Wondering, wandering, and making sense of the world.


Archive for December, 2009

Why does Santa Claus wear red and white?

According to a friend with whom I had dinner tonight, a Japanese radio station informed its listeners today that Santa Claus is depicted wearing red and white because Coca-Cola branded him with their corporate colors in advertisements. As it turns out, this is simply not true according to Snopes:

However, we as human beings prefer definitive answers: We want details about time, place, and source and tend to eschew ambiguous, indefinite, open-ended explanations. We don’t find satisfying the notion that Santa Claus is an evolutionary figure with no single, identifiable point of origin, so we instead have created and clung to a more satisfying, pat explanation: The modern appearance of Santa Claus was a commercial creation of the Coca-Cola company, who cannily promoted a version of Santa garbed in their red-and-white corporate colors.

The Coca-Cola Santa Claus myth is the perfect example of a sticky urban legend: it’s simple, offers an explanation, and fits the time (i.e. Corporate Greed). It would be a lot easier to believe that Santa Claus wore red because of King So-and-So’s declaration if we still lived in a monarchy. As Seth Godin pointed out today, brands, words, or concepts have much more traction when they fit the time.

Time and time again I am reminded that people would rather believe than not know, and that many of us operate with incomplete, false, and/or oversimplified information. We all want to believe that what we know is true, but truth is indeed relative. Be humble with what you know.


What do you decorate?

I believe it is human nature to decorate something, and I’m taking decorate with the loosest of definitions: to control and manipulate to their own liking.

The obvious things to decorate are homes, gardens,  cars, yourself, and food but the list can be much more than that. Some people like to decorate aquariums, wives (think trophy wives), small potted plants (bonsai), home entertainment systems, pets, social network profiles, cellphones, and more.

It’s a basic human need, and in the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it belongs somewhere between Esteem and Self Actualization.

I decorate my work environment, both digital and physical. I arrange my office so I know where things exactly are, my home office so that it’s comfortable, my laptop by installing the right software (and removing the extraneous ones), my inbox with message filters and folders, etc. Lifehacker is my Home Magazine.

What do you decorate?


2000 days of blogging

In trying to guilt me into buying their premium service, Xanga lets me know how many days I’ve been part of their service. As Xanga was my first blogging platform, this means I have now been blogging for 2000 days. For my 1000th day post, I took a stroll down memory lane digging up posts from notable chronomarks. I will try something different this time.

Blogging is now part of our modern day  culture. Everyone recognizes the word, most people know what it is, many of us do it. In the most recent report I can find, there are more than 133 million blogs in the world (and this doesn’t include blog-like services such as Facebook Notes or Twitter).

So how was blogging 2000 days ago, back on June 28th, 2004? According to Technorati, the 3 millionth blog was tracked on July 7th, 2004. Five of the top 10 blogs today didn’t exist back in 2004:

1. The Huffington Post Launched: May 9, 2005
2. Gizmodo Launched: 2002
3. Boing Boing Launched: 1988 (zine), 1995 (website), 2000 (blog)
4. TechCrunch Launched: June 11, 2005
5. Gawker Launched: January, 2003
6. Mashable! Launched: July, 2005
7. The Daily Beast Launched: October 6, 2008
8. Engadget Launched: March, 2004
9. The Corner on National Review Launched: October, 2002
10. Launched: November 8, 2005

The word “weblog” was coined in 1997 and the verb and noun “blog” entered the English language in 1999. was launched in 1999, Xanga started its blogging service in 2000, and the first releases of WordPress and Typepad didn’t happen until 2003. I sense that blogging was near the inflection point in 2004 when I joined. From 3 million in the summer of 2004 to 133 million in the beginning of 2009, the number of blogs increased by 44.3 times over 54 months. That means the blogosphere doubled in size roughly every 10 months (assuming exponential growth).

I doubt very few people in 2004 thought blogging would become this popular and compete with the traditional media outlets. Did you imagine then that blogging would become some people’s full time profession? that political dissidents would be jailed and prosecuted for blogging? that  a blogging company (Weblogs, Inc.) would be sold for $25 million in 2005 and another (Gawker Media) valued at $300 million in 2009?

Change happens fast and it’s difficult to appreciate it while you are living it. That’s why it takes some chronomarks to appreciate it.

Next up: my 10,000th day since birth on February 6th, 2010. Want to celebrate with me?








Chickenshit, Bullshit, Elephantshit

According to a Stanford Design group lore, there was once a professor who declared that there are three kinds of conversation in the world: chickenshit, bullshit, and elephantshit. Chickenshit is the small stuff, the conversation to fill the void and not much more. Bullshit starts to mean something, but in the end, it’s bullshit. Elephantshit on the other hand, that’s the shit that changes your life.

Leaving the graphic imagery aside, you can imagine what this professor meant. Think back to the last few exchanges you’ve had and you could probably categorize it in one of these three… shits.

I find chickenshit to be mostly about facts, indisputable truths you share to solicit the reaction: “That’s interesting.” It’s rarely personal and if not sticky, not memorable.

Bullshit is more about the exchange of opinions where things get a little bit more personal. The conversation is no longer easily agreeable, and different emotions may be triggered.

I used to think that elephantshit was about the exchange of beliefs, which fit nicely in the “fact, opinion, belief” triptych. However, I think elephantshit is much more than that. Elephantshit is really the conversations that change people, get people to rise up and start a movement/revolution.

Chickenshit is comfortable, elephantshit is consuming. Can you imagine the founding fathers of the US having a chickenshit conversation before setting off to declare independence?

Having experienced all three levels of conversation in the last few days, I find myself much more stimulated by the elephantshit. However, it’s difficult to leave the comfort of chickenshit, especially when you’re in groups that don’t know each other well. How do you traverse between them? Good question. I’m still trying to answer that one.

The word shit was used 23 times in this post, including the one in this sentence.


Can you design cute software?

Fail Whale

…and I’m not talking about cute icons, characters, or fonts.

To this day I have a hard time understanding the success of Twitter over its competitors back in 2006. Many of its competitors had more features and were more reliable. Twitter was down so often that the fail whale (pictured above) had become a cultural icon amongst the netizens, yet no one seemed to mind.

I was discussing this with one of my students and he offered an interesting hypothesis that people forgave Twitter because it tried, sort of like the cat that keeps falling out of trees.

I’ve heard similar anecdotal references to the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner. From what I hear, the robot is far from perfect and very inefficient as a cleaning device, but people still buy it. According to this study, 21 out of 30 owners gave names their Roombas. I’ve always thought that iRobot was really creating a companion robot with a basic function rather than a cleaning robot. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’ve noticed this.

So can you design cute software that people will forgive when it fails? Imagine if owners encouraged their computers every time Windows crashed instead of yelling in anger.

Sure if would be great if everyone could design perfectly functioning products, but if you can’t, can you design it in a way that the owners will forgive it? and in extension, you?

What are some far from perfect products you own and why do you keep it? Besides the fact that you don’t have the resources to replace it…


The fully automatic hotel

I can empathize how the human touch can be missed.

I am currently staying in a fully automatic hotel in Helsinki. I booked the room through the website, and they sent me an e-mail and SMS confirmation with a door code that gets me into the hotel and into my room. The reception here is a computer and a phone that connects you to some call center. All the instructions are written in the e-mail, at entrance to the hotel, and in the room. I didn’t interact with a single human being from making the reservation to checking into the room.

If I wanted to make a reservation through a phone operator, I would have to have paid 9 euros per reservation and 1.97 euro/min on the call.

Apparently this is becoming more common in Europe where strictly labor regulations elevate the cost of workers. It’s hyper efficient. Labor costs are minimized and rooms can be offered for much cheaper (59 euros/night, which is as cheap as you can get in Helsinki).

I can understand how people felt when many of our basic social functions were automated: vending machines to replace store clerks, websites to replace phone operators, and kiosks to replace ticketing agents.

What’s the value of human touch? Until we can effectively quantify that, we’ll probably keep optimizing all our social functions around only the values we can measure.


Welcome to the new SushiLog

I’ve decided to leave my old blog at Xanga after 1984 days and start fresh on my own website. Most of my friends at Xanga stopped blogging or left the service long ago and I could no longer bear the useless feature creep that took over the once lean and popular blogging platform.

I am also closing Za, the idea blog I started back in January 2007. I simply did not have the time and attention to maintain two blogs simultaneously, and Za was the casualty. I will keep both blogs online for posterity and archival purposes. One of the posts on my Xanga was Boing Boinged and is now linked from the Washington Post (albeit the Post Mortem blog).

The new SushiLog will continue to publish my thoughts, musings, and ideas on design, media, and innovation interspersed with a little bit of creative writing and travelogue. You can subscribe to the RSS feed here.

I also promise to write about why I’m in Paris soon.


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