Archive for category Uncategorized

Date: September 17th, 2009
Cate: Uncategorized

Setting the Default for the Environment, or Adjusting One

For a long time, Japan has been suffering from the increasing energy consumption during the summer. The peak always took place in the early afternoon. The cause of the rise, was of course, the air conditioning system, the primary means to cool indoors during the wet and hot summer.

However, for a few years now, the peak has been decreasing. There are few explanations to this, like the government and the industry campaigns. But one of them is definitely the industry’s initiative, to set the air conditioning system’s default temperature to 28 degrees, which is relatively high for a cooling system here in Japan.

While it is interesting to find out that a small, non-technical solution can be found for a big problem, it is even more interesting that some behaviours that seem so irrelevant and harmless can cause a big problem. A video clip from BBC’s Britain From Above tells me that it can as well be a television that defines the peak. Power surges called TV pickup, is caused by the boiling of a water for tea taking place at the endtime of a drama like Eastenders. The pickup, according to the video clip, is equivalent of one-and-a-half million kettles boiling at the same time.

Although these are completely two different things, both Japan and Britain’s cases are about routines or unconscious habits and adjusting one. And what can be the solution? What happens if mobile TV becomes as popular as in Japan? Will people feel more comfortable to pour TV during the program? How about HDD recorders, will people start watching TV in a different hours? And it is just me to sense, that there I see another room for studying people’s behaviours?

Date: September 17th, 2009
Cate: Uncategorized

Sharing your experience and some obvious consequences

Video games, they aren’t cheap. Popular titles like pokemon, unless you buy them in second hand stores, they can cost around 60 Euros. And this is particularly a fortune for their target audience who are often below 10 years old.

So it is very natural that many kids spend a lot of time investigating what games they should buy. In most cases, they have two occasions they could get their games they want: birthday and Christmas. While birthdays differ by children, Christmas, always come at the same time of the year. And I believe, that is why many game titles start appearing this time of the year. For example, new Pokemon titles, called Heart Gold and Soul Silver, have just hit the shelf this month (and sold out). It is a perfect time for trendsetter kids to show off and for mainstream kids to convince their parents that the Christmas present should be Pokemon.

When we ask children how they decide what games they would buy, most kids raise their two fundamental source of information: TV ads and their friends. While advertisements they see between their favorite anime broadcasting is a conventional game, the word of little mouths are growing stronger. Why? Because friends, they not only tell you how the game is like, but they let you try out the actual game.

Game cards, they are often taken out from the original package and placed in a small plastic card case. The case is carried everywhere and whenever they go out and play. Naturally, your friends will know what games you have and discuss about their impression of the game. And if you are really interested, you might as well ask if you can borrow the game, typically, in an exchange for another game. Exchanging game cards let children explore and identify a potential game to buy. I expected the exchange duration to be no more than a week, but some say card exchanges could go up to a few months.

And when game sharing takes place between multiple people, children start to lose track of where cards are. Nearly everyone I spoke to had an experience of losing a game or two. Some even lost the entire card case. Considering how much they have invested on these cards, this must be a really painful experience. Or let me put this way: If I were their parents, I would be absolutely mad!
What surprised me more, was how little these children were prepared for the presumed possibility of losing these cards. The owner of this card holder in the photo at least  made an effort of writing his name on labels and placed small stickers as his identity. But these supposedly permanent inks, they wear out. And since these game cards go through card slots, putting stickers on the surface may not be the best idea.

I see there is a substantial space at the back of the card. How about creating a dedicated space, at least to put names? Or what is more, can’t there be any digital solution, to safely identify the location of your card? After all, most kids, don’t they give names to the characters in the games they play?

Date: September 4th, 2009
Cate: Uncategorized

Objects with History, My Observation

Inspired by Jan’s blog post about objects showing layers of history.

If you have ever visited a Japanese home, you might have perhaps come across with one of these: plastic drawers. Plastic drawers are particularly found useful because they are inexpensive, stackable and provides an additional storage space in Japanese homes. And because they are made out of tasteless and plain plastics, they also make a perfect target for customization. In fact, I saw dozens of these drawers turned into canvas for children of the house. 

Stickers show their present and previous interest in certain animation characters, monsters, and action heros. In some cases, they are football or baseball players. No matter what those stickers describe, they are often placed in multiple layers, showing their interests change over time. Or perhaps, the idea of collecting and placing stickers become too
childish for one, and their brothers or sisters have taken over the
control. It is, precisely, layers of history.

What is that they communicate to you? An abundance of anime in Japan? An obsession to stickers? Or another communication tactics, through typical freebies people get from cereal boxes or furikake, the rice toppings? Whatever the interest is, this will be another checkpoint for me as a researcher for sure.

Date: August 21st, 2009
Cate: Uncategorized

Observing Children’s Precious

One observation after visiting homes of children between 10 and 14.

The above photo shows a 13-year-old boy’s collection of football cards. With so many professional football players moving from one team to another, his collection is required to be updated every year. Naturally, the deck easily contained a few hundreds.

He was obviously sakkaa-otaku, a football fanatic; he plays football almost everyday, and his favorite game was Winning Eleven 2008; he hardly reads, except the football magazine. It was very obvious why he decided the theme of his collection. Although this theme, or the a target of collection may differ, it is nevertheless a gem of information which tells researchers about the boy or the girl’s interest and its intensity.

During the interview, it appeared that some children were frustrated as they could not find the right word to express themselves. There may be some individual differences, but in general, I believe this is the case as they are in a middle of a transition before adulthood. But once we ask them to show such collectables, their facial expression brightens and the conversation starts to flow again. There is even a glimpse of pride as they were provided with an opportunity to show an ignorant adult, what their world is like and what they have accomplished.

Collectables, are definitely not to miss.


Date: July 8th, 2009
Cate: Uncategorized

Another Election Time

Tokyo assembly election has officially started last Friday, and we started to see candidates placing posters since then. The election outcome is considered very significant as it would most likely determine the timing of the national election which many presume that DLP, the party in opposition to take over.

Apart from manifestos and parties each candidate belong to, I could not help noticing that many only had a simple URL: QR barcodes, which occupied a corner of every poster in earlier elections, were not used. For instance, out of eight candidates for the Shinjuku district, there was only one with that familiar black and white square.

This is only my assumption, but there has been some discussions about the QR code for some time. Reading QR code with a camera phone is easy and accurate, but apart from saving the effort from typing URLs, it did not substantially change the experience.

In addition, in elections’ case, URLs with candidates names on, is good enough. The Japanese voting system is very basic, and each voter has to write down the candidate’s name on a piece of paper. Voters should at least be aware of candidate’s names, which in most cases match with the URLs they are using to promote themselves.

Ultimately Suica and other touch experience really hightens the expectation for easy, accurate, and quick user interactions, and perhaps QR code has already been considered too clumsy. It would be interesting to see, perhaps in a next election, what technologies we would see around these posters.

The election will take place on July 12th. Meanwhile, as I would be away from Tokyo during the time, have already cast my vote. I just brought the voter’s card they sent at home (image below), the election staff read the barcode from the card and that was it. Again, I was amazed to see the amount of trust the system puts on home address. 

Date: June 25th, 2009
Cate: Uncategorized

Coffee and Motivations

My recent ethnographic study on beverage consumption was very inspiring. Observing how people consume something so fundamental as beverages, give great insights to their goals and values in life.

Take coffee for example. When you order coffee, what do you seek? Simply a dose of caffeine to wake yourself up? Taste? Or simply an unconscious routine that keeps you on track during work days?

Looking at Japanese consumers, I saw two completely different motivations.

On one end, coffee is a drink of pleasure. Pleasure for taste, quality time in a good atmosphere, and perhaps for a good conversation with your friends. Take a look at the cappuccino I was served: Barista, the coffee bartender, made the drawing just for me after seeing my daughter. This would absolutely have no influence on taste, but makes the cafe and the service so memorable. It simply enhances my experience over coffee.

On the other, coffee is consumed like a gas for a car, a mere substance that keeps you going while at work. Consumed in a form of tin cans, they are everywhere. From the moment they left home for work, their first coffee moment arrives: By the time they arrive to the nearest station or while driving the car, they have already had one can. These men would continue to drink canned coffee to enhance their short breaks and to keep themselves going for long work hours. You will easily see some heavy consumers would drink up to 5 or 6 cans a day. Coffee addicts? Not really, because many walked completely away from coffee during weekends. For them, coffee IS work.

So, are you a coffee drinker? What is that you seek in coffee? When do you drink and how many? These questions may be simple but could reveal so much more than you would think.

Date: June 24th, 2009
Cate: Uncategorized

The Classic Example of Design Failure

Found a very small flaw in otherwise a simple and beautiful modern museum of art in Yokosuka. There is only a glass wall and a door that separates the exhibition area and outside, obviously some people tried to get out from the door by unlocking the door which is only meant to be done so for emergency cases only.

As you can see, semi-translucent duck tapes did not quite prevent my daughter from trying to open the door.

Date: June 23rd, 2009
Cate: Uncategorized

Too Many Chefs

It was the day before the final presentation. We were all tired and busy. Some of us were going up and down a fairly steep stairs made out of bare concrete. All of a sudden, we heard our project member growl. He was running up the stairs with his laptop in his hand. It turns out, that he hit his knee cap against the stairs, as he tripped and used his two hands to protect his laptop which was left opened.

He could no longer move and an ambulance was brought in. What we saw was an ambulance packed with people: there were altogether eight staffs. They went up the stairs, which is so narrow that only one people can walk up at the same time. They took care of our mate’s wound, put him on a carrier, and brought him down to the ground floor, four stories below.

After hearing so much through media about the serious shortage of ambulances and some critical patients faced serious consequences because of it, the entire scene seemed so bizarre. After all, many of Japanese homes and facilities are very small. There are not many places where eight paramedics can be in one room and work efficiently.

It turns out that our mate had broke his knee cap in two locations. It was a serious injury and good that he was not a victim of what has been heavily alerted in the media. The only thing I hope is that it was by chance that there were so many. Too many chefs, or paramedics in this case, can spoil things, too. 

Date: June 22nd, 2009
Cate: Uncategorized

Cultural Diversity Over Business Cards

I had a few occasions to think about the business card designs. When I discuss with graphic designers from US and Europe, they often say “I like it when business cards are thick,” and this is where already their culture collides with the Japanese one. And the business has not even started at this point!

As About.Com’s Desktop Publishing section describes, thickness of a paper is associated with authority and seriousness:

“Heavy weight paper can lend an aura of importance and seriousness not
found in flimsier products. This is especially true in business cards.
Often thin paper screams cheap desktop printing even without the telltale perforations from some perforated business cards papers.”

Western business cards can often reach up to 350g/m^2. On the other hand, standard Japanese business cards hardly exceeds 200g/m^2, almost half of the Western standards.

Why the difference? According to many Japanese, this is a matter of respect. They say their ‘humble’ business cards should not occupy their customer’s business card holders too much. And certainly, the fact that it is almost a ritual to exchange business cards in Japan, I would say it is also a matter of frequency of use and amount that you need to carry.

The lesson is, that if you would like to adopt the local cultures completely, whether you are an American coming to Japan or a Japanese visiting US, it takes more than just printing double sides with two languages on each side.

Date: March 30th, 2009
Cate: Uncategorized

Psychological Tactics Used for Identity Frauds

Earlier I have posted an entry concerning security measures taking place in Japanese banks, to jam phone calls near their ATM.

A recent article in a magazine called Shincho45 interviews the head of the gang which systematically executes the fraud. It turns out, that tactics are evolving in much greater speed, and unfortunately people are continued to be deceived.

According to the article, these band of gangsters now uses Japan’s efficient delivery services. In recent years, most delivery companies come at your door with a simple phone call to receive the packages you would like to send. The very service which takes away the effort of the sender is also used to send of cash.

The article also mentions that the frauds are knowledgeable in psychology. They make phone calls to relatively old
people who most likely have their children already grown up and living
in different cities. They say that the children did some wrongdoings,
like hitting someone by car, and only an urgent financial compensation
can make them escape from, say, being a criminal. Out of concern and
panic, surprising number of people pay money.

What really intrigues me is that they know how to fake their
identity. Recent technique is to leave a voice message on a phone
saying “Mom, this is my new mobile number”.
What parents will do next, is just like what anyone will do; save those
number as “My Son/Daughter” in their phone. Once saved, a hot line is
created between the fraud and the victim. They will then make another phone call saying that he or she is in an emergency situation, such as hitting someone while driving a car, and ask that money is urgently needed to compensate and avoid being in prison; Although there maybe
something strange in the voice, parents reason themselves that perhaps it is the panic that makes your child sound strange. The money is already on its way.

This very psychology of parents, making an assumption and believing in them despite of all the signs indicating otherwise, is what is Confirmation Bias in
psychology. The article mentions that they are precisely aware of this term, and merely applying it in practice.

The article shows that the crime is expanding in Korea, China, and Taiwan. As new techniques are constantly invented, we could only be cautious of ourselves.