Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Has the i- prefix jumped the shark?

I think I hit my breaking point over the weekend. I was checking my Facebook stream, and I found a FriendFeed reference (since deleted) to a satirical Crystalair post entitled "Apple iSlate Expected To Cause Spontaneous Orgasms."

Yes, the iSlate already has its own .org website and its own Wikipedia entry (which also notes that the yet-to-be-announced product has also been referred to as the iPad). Well, it currently has its own Wikipedia entry; "This article is being considered for deletion in accordance with Wikipedia's deletion policy." (But that's another topic.)

iSlate, of course, is the assumed name for a follow-up product to the iPhone (2007), the iPod (2001), and the iMac (1998). The i prefix, which may or may not have stood for "internet," has also been used by a number of other companies. The example with which I am most familiar is Oracle, which followed its Oracle 8 database release with an Oracle 8i database release.

But by 2003, Oracle had dropped the use of "i" and had moved to the "g" designation, as in the Oracle Database 10g release. (The "g" stands for grid.) However, Apple and other companies have continued to use the "i" branding. In fact, I can use my Amazon Associates account to offer various "i-" products to you, including the i-Dog and one of many iCarly products.

But there's at least one "i-" product that iCarly would never discuss, which Amazon Associates would never offer, and which Apple really really didn't like.

A News of the World report says Apple lawyers are flushed over sex shops hawking a £30 iGasm peripheral, which plugs into a music player and vibrates to the beat.

The ads picture the silhouette of a woman on bended knee with familiar white wires leading from ears, to peripheral, to...

Um, you get the picture.

But regardless of all the peripheral products, the fact remains that Apple has been using "i-" whatever in its marketing since 1998, which is something like two or three generations in the technology world. While Oracle has moved on to "g" (I'm still waiting for it to move to "m") and while other companies have adopted new marketing, Apple has shied away from being innovative and cool in its product naming, and has instead remained stodgy and stick-in-the-mud.

Since all of the third party products (i-Dog, iGasm, etc.) didn't alert Apple to the fact that its product naming is decidedly mainstream, perhaps it's time to propose a few more i-names to drive the point home.

The first one that came to mind was iDubya, but that name is already in use on Twitter and elsewhere. (And yes, there's an @inixon.)

And yes, there have been references to iLiver 2.0. Here's John Dvorak's take.

And for those interested in bodily functions, there is the iToilet.

But the most fascinating one for me is the availability of iDrugs. They're not your parents' drugs, that's for sure.

The iDrug works by putting your brain into one of 5 brainwave frequencies. They are Gamma, Beta, Alpha, Theta and Delta.

Within each of these, there are multiple levels that can be attained. Monks meditate in the alpha and theta levels and some are able to get into the deeper levels of delta....

You have to get to the level of bypassing your subconscious mind in order to circumvent the limiting beliefs that are hindering your progress.

When you use an iDrug this is what happens. You are taken to a level that totally bypasses your subconscious mind and the limiting beliefs that are so ingrained in it. This is like getting by the gate keeper to your mind.

We then use questfirmations and affirmations to reprogram your subconscious mind with new positive empowering beliefs. These affirmations and questfirmations are assimilated with out much intervention from your subconscious beliefs.

So they freely make it by the gatekeeper of your mind. No editing, no nullifying, no rewriting. Just positive reprogramming....

You will automatically be put into a deep meditative state of mind that will make the questfirmations and affirmations readily accepted and with very little resistance.

After approximately 10-13 minutes the questfirmations or affirmations will begin to play softly and audibly in the background. Its a super relaxing, positive self talk session that is much more powerful than any other method you may have tried. All you have to do is sit back and listen.

As an LCMS Lutheran, I have another name for this process, but that's beside the point.

But the whole iDrug thing suggests something. If you can use some method to convince Apple - or at least those who purchase Apple products - that the i- prefix is undesirable, uncool, fascist, whatever - then perhaps Apple will change its marketing ploy and get rid of this tired old prefix.

Unless Steve overrules everyone, saying, "You know, iLiver 2.0 was a pretty good name."

Monday, January 25, 2010

(empo-tuulwey) No, Joe Wilcox, Microsoft Office is not obsolete

Several people used Google Reader to share a Betanews post by Joe Wilcox. The post, entitled "Microsoft Office is obsolete, or soon will be," argues that Office's price cuts are an indication of the increasing irrelevance of the suite for many people.

Wilcox's post seemingly invites conversation:

I'll ask upfront: Do you really need Microsoft Office on a daily basis? Is Office vital to your work day? Do you use it at home? If you use it at work, how often? If you use it at home or for college, how often? Please respond in comments.

Well, I definitely had a view on this subject, so I went down to the comments, only to be greeted by this:

Add a Comment
You must be logged in to post comments.

No Facebook Connect, no other method to log in. If anything's obsolete, it's Betanews' login system.

So I'll use my blog to point out one issue that I have with Wilcox's assertion.

Microsoft Office will continue to survive for some time, and it will survive for the same reason that Internet Explorer 6 continues to survive - namely, corporate IT standards that mandate the use of Microsoft Office. I've talked about the IE6 issue ad nauseum in the past, including corporate standards and developer support, and some of the same issues apply with regards to Microsoft Office.

For those who don't know what I do during the day, I'm a proposal writer. Before that, I was a product manager. Both jobs involved the production of documents, and both jobs required that my document production software be integrated with other software packages - the current one requires integration with a software package that stores a database of proposal responses, while the old job required integration with a software package that tagged marketing requirements. In both cases, the approved document production software to use with these packages was Microsoft Word.

Or, to be more precise, Microsoft Word 2003.

I spend so much time in Microsoft Word 2003 at work that when I get home, I get confused half the time when I get into Microsoft Word 2007. And we have THAT package at home because my daughter's former school required her to use Microsoft Publisher in one of her classes. My daughter has since changed schools and changed computers (she's now an Apple fangirl), and I could certainly do without Microsoft Office at home.

But work is another matter. While Word is the only portion of the Office package that I am required to use (unless, as I stated in 2008, you are willing to pay my salary), I do make heavy use of Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook. PowerPoint was in very high use during my product management years, as I was giving presentations at our own conferences, the International Association of Identification conference, and the Oracle OpenWorld unconference.

Now I could have used another presentation software package in those instances, but let's look at corporate needs again. Assume for the moment that the corporation needs to outfit particular workers with a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation software package, and that all workers need electronic mail access. The IT people could go out and buy (or obtain freeware for) four separate packages, or they could buy all four packages in a single swoop. If you're in purchasing, or if you're charged with managing software assets, which option is more attractive to you?

Now if I ever get around to buying myself a netbook for personal use, I am strongly considering getting OpenOffice for my word processing, calculating, presenting, and related needs. But such a suggestion in a corporate environment wouldn't have flown in 2005:

I have been asked to submit a budget proposal to upgrade my companies MS Office desktops to Office 2003 (about 100 licenses).
I am reticent to do this without suggesting OpenOffice (which I have used for ages).
When suggesting it to the managing director, I got the answer that OpenOffice was only used by Techies at home and was not a serious contendor to MS Office.

I know this not to be true, but would like some data proving it. Is there any available??

Back in 2005, the answers to this question included references to the Open Office forum, and a story about Munich's migration to Linux and OpenOffice. However, these were NOT the kinds of stories that were going to impress the managing director.

Things have gotten better since 2005, but if you want to look at enterprise deployments of OpenOffice, one of your alternatives is to go to Open Office Technology to get OpenOffice-Enterprise.

OpenOffice-Enterprise is an enterprise management solution for the OpenOffice.org office suite.

OpenOffice-Enterprise is the fastest, easiest, and most reliable way to deploy and manage OpenOffice in an enterprise environment.

OpenOffice-Enterprise automatically applies an enterprise-friendly configuration to OpenOffice that includes disabling the Registration Wizard, disabling Auto Updates, and disabling the OpenOffice Improvement Program (usage tracking).

In addition to these standard settings, OpenOffice-Enterprise allows thousands of additional settings to be managed using standard Windows tools, including Group Policy, administrative template (.adm) files, Active Directory and the Microsoft Management Console. Examples of settings that can be managed with OpenOffice-Enterprise include the default file formats, document template locations, application access, macro security, and thousands of other settings.

Finally, OpenOffice-Enterprise makes upgrades fast and trouble-free. When a new version of OpenOffice is released, you can simply install it as-is and OpenOffice-Enterprise will apply all of your existing administrative settings to the new version.

And if you want to learn about the people who run Open Office Technology...well, they never get around to specifying that information on their web page. At this point, your managing director will argue that we know who runs Microsoft - who are these OpenOffice-Enterprise guys?

Or, paraphrasing something from a previous generation, you can't go wrong by buying Microsoft.

So I wouldn't write off Microsoft Office just yet.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Costco's mission

Montclair, California.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

(empo-plaaybizz) Going beyond the Scoble effect

For some time I've been writing a series, empo-plaaybizz, that explores games and business. And, as I've noted several times, I've been inspired by some of the things that the Oracle AppsLab has written on the topic.

Therefore, I was pleased to see that Robert Scoble has partially delved into the topic. His post is entitled "The social behavior incentive (how your app can be as addictive as Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare)."

However, as I noted in a comment to Scoble's post,

[W]hile the idea of an attractive app is interesting in and of itself, things really get interesting when you look at applying games incentives in non-game areas.

It's times like this when I wish that Scoble's former project WorkFast TV, was still a going concern. This project, from the FastCompany days, was very enterprise-oriented. If you don't remember the series, here's the description:

WorkFast is a live, half-hour interview show about the future of work, usually aired at 10 am (Pacific) each Friday. Sponsored by SAP, the world's third largest software company, host Robert Scoble interviews guests on how internet-based technologies are making people and companies more productive. Our host will talk to tool makers and tool-users as well as authors and assorted experts. WorkFast will examine the history of office productivity and the future of it. We'll bring in authors and experts.

Now Building 43 has covered Foursquare, but from the aspect of location, not necessarily from the aspect of incentives. While people are yammering about the potential of location-based software, frankly incentive-based software may be more interesting in the long run. Remember that you can have location-based software without incentives...and you can have incentive-based software without location. Those who focus on Foursquare's location-based features while ignoring the other side of the equation are missing out on half the story...or maybe all of it.

I searched Building 43 for a mention of "games" and only found this:

If you’re doing a lot of stuff that isn’t in the typical “web application envelope” (creating games or doing system-level programming) then CodeIgniter isn’t going to magically make things better.

Of course, if Building 43 isn't covering something adequately, it isn't a situation where I can just sit back and say "they" should do more. After all, Building 43 does take contributions. Of course, I have to remember this:

Think clarity and brevity.

They define "brevity" as 800 words.

And it gets better:

And think links. And graphics. And pictures. And audio. And videos.

Time for me to enter rumination mode.

(empo-tymshft) Ten years ago - gas and nets (Dave Winer, Bill Gates, Oracle, and Sun in 2000)

Dave Winer has just posted a note recognizing, among other things, that he was one of the first two bloggers to be invited to Davos, way back in 2000. Of course, they weren't called bloggers then - in one of the items that Winer wrote at the time, he referred to himself as a "web guy."

I should note that Dave Winer and I have one thing in common - both of us visited Switzerland in 2000. Of course, he went to Davos early in the year, and I went on a personal trip to visit family friends in the summer. But both of us made the same observation. I'll let Winer tell it:

But the cutest thing is that in Switzerland bubbles in water are called "gas" so when a waiter wants to fill you up, he or she asks if you want some gas, and this makes me break out in guffaws of loud American laughter. I'm laughing out loud as I write this and I wonder if my roommates are pissed that their next door American neighbor is laughing so loudly at 1AM (4PM back in California).

Several months later, when I arrived in the Olten area, I quickly learned the phrases "mit Gas" and "ohne Gas."

Needless to say, Winer didn't constrict himself to solely making linguistic observations. In another piece that he wrote at the time, he described the differences (circa 2000) between his view of the computing world and Bill Gates' view of the computing world. Since ten years have passed, it's interesting to read what they had to say at the time. You can read the whole thing here (including the exchange between Winer and Gates), but here's a small portion.

Gates echoes many of the ideas you've heard in this column, the power of the personal computer must not be overlooked in the rush to the Internet. He debunks the "myth" of Network Computing as promoted by Sun and Oracle, he says we should check with their customers to find out if their vision had materialized. Gates is confident that it hasn't. I am too, but Bill, don't be so quick to write off Network Computing. It's the engine behind the growth of Yahoo. And while the web browser is a very limited user interface environment, it's not so limited that you can't build a powerful easy to use publishing system around it, as we have.

Having read this just a few days after the European Commission gave its approval for Oracle's acquisition of Sun (see my Thursday post), I found this ten-year old piece particularly timely. Yes, so many things have changed, but in a sense they've remained the same.

Perhaps it's appropriate to repeat something that I said back in October:

Basically, ever since computers were invented in the 1940s or the 19th century or whenever, the computing industry has oscillated between two different models of computing:

* The Benevolent Model, in which a central service provides everything that the users need, including programs and processing power. All the user needs is a dumb terminal, something that acts as a dumb terminal, or something even dumber like a punch card reader. The central service takes care of everything for you. There is nothing to worry about. Dave?

* The Rugged Individualist Model, in which a computer user doesn't need anybody else to do anything. A single computer, in the possession of the computer user him/herself, includes all of the power that the user needs. We don't need no central service; we don't need no thought control.

Now obviously these are the extremes, and there have been some computer trends (like client/server) that somehow combine the two. But it still seems like we alternate between the two models, and now the cloud computing model has us all leaning a little more toward the centralized model.

And no, my reference to "Dave" in "The Benevolent Model" had nothing to do with Mr. Winer.

And Winer probably wouldn't describe the universe in these terms, because at the time (and probably today) he believes the people who use network computing can be rugged individualists. Granted that there has to be plumbing and infrastructure to support these individuals, but in Winer's ideal world, the plumbers and infrastructure builders would impose a very limited amount of control (just the bare minimum necessary to allow society to function).

So Winer and Gates both believed in rugged individualism, but Gates believed at the time that you needed to possess all the horsepower yourself, while Winer believed that the horsepower could be somewhere else - or, using a common term today, in "the cloud."

But what has happened in the last ten years? UserLand is still around. Microsoft has evolved (as Microsoft always does) and now offers more networky software, SharePoint being an example. Sun has stayed true to its "the network is the computer" mantra, but hasn't been able to survive the ups and downs of the market. And Oracle has expanded its "stack" (see my old mrontemp post) in all sorts of directions, with hardware apparently being the next step.

P.S. If you want to go back even farther, and perhaps get some vindication of my "rugged individualist is NOT the benevolent dictator" model, let's go back further into Dave Winer's archive and take a look at this exchange between Winer and Oracle's Larry Ellison in 1996:

...Larry Ellison, chairman of Oracle, took the stage with the conference host, Stewart Alsop. As he explained his concept of the Network Computer, or NC for short, his song said I'm great, you're not, here's my idea, love it or leave it. I'm taking over. Meet the new boss. Me!

Ohhh, the crowd didn't like it. Boos and hisses. The rumblings were awesome. I looked to the left and to the right, forward and back. Everyone is angry with him. Great emotion was swelling up in the audience. I got up, took the mike and asked the question I thought everyone wanted answered. Why would anyone want to use this? Amazingly, Ellison hadn't addressed that point. I doubt if it ever occurred to him that peoples' wants could enter into the equation. To him, it was enough that *he* wanted it. What we wanted was not the point.

Who presented at the conference the next day? Sun's Scott McNealy.

But he is just as arrogant and clueless as Ellison, just not as easy to expose. He says that all you need from a computer is four commands. You don't need a PC, you probably don't need to store anything. It's not your computer it's the company's. Love it or quit.

Well, I've seen Sun's software, and I remember PCs when they were as simple (i.e. feature-poor) as McNealy's JavaOS NC is, and he wouldn't even be able to compete with the software that commercial developers were making in the mid-to-late 1980s, much less the software of the mid-to-late 1990s. So much has been learned since then, and none of this is reflected in Sun's NC OS.

Now of course this was in 1996. Network computing protocols have become much more powerful, and there are very robust programs (the aforementioned SharePoint, for example) that operate within a browser.

But the whole issue of control, an issue near and dear to Dave Winer's heart, still remains. Can you have (using 21st century language) a cloud computing model in which the individual still has freedom? Or does your cloud computing provider attach too many strings to your experience, thus limiting your capabilities?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Understanding Monty - the motiviations behind Widenius' opposition to the Oracle-Sun deal

Oracle issued a press release this morning. It was one of those press releases in which the disclaimers are longer than the body of the release. You can read the disclaimers here if you like; I'm just going to focus on the main body of the press release. Actually, I'm going to ignore the second of the two paragraphs and just look at the first one.

Oracle Corporation (NASDAQ: ORCL) announced today that it had received regulatory approval from the European Commission for its acquisition of Sun Microsystems, Inc. Oracle expects unconditional approval from China and Russia and intends to close the transaction shortly.

Now I have some personal familiarity with a couple of acquisitions, one of which required approval by the Romanian government, but I've never personally run across an acquisition that was waiting for Chinese or Russian approval. Welcome to the new world.

Would the Chinese potentially hold up a deal that didn't involve the acquisition of a Chinese company? Uh, yeah:

Chinese regulators have been flexing their anti-monopoly muscle in deals by global companies, blocking Coca-Cola Co's proposed purchase of China Huiyuan Juice last March and placing conditions on approval of InBev's acquisition of Anheuser-Busch, and Panasonic's buy of Sanyo Electric.

And if you think that Oracle would pull a Google and just quit doing business in China, that could be an expensive proposition. I just heard on CBS this morning that China's economy is on target to exceed the U.S. economy by 2020.

At this stage, the most vocal opponent of the Oracle-Sun deal is Michael "Monty" Widenius, the initial creator of the MySQL database that Oracle would acquire if the acquisition went through. When I checked the statistics at his helpmysql.org site, I found the following:

Łączna ilość potwierdzonych podpisów: 35 594
Podpisów w ciągu ostatnich 24 godzin: 2 034

Oops, I seem to have printed the Polish statistics. (The effort is understandably multi-lingual.) Suffice it to say that the first number indicates all responses to Widenius' call, and the second number indicates people who responded in the last 24 hours. And, perhaps more significantly, more than 4,000 of the 35,000+ respondents are from China, and over 1,300 are from Russia.

Not everyone is with Monty on this one. Here's part of what Marc Fleury said:

As for me, the bottom line is kind of straight forward, I don't get Monty. Or rather, I "get him" but completely disagree. MYSQL WAS SOLD FOR $1B FOR GADSAKES!!! IT WAS SOLD! IT'S OVER!

Which raises the question - why was it OK to sell to Sun, but not to Oracle? Or, more importantly, why was it OK to sell to Sun in the first place? In late December 2009, Widenius conducted a self-interview in which he responded to these and other questions.

Q: Didn't you sell MySQL to Sun? Do you want to have the cake and eat it too?

First a little background:

I started to work on a code that would later become MySQL in 1982. MySQL was released in 1995 under a dual licensing scheme that allowed David Axmark and me to very quickly work full time on developing MySQL.

I lost the rights to the MySQL copyright in 2001 when MySQL AB was created and we allowed investors to come in. We needed to bring in investors to be able to create a full-scale working company to satisfy big customers and to be able to hire more developers and take MySQL to the next stage. To ensure that MySQL would continue to be free, David and I stated in the shareholder agreement that MySQL AB would have to keep MySQL under an open source license. The problem with a shareholder agreement is that it is terminated when the company is sold. This is just how things works.

David and I however thought that this would not be a problem, as we would help ensure that MySQL would be bought by a good owner.

I continued to lead the MySQL project and have been one of the leaders and top contributors for the project since then.

When the sales process to Sun started, I was at the time not anymore in the MySQL Board (just a MySQL shareholder). I was just informed about the deal, after it was agreed to. I did get money for my shares, that is true, but it did not change in any way my dedication or involvement in the MySQL project.

Q: Was SUN a good owner?

Even though I had no say in the deal, I was happy because I thought that Sun, who has been one of the big advocates of open source, would be a good home for MySQL. MySQL was also the missing piece in Sun's software stack and as Sun didn't own any database competing with MySQL, it would be in Sun's interest to continue developing MySQL as an open source database.

This was proven right a couple of months later when the old MySQL management, who was still in charge of MySQL development, announced that they would now, (when they were not anymore bound by the shareholder agreement), add closed source addons to MySQL. Sun's upper management stepped in and forced MySQL's management to retract the statement.

After the Sun deal, I continued to work on MySQL and the Maria storage engine in Sun (in the CTO lab) and, together with Sun upper management, to help Sun be a driving force in open source. I also tried to get Sun to improve the MySQL development organization and change the MySQL development model to be more community friendly.

Q: You left SUN. Did you put pressure on SUN to be able to set up your own company?

The reason I left Sun was that after almost one year of trying, the MySQL development organization was still lacking vision, strategy and engineering excellence and it did not engage with the community.

Some of the developers did in addition not fit in a big publicly listed company and started to talk about leaving SUN.

To ensure we would not start to lose critical MySQL resources from the MySQL ecosystem and to ensure that MySQL would live on, I departed from Sun on good terms, with an understanding of what I needed to do and without any competition clauses.

I created Monty Program Ab and continued to work on a branch of MySQL, now under the name of MariaDB, together with the community and the core MySQL developers that left Sun. We are now 19 persons in Monty Program Ab and all totally dedicated to keep MySQL alive.

There is a ton of stuff that could be written about this topic, but it appears to me that Widenius is having an emotional reaction to big evil Oracle taking over his baby. Not dissimilar to the reaction that some people had when Facebook bought FriendFeed, when you think about it.

Of course, there is a solution that Widenius does not seem to have mentioned. He could initiate a counter-offer to purchase the MySQL-related assets from Sun.

Bidding starts at $1 billion.

Monday, January 18, 2010

(empo-tuulwey) Publicity (the opposite of privacy) and the gravy train

None of us shares absolutely everything with absolutely everybody, whether online or in real life. For example, something happened to me in real life on Sunday afternoon. We have a dog. We have a backyard. I mentioned to my family something that I had to do in the backyard on Sunday afternoon that involved the dog. My family asked that I please not share this information during lunchtime.

I don't know if Louis Gray has a dog, but I know that he has a Mac. And he has kids. And he has a yard. You can find out a lot about Louis and his family by looking at his Blippy page, http://blippy.com/louisgray. He even wrote a post about it; here's an excerpt:

After first having a mental block on the entire concept of Blippy, I realized it could be interesting to share my iTunes purchases and my Netflix rentals with friends, and see what they were buying online. After all, if we are so willing to share those things that we like (See MyLikes for that) or things we are a fan of (try Facebook), it makes more sense to take a step upward and show what we actually spent money on.

Gray's conclusion, after looking at his purchases, is that he's a pretty boring guy. You could probably draw the same conclusion from looking at the Foursquare feeds of various people, including myself.

But Gray's post focused on the benefits to THE SHARER of sharing his/her information. I wrote a lengthy comment to Gray's post that began as follows:

While your Blippy feed may be interesting to you or your friends, it could be REALLY interesting to data miners and data aggregators.

I then gave some examples, then talked about when things are shared or not shared. But rather than...um...sharing what I said on the topic, I'm going to look at what Dana Boyd said:

Privacy isn't a technological binary that you turn off and on. Privacy is about having control of a situation. It's about controlling what information flows where and adjusting measures of trust when things flow in unexpected ways. It's about creating certainty so that we can act appropriately. People still care about privacy because they care about control. Sure, many teens repeatedly tell me "public by default, private when necessary" but this doesn't suggest that privacy is declining; it suggests that publicity has value and, more importantly, that folks are very conscious about when something is private and want it to remain so. When the default is private, you have to think about making something public. When the default is public, you become very aware of privacy.

Boyd continued:

No one makes money off of creating private communities in an era of "free." It's in Facebook's economic interest to force people into being public, even if a few people break up with Facebook in the process.

Steven Hodson, when he wrote his post that was inspired by Boyd's post, put it a little more bluntly.

Facebook, and other services like it, can’t afford privacy. Its business model is built around us all being mindless blabber-mouths. It needs us to believe that privacy is an archaic ideology.

And we know Facebook's business model - all of that content, surrounded by a bunch of ads that are served up especially for you, based upon the information that you provided to Facebook. I get ads that are targeted for people over 40. You probably don't.

And these ads appear when I'm just checking out my Facebook feed, or when I'm playing Starfleet Commander or Farm Town, or when I'm checking Louis Gray's feed.

Now Facebook's ads are imperfect - maybe this is something I'll address in a future post - but Facebook hasn't yet presented the ad that I really want. I want to see an add for a dog poop cleaning service.

Oh, I'm sorry - was that too much information?

(Picture source, license - and yes, someone shared the photo on Flickr. And I saw Flickr advertisements when I was searching for the picture.)

Monday, January 11, 2010

This is the church, and this is the fingerprint reader...


The one thing about my industry (biometrics) is that in some circles it is not very popular. Some people are convinced that if you give your fingerprint in a school lunch program, it will immediately be transmitted to the FBI, the CIA, the BBC, B.B. King, and Doris Day. However, I will grant that when you provide ANY information (fingerprint, password, social security number, address, whatever) to ANY provider, it's a good idea to know what the receiving group will do with the data.

But that's neither here nor there, because I really wanted to concentrate on something I read via this press release in findBIOMETRICS. Here are excerpts:

M2SYS Technology, an award-winning biometric technology research and development firm, announced today that Shelby Systems, a leading provider of financial and membership software tools for ministries and other faith-based organizations, has selected M2SYS fingerprint software and fingerprint readers for distribution to its customers.

I have never heard of Shelby Systems (website) - in fact, I don't have a lot of familiarity with the church software industry - but this is an interesting extension of biometrics into a new market. And how will Shelby Systems incorporate the M2SYS (website) technology into its product line?

Bio-Plugin™ is integrated into Shelby Systems' Arena™ software, a browser-based, enterprise church ministry system. Children checking in to youth ministries and activities will scan their fingers on an M2-EasyScan™ biometric fingerprint reader, improving process efficiencies for customers. With the addition of biometrics to Shelby Systems' v.5 church management software, parents and guardians will have greater peace-of-mind regarding the safety of their children.

But M2SYS would like to see additional uses. I'm not sure if Shelby Systems supports these yet:

"We are thrilled to provide this fingerprint recognition technology through our new relationship with M2SYS," said Frank Canady, president of Shelby Systems. "The integration with M2SYS is the latest example of how Shelby Systems strives to equip churches and other faith-based organizations with the best technology for improved security and streamlined operations. The biometrics solution will significantly benefit the check-in process for the ministries that we serve."

So we're not only talking about tracking minors, but also about tracking employees. And let's be honest - "buddy punching" (in which someone punches a timesheet on a time clock for someone else) can happen just as easily in a church environment as it can in a secular environment. This is one of the more popular applications of biometrics - if you have a biometrically-equipped time clock, then the employee physically has to be there to check in our out, which reduces the "buddy punch" problem significantly.

But the more interesting application - which can again be expanded to the secular realm - is to use the software to check children in an out of an activity.

Yet Ravi Das, who often comments on biometric news, expressed surprise that biometric software would appear in the church market:

I find it very interesting that an organization which offers software and other IT development services to such faith based organizations is offering Biometrics. The reason I say this is the type of society in which we live.

We happen to live in a society which can be deemed to be very conservative (or I guess how you exactly define conservative depends upon whom you to talk to). And to a certain degree, this is been an impedence to the acceptance of Biometrics in the United States.

There are often two over arching reasons cited why the public, at least here in the United States, is extremely hesitant to adopt Biometrics. One of course is the Privacy Rights issues linked with the Federal Government, and the other is the conservative way of thinking instilled by the church one attends.

In my view, Das is half correct in his statement. There are certainly churches in the United States that would resist fingerprinting, citing the Mark of the Beast and so forth. But there are a wide variety of political views in U.S. churches. For every church that worries about the New World Order, there are churches that are prepared to embrace the New World Order. Here's an old Red Stick Rant post that only slightly exaggerates how the Episcopal Church has adopted the United Nations Millennium Development Goals as liturgy.

And certainly for any church that needs a way to ensure that children are where they are supposed to be, a biometric solution is possibly worthy of consideration.

But it may be a tough market to crack.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Standards do not mean high quality - they simply mean a standard for quality

I recently had occasion to visit the Canadian Standards Association web site, and was greeted by this message:

Perhaps it's just me, but I was amused by the generic reference to "6:00PM." Since Canada has six time zones (Nunavut alone spans three), what does "6:00PM" mean?

But I was more amused by the downtime. If Twitter or FriendFeed is down for more than five minutes, the earth stops spinning. Even game providers are hesitant to bring their games down for more than one hour. Yet someone thinks that a four-hour downtime for the CSA web site is an acceptable "standard."

This illustrates one misconception about standards. Standards themselves do not automatically make things better. Standards provide a measurable baseline, which you can then use to improve the quality of your product, and verify that your product has higher quality than it had previously.

For example, if I were to visit the CSA web site in January 2011, and if I were then informed that the web site would be down for three hours, CSA representatives could claim a 25% improvement in product quality.

If quality is not measured - for example, if CSA were to say (in two languages) that the system was down and would be up later, then there is no baseline that can be used to measure the level of quality, or quality improvements.

But I'm still amused by the fact that a four-hour website downtime, occurring while a good chunk of the country is still at work, is considered to be acceptable...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The spell czech club, and why thinking before writing sometimes doesn't work

It's time for a personal revelation.

I am a member of a spell czech club.

The spell czech club is an informal group of people who trades examples of misspellings that wouldn't be caught by a rudimentary spell checker. (Note that "spell czech" itself WOULD be caught in a spelling check, but "spell Czech" would only be caught by a more intensive check.)

Our goal is not to embarrass the person who wrote the spell czech (although I have admitted my own spell czech errors), but to help the participants (all of whom are writers) to keep an eye out for these so that we do not commit the same errors in the future.

One of the most recent spell czechs that I shared read as follows:

"I will be calling a meeting ... to better understand our roll in this."

My initial reaction was as follows:

I don't know whether this means that food will be served, or that I should wear jeans to the meeting in case we're tumbling around.

But then I got a little more serious and began thinking about homophones.

According to Jimmy Wales, "[a] homophone is a word that is pronounced the same as another word but differs in meaning. The words may be spelled the same, such as rose (flower) and rose (past tense of "rise"), or differently, such as carat, caret, and carrot, or to, two and too." The Wikipedia entry goes on to say, "Homophones that are spelled differently are also called heterographs."

So I guess that when I got a little more serious, I began thinking about HETEROGRAPHS. Now that we're a little more precise, let's move on.

So I began wondering why someone would use a heterograph for a word, instead of the word itself. My guess is that the person thinks about what s/he is about to write, sounds it out in his/her brain, and then writes what s/he "hears." So the person above thought about "our roll in this," and that's what was typed.

The fascinating part about this for me is that this error appears to happen when someone thinks before they write. Now normally thinking before writing is a good thing, but in this instance it led to a poor result. An additional step, translating the thoughts into the proper words with the proper spelling, is necessary to achieve the proper result.

This helps to demonstrate that a lack of spelling skills does not necessarily indicate a lack of intelligence. Consider, for example, the patrons and supporters of a particular playwright named Shakespeare. Or Shakspere. Or Shake-speare. Or Shakspeare. Or Shakespear. Or Shaxberd. Why the different spellings?

Elizabethan spelling was very erratic by twentieth-century standards, though it was not (as is sometimes stated) totally without rules. Even the simplest proper names were spelled a variety of ways, but we can at least look at the range of different spellings used for a given name and see what patterns emerge. In the accompanying lists, I have attempted to gather together all the references to Shakespeare by name, from his christening in 1564 to the publication of the First Folio in 1623 and slightly beyond, with the original spellings used at the time.

As part of this effort (presumably in response to the question "Did Shaxberd write the plays attributed to him?"), another detail was discovered:

Spelling in Elizabethan printed texts was much more uniform and closer to modern practice than in handwritten ones, because compositors tended to normalize idiosyncratic features of the manuscripts they worked from.

Back in those days, the assembly of printed text was much more difficult than it was today, which lent itself to secondary thought processes that would correct spellings. Today, however, I can type "our roll in this" in less than five seconds, which means that I (or other typists) will capture the initial thought without engaging in a secondary thought process.

Perhaps someone has studied this further, and if so, I'd appreciate your comments.

Monday, January 4, 2010

FourSquare everywhere is apparently on its way

Perhaps you saw my blog post from a few hours ago, or perhaps you saw the cryptic tweets coming from FourSquare's Twitter account. For example:

@b_west Ha, you'll see the first pieces of "everywhere" start rolling out this week (actually some new code just hit iPhone today... sssh)

Now as you may know, I don't have an iPhone. But even those without iPhones can start to see what is happening. For example, I went to m.foursquare.com (the way in which I usually access FourSquare on my Windows Mobile phone) and selected "Switch Cities." Here's what I now see:

Now if I had visited this page a week ago, the default would have been "Los Angeles" and I could then switch to one of FourSquare's supported cities, such as San Francisco. But the framework is there to allow me to enter any city, apparently. So I tried typing in "Olten, Switzerland."

Note that the country name has been converted to the proper name for the country in the local language. (Well, sort of; when I typed in "Geneva, Switzerland," it became "Genève, Schweiz," an interesting mix of languages.) Regardless, it seems to be recognizing these cities. It even identified the relatively obscure town of Wangen bei Olten in Switzerland.

Now to REALLY test out the feature, I'd actually have to check in to a location in one of these towns, something that I really can't do at the moment.

Now I'm not sure whether this feature has been universally rolled out - I happen to be a Superuser Level 1 on FourSquare, and perhaps the Superusers are getting this before everyone else - but it appears to me that FourSquare has successfully tackled the challenge of easily supporting a check-in from anywhere in the world.

Now if it would only let me check in at Morphing Planetrak, then I can play FourSquare and Starfleet Commander at the same time...


Has FourSquare rolled out its new geolocation system?

I couldn't help but notice that FourSquare doesn't record me as being in Los Angeles, California at the moment.

It now says that I am in Montclair, California (a suburb of Los Angeles where I recently checked in).

This requires investigation...


(empo-tymshft) (empo-tuulwey) Steven Hodson, John Adams, and Virtual Communities of the 18th and 21st centuries

Anyone who is reading this right now is someone who spends time online. (Well, maybe someone will print this post out and share the printout with someone else, but that's not likely.) And people who spend time online, even if they're only using email, use online tools to communicate with other people.

Steven Hodson recently wrote a post in his personal blog that touched on this subject. Now I'm not going to probe into the three items that Hodson discussed in this post, but it's worthwhile to note what Hodson has done online.

It was a conversation with Robert Scoble years ago now that made me rethink my reasons for the pseudo-privacy.

Now this conversation with Scoble had its effect on Hodson. Yet, I'd be willing to bet that Robert Scoble (who lives in California) and Steven Hodson (who lives in Ontario) have never physically met. In fact, it's quite possible that during the referenced "conversation," Hodson and Scoble didn't hear each others' voices. They may have exchanged text messages or emails or some such, yet this fulfilled the requirements of a "conversation."

Here's something else that Hodson said in his post:

I will not go into the details of what that fixed income is because that is personal suffice it to say that since starting at The Inquisitr (and a short stint at Mashable before that) my wife and I were exceedingly aware of what subsistence (or rather an illusion of it) living was all about.

This includes a reference to Hodson's current job, as a writer for the Inquisitr. Now I have a job. I get in my car, drive down to Orange County, sit at a desk, talk with my boss, talk with her boss, talk with my co-workers, do work, and go home. Now Hodson also has a job. His boss is Duncan Riley. And if you think there's a distance between Hodson and Scoble, consider the distance between Hodson and Riley, who is pretty much on the opposite side of the world from Hodson. (No "dreaming of a white Christmas" for Duncan Riley.) Again, I don't know that Hodson and Riley have ever physically met.

So Steven Hodson can interact with people and even conduct business without leaving his home.

But this in itself is nothing new. Let's go back a few centuries and look at the relationship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who literally engaged in years of correspondence. Although they had a falling-out that lasted years, they later reconciled and continued their correspondence up to their deaths.

But there's one key difference between the Adams-Jefferson correspondence and the correspondence of the 21st century - the Adams-Jefferson correspondence began with a physical meeting:

The close friendship between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams began when they met at the 1775 Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Although different in many ways down to their appearance, the two developed a strong respect and liking for one another. In 1776, they worked together on the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence, and in 1784, Jefferson joined Adams in France on diplomatic service....In March of 1786, Jefferson went to England on diplomatic business....

And, of course, they also spent twelve years working together in the post-Constitution Federal government.

But would the friendship between Adams and Jefferson had been as strong if they had never met? I think not, primarily because of the differences between 18th century communications and 21st century communications.

When Duncan Riley needs to contact Steven Hodson, he can do so in seconds (provided that both are awake at the same time). If Riley chooses to communicate via the written word, he can compose his text more quickly than Thomas Jefferson could. If Riley chooses to communicate via his voice, Hodson can hear his voice instantaneously. Riley can take a picture of himself and send it to Hodson within seconds. Riley could even create a video.

Compare this with Adams and Jefferson. Adams could communicate to Jefferson via the written word, but it would take days for Adam's words to reach Jefferson. Adams could not communicate with Jefferson via voice unless they both happened to be in Philadelphia or Washington at the time. And if Adams wanted to send a picture of himself to Jefferson, he'd need a painter or at least a sketch artist, and again it would take some days for the picture to reach Jefferson. Video? Forget it.

So while virtual communication was possible hundreds, or even thousands, of years ago, the virtual communication tools have certainly improved over the past few decades, both in terms of immediacy/speed, and in terms of the richness of content that can be exchanged. This allows a guy in Canada to work for a guy in Australia, and it allows a guy in Texas to work with another guy in Australia to create a podcast, and it will allow people all over the world to leave insightful comments on this post.


Saturday, January 2, 2010

How does the mayor position work in FourSquare?

Today's question comes to us from Mrs. Melissa Navarro of Ontario, California:

How does the Mayor position work?

This is in response to my various mentions of FourSquare's "mayor" designation, the most recent of which was in the post to which Navarro responded.

I was accepting a friend request in FourSquare...and I was looking over my list of places where I am still mayor. Because FourSquare has not reached critical mass, and because I am in a less traveled area, I am currently the mayor of fourteen locations....

But how do you become a FourSquare mayor? Here's what FourSquare has to say on the subject:

We all have our local hangouts and foursquare keeps tabs on who's the most loyal of all the regulars. If you've been to a place more than anyone else, you'll become "the mayor"... until someone else comes along and steals your title.

So, for example, let's say that someone goes to their favorite cupcake place. Let's choose...oh, how about if we choose My Delight Cupcakery? Now this particular venue doesn't happen to be in FourSquare yet, so I'm adding it. See http://www.foursquare.com/venue/502710.

Now I'll confess that, despite a personal invitation some months ago before My Delight opened, I still haven't made it over there yet. But assume for the moment that I actually make it there in the next week or so. When I get there, all I need to do is "check in" via FourSquare, and my visit to My Delight is now registered in the system.

However, a single visit is not enough to make you the mayor of a new location, For new locations, generally you need to visit the place on two different days before you can become the mayor of the location.

And if you stop visiting there, and someone else visits, then it's quite possible that you can lose your mayorship to someone else. That's exactly what happened to me at the Starbucks at Valencia & Imperial in Brea, California. I used to be the mayor there, but as I write this the current mayor is Lauren D.

Now FourSquare's hope is that the game impulse will kick in, and that I'll say to myself, "Hey, I can't let Lauren remain the mayor of that Starbucks! So I'm just going to make a point of visiting that Starbucks in Brea a few times so that I can win the mayorship back!"

Now this benefits FourSquare, and benefits the business as well. But some businesses take it a step further. Again, let's see what FourSquare has to say about this:

foursquare aims to encourage people to explore their neighborhoods and then reward people for doing so. We do this by combining our friend-finder and social city guide elements with game mechanics - our users earn points, win mayorships and unlock badges for trying new places and revisiting old favorites.

In the past few months we've seen local businesses encouraging users to show their phones to servers and cashiers as a way to prove their loyalty to a particular place.

"Foursquare says you've been here 10x? That's a free drink for you!"

"Foursquare has deemed you the mayor (aka you've been here more than any other user)? Enjoy this free order of french fries."

We've seen venues promote their involvement with foursquare via Twitter, signs at cash registers and sidewalk blackboards. We're just starting to make these specials "official" by including them in our mobile apps and on our website.

So how do you find out about these specials? I don't have the proper software to do this while traveling, but Jake Kuramoto does, and he encountered a special during Oracle OpenWorld. While wandering around in the SOMA area, Jake was notified that a nearby yogurt shop (Froots, Westfield Mall, 845 Market) was offering a free small frozen yogurt on a user's first checkin, and on every 5th checkin.

Now for people like me who don't have a GPS-enabled phone, I could simply look up the venue to see if they have any specials. Here's the venue page for Froots Westfield Mall, with (as of today) their offer for FourSquare users. The current offer is for $1 off a small frozen yogurt, not for a free frozen yogurt.

Now if I were advising My Delight Cupcakery, would I encourage them to use FourSquare for special offers? In my case, not at this time. The fact that I am one of only three people who checks in to a nearby business via FourSquare indicates that there just aren't that many FourSquare users in the Inland Empire yet.

Then again, I now have a sudden hankering to visit the Fatburger in Orange, so maybe an offer for FourSquare users WOULD be beneficial. (Well, provided that the "special menu code" is something significant.)

But the people at My Delight have some online savvy - in addition to their web page, they have Twitter and Facebook pages. So a FourSquare page - in this case, http://www.foursquare.com/venue/502710 - is certainly a good addition to their arsenal.

(Picture source, license)


Friday, January 1, 2010

You Do Not Want This Product, Part Two

I just wrote a post in my music blog about how much of a hassle it is to open the well-wrapped CD packages that you buy in record stores. But there are other industry products that are just as painful to open.

I used to have a printer - I won't tell you the name of the company, but its initials are H.P. - and they had notoriously bad packaging for their toner cartridges. While CDs have soft wrapping that you have to peel off, toner cartridges have very hard packaging that requires scissors or a knife to open.

The most amusing part is that once you cut the package open and actually got to the box that contained the toner, opening the box revealed a pre-paid envelope that you could use to dispose of your old toner cartridge. This envelope is supposed to impress you with the fact that the printer manufacturer is environmentally friendly. Meanwhile, you have a mangled hunk of plastic sitting next to you, but the printer company didn't send you an envelope for THAT.

And there are other product manufacturers that love the hard plastic. I buy my razor blades in bulk at a large warehouse store (FourSquare link), and I also need scissors or a knife to actually get to the razor blades. Perhaps I could save some money by retaining the mangled plastic and using THAT, rather than the razor blades, to shave. It's certainly sharp enough!

But why do companies create such a struggle for people to actually open their products - CDs, toner cartridges, razor blades, whatever? Well, they do it for you! This packaging enhances the value of your product, protecting it from harm. Oh, and by the way, the packaging helps keep your costs down by reducing the possibility of theft. Theoretically.

So I guess I should wrap my car in that hard plastic. Then I don't need to worry about the alarm system.