Friday, March 09, 2007

wasted day

Cool shot glasses...

Had a long night out last night...a client was in town and we celebrated with a big dinner then an inspired hitting of the bars on Thursday. Eventually found a bar that was hosting a DJ party, and had a pretty good time.

Everything was going fine until someone had the bright idea of ordering a bottle of tequila (after we had already gone through countless beers and a bottle of whiskey)...

Today was headachey.

Did manage to be semi-productive after I finally woke up...but hard to imagine making a habit of this AND gettings stuff done.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Geek Rant - Palm is trying to get back into China???

Just saw (via an RSS feed) that Palm made a press release about how they have new partners in China to market their (relatively) new PDA/phone; the Treo 680.

What started out as a few lines in response to this news item grew into the series of observations below. I used to be very enthusiastic about Palm PDA's and their company, but it seems like their management can't do anything right (bought out a Chinese company to "enter the market" but then did nothing with it, sold off their software devision then tried to buy it back, changed their name then changed it back, still are using an out-of date OS, "new" product designs that look like they belong in 2003, have become totally irrelevant in China while the competing products from MS are becoming widespread, etc.)

So, now they say that they have a partner in China, and apparently they'll make it available. Apparently this has stirred up some emotion in me - This is their strategy for China, the largest mobile device market in the world?!?!?!

I realize that it's pretty geeky to go on this long about what is basically just a gadget that I sometimes use. Then again, I gotta call bullshit on super-optimistic corporate PR when I see it.

Anyway, the contents of my post are below:

As a Palm fan who currently happens to be in China, this is welcome, exciting, and long overdue news!

But, the pessimist in me is saying, "Too little, too late."

It's hard to generalize about product entries into China; it's sometimes funny what sticks and what doesn't; we'll see what happens with this one.

But I think Palm & partners have their work cut out for them:

1. Palm is almost completely unknown in mainland China (aside for those who follow gadgets or go to markets to buy imported devices at inflated/overtaxed prices). That may not be a bad thing, but it means that some effort will need to be spent on building up the brand. That will probably take some serious effort and money.

2. CJKOS does a pretty decent job for providing localization for Palm OS devices (in my experience), but it's not seamless; certainly not when compared to Windows Mobile or regular phones by Nokia, Motorola, Samsung - all of which are well-established in the market.

3. Based on my observations of what people use and what's being sold in the markets, devices with keyboards (thumbboards) haven't really taken off in China like they seem to have in Europe and the US; this is probably in no small part due to the fact that unless you're typing a lot of English, QWERTY doesn't necessarily offer a lot of benefit Chinese character entry on a mobile device. However, there are a lot of touchscreen phones available now that have gained some popularity in various market segments. If Palm was ever going to release a more data-intensive, touchscreen-only GSM/handheld (kind of like a T|X phone), then this would really be the place for it!

4. Distribution - could be a challenge since so many other companies are already established as sellers. Hopefully Palm's local China partner will be able to make deals and pull strings to get their products into prominent display.

5. Wi-fi - there isn't nearly as much of a wi-fi infrastructure in China (yet) as in Europe or the US. 3G hasn't even been officially rolled out (which is another story). So, if Palm wants to keep selling product without wi-fi ability, this is one market that actually may not care too much about it. Then again, wi-fi is growing in popularity (in home networks and at restaurants), and more and more devices have it, so Palm devices could lose out by comparison.

6. Status symbols - The high end spenders in China do throw down unquestioningly on expensive "status" items (like the Nokia 8800). If Palm could market its devices in a similar fashion, perhaps it could gain inroads that way. I have doubts that the Treo 680 as is would be successful if sold under that strategy, as it's bigger and under-spec compared to other "it" devices. While some may argue that comparing smartphones and "dumb"phones is like comparing apples and oranges, I counter that most consumers here are not interested in that distinction; they'll buy what they like or think is cool, whether it's a "smart" or "dumb" device.

7. Product Churn
Like many other parts of Asia (and the world, really), some people (usually the wealthy types living in cities) change their personal phones relatively frequently; as often as every 2-3 months. Nokia, Motorola, and Samsung do well in this environment since they seemingly offer new devices or upgrades every few months; even HTC seems to have a constantly updating product line. Palm would do well to increase the variety of models it offers.

8. Target Markets - I'm a little out of touch with Palm's marketing strategies, but I see it like this - While Palm in other nations seems to target itself more towards business users, this has changed with the 680 (and the zire 21 and 22 before it) in the US, where it is trying to be pushed towards mainstream users. (how is that going, btw?). IMHO, the whole "email on your phone" thing has been slower on the uptake here. Businesses rarely purchase phones for their employees (and not enough reimburse phone time expenses). I do not think Palm can rely on corporate sales here; they need to push for the mainstream. And if they want success in the mainstream, I think they need to go big and push big (with a target of strong and steady growth).

This post ended up being much longer than originally intended. I do wish Palm the best of luck in expanding their business in China. But, for the reasons listed above, I think it could be a long while before I see their products in the nice electronics stores and being carried by any significant number of passersby on the street.

Monday, March 05, 2007

music notes

Listening (amongst the other stuff on random mode):

"New Magnetic Wonder" - by the Apples in Stereo. Pretty cool stuff. I like their psychadelic-poppy sound.

"Tenacious D the Pick of Destiny (soundtrack)" - by Tenacious D. Awesome. Accoustic goofy songs, and then some hard-rockin' tunes with Dio, Meatloaf, and David Grohl making guest appearances.

Some great rock-opera/musical-style stuff; and I love it (especially after having done musical theater in high school)'s just really cool hearing rock-opera (actually not unlike Jesus Christ Superstar) but done in a funny way. Lyrics like, "Check this riff it's fucking tasty" help a lot too.

Rock rock rock.

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waiting and waiting

Marsha's in the middle of what is supposed to be her green card interview. Not that much for me to do here, but I'm here for support should she need it. Lucky thing that there is wi-fi available at a coffee shop not so far away.

Watching the visa process from this perspective is annoying. I'm not impressed with the treatment of people as they wait for their visas at the US embassies/consulates - never strikes me as friendly. On the other hand, there's always a lot of people waiting around to try and get in, and apparently quite a bit of scheming and scamming to pull off a visa issuance. So maybe the foreign service is actually being quite fair. If you wait in line, you eventually get your turn. But the process is a little degrading and feels like a lot of wasted time. Then again, the benefits of having a visa are usually more than worth the effort. Hard call.

Then again, I know that the Chinese government tends to go tit for tat with the US for its treatment of applicants; ie - if the US raises its fees, China raises its fees. So it's a little frustrating when you feel slighted by the security guards at your own embassy...and you know that you'll probably be experiencing it again from the Chinese side later.

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knee-jerk reaction post

In Guangzhou at a hotel, watching the news.

Just saw a news piece about a doctor with what could be a very effective and cheap bird flu vaccine.

That's well and good.

But then they went on to mention that "Bird Flu has killed over 170 people worldwide since 1997."

I did a huge WTF double-take!!!

How many people have died of pneumonia, the regular flu, measles, TB, or anything else since 1997?

Is Bird Flu just a good scary headline so it gathers so much media attention?

I guess it is good that people are actually taking preventative measures now for something before it potentially gets a lot worse. But, it seems like this is given way more attention than it deserves.

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Not so guilty (yet still a little) pleasures

I had been composing this post in my head during much of today - concerning two musical acts that I really like, even though I also feel like I should know better.

But then I did a little research...found some new respect for these guilty pleasures, so maybe I shouldn't act too embarrassed about admitting that I enjoy their work. Then again, sometimes it's wise to enjoy some things in secret.

Screw that - here's the results of my soul-searching:

Guilty Pleasure #1:
Seo Tae Ji

A mega-star in Korea, and one of the favorite musical acts of my brother-in-law. I received his 2-disc live album as a gift, and I think most of it's really pretty good; it rocks pretty hard and is excellent at the gym - usually the default music at the gym is 200 BPM techno versions of the same Chinese love-pop songs that have been playing everywhere for the past 5 years. So something loud and rocking certainly does the job for me.

The case against:

  • To put it nicely, his music owes a huge debt to Korn and Limp Bizkit

  • Has proved that a song protesting sexual assault can be put to very happy, upbeat music
  • Often poses as if he was a hardcore rapper (but not in a tongue in cheek way)
  • So popular in Korea it seems that he couldn't really be that cool for real

The case for (I got most of this info via a Wikipedia article, but it sorta is in line with what I've heard before from my Korean friends concerning this artist):

  • Apparently dropped out of high school since he thought the Korean education system exists to pollute the brains of the nation's youth
  • Apparently his lyrics (I don't understand and haven't bothered to look up any translations) often heavily criticize the Korean government and education system, to the point where some of his songs have been banned from TV.

  • Apparently he writes all his own music
  • Seems to have succeeded largely on his own, outside of the Korean music system
  • Has a song with the chorus about the "Fucked-up Music Business"
  • Has brought heavy rock music into the Korean conciousness and mainstream
Verdict: I think I can sorta-proudly listen to this; I just have to suck up my pride and admit I might have been small-minded about before. And just need to skip through the tracks where he tries to be rapper.

Guilty Pleasure #2: Ayumi Hamasaki

The case against:

  • Basically, she's the Japanese equivalent of Britney Spears (perhaps even a bigger success?)
    • So, perhaps her music is really targeted at 12-year olds?

  • If I tell anyone I know from Japan that I like her music, they are embarrassed for me.
  • I think she's the fantasy for japanophiles in the states that build up a fantasy of what Japanese culture is like based on the quirky-cool things that manage to get exported from it...of course, to put it kindly, that's just not a representative way of looking at Japan. Good company!

  • She doesn't write her own music
  • She obviously benefits from having a very good producer
  • Makes me wonder if she only got anywhere due to success on the casting couch

  • Obviously just the figurehead for a huge corporate music machine

  • Apparently has had a fair amount of surgery to create/maintain her face (which seems capable of only one expression, if her album covers are representative of anything)
  • Endorsed a series of sugary drinks in China, called "The 5th Season". I tried a bottle of one once, it was disgusting. Clearly Ayumi's fault.
The case for:

  • Apparently the most successful Japanese female artist ever
  • Instead of sticking to just the typical Asian album formula of "10 love ballads + 2 experimental songs (usually one with a hip-hop feel, and one with a rock edge to it)", her albums tend to be mostly upbeat, fast music with only 1 or 2 token ballads
  • Her songs nearly always feature electric guitars in the mix!
  • Has a really good producer who gets a club music sound + electric guitars for much of her songs. I think that's kind of original - I bet I'd like Chinese pop more if they tried to copy her style more...(but there's kind of a resistance to guitar-based music here)

  • Introduced to me by a good friend who normally only listened to death metal, but made an exception for her since she looked like his old girlfriend
Verdict: I should really know better, but I just can't help myself!!!

Admitting that I am a gushing fan would certainly destroy my "street cred". Oh yeah - what street cred? Guess it's fine...

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