No holiday from e-mail…

Even on the cusp of this long Christmas weekend, there’s no rest for the weary.

The majority, or 59%, of working Americans check their work e-mails during Thanksgiving, Christmas and other traditional holidays, according to a survey by Xobni (“inbox” spelled backwards), a Silicon Valley startup that organizes Microsoft Outlook inboxes and address books.

Of those who do check e-mails during the holidays, 55% said they do so at least once a day and 28% do so multiple times per day.

Workers feel compelled to check e-mail outside of work to keep up with their jobs, noted Xobni’s senior director of product management.

Forty-two percent of the respondents also said they believe staying up-to-date during the holidays eases their workloads after having time off. In addition, with the increased popularity of smartphones, it is easier to access work e-mail and be on call all hours.

“Especially with mobile devices and laptops, people are taking them everywhere,” he said. Jacobson added that he also plans to check his e-mail over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Still, getting work related e-mails over the holidays is not always well-received. Forty-one percent feel annoyed, frustrated or resentful about it.

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Others, however, are finding work e-mails provide a much-needed reprieve from family time. Fifteen percent of respondents said they feel relieved or thankful for having the distraction of getting a work-related e-mail from colleagues or clients.

Here is a helpful stat;                                                                                                         Five percent said they purposefully check e-mail to avoid awkward family commitments.

Geek Heaven, Akihabara.

I certainly miss the technology and gadgets that I encountered each day in Japan, Especially now that I am manufacturing tablet devices for education.

With broadband connections ten times faster than the U.S. and 90 percent of the population owning mobile phones, it is not surprising that Japan has its own “Electronic Town.”
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Called Akihabara, it is the center of “otaku” or geek culture in Tokyo.

In this “geek heaven” it is possible to buy anything from spy cameras to underground computer games.

“Tokyo is the hot bed for new electronics in the whole world,” said Serkan Toto, Japanese correspondent for the Tech Crunch news blog. “Japan is a very advanced technology-wise, it’s a nation of early adopters.” Japan’s electric town is a covered market stockpiled with any and every kind of electrical component a dedicated geek could dream of.

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Radio Street is a must for the hackers and makers among Japan’s cadre of geeks who are seeking components to start or finish a DIY electrical project.

“You can come here and build to your heart’s content,” says technology consultant Steve Nagata, who is also known as the “King of Akihabara”.

For Mr. Nagata, Japan’s long-standing obsession with technology springs from a wish to understand what is behind lots of gadgets.

“It comes from a deep interest in things around them and wanting to find out how things work and know what each component does,” said Mr Nagata.

Akihabara hosts more than just component shops. Finished goods are on sale too. Those willing to rummage can find anything from old radio tubes to audio recorders, high-end surveillance equipment and the low end too, such as a tie with a built-in camera.

“This is a very big part of Akihabara, the surveillance equipment with every kind of camera from professional grade to little teeny cameras that you can stick into all sorts of different things,” said Mr. Nagata.

The equipment itself is legal but how you use it may definitely run afoul of certain restrictions”. “You really never do know when someone is watching you,” he added.

As might be expected Akihabara reflects the thriving underground, homemade software culture in Japan.

“This is a garage software industry for anyone from individuals to small clubs or a company that produce and sell unlicensed software,” said Mr. Nagata. “There are exact look-alikes to completely original software, this stuff is just as impressive as major console software.”

The products cost less than the titles from the major gaming brands but, said Mr. Nagata, making money is not the main aim for the folk behind the software.

“This is very much a labor of love, something that they do out of their affection towards a particular character or style of gaming,” said Mr. Nagata. “It’s their attempt to fill the world with something that they want to exist in it”

US schools should take a lesson from Asia.

I just read about the results of a 2015 global education survey that shows U.S. high school students come in a dispiriting 26th out of 65 places worldwide in combined scores for math, science and reading tests.
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This latest league table, ranking more than a third of the world’s nations, shows once again the poor performance of the United States, slipping behind successful European countries and being overtaken by Vietnam. It also highlights the decline of Sweden, with the OECD warning last week that it had serious problems in its education system.

The OECD’s Program for International Assessment (PISA) suggests that while America lags, Asia soars: Out of the top 10, eight are in the Asia-Pacific region — led by Shanghai and Hong Kong in China, Singapore, South Korea and Japan.

The rise of education in Asia is no accident. It reflects deliberate policies and long-term investments that recognize the centrality of quality education to a nation’s economic growth.

After living in Singapore and witnessing their growth and progress first hand I was especially taken by the former Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong’s quote after the 2011 survey, “A nation’s wealth in the 21st century will depend on the capacity of its people to learn.” I think we should follow their lead.

I have listed a few of their key “best practices” from the most recent report that we here in the US are still only debating but should certainly adopt;

1) Rigorous standards and coherent curricula. I also saw this first hand in Japan, Asian nations establish high academic standards and a demanding school curriculum that clearly defines the content to be taught and is sequenced to build on a student’s abilities step by step. High-quality teachers and principals.

2) Teachers are routinely recruited from among the top high-school graduates and, unlike in the U.S., principals generally do not apply to become school leaders as much as they are selected and prepared to do so. There are comprehensive systems for selecting, training, compensating and developing teachers and principals — delivering tremendous skill right to the classroom.
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3) Emphasis on math and science. Math and science training begins early in primary school and rigorous courses such as biology, chemistry and physics, as well as algebra and geometry are part of a core curriculum for secondary school. Specialist teachers are often employed in elementary schools unlike “generalists” usually found in U.S. schools.

4) Time and Effort. With longer school years and sometimes longer school days, Asian students often have the equivalent of several more years of schooling by the time they finish high school than the typical American student. Asian students are also expected to work hard in school, reflecting a societal belief that developing one’s skills and knowledge reflects effort more than innate ability.

The time has come for America to learn from Asia and the world. Our ability to compete and lead in a global economy may well depend on it.

Japanese “Manga” Newspapers Report Current Events in Graphic Detail

This would be prefect for the USA papers as we have such dramatic headline news stories…Oil spills, Tornados, hostage situations.

Japan is newspaper-crazy. Its biggest daily, Yomiuri Shimbun, has 10 times the circulation of The New York Times. They have their own baseball team the Giants!

For now just as in the USA, young people in Japan aren’t reading newspapers as often as their parents. But the Japanese seem to have a solution: Manga No Shimbun, (Manga Newspaper), an online outfit that covers the week’s events in comic book form.

Here is a translated version…
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These aren’t the funnies or political cartoons—they’re actual news articles about everything from foreign policy to pop culture to murder trials. The site employs more than 100 manga artists to cover breaking stories, updating 10 or 15 times a day. Graphic style varies—some pieces are in color, others black-and-white; some are realistic, some exaggeratedly kawaii (cute).

Manga News is also available via an iPhone app and will come to Android and other mobile platforms later this year. There’s even talk of international versions.

Good idea, especially if Astro Boy gets elected to parliament or Speed Racer runs for President! But given the reduced literacy in our schools here in the USA we may have to create text books like this

“The Pitch” gets ad agencies into reality TV.

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Usually contestants on reality competition shows perform tasks like seeking spouses, racing around the world, eating bugs, losing weight, living in houses rigged with cameras and working for Donald J. Trump. A new series aired this week with a contest all its own: wooing advertisers to say yes to campaigns.

The series is “The Pitch,” after the pitch process by which agencies compete for assignments from marketers.

It’s not as sexy aa Mad Men but as an ad man myself this reality show hit very close to home…in fact the show was so real it made me nervous.

“The Pitch” appears on the AMC cable channel, which is seeking to increase its offerings in the unscripted genre that include “Comic Book Men” and “Talking Dead,” a live talk show about its hit scripted series “The Walking Dead.”

“What we were looking to do” in the reality realm “was to tell stories, heavily character-focused,” to echo the channel’s scripted series, said Charlie Collier, AMC president and general manager.

“It wasn’t born out of ‘Mad Men’ at all,” he said. “It was born out of a moment that’s universal, when you have to come up with a great idea under pressure and sell it in, lay it all on the line for what you believe.”

In each of the eight initial episodes of “The Pitch,” two agencies face off to win a stand-alone contest to create a campaign, in 7 to 10 days, for a major marketer. The marketer, if it likes, can then transform the campaign into actual ads.

The eight marketers taking part include “Whozzat?” names like Clockwork Home Services, parent of companies like Benjamin Franklin Plumbing, along with familiar brands like Waste Management, Frangelico, Popchips and Subway (the subject of the sneak peek).

“We’ve done branded message integrations for a long time, with a fair amount of success,” said Tony Pace, global chief marketing officer at Subway, including “The Biggest Loser” and “Chuck.”

There are plans to run ads “later this summer,” he added, based on the winning presentation by — no, no spoilers here.

Another reason Subway agreed to participate, Mr. Pace said, was “a very good experience” appearing in an episode of the CBS reality series “Undercover Boss.”

Waste Management was also featured in an episode of “Undercover Boss,” which is produced by the same company as “The Pitch,” Studio Lambert.

“The Pitch” was “a very, very long journey,” said the United States president of Studio Lambert, Eli Holzman, who also worked on “Project Runway” for Miramax Television, because agencies were reluctant to be involved if “we showed confidential client process, real business up for grabs.”

“One day it dawned on me: What if we first lined up an enormous brand to look for an advertising agency?” he said, adding: “If we had the brand already, it would be a big incentive for the agencies to invite us into their world, and there would be no danger of offending current clients. That made the difference.”

Fifteen agencies agreed to appear, all of them small or midsize independent shops. (One, the Ad Store, competes in two episodes, so the total is 15 rather than 16.) Many larger, better-known agencies declined, worried about revealing the ingredients in their secret sauces; among them were BBDO, Leo Burnett, DDB, DraftFCB, JWT, McCann Erickson, Ogilvy & Mather and TBWA/Chiat/Day.

The Grey Group, a unit of WPP, said no because; the story is not about us,” said James R. Heekin, chairman and chief executive, but rather “it’s about building our clients’ brands first.”

“We don’t have anything against anyone doing a reality show,” he added, “but it’s not our style.”
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Another well-known giant courted by “The Pitch” was Deutsch. Although “we love the premise,” said Val DiFebo, chief executive of the New York office of Deutsch, owned by the Interpublic Group of Companies, “our ‘reality’ precluded us from participating.”

“We’re eager to see the goods and explore if there is a competitive advantage for us to participate,” she added.

The agencies in “The Pitch” are: the Ad Store, Bandujo Advertising and Design, BooneOakley, Bozell, Conversation, DiMassimo Goldstein (a k a DiGo), FKM, the Hive, Jones Advertising, Kovel/Fuller, McKinney, Muse Communications, SK&G, WDCW LA (the Culver City, Calif., office of Wong, Doody, Crandall, Wiener) and Womenkind.

“We went through several weeks of back-and-forth with Studio Lambert and AMC,” said Jeff Jones, president at McKinney, who appears in the episode in which his agency and WDCW LA compete for the Subway assignment, “but we were willing to take the risk because we ask our clients every day to take risks.”

The winning concept from McKinney for Subway.

Scott Brown, president and chief creative officer at FKM, who appears in the Clockwork episode, competing against the Hive, echoed Mr. Jones. “It was a calculated risk,” he said, adding: “The pitch process is an agency putting a big ‘What if?’ in front of a brand and hoping the brand will fall in love. We’re not doing this to become reality TV stars; it gets our brand in front of our consumers, marketers.”

The CEO of Avon Jung Booted

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Andrea Jung, the longest serving female CEO at a major American corporation, will soon be out of a job. It was announced today that Avon Products is launching an executive search to replace its 12-year chairman and chief. Once found, Jung will step aside.

The Wall Street Journal today notes that it is very unusual for a company to publicize a CEO search while the current one remains, but also points out that the 125-year-old beauty company has seen its stock drop by 45% this year. She will remain and help the board recruit her replacement next year.
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While 2011 started off well for Avon, as Jung cheered first-quarter profit that nearly tripled from a year ago and a growing independent sales force of 6.5 million representatives, a third quarter earnings report said sales targets would be unattainable and admitted two ongoing SEC inquiries as problematic.

The three-year probe into an alleged bribery of foreign officials has already caused the firing of four Avon executives and increased investor concern. When approached earlier this year, Jung wouldn’t comment on the matter.

I am always curious about these issues. Having lived all over the world and knowing the types of markets where AVON is trying to expand, I am sure that bribery is part of the everyday way to do business in some of those countries at very high levels. It is a reality that many US corporations face abroad.

This year has shaken up the small percentage 3% of women in the high-powered executive ranks. Yahoo‘s Carol Bartz was fired over the phone just months ago, on the same day that Sallie Krawcheck left her post at Bank of America. Meanwhile, IBM hired its first female chief, Ginni Rometty, in its 100-year history, and Meg Whitman returned to the spotlight as CEO of HP.

Jung, 53, has been a longtime champion of women’s empowerment, often emphasizing Avon’s role in offering entrepreneurial employment opportunities to the 95% female reps who sell its products. She is also one of the few female faces on the boards of Apple and General Electric. She was ranked at No. 64 this year on the FORBES list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.

5 Tips for Social Media Success

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All of us on Xanga are part of the Social media network now. If you are using Social Media to promote yourself or a brand here are five tips to maximize your social media presence. Xanga may not be the best way to implement these tips but have a look they may be useful down the road.

Boost Linkability
All too often, sites are “static” or stuck in the doldrums. When sites are not regularly updated and/or are merely used as a storefront, the information therein can easily become stale and outdated. In order to perform well in Social Media, sites must make themselves “linkable” by adding fresh content visitors are likely to share. Blogs, white papers, and industry news feeds are all a great way to accomplish this. Xanga used to be linkable and now it is very difficult to share your posts.

Simplify Bookmarks/Tagging
The easier it is for your visitor to tag and/or bookmark your content, the more likely they are to do so. Conversely, if you don’t include any simple tagging or bookmarking options with your content, your visitors are likely to forget or simply not make the effort. Include Digg and del.icio.us buttons where appropriate, and be sure to use them internally as well.

Reward Inbound Linking
There’s nothing like the thrill of (legitimate) inbound links and these little blue-underlined jewels are often a strong indication of a site’s overall success as well. The lift in rankings and search placement is also invaluable, so efforts should be made to encourage further inbound linking. Providing a simple method and clear rewards will certainly boost the desired behavior. You may want to use Permalinks as well as include a section for recently inbound-linking blogs. Often blog writers are looking for increased presence themselves, and visibility makes the situation win-win.

Set Your Content “On Tour”
In contrast to so much of SEO, social media optimization is not about making tweaks here-and-there to your site. If you have portable content such as multimedia files and PDFs, submit them off to relevant sites with links back to your site. This will increase visibility and help drive traffic back to your site, while gaining potential followers.

Embrace Co-Creation
Providing clear upfront guidelines about how others may (reasonably) use your content can foster relationships among networks. Aviary.com, a free online photo editor, takes this method to heart. By allowing users to build upon the works of others, a piece may begin to grow far beyond its initial base. Providing a widget to copy and paste excerpts, setting up an RSS feed, and other “get involved” type functionality can help drive further traffic back to the original content as well as solidify the platform for future mash-ups.

Generally, all of these tips can be summarized in one word: involvement. The more invested you can make your users in your content, the longer they will stick around and the more attention you will attract.

Peter Falk

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One of my favorites legendary “Columbo” star Peter Falk died yesterday at the age of 83.

Falk won four Emmys for his starring role in the television detective series, “Columbo.” He also received Academy Award nominations for movies in 1959 and 1960.

Falk portrayed “Columbo” on 69 episodes from 1968 to 2003, it seemed like more but I have seen them all.

Like many actors of his generation, Falk began his career on the stage, honing his craft in school, community theater and off Broadway. By the late 1950s he began to star in Broadway productions, and soon made his move to Hollywood.
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Falk’s breakout film role came with 1960’s “Murder, Inc.” in the supporting part of a killer among a gang of thugs, but it was his performance on the opposite side of the law — as police lieutenant Columbo — that earned Falk superstardom.

As a child, Falk’s right eye had been surgically removed due to a malignant tumor, and it was replaced with a glass eye. That handicap became, perhaps, the actor’s major asset and physical trademark as the star of “Columbo” because it only enhanced the detective’s image as a disheveled and oddball crime sleuth.

He also starred in “Princess Bride,” “Brigadoon” and “The Great Race.”
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Heart and Def Leppard in Atlanta…Electric…Literally!

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Last night the atmosphere at the Lakewood Amphitheater was electric…literally! I experienced one of the strongest displays of thunder, lightening and rain that I have ever seen just before the Def Leppard/Heart concert was to begin.

The venue lost power during Saturday’s viscous storm, which led to an hour of will-there-or-won’t-there-be-a-show guessing as fans waited for the gates to be opened. My friend Nick and I stuck it out! It wasn’t a pretty start, but most fans attending would likely agree that the concert was well worth the wait.

Eventually, with the storm passed, electricity restored and safety concerns cleared, the concert was a go, with Heart taking the stage at 9 p.m. for a condensed 40-minute set What a shame…they have some great hits, but anyone who has seen Ann and Nancy Wilson and the rest of Heart live before knows that the sisters put their all into everything they do.

Though Ann’s voice was lost in a poor mix of the opening “Cook With Fire,” the sound clarified for the sweetly sexy “Never,” re-dressed with an acoustic foundation and harmonica, and “What About Love.”

Ann, looking slimmed in black leggings and boots and the eternally cool Nancy, who came onstage wearing a top hat and still, at 57, managed to scissor kick her way through “Crazy on You,” navigated a powerful set high even if short on time.
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The ‘80s hits “These Dreams,” steered by Nancy’s wispier voice, and “Alone,” anchored by Ann’s husky pipes, have easily retained their singalong quality – a necessity at this show – even if they represent the poppier side of Heart.

No one should forget Heart’s roots, and I guess that is why they were a perfect match for Def Leppard last night, the sisters and the four members of the band, including the indispensible Debbie Shair on keyboards and percussion, tore through a trio of classic rock staples – the serrated guitar steamroller “Barracuda,” the prog-rockish “Magic Man” and, to end their set, a thunderous version of “Crazy on You.”

At 10:15, after the recorded strains of Def Leppard’s traditional pre-show song, AC/DC’s “For Those About To Rock (We Salute You),” boomed through the nearly sold-out venue, a mirror ball dropped above the stage and the quintet appeared, banging out the new “Undefeated.” A four-on-the-floor fist pumper born to be played relentlessly at a stadium near you this fall, the song, from the just-released live “Mirrorball” CD, represented the only detour for a band that hasn’t much altered its playlist the past few tours.
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Performing on a spectacular tiered stage lined with panels of video screens and beneath a ridge of relentlessly spinning lights, the band had ample space to rock n’ roam. The light show was so well done it almost matched nature’s dazzling display before the show.

Singer Joe Elliott’s voice has always been a gruff instrument, and on this night, while it was sometimes swallowed by the huge sound of the band, it just as often soared on long-held notes in “Animal” and “Rocket.”

The front line of bassist Rick Savage and guitarists Vivian Campbell and (shirtless) Phil Collen infused the band’s songs with gorgeous harmonies – always a hallmark of Def Leppard’s sound – that are the perfect complement to their metallic guitar riffs and drummer Rick Allen’s steady electro-beats. I am still awestruck by the Allen’s expertise with one arm he is still one of Rock’s best.

“Foolin’,” in particular, sounded full and fresh, and the extended version of the beautifully complex “Rocket” included a dynamic interplay between Campbell and Collen.

Though it appeared that Elliott wasn’t going to talk to the crowd, instead to focus on fitting in the band’s full set, when he, Collen, Savage and Campbell sauntered down the catwalk extended about a dozen rows into the crowd for an acoustic segment, he indeed had something to say.

“We weren’t going to let a little proper rain spoil the party were we?” Elliott asked as the crowd roared. “But you should all get a pen and paper and write to your local electricity board and [tell them] that their generators suck!”

With that statement Elliott and the boys strummed through “Two Steps Behind” and “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak,” which kicked into its full electric grandeur midway through.

Savage pulled out his Union Jack bass for the zippy instrumental “Switch 625,” which segued into what is perhaps Def Leppard’s most epic song, the melodically layered “Hysteria,” which aped its recorded counterpart with technical proficiency and lyrical heart.

It was impossible for most in this generation-spanning crowd to refrain from playing air guitar or air drums at the first notes of “Armageddon It” and “Photograph.” I am sure by the last moments of the show the band had erased any trace of hindrances of earlier in the night. Electric.