Oliver Mtukudzi

So I never got around to posting about the concert I went to see at Yoshi’s on Monday night. An old college and Tokyo friend, Rick Esquivel, suggested we go see the Zimbabwe pop artists Oliver Mtukudzi and I’m really glad I did. The venue is cozy. Mostly sit down with small tables for drinks and light food. Sushi seemed to be the dish of choice. The music was great and we had some seats right up front but couldn’t resist the urge to get up and dance.

About halfway through the set, Oliver dedicated a song of his which had been recently covered by Bonnie Raitt to "Ms. Raitt who’s somewhere out there." I thought he meant figuratively because I know Bonnie lives in the Bay Area. Of course we were all delighted when she later bounded up on stage to belt out the chorus along with the rest of his band. She later stepped down to join us in dancing through the rest of the set.

That’s one thing I love about living here. There are so many great musicians that make the Bay Area their home and in the grand tradition of their art, they often show up and play with visiting artists to make local concerts here truely unique experiences.

Treasure Hunt #3

22730932_670ee2634e_o.jpgTypePad 10% Lifetime Discount card to the first one there. In a back alley in San Francisco. Go to blupointesf.com to find address of a yummy restaurant near Union Square, get a seat outside in the back alley and while you are enjoying your scallops and Chardonnay, look for this card on the wall opposite the restaurant.

Google Earth, the ultimate time sink

So I thought I’d spend some time catching up on some reading tonight but nooooo. . . Google released a new service called Google Earth and the rest of my evening was blown playing around with the program and then making a screencast just to see if I could.

I punched in a bunch of addresses of places that I lived and created a little fly-by tour complete with narration using Windows Media Encoder and you can see the fruits of my labor in the video below.

Product Blogs, a new business model

My colleague, Loic Le Meur, is interviewed by Shel Israel for their upcoming book on business blogging. Loic shares his story about a T-shirt fanatic who built a community of like-minded T-shirt fans via his blog. His site is now a business which turns the traditional “we-design, you-buy” commerce model inside out (sorry about the pun, couldn’t resist) and solicits his customers for design ideas which they then all vote on. This virtually guarantees a buyer.

I use this t-shirt guy as an example to large corporations, because it shows what can be done in large corporations. They always laugh at me at first. They say, this is a geek writing about T-shirts. I say, no, wait. Our t-shirt guy puts the customer at the center of everything he does in the company. He realized very quickly through the comments that the customer had more ideas about the products than he did. It’s not just about feedback. The customers design the product. I took this idea to L’Oreal. L’Oreal says, we are this global corporation and you bring us a guy who designs t-shirts? I tell them this is the future of your e-commerce. Your customer will be in the center of it all. This goes back to “markets are conversations.” The t-shirt guy has not put a single euro into advertising. It is all word-of-mouth. The customer does everything. He is merely organizing it. What’s important is how the blog moves customers to the center of the organization, rather than over on the edge of it.

Interview on Naked Conversations

Charlie Wood, RSS as the Information Bus

I wonder how many out there have, upon reading Steve Jobs’ recent commencement address, have reconfigured their life to pursue their dreams. First Richard MacManus cited Jobs’ speech as inspiration. Now, Charlie Wood, VP of Enterprise Solutions of Newsgator, has left his job to start a new venture. Spanning Partners will offer RSS integration services that will expand the use of RSS beyond the mere delivery of posts from blogs to something much broader. At the PC level, you have a data bus which shuttles bits from the hard disk, to RAM, to processor, to video card and back again. In much the same way, RSS could become the virtual delivery bus for information interconnecting all the new APIs which are exposing themselves to the intranet and internet.

This is much the same vision that Microsoft is pushing as part of it’s RSS is Everywhere vision outlined in my previous post. When you start extending the standard to allow for structured content to be exchanged, not just between humans and their readers but between applications and devices, it opens up all sorts of opportunities.

This reminds me of an earlier jam session I had with an engineer at Reuter’s research labs a couple years agon on how structured news feeds from Factiva could automate transactions. In the example we dreamed up, we thought of using Factiva to drive the generation of sales leads for a consulting company. Using filters on the rich meta data that comes with Factiva news stories, an example could be,

  1. Create a filter to select all stories of all new mergers in my key industry with a dateline of San Francisco,
  2. The subset of stories would then be fed via RSS to an API which would read these stories, strip out the company ticker symbols and use them to pull contact information from another database such as Hoovers or InfoUSA for the VP of Sales name and email address at each company,
  3. Use and API to the CRM to check if the prospect was already a client, if not, then populate the VP of Sales contact information into an email template which would address each VP of Sales with a letter of introduction introducing your company’s sales integration services.

All three steps could be done in advance automatically, the salesperson only needs to review the content of the email before sending it off and making a note to follow up.

One quote sticks in my mind from the Channel 9 video mentioned in my earlier post. Precious programmer resources were being wasted as each person had to write their own connector to information. Once you standardize that, the developers can move up the stack and focus on the more interesting task of what you can do with that information.

When market data feeds were moving from analog to digital transmissions, there was a time when everyone was too busy writing feed handlers to really focus on anything more than parsing data. Once the feed handlers were written and commoditized, there was an explosion of creativity that gave birth to sophisticated applications that could throw market data around to drive risk analysis and automated trading applications. I would argue that this enabled the entire field of complex derivative and arbitrage trading that revolutionized the finanancial markets (for better or worse) in the mid-90’s.

Flash-forward to 2005 and we see the same enabler with RSS. Standardize the interface and delivery of information (calendars, inventory, pricing, traffic, reviews, top ten lists, etc.) and then you unleash a flurry of new services that mix and mash the intersection of these pieces of information to create new insight and opportunity.

Pull a list of the top ten albums according to Billboard and cross index with a list of all acts playing at the Warfield in San Francisco in the next two months. If there’s a match, pull together links to reviews from my favorite rock critic and paste them into a page that you call the, "Automatic Concert Reminder" and you’ve got a new service. Add your own unique editorial to each concert and you’ve got a service that adds value and will hopefully attract a readership. Sell tickets via an affiliate link and you’ve got a business.

Microsoft, Longhorn, and RSS

Lots of buzz around Microsoft’s announcement that they are going to bake RSS into the next generation of Windows, Longhorn. If you’ve got the time, I highly recommend you sit through the MSDN Channel 9 video interview with the Longhorn/RSS team taken the day before their announcement at Gnomedex. You can feel the energy and excitement coming out of Redmond.

The video includes a demo of IE 7 and a hacked version of RSS Bandit on Longhorn that shows:

  • autodiscovery (no need to hunt for the little orange chicklet)
  • adding a feed populates a common list of feeds that can be shared by all Longhorn apps
  • Calendar support for RSS feeds of events (click to subscribe to events in Outlook)
  • <treat as> and <sort by> collaboration with Amazon to handle lists
  • adding feed of photoblogs to make a screensaver

More details and pointers on MSDN. RSS Everywhere!

Open Source Humor

Ever since I learned to read, I enjoyed cartoons that came each week in my father’s New Yorker. I have since come to appreciate the longer pieces but still marvel at the editorial efficiency of the one line caption. It’s a real art form.

Recently, the magazine has opened up the art of the caption to its readers (and the world at large) in the Cartoon Caption Contest.

As a recent homeowner, one of this week’s caption finalists had me giggling to myself for several minutes. The cartoon above still awaits your submission. What will it be? Mine?

I’d stay away from the martinis. They make them a bit stiff for my liking.

If only I was in better shape. . .

In a past life I cycled my way across Europe including climbs over the Pyrenees and the Dolomites. I was in the best shape I’ve ever been and towards the end I rode along with an Austrian team out for a ride and stayed right along with them, panniers and handlebar bags and all. I’ve been an avid cycling fan so I of course took a detour near the Loire Valley and saw the Tour roll through and even dinned near the Italian Polta team one evening and overheard them planning their tactics for the next day.

Subaru (with the help of R/GA) has launched their Tour de France blog (yep, it’s on Movable Type!) and has a sweepstakes drawing for two lucky individuals to blog about this year’s Tour which will be Lance Armstrong’s last. Qualifications require you not only to know something about cycle racing but also to be in top shape because you’ll be riding the course. From the Rules & Regulations page:

NOTE: Trips require bicycle riding along with Tour de France participants, which will require winner to be in exceptional physical condition. The Tour de France rides are challenging, mountainous, and are known for their long, strenuous climbs.

I better work on those situps. . .

Thanks to Adrants for the pointer.

Les Claypool

On a whim, I went to see Les Claypool last night. His bass playing style is a hard-hitting funk that I haven’t seen since I saw Keziah Jones several years back in Tokyo. His finger-slapping style throws out over the crowd like thick waves of jello – as soon as he starts playing, the whole room can’t help but start jumping.

I’ve never seen him play live before so I asked the others there what to expect. Everyone shrugged their shoulders, he likes to mix it up so much you never know what he’ll bring out.

Les took the stage with a sitar player named Gabby La La who wore a bright blue wig with ponytails and looked like an off-duty Japanese Anime character. The percussionist, Mike Dillon, was also amazing. Most of the time he played vibraphone but several times in the show his enthusiasm for the timbales got the best of him and he hauled his set out from the corner over to center stage and laid down a groove with the drummer that near blew the roof off the concert hall. During the entire 2 1/2 hour set he wore a rubber devil’s mask which only added to the pitch of his fever.

All 450 tickets to this Sunday night show at The Independent (the old Kennel Club) were sold out. I was lucky to get a spot right up front. I felt sorry for the bouncer who, good natured as he was, had to have his back to all the weirdness up on stage the whole night. At one point the sounds were so strange that curiosity got the best of him. You could see the question marks come out of his head when he looked up to see Les, donning a full-headed monkey mask, hunched over a one-stringed homemade base, banging on it with the back of a bow and bending the pitch with a springed lever. It just kept getting stranger.