Swimming in Finland

The weather in Helsinki has been fantastic the past week. T-shirts and Keen sandles type warm. We’re even sleeping with our windows open in the evenings. Today we swam in the ocean!

At the beach in Helsinki
At the beach in Helsinki

Real-time Search, Art or Science?

Erik Schonfeld at TechCrunch posted a thought-provoking piece on real-time search. Twitter and Facebook are falling over each other in the media spotlight, fighting to be the place to go to find out the now.

There is something about human nature which makes us want to prioritize information by how recent it is, and that is the fundamental appeal of real time search. The difference between real time search and regular search didn’t really crystallize for me until I had a conversation with Edo Segal, who sold his real time search company Relegence to AOL a few years ago and holds three patents on the subject. “Real time taps into consciousness,” says Segal, “search taps into memory. That is why it so potent. You experience the world in real time.”

Like a moth to the flame, we are drawn in by the seductiveness of the freshest information but when we get too much of it, we’re overwhelmed with the banality of everything by everybody at the same time. It’s like listening to 1,000 CDs at once – perfect resolution saturates the senses.

What we really want is a way to zero in on the patterns that matter. Like the proverbial early bird, when you get fresh information that’s relevant and actionable, you can go further and faster on less. Back in start-up land I would use all my alerting tools to jump on new technologies that I knew would get buzz so that we could piggy-back on their eventual coverage. Just the other day, I noticed that Marshall Kirkpatrick was trolling for ideas and I jumped on that and was rewarded with a mention in his story about Augmented Reality.

How do you monitor the hourly hum and look for emerging patterns before they become obvious? That problem is as old as the weather forecaster looking for hurricanes or the stock broker parsing the wires for tips.

When does gossip become news? In the financial industry you need to strike the right balance between moving on privilaged information. If only a few people know something, it’s not going to move a stock – it has to be common knowledge in order for the masses to place their bets.

I used to sell financial news wire subscriptions in Tokyo to equity traders and there was one broker that wouldn’t replace her Reuters subscription with one from Dow Jones even after I showed her several examples where DJ beat Reuters on market moving news. In Tokyo DJ was an underdog so it was a tough sell. She wouldn’t budge, insisting that she needed to see the same news others in the market. She didn’t want to have to think and weigh each piece of news, she looked at her quote screen and would use jumps in price to draw her to the news feed. It was a cleaner signal, albeit a commodity.

Finding relevant emerging patterns before they become trends, that is the challenge. I’ve said it before, better filters will be the next great algorithm war. We’ve all become enamored with twitter search which we all know is imperfect and self-selecting but compelling nonetheless.  I think we’ll also find that getting real-time alerting right on a broader scale is going to be more art and less science.

Find my Phone, Nokia Style

I just got an email from the folks behind the Mobile Web Server which runs on Nokia S60 phones. They figured out how to run a web server on your phone so you can configure your mobile device to basically be a node on the internet, addressable via an IP address, hosting web pages, streaming GPS and sending camera information. I haven’t played with it in a while but one cool feature they had was a widget that you could put on your facebook page which featured a button which allowed anyone viewing your facebook page access to your camera on your phone.

Today, perhaps in response to the broad coverage about the Find my iPhone story I blogged about, they reminded me about the Remote Start feature where you can start the web server via an SMS message which you can send to your phone.

We would like to remind you about the remote start feature. In the unfortunate situation that your phone got lost somehow, it would be possible for you to start the server if you are not having it always on. . . When the server is online you can see who has been calling, read the messages or if you are uncertain where it is, use the positioning or web camera to locate it.

For more details, see the Mobile Web Server user guide (pdf) or wiki site.

Find My iPhone Fable

Great story of how Kevin Miller tracked down his stolen iPhone using Mobile Me’s Find my iPhone app.

findmyphone

While Kevin’s friend walked the streets of Chicago with a broadband modem-enabled laptop, they homed in on the actual person who had taken their phone and confronted them.

“Have you got it?” I asked as I marched up to the guy, acting far more intimidating than I felt. Our iPhone-pilfering friend apparently works at the sketchy bar, and as he fished around in his bag, he gave a questionable alibi about having found the phone, intending to return it, but being intimidated by “all these scary-looking messages” that kept popping up on the display. “Um, yeah, those were from me,” I replied curtly. He pulled my phone out, totally unharmed, and handed it over. I resisted the urge to giggle.

Kevin acknowledges that this wouldn’t have been possible if the phone’s battery died

I’d been amazed that the phone had enough battery life to make it through the night and still beam its location; the moment its battery was dead, then it would be game over for our little scavenger hunt. I unlocked my phone and saw almost 20 missed calls. And then, at that very moment, the iPhone shut down and displayed the “Connect to power” icon. My phone’s battery literally hung on until the second it was in my hand. I wuv you, iPhone.

Beautiful.

UPDATE: There’s a Nokia version of this product too – a bit more geeky but if you know what you’re doing, quite powerful.

UPDATE: Check out Ewan’s post for a very English version of this same fable. [I Lost My Phone in London Today]

Goodbye Alameda

Over the past month, I have been unwinding my life in the San Francisco Bay Area and getting ready to move the family (and dog) over to Helsinki, Finland where Nokia, my employer, is headquartered.

For the past four and half years we have been living in Alameda, an island in the East Bay, about 20 minutes from San Francisco, over the Bay Bridge. We settled here because, Izumi, spotting Alameda on a map noted it’s location in the middle of the Bay, making it most convenient to most locations.

It took two months of intense house hunting (remember, this was 2004, the peak of the housing bubble) but we finally found a place that we could call home. We lucked out and were fortunate to find a neighborhood that we loved on a block surrounded by families with children that really bonded with our kids and grew up together over the years.

Tyler started in kindergarden when we moved in and just finished forth grade, Julia’s  finished first grade. Edison School, where we walked our kids to school each day, is the only school that our kids really know. It’s been tough for them to imagine what their life will be like in Finland so it’s been hard for them to leave.

Izumi too has made many friends here and as we walk the island people often wave or honk their horn, it’s that kind of place. Because English is not Izumi’s native language and she didn’t grow up here, she sometimes misses some of the cultural references people make in casual conversation but the community embraced her and Izumi really came to feel like one of the community. It’s been rough for her to uproot herself and get ready for our move and the past few days have seen a lot of teary goodbyes.

It’s sad to leave but it also represents a new beginning, a fork in the road. We’ve had the good fortune to live in Tokyo, Princeton, and Alameda. Now we have a chance to live in Helsinki, in a semi-socialist country with a totally different climate – a place where we’ll live with a built-in sauna, the schools and hospitals are excellent, and when we arrive it will be light out until 10pm. We been given the choice to live day-to-day in Europe and add that to our life experiences. What we do with this experience and what we make of it is up to us.

We’re leaving Alameda today but are making plans for a reunion in Europe next Summer and hope to make it back for a visit the Christmas after next. Thank you Alameda for taking us in and keep in touch!

Goodbye Alameda
Photo by Tyler