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Monday, December 31, 2007

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Valley Boy

I read Valley Boy: The Education of Tom Perkins. Perkins is the founder of the ground breaking venture capital firm: Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) in 1972. Sometime in the late 80s I met him when IFTF had their offices nearby on Sand Hill Road. This firm financed companies like Tandem Computers, Genentech and most famously Google. A key player in getting a number of high tech firms funding. He was part of HP's board during the bugging debacle a few years ago, and gives his version of the story. He managed HP's move into computing hardware as one of their GMs. He also tells how they developed key aspects of the venture process. Before KPCB he pioneered the commercialization of laser technology. Includes some quirky tales that reveal how rich he is. Worth a read for a history of this aspect of business from the 70s to the present. More.

He also tells the remarkable story of Jan Sloot. In 1999 Perkins was brought in to help verify Sloot's development of a revolutionary technical method for doing video and other data transmission. This would have completely changed how data is transmitted. Though still skeptical, Perkins was convinced enough to push for a very big investment. Then the unthinkable happened, the inventor Sloot died during the celebration immediately after the key demonstration! Then even more remarkably, he had apparently hidden the secret compiler that implemented the method so well that it has not been found to this day. No one ever was able to reproduce the results. This is the 'law of the failing demo' taken to an extreme! This is further discussed here, where it is positioned as impossible.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Schulz Bio Read

Previously I wrote about David Michaelis' biography of Peanuts originator Charles Schulz. I finished the book over the holiday. In my previous post I mentioned and linked to some of the controversy being brewed by family and friends of Schlulz.

Overall I liked most parts of the book. The description of the early history of cartooning in the US was worth reading. Also, some of the details of various Schulz efforts beyond the newspaper cartoons, the TV programs and other licensing reminded me of those times as I experienced it. Sometimes the author provided a bit too much detail, the book could have been edited down from 600 pages.

Most interesting and still puzzling was the inclusion of hundreds of Peanuts strips, out of almost 18 thousand that Schulz did. I distinctly remember a number of those printed. According to the book, the strips can be used to directly understand Schulz's and his family's life at the time they were drawn. Sometimes this is clearly the case. In others, its a matter of interpretation. The author even suggests at one point that Schulz's family could simply have used the strips to understand his thinking. It is unclear if they did that. The strips were chosen from his entire work, so serve to confirm the authors narrative.

Then to the controversy. Michaelis interviewed many people for this book, some who had never been interviewed about Schulz before. Some of his family members and friends of many years are now saying that the book is misleading about his character, and especially about how he treated his family. This includes family members who were interviewed extensively. Of course I cannot know the accuracy of any of the statements. Based on reading the book Schulz comes across as quite human, with great talent and some quirks as well. Nothing very negative. This surprised me after reading the quite negative commentary. A truthful biography will likely contain less than perfect commentary about its subject.

Bottom line, this book is worth reading if you are interested in Schulz' life and its context in US cultural history. It's also worth reading the comments by his family and friends about it's accuracy.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Disappearance of Corporate IT?

In CIO Mag, combative pundit Nicholas Carr predicts that corporate IT will be largely replaced by cloud services. Have not yet read the book whose premise this article outlines:
The Disappearance of Corporate IT
Controversial author Nicholas Carr says the network--the Internet, that is--has become, literally, our computer.

First Nicholas Carr dropped a bombshell of a book, Does IT Matter? Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage, which argued that corporate IT is increasingly becoming a commodity. Now he's back with a provocative new tome, The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, From Edison to Google (W. W. Norton, 2008), wherein he makes the case that IT as we know it may disappear completely ... "

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Wikiversity, Wikipedia, and Participatory Learning

Correspondent Henrik Bennetsen, Research Director of the Stanford Humanities Lab sends along " ... The video from the super interesting Wikiversity, Wikipedia, and Participatory Learning workshop .... ". Audio is a bit weak. See also their metaverse talk, for those interested in virtual worlds.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Shared Items on Google Reader

I am playing around a bit with Google's shared items capability, which is available from Google reader. Here are my shared items, still fairly sparse. You can set up a feed for these shared items as well. It forms a blog of items you choose to share with your friends. Though you cannot add your own comments. If you use the Google Reader RSS aggregator, it's sort of a friends network. I am still trying to understand how this scales. I have friends that aggregate into different groups ... professional friends who are interested in topic X, family, etc. Can I categorize them when I share? Check out the reader blog for more. I would like to see some examples of how people are using this usefully.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

P&G's CIO Puts IT At Users' Service

From InformationWeek, includes an interview:
P&G's CIO Puts IT At Users' Service
"We want to be the go-to organization in terms of decision making throughout the organization." That's pretty ambitious talk, but it's typical of Filippo Passerini, chief information and global services officer at Procter & Gamble. Passerini's group doesn't just provide data for executive decision making. He's also in charge of P&G's shared services organization, responsible for corporate services like HR and payroll. For Passerini, the blend of services and technology is a potent combination, one that helps make IT integral to the organization ... '

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sometimes Strange Nature of the Biography

I have in front of me the recent Bio: Schulz and Peanuts, By David Michaelis. Peanuts was one of the few strips I read for years. Identified a bit with Charlie Brown. Knew little about Charles Schulz, so it picked it up while roaming the library. Have now read the intro.

Something made me read the Amazon reviews. The reviews were polarized, some loving it and some disliking it. One of those reviews led me to a huge commentary thread about the book at Cartoonbrew. First I had seen the CartoonBrew blog, an interesting find in itself.

Anyway, the thread about the Schulz book has hundreds of entries, almost all criticizing the portrayal of Schulz in the bio. Long pieces by his family members and friends of many years. Each stating that Michaelis had pre established a narrative about Schulz's life, a Citizen Kane/Rosebud metaphor, and printed only things that fit the framework. I read nearly the whole thread. Some heart wrenching and inspirational stories among them. Lots of support for the fact that there is much misrepresentation in the book.

So it gets to the nature of a biography. Who to believe. Michaelis spent seven years researching the book and talked to lots of people who knew him. The commenters, some who were interviewees, say he got many facts and impressions wrong. So its only fair to finish the book now. Or is it? I likely will. And I now have started. I like his presenting some of the Peanuts strips. It does appear the theme started from the very beginning, with the inclusion of some of the Peanuts 'Rosebud' strips, which I do remember, having also seen Citizen Kane for the first time around then. Not fair if that infleunces your choice of material.

Reading the critical thread is a good example of how knowledge can be appended to the printed word. Will the commentary survive the book to give a contrary view? If you plan to or have read the book, read the comment thread.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


The NY Times has a new magazine called TMagazine. Which I got an ad for this past week. It's an animation thing, with also, by the way. some text as well. Some interesting graphics arts, some eye catching visuals, but its not readable. I guess I am of the old guard which likes simple, large enough, static text on a quiet background. You know, something that you can read easily.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Sound Focusing

Have tested some sound focusing approaches by Holosonics. Now they are testing the idea on billboards in NYC. It's an interesting idea that improves on the use of sound for merchandising, but has been criticized for being invasive. See also this NYTimes article about using the sound of ice cubes clinking in a glass to attract people to Coke machines. Wonder if that effort, announced in 2003 is working out.
"Hear Voices? It May Be an Ad
An A&E Billboard 'Whispers' a Spooky Message Audible Only in Your Head in Push to Promote Its New 'Paranormal' Program
By Andrew Hampp
NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- New Yorker Alison Wilson was walking down Prince Street in SoHo last week when she heard a woman's voice right in her ear asking, "Who's there? Who's there?" She looked around to find no one in her immediate surroundings. Then the voice said, "It's not your imagination." ... "

Google to Compete With Wikipedia

Google is planning to compete with the Wikipedia with a system called Knol. I thought Google would have bought the WP by now. Nicholas Carr provides some commentary. Contrary to wiki principles, articles on topics will be owned by individuals. Should be an an interesting face-off. With the WP's head-start in critical mass it will be a tough challenge. There are lots of problems with the WP, though it remains a useful and evolving piece of work. Its refreshing to see another cut at participatory acquisition and delivery of knowledge world-wide. Some middle ground should exist between the dusty Britannica and the strange mix of open and closed territory presented by the WP. Though I guess we can expect ads to be liberally sprinkled through Knol?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Cult of the Amateur

With all this talk of social media around, I just got around to reading Andrew Keen's early 2007 book: The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing our Culture. This book positions Web 2.0 from blogs to Facebook to the Wikipedia as dangerous developments that will ultimately degrade how knowledge is recorded and delivered, and put many people out of work along the way. Since most all of what we read today praises social media developments, this book adds a sobering contrary view that is worth understanding. I don't think that the internet will kill our culture, but it may change it, and not always for the better. This book makes an important argument. I suggest that if you are a promoter of social media, read this book. It shows what some of the negative consequences could be. Like any revealed technology we are likely to have to adapt to the consequences.

A bit ironically, Keen has an Amazon blog, where he frequently posts about the music business. The same blog looks like it's mirrored in his public blog: The Great Seduction. Looks like he has to use social media to get his arguments out there. It a great example of how blogging can be used to extend a books argument in time and space.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Johnson & Johnson VP Blogs

Gary Bembridge, vice president of global beauty care at Johnson and Johnson has an external blog called Unleashed on Marketing. Interesting and frequently updated. He also has a travel blog and does podcasts.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Convergence of Science and Spirituality

Finished The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality a 2003 book by the Dalai Lama. It was very good, enjoyed the read. Part of my background is as a physicist, though I have never practiced physics. I am not spiritual, except perhaps in an broadly intellectual way.

The DL makes some interesting points ... he is very honest up front in saying he does not understand mathematics. Mathematics is the language of physics, and has been since Newton. Quantum mechanics is obscure even to those who know math more deeply than I do. Math is a requirement for physics these days, and statistics is part of that. So that's a big impediment.

The DL picks and chooses very carefully with examples that seem to show that Buddhism has predicted some results of modern physics. I don't know much about Buddhism, so I am hard pressed to say these choices are reasonable or not. I noticed that he very briefly mentioned being able to predict eclipses, which a number of ancient peoples figured out. Then he mentions astrology, which apparently is part of Buddhism, and that's very difficult to justify scientifically, and thus is mentioned no more.

Also no real mention of the 'scientific method' in the sense that it attempts to control context very carefully, that's why physics research works, and he seems to imply it's more about the choice of apparatus. Its more about careful control, which greatly simplifies the problem. I do like his mention of Popper's work ... I think falsifiability is an important idea, though this is a less popular notion in science today.

His view of evolution is also problematical. He brings up the problem of altruism and group selection. This has been addressed by a number of folks in evolutionary biology ... in particular 'Dawkins' Selfish Gene and following work. He discards those solutions pretty quickly. I am not saying he is wrong, only that he drops science that can't be ignored because it does not feel right. Liked his piece about early Tibetian work on senses.

His discussion of reincarnation is interesting, and although science cannot disprove it, it's one of those 'extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof ' situations.

I am in agreement overall that strictly reductionist, purely materialist science is dangerous. We have seen lots of examples of that. I am not sure there is much we can do about that. He seems to be saying we can add a spiritual overlay on science to make it safe, and a combination of the two will be better. Perhaps, though I am not convinced.

Overall a very thought-provoking book. Worth reading. Sad to see him run out of his country, though its probably contributed to his being heard. Good piece of science philosophy, from the spiritual direction.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

SNCR Research Symposium

I attended the 2nd Annual Research Symposium of the Society for Communications Research(SNCR) this past week in Boston. Founded and run by Jen McClure, she does a nice job pulling together an interesting group of PR folks, researchers, vendors, academics and company workers who are working on new communications work. That means its mostly about what is usually called Web 2.0 and in the past has been primarily about blogging. I noted that this year there was much twittering going on at the meeting, there was not too much talk about what could make that useful. Also some sessions about virtual worlds, which I can see as 'new communications', but still immature in what it can deliver. Several expansive worlds were mentioned, but not the fact that they usually empty. I am glad that they are paying attention to virtual world communications. The way I understand it many of the presentations will be available on the SNCR site.

The panels were useful. Most of my work is facing inwardly in a large company, so its useful to see what others are doing. There was less about what PR companies specifically are doing this year, and I thought that aspect was refreshing.

Dr. Nora Baines of UMass Dartmouth gave an overview of what companies are doing with blogs. More here. Worth taking a look at that study which she completed last year, which looks broad at the why and how of companies blogging.

Joseph Carrabis of NextStage Evolution gave a talk on the Blogging Power Continuum. Had never thought about blogging power and what it means to understand it when attempting to use blogs to influence people. His company uses cognition based approaches to do predictive analytics. That work is not just about blogging, but about connecting people and messages, Some fascinating, novel work, with top level clients that is well worth a look. Much of my recent work has been connected with cognitive research influenced solutions, so this was particularly interesting.

One of the panels had a Coke marketer talking about the Mentos fountain phenomenon, which now seems so long ago. The insider details were interesting. I was amazed that Coke was able to act so quickly after seeing the video. It would be hard seeing other companies I am familiar with moving that quickly. An interesting historical tid-bit, Coke was also invovled with a much earlier consumer-generated-media event. in 1960 Andy Warhol painted a series of brand images. Best known are the Campbell Soup images, but Coke was also among them. Coke sent him a cease-and-desist order rather then thanking him for the great publicity. That would not happen today.

During the meetings I heard about the formation of the Blog Council. This is a group formed by some large companies to address the particular issues of large companies blogging. When I read the press release I noted that P&G was not included. Later I heard they were members, and in fact co-founders of the effort. In a coy decision they opted not to be included in the press release. Not really helpful to re-inforce the impression of a large company as secretive. I like the idea of the council. Large companies are often seen with ill-will in the blogosphere. It will be useful to figure out what that is and how to address it.

SAP is working will SNCR fellow Shel Israel, co-author of the Naked Conversation, to study social media world-wide. It is surprising that SAP is involved with this, does not appear like it's their style. He interviewed dozens of folks people world-wide who use social media of many types and presented these as stories. That's OK, but I would have preferred a more objective view of this world. What works, what does not? SAP would have been better serviced by that view.

Sun Microsystems also spoke about their continuing work with blogging. Their CEO has been blogging for some time. Now they have been getting their lawyers and financial people to start blogging about corporate results. Based on my limited experience, that is an amazing thing. I will find out more about that effort and post about it later.

I reconnected with Paul Gillin, blogger-journalist whose book: The New Influencers I reviewed and I now use internally to introduce people to the topic.

Thats my top-line, will blog again about this meeting as I review some of their material on-line. Check out their site. They would be useful to contact to do some research. Join up, hope to see you there next year.

We Are All Trime Travelers.

It's Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day. Appeals to my inner sense of absurdity.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

MIT's Curriculum on the Web

This was first announced in 2001, I marveled at it then, its in the real spirit of knowledge sharing, amazing:
" ... MIT has put its entire curriculum of 1,800 undergraduate and graduate courses online, making the courses available for free to any user with an Internet connection and a Web browser.

First announced in 2001, MIT's OpenCourseWare includes syllabuses, homework assignments, exams, reference materials and video lectures when available. The information is published under an open license that allows for reuse, distribution and modification of the materials for noncommercial purposes, said OCW spokesman Steve Carson ...

Monday, December 03, 2007

Consider the Ethics of Hybrid Computing

Good Computerworld item: Scientist: 'Hybrid' computers will meld living brains with technology. This is as inevitable as the faster chip. It will bring aspects of the analog back into our thinking. It will create new kinds of sensors. It will stretch our ethics about how to combine living and digital.

Transistor at 60

Its good to sit back and think about this anniversary. I remember wiring up some transistor based circuits in the 60s, but had no conception about where this would ultimately go. Packing them ever more densely and having faster switches is good, but the claim made in the excerpt below implies that this development alone will solve some remaining tough problems of our time. I don't think so. It will require some tough thinking about the methods that will use all these new chips, and making sure that future versions of Vista don't suck up all that new power.
"The Transistor at 60 (Via ACM Technews)
Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) (11/27/07) Head, Beverley

Since its debut six decades ago, transistor technology has advanced to the point where 820 million transistors can be housed on Intel's new Penryn processor. However, the shrinkage of transistors to accelerate processing speed and manage power efficiency has Intel co-founder Gordon Moore convinced that a physical barrier will be reached within the next 10 or 15 years. Not everyone agrees with Moore's assessment. "What's happened again and again when you come upon the physical limits is we've been able to advance around them, and I think that will continue for at least the next several generations," says director of IBM's Australia Development Laboratory Glenn Wightwick. Intel CTO Justin Rattner forecasts that within 10 years electronics will shift from reliance on an electron's electrostatic charge to its "spin," and perhaps usher in molecular devices. Wightwick says many research labs are investigating potential replacements for transistors, such as molecular cascades or carbon nanotubes. The trade-off with a switch to new electronic components is the cost and effort of facilitating such a transition, but users would benefit enormously because their interaction with technology would be easier thanks to single-system chips, Rattner says. He says these advances could lead to innovations such as practical machine translation, continuous speech recognition, and personal robots. "