Posts tagged ‘2020s’


Reaching the end of Facebook

05.08.2020

With the new season of Alarm für Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei nearly upon us, I decided I’d pop into my Facebook group (I’m still an admin) to see what had been happening. I’ve been there a few times this week and I have discovered some of the site’s latest features.
   Groups: these now have three posts. That’s it. Three. It doesn’t matter how long they have been running, Facebook doesn’t want you to be bothered by history or anything so stupid. Therefore, after the third post (fourth if you’ve just posted something), you’ve reached the end. Saves heaps on the server bills, since I guess they’re not as rich as they would have us believe.
   (This bug has been around for years but now it’s the norm, so maybe they eventually figured out it was a cost-saving feature.)


On groups: welcome to the end of Facebook. This is the last post.

   Comments: don’t be silly, you shouldn’t be able to comment. This is a great way for Facebook to cut down on dialogue, because they can then just propagate nonsense before an election. We know where Zuck’s biases are, so they want to be a broadcaster and publisher. You can select the word ‘Reply’ in the reply box, you just can’t type in it. (Again, an old bug, but it looks like it’s a feature. I’m still able to like things, although on many previous occasions over the last decade or more that feature was blocked to me.)


Commenting: they let me have one reply, but replying to someone who has replied to you? Forget it, it’s impossible.


In the reply box, you can highlight ‘Reply’ but you can’t type in there. That would be too much to ask.

   Notifications: these never load, had haven’t done for a long time. Remember the ad preferences’ page? They don’t load, either, so Facebook has now extended the “circle” to notifications. If you don’t see notifications, you won’t need to continue a thread—not that you could, anyway, since they don’t let you comment.


If you knew what your notifications were, you might stay longer and post stuff that makes sense. No, Facebook is for people who want to spread falsehoods among themselves. You have no place here.

   Messages: why not roll out the same spinning circle here, too? They should never load, either, because, frankly, email is far more efficient and everyone should just give up on using Facebook’s messaging service.


Time to go back to email: if you were ever silly enough to rely on Facebook for messaging, then you’re out of luck.

   I once thought that I encountered bugs on Facebook because I was a heavy user, but as I haven’t even touched my wall since 2017, this cannot be the reason. I also used to say their databases were ‘shot to hell’, which could be the case. And I still firmly believe I encounter errors because I’m more observant than most people. Remember, as Zuck’s friend Donald Trump says, if you do more testing, you’ll find more cases.
   I’ve even found the “end” of Instagram, at the point where nothing will show any more.


The end of Instagram: when you can find the limit to the service.


No one’s posting much these days. In the early 2010s, there’d be no way I’d ever get to see the end of my friends’ updates.

   Solution: don’t use Facebook. And definitely don’t entrust them with your personal data, including your photos—even if you trust them, they’ll potentially get lost. From what I can tell, the site’s increasing inability to cope suggests that its own technology might fail them before the US government even gets a chance to regulate! And—the above topics aside—it may be time to regulate Facebook and pull in the reins.

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


Have we stopped innovating in online publishing?

22.07.2020

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

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


The end of the cellphone?

22.05.2020


Motorola

This is a take that will probably never come true, but hear me out: this is the end of the cellphone era.
   We’ve had a pandemic where people were forced to be at home. Whilst there, they’ve discovered that they can be productive on their home desktop machines, doing Zoom and Skype meetings, and a proper keyboard with which to type and respond to people properly.
   They’ve realized that everything they do on a cell is compromised. It’s hard to reply to an email. It’s hard to compose something properly. It’s hard to see the participants in a virtual meeting. It’s hard to edit a photo. Voice recognition is still nowhere near what David Hasselhoff and KITT suggested 38 years ago.
   Camera aside, which I find is the cellphone’s best feature, it doesn’t offer that great a utility.
   More organizations say you can work from home today, and many have discovered what I’ve known for 33 years: it’s nice to have a commute measured in seconds and not be at the beck and call of whomever is on the other end of your cellphone. You are the master of your schedule and you see to the important things as you see fit.
   This is, of course, a massive generalization as there are professions for whom cellphones are a must, but I’m betting that there’s a chunk of the working population that has discovered that they’re not “all that”. In 1985 it might have looked cool to have one, just as in 1973 the car phone was a sign of affluence, but, frankly, between then and now we’ve gone through a period of cellphones making you look like a wanker to one of making you look like a slave. In 2001 I was the only person at an airport lounge working on a device. In 2019 (because who’s travelling in 2020?) I could be the only person not looking at one.
   But they have apps, you say. Apps? We offered a Lucire news app for PDAs in the early 2000s and hardly anyone bothered downloading them. So we gave up on them. Might take others a bit longer.
   By all means, have one to keep in touch with family, or take one on your travels. Emergency professionals: naturally. A lot of travelling salespeople, of course. But as someone who regularly does not know where his is, and who didn’t find it much of a handicap when the ringer stopped working (actually, I think that bug has recurred), I’m just not among those working groups who need one.

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Posted in business, culture, technology | No Comments »


Google isn’t working

22.04.2020

I’ve done several Zoom meetings since the pandemic was declared, and two Google Hangouts. While I’m not thrilled at having to use two companies with patchy (to say the least) records on user privacy, the meetings (three for Medinge, one for another board I sit on) have been productive, and the only bottleneck has been, of course, Google.
   I’ve never known what to do with those meeting.ics files that come in but I assume they are digital diary entries for those who don’t like paper. But I can open them in a text file and figure out when meetings start and end and with whom I’m having them.
   If someone sends me a Zoom or Google Hangouts’ link then I’m all good, as I can head straight there and attend the meeting. But for one organization, which has been on Google for longer than I’ve been on their board, I’m expected to get this from the ICS file itself. Fortunately they have an excellent secretary and convener who sends me the link privately since I’m the only one out of the 10 or so who attend these Google-based meetings who can’t figure out how to use this technology.
   Apparently, for everyone, they receive the email and they get a Google Hangout link inside a Calendar entry like this:

and for me, and I’ve spent two hours on this, this is all I get:

   I can tell you it’s not inside the ICS file. There’s no link at all.
   Before you say, ‘Jack, you have non-standard privacy settings on your browser and computer,’ let me answer that now: I’ve downloaded a fresh copy of Opera with no privacy blocks whatsoever, and instead of retrieving the ICS from my usual Eudora email client, I’ve gone into Gmail, where they’ve sent the same invitation, and pretended to like Google and tried to do everything within their ecosystem. This is my only Gmail account, which we are all required to have on this board.
   I’ve opened the email containing this link. If I click on ‘Add to calendar’, I get the screenshot of mine above. Next to the meeting.ics attachment is ‘Download’. If I click on that, I download exactly the same file I had on my regular email, with no Google Hangouts’ link. Surprisingly, there is no way to add an ICS file from Gmail to your Google Calendar—not even a customized right-click option—which must rank as one of the stupidest things that Google could do if they expect us to use their products as a suite.
   There is no obvious way to open meeting.ics from within Google Calendar. However, you can import (Settings, then Settings, then Import/Export) the file, and the result? Same as before.
   Our notifications are sent through a service called Our Cat Herder, and when I click for the full meeting details, I just get taken to that site, again with no Google Hangouts’ link.
   I get that our brains are all wired differently, but there must be a simple, logical explanation on why everyone else can see this link and I can’t.
   I realize that when I spot something Google does, and write about it on this blog, I usually go, ‘That’s dodgy. These guys are a bunch of wankers,’ and 99 per cent of people go, ‘That’s dodgy but I’ll put up with it because free stuff,’ so I know we are different. However, I’m struggling to think how anyone has managed to navigate Gmail, Google Calendar and all their non-search crap to find this link.
   I’ve asked the person convening the meeting to show me in person how they get to their Google Calendar window after we come out of lockdown, but I really have clicked everything under the sun in Gmail, Calendar, Google Account, my profile, and anything else they let me access. I spent 90 minutes one morning and another half-hour today: two hours of letting this Big Tech crowd know all about my computer and invade my privacy. It just cannot be done. Except logic tells me if nine other people can, then their brains must be wired so differently that they are clicking on something that I obviously cannot see. That Google has made it that invisible or that illogical to my 1 per cent brain. But, Gmail users, what else should I click on? There isn’t anything else. I’ve clicked on everything that’s obvious and even on things that were obvious dead ends.



Above: I’ve clicked on what I thought are the obvious links, so where’s this mystery Google Calendar file that reveals a Google Hangouts’ link?

   But logic also says that if we are all receiving the same emails and the same meeting.ics file then why are they different? Even the time is different (theirs is 4.30 to 6 p.m., mine is 4.30 to 6.30 p.m.) as is the title (theirs has the name of the organization in it).
   This is yet another case where Google doesn’t work. I’ve written plenty about why this company’s products are bad for us, their record of censorship, their exercise of a monopoly, their taking and exposure of user data, and their general incompetence. We all know about their failure to be transparent, especially with the one product which makes the most money—their (independently unaudited) advertising. Recently I wrote about how Google Drive does not work, and now you can add Gmail and Google Calendar to the list. Conclusion: this hodgepodge of services is a waste of time. Like Microsoft Word, I’m glad I didn’t get laboured with them early on—and know to stay well away from them in the general course of my work.

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Is Facebook lying to customers about who has seen their ads?

13.04.2020

Not withstanding that I can’t edit my advertising preferences on Facebook—they took that ability away from me and a small group of users some time ago (and, like Twitter, they are dead wrong about what those preferences are)—I see they now lie about what ads I’ve seen and clicked on.
   I can categorically say I have not seen an ad, much less clicked on an ad, for the US Embassy.
   It’s pretty hard for a person who doesn’t use Facebook except for work to have clicked on any ads on their platform.
   And as I’ve largely quit Instagram it’s highly unlikely I accidentally swiped and clicked on an ad there, too.
   On the remote chance that I did, then it shows that either Facebook’s or the US Embassy’s targeting is appallingly bad since I’m not American. I doubt that the US Embassy would have had such a wide market as to include me.
   I theorize, and I do so with zero proof, that Facebook is so deep in its con to claim certain advertising reach numbers that it’s falsely attributing hits to random users across the site. These may have been hits done by bots—bots that it endorses, incidentally—and now they want to pin them on legitimate people.
   It’s a hypothesis but given that I’ve been right about a few way-out ones (false user numbers, bot epidemics, malware downloads), I’m going to advance it. Now let’s wait four years for this to blow up into something.


Above: The only way I can view my advertising preferences on Facebook is through the mobile version. But here they cannot be edited. (The web version won’t show them at all.) They are also quite wrong that these are my interests, but since when have they been right anyway?

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Are you a scam artist? Facebook loves you, and protects you

04.04.2020


The Royal New Zealand Ballet generously put its Hansel & Gretel performance from November 2019 online for free this weekend, choosing Facebook as its medium. That, naturally, attracts scam artists, putting in false links in order to charge credit cards. Many Kiwis were duped. The RNZB reported many, and so have I. All six of the ones I reported have been given a pass: in other words, scams are permitted on Facebook.
   Note that I did not report these people for selling drugs or guns, but ‘other’. Simply marking a comment on Facebook as ‘inappropriate’ does nothing: you are given only the option to hide or block the writer.
   This is entirely consistent with pretty much everything I have said about Facebook over the years.
   1. It’s not easy to report fake accounts, and when you do, Facebook keeps many of them up.
   2. Facebook behaves like scam artists anyway.
   3. Facebook enjoys fake accounts and uses them. (In fact, Facebook claims to have deleted 5,400 million fake accounts from January to November 2019—so just how many are there? I’m going to repeat what I have said many other times: Facebook’s claims of its user base cannot be believed.)
   And now, we can say: Facebook encourages scams by leaving them up and doing nothing.
   Remember, Facebook lies, so don’t bother with its terms and conditions, as they are meaningless.
   So why are people still on this site?

PS.: This fake page has been up for days, and its posts, promoting a phishing link, apparently do not violate Facebook’s standards. Duly reported, but what really is the point since Facebook seems to love these?

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Posted in internet, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


Cellphone? What cellphone?

29.02.2020

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

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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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Peter Hanenberger’s unintended post mortem of Holden

19.02.2020


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Human-centred peripherals should be the norm

02.02.2020

I’ve had a go at software makers before over giving us solutions that are second-best, because second-best has become the convention. While I can think of an explanation for that, viz. Microsoft packaged Windows computers in the 1990s with Word and Outlook Express, it’s harder to explain why peripherals haven’t been human-centred.
   I thought about this with my monitor. It’s “only” 24 inches, despite being QHD. But it works for me, as 27 or more would see me move my neck to view the corners. I was always happy with the 24-inch Imac: I had no desire for it to be larger. If I had 27 inches I might need to sit further back, cancelling out the upsizing. Despite saying this, I can see in some situations where people would be quite happy with 27 (and even larger ones for coders), but it begs the question of why there aren’t more 24-inch QHD monitors on the market. My friend Chelfyn Baxter believes it is the optimum size for productivity (granted, he told me this over five years ago, though I still see little to fault him). Are our suppliers driving us to larger sizes, just as car importers are driving us to automatics here? (The latter is not backed up by any research on preferences, to my knowledge.)
   The same thing applies to keyboards. To me, the optimum width of a keyboard is around 40 cm. Any wider, you’re reaching for your mouse and causing repetitive strain injuries. I’ve stuck to my 40 cm rule for a long time and haven’t had the sort of pain I had in the late 1990s and early 2000s when I had a standard-width keyboard. The mouse is roughly where I expect it to be, and I wouldn’t object if it were closer still. Again, it begs the question of why 40 cm isn’t a standard if it saves us from pain.

   Then there’s the mouse—I now use a Microsoft Intellimouse 1.1 from the early 2000s after my 2005-made, 2015-new one gave up. I know there’s a lot of comedy around the US president having small hands, but we’re no longer in the sort of society whose products change to appease a leader. But regular mice are awfully small, a trend that seemed to have begun in the 2010s. I can’t hold them and maybe I have large hands, but I can’t be alone. In so many places I visit, I see some very uncomfortable hands try to grip a small mouse. I learned that was a bad thing in the days of the round 1999 Apple USB mouse (it wasn’t the Imouse), which created a trade in adapters that snapped on around it.
   Fortunately, mice manufacturers do offer larger sizes, recognizing that not all of us accept a child’s size as the standard. Here I can understand why mice have downsized: the manufacturers attempting to save a few bob and forcing more of us into it. However, there must be a decent part of the population who think, ‘I’ll be uncomfortable with that. I won’t buy it,’ and let the market move accordingly.
   I wonder how much more comfortable and productive a chunk of the population would be by following a few basic rules: have a monitor—whatever size suits you—where you limit strain on your neck; have a keyboard around 40 cm wide or less; and have a mouse which your hand can rest on (and keyboard wrist rests and mouse wrist rests to suit to make you comfortable). But I know most of us will just go, ‘The default is good enough,’ and unnecessarily suffer.

Speaking of practical, I hope Mudita gets its designs on the market sooner rather than later. Who needs pizzazz when we all value simplicity? Technology serving humanity: what a novel idea! Here’s how we can help.

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Posted in design, technology | 1 Comment »