Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Web TV is Confusing

I now regularly rely on the Internet to catch up on television shows and movies. Technology has finally caught up so as to provide a sufficiently pleasant experience - e.g. high resolution, quick download time, etc.

But the decentralized nature of the Internet is far from conducive to easily finding shows. There are the official websites such as and, the officially endorsed aggregators such as Hulu, the pay-for-subscription services such as Netflix, the user-generated hubs such as YouTube, and then there are the bootleg sites that offer lower quality but greater diversity. The complexity is further complicated by the fact that there seems to be very little logic behind which shows end up where and for how long.

Clearly there is a need for some central, interactive, and highly comprehensive Internet-based TV Guide - and there are a few in development/early-stage rollout. But what's even more important is the need for some form of collective, marketplace understanding - potentially driven by consumers - as to what, when, where, and which content is expected.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Barriers to Touching

Many prominent technologists and industry watchers are predicting the death of the keyboard and other button-based input methods. The argument is based on the initial success of the iPhone (the first mass-market touch-based product), the declining prices of supporting technologies, and the possibility that such forms of input are in some way simpler and offer greater space-saving opportunity.

I generally agree with this opinion but also think there are a few fundamental hurdles left before touch-based tools become more widespread:
  • Tactile Feedback. The beauty of the keyboard and the mouse is the feedback that the keys and buttons inherently provide - enabling us to feel the right key as it is pressed. A flat surface will need to mimic such feedback for typing to be possible - something that RIM has begun to do with the Blackberry Storm.
  • Ergonomic Shape. The flat surface - typically used for current touch-based inputs - isn't conducive to comfort as it doesn't conform with human anatomy. Even the typical QWERTY keyboard seems more comfortable. The shape of touch-based tools will need to be redesigned, especially for repetitive usage that takes place in the corporate environment.
  • Flexibility. I've intentionally used a vague term to describe the final barrier because it encompasses a few different concepts such as the speed of response, the accuracy, and the durability of this type of input. Generally, touch-based tools still feel fragile and not battle-tested for those 2 AM presentation-development binges.

Although not insignificant, these barriers will be overcome in the next few years, ushering in the age of touch-based input.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Smell of Paint

Today, the building that I live in did a seemingly good deed. They re-painted the hallway outside my apartment - including the door through which I enter. Although this is generally a good event, it does create some temporary pain.

Firstly, the building failed to publicly notify the tenants prior to the painting. So my relatively clumsy nature caused me to press my arm against the wet door. Secondly, the strong stench of paint has permeated into my apartment causing unpleasant side-effects. So although the hallways and doorways do look better, there will be a few days of minor suffering.

So why do I bring this up? Because it shows that the old cliche - "no good deed goes unpunished" - is still very much alive and well. It also reminds me that good intentions are usually much more complex and will have more consequences than we initially foresee. Most importantly, this little event reminds me that seemingly obvious actions require the same amount of planning as more complicated, potentially negative deeds.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Is A DJ An Artist?

After being thoroughly entertained by a skilled disk jockey (DJ) at a party on Saturday night, I was asked by a fellow party-goer whether I consider a DJ to be a true artist. A DJ usually does very little but select the music that is played and determine when it's played - there are of course some exceptions. Occasionally the DJ modifies some of the sounds that are created but rarely goes beyond, so as to dramatically alter the aural output.

An artist is usually defined as someone who produces works of art. So the logical step in figuring out whether a DJ is an artist is to look at his output - a finely tuned collage of musical choice. In that sense a DJ is more like a museum curator than a true artist - since the DJ purely arranges the true works of art.

But in the end, I concluded that a DJ is a true artist. This is so because a DJ's true job is to create a mood, an emotional state for a collection of individuals. In the end, that is exactly what most other artists strive to do - including architects and other non-traditional creatives. The DJ paints the portrait of the night by using less-basic components - i.e. songs.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

100th Post - What I've Learned

This is my one-hundredth post. Although this isn't very much for some that have blogged for years, it's still a meaningful milestone for myself. So in no particular order, here are a few things I've learned from blogging over the past few months:
  • It's difficult to write on a consistent basis
  • It's difficult to write meaningful thoughts nearly every night
  • Quality and quantity are two extremely different and usually unrelated concepts
  • Blogging is a combination of sharing, exhibitionism, bragging, begging, helping, supporting, teaching, and learning
  • To blog is to shed fear, one post at a time
  • To blog, one must be ready for Internet-wide criticism - sometimes legitimate and sometimes absurd
  • The line between modesty and apprehension is very thin
  • Blogging isn't purely a science or an art form
  • Spellcheck can't replace a good proof-read
  • Giving up isn't necessarily bad and I see why some choose to stop blogging
  • But for me, there is something inherently rewarding about thinking out loud.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

80-20 Gives You Wings

I recently discovered the very useful This website offers a basic suite of free and low-priced image editing tools. The tools offer a web-based way to touch-up pictures and create other basic modifications to images. It is very simple to learn and to effectively use.

This site represents a prime example of the 80-20 rule in action - that 80% of the user requirements can be fulfilled through only 20% of standard features. Because it's cheap to develop and maintain only 20% of standard editing features, Aviary can charge very little to no fees - especially compared to software such as Adobe Photoshop.

The Internet allows for companies to take advantage of the 80-20 rule both for development and distribution - a combination that wasn't possible in the past. This should make traditional software development companies such as Adobe and Microsoft very fearful.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Why We Suffer for the U.N.

New York has been besieged by United Nations Security Council madness. Not only is traffic at an unbelievable level of congestion but every wacko in the world is targeting one or more of the many prominent figures that come along with this U.N. gathering.

So why does New York do it? Why do we accept this suffering?
  • Pride. This concept is intangible and difficult to define. But the people of New York suffer in order to show the world the sense of control and overall organizational brilliance that we possess.
  • Fame. With the global news coverage comes global awareness. Hopefully the logic is to utilize this awareness to further boost tourism and tourist-related activities, and the overall global prominence of New York.

There are elements of direct monetary compensation (either by the U.N. itself or spending related to the influx of visitors) - but this is probably negated by the additional security costs accepted by the City. Overall, it seems that we embrace the U.N. and its shenanigans to prove that we can.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Strategic Fumble

Last night I wrote about how the concept of the interception translates symbolically into strategic business decisions. Throughout the day, a few of my colleagues and friends have inquired whether the fumble represents the same concept.

I believe that the fumble would symbolize a fundamentally different business mistake. Within football, fumbles usually occur when a player holding the ball is hit in a particular way, causing him to drop the ball onto the ground. Within business, this would translate to competitive pressure forcing a company to make a strategic misstep. The interception usually stems from a self-made mistake, whereas the fumble comes from external actions.

An example that comes to my mind is the recent mistakes made by the U.S. automakers. In particular, during the late 1990s and early 2000s the Detroit-based automakers blindly imitated both their domestic and international competitors by dedicating the majority of their production capacity and marketing funds to over-sized Sports Utility Vehicles. Although Japanese companies sold similarly large automobiles, they also continued to focus design, research, and development on smaller, more fuel-efficient cars.

Like in football, it's usually easier to recover from a fumble than an interception because the offense has a fair chance of picking up the ball.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Strategic Interception

The interception is one of the most painful events in the game of football. It often represents a change of momentum and instantaneously ends a potentially fruitful string of offensive plays. The interception can be the most important event of a game.

Interceptions usually occur when the quarterback reaches a little too far, attempts a little too much, or takes an unnecessary gamble. The quarterback throws the ball away to the opposing team and gives his opponents a potentially deadly opening.

The concept of the interception translates pretty well into the world of business. The strategic interception occurs when a company takes an extra step and unintentionally weakens its core capabilities - particularly when a successfully growing company over-reaches and stumbles by purchasing another firm. Two recent, technology-oriented examples come to mind:
  • eBay's purchase of Skype. eBay purchased Skype, the company which enables Internet-based phone calls, in 2005. Because Skype's offering had very little to do with eBay's core auction service, the acquisition was a major reach for eBay. After sinking Billions into the purchase, development, integration, and promotion, eBay has failed to successfully incorporate Skype - recently selling off 65% of the company at a significant loss.
  • Google's purchase of YouTube. By purchasing YouTube, Google entered a new market within the Internet universe. This move has been an intellectual and financial drain to Google and has weakened both Google's search dominance and YouTube's online video dominance - giving Bing the opportunity to slowly gain momentum and Vimeo to gain a foothold with its video offerings.

Although both Ebay and Google are large enough to fully recover from their missteps, their stumbles have given their opponents an opportunity to gain traction and score a few points. It's clear that the strategic interception can be equally as painful in the world of business as it is in football and that even the slightest loss of focus can lead to change of momentum.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Costly Construction

Occasionally, when I'm running late to work in the morning, I take a taxi. The most efficient path for the taxi runs along the Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) Drive along the east side of Manhattan Island. But recently the Drive suffered a minor structural collapse that shut down the northbound lanes of this important New York City pathway for 24 hours.

Although partially repaired, the Drive will have one of the three northbound lanes closed indefinitely until the structure is repaired. This disruption slows traffic significantly for a portion of the way. From my recent taxi-travels, I've realized that this change adds about 5 to 10 minutes to my normally 15-minute journey.

Even though this might be short amount of time, it does keep me from working for 5 to 10 minutes. If taken in aggregate, this one-lane closure affects quite a few people in New York. How does this translate into an actual monetary estimate?

  • The Drive carries around 300,000 vehicles per day
  • Since about a third of the drive is affected by the traffic, only 100,000 of those vehicles are slowed by 5 to 10 minutes
  • This must be halved once again since it's only northbound traffic that is slowed - giving us 50,000 vehicles
  • It's hard to to estimate how many passengers per car there are - but it's probably safe to say there are between 1 and 2 passengers on average - so we'll say 1.5
  • This gives us a total of 75,000 people affected by the delay daily
  • Let's say that half of these people are going to work and thus would be working if they weren't stuck in traffic - thus 37,500 are losing productive time in traffic
  • The average hourly wage for New York City is around $25 - so that 10 minutes would equate to approximately $4 per person for lost time
  • If we multiply 37,500 by $4 we get a productivity cost of $150,000 per day
  • This means that the one closed lane would cost New York City $54,750,000 in lost productivity per year.

It seems that the indirect cost of keeping one lane closed may hurt the NYC economy by $55 Million per year.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Chocolate-Covered Rice Cakes

In terms of taste, rice cakes offer the least amount of excitement among any snack. Usually rice cakes taste very much like a combination of bland white rice and cardboard. Their nutritional impact is minimal as rice cakes serve a purely utilitarian purpose, to satiate without fattening.

But today, for the first time, I tried chocolate covered rice cakes: Quaker Rice Cakes Chocolate Crunch. I was very pleasantly surprised. Although the amount of added chocolate is quite small, the overall experience is many times better. The improved taste combined with the traditional fulfillment turned rice cakes into a pretty good product.

Since rice cakes have been around for years, it's amazing that I haven't seen this variety in the past - although apparently the added flavors have been around for awhile as well. This little treat points out that a slight change can have a disproportionate impact on an old product or service - in the case of rice cakes, it has prolonged and enhanced the existence of a food-type that would have probably been extinct by now. This is what Twitter might do to SMS. This is what Gmail might do to email. This is something that offers countless opportunities for those willing to recognize and improve products that most overlook.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Exponential Trust

I've written about trust quite a bit in the past. I even touched upon it last night in my thoughts on Mint's dilemma. But it's such an important and recurring topic that it deserves another small mention tonight.

Trust for a five-year-old is lending a toy to a friend and expecting to get it back. Trust for a fifteen-year-old is telling a secret and expecting it to be kept. Trust for a twenty-five-year-old is investing in a passion - individually, within a small team, and/or within a large organization - and expecting real fulfillment.

From these three points of experience, I can imagine that the meaning and value of trust continues to grow exponentially until the end of one's life. This also means that building trust becomes exponentially more difficult as the stakes increase.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Too Minty?

It was announced today that Mint, one of the most popular financial aggregating websites, was sold to Intuit for $170 Million. Mint allows users to feed all their disparate financial information into one, handy-dandy website-based dashboard - directly aggregating bank, broker, credit card, and other financial data into one simple and useful presentation.

Mint has about 1.4 million users and fits in nicely into the Intuit suite of products - such as TurboTax and Quicken. I believe that $170 Million is a pretty good deal for Intuit as Mint hasn't even begun to tap into its real source of value - i.e. the immense amount of data that stems from having all financial data from over one million users in one database.

But I also believe that Mint's greatest potential also represents its greatest threat. With personal data management and protection growing in importance, even the sale or commercial use of anonymized personal data could quickly alienate Mint's user-base. So it seems that Mint is stuck, unable to mine its most precious commodity. I'm not sure what approach they will take but I am sure that they have a tricky path ahead.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Sunday Night Blues

The Sunday Night Blues are ingrained into most Western World (and beyond) individuals from the early days of pre-school. This feeling of melancholy stems from the end of the weekend and the impending weight of the upcoming school/work week. It is one of the oldest constantly reappearing emotions we feel - an emotion that is nearly identical at age 6, at age 16, at age 26, at age 50, and probably all the way until retirement.

This unpleasant state begins as the sun sets on a regular (non-holiday enhanced) weekend. It fosters strange acts - i.e. giving in to bad television shows or indulging is unhealthy meals. It leads us to postpone sleep for as long as possible in order to prolong the freedom of the weekend. The emotion mutates into apprehensive submission and then finally into the eventual flow of a high-performing study/work week.

For those sufficiently crass and opportunistic, the Sunday Night Blues offer a chance to reach a different emotional state in target consumers. For instance, I suspect that vacation-themed advertisements might reach a more receptive and accepting audience on Sunday nights. But for those looking to make the world a happier place, the Sunday night timeslot offers a great chance for positive innovation and design - for the opportunity to create the solution to a major collective downer.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Wired Way

I love Wired magazine. It is one of the few publications for which I enjoy reading the paper copy more than the online version. This is because Wired is able to create a unique emotional, intellectual, and even physical response.

Because the online content is nearly identical to the paper version it must be some other feature that moves me to read the monthly, physical version. I think that it mainly has to do with design. The actual magazine is constructed in such a way that it always challenges my preconceived expectations for layout. Charts, diagrams, and drawings are surprisingly placed. The layout is a puzzle, that once solved, fosters an additional form of fulfillment.

I'm not sure that this can be replicated through digital text and images. But it does tell me that creativity combined with good content might prolong the existence of or even save some paper-based publications.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Second Résumé

We've officially reached a point where most new job applicants have two general types of résumés. The first is the typical one-to-two page template-based résumé that's been popular for decades. The other is a more fragmented, digital, cubist-like résumé.

This second résumé stems from the many different personal fingerprints we leave on the Internet. Some are explicit and easily managed - e.g. LinkedIn and Facebook profiles. Others are semi-relevant and mainly controllable - e.g. Tweets. Finally, the least predictable and least manageable forms on Internet-based expression could potentially live on without our knowledge and control - e.g. old Instant Messenger conversations, etc.

I believe that we are seeing a rapid growth in Web-based communication that fits within the second and third categories of the second résumé - i.e. Twitter usage is steadily growing more relevant, location-based services that come with more advanced mobile technology are becoming widespread, etc. This means that it's becoming increasingly difficult to manage the second résumé. It also means that employers are increasingly relying on the second résumé as the main, true behavioral indicator.

Because of these trends, identity management will become a much bigger industry than most can foresee. Since millions of jobs will soon depend on one's Web activity, billions of dollars are at stake from controlling the second résumé.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Entrepreneurship Fights Claustrophobia

Claustrophobia is the immense fear of being in a tightly enclosed space. It is the physical manifestation of the frightening belief that there is no escape. Often those who experience a claustrophobic response see no end to the extreme restriction and feel a very real sense of suffocation.

Living in New York City, there are plenty of opportunities to feel claustrophobic. From the crowded subway system to long elevator rides to even one's own living space, the sheer lack of personal mobility can be devastating. But it is a different type of claustrophobia that often grips those professionals fighting to survive in this city. This fear stems from a feeling of personal encapsulation. This may come from a narrow and intensive career path, or it may come from the strongly felt peer pressure to achieve - especially in the financial sense.

Many fight this fear by changing their environment - i.e. going to graduate school, leaving NYC to live somewhere else, or even looking at new romantic relationships as the light at the end of the tunnel. Some fight this fear by trudging through their reality and suffering through years of hardship in order to find a personal escape - either through financial reward or some other universal esteem.

But I've realized that many of my peers are starting to see a different way to fulfillment, a different way to break their enclosed prisons. One very powerful path comes from entrepreneurship. This self-made challenge takes many forms - from the philanthropic non-profit to the Billion-Dollar Internet idea. In each case an internal spark leads to the external manifestation of creativity. The process in itself is very often enough of a reward. In its essence, entrepreneurship gives those who feel personally claustrophobic the means to create their own personal light, an escape from the confines of the ordinary.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Where's the Purpose?

I'm in the middle of reading a pretty solid book on the topic of advertising, management, and overall business approach: It's Not What You Sell, It's What You Stand For by Roy M. Spence, Jr. The key theme revolves around the extreme importance of the purpose and the success that stems from a clear and simple anchor that the purpose provides.

Nothing within the book is revolutionary - the reasons for having an important purpose are very compelling. So it's surprising to realize how few of the big and omnipresent companies actually seem to have a clearly defined, public-facing purpose. This is especially the case for larger and older corporations which now seem to only float on the sea of shareholder returns and net income growth.

I suspect that Lehman Brothers might have had a clear purpose at some point in time but that its anchor-less path of the last few decades led the company to the precipice of bankruptcy and dramatic death.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Happy Labor Day to Edgar Cayce

Being that it's Labor Day, I would like to dedicate this post to Edgar Cayce. Cayce was one of the first widely-popular, U.S.-born-and-based psychics. He was an extremely prolific clairvoyant who spent most of his life applying his natural talent to help those less fortunate and to allow humanity to gain an alternative perspective on medicine, history, and other sciences.

Edgar Cayce was born in 1877 in Kentucky, where he exhibited strange behavior and supernatural powers since he was a child. He gained fame as a young adult, giving medical diagnoses and cures while in a trance-like hypnotic state. During the middle of his life, Cayce also used his powers on more philosophical, historical, and predictive matters. Later in life, he settled in the Virginia Beach area where his fame and serving nature required Cayce to do up to 8 readings a day - it is believed that this rigorous regiment had a detrimental effect on Cayce's health and eventually led to his death.

Although Cayce's skills were surely unconventional, paranormal, and potentially baseless, he always considered himself a devout Christian who followed the guidance of God. I was introduced to Cayce and the massive amount of information he left behind at the Edgar Cayce Association for Research and Enlightenment in Virginia Beach. Although I am far from convinced about all of Cayce's claims and instructions, I am positive that he was one of the most interesting, underrated, and hardworking characters in American history.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Five Signs that the Economy is Getting Better

  1. The line at 99 Cent Pizza has been shorter lately
  2. The elevator that I take to get to my office has been stopping more frequently on the floors between the lobby and my work space - in particular, on the floors of the recruiting firms
  3. I haven't experienced as many taxis rolling down their windows and yelling at me to get in, playing demolition derby to capture a fare, or generally as angry
  4. Facebook has once again taken over LinkedIn to become the preferred method for "catching up" amongst my friends
  5. Staycations are almost not trendy any more.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The QWERTY Opportunity

The QWERTY keyboard has been around since the late 1800s. It is still the dominant format for most keyboards, now primarily seen on desktop computers, laptops, netbooks, and smartphones. Although the QWERTY was somewhat intuitively designed, by placing letters in different positions based on frequency of usage, it is not considered the most optimal model for a writing interface.

So why does QWERTY still dominate? It is still by far the most popular format because of the self-reinforcing cycle of usage-and-training - i.e. because QWERTY is so universal most new typists learn to type on QWERTY and thus demand it in the future, this makes QWERTY even more universal. The same cycle can be seen in hundreds of examples every day: the steering system for cars, the computer mouse, the telephone, etc.

For a new system to replace the old and well established way of doing things, it needs to be more than just better. It must be so much better that it breaks the usage-and-training cycle. This is clearly a tall order but also a very lucrative opportunity. That's why so much money continues to be spent (wasted?) on improving technologies such as voice-recognition and touch-screens. The value of becoming the new universal standard is enormous.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

No More Time-Outs

It's difficult to pinpoint all the profound societal changes that mobile communication has triggered. But it is clear that the ability to send and receive email at any time and nearly any place has greatly shifted many norms.

Where there was once a cut-off in calling a friend or colleague or client, now Blackberry-powered email enables communication without limitation. I believe that this is particularly important for most service industries. If there is a professional serving a client, no longer is the time-of-day an acceptable excuse for a lack of communication.

I see many trying to cling to the old 9 to 5 (or 7 to 7) standards of the past. This just isn't going to work for much longer. As more and more digital natives (like myself) become both providers and consumers of services, the old rules will fade. This means that new rules for accepted behavior must be outlined and accepted - both locally and universally - and especially within teams of individuals that come from different generations.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Innovation Inferno

I won't pretend to know much about the physics of large fires. But I am amazed that in the age where humans can instantaneously communicate with each other from anywhere on the globe, where we've created ways to manipulate our own DNA, and where we've gone into space multiple times, that we can't figure out a better way to fight large forest/brush fires.

In case you missed it, a huge fire near Los Angeles has engulfed more than 120,000 acres, has endangered thousands of people, and has cost the cash-strapped state of California millions of dollars in unforeseen firefighting fees. Firefighters are bravely confronting the blaze with traditional methods but have still taken weeks to control the inferno.

Now I might just be blowing smoke, but there have to be more innovative approaches that have yet been undiscovered and that will more efficiently and quickly fight large fires without further damaging the surrounding environment. Maybe the State of California and/or the Federal Government could subsidize Silicon-valley scientists and engineers to spend a small portion of their time and expertise to come up with useful solutions to large-scale, potentially catastrophic events such as forest fires. I could live with a few less iPhone or Twitter applications if in twenty years wildfires were no longer a global problem.