Business Lesson learned from United Airlines


1. Take a free perk
2. Start charging for it
3. Repeat step 2 for years
4. Develop a new, high-profit margin business
5. Attach perk from step 1 to new business in step 4
6. Advertise originally-free perk as a new, added benefit to the new business and pray that potential customers are forgetful and intrigued, instead of furious and insulted.

Thoughtful Customer Service

Today, 8 hours before attending a show I purchased through Goldstar, they sent a transportation alert warning me of potential commuting problems:

Regarding your tickets to “American Idiot” on Thu, June 14, 2012 at 8:00pm, we have just been informed that the West Oakland BART Station experienced a fire adjacent to the tracks earlier today that shut down the station. BART hopes to be single tracking through the Transbay tunnel by 5pm this afternoon. Please check for updated schedule information or consider using alternate transportation to get to the theatre this evening.

We hope you enjoy the show!

Goldstar Customer Service

That’s some thoughtful customer service. On the surface, it’s just an alert, but it really served three purposes:

  1. It reminded me that there was a show tonight.
  2. It suggested finding an alternative means of commuting in the case that I was affected by the fire.
  3. It made me serendipitously aware of their customer service. (so much so that I decided to blog for the first time in 5 months about it!)

Battling your Heroes

Battling a stranger is one thing. Battling someone you look up to is an entirely different matter:

Peace Japan


It’s been an amazing two years but it’s finally time for me to say goodbye. I’m taking off tomorrow and the notion of leaving you has been as been as surreal as coming.

From stepping off the plane to learning how to navigate your transit lines; from teaching English to your engineers to teaching breakdancing to your children; from visiting your sites to showing visitors around your cities; from surviving inaka to surviving the earthquake.

You’ve taught me more about the world and also about myself. I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done. April 6th 2009 through March 25th, 2011 marks a life-changing journey that I’ll never forget.

It’s been real.

平和 (peace)

ALT Stakeholders

In the world of project management, one of the initial processes is called “Identify Stakeholders” which essentially means to “identify all of the people who are somehow related to the project.“.

When I accepted the job as an English teacher in Japan, I thought of our contracts as projects with two stakeholders: ALT’s/(Foreign) English teachers and students. Over the course of my 2 years, I learned that not only are there more, but that we also have different priorities, stakes and interests:

  • ALT’s/Foreign English Teachers – We come for a variety reasons but to summarize, we’re mostly here to teach the youth and explore another culture.
  • Students – While they don’t directly have a say in things, students are the cornerstone of the these contracts. Possibly unbeknownst to them, their stake is in improving their English communication and learning about diversity.
  • Japanese English Teachers – JTE’s interest is to effectively utilize foreign English teachers to ensure that students can pass the English portion of tests that transition them into the next chapter of their lives. For high school, this might mean the English portion of a student’s university, technical school or workforce entrance exam. In junior high school, it means passing the English portion of their high school entrance exams. For elementary school, though there’s no test, it means setting the baseline that that junior high school education starts from.
  • School Staff (Japanese teachers of other subjects, administrative staff, maintenance staff) – For them, it’s less academic, and more along the lines of being cultural ambassadors and professionals. Their interest is in making sure that we foreigners get a good impression of Japanese people.
  • School Heads (Vice Principals, Principals) – Making sure that the school runs smoothly even with the addition of a foreigner who may or may not know anything about Japanese culture and work environments.
  • Board of Education (B.O.E.) – Making sure that all schools under their jurisdiction run smoothly, while providing enough Foreign English Teachers to adequately serve each school throughout the year.
  • English Teacher-providing Organizations/Companies – Though they serve the public through their hiring, training and staffing of ALT’s/Foreign English Teachers, these organizations–with the exception of the government-sponsored JET program–are businesses, and with that in mind, their number one concern is money (as it should be).
  • Parents – While not always as visible as the others, parents want to make sure that their children are getting a quality and well-rounded education from the schools, the teachers and even us ALT’s/Foreign English Teachers.

Just like in project management, ALT contracts also come with their own stakeholder balancing act. Though there’s overlap, it’d be impossible for such a diverse set of interests to not also occasionally bump and collide. It was easy to get wrapped up in my own priorities or focus on just one or 2 other stakeholders. But with so many connected parts, and because I came into contact with all of them on a regular basis, it was important to rememeber that each one had their own vested interest in it all.

An ActiveRecord Haiku on Relationships…


An ActiveRecord haiku on relationships:

I belongs_to you

But you has_many others



Generated Passwords

Usually, when you sign up on a website and have a generated password emailed to you, it’s a very hard-to-guess sequence of random strings strung together. It’s gibberish, but it’s relatively secure.

I signed up with GOOD the other day and learned that you can add personality to every aspect of your site, even the generated passwords.

Upon receiving the initial email, I had to do a double take on:

“Your password: CuddlyFrog839″

Heh. Really? Cuddly Frog?

So I signed up again, this time getting:

“Your password: HugeGiraffe830″

Heh. Huge Giraffe.

Afterward, I continued to the site with a smile on my face.

While not as secure as randomly generated gibberish, the passwords still weren’t easy to guess. But in return for that trade-off, they got a new user browsing their site in good cheer and associating that feeling with them. I’m sure they can live with that.

Do bad photos matter anymore?

Back in the day, before digital cameras and constant high-speed internet connections, we had reason to worry about photos. In those days, just over 10 years ago, an awkward picture might be the only representation people saw of us in coffee table photo albums. But now, with so many tagged photos on Facebook, what’s the real impact of a single bad one?  

My siblings, a friend, and I discussed this over Christmas and recently, a photographer friend posted his own take on it. As someone who carries an SLR with him to social gatherings, he’s often had to duck and take cover after snapping shots. People would swarm him with preview requests and warn him of posting less-than-flattering pics on Facebook.

But I don’t think they matter anymore. Well, let me not say that. Sometimes one photo does matter.

Like when you’re secretly a bigamist.

Or when the “family emergency” you had to miss work for is really a Halloween party

And you definitely don’t want wild party pictures easily accessible when you’re searching for a job or on trial for underage drinking and driving.

But for the vast majority of us it’s not that crucial. Most of us aren’t trying to hide those kind of secrets. Our photo concerns usually come down to one thing, and one thing only: do we look good in them?  

Take a look at a random friend’s photo counts. How many pictures are tagged? Hundreds? Thousands? Now ask yourself this: when was the last time you looked at only one photo of someone on Facebook? If you can look at more than one photo, you probably will. Others do the same when looking at yours. So even if one is slightly off (exhibit A), the rest will still do a great job of giving off a good aesthetic impression (exhibits B, C and D).

Facebook has over 3 billion photos uploaded each month. Chances are, you get tagged in at least one of them. With these kinds of numbers, and with friends being able to see so many of them, do a few bad ones still matter?

A Thousand Words, Spoken

This sign is posted above toilets in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building‘s observatory bathrooms:


And just like that, a thousand words are spoken.

VLC Holiday Spirit

The other day, I opened VLC’s Media Player and chuckled:


Their cone icon was wearing a Santa Claus hat!

It’s nothing too crazy, but it was cool to see them letting their personality show during the holiday season. They have an awesome, open source player that can render damn near any type of media file you throw at them, but little touches like this still make it that much more of a pleasure to use.

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