Posts tagged ‘New Zealand’


Facebook exploits COVID-19 for profit, and viral thoughts

01.05.2020

A lot of the world’s population has come together in the fight against COVID-19. Except Facebook, of course, who is exploiting the virus for profit. Facebook has done well in the first quarter of 2020 with positive earnings. Freedom From Facebook & Google co-chairs Sarah Miller and David Segal note (the links are theirs): ‘Facebook has exploited a global pandemic to grow their monopoly and bottom line. They’ve profited from ads boasting fake cures and harmful information, allowed ad targeting to “pseudoscience” audiences, permitted anti-stay-at-home protests to organize on the platform, and are now launching a COVID “Data for Good” endeavour to harvest even more of our personal information.
   ‘Make no mistake, Facebook having more of your data is never “good”, nor will they just relinquish the collected data when the pandemic’s curve has been flattened. Rather, they’ll bank it and continue to profit from hyper-targeted ads for years to come.’

It’s been a few weeks (April 19 was my last post on this subject) since I last crunched these numbers but it does appear that overall, COVID-19 infections as a percentage of tests done are dropping, several countries excepting. Here is the source.

France 167,178 of 724,574 = 23·07%
UK 171,253 of 901,905 = 18·99%
Sweden 21,092 of 119,500 = 17·65%
USA 1,095,304 of 6,391,887 = 17·14%
Spain 239,639 of 1,455,306 = 16·47%
Singapore 17,101 of 143,919 = 11·88%
KSA 22,753 of 200,000 = 11·38%
Switzerland 29,586 of 266,200 = 11·11%
Italy 205,463 of 1,979,217 = 10·38%
Germany 163,009 of 2,547,052 = 6·40%
South Korea 10,774 of 623,069 = 1·73%
Australia 6,766 of 581,941 = 1·16%
New Zealand 1,479 of 139,898 = 1·06%
Taiwan 429 of 63,340 = 0·68%
Hong Kong 1,038 of 154,989 = 0·67%

Emmerdale fans will never forgive me. I’ve not been one to watch British soaps, finding them uninteresting. However, in this household, we have had Emmerdale on since it’s scheduled between TV1’s midday bulletin and the 1 p.m. government press conference on COVID-19, or, as some of us call it, The Ashley Bloomfield Show, named for our director-general of health who not only has to put up with all of this, but took a hit to one-fifth of his pay cheque. Naturally, one sings along to the Emmerdale theme, except I have no clue about its lyrics. Are there lyrics?

Not a single like on Twitter or Mastodon. I’ve offended a heck of a lot of people.

We are supposedly at Level 3, which someone said was Level 4 (the full lockdown) with takeaways. However, we’ve gone from the 1960s-style near-empty motorways to this almost immediately.

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Posted in business, culture, humour, internet, media, New Zealand, TV, Wellington | No Comments »


Light humour, dark copy

24.04.2020

I really love Hong Kong 漫畫 or manhua, and found this in one of the boxes from the move.

   This was before the days of our having a computer scanner, and I had photocopied it out of a magazine or newspaper. There were years the copier was on the blink and everything would come out way darker than it should be—it was only with a bit of photo editing in a modern program that I got it looking better.
   I swear that copier had a psychic circuit like the Tardis. My father was a technician and knew his way around the machine but could never find anything wrong with it. It was fine when new but there were years everything came out too dark. After my mother passed away, the machine went dark instantly. After a period of mourning, without warning, it brightened again and all was back to normal. The computer monitor at the time did the same thing: I had to set it to its maximum setting to see the screen properly. And around the same time, it fixed itself, and I could turn it back to where it was. Gadgets in mourning.
   Usually you just hear stories of light bulbs frying but we were more high-tech.
   When Dad’s Imac gave up the ghost days after he died (actually, that was the first time we tried to switch it on after he passed away), I didn’t bother trying to get it fixed. I had a sense it wouldn’t be worth it.

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Posted in culture, Hong Kong, humour, New Zealand, Wellington | No Comments »


A concert that takes you home

17.04.2020

One bonus of the lockdown was the live Easter Day concert held by Hong Kong’s own Sam Hui (許冠傑), perhaps fairly described as the king of Cantopop.
   I had no idea this was even on if it weren’t for the fire at the Baxter’s Knob transmitter that took out television transmission in our area. Faced with the prospect of no television during lockdown, and as I’m not a cat in an NZI commercial, I hooked up my laptop to the old LG monitor, relocated to the lounge, and streamed that evening.
   We put on TV1 but later that night, I headed to RTHK TV31, a government-funded channel in Hong Kong, and came across the commercial for Sam’s live concert at 5 p.m. HKT on Easter Day, which translated comfortably to 9 p.m. NZST.
   Hong Kong has some COVID-19 restrictions, with the safe distance a lower 1·5 m, though most people wear masks. Even TV hosts are masked on their programmes. There isn’t a big physical audience for the concert: just Sam, his guitar, sitting atop a building on the Kowloon side, with the Hong Kong Island business district skyline as the backdrop. The host is seated a suitable distance away. Some folks are seated in a roped-off area, sitting a bit closer, though masked. There’s a four-camera set-up. For such a massive star, this might have been his smallest physical audience, though on YouTube, the concert netted a six-figure audience (160,000 when I looked) around the world, and no doubt others will have watched on their television sets, while I watched on TV31’s stream. One source suggests a total viewing audience of over 2 million.
   Sam’s still got the same voice, despite being in his 70s—for the most part, he sounds like the young guy in his 20s that I watched on TV before I emigrated, and whose cassette tapes I cherished when they arrived from Hong Kong in the first few years we were in Aotearoa.
   For someone who missed contact with my birthplace, Sam’s music was a connection, something that took me back, a tiny slice of “home” that was both grounding and enjoyable.
   In those early days, Sam’s music struck a chord with HKers because he often sang about the working class, and in plain language. Few artists had done this at the time; most lyrics tended to be in properly structured Chinese, so Sam broke new ground by singing colloquially. A skilled composer and lyricist, we saw him regularly performing his own songs on programmes such as 歡樂今宵 (Enjoy Yourself Tonight), a variety show that was a big hit back in the 1970s.
   When he broke into films with his brothers, he was frequently cast as the hero type, and could genuinely claim to ‘star in it, write the theme tune, sing the theme tune.’
   His solo career as an actor hit a high in the 1980s and as the video cassette boom began, I indulged in the 最佳拍檔 (Aces Go Places) series. Most kids in the west watching Hong Kong cinema knew about Bruce Lee or that new guy Jackie Chan, but we locals knew that Sam was who you watched if you wanted decent entertainment with a mix of action and humour—and the obligatory Sam Hui theme tune.
   Watching the Easter Day concert brought back a lot of those feelings of connection, and Sam performed plenty of those earlier hits that anyone my age would know. You never lose your connection to the land in which you were born. Hong Kong might look different to how it did in the 1970s—the tallest building then, Connaught Tower, is dwarfed by the International Commerce Centre a short distance away—but the music took you back, and thanks to the cleaner air during the pandemic, the skies even looked as clear as they did back then. The city’s character remains intact, the concert a reminder of what unites Hong Kong people both there and abroad. We have a distinct culture, one that evolved through the will and the freedom of our people, that I hope will go on regardless of one’s political stripes.

The monitor, incidentally, was much easier to view than the television, with softer colours and less brightness. No matter how I played with the settings on the TV, I couldn’t get them to match. I suspect the TV has a lot of blue light, which makes prolonged viewing difficult. I notice that one can buy blue-light glasses, highlighting once again where we have gone wrong: we humans shouldn’t be adapting to technology, it’s technology that should be adapting to us. The LG (LED) monitor isn’t new, so clearly the technology is available to make TVs calmer on the eyes. Yet no one touts this as a selling proposition. Head into an appliance shop (outside of one’s lockdown) and all the TVs are set on the brightest setting, which would completely turn me off buying one.
   Friends tell me that OLED is the way to go in terms of getting the right setting. One of these days I’m going to look into it, but I will bet you that no one who sells these things in the shops will know what a “calm” screen is. They’ll just get excited about forkay, or maybe even atekay, not someone who wants 32 inches or less who wants to preserve their eyesight. ‘Big! Big! Big!’

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Posted in culture, Hong Kong, interests, New Zealand, technology, TV, Wellington | No Comments »


COVID-19 stats’ update, April 16

16.04.2020

Don’t worry, I won’t make this too regular, but as I had done some more number-crunching of the available stats during the daytime, I thought I’d share them. I’ve noticed that some countries update their test numbers on a less regular basis, e.g. France, Singapore, Sweden and Switzerland, though Worldometers now has updated ones since my last COVID-19 post. France’s test figure hasn’t changed, so we can safely conclude that its infection rate as a percentage of tests done is lower than what’s cited below. The same applies to Singapore.
   New Zealand has dipped below 2 per cent, finally, but thanks to rounding it’s cited as 2·00 per cent below. These figures include what Dr Ashley Bloomfield announced an hour ago. Happily, the US has started to see a fall since I last did these figures—there’s one post I didn’t write even though I had the calculations ready (it was too late at night for me to compose something cogent). Goes to show how quickly the landscape changes.
   I had overestimated the number of tests Sweden had done: it turns out they haven’t increased in number at the same rate as the fortnight before, though my use of 75,000 in the previous table wasn’t far off. Despite my overestimation, their infection rate continues to rise.
   The UK has also risen but not at the same rate, though judging by Twitter there, some are questioning whether deaths in aged care facilities are being included.
   Germany should be happy with its rate going from the 9s into the 7s.

France 147,863 of 333,807 = 44·30%*
Spain 180,659 of 650,755 = 27·76%
UK 98,476 of 398,916 = 24·69%
USA 644,089 of 3,258,879 = 19·76%
Sweden 11,927 of 74,600 = 15·99%
Italy 165,155 of 1,117,404 = 14·78%
Switzerland 26,336 of 199,000 = 13·23%
Germany 134,753 of 1,728,357 = 7·80%
Singapore 3,699 of 72,680 = 5·09%*
KSA 5,862 of 150,000 = 3·91%
New Zealand 1,401 of 70,160 = 2·00%
South Korea 10,613 of 538,775 = 1·97%
Australia 6,462 of 377,024 = 1·71%
Hong Kong 1,017 of 116,273 = 0·87%
Taiwan 395 of 49,748 = 0·79%

* Test number has not been updated

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COVID-19 infections as a percentage of tests done: April 13 update

13.04.2020

I can cite these COVID-19 calculations (infections as a proportion of tests done) with a bit more confidence than the last lot, where many countries’ testing figures had not updated. I see the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has released its total test numbers now, and they show a pretty good result, too.
   Compared to my post of the 7th inst., there are improvements in France, Italy, Switzerland and Germany, while Spain has shown a marked and positive improvement (from 39·58 per cent to 28·25 per cent).
   The UK’s delay and its initial reliance on herd immunity, with sycophants up and down the country agreeing, is showing up now as its number grows slightly, from 20·4 per cent on the 7th to 23·88 per cent with the latest data.
   The US’s numbers are holding fairly steadily with an increase of 0·8 per cent since the 7th (to 19·78 per cent).
   Sweden’s total test figure is one of two inaccurate ones here, having remained unchanged since the last tables, which obviously cannot be right. I estimate they have done around 75,000 tests so far, which would bring the figure to 13·98 per cent, fairly close to the 7th’s, rather than the 19·16 per cent that the Worldometers’ table would have me calculate.
   Also statistically similar are Switzerland, South Korea, Australia and Hong Kong, though Hong Kong’s total test figure is also inaccurate (unchanged from the 7th). Singapore is showing a rise with the reports of community transmission. New Zealand is showing a small drop (2·71 to 2·15 per cent), though the percentage change here is less than what the US’s is.
   Taiwan continues to see its percentage decline with another 8,000 tests done and only an additional 17 infections since the 7th’s post.

France 132,591 of 333,807 = 39·72%
Spain 169,496 of 600,000 = 28·25%
UK 84,279 of 352,974 = 23·88%
USA 560,433 of 2,833,112 = 19·78%
Italy 156,363 of 1,010,193 = 15·48%
Sweden 10,483 of c. 75,000 = c. 13·98%*
Switzerland 25,449 of 193,800 = 13·13%
Germany 127,854 of 1,317,887 = 9·70%
KSA 4,462 of 115,585 = 3·86%
Singapore 2,532 of 72,680 = 3·48%
New Zealand 1,349 of 62,827 = 2·15%
South Korea 10,537 of 514,621 = 2·05%
Australia 6,359 of 362,136 = 1·76%
Hong Kong 1,010 of 96,709 = 1·04%*
Taiwan 393 of 47,215 = 0·83%

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Are you doing on Facebook what Facebook does on Facebook? They’ll sue you

10.04.2020


Pxfuel/Creative Commons CC0 1·0

Here’s quite a funny one for you this Easter weekend: Facebook apparently has filed suit against companies that do the following, according to Social Media Today.

• Companies that sell fake followers and likes, which Facebook has pushed harder to enforce since New York’s Attorney General ruled that selling fake social media followers and likes is illegal last February
• Two different app developers over ‘click injection fraud’, which simulates clicks in order to extract ad revenue
• Two companies over the creation of malware, and tricking Facebook users into installing it in order to steal personal information

In other words, Facebook has filed suit against people who do things that are variations of what Facebook itself does.
   The first. This has long been proven by Veritasium, and one would hope the defendant points out that Facebook has endorsed such behaviour, and that its terms and conditions have generally meant squat. Facebook allows hate groups (hate speech is ‘counter-speech’, they tell me), hates drag queens and kings, drags its heels in removing illegal content (eight clips of the Christchurch massacre are still on there, a year later), and preserves bots, fake accounts and phishing pages, all contrary to what their own terms and conditions say. These happen with such frequency that one might say they are Facebook policy.
   Now, Facebook mightn’t do the second but it certainly extracts ad revenue from customers, and not necessarily fairly. Click fraud? How about audience fraud? That’s been the subject of lawsuits against it. We’ve gone through this before on this blog, least of which is Facebook’s lying about its user numbers. It cites heaps of people but we know among them are bots; and we know that it claims more people in certain demographics than there are people. I’ve said this for a long, long time.
   Third: Facebook tricked users for years into installing a ‘malware scanner’ with purposes it would not go into. But it essentially admitted their scanners collected data from users (as reported in Wired, ‘Facebook tells users when they agree to conduct the scan that the data collected in the process will be used “to improve security on and off Facebook”’—it seems reasonable to conclude this is personal information). The scanner never appeared in one’s installed programs’ list, either, and in my case, knocked out my real antivirus software. We also know that when Facebook accused certain people of having malware, the company was lying. The scanner took a long time to run, so what was it sending back to the mothership? Conclude from all of that what you will, but tricking Facebook users into installing software that is hidden on a user’s PC and takes data off it is right out of a fraudster’s playbook.
   Given the amount of crooked activity that Facebook itself engages in, and the lies its team tells, criminals would be forgiven into thinking that it was a website that collected and ran scams, and that Mark Zuckerberg was a kindred spirit.
   The hypocrisy remains strong at Facebook.

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Posted in internet, New Zealand, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


An update on yesterday’s COVID-19 table

09.04.2020

Another late-night calculation of COVID-19 cases as a proportion of total tests done, so the figures will be out of date again, and I’ve also discovered that the total testing numbers some countries are giving are out of date. The ones with asterisks below are those that haven’t cited increased testing numbers (at least none that I can find; a search actually yielded lower and older figures in some cases), so I imagine the real percentages might be lower. The order of countries hasn’t changed.

France 109,069 of 224,254 = 48·64%*
Spain 146,690 of 355,000 = 41·32%*
UK 55,242 of 266,694 = 20·71%
USA 400,549 of 2,082,443 = 19·23%
Italy 135,586 of 755,445 = 17·95%
Sweden 8,419 of 54,700 = 15·39%*
Switzerland 22,789 of 171,938 = 13·25%
Germany 109,178 of 918,460 = 11·88%
New Zealand 1,210 of 46,875 = 2·58%
Singapore 1,623 of 65,000 = 2·50%*
South Korea 10,384 of 477,304 = 2·18%
Australia 6,013 of 319,368 = 1·88%
Hong Kong 961 of 96,709 = 1·38%*
Taiwan 379 of 40,702 = 0·93%

   I was buoyed by news on what some of us have cheekily dubbed The Ashley Bloomfield Show (the Ministry of Health director-general’s press conference) that we had only 29 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours here. As a sporting nation I think we understand that you can’t shirk when you’re playing the second half of the match. If anything, you need to go harder. By now I suspect many of us are finding the hand-washing and other advice second nature.

Hasn’t it been revealing to hear which journalists ask crappy questions at the Bloomfield press conference? Since the pressers are watched by a huge number of New Zealanders during lockdown, I think the scales have fallen from many eyes lately to see how the stories get edited and even editorialized. And which members of the media don’t seem to want to work with the good advice being given by our government, yet have nothing solid (e.g. other experts) to counter it with. In my opinion, it’s put TV1 in a good light, and shown its reasonable balance. It also reinforces that many of our talking heads are irrelevant (see below, from The Press in Christchurch). Science is saving the day and showing loud-mouthed opinions for what they are.

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Posted in media, New Zealand, politics, TV, Wellington | 1 Comment »


Another COVID-19 table: total infections as a proportion of tests done

07.04.2020

Peter Lambrechtsen rightly pointed out that COVID-19 per capita infection statistics aren’t as good as knowing the infection rate based on tests done, so at 2 a.m. I decided to crunch some numbers based on the stats I had on hand. These are many hours old now but hopefully still indicative of where things stand. Here you want a low percentage, and we are very fortunate to be sitting on 2·71 per cent. This site has tests per million as well, which I haven’t factored in. Taiwan and Hong Kong are looking even better on this measure; Australia isn’t looking too bad, either. The European and US numbers are sobering. Mainland China and the KSA haven’t released their testing numbers, only total infections.
   I don’t really want to go into fatality rates.

France 98,010 of 224,254 = 43·70%
Spain 140,510 of 355,000 = 39·58%
UK 51,608 of 252,958 = 20·40%
USA 369,179 of 1,941,052 = 19·02%
Italy 132,547 of 721,732 = 18·37%
Sweden 7,693 of 54,700 = 14·06%
Switzerland 22,242 of 167,429 = 13·28%
Germany 104,199 of 918,460 = 11·34%
New Zealand 1,160 of 42,826 = 2·71%
South Korea 10,331 of 461,233 = 2·24%
Singapore 1,375 of 65,000 = 2·12%
Australia 5,908 of 310,700 = 1·90%
Hong Kong 936 of 96,709 = 0·97%
Taiwan 376 of 39,011 = 0·96%

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Posted in China, France, Hong Kong, internet, New Zealand, Sweden, UK, USA | No Comments »


Saddened to see colleagues lose their jobs as we bid, ‘Auf wiedersehen, Heinrich Bauer Verlag’

03.04.2020

I am privy to some of the inner workings at Bauer Media through friends and colleagues, but I didn’t expect them to shut up shop in New Zealand, effective April 2.
   Depending on your politics, you’re in one of two camps.
   TV3, itself part of a foreign company who has made serious cutbacks during the lockdown, said Bauer had approached the government and offered to sell the business to them at a rock-bottom price in the hope of saving the 200-plus jobs there. The government declined. I believe that’s the angle foreign-owned media are adopting here.
   Both the PM and the minister responsible for media, Kris Faafoi, have said that Bauer never applied for the wage subsidy, and never approached the government to see if it could be classified as an essential service to keep operating. Indeed, in the words of the PM, ‘Bauer contacted the minister and told him they weren’t interested in subsidies.’
   It’s murkier today as there is evidence that Bauer had, through the Magazine Publishers’ Association, lobbied for reclassification for it to be turned down, though the minister continues to say that it had never been raised with him and that Bauer had already committed to shutting up shop.
   Outside of “we said, they said”, my takes are, first, it was never likely that the government would want to be a magazine publisher. Various New Zealand governments have been pondering how to deal with state-owned media here, and there was little chance the latest inhabitants of the Beehive would add to this.
   We also know that Bauer had shut titles over the years due to poor performance, and Faafoi’s original statement expressly states that the Hamburg-based multinational had been ‘facing challenges around viability of their operations here in New Zealand.’
   With these two facts in mind, the government would not have taken on the business to turn it around, especially while knowing the owner of Bauer Media (well, 85 per cent of it) has a personal worth of US$3,000 million and the company generated milliards in revenue per annum.
   I also have to point to its own harsh decisions over the years in shutting titles. In 2018, Bauer’s own Australian CEO told Ad News: ‘There’s a really interesting view that somehow we are here to provide a social service. The reality is we’re here to make money and if we can’t make money out of our magazines, we’ll sell them or we’ll close them.
   ‘We have an obligation, whether that’s a public company or private company, to make money for shareholders. If it doesn’t make money, why would we do it?’
   That, to me, sounds like the corporate position here as well, and no doubt Bauer’s bean counters will have crunched the numbers before yesterday’s announcement.
   I’ve had my own ideas how the stable could have evolved but it’s easy to talk about this with hindsight, so I won’t. Enough people are hurting.
   But I’d have applied for whatever the government offered to see if I could keep things going for a little while longer. Even if the writing was on the wall, it would have been nice to see my colleagues have a lifeline. Get one more issue of each title out after June. Maybe I’m just not as brutal. I mean, I’ve never defamed Rebel Wilson as Bauer’s Australian publications have. Maybe it’s different for a small independent.
   If I may use a sporting analogy, Bauer hasn’t let their players on to the field and kept them in the changing room, and more’s the pity.
   One comment I received yesterday was that Bauer wouldn’t have been in a position to pay its staff even with the government subsidy, with no advertising sales being generated. I’m not so sure, with annual global revenues of over €2,000 million. New Zealand was probably too unimportant to be saved by Bauer’s bosses in Hamburg. I guess we’ll never know.

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COVID-19 per capita: April 2 update

02.04.2020

I had to see how we were tracking on total COVID-19 infections alongside other countries on a per capita basis, and here’s the latest update (source also linked above). I knew Switzerland was doing badly, but not this badly. I know I haven’t been consistent with my previous post’s country selection, but I don’t want this becoming an obsession.

Spain 2,227·1
Switzerland 2,057·5
Italy 1,828
Germany 931·6
France 873·6
Netherlands 795
USA 651·7
Sweden 490·7
UK 434·8
Australia 202·2
South Korea 194·6
Singapore 171·3
New Zealand 165·7
Hong Kong 102·4
Mainland China 56·7
Saudi Arabia 49·6
Japan 18·8
Taiwan 14·2
India 1·5

   I said in a recent post that a lot of the Asian territories have done well because of a community response. Another thing Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore have in common: a lot of people descended from Chinese who fled the mainland in 1949, and have a mistrust of anything the Communist Party says. If the CCP said Dr Li Wenliang was a stirrer, then that would automatically have these places thinking: shit, there might be a pandemic coming. That could account for their numbers being on the lower half, and for their general decrease in new infection numbers. (I realize Singapore just had a big jump. Anomalous? Or were things not tracking downwards?)

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Posted in China, culture, Hong Kong, New Zealand, politics | No Comments »