Koenji, the world and elsewhere

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DoCoMo blocks Skype in Japan

Japan’s phone industry has long been known as a closed-off, protectionist, xenophobic three-party system. Sure, there’s Willcom, but come on now, that’s like saying The Green Party is a player in North American politics. As such, the Big Three (DoCoMo, au, SoftBank) all feel entitled to controlling everything in the telecommunications sphere. And as such, there is necessarily room for conjecture about the capabilities of foreign smartphones in the Japanese mobile ecosystem. Such as the following.

Living overseas, far from family and friends, Skype is an integral part of my life. It allows me to spend face time with the important people in my life even though they’re on the other side of the world. After a serious accident landed me in the hospital (for five months and counting), having Skype on the iPhone was a saviour as there is no wifi permitted in my hospital rooms. 

Japanese phone carriers, of course, hate Skype. They want their customers to continue to pay 30-second increments based on 10-year-old pricing plans. However, due to its original exclusivity agreement with Apple for the iPhone in Japan, SoftBank was forced to allow iPhone users the ability to Skype.

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Hands-on first impression of Windows 8

I was meandering through Shinjuku’s massive Yodobashi Camera complex yesterday and obviously could not avoid the fifty million posters, signs and other various adverts informing me that Windows 8 is to be released this Friday (October 26, 2012). I have actually been looking forward to it as I am a “Windows Person”. I don’t like Macs and never will. And I’ve never had much interest in Ubuntu or any other OS my techie friends tell me is “kind of like Windows but a billion mega-times better because Linux fucking rules.”

I’ve also had Vista for the past three years, three months and 15 days. And yes, it feels like I’m confiding a disease when I write that. It was the early days of Summer 2009, I was in desperate need for a new laptop, and could not put off the purchase the few months required to wait for Windows 7. To make matters worse, the laptop I ended up buying was an HP Pavilion dv7. I had no idea that “HP” was an acronym for “Hot Plate”, but that’s what I get for not doing enough pre-purchase research. It’s my fault and has nothing to do with HP selling me a piece of shit. So, here I find myself again, three years down the road, looking for a new PC. However, through a lot of time, personal effort and anguish on my part, I’ve managed to keep the Hot Plate running and can wait for the stable retail release of Windows 8 before I buy my next disappointment.

Hearing that Windows 8 is a brand new operating system, built on some kind of Super Kernel for all platforms – desktop, tablet, smartphone, etc. – I must admit I’ve waited with slight-to-mild anticipation for its release. I was therefore pleased to see that Yodobashi had a version installed on the floor model of a touchscreen laptop, even if it was in Japanese. I gave it a touch here and gave it a touch there and then I looked for the button to touch to Go Back. I could not find it but I kept my cool (in spite of being mildly OCD when it comes to UI) and asked a nearby staff how to go back a screen. She then pointed to the button. On the fucking keyboard. Replete with a sticker pointing to it. And I felt all the hope I had for this OS and for Microsoft go out of me like air out of a whoopee cushion. I hope this was just due to the staffer not knowing anything about Win 8. If not, where can I download Ubuntu?

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Why people steal music (and other media). Part One.

I just bought Bob Mould’s new album Silver Age from (US store), my first solely digital music purchase ever. I had listened to it a few times on Grooveshark and knew I liked it so it was a no-brainer. Especially at five bucks. (Which, incidentally, is what an album should cost.) I bought it through my Amazon US account for a few reasons:

Amazon Cloud Player in Google Play

In Amazon, The Cloud has borders

1. I have a Kindle Fire and it only connects to the US store (thanks Amazon!).
2. The US store has a cloud player where I can keep my music and stream it on my devices.
3. Fuck Apple.

After purchase, it was immediately available for me to download or to stream through the Amazon Cloud Player built into the Amazon site. It was also immediately available in the same ways on my Kindle Fire as its music player has a native cloud player. Brilliant. All very simple, friendly and handy. Until I stepped outside the narrow bounds of digital “ownership”.

My Kindle Fire, of course, was purchased in the US as I Am Canadian and living in Japan. As such, all my digital purchases must be made through my American Amazon account. This requires me to consider currency exchange rates which is naturally something I’d prefer to avoid. But so be it, the banks have got to make money somehow (or everyhow). But that is not what annoyed me here. What pissed me off with this purchase was that when I went to listen to it on my Samsung Galaxy S3 (Japan Edition) I discovered the Amazon Cloud Player is not available for this device. Because… I am in Japan and The Cloud is… not really “the cloud” as perpetuated by all these cloud companies. Granted, it is not a huge hurdle for me to listen to my purchase on my Galaxy. I simply need to download the MP3s of the album and transfer them to my phone. But that is not the point.

The Cloud: Your data. Anyplace. Anytime. (Available with internet connection only. Some restrictions apply, including international boundaries, model of phone, model of PC, model of portable media player, model of economics, model of particle physics, country of purchase, country of residence, bandwidth restrictions, whims of the artist, whims of the capitalist, and/or whims of the pirate. Some charges may be incurred depending on service provider, location, time of day, weather, and genre.)

In a time when Newsweek has just announced that it is shedding it’s dry, paper skin and going purely digital next year, the move from hardcopy to softcopy is but a foregone conclusion for most. After all, dead tree media received its unflattering sobriquet for a reason. However, traditional industry thinkers have been scrambling about for the past 15 years wondering how they are going to charge people for their product if it’s not something tangible you could use to squash a bug. And they think Digital Rights Management (DRM) is the answer. It is not. All DRM does is piss off the people who are paying for their product. If The Pirates had to devise a scheme in which they could convince everyone to eschew paying for content and download their free stuff instead, they could not come up with something better than DRM.

Other content companies could learn something from Comedy Central. While watching The Daily Show (legally, online, for free, in Japan) I was inundated with MTV ads featuring American pop duo Karmin. As I am not a huge fan of such pop music I complained about the annoying ads to a friend of mine. She’d never heard of them before. Later, she searched for them online. Then heard their music. And bought their album. In Japan. Because of an ad from America viewed online in Japan by a Canadian who didn’t even like it.

To be continued in Part Two.

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Nike+ gets a minus in math… but an A in customer support

I have been using the shoe company’s Nike+ Android app for about two weeks now to keep track of my physiotherapy progress. It’s basically a pedometer that allows you to record your runs with some added touches such as:

  • how do you feel after this run (with a choice of emoticons)
  • what type of run it was (indoor or road, track, trail or beach)
  • which shoe you wore
  • add a note
  • share this run with Twitter or Facebook

The app has a clean, simple interface, however it tends to crash about 20% of the time when starting a run. It also has some trouble calculating. On Monday I went 5.25km and got awarded a “Farthest Run”. On Tuesday i went 4.3km and got awarded a “Farthest Run” again even though it was nearly a kilometer shorter than Monday. I tweeted this issue to @NikeSupport and they were quick to reply and offer suggestions and even “recalculated (my) account” within 10 minutes of me telling them my username.

There is also a music option built into the app that allows you to to “Shuffle Library” or choose a “Playlist”. I have not yet been able to either create a playlist or load an existing playlist. There is also the option to “Select a PowerSong” which I have done, but I have not been able to figure out how to play it. The music player component of this app needs some definite attention as it is currently failing.

The app also integrates with your online Nike+ account and you are awarded “NikeFuel” for each activity. Exactly what is NikeFuel? According to Nike, it is “the ultimate measure of your athletic life“. I thought it was going to lead to earning points for purchasing Nike gear, but no, it is just a marketing gimmick. And a poor one at that. I’m sure a lot of people think that NikeFuel is similar to AirMiles and feel let down when they find out it more like Apple’s imaginary “Retina Display”. It would have been better for Nike to just leave out the NikeFuel. Nothing worse than making your customers feel scammed when they’re not even being scammed.