Archive for the ‘New Zealand’ category


Another mailbox bites the dust from another crash—what is taking out Eudora’s data?

17.09.2020

Something is crashing my PC and taking Eudora mailboxes with it.
   The latest is losing my Q3 outbox table of contents, which I suppose isn’t as bad as losing the inbox, outbox, and all third-quarter emails, though being at the end of the week, there was still some repairing from the weekend back-up I made.
   The outbox was there but the table of contents was corrupted, and when Eudora rebuilds, for some reason the recipient isn’t recorded, only the sender.
   Once again I was faced with a line-by-line (or, rather, group-by-group) comparison of the back-up and the existing mailboxes, to see what changes had been made since the 11th.


Above: What remained of the third-quarter outbox. I can no longer group this ’box by recipient, since Eudora doesn’t rebuild sent email folders with the recipient in the relevant column.

   There were about three dozen emails that weren’t in common.
   The below Windows crash appears to have happened just after the last recorded “recipient-less” email in the corrupted table of contents.

   That was a while back, but I do remember another crash that slowed the computer to a crawl, with the non-closing app on restart being something to do with an AMD capturing window error.
   Could AMD’s software be crashing and deleting mailboxes? If so, it’s cost me many, many hours of frustration and the knowledge that I have a corrupted table of contents for this quarter’s emails that will never be fixed—a rare imperfection among years of perfectly archived ’boxes.
   I was also able to trace it to when I sent a message to a friend on Facebook who is not easily reachable by other means. Since I rarely use the site it was pretty easy to pinpoint when I was last there.
   Considering my phone died after installing Whatsapp what’s the bet that running Facebook on a desktop browser kills your desktop’s data?
   It’s as I always say: the newer the software doesn’t mean more reliable. Just ask anyone using Facebook today.
   I have updated the AMD driver so let’s see if the bug recurs. I’m considering running Eudora back-ups on a daily basis but the weekly Windows back-up takes in many other work folders, and I don’t believe there’s a way to run a second job through the default service.

I visited a dental surgeon earlier this week and noticed his software didn’t perform as he wished. He couldn’t edit things in his billing software due to a bug. He had to return to the file minutes later and repeat the task before the program let him.
   I dispute those who say I encounter more bugs than the average user. Watching the surgeon, he just lived with the bug, and knew that if he waited long enough, his program would allow him to make edits again. It seems to be a bug affecting the most basic of tasks. The difference, I imagine, is that he didn’t document the stupidity of the software developer in preventing him from doing a fundamental task, whereas I regularly call them out, especially when it comes to common sites such as Google or Facebook where the (misplaced) expectation is that they must hire the best. Not always.
   Prof Sir Geoffrey Palmer once said in one of his lectures, ‘The more lawyers there are, the more poor lawyers there are.’ The analogy in software is, ‘The more software developers there are, the more thick software developers there are.’ Like any profession, and I include law, not everyone who graduates is smart. Just look at some of our politicians who claim to have law degrees.

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Posted in New Zealand, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


Recovering mailboxes and tables of contents in Eudora after an extraordinarily massive crash

12.09.2020

I’ve used Eudora for around 25 years as my email client and in the early days, when the inbox got too big, I had it crash every now and then, necessitating the program to rebuild the table of contents. From memory I’ve lost some emails back then, too, and had to ask friends to re-send. But, by and large, it’s been largely stable, and since Windows 7 I don’t recall it crashing so badly that I would be up shit creek. Till last night.
   Normally, Eudora has back-ups for its in- and outboxes (which it renames with 001 and 002 suffixes) so in the case of a lost ’box, you can rename the old ones and hopefully not lose too much. But what if a crash was so severe it would take out not only the in- and outboxes, but also the content of the back-ups, as well as your third-quarter email folder? That’s exactly what happened.
   I haven’t gone back into Windows to find out what caused the series of crashes but it seems to have begun with RuntimeBroker.exe and ntdll.dll. I’m not even going to pretend I know what all this means:

   So what do you do when you’re up shit creek and renaming mailboxes (which I’ve had to do when we had a fuse blow) doesn’t work?
   The most recent back-up I had was from September 5, and a lot happens in email-land for me over the course of six days. But it was the most recent, and it had to be the starting-point. So, first up, I retrieved them from Windows Backup and put them into a temporary folder (you can’t put them into the original folder).
   The third-quarter ’box’s contents were still there, but the table of contents had been corrupted, but it had six days’ worth of changes to it. I renamed this to Q3 In (2), closed Eudora, and placed the backed-up third-quarter mailbox and table into the Eudora folder.
   Then it’s the laborious process of seeing how they differ. The best thing to do—and why Eudora remains superior to so many later programs—is to line up the mailbox windows side by side, size them the same, sort them both by date, and begin going through screen by screen. If the first email and the last email are identical, chances are the ones in the middle are identical, so you’re only looking for the emails in the corrupted table that are newer. You then have to shift them one by one into the backed up one. I deleted the identical ones from the corrupted mailbox and by the end of the exercise I had over 4,200 emails in the trash.
   The status (read, replied) is gone after the transfers but it’s a tiny price to pay for completeness.


Above: The remnants of the exercise, after discarding trash and duplicate emails from the corrupted third-quarter mailbox.

   Then the inbox. Same story: there was a 001 ’box that had survived the crash but none of the tables of contents were usable.
   In this case, it’s fortunate we use Zoho as our email service. I went into the trash folder, where all checked emails wind up after POP3 access, and transferred everything from the 5th to the present day into the inbox. Fortunately, from there it’s not difficult to do a fresh POP3 access. Again, I closed Eudora, put the backed-up inbox into the main Eudora folder, and simply checked my emails. You do lose once more the status of the emails—you won’t know if you’ve replied to them—but at least you have an inbound record.
   The outbox was a very sad case, and unfortunately the news is not good. Here, the table of contents was complete but the mailboxes (all of them) were blank. Therefore, clicking on the table of contents’ entries actually deleted them because the mailbox was corrupted. Strangely, all showed the correct sizes.
   There’s no easy way here. You can’t take sent emails from Zoho and put them into your inbox expecting Eudora to be able to download them. The only solution I found was to forward each one, one by one, to myself from within Zoho. Then I placed them into either my third-quarter outbox or the active outbox. My own name appears in the recipient column, and the dates are wrong, but, again, if completeness is the aim, then it’s a small price to pay. Sadly, of the three recovered ’boxes and tables of contents, it’s the least elegant.
   I imagine I could edit each email as a text file within the outbox and allow the table of contents to generate new entries, then recompile them into a new table, but after you’ve spent hours doing the first two ’boxes, you’re not keen on such a technical solution after 3 a.m. And there’s also no guarantee that the table would generate properly anyway.
   Windows was the culprit here, as Eudora has always been very stable, and crashes like this are exceedingly rare, if you keep your in- and outboxes to reasonable sizes. I’ve never seen the back-ups get wiped out as well. A good case study in favour of regular back-ups, and maybe I might need even more frequent ones.

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Posted in business, New Zealand, technology | 1 Comment »


Forget the stereotypes: how immigrants write with English as their second language

12.09.2020

How interesting to find a photocopy of a letter my Dad wrote to the Department of Social Welfare in 1986, to apply for National Superannuation on behalf of his parents.
   We had been here less than a decade, but, frankly, Dad’s correspondence was always like this. The whole idea of immigrants coming to Aotearoa with limited English always smacked of racism and intolerance to me, and this letter illustrates that it might actually be our linguistic superiority in mastering another tongue that has racists and xenophobes worried.
   There are some minor errors here, and he could have used a few commas instead of full stops, but it’s on a par with period correspondence from native Anglophones.
   I still have this Underwood typewriter.

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Posted in New Zealand, Wellington | No Comments »


More things that don’t work: Google knowledge panels, and typing in te reo Māori in Facebook

06.09.2020

A guide to emojis for 2020.

At least Twitter works. Google, as usual, doesn’t.
   I had a check to see how Lucire was performing in a Google search yesterday and noticed there was a Wikipedia box to the right, and a message saying that if it was about us, I could ‘claim’ the box. I clicked on the link, and as Google knows my email address is associated with Lucire through its search console, it verified me. ‘Congratulations, you’ve been verified’, according to the Google website, and I could ‘Add or change info’, with a ‘Review info’ box that I could click on.

   Actually, it’s just a coloured rectangle. Clicking on it does nothing.
   Maybe it’s my privacy settings, so I used my fresh, unblocked, Google-can-plant-what-it-likes Chromium browser. I log in as me on Google. And here’s what I get.

   Another variant is the below:

   ‘This account doesn’t have permission to publish on Google Search.’ Um, it does. You just told me I did.
   The box remains claimed but there’s not a damned thing I can do.

Long-time readers will remember my pointing out many years ago how the Google Dashboard isn’t accurate, especially when it comes to arithmetic. Nothing has changed.
   Google says I have one task. Well, I can’t, since I’ve never used it. Click through: I have none, and Google returns a ‘Get started’ page. Google says I have two albums. Again, impossible. Click through: I have none. It says I belong to one group. Click through: zero. I’m honestly astonished at how bad they are. If you can’t do maths, you probably shouldn’t be working with computers.




Finally, I see Facebook has forced a lot of people to change to its new template. I actually don’t care what the UI looks like, as I’m not there sufficiently to care. And I bet that if you were Māori, you’d want to have the old template back, since you can’t type macronized vowels. The macron just winds up on the baseline on any Chromium browser.

   One friend tried to replicate this on Windows and couldn’t, so this might not be a universal issue.
   The font being called by the stylesheet is Segoe UI Historic. I have it installed, and it’s not something I’ve ever edited. I will point that that, according to Character Map, no macronized vowels are visible in the relevant Unicode range, though I haven’t opened it in Fontlab to confirm. If the browser has to substitute, that’s fine. But what font (indeed, which of the Segoe fonts) has macrons on the baseline? It appears to be Microsoft’s Segoe, so if it’s not a Facebook linked font (the code inspector suggests it isn’t), then we can point the finger at Microsoft for a buggy font on a standard Windows 10 computer. Either way, someone in a Big Tech outfit goofed.

I had bookmarked this on my cellphone but because it’s my cellphone, it takes a long time to get it on this blog. I have to remember to grab the phone, then look up the post. But it’s your regular reminder that Facebook usually does nothing, despite saying it actively takes down hateful content. As I noted on The Panel in late August, eight copies (I believe in part) of the Christchurch massacre still exited on the platform as of March 15, 2020. The lies are laid bare once more.

   As a company, they also take their sweet time in removing bots. Here’s Instagram in a message to me on August 27 (it’s not the only 2018 report they responded to that week):

Same old, same old.

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Posted in culture, internet, New Zealand, publishing, Sweden, technology, Wellington | 1 Comment »


Podcast for tonight: behind the scenes on The Panel

28.08.2020

For your listening pleasure, here’s tonight’s podcast, with a bit behind the scenes on my first appearance on RNZ’s The Panel as a panellist, and ‘I’ve Been Thinking’ delivered at a more appropriate pace, without me staring at the clock rushing to finish it before the pips for the 4 p.m. news.

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Posted in China, culture, Hong Kong, media, New Zealand, TV, Wellington | No Comments »


Thoughts shared on Big Tech

28.08.2020


Tip of the iceberg. Something happening with greater frequency: I can highlight ‘Répondez’ or ‘Write a reply’ in Facebook’s comment boxes, but I can’t actually comment or type in them. But I can make graphics outside of Facebook and paste them in. This was a bug I used to see perhaps once a year, but now it’s every time I go on (a few times a week).

It’s interesting to note that someone as noted as Doc Searls encountered a Facebook bug, which prompted me to comment with the below.

Few things work on this site now. I’ve frequently been unable to share since I joined in 2007. Every now and then I can’t like things, and regularly, Facebook removes the choices of hearts, sad face, angry face, etc. If I type a link, Facebook sometimes appends some letters from the status update to the end of it, so when it generates a preview, that results in a 404. Every now and then, with increasing frequency, whatever I type into a status update appears in all caps and bold type (and no, I don’t have caps lock on). On almost all groups I see three posts—nothing older. Notifications and messages fail to load over 90 per cent of the time. Often I cannot comment, but I can highlight the words ‘Write a comment’, so I have to resort to making an image featuring text and paste it in the comment box! I cannot see my advertising preferences: they have not loaded for the last few years, even if I leave the window open for an entire day while I am out (I only get a spinning wheel).
   I’m no tech, but as a layman what I see is a website disintegrating, with more and more bugs weighing it down. Above is what I experience now but if I go back over the years (especially when there was a Getsatisfaction forum), there were other bugs. I still remember when Facebook stopped working on the 1st of each month! But 2020 certainly marks the year when I get a whole bunch of bugs simultaneously.
   My theory has always been that Facebook’s resources are all spent hosting bots that there is nothing left for legitimate users!

   I didn’t even add that I can’t see any Facebook video now (they don’t play at all), and there’s no point posting Instagram links as, despite the two companies having the same parent, Facebook won’t show the image:

   As to the new look, I have very little confidence. When asked why I was switching back to the classic template, something which will be impossible soon, I wrote (not that these schmucks will care):

You can’t tag companies when editing text. You have to begin writing on a clean line, often retyping the post to do it. Waste of time, you’re making Facebook less and less relevant.
   When looking at groups people in a group queue have joined, you can’t see as many, which makes it harder for group admins to detect fake accounts (as you guys are pretty useless at doing it).

   When a friend (a person of colour in the US) wondered why she was seeing a lot of attacks against the Republican National Convention and none against the Democrats’, even though she is apolitical, I responded (inter alia):

Facebook has plenty of ex-staff and insiders who point out it will always amp up things to get people upset or outraged, as scientifically—thanks to the work of Professor Fogg at Stanford—people engage more with these. Armed with what they have collected, the algorithms will make a call one way or another to ensure they show you things that will provoke a reaction. As the algorithms have been designed predominantly by white American men (and I know: not all white American men fit into this), I really believe they won’t take in the experiences of people of colour like us, and arguably they won’t understand the international nature of your work. For instance, Facebook used to stop working on the 1st of each month, as our walls would freeze on the 30th or 31st. We would have to wait till it was the 1st in California, which meant in our summer, we would have to wait 21 hours each month for Facebook to work normally. These folks aren’t smart when it comes to “outside California”, let alone outside the US.

   To confirm my theory, I looked on my wall and was being fed multiple posts by a Facebook friend I barely knew—someone whose request I must have accepted over a decade ago, with whom I have had no interaction. He is an American, and was dismissing the protests and the existence of racism in his country. Why would Facebook show me that of the 2,300 people I am connected to? Simple: to provoke a reaction. These were views contrary to what I believe in, and it probably gathered that. It’s no longer about being connected to your friends—and hasn’t been for a long time. It’s the outrage machine, where they want you to fight.
   And this is me, someone who no longer goes on there for personal stuff, still encountering bugs and its ongoing negativity like there was no tomorrow.
   I stand by my saying that Mark Zuckerberg is a compulsive liar on Radio New Zealand National on Tuesday in the ‘I’ve Been Thinking’ slot before The Panel, where yours truly made his début as a panellist. (Prior to that I called in as a guest, once in 2010, and once in 2020.) Facebook is a site that now does more harm than good.

   Finally, I will leave you with this gem (every now and then I come up with one) from Twitter:

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Posted in business, culture, internet, media, New Zealand, politics, technology, USA, Wellington | No Comments »


More Wikiality—and this time it’s about me!

13.08.2020

Goes to show how seldom I ego-search.
   Here’s something a Wikipedian wrote about me in a discussion in 2010:

Jack Yan is not a notable typeface designer. He has never laid a hand on mouse or trackball to operate a font editing application. He tells some graphic designer employees of his what he wants them to draw with software, and has them do all the work of drawing and solving all the design problems involved in creating and designing a typeface and its fonts. As a professional typeface designer myself, Yan’s involvement in type design and font production does not qualify him as a typeface designer. Not even close.

   The user is called James Arboghast, whom I’ve never heard of in any of my years in the type design business.
   Now, you can argue whether I’m notable or not. You might not even like my designs. But given that Arboghast has such a knowledge of our inner workings, then maybe it would suggest that I am?
   Based on the above, which is libellous, let me say without fear of committing the same that, in this instance, Mr Arboghast is a fantasist and a liar.
   I’ve no beef with him outside of this, but considering that I was the first typeface designer in this country to work digitally—so much so that Joseph Churchward, who is indisputably notable, came to me 20 years ago to see if we could work together—there were no ‘graphic designer employees’ around who had the skills. At least none that I knew of when I was 14 years old and deciding which bitmaps to light up on an eight-by-eight grid.
   There were still no such people around when I began drawing stuff for submission to ITC, or when I began drawing stuff that I digitalized myself on a hand-held scanner. I certainly couldn’t afford employees at age 21 when I asked my Mum to fork out $400 to buy me a really early version of Fontographer. And there were still no such people around when I hand-kerned 1,000 pairs into my fonts and did my own hinting. Remember, this was pre-internet, so when you’re a young guy in Wellington doing this work in isolation, you had to know the skills. I might even have those early drawings somewhere, and not that long ago I found the maths book with the bitmap grid.
   If I didn’t know about the field then I certainly would have been found out when the industry was planning QuickDraw GX and I was one of the professional typeface designers advising on the character sets, and if I didn’t know how to solve design problems, then the kerning on the highway signs’ type in this country would not comply with NZS. (The kerning is terrible, incidentally, but government standards are government standards. It was one of those times when I had to turn in work that I knew could be far, far better.) I’d also have been seriously busted by my students when I taught the first typeface design course in New Zealand.
   Every single retail release we have has been finished by me, with all the OpenType coding done by me. All the alternative characters, all the ligatures, all the oldstyle numerals and accented characters in languages I can’t begin to fathom. Latin, Cyrillic and Greek. I’ve tested every single font we’ve released, whether they are retail or private commissions.
   The only time a team member has not been credited in the usual way was with a private commission, for a client with whom I have signed an NDA, and that person is Jasper Luki, a very talented young designer with whom I had the privilege to work at the start of his career in the 2010s.
   The fact that people far, far more famous than me in the type field around the world, including in his country, come to me with contract work might suggest that, if I’m not notable, then I’m certainly dependable.
   And people wonder why I have such a low opinion of Wikipedia, where total strangers spout opinions while masquerading as experts. The silver lining is that writing the above was a thoroughly enjoyable trip down memory lane and a career that I’m generally proud of, save for a few hiccups along the way.

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Posted in design, New Zealand, technology, typography, Wellington | 1 Comment »


You can’t bank on the Wales (or, why I closed our Westpac account)

31.07.2020

At some point as a young man, my Dad worked at a bank. He had a formal understanding of finance—despite his schooling being interrupted by the Sino–Japanese War and then by the communist revolution, he managed to get himself a qualification in economics, and had some time working for a bank.
   I was taught all about promissory notes, bills of exchange, cheques, honourable accounts, balance of payments and foreign exchange as a teenager. He impressed on me why certain things were sacrosanct in banking, the correct way to draw a cheque, and why the Cheques Act 1993 in this country was a blight on how bills of exchange were supposed to work. Essentially, I grew up with what might have been a 1950s or 1960s idea of what banking is, things that were still mostly observed by New Zealand banks into the 1980s and the 1990s.
   Today [Wednesday, July 29] I opened a new business account at TSB, with whom I had banked personally since 2007, as had Jack Yan & Associates. I will be closing the account at Westpac, because it’s clear to me that they don’t believe in the fair dinkum banking values that my father taught me. By the time you read this, the closure should be a fait accompli, as I don’t wish them to put up more obstacles than they have already.
   Westpac held my mortgage on the old house, of which I had paid off 88 per cent before I sold it. I began my banking relationship with them in 2006, for reasons I won’t go into here. My parents had banked ‘on the Wales’ when they were new immigrants in 1976, and stayed with them for some time.
   Very early on, I noticed how confusing their statements were. You can contrast theirs to everyone else’s in Aotearoa, and believe me, I know: I’ve banked with a lot of people. Trust Bank, Countrywide, POSB, National, ANZ—all the usual suspects that a Kiwi growing up in the 1970s through to the 1990s will have encountered. No, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank, but they seem to exist in their own bubble.
   I got caught out once or twice on not getting a mortgage payment sorted because of the confusing statements. And there was one time that Westpac decided to be relentless about it, by setting a bot on me. The bot would call at various hours hounding me to sort this out, with a pre-recorded message, and if you hung up, it would call again. And again. And again. Never mind that you haven’t had a chance to enquire with the bank as to what was going on. This amounted to a breach of the Telecommunications Act, and I put this to them before the activity ceased. And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   You are stuck with the buggers, and over the years I’d make the payments. As many of you know, some of our companies’ income comes from abroad, which I always regarded to be a good thing, since it helps with foreign exchange and this country’s balance of payments. Twice, I think, I needed a top-up because a client was slow to pay, and I would clear that within 30 days. As interest rates changed (the mortgage was floating), the bank would, from time to time, send a letter saying I could reduce my mortgage payments and still keep to the payment schedule, and in 2010 I took them up on it.
   As some of you know, in 2015 Dad was diagnosed formally with Alzheimer’s disease and eventually I became his full-time carer as his condition worsened, with predictable results on my work. But hey, Westpac has all these posters around their branches with Dementia New Zealand logos telling us how great they are, and how they can help. Since Dementia New Zealand won’t acknowledge or respond to my complaint about this (Dementia Wellington, on the other hand, had), let me publicly say that this is bollocks. My experience tells me that it appears to be a feel-good exercise that counts for nowt for a bunch of arrogant twats in Australia.
   My branch was great. They were decent, hard-working and friendly people, and many of them stayed for years—always a good sign. But outside of the branch is where you’ll find the rot.
   In 2019, my partner and I found a home we wanted to purchase. After Dad went into a home in July 2018 I had begun renovating the old place anyway. The new house was a step up, and by the time we factored in all the costs, we would need to borrow under 20 per cent of the total purchase price.
   Westpac wanted to see the balance sheets, as was their right to, and I’ll say now that they weren’t rosy. Of course not, not when you’ve been a caregiver. However, by this point I had got back in the saddle, and I could show them contracts that we had secured.
   Apparently this wasn’t good enough for that 20 per cent. The fact I had been a caregiver and had an account at a bank which had a Dementia New Zealand endorsement carried absolutely no weight.
   The mortgage officer said that according to the balance sheet, I couldn’t even afford the mortgage. Turns out he didn’t know how to read a balance sheet and the ‘Mortgage repayments’ line therein. And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   Apparently, the fact my income was coming from abroad was a concern. Yet it was never a concern for Westpac in 13 years when I was paying the mortgage with that foreign income. Earning foreign exchange for your country and helping with its balance of payments are, seemingly for Westpac, a bad thing. I suppose it would be to greedy Australian bankers, who love to see a weakened New Zealand subservient to other nations. If you adopt this viewpoint when examining how Australian-owned publications here behaved (I’m looking at The Dominion Post from that era), then it actually all fits neatly, given their editorial bias. And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   I know some of you in banking will be going, ‘But there are the anti-money-laundering requirements,’ which I get, but what about the idea of an honourable account? Other than what I outlined above, I was a good customer, and every other bank will tell you the same: I kept honourable accounts. But maybe honour isn’t a thing for Westpac.
   Never mind. We approached two mortgage experts who worked tirelessly for us, and whom I heartily endorse here. Lynne Russell, an old friend of mine, was the first I approached. And Stephanie Murray was referred to me by a good friend from school. Both ladies went to second-tier lenders, told us that the foreign income was the problem, and proceeded to get us the best deal possible. Stephanie won out because of the interest rate, and she noted that the lender, Avanti Finance, was quite happy because I had a good credit rating. But while most Kiwis were enjoying home loans at around the 4 per cent mark, ours was nearer 11 per cent (and this was the lower one). Stephanie, and later my own solicitor, noted that my problem was not unique, and they had clients who were also earning money from abroad who the banks shut out. This is a grand mistake in my book, because these are the very people we should be rewarding and encouraging. You’ve heard of export earners, right, banks? We usually talk about them in positive, glowing terms. Turn on the news. Get schooled.
   We still had renovations to do. At least Westpac would give me a top-up to get that sorted, surely. After all, we had already engaged a builder and he needed money for materials.
   Um, no. Westpac shut off that avenue completely. From memory they could give me a couple of grand, and that was it. This was despite my having a six-figure mortgage that I had whittled down to around a fifth, a relatively small five-figure sum. At all other times, it was fine, even when I enquired about purchasing a car. But not any more. And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   Harmoney came to the rescue there and we were approved within 24 hours. Interest rate: 14·55 per cent.
   I had set up the direct debits with Avanti using my honourable (or so I thought) Westpac account.
   Except Westpac had one more trick up its sleeve. They seemed intent on making sure we would never move, so, without notice, they doubled my mortgage payments. They kept going on about how I was falling behind. No one at the branch could explain why, not even one of their most senior staff. If I hadn’t caught one of the debits, I would have defaulted on an early payment to Harmoney. Fortunately, I spotted it in time, and pulled some money from a TSB account to plug the gap.
   And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   But all together, they were reasons.
   We sold the house, discharged that mortgage, and thanks to my very talented partner and her skills in money management and property investment, we managed to get our finances in order. I won’t elaborate on this since I regard this part as private, but let’s say Westpac should have had faith in us since we carried out what we proposed we do.
   It was only when the Westpac mortgage was discharged that the bank apologized for doubling my mortgage payments and gave a reason for doing so.
   Remember that letter in 2010 which said I could reduce my payments without affecting things? Turns out that affected things, and they wanted to grab what they could to make up for lost time. Not that they thought it was important to tell me any time between 2010 and 2019. They only played this at a customer’s most stressful point, and buying a house is one of the most stressful things you can do as an adult.
   So much for me being such a massive risk to Westpac. We told them our game plan to get to where we are today, and we carried it out to the letter. Two well educated, well qualified and intelligent people. Yet we were viewed with suspicion from the first moment we said we wanted a new home. So how do they treat people with less education or with a shorter history? If they are the Dementia New Zealand-friendly bank how do they treat those who haven’t had to deal with dementia? The branch was awesome and did right by us but as they’re not the ones approving things, then I can only expect that others are treated far, far worse.
   I felt they only apologized because they had thrown everything at us and realized we had a greater resolve.
   This experience teaches me that if you’ve kept up a decent history with Westpac, earned foreign exchange, and helped with your country’s balance of payments, then they will shit on you. Since sharing parts of this story on Twitter, I’ve heard of similar unreasonable treatment by Westpac toward hard-working New Zealanders. The moment they learn you need them, you’re on their radar, and they will block every avenue you normally would have—avenues that you exercised literally just months before, like the top-up. Because why have a customer who is freed of their grasp? That’s just not good for business. Better to keep them impoverished and not let them move to a nicer home. Better to let them know who’s really in charge. And, ladies and gentlemen, that explains a great deal about why foreign ownership can be troublesome in so many quarters—and why I’m happy to take this account to TSB. Thanks to Kerry Gribben and Panith Ear at TSB’s Wellington branch for sorting me out and making it totally painless. And Kerry was a total pro in not slagging off a competitor, especially given where he once worked (he didn’t tell me, but he knew a lot about Westpac’s processes!).

I had to choose a New Zealand bank on principle. The Cooperative Bank was on the radar, and they were really friendly, though I thought their charges were a little high and TSB looked better capitalized on the figures I could find. However, my respect goes to Brian Batchelor at the Wellington branch for being thoroughly professional. It would have been nice to have gone there, since Medinge Group banks with Coop in the UK, and a mate of mine who did some contract work for them says that our Cooperative (a different and unrelated entity) are genuine about their promises to customers.
   Kiwibank didn’t even reply to emails when we were trying to get a mortgage, and rejected all PDFs and ZIP files I sent their despite them saying their email systems could accept them. They just gave up all contact, so I figured they didn’t need the business. And I hear they don’t do foreign exchange anyway, which is just bizarre for a state-owned bank that should be encouraging foreign exchange in these economically tricky times. SBS had no nearby branches (technically, Blenheim isn’t that far but you can’t drive there without an amphibious car). Sometimes, you just go back to what you know.

Today (Friday), the day I am posting this. Westpac accounts shut (despite a massive queue at Lambton Quay). Really nice young chap behind the counter. Except I have 35 cheques on which I want the duty refunded. He didn’t know how to do that and wrote down the helpline number. I called that. Eighteen minutes later, the rep there didn’t know how to do that and referred it to my branch. I really need them to pay me back the NZ$1·75 on principle and then I will consider the matter closed.

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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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Have we stopped innovating in online publishing?

22.07.2020

For a while, we’ve been thinking about how best to facelift the Lucire website templates, to bring them into the 2020s. The current look is many years old (I’ve a feeling it was 2016 when we last looked at it), which in internet terms puts this once-cutting edge site into old-school territory.
   But what’s the next step? When I surf the web these days, so many websites seem to be run off one of several templates, and there aren’t many others out there. After you scroll down past the header, everything more or less looks the same: a big single-column layout with large type.
   I know we have to make things responsive, and we haven’t done this properly, by any means. The CSS will have to be reprogrammed to suit 2020s requirements. But I am reminded of when we adopted many of the practices online publishers do today, except we did them nearly two decades ago.
   Those of you who have been with us a long time, and those who might want to venture into the Wayback Machine, might know that we provided “apps” for hand-held devices even then. We offered those using Palm Pilots and the like a small, downloadable version of the Lucire news pages. We had barely any takers.
   Then Bitstream (if I recall correctly) came out with tech that could reduce pages to a lower resolution and narrower pixel width so those browsing on smaller devices could do so, and those of us publishing for larger monitors no longer needed to do a special version.
   So that was the scene 20 years ago. Did apps, no one cared; and eventually tech came out that rendered it all unnecessary. It’s why I resisted making apps today, because I keep expecting history to repeat itself. I can’t be the only one with a memory of the first half of the 2000s. As a non-technical person, I expect there’d be something like that Bitstream technology today. Maybe there is. I guess some browsers have a reader mode, and that’s a great idea. And if we want to offer that to our readers, it can’t be too hard to find a service that we can point modern smartphone users to, and they can browse all sites to their hearts’ content.
   Except I know, as with so many tech things, that it isn’t that easy, that in fact it’s all so much harder. Server management hasn’t become easier in 2020 compared with 2005, all as the computing industry loses touch with everyday people like me who once really believed in the democratization of technology and bridging the digital divide.
   Back to the templates. I wrote on NewTumbl yesterday, ‘Remember when we could surf the web pretty easily and find amazing new sites, and creative web designs, as people figured out how best to exploit this medium? These days a lot of websites all look the same and there’s far less innovation. Have we settled into what this medium’s about and there’s no need for the same creativity? I’m no programmer, so I can’t answer that, but it wasn’t that long ago we could marvel at a lot of fresh web designs, rather than see yet another site driven by the same CMS with the same single-column responsive template. Or people just treat a Facebook page or an Instagram feed as their “website”, and to heck with making sure it’s hosted on something they have control over.’
   And that’s the thing: I haven’t visited any sites that really jumped out at me, that inspires me to go, ‘What a great layout idea. I must see if I can do something similar here.’ My very limited programming and CSS design skills aren’t being challenged. This is a medium that was supposed to be so creative, and when I surf, after finding a page via a search engine, those fun moments of accidental discovery don’t come any more. The web seems like a giant utilitarian information system, which I suppose is how its inventor conceived it, but I feel it could be so much more. Maybe the whole world could even get on board a fair, unbiased search engine, and a news spidering service that was current and didn’t prioritize corporate media, recognizing that stories can be broken by independents. Because such a thing doesn’t really exist in 2020, even though we had it in the early 2000s. It was called Google, and it actually worked fairly. No search engine with that brand name strikes me as fair today.
   I am, therefore, unsure if we can claim to have advanced this medium.

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