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Tuesday, May 29, 2007


We see that the Retail Systems Alert Group (RSAG) has endorsed Flowcasting from Factory2Shelf as a methodology. I have seen this tested and its useful for its sheer simplicity. Flowcasting should not be seen as a means of future forecasting, but rather as a capability designed to eliminate the need for most forecasting, by using demand data such as point-of-sale information. The companion site contains a good overview in the first five chapters, provided here. Worth taking a look at.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The New Influencers

I just completed Paul Gillin's new book on blogging success stories: The New Influencers : A Marketers Guide to New Social Media. Robert Scoble says that the book is an excellent followup of blogging success stories to his book, The Naked Conversation.

I agree, this book is a much more balanced than Scoble's Naked Conversations, while covering much the same territory. The concentration on specific influencers, and how they come to influence with this technology is a good orientation. Gillin takes much more of a marketing view of the subject. He includes some negative examples where blogging was misused. He also has the advantage of being a year later, with more up-to-date examples, and covers podcasting in more detail as well. He addresses the use of wikis, but I wish he had addressed the issue of engaging people to contribute wikis as well as other social media. This is not a how-to book, but an argument why you should consider using blogging and related technologies. I see it as a good replacement for previous general books on the subject. No coverage of internal blogging. The book's site has some bonus material. See also Paul Gillin's blog.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


Though we are doing much less food these days, I happened upon'Pringles Select' offerings at Krogers. Very good. Two flavors, sun dried tomato and spicy szechuan barbecue get rave reviews in a site that reviews snack foods called Taquitos.net. My point here is to give another example of category specific review aggregation on the web. The Web continues to amaze me.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Scientific Management Past Its Prime?

A colleague points me to a BW article : Scientific Management Past its Peak. Note how this is contrary to my recent post on math management, and Tom Davenport's book recent book: Competing on Analytics, which lionizes corporate analytics work. Also SAS's interview with Davenport, which also points to his book. CEO AG Lafley is mentioned in the BW article:
" ... That is why a smart executive like Procter & Gamble (PG) CEO A.G. Lafley insists on doing in-home visits to consumers (or stream-side visits in rural China) wherever he travels. He isn't going to make billion-dollar decisions on the basis of a few in-home visits. He understands full well that what he sees isn't a representative sample. But he is delving into the mysteries of how products interact with his customers' lives in ways that a big quantitative, algorithmic survey never will.

He knows that his job as CEO is to keep pointing his company up towards the mysteries and heuristics and not let it fall prey to a focus on "algorithmic decision-making techniques and using highly sophisticated software." He and others like him are winning, and that is why I believe that the pendulum is swinging away from, not towards, the extremes of "scientific management." ... '
I come from a quant background, but there are instinctive, pattern matching approaches we need to be aware of. Mixing the two is the art.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Data Mining Goes Mainstream

A NYTimes Money article talks about data mining going mainstream, also mentions Tom Davenport's recent book: "Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning", previously mentioned here. The book also briefly mentions P&G's use of analytical methods. Good overview with some useful examples, though nothing about managing the risk involved.
" ... The entry barrier, he says, "is no longer technology, but whether you have executives who understand this." There are plenty who do. Big retailers like Wal-Mart Stores and Kohl's use today's advanced computing and math to more accurately predict what sizes of clothes should go to what stores. Harrah's and other casinos decipher slot-machine results to optimize customer traffic and profits, and they use face-recognition software to identify people with criminal records. And Stockholm and other cities use traffic data and patterns to determine "congestion pricing." ...

" In the last year or so, Whirlpool, the appliance maker, has begun using new analytics software to automatically scan warranty reports as well as manufacturing, supplier, sales and service data to try to further trim its warranty costs and improve quality. That is no small task, since it sells an average of 25,000 washing machines a day, for example. "A human being cannot see and detect all those trends," says John Kerr, the general manager for global quality.

With the new computing tools, Whirlpool has trimmed by 30 to 90 days the time required to detect and fix parts or manufacturing problems that cause defects. "The math is astounding," Mr. Kerr says ... "

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Aloft Hotel to be Torn Down

The much written about Starwood/ W Hotels / Aloft Hotel in the Second Life virtual world will be removed after a ten month experimental existence. More about it here. There is also an announcement posted at the hotel. This is a telling event about how hard it is to mimic real world venues in virtual spaces. I made it a point to visit this space a number of times as I wandered about SL, and after the grand opening it was usually empty. I never saw a Starwood employee there, having a person greet you would have been useful. Though beautifully designed, I wondered, OK, what is next? Do people check in? Sleep? What? There is still quite a gulf between the virtual and real worlds. Simply replicating aspects of the real world is not enough, and often not even useful except to prove that the empty spaces can be created.

I am assuming that Starwood got the design experience they wanted out of the experiment. They have annnounced the ground-breaking of a real-life version of the virtual hotel.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Google Seeks to Reinvent Search

Google Searchology
" ... Google is unifying its search silos, including images, video, news, blogs, local, maps, and the main search index. That means that when you search for something, you are as likely to get news and images-and even YouTube video-as you are to get plain old text results. It's an audacious plan, and one fraught with peril. What if the search results become so cluttered, for example, that you won't be able to find what you want? Google also launched two cool new projects: the ability to see results on a timeline and an internal Google Search/Maps mashup ... "
And more about it here from Google. Agree with the comment above about how this could make results too complex, should be an option only. Is the strategy here to complicate the free results and augment the paid?

Friday, May 18, 2007

Scratch Programming Tool

Originally designed primarily for children , the MIT programming tool Scratch, " ... a new free program allows people to create their own animated stories, video games and interactive artworks ..." . Richard James sends me a BBC article on it, with a video demo of creator Mitchel Resnick, of the MIT Media Lab's Lifelong Kindergarten Group creating a character. You can see more about it here. Could this be used to create narratives to store corporate knowledge? Have not tried it as yet, but plan to.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

People Will Click on Anything

PCWeek reports on a study where 409 people clicked on a link that offered to infect their PC with a virus. A click-through rate of .16 percent. To be fair, I have found myself clicking on things I should not have.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Computing History

Now reading: Dreaming in code : two dozen programmers, three years, 4,732 bugs, and one quest for transcendent software by Scott Rosenberg. A history of Mitch Kapor's Chandler development. I don't code any more, but I did develop some fairly complex systems and I recall the almost religious and infectious aspect of developing a system. And also that complex systems were devilishly hard to debug, if they ever are debugged.

Also reminded me of applications like Lotus Agenda, which I recall was being used by a number of folks corporately before folding. Also covers a good bit of mid to late 90s changes in computing. Also have to mention the bi-monthly IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, which I have read for years now. It does sometimes deal with minutiae which I skip. But it also covers some fascinating areas that are well worth reading, for example in this issue, some of the early history of computer crime.

Nanotech Bootcamp

Some training and conference opportunities in Nanotechnology, from the Foresight Nanotech Institute.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Unilever Advertising

I see in an AdAge article today that Unilever is re-thinking its advertising position in the US. Likely unrelated, at the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) meetings last week, Unilever had one of the larger footprints in the technical show. As to be expected, most of their space was devoted to their food products, but they also showed off beauty and bodywash items.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Patent Suit Resolved

In what seems like a major development, Amazon has agreed to pay IBM regarding a claim that they invented and patented electronic commerce over the internet. From StorefrontTalkBack.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Black Swan

Have read Nassim Nicholas Taleb's book: The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. Highly recommended for modelers or those who think about their application.

Taleb, once a very successful derivative and options trader, now a professor at the University of Massachusetts, takes you on a wild and often idiosyncratic ride through financial modeling. No equations in the book, but it helps to have some basic statistics and econometric background. As close to a page-turner as a book like this can be.

Taleb writes about what he considers the total inadequacy of currently used modeling methods. This is mostly a full-steam attack on the mis-use of Gaussian methods (the Normal or Bell curve), which are the basis of modern portfolio theory, forecasting, regression and just about any statistical method that claims to be predictive. The Gaussians' small tails make it incapable of modeling anything even close to improbable. Our connected world is getting more improbable, thus these methods are increasingly wrong.

To be clear, it's not that the use of Gaussian methods are always wrong, though Taleb's style sometimes implies that. He is making the case that they have been used to underpin all of financial modeling methods, even when it makes no sense.

Along the way, Taleb tells a personal story (very unusual for a statistics book!) and trashes modern portfolio theory, Black-Scholes, Wharton, the Nobel Prize Committee, the use of narrative and most of the last twenty years of econometrics. He has received threats from the normally staid econometric community. He suggests that that Mandelbrot's scalable fractal methods are a better approach than Gaussian methods.

He says that modern practitioners of financial methods agree with him, though most academics do not. The formal methods do not work. Evidenced by the 1998 LTCM crisis, which came close to bringing down the entire global financial system. The formal methods could not deal with a 'black swan', a very improbable event by normal distribution standards.

The practitioners respond that the current portfolio risk methods are all they have today to create useful models. Mandelbrot's models do not give the predictions that current formal methods do. But if the predictions are wrong?

This is a big deal to large companie who use many techniques like forecasting, marketing mix and simulation models that are based on what Taleb is saying are flawed fundamentals in a world of increasing improbabilities. Also, WSJ Review.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Supermarket Opens in Second Life

I attended the opening of Phil's Supermarket in Second Life (138,93,29) today. The ribbon cutting was held as part of the Food Marketing Institute's Marketechnics meeting. The supermarket is a joint effort between IBM, Kraft and supermarket technology writer Phil Lempert. IBM was showing it as part of their exposition, and several hundred people attended in all. It includes dozens of new Kraft products, which can be manipulated in 3D. Particularly surprising was the very high graphics quality of the Kraft product packaging shown, better than I have seen in SL before. More details. SLNN article on the opening. The site
" ... creates real world benefits through this unique new frontier of a virtual world experience. Shoppers can browse the store as they wish - or they can pre-shop for the real world. Consumers can personalize product lists, recipes, nutritional profiles and soon even be able to avoid specific ingredients or allergens. Although products are not actually for purchase with US Dollars, shoppers can participate in a variety of programs and frequent shopper incentives where they can obtain a combination of cyber and real life "stuff" such as product coupons, tote bags, t-shirts and more ..."
Also, Chicago Tribune article on Kraft's presence.

Interesting here is that the store does not seem to be mimicking the architecture of real-life stores, but trying some things that are more appropriate to the granularity of Second Life.

Monday, May 07, 2007


At Marketechniques, although the show seems smaller, saw some interesting things. Notably, Videomining, which I had not encountered before. Their site shows a number of video-based solutions to help manufacturers and retailers. From their site:
" ... VideoMining is the pioneer of technology-enabled in-store research. Using automated video analysis, VideoMining gathers insights about shopper behavior, demographics and trip types. These insights provide retailers and manufacturers with an unprecedented ability to identify opportunities, test and refine strategies and monitor performance ...
Practical application of some ideas I have seen in some large company labs. Have not worked with them, but they are worth a look.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

FMI MarkeTechnics

This next week I am attending the FMI show in Chicago. FMI is the Food Marketing Institute. Have attended these a number of times over the last ten years. I attend primarily to understand how technology in grocery and pharma is changing. I am interested in new technologies that interact with the consumer in the store and especially at the shelf. I have covered such ideas as interactive displays, RFID tagging, in-cart personalized systems and interactions between consumer's personal devices such as cellphones and the retailer. Although the last ten years have brought many changes, the basic store presence, from a technical leverage perspective, looks very similar to the consumer. The show indicates the ebb and flow of ideas. Large company presence indicates investment changes, small company presence indicate new ideas and potential testing to be done. Anything I really should see? Send me an email at the address in top of the right column.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Pricing Software Could Reshape Retail

I think this idea, often called RRM (Retail Revenue Management) is a very big threat/opportunity for CPG manufacturers. It could give power to retailers by giving them the ability to leverage data they are collecting every day. Oracle is now also in the pricing optimization business through their acquisition of Retek. Another player, Khimetrics, was acquired by SAP last year, which could result in the yet broader use of these techniques.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Haptic Gaming Design

Yury Gitman contacts us via IFTF's Future Commons, and points to some of his students work in haptic (touch interface) gaming.
" ... For those of you interested in haptic and gaming experiments that are happening in universities these days please see the link below. I'm an adjunct prof. at Parsons in New York. My class explores advanced topics in Human Computer Interaction. In this case students developed their own gaming platforms that have haptic interfaces similar to and beyond that of the Nintendo Wii-motes.. These are 3-week rapid prototyping projects by MFA students. ... Watch the videos, and follow the links for the back-story.. thanks! ... Yury Gitman ..."

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Isaacson's Einstein

Over the years I have read a number of Einstein bios, from Abraham Pais' relatively dense scientific biography, to any number that attempted to understand his life, science and times. The newest: Walter Isaacson's Einstein: His Life and Universe is the best general purpose bio I have seen. Isaacson alternates chapters between Einstein's personal life with his scientific investigations. Although there is no equation to be seen except for the now iconic E=MC2, he does a very reasonably good job of explaining special and general relativity. If you take the time to read the explanations carefully, you will understand the basic ideas. My own physics background spoils the fun at one level, but do give it a try.

In the last few years there have been a number of discovered letters and other sources that have put Einstein in a less than favorable light. There has also been an attempt to position his first wife as co-inventor of his early work. She certainly helped him substantially, but so did many others who provided advanced mathematics support. Their names are also forgotten. It's ultimately not useful to twist history for current social engineering agendas.

Einstein was no ideal family man, but this has been presented unfairly in recent bios that have tried to gain some publicity from this. Isaacson clearly likes his subject. He does cover many of Einstein's less that favorable aspects, but does not dwell on them. Einstein's religious and ethical beliefs have also created much debate as well. Isaacson does an excellent job of positioning these in the context of his times.

After reading this book I felt that I knew more about Einstein. Its balanced, and you feel that you have seen both his faults and his brilliance. Its sad also to see his early magnificent results, and then his long fight, incredulity really, with the new results of quantum theory, a science he had helped start. Much recommended for anyone interested in the history of science.