Archive for the ‘India’ category

What succeeds my Meizu M6 Note?


My Meizu M6 Note has had to be retired, due to an expanding battery, something which I probably shouldn’t have tolerated for so long (it began happening months ago). I only made the call to stop using it last week after the volume buttons could no longer function, and I probably should have stopped earlier still* as it would have been easier to get the SIM and micro SD cards out!
   My original plan was to go slightly newer and opt for a Note 9, and I had located a vendor on Aliexpress who was prepared to send it to me with the Chinese Flyme OS installed. But my sense is that Meizu is now past its prime, and everything seems to be shutting down.
   I had been logging into the app store daily for over a year to earn points, but Meizu informed us that it would cease to record log-ins, and we had to redeem what we could by January. Its now-useless default music app I’ve already blogged about. No one answers international queries any more and from what I can tell, official Meizu reps seldom frequent the Chinese forums—while the international forums consist of frustrated users talking among themselves.
   And this is coming from a self-confessed Meizu fan. I chose the M2 Note back in 2015–16 and if it weren’t for the damaged screen, I might never have bought the M6 Note. For now, I’m back to using the M2, which is slower, and the battery doesn’t hold its charge quite as well any more, but at least everything from the M6 Note has synced to it. With my app usage lower than it was in 2012, I don’t notice any real lags in performance within the programs I do use, something that I couldn’t say even two years ago when I was still popping into Instagram daily. Only the camera gets annoying with its slowness. I have gone away from the Swype keyboard though, as Swype no longer sends verification codes to your email to sync your custom word dictionary. I’m muddling my way through Microsoft’s Swiftkey, which has proved a tolerable successor (the chief gains are the ability to access en and em dashes and ellipses from the keyboard without switching languages). It seems to forget that you’ve pressed shift in order to write a proper noun (you have to do this twice for it to stick!) but it is learning words like Lucire and Autocade as well as my email address.
   Readers may recall that after I had the M2 Note’s screen repaired, it would no longer charge, except at the store in Johnsonville (Repair Plus) that fixed it! The lads there would never tell me why they could charge it and I couldn’t and just grinned, while I told them how patently ridiculous the situation was, that even a new charging cable could not work; in fact none of my chargers did. They didn’t seem to care that this was the predicament they put me in. The issue—and I don’t know if they are to blame—is that the charging port is looser than it was, and it needs a very decent micro USB connector. That was thanks to PB Tech for telling me the truth—and a thumbs-down to Repair Plus for not even trying to sell me a better cable! Moral of the story: use people for the one thing that can do, but don’t expect much more from them, not even basic after-sales service.
   With its “fault” remedied about a year and a half ago, I had a phone to use once I put the micro SD and SIM cards back in, though Amanda isn’t able to hear me that clearly on it when I’m at the office, and I’m sure I’ve missed calls and SMSs probably due to limits with the frequencies it uses (though I had checked six years ago it would handle the Vodafone 3G and 4G frequencies).
   So a new phone is needed because the “phone” function of the M2 isn’t up to par. I don’t need the latest and greatest, and thanks to the pace of development, a phone launched in 2020 is already obsolete in China. It seems that if Meizu is on the way down that I should go to its arch-rival, Xiaomi, and get the Note 9’s competitor, which roughly has the same name: the Redmi Note 9.
   The Xiaomi names are all confusing and the Indian market has different phones with the same names, to add to the confusion already out there. I don’t profess to know where the S, T, Note, Pro, and the rest fit, but let’s just say I’ve been led to get a Redmi Note 9.
   PB had first dibs but as the sales’ rep could not tell me whether I could easily put the Chinese version of MIUI on it, in order to rid myself of the Google bloatware, then I couldn’t safely buy one. I wasted enough time on the M6 Note on that front, and my installation of its Chinese OS could well have been down to a fluke. He also refused to tell me the price difference between the sale units and the shop-soiled demo ones other than it was small, and, ‘You may as well buy a new one.’
   There’s no irony here with privacy: Chinese apps at least tell you what legislation covers their usage, unlike western apps which don’t mention US Government snooping yet Google passes on stuff anyway. In all the years I’ve used the Meizus there has been nothing dodgy in terms of the data received and sent, as far as I know, and there’s nothing questionable constantly running such as Google Services that transmits and drains your battery.
   There are some great sites, a number of which are in India, that teach you how to turn off some of Xiaomi’s bloatware’s notifications, but they seldom annoyed me on the Meizu. I’ll soon find out first-hand how good they are.
   Why the Redmi Note 9? It was one of the few on Aliexpress that I could find with the Chinese ROM installed, saving me a lot of effort. I won’t have to root it, for a start. When your choice is down to about half a dozen phones—Aliexpress and Ebay vendors are so keen to get export sales they make it a point not to sell Chinese—you’re guided on price and your daily usage. I’m a firm believer that a phone should not cost the same as a used car. Bonuses: the big battery and the fact it isn’t too bright (that’s just me); detriments: 199 g in weight and a humongous screen.
   The vendor (YouGeek) was conscientious enough to send me a message (along the lines of ‘Are you absolutely sure you want the Chinese version?’) which cost me a couple of days since I don’t always pop back to the site (and you can’t read messages on the phone browser version anyway). Now we’re on the same page, they’ve dispatched the phone. We’ll see how things look in a couple of weeks. There’s no turning back now.

* PS.: From How to Geek: ‘Once you notice the battery is swollen or compromised in any way, you should immediately stop using the device. Turn the power off, and above all else, do not charge the device. Once the battery has reached such a point of failure that the battery is swollen, you must assume that all safety mechanisms in the battery are offline. Charging a swollen battery is literally asking for it to turn into an exploding ball of noxious flammable gas right in your living room.’ I wish I was told this when I first went to PB months ago when the battery began expanding and I enquired about phones.

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Posted in business, China, India, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | 1 Comment »

COVID-19 infections as a percentage of tests done, June 28


I haven’t done one of these since February, where I look at the COVID-19 positivity rates of selected countries. The arrows indicate the direction of change since that post. Happily, I imagine with the vaccine roll-outs, we are seeing drops, though there is a new wave in Taiwan, contributing to a rise; other territories showing rises are Brazil, India, Germany, and South Korea.

Brazil 34·67% ↑
Sweden 10·06% ↓
India 7·43% ↑
Spain 7·20% ↓
USA 6·84% ↓
France 6·21% ↓
Italy 5·98% ↓
Germany 5·85% ↑
Russia 3·68% ↓
UK 2·26% ↓
KSA 2·23% ↓
South Korea 1·48% ↑
Taiwan 0·67% ↑
Singapore 0·47% ↓
Australia 0·15% ↓
New Zealand 0·12% ↓
Hong Kong 0·07% ↓

   This is also a good time to remind people of a Toot that was liked and shared quite a few times on Mastodon. For me, it’s a record.

   As Umair Haque put it (original emphases):

Its creators — researchers — pledged to make it open source, available to manufacture and develop anywhere. After all, this was a global pandemic. And yet — with some helpful intervention from Bill Gates — the Oxford vaccine was privatized. Given exclusively to AstraZeneca, Britain’s key pharmaceutical corporation.
   So instead of vaccinating the world — or at least helping the world get vaccinated — Britain engaged in the stupid, selfish game of vaccine nationalism. It kept its newly privatised vaccine for itself. It prevented even Europe from having the Oxford vaccine. What was being selfish about a vaccine going to do? Breed vaccine resistance.
   In India, meanwhile, there weren’t enough vaccines available. So Covid mutated and mutated, until new mutations could “escape” the vaccine, by altering the shape of the “spike protein.” If all that sounds like gibberish to you, don’t worry — the point is simple. By keeping its vaccine to itself, all Britain did was ensure that variants resistant to it would breed at light speed, in the world’s worst hit countries — like India.

   You can read the rest of his post here. Don’t point the blame for delta at India. It’s been British policy since day one to use the UK as a COVID-19 mutation petri dish. And now it wants to export this tactic to other places. Their friends are getting rich off this. Reminds me a bit of what happened in Zimbabwe when Mugabe and his cronies took everything while tanking the country.

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Posted in India, politics, UK | No Comments »

May 2021 gallery


Here are May 2021’s images—aides-mémoires, photos of interest, and miscellaneous items. I append to this gallery through the month.

Viki Odintcova, via Instagram.
   Alexa Breit, photographed by Weniamin Schmidt, via Instagram.
   Vickery Electrical advertisement: something I asked my Dad to photocopy for me in the 1980s. Briefly we had one of those Apple II portables, on loan from a colleague of Dad. I can’t recall if it had one disk drive or two, but it was a fun little unit to have in my bedroom for that period. Dad was prepared to buy it if I wanted to keep it, but I didn’t have much software to run, plus I already had the Commodore 64 for schoolwork.
   Lucire issue 43 cover, photographed by Damien Carney, creative direction and fashion styling by Nikko Kefalas, make-up by Joanne Gair, hair by Kirsten Brooke Anderson, and assisted by Rachel Bell, and modelled by Elena Sartison. Find out more here.
   Drew Barrymore quotation from Elephant Journal on Twitter.
   I still have plenty of old stamps, which I tend to save for family (though I’m less discerning about those discounted Christmas ones, which I always used to buy in bulk). This is going to my cousin’s daughter and her husband, and their family.
   Comments after an article on Buzzfeed News. Business as usual for Facebook.
   Happy birthday to our niece Esme!
   Tania Dawson promotes Rabbit Borrows, from Instagram.
   Bizarre that the only car with a manual transmission on sale at Archibalds is from the 1950s. I’m sure New Zealand was majority-manual into the first decade of this century.
   More on the 1982–94 Chevrolet Cavalier at Autocade.
   Citroën C5 X, as covered in Lucire.
   Amira Aly (Mrs Oliver Pocher) photographed by Christoph Gellert, reposted from Instagram.
   Gaza statistics, sourced from Twitter.
   Even after 44½ years of living in the occident, I find certain western customs very strange. From Twitter.
   Number crunching from Private Eye, reposted from Twitter.
   Evaporated milk, reposted from Twitter.
   Triumph Herald advertisement from the Car Factoids on Twitter.
   Cadillac tailfins, reposted from Tumblr.
   This photo of Sophia Loren was captioned ‘© David Hurn | Sophia Loren, Inglaterra, 1965’ on Tumblr. I wonder if she is on the set of Stanley Donen’s Arabesque. Reposted from Tumblr.
   I had the pleasure of watching Peggy Sue Got Married again a few weeks ago. This was a nice scene at the end, that seemed to suggest that Peggy Sue had travelled back in time. John Barry’s score is sublime.
   The Murdoch method: reposted from my old NewTumbl account.
   Alexa Breit photographed by Sagaj, reposted from Instagram.

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Posted in business, cars, design, France, gallery, humour, India, interests, internet, marketing, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing, TV, UK, USA, Wellington | No Comments »

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


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 »

How Jaguar Land Rover can still win its Land Rover Defender IP case against Ineos


I haven’t read the full judgement of the Land Rover Defender case, where Jaguar Land Rover sought to protect the shape of the original Defender under trade mark law, to prevent Ineos from proceeding with the Grenadier.
   According to Bloomberg, as reported in Automotive News, ‘The judge upheld the findings by the IP Office that while differences in design may appear significant to some specialists, they “may be unimportant, or may not even register, with average consumers.”’
   On the face of it, this would appear to be a reason for upholding JLR’s claim—but the Indian-owned Midlands car maker seems to have muddled the cause of action it was supposed to have taken.
   I’ve already taken issue with its inability to protect the L538 Range Rover Evoque shape in China under that country’s laws, and while that judgement was eventually overturned in JLR’s favour, the company could have saved itself a great deal of stress had it filed its registration in time. It had been ignorant of Chinese law and wasted time and resources pursuing Ford Motor Company affiliate Landwind for its Range Rover Evoque clone, the X7. I sense Landwind could have afforded the ultimate fine.
   Here I think arguing copyright might have been a better method. The Land Rover Station Wagon shape hails from 1949, and with 75 years’ protection, the company is covered till 2024. You don’t need to show a registration, and the onus of proof, once objective similarity is found, is on the defendant. That test of objective similarity, unlike that in trade mark, is not based on what the average consumer thinks, but on what specialists think. And the scenes à faire doctrine has been adopted by precedent in the UK.
   Maybe that was the game plan all along: to fail here, and to proceed using copyright later. I’m sure the plaintiff knows this. Now, armed with the judgement’s findings—that the differences are insignificant— Jaguar Land Rover can pursue a copyright claim using these as evidence.
   To me, the Grenadier is sufficiently similar. Some point to the Puch G as another source of inspiration but I can’t see it. And since a court has ruled that they can’t see it, either, then Jim Ratcliffe and Ineos had better not break out the champagne just yet.

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Crunching the COVID-19 numbers for June 15


I hadn’t done one of these for a long time: take the number of COVID-19 cases and divide them by tests done. For most countries, the percentage is trending down, though there has been little movement in Sweden. I hadn’t included Brazil, Russia and India before, but as they are in the top part of the table, I’ve included them for the first time for context. That does leave the C of the BRIC countries out, but as China does not disclose its testing numbers, I can’t work out a figure for them. Given the news, it is no surprise that Brazil has the worst percentage I have seen since I began crunching these numbers: more than half of the tests done result in a positive. The source is Worldometers.

Brazil 867,882 of 1,604,784 = 54·08%
Sweden 51,614 of 325,000 = 15·88%
France 157,220 of 1,384,633 = 11·35%
KSA 127,541 of 1,106,398 = 10·99%
USA 2,162,261 of 24,795,407 = 8·72%
Singapore 40,818 of 488,695 = 8·35%
Switzerland 31,131 of 461,128 = 6·75%
Spain 291,008 of 4,826,516 = 6·03%
India 333,255 of 5,774,133 = 5·77%
Italy 236,989 of 4,620,718 = 5·13%
UK 295,889 of 6,772,602 = 4·37%
Germany 187,671 of 4,694,147 = 4·00%
Russia 537,210 of 15,161,152 = 3·54%
South Korea 12,121 of 1,105,719 = 1·10%
Taiwan 445 of 74,409 = 0·60%
New Zealand 1,504 of 311,121 = 0·48%
Australia 7,335 of 1,830,665 = 0·40%
Hong Kong 1,113 of 275,293 = 0·40%

   It shows that COVID-19 is far from over, something that we here in New Zealand need to be reminded of as we begin to rebuild. Still, nearby Fiji is also COVID-19-free, so perhaps we can begin having some travel with them?

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Don’t group Chinese New Zealanders into one faceless bunch


Some visiting Australian friends have said that they are finding New Zealand politics as interesting as their own, although I don’t think this was meant as a compliment.
   Those of us in New Zealand had a few days of House of Cards-lite intrigue, in that it was stirred up by a conservative whip, in an attempt to take down his party leader. Except it was so much more condensed than the machinations of Francis Urquhart, and, if you were Chinese, Indian or Filipino, in the words of Taika Waititi, it was ‘racist AF’.
   Two of my Tweets garnered hundreds of likes each, which generally doesn’t happen to me, but I am taking that as reinforcing something I truly believe: that most New Zealanders aren’t racist, and that we despise injustices and treating someone differently because of their ethnicity.
   Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross and opposition leader Simon Bridges’ phone call, where the former stated that two Chinese MPs were worth more than two Indian ones, drew plenty of thoughts from both communities, where we felt we were treated as numbers, or a political funding source, with none of us actually getting into a National Cabinet (or the Shadow Cabinet) since Pansy Wong was ousted last decade—making you feel that had other Cabinet ministers been held to the same standard, they would have been gone as well. Here was my first Tweet on the subject:

   While Bridges was quick to apologize to Maureen Pugh MP, whom he insulted in the leaked phone call:

   There’s the inevitable look back through the history of Chinese New Zealanders, who have largely been humiliated since the gold-mining days by earlier generations, and the Poll Tax, for which an apology came decades after during the previous Labour government.
   And the scandal also inspired Tze Ming Mok to write an excellent op-ed for The New Zealand Herald, which I highly recommend here. It’s one of the most intelligent ones on the subject.

   She’s absolutely right: those of us with few connections to the People’s Republic of China don’t like being grouped in among them, or treated as though we’re part of the Chinese Communist Party apparatus.
   Her research showed that roughly half of Chinese New Zealanders were born on the mainland, and that the group itself is incredibly diverse. My father’s family fled in 1949 and I was raised in a fairly staunch anti-communist household, images of Sun Yat Sen and the ROC flag emblazoned on my paternal grandfather’s drinking glasses. My mother, despite being born in Hong Kong, grew up behind the Bamboo Curtain and survived the famine, and didn’t have an awful lot of positive things to say about her experiences there, eventually making her way out to her birthplace during her tertiary studies.
   Tze Ming writes:

This chilling effect is harming Chinese people in New Zealand. Many people cannot differentiate Chinese people from the actions of the CCP (I mean hey, many people can’t tell a Chinese from a Korean), but this is made worse when hardly any authorities on the topic will address the issue openly. Concerns can only erupt as xenophobia against the Chinese and “Asian” population …
   CCP-linked politicians parroting Xi Jinping and promoting Beijing’s Belt & Road priorities don’t speak for at least half of us.

   ‘At least’ is right. My father was born in the mainland where 反共 was a catch-cry in his young adult life. I’m willing to bet there’s an entire, older Chinese-born generation that thinks the same.
   She continues:

It’s endlessly irritating and insulting that both Labour and National have lazily assigned Chinese communities as the fiefdoms of politicians openly backed by the Chinese government.

   That’s true, too. In 2014 I was approached by the National Party asking how best to target the Chinese community. My response was to treat us the same as any other New Zealanders. I’m not sure whether the advice was taken on board, as within months I was invited to a Chinese restaurant for a $100-a-head dinner to be in the presence of the Rt Hon John Key, a fund-raiser that was aimed at ethnic Chinese people resident here. It certainly didn’t feel that I was being treated like my white or brown neighbours.
   The other point Tze Ming touches on, and one which I have written about myself, is the use of the term Asian in New Zealand.
   Let me sum it up from my time here, beginning in 1976, and how I saw the terms being used by others:

1970s: ‘Chinese’ meant those people running the groceries and takeaways. Hard working. Good at maths. Not good at politics or being noticed, and Petone borough mayor George Gee was just an anomaly.

1990s: ‘Asian’ became a point of negativity, fuelled by Winston ‘Two Wongs don’t make a white’ Peters. He basically meant Chinese. It’s not a term we claimed at the time, and while some have since tried to reclaim it for themselves to represent the oriental communities (and some, like super-lawyer Mai Chen, have claimed it and rightly extended it to all of Asia), it’s used when non-Chinese people whine about us. It’s why ‘My best friend is Asian’ is racist in more than one way.

2010s: ‘Chinese’ means not just the United Front and the Confucius Institute (which has little to do with Confucius, incidentally), but that all Chinese New Zealanders are part of a diaspora with ties to the PRC. And we’re moneyed, apparently, so much that we’ve been accused of buying up properties based on a list of ‘Chinese-sounding names’ by Labour in a xenophobic mood. I’ve been asked plenty of times this decade whether I have contacts in Beijing or Shanghai. If you’re born in Hong Kong before July 1, 1997, you were British (well, in a post-Windrush apartheid sense anyway), and unlikely to have any connections behind the Bamboo Curtain, but you’ve already been singled out by race.

   Now, I don’t want to put a dampener on any Chinese New Zealander who does have ties back to the mainland and the CCP. We share a history and a heritage, and since I wasn’t the one who had any experience of the hardships my parents and grandparents suffered, I don’t have any deep-seated hatred festering away. My father visited the old country in 2003 and put all that behind him, too. A republic is better than the imperial families that had been in charge before, and if I’ve any historical power to dislike, I’d be better off focusing on them. So in some respects, there is “unity” insofar as I’ll stick up for someone of my own race if they’re the subject of a racist attack. I’ll write about Chinese people and businesses without the derision that others do (e.g. here’s an article on the MG GS SUV that doesn’t go down the Yellow Peril route). But we’re not automatons doing Beijing’s bidding.
   I’ll lazily take Tze Ming’s conclusion in the Herald:

We deserve better than to be trapped between knee-jerk racists and Xi Jinping Thought. Abandoning us to this fate is racism too.

   I haven’t even begun to address the blatant sexual harassment that has since emerged as a result of the scandal, but others are far better placed to speak on that.

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Posted in China, culture, Hong Kong, India, media, New Zealand, politics | 1 Comment »

Is the death of expertise tied to the Anglosphere?


Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Boris Johnson: usually a talented delivery, but with conflicting substance.

I spotted The Death of Expertise at Unity Books, but I wonder if the subject is as simple as the review of the book suggests.
   There’s a lot out there about anti-intellectualism, and we know it’s not an exclusively American phenomenon. Tom Nichols, the book’s author, writes, as quoted in The New York Times, ‘Americans have reached a point where ignorance, especially of anything related to public policy, is an actual virtue. To reject the advice of experts is to assert autonomy, a way for Americans to insulate their increasingly fragile egos from ever being told they’re wrong about anything. It is a new Declaration of Independence: No longer do we hold these truths to be self-evident, we hold all truths to be self-evident, even the ones that aren’t true. All things are knowable and every opinion on any subject is as good as any other.’
   I venture to say that the “death of expertise” is an Anglophone phenomenon. Head into Wikipedia, for instance, and you’ll find proof that the masses are not a good way to ensure accuracy, at least not in the English version. Head into the German or Japanese editions and you find fewer errors, and begin to trust the pages more.
   Given that many of “the people” cannot discern what is “fake news” and what is not, or who is a bot and who is not, then it’s absolutely foolhardy to propose that they also be the ones who determine the trustworthiness of a news source, as Facebook is wont to do.
   I can’t comment as much on countries I have spent less time in, but certainly in the Anglosphere, I’ve seen people advance, with confidence and self-authority, completely wrong positions, ones not backed up by real knowledge. You only need to visit some software support forums to see online examples of this phenomenon.
   When I visit Sweden, for instance, there’s a real care from individuals not to advance wrongful positions, although I admit I am limited by my own circles and the brief time I have spent there.
   It’s not so much that we don’t value expertise, it’s that the bar for what constitutes an expert is set exceptionally low. We’re often too trusting of sources or authorities who don’t deserve our reverence. And I wonder if it comes with our language.
   I’ll go so far as to say that the standing of certain individuals I had in my own mind was shattered when we were all going for the mayoralty in my two campaigns in 2010 and 2013. There certainly was, among some of my opponents, no correlation between knowledge and the position they already held in society. It didn’t mean I disliked them. It just meant I wondered how they got as far as they did without getting found out.
   Fortunately, the victor, whether you agreed with her policies or not, possessed real intelligence. The fact she may have political views at odds with yours is nothing to do with intelligence, but her own observations and beliefs. I can respect that (which is why I follow people on social media whose political views I disagree with).
   In turn I’m sure many of them disliked what I stood for, even if they liked me personally. Certainly it is tempting to conclude that some quarters in the media, appealing to the same anti-intellectualism that some of my rivals represented, didn’t like a candidate asserting that we should increase our intellectual capital and pursue a knowledge economy. No hard feelings, mind. As an exercise, it served to confirm that, in my opinion, certain powers don’t have people’s best interests at heart, and there is a distinct lack of professionalism (and, for that matter, diversity) in some industries. In other words, a mismatch between what one says one does, and what one actually does. Language as doublespeak.
   So is it speaking English that makes us more careless? Maybe it is: as a lingua franca in some areas, merely speaking it might put a person up a few notches in others’ estimation. Sandeep Deva Misra, in his blog post in 2013, believes that’s the case, and that we shouldn’t prejudge Anglophones so favourably if the quality of their thought isn’t up to snuff.
   Maybe that’s what we need to do more of: look at the quality of thought, not the expression or make a judgement based on which language it’s come in. As English speakers, we enjoy a privilege. We can demand that others meet us on our terms and think poorly when someone speaks with an accent or confuses your and you’re. It gives us an immediate advantage because we have a command of the lingua franca of business and science. It gives us the impunity to write fictions in Wikipedia or make an argument sound appealing through sound bites, hoping to have made a quick getaway before we’re found out. Political debate has descended into style over substance for many, although this is nothing new. I was saying, although not blogging, things like this 20 years ago, and my students from 1999–2000 might remember my thoughts on Tony Blair’s 1997 campaign as being high on rhetoric and light on substance. Our willingness to accept things on face value without deeper analysis, lands us into trouble. We’re fooled by delivery and the authority that is attached with the English language.
   You’ll next see this in action in a high-profile way when Facebook comes forth with more comment about Cambridge Analytica. I can almost promise you now that it won’t hold water.

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Posted in business, culture, globalization, India, leadership, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing, Sweden, UK, USA, Wellington | 5 Comments »

Happy birthday: Autocade turns 10


Above: Autocade can be hard work—and sometimes you have to put up less exciting vehicles, like the 2001–7 Chrysler Town & Country, for it to be a useful resource.

March 8, 2018 marks 10 years of Autocade.
   I’ve told the story before on this blog and elsewhere, about how the site came to be—annoyed by the inaccuracies and fictions of Wikipedia (who said the masses would be smart enough to get rid of the mistakes?), I took a leaf out of the late Michael Sedgwick’s book and created a wiki that had brief summaries of each model, the same way Sedgwick had structured his guides. I received an emailed threat from a well known British publisher (I’m looking at you, Haymarket, and as predicted in my reply, your thoughts proved to be totally baseless) when we started, and 12½ million page views later, we’re on 3,628 models (I think we finished the first day on 12), with our page on the Ford Fiesta Mk VII leading the count (other than the home page).
   Autocade began as a wiki but with so many bots trying to sign up, I closed off those registrations. There have really been about six contributors to the site, all told: myself and Keith Adams for the entries, Peter Jobes and Nigel Dunn for the tech, and two members of the public who offered copy; one fed it in directly back in the day when we were still allowing wiki modifications. I thank everyone for their contributions.
   A few years ago, I began running into people online who used Autocade but didn’t know I was behind it; it was very pleasing to see that it had become helpful to others. It also pleased me tremendously to see it referenced in Wikipedia, not always 100 per cent correctly, but as Autocade is the more accurate site on cars, this is the right way round.
   When a New Zealand magazine reviewed us, the editor noted that there were omissions, including his own car, a Mitsubishi Galant. Back then we were probably on 1,000 models, maybe fewer. All the Galants are now up, but Autocade remains a work in progress. The pace of adding pages has declined as life gets busier—each one takes, on average, 20 minutes to research and write. You wouldn’t think so from the brevity, but I want it to be accurate. I’m not perfect, which is why the pages get changed and updated: the stats say we’re running on 3·1 edits per page.
   But it looks like we’re covering enough for Autocade to be a reasonably useful resource for the internet public, especially some of the more obscure side notes in motoring history. China has proved a challenge because of the need to translate a lot of texts, and don’t think that my ethnicity is a great help. The US, believe it or not, has been difficult, because of the need to calculate cubic capacities accurately in metric (I opted to get it right to the cubic centimetre, not litres). However, it is an exciting time to be charting the course of automotive history, and because there are still so many gaps from the past that need to be filled, I have the chance to compare old and new and see how things have moved on even in my four-and-a-half decades on Earth.
   Since Sedgwick had done guides up to 1970, and paper references have been excellent taking us through the modern motor car’s history, I arbitrarily decided that Autocade would focus on 1970 and on. There are some exceptions, especially when model lines go back before 1970 and it would be a disservice to omit the earlier marks. But I wanted it to coincide roughly with my lifetime, so I could at least provide some commentary about how the vehicle was perceived at the time of launch. And the ’70s were a fascinating time to be watching the motor industry: those nations that were confident through most of the 20th century with the largest players (the US and UK) found themselves struggling, wondering how the Japanese, making scooters and motorcycles just decades before, were beating them with better quality and reliability. That decade’s Japanese cars are fascinating to study, and in Japan itself there is plenty of nostalgia for them now; you can see their evolution into more internationally styled product, rather than pastiches of others’, come the 1980s and on. The rise of Korea, Spain, China, India, Turkey, México and other countries as car-exporting nations has also been fascinating to watch. When Autocade started, Australia still had a domestic mass-produced car industry, Chrysler was still owned by Americans, and GM still had a portfolio of brands that included Pontiac and Saturn.
   I even used to go to one of the image galleries and, as many cars are listed by year, let the mouse scroll down the page. You can see periods grouped by certain colours, a sign of how cars both follow and establish fashion. There are stylistic trends: the garishness of smog-era US cars and the more logical efficiency of European ones at the same time; smoother designs of the 1980s and 1990s; a creeping fussiness and a concentration on showing the brand’s identity in the 2000s and 2010s. As some of the most noticeable consumer goods on the planet, cars make up a big part of the marketing profession.
   The site is large enough that I wouldn’t mind seeing an academic look at industry using the data gathered there; and I always thought it could be a useful book as well, bearing in mind that the images would need to be replaced with much higher-resolution fare.
   For now, I’m going to keep on plodding as we commence Autocade’s second decade. The Salon de Genève has brought forth some exciting débutantes, but then I should get more of the Chrysler Town & Country vans up …

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Posted in cars, China, culture, design, globalization, India, internet, marketing, media, New Zealand, publishing, technology, UK, USA, Wellington | No Comments »

Capricious Cortana


I have never seen a program as inconsistent as Microsoft’s Cortana.
   We were always taught that computers were very logical, that they all followed a certain set of code each time.
   Not so Cortana, which has had more different behaviours than anything I have ever seen.
   When I run into technical issues, it’s the fault of certain parties for failing to anticipate the behaviour of ordinary people or for adopting a head-in-the-sand position to bugs that are very real or crooked company policies. These have been covered many times on this blog, such as Six Apart’s old Vox site refusing to accept a log-in, or Facebook ceasing to allow likes and comments; and then there’s the human dishonesty that drove Google’s failures on Blogger and Ads Preferences Manager.
   This still fits into those categories, as Microsoft’s engineers on its forums are peddling standard responses, none of which actually work. One even damaged my start menu and forced a system restore.
   The bugs are so varied, and that to me is strange. Normally bugs will take one form and one form only. Address that, and your problem is solved.
   However, Cortana has done the following.

Day 1. Refused to work, with Windows saying US English was not supported (curious, given it’s an American program). I downloaded the UK English language pack. Worked perfectly for the rest of the day. How novel.

Day 2. Refused to work, but prompted me to set up again, and then it worked.

Day 3. Cortana becomes deaf. No prompts to set up again, but I do it anyway. It works again.

Day 4. I play with the microphone settings (by ‘play’ I mean clicking on a setting but not actually changing it) and Cortana would work intermittently.

Day 5. Cortana would not work except at night, and I play the movie quiz.

Day 6. Cortana claims my Notebook is inaccessible because I am offline. Clearly I wasn’t offline because I was doing stuff online.

Day 7, daytime. Cortana refuses to answer and sends all queries to Bing. The Notebook screen just displays animated ellipses.

Day 7, evening. Cortana works after I plug in my headphones (which has a microphone). After I unplug it, my regular webcam microphone starts picking up my voice again. Cortana works again.

Day 8. Cortana hears me say ‘Hey, Cortana,’ but then just goes to ‘Thinking’ for minutes on end. It might display, ‘Something’s not right. Try again in a little bit,’ after all that. Apparently Cortana still cannot retrieve my interests because I am ‘offline,’ which is amazing that I’m posting to this blog right now.

   The microphones work with other programs. And browsing the Windows forums, this has been going on since July. The November service pack was supposed to have fixed a lot of issues, but clearly not.
   I’ll be fascinated to see what it does tomorrow. But I am tired of the BS that their techs are dishing out as “solutions”. I’m being reminded why I don’t use Word or Outlook: because I have a short fuse when it comes to crap.

PS.: Day 9, same as day 8. Day 10, asked a few set-up questions (again) and it works, though ‘Thinking’ still came up for a few seconds on the first go. Day 11, worked without intervention (amazing!). Day 12, see day 7 (evening).—JY

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Posted in India, internet, technology, USA | 2 Comments »