Monday, July 20, 2009

Why Japan’s Cellphones Haven’t Gone Global

The New York Times has an article "Why Japan’s Cellphones Haven’t Gone Global". The Times writes: "At first glance, Japanese cellphones are a gadget lover’s dream: ready for Internet and e-mail, they double as credit cards, boarding passes and even body-fat calculators. But it is hard to find anyone in Chicago or London using a Japanese phone like a Panasonic, a Sharp or an NEC. Despite years of dabbling in overseas markets, Japan’s handset makers have little presence beyond the country’s shores."

My focus, however, is not with the article but the perceptive reader comments on the article. We are consistently admonished by those advocating free markets and less regulation that we will have a utopian economy if companies are free to compete unhindered. But as I have read articles concerning technological innovation in various newspapers and blogs, I have been made aware that the US is behind the technological curve. Clearly a disheartening concept. So what gives? The unfettered free market seems to have disappointed us concerning technology innovation and has had a significant meltdown (more bluntly ->failure) in the financial arena. Instead of incessant assertions of being superior we need to look into the mirror and ask ourselves how we can do better.

R writes, as a reader response to the article:
I borrow my dad's old cell phone when I'm home -- it's a 1 year old model, with music downloading capabilities, a sweet 5+ megapixel camera capable of taking photos and long movies, and of course, internet and email accessible. It also functions as a debit card -- I can pay for drinks at the vending machine with it, use it as a train pass, and buy things with it in stores. How much did this cost? Because the model had been out for a year, the physical phone itself cost all of 1 yen, or less than a penny.

And it's not just cell phones. Whenever I go back to Tokyo to visit my family, I'm amazed at how far behind the western world is. Our washer is over 10 years old, and it measures the amount of clothes you put in, and calculates how much laundry detergent should be used. It has over 20 options for different types of clothing/material, and still works like a charm. Our bathtub is automatic -- type in the temperature you want it to be on our central computer, the water starts coming out and the temperature is maintained until you turn it off. Oh, and it stops automatically at the right level, and beeps when it's done. My camera, a basic Sony cybershot, came out in the US over a year after I got it in Japan, and my brother's camera was never released in the US. I could go on and on -- but the point is, we're an average middle class family, with average middle class appliances. There are now amazing green advances being made: from houses that (somehow) can recycle and reuse a portion of their electricity, are solar-powered, etc. I could never dream however, of having things like this in the US.

Japan has amazing innovations, but I don't expect to see them over here anytime soon.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Amazon Erases Orwell Books From Kindle

The New York Times reports that: "Amazon Erases Orwell Books From Kindle". In summary, the Times writes: "In a move that angered customers and generated waves of online pique, Amazon remotely deleted some digital editions of the books from the Kindle devices of readers who had bought them."

Before getting into the implications of this, I need to give the Times +2 points. I have been immensely critical of the Times coverage of copyright issues. So they get +1 point for running the story, plus another point for David Pogue's post: "Some E-Books Are More Equal Than Others".

This incident points to two themes that have not yet achieved "traction" in the public debate over the extent of copyright. First, that when you purchase content that you obtain a property right to the use of that content. Second, that the copyright holders do not have an unlimited right to control the use of the content. The Times writes: "Justin Gawronski, a 17-year-old from the Detroit area, was reading “1984” on his Kindle for a summer assignment and lost all his notes and annotations when the file vanished. “They didn’t just take a book back, they stole my work,” he said." Please see my post: "Piracy and the Legal System".

David Pogue notes: "This is ugly for all kinds of reasons. Amazon says that this sort of thing is “rare,” but that it can happen at all is unsettling; we’ve been taught to believe that e-books are, you know, just like books, only better. Already, we’ve learned that they’re not really like books, in that once we’re finished reading them, we can’t resell or even donate them. But now we learn that all sales may not even be final."

Though Amazon may throw out the word "rare" hoping to minimize the PR boondoggle, the potential for the vendor to remotely disable what you have bought exists and may even be expanding. It doesn't take long to find examples where the vendor has made attempts at disabling or has disabled the content you bought. Walmart, Yahoo, and Microsoft attempted to shut down their music servers which would have resulted in the music vaporizing. Electronic Arts is going to Require Internet Connection For Command & Conquer, which would allow Electronic Arts to disable the game at their whim. Cory Doctorow in"MLB rips off fans who bought DRM videos" wrote: "MLB shut down the DRM server because they've changed suppliers, and now they expect suckers to buy downloads of games in the new DRM format." Audioholics reported: "DRM Strikes Again - Plays for Sure to Play no More".

When we buy content, we acquire a right to use that content as we wish. The content creators do not have a right to deprive us of that use.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Apollo 11 Moon Landing Anniversary

Forty years ago, on July 20, 2009 man landed on the moon. Celebrations will soon be ensuing. The Las Vegas Review Journal writes; "40TH ANNIVERSARY: Moon landing taught us much about science -- and ourselves". Celebrating, this success should be a joyous event, but it is a bittersweet event since we are celebrating a past event and not a new success. When a country celebrates its past over its future, it is a country that has lost its will to move forward.

I would even go so far as to say that the meltdown in our economy and the failure of the National and State governments to balance their respective budgets demonstrate that our corporate and political leaders are, sad to say, incompetent. If we can't resolve our domestic issues, how can we move forward?

I will even throw-in a "fringe" Russian
Russian academic Igor Panarin who has predicted that the U.S. will fall apart in 2010. This prediction was covered by the Wall Street Journal: "As if Things Weren't Bad Enough, Russian Professor Predicts End of U.S." Now, I don't think that is going to happen, but it does raise (from an outsiders viewpoint) the specter that the US is a dysfunctional country. Our lack of progress in space and our inability to solve domestic issues are symptomatic of that dysfunction. A sad truth.

I have additional comment here. On an upbeat note, enjoy July 20, 2009 and celebrate our
accomplishments of that day in 1969.

Update: The Washington Post (7/13/2009) published an article: "Space Station Is Near Completion, Maybe the End". According to the article: "In the first quarter of 2016, we'll prep and de-orbit the spacecraft," says NASA's space station program manager, Michael T. Suffredini. Whether this announcement is simply political gamesmanship, I don't know, but it potentially points to a further reduction in our space program.