Posts tagged ‘R&D’


In Wellington, the players need to change

23.05.2013

The below was written on April 22, 2013, in response to an article in The Dominion Post. It was offered to the newspaper as an op–ed, then to The Wellingtonian, but it was eventually declined.

The Dominion Post’s headline on April 22 confirmed what many of us knew after numerous friends and colleagues left Wellington over the last several years.
   Our population growth is below the national average, as are our employment and economic growth. In fact, the regional Wellington economy is stagnant.
   In 2010, I stated that we needed to look at our creative sector, and encourage creative clusters, to get Wellington’s economy back on track. Even then it was evident that the early 2010s were not going to get off to a healthy start. If we were to get central government’s support for any projects—even the Mayor’s light-rail programme—then surely the wisest thing would be to increase the industry in our city first?
   The free wifi I campaigned on was never meant to be seen in isolation. It was a signal to international businesses in that sector that Wellington was open to investment and collaboration. That inward investment and sharing of knowledge could, in turn, help local firms expand and export.
   We had reached the limits of our natural resources, so we needed to start using intellectual property, and increase R&D in our city. While ICT is healthy in Wellington, the priority must be to identify companies, in this and other high-value sectors, that can become nationally or internationally competitive with the right nudge. We should not be, as the late Sir Paul Callaghan stated in a 2011 address, locked into a single sector—and that was what the clusters were all about.
   With my 2013 candidacy, not much has changed about these ideas. The real difference is that they have become far more pressing.
   The next mayor needs to work with one’s counterparts in the region and agree on identifying, using rigorous criteria, which are our next champions. Which firms, for instance, are those that are sitting on $1 million revenues today that can be at $10 million shortly, if they were given the right exposure, contacts or opportunities?
   And since nationally, high-tech exports are growing at 11 per cent per annum, according to the World Bank, it’s not a bad sector to start with. It just shouldn’t be the only one.
   Wellington businesses are not asking for hand-outs, but the right connections. These firms also need to be encouraged to look beyond just being content with a small patch, when Wellington business-people often hold great ideals and more socially responsible ways of doing things. These can, in fact, inform the way business is conducted in other cities, and contribute to how New Zealand is marketed and seen abroad.
   I do not advocate a policy of “growth for growth’s sake”. But I do argue that the innovative way successful Wellington businesses have approached their sectors can take a larger share of the global pie.
   In my case, it’s putting 26 years’ experience on the line, the majority of that in exporting frictionless products and services.
   We can opt for politics as usual, or identify and nurture the right players in our business sector.
   When it comes to business, it must be international in scope, inspiring politicians at the national level about what Wellington is made of.
   We can consider electing people who have spent time bridging cultures and creating those international links, which we need right now if two other cities are getting the government’s focus. Wellington’s businesses have gone under the radar for too long, and they need an ally who can balance their needs while ensuring citizens’ rights are protected.
   I see our city having spent too much time breaking its own rules, and being forced to answer through formal proceedings brought by Waterfront Watch and other groups.
   The system and its rules are healthy, but the players need to change, and a cultural change, internally and externally, is needed for Wellington in its local body elections.

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Posted in business, culture, leadership, marketing, New Zealand, politics, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


Saab to get €245 million if Pang Da and Youngman deal approved

04.07.2011

Today, from Saab:

Swedish Automobile N.V. (SWAN) and Saab Automobile AB (Saab Automobile) today announced the signing of final agreements with Pang Da Automobile Trade Co., Ltd. (Pang Da) and Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile Co., Ltd. (Youngman), thereby converting the non-binding memorandum of understanding relating to the equity investment of Pang Da and Youngman …

The amount of the investment is €245 million, which amounts to this, according to Saab (some proofreading changes by me):

The agreements allow for the return of Mr Vladimir Antonov as a shareholder–financier of SWAN and Saab Automobile which the parties expect as soon as the parties at interest have cleared him. The NPJV will be 50 per cent owned by Saab Automobile and 50 per cent by Youngman Passenger Car, and forms the foundation for an expansion of the Saab product portfolio with three models which, until now, did not form part of Saab Automobile’s current and future product portfolio. As such the NPJV will focus on developing three completely new Saab vehicles: the Saab 9-1, Saab 9-6X and Saab 9-7.

   No doubt there will be existing technology in the three cars, and they should go down terrifically in China. And if it all goes well, this means that Saab won’t follow MG Rover down the gurgler, despite having been unable to pay wages a few weeks ago.
   But €245 million isn’t that much in today’s world, especially since Saab can’t be breaking even at its present capacity.
   I don’t want to see Saab disappear. It may have been the choice of TV villains (Leslie Grantham in both The Paradise Club and 99–1 comes to mind) as well as one or two real-life ones I can think of, but it’s a storied brand and it’s made good cars over the years. And a mate of mine has a 900, too.
   Sweden hasn’t spent all these years bagging the brand, either—it was effectively stripped of its Saab-ness while under General Motors.
   Let’s hope the company can get things right with the Chinese equity stake, which hopefully will provide more confidence. It’ll open up distribution in China, providing the government agencies agree, where a foreign brand like Saab would go down immensely well, and just at the right time. Good timing was not something that MG Rover was blessed with, regardless of the actions of the Phoenix Four.
   The discerning Chinese buyer is emerging on the mainland, and they don’t necessarily want the flash of the Mercedes-Benz. A more subtle brand might work there, and Saab actually fits the bill.
   The 9-7, I assume, is a large car, and Youngman’s Pang Qingnian hints that not only will China get this model, but the US as well.
   Good luck to the parties on this one—here’s hoping the worst is over.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, China, culture, design, marketing, Sweden | No Comments »


Chromium remains buggy; and I get charged twice for parking (thrice if you count my rates)

18.03.2011

I am happy to say that Firefox 4 Release Candidate 1 is working smoothly with no crashes to date. It reminds me of, well, Firefox 3·0, before Mozilla started doing weird things to it and we had the multiple-crashing 3·5 and 3·6. Let’s hope this situation lasts.
   Meanwhile, the bugs I reported to the Chromium people in October and November 2010 have finally received responses. It’s too long compared with Mozilla. I told the chap that I had given up on Chrome, but I downloaded it today just to see where things were at.
   Based on the latest Chromium, the incomplete font menu bug has, indeed, been fixed, though various font-changing ones still appear present. There are still font-linking and character-set issues. (The images below have had their colour depth reduced for faster loading.)

Chromium 12
Chromium 12Above and left: When Chromium hits a ligature, the line or part of the line changes font. Opera does something similar: it changes the font of the one word that contains the ligature.

Chromium 12Left: Chromium might just decide to change fonts anyway—likely a Postscript error already sorted in Mozilla thanks to the likes of Jonathan Kew.

Chromium 12
Above: The font-linking problem on the home page of Lucire still has not been solved. There is no problem on IE8, Firefox or Opera. I can’t report on IE9 as my psychic powers are not strong enough to determine what is being told to me through the heavenly dimensions.

Chromium 12
Above: This one paragraph is properly linked—what causes it to work and the others not to is unknown.

Chromium 12
Above: Go outside the regular Latin set, and Chromium falls all to pieces, just as it always did.

Chromium 12
Above: At least there are fewer font changes than last time—though Chromium continues to struggle with soft hyphens.

   Meanwhile, after I reported spam faxes (a breach of the Telecommunications Act) to Telstra Clear, I was surprised to learn that my case was never examined. I had to open a new ticket with new faxes today. The excuse was the backlog of work post-Christchurch earthquake and, in the circumstances, I had to accept that.
   One was for a law firm, as far as I could make out. I wouldn’t hire a lawyer who breaches the Telecommunications Act. They shot themselves in the foot with that one.
   My main reason for calling, however, was the Text-a-Park service that the WCC offers. I hate cellphones, but had brought one with me on one of those rare occasions, and decided to give the service a go. I fed in the code, dialled 7275, and was told by the meter that the transaction had failed. No parking ticket was generated.
   Just as well. I prefer to use a credit card anyway, and fed that in. I got my ticket and my credit card was charged.
   Problem: as I walked away from my car, I received an SMS saying (sic), ‘Thanks for using TXT-a-Park. Your transaction for $6.50 has been accepted.’ I have no idea how one gadget says it’s failed and another says it’s succeeded, and my quantum physics isn’t good enough to figure out into which alternative universe this supposedly successfully printed ticket went to.
   Of course, the charge appeared on my Telstra Clear bill today.
   There’s a reason that jokers like me don’t use cellphones. Because, each time we do, they bite us on the bum. Though a buttcheek bite is better than testicular cancer.
   I’d urge folks to check their bills—if you haven’t received a ticket from a Wellington parking meter, and you still got charged for it, then give the telco a call.

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Posted in business, internet, New Zealand, USA, Wellington | No Comments »


Hopefully the last Firefox 3 blog post

05.03.2011

Since discovering that Firefox 4 Beta 13 is stable, I have spent less time with Firefox 3·6, the buggiest, most oft-crashing program I have ever used in 30 years of computing.
   But I used it today enough times to net myself five crashes, though this is above average. The ‘unmark purple’ bug that plagued me for so long has disappeared, which indicates it was an error with an extension (Flash, maybe?), and the average of four per day has decreased to two to three (on the days I use Firefox 3·6 exclusively).
   However, since the ’quake, I have still netted a number of errors, and apart from one, there is no pattern to them. Here are the last 13 on this machine (I’ve used it a bit more on my laptop, which doesn’t have 4 Beta):

1 × [@ nsTArray::IndexOf >(nsAppShellWindowEnumerator* const&, unsigned int, nsDefaultComparator::RemoveObject(imgCacheEntry*) ]
1 × [@ InterlockedCompareExchange ]
1 × [@ PR_AtomicDecrement | nsSupportsCStringImpl::Release() ]
1 × [@ hang | mozilla::plugins::PPluginScriptableObjectParent::CallHasProperty(mozilla::plugins::PPluginIdentifierParent*, bool*) ]
1 × [@ hang | ntdll.dll@0xe514 ]
1 × [@ nsRuleNode::WalkRuleTree(nsStyleStructID, nsStyleContext*, nsRuleData*, nsCSSStruct*) ]
1 × [@ WrappedNativeProtoMarker ]
1 × [@ F_592283983_____________________________________________ ]
1 × [@ nsExpirationTracker::RemoveObject(gfxTextRun*) ]

   I have no idea what any of this means, but to the layman it suggests the gremlins are everywhere in the program. (The defence by Firefox proponents in claiming that post-3·5 versions are the most stable releases falls on deaf ears here: 3·0 and 3·6·10 crashed far less often.)
   I’ll sure be glad when Firefox 4 rolls out, and I have been really impressed by the bug-fighting and beta-testing programmers. They have actually listened to what I have to say and confirmed that most of the bugs I have reported existed. It’s already a darned sight better than Chrome and its nearly-every-session ‘Aw, snap’ pages, of which no screen shot can be taken.
   But based on the above crashes, there is, of course, no mystery on why Chrome’s market share has increased and Firefox’s has decreased. Chrome crashes, but not as often—and most won’t care about its typographic problems or the lack of support. Mozilla needs to get 4 out ASAP: the more 3 crashes—and judging by the comments in Bugzilla, the rate of crashing remains remarkably high—the more likely users will hop over to the competition.

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Volvo unveils its China strategy

26.02.2011

Volvo press conference

Volvo has announced that it will build a plant in China, and seeks approval for a second, in what it calls its second home market.
   It was inevitable, though for the long-term survival of the brand, it’s not a bad idea.
   Through Geely’s acquisition, it can potentially leapfrog other foreign car brands inside China by having more than a domestic partner: a domestic owner.
   There won’t be much toing and froing as Geely can call the shots with Communist Party authorities.
   The company already has a technology centre in Shanghai to deal with design, purchasing and manufacturing decisions.
   The new Chengdu plant, says Volvo, will only build Volvo cars—there will be no Geelys going through there.
   Volvo also says it will not affect jobs in Europe, which can be believed at this stage: the plant should be sufficient to deal with growth in China and the eastern hemisphere, where Volvo could be a lot stronger.
   While Volvophiles won’t be upset about most of the developments above, there will be one that will concern them.
   The company says that Volvo Car China’s new-product development will be done in Shanghai, not Göteborg. Göteborg will take the lead on hybrid and electric cars globally.
   Given the volumes involved—Volvo is targeting 200,000 cars per annum by 2015 in China—I’m not sure if it means that China will get its own range of cars. The likely scenario is that there will be a single, global range at these numbers.
   So how will the balance of global Volvo NPD be shared between Göteborg and Shanghai?
   Volvo suggests that HQ remains in Sweden on one hand, but, according to Freeman Shen, senior vice-president and chairman of Volvo Cars China Operations, says, ‘The Volvo Car China Technology Centre in Shanghai will develop into a complete product development organization on an international level. It will have the competence and capacity to work together with the HQ in Sweden, participating in Volvo Car Corporation’s work process for developing entirely new models,’ says Freeman Shen.
   I’m not criticizing Geely’s competences because if you look at its latest models, the company has certainly come a long way. Chinese designers, if nothing else, are fast learners, and knock-offs are becoming things of the past if 2010’s new models are anything to go by.
   And as a Swede is heading over to China to help set up the plant, one envisages that similar training in the Volvo design and creative process will be in the offing.
   Otherwise, there won’t be much separating Volvos from other car lines with the exception of a grille with a diagonal bar.
   But the press conference still leaves questions unanswered about how the NPD process will work.
   Nevertheless, allowing Volvo to pursue innovation is good news. Ford permitted it to happen but so much platform development was done elsewhere. Volvo remained in charge of global safety for Ford models, and gave the old S80 platform to a variety of cars, including the current and previous Taurus.
   The difference is, the parent company’s platforms weren’t half bad to begin with. I’m not so sure about Geely’s.
   I do, however, like the idea of an innovative, world-first Volvo that can get its new developments in safety and alternative energies out to the market before the competition. No more will the firsts be moderated by Dearborn.
   Innovation has not deserted the company—it has announced a V60 diesel plug-in hybrid—but we will not know what the new Volvo will look like till a model, with no Ford heritage, surfaces in a few years. That will be an interesting development.
   Geely chairman Li Shufu says, ‘We continue to uphold our principle that Geely is Geely and Volvo is Volvo. A more globalized, more focused luxury brand will turn our vision of a growing and profitable Volvo Car Corporation into reality. The company will continue to contribute to the development of the global automotive industry by introducing world-first innovations that make an outstanding brand win in the market-place.’

That doesn’t really settle it though.
   I have some concerns with Mr Li’s market positioning, because there are Swedes, indeed many Europeans, who don’t see Volvo as a luxury brand.
   Thanks to Ford, Volvo was edged upmarket to avoid competition with its own models—but it means its market share at home has been severely reduced.
   Earlier this century, most Swedish taxicabs were Volvos—today Mercedes-Benz and Toyota serve a proportion of the local market as Volvo could not offer the smaller models it once did.
   And if its home market share continues to decline, never mind how China goes: Volvo will be increasingly inaccessible to first-time car buyers in Sweden. Its need, then, to retain brand values might be weakened.
   Speaking hypothetically, if these world-first innovations are created merely for luxury models, then how long will they take to get to the everyday market?
   I remember an era when Volvo didn’t skimp on safety and innovations for even its lowliest models. And Volvo-as-luxury seems to fly in the face of that.
   The reality is, if Volvo is going to find more volume in the orient, then the luxury positioning will be more dominant.
   It’s going to be easy to foresee Volvos going all over the east from the Chinese plant, to allow for greater profits. Renault and Peugeot are sourcing from plants in Korea and Malaysia to serve the eastern hemisphere, and as far afield as eastern Europe, at more reasonable prices. It would not be a bad idea for Volvo to follow suit: it’s not in the hallowed realms of BMW, and its pricing needs to reflect that.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, China, culture, design, marketing, Sweden, technology | No Comments »


Firefox 4 Beta 13 passes my tests

24.02.2011

Firefox 4 Beta 13 works, and I have not found any bugs with it.
   I may be wrong, but I believe this is the last beta before release.
   What’s amazing is that the bugs I have been complaining about for a long time have each been fixed. In other words, the reporting system works.
   While for many versions, most of the Beta 4 text was unreadable, eventually bug reports to both Mozilla Support and Bugzilla got things on the radar.
   That took a bit too long for my liking, and you do have to persist. But once I was “in the system”, things got resolved fairly quickly.
   One of the Mozilla boffins created a patch that I could use to tell him what fonts I was using, to trouble-shoot the unreadable UI.
   When those font issues were fixed, I noticed that there were still some errant numerals—a bug that Chrome also has. The difference: at Mozilla, it got fixed. Someone (Jonathan Kew) believed me, had at the back of his mind what it was, and wrote code to sort it out.
   We all worked it out together, with a layman like me providing screen shots and some public domain fonts on request, and the real experts then doing the hard yards.
   The main thing was that I was believed and it was confirmed, on each occasion, that I had a valid complaint.
   Unlike a certain other browser from a company which, I must say, did a good job with the Google Person Finder in the wake of the Christchurch earthquake.
   I don’t deny they do good sometimes—it’s just that they slip up far too often other times.
   The Chrome bug reporting and forums are about as useless as those for Blogger.
   Features I’m discovering in Beta 13 are really nice, now that I am no longer being distracted by the wrong fonts displaying.
   The box in which I am entering this text can be resized—not something I could do on Chrome or Firefox 3.
   More fonts’ kerning pairs are being read (see above left): someone at Mozilla likes typography. Some text-sized pairs look a little tight, but that’s a small complaint.
   Some alternative characters in OpenType fonts are showing up—whether that was intended or not, I don’t know. But it seems Firefox 4 is, at least, accessing them.
   It’s not a memory hog: I estimate the memory usage is on a par with Firefox 3.
   The promise of Firefox being reliable seems to have been realized: it took me days to crash Beta 12, and Beta 13 is so far, so good.
   The user interface is cleaner—not Chrome-clean, but pretty good.
   The speed seems improved, though I still feel Chrome is quicker. But I’d rather wait the extra hundredth of a second and have the page displayed properly.
   Hopefully, once installed on my system, Firefox 4 is going to work a treat. Well done, guys.
   If you’re going to have speedy R&D, it sure pays to have a system which embraces user experiences, working as much in parallel with your own team as possible.

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


Type-changing bug identified—not that it matters next to Christchurch

22.02.2011

It’s quite pathetic to be blogging about something like this on the day of the Christchurch earthquake, but Jonathan Kew, who has kept on the font-changing bug in the Firefox 4 betas after I mentioned it to him, has created a patch that sorts the problem out. Apparently, it applies to old PS1 fonts: Firefox was rejecting the glyph index 31 in these fonts.
   Jonathan is a real ally to the type community, and understands the industry’s needs very well. We’re lucky to have a guy like that involved in browser development. Here’s hoping for approval for the patch.

I’ll repeat parts of what we wrote on the Lucire site today: ‘New Zealand Red Cross is accepting donations
   ‘Twitter updates can be found at hashtag #eqnz.
   ‘Google has a Person Finder for those who are looking for people or wish to report they are OK.’

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


All it takes is someone to care

24.01.2011

Thank goodness for Boris, who commented on one of my Firefox posts here. Since he’s been on here, he’s asked me to file a new bug report, and he’s now getting a bunch of Mozilla boffins to investigate the font display error that I’ve been having since I’ve begun to download the v. 4 betas. Hooray!
   This is a public thank-you to Boris, for giving a damn, and, from what I can tell, having the expertise and the connections to look in to this bug. The number of techs now working on the bug has increased (from one to four), and I’m finally feeling hopeful about the Mozilla development programme for its next-generation browser.
   I would have hated to have dumped Firefox 4 on release if it was the only program I could not read. The suggestions on the Mozilla support site have included removing Helvetica from one’s font menu, because it had seemed to one of the helpers there that both Helvetica and Lucida were causing problems. (I don’t want to take a dig at this guy because he is, unlike the Google person I wrote about last year, genuinely trying to help.) I pointed out that it seemed to be these two because of their wide installation base and frequent appearances in CSS specs, and the fault still lay with Firefox 4 itself.
   I don’t know whether to call Boris’s attention a fluke or the system working—I had been on this like a dog on a bone, and I guess eventually one of my messages in Bugzilla would get noticed. Whatever the case, I’m grateful for it, and for playing a part in getting a pretty serious bug remedied.
   What I do know is that the equivalent on Chrome has been ignored on the Google forums, so Google has continued to put out a browser that can neither handle SVG font embedding properly (confirmed by Andrew when he tested it) nor display bolds (see my titles at my Tumblr)! The <b> and <strong> codes seem to be foreign to it, unless you program in what they mean in your CSS.
   Assuming the boffins get to the bottom of the Firefox 4 bug, I suspect we will see a very sharp, typographically advanced browser released in the New Year. Let’s hope it doesn’t crash four times a day!

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Posted in business, design, internet, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


Chrome’s dramas continue as it hits version 8

08.12.2010

It looks like Chrome has updated by itself, and as with all improvements to software, more bugs have been introduced.
   You can blame our programming skills, but here is how the home page of Lucire now looks (and it had looked like this on Chromium a couple of months ago, too):

Lucire home page on Chrome

Below is how it looks today on Firefox, but it looked roughly like this on old Chrome, as it does on Opera, IE8, and Maxthon, using HTML techniques that we had used since there was HTML:

Lucire home page on Firefox

   Here’s another regular Chrome bug, where it just misses text altogether (though the text usually returns on a reload):

Lucire home page on Chrome

The same bit on Firefox:

Lucire home page on Firefox

This is one annoying browser if it can’t even display basic HTML text.
   As expected, none of my reported bugs (incomplete font menus, inability for Chrome to switch character sets when encountering different languages on a page) have been fixed—but, then, that’s the Google way.
   Meanwhile, Firefox 3·6·12 has returned to its extremely crashworthy ways (four times per day), despite the tech help from two friends. One friend, Andrew, suggests I should call these Flash crashes, rather than Firefox crashes, because it could be Flash at fault. Certainly there are enough times when the plug-in container crashes just prior to the whole browser failing. On the Mozilla forums, there is another user who has a clean install of Firefox with no plug-ins, and he reports constant crashing, too.
   Browsing through the about:crashes in my Firefox reveals an error headed by:

nsGlobalWindow::cycleCollection::UnmarkPurple(nsISupports*)

in the majority of the last 10 cases. Here’s Mozilla’s page on that error which, if I read correctly, they haven’t a clue how to fix.
   I wish I could roll back to the stable 3·6­·10, and, as mentioned, 3·0 was one of the most stable releases Mozilla had till it got into the double-digit sub-subversions (it must have been around 3·0·12).
   Programs crashed as often 15–20 years ago, but usually that was due to memory or disk space issues. Code just seemed tighter, programmers were able to do more amazing things given the constraints, and the software more efficient. Now they crash on the oddest things and, it seems, every browser is anachronistic in some way. All I ask is for a browser that: (a) does not crash when you blink your eyes; (b) displays the complete font menu; (c) does not change font because you have used quotation marks or a ligature or other characters within the set font’s character set; (d) kerns and allows font-face; (e) changes font when it realizes that the selected one lacks glyphs for a foreign character set; (f) interprets HTML properly.
   Right now, here’s how they stack up:

  a b c d e f
Firefox 3·6·12   * * * * *
Chrome 8       *    
Opera 10·63 * *     * *
Internet Explorer 8     *   * *
Maxthon 2 *   *   * *

   Chrome is by far and away the quickest on the block, but when it messes up on everything else, it’s just not going to cut the mustard. It might crash less often than Firefox but it still crashes, and it does other things poorly. Someone wake me when Chrome comes out of alpha, because that’s where it belongs; or when Mozilla acknowledges the feedback that 375 people (and counting) are having with Firefox constantly dying on us.
   If Opera can sort out its font issues, then it has a real chance of being the best browser out of the lot.

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Posted in design, internet, technology, USA | 7 Comments »