Thursday, December 31, 2009

Truth and Consideration: When Homophily is Murder

We were talking about race and different approaches that people take to resolving century old prejudices with modern notions of equality. She argued that people in Austin refuse to discuss race but claiming not to see it as a factor, which simply prolongs predispositions. And if you have been to Texas, even Austin, you know that racism, sexism and homophobia are pretty overt. Erika argued that the key is to recognize and discuss difference and celebrate those differences.

I wrote a blog a while ago on some notable differences between African Americans, their African counterparts and some discussions of evolutionary psychology, which of course is a very tricky subject given that evolutionary psychology has been used to justify racist policy in the past. My brother, Eric, argued that to even to discuss such things is to validate that difference and that was a danger. The mere coverage of it, perpetuated the perception of difference.

To me, the overriding principle in such tricky situations is truth. Intellectual honesty and curiosity is key and that to always consider every way the article can be taken, especially those who are not as intellectually honest, is a poor principle to follow. It subverts the greater good, the pursuit of knowledge.

Well, I struggled with this some more this morning. I am reading an interesting book on my Kindle, called Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. One of the chapters is the effect of homophily on decision-making, how people we associate as similar to us can affect our decision making. Now this bears itself throughout history in some well-documented cases. The Sorrows of Young Werther, a novel by Goethe in which the main character commits suicide, prompted hundreds of suicides throughout Europe. Then there is the behavior of people in emergency situations are much more likely to act if there aren’t other people around who are also wondering whether to act or not. It’s group paralysis as we look for social cues on whether to act.

But this is documented in other, absolutely bizarre ways. For example, after a well-publicized heavyweight bout, there is an increase in the homicide rate. Violence on TV, violence in life … makes sense. But what’s fascinating is that if it’s a multi-racial fight, if the African American fighter loses, there is an increase in African American homicide rates, and if the Caucasion loses, an increase in fatalities among Caucasions. So overt violence maybe makes sense, even with the strength of association of race. Maybe we can trigger a natural violent instinct. But is there more here?

This one truly baffles me. After a well publicized suicide, the rates of car accidents and plane crashes in the area goes up. Could such a communicated case, similar to Werther, trigger sub-conscious mimicry? And mimicry in the face of our primal nature to survive? That’s pretty amazing. So if life or death is in the hands of journalists who report on a suicide, should they bury it? Should they be concerned about the potential effects? Should we report on the depravity of the human condition, if it encourages repetition?

Seems like a pretty tricky line that extended could be used for justification of Orwellian policy. That’s why I like the simplicity of honesty, not that's it's always simple. But I guess this answers the age-old adage. “If all your friends jumped off of bridge, would you?” You would. Just hope that it doesn’t end up on the news.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Fight for Control of Your Internet Experience

There is an interesting thing going on that I predicted a while back. There's a fight for who gets to present your Internet to you and who gets the ad impression. You probably have seen glimpses of it.

For example, you probably have noticed that sometimes when you click on Facebook there is a little toolbar at the top that says that you were directed to the page from FB from a certain person. They were playing around with it a couple months back. They were invading sites outside of the Facebook domain. Just a couple pixels at the top, but it is invasion, which is why they probably removed it recently. Imagine a world where the person who links to you controls your user experience.

Then there are some of the URL redirection services like tinyURL, or On some of them, when they redirect they had an ad on the top. So even though you are now on the NY Times, there is an ad at the top from another service. They have been moving away from it lately, but there is experimentation.

I mentioned one example of intentionally poor design in Internet Explorer on my recent post about Microsoft. They intentionally take advantage of every typo and mis-step as an ad opportunity.

But as I found out this morning, there are a lot more players in the Internet chain that can take advantage of tricks like this. Today my ISP, Time Warner, wanted a piece of the typo pie too. My Firefox browser only corrects "yahoo" to "" if it first gets a 404 error from the initial request. But the ISP can do that work and just return a valid result off the initial request. So Time Warner wants a piece. Where else could they insert themselves? Couldn't they alter the HTML and create a frame just like Facebook?

There are many creative ways to make lots of incremental revenue based on the linking structure and inefficiencies and errors of the Internet. I've got a couple creative ideas, but the point is that every link has value. Value to the place you are linking to and value to the property you are linking from.

Here's another example. You may notice that every link on Facebook or on Google is not really a pure link to the website. If there is a link to the "" when you click it, it actually activates a Javascript or other service on Google or Facebook to record the click, before sending you off to where you are going. Why is this important? For Google, recording what people are clicking is key to optimizing their algorithms. It started with optimizing ad clicks, then the same approach is being used for organic search. For Facebook, they similarly want to know what to show and whether that Fan page of yours is spewing spam, or links that people care about it. They prioritize good links in your feed to make your feed better.

The point is that there is a wealth of info from augmenting the simple version of the Internet, controlling data and controlling the display experience. The question, of course is what's next? Where are there unrealized revenue opportunities in the existing structure? Could there be a way to get pennies, millions of times a day? There are...

The Confluence of Digital Marketing and Traditional Brand Marketing

I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine who is a SVP of marketing for Bank of America that reminded me the importance of bridging the gaps between digital and traditional marketing. Now as a digital guy, I usually think about it in terms of what traditional marketing has to learn from the digital world, but this conversation reminded me that it's a biased approach.

Digital marketing, most specifically Internet marketing, is amazing in it’s exacting nature and real time feedback. I can put a campaign up targeting 36-45 year old married women who have expressed an interest in cheerleading and that day know what I spent, how many of them came to my site, whether they registered, whether they created a group on Weplay, whether they invited anyone and how much they spent. These are the important things to my business and I can know exactly how the campaign performed and make changes. Maybe I change the wording, the creative of the ad, and in fact on launch I probably had at least 2 versions up to test which one did better (A-B testing). And I probably A-B tested the landing page too. So I am constantly optimizing. As soon as I have enough data to declare a winner, I use that as a baseline and try a new test. As long as the incremental value is worth my effort, then I keep testing until I am a well-oiled machine.

Of course I also do this across all my campaigns, targeting and segments so I am slowly weeding out the campaigns that don’t perform so the aggregate performance is great. There are some tools that help with this automated bidding, since campaigns can be optimized by single metrics like cost per registration, cost per group, revenue per cost, etc. The key mantra is always be testing. Always be improving. The only creative, and thus human, decisions on an ongoing basis are wording and basic creative, which a very junior person can do. It’s a machine.

The problem is that traditional media doesn’t have the metrics and real-time feedback so this process is completely different. Imagine creating multiple TV commercials and trying to measure which one was more effective. Tough. Even if you had an answer, how long would it take to change the programming, the budget, reshoot a commercial and leverage that info. The tracking and correlation is difficult and takes too much time. Clicks are instantaneous. And imagine the damage of having a bad ad. I can quickly pull an ad off the Internet, each of the tests in digital are small so they don’t need the same level of effort, creative or buy in. Traditional marketing is slower, more time intensive and each campaign casts a wide net.

So the exact mantras of digital marketing set an unrealistic expectation for traditional marketing. And frankly, the digital guys look down on the traditional guys. How can you run a high cost marketing campaign and not know the ROI? Well, large enterprises have developed sophisticated models to help calculate the ROI, but it still is a little fuzzy and there are a lot of moving parts so you can test the overall ROI, but not pinpoint the exact phrasing, creative, or in store collateral that converted the customer.

But it’s too easy to get caught up in the glory of digital as my friend pointed out. For Bank of America, digital is fine, but they don’t run their business by pure cost per reg. People go into the banks to set up accounts. And measuring how the Internet ad affected consumer behavior and brand impression is not something us digital guys specialize in. When you care about branding and traditional commerce, we are less sophisticated specifically because it’s contrary to our exacting and real time philosophy. It’s not that we can’t apply the same models measuring the impression of a brand before and after an ad just like traditional media does with ad spots. We just don’t. It’s not that we can’t cast a wide net with a single ad to measure effect, it’s that we think it’s against our principles. Why not optimize and measure the clicks, exactly?

Well, it’s easy to forget in our digital fantasy that the world is more than clicks. For Bank of America, it’s brand that drives the business. When you think bank, who do you want to go to? And for a traditional media guy who believes in art as much of science, I imagine digital looks like task work for ajunior guy. It’s a tactic, not a strategy. I imagine they look down on us.

Well traditional media is declining and digital marketing is expanding, so we’ll see an increasing mix of exacting methodology. But in the process, I expect a lot of the traditional guys to come over and teach us digital guys a thing or two.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Why I Will Never Go Back to Microsoft

Been a tough couple weeks since my hard drive crashed. First Mac issue and for a variety of stupid reasons, I hadn't backed it up in over a month. So it was off to data recovery for 2 weeks in which I squatted on a Dell.

After Mac-ing down for so long, you forget all the inefficiencies and annoyances of working in Windows, even XP. Something ironically called "SmartAlert" kept popping up telling me iexplore.exe wanted to access the Internet and I was in danger. That's right, Windows was warning me about it's own browser trying to connect to the Internet. Then my anti-virus software AVG. Then Excel. Crazy. Number of pop ups in one day? Guesses? 75. 75!!! Worst part is the checkbox that said remember the setting (Allow), which never seemed to remember. Uggg....

Or when I plugged in a monitor, I had to manually go into settings to activate it. As if me plugging in the monitor isn't statement enough of my intent. Yes, activate the monitor automatically.

Or the fact that in IE, unlike every other browser, doesn't recognize what you mean when you type in "NYTimes" without the ".com". Why not just try to add the ".com"? Well of course it opens up the search page and look it's and ad view opportunity.

And that's really the rub about Microsoft. They design products for their business not your life. They care about the ad view, not about your ease of use. And this is endemic to all their decisions, or lack their of (the other big design issue is that they cram everything in and don't know how to say no for the sake of simplicity). They want to bundle, cram, charge, lock you in, make it difficult to switch rather than build products you will adore.

And they deserve the criticism they get. Like the Apple ads lambasting them for not creating a migration from XP to Windows 7. You know there was a conversation about this where some draconian bastard stated the case that not creating a migration from 2 versions ago sets a precedent that users always have to go to the next version, which means more revenue.

Well, MSFT. I look at the bugginess of Excel on a Mac and all the intentional ways they hamper open browser standards and interoperability as a failing strategy. So I hold on to my Apple stock, revel in Linux-based netbooks and celebrate every point of market share lost.

I wonder if Microsoft actually has conversations about how little time they have resisting the wave of open standards at which point they will be ill positioned to compete with their culture of poor design and malicious practices.

In this, they are a perfect example of Michael Porter's framework on innovation, where established players find it too hard to undermine their core business by investing in disruptive technologies. It's too hard to align the organization's established departments with the ones trying to kill them. So you look at the profit potential of migrating the business and the risk and find that it is easier, and more importantly more profitable, to extract revenue from existing customers who lag the upcoming technology switch. Less investment, extract revenue.s

That's a lot of words that basically say that it is more profitable to slowly die as a dinosaur then to try to turn into a bird. Extinction is a slow, gradual process and is more than just a path of least resistance but sometimes an advantageous strategy.

That said, F U Microsoft for the literally billions of man hours lost from Vista and all your other recent "innovations."

Sunday, November 08, 2009

I Speculate My Money Isn't Safe

So I shorted the market. In fact, I double shorted it (DXD). I just can't believe that investors think we have recovered. Real unemployment/underemployment is nearing 20%, the worst levels since the Great Depression. Yet the economy grew at a 3.5% rate. Really? Ok so there was the stimulus package and even GM was up with cash for clunkers. But that really is just borrowing to pump up the numbers, and even that isn't helping employment.

Next year you have more ARMs than ever graduating to terrorist rates when the earning potential of mortgage owners is lower than ever. It's hard to imagine that the next wave of the housing crisis isn't just around the corner. So we are subsidizing home owners, renegotiating rates at a loss at government agencies and eating the losses at Mae family of institutions. We are borrowing to pump up the numbers.

And then we are printing money. Lots of it. Tanking the dollar, creating inflation which at the same time devalues our debt. We are borrowing to deflate our debts. But our debtors are none too happy with that.

In real terms, have we really seen an increase in the market? Seems like the market has performing at the exact inverse of the dollar. How much more can we borrow before everyone sees it's all a sham?

But there is also another side to the story, as my friend Simon points out. A market isn't necessarily built on fundamental values. The dollar is a fiat currency not tied to the value of gold. Profits can be manipulated. Future outlook is speculative. And at the end of the day, it's a virtual market with a certain supply of money and demand for stocks. Just like the oil speculation of 2006-2007, in which 10 times more oil was traded each day then is sold in a year, the stock markets behave according to supply and demand too. So Simon would argue that there is still a lot of money looking for investment. More demand for stocks than supply at the price.

Well that could be. And maybe, just maybe the market will go up speculatively. But all bubbles pop and eventually the bill for this has to get paid. I am happy we didn't have a total financial system reboot. But I think we are far from out of the woods. And most of my friends are beginning to run for the hills.

I am hedging my bets. Gold, foreign stocks and even shorting the Dow (although to a certain extent that's a bet against inflation). I am just not buying all this borrowing.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Half Billion Reasons to Reform Election Laws

I went to the New Jersey gubernatorial debates last weekend and it was a bit underwhelming. Not because my candidate, Chris Daggett, an independent with real ideas didn't clearly win like in his first debate or that his competition was clearly more polished than in their first debate, although all that didn't help. And not because the pre-debate rally wasn't fun. I secured a megaphone, led 50 people in cheers and made fun of the other candidates and their supporters (clever retorts about college republicans, bad suits and trench coats and raver antics). I even had a professor protect me from Corzine's union boys who were looking to get violent.

No, instead it was just another reminder of why this system is so screwed up. It took half a billion dollars to elect an eloquent, Harvard educated law professor against a party who led the collapse of two wars, the world financial markets and a major American city. Let's reiterate. $500 million. For one candidate. Maybe that's just $2 for each American. And maybe that's 7,000 more teachers. It's a big bloody number. Like a corporation. A conglomerate. If the democratic party were a corporation, it would be a fortune 100 company at the very least ($25 billion in revenue).

So why is campaign finance reform so hard? Do we really need all the TV ads? All the commercially directed, poll influenced, slandering attack ads that make you want to hot snack in your mouth. The complete lack of understanding of the policies, the counterpoints and any semblance of a policy debate is sickening, maybe even more than the fact that your average American couldn't understand it if it were to go on.

"Mr. Corzine, NJ is so far in debt it is on the verge of bankruptcy with a record deficit and debt burden. How do you get back to fiscal sanity without constricting the fragile economy with higher taxes? You have 1 minute, sir, and please contrast your plan with each of your opponents'."

What a joke. Just enough to smile, spin and throw someone under a bus.

Isn't it simpler? Drastically less money for commercials. More mandatory debates with a round table format, lengthy answers, candidate questions to each other and full back and forth. Specifics to plans mandated. No BS Palinesque avoidance answers.

We live in a world where the more you say, the more material your opp0nents have to attack from their war chest on mainstream TV. Ideas are penalized. Marketing speak rewarded.

I saw today on CNN that 7 out of the top 10 radio shows are conservative talk shows. So much for liberal media right? Yet 65% of America believe in the public option. In the battle of ideas, Democrats are winning. No, no. That's not right. It's more of a liberal trend with which Democrats are snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. If the Democrats could get their ideas straight, they could change the political game to reduce the election process to ideas.

Maybe that's naive. Maybe the Democrats know that they are just as bad at talking about ideas as, well, a third grader. But how can they think that they will get more money than the big business Republicans. And who wouldn't support massive campaign finance reform? Wouldn't they win big votes by being anti big business and pro voter? You could be the voters' party.

I don't get it. But this spectacle has all the intellectual honesty, strategic intricacy and the production values of a McDonald's commercial. Well, I saw it first hand. Sorry to say it. But I'm not lovin' it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Crumbling Internet

The reporting hasn't been widespread, but I think the Internet is crumbling under it's own weight. Two massively popular services, Facebook and YouTube seem to be buckling. On YouTube, videos regularly get caught in a buffering state or don't start at all and the page needs to be refreshed. On Facebook, CDN loading times are lagging ("waiting for ...") and more than occasionally I get the network transport error. And yes, I see it on other people's machines on multiple types of networks. It's just unreliable. Not unworkable. Just nagging enough.

Now interestingly enough both of these services have recently, and surprisingly, reported that they are near or at profitability well ahead of schedule. While many have talked about the surprising success of Facebook ads, especially the ad budgets of games like Farmville, I think it is more than coincidence that these performance issues are happening now.

The funniest commercial I have seen on TV lately has been the Verizon Wireless commercial "there's a map for that." Poking fun at AT&T's network is a little too easy. But it's too easy to take your natural lead in a market and cut costs to maximize profitability. You still have your features. Your bells and whistles. Your network value (Metcalfs Law). Your brand equity. But you have undercut your users for the sake of cost.

Would cell phone carriers have taken off if they were this spotty to begin with? Would Facebook be as popular if it were regularly frustrating? There's a natural cycle to businesses where you spend less time innovating and more time profiting from the existing market position. This tends to happen in a waning market, where long term iterative innovation just won't have an effective ROI. Disruptive innovation and creative destruction then rules, and new ventures open up new markets.

But it's way too early. This market has just begun. Premium video is being flanked by Hulu and other popular and accepted premium VOD services. It's easier than ever to discover content with video search engines. Netflix is poised to supplant cable. Now is not the time to alienate users.

And Facebook. You've got analysts saying that the future of digital advertising is about leveraging social network data to provide more effective ads. Facebook is now the leading photo sharing site on the Internet. And it's the biggest video game platform. It's the largest event planning site. But you have threats from Open Social, micro communities like Ning and yes, Weplay.

And so I find myself using Facebook a little less. Maybe it is become I am busy, but also because it is slow and clunky. And I am reading ACLU reports on how Facebook apps give away your friends info without their permission. And I am thinking to myself, is a backlash really possible? Is something that is so much a staple to many, really so vulnerable? Well, I have had a couple friends leave Facebook in the last week. Maybe it's too early to milk the business. Maybe the cookie is crumbling.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

You Talk Too Much, Homeboy You Never Shut Up

I am embarrassed that after a month this is my blog post. But maybe it's the spark I need.

I was in San Fran this weekend talking to a friend who said that he was both loquacious and eloquent. It struck me as weird. Maybe because of the alliteration and reuse of the Latin base for voice. But it was more.

On the plane I realized it. Someone who is loquacious may think they are eloquent. Hopefully so, if only to justify their yapping. But it is doubtful it seems to me that an eloquent person would call themselves loquacious.

Hence, if you say you are eloquent and loquacious, the reality is you probably just talk a lot.


Sunday, July 05, 2009

Independence and Gay Pride

Happy July 4th, everyone. Been a while since I blogged but there’s been plenty on my mind. With all the talk of independence on this day, my mind naturally wandered to the gay pride parade last weekend. What a show. Other than Halloween, I don’t know another day where so many take to the streets and challenge you. It’s kind of an odd comparison, but if you look at the pictures, the outfits were indeed a form of creative expression and a challenge of identity.

Whatever your feeling on gay rights, gay marriage, or even the morality of being gay, it’s impossible to deny the happiness of this day of pride in the eyes, smiles, hugs and celebratory gestures of all those who partook in it.

Growing up in Greenwich Village, I have been surrounded by homosexuality most of my life. You know, if an open 10% of the population can surround … As a result, I am much more sympathetic to their cause. The fact that they have a day of pride, only highlights that most days they combat shame. And it just reminds me of the hypocrisy of religious zealots, who seem to have taken the old testament lessons of intolerance from new testament readings. I am not sure how Republicans hijacked Jesus, but they sure don’t do a good job following his lessons of tolerance. How do you think he might greet and welcome a homosexual? I woudn't classify Christians as taking the Mary Magdeleine approach.

Lately, with the ideological collapse of the Republican party and the rise of jargonistic rhetoric, it seems that principles are used as oratorical tools rather than rules of guidance. You hear a lot about states rights in Supreme Court nominations and matters of political idealogy. But doesn’t it seem strange that the same people who vehemently defend state rights as a fundamental justification for banning abortion are the same people who are against states rights to declare gay marriage or pot legalization in another state? Same legal principle, just playing both sides of the argument as it suits your needs.

Particularly today, I think we should all take a look at what it means to be independent. What this day really celebrates. About taking a risk. Bucking the established dogma. Refusing to adhere to old rules. Declaring a higher level of freedom from what we know and maybe what we have ever seen. The rules at this point are perverse anyway.

What is the world we want to create for ourselves and for others? Embody the change you want to create in the world. Especially if that means being independent.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Learning to bag the bags

I was surfing around at the Webby awards and found that our Peyton Manning video that we shot with CAA was nominated for best video piece in sports (

Pretty cool. I looked around to see what else was nominated, what was popular, what was working. I happened upon a video of Edward Norton who was in a community service ad pitching for us to stop using plastic and paper bags ( .

Although ours was better, it piqued my interest. Some interesting facts. There is a floating island the size of Texas in the ocean and it's made up entirely of plastic waste. Bags, bottles, and all the plastic that is around us. Texas! That's crazy. But even that piece didn't really hit home, it just sat there marinating.

A week ago I posted a video on the story of stuff, which was excellent and somehow with multiple pings the message started hitting home. My eyes creaked open. Our culture is built on unnecessary waste to support our lazy convenience. And now I see it everywhere, and my veil of ignorance has been lifted. It is astounding how blind I have been.

Here's my work day of unnecessary waste/convenience and what I have done about it:

1. Woke up, alarm blazing and on my way to the shower tripped over two boxes from clothing shipped from the Gilt group. Emailed them about order consolidation and benefits to them.

2. Noticed the toilet paper was out so I unwrapped a roll from the paper in the 8 pack plastic bag. Wrapping in a wrapping? Unneeded but I have no influence

3. Recycling was overflowing, so I took it out. Will not tell my dinner guests to drink less wine. It was too much fun. And no wine boxes. Alas.

4. Got on the bus with my copy of the NY Metro, which I threw out 5 minutes later. Now reading from the NY Times app for the iPhone. Won’t take another NY Metro.

5. Ordered my standard breakfast from Ruthy’s Deli, and refused the paper bag and the excessive napkins that came with it. Just hand over the egg white sandwich.

6. Drank 4 large green teas all out of my reusable OXO coffee cup using bulk tea leaves rather than packaged teabags.

7. Went to Chelsea Thai for lunch, told them it was to stay when it was to go and took the plate upstairs and returned it at the end of the day.

8. My boss asked me if I wanted a bottle of water and I responded by telling him the environmental impact of shipping water in plastic bottles. Switched the office to a Brita filter.

9. Got two bottles of wine for a dinner party, they gave me a bag, a plastic netting for one of the bottles and a cardboard separator. Told them to bag the bag and I would carry the bottles in my laptop bag.

10. Went to Whole Foods to pick up 2 (would be double) bags of ingredients for dinner, bought recycled bags for future use.

11. Got home and saw a ton of marketing mails. Ripped up 6 or 7 without even looking. Went online and removed myself and my mom from Direct Marketing Association Mail Preference List ( and the Do Not Call List ( while I was at it. Here are some other tips (

No real inconvenience (time loss 3 mins), yet I sound like a fluffy, tree hugging radical. But simple steps saved a newspaper, 2 sets of excessive napkins, 4 plastic cups, 4 tea bags, 1 styro foam food container, 10 bottles of water daily in the office, 1 plastic netty thing, a piece of cardboard, 6 pieces of mail and at least 7 bags.

Now that’s a lot for a single day. Multiply that by 250 million people and 365 days (91,250,000,000). No wonder we have a problem.

All I ask is that you just look around at all the waste in your day. You may start down the same path as I have. I like my luxuries as much as everyone else. But convenience isn’t all that it is cracked up to be if it comes with so much garbage.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Measuring from Baseline

I had an interesting conversation tonight with the esteemed Liz Topp and the lovely Miss Clemmer. We were talking about happiness in New York. New York is a special kind of place. The city that never sleeps. The city where anything can happen, or more to the point anything does happen all the time. Is this infinite carnival of culture, culinary adventure and continuous partying the perfect recipe for happiness?

Perhaps it depends on your metabolism for consumption. As a child of New York, raised and molded by it's frenetic hands, I have always loved the constant stimulation and unlimited potential. When I lived in Austin, I distinctly missed walking in traffic and seeing a couple thousand people each and every day. The endless possibilities of each and every night. Who might call with the 411 on some soiree? Where might the next turn lead?

But is this really the environment for happiness? Kristen realized it was her time to go one night when I called her with an invite to a intimate party with Liv Tyler, Leonardo DiCaprio, and even Keith Richards (who BTW looks many decades past dead). She was just 3 blocks away and just didn't care. She was too tired. At that moment she realized, NYC was just not the right pace. Mainlining adventure was not her thing.

Austin is more Kristen's pace. Where scarcity breeds appreciation. Where 1 great event a week is plenty, and well appreciated for all that it is. Where distinct amazing times are not lost in a blur of velocity. Where appreciation trumps frequency.

Happiness is relative to a baseline. Where's your natural baseline and are you living your life that way?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Chivalry and the Toilet Seat

I think I have spent more time than most thinking about the age old dilemna of the toilet seat. I never really bought the whole fall in the toilet argument. I mean really, who doesn't look down when putting your bare ass on a surface? I do every time, and it really is because of one time I didn't in a public bathroom. The details are too unnerving to describe. But I don't think it's just me.

So what is it then? A mathematical approach to the problem aiming to minimize the total effort of the system reveals that I should not put down the toilet seat to avoid the useless effort of putting down the seat only to lift it back up in the event the males of the household go twice in a row. So conveniently, minimization of effort leads us to believe that I shouldn't put it down.

Then again, if effort minimization is the absolute goal, I should just always go with the toilet seat down, and we wouldn't want that would we? Cleanliness is key.

So I am not such a big fan of public bathrooms. You never know what the last guy had on their hands when they pulled the flusher handle or even the faucet at the sink. So I try to avoid contact. Using your shoed feet is a big help here. This includes, probably more than anything else the toilet seat. Women may not be as privvy to the joy of lifting the seat to discover the untold splatter whether fresh or dried. Needless to say, it's never a positive moment in my day.

And that's what I think this is all about. If I put the toilet seat down, a woman doesn't have to encounter arguably - and hopefully - the least sanitary surface in the house. And that is a simple enough luxury to make demands.

But, I have never heard this sentiment expressed directly. Is this it? If so, I think I can put it down. But I am going to do it like I do it in the public bathroom, with my shoe. ;) See, we can all win.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It's not what you say, it's how you say it

I continue to be reminded in every day conversations both in business and socially that how you demonstrate the idea is almost as important as the idea itself. And with the struggles we have in healthcare, the economy and the environment, it's almost impossible to see the big picture.

Is 1 trillion dollars enough of a stimulus package? Does cutting 1.5% of health care cost growth save the system? How important is domestic recycling to the problem of waste management (Answer: domestic waste is 1/70th of industrial waste).

As annoying as the UPS commercials are, they do show the power of graphical teaching through video. Here's an even better example, one that predated UPS's chalkboard that brilliantly explains the environmental challenges we face.

Einstein once responded to a woman's questions about math, "Do not worry about your difficulties with math. I assure you mine are greater." The focus being on the untold complexity of Einstein's understanding. Instead, think about the relative simplicity of the woman's mathematical model.

With ideas as groundbreaking as we are throwing around, how do you let people build simple, comprehensible understandings of things that are complex beyond their reach?

Perot did it with chicken farming in Arkansas. Gore did it with global warming. And TED does it with everything. Shouldn't we be creating video presentations rather than press releases and press conferences?

PS Let me reiterate check out

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Map of Wine and Food

Speaking of teaching ... have you ever wondered how to pair food with wine? This map breaks down the relationships and dimensions in flavor better than any I have seen. Thanks to old HS acquaintance Alex Rainert for showing me the way.

Image URL:

A couple things to note. Oregon Pinot Noir is in the center, meaning it is one of the most amenable wines to bring to a dinner party if you don't know what's being served. It also shows how Filet Mignon is to Ribeye as Turkey is to Duck as Parmesan is to Gruyere. Simply great!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

To Love to Teach

Almost everything I have done professionally and in most of the other meaningful accomplishments, it's really been about teaching. Sales was teaching a client how we could help. Outbound marketing is teaching customers what you provide to them. Inbound marketing is about teaching your dev team what to build to meet market demand. Marrying Ira and Joanne was about teaching others about why this moment was indeed sacred. Raising your children is about teaching each and every moment.

One of my favorite moments last year was teaching my friend's Marisa's Kindergarten class about Antarctica. It was just so much fun to cultivate that wide eyed amazement of children and hopefully inspiring them to explore. It gave me the inspiration to go back to my own school and lecture.

Here is a little blurb about me in Scholastic. It reminds me to teach and consequently to learn every day.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Challenge: A Recess from Excess

These times wreak of the times of old. Neronian reforms while the infrastructure crumbles. Maybe. But it has been a time of excessive greed. And while it is easy to look at the greed and self-indulgence of Wall Street, it's quite harder to look inward.

I don't consider myself materially self indulgent. I have bought one electronic item of significance in the past 5 years. I like clothes, but I wouldn't say I am a shop-a-holic like many I know. I save 30% of my salary every month without fail (although that amount seems a lot smaller in my ETrade account as of late). No, my area of self indulgence is food.

After myriad cooking classes, dinners out, and just growing up on Il Mulino, my desire, appreciation and discerning palette is probably my greatest example of self indulgence. Every year I challenge myself to give up something self-indulgent for a month. Last year it was alcohol. This year it is all the beautiful cuts and preparations of red meat.

No lamb. No veal. No steak. No hamburgers at Royale. No all beef hot dogs at Grey's Papaya. Pastrami sandwiches at Katz's. No carnitas plate at Yuca bar. No tender filets or the swappable tender and marbled king of steak, the porterhouse. It has been to date, well, surprisingly easy.

And I would like to tell you how these abstinences make me feel healthy and alive, but they don't really. That's probably the most dissapointing, and perhaps the most encouraging. The body is incredibly adept at processing whatever you throw at it. Perhaps the greatest example of this is the recent evidence that a low fat diet has no effect on health (a low calorie diet does).

No this is a matter of testing will. Testing what you think you can do. And declaring independence from all the self-imposed constraints. To me it's not about pious sacrifice, it's about challenging the rules. Challenging what you think is out of your control.

What do you think is out of your control? Want to test that theory?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Human Feedback Feeds the Machine

Ahhh ... yes. I love it when someone I know comments on my blog and points me to some cool things based on my post. Big shout out to Brian Delassandro for following up on my post on networking the human mind to solve really hard problems, That's Using Your Noggin.

Brian points us to Amazon's Mechanical Turk, a way to request the services of a network of knowledge workers. What could you use it for?

What could you do with a million simple tasks? A billion? A trillion?

Fighting Gravity

I think many of us spend a lot of time fighting gravity. I spent a weekend ago snowboarding and I know I spent a lot of time doing it. When I hit the occasional patch of ice that made me go fast (yes, east coast slopes), I would turn my board more to get a better edge to slow down. The problem is that you aren’t that effective anyway, and then when you hit a patch of snow again I would slow down way too fast, like getting hit by a car. And then I would go flying Superman style for a spectacular flop.

After a couple times of this, I decided to speed up during the patches of ice and go with the ice flow. I went a little faster than I wanted. Not fully in my control. But then when I was back on familiar terrain I was in a position I wanted to be and just cruised right through.

Such is gravity. 9.8 meters per second squared. Constant acceleration. Exponential velocity curve.

My Uncle Arthur tried to fight gravity in the army too. His gravity was the general perception that he was a Jew. And given this was during the Korea War, prejudices ran stronger than they do today. Arthur continued to flounder as he tried roles others assumed he was less fit for until he got reprimanded and was put in charge of acquisition of supplies.

Essentially, he was Red from Shawshank Redemption. The guy who could get you what you needed. In a more appropriate M.A.S.H. context, he was B.J. Honeycut or Hawkeye making trades with other units under the radar. What a perfect job for a “Jew” and so he excelled, accelerating with the natural gravity of the situation.

At the same time, some of the greatest leaders of our time have been able to resist and overcome gravity, creating revolutionary ideas that changed the gravities of their time. But how do you know when to do which?

I find myself coming to the same conclusions as astronauts. Sometimes when caught in the inevitable pull of gravity the best idea is to embrace it, speed towards in that direction and just before hitting the object and crashing, fire all thrusters in a lateral move and slingshot past it. Then you are free to navigate any direction you choose. It's about using gravity to reach escape velocity. In astrophysics it's called gravity assist.

What gravity are you fighting right now? Should you be fighting it or using it?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Just Downright Heartless

I was reading an interesting book on design driven development called The Inmates are Running the Asylum . One of the passages struck me in that development nerds, tech geeks, were the new bullying jocks of the tech world. It had some interesting analogies and examples I could relate to. Where physical prowess was power back then, knowledge is power now.

And there are the good jocks and the really nasty bullies impressed with their own strength. I was reading Wired this month and noticed a new word on the fringe: cloaker. Apparently, doctors use radio signals to adjust the setting of pacemakers. Better than a USB port. Makes sense. Apparently some tech-savvy predators have designed devices that can mimic these signals so they can prey upon sickly patients. What would submit to if someone literally had the key to your heart?

Cloakers are a new method that masks the signal and keeps us safe from the tech predators. But man is that cold ...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Cheese of the Month: Epoisses

Well, this blog is more than big ideas and serious topics. I want to lend my expertise in other areas. Like food. God, do I love food. And few food items are as exquisite, diverse and yet so ubiquitous as cheese. And cheese is one of the stranger foods out there. In order to preserve the dairy products (milk, cream, butter) the solution is to let the bacteria and yeast grow? Of course! I wonder how many failed experiments happened here where people ate absolutely ranky cheese before the right balance and formula was reached.

But I digress...

If you do appreciate cheese and you know me well enough to understand how good a food must be to highlight it here, then you should be getting your coat on right now to go and purchase what I am about to recommend.

Without further ado. The first highlighted cheese.

Epoisses, a favorite of Napolean, is absolutely one of my favorite cheeses. It is made by soaking the rind in the local liquor from Bourgogne giving it an organic orange color. It has pungent odor, but the flavor is mild and oaky with a complex finish that makes you wonder why you ever bought that El Presidente brie that is really glorified butter. At room temperature - which you must serve it at - it is gooey enough to run, like a beautiful chocolate souffle, but has enough consistency not to get messy or separate into a liquidy mess. It is A.O.C. certified, which means the preparation has to adhere to specific historic methods. No copying or bastardization. It's the real deal and it is unpasteurized. It is divine.

Here's the long and the short of it. If you are looking for a creamy (you might say brie-like, but I woudln't insult it that way) cheese for your palatte, you would be hard pressed to find a better cheese than Epoisses. And yes, you can find it at Whole Foods. If you coat's on, I would run and go get it now. Oh and get a nice Burgundy to enjoy with it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Acknowledging our Responsibilities to Change

I hope 2009 will be the year we start re-establishing democracy in America. As I noted in my earlier blog entry, democracy here has been under attack. The basis of our liberties have been compromised and our moral standing as a nation in question.

While on vacation, I read a couple books and finished Naomi Wolf’s Give Me Liberty. I thought one of the more striking points that she made is the simple lack of education and awareness of the fundamentals of our democracy. After reading several educational pieces in the NY Times this week, the situation seems pretty dire. You are more likely to get the right multiple-choice answers about fundamental documents, ideas or people who shaped our nation by flipping a coin than by asking an American.

At this point, you might say to yourself, yeah it is sad. All those people. Not so fast, mon frère. Let’s start with a simple test.

Take the Declaration of Independence. Most Americans will default to the only sentence they know. The first (of the second paragraph). How sad an ADHD generation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

But while the document is about equality and universal empowerment of the people, it is more about a statement of purpose – not only independence from the government of England, but more interestingly government in general. In typical 18th century argumentation, the most important arguments are at the end, the sentences no one can recite. What is most interesting in re-reading the old prose is that not that it sets up the ability for citizens to revolt against oppressive government, it demands the responsibility of the citizens that indeed they do.

How lost on our generation as we have rolled over with minimal resistance while our government has transferred wealth from us to the ultra-rich, violated Geneva conventions and more. How do we re-empower the people. Everyone feels so helpless. This is not what John Hancock and all the founders risked their lives for. The reason his signature is so large is that he knew he was signing his death warrant if they were to lose. We have lost all sense of sacrifice in our mail order microsuede couch world. Perhaps it is time for everyone to review and rethink about the peaceful ways we can revolt. And yes, I have a plan for me and one for Obama (coming soon). Take a read ...

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

So you may not be able to take out the US government. But it is time we provide new Guards for our future security. And that's more then just one election.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Now That's Using Your Noggin

Remember that SETI screensaver from the early days of the Internet? Brilliant, right? Harness unused CPU cycles from desktops around the world to solve a hard problem broken into bits. But we didn't find aliens. Or if we did, no one told us. And we probably sucked more electricity out of the wall causing global warming which may have increased our need for an alien lifeline. But that's not the point.

There's another company who's business is founded on applying the exact same principle. Google. They have hundreds of thousands if not millions of cheap servers breaking down search and other computational heavy problems into tiny bits and then reassembling them to get the answer. They call the algorithm MapReduce and have given a watered down version to the world in the open-source Hadoop. And when you get hired by Google they ask you, "What problem would you solve if you had limitless computational power?" Now that's employee onboarding!

But there are lots of problems computers are terrible at solving. Image recognition. Language recognition. Complex pattern matching. But the human brain is pretty good at these tasks. (Great book on this is On Intelligence, by Jeff Hawkins). What if you could coordinate a massive human effort to solve these problems? What if you could get everyone in line more than the North Koreans? What problem would you solve?

Well, like many great technological movements, the pornography industry has figured it out. You can now get free, quality porn on the Internet if you just solve some "Captchas" for them. Captchas are those letter scrambles that make sure you are human when you go to Ticketmaster or register for a new service. Here is an example:

Well, if you can get someone to crack these, you can start doing nefarious things like infiltrate and spam people on other services or reserve those tickets I want. Since that makes money, it's a different revenue stream for the porn industry. Not quite legal though. And certainly not admirable.

But look to our scientists. They have taken a similar principle and applied to protein analysis. And it's an app called FoldIt. How cool is that? By getting users to solve 3D problems folding proteins you are actually contributing to a medical database about how to target proteins with drugs.

Imagine if every turn of your Rubik's cube contributed towards a cure for AIDS? Now that's pretty cool. It would be even better if you abstracted the problem so you didn't know that it was a protein problem.

What would you do if you had unlimited human analysis and a way to incentivize them to apply it?

  • Find anomolies in the US budget? The new accounting test and game brought to you by Obamatronics
  • Choose the hottest person in America. Facebook profile challenge creates a trillion page views and makes the company profitable through contextual ads for beauty enhancement products. Ok. Less cool. More fun.
  • Transcribe all the video in the world? Language learning game brought to you by the Google Library project.

There are some cool problems we could solve and we have barely touched the surface.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Big O: Aspirational, yes. Inspirational, no.

Lest you think the last one was a fluke...

I may have been one of the only people who watched Obama's speech and felt it missed something. It was so refreshing to listen to an eloquent president, let alone one who can at least speak the language. And sure, the speech was honest about our challenges. It made us proud to be Americans and of our history. It assuaged us into thinking "we" are up for the challenge. Other than the workers taking reduced hours to save another's job, what is really being asked of the American people? And who is "we"?

There were millions of people on that lawn, more watching their TV sets at the workplace with each other, huddled in the lobby of the Chelsea Market and standing in Times Square. But while we all left feeling better about being Americans, I think we all left alone.

Part of me yearned for a cheap parlor trick. "Look to the left, look to the right, we all stand together and will rise up as one. These are the people in whom we trust and who will bring us out of this. Our fates are in each others hands. " I felt like there was such an opportunity to connect us and tell us how we can help.

But I don't think he knows yet. There is such momentum with Obama, the idea more so than the man. But while we have participated and elected Obama, it was only an election. Obama is still just a promise. And I think, if played right, Obama is a responsibility.

How do you take this speech and convert it into action. How do you take the principles of grassroots empowerment, galvanizing the influencers and turn it into meaningful action?

How do you move from making us aspire to be better Americans to inspiring us to act?

Big O may not know yet. But don't worry, America. Trevor's got a plan. More on that later.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Beginning: It's the End of the World as We Know It

Hello everyone. Been a long while since I last wrote my blog, but it is has been itching at me every week, maybe even every day as new ideas come into my head and I say to myself, “Man, I should really blog about that.” But it’s a new year. And I got my final reminder today from a good friend and an extra nudge tonight. So I am back. Now you might think that with this much thought this post will be pure brilliance, but the reality is that this will be like any other post, special in its own way, but no specialer. That’s right. I said specialer.

It’s also good timing in that I heard an inspirational talk with Naomi Wolf this week. While made famous by her feminist contribution, The Beauty Myth, Naomi (who I have met socially) was discussing the tremendous threat to democracy we are currently facing. At first glance, her theory that the US is on the path to a totalitarian state was most easily dismissed as conspiracy theory. Our confidence in democracy is not easily shaken. But she then outlined the predictable elements of the demise of the democratic society, using Germany, Russia, Italy, Greece and many other countries as examples. Here are some common examples and they are eery:

Creating an external threat to focus fear. Iraq. The never ending War on Terror.
Setting up civilian surveillance without judicial review. Hello Patriot Act.
Military presence in major cities. We are now in violation of the constitution by having more than the National guard in our cities. Count em, 20K troops. And the military is training our police now.
Voter suppression. Calling an active campaign dedicated to voter suppression “voting irregularities” is disingenuous.
Setting up interrogation bases above the law. Suspending habeas corpus. Holding citizens without allegations. Torturing prisoners. Gitmo.

Now it’s been clear to me for sometime that Bush’s assault on the constitution has been very real. All my life I have been taught as the basis of privacy that you can’t wiretap without a warrant. And yet, we have conceded these tenets of our democracy so easily. Hell, we even openly violate the Geneva Convention. The Geneva Convention! Who is America?

Now, I always thought it was because Bush was an autocrat, and a bumbling idiot of one. Just a guy who says god talks to him and thinks he is above the law. Perhaps his idiocy disguised a much more malevolent plot. Perhaps as he said in one of his final press conferences we always “misunderestimated” him. Is it really that hard to believe that you could tilt the balance of our delicate democracy to systematically favor the party in power? Hint: look up Gerrymandering or the recent punitive actions against bi-party lobbyists.

Have we not felt like we have lost our voice? Our impact? With no bid contracts, cronyism, the polarization of the 2 party system resulting in a tyranny of the majority, has the government not been so subverted by special interests that we can legitimately question our democratic ideals?
Could this all have been orchestrated? Planned in a way to secure power for a few individuals? Perhaps their goal was much more malevolent.

Now the election of Obama certainly gives us hope. But perhaps this great achievement was in part made possible by the information age with cell phone cameras, YouTube uploads, and a culture of citizen reporting catching the very irregularities that could swing elections. And believe me, Obama will need us to push any meaningful change. He is 1 man, 1 gun. We are millions, his ammunition.

To reclaim our democracy, we must continue to embrace our ability to make our voices heard. To challenge the threats we too easily have come to accept. To protest meaningfully. To pressure our representatives into action. To force our agenda through State and National Referenda. If the Morman church can sneak Prop 8 into liberal California, what could a city like New York do? Or your local community. Or Obama’s email list. And if New York can do it, maybe all it takes is one Michael Bloomberg. One man convinced to push. It starts with you.

Are you ready to push? It sounds hard because you don’t know how. Naomi’s new book, Give Me Liberty, A Handbook for American Revolutionaries is about showing you the way to make that voice heard. We are the ones who have handed over our democracy. Maybe, just maybe, the threat is so serious that it is time we take it back.

God forbid we go into the annals of history grouped with the citizens of early Nazi Germany writing in our diaries, “I don’t have to speak up yet. It couldn’t get worse.”