Wondering, wandering, and making sense of the world.


Archive for May, 2011

The incredible ordinary

News is often a good way of gauging the values and norms of a culture as the news covers what people care about and what is abnormal. Take for example, this news article from Japan (translated from the original in Japanese on Yomiuri Online).

Train conductor fails to wake up, express train delayed on JR Shikoku.

On May 5th, JR Shikoku announced that the train conductor scheduled to board the Marine Liner 1 (2 cars) departing at 5:58am from Kojima station in Okayama Prefecture Kurashiki City headed for Takamatsu failed to wake up. A replacement conductor boarded the train and the train departed five minutes late. 25 passengers were reported to be affected.

According to JR Shikoku, a conductor from JR West switched places and boarded the train. The conductor who failed to wake up was sleeping in the station rest room and forgot to turn on the alarm clock.

No terrorist threats. No deaths. No Lady Gaga sightings. Just a poor train conductor who forgot to set his alarm clock and failed to wake up for his shift delaying 25 people for 5 minutes on some idle Thursday morning.

This is news in Japan, which tells you how valued precision is and how abnormal such delays are. Japan is a country where optimizing the ordinary (especially with regards to time) is done so meticulously on a societal scale that delivery men will run from home to home in some cities instead of driving because stopping and parking takes too long (and even the driver deliverymen will run from truck to homes or apartments).

The ordinary is pretty incredible in Japan.

On the contrary, the Japanese government is being criticized for its slowness in dealing with the recent catastrophe. It’s true; the incredibly streamlined and vertical system can be a barrier to dealing with the unordinary. One writer noted how Americans are terrible at creating safe cities and societies but show amazing ingenuity in the face of adversity like dealing with Apollo 13. However, I don’t think the U.S. government’s response to hurricane Katrina receives a passing grade.


Culture through wall mounting

Next time you find yourself standing next to a picture frame or a plaque (or other things mounted on a wall, like cork boards), see how it is mounted. Is it…

  • Hung on a small push pin or tack? (Very temporary, easy to remove and hide any marks)
  • Mounted to a screw drilled into the wall? (The picture or plaque may be easily changed but there is expectation of something being on the wall)
  • Taped using thick permanent double sided tape? (It’s not changing or going anywhere)

One mounting can be on a whim of the installer but if you see one kind of mounting used over and over, that says something about the culture and attitude towards change of the people in the building, community, country that you are in.


Sex and happiness over time


We are all designers

As a side effect of the highly specialized professional world we live in, we’ve come to treat design as something only designers do and are capable of doing. This is far from the truth. If you take my prior definition of design, “It’s what we do to accomplish what we want.” then you’ve been designing for most of your conscious life including today. For example:

Did you download the latest podcasts onto your mp3 player and connect it to your car so you can listen to them during your commute? You just designed your commute experience.

Did you rearrange the furniture in your office and install new office supplies that would allow you to become more efficient? You just redesigned your workspace.

Did you decorate the dining room and  cook a nice meal for your significant other? You just designed a romantic experience for you and your significant other.

The biggest difference between professional designers and amateur designers is that the designs of professionals reach a broader audience, similar to musicians, writers, and chefs.

That doesn’t mean you can’t do it, shouldn’t do it, or aren’t doing it. Design is one of the most instinctive human activities. Everyone design!


The 101st post

The last post was my 100th post on sushilog, my third personal blog since I started blogging in 2004. My other two, the Xanga blog and Za ended at 445 and 63 respectively, making this post the 609 personal blog post in my lifetime (I’ve written posts in group blogs for some projects in the past). It’s interesting to note that while I was writing on Xanga, I never kept track of my post count because it wasn’t displayed anywhere while I kept tracking the number of days I’ve been blogging because they used that number to convince me to upgrade to premium.

On another note, I’m up to 1044 tweets on Twitter and at least 20,000 emails sent out.

I don’t know what these numbers mean besides the fact that they are big. I wonder what I would have been doing if the internet didn’t exist. Would I have written 609 journal entries? 20,000 letters? and… I don’t even know what the analog analogue of Twitter is. I doubt it. I’m sure I would have spent a good part of that time consuming media content rather than creating it.

The beauty of the internet isn’t just that it created a platform for people to share and connect, it created a platform that made people want to create.


Pay more if you fail language course

Springwise covered an interesting new gym where you pay if you don’t work out at it (I can’t seem to find the article anymore). The basic premise is that if you don’t go to the gym at all, you would be paying the most while those who go often will pay less. They go as far as making it free for the most frequent exercisers.

The same mechanism could be used for language courses where mastering the language would decrease the tuition fee. Of course there are slightly more complex challenges for language courses as testing and grading is a little bit more subjective than appearing at a gym (which of course doesn’t mean that you are exercising). Will the language school administer the tests (motivating them to make them very difficult) or will it rely on standardized testing (like the TOEFL)? Will it be based on a curve or absolute scoring?

Having difficulties spending the time to learn French, I could sure use something like this.

This is very contrary to the existing paradigm for some language schools which reimburses you for the course if you fail to learn the language adequately. It’s interesting to note that in that scheme, the students have the motive to fail, and in my scheme, the schools have the motive to fail the students.


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