdochs?).
   I doubt New Zealand will have the courage to follow suit, even though last year I wrote to the Minister of Communications to ask him to consider it.

PS.: Removing all Australian media is easy, but removing anti-vaccine pages is hard.

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How is your ad network different from this?

11.02.2021

No point beating around the bush when it comes to yet another advertising network knocking on our door. This was a quick reply I just fired off, and I might as well put it on this blog so there’s another place I can copy it from, since I’m likely to call on it again and again. I’m sure we can’t be alone in online publishing to feel this way.
   The original reply named the firms parenthetically in the last two scenarios but I’ve opted not to do that here. I have blogged about it, so a little hunt here will reveal who I’m talking about.

Thank you for reaching out and while I’ve no doubt you’re at a great company, we have a real problem adding any new ad network. The following pattern has played out over and over again in the last 25-plus years we have been online.

  • We add a network, so far so good.
  • The more networks we use, with their payment thresholds, the longer it takes for any one of them to reach the total, and the longer we wait for any money to come.
  • Add this to the fact we could get away with charging $75 CPM 25 years ago and only fractions of cents today, the thresholds take longer still to reach.

   Other things usually happen as well:

  • We’re promised a high fill rate, even 100 per cent, and the reality is actually closer to 0 per cent and all we see are “filler” ads—if anything at all. Some just run blank units.
  • We wait so long for those thresholds to be reached that some of the networks actually close down in the interim and we never see our money!
  • In some cases, the networks change their own policies during the relationship and we get kicked off!

   I think the problems behind all of this can be traced to Google, which has monopolized the space. It probably doesn’t help that we refuse to sign anything from Google as we have no desire to add to the coffers of a company that doesn’t pay its fair share of tax. Every email from Google Ad Manager is now rejected at server level.
   If somehow [your firm] is different, I’d love to hear about you. The last two networks we added in 2019 and 2020, who assured us the pattern above would not play out, have again followed exactly the above scenario. We gave up on the one we added in 2019 and took them out of our rotation.
   Hoping for good news in response.

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Branding ourselves in the 2020s: a revamp for JY&A Consulting’s website, jya.co

05.02.2021

Last night, I uploaded a revised website for JY&A Consulting (jya.co), which I wrote and coded. Amanda came up with a lot of the good ideas for it—it was important to get her feedback precisely because she isn’t in the industry, and I could then include people who might be looking to start a new venture while working from home among potential clients.
   Publishing and fonts aside, it was branding that I’m formally trained in, other than law, and since we started, I’ve worked with a number of wonderful colleagues from around the world as my “A team” in this sector. When I started redoing the site, and getting a few logos for the home page, I remembered a few of the old clients whose brands I had worked on. There are a select few, too, that I’m never allowed to mention, or even hint at. C’est la vie.
   There are still areas to play with (such as mobile optimization)—no new website is a fait accompli on day one—and things I need to check with colleagues, but by and large what appears there is the look I want for 2021. And here’s the most compelling reason for doing the update: the old site dated from 2012.
   It was just one of those things: if work’s ticking along, then do you need to redo the site? But as we started a new decade, the old site looked like a relic. Twenty twelve was a long time ago: it was the year we were worried that the Mayans were right and their calendar ran out (the biggest doomsday prediction since Y2K?); that some Americans thought that Mitt Romney would be too right-wing for their country as he went up against Barack Obama—who said same-sex marriage should be legal that year—in their presidential election; and Prince Harry, the party animal version, was stripping in Las Vegas.
   It was designed when we still didn’t want to scroll down a web page, when cellphones weren’t the main tool to browse web pages with, and we filled it up with smart information, because we figured the people who’d hire us wanted as much depth as we could reasonably show off on a site. We even had a Javascript slider animation on the home page, images fading into others, showing the work we had done.
   Times have changed. A lot of what we can offer, we could express more succinctly. People seem to want greater simplicity on websites. We can have taller pages because scrolling is normal. As a trend, websites seem to have bigger type to accommodate browsing on smaller devices (having said that, every time we look at doing mobile versions of sites, as we did in the early 2000s, new technology came along to render them obsolete)—all while print magazines seem to have shrunk their body type! And we may as well show off, like so many others, that we’ve appeared in The New York Times and CNN—places where I’ve been quoted as a brand guy and not the publisher of Lucire.
   But, most importantly, we took a market orientation to the website: it wasn’t developed to show off what we thought was important, but what a customer might think is important.
   The old headings—‘Humanistic branding and CSR’, ‘Branding and the law’ (the pages are still there, but unlinked from the main site)—might show why we’re different, but they’re not necessarily the reasons people might come to hire us. They still can—but we do heaps of other stuff, too.
   I might love that photo of me with the Medinge Group at la Sorbonne–CELSA, but I’m betting the majority of customers will ask, ‘Who cares?’ or ‘How does this impact on my work?’
   As consumer requirements change, I’m sure we’ll have pages from today that seem irrelevant, in which case we’ll have to get on to changing them as soon as possible, rather than wait nine years.
   Looking back over the years, the brand consulting site has had quite a few iterations on the web. While I still have all these files offline, it was quicker to look at the Internet Archive, discovering an early incarnation in 1997 that was, looking back now, lacking. But some of our lessons in print were adopted—people once thought our ability to bring in a print æsthetic was one of our skills—and that helped it look reasonably smart in a late 1990s context, especially with some of the limited software we had.

   The next version of the site is from the early 2000s, and at this point, the website’s design was based around our offline collateral, including our customer report documents, which used big blocks of colour. The Archive.org example I took was from 2003, but the look may have débuted in 2001. Note that the screen wouldn’t have been as wide as a modern computer’s, so the text wouldn’t have been in columns as wide as the ones in the illustration. Browsers also had margins built in.

   We really did keep this till 2012, with updates to the news items, as far as I can make out—it looks like 2021 wasn’t the first time I left things untouched for so long. But it got us work. In 2012, I thought I was so smart doing the table in the top menu, and you didn’t need to scroll. And this incarnation probably got us less work.

   There’s still a lot of satisfaction knowing that you’ve coded your own site, and not relied on Wordpress or Wix. Being your own client has its advantages in terms of evolving the site and figuring out where everything goes. It’s not perfect but there’s little errant code here; everything’s used to get that page appearing on the site, and hopefully you all enjoy the browsing experience. At least it’s no longer stuck in the early 2010s and hopefully makes it clearer about what we do. Your feedback, especially around the suitability of our offerings, is very welcome.

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


A refreshing piece on diversity in our mainstream media

31.01.2021

Two fantastic items in my Tweetstream today, the first from journalist Jehan Casinader, a New Zealander of Sri Lankan heritage, in Stuff.
   Some highlights:

   As an ethnic person, you can only enter (and stay in) a predominantly white space – like the media, politics or corporate leadership – if you play by the rules. And really, there’s only one rule: blend in. You’re expected to assimilate into the dominant way of thinking, acting and being …
   I sound like you. I make myself relatable to you. I communicate in a way that makes sense to you. I don’t threaten you. I don’t make you uncomfortable. And I keep my most controversial opinions to myself.

And:

   Kiwis love stories about ethnic people who achieve highly: winning university scholarships, trying to cure diseases, inventing new technology or entering the political arena. These people are lauded for generating economic and social value for the country …
   We do not hear stories about ethnic people who work in thankless, low-skilled jobs – the refugees and migrants who stock our supermarket shelves, drive our taxis, pick our fruit, milk our cows, fill our petrol tanks, staff our hospitals and care for our elderly in rest homes.

   Jehan says that now he is in a position of influence, he’s prepared to bring his Sri Lankan identity to the places he gets to visit, and hopes that everyone in Aotearoa is given respect ‘not because of their ability to assimilate’.
   He was born here to new immigrants who had fled Sri Lanka, and I think there is a slight difference to those of us who came as children. Chief among this, at least for me, was my resistance to assimilation. Sure I enjoyed some of the same things other kids my age did: the Kentucky Fried Chicken rugby book, episodes of CHiPs, and playing tag, but because of various circumstances, as well as parents who calmly explained to me the importance of retaining spoken Cantonese at home, I constantly wore my Chineseness. I hadn’t chosen to leave my birthplace—this was the decision of my parents—so I hung on to whatever I could that connected me back to it.
   I could contrast this to other Chinese New Zealanders I went to school with, many of whom had lost their native language because their parents had encouraged assimilation to get ahead. I can’t fault them—many of them are my dearest friends—but I was exposed to what Jehan wrote about from a young age.
   It saddened me a lot because here were people who looked like me who I couldn’t speak to in my mother tongue, and the only other student of Chinese extraction in my primary class who did speak her native language spoke Mandarin—which to many of my generation, certainly to those who did so little schooling before we left, find unintelligible.
   At St Mark’s, I had no issue. This was a school that celebrated differences, and scholastic achievement. (I am happy to say that sports and cultural activity are very much on the cards these days, too.) But after that, at one college, I observed what Jehan said: the Chinese New Zealanders who didn’t rock the boat were safe buddies to have; those who were tall poppies were the target of the weak-minded, the future failures of our society. You just have to rise above it, and, if anything, it made me double-down on my character—so much so that when I was awarded a half-scholarship to Scots, I found myself in familiar surroundings again, where differences were championed.
   But you do indeed have to play the game. Want your company recognized? Then get yourself into the media. Issue releases just like the firms that were sending them to you as a member of the media. Don’t bring your Chineseness into that, because you won’t get coverage. Jack Yan & Associates, and Lucire for that matter, always had a very occidental outlook, with my work taking me mostly to the US and Europe, with India only coming in at the end of the 2000s—but then we were bound by the lingua franca of the old colonial power.
   Despite my insistence on my own reo at home, and chatting every day to my Dad, I played the game that Jehan did when it came to work. I didn’t as much when I ran for mayor, admittedly—I didn’t want voters to get a single-sided politician, but one who was his authentic self—but that also might explain why Stuff’s predecessor, which was at that stage owned by a foreign company, gave me next to no coverage the first time out. They weren’t prepared to back someone who didn’t fit their reader profile. The second time out, it still remained shockingly biased. Ironically the same publishing group would give me reasonably good coverage in Australia when I wasn’t doing politics. That’s the price to pay for authenticity sometimes.
   Jehan finishes his piece on a positive note and I feel he is right to. We still have issues as a nation, no doubt, but I think we embrace our differences more than we used to. There have been many instances where I have seen all New Zealanders rise up to condemn racism, regardless of their political bents. (What is interesting was I do recall one National MP still in denial, residing in fantasy-land, when I recalled a racist incident—and this was after March 15, 2019!) People from all walks of life donated to my fund-raising when a friend’s car had a swastika painted on it. We have a Race Relations’ Commissioner who bridges so many cultures effectively—a New Zealander of Taishanese extraction who speaks te reo Māori and English—who is visible, and has earned his mana among so many here. The fact that Jehan’s piece was even published, whereas in 2013 it would have been anathema to the local arm of Fairfax, is further reason to give me hope.

The second item? Have a watch of this. It’s largely in accord with my earlier post.

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Posted in business, culture, media, New Zealand, politics, Wellington | 1 Comment »


Like communist dictatorships, Google and Facebook threaten Australia

23.01.2021

You know the US tech giants have way too much power, unencumbered by their own government and their own country’s laws, when they think they can strong-arm another nation.
   From Reuter:

Alphabet Inc’s Google said on Friday it would block its search engine in Australia if the government proceeds with a new code that would force it and Facebook Inc to pay media companies for the right to use their content.

   Fine, then piss off. If Australia wants to enact laws that you can’t operate with, because you’re used to getting your own way and don’t like sharing the US$40,000 million you’ve made each year off the backs of others’ hard work, then just go. I’ve always said people would find alternatives to Google services in less than 24 hours, and while I appreciate its index is larger and it handles search terms well, the spying and the monopolistic tactics are not a worthwhile trade-off.
   I know Google supporters are saying that the Australian policy favours the Murdoch Press, and I agree that the bar that the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) has set for what qualifies as a media business (revenues of over A$150,000 per annum) is too high. So it isn’t perfect.
   The fact Google has made a deal in France suggests it is possible, when the giant doesn’t whine so damned much.
   Plus, Google and Facebook have been dangerous to democracy, and should have done more for years to address these issues. They’ve allowed a power imbalance for the sake of their own profits, so paying for news—effectively a licensing payment that the rest of us would have to fork out—at least puts a value on it, given how it benefits the two sites. No search? Fine, let’s have more ethical actors reap the rewards of fairer, “unbubbled” searches, because at least there would be a societal benefit from it, and since they aren’t cashing in on the media’s work, I’m happy for them to get a free licence to republish. Right now I don’t believe the likes of Duck Duck Go are dominant enough (far from it) to raise the attention of Australian regulators.
   Facebook’s reaction has been similar: they would block Australians from sharing links to news. Again, not a bad idea; maybe people will stop using a platform used to incite hate and violence to get their bubbled news items. Facebook, please go ahead and carry out your threat. If it cuts down on people using your site—or, indeed, returns them to using it for the original purpose most of us signed up for, which was to keep in touch with friends—then we all win. (Not that I’d be back for anything but the limited set of activities I do today. Zuck’s rich enough.)
   A statement provided to me and other members of the media from the Open Markets Institute’s executive director Barry Lynn reads:

Today Google and Facebook proved in dramatic fashion that they pose existential threats to the world’s democracies. The two corporations are exploiting their monopoly control over essential communications to extort, bully, and cow a free people. In doing so, Google and Facebook are acting similarly to China, which in recent months has used trade embargoes to punish Australians for standing up for democratic values and open fact-based debate. These autocratic actions show why Americans across the political spectrum must work together to break the power that Google, Facebook, and Amazon wield over our news and communications, and over our political debate. They show why citizens of all democracies must work together to build a communications infrastructure safe for all democracies in the 21st Century.

   Considering Google had worked on a search engine that would comply with Communist Chinese censorship, and Facebook has been a tool to incite genocide, then the comparison to a non-democratic country is valid.
   So, I say to these Big Tech players, pull out. This is the best tech “disruption” we can hope for. You’re both heading into irrelevance, and Australia has had the balls to do what your home country—from which you offshore a great deal of your money—cannot, for all the lobbyists you employ. You favour big firms over independents, and the once level playing field that existed on the internet has been worsened by you. The Silicon Valley spirit, of entrepreneurship, born of the counterculture, needs to return, and right now you’re both standing in the way: you are “the man”, suppressing entrepreneurial activity, reducing employment, and splitting people apart—just what dictatorial régimes do.
   As an aside, the EU is also cracking down on Big Tech as it invites the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) to a February 1 hearing. They’ve bled people for long enough and it’s time for some pushback.

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Posted in business, China, culture, internet, media, politics, publishing, technology, USA | 1 Comment »