A SXSWi Moment

As I walked along 6th Street in Austin during SXSWi, I could hear the strains of band after band pouring through the open windows and mixing with the buzz of the crowd and the smell of beer and street sausages.

Outside of a bar one band set up shop on the sidewalk.  The four women of The Scarlet Effect apaprently had not yet booked a show during the music festival but drove out from Mcallan, TX, to busk on the street. Apparently, that effort actually earned them a show at one of the venues, which is an awesome story in and of itself.

I stopped to listen to them for a few minutes and they sounded great. Check them out if you get the chance.

The four of them stood against a building singing and playing guitar in hard rock, punkish, garage band style. The sound quality wasn't great, but they were using a loud, small-ish amp, that one of the band member was carrying while performing.  One guy in the crowd, after listening briefly, stepped up to the woman with the amp and started adjusting the knobs on it, tweaking the sound.  The band never stopped playing, the guy stepped back into the crowd, and someone remarked, "Wow. That does sound better."

How many places are there where random guy in a crowd of people has the expertise, can go up to a random group, fix their sound, step back, and everyone is cool with it?

It was one of my favorite moments at the show.  You can check out The Scarlet Effect on their Facebook page.


Shatner-Palooza: 80 Awesome Things for 80 Awesome Years

William Shatner celebrated his 80th birthday this year, which is kind of mind-boggling. There's is something about Shatner that defies age. It's like the Shat is an eternal, universal element of some sort.

Here's a great way to celebrate -- cotemplate these 80 things that make him simultaneously awesome and ridiculous. It's something we should all aspire to. Thank to Jon for the list.

Today is William Shatner’s 80th birthday. Star Trek’s original Captain Kirk seems to be unstoppable as he heads into his ninth decade. As an actor, writer, pitchman, philanthropist, entrepreneur, and more, William Shatner is an endless source of inspiration and entertainment and so again we honor the man by updating our ‘awesome list’ all about Shatner with more video and, of course, more awesome. 
Click here for the list


Qantas crew objects to Team?

Qantas has a new safety video for its A380 passengers.  It feature John Travolta and is raising objections from Qantas employees.

According to the Seattle PI:

Cabin crew “say a ‘real pilot’ — like Captain Richard de Crespigny, credited with saving 466 lives on the failed QF32 flight from Singapore — should front the message,” The Telegraph reported.


Crew members also deem it “demeaning” that Travolta and others in the video refer to “the team,” a flight attendant says in the story. “It makes us feel like we work at McDonald’s.”

...More (a little)

Okay, I can see the objection on the first part. While Travolta is an actual jet aircraft pilot, I can see them preferring to see an employee do it. I'm not sure I agree Travolta is a bad choice, but I understand.

But the second objection I find baffling.  Is is a cultural issue? Is "Team" a term of derision in Australia?  Sure, it seems a little cheesy, but I'm confused by the interpretation that it's demeaning. I'm not saying the complaint is baseless.  It just strikes me as odd.


Is it okay to ask if Maru is okay?

Maru is a chubby, adorable Scottish Fold cat who lives in Japan.  He's clumsy and has an affinity for jumping in and out of boxes.  Because of his silliness, he's internet-famous enough to merit his own Wikipedia page.  Individuals videos of him on Youtube have literally millions of views.  You can spend hours watching them here or, if you read Japanese, read more about Maru on his blog.

A week after the quake struck Japan, the GF and I wondered what happened to Maru.  With everything going on, I figured I might find a link to a blog that might have an update buried in the search results someplace.  I typed, "is maru okay" in the Google search box and the results stunned me.

The good news is that Maru is okay and is apparently getting used to a carrier in case he and his human need to evacutate.

The level of concern for this kitty amused, appalled, and made me feel warm and giddy.

With nearly 10,000 dead, hundreds of thousands of people suffering, and a disaster that is still unfolding a week later, what is wrong with so many of us that there is this level of concern for a cat? My first thought was that it was almost offensive.  And then I got over myself.

For some reason, Maru in his silly videos has touched people around the world. For many people these videos maybe their only connection to Japan outside of mass media.  It feels like a personal connections. And it's their only connection to the tragedy of the earthquake, Tsunami, and nuclear reactor problems.

The news shows us thousands.  The news shows us towns being wiped away.  The news talks about the impact in billiions of dollars.  But while the particulars are different, in essence, it's just one more disaster story for us to read about and text the Red Cross about.

As people, we can't make a connection with thousands dead and hundreds of thousands homeless. It's just not the way we're wired.  And if we could make that connection, would we even be able to climb out of bed after hearing about such a disaster? Or even reading a newspaper?  No.

But we can make a conenction with one, little ball of fur and his human, who make us laugh and touch our hearts.  Asking about Maru isn't about disregarding the fate of thousands of people and putting them in line behind a cat.  It's about making sense of the scale of what is happening. And when someone's first question is about Maru, it's not a question about a cat.  It's the only question many of us can ask as we contemplate what northern Japan faces in the coming months and years.

So it's okay to ask, "Is Maru okay?"  And, at least for now, the answer is yes.

I know it doesn't even need to be said (especially if you read all the way to end of my post about a Japanese cat) but please keep the people of Japan and their cats, dogs, and other pets in your thoughts and prayers as the events continue to unfold.


When it's time to leave

On Monday night I went to the Microsoft IE 9 Launch Party.  They rented out the Austin City Limits Moody Theater in Austin, TX.  There were three bands, an open bar, and hundreds of people.  I caught the whole set for Head and Heart, and they are definitely worth checking out.  But that's not what this post is about.

After a few drinks over several hours, I looked around, feeling rather pleasant, and decided it was time to leave. It was a pleasant evening.

But I've come to realize there is a point at an event, especially one with lots of inebriated people, from which the evening can only stay the same, or go down hill.  That doesn't mean I expected trouble -- just that I looked around and realized I wasn't going to get any more out of the event.

Many years ago, I would have waited to see the actual decline every party ultimately goes through, but now...I have no need to witness that. 

I'm sure everyone else there continued to enjoy the event. But I knew that for me, nothing good would come of staying.  Perhaps nothing bad, but nothing good.


Education and Redesign

I attended a panel discussion on how technology cna improve education and decrease complaints from kids that they are bored in school. It seemed like a good topic, but the dicussion didn't go all that well.

The panelists agreed that we have problems. Schools are designed with a factory mentality of standardizing education by the age of the child, with the goal being they obtain a certain amount of educational knowledge and skill based on a certain number of days in the seat at school.  Another panelist said the problem isn't that the school system is broken; it's that it is working exactly the way it was designed.

Okay, I can get behind that.  So what do we do?

Well, there was very little discussion of technology.  Sure, there were some comparisons to the way web companies iterate, and there was a request that companies design products specifically for education instead of repurposing business products, but that was pretty much it.

There were some disucssions about class size, core learning requirements, and other tweaks.  But that's the problem.  They articulated a number of ways to improves the current system.  Some of them could be big and expensive, but they would just improve the current system.

In other words, they won't solve the problem.

The problem they articulated is that there is a fundamental flaw with the very structure of the education system in this country.  You don't fix that by improving the current model; you fix it by getting rid of the current model altogether and implementing something that works.

There was a core disconnect between the problem they cited and the solutions they proposed.

I was waiting for one person to offer an alternative model.  Or at least explain how technology will make the big difference, since that was ostensibly the reason we were there.  But no one did.

This is a discussion that has been going on for years, and we are still calling for a new model without actually seeing on.

I suppose folks avoid talking about actual solutions like a new model because it will quickly be ripped apart in the press, the state house, and the local school boards.  If you can't implement an awesome plan, and I believe the varied politics will prevent that implementation, then why throw a carreer away advocating a plan?

It's much easier to carefully articualte the problem.


Tokyo Travels Part 22: The Prostitutes

This post is part of a series describing a trip I took in May, 2010.

Note: This post does deal with prostitutes (whom I did not hire -- let’s be clear on that) and some readers may prefer to avoid it. It does discuss sex in a roundabout manner, but there is no actual sex in this post. Nor are there any roundabouts. Now you may consider yourself appropriatly warned. Ironically, this disclaimer is also the most explicit part of this post; I don’t know if that means you’ll skip this post or bookmark it.

As a business traveller who frequents hotels in various cities, it’s not uncommon for me to encounter call girls offering their services. Vegas is where this happens most, but I’ve also encountered the saleswomen in Denver and in a hotel hallway in Anaheim (a rather entrepreneurial young woman who chose to go door-to-door).

I was coming back to the hotel in Tokyo one evening by myself. I got off the train Shinbashi and went out a different the Hibiya exit instead of head toward Shiodome and the hotel like I normally did. I was on my way to this McDonalds .

Now, I know what you’re thing, “You’re in Japan and you’re eating at McDonalds?! What are you thinking?!?!” It’s not like that. We heard they have a Fillet-O-Shrimp. How could we pass that up? Okay, I picked up some burgers and fries, too, but really, it was all about the exotic shrimp at McDonalds. That’s my story.

That exit from the station took me to a hopping area, and I decided to explore a little.

There were small noodle shops and and restaurants and bars with music.It looked like any other entertainment district. There are small side streets closed to traffic to accommodate the revelers. They were too small for much traffic anyway. I had stumbled into some party zone just outside of Ginza. It started to rain slightly.

Now, I know I looked like a tourist. Big white guy with a camera bag on his back doesn’t exactly scream “Local!”

I pass in front of building that I think has a narrow canopy. A young woman standing near the curb (so I pass between her and the building) stepped toward me and said, “Massage?” gestures to the building which apparently offers those services on a higher floor. In my confusion it took me a moment to realize what she was saying. I declined and she said something else that seemed to be related to her services and I kept walking.

Now I realize there are non-sex industry versions of the “Thai Massage” she was offering, but I’m guessing that this was not a therapeutic variant.

I rounded another corner on my way to the McDonalds and another attractive woman walked up to me with her umbrella, and put it over us. She was dressed conservatively and yet frillily and said some sort of greeting in Japanese and then, “Sexto?” I declined and kept walking. She said something else, again finishing with, “Sexto?” Again I declined. She tried a couple more times and then finally closed her umbrella and walked off.

There are few things to note here. To begin with, I am assuming they are prostitutes because otherwise these scenarios just don’t present themselves to me.

Besides that, these were probably the two most attractive prostitutes to proposition me. Well dressed, made up to blend in -- nothing that screams “Sexual Services for Sale!” (excpets of course their lips when they spoke).

I was curious about their rates and how they charge (by the hour or piece work) But I didnt’ ask. Since I did not intend to complete a business transaction, it seemed silly to open a negotiation.

This may be an inappropriate reaction but I am flattered by these encounters. Sure, the reason they were willing to supply their goods was for money, but still. At least I was desirable as a customer. Anyone who has worked retail or food service knows that there are definitely some cutomers you don’t want to deal with. For these two business women, I did not fall into that category.

There are three possible reason they might approach me.

1) I look like the kind of guy they might enjoy providing services to.
2) I look like the kind of guy who can afford their services.
3) I look like the kind of guy in need of their services.

I prefer to think it’s number 1.Yes, that may be delusional, but it’s my delusion, and I’m sticking to it.

After those little adventrues, I continued my assigned tasks for the night. I hope the evening was productive for my potential suppliers. I did learn something valuable that evening, though.

The Filet-O-Shrimp is a mighty fine sandwich.


Twitter traffic helps actual traffic

Here and interesting short story from the Seattle PI:

When Michael Micheletti's car stalled in the center lane of Interstate 5, he documented his ordeal holding up traffic on the social networking site, Twitter.
The Shoreline designer told KING-TV that tweeting was his way of passing the time after calling for a tow truck. He didn't expect the quick help he got in response.
I would probably do the same thing in his place.  If I'm stuck in a middle lane, and my car won't move, I suppose I would first call a tow truck, and then start tweeting about it.  I'm not about to get out of my car in the middle of freeway traffic; that's almost never a good idea.  And does it really justify calling 911?
Friends saw his Tweets, which they passed along, and pretty quickly the DOT notices and moves the guy before his tow truck gets there. 
I recall hearing on report once that every minute a lane of traffic is blocked causes 6 minutes of congestion.  Looks like Twitter saved a whole bunch of drivers a bunch of time.


Problem with a QR Code

QR Codes are starting to appear on signs, products, business cards and ads in the US. They've been extremely popular in other parts of the world that have historically had more advanced cell phone technology, but with the growth of the iPhone and Andorid-based phones, they are finally gaining traction here.

A QR code is a variant of the UPC bar code we've seen at the supermarket since the 70s. They add another dimension, which means they can represent more data.

To use one, you point your cell phone camera at the code and use the phone's software to scan it.  Often that will take you to a website.

Here's and example I generated at kaywa.com:

When you scan that QR code, it takes you to this blog, which may be pointless since you're already here, but it would be useful if I put it on a business card.

This is really a long way to go to make my point.  That point is that the only QR code I saw at the Northwest Flower and Garden show was a big miss.

Northwest Flower and Garden Show_2011-02-26

In order for a QR Code to work right, the phone has to be able to read it. The black and copper design had two things wrong with it.  It was low contrast and a little reflective.  That made it hard for the camera to lock on to.  It's an example of form getting more attention than function.

The other problem was that it was dark in that part of the convention center.  That made a marginal QR code illegible for many smart phone users.

This annoys me because the field is still so young in the US. If the only QR codes new users encounter are ones designed in this way and displayed in these circumstances, then they are less likely to give well done QR codes a chance.

And that would be a shame.