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Tuesday
Feb122013

New Trade Routes Launched

I have been working for the past few months to create a new vehicle through which I can do the things I like to do most.  These include helping companies sell more stuff, and helping the universe by trying to make a difference.

You can read all about it here at New Trade Routes.

I still have my day job running CSG Channels, and this new project is complimentary to the work that I do there.  

New Trade Routes will enable me to be more focused in my philanthropy, and establish a way for me to do things that are not perfectly aligned with the work we do at CSG -- like helping start ups for example.

Please check it out and let me know if you have any questions.

Sunday
Dec022012

IBM Gets It

It seems that just about every week I see something that reinforces how IBM is way out front in the customer centric-ness of big data.  Here is a great video they posted on YouTube showing what they are talking about when they say Smarter Marketing:

If you want a bit more of the IBM Smarter Marketing juice, they have a whole bunch of great content on this web site:IBM Smarter Planet: Marketing

Sunday
Dec022012

Servants to the Old Stuff

I was recently fortunate to visit a beautiful log cabin on the Olympic peninsula.  The 100 year old structure was a great place to hide out in a nasty winter storm, and I can only imagine how much more safe it would have seemed before cars and cell phones.  While talking with the owners I was reminded of how owners of old stuff are both masters of and servants to their passion.  Masters in the sense that their name is on the title, servants in the sense that they are entrusted to preserve it for the next generation. 

So I asked them how often guests offer to buy the place and I was not surprised to learn that there has not been a single offer in over a decade.  I was not surprised because I have experienced the same thing with the Maris Pearl.  People come on board and marvel at the 68 year old machinery, and the extent to which we as its caretakers go to preserve it for the next generation.  Not a single person has ever suggested that they would like to be next in line for the responsibility.

When I tell people that old tugs are not hard to find or buy, no one ever takes the bait.  Here is a sistership of the Maris Pearl that is currently for sale in San Francisco.

Saturday
Dec012012

Moats Walls and Protection Money

Castles had moats and walls to protect themselves from attacking enemies.  In the times of castles, precious resources were diverted from more productive uses for the building of these defenses because without them there was no point acquiring property when the bad guys could just come in and take it.  As the rule of law advanced, the need for the walls and moats decreased and eventually disappeared.   Resources were still diverted from productive uses because the rule of law was provided by the state and the state levied taxes to pay for defense.  Once the walls and the moats were extended to the borders of the state, the governance of the state became the biggest threat to property rights.  A successful state could stop the marauders at the border, but another citizen could get the blessing of the government to acquire property.  This could be on a small scale: thugs paying off the police to look the other way, or on a larger scale: Goldman Sachs draining the treasury for its own benefit.

Some communities have their own way of protecting property as we saw in The Godfather.  Once again the property owner had to divert resources (pay) for protection instead of more productive uses.  Even though the thought of the mafia seems like something quaint from the past, the dynamic is alive and well today.  Instead of tommy guns however, the current set of bandits wear suits and carry briefcases full of insurance policies and law suits.  And just as the mob mostly protected itself while putting on a good show of protecting its friends, lawyers and insurance companies protect themselves while pretending to protect their clients. 

Even though we like to think that we are safer today than back in the times of the castles, the murderous hoard is just as menacing today and the state is just as ill equipped to protect its citizens.  Having thought a fair amount about this kind of thing lately, I have come up with three potential strategies for our current times:

1)      Have Nothing to Protect:  I think this is the best strategy.  I do believe that people with nothing or very little to protect are the happiest.  In addition to the obvious negativity associated with time and energy spent on your defenses, it can be difficult to know who to trust. 

2)      Security Through Obscurity:  Just like guy said on the fishing trip about the attacking bear:  “I don’t have to outrun the bear, just my buddies!”  Applied to protecting property, the goal is to be a less attractive target than those around you.  This has one obvious weakness.  If you are attacked – you are pretty much dead.

3)      Become a Lawyer or Insurance Person:  If you can’t beat them… join ‘em.  If you are going to have property to protect, this is really the only way to do it.  It does have karmic consequences that could bring you back as a weasel or worse next time – so consider the consequences before going through door number 3.

Maybe that thing about the meek is right.  Just putting food on the table, a roof overhead, spending time with your family, and having friends you can trust – is riches enough.

Sunday
Nov252012

Three Big Data Articles today

There are several good articles in the NY Times Sunday Business section today that serve to illustrate the coming world of Big Data.  

30% of customers opt in to driver monitoring.  This is Facebook meets car insurance.  I am amazed that this many people willingly subject themselves to this kind of monitoring.  Here is my post about how insurance companies have detached themselves from the basic concept of insurance.  In short, insurance companies are increasingly able to exit the insurance business.  They have always wanted to collect premiums, and not pay claims --- now they can do it.

Building snow skis from skier's DNA.  For $1,750 you can get custom skis made to your skiing DNA (not your biological DNA thank goodness).  It would be very interesting to know how unique the 1,000 pairs of skis this guy made last year are.  I would not be surprised if they all boil down to a dozen or less basic designs.  This kind of short run (run of 1 in this case) manufacturing brings to light IP that is actually protectable - the design process and the distribution of actual designs.  Very interesting.

Dr. Langer's Lab at MIT succeeds at tech transfer.  This one is a bit more of a stretch, but any new medical product involves a mountain of testing data and data proficiency and the cross over from one product to the next is indeed changing very fast due to better data management techniques.

Happy reading.

Saturday
Nov242012

Good for Ford, Bad for Microsoft

When the rental car web site says Ford Taurus or equivalent I just groan.  Anyone who has done any traveling at all knows the feeling.  Just as fun as finding out your hotel room is next to the elevator winch room, or that your toothpaste blew up in your bag.  

Ford has been making a big push into the tech business.  Advertising on all of the geek sites and pulling out all of the stops at CES.  The revival of the Mustang has been well executed too.  I have rented a few Mustang convertibles while on vacation and really loved them.

Getting your product in front of potential new customers in a real life trial is risky because it produces both potential new customers but if the product is not well matched to the customer, it can easily eliminate potential customers.

In the last two weeks I have been dealt the Taurus card twice and I have to say they have been great.  What a surprise!  Stylish, well put together, and fun to drive.  The rental introduction certainly worked for me with Ford.

Not so lucky with Microsoft and Sync.  I was eager to try out Sync and it is a disaster.  I got it to connect to my phone by bluetooth, but it would sometimes work and other times not work.  The user interface is not intuitive and any of the voice activation stuff will require half a day spent with the manual.  

This is just one more situation where Microsoft shows up on the consumer radar as a company that just cannot make products that work -- let alone that are fashionable.  Lucky for Ford, I have not found other auto computer systems to be all that easy to use either.  So maybe Microsoft Sync will not prevent people from buying Fords.  But Microsoft Sync will turn people off to other Microsoft products.

Wednesday
Nov212012

How Airlines Use Big Data

I cannot remember the last time I was on a plane with a noticeable amount of empty seats.  I also have not seen overbooked planes and crews working to buy back seats.  I also have been impressed with the on time performance of planes I have been flying on.  If you are interested in this kind of thing, there is a great web site tracking this (in the US anyway) and it turns out the number support my experience.  Load factor up, on time performance up, and guess what else - prices are up too.

There was a good article in the NY Times today about how Delta is doing this -- with better data management  There is so much hype about big data but this is a good reminder that through better data management practices -- everyone can win.  Unless you were counting on a few empty seats around you on your next flight.

Tuesday
Nov202012

American Style (Big) Graft

I recently read Bailout by Neil Barofsky.  I am not going to post a review because I really cannot recommend the book.  It is a rant by a guy trying to counter his fear that the people in DC that he crossed will be successful in making sure he never works again - as they undoubtedly threatened over and over.  I mostly agree with this review in Forbes: don't read it because it is a liberal rant.

Despite this, one part of the book is just stuck in my head.  Treasury a secretary Geithner and sidekick Kashkari said over and over again that the bailout terms could not be changed (made better for the taxpayer) because some of the banks may not take the bailout - and it was very important that all of the banks take the bailout.  Why would we want so badly to push our scarce resources onto banks that don't want the funds? 

Well, clearly I am one of those guys that is the last to realize that the joke is on me.  The Wall Streeters (Geithner Et. Al.) were shoveling money to their buddies and needed a dozen non buddies on the receiving end to make it less obvious.  If they got everyone to take the bailout, no one could cry foul. 

I do some business in developing countries and from time to time get into discussions about corruption.  When I say that they should clean up their corruption, they answer:  so should you!  I used to think that we had a thread of moral authority to hold onto.  In fact we don't. We have so much money that when Paulson/Geithner/Kashkari want to give $50 billion to their buddies, they hide it in a $800 billion dollar bailout!  Yow!

It will be very interesting to see who replaces Geithner. I still maintain this is the most important cabinet appointment Obama has on his plate. 

One last note about Barofksy.  In keeping with my political schizophrenia, I am a fiscal conservative that can't seem to vote for a republican lately.   Based solely on his book, I think that Barofsky is a good guy.  I just hope we have no need for his services anytime soon.

Monday
Nov192012

Nest Delivers Perfection

What a difference a year makes.  Last year I tried to do a little home automation.  First I bought a whole bunch of Zwave stuff including a Mi Casa Verde Vera 2, a Trane remote energy management thermostat, and a pile of light switches.  I spent a couple of weekends trying to get the stuff to work - it actually did for about 10 minutes, and then the controller got corrupted somehow, the new firmware had to be installed from a Win XP machine.... and well, yah.  

So I thought, maybe the high priced route?  So I signed up with Schlage for their Zwave controller and paid service (Mi Casa Verde is free after you buy the controller) and another few weekends of screwing around and the project was abandoned.  The ironic thing is that my old thermostat was programmable, and the Trane needed the controller to be programmable, so for most of 2012 my functionality was worse than 2011 and before.

Friday I put in the Nest thermostat.  Done in 10 mins.  I can control it from my iPad, my Android phone, or any PC.  Done.  Awesome.  

Now it is learning to program itself from our behavior.  Awesome.

I cannot wait to see what Tony Fadell and his team introduce next.  No matter what it is --- I will buy it.  It is beautiful, it works, and it is an absolute pleasure to interact with the company.

About that interaction.  I have never called them, or emailed them, or tweeted to them, barely had to read the instructions.... so what is this "interact with the company"?

The thought and care that the Nest team put into their product speaks volumes.  It is just as magical to see it on my wall as it was to hold 1,000 songs in my pocket with the first iPod.

I am sure many companies strive for this kind of perfection... but almost no one can do it.

Way to go Tony and the Nest team.

Here is a picture of the screwdriver that comes with the thermostat.  Need I say more?

Sunday
Nov182012

Yes, But Does The Advertising Work?

The front page of the SundayBusiness section in the NY Times carries a piece by Natasha Singer about Frank Addante's Rubicon Project, a real time trading market for internet adds.  This feature length article dutifully talks about the size of the industry ($2B in display ads bought by auction in the US this year), and other players in the business (BlueKai), the mechanics of the business (cookies), and consumer response (mostly they don't care but the advocates think they should), and advertiser response (apparently they like it a lot).  The author then wheels through a number of anecdotes that illustrate how the auction system can be used.  Anyone dedicated enough to make it to the end of the article is not rewarded with a conclusion but the now tired trope that the customer is the product.  

I am on this rant about the article not because I think it shouldn't have been written or placed prominently in the Sunday edition but because it could have been so much more.  No wonder newspapers are threatened!  So much of the content is disappointing.  Newspapers say that their advantage over bloggers is the interplay between the reporter and the editor that results in better content.  Where was the editor on this one?  

Here are some questions that I would have wanted to see surface in the article: 

  1. Does the targeted advertising featured in the article work?
  2. Is there a causal link between these auctions increased consumer tracking?
  3. Have there been any actual cases where people  have been harmed by the tracking?

 Those seem like pretty basic questions if you ask me.

Here are some other things a reader might like if interested in this subject:

 Anyone want to guess how this article got into the NY Times?  Answer:  The PR firm from Rubicon wrote it.