Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The 20th WebInno Packs The House

I drove the length of the Mass Pike to Cambridge yesterday to attend the latest Web Innovators Group, "an informal gathering of people interested in internet and mobile innovation in the Boston area." (Legally speaking, The People's Republic of Cambridge is part of Boston, but don't try to tell the people there that. This was not an event for the comrades, though; the host hotel just so happens to be down the street from MIT.)

David Beisel of Venrock, a venture capital firm, started the WebInno meetings in late 2005, I believe. I'm estimating that by the little post about WebInno #7 that I put in here in July '06; they're held every two or three months. The next one is scheduled for March 2009.

David was rightfully proud to greet the crowd of 600 by briefly reflecting on the event's modest start in contrast to what he saw, when, "tonight we've filled the entire grand ballroom." WebInno's long been an acknowledged hotspot for the area's technorati.

The focus is on early-stage startups, and the format's always been three "main dish" presentations to the assembled group, followed by open networking time when another number of "side dish" presentations by other hopefuls are set up in simple tabletop convention style.

With three main dishes and a half dozen sides, there's really far too much to say to do justice to any of them. So, with that caveat in mind, a quick pass through some highlights.

Trip Chill is putting into practice a widely desired service: a full-service digital travel agent and concierge. Plan and book your trip through their site, then get updates and automatic Plan B's directed to your iPhone or any mobile device. If your flight is delayed, for instance, it'll book you on another one, according to any preferences you originally entered on the website.

I was very keen on the prompts they'll send to remind you where you parked your car when you land back at your home airport. (Sign me up!)

Presentation-wise, too, these guys really had the right idea: presenters always have two people at the podium, one doing the talking and the other running the slide show. So Trip Chill's two speakers acted out their story, and with low key comedy. "How was your flight?"
"Oh, brutal. My flight was cancelled, I was stuck at O'Hare," etc.
"That's too bad -- I used Trip Chill(!), and it notified me, booked me on another flight," etc., etc. Host Beisel then conferred on them the spur-of-the-moment award for "best acting in a WebInno presentation." They had the crowd's full attention, laughing and engaged.

Don't just tell your story; whenever possible, Show it.

Next we had the exotically named Crimson Hexagon, promised a service to "make sense of the massive amount of information on the Internet." That turned out to be basically a digital clipping service for anyone who's written about more often than they can keep track of in Google Alerts; which they estimated at more than 25 a day. It's sold as an annual subscription, or, for now, by the month.

Crimson Hexagon (the name is a construct from Argentinian magical realism author, Jorge Luis Borges,) tracks, "reads" and summarizes everything that's being said about your company on the Web. They demonstrated the kind of intelligence gathering this makes possible by revealing that, in aggregate, the biggest attraction to the iPhone is the App Store, and that 14% of people who drink Gatorade do so for a hangover cure. (Note: this statements have not been evaluated by the FDA, and are solely the opinions of 14% of the sport-drink buying Internet population.)

Local Motors was the last and somewhat curious main dish, since the definition of "mobile innovation" was stretched perhaps beyond recognition to include a custom car company. But no, they belonged there because the design of their cars is crowdsourced. People post car designs, who the Local Motors man emphasized are paid if their design is selected (good for them! There's a practice conspicuously missing from most Web ventures).

Then the community comments, adds and critiques, and the company gets to hear "what people think of it real-time." At the point that, I suppose, that input plateaus, the company says, "this is the car we'll build here," since they'll create versions most appropriate for various locales; Boston and Hawaii were mentioned as examples. They'll build a hydrogen powered car for states that have that kind of "gas" station; they economize overall by using off-the-shelf power plants and components (although no sticker price was mentioned in the main pitch).

A very intriguing idea, especially on the umpteenth day that Washington-in-transition told us they just about had a bailout in place for the old Big Three carmakers. And they had some very sexy, European racing car designs that, together with their man's strong presentation, earned them the designation of Tastiest Dish of the.. . no, excuse me, that was "Audience Choice Award."

Web Innovators Group

Photo on Flickr by BostonDave (as of this writing, pix from WebInno 18)


When I got off the road and into the hotel where the event's usually been held, having already decided that I wanted to do a little report, I was confronted with one of pressing questions of our time. Should I "live" blog the affair, or go by the traditional, Old Media approach of taking notes and putting it up tomorrow?

(I remember at one of the earlier WebInno's, around three years back, when blogging was still the breathlessly hot new thing, there was some pride in the room that it was being reported live by at least a couple different speed typists.)

I decided to go for the latter, because I knew that today I'd cringe at what I threw up here without review; but mostly because if I get as focused as one needs to be to write and post a entry, I wouldn't have really been there. You know, the way it is with cameras: either you're documenting it, OR you're really there.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

You Can Only See It If You Stand Right Here

Here's a visual/conceptual treat, a little eye and brain candy, containing the ever useful reminder that sometimes your perspective is all about where you're standing.

Within a certain range, a small slice of the pie, the words are easily read. Presumably, that's at the physical point where you need it, because good design is primarily about usefulness, carefully refined functionality.

From anywhere outside the sweet spot, it's decorative; it's "Ahhht." But since a particular message isn't needed from that location, or even could be confusing and darnright counter-productive, there's no reason that space can't be used just for expression. In a case like this, any more interesting message than "parking garage" would be a welcome experiential improvement for the parkers, and the parkees.
Funny, it didn't occurr to me until now, a couple paragraphs into this, that maybe the reason I'm so drawn to a lively paint job for a parking garage is that I worked in one for a year or so, when still a very young feller. Fortunately my booth was on the street, just inside a very wide mouth of the building, so the air wasn't that awfully bad, either.
So, by all means, buy some paint! (And get those emissions checked, please.)

Here's Axel Peemoeller's home page, which I am disappointed to report is an all visual, unnavigable "artistic" mess -- no text clues on where to click for what. We're invited to "drag and drop and click on items," but mousing over the goobley graphics only offers invitations to "double click." So besides that the garage is in "Melbourne," I can't tell you anything else about him or the project, because I gave up trying to find out more. A fine model of usefulness, indeed.
So how did I come across this? The pictures above and below originally came to me via the traditional email full of non-attributed photos, which I found in this case to be sparky stuff. So I sleuthed it down, using the mighty Internet, and found the originator, in observance of our personal motto (and tag) here, "Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due."

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Epson's Built-In Cheating Mechanism

(A little righteously indignant background music, there, maestro... just a bit lower? Thank you, that's perfect.)
I turned on my printer yesterday, and it informed me that the ink was out in three of the six cartridges. Okay, these things happen. But then there are these puzzling occurrences, and a rather troubling number of them, in fact.

This is a printer series that is infamous for shutting down and not letting you print once it decides any one of the cartridges is "out" of ink. (You can guess there's more to this subject, and I'll get to it in turn.) I didn't realize when I bought this thing that Epson was withholding the right I'd enjoyed with every printer I ever owned or used to that point, to print a faded copy of something I needed right then.

First of all, even though I'm supposedly out of a color ink, it refuses to print even a purely black-and-white page. There is really no reasonable justification for this, except to hasten the hapless owner's purchase of more of "the Barbie clothes." (Would prefer to use "razors and blades," but that one is so over.)

Secondly, while "the paperless office" is an absolute that is still beyond reach, I certainly live and function in the "much-less-paper office," and as such wind up printing very little. I use this machine much more often for its scanning.

So it was obvious to me when I turned the machine on several weeks ago and it informed me that the ink was getting low on those three cartridges, that I hadn't printed anything between the last time the device was on and then. Some timer had clicked over a notch, and the ink in half the cartridges was duly reported as having evaporated below the sensor lines or escaped or something.

But Wait, There's More: yesterday I turned the machine on for the first time since the last time, still not having printed anything, and was informed that I was completely out of ink in all three of those cartridges.

It turns out that in 2005, Epson, the maker of my Stylus Photo RX620, settled a a class action suit against them for exactly this behavior. According to a PC World article when legal actions were filed in, oops, 2003,
"…chips are used to monitor the amount of ink inside the ink jet cartridge. Cartridges actually contain up to 38 percent more usable ink after the chip cuts them off, according to research cited in the suits.
"The chip does not measure the real volume; instead, it estimates the amount of ink used and predicts when the cartridge will be empty. The chip transmits estimated ink levels to the printer, which alerts the user with a screen message."
The gist of that message: "You're Gist Out Of Luck!"

In the settlement, any owner of an Epson printer manufactured and bought within some period of time, and who heard about this in time (it wasn't referenced on their home page when the settlement was in force), got a $45 dollar certificate from Epson's own online store, as I recall. Since you pay full retail there, that's not even three cartridges. And, critically, Epson was not required to change the programming in the chips or offer a download to correct the cheating calculations, and give an accurate reading of the ink levels. Bad settlement.

It's a shame, and an insult to the engineers who put this printer scanner copier together, because they did a really nice job. It prints beautiful photos, the scanner works fine and has very good, well integrated software. But somewhere between the various departments with input on this design, the dark directive came down to operate on its brain to turn it against its owner. (Hm, sounds like a great sci-fi movie concept.. .)

Good grief, I think I just released my first real, full-out rant. !, even. My apologies; but these skunks should be aired out appropriately. And I feel a little better now.

Epson Faces Consumer Suits - PC World (10/24/03)

Epson ink cartridge controversy - Wikipedia

Monday, November 24, 2008

"Can America Invent Its Way Back?" & "No Time to Forget Innovation"

Extracts of today's and another recent post I put together for the Heart of Innovation, the blog of Idea Champions.

Nov. 24 '08 -
"Can America Invent Its Way Back?"

A recent article in BusinessWeek by Michael Mandel asks this highly relevant question, noting that while the U.S. has spent almost $5 trillion on research and development and on higher education, "employment in most technologically advanced industries has stagnated or even fallen."

Mandel's focus is on the new field of "innovation economics," which studies what forms of funding drive successful innovation.

Nov. 4 '08 -
"It's No Time to Forget About Innovation"
Writing in the New York Times, Janet Rae-Dupree reminds us that even or especially in times "of corporate belt-tightening," companies reduce their efforts to strengthen innovation at their own risk. For example, "a large acquirer's interest in a start-up or smaller company is binary in nature: They either want you or they don't, based on the innovation you have to offer."

Hard times can be the source of innovative inspiration... Some of the best products and services come out of some of the worst times.

Friday, November 21, 2008

"That's Why He's A Great Player"

Once again, the somehow perennially useful reminder that you'll miss 100% of the shots you don't take. (Who first said that, I wonder?) Here it was the other day, voiced in the form of the champion Boston Celtics' coach Doc Rivers commenting on the amazing Paul Pierce. The Celtics' leading scorer had been in a slump recently, but on this night...

"The Raptors... were up by as many as 16 points but fell, 94-87, last night thanks in no small part to the 22-point period Pierce assembled as a part of a 36-point bailout. ...It was, as Doc Rivers said, the kind of night the Celtics had been waiting for out of their captain. Every shot seemed like a big one in a quarter that saw Pierce hit seven of nine attempts and drill two from 3-point range.

"Rivers never had any doubt that Pierce would keep shooting. Mostly because Pierce guaranteed as much in one of their huddles.

"'That's why he's a great player,' Rivers said. 'That's why great players are great players. The average player could not have withstood that. The average player misses shots and he shuts off.

"'The great player misses shots and he starts thinking the odds are on his side.'"

("After playing just 28 minutes against Detroit Sunday, Pierce said he could have played for hours, especially now that he had found his rhythm.")

"Pierce scores 32 in Celtics 94-87 win over Raptors" --
"Their captain became a quarter-master," by Julian Benbow, Boston Globe, 11/11/08

"Paul Pierce For Two" - Photo posted to Flickr by TimDD
(Okay, that pic is from a Lakers game, not this one;
but how much better is one of Pierce blowing by Kobe?)

(...Just like ol' Mr. Hank Aaron, who tipped our hat to early in the year. In baseball terms it comes out as "Just Keep Swinging.")

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"10 Most 'Accountable' Big Companies"

Okay, it's official: Green is in, and funding is loudly touted for initiatives on recovery and sustainability. We have every reason to expect this support to flow significantly from the highest levels, since, for example, just today the President-Elect(!),

".. .reiterated a campaign pledge to invest $15 billion each year in the development of clean technology...

"'When I am president, any governor who's willing to promote clean energy will have a partner in the White House. Any company that's willing to invest in clean energy will have an ally in Washington. And any nation that's willing to join the cause of combating climate change will have an ally in the United States of America.'"

- "US president-elect promises 'new chapter in America's leadership on climate change'"
The Guardian,
(I just can't help but saying, while still at this early point, is it not a profound relief to see the President of the country saying this? Alright alright, "-elect" -- but you've got to admit that in spirit he's already effectively taken charge of the country.)

If this new enlightened age for Green Sustainable Whole Earthitude is for real, or to whatever extent it is, then the focus must shift to two types of things:
  • Finding out which are the best ideas, the ones that should get the big-league support, and
  • Recognizing which companies and countries are already doing it right. This also must involve keeping the believability of the whole movement alive by vigorously exposing "greenwashers," those soulless touts trying to pass off their net-effect polluting employers as a saints of save-the-earthness.
So it's good to see the CNN/Money/Fortune magazine agglomeration "rank the world's 100 largest corporations by the quality of their commitment to social and environmental goals."

"10 Most 'Accountable' Big Companies"
Five U.S. companies were in Fortune's top 20 Most Accountable, with one or two in the top ten (since the tenth spot was a statistical three-way tie, with just .1 out of 100 separating their scores).

England's Vodafone was #1; the top U.S. companies were:
#2: GE
11: Hewlett-Packard (really tied for 10th)
16: Chevron
17: Citigroup (Uh-oh...)
23: Ford (Uh-oh!)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Barack Obama, President-Elect of the United States(!)

First of all… Whew!

If you write, you kind of have to write on a day like this, an historic occasion if ever there was one. Like the fall of the Berlin Wall, this is something I never thought would happen in my lifetime, and it is due both to the moment and, significantly, to the extraordinary character of Barack.

Maybe it was close earlier, maybe the Democratic candidate would have won anyway just on the strength of being the Anti-Bush, but there were two factors that decisively tipped it Obama's way. McCain's choice of the beauty pageant queen for his VP did send the hearts of the faithful to flutterin', but once revealed in Katy Couric's pivotal interview, Mrs. Palin caused everybody else to seriously doubt his judgment, and turn even conservative stalwarts like Christopher Buckley (William F.'s son, no less,) against him.

The other, less self-inflicted blow (given his legislative participation in the debacle,) was that little dust-up recently in the markets, the timing of which turned out so poorly for his campaign. Once again, It Was The Economy, Stoopit.

Note, though, that the all-but-complete count as I write this is roughly 53 million Democratic votes vs. 46 million Republican. That many people, a little over 46 percent of the voting population, voted for the maverick military-man version of the same old thing.

So how wise has it been of Obama, even through his victory speech, to strike a conciliatory, inclusive tone, recognizing the strong, deep differences that divide the people in this country, even as we face the same set of problems -- excuse me, "challenges." (Because it turns out, it actually does make a difference how we phrase these situations to ourselves.)

Yes, I got the chills, again, from his acceptance speech, especially when the crowd kept calling back, "Yes, we can!"

Some favorite views of the day:

History in the making: News headlines across the US - slide show, Boston Globe

Reactions from around the world - slide show, Huffington Post

World welcomes Obama with open arms, demands - Amanpour,

What the world expects - BBC correspondents

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Last Three Weeks in the Financial System: Quotes & Observations

Like pretty much everyone else, I've been watching the news unfold about the financial world, and the bit of a sticky wicket they've gotten themselves (and us all) into, with the sense that I was watching an utterly surrealistic drama. Being no whiz on high finance, I’m not going to attempt any big analysis. But I still wanted to simply record a few phrases that I saved, ones that leapt off the screen as I read them, crystalizing the profound hard-to-believability of what's just gone down.

Let's hope we can look back at this, someday not too far off, and say, "Whew! Good thing we got out of that one in not too bad of a shape. Thank goodness we escaped the worst of that!" Not that I see that as exactly likely, but hey, let's be positive! : - 0

Specifically, here at last is a moment when doing business mainly by constructing all these houses of cards, trying to build prosperity and/or wealth based on no productive work, investing in mental constructs not tied to any physical correspondence, is shown as the empty and ultimately useless approach it is. Oh, and even better, done without any much regulatory oversight or, y'know, rules.

Here are some of those quotes, much of them in the carefully measured words of the New York Times, made all the more startling because the Times is not what you'd call a paper known for sensationalism.
This one was a good, nutshell explanation of why the potential collapse was so widespread:

"Outside the public eye, Fed officials had acquired much more information since March about the interconnections and cross-exposure to risk among Wall Street investment banks, hedge funds and traders in the vast market for credit-default swaps and other derivatives. In the end, both Wall Street and the Fed blinked."

Lehman Files for Bankruptcy; Merrill to Be Sold
(9/14/2008 )

"Days away from a complete meltdown of our financial system"

"As Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut and chairman of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, put it Friday morning on the ABC program 'Good Morning America': 'The congressional leaders were told that we’re literally maybe days away from a complete meltdown of our financial system, with all the implications here at home and globally.'”

".. .a week that has shaken the core of the American financial system."
I mean, who'd-a thunk it: Lehman, Merrill, among the handful of firms that were routinely described as the very Pillars of the Financial System! This has got to be the best use of the word "incredulity" that I've ever seen.
And from MSNBC:
The "Bankruptcy of 'law of the jungle' capitalism"

"This crisis underlines the excesses and uncertainties of a casino capitalism that has only one logic — lining your pockets," said German lawmaker Martin Schulz, chairman of the Socialists in the EU assembly. "It also shows the bankruptcy of 'law of the jungle' capitalism that no longer invests in companies and job creation, but instead makes money out of money in a totally uncontrolled way."
- "U.S. gambles blamed for world’s financial crisis" (10/1)

Blunt Financial Instruments Used for the Crime (cont'd)

More memorable quotes on the last three weeks of high drama:

"The riverboat-gambling scheme of investment banking"

"As long as people are compensated hugely for taking risks with other people’s money, and do not suffer equally on the downside, then those risks will inevitably become outrageous. Whether markets are efficient or not I don’t know for sure, but I do know that if there’s a way for someone to make money at another’s expense, he will. In spades. I want out."

"These companies need to tie compensation to long- rather than short-term performance. This won’t be popular on Wall Street, but if we want to turn investment banking back to performing something useful and positive rather than some sort of riverboat-gambling scheme on which we are all unwitting participants, then there’s not much choice."

- "For Wall Street, Greed Wasn’t Good Enough"
by Paul Wilmott, founder of Wilmott, a journal of quantitative finance
NYT Op-Ed section (9/17)

Lehman's reward for failure

">> 'But things are looking up for the long-suffering employees of investment bank Lehman Brothers.'

"But wait. Wasn’t it Lehman that filed for bankruptcy just last week?

"Yes, it was.

"But as luck would have it, that sorry, sorry turn of events apparently had no effect on the $2.5 billion the bank set aside for staff bonuses. So, according to The Independent, Barclays, which is buying Lehman Brothers for $1.75 billion, plans to make good on those bonuses, though it has no obligation to do so.

"Two-and-a-half billion. Plus whatever portion of that $39 billion they were given last year. And then there are the pay and severance packages. Lehman Brothers Chairman and CEO Richard Fuld Jr. made $34 million in 2007. He also banked $490 million from selling Lehman stock.

"Such is the price of failure."

- "Lehman Brothers: $2.5 Billion for a Bankruptcy Well Done"
from Digital Daily by John Paczkowski
on All Things Digital

From 1999 to 2007, Paczkowski wrote the award-winning tech news Web log Good Morning Silicon Valley for the San Jose Mercury News

With all this about the brokers and bankers, let's not forget how this is playing out with The Rest Of Us; for example,

Tent Cities Spread In U.S. As Economy Sags
Foreclosure Crisis Blamed For Rise Of Homeless Camps In Cities

RENO, Nev., Sept. 19, 2008
"From Seattle to Athens, Ga., homeless advocacy groups and city agencies are reporting the most visible rise in homeless encampments in a generation."

"Nearly 61 percent of local and state homeless coalitions say they've experienced a rise in homelessness since the foreclosure crisis began in 2007, according to a report by the National Coalition for the Homeless. The group says the problem has worsened since the report's release in April, with foreclosures mounting, gas and food prices rising and the job market tightening."

" 'It's clear that poverty and homelessness have increased,' said Michael Stoops, acting executive director of the coalition. 'The economy is in chaos, we're in an unofficial recession and Americans are worried, from the homeless to the middle class, about their future.' "

"The phenomenon of encampments has caught advocacy groups somewhat by surprise, largely because of how quickly they have sprung up."


Friday, September 19, 2008

Just Plain Beautiful

Just some relief for your weary eyes and mind, a peaceful image by photographer Paul Sutherland, from the National Geographic (where they're celebrating the 120th Anniversary of the National Geographic Society). 
This is from their "Underwater Landscapes" photo gallery, free-downloadable for wallpaper.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Twittering on about Facebook, etc.

Continuing on my (ir)regular, implied theme of What's Not Hot among topics currently considered high-temperature in the media, two items:

There's lots of twaddle about Twitter in the tech press and online communities. Most of it is just the old demonstration that the writers are Fully Buzzword Compliant, well versed in the latest thing, whatever the heck that thing is and may or may not be useful for.

This Web service appears to be providing the much-needed function of adding yet another layer of distraction to our ADD World. ("Thanks a lot! - what was your name again? Oh, gotta run, see you --") I loved the quote from the last post here, down below, noting that a "friend" had just left a note to everyone that they were brushing their teeth. I'm hoping the writer was kidding, but either way, this is a layer of "content" so thin as to defy measurement.

So I was glad to see this statement in one of the blogs on CNet, the venerable (in Web terms,) tech news site:

"Twitter's not going to change the world"

CNet's Charles Cooper, quoting a video blogger named Loren Feldman:

"Loren's main point (is), anyone who has followed the incessant bleating about Twitter's supposedly existential meaning to our lives--let alone the silly debate over Twitter versus FriendFeed--has to wonder whether tech's chattering class has lost its sense of perspective.

"Are we guilty of navel gazing to the point of silliness?"

Breaking taboos in the tech fishbowlJuly 20, 2008
=== === ===
This tied in nicely with a piece I saw in the Old Grey Lady Online, a few caveats about Facebook -
.. .from a business perspective, it creates some complications.
...I neither want to be strategic in my postings nor selective in my friending, but I should probably be doing one or the other. I am also not religious in maintaining my profile, in part because I have no personal assistant to update my page, as one executive I know told me he does.

Once you jack in, Facebook creates its own imperatives. Why am I uploading pictures of my last family trip to the lake in the Adirondacks at 11:45 p.m.? Because I want someone, anyone, to see them.

When a new media winner like Facebook comes over the horizon, who loses? In my case, it’s probably my real actual friends. As a reporter, I learn to hate the telephone during the day, but at night I feel somewhat social again and step out onto the porch to call buddies for a little nocturnal quality time. Now I am too busy checking their status updates to actually speak to them.

The Media Equation: Hey, Friend, Do I Know You?
By David Carr, July 21, 2008
=== === ===
Exactly as e-mail now reflects the pounds of junk mail in our "street" mailboxes, all new media will eventually return to earth, mirroring the net level of quality-of-life that most people are functioning at. (Not that there aren't people who reach for something more, a higher level of practice in whatever they do, of course -- imagine what it would be like if there weren't enough of them quietly anchoring things).

As you'll see from the date of the following post, I dropped out of blogging for awhile there, to take a break after two+ years at it -- even if admittedly doing it at a fairly relaxed pace for the medium, as it's currently understood. Once I saw that a few big bloggers had heart attacks over the last year, then that my favorite blogger, Maura Welch (who I began reading in the Boston Globe), just renounced regular blogging, and some other bigtime blogger just said goodbye, too... well, now I feel like I'm on the leading edge of the next hot trend, the post-blog Web!

But it's just another wave in the natural progression of new modes...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

"Top 10 Social Networking Annoyances"

Thank you Scott Spanbauer of PC World for putting words on my own aversion to a lot of aspects of the social networking craze. From the "friends" game to visually godawful Myspace pages to just how much time it takes to be a player in this arena, his article yesterday nailed it, and in a fairly witty way.

His #1 reason? What he's termed "Multiple Social Network Syndrome (MSNS)" --

"With the advent of social networking, my e-mail traffic has gotten worse, not better. Here's an e-mail telling me that my brother has sent an e-mail within Facebook. Another message informs me that Susie has updated her profile at Friendster. Another announces that Bob over at FriendNet has just brushed his teeth... And on and on and on. To reply or act on any of these events, I'll have to bring up one of the 12 social networks I've been sucked into joining, log in, and then view the ads there.

"All of that, of course, necessitates a lot of extra clicks and keystrokes, and after a while, I find that I don't really like my friends anymore."

"The Top 10 Social Networking Annoyances"
- Scott Spanbauer, PC World - May 14, 2008
Since we're on the subject of MySpace, (do I really need to link to them? It's "", okay?) I think the more accurate name would be "HisSpace," in honor of owner Rupert Murdoch, who just coincidentally also owns and micro-manages the absurdly unfair and unreasonable Fox News. (Again, "").

Why should I entrust this guy in particular with all the personal information that inevitably accumulates on such a site? I'm pretty damn sure he considers himself the owner of whatever resides on his various company's servers, should there ever be any disagreement over its use.

Related, here:
Half of all media will be created by consumers?
(Maybe, but will anyone else want to consume it?)
Quoted again on Boston Globe's site, on 'Web 2.0' & American Idol
Posts tagged Web 2.0

Rewarding "Appropriate Tech" Innovation

One of my favorite recurring topics has turned out to be when technology is being used for the right reasons, namely, to fundamentally improve the circumstances of life, especially where it's needed most, instead of only to produce more self-indulgent gadgetry. I didn't plan for appropriate technology to be one of my most frequent tags over a year and a half, that's just the way it happened. (Not that this came as any surprise.)

So naturally I wanted to pitch in this piece that appeared on CNet's today --
The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, Calif., gave out its annual awards on Wednesday night to companies and organizations that have created breakthrough devices for helping the environment and emerging nations. (Slide show of the winners.)

The first photo is of a clever stove invented for families in Guatemala, which cuts down the amount of firewood needed for a family by 70 percent. "That's hugely important in a country trying to deal with a growing population and deforestation," CNet's Michael Kanellos writes. It directly helps the families, too, not only cutting their cost for firewood, but also it's weight -- since they "often have to transport it on their backs."

Significantly, at a cost of $120, "It pays for itself in six months." (This contrasts dramatically with a personal wind power generator I'd written about last year that was predicted to pay off in 24 years!)

"Take Me To Your Leader!"

Other related posts here:
WSJ Tech Innovation Awards (9/13/06)
(Tag:) Green Tech
(Treetops photo by meire,

Monday, April 28, 2008

"Drumming Up Teamwork"

It's not very often that I can find some reason to write about musicmaking in here, in keeping with the (rather wide-angled yet) business-y focus of this blog. But it's Spring here at our latitude, and here's one.

Over the years, I've conducted a number of drumming-based teambuilding sessions for Idea Champions (mostly for GE at their famed Crotonville, NY, training campus,) a program begun by my colleague Nathan Brenowitz. I figured we could be doing a lot more with this and suggested we expand and spiff up the offering, so we developed a new program, and gave its page on the site a makeover.

"Hands on, energizing, and fun, Drumming Up Teamwork is the perfect way to help groups and teams see and hear what it takes for real teamwork to manifest in the workplace."

It's really all about Rhythm, because, from one perspective, everything is really all about rhythm: in business, and any interaction between people. We talk about how "timing is everything," about how people working together have to be "in step," and perhaps forget how very literal these expressions are.

But with a drum or bell or shaker in your hands, it becomes quite clear that for something to work, you have to tune in to the people you're working/playing with, you have to really listen, you have to get in sync. Then, in a musical setting, enjoyable, synchronized sounds happen -- and in a business situation, you get a team whose energies are flowing both strongly and focused.

Nathan tells stories of sessions he's run where longtime adversaries have experienced working in concert for the first time, and the letters he got from their relieved and grateful managers. It can be that powerful.

But hey, people express their appreciations even just for its time-honored value of stress relief. My favorite part, I'll admit, is when we drag all the drums and percussion into the middle of the circle, and tell the people to pick the one they want. Just for a moment, everyone becomes a kid again as they race to grab the shiny instrument they had their eyes on, and the room is filled with laughter and gleeful noise. And by the end, you always get at least a couple people who've experienced the transformation that connecting with Rhythm never fails to bring.

Which reminds me...

As long as we're already this far out on the limb (of having proposed that music be taken seriously, I guess), this must be my chance to relate another project I've been hot on this past month, while I obviously haven't been blogging.

That would be putting together "the World Fusion Open," a hybrid open mic and/or relatively open jam for the many people here in New York's Hudson Valley region who play instruments from around the world, or have been influenced by those musics. The first one will be at the Arts Society of Kingston (ASK) in their double gallery in the historic Rondout riverfront neighborhood, on Thursday, May 8th, and will run monthly through the summer.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Slo-mo "lifestreaming"- on being creative, & listening

Never one to be shy to "repurpose" a little "content," here are a couple comments left on blogs around town that I follow, on the tightly interrelated subjects of being creative and of looking for the simplest approach to fulfilling a need.

This might be my very manual, carefully edited slo-mo version of "lifestreaming" -- because I personally have no interest in inviting the world and all the people in it to look over my shoulder all day and night. (Don't they have anything better to do?)

Oh, yes, that's right, the other connectivity bit here is that it turns out the authors of these two blogs know each other, although I "stumbled upon" their work separately.

- To Nettie Hartsock on her "Five Ways to Be Creative Today" (next)
- To Lois Kelly on her "A true story about a chair"

Do We Act, or just React?

To "Five Ways to Be Creative Today," posted by book publicist Nettie Hartsock on her blog (3/7/2008).

Among her five were, "Turn off your computer, TV, radio, PDA and anything electronic and revel in the silence," and, "Spend time contemplating your navel and the deeper meaning of the world and how we’re all connected to one another."
(Yes, that's Nettie with
the great Willie Nelson.)
(In the Comments, I wrote,)

Nettie, this is very good to hear, and very practical advice. (Except maybe for the "navel" part -- ewww -- although I do understand what you're trying to get at. ; - )

I figured out at some point -- and yet I have to keep reminding myself, or be reminded, as you have here -- that if I start my day by checking my e-mail or reading news on the web, that I'm allowing other people to set the tone of the day for me. Ideally, first I need to hear the voice of my own thoughts before I start to consider everyone else's.

In other words, I need to Act instead of just React. The only way to do that is to find and start from some mental/emotional place of your own, like in the ways you've suggested here.
- BR

Nettie Says: (March 18th, 2008 at 5:47 pm)
"What a great insight in terms of starting the day with yourself instead of the email or news on the Web. I’m going to try to spend a few minutes every morning in my office just listening to music and writing before i hit the email and Web.
"I love the Act instead of just React."


"A true story about a chair"

Lois Kelly is very big on the value of genuine conversation as a marketing tool. Her book, "Beyond Buzz," has been named as various types of "best" of 2007. (Gold prize winner in the 2008 Axiom Business Book Awards in the Ads/Marketing/PR category, and called one of the best business books of 2007 by Library Journal, one of editors’ two top picks for marketing and branding books. Just FYI, because the natural question here is what was the other one, it was "Made To Stick" by Dan and Chip Heath.)

In her blog, she posted this intriguing bit:

>> "Patrick Schaber over at The Lonely Marketer
has a beautiful post about his friend Jill, who put two chairs in the middle of a busy corporate campus and sat down to listen to anyone who had something to say.
Needless to say there was a line of people waiting to talk and be heard. This is one of the more innovative employee communications strategies I’ve heard in a long time." (3/3/08)
(I wrote,)
Hi, Lois,

This story about the lady and her two chairs really strikes to the heart of a great principle we all need to routinely remember to return to: looking for the Simplest approach to fulfilling a need.

The key to being able to see simple solutions? It almost invariably starts with being willing to
s l o w... d o w n...

- BR

Related, here:
Serious Fun Dept.: The Playpump
Simplicity (tag)

More from Lois Kelly in -
Can trends be predicted, much less created?”

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Shift in Perspective

(A Saturday afternoon post...)

"Everything is familiar, Daniel M. Tani said, but 'it feels a little alien.' He did not have some of the problems adjusting to gravity that other astronauts have had — absent-mindedly leaving an object in mid-air and being startled to see it crash to the ground. 'You’re very conscious of that,' he said.

"But he still marveled at the mundane. 'You take the lid off the bottle, and you put it on the table,' he said, 'and it’s just amazing that it stays on the sink.' In space, it would have flown away unless it was secured. 'You don’t have to find a piece of velcro to stick it to,' he recalled. 'that seemed like it was magic to me.'"

"Adapting to Earth After 120 Days in Space"
By John Schwartz, NY Times "The Lede" blog, 3/11/08

(Photo uploaded to Flickr by kEnObAnDo)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

"Google: Huge Idea, Simple Insight"

(Extract of a recent post written for Idea Champions' "Heart of Innovation")

"Discovery's Science Channel Has Good New Series On (the) Internet." (Search Engine Watch)

Download: The True Story of the Internet, by former editor and writer for Wired, John Heileman, "is no softball show.. . the series gives it to you 'warts and all' and does not hold back the punches on how things have developed so far. The last show I watched discussed the development of search..."
"We hear amazing stories," The Discovery Channel tells us, "of how, in ten short years, the Internet took over our lives. The style of the story-telling is up close and personal... with first-hand testimony from the people that matter."

I also was watching that episode on search, one of four. To me, the most arresting observation was that while the original, breakthrough idea at the root of Google's effectiveness and success came from a programmer, cofounder Larry Page, it was a very simple thought. Page was not crouched over a keyboard or remembering any computer code in order to come up with this construct.

The billion-dollar insight was just this: that a link to a site from another is like a vote for that destination. The more sites link to yours (and the more linked-to their sites are), the better yours must be... (one of) the ones which the most visitors have "voted for with their feet," or in this case, their eyeballs.

[ more ] on The Heart of Innovation

That's most of the Google logo as of the Spring equinox,
which is coming up within the hour.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

"The Sweat That Eureka Demands"

(Extract of a recent, very up-to-the-minute post of mine in Idea Champions' "The Heart of Innovation"... a couple weeks back:)

Serious about doing something innovative? Be prepared to spend many long, focused hours working on it (and working and working and reworking...)

Thomas Edison  (Wikipedia)
"We want to believe that creativity and innovation come in flashes of pure brilliance," Janet Rae-Dupree writes in the New York Times. But, "Innovation is a slow process of accretion, building small insight upon interesting fact upon tried-and-true process. Just as an oyster wraps layer upon layer of nacre atop an offending piece of sand, ultimately yielding a pearl, innovation percolates within hard work over time."
(As one of the greatest inventors in memory, Thomas Edison, knew so well:)

In an interview in Harpers magazine, February 1890, (stay tuned here at Heart Of Innovation as we present the latest, greatest breakthroughs! ; ) Edison explained his method:

"I would construct a theory and work on its lines until I found it was untenable. ... I speak without exaggeration when I say that I have constructed 3,000 different theories in connection with the electric light, each one of them reasonable and apparently likely to be true. Yet only in two cases did my experiments prove the truth of my theory."

Related, here in Rosswriting: 
inventors (tag)

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Front Seat TV Found "Distracting"

A situation sorely in need of a firm grasp of the obvious:
I was astonished by a recent story in the NY Times on the problems being caused by television and other screens in cars' front seats. The caption of a photo of one such cockpit display read, "Safety experts say electronic devices can be distracting."

Well, DUUHH! Excuse me, but how could the people in positions of responsibility for launching products with such obvious critical flaws not see the problem here?

Even if you're fine with an utterly distracted state from a philosophical point of view, didn’t anyone bring up the issue of the potential liability? (Or if someone did, and you figure that's the likelihood, why didn't the decision makers get it?)

The best part of the article was a quick mention of how legislation came to be introduced in New York to ban all “display generating devices” in the driver’s view. To it's credit, the state already has a law against TV sets in the front seat.

State Senator Carl L. Marcellino, who sponsored the bill, "learned this firsthand while riding in a cab in Miami — the driver was watching a boxing match on a television mounted on the dashboard." I can testify that having lived in Miami for many years, I have no problem at all imagining this. (It can be quite a surreeaalistic place.)

"High-Tech Invitations Take Your Mind Off Road" By Bill Vlasic

Related, here:
(Tag:) Focus

(Image uploaded to Flickr by wiseacre photo)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Just Keep Swinging

In the process of backing up my machine here (since I'm taking it in for a repair before the service contract is up,) I came across one of those inspirational quotes that you save to get you through discouraging interludes.

This, from one of baseball's greatest hitters, is one that I found printed across the top of the local paper's sports page a few years back, right over the scores from the various high school teams. At the time, I really needed not just to hear this, but to keep it in the forefront of my thoughts. So I taped it at the top of my monitor, where it always fed me a little encouragement and direction every time I looked up.

"My motto was always to keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or just feeling badly, the only thing to do was keep swinging."

- Henry Aaron

Now, here's a guy who, I think we can say, probably had a lot more reason to feel downhearted at times than most. As I'm sure most people realize, when he was on his way to breaking Babe Ruth's career home run record, he was receiving death threats and hate mail on a regular basis.

After the last game of the 1973 season, having reached 713, one short of the record, Aaron stated that his only fear was that he might not live to see the next season. So when he said, I just keep swinging, that was quite a statement.

(I suppose it was stressful to be receiving threats of indictment while going after Aaron's record, but I don't think they quite compare.)

1974 baseball card uploaded to Flickr by brettbigb

Thursday, February 07, 2008

On "Blog Coaching"

Just received this very kind letter today from Mitch Ditkoff, the President of Idea Champions, the "culture of innovation" trainers/consultancy, about my ongoing blog coaching services for them. He explains so well what we do in that space that I don't need to add a further word of explanation.
I figure he won't mind me excerpting the longer letter here:

"Thank you very much for all the fine work you’ve done to help Idea Champions create and launch it’s very successful Heart of Innovation blog...

"Your efforts, insights and support were the missing piece. You helped me sort through the choices, consider my options, and made some very insightful recommendations. I appreciate all your flexibility, responsiveness, and commitment to see this project through to the end.

"I see your blog consulting service as a kind of 'chiropractic adjustment.' You have a light touch, know what you’re doing, and are all about the 'health' of your clients.. . I needed the human touch – the Walk Me Through It school of education. So thanks again for hanging in there with me and helping manifest a 'good idea' into a bottom-line reality."
(For my part, I've just got to say that we should all be so lucky to have such enlightened and light-hearted clients.)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Can trends be predicted, much less created?

I came across a provocative, realistic thought in Lois Kelly's "Bloghound" today, in a discussion of whether it's possible to jump-start a trend by trying to influence the influencers. She quotes a "Columbia University network theory scientist" named Duncan Watts who argues otherwise, saying, "the complex network effects on society mean that trends occur randomly."

In an article in Fast Company, he says, "If society is ready to embrace a trend, almost anyone can start one — and if it isn't then almost no one can." In other words, Nothing Is As Powerful As An Idea Whose Time Has Come. Find one of those and then you've got something to work with.

That concept and this post produced a range of pings for me: I've been quoting a related idea for a long time, said to be one of the Laws Of Hollywood: "All Hits Are Flukes." (Just anecdotally, I remember this was reported as seen on the office wall of Trip Hawkins, back when he headed Electronic Arts.)

Yes, you've got to do your due diligence, put out as much intelligent, engaging signal to the right audiences as you can. But then there's always that point where you can only See What Happens. Farmers can plant the best seed at the right time and apply all their Best Practices; but then, it's largely up to the weather.

Companies are understandably nervous about investing money in marketing -- because the more time and money you've spent on marketing that came up empty, the more antsy you get -- so marketers can feel understandably pressured into issuing guarantees. But aren't those almost invariably fiction? What a marketer can do is stay on top of what's going on out there as much as possible, and give a company the best chance to succeed in getting their message out to fruitful effect.

~ ~ ~
Lois Kelly's angle on getting the message out is based on what she calls "conversational marketing." In the sample chapter of her book, "Beyond Buzz," she explains, "The big idea is simply this: marketing is about having conversations, engaging with people in interesting discussions, through new and traditional channels. Technology may be becoming the heart of marketing and communications, but conversations are the soul."

(I find it a parallel, complementary idea to the ongoing focus here on pursuing business by dealing with people face to face. I'll toss in here that while in-person contacts are still ideal, advances in videoconferencing are now making that medium the next best thing. Especially when it means you wouldn't have to undress at a trot in a cold airport.)

Photo of the Hollywood sign, chosen because it symbolizes
the empty facade that area is, posted to Flickr by Kiran Ambre.)

Related, here:
Interface or Face To Face?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Serious Fun Dept.: The Playpump

A fully-formed idea is a beauty to behold. Find the kind that works in full strength on a number of levels, simultaneously fulfilling a range of needs, and you've got an effort worthy of putting full energy into.

Such is the Playpump -- as Maura Welch explains (in the Boston Globe Business Filter, from a post in PSFK), "This genius invention delivers clean drinking water to African villages -- and it's powered by a merry-go-round."

PSFK writes, "While children are playing on a merry-go-round, up to 1,400 liters of clean water can be pumped into a tank that stands seven meters above the ground. The tank’s walls are used to place ad billboards while two sides are reserved for educational messages. The revenue from ad-sales is put into the maintenance of each pump."

Here's a device which supplies a vital necessity, and is powered by children doing what they're supposed to do, and do best: play. Talk about "Serious Fun"! As Welch writes, "Simple things are powerful."

National Geographic's "Wild Chronicles" feature on the PlayPump Water System:

"Clean water equals less disease. It's low-cost solution to a whole host of complicated, expensive problems."

Of course, now that the kids don't need to carry water from dirty streams every day, the adults are glad they can spend more time in school. From the children's point of view, this might seem like a mixed blessing. But hey, they get a merry-go-round!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The 5 C's for a Team, from Nate McMillan (and 1)

Yes, another one of those lists... (one of the many ways that enumerate how relentlessly numbers-oriented our society is. Seems like everywhere you look, lists are being published of the Five This and the Ten That -- excuse me, that's the Top Five and the Top Ten.)

Still, this concise list of "the Five C's," five qualities for players on a winning team to focus on, rang all the right bells for me. I noticed this particular story, though, because these conceptual-vitamin C's come from a basketball coach I'm familiar with, whose team is overachievingly hot. And that mostly matters because all through his 12 years as a point guard on the Seattle Sonics, Nate McMillan really played the game "the right way."

McMillan has now been coaching the regional rival Portland Trailblazers (22-13) for two years, and his motto was voiced in a Portland Tribune story last month about their upstart success.

"Coach Nate McMillan cited an adherence to the 'five C’s' – calmness, clarity, consistency, connectedness and communication – as an example of the team’s progress. 'We started communicating better, and the result was, we raised our level of play and had a nice comeback,' McMillan said."





Beautiful. Touches all the bases -- excuse me, that should be, "moves the ball around to find the open man."

It's interesting to note that the first three really begin with the effort of the individual. Once those basic qualities are put in action by each of the team members, that's the point from where connection can start to come into play.

To that list, I'd only suggest adding Caring.

How do I justify that? Folks, I only need point to the other conference and historic Boston, where Exbibit A now reigns: Mr. Kevin Garnett is unquestionably the driving force behind the Celtics' current 29-4 record, not only league-leading but putting them as a team in some pretty rarified historical company. And it doesn't look like anybody could care more than he does.

The guy is so passionately motivated, and equally on each end of the floor, that his teammates just can't help getting inspired and energized by it, and, to put a technical hoops term on it, just play their butts off out there.

Yes, there are a couple other All-Stars on there, Pierce and Allen, and [blah blah team talk], but it is Garnett's evident passion and drive that's the difference between a good team and the great one they're playing as right now.

~ ~ ~
Putting up a few more shots:

Nate McMillan was always one of those quiet "hustle guys" for the Sonics, the kind that the casual fan might not notice, but who would always seem to be coming up with key defensive plays, rebounds, loose balls -- the effort plays -- getting the ball to the stars for dramatic scores, while dropping in a few three pointers at crucial moments.

The consummate team player, he was a repeat on the all-NBA Defensive 2nd team (i.e., one of the top ten defenders -- dammit, there it is again!), and the Sonics' franchise leader in assists and steals when he retired in 1998, having spent his entire pro playing career in Seattle. By then he was known as Mr. Sonic, and the next year they retired his number, only the team's fourth up to then.
~ ~ ~

There's nothing like a winning streak to support whatever philosophies the winners work by: as of today the Blazers just won nine of their last ten games; and this with a young, "rebuilding" team that no one expected to hear from this season. Especially when they got the #1 pick in the draft last year, but then the poor guy went down with an injury -- for the year).
~ ~ ~

Let me ask an important question that's been on my mind with this:
why isn't there ever a Top Eight or Eleven or Seventeen of anything?
If it's always Ten, don't you suspect that they either add or drop one or two to make it fit? And then where do those missing elements wind up?
(Omigod, it might be that one left-behind Reason #11 that's been the missing link all this time!)
~ ~ ~

Sports Illustrated article: "In his own words: Blazers coach Nate McMillan"
Related, here:
Dance vs. Hoops
(...for which I 've taken a lot of heat from dancers who, like, didn't get it. It's satire, people!)

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

"View from a Creative Mind"

(Brief of a post of mine in The Heart Of Innovation, 1/3/08, starting with news of,)

"... a nearby exhibition, titled 'Illuminations,' of the work of Saul Steinberg, the artist most famously known for his frequent appearances over six decades in The New Yorker magazine. He was the clever fellow who gave us the much-imitated 1976 cover illustration of how New Yorkers see the world, 'The View from 9th Avenue,' where a couple of blocks of the city dominate, and the rest of the country occupies a small square of land in the distance.

"So much of his work displayed such a fresh, wonderfully creative mind that, for me, it 'illustrates' an essential attitude that successful innovators have. This is the habit of looking to see things newly, as opposed to how we usually see, which is through a haze of existing thought patterns; and, freely associating, to find useful connections between things that were hidden until then.

"In the words of the Saul Steinberg Foundation's page on his life and work, 'fingerprints become mug shots or landscapes; graph or ledger paper doubles as the facade of an office building; words, numbers, and punctuation marks come to life as messengers of doubt, fear, or exuberance.. ."

"Saul Steinberg: Illuminations" on view through February 24 '08 at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College, 124 Raymond Avenue, Poughkeepsie NY. (845) 437-5632.

(First spotted in Chronogram magazine, by Beth Wilson, 12/07.)

(Image courtesy of the Saul Steinberg Foundation's Gallery)