Archive for December 2020


COVID-19 infections as percentage of tests done, December 7

07.12.2020

It’s hard not to be in a bubble sometimes, especially when that bubble is safe in the southern hemisphere and away from wars and COVID-19.
   With TVNZ having a New York bureau, we of course hear about how poorly the US is doing with COVID-19, and we also hear from the London bureau, where the numbers aren’t as staggering, so they don’t always make the six o’clock programme. Aljazeera English mentioned South Korea’s third wave, looking worse than the second, and I knew Hong Kong’s numbers were on the up.
   However, right though the month of November, I didn’t calculate positivity rates at all, even though I had been doing them most months, sometimes multiple times a month. These were going on to my NewTumbl blog, which I’ve decided not to update for the time being, for reasons already outlined.
   Doing them again since late October gave me quite a surprise. I knew Europe was having a rough time with it, but there was quite a change in the numbers. In fact, it wasn’t long ago that these rates were trending downwards for the majority of countries that I had been tracking; that is no longer the case. It’s rising almost everywhere apart from India, the KSA (which has sensibly and surely got its first wave down—I’ve seen days of under 200 infections), Singapore, Australia, and, of course, here in New Zealand.
   For the first time since I’ve been doing these calculations, we are at the bottom of the table, a fact that I’m relieved about, but it does make me worried about the rest of the world. I have a lot of family in the US and Hong Kong.
   The data come from Worldometers and they tend to source from official parties. I believe I loaded the page around 2200 GMT.

Brazil 25·77% ↑
France 10·86% ↑
Sweden 8·07% ↑
Italy 7·50% ↑
USA 7·33% ↑
Spain 7·12% ↓
India 6·57% ↓
Germany 4·11% ↑
UK 3·79% ↑
KSA 3·62% ↓
Russia 3·12% ↑
Singapore 1·25% ↓
South Korea 1·19% ↑
Taiwan 0·64% ↑
Australia 0·27% ↓
Hong Kong 0·159% ↑
New Zealand 0·158% ↓

   The arrows are in comparison to the last set of calculations from October 26:

Brazil 24·63% ↓
France 7·651% ↑
India 7·645% ↓
Spain 7·16% ↑
USA 6·67% ↓
Sweden 5·33% ↓
KSA 4·50% ↓
Italy 3·59% ↑
UK 2·80% ↑
Russia 2·64% ↓
Germany 2·15% ↓
Singapore 1·66% ↓
South Korea 1·02% ↓
Taiwan 0·55% ↓
Australia 0·32% ↓
New Zealand 0·18% ↓
Hong Kong 0·15% ↓

which were measured against a bunch from September 2.

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Posted in China, France, Hong Kong, India, internet, media, New Zealand, TV, UK, USA | 1 Comment »


Why con?

07.12.2020

During the course of the 2010s, I came across two con artists. One thing that united them was they were men. But they could not have been more different: one was rather elaborate and was the subject of a Panorama documentary; the other was a rank amateur and, at least in the situation we were in, never fooled us.
   I won’t name them as I’ve no wish to add to their notoriety, but here’s the real kicker: both had the means to do well legitimately if they each followed through honestly.
   The first one was clever enough to rope in people from very different parts, essentially setting up a publishing operation. But it was a swindle, and people were left in debt and jobless.
   However, if it had been legit, it would have actually done quite well, and if the con artist’s aim was money, then he would have made some, over a long period, which would have sustained him and his lifestyle.
   The second was not clever but came to a business partner of mine with a proposal to become a shareholder. We heard him out, he proposed an amount, and we drafted a cast-iron contract that could see him get a return on his investment, and protect the original principal. The money never came, of course, and we weren’t going to alter the share register without it. He might have hoped that we would.
   Again, he would have got something from it. Maybe not as good a return as property but better than the bank.
   The first is now serving time at Her Majesty’s pleasure after things caught up with him and he was extradited to where he had executed an earlier con; the second, after having had his face in the Sunday Star–Times, was last heard from in Australia where he conned his own relatives. He’s wanted by the police here.
   I don’t know where the gratification is here. And rationally, leaving honesty and morals aside (as they do), wouldn’t it be better making money regularly than swindling for a quick fix that nets you less? Is it down to laziness, making them less desirous to follow through?
   On the first case, I did have the occasion to speak to one lawyer pursuing him. I asked him about my case, since my financial loss was relatively small compared to the others taken in (namely a FedEx bill that a friend of mine helped me get a decent discount on because of her job). Where’s the con? I was told that it might not have been apparent as the con artist’s MO was to draw different strands, sometimes having them result in something, and sometimes not.
   Whatever the technique, it failed him anyway.
   And what a waste of all that energy to create something that not only looked legit (as in the TV series Hustle) but could have functioned legitimately with so many good people involved.
   That did make the 2010s rather better than the 2000s when the shady characters included a pædophile (who, to my knowledge, is also doing time), a sociopath, a forger, and a US fashion label that conned a big shipment’s payment out of us. I doubt I’d be famous enough to warrant a biography but they would make interesting stories!

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Posted in business, New Zealand, publishing | No Comments »


The most likely explanation: Google doesn’t like academic reports that harm its interests

07.12.2020


TechCrunch/Creative Commons 2·0

I summarized this article to my friends as: ‘How can we trust Big Tech? Google didn’t like hearing the truth from an intelligent woman, so they forced her out.’ And my friend Cathy pointed out it’s a woman of colour.
   And if you take the basic position that Google lies, just as I take the basic position that Facebook lies, then you’d rightly take Google’s Jeff Dean’s explanation with a grain of salt. The MIT Technology Review noted that it doesn’t hold water based on practice.
   The ousted woman, Dr Timnit Gebru, was the co-lead of Google’s ethical AI team—you can already spot the oxymoron as there is no place at Google, a company exercising monopoly powers and paying little tax, for ethics.
   Dean claimed Gebru resigned voluntarily, which is being disputed by both current and former Google employees. The Review notes:

Online, many other leaders in the field of AI ethics are arguing that the company pushed her out because of the inconvenient truths that she was uncovering about a core line of its research—and perhaps its bottom line. More than 1,400 Google staff and 1,900 other supporters have also signed a letter of protest.

   Dr Emily Bender of the University of Washington said in Ars Technica, ‘From the outside, it looks like someone at Google decided this was harmful to their interests.
   ‘Academic freedom is very important—there are risks when [research] is taking place in places that [don’t] have that academic freedom.’
   It wouldn’t be the first time Google attempted to silence a critic, then claimed it did nothing of the sort.
   And if it doesn’t like being warned about the dangers of AI, then what sort of horror awaits us from Google in that space? It’s not hard to foresee AI bots operating online being harmful or generating misinformation, with nothing to hold them back. Again from the Review:

In 2017, Facebook mistranslated a Palestinian man’s post, which said “good morning” in Arabic, as “attack them” in Hebrew, leading to his arrest.

   We are letting these companies get away with being accessories to crimes and, in Facebook’s case, to genocide (over which it withheld evidence).

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NewTumbl: a parting response

05.12.2020

After I posted that I would leave NewTumbl (not quite those words—I said I would still return to check out a few people I followed), I had a very nice note from Alex, one of the US folks there whose posts I regularly enjoyed, along with those of Marius and a few others. Alex reblogged my post and you can see his additional words here. Below was my response (italics added). He’s faced ridiculous actions against his posts as well, which I allude to. I suspect he’s slightly older than me (he recalls actress Angel Tompkins, for instance, after I posted about her—and I’ve a feeling he remembers her in period, not in reruns), but not by much.

Thank you for your good wishes. It’s ludicrous, isn’t it, that something as wholesome as Samantha from Bewitched would be marked O here? There were just too many examples where the inmates are running the asylum—I had a couple of modelling images marked M despite there being no nudity, for instance—and when that kept happening, it was time to depart.
   I never really felt comfortable having blogging presences across the ’net anyway. When I joined Vox I had some trouble deciding what to put there and what to put on my main blog. Eventually I decided silly stuff would go on Vox and business stuff on my blog. But as each presence shut down (Vox today is something else entirely), I lost content. Another website called Blogcozy also went a couple of years ago and I lost my content there.
   Tumblr was that “secondary home” for over a decade before I came to NewTumbl, and I only came here after noticeable censorship at Tumblr—you couldn’t search for the word NewTumbl, for instance. But the censoring here is worse than anything there now. I’ve never had any posts there taken down other than a few by their bot, which I appealed, and won. If there was an appeal process here I might have stayed. It was one thing Tumblr did right but I get that Dean and co. lack the resources.
   As I get older, the less patience I have for those who make daft decisions—and maybe middle age has taught me that there are some people too far down the intellectual food chain for me to waste time on. You and I stick by the rules and we still get penalized—there are régimes that do this and people flee those countries!
   So consolidating everything back to my own space makes sense, even if I have to pay for the storage. It’s my place, so I can put up what I like. Because of a lot of work content I will have to monitor myself a bit, and the image gallery plug-in doesn’t show the captions in the enlarged view (I may hack the PHP files to see if I can change that), but I welcome your visits. The car posts will still keep heading up, for a start. And I will return here to NewTumbl from time to time, principally to look at posts from you, @vergangene-automarken, and a few of the regulars I followed.

   I still would like to see NewTumbl do well, but they really need to refine their post patrols, which make Mary Whitehouse look liberal.

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Posted in culture, interests, internet, USA | 1 Comment »


When Sibelius started our TV day

04.12.2020

If I hadn’t mentioned this on Twitter, I might not have had a hunt for it. When I first came to this country, this was how TV1 started each morning—I believe at 10.30 a.m. prior to Play School. I haven’t seen this since the 1970s, and I’m glad someone put it on YouTube.

   I had no idea, till I was told on Twitter by Julian Melville, that this was adapted from the National Film Unit’s very successful 1970 Osaka Expo film, This Is New Zealand, which was quite a phenomenon, but before my time here. And I wouldn’t have given it any thought if it weren’t for American Made airing on TV last weekend, where the RPO’s ‘Hooked on Classics’ was used in the score, and I got to thinking about Sibelius’s ‘Karelia Suite’, op. 11, which was contained within that piece. I’m not sure if our lives were enriched by these interconnected thoughts or whether YouTube and this post have just sucked up more time.

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Facebook prefers bots

04.12.2020

If I was on Facebook for personal stuff, I’m certain I could repeat those days where I found over 200 bots per day, but these days I’m only reporting the ones that hit groups or client pages.
   However, I’d say over 90 per cent of the applicants to one of the groups are bots or at least accounts running automated scripts to get into groups to hide their other activity, or to bombard those groups with spam. Facebook has improved its ratio of getting rid of them, but it still leaves roughly half untouched. In other words, if you are running Facebook bots, you’ll have a one in two chance that Facebook’s own people will give you a pass because they can’t tell what bot activity looks like. Little has changed since 2014.


Two Facebook accounts using the same software, it seems, getting caught on a group page. Both were reported, only one was taken down, despite them using the same techniques.

   I thought I’d also grab some screenshots on how automated activity is actually preferred on Facebook, too. I’ve mentioned this here before but here’s an illustrated example from Lucire’s page.
   First up, an automated addition that has come via IFTTT, which picks up the Tweets (also automated) and turns them into Facebook posts. This looks pretty good, and there’s even a preview image taken from the page.

   Let’s say I want to tag the company involved and remove the signature line. Facebook now lets me do this without starting a new line for the tagged business, so that’s an improvement on where we were half a year ago, where it was impossible using the new look.


   So far so good—at least till I hit ‘save’ and the preview image vanishes.

   I usually get the logo only when I feed in a post from scratch directly on to Facebook (assuming Facebook doesn’t corrupt the link and turn it into a 404). In other words, automated, or bot, activity gives you a better result than doing things directly on the site.
   I realize I could add some lines into the code to force the Facebook scraper to seek out the biggest image, but then we’re going into territory beyond that of the average user, and frankly I’m not skilled enough to do it in PHP. And why doesn’t Facebook require that of the bot when it picked up the page to begin with?
   That’s enough for today—I only wanted to illustrate that earlier example as I didn’t do it properly earlier in the year, and give a fresh bot warning. They’re still out there, and I’m betting most pages and groups have inflated numbers where non-humans are messing up their reach—and that’s just fine for Facebook knowing that people will have to pay to get around it.

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Looks like Twitter makes up your settings, too

02.12.2020

Speaking of Twitter doing weird things, I checked out some of Lucire’s settings on there today, something I haven’t looked at for a long time.


   I do not ever recall telling them I was in Malaysia—it’s not a country we’ve even had a correspondent in—and Estonian and Welsh were never marked as languages. I’m not even that sure about Romanian since our edition there shut in the 2000s and the Twitter account dates from 2009.
   Given yesterday’s post, I should be able to be more certain: I didn’t put in Malaysia, and I didn’t put in Romanian.
   I will give them one compliment: the advertising preferences were a damned sight more accurate than anything I saw on Facebook (back when Facebook let me see them). I still deleted them though.

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Confirmed: Twitter does unfollow people

01.12.2020

Twitter bird fallen
Pixabay

People have long suspected that Twitter “unfollows” without human intervention (I’ve heard the stories for over a decade), but I never had any first-hand proof. Like the Google Ads Preferences Manager (they don’t use apostrophes in Mountain View) situation in 2011, where I initially doubted myself, thinking maybe I hadn’t opted out when in fact I had, Twitter had me thinking the same thing for years. Maybe I was never friends with that person. The technology wouldn’t have unfriended them—there would be little point. Maybe I only ever saw them in re-Tweets.
   But finally along comes a case where I know for a fact I never unfollowed someone, and he says he never unfollowed me. (Please bear with me while I use the colloquialisms without putting them into quotation marks.)
   I have a Twitter plug-in that tracks unfollowers and was very surprised when a real-world friend, Jordan, showed up on the list. I looked at his account, and, to my surprise, I wasn’t following him. I knew for a fact I was—this was one case where I was sure, and I had even replied to something of his last week. It is, as my fellow RNZ Panellist Andrew Frame put it, ‘Eureka!’ Or, to bring it out of ancient Greece and into language my contemporaries can understand: ‘You’re nicked.’ You can read the thread here.
   So just like Google in 2011—which had likely been lying to the public for two years about opting out through its Ads Preferences Manager—I am right and the technology is wrong. Back then I really had opted out and Google deceptively opted me back in, something which I point out ad nauseam on this blog. Here, neither Jordan nor I unfriended the other.
   Last year I wondered why I wasn’t following Peter Lambrechtsen, another IRL friend, but put it down to my own omission; I don’t believe that to be the case any more.
   You may wonder how hard it is for a site to keep track of who follows whom, but I have long accused Facebook of having databasing problems, based on my experience as a regular user from 2007 to 2017; surely the same thing must afflict Twitter as it scaled to milliards of users. When in doubt, don’t: experience says that when it comes to these big sites, usually it’s not your fault, but the technology’s. Twitter is as fallible as Google and Facebook.

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Posted in internet, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


December 2020 gallery

01.12.2020

Here are the images that have piqued my interest for December 2020. For November’s gallery, click here (all gallery posts are here). And for why I started this, here’s my earlier post on this blog, and also here and here on NewTumbl.


 

Sources
   Auckland City Library opening, via Auckland City Council Residents’ Group on Twitter.
   Jono Barber scanned the Aston Martin DB5 story from newspaper clippings he recently found.
   From the Instagram of hairstylist extraordinaire, my friend Adrian Gutierrez. Photographed by Steve Yu, hair by Adrian Gutierrez, make-up by Meri, modelled by Chanel Margaux.
   Volkswagen Käfer advertisement from the Car Factoids on Twitter.
   Star Trek–Star Wars series from Alex on NewTumbl.
   Manawatū Guardian front page relates to this Tweet.
   Alexa Breit promotes masks by Peggell, via Instagram.
   Amber Peebles photographed by me in 2003 on a Voigtländer Bessamatic Deluxe.
   Google Forms’ 419 scam relates to this Toot.
   Peugeot 504 advertisement from the Car Factoids on Twitter.
   Triumph TR7 brochure cover from the Car Factoids on Twitter.
   Katharina Mazepa photograph from her Instagram.
   More about the JAC Jiayue A5 (JAC J7 for export) at Autocade.
   Tardis image from Alex on NewTumbl.
   More information on the Toyota Yaris Cross at Autocade.

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Posted in cars, China, design, gallery, interests, internet, media, TV, UK, USA | 1 Comment »