Archive for the ‘technology’ category


EU copyright: as far as we’re concerned, link away

13.04.2019


European Unionwww.europarl.europa.eu/downloadcentre/en/visual-identity, Public Domain; link

I’m reading more about this EU copyright directive that was voted in last month.
   Without doing a full analysis, I can say that we won’t go after anyone who links to our publications.
   We presently don’t care if you use a brief snippet of our content and link back to the rest. I can’t see our position changing on this.
   We do care if you take entire chunks (e.g. the text of an entry on Autocade, since they’re only a paragraph long). In some cases we only have the rights to photos appearing on our own site so we may want those removed if they’ve been copied from us.
   Over the years I’ve just contacted publishers and asked them politely. Only a tiny handful actually respond; quite a few sites are bot-driven with feedback forms that no one checks. They get DMCAed.
   But I don’t have a problem with the systems that are in place today.
   It seems the EU is going to wind up creating a segregated internet: one where Big Tech and large media corporations can afford to do everything and smaller publishers can’t. This is already happening, thanks to Google’s own actions with favouring mainstream media sources rather than the outlet that had the guts to break the news item. Big companies are flexing their muscles and lawmakers are bending over backwards to serve them ahead of their own citizens. (Incidentally, I can’t see the UK doing anything differently here post-Brexit.)
   Smaller publications might band together and share among themselves by some sort of informal agreement.
   So for us, when it comes to linking and excerpting, keep doing it. Unless something happens that forces me to change my mind, I’m all for the status quo ante in the EU.

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Posted in business, internet, media, publishing, technology, UK | No Comments »


Facebook: Kiwi lives don’t matter

10.04.2019

As someone who read Confucius as a young man, and was largely raised on his ideas, free speech with self-regulation is my default position—though when it becomes apparent that people simply aren’t civilized enough to use it, then you have to consider other solutions.
   We have Facebook making statements saying they are ‘Standing Against Hate’, yet when friends report white nationalist and separatist groups, they are told that nothing will be done because it is ‘counter-speech’. We know that Facebook has told the Privacy Commissioner, John Edwards, that it has done absolutely nothing despite its statements. This is the same company that shut off its ‘View as’ feature (which allowed people to check how their walls would look from someone else’s point-of-view) after share price-affecting bad press, yet when it comes to actual humans getting killed and their murders streamed live via their platform, Facebook, through its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, essentially tells us, ‘There are no problems, nothing to see here.’


   We may differ on where we draw the line on what is permitted speech and what isn’t, but where we can agree is that Facebook, once again, has said one thing and done another, leading Edwards to say on Twitter, ‘Facebook cannot be trusted. They are morally bankrupt pathological liars.’
   He is right. Just as Facebook said it would support the drag community while kicking off its members, just as Facebook forced highly suspicious downloads on people after false claims of malware detection, just as Facebook says you can opt-out of its ad targeting while collecting more data on you, its latest feel-good announcement was a blatant lie, to make unquestioning sheeple believe it was a good corporate citizen. More people will have seen the Facebook announcement than Edwards’ Tweet, so it would have weighed up the consequences of doing nothing or getting bad press.
   Basically, as far as Facebook is concerned, Kiwi lives don’t matter, because it believes it can ride the negative press. Apparently, however, getting accused by Wired for questionable downloads does matter, hence they stopped doing them after getting exposed. The priorities are massively screwed up.
   I would actually respect Facebook and Zuckerberg more if their pronouncements were in line with their real intent:

We’re just a platform
We take no responsibility at all for what gets shared through us. You can say what you like, but we think we can weather this storm, just as we weathered the last one, and just as we’ll weather the next.

Kiwi lives don’t matter
White nationalist groups make for great sharing. And sharing is caring. So we won’t shut them down as we did with Muslim groups. The engagement is just too good, especially when we’re only going to upset fewer than five million New Zealanders.

Hate is great
Hate gets shared and people spend more time on Facebook as a result. Whether it’s about New Zealanders or the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, we’ll be there to help distribute it. Genocide’s fine when it doesn’t affect our share price.

Facebook users are ‘dumb fucks’
Our founder said it, and this is still our ongoing policy at Facebook. We’ll continue to lie because we know you’re addicted to our platform. And no matter which country summons our founder, we know you won’t have the guts to issue a warrant of arrest.

   Actions speak more loudly than words, and in Facebook’s case, their words are a form of Newspeak, where they mean the opposite to what everyone else understands.

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Work as if it’s 2001

06.04.2019


Asus

One beauty to having new tech, even if it stretched my budget, is how my use of the desktop and laptop computers is more efficient. I don’t just mean the speed and stability (since the previous computers were both Windows 7 machines that had been upgraded to 10) but the way I use the programs on them.
   Some things are constant: I’ll happily edit fonts or magazines on both since they’re both equipped with the same software. It’s now a breeze to copy everything from one machine on to a portable hard drive running USB 3 and putting it all on the other machine. While I can copy them on to a network, this hardware-based method is still faster.
   But where things have really changed are with email. I’ve never seen the benefits of having email on the cloud, especially with how a company can unilaterally take everything away from you. Google is notorious for this—last week I saw many complaints about a service they have removed—so I’ve never seen the problem about having an email client, into which you download your messages.
   Since the end of the last century, I archive old emails on to an optical disc, initially CD-ROMs, later DVD-ROMs. I keep roughly a year on a computer at any given time. It’s sufficient for over 99 per cent of cases.
   When I first started travelling with a laptop in 2001, at a time when I would be the only passenger at the airport gate looking at a device (the reverse is now true: everyone but me is on one), I used to take my email with me. All the email folders from my desktop machine would be duplicated, and I would use Eudora on the laptop for the next weeks. I could queue up replies and connect via AT&T Global, dialling up using a local phone number. When I got back to Wellington, I would copy the email folders back on to the desktop. There would be some conflicts with filenames and embedded files, but overall this was how I lived, as a business person, for a long time.
   A few years ago, with VNC software getting reasonably good and with wifi (or ethernet) fairly prevalent in the places I travelled to, I began skipping this step. I would simply use VNC to link back home and email would stay on the desktop. This would save considerable time copying the email folders each way. Oftentimes, with the fast internet at the office, it would actually be quicker doing things using a remote desktop.
   But in 2019, it turns out that going back to my 2001 method is very reliable. USB 3 is that much faster so copying files is a breeze. On a recent trip I put everything on to my laptop—now big enough to carry it all, with a 1 Tbyte hard drive next to its 240 Gbyte SSD—and only used VNC to grab files I didn’t have with me. Copying it all back upon my return took very little time. Because the copying is so comprehensive, I don’t wind up with filename conflicts. I happily queue up emails till I’m around an internet signal or connection again, just as I did nearly two decades ago. It’s proved really productive and on Saturdays I have been known to pop in to Sierra Café in town and tap away some personal messages.
   It would be highly unfortunate if the laptop was stolen, and I haven’t got into the practice of backing everything up while travelling just yet. Obviously I’ll have to work this in as part of the routine on longer trips, and it could eat up more time than I think. At least with the VNC way, the desktop computer was set up to make back-ups, and I haven’t done that with the laptop since it’s not always connected.

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


The end of the long Instagram video

27.03.2019

After the last 11 months, only two Instagram users—myself and an Indonesian user called TryAink—uploaded videos of over a minute (his were up to four). It looks like he and I were experimenting to see how much Instagram would really allow. I guess we were the guinea pigs before IGTV was launched, though unlike those using that service, our videos were all landscape.
   You’ve seen plenty of mine, so here’s one of his.

   It does seem that all good things come to an end, and neither TryAink nor I have access to the longer video uploads any more. I can try, but Instagram refuses to make the video live.

   Mind you, we were the first to get long Instagram videos, then the public got them. Maybe Instagram is going to phase out videos, as we’re the first to suffer an inability to upload them? (I jest for the most part—as stranger things have happened with Facebook-owned properties.)
   What is interesting is that with life being so busy, and with the massive increase in ads, Instagram has not been holding my attention. I also became very spoiled with the longer videos, so much so that 60 seconds feels bizarrely short. Then there’s the problem of Instagram videos being incompatible with Android 7, so all my videos had to be Bluetoothed to my old, damaged phone for uploading.
   The result of the above is that I have reduced my time on the platform considerably, because why am I jumping through hoops created by the incompetence of boffins when it is technology that should be serving me?
   The loss of Instagram maps all those years ago was an inconvenience, but the loss of a feature that I regarded as the norm, plus advertisements that are irrelevant—not to mention undesirable—are turning my cellphone into a cellphone, rather than a portable leisure device where I shared and enjoyed photos.

Speaking of Facebook incompetence, I caught a few minutes (while cooking) of a documentary called Inside Facebook, airing on Aljazeera English. An undercover reporter secretly films a moderators’ training session on what Facebook’s standards are.
   Did you wonder why so many of the Christchurch terrorist attacks’ videos remained online? Turns out Facebook’s policy is that screened deaths are OK. The default position is that they’re marked with a warning, not removed. As to child abuse, none of those videos are removed as a rule.
   This is a sick company that appears to prey on the inhuman impulses some have, for the sake of monetizing them. I cannot be high and mighty about this, because I haven’t deleted my account, and keep saying that I’m on there for a few clients who ask me to look after their social media. When I think more deeply about this, it ain’t good enough. I need to find a way out, including for my clients who receive DMs for their businesses on there.

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Posted in internet, media, New Zealand, technology, USA | 2 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 | 3 Comments »


More reminders that Google lies

21.02.2019


Nest/Creative Commons

We’ve been here countless times before since last decade. Funny how many of these “errors” Google has, and funny how they only admit to these “errors” after they get busted. How many more “errors” are there?

The link that Grady features is here.
   Just how many times do I need to remind people that this is “business as usual” for Google?
   If I lied to you this often, and spied on you through different gadgets, wouldn’t you stop trusting me? So why trust Google?

Hat tip to Vincent Wright.

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Posted in internet, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


How to get a perfect 10 in reliability on Windows 10

02.02.2019

I’ve had a great week with my new laptop, though it exhibits some of the same traits I’ve frequently seen with Windows 10: settings’ windows vanishing when attempting to load. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, demo PCs I’ve seen at the store have terrible reliability history scores, and mine is no exception. It ranked a 10 when it left Just Laptops in Auckland, but dropped to 1 when I began installing software on it. The lesson here is this: Windows 10 is allergic to software and usage. Never install a thing on it, and never touch it, and it might continue being a 10. It’s that simple.
   Of course, there is the issue of updating it, and even a PC on absolutely stock settings has trouble with that

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


The Asus FX504 is far better than reviewers think

22.01.2019





Top: The new laptop, just unboxed. Centre: Publicity shots at strange angles. Above: The specs, as told by Windows.

When I think about it, I’ve gone through quite a lot of laptops over the years. The first this century (as there was an Apple II-compatible that I used for some months in the 1980s, though I think we called them portable computers back then) was a Dell, ordered online, costing over NZ$3,000 in 2001. That laptop, which is still alive (at least when plugged into the mains), ran Windows Me and I was surprised to see just how small a screen I was prepared to put up with. This was back in the day when I was the only person at the airport lounge with a device; now the opposite is true as I don’t always wish to be glued to a screen.
   There was a HP–Compaq in 2004 that was used by one of my team, and I later inherited it, running it into the ground with a motherboard failure by 2009. I took delivery of an Asus after that (that unit’s still with us, too, now running Ubuntu and plugged into the television), and was impressed by Windows Vista. In my opinion, it didn’t deserve the bad rap that it got. A Lenovo G570 bought off a charity was next, a friend having installed a 250 Gbyte SSD within, so it wasn’t as clunky as you might have expected.
   The laptops I disliked were the Compaq and the Lenovo, since they weren’t bought for me at the outset, and never really suited my requirements. Today I took delivery of an Asus FX504GD from Just Laptops, with a 240 Gbyte SSD within coupled to a 1 Tbyte conventional hard drive for data. It’s running an Intel Core i7-8750H with six cores, 16 Gbyte of RAM, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX1050 with 4 Gbyte, and a full HD IPS display. It wasn’t my first choice but Just Laptops discovered a fault while testing that laptop, and recommended this one. I could have had a refund if I chose. The service, I should note, was excellent, especially since I was buying the computer sight unseen, and Des at Just Laptops made sure I was posted about every single stage of the transaction, from the work he had to do and when the laptop got to the courier.
   Of course the review is positive so far, since it’s only hours out of the box. I haven’t trialled it without the laptop being plugged in to the mains, so I can’t give a report on the supposedly poor battery life. But I have definitely noticed more positives than reviewers have let on, though admittedly the FX504s many of them tested weren’t as highly specced. It seems there are some real budget models overseas.
   For a start, the SSD gives decent speeds. I’ve had no issues with the viewing angles on the display; in fact, the type renders beautifully, and while it’s not a match for 4K, it’s still respectable in 2019. In fact, the GTX1050 does a very good job and ClearType works even better here than on my desktop machine (though this could well be down to the smaller 15·6-inch screen). I haven’t even changed the Microsoft default font, Segoe UI, because it actually looks pleasant here. The plastic chassis is fine, since I’ve put up with that on the majority of my laptops. One negative, and this is where I concur with reviewers, is the fan noise, which can be loud when the computer is under a heavier load. I don’t play games but it handles the layout, font editing and photo-editing work that I do, and the fast processor makes life so much more tolerable when I’m on the go away from the office. I’ve found that buying machines destined for gamers helps considerably with the type of work I do.
   The lit keyboard is reasonably good to type on, though generally I dislike chiclet keys. (I had once hoped that the chiclet trend would vanish by the time I had to replace the first Asus; it still hasn’t happened.) The lights turned out to be quite handy in less than ideal conditions in my lounge as opposed to my office. Even though I have long owned a gaming keyboard (a Cooler Master Quickfire TK) where I can turn on the lights, I’ve never seen the need to. I bought that because I make fewer errors with mechanical keyboards; and yes, typing on the FX504 isn’t as much of a joy. Still, it isn’t as bad as typing on many other laptops.
   Finally, I get a decent numeric keypad on a laptop, and the key layout is superior to that on the Quickfire. My other gripe is that I can’t tell when num lock is on.
   The unit feels robust (hence Asus’s TUF moniker, apparently standing for The Ultimate Force, which sounds like a science film narrated by Prof Stephen Hawking—points for those who know the origin of this joke). For someone like me who will use this laptop on the go, it’s good to know that it will stand up to a few knocks, even if I do look after it in a nice case. It doesn’t have the red lines on the case (which might appeal to younger gamers, but not to a middle-aged man).
   Annoyingly, though you can’t have everything, there is no optical drive, something which had once been a non-negotiable. But when I saw the specs and the deal Des was willing to do, that seemed secondary. I could always pick up a separate DVD drive which my partner and I could share, since she found herself sans drive in 2017 when she bought her Asus. If I have to be honest with myself, I only needed that drive a couple of times a year.
   Asus also put every port on the left apart from a Kensington lock on the right: not necessarily the decision I would have made if I were designing, since it would make sense to me to have some things plugged in to the right as well. Once I add, say, a Vodafone USB stick when I’m somewhere without readily available internet, having all the USB ports on a single side could get old really quickly.
   It didn’t take long to install the software that I had licences for, and, importantly, the fonts now match my desktop computer’s. The exercise that did take long tonight was taking everything off the Lenovo, since it didn’t come with installation discs (neither did this Asus, incidentally, which could be problematic five or six years down the line as I had to reinstall the OS on the previous one). I make so many changes to my computers that undoing them, and returning the font menu to stock, don’t bring me much joy. It’s the customizing that’s fun, not taking off the alloys and leather seats.
   Come February there’ll be two laptops for sale as the old Asus and Lenovo will head on to Trade Me. The latter is still acceptable as a workhorse thanks to its SSD, though you may need to be a masochist to buy the former. I feel I’ve future-proofed for a few years now, with a laptop that should suit my working needs.

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


Instagram’s slow frame rate is probably down to an incompatibility with Android 7

09.12.2018

I thought downgrading to an earlier Instagram would have solved the frame-rate problem, but I was wrong. Here are two videos using the same file. The first was uploaded using my new phone, but running v. 43 from April 2018, given that using the latest Instagram produced very stuttered video. However, it was the same story, so we can conclude there’s something wrong with using newer phones with Instagram. I’m not alone: others reported this bug earlier this year and the one solution appears to be upgrading the OS to Android 8. The conclusion I have to draw is that there is a fault with Android 7, or how Instagram works with Android 7.
   The second was uploaded using my old phone, running probably the same version from April 2018, since that was the last time I performed an Instagram update. The frame rate is now normal.
   The first took four attempts to upload. The second took nine attempts, meaning that I have uploaded this file 13 times on two phones, only to have Instagram show two. There is a problem with Instagram making videos publicly visible, a bug I first reported here earlier this year.
   I’m going to have to pray my old phone holds up despite its damaged screen. Looks like all video uploads will have to be done using it, at least till Instagram fixes the frame-rate issue.

New phone upload

Old phone upload

Failed uploads


Above: Finally, the video uploaded after nine attempts on the old phone. One attempt never made it to the wall. Instagram refused to show eight of the uploads.

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The newer the Instagram, the clunkier the video

07.12.2018

It’s been nearly one week with the new Meizu M6 Note.
   It’s the “international” model, which means it’s not Chinese-spec, and there was no way to turn it into a Chinese one.
   One observation is that the international one is far buggier than the Chinese one. Either that, or Android 7 is far buggier than Android 5.
   For instance, if I leave my old phone as a USB media device, it would stay on that mode. The new one will always change by itself to ‘charge only’, meaning each time I plug it into USB, I now have to waste time doing an extra step.
   Secondly, there’s no drive assistant on the new phone, which may have been a Chinese-only feature. I guess they don’t know we have cars outside China.
   I’ve mentioned the app shortcomings in an earlier post.
   But here’s one that I doubt is related to the Chineseness of my phone: Instagram simply performs better on the old phone than on the new.
   A Meizu M2 Note on an old Flyme (on top of Android 5) running a version of Instagram that dates back seven or eight months uploads smoother videos than a Meizu M6 Note on the latest Flyme (atop Android 7) running the latest Instagram.
   The issue then is: is it the phone, the OS, or the app that’s to blame?
   My first clue was my attempts at uploading a haka performed at my primary school. It took nine attempts before Instagram made one publicly visible, a bug going back some time.
   When it did upload, I noticed it was clunky as it advanced.
   I uploaded it again today on the old phone and there were no issues. It worked first time.

New phone

Old phone

   Now, the two are on different aspect ratios so you might think you’re not comparing apples with apples. How about these two videos? Again, Android 7 required repeated attempts before Instagram would make the video public. Things worked fine with the older phone.

New phone

Old phone

   Anyone know why it’s far, far worse as the technology gets newer? Like servers, which are much harder to manage now, or banks, where cheques take five to seven times longer to clear than in the 1970s, technology seems to be going backwards at the moment.

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Posted in China, internet, technology | No Comments »