Archive for the ‘culture’ category


When you let amateurs like Rees-Mogg write style guides

27.07.2019

I thought I could be archaic on a few things—I still use diphthongs in text in our publications (æsthetic, Cæsar), the trio of inst., ult. and prox. in written correspondence, and even fuel economy occasionally in mpg (Imperial) because I am useless at ℓ/100 km and too few countries use km/ℓ. However, even I had to cringe at Jacob Rees-Mogg’s style guide as revealed by ITV. This has now been circulated to his House of Commons staff. It is not satire.


   His first rule is ‘Organisations are SINGULAR’. (No, this isn’t licence to write ‘Organisations is singular.’) I don’t mind this as it’s one I adopt myself (admittedly inconsistently), but note the spelling of the first word. It’s French. The correct spelling is organizations, and the switch to the French in the Anglosphere appears to have happened postwar. Go to English books that are old enough, and you’ll find the z to be more commonplace. (Please don’t comment that z is ‘American’ before doing some research.)
   His sixth rule is ‘Double space after fullstops’. Now, the last word should be two words, but the rule itself has even been abandoned by the newspaper that Rees-Mogg’s father edited for so many years. Most compositors in Britain abandoned large spaces at the start of the 20th century, by my reckoning—my interpretation of the reading studies by Tinker et al is that the single space is sufficient, and web convention agrees. If we are to follow The Times in, say, 1969, we also need to insert spaces around certain other punctuation marks. If you find a copy from around that time, I can promise you it won’t be easy to read.
   What is apparent to me is that the rules have been typed up, at least, by an amateur, which accounts for the poor spacing and inconsistent capitalization, and generally it shows a disregard for professional style guides (again, we return to The Times). Sometimes, the acorn does fall far from the tree.
   I note that Imperial measurements are to be used again: none of this newfangled metric system nonsense. As I do some transactions in pounds sterling, I am going to refresh my memory on shillings, half-crowns and thruppenny bits in case currency decimalization is reversed. You never know, Johnson’s Britain may find the decimal system too Johnny Foreigner for its liking. ‘They cannot, and will not, change our sausage!’

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Verizon’s continued hypocrisy borne of pettiness

12.07.2019

Remember Tumblr, the platform owned by Verizon that I left?
   I left because of Verizon’s policies, of placing their corporate agenda ahead of the users.
   I went to NewTumbl instead—a site that Tumblr users might not know about, since Verizon has ensured that searches for its competitor come up empty.
   I was very surprised to find that Verizon Media has opened an account at NewTumbl—a site that they effectively tell their users does not exist.
   And what are they doing on it? Running their sit vac ads for free:


   It’s not technically in violation of NewTumbl’s terms, but what is interesting are their hashtags.
   One of the hashtags is sexy, albeit misspelled as sexu.

   Now, either you have to be sexy to work for Verizon (given the other hashtags used), or they are hashtag-spamming, in the hope their ads will be seen more widely.
   It is, basically, douchebag behaviour—but this also tells us that NewTumbl has them rattled. Why else would they advertise here instead of a regular job site?
   The effect on their brand is very negative—since people can see these ads for what they are: a cheap shot across the bow. This is how petty big US companies are. We see this from Google, so why not Verizon?

PS.: Unlike Big Tech and the bigger players in corporate America, I own up when I learn more. The Verizon account on NewTumbl was revealed to be a fake, and has since been deleted. However, Verizon’s censorship on Tumblr continues (you can’t find NewTumbl but you can find Pornhub—all hail their potential buyers!).—JY

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My social media engagement is dropping and I do not care

09.07.2019

In the last month, maybe the last few weeks, my likes on Instagram have halved. Interestingly, Lucire’s Instagram visits have increased markedly. But as I use my own account more than a work one, I can see the trend there a bit more clearly.
   It’s not unlike Facebook, which, of course, owns Instagram. While I haven’t used it for personal updates since 2017, I maintain a handful of pages, and I still recall earlier this decade when, overnight, engagement dropped 90 per cent. It never recovered. Facebook, like Google, biases itself toward those who can afford to pay, in the great unlevelling of the playing field that Big Tech is wont to do.
   They know that they’re structured on, basically, a form of digital drug-taking: that for every like we get, we get a dopamine hit, and if we want to maintain those levels, we had better pay for them and become junkies. But here’s the thing: what if people wake up and realize that they don’t need that hit any more? I mean, even Popeye Doyle got through cold turkey to pursue Alain Charnier in French Connection II.
   I’ve written about social media fatigue before, and the over-sharing that can come with it. More than once I blogged about being ‘Facebooked out’. And as you quit one social medium, it’s not too hard to quit another.
   I’ve made a lot of posts on Instagram but I value my privacy increasingly, and in the period leading up to the house move, I began doing less on it. And without the level of engagement, whether that’s caused by the algorithm or my own drop in activity, I’m beginning to care less, even if Instagram was more a hobby medium where I interacted with others.
   And since I have less time to check it, I actually don’t notice that I have fewer likes when I open the app. I only really know when I see that each photo averages 15 likes or so, when figures in the 30s and 40s were far more commonplace not very long ago.
   So what’s the deal? Would they like us to pay? I’m not that desperate. I don’t ’Gram for likes, as it was always a hobby, one that I seem to have less time for in 2019. I never thought being an “influencer” on Instagram was important. The novelty has well and truly worn off, and as friends depart from the platform, the need to use it to keep them updated diminishes. In the last fortnight I recorded three videos for friends and sent them via Smash or Wetransfer, and that kept them informed. You know, like writing a letter as we did pre-email, but with audio and video. Instagram just isn’t that vital. Email actually serves me just fine.

As I said to a friend tonight, even Twitter seems expendable from one’s everyday habits. Especially after March 15 here. You realize that those who are already arseholes really want to stay that way, their life ambition probably to join certain foreign-owned radio stations to be talking heads. But since they lack the nous, the best they can manage is social-media venting. And the good people want to remain good and have the space to live their lives happily. So why, I began wondering, should we spend our time getting our blood pressure up to defend our patch in a medium where the arseholes are, by and large, gutless wannabes who daren’t tell you have of the venom they write to your face? Does anyone ever put a Stuff commenter up on a pedestal and give them respect?
   While there are a great many people whom I admire on Twitter, and I am fortunate enough to have come into their orbit, there are an increasing number of days when I want to leave them to it, and if they wish to deal with the low-lifes of this world, it is their prerogative, and I respect them for doing something I’m tiring of doing myself. Twelve years on Twitter is a long time. At the time of writing, I’ve made 91,624 Tweets. That’s a lot.
   Unlike the arseholes, each and every one of these decent human beings have successful lives, and they don’t need to spend their waking moments dispensing hate toward any other group that isn’t like them in terms of genitals, sexual orientation, race or religion. And, frankly, I can contact those decent people in media outside of social.
   Maybe the fear of Tweeting less is that we believe that the patients will overrun the asylum, that we’re the last line of defence in a world where racists and others are emboldened. That if we show that good sense and tolerance prevail, as my grandfather and others wanted to do when they went to war, then those who harbour unsavoury thoughts toward people unlike them might think twice. I can’t really argue with that.
   But I wonder whether I’ll be more effective outside of social. I publish magazines, for a start. They give me a platform others do not have. I don’t need to leave comments on articles (and over the years, I haven’t done much of that). And I have websites I visit where I can unwind, away from the shouting factories of American Big Tech. Most of us want to do good on this earth, and the long game is I may be better off building businesses I’m good at rather than try to show how much smarter I am versus a talentless social media stranger.
   No, I’m not saying I’m leaving either medium. I am saying that I’d rather spend that time on things I love to do, and before 2007 I had enough to do without sharing. Some of the colleagues I respect the most have barely set foot in the world of social, and right now I envy just how much time they have managed to put into other important endeavours, including books that are changing lives.
   Big Tech must know the writing’s on the wall.

PS.: From a discussion with the wonderful William Shepherd when he read this on Twitter (the irony is not lost on me given the subject).—JY

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This would be a great idea for a movie

05.07.2019

I came across this enjoyable graphic novel by a French author, David Blot, and illustrator, Jérémie Royer. It’s from 2011, and called Yesterday. Imagine a world where no one had heard of the Beatles. And one man decides to perform Beatles songs and takes credit for them, becoming a massive international star in the process. This would be a great idea for a movie. (No, I’m not accusing Richard Curtis of plagiarism. I put this down to coincidence, maybe tapping into the same inspirations, but the fact is Blot was there first.)

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Reflections about Lee Iacocca—unfortunately, not all of it is positive

03.07.2019


The car Lee Iacocca will be remembered for, the 1965 Ford Mustang on the right.

Before I found out about Lee Iacocca’s passing, on the same day I Tweeted about one of the cars he was behind when he was president of Ford: the 1975 US Granada. Basically, Iacocca understood that Americans wanted style. That really was at the core of his thinking. It’s also why the Granada—really a warmed-over, restyled Falcon that had its roots in the late 1950s—was always compared to Mercedes-Benz models. It was a mass-market American pastiche of the German car, with the same size. It had a grille and hood ornament. But it was frightfully slow, underpowered, and heavy, one of the most inefficient cars that Americans could buy.
   It’s the antithesis of the Mustang, which Iacocca arguably spearheaded, though in his autobiography, he noted that so many people claimed to be the father of the Mustang that he didn’t want to be seen with the mother (or words to that effect—the book’s next to my partner who’s already gone to sleep as I write).
   That was a stylish car, too. It was a Falcon-based coupé. But it could be specified with the right power to match its looks, and it was priced and marketed brilliantly. Ford hit a home run, and Iacocca’s reputation as a car industry guru was sealed.
   He was also the man who came up with the idea for the Lincoln Continental Mark III. No, not the 1950s one (which technically wasn’t a Lincoln), the one that came out in the 1960s (Ford didn’t really follow a sequential numbering system—remember it went Mark, Mark II, III, IV, V, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII). The idea: stick a Rolls-Royce grille on a Thunderbird. It beat the Cadillac Eldorado, and Iacocca finished the ’60s on a high.
   I felt that history hadn’t been kind to the Mustang II, which also came out under Iacocca’s watch. The fact was it was a sales’ hit, at a time when Detroit was reeling from the 1973 fuel crisis. No V8s initially, which in the 21st century looks like a misstep; in 1974 it would have looked smart. Growing up, we didn’t think the II was as bad as history remembers.
   But the US range was, in some ways, lazy. GM was downsizing but Iacocca noted that people were still buying big cars. To give the impression of downsizing, Ford just renamed the Torino the LTD II. Look, it’s a smaller LTD! Not really: here was yet another car on old tech with another pastiche luxury-car grille.
   When Iacocca was fired from Ford, he went to Chrysler, and pulled off his greatest sales’ job yet: to secure loan guarantees from the Carter administration and turn the company around with a range of modern, front-wheel-drive cars. The K-car, and its derivatives, were a demonstration of great platform-sharing. He noted in his autobiography that Chrysler even worked out a way to shave a tiny amount from the length to fit more Ks on a railroad car. And Iacocca’s penchant for style re-emerged: not long after the original Plymouth Reliant and Dodge Aries, there were fancied up Chrysler LeBarons, and a woody wagon, then a convertible, the first factory US one since the 1976 Cadillac Eldorado. Most importantly, Chrysler got the T-115 minivans on sale before Renault got its Espace out, though after Nissan launched the first MPV, the smaller Prairie. Nevertheless, the minivan was an efficient family vehicle, and changed the face of motoring. Iacocca was right when he believed people want style, because it’s the SUV that has succeeded the MPV and minivan. SUVs are hardly efficient in most circumstances, but here we are in 2019, with minivan sales projected to fall, though Chrysler has managed to stay the market leader in its own country.
   Chrysler paid back its loans years early, and it was under Iacocca that the company acquired American Motors Corp., getting the Jeep brand (the real prize) in the process. And it’s thanks to François Castaing and others who came across from AMC that Chrysler wound up with its LH sedans, the “cab-forward” models that proved to be one of the company’s hits in the 1990s.
   While having saved Chrysler, it was burdened with acquisitions, and in Iacocca’s final full year as Chairman Lee, the company posted a $795 million loss, with the recession partly to blame. The press joked that LH stood for Last Hope.
   It’s an incredible record, with some amazing hits. They do outnumber the duds. But what really mars it is an incident of sexual harassment I learned some years ago that never appears in the official biographies. Now, I don’t have a sworn affidavit, so you can treat this as hearsay. But until I heard that from a good friend—the woman who was harassed—Iacocca was a personal hero of mine. I bought the autobiography. I could forgive the financial disgrace Chrysler was in for 1991—one year out of nearly a dozen isn’t a bad run, even though the writing was on the wall when so much money was spent on acquisitions, hurting working capital.
   I know, his daughters and their kids won’t appreciate what I just said. That it’s wrong to speak ill of the dead, especially when they can’t answer back. You could say that that was the era he was from, in an industry steeped in male privilege—his boss at Ford, Henry the second, was carrying on an affair behind his wife’s back. You might say that one incident that I know of shouldn’t mar this incredible business record. He has left his mark on history. It’s just when it happens to one of your own friends that it’s closer to home, and it’s hard for me to offer the effortless praise I would normally have done if not for that knowledge.

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The playbook used against Wikileaks

11.06.2019

Now for something actually important beyond my first world problems.
   Journalist Suzie Dawson has a fantastic piece outlining how the smear of ‘serial rapist’ is part of the playbook used against senior members of Wikileaks. Her article is well worth reading, especially in light of how the mainstream media have spun the narrative against Julian Assange. He’s not alone: two other men have had campaigns launched against them, with no substantial evidence, thereby diminishing the seriousness of what rape is.
   It is lengthy and well researched, but if you haven’t the time, at least consider the briefer post linked from here.

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Posted in culture, internet, media, politics, publishing, Sweden, UK, USA | 1 Comment »


The smart ones always seem to be the minority

24.05.2019


Pixabay

Each year, I mentor one student from my Alma Mater. I won’t reveal their identity or what we discuss, as these are privileged, but one thing that became apparent today is how each generation might think that young people are on to it. That they won’t fall for the same bullshit that we did because they are more savvy and can build on what’s gone before.
   The student I am working with is smart and does see through a lot of the BS. They’re working on an assignment at the moment about Facebook and they were asked in class whether Facebook should be regulated. Turns out that the majority of the class didn’t know about the scandals that had happened, and that most don’t even take in the news via traditional newsmedia (or even websites), but get their info via social media. In other words, they were quite content to be bubbled and fall victim to the subjective feeds provided to them by social media.
   A generation ago, I remember when older people thought we were on to it, that we could see through the BS—but we are the ones who created this latest lot of BS. We created the mechanisms where people are fed back their own opinions and told that the other side is wrong. Empathy went out the window partly because of social media. And now that these have been created, we’re not admitting we ****ed up. Mark Zuckerberg avoids summons, for Chrissakes, and his company, and most of Big Tech, lie like sociopaths. But we’ve tied up the next generation as well into this web where they don’t know the lack of substance behind what they’re seeing. Because maybe it’s just all too complicated to figure out—which is probably how the powers-that-be like to keep it, so we keep consuming the mainstream, easily digestible narratives. The few who break out of this will find allies, but then, they, too, are in a new bubble, convinced that surely with some like minds their thinking must be right, and why on earth don’t others find it as easy to grasp?

   It’s why movements like #DeleteFacebook haven’t really taken hold beyond idealists, and even though we have young people smart enough and aware enough to organize global climate-change protests today, I wonder if we’ll wake up and exit the Matrix. I have hope—hope that those with sufficient charisma to be within the system will be selfless and say the right things and cause others to realize what’s happening. There are glimmers here and there, but, like all movements, it needs a lot of people doing the same thing at the same time. Maybe they can be found … via the same tools that are being used to divide us.

Originally published at my NewTumblog.

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The intelligence gap tells you when to block on social media

06.05.2019

That didn’t take long. I’ve been on NewTumbl 15 days and already a troll’s been by (the above is in reverse chronological order). I guess this is the internet in the late 2010s: people don’t believe in exchanging views, and that trolling is the new normal. You see it all the time on Twitter and Facebook, though it surprised me to see it happen so quickly on NewTumbl.
   Usually, it takes a lot longer for the unthinking to join a platform. Online, where opinions count and your bank balance doesn’t, we are looking at an intelligence gap. This was predicted long ago; by whom I don’t recall, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it came up in the late Norman Macrae’s writings many years ago.
   It took a while for spammers to ruin email for me. I was on email for years before I received my first spam. Twitter and Facebook were pretty nice places to be 12 years ago. Even there, it took a while to descend.
   You can blame certain politicians if you like, but the fact is we would have got there on our own, because most of us have seen the quality of debate declining on social media. Mansplaining, whitesplaining, trolling, abuse, the list goes on. The intelligence gap means that there are those incapable of having a reasoned argument without resorting to one of the above methods.
   The disappointment I feel about one NewTumbl user is simply the speed at which it’s happened, since their comment was pretty tame. Tumblr, for all its faults, actually never got political in the 12 years I was there. If you didn’t like a political view, it was usually too much trouble to comment, so you did what you might do in real life if you overheard a political comment you disagreed with: you moved on.
   Many NewTumbl users are ex-Tumblr, so it’s disappointing that one person decided not to carry forth the old platform’s culture, and infected the new place.
   So what do you do at a platform which is your unwinding social medium? You block.
   Normally I wouldn’t block. My Dad’s uncanny ability to call US presidential elections was down to, at least for 2016, his reading of the comments on their political blogs. The more views he read, the better an idea he had of which way the wind was blowing. On Twitter I block only a very few people; certainly a differing political opinion is not a reason to do it. In fact, I used to live by the mantra of ‘They who lose an argument block first’ but lately I’m revising my opinion.
   Some people are just lost causes. An analysis of the intelligence gap tells you that they’re too far along the path to hell that no amount of reasoning can help them. If others can’t resort to a civil disagreement from the outset, then they might be lost causes, too. Their opinion is actually not worth hearing.
   But the most important thing is your time. It is precious. Is engaging with a troll or a racist or a nutjob really something you wish to do?
   I realize some might think that blocking is “letting them win” or that they “get off on it”. I suppose even trolls have their fans. We congregate to those on the intelligence ladder who are closest to us. This has the inherent risk of us not hearing viewpoints we mightn’t like.
   But does it? If you don’t block based on opposing political views, and you don’t block because someone is either richer or poorer than you are, then what are you really missing? (And I doubt anyone blocks based on gender or sexuality.) Surely that still gives you a sense of where the world is, and allow you to get opposing viewpoints so you can refine your own thinking.
   And you can always block differently for each platform. Do it more in online places where you want to relax. Do it less in places where you want to engage and debate.
   Today, I did my first NewTumbl block. Our wee troll should be delighted.

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Spoiler alert: The Avengers’ endgame

24.04.2019

I’m hearing the young people talk about this lately. But we already know how The Avengers ends.

   Then they come back with some new cast members years later.


John Steed (Patrick Macnee) and Tara King (Linda Thorson) on board a rocket.

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Tumblr is now where Verizon’s corporate agenda rule

24.04.2019

How quickly an opinion can change.
   I have been on Tumblr for 12 years, signing up in 2007, with my first post in January 2008.
   For most of that time I have sung its praises, saying it was one of the good guys in amongst all the Big Tech platforms (Google, Facebook) that are pathological liars. Even a few years back, you could expect to get a personal reply to a tech issue on Tumblr, despite its user base numbering in the millions.
   Last year, as part of Verizon, Tumblr enacted its “porn ban”. I didn’t follow any adult content, and I didn’t make any myself, so it didn’t affect me much—though I noticed that the energy had gone from the site and even the non-porn posters were doing far less, if anything at all. As mentioned yesterday, I had been cutting back on posting for some time, too. It had jumped the shark.
   While I didn’t agree with the move, since I knew that there were users who were on Tumblr because it was a safe place to express their sexuality, I didn’t kick up as big a stink about it as I did with, say, Google’s Ads’ Preferences Manager or the forced fake-malware downloads from Facebook.
   But what is interesting is how Verizon ownership is infecting Tumblr. I see now that Tumblr can no longer say it supports ’net neutrality because its parent company does not. This isn’t news: the article in The Verge dates from 2017 but I never saw it till now. Of course Verizon would have wanted to keep this under wraps from the Tumblr user base, one which would have mostly sided with ’net neutrality.
   And now, after posting about NewTumbl on Tumblr last night, I see that Verizon’s corporate interests are at the fore again. Tumblr returns no results for NewTumbl in its search, because it’s that scared of a competitor. Apparently this has been going on for some time: some NewTumbl users in February blogged about it. I was able to confirm it. This isn’t censorship on some holier-than-thou “moral” grounds, but censorship because of corporate agenda, the sort of thing that would once have been beneath Tumblr.

   If I was ambivalent about leaving Tumblr before, this has made me more determined. I still have blogs there (including one with over 28,000 followers), so I won’t be shutting down my account, but, like Facebook, I won’t update my personal space any more after my 8,708 posts, unless I can’t find a creative outlet that does what Tumblr currently does and am forced to return. Right now, NewTumbl more than fulfils that role, and it’s doing so without the censorship and the corruption of long-held internet ideals that seem to plague US tech platforms. Tumblr users, see you at jackyan.newtumbl.com.

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