Posts tagged ‘1990s’


Business as usual at Wikipedia

27.12.2019

I know Wikipedia is full of fiction, so what’s one more?

   I know, you’re thinking: why don’t you stop moaning and go and fix it if it’s such a big deal?
   First up, for once I actually did try, as I thought the deletion of a sentence would be easy enough. But the site (or maybe my own settings) blocks me from editing, so that’s that.
   Secondly, it reinforces this blog post.
   This one sentence was presumably written by a New Zealander, and one who knows very little, though they have more editing privileges than me.
   Like the 12-year-old ‘Ford CE14 platform’ piece that only got corrected after I posted on Drivetribe, I have to ask: what possesses someone to invent fiction and to be so sure of themselves that they can commit it to an encyclopædia? (Incidentally, subsequent Wikipedians have reintroduced all the errors back on to the Ford page since editor Nick’s 2017 effort to correct it—you simply cannot cure Wikipedia of stupid.)
   I know we aren’t being set very good examples by American politicians (on both sides) and by British ones these days, but surely individual citizens have some sort of integrity when they go online to tell us how great they are?
   For the record, the Familia nameplate was never used here in the last generation for a new car—you only see it on Japanese imports. Secondly, the three-door BH shape was only ever sold here as a Ford Laser, never a Mazda—Familia, 323 or otherwise.
   “Post-truth” is nothing new: it’s been the way of Wikipedia for well over a decade. It was all foreshadowed online.
   It still begs the question why I don’t see such callous edits on the German or Japanese editions of that website.

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Wide of the mark

25.12.2019

Don’t believe everything you read on the internet, e.g.:

   Anyone alive during this period will be wondering, ‘Where’s Altavista?’
   Just on visitor numbers, as opposed to visits per month, they were doing 19 million daily in 1996, 80 million daily in 1997. Goodness knows how many searches we were doing per day. Yet they are nowhere to be seen on this animation till December 1997, with 7 million monthly visits. If you were anything like me, you were using Altavista countless times a day—even conservatively, say you went on four times daily, and you were one of the 80 million per day, you would be putting Altavista at 9,600 million visits per month, dwarfing AOL and Yahoo. By 1997–8, we weren’t using directories like Yahoo for search, we were using these newfangled search engines. Google only overtook Altavista in 2001 in searches.
   And I am old-fashioned enough to think this channel should be called Data Are Beautiful, not Data Is Beautiful.
   I’d love to know the sources: not only could I remember clearly Altavista’s position (and Alexa had them in number one as well), it took me no time at all to confirm my suspicions through a web search.


Above: A re-created Altavista home page from 1999.

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The British media are telling you they want you to vote Conservative

03.12.2019


George Hodan

Those who remember Visual Arts Trends, a publication created and edited by my friend Julia Dudnik-Stern in the late 1990s and early 2000s, might recall that I didn’t have kind words about the Rt Hon Tony Blair and his government. In those pre-Iraq war days, one reader was so upset they wrote to Julia, who, to her credit, defended my freedom to express a political view.
   It was actually quite rare to attack Blair, Mandy, the Blairites and Labour then—the fawning interviews given to Blair by the likes of Sir David Frost, and so many of the British media establishment made their 1997 campaign relatively easy. They shrewdly pitched themselves, light on substance and heavy on rhetoric, and that may have been what I was calling out. For once, I don’t recall too clearly, but I can tell you that I do sweat, and did so even when the Falklands were on.
   How times have changed. In 2019, an independent study has shown that Labour largely gets negative press coverage in British newspapers, while Conservative gets positive. As covered in The Independent, Loughborough University researchers assigned negative scores to negative articles and positive scores to positive ones, to arrive at an index.
   In the period from November 7 to 27, 2019, coverage on Labour scored –71·17 in the first week, –71·96 in the second, and –75·79 in the third.
   By contrast, the Tories received +29·98, +17·86 and +15·87.
   Tonight, Colin Millar’s thread made for an interesting read, where the Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn is damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t.

   Now, I’m sure I’ve shifted my position on things, but generally not in the same year. And yes, Labour itself hasn’t had the best comms in the world.
   However, the UK population, and, for that matter, we here in New Zealand, look at the state of news in the US and think we somehow are above the phenomenon of “fake news”. But it’s very clear that we aren’t, and I have insisted for years that we aren’t. This may be uncomfortable for some, but the truth often is. I can only imagine some are all right with being lied to, just as they are all right with being surveilled by Big Tech.
   There seems to be little outrage in a week when an article by the UK PM saying that his country’s poor are made up of chavs, burglars, drug addicts and losers emerges, and that poverty is caused by low IQ. In a separate story of his, admittedly older than mine for Julia, he says that children of single mothers are ‘ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate’. One wonders what our former PM, Sir John Key, raised by his mother, makes of that.
   Just like 1997, one side is being given a free pass by the British media, whether you like them or not. Are ‘we British’ smart enough to see through it? History suggests we are not.

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The 1970s: when TV shows were New

12.11.2019

As a child of the 1970s, I was exposed to this English word: new. Now, before you say that that isn’t anything special, for some reason, in the ’70s, there was an obsession with newness. It wasn’t like the news (by this I mean the plural of new) of Amsterdam or Zealand, but an adjective that was adapted to really emphasize that you should pay attention and consume, consume, consume.
   Perhaps the earliest exposure was a Tomica model I had: the Blue Whale Crown. The base plate and box read ‘Toyota New Crown’. Even as a child, I wondered: what happens to the old Crown models? And what happens to this Crown model when a new new Crown comes out? It didn’t matter: Toyota wanted us to live in the present and bask in the newness, and back in the early 1970s, this Crown certainly looked like nothing that had come from Toyota prior, or since. It was almost saying, ‘Yes, we know it looks weird, but hey, it’s “new”, so that means it’s good!’
   The real car flopped (relatively speaking; they still shifted plenty given top Japanese managers still needed transportation), and it was the last generation of Crown to be sold in the US, but to me it remains iconic, even if it is garish. After a mere three years on sale, very short even by Japanese standards, its ‘New’ successor emerged in 1974 with all the idiosyncrasies gone. Conservatism ruled in this segment, at least till fairly recently. The old toys hung round, still ‘new’, so even if your parents bought you one in 1975 or 1976, you could still relish the adjective.
   It wasn’t a case of Japlish. It was all over television as well. When we emigrated here, the Anglophone television introduced me to The New Dick Van Dyke Show. Never mind that I had never seen the old Dick van Dyke show at this point. This was the white-haired man doing the New Zealand Fire Service PSAs. Everyone knew him. And why was it The New? Because we needed to be told that despite the same network in its home country (CBS), Dick van Dyke wasn’t playing Rob Petrie, but a new character altogether. Please don’t take this as a continuation of the previous one.




Here are the News: The New Dick Van Dyke Show; The New Perry Mason; and The New Avengers.

   Van Dyke, in his autobiography, recounts a fan coming up to him berating him for leaving Laura (Mary Tyler Moore’s character from the earlier The Dick Van Dyke Show), so it’s not as though the qualifier worked; goodness knows how the same fan would have computed The Mary Tyler Moore Show, on the same night as The New Dick Van Dyke Show. Maybe that was proof that Rob had left Laura or vice versa and they were forging ahead with their separate lives.
   The New Dick Van Dyke Show wasn’t alone. A couple of years later, there was The New Perry Mason (1973), starring Monte Markham in the title role (though no one ever called him ‘New’). The Fred Steiner theme was nowhere to be heard. I’ve seen a few of these, and they are pretty good in a 1970s sort of way—which is to say more exterior filming and more flash cars (product placement was growing) on the back lot and on location. To make it more confusing, when Perry Mason returned in a bunch of TV movies in the 1980s, starting with Perry Mason Returns, it wasn’t Markham, but original actor Raymond Burr once more. You see, it wasn’t The New Perry Mason Returns.
   The New Perry Mason starred a different actor, so I can comprehend its Newness, and at least the presence of another actor underscored this. It didn’t do that well, which is probably why hardly anyone remembers it. Probably more people remember Markham as the Seven Million Dollar Man. I’m not kidding.
   One that I do remember extremely well was The New Avengers, in 1976. Again, given when I was born, I had no exposure to The Avengers, but The New Avengers was a favourite of mine then, and I bought the DVDs when I saw them decades later. Unlike the other two series, this was a direct continuation, though it wasn’t explained just how John Steed returned to Earth after Tara King blasted them both into space when they had their Endgame in 1969; but we do know they enjoyed Laurent Perrier champagne when they got back. It’s a third definition of new as far as the TV shows were concerned, with the same motive: if you want to be seen as in, hip and groovy, come watch the new.
   Perhaps more obscure were one-off TV movies: Halloween with the New Addams Family (1977), which had the same cast (grandmother aside, as actress Blossom Rock was ill), and where the new serves no useful purpose other than attempting to sell us on newness where there is none; and The New Maverick (1978), which sees the return of James Garner as Bret and Jack Kelly as Bart, though there’s no sign of Roger Moore as Beau (presumably too busy being James Bond) and Robert Colbert as Brent, but it did introduce a first cousin once removed called Ben Maverick (Charles Frank). I imagine Ben is the new Maverick, and a short-lived TV series, Young Maverick, did appear afterwards.
   No one really did much more New shows after this—it seemed to be a 1970s phenomenon. With one exception: CI5: the New Professionals in the 1990s, an attempt to recapture the glory days of The Professionals but winding up more like episodes of Bugs. There, new sort of meant old, reminding us that some of the writing and directing was out of step with late 1990s’ audience expectations; and, with the greatest of respect, showed that certain parties were past their prime. By then, we had had seven episodes of Bodyguards, which perhaps showed how a modern-day Professionals might be. All that needed was to be “laddified” for the FHM audience, at least in theory, and certainly, after 9-11, there may have been some scope for an élite, globally coordinated, anti-terrorist squad (which is what The New Professionals suggests the fictional CI5 unit morphed into, probably to accommodate its backers and the South African location filming in some episodes). But in 1998, there was less of an appetite for revival shows, especially when the top-rated series were ER and Friends, and the Americans were a year away from The Sopranos. Britain, meanwhile, was gripped with the tension of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and the FHM lads were more than catered for by Babes in the Wood.

PS., December 6: How could I forget this item of regular childhood viewing? From the US, in 1979.

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Reflections about Lee Iacocca—unfortunately, not all of it is positive

03.07.2019


The car Lee Iacocca will be remembered for, the 1965 Ford Mustang on the right.

Before I found out about Lee Iacocca’s passing, on the same day I Tweeted about one of the cars he was behind when he was president of Ford: the 1975 US Granada. Basically, Iacocca understood that Americans wanted style. That really was at the core of his thinking. It’s also why the Granada—really a warmed-over, restyled Falcon that had its roots in the late 1950s—was always compared to Mercedes-Benz models. It was a mass-market American pastiche of the German car, with the same size. It had a grille and hood ornament. But it was frightfully slow, underpowered, and heavy, one of the most inefficient cars that Americans could buy.
   It’s the antithesis of the Mustang, which Iacocca arguably spearheaded, though in his autobiography, he noted that so many people claimed to be the father of the Mustang that he didn’t want to be seen with the mother (or words to that effect—the book’s next to my partner who’s already gone to sleep as I write).
   That was a stylish car, too. It was a Falcon-based coupé. But it could be specified with the right power to match its looks, and it was priced and marketed brilliantly. Ford hit a home run, and Iacocca’s reputation as a car industry guru was sealed.
   He was also the man who came up with the idea for the Lincoln Continental Mark III. No, not the 1950s one (which technically wasn’t a Lincoln), the one that came out in the 1960s (Ford didn’t really follow a sequential numbering system—remember it went Mark, Mark II, III, IV, V, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII). The idea: stick a Rolls-Royce grille on a Thunderbird. It beat the Cadillac Eldorado, and Iacocca finished the ’60s on a high.
   I felt that history hadn’t been kind to the Mustang II, which also came out under Iacocca’s watch. The fact was it was a sales’ hit, at a time when Detroit was reeling from the 1973 fuel crisis. No V8s initially, which in the 21st century looks like a misstep; in 1974 it would have looked smart. Growing up, we didn’t think the II was as bad as history remembers.
   But the US range was, in some ways, lazy. GM was downsizing but Iacocca noted that people were still buying big cars. To give the impression of downsizing, Ford just renamed the Torino the LTD II. Look, it’s a smaller LTD! Not really: here was yet another car on old tech with another pastiche luxury-car grille.
   When Iacocca was fired from Ford, he went to Chrysler, and pulled off his greatest sales’ job yet: to secure loan guarantees from the Carter administration and turn the company around with a range of modern, front-wheel-drive cars. The K-car, and its derivatives, were a demonstration of great platform-sharing. He noted in his autobiography that Chrysler even worked out a way to shave a tiny amount from the length to fit more Ks on a railroad car. And Iacocca’s penchant for style re-emerged: not long after the original Plymouth Reliant and Dodge Aries, there were fancied up Chrysler LeBarons, and a woody wagon, then a convertible, the first factory US one since the 1976 Cadillac Eldorado. Most importantly, Chrysler got the T-115 minivans on sale before Renault got its Espace out, though after Nissan launched the first MPV, the smaller Prairie. Nevertheless, the minivan was an efficient family vehicle, and changed the face of motoring. Iacocca was right when he believed people want style, because it’s the SUV that has succeeded the MPV and minivan. SUVs are hardly efficient in most circumstances, but here we are in 2019, with minivan sales projected to fall, though Chrysler has managed to stay the market leader in its own country.
   Chrysler paid back its loans years early, and it was under Iacocca that the company acquired American Motors Corp., getting the Jeep brand (the real prize) in the process. And it’s thanks to François Castaing and others who came across from AMC that Chrysler wound up with its LH sedans, the “cab-forward” models that proved to be one of the company’s hits in the 1990s.
   While having saved Chrysler, it was burdened with acquisitions, and in Iacocca’s final full year as Chairman Lee, the company posted a $795 million loss, with the recession partly to blame. The press joked that LH stood for Last Hope.
   It’s an incredible record, with some amazing hits. They do outnumber the duds. But what really mars it is an incident of sexual harassment I learned some years ago that never appears in the official biographies. Now, I don’t have a sworn affidavit, so you can treat this as hearsay. But until I heard that from a good friend—the woman who was harassed—Iacocca was a personal hero of mine. I bought the autobiography. I could forgive the financial disgrace Chrysler was in for 1991—one year out of nearly a dozen isn’t a bad run, even though the writing was on the wall when so much money was spent on acquisitions, hurting working capital.
   I know, his daughters and their kids won’t appreciate what I just said. That it’s wrong to speak ill of the dead, especially when they can’t answer back. You could say that that was the era he was from, in an industry steeped in male privilege—his boss at Ford, Henry the second, was carrying on an affair behind his wife’s back. You might say that one incident that I know of shouldn’t mar this incredible business record. He has left his mark on history. It’s just when it happens to one of your own friends that it’s closer to home, and it’s hard for me to offer the effortless praise I would normally have done if not for that knowledge.

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Volvo: boxy, but good

02.07.2019

Long before Mad Men, and before I got into branding in a big way, I had an interest in advertising. One of the greatest send-ups of the industry was the 1990 Dudley Moore starrer Crazy People, set in the advertising industry against a politically incorrect—actually, cruel and inaccurate—look at mental health. It’s one of those films that could never be made today, and for good reason. But there are some gems in it, as Moore’s character, Emory Leeson, embarks on “honest advertising”. It gets him committed to a facility—who ever heard of an advertising agency telling the truth, right?—until his ads become a hit, welcome by consumers who don’t want BS.
   I came across this wonderfully copywritten and set ad from a PR professional in London trying to sell his Nan’s 1981 Volvo 244DL:

   It’s bloody good. The copy kept me engaged—like all good ads used to—and he’s done a reasonably good job with the Volvo Broad headline typeface (it was wider back in the day). The body text type should be Times rather than Baskerville, but considering the exact cut of Times isn’t available digitally (to my knowledge; it’s for larger text, and has very short descenders), there’s no wonder he opted to use another family.
   It got me thinking: I’ve often posted the Crazy People Volvo ad in comments, as a humorous response. However, the ad doesn’t exist in a decent res online. The only ones that have wound up online are from screen captures from the movie. This 22 kbyte file is actually the best one around, save for one on the Alamy stock photo website that I found after the fact:

   I couldn’t re-create the image—I assume the only person who has it (or had it) is the art director of the film, or the photographer that was commissioned—but maybe I could have a go at the type?
   The digital Volvo Broad had to be widened 25 per cent, and I didn’t attempt to match the kerning.
   The body type was the interesting one. I opted for Times Headline, since it wasn’t at a text size, but as I discovered, Volvo used a particular cut that had short descenders and was slightly condensed. I tried to match the leading.
   Therefore, here it is, offered under Creative Commons with attribution to me for the typesetting, please, while noting the image is not mine:

   And sometimes, I use my powers for good.

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Tumblr is dead, long live NewTumbl

23.04.2019

Tumblr is dead, long live NewTumbl.
   I came across NewTumbl (formally newTumbl) a few days ago, after finding my Tumblr feed just wasn’t what it used to be. It’s not that the dirty pictures are gone—I only ever followed one blog where the images might be considered sensual—but that the energy was. Those friends whose posts interested me weren’t posting much any more, and it wasn’t just them: my posting had diminished significantly. Platforms, I imagine, have a shelf life, and when announcements such as Verizon’s last year, which became known, perhaps incorrectly, as Tumblr’s ‘porn ban’, it was bound to affect the platform. It was the language that opened Verizon up to ridicule: apparently, they had a problem with ‘female-presenting nipples’, and some innocent content was flagged for removal.
   What Verizon had really underestimated was that among the adult imagery were communities that were having free and safe discussions about sexuality, and sex workers themselves had a place where they, too, could post. It wasn’t an “adult” site per se, considering the overwhelming majority of the content was family-friendly. That perhaps kept the place relatively safe: you could have these private discussions while coming across general posts featuring interesting photography or good political viewpoints. Tumblr also hadn’t descended into the political divisiveness that plague platforms such as Twitter.
   I liked Tumblr for many reasons. It became a fun place to post interesting graphics for me, and to put anything that I didn’t want to structure into long-form thoughts. It was image-based. Every now and then I would put up a quotation. The Font Police blog is still there, with over 20,000 followers.
   I liked the fact that for years, someone would get back to you when you posted a query. This was true even after Yahoo acquired it.
   But during the Blogcozy experiment, which sadly resulted in that platform’s closure, I cut down my time on Tumblr, because I had found a more suitable place to put those brief thoughts and to share with friends. Had Tumblr been a greater draw, I wouldn’t have considered it. After Blogcozy closed, I didn’t really resume my Tumblring to the same extent. Social seemed to be dying, since it was being run by Big Tech firms that lied as their main position. Even if Tumblr was more honest (and it was), the age of social media seemed to be at an end.
   I may have been wrong, because since posting on NewTumbl I’ve been impressed by the sense of energy there. Yes, it has attracted a great deal of the adult posters who left Tumblr. But if you don’t want to see X-rated stuff, you say so in the settings, and adjust to M (for mature), O (for office), or even F (for family). You won’t see anything coarser than what you chose (with the occasional exception when posters did not have a clue how the ratings’ system works). The interface is familiar-but-different-enough for Tumblr users and Verizon lawyers. Yet it goes beyond what Tumblr does, with the smart use of Interstate as the body typeface, and photos in multi-image posts actually appear in the order you load them.
   It’s not perfect: I couldn’t link a video but I could upload; and I managed to stumble on a 404 page by following links, both of which I’ll report, since they make it so easy to do.
   But here’s the really good thing: the transparency. One of the main developers, Dean, talks to users and provides feedback. He’ll even post when an error occurs during development—that’s something you’ll never see Facebook do when its databases die.
   He and I have already exchanged notes via DMs after I joined for two days, and I said I saw so many parallels between what he was doing and what I saw with Tesla when Martin Eberhard was running it (transparency over ego), or even in the days when Jerry and David were building Yahoo—I’m old enough to have been submitting sites to them while they were still being run out of a garage. There’s an exciting sense with Dean and the small NewTumbl crew that they’re building something useful for the world, celebrating free speech and humanity. Am I being overly optimistic? I don’t think I am: I enjoy the UI, I like the openness and honesty, and these are just what the tech sector needs. I see a draw for spending my time here even though I have zero followers to my blog. The buzz feels similar to when I discovered some sites back in the 1990s: it seems new and exciting.
   It’s also rather nice being the first person to populate some fandom hashtags, though I was second for Doctor Who, and for anyone ever searching for The Avengers, they will see, rightly, a photograph of Diana Rigg and Patrick Macnee.
   I’ll see you there at jackyan.newtumbl.com. Lucire also has a NewTumbl at lucire.newtumbl.com.


Above: The one thing I posted to Tumblr that went viral, in 2011.

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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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Neil Gaiman on JY Integrity on his UK paperbacks

09.07.2018

When Neil Gaiman pays you a compliment about one of your typeface families (JY Integrity, which I designed in 1993), you gratefully accept.

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