Posts tagged ‘Amazon’


The path of least resistance: we humans aren’t discerning enough sometimes

04.02.2018

I came across a thread at Tedium where Christopher Marlow mentions Pandora Mail as an email client that took Eudora as a starting-point, and moved the game forward (e.g. building in Unicode support).
   As some of you know, I’ve been searching for an email client to use instead of Eudora (here’s something I wrote six years ago, almost to the day), but worked with the demands of the 2010s. I had feared that Eudora would be totally obsolete by now, in 2018, but for the most part it’s held up; I remember having to upgrade in 2008 from a 1999 version and wondering if I only had about nine years with the new one. Fortunately, it’s survived longer than that.
   Brana Bujenović’s Pandora Mail easily imported everything from Eudora, including the labels I had for the tables of contents, and the personalities I had, but it’s not 100 per cent perfect, e.g. I can’t resize type in my signature file. However, finally I’ve found an email client that does one thing that no other client does: I can resize the inbox and outbox to my liking, and have them next to each other. In the mid-1990s, this was one of Eudora’s default layouts, and it amazed me that this very efficient way of displaying emails never caught on. I was also heartened to learn from Tedium that Eudora was Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak’s email client of choice (‘The most important thing I use is Eudora, and that’s discontinued’). I’m in good company.
   However, this got me thinking how most users tolerate things, without regard, in my opinion, to what’s best for them. It’s the path of least resistance, except going down this path makes life harder for them.
   The three-panel layout is de rigueur for email clients today—all the ones I’ve downloaded and even paid good money for have followed this. Thunderbird, Mailbird, the oddly capitalized eM. All have had wonderful reviews and praise, but none allow you to configure the in- and outbox sizes. Hiri’s CEO says that’s something they’re looking at but right now, they’re not there, either. Twenty-plus years since I began using Eudora and no one has thought of doing this, and putting the power of customization with the user.
   But when did this three-panel layout become the standard? I can trace this back to Outlook Express, bundled with Windows in the late 1990s, and, if I’m not mistaken, with Macs as well. I remember working with Macs and Outlook was standard. I found the layout limiting because you could only see a few emails in the table of contents at any given time, and I usually have hundreds of messages come in. I didn’t want to scroll, and in the pre-mouse-wheel environment of the 1990s, neither would you. Yet most people put up with this, and everyone seems to have followed Outlook Express’s layout since. It’s a standard, but only one foisted on people who couldn’t be bothered thinking about their real requirements. It wasn’t efficient, but it was free (or, I should say, the licence fee was included in the purchase of the OS or the computer).
   ‘It was free’ is also the reason Microsoft Word overtook WordPerfect as the standard word processor of the 1990s, and rivals that followed, such as Libre Office and Open Office, had to make sure that they included Word converters. I could never understand Word and again, my (basic) needs were simple. I wanted a word processor where the fonts and margins would stay as they were set till I told it otherwise. Word could never handle that, and, from what I can tell, still can’t. Yet people tolerated Word’s quirks, its random decisions to change font and margins on you. I shudder to think how many hours were wasted on people editing their documents—Word can’t even handle columns very easily (the trick was usually to type things in a single column, then reformat—so much for a WYSIWYG environment then). I remember using WordPerfect as a layout programme, using its Reveal Codes feature—it was that powerful, even in DOS. Footnoting remains a breeze with WordPerfect. But Word overtook WordPerfect, which went from number one to a tiny, niche player, supported by a few diehards like myself who care about ease of use and efficiency. Computers, to me, are tools that should be practical, and of course the UI should look good, because that aids practicality. Neither Outlook nor Word are efficient. On a similar note I always found Quattro Pro superior to Excel.
   With Mac OS X going to 64-bit programs and ending support for 32-bit there isn’t much choice out there; I’ve encountered Mac Eudora users who are running out of options; and WordPerfect hasn’t been updated for Mac users for years. To a large degree this answers why the Windows environment remains my choice for office work, with Mac and Linux supporting OSs. Someone who comes up with a Unicode-supporting word processor that has the ease of use of WordPerfect could be on to something.
   Then you begin thinking what else we put up with. I find people readily forget or forgive the bugs on Facebook, for example. I remember one Twitter conversation where a netizen claimed I encountered more Facebook bugs than anyone else. I highly doubt that, because her statement is down to short or unreliable memories. I seem to recall she claimed she had never experienced an outage—when in fact everyone on the planet did, and it was widely reported in the media at the time. My regular complaints about Facebook are to do with how the website fails to get the basics right after so many years. Few, I’m willing to bet, will remember that no one’s wall updated on January 1, 2012 if you lived east of the US Pacific time zone, because the staff at Facebook hadn’t figured out that different time zones existed. So we already know people put up with websites commonly that fail them; and we also know that privacy invasions don’t concern hundreds of millions, maybe even thousands of millions, of people, and the default settings are “good enough”.
   Keyboards wider than 40 cm are bad for you as you reach unnecessarily far for the mouse, yet most people tolerate 46 cm unless they’re using their laptops. Does this also explain the prevalence of Toyota Camrys, which one friend suggested was the car you bought if you wanted to ‘tell everyone you had given up on life’? It probably does explain the prevalence of automatic-transmission vehicles out there: when I polled my friends, the automatic–manual divide was 50–50, with many in the manual camp saying, ‘But I own an automatic, because I had no choice.’ If I didn’t have the luxury of a “spare car”, then I may well have wound up with something less than satisfactory—but I wasn’t going to part with tens of thousands of dollars and be pissed off each time I got behind the wheel. We don’t demand, or we don’t make our voices heard, so we get what vendors decide we want.
   Equally, you can ask why many media buyers always buy with the same magazines, not because it did their clients any good, but because they were safe bets that wouldn’t get them into trouble with conservative bosses. Maybe the path of least resistance might also explain why in many democracies, we wind up with two main parties that attract the most voters—spurred by convention which even some media buy into. (This also plays into mayoral elections!)
   Often we have ourselves to blame when we put up with inferior products, because we haven’t demanded anything better, or we don’t know anything better exists, or simply told people what we’d be happiest with. Or that the search for that product costs us in time and effort. Pandora has had, as far as I can fathom, no press coverage (partly, Brana tells me, by design, as they don’t want to deal with the traffic just yet; it’s understandable since there are hosting costs involved, and he’d have to pay for it should it get very popular).
   About the only place where we have been discerning seems to be television consumption. So many people subscribe to cable, satellite, Amazon Prime, or Netflix, and in so doing, support some excellent programming. Perhaps that is ultimately our priority as a species. We’re happy to be entertained—and that explains those of us who invest time in social networking, too. Anything for that hit of positivity, or that escapism as we let our minds drift.

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Posted in business, cars, culture, design, internet, politics, publishing, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


It took a little longer, but Autocade reaches 12 million views

03.01.2018

It’s a little disappointing to note that Autocade has taken slightly longer to reach 12 million page views: it ticked over to its new milestone earlier today. I really had hoped that we’d get there before 2017 was out, but it was not to be.
   Part of it might have been the slower rate of models being put up—life’s been busy, and a site that earns a fairly small amount of money compared to our other businesses doesn’t warrant as much time. But 100 models have gone up since June 2017, when Autocade reached its 11 million milestone, with the 3,600th model the Nissan Rasheen (and no, I didn’t plan this one—it’s quite an oddball vehicle).
   So here’s the running tally as I’ve been keeping on this blog, for really no reason other than pedantry.

March 2008: launch
April 2011: 1,000,000 (three years for first million)
March 2012: 2,000,000 (11 months for second million)
May 2013: 3,000,000 (14 months for third million)
January 2014: 4,000,000 (eight months for fourth million)
September 2014: 5,000,000 (eight months for fifth million)
May 2015: 6,000,000 (eight months for sixth million)
October 2015: 7,000,000 (five months for seventh million)
March 2016: 8,000,000 (five months for eighth million)
August 2016: 9,000,000 (five months for ninth million)
February 2017: 10,000,000 (six months for tenth million)
June 2017: 11,000,000 (four months for eleventh million)
January 2018: 12,000,000 (seven months for twelfth million)

   It’s a shame that the four-month time-frame needed to reach 11 million could be an anomaly rather than part of a trend.
   I also wonder whether the odd PHP error—we have had quite a few since we began hosting at AWS—has impacted on search-engine rankings. However, server management has become far, far more complex over the last couple of decades, and the controls I see at AWS mean nothing to me as someone outside the computing industry. The help pages may as well be in Serbian. The notion that software gets easier to use and the expectation that this level of computing would become democratized have not come to pass, certainly not over the last 10 years. It seems the industry wants to sew things up for itself, and the last thing needed are amateurs like me getting into the nuts and bolts. I’m not Facebook or Google: I can’t afford heaps of employees to look after this stuff. (Or, in Google’s case, maybe a couple here and there.)
   Incidentally, I may begin removing the sharing links under each headline soon. I’m concerned about the standard Facebook ‘like’ button tracking readers, and there are Po.st links under ‘Share this page’ to the top left of this page (if browsing via desktop) if you want to show Facebook friends something from here. Po.st does have its own cookies (linked to a company called Radium One), but it’s far easier to opt out of those through their site. I’m unconvinced that anyone can opt out of Facebook’s data collection.

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Posted in cars, culture, design, internet, publishing, USA | No Comments »


Drivetribe will be a mecca for motorheads—Autocade readers welcome

22.11.2016

Now that the first episode of The Grand Tour has aired, and we’re nearing the official launch of Drivetribe (November 28), we’re beginning to see just how good an investment £160 million was for Amazon when it picked up the cast of The Goodies, I mean, Top Gear (sorry, I get those BBC shows mixed up, and they do have the same initials), along with producer Andy Wilman (who himself presented Top Gear segments many years ago, but we are now spared his nude scenes).
   Essentially, you can’t do a show these days without an internet community, so what did the four men do? Create their own. They’ve put their money into Drivetribe, which has attracted an eight-figure investment from additional parties, chief among which is 21st Century Fox—that’s right, Rupert Murdoch. Amazon’s reportedly quite happy with the arrangement—and it certainly helps boost their show.
   There are already signs that Drivetribe is going to succeed as a motoring portal–social network, for those of us who have been playing with it. Maybe the Murdoch Press has learned from Myspace? Or, it’s put their money in, but it’s letting experts do their job–among whom is none other than Cate Sevilla, formerly of Buzzfeed UK, and whose blog I followed even before she arrived in the UK the good part of a decade ago. It isn’t a surprise that Cate would do well in social media—she had a knack for it, even back then.
   Car enthusiasts were invited to pitch their ideas for tribes some months back, recognizing that we’re not all the same. Additionally, there’s a bunch of us who work in some aspect of the industry, and looking through the tribes, we’re the ones whose ideas have been adopted. For those of you who use Autocade, there’s one linked to that very venture.
   As many of you who follow this blog know, I founded Autocade in 2008, a car encyclopædia that wouldn’t have the fictions of Wikipedia (or ‘Wikiality’, as Stephen Colbert calls it). Eventually, I succumbed to modern marketing trends and very lately started a Facebook page on it, at least to post some behind-the-scenes thinking and publicity photos. While it proved all right, my blog posts were here and things were all over the place.
   When I first proposed doing a Drivetribe tribe many months ago, I centred it around the marketing of cars, and the result, the Global Motorshow, can be found here. And now that it’s started, it’s become clear that I can put all the content in one place and have it appreciated by other motorheads. In a week and a half it’s grown to about a third of the following of the Facebook page, and Drivetribe hasn’t even officially launched yet. Those members are either other tribe leaders or those who signed up early on. The question must be asked: why on earth would I bother continuing with Facebook?
   In addition to Cate, Drivetribe is not faceless. The support crew respond, and there are humans working here. I’m impressed with how quickly they get back to us, and how the site is reasonably robust. On all these points, Drivetribe is the opposite of Facebook.
   Granted, I don’t know the other members there, and some I only know through reputation. But then I didn’t know a lot of the people I now find familiar on Facebook car groups. Nor did I know the people on Vox back in 2006, or some of the folks at Blogcozy in 2016. Communities build up, often thanks to common interests, and here’s one that already has a massive online community ready to flock to it. Having three celebrities helps, too, and all three Grand Tour presenters post to the site.
   If you’re interested, the scope of the Global Motorshow (originally without the definite article, but when I saw the GM initials in the icon, I rethought it) is a bit wider than Autocade. I thought it might be fun to post some of the marketing materials we come across, the odd industry analyses that have appeared at this blog (updated in some cases), and even commercial vehicles, which aren’t part of Autocade. I’ve chosen to keep the tribe public, so anyone can post if they find something interesting. Let’s hope Drivetribe can keep the spammers at bay: something that the old Vox.com failed to do, and Facebook is desperately failing to do now as well.
   Come November 28, we’ll know just how good things are looking, but I’m erring on the side of the positive—something I was not prepared to do for sites such as Ello or Google Plus.

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Posted in business, cars, internet, marketing, media, TV, UK, USA | No Comments »


Explaining one of Dynamo’s card tricks, possibly

07.11.2013

An interesting video from our friends at ITN, featuring magician Dynamo, who releases the third season of his Magician Impossible series on DVD.

   Other than the sleight of hand, I’m guessing that there are two jacks with his signature, because he can duplicate that. The journalist is never given her own card to bite: Dynamo has the eight of diamonds all along.
   As to some of the other illusions, no, I haven’t figured them out. Why is this here and not on my Tumblr, where I post most of my mindless stuff? The video embed code is for our company sites and I can stretch that a little here.
   We will return to our regularly scheduled programming tomorrow.

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Posted in TV, UK | No Comments »


What Is a Brand? Well, there is one we’ve relaunched …

05.03.2013

My good friend and colleague Stanley Moss has written a new book, What Is a Brand?, which provokes some thought on the question in the title.
   Those who know Stanley and have followed his work know that each year, he issues a Brand Letter, which closes with various definitions of branding.
   If there’s one thing brand experts agree on, it’s the fact that no two brand experts will ever agree on the definition of a brand. What Is a Brand? turns this into its primary advantage, getting definitions from some of the top people in the profession, and somehow I managed to slip in there.
   Ian Ryder, Nicholas Ind, the late Colin Morley, Thomas Gad, Ava Hakim, Simon Paterson, Pierre d’Huy, Malcolm Allan, Patrick Harris, Tony Quinlan, Manas Fuloria, Steven Considine, Sascha Lötscher, George Rush, João Freire, Virginia James, Filippo Dellosso, the great Fritz Gottschalk, and others all contribute definitions, on which readers can ruminate.
   As Stanley notes in his introduction:

The aim of this book is to render brand thinking more accessible, to share with you the ideas of theorists and practitioners who bear witness to the evolution of policy and governance, especially in light of society’s drift towards overconsumption and environmental damage.

   It is now available as an e-book and as a paperback via Amazon.com, priced at US$5 and US$10 respectively.

Keep calm and wear a tiara: I’m now also general counsel for Miss Universe New Zealand, on top of everything else. The news announcement went out yesterday—the Lucire article is here, while we have a new website at nextmissnz.com. The highlight is reducing the entry fee from NZ$3,500 to NZ$10 (plus a workshop, if selected, at NZ$199). We’ve had some great feedback over the website, which I am thrilled about, since I designed it and made sure all the requirements of the licence agreement were complied with.
   The year’s going to be a very exciting one with the competition, which will be far more transparent than it ever has been, with the possibility of its return to network television after a two-decade absence. We’re bringing integrity back into the process. From my point of view, the idea is one of business transformation, to take something that has languished and turn it into something that’s exciting, relevant, and 21st-century.
   With this development, I’m relieved I never published a word on the scandal last year and never went to the media over it (even if others did—often to their detriment). It makes it a lot easier to move forward with the future if you don’t keep dwelling on the past—and with the great programme we have, why should we look back?
   I’m looking forward to bringing you more with national director Evana Patterson and executive producer Nigel Godfrey. We’ve created something dynamic that the New Zealand public, and the Miss Universe family, can all get behind. Keep an eye on nextmissnz.com where we’ll post more announcements—and if you think the T-shirts (right) are as cheeky as I do, then they are available for sale online, too.

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Posted in branding, business, marketing, media, New Zealand, publishing, USA | 1 Comment »


A word of thanks to Aseem Kishore at Help Desk Geek

22.08.2012

This wouldn’t have been the first time I bought a wifi adapter—the first time was back in NYC, when laptops took PCI cards—so they should be dead simple to install, right? Despite an OAP on Amazon.com saying, in his review, that he had no issue with his Level One WUA-0605, which arrived overnight from Ascent (props to them), naturally, things took four hours here (still an improvement on a day and a half) because, put simply, reading the manual does not work. In fact, it’s a useless manual, which simply rewords what one sees on screen with no attempt to explain the jargon and acronyms—about as helpful as a Macintosh help screen to a layman. Why, oh why, does one need a computer science degree just to deal with basic matters?
   This post, however, is not to complain about the lack of care in manual-writing. It is to publicize the helpfulness of two parties when things got tricky. First, Joe Ruwhiu at Ascent was very helpful in offering to forward any technical issues back to Level One. Secondly, despite a myriad of pages covering the problem of “can connect to my router but not the internet”, offering well meaning advice that was, sadly, ineffective to me (I had a reasonable idea of what I was doing, and that the majority of settings at and to the router, the TCP/IP and security were correct), only one was methodically written and gave step-by-step instructions on what to do. As it turned out, step one was successful. To Aseem Kishore, who wrote his piece in November 2008, I thank you. Now, if only people who wrote manuals did so as clearly as you write your help articles—with an understanding of the regular person.

Keyboard update: I ordered a Manhattan 177528, which appears to be a clone of the Ione Scorpius U2, from Taiwan. It’s not mechanical, but a scissor-switch keyboard, which is the next best thing. I type efficiently on my laptops, which have all had scissor-switch keys, and at US$18 (plus another US$18 for shipping), it seemed too good a price to pass up. My mechanical-keyboard quest, eventually, came up with nothing that fulfilled my requirements, and I wasn’t sure about what type of keys the one Razer that looked right had.
   To top it off, when I emailed Manhattan Products, I actually got a reply from an Emmy Wang in Taiwan, who explained to me the features of he 177528 keyboard. She also noted that if I had a concern over the keys’ noise, there was an alternative. That’s quite a step up from Intopic, to whom I also wrote after buying one of their keyboards, raving about it and suggesting they should look at retailing here in New Zealand. I never received a reply to that, and I was a satisfied customer. How would they treat a dissatisfied one?

PS.: One day later. Aseem’s fix does work—but for me it meant employing it every time that computer rebooted. The adapter would fail each time I started up and required the fix. And since the gadget was for Dad, I didn’t want to subject a man in his 70s to feeding in DOS commands every day. So, after another few hours, I came across the fix at a Microsoft page and downloaded the ‘Fix it’ app. Running that seems to have worked but considering that’s only one of about seven reboots today, the jury’s still out. I still wish these things would work the way the manufacturers claim, but my experience is that there’s always tinkering involved—something I can’t imagine the average user would be bothered doing. Joe at Ascent was willing to give a refund or replacement.—JY

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Posted in business, China, internet, media, publishing, technology | 3 Comments »


Stefan Engeseth’s next book, Sharkonomics: in business, what can we learn from sharks and their survival?

22.02.2012

When I talked about Nicholas Ind’s book, Meaning at Work, a few weeks ago, I said there were two titles that I wanted to mention.
   The second is by my friend Stefan Engeseth, who has followed up some very innovative titles—Detective Marketing, One and The Fall of PR and the Rise of Advertising—with Sharkonomics.
   The premise is simple: how have sharks survived millions of years, and can we learn any lessons from them for business?
   I’ve been involved with Sharkonomics since Stefan pitched the idea, and I’ve had word of him heading down to South Africa to dive with the beasts.
   I’ve dived with them, too, many years ago, except mine weren’t as treacherous as the ones he confronted.
   A few of us, in endorsing his book, couldn’t help but use a bunch of shark puns. Don’t let them put you off.
   He wants to get further word out and the first 100 people to do so will get the book for free (details here). You can read a brief summary about it here. It’s published by Marshall Cavendish, the people who published One. Also head to Sharkonomics’ Facebook page—there’ll be more information on the upcoming launches and some of the great ideas Stefan has planned for them.

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Posted in business, marketing, Sweden | 3 Comments »


Nicholas Ind’s Meaning at Work: finding fulfilment in the early 2010s

06.02.2012

Two of my friends have books coming out. I’ll discuss one for now, as it’s been a long long weekend.
   The first is my Medinge Group colleague Nicholas Ind’s Meaning at Work, which has now made it on to Amazon, and is getting wider distribution.
   You can get an idea of what Meaning at Work is about from Nicholas’s own article at the RSA’s (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) website. But if you’ve followed Nicholas’s work over the years, it’s a logical continuation of his inquiry into making businesses more human and engaged.
   Living the Brand, for example, was an early look into organizations that had successfully implemented their brand at every level. The concepts are familiar to most branding practitioners, but Nicholas brought them to life with real-world examples and analyses of those successful organizations. Fast forward to Branding Governance, and there are useful discussions about corporate citizenship and corporate participation. Meaning at Work looks at what attitudes people need to find fulfilment in their work, with engagement and challenge being the keys.
   I’ve managed to secure chapter one from Nicholas, who in turn got it from the publisher, minus the illustrations (omitted due to copyright reasons), so you can get a better idea of what it entails. In this first chapter, Nicholas discusses what meaning is, and brings to live numerous examples from literature, art and film. If you’ve ever wondered about some of those works you have heard of but not inquired in to—Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse or the real meaning behind Réné Magritte’s La trahison des images—Nicholas draws out the necessary meanings for his book in a very accessible fashion.
   It’s interesting that Nicholas discusses the depth of meaning in this first chapter, because if you take his works over the course of the 21st century, they are getting deeper and deeper into what makes us—and successful organizations—tick. Each can be read independently, of course—Nicholas isn’t out to sell us a series of books—but there is a natural progression that he has as an author. As someone who has only written one book solely—the rest were joint works—it’s a record I admire. Download chapter one of Meaning at Work here, and order it from the publisher or Amazon UK.

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Posted in business, culture, leadership, publishing | 1 Comment »


Amazon begins charging dormant-account fee

25.11.2010

Here’s a new clause in the Amazon Associates’ contract that I never spotted before, which is available publicly for viewing. European countries have a similar one, with differences in the currency.

If you have not earned any advertising fees in the 3 years prior to any given calendar month, then on the first day of that calendar month we may charge you an account maintenance fee that will be deducted from your unpaid accrued advertising fees. That account maintenance fee will be the lesser of $10 or the amount of unpaid accrued advertising fees in your account. Further, any unpaid accrued advertising fees in your account may be subject to escheatment under state law.

At least they give you three years before deducting a maintenance fee, but one wonders just how troublesome it is for Amazon to keep one’s account open when you make zero sales. It could be worse: it could be Commission Junction, which starts charging after six months. Many people have cried foul over that one.
   However, we are cancelling our Amazon.fr account as a result because we don’t score many sales there. It makes us wary of Amazon, however, because this sort of clause is a real turn-off and brings a cloud over the service.
   I notice that while we received emails notifying us of the change for the UK, Germany and Europe, we never received one for the US. I was surprised to find, when writing this blog post, that the US agreement has changed, too.
   I think this only encourages us to look at alternatives, rather than make us push Amazon more. Certainly if I were starting a website today, I’d look for an affiliate programme that does not have such a clause. And who’s to say that the next big bookstore site isn’t in China or India, prepared to compete on this very thing?

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Posted in business, China, India, internet, marketing, publishing, USA | No Comments »