Archive for November, 2011

Hello? Is this thing on?

November 25th, 2011
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Okay, for some reason my post from yesterday on Feedback Loops and Shopping Psychology never appeared in the little blog box on the Star-Advertiser home page... which means most visitors to the SA site never had a chance to read it or the links I provided for two fascinating articles I came across in Wired magazine related to my topic.

If you missed it and this makes it into the blog box, click here for that post. Mahalo!

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Feedback Loops and Shopping Psychology

November 24th, 2011
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For me, the nicest thing about long weekends is I get to catch up on reading. I have stacks of books and magazines, plus articles I've saved that I want to share with others or write about in my blogs. With the holiday shopping season officially underway, this seemed like a good time to mention a couple of recent Wired Magazine pieces that pertain to quirks in human behavior -- quirks that retailers and online companies capitalize on.

The concept of "feedback loops" came to mind yesterday while I was shooting the introductions for the Career Changers TV episode that will start running on Dec. 1. We did the segment intros at the Strictly Christmas/Yarn & Needlecraft shop in Kailua, and I asked owner Sylvia Kruse how business had been. She said it's been great, the best it's ever been in spite of all the negatives you hear about how terrible things are. It's funny, but every time I go to Ala Moana or a shopping mall, it seems like they're all crowded and doing pretty well. Last week, I wanted to buy Bose noise-cancelling headphones for an upcoming trip, and I could not find a parking space at the Ward theater complex where the Bose store is located -- and this was in the middle of the day during the work week.

After I finally found a parking space in the adjoining shopping complex lot (which was also filled) I was chagrined to learn from the Bose staff that those $299 headphones never go on sale. Other headphones and products were being offered at 10 percent off though. The thing is I had been holding out for years even though every review I had read says Bose makes the best noise-cancelling headphones. Instead, I bought cheaper brands that were supposed to be pretty good... and they didn't last very long. Normally, my wife and I will put off buying certain products until they go on sale -- we can wait, is our mantra. In this case, Bose knows they have the highest-rated product, so they figure they can wait us out. Well, they won. I bit the bullet and bought the expensive headphones because there is nothing worse than being on a six-hour flight with wailing babies and loud seat neighbors.

Anyhow, getting back to the Wired articles: the one about feedback loops gave a great example of how drivers will slow down when they see those digital read-out signs on the side of the road that show your approaching speed. There's no camera, no cop standing next to it, and the information is actually redundant. Most of us glance at our speedometers and know how fast we're going -- which is generally a little over the speed limit. Yet when we see that read-out, we tend to slow down. Why? Researchers theorize that people are inclined to respond to positive feedback -- it's similar to the feeling of getting a "reward" when you play games. And that kind of subtle behavior modification is being used in everything from online sites such as Facebook to retailers like Amazon ("free" shipping if you spend a certain amount).

Getting back to Sylvia, she noted that the past couple of years have been tough largely because the media keeps telling us how awful the economy is. It becomes a self-fulfilling negative feedback loop. Consumers hear over and over that unemployment is up, so they cut back on spending, which causes businesses to go into cost-cutting mode -- starting with job cutting and freezing wages... which forces workers to further reduce spending, while creating anxiety and fear that things will get even worse. Meanwhile, look around at the shopping malls and in Waikiki. Sure, it is a very tough job market for many, many people. But is the media overstating the negative?

What's a little scary is how easily feedback loops -- even positive ones -- can be used to manipulate us into spending more time doing things that have questionable value for society. Look at Facebook and Twitter, or how there are new rating systems to measure your social networking reach. It's as if you don't have a certain quota of followers and people in your network, you are somehow deficient. But you can always make up for it by buying a lot of great gifts at specially-discounted prices!

Here's the link to the Wired articles:

How Online Companies Get you to Share More and Spend More

Harnessing the Power of Feedback Loops

You can still catch the November episode of Career Changers TV until next Thursday. For daily viewing times and other links, please visit our website or check out videos from past shows on the CCTV YouTube Channel. Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and mahalo for watching!

The Real APEC, Local-Style

November 15th, 2011
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On 11/11/11 at 11 am, I was at the opening of the Pacific Gateway Center "Christmas House," which is selling handcrafted items, clothes and delicious food, all created by clients -- mostly immigrants, who have been given financial assistance and help in setting up their own businesses, or learning job skills. I've also been working with PGC on the 808HALT.com project to bring attention to the growing problem of human trafficking in Hawaii.

In the process, I've learned a lot about the problems facing immigrants. What is really impressive is how Dr. Myaing Tin Thein has brought together so many different ethnic groups and organizations to help newcomers adapt and prosper. Their mission has expanded to include low income people, and their kitchen incubator in Kalihi has helped launch a number of local food businesses owned by kamaaina as well.

While we were shooting a segment about the Christmas House for our December episode of Career Changers TV, it occurred to me that PGC represents the true spirit of international cooperation: the interior decorator, Aloma Wang, is from Sri Lanka... Dr. Myaing, Burma... staff workers and clients there came from Laos, Thailand, Samoa, the Philippines, China... an attorney they work with is Vietnamese-American... another lawyer they consult is moving to Australia... and me, I was born in Japan. Yet it feels perfectly natural for all of us to be working together in that place, where the doors are open to everyone. You should check it out next time you're in the Chinatown area. Besides the Christmas gift selections, you can buy tasty, inexpensive plate lunches too (the downstairs is called the Lemongrass Cafe and the PGC offices are upstairs). The address is 83. N. King Street, and there's an inexpensive parking garage right around the corner on Maunakea Street.

The photo at top shows hand bags that were made by survivors of human trafficking in Cambodia. Dr. Myaing heard about the www.STOPstart project to help trafficking victims, and bought the bags herself to help support that cause. She hopes to do a similar program here to raise funds to assist our own victims. And yet for all the serious work they do at PGC, Dr. Myaing was all smiles when she talked about the lilikoi cheesecake they were selling... you know what? She was right. It was absolutely delicious.

By contrast, it's kind of sad to think about the extraordinary security measures that were taken for APEC. Are we that fearful of our own people? Or are we so distrustful of strangers and visitors that we have to ban locals from their own beaches and roads? Could it be that closing doors to average people only heightens the sense that there is a ruling elite, who are disconnected from the rest of us?

If only the APEC leaders could visit places like the Pacific Gateway Center and mingle with the common folk, perhaps the world would be a little better place.

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For daily viewing times and other useful links, please visit www.CareerChangers.TV. You can also watch videos from past and current episodes on the CCTV YouTube Channel.

Local Farms: The Human Cost

November 10th, 2011
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There's been some buzz about Michelle Obama's planned visit to MA'O Organic Farms in Waianae this Sat., Nov. 12. We did a feature about the farm on Career Changers TV last year, which focused on how they are training a new generation in the ways of Native Hawaiian culture and agriculture (click here for that video link). They also offer college scholarships to financially-needy kids. Yet there has been some negative comments in letters to the editor and blogosphere about how this organic farm caters to the wealthy -- the so-called "1 percent." Huh?

You know, I sort of expect negative comments from certain factions related to anything the President or First Lady are involved with. But to criticize a local farm program that is trying to get our youth interested in sustainable farming seems so far off target, I don't know what to say. True, "organic" is one of those labels that conjures up images of affluent, educated consumers who can afford to shop at places like Whole Food Supermarkets. In reality, organic is stuff grown without a lot of chemicals.

However, there is a human cost to sustainable farming. I've become even more conscious of this while working on the videos for the 808HALT.com project to promote awareness about human trafficking in Hawaii. While the Aloun Farms/Global Horizon case has gotten much media attention, what has been overlooked is the fact that similar exploitation of immigrant workers is happening on smaller farms too -- not just on Oahu, but other islands as well. One trafficking victim, who had been sent by Global Horizon to "five or six" different states on the mainland to work at various farms, told me the worst conditions he encountered were actually on the Big Island.

The biggest problem though is us. Because we want cheap produce, farm owners are pressured into cutting costs wherever they can. Unfortunately, human labor is one area where they can save money by bringing in immigrants who do the math, and figure they can pay off the $15K - 20K "recruitment fee" in a year, then send back money to their families in the next one or two years and come out ahead. In many cases though, the laborers aren't paid what they were promised or charged additional fees and living expenses that wipe out any potential savings. Or there simply isn't as much work as was expected due to weather conditions... and then their temporary visas expire, leaving them in limbo. Many of these men have been separated from spouses and their children for years while trying to get help with their legal and financial problems.

Of course, it's easy to say farm owners should pay them decent wages and provide health benefits (many wind up getting sick from handling chemicals and pesticides, but can't afford treatment). The question is, are we willing to pay more to buy local produce that is supplied by socially responsible farms? Do you even think about it when you're at the supermarket?

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On a related note, our current Career Changers TV show has a short segment about Waimanalo Country Farms, where we shot our segment intros. Not included in the piece was some news the owners shared with me: in the next year or two, they will have to move off the 50-plus acres the family has been farming since 1948 to make way for 200 Hawaiian Homestead Lands houses that will be built on that site. On the plus side, they will be getting about the same acreage near their existing farm operations, but they seem to have some doubts about the impact of having that many homes constructed right next door.

Another interesting tidbit: one reason they diversified by growing pumpkins and offering farm tours is that their sweet corn crop was being affected by weather... and wild pigs. Shawn Kadooka said last year there were as many as 80 pigs that did a number on the corn fields. They tried to enlist local hunters, but had to go out and shoot the pigs themselves. Oh, the joys of farming!

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For daily viewing times, please visit www.CareerChangers.TV or check out videos from past and current episodes on the CCTV YouTube Channel. Mahalo for watching!

Tattoos Can Cost Job Opps

November 7th, 2011
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It's amazing what you can learn at a little get-together with neighbors. Every Halloween we have a potluck dinner with the folks who live at the end of our block in Kailua, and we catch up on what they and their kids have been doing while handing out treats. Each year though there seem to be fewer children making the rounds. Last Monday, there were only about five total -- a record low. Maybe they should change Halloween so it's always on the last Saturday of October so it doesn't fall on a week night.

Anyhow, with fewer trick or treaters and most of the neighbors' own kids off at college or now living on the Mainland, we had more time to talk about other stuff -- including jobs and career opportunities. One had been laid off by Hawaiian Airlines when they "reorganized." She didn't harbor any bad feelings towards them, but said she was surprised her daughter was immediately rejected when she applied for a flight attendant position because of a small ribbon-like tattoo on her foot. Turns out they have a zero tolerance policy toward any visible tattoos. You can't cover them up with bandages, make-up or anything else. The daughter even said she was willing to have it removed, but according to the mom, HAL said no dice.

Then another neighbor, who is in the Marines, said visible tattoos are no longer permitted in that branch of the military for new recruits. It's all right for Marines who already had them prior to the new policy, he said. However, when I googled Marines tattoo policies, it seems there is a little leeway for some ink. You can't have tats on your head, neck or hands, but small "bands" are permitted if less than 2 inches wide. Still, considering tattoos were practically a military stereotype, I found the policy change to be quite a surprise... especially in these times when it seems the norm for young people to have them. (Click here for Marine tattoo policy info.)

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I'm not sure if our Career Changers TV host, Theresa Tilley, has any tattoos, but as a former beauty queen, model and spokesperson for various companies, she's always conscious of the image she presents to the public. We're lucky to have her on our show. OC16 has been doing a series of fun and fascinating features on the different show hosts, which they've been running on their Interactive Channel 96. You can see Theresa's "OC16 Close-Up" segment anytime up until Nov. 14 if you tune to that channel. It's a little over six minutes long and tells how she wound up changing careers before landing on local TV. Good stuff. You can also see the piece on YouTube by clicking here.

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I also do not know if friend of the show, Charley Memminger, ever got drunk and had a funny tattoo done somewhere on his body. But I just got an email from him recently, announcing that his first novel -- "Kahala Road" -- has been picked up by a New York publisher as part of a two-book deal (here's the link). Charley did some funny video pieces for our show, but had to put that on hold while he worked on a rewrite for the publisher after they gave him notes, and said they were interested in putting out the book. Congrats, Charley! Here's a link to one of my favorite bits he did about his invention ideas.

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I also have more news related to past and current segments and people featured on Career Changers TV, but will save that for my next post. In the meantime, please check out the new November episode on OC16. For daily viewing times, visit www.CareerChangers.TV. You can also watch video segments on the CCTV YouTube Channel. Mahalo!