Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Dubai: The Middle East's New City on a Hill

Running out of beachfront? Build more. That's what Dubai's doing to keep up with demand for beach houses for European vacationers like David Beckham. Dubai, a member of the United Arab Emirates, realizes oil won't last forever, so it's diversifying into tourism, media, knowledge work, and finance. Dubai is an alternative to the corruption and fundamentalism that plagues Middle Eastern governments. According to July's Wired, Dubai is The Road to Tech Mecca:
Using its short-lived oil wealth, the emirate has built "free zones," areas earmarked for economic liberalization, technological innovation, and political transparency. Among these, three sprawling industrial parks stand out. The first, Internet City, is a bid to make Dubai the Arab world's IT hub. Next is the International Financial Center, a stock market headquarters meant to match Hong Kong's, London's, and New York's, and to trump the region's 13 other exchanges. And there is Media City, home to Al Arabiya, which aspires to replace Cairo as the Middle East's media capital while broadcasting the emirate's vision of openness across the area.

With its gilded hotels and oil wells, Dubai isn't so much a city as an idea - one that can spread and revive its neighbors, just as Dubai has revived a creed that has long driven Arab history: Not Islam. Commerce.

Rather than sending young Americans to die in the desert, we should be encouraging natural human ingenuity in the Middle East. Companies that have set up shop in Dubai, including Dell, HP, Microsoft, and Oracle, are engaging in a positive diplomacy of peace by transferring technology and resources to the region.

Employing force and humiliation in our Middle East policies inflames anti-Americanism and does not serve our long term interests in the region. We lose the battle of credibility with Bin Ladenism when moderate Muslims equate America's violent methods with our peaceful traditions of free enterprise and self-reliant local governance.

True liberation in the Middle East requires what Walid Phares and Robert Rabil call a "resistance myth," their term for epic stories that inspire national pride and solidarity, like the Boston Tea Party in America or the Amritsar Massacre in India. These events help a young country solidify around a common identity so that a civil society of trust may develop. New democracies require participation and voice, not statue toppling and looting. The danger in Iraq is that
In the absence of a shared identity of resistance, religious solidarity could easily become the basis for many anti-Western Iraqis to create a new identity based on fighting the coalition. This explains the appeal of Muqtada al-Sadr's movement to radical Iraqi Sunnis and shatters the view that Sunnis will not collaborate with insurgent Shiites, and vice versa. Herein lies the danger for the U.S., especially if hostility against coalition forces becomes synonymous with a rehabilitation of Iraqi pride.
I'd rather the Iraqis rehabilitate their pride by beating the pants off slow-moving Western corporations. They too could set up free zones and luscious beach resorts.

The Muslim world wants to compete and can, if we let them. In a previous post, I discussed two Muslim-oriented brands, Mecca Cola and Halal Chicken, that plan to compete with Coca-Cola and KFC on a global scale. Competition can be the force that invigorates a resistance myth. Forget Vegas and Paris, in Dubailand we've got championship golf courses and perfect waves.

Sure, chasing after BMWs and iPods might taint the purity of pre-modern Muslim culture, but is that really such a bad thing when compared to harsh Sharia-law penalties like cutting off the hands of thieves? Are the bare mid-riffs of sexy Arab pop stars worse than caging the self-expression of women under an anonymous burka?

Let's stop the horrors of dismembered civilians in the streets of Falluja and Baghdad. Taking Dubai as a model of openness, we can refocus our efforts on investing in transparency and markets all across the Middle East.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Cub Scout Popcorn

Scouts on Tour
Cub Scout Popcorn takes specialty popcorn sales to a new level with a simple online store featuring a cute blog post about the group's sales training skits. Barriers to building fund raising sites like this are disappearing. With some help from one web-savvy dad, payment processing by eBay currency PayPal, and blogging software like MovableType, these kids are learning the technologies that will drive their future careers. Kids can adapt to the economy of the future if we let them play with the right tools. And as an Eagle Scout that used to dread selling popcorn door to door, I can tell you spamming friends and relatives to a simple online store is a major step forward.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Logos are the New Tea Leaves

Undecided Voters Brand Association
Brand names have added diversity to our vocabularies for years -- think of new verbs like "google" as in "I googled that creep at the bar and it turns out he really does own a startup dog resort" -- but now advertising sages are using brand association data to help predict the election. Who needs tarot and astrology when you've got state-of-the-art psychographic data for political fortunetelling?
Among undecided voters: Kerry appears to have the advantage because undecided voters tend to associate him with certain brands based more on their positive than their negative attributes: Apple is "young" and "hip", Target offers "value for everyone", Starbuck's is "young" (but also "elite"), but on the negative side, BMW is "expensive"
The BMW association will turn out to be the most harmful for Kerry. The freeways of coastal Blue States are clogged with luxury German engineering, but the vast blanket of Middle America Red States find it hard to connect with the French-looking liberal Massachusetts senator schussing down the ski slopes of Sun Valley or windsurfing off the coast of Nantucket. While both candidates come from equally aristocratic backgrounds, Bush has the monopoly on down-home swagger and the plain talk that gives him such mass appeal.
Bush is associated with the positive attributes of established mainstay brands like Bud Light, IBM and Ford ("reliable", "humble", "heritage", "solid")....Samuel Adams is "trustworthy" and "patriotic"
Bush's association with a mantra used to avoid consumer options overload -- "Sam Adams, Always a Good Choice" -- may override the Kerry-Apple urge to "Think Different" in this election. Most consumers won't pore over a listing of two hundred imported beers, preferring the Sam Adams "good enough" option. Most voters won't seek the facts about the nonexistent connections between Saddam and Al Qaeda or our spiraling deficits. Voter laziness plus Kerry's dismal charisma factor equals most voters sticking with the status quo.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Indian Bookmobiles

Originally uploaded by error 402.
How do you get a copy of your favorite classic Gandhi treatise when you live in rural India, miles from the nearest Borders? Try a Digital Bookmobile or kitaabwala:
Helped by the crowd, 70-year-old Roopwati hobbles toward the van and demands Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi's My Experiments with Truth. The van doesn't keep a copy but there's an easy way to remedy that. A command is given on a laptop, the signals are relayed and received by a dish antenna with KU band.

Then, it's printed and bound all in a few minutes. For a little less than Rs 20 [$0.50], the village woman gets the book she wanted saving an arduous journey possibly to a library or bookshop in nearby Delhi. Welcome to the world of Digital Bookmobiles.
That's right, for the cost of a pack of gum, you can get access to any book in the public domain that they've scanned into their system. This new tech is unlocking whole new worlds for India's poor:
"Books are the key to knowledge but they are no use if we hold on to it. Therefore, the moral of the story is digitise and replicate,'' says Dr Om Vikas who heads the Digital Library of India Initiative.
I love his napsterized reasoning: "digitise and replicate." Remember information wants to be free, if we let it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Too Much Truck or Too Cheap Gas? The CXT

Originally uploaded by neuralchemist.
Despite dismal sales of GM's Hummer this year, International Truck and Engine Corp is releasing the world's biggest consumer truck, the CXT (Commercial eXtreme Truck). The 14,000 pound behemoth is "built on the same platform as dump trucks and snowplows" and boasts enough cargo capacity to "put the Hummer in back and take it with you." I guess Arnold will have something to tote his in when he moves to Washington.

Judging by the blistering, red-faced rants that are already percolating into the blogosphere this is most definitely "too much truck" for most. There'll be accusations of sexual inferiority complexes, maniacal egotism, and, of course, the selfishness of those who ignore the rising costs of our petroleum-addicted economy.

Personally, I don't care what ridiculous vehicle people choose to buy, as long as they pay the true cost of driving the monsters. And that goes for everyone. Gas should cost between $5.60 and $15.14/gallon to cover the costs of kids with asthma, time lost in traffic, corporate tax breaks, and questionable military adventures in the Middle East. Don't get mad at the soccer mom driving alone on the freeway in her new H2 (or, ugh, CXT). Get mad at the politicians that quietly pick our pockets through taxpayer sponsored corporate subsidies for the defense and petroleum industries.
Via my homepage, Planetizen.

Carnival of the Capitalists

This weeks Carnival of the Capitalists is up at d-42.com. Good stuff on how the little guys are gaining ground in the sports world, how Google might make micropayments work, and the effects of depreciation law on job growth.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Work Club: Offices for Free Agent Clusters

Originally uploaded by neuralchemist.

Today's entrepreneurs are devouring large corporations from the inside. Fed up with the inane, creativity-crushing policies of their pointy-headed managers, more and more workers are striking out on their own and opening up businesses on kitchen tables, in basements and in funky loft apartments.

But what about in-the-flesh human community? The water cooler laughs about William Hung's heart-melting and side-splitting rendition of "She Bangs" the night before on American Idol. Getting the perfect referral to ace Friday's pitch while waiting at the elevator. Workers that hunker down too long at home sacrifice the unexpected windfalls of daily human interaction in an office.

So the agent needs an office that's not an office, a "third place." The solution might look a lot like Gate 3 WorkClub in Emeryville, California:

[WorkClub is] a collection of all the services you ever imagined to make your life easier - professional administrative assistance, computer support, marketing, business services, training, coaching, and more. It's a beautiful environment to work in, custom designed with a diverse variety of spaces to fit almost every work-style and preference.

In other words, it's the office, outsourced. Toss out your manager for the encouragement of a coach. Jettison the geeks from the IT dungeon for your own computer services consultant. Choose only what you need from a menu of services, you're in charge after all.

The modular environment includes lounges for sipping morning lattes with co-entrepreneurs, seminar rooms for classes and conferences, and a rooftop zen garden for morning meditation or afternoon chillouts. The cube farm is replaced by "touch down spaces" zoned by a "gradient of noise levels" including Buzz, Hush, Inner Sanctum, and Privacy Booths. And of course, there's plenty of team work spaces for brainstorming the next venture.

One other brilliant feature is the Lab. It's a space for usability engineers, ethnographers, lawyers, broadcasters, and others to do their thing:

  • Software and hardware usability tests
  • Marketing focus groups
  • One-on-one interviews
  • Depositions
  • Jury testing
  • Talking head interviews
  • Qualitative research of all kinds
The work environments of the past are entering a new stage of evolution. Gate 3 offers a new hybrid of public and private -- a voluntary space -- a place you go by choice to do what you choose, where invention sparkles and conversation flows.

And remember (the first) Gate 3 is only one node on the network, more will follow. When boundaries dissolve you can answer emails in Starbucks and edit video in the park. The great Upholstery Wall of the Cubicle won't stop the world's net-nomads from pursuing opportunity wherever and whenever they find it.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Free the Political Prisoners of the War on Some Drugs

Originally uploaded by neuralchemist.
A new study out from the Department of Health and Human Services (full report) shows drug use is still at record levels despite stepped up enforcement measures like arresting state-sponsored medical marijuana pharmacists and depriving HIV/AIDS and cancer patients, epileptics, and chronic pain sufferers of the medicine that gives them relief.

The pharmacist was revered marijuana botanist and author, Ed Rosenthal, who was officially deputized by the City of Oakland, California to provide medical cannabis under California's Compassionate Use Act (Prop. 215). The busted operation was a nursery of small plants patients could take home for growing a personal medicine garden. For providing safe access to one of God's plants and a legal medicine, he was condemned to a Kafkaesque trial where none of the information about his official government duty was presented to the jury. Jurors were infuriated when they learned they had convicted a man who couldn't defend himself:
"It is the most horrible mistake I have ever made," said juror Marney Craig, a 58-year-old property manager who voted to convict. "I feel like we were sheep, we were manipulated."
Marney's reaction would be everyone's if they understood the facts about marijuana. It's harm potential pales in comparison to alcohol. Death from teen binge drinking, bourbon-fueled domestic abuse and drunk driving are a few of the costs of this legal drug. Cannabis is non-toxic and has never caused an overdose.

Another public morality play posing as a criminal prosecution is the current imprisonment of Marc Emery in Saskatchewan, Canada. Emery was jailed with a trafficking charge for passing a joint after a speech he gave. Emery is a devoted legalization activist and entrepreneur from Vancouver, British Columbia. He's also a selfless philanthropist that plows most of the profits from his magazine, online tv station, and seed catalog into the BC Marijuana Party (includes Marc's prison blog), legal defense funds for persecuted medical patients, and one of the world's most innovative heroine rehab centers. A fiery but hopeful interview with Marc in prison can be found here.

Stop wasting tax dollars on making 700,000 arrests a year (one every 45 seconds) that only succeed in ruining the lives of citizens who choose to smoke and those who take the risks to serve them. Our farmers would be happy to grow medical and recreational marijuana. It's already one of the nation's top cash crops. A nation that produces artery clogging Big Macs can surely let struggling farmers grow an herb for laughter and health. Bring it into the open. No more gang killings in the street for territoy, put it in the grocery store, locked up next to the liquor and cigarettes.

We have to choose peace over war, knowledge over propaganda. Ask for the strength to be a peacemaker, to refuse silence, to open your mouth. Peace means that the free minds of responsible adults make decisions about what to put inside their bodies. Peace means depriving criminal syndicates of monopoly profits that prohibition gives them (Remember Al Capone?) and letting farmers, health clinics, and small business make an honest living.

Let the appropriate social strictures that we have for other legal drugs (e.g. "Don't drink alone.") promote safety for marijuana use. Don't let minors buy pot, but don't lie to them either. We have enough sons and daughters dying in a faraway desert, no more dead for drugs on the streets:
War - I despise
'Cause it means destruction

Of innocent lives
War means tears
To thousands of mothers how
When their sons go off to fight
And lose their lives
It's time to stop trampling on human freedoms with ideologies of fear. It's time to legalize marijuana and end the War on Some Drugs.


This is a test post from flickr, a fancy photo sharing thing. I'm going experiment with it for posting images since I'm not a big fan of Google's Picasa-based BloggerBot service. We'll see how it works.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Tool: Sending Really Big Attachments with YouSendIt

Sending bulky print-ready digital photos or massive PowerPoint presentations via email is a headache. Corporate Outlook Exchange servers choke on big file sizes and Hotmail and Yahoo accounts always seem to bounce too. If only everyone had GMail. Until they do, try YouSendIt, a free webtool that emails a hyperlink to your file after you've uploaded it to their server. Super simple!