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The Persuader

My personal blog, started in 2006. No paid or guest posts, no link sales.



16.01.2023

A format so old, it’s new and radical


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.


Filed under: culture, interests, TV, UK, USA—Jack Yan @ 05.34

15.01.2023

Life’s could-have-beens


 
A Mastodon post about my mayoral campaign policies. No, I didn’t foresee a global pandemic as such (though I certainly was on Twitter perplexed at why the WHO had not declared COVID-19 a global emergency in January 2020), but I did feel there was insufficient resilience in our economy and wanted to advance ideas that would at least put this city right.

I saw the cafés all opening around town, the PM John Key’s support of tourism, and thinking: there’s not enough diversity among these types of businesses, and we’re well behind other cities on the percentage that IT plays. We need more high-wage jobs if we were to increase our rates’ base sustainably, not make Wellington unaffordable by taking a bigger and bigger chunk of incomes that had barely risen in line with the cost of living. All this I stated at the time, and they were trends that stared us right in the face.

Working from home was a way of alleviating stress on our traffic network, or at least help stagger the amount of traffic on the road at any given time. Tied in to that was publicizing real-time about public transport, which I think is starting to happen, to encourage their use.

The expansion of the wifi network meant that Newtown would be next, heading out to Berhampore, the whole idea being to bridge the digital divide for our less well off communities. I had already been into a meeting with Citylink and had a model through which it could be funded. I lived in Newtown as a boy, and I know how little we had in terms of the family budget. And, as we saw in lockdown, internet access was very far from being equal among our communities.

I’m not subscribing to ‘That’s easy to say in hindsight,’ because all these ideas were a matter of record, as well as the reasons behind it. I am subscribing to a degree of cherry-picking but when you consider these were my “flagship” ideas, I’m not even being that picky.

To think we could have set all this in motion starting in 2010 and been ready for 2020. I don’t really sell nostalgia if I’m running for office because that would be disingenuous. You’re being asked to vote on the future, and so many politicians are trying to resell you the past. I’m grateful to those voters who got this and put me in third place twice. We have a good mayor now who’s young enough to get it.


Filed under: business, internet, New Zealand, politics, technology, Wellington—Jack Yan @ 20.39

13.01.2023

Elizabeth Arden is missing out on a big market here

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 …
 


Filed under: culture, humour, internet—Jack Yan @ 11.16


Bing increases Techdirt’s results, saving it some embarrassment

After notifying Mike Masnick, the founder of Techdirt, about my findings about Bing, coincidentally, the search engine began spidering his latest articles. It claimed to have 150 results, and delivered 92, many of which were repeated from page to page as usual. Tonight it’s a claimed 249, delivering 173.

Techdirt is well respected and very popular, and disliked presently only by the Musk bros. What’s the likelihood that Microsoft knew about their shortcomings here and corrected things? I wasn’t exactly quiet, and I told more than Mike and the readers of this blog (I went on Reddit, for example), since it was so ridiculous that Bing could only deliver one result for such a major website. It’s embarrassing for them, so they decided to do the right thing. Like any Big Tech firm: do nothing unless you risk getting bad press. This is right out of the Facebook playbook, for example.

What a pity they could not do the right thing for the rest of us.

Just as a comparison, since I am nothing if not fair. Here are the claimed number of results versus the number delivered for site:techdirt.com:
 
Mojeek: 48,606/1,000
Google: 54,700/394
Bing: 249/173
Yandex: 2,000/250
Baidu: —/1
Gigablast: 0/0
Yep: —/10
 

In that context, it doesn’t look so bad, especially as a lot of Yandex results are of Techdirt’s various directories and largely useless.

It’s not so hot for site:lucire.com over at Bing:
 
Mojeek: 3,481/1,000
Google: 5,970/307
Bing: 2/10
Yandex: 2,000/250
Baidu: 1,480/400
Gigablast: 0/0
Yep: —/10
 

I’m not kidding: Bing claims it had 2 results and delivered 10. Looks like one of those rare times they underestimated. Well off the mark of the 55 they have been doing since mid-2022 and that was pathetic. There is nothing in the results from after 2007. Maybe fixing Techdirt’s results meant that Bing had so little computing power for every other site!

Well, I guess I can no longer claim that for a site:lucire.com search that Bing is repeating results from page to page, since it only has one page.
 


Filed under: internet, media, publishing, technology, USA—Jack Yan @ 08.19

07.01.2023

It’s got a picture of the Queen in it


 
To the best of my recollection, this is the only photograph of HM Queen Elizabeth II and HRH the Duke of Edinburgh that I shot and own. You’ll have to look closely. In fact, you might not even see them at this resolution.

I gave the print to someone at Warehouse Stationery who was a big fan of the Queen, but I came across this scan yesterday. I still have the negative, of course.

This was from the royal visit in 2002, her last to Aotearoa. As Labour was in, and they weren’t big royalists, there wasn’t a huge welcome, and the Queen and Prince Philip were ferried around the back roads from Lyall Bay through Rongotai and Kilbirnie. Here they are in the viceregal Daimler Limousine on Coutts Street: I stopped my car to take the photograph from Mamari Street.
 
Congratulations to those who spotted Graham Payn’s line as Keats in The Italian Job used in the title.


Filed under: cars, New Zealand, Wellington—Jack Yan @ 23.05

06.01.2023

This surely makes it blatantly obvious that Bing is near death

Here’s a site I’ve always liked: Techdirt. It’s incredibly influential, and reports on the technology sector. Mike Masnick’s run it for the same length of time as I’ve run Lucire (25 years, and counting).

And when it comes to Bing’s index collapse—or whatever you wish to call it—it’s no more pronounced than here (well, at least among the sites that even get listed). For site:techdirt.com:
 
Google: 54,700 results, 393 visible
Mojeek: 48,818 results, 1,000 visible
Yandex: 2,000 results, 250 visible
Gigablast: 200 results, 200 visible
Yep: 10 results, 10 visible
Baidu: 1 result, 1 visible
Bing: 1 result, 1 visible
 



 

One. This is a site that dates back to the 1990s and churns out numerous articles daily, and that’s how bad Bing’s got. Naturally, it’s the same with all the Bing clones, like Yahoo (the one with no logo now), Ecosia, Qwant, Neeva, Duck Duck Go, etc. Unlike Baidu, Bing doesn’t have communist Chinese censorship as an excuse. Or does it?

If you ever needed proof something was really, really off at Redmond, this is it. And still the clones stay silent.
 





 
PS.: If you search for Techdirt on Bing, its home page does not even come up in the top 10.
 
P.PS.: Here’s what WorldWideWebSize.com has to report (thanks to nf3xn for posting it first on their Mastodon). I believe the site is wrong when it calculates that the total index was up as high as it is on the left of the graph: basically it takes what Bing claims is the number of results as the truth, and we know it lies.
 


Filed under: internet, media, publishing, technology, USA—Jack Yan @ 20.10


Here’s hoping Yuzo Related Posts v. 6 does the trick

When we put our sites on a new server last year, one Wordpress plug-in we retained, despite a known exploit, was Yuzo Related Posts. Basically, nothing else could do related posts as well. It just worked. Everything else, inexplicably, either did not do post relationships terribly well, was too resource-heavy, or was too ugly,

Fortunately, I ran Wordfence, who were among the folks who reported on Yuzo’s vulnerability in 2019. They believed their program would guard against it. In addition, I found some code on this page at Stack Overflow, and made those changes as well.

Maybe I got lucky as we didn’t get hacked, or maybe the above set-up helped, but with the latest Linux-based hack also using Yuzo (and many others), I decided to look again. I wasn’t going to tempt fate, and I do not recommend that you do.

Wordpress’s own directory has a lot of related-post plug-ins, but once again, I had to draw the same conclusion that I did in 2022. In fact, two of them didn’t even function! So much for them having been tested.

Yuzo, of course, was toast, having been removed from the directory.

But a further search revealed that Lenin Zapata, one of the two people behind the original, did indeed rewrite the plug-in completely, taking it from v. 5 to v. 6. The latest, last updated in 2020, was v. 6.2.2.

As far as I can tell, it’s a complete rewrite, but I am no expert on such matters. What I can tell you is the directory structure looks different. The bottom entry in the readme.txt is for the original, where Mr Zapata wrote, ‘Old version (with faults): A bad day’. The new one is ‘renewed and with maximum security’.

I am taking Mr Zapata’s word for it, but I was saddened to note that Wordpress has kicked even the new version off for a ‘Guideline Violation’. Strangely, my web history says I downloaded the latest one from wordpress.org, even though the site says it is ‘not available for download’. It must be in there somewhere and even Wordpress’s own stats said there were a handful of downloads over the last week.
 

 

No wonder he stopped developing it after both the disappointment of the exploit and seeing the plug-in get kicked off. Even if it was the best and, it seems, irreplaceable. I don’t know why no one has risen up to meet the quality of the original plug-in (the exploit aside), but maybe Lenin Zapata is just that much cleverer with figuring out how posts relate and with presenting PHP-generated content smartly. Have a look below—I think it looks very good and works very well.

I’m just hoping I’m doing the right thing by using a version that hasn’t reportedly fallen victim to the 2019 exploit. I don’t like someone getting a raw deal if they’ve fixed up something on which they made a mistake. They deserve a second chance.

Do I recommend you do what I did? No, because I don’t understand enough code to be able to report definitively that it was the right decision. But if you understand this stuff, have a peek at v. 6 and see if it does what it’s supposed to—safely. Or write your own to compete with it and do what so many of these plug-ins don’t or can’t.


Filed under: design, internet, media, publishing, technology—Jack Yan @ 09.24

05.01.2023

What saying yes to SEO “guest posts” looks like




 
Here are a few screenshots from a magazine I loved, but sadly, it seems they’ve responded to those SEO emails, and grabbed the US$50 per post.

I don’t blame them, since Google has destroyed the online advertising ecosystem, and they have to make ends meet somehow.

I was in contact with them some years ago, and they’re really good people.

The top articles on their home page are theirs, and they remain excellent in quality, but scroll down and there are articles that are obviously SEO pieces. What’s the bet that Al Woods and Alexa Wang, with the same initials, are the same person? As a result, I made the sad decision to remove them from Lucire’s link directory.

My feeling is that you accept these SEO gigs at your own risk, and those risks include getting demoted by the search engines as I’m sure they have figured out when you’re part of trying to game the system. They also make the site look like a content mill, despite the great original journalism that’s front and centre, and more visible there.

Our sites are our shop windows, so it’s in our interests to remain visible in the search engines. But everyone has different priorities. And I may be wrong: maybe these pieces haven’t affected that site at all. I’d just rather not risk it.


Filed under: business, internet, marketing, media, publishing, UK—Jack Yan @ 05.53

03.01.2023

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

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.



The expectation of invisibility

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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