Wondering, wandering, and making sense of the world.


Archive for January, 2011

Competitive advantage for the small guys

Once upon a time, only the largest and wealthiest companies had access to the best collaboration tools sold by large B2B IT companies. When computers were expensive, and corporate intranet even more so, very few companies could afford the productivity gains from IT systems. Now with the internet, the best collaboration tools are now dime a dozen and readily available online. The competitive advantage is not only gone, it has turned the other way around.

Now large corporations are carefully nurturing antiquated systems which are less adaptable to newer collaboration paradigms and hindering their workers by forcing them to use said system instead of cheaper and easier to use tools available online. Furthermore, draconian corporate policies often make it harder for employees to not only use outside systems but also collaborate with other companies who might be using other systems.

When I was at DaimlerChrysler, we had to use IBM Lotus Notes which felt like the equivalent of writing a paper letter using pins and a vat of ink. We all loathed it, but we had no other alternative.

Start up companies, on the contrary, fearlessly use whatever is available to them that is cheap, useful, and efficient. They use Google docs not minding that Google’s most likely unenforceable IP policies will own their company when they turn evil. They play around with different technologies and get rid of ones that aren’t working. They keep up to date with the newest collaboration paradigms and change their toolsets accordingly.

When tools become commoditized, the advantages go to those who are more nimble, not those who are better financed.

And the cycle of creative destruction continues.


Ultimate Frisbee in Paris

(Photo from the Drache Dive Tournament 2010 with Ah Oh Puc)

When I first came to Paris in 2009, I had a hard time finding places to play Ultimate Frisbee, especially since I didn’t speak a word of French (now I speak about hundred). While it looks like there are more resources available online these days, I wanted to create an easy guide for anyone looking to play Ultimate Frisbee in Paris. Note that this information is rather time sensitive, so things may have changed since the time of writing (January 2011).

Pickup Ultimate In Paris (PUIP)

There is a group of us that play pickup ultimate frisbee on most weekends at Cité Universitaire in the 14th arrondissement (RER B or Tram 3: Cité Universitaire). In the spring, summer, and fall, the games are held almost weekly while they are a little bit more sparse in the winter and holiday times.

View Larger Map

The field we play on (map above) is right behind the main building in Cité Universitaire. Take RER B or Tram 3 to Cité Universitaire and go through the main building to get to the field.

The games are organized by e-mail / google group on a weekly basis and do not follow a regular schedule. Check on the google group to see if there is pickup that weekend and when or join the group and propose a time. Most likely few members (including myself) will respond within the first few hours with their availability or alternate suggestions. If there are enough people available, pickup will happen that week.

The field is nice, especially for Paris, but slightly small so the games tend to be five-on-five or six-on-six. The level is very casual and beginners are welcome as well as cleat-wearing seasoned veterans. Water is available on the field but bring your frisbee if you have one.

The group includes both French and International players and very English friendly. The organization e-mail may be in French but no one will complain if you respond in English (as I do).

Update (30.09.2012): According to Trevor who still lives in Paris (I no longer do):

Pick-up is mostly organised through Facebook these days. There are two Facebook groups: “Pickup Ultimate In Paris – PUIP” and “Good Vibes – Ultimate Frisbee Pickup in Paris.”


There are a lot of Ultimate Frisbee teams in France and especially in the Paris area. FFindr has a good list of clubs in France.

I play (when I’m not injured, which is now) with the largest team in Paris called Ah Ouh Puc which practices at Stade Charléty (on the side field, not the stadium) on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings (depending on your level) around 20h30. They have multiple teams for players of different levels as well as women’s and coed teams. Players are mostly French and the operating language is French but they are welcoming of foreigners and non-French speakers as well (they do have an English section on their website, although it’s mostly broken). The season runs from fall to spring as the summer is reserved mostly for holidays and the Summer Love (more below).

If you’re interested in joining, show up to couple practice sessions to get a feel for the team or contact the organizers via the website. Note that if you do want to officially join the team, there is a fee (~165 euros for the year) which covers the practice field fees but not tournament fees or uniforms and a pretty involved registration process which requires a doctor’s note to prove that you are fit to play (which is normal in France, but seemingly bureaucratic for other cultures).

Summer Love

Summer Love is a Hat tournament in Paris starting in July and ending in early September. The games are played on a weekly basis, mostly on Wednesdays and sign-up is done through the FFindr website (I don’t know when the registration opens). You have to register early as there are limited spots and they do fill up. There is no fee for participating in the Summer Love. The details from last year’s tournament is available here. The level of play is not intense but not novice either, so absolute beginners may have a hard time keeping up. I played last year and had an awesome time as the weather is fantastic during the summer in Paris and the games were a lot of fun.


n-type and m-type products

Ever since writing the “n-type and m-type people” post over a year ago, I’ve been wondering about the notion of n-type and m-type products. What is the difference between two products that have the same average rating but an entirely different rating profile?

n-type products are products that most people think are average with very few people loving it or hating it. m-type products, on the other hand, are products that people either love or hate.

I would think that something as bland as sliced bread is an n-type product where something more distinctive like blue cheese is an m-type product. I know a lot of people who love blue cheese and some people who hate blue cheese, but I don’t know of anyone who love or hate sliced bread.

I’ve now believed for a while that the most successful products are the ones that create polarized opposing opinions, but I’ve never had any justification besides a small quote from Jeff Bezos (founder and CEO of Amazon) who mentioned that the best selling products tend to create conflicting opinions (I can’t find the exact quote anymore).

Recently, however, the blogging researchers at OkCupid have scientifically proved that at least for one kind of “product,” conflicting opinions lead to more desired results. Specifically, researchers analyzed the data from their free online dating site and discovered that controlling for other variables (e.g. average rating), women with more variance in ratings are more likely to get messaged through the website. To explain in pictures (borrowing from their blog post):

With this knowledge, the researchers come up with one practical advice for women:

Take whatever you think some guys don’t like—and play it up.

I think this advice can be translated into the field of design as well:

Take whatever makes your product different – and play it up.

This may seem like an obvious advice, but in reality, companies try to design products that will try to satisfy the most people, which really is about offending the least number of people. Look at all the different consumer electronic products or cars on the market. How many of them truly have an identity that is distinguishable and defendable (or offendable?).

Apple is one company that isn’t afraid of offending a handful of people in trying to create what they see as the perfect product. Talking about design and innovation with different people, I often run into passionate Apple-haters who will spend five minutes listing all the reasons why they won’t buy Apple products and I shouldn’t too. I’ve never seen that kind of behavior with Samsung, Creative, etc. Quickly browsing through Amazon, I’ve noticed that a lot of Apple products have m-shaped rating profiles where many people love them and few people hate them.

The idea that m-type products are more successful than n-type products is nowhere near scientifically substantiated thus it remains as an unproven hypothesis. Nevertheless, with more and more online reviews and ratings, this kind of data is becoming increasingly available and analyzable. Writing a script to analyze the top selling products from certain categories in Amazon should not require more than few grad student days. Research could be expanded upon other realms as well, for example movies ( or restaurants (

Anyone want to take on this research challenge?


ラーメンの食べな方 / How not to eat ramen

週末写真プロジェクト。Random weekend photo project.

ザ・エックス(両手持ちですか…)。The X (Two-handed?).

箸でスパゲッティ(ってか麺とり過ぎです)。Spaghetti style with chopsticks (that’s way too much noodles at once).

レンゲだけ(麺滑りませんか?)。Just the spoon (isn’t the noodle slippery?).

箸一本、レンゲ一個(なるほど、こういう食べ方もあるか)。One chopstick, one spoon (interesting approach).

そのまま口へ(それはスープ呑む時だけです)。Straight to the mouth (that’s only for drinking the soup).

指で(お行儀悪いです)。With the fingers (Ramen is not finger food).

正規スパゲッティスタイル(あきらめましたね)。Normal spaghetti style (you gave up didn’t you).

箸も使えて、ちゃんと食べ方知っているのに無理矢理僕のわがままにしたがってモデルになってくれたマリオンに感謝。Special thanks to Marion for posing for the camera when she knew exactly how to eat ramen and use chopsticks.


Polarizing technologies

There is a relatively unknown theory in the social sciences / economics called the Kuznetz curve that tries to explain how inequalities in a country changes throughout its development. The core principle is that inequality is lowest in the most undeveloped and developed countries, while highest in the developing countries. The underlying theory proposes that in an agrarian society (i.e. undeveloped countries), people are equally poor as manual laborers and farmers, but as development happens and factories and companies form, the division of labor creates different classes of workers (i.e. CEOs, managers, factory line workers) leading to an unequal distribution of wealth. The decline in inequality in further developed countries is often attributed to the development of social policies that redistributes income from the wealthy to the poor.

Inequality has been the Achilles heel in modern society, as many new institutions of production have not been able to distribute the wealth equally. Deng Xiaoping realized the inherent conflict between wealth and equality when he said “let some people get rich first” before putting China on an incredible 30 year growth spurt while destroying some of the underlying principles of Communism. Hans Rosling has a great video clip in his TED presentation that shows how wealth distribution in China changed through out its period of rapid growth.

I’ve recently started thinking about and tracking technologies that have polarizing effects on society. This is probably best explained through examples:

Before Yelp and the Internet, there were many different restaurant review books (e.g. Zagat, Michelin) and articles that allowed people to compare the different offerings and choose accordingly, but now the convenience has been improved and the capabilities have been brought to the masses. What’s the effect? With the freer flow of information, people are now able to access an incredible database of information to optimize their restaurant choice through the ratings and reviews of Yelpers. Who will consciously decide to go to a two-star rated restaurant when there are four-star restaurants surrounding it? As a result of Yelp, the better restaurants will gain more business at the loss of the lesser restaurants. Polarization. You could argue that this is a good thing, empowering consumers to make better decisions through better information, increasing the competition between the restaurants, and ultimately raising the quality of restaurants. However, you can’t ignore the polarizing effect and the inequality Yelp brings to the marketplace. I would also argue that we are just at the beginning of this effect with Yelp, as most people still don’t check online ratings before making restaurant decisions (behavioral changes happen slowly) and the mobile internet will allow people to access the information anywhere.

A more classic example is the phonograph which went into mass production in the 1890s. Before portable music, every town and city had their share of musicians. When the phonograph was invented, musicians celebrated the fact that their music can now be distributed and heard by more people, but instead, most people decided to listen to the most popular and best musicians in the country. The average musician was pushed out of their jobs as the marketplace for music shifted from local to global. You can imagine that Hollywood have had the same kind of effect on the movie industries around the world. It’s no surprise that the bustling movie industries outside of the US have large local populations to support it (India, Nigeria) or is government subsidized (South Korea).

The last example is something I experienced growing up in Hawaii as a young child (1993-1996). During my stay in the island of Hawaii, a relatively small community of 150,000 people, the modern marvels of logistics and economies of scale came to the island in the form of Costco. While some people celebrated the introduction of cheap goods onto the island, the end effect was the utter destruction of mom and pop stores throughout the island. For example, Costco was selling bicycles cheaper than the local stores could source them. Of course as kids, we saw Costco as an outlet for free samples and cheap candy, so I have to thank my math teacher Mr. White for pointing out this polarizing effect that many of us were blind to.

The opposite of polarizing technologies is democratizing technologies, technologies that break the polarization and levels the playing field.

The internet has been widely heralded as a democratizing technology, although I would argue that in many ways, it’s both polarizing (see Yelp above) and democratizing. The democratizing effect of the internet can be seen on the newspaper industry. As the cost of information distribution dropped to near zero, more and more people are able to create content (e.g. blogs) that captured the finite attention market of the masses (and most content creators aren’t converting the attention into advertising dollars). Of course the destructive effect of this democratizing technology is being felt by many professional journalists around the world.

I also think the internet has democratizing effects on the music industry. As more musicians are able to reach the fans directly without relying on SONY BMG Music Entertainment or other labels to distribute their music, the internet gives more musicians who aren’t the cream of the crop to still have some kind of exposure and income. This doesn’t mean polarization won’t happen, but it will minimize the degree to which it happens. Forty, fifty years ago, I would probably be listening to the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and other bands that topped the Billboard charts. Now I don’t even know who is on top of those charts anymore. Instead I’m listening to music that I discovered that I enjoy, many of which are on the long end of the long tail (Ever heard of Psapp, Black Box Recorder, Lykke Li?).

I don’t want to simply say that polarizing technologies are bad and democratizing technologies are good. Reality is much more complicated than that to measure the value of something with one attribute. However, we need to think more about the effects of technology on the society as a whole rather than than the immediate benefits of it. Currently, there are very few people thinking about and researching this, and we have no social institutions or systems that takes a holistic view and can harness the beasts we are unleashing.


明けましておめでとうございます – Happy New Year – Bonne Année



平成二十三年 元旦 パリ