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Archive for the category “business”

The Yangtze restaurant, viewed from the context of Tom Peterson’s flat head

Before I came to California’s Inland Empire, I attended college in Portland, Oregon. Now many people think of Portland and think of rain, or roses, or a semi-trendy downtown.

Most people DON’T think of Southeast 82nd Street.

During the time that I was in Portland, Southeast 82nd Street was known for many things. One of those things was its Saturday night lifestyle. Young people with cars would go to 82nd Street and park with their lights on…staring at each other, I guess. Another thing was Tom Peterson, who at the time had two stores, right next to each other at Southeast 82nd Street and Foster, advertised with a cartoon image of Peterson’s military-cropped head – with arrows pointing at the head.

Another thing was Southeast 82nd Street’s Chinese-American restaurants. 82nd Street was not exactly a dining Mecca, but you could certainly dine there. And your culinary choices included Chinese-American restaurants.

What do my early 1980s experiences in Portland, Oregon have to do with the closure of a restaurant in Ontario, California in 2015?

Everything.

My Chinese-American restaurants in Portland, as well as the Yangtze Restaurant in Ontario, were part of a larger movement known as American Chinese cuisine. As Adam Lapetina notes, this is American Chinese, not Chinese.

[M]ost of what we eat today from paper takeout boxes would confuse the living hell out of a person in Beijing, and not just because they can’t see it clearly through the smog.

America’s got a type of Chinese food all its own, and it’s super different from what they’ve got across the pond.

Lapetina then proceeds to list ten facts about American Chinese food. Here are a couple of them:

It wasn’t until after World War II that it started to become more mainstream. Chinese chefs would often have two menus: one for Chinese people and one for Americans… but as its popularity grew, the American-tailored menu came to dominate….

The reason the Americanized menu was so popular? It used super-sweet, syrupy sauces as opposed to traditional ones, mostly due to the cheap, widespread availability of canned fruits like pineapple and cherries….

Which brings us to Ontario and its downtown Yangtze restaurant, opened in 1961 and scheduled to close on March 31, 2015. In his article about the closure of the restaurant, David Allen notes that the restaurant is from another era:

Yangtze remained proudly frozen in time, its avocado-green vinyl booths and menu items like chop suey and egg foo yong reflecting an earlier era.

Latecomers like myself didn’t get it.

I can speak to this from personal experience. I had never been to Yangtze Restaurant until a few months ago. I went there recently with some people who have lived in Ontario since the 1960s, and who last visited the Yangtze a long, long time ago. None of us was enthused with the experience; our tastes had changed because of exposure to more modern forms of Chinese food.

Actually, more modern forms of AMERICAN Chinese food. While we may say that Yangtze and other Chinese-American restaurants consciously pandered to American tastes, the truth is that all restaurants pander to local tastes to some extent. While looking for previous posts of mine about Portland’s Tom Peterson, I ran across a 2008 post in my mrontemp blog that also discussed the Chinese-American restaurants on Southeast 82nd Street. And that 2008 post includes a quote from a David Allen blog post:

So there’s a lot to be said in China Gate’s favor.

But in looking over the 100-plus-item menu, it must be said that there’s a 1980s feel to it, and maybe even older. Have you noticed they still serve not only egg foo yung, but chop suey? How very Yangtze of them. And China Gate may be the valley’s most authentic Chinese restaurant.

And even your most authentic Chinese restaurant makes some slight changes in its menu to accommodate the foreigners who patronize it.

So will the post-World War II Chinese-American cuisine eventually die away? Or will it become historically significant, with preservationists insisting on maintaining the lost art of ordering by number?

Daylight Saving Times (in the plural)

Well, another week, and another blip in the stats for a post that I wrote three years ago, Benjamin Franklin’s Daylight Saving Time joke is taken seriously.

If you have CDO – which is OCD in alphabetical order – then you are probably driven up the wall when you hear someone refer to “daylight savings time.” The proper term is “daylight saving time,” in which the word “saving” is singular, not plural.

However, the word “time” should probably not be singular.

Why not? Because there is not one universal time (or even earthly time) when Daylight Saving Time begins.

Case in point – the reason that I received a jump in the stats for my March 2012 post is because Daylight Saving Time started in the United States and certain other countries over the weekend. However, those who actually read the post read something that Franklin happened to publish in the Journal of Paris – and in Paris, Daylight Saving Time doesn’t start until the end of March.

This causes all sorts of confusion in my brain. I work for the California subsidiary of a Paris-based company, and it takes every ounce of my brain to remember that there is a nine-hour time difference between my office and the office in Paris. Except for this month, of course, when the difference is different. I had to count on my fingers (and luckily, not take off my shoes) to figure out whether there is an eight-hour time difference this month, or a ten-hour difference. (It’s eight.)

I’m just thankful that I don’t work for the California subsidiary of an Australian company, because that would confuse me to no end. You see, in Australia, Daylight Saving Time didn’t start last weekend, and it won’t start a few weekends from now. Instead, Daylight Saving Time will END in April, as the Southern Hemisphere ends summer and starts heading toward winter.

I have enough trouble keeping the time straight in Australia, trying to figure out if it’s tomorrow or yesterday over there. (From my perspective, it’s tomorrow over there. I guess that means that my Australian friends are better futurists than I am.)

So now that we’re starting Daylight Saving Time and they’re ending it, will it be the day after tomorrow, or the day before yesterday?

Why I won’t watch New Years on TV tonight

I am writing this on December 31, 2014 at about 8:00 pm Pacific time. In 3 1/2 hours, Disney’s ABC television network will present a special New Year’s Eve show. This show, which has been running for decades and is currently hosted by Ryan Seacrest, brings the viewer all of the excitement of the New Year. This not only includes musical performances that ring in the New Year, but also the drama of watching the dropping of the ball in Times Square to mark the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015.

It’s a stunning television moment.

But I won’t bother to watch it.

Why should I?

You see, I live in California. By the time that ABC shows the dropping of the ball in Times Square at 11:59 Pacific time, the network will be televising an event that occurred three hours previously. Back at 8:59 Pacific time, when the ball will actually drop, ABC will be showing something else out here in California.

This is just an example of how the West Coast hardly ever sees anything on live television. With the exception of sporting events – well, most sporting events – “live” presentations out here are on a three-hour tape delay. And New Years’ Eve is no different.

So why turn on the TV at midnight to see a “live” event that isn’t live? If I’m going to watch history, I might as well watch the History Channel.

Happy New Year.

P.S. Years ago, Los Angeles radio hosts Kevin and Bean hosted a television show that broadcast a West Coast New Year’s celebration. Sadly, it didn’t catch on.

Sterling Crispin asks what facial recognition is recognizing

(DISCLOSURE: I am employed in the biometrics industry.)

Planet Biometrics brought Sterling Crispin to my attention. Crispin is an artist who explores the relationship between technology and humanity.

Technology is an extension of humanity and an embodiment of the human spirit, rather than an external force that one must mitigate. Yet this distributed life-form pulsing on the surface of the earth has its own agency and agenda. My artistic practice explores the relationships between this exponentially growing techno-organism as it relates to spirituality, human consciousness and impermanence.

One of his projects includes his look at my industry. If you are not familiar with the way in which biometric matching systems (such as automated fingerprint identification systems and facial recognition systems) work, it’s important to note that such systems do not compare fingerprints and faces per se. They take images of fingerprints and faces and then process them, reducing them to mathematical representations that can be processed by computers and “matched.” (See this post for an example of how fingerprints are represented in a system.)

The end result is what interests Crispin.

Theoretically, I am concerned with the aggressive overdevelopment of surveillance technology and how this is changing human identity and how humanity interacts with technology. By technology I mean individual instances of technological devices and networked systems like cameras and software, but also what I identify as the ’Technological Other’, a global living super-organism of all machines and software. Technically, my specific focus has been in reverse engineering facial recognition, facial detection, and image correlation techniques in order to reveal how they represent human identity.

The result, according to Crispin, is something that a facial recognition algorithm will recognize as a face, but that does not qualify as a “face” by our common understanding.

Sterling Crispin data mask

While I do not agree with Crispin’s belief that our dependence upon these technologies is somehow converting them into “animistic deities brought out of the algorithmic-spirit-world of the machine and into our material world,” I will grant that the data masks remind us that our biometric records, Twitter avatars, and even voice or video recordings are not us.

However, Crispin’s project doesn’t really touch on a basic conflict in our thinking about surveillance.

In a reactive manner, Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri has resulted in many calls for police to always wear video recording equipment, so that all encounters between police and civilians are recorded. (I’ve touched on this before.) Many are elated at the fact that the actions of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were captured by a number of cameras in Boston, Massachusetts.

At the same time, some of the same people who are demanding that the police record things are also demanding that the police NOT record things. Crispin is disturbed by the fact that the FBI’s Next Generation Identification system can possibly be used on civilians. Many are disturbed by all of those video cameras out there – stationary ones installed by governments and private businesses, and mobile ones on Google Glass and on our own telephones.

You can’t simultaneously demand that things be recorded, and that things not be recorded.

Tangential postscript – earlier in this post, I referred to something that I wrote back in September. Although it was supposedly a fiction story, there was a brief mention of a character named “Officer Jim.”

She still retained the video in which one citizen boldly shouted, “You can’t touch me! I know Officer Jim,” only to receive the reply, “I am Officer Jim. And I’m taking you to the station to get booked.”

There really was an “Officer Jim.” For many years, James Conley worked for the Anaheim Police Department. Among his many responsibilities, Conley was responsible for managing the city’s automated fingerprint identification system – initially a Printrak system provided by my employer Motorola, and subsequently a system provided by my company’s competitor 3M Cogent. After I wrote my post with its “Officer Jim,” the real James Conley passed away suddenly. He will be missed.

But women can’t write manly things

I was reading about the transition from Middle English to Modern English, and ran across this statement in a paragraph about William Caxton:

For the first time, nonprofessional scribes, including women, were writing at length.

We certainly can’t have any of that, can we?

Back in the mid-1980s, I had the pleasure of meeting Dorothy Fontana, who was a relative of some people at my church. However, most of you don’t know her as Dorothy Fontana. She is more famous by the name that she used for most of her written work, D.C. Fontana. In the 1960s, when Fontana wrote for “The Tall Man” and other TV series, including one called “Star Trek,” there weren’t a lot of women writing for those shows. Actually, there were; you just didn’t know it:

[F]ew women were writing under their own names. Pat Fielder wrote under her name, but Pat is kind of a nebulous name. Margaret Arman. She was a great friend. Leigh Bracket in films and there were others who were active then. Joyce Perry came along. Today, the women on the CSI’s are very strong writers. So it’s changed a little bit, but a lot hasn’t changed. On the action adventure shows, you still see more male names than female names. But, it’s a little better.

So these days, we have extremely famous writers such as J.K. Rowling. (Joanne.)

And we have all the GamerGate ugliness.

It’s a little better, but not by much.

The first telephhone book wasn’t a book…and didn’t have any telephone numbers

I was reading the Wikipedia entry on the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol when I was struck by this sentence:

Telecommunication companies’ understanding of directory requirements were well developed after some 70 years of producing and managing telephone directories.

I then asked myself the question – when was the first telephone book created? According to this page, it appeared on February 21, 1878. It listed all of the subscribers of the New Haven (Connecticut) District Telephone Company.

But when you look at the directory, you’ll notice two things.

First, you’ll notice that it consists of a single page. Since telephones were in their infancy, there weren’t a whole bunch of people with telephones at the time. Only eleven residences, for example, had telephones.

Second, you’ll notice that there are no telephone numbers. That’s because telephone numbers hadn’t been invented yet. If Rev. John E. Todd wanted to call the American Tea Co., Rev. Todd would simply pick up the phone and ask to be connected to the tea people. The idea of telephone numbers wouldn’t be invented until 1892.

And, of course, the telephone was tied to a wall by a cord…something that would persist for over a century.

It will be harder to key your car

[DISCLOSURE: I work for a subsidiary of Morpho, one of the companies mentioned in this post.]

Back in the late twentieth century, if you wanted to unlock and start your car, you would use a metal object called a “key.” I still use such a device today.

Alternatives to keys have emerged, and Morpho and Valeo are working on one of those alternatives:

Morpho has teamed up with its technology partner Valeo, a major automotive equipment supplier, to introduce Valeo InBlue™ Virtual Key System, an innovative virtualization and remote car key management solution.

The Valeo InBlue™ Virtual Key System turns users’ mobile phones into a connected key with which they can lock, unlock and start their cars….

And since a smartphone has a lot more computing and communication capability than your average hunk of metal, there are other things that you can do.

And when you couple the capability of a smartphone to start a car with the capability of a car to be driverless, you could do some pretty fantastic – or pretty terrifying – stuff.

Incidentally, there’s an interesting discussion on Quora about driverless cars vs. augmented cars.

I see what you’re doing with that picture

I probably first heard about Section 508 in 2008. If you haven’t heard of Section 508:

Section 508 requires that Federal agencies’ electronic and information technology is accessible to people with disabilities. IT Accessibility & Workforce Division, in the U.S. General Services Administration’s Office of Governmentwide Policy, has been charged with the task of educating Federal employees and building the infrastructure necessary to support Section 508 implementation.

At the time I was a product manager for an automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS) software package, and we could certainly make sure that our software allowed adjustment of colors for color-blind people, and included other features to meet the needs of the disabled.

However, I drew the line at one feature.

An AFIS provides the ability to display two grayscale fingerprint or palmprint images on the computer screen, so that a certified print examiner can visually compare the two prints to see if they came from the same finger or palm segment.

Fingerprint verification
Fingerprint verification screen. Source: Neurotechnology

While it is certainly true that deaf people can perform this activity, I did not see any way that blind people could compare two grayscale images. If you cannot see a picture, it’s possible to read a tooltip that describes the picture (“This is a picture of a watermelon”); however, I couldn’t conceive of any way that one could write a textual description of an individual fingerprint.

In retrospect, my thinking was limited.

Take Kim Charlson of Watertown, Massachusetts, who created a picture of the Eiffel Tower. The bottom of this page includes a document that tells you how to make your own Eiffel Tower picture. The instructions begin as follows:

Line 1: Space 6 times, write The Eiffel Tower
Line 2: Space 9 times, write Paris, France
Line 3: Space 15 times, write 1 s, write 1 wh sign.
Line 4: Space 14 times, write 4 g’s.
Line 5: Space 15 times, write 1 and sign, write 1 y.
Line 6: Space 15 times, write 1 and sign, write 1 y.
Line 7: Space 15 times, write 1 and sign, write 1 y.

As it turns out, I am very familiar with this method of picture creation, since we did it often in Miss Jack’s typing class in school. Of course, back in those days, we created the pictures on a typewriter. (If you don’t know what a typewriter is, see this post.)

But Kim Charlson didn’t create the Eiffel Tower picture for your run-of-the-mill typewriter.

Charlson created this picture for a Braille printer.

Yes, Braille. You see, this picture can be printed on a Braille printer, allowing blind people to feel it and therefore “see” it.

Of course, this 25-line “picture” of the Eiffel Tower is an extremely rudimentary picture, and nothing like the 1,000+ line pictures of fingerprint and palmprint images that an AFIS would show. It isn’t like you can take a picture with a camera and then print it.

Or can you?

[T]he Touch Sight camera makes it possible for the visually impaired to take pictures. The photographer holds the camera up to his or her forehead, and a Braille-like screen on the back makes a raised image of whatever the lens sees….

Designed by Chueh Lee from Samsung China, the camera aims to provide a means of recording the mental photograph that the visually-impaired create of their surroundings using senses other than sight….

Not only is this camera made for people who are blind to take photos, it’s also possible to link this to the vectorization and 3D printers raised images so that the blind can touch and feel and “see” it. This takes this camera a step further.

Now I have no idea if this camera ever made it to market, because the description above is of a prototype camera that was displayed…in 2008.

Yup, the same year that I believed that you couldn’t have blind fingerprint examiners make print image comparisons.

Of course, there’s the whole question of market demand – to my knowledge, the International Association for Identification has never certified a blind fingerprint examiner, so there’s no business call for the AFIS vendors to satisfy their needs – but the ability for blind people to perform print image comparisons is theoretically possible.

When mandatory police cams become public entertainment

“Excuse me,” Steve said to the waitress. “I specifically asked that you substitute bacon for the ground beef in my triple bacon burger.”

Steve and Kim were enjoying – well, Kim was enjoying – a brief lunch break from work.

As the waitress corrected Steve’s order, he turned to Kim. “So, what are you doing tonight after work?”

“I’m going to watch the police webcams,” she replied.

“What, the ones in New York City?” asked Steve.

“No, our local police department has them now. If you go to the Cams page at their website, you can see streaming video from every police officer who is on duty.”

It was true. While police webcams became more popular way back in 2014 after the Ferguson incident and the Ray Rice case, some people still felt that the police were hiding something. As the years went on, more and more police departments adopted transparency rules, and by the time that Kim and Steve were enjoying their bacon-infused lunch, several police departments were not only equipping every police officer and police car with a webcam, but were also providing real-time public access to these feeds. The goal in providing these feeds was to not only provide complete transparency into police operations, but also to educate the public on the dangers that police officers faced every day as they patrolled their communities.

As with any technological advance, however, the lofty goals of the originators were soon replaced by other goals. The streams themselves became revenue sources for the police agencies, as anyone who accessed the feeds had to sit through commercials for bail bond companies, defense attorneys, and Progressive Insurance. And the audience, rather than consisting of civil libertarians monitoring police activity, ended up as a bunch of teens watching voyeuristically.

Even Kim, who worked for a public safety software provider, found herself addicted to the feeds. She especially liked them when officers Jim and Pat (no last names used) were on patrol on Saturday nights. While most of the shift work was frankly boring, there was always the chance that Jim and Pat would run into some drug-crazed citizen who was trying to get to Disneyland via Frisbee. She still retained the video in which one citizen boldly shouted, “You can’t touch me! I know Officer Jim,” only to receive the reply, “I am Officer Jim. And I’m taking you to the station to get booked.”

As she was telling all of this to Steve, Kim noticed two officers walking into the restaurant – and then immediately noticed a young teenage boy running toward the officers, his face pointing directly at the camera on one of the officers’ chests.

“18th Street rules!” the teen shouted at the camera. Then looking at the officers’ faces, he shouted, “And what are you going to do – shoot me? You’re being watched! 18th Street!”

As the teen raced out of the restaurant, Kim heard one of the officers say something.

“Too bad for him that we were off duty and our cameras were turned off.”

Sales pitch in aisle 7, but only if you’re in aisle 19

Back when supermarkets first came into existence, marketing to shoppers was so easy. You’d take out an ad in the local paper, or perhaps send some coupons in the mail, and let the shoppers run wild (with their shopping carts) throughout the store.

Then it got a little more complex, as stores began using new pitching methods, such as electronic mail, and new tactics, such as having a person on aisle 7 with samples of Name Brand Tasty Expensive Crackers.

But we haven’t seen anything yet, as supermarkets look for more and more ways to increase their pencil-thin profit margins.

Forbes’ Tom Van Riper reported on some research conducted by the University of Pittsburgh’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business. Faculty member J. Jeffrey Inman and others wanted to look at supermarket buying habits. The first part of their research was fairly intuitive, when you think about it.

[O]n average, shoppers cover half the territory in a grocery store, about 1,400 feet. Every additional 55 feet traveled triggers an additional dollar in unplanned spending, which occurs because shoppers end up seeing more items they want to buy.

Considering all of the effort that supermarkets devote to product placement, it isn’t surprising that we shoppers end up buying a lot of things that we didn’t intend to buy. So for supermarkets, the secret is to keep us wandering around in the store, like rats in a maze, so that we see more and more stuff that we want to buy.

But how can we be encouraged to wander around the store? Inman and his colleagues conducted some additional research with smartphone-using shoppers, as Forbes’ Van Riper explains.

Inman took one sample of people and divided them into two groups: 1) those getting a coupon [via smartphone] for a product located close to the path they would normally travel, 2) those getting a coupon for a product further off that path, forcing them to cover more ground in the store.

Result: those forced off the beaten path spent $21 more than they had planned to, while those sticking closer to their routine spent $13 more than planned, a 61% difference.

Provided that the shopper opts-in to smartphone use and purchase and location tracking, this provides powerful potential revenue for stores.

And it’s certainly a better incentive plan than having attack dogs chase shoppers through the store.

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