Posts tagged ‘USA’


Could this happen one day at GM?

22.02.2020


The MG line-up in New Zealand. Could it be part of a bigger portfolio of brands later this decade?

In the context of what has happened with Holden, and Peter Hanenberger’s thoughts on the direction of GM, I wonder how far away we are from seeing these headlines:

Cash-strapped GM sells passenger car brands to SAIC to focus on trucks and SUVs

and:

SAIC builds passenger-car brand portfolio with Wuling, Baojun, Chevrolet, Roewe, MG, Buick and Cadillac

You can almost think of MG as Pontiac and Roewe as Oldsmobile … With the decimation of the GM line-up globally, and the segments they no longer field (e.g. C-segment cars in many markets), will they even have the investment needed to sustain the car brands?
   I know they are saying this was all necessary to fund the electrification of the range and autonomous tech, but isn’t this the same company that nixed the EV1 and failed to make the Volt a Prius-beater?
   The Chinese state wasn’t about creating “Chinese Leyland” when they forced SAIC and NAC to merge. They had much grander plans.

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Posted in business, cars, China, USA | No Comments »


Peter Hanenberger’s unintended post mortem of Holden

19.02.2020


The 2009 Chevrolet Caprice SS, sold in the Middle East but made in Australia.

I came across a 2017 interview with former Holden chairman Peter Hanenberger, who was in charge when the company had its last number-one sales’ position in Australia. His words are prescient and everything he said then still applies today.
   He spent over four and a half decades at GM so he knows the company better than most. Since he departed in 2003 he had seven successors at the time of the interview; and I believe there have been a couple more since.
   A few interesting quotes.

‘It’s [now] a very short-sighted company.’
It feels like it. The sort of retreating it’s done, the dismantling of global operations, and the failure to see how global platforms can achieve economies of scale is something only a company beholden to quarterly stock price results will do. And it doesn’t help its longevity.
   Even Holden, which looked like it was going to simply depart the passenger-car sector at the end of last year before a full withdrawal now, tells us that there doesn’t appear to be a long-term plan in place that the US management is committed to. Not long ago they were going on about the two dozen models they planned to launch to field a competitive line-up.

‘For me General Motors was a global player. Today General Motors is shrinking to an American company with no foresight, which is in very bad shape, which has missed the market.’
Remember Hanenberger said this in 2017, when it still had presences in many Asian countries. In 2020 it very much looks like GM will be in the Americas (where it still fields reasonably complete line-ups, although God knows if they have anything in the pipeline to replace the existing models) and China. Russia, India, Australia, New Zealand and Thailand are gone or going, and western Europe went in 2017 before the interview.

‘Maybe it fits into the vision of Trump; America first. But how the world is going to work also in the future is not because of America first and America only. It’s global. I think there will be no GM in the near-future.’
Everyone else is desperate to do tie-ups while GM retreats. I think GM will still be around but it’ll be a Chinese firm.

‘I couldn’t give a shit what they thought in America.’
I don’t mean this as an anti-American quote, but I see it as a dig against bean counters (whatever their nationality) fixated on the short term and not motorheads who know their sector well.

‘For me Holden didn’t have enough product, and the second one [priority] was I wanted to get these cars they had into export. For me it was very clear the products they had could be exported and they should go on to export.’
You saw the failure of this in the early 2010s when Holden failed to keep its Middle Eastern deals, and the US models returned. It could have been so different, though I realize GM was very cash-strapped when they needed the US taxpayer to bail them out.
   Bruce Newton, who wrote the piece, says that the Middle East was worth up to 40,000 units per annum, with A$10,000 profit per car. It cost Holden A$20 million to develop them for left-hand drive. I’d have held on to that sort of opportunity for dear life.

‘There was nothing going on that was creative towards the future of Holden as in Australia, New Zealand and toward the export market. They just neglected this whole thing.’
That was Hanenberger when he visited his old workplace in 2006. With product development cycles the way they are, it’s no wonder they were so ill placed when the Middle Eastern markets lost interest in the VE Commodore and WM Caprice (as the Chevrolet Lumina and Caprice), and China in the Buick Park Avenue.
   It’s an interesting interview and perhaps one of the best post mortems for Holden, even if it wasn’t intended to be so three years ago.

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Posted in business, cars, China, leadership, USA | 1 Comment »


Andrew Yang’s campaign: #YangGang was just the beginning

13.02.2020


Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons

On Andrew Yang’s run for the Democratic nomination in the US:

If Mastodon ever stops supporting that Javascript, I wrote: ‘Pretty stoked at what Andrew Yang has managed to achieve. Certain forces tried to minimize his coverage, to give him as little legitimacy as possible (sounds familiar). Yet he also normalized the idea of an Asian American presidential candidate, paving the way either for himself in 2024 or for someone else. ’. Those forces include some of the Democratic activist media.
   It’s a damned shame. Yang didn’t vilify Republicans, listened to both sides, and was a pragmatist with solutions. Granted, there were areas his policies fell short, but at least he presented the optimistic side of American politics, something so rarely seen in what we outsiders perceive to be such a negative, murky world. Now Americans (and those of us watching from without) will likely face a shouting-match campaign.

And found on the web: a cellphone with a rotary dial that its creator, Justine Haupt, claims is more practical for her, and where calling is faster than with her modern phone. No apps, no SMS, but if you’re after something to call people, it does the job admirably. Her frequently dialled numbers are stored, so it’s only new numbers where she has to dial. The dial also serves as a volume control. Since I’m getting sick of apps, and I can’t be alone, Haupt may be on to something.
   In her words: ‘A truly usable rotary-dial cellphone to replace my flip phone (I don’t use a smart phone). This is a statement against a world of touchscreens, hyperconnectivity, and complacency with big brother watchdogs.’

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Posted in design, politics, technology, USA | No Comments »


Netflix spams, Amazon doesn’t care

07.02.2020

It pays to have some ground rules when dealing with the internet. A very big one that I’m sure that you all observe is: don’t do business with spammers. If a Nigerian prince tells you he has $5 million for you, ignore him.
   There are tainted email lists that have been going around for years. I used to have filters for all sorts of permutations of my real address, back in the days when we had a “catch-all” email. My address definitely wound up on a South African spammers’ list in the late 1990s or early 2000s, and to this day I get South African spam from some respectable looking companies that took an unethical shortcut in compiling their targets. There’s a third where the spammer has confused the ‘company’ and ‘first name’ fields that began doing the rounds during the 2010s. All so easy to spot. If they claimed I signed up to their list, and don’t know my first and last names, then there’s a massive clue right there.
   This all begs the question of why a company with the size and reputation of Netflix feels the need to resort to such lists. Here’s the fourth one this Gregorian calendar year as they up their frequency of spam:


Netflix spam, shown actual size.

   There’s a thread online where one netizen was told by Netflix that someone else had signed them up, which is incredibly unlikely, and more likely an excuse to cover one’s dodgy behaviour.
   These began in November 2019 for me. The ‘This message was mailed to […] by Netflix because you created a Netflix account’ is untrue, and if it were true, how come there is no email confirmation of this account creation in any of my emails from 2019? Surely if you created one, Netflix would confirm your address at the very least? And if they don’t, then that’s pretty poor business practice.
   This isn’t a phishing attempt, as the links all go to Netflix and it’s come from Netflix’s account with Amazon, who doesn’t seem to do much about it. If you’d like to see a similar one, someone has posted it online at samplespam.com/messages/2019-07-20/V801I2196eM554074 but where they have a header line with ‘00948.EMAIL.REMARKETING_GLOBAL_SERIES_CORE_2_DAY_4.-0005.-5.en.UA’, mine has ‘00948.EMAIL.REMARKETING_GLOBAL_SERIES_CORE_2_DAY_4.-0005.-5.en.US’. (Netflix thinks I live in the US.)
   There’s no reply on Twitter. Nor was there any reply from this email that I sent to privacy@netflix.com last November:

The people they claim are in charge of privacy don’t care about privacy.
   I shan’t subscribe to Netflix any time soon because of Internet 101. If they don’t care about your privacy now, they’re probably not going to care about it after you’re a customer. In the 2020s, with people more sensitive about it, it’s foolhardy for Netflix to go against the trend. Right now, their email marketing has all the subtlety of a cheap scammer’s—just with nicer presentation.

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Posted in business, internet, marketing, USA | No Comments »


Mastodon before Twitter: time to change my main social network

21.01.2020

With the Twitter advertising preference monster continuing to gather preferences on all of us even after opting out—which basically makes Twitter Facebook—I decided to switch the Mastodon–Twitter Crossposter around.
   With Twitter being my main social network, I was quite happy to allow the Crossposter to take my Tweets and turn them into Toots on Mastodon, and I’d check in to the latter regularly to respond to people.
   But with this latest discovery, I’m having second thoughts. We all know Twitter censors, and protects bigots, and its latest way to make a quick buck crosses a line.
   I know most people have lines that they redraw regularly, especially when it comes to social media and phone apps, but I’m trying to manage mine a little better.
   What I’ll miss is the news: I get plenty from Twitter, often breaking items. I’ll have to find an equivalent, or a news bot, on Mastodon. I’ll also miss interactions with real friends I’ve made on the service. It was incredible to get the condolence messages from Twitter. But if Stephen Fry can walk away from time to time, leaving millions there, I can probably take some time out from the 5,200 following me.
   Note that I won’t cease going to Twitter altogether: I’m not going cold turkey. There’s a bunch of us supporting one another through Alzheimer’s in the family, so I still want to be there for them. But if plans go well, then it won’t be my main social network any more. Twitter’s advertising clients will all miss me, because I simply never consented to Twitter compiling info to micro-target me. Mastodon will get my info first.
   And if Mastodon, one day, decides to do ads, I actually won’t mind, as long as they don’t cross that line. If I’ve opted out of personalization, I expect them to respect it. Even Google respects this, and they’re a dodgy bunch. The fact I have an IP address tied to my country, and that I’ve given some personal info about me, is, in my book, enough. Besides, anyone who knows me will know that a lot of the preferences shown in Twitter have no connection with me—just as Facebook’s were completely laughable.

PS.: Dlvr.it does not take RSS feeds to send to Mastodon. I’m trying out the Activitypub plug-in for Wordpress instead.

P.PS.: Ton Zylstra suggested Autopost to Mastodon, which looks far simpler.

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


Twitter also tracks your preferences, even after you opt out of ad customization

18.01.2020

As with most platforms, I selected, on Twitter, that I didn’t want my advertising to be personalized. I don’t mind them making a buck, but I do mind them tracking my preferences, just as I did with Google and Facebook.
   Google lied about its advertising preferences from 2009 to 2011 till yours truly busted them, and Facebook lies by continuing to compile preferences on you even after opting out, repopulating deleted preferences in some cases, and now, blocking you from making further edits to them. I was surprised that Twitter had a bunch of options I never saw beyond that old ad preferences’ one till I happened across them after clicking ‘Why did I see this ad?’ You can find this here.

   Go a bit further to this link, and there they are, nearly 500 preferences linked to me, compiled even though I had opted out of personalization—making Twitter just as bad as Facebook.


   What do I do? Exactly what I did on Facebook: I deselected each and every single one. Twitter doesn’t need this to market to me. Frankly it’s enough that it has my IP address and it can geo-target. It doesn’t need any more precision than that. I get to the bottom of the page, having done them all:

   And just like Facebook, within hours it has reselected over 400 of them, repopulating preferences and overriding what the user wants.

   In fact, some were being reselected within seconds, but I put that down to the fact I was using a cellphone. As of this writing, the second deselections have been done on the desktop.
   This is simply not right, but we have been seeing signs in the latter part of the 2010s that Twitter is as bad as Facebook, with its love of bots, bigotry and its mass censorship. Now it’s as devoted to selling its users as the rest of Big Tech. The net result is I’ll begin limiting my time on Twitter because its privacy intrusion has gone too far. It cannot be trusted. It will probably become a work tool as Facebook has, where I do little of my own stuff, and only serve my clients; or I simply have automated content.

I suppose you can always say, ‘Well, at least it’s not as bad as …’ and on that note, I checked in to Facebook to see if I could post a question on why advertising preferences were not editable.
   Eventually I found four others had managed, after wading through Facebook’s many layers of pages before getting to one where you could pose a question, to ask the same.

   Except none of them are clickable to a question-and-answer page. They all take you to a Facebook Business advertising queries’ page.
   Therefore, I asked the question even though it had already been asked. I doubt I’ll hear back, as I noticed that on the same visit, Facebook had censored two of my earlier responses.


   Why? They reveal that Facebook’s platform is buggy, that I was unable to do some things on pages that it claimed I was able to do.
   All I can say is that this is petty. Facebook: for the last 15 years your platform has been buggy. Everyone knows this. Covering up a couple of comments made in your own forums, comments that are truthful and actually helpful to others who encounter the same thing, doesn’t make your platform any less buggy. But this is the Zuckerberg way: all-too-precious, wimpy against criticism, with a self-belief that not publishing something will make it go away. I mean, it’s worked against equally wimpy governments. It is a page out of the Google playbook, too: its forums are full of cultist believers who ask, ‘How dare you question our god?’ when you post about bugs. However, it alienates users.
   It’s probably why the old Getsatisfaction Facebook forum was closed down, because it revealed so many bugs about the system.
   I’m hoping the 2020s will see some sort of mass rejection of these Big Tech social-tracking platforms, but I thought that would happen years ago. I was wrong. There are still good people on them but there are also good people on Mastodon and elsewhere.

PS.: Here we are, four hours later, after I unticked all the preferences. At least 300 of them have been reselected by Twitter. So it is like Facebook. Once again, we have to say to a US Big Tech firm: stop lying. Your claims about your settings are bogus.

P.PS.: Day two, still fighting Twitter, which reticked a lot (but not all) of the preferences. Still in the hundreds.

P.P.PS.: Day two, two hours later, 107 reticked:

P.P.P.PS.: Day four:

P.P.P.PS.: Day seven, still battling:

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Posted in internet, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


History of the 2010s: a look back at the decade that was

02.01.2020

When I first wrote a satirical look back at the decade, which ran on this blog in December 2009 (on the old Blogger service, as I was helping a friend fight a six-month battle with Google to restore his blog), it was pretty easy to make up little fictions based on reality. This one, covering the decade just gone, was a different matter. No matter how you did it, often the reality would be stranger than the satire.
 
2010
The Australian establishment, especially large portions of its media, are shocked a woman could become prime minister. They spend her entire term telling the Australian public that this is morally wrong.
   Americans decide that they needed less honesty from television, so Simon Cowell leaves the US version of Pop Idol, American Idol.
   Donald Trump-hosted show The Apprentice gets its lowest ratings ever. He begins planning another show and brainstorms with his countrymen on Twitter.

   Long-running shows Ashes to Ashes and Lost end with exactly the same conclusion. Frustrated at years of investment in the two shows, the Anglosphere is so turned off television that they would rather form silos on social media websites to make their owners rich. Two guys in San Francisco spot the opportunity and invent Instagram.
   Jay Leno unquits The Tonight Show after discovering the $30 million per annum he made prior to leaving just couldn’t sustain his car collecting hobby.
   Kate loves Willy, so they get engaged.
 
2011
It’s revealed that Arnold Schwarzenegger does films, politics, and the family maid.
   Following the example of HH the Dalai Lama, Charlie Sheen decides to impart his wisdom to the masses, gaining an extra million Twitter followers as a result.
   Cheryl Cole starts on the US X Factor amid much buzz, then vanishes from the show. Only her dimples remain.
   Proving Apple is either a cult or a religion, Steve Jobs shrines appear all over the world after his passing.
   How I Met Your Mother concludes as we find out River Song is Amy Pond’s daughter.
   Kate loves Willy, so they get married.
 
Reality is stranger

   Facebook launches Timeline, but it actually doesn’t work on the 1st of each month as no one there has worked out there are time zones other than US Pacific. Still no one thinks they’re stupid.
   Google gets busted over its advertising preferences’ manager, which actually doesn’t stop gathering your preferences after you’ve opted out from having them gather your preferences. None of the other NAI members seem to have a problem with their opt-outs. As far as I can tell, Google has been lying about its opt-out for two years, affecting millions.
 
2012
President Obama finally figures out that same-sex marriage would not bring about disaster—that could safely be left to Big Tech, as it enjoys monopolies. As a result, Facebook has its IPO.
   Forget 2011’s Steve Jobs shrines, Jesus got a new look in Zaragoza, thanks to a repair job. Not everyone is enamoured with the updated Jesus, but it saves the town and numerous businesses.
   Prince Harry parties and brings a new meaning to ‘Las Vegas strip’. Got to have something to mark his grandmother’s 60th Jubilee.
   The Hunger Games makes stars of Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth, although people over a certain age thought it was The Unger Games, a remake of The Odd Couple.
   Kate loves Willy, so they expect a kid.
 
In the real world
   Malala Yousafzai kicks ass and a bullet to the head doesn’t stop her. If anything, it makes her stronger and grows her reputation.
   E. L. James gathers up her Twilight fan fic and puts it all into a book, called 50 Shades of Grey.
   Remember, this is where Boris Johnson is mayor: the London Olympics use the Kazakh national anthem from Borat. High five!
   Google gets busted over bypassing the ‘Do not track’ setting on Iphone Safari browsers by The Wall Street Journal. Despite trying to look innocent, it stops this the same day. Several US states’ attorneys-general decide this was such a gross violation of privacy that they fine Google a few hours’ earnings.

   Proving boys can do anything, Brad Pitt became the face of Chanel No. 5.
   Lana Del Rey has really good hair.
 
2013
Jennifer Lawrence brings publicity to her new film, Silver Linings Playbook, by falling at the Oscars.
   Miley Cyrus mainstreams twerking, which showed how far society had already descended. Her Dad’s ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ release in 1992 wasn’t considered a cultural high-point at the time: the apple does not fall far from the tree.
   Edward Snowden exposes mass surveillance on US citizens and even US allies. There is mass panic over the collection of data and the private sector pushes back, ensuring encryption of users’ private information … actually, nothing happened, and the NSA continued with its data collection while the Obama administration charged Snowden with a crime and tried to extradite him from Russia, where he had more freedom of speech.
   HM Queen Elizabeth II evens things up with Helen Mirren by winning a BAFTA for playing HM Queen Elizabeth II.
   Kate loves Willy, so they have a kid.
 
In the real world
   RIP Nelson Mandela.
 
2014

Ellen Degeneres broke Twitter with a selfie, but since everyone knew why, no one recalls if the fail whale went up.
   The world got a reminder not to upload private stuff to the cloud—as celebrities found out the hard way when their intimate pics were leaked. En masse, the world stopped uploading images to the cloud and to social media while they waited for Big Tech to fix things with their privacy … actually, nothing happened, and people uploaded more photos, in the hope that hackers would find them and release them.
   Scotland decides to stay part of the Union—for now. Of course they could trust London not to do something silly like leave the European Union.
   Bill Cosby makes Mel Gibson look respectable.
   Jay Leno decides he’s made enough for his car collecting hobby and leaves The Tonight Show, though he might still unquit. Watch your back, Jimmy.
   Kate loves Willy, so they expect another kid.
         
In the real world
   You’ve heard of the website You Park Like a C***? An American exchange student in Tübingen wanted to be featured on You’re Stuck in a C***.
   RIP Robin Williams, one of the funniest actors on Earth.
 
2015
Volkswagen, trying to outdo its links to Nazism and allegations of labour relations’ corruption, recalls tens of millions of diesel vehicles to see how far its brand would stretch. The US plans to fine VW way more than Ford or GM when they cheated on emissions, because, foreign.
   Donald Trump hits on an idea for a new reality show where he runs for president. Casting begins.
   Steve Harvey named the wrong winner at the Miss Universe pageant. At this point, being ‘Harveyed’ is a fairly innocent term.
   Jon Snow is very much alive and continues fronting the news on Channel 4.
   Kate loves Willy, so they have another kid.
 
In the real world
   Forget that August 9, 1976 Sports Illustrated cover; Caitlyn Jenner appears on the cover of Vanity Fair.
 
2016
The Chicago Cubs win the World Series, as detailed in Grey’s Sports Almanac.
   In November, the unthinkable happens: Wellington has a massive rainstorm, followed by an earthquake that triggers a tsunami warning, followed by flooding and extreme fog that leave the city cut off from the rest of the country. Summer would be called off while citizens figured out what to do. The UFO invasion does not take place, though with local body elections, certain candidates were replaced by replicants.
   Kate loves Willy—and Harry loves Meghan. Not a bad way to mark HM the Queen’s 90th birthday.
 
In the real world
   The UK votes to leave the European Union: Nigel Farage is overjoyed, but Boris Johnson and Michael Gove’s body language and facial expression reveal their dismay, and their words don’t match.
   I discover first-hand that Facebook is forcing downloads on people with the guise of ‘anti-malware’, even though this claim is dubious, and Facebook admits data are transferred back to the mother ship. I spend two years finding a journalist with the guts to write about it. Potentially millions have already been affected stretching to the beginning of the decade.
   RIP David Bowie.
 
2017
With the approval of the US audience, a massive, multi-channel series débuts, starring Donald J. Trump. It shows a dystopian America that elects a game show host its president, and warns us what can follow. This four-year experiment is expected to culminate in 2020 with an election special, which determines the series’ fate for a renewed batch of episodes.
   Kendall Jenner can do anything. She can solve riots with cans of Pepsi. Forget flower power.
   Kate loves Willy, so they expect another kid.
 
In the real world
   La La Land wins the Oscar for Best Picture, until it was taken off them and Midnight wins the Oscar for Best Picture. Someone Harveyed (first definition): presenter Warren Beatty had been handed the wrong card.
   Someone unplugs British Airways’ computers, and all flights at Heathrow and Gatwick are cancelled.
   News of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual harassment changes the meaning of getting ‘Harveyed’, and this one is far more horrific.
 
2018
Kanye West became Donald Trump’s biggest fan and joins the cast of his experimental four-year show. He plays an unhinged character who believes slavery was a choice.
   Harry loves Meg, and tie the knot. Meghan’s Dad, however, was too busy pursuing a career in modelling to attend.
   Taylor Swift gets the voters out, and the public hasn’t seen anything like this since David Hasselhoff brought down the Berlin Wall.
   Kate loves Willy, so they have another kid.
 
Reality is stranger
   Louise Matsakis at Wired writes the story on Facebook’s forced downloads, after I tipped her off. Facebook stopped pushing these downloads, after affecting millions and telling them it was for their own good.
   A month later, a pink-haired man named Christopher Wylie blew the lid on something much bigger: Facebook, in violation of a 2011 FTC consent decree, allowed a data company to harvest over 50 million users, swinging the outcome of the US presidential election.
   Roseanne comes back, Roseanne Barr Tweets something racist, Roseanne goes away.
   Some media job-shame actor Geoffrey Owens for working at Trader Joe’s; people come to his defence.
   Twelve boys are rescued from a cave in Thailand, after Elon Musk makes a coffin that others brand impractical, angering him so much he calls one of the rescuers ‘pedo guy’.
   Speaking of Elon, Tesla will call the cops on you if you’re a whistleblower, telling them you’re heading to work to shoot up the place.
   And yes, this does mean that the real news was whackier than the fiction.
 
2019
To keep the ratings up for his long-running show, Donald Trump gets jealous of Greta Thunberg, as she didn’t have to fake her Time Person of the Year cover.
   He heads to the UK for the D-Day commemorations, and bonds with HM the Queen, telling her, ‘My Dad was German and my Mum was Scottish, too.’

   The British attempt a remake of Donald Trump’s show. They search for a man who is born in New York, cheated on his first two wives, has five kids, funny hair, used to espouse more liberal views, before trying to sell ethnonationalism as part of his schtick. They find him: Boris Johnson, best known for his earlier work on Little Britain USA. Within weeks he’s already cheated on his partner Carrie by giving everyone in the UK a weak pound.
   Harry loves Meg, and this year, they didn’t need Kate and Willy to provide the baby news.
 
Reality is stranger
   Facebook says it will act in the wake of the Christchurch massacre, but by the following month, New Zealand’s privacy commissioner reveals they’ve done nothing, and are ‘morally bankrupt, pathological liars’.
   Twitter deletes the account of Will ‘Egg Boy’ Connolly, but not racist Australian politician Fraser Anning, again demonstrating how fearful they are of racists. Twitter also deleted an account that looked for anti-Semitic bots, as bots are good for business (just like Facebook).
   The Hong Kong police show their nostalgia for the British, by using the same colonial, “the natives are revolting” techniques once developed to quash piccaninnies.
   The UK charges in to the Ecuadorian Embassy to arrest Julian Assange, then subject him to psychological torture. The US and UK mainstream media continue vilifying him, while the Russian state media call it out.
   Mark Zuckerberg keeps meeting with right-wing figures, and people still want to keep making him rich by using Facebook, despite being lied to constantly about everything.

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Posted in business, culture, humour, interests, internet, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing, TV, UK, USA | No 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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That’s not Blofeld, it’s Brofeld

17.12.2019

I really had hoped that for the next Bond, we wouldn’t see ‘Brofeld’.
   I’ve never had a problem with M being a woman or Q being a nerd, but ignoring Fleming’s entire background for Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the Daniel Craig movies, and supplanting him into the Franz Oberhauser family as a foster brother to Bond, felt a step too far—a step, incidentally, that we have Sam Mendes to credit. We have yet another Bond villain, as penned by screenwriters Purvis and Wade, with Daddy issues, the same plot device used in The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day in the Brosnan era.
   Looks like the third Austin Powers movie contributed something back to the cinematic Bond-lore, when we learn Dr Evil was really Dougie Powers. The ret-conning of the first three Craig Bonds in Spectre felt forced. And professional reviewers have said plenty.
   No Time to Die looks decent enough from the trailer, but once again we’re exploring back stories. While this may be how blockbusters do it in the 2010s and the start of the 2020s, I just really don’t care about Brofeld and the silly world we find ourselves in now. The sooner they can get away from this tangent, the better, and as much as I liked Daniel Craig as Bond, I’m looking forward to the start of the new actor’s tenure some time early next decade. I’ve no idea what the world would expect in cinematic tastes come 2023 or so, but let’s hope all the pieces fall together once more for a satisfying Bond entry, well away from Mendes.

Trivium that no one cares about: No Time to Die is the first James Bond movie to be released in a year ending in 0.

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Capitalism falls down when it’s rigged

04.12.2019

Martin Wolf, writing in the Financial Times, touches on a few points that resonate with my readings over the years.
   He believes capitalism, as a system, is not a bad one, but it is bad when it is ‘rigged’; and that Aristotle was indeed right (as history has since proved) that a sizeable middle class is necessary for the functioning of a democracy.
   We know that the US, for instance, doesn’t really do much about monopolies, having redefined them since the 1980s as essentially OK if no one gets charged more. Hence, Wolf, citing Prof Thomas Philippon’s The Great Reversal, notes that the spikes in M&A activity in the US has weakened competition. I should note that this isn’t the province of “the right”—Philippon also shows that M&A activity reduced under Nixon.
   I alluded to the lack of competition driving down innovation, but Wolf adds that it has driven up prices (so much for the US’s stance, since people are being charged more), and resulted in lower investment and lower productivity growth.
   In line with some of my recent posts, Wolf says, ‘In the past decade, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft combined have made over 400 acquisitions globally. Dominant companies should not be given a free hand to buy potential rivals. Such market and political power is unacceptable. A refurbishment of competition policy should start from the assumption that mergers and acquisitions need to be properly justified.’
   History shows us that Big Tech’s acquisitions have not been healthy to consumers, especially on the privacy front; they colluded to suppress wages before getting busted. In a serious case, according to one company, Google itself commits outright intellectual property theft: ‘Google would solicit a party to share with it highly confidential trade secrets under a non-disclosure agreement, conduct negotiations with the party, then terminate negotiations with the party professing a lack of interest in the party’s technology, followed by the unlawful use of the party’s trade secrets in its business.’ (The case, Attia v. Google, is ongoing, I believe.) Their own Federal Trade Commission said Google ‘used anticompetitive tactics and abused its monopoly power in ways that harmed Internet users and rivals,’ quoting the Murdoch Press. We see many undesirable patterns with other firms there exercising monopoly powers, some of which I’ve detailed on this blog, and so far, only Europe has had the cohones to slap Google with massive fines (in the milliards, since 2017), though other jurisdictions have begun to investigate.
   As New Zealand seeks to reexamine its Commerce Act, we need to ensure that we don’t merely parrot the US and UK approach.
   Wolf also notes that inequality ‘undermines social mobility; weakens aggregate demand and slows economic growth.’ The central point I’ve made before on Twitter: why would I want people to do poorly when those same people are potentially my customers? It seems to be good capitalism to ensure there’s a healthy base of consumers.

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