Posts tagged ‘free market’


History has already shown us the better way, so why ape an outmoded market leader?

05.02.2012

A friend had his Gmail hacked, and, much like an Atlantic article I read in the print edition a few months ago, the hackers deleted his entire mailbox. Google says these hacks only happen a few thousand times daily.
   I’m concerned for him because he has to deal with the Google forums, and we all know how unhelpful and obstructive they can be.
   I’ve never trusted Gmail, or any web-based email system, “on the cloud”. I’ve always kept POP3 archives and the worst thing that might happen is that some of the older CDs and DVDs might be less reliable. But this event actually brings to mind something else that has concerned me about my method: the email client.
   I’ve used Eudora since the 1990s. I started with v. 1.2, and for years, my standard client was 4.3. I happily paid for a licence to get the pro version, and used 4.3 till it no longer worked with the settings on our server. That meant I stayed with one email client from 1999 to 2008. I was then forced to upgrade to 7.1, and I have used that since.
   Qualcomm no longer makes Eudora, and for the last half-decade or so, there have been various “Eudorized” versions of Mozilla Thunderbird. That won’t fly with me, because my demand is actually very simple, but it is going completely unmet: I want an email program that has a vertically tiled inbox and outbox. For the majority of my working life, I have used this method as a to-do list of sorts, and I can see at a glance who I have to deal with.
   The sad thing is that the three-window interface has become a standard for email programs, but this does not work for me. I don’t want an email program that syncs with calendars or creates automatic Dropbox links. I just want one that works, where I can have filters and multiple accounts, and where I can have inbox and outbox side by side. This should be, I thought, a relatively simple request, especially as Eudora was, at one point, considerably more popular than it is today.

Eudora window
Above: Eudora 7.1, with an inbox on the left and an outbox on the right. Does anyone else make an email program that does this?

This is the story of many industries, where inferior norms become the standard. As I typed this, Preston Tucker came to mind: a pioneer who created a safe, fast and aerodynamic car with fuel injection, decades before Detroit could manage the same. But the big players won out and Tucker died a broken man. Americans, and indeed the rest of the world, made do with the same old junk till they were forced to innovate and use ideas that Tucker wanted to mainstream in the 1950s. Similarly, I laugh when people talk about the novelty of hybrids, when you consider how prevalent dual-fuel natural gas–petrol cars were in New Zealand 30 years ago.
   In the tech world, I happily used—and still use—WordPerfect. Why? It works. And it still works considerably better than its competition. Even a 20-year-old version will blow modern word processors away in terms of sheer functionality and ease of use, assuming you could install it. The latest versions are buggier because of the small user base and the absence of Unicode compatibility. But I persevere with it because, at the end of the day, these programs are tools, and I get my work done far more quickly with WordPerfect. I might be the one person on the planet who does not know how to use Word.
   I can’t get my head around Word. With WordPerfect, if I set margins and font, it stays that way till I tell it otherwise. Word and its later competitors have a habit of needing styles set, and try to be too clever for their own good. It might tab paragraphs automatically—even when you don’t want it to. It might change margins and fonts on me because it can. And Word’s footnote and endnote creation is still light years behind what WordPerfect could do in 1991.
   But Word is the standard because Microsoft gave it away in the 1990s. When OpenOffice and Libre Office came out, it aped the standard, right down to the crazy way it handled styles. Why? By all means, create versions which would ease the transition, but if you’re to adopt any method, why not start with the best? Word, for years, had WordPerfect transitional settings, to steal customers from the market leader. Before Word became a freebie, friends who I converted to WordPerfect were still thanking me profusely for making their lives easier. It would seem logical for these open-source programs to go with a better underlying technology.
   I have subbed with Word, and regularly do, because most of our team write using it. By the end of the piece I will have noticed the original writer adopt three styles, because Word has done it that way. My editing will have caused another three or more stylistic changes. It is a mess by the time I save it, with my only solace being that no member of the public ever sees it in that state.
   When I open a Word file in WordPerfect, which is what I have to do now with the DOCX format, I see all the superfluous code (through Reveal Codes—for Dreamweaver users, it’s not unlike HTML source) and it answers precisely why the program lacks any logic. Styles upon styles upon styles. Even Dreamweaver users who have ever had to deal with a Word-created HTML file post-Word 2000 know exactly what I mean. Word is an ineficient program, in every respect of the adjective.

WordPerfect window
Above: This is about as simple a document as you can get and the first I found with public information: one set only in Courier, 14 pt. WordPerfect shows that Word, on which the document was originally prepared, has still inserted Times New Roman font-change codes on every blank line—for no reason whatsoever. This is one of the reasons I dislike Microsoft Word. Had the document been prepared on WordPerfect, every incidence of the Times New Roman code would not have been present.

   I don’t know much about programming, but it seems, from every article I have read about these open suites, the new programs are playing the anti-Tucker game, mostly unconsciously, since the developers I have met are usually generous idealists. Let’s stick with this less productive, less logical method of word processing, because that is where the market is. But with fonts and more complex layouts now what people need, I would have thought that the methods employed by old computerized typesetting machines—which used codes similar to WordPerfect—would have been a more logical start for a word processing program.
   This isn’t an ad for WordPerfect. I simply ask for utility and logic. It doesn’t have to have WordPerfect code. It just needs to be a word processor that does what I tell it to do. Set font, stays in that font. Set margins, stays with those margins. Is this too big an ask? Wouldn’t this save time, which is the whole idea of technology? Why should we become slaves to software, when we created it to be our slave?
   Email clients, then, I find, follow much the same pattern. When I chose Eudora, I have a vague recollection that the New Zealand competitor, Pegasus, was structured in much the same way. The tiled inbox and outbox was a norm, and it worked. People rejoiced.
   Then, Microsoft decided it would adopt the present three-window standard in Outlook, and it gave away Outlook. I resisted it from the get-go: who wants to click just to see their outbox? Isn’t that an extra step? Why can’t I see my lists of emails at a glance? For someone who gets several hundred messages a day, I need to see more than ten. I would rather see 25 or more. And my outbox would have action items, things I had promised people I would do. So I stuck with Eudora.
   It’s not about being in Luddite position. It is going back to basics and saying: what would improve people’s workflow? Forcing them to click to see something or just showing it? (Twitter UI designers, take note.) Is the three-window convention the best way to use that on-screen real estate?
   It seems that Thunderbird, the open-source rival, again missed an opportunity by using an inferior convention as its base. By all means, ape Outlook, to ease a transition. But give the public—you are, after all, on the 11th version now—a chance to move the windows as we see fit. Computers are powerful enough now so it must be possible. It was in the 1990s.
   Let those who love the three-window convention stick with it, but let the rest of us move those windows to our heart’s content, and make life as easy as possible.
   The aim, therefore, is to gather as much success in the next decade before these programs become obsolete, by which time I should either have (a) hired extra folks to take care of these tasks exclusively or (b) pushed for these features in the open-source programmes.

Therefore, making leaps ahead is a good thing, but will people do it? This is always the gamble with predicting future needs: will we go so far that we still miss the boat? We fired but the missile landed in front of her bow.
   But I’m not even talking about creating something that doesn’t exist yet. I’m talking about existing methods, things that have been around for ages, waiting to be rediscovered. Resizing and detaching windows is a standard feature in so many programs. All it takes is being able to grab this stuff from history—a lesson that could well apply to organization memory as well. History has already told us, when the playing field was level, which methods were superior, and what people opted for when confronted with having to spend their own money on software. Before their giveaway periods, the choices were never Word or Outlook.
   The open-source movement, in my opinion, has a wonderful opportunity ahead of it for creating a new round of office efficiency.

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Posted in business, design, internet, leadership, technology, typography | 10 Comments »


TPPA could turn the clock back

30.11.2010

During the campaign trail, people tended to ask me if I was left or right. While I cheekily said, ‘Forward,’ many a time (and had at least one imitator), there’s something to be said for abandoning what are, effectively, nineteenth-century constructs.
   And unless you are DI Alex Drake in Ashes to Ashes, you need not concern yourself with constructs.
   What society needs is a dose of right or wrong, because all the constructs do is blind people to seeing a contrary argument if they happen to have branded it “left” or “right”.
   There’s no ‘I can see your viewpoint’ because that viewpoint is never aired.
   Fortunately, we didn’t have too much of this problem during the mayoral election though I did have a few people express surprise that I had once run for the Alliance. Meanwhile, Mayor Prendergast was surprised on the night of our TV debate that I sat with Young Nats—though three of them were, indeed, on my campaign.
   If we are all proclaiming we are “independents” and deny any connection with the larger parties, then surely the best quality we could have is to be non-political and unite people from “left” and “right”?
   And, as I also said on the campaign—and long before that—I know of very few people who are “all left” or “all right”.
   A while back, I had a discussion with the co-leader of the Alliance, Kay Murray, and she mentioned that there was a certain policy where the Alliance and ACT saw things the same way.
No Ordinary Deal: Unmasking the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement   It was with this frame of mind that I read Prof Jane Kelsey’s piece in INM‘s New Zealand Herald today.
   New Zealand is to host the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) talks on December 6, in which, says Kelsey, we would be ‘deepening our commitment to free market policies that affect our jobs, our social and cultural well-being, and ultimately the sovereignty to make decisions as a nation 

   â€˜The TPPA would lock us into a model where markets and big businesses rule, ignoring the reality that it has failed.’
   I applaud the Herald for publishing Prof Kelsey’s op–ed, given that there are certain media part of larger groups that may have reasons to limit New Zealanders’ awareness of globalization.
   As much as some would like to hide the figures, the reality is that many globalist policies have failed to generate New Zealand enterprise. They have not enabled us to take advantage of the internet by providing a system geared against us as producers. The level playing field with which Labour tried to sell the promise of Rogernomics in the 1980s, thereby appealing to the fair play nature of New Zealanders, never materialized. And it desperately needed to.
   The result has been a largely technocratic system that has seen foreign enterprises already dictate much of what is done here in business—including accounting practices that have seen taxes that would have once been due here go offshore.
   To those National supporters that were part of my campaign team, I said: I am not against some of your party’s principles. I remember the National where progressive Kiwi-owned enterprise was on the cards as a given, and I believe in that. The main parties no longer really want to discuss this topic, if my memory of the 2008 General Election serves me correctly.
   I would not want to speak for them, but I suspect the younger members of this group would agree with me, having grown up in an era where values and social responsibility have been emphasized more than in the decade—or generation—before. Humanism is sometimes best delivered at the local level by organizations that know their community best, though there obviously are exceptions. They are no dummies: they will have observed this themselves, and may well have judged that market theory needs to be tempered by good (and not overbearing) governance.
   Having your formative years in a recession might be a good thing if you are forced to consider things at that community level. We’ve had quite enough “me decades” in the last 30 years that it’s about time we had a “we” one that had long been forecast by some in the marketing trends’ business.
   And I wonder whether the Prime Minister sees it quite this way.
   I almost wonder whether he favours having a small group called the information-rich and a larger group called the information-poor as this seems to be the next divide that certain forces are poised to take us in.
   In fact, I’ve had Prof Kelsey’s new book, due to be launched this week, for the last fortnight, and it makes excellent reading. And while given to me by friends on the “left”, it takes no political stance and analyses the TPPA for what it is.
   I had no idea that when I received it as a gift I was getting it pre-publication.
   No Ordinary Deal: Unmasking the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement has been edited by Kelsey and contains essays dealing with each aspect of the TPPA.
   If we thought that the fight against the Copyright Act amendments was tough, TPPA will see a new round, where there will be an assault on internet users’ rights to protect the US entertainment industry.
   Prof Susy Frankel, one of the authors, notes in the book:

It is possible that the TPPA negotiations will require more stringent protections of digital copyright works and more confind exceptions to those protections than the New Zealand law provides 

   The AUSFTA makes all reproductions of copyright works, even those transient in nature, a copyright infringement. New Zealand law does not make the creation of transient copies that allow the Internet to function a copyright infringement. This is important because it means that people cannot be sued for simply using the Internet and looking things online.

This means New Zealand’s unique digital copyright laws could be clawed back to become closer to US law, but there is equally a risk of what is permitted here, thanks to how we define fair dealing versus fair use, narrower.
   Meanwhile, Kelsey warns in her Herald piece:

Ironically, the government may also guarantee rights to foreign firms that it refuses to recognise for Maori under the Treaty of Waitangi.
   US firms are demanding even easier foreign investment rules that would be locked in for all time, when opinion polls show New Zealanders want to stop more land falling into foreign hands. Likewise, the idea of stemming currency speculation by introducing a financial transactions tax may be prevented by these “trade” rules.

All of which hint, to me, at the continuation of a slanted playing field where we remain at the bottom.
   Indeed, when it comes to services, Kelsey is right to point out (in her book) that:

The negotiating positions of governments participating in the TPPA seek to enhance the comparative advantage of their domestic firms, so as to boost their countries’ export earnings from services and strengthen their national economies 

   Achieving [the Obama administration’s goal of trebling services’ exports] would intensify the dominance of US corporations within other countries’ service markets. The US already reports a surplus in its cross-border trade in private commercial services with negotiating TPPA parties, standing at US$10·5 billion in 2008.

We are in part countering the imbalance with tourism at the moment, but given that there are other services—and we spent a good deal of the last generation building our service economy—we may expect an assault from the US.
   These are not the only sectors, but New Zealand needs to brace itself for a continued weakening of our economy should we put all our chips into the TPPA.
   I can say this with some greater cred that I am no longer campaigning: strengthening this country’s economy and building jobs is imperative, and we need to embark on that before opening us further to foreign private enterprise.
   I would prefer to see policies that enhance New Zealanders’ innovation and enterprise, aid our exports, build our infrastructure so we are content providers, and balance these needs with those who are disadvantaged. We need to reverse our continued slide into indebtedness through innovation and that our government, regardless of its label, needs to “govern” to ensure a balance for all citizens.
   It is too tempting, and too easy, for the New Zealand Government to believe it can relive the days of the boom—one that was founded on very little substance, mind—by effectively turning the clock back. Taking the technocratic experiment one step further by now removing the advantages we enjoy in intellectual property and services—now that manufacturing and energy have gone—isn’t something I can see working.
   Having backward policies isn’t going to suddenly take us in to the boom of yesteryear and make the economy rosier, and the Prime Minister, who apparently was no stranger to hard work if his PR is to be believed, needs to realize this.
   He needs, indeed, to position himself and his party to work even harder to promote that idea of progressive enterprise, rather than a route in which we are sold up the creek again. Assenting to the demands of foreign governments, lobbyists and corporations is not the way to do it.

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Posted in business, internet, leadership, media, New Zealand, politics, social responsibility, technology, USA | 3 Comments »


Stutterheim marks the Swedish mood

21.11.2010

Stutterheim Raincoats

Sent to me by Stefan Engeseth, Stutterheim Raincoats‘ website conveys a very Swedish feel, touching on one of the emotions we don’t always associate with Sweden: melancholy during the winter. The copy on the site even says, ‘Let’s embrace Swedish melancholy.’
   With emotive photographs and a very Swedish soundtrack, it helps create an atmosphere as well as differentiation for the brand.
   The website also stresses the made-in-Sweden aspect of the Stutterheim range, as well as its home in the town of BorĂ„s, well known for fashion design, textiles, and fashion manufacture.
   The country-of-origin aspect is important not just to the export markets (to whom the site must partly be aimed, given its use of English—although 90 per cent of Swedes speak the language) but to the domestic one. With the reforms of Moderaterna (conservatives) over the last half-decade, there has inevitably been more imports into the country. I wouldn’t be surprised if an increasing number of Swedes will now, specifically, seek out locally manufactured goods today as a reaction to the market-driven theories of Fredrik Reinfeldt and co.

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Posted in branding, business, culture, marketing, politics, Sweden | 1 Comment »