When I read Jon Talton’s article, “Washington state has to play the add-value card, not low-cost-leader ace,” the title alone got me to thinking.  With the onslaught of globalization in both now and in the coming years, we will have to take an intelligent attitude in order to remain a relevant player in the high-tech world.  As the article says, the opinions are basically divided between two camps:  appeal for money with low costs, or appeal for money with valuable, high-quality commodities.  I agree with Talton:  we need to keep ourselves to a higher standard and use our highly-educated workforce to our advantage, or else we will be dragged down in the race to the bottom.

As a major example for the detriments of companies seeking low-cost solutions, the article points to none other than Boeing, long a staple in the Northwest economy.  Boeing  recently opened a plant in South Carolina, where worker compensation, wages, benefits, and union costs were all much lower than Washington.  Yet if South Carolina is playing the low-cost card, why do they have the nation’s fifth-highest unemployment rate?  Talton asserts that it’s falling victim to its own game – other countries and locations are undercutting even South Carolina’s cheap labor, so if everyone races to the bottom, many more people will suffer.

I agree with this sentiment.  Here in the Puget Sound region we have not only Boeing, but Microsoft, Nintendo, Amazon, Starbucks, Bungie, and numerous other high-tech/commodity companies.  Seattle is the nation’s most educated major city, with 47% of all residents age 25 and over in possession of a bachelor’s degree or higher.  We must use these strengths to our advantage.  If we choose the low-cost path instead, the standards of living and money flow will invariably be negatively impacted, as with South Carolina.  If we instead use these people and companies to lure money, we can continue to enjoy our status as a major hub of high-tech innovation.  In a time of disruptive changes, we can hang on to a higher level of quality and stability if we choose not to send our jobs overseas but to develop more valuable, high-tech jobs here.

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1st Amendment Interviews

November 21, 2009

My interviewees for this 1st Amendment blog assignment were as follows:

1)  Mom’s friend, late 50’s, female.  She agrees with the freedoms in the amendment because it doesn’t place limits, and she agrees with the theory that the government shouldn’t place restraints on people.  She supported all of them, except excessive freedom of press because it could be abused for panic, false reporting, etc.  She did not recognize the amendment but had heard of it, and was familiar with the concepts.

2)  Co-worker, age 25, male.  He agreed with the freedom for people to do what they want.  He was all for people doing what they feel like, as long as it doesn’t harm others.  He thought there should be no limits as long as it doesn’t negatively impact others or their beliefs.  He knew it was a law (of sorts), but didn’t know which one it was.

3)  Co-worker, age 18, female.  She agrees with the amendment, and said it was a good set of morals, that everybody should respect everybody equally as it said.  She thought too much freedom of excercising religion was bad, i.e. crazy people establishing religions that could harm others.  She immediately recognized the amendment.

4)  Friend’s grandmother, 80’s.  She agreed with and supported most of the rights, but thought that it sounded like you can’t stop someone if they have a harmful, cult-like religion.  She did not recognize the amendment, but was familiar with its concepts.

5)  My mom, early 50’s.  She thought we had the rights, but that Congress should re-establish them.  She said there was no such thing as too much freedom, and she immediately recognized the amendment.

6)  Friend of my grandfather, late 70’s, female.  She agreed with all the freedoms, except excessive freedom of press when it did immoral things, like harass people or violate their rights.  She did not recognize the amendment.

I was actually surprised at how no one blindly supported the rights listed in the 1st Amendment.  Everyone I interviewed said they supported the rights, but that if any of them harmed others they shouldn’t be allowed to be excessive.  Press and religion were the two which were most frequently mentioned as being too excessive, which I found interesting because most Americans go around madly trumpeting how great those freedoms are.  I was also surprised at how four out of six people did not recognize the amendment, though they all found it familiar and had heard of the freedoms.

Patterns across age groups were subtle, since everyone had the same basic views, but they existed.  The elderly age group, while supportive, were quick to point out a particular freedom that could be abused to harm others.  The middle age group, on the other hand, thought that not enough freedom could be given to people.  Lastly, my generation was also pretty liberal, but they were more of the mindset of everyone treating each other with equal respect.

Ultimately, after interviewing these six people about their views on the first amendment rights, I learned that most people are optimistic when it comes to freedoms, but are mindful if abuse of the freedoms can harm others.  It is interesting that people think this way, but it can also cause problems concerning the rights contained in the amendment.  When millions of people all interpret the Constitution this way and think there should be certain moral limits, we get into the gray area of what is and isn’t moral, so certain decisions have to be made by courts on how to interpret the rights.  Naturally, not everyone will agree with those decisions.  As another note, since most people were vaguely aware of their 1st Amendment rights but didn’t know they came from the 1st Amendment, I can see how this unawareness could contribute to people’s rights unknowingly being stripped away from them, a little bit at a time.  Also, if people don’t know they have these rights, they may also trade them away for a bit of perceived security, such as with the “War on Terror.”  Or they could give them away anyway.  Shame, that.

Dev Patnaik’s article, “Forget Design Thinking and Try Hybrid Thinking,” was a refreshing take on thinking in the worlds of business and design, misleading thought the title may be.  At first glance one may think the article criticizes design thinking, but quite the opposite is true.  The crux of his argument is that contrast produces wonderful results – having someone experienced in the design field wouldn’t necessarily be more advantageous for innovation than someone with a business background.  Of course, this depends on the individual and the flexibility of their thinking, but, with some design thinking added into the mix, even accountants can be creative designers.

The main example Dev gives of this “hybridity” is with Claudia Kotchka, who was hired on in 2000 at Proctor and Gamble as VP for design strategy and innovation.  The company was struggling with the digital and media transition taking place, so they needed someone to turn things around for them, and that is exactly what Claudia did.  Thought she had an accounting background, with the right design thinking she doubled the company’s revenue over the course of the next eight years.  She did this by placing designers in the company’s business units, educating businesspeople about design’s strategic impact, and forming a board of external design experts.

All this goes to prove Dev’s main point about hybrid thinking.  Had Proctor and Gamble continued down their tried-and-true product design process, with the same business practices, they would have found themselves in dire straights instead of in a successful, innovative position.  Claudia’s thinking like a designer saved them, but that in and of itself wasn’t enough – it was that combined with her seemingly incongruous background which proved beneficial.

Like Dev, I also believe that hybrid thinking is quite a potent tool for innovation.  It is precisely this confluence of various disciplines that creates new things.  When a businessperson is given the task of design innovation, they must change themselves and immerse themselves in the new school of thought.  Otherwise, stagnation results.  Once they understand this new discipline and begin to apply both types of thought to the problem, creativity abounds.  They are free to attack the problem from multiple angles.

So, while design thinking is ultimately the key for success in the future of business and corporate America, it alone will not change things.  People like Claudia, who are inexperienced designers but flexible thinkers, are just as valuable as experienced designers, with whom they can interact and formulate new ideas.  Hopefully, enough businesses will realize this and help steer things in fresh directions.

Intellectual property, something one has created and is owned by them, is quite a hot-button issue, now isn’t it?  And rightly so – without legal protection for works we have made, anyone could take that work, claim it as their own, alter it, sell it, take the credit, and give us precisely nothing back for our creation.  Which would be bad.  This is particularly important for companies and individuals who make their income off of their creations, so, naturally, there are laws in place for protection of said people.  But what constitutes Intellectual Property, and how far can someone go with someone else’s IP before they break the law?  This was one major question involved with the Metallica vs. Napster case in 2000, a landmark case which helped set a precedent for similar file-sharing cases in the years to come.

The whole shindig began in 2000, when thrash-metal mega giant Metallica discovered a demo of one of their new songs, “I Disappear,” playing before its release date on the radio.  This, of course, came as a surprise to them.  How did it get out?  The band decided to see what was up, and they traced the leak back to a website called Napster, a Peer-to-Peer file sharing network.  There, they not only discovered “I Disappear” floating around the intarwebs, but their entire catalog was also freely available.  What would any good American do when they found their stuff being misused?  He would sue, which was exactly what Metallica did.

The band, led by drummer Lars Ulrich, sued the pants off of Napster.  They claimed Napster was guilty of copyright infringement, unlawful use of digital audio interface device, and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.  They also implicated three universities in the lawsuit, who promptly banned the site from their schools.  After the initial suit, Metallica also hired a private firm to track Napster usage over a weekend, and with the results they demanded that Napster ban over 300,000 users.  Napster complied, but by this time other artists such as Dr. Dre joined in, forcing Napster to ban another 241,000 users.  As the bands had talks with the service, Napster collapsed under the pressure and filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection.  It would later be bought by Best Buy and re-emerge as a paid music download service.

Whew.  I’d say Napster got harpooned to the wall pretty handily there.  With the result in this case, Metallica paved the way for others to prosecute file-sharing networks, helping the RIAA to enforce their position against those services and create ridiculous anti-download punishments for those who disobeyed.

I personally agree with the verdict, but think that the consequences down the road were overzealous.  So, Metallica shut down a popular file-sharing network.  I agree with this because it was indeed a gross violation of Metallica’s IP rights, but, on the other hand, it did put a damper on some potential buyers of Metallica’s albums.  Some of those people were sharing simply to sample the music, and potentially could have gone out and bought it if they liked what they heard.  People like this, who didn’t see anything wrong with file sharing, cried out against the decision as iron fisted.  Yet, in reality, I think they were a minority and, while I do sympathize with those who had good intentions, by and large the Napster users were doing something illegal, and got called out on it.  So the site went through a much-needed reorganization.  A victory for IP champions.

Yet, later, I have seen things which caused my eyeballs to almost drop out of their sockets in disbelief.  One prominent example is when the RIAA sued a single mom, Jammie Thomas-Rasset, for $2 million in damages for downloading songs.  And they won the right to sue her for that amount of money – $80,0o0 per song!  That is just insane.  Madness.  But it’s something which may well not have come around if it hadn’t been for the Metallica/Napster precedent set nine years earlier, so not everything that came out of that case was rosy.  Come on, RIAA, I understand your feelings, but $80,000 per song?  I can only laugh inwardly at that.

But the fun doesn’t stop there, in that industry.  My field, the video gaming industry, has had its fair share of issues.  One instance was when Microsoft included vibration functions in its XBox system’s controllers, but thought that the technology was so ubiquitous that it didn’t bother to find out if any patents were involved.  Turns out, a small company did indeed own the patents for the tech and they successfully sued Microsoft.  Pays to do some research.

Sources:  http://news.cnet.com/Metallica-fingers-335,435-Napster-users/2100-1023_3-239956.html

http://technology.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/tech_and_web/article6534542.ece

http://austin.bizjournals.com/austin/stories/2006/02/13/focus2.html

Leonard Herman’s book, Phoenix:  The Fall and Rise of Videogames, is an exceedingly detailed compendium documenting the history of the video game industry from its infancy through the year 2000.  It leaves no stone unturned – seemingly every company which had anything to do with video games and their development is mentioned, from Atari to Nintendo to Sony.  If a company made a briefly-seen peripheral for the Mattel Intellivision, it is mentioned.  If IBM joined forces with Atari in 1993 to manufacture Atari’s last console, the Jaguar, it’s mentioned.  There are so many dates and product names floating around that sometimes it’s hard to keep track of it all, even to one experienced in video games.

Herman starts with the absolute beginnings of all things which related to video game development.  From the abacus he works  his way up through the first computers, detailing everything from vacuum tubes to transistor radios.  As computers got smaller and more efficient they led to the first video game being developed by Ralph Baer.  One of the first primitive games, Space War, was noticed by a young college student named Nolan Bushnell, who founded Atari in 1972 and helped to launch the video game industry.  At first Atari took over the arcades, but later they moved into the home video game market with their 2600 console.  For the first ten years of the industry’s existence, Atari dominated all things gaming-related.

Then, in 1983 and ’84, due to a glut of cheap, terrible  software overloading the fledgling industry, video gaming and Atari collapsed.  For two years sales slumped before Nintendo and its NES revitalized things, and they would come to dominate the industry for the next ten years to come.  During the early to mid-nineties Nintendo and Sega battled things out with their 16-bit SNES and Genesis systems, respectively.  Then, in 1995 Sony launched their Playstation console, which was CD-based, and effectively took Nintendo’s crown as the king of the video game market.  Sega, with their Saturn, struggled in third place from then on.  The book ends with the discussion of the Playstation 2 launch, Sega’s Dreamcast launch, and plans for Nintendo’s Gamecube and Microsoft’s XBox.

For the most part I was engrossed in reading Phoenix.  I genuinely feel that, after gaining such detailed knowledge of my industry’s background, I have another depth of understanding and appreciation for the field and the companies who contributed to it.  As I read, Herman’s writing style helped with my absorption of the information.  The book reads very much like a history textbook, with almost every single sentence containing information and events, but Herman wrote it in a balanced, flowing manner.  Throughout each chapter, which represent a year in the world of video gaming, he would also add commentary just enough that it guided the reader along and helped coalesce some of the info they just read.  Pictures of each relevant console and peripheral are included as well, helping to visualize some of the more obscure products.

Yet at the same time Phoenix is not without faults.  Firstly, the sheer density of the material and the sometimes overly-detailed histories of a product or company may lose a lot of potential readers.  Some of the depth to which Herman goes is excruciating, telling us about all the various lawsuits the major players were involved in or every random controller that came out for the Atari 2600, or even the game parks that Sega built.  It also is a bit too focused on the companies and consoles, mentioning only the most important of games if they helped or hurt a company in a big way.  Examples of this include how the Atari 2600 E.T. game was devastatingly bad for Atari, and how Mario 64 helped establish the Nintendo 64 as a powerful 3D system.  But many other major games are merely mentioned in passing, if at all.  In fact, for such the breakthrough game that it was, Final Fantasy VII was mentioned in one sentence.  Also, a lot of the book is very American-focused, not giving much detail at all to Japanese companies (with the obvious exceptions of the major console manufacturers).  Big companies like Namco, Konami, Capcom, and Squaresoft were barely there.

So, in the end, Phoenix is easily recommendable to anyone who wants to know about the video game industry.  It has every detail about the major companies involved and the major consoles which shaped the industry today;  so, if one is prepared to absorb the onslaught of information, look no further for the Video Game Bible.  It is well-written, engaging, and so knowledge-packed that even the harshest of video-game critics will be wowed at its contents.