Foxconn

I’m a little slow in catching up with headline news. Because i don’t usually read news. Only when enough people on my subscribed blog list started commenting about the same headline news, then I started to pay attention.

Such is the case with Foxconn. So what that Chinese workers working in sweat shops kill themselves. Tell me something i don’t know. But turned out there are a lot more i didn’t know.

Most of the time, I read “fakesteve” for its comic value. But yesterday, its article on foxconn caught me off guard. For once, it seemed rather professional. At least it sounded more rational and data driven than most other headline news.
Our New Spin on the Foxconn Suicide Epidemic

They’re jumpers. And jumpers, my friends, are a different breed. Ask any cop or shrink who deals with this stuff. Jumpers want to make a statement. Jumpers are trying to tell you something.

Also, consider this. Walmart has 1.4 million employees in the United States. Can you remember a time when 10 or 15 Walmart workers jumped to their deaths from the roofs of Walmart stores over the course of a few months? Have you ever heard of Walmart asking employees to sign a no-suicide contract, or putting safety nets up on all of its buildings? If this did happen, would you think maybe something is going on at Walmart? Or would you just say, well, 10 or 15 people out of 1.4 million is still waaaay below the national average?

Britain’s National Health Service has 1.3 million employees. Number of suicides last year involving NHS workers jumping from NHS buildings: zero. Indian Railways has 1.6 million employees. Can you recall the last time 10 or 15 of them threw themselves under trains over the course of a few months? Deutsche Post has half a million employees. Ever heard a story about a dozen of them hurling themselves into letter-sorting machines?

And yes, France Telecom did have a suicide epidemic last year. Guess what. Nobody went around saying that it was no big deal because it was still below the national average in France — instead the official explanation was that the suicides were caused by brutal management harassing workers. The Sarkozy administration took this seriously and got involved and at France Telecom a top executive actually resigned because of the tragedy

So it is a humorous way to get me thinking of the media spin. I can see why Chinese mainstream media would want to point out foxconn’s suicide rate is way below national average, so it is not a big deal. Then why does western media equally eager to embrace that line of spin?

It only took me one search phrase to come up with some data that really made me think. Everyone has heard how Apple’s market capitalization surpassed Microsoft during this past week. I have heard quite a few people telling me how amazing Apple’s profit margin is especially w/r to iphone and ipad.

Here is some data behind that AMAZING profit margin:

(Source: BBC China) 中国媒体报道说,苹果公司从iPad产品中获得超过50%的 利润,每台499美元的iPad,苹果公司获利297美元。其成本主要为拥有专利的LG公司(生产触摸显示屏)和韩国三星获得。富士 康加工组装费每台只有11美元。富士康工人的基本月薪为100美元。

Chinese media reported that Apple’s profit margin of ipad is 50%+. For one $499 iPad, Apple profit equals $297. The parts cost went to mostly LG and Samsung, (LG’s touch screen dominates the cost, at approx. $80 a piece). Foxconn got paid $11 per iPad for assembly. The basic salary of a Foxconn worker: $100/month.

And what kind of work condition does these workers must endure in order to earn that $100/month? Here are some info reported by China Labor Watch. I’ve also heard some of it on NPR last week. Some excerpt to give people a taste of how it was like.

…its workers, most of whom are in their early 20s with little or no social support, labor for up to 12 hours at a stretch on highly-repetitive, assembly-line tasks without any break and sometimes the workers are forced to work even on weekends.

…they need to finish one task every 7 seconds [i heard this on the radio]

..Foxconn is … enforcing harsh, military-style work culture to maximize output. [Think of the long lines outside of apple store demanding iphone, ipad…]

…They are not allowed to talk to each other when working. Even in the same production line, workers do not have chance to get to know their colleagues.

Basically they are treated like machines, except they are cheaper to maintain. The downside is machine breaks down but a machine won’t commit suicide.

When i was chatting with my mom about this, first question she asked was why didn’t they leave? go work somewhere else?

Turned out Foxconn is actually not the worst place to work. To the contrary it is actually one of the most sought after place in Shenzhen for migrate workers. Why? because it is reputable, large, and stable. It actually pays salary on time.

That’s right, lots of places in the Chinese labor market don’t even pay their workers on time. It is not just limited to manufactory jobs. Even in white collar market such as free lance writers for magazines often never gets paid. After a while, people gravitate toward large, reputable, well-known employers, even though their pay might be lower than smaller places.

If you are working in the worst place in town, then at least you know you have the option of moving to a better place. What if you are already at the best place in town and still you are driven to despair by the work and pressure, what then?

Reference on Foxconn being the best place to work (in Chinese): 因为富士康是最好的选择
Reference on iPad material cost by iSuppli: Apple’s iPad’s Components May cost $260.

Fireworks

When Gui and M used to live in Toronto, every summer they could watch firework competition on the lake Ontario right from their living room. I watched it once with them when i was visiting. It was lovely!

While we were living on Cole street, I noticed that one weekend in May, there were fireworks display above Embarcadero in the evening. We could watch it from our roof, or just walk uphill half a block to watch it on the sidewalk of Fulton street.

Later i learned it was sponsored by a local radio station KFOG, called KFOG Kaboom Festival. They put up a concert on the piers in the late afternoon and end the party with half an hour fireworks starting sometime after 9pm.

It was probably the best firework we get to watch in San Francisco every year. July 4th fireworks is impossible because of the hellish parking situation around fishermen’s wharf. New Year’s Eve fireworks is easier because i could time it such that to drive north on 280 then Embarcadero Blvd a little before mid-night. and just park on the stopped traffic right below the Bay Bridge and watch. But it was usually cold and sometimes rainy.

Last night Gui called me to give me an unbelievable good news, this year’s KFog Kaboom festival will be at Candlestick Park. It means we could watch the firework right from Gui’s balcony!

So i went over to Gui’s place last night to watch the fireworks, like the good old days in Toronto. I checked out the event information page before i went, and noticed the fireworks barge was positioned directly in front of Gui’s balcony on the bay!

It turned out to be the best fireworks “seat” i’ve ever had. We were so close to the show and with a non-obstructed view! We could also hear the music that was to go with the fireworks directly from the stage. The weather was perfect as well, no fog, and not windy either.

Here is a video clip I recorded using my phone. Of course it doesn’t do justice to the dream like quality of any fireworks, or how close we were to the grand display! I hope they would keep this location from now on.

Working with the Right Coast

As it happened, most of the time i need to work with people in the Far East. It exacerbates my tendency to follow a night-owl schedule: sleep late and get up late.

Recently I had to work with people on the east coast instead. Slowly I had to change my sleep pattern to be in-sync with the Right Coast. This morning was especially bad. Started dealing with emergency after emergency starting at 7am. By 11am, i already felt exhausted. The good thing about working in early morning was the entire campus was so quiet. I could concentrate on tasks at hand without disturbance. Soon I happily realized something else: that i had the entire afternoon to myself cuz the Right Coast has gone home! I went to a couple of training instead. It was kinda nice. Feeling a sense of accomplishment by noon and stay relaxed for the remainder of the day.

I could get use to this Right Coast schedule.

Speaking of the Right Coast, it is pretty freaky what happened today with the stock market!freefall

140 Characters – Random Thoughts on Twitter

1. SMS
140 characters limit starts with SMS.

My first encounter with SMS was at Beijing, China, 2006. Sister was visiting China a few months earlier. She loved the SMS experience so much that she bought a cheap Nokia GMS phone and told me to use it when i was there.  After she returned to the States, she tried very hard to figure out a way to SMS Chinese back to her friends in the Mainland from the US. But it didn’t work. (even today, we still can’t SMS Chinese from ATT to T-Mobile, US Carriers are so awful!)

SMS in Chinese totally rocks! Not only that everyone there SMS each other (cuz SMS is so much cheaper than a voice call, you rarely hear people yapping on their cell in public like in the US. Instead everyone was heads down doing the finger dance on the phone), but also the fact that you could pack in so much more information in 140 Chinese characters than in 140 English characters. It also helps that cellphone coverage is truly ubiquitous in China, no matter how remote you are, you are bound to have cell coverage, very unlike our experience with ATT here in the US.

I remember visiting the forbidden palace on a snowy day. Maybe because of the bad weather, the enormous palace ground was mostly desolate, hardly any visitors in sight. It was such a rarity to find oneself all alone in a place so famous! I Texted a friend in Shanghai about the atmospheric experience as i was wondering from empty courtyard to empty courtyard. She texted back her agreement that winter time is the most romantic to visit Northern China; while the south is much better during Spring time. The texting experience made that trip a lot more interesting because i could have a real time discussion with someone who was not physically present but totally understood how i felt.

Later when i met up with a friend of my sister, she showed me some SMS she saved, the ones my sister sent her while she were in Beijing during previous summer. Some were beautifully written, some were hilarious. Together they added another dimension to sister’s trip. It was like pieces of jewels in the form of words. The best part about SMS was they were spontaneous, and you often get real time response/reactions from the recipients. And the convenience of sending one SMS to a group of friends made it even more interesting.

Organizing group outings, which is almost a daily event in beijing, is also incredibly easy with SMS. Instead of yelling at your cellphone to give the address of a place 15 times, you just text it to everyone needs to be there. Piece of cake.

When i got back to the US, the SMS favor sorta just died. I couldn’t convince any of my friends or family to pay more money for SMS service. They all thought why not just pick up the phone and call? And SMS in English is not quite the same either. The ROI is drastically lower because you couldn’t pack in as many meaning to 140 characters. Also the fact most people don’t use public transportation cut down the time you really can use SMS. Because it is harder to type a msg while driving. and when you are not driving, you often have access to a computer, where you could Email or IM.

Later when i heard of twitter, my first reaction was, ah, that’s like public SMS.Since i can’t convince my friends/family to join SMS, twitter is also out of the question.

2. small groups of think-alike vs. the masses
i read about Jason Byrne’s ah-ha moments on twitter(http://isaa.ch/1b). One of his major points was revolved around getting to know a small group of people who has similar taste. he is worried that as subscription size grow, that intimacy and dynamic will be lost. a trendy place can remain trendy only when it is relatively less known. once your granny heard of it and started going, then it is no longer cool.

i knew exactly what he meant, because i have already experienced the full cycle of elation to disappointment on a different site, where i joined during its initial launch, met quite a few like minded people from all kinds of geo/profession, the percentage of high quality people was really astonishing. What’s more, most of them were content creators, and they generated interesting/original content. then the word got out, the site became popular, the average quality of people dropped, most of these new comers were pure consumers. Dilution of people’s quality and interests changed the dynamic, most of the old-timers remained subscribers, except they are now less active, and become consumers too. The only difference is whenever they do create something, they are still of higher quality than the masses. It is a pity that somehow facing the massive incoming consumers made originally active creators dormant.

I don’t think this is a unique problem to twitter. All the web 2.0 sites face the same issue. I wonder if there is a way to keep these small active group’s spirit intact within a massive popular site, kinda like keeping a small community/neighborhood intact within a metropolitan. Both are hard problems that currently dont’ seem to present a solution.

In the physical city, once a neighborhood becomes interesting, say after a group of artists moved in, yuppies will follow and the housing price rise and the original artists got priced out while they were the ones who made the place interesting in the first place. i.e. Gentrification.

On the web, it is not housing price that forced out the original voices. It was more like the “noise” or the “clutter” of less-interesting voices that silenced people.

3. Local news
This is what i find Twitter so unique: “Real Time Search-Twitter FTW“. It is a new form of media platform for the masses to report news around them. Things that major news outlets aren’t interested, and local news outlet doesn’t have enough bandwidth to cover 24/7.

That’s also why i think of twitter less like a social platform.