Thursday, August 31, 2006

Blog Vacation

I am off to the Virgin Islands for a week. Unless I can and want to blog from my Motorola Q, there will be a bit of a hiatus. So in the spirit of restoration I will share with you a story the US President of Narrowstep (TV / video over the Internet) relayed to me.

Two men were chopping wood in the forrest. One man was furiously tolling away without pause while the other took a 15 minute break every hour. At the end of the day, the woodsman that hadn't taken a single break noticed that the other man's pile of wood was bigger.

"How did you chop more wood than me when you took so many breaks?" he asked.

"On my breaks I was sharpening my axe."

Off to sharpen my axe ...

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Idea Wars: Death by a thousand cuts

In Internet marketing, you need to evangelize your brand and your idea across a broad range of channels: on organic search engines like Google, pay per click advertising, in the blogosphere, in related portals and magazines, podcasts, and of course on your own website, which is your personal megaphone. A breadth of exposure accelerates the viral spread of an idea, although as Gladwell points out in The Tipping Point sometimes it only takes a few mavens.

Killing an idea is pretty much the same. You can't always go full frontal against an idea like evolution, because there is a whole lot of evidence supporting it. In fact, no one has ever tried to dispute it verbally to me - although I sure would enjoy the opportunity, especially after my trip to the Galapagos. Instead, you need to attack it subtley in the schools by changing the wording: "possible" or "alternative" theory. You need to nominate people of faith to the highest levels of the FDA even those who have "written books and articles encouraging women to turn to prayer and scripture to help heal ailments such as premenstrual syndrome, postpartum depression and eating disorders.. " And you need to cut off the people who want to learn about evolution in college.

The NY Times reports today that "somehow" evolutionary biology got removed from the list of majors that is eligible for government grants for low income college students. It was an error, and one that should be corrected soon enough to deny this year's applicants. What's odd is that the list of majors is automated, there shouldn't have been any deliberation or human intervention. But somewhere someone intervened. and thus it seems there was a motive. What is ethically unconscionable for the Department of Education is going to be erased as a "clerical error."

It's unintuitive to campaign for something we take for granted such as evolution, when we share 96 percent of the DNA with a chimp. You may think it is a moot point. But here is the real, shocking truth - 64% of Americans believe in creationism, that God directly created humans. No ape ancestors at all, a complete contradiction of evolutionary theory. So it isn't quite a "tyranny of the minority" so much as a scientifically illiterate populace. Now seems like the time to increase investment in science education, the very point of the above grants.

For the creationists, it's a subtle campaign to bleed evolution to death: a death by a thousand cuts.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Asleep at the wheel, on line, and at the baggage claim

In response to the foiled London liquid terrorism plot, US airport security has been stepped up. Of course this is yet another late response to threats that have already been identified. It’s not like they didn’t know. Hell, it’s not like I didn’t know either. I have always known ways around security if I wanted to take down a plane. Still the FAA finds itself miserably unprepared and without a plan to install equipment to detect liquid explosives. It all seems like a farce, especially since the regulations tell you exactly how to smuggle liquids on (prescriptions, baby formula, etc.). And frankly, it’s just really frustrating as a frequent traveler.

So frustrating in fact that I begin to wonder how much America is willing to push back against unwarranted levels of inconvenience caused by incompetence. You now have to arrive 2 hours ahead of time to major airports, especially because you almost have to check baggage – the cardinal no-no of business travel. And because people just aren’t prepared, flights are invariably late, tacking on even more time onto your trip.

Even worse, airlines aren’t prepared to handle the estimated 20% additional baggage. This weekend they had to kick-off 6 passengers off my Delta commuter plane because we exceeded the weight limit. Then, because of miscalculation, they had to remove 15 additional bags. So tack on some more waiting for your bag that never comes. I am still waiting for my 15 lbs bag as I type, while I watched people walk off with 60 lbs “overweight” bags. Apparently common sense doesn’t apply to baggage control.

I don’t expect anyone to speak up against the FAA or the airlines; Americans’ patience for being manipulated is astounding (Note: I filed a complaint). But I do expect the number of air travelers to dip, especially for shorter segment flights – business travel. In a world where digital collaboration is getting increasingly more feasible, this is the wrong time to piss off travelers.

I am shorting the airline industry, but oddly enough, this is the first time I have felt that the security measures are effective. But affectivity and reasonable convenience are two different things. Both are required for a successful airline industry.

Language and Thought: A Narrative View

In a previous post, I discussed the relationship between language and thought, posing the question about how language limits your ability to think. Jimmy “The Fish” Rudden read it and recommended I read On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins, who I had just listened to on Stanford Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders podcast. The book, in which I am now engrossed and you can expect a great number of posts on its concepts forthcoming, discusses memory and pattern matching and it reminded me of the language post.

Your mind stores your memories as a sequence of patterns, a narrative if you will. One thing about language is that it is that it is temporal, that it occurs over time. Hawkins points out that just as you can’t tell a whole story all at once, but in a sequence of details, you can’t recall an entire story at once either. As an exercise, try to remember a familiar story (graduation, meeting this morning, how you met your best friend) all at once. Try to keep the details of the beginning, middle and end all together. You can’t. It just comes as a sequence, a narrative.

Your inability to load or cache such a large set of data poses some interesting questions on our abilities and limitations when it comes to complex thoughts. How do you put all the little observations together into a theory of relativity? Well, like a lot of original work, it started with an atomic observation that the speed of light is constant regardless of how fast you are going. Einstein simply – ok not that simply - predicted what would happen if this were indeed true. He applied other patterns (theories) to a new observation and made predictions. In fact that is what your brain is doing all the time: Creating sequences, pattern matching, and predicting what comes next. With some different assumptions, and the application of new patterns, you have creativity, the subject of a subsequent post.

Relating to my world of product marketing, every great salesman is a story teller. To get people to buy into a new technology requires relating to them existing experiences and then leading them to the conclusion you desire. Anyone who is matter-of-fact about a subject may be right, but they will not attract a lot of followers; they would be terrible teachers.

If you told a story in the right sequence, with the right patterns, you could always achieve the desired result. How much do you think of the right narrative when you present an idea, coax a friend, pick up a girl at a bar, or ask for a raise?

Adapting an old adage: You should read the horse to water, so it doesn’t have to think.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Building Bridges to the Digital World and Back

Every time I see someone with a film camera, it really makes me angry. Why would anyone choose a camera where it costs 25 cents to develop each new photo you take? Maybe the photo is blurry or dark. Still 25 cents to develop. Oh and you ran out of pictures so you need to buy more film. 25 cents per photo there too. It’s just so strange to me. For the love of God, why don’t you go digital?!?

One of the key reasons the digital age is changing the economics of the world around us is that it makes variable costs drop to nearly zero. What’s the cost of retaking that digital photo? 0 dollars. What about storing it (and a thousand others) online? 0 dollars. What if I want to open a shop on eBay and sell it? 0 dollars (cost, though revenue shares apply). Though there are fixed costs to most of these things, such as the cost of the camera, the digital age is enabling the era of abundance. There is little cost to offering more and that abundance in turn changes everything.

No need to rehash about the Long Tail. Let’s stick with photography. My roommate Brett takes his camera everywhere he goes, documenting every misstep … My college professor, David Dobkin, now Dean of Faculty at Princeton, takes a photo on average every 5 minutes to record his life. What were you doing at 11:45pm on July 13th 2006? It’s all right there.

It is even changing the film industry. There is so much less pressure to get the takes right when the film doesn’t cost you anything. Actors are more comfortable, the takes more precise to the director’s vision, and it also happens to be a better product.

Why shackle yourself to physical limitations? And what does that really mean? As we record, produce, and store more and more of our lives in digital format, what else can we do? What new bridges can we build from the physical world to the digital world? What about from the digital world back to the physical world?

Check out a 3D printer, a machine that actually takes digital models and manufacturers them just like your 2D laser printer right now. It fits on your desktop. Wow! Maybe one day I can recreate that 70s chair my parents had in the living room from my imagination. Or manufacture that cufflink that I lost. Or make my own souvenirs from the Galapagos, customized for the Tequila Boys. I could build my own world around me from the models in my head. Does that mean my memory and intelligence is truly in the digital world or is it a bridge itself?

What new applications can you see that bridge the physical and digital world?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

It's About the Service: The Apple Store

Last week I went to the Apple store to get a new set of iPod earbuds. I went to the second floor, saw a huge selection, but not the basic ones I was hoping for. I went to the help desk, just 10 ft away - there is a service desk within 20 ft of every product and a bunch of roaming employees - and was immediately talking to someone who was knowledgeable. He told me that didn't carry the basic earbuds, only ones with the remote control or ones with other features.

"This is so you can sell the high margin accessories, screwing the buyer," I joked as I looked at th $50 price tag.

The salesperson laughed and said "Pretty much." A refreshing show of honesty.

He led me to the earphones he would buy for quality, and when I reached for the white ones, added that "the white ones have thinner wires and don't last as long." Wow. That's product knowledge! The color affects durability.

Then the piece de resitance. As I walked towards the stairs to pay, I was checked out by a woman with a mobile device. I scanned my item, swiped my card, and was out within 20 seconds. 20 seconds! No lines! Integrated check out in my shopping experience before I even walked down the stairs or out the store. It was so simple, yet so different. My receipt was emailed to me, so I didn't need to keep a paper copy and I would always be able to search for it, powered by Google (much better than my paper filing system).

So who cares? I do. The Apple store in NYC changed my perception. It makes me wonder why I don't have a Mac. I am a complete PC bigot, yet the experience of buying earphones, an unrelated item, makes me feel that Apple understands the customer and understands service. Perhaps I should more seriously consider a Mac?

In an impersonal world where consumers increasingly buy online, the bricks and mortar store is about selecting the product rather than buying it and providing a level of service that can only be done in person. Over the long term, many stores will simply become service stations. Which brings the only real question for your physical store: "How's your service?"

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave: How to Respond to the Latest Terrorist Threat

I was going to write something on the ways in which politicians are unfairly taken advantage of the latest London terrorist plot, but everyone is doing it, including Bill Clinton (I still miss you). But I recently read someone else's blog which pretty much captures it.

Time for America to get back it's gumption, it's ideals, and frankly its cajones.

Read this ( and sack up, America.

A fun and provoking read.

Monday, August 14, 2006

You Aren't Fat, You Are Just Sick!

My brother and I had an interesting conversation a couple months back on the recent study that a low fat diet doesn’t appear to offer any health benefits. Wow! Talk about turning nutritional theory on its head, right? Our conclusion was an admiration of the human body: it does an amazing job of processing whatever you put in it, converting what it gets into what it needs. But maybe that isn’t the whole story…

Today, the NY Times published an article (may require registration) on an interesting theory that the microbes in our body determine how well we digest food and consequently affect our level of obesity. If your body is more efficient at processing food, wouldn’t you get more calories from the same amount of food? Conversely, wouldn’t you have to eat even less to lose weight?

It turns out that 90% of the cells in your body are not human, but microbes like bacteria and viruses. They outnumber you almost 10-to-1 !! And you thought your body was your own. Some viruses, such as adenoviruses, might just make you fatter. In testing, the Ad-5 virus causes obesity in mice and Ad-3 caused obesity in chickens. In humans, obese people are 200% more likely to have been infected by the Ad-36 virus at some point in their lives. And you would never know that you were infected because the virus is otherwise mostly non-symptomatic. While establishing cause and effect let alone the ability to manipulate your ecosystem of microbes are both far away, the consequences of this finding are staggering.

First, like a lambic beer, a lot of you is the product of your surroundings. You are born sheltered from the microbe world, your digestive system protected in the womb. Then you are invaded as you start down the birth canal, and the product is the culmination of you and your surroundings. Sometimes this is a good thing. Researchers believe that breast feeding leads to healthier babies because a sick baby infects the mother, the mother builds antibodies to the disease, and then the mother transfers those antibodies back in breast milk. Breast fed babies have lower incidence of allergies, sickness, and higher IQ. We are all much more intertwined in the world around us then we think.

But perhaps the scariest thought is that being fat, or skinny for that matter, may be contagious. Think about that. Who are you around all day? Does obesity follow disease infection patterns? Is Wisconsin not fat, just sick?

And while microbial function in digestion is well known and understood (E.Coli breaking down plant cells, etc.), microbes are all over your body, in every crevice, in every drop of blood. Could they make you smarter, dumber, or more irritable? Being sick certainly affects your personality. What if every day you were “sick” in a million little ways with differing effects? Sounds like that just might be the case.

As a side note, ladies if you want to become tall, slim, and athletic with great legs, feel free to drop me a line. Maybe I am contagious … ;)

Inspirational Quote of the Day

I went to the MoMA this weekend and besides perusing a wonderful Dada exhibit, I went to the MoMA store across the street. There, near the cutting board I want for Festivus, I found a small metal band with the inspiratonal quote of the day:

"What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?"

Comments especially welcome on this one. Email users post one here. Everyone else, click the link below.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Tyranny of the Minority: A Lesson in Uninformed Apathy

One of the great worries of a democracy is the notion of a “tyranny of the majority”. If a majority of people decide to enslave a minority, in theory, this is in line with democratic ideals. It is simply the will of the majority. But what if the majority never speaks, never rules, or never understands? Could we have a tyranny of the minority?

A voter should be aware of the issues, understand them, and cast their vote. Thus, the greatest threat to the American democracy is an uninformed, uneducated, and disaffected citizenry. So how bad is it?

Less than 10% of Americans read the paper every day for more than sports or cartoons. Education by all measurements is slipping. We are now 16th in the world in Math scores and 18th in Science. It is doubtful that Americans really understand the issues and they are extremely susceptible to marketing messages.

Was Kerry anti-environment because he voted against amendment 2446 regarding ethanol fuels? Bush certainly promoted that idea. Who cares that his objections were about foreign refineries and an increase in NASA spending? Since you don’t get to vote on a line item basis for any bill, you can distort anyone’s voting record. With a little research, I am sure I can prove Hilary is anti-women and Bush is anti-religion. But a voter with a 10 second attention span won’t ever get to that level of detail. Voters are uninformed. Period.

At the same time, voter turnout is mediocre at best. While voter turnout was at the highest rate since 1968 in the recent presidential election, it represented only 55.3% of eligible voters. Being such a highly controversial election, let’s look at off year elections. In 2002 elections, 37% of voters turned out and in 1998 only 36.4%. Only about a third of voters vote for the people who are passing and vetoing the bills!

Conversely, America has a fervent faith in democracy. These numbers expose this faith as naiveté. Quickly, name your senators and your congressman. What are their positions on economic or educational policies? It’s all pretty sad.

The result is that our democracy is especially susceptible to the will of a minority. And we see this everywhere, because our democracy is not a single vote every 2 or 4 years, but the culmination of the daily actions and influence of the citizenry.

So what is the biggest media outlet and information source for Americans? TV, of course. Would it surprise you that complaints to the FCC rose from 350 in 2001 & 2002 to 14,000 in 2003 to a staggering 240,000 in 2004? That’s a 68,500% in 2 years!!! Wow, TV and radio content must have really become much more objectionable right?

Wrong. 99.8% of complaints were filed by the Parents Television Council. Just by banding together a bunch of individuals and organizing them, a small group can have a huge effect on the policies of a nation. The result: Bush signs the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005 increasing the maximum fine by 10X. Which study did he cite? The “Blue Tube” study from the PTC.

Not only are a surprisingly few number of collectively organized individuals exerting a tremendous amount of influence, but they are also influencing the very media from which Americans get their information. They are dominating the conversation and corrupting the information you get.

Damn the liberal media! Or is it the conservative Fox news? Either way, it’s time to accept it. Your source of information is biased. They are changing the context around you. You get a completely different view of the world based upon whether you read the Washington Post or Star. It’s time to get informed, America. The democracy you’re standing on is being yanked from beneath you, and it is your own damn fault.

If our democracy is affected by the people with the loudest megaphones, why aren’t you even speaking up? In the Information Age, it is easier than ever to send an email, file a complaint, and exert your influence. Are you uninformed or do you just not care?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Goal Setting

As I sit here and ponder my life's direction, two quotes have stuck out in my eBook readings at ChangeThis...

"The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it." - Michelangelo

"We tend to overestimate what we can do in a day and underestimate what we can do in a year." - Common phrase

What are your lofty goals this year? What should be mine ...

Monday, August 07, 2006

Rising Above the Noise by Creating It

3 years ago I was sitting in an airport bar in Austin when I met a guy at AOL whose job it was to prevent audio piracy. I told him I thought he was doomed - you can’t stop information any more. Looking back, I was right and I was wrong.

Though they were able to turn Napster off, content owners lost the greater war to more generic content exchanges using more distributed and anonymous models like BitTorrent. So yes, you can’t stop the flow of information any more (a post on the “great firewall of China” to come). But you can corrupt the source.

iTunes has proliferated, growing 77% last year, although still less than 10% of the album sales business. Why would you pay for music when you don’t have to? The number one reason based on my informal poll is convenience (I am sure your integrity and desire to encourage artists was a big driver, at least the one you pitch). The problem with downloading pirated songs is the quality is suspect. Half the time I would download a song and it would start off fine and quickly devolve into a cacophonous metallic skipping sound. I had to download the entire thing before I realized it was corrupt. Why would anyone share these corrupted files that looked just like valid MP3s?

The music industry decided it couldn’t stop the networks, so it made the information the networks shared suspect by corrupting the music files. Since your time is money and people pay for convenient, reliable service, iTunes has become an industry success. But the music industry had to create the problem first. In a sense, iTunes is simply a quality of service (QoS) provider. There are software services that validate the files (BitTorrent ensures the data sources are the same across users). There are private networks that are reliable and free, but few people know of them. iTunes has just made it so easy, unless you are a maven, why not agree to pay the money? After all your time is money too.

Sometimes the battle isn’t to rise above the noise, but to create it. And so goes an interesting commercial example of information warfare … at least through chapter 2.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Freedom of Choice: The Mathematical Justification

There has been a lot of talk recently about the validity of the Long Tail Theory. The theory states "our economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of "hits" (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail."

The important points are that in the Internet age, storage and distribution costs are decreasing, there are all kinds of tools for customers to find niche businesses or niche products in your catalog, and you can amass a considerable number of customers by focusing on a niche (because you have a worldwide audience). Therefore the tail will continue to increase in size: the amount of business generated from highly specific services will continue to increase. What that means for you is that you can now get exactly what you want, highly tailored to your needs.

Well recently the WSJ disputed some of the theories with arguably loose evidence. The mathematicians have responded. Looks like mathemtatical analyses of Amazon and Netflix back up the theory with some simple logarithmic equations.

For example, Amazon attributes 60-80% of it's sales on it's top 100,000 titles. But let's flip that around. 20-40% of Amazon sales are from books that are not in the top 100,000!!! That's billions of dollars for books you can't find in most book stores.

It's the long tail and it's reshaping our world. All of a sudden the number of journalists will explode and most won't work for networks (blogs); you will be able to hear the music from any obscure band at any time (iTunes and piracy) and they will promote themselves (MySpace); and if you are a germaphobe and need a plastic banana cover or any other obscure thing, you will be able to find it (Google and the Internet). There will be complete TV stations with rich content wholly for cycling or sailing or whatever your hobby.

And it's happening now. Now that's freedom of choice.

Coming soon, T-Rev TV?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Email Test

Sorry for the quick maintenance post. It appears that the email service I had wasn't working and this appears to be the only way to test. If you have email subscriptions, you haven't received my first four blogs. Go to to get em. Sorry for the confusion.

Here were the topics:
The Fat Free Burger King
Information Mash-Up
Contextual Control is Contagious
Partnering Language and Thinking

The Fat Free Burger King

In a time when fast food chains are changing their image to be healthier, Burger King just announced it's stacker, a triple decker mound of saturdated fat. Of course the reality is their "healthy options" aren't so healthy. Some of the McDonald's salads have more fat than their burgers. I can no longer tolerate fast food after the movie Super Size Me. Who wants to become walking foie grois?

However, I just ordered a burger from Paul's Place - fantastic greasy burgers. I asked for a side salad with fat free ranch.

"Nothing here is fat-free," the clerk on the other end of the phone replied in a snarky NY accent.
My own hypocrisy made me laugh. But it also made me love Paul's more. As a product marketer, it's nice to see someone honestly promote what they make, and honestly make what they promote.

For the best greasy burger in the East Village, go to Paul's place.

Free of worry, and thus truly fat free.

Paul's Place
131 2nd Ave
New York, NY 10003
(212) 529-3033

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Information Mash-Up

The best album I have heard in years is the Best of the Booties 2005. The “Booties” is a party thrown every month in San Francisco and they compile the best mash-up music. “Mash-ups” are songs made from splicing other songs together. Kind of like a remix, but without the need to put on something new. For example, one song is the lyrics of Billy Joel’s “Big Shot” on top of the beat of Jay-Zs “Big Pimpin”. Or the Beatles on top of the music of the Black Eyed Peas “Let’s Get Retarded” with Ludacris. Now these mash-ups are the hottest songs in many clubs in NYC.

The most famous mash-up album is the Grey Album, by DJ Danger Mouse. It plays Jay Z’s lyrics from the Black Album with musical loops from the Beatles “White Album.” And here is the important thing - it went platinum without selling a single album!

You can’t release a mash-up song commercially because the terms of reuse in the music industry make it too costly. You have too many royalties to pay off of real samples. Yet the Internet has become a free channel for the distribution of music. If you don’t mind not getting paid, you can reach millions. And Danger Mouse did. Of course with that notoriety he partnered to launch Gnarls Barkley, which has the #3 album and song on iTunes. So he did just fine.

But there are several interesting points here. The Internet is challenging all kinds of traditional industries and their revenue strategies and channels. From music licensing to sales taxes to buying books. These industries are not adapting nearly as quickly as you would expect. That’s an opportunity.

The cost of distributing information has gone to zero; the challenge is to rise above the noise. Distributors and middle men are being commoditized: the value they provide is approaching zero. That’s why record companies are struggling. They have spent so much time protecting themselves as a distribution network that they didn’t realize that distribution no longer is the valuable part of their business.

So here is the opportunity:

1. Information is free, available widely for consumption on the Internet,
2. The challenge is to get the right info to the right people in new ways
3. And existing companies haven’t been up for the challenge

The next wave of killer apps will be those that mash-up all kinds of information and package it for you in innovative ways you haven’t even thought of: automatic text messages when your friends are within blocks of each other (GPS). Driving directions from Google combined with real-time traffic analysis for optimal driving directions. Combining music listings with MP3 services, Podbop allows users to choose a city and listen to legally available music from bands playing in town that day and in the future. A host of new services will be created by people in garages, not in MSFT offices. It’s the long tail of innovation.

I would really like something that looks at my top rated iTunes artists from my collection and sends me an alert when they are playing in NYC. No need to set it up with Ticketmaster or anyone else. Just works automatically. How nice would that be?

What sources of information do you have trouble putting together, or in other words, what mash-up do you need?