Friday, May 28, 2010

To Ubuntu or not to? that is a good question!

Last weekend my desktop hard drive went kaput. So instead of using my laptop until I got the disk rordered, received, and replaced, I literally dug out my old desktop from the garage. After blowing off the dust I hooked it up, and then installed the new distribution of Ubuntu Linux, 10.04 (also know as Lucid Lynx).

This operating system fits on one CD. That's heard it correctly folks...not one DVD...but one CD! And even better--the price...wait for it....wait for it...FREE!! Moreover, it is easy to install, contains the Open Office Suite, the Firefox Web Brower, etc. right out of the box (or rather ISO download in my case).

Since I have been using it this last week I have noted that everything is running well. I even installed the TweetDeck Desktop and had it rolling in no time (see below).

The only issue is, some of my applications that I need to run (QuickBooks) require Windows (and no I don't want to use QuickBooks in the Cloud, yet anyway). All is not lost as Ubuntu comes loaded with VirtualBox, a virtual machine that can be used to run Windows XP from which I can install QuickBooks, etc.
I just got the new hard drive via UPS and have it installed. Go with Ubuntu with a VirtualBox of Windows XP? Go with Windows XP? Thoughts? What would you do?

Posted via email from Mark's Musings

Thursday, May 27, 2010

OK, I think I have posting to Posterous with Markdown down

Here is a message with Java syntax highlighting on Posterous.
Get specifics here.

Here is a syntax highlighting and formatting Markdown example of philosophic Java code:

1 if(!succeed) { 
2      try();  
3  }

Increasing Serendipity to Increase Understanding

Serendipity is defined as "the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for." In other words a serendipitous event is when you find something good that you were not expecting. But how do we do this with ideas and solutions to problems? One may think the answer is to randomly scour books and journals in the hopes of discovering new and helpful information. While this is valuable, I am finding that the most valuable information comes directly from people and not just the literary works they produce.

Serendipity therefore requires you to move outside your comfort zone concerning encounters with others. Take a chance and risk looking foolish. Introduce yourself to someone you do not know but may frequently see at work or on the bus. Find out what interests them. In a word, learn.

To me, this concept reminds me of the progressive rock group Rush's song, Hand Over First. A section of the  lyrics go:

Take a walk outside myself
In some exotic land
Greet a passing stranger
Feel the strength in his hand
Feel the world expand.

Feel your world expand indeed!

Posted via email from Mark's Musings

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Exponential (or Collective) Minuteness = Big Outcomes

Last Friday, May 21, 2010, got a tweet from @justinrains informing his followers that Google search page had a small version of Pacman that you could play. Of course, I browsed to the popular search page and began playing that classic game. The beauty now was that no quarters required! I spent about two minutes playing and then moved on with my day.

My thinking was that this was not much time wasted. However, what if that two minutes is multiplied by millions of users? According to Tony Wright, the founder of RescueTime Blog, just seconds viewing or playing pacman the other day cost 120 million in productivity. How? "The average user spent 36 seconds MORE on on Friday....$120,483,800 is the dollar tally, If the average Google user has a COST of $25/hr (note that cost is 1.3 – 2.0 X pay rate)."

Wow! Small amounts multiplied results in large outcomes. What if everyone could contribute small amounts of  attention and brain power to solve problems? This is what happens with CAPTCHAs:

About 200 million CAPTCHAs are solved by humans around the world every day. In each case, roughly ten seconds of human time are being spent. Individually, that's not a lot of time, but in aggregate these little puzzles consume more than 150,000 hours of work each day. What if we could make positive use of this human effort? reCAPTCHA does exactly that by channeling the effort spent solving CAPTCHAs online into "reading" books.

What is notable is that technology enables this "collective minuteness" that yields large results. The question then becomes how can we further use it to solve problems? Can collective involvement via social media help in the search/discovery/creation of alternative energy sources? Is there a way we can use mobile computing to assist healthcare? These are not questions for the sake of a blog posting! What are your thoughts?

Posted via email from Mark's Musings

Early location-based, social media..."Breaker 1 - 9, how about that south bound Kenworth at the 151 mile marker, ...."

This last weekend we traveled into south-central Ohio for a family gathering. On the way, I noted a truck driver talking on a mobile phone. I commented to my wife that the days of the CB Radio (those who are in the forties and older know something about CB Radios) are more than likely declining. She stated that while drivers will communicate via mobile devices, the CB is probably the tool of choice to gather and share local information and socialize. After I considered it I realized that as usual, she was correct.

In fact, I would call the CB Radio "the early location-based, social media." To use this tool all one had to do was be on the conventional channel, channel 19 for most truck drivers, and you were able to send and receive messages. Truckers would ask the channel for information on road conditions and traffic from those who were there or had just been there (location based services), ask general question,  or just share stories and socialize (social media content).

Finally, with concerns over  texting while driving, the CD Radio is offers an "eyes on the road" media utilization.

"Do you gotta copy on that?"

Friday, May 21, 2010

Please, Look at the Data

Clive Thompson looks at why we should understand how to read and draw proper conclusions from data.

Thompson states:

Statistics is hard. But that’s not just an issue of individual understanding; it’s also becoming one of the nation’s biggest political problems. We live in a world where the thorniest policy issues increasingly boil down to arguments over what the data mean. If you don’t understand statistics, you don’t know what’s going on — and you can’t tell when you’re being lied to.

One thing for certain, the "don't bother me with the facts" attitude will not work here.

Consider the economy: Is it improving or not? That’s a statistical question....Or take the raging debate over childhood vaccination, where well-intentioned parents have drawn disastrous conclusions from anecdotal information....There are oodles of other examples of how our inability to grasp statistics — and the mother of it all, probability — makes us believe stupid things. Gamblers think their number is more likely to come up this time because it didn’t come up last time. Political polls are touted by the media even when their samples are laughably skewed.

Of course, not everyone is a trained statistician. However, one does not need to be. We write while not being trained journalist. We use basic math while not being mathematicians.

For starters instead of looking at short term data, learn to consider long term trends with larger amounts of data. Also, understand that when there are correlations between trends or events, this does not mean that one is the cause of the other. In short, please look at the data.

Posted via email from Mark's Musings

"Betterness" does not just happen.

In this post, Umair Haque looks at eight ways to begin "betterness" in your life: Invest, Allocate, Cut, Work, Live, Civilize, Support, and Reflect. To summarize, the post informs the reader that to have a generally better life, one must not simply "settle" but get up and get busy on making a difference for both themselves and others.
None of this is easy. And no, it won't magically create a paradise overnight, or possibly ever. These aren't the only paths to betterness, or even the best ones. This is just a blog post. Here's the point. It is only by accepting the hard truth of personal responsibility for yesterday that each of us can begin to create a better tomorrow.

Related to this post, I am currently reading Linchpin by Seth Godin that drives a similar message. More on this book later.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Is the Motorola Droid Commercials Scary?

Is it just me or is the Motorola Droid Commercials a little scary?

In my view, the roving red eye of the Motorola Droid looks like a cross between the robotic eye of the Cylon of Battlestar Galactica fame and the Dark Lord Sauron's all seeing eye from The Lord of the Rings.

Motorola Droid Screen on Bootup


Sauron's Eye

Posted via email from Mark's Musings

It is the Cloud not the Clock

In the current Wired Magazine article, Breaking Things Down to Particles Blinds Scientists to Big Picture, Jonah Lehrer states:
Clocks are neat, orderly systems that can be solved through reduction; clouds are an epistemic mess, “highly irregular, disorderly, and more or less unpredictable.” The mistake of modern science is to pretend that everything is a clock, which is why we get seduced again and again by the false promises of brain scanners and gene sequencers. We want to believe we will understand nature if we find the exact right tool to cut its joints. But that approach is doomed to failure. We live in a universe not of clocks but of clouds.

In both business and software development we must understand that the latest tool and/or theory is not the final Utopian answer but rather a step in further understanding. 

Posted via email from Mark's Musings

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Google I/O - Web is killing other media

According to Google’s Vic Gundotra, the web is killing other forms of media.

I remember speaking to a Kiwanis Group (in circa 1996) and sharing that at some point the web "may," in the immediate future, effectively compete for the attention of the public as other forms of traditional media were at that time. When I stated that, some yawned and others looked at me as if I was crazy at worst and overly optimistic at best.

I have to admit that in the early days of the public internet I was not sure how popular the web would be. Again, that was when access from home was accompanied by the screech of a 9600 baud modem. Not the most optimum throughput for audio and video.

In any event, that is the case now.

Posted via email from Mark's Musings

Definitions and clarity matter What we have here is a failure to "communicate." Definitions and clarity matter.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Time to Think...Oh, the Humanity

In his blog post The Productivity Myth, Tony Schwartz states, "We need a better way of working. It's not about generating short-term, superficial productivity gains by using fear as a motivator and then squeezing people to their limits. Rather, it depends on helping leaders to understand that more is not always better, and that rest, renewal, reflection, and a long-term perspective are also critical to fueling value that lasts."

I often make the argument, we need to give all workers in all types of fields time to reflect on what the business is doing and how it can do it better, for not only the customer but also the employees and organization. 

What we do not need is primitive instincts operating the company. "If you operate at high intensity, under high pressure, for long hours, you inexorably burn down your own best resources — your energy reservoir — and you begin to rely instead on the physiology of fight or flight — adrenalin, noradrenalin, and cortisol. The prefrontal cortex shuts down in fight or flight, your perspective narrows, and your primitive instincts begin to take over." 

We need humanity, not just machinery. 

Posted via email from Mark's Musings

Monday, May 17, 2010

What is a More Effective Conversation?

What is meant by "conversation?" We see this term used a lot anymore with the advent and use of social media. GMail calls each thread of email a "conversation."  And indeed, it may be. Being curious as to what others thought about the use of the term, I did a quick search on the word “conversation” and ran across this image from Brian Solis’ blog:
My assumption is that many of you use many of these tools. While these tools certainly facilitate "virtual conversations," is that the most effective form of a conversation? Certainly it scales better. It is more geographically dispersed. But, is it the same as face-to-face encounters where you are in the same location with the person(s) interacting? 

Perhaps these e-tools can be used to initiate or setup face-to-face conversations? I for one am determined to have more face-to-face, and therefore, a more effective conversations.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Gut Based Decisions - A Cause of Heart Burn?

"Tell Your Gut to Please Shut Up," Please? In this blog post by Michael Schrage, the misnomer that intuition or gut-level decision making is statistically effective and sound is challenged. In fact, it is often touted that one's experience is enough to provide the foundation of sound decisions:
Leaders and managers are encouraged and exhorted to rely more on their intuition and judgment. Everyone knows that "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment." Ha ha ha. But where does bad judgment come from? My answer — and the replicable answer from Nobel Prize winning research: Trusting gut instincts and feelings.

He continues on:
The entire field of behavioral economics has been built on the intensifying recognition that people, particularly smart ones, are suckers for cognitive illusions and heuristic biases that pretty much guarantee that "gut-trusting" will, on average, yield heart burn.

What is the answer to this dilemma of intuition or gut-level based direction? Data. Making decisions based on actual information and not what you "sense" or "feel. "
While this is not new, Michael Schrage turns this from the enterprise to the individual:

What gives this issue great urgency and good timeliness is the nascent phenomenon discussed in Gary Wolf's excellent New York Times Magazine piece on data-driven introspection. He describes his cast of anal-retentive compulsively computational cast of characters as uber-geeks. To me, they're the uber-introspects: a new cultural class that values the ability to relentlessly act upon obsessive self-knowledge....Instrumenting ourselves, our thoughts, our actions, and — yes — our networks of colleagues and acquaintances, simultaneously transforms both self-awareness and situational awareness.

This has been personally demonstrated to me as I have recently lost 30 pounds in the last 4 months. In short, I simply monitored both my daily caloric intake and the burning of those calories by measured exercise with the help of the SparkPeople website. This tool made it easy to search the foods that I would eat that day and plan my meals while tracking the daily exercise. Moreover, what was most empowering was that when I knew the actual calories I had already consumed, in the evening, it made it easier for me to resist the desire to eat more. By knowing where I actually was with calorie intake and not having to guess in the midst of being hungry, I was able to say "NO" to more food.
Finally Schrage challenges the reader with a self-examining experiment:

So here's a simple, cheap experiment: the next few times you make a snap decision or judgment where your gut is your best friend, take 20 seconds to send yourself an email or text briefly describing what you did and why. Quit after doing it maybe 20 times. Then look at those messages from the vantage of a week later. I promise you'll be surprised. (I did a version of that exercise when I was having a nightmare time with a client. The resulting review left me biting my tongue and forbidding myself from sending substantive project emails without sleeping on them first.)

More on coming soon on the data-driven life.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Crowd-Sourcing Gone Too Far with Digg?

Michael Arrington brings up an interesting point in his Digg’s Biggest Problem Is Its Users And Their Constant Opinions On Things article. When designing a product, at what point is crowd input too much? 

The piece brings out several good points. For example, "Product should be a dictatorship. Not consensus driven. There are casualties. Hurt feelings. Angry users. But all of those things are necessary if you’re going to create something unique."

Even as interesting, in my view, is the picture with the article:

The feel of the image is very much like the artwork for the Black Sabbath Album cover, Mob Rules:

Perhaps the lyrics of this album's title song are appropriate for Arrington's article, "...if you listen to fools, the mob rules."

Posted via email from Mark's Musings

Monday, May 10, 2010

Social Tech Tools - Distractor or Emancipator?

I was perusing the Guardian web site looking for updates on the UK election and ran across a commencement speech by President Obama at Hampton University. In the talk he  stated, "With iPods and iPads; Xboxes and PlayStations – none of which I know how to work – information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation."

This was the jist of my previous post, Multiple Information Streams, Self-Motivation, and the Outcomes where I ask, "...are the content streams you consume beneficial for you let alone society as a whole?" Well? What do you think?

Posted via email from Mark's Musings

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Programming: A Social Activity

Here is a repost from almost two years ago. With all the discussion on social media and crowd sourcing of information, I thought a repost of this was timely:

I have been listening to a weekly podcast, Stackoverflow with Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood. Podcast 15 features a question that asks what the most effective code review methods are. On the podcast site, the show notes state,

Joel and I both agree: one of the most effective coding practices you can adopt on your team is interactive, sit-down-with-your-coworker code review. 90% of the things you will learn have nothing to do with the code. I believe programming is a far more social activity than most realize. If you write code, and nobody but you ever sees that code — did you really extract all the benefit from writing that code?


Posted via email from Mark's Musings

Followers Don't Equal Influence-->Distribution and Expansion Does

I enjoyed a discussion with local technologist Clint Greenwood this morning at my local Panera. We were talking of the need to be aware of one's personal brand or online reputation and I mentioned that I had recently read a tweet from HarvardBiz that read, "On Twitter--Followers Don't Equal Influence." Interesting read. In short, one of the ideas the post communicates is the need to not just count how many follow you--the real indicator of influence is how many re-tweet your ideas and/or expand on them and redistribute them back into the social-information flow.

The article also stated, "We were surprised by how only a fraction of Twitter users actively tweet. And this small fraction of Twitter users provoke responses (mentions) and initiate information cascades (retweets). I guess many people use Twitter to browse others' messages rather than generating a lot new messages themselves."

As I have often stated, I really have no original ideas. Mainly they are mash-ups and extrapolations of existing thoughts and mental frameworks. Perhaps in the midst of those musings I get threads of new ideas? But then again, I am sure that has been thought of and shared before. Right Clint?

Posted via email from Mark's Musings

Friday, May 07, 2010

Test upload of video via Gmail to Posterous

This video was just shot at the Pub at Crestview Hills.

Thank you,
Mark McFadden

Posted via email from Mark's Musings

Is Yours a "Hunch-Friendly" Environment?

Kathleen Carr, editor at the Harvard Business Review Blog, recently posted an interesting entry entitled, "To Innovate, Create "Hunch-Friendly" Environments."

Thought #1: Within the post Carr states,  "...give your employees the latitude to explore their ideas and you'll be amazed what they come up with."  I understand that you have core objectives that you must and should meet. However, does your company provide any time for your greatest asset, your people, to think of new processes, products, and/or services?

Thought #2: Carr also states that organizations and individuals should be "...thinking in terms of next practices instead of best practices." In other words, we must think not only about how to improve current processes but what would could be doing going forward?

Thought #3: The post also mentions "...the importance of respecting people and their ideas, and how people need to feel a human bond at work if they're going to feel invested." While we know the value of respecting differing views, how do we increase the sense of "human bond" among ourselves?

I think each of the above ideas take one thing that we all seem to have little of--time.

With that said, my assumption is that providing small amounts of time for innovative thinking will be be well worth the investment. After all, any company is really an information based organization--both formal information with customer data and informal information of ideas that could improve the use of that formal information.

Posted via email from Mark's Musings

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Multiple Information Streams, Self-Motivation, and the Outcomes

Dana Boyd in her Web 2.0 Expo talk Streams of Content, Limited Attention: The Flow of Information through Social Media brings up some interesting thoughts as to the value of capturing shrinking attention spans by both businesses and individuals.

Within the rarity of sustained attention, other factors than limited time and having too many options come into play. When considering a more open access to data via the internet, one's attention will not always be placed on content that is most substantial or fact based:

We may be democratizing certain types of access, but we're not democratizing attention. Just because we're moving towards a state where anyone has the ability to get information into the stream does not mean that attention will be divided equally....Some in the room might immediately think, "Ah, but it's a meritocracy. People will give their attention to what is best!" This too is mistaken logic. What people give their attention to depends on a whole set of factors that have nothing to do with what's best.

She then goes on to say:
Our bodies are programmed to consume fat and sugars because they're rare in nature. Thus, when they come around, we should grab them. In the same way, we're biologically programmed to be attentive to things that stimulate: content that is gross, violent, or sexual and that gossip which is humiliating, embarrassing, or offensive. If we're not careful, we're going to develop the psychological equivalent of obesity. We'll find ourselves consuming content that is least beneficial for ourselves or society as a whole.

Boyd then goes on to discuss having multiple information options also results in selecting sources that look and think like we do, therefore limiting valuable, serendipitous encounters with differing ideas and concepts. However, that is a later post. :-)

Finally, I understand that what is considered "valuable" information is subjective. In my view, the determining factor is not "limited attention" but rather what motivates us to direct our limited attention to the information streams we select.  Are we constantly drawn toward and given to the siren songs of gossip, violence, and sex? I think a valid question is, are the content streams you consume beneficial for you let alone society as a whole?

Posted via email from Mark's Musings

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Status Last Ten Facebook App

I created this Status Last Ten Facebook application over a year ago and it is just starting to get some use. Display a list of your last ten status messages.

Posted via email from Mark's Musings

"Killer" Apps...Humans to Blame editor Thomas Wailgum provides a few scenarios of the darker side of the use of our data in his recent post The Killer Apps of Capitalism.

As he states, "Now, millions of customer records and corporate interactions can be examined with ease; seemingly disconnected swaths of data points can be mined, categorized, analyzed and presented to executives and line of business managers; and new trends and patterns discovered can show profit and loss at both granular and enterprise levels....But there is often a powerful human downside."

Wailgum then details how an insurance company used patient data to determine potential fraud cases and then canceled their customers' policies based on often unsubstantial information. A typical knee jerk reaction that calls for an abandonment of technology is not the correct response to it's improper use.

Finally Wailgum writes, "While technology is the enabler in all of this, technology isn't to blame. We must remember that real, live human beings are making decisions from the software's computational capabilities. We still have to hold the people accountable....Just because IT applications are dispassionate and without feeling doesn't mean we—the humans using the tech—have to be, too." (emphasis mine)

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Monday, May 03, 2010

B2B - Twitter | B2C - Facebook (?)

In a recent Harvard Business IdeaCast there was a discussion on the question of should every seek to utilize social media. The guest, Alexandra Samuel, director of the Social + Interactive Media Centre at Emily Carr University and the cofounder of Social Signal  mentioned that for those companies whose customers are other businesses then Twitter may be the tool of choice. She then proposed for organizations that are B2C (business to customers) channels, Facebook may be the best tool. Thoughts?

Posted via email from Mark's Musings