Category Archives: society

Uncomfortable Public Embarrassment

You don’t really know uncomfortable public embarrassment until Japanese business people have apologised to you. Seriously, it’s off-putting.

Let me tell you the tale…

I’m not sure how much detail to state, but I guess I do have to name the corporation and give at least a broad outline of the circumstances.

While I was working as a media contact for an African educational charity, I was approached by a reporter from NHK who wanted to interview a specific student on a timely topic. Normally this would be no problem, but the student in question needed to study for the British A-Level exams. Management at the charity had decided that to protect our students, we were enforcing a full media blackout until after the exam period (a number of students were local media celebrities).

As per our decision, which I fully endorsed, I denied the reporter the opportunity to interview the student. Somehow during our conversation the reporter learned when I’d be off-campus.

She showed up at our campus while I was away, convinced the guards I’d OK’d the interview (they’re not supposed to let anyone in unaccompanied, but she’s a small, polite Japanese woman who knew the right names to say…what harm could she do?) Having gotten past the guards, she convinced reception to contact the principal, and convinced the principal (again, dropping my name often) that I had approved this.

The principal pulled the student out of class for the interview. Now, there was nothing wrong with the interview content, per se. But we hadn’t approved it, and no adult was there to protect the student’s interests (also part of our protocols) had anything arisen.

When I arrived the next day, reception told me about the interview (she found it weird that I wasn’t present), and shit hit the fan in all directions. I got in trouble, the receptionist got in trouble, the principal got in trouble, and a guard got fired.

I was livid. I called reporter’s manager at NHK’s Johannesburg bureau and laid into him about what she’d done. He claimed no knowledge, apologized and hung up.

The next day, the guards call me, there’s three people from NHK at the gate wanting to see me. It was the reporter, her editor, and the manager. He’d brought the other two to force them to apologize to me and the receptionist (the principal chose not to participate, damn her.)

So we stood there while each of the NHK people, in frank from lowest to highest, took turns apologising and bowing to us, ending with the manager’s apology and about two minutes of all three bowing repeatedly in unison until the manager decided that they’d bowed enough.

Being the recipient of the bowing was awkward at first, but the longer it went on, the more it transitioned to embarrassing. Two minutes is a long time to stand silently while people bow to you. Perhaps we were supposed to ask them to stop? I don’t know. It’s not my culture.

Towards the end, it almost felt like the manager kept bowing to punish us as much as his staff.

When they finally departed, the manager gave us three gift bags (the guards didn’t factor into their apology), each containing a scarf and a mouse pad, each branded NHK. But honestly, the gifts themselves felt a little insulting in the sense of being low value trinkets. I didn’t know this was going to happen, but once it did, I’d have preferred no gift to a low-value “now-go-away” gift.

A year or so later I had another reporter from NHK call about interviewing our founder. That reporter started the call by apologising again for the previous reporter (so the incident must be in their CRM) and telling me that she’d gone back to Japan. And yes, we did do the second interview. It was a live TV panel about entrepreneurism in Africa and went quite well.

A Beginner’s Guide to Recognizing Colonialism

Ask any person in the world what day it is, and what year it is. They’ll probably give you a response like this: It’s Saturday, it’s 2021.

Image from Pixabay.

The answer is the same whether you’re standing in Washington, Johannesburg, or Beijing.

Makes sense, right?

But does it?

Why is it Saturday (or Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday as you read this). In fact, why is the week seven days long everywhere in the world?

Short answer: Colonialism

Long answer:

Many cultures have different calendars. I think most people know that the Mayan calendar counted up to the year we called 2012. There were movies, TV shows and other ill-conceived hysteria about the end of the world because of it. Likewise the Inca and Toltec had calendars.

But there are also current calendars running along side the one you use, and they don’t agree, not at all.

When is the weekend? You’d probably answer Saturday and Sunday. In Saudi Arabia, the weekend is Thursday and Friday. In Israel, it’s Friday and Saturday. However, both of those calendars hold to the seven-day week, as they and our calendar share strong roots and traditions.

What about the Chinese calendar? One form does (usually) also have twelve months, but the year is only 354 days long, and in their leap years, the calendar has an extra month. It’s possible to be born in a month that doesn’t exist most years. Another form of the calendar had only ten months. The fun part is that in this Chinese calendar a week has 12 days.

What year is it (asking in July, 2021)?

In the Korean calendar, it’s Juche 110. In the Chinese calendar, it’s 4719. In the Arabic calendar, it’s 1442. It’s 1435 in the Persian calendar, 2558 in the Buddhist calendar, and in the Hebrew Calendar, it’s 5781.

So wait a second, it’s 2021. Everyone says so.

Yes, they do. Why is that true?

Well, it started with European colonization of most of the world, known and unknown. After World War II and the last European empires were being divested of their empires, the largest global economy was the United States, which absolutely embodied European methods and standards (except metric). Even more recently with globalization in the information age, all of the software that makes it work is based on US standards.

Realistically, for the modern economy to work, there had to be some standard, and the most obvious, most widely-accepted one was the one of the colonizers.

So if you want to understand how colonization, or its more inflammatory term, white privilege, affects the modern world, you need look no further than your phone’s calendar app to see the beginnings of it.

How an edit button would kill Twitter, maybe

I hope twitter never adds an edit button. The ramifications of it would probably kill Twitter.

Here’s a scenario explaining why:

Image from Pixabay.

Let’s start with you, a relatively unknown John/Jane Doe, that’s you.

You used to volunteer on PoliBob’s election campaign for city councillor. You are mildly acquainted and follow each other on Twitter.

Years later, PoliBob is running for congress.

About 2 years ago, you wrote tweet: “BLM is Justice! Isn’t it obvious?” And PoliBob not only liked it, he replied “100% Agree” That was 2 years ago, you’ve both long forgotten about that interchange.

Because PoliBob is running for higher office, he’s got 2 factor authentication and aides regularly check that his account hasn’t been hacked.

You, not so much…

A hacker hacks into your account. The only tweet they edit is the 2-year-old one, changing it to “BLM is a scam! Isn’t it obvious?” Then they screenshot your tweet and PoliBob agreeing with it. A quick leak to the media, and PoliBob has lost his voting base.

There is no evidence that PoliBob was hacked and very little evidence that you were. Oops, I guess PoliBob is screwed.

It’s best then to simply not use Twitter if it has an edit button.

So, how could Twitter counteract this scenario?


A) every edited tweet would have to have the ability to show you the unedited version, which is a lot more server space/cost. And if that was limited to 2 or 3 previous edits only saved, then hackers would just edit repeatedly until the original is lost.


B) every time someone edits a tweet, every respondent would need the opportunity to delete their response. How cumbersome would those notifications get? Would you catch every malicious change among the myriad typos fixed? If you missed even one would the media forgive you?

OR …

C) There’s time limit on editing, perhaps five minutes, and in that time, no one can like, retweet, or reply to your tweet. If we must implement an edit button, this is the safest answer, but it also takes the immediacy away from Twitter. You see a Tweet and you can’t interact with it for five minutes? You’ll probably have left twitter in that time. Then again, a five-minute forced timeout might actually cool down Twitter conversations*

*Donald Trump exempted of course.

T M I, Please

Some people give too much information (TMI), some businesses want too much information. Personally, I want to control who has my information.

Image from Pixabay.

I’ve got three examples to talk about, all cases where businesses I’ve interacted with demanded far too much information from me for what they were giving.

I’ll start with the generic hair cutting place in Toronto. I don’t live in Canada anymore, but I occasionally visit. On this visit, I also needed to get a hair cut. So I went to one of the chains.

They cut my hair, no problem, but when I went to pay, it became a problem. I forget how much it was, but I had exact change, so it didn’t matter.

The cashier wouldn’t take my money. She wants my phone number first. She adamantly would not take my money until I supplied a phone number.

I don’t have it now, but at the time I took a picture of the board that stated services offered and prices. Nowhere on the sign or in the shop was there any notice saying that you had to give up personal information for a simple hair cut.

So I give her the old Hollywood standard, 555-1212.

“Is that a real number?”
“I don’t know.”
“Sir, I need your phone number.”
“No, you need the money, and it’s right here. I’m trying to give it to you.”
“Sir, I can’t complete the transaction until I enter your name, phone number, and date of birth into our computer.”
So I gave her the mayor’s name, 555-1212 and January first, 1901.
“None of that’s real, sir. I need real info.”
“I’ve given you info so you can complete your form. My only legal obligation here is to pay you the price you’ve posted. Here’s the money, thank you, I don’t need a receipt. I won’t be back.”

You may argue that I’m just giving a poor working stiff a hard time. But that’s a fallacy. Her employer put her into that situation, not me. Her employer wants you to give in because you feel for the poor, underpaid worker being forced to do this grunt work. But giving in doesn’t actually help her, it helps the employer.

This past week I bought a blender as a birthday present. The store offered me different options to pay, including paywave (maybe you call it “Tap & Go” Whatever, you touch your debit card to the reader and the transaction goes through). I chose that. We’re in a pandemic and the less people who touch things the better.

The salesperson tried to take my card from me to perform the paywave transaction. I didn’t let him. It’s a pandemic, we’re minimizing touch. I touched my card to the reader. The transaction went through, he printed 2 copies of the transaction and a separate receipt. So I’ve got the receipt and the blender.

The salesperson suddenly tells me he needs to see my card again.

“I need to swipe it in the store’s computer.”
“To close the transaction.”
“I have the receipt. Have you been paid?”
“Is there a problem with the payment?”
“Then why do you need my card?”
“I need the numbers from your card for our files.”
“Store policy.”
“To … assist with your warranty.”
“My warranty is between Philips and me, not your store.” (I didn’t take the ‘extended warranty’) Again I verbally made sure that they had my money, and I had the receipt. I thanked them and left.

I saw an ad on a news site that I read. The ad was for a funky furniture shop, and it had a ‘view catalogue’ link. I like the bookshelf they showed in the ad so I clicked the link – exactly what they want potential customers to do! What do I get? A form I’m supposed to fill out before they’ll honour me with a peak at the goods they’re trying to sell me.

Looking the form over, I noticed that there was only one actual mandatory field, email address. Now I’m not going to give them even that. I don’t know yet whether I’m actually interested in their products, never mind some kind of email newsletter or God knows what else.

If they want to validate the address before I can see the catalogue, I’ll just go away and hopefully they’ll see enough stats on people being turned away by the form that they’ll rethink their strategy.

So I made up an address, one I’d never used before, and hit enter.

A “Welcome back!” banner loaded, and full access to the catalogue. So I’m not alone! There are others out there who are also fed up with this crap! Woo-hoo, I have a tribe!

Are we tribe mates, you and me?

Of Peacocks and Practical Jokes

I’m not sure how vague I need to keep this one, but I’ll try to write it so that if you were there you’ll either know the story or be able to recognise the events. If you weren’t there, hopefully this will still be an amusing anecdote.

I had an employer who encouraged practical jokes. He wasn’t very good at them himself, but he saw them as a sign of a healthy work environment. Usually they were small things and not very memorable.

Then there was the time we created a news network, a revolution, and a plot to kidnap a person. All because of peacocks.

This was a school, and it had peacocks. They’re pretty birds, but they poop a lot and often in doorways or on sidewalks. The school decided to get rid of them (not knowing that the peacocks were killing the snakes – we’d learn that too late).

Many of us objected to the culling of the peacocks, and we decided to protest by making our own t-shirts, the Peacock Liberation Front. This is the photo I took and the graphic I made.

We decided that as a protest, we would kidnap the student-body president from the cafeteria at lunch time and “hold him hostage” until he had finished having lunch with us (we ordered pizza). We had flyers and we had a link to the Peacock News Network, a page put up on the school website (see image below).

Our demands were, of course, return the peacocks, for which we’d exchange the student.

We put this whole thing in motion, then…

The night before, our target, the student president, violated a major school rule and spent lunch in the Dean’s office as punishment. We couldn’t make a public “kidnapping” of him and we really couldn’t reward him with pizza when he was being punished.

So the “joke” collapsed.

Other than a few of us having t-shirts, I don’t think there’s any remnant of the story at the school.

I still have my t-shirt, in storage in Canada. I have the graphic here, and may reprint it for myself or even sell it on t-shirts again.

Can Cinemas Survive?

A forum that I participate in was asked the question, “This pandemic aside, are cinemas still relevant to our entertainment experience or has TV supplanted them completely?”

I … had some thoughts.

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

From a technological perspective:
TV has caught up to and even overtaken cinema – TV screens are huge, Dolby and other cinema-quality audio streams are available, and streaming bandwidth and/or blue-ray allows for the delivery of better picture quality.

From the social perspective
TV offers greater flexibility in timeshifting, pausing, rewinding to catch a missed piece of dialogue. or continuing at another time. Theatre’s main advantage is the “experience,” which other than seeing a picture in a crowd, is also being improved upon by consumers watching TV at home.

From a content perspective:
Theatre’s exclusivity window keeps shrinking. So movies can be enjoyed at home sooner. Certainly, the pandemic has accelerated this, as studios have product they want to monetize and theatres can’t fulfill that desire.

As for the quality difference between movies and TV shows, that’s been dwindling for some time. For me, HBO’s Rome was the first indication that TV could supplant movies as the home of epic storytelling.

I think many studios are coming around to the idea that serialized TV is a better format than movies. Look at how characters like Jack Ryan are migrating from movie releases to TV seasons. Marvel’s various forays into TV series have shown them that the format was viable for something cinematic like WandaVision.

From the studio’s economic perspective:
Movie theatres aren’t owned by studios, so they have been until recently a necessary middleman between the studios and their profits. If the studios can build streaming services, then they own the middleman’s share of profits as well.

From a consumer’s cost perspective:
Taking a family to the movie theatre twice a month could easily set you back $100. How many streaming services (with massive libraries) could you sign up to for the cost of taking your family to see those two movies? Yes, buying the components of a home theatre are not insignificant, but they’re coming down, and it’s a sunk cost – this commitment isn’t only used for home theatre, it plays many other entertainment, informative, and potentially educational roles.

So for consumers, I think the shift from movie theatres to home theatre experience is inevitable. And I think studios realize it and are planning accordingly. If any of you are old enough to remember theatres before the megaplex concept, then you know that theatres have been losing audience for a long time and have been trying to reinvent the traditional experience.

However, we need to acknowledge that there’s also a socio-economic consideration here. While the price of entry for enjoying cinema is coming down, it’s still:
A) a good TV;
B) Broadband internet; &
C) The ability to afford streaming services or purchase Blu Ray discs and own a player.

Not everyone has the funds to support that kind of infrastructure.

Will theatres disappear completely? Probably not, but I would expect they’ll end up more like the DVD-bongs that thrived in Korea in the early 2000’s – a small room that you rented to view a movie with a hand-chosen audience.

Mass capacity theatres may be preserved for special premiers in select cities, or they may just join vaudeville as castouts of modern society.