December 30, 2012

Dyson Vs. Dirt Devil

For those of you neat freaks out there, you probably have been sold on the King of Vacuum cleaners--the Dyson!

Dyson, a British company has built a vacuum cleaner (and fan and hand dryer) empire with 4,000 employees and $1.5 billion in sales. 

For a number of years now I have used Dyson including their super powerful (and expensive) "Animal" bagless cleaner--this thing actually ate up one of my phone cords and tore it to shreds.

I've also had other Dysons and my experience has been that while they look really nice in their bright yellows and grays, and sort of sleek for a vacuum, but they tend to break down--especially the motor for the brushes that work on the floor that I find accumulates hair and dirt around the spinner until it stops working. 

The other thing that I've found with the Dyson is they come with so many annoying attachments, many with no place to actually attach them all--I think it is overkill for most people's basic cleaning needs. 

After going through a number of Dysons, I finally got fed up with paying so much and getting so little, and we decided to stop "investing" in short-lived Dyson vacuum cleaners.

Instead we said let's get a simple, cheapo, Dirt Devil for like 50 bucks and run it into the ground. If it stopped working we could replace it 6-10 times for the cost of a single Dyson!

We purchased the Dirt Devil, and my expectations were very low--I actually considered it an experiment in purchasing this low-tech machine, and just seeing what we would get. 

Well, it's been about 3 months and I can't believe the amount of vacuum you can get for so little money with the Dirt Devil--it is bagless like the Dyson and without scientifically measuring the amount of dirt it picks up, I'd say it is almost equivalent in getting the dirty job done. 

Additionally, the Dirt Devil--doesn't come with all the useless attachments--a case where more is less--and it weighs only around 8 pounds, which is 1/3 of what the Dyson weighed--so it is much easier to use around the home. 

Similarly, when I look at the cool Dyson fans without blades, it seems almost magical how they actually work, but frankly who cares if it cost $300-$450 and doesn't work as well as a basic floor Vornado that sells for about $120. 

My opinion is that Dyson is generally overpriced and underperforms--but at least you'll have the image of innovation and performance, even if not the reality at the price point.

Anyway, If I had a vacuum cleaner dream, it would be to one day get one of those "commercial" vacuum cleaners that you see being used in the huge buildings--almost non-stop use--and they may cost a little more, but they actually give you more as well. ;-)

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Molly DG)


December 29, 2012

Rape Outrage!

On the Night of December 16--coming home from watching a movie at the New Delhi Mall, a 23-year old woman was savagely gang-raped and her male companion, who tried to defend her, was beaten while on a bus being driven around the Indian capital for 45 minutes!

I iust want to stand with those protesting against the barbarism of the people who brutally gang-raped, tortured, and grotesquely inserted a metal rod inside her, causing her such bodily damage that even a team of eight specialists at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore that specializes in multi-organ transplants, could not save her. 

The woman had such severe internal injuries that most of her intestines had to be removed, and according to CBC News, she suffered from organ failure, a lung infection, as well as brain damage. 

After the rape, torture, and beatings, the victims were stripped and thrown off the moving bus.

It is sick and evil that the driver not only stood idly by and did nothing to help her, but has been charged as well in the actual rape!

I am deeply saddened not only by the gang rape, but also according to the Daily Times that they happen with such frequency that they are "rarely [even] reported in the Indian press." 

This is another wake up call for people of good conscience to stand against those that commit evil and to not be silent in the face of such atrocities.

The cries of this woman, and other victims of violence like her, can be heard throughout the world. 

She will not be forgotten, and to those savages may justice be done--in this world or the next by the all-mighty G-d who hears our prayers.

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Daniel Crompton)


Robots Taking Your Job

Don't get too comfortable in your job.

Yes, the economic realities of high spending are about to catch up with the country and that will threaten your livelihood, but even more than that Robots can probably do your job better than you--sooner or later. 

Wired Magazine (24 December 2012) has a great article on this called "Better Than Humans.

In the 1800's, when 70% of the working population did agricultural work, probably no one would have believed what the future had in store for this occupation--today with automation, only 1% do this work.

Similarly, today 80% of jobs are in the service sector, and people think they are on safe ground--but think again!

Make no mistake robots will replace or drastically alter your current job, as artificial intelligence, processors, memory, sensors, learning, communication, dexterity, and humanoid likeness all continue to advance.

Wired presents the 7 Stages of Robot Replacement (to which I've added my notes in parenthesis):

1. Robots cannot do what I do (denial).
2. Robots can do some of what I do, but not all (partial acceptance).
3. Robots can do what I do, but they break done (rationalization for the loss, and so do we "break down").
4. Robots operate flawlessly on repetitive tasks, but need training for new ones (you weren't born knowing everything were you?). 
5. Robots can have my old job, because it's not fit for humans anyway (acceptance with a large dose of resignation--"the train has left the station").
6. Robots can have my old job, because my new job will be better (maybe for the time being). 
7. Robots cannot do what I do now (the cycle of employment safety from automation starts anew). 

Let's face it--your special, but so is technology and the pace of advancement is extraordinary. 

For those of you in jobs that you feel could only be done by humans--Wired has some news about developments with robots doing the once unthinkable:

- Musicians--Georgia Tech has developed Shimon the musician; these robots can not only play violin and trumpets, but they can form a band, and they can improvise ("as if it's a musician with a soul!).
- Therapists--Mindmentor has an AI therapist that after a 1-2 hour session made patients feel their "problem was 47% solved."
- Artists--Vagobot has made hundreds of pictures and "even sold some to Crate & Barrel."
- Comedians--Aldebarab Robotics makes robots for all sorts of jobs, including entertainment--they can sense audience reaction (such as laughter or silence) and adjust topics accordingly.
- Professional Trainers--The Intermational Conference on Social Robots in 2011 presented a robot that could coach you on your exercise, sense your form, and correct it. 
- Teachers--University Of Southern California has developed a robot teacher that in 2 weeks helped preschoolers increase vocabulary mastery by 25%.
- Nurses--Aethon makes the TUG nurse robot that is "picking up and delivering medication and supplies, autonomously navigating hospital hallways...summon an elevator, wait in line, and politely roll aside to give hemorrhaging humans priority access."
- Athletes--Robocup compete robots that one day can be "capable of winning against the human  soccer World Cup champions.

So what will be left for humans to do--innovate, invent, build, operate, and maintain the next level of breakthrough automation to help people--maybe these are the best and most-rewarding jobs that any of us can hope to have. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal, Ft. Lauderdale Discovery and Science Museum)


December 28, 2012

The Materiality of Super Strength Graphene

Scientific researchers in Britain, Norway and the U.S. are bringing us a major breakthrough in material science—by developing a “super strength” substance called graphene.

According to the Guardian (26 December 2012), graphene has “unmatched electrical and physical properties.” It’s made of an “atom-thick sheet of carbon molecules, arranged in a honeycomb lattice,” and promises to revolutionize telecommunications, electronics, energy industries, not to mention the untold applications for the military.

- Conductivity:  Transmits electricity a million times better than copper
- Strength: The strongest material known to humankind, 200 times that of steel (Sciencebuzz)
- Transparency & Flexibility:  So thin that light comes through it; more stretchable than any known conductor of electricity

Just a few of the amazing uses graphene will make possible (some of these from MarketOracle):

- Home windows that are also solar panels—clear off that roof and yard
- TV in your windows and mirrors—think you have information overload now?
- Thinner, lighter, and wrappable LED touch screens around your wrists—everyone can have Dick Tracy style
- Medical implants and organ replacements that can “last disease-free for a hundred years”—giving you that much more time to be a helicopter parent
- Vastly more powerful voice, video and data and palm-size computers—giving the average person the “power of 10,000 mainframes”
- Both larger and lighter satellites and space vehicles—imagine a skyscraper-size vehicle weighing less than your “patio barbecue grill”!
- Tougher and faster tanks and armored personnel carriers with the plus of an invisibility cloak—even “Harry Potter” would be jealous

The potential is truly amazing, so whomever thinks that the best technology is behind us, better think again. Better yet, soon they’ll be able to get a graphene brain implant to help them realize what they’ve been missing. ;-)

(Source Photo: here with attribution to University of Maryland)


December 27, 2012

Resilience In The Face Of Disaster

This year when ball drops in Time Square next week to usher in the New Year, it will be a little different than in prior years, because rather than blanket cheer, there will be a good amount of consternation as we hit the debt limit of $16.4 trillion as well as the Fiscal Cliff where broad spending cuts and tax increases are to go into effect (whether in full, partial with some sort of deal, or in deferral).

Like the statue pictured here, the strength and resilience of the American people will be tested and we will need to stand tall and strong. 

In this context, it was interesting to read in Wired Magazine (January 2013) a interview with Andrew Zolli, the author of Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back, an exploration of the importance of resilience in the face of adversity. 

Whether in response to natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy or man-made ones like the financial crisis and terrorism, we need to be prepared to adapt to disaster, respond and continue operations, and recover quickly to rebuild and grow. 

According to Zolli, we need shock absorbers for our social systems that can "anticipate events...sense their own state...and can reorganize to maintain their core purpose amid disruption."

Adaptability is important, so that we can continue to operate in an emergency, but also vital is "self-repair" so we can "bounce back."

These concepts for resiliency in emergency management are similar to how Government Computer News (December 2012) describes the desire for building autonomous self-healing computer systems that can defend and recover from attacks. 

The notion is that when our computer systems are under cyber attack, we need to be able to defend them in an automated way to counter the threats in a timely fashion. 

Thus, acccording to GCN, we need IT systems that have situational monitoring for self awareness, real-time identification of an attack, continuous learning to adapt and defend againt changing attack patterns, and self-healing to recover from them. 

Thus, bouncing back from social and cyber disasters really requires similar resilience, and for some challenges, it may be sooner than later that we are tested. ;-)

(Source Photo: Minna Blumenthal)


Brilliant Knife Set Design

I came across this brilliant knife set by French company, Deglon, called Meeting--I would assume it's called that because of how the knives meet up and fit together into a single stainless steel block.

I love the the simplicity and eloquence, and these won the European Cutlery Design Award.

There are four knives in this set for paring, utility, chef, and fillet. 
Deglon also has a steak knife set--similar concept in that the knives fit together, but they stack rather than fit inside each other, so it is cute, but has less of a wow-factor. 

My other concern with these knifes is their handle which doesn't have a cushioned or rubberized grib--so for lots of cooking and cutting, I am not sure how comfortable or slip-resistant these are to use.

Similarly, some of the knives may not be so quick and easy to pull them out and use, especially the ones that are tucked inside the others. 

Perhaps, these are an example of form versus function--where this contemporary knife set look very beautiful, but how practical are they for everyday use?

At $750, I am pretty sure these are better than anything I use regularly, but I am definitely no chef! ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal screenshot at


December 25, 2012

A Trip To The Science Museum

We went to the Ft. Lauderdale Museum of Discovery and Science—it was quite impressive.

Outside, where you enter, there is a huge clock -tower contraption with overhead slides and rolling balls, and water turning wheels on the side—it’s a “what is it” (exactly) moment and you know you're there. 

We hit the space exhibits first—I entered a simulator for a jet fighter cockpit, managed to take off with relative ease, but soon crashed, flipping it upside down—oops a little too much thrust.

The NASA exhibits were cool such as the MARS rover and colony mockups. And the Styrofoam wings that you can put on in a wind chamber and see how aerodynamically you are (or are not) was fun. 

Next up was the medical exhibits—we put together a puzzle of full body x-rays (“the shin bones connected to the...”), maneuvered a Da Vinci surgical robot arms, and zapped tumor cells with a mock laser.  

Oddly placed but interesting was the Gecko exhibit—with different colorful species hanging upside down and sideways with their suction cup feet. Couldn’t help thinking, which of them had been selling car insurance on those always-on Geico commercials or maybe this is the place they send them when they don’t perform on cue? 

Going through the exhibit on levers and pulleys, I used between 1-6 pulleys to lift a large stack of cinderblocks—and for the fewer pulleys, I thought good thing I had some Wheaties in the morning for breakfast, so I wouldn’t be embarrassed pulling on the ropes. 

The minerals, gems, fossils, corals, and dinosaur displays were somewhat meager, but were nicely laid out and a decent representation to get the idea.  

There was also an IMAX theatre with a 3-D movie and those crazy glasses you have to wear to watch these—but the cartoon playing wasn’t the action and adventure I was looking for. 

One of the exhibits’ I enjoyed the most was the fish—of all types—some favorites were a huge purple-like lobster, the playful otters, the bobbing water turtles and many others.

We also stood inside a mammoth replica of a shark and took turns hanging out of its mouth—and feeling what it was like to be Jonah and the whale.

There was also a weather news station, where you get to playact newscaster, and we used the TV cameras and tele-prompters to give updates of everything from hail storms to wild fires—now, I know how they always seem to know just what to say and when--so perfectly. 

Another cool display had to do with sustainability and the environment—with a robot sitting in the middle of piles of trash and recyclables—not sure why he was there though—was he trying to decide what to recycle and reuse?

I don’t believe that I saw anything significant on alternative energy or on general computers and the Internet—and if there wasn’t anything particualr on these, I would definitely like to see them added.

Overall, good job Ft. Lauderdale—worth the trip—and thank you for spreading a love of science with all. 

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)


December 24, 2012

Never Thought I'd Be Up There

Somewhere between 600-1000 feet up in the air. 

Suspended by a parasail wing (like a parachute).

Teethered to a moving speed boat. 

With a birds eye view of the beaches, hotels, ocean, clouds, sun, and more.

I had always thought of myself as afraid of heights, but I guess it turns out I'm really not. 

It was calm--peaceful up there--like sitting in G-d's very hands. 

Before we went up, I asked my daughter if she was scared. 

She said to me: "No Dad. I am fearful of G-d. He is all powerful. But I have faith that He will protect me."

I appreciate her faith and adventurism, but while encouraging her to learn new things and have fun, I also caution her to be careful and use good common sense.

I guess that's the balance in life that I strive for and that I try to teach my kids--push yourself past your comfort zone to learn and grow, but not too far that you fall on your face (or in the ocean)!

In the end, it is probably my wife and kids that challenge me to be "more"--they've gotten me to do things that I never thought I would--and this was one of them.  Believe it or not, blogging is a close 2nd!  ;-) 

Anyway, we're already talking about (and looking forward) to the next adventure--please G-d it will be wonderful as well.


December 23, 2012

When Technology Fails, People Can Succeed

We were really happy to find the Sun Trolley in Ft. Lauderdale.

For 50 cents a person, you can ride between the beautiful beaches and downtown Las Olas Street where there are wonderful art stores, cafes, museums, and shopping. 

One day, riding the bus though, there was a technology failure that really made we think about the relationship between man and machine. 

On the bus, there was a elderly couple with a teenage girl and a young boy, who was in a wheelchair.

Driving along the beach (and hotels), the couple indicated to the driver that they wanted to get off (these buses don't stop at pre-assigned stops, but rather wherever people say they want to get on or off). 

The bus pulls over and the driver gets up and goes to the back of the bus, and he starts trying to work the device that make the bus wheelchair accessible.

But despite the driver trying to get the device to work, nothing happens.

The women and girl had already left the bus and where standing on the sidewalk waiting. The other people on the bus were waiting to get to their destination as well. And the man and the boy in the wheelchair seemed both embarrassed at the scene, but also worried how they were going to get this heavy wheelchair off the bus.

The driver pulls out some metal pole contraption and is trying to free the wheelchair accessibility device on the stairs--again, over and over--but still can't get the device to work. 

I thought about this poor family, but also about how dependent we are on technology and when it doesn't work--very often we are not sure what to do, because we just assume it will (like it always does, or is supposed to). 

When I saw that the driver was not going to be successful with getting the device to work, I got up and said to the man--can I help you (i.e. to help him with the wheelchair and boy).

Not sure how this elderly man and I would do it, I was glad when another man came forward and offered to help as well.

Between the three of us, we carried the boy and wheelchair down the stairs and off the bus, being careful that the boy was safe and comfortable. 

I was glad that we were able to help this family, but also continued to think that technology never will really be a substitute for people, because technology is not only developed, operated and maintained by people, but also that technology invariably can fail, and people must step up when it does. 

Technology is great when it works, but it is never failproof, so we had better be prepared for those days when systems go down and we must carry on. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)


December 22, 2012

Still An Innovation Nation

Yesterday, according to the Mayan calendar, we were to have seen the end of the world. Today professors like Robert J. Gordon in The Wall Street Journal (22-23 December 2012) unfortunately continue to spread doom and gloom. 

According to Gordon, "for more than a century, the U.S. economy grew robustly thanks to big inventions; those days are gone."

Gordon seems to think predominantly from 20/20 hindsight, seeing the innovations of the past -- such as the electric light bulb, running water and the jet airplane -- as the last major vestiges possible of human advancement. 

As Gordon states: "Only once would transport speeds be increased from the horse (6 miles per hour) to the Boeing 707 (550 mph).  Only once could our houses be replaced by running water and indoor plumbing. Only once could indoor temperatures, thanks to central heating and air conditioning, be converted from cold in winter and hot in summer to a uniform year-round climate of 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit."

Gordon’s pessimism is bad enough (“The future of American economic growth is dismal”) but his arrogance is even worse.

How sad that he cannot see past our momentary troubles and imagine better, greater things to come.

- Is 707 miles per hour really the fastest that humans can travel? I guess Gordon hasn't been following the land speed record in Scientific American (5 November 2012) that has an English project pushing the 1,000 mph barrier and already projecting hitting 1,600 mph or Virgin Galactic (just the beginning of our space journeys) reaching more than 4 times the speed of sound (>3,000 mph!).

- Is indoor plumbing really the last great innovation when it comes to water? Please don't tell that to almost a billion people worldwide who live without potable water. However, thanks to innovators such as Vestergaard-Frandsen, whose Lifestraw water purification tools "removes 99.9999% of bacteria through a superfine filtration process" for only about $6 each (Mashable), many others may soon have access to safe drinking water.

- Is central air is the end of the temperature innovation cycle?--You've got to be kidding me. In the context of global warming and the resulting "storms and other (weather) extremes," there are considerable challenges ahead of us to be met. Someone ought to tell Mr. Gordon that sustainable energies are coming online (solar, wind, wave, and geothermal) that can help stem global greenhouse gases thought to be a major cause. In fact, whole new "green" high-tech cities like Masdar City are being developed to operate with low environmental footprints. 

Gordon may think all major innovations have arrived, and probably thought the same before the Internet and smartphone were created. 

In his op-ed, Gordon calls on skeptics to “rebut” his innovative idea that robust innovation is over. But perhaps he is actually asking them for help. Because such pessimism and small thinking are a prison of his own making. Unfortunately, he is professionally considered an “educator.” But it’s lessons like this that our young people – facing one of the most economically challenging times in modern history - can do without. ;-)

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Paul Townsend)


December 21, 2012

Taking It Easy

It was nice to kick back and hear Jeff at "Elbo Room" play Take It Easy by the Eagles.

A good time--hope you enjoy!

(Source Video: Andy Blumenthal)

Building Happiness, One Contribution At A Time

There was an interesting editorial in the Wall Street Journal (20 December 2012) comparing people who win the [Powerball] lottery to those on social entitlements.

The author, Arthur Brooks stipulates that money unearned--"untethered from hard work and merit"--does not make people happy.

Brooks states that "Above basic subsistence, happiness comes not from money per se, but from the value creation it is rewarding."
And this seems to jive with the concept that the greatest producer of happiness aside from social relationships is doing meaningful and productive work (and generally good deeds), not having lots of money and things!

In terms of winning the lottery (big) and not finding happiness, there was another article to this effect in Bloomberg BusinessWeek (13 December 2012), about someone who won the $314 million Powerball jackpot and had at one time been the largest lottery winner in history--but in the end, he found nothing but misery (lost his granddaughter, wife, money, and ended up a substance abuser) and wished he had never seen that "winning" ticket. Instead, he appreciated his previous life when he was known for his "good works," and not just his money!

According to Brooks, "While earned success facilitates the pursuit of happiness, unearned transfers generally impede it." And CNN reports that now more than 100 million Americans are on welfare, and that "does not include those who only receive Social Security or Medicare."

The result as Brooks states is the fear is that we are becoming an 'entitlement state," and that it is bankrupting the country and "impoverishing" the lives of millions by creating a state of dependency, rather than self-sufficiency.

So are social entitlements really the same thing?

No. because without doubt, there are times when people need a safety net and it is imperative that we be there to help people who are in need--this is not the same as someone winning the lottery, but rather this is genuinely doing the right thing to help people!

At the same time, everyone, who can, must do their part to contribute to society--this means hard work and a fair day's pay.

However, With the National Debt about to go thermonuclear, and the fiscal cliff (in whatever form it finally takes) coming ever closer to pocketbook reality, the country is on verge on confronting itself--warts and all.

We all woke up this morning, and the world was still here--despite the Mayans foretelling of the end of the world today. Perhaps, the end was never meant as a hard and fast moment, but rather the beginning of an end, where we must confront our spendthrift ways and historical social inequities.

While we cannot erase decades of mismanagement, what we can do is continue the march to genuinely embrace diversity, invest in education and research, help those who cannot help themselves, work hard and contribute, and build a country that our grandparents dreamed of--one that is paved in opportunity for everyone!

Let us pray that we are successful--for our survival, prosperity, and genuine happiness. ;-)

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Brother Magneto)


December 20, 2012

Dog At Barbershop

This dog was all too cute and happy sitting in the barbershop chair. 

Not sure if he's getting a little off the top or what, but he loved being the center of attention, and he really perked up when I took his photo.

Ok dog, you're famous now in the totalcio. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Meet Sammy, The iPhone Guy

Sammy, the iPhone guy, in the Galleria Mall in Ft. Lauderdale was kind enough to talk with me about his experiences repairing smartphones.

Some highlights:

- He learned his trade from watching videos online (Go social media!)
- Smartphones can be taken apart, diagnosed, and fixed in as little as 15 minutes.
- Repairs generally cost between $85-99 and come with a six month warranty. 
- Loves the iPhone, but he says Galaxy is a strong competitor. 
- Most smartphones are damaged by dropping them without cases on (people love their devices naked).
- Many smartphones are dropped in the pool and in the toilet--but amazingly these can be fixed too!

Thanks Sammy for talking with me today about the ins and outs of the smartphone. ;-)

December 19, 2012

What A Dummy!

This guy is a real dummy--no, I am not being mean or rude. 

While this guy looks very real, it is actually a statue and is called "Vendor With Walkman" by Duane Hanson. 

This guy sits in a windowed room in Ft. Lauderdale Airport, and it seems that almost everyone who passes by stops and does a double-take--he is so real looking--it is amazing!

Looks are deceiving, but this takes it to a whole new level--think hard about what is real and fake; it is not always so obvious. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Federal Leadership Is A Journey

There were three news articles in Federal Times this week (17 December 2012) that highlighted some disappointments for the time being, but that offer hope for the future:

-   Conflicts of Interest at DARPA: The previous director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is investigated by the Defense Department Inspector General for conflicts of interest related to the award of “hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts to a company she co-founded and partially owned.” The hope for the future—the new DARPA director has “sent a full list of her financial assets to all of the agency’s employees.”

-   Missed opportunity for use of mobile devices, BYOD in the Federal workforce: The CIO Council’s report on “Government Use of Mobile Technology: Barriers, Opportunities, and Gap Analysis” was required by the Federal Digital Strategy (May 2012); however, while there is clarity of the need for greater mobility in the workforce, instead of a clear architecture forward, the report calls for more guidance from the administration on “how to handle the tricky legal, privacy, and financial implications.” The hope—the report looks toward  a government-wide or agency policy and guidance to support more flexible use of mobile devices and a cross-functional team to evaluate Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) for the future.

-   NASA doubts commitment of getting to an asteroid: NASA, which has been criticized by some for not having a clear direction, has been charged with “sending astronauts to an asteroid by 2025,” yet there is not consensus that this is “the next step on the way to Mars.” The hope—NASA can restructure, engage in cost-sharing partnerships, or otherwise increase budget or decrease scope to right-align and achieve clear focus on the next great goals for outer space.

Lesson learned: leadership does not have all the answers nor do they always do everything right, but leadership is a journey. So while today, we may not always be making the best acquisitions for advanced research, achieving clarity of a mobile strategy, or landing people on Mars—we are on the way—through one small step for leadership, one giant leap for the rest of us.

(Source Photo: here with attribution to NASA) 


December 17, 2012

As Is--Where's The To Be?

I saw this "As Is" license plate on a car and I was wondering whether he was selling it as is, loved it as is, and perhaps whether on the back was another plate that said "To Be."

Maybe, his "as is" is a Mercedes, but his to be is a BMW or Lexus? 

Or perhaps, his as-is car is black, but his dream to-be is red?

Then again, maybe he is hopelessly in love with his wife and he has the as is car, but his wife has the to be--now I think I am on to something!

Alternatively, I've simply overdosed on enterprise architecture, and I can't help thinking--what's an as is without a to be? 

Like peanut butter without jelly, it just doesn't work--even on a license plate! ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)


December 16, 2012

Amazon Will Bury Walmart

I've never seen the great allure of Walmart. Actually before I moved from NYC to the DC area more than a decade ago, I had never even seen a Walmart--and that was just fine. 

But I had heard these amazing tales of how they were superstores with everything you could ever want and at low prices and the shopping experience was supposed to be, oh what a delight!

So I cannot tell you my utter disappointment the first time I went to Walmart--shabby storefronts, elderly door greeters handing out store circulars and stickers, messy aisles and shelves, with low price tags on a swirling everything, and sort of the image of crummy leftover merchanidse throughout, and top that off with pushing crowds trying to save a couple of bucks on the junk. 

Let's just say, I'm not running back to Walmart, especially when we have online shopping experiences like Amazon--now that is much closer to nirvana. 

No drive, no crowds, no wait, no up and down the aisles looking for what you want, no shlepping, and no in your face "everyday low prices" image and we won't let you forget it--instead easy to find, interesting, varied, and quality merchandise of all types, at reasonable prices, with an easy checkout process, home delivery, free shipping, and easy returns. 

And as opposed to Walmart which is stuck in costly and inconvenient large brick and mortar stores, Amazon is investing in infrastructure of the future with convenient warehouse and delivery centers throughout the country, and more recently with their purchase of Kiva Systems in March 2012 for implementing robotics in their fulfillment centers. 

On top of it, Walmart (with nearly 2.2 million employees worldwide) in its endeavor to keep prices low, have spun up their workforce with jobs--that are often part time and unpredictable, low wage, lacking proper benefits, unsafe working conditions, and with questionable advancement opportunties (especially for women). Throw on top of that bribery allegations for which they've hired a new complaince officer. Yet, Walmart has also somehow managed to keep their workforce from unionizing to improve things. 

So how should we say this: how about straight out--Amazon gets it and Walmart does not!

And while Walmart has their own .com site--which coincidentally looks very much like Amazon's--Amazon is eating Walmart's lunch online, with according to NBC News a 41% revenue increase for Amazon's online sales versus just 3.4% for Walmart's. Moreover, Bloomberg BusinessWeek (29 March 2012) reports that Walmart's 2011 online sales amounted to less than 2% of their U.S. sales--they just can't seem to make the digital transformation!

So While overall Amazon sales at $48 billion are still only about 1/9 of Walmart colossal $419 billion, Amazon with it's high-tech approach (including their successful Kindle eReaders, cloud computing, and more) is anticipated to reach $100 billion in online sales by 2015

Like the other big box retailers of yore, Kmart, Sears, JC Penny, Circuit City, Best Buy, and more, Walmart will decline--it will just take a little longer and with a little more thrashing, because of the size of their checkbooks.  

Perhaps, as the New York Times implied years ago (17 July 2005) only stores like Costco (and throw in Nordstroms as well) with their tall aisles stocked neatly with quality goods, at low prices, and with better human capital ethos, will survive the big box retailer Armageddon.

My prediction is that within a generation Amazon will bury Walmart, if not literally so they are out of business, then figuratively with the best and most lucrative online shopping experience around--and as for the matchup betweent them, it won't even be close.  ;-)

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Fuschia Foot)

December 15, 2012

Walking In All Shoes

Thinking about life and death and the concept of reincarnation. 

While I have heard the belief of some that reincarnation is the ultimate justice machine--if you treat others well, you come back well off, while if you treat them badly, you come back in their situation. 

So the classic example, would be if you have the opportunity to give charity, and do so, genoreously, then you are rewarded in a next life with riches, but if you are miserly, then you come back poor--to learn the lessons of charitable giving. 

However, I wonder if this concept goes even much further.

Does our journey ultimately takes us not just to occupy some positions if life, but rather to every role and status, illustrative of all peoples--so that we learn from the eyes of everyone. 

The world  is round and the number of perspectives around it are as varied as the people, races, cultures, and nations they come from. 

As the saying goes, "don't judge me until you walk a mile in my shoes," perhaps we are indeed given the opportunity to walk in a large representative sample of those. 

When the see the world not from where we sit today in life, but from where others are perched, we can get a whole new perspective on issues and ideas--we can learn true empathy, caring, respect, and justice.

Almost like having G-d's vantage point, we can learn to see the world from a multi-cultural perspective, where each person, tribe, and nation is infinitely valuable--where each holds the key to a perspective and lesson that we must all learn before our journey comes to a conclusion. 

Live life and learn well--there is much to see, hear, and experience, and no one has all the answers or is all righteous--like a large mosaic, we all have a piece. ;-)

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Fernando Stankuns)


December 14, 2012

Children, Our Future

20 children dead today in school shooting. 

Completely unacceptable!

We need better psychiatric screening, more treatment options, and safer schools.

How can we expect children to excel, when they can't even feel safe. 

Safeguard our children, protect our future.

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Massimo Valiani, Source Quote: ABC News article comment by Quinn, and Mashup by Andy Blumenthal)


See Yourself In The Future

Now seeing how you will look in the future is not just theoretical anymore. 

Merrill Edge (Merrill Lynch investing + Bank of America banking) has an online digital program that shows how you will look aged over time. 

They developed this as tool to encourage people to save more money for retirement by bringing home the message that you will not be young (and beautiful) forever. 

The Face Retirement tool asks for your age and gender, takes your picture, and then displays snapshots of how you will look over the course of your lifespan. 

I tried it and my smiling face was quickly tranformed into an old man with sagging skin, wrinkles, and more. 

My wife seeing those pictures says to me (even though we already save for retirement), "We better really start investing seriously for retirement!" -- gee, thanks! ;-)

And thanks Merrill Edge, you scared us straight(er) by looking at our own mortality, face-to-face. 

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Judy Baxter)


December 13, 2012

'Cause I'm A Govie

An orignal rap about public service by me (Andy Blumenthal). 


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal at Romero Britto store)


Great Balls Of The Apocalypse

So the Chinese have invented an amazing life-saving device for whenever a great life-threatening catastrophe strikes.

Rather than an ark, this lifeboat is a giant ball of steel, concrete, and fiberglass--two layers thick and weighing four tons--they are advertised as waterproof, fireproof, ice-proof, shock-resistant, and they stand upright and float in water. 

In case of a tsunami, earthquake, shipwreck, or other major crisis, these can be you lifepod to safety. 

CNN reports that they can hold 14 people (video says up to 30 people) and can store food, water, and oxygen for two months. 

The pods also have a propeller for the craft and seatbelts for your added safety--should things get a little rough on the water of Armaggedon. 

The inventor says the next generation survival pod will be made of stronger steel and have more comfort gadgets--although, I imagine he can't mean a flat screen TV. ;-) 


December 12, 2012

Lessons Learned on IT Customer Service and Team Building

In Public CIO Magazine (12 December 2012) Andy Blumenthal talks about lessons learned as an IT leader.

You've got to serve the mission, solve problems, take care of your customers, while at the time forming a cohesive, high performing team. 

Read here for the full article.

Hope you enjoy!

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Dell Inc.)


December 11, 2012

Montel Williams' EA Wisdom

Amazed to see this posting on Facebook by Montel Williams.

This hits the bulls eye with what enterprise architecture--both organizationally and personally--is all about. 

Love it, and thank you for sharing this Montel! 

(Source Photo: Facebook December 11, 2012)


Escaping From A Submerged Vehicle Gets Easier

Of all things, here's an innovation to the seat belt. 

In the movies, we've all seen cars plunging into the water and submerging with people trapped inside. 

Wired Magazine (11 December 2012) reported on a new escape belt that helps people get out of the vehicles and to safety. 

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administation, almost 400 people die a year from car accidents that result in accidental drowning. 

Now Dutch company, Fijen TMLS has developed a seat-belt that releases when water goes in the interior and dissolves a salt pill in the latch. 

The mechanism costs as little as $40 and according to the company's website can "be assembled on all seatbelt releasers in just a few simple steps."

From the pictures of the assembly instructions, I am not sure it is quite so easy. 

Also, it is unclear how long the device is good for, since on one hand, their website states that the "Escape Belt lasts 6 months" and on other hand that "the cartridge will need to replaced after 2 years."

In any case, I think the idea is a good one as long as the belt remains secure when not submerged and will not release accidentally with any simple spill or splash. ;-)


December 10, 2012

I'm Looking At You Looking At Me Looking At You

Almax, the Italian maker of mannequins has a new high-tech version that does more than stand around and look pretty.

The EyeSee Mannequin has a camera built into its eye that watches you while you shop. 

According to Bloomberg BusinessWeek (6 December 2012), the EyeSee Mannequin sells for about $5,130 and it conducts consumer profiling--using technology to identify criminals--it determines your age, gender, and race and tracks your shopping patterns. 

Newer versions of EyeSee will likely have a sensor for hearing you as well, so it can "eavesdrop on what shoppers say about the mannequin's attire."

Next to these mannequins, you have to consider who are the real dummies, when everything you do and say can be monitored. 

Next time, you're peering at that mannequin, be careful, it may be peering right back at you--and when it says something be ready to jump. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)