Showing posts with label User Experience Research/Design. Show all posts
Showing posts with label User Experience Research/Design. Show all posts

Friday, December 6, 2019

Protecting the Traffic Control Boxes in Hong Kong

Several weeks ago around 3:30 A.M. on November 11, protestors lit an electrical traffic control box on fired on Nathan Road in Mong Kok, Hong Kong.

Many other traffic control boxes were decommissioned in one way or another during recent protests. This raises the question, "How does a city restore traffic control boxes while also not making them prone to similar repeat attacks?"

An attempt to address this question now exists at the intersection of Nathan Road with Kansu Street and Gascoigne Road in Yau Ma Tei, Hong Kong.

traffic control box surrounded by secure bars in Yau Ma Tei, Hong Kong

I didn't see any obvious way to open the barred protection. This may be a strike against usability, but that's probably the point.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Errors and Insufficient Information in Google's, Bing's, Baidu's, and Sogou's Online Map Services: Confusion Over the Name of a Road in China

For a variety of reasons, on a number of occasions I have found it challenging to figure out the name of a road in China. Two of those reasons are that online maps often lack relevant details and are sometimes incorrect. For example, based on some online maps people could question whether all of the photos in an earlier post were really from Baisha Road as I claimed and weren't instead from Dongguan Road.

Here is how Google Maps depicts the meeting of Baisha Road and Dongguan Road.

Google Maps for the intersection of Baisha Road and Dongguan Road in Jiangmen

Google Maps China, which unlike other versions of Google Maps is accessible in China, similarly labels the roads.

Google Maps China for the intersection of Baisha Road and Dongguan Road in Jiangmen

Starting from the upper right the maps indicate that Dongguan Road continues around the bend in the road. However, the first four photos in the earlier post were all taken at the bend or close to it on either side.

Part of my claim that the photos do indeed capture Baisha Road is based on something quite simple, the streets address signs on the buildings there. For example, here is a sign for 1 Baisha Road.

sign for 1 Baisha Road in Jiangmen

The location of this building neatly matches with the result to a search for the address on China-based Baidu Maps.

Baidu Maps for 1 Baisha Road in Jiangmen

As reflected above, even at the highest zoom levels, Baidu Maps doesn't display a name on the portion of road at and south of the bend (in all the maps south is "down").

Google Maps fails in a search for addresses on Baisha Road. It only returns a result for Baisha Road in general.

Google Maps failed attempt to indicate 1 Baisha Road in Jiangmen

While the marked location is indeed on Baisha Road, it is far from 1 Baisha Road as indicated on Baidu Maps. Unfortunately, any time I have searched for Baisha Road or 1 Baisha Road in Chinese on Google Maps China I get the message "服务器错误. 请稍后重试." indicating there was a server error and suggesting to try again later. I've tried over a span of more than a week and have always had the same result.*

Like Baidu Map, the labels on China-based Sogou Maps at its highest zoom are also ambiguous on the issue, though a Dongguan Road label is closer to the bend.

Sogou Maps for the intersection of Baisha Road and Dongguan Road in Jiangmen

But Sogou indicates a location for 1 Baisha Road similar to Baidu's result.

Sogou Maps for 1 Baisha Road in Jiangmen

Like Google Maps, Bing Maps China** shows Dongguan Road continuing around the bend.

Bing Maps China for the intersection of Baisha Road and Dongguan Road in Jiangmen

The roads are identified similarly with English language settings and for the U.S. version of Bing Maps. Also like Google Maps, the best Bing Maps China can do for a search of 1 Baisha Road is just a general indication for Baisha Road without indicating a specific address.

Bing Maps China failed attempt to indicate 1 Baisha Road in Jiangmen

Bing Maps and Google Maps also can't locate specific addresses for Dongguan Road.

To sum things up . . .

According to Google's or Bing's online map services, the scenes from the one portion of road I photographed are at Dongguan Road and not Baisha Road. They can't locate specific addresses for these two roads though.

The road labels for Baidu Maps and Sogou Maps aren't definitive one way or the other, though Sogou Maps make it look like at least a small part of the area is Dongguan Road. However, the search results for specific addresses indicate this portion of road is Baisha Road. These results match up quite well with the address signs I saw posted on buildings there.

Additionally and finally, there was one other step I took to sort things out. I asked a person working in a shop there. Without hesitation she identified this section of road as Baisha Road.

So while I wouldn't completely rule out a more complicated story indicating otherwise, the overall evidence suggests Google and Bing have it wrong and Baisha Road begins just slightly east of where Baidu Maps and Sogou Maps indicate 1 Baisha Road. While a small portion (the closest 5 meters or so of road) in the first photo might include the western end of Dongguan Road, I feel fine saying that the earlier photos capture Baisha Road.

For added evidence and color, I will later share photos of some buildings from this section of road with posted street addresses. And in another post or two farther down the road (pun unintended), I will examine other limitations and problems, some quite disastrous, with online map services for China. Similar to this post, it will in part serve as a follow-up to a comparison of online map services I did seven years ago. A lot has changed since then . . .

*I get the error message regardless of whether I use a VPN or not. I get the same error message for many other searches I've tried as well, though I have had success at times with some types of searches. It seems searches for specific addresses are especially unlikely to succeed, but at this point I'm not sure of the scope of the problem.

**I tested Bing Maps China at while in China, using a clean browser, and without using a VPN. However if Bing identifies you as outside of China, you may be taken to another web address without the "cn". And you may need to change Bing's settings for country/region or language to achieve a similar, though perhaps not identical, experience.

Disclosure: In the past I worked at Microsoft China. My work did not cover Bing Maps.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Flying Past Dragons for an Escalator Ride: The SkyCab at the Wynn Palace in Macau

The Wynn Palace casino resort opened last year in Cotai, Macau. Although the building's architecture may not impress as many people as the nearby MGM Cotai casino resort or Morpheus hotel, it visually stands out for another reason.

SkyCab in front of the Wynn Palace in Cotai, Macau

The Wynn Palace has its own mono-cable detachable gondola (MDG) system, a type of cable car, which it calls the SkyCab. Along with sharing some of the early reaction, the Gondola Project detailed the gondola's special features:
Typically cable cars can’t turn corners without a mid-station, but this system is able to make a total of 6 turns with 2 stations because it operates in an unidirectional configuration. As we’ve discussed before with the Kolmarden Wildlife gondola in Sweden, the basic rule of turning without intermediary stations is this: Cabins can only flow in one direction and all turns must be either to the left (in the event of a clockwise traffic flow) or right (in the even of a counter-clockwise traffic flow).

Aside from its unique operating characteristics, the gondola was undoubtedly designed with opulence and glitz in mind to match its environment. Two of the system’s towers were built in the form of a golden dragon while the cabins were all equipped with a custom audio system and air conditioning. Despite the advances made in ropeway technology, air conditioned cabins are still uncommon.
The SkyCab has yet another great feature:

"Complimentary Ride Into Wynn Palace" on a digital sign

And not only is the ride complimentary, but when I arrived there wasn't any line. So I quickly found myself headed towards the head of a golden dragon for free.

SkyCab Dragon

The ride was smooth and enjoyable, but I did experience one problem — the air conditioning.

air conditioning unit inside a SkyCab car

Although the air conditioner was blowing air, the cabin felt like a sauna and wasn't much better than the hot outdoors. I don't know whether or not the problem was specific to this car.

In any case, soon I was at the other station. At a nearby outdoor area, the view includes Wynn Palace's Performance Lake as well as the City of Dreams casino resort, though the Morpheus hotel is mostly hidden.

View of City of Dreams and a Macau LRT Station in front of the Wynn Palace

Also easy to spot is a station for the Macau Light Rapid Transit (LRT) next to the StarCab station. The LRT was originally expected to have opened last year. There were some slight delays, though, and now the planned opening is in 2019 for just this particular line, which doesn't reach much of the most densely populated area of Macau or the land border with mainland China. It will be a while before the SkyCab's full potential can be realized.

Finally, after reaching the SkyCab station at the edge of the main building complex, riders may be eager to discover what greets them inside. And they may be surprised when the only option other than enjoying the outdoor viewing area, which is easy to miss, is to return to ground level.

escalator from the SkyCab station at Wynn Palace

escalators to and from the SkyCab station at Wynn Palace

After the excitement of taking a gondola into a world class resort, a nondescript hallway and unremarkable long escalator ride can be a buzzkill and feel inconsistent with the resort's claim that the "SkyCab delivers you into the heart of Wynn Palace". Other possibilities could have been an upper level shopping / entertainment area as found in some other nearby casino resorts or the gondola returning the ground the level, perhaps to an internal courtyard. The possibilities are seemingly endless for a resort with many resources at its disposal. The gondola clearly wasn't built for purely pragmatic reasons and is intended to impress, yet it ends (or begins) on such a relatively mundane note.

So you could say the experience left me hanging and feeling it could have been much more. Still, I can say SkyCab is now my favorite free gondola ride with dragons.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Assorted Links: School Commute Peril, No Need for Refrigerators, and Deceptive Medical Treatment

1. Photos of how some children in Sichuan province must commute to school remind me of nightmares I have had:
Authorities in south-west China have vowed to come to the aid of an isolated mountain village after photographs emerged showing the petrifying journey its children were forced to make to get to school.

To attend class, backpack-carrying pupils from Atuler village in Sichuan province must take on an 800m rock face, scrambling down rickety ladders and clawing their way over bare rocks as they go.

2. Fortunately, most in China don't have as difficult of a commute. In fact, an especially short commute is one of the reasons why some people like those in a small Shandong town don't use refrigerators:
Aunt worked as a nurse in the local hospital, and as traditionally is the case with state-owned institutions in China, there was an apartment complex specially built for the hospital workers right across the street, which saved her from having to make much of a commute. On most days—so long as she had not worked the night shift—she would go to work in the morning and come back a little before noon, when she would have enough time to prepare lunch. This schedule was more or less the norm in Jiaxiang. Adults had long breaks off work in the middle of the day. And high-school students, who might be in school till 8 or 9 p.m., were given enough time at midday to go home for lunch. The daily schedule of working adults and students thus accommodated schedules that allowed lunch to be cooked and eaten at home, and that, in turn, meant that most food eaten at home would be finished off the same day it was prepared.

3. Sometimes, large pieces of equipment are bought and used for reasons relating to deception:
A salesman at Dongnan Medical soon explained why many of the devices were built to resemble MRI machines. "Private hospitals need to let customers know these are valuable pieces of equipment," he said. "The big devices entice customers in for treatment" . . . .

The machine resembled a large, open-style MRI machine, and its sleek white exterior held long English words—"Electrochemical Apparatus," "Infrared Light." On the patient table, a framed certificate stated the machine was made by the USA Wolman Prostate Institute, which later research revealed is a dummy company . . .

"The red light cures prostatitis," the salesman said, beaming proudly and handing me a brochure for the Wolman Prostate Gland Treatment System. The brochure featured a photo of the USA Wolman Prostate Institute's research center, which, thanks to a clearly labeled sign on the building, I quickly discovered was actually a photo of Invesco Field, where the Denver Broncos play football.
In multiple ways, the ending to this disturbing story about medical malfeasance in China is not a happy one.

4. As usual for these "assorted links" posts, I had a forth link to share. But another perspective just came to mind, and I want to consider it more. I have to run now, so I will share the piece later.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

A Hidden Logo No More: Apple Goes Darker in Xiamen, China

When I visited Apple's store in Xiamen, China, during its opening a few months ago, I saw there was no shining Apple logo visible from outside the store. Employees explained this was part of a new look, and one of them told me about an Apple logo hidden on an outside wall. It took me some time, but I found it.

I would be rather impressed if anybody noticed the logo without first being told of its existence.

hidden, barely visible Apple logo on a wall outside the Xiamen Apple Store

The above photo provides an accurate sense of the logo's visibility. Really, it's there. It can be seen a little more easily close up.

closeup of a portion of the hidden Apple logo

As I wrote before:
Employees explained Apple wants people to focus more on the products than the logo and believes its stores' distinctive design will be enough for people to identify them.
Apparently they have had a slight change of heart since then. When I returned to the store today, I saw that the hidden logo isn't so hidden anymore.

darker, more visible "hidden" Apple logo on a wall outside the Xiamen Apple Store

A store employee told me there had been several versions of the logo, each progressively darker to make it more visible, since my earlier visit. I joked that I expect if I come back again the logo will have a border of flashing lights. I refrained from joking about iterative design.

I have questions, such as whether the initial design was truly deliberate and what feedback motivated the latter changes, but answering them would require reliable information about behind-the-scenes decision making. I'll just hope for the lights.

Friday, October 9, 2015

An Opportunistic Pose in Zhongshan

I often aim to capture "real life" moments in my photography. In those cases, ideally I would like the subjects in the photos to be unaware of my, the photographer's, presence as that can impact their behavior, including small details of body language. Sometimes it doesn't work out as hoped though. Today in Zhongshan, one captured moment reflected two possible results when my presence has been detected: wondering what I am photographing and posing.

young man looking in the opposite direction while a young woman poses — both on the same scooter

Well played. Admittedly, it wasn't what I expected. But both reactions have their own "real" stories to tell as well.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Public City Bicycles Not Only for Getting Around Zhuzhou

In 2011 Zhuzhou became the first city in Hunan province to operate a public bicycle rental system. When I was in Zhuzhou a month or so ago, I came across a few of the many stations where city bicycles could be rented or returned.

public city bicycle station in Zhuzhou

There is much which could be said about Zhuzhou's system. I will limit myself here to two things which especially caught my eye from a user experience perspective.

One was that some of the bicycles available have a special feature: an added seat, presumably for a smaller rider.

Zhuzhou city bicycles with two seats

These bikes also have an extra bar, apparently for the second rider to hold. Since it is attached to the main handlebar, it is easy to wonder whether this could make steering the bicycle more difficult and present a safety issue.

The other thing I noticed requires having a suitably sized block of wood or similarly strong object handy.

man using a propped-up docked city bicycle as a stationary exercise bicycle

Like the man in the above photo, if you prop up a docked bicycle, you have yourself a free stationary exercise device. And unlike renting the bicycles for a less stationary ride, it won't cost you any money no matter how long you use it.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Another Sculpture in Changsha Conducive to Sitting and Photography

The previous post about sculptures of string players and string instruments in Changsha mentioned that some people enjoyed having their photo taken while posing with the smaller sculptures — a common sight in numerous Chinese cities. However, the man in the post's last photo was not posing for a photographic moment but instead was taking advantage of a place to sit afforded by the sculpture. I have recently seen similar examples there and elsewhere nearby, including at the South Huangxing Road Commercial Pedestrian Street where on one occasion I saw a woman using her mobile phone while sitting on a sculpture's small stool.

woman checks here mobile phone while sitting on a sculpture's small stool

Another time at the same location, I saw photography practiced in parallel with the more mundane act of sitting.

man sitting on a sculpture's small stool while attending to two puppies; other people have their photograph taken with the scullpture

This raises an issue relevant to the design of public spaces in China: the competing interests between those who wish to use a suitable sculpture for an extended period of time as a place to sit with others who desire to use it more fleetingly for photos. Perhaps if a sufficient number of places to sit existed in the surrounding area, which research for this pedestrian street found to be a common desire, the conflict would arise less often.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Motorbike Phone Calls in Hengyang

The Hengxiang Bridge offers an excellent opportunity to appreciate Hengyang's "traffic culture" and the variety of vehicles used there.

motorbikes, motorized tricycle cart, bus, truck, and cars on the Hengxiang Bridge in Hengyang

It also offers an excellent opportunity to observe some real-life mobile phone usage in Hengyang. On that note, here are four photos I took as I crossed the bridge one afternoon:

man using a mobile phone while driving a motorbike

woman using a mobile phone while driving a multi-colored motorbike

woman holding a mobile phone to her right ear with her left hand while driving a motorbike

man using a mobile phone while driving a motorbike

In all four cases, a person was using their mobile phone while driving a motorbike. The above capture most, but not all, of the examples I saw.

Later as I walked back across the bridge, I saw one man park his bike in the dedicated bike lane and then have a phone conversation as he stood on the sidewalk.

man looking over the railing of a bridge while speaking on a mobile phone and his motorbike parked in a bike lane

And finally, tying it all together in what felt like a brief magical moment, I saw a man using a mobile phone while he rode by and looked at a woman who had stopped to use a mobile phone.

man using a mobile phone while riding a motorbike and looking at a woman who stopped her motorbike to use a mobile phone

It is a just a small period of time and only a single location. But if representative, it suggests a large number of people in Hengyang are willing to use their phones while driving a motorbike, at least under some conditions. And much else could be learned, better appreciated, or questioned at this single bridge in Hengyang.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Cigarette Friendly Design Breathes Fresh Life Into China's Face Mask Sales

In addition to having more smokers than the entire population of the United States, China also has dangerously high levels of air pollution. As more people in China show concern over the air they breathe, this creates an obvious problem. But when I was in Maoming, a Chinese city where people are familiar with pollution from chemical plants, one night I saw how ingenuity and China's frequently mentioned pragmatism had come to the rescue again.

young man standing on the sidewalk smoking a cigarette while wearing a face mask

A young man was wearing a face mask with a specially fitted hole so he could continue smoking while protecting himself from the polluted air. He was happy to speak with me, and in response to several questions said:
Maoming's air is bad. Everybody knows that. So of course I wear a face mask, even though they bother me. But one thing I couldn't accept about masks before was they made it impossible to smoke. Last month my cousin who sells face masks in Zhongshan told me about these. Now I regularly wear cigarette face masks and only buy through him. There are many low quality imitation masks being sold. I'm concerned about my health, and I know he will only sell me the genuine ones.
Since then, I have seen people wearing the cigarette face masks in Chinese cities as far apart as Hengyang, Chongqing, and Shanghai. Today in Zhongshan, I finally had the opportunity to visit the face mask store earlier mentioned to me. The first thing I noticed when I arrived was a sign displaying a variety of masks well-suited for China's air.

store sign displaying several heave duty face masks

Inside I met the store owner. He told me he was secretly thrilled about China's pollution since business had never been better for him. And he had this to say about the cigarette face masks:
Business was slumping a little bit until these masks came out. They were an instant hit in the neighborhood and word quickly spread. Many men like to smoke and sharing cigarettes is a regular way they bond. It's important! But smoking with a regular mask is too difficult. Cigarette face masks make it easy. One important feature is that they are N90 masks. They don't filter as much as the N95 masks, so it doesn't takes too much effort to exhale the cigarette smoke.
He is not alone in finding success with cigarette face masks. They are a trending top seller online at Taobao. There are also rumors that Red Star alcohol plans to incorporate them into its pollution themed ads and that Lesser Panda, a popular cigarette in China, may soon offer branded cigarette face masks. With neither pollution nor smoking likely to disappear in the near future, analysts expect the market to only grow.

As I was about to leave the store, the owner tried to sell me a jumbo pack of cigarette face masks at a "friend discount". I explained I didn't smoke, in part due to health concerns. He pointed out I wasn't wearing a face mask and asked, "What do you think is worse for you, smoking a plant or breathing China's air?"

I had no answer, and we had a good laugh. Now I am on first name basis with store owner Renjie Yu. And I also have 20 cigarette face masks to give to friends.

Added Note: Relevant additional information for something posted on this date.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Yahoo Leaves, Apple's Watch Copied, and GitHub Attacked: Assorted China Tech Links

In addition to other topics, I plan a return to some China tech-related themes here. For a starter, I'll share assorted excerpts of four recent pieces sans commentary by me. Much more can be found by clicking the related links.

1. Yahoo closing its office in China received a lot of media attention. Michael Smith, an ex-Yahoo employee, provided some useful perspective:
China was really just one of the last remote engineering orgs to go. Brazil gone. Indonesia gone. The centralization plan was back on target. Build in HQ – launch everywhere. Like a lot of big internet companies really.

So yes – they closed China. I don’t think it has any connection to a pull back in China since Yahoo is already gone from China. Now the engineers are too.

Big deal. Not.
2. Even before Apple's new smart watch was publicly available, you could buy an imitation of it in China. Peter Ford reported one person's account of the processes used in China's electronics copying business:
If there are product details he is unsure of, he says, “I wait for the product to come out, or ideally see if I can get it earlier than the release date.” Since so many electronic goods are made in China, where factories “are leaky, very leaky,” he adds, “people will straight up offer that stuff to you.”

Nor does a manufacturer of what the source calls “facsimiles” need to resort only to the black market to see engineering ahead of time. “Companies like Apple buy things from other providers and put them together in a pretty package,” he says. “I don’t even need to ‘pirate’ their stuff; I just buy it from the same guys who sell it to them [ie Apple].”
3. Github, an online site used by many developers worldwide for coding, has been the target of a remarkable attack. Eva Dou explains the attack and why it appears that not only is the source based in China but the Chinese government is behind it:
Mikko Hyponen, the chief research officer of cybersecurity firm F-Secure, said the attack was likely to have involved Chinese authorities because the hackers were able to manipulate Web traffic at a high level of China’s Internet infrastructure. It appeared to be a new type for China, he added. “It had to be someone who had the ability to tamper with all the Internet traffic coming into China.” he said.
4. Erik Hjelmvik at NETRESEC provides an intriguing and in-depth look at how the GitHug attack works:
We have looked closer at this attack, and can conclude that China is using their active and passive network infrastructure in order to perform a man-on-the-side attack against GitHub. See our "TTL analysis" at the end of this blog post to see how we know this is a Man-on-the-side attack.

In short, this is how this Man-on-the-Side attack is carried out:

  1. An innocent user is browsing the internet from outside China.
  2. One website the user visits loads a javascript from a server in China, for example the Badiu Analytics script that often is used by web admins to track visitor statistics (much like Google Analytics).
  3. The web browser's request for the Baidu javascript is detected by the Chinese passive infrastructure as it enters China.
  4. A fake response is sent out from within China instead of the actual Baidu Analytics script. This fake response is a malicious javascript that tells the user's browser to continuously reload two specific pages on
That's all for now, folks.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Best Buy Hasn't Completely Turned Off Its Lights in China

Best Buy sign lit up at night at the old Best Buy store in Shanghai, China

Best Buy opened its first store in China at the end of 2006 not long after it had acquired a majority interest in the Chinese electronics chain Jiangsu Five Star. The store was hard for me to miss as I was living just a block or two (depends on how you count them) away in Shanghai's Xujiahui district.

I visited the store during one of its earliest days and had the opportunity to speak to a manager who had come from the U.S. He said their plan was to use the Xujiahui store as a testing ground and not open others in China until they had it right — even if it meant waiting one to two years. He also explained that the absence of movies for sale, a noticeable difference from their U.S. stores, was due to difficulties in obtaining a license to properly sell DVDs. Given the many nearby small stores selling pirated DVDs without much problem, this seemed a bit ironic. The most striking part of the conversation to me, though, was when he expressed surprise over the numerous visitors that day and portrayed it as a sign of success. I knew, especially in China, crowds didn't necessarily lead to what really mattered for a retail business — sales. If the manager had pondered the area with many cash registers but few customers buying anything, he may have been less enthusiastic.

Not long after my first visit, I decided to buy a mobile phone at the store. I personally found the shopping experience far more positive than what I had found elsewhere. At the time, it was the only store I had seen in Shanghai where I could easily try working models of a variety of phones. After making my decision, I was told they didn't have the color I desired in stock and weren't sure when they would. Sadly, I left the store to try to find the phone elsewhere. Happily, I quickly found it at a nearby store at a lower price.

Although there were promising signs and another seven stores later opened, in 2011 all of the stores were closed, and Best Buy decided to focus on its Five Star chain in China. Adam Minter suggested some potential problems which may have led to the closings such as a desire to focus on service yet failing to maintain its quality. He also wrote about another repeated failing of some Western companies in China:
Best Buy’s management told me, over and over, that “our market studies show Chinese consumers like to try out products,” and that Best Buy’s interactive displays would take advantage of that predilection, put the company over the top in Shanghai. Lo and behold, it was kind of true: Shanghai’s shoppers would go to Best Buy to try out products – and then promptly march across the street to one of the other Chinese retailers and buy them for less [BG: basically, my experience minus the step of actually trying to buy the product at Best Buy] (in stores with much deeper production selection, no less).
In this case, Best Buy listened to research about what customers in China wanted — good — but apparently didn't accurately evaluate the entire purchasing experience & environment — not good.

I also wondered if there might be less transparent reasons for the closings. Sometimes due to not fully appreciating China's legal requirements and conditions, companies set up their business structures in a way that is not conducive to success nor easy to fix. The best, though painful, solution can be to start from scratch again. In this case, Best Buy may have been able to take advantage of its Five Star chain to do something similar.

Whatever the cause, Best Buy's stores had met a fate in China that Europe's largest electronics chain, Media Markt, later met as well. It wasn't the end of the story for Best Buy in China though. It still had Five Star.

But last year there were calls from Wall Street for Best Buy to further pull out of China and sell its Five Star stores. Recently, Best Buy announced it would do just that:
Best Buy is selling Jiangsu Five Star Appliance Co. to Chinese real estate company Zhejiang Jiayuan Real Estate Group Co. for an undisclosed amount, a spokeswoman for Best Buy said Thursday. She said that Best Buy is exiting the China market except for its sourcing operations, and that the sourcing of its private-label products—everything from tablets and cords to televisions—is projected to grow.
Oh, all the memories . . .

There is one thing that oddly enough isn't only a memory now. It has to do with Best Buy's Xujiahui store which appears in the photo at the top of this post. The photo wasn't taken when the store had its soft opening in 2006. It wasn't even taken before the store's closing in 2011. Instead, I took the photo less than one month ago — over 3 years after the store closed. Yes, not only is this large retail space in a prime shopping area still boarded up, it still has a large Best Buy sign. And any night I have passed by since the store's closing the sign has been lit up during "opening hours". Just to be clear, this is not normal behavior for a closed store in China.

The answer . . . I only have guesses. For example, perhaps Best Buy could not get out of the lease for the space. Best Buy may have figured it might as well keep the sign going. Or maybe unseen sections of the store are being used as office space by Best Buy. If true, I would question whether they couldn't do something better with the front entrance (there was another entrance from a parking lot below) than surrounding it with a wall of blue boards.

If you have an answer, I would love to hear it. There may be yet another interesting and valuable lesson to be gained from Best Buy's experience. At least for now, their light still shines in China.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Variety of Mobile Devices for Sale in Hengyang

Laptops, smartphones, and electronic Chinese-English dictionaries aren't the only mobile devices I have seen in Hengyang, China. At a large indoor shopping center near the Hengyang Railway Station, I saw several stores selling a variety of mobile audio and video devices.

mobile audio and video players for sale at a market in Hengyang, China

There were radio, TV, and DVD players. The ones I checked all had USB sockets. With a USB flash drive, also for sale at the stores, the radios could play recorded music and the TVs could play recorded movies. And with the addition of a small card, watching CCTV on the TVs was no problem as well.

mobile audio and video players and USB flash drives for sale at a market in Hengyang, China

Elsewhere in the shopping center, I saw some of the technology in use. For example, one person was relaxing next to their shop while watching a movie on a portable DVD player.

These devices are an example of the diversity of electronics for sale in China, much of which rarely receive attention in comparison to smartphones. Yet knowing who buys these devices and why they buy them can be valuable to better designing devices with a broader range of functionality.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Wi-Fi and Notes in a Hengyang Black Tide

Admittedly, it was the name of a cafe on Changsheng Road in Hengyang, Hunan, which first caught my attention.

Black Tide (黑潮) cafe in Hengyang, Hunan, China

But I have returned to Black Tide (黑潮) several times due to its decent inexpensive iced milk tea and the friendly woman who has been working there anytime I have stopped by.

cup of iced Black Tide (黑潮) milk tea

When there, I have seen a mostly younger crowd. Sometimes they are using a piece of modern technology, whether a laptop ...

boy using a laptop at the Black Tide (黑潮) cafe

or, more commonly, a mobile phone, useful for taking advantage of Black Tide's free Wi-Fi.

girl viewing Chinese video on a mobile phone and many colored notes with messages on them at the Black Tide (黑潮) cafe

And sometimes they are writing messages on colored paper to publicly post there.

Free Wi-Fi, mobile devices, and colored notes with customers' messages can be found in many other cafes in China. This mix reminds me of issues and questions I earlier discussed regarding the value of looking at people's offline world when conducting user research for online services.

And it shows, like a reading protest in Thailand (related AP report), how paper can still matter in a high tech world.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Bitcoin Red Envelopes Given Away in Hong Kong

young woman holding a red envelope with a Bitcoin offer in Hong Kong

While walking through Causeway Bay in Hong Kong today, the young woman in the above photo approached me and handed me a red envelope. Giving red envelopes with money inside is one of the traditions for the upcoming Chinese New Year holiday. But in this situation it was surely for a marketing purpose, and I did not expect to receive Hong Kong dollars. This red envelope included an especially interesting twist on the money theme though. Instead of cash, it contained a code for "free Bitcoins" as part of an ANX promotion.

As Danny Lee reported today in the South China Morning Post, I was not alone in receiving such a gift:
Vouchers worth HK$500,000 [approximately US$64,400] in bitcoin are being gifted to members of the public by the city’s biggest bitcoin exchange, ANX, to mark the dawn of the Year of the Horse ...

ANX hopes the stunt will encourage Hongkongers to embrace the controversial digital currency, which has shot to prominence in recent months amid mixed messages from central banks around the world over its use.

“We are trying to help the eco-system,” said Lo Ken-bon, the company’s founder and managing director. “One of the biggest issues is the adoption of it because it’s too complicated for most mainstream users – we are trying to get them started as easily as possible.”
The promotion caught my attention since I had been following some of the recent news and commentary regarding Bitcoin in mainland China. Hong Kong is its own world in many ways, and perhaps the promotion should not be too surprising in Asia's first city to soon have a Bitcoin ATM (video report on WSJ Live here). It will be fascinating to see if and how Bitcoin use grows in Hong Kong and the rest of China.

Maybe ANX has started a slightly new Chinese New Year tradition.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Photos That Nearly Made Here it in 2013

When I upload a photo to Picasa it usually means I plan to use it soon in a blog post. But sometimes things don't go as planned. So to start off 2014 here, I will share a mishmash of photos from 2013 that were uploaded but for one reason or another never made their way into a published post. In addition to any descriptions, I'll share links to earlier related posts--all except two from 2013. Together they provide reminders of a tiny bit of what was covered here during the previous year and a hint of some of what else I had hoped to share and write about.

So in chronological order...

2013 for me began celebrating in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. After Kuala Lumpur, I went to Penang, where I listened to a woman describe her challenges visiting her son in the US, and later Melaka, where not far from the Melaka River I saw this shop in a mall:

stall selling a variety of items in a mall in Melaka, Malasia

Some of the flip-flops (sandals) for sale caught my attention:

flip-flops with the logos for Facebook, Yahoo, Google, and YouTube

What do all of the brands on these flip-flops have in common? They are all global online services created and based in the US. I didn't see any Baidu, WeChat, or Tencent flip-flops...

Later in Melaka, I think not to far from where I met a young woman seeking forgiveness, I looked up and saw this:

blue sky with clouds in Melaka, Malaysia

For more about why my time in China has given me a deeper appreciation of blue skies with "normal" clouds, see the 2012 post "Skies and Clouds in China" with scenes from Macau.

After Malaysia, I headed to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where I documented many examples of people riding pedal-powered vehicles, motorbikes, and motorized-vehicles which were pulling or pushing something. However, there was one example, like one of a coffin being delivered on a motorbike, that I had hoped to share in its own post. I never got around to the post, so here is the photo:

young woman with many flowers riding a pedal-powered rickshaw in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Street vehicles weren't the only thing on my mind in Phnom Penh. For example, at one shop I noticed this screen for a cash register at a small convenience store:

computer screen showing calculations for price and change in US dollars and Cambodian Riel

In Cambodia, both US and Cambodian currency are regularly used, and transactions can include both. The above screen is presumably an attempt to make life easier and reduce the number of errors.

While in Cambodia I also went to the riverside town of Kampot. In the countryside I walked to Fish Isle, ate a mysterious sea creature, surprised a little girl by answering her phone call, and explored the area to the north by bike. I didn't share many scenes from central Kampot, but here's one at a large market:

man posing next to a van with its back door open to pack in more vegetables

After Cambodia, I went to Vietnam, Taiwan, and the US. No unused uploaded photos from those places, but there's one from my next stop: Seoul, South Korea:

MLB store in Seoul, South Korea

This was one of several MLB (Major League Baseball) stores I saw in Seoul. In the window the logo for the Los Angeles Dodgers can be seen--the same team some men were watching at Seoul's Namdaemun Market.

After returning to China, I had the opportunity to revisit Cheung Chau--one of Hong Kong's outlying islands. While there, I saw this monkey:

hanging orange toy monkey in Cheung Chau

I had considered posting the photo without any comment except a title something like "Orange Ennui in Cheung Chau".

Fortunately, ennui wasn't an issue for me on Cheung Chau. Nor was it during my visits to nearby Macau where I saw beer speeding through the streets on the peninsula and these three young women in Cotai:

three young women wearing racing clothes, helmets, and goggles in Macau

Almost 2 years ago I shared my experience taking a random bus ride in Zhuhai, Guangdong province. Several months ago I took another random bus ride in Zhuhai. Maybe someday I will share more of what I saw, but for now I will just say I was particularly surprised to hear, and then see, goats:

three black goats on and around a brick path in Zhuhai

Also while in Zhuhai, I shared some scenes from a late-night outdoor dining establishment. For a contrast, here's an outdoor dining scene at a pricier establishment:

outdoor dining scene at a cafe in Zhuhai

Usually I enjoy the local Chinese-style seafood in Zhuhai, but this is my favorite place for a smoked salmon sandwich.

Finally, more recently I shared a scene from a restaurant in Changsha--a city where I've seen a lot of change. This is the spicy chicken dish I ate for lunch at the restaurant:

spicy chicken dish, rich, and a pot of tea at a restaurant in Changsha, China

And that brings this unplanned set of photos to a close. Undoubtedly, more photos, experiences, and thoughts from previous years will appear here in the future--as will new ones.