Follow-Up on How UCSD Alumni Spends Your Donation

License Plate Frames Sent to other UCSD Alumni - 5 September 2012

License Plate Frames Sent to other UCSD Alumni – 5 September 2012

As it turns out, I got on the Linked-In UCSD Alumni discussion group and asked around.  As a result, I found two other alumni who were interested in the UCSD Alumni license plate frames. I put them in the mail today – Using the shipping facilities of the new Asatte Press Store which will go live early next week.

Update – June 2013

As of June 2013, UCSD has added options to allow you to select a gift you will use or decline the gift altogether

June 2013 – UCSD Alumni Sensible Donation Updates

Today is June 16, 2013 and I have just completed my annual voluntary donation. I do appreciate the idea that the donation is voluntary. I still think the website could use a “voluntary donation” button somewhere that takes you to the right place. It took me a little while to figure out that it was in “Give” under “Loyalty Society”. That having been said, I would like to applaud the excellent improvement in the handling of booster gifts and packets. As you can see, when you go to make your voluntary donation there are now some really nice options to allow you to decline the gifts altogether, pick a gift that you can actually use (I selected a business card holder. I use these a lot and am forever misplacing them) or visit the campus to pick up your stuff (safe the shipping costs). Good work UCSD Alumni Association!

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How UCSD Alumni Spends Your Donation

UCSD Alumni Sends Out License Plate Frames

UCSD Alumni Sends Out License Plate Frames

Phew! It has been a busy summer. Coming up for air yesterday, I arrived home to find that my alma matter, the University of California San Diego (or more precisely its alumni association) was so delighted with my recent modest donation, that they sent me not one, but two goodie packs. The key feature in these packs was a handsome (and heavy) “UCSD ALUMNI” license plate frame.

Very nice. With one small problem: License plate frames are illegal in Texas.

Actually, there is some confusion in the intent of the Texas legislature, but any frame that even partially obscures the word “Texas” at the top of the plate (Which these UCSD frames would) is definitely illegal.

Just the postage on these two packages was more than $11. The frames themselves will go into our recycling bin. I guess that the UCSD Alumni Association pretty much spent my last donation on sending this rather useless stuff out. Not a very clever use of resources. It would have been much better for them to put the frames up on a webstore somewhere and send out a coupon with a discount code entitling the recipient to get a frame for free. That way only people who wanted one would have received one. I guess that they sent out many thousands of these things and a large percentage will have ended up in the landfill or in the recycling stream.

 

 

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Our Products are Starting to Take Shape

Systematic Martini Lifestyle

Systematic Martini Lifestyle

We have the second draft of our book back from our print on demand supplier. We are about 70 percent content complete at this point. During the next month and a half we will be working to finish out the content and do final editing to get an initial version ready for sale.

This work has been fun but a lot harder than Tomoko and I expected. We have learned a tremendous amount about
photography and printing. Preparing an image for printing using CMYK ink printing is an entirely different world than quickly photoshoping something together to toss on
a blog.

The XML stylesheet that I started off using (DocBook) turned out to be too rigid and inflexible to meet our formatting needs. I have had to dive deep into XSL formatting objects and the XSLT transformation language to write our own stylesheet (APDoc) that can format a book with rich color content and a competitive layout.

System of Instruction for Young Men

System of Instruction for Young Men

The title of the book is “Systematic Martini Lifestyle.” It is a series of lessons for a young man to introduce him to the world of the sophisticated cocktail party. At the left of this image, you can see the typical 22 year-old guy (actually our son Tye) We take him through a series of five structured cocktail parties teaching him a variety of social and lifestyle skills.

The book contains five main tracks:

  1. Liquor – What are fine liquors? How are they made? What do the various marketing claims on the bottles mean?
  2. Wine – We introduce five of the major white and red wines.
  3. Cheese – What are the major types of fine cheese? How do they pair with wines and liquors?
  4. Clothing – How do you go about purchasing quality men’s clothing? What are the key points to pay attention to.
  5. Life Skills – how do you plan and execute a sophisticated party? How do you care for the fancy clothing? How do you handle a hangover?
Our Facebook App

Our Facebook App

As a companion to the book, we are developing a Facebook application that will be a fun learning and quiz game for Martini Lifestyle skills. We are still finalizing the name, but the current
choice is ClassyU.

This app has been the focus of a lot of  interesting collaboration between our graphic design team and our software development team.  We are currently developing a few different possible look-and-feel combinations for the app. In a few weeks we will start soliciting feedback from friends on the game. (It is not quite ready for prime time yet)

Our iPhone App

Our iPhone App

We will also have an iPhone application that provides the same
function as our Facebook application, albeit with a different
graphical design approach to accommodate the limited screen
size of the older iPhones.

Both the iPhone app and the Facebook app connect to a common back-end “big data” application that we are hosting on the Google App  Engine. That part of the  work is also very interesting and allows us to dabble in the latest in highly scalable Internet database design.

Asatte Press Store

Asatte Press Store

The final element in our business strategy will be an online store. While we do intend to make our products available through the Amazon Marketplace channel, our primary focus will be on our own store which we will integrate tightly with the Facebook and iPhone application.

We hope to have the store open and the two applications in beta testing by mid-August.

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Asatte Press Summer 2012 Interns Start Work.

Asatte Press Summer 2012 Interns with Dave

Asatte Press Summer 2012 Interns with Dave

Our Summer 2012 interns are off and running. We have already completed the first two weeks of the internship and all ten of our interns are hitting their
stride and starting to make strong contributions.

Bai Yu is working on a Bachelor of Science in computer science at the University of Texas. Bai Yu is now working on our forthcoming iPhone application – starting from the blankest of a blank sheet of paper. Bai Yu
Software Development Intern
Ethan Li is working on a Master of Science at the University of Texas. Ethan is now exploring the mysteries of the Google App engine and Facebook application development for us. Ethan LiSoftware Development Intern
Ilse Chapa recently graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Corporate Communications from the University of Texas. Ilse is a returning interns and isl be developing a plan of events for Asatte Press and working closely with Regan Hann on our public relations strategy. Ilse is also our “Shopper in Chief” is working closely with our editing team to verify the shopping guideline sections of our forthcoming book. Ilse ChapaEvents Intern
Jason Roh is working on a Bachelor of Fine Art degree at the University of Texas. Jason is working on many aspects of our visual and graphical content. Notably Jason is very proficient at drawing vector graphic based illustrations. Jason RohGraphics Intern
Jenny Zhang recently graduated with a dual degree in Plan II Honors and English Honors from the University of Texas. Jenny is now developing our editing processes and also helping do some primary source research to strengthen the content for our forthcoming book. Jenny ZhangEditing Intern
Jonathan Goodwin is working on a dual degree in English and philosophy at the University of Texas. Jonathan has a highly developed eye for detail and is working on verifying the guidance outlined in our book. Jonathan is a multitalented person and is also handling all of our end-user IT support.. Jonathan GoodwinEditing Intern
Nick Gregg is pursuing a degree in architecture at the University of Texas. Nick is contributing strongly to the graphical image of our book and software products. Nick is also the leader of the band Mother Falcon which has performed three times at SXSW and will be performing in this summer’s Austin Chamber Music Festival.  I am not sure when Nick sleeps, but he is doing great stuff for us during the day. Nick GreggGraphics Intern
Paul Li recently graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Texas. In addition to working on a wide variety of graphics for our upcoming book and software products, Paul has already redesigned our company logo to overcome the difficulties we had with the previous version fitting into spaces that required a square graphic.
Paul LiGraphics Intern
Regan Hann is working on a Bachelor of Arts degree in studio art at the University of Texas. In the first two weeks, Regan has been a quiet tornado of activity spinning up the Asatte Press public relations effort. We now have presence on the major social media engines and our first print placement (albeit a small one) will be out in June. Regan is also working closely with Ilse on the event strategy. Regan HannPublic Relations Intern
Stefanie Schultz is pursuing a dual degree in studio art and English literature at the University of Texas. In addition to contributing to our overall graphics and design effort, Stefanie is now ramping up the design and production of attractive small products for our forthcoming webstore. Stefanie SchultzProduct Design Intern
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Asatte Press Moves into Commercial Office Space

Austin Oaks Medina Building

Austin Oaks Medina Building

We are taking the plunge. On Thursday we accepted the key to our first commercial office space. After investigating different possible locations for a few weeks, we eventually settled on a 1350 square foot suite in the Medina Building of the Austin Oaks complex.

Austin Oaks is a half million square foot, Twelve Building Corporate Campus located in Austin, Texas at Spicewood Springs Road and Mopac Expressway. The buildings were mostly built in the 1970s, but they are very well maintained. Furthermore, because of their age, the oak trees surrounding the buildings are all very well grown in. The exterior environment around the buildings is very nice.

Another key factor in our selection of this building is its proximity to a stop on the University of Texas Far West shuttle route. We employee a lot of University of Texas students and some of them don’t own cars.

Interior of Office Suite

Interior of Office Suite

The suite was originally laid out to support something like an attorney’s office. It has two offices with windows, an interior office, an interior conference room, a utility room and a receptionist’s area. We asked the landlord to remove the doors of the offices to create a semi-open environment. We also asked the landlord to install a small sink and kitchen cabinets in the utility room. We will then install a small refrigerator, coffee maker and so on to create a compact kitchen.  This small kitchen will be a handy for those wanting to eat lunch. It will also make it much easier to setup food and drink arrangements when we are taking close up photographs for our books.

We have ordered furniture from the local Ikea store. It is remarkable how cost effective Ikea is. We are using very simple, lightweight items. We don’t expect this furniture to have the durability of furniture from Steelcase or Herman Miller.  On the other hand, we were able to equip the entire office for just over $4000 – including sales tax and delivery.

Our interior office cabling and IT equipment approach is very current: we won’t have any.

Our phone service is provided by RingCentral. We have separate 800 numbers for voice and fax. I will be having them record the voice prompts professionally. The “extensions” behind this 800 number simply route to our employee cellphones. It very cheap and it works really well. When someone calls the 800 number and enters your extension, you get a call on your cellphone. The caller ID string is from the original caller, not from RingCentral. When you answer, you hear a voice that says “You have a call. Press 1 to accept”  This prompt clues you in that you are getting a business call and allows you to collect your wits, take a breath, press “1″ and say “Hello? This is Dave at Asatte Press”.

We are a true cloud-based business. Our e-mail is provided by Microsoft (Office 365). All of our development and web servers are rented from various hosting providers. Internet is key. I was shocked and initially panicked when I started trying to contact the central ministry of stone hammer installation services at the local internet service provider. The service provided is much slower than that offered to home consumers – at five times the price…AND…it takes more than a month for them to dispatch a tree sloth to turn it on for you.  I didn’t have a month.  In two weeks we will have ten interns working in this office. What was I going to do!?

4G Wireless Broadband Modem from Clear

4G Wireless Broadband Modem from Clear

Luckily, I was rescued by Clear.  Really impressive. Call them up. They overnight you a 4G wireless modem with integrated wireless LAN router. Their website even has a utility to show you exactly where their nearest tower is. The Medina building is on the top of a hill and we are on the top floor. Our office has an unimpeded line-of-site view to their nearest tower about 1000 meters away. It works perfectly. I was setup and running within 15 minutes and my initial speed tests showed 6-9 megabits of download and 1-3 megabits of upload speed, even in the farthest interior corner of our office suite.

Our students will bring their own laptops. The only IT equipment will be a printer (connected to the wireless LAN) and a single PC which will host the expensive software licenses for book production software tools from Adobe and Antenna House.

So, we are off and running!  Our summer interns start on 21 May….

 

 

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Passed the Japanese Language Proficiency Test Level N2

My JLPT N2 Certificate

My JLPT N2 Certificate

A few weeks ago, I received my certificate for passing the JLPT N2 test in December.

JLPT stands for “Japanese Language Proficiency Test” (日本語能力試験 Nihongo Nōryoku Shiken) and is administered in Japan by the Ministry of Education and overseas by the Japan Foundation. In the United States, the test is only given once per year, the first Sunday in December.

There are five levels to the test with N1 being the most difficult and N5 being the easiest. After browsing through some reference material last Summer, I decided to try the N2 level based on the level of Kanji covered. As for the selection of Kanji, N2 was indeed just about right. The test itself, however, kicked my butt. The issuers of the certificate very graciously did not include any clarifying comments like “Just Barely Passed” or “Crawled Across the Finish Line and Collapsed”  which would have been quite accurate in my case.

Although the test was tough, it was also useful in that it showed me the limits of my personal learning strategy for Japanese. About fifteen years ago my language skill had hit a plateau because I was really only absorbing Japanese through conversation. This approach had me stuck permanently at something like the level of an elementary student. Very aware of this limitation, I decided to make an all-out effort to conquer the Kanji. This is a formidable task. Although there are only a few thousand Kanji in common use, any one can have as many as twenty different reading. Even worse, most useful words are combinations of two or more Kanji and there isn’t any completely air-tight and predictable method of determining which combination of readings and individual meanings will apply to a word which is a combination of two Kanji. I attacked the task with computer power, using Visual Basic to generate flashcards  in PowerPoint which I then printed, pasted back to back, cut with paper cutter and laminated into sets of one-hundred. I then practiced endlessly with these sets of flashcards. Altogether, I made 4,700 flashcards and spent a few thousand hours in coffee shops and wine bars practicing with them.

By and large, this strategy has worked. I can read a newspaper reasonably comfortably. I can read magazines, checking a few words each page. I can read literature by alternately reading a chapter in English translation and in Japanese. However, although I did not realize it until I took the JLPT, I have pretty much exhausted the benefit of this strategy and to punch through to the next level, I need to shift my focus to another area that I had not even considered to be particularly important before.

Sample Grammar Problem from Practice Book

Sample Grammar Problem from Practice Book

The writers of the JLPT call this area “Grammar” but in any other language, this area would be referred to as “Idiomatic Usage.”  More precisely, I would describe this as something like “Usage of fuzzy modifiers and complex passive constructions”.

The terms of the JLPT forbid takers from revealing content.  Even if I wanted to, I would not be able to because security at the test was  rigorous. There were tight controls of what you could take into the room (nothing) and what you could take from the room (nothing) as well as what you could discuss with fellow participants during the break (nothing).  Instead of discussing the test content, I have included a snippet from a commercial practice text above. This snippet is quite representative of the “grammar” problems on the test. In order to pass the N2 level of the test, you have to be an absolute master of fuzzy modifier words like “mono” (thing), “koso” (matter), “koto” (thing or matter depending) “wake” (because) “to-iuu” (seeming to be) and exactly which of the numerous Japanese compound negative and passive constructions is best used with each combination of fuzzy modifiers in which circumstance.

The practice text was quite an eye opener. Japanese has hundreds of these things and thousands of possible combinations of them. My impression had always been that the Japanese just sort of shoveled these things randomly into sentences with no particular rhyme or reason. These constructions always seemed to me to be more of a decorative aural art form than anything with any particularly clear or understood grammatical meaning. The Japanese seemed to be sprinkling them artfully here and there like an artist making a work of modern art by whimsically dribbling cans of pleasingly colored paint across a large canvas spread on the floor.  The text disabused me of this notion. It had hundreds of pages of intricate flowcharts with special markings to show that certain paths through the chart would indicate firmness, while others would indicate warmth.  Clearly, to break through to the next level, I am going to have to focus my next round of efforts on mastering this intricate web of fuzzy modifiers.

Sample Kanji Problem from Practice Book

Sample Kanji Problem from Practice Book

By and large, my Kanji preparation was pretty solid. However, a test that does not different levels of mastery in its students is not a real test. The test did include a certain number of problems similar to number 18 in the snippet to the left from a commercial practice text. For native Japanese who grew up with the language and read it day in and day out, this sort of problem is probably not too tough. For non-native speakers, however, differentiating between several extremely similar Kanji, all of which are below around 1500 in the order of frequency ranking, without the aid of sentence context to help you identify the Kanji, is a tough test indeed.

Actually, Kanji and Grammar were the smaller parts of the test. The larger proportion of the test was on reading comprehension and listening.  Here again, the challenge came as a bit of a surprise to me. The difficulty was not that the text passages were inordinately difficult to understand. The challenge was time pressure. In order to get a perfect score on the test, you had to be really, really fast.

Likewise, the listening sections were tough because of the speed. The voices were clear and the dialogs were well articulated, but they were quick. I have been in a few thousand hours of Japanese business meetings and I would have to say that the pace for the dialogs would be what I would categorize as “excited” No one in the speaking sections was talking slowly or thoughtfully. Rather the pace was that of native speakers who had both just had several cups of coffee and were anxious to rush out the door.  Relatively speaking, I did better on the listening comprehension section.

All in all, I think this test is comparable in challenge to U.S. standardized tests like the GRE or MCAT. I have never taken TOEFL or TOEIC, but the concept seems to be similar.  Of course, there is quite a debate about whether such tests really do a good job of measuring actual linguistic capability. The ACTFL has a much more sophisticated approach which is undoubtedly a better measure. However, the ACTFL’s approach is also extremely labor intensive.  By my count, there were approximately 120 students just taking the N2 level of the JLPT and this was at only one of five testing centers in the United States. Clearly, the entire test covers thousands of students. The ACTFL’s approach including video taped interviews with each student would be prohibitively expensive at that scale.

At any rate, it was fun and interesting. I am glad I was able to pass the test, even if just barely. Clearly, I have an enormous mountain to climb before I can take on the N1 level of the test. With the enormous amount of effort we are putting into getting our first book written, there is no way I am going to tackle that challenge this year,

 

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Another Government Regulation Comes Crawling Out of the Woodwork

Personnel Concepts Points Out Posting Law

Personnel Concepts Points Out Posting Law

Normally I hate businesses that send advertising disguised as some sort of official government communication. However, these guys are right. Both federal and state governments have all sorts of requirements for employers to post assorted random things in their places of business. These guys are right: you have to post this stuff. Their service is to make a nice laminated poster for each state that has all the required posting blather consolidated in one place. Good for them. I ordered one.

I am definitely not a tea-party extremist. Government has a role to play. I pay my taxes without complaint. Frankly speaking, I would rather pay a bit more tax and have things run better and the budgets be in balance. Nevertheless, some aspects of government incompetence leave me sympathizing with the foaming-at-the-mouth radicals and one is the utterly unreasonable burden on businesses caused by the need to spend endless hours tracking down the whims of government bureaucrats. I am not talking about the burden of compliance. I am talking about the burden of having to spend endless amounts of time trying to figure out what all the things are that you need to comply with.

Permits are a key example. Any government entity can require a permit for anything. The federal government might require something. You state might require something, as might your county, your city, your ward, your local school district, your regional hospital or transportation district or your local salamander protection area. There is no requirement that they clearly post what permits are required. In fact, there isn’t even a central list of what government entities you need to worry about.

I think we need a constitutional amendment requiring that all government entities register all permitting and regulatory in a central registry. There would be requirements to format the regulation in a uniform and consistent manner. We could (for example) have one clear and consistent set of business types and forbid any government entity from defining a new one without some sort of national approval process.  All regulations could be required to be organized around a clear set of breakpoints for number of employees in a business with severe limits on the number of regulations that could apply to businesses employing less than 50 employees. We also could have productivity targets putting a cap on the total number of regulations and the total length of the laws concerning them. We could have targets requiring the political entities to meet year on year reduction targets. To enact a new regulation the political entity would have to identify two regulations to eliminate.

In any case, the business owner would have a central database into which he could enter a business type, enter an address, select number of employees at that location and get a clear and legally binding (on the government) list of what applies. Governments would be prohibited from harassing business for ostensible regulations not appearing on the (binding) list with criminal sanctions for government bureaucrats who willfully ignored the list…. and to be fair…similar sanctions on business owners who ignored the list.  Make it simple. Make it clear. Enforce it on both sides.

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Asatte Press Spring 2012 Interns Begin Work

Dave, Tomoko and the Spring 2012 Interns

Dave, Tomoko and the Spring 2012 Interns

Last Friday we held employee orientation for our Spring 2012 Interns. We were very pleased with the quality of students who applied for our positions. As a result, we decided to expand the scope of the internships from three to seven positions.

In the photo at the left you can see Tomoko and me in the front at the left. Starting from left to right (behind Tomoko and me) the Spring 2012 interns are:

 

  1. Warren Cai - Marketing Intern = Warren is in the Masters of Technology Commercialization program at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business. Warren will be helping us develop our marketing and promotion strategy.
  2. Jason Roh – Graphic Design Intern = Jason is working on a Bachelor of Fine Art degree at the University of Texas. Jason will be helping us design a series of promotional products. Jason will also be looking at various other graphic design aspects of our product line.
  3. Bang Truong – IT Intern = Bang is working on a MIS degree at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business. Bang will be helping us develop our IT end user deployment and support processes.
  4. Blake Henson – Product Development Intern = Blake is studying civil engineering at the University of Texas. Blake will be helping us define our product development processes, working on packaging design for our physical products and also working with the marketing interns on the overall promotion strategy.
  5. Ilse Chapa – Facilities and Event Planning Intern = Ilse is studying communications and event planning at the University of Texas. Ilse will be developing a plan of events for Asatte Press. Ilse will also be working with the other marketing interns on the overall promotion strategy.
  6. Gabrielle Li – Marketing Intern = Gabrielle has recently completed a Master’s Degree in Psychology at the University of Texas. Gabrielle will be doing a focused analysis of the user psychology of social networks. Gabrielle will also be working with the other marketing interns on the overall promotion strategy.
  7. Di Liu – IT Intern = Di is pursuing a Master of Science in Information Studies at the University of Texas. Di will be working to setup our document management, defect management and revision control systems.
Initial Paperwork, Orientation and IT Setup

Initial Paperwork, Orientation and IT Setup

Friday’s session was consumed entirely by paperwork, orientation and setup. These days, it takes a lot of paperwork to hire an employee these days. Over the years, government requirements have gradually increased. For example, most if not all states now require a report to the state attorney general’s office so that the office can cross check for deadbeat dads who are not paying child support. The Federal I-9 form required to verify that an employee is eligible for employment in the United States is also an endlessly entertaining and remarkable document. Finally, there are any number of forms that are not legally required but are for all practical purposes culturally required in the United States. These include employee non-disclosure agreements as well as emergency contact information. I also handed out copies of the United States Copyright Office circular 9 to make the employees aware that as employees, their work efforts are “Work for Hire” whose copyright is owned by Asatte Press.

We also set everyone up with Microsoft Office 365 so that they would have legal copies of Office to work with. Most students have student licenses purchased from the university computer store and these come with license restrictions that prohibit them from using them for commercial purposes. Finally, we issued prepaid cellphones to anyone who wanted one. I don’t want student interns incurring cellphone costs for work done for Asatte Press.

Introduction to Martini Technology

Introduction to Martini Technology

At 5:00 PM, we were finished with the orientation. Asatte Press work ended and Tomoko and I held a small private reception for the students during which I demonstrated some of the implements and techniques for mixing a martini.

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Asatte Press Spring 2012 Internships

We Have a Lot of Work to Do

We Have a Lot of Work to Do

We have reached a major milestone – we are ready to hire our first employees! Of course, the start is rather modest: we will be hiring three student interns for the Spring 2012 semester.

Of course, we can’t offer the lavish facilities of a major company. In fact, we can’t offer any facilities at all. Our dining room will be the “office” for our Spring 2012 interns. We also can’t offer interns the experience of working with gushing torrents of money that they might encounter in say an advertising agency working on major national accounts.

That having been said, we can offer some unique opportunities that interns are very unlikely to find at large companies. That is, students who intern at larger companies often find themselves doing glorified clerical work. Yes, the student might be working on a $20 million advertising contract, but the student’s scope for contributing or significantly affecting the course of the project will be small to microscopic. Our interns, on the other hand, are going to get to play a key role in setting up our strategy and processes. In particular, our interns are going to have a key role in defining our social media product and promotion strategy. I think this session is going to be a lot of fun!

The three internships we will be offering are:

  1. IT Internship – The IT intern will have the opportunity to help us build out our software development environment and web site. The IT intern will write the initial draft of the Asatte Press IT operations manual.
  2. Publicity and Advertising Internship – The Publicity and Advertising intern will play a key role in helping us figure out how to go to market.  Given a very limited budget, how do we get our products noticed in the marketplace? What are the most cost effective venues for us to do direct promotional sales? The Publicity and Advertising intern will write the initial draft of the Asatte Press publicity and advertising strategy.
  3. Promotional Product Design Internship – The Promotional Product Design intern will start with a a very small target budget and work with suppliers to put together several promotional products for us to sell in conjunction with our books and software. This is a position for a graphics or art student who would like to get a more detailed feel for what it takes to actually put a real product on the market. The Promotional Product Design intern will write the initial draft of the Asatte Press product development manual.

Our detailed internship description can be downloaded from the Asatte Press Employment webpage. We also have preliminary information posted there about our possible Summer 2012 opportunities.  If you know any Austin-area college students who might be interested, by all means pass this information along to them!

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Happy New Year!

Honaida Najjar Preparing Appetizers

Honaida Najjar Preparing Appetizers

Happy New Years to all! Here is to a brighter 2012!

We were fortunate to be invited to a New Year’s Eve Party hosted by Sam and Honaida Najjar. As with every Sam/Honaida event, the party was fun and lively. Of course, there was a mountain of food and there were rivers of drinks of all varieties. Here at the right we can see Honaida early in the evening serving an appetizer that consisted of a mixture of olives on top of a tuna-fish salad toast – delicious!

Sam drew on his college years of bartending experience to serve a variety of mixed drinks. Friends brought samples of home brewed beer, especially a really nice porter that I drank several glasses of in the course of the evening.

Tomoko discovers her Mediterranean Roots

Tomoko Discovers her Mediterranean Roots

This being a Lebanese household, there was of course dancing. Sam had a large drum that he acquired (somehow) at a Lebanese wedding. Apparently it was mailed to the United States parcel post from Lebanon with over $200 worth of postage stamps pasted to the package. One of the guests was a rather accomplished belly dancer and was kind enough to give a demonstration. Tomoko was quite inspired and joined in. There is actually a video of Tomoko participating, but I have been forbidden from posting it.

Dave and Tomoko just before Midnight

Dave and Tomoko just before Midnight

Just before midnight, hats and horns were passed out. Actually, guests were supposed to arrive in themed hats. Marshal from Dell Computer arrived in an authentic Afghan hat that he picked up during his tour of duty there in 2003. Several other people had interesting and unique hats as well. Unfortunately, I did not quite get the memo of this point. I am not sure what kind of interesting hat I would have been able to conjure up even if I had known. In any event, our hosts were well prepared and passed out paper party hats for everyone. We all watched the countdown on the television and at midnight we made an incredible racket for several minutes. Note: when making such a racket, it is very helpful to have had a lot to drink before hand. The alcohol makes the noise fun and exciting and diminishes any sensation of discomfort in the ears.

Ryan helps Honaida serve Bananas Foster

Ryan helps Honaida serve Bananas Foster

After midnight, Honaida prepared a delicious Bananas Foster. Desserts involving bananas are tricky for me. They can easily become too slimy for my taste. Honaida’s Bananas Foster was perfect – the bananas were still firm and the flambe brown sugar glaze was just right. The vanilla ice cream was still frozen solid so Ryan stepped in and applied some muscle to the ice cream scooping problem.

All in all, a delightful evening and a wonderful way to start the new year!

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