Posts tagged ‘2000s’


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

31.07.2020

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

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

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

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Posted in business, globalization, New Zealand, Wellington | No Comments »


Have we stopped innovating in online publishing?

22.07.2020

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

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


Why I don’t find the Asiatic characters on Little Britain and Come Fly with Me racist

11.06.2020


BBC

I have a problem with blackface and yellowface, generally when there are more than capable actors who could have taken the role, but I make exceptions in some situations.
   Take, for example, the news that Little Britain and Come Fly with Me are being removed from streaming services because of what are now deemed racist portrayals. Matt Lucas, who plays half the roles in each, has even said that the shows were right for the time but they’re not what he would make today. Yet I don’t find myself being troubled by his and David Walliams’s characters, since in both they are equal-opportunity about it, even going so far as to address racism head-on with Come Fly with Me’s Ian Foot, a clearly racist character.
   I always viewed everyone from Ting Tong to Precious as caricatures viewed through a British lens, and it is through their comedy that they shine a light on the nation’s attitudes. Matt and David might not like me grouping their work in with Benny Hill’s Chow Mein character, who, while offensive to many Chinese, tended to expose the discomfort of the English “straight man” character, usually portrayed by Henry McGee. I can’t think of one where Mein doesn’t get the upper hand. I like to think these characters all come from the same place.
   Sometimes, especially in comedy, you need people of the same race as most of the audience to point to their nation’s attitudes (and often intolerance)—it’s often more powerful for them as it’s not seen as preaching. Where I have a problem is when characters are founded on utterly false stereotypes, e.g. the bad Asian driver, the loud black man.
   And can you imagine the furore if every character portrayed by Matt and David in Come Fly with Me was white? They would be sharply criticized for not being representative of the many cultures at a modern British airport.
   I don’t turn a blind eye to brownface in Hong Kong (Chinese actors playing Indians) or the mangled Cantonese used to dub white actors, but the same rules apply: if it shines a light on a situation, helps open our collective eyes, and make us better people, then surely we can accept those?
   I Tweeted tonight something I had mentioned on this blog many years ago: Vince Powell’s sitcom Mind Your Language, set in 1970s Britain, where Barry Evans’s Jeremy Brown character, an ESL teacher, has to deal with his highly multicultural and multiracial class. The joke is always, ultimately, on Mr Brown, or the principal, Miss Courtenay, for their inability to adjust to the new arrivals and to understand their cultures. Maybe it’s rose-coloured glasses, but I don’t remember the students being shown as second-class; they often help Jeremy Brown out of a pickle.
   Importantly, many of the actors portrayed their own races, and, if the DVD commentary is to be believed, they were often complimented by people of the same background for their roles.
   Powell based some of his stories on real life: a foreign au pair worked for them and brought home her ESL classmates, and he began getting ideas for the sitcom.
   However, at some stage, this show was deemed to be racist. As I Tweeted tonight, ‘I loved Mind Your Language but white people said the depictions of POC were racist. Hang on, isn’t it more racist to presume we can’t complain ourselves? Most of the actors in that depicted their own race.
   ‘I can only speak for my own, and I didn’t find the Chinese character racist. Because there were elements of truth in there, she was portrayed by someone of my ethnicity, and the scripts were ultimately joking about the British not adjusting well to immigrant cultures.
   ‘Which, given how Leavers campaigned about Brexit, continues to be true. I get why some blackface and yellowface stuff needs to go but can’t we have a say?
   ‘Tonight on TV1 news, there were two white people commenting on the offensiveness of minority portrayals in Little Britain and Come Fly with Me. I hope someone sees the irony in that.’
   However, if any minorities depicted by Matt and David are offended by their work—Ting Tong, Asuka and Nanako are the only Asiatic characters they do that I can think of, so east Asians aren’t even that well represented—of course I will defer to your judgement. I can’t pretend to know what it’s like for someone of Pakistani heritage to see Matt’s Taaj Manzoor, or someone with a Jamaican heritage to see Precious Little. However, unlike some commentators, I do not presume that members of their community are powerless to speak up, and they are always welcome on this forum.

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Posted in culture, Hong Kong, humour, interests, New Zealand, TV, UK | No Comments »


Z cars

11.03.2020

I did say I’d blog when Autocade hit 4,100 models, which it did yesterday. Proof that the hundredth milestones aren’t planned: the model was the Changan Zhixiang (長安志翔 or 长安志翔, depending on which script system you prefer) of 2008, a.k.a. Changan Z-Shine. A less than stellar car with a disappointingly assembled interior, but it did have one thing many period mainland Chinese cars lacked: a self-developed engine.
   It shows the nation’s quick progress. The Zhixiang was Changan’s (back then, we’d have written Chang’an) first effort in the C-segment, after making microvans, then A-, then B-segment cars, with quick progress between each. The Changan Eado, the company’s current C-segment sedan, might still be rather derivative, but the pace of improvement is still impressive.
   After 1949 through to the late 1970s, Chinese cars in the PRC were few in number, with mass production not really considered. The first post-revolution cars had panels that were hand-beaten to the right shape in labour-intensive methods. Some of those cars borrowed heavily from western ones. Then came licensed manufacture (Jeep Cherokee, Peugeot 504, the Daihatsu Charade at Tianjin) as well as clones (Citroën Visa, SEAT Ibiza). By the 1990s some of these licensed vehicles had been adapted and facelifted locally. The PRC started the new century with a mixture of all of the above, but by the dawn of the 2010s, most Chinese press frowned upon clones and praised originality, and the next decade was spent measuring how quickly the local manufacturers were closing the gap with foreign cars. It’s even regarded that some models have surpassed the foreign competition and joint-venture partners’ offerings now. Style-wise, the Landwind Rongyao succeeds the company’s (and Ford affiliate’s) Range Rover Evoque clone, the X7, with a body designed by GFG Style (that’s Giorgetto and Fabrizio Giugiaro, the first production car credited to the father-and-son team’s new firm) and chassis tuned at MIRA. The Roewe RX5 Max is, in terms of quality, technology, and even dynamics, more than a match for the Honda CR-V—a sign of things to come, once we get past viral outbreaks. Styling-wise, it lacks the flair of the Rongyao, but everything else measures up.
   But the Zhixiang was over a decade before these. Changan did the right thing by having an original, contemporary body, and it was shedding Chinese manufacturers’ reliance on Mitsubishi’s and others’ engines. To think that was merely 12 years ago, the same year Autocade started.

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Posted in business, cars, China, design, interests | No Comments »


Cellphone? What cellphone?

29.02.2020

It’s true. I spent time on business development, answering emails, doing tech stuff on our sites, and generally kept on top of things. I often wonder if I would have become an active Facebooker or Tweeter had they been invented and come into my orbit in, say, 2002. We all may have been too busy with our own ventures. The fact they surfaced (for me) in 2007, and became part of my routine the following year as the economy slowed can’t be a coincidence. Instagram, in 2012, also falls into this period. I convinced myself that these social media would provide some advantage, or bring opportunities that otherwise couldn’t be readily located elsewhere, but that wasn’t the case. Like Linkedin, I’m not sure if any of these websites have brought work opportunities that resulted in an invoice.
   Once you fall out of the habit, then the device itself isn’t that useful, either, for someone who never really embraced the cellphone as a primary means of communication—I maintained a landline all these years. I never even had a regular cellphone number till 2006: I got people to call my colleagues who did carry them (I was paying for the damned things, after all). I’m not sure I want to be contactable in my waking hours that readily. I’ll take work calls in my office, thank you, and personal calls elsewhere; and if I’m out, then I’m driving or meeting with someone, and neither is a good time to be interrupted. The landline has this amazing feature called an answerphone, and it records and plays back messages when I’m good and ready to hear them.
   Since Dad passed, there’s one fewer need to be contactable day and night, and realistically I only see it as something that other members of my family and close friends should reach me on now. The number has never appeared on a single business card of mine, for good reason. As we head into the 2020s I’m hoping each of us decides where lines should be drawn. I think mine’s right here: no more cellphones for work; at best, they’re a last resort. I need to organize my schedule better and cellphones just don’t help, apps even less so. It comes back to this crazy belief of mine that technology is here to serve us, not the other way round. By all means, if your cellphone serves you, then use it—I can think of countless professions where it is a must. But for the rest of us, it’s a relief not to be burdened with it.

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Posted in business, technology | 1 Comment »


Peter Hanenberger’s unintended post mortem of Holden

19.02.2020


The 2009 Chevrolet Caprice SS, sold in the Middle East but made in Australia.

I came across a 2017 interview with former Holden chairman Peter Hanenberger, who was in charge when the company had its last number-one sales’ position in Australia. His words are prescient and everything he said then still applies today.
   He spent over four and a half decades at GM so he knows the company better than most. Since he departed in 2003 he had seven successors at the time of the interview; and I believe there have been a couple more since.
   A few interesting quotes.

‘It’s [now] a very short-sighted company.’
It feels like it. The sort of retreating it’s done, the dismantling of global operations, and the failure to see how global platforms can achieve economies of scale is something only a company beholden to quarterly stock price results will do. And it doesn’t help its longevity.
   Even Holden, which looked like it was going to simply depart the passenger-car sector at the end of last year before a full withdrawal now, tells us that there doesn’t appear to be a long-term plan in place that the US management is committed to. Not long ago they were going on about the two dozen models they planned to launch to field a competitive line-up.

‘For me General Motors was a global player. Today General Motors is shrinking to an American company with no foresight, which is in very bad shape, which has missed the market.’
Remember Hanenberger said this in 2017, when it still had presences in many Asian countries. In 2020 it very much looks like GM will be in the Americas (where it still fields reasonably complete line-ups, although God knows if they have anything in the pipeline to replace the existing models) and China. Russia, India, Australia, New Zealand and Thailand are gone or going, and western Europe went in 2017 before the interview.

‘Maybe it fits into the vision of Trump; America first. But how the world is going to work also in the future is not because of America first and America only. It’s global. I think there will be no GM in the near-future.’
Everyone else is desperate to do tie-ups while GM retreats. I think GM will still be around but it’ll be a Chinese firm.

‘I couldn’t give a shit what they thought in America.’
I don’t mean this as an anti-American quote, but I see it as a dig against bean counters (whatever their nationality) fixated on the short term and not motorheads who know their sector well.

‘For me Holden didn’t have enough product, and the second one [priority] was I wanted to get these cars they had into export. For me it was very clear the products they had could be exported and they should go on to export.’
You saw the failure of this in the early 2010s when Holden failed to keep its Middle Eastern deals, and the US models returned. It could have been so different, though I realize GM was very cash-strapped when they needed the US taxpayer to bail them out.
   Bruce Newton, who wrote the piece, says that the Middle East was worth up to 40,000 units per annum, with A$10,000 profit per car. It cost Holden A$20 million to develop them for left-hand drive. I’d have held on to that sort of opportunity for dear life.

‘There was nothing going on that was creative towards the future of Holden as in Australia, New Zealand and toward the export market. They just neglected this whole thing.’
That was Hanenberger when he visited his old workplace in 2006. With product development cycles the way they are, it’s no wonder they were so ill placed when the Middle Eastern markets lost interest in the VE Commodore and WM Caprice (as the Chevrolet Lumina and Caprice), and China in the Buick Park Avenue.
   It’s an interesting interview and perhaps one of the best post mortems for Holden, even if it wasn’t intended to be so three years ago.

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Posted in business, cars, China, leadership, USA | 1 Comment »


Should I remove Feedburner?

05.10.2019

I’m wondering whether it’s worth carrying on with Feedburner. Over the last few years I’ve rid our sites of Facebook gadgets—that means if you “Facebook liked” something here, you’d have to go through the Po.st links above (which I’m hoping are visible on the mobile version), rather than something made by Facebook that could track you. It’s not been 100 per cent perfect, since Po.st doesn’t pick up on likes and shares that you get within Facebook, so if this post manages a dozen likes there, the count you see above won’t increase by 12. It’s why well liked posts don’t necessarily have a high share count, which renders the figure you see here irrelevant.
   I suppose it’s better that someone understates the share figure than overstates it—as Facebook does with its user numbers.
   But I dislike Google’s tracking as much as Facebook’s, and since I have de-Googled everywhere else (one of the last is shown below), then I’d like to get rid of the remaining Google tools I use.

   I signed this blog up to Feedburner when the company was independent of Google, but I see from the gadget on the full desktop version of this site there are only 37 of you who use its feeds from this blog. This is a far cry from the 400-plus I used to see regularly, even 500-plus at one point in the late 2000s.
   I checked in to my Feedburner stats lately, and was reminded that the drop from hundreds to dozens all happened one day in 2014, and my follower numbers have been in the two digits since. Check out this graphic and note the green line:

   It’s entirely consistent with what I witnessed over the years. There were indeed days when the Feedburner gadget’s count would drop into the 30s, before rising back up to 400 or so the following day. I never understood why there would be these changes: in the early days of Feedburner, before the Google acquisition in 2007, I had a slow and steady rise in followers. These peaked soon after Google took over, plateaued, and just before the 2010s began, the massive fluctations began.
   I can’t believe there’d be en masse sign-ups and cancellations over a five-year period, but in 2014, the last fall happened, and it remained low. And, to be frank, it’s somewhat demoralizing. Is the fall due to Google itself, or that Feedburner decided to run a check on email addresses and found that the majority were fake one day, or something else?
   Given that the fluctations were happening for years, then I want to say there was a bug that knocked out hundreds of subscribers, but I actually don’t know, and I haven’t read anything on this online, despite searching for it.
   Perhaps Google cuts back the dissemination of your RSS feed if you’re not using their Blogger product, but we know why using their service is an exceptionally bad idea.
   It reminds me of Facebook’s decision to kill the shares from a page by 90 per cent some years back, to force people to pay to keep their pages in the feed.
   If you’re getting this on Feedburner, would you mind leaving me a comment so I know it’s still worthwhile? Otherwise, I may remove my account—I’ve de-Googled everything else—and if you still need Atom and RSS feeds, they can be had at jackyan.com/blog/atom/ and jackyan.com/blog/feed/ respectively.

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Posted in internet, publishing, technology | 2 Comments »


Forced to take prime-time nostalgia trips

20.07.2018


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

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

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Posted in culture, interests, New Zealand, technology, TV, UK, USA | No Comments »


Stefan Engeseth’s Sharkonomics out in China with a new edition

11.12.2017

My good friend Stefan Engeseth’s Sharkonomics hit China a year ago, and it’s been so successful that the second edition is now out. It looks smarter, too, with its red cover, and I’m sure Chinese readers will get a decent taste of Stefan’s writing style, humour and thinking.
   I even hope this will pave the way for translations of his earlier works, especially Detective Marketing and One: a Consumer Revolution for Business (the latter still remains my favourite of his marketing titles).
   I’ve written a brief quote for Sharkonomics and the publisher (with some nudging from Stefan) has taken the time to make sure my Chinese name is accurately recorded, rather than a phonetic translation of my Anglo transliteration, which, of course, then wouldn’t be my name.
   Stefan’s inventive and innovative thinking might seem left-field sometimes, till some years pass and people realize he was right all along. Take, for example, Google wanting to build a high-tech neighbourhood in downtown Toronto, announced in October. Notwithstanding the hassles Google has created on its own turf in Silicon Valley, it’s the sort of project we might expect from the giant now. But would we have expected it in 2007? Probably not, except Stefan did.
   In 2007 (though he actually first floated the idea a year earlier), Stefan blogged about his idea for Google Downtown—why not make real what Google Earth does virtually? Why not shop at places that already know all your personal preferences, if that’s where things are heading? The town would have free wifi and you’d be paying for it with ‘your self’ (the space, I’m sure, was intentional). In 2008, 500 people heard his plans at a conference and laughed. The following year, he met Eric Schmidt and mentioned it to him. Eric paused and didn’t laugh—and maybe the idea sunk in.
   It’s not the first time Stefan has hatched an idea and it gained legs, from Coca-Cola delivering its product through taps to Ikea making flat-pack fashion—both have wound up being done, though the latter not quite in the way Stefan envisaged.

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Posted in business, China, marketing, Sweden | 1 Comment »


There’s still a place for blogging—in fact, it might be needed more than ever

23.04.2017

My friend Richard MacManus commemorated the 14th anniversary of ReadWrite, an online publication he founded as a blog (then called ReadWriteWeb) in 2003, by examining blogging and how the open web has suffered with the rise of Facebook and others.
   It’s worth a read, and earlier tonight I fed in the following comment.

I remember those days well, although my progress was probably the opposite of yours, and, in my circles, blogging began very selfishly. Lucire began as a publication, laid out the old-school way with HTML, and one of the first sites in the fashion sector to add a blog was a very crappy one where it was about an ill-informed and somewhat amoral editor’s point of view. For years I refused to blog, preferring to continue publishing an online magazine.
   Come 2002, and we at the Medinge Group [as it then was; we’ve since dropped the definite article] were planning a book called Beyond Branding. One of the thoughts was that we needed one of these newfangled blogs to promote the book, and to add to it for our readers. I was one (the only?) dissenter at the June 2003 meeting, saying that, as far as my contacts were concerned, blogging was for tossers. (Obviously, I didn’t know you back in those days, and didn’t frequent ReadWriteWeb.) [Hugh MacLeod might agree with me though.] By August 2003 it had been set up, and I designed the template for it to match the rest of the book’s artwork. How wrong I was in June. The blog began (and finished, in 2006) with posts in the altruistic, passionate spirit of RWW, and before long (I think it was September 2003), I joined my friends and colleagues.


An excerpt from the Beyond Branding Blog index page.

   In 2006, I went off and did my own blog, and even though there were hundreds of thousands (millions?) of blogs by now, decent bloggers were still few. I say this because within the first few weeks, a major German newspaper was already quoting my blog, and I got my first al-Jazeera English gig as a result of my blogging a few years later. It was the province of the passionate writer, and the good ones still got noticed.
   I still have faith in the blogosphere simply because social media, as you say, have different motives and shared links are fleeting. Want to find a decent post you made on Facebook five years ago? Good luck. Social media might be good for instant gratification—your friends will like stuff you write—but so what? Where are the analysis and the passion? I agree with everything you say here, Richard: the current media aren’t the same, and there’s still a place for long-form blogging. The fact I am commenting (after two others) shows there is. It’s a better place to exchange thoughts, and at least here we’re spared Facebook pushing malware on to people (no, not phishing: Facebook itself).
   Eleven years on, and I’m still blogging at my own space. I even manage a collective blogging site for a friend, called Blogcozy. My Tumblr began in 2007 and it’s still going. We should be going away from the big sites, because there’s one more danger that I should point out.
   Google, Facebook et al are the establishment now, and, as such, they prop up others in the establishment. Google News was once meritorious, now it favours big media names ahead of independents. This dangerously drowns out those independent voices, and credible writers and viewpoints can get lost. The only exception I can think of is The Intercept, which gets noticed on a wide scale.
   Take this argument further and is there still the same encouragement for innovators to give it a go, as we did in the early 2000s, when we realize that our work might never be seen, or if it is to be seen, we need deep pockets to get it seen?
   Maybe we need to encourage people to go away from these walled gardens, to find ways to promote the passionate voices again. Maybe a future search engine—or a current one that sees the light—could have a search specifically for these so we’re not reliant on the same old voices and the same old sites. And I’m sure there are other ways besides. For I see little point in posting on places that lack ‘charisma’, as you put it. They just don’t excite me as much as discovering a blog I really like, and sticking with it. With Facebook’s personal sharing down 25 and 29 per cent in 2015 and 2016 respectively, there is a shift away from uninspiring, privacy-destroying places. Hopefully we can catch them at more compelling and interesting blogs and make them feel at home.

   I have also, belatedly, added Richard’s personal blog to the blogroll on this page.

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Posted in business, internet, media, New Zealand, publishing, technology, Wellington | 4 Comments »