Taking Credit for Mediocrity

November 30, 2007

On my drive home from work yesterday, I heard a story on NPR about mobile phone giant Verizon’s plans to make their network more open to different types of wireless devices. I was happy to hear the news, because I think that the result will benefit both Verizon and consumers. I was completely blown away, however, to hear Verizon announcing this decision as if it were some kind of new, ground-breaking approach and NPR reporting on it as if they were right.

The gist of the announcement is that Verizon will soon make their services available to customers who have not purchased a phone directly from Verizon. This means that you could buy any phone you wanted, be it a mobile phone you’d carry in your pocket or a mobile broadband card you’d plug into your laptop computer, and use it to connect to Verizon’s service in order to make calls. This is a major shift in the way that Verizon has done business in the past, where in order to use their services you were more or less required to buy a phone from the company.

By opening up their network in this way, Verizon hopes to encourage a much wider range of devices to connect to their service. They envision a day when you might be able to make a call to your oven over their wireless service and tell it to begin preheating before you left the office so that your dinner would be hot by the time you got home, to note just one example from the NPR story. In order to make up for the loss of revenue they would have previously earned by selling you a phone, the company will likely charge higher rates to customers who use their own devices, but this does offer more choice and flexibility to consumers while allowing the company a new source of potential revenue.

This is all fine and good. I heartily congratulate Verizon for making what seems to me to be a very good decision. In spite of this enthusiasm, I remain shocked and offended that anyone would be impressed by such a basic thing.

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The Writer’s Strike and Restructuring

November 21, 2007

Most people know I’m a big fan of stories and such. I love television and movies, I love editing the bad ones in my head and watching well crafted ones created. I’ve been watching the writer’s guild strike with some interest, not for the impact on current shows and projects, though I really hope the Daily Show returns soon, but for the broader impact it will have on the industry in the future. One of the reasons the studios are fighting so hard on this strike is that more potential strikes are on the horizon with the actor’s and director’s contracts coming up for negotiation. If the studios can ‘win’ this strike they’ll be going into those contract negotiations with a big tactical advantage.

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Human Rights: the Price of Doing Business in China?

November 13, 2007

Internet giant Yahoo! announced today that they were settling a lawsuit brought against the company by the World Organization for Human Rights. The suit was brought on behalf of several Chinese citizens who were arrested after Yahoo turned over documents revealing their email and I.P. addresses to the Chinese authorities. The suit alleges that at least several of them were tortured in prison, as well as receiving hefty sentences for publishing pro-democracy literature online. In the settlement, Yahoo has agreed to pay the WOHR’s legal expenses, and although the other details of the settlement are to remain private, Yahoo has stated that they include helping the families of the people who were detained.

Yahoo was called before the United States Congress earlier this month and roundly criticized for handing over the documents. In their own defense, Yahoo has stated that their Chinese subsidiary had no choice but to comply with Chinese law and hand over whatever information the local authorities required of them. “Defendants cannot be expected,” their brief reads, “let alone ordered to violate another nation’s laws.”

This case is hardly the first instance of this kind of issue for an American firm operating an internet business in China. It will surely not be the last. The involvement of the Congress and the attendant publicity over this particular case, however, make now an excellent time to consider the very important issues that these types of cases raise.

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How Much Is Your Idealism Worth?

November 11, 2007

As a current job-seeker, I am especially sensitive to the market for recent graduates. Since I’m looking at a lot of do-gooder organizations, I somewhat expect that wages in such positions don’t keep pace with business or government positions. But how much of a cut am I supposed to accept in order to do “fulfilling” work?

What got me riled this time was this fellowship, a one-year position that offers $20,000 to recent graduates of undergrad or graduate programs (no differential for the latter’s further educational experience) or to activists with work experience who would benefit from a research-oriented environment. That sum is to live in Washington D.C., a city where rent can easily equal what the organization is paying as a monthly wage. Unlike many other organizations offering meager salaries, this one doesn’t make it up in free housing or elaborate benefits either. I don’t mean to single them out, because they are by no means the only ones exploiting young people. This is long common and accepted practice in the competitive world of internships; the question is how far it will extend into the world of employment, of qualified people who should be able to support themselves.

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Is it safe to teach in Japan anymore?

November 7, 2007

That was the question the mother of a son about my age asked me this weekend. Her son has been going to school and then teaching English in China for the past couple of years, but he’s thinking maybe he wants to go to Japan next. Why would his mother think it less safe to teach in Japan than China?

Because last week NOVA, one of Japan’s largest private language school franchises, shut down due to financial crisis. This made big headlines around the world because many of the company’s foreign teachers found themselves stranded in Japan, having not been paid for a month or more. Some foreign embassies wound up offering aid to stranded teachers. A quick recap of the company’s collapse:

The firm, which mainly offers English classes, has more than 800 schools and 400,000 students across Japan.

But in June, it was ordered to suspend part of its operations, after a court ruled it had misled customers in advertisements about some services.

Since then, student enrolment has fallen sharply and Nova has accumulated debts of up to JPY50bn ($437m, £213m).

Its 2,000 Japanese staff have not been paid since July and some 4,000 non-Japanese instructors have not been paid their salary for October, union officials said.

Nova has now closed all its schools, Kyodo news agency said.

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Only 56 shopping days left!

October 30, 2007

I love the holidays as much as the next person.

In fact, I might love them *more* than the next person. I have so many plans for Thanksigiving that I can’t wait the three weeks and two days until it actually happens.

I have most of my Christmas presents figured out.

But… things are a little ridiculous. I’m growing used to seeing Christmas in stores before Halloween. (Especially after living in Europe, where they lack the Thanksgiving holiday buffer.) But tonight was not cool. Not cool at all.

What I’m not used to is living someplace where we might actually get trick-or-treaters, so tonight I stopped off at the grocery store to get some candy for tomorrow.

Only, all the Halloween candy was gone, and there was only Christmas candy.

Dear Children of Northern Virginia,

I apologize for the Christmas colored York Peppermint Patties you will be recieving if you come to my house this year. Next year, I will buy my candy in September. It might be a little stale, but it won’t feature snowflakes.

Forgive me,


–posted by kidsilkhaze

Show me the money

September 22, 2007

From a very young age, I have been fascinated with space. I was born well after the Apollo landings were over, but I still found myself riveted by the film that those astronauts brought back with them from the moon. Even in black and white, and under the constraints of the difficult circumstances they faced in filming their time there, that footage has the power to captivate me, even now. I’ve been sad to see the excitement about space exploration that was such a huge part of the American experience in the 1950s and 60s slowly slip out of the collective consciousness in this country. I still find that sense of wonder I suspect I shared with all children looking at the night sky tugging at me.

The recent excitement surrounding the Ansari X-Prize, which awarded ten million dollars to the first company to build a privately-funded spacecraft to achieve low earth orbit twice in two weeks, made me feel like some of that sense of wonder about space was returning. I heard people who had never shown any particular interest in space exploration or even in science in general talking about it, and it never failed to make me smile.

Now, there is a new X-prize up for grabs. This time, the prize has been doubled to twenty million dollars, and will be awarded for the first private venture to soft-land a rover on the moon. The robot will have to complete certain tasks to win the prize, but the short version is that a private venture has to build a viable scientific rover and safely land it on the moon within the next five years. The race to innovate at the bleeding edge of aerospace technology is once again in the running.

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That Made in China label

September 17, 2007

Don’t you just love vilifying China?

Growing economy? (Check) Massive trade imbalance? (Check) And Commie to boot? (Check!)

Were you really surprised when they started poisoning our puppies? It’s a vast, Chinese, pink-o commie conspiracy against the American way of life people! Wake up and smell the green tea!

Well, ok, no. It’s not. But when it comes to buying things, why are we so anti-China?

You have books such as A Year Without “Made in China” by Sara Bongiorni and massive fear-induced boycotts of all Chinese goods, so maybe we do think it is a commie plot.

Oh! But Jennie! They all work in sweat shops! And only make 57 cents an hour! And their pet food/toys/toothpaste ARE all being recalled for poison/lead paint/whatever… China’s cutting too many corners! Chinese products are bad!

Well, no. They’re not.

Why are we blaming China for something that is fundamentally the fault of industry? American industry?

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The apocolyptic plague is fake, but the research is real

August 28, 2007

I ran across an article while browsing Wikipedia the other day which caught my interest. It was talking about the Corrupted Blood Plague which swept through the massively multi player online game World of Warcraft. This is hardly new news, having taken place all the way back in September of 2005, but like many such things, it has bubbled to the surface at a time that I was already thinking about several related topics, and has captured my attention. The interesting thing to me had less to do with the details of what happened in this particular case than it had to do with the broader concept of what incidents like this mean to the world beyond the game.

The plauge itself was entirely virtual, and never reached past the confines of the game. Within the game, many characters were affected, but even they faced no lasting ill effects. What is interesting to me is that the way in which the events of the plague played out in the virtual world has attracted a great deal of attention from serious researchers who are interested in how observation of these phenomena can be applied to improving our understanding of the real thing.

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To have, and to hold

August 19, 2007

I spent a considerable portion of my day today running errands, trying to find several items around town. When I began my day, I assumed that I’d be able to quickly find what I was looking for, and with only two stops be on my way back home to enjoy a relaxing weekend afternoon. Alas, it was not to be.

The trouble was that the stores I went to, in spite of being in the business of selling exactly the type of things I was looking for, didn’t carry what I wanted. This was particularly frustrating to me because I know that the items I was seeking do actually exist, because I have seen them before, and have certainly been able to find examples of them for sale online as I was researching what exactly I was looking for to fill my particular needs.

Amongst my hobbies, I paint miniatures. That is to say, I use a brush with all of about a dozen bristles to paint tiny detail on figures not more than an inch and a half tall. In order to support this pastime, I have somewhere in the range of about 50 different colors of paint, each in its own half-ounce bottle. Managing this collection of paints has become more and more difficult as I’ve picked up additional colors for one project or another, and I was looking for a way to organize them. In the process of being repeatedly thwarted in my efforts to find a solution, I found myself thinking about a fundamental difference between the two primary ways I buy things.

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