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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. "

Friday, November 30, 2007

Google Announces Tower Location

Was news to me, but Google now has a blog about mobile matters. The latest entry covers an interesting new item: New magical blue circle on your map. Note the mention that GPS will drain your mobile battery quickly. This method is far less accurate than GPS.
" .... My Location is a new beta technology from Google that uses cell tower identification to provide you with approximate location information, so it will work on phones without GPS. Simply fire up Google Maps for mobile, press [0], and the map will indicate your approximate location by centering on a blue circle ...

If you do have a GPS-enabled device, My Location can actually complement it. My Location kicks in faster than GPS in most cases, so you can access your location even faster on the map. It also works reliably indoors (unlike GPS) and doesn't drain your phone battery at the rate that GPS does.... "

Monday, November 26, 2007

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Does Knowledge Sharing Deliver?

From Knowledge@Wharton:
Does Knowledge Sharing Deliver on Its Promises?
For nearly two decades, consulting firms, technology companies, R&D-driven corporations and other knowledge-intensive organizations have made significant investments in "knowledge management" initiatives. These initiatives are intended to facilitate the capture and transfer of company expertise as a way to spur learning and innovation. But research by Wharton management professor Martine Haas and a colleague indicates that knowledge sharing efforts often fail to result in improved task outcomes inside organizations -- and may even hurt project performance. Their research is presented in a paper titled, "Different Knowledge, Different Benefits: Toward a Productivity Perspective on Knowledge Sharing in Organizations." ...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Petside Blogs

Took a look at P&G Productions Petside site, Recently announced. Included are dog and cat blogs, with lots of non professional photos. Nice idea for pet lovers. Looks like this site was set up so as to be crawlable and searchable. Only initial criticism is that each of the blogs has been set to have very long lists of iniital posts shown, and since there are so many pictures, this could be a problem for non-broadband users.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Young Europeans Find Online Essential

Fron Ecommerce Times, I certainly do believe this. There is also an increasing tendency to make these connections mobile.
For Young Europeans, Life Without Web Unimaginable
Eighty-two percent of 16-to-24-year olds in Europe prefer to go online than watch television, according to a European Interactive Advertising Association survey, which also revealed that about six out of 10 West Europeans go online regularly. More than 80 percent of those polled said they "couldn't live" without at least one Internet ... "

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Monday, November 19, 2007

Amazon's Kindle eBook Reader

Amazon has released an Ebook reader called the Kindle. Here is it's site with videos and lots of commentary. Contrary to most other implementations of eBooks, it can download books wirelessly without the need for an intermediate computer. The Kindle costs about $399 (high) and Amazon will offer many best-sellers for $9.99, less on a monthly basis. It will also offer subscriptions to magazines such as the WSJ and NYT. Sounds good, have not tried one as yet to check problems like readability and ease of use. Based on the picture it looks big and primitively designed. Ugly. No iPod stylishness here. Borders is promoting a Sony reader. This whole idea of eBooks has not taken off, and it needs that to make more content available. I have tested two so far, and none was really satisfactory. Will try to get a demo of this one. Plain black print on a white page is still more restful for the eyes. Update: As can be expected, there are lots of other intriguing details at Engadget, here and elsewhere.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Report of the Death of E-Mail Premature

Dan Dodge at Microsoft has an external blog called On the Next Big Thing, which I have on my feed. He covers some interesting communications and tech issues. Most interesting of late: MacroMyopia overestimating the short term and underestimating the long term. Some useful, perhaps curmudgeonly comments about the unlikelihood of social technology replacing e-mail any time soon. Good read. We will be doing things that look much like e-mail for a long time.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Mining Data for the Bottom Line

The SAS newsletter often includes some good starting points for data mining. This month they look at three approaches: Analyzing data directly from databases, spatial data analysis, and novel ways to visualize data. As you might expect these methods may be demonstrated using SAS tools, but it's still thought provoking. Also, look at the recently announced strategic partnership between SAS and Teradata. Teradata is used by most retailers and many ecommerce companies.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Social Networking Journal Issue

Dana Boyd of Berkeley reports on the first issue of the Journal for Computer Mediated Communication (JCMC) that is devoted to social networks. Sponsored by Indiana University. Academic flavor, but some interesting pieces.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Why Telecommuting Stinks

"Why telecommuting stinks
Here are the eight biggest drawbacks to working from home -- even if you do get to stay in your pajamas ..."

I have done quite a bit of this lately. The article mentions many of the fairly obvious problems involved, but on balance it saves gas and works quite well. We exist now in a high-speed, broad band world. The kids are now out of the house. I can do several things at once. I have very powerful computing at hand. Works well.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Channeling Desmond Morris

Reading Desmond Morris's autobiographical book: Watching: Encounters with Humans and other Animals. Back in 1969 I was reading his 'The Naked Ape' about the very broad variety of human behavior. I had also been reading Konrad Lorenz and Niko Tinbergen at the time. One riff certainly influenced the other, I was much impressed by the Naked Ape, a best seller at the time. Made me look at animals and humans in a very different way. Even made me think, briefly, of studying in this field. I have not read any of his half dozen interim books but chanced on this one at the library. Although I read many bios, I was not quite ready to read this 600 plus page biography. It started slow.

Much to my surprise I found this very enjoyable and often funny. His description of a trip through France with a number of eminent biologists, including co-Nobelists Lorenz and Frish is very funny. Later he describes the animal behavior encounters he had with his live Zoo show in Britain in the late 50s, which made him a celebrity of the time.

Still reading, and will likely finish, recommended if you have interest in the subject.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Marketing Engineering

As part of a practice of applied marketing meeting at Wharton I received a copy of the new book: Principles of Marketing Engineering, by Gary L. Lilien et al. Marketing engineering? Could there be such a thing? At least it's not marketing physics. First I admit though I have taken many engineering and physics courses I have never taken a marketing course. I have learned a bit of the quantitative aspects of the field over the years here.

I had a chance to read and overview a good portion of this book, and to my surprise it does a good job of positioning marketing as quantitative engineering in a meager 192 pages. Each topic: response models, market share, customer value, segmentation, perceptual maps, forecasting, conjoint, new product development, marketing mix and promotions are carefully positioned with only a minimum number of equations and some real-world examples.

Surprising, too is that this book is readable, I managed a third of it on a long flight. I don't think it can be complete given its size, but it positions a lot of fairly new techniques well. I would like to go through this book with a knowledgeable P&G person to see if, and how we use each technique, and have altered it to our own requirements. Much recommended for someone who wants a readable introduction to modern quantitative marketing methods. Even the analysis of Web 2.0 topics like blogs are mentioned, and the use of advanced simulation techniques to iteratively test proposed solutions.

The primary author Gary Lilien of Penn State, is one of the well-known deans of marketing science. He has a consultancy (who doesn't) called DecisonPro. They sell a number of marketing analysis frameworks that work in Excel, free for evaluation, have not tried any of them.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Is there Work in Social Networking?

Tom Davenport writes in HBR Online that he is skeptical about the business value of social networks. The comments section contains some useful debate on the subject.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Chumby Networking Device

Just heard of the Chumby device. Its a small wirelessly networked always-on linux computer that can run widgets and flash applications. Not a mobile computer, needs to be plugged in. Costs about $180. Sort of a smart, networked, extensible alarm clock. There are lots of widgets written for it already, for example some are essentially RSS feeds. One is a Facebook status display, etc. Could some sponsored applications, like pharma reminder and re-order systems be written for it? Here is a review in Interactive Design, which points out that its hard to get new home appliances accepted. I like the idea of mutiple simple display devices linking to the home wireless network.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

In-Store Marketing Report

Forbes article: In-Store Advertising: Coming Of Age?. Good, if unsurprising article about in-store ideas. Mentions the Modcart from Modstream which I posted about here, previously. A simple, digital ad for the cart handle, originally tested at Home Depot. Mentions static in-store displays, claims they are contrary to shopper behavior, but I disagree. I have now seen some excellent implementations at Whole Foods Market by Micro Industries that would seem to say otherwise. Its not about making shoppers stop, its about providing them with just in time and place information. You could also say that cart-sourced information is distracting from the store navigation process. Here is the full report by Deloitte / GMA on shopper marketing.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Moving Towards Emotional Design

Some observations from last week's Montreal Neuromarketing conference. " ... Why struggle to make ads more appealing when you could be making the product itself more appealing by tapping into the consumer's true feelings and reactions? ... "

Sunday, October 28, 2007

New Spin on Laundry

A colleague points us to an article in the Columbus Dispatch:

Procter & Gamble's new spin on laundry Is Swash a college student's dream: No more laundry, ever?

Swash employee Leslie Shumaker demonstrates to fellow Ohio State senior Ben Shinabery how Smooth It Out removes wrinkles from clothing. The store on N. High Street sells five laundry products aimed at college students.

The campus Swash store, open since September, features some brash, college-friendly marketing to Ohio State students.

There's a theme behind the line of laundry products sold at a new store near Ohio State University: anti-laundry. At least that's what it seems like at Swash, the one-and-only test store for a new Procter & Gamble brand of the same name.

Of the store's five products designed to get stains, wrinkles and odors out of clothing, only one requires that the piece of clothing spend time in a laundry machine. That product -- a damp, scented cloth -- needs 10 minutes in a dryer to steam out all of the aforementioned clothing mishaps. It's use-and-go for the rest of the Swash products -- an anti-odor spray, a de-wrinkle spray, a stain-removal pen and a lint roller ... "

Monday, October 22, 2007

Is Wal-Mart's IT a Commodity?

Nick Carr writes about Wal-Mart's IT, its distinctive capabilities and value, with lots of comments:
' ... " I never viewed computers as anything more than necessary overhead," Sam Walton once said. Nevertheless, after I wrote "IT Doesn't Matter" back in 2003, critics would routinely present Wal-Mart as the killer counter example to my argument that information technology rarely provides a competitive edge anymore. Wal-Mart had famously set itself apart from its retailing rivals, IT analysts would point out, by building a lot of highly customized IT systems that its competitors were hard-pressed to match ... Now, with commodity software greatly advanced, Wal-Mart's custom systems have turned from advantage to disadvantage, and the IT analysts have changed their tune ... ' .

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Proposing the Cloudbook

Nicholas Carr points to John Markoff's post in the NY Times Tech Blog about Cloud computing: " ... a lightweight, thin-client, ultralight laptop that draws its data and applications off the Internet ... " . Since I composed the above snippet there has been considerable discussion about the cloudbook idea in Carr's blog. This could be part of the future of portable, cheaper and more convenient computing.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Space-Based Solar Power

Interesting piece on the subject with quite a bit of detail. This could be a saving grace for power, but could take another 10-20 years to bring close to feasible.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Baseline Reviews RFID at Wal-Mart

BaseLine Magazine reviews Wal-Mart's RFID initiative to date. Describes it as 'faltering', and says it has not met its financial goals since its inception in 2003. Evan Schuman, in reviewing that article, suggests that Wal-Mart is altering its plans as a result. The Baseline article also provides a good overview of the challenges involved.
" ... "We haven't lost faith in the potential of the technology," says Simon Langford, head of Wal-Mart's RFID initiative. "But we have had to change our strategy to provide more benefits to our suppliers."

Wal-Mart's change of plan demonstrates the need for retailers and suppliers alike to tread carefully with RFID. As retailers such as Best Buy have observed, widespread adoption is still years, not months, away. At the same time, some of the greatest benefits may not be in applications first thought to be ripe for the technology, such as automating distribution centers. Instead, retailers are finding early gains closer to the sales floor, where they are using RFID to track consumer buying patterns and ensure products are on shelves in time for promotions ... "

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Stuff of Thought

Reading Steven Pinker's The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature. I am a big fan of Pinker, best so far was his book The Blank Slate. This latest book is also very good, but sometimes descends into depth that the average reader may not want to deal with. Good read about language and the brain.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Paul Gillin at the Demo Conference

I have introduced a number of people to Paul Gillin, Web 2.0 journalist, who does an excellent job of reporting on the phenomenon. He is author of The New Influencers, which I reviewed here. He is now blogging about the Demo Conference. He gives some highlights of related emergent tech that I had not seen before. Almost as good as being there.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Pete Blackshaw reports on Nielsen's new public beta called HeyNielsen!. Their press release. " ... It's 100% about CGM, and has echoes of the first "consumer expression" business I started out of P&G, PlanetFeedback. In a nutshell, Hey! Nielsen provides a platform for consumers to rate, review, rant, react, and respond to all manner of content related to entertainment ... " . The model, I assume, is to gather the feedback and sell the stats back to us.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Re-Examining MIT's Starlogo

Some time ago we talked about MIT's StarLogo project. I was reminded of the package during a tutorial by Damon Ragusa of Thinkvine. A new version called Starlogo TNG has come out and it is a considerable update. Damon has used it to create a number of agent model prototypes of consumer systems. Although Starlogo was designed to teach computing and logic to kids, this new version is considerably more powerful and useful than previous versions. My only problem has been that it won't work on my issue Dell laptop which apparently has a problem with its Nvidea graphics board. Cannot find a workaround.
" ... StarLogo is a programmable modeling environment for exploring the workings of decentralized systems -- systems that are organized without an organizer, coordinated without a coordinator. With StarLogo, you can model (and gain insights into) many real-life phenomena, such as bird flocks, traffic jams, ant colonies, and market economies... "

Friday, September 21, 2007

Google Presentation Tool

Google has its Powerpoint-lite slide show product out. It's part of the Beta of Google Docs. There is more about it here. I played with it a bit, and like many of the Google enterprise tools, it does the basics well. You can readily collaborate with others in creating or editing a presentation. Like all the Google tools, it runs online. It can read ppt files created by Powerpoint, at least those with basic structure. Even then there are sometimes misalignments. Like all the enterprise tools it contains nowhere near the features of Microsoft's suite tools, thus it's ideal for small business, or most common business presentation needs.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Update on Eldercare Robotics

As a country with greatly skewed demographics, Japan has been doing much in the area of eldercare robotic applications. Here is a Cnet article on new progress. As these ideas progress, they are likely to have broader uses.

" ... "In the type of aging society that we foresee, the situation will likely get to the point where there will be little choice but to get some help from them (robots)," said Isao Shimoyama, dean of the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Information Science and Technology.

Shimoyama is among a group of University of Tokyo researchers who are working with counterparts from seven leading Japanese firms--including Toyota Motor, Fujitsu Laboratories and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries--to develop robotic and information technology that will lead to a new generation of robots in the next 15 years.

"If you leave clothes lying around, a robot might pick them up for you and put them in the washing machine," Shimoyama said. "Once they are dry, it might fold them up and put them away."

Prototypes of new robots capable of performing mundane tasks will be unveiled in 18 months ... "

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

New Communications Review

See the " ... latest issue of New Communications Review (SNCR), a publication of the Society for New Communications Research, a non-profit, global think tank dedicated to the advanced study of emerging modes of communication and their effect on media, business, culture and society ... " .

Monday, September 17, 2007

Sunday, September 16, 2007

3D Printing to Remote Manufacturing

The idea of 3D Printing has always been intriguing. You have a 3D specification of an object and then a device carves out a model of it anywhere you have such a printer. Its been possible for a long time, first with massive NC machines, later with very expensive floor models, now with desktop devices with a very small footprint that cost about $5K. It points to Neil Gershenfeld's concept of Personal Fabrication covered in his FAB book, ultimately a means of remote manufacturing, a kind of teleportation where you only need the raw materials at a remote site. Well, no, not for some time to come. The kind of 3D printing done here is only a means of cutting an external plastic model of some shell of an object. Useful for the outside form of a small bottle or package design, to see how it looks on a shelf. Still very specialized and simplistic applications, but a hint at what may be possible.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Borders Launches Beta

Borders announced some time ago it was dropping its marketing argeement with Amazon. Now they have launched their beta site. A softer, more book store-like site, even has some simulated bookshelves. Much more at StoreFrontBacktalk.

Tell Your Friends About Kandoo!

Aimed at parents with children ages 6-8, a new Kandoo WB Kids cartoon show (http://www.willdewitt.com). An example of a cinnection between a product site online and a kids TV program.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Hidden Persuasion or Junk Science?

I have followed the broad topic of what has come to be called Neuromarketing for some time. Columnist Mya Frazier writes an overview piece about it in AdAge:
"Hidden Persuasion or Junk Science?
Fifty Years After the Publication of Vance Packard's Classic, Mya Frazier Asks Whether 'Neuromarketing' Plays a Real Role in Today's Ad Business .... "
As you might expect, this very new technology draws lots of deserved skepticism. There is little robustness in how it has been used to date. Some of its practitioners have little track record. Yet I don't think we can dismiss it without much more study. Frazier is not conclusive.

I read Vance Packard's related 1957 book Hidden Persuaders in high school, long before being exposed to the business of commercial advertising. I was intrigued and started to look for messages in ads and on the shelf. Much of the specifics of that book have been debunked. Yet we know that there is much afoot in our brains that we do not consciously direct, so subliminal may yet become important to the field. At the right an advertising image of a scotch glass, which Packard saw as containing a subliminal message.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Super Crunchers

Reading Ian Ayres Book : Super Crunchers. Subtitled : 'Why Thinking by Numbers is the New Way to be Smart'. Steven Levitt, the coauthor of Freakonomics, last year's sort of how-to use quant methods to solve odd problems book, did something similar. I liked Freakonomics ... some of the examples are excellent ... but there was little background to the solutions, and I came away having a hard time understanding their depth and robustness.

Levitt is an economist, so his solutions are by their nature more idealistic ... addressing some form of 'homo economicus' that does not exist. Surprisingly Ian Ayres is in addition a lawyer, but his quant econometric background shows up in his also excellent examples. Levitt did not give you enough detail of what was done. I also come away with the impression that each solution is a tour-de-force, that needs special powers. Ayres makes the mistake of claiming that things are easier than they seem. His first set of examples, based on web date-matching site systems, is based on using various kinds of regressions to match people. He makes a very good case of why these kinds of approaches, using increasingly available mega data bases, can be used to generated classifications that are useful for all sorts of problems. He only hints at the fact that these methods can be harder than they appear.

As a quant guy I cringe a bit at both approaches. One giving no clue as to the underlying methods, the other not revealing that they do require rigorous methods. Bottom line: Super Crunchers is the more compelling argument, it sets up an optimistic view of how to solve tough problems by leveraging them with data. Ayres also systematically covers a number of useful methodologies that should be understood by all problem solvers. So if you only read one book, I suggest Super Crunchers, it can empower you with some powerful problem solving ideas.

Seeking Automated Business Intelligence

The SAS Institute provides a useful report: Three emerging uses for automated business intelligence.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Chinese Virtual Worlds

Reuben Steiger of Millions of Us writes:

" ... China's answer to Second Life, HiPiHi, announced at the recent State of Play V conference in Singapore that it intends to work towards standardized 3D worlds, with the aim of eventually delivering interoperability between various platforms. The Chinese virtual world is reportedly talking with IBM and Linden Lab - players that are certainly well-positioned to push through such standards, a notoriously difficult project in the technology industry. In an interview with Virtual Worlds News, HiPiHi's CEO Hui Xu said "we believe when the Internet evolves to the 3D Internet, all current applications can be transformed or upgraded. Therefore, the traditional business models can also be applied in the 3D world. We are willing to cooperate with all companies which are interested in working with us to explore the potential compliances in 3D world, regardless whether they are foreign or Chinese companies." ... '

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Google Wins Wallpaper Suit

This classic suit, mentioned in all the recent Google history books, questioned if Google advertisers could use a competitor's trademark as a keyword. Resolved. A big deal. In E-Commerce News:
"... A home decor merchant has dropped a federal lawsuit attacking Google's ... practice of connecting some online ads to trademarks, handing the Internet search leader its latest legal victory on the prickly issue. agreed to abandon the nearly 4-year-old case without receiving any payment from Google, according to a settlement dated Aug. 31. The truce also stipulated that Google won't change its long-standing policy that let advertisers place ads tied a rival's trademark .... "

Monday, September 03, 2007

Quechup Spam Network.

I have been examining a pretty broad range of social networking sites recently. I got an apparent invitation from a trusted colleague recently to join something called Quechup, part of a UK company called iDate. The social networking site appears to be legitimate, but they spam your entire Gmail address book, sending out messages that appear to come from you. Lots more about the scam out there, see for example here. Some tech savvy colleagues have already contacted me about this, being naturally suspicious. I don't worry about them, but about my less frequent contacts who may misunderstand its nature.

Social Networking sites, dependent on as many contacts as they can get, naturally may believe that this is a way to get as many people on the roll as possible. It's despicable, of course, and is an attempt to ride on your reputation. Another example of why you should be careful about what you get on the net, even if it's apparently from a known trusted source. Many people are looking to get a ride on your social network.

Gmail, my email provider, also appears to be responsible. They are allowing external parties to scan my address book. I do not think I agreed to that! Should make some folks reconsider Gmail as a secure source for email. Have sent a note to them to see how they are addressing this.

If you get such an 'invitation' from me, I did not send it, delete it. Sorry for being an unwitting part of their spam network. IDate and Quechup.com deserve to be carefully avoided.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Google Maps Embedded

It is now a lot easier to embed a Google map in a web site or blog. Previously you had to do some arcane API stuff. Now you can just copy some HTML code and paste it where you want. Similar to how cut-and-paste video works in YouTube. This is very useful if you have a web site or blog that needs to display a location with an interactive map. Another step forward in linking virtual to actual locations. Another useful example of a mashup that makes it easier to create intelligent content without programming.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Should the Net Forget? When Should We?

A very thought-provoking post in Carr's Roughtype: Should the Net Forget?. This article describes and comments on a recent NYTimes change in their search engine optimization (SEO) policies to increase the rate at which their articles come up on the first page of a search.

The result of this was that many older articles in their archives started showing up in searches. This also created a flood of complaints because the articles were incomplete, sometimes snapshots in time, out of the context that preceded or followed the article. This has caused some individuals embarrassment and difficulties. The NYTimes would have to add sometimes extensive footnotes and rewrites to set the record straight, which they do not want to do, claiming it would be 'rewriting history'.

I see an interesting corporate analog. In the late 1980s, as part of an artificial intelligence team, we interviewed executives seeking to gather the expertise they used to run the company. The object was to be able to leverage this knowledge in new ways and make it more available for people at all levels. One interviewee made the point that there are some things we do not want to remember, or at least not make them easy to remember and re-apply.

Even very clever knowledge can be misapplied in incorrect contexts. The mantra of AI at the time was that this was true, but all you had to do was to add the context of application to the system as well. That turned out to be much more difficult than we thought, and very high level knowledge applications of this type did not succeed. What worked were relatively narrow and focused applications of knowledge to problems.

Looking at the similarity to the NYT case. Its not just a matter of finding a solution via search, it requires adapting the solution to the current situation. Just because an item has many inbound links does not mean it's the best solution at this time, or under these situations. Its not to say we should forget, the historian will eventually be tasked to reassemble the bits of information. It's that we should not be so sure that an optimal search is best for both the provider and the user of that knowledge.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Transhumanist Technologies

A survey, with lots of pictures, of transhumanist technologies. Broad definition of transhumanism here: "... Not just technology as in gadgets you get from Best Buy, but technology in the grander sense of strategies for eliminating disease, providing cheap but high-quality products to the world's poorest, improving quality of life and social interconnectedness ... ".

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Flower Auctions

Some time ago I reviewed Ken Steiglitz's book: Snipers, Shills and Sharks. A good semi-technical and very readable overview of the science of auctions. I was surprised to find auction process overviewed in a seemingly unrelated book, Amy Stewart's Flower Confidential. Another one of those non-fiction books that brings to life a seemingly simple aspect of business. Here its about the business of cut flowers. A long time follower of things horticultural, its a fascinating view of the complexities of that business.

Back to auctions .... along the way Stewart gives an excellent description of the Aalsmeer flower auction in the Netherlands (p. 219-) Not surprisingly this is held as a Dutch auction, well described in Steiglitz's book. Dutch auctions are very different from English style auctions we commonly see. Instead of a bid starting low and sale going to the highest bidder, Dutch auctions start at a high bid and a clock is used to drop the price at each prescribed tick. A bidder can stop the clock and get the purchase at that price at any time. The psychology is quite different. It's often used for large and partial lot auctions. Stewart also talks about how the Aalsmeer auction insists on hands on interaction with the product, while it could be more efficiently done online. The symbolic interaction between real and virtual world is worth thinking about. While you could build a technical visual system to accurately grade flowers, IBM's Veggie vision is a related example, there is something to be said for a physical interaction, especially for a product that has a strong sensual component.

A visit to the Aalsmeer flower auction is on my list.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Consumer Rites

An AdAge article on agency BBDO's work on the rites of consumers. " ... After a nine-month study of 5,000 people in 26 countries, the agency narrowed our daily rituals into five stages, each of which represents an emotional state that influences behavior ... " . Update: This article has gone behind a registration wall, but you can find out more about BBDO Rites here, and other blogs.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Classic 100 Sites

PC Mag publishes a list of their Top 100 Classic Web Sites. As I historian of technology, this is a great example of what is out there. What really works, and how to create sites that attract and keep customers. Sites you know well, and sites you have never heard of.

Searching for People

I am sure you have tried to do a search for a person online. If you are successful depends on a number of things. One is the name you are looking for. If the name is unusual, its usually not too hard to find. If its a 'smith', or if its shared with anyone who is a celebrity anywhere, its a lot tougher. One niche market that is being explored are name search engines that look at social networking sites to such as Facebook and Myspace to find names. An article on the emerging phenomenon in the current BusinessWeek with some sample sites. This week, one of the people searching sites: Spock.com (Beta) was launched. I explored a bit. It gave some interesting, but I would say incomplete results. A search on Google gave more complete results. It also seems to be gumming up its tagging capability with celebrity mentions, which is precisely what I do not want. I want to see real people. Also had some serious systems problems, likely due to startup conditions.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Get There Early

We have worked with Bob Johansen of the Institute for the Future since 1978. They have helped us in many ways, including early involvement in the concept development of our innovation centers. Bob has now written a new book: Get There Early : Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present. I received an early copy and just finished it. P&G's Bob McDonald is one of the jacket commenters.

The book is a companion piece to IFTF's ten year forecast, 2006-2016. That map is included in the book jacket. I have participated in some of the sessions that led to this map. The book contains quite a few P&G examples, most fairly well known An early one is their recommendation that P&G do a reverse mentorship in the Biotech area. I am unfamiliar with the actual results that derived from that example. I was involved with other innovation oriented work, and their input there was very useful.

The book's title idea is the same one that has driven IFTF since the 70s. You know you can't predict, so you need to forecast, so you can get get there early by sensing the future. It has similarities to scenario analysis. The book outlines IFTF's techniques, which originated with the 'Delphi Technique' at the Rand corporation. And developed and expanded more recently their involvement with VUCA: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. They apologetically trace this approach to its US military origins. The other technique highlighted is what they call their Foresight-Insight-Action cycle, a theme throughout the book.

The difference between problems and dilemmas is nicely put. It emphasises an understanding of what can be done about challenges in business. Towards the end of the book Johansen talks about after action reviews (AAR) which emphasizes learning from failures. That research is often about 'failing in interesting ways'. Something we do not do very well. As someone with engineering origins, I have always been problem rather than dilemma oriented. The book makes the case that in a VUCA world that cannot often be done. I think that is overemphasized in the book. There are problems that can be solved analytically. If we don't even try, we won't solve them. Note the relationship to other topics in vogue today .... design vs engineering and complexity vs optimization.

His view of Powerpoints is intriguing, suggesting that they be used non-linearly, the way a person uses cuts in an iPod. I like the idea, as long as the elements are true when they stand by themselves. Lots of interesting examples in this book gathered over their years of consulting.

In the middle of the book there is a large section on 'immersion', which is a broad term they use for all kinds of simulation. Nicely done in its breadth, but not in its depth. That being my own world, I would have hoped they would provide more examples of digital simulation, and some examples of how to get started. Simulation also quickly gets into the realm of the difference between forecasting and prediction. It's hard to separate the difference for non engineering management. Yet learning in simulation environments is often be more about the journey than arriving at a precise solution.

I found this book to be a fun and easy read, but I have been involved with portions of this process for years, and have an established interest. Others may find this like many business books, with no direct answers, and thus too squishy to add to the reading list. It is worth a read, and the map is worth trying to understand, the footnotes have some excellent links that remind me of related work we have followed.

Best Quote:" ... Great Managers help eccentric people produce" . Peter Drucker to Bob Johansen and A.G. Lafley ... A challenge?

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Crowd of One

John Clippinger, who connected with us back in the 90s, has a new book out: A Crowd of One. Have not read, but it does look intriguing and it's on my list.
" ... Why do drivers warn people they'll never meet of police traps by flashing their lights? How did eBay's community of trust make it victorious over the competition? Why do terrorists tend to come from richer, better educated families? These are some of the questions posed by Clippinger, a senior fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. Calling on philosophers, scientists and economists for support, Clippinger looks to human evolution for answers, and expounds on how human phenomena like language and social customs evolved not for individual advancement, but for the benefit of the group..... "

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Managing Business Complexity

Just received and have been exploring the book: Managing Business Complexity: Discovering Strategic Solutions with Agent-Based Modeling and Simulation by Michael J. North and Charles M Macal. The Amazon link is a 'search inside the book' so you can take a quick look. The second chapter 'The ABMS Paradigm' is an especially useful and relatively detailed introduction of the idea. The following chapter gives you an idea about what agents are all about, and why you should care. Later chapters are more academic, but also include examples of both approach and business problems being addressed by these models. Of particular interest, a store simulation model.

I was struck while scanning and reading parts of this book by how similar this approach is to the AI methods of the 90s. What it adds to the idea is the aspect of the agent, a simple entity that forms the basis of the modeling approach. And, finally, but also very important, these models are all simulations, often adaptive, that need to be understood statistically.

The authors are practitioners of this form of modeling at Argonne National Labs, and are consultants for ABM work. I have heard North talk on the topic and he knows the approach very well. I saw some early drafts of this book as well. Recommended.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Robotic Insect Flies

This, like general autonomous robotics, is a long predicted development. Small scale flying robots. I glean from the article there is still much to do to make these useful, especially with regard to power sources and range. It is though a first step. Surveillance is the obvious application. Robotic Insect Takes Off or the First Time Researchers at Harvard have created a robotic fly that could one day be used for covert surveillance and detecting toxic chemicals. In a broader sense these kinds of systems could be used as swarms of cooperating elements, used to solve a problem that involves delivering sensors to a location and reacting intelligently. And of course, the implications could be scary. This article emphasizes the mechanical difficulty of creating such a device. Early on you would expect there to be examples of remotely controllable systems, rather than autonomous capabilities.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Art and Interface

Some of you may have seen the recent PBS program on the art of Van Gogh by Simon Schama. A colleague sends a link to a YouTube video that shows a Second Life build by Robbie Dingo that constructs a 3D version of Van Gogh's 'The Starry Night'. This is very impressive if you have, like me, done some simple builds in SL. Its like giving me a set of paintbrushes and paints, and telling me, certainly you can reproduce it, you have all the elements.

Although I have been developing some skepticism that Second Life specifically will succeed, this video does show how impressive, awe inspiring and attention grabbing things can be built in virtual worlds. So what does this mean to a soap company? It means that some of the things you can do on TV or in the movies will eventually be possible in a virtual worlds with complete interactivity. That will mean a very different world for marketing. This video is a demonstration of the first steps in that direction.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Want vs Should

From HBS's Working Knowledge: Understanding the 'Want' vs 'Should' decision. Todd Rogers and Katherine L. Milkman discuss their working paper on impatience in grocery purchase decisions " ... How do people's preferences differ when they make choices for the near term versus the more distant future? Providing evidence from a field study of an online grocer, this research shows that people act as if they will be increasingly virtuous the further into the future they project ... ".

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Reclaiming History

I have had a long time interest in the history of the Kennedy Assassination. I remember distinctly when it was announced to our grade school class in the 60s. I bought a copy of the Warren Report in the 60s. In the 70s at the University of Pennsylvania a freshman hall-mate had written what must have been one of the first conspiracy books. Now there are over 800 books on the topic. With many hundreds more articles and now blogs. I don’t know how many I have read, but in the 90s I read a few of the conspiracy books and was briefly converted to strong skepticism about the lone gunman. Some 75% of American’s still have that view. In the 90s I saw the movie JFK, and due to the magic of cable a few times since. In the 00s I visited Dallas for the first time, and stood on the grassy knoll.

Now I have read Vincent Bugliosi’s: Reclaiming History : The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Well, OK, I have not read the whole 1,600 page thing, but I read much more than I expected to read when I started. Bugliosi takes the lawyers view. Since we will never know exactly what occurred that day, he looks for the preponderance of evidence, and seeks to refute the hundreds of theories that have emerged since then. He has taken twenty years to do it, and it shows. He has covered just about every variant if every conspiracy theory and puts them all directly in their place. He explains how every natural inconsistency has been twisted and turned to hatch yet another conspiracy theory.

This long book can be read as a set of separate parts. For example the chapter on Oswald stands alone as a insightful view into the character of Oswald and makes it clear that the idea that he was hired as an agent is laughable. A long chapter lays out what we know about what happened during those days, minute by minute. Bugliosi makes the case that there are naturally holes in that narrative, as one might expect, and the conspiracy theorists have spun a theory into every one of them.

Ballistics, rifles, bullets, logistics and strange motives are all discussed in considerable detail. The motives of the CIA and FBI are explored and the politics of the time.

A chapter in the movie JFK lays out why that piece of Hollywood slickness is a particularly dangerous piece of work. It takes the worked of a deranged prosecutor and then twists its weird logic to make it plausible. Yet it is not. A good example is how the case of the ‘magic bullet’, now long debunked, is played out there. This movie was seen by many reviewers as masterful, but can it be if it proposes a lie? Now many people think of it as definitive. This is the part of our history that needs to be reclaimed, making Bugliosi’s title so apt.

So will this movie change anything? Will the 75% be converted back to reality? Likely not. Just read the comments on Amazon. Lots of folks who admit they have not read the book, but have their own theories about what conspiracy occurred, and nothing will convince them otherwise. Even scarier, its starting all over again with 9/11 ‘truthers’.

And, if you have not had enough, there is an included thousand page CD-ROM with lots of readable footnotes. Here Bugliosi adds lots of additional text, including descriptions of some of the wackier theories that have been spun. There are multiple Oswalds, Oswald lovers and conspiracies so vast and convoluted only the desperate can claim them.

There is also something to be learned here about how to think about evidence and truth. In instances where there is no truth we can examine. Will this change as we have more cameras, more recording? I admire Bugliosi’s taking it to this level of detail.

Very good book.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Stephen Jay Gould and the Richness of Life

Have read a number of the works of Stephen Jay Gould over the years and met him at one of the TED conferences in the 90s. We had a nice conversation, I think about the implications of evolution in the modern world. He was one of a group of a few authors where I anticipated heir new books. I am neither a trained biologist nor a paleontologist, so my view of his writing was always that of an enthusiastic amateur. He did an excellent job of translating his profession and some of its odd corners to me. I was happy to see a recent edited collection of his works entitled The Richness of Life. I am now making my way through it and remember many of the essays. Recommended for an introduction to his works if you have, or have not explored them already.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Children's Safe Drinking Water

This has achieved considerable publicity, but it deserves more:
P&G's Children's Safe Drinking Water Program Reaches Final Twenty Five of AMEX Members Project. See the full Drinking Water external blog. This blog was one of the first to push this project.

GPS Pact with Galileo

Global Positioning System (GPS) location satellites have changed our world in the last dozen years, We see it in cars, airplanes and phones. It allows us to perform actions with locational intelligence with increasing precision. I recently consulted on its use in an agricultural application that aimed to optimize harvest processes. New methods of interpreting the satellite data has greatly increased its leverage. Methods now exist to improve the analytical analysis of signals from the satellites to several meter accuracy. The system does not work indoors, limiting its use for applications like store shelf.

Its a global system, but the European Union has been in the process of developing their own network of satellites called the Galileo Positioning System, planned to be operational in 2010. I had wondered how this might work in conjunction with the US system. The answer is here, a pact is in the works between the US and EU to share standards, signal and development to improve the overall accuracy of the system.