Posts tagged ‘2016’

Facebook overestimates and underestimates reach depending on the story it wants to tell


Funny, isn’t it? Last year, Facebook was busted for claiming that in some demographics, their ads could reach more people than there were people. When it comes to the US’s Russia probe, they claim their ads reached far, far fewer people: they initially claimed they reached 10 million, but Jonathan Albright, a researcher at Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, found that they had in fact reached hundreds of millions.
   Facebook: fudging since 2004.

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Posted in business, internet, marketing, politics, USA | 3 Comments »

Wired’s Louise Matsakis did what no other journalist could: break the story on Facebook’s forced malware scans


With how widespread Facebook’s false malware accusations were—Facebook itself claims millions were “helped” by them in a three-month period—it was surprising how no one in the tech press covered the story. I never understood why not, since it was one of many misdeeds that made Facebook such a basket case of a website. You’d think that after doing everything from experimenting on its users to intruding on users’ privacy with tracking preferences even after opting out, this would have been a story that followed suit. Peak Facebook has been and gone, so it amazed me that no journalist had ever covered this. Until now.
   Like Sarah Lacy at Pando, who took the principled stand to write about Über’s problems when no one else in the tech media was willing to, it appears to be a case of ‘You can trust a woman to get it right when no man has the guts,’ in this case social media and security writer for Wired, Louise Matsakis. I did provide Louise with a couple of quotes in her story, as did respondents in the US and Germany; she interviewed people on four continents. Facebook’s official responses read like the usual lies we’ve all heard before, going on the record with Louise with such straw-people arguments. Thank goodness for Louise’s and Wired’s reputations for getting past the usual wall of silence, and it demonstrates again how dishonest Facebook is.
   I highly recommend Louise’s article here—and please do check it out as she is the first journalist to write about something that has been deceiving Facebook users for four years.
   As some of you know, the latest development with Facebook’s fake malware warnings, and the accompanying forced downloads, is that Mac users were getting hit in a big way over the last fortnight. Except the downloads were Windows-only. Basically, Mac users were locked out of their Facebook accounts. We also know that these warnings have nothing to do with malware, as other people can sign on to the same “infected” machines without any issue (and I had asked a few of these Mac users to do just that—they confirmed I was right).
   Facebook has been blocking the means by which we can get around the forced downloads. Till April 2016, you could delete your cookies and get back in. You could also go and use a Linux or Mac PC. But steadily, Facebook has closed each avenue, leaving users with fewer and fewer options but to download their software. Louise notes, ‘Facebook tells users when they agree to conduct the scan that the data collected in the process will be used “to improve security on and off Facebook,” which is vague. The company did not immediately respond to a followup request for comment about how exactly it uses the data it collects from conducting malware checks.’ But we know data are being sent to Facebook without our consent.
   Facebook also told Louise that a Mac user might have been prompted to download a Windows program because of how malware spoofs different devices—now, since we all know these computers aren’t infected, we know that that’s a lie. Then a spokesman told Louise that Facebook didn’t collect enough information to know whether you really were infected. But, as she rightly asks, if they didn’t collect that info, why would they force you to download their software? And just what precedent is that setting, since scammers use the very same phishing techniques? Facebook seems to be normalizing this behaviour. I think they got themselves even deeper in the shit by their attempts at obfuscation.
   Facebook also doesn’t answer why many users can simply wait three days for their account to come right instead of downloading their software. Which brings me back to the database issues I discovered in 2014.
   Louise even interviewed ESET, which is one of the providers of the software, only to get a hackneyed response—which is better than what the rest of us managed, because the antivirus companies all are chatty on Twitter till you bring this topic up. Then they clam up. Again, thank goodness for the fourth estate and a journalist with an instinct for a great story.
   So please do give Louise some thanks for writing such an excellent piece by visiting her article, or send her a note via Twitter, to @lmatsakis. To think this all began one night in January 2016 …

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Posted in internet, media, publishing, technology, USA | 2 Comments »

The folly of Windows 10


Now that I’ve gone four days without a BSOD, it does appear Microsoft realized it had rolled out another lemon, and, nearly two months later, patched things. Goodness knows how many hours it has cost people worldwide—the forums have a lot of people reporting BSODs (maybe it’s confirmation bias, but I really don’t remember this many, ever). I posted this in a discussion entitled ‘Windows 10 is a nightmare!’, and the comments there make for sobering reading. A small number have had to purchase new computers; others report that the OS has made their computers unusable or that countless hours were spent trying to fix things. I can believe it. My addition:

I have to concur with the original poster: Windows 10 has been, hands-down, the most shockingly unreliable OS ever made, by anyone, anywhere.
   I have spent more time here for this OS than at any other time with Microsoft products—and Windows 10 has been terrible from day one.
   Most recently, I have had multiple BSODs per day since the fall Creators update was installed, and until Microsoft rolled out a patch at the end of January that finally fixed problems of its own making. If your computer is BSODing multiple times a day, with 800-plus events in the reliability monitor per week, then you can imagine how little work gets done. Things finally calmed down on February 2, when I received the cumulative update. You can see the thread for yourself here: I actually feel sorry for the MS tech who stepped in, because he’s solving problems a crap product with faults not of his own making. They won’t be bugs that are in his handbook. Looking at this part of the forum alone, BSOD comes up a lot in the subject lines, more than I ever remember. So it isn’t us, Microsoft, it’s you.
   Going right back to day one, I can’t believe how many threads I’m involved in. Windows 10 started up differently each day, as it would forget its own settings each day. Some days Cortana worked, other days it didn’t. Sometimes I had the UK keyboard (which I had never once installed), other days the US. In November 2015 I had to post a queryto ask how many hours it would take for a Windows 10 machine to shut down. That’s right, hours. At least that’s better than some of you who commented earlier who can’t get yours to start up.
   Initially, Cortana required fiddling with each day to get it to work. Notifications once went back in time—on a Saturday I began getting notifications from the previous Thursday. None from Friday though, they all vanished. Windows began forgetting my default browser and default PDF application, and no, you couldn’t fix either from the standard settings. The Anniversary update took 11 attempts to install on this PC—and one of them screwed things up so badly my PC was bricked and wound up at the shop, where I had to spend money to get it fixed urgently. (I joked at the time it was called Windows 10 because you needed more than 10 attempts to do anything.) It never installed on my laptop at all: by the time Creators spring came round, the one update that was compatible with my laptop, it had been through 40 unsuccessful update cycles.
   There’s still more that I can share, and you can probably find it via my profile. I would add more but on the original reply I actually hit a limit on these boxes. I guess Microsoft has a limit to how much bad news it can take from one user.
   Microsoft has actually changed its QC procedures for the worse—that is a matter of record—and you’d think after three years of abject failure they would switch back. We see the same hackneyed official responses here day in, day out. They need to spend more time getting things right before they ship their OSs, and spare their community people a lot of wasted hours with solutions that generally do not work. In my latest thread, I fixed it—yes, the tech helped a bit, but ultimately I had to listen to my gut and believe that MS had messed up. I was right, but wow, at a massive cost to my real job with days lost to being Microsoft’s unpaid technician.

   It is good, however, to come out the other side (knock on wood)—and despite the countless hours spent, I was once again right, and conventional wisdom was wrong. I’m not sure if that’s something to be that proud of. A healthy mistrust of big firms stands one in good stead nevertheless, and remember, every industry has thick people making stuff.

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Posted in technology, USA | 2 Comments »

An accomplishment: debunking every single point in a Guardian article on Julian Assange


Elekhh/Creative Commons

Suzi Dawson’s 2016 post debunking a biased Guardian article on Julian Assange is quite an accomplishment. To quote her on Twitter, ‘The article I wrote debunking his crap was such toilet paper that I was able to disprove literally every single line of it, a never-before-achieved feat for me when debunking MSM smears. Check it out.’
   Here is a link to her post.
   I will quote one paragraph to whet your appetite, and you can read the rest of what I consider a reasoned piece at Contraspin. To date there have been no comments taking issue with what she wrote.

To the contrary, other than solidarity from close friends and family, these people usually end up universally loathed. In the cases of Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris, Bill Cosby, these men were protected for decades by the very establishment that they served. It took decades for their victims to raise awareness of what happened to them yet once they finally managed to achieve mainstream awareness, their attackers became reviled, etched in history as the monsters they are. The very speed and ferocity with which the Swedish (and other) governments targeted and persecuted Assange speaks volumes. Were he an actual everyday common rapist it is more likely than not that the police would have taken little to no action. Were he a high society predator, it would have taken decades for the public to become aware of it. But because he is neither, and is in fact a target of Empire, he was smeared internationally by the entire world’s media within 24 hours of the allegations and six years later is still fighting for the most basic acknowledgements of the facts – such as that he has still never been charged with any crime, which Ms Orr fails to mention even once in her entire piece.

   It’s important to keep an open mind on what we are being told—there are many false narratives out there, and neither left- nor right-wing media come to the table with clean hands.

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Posted in culture, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing, Sweden, UK, USA | No Comments »

The perfect storm: there’s a spike in users being told by Facebook they have malware today


Many years ago, I was locked out of Facebook for 69 hours. It was completely a Facebook database problem, but in those days, they just locked you out without any explanation. It happened on a Friday. I believed I would not get back in till Facebook staff got back to work on Monday—and I was right. This is a company that seems to close down for the weekend, and the important techs don’t get back till afterwards. It also doesn’t understand the concept of time zones, as six years ago, Facebook walls stopped working on the 1st of each month in every time zone ahead of Pacific Standard Time.
   As it’s the weekend before the Gregorian New Year, Facebook’s probably closed again, so if their databases mess up, you could be stuck till Monday. Maybe later.
   Except these days, I believe they run another con altogether, as I explained in 2016.
   The theory: they now shift the blame to their users, by saying their computers are infected with malware, and forcing a malware scanner download on us. No one knows what this scanner actually does, but I know first-hand that it wrecks your real anti-virus program. I know first-hand that when Facebook and its scanner providers (which once included Kaspersky) are questioned on it, they clam up or they delete comments. I also know for a fact that others can log in to their Facebook accounts on the same “infected” PCs. All this is in earlier posts.
   Some affected users over the last few years have said that they could wait this out, and three days seem to be the standard period (though some were out for a month). That sounds awfully close to 69 hours, which I was out for in 2014.
   If word got out that their databases were this fragile, their share price would tumble.
   In a year when Apple has had to apologize for short battery life on their Iphones, and sexual predators in Hollywood got outed, maybe we could finish off 2017 with Facebook having to apologize for lying to its users about just what this scanner does. Because we also know that people who have legitimate malware scanners—including ones supplied by Facebook’s “partners”—have usually reported their PCs were clean.
   Today is the day of the perfect storm: if there is a big database outage at Facebook, it’s the weekend, and no one is around to fix it. For whatever reason, thousands of people have been receiving Facebook’s malware-scan message, telling them their computers are infected: today has seen the biggest spike ever in users getting this, beginning 14 hours ago.
   In my two years following this bug, I haven’t noticed any real common thread between affected users.
   With Facebook’s old bug, where walls stopped working on the 1st of each month, there was a particularly noticeable rise in reports on Getsatisfaction when 2011 ticked over to 2012—probably because no one was at work at Facebook to switch 2011 over to 2012. (I wonder if it had to be done manually. It honestly wouldn’t surprise me.)
   While some of this is admittedly guesswork, because none of the companies involved are saying a thing, there are just too many coincidences.
   Let’s sum up again.

• When certain Facebook accounts died three to four years ago, you were locked out, and this took roughly three days to fix (in my case, I got hit at a weekend, so nothing happened till Monday after a Friday bug). These bugs were account-specific.
• On January 1, 2012, Facebook walls around the world stopped working and would not show any entries from the new day—till it became January 1, 2012 in California, 21 hours behind the first group of people affected. It seems there is some manual tinkering that needs to go on with Facebook.
• Today, Facebook accuses people of having malware on their systems and demands they download a scanner. Yet we also know that others can log in to their Facebook accounts on the same “infected” machines. Conclusion: those computers are probably not infected as the lock-outs are account-specific. If it’s account-specific, then that leads me to believe it’s a database relating to that person.
• When people refuse to download Facebook’s scanner, many of their accounts come back online after—you guessed it—three days. Ergo, they were probably never infected: Facebook lied to them.
• Those that do download the scanner cannot find it in their installed programs’ lists. Neither Facebook nor their scanner partners have ever come clean about what this program actually does or why it needs to reside in a hidden directory on Windows.
• It is December 30, 2017, and it’s a weekend, and there’s a spike in users getting this warning. It began, noticeably, 14 hours ago. It’s very hard to believe so many got infected at the same time by the same bug: even a regular virus, or the real malware that gets spread through Facebook, doesn’t have this pattern. It all points back to something happening on Facebook. My reckoning is that this won’t be fixed till January 1, 2018 or afterwards.
• Facebook is the home of fake accounts—it’s very easy to find bots and spammers. Logically, if resources are used to host the bots, then that means fewer resources for the rest of us, and potential database problems.

   If you are stuck, I recommend you read the postscripts and relevant comments to my earlier posts: here and here.

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Posted in internet, technology, USA | 8 Comments »

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


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 »

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


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 | 1 Comment »

Online publishing: how the players we dealt with changed in 2016


Above: Brave Bison’s predecessor, Rightster, left much to be desired in how it dealt with publishers, while investment commentators had concerns, too.

Twenty-sixteen had some strange developments on the publishing front.
   First, we noticed Alexa rankings for a lot of sites changed. Facebook itself went from second to third, where it has stayed. Our own sites dropped as well, across the board, even though our own stats showed that traffic was pretty much where it was. In Autocade’s case, it was rising quickly.
   We checked, and Alexa had announced that it had increased its panel again in 2016. There was an announcement about this in 2014, but things improved even more greatly during the last Gregorian calendar year, specifically in April. (April 2016, it seems, was a huge month of change: read on.) This means Alexa began sampling more people to get a more accurate picture. Given that Facebook fell as well as us, then we drew the conclusion that the new panel must include audiences in China and other non-Anglophone places. It makes sense: Alexa is a global service and should take global data points. Never mind that we’ve suffered as a result, we actually agree with this approach. And we’re taking steps in 2017 to look at capturing extra traffic with our content.
   Alexa, when we approached them, said it could not comment about the origins of the panellists. Again, fair enough. We’ve made an educated guess and will work accordingly.
   Secondly, there were two ad networks whose advertising disappeared off our sites. The first, Gorilla Nation, started dropping off long before 2016. In 2015, we asked why and were asked to fill out some form relating to Google ads. Anyone who’s followed this blog will know why that was unpalatable to us—and we want to make sure our readers don’t fall victim to Google’s snooping, either. I’m not saying that Google ads don’t appear at all—it’s the largest advertising network in the world, and its tentacles are everywhere—but if I can avoid opening our properties up to Google willingly, then I’ll do so.
   It’s a shame because we’ve worked exceedingly well with Gorilla Nation and found them very professional.
   We have, sadly, entered an era where—as found by my friend and colleague Bill Shepherd—online advertising is controlled by a duopoly. In The New York Times, April 18, 2016 (italics added): ‘Advertisers adjusted spending accordingly. In the first quarter of 2016, 85 cents of every new dollar spent in online advertising will go to Google or Facebook, said Brian Nowak, a Morgan Stanley analyst.’ I don’t think this is fair, as they’re not the ones generating the content. Google has also managed to game services like Adblock Plus: they’ve paid for their ads not to be blocked. (Better has more information on why certain ad blockers are ineffective.) It’s not difficult to see why native advertising has increased, and this is generally more favourable to the publisher. In 2017, it’s time to build up the advertising side again: two years ago we already saw quarters where online overtook print in terms of ad revenue.
   Burst Media’s ads also disappeared, and we had been working with them since 1998. Now called Rhythm One, they responded, ‘We recently migrated to a new platform and your account was flagged by an automated process as part of that. All that being said—we can absolutely get you live again.’ That was April. I added one of their team to Skype, as requested, but we never connected—the helpful staff member wasn’t around when I called in. Again, a bit of a shame. As I wrote this blog post, I sent another message just to see if we could deal with the matter via email rather than real-time on Skype.
   At least this wasn’t a unilateral cessation of a business arrangement, which Rightster sprung on us without notice in April. Rightster’s Christos Constantinou wrote, ‘It is with regret that we inform you that from yesterday we ceased providing video content services to your account.’ This wasn’t the first change Rightster sprung on us—its code had changed in the past, leaving big gaps in our online layouts—and soon after, everyone there clammed up, despite an initial email from another Rightster staffer that feigned surprise at what had happened. Mr Constantinou never picked up phone calls made since that point, and we couldn’t get an answer out of them. No breaches of their terms and conditions were ever made by us.
   We were only interested in a small handful of their video sources anyway, all of whom exist on other platforms, so one would have thought that it was to Rightster’s advantage to continue working with a well respected brand (Lucire). A bit of digging discovered that the firm was not in good shape: a pre-tax loss in the first half of 2015 of £11·5 million, with shares trading in October of that year at 10·50p per share, down from its float price of 60p. That year, it was forecast by Share Prophets that things would only get worse for the firm, and they were proved right within months. Not long after ceasing to work with us (and presumably others), Rightster became Brave Bison Group, restructured, and became a ‘social video broadcaster’, but it was still burning cash (to the tune of £1·3 million, according to the same website in July 2016).
   Gorilla Nation and Burst’s slots have largely been replaced by other networks as well as ads secured in-house, while Rightster effectively did us a favour, though its opaqueness didn’t help. In fact, when they didn’t answer questions, it was only natural to surf online to investigate what was going on. Initially, there was some negative stuff about Burst, though my concerns were put to rest when they emailed me back. With Rightster, there was no such solace: finding all the news about the firm being a lemon confirmed to me that we were actually very lucky to have them farewell us.
   We revived an old player that we used, through Springboard, itself linked to Gorilla Nation, so we’re still serving advertising from them, just in a different form. Video content has not vanished from the Lucire sites, for those who are interested in it.
   How a company behaves can be linked to how well it ultimately performs, and what it’s worth. Given our treatment by Rightster, it wasn’t that surprising to learn that something was rotten in Denmark (or London). Maybe that first staff member was genuinely surprised, with employees not being told about their company running out of money. And unless things have truly changed within, it could well continue to function dysfunctionally, which will give those AIM columnists more ammunition.

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Getting inspiration from Douglas Rushkoff


John Nowak/CNN

I’ve had a 52 Insights interview with Douglas Rushkoff open in a Firefox tab for nearly half a year. It’s a fascinating piece, and I consider Douglas to be spot on with a lot of his viewpoints. I’ve revisited it from time to time and enjoyed what Douglas has had to say.
   Here are a few ideas I took from it. The italicized parts were added by me to the Medinge Group version of this post.

  • There are a lot of idealistic ventures out there, but to grow, often founders have to compromise them. It comes back to our thoughts at Medinge over a decade ago about ‘Finance is broken.’ Because of these compromises, we don’t really advance as much as we should, and some brilliant ideas from young people aren’t given the chance they deserve. This needs to change. We already have branding as a tool to help us, and we know that more authentic, socially responsible brands can cut through the clutter. When these ventures start up, brands are an important part of the equation.
  • How are governments going to fund this universal basic income if they themselves aren’t getting a decent tax take? It’s the same question that’s plagued us for decades.
  • Douglas sees ventures like Über to be the same-old: its customer really is its investor, and that’s not a new concept at all. It’s why we can’t even consider Über to be a good brand—and the tense relationships it often has with governments and the public are indications of that. It’s not, as Douglas suggests, even a driver co-op. It’s still all about making money the old-fashioned way, albeit with newer tools.
  • Worrying but true: some of the biggest companies in the world are required to grow because of their shareholders. As a result, they’re not creating sustainable revenue. ‘If you’re one of the top fifty biggest companies in the world and you’re still required to grow, that’s a real problem.’
  • Kids these days aren’t as into all this technology and social networks as we are. Thank goodness. When Facebook reports another billion have joined, you’ll know they’re BSing you and counting all the bots.
  • Many people see things as though they were created by God and accept them. Douglas gives the examples of Facebook and religion. I can add the capitalist and socialist models we have. If people believe them to be God-given, or natural, then they feel helpless about changing them. We need to wake people up and remind them these are human-made constructs—and they can be unmade by humans, and replaced with better ideas that actually work for us all.

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Building a car anorak’s encyclopædia


Above: The first-generation Mitsubishi Minica, though this isn’t the 1962 model. Now on Autocade—though hardly an iconic model.

It’s the end of the Gregorian year, which means I get a bit of time to update Autocade. Since 2008, it’s mostly been a labour of love, and typically, the period after Christmas is when I get a bit of down time to put on models that should have been done during the year.
   But because it’s a hobby site—albeit one that has turned into a oft-referenced online guide—it’s not done with any real discipline. That I leave to others—and you’re all more captured by the flashy photography of magazine sites anyway. Autocade was started as a quick reference, and unless we really decide to branch out into a magazine format, it’ll remain that.
   To give you an idea of the anorak nature of the website, over the break, all of Mitsubishi’s kei cars were added to the site. Some had already been there, such as the eK and certain Minicas, but I decided the rest should go up.
   Why these? You may ask, yet I don’t really have an answer. Often it’s over to one’s mood. Sometimes it’s to offer something online that others don’t, or at least not comprehensively. And when you realize you have 80 or 90 per cent of the models added, you think: I only need a few more, why not succumb to OCD and do the lot?
   Therefore, now, Autocade has all the Minicas, Pajero Minis, Ios and Jrs, Toppos and eKs that the once-mighty manufacturer made before it fell out of favour with its repeated scandals. I’m not a fan of any of them, but that’s not relevant: it’s about objectively providing the public with information, and my own like or dislike of a model has nothing to do with it.
   It’s not even a commercial decision. If it was, Autocade would have filled up the gaps in the US automotive industry a lot sooner. And there are still plenty of them. Americans make up a huge chunk of the browsing public, although for me it takes a while to make sure the engine capacities [for post-1980 US models] are recorded in metric—not something you can readily come by in US books (yes, Autocade is still dependent in some part to the printed word, not the transmitted electron).
   The other area where we’re missing cars is in the flash stuff: Mercedes-Benzes, Maseratis, Ferraris. Now these I actually like. But they can also prove difficult: the convention of the site is that the names of the cars are entered first, and Mercs can be time-consuming by the time you figure out what numbers go after A, C, E and S all around the world. The exotica are fun but there’s often no logic to the product cycles or market niches—which does, of course, make them more interesting, but from an encyclopædic point-of-view, more difficult to compartmentalize and recall. For those who have visited the site, there are links to each model’s predecessor and successor (where applicable), and that makes for particularly entertaining surfing.
   One model takes, on average, 15 to 20 minutes to do, and that’s when I already know about it. There’s some time involved in getting a press photo, writing it up, checking the specs (again using printed matter). When you research in certain languages, it takes even longer (South African online resources are scarce, for instance, and anything Chinese before 2008 or so is also hard to track down). The Mitsubishi kei cars, beginning with the 1962 Minica, represent hours of work, and when you multiply 15–20 minutes by 3,440, that’s a lot of hours since the site started. Occasionally I’m helped along by readers who suggest models, and two UK friends, Keith Adams and Pete Jobes, have made changes and additions along the way that have really benefited the site.
   I’m glad that Autocade is heading toward 10 million views, a milestone which it will reach in the next couple of months, and the increase in viewership is thanks to all of you finding it a useful enough resource. If you want something less exotic and more mundane (after all, some of us can only have so much of supercars and luxury cars), it’s the place to pop over to at, hit ‘Random page’ at the top, and see what comes up.

Originally published at Drivetribe.

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