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August 21st, 2014 by Ryan Ozawa · The Web

W.B. Goodwin Community Center

One of the things that comes with running a website — or several websites, many of which have been around for over a decade — is a constant onslaught of link-building spam. It’s a familiar email pitch. “You have a great website about {x}. We have a great website about {x}. Won’t you please link to our site from your site?” Like all spam, there’s a wide range of styles, strategies, and writing quality. But whether they’re professional business pitches or incoherent not-quite-English blurbs, after a while you can get good at spotting them, and trashing them.

But a link-building request I got today was so clever, I had to give it some props… even though I still ignored it.

The email came from one Jenny Miller, the program director for a community center, saying that my website was a helpful resource for “the kids.” And by the way, here’s a link to another page that they found helpful. “Can you include it on your page?” Jenny asks. “Let me know – I’d love to show my group! I meet with them tomorrow!”

I have to admit, I didn’t just click “Report spam.” It seemed almost authentic. And giving it a second look, some care definitely went into putting the pitch together. The topic “the kids” were studying was explained well, and did tie into the topic of the page on my site being referenced (in this case, ham radio). And while there was no link or blatant invitation to learn more about the community center in question, the email domain and signature pointed to GoodwinCC.org.

I figured they were hoping the use of a dot-org address would add credibility. But surely there wouldn’t actually be a website at that domain…

W.B. Goodwin Community Center

Not only was there a website for the W.B. Goodwin Community Center, but it was a carefully crafted one. The site wasn’t just a mish-mash of random English text cobbled together by a robot or reckless copy-and-paste bandit. It looked real. Not too plain, but not too fancy. There were pages for the center’s programs for teens and seniors, an after school program, a calendar of events, even a member login page.

Could this be a real community center? It seems to have a rich history, a touching mission to “expand the minds of all the young people that come through the doors,” and even an executive director, one Roberta Davidson.

I was impressed. You had to look carefully to note that date references were vague: save half off the membership fee “until the end of the month.” Senior bingo on the third of “this month.” You’d have to be geeky enough to view the source of the login page to realize it is set up to only generate a login error. And of course there are minor missing details like a phone number, address, or map… the kind of things you’d probably look for if you were going to a community center.

All this work for a link-building operation, and discoverable only by someone curious enough to dig a little further into the backstory of an email message.

I was amused to find that Google’s autocomplete suggestions for the “W.B. Goodwin Community Center” included searches for its address and location, meaning that more than a few people tried to research it:

goodwinsearch

And, of course, I did find other website managers who took the bait.

The Richland Public Health links page cheerfully says: “The following links were provided by Mrs. McCutcheon’s Learn to Drive Class! at the W. B. Goodwin Community Center (Thank you: Carter, Julia, Amelia, Sam, Damon, and Markus).” The folks at the U.S.S. L. Mendel Rivers actually included the text of the email from Mrs. Grace McNeil and student Nicole R. on the suggested submarine-related links. Similarly, a set of links to renewable energy resources at Oasis Montana is credited to Mrs. Grace McNeil and one of her students, Jess.

Perhaps all that work building a believable website for an imaginary community center was worth it? Well played, W.B. Goodwin team. Well played.

 

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July 28th, 2014 by Ryan Ozawa · Miscellaneous

Firelight Kauai

The Hawaii maker movement continues to grow, with the latest news coming from the west side of The Garden Island.

Carl Lozar of the Kauai Makers Club announced today a new offering from Firelight Kauai, a boutique gallery space in Hanapepe with laser cutting and giclee printing capability. While the facility is regularly open to visitors, it will now open its doors specifically to makers every Saturday with a limited makerspace membership.

“We can custom engrave and cut pieces large or small from acrylic, wood, glass, leather, cardboard, paper, and nearly any kind of fabric,” notes the Firelight website. “We can cut wood blocks for woodblock printing up to 32″ x 20″, and our giclee printer can print 44″ wide to just about any roll length, on canvas or paper.”

“I was down there this past Saturday and am totally amazed how fast the laser can work,” Lozar wrote. He said Firelight founder Bryon Knopf created the membership program in the hopes of gauging the demand for a makerspace on Kauai.

Knopf, who is also a Realtor, has posted videos of the laser cutter at work on YouTube.

For now, membership is $43 per month, which gets makers access to the workspace and the tools (including the laser cutter, giclee printer, compound miter saw and paint booth). Supplies are not included but are available at Firelight’s wholesale cost.

“The second Saturday of each month will be Nerd Night, there will be canned projects ready to go for the group and individuals,” Lozar noted on Facebook. “Most of these would be a good ‘Hello world’ project to teach the equipment basics.”

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July 25th, 2014 by Ryan Ozawa · Art, Video

Hawaiian Tree Bones

A new time-lapse video captured by photographer and filmmaker Gary Yost will surely give you “chicken skin.”

Yost has been taking pictures for 40 years (much of them while also working as a software developer), and today he is a photography teacher as well as a budding filmmaker. His work with time-lapse photography led him to create “A Day in the Life of a Fire Lookout,” a short film that went viral last year. And while it’s certainly worth watching, his latest video is especially striking… and will surely resonate with people in Hawaii.

Hawaiian Tree Bones” is a time-lapse video filmed with an infra-red sensor, which instantly adds an otherworldly quality to the images. But the subjects are equally remarkable: “skeletons” of māmane trees, an endangered Hawaiian species found at high altitudes. Once used for wood (including to make land sleds), the tree’s survival is vital to the survival of the critically endangered Palila bird. As Yost notes, both the tree and bird were part of a landmark court ruling in which the two species were the plaintiffs.

The māmane trees captured in Yost’s video died long ago, but their remains now serve as stark monuments to their once abundant past. Like ghosts, they haunt the cattle grazing fields that were their undoing, standing still as time and clouds swirl and pass above.

“I obtained permission from the folks at Parker Ranch on the Big Island this summer to create a short film about the amazingly beautiful Māmane tree skeletons on their property,” Yost tells me. “These Māmane trees are reminiscent of the ancient Bristlecone Pines in the White Mountains in California, and I fell in love with them years ago.”

The music in the video is an ancient Hawaiian chant, “Ku’u wahine i ka ua ‘Ulalena,” by Charles Albert Manu’alkohanaiki’illili Boyd. And if that’s not enough to stir your soul, Yost added a finishing touch to his film, combining the time-lapse imagery with slow-motion infrared video of “an ancient [Hawaiian] akua,” or spirit.

“To me, these tree bones, which only exist in Hawaii, are a powerful metaphor for how the endemic ecology of the islands has been altered by time and events,” Yost explains. “It has been an honor to make this document of such powerful ancient tree spirits.”

Watch the video, and read Yost’s notes on how and why it was created, on Vimeo.

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July 24th, 2014 by Ryan Ozawa · Business, Government, Startups, Technology

Hawaii TechWorks HTDC

On Tuesday, a Big Island innovation lab and coworking space will officially become a part of a statewide family.

Although I was born and raised on Oahu, I have a deep affection for Hilo. It’s where I met my wife, while studying (well, “studying”) at UH Hilo, and it’s a place I take every opportunity to visit. My mother’s family being from the Big Island, I like to say that I’m a Big Island boy at heart.

One of the most exciting developments in East Hawaii, which sadly came long after I’d left that sleepy town, is its burgeoning tech and startup scene. And that scene has found a home at Hawaii TechWorks, founded by Tony Marzi. Hawaii TechWorks hosts regular meetups, a coworking space (DesignLab), and organizes events (including the first “Demo Day” in May (co-organized with the Hawaii Tech Exchange).

While relatively new, Hawaii TechWorks is already a solid hub around which great things can happen, allowing the Big Island to be well represented alongside all the other innovation and creation taking place in the Aloha State.

On Tuesday, Hawaii TechWorks will formally join forces with the High Technology Development Corporation (HTDC), a state agency dedicated to foster Hawaii’s tech industry.

“It’s about our compatible and very much aligned vision — similar mission, similar activities,” Marzi said on yesterday’s Bytemarks Cafe.

“Hawaii TechWorks has very similar interests to HTDC, so we thought the partnership would be perfect,” echoed HTDC program specialist Sandi Kanemori in an email. “Basically we will be using Hawaii TechWorks as a hub and to extend our services to Hawaii Island.”

Marzi noted that Hawaii TechWorks regularly livestreams and posts videos of its events online for everyone’s benefit, and that he plans to help the HTDC broadcast its own events so Hawaii Island residents can participate.

“Some of the things we are looking to do is to share valued mentor resources and topic experts to assist small companies through live streaming of events and workshops, an area that we’ve been trying to develop as it’s an easy way to give the events further reach and impact for start-ups across the state,” Kanemori explained. “We recognize that Hawaii TechWorks has already been doing an excellent job in this area.”

In addition, the partnership will give island-hopping entrepreneurs more places to do business.

“We want to create a network between our facilities so that our clients may use the coworking space at Hawaii TechWorks, Manoa Innovation Center and the Maui Research and Technology Center, should they travel between islands and need a place to land for a bit,” Kanemori said.

The partnership will be sealed with the signing of an agreement during the monthly TechTuesday meetup on July 29. HTDC CEO Robbie Melton will be on hand for the occasion. And yes, it will be livestreamed.

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July 10th, 2014 by Ryan Ozawa · Startups, Technology

mbloom

The Maui-based technology fund mbloom, cofounded by local entrepreneur Arben Kryeziu and California-based Nick Bicanic, today announced its first two investments: $350,000 each in Flikdate, a real-time video dating service, and Ozolio, a live HD webcam hosting service.

The mbloom team definitely knows the companies they’re investing in well: Bicanic is the founder and CEO of Flikdate, and Kryeziu is the startup’s CTO.

As for Ozolio? It was founded by Kryeziu as a “pet project.”

The fact that mbloom’s first investments were in companies founded by the fund’s managers caught the eye of Hawaii-born entrepreneur Eric Nakagawa, who posted links to Hawaii business registration reports for Ozolio and Flikdate. And a commenter noted that there was a third company listed on the “mbloom investments” page: Code Rebel.

Code Rebel was founded by Kryeziu, and he is also listed on Code Rebel’s state business registration filings.

I don’t know enough about venture capital to know how common it is for a fund, state government backed or not, to invest in companies founded by the fund’s managers. But it was certainly unusual enough to spark discussion on Nakagawa’s post.

What stood out to me was that Kryeziu and Bicanic’s co-founder status in the funded companies was not mentioned in the local news article. It makes many of the statements and quotes awkward.

“Kryeziu said mbloom decided to invest in the two startups because they were familiar with their work,” the story reads. “In addition to the financial investment, general partners Kryeziu and Nick Bicanic will provide mentoring to Flikdate’s and Ozolio’s teams and give them access to their resources and network.”

Meanwhile, a Flikdate press release put out last month quotes Bicanic as Flikdate’s CEO, and quotes Kryeziu as “Managing Partner of mbloom.”

mbloom is billed as “Hawaii’s first early-stage technology fund,” and in January announced the close of a $10 million early-stage venture capital fund. That fund was backed by a “public-private partnership” between the Hawaii Strategic Development Corporation and Devon Archer, a New York-based investor.

UPDATE: Kryeziu has responded on Nakagawa’s Facebook post:

“Our investment process is governed by a robust due diligence and risk management framework. In the event of potential related party transactions Mbloom investment decisions are supervised and approved by an LP advisory board. We will be addressing the community concerns over the coming days…

“CodeRebel was reviewed by mBloom, but did not meet the funds investment criteria – it shouldn’t have been on the website.

“We have also made several additional investments which will be announced soon.”

UPDATE 2: Official statements from mbloom and HSDC:

mbloom: Not only is there no smoking gun – there’s no gun at all. The irony here is that if we don’t defend ourselves, we end up looking guilty. But if we do defend ourselves, we also end up looking guilty.

HSDC: HSDC was aware of the private investor’s interest in Arben’s and Nick’s already existing businesses and worked with them to establish a fund governance process to review and evaluate related party transactions, if they were deemed appropriate for the fund. Through this process, Flikdate and Ozolio were approved for investment by the limited partners of the fund, and not by Arben and Nick.

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July 10th, 2014 by Ryan Ozawa · Social Media, Technology, The Web

Frolic HawaiiIt’s been a long, long time since social media was the “next big thing.” Facebook celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, and it was hardly the first social platform. Diane Seo of Frolic Hawaii (formerly Nonstop Honolulu) wanted to know whether people who embraced these tools early on were still fans… notably after Gene Park, the “engagement editor” at local news startup Civil Beat, told her he wasn’t. She interviewed Gene, Melissa Chang, Catherine Toth and me for an article posted yesterday titled, “Let’s talk about social media.”

It was a good sampling of opinions from each of us, with Catherine saying she has “very mixed feelings” about social media to Melissa saying she is grateful for social media and owes everything to it. Diane herself weighed in, saying social media can “often feel awkward and uncomfortable” to her, but that, “It’s a must, and I understand its power.”

Here are my full answers to her questions. Thanks, Diane, for the opportunity to opine!

In general, how do you feel about social media? Do you love it, just like it, dislike it or a combination? Why?

I love it. But I love it in the way a musician might love an instrument or a carpenter a tool. Because really it’s a way to create things or explore things that I love. And if there’s another tool that lets me do the same thing, I’d just as easily drop what I’m using to try it as well. I often say I hate Facebook. As a business, as a platform, as a tool, it annoys and frustrates me. But it’s also the primary way I get to interact with awesome people, so I put up with it. It’s like going to a crummy restaurant with lousy food and service… it’s still worth it if you get to hang out with your best friends.

About when did you first start on social media and what drew you in?

It depends on how you define it. I started on dial-up BBSes (and ran one for years), I was exploring and posting on Gopher and USENET before the web. And what drew me in is probably what draws everyone: a way to stay connected with friends and to make new ones. I still keep in touch with people I interacted with via 2400 baud modems in the ’80s, or argued with on USENET in the ’90s. Is a forum or bulletin board “social media”? I might start there. If you’re talking about things in the vein of Facebook and Twitter, I guess I started on precursors like Ryze and Friendster and Tribe.net, maybe 2002 or 2003?

Why do you continue to be active on social media?

I’m there because my friends — and interesting people who I wish were my friends — are there. Whether it’s a website or an app or a tool, pretty much the first thing I try to do with it is connect with people and see how it might help make new connections. And my eagerness to do so is probably why I neurotically try to get my hands on them early.

As time goes on, has your feelings about social media changed?

I often joke I’ve got an “inner cranky old man” where other people have an “inner child.” And among early adopters, there’s definitely an urge to say that you liked this band or that song before it became “cool.” I definitely crave being part of the early users in a community because that’s when it’s cozy and everyone knows everyone else and everyone’s in the same boat, figuring things out together. Facebook in 2004? Twitter in 2006? They were like New York in the 1600s. Kind of messy and small, very much the the wild west, but you could also feel the potential, and the hope — and fear — that they could become today’s Manhattan.

I have to try to separate my immature elitism with my idealism. I don’t have to like or pay attention to how other people use these tools, as long as I get what I need out of them, right? I push back against blatant commercialism, but I also have to imagine part of that is because I’m not exactly successful at turning my passion for social media into money. I love the freedom and anarchy out there, as long as it doesn’t crowd out or silence someone else. I strive for a “live and let live” path, but get grumpy often!

Do you feel that “friends” and “followers” you’ve acquired on social media are meaningful connections or superficial?

Absolutely. But certainly I make an effort to extend online relationships into “IRL” ones as often as possible. Users of my BBS would hang out or plan parties, and today many of us are still friends (or even married each other). But I’ve countless stories of people who’ve never met still finding a real connection online. Stuff I published on Gopher or USENET had inspired people to visit or move to Hawaii, changing the course of their lives. Stories I’ve posted about one of our son’s medical challenges — or blog posts my wife wrote about her cancer experience — still spark beautiful or heartbreaking messages from strangers around the world, glad to have a very real sense that they’re not alone. Twitter and Facebook have sparked romances to create families, and sparked fires that destroy them. And while I’m too old to really get Tumblr or Snapchat, I am absolutely certain that there’s as much “real life” going on as anywhere else in the virtual space.

Am I very close and personal friends with every person I’m connected to on Twitter or Facebook? No. But what amazing platforms. Successful writers often say that if just one person is touched by their book, even if it was read by millions of people, telling the story was worth it. And with social media, that one person — or many one persons — can comment, or tweet you back, and who knows what can happen after that.

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July 9th, 2014 by Ryan Ozawa · Business, Food

Liliha Bakery on Nimitz Highway

I work at Dole Cannery in Iwilei, and while it’s only a few blocks west of downtown Honolulu, it’s a comparative wasteland when it comes to food options. One can live on Costco hotdogs and pizza for only so long. Fortunately, a celebrated local eatery has finally opened its second location on Nimitz Highway, in the old Sam Choy’s space across from City Mill.

Liliha Bakery has been a Kalihi institution since 1950. Peter Kim bought it in 2008 with plans to expand statewide. And while that expansion has been a long time coming — this Iwilei location has been in the works since October 2013, with the opening delayed from May — there’s little doubt Liliha Bakery and its signature coco puffs will easily satisfy an even larger audience.

The space, located at 580 North Nimitz Highway, is familiar to people who’d dined at Sam Choy’s during its 15-year tenancy. It’s been given several modern updates, with dark wood furniture and spot lighting, giving it a much more moody feel than its much older sister on Kuakini Street, less than two miles away. In addition to ample bakery space, there’s restaurant table and counter seating, and the kitchen remains open and within view of customers.

Liliha Bakery at Iwilei

Liliha Bakery at Iwilei

Check out more photos of the new Liliha Bakery location on Flickr, Google+ or Facebook.

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June 27th, 2014 by Ryan Ozawa · Science, Social Media, The Web

Milgram Experiment

The title of the research paper is certainly scholarly. In “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks,” the results of a “massive experiment on Facebook” were published in The Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences. They showed that moods can spread on the network like a disease by exposing some users to more positive news stories than usual, and others to more negative stories.

“For people who had positive content reduced in their News Feed, a larger percentage of words in people’s status updates were negative and a smaller percentage were positive,” the paper notes. “When negativity was reduced, the opposite pattern occurred.”

The mainstream media had fun with the story. “Facebook emotions are contagious!”

But as the story spread online, and notably after this report in The A.V. Club, actual researchers took notice. And many are upset.

The problem is “informed consent,” a fundamental principle of research involving human subjects. While it can get complicated, it basically means researchers must meet three requirements:

  1. Disclosing to potential research subjects information needed to make an informed decision;
  2. Facilitating the understanding of what has been disclosed; and
  3. Promoting the voluntariness of the decision about whether or not to participate in the research.

This critical issue is summarily dismissed by saying that all Facebook users agree to be studied simply by using Facebook. The study addresses the matter in one sentence fragment: “…It was consistent with Facebook’s Data Use Policy, to which all users agree prior to creating an account on Facebook, constituting informed consent for this research.”

And indeed, Facebook’s Data Use Policy does mention research: “…In addition to helping people see and find things that you do and share, we may use the information we receive about you for internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.”

But many say that’s not enough.

“This study is in violation of laws regarding Human Subject protocols in research,” writes Gwynne Ash in a comment on The A.V. Club story. Ash, a professor at Texas State University, goes on to say:

“In this study there was no disclosure to participants that they were members of a research study, even though the purpose of the study was to produce negative emotional states, such as depression, through specific manipulation of data provided to participants (i.e., this was not a naturalistic study). The blanket research permission that is part of the Facebook TOS in no way approaches ethical appropriateness for human subject research of this type. There was also no debriefing of study participants. The publication of this study breaches all accepted protocols for the protection of human subjects in experimental research…”

Aimee Giese, someone I’ve followed online since 2009, put it much more succinctly: “there is NO WAY Facebook did not violate human subjects rules.”

Apparently, informed consent rules don’t officially apply to private companies conducting their own research, but while a Facebook employee was the lead researcher, there were co-authors affiliated with institutions of higher education — University of California, San Francisco and Cornell University — that most certainly adhere to the requirement.

At the University of Hawaii, the Human Computer Interaction Lab leads a lot of research into social computing. Lab director Scott Robertson, who is also an Associate Professor of Department of Information and Computer Sciences, shared his initial thoughts with me.

“My opinion is that what Facebook did here is unethical, but it is a fuzzy boundary,” he said.

“For example, Facebook (and others) conduct so-called A/B studies all the time where they present different interfaces, or different ads, or use different algorithms to different customers and measure things like time spent on the page, click rate, buying, et cetera,” Robertson explained. “If you think about it, they are purposely manipulating the experience and emotions of users in these situations as well, but somehow this seems OK to me.”

“This is a bit of a new frontier, and we will see a lot of this type of thing in the future,” he added.

I don’t know if I was one of the hundreds of thousands of Facebook users included in this study, but I definitely feel manipulated and grumpy. So either way, their test worked.

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June 27th, 2014 by Ryan Ozawa · Events, Government, Politics, The Web

Common Cause at The Box Jelly

In an election year, the more citizens know about candidates and their campaigns the better. And while there’s a lot of information available from the Campaign Spending Commission, it can be a challenge to make sense of it all. That’s where the recent Civic*Celerator comes in, and its slate of online tools to help voters understand who is funding political campaigns, and where the money is going.

Last night at The Box Jelly, an advocates’ workshop drew community leaders, activists, and even a political candidate or two. The event was organized by Common Cause Hawaii, in partnership with Hawaii Open Data (an organization I co-founded in 2012), and allowed the developers of several Civic*Celerator apps to present their work and answer questions.

Mapping guru Royce Jones showed off several tools he built using Esri GIS software, including a map to explore local voting precincts and another to look up candidate filing information based on location. He even previewed his “Power Ballot” concept, which would show an interactive version of each precinct’s actual ballot, and provide extensive links to information about each candidate.

Esri Map

Local software developer Jason Axelson, meanwhile, focused on data visualization, building a Hawaii Campaign Spending site that turned a dense pile of columns and rows into beautiful, interactive graphics that told the story of campaign expenditures by office, category (“food and beverage” being a fun one to explore), candidate, party (democrats obviously outspend all other parties by far), and amount.

Campaign Spending Visualization

Abercrombie Campaign Bentos

Data visualization is also the specialty of Ben Trevino of UHERO, and his Funding a Campaign for the Hawaii State Legislature app also provided an elegant way to explore political fundraising activity in Hawaii.

Funding a Campaign for the Hawaii State Legislature

Also featured last night was KOHO IKE, which offers new ways to search the Campaign Spending Commission’s contributions database. You can find who donated the most to state candidates (per campaign or number of candidates), identify which special interests support which candidates, and where a candidate gets most of his or her campaign cash. And Polidex sought to explore which contributions influence bills being signed into law, providing a graphical interface to illustrate when local legislators are collecting the most money.

While developer presentations are understandably geeky, it was clear to most of the people in the room that these apps had very practical applications, and provided new ways to look at often impenetrable campaign finance data. It was heartening to see local software developers working on ways to serve the public good, putting their considerable talents to helping all Hawaii residents become better informed, better equipped citizens.

And now that they’ve built these tools, hopefully we can get people to use them. While the public can learn more about the people who seek to represent them, they can also hopefully provide “real world” feedback to the developers to make their apps even better.

You can check out links to these and other Civic*Celerator apps here.

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May 13th, 2014 by Ryan Ozawa · Events, Music

Eisa Drum Photo

This Saturday, the Eisa Drum Festival returns for its fourth year. The celebration of Okinawan music, dance and culture has grown larger and more diverse since 2010, and I wanted to get a behind-the-scenes view of its evolution. Lead organizer Shari Tamashiro is a friend as well as the “cybrarian” at Kapiolani Community College, which is hosting the festival, and she was gracious enough to participate in an email interview.

Q&A with Shari Tamashiro

Q. How much larger or different is this fourth event compared to the first?

In terms of audience, it has been growing in size each year. Hard to estimate numbers, but based on food sales, we think we had 2,500 to 3,000 people last year.

In terms of the program, it has been evolving. From year one to year four, we evolved from Hawaii-only to a festival that has developed strong ties between Hawaii and Okinawa.

The first eisa festival was all local Hawaii performers: three Okinawan eisa groups, Kenny Endo’s taiko, and Okinawan lions. Year two we brought in Daiichi Hirata from Okinawa who brought in a crazy level of energy and excitement because he’s so incredibly talented. Year three we brought in Daiichi Hirata and members of REQUIOS, the 2012 and 2013 Worldwide Eisa Festival champions and probably the best eisa drummers in the world. For year four we are bringing in Daiichi Hirata and 20 members of Kajimaai, the 2011 Worldwide Eisa festival champs.

Of course, the heart of the festival remains the local Hawaii performers.

Q: I’m definitely always awed by the energy and size of the festival for such a tight-knit community. When you dreamed up the festival, did you think it would be as dazzling as it turned out to be?

Absolutely not! But I should have. The Hawaii Okinawan community (and all the Okinawan-at-Heart people!) are really overwhelming in how much they support these kinds of events.

Q. What was your inspiration for the festival? Other similar festivals in other communities? Or just an ambitious dream to pull the community together for a big party?

I went to Brazil in 2008 for the centennial celebration of Okinawan immigration to Argentina and Brazil. The closing for their Okinawan Festival had over 100 eisa drummers all drumming together. The floor literally shook from the power of the drums, which created a living beat that just resonated with me. The entire area was awash with such incredible joy and energy! It was magical and I could not stop smiling from ear to ear. I remember thinking, “Why don’t we do this kind of thing in Hawaii?”

Hawaii has individual eisa groups but they all perform separately. I had never seen them drumming together before.

So the inspiration for eisa festival was to try and bring that incredible energy and joy I felt in Brazil to Hawaii and let the community in Hawaii experience that magic by bringing together all the different drum groups. The rule for all of our festivals is that everyone who participates must come together for the finale number. It’s a reminder that we are one community.

You’re mixing traditional and contemporary styles, as well as different groups beyond Okinawa. How do you envision broadening the diversity and inclusiveness further?

My favorite performance from the second festival was the “Chant of Island Peoples,” which brought together Hawaiian and Okinawan chanting and drumming. I love when Nawa’a and Daiichi start drumming together. Hawaii and Okinawa have so much in common that I’d like to explore that connection further.

This year, I invited Halla Huhm, a Korean music and dance studio. They are going to showcase Korean drumming and will join us in the finale number. I like forging connections through drums!

This event is not just for the Hawaii Okinawan community but for anyone who wants to learn more about Okinawan culture. We make an effort to explain what people are seeing so they have a better understanding (and appreciation). There is a story and meaning behind the Shishimai or Okinawan Lion Dance. Our MCs will explain it so people don’t just see a hairy creature up there. Things like that!

Okinawans have a saying, “Ichariba Chode” which means Once we meet, we are family. Anyone can be Okinawan at Heart if they share the values and have an interest. So anyone is welcome to become a part of the Hawaii Okinawan community! Doesn’t matter if you have the blood or speak the language. I really like that about the Hawaii Okinawans.

Q. What else have you got in the works?

I have this really awesome plan based on the original paranku brigade we put together at the first festival (which you and your family took part in!). I can’t give details yet, but it’s going to be a really fun project that regular folks can participate in. If people want to learn more, I will of course let you know, but they can also sign up for my mailing list (subscribe at www.pigsfromthesea.com) to get notices.

Mahalo to Shari for taking the time to share some of the story behind this wonderful festival. Here are the details:

About the Eisa Drum Festival

What: The 4th Eisa Drum Festival
When: Saturday, May 17, 2014
Where: Kapi’olani Community College Great Lawn

Food sales begin at 4:30 pm. Program runs from 6 pm to 9 pm. The event is free and open to the public. Alcohol is strictly prohibited. Bring a lawn chair and enjoy an evening under the stars!

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