Friday, May 28, 2010

Can Gucci teach game devs about innovation?

Really good talk by Johanna Blakely on innovation, remix, and the lack of copyright in the fashion industry. Punchline is that the industry can't use copyright to protect innovators, and yet, they innovate. Lots to think about here. Great talk.

Book Review: Fables Vol 1

Fables Vol. 1: Legends in Exile is a graphic novel I picked up after hearing two different friends recommend it. It takes place in New York where the characters of fairy tales, cast out from their lands by an evil demon, are forced to live undercover among regular folk.

I thought the premise was original, but the story (from the first volume anyway) not all that remarkable. Where there really is some gold is in the remix of the characters. Snow White as the tough as nails matriarch running the show, Prince Charming as a deadbeat gigolo, etc.

The characters alone make it worth giving the first volume a try. I don't think I'll be continuing, but that doesn't mean others won't find it their cup of tea.

Book Review: The Big Short

I ripped through The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine in a few days. I'd been told it was a easily digestible take on the recent financial crisis.

What I didn't expect was something that frightened me like a horror novel. For such a dry topic, he really turns it into a page-turner.

Some folk have critiqued the book for over-simplifying the topic. Little blame is placed on government, for example. The blame is mainly placed on improperly structured incentives and lack of risk prevention systems in Wall Street firms. These concerns are probably well founded. Nothing is so cut and dried, for sure.

That said, it's a good lesson in how companies - especially large complex ones - can get into real trouble when the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing, and in how leadership has a responsibility in both understanding their businesses and making sure the systems are in place to make sure those businesses don't run off the rails. Bottom line: If the buck stops with you, do you understand your balance sheet, and do you feel confident that the people and systems that report information into it are honest and correct?

I recommend the read, though be forewarned that you may find yourself pulling your money out of your mutual fund afterward and shoving it under your mattress.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Book Review: Ten Rules for Strategic Innovators

Ten Rules for Strategic Innovators: From Idea to Execution is the best business book I've read this year, and may one of my top favorites of all time.

Many books have been written about intrapreneurship, the incubating of new businesses or products inside large companies. This is the first I've come across that looks at the causes of success and failure when those incubation projects are brought out of the back room and re-integrated into the larger fabric of the company.

It's at this point that many fail, and they do so for a number of reasons. This book looks at a number of case examples and illustrates what things were done right and wrong, and more importantly why this is the case.

The book hit close to home with me because there are many examples (both good and bad) that resonated with the Larrabee project I came back to Intel to work on. This aside though, I found it relevant to many efforts I've seen at Intel and Microsoft and at other companies through conversations with friends.

If you work at a large company and are interested in the dynamics of trying to bootstrap new products or businesses within those walls, you owe it to yourself to pick up this book.

Ten Rules for Strategic Innovators: From Idea to Execution

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sunday, May 16, 2010

App demonstrates Facebook privacy pains

Following up on my last post, a friend developed this:

Go there and type a few keywords in that you figure people might want available to friends like "parole officer" or "DUI" or "Lost my virginity". I'm certain most of these people have an idea this is being made available to the world.

Also, danah has another awesome post on the subject.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Thoughts on the Facebook privacy outrage

Many are expressing a lot of angst about Facebook's privacy policy changes over the recent months. Here's some essential reading on the subject:

Matt McKeon has done an awesome bit of data-viz porn on the subject to help folks grok how FB's policy has changed over time. You can go play with it here. (As a bonus, Paul L pointed out to me how Matt's released source to the app to do this). Here's a snapshot:

If the above gives you the 5-second dump on what's changed, then the incomparable Danah Boyd's lengthy post on the subject will then let you simmer on the implications. Danah is one of the smartest people I know of looking at what SN's mean to people and how society is being shaped by them. Her post is essential reading for everyone. Period. So are a number of the posts she links to.

Talk of course has turned to whether there is an alternative to FB, and whether they've overplayed their hand. People are looking to alternatives and wondering whether someone can use this as an opportunity to topple the unstoppable giant*. A fave underdog in recent days is Diaspora, a Kickstartr-funded project that used the angst to raise $145k in 12 days (from >4000 people, 9 of which gave over $1k) - that's a lot of protest money.

*which is silly. How many times have we heard "no one can stop the unstoppable (yahoo, GM, Microsoft, Everquest, Genghis Khan, etc)"?

The idea of an alternative with more user-centric privacy controls is interesting, as is the idea of a distributed network like Diaspora's attempting.

My own opinion is that if people really start leaving FB in droves, or if regulators start getting heavy-handed (Danah points out that they are sniffing around), then FB can choose to dial back their policies. They'll be OK on this front if they do so soon enough.

It won't matter though. I still believe that FB is going to collapse under their own weight - and by that I mean the narrow, limited way in which they link people, and the band-aid solutions they have to add on to try and work around this. As I've pointed out at length before, the problem is that Facebook doesn't understand the difference between an adjective and a noun.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Google Chrome Speed Tests

There are a couple remarkable things about this bit of marketing.

1) It's Google doing marketing, which I can recall them doing so overtly for other products. Normally it's "offer the feature/product/service, let word of mouth do the rest"

2) It's a *spectacular* way of simultaneously claiming superiority on a feature without having to compare directly to competitors, AND poking fun at how absurd it is to be differentiating on speed of what for most people is 'fast enough'.

3) It's dead awesome.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The digital divide is alive and well

I did two volunteer activities recently that happened to fall back to back. On Friday I gave a career day talk at a middle school in Gresham (town east of Portland), one that I've done in past years. On Saturday, I gave a talk to a different group of middle school kids participating in the Oregon Game Project Challenge,

The first of these talks was about video games & tech careers, the latter was about predicting the future in tech (and how such predictions are almost always wrong).

Having the two talks back to back highlighted the disparity in tech knowledge and access that exists across communities even within a (relatively) homogeneous place like the PDX area. Now granted, the OGPC group was self-selected game enthusiasts. But even with that being said, I saw some kids in the hall doing last minute tweaks on their entry, working on a macbook pro while checking references on a Kindle.

Contrast that with the middle school I was at. Last year, the teacher I was working with explained that the schools computers were used almost exclusively for standardized testing, giving no student time for tech access for electives or homework. This year she bashfully showed me the one room of machines they now have for students... why? because the machines are too outdated to run the latest standardize testing platform and other required software. So students without their own machines have shared, part time access to shiny blue twelve year old iMacs. Discouraging to say the least.

Anyhow, given that the Friday talk was to 150 kids, here's an update to the Q&A I gave at the beginning of 98's year's talk:

  • Number of kids who play games: ~98%.
  • Number who have a parent that plays games: ~%50
  • Number who have a grand-parent who plays videogames: :20% (Yes, the Eberts are dying off)
  • Number one title I got questions about: COD:MW2 (2 years ago it was GTA: San Andreas). Someone's not checking those ESRB ratings :-/
  • Surprising number of questions about hardware (which do you think is more powerful, PS3 or 360? Is the PC more powerful? Is iPhone more powerful than PSP? etc)
Anyhow, both talks were fun, but it's always frustrating to see some kids held back because of lack of access to technology.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Book Review: Tea Time With Terrorists

I recently finished Tea Time with Terrorists: A Motorcycle Journey into the Heart of Sri Lanka's Civil War. The author, Mark Stephen Meadows, and I are on the same mail list and I thought enough of his ideas to buy the book knowing nothing about it. And wow, I sure am glad I bought it.

Finding himself in Europe when 9-11 happened, Mark watched from the outside as our government and media conjured up a boogie-man of 'terrorist' that quickly took on a hype beyond even the events of that day. Questioning what he was being told to fear, and feeling that the best way to deal with fear of the unknown is to make it known, he decided to spend some time meeting some terrorists and finding out what makes them, well I suppose 'tick' is a poor choice of word.

After a little research he settled on Sri Lanka as his petri dish, flew down to the tourist capital Colombo, rented a motorcycle and headed north to the home of the Tamil Tigers and what has essentially been a war zone for ~30 years. The Tamil Tigers having the unique distinction of having invented suicide bombing and exporting that to other terrorist organizations.

Thus begins a very unique travelogue. It's part introspective, part narrative. A look at the horrors people can commit, and the beauty that people can find in living their lives despite this.

Mark comes off as two parts Indy Jones (playing motorcycle bullfighter with trucks, getting escorts at gunpoint, etc) and one part Mr Magoo (leaving the road to investigate a bombed out tank, only to realized he'd wandered to the middle of a minefield).

All the while he approaches his adventures with the type of drink-heartily-of-life gusto to which we should all aspire.

If you are looking for an insight into the mind of a terrorist (he meets and interviews several), a portrait of a beautiful country, or a great story of travel and adventure, this book is for you. It delivers on all three counts.

Tea Time with Terrorists: A Motorcycle Journey into the Heart of Sri Lanka's Civil War

Book Review: The Universe In A Nutshell

I picked The Universe in a Nutshell an audiobook and listened to it during my commute. It's Hawking's more accessible overview of astrophysics and it's history.

It's a fun and accessible read for those that have an interest in the subject matter, but aren't well versed on it (or have let their knowledge atrophy). I don't think I'd recommend it as an audiobook for commutes though. For one, it's not exactly concentration-free. Secondly, he refers to the occasional diagram which of course you can't see.

There are a couple sections of the book where he talks about thought-trends in the scientific community and how often they fall by the wayside for the next big thing. For a field with a storied history, you'd think they'd learn that their history indicates that each idea has a high probability of not being "the final theory". Kind of reminded me of our own obsession with whatever the current 'big thing' is (microtransactions, facebook, etc).