Posts tagged ‘1990s’


The big difference with the internet of the ’90s: it served the many, not the few

11.09.2016


Above: Facebook kept deleting Nick Ut’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph each time it was posted, even when Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten did so, preventing its editor-in-chief from responding.

There’s a significant difference between the internet of the 1990s and that of today. As Facebook comes under fire for deleting the “napalm girl” photograph from the Vietnam War shared by Norwegian writer Tom Egeland, then by prime minister Erna Solberg and Aftenposten newspaper, it has highlighted to me how the big Silicon Valley players have become exclusionary. In this latest case, it is about how one firm determines what is acceptable and unacceptable without regard to cultural significance or free speech; it even punished people who dared criticize it, and has failed to apologize. Earlier this year, in one of my numerous battles with Facebook, I noted how a major German company falsely claimed videos that did not belong to them, yet there was no penalty. An individual or a small firm would not have been so lucky: when we file copyright claims, we do so ‘under penalty of perjury’ on the form.
   Google, never far from my critical eye, is the same. I’ve watched Google News, for instance, become exclusionary, too, or, rather, a service that prefers big players rather than the independents. When deciding to send traffic for a particular news item, Google News now ranks big media outlets more highly, and to heck with journalistic quality or any regard on who broke the story first. It’s damaging to the independent voice, as Google concentrates power in favour of larger firms today, and it’s rather disturbing when you consider the implications.
   Mainstream media can be homogeneous, and, in some cases, damaging, when bias and prejudice get in to the system. When it comes to politics, this can be detrimental to democracy itself. And why should a search engine prefer a larger name anyway? Many newsrooms have been stripped of resources, ever more reliant on press releases. Many now engage in click-bait. Some have agenda driven by big business and their technocratic view of the world, especially those that have their corporate headquarters outside the country in which they operate. Those who desire to wake people up from their slumber get short shrift. Google is aiding this world, because since it became publicly listed, it has had to adopt its trappings, and one might argue that it is in direct conflict with its ‘Don’t be evil’ mantra (one which never held much sway with me).
   This is the world which Google and Facebook, and no doubt others, wish to serve up to users. They may well argue that they’re only delivering what people want: if a lot of people get their news from the Daily Mail or The Huffington Post, then that’s what they’ll show in their results. There’s little freshness online as a result, which is why people aren’t as inclined to share in 2016 as they were in 2010.
   Yet it was not always this way. The hope in the late 1990s and early 2000s was that Google et al would be tools in distributing power equally among all netizens. Started an independent online publication? If the quality is there, if you’re the first to break a story, then Google News will lavish attention upon you. If you have specialized news outside what mainstream media deliver, then you’ll pop up regularly in the search results’ pages. The blogosphere rose because of this, with people seeking opinions and research outside of what the mainstream could deliver. The reason people blog less isn’t just because of social networks making one-sentence opinions de rigueur; it is because people have found it harder to reach new audience members, and their own tribe is the next best thing.
   It makes the ’net a far less interesting place to be. Without fresh, new views, we run the risk of groupthink, or we become particularly influenced by the biases of certain media outlets. We don’t really want to surf casually as we once did because we don’t learn anything new: it’s harder to find novel things that pique our interests.
   There are potential solutions, of course. I tend not to Google, but use Duck Duck Go, so at least I don’t get a filter bubble when I search for particular subjects. However, Duck Duck Go does not have a comprehensive news search, and Google’s index size remains unbeatable.
   What we really need next is something that brings back that sense of equality online. I believe that if you put in the hours into good content and design, you should excel and get your site ranked above the same old sources. Google claims that it does that when it tweaks its algorithms but I’m not seeing this. Facebook merely builds on what people have found—so if you can’t find it, it won’t wind up being shared. Twitter, at least, still has some interesting items, but if you don’t catch it in your feed at a given time, then too bad. It’s not geared to search.
   Duck Duck Go is a start, at least when it comes to general searches. It becomes easier to find views that you might not agree with—and that’s a good thing when it comes to understanding others. Google’s approach lulls you into a sense of security, that your views are sacrosanct—and all that does is give you the notion that the other half is wrong.
   So what of news? Duck Duck Go could well be a starting-point for that, too, ranking news based on who breaks an item first and the quality of the site, rather than how much money is behind it. Or perhaps this is the space for another entrepreneur. Ironically, it might even come out of China; though right now it’s equally likely to emerge from India. What it then needs is a bit of virality for it to be adopted, spread by the very people it is designed to aid.
   We need something that rewards the independent entrepreneur again, the people who drove so many innovations in the 1990s and 2000s. This isn’t nostalgia kicking in, seeing the world through rose-coloured glasses while happily ignoring all those businesses that failed. I completely acknowledge there were sites that vanished at the time of the dot-com bust, triggered in no small part by 9-11, the anniversary of which we celebrate today.
   Society needs those distinctive voices, those independent entrepreneurs, those people who are willing to put themselves forward and be judged fairly. What they don’t need are reactionary media who want to silence them out of fear that the world will change too much for them to bear; and big Silicon Valley firms all too happy to join in these days.
   It’s high time the most influential websites served the many rather than the few again.

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Posted in business, culture, globalization, interests, internet, media, politics, publishing, technology, USA | 3 Comments »


It’s all going fines at Volkswagen

05.01.2016

Volkswagen Golf VIIGeneral Motors’ fine in 1995 for 470,000 cars using defeat devices against EPA testing: US$11 million. Volkswagen’s fine in 2016 for 580,000 cars using defeat devices against EPA testing: potentially US$40,000 million (or $40 billion, as the Americans say). The local companies get off far easier in the US. In fact, GM can even get a US$49,500 million bail-out from Uncle Sam. I realize there’s a difference between a settlement and a claim, but I wonder if Volkswagen’s going get away with paying less than a figure in the milliards.

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The political caricatures of old have taken human form, but they’re still nothing like us

09.05.2015

That’s another British General Election done and dusted. I haven’t followed one this closely since the 1997 campaign, where I was backing John Major.
   Shock, horror! Hang on, Jack. Haven’t the media all said you are a leftie? Didn’t you stand for a left-wing party?
   Therein lies a fallacy about left- and right wings. I’ve never completely understood the need to pigeonhole someone into a particular camp, when I would say most people on this planet hold a mix of views from both sides. Now that politicians are not unlike caricatures—there has been a “rightward” shift where the policies being adopted by some are so outside economic orthodoxy that they look like what their Spitting Image counterparts would have uttered back in the day—this holds more true than ever. We know what subscribing to certain parties’ views fully and completely is like: we risk looking loony, and, if taken too far, we risk becoming loony.
   But the spin doctors and advisers aren’t in to transparency. They are into their talking heads conveying what they feel the public responds to, hence Mitt Romney, once an advocate of universal health care in his own state, becoming an opponent of it when he ran for president; or, for that matter, Ed Miliband’s insistence on the ‘budget responsibility lock’, to demonstrate that he had a handle on the economy, when Economics 101 told us that austerity isn’t a good way to help the economy along and Miliband began sounding like Cameron lite.
   My support of Major in the 1997 General Election, which went against the prevailing view at the time, was down to several reasons. Unlike Cameron, Major didn’t practise austerity, but he did practise conventional economics with the government going more into deficit through increasing spending during the early 1990s’ recession, knowing the stimulus to be affordable, and knowing it had to be paid back once the economy was healthy again. It is interesting to note Sir John’s own goal while campaigning for the Tories in this General Election, when he said at the Tory Reform Group annual dinner, ‘We need to acknowledge the fact we have a pretty substantial underclass and there are parts of our country where we have people who have not worked for two generations and whose children do not expect to work.
   ‘How can it be that in a nation that is the fifth richest nation in the world, that in the United Kingdom we have four of the poorest areas in Europe? I include eastern Europe in that question.’
   How indeed. The John Major who was prime minister will have answered that easily, and his own record illustrates just why he avoided such consequences in the 1990s that Cameron was unable to.
   The second reason was that I really believed the ‘classless society’ speech, and if you have read his memoirs, or even biographies written about him, then there was a real personal experience woven into that. Critics will point at the fact the speech was written by Antony Jay (Yes, Minister) or the fact that Britain invented To the Manor Born and such sitcoms, but, generally, why should only certain classes have the ability to excel and do their best? Everyone should have that opportunity, and the measures implemented under the Major premiership, while not as far to the left as traditional socialists would have wanted, struck a good balance in my view in an immediate post-Thatcher period. We should always be wary of sudden shifts, whether they’re swings from the left to the right, or vice versa. A pragmatic approach seemed sensible.
   Third, it was precisely that Major was not a Thatcherite, even if Margaret Thatcher might have believed him to be when she made him Chancellor of the Exchequer, a job that he wanted most of his political life. But what we had in his very shrewd opponent in 1997 was Thatcherism, or at least monetarism. As we know from Tony Blair’s and Gordon Brown’s early move in allowing the Bank of England to be free of political control, their belief that this would avoid boom-and-bust cycles was not realized. However, the evidence does show that the freedom has coincided with a period of low interest rates and stable inflation, but equally one can credit the work of the Tories in handing New Labour a booming economy in May of that year. As Major noted at the time, it was rare for a government to lose while the economy was improving, but the Labour campaign, ably assisted by biased media at the time, and the easy pass Blair got from the British establishment despite being very, very vague about his policies, was hard to beat. All he had to do was utter ‘Change’ and ‘It’s about New Labour, new Britain.’ It hid, to those of us watching the General Election and the year before it, New Labour’s Thatcherite aims. I am not even that sure what Blair, Brown and Peter Mandelson were doing in the party to begin with.
   This might be contrasted with a Tory party weakened through allegations of sleaze (and we know now that no party is any less sleazy than the other, but it depends on when you are caught out) leading Major to fight a campaign largely alone with the occasional publicity boost from the Spice Girls. No matter how specific the PM got, it didn’t matter. (Or, as I had told many of my design classes at the time when I was teaching, the Conservatives’ Arial was no match for Labour’s Franklin Gothic, a typeface family that, incidentally, was used by Thatcher in her 1983 election campaign, and by Labour in New Zealand in 1999 and 2002.) It was frustrating to try to discern what Labour’s specific policies were from Down Under, watching the General Election campaign with keen interest. And those lack of specifics worried me from the start, which explains why when I ran for office, I issued a manifesto early in the game. I liked being first, even if the electorate didn’t put me there.
   Whether you agreed with Labour or not, and many would argue that the Blair and Brown years were not stellar, the divisions in their party—which I imagine we will see reemerge in the next few days—indicate that even within there is a great deal of polarization. The Thatcherites are in there, except they are called Blairites. And while Sir John put his weight behind his party out of loyalty, and from his earlier political years witnessing how ‘Labour isn’t working’ (the Wilson–Callaghan years must have been formative for him given his age), his comments at the dinner are telling on just where modern Conservative economic policies under George Osborne differed to his own and those of Norman Lamont. If people are suffering, if they aren’t getting their shot at the ‘classless society’, then is the place any good? If the class divide has grown, contrary to Sir John’s own views, and weakened Britain as a result of the contraction of economic players in it, then even the “right” can’t support that. To me, I thought conservatism was letting everyone have a shot, and about solid, national enterprise, and this century hasn’t given me much faith that that applies very widely.
   Labour might have campaigned on that and on preserving the NHS although having listened to Miliband, I was never totally convinced. Perhaps, I, too, had concerns about Labour vagueness, and until this General Election I had not followed the Shadow Cabinet closely enough to know the thinking and histories behind the players. That area, I will leave to others to comment. In some respects, the caricature comment I made above applies to Labour, too.

Contrasting the Tories this time with the party I knew a bit better through observation—the two terms of John Major—I feel they are very different. And, sadly, I draw parallels with the National Party here at home, where people attempt to compare incumbent John Key with Sir Robert Muldoon (1975–84), and I simply cannot see the parallels other than the colour of the branding.
   Sir Robert resolutely believed in full employment, the rights of the unemployed, the state ownership of assets, energy independence, and his ability to fight his own battles. Had attack blogs been around then, he wouldn’t have needed them. I do not agree with everything about his premiership, and his miscalculation of public opinion over the Gleneagles Agreement and the environment is now part of history. However, his terms are still being misjudged today, with an entire generation happily brainwashed by both the monetarist orthodoxy of the 1980s and a prime-time documentary (The Grim Face of Power) aired after his death (probably to avoid a defamation suit) to belittle his legacy. (The contrasting documentary made many years later, Someone Else’s Country, was buried on a weekend afternoon.) We did not have to wait months for a telephone, nor did we not have cars to buy; yet the belief that the electorate has a collective memory of only five years means we haven’t a hope of comprehending fully what happened thirty years ago. But to those of us who pride ourselves on a decent memory, and I believe if we seek public office we must have one, then things were never as bleak as people believe. He was sexist, yet I do not believe him to want to preside over a divided New Zealand, and his own books reveal a desire for unity. Unfortunately, looking at a man born in 1921 through the prism of 2015, plenty of his sayings look anachronistic and passé, but once context is added, the New Zealand we look at today looks more divided.
   We, too, have an underclass that has emerged (those begging for change weren’t there two decades ago, nor were so many food banks), through economic policies that have weakened our businesses. Both major parties deserve criticism over this. For a country where experts have said we must head toward technology to end our reliance on primary products, other than software patents, we have had a strange record over intellectual property with a prime minister who was against certain copyright amendments before he was for them (and voted accordingly). A New Zealand resident who adopted the same rules over copyrighted materials as Google and Dropbox has been indicted by the US Government—that’s right, I am talking about Kim Dotcom. It’s a reminder that we haven’t done enough for our tech sector, the one which governments have said we should aid, which can help our overall economy.
   We are hopelessly behind in how much technology contributes to our economy, and we have done little to support the small- to medium-sized businesses that form the backbone of our economy. Instead, we have been selling them short, welcoming ever-larger multinationals (who usually pay tax in their home country, not ours) and giving them more advantages than our own. Since when has allegiance to these foreign players ever been part of politics on the left or on the right? If we are to support businesses, for instance, we should be negotiating for our own milliard-dollar enterprises to make headway into new markets. Xero et al will thank us for it. Globalization is as much about getting our lot out there so they can pay tax back here. Politicians should be patriotic, but toward our own interests, not someone else’s.

Therein lie my many posts about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement on my Facebook. It is precisely because I support business that I am against a good part of what has been leaked so far. (I am aware that many trade agreements are negotiated in secret, so there is nothing new there.) It is precisely because I believe in a level playing field for Kiwis that we should be careful at how we liberalize and in what sectors and at what pace we should do it. The curious thing there is that the substantial arguments (obviously against it) have come from the “left”, or friends who identify as being left-wing, while some who have identified as being right-wing have bid me an indignant exit from the discussion by attacking the players and not their utterances, and yet somehow the lefties are branded the woolly, emotional wrecks?
   As I wrote last year, ‘All I want are facts, not emotional, ideological arguments. On the evidence for me, things are leaning toward the anti side. I come from the standpoint of the market being a man-made construct and people are not numbers.
   ‘… [T]here are cases going on with tobacco companies where they are using IP to argue that plain packs are contrary to trade agreements. So where do you draw the line with public health versus a foreign enterprise profiting? I’d like to see healthy people not taxing the system, and plain packs were a foreseeable development IMO for a tobacco manufacturer. [I know this is an argument that is typically trotted out, but I use it since there is at least one case out there.] A wise tobacco company would have acquired businesses in other fields (as some have done), just as Coca-Cola, seeing the tide turn against sodas, have bought up water, energy drink and juice businesses. It’s wise investing, and it’s progress.
   ‘There is nothing wrong with the notion of a trade tribunal but what has been emerging from the leaks are ones where corporations can be compensated for loss of profits based on, say, plain packaging. If a government is democratically elected to implement such a policy, and corporations have always understood investments to be subject to the laws of the land (including the risk of divestment in some), then should their rights trump that of the citizens? This is the danger here, and this is the heart of the sovereignty argument.
   ‘Another example is with software patents, which our country has voted to do away with. It’s been shown that that would spur innovation.
   ‘The tendency is that TPPA is against these moves, although given the secrecy we do not know for sure. But reading other IP provisions it does not take a big leap of the imagination.
   ‘… Do I believe in global free trade? Absolutely. But I also believe in making sure that people have the means the buy the stuff I sell, and to me this treaty (based on what has been leaked) does not ensure that. I also believe in social responsibility and that citizens have their basics looked after so they can participate in commerce. I am pro-innovation, especially in smaller enterprises where some great stuff is taking place, and we have reasonably robust IP laws already and conventions that govern them. I’m not saying I have a complete alternative that replaces it, but some of the work we have done at the Medinge Group touches on these issues.’
   One argument in favour is: if we are not party to this, then does this mean we will get shut out of it? I’m not entirely sure we will in that we are already one of the freest markets in the world, although I welcome arguments and past examples. In the areas I know well, the absence of a free-trade agreement with the US, for instance, have never hampered our firm exporting there, but I realize for our primary producers there have been obstacles. But do such agreements mean unimpeded access when it’s so easy, even under WTO, to erect non-tariff barriers? And why should corporations’ rights trump citizens’, as opponents are quick to point out?
   ‘At the end of the day,’ to borrow a phrase, all human systems are imperfect. And the market is just as human as any other. My belief is that your own citizens, and their welfare, must be placed first, and we should support our own people and our own businesses. The political caricatures that certain parties have now rendered into human form don’t necessarily appear to understand this, certainly not by their actions. This is at the crux of the arguments that I saw from Labour supporters in the UK General Election, and to some extent from those who opposed National and ACT in our one last year. Labour’s loss here, too, in my view, can be placed on a leader who himself came across as unsubstantial on TV as his opponents; and his refusal to resign can be contrasted to the behaviour of Miliband and Nick Clegg yesterday. He could have always pulled a Nigel Farage.
   The sooner we get away from notions of “left” and “right” and work out for ourselves where we’d like our country and our world to head, we will start working together without these false divisions. I might add that “being Asian” in this country is yet another false division. No wonder most people are sick of politics, politicians and “politics as usual”, because most of us cannot be bothered pigeonholing ourselves. We just want to do what’s decent and honourable and have the chance to get on with it.

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It’s full circle for style.com: back to its origins in fashion retail

02.05.2015

Originally published in the online edition of Lucire, May 1, 2015



Top Earlier today, attempting to get into Style.com meant a virus warning—the only trace of this curiosity is in the web history. Above Style.com is back, with a note that it will be transforming into an e-tail site.

If there’s one constant in fashion, it’s change. The other one, which we notice thanks to a number of our team being well schooled on fashion history, is that trends always return, albeit in modified form. Both have come into play with Style.com, which announced earlier this week that it would become an ecommerce site.
   When Lucire started, we linked to style.com, but it wasn’t in our fashion magazines’ directory. It was, instead, in our shopping guide.
   In 2000, that all changed, and it began appearing under our fashion magazine links, where it was until today. An attempt to log in to the home page was met by a virus warning, preventing us from going further. We figured that this was part of the transformation of the website as it readied itself for the next era, discouraging people from peering. However, having had these warnings splashed across our own pages two years ago courtesy of Google’s faulty bot, when our site was in fact clean, there was a part of us taking it with a grain of salt. In either case, given the impending change, it was probably the right time to remove the link.
   This evening, Style.com is back and virus-free, with an overlay graphic announcing that the website will be changing. Plenty of our media colleagues have analysed the closure over the past week: the Murdoch Press has gossiped about how the layoffs were announced, WWD suggests editor-in-chief Dirk Standen didn’t know it was coming, based on rumours, while Fashionista puts it all into context by analysing just where ecommerce is within the fashion sector, and that content should be the answer over clothing sales.
   What is interesting is no one that we’ve spotted has mentioned how the style.com domain name (we’ve carefully noted it in lowercase there) has effectively come full circle. Perhaps we really are in the age of Wikipedia-based research, as this fact is not mentioned there at all.
   When Lucire launched in 1997, style.com was the website for Express Style, later more prominently, and simply, branded Express, a US fashion retailer. It’s not hard to imagine that had Express remained at the URL, it would have become an e-tailer; it has, after all, made the move into ecommerce at its present home, express.com. Like a fashion trend that comes back two decades later, style.com has gone back to its roots: by the autumn it’ll be e-tailing.
   The omission from the above paragraph is the sale of the style.com domain name by Express to Condé Nast in the late 1990s. We never completely understood the need to start a new brand to be the US home of Vogue and W; for many  years, typing vogue.com into the browser in the US would take one automatically to Style.com. Then, somewhere along the line, Condé Nast decided that vogue.com should be the online home of Vogue after all.
   But having made the decision to forge ahead with Style.com, Condé Nast did it with a lot of resources, and took its site to number one among print fashion magazine web presences in a remarkably short space of time. It devoted plenty of resources to it, and it’s thanks to Style.com that certain things that were once frowned upon—e.g. showing off catwalk collections after the show—became acceptable. Designers used to enjoy the fact that we and Elle US delayed online coverage, the belief being that the delay ensured that pirates could not copy their designs and beat them to the high street.
   To get itself known, Condé Nast bought advertising at fashion websites that were better known, including this one (yes, in 2000 that really was the case), at a time when online advertising cost considerably more than it does today.
   The muscle from the best known name in fashion publishing changed the way the media interacted with readers. Designers figured that if they wanted coverage, they would have to accept that their work would be shown nearly instantly. We became used to that idea, so much so that we now have to show the catwalk videos live in the 2010s.
   In some ways, the change makes sense: we’re talking about an Alexa rank in the 4,000s, which translates to plenty of traffic. The name is known, and most shoppers will make some association with Vogue. The official word is that Franck Zayan, formerly head of ecommerce for Galeries Lafayette, will helm the revised website, and he’s reporting that brands are coming on board rapidly.
   One shouldn’t mourn the loss of Style.com as a fashion news portal, since the content we’re all used to is bound to appear at Vogue. And in all the years we had it in our magazines’ directory, it was listed under our Vogue entry anyway. We await the new site to see what Condé Nast will do with it, and it may yet return to the spot where it once was in the 20th century, in the shopping guide.

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Steve Guttenberg shows us how a Kiwi accent is done

27.12.2013

Back in September, The Dominion Post claimed on its front page that I have an ‘accent’ that is holding me back. It was a statement which the editor-in-chief subsequently apologized for, and which she had removed from the online edition—you can judge for yourself here if the claim was a falsehood. Still, despite having lived here for 37 years and having grown up here, I thought I had better take lessons from the great actor, Steve Guttenberg, on what a New Zealander sounds like, since evidently I was still too foreign for a newspaper reporter.
   Head to around 49 minutes for Steve in the persona of Lobo Marunga, from Auckland, in The Boyfriend School, which aired in New Zealand as Don’t Tell Her It’s Me. Forget Sir Ben Kingsley in Ender’s Game.

   My thanks to all those on Twitter and Facebook who complained to the newspaper back in September. The plus side is turning fictions like this into what they should be: a source of humour and entertainment.

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Posted in humour, internet, media, New Zealand, politics, TV, USA, Wellington | 4 Comments »


Staying a step ahead: the economic benefit of gimmicks

05.06.2013


Wifi on the waterfront is now a normal part of Wellington life—but in 2009 some felt it was a gimmick.

When I proposed free wifi as a campaign policy in 2009, it was seen as gimmicky by some. I wasn’t a serious candidate, some thought. But those ideas that have demand, such as wifi, have a way of becoming mainstream. The gimmicky tag is lost.
   Just as it was lost with the microwave oven, the compact disc, or the cellular phone.
   Not that the wifi idea was anything that new. Nor was it that original. It was simply a logical thing to propose for anyone who had done a spot of travelling (perhaps I did more than my rivals that time?), and had seen the potential of having the internet on tap to those using mobile devices. (The irony of this is, of course, I was not a regular user of mobile devices, at least not till they got to the technology that I expected of them.) If by providing such infrastructure, others could benefit, then was there anything to lose?
   Former Wellington mayor Mark Blumsky had a target to make our city the first capital in the world to be half-wired, that is, to have half its population on the internet. In the 1990s, when people were still wondering what on earth the internet was, that seemed an unnecessary goal. But leadership demands that one stays ahead of the curve, otherwise what point is there? If people wanted leaders to be reactive, then they may as well vote same-again politicians.
   I’m still pushing for extending wifi, especially in the places where library funding cuts have hurt resources for Wellingtonians. During a recent visit to the Johnsonville library, where staff could not discuss the impact of the cuts, I at least solicited the librarians’ belief that their places of work were used by all sectors of the community. Every age, every culture. And this library was particularly buzzing, as a community library should be.
   It’s going to take rebuilding our business sector—which forms a good part of the only published mayoral campaign manifesto to date—to at least get our economy moving and our rates’ base less dependent on citizens. But on the library issues, extending wifi into certain suburbs can help, especially those hardest hit by the cuts. Provide an uncapped service for those accessing certain educational sites, for instance—it’s technically not that hard to distinguish those from merely social ones.
   We’ve seen how the waterfront system is used through the year, and how it helps people connect. But as with the original system, it sends a signal to others, including those wanting to invest in our city, that Wellington is open to high-value, high-tech businesses. Why should our suburbs not receive the same “open for business” invitation?
   Collaboration, after all, helps fuel the human mind, toward new ideas and innovations.
   On that note, too, other things can be open. The 2010 campaign saw my support for open source. It’s still there, since I work with both commercial and open-source platforms myself. I’ve seen first-hand, through a mash-up competition I helped on a few years back (I mentored one of the winners), how providing open data gets creative juices flowing.
   So why not, in line with all of the above, make our bus and train data open to the public? Presently, Metlink won’t be releasing its real-time information (RTI) to the public, but if it did, potentially, an innovative Wellington company can use these data for live maps, for instance. Find out more information than the RTI that’s being delivered at bus stops. It is called public transport, after all, so why not public data? The most obvious app is a live map of buses that works much like the computer graphics in an America’s Cup race—once gimmicky, now also mainstream. In fact, it’s demanded by broadcasters. The New Zealand innovation of high-resolution, three-dimensional TV weather maps is now de rigueur around the world, too.
   If I can think of something like that, imagine what our really creative, lateral thinkers can come up with.
   While some city data are open, we should continue this trend, especially when it comes to data that innovations can stem from. At the risk of sounding trite, ‘It’s limited only by your imagination.’
   And what if such technology became so highly demanded that another exporter, another high-growth firm, was created right here in Wellington?
   The potential economic impact of “gimmicks” is very serious indeed.

As always, feedback and dialogue are welcome, either via this blog, my campaign Facebook group, or my Facebook page.

PS.: Here’s a prime example from Bangor, Maine of how these data can help the public, which Hamish McConnochie shared with me.—JY

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Thinking to the future as Lucire turns 15

21.10.2012

I’ve written so many editorials about Lucire’s history for our various anniversaries that now we’ve turned 15, I feel like I’d just be going over old ground. Again. I’d do it maybe for the 20th or 21st, but the story has been told online and in print many times.
   But 15 is a bit more of an occasion than, say, the ninth—so it deserves some recognition. The biggie this week is not so much that we have turned 15, but that we have officially announced a print-on-demand edition to complement our others in print and online, one that sees Lucire printed off as it’s ordered. It combines what we know—the digital world—with an analogue medium that everyone understands. It also gets around that sad reality that for every 1,000 copies printed, 500 usually wind up getting returned due to being unsold and pulped. In publishing, two-thirds sold qualifies as having “sold out”. And that’s not really that great for the first fashion magazine that the United Nations Environment Programme calls an industry partner.
   We’re also celebrating the Ipad and Android editions, which actually launched in August but we didn’t get an announcement out till September. We also débuted a PDF download via Scopalto in France, and there’s one more edition that we’ll announce before the year is out.
   So rather than look back—which is what we found ourselves doing at the 10th anniversary, at a time when the recession was about to bite and there was just an inkling of a fear that our best days were behind us—we’re now looking forward with some relish and wondering just how these new editions will play out.
   If I were to take a look back to 1997, it would be to remark that being the first (at least for New Zealand) does not necessarily translate to being the most profitable. You carve out a niche that no one else had done before, prove a point, and someone else makes it work a bit better. So is the lesson in commerce.
   It used to bug me but no more; we have a good record of doing things in a pioneering fashion, and when you look at Lucire, it’s one of the very few fashion titles from the original dot-com era that’s still being published today, and in more forms than we had imagined. We were always happy to put value labels right next to pricier ones in coverage or in editorials, because that is how real people dress, and because we based our coverage on merit rather than advertising budgets. We looked at the advertising market at a global, rather than regional, level, something which we see some agencies taking advantage of as greater convergence happens in that market.
   I like to think that some day, all magazines will be printed as we’re doing them, but from more bases around the world, to alleviate the burden on our resources. They’ll be, as I predicted many years back, mini, softcover coffee-table books, publications to covet, and be less temporary. (I also said newspapers will become more like news magazines, but I live in a city where dailies are still printed as broadsheets, which reminds me that predictions can often take a lot longer to be realized.) Features will dominate ahead of short-term, flash-in-the-pan news, a path which the 28th New Zealand-produced Lucire issue takes, and something foreshadowed by Twinpalms Lucire in Thailand five years ago.
   We’re also in a very enviable position with a cohesive team. You could say it’s taken us 15 years to find them. At 1 p.m. local time on October 20—15 years and one hour after we launched—our London team met to toast our 15th anniversary, while fashion editor Sopheak Seng, Louise Hatton, Michael Beel and Natalie Fisher worked on a photo shoot today in New Zealand for issue 29. Around the world, our team continues to deliver regular content, and I hope they’ll forgive me for not naming everyone as I fear accidental omissions. Just as I felt a little uncertain but excited about where things would lead with Lucire on October 21, 1997–the 20th in the US—I have a similar feeling today. And that’s a good thing, because if we’ve managed to get on the radars of millions in those last 15 years, I’m hopeful of the changes we can effect in the next 15.


Above: Lucire copies get finished at Vertia Print in Lower Hutt.

Also published in Lucire.

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Wayne Sotogi’s thoroughly modern Mini (the 10 ft long variety)

11.10.2012

When BMW showed its Mini Rocketman concept, a lot of people applauded it: here was something that was roughly (1959) Mini-sized, rather than the larger car that it has become. In fact, the Mini Countryman gets the most criticism because it is not mini at all, but 4·1 m long (the original Mini was just over 3 m).
   As I wrote elsewhere, I was a big fan of the Mini Spiritual, a show car that BMW displayed, created by Rover’s British designers. It was a smidge over 3 m (10 ft) long yet had incredible packaging, staying true to Mini creator Alec Issigonis’s aims. In fact, when Issigonis tried to replace his own Mini, it was with a design that was smaller than the Mini externally yet more space-efficient.
   So I was interested when my friend, Kiwi expat Wayne Sotogi of Inspia Creative, cooked up the illustration below, wondering if a thoroughly modern Mini could be created and be around 10 ft long.
   This is a concept only, and no consideration has been given to internal packaging and how that might suit modern tastes, but when a Mondeo is wider, taller and roomier than a Falcon, you have to wonder about automotive sizes. Mazda, with its current Demio, and a few other manufacturers have tried to ensure that their current models aren’t larger than their predecessors.
   Personally, I like it (why else would I blog about it?). It has style, the right Mini cues, and if some buyers are OK with Japanese kei cars, then why not?

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History has already shown us the better way, so why ape an outmoded market leader?

05.02.2012

A friend had his Gmail hacked, and, much like an Atlantic article I read in the print edition a few months ago, the hackers deleted his entire mailbox. Google says these hacks only happen a few thousand times daily.
   I’m concerned for him because he has to deal with the Google forums, and we all know how unhelpful and obstructive they can be.
   I’ve never trusted Gmail, or any web-based email system, “on the cloud”. I’ve always kept POP3 archives and the worst thing that might happen is that some of the older CDs and DVDs might be less reliable. But this event actually brings to mind something else that has concerned me about my method: the email client.
   I’ve used Eudora since the 1990s. I started with v. 1.2, and for years, my standard client was 4.3. I happily paid for a licence to get the pro version, and used 4.3 till it no longer worked with the settings on our server. That meant I stayed with one email client from 1999 to 2008. I was then forced to upgrade to 7.1, and I have used that since.
   Qualcomm no longer makes Eudora, and for the last half-decade or so, there have been various “Eudorized” versions of Mozilla Thunderbird. That won’t fly with me, because my demand is actually very simple, but it is going completely unmet: I want an email program that has a vertically tiled inbox and outbox. For the majority of my working life, I have used this method as a to-do list of sorts, and I can see at a glance who I have to deal with.
   The sad thing is that the three-window interface has become a standard for email programs, but this does not work for me. I don’t want an email program that syncs with calendars or creates automatic Dropbox links. I just want one that works, where I can have filters and multiple accounts, and where I can have inbox and outbox side by side. This should be, I thought, a relatively simple request, especially as Eudora was, at one point, considerably more popular than it is today.

Eudora window
Above: Eudora 7.1, with an inbox on the left and an outbox on the right. Does anyone else make an email program that does this?

This is the story of many industries, where inferior norms become the standard. As I typed this, Preston Tucker came to mind: a pioneer who created a safe, fast and aerodynamic car with fuel injection, decades before Detroit could manage the same. But the big players won out and Tucker died a broken man. Americans, and indeed the rest of the world, made do with the same old junk till they were forced to innovate and use ideas that Tucker wanted to mainstream in the 1950s. Similarly, I laugh when people talk about the novelty of hybrids, when you consider how prevalent dual-fuel natural gas–petrol cars were in New Zealand 30 years ago.
   In the tech world, I happily used—and still use—WordPerfect. Why? It works. And it still works considerably better than its competition. Even a 20-year-old version will blow modern word processors away in terms of sheer functionality and ease of use, assuming you could install it. The latest versions are buggier because of the small user base and the absence of Unicode compatibility. But I persevere with it because, at the end of the day, these programs are tools, and I get my work done far more quickly with WordPerfect. I might be the one person on the planet who does not know how to use Word.
   I can’t get my head around Word. With WordPerfect, if I set margins and font, it stays that way till I tell it otherwise. Word and its later competitors have a habit of needing styles set, and try to be too clever for their own good. It might tab paragraphs automatically—even when you don’t want it to. It might change margins and fonts on me because it can. And Word’s footnote and endnote creation is still light years behind what WordPerfect could do in 1991.
   But Word is the standard because Microsoft gave it away in the 1990s. When OpenOffice and Libre Office came out, it aped the standard, right down to the crazy way it handled styles. Why? By all means, create versions which would ease the transition, but if you’re to adopt any method, why not start with the best? Word, for years, had WordPerfect transitional settings, to steal customers from the market leader. Before Word became a freebie, friends who I converted to WordPerfect were still thanking me profusely for making their lives easier. It would seem logical for these open-source programs to go with a better underlying technology.
   I have subbed with Word, and regularly do, because most of our team write using it. By the end of the piece I will have noticed the original writer adopt three styles, because Word has done it that way. My editing will have caused another three or more stylistic changes. It is a mess by the time I save it, with my only solace being that no member of the public ever sees it in that state.
   When I open a Word file in WordPerfect, which is what I have to do now with the DOCX format, I see all the superfiuous code (through Reveal Codes—for Dreamweaver users, it’s not unlike HTML source) and it answers precisely why the program lacks any logic. Styles upon styles upon styles. Even Dreamweaver users who have ever had to deal with a Word-created HTML file post-Word 2000 know exactly what I mean. Word is an ineficient program, in every respect of the adjective.

WordPerfect window
Above: This is about as simple a document as you can get and the first I found with public information: one set only in Courier, 14 pt. WordPerfect shows that Word, on which the document was originally prepared, has still inserted Times New Roman font-change codes on every blank line—for no reason whatsoever. This is one of the reasons I dislike Microsoft Word. Had the document been prepared on WordPerfect, every incidence of the Times New Roman code would not have been present.

   I don’t know much about programming, but it seems, from every article I have read about these open suites, the new programs are playing the anti-Tucker game, mostly unconsciously, since the developers I have met are usually generous idealists. Let’s stick with this less productive, less logical method of word processing, because that is where the market is. But with fonts and more complex layouts now what people need, I would have thought that the methods employed by old computerized typesetting machines—which used codes similar to WordPerfect—would have been a more logical start for a word processing program.
   This isn’t an ad for WordPerfect. I simply ask for utility and logic. It doesn’t have to have WordPerfect code. It just needs to be a word processor that does what I tell it to do. Set font, stays in that font. Set margins, stays with those margins. Is this too big an ask? Wouldn’t this save time, which is the whole idea of technology? Why should we become slaves to software, when we created it to be our slave?
   Email clients, then, I find, follow much the same pattern. When I chose Eudora, I have a vague recollection that the New Zealand competitor, Pegasus, was structured in much the same way. The tiled inbox and outbox was a norm, and it worked. People rejoiced.
   Then, Microsoft decided it would adopt the present three-window standard in Outlook, and it gave away Outlook. I resisted it from the get-go: who wants to click just to see their outbox? Isn’t that an extra step? Why can’t I see my lists of emails at a glance? For someone who gets several hundred messages a day, I need to see more than ten. I would rather see 25 or more. And my outbox would have action items, things I had promised people I would do. So I stuck with Eudora.
   It’s not about being in Luddite position. It is going back to basics and saying: what would improve people’s workflow? Forcing them to click to see something or just showing it? (Twitter UI designers, take note.) Is the three-window convention the best way to use that on-screen real estate?
   It seems that Thunderbird, the open-source rival, again missed an opportunity by using an inferior convention as its base. By all means, ape Outlook, to ease a transition. But give the public—you are, after all, on the 11th version now—a chance to move the windows as we see fit. Computers are powerful enough now so it must be possible. It was in the 1990s.
   Let those who love the three-window convention stick with it, but let the rest of us move those windows to our heart’s content, and make life as easy as possible.
   The aim, therefore, is to gather as much success in the next decade before these programs become obsolete, by which time I should either have (a) hired extra folks to take care of these tasks exclusively or (b) pushed for these features in the open-source programmes.

Therefore, making leaps ahead is a good thing, but will people do it? This is always the gamble with predicting future needs: will we go so far that we still miss the boat? We fired but the missile landed in front of her bow.
   But I’m not even talking about creating something that doesn’t exist yet. I’m talking about existing methods, things that have been around for ages, waiting to be rediscovered. Resizing and detaching windows is a standard feature in so many programs. All it takes is being able to grab this stuff from history—a lesson that could well apply to organization memory as well. History has already told us, when the playing field was level, which methods were superior, and what people opted for when confronted with having to spend their own money on software. Before their giveaway periods, the choices were never Word or Outlook.
   The open-source movement, in my opinion, has a wonderful opportunity ahead of it for creating a new round of office efficiency.

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A few more swashes for JY Pinnacle Italic

15.07.2011

Pinnacle Italic Pro

JY Pinnacle Italic will be re-released as a Pro version shortly, and above are some of the extra characters we’ve added.
   I know the swash k still needs work, and it will be fixed up by the time of release.
   Pinnacle always had a decent bunch of ligatures, but if you have the chance to add more thanks to OpenType, then why not?
   Hard to believe I originally drew this over 15 years ago—it really doesn’t seem that long ago.

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