Archive for August, 2002

Language and Technology

Saturday, August 24th, 2002

In markmceahern: is it the language?, Mark McEahern wonders if the Japanese alphabet is somehow related to Japan’s progress or lack thereof in the business of technology.

The pragmatist in me says, heck no – that can’t have anything to do with it. Then the philosopher part says: but language encodes culture, and isn’t it the social culture that is stifling innovation in Japanese corporate policy?

I can’t say conclusively. I’ve heard some analysis that kan’ji (Chinese ideographs) help contribute to better analytical or mathematical thinking and hence better scores for Japanese students on standardized tests, but I’m not so sure. I can say that “seeing” meaning encoded directly in the written characters does help in getting the concept in a way that you don’t get when reading a phonetic representation (like English). But I can’t put my finger on exactly how.

The counter argument to the technology leadership question lies in looking at the industries Japan now dominates, like automobiles and electronics . Did the language help them? Maybe, but I think the key drivers were quality assurance, miniaturization, and a focus on the mass market.

Open source is an interesting sideshow here. The open source community is more driven by individual contribution, and here I think you can see plenty of Japanese innovation. Ruby is a good example.

Japanese IT

Wednesday, August 21st, 2002

The IT Split – Why Japan’s tech industry bombed while America’s boomed. By Robert?Shapiro

There are some intruiging points raised in this article, and I’ve wondered myself why Japan’s technology-driven economy hasn’t produced a “major” player besides the usual consumer electronics powerhouses. As someone who has worked in a Japanese technology company, I can certainly attest to the capabilities of Japanese engineers and managers.

Shapiro lists some amazing facts:

- IT companies contributed 8% to GDP, but 30% of US growth from 1995 to 2000.

- Whereas in 1988, Japan and the US each controlled 40% of the semiconductor market, now the US has 55% with Japan holding just 25%

- US companies control 67% of global PC sales, and 80% of servers; Japan holds less than 5% in each.

And he claims that this is largely due to divergent strategies and organization techniques across companies in each country. In explaining both Japan’s slide in the semiconductor and PC/server businesses, he finds fault with Japan’s strategy of spreading its R&D too thin instead of specializing. In software, Japan holds no global leadership positions because its software groups typically live in large conglomerates, and focus on custom applications, often that are bundled with (and therefore subsidized by) hardware.

These explanations seem plausible, but I can’t really comment on whether or not they are true causes for Japan’s noticeable absence from the world stage of technology. Wireless is a strong exception. Still, I can attest to what Shapiro points out, at least in the software business. I had the good fortune to work in a small entrpreneurial software firm that was very small, nimble, and incredibly efficient. With a handful of people, Kamejima Sangyo (later AILogic) competed with much larger firms – almost all of which were subsidiaries of major Japanese keiretsus.

There are some things I think Shapiro broadly misses. Wireless promises to be a key growth engine of the future for IT, and Japan’s content providers, application developers, handset vendors, carriers, and most importantly, its endusers – are farther along than their counterparts in the US. However, wireless will be only one piece of future IT growth, so it will be interesting to see how Japan grows out of its current position.

Larry Bock

Tuesday, August 20th, 2002


A great article in Red Herring on Larry Bock. Larry’s quote about opportunity neatly sums up where to look.

Reverse Trackback

Tuesday, August 20th, 2002

markmceahern: weblogging Archives

Here’s my reverse trackback on your site Mark. Seems pretty cool – it’s a way for both blogs to get a copy of the content that the trackbacker posts.

Life on the Edge

Tuesday, August 20th, 2002

Running of the Bulls

Patrick Malone is a Cessna Skywagon pilot who started his journey 2 years ago to become a bush pilot in Africa. Although circumstance forced him to abandon his dream in Portugal, his 2 year “blog before blogs” is an amazing read.

This latest entry of his just showed up recently. For anyone interested in what the Running of the Bulls is like, Patrick will tell you.

The Killer Mobile App

Monday, August 19th, 2002

The wireless industry seems stuck on delivering the killer wireless application. And by stuck, I mean stuck on figuring out what that application is – and on how to make it happen.

Maybe part of the problem is that there are many pieces of the “value chain” required to deliver the end-all-be-all application. This fragmentation tends to create short term, narrowband thinking. Carriers focus on one step at a time – like unveiling a high speed network. Device manufacturers concentrate on – integrated WiFi or a thumbboard. Each piece of the puzzle looks at one or maybe two things it can do to accelerate adoption of wireless data, without looking at the whole picture of what users really want.

The only company that has been able to think through every aspect of what a great wireless data application would look like – at least in the US – is RIM. The company’s Blackberry solution is – just that – a complete mobile e-mail solution. Given that, it’s also a dead-end; Microsoft’s PocketPC and PalmOS platforms are completely open, industry-wide supported platforms that will (I claim) win in the long-run. But I think it’s worth analyzing what makes Blackberry so compelling, in the hopes of making its feature set ubiquitous on the long-term platforms and devices that will win. Here goes:

(1) Always on. Or the semblance of it. Mobile devices aren’t meant to be like PC’s – the expectation is that they are on and connected – when they are powered on. There should be no boot-time, and there definitely should not be a requirement for a user to establish a connection separately. When you turn it on, it’s connected. Like a phone.
(2) Push. A mobile device without the ability to receive data is like a phone that can’t receive a call. The network must be able to send data to the device, and so it must support push.
(3) Flat-rate, affordable billing. Blackberry pioneered a flat-rate data plan, which eliminated the need for users to budget their time or worry about usage. The result: increased adoption.
(4) The right input method.RIM innovated until it found the right input method for a device meant for email creation: the thumbboard. Not all mobile applications will need to be text-intensive, but for ones (like email) that are – the right input device is core to widespread adoption.
(5) Secure.End to end encryption of data is key. So is local security and local encryption of everything on the device. Mobile devices are easily misplaced, stolen, and lost – and their contents must not be compromised if they fall into the wrong hands.
(6) Easy-to-install, easy to use.


Wednesday, August 14th, 2002

Logged 2.2 hours in N28RJ, a Cessna 172RG.


An event definitely worth inaugural weblog entry status since it was a chance to defy gravity yet again, but this flight was even better than normal for a couple reasons. First, 8RJ is a complex aircraft, with retractable landing gear and a constant-speed propeller, and I’d never flown a plane like it before. Also, I flew up to Riverside with Tsotne completely IFR (Instrument Flight Rules), which is quite different than flying the normal “VFR.”

I’ve heard the constant-speed propeller called “the stick shift” of propeller planes, because the variable-pitch the propellers can take are a direct analogy to the gears of a stick-shift car. When flying a plane like this, there are actually two levers instead of just one: a throttle, but in addition a “prop” control, which acts to limit the RPM setting of the engine. The pilot dials in an upper limit for the RPM with the prop control, and increases power output of the engine with the throttle. A mechanical governor on the hub of the propeller blades automatically adjusts the pitch of the prop blades to keep the engine’s rotation rate under the maximum RPM.


It sounds a lot more complicated than it is – but it’s a heck of a lot of fun.