Saturday, July 30, 2011

Wait, What? There's Another "Go Big Blue" Bunch?

As you may know, I live in the Lexington, Kentucky area.  In the Bluegrass, we have a handful of passions.  For some, it's bourbon, while others live (and/or work) for the thoroughbred breeding and racing industries.  One thing that most of us share, however, is our support for University of Kentucky athletics, commonly known as "Big Blue."  UK is one of that handful of NCAA athletic programs that actually pay for themselves; a big piece of that financial success comes from merchandising.  Quite frankly, the variety of UK merchandise can be absolutely frightening, and as a former member of the UK Band, I certainly own my share of "Big Blue gear."  Furthermore, the "Big Blue" moniker is unique among athletic programs - or so I had thought.

Imagine my surprise in learning, during my business travel to Japan, that two other groups of "Big Blue" fans exist on the other side of the world.  In Japan, professional teams are often "sponsored" by major corporations.  As it happens, IBM sponsors teams in both the X-League (Japan's American football league) and the Japanese Rugby Union.  I checked out the teams' websites; while the BIGBLUE RFC is currently relegated to the second-tier league, the BigBlue American Football team has done well, reaching the Japan Bowl (the X-League championship) just last year.  Of course, the game is much different in Japan; a quick check of Big Blue's roster shows that their entire team is smaller in stature than is my 13-year-old son, who plays OL/DL for our local high school.
Nonetheless, it was a "touch of home" to find a Big Blue fan community in Japan; I'll have to buy a few shirts/hats/whatever, just to confuse folks when I wear them in Lexington.  If you're interested in either team, links to their websites (in Japanese, of course) are below.

IBM BigBlue Powered by BigBlue Fans
BBB IBM Rugby Football Club BIGBLUE

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Land of the Rising Wes - A First Trip to Japan

Osaka City flagI'm in Osaka, Japan on a business trip, and I must say that I'm pretty psyched.  My work has taken me to Europe with some frequency, but this is only my third trip to Asia (the others were Singapore and Seoul).  I'll be here for about a week, and I'm looking forward to exploring the city in the evenings.  A few impressions from my first day-and-a-half in Osaka:

  • I've seen very few Westerners, even in the Hilton Osaka.  For some reason, I was expecting to see the usual business travelers, but even the Hilton Honors lounge had but one Westerner last night.
  • It was a somewhat unpleasant surprise to find almost no English speakers as I went out and about today.  I'm certainly not one of those "everyone should speak English" kind of guys, but I was expecting to find English in use far more often...
  • Because of the two points noted above, my travel-fu is getting a real workout.  I've been able to navigate the city, and its trains, through a combination of pantomine and map-pointing.
  • I never thought I'd like a food garnished with "fish shavings," but the traditional Osakan takoyaki are delicious.
  • Osaka isn't nearly as garish as were Singapore and Seoul, in terms of nighttime neon and signage.
  • Despite the language barrier, the people strike me as very nice and ready to (try to) help.
  • I am apparently the tallest person in the city.  (I'm 6'5")  Yes, people stare, especially kids.  *laugh*

Osaka Prefecture flagIn a fortuitous coincidence, I arrived in time to see the opening of the Tenjin Matsuri festival.  This is one of Japan's three 'great festivals;' it begins with a processional from the Tenman Shrine, and ends with a massive boat festival and fireworks display.  (More info on the festival here.) After a restful sleep (after an 11-hour flight, is there any other kind?) I managed to navigate the subway/trains and find my way there.  The processional takes place along Tenjinbashisuji, which is a giant shopping arcade, so I was able to do some browsing as well.  All in all, a fun morning & afternoon.

I've posted a few Flickr sets with various pictures I've taken so far.  Don't judge my photography too harshly; these were taken with my Blackberry Bold.  The sets are "Tenjin Matsuri" and "Osaka Weekend" - feel free to add your comments.  If you're on Twitter, you can follow my comments this week by looking for the #WesInOsaka hashtag.

(In case you were wondering, the flag at upper right is that of Osaka city; its counterpart at lower left is that of Osaka prefecture...)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Empire Avenue, 3 Months In...

As you can see from the widget on the right margin of this blog, I participate in Empire Avenue.  Billed as "The Social Stock Market," the basic notion is that you'll meet people with similar interests via EA, "invest" in them (it's funny money), and thus lead both a higher social media presence for yourself and greater interaction/connections with those you meet.  I've been participating in EA for a little over 3 months now, and it's time to put some impressions down on (virtual) paper.  To be honest, I'm not that impressed with EA, because:

  • It integrates with several of the major players in social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr), and follows your blogging activity, but there are many, MANY other integrations that should be in EA.  Foursquare comes to mind, as do GetGlue and Tumblr, as the next logical extensions/integrations for EA.  (Thsi presumes that suitable APIs exist for those services.)
  • The implementation of the "stock market" is sound; given the breadth of EA's userbase, I don't think it needs anything else in this area.
  • Some folks apparently LIVE for social media - we're talking hundreds of Facebook actions per day, plus hundreds of tweets and dozens of Flickr/YouTube actions.  Yeesh.
  • While the "interest matching" is OK, there needs to be a clear path to next-level engagement.  All too often, the pattern is "you bought my shares, here's how to follow me on all the other networks," and little else.  I have seen some next-level engagement in the community forums, but EA limits your membership in those (unless you "buy additional communities" with your funny money).
  • EA presumes that the social media world runs 24x7x365.  This isn't good for those of us who actually take weekends off. *laugh*  EA is introducing a "vacation" facility, but it appears that you'll have to buy vacation time; otherwise, that "dead air" acts against one's share price.
  • If you want to "win at EA," be prepared to devote a good deal of time to the endeavor.  I'm basically treading water, and I spend 30-45 minutes/day messing around with buys, sells, dividends and the like.
  • As with any social network, you're going to run across everything from startups to home businesses to housewives and well-known social media brands/individuals; predicting the relative success of a single "stock" can be next to impossible.

Now, I will say that EA might be much more valuable to me if I were living in a larger city; I've seen references to EA meetups and other 'real world' engagements in the communities, but those aren't usually close to my small Kentucky town.  I also see some value in viewing EA as something of a cross-section of the social-media world, and in watching the mechanics being used; it's interesting to see the small-town photographer who swamps Flickr but never tweets, or the band trying to use all aspects of social media in their promotions.  In terms of hard-core business value, though, I just don't see it at this time.  Nonetheless, you can check out Empire Avenue for yourself via the links in this message - even if you only do it for the vicarious experience of buying and selling others...

Empire Avenue | The Social Stock Market




Friday, July 15, 2011

Monitoring Your Internet Connection - Perhaps It's Easier Than You Think

We all live with those little "glitches" in our home networks.  Was one of the kids hitting Netflix, did my music downloads go into overdrive, or did my ISP decide to do a remote reboot of my DSL/cable modem?  It's certainly true that monitoring networking equipment can be a rather involved process, but every once in a while we stumble across something that makes it fairly easy for the typical home user.

Fluke Networks, a vendor of network analysis and troubleshooting equipment, offers quite a bit of educational material in exchange for the typical contact information.  As I was checking out their various goodies, I stumbled across their "Switch Port Monitor."  Now, it was designed for use in a LAN environment with enterprise-class switches, but it uses standard Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP).  This means that SPM should also work fairly well with many typical pieces of ISP home equipment.  I pointed SPM at my DSL modem, let it gather a bit of data, and presto!  I was looking at a nice, clean, 10-second-update bandwidth report.

If your DSL/cable modem talks SNMP--and most of them do--this is worth the download.  You'll have to do a bit of research to understand (and differentiate among) the various interfaces on your device, but this one is well worth the effort.

Switch Port Monitor Download


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

You'll Get My Encryption Keys When You Pry Them...Oh, Wait...what?

Sure, there are always thousands of legal actions moving within the American judicial system - but you should pay attention to this one.  In short, the US government is attempting to compel an individual accused of real estate fraud to provide the encryption keys for his laptop data.  The defense is arguing that providing the encryption keys is tantamount to self-incrimination, the compulsion of which is strictly prohibited by the Fifth Amendment to the US Constituion.

I'm siding with the defense on this one.  There's a mixed bag of precedent on such matters, but (as the linked TechCrunch article notes) the most appropriate parallel would seem to be that of a locked safe - which the goverment cannot force you to open.

I fully expect this case to run all the way up to the Supreme Court.  As I said, keep your eye on this one; the ramifications of this decision will have a huge impact on the data security world, and I suspect it will reach into the corporate world as well.


Precedent May Soon Be Set Regarding Your Right To Remain Encrypted | TechCrunch


Friday, July 08, 2011

Tonight's Random #MPFreebie - Pop Suey

No, that isn't an ethnic joke - not from me, anyway...

Amazon's latest sampler, Pop Suey, is simply described as "Chinese Music Treats."  I was expecting traditional Chinese music, but I found the tracks on this sampler far more contemporary in nature.  We aren't talking bleeding-edge Western style, by any means--there are a few singer-songwriter selections that would be right at home on American radio 15 years ago--but it's interesting stuff nonetheless.  My FLFs (First Listen Favorites) are Lala Hsu's Riding a White Horse, The Flowers from Fan Fan, and Kenji Wu's Write a Poem for You.

It may not be first on my playlist, but it's definitely worth inclusion in the workday shuffle.  Joe Bob says check it out. Pop Suey - Chinese Music Treats: Various Artists: MP3 Downloads


Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Today's Random #MPFreebie - A Boatload of Free Samplers from Amazon

You may already be browsing Amazon's MP3 Store, but have you been paying attention to the "Free Songs and Special Deals" section?  Sure, they offer the free song of the day, and they occasionally feature a sampler alongside, but there are many, MANY labels releasing samplers throughout the year.  Over the last year-and-a-half, I've picked up over 150 samplers from this source alone; you'll find everything from world music to classical to metal and hip-hop in the selection at any given time.

For some reason--the "start of summer," I guess--there was a deluge of releases over the July 4th weekend.  Instead of trying to review so many samplers at once, I'm just going to throw you the links to the first 10 free samplers on and (when I can find them) to the labels themselves.  If you want to start tracking future releases, here's the "Free Albums" page, sorted by Release Date, newest first. The latest releases:

Kill Rock Stars 20 Year Anniversary Sampler - Kill Rock Stars, Portland OR and Olympia WA
Dangerbird Summer Sampler 2011 - Dangerbird Records, Silverlake CA
Vagrant Summer Sampler 2011 - Vagrant Records, Los Angeles CA
A Touch and Go Records Digital Sampler - Touch and Go/Quarterstick Records, Chicago IL 
Bloodshot Indie-Pendants Sampler - Bloodshot Records, Chicago IL
Merge Records 2011 Sampler - Merge Records,  Durham NC
Frenchkiss Records Amazon MP3 Sampler - Frenchkiss Records,  New York NY
Carpark Records 2011 Sampler - Carpark Records, Washington DC
Stockholm Belongs to Us - Labrador Records, Stockholm, Sweden
Cantora Sampler - Cantora Records, New York NY
(and here's an 11th, just because it's REALLY good stuff!)
23 This Year: The Sub Pop Amazon Sampler - Sub Pop Records, Seattle WA
Go forth and download!