Posts tagged ‘history’


The erosion of standards

10.01.2022

For homeowners and buyers, there’s a great guide from Moisture Detection Co. Ltd. called What You Absolutely Must Know About Owning a Plaster-Clad Home, subtitled The Origin of New Zealand’s Leaky Building Crisis and Must-Know Information for Owners to Make Their Homes Weathertight, and Regain Lost Value.
   My intent isn’t to repeat someone’s copyrighted information in full, but there are some highlights in there that show how the erosion of standards has got us where we are today. It’s frightening because the decline in standards has been continual over decades, and the authorities don’t seem to know what they are doing—with perhaps the exception of the bidding of major corporations who want to sell cheap crap.
   The document begins with the 1950s, when all was well, and houses rarely rotted. Houses had to have treated timber, be ventilated, and have flashings.
   They note:

By the time 1998 rolled around, NZ Standards, the Building Industry Association, and BRANZ had systematically downgraded the ‘Belts and Braces’ and were allowing houses to be built with untreated framing, with no ventilation, and poorly designed or non-existent flashings and weatherproofing.
   Councils accepted these changes at ‘face value’ without historical review. They issued building consents, inspected the houses, and gave Code of Compliance Certificates. Owners believed they had compliant, well-constructed buildings, but they did not.

   Shockingly, by 1992, the treatment level for framing timber could be with ‘permethrins (the same ingredient as fly spray)’, while one method used methanol as a solvent and increased decay. By 1998 ‘Untreated Kiln Dried Timber (UTKD) was allowed for framing’. The standards improved slightly by 2005 but it’s still well off what was accepted in 1952 and 1972.
   We recently checked out a 2009 build using plaster cladding and researching the methods of construction, including the types with cavities, we are far from convinced the problems are gone.
   Talking to some building inspectors, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence on how shaky things still look.
   Since we moved to Tawa and made some home improvements, we realize a lot of people in the trade do not know what they are talking about, or try to sell you on a product totally unsuited to your needs. This post is not the place for a discussion on that topic, but one day I might deal with it.
   However, I am surprised that so many of the tried-and-trusted rules continue to be ignored.
   Sometimes people like me go on about “the good old days” not because we don rose-coloured glasses, but we take from them the stuff that worked.
   It’s not unlike what Bob Hoffman included in his newsletter today.
   As I’ve also no desire to take the most interesting part—a diagram showing that for every dollar spent on programmatic online advertising, a buyer only gets 3¢ of value ‘of real display ads viewed by real human people’—I ask you to click through.
   Again, it’s about basic principles. If so many people in the online advertising space are fudging their figures—and there’s plenty of evidence about that—then why should we spend money with them? To learn that you get 3¢ of value for every dollar spent, surely that’s a big wake-up call?
   It won’t be, which is why Facebook and Google will still make a ton of money off people this year.
   The connected theme: rich buggers conning everyday people and too few having the bollocks to deal with them, including officials who are meant to be working for us.

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RIP Lionel Blair

05.11.2021

It’s not Harp Lager. It’s much funnier.

   Mind you, I watched this to remember Lionel today.

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John Shaft beats Luke Skywalker hands down

03.11.2021

I always had decent pencil cases at kindergarten in Hong Kong and then when I started school in New Zealand. Usually they were car-themed but the pièce de résistance was this one, far nicer than what my classmates in my new home country had.
   While other kids were into Star Wars and things I had no interest in at that age, I could at least show off my badass side with my Shaft’s Big Score pencil case. John Shaft isn’t going to muck around with pussy stuff like the force.


 
I was thinking earlier tonight how cars were the one thing that helped me navigate Aotearoa when I got here with my parents. I might not have understood the culture immediately, and very little outside the faces of my family was familiar to me. But I saw Toyota Corollas (the E20s) and Honda Civics outside. And BMC ADO16s. These at least were an external source of familiarity, since they were commonplace in Hong Kong. A neighbour had a four-door Civic back in Homantin, the first car whose steering wheel I ever sat behind as a child.
   The cars here in New Zealand were much older generally, since there was more of a DIY fix-it culture, and Hong Kong prospered later, resulting in a newer fleet. Those early days were like a history lesson on what had gone before in the 1950s and 1960s, filling in the gaps. But my eyes still went to those newer 1970s shapes. Curves? Who wants curves when you can have boxy shapes and those groovy vinyl roofs?!
   I didn’t say I had taste at age four.

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GM and Ford keep falling down the top 10 table

30.10.2021

It’s bittersweet to get news of the Chevrolet Corvette from what’s left of GM here in New Zealand, now a specialist importer of cars that are unlikely to sell in any great number. And we’re not unique, as the Sino-American firm pulls out of entire regions, and manufactures basically in China, North America, and South America. Peter Hanenberger’s prediction that there won’t be a GM in the near future appears to be coming true. What’s the bet that the South American ranges will eventually be superseded by Chinese product? Ford is already heading that way.
   Inconceivable? If we go back to 1960, BMC was in the top 10 manufacturers in the world.
   Out of interest, I decided to take four years—1990, 2000, 2010, and 2020—to see who the top 10 car manufacturers were. I haven’t confirmed 1990’s numbers with printed sources (they’re off YouTube) and I don’t know exactly what their measurement criteria are. Auto Katalog 1991–2 only gives country, not world manufacturer, totals and that was my most ready source.
   Tables for 2000 and 2010 come from OICA, when they could be bothered compiling them. The last is from Daily Kanban and the very reliable Bertel Schmitt, though he concedes these are based on units sold, not units produced, due to the lack of data on the latter.

1990
1 GM
2 Ford
3 Toyota
4 Volkswagen
5 Daimler-Benz
6 Mitsubishi
7 Honda
8 Nissan
9 Suzuki
10 Hyundai

2000
1 GM
2 Ford
3 Toyota
4 Volkswagen
5 DaimlerChrysler
6 PSA
7 Fiat
8 Nissan
9 Renault
10 Honda

2010
1 Toyota
2 GM
3 Volkswagen (7,341,065)
4 Hyundai (5,764,918)
5 Ford
6 Nissan (3,982,162)
7 Honda
8 PSA
9 Suzuki
10 Renault (2,716,286)

   If Renault’s and Nissan’s numbers were combined, and they probably should be at this point, then they would form the fourth largest grouping.

2020
1 Toyota
2 Volkswagen
3 Renault Nissan Mitsubishi
4 GM
5 Hyundai
6 Stellantis
7 Honda
8 Ford
9 Daimler
10 Suzuki

   For years we could predict the GM–Ford–Toyota ordering but I still remember the headlines when Toyota edged GM out. GM disputed the figures because it wanted to be seen as the world’s number one. But by 2010 Toyota is firmly in number one and GM makes do with second place. Ford has plummeted to fifth as Volkswagen and Hyundai—by this point having made its own designs for just three and a half decades—overtake it.
   Come 2020, with the American firms’ expertise lying in segment-quitting ahead of competing, they’ve sunk even further: GM in fourth and Ford in eighth.
   It’s quite remarkable to me that Hyundai (presumably including Kia and Genesis) and Honda (including Acura) are in these tables with only a few brands, ditto with Daimler AG. Suzuki has its one brand, and that’s it (if you want to split hairs, of course there’s Maruti).
   Toyota has Lexus and Daihatsu and a holding in Subaru, but given its broad range and international sales’ strength, it didn’t surprise me that it has managed to have podium finishes for the last three decades. It’s primarily used its own brand to do all its work, and that’s no mean feat.
   I’m surprised we don’t see the Chinese groups in these tables but many are being included in the others’ totals. For instance, SAIC managed to shift 5,600,482 units sold in 2020 but some of those would have been counted in the Volkswagen and GM totals.
   I won’t go into the reasons for the US manufacturers’ decline here, but things will need to change if they don’t want to keep falling down these tables. Right now, it seems they will continue to decline.

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On Cantonese, for Te Papa’s Chinese Languages in Aotearoa project

26.10.2021

What a real honour to promote my reo! Thank you, Dr Grace Gassin and Te Papa for spearheading the Chinese Languages in Aotearoa project and for this incredible third instalment, where I get to speak and promote Cantonese!
   Obviously I couldn’t say anything earlier, especially during Chinese Language Week, but I am extremely grateful the very distinct Chinese languages are being given their due with this project!
   My participation began with Grace and I having a kōrero last year, and how Chinese Language Week was not inclusive. The organizers of that make the mistake of equating Chinese with Mandarin, and claim that Cantonese and other tongues are dialects, which is largely like saying Gaelic is a dialect of English.
   Do read more at the Te Papa blog as Grace goes into far more depth, and brings everything into the context of the history of Aotearoa.

   It turns out that Grace had been thinking about this for quite some time and had already shaped ideas on recording the Chinese languages here in Aotearoa as part of her job as curator, Asian New Zealand histories. She is a fluent Hokkien speaker, a dialect we Cantos often write as Fukkien, though that can lead to unfortunate puns with Anglophones. She also has some command of Cantonese—certainly far, far more than any Hokkien I know.
   There was such an amazing crew on this, with Yong-Le Chong (who is a Cantonese speaker, incredibly learning the language from television!) directing and prompting me off-camera and Tim Hamilton as DOP—plus Grace and Daniel Crichton-Rouse from Te Papa producing and supervising. Luckily I said nice things about Tim’s work in Lucire (not knowing he would be the DOP) prior to this!
   I was a bit under the weather when we filmed, having had a cough for many weeks and dodgy eggs at a café two days before. Big thanks to the crew for putting up with this and for believing me when I said it was not COVID (a test had confirmed that, and it was just before the August 2021 lockdown, when the notion of COVID in the community was unfamiliar).
   My thanks to Kent Favel and Erica Harvison for their permission to film at my Alma Mater, St Mark’s Church School, and to my darling partner Amanda.
   Note that the Māori terms in this post are only italicized because of the international readers who form the larger part of my visitors; in New Zealand these are words that are commonly used, and are not italicized.

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Big Tech: you’ve already lost against mainland China

21.10.2021

Big Tech often says that if they’re broken up, they won’t be able to compete with mainland China.
   Folks, you’ve already lost.
   Why? Because you’re playing their game. You believe that through dominance and surveillance you can beat a country with four times more people.
   The level playing field under which you were created has been disappearing because of you.
   You’re the ones acquiring start-ups and stifling the sort of innovation that you yourselves once created.
   If the US believes it should create more tech champions, or more innovators, then Big Tech needs to get out of the way and let people start the next big thing.
   But we know this isn’t about China.
   It’s about them trying to preserve their dominance.
   We all know they’ll even sell data to Chinese companies, and they’re not too fussed if they have ties to the Communist Chinese state.
   To heck with America. Or any western democracy. Their actions often underscore that.
   Without the innovation that their enterprise system created, they’ll increasing play second fiddle in a game that mainland China has played for much longer.
   I already said that Chinese apps have surpassed many western ones, based on my experience. Through a clever application of The Art of War.
   And if the world stays static, if all everyone is doing is keeping the status quo in order to get rich, and innovation is minimized, then it’s going to look like a pretty decaying place, sort of like the alternative Hill Valley with Biff Tannen in charge. Just recycling the same old stuff with a whiff of novelty as a form of soma. Pretty soon that novelty turns into garishness as a few more moments are eked out of a decaying invention.
   Where’s the next big thing, the one that’s going to have a net benefit for life on this planet?

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台山阿伯返鄉下講英文

12.10.2021

This is one of those things I have to note down otherwise it’ll get lost to time. And you won’t see this mentioned during ‘Chinese Language Week’ here.
   In the old country (台山, or Taishan, China), when my father was a boy in the 1930s and 1940s, there were some whānau in the village who had been to the United States, where his paternal grandfather had settled. When conversing with them about their experiences in foreign lands (specifically, 金山), they said a few things that confused him then, but as an adult it all clicked.
   One was when they spoke of their travels to 金山. They claimed, ‘船頭打鑼船尾聽唔度.’ As a child, Dad would think, ‘Wow, that ship must have been massive.’ He knew that if someone had 打鑼 in one village, the next village could hear it. Conclusion: the length of the ship between the bow and stern must be greater than the distance between two villages.
   As an adult, ‘The buggers tricked me. No wonder they couldn’t hear 鑼 at the bow of the ship. They would have travelled in the hold!’
   The second one was in response to, ‘What are movies like?’ I imagine cinemas were thin on the ground during wartime, so he could only ask those who had been to the US. Their response, ‘打煙塵.’ Hitting smoke and dust? (Note that these have to be pronounced in Taishanese, not Cantonese, and definitely not Mandarin, for this story to make any sense.)
   Again, as an adult, who wound up grasping English better than many Anglophones, he realized the old 台山阿伯 had seen westerns, where they fought Indians, or more specifically, Injuns.
   The third one was, ‘What’s it like speaking English?’ The reply: ‘婀籮心.’ He never figured that out as a child—it sounded like gibberish. Again, when older, having learned English, he realized what they meant: all the same.
   Bear in mind those early travellers, or immigrants who were returning to visit the old country, wouldn’t have had great jobs and learned little English. It isn’t surprising in this context that they had pidgin phrases, ones they could fool a boy with.

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After eight years, a new template for Lucire’s online edition

04.10.2021

Those were two pretty intensive days but Lucire’s web edition now has a new template. Before you head over there excitedly expecting all change, it only exists on two pages so far, and they are of the same article but in different languages.
   The look itself is not that different, either: we wanted to stick fairly close to what we had, but updated for the 2020s to handle mobile traffic.
   Surprisingly, the outgoing template was created in 2013 with some concessions to mobile devices, and was partially responsive, but as those of you who surfed to Lucire on mobile knew, it did not cater that well to them. One big issue was the use of HTML tables (the old-fashioned ones), which would play havoc on cellphone browsers unable to grasp at just what size type should be displayed at.
   I kept hoping there would be technology that would straighten all of this out—there was in the 2000s with Bitstream having devised a solution to show reduced pages—but the pace of change isn’t as fast as you might think when it comes to web stuff. Of course not, when companies with monopoly powers dominate in the US, and affect a lot of the world.
   That old template was tweaked briefly in 2015 (shifting the subsidiary column from the left to the right) and it is remarkable that something that old managed to keep us going all this time.
   Over the weekend I began developing a cellphone-friendly template with a single-column layout. The trouble was that when I finished, I noticed it was utterly devoid of character. That was the trouble: I was designing more for the cellphone than the web, and the smaller medium doesn’t lend itself well to creativity.
   For the first time in Lucire’s history, I opted to get an open-source template from HTML Codex as a starting-point rather than create it myself. The result is quite a departure from theirs, but the underlying code and stylesheet are theirs, and, rightly, their credit appears in the footer.
   This first story also marks the second time a Lucire article has appeared in French online. It has been taken from the second French issue of Lucire KSA.
   There are both up and down sides. The obvious up side is that the template works remarkably well on a desktop screen and on a phone, but not without some substantial tweaking (hence the hours put in). Unlike my single-column layout from the weekend, it still has character. For better or for worse, the result is based on one of my designs.
   The big down side is that the stylesheet file is 180 kbyte in size, versus 17 kbyte with mine. Some of my CSS specs wound up in the big one. It also has to call a bunch of Javascripts, including one Jquery and a Bootstrap bundle. I will put parts of the page template into virtual files for the server-side includes to summon, but for now, with the hard coding, it’s about 10 kbyte larger than my effort.
   Kudos to the original template developers, whose efforts have saved us a lot of time, and I look forward to tweaking things further as this new look becomes the norm.

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Have you driven a Ford … lately? Probably not

13.09.2021


Ford’s Brazilian line-up, 2021. Once upon a time, there were locally developed Corcels and Mavericks; even the EcoSport was a Brazilian development. Today, it’s Mustang, a couple of trucks, and a rebadged Chinese crossover.

We heard a lot about the demise of Holden as GM retreats from continents at a time, seemingly in a quest to be a Sino-American player rather than a global one. We’ve heard less about Ford shrinking as well, though the phenomenon is similar.
   Ford’s Brazilian range is now the Mustang, Ranger, Territory (which is fundamentally a badge-engineered Yusheng S330 from China with a Fordized interior), and Bronco. It’s beating a retreat from Brazil, at the cost of tens of thousands of jobs (its own, plus associated industries’) in a country that already has 15 per cent unemployment.
   Their reasoning is that electrification and technological change are driving restructuring, which seems plausible, till you realize that in other markets, including Thailand where there’s still a plant making Fords, the company is fielding essentially trucks, the truck-based Everest, and the Mustang.
   Ford warned us that this would be its course of action a few years ago, but now it’s happening, it makes even less sense.
   Say it’s all about (eventual) electrification. You’d want vehicles in your portfolio now that lend themselves to energy efficiency, so that people begin associating your brand with it. Trucks and pony cars don’t fit with this long-term. And I still believe that at some point, even before trucks commonly have electric powertrains, someone is going to say, ‘These tall bodies with massive frontal areas are using up way more of the juice I’m paying for. We don’t need something this big.’
   Let’s say Ford quickly pivots. It sticks a conventional saloon body on the Mustang Mach-E platform (which, let’s be honest, started off as a Focus crossover—the product code, CX727, tells us as much) in record time. Would anyone buy it? Probably not before they see what the Asians, who don’t abandon segments because they can’t be bothered working hard, have in their showrooms. Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Mazda, and countless Chinese marques, have been building their goodwill in the meantime.
   It’s why two decades ago, I warned against DaimlerChrysler killing off its price-leading brand, Plymouth. You never know when recessionary times come and you want an entry-level brand. Before the decade was out, that time came, and Chrysler didn’t have much it could use without diluting its existing brands’ market perceptions to have some price leaders.
   Ford retreating from B- and C-segment family cars, even CD- and E-segment ones, means it’ll find it difficult to get back into those markets later on. A good example would be the French, who don’t find much success in the large saloon market generally, and would find it very hard to re-enter in a lot of places.
   I realize the action isn’t in regular passenger cars these days, but the fact that Fiat, Chevrolet and Volkswagen still manage to field broad lines in Brazil suggests that the market still exists and they can still eke out some money from their sales.
   It’s as though the US car firms are giving up, ceding territory. And on this note, Ford has form.
   In the 1990s, Ford’s US arm under-marketed the Contour and Mystique Stateside, cars based on the original European Mondeo. I saw precious little advertising for them in US motoring press. As far as I can tell, they wanted to bury it because they didn’t like the fact it wasn’t developed by them, but by Ford’s German-based team in Köln. ‘See, told you those Europeans wouldn’t know how to engineer a CD-segment car for the US.’ The fiefdom in Dearborn got its own way and later developed the Mazda-based Fusion, while the Europeans did two more generations of Mondeo.
   In the 2000s, it decided to flush the goodwill of the Taurus name down the toilet, before then-new CEO Alan Mulally saw what was happening and hurriedly renamed the Five Hundred to Taurus.
   It under-marketed the last generation of Falcon—you seldom saw them on forecourts—and that looked like a pretext for closing the Australian plant (‘See, no one wants big cars’) even though by this point the Falcon was smaller than the Mondeo in most measures other than overall length, and plenty of people were buying similarly sized rear-wheel-drive saloons over at BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
   The Mondeo hybrid has been another model that you barely hear of, even though the Fusion Hybrid, the American version of the car, had been on sale years before.
   Think about what they gave up. Here, Ford once owned the taxi market. It doesn’t any more as cabbies ultimately wound up in Priuses and Camrys. Had Ford fielded a big hybrid saloon earlier, Toyota might not have made inroads into the taxi market to the same extent. Ford almost seems apologetic for being in segments where others come to, and when challenging the market leaders, doesn’t put much effort in any more.
   Objectively, I would rather have a Mondeo Hybrid than a Camry, but good luck seeing one in a Ford showroom.
   Maybe Ford’s smart to be putting all its resources into growth areas like trucks and crossovers. Puma and Escape have appeal in the B- and C-segment crossover markets in places like New Zealand. They’re fairly car-like now, too. But to me that’s putting all your eggs into one basket. In countries like Brazil and Thailand, where Ford doesn’t sell well resolved crossovers in these segments, it’s treading a fine line. I look at the market leadership it once had in cars, in so many places, and in 2021 that looks like a thing of the past. More’s the pity.

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Title design in 1970: big geometric type rules

11.08.2021

There is something quite elegant about title typography from the turn of the decade as the 1960s become the 1970s.
   There is 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever by Maurice Binder, which apparently is one of Steven Spielberg’s favourites, but I’m thinking of slightly humbler fare from the year before.
   I got thinking about it when watching Kevin Billington’s The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer, which has Futura Demi tightly set (it is the 1970s) but arranged in an orderly, modernist fashion, aligned to the left on a grid. Nothing centred here; this is all about a sense of modernity as we entered a new decade.


   Similarly the opening title for Alvin Rakoff’s Hoffman, starring Peter Sellers and Sinéad Cusack. For the most part it’s Kabel Light on our screens, optically aligned either left or right. It’s a shame Matt Monro’s name is spelled wrong, but otherwise it’s nice to see type logically set with a consistent hierarchy and at a size that allows us to appreciate its forms. Monro belts out the lyrics to one of my favourite theme songs, ‘If There Ever Is a Next Time’, by Ron Grainer and Don Black, and the title design fits with them nicely.


   It certainly didn’t stay like this—as the decade wore on I can’t think of type being so prominent in title design on the silver screen. Great title design is also something we seem to lack today in film. I helped out in a minor way on the titles for the documentary Rescued from Hell, also using Futura, though I don’t know how much was retained; given the chance it would be nice to revisit the large geometric type of 1970.

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