Monday, September 30, 2013

Science! (Pauling, Streight, Feldman, and you)

Many businesses - heck, all businesses - must deal with the impact of Science. Science (and I capitalize the word intentionally) is an Absolute Certainty which all businesses must acknowledge.

Well, it's an Absolute Certainty - except when it isn't.

Nearly two years ago, I wrote the story of Nobel Prize winner Dan Shechtman, and how his quasicrystal advances in science were greeted by the scientific community. OK, they weren't greeted so well. In fact, one person commented, "There is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists." And no, that person was not from Bob Jones University. The person who made that statement was Linus Pauling.

Initially, I made no connection between the Shechtman story and the recent story involving Popular Science's discontinuation of comments - although some of Popular Science's statements struck me as somewhat odd.

Comments can be bad for science. That's why, here at, we're shutting them off.

Re-read that first sentence again.

Comments can be bad for science.

Popular Science got into specifics a little bit later.

As the news arm of a 141-year-old science and technology magazine, we are as committed to fostering lively, intellectual debate as we are to spreading the word of science far and wide. The problem is when trolls and spambots overwhelm the former, diminishing our ability to do the latter....

A politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics. Everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again. Scientific certainty is just another thing for two people to "debate" on television.

So, as they put it, Popular Science is defending itself against the Neanderthal yahoos (not that they'd appreciate being called that) who do not accept the "scientific certainty" espoused by the scientific community. (Although frankly, I'm not aware of a time when such a "popular consensus" universally existed.)

But Steven Streight wonders if something else is going on.

Science can't hold its own against pseudo-science trolls?

Science must run and hide from the mean old unorthodox thinkers?

Wait a minute. What is Popular Science shutting down?

Debate. Discussion. Conversation. Argument. Clarification. Confirmation. Dissent. Criticism. Questioning.

In other words, the interaction and testing of other minds and ideas, which is the very foundation of scientific progress.

Now Loren Feldman has noted that most comments are truly inane, and that if someone had something worthwhile to say, that person could use his or her own platform, rather than piggybacking on Popular Science's platform. And he's probably right, and I bet that even Steven Streight would agree that Feldman has a point here.

Of course, the ramification of this is that the debate on popular science will not take place at Popular Science.

To make ads not feel like ads...don't show bad ads

In the ideal world (or, to some, the ideal nightmare), advertisements will be perfectly attuned to your needs.

For example, let's say that it's 5:30 pm and you're working late. You want to grab a quick bite to eat, but you're not sure where to go. In the ideal world, an advertisement would appear for a quick service restaurant within a short driving distance of your workplace, for a type of food that you enjoy.

We're not in that ideal world yet. Just recently, I noticed that Facebook presented a day trading ad to me. Note to Facebook: when I buy stocks, I don't plan to unload them within minutes or hours.

Apparently Facebook is listening:

"When deciding which ad to show to which groups of people, we are placing more emphasis on feedback we receive from people about ads, including how often people report or hide an ad," Facebook said.

"If someone always hides ads for electronics, we will reduce the number of those types of ads that we show to them," the company said.

To which the proper response is...duh!

Now I will grant that it may be appropriate at times to show advertisements that people aren't seeking. People may not know that a particular service is available, so they wouldn't think of seeking information about it. In this case, the ad is informative and could potentially lead to a purchase.

But when people express displeasure toward a particular ad, you don't gain anything by showing the ad to them anyway. Showing me a day trading ad isn't going to make me into a daytrader, no matter how hard you try.

Now the only thing that needs to happen is for advertisers to make ads that are so compelling that people will want to see them, rather than reading the TV show or web page that is displaying the ad.

And considering the quality of TV shows and web pages today, that shouldn't be too hard to do.

Does Ellison's #oow13 no-show matter?

I waited about blogging about this for a few days because of work commitments. But my wait gives me the opportunity to look at the topic from a broader perspective.

The topic, you ask? While I didn't blog about it, I did write about it on Google+ - and even then, my opinions were divided.

The topic, you ask? Well, doesn't everybody know about it? Isn't everyone talking about it? I mean, back on September 24, everyone was talking about it. OK, well, a few people were talking about it, but you can bet that if you were in a specific corner of San Francisco, tens of thousands of people were talking about it.

The topic, you ask? OK, I'll get to it.

Traditionally at the annual Oracle OpenWorld conference, Larry Ellison gives two keynote speeches - one on Sunday night, and the other later in the week. He gave the Sunday night keynote, but when Tuesday rolled around, he wasn't there.

Oracle Corp CEO Larry Ellison skipped a keynote address at his software company's massive annual customer conference on Tuesday to be on San Francisco Bay as his Oracle Team USA made a comeback in the America's Cup.

Hundreds of Oracle OpenWorld attendees streamed out of San Francisco's Moscone conference center after an Oracle executive announced that Ellison was still on a boat and would not attend the keynote presentation, a focal point of the annual event.

The event reminded me of something that happened back at Oracle OpenWorld 2007. When Ellison gives his keynotes, many people try to get into the room to see them. Even though I was at Oracle OpenWorld 2007, I didn't bother to try to get into the room; I was in another room in the Moscone Center, watching the keynote via television. Therefore, I didn't realize that when Ellison left the stage during a demo, a number of people streamed out of the hall where Ellison had been speaking.

Those people weren't at Oracle OpenWorld to learn about Oracle.

Those people were at Oracle OpenWorld to see Larry Ellison. And when Ellison left the stage, there was no reason for those people to stay. (In the end, the last laugh was on those people, because after the demo ended, Ellison returned to the stage for Q&A, and the people who walked out weren't there.)

Fast forward to 2013, when Ellison didn't even show for his own keynote. As one can expect, reaction at the time was immediately negative. Barb Darrow at GigaOM:

Frankly, in the past Ellison’s second keynotes at Oracle OpenWorld were proof positive that less can be more. Still, if the CEO of a company under threat can’t be bothered to show up at his own massive customer event (Oracle claims 60,000 attendees this year), shareholders might wonder what’s up.

Chris Kanaracus at PC World:

Boris Aguirre, a systems integrator and Oracle professional from Ecuador, had stood in line for 30 to 40 minutes. “I felt like the America’s Cup thing was more important [to Ellison] than the event,” he said. “From the perspective of my clients, I feel it was not good.”

Aguirre thought that Thomas Kurian, Ellison's replacement, was "boring." But the more damning assessment came from an analyst:

Ellison’s move did little for Oracle’s customer relations, said analyst Michael Krigsman of consulting firm Asuret.

“While Oracle asks customers to prioritize its products over competitors, Ellison made the decision that racing, his passion and hobby, is more important than customers,” Krigsman said via email.

Certainly, in the heat of the moment on September 24, people were angry. But after the entire week was over and people started filing their recaps, the perception was a little different. In Silicon Angle, Maria Deutscher started her recap by speaking about the announcements in Ellison's first keynote. The second non-keynote wasn't even mentioned. Larry Dignan at ZDNet did the same.

The truth is, there is so much going on at Oracle OpenWorld that the lack of one of the two Ellison keynotes didn't really matter, in terms of information shared. There are all sorts of sessions at Oracle OpenWorld that provide all sorts of information. Although I didn't check, I'd be willing to bet that Oracle added extra technical sessions to discuss the in-memory stuff, for example.

And if you're being honest, you'll admit that Ellison's no-show did NOT send a signal to the entire company. I don't think there's an Oracle sales rep who is now saying, "You know, I think I'll skip that meeting with the customer and go play golf instead."

And even in terms of corporate governance, Oracle wasn't impacted by Larry's "I'm on a boat" routine. I mean, the company has TWO presidents. Talk about built-in redundancy.

So while the no-show looked really bad on Tuesday, it's probably all but forgotten a week later, unless you have an ax to grind with Ellison anyway.

But perhaps the Larry groupies will think twice before waiting in long lines to get into Moscone North for a 2014 keynote. You can just watch it on TV, after all.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Blackberry - victim of disruption, or victim of lack of innovation? Or lack of marketing?

First, the news:

Well, that didn't take long. BlackBerry plans to become a private company in a deal that is worth just $4.7 billion.

BlackBerry's largest shareholder, Canadian insurance company Fairfax Financial, hopes to buy the smartphone maker for $9 per share.

Others have a few weeks to issue competing offers, but regardless of what happens, the value of Blackberry is clearly lower than it was just a few years ago.

Tad Donaghe had the following reaction:

BuhBye BlackBerry

Another victim of Disruption!

But is Blackberry truly a victim of disruption? Certainly the case can be made, based upon this statement in the CNN article:

In the corporate world, BlackBerry once held a lofty position as the king of the enterprise world. But companies have been increasingly willing to let employees work on phones they choose -- a phenomenon known as Bring Your Own Device. Those employees are overwhelmingly selecting iPhones and Android smartphones.

OK, so Blackberry thrived in a period in which enterprises chose the phones for their employees, and after that business model was disrupted, Blackberry's fortunes fell.

But there's more to it than that.

Blackberry's earlier success was not solely due to business lock-up. It was also due to the features that the Blackberry phones offered; features that, for a time, met the needs of business users.

The ability for corporate workers to buy iPhones and Android phones should not, in and of itself, have sounded the death knell for Blackberry. As a phone provider with an emphasis on the enterprise market, Blackberry should have leveraged its enterprise advantage to encourage developers to provide enterprise-level applications. I'll grant that it's a hard sell to get people to develop apps for a platform, as Microsoft is discovering, but if Blackberry had done this, then it wouldn't matter whether corporate users could buy iPhones or Galaxies or Droids or whatever.

Unfortunately, that isn't what happened, and it got to the point that a single company's announcement of Blackberry platform support was deemed newsworthy.

But there are others who say that Blackberry's woes have nothing to do with market disruption, or lack of apps, or bad software. To Lucas Atkins, Blackberry 10 is a technically superior product suffering from a single failure - marketing.

BlackBerry has yet again failed to successfully market the new products…properly.

Sure, we have the whole “Keep Moving” thing and that odd deal with Alicia Keys, but aside from carrier-own advertising that’s it. The SuperBowl commercial looked as though BlackBerry would take the bulls by the horn. Instead, it just seems like wasted money. Did anyone really get intrigued to learn more about BlackBerry 10 when they’re not told anything at all?

Even if you're not in an industry that demands innovation, and even if you're not in an industry with disruptive factors, poor marketing will kill you every time.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

If you are REALLY worried that the National Security Agency will hack into your iPhone and grab your fingerprint features...

(CAVEAT: This is my personal opinion only, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of my employer or any association with which I

The announcement of the fingerprint recognition technology in the forthcoming iPhone 5s, coupled with the revelation that the National Security Agency has cracked just about every secure encryption method known to humankind, has resulted in a panic among some people.

These people are now convinced that the NSA will hack the iPhone 5s, grab your fingerprint, and do Bad Things.

So let's construct the use case.

Assume for the moment that I have an iPhone 5s (doubtful assumption, but humor me for now).

Furthermore, assume that the NSA wants to specifically target me to get the goods on me. (This is different from the other NSA use case, in which the NSA would conceivably grab information from every single iPhone. That's a more complex use case that I'll ignore at the moment.)

Furthermore, assume that the NSA knows that my fingerprints are NOT already on file with the FBI, the DHS, or any state and local agency. (In other words, I haven't already committed a crime, I don't have a concealed carry permit like [REDACTED] does, etc.)

So now the NSA wants to grab my fingerprints. While Apple itself doesn't have my prints, it does have information on the phone that is registered to me, and presumably the NSA can exert its muscle to grab that information. The NSA then targets my phone, eavesdrops on it, and breaks into the super-duper chip that includes the information on my finger. I would assume, incidentally, that my finger image is not stored there, but just a subset of fingerprint features.

So the NSA now has my fingerprint features, but without the image. At this point, some modifications may be required to make the fingerprint features compatible with the FBI's fingerprint system, or with the fingerprint system used by the DHS. This would be mere guesstimates, or perhaps the features are close enough to search as is.

At this point the NSA approaches the FBI and DHS and says that these fingerprint features need to be searched against their systems. Because all bureaucrats always cooperate with each other (and you know how I feel about that assumption), the FBI and DHS drop whatever they're doing and search my features against their databases.

Now what? Well, not much. Despite what the TV shows say, these systems aren't 100% reliable, and don't claim to be. Some person is going to have to review a list of possible candidates that match the fingerprint features that were captured - and that's going to be awful hard to do when you don't have the original fingerprint image.

But let's say that they do this, determine that the print matches the prints of someone who is on the FBI's Most Wanted List. Now let's make the leap to assume that this means that I myself am therefore that person on the Most Wanted List.

Unfortunately, this search result isn't going to stand up in a court of law, so the NSA will have to get the super-secret court to authorize my execution under the super-secret "Let's Execute Possible Terrorists" Act, passed in the wee hours of September 12, 2001 when Congress was drunk.

So, the NSA has gone through all of this trouble - a lot of trouble - to break into my iPhone 5s and do something with the stuff that they extracted from it.

And there are people out there who actually believe that the NSA would do all of this.

If you are one of those people, then I ask you this - when you go out in public, do you wear a veil?

"Of course not!" you respond. "I ain't one of them danged Muslim terrorists!"

So, if you don't go around wearing a veil, then your face is exposed in public for everyone to see. The NSA wouldn't have to hack into your iPhone; an agency could simply take your picture while you're coming out of the Walmart or Whole Foods or whatever.

And you don't need a fancy-dancy biometric system to perform a facial match. People have been doing that for thousands of years by using their eyeballs.

Why are you so concerned about your finger, but not your face?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

But when will we get the Red Stripe operating system?

Continuing in my "I am not trendy" ways, I must confess that I did not hear about the Red Flag operating system until 14 years after its release.

But I have an excuse.

Back in the early 2000s, I was managing a product that was (and is) export controlled. Under those circumstances, the last thing that we'd want to do would be to include a Chinese operating system as part of the product bill of materials.

So I was blissfully ignorant of the Red Flag operating system, but Doc Searls was not:

Red Flag Linux first appeared in August 1999, when it was created by the Institute of Software at the Chinese Academy of Sciences....[T]he purpose of Red Flag was to reduce domination of the Chinese computer market by Microsoft's Windows operating systems....

The Chinese government doesn't just bristle at Microsoft's near-absolute market share of PC operating systems sold in China. It's as uncomfortable with operating systems that are opaque to the core. As a matter of routine, it is the custom of Customs to ask "what's in there?" And the routine answer from Microsoft is "none of your business." To a government concerned with security, that isn't always an acceptable answer.

It's always good to look at the perspectives of others. From my "Commies are evil" frame of mind, I'd be wondering what the Chinese would be putting in their operating system. It shouldn't be surprising to realize that the Chinese were equally concerned about what the Americans were putting in "their" operating system, even though the U.S. government can't control what private software companies do...uh, scratch that.

A few years later, Chinese efforts to promote Red Flag Linux met some success.

Currently [in 2007], the government is responsible for purchasing accounts for more than one quarter of China's Linux desktop software market, and the homegrown Red Flag Linux leads the government market.

Unfortunately, there were also some challenges.

Despite its rapid growth, China's Linux desktop software industry faces some problems. Piracy is still an issue. Using pirated Windows can be easier and cheaper than using a Linux desktop OS. Zhen Zhongyuan, vice president of Red Flag, says that China's Linux desktop market would increase as a "geometric series" every time piracy decreases 1%.

So in this case, piracy was not only hurting the foreign (American) operating system provider, but was also hurting the domestic Chinese providers who couldn't compete with the free operating systems.

To me, the whole idea of a national operating system is fascinating. It's entirely possible that the United States itself could come up with its own national operating system...oh wait, we have:

Outside of the U.S., there are several "national" Linux distributions. These include China's Red Flag Linux; Turkey's Pardus, and the Philippines' Bayahnian....But, there hasn't been a national American Linux desktop distribution... until now [2011].

The Software Protection Initiative (SPI) under the direction of the Air Force Research Laboratory and the US Department Of Defense recently created Lightweight Portable Security (LPS). Like the name indicates, this is a small Linux desktop distribution that's designed for secure use.

So now we just have to wait for the Jamaican technology community to launch a Red Stripe distribution to compete with Red Hat and Red Flag.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Maybe they can play Poppyfarmville - Blueline meets a vertical social networking need

Another police related story, this one from Fox News:

The final stages are near completion for the launch of a law enforcement social media network designed exclusively for the men and women in blue.

Created by former high-profile New York City police commissioner and Los Angeles Police Chief Bill Bratton, BlueLine is being touted as a site where officers can share their expertise, insight and information securely through video, instant messaging, videoconferencing and screen share capabilities.

Why not use Facebook, Google+, or LinkedIn for such networking? Because in this particular profession, there are people who kinda sorta want to kill you:

"Our focus is to have a walled community where you're verified and authenticated, so you have a safe form of communication with law enforcement, analysts and administrators," said David Riker, Bratton Technologies' president.

That wall of security is extremely important, said longtime Los Angeles Police Capt. Sean Malinowski, who has a group of officers testing BlueLine....

Malinowski said most officers have some safety and privacy concerns using social media sites due to the dangers associated with their jobs.

"They try not to be as traceable because there are threats made against officers all of the time," said Malinowski, who is also married to a police officer. "You try not to be paranoid about it, but it does cross your mind."

BlueLine will require multiple verifications for members of law enforcement to join and enter the network, said Jack Weiss, Bratton Technologies' chief strategy officer. He added that the platform will be housed in a secure data center that is compliant by the U.S. Department of Defense and the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services.

And yes, in this case "FBI" does mean the Federal Bureau of Investigation, not Frontier Bookings International.

Oh, and incidentally, there probably won't be a "Poppyfarmville" game on the service. The creators say that the service is more akin to LinkedIn rather than Facebook, although it will have video capabilities.

Too many acronyms - EBTS

Acronyms are a shorthand that people in a particular profession can use to refer to something quickly. But confusion reigns when an acronym is used outside of that profession. Here's the latest example.

As part of my job, I spend a considerable amount of time dealing with the Electronic Biometric Transmission Specification, a standard used by U.S. state agencies to send biometric data to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. However, "Electronic Biometric Transmission Specification" is a mouthful, so we bio-folks just call it the "EBTS."

However, you'd figure that four-letter acronym was pretty common, and that someone else would use it for an entirely different purpose. When I was reading this page, my theory was put to the test.

At EBTS, we don't book everything. We book only quality.

This makes sense to me. While the FBI would ideally like to receive all biometric data for serious crimes, sometimes the data just can't be used. In that case, the FBI sends the data back to the submitting agency with a rejection notice.

But I continued to read, and things got a little strange.

Our staff personally visits many hotels and properties every year, to compile recommendations that meet our rigorous standards.

Now with all of the debate about supposedly expensive conventions attended by government bureaucrats, is that something that you really want to advertise? Frankly, I've been impressed by the professionalism of the FBI people that I've encountered at the International Association for Identification conference and other conferences, but I'm sure there's some rowdy FBI person who goes to a convention and whoops it up. Under those circumstances, you may not want to advertise all of these hotel visits.


We stand behind what we sell 100%, a guarantee you'll never get from an online travel site.

With over thirty years of combined experience in the travel industry, we've cultivated a portfolio of contacts that we'll use to help you create an unforgettable vacation. The relationships we've developed, permit us to offer our clientele room upgrades, access to special amenities, and rare opportunities—the touches that turn ordinary vacations into cherished memories.

Elena Borrero Travel Services, LLC offers exceptional travel experiences designed to help you explore the adventures of travel.

Yes, this EBTS is a travel agency, named after Elena Borrero. As far as I know, Borrero does not spend her days staring at fingerprint ridges.

And neither do the people from Frontier Booking International, a talent agency founded by the late Ian Copeland. Ian's brother Stewart was a member of the Police - the band, not a law enforcement agency. Another brother started IRS, the record company. And Ian and Stewart's father worked for the CIA - in this case, the real Central Intelligence Agency.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The first play in the OFL - taking (American) football to its illogical conclusion

Hello, this is Marv Albert, and I'd like to welcome you to the inaugural OFL Football game.

Everyone has heard about OFL Football ever since it was first discussed in October 2013. Now here it is, September 2014, and everyone is waiting to see how OFL Football actually plays out. But before the first snap, let's look at how we got here.

Everyone agrees that the OFL movement began with a telephone call from well-known sports radio caller Chris in Syracuse. He suggested that the NFL needed to change its rules to emphasize what people really want to see, and if the NFL didn't do it, then someone else would.

The comments from Chris in Syracuse happened to be picked up by a Huffington Post blogger, and within the space of one weekend, everyone within the Silicon Valley tech community was talking about it. One week later, normal people were talking about it also, but Silicon Valley remained the leader in the new movement. Silicon Valley heavyweights championed a crowdsourcing platform to come up with the new set of rules, and then the funding for the league itself was crowdsourced. Since the traditional television networks didn't want to touch the league - they didn't want to endanger their revenue stream from the existing NFL - the rights to the league ended up becoming a bidding war between some of the newer Internet platforms. Amazon won the bidding battle, which is why you're watching us via Amazon's website tonight. Feel free to click on the ads on the right of the screen; your coverage of the game will not be interrupted.

OK, now both teams are coming on to the field. Head coach Dan Fouts is leading the San Jose Enlightened onto the field, and we're waiting for the San Francisco Resistance to take the field also. Naming rights to the two teams in the league were purchased by Google, ensuring that the league would be profitable from day one, even if no one tuned in to the broadcast. However, according to the latest statistics that are available, an estimated 11 billion people have tuned in to watch this event.

Now Coach Fouts is giving final instructions to his quarterback. The teams, of course, were also crowdsourced, and the overwhelming favorite player of everyone became the starting quarterback for the San Jose Enlightened. Tim Tebow has finished his warmups, and is now leading his team onto the field.

Now for those of you who haven't paid attention to all of the OFL talk, you'll immediately notice a couple of major differences between the OFL and the NFL. The first is that the Enlightened is not lining up to receive a kickoff from the Resistance. That's because in OFL football, there IS no kickoff. The offense simply lines up at their own 20 yard line.

Now you've also noticed that San Francisco has not yet taken the field. Again, this is because of an OFL rules change. In the OFL, there is no defense. Other than that, it's the same as the NFL. The offense gets four downs to advance ten yards. If they are unable to do so, the opposing team takes the ball at its own 20. This resulted from the wisdom of the crowds, who wanted to see more offense. In that case, why bother with a defense? And the team owners like the arrangement also, since their personnel costs were cut in half. Actually, more than half, since there are no punters and no kickers. Extra points after touchdowns were eliminated because two point conversions bring more -

And Tebow is ready to begin the first play ever in the OFL, the Offensive Football League. Thousands of cell phones are taking pictures of this historic event. Tebow takes the snap, and he hands off - no, he doesn't hand off! Tebow is back to pass. With no defensive people rushing him, Tebow has time to throw his pass, unobstructed - and it's incomplete!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Anecdotal comments about Hightail (formerly YouSendIt) customer service - are they representative?

I have a free YouSendIt account that I occasionally use to distribute large business files, but I haven't had occasion to use it recently. I had heard that the company was now called Hightail, but hadn't investigated much...until Hightail e-mailed me a survey.

I completed the survey, then re-entered my e-mail address (Hightail has an iPad drawing). Hightail made a point of noting that the iPad winner would be announced on Facebook's page, and by the way, why don't you like our Facebook page to receive updates?

Incidentally, as far as I'm concerned this does not violate Facebook's rules prohibiting forced likes. I didn't have to like the page to participate in the contest. However, I figured I'd like the page and see what types of announcements Hightail has.

But when I got to the page, the interesting part wasn't the stuff from Hightail (when I viewed the page, Hightail hadn't posted any new content in several days). The interesting part was the stuff TO Hightail - namely, comments from customers on Hightail posts. And it appears that things aren't going well in Hightail-land.

Diane McHenry Poormon
Maybe the team should work a little harder on getting your product to work since buying you send it.

Bill Match Frame
You have the nerve to send me an email titled "Last chance to get four months free"? You have one week to fix your well documented file transfer problems or I am an Ex Customer! And don't bother posting any more of those "this is our top priority" notes. You have been saying this since you made the jump from Yousendit to Hightail. ONE WEEK!

Annie Owens-Seifert
Yeah, what's the deal? Since yousendit became hightail we don't get our files on time or at all and have to turn to other sources. Your support responses are placating followed by asking me to 'further describe my problems if they persist'. They persist. We used to run our business using yousendit.

Brandon Hadley
Absolutely NO help through customer service yet daily Facebook posts. Super frustrating. I'm not sure if you could possibly try harder to lose my business.

Now these statements themselves may not be indicative of anything - anecdotal evidence is not statistical. And for what it's worth, the Better Business Bureau list of complaints (all resolved) predate the company name change from YouSendIt to Hightail.

So how will Hightail compete against Dropbox? After a search, I found a page at the Hightail website - - that compared the two services.

I just completed a race between the two apps to sync 3gb worth of data. Dropbox was able to complete the sync three times over before Hightail was even finished (Hightail never finished - I gave up)

Now, I really love the idea having my express account and cloud storage combined, but I just dont understand why Hightail desktop is so inferior....

Can you please explain? When can we expect improvements?

As you can see, this is a forum comment. To Hightail's credit, they don't delete negative comments. Unfortunately, no one from Hightail Customer Support tried to explain the difference (if you view the thread, you'll see that Hightail did answer a subsequent person's question about customer support hours).

The interesting part is the perception. According to the views of several of the people above, the problems began when YouSendIt became Hightail. I doubt that Hightail made any technical changes when they made the name change (but I could be wrong), but people perceive it that way. And they're taking out their frustrations on Facebook.

Perhaps Hightail will respond in some way. And even if they don't, these glitches - provided that they're temporary - may not be fatal. I don't know if anyone even remembers how many "fail whales" Twitter had in its early years.

I'll monitor this to see if I learn anything more.

And this Xiaomi executive used to work for one of Xiaomi's foreign suppliers

More confirmation of a trend that I've discussed previously.

Hugo Barra is a new executive at Xiaomi:

It's unclear what Barra's next role will be at Xiaomi, but it's likely he'll have a major hand in product development. Xiaomi produces high-end Android phones for the Chinese market.

As I've previously noted, the Chinese smartphone market is the largest smartphone market in the world.

So how did Barra get to Xiaomi? Presumably his accent didn't do him in. It turns out that Barra's former employer is a supplier to the Chinese smartphone market. Barra used to be on the Android team at Google.

Monday, September 2, 2013

(empo-tuulwey) Technology is NOT the "Superman" that the education sector has been waiting for

Ken Yeung has written a piece entitled Is technology the ‘Superman’ that the education sector has been waiting for? The answer is a qualified "no," but I'm even uncomfortable with Yeung's qualification, found at the end of the post.

Now, some of you might be reading this thinking that I’m claiming that technology is the end all be all cure for all that ails the education world. This is not what I’m saying — it is part of the solution.

I'm fine with that, but I'm not fine with Yeung's final sentence:

So while the physical classroom may be going through some seemingly never-ending turmoil, perhaps technology can offer a helping hand and be that one party that actually thinks about the children.

Why am I not fine with Yeung's concluding statement? I left a comment on Larry Rosenthal's share of the original post. Here's what I wrote in that comment (with the Google+ link to the Reed College page converted to a hyperlink).

A tool is not a way of life.

The failure of all of these endeavors is that they conceive of technology as the solution. Even with the author's caveats, the author still looks at technology as "that one party that actually thinks about the children."

Technology does not think.

One of the biggest lessons that I derived from my undergraduate education at +Reed College was a devotion to original sources. In its introductory Humanities courses, the college makes a point of having students read the original works of Greek and medieval authors. (I'll grant the point that we read them in translation, not in the original languages.)

Something like that - an approach to educating oneself - is much more important in the long run than figuring out an education delivery mechanism, or a testing mechanism, or proclaiming that learning is student-directed. It's one thing to have a high-resolution tablet that lets you read the latest tech publication - it's another thing entirely to know what to do when the latest tech publication appears on your screen.

(One example: when "Monday Matters" mentioned the Paul Graham accent issue, it was something that I hadn't heard of before. Now I could have just ended my inquiry by seeing what "Monday Matters" said about it, or I could have used wonderful search tools to see what CNET and Mashable and the Huffington Post said about it. However, I figured that the best thing to do would be to see what Paul Graham himself said about it. That took a bit more effort, since "technology" is designed to provide the source with the highest SEO, rather than the original source.)

And that ends the original comment.

Incidentally, if you haven't seen my comments on Paul Graham, they can be found here.

For Paul Graham, the world revolves around Silicon Valley. For you, it may not.

I was listening to Loren Feldman's Monday Matters and heard about a recent tempest in a teapot that I had missed. It seems that Paul Graham of Y Combinator said something about accents in a recent Inc. interview.

One quality that's a really bad indication is a CEO with a strong foreign accent. I'm not sure why. It could be that there are a bunch of subtle things entrepreneurs have to communicate and can't if you have a strong accent. Or, it could be that anyone with half a brain would realize you're going to be more successful if you speak idiomatic English, so they must just be clueless if they haven't gotten rid of their strong accent. I just know it's a strong pattern we've seen.

Apparently this caused a tempest, and Graham offered additional comments. Excerpt:

We have a lot of empirical evidence that there's a threshold beyond which the difficulty of understanding the CEO harms a company's prospects. And while we don't know exactly how, I'm pretty sure the problem is not merely that investors have trouble understanding the company's Demo Day presentation.

But for me, the interesting part of the explanation had nothing to do with accents.

Even talking on the phone rather than in person introduces a significant degradation. That's why we insist the groups we fund move to Silicon Valley for the duration of YC.

And therein lies a clue to what Graham is saying. Graham is right - to a point.

If you have a thick accent, the people IN SILICON VALLEY can't understand you. Not only does Paul Graham have a problem understanding you, but other people in Silicon Valley have a problem understanding you.

And that apparently is important, because everyone agrees that nothing happens outside of Silicon Valley. MySpace was doomed because of its Los Angeles location. TechCrunch was doomed because it replaced Michael Arrington with a New Yorker. The French are doomed because they take two hours to eat lunch. Silicon Valley itself is doomed because it has tract houses like the ones the unwashed have.

Psst...things happen outside of Silicon Valley. And if you're in Hyderabad and approach Indian Angel Network, India Angel Investment Network, or Venture Giant India for funding, they may also be concerned about accents - but in an entirely different way. Or take Robin Chan, who is based in several cities - San Francisco is only third on his list, behind New York and Beijing.

But who cares about India and China, anyway? The Indians and the Chinese do. And if you want to go after the largest smartphone market in the world, you're not going to talk to Paul Graham.

He has a funny accent.