Airport, a place where you do things you’ve been meaning to do, like setting up a cloud backup system
In modern life, besides being on the flight itself, the airport may be the single place where one has the largest chunk of waiting time on a (semi-)regular basis (depending on how often you fly). Besides the DMV (and equivalent government offices), rarely do you have 30-60 minutes of waiting.
Airports of course try to capitalize on this by turning the terminal into a shopping mall full of overpriced goods and souvenirs, but could it go further?
Many people have a large todo lists on which many items go un-ticked for a long time. Most of these are probably not possible in the airport, but how about setting up an online backup service?
I recently had my laptop stolen in Belgium and a friend of mine had her laptop stolen in Australia. Luckily for me, I had both a time machine backup at home in Germany and an cloud backup service set up so data loss was minimal. Unfortunately for my friend, she lost some data with her laptop that will most likely never resurface.
Back up is important, not just from theft but from hard drive failures and accidental coffee spills. I believe awareness is rising and tools are becoming easier to use, but I still have many friends who don’t backup their data.
Back to the airport.
What if online backup services had booths in airports to help people set up their backups? Many people travel with their laptop these days, people who use airports frequently are often business travelers and higher value individuals, and there is very little space requirement, just a standing booth with wireless or wired internet access and a person to help set up the installation. Payment can be done on the spot without the usual clumsy online transaction.
I see the target as professionals who’ve been meaning to set up an online backup system but haven’t had the time to do so. One challenge I imagine, however, is that these people may not be traveling with their own laptops but instead their company laptops and maybe a personal iPad. At that point, there isn’t much that can be done.
(I will pre-swallow the shame pill if this is already happening and I just don’t know about it)
I was recently on campus at my Alma Mater, Rice University, and reminded of the fact that it’s been ten years, and all of my twenties, since my graduation. Cliche, but time flies.
So, fellow friends, classmates, and comrades from the class of 2004, how was your last ten years?
Did you do what you planned to do?
Did you accomplish what you wanted to accomplish?
Did you take a sharp turn? Do something completely different from your degree?
Did you get lucky? unlucky? succeed? fail?
Did you further your studies? work in a company? discover your passion?
Did you fall in love? get married? start a family?
Did you enjoy your last ten years?
My last tens years was incredible, full of unexpected twists and turns. Everything didn’t go as planned, and I unknowingly sacrificed stability for adventure, but I’ve learned so much and regret none of it. I hope my next ten years will be as fun, intense, and interesting.
One thing I like about the expat life is that it’s self selecting. Most expat communities are a village, especially the English speaking (mostly) non-married crowd. The danger is that word travels incredibly fast so you have to be on your best behavior or your reputation will supersede you. On the other hand, the inhabitants of the village are often well-traveled, adventurous, and generally interesting people. You rarely find bigoted, uneducated, or close-minded expats, the kind you want to filter out of bar conversations and cocktail parties.
I used to say that I love living in Paris because it’s the intersection of some of the coolest people in the world. While the people I’m meeting in Frankfurt aren’t as diverse (more professionals and less artist-types compared to Paris), I rarely go to a party or event with any less than five countries represented. The expat experience is a bonding one as well; we’ve all had our difficulties adjusting to new customs and cultures, though the bonding is probably stronger in a more foreign land like China or Paraguay. Besides the expat experience or traveling, however, common topics of interest could be hard to find sometime. I do miss being able to talk about Baseball or good Mexican food, both rarities in Europe.
Sometimes, I do wonder if I can keep doing this forever. One cannot be an expat in the same place for too long or one ultimately becomes an immigrant. The very nature of being an expat is the transience that comes with it. Many expats I know have returned home or settled into their new adopted country. Right now it’s hard to imagine myself staying anywhere forever, but will that change? Or can one be an expat for life? A lot of people say that starting a family is what ultimately causes one to settle down. However, I know few people who grew up in multiple countries with transient parents and they ultimately turned out all right, if not awesome. Why do many people think families have to be stationary?
I obviously don’t have the answers to these questions now. However, I feel like I’ll be answering them as I live this rather peculiar life.
Did you know Xanga is gone?
Did you even know what Xanga was?
To be fair, Xanga is not officially dead. The once flourishing blog platform has been rebirthed as Xanga 2.0 which actually is a rebadged open-source WordPress platform. All the features that made Xanga, Xanga, is no longer there. Gone are the eProps, the Pulses, the circles, not that anyone really cared.
Xanga was one of the original blog platforms, before Blogger, Blogspot, Tumblr, WordPress, Typepad. I joined Xanga in the summer of 2004, right after I graduated from college to chronicle my two month Eastern European journey and as a way to keep in touch with my friends from college. At one point I had close to thirty friends actively blogging on Xanga and commenting on each other’s posts. Last I checked, none of them were blogging on Xanga and only one kept up with blogging on a different platform.
I myself left Xanga in 2009 when I moved to Paris and spent an afternoon updating my online life (new hosting service for my website with a new WordPress installation). Without my friends on Xanga and a glut of confusing features that I didn’t need, it made less sense to remain on Xanga.
I didn’t delete my Xanga profile but instead just stopped updating it. Couple months ago, I noticed that I could no longer access my Xanga site and realized what happened to the service. When the founder came to the conclusion that Xanga was no longer working as a business, he decided to shutdown the service unless he could crowd raise $60k to keep the service alive. I didn’t realize this was happening, but luckily enough money was raised so that generic Xanga 2.0 could come into existence.
This was particularly a lifesaver because without it, I may have lost five years worth of posts (445 to be specific) into the vacuum of the cloud. Now all Xanga 1.0 (for a lack of better name) blogs are available to be downloaded, and I was able to port them to another WordPress installation on my website. Ironically, now that the blog is a WordPress installation, it’s actually easier to search through the archives than before. Xanga was notorious for not being search engine optimized.
We say that once something is online, it will never disappear. With this near blog death experience, I may not agree with that anymore. I’m sure parts of my blog were captured by the Wayback Machine but trying to reconstruct it may be logistical nightmare.
Long time ago I wrote about how digital media is so much more fragile than physical media because one hard drive crash could wipe out all digital photos of the ill-prepared family (equivalent of a home burning down with all the albums). I thought there would be a generation of kids with lost childhood pictures, but my opinion on the matter slowly changed as cloud based services started to proliferate (e.g. Facebook, Flickr, Picasa online, etc.). Privacy concerns aside, once pictures go online, they are there forever right?
Well, I’m not so sure anymore. Once upon a time, it was unimaginable that Eastman Kodak, ironically the company most involved in helping people capture memories, would go bankrupt and disappear (which it has for all intents and purposes). It’s not unimaginable that someday in the future, Google, Facebook, Yahoo will cease to exist as new technologies and companies bring forth a new era of media and communication.
So what is the best way of keeping data secure? Printing on archival paper and storing them in a Safety Deposit Box in a Swiss Bank?
(The cover picture is the last archive of my Xanga blog captured by the Wayback Machine, and surprisingly there are only few broken picture links)
Dear person that stole my money and laptop from the hostel in Ghent.
Where are you going with your life?
Is this your profession? Robbing backpackers in hostels?
Or is this a temporary gig until you settle onto something stable?
I’m really curious, because I don’t know anyone else like you.
Do you have friends?
Are they criminals too?
Do you go home and trade notes about your most recent conquest?
What made you go down this dark path?
Did you one day wake up and say you’re going to rob people for a living?
Did something horrible happen to you that made you decide to take advantage of others?
Is it good business?
How often do you rob people?
How much do you make per month? Are you saving for your future or spending lavishly?
What other criminal activities do you partake in?
Are you dealing drugs? Smuggling contrabands?
Do you pickpocket as well?
Are you part of a criminal enterprise?
Is this a starting position before they move you higher?
Do you pay your dues to your bosses?
Is there family waiting for you back home?
Do you send them money? Part of your loot?
Are you married? with kids? What do you want them to grow up as?
I know you won’t answer these questions, but I really do want to ask. Where is your life going? What are your dreams?
I’ve met almost every single Facebook friend of mine.
Which is another way to say I have few Facebook friends I haven’t met in flesh. This is a story about how I met one of them.
Once upon a time in 2005, back when I was in grad school for the first time, I used to participate in Skypecasts. Skypecasts no longer exists; they were voice “chat rooms” where anyone can host and join casts. While there were some “normal” rooms, not surprisingly, a disturbing many of them were focused around scams, borderline pornography, and extremist political and racial views. Nevertheless, I found an interesting group of people who were interested in discussing technology and their effects on the future, and we collectively ran a cast called “Tech Talk” which survived until Skype killed Skypecasts. I became good friends with a Dutch guy and we connected in Facebook, though we never really kept in touch afterward.
Fast forward to 2013, I was coming back from work in the Netherlands on a Friday night. As soon as the international train crossed the Dutch-German border, I loaded Facebook and saw that this Dutch guy broadcasted an hour prior that he was going to Cologne for the weekend. Unless he was driving, I figured that he didn’t have too many different train options between the Netherlands and Cologne, so I typed in the train number on the comments. Sure enough he was on the same train.
Since the time we connected on Skype in 2005, I’ve lived in four countries (U.S., Japan, France, Germany) and had countless number of jobs, but with the help of social media and a tiny dose of self exhibitionism, we managed to find ourselves sharing a beer on a train from the Netherlands to Germany, eight years after we first “met.”
How cool is that?
Last summer when I was traveling in Belfast (a city of 286,000 people), I went for a run in the morning, and few steps outside of the hotel, I ran into my Ultimate Frisbee teammate from Paris. He was Irish and just that week moved back to Belfast. His first reaction was along the lines of “I think I’m in the right place, but what are you doing here?” Very accurately put. Sure enough we caught up after work for some proper Irish ale and pub grub.
We all have these chance meeting stories, and I think they happen more frequently than we think they should happen because we underestimate the number of opportunities we have everyday for these kinds of encounters. Nevertheless, I’m glad that these chance meetings happened, and I’m incredibly fortunate that it can happen to me at such a global scale.
What’s your favorite chance encounter story?
I am an active Yelper. I signed up for an account in 2007 and started writing reviews in 2009. I hit my 500th review last year and so far have managed to review a place in every single country where Yelp is available (Japan is the 26th country).
Back when I started, Yelp was only available in the U.S. (and I think select cities as well). They started expanding internationally in 2008, and in 2012 they acquired the European powerhouse Qype, cementing their dominance in the Western world.
Japan on the other hand seemed off their radar, and that didn’t surprise me. There are already very established restaurant review sites and they operate very differently, fit for the different culture that Japan is.
Now that Yelp has launched in Japan, I can’t help but think that it’s going to fail, miserably.
Yelp’s success in the U.S. was a result of coming at the right time and aggressively building up a reviewer base. When Yelp entered the market, Citysearch was the main player, but the user review web industry was still growing rapidly, and Yelp managed to quickly gain dominance. I remember hearing about their epic parties hosted for the “elites,” the hand-picked heavy contributors to the site.
This became their strategy in expanding their user base. In many of the major markets (cities, not countries), Yelp placed a community manager to promote the service and host events to bring people together. I knew the community managers in Paris when I lived there and scored multiple free meals through Yelp. Frankfurt, my current city, recently got a community manager even though I haven’t made it to any of their events yet.
Yelp, however, never caught up to Qype in Europe, which most likely led to their acquisition, and this is problem number one for Yelp in Japan: it’s too late. There are multiple established players in Japan already, namely Tabelog (short for “eating log”) and gnavi or Gurunavi (which is actually short for Gourmet Navigation). Not only do they have a large user base and immense amount of reviews, they also have incredible amounts of information catered to the Japanese audience such as walking time from the closest station and exit or which cellphone companies have reception in the establishment. Take for example this restaurant page from Tablog:
Yes, that is one page. The information density is incredible, something very unique to Japanese web design and it even lists information like the closest parking lot, the number of seats, and the fact that the ramen restaurant closes once the broth runs out for the day which is typically 18:00-19:00. To collect all this data for Yelp would be an immense undertaking for Yelp, and it won’t fit in their current design, which is problem number two.
Yelp has kept the same interface for all countries even though there are certain things have been locally adjusted like categories (e.g. “Catalan” probably doesn’t make much sense outside of Spain). Even if Yelp were to acquire one of the major players, they won’t be able to fit the data in their existing interface. Yelp with their interface designed for a Western audience is at a huge disadvantage.
At the same time I doubt Yelp would be able to acquire any of the Japanese companies like they did with Qype. While I can’t find the info on Tabelog, gnavi’s revenue is close to that of Yelp (~$250 million) even if it is only available in Japan. In other words, the Japanese sites have already developed a strong monetization scheme through promotions, advertising, coupons, online booking, etc. that Yelp would have to develop in order to catch up, which is problem number three.
The more I compare Yelp’s Japanese offering to the Japanese website, the more I feel like Yelp is a joke. The search engine barely works for for the Japanese language, there is no public transport integration which is critical in Japan, addresses and categorizations are wrong in many instances, and even the announcement on their blog was so transliterated that it felt awkward (the Japanese version was pulled after a few days then overhauled to make it less weird).
I don’t think Yelp is actually that serious about entering the Japanese market but simply placing a flag and seeing what happens. It doesn’t take much to translate the website for the Japanese audience and pay some “Scouts” to start reviewing places in major cities. Most likely their biggest investment was getting the data for Japanese businesses to seed their service (and I have no idea how much something like that would cost). They don’t have any job openings in Japan so they are probably running everything from the Silicon Valley office and not starting an office in Japan for now.
Unless Yelp does something radically different from their previous strategy (and I can’t imagine what that would be), Yelp is going to join eBay in the list of web companies that failed in Japan or Google in the list of companies struggling in Japan (half the market share of Yahoo! Japan). In fact, the comparison with Google is fitting as Google takes a simple one interface for all markets approach while Yahoo! Japan localized heavily from the beginning (Yahoo! Japan is actually an independent joint venture between the American Yahoo! and the Japanese internet and telecom giant Softbank).
One wild card, however, for Yelp may be that they are actually a local business review site and not just focused on restaurants. While I can’t find what percentage of searches or reviews on Yelp are for restaurants (my guess is most), they may find success in Japan as the review site for other businesses such as stores, doctors, or the very popular after work hobby schools (anyone watch Shall We Dance?). I still have my doubts though.
Despite all the negativity, I am glad Yelp has come to Japan. Now I can review my most favorite restaurant in the world.