October 2007 Archives

Nagai Minami Jr. High School students
Students of Nagai Minami Jr. High School

Several years ago I helped start a non-profit organization in Japan called Enjin01. The leader of the organization is Shigeaki Saegusa, a sometimes crazy, but a very giving, thoughtful and inspired person. He collected a number of notable people and called out to a diverse group of "cultural figures" including company executives, writers, architects, actresses, educators, academics, artists, political figures and musicians. The group is now about 100+.

We have annual meetings where we visit a region of Japan and work closely with the local community to produce a volunteer, free-of-charge event open to the public that includes workshops and talks.

In addition to the annual event, we recently started a program where any Jr. High School can fill out a form on the site and request Enjin01 to dispatch a number of us to teach at the school. So far we haven't turned any requests done and have done quite a few I understand.

Last week, I participated for the first time. Four of us went to Nagai Minami Jr. High School in a small town in Yamagata. The Shinkansen (bullet train) stopped about 20 min away so it was fairly convenient, but still took me over three hours from home one-way. However, the travel wasn't the hard part...

Although I am on the board of Nishimachi International School which has a Jr. High, I had never really had to stand in front of a Jr. High School class and teach. They had scheduled two classes of 35 or so students each.

It was probably one of the hardest talks I've ever given. I had forgotten what it was like to be in Jr. High and also realized that Jr. High in Yamagata was probably quite different from Nishimachi. I tried very hard to connect to the students, but the combination of their shyness and my lack of context made it very difficult.

In the end, it was a great experience. A few of the students were visibly excited and the "wrap up" session where all of the students and teachers got back together and reported back showed that at least the kid who reported back was listening.

I do think that speaking to Jr. High School students who really don't know or much care about your real-world importance/fame is good for the soul and refreshing. I recommend it to people who are mostly speaking at industry conferences to the same crowds. ;-)

Anyway, my hearty thanks to our hosts in Yamagata and I hope it was worth it for all of you too.

I've posted some images to Flickr.

I’ve just joined the board of directors of Sanrio Digital based in Hong Kong, which among other things does the online stuff for Hello Kitty. It’s a joint venture between Sanrio and Typhoon Games which is run by my good friend Yat Siu. A full press release is on their blog.

I am now reachable at joi (at) hellokitty.com. ;-)

UPDATE: You can see the various services we are providing already at Sanriotown. You can get your free Hello Kitty email address there too.

Still early stage but very well done. Enjoying PhotoPhlow a lot. Reminds me of proto-Flickr.

Set up a #joiito PhotoPhlow channel there and hanging out when I’m free. For now it appears that they will shoot you an invite if you sign up on the site.

Kudos to iMorpheus for the invite.


R0010040
Screen showing all of the people
available to work on a map.

Last week I met Mr. Sunagawa from LocationValue Inc. that runs Otetsudai Networks. Otetsudai Networks is a very cool service that is one of these "perfect for Japan" things.

Because of the advanced aging population and the tendency for many of the younger generation to not be in a hurry to lock down full-time jobs, businesses are having an increasingly more difficult time filling posts - so much so that some businesses are having to close down, not because of lack of business, but purely because they can't staff their stores.

My sister has written about the Japanese youth behavior where less and less stuff is planned - the kids going out and using their mobile devices to meet up or deciding to do things while constantly keeping in touch with each other. These swarming bands of kids are now adults and many of them don't want to be tied down.

These "kids" are not becoming adults. In a recent survey by Otetsudai Networks, most people surveyed cared more about freedom and flexibility than the pay when considering a part-time job.

Enter Otetsudai Networks. With Otetsudai Networks, if you are willing to work, you sign up for the service with your skills and focus, take a GPS reading on your phone and then just hang out. If you are looking for someone for say... 3 hours to man a cash register or help wash dishes, you just send the request to Otetsudai Networks and within minutes, you have a list of people available. The list shows what each person is qualified for, how others have rated their work and exactly how far away they are. Typically you will receive a list of half a dozen or more people within a few minutes.

The businesses are rated too on a per-manager basis so when you're hanging out with your friends and you get a request to go help at the corner convenience shop, you know how your peers have rated that particular guy who's asking you to come and help. You can also counter the request and say you'd go if they paid you 2000 yen / hour instead of 1500.

As more and more people start using this system, it's liable to start filling a very important gap in the workforce. It's also a perfect example of a location based, peer-to-peer reputation based, mobile behavior oriented product for an aging society.

The website is otetsu.jp otet.jp, but most of the functionality is only available on the phone.

Update from Mr. Sunagawa:

1. The English name of the company is LocationValue Inc.
2. Employer will see only the name of applicants rather than all the
available people around. "...you have a list of people available" may sound
inaccurate.
3. primary URL of our web is otet.jp instead of otetsu.jp although otetsu.jp
would also be redirected to our site.

UPDATE 2: They have about 45,000 users with 1,000 new users per week.

Philipp and I had a conversation about altruism as a follow-on to a bunch of posts he done on the iCommons.org site. I end up rambling on and don’t give him much of a chance to talk, but it was fun. Check out other posts on the site and let me know what you think about my theory of altriusm. ;-)

philipp (South Africa) on iCommons.org
The role of altruism in the digital commons

Listen to Joi Ito and Philipp Schmidt discuss altruism, the economic man, the difference between happiness and pleasure, carriers of compassion, and that being a happy sharer yourself, is the best way to get others to share as well.

The conversation starts off with an overview of Marcel Mauss’ The Gift, and the Dalai Lama’s The Art of Happiness, which address the issue of sharing from very different directions. The Gift provides a historical framework for sharing that is non-financial, and sets out a clear process of sharing that runs counter to our economies’ urge to commoditise. The Dalai Lama develops a theory of happiness that is grounded on compassion, and the ability of human people to learn happiness. Why is it that we learn Maths and Sciences in school, but don’t seem interested in learning and teaching how to be happy?

Joi then sets out a profoundly optimistic model for collaborative citizenry that will help us identify, and ultimately address, global challenges like climate change. He makes a convincing argument that happiness comes from things like community and a well functioning family, where more is not necessarily better, and that the best way to bring others into this movement is to let them participate in our functional communities of sharing, and to be happy.

Note: The book mentioned by Joi is Scott Page’s The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies.

Kara Swisher is one of the smartest, funniest and sometimes cruelest journalists I know. She is a co-host of the Wall Street Journal All Things Digital conference with Walt Mossberg.

For a variety of reasons she’s having a hard time getting an interview with Jerry Yang. She discovered that “Lunch with Jerry Yang” is the prize from DonorsChoose.org Bloggers Challenge for the bloggers who inspire the most readers to give. To participate/give, just go to the AllThingsD page on the DonorsChoose site.

So… in addition to loving Kara, I also owe her for introducing me to cool people and letting me stay at her house and stuff. When she says, “i need you to flack this…it is for a good cause. also funny” I guess it means I should blog about it. ;-)

Good luck Kara. Sorry Jerry!

But it is a good cause. Really. I’m going to give right now.

For a more complete description of this whole thing, which is admittedly slightly difficult to understand, see Kara’s blog post about it.

Märt Saarepera Mart explaining architecture

I just returned from a trip to Tallinn where I completed the paperwork to invest in GuardTime, an electronic archive and log authentication system using cryptographic time stamps.

The idea was developed by the founder of the company, Märt Saarepera and his collegues in Estonia when Mart was in Japan. Mart started out as an academic and a researcher, but became an entrepreneur in residence at my company Neoteny back when we were still incubating businesses. At the time, our team thought that the business was too early and passed on the investment and Mart set off on his own with support of his friends and family and some minimal support from myself.

Years later, it looks like the market is finally ready for Mart and his product. His idea has also developed from a rather theoretical idea to something they can show and ship.

Mart has raised money from a group of investors including the Ambient Sound Investments (ASI) founded and run by some of the Skype founding technical members.

Because of securities laws in Estonia, I needed to visit Estonia personally to open an account at a bank there. The banking in Estonia is really advanced, having been built from scratch after the Internet existed already. They use hardware password generators for their online banking and offer more services through the Internet than any other bank I’ve ever seen. Also, because they don’t have a lot of legacy crap like banks in Japan, they are very profitable and lean.

Tallinn was a very cool city. It is the capital of Estonia with a population of about 400,000. In many ways it reminds me of Helsinki except smaller and with Skype as the anchor IT global brand instead of Nokia.

The old town where I stayed was a beautiful district with the old architecture preserved and the random Russian government buildings scattered around typical of this former USSR region. Embedded in this old-architecture are very nice restaurants, shops and hotels built in the cool super-minimalist style of Nordic Europe that I love so much. I stayed at a hotel called Three Sisters and it was the best small hotel I’ve stayed in recently.

Another cool thing about Tallinn was that there was free wifi everywhere. The hotel, railway station, offices and airport all had free wifi. The Internet was faster than in Frankfurt airport, the Frankfurt Sheraton, in fact faster than just about anywhere that I’ve been recently other than my office in Tokyo.

I don’t know if it is the Estonian culture or Mart’s community, but everyone I met at GuardTime and Skype seemed happy and smart. There was a buzz of a strong culture and good work being done. I miss think sort of feeling “pure” feeling these days.

I’ve uploaded my photos in a Flickr set.

Technorati Tags: ,

Larry on Danish TV talking about his new work on stopping corruption and why corruption is the root of many of our most significant problems.

Folding Fixie

I just got my fixed-gear folding bike from Bike Friday. It's based on their Pocket Rocket Pro frame, but instead of the normal gear system, it has a simple single gear. There are various kinds of "fixies". Some some have brakes and some have a gear on the other side which allows you to flip the back rim so you have two gears, although switching gears involves removing the back rim.

Because of the mechanics of a folding bike, the dropout where back rim mounts into the frame is slightly different from a normal fixie, but in principle it is the same. I was going to try to be badass and get it without any brakes (you use your legs to brake) but Stephen, my sales guy at Bike Friday, convinced me to get at least a front brake... that I could always remove it if I didn't need it.

After taking it around the block, I'm glad I have it. I don't think I have the legs to control myself down steep hills yet.

Fixies are getting more and more popular these days. They seem to have a slightly culty image, but I think more and more "normal" people are riding them and even major brands are starting to release fixies. The reason I got it is because it's supposed to be a good workout with the high cadence and the variety of weights you end up having to pedal. Also, because of the significantly fewer parts, it's more durable and less likely to break. Wikipedia has a pretty good article on fixed-gear bikes.

The bike folds so you can take it on the train or stick it in a cab and it also easily dismantles and fits in a airline checkinable suitcase.

This is my second Bike Friday. They're hand-made and high quality and the service and support has been good. I'd recommend them to anyone who wants a high quality bike that they can travel with.

Kudos to Sean for turning me on to fixies and to Markoff for turning me on to Bike Friday.

UPDATE: Here's a picture of it folded.

Folded Bike Friday Pocket Rocket Pro Fixie

Shibuya Center gai Shibuya Center Gai

I spent High School in Japan. I lived in Shibuya and went to The American School in Japan in Chofu.

I grew up in Shibuya. Back then, in the early 80’s, Shibuya was a hot area of Tokyo. Brands like Van Jacket, Domon, Jun, etc. and the “Shibuya Casual” or “shibukazi” scene were getting a lot of attention. Shibuya was full of bars, clubs, restaurants, clothing shops and places to just hang out on the street.

As a teenager, I spent a lot of time “on the street” buying liquor from vending machines, chasing rats and going to game centers and clubs. Back then, it didn’t really matter if you were underaged and the discos were packed with Jr. High School aged kids. I went to my first nightclub in 9th grade. You could buy bottles of whiskey, Suntory White, in vending machines.

During summers I hung out in the fashion buildings, sometimes helping in the shops and always going out with the designers, shop staff and hair dressers after work. The Japanese bubble was just getting going and everything felt like an endless drunken party and a explosion of consumer brands and excess.

Later, after I first dropped out of college, I returned to Shibuya to run an after hours club at the end of Center Gai. That’s where I met Hyperdelic Video and a lot of my “crew”, many of whom I still work with. I also met Keith who was running Tower Records at the time. I used to have him let me put my club flyers there. I was probably just a scrappy little kid to him then.

When we first moved to Shibuya, we lived in a fancy house paid for by my mother’s employer, ECD. Later, we had to move to a dumpy little two room apartment made from a converted love hotel. That’s when I hung out the most with Keigo (Cornelius) who was living with his mother in the same apartment building.

Walking around Shibuya at 7AM this morning brought back memories of all-nighters and the craziness of my teenage years in Tokyo. I shot some photos and uploaded the set to Flickr.

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