Posts tagged ‘2020’


Could this happen one day at GM?

22.02.2020


The MG line-up in New Zealand. Could it be part of a bigger portfolio of brands later this decade?

In the context of what has happened with Holden, and Peter Hanenberger’s thoughts on the direction of GM, I wonder how far away we are from seeing these headlines:

Cash-strapped GM sells passenger car brands to SAIC to focus on trucks and SUVs

and:

SAIC builds passenger-car brand portfolio with Wuling, Baojun, Chevrolet, Roewe, MG, Buick and Cadillac

You can almost think of MG as Pontiac and Roewe as Oldsmobile … With the decimation of the GM line-up globally, and the segments they no longer field (e.g. C-segment cars in many markets), will they even have the investment needed to sustain the car brands?
   I know they are saying this was all necessary to fund the electrification of the range and autonomous tech, but isn’t this the same company that nixed the EV1 and failed to make the Volt a Prius-beater?
   The Chinese state wasn’t about creating “Chinese Leyland” when they forced SAIC and NAC to merge. They had much grander plans.

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Posted in business, cars, China, USA | No Comments »


Social media produce some terrible clairvoyants

19.02.2020

I see Billie Eilish is singing the next James Bond title song, and it sounds pretty good.
   The last one, ‘Writing’s on the Wall’, wasn’t one of my favourites and while I didn’t mind Sam Smith’s composition, I felt a female voice might have suited it better. On a Bond music forum on Facebook (when I was still using it), I voiced disappointment, only to get comments in the thread essentially saying, ‘Everyone who dislikes this song is a homophobe.’
   Up until that point I had no clue about Smith’s sexuality—didn’t care then, don’t care now. I didn’t think much of this until tonight, when it dawned on me that when I say I’m not a fan of Brexit, on busier social media threads I’ll get, ‘Stop calling British people racists.’
   In neither case was homophobia or racism even hinted but it puzzles me that people can somehow go into Mystic Meg clairvoyant mode and see things that aren’t there—and get it completely wrong. And that has to be one of the things wrong with social media these days: people far too much in their own heads to even see what is right in front of them, letting their imaginations run riot. Could they be projecting? In any case, a discussion, or even an argument, is pointless if parties are unwilling to stick to the facts in front of them, preferring to go into snowflake mode and fling out accusations. It does them little credit.
   And folks wonder why so many of us have social media fatigue and would be quite content if certain sites vanished overnight.

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Posted in culture, interests, internet | No Comments »


One News is hard to miss on TV, but hidden on the internet

18.02.2020

I wanted to see what TV1 news (I can never remember its official name with all its rebrands over the years—is it One Network News, TVNZ1 News, One News, or something else?) had on GM’s decision to shut Holden, but I missed both the six o’clock and the Plus One screenings. I headed online with some trepidation because I recall that I could never find the most-watched programme on the channel on previous occasions. This time I decided to document my attempt.
   Usually I would get stumped by the log-in process that made me lose my place, so this time I decided to log in first.

Nowhere to be seen. Ah, but it’s a TV1 show, so what if I go to the TV1 page?

Nope. Under news and current affairs, we have Breakfast, Seven Sharp, Fair Go and Te Karere. There’s a 1 News link at the top, what if I go there?

No joy, at least not for the full six o’clock broadcast. I did spy a Kiwi category, and surely TV1 news is Kiwi-made. Let’s see …

Apparently only the Tonight and Midday bulletins count as Kiwi-made.
   Despite my searching for it around 8 p.m., it wasn’t under ‘What’s new on TV’ either. Something that finished broadcasting an hour ago isn’t new.
   By this time what I do is go on Twitter to ask for help and eventually someone finds it for me, which isn’t the most efficient way of doing it, but in the past that’s how I’ve solved it.
   Tonight I put news into the search box and got it there after doing all the above, but why does TVNZ make it this hard? It’s their flagship news programme.
   And Conan Gorbey on Twitter found it for me tonight. Thanks, Conan!

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Posted in design, internet, media, New Zealand, TV | No Comments »


Asus ROG Strix Evolve: a gaming mouse for a non-gamer

18.02.2020

My early 2000s Microsoft Intellimouse 1·1 is still the perfect shape for me. After getting the second-hand one into service last year, I thought that I needed a spare. I’ve several other mice, including no-brand ones, that are a decent size, but I got used to having the forward and back buttons on either side.
   Microsoft makes a Classic Intellimouse these days, but it’s based on a later design, and it appears the side buttons are on the left only, which seems to be the convention in the late 2010s and early 2020s. It’s also had some reviews criticizing the quality, so I knew I couldn’t go with the latest.
   I headed back to Recycling for Charity, where I sourced this Intellimouse, but judging by the stock, I’m not alone in my preference. All that were left were smaller mice, making me wish that I bought multiple Intellimouses a few years ago and stocked up. This surely is a massive hint to mainstream mouse makers on a latent, forgotten market.
   After sampling some during spare time at Noël Leeming in Porirua, which did fit my hand, I opted to look online. The Noël Leeming ones were mostly Logitech, and my experience is that their mice last about two years. I wanted quality.
   After much searching, one mouse that matches the dimensions of the Intellimouse (125 mm × 65 mm × 40 mm) with one millimetre out on the height is the Asus Republic of Gamers (ROG) Strix Evolve, and our old friends at Just Laptops in Albany had them on special at under NZ$70 plus freight. That’s a lot more than the NZ$3 I paid for the used Intellimouse and the NZ$25 I paid for the Microsoft Laser Mouse 6000 in 2015, but with Asus claiming that the switches were good for 50 million clicks—probably 10 times more than regular mice—I decided that three times the price for ten times the longevity (at least in one respect) was acceptable. And it had two switches on each side, which I could program.
   It arrived a (working) day later. A lot of the gaming features are lost on me: the option to have lighting effects, choosing your own colour or having it cycle, for instance. I don’t necessarily need DPI switching. It’s simply vital that I have something my right hand is comfortable with.

   The mouse comes with a second set of covers, so you can raise it slightly to suit your hand. I tried all permutations: left high, right low, vice versa, both low, both high, before deciding on having both sides in the raised position. The rubber side panels help with grip, and they aid comfort.
   The first negative is that the forward end isn’t as wide as I was used to. The Microsoft mice are a reasonable width all the way down, and the Evolve is slightly narrower. That means my ring finger touches the mouse pad more on the side, as it did with an earlier Lenovo (plenty of those at Recycling for Charity, incidentally). I thought I wouldn’t be able to get used to it, as I didn’t with the Lenovo, and it does continue to be a slight problem. In other words, I haven’t quite got the perfect mouse and it’s a lesson about buying online when your requirements are this strict (though again I wouldn’t have considered this a major problem if manufacturers weren’t skimping on materials and giving people repetitive strain injuries).
   Asus hasn’t deceived about the measurements: it is 125 mm wide at its greatest width, just as Microsoft has it on theirs.
   I may put up with letting my ring finger drop and go along the mouse pad for the time being just for comfort’s sake and see if I’m OK with washing the pad more regularly. Or adjust my hand positioning slightly. But I know I cannot use the modern mice.
   One Tweeter noted that maybe the mouse manufacturers are finally appealing to women, and I had to agree it was nice for us men to experience just once what it’s like for them in a usually male-designed tech world.
   The other features are excellent: the ability to program the switches, which I did very early; and I can turn the lighting off as I see no point to it if my hand is on the mouse obscuring most of it. Then again, I’m not a gamer.
   The mouse wheel and switches are far more solid than anything I’ve encountered, making the 50 million-click claim believable. I do occasionally hit the right button inadvertently, probably out of unfamiliarity, and I must hit the DPI switch from time to time, again accidentally.
   Nevertheless, I’m going to keep my eye out for second-hand Intellimouses. Mine has become the back-up again, and really I didn’t think I was asking for much. Microsoft had a perfect design for which the tooling must be long amortized, so it makes you wonder why they don’t just trot it out again and make a bundle more off us.

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Posted in design, New Zealand, technology | No Comments »


The death of Holden

17.02.2020

GM pulled out of Russia and India, so with hindsight, those of us Down Under, with a far smaller total population, shouldn’t have thought we were particularly special.
   Even where GM remains, such as South Korea, there’s a broken model range, with a big gap where the Cruze used to be.
   It’s becoming apparent that GM, with no more right-hand-drive markets to cater for, will be a company that only offers full lines in China and the Americas.
   Some GM-watchers have been calling for the demise of Holden for years, just as they had called for the deaths of Oldsmobile and Pontiac years before. But as I argued in a letter published in the (also-defunct) Condé Nast Portfolio, each brand occupies unique territory, and, had they not been diluted, could still appeal to certain buyers that more mainstream ones, e.g. Chevrolet, cannot reach.
   Holden was always a tough case in Australia, where we noted it was very tied to nationalism. Once local manufacture finished, its sales plummeted.
   It wasn’t the case in New Zealand, where all cars had been imported for decades and we never had the sense that Holden was our ‘own car’. However, GM New Zealand (as it then was) had created a handful of Holdens unique to this market that the Australians never saw. Once upon a time, it was a more independent beast.
   When Holden ceased Australian manufacture, sales didn’t drop the same way in this country. With Kiwis loving entries in the CD market, the Commodore isn’t an uncommon sight, and remains the choice of the police.
   But the same argument of economies of scale applies to New Zealand, a country with a population of five million: GM had no desire to allow this country much wiggle room compared with Australia. Whatever happened there would necessarily happen here.
   Those 600 jobs that are going include redundancies in New Zealand.
   Over the years it had seemed Holden was on life support. There was a golden age where the HQ series and its derivatives flew the Holden flag high, but after the oil crises, there was a real possibility the company could have bit the dust in the mid-1980s, becoming an import-only operation.
   A plan circulated within GM to replace the top Holdens with Cadillacs, while the rest of the range would be made up of cars from around the GM empire—which, in those days, included Opel and Isuzu.
   But the Australians won the day and the VN Commodore got the green light. By the end of the 1990s, Holden was in great shape, including an export programme for cars based off the VT Commodore.
   You could say history repeated itself with the global financial crisis in the late 2000s—where GM, keen to continue, asked for US$50,000 million from the US taxpayer. But perhaps more importantly, it sold the controlling stake in its venture with SAIC of China to its Chinese partner for a mere US$85 million. That was one deal that allowed GM to raise funds elsewhere, but it also saw the beginning of a technological transfer to China. Even after GM bought back the share, SAIC would get control of the JV’s sales’ company.
   Numerous SAIC cars were built on GM platforms—the Roewe 950, for example. Cars made by GM ventures began appearing with SAIC-owned brands—the MG Hector in India, a rebadged Baojun 530, for one; it also appears as the second-generation Chevrolet Captiva in some other markets. Once upon a time GM might have earned a royalty for any car built on its tech, but it’s unlikely here as the two companies share in the profits.
   While SAIC hasn’t succeeded with MG Down Under, you notice more of a push these days, and it has already made an impact in New Zealand with the Maxus commercial line-up, rebadged LDV. Export sales aren’t a big deal for the Chinese giant, but with the Chinese economy slowing, they could be eyeing up more international markets.
   With SAIC keen to get more of the action for themselves, GM’s operations in many of its outposts became irrelevant.
   Holden held on for dear life and arguably had one of its more competitive ranges for years—but in this context, GM might not have had much choice.
   It has little to do with the consolidation of markets and all to do with much higher-level strategic decisions. After all, hardly anyone in China will have grown up with idea of Holden being Australia’s own car.

This post also appears in Drivetribe and Lucire Men.

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Posted in business, cars, China, New Zealand, USA | 2 Comments »


Returning to Firefox?

17.02.2020

I wonder if it’s time to return to Firefox after an absence of two years and five months. After getting the new monitor, the higher res makes Firefox’s and Opera GX’s text rendering fairly similar (though Chrome, Vivaldi and Edge remain oddly poor, and Vivaldi’s tech people haven’t been able to replicate my bug). There’s a part of me that gravitates toward Firefox more than anything with a Google connection, and I imagine many Kiwis like backing underdogs.
   Here are some examples, bearing in mind Windows scales up to 125 per cent on QHD.

Vivaldi (Chrome renders like this, too)

Opera GX (and how Vivaldi used to render)

Firefox

   Opera renders text slightly more widely than Firefox, but the subpixel rendering of both browsers is similar, though not identical. Type in Firefox arguably comes across with slightly less contrast than it should (especially for traditionally paper-based type, where I have a good idea of how it’s “supposed” to look) but I’m willing to experiment to see if I enjoy the switch back.
   In those 29 months, a lot has happened, with Navigational Sounds having vanished as an extension, and I had to get a new Speed Dial (FVD Speed Dial) to put on my favourite sites. FVD uninstalled itself earlier today without any intervention from me, so if that recurs, I’ll be switching to something else. I don’t like computer programs having a will of their own.
   A lot of my saved passwords no longer work, since I change them from time to time, and it was interesting to see what Firefox remembered from my last period of regular use. I’ll have to import some bookmarks, too—that file has been going between computers since Netscape.
   The big problem of 2017—Firefox eating through memory like crazy (6 Gbyte in a short time)—could be fixed now in 2020 by turning off hardware acceleration. It’s actually using less right now than Opera GX, and that’s another point in its favour.
   I also like the Facebook Container that keeps any trackers from Zuck and co. away.
   I did, however, have to get new extensions after having resided in the Vivaldi and Opera space for all that time, such as Privacy Badger.
   If I make Firefox the default I know I’ll have truly switched back. But that Opera GX sure is a good looking browser. I might have to look for some skins to make common-garden Firefox look smarter.

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Posted in design, internet, typography | No Comments »


Andrew Yang’s campaign: #YangGang was just the beginning

13.02.2020


Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons

On Andrew Yang’s run for the Democratic nomination in the US:

If Mastodon ever stops supporting that Javascript, I wrote: ‘Pretty stoked at what Andrew Yang has managed to achieve. Certain forces tried to minimize his coverage, to give him as little legitimacy as possible (sounds familiar). Yet he also normalized the idea of an Asian American presidential candidate, paving the way either for himself in 2024 or for someone else. ’. Those forces include some of the Democratic activist media.
   It’s a damned shame. Yang didn’t vilify Republicans, listened to both sides, and was a pragmatist with solutions. Granted, there were areas his policies fell short, but at least he presented the optimistic side of American politics, something so rarely seen in what we outsiders perceive to be such a negative, murky world. Now Americans (and those of us watching from without) will likely face a shouting-match campaign.

And found on the web: a cellphone with a rotary dial that its creator, Justine Haupt, claims is more practical for her, and where calling is faster than with her modern phone. No apps, no SMS, but if you’re after something to call people, it does the job admirably. Her frequently dialled numbers are stored, so it’s only new numbers where she has to dial. The dial also serves as a volume control. Since I’m getting sick of apps, and I can’t be alone, Haupt may be on to something.
   In her words: ‘A truly usable rotary-dial cellphone to replace my flip phone (I don’t use a smart phone). This is a statement against a world of touchscreens, hyperconnectivity, and complacency with big brother watchdogs.’

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Posted in design, politics, technology, USA | No Comments »


Five stars for Dell’s P2418D monitor

12.02.2020


Working at night: the making of this blog post

I had to put in a good word for Dell’s P2418D monitor (earlier post here) after the multiple negative reviews left by one person.
   If I had to write something negative, it would be about their website blocking me from submitting my positive review by claiming I was using an ad blocker. I wasn’t. But I do have ‘Do not track’ turned on and I wonder if that is doing it.
   Eventually I got the review through on my eighth attempt by using a vulnerable browser: one with no privacy plug-ins, allowing all cookies, with all the default tracking that Big Tech likes.

After reading another reviewer’s multiple entries, I had a few doubts about this monitor, but I’m glad I bit the bullet anyway. I bought mine in 2020, so they may have ironed out the bugs.
   First up, the QHD resolution is a great thing to have. Windows 10 automatically scaled everything 125 per cent for me, and the programs that were a bit fuzzy were easily sorted—you just go into the properties and make sure that they use their own magnification and not the OS’s. I’m actually more productive as a result of being able to see the finer detail. I work in publishing and it’s great to be able read the smaller copy on a spread. Before I would have to zoom in and out to do a lot of my work.
   I don’t really need 27 inches as I don’t want to move my neck to see the different corners of the screen: 24 is plenty for me. I actually have a feeling 27 inches would decrease my productivity, but that’s just my personal preference.
   I’ve noticed no backlight bleed, the edge is fine for me and the desktop appears normally. As to the prompts that appear when the monitor goes into sleep mode (one source of complaint for one reviewer)—for me it doesn’t sleep for ages (it must be my settings) and when it does, I’m usually out of the room. In three weeks I’ve seen those prompts once.
   I had a problem with the driver—Windows’ security settings prevented me from opening the executable—but I was able to open it using an elevated command prompt. The controls you need for resolution, brightness, contrast, etc. are in there, too, if you don’t wish to fiddle with the buttons on the front of the unit itself.
   All the cables are included (USB 3 downstream, Displayport, power), and it’s been great having USB ports on my monitor. It’s allowed me to tidy up the external HDs a lot (I run three). Going from DVI-D to Displayport has been useful, too—I know I shouldn’t notice 1 ms improvement in speed but I really sense that I do!
   The blue-light-blocking comfort mode means I don’t get sore eyes if I work late, another bonus.
   I’m glad someone makes QHD at this size—in fact, I know Dell does 4K at this size, too. But QHD is fine for me—of the programs not using Windows’ scaling, I don’t want the menus to get too small! A great investment to my everyday computing.

   Hope that redresses the balance a bit more for Dell. I get that the other person is annoyed, but stick it all in one review, please!

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Posted in technology | 2 Comments »


Thumbs-up for Thomas and Professional Painting & Decorating Ltd. in Wellington

09.02.2020

On Linkedin, they say you shouldn’t connect with people you haven’t worked with, although in the early days of the site, there were some of us keen to connect with the “power connectors”, those who had amassed lots of connections. Who knows if they really had worked with that many people? But before we knew much about social media and one’s regular tribes, some of those numbers looked really appealing. In later years I found myself disconnecting from them to give Linkedin visitors a more accurate picture of who I had actually worked with; and sadly, in some cases, disconnecting from people I really had worked with because I noticed my contact list was getting raided by newer power-connector wannabes.
   But here’s someone I haven’t connected with on Linkedin, as I assume he isn’t on it (based on a fairly comprehensive search): Thomas Nguyen of Professional Painting & Decorating Ltd. And you know he must be good if he’s wound up getting a blog post about him.
   Thomas has been working on my partner’s rental property, both inside and outside. He’s proved to be reliable and accommodating. And when another contractor—who I still don’t think knew what he was doing—screwed up his part of it and walked off the job, we asked Thomas to finish things up, which he and his team did.
   So far he’s stuck to his quotes, been very flexible as we asked him to do extra things, and he’s even gone above and beyond in a couple of instances. He’s taken all feedback on board, too, like a real pro. Even his SMSs are well written!
   No surprise he’s received four 100 per cent ratings on No Cowboys.
   We checked out some of his earlier work before we hired him, so we aren’t one-offs.
   He’s been going for five years and relied on word of mouth to get business. I told him I had a particularly big mouth when it came to Twitter, but a blog post seems less fleeting, and more sincere—we really do think highly of him. If you need someone in the Wellington area, Thomas and Professional Painting & Decorating Ltd. are highly recommended.
   Daniel at Harrisons has looked after us on the carpet front and he’s also proved capable and friendly. Out of the carpet people we’ve approached, he’s also been the best, though admittedly you don’t have as much contact with the carpet sales’ rep as you do with your painters.

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


Netflix spams, Amazon doesn’t care

07.02.2020

It pays to have some ground rules when dealing with the internet. A very big one that I’m sure that you all observe is: don’t do business with spammers. If a Nigerian prince tells you he has $5 million for you, ignore him.
   There are tainted email lists that have been going around for years. I used to have filters for all sorts of permutations of my real address, back in the days when we had a “catch-all” email. My address definitely wound up on a South African spammers’ list in the late 1990s or early 2000s, and to this day I get South African spam from some respectable looking companies that took an unethical shortcut in compiling their targets. There’s a third where the spammer has confused the ‘company’ and ‘first name’ fields that began doing the rounds during the 2010s. All so easy to spot. If they claimed I signed up to their list, and don’t know my first and last names, then there’s a massive clue right there.
   This all begs the question of why a company with the size and reputation of Netflix feels the need to resort to such lists. Here’s the fourth one this Gregorian calendar year as they up their frequency of spam:


Netflix spam, shown actual size.

   There’s a thread online where one netizen was told by Netflix that someone else had signed them up, which is incredibly unlikely, and more likely an excuse to cover one’s dodgy behaviour.
   These began in November 2019 for me. The ‘This message was mailed to […] by Netflix because you created a Netflix account’ is untrue, and if it were true, how come there is no email confirmation of this account creation in any of my emails from 2019? Surely if you created one, Netflix would confirm your address at the very least? And if they don’t, then that’s pretty poor business practice.
   This isn’t a phishing attempt, as the links all go to Netflix and it’s come from Netflix’s account with Amazon, who doesn’t seem to do much about it. If you’d like to see a similar one, someone has posted it online at samplespam.com/messages/2019-07-20/V801I2196eM554074 but where they have a header line with ‘00948.EMAIL.REMARKETING_GLOBAL_SERIES_CORE_2_DAY_4.-0005.-5.en.UA’, mine has ‘00948.EMAIL.REMARKETING_GLOBAL_SERIES_CORE_2_DAY_4.-0005.-5.en.US’. (Netflix thinks I live in the US.)
   There’s no reply on Twitter. Nor was there any reply from this email that I sent to privacy@netflix.com last November:

The people they claim are in charge of privacy don’t care about privacy.
   I shan’t subscribe to Netflix any time soon because of Internet 101. If they don’t care about your privacy now, they’re probably not going to care about it after you’re a customer. In the 2020s, with people more sensitive about it, it’s foolhardy for Netflix to go against the trend. Right now, their email marketing has all the subtlety of a cheap scammer’s—just with nicer presentation.

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Posted in business, internet, marketing, USA | No Comments »