Archive for January, 2013

Tet Festival Sunday, etc.

January 31st, 2013

Program Alert: the new February episode of Career Changers TV premieres Sat., Feb. 2 on OC16 around 7PM -- time approximate because it's in between two high school soccer matches. If you want to DVR it, best to check our regular daytime slots by clicking here or checking the onscreen TV guide. Details about the show are also on the CCTV website.

Screen Shot 2013-01-23 at 3.11.17 PMThis Sunday, if you're around Kapiolani Park before the Super Bowl parties, you might want to stop by the Tet Vietnam Honolulu festival (here's their link). It starts around 9-10 AM and continues until 5 PM. There will be authentic Vietnamese food, music, kung fu demonstrations and lion dances... plus informational exhibits, such as the 808HALT coalition booth to educate the public about human trafficking in Hawaii.

I've been part of that group for over a year, and produced videos that show the local impact. It has become the second largest international criminal activity -- after drug trafficking -- because people can be "reused" in the sex trade or for farm work and manual labor. While filming a segment about immigrant farm workers in Hawaii who were exploited, I learned that many were from Vietnam. So we've formed an alliance with members of the Vietnamese community to let them know that help is available to trafficking victims who may feel they have nowhere to go.


One of the best resources for immigrants in Hawaii is the Pacific Gateway Center, headed by Dr. Tin Myaing Thein. She just did a two-part interview on PBS Hawaii's Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox that was fascinating and inspiring... also, sad when she recounted how her older brother became one of Burma's "disappeared" dissidents. She talked about her friendship with Burmese activist Aung Sun Suu Kyi, dating back to when the two were in the same Girl Scouts troop. (Interesting to hear her explanation for why "Burma" is actually "Myanmar too!) You can catch it Sunday at 4 PM on PBS or watch it on the web by clicking here.

Although I've had the privilege of working with Dr. Myaing on the HALT project, and had interviewed her before about the PGC kitchen incubator in Kalihi (video link), I didn't really know her back story. All I can say is, wow... she is a remarkable person. And it's a great example of how immigrants add so much to America's culture. What she and the folks at PGC do is help other newcomers find their footing, and in many cases, start their own businesses. They foster and nurture the American Dream in ways a lot of U.S. citizens cannot appreciate because we take so much for granted. I find it ironic that many conservatives and Republicans like Mitt Romney want to eliminate things like PBS because they view it as "socialism" -- when in fact, TV programs like this one are testaments to the power of democracy and our free enterprise system.


Gosh, I meant to blog about my Big Island trip earlier this month and meeting Briar March, a filmmaker from New Zealand who was screening her documentary -- THERE ONCE WAS AN ISLAND -- at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai as part of the Waimea Ocean Film Festival, but I just haven't had time. So here's some quick thoughts and observations...

Like Oahu, tourism is up and most business owners I spoke to were optimistic. BTW, why did the Star-Advertiser and local TV news start calling it "Hawaii Island" instead of Big Island? To me, Big Island is more distinctive sounding. Were they worried they would offend the other smaller islands or insult people by insinuating those who live there are "big" as in fat?

It had been a couple of years since my wife and I last visited Kona, so we were sad to see that the Aloha Theater Angel Cafe had closed. That was one of our favorite lunch spots. Found a new place in that same area though that locals recommended: Anna's, which makes very good burgers. Speaking of which, when we went to the Four Seasons to see Briar's film, we had lunch there and I wound up ordering a pricey hamburger. Dumb move. I mean, it was good -- but why on earth did I order something that actually tastes better right off the grill at the beach or in someone's backyard? That Four Seasons was recently named top resort in some survey, and while everything about the place was first class, it just doesn't feel very local or Hawaiian to me. Nearly all of the workers we encountered were Mainland transplants -- very professional, very courteous, very young. But it's not like talking to the older shop owners in town or the aging hippie types up in Holualoa.

Anyhow, we spent some time hanging out with Briar and her boyfriend from Belgium. She told us a lot of interesting things related to her film project, which is about a small island in the South Pacific off Papua New Guinea that is in danger of being wiped out by rising sea levels. The native tribe of about 500 people face difficult choices for their future. Their arguments over whether to stay or go, rebuild close to the ocean or move inland, depend on God or the government for help, mirror the kind of debates we hear in our own country. One thing that is plainly evident though is the effect of sea walls hastening beach erosion -- something that property owners in Lanikai and Kahala Beach have been in denial about for a long time.  Here's a link to Briar's movie website. Really well done documentary that is worth seeing if you get the chance!

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Love in the Age of Facebook

January 17th, 2013

After a week of R&R in sunny Kona, I was ready to get back to blogging about new stories I came across while on vacation. Then the Manti Te'o revelation/hoax press conference interrupted the Ellen show I was watching while taking a break, and my first thoughts were: This is just like that documentary film -- "Catfish" -- I was recommending two years ago on Twitter and Facebook!

I also knew the same filmmaker had created a MTV series about that subject, which is essentially people pretending to be someone they're not to hook unsuspecting online users of social media such as Facebook. Yet many people who called in to the morning sports talk radio shows or posted comments on message boards apparently weren't aware these kind of malicious "pranks" have been going on for awhile. In the original Catfish movie, it turned out the perp was a lonely middle-aged woman who created a fantasy life for herself by ensnaring a young guy, who became increasingly suspicious when his online "girlfriend" kept postponing or canceling plans to meet in the flesh. To be honest, I was suspicious of the guys who made the film -- what made them decide early on to make a movie about the guy's involvement with the young girl artist (fake) who introduces him to her beautiful older sister?

On the other hand, the lure of fantasy romances can be stronger than the real thing. This has been the case for thousands of years with people. It's the driving force behind myths and fairy tales. When I was growing up, young people often had pen pals in faraway places they would write to, without even knowing what that person really looked like. Or maybe you met briefly and kept in touch for years -- each of you changing in physical appearance (but never sending updated photos). What mattered were the words you shared on paper or the occasional long distance phone call. Your imagination and needs filled in the rest of the details to create an idealized version of someone you could love from afar...

When you think about it, social media and instant smart phone connections actually make that scenario even easier to fall into, because manipulators can post lots of photos stolen from someone's FB page or "flickr" pictures. And in a time when young people prefer texting or online chatting to physical meet-ups, I can see how someone like Manti Te'o could prefer a virtual girlfriend over a real girl with real needs and flaws. In college, I had a philosophy of art class in which the professor defined love as "desire"... and the essence of desire is wanting something you don't have or can't have. So, in a sense, virtual romances are the very nature of Platonic love, which you could argue is a higher form of love because it isn't mere physical lust.

It also reminded me why I enjoy watching documentaries more than high concept Hollywood crap based on comic books or cartoonish superheroes. Good filmmakers find reality-based stories before they become big news. Or sometimes the stories they uncover inspire copycats, who then become news. In the better documentary movies, it's often art recording life that in turn leads to life imitating the art that was inspired by real life.


Was going to blog about the latest episode of Career Changers TV, now airing daily on OC16 (click here for viewing schedule and details) and how the features on architects and the fashion incubator relate to Design for Living, and also about my latest Big Island trip observations... but that will have to wait until next post!

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Million Dollar Ideas

January 4th, 2013

Program Alert: The new January episode of Career Changers TV premieres Sat., Jan. 5 at 8:30 PM on OC16. Visit www.CareerChangers.TV for more info on who's featured in this month's show!


It was the week before Christmas, and I was walking around Ward Warehouse prior to filming a new segment about the Hawaii Fashion Incubator, which is located on the second floor there, when I heard Mark Bell call me over to his kiosk. We've had Mark on the show a couple of times to talk about some of his inventions and product discoveries he found on the Mainland (like the motorized scooter cooler).

MarkAt first, I wasn't sure what his latest invention was... they were small silicone widgets that came in a variety of colors and sizes, next to more recognizable button-sized things that I was told kids like to plug into those Crocs. They're called Jibbitz, and the woman who came up with that idea made millions when Crocs bought her out.

Mark's product is similar. His silicone connectors fit on the tips of shoelaces and drawstrings, so that the wearer can customize their footwear or hoodies, sweatpants, whatever. Then the wearer can attach one of those Jibbitz or other accessories like fake gems to make a personal fashion statement. It's such a simple idea, you wonder why no one has done it before. In fact, a major shoe manufacturer whose name I can't reveal just yet, jumped on it when Mark introduced himself at a trade show. After they reviewed it and asked for a couple of modifications, they placed an order for a MILLION of these little connectors...  a month, that is -- for 12 months! They cost pennies apiece, but 12 million units adds up to a pretty big amount.

SneakerWhat's interesting to me is Mark didn't set out to make something for shoestrings. A friend of his son, who is in college, asked Mark to come up with a better earplug that could be easily used when things got noisy around the dorm or in public areas. (Sure, you could carry around a pair of earplugs, but I guess college kids can't think that far ahead.) So Mark thought incorporating earplugs into the ends of drawstrings might work since lots of kids wear hoodies. But someone had already come up with earphones that are built into hoodies. That's when Mark looked down at his feet and realized there was an even better use for his silicone tip connectors... sneaker laces. In entrepreneur speak, it's called The Pivot -- when you realize the original idea needs to be adjusted or there should be a change in focus and direction.

I had no idea the Crocs Jibbitz thing was so big until Mark told me about it. But every person I mentioned his invention to seemed to know about those Jibbitz. Yet none of them ever thought about applying the same concept to other types of footwear with laces, which far outnumber Crocs in sales. Heck, imagine the possibility of connecting sneaker laces to sports team logos and personalized buttons of every shape, color and style. Don't be surprised if the shoe manufacturer who placed the million per month order decides to buy out Mark for tens of millions of dollars, like the Croc Jibbitz lady.

Mark still is toying around with the name. One of the reasons he set up the kiosk at Ward Warehouse during the Christmas shopping season was to test market that product and other things he's selling in Hawaii (more on that to follow). This is what separates real inventors and entrepreneurs from the wannabes. They put in long hours testing products, talking to actual consumers, tweaking the product and refining the marketing approach. Names are important in the marketplace to create branding and word of mouth. When I last spoke to him, Mark was leaning towards "Tipz" for his patent-pending connectors. I think that works.

Every inventor dreams of that home run idea. I asked Mark if this is The Big One. He smiled and nodded. So what's your million dollar idea?

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