Archive for February 2020


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 »


Five stars for Dell’s P2418D monitor

12.02.2020


Working at night: the making of this blog post

I had to put in a good word for Dell’s P2418D monitor (earlier post here) after the multiple negative reviews left by one person.
   If I had to write something negative, it would be about their website blocking me from submitting my positive review by claiming I was using an ad blocker. I wasn’t. But I do have ‘Do not track’ turned on and I wonder if that is doing it.
   Eventually I got the review through on my eighth attempt by using a vulnerable browser: one with no privacy plug-ins, allowing all cookies, with all the default tracking that Big Tech likes.

After reading another reviewer’s multiple entries, I had a few doubts about this monitor, but I’m glad I bit the bullet anyway. I bought mine in 2020, so they may have ironed out the bugs.
   First up, the QHD resolution is a great thing to have. Windows 10 automatically scaled everything 125 per cent for me, and the programs that were a bit fuzzy were easily sorted—you just go into the properties and make sure that they use their own magnification and not the OS’s. I’m actually more productive as a result of being able to see the finer detail. I work in publishing and it’s great to be able read the smaller copy on a spread. Before I would have to zoom in and out to do a lot of my work.
   I don’t really need 27 inches as I don’t want to move my neck to see the different corners of the screen: 24 is plenty for me. I actually have a feeling 27 inches would decrease my productivity, but that’s just my personal preference.
   I’ve noticed no backlight bleed, the edge is fine for me and the desktop appears normally. As to the prompts that appear when the monitor goes into sleep mode (one source of complaint for one reviewer)—for me it doesn’t sleep for ages (it must be my settings) and when it does, I’m usually out of the room. In three weeks I’ve seen those prompts once.
   I had a problem with the driver—Windows’ security settings prevented me from opening the executable—but I was able to open it using an elevated command prompt. The controls you need for resolution, brightness, contrast, etc. are in there, too, if you don’t wish to fiddle with the buttons on the front of the unit itself.
   All the cables are included (USB 3 downstream, Displayport, power), and it’s been great having USB ports on my monitor. It’s allowed me to tidy up the external HDs a lot (I run three). Going from DVI-D to Displayport has been useful, too—I know I shouldn’t notice 1 ms improvement in speed but I really sense that I do!
   The blue-light-blocking comfort mode means I don’t get sore eyes if I work late, another bonus.
   I’m glad someone makes QHD at this size—in fact, I know Dell does 4K at this size, too. But QHD is fine for me—of the programs not using Windows’ scaling, I don’t want the menus to get too small! A great investment to my everyday computing.

   Hope that redresses the balance a bit more for Dell. I get that the other person is annoyed, but stick it all in one review, please!

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Posted in technology | 2 Comments »


Thumbs-up for Thomas and Professional Painting & Decorating Ltd. in Wellington

09.02.2020

On Linkedin, they say you shouldn’t connect with people you haven’t worked with, although in the early days of the site, there were some of us keen to connect with the “power connectors”, those who had amassed lots of connections. Who knows if they really had worked with that many people? But before we knew much about social media and one’s regular tribes, some of those numbers looked really appealing. In later years I found myself disconnecting from them to give Linkedin visitors a more accurate picture of who I had actually worked with; and sadly, in some cases, disconnecting from people I really had worked with because I noticed my contact list was getting raided by newer power-connector wannabes.
   But here’s someone I haven’t connected with on Linkedin, as I assume he isn’t on it (based on a fairly comprehensive search): Thomas Nguyen of Professional Painting & Decorating Ltd. And you know he must be good if he’s wound up getting a blog post about him.
   Thomas has been working on my partner’s rental property, both inside and outside. He’s proved to be reliable and accommodating. And when another contractor—who I still don’t think knew what he was doing—screwed up his part of it and walked off the job, we asked Thomas to finish things up, which he and his team did.
   So far he’s stuck to his quotes, been very flexible as we asked him to do extra things, and he’s even gone above and beyond in a couple of instances. He’s taken all feedback on board, too, like a real pro. Even his SMSs are well written!
   No surprise he’s received four 100 per cent ratings on No Cowboys.
   We checked out some of his earlier work before we hired him, so we aren’t one-offs.
   He’s been going for five years and relied on word of mouth to get business. I told him I had a particularly big mouth when it came to Twitter, but a blog post seems less fleeting, and more sincere—we really do think highly of him. If you need someone in the Wellington area, Thomas and Professional Painting & Decorating Ltd. are highly recommended.
   Daniel at Harrisons has looked after us on the carpet front and he’s also proved capable and friendly. Out of the carpet people we’ve approached, he’s also been the best, though admittedly you don’t have as much contact with the carpet sales’ rep as you do with your painters.

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Posted in business, marketing, New Zealand, Wellington | 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 [email protected] 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 »


Human-centred peripherals should be the norm

02.02.2020

I’ve had a go at software makers before over giving us solutions that are second-best, because second-best has become the convention. While I can think of an explanation for that, viz. Microsoft packaged Windows computers in the 1990s with Word and Outlook Express, it’s harder to explain why peripherals haven’t been human-centred.
   I thought about this with my monitor. It’s “only” 24 inches, despite being QHD. But it works for me, as 27 or more would see me move my neck to view the corners. I was always happy with the 24-inch Imac: I had no desire for it to be larger. If I had 27 inches I might need to sit further back, cancelling out the upsizing. Despite saying this, I can see in some situations where people would be quite happy with 27 (and even larger ones for coders), but it begs the question of why there aren’t more 24-inch QHD monitors on the market. My friend Chelfyn Baxter believes it is the optimum size for productivity (granted, he told me this over five years ago, though I still see little to fault him). Are our suppliers driving us to larger sizes, just as car importers are driving us to automatics here? (The latter is not backed up by any research on preferences, to my knowledge.)
   The same thing applies to keyboards. To me, the optimum width of a keyboard is around 40 cm. Any wider, you’re reaching for your mouse and causing repetitive strain injuries. I’ve stuck to my 40 cm rule for a long time and haven’t had the sort of pain I had in the late 1990s and early 2000s when I had a standard-width keyboard. The mouse is roughly where I expect it to be, and I wouldn’t object if it were closer still. Again, it begs the question of why 40 cm isn’t a standard if it saves us from pain.

   Then there’s the mouse—I now use a Microsoft Intellimouse 1.1 from the early 2000s after my 2005-made, 2015-new one gave up. I know there’s a lot of comedy around the US president having small hands, but we’re no longer in the sort of society whose products change to appease a leader. But regular mice are awfully small, a trend that seemed to have begun in the 2010s. I can’t hold them and maybe I have large hands, but I can’t be alone. In so many places I visit, I see some very uncomfortable hands try to grip a small mouse. I learned that was a bad thing in the days of the round 1999 Apple USB mouse (it wasn’t the Imouse), which created a trade in adapters that snapped on around it.
   Fortunately, mice manufacturers do offer larger sizes, recognizing that not all of us accept a child’s size as the standard. Here I can understand why mice have downsized: the manufacturers attempting to save a few bob and forcing more of us into it. However, there must be a decent part of the population who think, ‘I’ll be uncomfortable with that. I won’t buy it,’ and let the market move accordingly.
   I wonder how much more comfortable and productive a chunk of the population would be by following a few basic rules: have a monitor—whatever size suits you—where you limit strain on your neck; have a keyboard around 40 cm wide or less; and have a mouse which your hand can rest on (and keyboard wrist rests and mouse wrist rests to suit to make you comfortable). But I know most of us will just go, ‘The default is good enough,’ and unnecessarily suffer.

Speaking of practical, I hope Mudita gets its designs on the market sooner rather than later. Who needs pizzazz when we all value simplicity? Technology serving humanity: what a novel idea! Here’s how we can help.

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Posted in design, technology | 1 Comment »


Don’t give the keys to the company Twitter to just anyone

02.02.2020

A few thoughts about Twitter from the last 24 hours, other than ‘Please leave grown-up discussions to grown-ups’: (a) it’s probably not a smart idea to get aggro (about a joke you don’t understand because you aren’t familiar with the culture) from your company’s account, especially when you don’t have a leg to stand on; (b) deleting your side of the conversation might be good if your boss ever checks, although on my end ‘replying to [your company name]’ is still there for all to see; and (c) if your job is ‘Chief Marketing Officer’ then it may pay to know that marketing is about understanding your audiences (including their culture), not about signalling that your workplace hires incompetently and division must rule the roost.
   I’m not petty enough to name names (I’ve forgotten the person but I remember the company), but it was a reminder why Twitter has jumped the shark when some folks get so caught up in their insular worlds that opposing viewpoints must be shouted down. (And when that fails, to stalk the account and start a new thread.)
   The crazy thing is, not only did this other Tweeter miss the joke that any Brit born, well, postwar would have got, I actually agreed with him politically and said so (rule number one in marketing: find common ground with your audience). Nevertheless, he decided to claim that I accused Britons of being racist (why would I accuse the entirety of my own nation—I am a dual national—of being racist? It’s nowhere in the exchange) among other things. That by hashtagging #dontmentionthewar in an attempt to explain that Euroscepticism has been part of British humour for decades meant that I was ‘obsessed by war’. Guess he never saw The Italian Job, either, and clearly missed when Fawlty Towers was voted the UK’s top sitcom. I also imagine him being very offended by this, but it only works because of the preconceived notions we have about ‘the Germans’:

The mostly British audience found it funny. Why? Because of a shared cultural heritage. There’s no shame in not getting it, just don’t get upset when others reference it.
   It’s the classic ploy of ignoring the core message, getting angry for the sake of it, and when one doesn’t have anything to go on, to attack the messenger. I see enough of that on Facebook, and it’s a real shame that this is what a discussion looks like on Twitter for some people.
   I need to get over my Schadenfreude as I watched this person stumble in a vain attempt to gain some ground, but sometimes people keep digging and digging. And I don’t even like watching accident scenes on the motorway.
   And I really need to learn to mute those incapable of sticking to the facts—I can handle some situations where you get caught up in your emotions (we’re all guilty of this), but you shouldn’t be blinded by them.
   What I do know full well now is that there is one firm out there with a marketing exec who fictionalizes what you said, and it makes you wonder if this is the way this firm behaves when there is a normal commercial dispute. Which might be the opposite to what the firm wished.
   As one of my old law professors once said (I’m going to name-drop: it was the Rt Hon Prof Sir Geoffrey Palmer, KCMG, AC, QC, PC), ‘The more lawyers there are, the more poor lawyers there are.’ It’s always been the same in marketing: the more marketers there are, the more poor marketers there are. And God help those firms that let the latter have the keys to the corporate Twitter account.

I enjoyed that public law class with Prof Palmer, and I wish I could remember other direct quotations he made. (I remember various facts, just not sentences verbatim like that one—then again I don’t have the public law expertise of the brilliant Dr Caroline Morris, who sat behind me when we were undergrads.)
   It’s still very civil on Mastodon, and one of the Tooters that I communicate with is an ex-Tweeter whose account was suspended. I followed that account and there was never anything, to my knowledge, that violated the TOS on it. But Twitter seems to be far harder to gauge in 2019–20 on just what will get you shut down. Guess it could happen any time to anyone. Shall we expect more in their election year? Be careful when commenting on US politics: it mightn’t be other Tweeters you need to worry about. And they could protect bots before they protect you.

Since I haven’t Instagrammed for ages—I think I only had one round of posting in mid-January—here’s how the sun looked to the west of my office. I am told the Canberra fires have done this. Canberra is some 2,300 km away. For my US readers, this is like saying a fire in Dallas has affected the sunlight in New York City.
   I’ve had a big life change, and I think that’s why Instagramming has suddenly left my routine. I miss some of the contact, and some dear friends message me there, knowing that doing so on Facebook makes no sense. I did give the impression to one person, and I publicly apologize to her, that I stopped Instagramming because the company is owned by Facebook, but the fact is I’ve done my screen time for the day and I’ve no desire to check my phone and play with a buggy app. Looks like seven years (late 2012 to the beginning of 2020) was what it took for me to be Instagrammed out, shorter than Facebook, where it took 10 (2007 to 2017).

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Posted in branding, business, culture, humour, internet, New Zealand, politics, TV, UK, Wellington | No Comments »