Archive for the ‘culture’ category


Nice try, Marissa Mayer, but no conversion

30.01.2023

I had a chuckle at Marissa Mayer saying that Google results are worse because the web is worse.

As I’ve shown with a site:lucire.com search, which is a good one since our site pre-dates Google (just), Google is less capable of providing the relevant pages for a typical search.

I know how web spiders work in theory, and there’s no way that 2002 framesets are coming up in a 2023 crawl. We haven’t linked to those pages for a long, long time. But Google is throwing those into the top 10.

And we can extend this argument: Google, through its advertising, incentivized the creation of the very crap polluting the web.

Mayer said, ‘I think because there’s a lot of economic incentive for misinformation, for clicks, for purchases.

‘There’s a lot more fraud on the web today than there was 20 years ago.’

What’s the bet that these fraudulent pages are carrying Google ads?

As Don Marti, who knows a lot more about this than I do, said to me: ‘It’s all about moving traffic and ads away from sites that people want, and that advertisers want to sponsor, to places where Google gets a bigger % of the ad money (even if they’re on the sketchy side)’.

I think all this was foreseeable, and one could prove negligence on Google’s part. I still remember a time when established publishers like me wouldn’t join Google’s ad programmes because they were seen as an advertising service for second-rate (or worse) sites. They would appear on places like Blogger, which Google wound up buying.

Then the buggers wound up monopolizing the area, and things got worse for digital publishers as the ad rates got lower and lower—and, as Don notes, the money can find its way to the bottom feeders.

So Google does have a problem, and it is also the cause of a problem. Maybe breaking it up will solve some of them, and I’m glad the US Department of Justice is finally courageous enough to do something about it.
 
A spot-on insight from Brenda Wallace earlier today on Mastodon.
 

 

 
An irrelevant side note: it turns out the previous post was the 1,234th on this blog.


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From January 3, blog traffic went well down

16.01.2023

Around January 3, the regular traffic to each blog post fell off a cliff here. Either my posts have suddenly become a bore and not worth reading, or something else external has happened. Is Feedburner dead? Is it because my Twitter account is locked (by me, a few weeks ago)? Is it the death of Bing? Or were the hundreds of views per post (700 being typical) overinflated all these years? Anyone else observed quite a sudden change? (I did two posts on the 3rd, one is on 309 views, the other on 98 at the time of writing. The rest haven’t picked up much since the second post on the 3rd.)

It’s not a huge deal since I blog as catharsis and when I was on Vox (2006–9), I never looked at any stats anyway. But there was a part of me quite happy that my silly musings were useful or entertaining enough to warrant those visits.

A quick site:jackyan.com search gives us these figures (claimed, followed by actual). Including this post, there are 1,252 posts on Wordpress, and quite a few in the old Blogger archive (still live), so I’d expect over 1,000 results:
 
Mojeek: 456/456
Google: 708/288
Bing: 219/58
Yandex: 2,000/250
Baidu: 2,110/233
Gigablast: —/0
Yep: —/10
 

The western search engines are really low but Mojeek once again leads with pages delivered (and showed exactly the amount of results it said it would). I’m surprised that Baidu does so well here. Yandex has a lot of index pages in their results, so take their figure with a grain of salt; and Bing repeats from page to page—though 58 here (with repeats) is more than 10 for Lucire. Are the search engines the culprits? Or a Wordpress plug-in?


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A format so old, it’s new and radical

16.01.2023


Above: I spy Natasha Lyonne and a Plymouth Barracuda. So the car is part of her screen identity? So it should be, it’s television. I might have to watch this.
 
Two very fascinating responses come up in Wired’s interview with director Rian Johnson on the Netflix release of his film Glass Onion.

I’m not going to refer to it with the bit after the colon in the Netflix release because it doesn’t make any sense. If you’re that stupid to require its presence, you won’t be able to follow the film anyway. (Johnson was annoyed that it was added as well. I can see why.) The second Peter Ustinov-led Poirot film in 1982 wasn’t called Evil under the Sun: a Death on the Nile Mystery. Studios obviously thought we were smarter 40 years ago.

Anyway, the first quotation, on social media trolls, where Johnson believes they have to be shut down, not ignored. Between Wired’s senior editor Angela Watercutter and Johnson:

Wired: It does feel like a shift. Ewan McGregor issued a statement pretty quick saying that this doesn’t represent the fandom. And like you said at WIRED25, 99 percent of the fandom isn’t trolls.

Johnson: Well, and also, that 1 percent tries to do this shell game where they say, “Anyone who doesn’t like the movie is a racist.” That’s a bad faith argument. It’s so clear. We’re not talking about whether you like something or whether you don’t, we’re talking about whether you’re toxic and abusive online and whether you’re an odious sexist racist.

Just something to keep in mind if you still use Facebook or Twitter, where these sorts of discussions erupt.

Second one, and why I began blogging about the interview: Johnson is working on a TV series called Poker Face for Peacock, with weekly release and stand-alone stories.

Oh, so each episode is a standalone?
It was a hugely conscious choice, and it was something that I had no idea was gonna seem so radical to all the people we were pitching it to. [Laughs] The streaming serialized narrative has just become the gravity of a thousand suns to the point where everyone’s collective memory has been erased. That was not the mode of storytelling that kept people watching television for the vast history of TV. So it was not only a choice, it was a choice we really had to kind of fight for. It was tough finding a champion in Peacock that was willing to take a bet on it.

All my favourite series follow this format and I was deeply surprised that it’s been gone so long that it seems radical in the early 2020s.

It’s actually why I tend not to watch much television these days, because all those shows are history.

Who wants multi-episode story arcs? I want an hour of escapism and next week I want another hour and I honestly do not care if character A picks up traits or clues about their father’s brother’s roommate’s missing excalibur each week and its relevance to their superpowers. If the characters are reasonably fleshed out, then I’ll enjoy the standalone stories on their merits, thanks. Maybe give me a little bit of the underlying mystery in the first and last episodes of the season. Or maybe not, I just don’t care.

These are the sorts of things I have boxed sets of: The Persuaders, Return of the Saint, The Professionals, The Saint, The New Avengers, Mission: Impossible, UFO, Department S, The Sweeney, Dempsey and Makepeace, Hustle, Alarm für Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei. By the 2000s, I did think it was odd that Hustle was being compared to The Persuaders and how it parodied the formula. What parody? The shows are not that alike. Now I think the writer must have been getting at the standalone nature of its episodes (though there were some that connected through various seasons). It was that unusual by the 2000s for Hustle’s structure to be considered parodic.

As many of you know, I have Life on Mars but only because by then that was the closest thing to the formula, even if Sam Tyler is trying to figure out what’s happened to him in the background each week. I also have recordings of The Paradise Club, and prefer season 2 to season 1 because of its standalone episodes. I have fond memories of the US shows such as Knight Rider, Automan and CHiPs but never went as far as getting the DVDs.

Johnson is roughly the same age as me—he’s a year younger—so he’ll have grown up with the same influences. His statement that this was how people watched TV for the majority of its history is bang on. Just on that alone, I might find out what Poker Face is about. Maybe we Xers will start getting things we’d like to watch after decades of reality TV and a decade of realty TV, neither of which interests me.


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Elizabeth Arden is missing out on a big market here

13.01.2023

As this wasn’t shared much on social media, I can only assume not many of you share my sense of humour. It’s a fake, of course, since I’m feverish from the first dose of the shingles vaccine (if you look down the side-effects list, I have them all) I needed something to ease my way into my work day. But just imagine …
 


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Beware AI; the dangers of Google ads; and the beauty of Radio.garden

03.01.2023

Hat tip to Stefan Engeseth on this one: an excellent podcast with author, historian and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari.

Among the topics he covers, as detailed in the summary in Linkedin’s The Next Big Idea:

• AI is the first technology that can take power away from us
• if we are not careful, AI and bioengineering will be used to create the worst totalitarian regimes in history
• Be skeptical of technological determinism

We should be wary now—not after these technologies have been fully realized.

I also checked into Business Ethics today, a site linked from the Jack Yan & Associates links’ section (which dates back to the 1990s). The lead item, syndicated from ProPublica, is entitled, ‘Porn, Privacy Fraud: What Lurks Inside Google’s Black Box Ad Empire’, subtitled, ‘Google’s ad business hides nearly all publishers it works with and where billions of ad dollars flow. We uncovered a network containing manga piracy, porn, fraud and disinformation.’

This should be no surprise to anyone who reads this blog; indeed, this should be no surprise to anyone who has had their eyes open and breathes. This opaque black box is full of abuse, funds disinformation, endangers democracy, and exposes personal data to dodgy parties. As I outlined earlier, someone in the legal profession with cojones and a ton of funding and time could demonstrate that Google’s entire business should be subject to a massive negligence lawsuit. The authors of the article present more evidence that Google is being up to no good.

An excerpt, without revealing too much:

Last year, a marketer working for a Fortune 500 company launched a multimillion-dollar ad campaign …

Over the next few months, Google placed more than 1.3 trillion of the company’s ads on over 150,000 different websites and apps. The biggest recipient of ads — more than 49 million — was a website called PapayAds. The company was registered in Bulgaria less than two years ago and lists one employee, CEO Andrea De Donatis, on LinkedIn …

It seems impossible that 49 million ads were legitimately placed and viewed on PapayAds’ site over the span of several months … “I don’t have an explanation for this,” he said, adding that he does not recall receiving payment for such a large volume of ads.

I doubt this is isolated, and the story elaborates on how the scheme worked. And when Google realized its ads were winding up on inappropriate websites, the action it took was to keep doing it.
 

 

On a more positive note, I found out about Radio.garden in December on Mastodon (thank goodness for all the posts there these days, a far cry from when I joined in 2017) and have since been tuning in to RTHK Radio 1 in Hong Kong. I had no idea they even gave NZ dollar–US dollar exchange rates as part of their business news! The interface is wonderful: just rotate the planet and place the city of your choice within the circular pointer. It works equally well on a cellphone, though only in portrait mode there. You’d be amazed at what you can find, and I even listened to one of the pop stations in Jeddah.

My usual suspects are “favourited”: KCSM in San Mateo, Sveriges Radio P1, and RNZ National here. I might add Rix FM from Stockholm but I seem to have grown up a little since the days when its music was targeted to me.

It’s now been added to our company link list. Sadly, a few dead ones have had to be culled today. But I must say Radio.garden has been one of the best finds of 2022. Almost makes you want to surf to random sites again like we did in the 1990s.


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The expectation of invisibility

03.01.2023

I rewatched Princess of Chaos, the TV drama centred around my friend, Bevan Chuang. I’m proud to have stood by her at the time, because, well, that’s what you do for your friends.

I’m not here to revisit any of the happenings that the TV movie deals with—Bevan says it brings her closure so that is that—but to examine one scene where her character laments being Asian and being ‘invisible’. How hard we work yet we aren’t seen. The model minority. Expected to be meek and silent and put up with stuff.

Who in our community hasn’t felt this?

While the younger generations of the majority are far, far better than their forebears, the expectation of invisibility was something that’s been a double-edged sword when I look back over my life.

The expectation of invisibility was never going to sit well with me.

I revelled in being different, and I had a family who was supportive and wise enough to guide me through being different in our new home of Aotearoa New Zealand.

My father frequently said, when speaking of the banana Chinese—those who proclaim themselves yellow on the outside and white on the inside—that they can behave as white as they want, but there’ll always be people who’ll see the yellow skin and treat them differently. And in some cases, unfairly.

He had reason to believe this. My mother was underpaid by the Wellington Hospital Board for a considerable time despite her England and Wales nursing qualification. A lot of correspondence ensued—I still remember Dad typing formal letters on his Underwood 18, of which we probably still have carbons. Dad felt pressured—maybe even bullied to use today’s parlance—by a dickhead manager at his workplace.

Fortunately, even in the 1970s, good, decent, right-thinking Kiwis outnumbered the difficult ones, though the difficult ones could get away with a lot, lot more, from slant-eye gestures to telling us to go back to where we came from openly. I mean, February 6 was called New Zealand Day! Go back another generation to a great-uncle who came in the 1950s, and he recalls white kids literally throwing stones at Chinese immigrants.

So there was no way I would become a banana, and give up my culture in a quest to integrate. The parents of some of my contemporaries reasoned differently, as they had been in the country for longer, and hoped to spare their children the physical harm they endured. They discouraged their children from speaking their own language, in the hope they could achieve more.

As a St Mark’s pupil, I was at the perfect school when it came to being around international classmates, and teachers who rewarded academic excellence regardless of one’s colour. All of this bolstered my belief that being different was a good thing. I wasn’t invisible at my school. I did really well. I was dux.

It was a shock when I headed to Rongotai College as most of the white boys were all about conforming. The teachers did their best, but so much of my class, at least, wanted to replicate what they thought was normal society in the classroom, and a guy like me—Chinese, individualistic, with a sense of self—was never going to fit in. It was a no-brainer to go to Scots College when a half-scholarship was offered, and I was around the sort of supportive school environment that I had known in my primary and intermediate years, with none of the other boys keen to pigeonhole you. Everyone could be themselves. Thank goodness.

But there were always appearances from the conformist attitudes in society. As I headed to university and announced I would do law and commerce, there was an automatic assumption that the latter degree would be in accounting. I would not be visible doing accounting, in a back room doing sums. For years (indeed, until very recently) the local branch of the Fairfax Press had Asian employees but that was where they were, not in the newsroom. We wouldn’t want to offend its readers, would we?

My choice of these degrees was probably driven, subconsciously, by the desire to be visible and to give society a middle finger. I wasn’t going to be invisible. I was going to pursue the interests that I had, and to heck with societal expectations based along racial lines. I had seen my contemporaries at college do their best to conform: either put your head down or play sport. There was no other role. If you had your head up and didn’t play sport at Rongotai, there was something wrong with you. Maybe you were a ‘faggot’ or ‘poofter’ or some other slur that was bandied about, I dare say by boys who had uncertainties about their own sexuality and believed homophobia helped them.

I loved design. I loved cars. Nothing was going to change that. So I pursued a design career whilst doing my degrees. I could see how law, marketing and management would play a role in what I wanted to do in life. When I launched Lucire, it was “against type” on so many fronts. I was doing it online, that was new. I was Chinese, and a cis het guy. And it was a very public role: as publisher I would attend fashion shows, doing my job. In the early days, I would be the only Chinese person amongst the press.

And I courted colleagues in the press, because I was offering something new. That was also intentional: to blaze a trail for anyone like me, a Chinese New Zealander in the creative field who dared to do something different. I wasn’t the first, of course: Raybon Kan comes to mind (as a fellow St Mark’s dux) with his television reviews in 1990 that showed up almost all who had gone before with his undeniable wit; and Lynda Chanwai-Earle whose poetry was getting very noticed around this time. Clearly we needed more of us in these ranks if we were going to make any impact and have people rethink just who we were and just what we were capable of. And it wasn’t in the accounts’ department, or being a market gardener, serving you at a grocery store or takeaway, as noble as those professions also are. I have family in all those professions. But I was out on a quest to break the conformity that Aotearoa clung to—and that drove everything from typeface design to taking Lucire into print around the world and running for mayor of Wellington. It might not have been the primary motive, but it was always there, lingering.

This career shaped me, made me less boring as an individual, and probably taught me what to value in a partner, too. And thank goodness I found someone who also isn’t a conformist.

When we first met, Amanda did ask me why I had so many friends from the LGBTQIA+ community. I hadn’t really realized it, but on reflection, the answer was pretty simple: they, too, had to fight conformist attitudes, to find their happy places. No wonder I got along with so many. All my friends had stood out one way or another, whether because of their interests, their sexuality, how they liked to be identified, their race, their way of thinking, or something else. These are the people who shape the world, advance it, and make it interesting. They—we—weren’t going to be pigeonholed.
 

With fellow nonconformist Stefan Engeseth in Stockholm, 2010


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For the web, the glass is half full

12.12.2022


Manu Schwendener/Unsplash
 
I like what Robin Sloan had to say in his blog post, ‘A Year of New Avenues’. It’s typeset in Filosofia, which is another great reason to read it.

I’ve often said the trends of a new decade, or century, don’t emerge on the dot. You’ve got to get a few years in for them to become apparent. (Some even argue that we should look at decades beginning midway, e.g. 1975 to 1984, to identify groups of trends.)

Robin believes that the platforms of the 2010s are history.

And just as I’ve drawn parallels between 1973 and 2022, Robin feels that 2023 is going to have some of the energy of 2003, as far as the internet is concerned:

It is 2003 again. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram haven’t been invented yet … except, it’s also 2023, and they have, so you can learn from their rise and ruin …

As the platforms of the last decade crumble, we might put “founder” culture back on the shelf …

I want to insist on an amateur internet; a garage internet; a public library internet; a kitchen table internet. At last, in 2023, I want to tell the tech CEOs and venture capitalists: pipe down. Buzz off. Go fave each other’s tweets.

There’s more good stuff after that, which I’ll leave you to read. It’s a glass-half-full world of where the web can head, and if Robin’s even half-right, then it’s going to be an upbeat time for creative people.


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Stop worshipping people based on wealth

28.11.2022


 
Salon is on to something.

I know from first-hand experience that those who hold political office are not always the smartest. When you run against others for the same job, it doesn’t take long to spot the less intelligent, some buoyed by privilege, others by an unshakeable belief in their invincibility.

Its headline: ‘Is America’s infatuation with billionaires finally coming to an end?’

Amanda Marcotte begins, ‘It has long been evident that Elon Musk is a moron, at least to those willing to see it. Well before the Tesla CEO overpaid for Twitter in the throes of a tantrum, there was a chorus of mostly-ignored people pointing out, repeatedly, that Musk’s mental maturity appeared to have stagnated around the sixth grade.’

After citing a handful of cases where Musk fell short, ‘The business and tech press would be startled at his dumb behavior, but within 48 to 72 hours, it was all forgotten and Musk went back to being covered as if he were a genius, if perhaps an eccentric one.’

I only personally know one milliardaire and he was a cut above the rest of us in brains.

But Marcotte notes that Musk, D. J. Trump, Elizabeth Holmes and Sam Bankman-Fried are hardly geniuses, and takes aim at Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, too.

If we can get this into our heads, we might stop a similar worship in this country. Just when did this start? Thatcherism? Rogernomics? Just because someone has made a few bob doesn’t make them a political messiah or great leader—so stop being their fans and start choosing people to support based on merit.

Here in Aotearoa we appear to have two main parties bereft of ideas, with the opposition so desperate it wishes to import the culture wars from the US while gaslighting whenever possible. Neither is particularly palatable to me, and thanks to MMP, I’m going to be quite happy to look at the next tier, as I have done for more General Elections than not. Greens? TOP? Not ACT.
 
When I think about some rich guys I’ve had run-ins with—including one I had to sue at the start of my career (and beat)—there’s one thing that ties them together. They have to be slaves to the system, the establishment. They have to play by its rules in order to retain their directorships and social standing. They have to walk the tightrope of convention. They have to conform. Ironically, the more to the right of politics you go here (and the more individual freedom is preached), the more conformity there appears to be. Conformity is valued over merit or honour. This explains Sam Uffindell.

How bloody boring is that? I’m so deeply grateful, particularly to my family, for giving me the chance to be my own person and walk the freer path that I create. My grandmother, mother and father all happy to support my interests as an infant and letting me draw all over newspapers and magazines. My mother for encouraging me to follow my interests in design. My father for literally working behind the scenes for decades to help build my businesses. Conformity is for suckers. Innovation and societal advancement never came from conformity, and societies are better for it.


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I’ve left the data farms but occasionally revisit the Matrix

06.11.2022


Warner Bros.
 
Even though Twitter is now in its MySpaceX era, I won’t shut my account. I have scripts that run through it, and I don’t wish for some schmuck to come in later and claim my username. Mastodon has taken off this week, my Twitter notifications are at a low, and as I cross-post between them, Mastodon is likely going to become my main social network.

But I get those who don’t wish to leave outright. I have a 5,555-strong following including my personal interests on Twitter. However, it does seem that once a social medium becomes a personal-interest one, ironically I lose interest in it! It was the case with Instagram, and Pinterest never held my interest for that long because it encouraged you to post and browse based on your interests! Maybe it’s me, but I prefer to enjoy my interests in the real world, or using them to build up my own sites and publications, not someone else’s.

I’m not going to criticize anyone who chooses to stay on a platform for longer than its sell-by date, because that would make me a hypocrite.
 
Facebook
I don’t hide my disdain about Facebook, but it took me over a year—nearly two—between the time it forced me to download their malware (well, they said it was a malware scanner, but there were plenty of suspicious things about it) in 2016 and updating my wall for the last time in 2017. That incident did force me to reconsider using the site, but I hung in there, in part to investigate what was going on, but also because I was still fooled into thinking it could be good for business and our own site traffic. (Those algorithms will see to throttling any links for your work, as they have been doing for over a decade.)

But in late 2017, I wrote a farewell post and stopped updating my wall. People still tagged me, and those went up, but I haven’t posted anything on my own wall since. Some work pages still get the odd update but I can’t even remember when was the last time I headed in to do anything on my public page. I have frequented the occasional group and looked after client pages but those visits are infrequent.
 
Instagram
I began using Instagram more for cars and model cars, but by the end of 2019 I had had enough, even for things I was interested in. There were too many ads, and Instagram was still collecting (laughably incorrect) interests on me despite opting out. I went from a multiple-post-per-day user to someone who’d update with a month in between, then a quarter, and I barely bother now. The last time I visited, my most favoured filters had vanished as well, a long string of feature removals that began with the maps years before. There just wasn’t a point to the site any more. But it still took a long time between my initial boredom and frustration with the site to what is currently my last post. Might I go on once more? Maybe, to do a more fitting farewell or to test something.

It also didn’t help that Instagram locked Lucire out in 2021 for a week. Lucire’s ’Gram is still active, but not that active. We’ve never really been bothered with social media as a company, and thanks to Zoho Social, I don’t even need to go to Instagram in order to post to it.
 
Twitter
Twitter also locked Lucire out in 2021 and it took a threat addressed to their lawyers to get that reinstated. Their proper processes never worked, nor does knowing a senior member of staff at Twitter UK.

But it is a place that’s polarizing and unpleasant. I’m all for diverse viewpoints but I’d like the other party to consider mine as much as I consider theirs. That doesn’t happen as often any more. And with Mastodon holding up (only one abusive message so far, unprompted, from a total stranger in Portland, Oregon) why would we stay on Twitter? But it’s only November 2022, Musk has only taken ownership, and I saw the April–May 2022 influx eventually go quiet, too.

Nevertheless, I feel Twitter’s days as my main social media site are coming to a close, with cross-posting between Mastodon and Twitter a breeze. Before, I’d post mainly on Twitter and let things flow to Mastodon, and check both. In April I began originating posts on both sites. Now in November, there doesn’t seem to be much call to originate anything on Twitter, with my own follower count going from 330-odd to over 550. It may be a tenth of what I have at Twitter, but the unpleasantness is gone, for now. My regret is that my personal interests—in the last year Twitter became my place for interacting with other car enthusiasts, especially in Ireland and Scotland—aren’t really on Mastodon, but it follows the earlier patterns. Once personal interests become a big part, for some reason I don’t feel I need the fix any more.

Then there were Tumblr and NewTumbl, discussed in earlier posts, where censorship based around some 1950s US puritanical standards became problems.

Overall, as someone who owns sites, I would prefer to create something for my readers. That gives me an infinitely bigger thrill than participating in most social media threads. And if I were to participate in social media, it seems fairer to be in the federated system, owning my own data, than being part of a plutocrat’s plaything where you hand him a perpetual licence to your mahi.


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Engaging your team: an excellent video tutorial from Insight Creative

02.11.2022

This is particularly good stuff, especially in these times when companies want to hang on to their employees and foster a better internal culture. Insight Creative’s Staff Engagement Masterclass video tutorial has some excellent advice, in line with a lot of what I’ve preached over the years. Their model is excellent and really breaks down the process with some practical advice on how to communicate with your team. Check out the introduction video from CEO Steven Giannoulis below (one of the very few Rongotai College old boys I’m in touch with these days!) and click through on the link for the full tutorial (sign-up required).
 


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