Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | Uncategorized
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National Public radio I'm an off-and-on supporter of National Public Radio, I admit it. I'm a fair-weather donor to NPR, depending on how much I'm tuning in. There have been periods when I commute with the car when I listen to NPR a lot, and then there are times when I ride the bus to work and I pass the time with my iPod set to shuffle. Lately, I've been driving to work more, thanks to a parking space in the building that's too inviting not to take advantage. So, I've been listening to "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" more again. During the run-up to the election, I was a complete news junkie, and also tuned in at the office, streaming my local NPR station, KCFR's news programming all day via the Web. So when the most recent pledge drive came around in October, I was easily enticed to give more support than I ever have. Instead of the minimum of $50 that I'd usually donate, I committed $120 on my credit card just so I could get the premium they offered for that level of support: A Radio Bookmark. The Radio Bookmark allows me to save stories on NPR to hear them again later. It lets me leave the car instead of sitting in the driveway or a parking lot (or, in some cases, on the shoulder of the road), riveted to my seat and listening until the end of a fascinating report.

I admit it, I'm stooping to lowest-common-denominator tactics. People love animal videos. And I shot one. Erin began feeding unsalted peanuts in the shell to a squirrel she saw out back, which turned into two squirrels, and then three and now possibly four or five different ones. We recognize "Fatso," "Runty" and "Rat-tail," but there are a couple of others,...

Betty James just passed away. Who's that, you say? She's the woman whose husband invented the Slinky, and the woman who headed the company that manufactured all the wacky variations of Slinky, from Slinky Dogs to Plastic Rainbow Slinkys, for decades. My friend Leland Rucker, with whom I co-authored "The Toy Book" in 1991, just posted his thoughts about the time we were lucky enough to meet her while researching the book. I vividly remember meeting Betty James. She was appreciative that a couple of aging boomers like us were interested in her company. She was a giant, but unknown to the zillions of kids who grew up with her toy. She gave us brass special edition Slinkys after meeting us. I still have mine on my desk…. The story of the Slinky, which I'll include below from "The Toy Book"'s first chapter, is pretty fascinating, because it was discovered by chance, and was a bellwether -- the first truly original toy for the nascent generation, because it was first sold in the fall of 1945 in the flush of the post-war holiday season. That's why it led off the book. But Betty James was a fascinating story herself. Richard James may have invented the Slinky but Betty made it a generational icon. Around 1960 Richard James left his wife and six children to join a religious cult in Bolivia. He died in 1974. Betty James took over as CEO of James Industries when he left, brought the company out of its debts (her husband had apparently "donated" a lot of profits to the religious group), and then started diversifying the Slinky product line and running the TV commercials that many Boomers can still sing along to. It's because of her efforts that to this day, if you say "Slinky" to almost anyone in in the US of almost any age, they'll hold out there hands, palms up, and wave them up and down to mimic playing with the spring.

I know some of my friends think of me as a gadget freak, but I only get crazed about a new toy every once in a while. iPods, for instance. Or digital cameras before that. Walkmans (Walkmen?) in the '80s. Here's my newest gadget recommendation: We recently bought two Flip video cameras and we're having a blast with them. I had checked out the Flip last year when they were first introduced -- Costco sold them for a few weeks and then stopped carrying them. Several months ago, our pal Bill Imada, founder of the IW Group media and advertising firm, held up a Flip after giving a presentation to the Colorado chapter of the National Association of Asian American Professionals, and told us we have to get one. At Denver's Cherry Blossom Festival in June, my brother Glenn Asakawa, a former photographer at The Denver Post now working for the University of Colorado, held up his Flip, and I was reminded that I wanted to get one.

Leave it to a former rockcrit -- and a McClatchy employee (the company just cut 10% of its workforce nationally) -- to come up with an eloquent essay on the decline of the newspaper industry and the ascension of the Internet. Online people, myself included, have been saying for years that the Web should be first in news priority, and that journalists shouldn't think that they work for newsPAPER companies, but instead NEWS companies. Maybe, coming from an august writer like Leonard Pitts, a world-class columnist at the Miami Herald, this idea will start to sink in with those of you who still have ink in your veins. He sounds like speeches and conversations I heard going on a decade ago, but better late than never, I say:
We still tend to regard our websites as ancillary to our primary mission of producing newspapers. But I submit that our primary mission is to report and comment upon the news and that it is the newspaper itself that has become ancillary. So maybe we should regard the Internet not as an extra thing we do, but as the core thing we do.

As a card-carrying baby boomer (I guess officially, with my AARP membership!), I was 10 when most of 1968 happened. It was a pivotal year, no doubt -- though in my consciousness, '69 left a deeper impact. AARP magazine does a fine job of using the Web as a story-telling device to revisit the year. This online special section kicks...

UPDATE April 13, 2009: I went to drop off some shoes with Claude the King of Shoes in advance of an out-of-town trip, and was disappointed to see he wasn't at his usual spot at Welton St. and the 16th Street Mall in Downtown Denver. As I turned to go back to my office, I saw him -- about 75 feet away from the intersection, looking lonely. He told me the Downtown Denver Partnership organization was forcing him to back away from the intersection at least 50 feet, or pay for a vendor's license of over $500 a month. I wondered if he makes that much more than that. Here's a story from the Denver Post. He's also being criticized for making remarks at people (and their shoes) as they walk on by. Today as I waited he commented to a man walking with a woman, "You must the key to heaven... because you have such an angel with you." He got a smile from both the man and woman. He called out to another woman, "I can't imagine the world without your beauty in it." She smiled too. Some people (maybe even me, if I didn't know Claude) might take these comments to be sexist and inappropriate. But in the context of his "act," they seem awful cute to me. It's how he gets peoples' attention to sell his top-quality shoeshines. He's been shining shoes downtown for 14 years, he said, and 11 of those years now, at one intersection: 16th and Welton. He's trying to raise money for a lawyer to help him fight the "eviction" on grounds that it's limiting his ability to make a living, and on freedom of speech ground (it's true -- like me, many people seem to not see him when he's away from the corner, and he can't keep up his nonstop upbeat patter at passersby). I wish him luck. I'm glad he was able to shine my shoes, and also handle the three pairs I dropped off. (The following post was written April 29, 2007; I made the video above about a year later.) OK, I'm feeling sheepish about admitting this. But I signed up this week for a lifetime membership ... to get my shoes shined by Claude, the King of Shoes. I've seen Claude for years. In fact, he's plied his trade on the corners of Denver's downtown 16th Street Mall for nine years. A few weeks ago, as I was hurrying back from lunch to my office a block off the 16th Street Mall, Claude looked up from a customer's wingtips and glanced my way. "Are those "Bjorns?" he asked. Yes, they were, and yes, they look ratty, but I was in a hurry to get back to the office, without acknowledging the question. A few days ago I was out to lunch again and saw Claude on the corner, shining up another customer's shoes, using his fingers to work in some liquid leather conditioner. He looked up again -- I wasn't wearing my Bjorns this time -- and so I asked him if he really recognized my shoes. He remembered me from the Bjorns, for one thing (OK, maybe my beret and Asian face had something to do with that part), but he explained with some patience, like I shouldn't have to ask, that he's seen every brand of shoe that god's put on Earth and he knows what to do to take care of every one of them.

Newspapers come and the news is gone the next day. TV reports are even briefer. Magazines tell their stories week by week, or month by month, and then they're forgotten. But content on the Internet has a more persistent life cycle. Now, content can live forever -- or at least, a lot longer than it used to. And, in our current information age, content of all types can prosper even if it lies in the eddies and swirls along the edges instead of the mainstream of pop culture. Chris Anderson, the editor in chief of Wired magazine, wrote an entire book (and blog) about this phenomenon, called The Long Tail. Here's his theory, in a nutshell:
The theory of the Long Tail is that our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of "hits" (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail. As the costs of production and distribution fall, especially online, there is now less need to lump products and consumers into one-size-fits-all containers. In an era without the constraints of physical shelf space and other bottlenecks of distribution, narrowly-target goods and services can be as economically attractive as mainstream fare.
This idea of the Long Tail perfectly describes my experience with an online tribute page I created for my friend Alan Dumas, who died suddenly of a heart attack in April 1999.