About that Virtual Cloud Mobile Social Media

Swimming in the constant onslaught of breathless patter from the technology pundits, one would easily get the impression that the entire planet is now fully virtualized, in the Cloud, using social media for everything and using mobile apps to run its life. Indeed the only stragglers would seem to be the few holdouts who are not using SIRI to give elegant high-level commands to all that wonderful stuff in the cloud to make their every heart’s desire come true.

Uline Rolodex Card

Uline Rolodex Card

Every now and then, it is refreshing when the window opens and a breath of “reality” blows in. Yes, it can be downright bracing as all the technobabble circles the drain and goes gurgling down into obscurity.

This week I had one of those moments. Uline, the North American hegemon in the packing and shipping materials space, sent me my very own ROLODEX card! That’s right, they didn’t send me an app. They didn’t “like” me on Facebook. They didn’t “Tweet” me. They sent me a nice physical, plastic card – complete with my customer number hand-lettered with a sharpie -ready for me to snap into my “Rolodex” on my desktop! Obviously, there are a lot of people who still have their trusty Rolodex on their desktop. Mobile? Virtual? Cloud Computing? Twitter? Facebook?  Nope! None of the above. When the going gets tough, they reach for their Rolodex.

Nice to have a reality check every now and then :-)

 

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P-Chan 1997-2012, Rest in Peace

P-Chan Circa 2012

P-Chan Circa 2012

In the end, she just walked into the forest and did not come back.

Peaches (aka: “P-Chan”) who was not the least bit adventuresome. She did not wander widely. In fact, her central interest in life was her food bowl. Monday morning, we were up early to take our son Ryan to the airport. As usual, P-chan complained about the distressingly low level of food in her food bowl. I fed her a little. We opened the door and hustled Ryan’s luggage into the car. By this point, P-chan had nibbled a little food and darted between our legs onto the deck. Nothing unusual about that. We closed the door and left for the airport.

The nagging worry did not begin until the evening. When P-Chan did not come back, Tomoko went out and walked around calling her name. When that did not work, I took a powerful flashlight and walked all around the house looking under every overhanging object and into every corner. Perhaps she would be back in the morning.

She did not come back in the morning. We looked again. And again. On Thursday, I put on heavy clothing and rubber boots and walked the full extent of the overgrown greenbelt, checking streams and caves. Nothing.

- – -

P-chan with Erika, Jan 1998

P-chan with Erika, Jan 1998

P-Chan was a Christmas gift for our kids in 1997. I was not enthusiastic. I knew that a pet would bring with it extra cleaning chores. I drew up a detailed contract that outlined each child’s responsibilities for cleaning up after and caring for our new pet. All the kids enthusiastically signed the contract. What a waste of paper…

We then went to the SPCA and were introduced to a cat who was about 6 weeks old, already spayed, already trained to eat dried cat food. The selection was immediate.

We named her “Peaches” based on her fur color. However, we are a Japanese-English bilingual household and “Peaches” very quickly morphed into “P-Chan”. As for our new family member? She spent the first several days hiding under the heavy hutch in the dining room. After that, she gradually came out and worked herself into the routine.

To my utter surprise, within a week or so, P-Chan decided that the most desirable sleeping spot in the house was on my left shoulder while I was lying on the couch attempting to read or watch television. She would lie there purring, slobbering, licking my face and digging her claws into my shoulder.

When P-Chan was just a bit over a year old, we had our first big adventure: an assignment in Japan. The logistics of transporting P-Chan to Japan ended up being one of the most complicated aspects of the assignment. You don’t just walk on to an international flight with a cat. We checked the different airlines and found wildly different rules and procedures. One airline would happily check your animal as baggage, as long as you did not require that the animal be alive when delivered at the other end. Finally, we found a combination of airlines that would allow a cat on board as long as the cat was stowed under the seat in an approved cat carrier.

How was cat hygiene going to work?  Most cats can’t simply hold it for the 24 hours or so of door-to-door travel from Austin to Tokyo. I suggested that we might buy disposable diapers and cut a hole in them for P-Chan’s tail. Tomoko and Erika scowled back – Dad was not funny.  (although I have since seen dogs in airports fitted exactly this way)   We really did not have that question resolved when Tomoko came back with the approved cat carrier. P-Chan was much larger than the cat carrier. I suggested slathering her in olive oil to make it easier to slide her in…. More scowls.  Dad was REALLY NOT FUNNY.

P-Chan and Dave, Tokyo 2000

P-Chan and Dave, Tokyo 2000

Eventually, IBM paid  a special service to drive a van from Houston to Austin (175 miles each way) to pick P-Chan up and drive her to Houston. They then held her for two weeks, waiting for a day in which the temperature on the tarmac in New York would be less than 60 degrees F.

Once she arrived in Tokyo, P-Chan walked around the new house complaining loudly for about two days and then settled in to her normal routine.

P-Chan Comfortable on the Record Player - July 2004

P-Chan Comfortable on the Record Player – July 2004

We returned from Tokyo in the summer of 2001, exactly reversing the procedure with the airplanes and vans. P-Chan arrived back in Austin, complained loudly for a day or two and then fell back into her normal routine of placing herself squarely on top of anything that seemed to have our attention, a record player for example.

Newspapers and magazines were a particular favorite. We purchased a special spray bottle for the dining table to shoo her off of it. I used it consistently. Tomoko, of course, used it much less consistency, like…ah..well…almost never. P-Chan loved to help Tomoko read the newspaper.

Dave and P-Chan 2-10-2005

Dave and P-Chan 2-10-2005

Of course, P-Chan was always there when I needed a nap. Very helpful. As soon as I sat down anywhere in the living room, or even in the kitchen for that matter, P-Chan was right there.

Over the years, P-Chan became less sprightly. Instead of flying half-way across the room, she would cautiously work her way up from ottoman to sofa to get to me, but she would always get there.

This point was one of the first warning signs. About a month ago, P-Chan suddenly lost interest in coming to see me. For that matter, she lost interest in just about everything except her food bowl. Tomoko reported P-Chan walking around looking confused and complaining sadly as if she were looking for someone. Clearly something had changed.  P-Chan was fifteen years old, not ancient but certainly a healthy age for a cat. I did some research and identified a pet cremation service in Austin. We knew her days were numbered.

- – -

Clearly, there are a number of possible scenarios.

  1. Predators are a possibility, but an unlikely one. We are on a greenbelt, but we are at the top of a small cliff. P-Chan was normally timid and did not venture much past our driveway. Besides, we would have expected to find evidence of a struggle.
  2. Streets? P-Chan never ventured into the street. We did not find her in the street.
  3. Another House?  Sometimes cats get bored and go find another house to live at. In fact, Tomoko had experienced precisely this sort of feline visitor before we got P-Chan. However, we don’t think this scenario is likely.

We believe that P-Chan knew that it was time and went off to find a quiet place.

The worst part is not getting a chance to say goodby. We are still wandering around the house and bumping into various pieces of cat equipment that we acquired over the years. We are putting them away, one-by-one.

In the mean time, we can only hope that P-Chan died quietly in her sleep and wish that she may rest in peace.

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Asatte Press 2nd Annual Shareholders and Directors Meetings

Asatte Press held its second annual shareholders and directors meetings Friday 7 September 2012 at BB Rovers in Austin, Texas.

Second Annual Shareholders Meeting

The second annual meeting of shareholders of the corporation was held at B. B. Rovers, 12101 Jollyville Road, Austin in the state of Texas, on 7 September 2012, at 8:30PM for the purpose of electing directors of the corporation.

David Hetherington acted as chairperson, and Tomoko Hetherington acted as secretary of the meeting.

The chairperson called the meeting to order.

The secretary announced that the meeting was called by the chairperson

The Secretary Certifies the Waiver of Notice

The Secretary Certifies the Waiver of Notice

The secretary announced that the meeting was held pursuant to notice, if and as required under the bylaws of this corporation, or that notice had been waived by all shareholders entitled to receive notice under the bylaws. Copies of any certificates of mailing of notice prepared by the secretary of the corporation and any written waivers signed by shareholders entitled to receive notice of this meeting were attached to these minutes by the secretary.

New Asatte Press Logo

New Asatte Press Logo

The chairperson introduced the new corporate logo for Asatte Press, Inc. The logo was redesigned during the summer of 2012 after experienced showed that many online and social media sites expected logos to be square. During the redesign, provision was also made for positive and negative versions of the logo to allow the logo to be laid out on both light and dark backgrounds.

New Systematic Logo

New Systematic Logo

The chairperson also introduced the new Systematic brand logo that will be used for books and merchandise.

The chairperson then presented the (written) annual report to the shareholders of Asatte Press, Inc. Highlights:

Revenue and Income

For FY 2012, Asatte Press had net income of -$56,480.00 on sales of $40.41.

Margins

The merchandise sold for $40.41 had a cost of goods of $1,998.02. The gross margin was ($40.41-$1998.02)/$40.41 = -4,844%. We hope to be able to improve our profit margins in FY 2013.

Earnings Per Share

At the end of FY 2012, Asatte Press had 95,000 shares outstanding. Earnings per share were
-$56,480.00/95,000 = -$0.60/share

Cash Flow

Asatte Press has a very simple cash flow. All cash flows outward from Asatte Press.

Investment and Return to Shareholders

In FY 2012, we were substantially 100% investment with no return to shareholders.

What’s Ahead

While FY 2012 looks like a year of all investment and no return, in FY 2013 we should begin to see the results of our investment.

  1. Systematic Martini Lifestyle – Our first book is in final edit and will be available for sale by the end of October 2012.
  2. AsattePressStore.com – Our store will be in operation by October 2012 with an initial complement of “Systematic” brand products.
  3. Systematic Cloud Tutor – During the summer of 2012, our interns produced a working prototype of the Systematic Cloud Tutor system that uses a highly scalable Google Application Engine backend to drive an iOS application on the iPad and iPhone as well as a Facebook application. During the fall of 2012, we will be productizing this application and taking it to beta trial by December.
  4. Kickstarter.com Promotions – At the end of August we launched our initial trial Kickstarter.com promotion for “Wine and Cheese: A Love Story”. In October we will release a more ambitious promotion designed to draw a higher level of funding and line up beta testers for the Systematic Cloud Tutor trial.
  5. Events – During the Fall of 2012 we expect to attend as many as ten different college recruiting fairs. These events will serve a dual purpose of making students aware of our internships for summer 2013 and also getting the word out about our products and services. A key goal will be to line up a base of supporters for our second Kickstarter.com promotion. We will also attend the Texas Book Festival which will be our first attempt to sell our book and Systematic products at a major event.
  6. Additional Skill Sets and Books – Around January we will start developing skills sets and content for our next set of products. These will be offered first as additional content for the Systematic Cloud Tutor, next as draft chapter content on our blog, and finally as published books later in the year.
  7. Commercial Promotion – Once we have the infrastructure up and running, we will begin to approach commercial accounts who might have training problems such as safety compliance that could benefit from our highly scalable, integrated social media approach.
  8. Additional Platforms – In FY 4Q2013 (around May 2013) we anticipate beginning development on Android and Google+ implementations of Systematic Cloud Tutor. We may also consider Windows 8 mobile if Microsoft provides seed funding for the development.
  9. Crowd Funding in Early 2013 – We are closely watching the ongoing implementation of the JOBS act by the SEC. Once the trading platforms go live, we may go out with a proposal and see if we can attract investment, preferably convertible debt financing.
  10. Conventional Angel Funding – We will also be using platforms like Gust.com to put out feelers to conventional Angel investors. An angel investor with strong ties to the oil industry would be particularly attractive.

Second Annual Directors Meeting

The second annual meeting of the board of directors of the corporation was held at B. B. Rovers, 12101 Jollyville Road, Austin in the state of Texas, on 7 September 2012, at 9:00PM for the purpose of reviewing the prior year’s business, discussing corporate operations for the upcoming year, and for the transaction of any other business that may properly come before the meeting.

David Hetherington acted as chairperson, and Tomoko Hetherington acted as secretary of the meeting

The chairperson called the meeting to order.

The secretary announced that the meeting was called by the chairperson

The secretary announced that the meeting was held pursuant to notice, if and as required under the bylaws of this corporation, or that notice had been waived by all directors entitled to receive notice under the bylaws. Copies of any certificates of mailing of notice prepared by the secretary of the corporation and any written waivers signed by directors entitled to receive notice of this meeting were attached to these minutes by the secretary.

The secretary announced that the following directors were present at the meeting:

Name of Director
David Hetherington
Tomoko Hetherington

The New Directors Accepted Positions on the Board

The New Directors Accepted Positions on the Board

The above directors, having been elected to serve on the board for a one-year term by the shareholders at the second annual meeting of shareholders held on 7 September 2012, accepted their positions on the board. The secretary then announced that the presence of these directors at the meeting represented a quorum of the board of directors as defined in the bylaws of this corporation.

The chairperson presented the near-term cash-flow plan for the corporation. The directors approved the cash-flow and spending plan.

The chairperson announced that the next item of business was the appointment of the officers and of standing committee members of the corporation to an initial one-year term of office. After discussion, the following persons were appointed to serve in the following capacities as officers, committee members or in other roles in the service of the corporation for the upcoming year:

Name                                       Title
David Hetherington                President
David Hetherington                Treasurer
Tomoko Hetherington            Secretary

The next item of business was the determination of compensation or fringe benefits to be paid or awarded for services rendered the corporation by employees and staff. After discussion, it was determined that no compensation could be planned at this time.
There were no further resolutions at the meeting.

The Meeting was Adjourned

The Meeting was Adjourned

There being no further business to come before the meeting, it was adjourned on motion duly made and carried.

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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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