Archive for the ‘interests’ category


Autocade turns 11 as the web turns 30

12.03.2019


The latest model to appear on Autocade today: the Mazda CX-30.

It’s March, which means Autocade has had another birthday. Eleven years ago, I started a car encyclopædia using Mediawiki software, and it’s since grown to 3,600 model entries. The story has been told elsewhere on this blog. What I hadn’t realized till today was that Autocade’s birthday and the World Wide Web’s take place within days of each other.
   The inventor of the web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, still believes that it can be used as a force for good, which is what many of us hoped for when we began surfing in the 1990s. I still remember using Netscape 1·2 (actually, I even remember using 1·1 on computers that hadn’t updated to the newer browser) and thinking that here was a global communications’ network that could bring us all together.
   Autocade, and, of course, Lucire, were both set up to do good, and be a useful information resource to the public. Neither sought to divide in the way Facebook has; Google, which had so much promise in the late 1990s, has become a bias-confirmation machine that also pits ideologies against each other.
   The web, which turns 30 this week, still has the capacity to do great things, and I can only hope that those of us still prepared to serve the many rather than the few in a positive way begin getting recognized for our efforts again.
   For so many years I have championed transparency and integrity. People tell us that these are qualities they want. Yet people also tell surveys that Google is their second-favourite brand in the world, despite its endless betrayals of our trust, only apologizing after each privacy gaffe is exposed by the fourth estate.
   Like Sir Tim, I hope we make it our business to seek out those who unite rather than divide, and give them some of our attention. At the very least I hope we do this out of our own self-preservation, understanding that we have more to gain by allowing information to flow and people to connect. When we shut ourselves off to opposing viewpoints, we are poorer for it. As I wrote before, American conservatives and liberals have common enemies in Big Tech censorship and big corporations practising tax avoidance, yet social networks highlight the squabbles between one right-wing philosophy and another right-wing philosophy. We New Zealanders cannot be smug with our largest two parties both eager to plunge forward into TPPA, and our present government having us bicker over capital gains’ tax while leaving the big multinationals, who profit off New Zealanders greatly, paying little or no tax.
   A more understanding dialogue, which the web actually affords us, is the first step in identifying what we have in common, and once you strip away the arguments that mainstream media and others drive, our differences are far fewer than we think.
   Social media should be social rather than antisocial, and it’s almost Orwellian that they have this Newspeak name, doing the opposite to what their appellation suggests. The cat is out of the bag as far as Big Tech is concerned, but there are opportunities for smaller players to be places where people can chat. Shame it’s not Gab, which has taken a US-conservative bent at the expense of everything else, though they at least should be applauded for taking a stance against censorship. And my fear is that we will take what we have already learned on social media—to divide and to pile on those who disagree—into any new service. As I mentioned, Mastodon is presently fine, for the most part, because educated people are chatting among themselves. The less educated we are, the more likely we will take firm sides and shut our minds off to alternatives.
   The answer is education: to make sure that we use this wonderful invention that Sir Tim has given us for free for some collective good. Perhaps this should form part of our children’s education in the 2010s and 2020s. That global dialogue can only be a good thing because we learn and grow together. And that there are pitfalls behind the biggest brands kids are already exposed to—we know Google has school suites but they really need to know how the big G operates, as it actively finds ways to undermine their privacy.
   The better armed our kids are, the more quickly they’ll see through the fog. The young people I know aren’t even on Facebook other than its Messenger service. It brings me hope; but ideally I’d like to see them make a conscious effort to choose their own services. Practise what we preach about favouring brands with authenticity, even if so many of us fail to seek them out ourselves.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, culture, interests, internet, leadership, politics, social responsibility | No Comments »


The Singer of desktop PCs

24.02.2019

I never planned to spend quite this much on computers in the first two months of the year.
   The laptop was in dire need of an upgrade, so I had budgeted for it. After getting it, I was impressed, but thought that the desktop PC, which dates from 2012 and upgraded with a Crucial 525 Gbyte SSD just over two years ago, was holding its own. The processor might have been slow, but then, I’m a middle-aged man with reflexes slower than that of a 20-year-old, so I hardly noticed. I thought, best-case scenario, I’d look at an upgrade at the end of 2019.
   Last Wednesday, the PC wouldn’t start properly. I was incredibly lucky as I had backed up all pertinent directories the night before, and only lost a bunch of frequently used scans (which can be re-created) and some text files where I wrote down some drafts. In the grand scheme, this was the least amount of data I had ever lost, and I’m very old-school: I still download emails with a client and burn mailbox archives on to DVD.
   The original diagnosis was a faulty SSD, where the operating system lived. The computer kept booting on to the secondary hard drive, which I used prior to the SSD. The hard drive was cloned in 2016 and became a storage drive, but I never deleted the old OS from it. The plan: get a new SSD and clone it again.
   I took the computer to Atech, where I was a regular visitor anyway. I had even discussed the possibility of buying a PC from them. The boss, Kidd Liang, began cloning the hard drive on to a fresh Samsung SSD, which he believed would be more reliable than the Crucial. But after attempting the process twice, he said there were too many bad sectors on the hard drive for the cloning to be successful. Based on the noise, he deduced something else would bite the dust: either the power supply or the graphics’ card. Nevertheless, he plugged the SSD into the PC—and it was at this point the power supply failed.
   I’ve seen multiple faults like this before—I had one machine in the 2000s die with a motherboard failure, then a CPU one, within 24 hours. Kidd said I was incredibly lucky as someone who had done a major back-up, because I then faced the very real prospect of needing a new desktop PC. I was able to continue working on Wednesday night thanks to my laptop, and when it was plugged in to my big monitor, I finally noticed the speed difference of a modern machine versus my old one. And I liked it.
   Therefore, it was with some excitement I collected my desktop PC from Atech on Saturday morning. I didn’t want to go overboard but at the same time needed to do some future-proofing. Kidd calls it the ‘vintage gaming series’, as he reused my old Cooler Master case and DVD-ROM drive, along with the top fan, but everything else was replaced. It’s like one of those Singer Porsches: old on the outside, new on the inside. My existing Windows licence worked on the new machine. Inside was the Samsung along with a new 2 Tbyte hard drive; the 1 Tbyte I had was also installed, even if it has bad sectors. It’ll be the back-up of the back-up.
   Going with a six-core Ryzen 5 2600 isn’t as impressive as the laptop’s i7-8750H, but once the programs are running I don’t notice much difference (middle age again). There’s an Aorus X470 motherboard, 16 Gbyte of RAM, and instead of going with Geforce, I decided to see how a Sapphire Nitro Plus Radeon RX 580 with 8 Gbyte on the video would be like.
   While everything is more stable and faster, I don’t get a sense of a major leap, probably because of the 2016 SSD upgrade. Nevertheless, it’s given me a fresh start for 2019, with some old software (e.g. Gammadyne Mailer) not having made it on to the new machine. More time-consuming was getting the fonts right: Windows 10 now selects a user directory for some of your fonts and these do not appear in the registry (the trick is to change the permissions of the fonts’ folder, and make sure the fonts are installed for all users). And, once again, the reliability index has gone from 10 to 1 because Windows seems to be allergic to either software or usage. There’s still the odd program that needs to be installed, but as the weekend draws to a close, we’re almost there. The coming week’s going to be a busy one and it’s nice facing it with new tech.
   I have to give Atech public praise, too. When I bought this computer’s predecessor at PB, you could still do a deal with the local manager, and you had the sense you weren’t just a number. Drew and Mark really looked after me. PB has deservedly grown because of its keen pricing and marketing, but as it has done so, you now get the feeling that it’s no longer the friendly, small retailer that it once was, with all of the promo coordinated in Auckland. Kidd at Atech on Cuba Street brings me back to that one-on-one feel: you could talk to the boss and do a deal. Matt, who usually served me at Atech since the Wakefield Street days, did the same. You aren’t just a number here, and it was a pleasure to be able to chat through my exact requirements and have a rig built to my specifications and (meagre, post-laptop-buying) budget.

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Posted in interests, marketing, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | 2 Comments »


Remakes: Widows joins other Euston Films series

04.11.2018

I see British filmmaker Steve McQueen has remade Lynda La Plante’s Widows.
   I was younger than he was when it aired, and didn’t appreciate the storylines to the same extent, though I have recollections of it.
   What I did recall was a Smith and Jones sketch, which had a voiceover along these lines: ‘From the makers of The Sweeney and Minder, Eusless Films presents Widows: exactly the same, but with women in it.’
   The reality was that La Plante wrote Widows because she was unimpressed with how men wrote female parts in scripts (she was the actress Lynda Marchal, and I still remember a small role she had in The Professionals). It was actually ground-breaking. Verity Lambert produced.
   I hope McQueen does well with his remake, with Viola Davis, and the setting shifted to Chicago.
   I worry a bit given that Hollywood also remade Edge of Darkness or State of Play: pretty decent miniseries that weren’t as good when transplanted and turned into feature films, according to period reviews.
   I saw the former and while it was a pacy actioner, even as far as employing the same New Zealand director, Martin Campbell, it lacked the depth and suspense of the original; I daren’t even see the latter as the original remains one of my favourite miniseries and I don’t want to see it butchered, even if Scottish director Kevin Macdonald helmed it. It was a wave of American efforts to remake anything with John Simm and Philip Glenister.
   But tonight I did think about the other famous Euston Films series that were remade or reimagined.
   The Sweeney was remade but with the action still in South London. The 2012 version by Nick Love had a tight budget but plenty of violence, perhaps recapturing the grittiness that audiences would have felt when they first saw the Armchair Cinema special of Regan. Ray Winstone, who guested on the original, took the lead, and channelled Jack Regan well; Ben Drew (Plan B) had even more of a coldness and wild tension on screen as George Carter than Dennis Waterman did. It’s perhaps best known for a car chase involving the crew from Top Gear, who took the opportunity to build a sketch around it during production. It wasn’t as special as the original, and I didn’t rush to repeat the DVD. Reviewers didn’t like it, but in my opinion it ranks above Sweeney!, the first attempt to turn the TV series into a silver screen film but using the original cast. There, we saw countless acts of violence explained away at the end in one meeting with Thaw and Michael Latimer’s characters after a plot that seemed to build up a complex conspiracy. Sweeney 2, by Troy Kennedy Martin (the brother of the creator), was far tenser and the better effort, and it was fun to spot the Ford press fleet vehicles with the VHK prefix on the number plates.

   Minder never went to the big screen, but a remake, or sequel, appeared in 2009, with Shane Richie and Lex Shrapnel. I sat through the first, found it tolerable, and at least in the spirit of the original, but it always felt like an imitation trying to live up to its forebear, not something that carved its own direction. Many don’t seem to remember that Minder was created as a vehicle for Dennis Waterman, not George Cole, even if more and more scripts wound up focusing on the latter’s Arthur Daley, leading to Waterman quitting the series. The 2009 series’ première followed on from that later formula, whereas to me it always required the two stars being on par with each other.

   So, will the Americanized Widows follow suit? Will it be ‘exactly the same, but with women in it,’ or, with McQueen as talented as he is, will it be a solid retelling with the same sense of ambiguity at the conclusion as the original? I might have to see it because of McQueen and screenwriter Gillian Flynn, and McQueen says he has been a fan of the series since he saw it as a teenager. Even the original Dolly Rawlins (Ann Mitchell) has a cameo.
   Now, who’ll star in a new Van der Valk?

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Just another Christmas for a staff nurse

22.07.2018

My late mother was a nurse. Before she was a midwife at Wellington Women’s Hospital, she was a staff nurse in wards 21 and 26 at Wellington Hospital.
   From what I remember, ward 21 was first, which meant she was working there some time between 1976 and 1978. This is a letter that she received from a Sheila Mahony. When I first blogged, I assumed it was from a patient, but a quick search suggests that there was a Sheila Mahony who was a supervisor there. I don’t know the story behind this, but between the lines you can work out that the kindness expressed here is typical of nurses. The letter is dated December 23, so this was likely in response to a gesture Mum made in the spirit of Christmas.


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Posted in general, interests, New Zealand, Wellington | 2 Comments »


Forced to take prime-time nostalgia trips

20.07.2018


‘There’s an old Polish proverb …’ I believe it’s ‘Reality television can’t stop the motorways in Warsaw from getting icy.’

I’ve always known what sort of telly I liked, and often that was at odds with what broadcasters put on. In the 1970s, my tastes weren’t too dissimilar from the general public’s, but as the years went on, they diverged from what New Zealand programmers believed we should watch.
   Shows I liked would prematurely disappear (Dempsey & Makepeace), only to return very late at night a decade later. Some only ever appeared late at night (Hustle), then vanish (in New Zealand, seasons 5 to 8 have never appeared on a terrestrial channel, and they have also never been released on DVD).
   We had a British expat visitor on Wednesday. He arrived here in 2008, and had no idea that TV1 had once been the home of British programming, and TV2 was where the Hollywood stuff went.
   By the late 2000s and early 2010s, I was watching either DVDs or finding a way to get to BBC Iplayer et al, because less and less of what was on offer had any appeal. We had boxed sets of Mission: Impossible, The Persuaders, and others.
   When the country switched to Freeview, I couldn’t be bothered getting a decoder. We were fine with online. Eventually, I did buy a TV set with Freeview, but only because the previous one conked out.
   On Thursday night, it became very apparent just how bad television had become here.
   Every English-language and Te Reo Māori terrestrial channel had unscripted drama, i.e. “reality” shows, or the occasional panel show or real-life event, other than Prime, showing the MacGyver remake.
   Who in the 1980s would have predicted that MacGyver would be the only scripted series on air during prime-time here between 7.30 and 8.30 p.m.?
   I realize the economics of television have changed, and there’s no such thing as a TVNZ drama department any more.
   Shows which might have had the whole country watching would be lucky to pull in a quarter of the audience today.
   But it is a sad reflection that the televised equivalent of the weekly gossip rag is what rates. The effort needed to produce quality drama is expensive, and not enough of us support it.
   I also imagine scripted Hollywood shows are cheaper than British ones, hence what we see on our screens is American—and why some kids these days now speak with American accents. Yet to some New Zealanders, Chinese-language signs on Auckland high streets are a bigger threat to the local culture. Really?
   In this household, we vote with our attention spans—and over the last month that has meant DVDs of Banacek and, in true 50 shades of Grade fashion, The Protectors. Sometimes, you feel it’s 1972 in this house—but at least the telly was better then.

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A letter from composer Terry Gray, 1991

18.07.2018

What a coincidence to come across a letter from composer, arranger, conductor and former TVNZ bandleader Terry Gray, dated May 25, 1991, after I blogged about him on (nearly) the seventh anniversary of his passing. Here it is for others who may be interested in a little slice of Kiwi life. It looks like ITC Garamond Book Narrow here, though the resolution doesn’t make it very clear.

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A three-decade time capsule hanging on my door

15.07.2018

There was an Epson bag hanging from the back of my bedroom door, hidden by larger bags. I opened it up to discover brochures from my visit to a computer fair in 1989 (imaginatively titled Computing ’89), and that the bag must have been untouched for decades.
   I’ve no reason to keep its contents (if you want it, message me before Thursday, as the recycling comes the morning after), but I wanted to make some scans of the exhibitors’ catalogue for nostalgia.
   Let’s start with the cover. It’s sponsored by Bits & Bytes. Kiwis over a certain age will remember this as the computer magazine in this country.

You can tell this is a product of the 1980s by the typesetting: someone couldn’t be bothered buying the condensed version of ITC Avant Garde Gothic, so they made do with electronically condensing Computers and Communications. In fact, they’re a bit light on condensed fonts, full stop, as they’ve done the same with the lines set in Futura.
   While the practice is still around, the typeface choices mark this one out as a product of its time.
   Inside is a fascinating article on the newfangled CD-ROM being a storage medium. Those cuts of Helvetica and Serifa are very 1980s, pre-desktop publishing. It should be noted that Dr Jerry McFaul remained with the USGS, where he had been since 1974, till his retirement. The fashions are interesting here, as is ITC Fenice letting us know that he’s speaking at the Terrace Regency Hotel, a hotel I have no recollection of whatsoever. I can only tell you that it must have been on the Terrace.
   The other tech speakers have a similar look to the visiting American scientist, all donning suits—something their counterparts in 2018 probably wouldn’t today. In fact, the suit seems to be a thing of the past for a lot of events, and I often feel I’m the oldster when I wear mine.
   The article itself makes a strong case for CD-ROM storage, being more space-saving and better for the environment: it’s interesting to know that the ‘depletion of the ozone layer’ was a concern then, though 30 years later we have been pretty appalling at doing anything about it.



   The second article in the catalogue of any note was on PCGlobe, supplied to the magazine on 5¼-inch diskette.
   Bits & Bytes would have run the catalogue as part of the main magazine, and did a larger run of these inner pages, back in the day when printing was less flexible.
   It’s a fascinating look back at how far we’ve come (on the tech) and how far we haven’t come (on the environment). Next year, we’ll be talking about 1989 as ‘30 years ago,’ yet we live in an age where we’re arguing over Kylie Jenner’s wealth. Progress?

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Posted in design, interests, media, New Zealand, publishing, technology, typography, USA, Wellington | No Comments »


In memoriam, Terry Gray, British-born New Zealand composer, 1940–2011

09.07.2018

I sincerely hope I’m wrong when I say that the passing of Kiwi composer, arranger and conductor Terry Gray went unnoticed in our news media.
   I only found out last month that Terry died in 2011. As a kid of the 1970s and a teenager of the 1980s, Terry’s music was a big part of my life. Before we got to New Zealand, he had already composed the Chesdale cheese jingle, which Kiwis above a certain age know. He was the bandleader on Top Dance, what New Zealanders used to watch before the localized version of Strictly. Terry’s music appeared on variety shows and live events (e.g. Telequest, Miss New Zealand) through the decade. Country GP, The Fire-Raiser, Peppermint Twist, and Daphne and Chloë were also among Terry’s works. In the late 1980s, Terry released an album, Solitaire, which was one of the first LPs I bought with my own money as a teen. By the turn of the decade, Terry hosted live big band evenings at the Plaza Hotel in Wellington, sponsored by the AM Network—until the AM Network could no longer fund the fun, regular events and the radio network itself, eventually, vanished. Terry’s Mum used to attend in those days, and I must have gone to at least half a dozen. I also picked up a Top Dance cassette at one of the evenings.
   I still have a nice letter from Terry somewhere, thanking me for my support, in the days when he lived in the Hutt. I learned that he eventually moved down south, to Dunedin, and died of leukemia on July 8, 2011.
   On (nearly) the seventh anniversary of his passing, I want to pay tribute to Terry. Here he is in action in Top Dance, hosted by Lindsay Yeo, in 1982.

   RIP Terry Gray, 1940–2011.

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Posted in culture, interests, media, New Zealand, TV, UK, Wellington | 1 Comment »


How Silicon Valley and the Soviet Union are alike

07.07.2018


Anton Troynikov’s banner on his Twitter account.

I really enjoy Yakov Smirnoff’s old jokes about the Soviet Union, and the Russian reversal that is often associated with him. In the 21st century, I’ve used the odd one, such as, ‘In Russia, Olympics game you!’ and ‘In America, internet watch you!’. I’m sure I’ve done wittier ones, but I’ve yet to post, ‘In America, president Tweet you!’
   Today on Twitter, Anton Troynikov, while not doing exactly the above, had a bunch of Tweets about how similar the USSR was to Silicon Valley today. Although he’s not pointing out opposites, it’s humour in the same spirit. In Tweeting, he outdid the few modernized Russian reversals I’ve used over the years.

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Posted in culture, humour, interests, technology, USA | No Comments »


Instagram videos of between 2′50″ and 7′03″: it can be done, but some are hidden

26.04.2018

As you saw in the previous post’s postscripts, it is possible to upload videos of longer than one minute to Instagram, but Instagram may or may not let the public see them. If you want people to see your videos for sure, then keep them to the standard minute. But if you want to chance it, so far my experience is 50–50, and there’s no correlation with length. Like all things Facebook, there is no consistency, and you are at the whim of the technology and its questionable database integrity. Here are the ones that have worked, the first at 2′50″, the second at 4′, the third at 3′51″, and the fourth at 7′03″ (this had to be uploaded twice as Facebook hid the first attempt).

PS., April 28, 12.37 a.m.: A few more tries and the odds of a video lasting longer than one minute being visible to other Instagram users are definitely 1:2. The latest is this, at 7′53″.
   Don’t be surprised if these record zero views on Instagram. I believe their stats only count full views, and no one’s going to sit watching a video there for that long unless it’s particularly compelling.

P.PS., May 4: I attempted a 9′03″ video. No joy. Instagram will allow the upload but the actual process takes an incredibly long time. The progress bar goes back a few times. Eventually it says there is an error. In theory, I think it’s possible, but right now I haven’t managed to exceed 7′53″.

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Posted in interests, internet, New Zealand, technology, USA, Wellington | 6 Comments »