Letters to companies part 1, Palm

Dear Palm,

As someone who has never owned a single Palm device, but who would like to, I have some facts that I would like to bring to your attention. Currently there are 4.6 billion mobile phone subscribers on the planet. Four point six billion.

Currently your phones are available in the US as carrier-locked CDMA devices, or in a few non-English keyboard configurations on select carriers in other nations.

This decision is destroying your business. Verizon, as of September 2009, had 89 million subscribers. Sprint had 48.3 million. As a total then, Palm phones are primarily targeted at 137.3 million people.

Basic math reveals Palm’s problem. 137.3m/4.6b = 0.029. That’s right. Palm is targeting 2.9% of the global market by delivering carrier-locked CDMA devices. Suddenly Palm’s 0.7% of the global market does not seem low at all, considering Palm’s devices must compete with RIM, HTC, LG, Samsung, and Motorola for that same 2.9% (those being the other major handset makers supported by Sprint and Verizon).

Now that we have the facts out of the way, let me suggest a solution. It is simple and guaranteed to improve Palm’s sales.

Release unlocked GSM versions of your hardware for sale world wide.

To increase sales, target more people. Both in the US and out, there are a huge number of people, including myself, who have never had the opportunity to try WebOS. Give us that chance. Palm is making great software, but the decision to restrict it to 2.9% of the total phone market is, as we’ve seen from your recent guidance changes, not wise. Palm is a small company, and makes few devices (two, as of this writing). Distribute them as widely as possible.

Thank you.

Remembering fear

Last Thursday on Irving, between 19th and 20th, a man was shot to death in front of Phở Huynh Hiep 2. PHH, as it’s known locally, if it’s known at all, is a Vietnamese place, in as much as every restaurant must seek inspiration somewhere. Despite its plate glass windows and fluorescent lights it is popular, filled daily at noon and 7. Although some swear by rival PPQ, directly across the street, I can tell no difference.

Returning to America I must remember many things, from the proper place for crossing streets to the inadvisability of discussing someone while they are standing beside me. Crosswalks are interesting artifacts, but remembering to use both them and common courtesy is part of my cultural re-assimilation.

Working in theaters in SOMA or the Tenderloin and walking home late at night, assessing danger is another.

Asia is, in most regards, a phenomenally safe place, especially as a westerner. Ask any expat in Shanghai how many times they have fallen asleep in a taxi and how many of those rides have ended poorly.  Their answer will reveal the carefree manner in which I once navigated the world. This is not to suggest taxis in San Francisco, Houston or New York are unsafe places to sleep. Rather it is a demonstration of the security and comfort that I found in Shanghai and Tokyo.

The dispute on Irving does not bring fear to me. Police were watching, and the perpetrator arrested immediately. A violent dispute between Asian gang rivals over the correct choice of phở shop is not the fear I remember, nor do I think it should be. The homeless man passed out on the steps to the Civic Center MUNI & BART station is the fear.

“Is he dead?” I ask myself. And then, more disturbing, “how would I know?”

Would I even notice, care, or act? I step over his sprawled form. He grunts something about money. He is not making music.

In the evening, after the show, I suggest meeting at a bar.

“Should I come get you at the station? Sixth street is sketchy.” The question is not chivalrous. It is born instead of a confusion, an awareness of how much I have forgotten. Is this neighborhood safe? Should I be worried for a woman walking alone? How should I solve this problem? This is the challenge of remembering fear.

In Shanghai we would walk home across most of the city at four am, certain only of our destination. There might have been desirable neighborhoods and less acceptable ones, but there were no areas to be avoided. There were no streets filled with drunk homeless men shouting. Drunk homeless women shouting. There were, and are, injured beggars, crippled children, destitute old men, but they do nothing more than occasionally bang their money bowls into passing arms and legs. In Shanghai the largest threats are bike thieves and pick pockets.

Looking at apartments in the Tenderloin in September we marveled at their size.

“The ceilings are so high!” we told each other, heads tipped back.

“It is cheap,” we acknowledged. The windows were large, and the ceilings arched overhead with delicate moulding. Spacious, almost grand, it was an apartment of a forgotten style, when buildings were built for the feel of the place, rather than the number of square feet or the view or the efficiency of use. We were not blind to modern improvements such as windows that would contain heat and faucets that did not clatter when running, but there was a majesty to this old building, to that wasted corner space where the walls curved, making shelving impossible.

“There were six sex workers on this block,” she said. I nodded. I was imagining telling her parents where we had moved, and their first visit. I was imagining walking home late at night, or waiting for her to. I was trying to remember how uncomfortable this should feel, how afraid I should be.

We decided the number of crack dealers and sex workers was higher than we would be comfortable with, sitting alone in the apartment waiting for the other to come home. We decided that it was not the kind of neighborhood we wanted our parents to see us living in. We decided the ceilings were pretty, but the landlord lackluster.

We moved to the Sunset, which is more Asian, more friendly, less dangerous.

A man was shot on our block.

Everywhere we go, we ask ourselves if this is a good restaurant, that a good bar, this or the other hotel a better deal. We constantly seek the places locals like, the normal, comfortable situations. We are not unique, other travelers seek this information also. It is the desire to understand, born of a suddenly obvious lack.

Returning to America after years abroad I find the challenges similar. Can I leave my bike on the street? Bring it into the bar? Take it on the train?

What is safe, and what is normal? Where are we again?

She brings flowers

Into our apartment they come, the week before Valentine’s day. Half are the beginning blossoms of a tree cut in secrecy, the thin branches supporting new blooms. The others, pink tulips of a delicate age, she purchased at a roadside stand on 19th to offset the earlier theft. By the time I return home they are carefully placed, a few in each room of our house’s three. The living room, largest, has several shapes, a bowl, a glass, a vase. A long branch carefully balanced cascades from the high shelf near the bed, its shocks of blossoms dark purple above my head as I sleep. On her side the tulips are more equal partners, playing their lighter pinks against smaller portions of this former tree.

I watch them all while she is at work, as they open and bloom, grow full and start to wither. The weekend approaches with proclaimed importance, and we do make plans and small gifts to each other. After several years of uncertainty we are celebrating comfort and the will to keep on going.

What good things are we making, I often ask, in the evenings.

It is a question that comes to me in long hours of silence as the wind blows off the Pacific and the afternoon light fades. On this Friday in February, as I look around our little house I find a response.

Beauty in small daily doses is her answer.

And in our Sunset studio scattered petals flutter down.