Archive for the ‘design’ category


Happy birthday: Autocade turns 10

07.03.2018


Above: Autocade can be hard work—and sometimes you have to put up less exciting vehicles, like the 2001–7 Chrysler Town & Country, for it to be a useful resource.

March 8, 2018 marks 10 years of Autocade.
   I’ve told the story before on this blog and elsewhere, about how the site came to be—annoyed by the inaccuracies and fictions of Wikipedia (who said the masses would be smart enough to get rid of the mistakes?), I took a leaf out of the late Michael Sedgwick’s book and created a wiki that had brief summaries of each model, the same way Sedgwick had structured his guides. I received an emailed threat from a well known British publisher (I’m looking at you, Haymarket, and as predicted in my reply, your thoughts proved to be totally baseless) when we started, and 12½ million page views later, we’re on 3,628 models (I think we finished the first day on 12), with our page on the Ford Fiesta Mk VII leading the count (other than the home page).
   Autocade began as a wiki but with so many bots trying to sign up, I closed off those registrations. There have really been about six contributors to the site, all told: myself and Keith Adams for the entries, Peter Jobes and Nigel Dunn for the tech, and two members of the public who offered copy; one fed it in directly back in the day when we were still allowing wiki modifications. I thank everyone for their contributions.
   A few years ago, I began running into people online who used Autocade but didn’t know I was behind it; it was very pleasing to see that it had become helpful to others. It also pleased me tremendously to see it referenced in Wikipedia, not always 100 per cent correctly, but as Autocade is the more accurate site on cars, this is the right way round.
   When a New Zealand magazine reviewed us, the editor noted that there were omissions, including his own car, a Mitsubishi Galant. Back then we were probably on 1,000 models, maybe fewer. All the Galants are now up, but Autocade remains a work in progress. The pace of adding pages has declined as life gets busier—each one takes, on average, 20 minutes to research and write. You wouldn’t think so from the brevity, but I want it to be accurate. I’m not perfect, which is why the pages get changed and updated: the stats say we’re running on 3·1 edits per page.
   But it looks like we’re covering enough for Autocade to be a reasonably useful resource for the internet public, especially some of the more obscure side notes in motoring history. China has proved a challenge because of the need to translate a lot of texts, and don’t think that my ethnicity is a great help. The US, believe it or not, has been difficult, because of the need to calculate cubic capacities accurately in metric (I opted to get it right to the cubic centimetre, not litres). However, it is an exciting time to be charting the course of automotive history, and because there are still so many gaps from the past that need to be filled, I have the chance to compare old and new and see how things have moved on even in my four-and-a-half decades on Earth.
   Since Sedgwick had done guides up to 1970, and paper references have been excellent taking us through the modern motor car’s history, I arbitrarily decided that Autocade would focus on 1970 and on. There are some exceptions, especially when model lines go back before 1970 and it would be a disservice to omit the earlier marks. But I wanted it to coincide roughly with my lifetime, so I could at least provide some commentary about how the vehicle was perceived at the time of launch. And the ’70s were a fascinating time to be watching the motor industry: those nations that were confident through most of the 20th century with the largest players (the US and UK) found themselves struggling, wondering how the Japanese, making scooters and motorcycles just decades before, were beating them with better quality and reliability. That decade’s Japanese cars are fascinating to study, and in Japan itself there is plenty of nostalgia for them now; you can see their evolution into more internationally styled product, rather than pastiches of others’, come the 1980s and on. The rise of Korea, Spain, China, India, Turkey, México and other countries as car-exporting nations has also been fascinating to watch. When Autocade started, Australia still had a domestic mass-produced car industry, Chrysler was still owned by Americans, and GM still had a portfolio of brands that included Pontiac and Saturn.
   I even used to go to one of the image galleries and, as many cars are listed by year, let the mouse scroll down the page. You can see periods grouped by certain colours, a sign of how cars both follow and establish fashion. There are stylistic trends: the garishness of smog-era US cars and the more logical efficiency of European ones at the same time; smoother designs of the 1980s and 1990s; a creeping fussiness and a concentration on showing the brand’s identity in the 2000s and 2010s. As some of the most noticeable consumer goods on the planet, cars make up a big part of the marketing profession.
   The site is large enough that I wouldn’t mind seeing an academic look at industry using the data gathered there; and I always thought it could be a useful book as well, bearing in mind that the images would need to be replaced with much higher-resolution fare.
   For now, I’m going to keep on plodding as we commence Autocade’s second decade. The Salon de Genève has brought forth some exciting débutantes, but then I should get more of the Chrysler Town & Country vans up …

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Posted in cars, China, culture, design, globalization, India, internet, marketing, media, New Zealand, publishing, technology, UK, USA, Wellington | No Comments »


The path of least resistance: we humans aren’t discerning enough sometimes

04.02.2018

I came across a thread at Tedium where Christopher Marlow mentions Pandora Mail as an email client that took Eudora as a starting-point, and moved the game forward (e.g. building in Unicode support).
   As some of you know, I’ve been searching for an email client to use instead of Eudora (here’s something I wrote six years ago, almost to the day), but worked with the demands of the 2010s. I had feared that Eudora would be totally obsolete by now, in 2018, but for the most part it’s held up; I remember having to upgrade in 2008 from a 1999 version and wondering if I only had about nine years with the new one. Fortunately, it’s survived longer than that.
   Brana Bujenović’s Pandora Mail easily imported everything from Eudora, including the labels I had for the tables of contents, and the personalities I had, but it’s not 100 per cent perfect, e.g. I can’t resize type in my signature file. However, finally I’ve found an email client that does one thing that no other client does: I can resize the inbox and outbox to my liking, and have them next to each other. In the mid-1990s, this was one of Eudora’s default layouts, and it amazed me that this very efficient way of displaying emails never caught on. I was also heartened to learn from Tedium that Eudora was Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak’s email client of choice (‘The most important thing I use is Eudora, and that’s discontinued’). I’m in good company.
   However, this got me thinking how most users tolerate things, without regard, in my opinion, to what’s best for them. It’s the path of least resistance, except going down this path makes life harder for them.
   The three-panel layout is de rigueur for email clients today—all the ones I’ve downloaded and even paid good money for have followed this. Thunderbird, Mailbird, the oddly capitalized eM. All have had wonderful reviews and praise, but none allow you to configure the in- and outbox sizes. Hiri’s CEO says that’s something they’re looking at but right now, they’re not there, either. Twenty-plus years since I began using Eudora and no one has thought of doing this, and putting the power of customization with the user.
   But when did this three-panel layout become the standard? I can trace this back to Outlook Express, bundled with Windows in the late 1990s, and, if I’m not mistaken, with Macs as well. I remember working with Macs and Outlook was standard. I found the layout limiting because you could only see a few emails in the table of contents at any given time, and I usually have hundreds of messages come in. I didn’t want to scroll, and in the pre-mouse-wheel environment of the 1990s, neither would you. Yet most people put up with this, and everyone seems to have followed Outlook Express’s layout since. It’s a standard, but only one foisted on people who couldn’t be bothered thinking about their real requirements. It wasn’t efficient, but it was free (or, I should say, the licence fee was included in the purchase of the OS or the computer).
   ‘It was free’ is also the reason Microsoft Word overtook WordPerfect as the standard word processor of the 1990s, and rivals that followed, such as Libre Office and Open Office, had to make sure that they included Word converters. I could never understand Word and again, my (basic) needs were simple. I wanted a word processor where the fonts and margins would stay as they were set till I told it otherwise. Word could never handle that, and, from what I can tell, still can’t. Yet people tolerated Word’s quirks, its random decisions to change font and margins on you. I shudder to think how many hours were wasted on people editing their documents—Word can’t even handle columns very easily (the trick was usually to type things in a single column, then reformat—so much for a WYSIWYG environment then). I remember using WordPerfect as a layout programme, using its Reveal Codes feature—it was that powerful, even in DOS. Footnoting remains a breeze with WordPerfect. But Word overtook WordPerfect, which went from number one to a tiny, niche player, supported by a few diehards like myself who care about ease of use and efficiency. Computers, to me, are tools that should be practical, and of course the UI should look good, because that aids practicality. Neither Outlook nor Word are efficient. On a similar note I always found Quattro Pro superior to Excel.
   With Mac OS X going to 64-bit programs and ending support for 32-bit there isn’t much choice out there; I’ve encountered Mac Eudora users who are running out of options; and WordPerfect hasn’t been updated for Mac users for years. To a large degree this answers why the Windows environment remains my choice for office work, with Mac and Linux supporting OSs. Someone who comes up with a Unicode-supporting word processor that has the ease of use of WordPerfect could be on to something.
   Then you begin thinking what else we put up with. I find people readily forget or forgive the bugs on Facebook, for example. I remember one Twitter conversation where a netizen claimed I encountered more Facebook bugs than anyone else. I highly doubt that, because her statement is down to short or unreliable memories. I seem to recall she claimed she had never experienced an outage—when in fact everyone on the planet did, and it was widely reported in the media at the time. My regular complaints about Facebook are to do with how the website fails to get the basics right after so many years. Few, I’m willing to bet, will remember that no one’s wall updated on January 1, 2012 if you lived east of the US Pacific time zone, because the staff at Facebook hadn’t figured out that different time zones existed. So we already know people put up with websites commonly that fail them; and we also know that privacy invasions don’t concern hundreds of millions, maybe even thousands of millions, of people, and the default settings are “good enough”.
   Keyboards wider than 40 cm are bad for you as you reach unnecessarily far for the mouse, yet most people tolerate 46 cm unless they’re using their laptops. Does this also explain the prevalence of Toyota Camrys, which one friend suggested was the car you bought if you wanted to ‘tell everyone you had given up on life’? It probably does explain the prevalence of automatic-transmission vehicles out there: when I polled my friends, the automatic–manual divide was 50–50, with many in the manual camp saying, ‘But I own an automatic, because I had no choice.’ If I didn’t have the luxury of a “spare car”, then I may well have wound up with something less than satisfactory—but I wasn’t going to part with tens of thousands of dollars and be pissed off each time I got behind the wheel. We don’t demand, or we don’t make our voices heard, so we get what vendors decide we want.
   Equally, you can ask why many media buyers always buy with the same magazines, not because it did their clients any good, but because they were safe bets that wouldn’t get them into trouble with conservative bosses. Maybe the path of least resistance might also explain why in many democracies, we wind up with two main parties that attract the most voters—spurred by convention which even some media buy into. (This also plays into mayoral elections!)
   Often we have ourselves to blame when we put up with inferior products, because we haven’t demanded anything better, or we don’t know anything better exists, or simply told people what we’d be happiest with. Or that the search for that product costs us in time and effort. Pandora has had, as far as I can fathom, no press coverage (partly, Brana tells me, by design, as they don’t want to deal with the traffic just yet; it’s understandable since there are hosting costs involved, and he’d have to pay for it should it get very popular).
   About the only place where we have been discerning seems to be television consumption. So many people subscribe to cable, satellite, Amazon Prime, or Netflix, and in so doing, support some excellent programming. Perhaps that is ultimately our priority as a species. We’re happy to be entertained—and that explains those of us who invest time in social networking, too. Anything for that hit of positivity, or that escapism as we let our minds drift.

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Posted in business, cars, culture, design, internet, politics, publishing, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


The last American Falcon

25.01.2018

I’m fascinated by the 1970½ Ford Falcon for a number of reasons. The first is the obvious one: rarity. This car was built for only half a model year, from January to August 1970. If you think it looks like a contemporary Torino, you’re right: it’s basically a very stripped-down Torino. Yet you could spec it with any of the engines from the Torino, including the 429 in³ V8 (and some did). Which brings me to the second reason: why would anyone really bother with it, if you could get a Torino for a bit more? (That answers why this car only lasted half a model year.) And that leads me to the third reason: what was going through Ford’s mind at the time? That’s where it gets interesting.
   At this time, Ford was undergoing managerial changes, with Henry Ford II firing Bunkie Knudsen (who had been lured away from GM). That happened in September 1969, by which time the decision to go ahead with the Falcon had already been made. This is, in other words, a Knudsen initiative.
   Federal regulations made the 1966–70 Falcon obsolete because it had a dash-mounted starter—the rule was that they had to be in the column. However, it’s curious that Ford made this call to put the Falcon nameplate on a mid-sizer, considering it had made its name as an ‘economy’ car (by US standards). If you read the brochure, you’ll find that this was all about size. Ford bragged that the car was 2 ft longer. Yet for this half-model year, it was still marketed as an ‘economy’ car.
   I imagine as the US headed into the 1970s, there was no sign of the fuel crisis on the horizon, so there was nothing wrong about size. Why not spoil the average Falcon buyer, used to a smaller car, with something much larger? Hadn’t upsizing already happened on every other model line out there—by this point the Mustang was about to grow into a monstrosity with massive C-pillars and terrible rear visibility?
   Ford (and the other Big Four makers) had been known to blow one model line up, then start another little one, and the Maverick had already been launched for 1970, and was now doing the compact work. By that logic, Falcon could grow more, even though other solutions might have been to either replace the Falcon with the Maverick or simply shift the Falcon nameplate to the Maverick—but both would have involved “downsizing”, and in 1970 that was not in the US car industry’s vocab. The panic hadn’t set in yet.
   Fourthly, this is a beautiful shape. Unnecessarily big (till you consider it had to accommodate the 429), but a beautiful shape. The 1970s hadn’t really started in earnest, so we hadn’t seen some of the really garish shapes that were to come. This has that 1960s classicism coupled with 1970s uncertainty. There’s still some optimism with jet-age inspiration, but the lack of practicality foreshadowed the style-first, single-digit mpg “road-hugging weight” cars that were round the corner, cars which no one truly needed but Detroit, in its optimism (or blindness), believed Americans did. There’s still something very honest about the last US Falcon. After this, only the Australians and Argentinians kept things alive, but those are other stories.

Also published at Drivetribe.

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Posted in business, cars, culture, design, interests, marketing, USA | No Comments »


It took a little longer, but Autocade reaches 12 million views

03.01.2018

It’s a little disappointing to note that Autocade has taken slightly longer to reach 12 million page views: it ticked over to its new milestone earlier today. I really had hoped that we’d get there before 2017 was out, but it was not to be.
   Part of it might have been the slower rate of models being put up—life’s been busy, and a site that earns a fairly small amount of money compared to our other businesses doesn’t warrant as much time. But 100 models have gone up since June 2017, when Autocade reached its 11 million milestone, with the 3,600th model the Nissan Rasheen (and no, I didn’t plan this one—it’s quite an oddball vehicle).
   So here’s the running tally as I’ve been keeping on this blog, for really no reason other than pedantry.

March 2008: launch
April 2011: 1,000,000 (three years for first million)
March 2012: 2,000,000 (11 months for second million)
May 2013: 3,000,000 (14 months for third million)
January 2014: 4,000,000 (eight months for fourth million)
September 2014: 5,000,000 (eight months for fifth million)
May 2015: 6,000,000 (eight months for sixth million)
October 2015: 7,000,000 (five months for seventh million)
March 2016: 8,000,000 (five months for eighth million)
August 2016: 9,000,000 (five months for ninth million)
February 2017: 10,000,000 (six months for tenth million)
June 2017: 11,000,000 (four months for eleventh million)
January 2018: 12,000,000 (seven months for twelfth million)

   It’s a shame that the four-month time-frame needed to reach 11 million could be an anomaly rather than part of a trend.
   I also wonder whether the odd PHP error—we have had quite a few since we began hosting at AWS—has impacted on search-engine rankings. However, server management has become far, far more complex over the last couple of decades, and the controls I see at AWS mean nothing to me as someone outside the computing industry. The help pages may as well be in Serbian. The notion that software gets easier to use and the expectation that this level of computing would become democratized have not come to pass, certainly not over the last 10 years. It seems the industry wants to sew things up for itself, and the last thing needed are amateurs like me getting into the nuts and bolts. I’m not Facebook or Google: I can’t afford heaps of employees to look after this stuff. (Or, in Google’s case, maybe a couple here and there.)
   Incidentally, I may begin removing the sharing links under each headline soon. I’m concerned about the standard Facebook ‘like’ button tracking readers, and there are Po.st links under ‘Share this page’ to the top left of this page (if browsing via desktop) if you want to show Facebook friends something from here. Po.st does have its own cookies (linked to a company called Radium One), but it’s far easier to opt out of those through their site. I’m unconvinced that anyone can opt out of Facebook’s data collection.

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Posted in cars, culture, design, internet, publishing, USA | No Comments »


Solving my BSODs with Windows 10 Creators fall update—it’s not the usual culprits

11.12.2017

Amazingly, Microsoft Windows 10 Creators fall update arrived last week on my desktop PC, and it took all of 25 minutes to do (running a Crucial 525 Gbyte SSD). (Add an extra 35 minutes for me to put my customizations back in.) This is in contrast to the Anniversary update, which took 11 attempts over many months, including one that bricked my desktop PC and necessitated repairs back at PB Technologies.
   However, I began getting regular BSODs, with the error message ‘Driver_IRQL_not_less_or_equal’ (all in caps), saying that tcpip.sys was the system file affected. An analysis of the minidump file using Windmp revealed that the cause was netio.sys (add ‘Netio!StreamInjectRequestsToStack+239’ if you want the full line).
   There were few people with a similar issue, though I can always count on people in the industry who help—usually it’s folks like Cyrus McEnnis, whom I have known since we were in the third form at Rongotai College, or Aaron Taylor, or, in this case, Hayden Kirk of Layer3, who pointed me in the right direction (that it was either hardware or drivers).
   First up, Windows Update isn’t any help, so let’s not waste any time there.
   Secondly, Device Manager was no help, either. Getting Windows to find updated drivers doesn’t necessarily result in the latest ones being downloaded. If the file that was crashing was tcpip.sys, then it does hint at something afoot with the TCP/IP, i.e. the networking.
   I couldn’t solve it through a virus scan, since a full one would never complete before I got another BSOD. (In fact, one BSOD knocked out Avira, and it had to be reinstalled.)
   It wasn’t Nvidia Control Panel, which was a regular culprit that people pointed to. I did remove and reinstall, just to be on the safe side, but that didn’t fix the problems.
   I had used the ‘Update driver’ option in the Device Manager for my network adapter, the Realtek PCIe GBE Family Controller #2, and while it did update, it wound up on version 1.
   Without much to lose, I decided to feed in the full name of the adapter to look for drivers. Realtek’s website took me here, where I selected the Win10 Auto Installation Program.
   This installed a driver that was version 10, and last updated on December 1, 2017, according to Realtek’s website (the driver is dated October 3, 2017).
   So far I’ve been BSOD-free, and things appear to have settled down.
   If you’re interested, I filed a bug report at Bleeping Computer, and my dump files are there.
   Also remarkable is that my Lenovo laptop, which had attempted to install various Windows 10 updates for over a year, and failing each time (I estimate over 40 attempts, as usually I let it run most times I turn that laptop on; as of April 18 it was at 31 attempts). That laptop was on near-factory settings, so the fact no Windows update would work on it was ridiculous. (I’ve even seen this at shops, where display laptops have Windows update errors.)
   Again, there’s plenty of advice out there, including the removal of Avira as the antivirus program. I tried that a few times over the first 31 attempts. It made no difference.
   I am happy to report that over the weekend, the spring Creators Update actually worked, using the Update tool, and the only alteration I made to Avira was the removal of its System Speedup program.
   And as of this morning, the same computer wound up with the newer fall update.
   There haven’t been BSODs there but to me it confirms that Microsoft’s earlier updates were incredibly buggy, and after two years they’ve managed to see to them.
   I can report that the advice on the Microsoft forums didn’t work and I never needed to result to using the ISO update methods. The cure seemed to be patience and allowing multiple attempts. Since Windows 10 behaves differently each time you boot it up anyway, one of those times might have been compatible with the update patches.
   Hopefully the above helps those who have been struggling with getting their Windows 10s to update. I’d advise against attempting some of the more extreme solutions, especially if your gut or your logic tells you that you shouldn’t need to go to those lengths just to update, when easier solutions worked perfectly fine when you were on Windows XP or Windows 7.

PS., December 12: After a day without crashes post-driver-update, they returned the following day. Investigations are ongoing … I’ve updated the Bleeping Computer link page.

P.PS.: Updated a remote-access program as well as Java (which hadn’t updated despite it having been set to automatic updates). During the former, I had another BSOD as it tried to shut down various network services. Wish I wrote down what they were. However, it does point at a networking issue. Also I saw some hackers in Latvia and the Netherlands try to get in to the system and blocked their IPs. Coincidentally, they had not attempted anything yesterday, which was the day I didn’t have BSODs.

P.P.PS.: Event Viewer revealed those hackers were really going for it. Hayden says it was a ‘port exhaustion hack’, which does, logically, affect TCP/IP. I’ve replaced the remote desktop program, though Java 8 wound back on the desktop because of another program I run. The PC has stayed on since the afternoon, so hopefully that is that. It does mean a day wasted on IT—and it does seem worrying that Windows 10 Creators fall has potentially more holes by default, or somehow falls over more easily when attacked. Those attacks had always come, but they never resulted in BSODs. It was, overall, more robust in updating but it may have some other problems, if the last few days are any indication.
   The external HD was also moved to another USB port. There could be a connection to USBs, as it crashed once after my partner unplugged her phone, and on another occasion I distinctly heard the external HD activate just before a BSOD.

P.P.P.PS.: The above never solved it, but one month on, this might have done the trick.

It didn’t do the trick. Here’s the next part.

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Posted in design, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


Fun for car anoraks—till you get to the factual errors

08.07.2017

I bought Steven Parissien’s The Life of the Automobile: a New History of the Motor Car, which started off as a good history. I’m 300-odd pages in now and the mistakes are really worrying. There’s also a shocking lack of editing (one part repeated, albeit in different language, and spelling and grammatical mistakes) in the parts I’ve got to now; it’s as though the editor got tired after the first 10 chapters and stopped caring. But the biggest errors are factual.
   I am astonished to learn, for instance, that Harley Earl was responsible for the concept of the Ford Thunderbird (p. 255), that Triumph TR7 production was transferred to Speke in 1982 (p. 293, though Parissien later contradicts himself with the correct fact), and that John Z. de Lorean was a protégé of Lee Iacocca (p. 309). I really have no idea how, but as far as I know, de Lorean was never at Ford, and he had a Chrysler stint long before Iacocca got there. I also never knew that ‘In 1968 the Toyota Corolla became the first Japanese car to be manufactured in the US’ (p. 314; that was the year it went on sale there, and from memory the Corolla didn’t get built there till the NUMMI deal in the 1980s) or that the Opel Ascona C was also sold as the Opel Vectra (p. 337). The Italian Job was released in 1969, not 1967 (p. 224).
   I am frustrated with this book—and now it makes me wonder if the stuff earlier on, which I know less about, was accurate.
   I can understand an editor not grasping the subject as well as the author but there is less excuse in professional publishing for the other problems. Maybe there are few professional proofreaders left, now that spellchecks have been around for a generation or more. I was prepared to recommend this book even a week ago and tolerated the spelling and grammar, but these factual mistakes are worse than what can be found in Wikipedia, and I often label parts of that site as fiction.

PS. (September 17): How much worse can it get, as I continued through? A lot.
   On p. 320, we get an admission that Parissien was wrong on p. 314: the Honda Accord was the first Japanese-branded car to be made Stateside. At least an earlier error was corrected. But they begin again on p. 321: Parissien claims the V30 Toyota Camry dominated the US mid-size car market (it was never sold outside Japan; he’s thinking of the XV10, or the Japanese-market Scepter, which was badged Camry). Correcting his error on p. 322, the Camry was not specifically targeted at the US; it was Toyota’s attempt to create an efficient car from the ground up, and it was not done in 1980, but 1982 (the 1980 Celica Camry was not sold outside Japan). The Paykan deal was cemented long before George Turnbull got to Iran (p. 324), though local content rose in the 1970s for it to be truly Iranian-made and Parissien might mean the shifting of the engine tooling there, if I’m being generous. There is only one world, not multiple ones (also p. 324), unless Parissien knows something about parallel universes that the rest of us don’t. Surely Chrysler managed to launch its T-115 minivan (Dodge Caravan, Plymouth Voyager) before Renault launched the Espace (p. 330), and the Triumph Acclaim was never called the ‘Ronda’ (p. 334), though its successor was.
   On p. 360, in a single paragraph, Parissien makes several errors. The MG 6 launched as a five-door car, not his claimed four. There is no such thing as the Roewe 150, in China or elsewhere. The MG 3 has five doors and is not a three-door counterpart to the 6. The five-door MG 6 launched not in 2011, but in 2010, and the Magnette name was only used in the UK for the four-door. The founder of Chrysler was Walter Chrysler, not Walther (p. 364). The Lancia Delta only became a Chrysler in the UK and Éire, as far as I know (p. 365), and remained a Lancia in most countries. The Belgian designer is Dirk van Braeckel, not van Braeckl (p. 368); Mercedes-Benz never bought an 18·53 per cent stake in Volkswagen (p. 369); and Citroën’s BX was not the last car in that range to have ‘pneumatic suspension’ (p. 372). The Malibu was not a Saturn, but a Chevrolet (p. 375), and Buick was never sold off (p. 376). The Ford Mondeo did not replace the Telstar in all Asian markets (p. 377), and it shared far more than the ‘windscreen, front doors and rear’ with the Contour and Mystique (in fact, the rear was not shared, though there were common engines, platform, and plenty more). It’s not entirely certain that the US market judged the Contour to be too small (p. 378), but there was a lack of marketing (which would have made an even better story than the one Parissien writes about). Ford subsequently filled the Contour’s niche with the smaller Focus Stateside. The CD338 Fusion was never sold in Australia (also p. 378). Ford never resurrected the Taunus in Germany under Alan Mulally (p. 381)—this invention is incredible. VAZ did follow up the 2101 with something similar after it ended production in 1983 (not 1984, p. 382), viz. the 2105, which was about as similar as one could get to the 2101.
   On p. 384, Parissien claims Acura’s Legend sales were ‘disappointing’, after saying they were ‘beginning to sell rather well’ 50 pp. before. The Hindustan Ambassador was not based on the 1954 Morris Oxford (p. 389): that car was actually the Hindusthan Landmaster. The Ambassador was based on the 1957 Morris Oxford III, and was in production from 1959, not 1958. The Red Flag (or Hongqi) marque was not reborn on an Audi A6 (p. 391), but the marque had been used on a version of the Audi 100 C3 from 1988, and no Hongqi bore an Audi–Chrysler–Hongqi brand name. The Chinese company is Dongfeng, not Dongfen (p. 391), and Parissien’s claim that the Everus was sold in the west (p. 392) is news to me, as I am sure it is to its own management. I’ll stop there for now.

P.PS. (September 18): Some bedtime reading, or should I say error-finding, last night. On p. 394, Toyota and Aston Martin did not jointly develop the Cygnet: Toyota developed the IQ in 2008, and Aston Martin converted that car to become its Cygnet, and ‘hot hatch’ is a very optimistic description for a city car. Toyota did not launch the Cygnet in 2008 as Parissien claims, nor did it have a say in what customers were expected to purchase the Cygnet: it was aimed specifically at existing Aston Martin owners, not ‘Toyota and Aston expected initial demand to be limited to those who already owned an Aston Martin sports car.’ It was certainly no ‘eccentric experiment’ of Toyota, but of Aston Martin. Volvo never made a model called the A40 (p. 395), and I bet Nissan is surprised to find that the original Qashqai was designed ‘at the firm’s Milan design centre’ (p. 397) when it was designed in London. Maserati never launched a Jeep-based SUV called the Kubang (p. 397), but it did have a concept of that name, and the Levante appeared in 2016 after the book was published. There is no such car as the Porsche Cajun, and if Parissien refers to the smaller Porsche crossover, then that is called the Macan, and it has five doors, not the claimed three (p. 397). The Volkswagen New Beetle was not on a Polo platform (p. 399), but a Golf one, as was its successor (though a newer Golf); and Ford would dispute that its Mustang is a sedan (p. 401). If J Mays’s first name is J (as footnoted), then there is no need to refer to him as ‘J. Mays’ (p. 401). The Ford Ka’s name is not derived from StreetKa (p. 402): that was a model spun off from the Ka in 2002; and some would regard the Mk II model was being superior to the Fiat 500 on which it is based (especially as Fiat adopted some of the changes for its own model). I have yet to see a Smart with a Mercedes-Benz three-pointed star or marque anywhere, unlike Parissien who seems to think they are badged Mercedes (p. 403), and a Smart SUV does not exist unless Parissien is reporting again from his parallel universe (p. 403). There is also no such car as the Kia Exclusive (p. 410).

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Selling Opel: what’s good for China is good for General Motors

15.02.2017


Above: The Opel Astra K: on the roster.

I’m not so sure that GM going into talks to sell Opel and Vauxhall to PSA (Peugeot–Citroën) is that big a surprise.
   We obviously hold a lot of nostalgia for these brands, and it’s only right that we perceive GM as selling its family jewels. Opel has made some great cars over the years, and Buick in China and the US, Vauxhall in the UK, and Holden in Australia rely on this division to provide it with product.
   But it wasn’t long ago that I said I foresaw the next Holden Commodore being a four-door booted model based on a Chinese Buick Regal that’s on the same platform. While I’ve been proved wrong with scoop photos and inside information from journalists in the immediate term, longer-term this doesn’t look so far-fetched, in a future where Peugeot owns Opel–Vauxhall and GM has no choice but to consider Chinese sourcing seriously.
   Therefore, GM isn’t thinking that it’s selling off the family jewels, at least the GM where Chinese partner SAIC is overwhelmingly calling the shots.
   What they are thinking is this: ‘We should be able to develop the whole lot in China.’ They weren’t nostalgic over Holden, and they won’t be thrilled with the losses at Opel. It’s willing to sacrifice it to make its own position stronger. We’ve already seen that SAIC has called it quits when it comes to British assembly at Longbridge—that’s now all done back in China.
   There’s been such a massive technology transfer from the US to China over the last few years that Europe is seen as surplus by the folks in Shanghai. They have all the platforms on which they can make products globally. They may even, rightly or wrongly, think that the remaining brands can get them into Europe, even if GM had pulled its Korean-made Chevrolets out of there.
   Holden can be used to westernize the product and the Australians have shown they can do it well.
   I’m not saying I agree with this, as a long-time Opel fan. I was looking forward to the new Commodores coming out of Rüsselsheim. The car looks the business, it’s roughly the size of the recently deleted Ford Falcon (therefore, I’m not sure why people are so upset about its size), and the majority of buyers don’t even know which set of wheels the power’s going to. I’ve got an Astra K coming in a few months at Lucire.
   What you’re going to see is GM basically being a Shanghai-run firm with China supplying global markets and the US operations kept going for their brand cachet.
   In the meantime, a hypothetical PSA-run Opel will continue with the existing plans till the end of these models’ life cycles, then China will become the manufacturing hub for numerous markets.
   SAIC already makes a load of Cadillacs, Buicks and Chevrolets for the domestic market, and they’ll want to pump them out more widely.
   They’ve also shown that they can take new GM platforms and turn them into Roewes—or old GM platforms and turn them into Baojuns.
   PSA, meanwhile, with 14 per cent controlled by Chinese firm Dongfeng, will pursue a strategy of streamlining platforms and be focused more on Europe. It could pay off as cross-town rival Renault has done well with Nissan, Mitsubishi, Samsung, Dacia and AvtoVAZ, but it won’t nearly be as secure. The two French groups have been obsessed with one another for as long as I can remember, for years spending more time rivalling each other than actually coming up with what customers wanted.
   Dongfeng may have to cough up more lolly and it could become a larger shareholder than the Peugeot family or the French government. But will it have the sort of geographical coverage that Renault has?
   That’ll be what PSA will be asking itself, knowing that it’s reasonably strong in China—but also realizing that it hasn’t been clever at creating models that can be sold globally (the current Citroën C6, DS 5LS and the DS 6 among them, sold exclusively in China). Nevertheless, there are savings to be had, though the most obvious fear is that Opel and Vauxhall will go the way of Panhard and Talbot, brands that fell into either Peugeot or Citroën’s hands over the years and become defunct at the expense of the parent companies’. Is there a desire to extend the group’s brand portfolio beyond Peugeot, Citroën, DS, the various Dongfeng lines, and the ex-Hindustan Ambassador?
   The official statement is non-committal enough and gives nothing away: ‘PSA Group and General Motors confirm they are exploring numerous strategic initiatives aiming at improving profitability and operational efficiency, including a potential acquisition of Opel Vauxhall by PSA.
   ‘There can be no assurance that an agreement will be reached.’
   In any case, we always said that SAIC was playing a long game. MG was a toe in the water. GM is the real deal.
   Controlling GM means they can do as they please, and what’s good for China is good for General Motors.

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Posted in branding, cars, China, culture, design, leadership, marketing, media, USA | No Comments »


Flyme to the moon

12.08.2016

I’m really impressed with Meizu’s latest Flyme OS upgrades. I didn’t know that they were there, but then I have a lot of my notifications turned off. After discovering there was one, I went from my existing 4.5 (I had already upgraded once since I bought the phone) to 5.1, and everything worked fine. There was another sub-version upgrade the same night. US software vendors could learn a lot from this Chinese company.
   It wasn’t perfect (I made some notes on my Tumblr) but it was a darn sight better than some of the upgrades I’ve had on Mac and Windows. I accept there is less to go wrong with cellphones, but I’ve heard many a complaint from IOS users about their upgrades. The phone feels faster, and after a bit of exploring through the menus, I’ve turned off resource-hogging notifications and data-sucking settings. I stand by my earlier review of my Meizu M2 Note—if they keep up this level of reliability, and can remain Google-free, I’d happily buy from them again.

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Posted in China, design, technology | 1 Comment »


An old slant for Labour

08.06.2016

I noticed this on April 28 and Tweeted about it, tagging the New Zealand Labour Party at the time. It still hasn’t been fixed as of today. That’s supposedly Commercial Type’s Stag Bold Italic in the headline, but someone has slanted the italic. Is this a signal that Labour leans to the right more than it’s letting on? Did someone say 1984?

   Still, Stag is a far more inspired, and typographically appropriate, choice than the Futura used by our present government’s political party, after years of Gill Sans. Interestingly, I seem to recall the Labour of Bill Rowling having Futura Italic in its logotype. If only modern-day Labour could get its italic displaying correctly.
   Good typography wins votes. I should know.

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Meizu M2 Note: welcome to a Google-free mid-2010s

16.01.2016

Other than for the landline, I’ve never bought a phone before. Each cellphone has come as a result of a company plan or a loyalty gift from the telco, but when my Huawei Ascend Y200 began needing resets several times a day—I’ve had computer experts tell me this is the phone, or the SD card (like any endeavour, it’s hard to find agreement; this is like saying that the problem with an axe lies with the handle or the blade)—I decided to replace it. Plus, having built websites for clients it seemed only fair to have a device on which I could test them on an OS newer than Android 2.3, and after a few days I have to say the Meizu M2 Note has been worth every penny. (The Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 was on the shortlist but the Meizu performed better in online tests, e.g. this one.)
   You can find the specs on this device elsewhere, in reviews written by people far more au fait with cellular technology than me, but a few things about arriving in the mid-2010s with such a gadget struck me as worth mentioning.
   First, I opted for a blue one. They’re usually cheaper. Since I have a case for it, I don’t have to put up with the colour on the back anyway, so why not save a few bucks if the guts are the same?
   Secondly, it’s astonishing to think in five inches I have the same number of pixels as I do in 23 inches on my monitor.
   Thirdly, cellular battery technology has come a heck of a long way. (Down side: you can’t replace it in this device.)
   But here’s an absolutely wonderful bonus I never expected: it’s Google-free. Yes, the Flyme OS is built on Google’s Android 5.1.1, but the beauty of buying a phone from a country where Google is persona non grata is that I’m not stuck with all the crap I had on the Telstra Clear-supplied Huawei. No Google Plus, Google Play Store, Gmail, Google Maps and all the other stuff I had to switch off constantly. I could have had the phone rooted but it never was a big enough priority, even with my dislike of the big G.
   I don’t know how much ultimately gets back to Google through simply using its OS, but I’ve managed to keep away from signing in to any of their services. In this post-Snowden era, I regard that as a good thing.
   The phone booted up for the first time and gave me English as an option (as the seller indicated), so the device’s OS is all in the language I’m most fluent in. However, it’s not that weird for me to have Chinese lettering around, so the apps that stayed in the Chinese language are comprehensible enough to me. There is an app store that isn’t run by Google, at which all the apps are available—Instagram, Dolphin Browser, Opera Mini, plus some of the other admin tools I use. Nothing has shown up in my Google Dashboard. The store is in Chinese, but if you recognize the icon you should be all right, and the apps work in the language you’ve set your OS to.
   The China-only apps aren’t hard to dispose of, and the first ones to go were Netease, Dianping (I don’t even use an Anglo dining review app, so why would I need a China-only one?), Amap (again, it only works in China, and it can be easily reinstalled through Autonavi and its folded paper icon), and 116114, an app from a Chinese telco. Weibo I don’t mind keeping, since I already have an account, and I can see some utility to retaining Alipay, the painting app, and a few others.
   And having a Google-free existence means I now have Here Maps, the email is set up with my Zoho ’boxes, and 1Weather replaces the default which only gives Chinese cities.
   What is remarkable is that the Chinese-designed default apps are better looking than the western counterparts, which is not something you hear very often. The opposite was regularly the case. A UI tipping-point could have happened.
   I also checked the 2G, 3G and 4G frequencies against Vodafone New Zealand’s to ensure compatibility—there are at least two different M2 Notes on the market, so caveat emptor. Vodafone also recommends installing only one SIM, which suits me fine, as the other slot is occupied by a 64 Gbyte micro-SD card.
   The new Flyme-based-on-Android keyboard isn’t particularly good though, and I lose having a full set of smart quotes, a proper apostrophe, and en and em dashes, but far more obscure Latin-2 glyphs are accessible. I’m not sure what the logic is behind this.
   I had an issue getting the Swift keyboard to install, but I’ve opted for Swype, which, curiously, like the stock keyboard, is missing common characters. Want to type a g with a breve for Erdoğan? Or a d with a caron? Easy. An en dash? Impossible.
   This retrograde step doesn’t serve me and there are a few options in Swype. First, I had to add the Russian keyboard, which does give an em dash, alongside the English one, though I haven’t located a source of en dashes yet. Secondly, after copying and pasting in a proper apostrophe from a document, I proceeded to type in words to commit them to my personal Swype dictionary: it’s, he’d, she’ll, won’t, etc. This technique has worked, and while it’s not 100 per cent perfect as there’ll be words I missed, it’s better than nowt.
   I see users have been complaining about the omissions online for three years, and if nothing has been done by now, I doubt Swype’s developers are in a rush to sort it.
   Swype’s multilingual keyboards are easy to switch between, work well, but I haven’t tried my Kiwi accent on the Dragon-powered speech recognition software within.
   Going from a 3·2 Mpixel camera to a 13 Mpixel one has been what I expected, and finally I get a phone with a forward-facing camera for the first time since the mid-2000s (before selfies became de rigueur). It’s worth reminding oneself that a 13 Mpixel camera means files over 5 Mbyte are commonplace, and that’s too big for Twitter. I’m also going to have to expect to need more storage space offline, as I always back up my files.
   I haven’t found a way to get SMSs off yet (suggestions are welcome), unlike the Huawei, but transferring other files (e.g. photos and music) is easier. Whereas the Huawei needed to have USB sharing switched on, the Meizu doesn’t care, and you can treat it as a hard drive when connected to your PC without doing anything. That, too, has made life far easier.
   I’ve been able to upgrade the OS without issue, and Microsoft (and sometimes Apple) would do well to learn from this.
   It leaves the name, Meizu (魅族), which in Cantonese at least isn’t the most pleasant when translated—let’s say it’s all a bit Goblin King. Which may be appropriate this week.
   I’m not one who ever gets a device for image’s sake, and I demand that they are practical. So far, the Meizu hasn’t let me down with its eight cores, 16 Gbyte ROM and 4G capability, all for considerably less than a similarly equipped cellphone that wears an Apple logo. And it’s nice to know that this side of Apple, one can have a Google-free device.

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Posted in China, design, New Zealand, technology | 3 Comments »