Posts tagged ‘2015’


Consumer’s choice: how I bought a car from the UK over the ’net and shipped it home

01.10.2017

Originally published at Drivetribe, but as I own the copyright it only made sense to share it here for readers, too, especially those who might wish to buy a car from abroad and want to do the job themselves. It was originally written for a British audience.


Above: The lengths I went to, to make sure I didn’t wind up buying a car with an automatic transmission: source it from the UK and spend ten months on the process.

One consequence of Brexit was the pound falling, which makes buying out of Blighty very tempting for foreigners. When it comes to buying a car, the savings can be substantial enough for a buyer in the antipodes.
   My situation in New Zealand was neither driven by politics nor currency: it was the lack of manual-transmission cars. When I last bought a car for myself in 2004, the market was roughly 50–50 between manuals and automatics. Today that figure is 90 per cent in favour of automatics, meaning those of us who prefer shifting gears ourselves face a major difficulty. We either limit ourselves to the few cars that come on to the market that are manuals, or we switch. Considering it was my own money, and a five-figure sum at that, I wasn’t about to contemplate getting something that I didn’t like. Britain, it seemed, would have to be the source of my next car.
   There were certain circumstances that made this a lot easier.
   First, you need friends in the UK.
   Secondly, you should browse Auto Trader, Parkers and other sites regularly for months on end to get a feel of the market.
   Third, you should be looking for something that’s relatively new, to ensure compliance with the laws of both the UK and your own.
   When my old Renault Mégane I Coupé was written off in an accident, the logical thing would be to buy the Mégane III Coupé. However, if you live in a right-hand-drive country and you’re not in the UK, Ireland or South Africa, you’re out of luck, unless you fancy going to an RS. And I simply didn’t need 250-plus horsepower to go to the post office or up the coast.
   There were two powerplants common to Renaults in New Zealand: the 110 bhp 1·6, and the 2·0 automatic. That left me with one choice, and 110 bhp was sufficient for what I needed. I also looked forward to the better fuel economy, even if New Zealanders pay less at the pump than Brits.
   I was fortunate that I didn’t need a replacement car in a hurry. For years I had a “spare car”, one that my father had bought and I could use now that he had developed Alzheimer’s. The other stroke of luck was that I had contemplated getting a newer Mégane III Coupé anyway, and had been browsing UK sites for about six months at that point. I knew roughly what a good deal looked like. Finally, the esteemed motoring editor, Mr Keith Adams, and one other school friend, Philip, had offered to check out cars should I spot anything in their area.

I advise strongly that you use a company specializing in the importation. That’s where Jake Williams and Dan Hepburn at Online Logistics of Auckland came in

   While my circumstances were unique, there are plenty of other reasons to look to the UK for cars.
   A friend looking for a Volkswagen Eos reckoned he would save NZ$10,000 (£5,850) by sourcing one from the UK. This is largely fuelled by the greater depreciation on UK second-hand cars, and the savings potentially mount on flasher motors, such as Audi Q7s or Bentleys.
   While Japan is closer, and the source of many used cars in New Zealand, some buyers have had to buy new radios to match New Zealand frequencies. There’s also the disadvantage of dealing in a foreign language with a very different legal system should you choose to do it yourself.
   The disadvantage of a UK import is that speedometers will be in mph, whereas New Zealand adopted the newfangled metric system decades ago. However, on a more modern car with a digital dashboard, the switch shouldn’t be an issue, and that was the case with the Mégane.
   For a Kiwi buyer, the first step is to check the New Zealand Transport Authority (NZTA) website, which has useful worksheets on private car importation.
   In summary, the car must comply with New Zealand standards, and it helps—for now—that cars that have EU type approval will. The car must have a vehicle approval plate or sticker, or a statement of compliance. The NZTA worksheets and website are detailed and go through further specifics.
   You should, for peace of mind, order an AA or Dekra inspection. AA members in New Zealand can expect a discount from AA in the UK, and this shouldn’t exceed £200. Any faults need to be remedied before you purchase the car, or you should walk away.
   Of course, you need to be able to prove the ownership of the vehicle: that means an invoice showing that you’ve purchased it (this should have the VIN on it), plus the V5 registration document. Since it’s being exported outside the UK, the relevant part of the V5 noting thje car will be leaving the country will have been sent to the Department for Transport by the seller. The seller needs to put this in the courier to you.
   I advise strongly that you use a company specializing in the importation. You can do a lot yourself, but it pays to have an extra pair of eyes to ensure you’ve dotted the is and crossed the ts, and in New Zealand, that’s where Jake Williams and Dan Hepburn at Online Logistics of Auckland came in.
   Online Logistics isn’t interested in profiting based on the price of your car, unlike some services. They set standard fees for shipping, and arrange insurance, which it’ll need on the way to New Zealand. They do ask that the car departs from Felixstowe, and they will ship it to Auckland.
   They will require the VIN, so they can double-check that the car meets the required standards, the invoice, and the original copy of the V5.
   Once it’s on New Zealand shores, it has to go through several inspections.
   The first is an inspection by the Ministry of Primary Industries, which makes sure that there aren’t any bugs. It could order that the car be fumigated, and this can set you back around NZ$400. Once done, you’ll get an MPI sticker saying the car’s passed the biosecurity inspection.
   Customs will then sting you GST (the equivalent of VAT) on cost, insurance and freight.
   An NZTA-approved organization will then inspect the car to check for structural faults. Online Logistics took care of this part, so you don’t need to hunt for an approved one yourself. Once that’s done, you’ll get a pink sticker from NZTA.
   The fourth step is getting the car certified. Again, Online Logistics has a company it contracts to do this, and this is where you’re likely to see your car for the first time. Certification will confirm that the car meets safety and emission standards, gets the VIN recorded into the database, gives you a registration form so you can get the car registered in New Zealand, and issues a warrant of fitness (MOT). Certification can be strict: cars that have had a poor repair job done in the UK will not pass until it is redone in line with New Zealand standards, and this is where the importation process can fall to pieces. That’s why it’s important to have that check done in the UK before purchase. Stay well away from category D cars, and aim for low miles.

Having identified the model I wanted, I had to trawl through the websites. The UK is well served, and some sites allow you to feed in a postcode and the distance you’re willing (or your friend’s willing) to travel.
   However, if you rely on friends, you’ll need to catch them at the right time, and both gentlemen had busy weekends that meant waiting.
   VAT was the other issue that’s unfamiliar to New Zealanders. GST is applied on all domestic transactions in New Zealand, but not on export ones. This isn’t always the case in the UK, and some sellers won’t know how any of this works.
   One of the first cars I spotted was from a seller who had VAT on the purchase price, which logically I should get refunded when the car left the country. I would have to pay the full amount but once I could prove that the car had left the UK, the transaction would be zero-rated and I would get the VAT back. I was told by the manager that in 11 years of business, he had never come across it, and over the weeks of chatting, the vehicle was sold.
   Car Giant, in London, was one company that was very clued up and told me that it had sold to New Zealanders before. They’re willing to refund VAT on cars that were VAT-qualifying, but charged a small service fee to do so. The accounts’ department was particularly well set up, and its staff very easy to deal with long-distance.
   Evans Halshaw, however, proved to be farcical. After having a vehicle moved to the Kettering branch close to Keith’s then-residence after paying the deposit, and having then paid for an AA inspection, the company then refused to sell it to me, and would only deal with Keith.
   Although the company was happy to take my deposit, Keith was soon told, ‘we will need payment to come from yourself either by debit card or bank transfer as the deal is with yourself not Mr Yan,’ by one of its sales’ staff.
   I wasn’t about to ask Keith to part with any money, If I were to transfer funds to his account, but not have the car belong to me, and if Keith were to then transfer ownership to me without money changing hands, then the New Zealand Customs would smell a rat. It would look like money laundering: NZTA requires there to be a clear chain of ownership, and this wasn’t clear. Evans Halshaw were unwilling to put the invoice in my name.
   I’m a British national with a UK address—again something a lot of buyers Down Under won’t have—but Evans Halshaw began claiming that it was ‘policy’ not to sell to me.
   The company was never able to provide a copy of such a policy despite numerous phone calls and emails.
   Essentially, for this to work and satisfy Customs on my end, Keith would have to fork out money, and I would have to pay him: a situation that didn’t work for either of us.
   Phil, a qualified lawyer, offered to head into another branch of Evans Halshaw and do the transaction exactly as they wanted: head there with ‘chip and PIN’, only for the company to change its tune again: it would not sell to me, or any representative of mine.

The refund from Evans Halshaw never materialized, and I found myself £182 out of pocket

   This farce went on for a month and involved a great deal of calls from me into the small hours of the morning.
   The matter eventually went to the group’s lawyer, David Bell, and between him and me, it was sorted in 10 minutes.
   Evans Halshaw did indeed have a policy not to sell to a foreigner, never mind that he was also a Briton. What their first staffer should never have done was take my deposit in the first place.
   Despite knowing it was me who paid the deposit, the Kettering dealer began believing it was Keith who was the buyer.
   When Mr Bell knew all the facts, there was a moment when the penny dropped for us both: he had been told that Keith was the buyer all along, and advised accordingly. Once I knew where the mix-up was, everything made sense.
   It wasn’t helped by belligerent staff who refused to answer questions directly.
   However, on knowing of their error, Evans Halshaw refunded my deposit (albeit minus the credit card fees I had paid) and offered to refund the AA check, in exchange for the report. I willingly gave them the report, but the second refund never materialized. Neither the dealer principal at Kettering nor Mr Bell responded, despite reminders, and I found myself £182 out of pocket, along with goodness knows how much in long-distance phone charges. I still wonder how this is one of the country’s largest dealer groups, with this blatant disregard for the customer.
   Two weeks later, the perfect Mégane popped up. It was all a blessing in disguise. It was the colour (Cayenne orange) of the car I had on my computer wallpaper years before. The mileage was very low. And another friend, Andrew, was willing to pop by and look at it, sold by a very easy-going seller, Andy Mudge of Thames Fleet Purchasing. In fact, he proved so amenable I referred others to him, and he was more than happy, as with many other dealers I had spoke to in the UK since the Evans Halshaw affair, to sell to a British national based abroad.
   The car passed the Dekra check with next to no issues, and Andy was willing to cap the freight charges of the car from his Maidenhead property to the port for £100. (It’s advisable to have the car transported, rather than driven, to the port, as I won’t have paid for the tax as the new keeper.)
   The car was non-VAT qualifying, making life easier for both parties. I paid Andy the amount by wire transfer, added a pony on top to cover the courier of documents (V5 and handbooks) and the spare key.
   The one feeling I hadn’t expected was to see thousands of pounds leave my account and have nothing to show for it. The car took just under two months before I witnessed it for the first time, having flown up to Auckland to collect it (another NZ$100), with a 600 km journey south back to its new home in Wellington.
   Many months later, I’m thrilled with my purchase. There are, to my knowledge, only two non-RS Mégane III Coupés in New Zealand, both in the same colour. It has an engine for which I can get parts, and there are sufficient commonalities with the Méganes sold here when it comes to brake pads and other items. It had taken a considerable amount of time but it was eventually worth it. After all, if it’s your money, you should get what you want. If you don’t want to drive the standard New Zealand car—and looking around that appears to be a Toyota Auris Automatic—then the UK is a very ready source of cars.

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Posted in business, cars, globalization, internet, New Zealand, UK | No Comments »


Where did all the manual transmissions go?

08.05.2016


Above: The gear selector in the BMW i3, as tested in Lucire. See here for the full road test.

When I was searching for a car to buy after my previous one was written off in an accident, one no-brainer was that it had to be a manual. It can’t be that hard, right? After all, when I bought my earlier Renault Mégane in 2004, about 70 per cent of the market was manual.
   It turns out that in 11 years, things changed a lot in New Zealand. Somewhere along the line we became the United States or Japan, places where you get the impression people are afraid of manual gearboxes. We also changed our laws so that someone who is licensed to drive an automatic is permitted to drive a manual, so unlike the UK, manuals no longer became the default option for someone who wanted the freedom to drive both.
   I had the sense that New Zealand had become 80 per cent automatic, based on scanning car sales’ periodicals and websites. A quick scan of Auto Trader NZ last week, where there were 27,925 cars for sale, gave this break-down:

Automatic: 21,380 (76·6%)
CVT: 546 (2·0%)
Manual: 3,036 (10·9%)
Tiptronic: 2,963 (10·6%)

In fact, a traditional manual, one with gears you change with a clutch, comprises considerably less than 20 per cent.
   One friend, like me, specifically sought a manual in 2015, and asked me to scan through websites. In the greater Wellington region, cars matching his other criteria on engine size and price numbered a grand total of two, one in Eastbourne and the other in Upper Hutt. He eventually had to go outside his criteria to buy a manual.
   I visited one dealership in Lower Hutt where one of the senior salespeople told me that was what the market demanded, so they followed suit, as he tried to sell me an automatic, Turkish-made car. This claim was, based on my own research, bollocks.
   Granted, this research was of a sample of my 2,300 Facebook friends, but of those who responded, it appeared to be evenly divided. Some of the comments were along the lines of, ‘I wanted a manual, but I had no choice, so I bought an automatic.’
   If I didn’t have a second car (since sold to a friend who also preferred manuals), I could have found myself looking at doing the same—just because I needed wheels in a hurry. Or I could have bought a car that did not meet all my needs, one that was “near enough”. But if you are spending a five-figure sum, and you intend to hold on to the car for the next decade, is this such a wise thing to do? A car is an investment for me, not a fashion item.
   That earlier Renault took me four months to find in a market that wasn’t so heavily biased against manuals in the mid-2000s, and this time out, I wound up searching for eight. Most people don’t have that luxury.
   The most evident explanation for the overwhelming numbers of automatics is that so many used cars are sourced from Japan, but it’s really not what all people want.
   I’ve nothing against the half of the population who prefer automatics, but they are just not my sort of thing. These days, the most advanced automatics are more economical than manuals, but generally, you still get a few more mpg from a car you shift yourself. I enjoy driving, and automatics blunt that enjoyment for me, but I’m sure others don’t mind them as much.
   In future blog posts I’ll touch on this subject again, and I’ll be penning a story for Classic Car Weekly in the UK on the whole saga of buying a new car. Who knew that, despite being armed with money, it would be such an uphill task to find someone to give it to?
   It also suggests that if someone wishes to specialize in manuals, they would be tapping in to a large, unserved chunk of the New Zealand market.

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Posted in business, cars, culture, New Zealand, Wellington | No Comments »


Travel diary (or, a diary that travels)

11.04.2016

A photo posted by Jack Yan (@jack.yan) on

A photo posted by Jack Yan (@jack.yan) on


 

What a fun project! In September, a class in a Québec school set its pupils a travel diary project. The idea: see how well travelled each pupil’s diary gets by passing it to a friend, then to their friend, and so on. The aim is educational: they want to learn about different cultures. The person who receives it nearest April 15 has to send it back to the origin. That was me: the diary arrived in my office on Friday. I’ve since written a four-page letter to the schoolgirl about my life in Wellington, my hobbies, and my family, in reply to her opening piece.
   It has been over 25 years since I wrote in an exercise book. Prior to me, it went to the Netherlands, France, and Hong Kong. I hope she has the most well travelled journal in her class.
   And yes, I chucked it on a courier. It would suck if it travelled all this way and got lost on the last leg. It left for Québec this afternoon.

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Posted in culture, France, New Zealand, Wellington | No 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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Facebook forced me to download their anti-malware, and my own antivirus gets knocked out

02.01.2016

When Facebook says it cares about security, I laugh. Every day I see bots, spammers and click-farm workers plague the site, and despite reporting them, Facebook lets them stay. It will make a statement saying it would no longer kick off drag queens and kings, then proceed to kick off drag queens and kings. So when I was blocked last night from using Facebook on my Windows 10 computer, after using a website with a Facebook messaging plug-in, with the claim that there was malware on the system, I knew something was fishy.
   Like Google’s false malware accusationsso serious that people have lost websites over them—I knew to take this one with a massive grain of salt. However, I didn’t have a choice: in order to get in to the site, I had to download a Kaspersky malware program, and let it run. The program never appeared in my installed list in Windows. I let it run overnight, for seven hours, whereupon it was frozen at 62 per cent. Restarting the computer, I was back to square one.




Above: Doing things the Facebook way. Listening to them was bound to end in tears.


Above: There’s no sign of Kaspersky in Windows’ installed programs’ list.

   Here’s where things started getting very strange. Windows 10 began saying I had no antivirus, anti-malware, or firewall up. Normally I would use McAfee. However, no matter how many times I tried to choose it, the warnings kept coming, thick and fast. In one case, it chose Windows Defender for me—only because I decided to let it run—and would not permit me to change it back through the settings. The timing of these events was all too suspicious.
   There was a rumour, denied by Kaspersky, that it was creating malware to throw off its competitors. The jury’s still out, but it’s just odd that while Kaspersky is running its Facebook scan, of what I knew to be non-existent malware, that McAfee would be inaccessible. I went to the McAfee website to file this.



Above: While the Kaspersky scan proceeded, McAfee was knocked out and could not be switched on. Coincidence?

   Unlike most people, I have options open to me, so I began to go on to Facebook using several different methods. A VirtualBox containing XP on the same computer was fine, if incredibly slow while Kaspersky was doing its thing. (Think about Windows XP on a 386.) Lubuntu was fine as well, as was Mac OS X. I Tweeted the McAfee community link, and thought it odd that it did not appear in Facebook (I have my Twitter set up to post there). I then tried to paste the link into Facebook manually, whereupon, in Lubuntu and Mac OS, I was told that my computer was now infected with either a virus or malware. Unlike Windows, I had the option of telling them they were in error, and I was able to continue using the machines.
   This really sounds like Facebook and Kaspersky have it in for McAfee and, possibly, rival products, if the scan knocks out your choice of antivirus and anti-malware program, and if the mere mention of mcafee.com inside Facebook results in a warning box saying your computer is infected.


Above: On a Mac, I couldn’t even tell people about the post on mcafee.com. The second I did, Facebook said my computer was infected. The same thing happened on Lubuntu. Facebook accuses you of infection on the mere mention of mcafee.com.

   Eventually, the entire system froze, and while I could still move the mouse about, I couldn’t access the task bar or go to other programs.
   I was forced to do a hard reboot.
   But you’re asking now: was I ever infected? No. It’s Google all over again.
   Peter, the very knowledgeable McAfee support tech who came to my aid many years ago, was present again and put me on to two other programs after this restart. Getsusp analysed my system for malware, and, you guessed it, found nothing. Malware Bytes did the same, and found some PUPs (potentially unwanted programs), all of which I knew about, and I had intentionally installed. They’ve been present for years. In other words, two other malware scanners told me my system was clean. Malware Bytes did, however, restore McAfee as the correct antivirus program, exactly as Peter had predicted.
   He also suggested a system restore, which sadly failed, with Windows giving the reason that an antivirus program was running. Having restored this system once before (after some bad advice from Microsoft), I knew it couldn’t be McAfee. The only difference on this computer: I had had Kaspersky doing its Facebook scan. It appears that Facebook and Kaspersky don’t want you restoring your system.
   I had fixed the newer issues, but the original one remained: I couldn’t get on to Facebook. The Kaspersky scan never finishes, incidentally—you’re stuck on 62, 73 or 98 per cent—and while not having a personal Facebook is no great loss, I have businesses that have presences there.
   I stumbled across a Reddit thread where others had been forced to download antivirus programs by Facebook, and, fortunately, a woman there had found where hers resided. In my case, it was at C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Local\Temp\FBScanner_331840299. Deleting this, and all cookies mentioning Facebook and Kaspersky, restored my access.
   What to do if you ever come across this? My advice is to, first, run Malware Bytes, but ensure you run the free version, and do not opt for the trials. Once you’re satisfied your computer is clean, head into your cookies and delete all the Facebook ones, and any from the antivirus provider it recommends. This second Reddit thread may be helpful, too. I don’t know if this will work completely, but anything is preferable to following Facebook’s instructions and wasting your time. I really need to stop following instructions from these big firms—you’d think after all these years, I’d know better.

PS.: I found this video from last July which suggests the malware accusations have nothing to do with your computer set-up:

In addition, I cannot paste any links in Facebook. The situation began deteriorating after I regained access. Initially, I could paste and like a few things, but that facility eventually disappeared. Regardless of platform, I get the same error I did on the Mac yesterday (see screen shot above). Liking things results in the below error, and the wisdom there is to wait it out till Facebook staff get back to work on Monday.

P.PS.: Holly Jahangiri confronted the same issue as I did a few days later. She was smarter than me: she didn’t download the anti-malware malware. Have a read of her post here: other than that one difference, it’s almost play for play what happened to me for four days. She’s also rightly frustrated, as I am, by Facebook’s inaction when it’s legitimately needed.

P.P.PS.: Not only does Kaspersky delete your comment when you ask on its blog how to remove the malware scanner, they also clam up when you ask them on Twitter.

P.P.P.PS.: I’m beginning to hear that deleting cookies will not work (April 26). Facebook seems intent on having you download their suspicious junk. In those cases, people have switched to another browser.

P.P.P.P.PS.: Andrew McPherson was hit with this more recently, with Facebook blocking the cookie-deleting method in some cases, and advises, ‘If you get this, you will need to change your Facebook password to something very long (a phrase will do), delete and clear your browsers cache and history, then delete your browser, then renew your IP address to a different number and then reinstall your browsers.’ If you cannot change your IP address but are using a router, then he suggests refreshing the address on that. Basically, Facebook is making it harder and harder for us to work around their bug. Once again, if you sign on using a different account using the same “infected” computer, there are no problems—which means the finger of blame should remain squarely pointed at Facebook.

P.P.P.P.P.PS.: June 17: for those who might find Andrew’s method too technical, the current wisdom is to wait it out. It does appear to take days, however. Reminds me of the time Facebook stopped working for me for 69 hours in 2014.

P.P.P.P.P.P.PS.: January 28, 2017: David has come up with a great solution in the comments (no. 103). You can fool Facebook into thinking you are using a Mac by changing the user-agent. He suggests a Chrome Extension. I have Modify Headers for Firefox, which might work, too.

P.P.P.P.P.P.P.PS.: May 9: Stephan, on my other thread on this topic (comment no. 66), confirms that David’s solution worked and has posted a few more details, including extensions for Firefox, Safari and Chrome.

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Posted in internet, technology, USA | 162 Comments »


The fall and rise and fall of Kim Dotcom, and why, according to the US, watching YouTube makes us all criminals

26.12.2015

In response to a friend’s Facebook post applauding the possibility that Kim Dotcom would get extradited, two days ago. It’s unedited, other than the inclusion of a link and a note, and I apologize for the grammatical errors.

Surely this remains the only case in the history of humankind where copyright is a multi-jurisdictional criminal matter? And if getting rich off copyrighted material is a crime, then YouTube has a longer history of letting this happen and rewarding users for it. The principal difference that I can see is that YouTube (through its parent Google) dodges paying New Zealand tax,* which seems to be a position our government is comfortable with. I’m not saying I like Dotcom—who I think is only out for himself and yes, he comes across as a dick—but fair’s fair. Nor am I saying I support copyright infringement, but under New Zealand law that’s a civil matter that should be fought by the infringed, not by governments. (In the US there is a criminal provision but the guy hasn’t ever been there nor was his company based there.)
   When I read the prosecution’s case it falls down at some basic hurdles. They say the defendants infringed. But they don’t say what they infringed. You’ve got to have this, especially if you’re going to prosecute this as a crime. The guy has a right to know exactly what’s at issue. And Megaupload stored stuff, they weren’t the infringers. Even if they knew about it, there’s no crime knowing about criminal copyright infringement. If the US position holds true, then when we go to YouTube to view a full-length movie or TV programme that someone has uploaded in order to make money for themselves, it would actually make us criminals. I’m not comfortable with this.
   I see an appalling double standard when it comes to how this bloke is dealt with, e.g. he is dissed for spending money funding a political party but Colin Craig gets a pass for doing the same thing at exactly the same time. He is dissed for showing us how our government monitors us by bringing in Glenn Greenwald yet we all applaud Greenwald when he does it overseas. I find it interesting how he went from Public Enemy No. 1 when he was first arrested, to admired underdog for quite a lengthy period when Kiwis realized copyright law was on his side, and now he’s back to Public Enemy No. 1 again after exposing the flaws in our security services and trying to do us a favour with the flop that was ‘the moment of truth’. Guess we really hate it when a foreign-born New Zealand resident tells us how things should be, but we love telling foreigners about gun laws, imperialism and inequality.
   If the guy is to go to prison, then let it be for an actual crime.

* PS.: Yes, it’s technically legal to run things through a Bermuda tax haven and pay yourselves back for stuff.

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Posted in internet, New Zealand, politics, technology, USA | No Comments »


Why a Google self-driving car worries me

23.12.2015


Ford

With Google and Ford announcing they will team up to make self-driving cars, I have some concerns.
   I’m not in Luddite position on the idea of self-driving cars. Potentially, they can be far safer than what we have today. I see so many godawful drivers out there—New Zealand has a very high road toll based on our small population, and it’s not hard to see why—and the self-driving car can’t be a bad thing. Active safety, active cruise control, and other features all point to be a better future on our roads.
   However, is Google the right firm? You don’t need to look too far (especially on this blog) to find some Google misdeed, a company that happily does dodgy things till it gets busted.
   Imagine the future.
   • The car has no brakes until you sign up to Google Plus, then log in.
   • You cannot enter the car till you load a Google Play app on to your phone. You have to agree to a bunch of settings which you don’t even read, but essentially you’ve let them monitor you.
   • If you have a car accident in a Google car, there’s no phone number for anyone to call. You have to sign up to the support forums where you’re told by Google volunteers that it’s your fault for misusing the software. Or they just ignore you. You spend several years trying to get your case heard.
   • Google listens to all your in-car conversations so it can deliver targeted advertising to you, until you opt out of this feature in your Google Account settings.
   • Google hacks your devices while you are near the car, even if you have Do Not Track or other privacy settings turned on. They continue doing this till the Murdoch Press writes an article about it or they get reported to an industry association.
   • Doubleclick targeted advertising appears in the car’s central LCD screen.
   • All routes that the Google cars choose go past advertisers’ brick-and-mortar stores.
   • Google Street View is updated a lot more, which sounds great, till you realize it’s been updated with images from your latest journey.
   • Unless you opt out, Google actually drives you to the store which has the goods you mentioned in a private Gmail message, even though you don’t need the product and it just came up casually in conversation.
   • When US state attorneys-general sue Google over wasted time with the cars driving you to these stores, the penalty is roughly four hours of the company’s earnings.
   Autonomous cars are part of our future. But I’ll opt for the tech of a firm I trust more, thank you. And right now, I even trust Volkswagen more than Google.

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A look back at 2015: a year that was harder to laugh at

20.12.2015

I’ve done this a few times now: looked through my year’s Tumblr posts to get an alternative feel for the Zeitgeist. Tumblr is where I put the less relevant junk that comes by my digital meanderings. But as I scrolled down to January 2015 in the archive, I’m not that certain the posts really reflected the world as we knew it. Nor was there much to laugh at, which was the original reason I started doing these at the close of 2009.
   January, of course, was the month of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, which saw 11 murdered, including the famed cartoonist Wolinski, whose work I enjoyed over the years. Facebook was still going through a massive bot (first-world) problem, being overrun by fake accounts that had to be reported constantly. The anti-vax movement was large enough to prompt a cartoonist to do an idiot’s guide to how vaccines work. In other words, it was a pretty depressing way to end the lunar year and start the solar one.
   February: Hannah Davis made it on to the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition by pulling her knickers down as far as socially acceptable (or unacceptable, depending on your point of view), while 50 Shades of Grey hit the cinemas, with one person commenting, ‘Seriously, this book raises every red flag warning signal I learned during my Military Police training. Grey is a ****ing psycho.’ Mission: Impossible’s second man with the rubber mask, Leonard Nimoy, he of the TV movie Baffled, passed away. Apparently he did some science fiction series, too.
   Citroën celebrated the 60th anniversary of the DS, generally regarded as one of the greatest car designs of the 20th century, while Alarm für Cobra 11 returned for another half-season in March. In April, one Tweeter refused to do any Bruce Jenner jokes: ‘there are kids & adults confused/bullied/dying over their gender identity,’ said an American photographer called Spike. The devastating Nepalese earthquakes were also in April, again nothing to be joked about. There was this moment of levity:

And the Fairfax Press published a photograph of President Xi of China, although the caption reads ‘South Korea’s President Park Geun Hye’. Wrong country, wrong gender. When reposted on Weibo, this was my most viral post of the year.

   In May, we published a first-hand account of the Nepal ’quakes in Lucire, by Kayla Newhouse. It was a month for motorheads with For the Love of Cars back on Channel 4. Facebook hackers, meanwhile, started targeting Japanese, and later Korean, accounts, taking them over and turning them into bots.
   In June, rumours swirled over the death of Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow, whereupon I made this image:

   In July, rape complaints against actor Bill Cosby reached fever pitch as woman after woman came out with credible and very similar stories. Staying Stateside, one writer said of the GOP primaries: ‘It will go down someday as the greatest reality show ever conceived. The concept is ingenious. Take a combustible mix of the most depraved and filterless half-wits, scam artists and asylum Napoleons America has to offer, give them all piles of money and tell them to run for president. Add Donald Trump.’ A Sydney man, who allegedly insulted then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott, inspired the internet public to raise funds for him to beat the fine.
   In September, Doctor Who returned to telly for its 35th season, while Facebook continued to be overwhelmed by bots, mostly based around hacked Korean accounts. A young Briton, Connie Talbot, released a cover version of Sam Smith’s ‘Writing’s on the Wall’, the theme from the James Bond film Spectre, which I regarded as superior to the original.
   In October, US Senator Bernie Sanders answered the question, ‘Do black lives matter, or do all lives matter?’ He responded, ‘Black lives matter. And the reason those words matter is the African-American community knows that on any given day, some innocent person like Sandra Bland can get into a car, and then three days later she’s going to end up dead in jail. Or their kids are going to get shot. We need to combat institutional racism from top to bottom, and we need major, major reforms in a broken criminal justice system in which we have more people in jail than China.’
   As we neared the year’s end, I wrote a blog post, uncharacteristically published both on my Tumblr and here, on how a pharmaceutical company would release a Daraprim competitor for US$1 a pill, after the company behind Daraprim raised its price from US$13·50 to US$750. That was before Martin Shkreli, CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, was arrested in an investigation that began in 2014. I did one post noting what my Dad had begun forgetting because of his newly diagnosed Alzheimer’s disease, with the intent of following up, out of solidarity with another other caregivers of Alzheimer’s sufferers. November, too, saw Paris’s second major terrorist attack, and Astérix illustrator Albert Uderzo contributed this touching image:

Microsoft rolled out the bug-filled Windows 10, which worked differently every day.
   In December, it wasn’t quite ‘Star Wars, nothing but Star Wars’. There was, after all, Trump, Trump and more Trump, the only potential presidential candidate getting air time outside the US. Observing the primaries, 9Gag noted that the movie Idiocracy ‘started out as a comedy and is turning into a documentary’. Michael Welton wrote, meanwhile, in Counterpunch, ‘The only way we might fathom the post 9/11 American world of governmental deceit and a raw market approach to political problem solving is to assume that moral principle has been banished because the only criteria for action is whether the ends of success and profitability have been achieved. That’s all. That’s it. And since morality is the foundation of legal systems, adhering to law is abandoned as well.’ The New Zealand flag referendum didn’t make it into my Tumblr; but if it had, I wonder if we would be arguing whether the first-placed alternative by Kyle Lockwood is black and blue, or gold and white—a reference to another argument that had internauts wasting bandwidth back in February.
   It’s not an inaccurate snapshot of 2015, but it’s also a pretty depressing one. France tasted terror attacks much like other cities, but the west noticed for a change; there were serious natural disasters; and bonkers politicians got more air time than credible ones. Those moments of levity—my humorous Jon Snow image and feigned ignorance, for instance—were few and far between. It was that much harder to laugh at the year, which stresses just how much we need to do now and in 2016 to get things on a more sensible path. Can we educate and communicate sufficiently to do it, through every channel we have? Or are social media so fragmented now that you’ll only really talk into an echo chamber? And if so, how do we unite behind a set of common values and get around this?

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Remarks on the typography of Star Wars

16.12.2015

Star Wars is in my feed in a big way. To get up to speed on the film series, I had to start with the memorable theme by John Williams.

Thanks, Bill and Paul.
   And who better to describe the plot than someone else in the science-fiction world, Doctor Who?

   Seriously though, I hope all friends who are big Star Wars fans enjoy Episode VII. It seems to be getting positive reviews, partly because it appeals to our sense of nostalgia. It hasn’t blown anyone away in the same manner as the 1977 original, but then Disney would be very foolhardy to stray for this sequel. If you are building a brand that was at its height 30 years ago, nostalgia isn’t a bad tool—just ask the team that came up with the 1994 Ford Mustang. J. J. Abrams—the creator of Felicity and What about Brian?, plus some other things—has apparently been a genius at getting just enough from the past.
   One item that is from Star Wars’ past is the opening title, or the crawl. I’ll be interested to learn if they’ve managed to re-create the typography of the original: they were unable to provide perfect matches for Episodes I through III because of the changes in technology and cuts of the typefaces that made it into the digital era. The main News Gothic type is far heavier in these later films. ITC Franklin Gothic was used for ‘A long time ago …’ for I to III; this, too, was originally News Gothic, but re-releases have brought all six films into line to use the later graphic.
   However, it could be argued that even between Episodes V and VI there were changes: News Gothic Extra Condensed in caps for the subtitle for The Empire Strikes Back, switching to Univers for Return of the Jedi. (It seems even the most highly ranked fan wiki missed this.) And, of course, there was no equivalent in the original Star Wars—’A New Hope’ was added in 1981.
   Here’s how it looked in 1977:

And if you really wish to compare them, here are all six overlaid on each other:

   I wasn’t a huge fan in the 1970s: sci-fi was not my thing, and I only saw Star Wars for the first time in the 1980s on video cassette, but I did have a maths set, complete with Artoo Detoo eraser (I learned my multiplication table from a Star Wars-themed sheet) and the Return of the Jedi book of the film. But even for this casual viewer and appreciator, enough of that opening sunk in for me to know that things weren’t quite right for The Phantom Menace in 1999. I hope, for those typographically observant fans, that The Force Awakens gets things back on track.

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Trump a creation of the media, not of ad spends

11.12.2015

This is by no means a blog post in favour of the Republican poll front-runner, although this graphic from Vox (not the old Vox that I used to be on) was very interesting:

   When I ran for office in 2010 and 2013, I tried to mount campaigns that were the most effective per dollar spent. If you can’t practise it in your own campaign, you sure as heck can’t practise it when in office. J. E. Bush’s massive spend is exactly what you don’t want to see for the numbers he’s getting.
   And unlike the “polls” here in those two local body elections, which had no resemblance to the voters’ reality (got to love sextupling your poll numbers), I trust the Vox one is more accurate, being an aggregate of many US polls with large samples.
   The sad thing we can take from the numbers above is that celebrity seems to trump (pun unintended) all else. For those complaining about where all the moderate Muslim voices are when extremists speak out, have a look at this. Where are the moderate Republican voices? Outside the US, we don’t hear any in the mainstream media: the US political coverage has been Trump, Trump and more Trump. Extremism gets sensationalist headlines, and sensationalism sells in a headline culture, whether you’re Stateside or here. Similarly, peaceful Muslims just don’t fit the narrative, as this article in The Independent highlights. American legal experts who say that Trump’s proposal to bar Muslims from entering the country is unconstitutional because it violates their First and Fifth Amendments have parallels with Muslim leaders who say their faith is one of peace, practised peacefully by thousands of millions. They reflect the majority view, but rationality doesn’t sell the nightly news.
   No wonder some have called for the media not to give terrorists coverage, and their argument must similarly apply to all forms of extremism.
   I don’t know in which media the million-dollar club is spending in, but these numbers might also show that conventional above-the-line advertising can’t work without complementary below-the-line activity. Trump engagement—for and against—must be pretty good on Twitter, if my own Tweetstream is anything to go by, and that gets his name out more. The man has five million followers on Twitter and, for all the predictions about doom and gloom for the social network, it seems there’s life in it yet.
   At least it stays up an awful lot more than Facebook.
   At this point in 2007, Clinton had a 20-point lead over Obama, and four years before that, when his campaign was trying to buy advertising on our sites, the likely Democratic candidate was a pre-‘I have a scream’ Howard Dean. We really don’t know how this is all going to pan out, because on the other hand, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were leading at this point in 1979 and 1999 respectively.
   MSNBC has done the only poll I’ve seen where they’ve put the likely Democratic candidate this time—which appears to be Clinton, who has spent large—against potential Republican ones. Interestingly, only Carson comes closest to her if he became the Republican nominee; but the question among moderate conservatives and liberals must be how Trump still manages 41 against her 52 (below). Either these numbers will not be borne out at the polls should these two face off against each other, or the answer is simpler than we think: the US political media will talk up a creation of the US political media. They don’t want to be proven wrong, because otherwise they risk losing their perceived authority.

   What we do know, unless Sanders gets up there through his populist campaign, is that regardless of the outcome, the United States will swear in another right-wing president on January 20, 2017.

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