Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

I wish you all a Merry Christmas for 2006. May your families be kept safe, and your bellies be protected from too much good food. May the weather be perfect, and the company pleasant.

Also, Happy Birthday to Jesus, the Christ, our saviour and king.
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Humour the secret of their success?

NEWS.com.au reports that the Australian Treasurer, Peter Costello, had a bit of fun at the expense of former Midnight Oil frontman, one-time environmental activist and now Labor MP, Peter Garrett. Costello misappropriated some classic pro-Aboriginal rights lines to chastise the Australian Labor Party (ALP) for raking in Commonwealth dollars for the rental of one of their buildings (i.e. they funded their political campaigns by renting a property to the government at a "very generous rent"). Here's the Treasurer in action:


At around the same time Senator Bob Brown was attacking Peter Garrett in the senate, saying that he has sold out the environment since joining the ALP. Brown's never been one to ignore controversy, and often gets confused, but this is a classic case of poor loser syndrome, especially given Labor's pro-global warming policies. NEWS.com.au's Don Woolford put it like this:
“So the market-driven Liberals can have harmless, foolish fun and the warm and fuzzy Greens can hate. It seems upside down.”
Perhaps that's one reason why the Liberals are managing to hang on in Federal parliament.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Stern's Bias: Too Low a Social Discount Rate

Professor Willian Nordhaus of Yale University gives us an economist's view (PDF) of the Stern Report and finds one major flaw:
“The Review proposes using a social discount rate that is essentially zero. Combined with other assumptions, this magnifies enormously impacts in the distant future and rationalizes deep cuts in emissions, and indeed in all consumption, today. If we were to substitute more conventional discount rates used in other global-warming analyses, by governments, by consumers, or by businesses, the Review’s dramatic results would disappear, and we would come back to the climate policy ramp described above.”
Nordhaus covers the various possible ethical models that could set the social discount rate - for that alone the PDF is worth reading. He also looks at how Stern calculated the impact of global warming, including his use of Nordhaus' own study:
“If we look inside the impact boxes, we find some strange things. The damage estimates are much higher than the standard estimates in the impact literature. This probably occurs because of assumptions that tilt up the damage curve: rapid economic growth forever, high economic damage estimates, high climatic impacts of GHG accumulation, catastrophic risks, adverse health impacts, yet higher sensitivity of the climate system, and an adjustment for inequality across countries. Additionally, the Review drew selectively from studies, emphasizing those with high damage estimates, some of which are highly speculative. For example, the Review used estimates from the study of Nordhaus and Boyer (see footnote 12 below) that projected damages way beyond 2100; however, those authors noted that projections beyond 2100 were particularly unreliable.

However, the major point is that these impacts are far into the future, and the calculations depend critically upon the assumption of low discounting.”
via Prometheus

[Update: Prometheus has some great articles on misrepresentations of science in policy discussions and the politicization of science by scientists.]

Monday, November 13, 2006

GRACE satellite results inconclusive

The SMH dug up a year old story (actually even older) about the GRACE satellite and presented it as today's news in order to cash in on the global warming scare. Heaven forbid they actually report NASA press releases when they are released! The release includes this interesting line:
“Although the ice mass loss observed in the new study is less than half of what other recent research has reported, the results show that Greenland is now losing 20% more mass than it receives from new snowfall each year.”
Another report mentions that:
“Continued monitoring in the future is needed to determine whether this ice loss is a long-term trend, the authors point out.”
That is good, I'd hate a brand new technique that measures something different (mass) from all other studies (height of ice sheet) would be touted as 'proof' of global warming after only 3 years of data are collected.

At the same time last year, the ESA were releasing research that showed the amount of ice on Greenland
“Scientists from the European Space Agency (ESA) recently analyzed 11 years of radar altimetry data for the Greenland Ice Sheet from its ERS satellites, and came up with a remarkable find. While the edges of the Greenland Ice Sheet have thinned, the high-elevation interior has actually grown in thickness as much as 6 cm (nearly 2.5 inches) per year, for the years 1992-2003. ”
Of course they must point out that this is consistent with global warming:
“We should expect that the increased snowfall produced by mild warming of the air mass over Greenland is only a temporary effect, however. As the computer models also indicate, once temperature increases exceed 3oC, new snowfall would not outpace the rate of melting, and the Greenland Ice Sheet would eventually melt away raising global sea level by as much as seven meters.”
Except that it's already melting away according to NASA, and we've had nowhere near a 3oC temperature increase. I guess they're still puzzling over that one ...

It seems that GRACE data presents some difficulties to global warming in other ways:
“A big complication in the GRACE measurement of the Antarctic ice sheet thickness is the fact that the land beneath is lifting, part of the “post-glacial rebound” after the last Ice Age, which ended only about 10,000 years ago (melting in Antarctica continued up until only about 4,000 years ago). The crust—the uppermost layer of Earth—floats on the rock beneath, which is plastic and responds to changes in its “load” (see last link). The melting of the huge ice age glaciers removed a large mass from Antarctica, and the continent is slowly lifting to reestablish equilibrium. The GRACE scientific team used geological estimates of ice thickness changes and a model of rock flow beneath Earth’s surface to estimate the uplifting of the land, which is a significant effect.

After taking into account all the above effects, the GRACE scientists find that from 2002 through 2005, the volume of the Antarctic ice sheet decreased substantially, corresponding to .4 mm plus or minus .2 mm of sea-level increase per year. This result was a surprise, both because of the extremely low temperatures in Antarctica, as mentioned above, and because forecasts of global warming had predicted increased snowfall in Antarctica.

In an earlier study, GRACE determined that the Greenland ice sheet is melting more rapidly than previously thought—in fact, the melting in Greenland and in Antarctica each produce about the same rate of sea level rise. So these ice sheets together add about .8 mm/yr. The overall rate of sea level rise over the last ten years, as obtained from statistical studies of radar measurements, is about 3 mm/year, and roughly half of this increase is due to thermal expansion of the oceans.

As the GRACE project continues, more data will accumulate and delineate the trend in ice sheet thickness over a longer time interval. Also, any change in the rate of melting would be unaffected by the correction for post-glacial rebound, which is presumed to be constant over long periods of time”
National Geographic reports that:
“The new study dates the start of accelerated melting to the spring of 2004 and finds the acceleration is confined to southern Greenland, Velicogna says.

"This leads us to think this [mass loss] is probably associated with ice discharge," Velicogna said.

Ice discharge—the dumping of glacial ice into the North Atlantic—is a process with built-in inertia, Velicogna says.

Even if temperatures suddenly drop in Greenland, she says, the discharge would continue for several years.

Velicogna adds that if the mass loss is indeed associated with warming global temperatures and temperatures continue to rise, the accelerated melting could spread to northern Greenland.

"We don't know for sure, but it could happen and is something to be watched for," she said. ”
Another bunch of NASA scientists knew in 2002 that gravity changes might not be climate related:
“Scientists believe movements of mass cause this recent change from the high latitudes to the equator. Such large changes may be caused by climate change, but could also be part of normal long-period climatic variation. "The three areas that can trigger large changes in the Earth's gravitational field are oceans, polar and glacial ice, and atmosphere," Cox said.”
Unfortunately that lab no longer exists, so finding our more about their research is a bit hard ...

Friday, November 10, 2006

The End is Nigh! (of global warming alarmism)

Christopher Monckton is writing a series of articles for the UK's Daily Telegraph on climate change. His first rejects completely the Stern Report:
“Last week, Gordon Brown and his chief economist both said global warming was the worst "market failure" ever. That loaded soundbite suggests that the "climate-change" scare is less about saving the planet than, in Jacques Chirac's chilling phrase, "creating world government". This week and next, I'll reveal how politicians, scientists and bureaucrats contrived a threat of Biblical floods, droughts, plagues, and extinctions worthier of St John the Divine than of science.

Sir Nicholas Stern's report on the economics of climate change, which was published last week, says that the debate is over. It isn't. There are more greenhouse gases in the air than there were, so the world should warm a bit, but that's as far as the "consensus" goes. After the recent hysteria, you may not find the truth easy to believe. So you can find all my references and detailed calculations here.

...

The large, full-colour "hockey-stick" was the key graph in the UN's 2001 report, and the only one to appear six times. The Canadian Government copied it to every household. Four years passed before a leading scientific journal would publish the truth about the graph. Did the UN or the Canadian government apologise? Of course not. The UN still uses the graph in its publications.


Even after the "hockey stick" graph was exposed, scientific papers apparently confirming its abolition of the medieval warm period appeared. The US Senate asked independent statisticians to investigate. They found that the graph was meretricious, and that known associates of the scientists who had compiled it had written many of the papers supporting its conclusion.”
As mentioned above, he backs his article with a comprehensive 40-page PDF document with calculations, references and discussions.

Climate Audit applauds this first article:
“The article is here and the background information (or at least the first part) is given here in pdf format. The backgrounder in particular is a pretty good overview of the current state of the science, such as it is, and covers the salient points from MM03, MM05GRL and MM05EE pretty well.

There are some slips of the keyboard in the backgrounder, so perhaps someone would like to e-mail Chris about them, or mention them in the comments.”
They also point out that it seems Mike Hulme, doesn't like the Stern report's alarmist language, which is strange seeing as his research centre contributed to it:
“To state that climate change will be "catastrophic" hides a cascade of value-laden assumptions which do not emerge from empirical or theoretical science.

Is any amount of climate change catastrophic? Catastrophic for whom, for where, and by when? What index is being used to measure the catastrophe?

The language of fear and terror operates as an ever-weakening vehicle for effective communication or inducement for behavioural change.”
From this blog on climate science research comes a set of interesting questions about climate science, followed by a pertinent dismissal of the UN's IPCC reports:
“These are important scientific questions which have either been poorly, or not at all, examined in climate assessments such as the IPCC and CCSP reports. Clearly, we need to move beyond such assessments that are written by individuals who are mostly evaluating their own research. Policymakers are poorly served by this inbred assessment framework by the scientific community.”
The more I read about this issue, the more it sounds like group-think taken to the extreme.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Stern Report = Political BS

It seems the Stern report is really just a political stunt:
“The Stern review is not about climate change but about economic, technological and trade advantage. Its perpetrators seek power through climate scaremongering. The review's release was carefully timed to closely precede this month's US congressional elections and the Nairobi climate conference. Beyond these events, we can expect another burst of alarmist hallelujahs to accompany the launch of IPCC's assessment report in February.

Though it will be lionised for a while yet, the Stern review is destined to join Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb and think tank the Club of Rome's manifesto, Limits to Growth, in the pantheon of big banana scares that proved to be unfounded. It is part of the last hurrah for those warmaholics who inhabit a world of virtual climate reality that exists only inside flawed computer models.”

Bjorn Lomberg also has a go at the Stern report:
“Unfortunately, this claim falls apart when one reads the 700-page tome. Despite using many good references, the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change is selective and its conclusion flawed. Its fear-mongering arguments have been sensationalised, which is ultimately only likely to make the world worse off.

...

The review is also one-sided, focusing almost exclusively on carbon-emission cuts as the solution to the problem of climate change. Stern sees increasing hurricane damage in the US as a powerful argument for carbon controls. However, hurricane damage is increasing predominantly because there are more people with more goods to be damaged, settling in more risky habitats. Even if global warming does significantly increase the power of hurricanes, it is estimated that 95 per cent to 98 per cent of the increased damage will be due to demographics. The review acknowledges that simple initiatives such as bracing and securing roof trusses and walls can cheaply reduce damage by more than 80 per cent; yet its policy recommendations on expensive carbon reductions promise to cut the damage by 1 per cent to 2per cent at best. That is a bad deal.

Stern is also selective, often seeming to cherry-pick statistics to fit an argument. This is demonstrated most clearly in the review's examination of the social damage costs of CO2, essentially the environmental cost of emitting each extra tonne of CO2. The most well-recognised climate economist in the world is probably Yale University's William Nordhaus, whose "approach is perhaps closest in spirit to ours", according to the Stern review. Nordhaus finds that the social cost of CO2 is $2.50 per tonne. Stern, however, uses a figure of $85 per tonne. Picking a rate even higher than the official British estimates - which have been criticised for being over the top - speaks volumes. ”

Thursday, November 02, 2006

A Challenge to Journalists Who Cover Global Warming

Personally, I think we should all use more sustainable, healthier and environmentally sensitive power sources. In fact nuclear fission is currently my hands down winner for offering large amoutns of power, reasonably efficiently but still without harming the environment too much (and yes, you need to be careful of the waste products, but isn't that true of coal-burning powerplants too?).

However, I find myself sceptical when the someone claims that the relatively recent changes in climate are expressly due to human effects on the environment - not that these haven't been real - just that their actual net effect is not really well understood. It seems that I am not alone, as Senator James Inhofe, Chairman of the US Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee, has come out and laid down A Challenge to Journalists Who Cover Global Warming.

Inhofe particularly took aim at Al Gore's recent movie:
“Here is a sampling of some of the errors and misrepresentations made by Gore in An Inconvenient Truth:
  • He promoted the now-debunked “hockey stick” temperature chart in an attempt to prove man’s overwhelming impact on the climate.
  • He attempted to minimize the significance of the Medieval Warm period and the Little Ice Age.
  • He insisted on a link between increased hurricane activity and global warming that most scientists believe does not exist.
  • He asserted that today’s Arctic is experiencing unprecedented warmth while ignoring that temperatures in the 1930s were as warm or warmer.
  • He claimed the Antarctic was warming and losing ice but failed to note that is true only of a small region and the vast bulk has been cooling and gaining ice.
  • He hyped unfounded fears that Greenland’s ice is in danger of disappearing.
  • He erroneously claimed that the ice cap on Mt. Kilimanjaro is disappearing due to global warming, even while the region cools and researchers blame the ice loss on local land-use practices.
  • He made assertions of a massive future sea-level rise that is way outside any supposed scientific “consensus” and is not supported in even the most alarmist literature.
  • He incorrectly implied that a Peruvian glacier’s retreat is due to global warming, while ignoring the fact that the region has been cooling since the 1930s and other glaciers in South America are advancing.
  • He blamed global warming for water loss in Africa’s Lake Chad, despite NASA scientists’ concluding that local population and grazing factors are the more likely culprits.
  • He inaccurately claimed polar bears are drowning in significant numbers due to melting ice when in fact they are thriving.
  • He failed to inform viewers that the 48 scientists who accused President Bush of distorting science were part of a political advocacy group set up to support Democrat presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004”
Inhofe's sample of press clippings from the last 100 years is also very revealing as it shows the press going back and forth between global warming and cooling - and each time maximising the outrageous claims, and ignoring contrary evidence.

I think this reveals a basic human truth, when confronted with environmental cycles that take place on timescales well beyond a human's lifespan, people tend to overreact and misjudge the effect this will have on their personal lives. It's like finding out that the Earth swings into and out of Ice Ages - and then immediately worrying about every drop in temperature that we feel day-by-day.

The real issue here is that some business people have found a way to use the current hype over global warming to push for government legislation to change the current business regulatory environment. Whether this will help or harm the environment, no one knows, however you can bet that these people have a very good idea how it will help them make money and harm their competitors.

Gus is bringing back the mo for Movember!

During Movember (the month formerly known as November) I’ll be growing a moustache. That’s right, I’m bringing the Mo back because I’m passionate about changing the state of men’s health.

Male health is a major issue, did you know:
  • Men are far less healthy than women. The average life expectancy of males is 6 years less than females.
  • Every year in Australia 2,700 men die of prostate cancer – more than the number of women who die from breast cancer.
  • Depression affects 1 in 6 men…Most don’t seek help. Untreated depression is a leading risk factor for suicide. Rates of suicide are more than double the national road toll.
Please go to http://www.movember.com/au/sponsor, enter my Rego number which is 28818 and your credit card details. All donations of $2 and over are tax deductible.

The money raised by Movember will be used to change the face of men's health by creating awareness and funding research into prostate cancer and male depression. My stepfather recently had surgery on his prostate because of prostate cancer, and was lucky to have it detected early enough to avoid it becoming a terminal condition. Let's all help protect the men in our lives!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

YouTube suckers Google? Or gets swallowed?

Google has announced that they have acquired YouTube for US$1.65 billion in Google stock. YouTube is to retain it's brand identity (arguably one of its best assets, other than its user base) and is seen as “strengthening and complementing Google's own fast-growing video business”.

Mark Cuban is sure that Google will see themselves sued by copyright owners' who have had their rights infringed by YouTube videos - certainly that will be a more attractive option as Google has deep enough pockets to be able to afford the payouts. The real interesting question is whether they allow themselves to be open to this, or start to police the YouTube community and prevent sharing of videos that do not meet their standards. From this point of view, perhaps Google was suckered into spending too much for YouTube?

Some have pointed out that the fact that they have spent so much to acquire a company providing something they already had an existing product for is a big deal. Some had already said that YouTube beat Google Video hands down.

Clearly they see internet video as something vital to their business, perhaps even the next wave of web content. We are certainly starting to see more companies using video on their websites, and the ease of use of products like YouTube means that getting passionate users to share videos is a very real marketing tactic, perhaps even to become the top new medium for 'cool' ads.

Whatever happens, this will be an interesting move, but it shouldn't be forgotten that it also merges two of the largest players in the market - giving them a size comparable to MSN Video. When consolidation happens on this scale, it can drastically affect the market (see Gartner's Consolidation Matrix). This leaves us with two superpowers fighting over market share, and once again pits Google vs Microsoft. It would be depressing if this was the way we can expect all new internet markets to go ... but it certainly was a good result for YouTube's founders (and VCs!).

Friday, September 29, 2006

Going under not a problem

Here is an image of what Australia might look like if the sea levels rose by 100m:


The image is from a series of artistic images created by Professor Stephen Young of Salem State College. It's a scary image, but is mild compared to the one shown in the SMH today.

Personally I find this the worst sort of scare-mongering. I happened to research global warming myself a few years ago, hoping to come up with some sort of sci-fi twist that would make for interesting reading. The bad news was that the most pessimistic predictions show a sea rise of a metre or two within the next century. Part of the problem is the paucity of accurate records, and the other problem is establishing dates for sea levels that have been 130m below current (in the last ice age) to perhaps 200m above present (for most of the 'last 100 million years'). I'm not sure I believe we have an accurate idea of this - but the images Professor Stephen Young is presenting is great propaganda material for global warming enthusiasts.

Fortunately the SMH does end with the good news:
“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its last report predicted sea levels would rise by between nine centimetres and 88 centimetres by 2100.”


Huh, so no surfing at Broken Hill for the next century or so then.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Innovation more diffuse than we think

Scott Berkun is researching innnovation for a book. I've mentioned that before. He has come to an interesting point of view on Gutenberg's contribution to the innovation of the printing press:
“Like many myths of innovation I’ve discovered in researching the book, it was socially and politically convenient for Western society to consolidate the development of printing under the heroic image of a local sole inventor, rather than the more accurate truth of printings development by many people primarily from foreign cultures.

The Internet age is filled with similiar conveniences in assigning credit for things like the Internet, the web browser, and the PC.

Who do you think is overrated in their influence today? And why?”

My money's on Dave Winer being credited for RSS. The difference is that in the internet age people find out about the concentration of credit much earlier (it happens much faster) and some people are just ornery enough to want to make a fuss about it. For RSS, my point of view is that Dave helped create a great platform, but a lot of other people took it beyond his vision to something much more interesting.

Mechanics in space


Courtesy of famous scfi author Jerry Pournelle comes some helpful suggestions to NASA as it addresses the awesome task of finishing the ISS:
“It would be easier with better space suits. And perhaps with young mechanics rather than old PhD types?”
If we checkout the crew of STS-115, they're not wimpy "old PhD" types, however Jerry's point is not a foolish one. With Bigelow planning its own private space habitat by 2010, we can see the start of something interesting. But I wonder whether there will be a need for simple old human muscle + brain power in building in space? At first they will be mission specialists like these ones on STS-115, guys with multiple degrees and lots of ways of helping in space - but at some point we might just need cheap labour - people willing to put up with atrophying muscles, and other zero-G conditions in order to put some hard yakka in.

Revealing the myth of party factions

It turns out that Australian political party factions have become free from values, Daleks pursuing world domination for its own sake, at least that is an insider's opinion:
“Factions have become executive placement agencies, competitors or (more usually) joint venturers that case recruits for jobs in exchange for loyalty and the lure of parliamentary preferment. The people so placed become patrons themselves, in a cycle of values-free renewal. When a party is in power, all is hunky dory. Out of power it has nothing much to sustain it beyond the prospect of winning next time. Incumbency is everything.

The crisis of federal Labor is the crisis of the state Liberals, is the crisis of the British Conservatives. It is a crisis of belief and values. That is why the outright imbecilic gets spoken by men who know better: arrest 200 young people of Middle Eastern appearance without cause; make "Australian values" a part of a visa for entry. The outlandish is probable when your policy is based on guesswork, market research and a requirement for clearance only by those who are the inner group of the political class.

These factional Daleks of the senator's evocative description, the machine men who are values-free, will not offer counsel to restrain stupidity. Robert Ray has gone as far as an insider can to warn that the worst people in the menageries are in charge of the show. Kim Beazley has responded by defending those whom Ray named.

That response was as certain as the sun rising this morning: the continuing leadership of Kim Beazley depends utterly on the Daleks.”

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Refuse terror - choose life!

From Bruce Schneier's Crypto-Gram newsletter comes some good advice.
“I'd like everyone to take a deep breath and listen for a minute.

The point of terrorism is to cause terror, sometimes to further a political goal and sometimes out of sheer hatred. The people terrorists kill are not the targets; they are collateral damage. And blowing up planes, trains, markets, or buses is not the goal; those are just tactics. The real targets of terrorism are the rest of us: the billions of us who are not killed but are terrorized because of the killing. The real point of terrorism is not the act itself, but our reaction to the act.

And we're doing exactly what the terrorists want. ”
When terrorists can affect an election result, when they stop a holiday destination from attracting tourists, when we'd rather stay at home than travel abroard, when we look askance at people of "middle-eastern" descent ... then they have won a small victory. Let us remember, they are not soldiers, fighting for a specific state, they are terrorists, they cannot win our land - but they can batter our spirit, poison our hearts and spread the cancer of their evil philosophy.


Some commentators seem to acknowledge this, but want to not look at taking preventative measures - personally I think we need to walk the fine line between adapting to the new tactical security landscape, and refusing to be affected by terrorism. What does Bruce say?
“But our job is to remain steadfast in the face of terror, to refuse to be terrorized. Our job is to not panic every time two Muslims stand together checking their watches. There are approximately 1 billion Muslims in the world, a large percentage of them not Arab, and about 320 million Arabs in the Middle East, the overwhelming majority of them not terrorists. Our job is to think critically and rationally, and to ignore the cacophony of other interests trying to use terrorism to advance political careers or increase a television show's viewership.

The surest defense against terrorism is to refuse to be terrorized. Our job is to recognize that terrorism is just one of the risks we face, and not a particularly common one at that. And our job is to fight those politicians who use fear as an excuse to take away our liberties and promote security theater that wastes money and doesn't make us any safer.”
We've certainly seen enough "security theatre" in the Australian political landscape. Personally I believe in the government's words a bit more than the opposition - if only because they are expected to back them up with action. I think that Prime Minister John Howard does an interesting job of portraying the image of a steadfast, unworried leader - yet he is accused of promoting fear and division within Australia. That might be politics warring with personality - but I find my own reaction is somewhat similar. I want to remain unmoved, yet I find myself questioning why certain issues were either ignored, or swept under the carpet in years gone by - decisions that seem now to be foolhardy.

Not forgetting Enterprise 2.0 ...

Whilst I've done a few political posts recently, and between the Pope and Lebanon there have been enough reasons to, I am still actually very interested in Web 2.0 and it's application to the corporate environment, identified as Enterprise 2.0 by people like Andrew McAfee. There has been a lot of discussion about the Wikipedia entry for that term (see here, here and here). Dion Hinchcliffe weighs in with his parable about Web 2.0, including pretty pictures:



But amongst the techies I know the discussion is more focused on the impact Web 2.0 has on their toolbox, than on some concrete new type of service or function. The term is in some ways a joke, and even technical people are falling behind when it comes to blogs, RSS and keeping on top of technology. The problem is that Web 2.0 as a concept speaks more clearly to entrepreneurs building new web-based businesses than to tech-heads in large corporations.

I've long said that Enterprise 2.0 adoption will be driven by the business users bringing their personal productivity tools into the enterprise - and I still think this is true - but at some point it must break into the awareness of business executives that there is a competitive advantage to be had, otherwise it ekes out an existence inside the firewall on the scraps that corporate IT allows it.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Conspiracy theories go 'pop'!

The conspiro-nutters need a little deflating and Canadian Mark Steyn is happy to oblige.
“The sad reality is that never before has an enemy hidden in such plain sight. Osama bin Laden declared a jihad against America in 1998. Iran's nuclear president vows to wipe Israel off the map. A year before the tube bombings, radical Brit imam Omar Bakri announced that a group of London Islamists are "ready to launch a big operation" on British soil. "We don't make a distinction between civilians and non-civilians, innocents and non-innocents," he added, clarifying the ground rules. "Only between Muslims and unbelievers. And the life of an unbeliever has no value."

Our enemies hang their shingles on Main Street, and a University of Western Ontario professor puts it down to a carefully planned substitution of transponder codes.”
But on a more visceral level, it sounds like the movie United 93 will help make the point real to the average cynical Aussie punter. Seeing it on the movie screen, and hearign that it is based on the real events of that day, will make far greater impact than a bunch of academics standing up and declaring themselves id10ts.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Re-Design Complete

Well, the re-design of the blog into Blogger Beta is 99% complete. There are some minor tweaks still to go, but nothing functionally weird. There are some new features, namely the built-in tags (finally!), the RSS feed for comments and the much more functional archive browse feature. However, the graphical element was the most fun part of it. There are now three columns, some prettier colours and a nice logo.
“A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.”
Douglas Adams

Let me know if you come across any particularly egregious bugs ... or don't ... because if I don't know about them, I won't worry about them!

Two Kinds of Geniuses

Wired asks us What Kind of Genius Are You? David Galenson's answer gives all of us 'late bloomers' some hope of impending attacks of genius:
“What he has found is that genius – whether in art or architecture or even business – is not the sole province of 17-year-old Picassos and 22-year-old Andreessens. Instead, it comes in two very different forms, embodied by two very different types of people. “Conceptual innovators,” as Galenson calls them, make bold, dramatic leaps in their disciplines. They do their breakthrough work when they are young. Think Edvard Munch, Herman Melville, and Orson Welles. They make the rest of us feel like also-rans. Then there’s a second character type, someone who’s just as significant but trudging by comparison. Galenson calls this group “experimental innovators.” Geniuses like Auguste Rodin, Mark Twain, and Alfred Hitchcock proceed by a lifetime of trial and error and thus do their important work much later in their careers. Galenson maintains that this duality – conceptualists are from Mars, experimentalists are from Venus – is the core of the creative process. And it applies to virtually every field of intellectual endeavor, from painters and poets to economists.”
(emphasis mine)

I've talked about this a LOT recently with various friends and business associates. It doesn't seem far fetched as an idea, in fact it seems almost commonsense - yet I suspect that there is a subtlety to Galenson's idea that commonsense misses. The early geniuses are actually not that successful later in life - it is not just that their early success is what is most well-known. Galenson actually considered cold, hard cash value of their works.

Story via Jeff Putz.

V for Vendetta

Top of the head rating: 4/5

We watched the wonderful V for Vendetta last night. It was a great film, with enough going on to keep us rivetted to it, despite the Phantom of the Opera overtones of an masked hero living in the underground.

It was nice to see a film that treated it's audience as intelligent people, that did not over-explain, or at the other extreme oversalts with handwaved plot points or coincidences. There are, of course, some unexpected issues. V appears to be wealthy, but no reason is given for that (except perhaps theft), he is exceptionally gifted in combat (again no reason), and at the end seems to have some Matrix-like speed (a Wachowski brothers movie of course ...). V is entitled to be mysterious, because he is the center of the plot, the epitome of the mystery being unravelled. It seems fitting that as he says he does not believe in coincidence, he is surrounded by them. Also, we come into the story well at the end - you eventually realise that this is the culmination of over a decade's hard work.

The actors do a fine job within the weirdness of this future vision. Hugo Weaving's voice beautifully conveys emotion even when his face is unseen, and Natalie Portman is believable as a bystander pulled into the plot - although her British accent is atrocious in the first few scenes (I was sure she was meant to be playing a Yank stuck in Britain). The rest of the cast play their parts well, although only Stephen Rea is really stretched by his role. Roger Allam deserves special mention for his too-brief egotistical ravings as the "Voice of London". In fact the words of the screenplay are beautifully selected, and add the texture to the monochromatic fascist background of dystopian Britain. For example, this piece by V shows a nice self-mocking turn of phrase:
“VoilĂ ! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a bygone vexation stands vivified, and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition. The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it's my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V.”
So is it perfect? Frankly no, it took a third of the movie for me to realise that "St Mary's" is the name of the disease central to the plot, and not just a location. Most of the characters seem a bit too cardboard cutout, and in a fascist state, men with guns rarely hesitate to shoot mobs of rebels - even if unarmed.

it is however well worth seeing, and whilst some people have identified modern American neo-conservatives with the Norsefire fascists in the film, I think that a more certain view is that government is intended to be for the people, and any government that forgets that is on the slippery slope to fascism.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Extreme Changes Ahead!

I will be changing my blog from the old standard blogger templates to the new beta layout this weekend. Expect to find some weird stuff appearing, disappearing and possibly bugs floating around. Along the way I will move from using my del.icio.us account to tag posts, to using the new labelling system. This will be the second blog I've extensively modified using the new beta layouts, so all should go well.

Citizen vs Tribesman

America's ABC has an interesting article on Why We Will Never See Democracy in the Middle East. Steven Pressfield says the key is the longstanding conflict between the mindset of 'citizen' and 'tribesman'.
“What exactly is the tribal mind-set? It derives from that most ancient of social organizations, whose virtues are obedience, fidelity, warrior pride, respect for ancestors, hostility to outsiders and willingness to lay down one's life for the cause/faith/group. The tribe's ideal leader is closer to Tony Soprano than to FDR and its social mores are more like those of Geronimo's Apaches than the city council of Scarsdale or Shepherd's Bush.”
He makes a particular point about how the citizen takes part in war, but the tribesman takes revenge:
“The tribesman does not operate by a body of civil law but by a code of honor. If he receives a wrong, he does not seek redress. He wants revenge. The taking of revenge is a virtue in tribal eyes, called badal in the Pathan code of nangwali. A man who does not take revenge is not a man. Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and the sectarian militias of Iraq are not in the war business, they are in the revenge business. The revenge-seeker cannot be negotiated with because his intent is bound up with honor. It is an absolute.”
If true, then that places the War on Terrorism not within the religious grounds of Christianity vs Islam, nor within the political arena of Democracy vs Theocracy, but on the more philosophical grounds of State vs Tribe - or from the terrorists' view, of personal revenge.

I think that there is clear example of citizens winning this war once before ... Australia's ABC aired an interesting documentary last night called Carthage: The Roman Holocaust that looked at how Carthage was copied, and eventually surpassed, by Rome. The point made was that Rome took the advanced culture, agriculture and trading routes of the Carthaginians and added an extra element - the cult of the Republic. Suddenly people who were once Roman enemies, came to see themselves as Roman citizens, and part of what their ancestors once fought. Historian Richard Miles points to the baths, the theatre and the temple as the tools Rome used to bind newly conquered peoples to the idea of citizenship.

Carthaginian Veterans

Is there a lesson in this for our conflict with the tribesmen of the Middle East, or closer to home, the Solomon Islands?

via Chaos Manor's RSS feed

Monday, September 04, 2006

Do Web 2.0 thingies increase sales?


“the web 2.0 thing you built me didn't actually increase sales...”

Care of Hugh.

Scoble's not sure that they do (yet). I'm pretty sure that it might be the latest fashion to have a Web 2.0 front-end (and good design), but it certainly does NOT guarantee sales.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Iron Law of Bureaucracy

From sci-fi writer Jerry Pournelle's Chaos Manor blog:
“Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy is that in any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control, so that those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely.”

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Computers not so boring after all ...

In his Wired article Dream Machines, Will Wright (creator of The Sims) makes an interesting point about the difference between the traditional view of computers and the part they really play in our lives:
“Think of it this way: Most technologies can be seen as an enhancement of some part of our bodies (car/legs, house/skin, TV/senses). From the start, computers have been understood as an extension of the human brain; the first computers were referred to as mechanical brains and analytical engines. We saw their primary value as automated number crunchers that far exceeded our own meager abilities.

But the Internet has morphed what we used to think of as a fancy calculator into a fancy telephone with email, chat groups, IM, and blogs. It turns out that we don't use computers to enhance our math skills - we use them to expand our people skills.”
That's a really interesting point given that universities are still focusing on testing maths skills in computer courses. Are young IT graduates getting the training they really need to understand the place computers play in the modern world?

Have they been taught psychology, usability, graphic design, communications? Do they have any idea at all about how to make not just a technically excellent product, but how to answer real human needs? Clearly this is at the heart of recent successes in Web companies - MySpace, Flickr, digg and del.icio.us depend upon the social aspects of the technology and are (in some ways) clearly very simple.

More to the point, are modern IT organisations looking for the right people skills in the staff they hire? Are the job descriptions analyst/programmer, systems architect, DBA still meaningful? Or are we perhaps going to see a great divide between those who understand people and creative thought (the valuable ones), and those who fulfil the role of mechanics and street sweepers (the ones we outsource to the lowest bidder) in our new world?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Further on Lebanon

Further to yesterday's post, Dogfight At Bankstown points out some interesting information. As he says:
“One thing about this Hezbollah-Hamas-Israeli conflict: It certainly has exposed more that it has conquered.“””

Friday, August 25, 2006

Photos from Lebanon: Propaganda or Journalism?

During the War in Lebanon, we were given a nightly bombardment of shocking images of the toll taken on the Lebanese people. This continued during the day as the press ran with disturbing photos of the dead and dying, and the aftermath of war. Some small mention was made of the photoshopped smoke clouds that Reuters' bought from one of their contract photographers, Hajj.

But at the same time, alternative media outlets like Zombietime and Little Green Footballs have been unearthing some shocking irregularities in the War in Lebanon images that Reuters, AP and other newswire services have been shopping around. The LA Times picked up on this two weeks ago:
““”There's more, and it's worth your time to take a look. That's one of the undeniable strengths of the Internet and of the blogosphere, and the fact that it is being employed to help keep journalism honest ultimately is to everybody's benefit.

What the major news organizations ought to be doing is to make their own analysis of the images coming out of Lebanon and if, as seems more than likely, they find widespread malfeasance, some hard questions need to be asked about why it occurred. Some of it may stem from the urge every photographer feels to make a photo perfect. Some of it probably flows from a simple economic imperative — a freelancer who produces dramatic images gets picked up more and paid more. Moreover, the obscenely anti-Israeli tenor of most of the European and world press means there's an eager market for pictures of dead Lebanese babies.”
At least Andrew Bolt is making a fair bit of noise on his blog (and here) about the Australian press' silence on their being taken in by the Hezbollah ambulance hoax.

Reuters has addressed some of these issues on their blog, but by and large they have only concerned themselves with photos that are blatantly and undeniably false. Their corrections page mentions that Hajj was posting straight to the Global News desk and not via a photo editor - a practice they claim to have tightened up on, but that does not address the root cause of many of these issues - which is that Hezbollah is blatantly manipulating the media - and getting away with it!

Finally, some fun has been poked at those who have accepted the fake images:

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Blogger gets a facelift!

Well, I may need to eat my words about Blogger's gluggy feature set, because there is a new version of Blogger in Beta (ahhh ... how Web 2.0 of them). Straight from the horse's mouth:
“Today we're launching a new version of Blogger in beta! You've been asking for ways to do more with your blog, and you can with this new release.”
If you want to see it in action, you simply need to go to http://beta.blogger.com/. Anyone can create a new blog on the beta service, although you will need a Google account to do so - also, the blogs are still hosted on blogspot.com, so you get the usual scarcity of good names.

Key differences include:
  • Post labels (Google's name for tags)
  • UI improvements, especially on the dashboard
  • A move to "Layouts" instead of "Templates"
  • Database driven pages, rather than static ones manually re-published*
* Whilst this is a great way of removing the horrid wait for something to publish on your blog, it does not help performance. I hope that Google have been looking to “design their on-demand systems for peak load, not average load” (as per Dave Stephens' suggestion).

Most of the new stuff is laid out in the new features tour, as well as screenshots and descriptions at the Google Operating System blog.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Innovators wanted: get interviewed in a book

Scott Berkun, project manager extraordinaire, has put out a call for people with good innovation stories:
“The survey is a scant 15 questions long, and should take less than 10 minutes. If you give high quality answers, odds are high I’ll want to chat with you 1-on-1 over e-mail or phone, and may use your material in the book.”
Please note that the deadline is Friday the 18th of August.

I was a bit depressed to realise that I can't think of anything particularly brilliant to put in - but then I remembered that yesterday my son created a mock flatscreen TV from a picture, some tissue paper and even included a remote control (made of an egg carton).

News.com.au gets Web 2.0

I was surfing the news websites at lunch today when I noticed that News.com.au appears to have caught the Web 2.0 bug. For an example news story that shows the new features of their website, check out the Carjacked cabbie's death 'unbelievable' story (Warning: this story deals wtih death and criminal activity).

The first thing I noticed was a Google maps mashup that showed the location of the events documented. This is a brilliant use of the web's graphical ability to add information to an online story that is missing from its print counterpart. This is especially important as the original story was sourced from AAP - which will also be selling it to News' competitors.

Zooming out on the map I worked out that the crime took place in a part of Melbourne that is close to the location of some of my family. This is something I would never have guessed from the suburb names alone and adds value to the story that I might not have received from other news websites (or their RSS feed).

The other nice feature that News have included, is a box at the bottom of the story to allow readers to submit the story to one of three major news and link collation sites. This helps boost their readership numbers, and adds potentially higher value to advertisers as it promotes the global 'reach' of the News.com.au brand.

The Fairfax guys running SMH.com.au are no slouches in the web design arena, but I suspect that the News Limited approach is also inspired by the boss's thoughts about the web:
“To find something comparable, you have to go back 500 years to the printing press, the birth of mass media – which, incidentally, is what really destroyed the old world of kings and aristocracies. Technology is shifting power away from the editors, the publishers, the establishment, the media elite. Now it's the people who are taking control.”
Rupert Murdoch talking to Wired
EDIT: The News guys also have a nice 'Tools' feature on every page now, highlighting their commitment to both RSS feeds and getting user-generated content.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Love Hate

Sometimes in life it's hard to decide exactly how we feel about something ...

Love Hate
from Hugh

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Real Men 06: Influence

Before I begin this post, I just want to say that Brad has had a successful operation and despite some early missteps, is on his way to recovery!

I don't want to take this blog too far off-topic, but I spent most of today at RealMen 06: Influence, this year's edition of the annual men's conference run by CCC Oxford Falls. As always, it was a struggle to make the time, spend the money and physically get myself there - but as always, it was well worth the effort. Some of it was so good, I decided it was worth talking about a little bit here.

Whilst there was a well-known international speaker, Frank Damazio, it was two of the Aussie speakers that really made my day ...

Melbournian Allan Meyer ran an awesome session on helping men maintain purity in their sexual world. He was funny, but more importantly he really helped men get a handle on how to avoid sexual temptation (outside of their marriage of course!). From his own doctorate studies he has developed the Valiant Man program:
“This 10 Session Program with study and devotional guide is designed to fortify and restore the moral and spiritual integrity of men. Valiant Man challenges all men to fight for their own personal, moral and spiritual vitality and help other men fight for theirs.”
Based on today's session, I expect the material in that course would be life-changing for many men.

At the other end of the spectrum, Perth native John Finkelde was very naughty (one session not recommended for women!), and immensely funny, but he was also worth listening to as he covered how to supply your wife's emotional needs, most especially by ensuring you “spill your guts” occasionally. But he had me in tears at several sections, sometimes because of his great humour, and other times because of his raw honesty in sharing his own battles with us. His church (CCC Hepburn Heights) also runs their own blog.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Brad, we're thinking of you ...

Brad, a good friend of mine, is going under the knife for a delicate cancer removing operation today. I just want him to know he's in our thoughts and prayers.

BBC Editors: The statistics of war

I found this a bit shocking, so take this as a warning that this post might give your heartburn ... Craig Oliver on the BBC's The Editors blog points out some disturbing statistics:
“• Around 30 to 40 people are killed every day in the current Israel/Lebanon conflict.

• About 100 people are killed every day in the violence in Iraq.

• And 1,200 people are killed every day in the war in the Congo.

All three of these stories are due to appear on tonight's Ten O'Clock News. They will probably run in that order - with the Middle East getting by far the most attention.

Does this say something about how we value human life? It's a fair question and one I worry about.”
Wow. That really makes you stop and think, doesn't it. After all, we worry about World War III breaking out because of the crisis in Lebanon, and look with horror on the images coming out of there and Iraq, but what the hell is happening in the Congo?! Where is our humanity?

I guess some of the problem comes down to the old Kirk/Spock dilemna ... in the original series of Star Trek, Captain Kirk would always conflict with his Science Officer, Spock, because he would invariably put the good of many people at risk in order to save the life of the few - based usually on the strength of the relationship he had with the few (usually Spock).

Spock would always lament such “illogical” behaviour, yet you always felt like you wanted to cheer Kirk on, and his choices seemed eminently reasonable. I think it is our tribal nature, our preference to favour the known over the unknown, that leads us this way. In that light, the conflict in Lebanon seems much more real because we are more familiar with its history (often from a biblical sense) than we are with the Congo. The media's bias in reporting is based on this, but it also serves to continue to feed this preference as it focuses on the conflict there to the preference of others.

Here is Craig Oliver's reasoning behind the order of stories:
“The Middle East needs more time and space for a variety of reasons:

• The sheer complexity of the situation requires space to help provide context and analysis.

• The current conflict plugs into so many other stories around the world, from what Tony Blair and George W. Bush call the "War on Terror", through to the price of oil, even the situation in Afghanistan.

• Many people fear the consequences of conflict in the Middle East more than anywhere else, and it is our job to help people understand a "scary world".

In short, our judgement is that Middle East is currently the biggest story in the world - by a wide margin - and it has the greatest implications for us all.”
Certainly the conflict in Lebanon repeats themes that are central to the War on Terror coverage - with terrorist attacks by Muslim militia, excessive retaliatory attacks by conventional military forces, the use of civilians as 'cover' and accusations of interference by foreign states by both sides. Yet the ongoing conflicts in Congo should not be ignored or put aside for that reason. Wikipedia has this to say about the conflict:
“For the next several years, even as the Second Congo War wound to an official end, a low level conflict continued in Ituri, with tens of thousands more killed. Half of the milita members are under the age of 18 and some are as young as eight. The continued conflict has been blamed both on the lack of any real authority in the region, which has become a patchwork of areas claimed by armed militias, and the competition among the various armed groups for control of natural resources in the area. In response, the United Nations directed its MONUC peacekeepers to carry out aggressive disarmament exercises against local milities.”
In some ways that is an even easier situation to resolve, yet we don't see Condoleeza Rice flying into the Democratic Republic of Congo for peace talks. There aren't regular newscasts from embedded reporters showing us what is going on, or how the global prices of gold will be affected by further conflict, or a sudden outbreak of peace ...

If conventional media want to find any unique role to play in this new wired world, then this is it - they can highlight conflicts and issues that may have little 'pull' on our tribal nature, but that are important and vital items to address and think about. Bloggers may (like I have) spend some small time talking about these issues, but unless someone goes there and helps make it real for the average punter by putting it front and center in the daily news, we won't get the sort of public awareness that moves governments to act resolutely to affect change*.

Without such action we lose our souls to self-absorbed, reality TV drivel, that plays screeching chords upon our most intense tribal reflexes, yet leaves critical issues in the real world untouched, unloved and ignored. I can imagine such a situation all too easily; as Agent K in Men in Black says:
“A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it.”
Conventional media is still one of the few ways you can really reach out to individual persons en masse (just ask advertisers), we must therefore ask that news editors take these things (i.e. like those statistics) that they may well know, and introduce them to us in our daily news, current affairs or even (gasp!) newspapers. They may not help us relax, or escape the daily grind, but they will help us appreciate what is really happening out there in the world beyond ourselves.

* Some people might point out that we have issues closer to home to worry about, and it is true we do have issues like youth suicide, indigenous health and water use - but they pale in comparison to 1,200 people dying per day.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Iranian SharePoint Blogger

SharePointBlogs logoFarvashan is a blogger from Iran, he recently started an English SharePoint blog on sharepointblogs.com. His English is a lot better than my Farsi, but still requires slow reading to get his meaning. However he's keeping up with the latest changes in Microsoft's SharePoint technologies and has an interesting POV operating within the economic and political restrictions in Iran.
“We have two big simultaneous issues, about developing software and designing IT systems, in my country.

One of them our main policy from the government about working based on the open source technologies, because unfortunately no direct contact with the US government.

The other is bad integration of open source technologies, with the other great Microsoft technologies, especially side of users and clients. As you know in the small to midrange business it’s almost impossible developing systems without using the Microsoft technologies.

We must always choose a trade off between them; I think for the small to midrange business needs we have no other choice but Microsoft technologies.”

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

SaaS is letting me down

I'm getting pretty pissed off with my SaaS suppliers at the moment. In the main, that is GMail, Salesforce.com and Blogger. My main issues are twofold:

1. Slow performance
Dave Stephens recently gave his commentary on a recent Aberdeen report on Procurement SaaS. A key comment caught my eye because it resonated with my own experience:
“The only real negative I could find was in one statistic: 88% of respondents said that in house software system response time & performance was equal or better than SaaS. This reinforces my SaaS = renting-an-apartment analogy. At peak times some customers’ showers are running out of hot water! But it’s a solvable problem - the SaaS providers need to design their on-demand systems for peak load, not average load. And hopefully they will start doing that.”
Start. Doing. That. Well, yes, could they please get off their backsides and take care of this!?

[EDIT: Phil Jones rants more about Blogger on his Platform Wars blog. In the comments to his post, John from FreshBlog mentions the Blogger Hacks Wiki as a good place to find how others are 'hacking' Blogger. Heard about Phil from Dave Winer's Scripting News.]

GMail was wonderful when I first started using it, but in the last few months it has slowed to a crawl - even on a fast internet connection I find that simply labelling a post in my inbox takes 10-30 seconds. Salesforce.com has had some very public issues with its performance, which their main competitor, NetSuite, blames on their 'big iron' architecture. But the bigger issues for them are over-reliance on an old web interface paradigm, that in these heady days of AJAXified web apps seems a very inefficient way of forcing users to work with their data. Blogger has the least problems in this regard, because of its nice good UI design and their simple technical model (i.e. publishing your blog as static web pages to maximise cacheability and performance).

It's nice to know I'm not the only person getting annoyed at this.

2. Gluggy feature sets
gluggy slow, sluggish - used to describe the operation of a computer”
Urban Dictionary
Blogger is the biggest culprit here. They've managed to add a handful of features to their blogging application in the last few years, and as a result now offer a far less satisyfing feature-set than many of their competitors. It is only thanks to the strength of the original design (pre-Google I might point out) and the great user-community, that people who want extra features (like categorisation) still hang around. The time must come soon though, when people start to move elsewhere, especially now that China, India, Pakistan and Ethiopia have taken to blocking access to blogger blogs.

Salesforce.com is bad in a different way, they have made me sluggish. Yes, AppExchange is a wonderful idea, but did we really need to get drowned with a thousand different applications? There is something to be said for having our choices restricted to a few truly great options, rather than the mess of good, bad and ugly that AppExchange really is. Once I wasted several hours looking at different applications, I realised that none of them would offer me anything I really needed or wanted on top of the basic Salesforce.com functionality (although I hear that one free one offers RSS feeds, that might be worth looking into). I could have better spent that time getting more use out of Salesforce.com's existing functionality rather than surfing the AppExchange Deadzone.

GMail has added some features, and steadfastly ignored others that users clamor for (like sorting by sender, or date, within a label or search view). The integration with Google Calendar is painful and half-baked. The fact is that my own use of it relies heavily on Greasemonkey, and so I find that using it from within IE (as I usually do outside of home) has become oddly stilted, as I reach for functions and options no longer available.

In Summary
I am a strong believer in the viability of the SaaS model. Removing maintenance headaches and installation gotchas are worth a lot, but the efficiences gained in being accessible anywhere and having economies of scale in the backend make it really appealing. I find myself agreeing with Jeff Kaplan on his identification of SaaS Myths, but in reality the applications on offer are still not fully ready for the enterprise. Many of them have not yet been tested on their performance, or security, or ability to keep up with technology changes. Market leaders like Salesforce.com, GMail and Blogger are showing signs of not handling things as well as they should, perhaps because the SaaS technical model is not yet fully mature, or simply because there is yet to be a realisation that they must handle peaks in demand, not just the average.

Technically speaking, SOA and advances in grid computing promise to deliver new levels of performance scalability, but applications must be built from the ground-up to full utilise these advantages. However, this sort of application programming can be pretty tricky (and yes, I know that threading <> grid computing, but it's got similar problems). However, there seems to be a recognition that this is an area of great opportunity, and some new vendors are planning to supply this next generation architecture.

From a security standpoint, enterprise IT departments have fundamental issues with hosting their data outside the corporate firewall. We have seen a recent rise in online storage providers, with ones like Amazon's S3 being aimed squarely at developers needing back-end data storage. Perhaps the next wave will provide data storage that is transparent to the SaaS application, but where hosting can either be outsourced or kept in-house. After all, SaaS providers usually have to promise not to access your data anyway, so why should they be bothered hosting it?

I think that the current depictions of SaaS 2.0 are missing the point if they think that better SLAs are all that is needed. Vital issues, such as performance, require both that the application be built differently from its very foundation upwards, and depend on the rollout of faster broadband access speeds across their marketplace.

For more on this subject see Dion Hinchcliffe's blog. But from my POV, the tipping point he's looking for ain't here yet.

del.icio.us tags:

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Wallabies 49 vs Springboks 0

The ARU Match Report says it all:
“The Wallabies have annihilated the Springboks 49-0 at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night, running in six tries and keeping the South Africans scoreless for only the second time in the two teams' history.”

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Blog Style Changes

I've made some minor edits to the way my blog looks. For a start I will be making long posts look smaller by hiding most of the post on the main page and only showing it on the specific post page.

I'm also going to try to make sure I use the del.icio.us tags on all my posts. It was easy when I could use Firefox and Greasemonky, but I also need it to work in IE.

Finally, I've reduced the screen real estate dedicated to my Cafepress products, and made just one area that rotates randomly through them.

[EDIT: Yes, there is a problem with the main page's structure as the area between the main box and the sidebar is incorrectly filled with white. I'll fix this at some stage (or just refresh the whole template).]

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Dell's Got a Blog!

Well, well, it looks like Dell finally worked out that they ought to be using the web to talk to their users and have started a blog called One 2 One. Of course I only found it because Scoble's talking about it.

Hint for corporate marketing types - don't bother launching a blog if you can't get important bloggers in your industry to mention you. I guess the Hit mentality is still there in the blogging world.

Perhaps just as important, you must allow your staff to make mistakes whilst communicating with customers on the blog. They must be able to attempt to have open, honest and human communication with customers, otherwise it's just another one-way information pipe (oh yeah, Scoble talks about that too).

Death by Wikipedia

The Washington Post has an interesting article by Frank Ahrens called Death by Wikipedia: The Kenneth Lay Chronicles. Frank looks at the hot topic of how much we can trust Wikipedia given that it is entirely user-editable. He looks at the way Kenneth Lay's death was handled as the classic case of this and concludes:
That Wikipedia's greatest strength is its greatest weakness.

If the statement that "history is written by the winners" is too gross, it does speak to an underlying truth: All definitive encyclopedia authorship comes with the point of view of its times. It is unavoidable. As august and reliable as the Britannica is, one need only look back to 19th-century versions to see its Anglo-centric viewpoint and curious study of others that treated foreigners (say, Africans) as anthropological subjects rather than human equals.

An encyclopedia written from many points of view should, in theory, help eliminate that flaw. Further, as well-girded in research as encyclopedia authors are, there are countless experts on thousands of topics that know more than the Wikipedia authors; every topic has its fetishists, and thank goodness. If the goal is the ultimate compilation of truth-tested facts, Wikipedia could be a powerful tool.

...

But here's the dread fear with Wikipedia: It combines the global reach and authoritative bearing of an Internet encyclopedia with the worst elements of radicalized bloggers. You step into a blog, you know what you're getting. But if you search an encyclopedia, it's fair to expect something else. Actual facts, say. At its worst, Wikipedia is an active deception, a powerful piece of agitprop, not information.
(emphasis mine)

I think that's a fair call, there is some very questionable material there. Perhaps more importantly, the basic content of any Wikipedia article is dynamic. This can lead to people getting all sorts of ideas about the topic, or indeed about Wikipedia's accuracy, when the offending material might be reverted, edited or removed within moments of them leaving that web page.

For example Dave Winer mentioned on his blog that a friend had looked at the Wikipedia page about Dave and thought it pretty terrible stuff. Dave's critics on the Eye on Winer blog found this laughable as (to them) the article steers a fairly neutral course between the fairly polarised views on Dav'e contributions to blogging, RSS and podcasts.

However, a stroll through the History tab on his Wikipedia page shows a number of vandalism attempts that have been reverted (usually within a few hours), as well as some toning down of material deemed too "fanboy" by one or another named Wikipedia users. Usually vandalism is done by anonymous users, not registered Wikipedia users, a fact which helps Wikipedia editors identify vandalism more quickly (any edit by an anonymous user is worth checking out, especially on disputed articles).

If Dave's friend had seen the article at the wrong time, it might have looked very bad, and certainly this is the impression they got, whilst later viewers looking at it see nothing wrong with it (let's leave aside the two sets of viewers obvious bias). The ephemeral nature of Wikipedia edits is one of the main problems that I have with trusting it for anything other than fun research on hobby topics (like Vikings). Yet, increasingly, we see news websites referring people to Wikipedia for detailed information on a specialty topic (I've seen this at least twice myself from news.com.au).

I doubt that there's an easy answer to this issue, other than suggesting that people use more than one source for facts, and take anything they read with a grain of salt. This does speak to the issue of whether wikis are appropriate tools for the enterprise environment. Whilst they are great at capturing corporate knowledge, they are just as good at enshrining stupidity and promoting divisive views. But perhaps that is their real strength, the ability to lift the veil between people at work and reveal the real talent or lack thereof? To expose dramas and stresses that are hidden below normally civil exteriors?

Friday, July 07, 2006

Long Tail Wisdom

Chris Anderson's Wired article, The Rise and Fall of a Hit is an extract from his book The Long Tail that I've read a lot about, but not actually read myself. Coming after yesterday's post it is interesting how it highlights the way that the hit mentality is evident in the world outside of music/movies:
If it’s not a hit, then it’s a miss. It has failed the economic test and, therefore, never should have been made. This Hollywood mindset is now how we allocate space on store shelves, fill time slots on television, and build radio playlists. It’s all about allocating scarce resources to the most “deserving,” which is to say, the most popular.
Fred Wilson (the guy who coined the term Freemium) has this to say:
... I believe VC fund sizes have gotten very large requiring ever bigger winners to move the needle. When I started in the business 20 years ago, a $100mm exit, generating $20mm in value to our fund was always considered a big win. For many of the VC funds today, that would be a yawn. And that's a problem because for many entrepreneurs, a $100mm exit is plenty big, particularly if they can figure out how to hold on to 20+ perecent [sic] of the company before the exit happens. The $100mm exit moves the entrepreneur's needle but not the VC's. That's a problem.
It's a problem because it generates a chasm between entrepreneur and VC expectations, one that may well be leading good ideas to not find VC funding, and therefore get trapped in the “lifestyle” business stage more because there is a lack of VC vision, than it suits their business model. The VCs are still trapped in the Hits model, but the market has moved on from them.

This seems to be happening in many different areas, for example, makers of tabletop/pen-and-paper roleplaying games (RPG) are bemoaning the death of the industry as they know it. This is largely because the market has fragmented, and other than a handful of successful companies, the average RPG publisher is working on it as a hobby, a part-time, or at most marginally successful business.

Chris Anderson claims it has had broad impact; “Practically every other sector of mass media and entertainment has witnessed a similar shift away from hits.” He points to popular music, movies, TV and even best-selling novels as all exhibiting a move of consumers away from the mega-hits, to exploring more specific niche selections. If Web 2.0 companies are aiming their products/services at the consumer market, then this fragmentation is both good and bad news. Good news in that there is a place in the market for almost anyone, bad news in that it is becoming increasingly difficult to clearly capture enough of the market to justify the capital expenditure required to develop the products/services being offered.

I think that increasing numbers of entrepreneurs will have great ideas and launch them using their family/friends' capital, but fail to either attract enough of the market to continue to fund growth internally, or to promise to move the needle enough to attract VC investors. My answer for them is to look towards natural aggregators of users, and in one sense that is exactly what the large enterprises are. The Web 2.0 edge in that enterprise market must surely be that users can be attracted and looked after as individuals consumers first, and then second become evangelists for the Web 2.0 product within the enterprise itself. Leave it to IBM to employ a thousand salespeople to win over the CIO, Web 2.0 will win through guerilla tactics, winning the users heart and minds, and taking the IT department by surprise!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Success/Failure Web 2.0 Style

Ben Barren has an interesting post on New Web Success vs New Web Failure. Hip dude that he is, he's using the "New Web" term to encompass the old "Web 2.0" world. The basic idea is that whilst things are easier (i.e. cheaper) to start nowadays, the payoff is also less, initial investors don't get a big bang IPO.
There may well end up being many more “lifestyle” businesses than billion dollar IPO’s, but hopefully there will be less failures, and a less savage bust next time around, as overall expectations are better managed.
I think a lot of the Web 2.0 entrepreneurs are looking to the Freemium business model, getting busy implementing the free level, and hoping that they'll work out the premium level's business case before they go broke.

There is some value in that, after all many of these businesses are breaking new ground, and there is no guarantee that the original idea ('hey, let's do an online linking game'), will match the end result when the mob gets a hold of it ('a collection of favorites' a la del.icio.us). For people wondering what is the attraction of this model, David Beisel says:
The answer is that they separate the initial delivery of value to the customer away from the ultimate monetary payment corresponding to that value. This time lag minimizes the risk involved for the customer, thus prompting increased usage.
And the Web 2.0 mantra is that the more users you have, the more likely your business will succeed.

It does ignore the fact that a user does NOT = a paying customer, however they are certainly potential customers (prospects), or at least people who could recommend the service to potential customers (referrers/fans). I suspect that a lot of the business successes and failures we will see over the next few years will be due to a basic failure to convert prospects to customers. Funnily enough, that is Sales 101 ... and is the very essence of an old web business.

One very real barrier to the Freemium model's paid level is that the business world still doesn't get Web 2.0. There are slow signs that they are using hosted solutions, looking at RSS, etc., but I suspect that the real paradigm shift will only come as staff bring their personal favorite Web 2.0 tools into the workplace and then demand an enterprise version of it (probably for improved security, reliability and secrecy). Until that changes, you are looking at convincing consumers to buy your premium level, or small businesses. Both are highly competitive areas for Web 2.0, and both tend to have very fickle customers that are as likely to cancel a service as quickly as they take it up. The answer I'm afraid is that Web 2.0 must break into the enterprise market (as Google Maps is trying to), I wonder who will do that first?