April 30, 2011

Life Building 101

The Guardian U.K. (2 April, 2011) has this wonderfully inspiring story about a very special body builder.
Dr. Charles Eugster is a dentist and athlete extraordinaire--you see Eugster is 91 years old.
And he says that "At 85 I had a crisis. I looked at myself in the mirror, and saw an old man. I was overweight, my posture was terrible and there was skin hanging off me. I looked like a wreck."
Now, he is doing dips, crunches, chin-ups, and push ups and scoring higher than contestants in ANY other age category.
Eugster says "I'm not chasing youthfulness, I'm chasing health."
Although he was already rowing 6 times a week when he was in his late-80s, he figured he could push himself a little harder and so he joined a body building club--OMG, this guy's attitude is amazing!
What an inspiration...
His outlook is that "We're told that old age is a continuous state of decline, and that we should stop working, slow down and prepare to die. I disagree...one day something will happen and that will be it. But until that day comes, I'm going to carry on working my abs!"
While none of us know when our time us up, it seems that we can choose how we approach our personal maturation--we can look at it as reaching a peak and then going over the proverbial cliff of life OR we can fight to continuously transform ourselves--for as long as we can--and to always try and be the best we can be.
Age, sex, race, color, religion, national origin, or disability--none of these should inhibit us from working our hardest and going for the gold of what is meaningful in life to us.
I remember a wise saying I learned from my teachers--the competition is really not with anyone else, it is with yourself.
So to me it's not really body building we're talking about, but rather life building--and this is something we can all strive for.

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April 29, 2011

A Place for Answers


First there was Wikipedia and now there is Quora.

On January 15, 2011, Wikipedia celebrated it's 10 year birthday, and according to Bloomberg Businessweek, it now has more than 17 million entries (compared with only 120,000 for Encyclopedia Britannica) in 250 languages and is one of the most visited sites on the Internet. Moreover, the accuracy of the crowd-sourced Wikipedia has generally been found as good as traditional encyclopedias.

But despite the phenomenal growth of Wikipedia, a new site, Quora is finding a place for itself in online knowledge management, as one of the key question and answer (Q&A) destinations of the web (others being Answers.com, Yahoo Answers, and more--which were apparently found lacking by the founders of Quora).

According to Wired (May 2011), Quora is only 2 years old and already has about 200,000 people visiting the site each month. The approach of Quora is to create a searchable knowledge market based on merging verifiable facts with people's personal experiences and observations or what Wired calls "the large expanse between...the purely objective [e.g. Wikipedia] and the purely subjective [e.g. Facebook, Twitter, etc.]."

Quora is looking to capture what it believes is the "Ninety percent of information people have [that] is still in their heads and not on the web."

The site is also creating a community of people who participate in asking and answering questions, and can select to follow topics and people of interest, and vote on whether answers are helpful ("voted up") or not to push answers up or down the page.

Similar to Wikipedia, answers can be "trimmed, corrected, or otherwise massaged by one of the rigorous volunteers" (of which their are now more than 100--Quora only has 18 employees). Answers are "written for the world, and for anyone who has that same question for the rest of time." And even questions can get "extensively reworded."

Wired asks is this just another popularity contest on the web or self-promotion for the self-proclaimed experts? One of the volunteers responds that "This isn't about job searching. It's not about raising money. Most of us who are heavy users can already do that without help. It's a sense of sharing what we now, and it's being part of a community."

Of course, while critics may call them pedantic or petty, the Quora participants are on a mission to build a vital and timeless knowledge repository--"the modern-day equivalent to the Library of Alexandria", so perhaps the people chic has to be balanced with information usability.

On January 21, 2011, Tech Crunch awarded Quora "best new startup for 2010."

It will be interesting to see where this goes...the funny thing for me was that I ended looking up Quora up in Wikipedia. :-)

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April 27, 2011

Smartphone Apps For Shopaholics

Shopping

In the old Ginsu commercials, they used to say "In Japan, the hand can be used like a knife...but this method doesn't work with a tomato."

Now, in the the United States and elsewhere, the smartphone can soon be used like a wallet, and this does work with tomatos or anything else you want to purchase!

Electronic payments are taking on new meaning as we go from paying with traditional credit and debit cards or even payment services like Paypal to actually using our smartphones to make those payments.

Wired Magazine (November 2010) reports that "Google's newest iteration of its Android phone OS will include a wallet that lets you use your phone to make payments by tapping it against a cash register."

According to Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, he envisions that "This could eventually replace credit cards."

"Like the technology built into debit cards that can be used to make a payment by bumping against a reader at a store or gas pump, Android 2.3 devices that have the right on-board chip will be able to make payments using stored credit card numbers or other payments systems such as Paypal."

Payment technologies coupled with context-aware computing (such as location awareness) will enable your local merchants to send shopping suggestions, reminders, coupons, loyalty programs rewards, and targeted deals to customers--all over their smartphones.

Aside from e-Payments, retailers are looking to up the ante in their competition with online merchants.

According to the Wall Street Journal today (26 April 2011), stores and malls are "threatened by the rapid growth of online retailing", where merchants are able to offer everything from product search, free shipping, easy returns, often no sales tax (like Amazon) and broadcast deals over the social networks like through Groupon. And while "online sales still account for a just a fraction of overall retail sales, they are growing rapidly gaining 12.6% last year to $176.2 billion."

Therefore, brick and mortar retailers are looking to offer a host of app functions for everything from creating online shopping lists, in store product search, you-are-here location functions, mall directories, parking-spot markers, reward programs, and display promotions.

So aside from iPhone plug-in for taking credit card payments on the smartphone (the topic of a prior blog), there are a lot of smartphones Apps and OS features coming that will make shopping easier, friendlier, and generally more convenient.

So in case you needed another excuse to go shopping and indulge...try out some of the new smartphone apps that will make your experience even that much more decadent. ;-)

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April 26, 2011

Doomsday In Style

Surely, there have always been those with survivalist tendencies among us. But if you are paying attention, there is a new rage now for luxury doomsday shelters!

Despite all the technology advancement we have made in the last century--more automation, more information, more communication, more connectivity than ever--people are still afraid of the unpredictability and the uncontrollability out there.

Maybe it's the technology itself that even contributes to those fears--someone pushing "the button", someone unleashing a dangerous new something (nuclear this, bio that, chemical something else), or someone even causing mayhem through the very technology that underpins our society through some sort of cyber-attacks.

Some examples of doomsday shelters for the "rich and famous":

- Wired Magazine reported on 29, March 2011 in an article entitled Missile Silo Condos about a software engineer who purchased an Atlas F decommissioned missile silo and converted it into an "untra-safe energy-efficient fortress" with GE Monogram stainless steel appliances and Kohler fixtures. The owner is offering $900,000 "condo suite packages" including a five-year food supply and "simulated window views with light levels calibrated to time of day" as well as electricity powered geothermal energy and wind turbines, a theatre, pool, and waterfall, and of course, as a military grade security system. Everything needed to survive and at the same time enjoy the luxury accommodations.

- Similarly, Forbes Magazine (9 May 2011) reports in Selling The Apocalypse, that Robert Vicino, a property developer is building a network of luxury underground bunkers for 6,000 people. "For $25,000 to $50,000 a head [half-price is for children] each applicant will own at least 100 square feet of space...equipped with a medical center, classroom, theater, gym, and detention area to jail unruly residents."

According to PopSci (7 October 2010) on the same, there will be 20 such Vicino facilities each within 150-200 miles of major U.S. cities; and the one in Barstow, California is "built to withstand 50-magaton nuclear blast 10 miles away, 450 mph winds, a magnitude-10 earthquate, 10 days of 1,250 degree F surface fires and three weeks beneath any flood...and soon-to-be-installed air filtration system will also neutralize any biological, chemical, or nuclear attack." In addition to the safety provided, it is supposed to be as luxurious an accommodation as a modern-day cruise ship! Note: the video is from their company website Vivos and on Youtube.

So what is going on here?

Are people's fear being capitalized on? Are some simply catering to some eccentrics or the wealthy and their ability to perhaps splurge a little? Or is this a new type of life insurance or as Vicino put it "life assurance"? Perhaps, a little of all of the above.

I suppose there is enough out there to be afraid of, but the challenge it seems is not to create shelters for the few to survive, but rather to create enough genuine safeguards for the many to reasonably thrive over the long term. Is this doable or are we facing a ticking clock? And if a ticking clock are we all just going to do the best we can for ourselves - will we "fiddle while Rome burns?"

For me the prospect of hunkering down enjoying the stainless steel appliances, waterfalls, movies, and gym membership while the rest of mankind is getting eaten by Zombies doesn't quite sit right, although I can see the appeal when faced with the alternative.

I vote for continuing to build better technology and if you can afford the life assurance, all the power to you!

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April 25, 2011

Turning IT From Frenemy to Friend

Fast Company (December 2008) describes Frenemies as a "thrilling intricate dance" of friend-enemy relationships.

Half a year later, CBS News (July 2009) reports that this words is added to the dictionary: "Frenemy--someone who pretends to be a friend, but is really an enemy."

Recently, I've heard the term applied to Information Technology, as in they they here to help (i.e. friend-like), but boy are they often an obstacle as well (i.e. enemy-like).

Obviously not the message any IT executive wants to hear about their folk's customer service and delivery!

Today, the Wall Street Journal (25 April 2011) writes about the "discontent with the [IT] status quo" and it calls somewhat drastically to "Get IT out of the IT department."

Why?

Based on responses from business and IT leaders, here are some of the key reasons:

- "IT is seen as overly bureaucratic and control-oriented" (51% business and 37% IT)
- "IT doesn't deliver on time" (44% business and 49% IT)
- "IT products and services doesn't meet the needs of the business" (39% business and 29% IT)
- "IT consists of technologists, not business leaders" (60% business and 46% IT)

Therefore, the WSJ states "both for competitive and technological reasons...business unit leaders need to start assuming more control over the IT assets that fuel their individual businesses."

This is being called "Innovative IT"--where "IT shifts to more of a support role. IT empowers business unit self-sufficiency by providing education, coaching, tools, and rules, which allow for individuals to meet their needs in a way that protects the overall need of the enterprise."

The result is rather than delivering IT to the business, we deliver IT "through the business."

In this model, there is an emphasis on partnership between the business and IT, where:

- IT provides services to the business (i.e. through a service-oriented architecture of capabilities)--systems, applications, products, tools, infrastructure, planning, governance, security, and more.
- The business exploits these services as needed, and they innovate by "dreaming up ideas, developing prototypes, and piloting changes" that will most impact on-the-ground performance.

I believe this is consistent with stage 4 (the highest) of architecture maturity--called Business Modularity--as described by Ross, Weill and Robertson in Enterprise Architecture As Strategy: In this stage, we "grant business unit managers greater discretion in the design of front-end processes, which they can individually build or buy as modules connected to core data and backend processes. In effect,managers get the freedom to bolt functionality onto the optimized core." The result is a "platform of innovation...[that] enables local experiments, and the best ones spread throughout the company."

Related to this are interviews in the WSJ today with 3 CIOs, that all bear out this IT leadership direction:

- Frank Wander (Guardian Life Insurance)--"We have IT embedded into each business and we have a seat at the table. We're partners."
- Norm Fjeldheim (Qualcomm)--"We're structured exactly the same way Frank is. IT is embedded in the business. I'm only responsible for about half the IT budget."
- Filippo Passrini (Proctor & Gamble)--"Our business partners are people outside IT....in the past we were always in 'push' mode...now...there is a lot of 'pull'."

So one of the goals of IT and business is to transform from a relationship of frenemies to friends and genuine partners; this will leverage the strengths of each--the expertise of our technology professionals and the customer insights and agility of our business people.

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April 24, 2011

Brain Sharing is Eye Opening

This is a neat video and idea from GOOD called "Brain Sharing" by Lincoln Schatz.

The idea...what if we could plug in to someone else's brain and see the world the way they do (for a period of time) or as they say in the video "swap CPUs"?

(This is a little reminiscent of the Borg from Star Trek, where species are plugged into the Collective and become sort of one ultimate race or similarly in the movie the Matrix, where people are plugged into a master computer program that runs their world--although here it's not an ominous context.)

But back to the point--what a powerful concept.

Rather than see things the way we see them, and think that's the way it is, period; instead we temporarily plug into someone else's brain (bionic implants away!) and whoa, we have the opportunity to see the world the way others see it and process the world the way they do--that is eye opening!

All of a sudden, things are not quite so simple. It's not black and white, as they say, but lots of shades of grey.

Of course, I still believe that there is objective ethics and morality from G-d for us to live by and therefore we can distinguish right from wrong, which we are often are forced to chose.

However, when we are seeing choices through others persons eyes and processing through their brains, we may see the problems anew with different variables and effects as well as see new options for solving them that we didn't even see before.

That's a great thing about being a diverse society and bringing multiple views, vantage points, and brains to the table--we can innovate together beyond the limitation of any one of us alone.

This isn't necessarily a new concept, but still one that is very important, often forgotten, and one well captured in this GOOD video.

P.S. Maybe an interesting exercise is to think about make a list of whose brains you'd like to share for a while (if only you could) and see the world the way they do.

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April 23, 2011

Information-Free Is Invaluable

At first I admit it, I didn't really get Google; I mean what is this G-o-o-g-l-e and the shtick about "doing search"?

But the writing was on the wall all along with their incredible mission statement of: "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."

So search is the just the beginning of a long list of now amazingly valuable Google properties and services (now valued with a market capitalization of almost $169 Billion):

- Search (Google Search, Google Search Appliance, Google Desktop)
- Cloud Computing (Google Apps Engine, Google Storage for Developers, Chrome Notebooks)
- Advertising Technology (Adwords, AdSense, DoubleClick)
- Website Analytics (Google Analytics)
- Operating Systems (Chrome OS, Android, Honeycomb)
- Web Browser (Google Chrome)
- Productivity Software (Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Apps Suite)
- Social Computing (Google Wave, Google Talk, Orkut, Buzz)
- News Aggregator (Google News, Google Reader)
- Translation (Google Translate)
- Telecommunication (Google Voice)
- Clean Energy (Google Energy)
- Geospatial (Google Maps, Google Earth)
- Video (YouTube)
- Photos (Picassa)
- Electronic Books (Google Books)
- Blogs (Blogger)

What Google seems to intuitively get is that their free powerful web services creates invaluable consumer market share and mind share--like a honey pot. Once the consumer comes on board--like good little bees, they are ripe for companies to reach out to via advertising for all and every sort of product and service under the sun. And according to 1998 revenue breakdown, as much as 99% of Google's revenue is associated with advertising!
Google is brilliant and successful for a number of reasons:

1) Google is consumer-oriented and knows how to attract the crowd with free services, and they let others (the advertisers) concern themselves with monetizing them.

2) Google is incredibly innovative and provides the breath and depth of technology services (from cloud to productivity to search to video) that consumers need and that are easy for them to use.

3) Google is information rich, but they share this broadly and freely with everyone. While some have complained about the privacy implications of this information bounty; so far, Google seems to have managed to maintain a healthy balance of information privacy and publicity.

4) Google values their people, as their "owners manual" reads: "our employees...are everything. We will reward them and treat them well." And to help retain their talent, Google just gave their employees a 10% raise in January.

5) Google wants to be a force for good--their creed is "Don't be evil." They state in their manual: "We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served- as shareholders and in all other ways--by a company that does good things for the world, even if we forgo some short-term gains."

Do not underestimate Google--as the Wall Street Journal, 23-24 April, 2011 summarizes today, they are not a conventional company.

At the end of the day, if Google is successful in their business of making information universally accessible and useful, then we are talking about making an invaluable difference in the lives of humanity--where information builds on itself, and knowledge--like the Tree of Knowledge in the Book of Genesis--is alive and constantly growing for all to benefit from in our Garden of Eden, we call Earth.

(Source Picture: Honeybird)

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April 22, 2011

Never Lose Faith; Never Give Up

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I really liked this story on CNN (source WRAL) on Holocaust survivor, Morris Glass, who is having his bar-mitzvah at 83--Mazel tov!

Mr. Glass was denied his rite of passage as a teenager to become a bar-mitzvah, because his family, like so many at the time, where being murdered by the Nazi's in the Holocaust.

As he is one of the dwindling few Holocaust survivors left to tell his story--I appreciate these lessons that Mr. Glass shares in the interview:

- Be grateful for your loved ones.

- Never forget that terrible things happened to people (slavery, murder...) and could happen again, if not prevented.

- Everything you do, you should do right, even the little things.

- You are free to serve G-d, not free from responsibility.

- You are the future.

- Never lose faith; never give up.

To me, these are lessons in life and in leadership that are universal whether we are at bar-mizvah age (13) or at 83 and whether you are you celebrating Passover, Easter, or whatever.

Happy holidays.

I really liked this story on CNN (source WRAL) on Holocaust survivor, Morris Glass, who is having his bar-mitzvah at 83--Mazel tov!

Mr. Glass was denied his rite of passage as a teenager to become a bar-mitzvah, because his family, like so many at the time, where being murdered by the Nazi's in the Holocaust.

As he is one of the dwindling few Holocaust survivors left to tell his story--I value and appreciate these lessons that Mr. Glass shares in the interview:

- Be grateful for your loved ones.

- Never forget that terrible things happened to people (slavery, murder...) and could happen again, if not prevented.

- Everything you do, you should do right, even the little things.

- You are free to serve G-d, not free from responsibility.

- You are the future.

- Never lose faith; never give up.

To me, these are lessons in life and in leadership that are universal whether we are at bar-mizvah age (13) or at 83 and whether you are you celebrating Passover, Easter, or whatever.

Happy holidays.


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April 20, 2011

Domain Names Demystified

Mynameis

It's so hard to come up with just the right domain name, especially when the landscape already seems so busy.

How are you to know what's already out there, what's available, and what's original?

Panabee.com is a "brainstorming engine for finding cool names and checking domain availability."

I tested it out and it gives you lots of useful information, including:

- Interesting variations (by prepend, append, swapping, even spelling backwards, and more)

- Related terms (each of which can be clicked on to continue brainstorming a name)

- Translations (in over 2 dozen languages from Afrikaans to Welsh)

- Alternate endings (including .net, .biz, .org, country extensions, etc.)

- Inspiration from social media (such as Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, and Google--entries, terms, and mentions)

In terms of the availability of suggestions, these are indicated in a dashboard type fashion with green :-) or red :-( to make it easy to see what's what.

Finally, there is a link to Go Daddy to "buy [the Domain Name] now for $7.49 before somebody else does."

Overall, I found Panabee to be a useful tool to come up with innovative domain names and thereby help us start up new and exciting ventures on the web.

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April 17, 2011

Holograms - Projecting Soon

I think Holograms are the next big thing.

This example of a hologram on an an iPhone App is pretty amazing as an early version of what is to come.

Just wait for hologram phone calls and meetings and integration with everything social media.

I see things like avatars--graphical representations of users-- as a precursor to actual 3-D projected images of ourselves that will be sitting in the classroom, going to the office, and even interacting socially like going on dates with our favorite other.

This is going to make things like Skype, Facetime, and Telepresence just baby steps in our ability to project ourselves across space and time and "be there" in ever more realistic ways participating and interacting with others.

As part of a training class a number of year ago already, I had the opportunity to see a spatial hologram that was very cool. So holograms are not limited to only people but entire environments that can be virtualized and this gives us the opportunity to test new ways of behaving and model and simulate new worlds.

This iPhone App is just a teaser of what is coming.

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April 16, 2011

Wake Up To Advanced Technology


Yet another air traffic controller asleep on the job today--OMG.
Everyone is upset--as they should be--safety and lives are at stake.

Hello.

Come in...

Is anyone down there?

We need to land.

We have an emergency on board (someone is sick or perhaps the plane is in imminent danger or maybe it's been hijacked).

I guess we need to call back later.

That's CRAZY!

Silence is not golden, in these cases.

In the government (as in private sector control rooms), there are a lot of round the clock duty stations--watching our airports, our borders, and critical infrastructure.

We rely on people to be alert for any problems and be prepared to step up to the plate to take necessary action to safeguard our nation.

When people are "asleep at the switch," they are not only abrogating their basic duty (for which they are getting paid), but they are endangering others and this is obviously unacceptable.

We know this intuitively.

Why has this gotten so out of control lately--Is this a new phenomenon or just one that is coming to light now? Are people taking advantage of the system, genuinely exhausted, or disillusioned with their jobs and giving up--so to say?

There are a lot of questions that need to be explored and answered here and I would expect that these answers will be forthcoming.

Because it is not just a matter of reacting with a doubling of the shift or clamping down on the people involved--although that maybe a good first step to stop the proverbial bleeding; but obviously more needs to be done.

For decades, air traffic control (ATC) has relied on controllers on the ground to guide planes on the ground and in the air, despite new technologies from autopilot to Global Positioning System (GPS) and from on-board transponders to advanced cockpit displays.

Many hardworking government and commercial sector employees have been working to change this through modernization of the processes and systems over the years.

By increasingly leveraging advances in technology, we can do more of what people--like the ATCs and many other of our hardworking watchstanders--are currently being asked to do manually.

This doesn't mean that there is no human (AWAKE! is the expectation) watching to make sure that everything is working properly, but it does mean that the people may be in some instances an augmentation, rather than the primary doers.

In the end, people have got be in control, but technology should be doing as much of the heavy lifting as it can for us and perhaps, as we are a failsafe for technology, technology can in some instances be a backstop for human error and frailty.

It doesn't make us weak to admit our limitations and look not only for people and process changes, but also for technology solutions to help augment our personal capabilities.

(Credit Picture: PN.PsychiatryOnline.org)

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April 15, 2011

When Butterflies Sting

Butterfly

Stage freight (aka "performance anxiety") is one the most common phobias.

While often attributed to children, this is really a fear that everyone experiences--to a greater or lessor extent.

Organizations like Toastmasters help people overcome their fear of public speaking by having them practice regularly in front of the group.

Yet even the most experienced speakers and performers still get that knot in their stomach before a really big performance.

We are all human, and when we go out there and open ourselves up to others, we are vulnerable to ridicule and shame and being seen as shysters and charlatans.

So it really takes great courage to go out there and "do your thing" in front of the world--for better or worse.

As the child poet, Rebecca says, "when I go on stage, it's me, myself, and I."

What a wonderful perspective in being yourself and doing your best.

Here's what she has to say--in a poem called Butterflies.

(Credit Picture: scienceray.com)

________________________________

Butterflies

By Rebecca

Butterflies, that’s what I feel before the poetry slam.

It's 2 minutes before I read my poem.

I feel them tickling around my stomach making me want to puke.


My mom always tells me just imagine the audience in their underwear but it makes me feel even worse.

I told myself when I came up here you’ll do fine but, I know I’ll just stumble on a word.

Buzzing noises start in my ear.

I feel like I want to just go up on the stage and conquer my fear.

I shouldn’t care what people say because it’s my thoughts that matters.

When I go onstage it’s me, myself, and I.

1 minute till showtime.


Finally I hear my name.

I walk up to the stage unsteadily and all the lights are on me.

Everyone’s eyes beam towards me, almost as if they are watching a movie and I’m the show.

I read my poem.

I’m shaking.

I’m sweating like a dog running in the heat of summer.


I stumble upon a few words, but I survive it.

I am almost done. Just be done, already.

I read the last sentence but the time when I’m reading that sentence feels the longest.

My life is not going to end.

I’m done and I feel accomplished.


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A Combat Vehicle That Rocks and Rolls





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I don't endorse this vendor or product, but this BAE BvS 10 Viking military vehicle used by the UK Royal Marines (and others) is something to see.

It is amphibious, all terrain combat vehicle and can be configured for troop transport, command and control, repair and recovery, ambulance, and even carrying UAVs.

What is fascinating to me is the combination of the speed and versatility of this thing.

The 2-part vehicle (as well as the front antennas) give the effect of a caterpillar--rocking and rolling--making its way over any surface.

In theatre in Afghanistan since 2006, this combat technology is being tested and improved with additional armor and more power.

As mentioned by Defense Tech, it would be cool if in its next evolution, it could deflect IEDs like the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP), V-shaped hull, which is so important for protecting our troops.

I don't endorse this vendor or product, but this BAE BvS 10 Viking military vehicle used by the UK Royal Marines (and others) is something to see.

It is amphibious, all terrain combat vehicle and can be configured for troop transport, command and control, repair and recovery, ambulance, and even carrying UAVs.

What is fascinating to me is the combination of the speed and versatility of this thing.

The 2-part vehicle (as well as the front antennas) give the effect of a caterpillar--rocking and rolling--making its way over any surface.

In theatre in Afghanistan since 2006, this combat technology is being tested and improved with additional armor and more power.

As mentioned by Defense Tech, it would be cool if in its next evolution, it could deflect Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) like the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles with their V-shaped hull, which is so important for protecting our troops.

(Credit Picture: Joost J. Bakker)


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Fit For A King

So technology really does come to everything, eventually.

Check out Kohler's new high-tech toilet, the Numi.

Aside from all sorts of automatic functions from opening the toilet (from up to 8 feet away), to raising the seat for men based on foot sensors, to even flushing with varying power level based on how long you've been doing your business, the Numi really performs as the "toilet of the future" as CNET calls it.

Using a touch-tablet remote (that magnetically docks to a wall panel):

- It washes (through an extending bidet with LED lights)
- It dries (with an built in air dryer and deodorizer)
- It cleans (the bowl with 2 modes--1.28 or 0.6 gallons of water for the eco-conscious, and it also cleanses the bidet head with water or a bath of UV light)
- It warms (by controls for seat temperature and blows warm air at your feet), and
- It entertains (with FM radio and speakers as well as integrates with your iPod/iPhones).

For $6,400 you get yourself a true throne with form and function fit for a gadget king.

(Credit Picture of Remote to Scott Stein/CNET and Credit Picture of Numi Side to Kohler)

Kohler_numi Toilet_side

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April 11, 2011

Optimizing Culture For Performance

Interdependence

Strategy + Business (Spring 2011) has an interview with Edgar Schein, the MIT sage of organizational culture.

In it, he describes why it is so hard to change this.

In my experience, organizational culture is key to success.

Why do we want to change organizational culture to begin with?

Sometimes it becomes dysfunctional and can get in the way of performance.

Sometimes, leaders think they can simply change a culture, but Schein disagrees. He says that you cannot simply introduce a new culture and tell people to follow it--"that will never work."

"Instead you have to...solve business problems by introducing new behaviors."

However, you cannot solve problems or even raise concerns where "in most organizations the norms are to punish it."

Schein states that "the people with the most authority...must make the others feel safe"--to speak up, contribute, and even make mistakes.

Schein goes on to call for people "to work with one another as equal partners"--breaking down the traditional organizational boundaries--so that we stop telling people, so to speak, that "you're in my lane" or "that's above your pay grade."

He goes a step further, stating that the healthiest work cultures are interdependent, meaning that people actively try to help one another solve problems.

What an enormously powerful idea, that everyone has something valuable to contribute. Every opinion contributes to the dialogue--and all employees are worthwhile.

That is my definition of a healthy culture, for the organization and its people.

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April 10, 2011

The Twitter Miracle

Twitter is a crazy thing--little blue birdie...tweet, tweet, tweet.
Why do we even do it (tweet)?
Here are the "4 Stages of Getting Twitter" (Credit: Andfaraway):
  • Stage 1--It starts with utmost skepticism and even denigrating the tool (e.g. it's stupid, dumb, a time-waster...)
  • Stage 2--Then it moves to well why don't I just try it and see what all the commotion is all about--maybe I'll like it?
  • Stage 3--As the interaction with others (RT's, @'s and messages) start to flow, you have the ah ha moment--I can communicate with just about anyone, globally!
  • Stage 4--I like this (can anyone say addiction!). I can share, collaborate, influence--way beyond my traditional boundaries. This is amazing--this is almost miraculous.
Here are some other things I like about Twitter:
1) Like a journal, it's a way to capture your thoughts, experiences, feelings, likes/dislikes. (One thing I don't like about Twitter is there is no good way that I know of to archive or print them--I hope they fix this, please).
2) Another thing about Twitter (and Blogger and Wikipedia for that matter)...I imagine sometimes that this is an incredible social time capsule (i.e. knowledge repository) that we are putting together (almost unknowingly) that will carry humankind forward past any future natural or man-made disasters. Years ago, people would bury a few mementos in a treasure chest or something, as a time capsule, and what a find this would be for people years later when they would open it up and learn firsthand what life was like "those days." Now, imagine the treasure trove of the exabytes of information contributed to by hundreds of millions people from around the world. What is also fascinating to me is that people contribute enormous amounts of their time and energy and all for free--hey, this is even less than what Amazon's Mechanical Turks could do this for! :-)
Clearly, people want to express themselves and connect with others--and social media gives ever new meaning to this beyond physical space and time.

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April 9, 2011

Mapping Our Social Future

Social-network-map

I came across this interesting Social Network Map (Credit: Flowtown).

We are all part of and participants in social networking, and are genuinely hooked on it.

(Even going so far as the guy who was tweeting about his Continental flight plane crash in Denver in 2008.)

But sometimes it is hard to figure out what is going with all the social networking tools out there.

Hence, I find this 2010 map a very interesting visualization that sort of sums it all up.

The social lands are sized by number of users--hence Facebook looking like the goliath out there with 500 million users (now up to 600 million already!) surrounded on either side by Friendster and Twitter (with approximately 115 million users each).

Beneath Facebook are the "Volcanic Islands of iPhone Apps" (and add to that the Android Apps)--and with their explosive growth these are truly volcanic.

On top, you have the land of defunct social networks like a bunch of fallen Yahoo properties, along with the "Receding Glaciers of AOL and Windows Live" as well as the "Former Kingdom of MySpace"--together these are essentially the equivalent of the Siberia of the social map.

On the bottom, you have the "Empire of Google" (sounds a little foreboding with a ring of Darth Vader to it) plus there is what was then the up and comer, the "Rising Island of Google Buzz".

Near the "Sea of Desperation" is Match.com--that's funny.

Then there is a pretty sizable Island for YouTube with the "YouTube Triangle of Viral Videos"--plenty of those and now they are competing with the Networks and Cable.

And on the Right is LinkedIn for professional networking and a whole "United Territories of Wikipedia"--hey, the Encyclopedia of the web deserves it!

There are many more familiar sites like Digg, Flikr, and don't forget Blogger-- a personal favorite. :-)

The Strait of Bing is another one that is apropos since search is still Google pretty much all the way.

Finally, in the center under Facebook is the "Sea of Personal Information"--something we should all be concerned about; our privacy is important and shouldn't be overlooked, even as we open up and share of ourselves more publicly than ever before.

There really is something about a picture being worth a thousand words--I like the Map and how it portrays this activity and I am interested in seeing how this evolves as well as in how this might be applied to other social issues including everything from alternative energy to the spread of democracy and human rights.

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April 7, 2011

TechStat For Managing IT Investments


TechStat is a governance model to "turn around or terminate" underperforming projects in the IT portfolio.

This is one of the key tenets in the 25-Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal IT.

The training video (above) is an introduction to the TechStat model.

The goal is improved IT investment management and accountability for IT programs.

More information on TechStat, and in particular the toolkit for implementation, is available at the Federal CIO website.

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April 6, 2011

Ads Here, There, Everywhere


This is wild--Adzookie, a mobile advertising company that puts location-based ads out on cell phones, is doing some unbelievable advertising of its own...

They are offering to paint people's houses and even pay their mortgages every month that you let them have their brightly colored billboard painted onto the side of your house.

In less than a day, they got applications from 1000 homeowners (and even one church)!

Is this a sign of the tough economic times or what?

A number of important lessons here:

1) In case we already didn't learn from Google, advertising is really big business--my G-d, this company will pay your mortgage for you just to advertise on your house. (okay it is a big advertisement and all...)

2) Advertising going online, is old news; the new news is that it's going mobile, big time. Folks, the ads are following us. Wherever we go, the ads will be there. From print to TV to billboards on the side of the road and at bus stops, to the Internet and to our smartphones--there is no escape!

3) People will do almost anything for money (this is an old lesson revisited)--even make their "home sweet homes" into the laughing stock of the neighborhood--or do some people actually think this looks cool?

4) Technology is an enabler to make our lives more convenient (news, shopping, etc.) and a richer experience, but it also lets those obtrusive advertisements pop up or crawl across the computer screen when/where NOT desired. As technology is part of virtually every facet of our lives, the potential for advertising here, there, and everywhere can really go overboard. Perhaps, the time is ripe for additional privacy settings on our computers/phones, so that we could block ads (when we want to) and have the equivalent of a "do not call list" for those pesky ads that just never seem to give up--like the Energizer Bunny--"they just keep going and going and going."

When it comes to technology (and the rest of our environment), I believe that we have to be able to control the flow--whether it's information or advertising.

Even too much of a good thing, can be a real eye sore.

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April 5, 2011

Beyond The Blame Game


Blame-game



It's funny, when things go well everyone seemingly wants to step up and take the credit, but when things go badly, therein starts the blame game.


Harvard Business Review (April 2011) presents three categories of people that react dysfunctionally to failure (to which it attributes the responses of 70% of the U.S. population!)


- Blame Others: look for someone to scapegoat, so they don't have to take responsibility themselves.


- Blame Yourself: judge yourself overly harshly or imagine failure where none exist.


- Deny Blame: "deny that failure has occurred or deny their own role in it."


A fourth category, I believe is when people:


- Blame G-d: they ask "why me?" somehow implying an unfairness, injustice, or randomness in the failure.


In all these reactions to failure, there are in my opinion a number of mistakes being made and ways to improve upon them:


- Focus - Instead of concentration on mission success, people may erroneously overemphasize attribution. However, rather than worry about who to blame, think about how to "right the ship;" there are people in the field depending on you!

- Balance - Blaming implies that you are focused on the failure, but usually there are some things that were done right and some things that were done wrong. There is usually more of a balance to every situation that blame does not lend itself to.

- Ownership - When we blame others, G-d, or even ourselves, we basically are throwing up our hands and abrogating control of the situation, when instead we need to take appropriate levels of responsibility and accountability for what we did and did not do (or as they say "sins of commission" and "sins of omission").

-
Learning - Blame is a dead-end--it leads to hard feelings and possibly even despair. The way out is to acknowledge mistakes usually to degrees by all involved and LEARN FROM THEM. A failure can be turned into opportunities for future success, but learning valuable lessons on how to do things better the next time around.

To be honest, we all make mistakes.

In fact, I would worry about someone who seems so perfect on the outside--because I would imagine that they are likely or probably a powder keg, ready to blow on the inside (ever hear of someone "going postal" or the star who seems to have it all--looks, fame and fortune--and then they overdose or drive off a cliff or something?)

No one has it all. No one is perfect. We are all human.

It's not about blame. It is about accountability and responsibility--making things right where we can.

Every day we learn and grow--that is our test and our trust.


(Cartoon Credit: Tandberg)

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April 3, 2011

The Eyes Have It




In the last couple of weeks, a new innovation by Tobii for eye tracking technology built into the lid of laptop computers has been featured on CNN, the New York Times (March 27, 2011), and Bloomberg Businessweek (March 28-April 3, 2011)

Tobii allows users to "control their computers just by looking at them."

The eye tracker uses infrared lights (like those used in a TV's remote control) to illuminate the pupils, and optical sensors on the computer screen capture the reflection. Tobii can determine the point of gaze and movement of the eyes to within 2 millimeters.

So forget the mouse--"just look at a particular location on the screen, and the cursor goes there immediately."

This is a natural user interface that is fast and intuitive, generally "halving the time needed for many chores."

Eye tracking is being tested and planned by Tobii and others for the following

- Read text down the screen and it automatically scrolls. - Look at a window or folder to choose it. - Use a map by eyeing a location and then touching it to zoom. - Activate controls by holding a glaze for a quarter to half a second. - Play video games by moving through with your eyes. - Gaze at a character and they will stare back at you. - Leave your TV and it pauses until you return.

This technology has the potential to help disabled people (who cannot use a traditional mouse) as well as prevent strains and injuries by reducing some repetitive stress movement.

Within a couple of years, the cost of eye tracking technology is seen as coming down from tens of thousands of dollars to a couple of hundred dollars for a laptop clip-on device or even less for those built right in.

I think another important use for eye tracking is with augmented reality technology, so that as people navigate and look around their environment, sensors will activate that can provide them all sorts of useful information about what they are seeing.

Ultimately, where this is all going is the addition of a virtual 4th dimension to our vision--where information is overlaid and scrolling on everything around us that we look at, as desired.

This will provide us with an information rich environment where we can understand more of what we see and experience than ever before. Terminator, here we come! Augmented_reality

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April 2, 2011

The Cost of Underestimating Technology


While research is important and I respect the people who devote themselves to doing this, sometimes they risk being disconnected from reality and the consequences associated with it.

From the Wall Street Journal, 2 April 2011--two economists calculated that "$1,700 is the benefit the average American derives from personal computers each year."

They call this the "benefit we get from computers above and beyond what we pay for them."

To me, this figure seems inconsistent with common sense and the realities on the ground.

In an information age, where we are connected virtually 24 x 7 and can download hundreds of thousands of apps for free, endlessly surf the internet, shop and bank online, get much of our entertainment, news, and gaming on the the web, and communicate around the globe by voice, video, and text for the cost on a monthly high speed connection, I say hogwash.

Moreover, we need to factor in that most of us are now information workers (about 20%) or depend on technology in performing our jobs everyday and earning our living.

Just yesterday in fact, the Wall Street Journal reported that more people work for the government (22.5 million--forget the private sector information workers for the moment) than in construction, farming, fishing, forestry, manufacturing, mining, and utilities combined!

Additionally, at work, we are using computers more and more not only for transaction processing, but also for content management, business intelligence, collaboration, mobility (and robotics and artificial intelligence is coming up fast).

Finally, technology enables breakthroughs--in medicine, energy, environment, education, materials sciences, and more--the impact of technology to us is not just now, but in the potential it brings us for further innovations down the road.

So is the benefit that you get from computers less than $5 day?

I know for me that's the understatement of a lifetime.

Apparently by some, technology continues to be misunderstood, be undervalued and therefore potentially risks being underinvested in, which harms our nations competitiveness and our collective future.

As much respect as I have for economics, it doesn't take an economist to think with common business sense.

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