Archive for the ‘interests’ category


To Scotland with love

10.11.2020


Danjaq LLC/United Artists

Time for another podcast, this time with a Scottish theme. I touch upon how fortunate we are here in Aotearoa to be able to go to the ballet or expos, and, of course, on the US elections (thanks to those who checked out my last podcast entry, which had a record 31 plays—sure beats the single digits!). That leads on to a discussion about A. G. Barr, Richard Madden, and Sir Sean Connery, who never said, ‘The name’s Bond, James Bond.’

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Autocade reaches 4,300 models before the month is out

31.10.2020

A very quick note, probably more for me than anyone else: the 4,300th model went up on Autocade tonight. It was slightly deliberate, since I checked the stats for the site to see we were up to 4,299. I’ve a folder of models to be added, and I admit I scrolled down a little to see what piqued my interest—having said that, it’s what I usually do anyway. But there was a desire not to add yet another two-box crossover (had enough of those for a while) or any model that would lead me to be obsessed about a full line (DAF 33, anyone?). As the 1980–4 Pontiac Phoenix is already on the site, the 1978–9 entry went up. (Yes, I disagree with Wikipedia, which has Phoenixes starting in 1977, which is true, but it was mid-year, it was officially part of the Ventura line, and Phoenix doesn’t appear in the 1977 full-line brochure.) Wikipedians can do it their way, and I’ll do it mine.
   At some point I’ll add the Oldsmobile Omega for 1975–9 and we’ll have the X-cars for those years all up.

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Was it six networks or only five? In all this excitement, they’re ‘Still the One’

23.10.2020

I’m sure there are many, many more examples of this tune being used to promote TV networks, but it seems to be a standard in at least three countries I know, and probably far more besides.
   It is, of course, ‘Still the One’, which ABC used in the US to celebrate being the top-rated network there in 1977 for the second consecutive year. It was rare for ABC to be on top, but I think the general consensus was that jiggle TV got them there.
   Australia, which has always had a lot of US influences, then used it for Channel 9 in 1978 and included the original American footage. It would have been properly licensed but in the days before YouTube, and less international travel, few would have known of the origins.
   It was then adapted for the Murdoch Press’s Sky One satellite network in the UK the next decade (did they first see it in Australia?), before being revived by 9 in Australia in 1988. It was adapted once again for TVNZ’s Channel 2 here in New Zealand to kick off the 1990s.
   The slogan was used regularly by 9 as the 1990s dawned though new songs replaced the original, and by the end of the 1990s, both Channel 9 and its NBN sister were using the familiar tune again.
   Was that the end? In 2003, WIN, another Australian network, brought it back for their promos. As far as I can tell, WIN, a regional broadcaster, doesn’t have a connection to 9, but instead has an agreement with the Ten Network there. Just to make things confusing, 9 was using it at the same time, and it continued to do so into the mid-2000s.
   A quick internet search on Duck Duck Go reveals it was originally a song performed by the band Orleans in 1976, from their album Waking and Dreaming. The song was written by the then-married Johanna and John Hall. It charted at number five in the US. Given that it was used by ABC in 1977, it would have been a familiar tune to Americans at the time. I wonder if the Halls expected it would become a TV network standard in so many countries, and what did they think?
   Let me know if there are other countries and networks that used this—I’ve a feeling it went even further!

Orleans

ABC, USA

Channel 9, Australia (1978)

Sky One, UK

Channel 9, Australia (1988)

Channel 2, New Zealand

Channel 9 and NBN, Australia (1998)

WIN, Australia

Channel 9, Australia (2003)

Channel 9, Australia (2006)

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Search engines favour novelty over accuracy and merit

01.10.2020

I was chatting to another Tweeter recently about the Ford I-Max, and decided I’d have a hunt for its brochure online. After all, this car was in production from 2007 to 2009, the World Wide Web was around, so surely it wouldn’t be hard to find something on it?
   I found one image, at a very low resolution. The web’s not a repository of everything: stuff gets removed, sites go down, search engines are not comprehensive—in fact, search engines favour the new over the old, so older posts that are still current—such as this post about the late George Kennedy—can’t even be found. This has been happening for over a decade, so it shouldn’t surprise us—but we should be concerned that we cannot get information based on merit or specificity, but on novelty. Not everything new is right, and if we’re only being exposed to what’s “in”, then we’re no better at our knowledge than our forebears. The World Wide Web, at least the way it’s indexed, is not a giant encyclopædia which brings up the best at your fingertips, but often a reflection of our bubble or what the prevailing orthodoxy is. More’s the pity.

I can’t let this post go without one gripe about Facebook. Good news: as far as I can tell, they fixed the bug about tagging another page on your own page, so you don’t have to start a new line in order to tag another party. Bad news, or maybe it’s to do with the way we’ve set up our own pages: the minute you do, the nice preview image that Facebook extracted vanishes in favour of something smaller. I’ll check out our code, but back when I was debugging Facebook pages, it was pretty good at finding the dominant image on a web page. Lesson: don’t tag anyone. It ruins the æsthetic on your page, and it increases everyone’s time on the site, and that can never be healthy. Time to fight the programming of Professor Fogg and his children (with apologies to Roger McNamee).



Top: The post Facebook picks up from an IFTTT script. Above: What happens to a post that once had a proper image preview after editing, and tags added.

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When not having something drives creativity

23.07.2020

I hadn’t expected this reply Tweet to get so many likes, probably a record for me.

   It is true. That book was NZ$4·99 in 1979, when it was offered through the Lucky Book Club at school, at a time when many books were still priced in cents. Some kids in the class got it, and I admit I was a bit envious, but not having a book in an area that interested you can drive creativity. While my parents didn’t make a heck of a lot in the 1970s—we flatted and didn’t own our own car at this point—they would have splashed out if I really insisted on it. After all, they were sending me to a private school and their sacrifice was virtually never going out. (I only recall one night in those days when my parents had a “date night” and my maternal grandmother looked after me—and that was to see Superman II.) But when you grow up having an understanding that, as an immigrant family that had to largely start from scratch in a new country, you have a rough idea of what’s expensive, and five bucks for a book was expensive.
   As an adult—even when I was a young man starting out in my career—I did not regret not having this book.
   Someone in the thread asked if I ever wound up buying it. I never did: as a teenager I managed to get my hands on a very worn Letraset catalogue, which ultimately proved far more interesting. But it is good to know that, thanks in large part to my parents’ and grandmother’s sacrifices, and those in my partner’s family who helped her in her earlier years, we could afford to buy this book if anyone in our family asks for it.

Were we fleeing anything when we came to Aotearoa? We left Hong Kong in 1976 because my parents were worried about what China would do to the place. In other words, what’s happening now is what they hoped for me to avoid. They called it, in the 1970s. And here I am.

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Why I don’t find the Asiatic characters on Little Britain and Come Fly with Me racist

11.06.2020


BBC

I have a problem with blackface and yellowface, generally when there are more than capable actors who could have taken the role, but I make exceptions in some situations.
   Take, for example, the news that Little Britain and Come Fly with Me are being removed from streaming services because of what are now deemed racist portrayals. Matt Lucas, who plays half the roles in each, has even said that the shows were right for the time but they’re not what he would make today. Yet I don’t find myself being troubled by his and David Walliams’s characters, since in both they are equal-opportunity about it, even going so far as to address racism head-on with Come Fly with Me’s Ian Foot, a clearly racist character.
   I always viewed everyone from Ting Tong to Precious as caricatures viewed through a British lens, and it is through their comedy that they shine a light on the nation’s attitudes. Matt and David might not like me grouping their work in with Benny Hill’s Chow Mein character, who, while offensive to many Chinese, tended to expose the discomfort of the English “straight man” character, usually portrayed by Henry McGee. I can’t think of one where Mein doesn’t get the upper hand. I like to think these characters all come from the same place.
   Sometimes, especially in comedy, you need people of the same race as most of the audience to point to their nation’s attitudes (and often intolerance)—it’s often more powerful for them as it’s not seen as preaching. Where I have a problem is when characters are founded on utterly false stereotypes, e.g. the bad Asian driver, the loud black man.
   And can you imagine the furore if every character portrayed by Matt and David in Come Fly with Me was white? They would be sharply criticized for not being representative of the many cultures at a modern British airport.
   I don’t turn a blind eye to brownface in Hong Kong (Chinese actors playing Indians) or the mangled Cantonese used to dub white actors, but the same rules apply: if it shines a light on a situation, helps open our collective eyes, and make us better people, then surely we can accept those?
   I Tweeted tonight something I had mentioned on this blog many years ago: Vince Powell’s sitcom Mind Your Language, set in 1970s Britain, where Barry Evans’s Jeremy Brown character, an ESL teacher, has to deal with his highly multicultural and multiracial class. The joke is always, ultimately, on Mr Brown, or the principal, Miss Courtenay, for their inability to adjust to the new arrivals and to understand their cultures. Maybe it’s rose-coloured glasses, but I don’t remember the students being shown as second-class; they often help Jeremy Brown out of a pickle.
   Importantly, many of the actors portrayed their own races, and, if the DVD commentary is to be believed, they were often complimented by people of the same background for their roles.
   Powell based some of his stories on real life: a foreign au pair worked for them and brought home her ESL classmates, and he began getting ideas for the sitcom.
   However, at some stage, this show was deemed to be racist. As I Tweeted tonight, ‘I loved Mind Your Language but white people said the depictions of POC were racist. Hang on, isn’t it more racist to presume we can’t complain ourselves? Most of the actors in that depicted their own race.
   ‘I can only speak for my own, and I didn’t find the Chinese character racist. Because there were elements of truth in there, she was portrayed by someone of my ethnicity, and the scripts were ultimately joking about the British not adjusting well to immigrant cultures.
   ‘Which, given how Leavers campaigned about Brexit, continues to be true. I get why some blackface and yellowface stuff needs to go but can’t we have a say?
   ‘Tonight on TV1 news, there were two white people commenting on the offensiveness of minority portrayals in Little Britain and Come Fly with Me. I hope someone sees the irony in that.’
   However, if any minorities depicted by Matt and David are offended by their work—Ting Tong, Asuka and Nanako are the only Asiatic characters they do that I can think of, so east Asians aren’t even that well represented—of course I will defer to your judgement. I can’t pretend to know what it’s like for someone of Pakistani heritage to see Matt’s Taaj Manzoor, or someone with a Jamaican heritage to see Precious Little. However, unlike some commentators, I do not presume that members of their community are powerless to speak up, and they are always welcome on this forum.

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The ‘A’ (Aotearoa) Team

09.06.2020

Now that Aotearoa New Zealand has lifted our COVID-19 restrictions after getting rid of the virus on our shores, other than keeping our border closed, I Tweeted:

and between Cachalot on Twitter and I, we actually wound up with a variation of the song (incidentally, he was first with the chorus, showing that great minds think alike).

Then back to the refrain.
   Out of respect to the language in which the song was composed, te reo Māori, here are the original, poignant lyrics. It’s a beautiful, heart-wrenching song. There’s a further explanation to it here.

Pōkarekare ana,
ngā wai o Waiapu
Whiti atu koe hine,
marino ana e.

Refrain
   E hine e,
   hoki mai ra.
   Ka mate ahau
   I te aroha e.

Tuhituhi taku reta,
tuku atu taku rīngi,
Kia kite tō iwi
raru raru ana e.

Refrain

Whati whati taku pene
ka pau aku pepa
Ko taku aroha
mau tonu ana e.

Refrain

E kore te aroha
e maroke i te rā
Mākūkū tonu i
aku roimata e.

Refrain

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Even the web is forgetting our history

26.04.2020


Hernán Piñera/Creative Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

My friend Richard MacManus wrote a great blog post in February on the passing of Clive James, and made this poignant observation: ‘Because far from preserving our culture, the Web is at best forgetting it and at worst erasing it. As it turns out, a website is much more vulnerable than an Egyptian pyramid.’
   The problem: search engines are biased to show us the latest stuff, so older items are being forgotten.
   There are dead domains, of course—each time I pop by to our links’ pages, I find I’m deleting more than I’m adding. I mean, who maintains links’ pages these days, anyway? (Ours look mega-dated.) But the items we added in the 1990s and 2000s are vanishing and other than the Internet Archive, Richard notes its Wayback Machine is ‘increasingly the only method of accessing past websites that have otherwise disappeared into the ether. Many old websites are now either 404 errors, or the domains have been snapped up by spammers searching for Google juice.’
   His fear is that sites like Clive James’s will be forgotten rather than preserved, and he has a point. As a collective, humanity seems to desire novelty: the newest car, the newest cellphone, and the newest news. Searching for a topic tends to bring up the newest references, since the modern web operates on the basis that history is bunk.
   That’s a real shame as it means we don’t get to understand our history as well as we should. Take this pandemic, for instance: are there lessons we could learn from MERS and SARS, or even the Great Plague of London in the 1660s? But a search is more likely to reveal stuff we already know or have recently come across in the media, like a sort of comfort blanket to assure us of our smartness. It’s not just political views and personal biases that are getting bubbled, it seems human knowledge is, too.
   Even Duck Duck Go, my preferred search engine, can be guilty of this, though a search I just made of the word pandemic shows it is better in providing relevance over novelty.
   Showing results founded on their novelty actually makes the web less interesting because search engines fail to make it a place of discovery. If page after page reveals the latest, and the latest is often commodified news, then there is no point going to the second or third pages to find out more. Google takes great pride in detailing the date in the description, or ‘2 days ago’ or ‘1 day ago’. But if search engines remained focused on relevance, then we may stumble on something we didn’t know, and be better educated in the process.
   Therefore, it’s possibly another area that Big Tech is getting wrong: it’s not just endangering democracy, but human intelligence. The biases I accused Google News and Facebook of—viz. their preference for corporate media—build on the dumbing-down of the masses.
   I may well be wrong: maybe people don’t want to get smarter: Facebook tells us that folks just want a dopamine hit from approval, and maybe confirmation of our own limited knowledge gives us the same. ‘Look at how smart I am!’ Or how about this collection?
   Any expert will tell you that the best way to keep your traffic up is to generate more and more new content, and it’s easy to understand why: like a physical library, the old stuff is getting forgotten, buried, or even—if they can’t sell or give it away—pulped.
   Again, there’s a massive opportunity here. A hypothetical new news aggregator can outdo Google News by spidering and rewarding independent media that break news, by giving them the best placement—as Google News used to do. That encourages independent media to do their job and opens the public up to new voices and viewpoints. And now a hypothetical new search engine could outdo Google by providing relevance over novelty, or at least getting the balance of the two right.

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A concert that takes you home

17.04.2020

One bonus of the lockdown was the live Easter Day concert held by Hong Kong’s own Sam Hui (許冠傑), perhaps fairly described as the king of Cantopop.
   I had no idea this was even on if it weren’t for the fire at the Baxter’s Knob transmitter that took out television transmission in our area. Faced with the prospect of no television during lockdown, and as I’m not a cat in an NZI commercial, I hooked up my laptop to the old LG monitor, relocated to the lounge, and streamed that evening.
   We put on TV1 but later that night, I headed to RTHK TV31, a government-funded channel in Hong Kong, and came across the commercial for Sam’s live concert at 5 p.m. HKT on Easter Day, which translated comfortably to 9 p.m. NZST.
   Hong Kong has some COVID-19 restrictions, with the safe distance a lower 1·5 m, though most people wear masks. Even TV hosts are masked on their programmes. There isn’t a big physical audience for the concert: just Sam, his guitar, sitting atop a building on the Kowloon side, with the Hong Kong Island business district skyline as the backdrop. The host is seated a suitable distance away. Some folks are seated in a roped-off area, sitting a bit closer, though masked. There’s a four-camera set-up. For such a massive star, this might have been his smallest physical audience, though on YouTube, the concert netted a six-figure audience (160,000 when I looked) around the world, and no doubt others will have watched on their television sets, while I watched on TV31’s stream. One source suggests a total viewing audience of over 2 million.
   Sam’s still got the same voice, despite being in his 70s—for the most part, he sounds like the young guy in his 20s that I watched on TV before I emigrated, and whose cassette tapes I cherished when they arrived from Hong Kong in the first few years we were in Aotearoa.
   For someone who missed contact with my birthplace, Sam’s music was a connection, something that took me back, a tiny slice of “home” that was both grounding and enjoyable.
   In those early days, Sam’s music struck a chord with HKers because he often sang about the working class, and in plain language. Few artists had done this at the time; most lyrics tended to be in properly structured Chinese, so Sam broke new ground by singing colloquially. A skilled composer and lyricist, we saw him regularly performing his own songs on programmes such as 歡樂今宵 (Enjoy Yourself Tonight), a variety show that was a big hit back in the 1970s.
   When he broke into films with his brothers, he was frequently cast as the hero type, and could genuinely claim to ‘star in it, write the theme tune, sing the theme tune.’
   His solo career as an actor hit a high in the 1980s and as the video cassette boom began, I indulged in the 最佳拍檔 (Aces Go Places) series. Most kids in the west watching Hong Kong cinema knew about Bruce Lee or that new guy Jackie Chan, but we locals knew that Sam was who you watched if you wanted decent entertainment with a mix of action and humour—and the obligatory Sam Hui theme tune.
   Watching the Easter Day concert brought back a lot of those feelings of connection, and Sam performed plenty of those earlier hits that anyone my age would know. You never lose your connection to the land in which you were born. Hong Kong might look different to how it did in the 1970s—the tallest building then, Connaught Tower, is dwarfed by the International Commerce Centre a short distance away—but the music took you back, and thanks to the cleaner air during the pandemic, the skies even looked as clear as they did back then. The city’s character remains intact, the concert a reminder of what unites Hong Kong people both there and abroad. We have a distinct culture, one that evolved through the will and the freedom of our people, that I hope will go on regardless of one’s political stripes.

The monitor, incidentally, was much easier to view than the television, with softer colours and less brightness. No matter how I played with the settings on the TV, I couldn’t get them to match. I suspect the TV has a lot of blue light, which makes prolonged viewing difficult. I notice that one can buy blue-light glasses, highlighting once again where we have gone wrong: we humans shouldn’t be adapting to technology, it’s technology that should be adapting to us. The LG (LED) monitor isn’t new, so clearly the technology is available to make TVs calmer on the eyes. Yet no one touts this as a selling proposition. Head into an appliance shop (outside of one’s lockdown) and all the TVs are set on the brightest setting, which would completely turn me off buying one.
   Friends tell me that OLED is the way to go in terms of getting the right setting. One of these days I’m going to look into it, but I will bet you that no one who sells these things in the shops will know what a “calm” screen is. They’ll just get excited about forkay, or maybe even atekay, not someone who wants 32 inches or less who wants to preserve their eyesight. ‘Big! Big! Big!’

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Is there a type that works from home more easily?

27.03.2020

Olivia St Redfern has featured yours truly in her lockdown day 2, part 1 podcast, so I decided to record another response.
   It brings to mind something Steve McQueen once said. ‘I’m not an actor. I’m a reactor.’ As in, he could react to a line from another actor.
   Anyone who has seen McQueen in a film, certainly anything post-Blob, would dispute that—the king of cool was an excellent actor. But for now, as someone who had avoided doing a podcast for two decades, I “react” to Olivia’s episodes, and recorded a response on Anchor:

   At some point I might do an entry independently but considering the first has only had one listen (out of hundreds who might read a blog post of mine), then there’s not a huge incentive! (Update: that episode has doubled its audience to two.)
   History tells us that it took a while for Melrose Place to be seen as more than a 90210 spin-off, for instance. And Joey never managed it post-Friends.
   This second one does make one point about working from home. As mentioned before, I’ve been doing this since 1987, so the only difference with the lockdown (and the days leading up to it) is that I don’t feel as “special”. But I also know that not everyone is enjoying their work arrangements, such as this British QC:

   I posted my 12 tips for working from home, but when chatting to Amanda today, there might be a bit more to it than that. Maybe there’s something about one’s personality that makes working from home easier.
   While I have things to do each day, I don’t make lists. I’m more substantive than procedural. In the daytime, I try to answer emails or see to urgent stuff. I almost never do accounts at night: that’s another daytime pursuit. I know to reserve time to do those but I don’t religiously set it to 2 p.m., for instance. The beauty of working from home is flexibility, so why re-create a regimented schedule?
   At night I tend to do more creative things, e.g. design and art direction. My work day is extended because I enjoy my work.
   My advice to those making the shift is to do away with the lists. Know the direction and get things done as the inspiration hits you. It’s meant to be calmer than the bustle of office life.

People should find exponential growth an easy concept to grasp, at least those of us of a certain age. Heather Locklear taught all of us with Fabergé shampoo.

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