Posts tagged ‘retail’


After you’ve gone through the brands you’ve heard of …

23.05.2020


The mouse quest continues. After going through all of PB’s listings and coming up short—nothing (at least with listed dimensions) matched or came close to the size and shape of the Microsoft Intellimouse 1.1—I returned to Aliexpress for another look.
   This Tecknet mouse might be the right one, but it’s hard to say till I try it out. For around NZ$20 we’ll soon know.
   I’ve bought mice from Guangdong vendors on Aliexpress before, and even have one I regularly take with me when I travel, but it doesn’t have the side buttons, which I’ve become accustomed to. When you’re spoiled, it’s hard to go back—even though I have three mice here without those extra buttons which might be totally adequate size- and shape-wise. I’ll report back when the new mouse arrives. Here’s hoping this will be large enough for my hands—and if it is, Tecknet could well get a lot of business from many of us in the same boat who don’t wish to subscribe to the current trend of tiny computer mice.

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Posted in China, design, technology | 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 »


Sticking with 24 inches, but going to QHD: a pleasant upgrade

31.01.2020


The Dell P2418D: just like the one I’m looking at as I type, but there are way more wires coming out of the thing in real life

Other than at the beginning of my personal computing experience (the early 1980s, and that’s not counting video game consoles), I’ve tended to have a screen that’s better than average. When 640 × 360 was the norm, I had 1,024 × 768. My first modern laptop in 2001 (a Dell Inspiron) had 1,600 pixels across, even back then. It was only in recent years that I thought my LG 23-inch LCD, which did full HD, was good enough, and I didn’t bother going to the extremes of 4K. However, with Lucire and the night-time hours I often work, and because of a scratch to the LG that a friend accidentally made when we moved, I thought it was time for an upgrade.
   Blue light is a problem, and I needed something that would be easier on the eyes. At the same time, an upgrade on res would be nice.
   But there was one catch: I wasn’t prepared to go to 27 inches. I didn’t see the point. I can only focus on so much at any given time, and I didn’t want a monitor so large that I’d have to move my neck heaps to see every corner. On our work Imacs I was pretty happy to work at 24 inches, so I decided I’d do the same for Windows, going up a single inch from where I was. IPS would be fine. I didn’t need a curved screen because my livelihood is in flat media. Finally, I don’t need multiple screens as I don’t need to keep an eye on, say, emails coming in on one screen, or do coding where I need one screen for the code and the other for the preview.
   Oddly, there aren’t many monitor manufacturers doing QHD at 24 inches. There was a very narrow range I could choose from in New Zealand, with neither BenQ nor Viewsonic doing that size and resolution here. Asus has a beautifully designed unit but I was put off by the backlight bleed stories of four years ago that were put down to poor quality control, and it seemed to be a case of hit and miss; while Dell’s P2418D seemed just right, its negative reviews on Amazon and the Dell website largely penned by one person writing multiple entries. I placed the order late one night, and Ascent dispatched it the following day. If not for the courier missing me by an hour, I’d be writing this review a day earlier.
   I realize we’re only hours in to my ownership so there are no strange pixels or noticeable backlight bleed, and assembly and installation were a breeze, other than Windows 10 blocking the installation of one driver (necessitating the use of an elevated command prompt to open the driver executable).
   With my new PC that was made roughly this time last year, I had a Radeon RX580 video card with two Displayport ports, so it was an easy farewell to DVI-D. The new cables came with the monitor. A lot of you will already be used to monitors acting as USB hubs with a downstream cable plugged in, though that is new to me. It does mean, finally, I have a more comfortable location for one of my external HDs, and I may yet relocate the cable to a third external round the back of my PC.
   Windows 10 automatically sized everything to 125 per cent magnification, with a few programs needing that to be overridden (right-click on the program icon, then head into ‘Compatibility’, then ‘Change high DPI settings’).
   Dell’s Display Manager lets you in to brightness, contrast and other settings without fiddling with the hardware buttons, which is very handy. I did have to dial down the brightness and contrast considerably: I’m currently at 45 and 64 per cent respectively.
   And I know it’s just me and not the devices but everything feels faster. Surely I can’t be noticing the 1 ms difference between Displayport and DVI-D?
   I can foresee this being far more productive than my old set-up, and Ascent’s price made it particularly tempting. I can already see more of the in- and outbox detail in Eudora. Plantin looks great here in WordPerfect (which I often prep my long-form writing in), and if type looks good, I’m more inclined to keep working with it. (It never looked quite right at a lower res, though it renders beautifully on my laptop.)
   I feel a little more “late 2010s” than I did before, with the monitor now up to the tech of the desktop PC. Sure, it’s not as razor-sharp as an Imac with a Retina 4K display, but I was happy enough in work situations with the QHD of a 15-inch Macbook Pro, and having that slightly larger feels right. Besides, a 4K monitor at this size—and Dell makes one—was outside what I had budgeted, and I’m not sure if I want to run some of my programs—the ones that don’t use Windows’ magnification—on a 4K screen. Some of their menus would become particularly tiny, and that won’t be great for productivity.
   Maybe when 4K becomes the norm I’ll reconsider, as the programs will have advanced by then, though at this rate I’ll still be using Eudora 7.1, as I do today.

Incidentally, type on Vivaldi (and presumably Chrome) still looks worse than Opera and Firefox. Those who have followed my blogging from the earlier days know this is important to me.

Vivaldi

Opera GX

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Posted in design, internet, publishing, technology, typography | 3 Comments »


The “fortress America” approach to the internet fuels piracy

21.12.2019

There are websites such as CBS News in the US that no longer let us here in New Zealand view them. US Auto Trader is another one. It’s a damned shame, because I feel it’s a stab at the heart of what made the internet great—the fact that we could be in touch with each other across borders. These two US websites, and there are plenty more, are enacting the “fortress America” policy, and I’ve never believed that isolationism is a good thing.
   Let’s start with the Auto Trader one. As someone who found his car on the UK Auto Trader website, it seems daft for the US to limit itself to its own nation’s buyers. What if someone abroad really would like an American classic? Then again, I accept that classic cars are few and far between on that site, and if photos from the US are anything to go by, the site’s probably full of Hyundai Sonatas and Toyota Camrys anyway.

   I went to the CBS website because of a Twitter link containing an interesting headline. Since we’re blocked from seeing that site, then I logically fed the same headline into a search engine and found it in two places. The first was Microsoft News, which I imagine is fine for CBS since they probably still get paid a licence for it. The second, however, was an illegal content mill that had stolen the article.
   I opted for the former to (a) do the right thing and (b) avoid the sort of pop-ups and other annoying ads that content mills often host, but what if the Microsoft version was unavailable? These geo-restrictions actually encourage piracy and does the original publisher out of income, and I can’t see that as a good thing.
   Some blamed the GDPR coming into force in the EU, so it appears CBS—which apparently is against Donald Trump talking isolationism yet practises it—decided to lump “not America” into one group and include us in it. But so what if GDPR is in force? It’s asking you to have more reasonable protections for privacy—you know, the sort of thing your websites probably had 15 years ago by default?
   I still don’t think it’s that hard to ask users to hop over to Aboutads.info and opt out of ad tracking on each of their browsers. We haven’t anything as sophisticated as some websites, which put their controls front and centre, but we at least provide links; and we ourselves don’t collect intrusive data. Yes, some ad networks we use do (which you can opt out of), but we’d never ask them for it. The way things are configured, I don’t even know your IP address when you feed in a comment.
   Ours isn’t a perfect solution but at least we don’t isolate—we welcome all walks of life, regardless of where you hail from. Just like the pioneers of the web, such as Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Make the internet great again.

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


When Microsoft says your Windows 10 needs a reset or full reinstallation, they might be wrong

14.02.2018

As many of you know, between around December 8 and February 2—dates during which I had Microsoft Windows 10’s fall Creators update without the January 31 cumulative patch—my computer suffered roughly three to six BSODs per day. Going on to Bleeping Computer was helpful, but Microsoft’s wisdom tended to be hackneyed and predictable.
   While I was lucky at Microsoft Answers and got a tech who wasn’t rehashing remarks from other threads, eventually he gave up and suggested I download the old spring Creators update, if that was the last version that was OK.
   I never had the time, and on February 2, I got the cumulative patch and everything has been fine since.
   It means, of course, that Microsoft had released a lemon at the end of 2017 and needed a big patch to deal with the problems it had caused. No word to their people on the forum though, who were usually left scratching their heads and concluding that the only option was a clean installation.
   I had bet one of the techs, however, that there was nothing wrong with my set-up, and everything to do with the OS. We know Windows is no longer robust because of the QC processes Microsoft uses, with each team checking its own code. That’s like proofreading your own work. You don’t always spot the errors.
   I said I could walk into any computer store and find that the display models were crashing as well.
   Last weekend, I did just that.
   Here are the Reliability Monitors of two Dell laptops running factory settings picked at random at JB Hi-fi in Lower Hutt.



Above: The Reliability Monitors of two display Dell laptops at JB Hi-fi in Lower Hutt, picked at random.


Above: My Reliability Monitor doesn’t look too bad by comparison—and suggests that it’s Microsoft, not my set-up, that was responsible for the multiple BSODs.

   The Monitors look rather like my own, not scoring above 2 out of 10.
   They are crashing on combase.dll for the most part, whereas mine’s crashing on ntdll.dll. Nevertheless, these are crashes that shouldn’t be happening, and a new machine shouldn’t have a reliability score that low.
   For those of you who suspect you have done nothing wrong, that your computer has always worked till recently, and you practise pretty good computer maintenance, your gut’s probably right. The bugs aren’t your fault, but that of slapdash, unchecked programming. I doubt you need full reinstallations. You may, however, have to put up with the bugs till a patch is released. It is the folly of getting an update too early—a lesson that was very tough to relearn this summer.

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


Where did all the manual transmissions go?

08.05.2016


Above: The gear selector in the BMW i3, as tested in Lucire. See here for the full road test.

When I was searching for a car to buy after my previous one was written off in an accident, one no-brainer was that it had to be a manual. It can’t be that hard, right? After all, when I bought my earlier Renault Mégane in 2004, about 70 per cent of the market was manual.
   It turns out that in 11 years, things changed a lot in New Zealand. Somewhere along the line we became the United States or Japan, places where you get the impression people are afraid of manual gearboxes. We also changed our laws so that someone who is licensed to drive an automatic is permitted to drive a manual, so unlike the UK, manuals no longer became the default option for someone who wanted the freedom to drive both.
   I had the sense that New Zealand had become 80 per cent automatic, based on scanning car sales’ periodicals and websites. A quick scan of Auto Trader NZ last week, where there were 27,925 cars for sale, gave this break-down:

Automatic: 21,380 (76·6%)
CVT: 546 (2·0%)
Manual: 3,036 (10·9%)
Tiptronic: 2,963 (10·6%)

In fact, a traditional manual, one with gears you change with a clutch, comprises considerably less than 20 per cent.
   One friend, like me, specifically sought a manual in 2015, and asked me to scan through websites. In the greater Wellington region, cars matching his other criteria on engine size and price numbered a grand total of two, one in Eastbourne and the other in Upper Hutt. He eventually had to go outside his criteria to buy a manual.
   I visited one dealership in Lower Hutt where one of the senior salespeople told me that was what the market demanded, so they followed suit, as he tried to sell me an automatic, Turkish-made car. This claim was, based on my own research, bollocks.
   Granted, this research was of a sample of my 2,300 Facebook friends, but of those who responded, it appeared to be evenly divided. Some of the comments were along the lines of, ‘I wanted a manual, but I had no choice, so I bought an automatic.’
   If I didn’t have a second car (since sold to a friend who also preferred manuals), I could have found myself looking at doing the same—just because I needed wheels in a hurry. Or I could have bought a car that did not meet all my needs, one that was “near enough”. But if you are spending a five-figure sum, and you intend to hold on to the car for the next decade, is this such a wise thing to do? A car is an investment for me, not a fashion item.
   That earlier Renault took me four months to find in a market that wasn’t so heavily biased against manuals in the mid-2000s, and this time out, I wound up searching for eight. Most people don’t have that luxury.
   The most evident explanation for the overwhelming numbers of automatics is that so many used cars are sourced from Japan, but it’s really not what all people want.
   I’ve nothing against the half of the population who prefer automatics, but they are just not my sort of thing. These days, the most advanced automatics are more economical than manuals, but generally, you still get a few more mpg from a car you shift yourself. I enjoy driving, and automatics blunt that enjoyment for me, but I’m sure others don’t mind them as much.
   In future blog posts I’ll touch on this subject again, and I’ll be penning a story for Classic Car Weekly in the UK on the whole saga of buying a new car. Who knew that, despite being armed with money, it would be such an uphill task to find someone to give it to?
   It also suggests that if someone wishes to specialize in manuals, they would be tapping in to a large, unserved chunk of the New Zealand market.

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Posted in business, cars, culture, New Zealand, Wellington | 1 Comment »


The best mouse to buy might be a dead-stock one made in 2005

09.10.2015

With the mouse being the culprit on my main computer causing mouse and keyboard to be unresponsive in Windows 7 (I’ve still no idea when Windows 10 arrives and Microsoft has been no help at all), I decided to shop for a new one again.
   The failed mouse was one I bought in 2012, which also made it the most short-lived. Made by Logitech, I had expected better. It replaced a 2002 Microsoft mouse which was my daily unit, and that had failed around 2013.
   Another Logitech, a few years older, was already giving up the ghost when plugged into the office Mac, and I transferred that to an old Windows machine that we use very irregularly for testing. It was fine there, but the fact it only works on Windows (and Linux, as I later found out) meant that it’s faulty in some way.
   One thing I did know, although mice fail in my care less easily than keyboards, is that quality was important. Some months ago, Corporate Consumables advertised old-style Microsoft mice for NZ$12. Considering that type isn’t made today, I assume it was old stock they were trying to get rid of. It was the most comfortable I had used last decade, but it appeared that the NZ$12 sale was successful: there were none left.

   I headed again to Atech Computers on Wakefield Street, as Matthew had always looked after me and knew I could be fussy. He sold me a Lenovo mouse (above), which he believed would have better quality than the Logitechs, and let me try it out. It was fine at the shop—it was more sizeable than the Logitech—but after prolonged use I discovered it wasn’t wide enough. My ring and little fingers were dragging on the mouse pad, but since there was nothing technically wrong with it, it wouldn’t be right to return it. Lesson learned for NZ$30: it’s not just the length, width is important, too. That Lenovo is now plugged into the Linux PC and the older Logitech put aside for now. I might wind up giving it away knowing that it’s not in the best condition, having given away quite a few recycled PCs of late from both myself and a friend when she got new gear for her office.
   Corporate Consumables had let me see a dead-stock Microsoft Laser Mouse 6000 on my earlier visit and I decided I would give that a go. Armed with the Lenovo, I went to the Wellington office to compare the two and the width was, indeed, right. It was a bit closer to the 2002 model I had. It was narrower, but the sculpted design meant I had somewhere to rest my ring finger, within the body of the mouse. Although manufactured in 2005, it was still in its packaging and Corporate sold it to me at a very low price.

   I don’t mind that it left the factory a decade ago, if, roughly, the newer the mouse, the shorter the life. A 10-year-old mouse might last me another decade or so. A few years back, I bought a Microtek Scanmaker 5800 to replace a faulty 5700: although it was obsolete and I bought dead stock, it was at about a third of the price of what it was when brand-new last decade, and it plugged into my system without any software alteration. As long as a gadget delivers the quality I want—and the 5800 gave better results than a newer scanner with a plastic lens, for example—then I don’t really mind that that particular model isn’t the latest thing. Even the office printer was in a box for about five or six years before it replaced something we bought in 2003 that had gone kaput.
   Have mice changed that much between 2005 and 2015? Not really: they do the same thing, more or less, and the old ones might be better made. I’m perfectly happy with bringing something forth into October 2015 that isn’t a De Lorean DMC-12 with a Mr Fusion on the back.

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Posted in China, design, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


It’s full circle for style.com: back to its origins in fashion retail

02.05.2015

Originally published in the online edition of Lucire, May 1, 2015



Top Earlier today, attempting to get into Style.com meant a virus warning—the only trace of this curiosity is in the web history. Above Style.com is back, with a note that it will be transforming into an e-tail site.

If there’s one constant in fashion, it’s change. The other one, which we notice thanks to a number of our team being well schooled on fashion history, is that trends always return, albeit in modified form. Both have come into play with Style.com, which announced earlier this week that it would become an ecommerce site.
   When Lucire started, we linked to style.com, but it wasn’t in our fashion magazines’ directory. It was, instead, in our shopping guide.
   In 2000, that all changed, and it began appearing under our fashion magazine links, where it was until today. An attempt to log in to the home page was met by a virus warning, preventing us from going further. We figured that this was part of the transformation of the website as it readied itself for the next era, discouraging people from peering. However, having had these warnings splashed across our own pages two years ago courtesy of Google’s faulty bot, when our site was in fact clean, there was a part of us taking it with a grain of salt. In either case, given the impending change, it was probably the right time to remove the link.
   This evening, Style.com is back and virus-free, with an overlay graphic announcing that the website will be changing. Plenty of our media colleagues have analysed the closure over the past week: the Murdoch Press has gossiped about how the layoffs were announced, WWD suggests editor-in-chief Dirk Standen didn’t know it was coming, based on rumours, while Fashionista puts it all into context by analysing just where ecommerce is within the fashion sector, and that content should be the answer over clothing sales.
   What is interesting is no one that we’ve spotted has mentioned how the style.com domain name (we’ve carefully noted it in lowercase there) has effectively come full circle. Perhaps we really are in the age of Wikipedia-based research, as this fact is not mentioned there at all.
   When Lucire launched in 1997, style.com was the website for Express Style, later more prominently, and simply, branded Express, a US fashion retailer. It’s not hard to imagine that had Express remained at the URL, it would have become an e-tailer; it has, after all, made the move into ecommerce at its present home, express.com. Like a fashion trend that comes back two decades later, style.com has gone back to its roots: by the autumn it’ll be e-tailing.
   The omission from the above paragraph is the sale of the style.com domain name by Express to Condé Nast in the late 1990s. We never completely understood the need to start a new brand to be the US home of Vogue and W; for many  years, typing vogue.com into the browser in the US would take one automatically to Style.com. Then, somewhere along the line, Condé Nast decided that vogue.com should be the online home of Vogue after all.
   But having made the decision to forge ahead with Style.com, Condé Nast did it with a lot of resources, and took its site to number one among print fashion magazine web presences in a remarkably short space of time. It devoted plenty of resources to it, and it’s thanks to Style.com that certain things that were once frowned upon—e.g. showing off catwalk collections after the show—became acceptable. Designers used to enjoy the fact that we and Elle US delayed online coverage, the belief being that the delay ensured that pirates could not copy their designs and beat them to the high street.
   To get itself known, Condé Nast bought advertising at fashion websites that were better known, including this one (yes, in 2000 that really was the case), at a time when online advertising cost considerably more than it does today.
   The muscle from the best known name in fashion publishing changed the way the media interacted with readers. Designers figured that if they wanted coverage, they would have to accept that their work would be shown nearly instantly. We became used to that idea, so much so that we now have to show the catwalk videos live in the 2010s.
   In some ways, the change makes sense: we’re talking about an Alexa rank in the 4,000s, which translates to plenty of traffic. The name is known, and most shoppers will make some association with Vogue. The official word is that Franck Zayan, formerly head of ecommerce for Galeries Lafayette, will helm the revised website, and he’s reporting that brands are coming on board rapidly.
   One shouldn’t mourn the loss of Style.com as a fashion news portal, since the content we’re all used to is bound to appear at Vogue. And in all the years we had it in our magazines’ directory, it was listed under our Vogue entry anyway. We await the new site to see what Condé Nast will do with it, and it may yet return to the spot where it once was in the 20th century, in the shopping guide.

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


Farewell, Manhattan: switching to the Cooler Master Storm Quick Fire TK Cherry MX Brown

10.04.2015

QuickFire TK
The Cooler Master Storm Quick Fire TK, with white case.

On Tuesday, my Manhattan keyboard, for which I gave a glowing review on Amazon, gave up the ghost. I’m not entirely sure why but through its lifetime, there were two things wrong with it: the first was that regular typing wore off the keys’ markings (not an issue since I touch-type, and they were in Arial, so it was a pleasure to see them gone); and the wiring was conking out, as it would disconnect itself from the USB for about five seconds a day.
   I tend to buy these things based on their practical value, and I’ve gone through my history of finding the right keyboard elsewhere. However, on Tuesday, I found myself needing one pretty quick smart.
   Now, I could have moved another keyboard from one of the less utilized machines, but, faced with the prospect of finishing a book chapter this weekend, I didn’t savour the prospect of typing on a membrane keyboard. Sadly, those are all that are left here, other than the scissor-switch one on my Asus laptop.
   As I headed out to town, there weren’t many alternatives. I looked in the usual places, such as Dick Smith and Noël Leeming, knowing that they wouldn’t have what I sought: a decent keyboard operated on scissor-switches, that was a maximum of 16 inches wide. (I can tolerate maybe an other half-inch on top of that at a pinch.) If anything, I only popped by these stores because they were en route from the Railway Station into town and I was using public transport that day. But, if there was a fluke and there was something that was the equivalent of the dead Manhattan, I probably would have got it.
   To save you clicking through to the old post, I dislike reaching for a mouse (and I’m getting progressively fussier with those, too), and the 16-inch width is something I found I was comfortable with after years of typing. I also need a numeric keypad since I type in European languages, and Windows wants you to use the numeric keypad, unlike Mac.
   I visited Matthew Sew Hoy at Atech Computers on Wakefield Street. He knew my plight because I had told him on previous visits: that’s the beauty of going to a smaller store and getting personal service. He remembered the story instantly. And he had just the thing: a mechanical keyboard for about 10 times the price of the old Manhattan.
   I have long been a fan of the Cooler Master Storm Quick Fire TK, which suits my requirements to a T. The trouble always was the price: I have seen them go for over NZ$200, and I’ve toyed with bringing one in on a business trip. However, Atech had two, starting from NZ$160.
   Over the years I had eyed the TK with Cherry MX Blue switches: the clicky ones. My Pinterest is full of blue-switch compact keyboards. This was familiar territory to me, and probably most people who are my age and up. Keyboards should make a little click noise as the keys are depressed: that’s the mechanical switch getting activated. This is the reason mechanical keyboards cost more: modern ones, the $20 variety you see at Dick Smith, don’t have individual switches underneath each key. They only have a sheet with a printed circuit and contacts underneath, sending electronic signals to the computer. This makes it wonderful for keyboard manufacturers, who can churn these out at low cost, but the typing experience is less than satisfactory, especially if you type a lot.
   Sadly, and this is a consequence of living in a small country, Matthew only had the TK with Cherry MX Brown switches, which need medium force without returning the satisfying click. However, to use, in terms of the strokes and strength needed, it would be roughly the same. I sampled it at the shop, decided it was worth splashing out, and bought it.
   For such an expensive device, the first one he sold me had a fault. The left shift key and the virgule (slash) both thought they were question marks, and the keyboard had to be returned. Matthew swapped it for the other keyboard, which initially was more expensive, without charging me the difference. I’m now the proud owner of a Cooler Master Quick Fire TK in white, with Cherry MX Brown switches, and it’s not quite the combination I had planned on when spending so much on a keyboard.
   But how is it to use? I’ll admit I still look somewhat enviously on those who bought their TKs abroad and managed to get them with blue switches, but I am definitely faster typing on the new one. And that is a good thing when you need for your typing to keep up with your thoughts. I’ve finished off more emails this week than I had done in a while.
   I am frustrated with the odd typo I make and I wonder if this is to do with the lack of familiarity. Because I touch-type, I am hitting the u and the i together on occasion, or the full stop and comma together, and making similar mistakes, and I don’t recall doing that quite as often on the Manhattan. I’m sure these keyboards differ in their positioning by a millimetre or two, leading to these errors.
   The unit is also higher than the very slim Manhattan, which means my wrists are raised. I haven’t found a position where they are as comfortable as they were with the previous keyboard, and the wrist rest itself is too low relative to the TK to make any difference. That is proving a problem.
   The reason for the height, presumably, is for the feature I don’t need: illuminated keys. I’m not a gamer and I’m not typing in the dark. However, for those who use their TKs for such purposes, I can see how they would be ideal. To fit in the lights beneath, I imagine the designers had to raise the entire keyboard by a few millimetres, making it less comfortable to type on.
   The final negative to the keyboard, and one which I knew I would confront, is how the numeric keypad and the cursor keys are all together. You have to take Num Lock off in order to get the cursor keys to work, much like in the old days of the early IBM PC compatibles. This has slowed me down as I switch between modes.
   In this respect, I have travelled back to when I began using IBM compatibles in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Back then, the keyboards were mechanical and the cursor and numeric keypads were all in one lot, and there’s a certain retro charm to this arrangement. Without the clicking noises, it reminds me of the mechanical switches on my first microcomputer: the Commodore 64. I really have gone back to the future, appropriate in a year when Claudia Wells (the original Jennifer Parker before she morphed into Elisabeth Shue) has been Tweeting about Lucire.
   I may be one of the few non-gamers to have invested in a TK, with typing efficiency and practicality as my main aims. When I posted pictures of it on my Instagram, I received plaudits from other serious gamers and geeks with expensive computers, calling me ‘Dude’ and making me feel very welcome as a fellow TK owner. Looking online, the white case is a rare one, so I wound up unwittingly with a keyboard that is slightly more cool than the everyday black one. I sense that Matthew prefers the white one as well, and that I didn’t know how lucky I was (although I am very grateful to him for knocking the price down and giving it to me as a direct replacement).
   Where does this leave me? I have a decent enough keyboard which is efficient for the most part, and from which I can expect a far longer life than the Manhattan (Cooler Master reckons each key is good for 50 million hits, five times longer than on the Manhattan, and ten times longer than on any membrane keyboard). I no longer put up with five-second daily outages. The way the keys are designed, I won’t have to worry about the markings coming off (the glyphs are etched). I have multimedia controls from the function keys, which are a bonus, and one reason I liked the old Genius scissor-switch keyboard that got me on this path to finding the right unit. As I type, I ponder whether I should invest in a higher wrist rest, or whether my seating position needs to change to cope with the higher keyboard. I imagine that as my fingers adjust to the minute differences, I can only get faster with my touch-typing, and I’m looking forward to the efficiency gains. But, there are those Cherry MX Blues on Amazon. The grass might look greener there, but apparently the white case puts me up there with the über-gamers and the cool geeks.

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Posted in business, China, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | 5 Comments »


All the Geelys on Autocade

01.12.2014

The Geely King Kong Hatchback, one of the new entries on the Autocade website.

Not that I blogged it at the time, but Geely’s multi-brand strategy in 2009 felt doomed. Earlier this year, the company retreated, and brought everything from Englon, Gleagle and Emgrand back under its parent brand again.
   It wasn’t unlike Mazda’s attempt to do the same in the early 1990s, when it began selling cars under marques such as Efini, Autozam and Eunos, as well as its own brand. The bursting of Japan’s bubble economy didn’t help things, but the problems went deeper than that. Those who were used to buying a Mazda Capella from a certain outlet were surprised to find that it had become one of these new channels, and there was no Capella or equivalent to be seen. In fact, for those years, there was no Capella—a nameplate Japanese buyers had become accustomed to for decades—as Mazda decided to offer cars such as the Cronos, which went over the 1,700 mm width that landed it in a higher tax bracket.
   We never noticed much of these issues outside Japan, as these cars were simply sold as Mazda 626, and there were fewer signs of the company’s ambitious plans that landed it in such trouble then-shareholder Ford installed a Scot in charge. It was the first time a Caucasian wound up running a car maker there. Mazda felt embarrassed it wasn’t one of their own.
   Geely might not have had the Chinese economy collapse on it, and it may have been buoyed through the 2000s as it went from being a manufacturer of recycled Daihatsus to a major Chinese automotive force, but there was the obvious problem of increasing its marketing costs dramatically. Could it also develop lines for four marques all of a sudden? Remember, too, it would swallow Volvo around this time, giving it a fifth marque.
   The answer was no: Geely wound up shifting various models to different marques, badge-engineering others, and generally confusing the state of affairs for Chinese consumers. There’s a solid argument to be made for Geely at the time though: the automotive market was clearly segmenting, and there was a need to have budget and luxury brands. But it didn’t seem organic, but dramatically forced. I take my hat off to Geely for carrying it out, nevertheless, even if some of the models were lacking: the Emgrand EC7, for instance, had rear torsion beam suspension, and it was supposedly a premium product for the well-to-do upper-middle-class Chinese buyer.
   It all came crashing down earlier this year, when Geely realized that it lost economies of scale in marketing, and the most important player in all of this—the consumer—really couldn’t follow what was what. To top it off, these new brands had no goodwill, just as Mazda’s didn’t 20 years before. Unless you’re willing to push these brands like crazy, it’s a hard battle to win, especially in the most competitive market on earth. China, too, has had a downturn in car sales this year, and the heady days of thinking one can adopt multi-brand strategies without the numbers to support them are over.
   Why has it come up? Today, Autocade has successfully recorded the entire current line of Geelys, and there are quite a few historical models in there, too. It was incredibly confusing, too, tracking the new identities of a lot of the models—did the Englon SC5 get renamed? Which lines were dropped because there was a badge-engineered equivalent? And, as is particularly common among Chinese models we put on Autocade, how on earth shall we translate some of these model names? (The practice is to use the Chinese company’s own translations, where available, and not succumb to using the export names to index them.)
   While some pages had the new Geely names appended to the old Englon, Emgrand and Gleagle model pages, there were new entries for the Geely New Emgrand, the old King Kong line along with the Englon SC5-based King Kong hatchback, the two generations of Geely Vision, and the historical Geely Haoqing (an old car based around a 1980s Daihatsu Charade: to think, at the turn of the century, this described pretty much every car in the Geely range) as well as the new flagship SUV that now bears the name.
   The reason for being a bit obsessive over the Geelys, as well as some other models (we added nearly all the current Cadillacs and a few more Chang’ans), is that with the demise of Auto Katalog, I believe more will go online. If we can present a credible new-car site—although we have a long way to go before we get every current model line up—we may go some way to filling the void with Autocade.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, China, publishing | No Comments »