Monday, July 27, 2009

Cultural Consequences

When my parents visited Tokyo, during my extended stay in the city on a Summer Abroad program, their trip generated an interesting and lively conversation amongst my family members about the “cultural consequences” of visiting a foreign country. Two of my Uncles, my Aunt and both my Mother and Father have each opined about the qualities of their international travel experiences and the efforts made to imbibe in the culture of their respective destinations. As I begin the final week of a nearly two-month stay in Tokyo, Japan, here are some thoughts on the cultural experience…

My trip to Tokyo was semi-structured from the very start, in that I had a class schedule, and later, I was thrust into a busy work schedule at my internship. To some extent, the Summer Abroad program, by definition, limited the cultural choices of each participant. Ultimately, however, every student in the program had an extensive degree of discretionary cultural freedom.

It is interesting to briefly look back on, and compare how individual students made use of their free time.

Some students came into the program with a laundry list of places to see and things to do; they had done their homework, and knew exactly what they wanted out of their visit. These students were really “tourists”, in the sense that they plowed through numerous tourist locales and other ‘destinations’ at an almost frantic rate.

Some students had been to Tokyo before, and knew what they enjoyed most about the city. Whether it was going out to specific clubs, or visiting certain clothing stores and restaurants, these “comfort-zoners” knew what they wanted to do, and simply did it; why mess with success?

And, further still, another group of students did very little on their own. These “programmers” focused on classes, choose to attend social functions in large groups, and only really interacted and associated with people from the Study Abroad Program.

If we try to assess which of these three groups most experienced the true culture of Tokyo, it is difficult to determine a clear winner. The “tourists” have amassed giant online depositories of pictures and certainly have great narratives to tell. The “comfort-zoners” have experienced (again) what they found most to be pleasurable about Japanese culture, be it the food, shopping, night life, etc.; we all have times where we say ‘if I could do it again, this is what I would do…’ And, the “programmers” have learned a great deal about Japanese law, they have toured the Supreme Court and the National Diet, and they have been out with American students to explore the city and culture of Tokyo.

Overall, the cultural consequences of any visit are difficult to define, quantify or measure. I think that is extremely difficult for anyone to actually grasp an understanding of certain elements of the culture of a foreign country. That is why it is called a “foreign” country (once your visit extends past a certain length, it no longer a foreign country…what that length of time may be, however, is genuinely debatable and probably varies depending on the location…).

As for me, there were only a few specific moments during my stay that stand-out as times when I definitely felt like I was absorbing the culture, when I was witnessing Japan at its pure and raw cultural level. Further still, these moments were highly limited due to Japan’s somewhat inherent view of foreigners as outsiders. One of my co-works remarked to me today that to the Japanese, you are seen an outsider whether you have been here for 15 days or for 15 years. In my case, this view was no doubt exaggerated because of my appearances (it is fairly obvious that I am an American) and my inability to speak Japanese (language being such a HUGE part of culture).

These fleeting moments came at times when I would not consider my activities to fit into one of the categories, either “tourist”, “comfort-zoner”, or “programmer”. These moments hit me strongest at times when I was acting simultaneous as all three, and yet somehow acting within no category at all.

Additionally, I believe that the cultural consequences of any visit are invariably personal in nature. My opinion of Japanese culture reflects my moments, while every other visitor will necessarily generate their own perspective. Later on, it is the collective of these individual opinions and perspectives, as they mesh and blend together through the telling of stories and the showing of pictures, which creates a community vision and the ideal of the culture of a foreign country.

Over time, these community visions further blend together to create a national vision of foreign cultures, which eventually results in stereotypical and heuristic thinking, whether ultimately positive or negative in nature. While it may be impossible to ever experience the true culture of a foreign country, through these community and national visions, culture (at least in an amorphous sense) can be ascertained.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Buzzing Out Loud: Amazon's Shipping Survey

Dear Jason, Tom and host(s) de jour,

I apologize for being a little behind here (6 weeks in Tokyo will throw off one’s podcast-listening schedule), but this email is in regard to Episode 1025, where you discussed Amazon’s purchase of the online shoe-retailer,

For the most part, I think that your discussion was right on, especially Rafe’s (Brian Drubbings?) comment that this acquisition, featuring two popular and customer-focused companies joining forces, will only prove to be favorable for both Amazon and its customers. Interestingly, Tom’s speculation that the move will potentially bring changes to Amazon’s Prime membership, and Amazon’s shipping policies in general, was probably more accurate than he initially might have thought.

As a former Amazon Prime member, (I cancelled my membership following the expiration of the free-trial period) I received an email request to complete a survey, which conveniently floated into my inbox right around the time the news of this acquisition broke. This survey posed a range of questions, concerning my online purchasing habits from Amazon and other retailers, and specifically asked questions about the shipping deals offered through Amazon Prime, and what price points/additional features I would be interested in. Some examples: a $49 (instead of $79) membership, multiple accounts on one household membership, and expanded range of goods eligible for free shipping, and faster shipping/Sunday deliveries.

I believe that this survey is an indication that Amazon is strongly considering changes to their shipping policies, changes that will be accelerated thanks to the acquisition.

The bottom line is that Amazon will likely retain a free shipping both-ways policy for footwear, and any expansion of this policy’s benefits to other areas of Amazon’s online store can only be considered a welcome implementation.

For now, I am waiting until I am back stateside, when I will be ordering some new running shoes on my Amazon account! (Bonus: check out’s article on “less is more”, techie approach to running shoes)...

Love The Show,

Mike the Law Student in Tokyo

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Now Can I Get an Encore: Do You Want More?

On his blog, The Sensory Deprivation Bank, Rich Pulvino raises an interesting question regarding the current value of the ‘encore’. He argues that the encore is becoming entirely too routine; the point has been reached where fans do not respond to a band in a manner deserving of an encore (i.e. they don’t cheer loud or long enough) and the encore performance, itself, has become expected and stale.

Nowadays, at every concert (that I can recall…woah, dude!) the band tramps back out on-stage to play an encore. Some encores are rushed…for example, Giant Panda ripping through ‘Missing You More’ in under three minutes to beat a midnight city noise ordinance. Some encores are predictable “fan favorites”…for instance, Lynyrd Skynyrd (what was left of them in 2003) playing ‘Free Bird’. And some are, at least to me, redundant and unnecessary…like how O.A.R. used to play ‘I Feel Home’ for an encore at every show.

So why do artists always perform an encore? Artists must feel that the encore can provide some value to the fan, a value that the band can, in turn, capitalize off of or monetize in some way. Otherwise, come out…play your set…and hope every gets home safely.

Instead of simply rehashing the same-old, compulsory encore performance, I feel that bands should take advantage of the concept of, and fan expectations for, an encore, and use it to ‘Connect with Fans’ and give them a ‘Reason to Buy’. [Full Disclaimer: I am borrowing extensively here from Techdirt’s Michael Masnick. He has given several talks and written many blog posts about these terms, and the concepts of ‘Connect with Fans’ (CwF) and ‘Reason to Buy’ (RtB) are his creation...check out their own experiment, here]

As the older music industry business models continue to fade away, or die off completely, upstart bands have to rely on newer models in order to make a living in the music industry. ‘Connect with Fans’ refers to a band’s interaction with the fanbase on a real, personal level. An actual two-way interaction between the band and the fans, in combination with any compelling ‘Reason to Buy’ the music, poster, tee-shirts, etc., will likely become the new business model for the music industry.

Using the encore as a mechanism to CwF and give them a RtB seems like it could function as a natural progression of this business model...

One terrific example is the band moe. [Disclaimer 2: moe. kicks ass!] When they released their latest album, ‘Sticks and Stones’, the band ran a promotional, limited time pre-order offer. What was different about this offer, was that each purchaser would also receive a “ticket” that would allow the fan to join the band on-stage for the encore, singing the chorus of the song ‘Raise a Glass’ (this last track on the new album).

With this offer, the band could CwF in unique way, giving them a compelling RtB, all through an innovative use of the encore. The offer not only generated interest in the ‘Sticks and Stones’ album, and the song ‘Raise a Glass’, but it also prompted fans to go out and buy a ticket to a concert, so they could have the opportunity to sing on stage. moe.'s offer connected the fan with the band in a way that no other band does.

Sure, the encore may have become repetitive to fans who tour with moe., having to hear ‘Raise a Glass’(admittedly not the best moe. tune) performed every show. However, this is as an example of evolving the encore into something other than a mundane, expected part of the concert. moe. is utilizing it to connect with fans and give them a reason to buy...and it is absolutely brilliant. Let’s all raise a glass to moe!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The OCI Experience [Part One]: Banging my Hard Head Against an Even Harder Wall

I entered my first year at Santa Clara with comparatively little knowledge about the procedural aspects of law school. Orientation only gave rise to more questions, while the rumor-mill and the initial (now, notorious/infamous) Fall Career seminar only served to ramp up anxiety levels about my post-law school life. For instance, I had no clue about when or what classes I should be scheduling, whether or not I should be signing up and paying for a bar course early, or whether I should participate on a Journal or go out for the Law Review. The good news is that I successfully made it through the substantive portion of my first year of law school; I passed all my classes and am officially a (rising) 2L. The bad (scary) news is that, procedurally, I am predominantly still in the dark.

Scheduling for the Fall 2009 semester was a haphazard, “close my eyes and throw darts”, kind of process; ultimately, while I am still waitlisted for the 2 classes I really wanted to take, I feel I have a satisfactory schedule. I have yet to sign up for, or really give any thought, to what bar course I will be taking (but I reached the conclusion that one will be necessary…which is absurd in its own right. Not only I am paying $100,000 for a legal education, but I need to shell out MORE money on a course to learn how to pass the bar). Also, I am stuck on the fence regarding whether to participate on the Computer and High Tech Law Journal, or Law Review, or both. Frustratingly, when I emailed the Law Career Services (‘LCS’) for advice, I got a response that flip-flopped more than a sandal clad John Kerry walking to the beach to photo-op on that wind-surf board back before the 2004 election (if you think that is unfair, just ask my friend Nick about LCS and you will receive a scathing review, I have no doubt).

Anyways, all of the uncertainty and feelings of misguidance have been spearheaded with my participation in the OCI process, a process that is further muddled by the fact that I am in Tokyo, a full 16 hours ahead of the various Pacific Standard Time deadlines.

Not only am I unsure of what to include on my resume and in my cover letters, I do not know which firms to bid on, and I remain entirely skeptical about just how worthwhile my extensive effort will actually be (I have easily spent over 10 hours to write 20+ different cover letters, and put together my resume, reference list, writing sample, etc.). As more firms continue to pull out of OCI’s, (first Morgan Lewis, then Orrick, now Squire Sanders…) I feel as though this entire exercise will be for naught. The pressing question remains: does/will anyone actually get a Summer Associate position as a result of On-Campus Interviews?

And again, when I turn to LCS for advice and counsel (who you gonna call?), I get the sinking feeling that they don’t really want to be bothered by a kid who keeps firing emails into their inboxes in the middle of the night from 5,185 miles away (that is 1/5 the world’s circumference, I wolfram alpha’d it…). In their defense, I received a few responses that assured me of their availability and willingness to help, while (I felt) at the same time sent off a ‘stop annoying us vibe’. Perhaps I am the one who is not doing what needs to be done in order to take advantage of their services (however, when recalling the $100,000 price tag attached to SCU Law, I feel that students should not be required to navigate an obstacle course to get the answers they are looking for…).

It is somewhat of a shame. Substantively, I LOVE law school, and Santa Clara University; everything about (most of) the professors, the course materials, and the law itself, excites me and interests me deeply. Yet, the tedium of the procedure may ultimately be the death of my career as a lawyer, before it even begins (or, at least help to thin my hair in the meantime). I can write law schools exams, and I feel that I can provide almost any firm with a quality legal skill-set and the constant ambition to learn that they seek from a first-year associate. However, where I may stumble is in the attempt to jump through these procedural hoops.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

"Big Bro" Amazon - My Obligatory Post

As I am an owner of a Kindle 2, a law student interested in Internet policy and the implications thereof, and given that I am a quote/unquote blogger, I feel that I cannot possibly withhold from commenting on this story.

Granted, there has been a lot written so far about Amazon's decision to wirelessly and remotely "kill" the George Orwell e-books, '1984' and 'Animal Farm', from some user's Kindles. For the most part, I agree with the developing commentaries that are out there. (see here, here or here) I especially enjoyed Jonathan Zittrain's post about the exemplary nature of the incident, in that it actually demonstrates the dangers of a widespread movement to cloud computing, wherein users won't actually own (or at least be able to sufficiently control) their own data and content.

However, perhaps the most concerning thing to me about this story, is that it seems to be part of a larger trend of bad (or potentially bad) moves on the part of Amazon in their handling of the new genre of e-books, and the Kindle 2 as a platform.

First, there was the whole text-to-speech functionality brouhaha, that was doomed to cause a controversy amongst practically everyone involved in the launch of Kindle 2 (publishers, users, interest groups, etc.).

Then, we heard the story of one Kindle user who was cut-off from attempting to re-download books that he had previously purchased from the Kindle store. This particularly left me unsettled, as after I finish reading a book on the Kindle, I generally "delete" it into my archive. So, if I decide that I do want to read it again, I have to re-download the book into my library. The knowledge that there was a cap on the number of times this could be done (or worse, that Amazon seemed to admit that they didn't even know what the limit was) was a disheartening feeling.

Next, came the story about Amazon securing (or filing for) the patent rights for the process of putting advertisements into e-books. The Kindle reading experience is supposed to emulate the book reading experience. When I read a book, the last thing I want is to be bombarded by advertisements; inserting ads into e-books is not the way to convert people to reading in the electronic format. The only possible way I could see this ad-based e-book model succeeding, would be if the price of the e-books (or the device) were to be drastically cut because of the revenue generated from advertising.

And now, as seen from this latest incident, it appears that Amazon can wipe your library from the ephemeral location where they actually physically exist (we all know that since they have no physical presence in numerous states, they don't have to pay taxes there....yet). Hopefully, the PR hit that Amazon will take from deleting these books will keep them from electing to utilize this feature in the future. Amazon's willingness to bend to the whim of publishers is unfortunate, to say the least, and I would like to see them support the reader more often when considering the implementation of policy decisions in the future.

Ultimately, it will be interesting to see where this trend will land Amazon, in terms of their relative position as the predominant vendor in the e-book market. Now if you will excuse me, I have to get back to reading my Kindle (before I wake up and find my books are gone!)...

[On a side note, I can only imagine what my PR-oriented friend, Rich Pulvino, would say about Amazon, a company that has (at least until now) maintained a public good-guy image, choosing to delete of all books '1984'! I think the only way this could have been worse from a PR standpoint would have been if they had removed 'Fahrenheit 451' from user's Kindles...]

Friday, July 10, 2009

Google Chrome OS

Google has certainly dominated the tech news as of late. Chrome has been steadily gaining market share, and has received widespread acclaim regarding its levels of speed and performance. G-mail and various other Google applications have finally come out of beta, a precursor to the potential adoption by businesses and users who may have shied away from an application still in beta.

However, Google dropped the proverbial bombshell earlier in the week when they announced the development of their new operating system, Google Chrome OS. Chrome OS is being touted as a lightweight, open-source OS that has the potential to dominate the netbook market, and possibly even competing with Microsoft’s reboot of Vista, that being Windows 7.

Questions linger over just how this new OS will function. Will Chrome OS kill the operating system as we know it, by stimulating a transition to a predominantly browser-based computing scheme? Will this new OS really be capable of performing up to the same standards of sufficiency as its bulkier Windows counterpart?

The success of Google Chrome as a browser, namely its simplicity of use, its speed of performance and elegant interface with the various Google Apps, leads me to anticipate the Chrome OS could be a sweeping success. Perhaps Google only needs to be wary not to follow in the footsteps of Microsoft’s monopolistic systems approach, by avoiding costly antitrust litigation. I strongly believe that Google’s public image (comparative to Microsoft) should help them allay any such allegations.

Although I have pre-ordered Windows 7, and am eagerly awaiting the upgrade, I am intrigued and extremely excited about Google’s Chrome OS as the potential next step in computing. The bottom line is that Google’s innovation and their willingness to push the boundaries remains beneficial to everyone.