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Current Events

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.

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Current Events

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

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Current Events

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.

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Current Events

Morgan Aero 8

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My father used to go on and on about how a Morgan would be the perfect car for me. Because of their over-sized, smog-producing, hand built British engines, the old Morgan’s from the 50’s were eventually banned from the US and I never saw one. Morgan, one of Britain’s oldest independent sports car maker has now updated itself and is going to begin selling it’s new Morgan Aero 8 in the US this year. The look has been updated but it’s classic styling remains. I think I understand what my father was getting at. Now if I only had $100k to spend on a car. . .

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Current Events

Skiddaddling Alarm Clock

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Ever had one of those mornings where you hit the snooze bar one too many times and end up having to rush out the door with a bagel in your mouth because you’re late? Gauri Nanda, a researcher at the MIT Media Lab has a device that will solve that for you.

When the alarm clock goes off and the snooze button is pressed, Clocky will roll off the bedside table and wheel away, bumping mindlessly into objects on the floor until it eventually finds a spot to rest. Minutes later, when the alarm sounds again, the sleeper must get up out of bed and search for Clocky. This ensures that the person is fully awake before turning it off. Small wheels that are concealed by Clocky’s shag enable it to move and reposition itself, and an internal processor helps it find a new hiding spot every day.

Problem solved until you’re one of those people with a pistol in your bedside drawer.

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Current Events

Podcast at 30,000 feet

In what has got to be a first, Jason Calcanis “Planecasts” from 30,000 feet about John Battelle’s new company, FM Publishing.

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Current Events

Birthday

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Let’s tag this one as “Current Affairs” as my 39th birthday is something that only happens once, (today) and will no longer be relevant tomorrow. Thirty-nine seems such a ho-hum number, like watching the white number reel tick over on an odemeter before the next significant digit rolls in, a little excitement and anticipation because it’s almost 40 but, it’s not.

Since having kids, my birthdays have no longer really been important as I choose to celebrate each year’s passing with each of my children’s birthdays. It’s much more fun to celebrate someone turning six or making it to first grade which is so much more significant than adding another year onto 38 which seems so totally mundane in comparison.

After finishing up some chores around the house I’ll head into the city to visit with Mie and Dav so we can see the Scraphouse and then they’re going to take me out to dinner and a concert which I haven’t done in a while. Hopefully this change in routine will snap me out of the rut I’ve been in. I think it all has to do with not having Izumi and the kids around to crack me out of my one track mind which has been so totally focused on work. I do love my job and all but without family to distract, I tend to zone in on what needs to be done (which I should know is a bottomless pit).

It should get better. It’s the weekend, the weather’s glorious, I ate breakfast out on the back patio with the birds chirping in the garden (I need to mow that lawn) and I’m no longer on the losing end of a poker game (I think I only won two hands last night, pitiful!).

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Current Events

Game On!

Tyler’s T-Ball league teams are all named after real Major League teams. Tyler plays for the Washington Nationals who were most recently the Montreal Expos. Last weekend we all went to the beautiful SBC Park to see the real Washington Nationals play the San Francisco Giants. It was pouring down rain on our way in and everyone was wondering if the game would be called. As we waited for the light to change so we could cross the street to the stadium, I looked around and could see that this was a die hard crowd. They were going to this game even though it was raining and was predicted to rain through to the evening. They were there on the off chance that the game would be on. Folks were huddled under their umbrellas in grim determination and I began to wonder if this day at the ballpark was going to work out as planned.

As we waited, a station wagon rolled by in traffic with a young girl, maybe 9 or 10 years old, leaning out the window and waving her baseball glove madly and egging on the crowd, “Game On! Game On!” as if she could will the game to happen. You could see she couldn’t wait to see her SF Giants hit the field. And would you believe it, after a short delay, the grounds crew came out to pull the covering off the diamond to the roar of the crowd.

The game went into extra innings and came down to some questionable calls but by that time we had already gone. As you can see from the photo above, attention spans were waning and when the wind picked up in the fifth inning, it was time to duck out and head home.

The seats were great (thanks Andrew!) and the kids had a blast.

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Current Events

Guess The Google

Here’s a bit of distraction for you. This site will pull together a set of images from a Google Image search and ask you to guess the keyword that generated the results. It’s addictive.

Guess-the-Google

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Current Events

Real Estate as an API

This is a great case when two APIs get hooked up to make something greater than what each service could offer on its own. Paul Rademach, a tech lead for animation tools at Dreamworks, has connected Google Maps to Craigslist to present a visual UI for real estate listings. You can set your location and price parameters and get a map that you can zoom in on and scroll with pinmarks for every “hit.”

A yellow pin indicates that photos are associated with the listing and clicking on the pin will bring up the information from Craigslist as shown in the image on the left.

I dreamed something like this would be possible with other layers being added in as needed like those old Mylar overlays you would see in atlases or anatomy textbooks. I can already think of two overlays that I’d like to see if I were a homebuyer. Comparables and School Districts. Once geo-locater enabled web services are exposed for this data, it would be fairly trivial. I think much harder is getting this data.