Why globalization won't make everything the same

Published September 18th, 2007 edit replace rm!

I had an great discussion the other day with a family member who argued that one of the problems with globalization was that in the end everything will be the same no matter where you go – the same food and the same music. Obviously if this were to be the case it would suck. I mean that would take all the fun out of travelling and rid everyone of their own culture and heritage etc. So I’m sorry I’ve got yet another long rant coming.

Danish/Argentinian cheese

However if we take the examples of food and music (both things I love dearly) I doubt very much that this is what we will see. Undoubtedly we will see greater changes coming around quicker than before, however the world has had several period of rapid globalization before. Just think of the Spanish conquest of the Americas, the Ottoman empire, the British empire etc. On the right hand we have a product of large scale Danish emigration to Argentina about 100 years ago.

I think the real danger is when you sit in one place of the world and view the changes to the world you are rally by definition viewing them from your point of view. For example if I’m sitting in California, I might see the world is changing with pure American brands and media taking over the world. What is more difficult to see is the way each culture adapts, absorbs and changes each new import to create a new micro fusion, whether it be music, food, web sites or TV. The same is happening all over the world as it always has happened in the past.

The problem with this fixed point of view is that while I might see influence of Chinese, Mexican, Indian or Italian food in my neighborhood, I might not realize that what I’m seeing here is NOT pure Chinese, Mexican, Indian or Italian food, but rather Chinese/Californian, Mexican/Californian, Indian/Californian and Italian/Californian micro fusions. The same is true in every single other country and locality in the world.

The Ringtone racket and the reasonable person

Published September 17th, 2007 edit replace rm!

Ringtones, ringtones, ringtones. Since Steve Jobs announced the ringtones for the iPhone some days ago lots of people have been talking about ringtones and how immoral the iTunes approach to ringtones is. And it is ridiculous. However it is not illegal, but then again neither is going around iTunes using the various hacks that are out there.

What you are seeing are the record industry desperately trying to find a new revenue model. Who knows, they might even see this as a way of reaching a younger audience that perhaps does not even consider ever paying for music now a days. I can see that selling ringtones to this teenage market is probably not a bad move from their point of view.

However a slightly more devious thing that I’m pretty sure their legal departments are doing is to create some kind of legal precedent that might eventually lead to ringtones not being fair use of your own music.

How can this be done you might ask? Well law in the the English speaking world is not just the tomes of statutes that congress or parliament make up after receiving sufficient campaign contributions by someone.

The basics of law at least in common law countries is the Reasonable Person. The idea is what would a normal reasonable person on the street (in UK law tradition people talk about the The man on the clapham omnibus) think.

Legislators (Congress, Parliament etc.) codify laws officially to standardize this, but more often probably to justify their own existence. In common law Judges are meant to uncover and document the unwritten law as thought by the Reasonable Person through their rulings.

Now what would a reasonable person think about ringtones? People are justifiably upset that they have to pay 99c on top of what they have already paid for the song. Thus if this went to a court a judge should in theory at least rule based on a combination of existing copyright law and the expectations of a reasonable person as this is (the recording companies say) new territory.

The recording industry lawyers are contrary to prior evidence probably not stupid, however they are desperate. What they are trying to do in separating normal music sales from ringtones is two fold. They are trying to first of all change the perception of the reasonable person, secondly they are trying to create the illusion of a whole new industry in the need of protection, so they can eventually go to their buddies in congress (and yes both parties are equally guilty here) and legislate around this annoying reasonable person.

In defence of imperial units

Published August 28th, 2007 edit replace rm!

The imperial units such as pounds, inches and feet have been receiving a fair about of criticisms and ridicule in the blogosphere recently (of course I can’t find the posts I’ve stumbled upon recently). Around learned people and in international crowds this is bound to happen fairly often. Of course the battle has been going on for centuries.

As someone who grew up in Denmark with the metric system yet also grew up making pancakes from recipes in the Joy of Cooking I am fairly used to both systems and would like to take a bit of a contrarian defense of Imperial Units..

Let me first state that I like both systems of units and both have their uses. Also contrary to the argumentation of many European’s you are not stupid if you don’t understand metric, nor the other way around.

So the big advantage of the metric system is that it is easy to convert say from centimeters to meters to kilometers by cutting or adding 0’s off the end of a number. There in lies it’s genius.

Many people also add that the metric system is based on real verifiable physical properties such as the distance travelled by light in an absolute vacuum during 1/299,792,458 of a second. I would like to say that this is about as useless and arbitrary in daily life that seriously, who cares? Scientists and engineers do of course, but in daily use no one else.

So I’d say conversion and international standards are the most important aspects of metric units. However the fact that all units are based of decimal multiples of each other in some form or the other, is also the cause of the largest usability problem with it.

The metric system was originally developed by scientists during the enlightenment, but became the political tool it is today as part of the French revolution, yes it was brought to you by the good folks who also brought you the guillotine. Thus it was imposed on people from above to better their lives. This is also what has happened every other country in the world except it appears the US, Liberia and Myanmar (metrics that is, not the guillotine):

While standardized differently various parts of the world the Imperial Units essentially evolved organically over thousands of years by people. While prior to standardization not very precise measures were possible, they were all based on real world reference points that gave you an idea of their uses.

Thus a foot is well the length of a human foot. Miles come from the latin word for thousand and basically means 1000 paces and goes back to the roman days. A cup, is well a cup. An inch is a thumb length.

Most of the old units are gone now, but the most useful ones are still with us. Why? Well because they reflect useful sizes in daily use. So if you take a moment and look at it from a usability dimension like most of us web application designers like to think we can do.

A cup or a foot or a pound might just be more usable during actual daily use. Lets think about it. For measuring the length of something smallish like a notebook 15 inches just seems easier to relate to than 38 cm. I’m sure a psychologist could explain it better.

When measuring a room feet just seems an easier unit to eyeball. I could eyeball meters but not as exactly as with feet. The keyword here is eyeballing. Anything that can be eyeballed more or less might be easier to use with imperial units.

Cups and pounds relate much better to real portion sizes in a traditional home kitchen. Almost all recipe’s call for a pound of meat as it’s a kind of natural portion amount of meat to cook with. The same with cups of liquid. It’s way more natural to use a cup of liquid as the base of a recipe than deciliters.

That is the beauty of the imperial system is that because they were evolved and not specified they are naturally easier for us to relate to. In other words for the uses they were originally designed they are more usable.

However the needs of engineers, scientists and 7th grade maths students are very different. It is obviously a lot easier when you are trying to understand or change the world to have a common frame of reference and easy conversions. For them the metric system is great.

Everyone says the US is not metric. What that means is that the US hasn’t invented a law yet to say that we’re metric. This is all it means. For all intents and purposes the Americans who need to be metric are metric. Scientist, engineers, big business and designers already metric.Why? Because it makes sense for them in their trades. Almost all grocery’s also have metric units listed on the packaging.

Why do ordinary people have to be forced into using metrics in their kitchen or measuring their living room prior to going to Ikea? The answer is they don’t. The metrification map
I linked to above shows pretty much a metric world. But what it doesn’t tell you is what people still use in daily use.

England is listed as being metric. That is a joke. Everyone in England thinks in pounds, stones (yes stones), miles and feet. Panama is listed as being metric since the 20s. But if you go to the meat counter in the super market and order “medio kilo de carne molida” you will receive blank stares (and possibly a “gringo loco” under the breath). They use pounds, inches etc just like the US.

Obviously there are lots of countries that are metric, such as Denmark, Germany and Franche. But even highly metric Denmark still has remnants of it’s evolved units that stubbornly refuses to die purely for reasons of usability. Recipe’s don’t talk about using 15 milliliter’s worth of sugar but 1 tablespoon.

I’m sure every country has still got their own traditionally evolved units in use in the markets, kitchen or even hidden in standardized portion size.

What about web developers. It’s generally recommended that we use a combination of evolved units such as em’s and points as it is designed to be usable and adaptive for humans. Pixel’s while more natural to us engineers are not quite as useful for our endusers with different screens, computers and vision.

By their very nature I am also guessing that evolved units such as feet and cups grew as people grew and became healthier over the centuries. And why not? As appetites grew the cup size grew, but the recipes stayed the same. It makes a lot of sense to measure your living space based on your actual foot size than some standardized version of a foot, as you are the one who is going to be living there.

So please, all I’m asking is less of the ridiculous flame war thats been going on the last century between metric and imperial. Both are good for their particular purposes.

Yes a generation trained to think metrically won’t normally have that much a problem dealing with it, but training is not the be all and end all of this. I’ve spent years programming in the rigid standardized world of Java, but I now prefer the far more flexible Ruby language as it’s more usable to me. I can relate to it better. Unit’s should be all about choosing the best tool for you for the task at hand.

Think like Luke, Frodo and Neo

Published August 26th, 2007 edit replace rm!

I just heard a fun inspirational pod cast interview with Elliot McGucken, which is somewhat yet distantly related to my last entry The real world is a projection of your own fears.

I was initially put off by the subject, which in iTunes was shown as “Artistic Entrepreneurship”. But it had nothing todo with selling sculptures of your dog on ebay.

His idea is that entrepreneurs are similar in many ways to artists and their startups are their artwork.

Basically he believes to be really successful you have to have this drive that you only get from serious inspiration that your way is the right way and then go on your heroic journey.

Heroic Journey, you might ask? What is he on? Seriously it makes sense after listening through it. He says that almost all great entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson and Steve Jobs have followed this epic heroes journey that has more in common with Ullyses, Neo and Frodo than Harvard Business School.

I kind of agree with his ideas if not necessarily out of logic, but maybe more that it feels good thinking of your self as a hero.

Whether you agree with him or not is of course all up to you, but its definitely an entertaining hours worth of interview. You can also read more about Elliott at his site Artstic Entrepreneurship

The real world is a projection of your own fears

Published August 24th, 2007 edit replace rm!

David has a great little sarcastic post Who wants to live in the Real World?, which made me laugh.

David who is the ultimate “it’s my way or the highway” kind of guy has no doubt like me heard countless times about this mythical real world and that he should join it.

For us people who tend to do things a bit different (like emigrate, startup on our own, use new fangled technology etc.) this is something that can be extremely annoying, as what people really do when they talk about the real world is that you are wrong, but they can’t quite explain why.

I have always had a problem with authority (just ask my long suffering school teachers and principals over time). In particular just being told to accept something without an explanation is frustrating. However over the years to allow myself to actually function in the “real world” I have developed a coping strategy, which is based on what I think is a pretty accurate analysis of the people who use such terms. I find once I understand the motivations of people I can pretty much cope as opposed to being angry, regardless if I agree with them or not.

One of the keys to understanding this was realizing that we all do this to some extent. Basically when you start talking about the “real world” you are really projecting your own fears and insecurities about yourself onto the person you are arguing against.

For example some one arguing that in the real world you have to develop all production web applications in J2EE and deploy them onto multiple Windows servers running Websphere. Is pretty much insecure and fearful about his position in the industry, company and job market.

On the other hand someone arguing that you are stupid and not living in the real world if you aren’t doing all your web applications work in Ruby on Rails and deploying them on Linux servers, is pretty much also insecure and fearful about his position in the industry, blogosphere and job market.

I wont even get into talking about politics, where there are thousands of different real worlds, pretty much for the same reason as above.

The key to this is that we are all living in our own real world. Our own real world is filled not with objective facts, but our own subjective feelings about us, the world and our place in it.

A visionary is someone who projects your own vision and dreams for the future onto the world and others, however there is a thin line between doing that and projecting your fears onto others.

However if you realise that is how things work, it is pretty easy to take a deep breath and think to yourself, he’s just projecting his fears. In this case if you aren’t in agreement with his fears it is your job to project your visions and hope back.

However please don’t try and fight fear with fear, that is pointless for everyone. This is how endless flame wars, platform wars (Amiga rules!!!), corporate politics and other stupidity starts. These kinds of infinite loop style arguments only make all parties even more ingrained in their beliefs (read more fearful).

Thus if someone else’s fears awake your own fears and make you feel angry it’s probably better to shut up, if you can’t project your before mentioned visions and hopes back.

Oh, man I’ve gone all hippie and spirit like. Peace, love and Macintosh. But seriously if you disagree with me you just aren’t living in the real world!!!

About me

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My name is Pelle Braendgaard. Pronounce it like Pelé the footballer (no relation). CEO of Notabene where we are building FATF Crypto Travel Rule compliance software.

Most new articles by me are posted on our blog about Crypto markets, regulation and compliance

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