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Japan’s Bad Bets on Tech and the Enormous Consequences

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Japan chose relationships over information. When Japan’s consumer electronics business was confronted with the combination of the internet and the iPhone, Japan buckled. The leaders in Japan saw that essentially the entire electronics district of Akihabara was being sucked into a single device, the iPhone (and not Docomo’s then dominant clamshells) they retrenched.

I believe they couldn’t really grasp the iPhone. It was too ominous for Japan’s industrial might. Japan had built a large part of it’s consumer business on gadgets that made life easier and more fun. People flocked to Akihabara to see the latest device.

In the 80’s and 90’s the world collectively marveled at how far ahead Japan was. Endless blogs, documentaries described how Japan was a nation of the future. Even as that lead was not only eroding but collapsing.

How could this happen? What mistakes did Japan make? How could it have been different?

To answer that question, lets go back in time to the late 80’s and Japan’s great property and stock bubble. If you weren’t aware, in 1989, the Emperor’s Palace in downtown Tokyo was worth more than the entire state of California. Let that sink in. The Emperor house and grounds, which I often jogged around several times an evening, were worth more than Hollywood, Silicon Valley, San Fransisco, Los Angeles, Orange County and the entire state. (which is larger than Japan in size) A house was worth more than all that.

And NEC was the world’s largest silicon manufacturer making Japan ground zero for the worlds electronics industry. When Japan lost that lead, the inevitable demise of the entire consumer electronics industry began.

It wasn’t just NEC, it was the whole of Japan’s industrial might. Everything from Japan’s great automakers to electronics to silicon to mechanical robot manufacturers were leading the field and cashed up.

So Japan had the funds. And the lead. Side note, look at pictures of any major downtown business district with signage, like New York’s Times Square. Japanese giants neon signs dominated then. But look at them now? Not a one. What happened? How could this happen?

Japan’s Bad Bets
Hardware Over Software
The best analogy I can think of is robotics. In the 80’s Japan dominated industrial and consumer robotics. Everything from Sony’s Aibo robot dog to Asimo Honda’s robot man who could dance, climb stairs and entertain the crowd over at Honda’s main showroom. (still worth checking out if you get to Tokyo)

Japan chose mechanical robots and the world chose software. The problem was that mechanical robots are inherently more difficult to produce than digital ones. And that software and information combine to solve many problems that mechanical robots used to solve (3-d printing over factory production, for example)

Mechanical robots are entirely dependent on information to be relevant. AI + robots are the best example of future robotics that are rapidly transforming everything we know about modern life essentially.

It’s a bit of a simplification but helpful to think of robots as dumb and AI as smart. What happens when smart meets dumb? Dumb works for smart. Smart can hire or outsource dumb to do it’s dirty work. And that’s what happened.

AI got all the cash and it invested into robots. So we’re seeing some damn smart robot’s come out of the US. The best known example being Boston Dynamics dog: Which I believe Google recently sold not because it wasn’t a good investment but because it didn’t want to be known in popular opinion as The Evil Terminator. Essentially a PR move because Google is dominating in so many other fields they didn’t want a super smart robot that is rapidly becoming a US military tool on their books. So they washed their hands of it.

I, for one, wish they kept it. I think Google could have done cooler things with it. But, just like I didn’t like mothballing modern nuclear technology and the halting of new nuke plants, which I also think is awesome, public opinion wins out. As a side note, as pro-solar and electric as I am, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a bigger Elon Musk Tesla fan, I think modern nuke technology is fricking awesome and as true tragedy that it’s not being developed (due to Russian 1970-80’s incompetence) and Japan’s poor decision to continue operating an early 1970’s design in an area that had tsunami’s since the beginning of time.

And that it all could have been prevented if the Japanese government had simply accept the US’s Navy’s offer to supply electricity to the backup generators from an aircraft carrier, which it was designed and prepared to do. In my mind Japan’s nuclear meltdown is due to those three things.

Poor choice of locations (tsunami area) , poor decision not to upgrade faulty 1970’s GE technology (should have been upgraded or mothballed) and most importantly, the horrendous decision by the Japanese government’s decision to ‘handle it themselves” and turn away the offer of electricity from a US ship: which had plenty of time to get there, set up, get the giant cord over to the cooling system and connect it. But it was turned away. And no one is talking about it.

If a fire starts in my house. And my neighbor sees it and offers his fire extinguisher and I refuse. And subsequently my house goes down in flames, who is to blame? The fire? The stove? I had an easy way to handle the situation but was too proud to accept it. So who is to blame?

Anyway, I’ve gotten off topic, Japan’s essentially dumb robots are now a commodity. Companies with AI, big data, algorithms can easily get a robot to do the physical part. The value is in the software.

And Japan missed the software revolution. Completely. Oh and the internet. I know it’s hard to fathom but it’s true. Japan missed both. And continues to miss them.

Why could be due to heirarchical decision making in a time of rapid technological progress. It’s still common for Japan’s executives to not send their own email. The secretary does that. And she, yes it’s a she in Japan, prints them all out for him (yes it’s a him) and has them ready on his desk in the morning.

This state of corporate affairs is what guided the poor decision of the past and continues to this day. I am a huge Japan fan and hope that articles like this can pull Japan out of it’s doldrums before it’s too late. And the Japanese are all working for China. But I’m not hopeful.

Why Did YouTube Become so Popular: Secrets to Youtube Success

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Youtube: Eccentric Entertainment Choices

Youtube doesn’t judge you: Not a Nanny State

YouTube doesn’t take upon itself to decide what you will like and when. Like traditional media. They think they know what you want to watch at 6pm. 7am and so on. YouTube leaves it up to you. You want to watch a Korean girl pour ketchup all over herself while saying, “more ketchup!”? You got it!  Meet Showry! 🙂

YouTube is the First True Global Media: It works anywhere

Global media? Surely CNN right? Or Yahoo right?

Entertainment Blue Screen of Death

Wrong! This is the message I just got when I clicked on a Yahoo story about two twins separated at birth. It feels as welcoming at Microsofts “Blue Screen of Death” in the 90’s. To be honest, this message really pisses me off for some reason. I can’t put a finger on it but it’s less fun than it looks. While we’re at it, why in the hell can’t I see this (while I’m here) living in Asia? Is this a state secret? Patented technology? The NSA? I need to show my drivers license? wtf

Much like any stupid company that doesn’t think about their users, media companies have always limited content to specific countries due to licensing agreements. In fact, they love licensing agreements! Why? Because you have to pay for licensing!! They get a paycheck for screwing you over.

If you don’t travel much, you might not be aware of how pervasive and frustrating this is. Living outside the US since the 80’s, I’m well aware. Simply watching an NBA game is practically impossible. Luckily, I can see the recap on….you guessed it. Youtube. Simply search “Warriors Full Game Highlights” 30 minutes after a game ends, avoid the sports news and enjoy what is essentially the best part of the game, all the baskets and killer defensive plays, in 9 minutes! As Charlie Sheen would say…WINNING!

I know you’re going to say, oh but that’s how they make money! Mo-ney! baby. CaChing! But guess how Hollywood used to make money? Video rental per movie Now they do steaming with monthly and individual rentals online. They adapted. What a concept!

The very astute among you will say, “you can pay for an annual NBA subscription, dummy! Cheapskate!” Yes, I could. But then after that game finishes, I might want to catch the end of a Dodger game but… oh that’s another subscription! More bills. More signing up. More passwords! Just what I wanted for Christmas!

And to be fair Major League Baseball and Football do it much better than most. Most good content simply isn’t available at any price outside of the US. And the subscription model doesn’t sit well with many sports fans used to simply turning on the TV and laboring through the commercials. It’s a totally different business model. So blame the victim all you like but anyone who has had a business knows that these things matter. One tiny change to a business model can lead to ruin. And sports is something you want to think about or plan for. Spur of the moment. Have a few minutes to spare? Turn on the game.

I think most companies assume they are much more important than they really are. That their fans are much more loyal than they are. In reality, most just want entertainment on demand. No hassle. Willing to put up with commercials but not credit card bills. Hardcore sports fans and gamblers aside, that’s how most people are. Me included. Even if I imagine myself to be pretty loyal, in reality, I’m not.

I feel loyal. I feel emotional. I try to guide the basketball in using mental telepathy. And sometimes it works. lol No really I get VERY into basketball games but in the end, it’s just a very small part of my life. And if it’s not there, I don’t miss it all that much. Like a tasty burrito though, once I take a bite, I have to finish that sucker. But my loyalty is limited and, in 28 years abroad, I’ve only paid for MLB subscription once. And, strangely enough, that was the year I hardly bothered.

Suggested Videos Changed my Life

Maybe a slight exaggeration but I usually hate companies suggesting things to me. “Do you want fries with that?” NO. I never want fries with that. Ever. I never want a matching belt, shoes or pillow case with that either. Why? Because I already knew about those options. If I wanted them, I’d order them. In contrast, suggested videos give me something I didn’t know about but very likely might want. Something like a dating app that knows my type and says, “you might be interested in her”. Very likely this app would be a staple.

So I love suggested vids. Let me count the ways. lol Ok, I love suggested videos because they make me look smart. So when I find some cool funky Motown artist and they recommend something cool like
After seeing that vid, I proudly post on Facebook like I’m some kind of connoisseur of such music. In reality, I’m a scatterbrained music listener constantly looking for whatever will give me that pump that I’m looking for. That jolt of energy and a smile. If I get that, I’m happy.

The problem is, it’s not easy for me to get it. And the high quality suggested videos were just the ticket to give me something that I was in the mood for; in the exact moment. Not 20 minutes later when I’m watching some think tank discussion on China’s new J-20 fighter jet. Because, like sex, the mood changes quickly. I’m in the mood for this or that, then in another mood. Suggested videos basically keeps up with me even if most people can’t or don’t want to. It rolls with my mood. And it’s been said that 75% of viewing time on Youtube is suggested videos, so I guess others are like me after all.

It feels right. I know they are tracking me. But when they serve up that series of Japanese bubble era commercials, just when I’m in the mood, nothing else will do. Those corny stewardess type uniforms Japanese girls used to wear in the 80’s, the cute singing, the mini skirts, the smiles, the hilarious humor, it all hits me. Just when I’m in the mood. Suggested videos are AI at work in our lives and we don’t even realize it. If you like this, you might like 1, 2 and 3! lol I speak Japanese and lived in Japan during the bubble so this very eclectic video, of a forgotten time and energy might only appeal to me but man. It brings back insanely strong memories. Floods my mind with people and experiences. And I wouldn’t have known about it if it weren’t for YouTube’s suggested videos.

This is the future. Things we want, when we want it, even though we had no idea we wanted it!

Of course, YouTube created new stars, had great technology (with Flash and now with HTML5) but the real reason is they gave us what we wanted. Didn’t judge us. Helped us be even weirder than we were before. And was a good laugh. Certainly a far cry from “unfortunately this video is not available in your region“.

In closing, I have to say that I don’t think main stream media gets it yet. They aren’t ready to give consumers what they want. Aren’t willing to look for new revenue sources. (Hello MLB, if you offer your stuff in China, people are going to watch it. Views will skyrocket. Sales will skyrocket. Chinese will fly all over the world to see the games. And buy tons of t-shirts. But I guess you are happy doing backdoor deals to people willing to pay for a license. Of course, the content will be poorly distributed. Too expensive. Inconvenient. And you might miss China and India. But hey, cheer up! You got your licensing fee! Congratulations.

YouTube Takes Your Serious Side Seriously

Enough writing and watching ketchup videos, I’m in another mood now. Let’s make some money mood! And I’m just about to watch a YouTube video about “How to Sell Franchises Internationally” because I’m considering buying a master franchise for a US chain and selling individual franchises here in Thailand. YouTube is not only my entertainer, it’s also my teacher which is something mainstream media hasn’t done for a long time.  Catch you later. If you enjoyed this please share and check out my video channel where I try to make sense of this world. Thanks for reading!

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