Musings of the Great Eric

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Why Japan Didn’t Invent the iPod

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The answer is actually pretty interesting.

Or perhaps I should properly call it a theory – but it’s a powerful one. It also explains why video game consoles came from Japan but the PC games industry is dominated by American firms, and why the Japanese mobile market is so much more advanced than the American one.

What I find real interesting about it is that it’s basically a modern application of Jared Diamond’s thesis in Guns, Germs, and Steel – the technological development of a society is limited and shaped by physical constraints. In this case, the physical constraint is the alphabet.

So the reason Steve Jobs (or Bill Gates, or the entirety of silicon valley for that matter) are Americans has nothing to do with some nationalistic statement about the superiority of one culture over another. While they deserve credit as individuals, their ascent was made possible in part because the English alphabet was easily encodable on 8-bit computers. Their Japanese equivalents, whoever they might have been, faced an insurmountable constraint during these formative years of the PC revolution.

The author of the link deserves a lot of credit, because despite being familiar with this thesis, it still never would have occurred to me to look at the alphabet as the reason Japan and America took such divergent technological tracks. It really makes me wonder what other fundamental aspects of our world and culture are hindering us (or propelling us along) that we just never give any thought to.

Written by Eric

May 5, 2008 at 2:41 pm

Live Mesh

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So Microsoft announced something interesting today, Live Mesh. It’s in limited beta mode now, but it shouldn’t be too long before Microsoft opens it up to the public. Techcrunch has the details. In a nutshell, it’s part file sharing, part backup, part synchronization. It’s kind of reminiscent of Apple’s Dotmac, but goes a fair bit beyond that.

While I haven’t played with it yet, and while I’m sure it’s still buggy and far from feature complete, it seems very neat, and earns Microsoft a rare kudos. If this is the indicative of the direction Ray Ozzie is going to be taking the company… there might still be some life in it yet.

The big problem? Microsoft needed to do this three or four years ago. It should have been a core part of Vista. Better late than never, I suppose – but whereas this might have kept me as a customer four years ago, now they’re at a point of needing to win me back. Mesh doesn’t quite reach that bar, at least not yet.

At this point my home network is a mish mash of computing platforms – I run Vista, OS X, and Ubuntu. Google Docs, while not nearly as elegant as MS Word, solves the synchronization problem for me, and Amazon S3 handles offsite backup. I might be getting a Blackberry or an iPhone at some point in the future.

To get me to switch, Microsoft needs to develop mesh into something that not only works across all these platforms, but proves itself to be a superior solution to anything that Google, Apple, or anyone else might offer.

Written by Eric

April 23, 2008 at 10:40 am

Posted in Technology

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