Awasu » 2009 » August
Monday 24th August 2009 10:52 AM [General]

A fascinating article on New Matilda today discussing how inefficient Japan's economy is.

And then there is the routine experience of what appears to be over-staffing. One person opens the shop door, another person assists in distributing trays, another takes your money and operates the cash register, and yet another deposits your items into a bag and wraps it.

There are old guys everywhere whose job it is to stand on the footpath next to a car park entrance and wave red flags around to "warn" pedestrians when a car is emerging.

But they also raise the key issue:

[W]hether something is inefficient or not depends on what you think its function is.

Many moons ago, I wrote a post about what I see as a key difference between how the Japanese think and operate to us in the West and this article explores more of these differences.

In Japan, relatively few politicians have been captured by neoliberal values - perhaps because there is very broad acceptance of the value of economic equality and social harmony. This co-exists with a resilient cultural heritage of hierarchical "groupiness". Schools, universities, neighbourhoods and workplaces are permeated with personal relationships of mutual obligation (usually of a rather unequal mentor-apprentice type). Within these various groups everyone has their place on the junior-senior scale, and a stake in the social order. Most Japanese are quite aware of this distinctive feature of their society, and whatever frustrations they may have with it, the US-style neoliberal society is not an attractive option to most.
Japan has chosen, consciously or unconsciously, to make a trade-off at the expense of maximising GDP growth, higher shareholder returns and career-choice for individuals in favour of social harmony. And, indeed, why not? To see the benefits, compare the carefree experience of walking through the centre of Tokyo late on a Saturday night with a similar walk through Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane or Perth, with their crime, aggression and social dysfunction.

I've long argued that we tend to value and aspire to that which we can measure and GDP and economic well-being is no exception. What would the world be like if we tracked a Gross National Happiness [1] index instead of widgets and industrial capacity?

Forty-one years, Robert F. Kennedy gave a speech that captured this sentiment:

We will find neither national purpose nor personal satisfaction in a mere continuation of economic progress, in an endless amassing of worldly goods. We cannot measure national spirit by the Dow Jones Average, nor national achievement by the Gross National Product. For the Gross National Product includes air pollution, and ambulances to clear our highways from carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and jails for the people who break them. The Gross National Product includes the destruction of the redwoods and the death of Lake Superior. It grows with the production of napalm and missles and nuclear warheads.... It includes... the broadcasting of television programs which glorify violence to sell goods to our children. "And if the Gross National Product includes all this, there is much that it does not comprehend. It does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our poetry, or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials... the Gross National Product measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile, and it can tell us everything about America -- except whether we are proud to be Americans.

Watching ourselves waste incomprehensible amounts of money trying to "fix" the current financial crisis, with the sole aim of returning us to some notional place of economic "prosperity" where we can get back to the business of flipping houses and selling each other bad debt, how can one do anything but weep? πŸ˜₯

[1]I just made this phrase up but it looks like the King of Bhutan beat me to it 😐

Tuesday 11th August 2009 11:54 AM [Awasu News]

Work hasn't begun on the next release since there's a lot of effort going on right now in another rather intriguing area of Awasu. But that doesn't mean we can't start planning what's going to be in this next release.

One of the really fun things about writing a program that is as widely used as Awasu is that it is, well, widely used. After you've worked for a while in the enterprise wastelands, writing crappy software that hardly anyone ever uses and certainly no-one cares about, it kinda wears you down. So it's fun to see people using and enjoying your work, especially when they use it in ways that you never even anticipated, let alone designed for. Also really cool is to be able to take peoples' ideas for new features, bounce them around and then fulfill them.

One of the biggest features for 2.4.2 will be an extension of Awasu's HTTP interface, which is a mechanism for controlling Awasu. It already offers a number of functions such as opening a channel or adding an item to a workpad but kevotheclone has me mouth-agape at some of the things he's planning to do "if only Awasu had such-and-such a feature in the HTTP API." So, if you're a developer doing some work with Awasu and you'd like to participate in a discussion mapping out new functionality in Awasu's extension API, drop us a line and we'll talk...

UPDATE: I was going to set up a new forum for developer talk (private, hence this shout out) but I figured we could just as well do it out in the existing public fora. If you have a request for a change in the HTTP API, just start a new thread in the Extensions forum, and we can discuss it there.

Thursday 6th August 2009 8:47 AM [General]

Many moons ago, I wrote about how I saw the future of machine-to-machine communication panning out. Part of that was some musing on blogjects (a name that, thankfully, never took off), or objects that blog:

The most peculiar characteristic of Blogjects is that they participate in the exchange of ideas. Blogjects don’t just publish, they circulate conversations. … A Blogject can start a conversation with something as simple as an aggregation of levels of pollutants in groundwater. If this conversation is maintained and made consequential through hourly RSS feeds and visualizations of that same routine data, this Blogject is going to get some trackback.

Now, it seems that some people are taking this idea and running with it, but this really isn't quite what I had in mind 😐

Just about any device can be enabled to send and receive tweets by using simple hardware platforms called microcontrollers ... The result? You can follow a toaster that tweets every time it browns a slice of bread

I'm not exactly a big fan of Twitter and that screenshot just about sums it up for me πŸ™„

The article itself is kinda cool - I've always had an interest in electronics, despite being a prototypical software guy and completely unable to grok hardware - but honestly, is this what we've come to? The road to the Semantic Web is lined with toasters and toilets that tweet? :hysterical: A flatulence detector that "tweets every time you toot"? :blink:

Sigh... :wall:

Saturday 1st August 2009 12:23 AM [Awasu News]

The 2.4.1 beta release [?] is now available here.

This release contains a lot of new features in several different areas, most of them in response to what people have been asking for. You spoke and we listened πŸ™„

The biggest area of improvement is with user tools. Amongst other things, they can now send HTTP POST requests, support HTTP authentication, can be programmed to check the response and tell the user what happened. In plain English, you can do a whole lot more with them, in particular, post to Twitter. So, if you use Twitter at all, download the new user tool and give it a whirl.

Other new features include:

  • Reports can now be run at specific times of the day, week or month.
  • New feed items can now be added to workpads as they arrive.
  • Awasu now automatically sends through authentication details when you try to access content from password-protected feeds.

And, of course, the usual slew of minor improvements and bug fixes.

As a preview of what's coming up in the next release, I'll be working closely with the Awasu Monster to embiggen Awasu's (already broad) extensibility framework (you should see his list of feature requests :bigshock: ) and there'll be an announcement soon about another interesting development in the Wonderful World Of Awasu 😎