April 2004 Archives

There's a short interview in MIT's The Tech newpaper with Jack Valenti about DMCA. I'm glad that Jack is still willing to have discussions like this. This is what I meant when I said that I think Jack should be respected. Even if you don't agree with him, he's still willing to try to discuss his position with you.

via Creative Commons weblog

The Scotsman
Mystery group wage war on Sadr's militia

In a deadly expression of feelings that until now were kept quiet, a group representing local residents is said to have killed at least five militiamen in the last four days.

The murders are the first sign of organised Iraqi opposition to Sadr’s presence and come amid simmering discontent at the havoc their lawless presence has wreaked.

The group calls itself the Thulfiqar Army, after a twin-bladed sword said to be used by the Shiite martyr Imam Ali, to whom Najaf’s vast central mosque is dedicated.

Residents say leaflets bearing that name have been circulated in the city in the last week, urging Sadr’s al-Mahdi army to leave immediately or face imminent death. . . .

"It has got some of the Mahdi guys quite worried, I tell you. They are banding together more, when normally you would see them happily walking on the streets alone. I think their commanders have ordered them to do that."

via Instapundit

For more on Sadr, see the article on the Christian Science Monitor.

Several people have asked me to comment on an article in the NYT about the reaction of to the Japanese people to the three Japanese taken hostage in Iraq. The article describes how everyone including the politicians in Japan are angry at the hostages for causing trouble to the Japanese government and being irresponsible.

There are many conflicting reports about whether they were reckless or not and what their motives were so I won't comment on that. I also don't feel strongly personally on this issue so I'm not going to make a judgmental point either. What I would like to describe is a bit more background on how Japanese think about responsibility and apologies.

I think one of the things that made many Japanese I know upset were the parents of the hostages making public statements about how the government should help get the hostages back without apologizing first about causing trouble for the government. Even if they didn't believe it, it would be proper Japanese etiquette to say this first. It's quite cliche, but it's true that if you get into an automobile accident in Japan, even if you think it's probably the other person's fault, you apologize first. Japanese are warned not to do this in the US because apologizes imply responsibility. In many cases, apologies in Japan are a formality and skipping them is rather rude. I think many people thought these parents were "rude" on a national scale. Another example of a throw-away apology is that when you ask for a waiter in a restaurant, you say, "I'm sorry... or excuse me." We often apologize profusely when in doubt or are requesting any kind of favor.

An important psychological element is that even though we are individuals, we often represent the group. I have something like 16 or so generations before me on my gravestone and I often feel like a mere blip in the history of my family. Taking risk or tainting my family name is not something that I can freely do without feeling the guilt and responsibility to my ancestors.

It's also interesting to note that most Japanese children's cartoons have story lines where they are a team. Often one of the members get in trouble or drop out of the group and the whole show is about how the group tries to help the drop out get back in tune with the group. It's usually the group saving the single "problem" member. On the other hand, many American cartoons are super-heros who are independent and save the world through taking risk and being different. I know I'm generalizing here, but people who watch a lot of Japanese TV will understand what I'm saying I think.

I once talked to one of the directors of the Sumo Wrestling association. She said she always had a great deal of difficulty explaining one of the core principles of Sumo to foreigners. Sumo wrestlers are not supposed to show anguish when they lose or happiness when they win. They are to be emotionless and stoic. "Like a rooster carved out of wood," she said. This is a very central theme to many of Japanese aesthetics. This Japanese stoicism is central to much of the Japanese lack of sympathy to heroics, I think.

Although I understand what the NYT article is saying and I don't necessarily agree with the way the hostages are being treated and picked on right now, I think that lack of initial apologies and the feeling of Japanese to heroics in Japan is behind the reaction. Having said that, I think this attitude is what is hampering Japan's entrepreneurism as well as Japan's ability to participate as a leader in global affairs. It's a fairly deeply rooted cultural theme that won't change very easily though.

As usual, I'm happy to hear dissenting opinions.

Brin was no expert on international diplomacy. So he ordered a half-dozen books about Chinese history, business, and politics on Amazon.com and splurged on overnight shipping. He consulted with Schmidt, Page, and David Drummond, Google's general counsel and head of business development, then put in a call to tech industry doyenne Esther Dyson for advice and contacts. Google has no offices in China, so Brin enlisted go-betweens to get the message to Chinese authorities that Google would be very interested in working out a compromise to restore access. "We didn't want to do anything rash," Brin says. "The situation over there is more complex than I had imagined."

Four days later, Chinese authorities restored access to the site. How did that happen? For starters, the Chinese government was deluged with outcries from the nation's 46 million Internet users when access to Google was cut off. "Internet users in China are an apolitical crowd," says Xiao Qiang, executive director of New York-based Human Rights In China. "They tend to be people who are doing well, and they don't usually voice strong views. But this stepped into their digital freedom."

The quick workaround: Chinese authorities tweaked the national firewall, making the new Google China different from the site that was turned off. Today, Chinese who use Google to search on terms like "falun gong" or "human rights in china" receive a standard-looking results page. But when they click on any of the results, either their browsers are redirected to a blank or government-approved page, or their computers are blocked from accessing Google for an hour or two. "They have a new mechanism that can block the results of certain searches," Brin says. Did Google help China find or obtain the filtering technology? "We didn't make changes to our servers" is all he'll say.

Seth Finkelstein describes how Google self-censorship works. Also, Jonathan Zittrain and Benjamin Edelman of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard Law School have a paper on Localized Google search result exclusions which is quite interesting.

I can understand from a business perspective why Google would do this, but whenever I bring this up with people they deny it or can't believe it.

Does anyone else have any more information on this?

PS This has nothing to do with trying to hurt Google or their IPO. I've been trying to figure this out for the last few weeks and have reached a dead end in my research so I'm trying to understand more. How companies like this work with governments and how this information is then disclosed is very important.

Google's S-1 is online. (Warning. Big file.)

via CNET

I've been getting a lot of SNAM (Social Network Spam) so I'm happy to hear that LinkedIn has a new flag that you can set that prevents you from receiving invitation from people who are not in your address book. It's a bit snobbly, but it prevents you from having to turn down invitation requests from people you don't know. On LinkedIn, I generally don't accept invitations from people I don't know because the purpose of the network is to refer people to each other and you can't really write a reference for someone you don't know. Although this probably lowers the "virality", I think this feature will enhance my LinkedIn experience and hats off to Reid for implementing it.

For people who are on LinkedIn, here's the URL to set the flag. If you haven't uploaded your address book, this will effectively make it impossible for people to invite you though.

Scambaiting is the sport of baiting and messing with 419 scammers.

via Thomas

Welcome online TypePad France!

When I have posted particularly anti-Bush or partisan views, many people have complained in the comments or by email. Some of the most intelligent comments on my blog have come from conservatives and some of the most stupid from liberals. In order to keep some of the more intelligent conservatives involved in the dialog, I've tried to generally steer clear taking strong stands on the war in Iraq and on the presidential election.

I thought about it and I've decided that this is stupid. I don't want Bush to be re-elected and I think going into Iraq was wrong. I will try to be thoughtful about how I make my assertions, but I'm going to stop pretending that I'm non-partisan. I hope that Republicans or people who do not agree with me will continue to read this blog and disagree openly with me. I have just decided that it's getting too close to the election and there is too much at risk for me to just sit here and act neutral.

Somewhat scary, but pretty interesting Orkut datamining. An Orkut density map and a Orkut Personal Network GeoMapper. Here's a map of my network. It doesn't seem to map my complete network. It's also too bad it's not global yet.

Via Sanford

I'm not sure how I feel about being in the WSJ for my stupidity, but I agreed in order to emphasis my point to more people.

Mercury News
E-voting panel wants to dump troubled system

SACRAMENTO - Less than seven months before the presidential election, an advisory panel Thursday unanimously recommended an unprecedented ban of touch-screen election equipment used in four California counties.

The panel also urged Secretary of State Kevin Shelley to seek a criminal or civil investigation into the conduct of Diebold Election Systems, the Ohio-based firm that manufactured the troubled voting system.

Yes! We really need to get rid of e-voting. It's such a bad idea and until now, I thought we were losing the battle. We need to make sure this doesn't end with just Diebold.

via Dan Gillmor

Giving It Away (for Fun and Profit) - By Andy Raskin, May 2004 Issue, Business 2.0

Good article about Creative Commons and the business case.

I recently discovered lomography. I think it fits very naturally with the spirit of moblogging.

The 10 Golden Rules of Lomography

1 - take your camera everywhere you go
2 - use it any time - day and night
3 - lomography is not an interference in your life, but a part of it
4 - try the shot from the hip
5 - approach the objects of your lomographic desire as close as possible
6 - don't think (Wiliam Firebrace)
7 - be fast
8 - you don't have to know beforehand what you capture on film
9 - afterwards either
10 - don't worry about the rules

There is genocide going on in Sudan. A must read essay about it and how you can help.

via Jim Moore

Here are some thoughts on where I think things are going in the mobile and content space.

I wrote this essay before reading Free Culture so I'm saying a lot of stuff that Larry says better...

Several crucial shifts in technology are emerging that will drastically affect the relationship between users and technology in the near future. Wireless Internet is becoming ubiquitous and economically viable. Internet capable devices are becoming smaller and more powerful.

Alongside technological shifts, new social trends are emerging. Users are shifting their attention from packaged content to social information about location, presence and community. Tools for identity, trust, relationship management and navigating social networks are becoming more popular. Mobile communication tools are shifting away from a 1-1 model, allowing for increased many-to-many interactions; such a shift is even being used to permit new forms of democracy and citizen participation in global dialog.

While new technological and social trends are occurring, it is not without resistance, often by the developers and distributors of technology and content. In order to empower the consumer as a community member and producer, communication carriers, hardware manufacturers and content providers must understand and build models that focus less on the content and more on the relationships.

Smaller faster

Computing started out as large mainframe computers, software developers and companies “time sharing” for slices of computing time on the large machines. The mini-computer was cheaper and smaller, allowing companies and labs to own their own computers. The mini computer allowed a much greater number of people to have access to computers and even use them in real time. The mini computer lead to a burst in software and networking technologies. In the early 80’s, the personal computer increased the number of computers by an order of magnitude and again, led to an explosion in new software and technology while lowering the cost even more. Console gaming companies proved once again that unit costs could be decreased significantly by dramatically increasing the number of units sold. Today, we have over a billion cell phones in the market. There are tens of millions camera phones. The incredible number of these devices has continued to lower the unit cost of computing as well as devices imbedded in these devices such as small cameras. High end phones have the computing power of the personal computers of the 80’s and the game consoles of the 90’s.

History repeats with WiFi

There are parallels in the history of communications and computing. In the 1980’s the technology of packet switched networks became widely deployed. Two standards competed. X.25 was a packet switched network technology being promoted by CCITT (a large, formal international standards body) and the telephone companies. It involved a system run by telephone companies including metered tariffs and multiple bilateral agreements between carriers to hook up.

Concurrently, universities and research labs were promoting TCP/IP and the Internet opportunity for loosely organized standards meetings being operated with flat rate tariffs and little or no agreements between the carriers. People just connected to the closest node and everyone agreed to freely carry traffic for others.

There were several “free Internet” services such as “The Little Garden” in San Francisco. Commercial service providers, particularly the telephone company operators such as SprintNet tried to shut down such free services by threatening not to carry this free traffic.

Eventually, large ISPs began providing high quality Internet connectivity and finally the telephone companies realized that the Internet was the dominant standard and shutdown or acquired the ISPs.

A similar trend is happening in wireless data services. GPRS is currently the dominant technology among mobile telephone carriers. GPRS allows users to transmit packets of data across the carrier network to the Internet. One can roam to other networks as long as the mobile operators have agreements with each other. Just like in the days of X.25, the system requires many bilateral agreements between the carriers; their goal is to track and bill for each packet of information.

Competing with this standard is WiFi. WiFi is just a simple wireless extension to the current Internet and many hotspots provide people with free access to the Internet in cafes and other public areas. WiFi service providers have emerged, while telephone operators –such as a T-Mobile and Vodaphone- are capitalizing on paid WiFi services. Just as with the Internet, network operators are threatening to shut down free WiFi providers, citing a violation of terms of service.

Just as with X.25, the GPRS data network and the future data networks planned by the telephone carriers (e.g. 3G) are crippled with unwieldy standards bodies, bilateral agreements, and inherently complicated and expensive plant operations.

It is clear that the simplicity of WiFi and the Internet is more efficient than the networks planned by the telephone companies. That said, the availability of low cost phones is controlled by mobile telephone carriers, their distribution networks and their subsidies.

Content vs Context

Many of the mobile telephone carriers are hoping that users will purchase branded content manufactured in Hollywood and packaged and distributed by the telephone companies using sophisticated technology to thwart copying.

Broadband in the home will always be cheaper than mobile broadband. Therefore it will be cheaper for people to download content at home and use storage devices to carry it with them rather than downloading or viewing content over a mobile phone network. Most entertainment content is not so time sensitive that it requires real time network access.

The mobile carriers are making the same mistake that many of the network service providers made in the 80s. Consider Delphi, a joint venture between IBM and Sears Roebuck. Delphi assumed that branded content was going to be the main use of their system and designed the architecture of the network to provide users with such content. Conversely, the users ended up using primary email and communications and the system failed to provide such services effectively due to the mis-design.

Similarly, it is clear that mobile computing is about communication. Not only are mobile phones being used for 1-1 communications, as expected through voice conversations; people are learning new forms of communication because of SMS, email and presence technologies. Often, the value of these communication processes is the transmission of “state” or “context” information; the content of the messages are less important.

Copyright and the Creative Commons

In addition to the constant flow of traffic keeping groups of people in touch with each other, significant changes are emerging in multimedia creation and sharing. The low cost of cameras and the nearly television studio quality capability of personal computers has caused an explosion in the number and quality of content being created by amateurs. Not only is this content easier to develop, people are using the power of weblogs and phones to distribute their creations to others.

The network providers and many of the hardware providers are trying to build systems that make it difficult for users to share and manipulate multimedia content. Such regulation drastically stifles the users’ ability to produce, share and communicate. This is particularly surprising given that such activities are considered the primary “killer application” for networks.

It may seem unintuitive to argue that packaged commercial content can co-exist alongside consumer content while concurrently stimulating content creation and sharing. In order to understand how this can work, it is crucial to understand how the current system of copyright is broken and can be fixed.

First of all, copyright in the multimedia digital age is inherently broken. Historically, copyright works because it is difficult to copy or edit works and because only few people produce new works over a very long period of time. Today, technology allows us to find, sample, edit and share very quickly. The problem is that the current notion of copyright is not capable of addressing the complexity and the speed of what technology enables artists to create. Large copyright holders, notably Hollywood studios, have aggressively extended and strengthened their copyright protections to try to keep the ability to produce and distribute creative works in the realm of large corporations.

Hollywood asserts, “all rights reserved” on works that they own. Sampling music, having a TV show running in the background in a movie scene or quoting lyrics to a song in a book about the history of music all require payment to and a negotiation with the copyright holder. Even though the Internet makes available a wide palette of wonderful works based on content from all over the world, the current copyright practices forbid most of such creation.

However, most artists are happy to have their music sampled if they receive attribution. Most writers are happy to be quoted or have their books copied for non-commercial use. Most creators of content realize that all content builds on the past and the ability for people to build on what one has created is a natural and extremely important part of the creative process.

Creative Commons tries to give artists that choice. By providing a more flexible copyright than the standards “all rights reserved” copyright of commercial content providers, Creative Commons allows artists to set a variety of rights to their works. This includes the ability to reuse for commercial use, copy, sample, require attribution, etc. Such an approach allows artists to decide how their work can be used, while providing people with the materials necessary for increased creation and sharing.

Creative Commons also provides for a way to make the copyright of pieces of content machine-readable. This means that a search engine or other tool to manipulate content is able to read the copyright. As such, an artist can search for songs, images and text to use while having the information to provide the necessary attribution.

Creative Commons can co-exist with the stringent copyright regimes of the Hollywood studios while allowing professional and amateur artists to take more control of how much they want their works to be shared and integrated into the commons. Until copyright law itself is fundamentally changed, the Creative Commons will provide an essential tool to provide an alternative to the completely inflexible copyright of commercial content.

Content is not like some lump of gold to be horded and owned which diminishes in value each time it is shared. Content is a foundation upon which community and relationships are formed. Content is the foundation for culture. We must evolve beyond the current copyright regime that was developed in a world where the creation and transmission of content was unwieldy and expense, reserved to those privileged artists who were funded by commercial enterprises. This will provide the emerging wireless networks and mobile devices with the freedom necessary for them to become the community building tools of sharing that is their destiny.

Jibot is the robot who lives in the #joiito channel. He was originally developed by rvr and became a group effort. With everyone hacking on him, he had gotten a bit flakey. termie with the help of a few others totally refactored him and now jibot is really happy. Thank you termie!

Jibot has a wiki page, a blog and a sourceforge page for the code.

I'm at Narita airport on my way to Linz to be on the Digital Communities jury of Ars Electronica. I think this is my eighth year as a jury member for Ars Electronica so going to Linz feels like going back to an old home. I look forward to eating my favorite wienerschnitzel soon.

In case you haven't been keeping up with your Doonesbury, Gary Trudeau has crossed an interesting landmark: B.D. has been injured while on reservist duty in Iraq. And his helmet has come off.
Today's Doonsebury

Although I had some problems with the Plaxo model, I hate hearing stories like this. Sean Parker, the founder and visionary behind Plaxo was kicked out rather rudely by the VCs. I don't know the details, but it sounds bad.

The company sent out an anonymous, terse statement that Parker is ``no longer with Plaxo,'' but called him a ``visionary, creative entrepreneur'' and ended with: ``We thank him for his hard work and wish him well.''

In reality, though, a source said Parker has been locked out, and everyone at the company has been instructed not to talk with Parker, except by way of the company's lawyer, Ray Hickson.

When contacted and asked whether this arrangement is ``normal,'' Hickson said: ``I can't discuss a client personnel matter with newspaper reporters.''

Parker himself issued a terse statement: ``While the company is moving to a new stage of its growth, the management team remains committed to executing my original vision,'' he said. ``The company remains in capable hands.''

I've founded several companies and as companies grow, the skills required to be the chief executive change. When I've founded (or helped found) companies in the past, I've usually stepped aside to allow someone with better administrative and sales skills to lead the company after it's up and running. This was the case with Digital Garage and PSINet Japan and to a certain extent Infoseek Japan. I seem to be the most useful getting things going, not running them.

As a VC/investor, I've seen my share of visionary CEOs who can't run the company, but we usually try to keep them involved in some way and stay on good terms so we can invest in their next good company. I don't see how you can continue being a VC in the valley being cruel to serial entrepreneurs.

Pierre Omidyar of eBay is probably one of the best examples of knowing when to bring on a real CEO, but staying involved as the founder. I think he and his investors were smart about this.

Jason Calacanis blogs about this on thesocialsoftwareweblog

Photo Library - 3459Photo Library - 3462Photo Library - 3461Photo Library - 3460
Takenoko are bamboo shoots. We're in takenoko season right now. You take a special hoe and walk around in a bamboo forest until you step on the tip of the takenoko. The best and most tender takenoko are the ones that are barely visible. As they grow larger, they become tougher. You have to then dig around the takenoko, find where it attaches to the root network and chop it at the right angle to get it to come off easily. Then you shuck them. After shucking, a very important step is the aku nuki. Many vegetables, particularly takenoko have a very bitter taste that comes from impurities (alkaline solution and dissolved elements) which is called aku. Aku nuki (removing the aku) is typically done stewing the takenoko with komenuka (rice husk powder) and Japanese red chili peppers. The best takenoko is tender takenoko picked and immediately stewed, left over night in the water, then prepared with rice, stew or some other typical Japanese dish in the morning. Yum.

Although I think the "socially awkward" and the "what's the point" problem of some social networking sites is a problem, I think the "suck up your email addresses from outlook" and the one click "spam all of my friends" features are the most troublesome. Stowe Boyd talks about his accidental "spam my friends with one click" episode with Zero Degrees.

Actually, what I find scarier is the way Spoke takes all of your email address from your headers and makes a network out of them. Even if you don't "join" Spoke, if someone who you exchange email with joins, you're actually already in Spoke.

I think the key is user control and a clear interface of what is happening. I think UI used to be a lot about making things "seamless". I think when you are dealing with sensitive privacy related information, your UI has to make it very clear where your data is, when it is going to be transfered to another machine, and what the privacy policy of the said machine is. Every time data moves across a boundary, the user should know this an be provided a choice. UIs that deal with personal information should be about showing the seams, not being seamless.

Ross and Judith also chime in.

I've spent the last few days hanging out at home holding down the fort while Mizuka has been busy with other stuff. I'm still adjusting to the local time zone. It is primarily an agricultural area so everyone goes to bed at 8 pm and wakes up at 5 or 6 am. Yesterday, the a few of the women from the village came by at 7:30 am to tell me it was my turn to help clean the assembly hall. "When?" "Um... Now." "Sorry, I've got to take my friend to the station and take care of a few things." "Oh... Well, you can do it with the next group." "What day?" "It's not decided. They'll come by to pick you up on that day though." "Uhh.. Oh. OK."

Later, I visited the woman and apologized for not being able to help out with the assembly hall clean up. Then I wandered over to the mayor's house to say hi and told him that I'd be seeing the governor the next day. The mayor gave me a bunch of stewed takenoko (bamboo shoots). (Guess what we'll be having for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next few days...) I mumbled to him about how I had hit a rock and broke my tiller.

A few minutes after I was home, a farmer wandered over to my house. "Do you have a hammer? How about a crowbar?" Smack, crank, bang. The tiller was fixed. The farmer stayed for a chat and I grilled him about what I should be doing in the yard. "It always takes city folks two or three years before they figure out how to manage their yard." The climate in Japan causes it to be perfect for bugs and vegetation including weeds and trying to deal with the onslaught of bugs and weeds without chemicals is a challenge. When I told the farmer our organic aspirations, he smiled, shrugged and gave me that, "You won't last" look. He explained that he had worked on the construction of our house and told me some of the history and even pointed out which of the planks of pine came from the village.

This morning at 7:30 am, the mayor called to tell me that he had picked some takenoko this morning and prepared them for me to take to the governor's house and that I should pick them up around noon. "Uh.. OK."

A little jingle plays across the village PA at 11 am to tell everyone it's time for lunch and at 5 pm to tell everyone it's time to call it a day. On the one hand it's quite relaxing working in my yard with my puppies, bugs, birds and the occasional visitor as my only input source of information, on the other hand I realized that taking care of a yard and managing our relationship in the village is a full time job.

You can now track who is linking to particular posts on my blog by clicking the Technorati link next to link next to trackbacks at the bottom of the post. The result is similar to trackbacks, but these links are links that have been discovered by Technorati, whereas trackbacks are links that are sent to me directly by other bloggers. Boing Boing recently started Technorati support and Dave Sifry explains how to add this to your blog. Since I don't get as many links as Boing Boing, clicking the Technorati link will often yield no results. I think we need to figure out a way to easily show how many links from Technorati, just like comments and trackbacks so people will know whether they should click or not. Adriaan's got it running on his blog using the Technorati API, but it's a bit dodgy still so I'm going to wait for a better solution. ;-)

In order to make these results more accurate, it would be great if people made a point to link as much as possible to the permalinks rather than the top level URL when referring to entries in blogs.

I've been messing around with A9, Amazon's search engine project. It integrates search inside the book, Alexa and the recommendation engine on Amazon so you can find web pages and Amazon will recommend other sites that you might like. Considering how "meta data savvy" Amazon is and how easily they can connect search to their core business, I can see A9 giving Google a pretty good run for their money.

Here's the "joi.ito.com" on Amazon. I'm not sure whether I like the fact that they list my address and phone number. Also, I find the data on Alexa a bit sketchy. The traffic chart for my site is very noisy and doesn't track my actual traffic logs and it says my site is "very slow". (It isn't THAT slow is it?) I hope that Alexa gets better now that it's integrated into Amazon. On more famous sites like Boing Boing, they have ratings and reviews.

Christian Lindholm has some good thoughts on A9 on his blog.

Alex Hung has joined forces with us to make a Windows version of Adriaan's OS X blogging client ecto based on his original client, TypeWriter. Check out the ecto for Windows page for details on the beta test.

The Japanese "sort of equivalent" of SuicideGirls is Cure, a cosplay sight. The biggest difference is that the sexy pictures are not allowed. It's quite an amazing community. There are 5000 layers (comes from Cosplayers) and 30,000 cameko (comes from camera kozo or "Camera Boys"). The layers can be sorted by ranking or by the characters they play. The cameko are otaku who spend their lives taking pictures of the layers and giving beautiful prints of their photos to the layers and sharing them online. The site lets you send these photos to or view them on your mobile phones.
An Iraqi man claiming to have spoken to the kidnappers says the hostages will be executed one by one from later tonight if the demands are not met.

Via The Command Post

The New York Times
U.S. Won't Let Company Test All Its Cattle for Mad Cow

The Department of Agriculture refused yesterday to allow a Kansas beef producer to test all of its cattle for mad cow disease, saying such sweeping tests were not scientifically warranted.

The producer, Creekstone Farms Premium Beef, wanted to use recently approved rapid tests so it could resume selling its fat-marbled black Angus beef to Japan, which banned American beef after a cow slaughtered in Washington State last December tested positive for mad cow. The company has complained that the ban is costing it $40,000 a day and forced it to lay off 50 employees.

The department's under secretary for marketing and regulation, Bill Hawks, said in a statement yesterday that the rapid tests, which are used in Japan and Europe, were licensed for surveillance of animal health, while Creekstone's use would have "implied a consumer safety aspect that is not scientifically warranted."

I don't know whether I trust the Japanese or the Americans more on this issue. The Japanese say they're testing all of the cows, but frankly, I have my doubts. On the other hand, the Americans won't even LET them test all of the cows so obviously, they're not all being tested. On the other hand, more people are dying in Iraq than from Mad Cow in Japan or the US so we should keep this in perspective...

via Plastic

Japan Today
Abe wants to revise Constitution to use SDF in hostage crisis

Monday, April 12, 2004 at 06:47 JST
TOKYO — Shinzo Abe, secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, called Sunday for amending the Constitution to enable the government to mobilize the Self-Defense Forces in such eventualities as the current hostage crisis in Iraq.

Obviously the US doesn't have a monopoly on using tragedies and fear to push their political agenda. I personally am not against revising the constitution and I can see how it makes "political sense" to do it now, but it still bugs me. People make such stupid laws when they're emotional.

The Command Post
Hostages Released?

Fox TV is reporting that at least eight hostages have been released and the three Japanese hostages are “safe.”

No confirmation on this yet, will follow up.

Aljazeera
Fate of Japanese hostages uncertain

Monday 12 April 2004, 4:44 Makka Time, 1:44 GMT

The lives of three Japanese hostages in Iraq are still in jeopardy, with their captors apparently threatening to start killing them unless Japan withdraws its forces

Aljazeera
Eight foreign hostages freed

Sunday 11 April 2004, 21:39 Makka Time, 18:39 GMT

An Iraqi group says it has released eight foreign hostages following the intervention of Muslim scholars on their behalf.

A videotape aired by Aljazeera on Sunday showed eight frightened captives holding their passports and giving their nationalities. The hostages were seen guarded by masked men with arms.

The hostages were three from Pakistan, two Turks, an Indian, a Nepali and one from the Philippines.

So the Japanese were not among the released, but I wonder what "safe" means. Does anyone else have any news on this?

keitai

Gen Kanai
Funny keitai photo

(the caption on the sticker can be loosely) translated as:
"Games should be played only in game arcades."

(Which is a riff on the fact that it is rude to talk on the mobile phone on the train here in Japan.)

The little Sega logo on the top right makes me think it's a Sega ad making fun of people who used to think games weren't for homes. Maybe they were copying the Pepsi/iTunes commercial and glorifying the criminals.

I wonder if the expected social norm of not talking on the phone in trains in Japan will change. If people learned that shouting into your phone doesn't really help and talked in a normal voice that might help. I don't see how that would be any different than two people talking to each other face to face from a noise pollution perspective. (I can see a bunch of other arguments here about why it's not the same thing as face to face, but I'm not going to go there.)

The fact that you have to have a sign forbidding it must mean that there is a gap between some people's behavior and hoped for behavior by a particular group of people with access to the authorities.

Anyway, I'm all for talking on the phone in trains.

Via Wonkette, here's a slightly unfair but powerful rejoinder to President Bush's jokes about weapons of mass destruction. Media is in the hands of everyone, and people are going to use it to hold powerful people -- including media people, such as the Washington correspondents who found Bush's performance so hilarious -- to account.
People seem to really be embracing web video as a medium and it definitely delivers the message at a different level than text. Very interesting to see how this form develops.

Yesterday, Mizuka and I went to Tokyo Bunka Kaikan in Ueno to see the opera Jr. Butterfly. Jr. Butterfly was composed by our friend Shigeaki Saegusa. The libretto was our friend Masahiko Shimada and the conductor was Naoto Otomo. Tenor Shigehiro Sano performs Jr. Butterfly and soprano Shinobu Sato plays Naomi, his love.

Madam Butterfly was an opera by Giacoma Puccini based on a story by John Luther Long. Puccini's opera opened in 1904, 100 years ago. Jr. Butterfly is the story of what happens to the son of Madame Butterfly and Pinkerton. It is set before, during and after WWII. The half-Japanese half-American Jr. Butterfly is an intelligence officer for the Americans and falls in love with a Japanese girl. At the core of the story is the love story between Jr. Butterfly and the girl, but the opera covers a lot of ground such as the identity struggle of Jr. Butterfly's chanpon background and the intentions of the US vis a vis war with Japan before the war. Also, with Madam Butterfly originally set in Nagasaki, the role of Nagasaki in the closure of the war ties it all together.

I enjoyed the opera very much. The score and poetry were beautiful and I was able to follow the story much better than previous Saegusa operas. It was also fun catching up during intermission with friends that I hadn't seen for a long time. I've been spending too little time with my non-computer and non-business related Japanese friends these days...

There's an interview in the Daily Yomiuri with Shigeaki Saegusa.

Japanese hostages 'to be freed' - BBCi

Iraqi group to free Japanese hostages - Aljazeera

The Japanese hostages in Iraq are supposed to be freed in a few hours. I'm watching the TV news for more information now.

UPDATE: Japan awaits news about hostages - BBC

Everyone makes fun of the Japanese use of English. (See Engrish) The Chicago Tribune has a story featuring Chicagoans with tattoos Japanese characters and a comparison of what the bearers think they mean and what they really mean in Japanese. Very funny.

via MetaFilter and Boing Boing

The Japanese news has been suppressing the more vivid videos of the hostage situation in Iraq and continue the "we are not pulling out" line. One piece of news that even the West seems to be suppressing is that the Japanese hostages are being threatened with cannibalism.

"We tell you that three of your children have fallen prisoner in our hands and we give you two options -- withdraw your forces from our country and go home or we will burn them alive and feed them to the fighters," the group said.
Most reports are saying "killed" or "burned alive".

via The Command Post

A good op-ed by Maureen Dowd in the New York Times about the situation in Iraq.

Apologies to friends who use Plaxo, but I'm opting out of Plaxo since it has become a source of spam for me and I feel like I'm doing all the work. Anyone who wants to find my contact info can just Google me or find it on my wiki page.

via Dan Gillmor

I am hosting a gathering here in Tokyo starting tomorrow. It's a somewhat academic meeting to talk about social science issues and technological issues around mobility and microcontent. Participants include a small group of academics, technologists and business people. I'll let you know if we come up with anything interesting. Some of the other participants will probably be blogging as well.

This is the first time that I've ever worked together with my sister to organize something so that's been fun. It's also been great working with the team at the Insight & Foresight unit at Nokia who are supporting the event. BTW, "Kizuna" is a Japanese word that means a kind of mental linkage between people. "Friendship" and "family tie" are probably close counterparts in English.

A lot of people ask me about Japanese customs. They learn the formal way to hand business cards, they bow deeply when they meet Japanese and they call me "Ito-san." Stop that. It's silly. To some Japanese, the awkward foreigners trying to please their hosts by acting Japanese may look cute, but more likely than not, you'll get a A for effort but you'll be forever the silly foreigner in their minds. It's only the extremely intolerant xenophobe who would really want a foreigner to really act Japanese and you don't want to be hanging out with those anyway. Keep an eye out for indicators of discomfort but bring the flair of your own culture with you.

Rather than trying to act Japanese, I suggest that people visiting Japan be sensitive and aware of the nuances in the interactions. It is more about timing, loudness, space and smiles than it is about how your hold your business card or calling people "Ito-san." When in doubt, shut up and listen. When smiled at, smile back. If you're freaking someone out, back off instead of continuing your interrogation. All of which I believe is not unique to being a foreigner in Japan. The more important Japan specific social behaviors involve cleanliness like taking off your shoes in homes and washing your body before and not taking your towel when entering the bath and not being stinky.

Caveat: If you're meeting someone for the first time, in a very formal setting, and you only have one shot, doing the step-by-step from the "How to Impress Japanese" book is probably a good idea. My comments above apply mostly to normal social situations.

UPDATE: I think many people were offended by this post. ;-) Please read the comments for an interesting discussion.

I just finished watching The Last Samurai. I'm not going to comment on the acting or the historical accuracy, but rather on this notion of a code of honor. Several people told me to watch it because they were impressed with the code of honor in the film. I think there is something comforting about codes of honor and people get goose bumps when they see movies where heros die for honor. Some people identify with the heros as they reflect on the unfairness and loneliness in their own lives. A friend of mine manages the rights to Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa, which is one of Japan's most famous heros. He used to get calls almost every year from CEOs of companies wanting to make the film because they realized that THEY were Musashi.

The most honorable person I've ever known is my mom. She didn't talk about or whine about honor. She was just honorable. In my experience, the more people talk about honor, the less they know about it and are either using it as a way to try to convince you to trust them or trying to convince themselves or something. Some of the stupidest mistakes I've made in friendship and business have been when I have assumed that people spouting off about codes of honor would actually adhere to them. "Don't you trust me?" "Just trust me." Bah.


So I'm quite skeptical about Japanese honor. Sure, I bet there were a lot of honorable people though the history of the Samurai, but I see honor every day and they don't make movies about it. So stop making movies about Japanese honor or we might start believing it.

I'm not bashing the notion of codes of honor in organizations since I think it's often necessary to try to aspire to and enforce higher level conduct in these organizations, but having a code doesn't mean everyone will adhere to it and such codes probably cause these organizations to be more trusted than they should.

Mena starts corporate blogging at Six Apart on Mena's Corner.

See you later Cannes and thanks for all the mussels.

I met some really cool people this trip and got a glimpse into "the other side". Enjoyed myself very much. Weather was beautiful too.

Now I'm off to Tokyo via Frankfurt. I have a horrible 4 hours layover in Frankfurt. Anyone going to be in Frankfurt this afternoon? Maybe we can play scrabble or something...

I just gave a keynote this morning and I initially felt right, but a bit bad. Milia is one of the oldest and leading interactive content conferences and MipTV is a place where content providers meet with people who want to buy content from them. The halls are full of telephone companies, TV networks, Hollywood content providers and DRM technology companies. So here I am asked to give a keynote. What am I going to say? I talked about the shift in value away from packaged content and towards context oriented things like location, presence and transactions. I talked about how DRM would make the user experience suck so bad that they would lose their customers, and I talked about how I didn't think the mobile content download business would work. Easy for Mr. "nothing to lose" Ito to say. ;-p I did throw out a olive branch by talking about Creative Commons and how we can have "some rights reserved" and try to protect their content selling business models. On the other hand, all of the smart people quickly figured out that the technical execution of protecting content while allowing sharing in certain cases requires them to trust their customers much more than they do now.

I also mentioned that the carriers and the content guys really didn't know their customers. In fact, most people don't know their customers. Most success has come from watching how the customer behaves and creating products for that behavior rather than trying to create products that change the customer's behavior, which most arrogant companies think they can do.

I did provide some helpful advice by talking about mobile device UI issues, talking about CPA and stuff.

So, I was prepared for a lot of hateful glares and wrath, but everyone was surprisingly thoughtful and the discussion after the session was really interesting. So just as publishing survived the copy machine and Hollywood movies survived the video tape, I'm sure the smart content guys will survive mobile devices and sharing whether they like it or not. Talking to all of the smart people (even the ones who's business models were screwed and didn't have any way out that I could see...) made me feel like there was a bit more hope in the content industry than I had originally envisioned.

Also, watching people from the big companies interact... I think there is a big company and "I love Hollywood stars/star-struck" aspect to why carriers and other folks want to work with the big studios. Having worked in Hollywood selling content to Japanese trading companies and having worked at NHK buying TV shows from Hollywood I know that Hollywood studios are skilled at making you feel good about working with them. There are many people who have lost a lot of money in Hollywood. Unlike Las Vegas, sometimes they often even don't let you win a single hand before they take all your money. Again, mileage may vary and there are A LOT of great people in Hollywood, but beware. People and companies in Hollywood are not famous because they're nice and give you their money.

Interesting discussion over at Liz Lawley's blog about conference back channels.

Relates to the Continuous Partial Attention discussion.

mathjoke
I just got this via email and don't know the copyright or the origin of this. If someone knows whether I should give credit to someone, please let me know. But it's too funny not to blog.

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