Hi blog. Long time no see!
I spent some Saturday me-time at the cinema yesterday, taking in Robert Reich’s new film Inequality for All.
Presented in a kind of documentary-meets-infographic format, the film explores the current state of income inequality in America today while also shedding some light on how we got here in the first place. The central thesis of the movie is that America has lost sight of the fact that it is the Middle Class which is the true engine of the economy, not the so-called “job creators” and “high achievers” at the very top of the economic pyramid as many would have us believe.
Today, thanks to Fox News and countless conservative talk radio hosts, any talk of workers’ rights or economic policy which supports and empowers the Middle Class (or, God forbid, the poor) is derided and immediately branded “socialism.” More taxes on the wealthy is seen as punishing high achievers. The fiction of trickle-down economics espoused by Reagan in the 80′s still lives on in the minds of many as not only a viable economic model but the ideal one. Inequality for All does a wonderful job of exposing this fallacy for what it is.
The film transitions quickly through interviews (with people at all economic levels), animated infographics, Reich monologues, and classroom scenes from Reich’s course on the same topic at UC Berkeley. The interviews are powerful, particularly when they feature members of the 1% who acknowledge both the deep flaws in our tax system (e.g. – millionaires and billionaires who pay 11-13% in taxes compared to 35% for a typical Middle Class family) and the reasons why trickle-down has not and will not ever work.
Reich walks the viewer through some of the most influential social and economic changes over the past 30-40 years, from the steady erosion of labor unions, to changes in the tax code which favor the rich, to the impact across our society by cuts in services and education, to unfettered flow of corporate money into the political system. Best of all, his explanations are succinct, clearly presented, and supported with an abundance of charts, diagrams and other visual data.
But I think the way Reich–and the film–succeeds most is in elevating the discussion of income inequality above and beyond the political quagmire in which most of it seems to take place today. Now, to be sure, as Reich’s background includes serving as the Secretary of Labor under Clinton he is a ready target for the likes of Bill O’Reilly and others on the right, and will surely come under fire for some of the radical “socialist” proposals he puts forth, like:
The case he makes for these is not political, but rather social, and economic. The last 30 years have seen the Middle Class being whittled down year after year, with stagnant or dropping wages, loss of benefits, and increasing competition from overseas. These are changes that cut across all lines; political, social, religious, you name it. Taking the discussion beyond the realm of soundbites and bombast is the only way we will all really understand what has happened over the last 30 years, and what we need to do to fix it.
Left or right, “liberal” or “conservative” (foolish labels, these), God-fearing or Atheist, brown or white or yellow or blue: if you’re an American it behooves you to watch the movie. If it’s not playing in your area you can check out the website. We’ve let the wealthy and powerful drive our interests–and that of the country as a whole–into the ground for long enough. Understanding how we got here is the best way to understand where we should go next. To that end, it will be 90 minutes well-spent.
Back in the air now after 10 days in the Philippines, I finally have a chance now after a busy ten days to reflect a bit and write. Thankfully my iPad is loaded with a fair amount of music, and the Kings of Convenience (as always) provide a languid and contemplative soundtrack to the goings-on around me. I swear this duo’s music just gets better and better with each listen.
If you live in Japan and have kids you’re almost certain to attend one or more undokai (運動会, or Sports Day) each year. With two young girls I get to enjoy them perhaps more often than I would like, but usually manage to have a good time, even with the criminally early Saturday start time and hours of standing around in the sun.
This year I came equipped with a DSLR and zoom lens, and filled the spaces between the various sporting events by snapping pics of the people participating in and attending the event. These fifty faces of Sports Day are what I came away with.
|From Autumn Undokai – Fifty Faces|
I find myself feeling unexpectedly shocked and saddened this morning by the news of Steve Jobs’ passing. I don’t know if it’s the (perhaps misplaced) underdog quality I associate with him, his role as one of this generation’s most successful visionaries, or simply his very key role in in changing so dramatically for the better my relationship with technology.
As I write this I’m surrounded by the output, the fruition, the product of a creative vision that puts people and user experience ahead of technology. Multiple manifestations of the idea that simple elegance is more important than endless bulleted lists of features, or functionality for its own sake. Technology and products that just work, are a pleasure to use, and are beautiful to behold. I can think of no one else in recent memory who has had, and continues to exert, such influence on my day-to-day life.
I use an iMac all day at work, pick up my iPhone countless times daily, take my iPad practically everywhere I go and sync and share data across all of them effortlessly. I rarely have to tinker, tweak, fiddle with or configure anything. I worked for a decade as a system engineer and am well-versed in the arts of tinkering and configuration. These days I have no interest in doing either, and (in large part) thanks to Steve, I don’t have to.
Steve Jobs and Apple introduced us to the idea that powerful technology doesn’t have to be complicated, or rife with idiosyncrasies and inconsistencies which just have to be tolerated. The idea that, for the things you do all most of the time with your phone or PC, if you need a manual to know how to use it, well, it’s too complicated. Microsoft has never understood this, and the various UNIXs out there don’t care to. Without the vision and efforts of Steve and the others at Apple we’d all still be spending a lot more time rebooting, ranting, fumbling and flailing. I’m reminded daily of how glad I am for now doing so little.
I didn’t know Steve, never met him, and–sadly–I never will. But I nonetheless feel close to him, and an odd kind of indebtedness for the ways in which he’s made my life that much easier, more interesting, and more fun.
Rest well, Steve. And thank you.
A quick word of advice for anyone thinking of working with India-based QubeSys Technologies: don’t. Our experience with them was dismal. Thank God it was a small project and not something big and complicated, because these guys completely suck. The designs we sent for coding were largely ignored, with changes to the layout, fonts and colors made arbitrarily by the “developer” assigned to the project. Shockingly bad is the only way to describe the quality of work received. In the end they stuck firmly to the originally quoted fee and were uninterested in discounting the job even though the project was executed so poorly. Oh, and the dev site they created? Indexed by Google because these morons don’t know what a robots.txt file is. Avoid at all costs.
The events of March 11th are already beginning to recede into memory, nudged along perhaps by the weighty demands of the work that piled up in the week that followed, a week now essentially a wash. Once back home, however, one need only watch the evening news to see that the horrific reality of it all lingers still .
From improvised shelters scattered across Japan, the gymnasiums and classrooms and community centers now home to those displaced by 3/11′s destructive waves, come the voices of the hapless throng with the dubious good fortune of having returned from the front lines of a battle with nature they never stood a chance of winning.
In these on-camera moments it is for me the unique Japanese-ness of those interviewed which comes through most strongly. Though clearly beaten and battered, these correspondents–at turns young and old, male and female–somehow have the capacity to face the camera and their futures with calm resoluteness and a resilience which belie their precarious station. They symbolize the indefatigable spirit of the Japanese people, and set the bar for the rest of us out here watching, safe at home.
Cut away from the news desk to an indoor basketball court, now housing hundreds of evacuees. A stoic woman faces the camera, flanked by her young son and daughter. “Our home, everything we had, it’s all gone. But we all made it out alive.” No defeat, no tears, no wailing accusations or blame. She’s lost everything, save the few things she values most. You don’t have to look too closely at her face to find an incongruous thankfulness glowing therein.
Scene change to three teen girls who take turns to explain their (now familiar) plight. “Our houses were swept away in the flood, but we’re all okay. With effort we’ll rebuild, and put things right, just like they were before. Right now we really just want to see our classmates.”
And then to the mother with her daughter who–still fearful–clings close to her side. They stand in front of a shelter in Mie Prefecture, now far removed from the carnage. “My name is Akiko Iishida from Miyao City, Iwate Prefecture. Our family is safe, but we are unable to locate my father…” she says, and continues by supplying a name, his neighborhood, other details. She is perfectly composed, enunciating each keyword slowly and carefully, as you can imagine she has done hundreds of times already. Her eyes tell you she will continue reciting these details at every opportunity, for as long as it takes, hoping against hope that her words will fall on ears that know.
Watching them I see the Japanese in them, the upright, steady, implacable resolve that will carry them through–and eventually far beyond–the incalculable hardship they confront today. But then it occurs to me. I remember that for every one of these heroic figures selected by the evening news to lift our spirits with their message of proud hope, there are ten, hundreds, even thousands of less fortunate others for whom even these tragic stories might seem a fairy tale. For them the prime time coverage is minimal at best, and not because the footage of them is hard to find, but because these scenes are just so painful to show.
A rare exception featured a young girl but a couple years older than my own, standing on the edge of that now-familiar endless wasteland of mud and splintered homes, tears streaming across her smooth, red cheeks, crying “Mama! Maaamaaa!” again and again into that hopeless void, never knowing when–or even if–an answer would come. Chances are good she’ll be calling out to her mother in one way or another for the rest of her life.
Or the old man picking his way slowly along the edge of the carnage, pancho and hat soaked and dark, his gloveless, uncertain hands trembling with cold. He surveys the scene like a pensioner wandering lost in a vast parking lot having forgotten where he parked his car. For him, there will be no going home until he finds it. All the while fresh snow continues to fall, draping the macabre tableau in a blanket of frozen finality.
We admire and celebrate the heroes who made it out alive, cheering their brave resolve in the face of such adversity, but what of these others? Who can endure watching these tragic souls–no less heroes themselves–pick through, dig, and crawl atop the rubble, all hope lost, with no new day waiting somewhere ahead? How do you celebrate the heroism of their relentless searching amid the inexorable whittling away at the list of possible good outcomes? With what other than profound despair can you follow their tireless efforts, persisting even in the face of a sole remaining positive, a step away from hopelessness, where happiness only comes with the discovery of a loved one’s lifeless body, buried deep in the wreckage that was once your life? I can think of nothing.
These stories–and they number in the thousands–are just too painful to share, and for this reason most will never be told, and never be aired. But spare a moment, if you will, for these unsung heroes, and remember: so many are still out there.
Some companies–Apple, for example–excel at marketing, while others kind of suck. Yahoo! falls squarely into the latter group. Take this massive ad I found gracing their login screen today.
First, last time I checked, hipster-types likes these folks don’t self-identify as TV lovers. In fact, they’re more likely to insist they don’t own a TV at all. And then there’s the copy: “If you love TV, then you’re gonna love us.” This is the kind of prose that you’d expect to emerge from the Marketing class at your local community college.
And again, what kind of person says they “love TV”? That’s like saying you love the idea of plopping down on a couch and staring at a glowing box to the attentive exclusion of whatever might be happening around you. People like shows and name them. People like characters or actors or keeping up with current events or learning how to cook. The only people who love “TV” are those who might spell it with six letters.
And why is her finger on the power button?
The end of October each year finds La Cittadella and much of the rest of Kawasaki surrounding the station filled with costumed Halloween revelers and a massive throng of spectators. The event gets bigger and better produced every year, and for the first time the family and I decided to join in the festivities. We chose Alice in Wonderland for our theme, with me as the Mad Hatter, R as the Red Queen, M as the White Queen and S as Alice. We bought basic costumes online and then embellished them with add-ons and other assorted touches. We thought we were looking pretty fine, until we got to the venue and had a look at how the pros do it. Here are some examples.
Looking forward to doing it again (and better) next year!
You can see the full gallery (with high-res versions) on my Picasa site.
I waited a while before getting an iPad. From the pre-release hype right on through the orgiastic post-launch buying frenzy I kept thinking, “now here’s a device that’s getting waaaay more attention than it deserves.” I mean, let’s face it, the way things are these days Apple could announce an iFlowbee and Mac fans everywhere would be as giddy with excitement as a Japanese schoolgirl queuing for an Arashi concert.
Truth is, for me, a long time Windows user, I’ve come to think of new product releases more as cause for trepidation than celebration. And anyway, I already had a MacBook and an iPhone, so what was the point of buying something new that’s sort of like both yet… somehow neither? A keyboard-less, limited capacity iPhone Grande-type affair that can’t make calls or take photos or run normal apps? Meh. The last thing I needed was some new identity crisis-afflicted gizmo to keep me shackled to the internet for even longer each day. No thanks, I scoffed, and resumed waiting for Outlook and GMail to stop bickering and let me get back to work.
And then one day the following week I was wandering around Bic Camera and I spied an iPad on display. I had to wait a couple of minutes while two teenage girls (who apparently thought it was a mirror) used it to apply makeup. When they finally flitted away I approached and carefully picked it up. Shiny, I thought. And Sleek. Sexy. I ran my fingers across its smooth surface. I measured its heft, traced its curves, and imagined it… close to me. Then My fingers located a button, and I turned it on.
And so it was that the seeds of iPad desire were planted.
But I bided my time. Fifty thousand yen, give or take, so why rush, right? Some weeks passed. A background process hummed along in my neocortex, sampling at regular intervals bits of data to juxtapose with this new “iPad” concept. Before long it began producing useful output.
I started to see the real potential–the “game changing” potential–of the iPad. Beyond its obvious consumer-centric applications, such as being exceedingly nice (dare I say, almost perfect?) as a digital media consumption device, or mobile game platform, I began to imagine various business opportunities, ways the iPad could be the centerpiece of all manner of new solutions we could offer our clients. All manner of possibilities soon emerged. Oh, the possibilities, I thought…
Thus armed with the necessary justification I zipped on down lickety split to the local Apple store and bought one. (Why not Bic Camera? Try 5000 yen more expensive, and no points!) Here are my impressions after the first week.
Small, yes, but not too small. I’m used to lugging around a MacBook, and the iPad is by comparison almost unnoticeable. Drop it in the bag and off you go, with nary a thought of how “this is probably good for my biceps.” And if you want to whip it out on the train, or platform, or in the queue, or in a meeting, or wherever, it’s out and on in seconds. And putting it back of course is just as easy. For pure speed and ease of bag-to-bidness I’ve never seen anything better.
I had only recently upgraded to the iPhone 4, with it’s predecessor being a 3G on iOS4, which–anyone who knows will tell you–is a computing experience a whole lot like watching a pensioner cross a busy street. Lots of hanging back and waiting for the right timing before lurching forward with all the stability and poise of drunken salaryman on ice skates. With the iPad there’s no waiting for anything, really, save the occasional game pre-load. Responsiveness and satisfaction? Highly correlated to say the least.
This perhaps surprised me the most. Compared to my previous keitais, the iPhone is a real drag when it comes to inputting text, and I guess I just assumed the iPad would be the same. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I actually like typing on the iPad more than with a regular keyboard. Granted, were I a touch typist this might not be the case, but as a keyboard gazer I find the iPad keyboard extremely easy to use. Add in predictive text and corrective typing and you’ve got yourself a veritable typing machine.
Having iA’s Writer installed (what I’m using now) certainly helps as well. For writing on the iPad nothing (that I know of) beats it. Don’t get me wrong, Im not talking about this “distraction free environment” business the creators tried to sex it up with. (Okay, fine, so it’s a text editor. I suppose you have to say something provocative to generate interest in it. Still, if a distraction-free environment is the goal I’d suggest they rename the app W.C. Writer…) Marketing pretense aside, the app just makes the writing process fast and easy, the way it should be. The text is large and clear, the keyboard has all the extra bits you would want, and you can get content off it without really doing anything. In a nutshell? We like.
I got the WiFi version instead of the 3G, since having Pocket WiFi means my WLAN goes wherever I do. Web, mail, apps, whatever: if I need connectivity I’ve got it, and with that, well, I’ve got just about everything (including that new pair of shackles…).
And as for complaints? The only one so far is the inability to display Flash content. For me that means it’s impossible to view Google Analytics data on the iPad which, y’know, pretty much sucks. Chances are good I’ll have to resort to using a VNC or RDP client to connect to a Windows box somewhere. Though less sucky than no access at all, is still pretty sucky.
But that’s it! Battery life seems great, there a lots of good apps and content, and I don’t have to drag my MacBook around anymore. It is, all in all, a beautiful iPad life!
Congratulations on finding my personal blog. It's been around in various incarnations since 1997, which is before blogs were called "blogs." See if you can top that.
My name is michael, and denbushi (電武士) is the now-dorky-seeming online name I made up back when I thought (ever so presciently) that some kind of unique nickname for the interwebs might be handy. Just for the record, it IS unique (even today!) except for this jujitsu variant/dojo in Puerto Rico which co-opted it without even asking me. If I had to cage-fight them for exclusive use of "denbushi" chances are good they'd win. But I'd still do it.
These days I live in Tokyo and mostly use my real name. A few years ago I founded a design and marketing agency called netwise. We do web and internet stuff. We're pretty good at it.