Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Who owns the English language?

It is obvious that English has its origin in Britain. It started out as one of low-profile European languages. As the British Empire prospered, English also spread across the world. It has been spoken as one of the official languages in the former British colonies since then. After Britain had lost its power, the United States overtook the dominance over the world. Even though there's signs of American power decreasing, US is still the world's most influential nation in terms of technology and international regulations.

Historically speaking, British people used to be Caucasian people with their distinct culture. However, the characteristic has got blurred because of the large scale introduction of immigrants from the rest of the world. US began its history as British colonies. Even after its independence, US was a country where white people are dominant for many years. But now Caucasians are increasingly becoming a minority - its population has been largely replaced by people other than Caucasians such as Hispanics, Asians and Africans.

Therefore, we have to be aware of the fact that, even though Britain and US are still the leading countries in the English speaking world, many members consisting of them are no longer traditional "white" people. English is becoming a global language, which is now spoken by many different people with different backgrounds.

Usually a language is spoken in a certain cultural context. English is not an exception. English is still strongly associated with the cultures of Britain and US. As a Japanese person, I find some difficulty in accepting certain aspects of the British or American culture. Probably, if English wishes to be a truly global language, it should be more culturally neutral. Or it should be tailored to the situations of each region where it is spoken. For example, English should be customized to accommodate the needs of Japanese people when it is spoken in Japan. New vocabulary and expressions should be added to English depending on the English users' demand.

It's important for us to have a recognition that English is not "theirs" but "ours". Although I am not a native English speaker, I am still entitled to use it to convey my ideas to the people across the world. In order to keep it possible to communicate with many different people, I should use a standard English. However, the standard English itself should be determined by the needs of all the people in the world, but not by only those of the people in the English speaking countries.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

I wish I could read English as fast as Japanese

I have been studying for US CPA(Certified Public Accountant) exam for one month. It would take a several months before I pass all the four subjects(FAR, BEC, REG and AUD). I use Wiley textbooks. The four textbooks have more than 3,000 pages. Each page is printed in a very small font, which makes my eyes very tired.

The content is difficult. But a bigger problem is my reading speed. It takes too much time to finish reading one chapter in a textbook. I have been studying English for many years but I can't read English very fast. It is not quite comfortable to read long complicated English sentences.

This is a depressing fact. My native tongue is Japanese and it is only hindrance to master English. This is a situation very different from when a Dutch person tries to learn English, for instance. Since Dutch is a close relative of English linguistically, the fact of being a native Dutch speaker does help to have proficiency in English. Being a native Japanese speaker does not. The ways of thinking are so distant between English and Japanese. That precisely explains why so many Japanese people are still struggling with improving their English skills after a tremendous amount of effort to learn it has been made.

As economic globalization penetrates across the world, the influence of English language is significantly increasing. No matter how you hate it, you can't avoid using English in the international business context. Japanese people incurs a great disadvantage in this situation because their lack of proficiency in English is inherently caused by the influence of their native language, Japanese.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Preparing US CPA exam

I am currently studying accounting. I am planning to sit for US CPA exam in May 2010. The reason why I am studying accounting is not that I want to audit the accounts of company as a certified public accountant. I would like to understand more about corporate finance to help more IT ventures grow in Japan.

Japanese economy is now in a great slump. Japanese economy has two bottlenecks, which are the labor market and the capital market. The both markets lack vivid dynamism. In order to rejuvenate the long-stagnated Japanese economy, we need to activate these two markets. I would like to help grow a healthy capital market in Japan ... eventually.

Of course, I have to confess that I would be rewarded monetarily if I succeed in the financial market. Greed can do a good thing in the market. That has been a common belief among economists since the age of Adam Smith.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

I spoke at BarCamp Phnom Penh

Now BarCamp Phnom Penh is being held. I gave a presentation. The title is Introducing Japanese cool web services. This was my first presentation in BarCamp. I was a little nervous but had fun. I would like to give another presentation in the coming BarCamp Saigon on next month.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

TweetMonkey for Google Chrome

TweetMonkey allows you to tweet from any page on the web. I've created a Google Chrome version of it. It looks different due to Chrome's specific issues. An input box is always displayed at the bottom of the window and you can tweet from it anytime you like!

I used Google Chrome's "extension" functionality. It is yet mature and development seems to be going on vigorously. It looks like an alpha version. Documents are also not sufficient yet. I'd like to pay respect to a few pioneers who don't hesitate to explore this wild and unmanned field.

Official document. Still coarse.

Building a Twitter Extension for Google Chrome
There's sample code.

How to install
It seems that extension functionality is not available in stables version of Chrome. "Dev" version or latest Chromium snapshot is recommended to install. Chromium is a flavor of Chrome for developers. Personally I suggest you use Chromium because it does not affect Windows registry. You can just unzip and use it. My Chromium is version (24088).

To install TweetMonkey for Google Chrome:

1. First, you need to install Chromium.

2. Download TweetMonkey for Chrome.

3. Unzip it into C:\twmk directory. (This is just an example. In fact, any directory is OK)

4. Edit C:\twmk\tweetmonkey.html.
Put your Twitter information on the lines of username/password at the beginning of the source code.

var username = '(your twitter account)';
var password = '(your password)';

5. Run Chromium with --load-extension="C:\twmk" option. It can be convenient if you register it to a shortcut.

6. It's done. You should see a Twitter input box at the bottom of the Chromium window. (It might take a few seconds to show up)

How to use
An input box is always displayed at the bottom of the window. You can tweet from it anytime. If you click on the chain icon, you can enter the short URL of the current site. You can click on Update button to post your message on Twitter.

Personal notes
Nowadays, we spend most of time using web browsers. So customizing them with Javascript can be the most productive programming now. The age of cloud computing is coming soon. Once it comes, the server side will be taken care of by big corporations like Google and Amazon. We small individuals won't have to pay attention to trivial server side stuff like scaling. Maybe, client programming using Javascript will be more interesting and useful in the future for ordinary programmers.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

TweetMonkey allows you to tweet from any page on the web

I have just created a tool that allows you to post messages on twitter from any web page. It's called TweetMonkey. This is something like a Twitter version of commonsmarker.com.

TweetMonkey is a Greasemonkey user script.

Firefox 3 or above with Greasemonkey 0.8 or above must be installed.(My testing environment is Firefox 3.013/Greasemonkey 0.8.3)
Greasemonkey 0.8 is a Firefox plugin and you can get it here.

Greasemonkey allows you to customize Firefox. Ask Dr. Google for details.

How to install
1. Access to the link below with Firefox 3
download TweetMonkey

Install the Greasemonkey by following the instructions.

2. Click a monkey icon at the bottom right corner of Firefox to edit the TweetMonkey source code.
Put your twitter information on the lines of username/password at the beginning of the source code.

var username = '(your twitter account)';
var password = '(your password)';

3. It's done. Access to any web page to see if a Twitter input box will show up at the bottom right corner of the screen.

How to use
A Twitter input box will show up at the bottom right corner of the screen on any web page. You can enter a short URL by clicking on "Add short URL of this site" link. Tweet by clicking on "Update" button. You can use it just as on Twitter.

Private note
To tell you the truth, I usually use Google Chrome. I don't really use Firefox so often recently. I hear that Chrome can be customize in a similar way to Greasemonkey. Probably, I should give it a try on Chrome.

Any feedback will be greatly appreciated!!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Failed to write a twitter client bookmarklet

I saw somebody say that we could post your tweets by GET method using twitter API on the internet. This made me excited because it would mean that we could build very easy-to-use client bookmarklets. Before making sure of this information on twitter's official API guide, I started writing code like below. After a while, it turned out that twitter API allows only POST methods when we tweet. That's REST. My dream was short-lived. It's gone now. Sigh.

<head><title>Twitter Bookmark</title></head>

<script type="text/javascript">
(function() {

// This code does not work for IE6 or below.
// It is OK since IE6 has died. Good bye IE6!!
var xmlhttp = false;
try {
xmlhttp = new XMLHttpRequest();
} catch (e) {
xmlhttp = false;

if(!xmlhttp) return;

// Well, you can never update any information by GET method...that's REST.
xmlhttp.open('GET', 'http://twitter.com/statuses/update.json', false, "twitter_user", "twitter_password");
xmlhttp.setRequestHeader('Content-Type', 'application/x-www-form-urlencoded');
xmlhttp.setRequestHeader('X-Twitter-Client', 'TwitterBookmark js by Eiji Sakai');
xmlhttp.setRequestHeader('X-Twitter-Client-Version', '0.1');
xmlhttp.setRequestHeader('X-Twitter-Client-URL', 'http://elm200.blogspot.com/');
xmlhttp.send('status=' + encodeURIComponent("Hello World!"));
if(xmlhttp.status != 200) alert(xmlhttp.status + ' ' + xmlhttp.statusText);





Monday, August 17, 2009

How can Japan be respected by the international communities?

TED Talks: Gordon Brown: Wiring a web for global good

Gordon Brown is the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Labour Party. According to Wikipedia, "Brown has a PhD in history from the University of Edinburgh and spent his early career working as a television journalist". This speech given by him does not really contain anything special. The content itself is rather mediocre and totally predicable judging by his socialistic tendencies. Yet I admire that he can express his thoughts clearly with humor in front of the large audience. At least, he has a set of coherent political ideas. He sticks to his beliefs and his policies are by and large implemented based on them. Easy to understand.

Take a look at Japanese prime ministers in the past. Very few Japanese prime ministers managed to convey their political beliefs effectively to the Japanese public. (Perhaps, one of a few exceptions was Junichiro Koizumi) Japanese political processes are very hard to understand to outsiders, even to the Japanese public. Japanese politicians have been accused of its lack of political philosophy. There are neither long-term goals nor strategies to achieve those goals.

Japan still has the world's second largest economy. Japan has been donating a large sum of money to the world's poorer countries in the last few decades. However, Japan has yet received sufficient respect from the international communities in proportion to its vital role in the global economy. Why?

I think it's because Japanese politicians don't have clear political philosophy. When certain important values such as human rights are threatened, British politicians like Gordon Brown are determined to object to such a move. They don't hesitate to speak up against other countries that violate such fundamental values on humanitarian basis. Their attitude is consistent and predicable. On the contrary, nobody knows what the Japanese government values the most. They look just inconsistent and opportunistic.

Japanese politicians should define what are the most important for them, prioritize the goals and take actions strategically to achieve them. The goals must serve the good of both Japan and the rest of the world. Only when do they succeed in doing so, Japan will be respected by the international communities.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The conditions of creativity

TED Talks: Paul Romer's radical idea: Charter cities

Stanford economist Paul Romer has come up with a radical concept, "charter cities". Basically, this idea comes from the outstanding success of Chinese special economic zones. In 1979, China designated Shenzhen, a small village next to the prosperous economic city, Hong Kong, as one of four economic special zones. At that time, China's national economy was strictly managed based on economic plans built by the central government. China had few private companies and virtually no economic freedom. But things were total different in economic special zones like Shenzhen. Economic freedom was secured and foreign companies was able to invest there without restriction. A lot of companies from Taiwan and Hong Kong actually made a direct investment in Shenzhen and it changed the destiny of Shenzhen forever. Since 1979, Shenzhen has achieved an incredibly rapid economic growth. Now it is a prosperous metropolitan with the population of 6 million.

Shenzhen's success would have never taken place if not for the neighboring Hong Kong, which had been governed by Britain before it was returned to China in 1997. Hong Kong was allowed to rely on sophisticated British legal system(good rules). It brought huge benefits to businesses operating in Hong Kong. Shenzhen learned how to make good rules from Hong Kong.

Paul Romer generalized this particular success in Hong Kong and China into an idea "charter cities". A "host country"(e.g. China) provides a "partner country"(e.g. Britain) with a small tip of territory or a "charter city"(e.g. Hong Kong). In return, the partner country provides the chartered city with a set of rules the most suitable for economic and social growth.

In other words, now Paul Romer is trying to "reproduce" Hong Kong all over the world.

How audacious he is! A typical conformist Japanese would think that his idea was too radical and "unrealistic". They would say "well, a good idea, but it is simply impossible to implement". They would even laugh at his idea. But is it a right thing to do? Maybe, we Japanese should not shut down one idea simply because it looks impossible to realize now. If we want to be imaginative and innovative, we must be open to any idea no matter how absurd it looks.

I don't know how realistic he idea is. But I do respect him by speaking up an idea that he believes worth spreading. It might have taken him a courage to express this idea because it would look too radical and almost impossible. I also respect the culture of English speaking societies where any ideas are not rejected just because they are against their common sense. As long as your idea makes sense, they allow you to give it a try. If we don't tolerate this kind of try and error, we will never be able to produce creative results.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

English-speaking blogs by Japanese

I've just kicked off a movement called "English-speaking blogs by Japanese".

We Japanese people are often too shy to express ourselves in English. I'd like to help Japanese people make their voice heard to all the people in the world by blogging in English. There are so many interesting Japanese people, but it's too bad that many of them are little known outside of Japan. It's a huge loss to both Japanese and non-Japanese people, I guess.

Because of the linguistic distance that lies between English and Japanese, it's very hard for Japanese to master English. We are not perfect English writers. But we still have valuable ideas worth spreading. The most important thing is communication. I am sure that reading these blogs listed below will be enjoyable and help broaden your horizon.

I'd like to introduce English-speaking blogs updated by Japanese people.

31o5 - http://31o5.com/
31o5 is a co-founder of an IT company in Bangkok, Thailand. She is very active in geek communities including BarCamps in Thailand and well-known in ASEAN countries. In her blog, she talks about technology, business, life, etc in both English and Japanese (she tends to blog in English more often than in Japanese)

Ujihisa - http://ujihisa.blogspot.com/
Ujihisa is a Japanese hard-core hacker who is interested in software technologies such as Ruby, Vim, Haskell and mathematics. He lives in Vancouver, Canada. He's been blogging in English since March, 2009.

Koshian - http://koshian.typepad.com/
Koshian is a Japanese IT geek living in Bangkok, Thailand. His interest includes technologies, social issues, life and Japanese subcultures(animation & manga). He has just started his blog.

Kenji - http://kenjioh.com/
According to his profile posted on his blog, "Kenji Oh is a Film music composer / Web programmer, was also gymnastics player. Composed scores for films, TV show, ad DVD, video games etc. and female gymnastics floor."
He is so versatile. He began blogging in English just recently, but is very eager to present himself in English to a broader audience in the world.

tittea - http://tittea.blogspot.com/
Tittea is a Japanese blogger who is interested in reading books and organic cooking, and wishes to communicate with people of aspiration and independent life style.

rawell - http://turquoise.tm.land.to/
A Japanese blogger rawell discusses tech-related topics based on various news source. For rawell's more complete profile: http://iddy.jp/profile/rawwell/

EI "RAY" MURAKAMI - http://ehealthcarekawaraban.blogspot.com/
Health IT Analyst working for public hospitals in Auckland, New Zealand. He is interested in improving health care system by leveraging information technology. He is an excellent English writer.

SeekingSearchin - http://sssking.wordpress.com/
SeekingSearchin just started his English-speaking blog. He(she) is interested in expressing himself(herself) by blogging in English.

This list will be updated. Please don't hesitate to contact me if you are or you know any Japanese blogger who writes in English.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Being a slave is sad, but making your employees slaves is embarrassing

31o5 is a Japanese engineer and businessperson who runs a software company in Bangkok, Thailand. As a manager, she has to constantly deal with unreasonable requests from her customers in Japan. In her latest blog post "
1 week work is 8 * 5 = 40 hours, not 24 * 7 = 168 hours
" she points out a typical vice in the Japanese customers' way of thinking.

In this post, she puts:

When I say 1 week work means 40 hours work, it doesn’t mean we can work 168 hours. Or maybe I should say opposite way, when I say 40 hours work, means it takes 1 week, not 2 days.

Now I noticed some kind of people expect us to work overtime and holiday as DEFAULT. A client send us data 20:00 pm on Friday night and said deadline is Monday noon.

There were only 3 hours working time, but in their mind, there were 2 days + few hours.

In this particular case, she says she got it done by herself, not asking her employees to work in the weekend. But she also regrets having done so because she had to sell her labor at a cheap price and could not manage other projects in the meantime.

She is a sort of exceptional manger for a Japanese. In similar cases, most Japanese managers would order their employees to work in the weekend without hesitation. In Japan, work is considered somewhat "sacred". It's easy for us to cancel appointments with our family and friends in Japan. All we have to say is "I have to work and I can't come over. Sorry", and then they will not object to it.

Yes, work is important. You can make your living by working. You can express yourself through work. But your private life is as important. You are always supported by your family and your friends. Without them, how could you enjoy yourself in life?

If you are a lowest-level employee, you are just forced to work overtime. Several years later, you would get promoted and have a few employees under you. If you are soaked in a cooperate culture where overtime work is taken for granted, you might casually force your employees to work overtime all the time.

But think about it. What's your job as a manager? A manager is supposed to allocate work evenly to each employee to accomplish the business goals of the division that he or she is in charge of. The ideal state should be no overtime work at all because overtime work is a result of the failure of task allocation by the manager.

As a manager, being a slave is sad, but making your employees slaves is embarrassing. If a company forces its employees work overtime regularly, it should reconsider the structure of work flow so that they can leave work on time and enjoy their private lives at will.

Twitter as a global brain

When I was using twitter yesterday, I noticed the fact that the structure of following and followers at twitter just resembles neural network. I thought that this structure was so obvious that everybody had already taken it for granted. However, I got some positive feedbacks from my twitter followers so I decided to elaborate this idea a little further on my blog.

Twitter and a human brain look alike in many ways. Both of them are networks with a tremendous number of small nodes. These nodes are brain cells or neurons in a brain, while they are users on twitter. A neuron has many inputs and outputs called synapses that conduct stimulus. Similarly, a twitter user has following users and followers, where inputs come from following users and outputs go to followers.

Twitter and a human brain have the same mechanism to channel information. So we may say that twitter has literally become "a brain" now . Just as collaboration of all the brain cells creates a thinking process collectively, twitter "thinks" when innumerable people tweet, exchange ideas and influence each other. On twitter, we all become one brain.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Be open-minded

The other day, I had an interesting conversation with Thomas, a German gentleman living in Saigon. He has been a consultant in many different industries. (His blog)

He has been living in Asia and hopes to continue to do so for a long time toward the future. Although he is a German national, he says that he is not too keen on mingling with the German community in Saigon. His mind is more international-oriented and he hopes to have more international friends, not only German ones.

I felt empathy with his statement. When an expatriate community becomes introvert, its ethnicity gets even more condensed than that of their motherland. German expatriate communities become more German than the society in Germany, and Japanese expatriate communities become more Japanese than the society in Japan. This is probably because these people try to overcome fear of living in an alien land by clinging to their own ethnic community.

That's the exact reason why I feel reluctant to dive deep into the heart of the Japanese community in Saigon. While, according to Thomas, the size of Saigon's German community is about 500, the Japanese community here is said to be much larger with the size 5,000. However, many of them do not understand much of foreign languages, either English or Vietnamese. When they don't speak a foreign language, how can they effectively communicate with local Vietnamese people and expatriates here? It is natural for them to just stay inside the Japanese community and form a dense and complicated web of human relationships there. It would resemble a small village in ancient times.

I think we need balance. Having friends from the same ethnic group can be comfortable. But if you wish to have a more exciting life, you need to take some risk and go beyond the complacency. We should be more open-minded and embrace different thoughts of people with different backgrounds.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Good bye, the old good days of Japanese economy

Dr. Nobuo Ikeda is a professor teaching economics at Jobu University in Tokyo. He is better known as one of Japan's most popular bloggers. He is a great commentator as well as a belligerent agitator who vehemently criticizes contemporary Japanese people's complacence.

He was recently interviewed by a famous British business magazine, The Economist. He found the questions of the interviewer quite reasonable but sometimes hard to answer. To make his points clear, he posted an entry titled "Why Japan Is So Slow" on his blog site.

He points out the fact that although a long-term relationship between a supplier and a maker used to be efficient and help boost Japanese economy, its effectiveness is disappearing very quickly now due to change of the economic climate.

Now the game is over: when the future is not so bright, the payoff of "defection" would be greater than that of "cooperation". So the long-term relation became inefficient and fragile. It also changed politics: the Liberal Democratic Party has redistributed the rent of growth, but the source of the rent dried up. So voters want change, but they don't know what to change. And the DPJ doesn't know either. So we can't expect too much from them. Real change would occur when the LDP is divided after it lose the election, and the "third party" emerges.

I could not agree with him more. Japan's future is bleak. Japan will see hope only after going through several political turbulences. It's still a long way to go.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Japanese customers v.s. English-speaking customers

I have been thinking of this question for many years: which customers should I focus on, Japanese customers or English speaking customers?

Japanese customers and English-speaking customers are in sharp contrast to each other. Pros of dealing with Japanese customers are at the same time cons of dealing with English-speaking customers. Contrarily, cons of dealing with Japanese customers are at the same time pros of dealing with English-speaking customers. I will summarize pros and cons of dealing with Japanese customers and English-speaking customers below.

*When dealing with Japanese customers:

- If you are a native Japanese speaker born in Japan, you have a huge advantage over other nationals because you are supposed to know very well what Japanese customers expect and how they behave.
- Market competition is mitigated thanks to the lingual and cultural barriers. It is often difficult for non-Japanese to enter the Japanese market without understanding the details of Japanese business practices.
- Japanese customers are more loyal than English-speaking customers. Once a good relationship is established, they tend to stick to that relationship.

- Japanese customers are unable to express their needs effectively. They are unable to document their requests. Suppliers must infer what they want from the conversation with them. It is often very ambiguous.
- They are reluctant to make a written contract with suppliers. Even after entering into a contract, they often try to change the terms of agreement.
- Decision making is often too slow. This is due to their complicated internal decision making processes.
- They often look down on suppliers and don't look at them as partners on equal footing. As a result, they often make unreasonable requests to suppliers in terms of prices, quality and date of delivery.

*When dealing with English speaking customers:

- Before starting any business, English speaking customers make a clearly described contract with suppliers. All the terms of conditions are well-written in the contract. There's no ambiguity.
- English-speaking customers are less likely to ask for an unreasonable request which is not described in the contract.
- The English-speaking market is huge and spreads across the entire world.

- The market competition is fierce. There are so many competitors throughout the world.
- English-speaking customers are less loyal. Once they find more favorable trading conditions in your competitors, they don't hesitate switch suppliers.
- If you are not a native English speaker, you will be disadvantaged in terms of communication. Communication can be more difficult and costly.

In summary, Japanese customers tend to stick to a long-term relationship. It's very difficult for outsiders to get into a relationship with a Japanese customer. But once a relationship has been established, they rarely switch suppliers. Contracts are often written incompletely or even non-existent, and human relationships are more emphasized. In contrast, English speaking companies conduct business strictly based on contracts. No contract, no business. They don't stick to a certain supplier and are always in search for better trading conditions.

To my personal preference, I like the way English speaking customers do more. It's more strict but also more transparent than that of Japanese customers. When we work with diverse suppliers (unlike homogeneous suppliers found in Japan), we have no choice but to do business based on contracts. A contract symbolizes human rationality and it is the only common element among heterogeneous people.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Mistrusting Japanese companies

Although I am a Japanese person born in Japan, I have never liked the way Japanese white collar employees work in Japan. They always put the customers first ... often way too much. They accept unreasonable requests from customers so easily that they often look more like slaves rather than equal partners.

For example, let's say it's 4:30 pm on Friday now. You are an employee and thinking of the weekend's plan at office in Tokyo. Now the telephone rings and you will hear your customer telling you casually: "Oh I am sorry but can you finish this new work by 10 am Monday?" Yikes. That's tons of work. It means that you have to work overtime on Friday and throughout the weekend. But you have already appointments with your friends and family.

What do you think? Would you accept it? If you work in the culture of English speaking countries such US and Canada, you might say like this: "I am afraid I simply can't make it. Would you mind putting off the deadline a bit further like next Wednesday?" However, you can't usually say like this in Japan. You are exposed to a very strong social pressure and it's very difficult for you to refuse such a request from your customers.

I don't think this makes sense. This is a really terrible business practice, but is commonly observed in Japanese business scenes.

I can't deal with these Japanese companies. That's against my values. Of course, not all the Japanese companies are like this...but I have to say most of them are still like this.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Closing the gap between the world as it is and the world as it should be

I am a big fan of TED. The website has so many great speech videos. As the site puts, those are exactly the "ideas worth spreading".

One of the greatest videos is this:
Michelle Obama's plea for education

Well, I am not much of a political person. I do like President Barack Obama, but it's because I find charisma in his personality, not because I support all his policies.

Likewise, I like this video because I find the speaker is a woman who has overcome numerous obstacles in her personal life, not because she is First Lady of the United States.

But Barack reminded us on that day, all of us in that room, that we all know what our world should look like. We know what fairness and justice and opportunity look like. We all know. And he urged the people in that meeting, in that community, to devote themselves to closing the gap between those two ideas, to work together to try to make the world as it is and the world as it should be, one and the same.

I am aware of the reality as well as the ideal. I am looking at both now. I am struggling between the two. One day I have hope, dreaming of the ideal. Another day I am discouraged, seeing the reality and how large the gap between the two is.

As Mr and Mrs Obama say, we must try our best to close the gap between the world as it is and the world as it should be. This is no easy task. But we have to assume the responsibility to make the world better place for our children.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Traffic jam in Saigon

As everybody knows, motorcycles dominate the roads in Vietnam.

On the way to e-Town this morning, I was stuck in a terrible traffic jam. Cach Mang Thang 8 (August Revolution) street was packed with motorcycles. Even worse, road work was going on everywhere on the street. Oh god. I have never seen the actual hell yet, but if I see it, it must look like this.

I strongly believe that motorcycles are the integral part of Vietnamese culture. Yet I must feel sorry for motorcycle commuters at the peak time. Saigon needs a little bit more of public transportation. Hopefully, subway or monorail. It will certainly make Saigon people's life easier.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Freedom of speech in Vietnam

Vietnam is a lovely country. I enjoy living in this state. However, there's one thing I don't like about it: Vietnam lacks freedom of speech. Nobody can criticize the ruling Communist Party here.

Once upon a time, Vietnam went through a fierce war. Politics destroyed everything in this country. Since the Vietnam war ended in 1975, Vietnamese people have lost their interest in politics. They have learned that politics doesn't make them happy.

Vietnam has neither freedom of speech nor democracy. But people don't seem to care as long as the government keeps its promise that it brings economic development to its people. This is a kind of implicit social contract. And so far so good.

I don't really object to it. After all, Vietnam is still a developing country and it's more important to feed its people properly than to give them freedom of speech. This is understandable.

However, there's a risk that it will prevent Vietnamese from thinking in a creative manner in the future. This can become a problem once Vietnamese economy has reached a certain level of affluence.

You could say that Vietnamese people are currently tuned more to be good factory workers than to be imaginative creators. Maybe, it's okay for now. I hope that someday it will have a full-fledged freedom of speech for the future generations in Vietnam.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

How to keep myself motivated in writing blog in English

My native language is Japanese, not English. It's certainly much harder for me to write entries in English than in Japanese. I have tried to keep writing English blog several times in the past, all in vain.

In the meantime, I have been posting numerous entries in Japanese on http://d.hatena.ne.jp/elm200. The blog site has attracted more than 900,000 page views in the last 3 years.

The reason why I could keep writing the blog in Japanese but failed to do so in English is rather simple. In English blog entries, I have never received any reactions. No comments nor social bookmarks. It was as if I were talking to the wall. I say something but nobody responds.

There's a web site called lang-8 (http://lang-8.com/). This website has been created and maintained by a Chinese guy who lives in Japan. This is basically a social network system which specializes in language exchange. You can join the network to help people who learn your native tongue and get help from native speakers of the language you study.

Maybe I can post my entries in lang-8 to get my articles corrected by English native speakers. They might not respond to the content of my posts but I can at least receive some reactions in the form of sentence correction. It can be a motivation to keep writing in English.

However, I never really liked it very much. I don't know why. I just wanted to have an English-speaking blog. Perhaps I should just start writing in English. I don't have to make any excuse. As http://31o5.com/ at Bangkok says, after all, we are not English native speakers and it's simply impossible to be perfect on English. The most important thing is to make ourselves understood to as many people as possible. English happens to be the best tool to convey your ideas to the maximum number of people on the globe. Probably, we don't have to be too sensitive on grammar and structures of our English sentences. Just do it. Make your voice heard. That's all we need to do.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Regretful Japanese-speaking web

Uchio Umeda is a board member of Hatena Inc, which provides one of the most popular web services in Japan. In a recent interview titled "Regretful Japanese-speaking web", he criticized Japanese-speaking web, saying that while web services are vital in people's life in the United States, the Japanese speaking web is not used effectively except for some subcultural websites like Nico Nico Douga. According to him, especially the problem is that the most intellectual people don't express themselves through web in Japan even though the Internet has great potential to boost their intelligence.

I also share his view on Japanese-speaking web. The Japanese-speaking web is too negative. Too often do I witness negative anonymous comments that attack and insult other people. The reason is, as Dr. Obuno Ikeda says, that Japanese people have no chance to express themselves under their own name because it's too risky. Under the Japanese evaluation system, once they lose their reputation, it is almost impossible to regain it later. They are afraid of criticism from their bosses and coworkers. Therefore, they insult others under an anonymous name to release their pressure in their real life. How sad it is!

Personally, I am fed up with the Japanese-speaking web. It's just fruitless. I have to cut down on the time I spent reading Japanese-speaking web. It's sad...because I am a native Japanese speaker.

I'd like to be a good English writer

For better or worse, I have to admit that English is the single universal language in the 21 century. For those who have international aspiration, English is an essentional tool for communication. On the internet, the most important English skills are reading and writing. If you want to get your voice heard to the public in the world, you need to express yourself in Enlgish. This is a lethal handicap for non native English speakers like me...but whining is no use and I just have to do what to do. 

I do notice that my English sentences are not perfectly natural for native English speakers. I'd like to improve my writing but don't know how. Anyway, I will try my best to express myself in English.