Sunday, April 17, 2011

Technology Trends: Square and UI innovation

I personally think Square ( is doing a good job building an attractive product. What are they doing? Changing the way people pay (or receive money, to be precise).

I've been seeing the product many times on news and few times in real life, and seems that it's getting some traction. It is now processing more than $1M every day as of Mar 2 2011.
And why do I think it's cool? There are three things.

1. It's a User Interface innovation for the payment world
People usually don't associate user interface or user experience innovation to the payment. Payment doesn't sound sexy. But, take a look at the video below. You plug in a small gadget to the earphone jack of your iPhone/Android, enter the amount and swipe a credit card. It's a super-easy, sleek way for making transaction with credit cards. Recent hits in tech world show that UI/UX matters a lot. Very intuitive, easy-to-use, sleek interface attracts people. Square is making personal credit card transaction an order of magnitude easier.
Also, I think the physical interaction of swiping the card makes a lot of difference. Unlike paying online by pressing buttons, the experience is intuitive and feels real.

2. It's enabling what was impossible before
If I (an individual who doesn't have a cash register) want to accept a credit card payment, what option was possible a year ago? Nothing. I could use paypal, but it's a lot of hassle for the payer. What if the payer doesn't have an account? What if the payer doesn't have a smartphone?
With Square, you can make the transaction right there immediately. This opens up tons of new possibilities for individuals.

3. Unique idea of using the earphone jack as the hardware interface
Inventor of the stereo audio jack would never imagined that the interface will be used for processing signals for credit card payment. The audio jack is ubiquitous. All smart phones have one, and all of them work in the same way. Using it for interfacing a hardware is a very smart idea.

Having said that, I'm not using it for my personal transactions yet, because the transaction fee of 2.75% is too much for personal use. Still, I think it's quite useful for really small businesses or receiving payments at conferences etc.

As the last note, we could think beyond this particular case. Thinking about making experience drastically easier in something currently painful is one way of creating a new idea, I think.

# This post shares my personal view on technologies, and does not represent opinions of any organizations I belong.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Food and art - a restaurant in Taiwan

During the last business trip to Asia, one of the most impressive restaurant was the one in Taiwan. The restaurant is in a very remote place, about 1 hour from Taipei. It is literally in the middle of mountains. It's so remote and hidden that even a cab driver got lost on the way...

But once you get there, you'd be amazed by the beauty of the place. It has a beautiful garden (you can see fireflies there in the summer), and the rooms are modestly decorated in a unique oriental style.

Of course, the food was DELICIOUS!
The whole experience of sitting in the quiet room surrounded by tasteful decorations and enjoying dinner that's tasty and visually pleasant was quite memorable. I wouldn't be able to have the same experience in other place, I think. The whole package of this experience is an art.

I definitely recommend to go there if you go to Taiwan.

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Beautiful new UI for Blogger

The new experimental UI for Blogger is very attractive. (you need a modern browsers like Chrome, Firefox, latest version of IE.)
Since my blog has lots of photos, "Mosaic" view looks really good. I love it! I wish I could set it as a default for those browser that support it.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Japan Earthquake Info Sources (English/日本語)

Summarizing info on the disaster / how to help people suffering from Japan Earthquake.
Seems that there are relatively less multi-lingual info sources, so hoping that this list helps. If you have friends who need such info sources, please let them know.

Multi-lingual information sites

Google Crisis Response site



NHK World News


NHK Radio

Reuters live blog

Disaster info on Twitter in English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Korean, Italian and Dutch

Japan earthquake how to protect yourself (not latest news, but useful tips)

Donation sites


Japan Red Cross via Google Crisis Response

American Red Cross:
you can text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10 to Japan's emergency relief.

Links to donation sites:



災害情報 (Google)

災害情報 (NHK)

Save Japan!

Twitter info







Yahoo 基金

Google Crisis Response (日本赤十字)

Groupon Japan



Saturday, March 5, 2011

City Photos: Opera House, Harbour Bridge and Climbing

March 2011, Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House

Sydney has lots of remarkably beautiful architectures. Two of them are the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. They are next to each other, and you can enjoy magnificent view created by the combination of those. Especially, boarding on cruise ships is a good way to enjoy those from lots of different angles. The photo above is one of those taken from a ship.

And the Harbour Bridge has something very special that no other bridge has. You can climb on the bridge, to the top (where the flags are in the photo above)!
It was by far the best thing I did in Sydney. The great view from 134 meters (440 feet) above is absolutely amazing. Being at this height in open space, the experience is totally different from normal observatories. Especially in the twilight climb that starts from 5:30pm, you can see the gradual change of the color of the sky and the city in daylight, dusk, then night.
It is an experience that you would remember for life.

I couldn't bring my camera to the top of the bridge (it's extremely dangerous if people drop their cameras. There are cars and trains running below), but I took pictures of climbers from the pylon later.

You can see people on the right edge of the bridge

Walking through the structure

The top of the bridge

Monday, February 28, 2011

City Photos: Beautiful Sydney

Feb 28th, 2011. Downtown Sydney in sunset with rainbow

Rainbow over the Sydney Harbour Bridge

This is my first trip to Sydney, or the southern hemisphere.
And now, I'm totally fascinated by the city. There are lots of interesting architectures both old and new, and the atmosphere of the city created by combination of those buildings and the sea is just beautiful.
And I was very lucky that I got a magnificent view of the city in sunset, along with two rainbows.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

City Photo: Miniature Town

This is a hand-maid miniature of a real city that took 10 people for 3 months to complete...
Okay, as some of you have noticed, that's not the truth.

The truth is, this is photo of a real city I took, spiced with a little visual magic by photoshop. This technique is recently known by the "diorama" photo filter on digital cameras like Olympus Pen. It's easy to make one, if you have a photo editing software. You just do 2 things - blur the top and bottom parts of the photo, and make the color vivid. It creates this effect of mimicking short focal length (it makes you feel like you're looking at a small object closely), and make it seems as if it's painted.

The way we perceive visual information is interesting. With the above setting, we automatically feel like it's a miniature. Not sure if our brain is guessing based on visual characteristics of blurriness or we are judging based on learned patterns of other (real) miniature photos. Anyhow, human has an amazing ability to see and imagine, and what we see is not always what actually it is.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Technology Trends: Artificial Intelligence - are they replacing human intelligence?

I was thinking what's the best way to share my view or information about technologies while not commenting too much on specific events or companies in the industry. And I think I got a good idea. Talk about the latest Internet technologies or Computer Science in plain words and draw the vision for the future.

So, here's today's topic: Artificial Intelligence. It has been a popular topic of Sci-Fi movies, but it's becoming a reality. And what does it mean?

As some of you may know, IBM's computer "Watson" won the game Jeopardy. It must remind you about Deep Blue won against world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997. But actually, winning in chess is a simpler problem compared to understanding subtle human languages. The AI technology has got to the point where machines can understand what people say in natural language, and even answer a quiz.

At this point, some could ask "so computers started to think like human does?" or even "wow, then that means machines are replacing human?" Some could imagine those scenes of SkyNet terminating human being or some other Sci-Fi movies.

But actually the simple answer here is, no, they won't replace us. Computers are not mimicking how humans think. Because of such a difference, computers do some tasks really well and fast, but in other tasks have hard time doing something any person can do. Let me draw some examples here. On one hand, machine translation algorithm can translate this blog article to 10 or even more languages in a blink. If I'm asked to do this task, I'd freak out. On the other hand, it is very hard to make a machine correctly recognize different objects it sees, but even babies can do that.

So why is it? It's because computers "think" in a very different way than humans do. In modern AI algorithms, it (AI) stores lots of examples, like millions or billions, learn the patterns, and when it's asked about something, it compares the question with the pattern it knows. It's called Statistical AI. In the example above, learning patterns of the same sentences in different languages is something computers can already handle well, but learning almost infinite patterns of visuals of vast amount of objects is much harder problem, at least for now. Or even harder, if AI is asked "what do you think about this guy?", the only thing it can do is to return the statistics about what people thought about the guy.
So, in a nutshell, AI doesn't mimic human intelligence, but it enhances our capabilities by doing things that's almost impossible for humans.

I'm quite excited about the future of AI for the next decade. There are several major trends that will make AI more useful in everyday life. I guess most of you think AI is not relevant to you now. But I bet you - it surely will become relevant to your everyday life. Or I could say, you might be already using AI every day. I will talk about such trends in the next tech post.

# This post shares my personal view on technologies, and does not represent opinions of any organizations I belong.

Nature Photo: Stars on the Blue Sky?

Aug 2010, at a remote island

When I took this photo, I was trying to capture as many stars as possible. And it turned out to look almost like stars on the blue sky. I exposed it for 30 seconds, and the camera showed me a different view of the world.
It's totally different from what I saw there with my eyes, but this other view is also beautiful.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Best French Toast Ever! (and its recipe)

December 2010, at Hotel Okura in Tokyo

I've had many different kinds of french toasts in my life, but this french toast at Hotel Okura in Tokyo was by far the best. It's crispy and light outside, and it's very creamy and soft inside. Once I had a bite, it melted in my mouth with pleasantly sweet vanilla flavor. Even though it has a very rich taste and flavor, it's very light and I felt like ordering more. (unfortunately, the one I ordered was the last one the restaurant had on that day)

Better yet, you can recreate it by your own using the recipe the hotel has publicized!

Recipe on Hotel Okura's website (Japanese)

In a nutshell,

  • 6 Eggs, 370cc milk, 62g sugar, Vanilla essence, Bread (4cm thick)
  • Mix eggs, milk, sugar and vanilla essence
  • Sop the bread into the mixture for 24 hours (12 hours one side)
  • Cook it on a pan with butter (on moderate heat with lid closed) for 15 min.

It requires some practice, but once you make it right, it tastes really good.
I made it again this morning, and it was DELICIOUS!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Napa Valley - wine, geometry and architecture

I changed the original plan to go to Lake Tahoe, and went to Napa Valley today with my wife and a friend. It's been 3 years since I visited there last time.

Of course nice vintages of wines are tasty, but aside from that, sceneries you can see in the area are also very pleasant. In this season, wine trees don't have leaves, so you can see the geometric pattern of vineyards. They have different beauty from the vineyards full of green in the summer. Also, yellow mustard flowers add nice color to the beautiful hill (I didn't take a photo of them while driving, though). Another thing I like is the architecture of Opus One winery. It's a very well-designed architecture both inside and outside.

And lastly, a yummy rib-eye stake with a glass of tasty wine at Ruthford Grill. Mmm, meat!

Wine Tasting at Baulieu Vinyard

Beautiful architecture or Opus One
Geometric pattern in a vineyard

Old vines in Opus One

A 3pm snack. Mmm, meat.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Art of Nature: 7000 years

August 2010, Yakushima, Japan. Two huge ceder trees.
They are more than 2000 years old.

Roots of trees cover the ground.
This complex view itself is an art.

This tree is called "tarantula."
Thousands of years of their lives made them very unique.

Those are photos I took when I went to Yakushima in August 2010.  The oldest tree in this island is said to be living for more than 7000 years. Those trees are quietly putting on years in deep mountains in this isolated island. It took me a full day to walk into the forest. But it was definitely worth the hike. The forest as old as our civilization has something totally different from an ordinary forest. Every view in the forest is a fresh surprise. It's the art made by nature in countless years.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

SO TIRED - Not that I'm tired. It's about food.

Aug 2010, I was so tired

SO TIRED, GRAND MENU. I've lost my appetite already.
But let's take a little peek inside.

Oh, seems like it's all groooovy inside...
Believe it or not, it's quite popular in Tokyo.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

City View - Stars on the Ground

Nov 2009, from 500ft above

I guess there's a common reason why we think stars are beautiful and town lights at night are beautiful.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Two Towers

Sep 2010, view from Roppongi Hills

April 2009, shot with Android camera

Two towers in Tokyo and Paris. Tokyo Tower is modeled after Eiffel Tower, but they are strikingly different when we see them side by side. Tokyo Tower was made to function (even though it's beautiful as well), and Eiffel Tower was made to be an art.

Another view of Eiffel Tower

It's surprising how the complex combination of iron bars and lighting create the warm and even organic visual.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The best milk package ever

Mmm, milk...
It's the simplest packaging concept ever, but at the same time it's a stellar, eye-catching design.

A Rose

A rose, a cypress tree and Tokyo Tower.
Rules of perspective can sometimes make interesting visual effect.

A photo for St. Valentine's day

A photo taken at Stinson Beach, CA.
Happy Valentine's day.