Archive for the ‘India’ category

Is the death of expertise tied to the Anglosphere?


Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Boris Johnson: usually a talented delivery, but with conflicting substance.

I spotted The Death of Expertise at Unity Books, but I wonder if the subject is as simple as the review of the book suggests.
   There’s a lot out there about anti-intellectualism, and we know it’s not an exclusively American phenomenon. Tom Nichols, the book’s author, writes, as quoted in The New York Times, ‘Americans have reached a point where ignorance, especially of anything related to public policy, is an actual virtue. To reject the advice of experts is to assert autonomy, a way for Americans to insulate their increasingly fragile egos from ever being told they’re wrong about anything. It is a new Declaration of Independence: No longer do we hold these truths to be self-evident, we hold all truths to be self-evident, even the ones that aren’t true. All things are knowable and every opinion on any subject is as good as any other.’
   I venture to say that the “death of expertise” is an Anglophone phenomenon. Head into Wikipedia, for instance, and you’ll find proof that the masses are not a good way to ensure accuracy, at least not in the English version. Head into the German or Japanese editions and you find fewer errors, and begin to trust the pages more.
   Given that many of “the people” cannot discern what is “fake news” and what is not, or who is a bot and who is not, then it’s absolutely foolhardy to propose that they also be the ones who determine the trustworthiness of a news source, as Facebook is wont to do.
   I can’t comment as much on countries I have spent less time in, but certainly in the Anglosphere, I’ve seen people advance, with confidence and self-authority, completely wrong positions, ones not backed up by real knowledge. You only need to visit some software support forums to see online examples of this phenomenon.
   When I visit Sweden, for instance, there’s a real care from individuals not to advance wrongful positions, although I admit I am limited by my own circles and the brief time I have spent there.
   It’s not so much that we don’t value expertise, it’s that the bar for what constitutes an expert is set exceptionally low. We’re often too trusting of sources or authorities who don’t deserve our reverence. And I wonder if it comes with our language.
   I’ll go so far as to say that the standing of certain individuals I had in my own mind was shattered when we were all going for the mayoralty in my two campaigns in 2010 and 2013. There certainly was, among some of my opponents, no correlation between knowledge and the position they already held in society. It didn’t mean I disliked them. It just meant I wondered how they got as far as they did without getting found out.
   Fortunately, the victor, whether you agreed with her policies or not, possessed real intelligence. The fact she may have political views at odds with yours is nothing to do with intelligence, but her own observations and beliefs. I can respect that (which is why I follow people on social media whose political views I disagree with).
   In turn I’m sure many of them disliked what I stood for, even if they liked me personally. Certainly it is tempting to conclude that some quarters in the media, appealing to the same anti-intellectualism that some of my rivals represented, didn’t like a candidate asserting that we should increase our intellectual capital and pursue a knowledge economy. No hard feelings, mind. As an exercise, it served to confirm that, in my opinion, certain powers don’t have people’s best interests at heart, and there is a distinct lack of professionalism (and, for that matter, diversity) in some industries. In other words, a mismatch between what one says one does, and what one actually does. Language as doublespeak.
   So is it speaking English that makes us more careless? Maybe it is: as a lingua franca in some areas, merely speaking it might put a person up a few notches in others’ estimation. Sandeep Deva Misra, in his blog post in 2013, believes that’s the case, and that we shouldn’t prejudge Anglophones so favourably if the quality of their thought isn’t up to snuff.
   Maybe that’s what we need to do more of: look at the quality of thought, not the expression or make a judgement based on which language it’s come in. As English speakers, we enjoy a privilege. We can demand that others meet us on our terms and think poorly when someone speaks with an accent or confuses your and you’re. It gives us an immediate advantage because we have a command of the lingua franca of business and science. It gives us the impunity to write fictions in Wikipedia or make an argument sound appealing through sound bites, hoping to have made a quick getaway before we’re found out. Political debate has descended into style over substance for many, although this is nothing new. I was saying, although not blogging, things like this 20 years ago, and my students from 1999–2000 might remember my thoughts on Tony Blair’s 1997 campaign as being high on rhetoric and light on substance. Our willingness to accept things on face value without deeper analysis, lands us into trouble. We’re fooled by delivery and the authority that is attached with the English language.
   You’ll next see this in action in a high-profile way when Facebook comes forth with more comment about Cambridge Analytica. I can almost promise you now that it won’t hold water.

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Posted in business, culture, globalization, India, leadership, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing, Sweden, UK, USA, Wellington | 2 Comments »

Happy birthday: Autocade turns 10


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 »

Capricious Cortana


I have never seen a program as inconsistent as Microsoft’s Cortana.
   We were always taught that computers were very logical, that they all followed a certain set of code each time.
   Not so Cortana, which has had more different behaviours than anything I have ever seen.
   When I run into technical issues, it’s the fault of certain parties for failing to anticipate the behaviour of ordinary people or for adopting a head-in-the-sand position to bugs that are very real or crooked company policies. These have been covered many times on this blog, such as Six Apart’s old Vox site refusing to accept a log-in, or Facebook ceasing to allow likes and comments; and then there’s the human dishonesty that drove Google’s failures on Blogger and Ads Preferences Manager.
   This still fits into those categories, as Microsoft’s engineers on its forums are peddling standard responses, none of which actually work. One even damaged my start menu and forced a system restore.
   The bugs are so varied, and that to me is strange. Normally bugs will take one form and one form only. Address that, and your problem is solved.
   However, Cortana has done the following.

Day 1. Refused to work, with Windows saying US English was not supported (curious, given it’s an American program). I downloaded the UK English language pack. Worked perfectly for the rest of the day. How novel.

Day 2. Refused to work, but prompted me to set up again, and then it worked.

Day 3. Cortana becomes deaf. No prompts to set up again, but I do it anyway. It works again.

Day 4. I play with the microphone settings (by ‘play’ I mean clicking on a setting but not actually changing it) and Cortana would work intermittently.

Day 5. Cortana would not work except at night, and I play the movie quiz.

Day 6. Cortana claims my Notebook is inaccessible because I am offline. Clearly I wasn’t offline because I was doing stuff online.

Day 7, daytime. Cortana refuses to answer and sends all queries to Bing. The Notebook screen just displays animated ellipses.

Day 7, evening. Cortana works after I plug in my headphones (which has a microphone). After I unplug it, my regular webcam microphone starts picking up my voice again. Cortana works again.

Day 8. Cortana hears me say ‘Hey, Cortana,’ but then just goes to ‘Thinking’ for minutes on end. It might display, ‘Something’s not right. Try again in a little bit,’ after all that. Apparently Cortana still cannot retrieve my interests because I am ‘offline,’ which is amazing that I’m posting to this blog right now.

   The microphones work with other programs. And browsing the Windows forums, this has been going on since July. The November service pack was supposed to have fixed a lot of issues, but clearly not.
   I’ll be fascinated to see what it does tomorrow. But I am tired of the BS that their techs are dishing out as “solutions”. I’m being reminded why I don’t use Word or Outlook: because I have a short fuse when it comes to crap.

PS.: Day 9, same as day 8. Day 10, asked a few set-up questions (again) and it works, though ‘Thinking’ still came up for a few seconds on the first go. Day 11, worked without intervention (amazing!). Day 12, see day 7 (evening).—JY

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Posted in India, internet, technology, USA | 2 Comments »

There can be only one, unless you forget to register your design: the Range Rover Evoque and the copycat Landwind X7


The stunning original: the Range Rover Evoque.

There has been a lot of ongoing press about Landwind’s copy of the Range Rover Evoque (a road test of the Evoque comes next week in Lucire, incidentally), one of my favourite Sloane Ranger SUVs. There’s no way Landwind would have come up with the design independently, and, if put before most occidental courts, there would be a finding in favour of the Indian firm.
   People are right to be upset, even in China, which has plenty of firms these days that spend millions on developing a new car and hiring the right talent. The days of SEAT Ibiza and Daihatsu Charade rip-offs are not completely gone, but if you read the Chinese motoring press, the journalists there are as condemning of copies as their colleagues everywhere else.
   The impression one gets in the west is that this is par for the course in China in 2015, even though it isn’t. While there have been firms that have gone from legitimate licensing to copying (I’m looking at you, Zotye and Yema), the reverse has tended to be the case in the Middle Kingdom.
   The latest article on the Landwind X7 appears in Haymarket’s Autocar, a magazine I’ve taken since 1980. I even think Autocar is being overly cautious by putting copy in quotation marks in its headline. It’s a copy, and that’s that.
   Landwind has maintained that it’s had no complaints from Jaguar Land Rover, while JLR CEO Ralf Speth says he will complain. Considering it’s been five years since the Evoque was launched, and news of the copy, and Landwind’s patent grant from 2014, has been around for a while, then saying you will complain in 2015 seems a little late.
   In fact, it’s very late. What surprises me is that this is something already known in China. I’m not the most literate when it comes to reading my first language, but as I understand it, a firm that shows a product in China at a government-sponsored show, if it wishes to maintain its “novelty” and prevent this sort of piracy from taking place, must register it within six months, under article 24 of China’s patent law:

Within six months before the date of application, an invention for which an application is filed for a patent does not lose its novelty under any of the following circumstances:
(1) It is exhibited for the first time at an international exhibition sponsored or recognized by the Chinese Government;
(2) It is published for the first time at a specified academic or technological conference; and
(3) Its contents are divulged by others without the consent of the applicant.

   The Evoque was shown at Guangzhou at a state-sanctioned motor show in December 2010, which meant that Jaguar Land Rover had until June 2011, at the outside, to file this registration. JLR reportedly missed the deadline [edit: with the patent office receiving the application on November 24, 2011].
   The consequence of missing the period is that an original design becomes an “existing design”. While it’s not entirely the end of the road for Jaguar Land Rover in terms of legal remedies, it is one of the quirks of Chinese intellectual property law, which, sadly, is not as geared to protecting authors as it is in the west.
   The approach one would have in, say, a common law jurisdiction, to prove objective similarity in the cases of copyright (and, as I understand it, a similar approach under patent), does not apply there. (Incidentally, this approach is one reason BMW could not have won against Shuanghuan for its CEO, which is usually mentioned by Top Gear watchers as an X5 copy. Look more closely and the front is far closer to a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado’s, and there’s neither a kidney grille nor a Hofmeister-Knick. It’s a mess, but Shuanghuan could easily argue that it picks up on period SUV trends, like the triangular sixth light found on an Opel Astra is part of a 2000s æsthetic for hatchbacks.)
   If you go back to November 2014, the South China Morning Post reported on this matter, again quoting Dr Speth in Autocar.
   He’s found it ‘disappointing’ for a while, it seems, but back in 2014 there was no mention of going after Landwind. An A. T. Kearney expert backs him up, saying, ‘… copying by Chinese original equipment manufacturers is still possible and accepted in China.’ It’s increasingly unacceptable, but, there are loopholes.
   I’m not arguing that this is right, nor do I condone the X7, but you do wonder why JLR hasn’t taken action. The above may be why JLR has stayed silent on the whole affair.
   This is why I read nothing on any action being taken by JLR when the Landwind was first shown, when a patent was granted (a year ago this month), or when the X7 was last displayed at a Chinese motor show.
   The SCMP piece is a much fairer article, noting that Chinese car makers have become more sophisticated and invested in original designs. It also notes that consumers are divided: while some would love to have the copy, another felt ‘ashamed about Landwind,’ points usually ignored in the occidental media.
   Land Rover has traditionally been swift in taking on copycats, and it had fought Landwind’s EU trade mark registration in 2006. This firm is known to them.
   Landwind, meanwhile, has a connection to previous Land Rover owner Ford, through Jiangling, which has a substantial Ford shareholding. Could some pressure be brought through Ford?
   For now, Jaguar Land Rover’s trouble with its patent registration has yet to make it into the western media. It’s doubtful that state media have ganged up on Jaguar Land Rover, considering it has a partnership with Chery, and invested in a new plant in Changshu. It really needs to be asking its lawyers some serious questions.

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Posted in business, cars, China, design, general, India, media, UK | 2 Comments »

Read the report: Deloitte actually doesn’t blame migrants for increased corruption


Deloitte has published a report on the increasing corruption in Australia and New Zealand, which Fairfax’s Stuff website reported on today.
   Its opening paragraph: ‘An increase in bribery and corruption tarnishing New Zealand’s ethical image may be due to an influx of migrants from countries where such practices are normal.’
   The problem: I’m struggling to find any such link in Deloitte’s report.
   The article paraphrases Deloitte’s Ian Tuke perhaps to justify that opening paragraph: ‘Tuke said one working theory explaining the rise was the influx of migrants from countries such as China, which are in the red zone on Transparency International’s index of perceived corruption,’ but otherwise, the report makes no such connection.
   The real culprit, based on my own reading of the report, is the lack of knowledge by Australians and New Zealanders over what is acceptable under our laws.
   Yet again I see the Chinese become a far bigger target of blame than the source suggests, when we should be cleaning our own doorstep first.
   The Deloitte report acknowledges that there is indeed a high level of corruption in China, Indonesia, India and other countries, making this a big warning for those of us who choose to extend our businesses there. It’s not migration to New Zealand that’s an issue: it’s our choosing to go into these countries with our own operations.
   It would be foolhardy, however, for an article in the business section to tell Kiwis to stop exporting.
   But equally foolhardy is shifting the blame for a problem that New Zealand really needs to tackle—and which we are more than capable of tackling.
   The fact is: if we Kiwis were so clean, we’d uphold our own standards, regardless of what foreign practices were. Our political leaders also wouldn’t confuse the issue with, say, what happened at Oravida.
   When faced with a choice of paying a kickback or not in the mid-2000s when dealing in eastern Europe, our people chose to stay clean—and we lost a lot of money in the process.
   To me they did the right thing, and I credit less my own intervention and more the culture we had instilled.
   Hong Kong cleaned up its act in the 1970s with the ICAC, and I have said for decades (since the Labour asset sales of the 1980s) that New Zealand would do well in following such an example. Why haven’t we?
   Perhaps if we stopped shifting the blame and followed the recommendations in the Deloitte report, including shifting corporate cultures and instigating more rigorous checks, we can restore our top ranking in those Transparency International reports. But this has to be our choice, not a case where we are blaming migrants, for which there is little support in this very reasonable report.

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Posted in business, China, culture, Hong Kong, India, leadership, media, New Zealand, publishing | No Comments »

John Cleese is wrong about humour


Has John Cleese become embittered?
   He suggests that the Bond films after Die Another Day (his second and final) were humourless because the producers wanted to pursue Asian audiences. Humour, he says, was out.
   ‘Also the big money was coming from Asia, from the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, where the audiences go to watch the action sequences, and that’s why in my opinion the action sequences go on for too long, and it’s a fundamental flaw.’ And, ‘The audiences in Asia are not going for the subtle British humour or the class jokes.’
   I say bollocks.
   It’s well known that with Casino Royale, the producers went back to Fleming, and rebooted the series. Quite rightly, too, when the films had drifted into science fiction, with an invisible car and, Lee Tamahori’s nadir, a CGI sequence where Pierce Brosnan kite-surfed a tsunami.

   As to Asia—always a curious word, since we are talking 3·7 milliard people who cannot be generalized—does no one remember the groundswell of interest around the filming of You Only Live Twice? Bond was big in Asia long before 2006.
   If Cleese specifically means China, all the Bonds were well received in Chinese-populated places before the Bamboo Curtain came down: Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, etc. So it’s a cinch that mainland Chinese would like it, too. And they have embraced Bond and its Britishness.
   Or, as most Britons, he meant south Asia. I’ve only been to India, but there’s such a lasting legacy of the colonial days that many in the region get British humour. Again, too, Octopussy’s Indian location filming saw a huge love for all things Bond.
   The structure of Chinese humour is very similar to that of British humour, though you would have to be bilingual to appreciate this. But even monolinguists should be able to pick up the timing and pacing of Chinese humour to know that British humour would be appreciated.
   They may not be marketed as such in the occident, but a lot of the Jackie Chan films are comedies. Police Story is littered, in the original dialogue, with comedic lines.
   Class humour? Again present in a lot of Asia.
   So he’s well off in his estimation. If anything, it’s the casting of Americans to appease that market that seems dreadfully forced (Halle Berry, Denise Richards, Teri Hatcher).
   Hands up all those who would have preferred to see Monica Bellucci as Paris Carver instead of Teri.
   And now we have some in the media, no doubt having forgotten the humorous moments in the three Daniel Craig-era Bonds, writing to agree with, or to appease, Cleese.
   After all, who knows more about humour than one of the Monty Python creators? We must agree if we are to show that we, too, understand humour.
   Maybe others don’t have that same British sensibility or enjoy the subtlety. Skyfall’s quips were more evident than in the earlier Craig outings, though they were still fun lines, ‘A gun and a radio, not exactly Christmas’; ‘Health and safety, carry on.’ Not quite Roger Moore then.
   Nevertheless, in the Craig era, M gets frustrated that Bond kills all the leads in Quantum of Solace; Bond takes a hotel patron’s Range Rover Sport in the Bahamas, crashes it against a fence, and is recognized later in the bar by the owner in Casino Royale. Good humour is so often between the lines, things where you have to process them briefly, or communicated sometimes through an expression.
   British humour need not always be Benny Hill or Carry on.
   Humour, particularly in the southern parts of China, tends to give the reaction of: did I just get complimented or insulted?
   Yet few seemed to mind that the humour in most of Brosnan’s era to be very Americanized, with the exception of Goldeneye. And the stories themselves, where Bond became a caricature, and, frankly, a waste of a decent leading man, were two-dimensional: Brosnan with two machine guns in the finalé of Tomorrow Never Dies! Just like in a John Woo film! And we are to believe that was more “British”, in an interminable action sequence? If it weren’t for Jonathan Pryce and Toby Stephens camping up their roles, those outings would be far less Bondian.
   Once again, it demonstrates the short memories of the cinemagoing public—or, for that matter, that of a very remarkable and talented actor and writer.
   And having hit their stride now, the Bond producers are laughing all the way to the bank.

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Posted in China, culture, humour, India, interests, media, UK | No Comments »

Joan Rivers had better facelifts, but it’s the future of the black cab


Part of me admires Nissan for going after the taxi market in a big way in New York and London.
   Another part of me wonders why on earth the London Hackney Carriage solution is so ugly.

Nissan Hackney Carriage

   I think Nissan should have asked Mr Mitsuoka for advice on how to Anglicize one of its products.
   Overall, I haven’t a big problem about a van being a black cab (neither does Mercedes-Benz). We live in the 21st century, and a one-and-a-half-box design makes practical sense. The recent Metrocab, from Frazer-Nash (whose owners are domiciled abroad), doesn’t look perfect, either, but the effect is a bit more cohesive. However, it reminds me a bit of the Chevrolet Spin.

   I’m not sure how conservative a buyer the cabbie is. The LTI TX4 still looks the best, and it is even being adopted in Australia, but it’s not as economical. The idea of the solid axle and Panhard rod at the back doesn’t scream modernity, either.
   New Yorkers haven’t really minded the advent of Toyota Siennas and Ford Escapes taking the place of the traditional three-box sedan—nor have the tourists. Therefore, I doubt much romanticism will come in to the decision. As with their counterpart elsewhere, the London cabbie will be very rational and look at the best running costs. That may suggest the demise of the TX4, at least in London. (It seems to have a life of its own in China, although that may depend on how visible it remains in London.)
   The world is so globalized that no one bats an eyelid when they see a Volvo badge on a double-decker bus. It’s not that easy to find a police car with a British marque. There’s a nostalgic part of me that wants to argue that the London city brand will be adversely affected by Johnny Foreigner making its cabs, but it won’t. Even the one regarded as traditionally the “most British”, the TX4, is made by a Chinese-owned company, Geely.
   History says that it won’t matter. As long as they are black, they can turn on a sixpence, and the cabbie has the Knowledge, then that’ll be sufficient for most. The experience of travelling, rather than the Carriage’s brand, is what tourists will remember—I can’t tell you whether the first black cab I sat in was an FX4 or a TX, but I can tell you about the conversation I had with the cabbie. One would, however, remember a bad journey—let’s say travelling in the back of a Premier Padmini in Mumbai is not as misty-eyed as it seems.
   And if one insists on a decent British solution, then it needs to be better than the competition: falling back on tradition (or at least some parody thereof) helped kill Rover when it was still around. Although I’m not sure if there are any British-owned taxi makers left. Whatever the case, the next generation of black cab will be made by a foreign-owned company, and I’m willing to bet that the 20th-century formula is toast.

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Posted in branding, cars, China, culture, design, globalization, India, UK, USA | 3 Comments »

In praise of Zoho Mail


Now that all of our email, bar a handful of client accounts, are going through the paid version of Zoho Mail, I couldn’t be happier.
   When we shifted things over, my friend and web development expert, Nigel Dunn, suggested either Google or Zoho. He’s a big fan of Google, and I can see the good side of the company I bash regularly. But I opted for Zoho, and anyone who’s followed my ongoing privacy battles with the big G will know why.
   It turns out I had a Zoho account anyway, thanks to Gabriel Weinberg and his Duck Duck Go team. But to go from the freebie that I’ve had for four years to a paid one was quite a big step, since we hadn’t ever done this newfangled cloud email before. However, I have to say I am very impressed, because of one major thing: Zoho’s customer service.
   For starters, it exists. No more going to abusive Google forums where cocky users, in their worshipping of the cult, make it all your fault. Zoho staff actually write back to you. In fact, they put me on to their support system after a while and they’ve been dealing with my enquiries really quickly in there, too.
   The longest wait I had was a question about Eudora, because I wasn’t sure how to get the Zoho POP mail working with an older program. While most answers came in 24 hours, this one took a week—but I’ll turn a blind eye to that one, given that it’s one out of a heap of questions I fired at them and it’s not a program they knew well. (For Eudora readers who are reading this, you turn on SSL, but you choose the ‘Required, alternate port’.)
   The replies are courteous and make you think that India knows customer service considerably better than the United States, or Australia for that matter: you’re treated as you would expect, and they don’t start from the basis of “the customer is stupid”.
   Even before I became a paying customer, Zoho treated me with respect.
   Good service isn’t just the province of Indians—just yesterday I blogged about how well Tumblr handled user enquiries and reports, despite reaching 100 million users. However, you sometimes wonder if they are the exceptions in a world dominated by the likes of Google and Facebook.
   The real kicker is this: the system works wonderfully when it comes to combating spam. I get thousands of messages per week so not having spam is a good thing. Our old Rackspace box, at best, killed about 50 per cent of the spam that came in. Granted, we chose our own blacklists, so this is not Rackspace’s responsibility. However, we used the ones we were recommended by experts.
   Zoho gets rid of over 95 per cent, maybe more, of the spam. After a day, I’ve had no false positives, and only a tiny handful has crept in. My emailbox, as downloaded in Eudora, is almost as untainted as it was in the 1990s, and I am not exaggerating.
   For those of you who use Gmail and are sick of the ads, this should appeal: Zoho is ad-free. No more using your personal data and linking it to advertising across all websites where Google and Doubleclick have their banners. As we become more concerned with online privacy, I’d say this was a very good thing.

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Posted in business, India, internet, technology, USA | 2 Comments »

Optimism marks out the Indian decade


Jack Yan at SIMCUG
Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication

I’ve had a wonderful time in Pune and Mumbai, two cities to which I had wanted to go for some years. Like some New Agers say: be careful what you put out into the universe. It can come true.
   My main reason for going was to address the Knowledge Globalization Conference at FLAME in Pune. FLAME’s campus is remarkable: 1,000 acres, near a fancy golf course, and completely teetotal (which actually suits a social-only drinker like me). The scenery in the valley is stunning, and the sound of the water trickling down the mountain during the winter was particularly relaxing.
   But as with any place one visits, it’s never the scenery that makes it: it’s the people. And in Pune I found a sense of optimism from all people from all walks of life, one which I hadn’t seen for quite some time.
   I also ran into Deo Sharma from Sweden, whom I first met in 2002 in København. When there are coincidences like that, you know you’re on to a good thing.
   Equally inspirational was addressing the Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication. This talk, arranged through my friend Nishit Kumar—who learned I got a bigger buzz sharing knowledge than sitting on a beach relaxing—was attended by 600 students at different year levels. When you see a school like that, and students prepared to ask tough questions (both in person and later on Twitter), you feel encouraged that Pune has an incredible future ahead.
   And before I advance to my next point, Mumbai was just as fantastic, and I need to acknowledge my old friend Parmesh Shahani, who let me stay with him in a home that beats some of the art galleries I have seen.
   Everywhere you go in Pune, you see schools. A lot of tertiary institutions. Like so many Asian families, Indians place education highly. I had two parents who never seemed to go out on the town because we weren’t made of money, and everything they had went to my private schooling. I can well comprehend this mentality.
   Which, of course, begs the question: why isn’t our country doing more in this sector with India?
   I realize things are gradually changing as we incorporate more air routes directly to India and the government begins focusing on our fellow Commonwealth nation, but, as with capitalizing on the wave of Hong Kong emigration in the 1990s, I fear we might be too slow. Again.
   This is nothing new. I’ve been saying it since the mid-2000s, on this blog and elsewhere. Privately I’ve probably been uttering it for even longer, before we nominated Infosys of Bangalore as one of our Brands with a Conscience at the Medinge Group.
   And yet in the quest to get a free-trade deal with Beijing, we brushed aside India, a country with whom we have a shared heritage, a lingua franca, and a lot of games of cricket.
   When I first went to India in 2008, one Indore businessman asked me: why on earth did New Zealand pursue the Chinese deal ahead of the Indian deal?
   ‘Follow the money,’ I swiftly answered, a response to which I got a round of applause.
   I know the numbers may well have been in China’s favour, but sometimes, there is something to be said for understanding what is behind those numbers. And there is also something to be said for looking at old friendships and valuing them.
   We can’t turn the clock back, nor might we want to, but it seems greater tie-ups with Indian education could be a great way to expose the next generation to more cultural sharing.
   While in Pune, there was news of two Indian student murders in Manchester, which won’t have done the British national image a great deal of good. Australia already suffers from a tarnished image of racism toward Indian students, one which the Gillard government is hurriedly addressing with advertising campaigns featuring Indian Australians. It strikes me that there is an opportunity here in New Zealand, now that I have apologized for Paul Henry. Only kidding. I don’t think that I had much influence doing so unofficially, but I felt I had to get it off my chest, and I did apologize.
   I was frank about it. I was frank about Henry, and I don’t mean Benny Hawkins off Crossroads. I was frank about the Indian immigrant who had to change his Christian name to something sounding more occidental before he got job interviews—prior to that he did not get a single response. But, I also noted, none of this would be out in the open in the mainstream media if New Zealanders, deep down, were not caring, decent people. The incidents would have been covered up.
   Despite what we might think, most folks didn’t realize that we had a decent high-tech industry, that we are the home of Weta, and that Tintin, The Lord of the Rings and King Kong were local efforts. Although Players had only been out for three days by that point—and not to particularly good reviews, either—few realized a third of it was filmed in New Zealand.
   They still think of sheep.
   But there is a generation which, despite a huge domestic market and the optimism in their own country, wants an overseas experience, and the occident is still regarded as the place to do it in.
   When they heard there was the possibility of high-tech jobs in a beautiful land, ears pricked up.
   I realize the OECD stats say we’re average when it comes to innovation, but I know it’s there, under the radar, growing. People like Prof Sir Paul Callaghan reckon it’s the realistic way forward for our nation. Interestingly, this message sounds an awful lot like the one I communicated during my 2010 mayoral campaign.
   And if we are to grow it, then maybe working with our Indian brothers and sisters is the exactly the direction we need to follow.

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Posted in branding, business, China, culture, India, media, New Zealand, politics, technology, Wellington | 2 Comments »

Finishing off 2011 with the most fun radio interview I have ever done


Photo by Xavier Collin/Snapstar Live

Friday morning’s interview with Sonia Sly on Kiwi Summer was the most fun I have ever had on radio.
   Radio New Zealand National was the most fair and balanced medium I dealt with when running for Mayor of Wellington in 2010, and I was glad that Sonia thought of me for its summer programming this year.
   I joked to friends prior to the interview that 2011 was much like 2010: go on to National Radio to dis the Wellywood sign in the first half of the year, and have a fun interview in the second half.
   This was a casual, fun interview thanks to Sonia putting me at such ease. It goes on for a healthy 17 minutes, covering my involvement in Lucire, judging the Miss Universe New Zealand pageant, my branding work, including the Medinge Group, and my typeface design career. The feedback I have had is that people enjoyed it, and I’d like to share it with you all here.
   Here’s the link, and you can always find it at the Kiwi Summer page for the day, where other formats are listed.
   And if you’re wondering where the opening reading comes from, it’s taken from this review of the Aston Martin V8 Vantage I penned many years ago.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, design, India, internet, leadership, marketing, media, New Zealand, publishing, typography, Wellington | No Comments »