Wednesday, March 28, 2007

google acquires trendalyzer

Just a note following-up on the theme of my latest post.
Google's recent acquisition of Gapminder's Trendalyzer software only highlights the importance of data visualization. Gapminder co-founder, Hans Rosling, of course, is well known for his 2006 TED presentation where he showed how data can be presented in a more clear and visually arresting way (and he's becoming famous for being a sword swallower as well!).
Google's Marissa Mayer, says that, "like Google, Gapminder strives to make information more useful, and Trendalyzer will improve any function or application in which data might be better visualized...We hope (to make) it freely available to any and all users capable of thinking outside the X and Y axes".
Google has already made available a beta-version, here. I guess this acquisition makes a strong case for the importance of "information aesthetics" nowadays. As we get overloaded with information, "the problem", as Mr. Rosling aptly said in his TED presentation, "is not ignorance, it is preconceived ideas".

how cool is your name?

Very interesting piece on PingMag about "Infoesthetics: the beauty of data visualization". There are several examples, but the one that caught my attention was this one: The Name Voyager. It's an interactive tool showing the popularity rank of baby names from 1880 to 2005. As you can see below, "Nelson" used to be a popular name... around 1890!The accompanying blog, by Laura Wattenberg, author of "The Baby Name Wizard", offers a fascinating look into baby name trends and pop culture influence.

minority report-esque?

I guess some of you must've seen this already, but I only saw it yesterday. Jeff Han, of NYU, showing his multi-touch user interface. Notice how you move your entire body, much as in some video game that I'm becoming tired of writing about. So, do the iPhone, the Wii (oops), and this demo point out the future of computer user interface? Interesting that Mr. Han says that a 3-D interface would actually be a step backwards, definitely not "Minority Report" then, after all. The official wordless demo below (via Pogue's Post).

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

china's "batteries not included"

There's an old Spielberg-produced movie called "Batteries Not Included" where a group of tenants in an apartment block fights against a real estate developer who wants to throw them out of the building (you can view the trailer on YouTube here).
The end, I won't tell you, but this real-life story taking place in today's China reminded me of that movie (see photo below). The owner of the house refused to move out so the developer dug a giant pit around it. People are calling it the "nail house".
And as I learned from a recent boingboing post, this is not so uncommon at all (and not restricted to China as well).The whole story with more pictures on China Daily (here)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

wii infiltrates the culture

After just a few months of its release, Nintendo's Wii (yes, again) is already becoming a dominant part of our culture.
As of this morning, a search on Flickr and YouTube showed the following results:

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

time's new design

The latest issue of Time magazine brings a new design developed by Pentagram's Luke Hayman, Time managing editor Richard Stengel and art director Arthur Hochstein.
Below is the table of contents page and the Briefing section. More pages and an overview of the new design project at Pentagram. There's also an interesting note at boingboing about the tear on Reagan's face.

eugene, oregon

I've never been to the city of Eugene, in Oregon. But a place that: is known as the "Track Capital, USA", holds the Prefontaine Classic every year, has held many Olympic Track Trials, will hold the 2008 Trials as well,...... and has a restaurant called "Track Town Pizza", gotta be a nice place to visit.

Monday, March 19, 2007

bowerman and the men of oregon

He closed great, calloused hands around my throat. He did not lift me off the ground. He did relieve my feet of much of their burden. He brought my forehead to his. "I'm going to ask you to take part in an experiment," he said with menacing calm. People five yards away thought we were sharing a tidbit of gossip. "For three weeks, you are not going to run a yard except in my sight. You will do a three-mile jog here every morning, and our regular afternoon workouts. If I or any of my spies sees you trotting another step, you will never run for the University of Oregon again."
"Are we agreed?"
"Agreed?"As I was feeling faint, I submitted.

And so starts Kenny Moore's recount of the life of famed Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman.
Bowerman is a legend among track fans, having coached the University of Oregon for 24 years, winning the NCAA four times, coaching several Olympians, and being the US Head Coach in the Munich Olympics in 1972.
His most famous athlete was Steve Prefontaine, who died prematurely in a car accident in 1975, and whose life made to the big screen not only in one, but in two movies, "Without Limits" and "Prefontaine". Bowerman's character is played respectively by Donald Suthlerland and R. Lee Ermey in those movies. See "Without Limits" trailer on YouTube here.But Bowerman went on to be much more than a track coach. He went on to shape part of our lifestyle and our culture.
In the early '60s, after witnessing the work of another legendary coach, Arthur Lydiard, in New Zealand, he wrote a booklet about the positive effects of long-distance running for the average person. The book was entitled "Jogging". It went on to sell more than 1 million copies and helped ignite the running boom.
He was obsessed with improving the shoes his athletes used for running, and made many experiments in his garage workshop. The story about how he put foam rubber on his wife's waffle iron is already stuff of legend. The "waffle" sole and his association with Phil Knight, another one of his former athletes, gave birth to Nike. He stayed on Nike's Board of Directors until June 1999, a few months before he passed away on Christmas Eve that year. He is held in such stature at Nike that the eleventh of the company's "11 sacred rules" is simply, "Remember the man".
All these fascinating events are narrated by Kenny Moore. Moore, a former University of Oregon athlete himself, running under Bowerman, was one of America's best marathoners, having competed in two Olympics, his best result being a fourth place finish, in Munich, behind teammate Frank Shorter's gold. When his athletic career was over, Moore became one of the best sports writers in America. He was a senior writer for "Sports Illustrated", where he worked for 25 years. He also co-wrote the script for the movie "Without Limits" (he even plays a part in the movie).
Moore therefore writes about Bowerman with the reverence and love of a disciple writing about his master. His firsthand account of the stories, many in which he was an actor himself, such as in the opening paragraph above, gives an invaluable insight into the man behind the legend.
My own copy came with a few initial pages roughly cut (see photo below). I almost returned the book right away, but then I noticed Phil Knight's foreword was missing. Found out that because of a last-minute legal tangle between Knight and Rodale, Rodale decided to go ahead without Knight's foreword. However the first edition was already printed. Somebody at Rodale must've spent many long hours cutting those pages from the thousands of books already printed. Knight later published his foreword in the May/2006 issue of Playboy magazine. You can read it here. I decided to keep the book. And I don't regret it a bit.

"Bowerman and the Men of Oregon: The Story of Oregon's Legendary Coach and Nike's Co-Founder", available at

Friday, March 16, 2007

US$ 100 laptop

This is really cool. A prototype of the $100 laptop from Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child project (via How blog).

Thursday, March 15, 2007

apple: america's best retailer

There's a very interesting story about Apple in the latest edition of Fortune magazine. This time about how Apple has transformed itself into America's best retailer, beating the 'sales per square foot a year' of established retailers such as Saks, Best Buy and even Tiffany's (read article here, sub. req.).
According to the article, a research report by Sanford C. Bernstein, shows that the averages of Apple's 174 stores is US$ 4,032 psf/year, against Saks' $362, Best Buy's $ 930, and Tiffany's $ 2,666.
Not so surprising considering the stores' relative small size (compared to other, much bigger department stores) and the number of people who frequent them. See the line outside the Regent St Apple Store, in London, below (2005 Christmas season).

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

nintendo gets it!

Corporate culture is one of the most important aspects of an organization. For mega corporations with thousands of employees all over the world, that's what holds a company together, their set of values.
There's no amount of micromanaging that can teach how a customer service rep should do his/her job, but tell them what the company values are and somehow they'll figure out what to do.
Take a look at this post from saska, about her surprising experience with Nintendo's customer service.
Now read this article in the "Washington Post" about Nintendo's video game guru Shigeru Miyamoto (photo on the left) keynote speech at last week's "Game Developers Conference", in San Francisco.
Miyamoto, creator of "Mario Brothers" and "Donkey Kong", told the audience, "developers should resist the temptation to create only sequels of established hits and games based only on horror and revenge". Speaking about his own approach he said, "I always want that first reaction to be emotion, to be positive, to give a sense of satisfaction, glee... Certain obstacles may temporarily raise feelings of suspense, competition, even frustration. But we always want that final result, that final emotion, to be a positive one."
If you read both articles, it's clear there's a common thread there, and that's why Nintendo seems poised to take over the gaming world.

Konrad, Rachel (2007). Nintendo Guru Wants More Happy Games. The Washington Post. March 8, 2007 (here).

Friday, March 09, 2007

burn calories and save energy

How nobody thought of that before!
Hong Kong's branch of California Fitness, a fitness chain with many gyms across Asia (including Singapore) is testing an innovative concept: their cardio machines, such as stationary bikes, steps, and cross-training, have been equipped so that energy burned off by people doing exercise is transformed into electricity.
The brainchild of inventor Lucien Gambarota, the project is appropriately called "Powered by You". The goal is to make California Fitness more energy efficient, with the capability to produce and store energy. See video on YouTube here. (via inhabitat)

Thursday, March 08, 2007

nike's new basketball uniforms

Nike has unveiled its new college basketball uniforms, to be worn by four college teams, Arizona, Florida, Ohio State, and Syracuse, and which they have named "System of Dress". It is comprised by a tight top (similar to those used by track athletes), and a loose bottom (very, very loose, where do you think they got the 'dress' name from).
The other novelty is that players will be able to customize their uniform to a certain extent, using long or short sleeves tops and Dwayne Wade-style leg wraps.
Nike designer Hans George says that the change was the result of "athlete feedback and cultural insight... the desire among players to personalize their look while still looking part of the team".
It's already producing what some reporters are calling "a dramatic" new look in sports. Take a look below.

ted 2007

The 2007 TED Conference starts in Monterey, California. You can follow some of the action here. And wait for the presentations to be available here, sometime in the future. In the meantime, you can watch Wired Editor-at-Large Kevin Kelly, talking about the evolution of biology and technology (duration: 20:39), on TED 2005, below (or download it here).

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

the diffusion of culture

Zapping through the TV channels in Singapore, I happen to catch a lot of the 'international' channels programming, state-owned TV channels such as Germany's DW-World, Japan's NHK, France's TV5 Monde, and China's CCTV, and I couldn't help but noticing how differently they approach their job.
While they all state their goals as promoting their respective country's culture, through news and entertainment, as well as to provide a more 'balanced' view of the world, the commonalities stop there.
France's TV5 Monde is a channel almost exclusively dedicated to French speakers. The only exceptions are some late night movies sub-titled in English (which are pretty cool by the way). This approach however, definitely limits the number of people they can reach, which makes me think they're not really that interested in promoting their culture as much as they are in promoting their language (sort of, "if you really want to know more about us, learn French first, monsieur").
Japan's NHK does have a few shows for non-Japanese speakers. There's one news program dubbed in English (with a Japanese-speaking anchor and an English-speaking commentator's voice-over), and other newscasts and variety shows in English (with a mix of native and non-native English-speaking anchors). Despite being a little more accessible than TV5, I really would like to see more English-spoken or English-subtitled shows, especially their documentaries and movies. My favorite NHK show is "Cool Japan" (about which I blogged here), and which incidentally is spoken mainly in Japanese (only the guests speak English but it's enough to give a general understanding about the context of the show). See the video below about the Japanese influence on the Paris fashion scene (spoken in Japanese and French, on YouTube here).In contrast with the two channels above, China's CCTV takes a bolder, more ambitious approach, albeit a more expensive one. Instead of mixing their programming grid with Chinese and English-spoken shows, they set up two different channels altogether, CCTV-4, spoken in Chinese, and CCTV-9, spoken mainly in English (there are only a few shows spoken in Chinese, but always with English dubbing or sub-titles). Take a look, for example, at the video below, a show in Beijing last year, celebrating Deng Li Jun, a.k.a. Teresa Teng (on YouTube here).
And finally, Germany's DW-World stands somewhere in the middle, airing some newscasts and variety shows in English (my favorite is Euromaxx, a variety show about interesting things in Europe. You can view a short segment on Danish designer Arne Jacobsen on YouTube here).These differences in strategy show two things: (a) some state-owned channels compromise the diffusion of their country's culture by trying to be too "pure" (dangerous word, but in the lack of a better one), sticking to their own language; (b) the Chinese government is willing to make high investments to promote their culture, trying to leverage their newly acquired economic status. Keep an eye for Chinese brands to follow.
One final note: to be fair, this analysis is based mainly on the nightly programming, so while they reach a prime-time audience, I can't say for sure they represent the entire programming (though I'm almost certain they do).
I do hope these channels take on a more accessible approach to non-speakers of their countries' languages. After all, where else could we have better access to news about Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka, Houston's Yao Ming, or the latest Jean-Pierre Jeunet movie?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

china to slow down?

China's Premier Wen Jiabao announced yesterday that China's GDP growth target for 2007 is 8%. That's lower than the staggering 2006 growth of 10.7%!
Speaking at the opening of the National People's Congress, Mr Wen announced that the government's main goals for this year are to achieve harmonious growth, addressing the income gap between urban and rural population, while cutting energy spending and pollution.
China's economic growth is nothing short of extraordinary for a country with such a big population. Goldman Sach's well known BRIC report previews that China will overtake the US as the world's largest economy around 2041. The same report previews that by 2050, China's per capita income will be US$ 31,357.00, which is almost equivalent as the current GDP per capita in Japan! Can you imagine 1 billion-plus people with that much spending power?

Monday, March 05, 2007

water cube

The spectacular "Water Cube", venue of the swimming and diving competitions in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, had its outside membrane structure completed last December.
Of all the new stadiums being built for the Games, I personally find this the most striking one.
Below, a view of the project...
... and the actual building below.
522 days to go.

association for consumer research

I’ve been an on and off member of the Association for Consumer Research (ACR) since 1993, as far as I can remember. The ACR is an academic association dedicated to promote the study of consumer behavior. Its members come from a wide range of expertise (anthropology, marketing, sociology, communication, linguistics, etc.) and include luminaries such as Harold Kassarjian, Sidney Levy (a pioneer who wrote the seminal “Symbols for Sale” in 1959!), Gerald Zaltman (How Customers Think), and my favorites, Grant McCracken (Culture and Consumption), Russell Belk (Happy Thought), Morris Holbrook (Symbolic Consumer Behavior), and Elizabeth Hirschman (The Creation of Product Symbolism).
Collectively they have published a wealth of knowledge and insights since ACR's inception in 1969. I personally found their production fascinating for somebody whose good chunk of work is to understand consumers (although this is not ACR's main goal, let me be clear, this is an academic body, knowledge for knowledge's sake, they don't exist to provide consulting services).
Nonetheless, they've provided me with invaluable insights about symbolic consumption, ethnography, cultural aspects of consumption, to mention just a few of the topics they cover. In the process, they have explored all sorts of unconventional methods in trying to understand consumers, from introspective, self-analysis of their own consumption behavior, to analysis of movies as consumption objects, to the analysis of the sacred aspects of consumption, which easily make them one the most unconventional, innovative, and creative group of people that I’ve ever met (even if some of the articles are too highbrow for me to understand).
For whatever reason though, I seldom meet a branding practitioner who is aware of the existence of this body of knowledge. Perhaps people get intimidated by the academic approach, but if you get past the academic terms, there are real gems in there.
Take a look at some of the articles below:
"Happy Thought", by Russell Belk.
"I'm Hip: An Autobiographical Account of Some Musical Consumption Experiences", by Morris Holbrook
"Advertising: Meaning or Information", by Grant McCracken
"Consumer Behavior Meets the Nouvelle Femme: Feminist Consumption at the Movies", by Elizabeth Hirschman
Most of these articles can be found either in the "Journal of Consumer Research", or in ACR’s website (there’s an online proceedings search). Enjoy the readings.

Friday, March 02, 2007

did nintendo copy xavix?

Have you heard of a game console called Xavix? I saw it at the store yesterday and, surprised, I thought to myself "hmm, already a Wii copycat"! Then later I checked on google and to my even bigger surprise I learned that Xavix was actually launched on September 2005, a full year before Nintendo's Wii!
Xavix, made by a Japanese company name SSD, basically has the same principle as the Wii, it's an interactive motion controlled gaming console. There are a few differences though:
- The remotes resemble actual sports equipments (boxing gloves, tennis rackets, golf clubs, etc.) thus rendering a more realistic experience (not sure whether this is necessarily better in terms of pure game enjoyment)
- The view on the screen doesn't show your 'avatar'. The ball comes straight at your face in a tennis game, for example.
- Nintendo's marketing is much more focused and clear. Xavix seems uncertain of what it wants to be: a video-game or a fitness device. From their website: "Xavix is a revolutionary way to interact with your TV. From your favorite sports to high-energy workouts..."
Take a look for yourself at xavixstore.
Also check out this commercial on YouTube.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

time out singapore

Just because I said the other day that magazines are dwindling, we're witnessing a couple of interesting magazine launches recently.
First came Monocle. Now, the launching of Time Out Singapore, with the latest arts and entertainment listings, will give a boost to the city-state's plans to become a cool city.
Singapore now joins the likes of London, New York, Shanghai, Dubai and 13 other cities that have their own "Time Out" edition. This one though is a monthly edition, not weekly as the London one.