I recently moved web hosting services and decided to start a fresh blog using Wordpress and combine Za with my personal blog at Xanga. The new blog will be mostly my thoughts, musings, and ideas about design, media, and innovation discovered through my experiences. In the mean time, I will keep this blog in place to keep the links intact, but this will be the last post for Za.
You can subscribe to the the new blog here. Hope to see you on the other side.
I'm currently working on a class project in the Stanford d.school trying to redesign the movie review segment on The Takeaway, a new morning radio show on WNYC (NPR). One of our prototypes takes voice reviews from multiple listeners and combines them in a short segment, which we call the Mother of All Reviews (reference to the Mother of All Trailers, something they currently do on the show).
How does that sound? Did it give you a sense of what people think about the movie?
Our goal was to give listeners a "sense" of what people think about the movie. People don't particularly care about one long anonymous review, but the radio medium doesn't allow people to scan reviews like they do on IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes. So if we put together several short reviews, would it give people the "sense" of what the general public think about the movie?
What do you think?
Today I had the 極新味 (Kiwami Shin Aji) Ramen (pictured above) at 一風堂 (Ippudo) which cost 1300 yen (roughly US$13).
If that doesn't sound expensive for ramen, it is. A $13 ramen is similar to a $13 burger, except ramen is never sold in hotel restaurants or boutique-y cafes. Ramen is almost exclusively sold in ramen restaurants, and the normal cost is between $5 and $7.
If that sounds too expensive for ramen, it isn't, and you might be eating too much instant noodles.
When I got to the restaurant, as is always the case during lunch time, there was a line. No problem; there was ample seating outside and electric heaters to keep customers warm. As soon as I arrived, a waitress came outside, greeted me, and asked me how many in my party. This made me comfortable in knowing that I'm not being forgotten and my place in line was set. The wait was short, about ten minutes (ramen in Japan is a fast, high turnaround food like sandwiches in the US).
The decor of the restaurant was tastefully done in warm wood and bamboo, modern but not over the top. Jazz was the BGM, slightly better than the normal elevator music and much better than the slightly out of tune TV blaring in the corner. There was a place where you can put your coat and bags, rare for a ramen restaurant in Japan (where space is a premium).
The Kiwami Shin Aji Ramen is their flagship ramen, and only 50 are available everyday. The more common red and white ramen cost around $8, which is still pricey for ramen. When I ordered the ramen, they brought out the place setting with the oversized spoon and an information pamphlet. The pamphlet had instructions on how to eat the ramen deliciously, where they got all the ingredients, and why they made some of the design choices. As I was combing through the pamphlet, the ramen arrived.
Couple minutes later, as I was sipping the noodles and broth, they brought out the rice and nube, which is a gelatinous cube of flavor that can be added to the broth. The delay felt peculiar at first, but in retrospect it makes sense. No one starts with the rice first, and if they brought it out with the ramen, it will go cold before most people touch it. As for the nube, they state explicitly in the pamphlet that they want you to try the ramen with and without the nube.
So how did it taste? Different. It was definitely unlike most other ramen I've had in Japan. It tasted good, but it wasn't spectacular. Is it worth trying? Yes. Is it worth $13? Probably not.
But one thing Ippudo did have down was the ramen experience. From the moment I stepped in the restaurant to the moment I stepped out, everything was well designed. They grok that they aren't just selling ramen, they're selling the ramen experience. You eat with your mouth, your eyes, and your mind. That's why your grandma's apple pie tastes better than the one you can get at IHOP. How good food tastes is not only a function of the food itself, but the atmosphere and the service.
Apple understands that they are selling a personal computer experience. That's why their computer doesn't come bundled with crapware and in fourteen separate hard to open boxes. They don't over segment the market and offer eighteen different products confusing potential customers.
Companies that can design experiences will survive over the companies that design products. That's why Ippudo can charge $13 for a bowl of ramen and Apple can make a profit in a slim margin consumer electronics industry.
User experience design, it's the hot topic now. What's next?
The New York Times ran an article today describing the booming debt collection industry:
So many people are in so much debt that the government says bill collecting is one of the fastest-growing businesses. By 2016, employment in it is projected to exceed half a million workers, up 23 percent in a decade.
Inferior goods are goods that decrease in demand when consumer income increases. The text book example is long range bus travel (i.e. Greyhound): as people's income increases, they choose to fly (quicker and costlier), hence decreasing the demand for bus travel. Other examples are fast food, frozen dinners, and instant ramen (when did you eat the most instant ramen? college? case in point).
Inferior industries, as I define it, are industries that hire more people when the economy as a whole is declining. The debt collecting industry is a perfect example of this. In Japan, during the late 90s recession, the Pachinko (legalized form of gambling) industry soared, opening parlors everywhere.
I wonder if economists have studied employment across different industries during various economic climates. This would be nice information for those sick and tired of getting fired at every economic downturn. The best bet, however, might be to get a job that is completely independent of the economy, like a university professor.
A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can't wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans...It's a great story: with the internet, musicians can support themselves by finding a small handful of True Fans. 1,000 sure sounds like a realistic goal, something most musicians should be able to achieve. But is it? Let's look at the numbers.
Assume conservatively that your True Fans will each spend one day's wages per year in support of what you do. That "one-day-wage" is an average, because of course your truest fans will spend a lot more than that. Let's peg that per diem each True Fan spends at $100 per year. If you have 1,000 fans that sums up to $100,000 per year, which minus some modest expenses, is a living for most folks.
One thousand is a feasible number. You could count to 1,000. If you added one fan a day, it would take only three years. True Fanship is doable.
First, how many True Fanisms are out there? Someone may be a True Fan of five bands, which makes up for those people who aren't True Fans at all, so True Fanism is the more applicable metric in this case. How many True Fans do you know (fits the description above)? I'm not a True Fan of any band, and I know very few people who display that behavior. I'm going to make a very liberal assumption and say that there is one True Fanisms per person in the developed world. If every person in the developed world spent their "one-day-wage" on music, the industry would be much bigger than what it is today, but I'll stick to the assumption for now.
The total population of the OECD countries in 2000 was 1.1 billion people, and that included Turkey whose GDP per capital is one seventh that of the US. If we take that 1.1 billion True Fanisms and split them equally in 1,000 True Fanism chunks, the developed world would be able to support 1.1 million musicians, but you know the world doesn't work like that. The most popular bands (U2, Amy Winehouse, Jay-Z) with major record labels grabs most of the True Fanisms in the world, and the lesser known artists have to fight it out for the small left overs. If 50% of the True Fanisms are available to the musicians you and I haven't heard of, that's a maximum of 550,000 musicians that could make a living. In reality, I'm guessing there are millions of bands that have one or two True Fans, not enough to earn a living, and couple thousand that have captured enough True Fanisms to "make it."
Is 550,000 musicians a lot? MySpace has more than 8 million bands, which I presume is only a handful of all the bands in the world. If there are 16 million musicians, and only 550,000 could possibly make a living, that's a survivability ratio of 3.4%, a dismal figure (It's easier to get into Harvard). In reality, I expect less than .1% of all musicians to be making a living off music, and most of us only see the handful that succeed.
What if those 8 millions bands listed on MySpace actually captured 1,000 True Fanisms and made a living on $100,000 a year? That's 8 billion True Fanisms (more than the population of the world, developed and developing) and $800 billion spent on those musicians, slightly under 2% of the world GDP in 2006.
I agree that now more than ever are the tools in place for creative people to survive off a handful of dedicated fans, but it's far from easy. Sure musicians and artists will be discovered through MySpace and become icons of the post-broadcast era, but for every artist that gets noticed, there are thousands that will never see the light of day (Journalism is riddled with survivorship bias). The music industry is still very competitive, and that hasn't changed with the internet or MySpace.
As for 1,000 True Fans, it's a goal, it's reachable, but it's very very tough. If you're thinking of becoming a musician, you better like music a lot because chances are, you won't be making much money; If you are doing it for the money, you're making a horrible life decision. Go apply to Harvard instead.
I'm NOT suggesting another voice menu that allows you to select the music you want to wait on ("press one for reggae, press two for jazz, etc..."). By the time you're ready to wait, you probably navigated through four or five different questions, and the last thing you want to do is answer another one.
Instead, just pick your favorite music when you sign up for your credit card or your bank account. They'll have your phone number, so by using caller ID, they can match the phone call with the account ID and play the right kind of music.
Of course setting up such a system will cost money, and since the call center industry is very cost sensitive (why many are going to India), customer satisfaction is probably not a justifiable cause. Instead, let the music industry pay for it. By knowing someone's musical tastes, you can stream new music from the genre as advertisement. Is the user a fan of R&B? play the newest Amy Winehouse tracks. Alternative? How about the newest White Stripes tunes?
While one could, instead, run a continuous stream of advertisements, that will ultimately irritate the customers and make them more combative (you know the kind) when a person finally picks up on the other side. The best advertisements make people happy as much as it informs them.
"Mantenha Fechada" translated to "It Keeps Closed" perfectly.
I had to remove the hyphen in "Corta-Fogo" since Babel Fish refused to translate hyphen pairs. This was almost identical, if not for the grammatically correct placement of "s" in "Cuts."
Of course this doesn't prove that the designer used Babel Fish to create that warning sign. However, it does bring out two interesting points:
1. Babel Fish is good enough. While not grammatically correct or professional, the Babel Fish translation did get the point across: "Fire door, keep closed." With Moore's law still keeping pace, I think it's not too long until AI translators can hold it's own against human translators. I'm not saying human translators will be replaced, since they are good at reading mood and knowing context (not to mention providing a "human touch"), but the entire web might become legible using AI translators.
2. If the designer did not use any translation software or service, Babel Fish came close to the human translation. I don't think this is the case, but if no software was used, it's interesting that the computer and human translated the same way.
I'm not sure if customized newspapers are the solution (I'm more sure of customized travel guides), but there is probably a easier way of accomplishing this. Imagine a web service that will tabulate the top stories from different news sources (online newspapers and blogs) every day and provides a .pdf which you can print (or even prints for you, but that would probably require some kind of software). All you need to do is specify the sources (in my case, Engadget, Gizmodo, BoingBoing, Techdirt, etc.) and print. You could even specify the printing frequency (i.e. once a day, twice a day, etc.), or the target number of pages. There's clearly a business opportunity here for advertisement since by knowing someone's reading habit, you can also provide targeted ads (same for a customized newspaper too).
It's tempting: buying a 8GB memory card with your digital camera so you can hold 2,500 pictures and never have to worry about switching cards. You can go days, even months without connecting your camera to the computer and show pictures of Christmas parties at Halloween balls. That is, until something goes wrong with your memory card and you lose everything on it. The ability to store 2,500 pictures means you can also lose 2,500 pictures, at once.
That's what happened to me the other day when I was shooting my cousin's wedding (don't these things happen at the worst possible timing?). Two thirds through the reception, my camera gives me a "Card not formatted" error. This was a split second after I took my 250th (roughly) picture of the day. I panicked; here was someone's once in a lifetime (hopefully) event, and I just lost 250 pictures portraying it (for those that don't know me, I used to shoot for a newspaper in college, and still shoot as a hobby). Luckily, besides the 1GB card that died, I also had an old 256MB card which allowed me to keep shooting, albeit conservatively (I once shot 360 pictures in a 2 hour span, and that was on film).
Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. After trying the 1GB card on numerous card readers, I took it to a professional data recovery service, and they were able to salvage all the pictures except eight. They charged by the MegaByte, so recovering a 1GB card cost me about $70, the cost of many GigaBytes of CF cards, but it was worth every penny (or in this case, yen).
Having learned my lesson, I will now go purchase two or three 512MB cards (or 1GB, if the price is no different) and be adamant about changing cards during a shoot. I carry my camera in a camera bag so holding several extra cards is no problem. As for the criminal 1GB card, I will ceremoniously destroy it by driving nails through it. Actually, I'll label it as risky and only use it if all my other cards spontaneously combust and I'm hundred miles from the nearest electronics store.
As for the images above and below, the data recovery service had an interesting side effect of recovering pictures I deleted long time ago. Many of these reappeared, and some of the images were garbled together. None of these pictures are edited in Photoshop. I'm simply uploading them as I found them on the recovery CD. The one on the top is actually a mix of two weddings, one of my college roommate back in December in Kansas City, and my cousin's in Japan two weeks ago. Call it accidental art.
For some reason, this guy kept getting resurrected.
Isn't it kind of creepy? It makes me want to take a lot of random photos and and take a hammer to the memory card to see what the recovery service will pull together. Maybe I'll do that with this no longer reliable 1GB card.
I got this pair of socks at an Onsen Ryokan (Hot Spring Hotel) in Japan. Why does it have a separate slot for your big toe? So you can wear your geta (Japanese sandals) with it!
These socks are called tabi in Japan and they've existed for a very long time. These days, it's used primarily with kimonos (traditional Japanese clothing) though you can usually pick one up in a neighborhood 100 yen store. Another pair I saw once had rubber grip on the sole to prevent slipping (and unintentionally massaged your foot as you walked).
I wonder if these can be sold in the US. I know several people who prefer to wear sandals on a regular basis instead of shoes, but that may be because they don't like wearing socks. What do you think?
And no, I'm not wearing a skirt in that picture. It's a yukata.
Jumping to the conclusion: You burn more calories running the same distance than walking, but the speed at which you run doesn't matter as much unless you run very fast.
Here is the plot comparing calories consumed walking and running at different speed (click to enlarge):
191 pounds is the average male weight ages 20-74 years, and 164 pounds is the average female weight ages 20-74 years in the US (source). The calorie consumption per minute for each of the running and walker speeds were taken off the Healthstatus.com website (I entered 100 minutes for each activity then divided to get the extra significant digits).
As you can see, you spend more calories running the same distance than walking, but there is no clean correlation between speed and calories spent. In fact, you spend less calories if you walk briskly or too slowly than if you walk at a normal speed. On the other hand, you spend more calories running slowly or running very fast.
The above comparison falls short, however, since each exercise takes different lengths of time. Since the human body consumes calories while resting (or even sleeping), in the above comparison the runners are not given the benefit of finishing early and burning calories after the exercise.
For the following graph, I set the total time to be 150 minutes (how long it takes to walk five miles at 2 mph) and added the resting caloric consumption for exercises that don't take as long (I chose "reading" off the Healthstatus website since resting wasn't available).
As you can see the benefits of running is now further exemplified by adding the extra resting calorie consumption. Nevertheless, there still isn't much benefit in running fast, unless you run very fast. Of course this completely ignores the benefits of extra time which enables you to do things like lifts weights or blog.
In conclusion, lessons learned from this number crunching exercise:
- Run if you can, you burn more calories than walking the same distance.
- Don't worry about running fast, unless you run very fast or you want the extra time for something else.
- Fast walking is counter-intuitively unproductive. Try to step it up to a light jog.
This is where something similar to Yahoo Answers (or the now extinct Google Answers) would work greatly. If you don't know about those two services (and there are other similar services, I just can't remember them) , I highly suggest reading about them. In short, they are places where a community of users can post and answer questions. Different services have different incentive schemes to get people to answer questions; Yahoo works on a point system where you have to answer questions in order to ask them, Google worked on money. Simply, what's needed is a platform where people in the company can ask questions to a broad audience.
Of course the finer implementation details are what makes or breaks this system. How would you provide incentive for people to answer questions? You could make it a company policy for everyone to answer one question a day, or you could make it part of someone's performance. How do you make sure the right questions migrate to the right people? Yahoo and Google both use categories and subcategories. Corporate departments and organizational charts might be a good starting point for questions taxonomy. A powerful search function would also be imperative to prevent the same questions from being asked over and over. Furthermore, a powerful search function combined with an archive would create a new type of knowledge database for the company.
Last but not least, Answers could also be used to increase social interaction amongst employees and raise morale. Wouldn't it be nice to ask everyone's opinion on what the best restaurant around the office is? A new employee could ask where the best neighborhoods to live are (and then subsequent new employees could use that knowledge in the future).
It will take a lot of iterations and experimentations to get this right, but anything is better than what we have now, the blind search for someone that could potentially answer your question (and hoping that he or she is not on vacation).
The simple solution would have been to tear the book and keep the pages I needed, but when the books cost $30+, that can feel very wasteful. Why can't I just make the Lonely Planet with only the information I want?
Wouldn't it be great if you could simply select the countries you wanted on the Lonely Planet website and make your own book? With this you could easily make a customized book for some interesting trips like the overland Morocco to Japan passage.
Now you (sort of) can. I was actually looking for some images to add to this post when I discovered that Lonely Planet is experimenting with a similar idea which they call Pick and Mix. Instead of selecting the chapters you want and ordering a customized book, you can just buy chapters straight from the Lonely Planet website in .pdf format. Although they claim that the files are not "digitally restricted" they do "contain a tool that allows us [Lonely Planet] to track when and where each chapter is opened and printed." I guess Lonely Planet is scared of piracy too (this has a very similar feel to those user data embedded non-DRM tracks from iTunes).
So far they only have the Latin America guides available; I presume they did this to test drive the service and verify that piracy won't hurt their earnings (The European guides are probably their biggest sellers and also the continent where Pick and Mix makes the most sense).
I would still prefer a customized book than .pdf files for the simple reason that professionally bound books are much lighter and tougher than ones you make at home. No one in their right mind is going to be reading the guide off a laptop (and no one in their right mind will be traveling with an e-book reader, yet) so sooner or later the .pdf files have to be printed out. If you do it at home, you would either print one sided or go through the head ache of figuring out how to print double sided, and it would most likely be on 8.5x11in paper which is too big to be portable. The other option would be to take it to Kinko's but that would quickly add to the cost (and the chapters are surprisingly expensive already). For this reason, I don't think Pick and Mix is going to be popular just yet; there is too much inconvenience involved with making a .pdf file practical. However, it's still a good idea and a step in the right direction.
Currently, I also don't think the publication/printing industry is setup to offer customized books at a reasonable cost. From the little I know about book printing, presses are usually set up to produce thousand copies of one thing, and not thousand similar but different book. If the automotive industry can build cars to meet individual requests, I don't see why the publication industry can't. For how much they complain about the internet ruining their market, they need to accept the facts and innovate to work with the internet, not against it.
My coworkers and I just ran a back-of-the-envelope calculation on the societal cost of all these people waiting for the iPhone:
150 Apple Stores in the US. Approximate, but close. If someone wants to count: Store list.
100 people per Apple Store. While the NY and SF stores are getting all the attention, the Apple Store in Palo Alto has more than 150 people waiting. I actually think this number is conservative.
10,000 AT&T stores in the US (Source). I’m not sure how accurate this figure is (and if it includes authorized resellers who aren’t going to be selling any on the first day), but we’ll go with it for now.
20 people per AT&T store. It seems like the AT&T stores aren’t getting the same love as Apple stores, but 20 feels like a conservative estimate.
8 hours waiting per person. While the “iLoser” decided to sit in line 100 hours before the release, I think most people started first thing in the morning today.
$20/hr per person. This may seem high, but the average salary in the US was $15.54/hr in 2004, and you have to have some financial clout to afford a phone that’s going to cost you $2000+ in the next two years. I’m sure the mayor of Philadelphia makes more than that too.
What does it all add up to?
(150 Apple Stores x 100 People/Apple Store + 10,000 AT&T Stores x 20 People/AT&T Store) x 8 hr/person x $20/hr = $34,400,000
So there you have it. $34.4 million in people’s waiting time for the iPhone. To be fair though, it seems like some people were actually working while waiting in line with their EVDO cards and laptops (and others were waiting as their jobs).
Nevertheless, we need to come up with a new paradigm for buying release day products so that we don’t waste so much time. Any ideas?
Phojoe will take any picture, and for $199, manipulate it to whatever age you want. I didn’t really see a need for it besides creepy gag gifts at weddings, but apparently plenty of grieving parents order it to see what their deceased sons and daughters would have looked like. One of the customer quotes:
“...I'm 78 and would like to see what my son would have looked like before I die. He was 2 when he was killed and would now be in his 30's...Wow, When I first saw the photo you did, I was floored, it was just shocking as if I was looking at the real thing. A tingle went through my spine. You really captured my son.”
Would you ever get one?
Two people are always on offense.
- When the offense scores, both players score a point and the scorer switches with the defender.
- When the defender gains possession of the ball, he/she scores a point; ball goes back to the offense at the top of the arc.
- Play until a preset score limit, win by two.
Simple isn’t it? If the players are good, the game might lean towards offense too much, at which point, you could raise the points given to the defense. I’m not very good, so when we play, this works out pretty well.
These glasses are shaped in such a way that when the condensed water drips down the side and wets the table, it leaves an imprint of a cherry blossom. Such a simple and elegant solution, I wonder why more people don’t do it.
“Stain is a set of a teacups designed to improve through use.”
By artist Bethan Wood, these teacups stain at an uneven pace so that some parts of the cup turn brown more quickly than other parts. The end result is a beautiful design demonstrating how products can age gracefully too.
Labels: artifact design
Paper in Pen
You know all those situations when you have a pen but no paper (and your hand quickly becomes paper)? Or when you have paper but no pen? Well, now you can lose both at the same time. Interesting idea, if only pens didn’t last forever and the roll of paper probably will run out in a week.
Product Page (via geekologie via Gizmodo)
Magnetic Clothes Hangers
Elegant alternative to the hook but it’s tough when all houses are built with closet poles and hook hangars are
dime dollar a dozen.
Lego Sofa for all those awkwardly shaped New York apartments
It… just… doesn’t… look… comfortable…
No MadeDesign (via Notcot via Spluch via Gizmodo)
Book Pillow, or Boollow
The modern day camouflage, a pillow in the shape of a book.
Product Page (via Nerd Approved via The Uber-Review via Gizmodo)
Inevitably, sticky-notes start to pile up, and I have nightmares of drowning in the trade mark 3M yellow... Ok, I kid. The stickies do start to collect though, with very low grade “I’ll get to it some day” task littered throughout the wall. While I know which stickies have been chillin’ for a while, I wish there was an easily visually noticeable way.
What if you had a pen that drew lines that changed color over time? Logarithmic would probably make more sense:
In 24 hours, the color changes from black to blue
In 10 days, the color changes from blue to green
In 100 days, the color changes from green to red
You could instantaneously tell when something was written, and my desk space would have a hint of color to break away from monotone cubicle.
(note, the picture is not my office)
Raising the prices is a perfectly sensible business decision since chances are, your bar would be overwhelmed with customers cherishing one of the few (and possibly the only) drinking festivities. People will be drinking beer faster than the keg can flow, and you’ll probably be making twice what you make on an average night. Good business decision right?
Let’s look at this the other way around. What if you consider Saint Patrick’s Day to be an opportunity to not make money, but serve more new customers? It’s the perfect opportunity to grow your customer base. Instead of overcharging everyone for drinks, which everyone expects, surprise them by having good specials and bringing in the best DJ in town. Make your bar the cheap and happening place on St. Patrick’s Day, and you will be sure to have converted some new comers into regular patrons. Sure you won’t make as much money on that day, but you just increased your income for the rest of the year.
Sometimes the best business decisions aren’t measured by the most obvious parameters or aren’t measurable at all, but don’t try to make money, try to make customers and the money will follow.