In May I will be presenting in a forum that is foreign to me. More about that later, but I note it to explain why I have been watching TED more than usual lately. And hanging around Presentation Zen. Yesterday, Garr Reynolds pointed to a presentation by brain researcher Jill Bolte Taylor that is about as close to perfect as I can imagine. It is simultaneously personal and universal, humorous and poignant. Her message is so simple that it is impossible to miss and so profound that I reckon it will be impossible to forget.
TED has posted excerpts from a fascinating talk by Nicholas Negroponte from the first TED conference in 1984. That was the year I returned to BYU after serving a Church mission in Austria. Before my mission (1982), I was programming COBOL on punch cards. When I returned, I was required to take a class called Introduction to Computer Programming, which was really a class on how to use PC software (WordPerfect, Lotus 123, Basic). On the first day of class, the instructor began by distinguishing "hardware" and "software."
Obviously, Negroponte was well beyond that ... but still primitive from today's vantage.
Seriously? The moon seems so 1960s. We have already been to Mars (at least with machines), but our prestige will be hurt by China replicating a feat we accomplished 40 years ago? Mark Whittington is not joking:
Returning to the Moon represents the first step in establishing space as a venue of human economic and political activity. The potential of space or lunar based solar power, now being studied by the US military, and fusion power fueled by helium 3 to address the world's energy concerns is incalculable. The Moon is the key to accessing these resources.
NASA is plugging away on the next moon mission, but I have a hard time seeing Americans get excited about the moon again. Even if the ultimate goal is to put humans on Mars and we use the moon for practice. Especially not because of some vague notion of technological prestige.
“A new version of Word that has more buttons than the dashboard on the space shuttle. You need a pilot's license to use it. Have you seen it? It's incredible. First time someone showed me the interface I thought it was a spoof, like that fake ad about what an iPod box would look like if Microsoft made it.”
The new Word combines thirty odd menus of features and activates them via tabs and buttons, instead of text. It doesn’t work with other software programs, including old versions of Word, which can’t open documents done on the new version. It takes me an inexplicable three clicks and a trip to the secret Windows Office button to create a new document. Said secret Office button also contains a Send submenu, a Print submenu, and a Publish submenu, because those things are all so very different, apparently. It is, in short, a strange combination of bloated, confusing, and unambitious, and I would avoid upgrading to the new Word for as long as your tech services people will allow.
I know, I know, complaining about Microsoft is like hitting alt-F4 on your keyboard when you’re in your blog posting program. But still. It’s like the company never thought to look at how Nintendo succeeded with the Wii or how Google succeeded with Google. And those companies are its direct competitors. Everyone in the legal academic world uses Microsoft, but really, I’m going to look hopefully, longingly at Google Docs, marvel at the advantages of simplicity of design, sigh, and then return to my high-kilobyte, memory-intensive, draft paper, which I will revise by toggling unhappily between the footnote insertion menu (it is under “references”), the comment function (it is under “review”), and the typeface management region (it can be found at “home”).
This article makes me very sad. I have enough existential angst without now wondering whether my life is really being run by a 20-something guy who doesn't leave his house very much. And all those hours I spent discussing whether free will, agency and even Paradise Lost were just wasted. I think in order to maintain my sanity I'm just going to have to be in denial here and refuse to believe that I am either part of someone's computer simulation or worse, someone's avatar! (But if I am, couldn't I be a little taller and maybe have red hair, like a nice strawberry blonde?)
I am watching iPhone users from afar. USA Today reports that "90% of 200 owners said they were 'extremely' or 'very' satisfied with their phone" and "85% said they are 'extremely' or 'very' likely to recommend the device to others." Of course, some iPhone users love it even though the phone doesn't work:
Right now I can't make or receive calls inside my house. With Verizon, I could get calls inside, outside, anywhere. The service was so good, in fact, that I never bothered to get a landline. With AT&T, I must retreat to the backyard, where mosquitoes drain me of blood. Worse yet, my iPhone often takes five minutes to even detect service in the backyard. After figuring this out, I recounted some of these difficulties to my mother. She suggested that I keep my Verizon service as a backup. This led to a brief argument in which I angrily defended AT&T, claiming that the telecommunications giant was making major infrastructure upgrades. My mother hung up on me. Yes, AT&T's crappy wireless coverage is tearing my family apart.
Apple probably didn't intend to release a phone that will make me less technologically accessible than before. The iPhone: the mobile device that forces you to get a landline. OK, I don't really have to get a landline—I could just move to another house. But even though I can't use it to make phone calls, I still love the iPhone.
Applehound reports that the "OS X graphical interface and applications are extremely solid!" Then proceeds to list 68 bugs!
Then there's this.
In the mid- to late-1990s, I become a tech-media junkie: WIRED, Red Herring, Business 2.0, Industry Standard, etc. Several years ago, I switched to blogs for my tech news. Forbes now tells us that advertisers are doing the same:
Silicon Valley is booming again. But if you work in tech media, there's blood on the floor. Take Red Herring. It hung onto its offices after getting the eviction notice earlier this month. But gossip site Valleywag is breaking story after story not just on its beat--but about its woes. Meanwhile, bigger publications are hurting too: ... Business 2.0 saw ad pages drop 21.8% through March from the same period a year ago; PC Magazine's editor in chief walked out the door after ad pages fell 38.8% over the same period; and one-time online powerhouse CNET is reporting growing losses even as the companies it covers flourish. It may be happening in tech first, but there's no reason the same thing won't happen, eventually, in every media niche.
Whaddya do when you need to send a 40mb data file to your co-author who's in a different city? Chances are you can't just email it. Your email server likely imposes an upper limit on attachment size for security reasons. And 40 megs is a big attachment. You could snail mail a thumb drive, but that seems archaic. You could post your file on your faculty webpage for download, but that may be a bit of a chore, especially if you don't have permission or software skills to tinker with it. Or . . . (drumroll), you could DropSend it. DropSend allows you to send files up to 1GB, or to upload and store files online. And best of all . . . (drumroll), it's free. You just have to register by (no surprise) giving them a wee bit of personal information. For free, you get 5 sends per month and 250MB of storage. Five bucks a month gets you 15 sends and 1GB of storage. And so on. It's a really nice service when you need it.
As someone who grew up a few months too soon to be in the video game generation, I'm a little embarassed to say this, but I think my family is a Nintendo family. Last week I was reading this NYT article on how Nintendo is killing Sony and Microsoft in the video gaming industry right now, and it dawned on me that the article was about my family.
Part of the reason for the success of such products as the Nintendo Wii and the Nintendo DS, according to the article, is that Nintendo finally realized that many families didn't want high-level geeky games created by high-level geeky gamers. Although many families have one person that these games attract, the games don't universally attract all family members. Voila! The Wii.
I completely agree. A couple of years ago, I broke down and allowed an X-Box into our house. But the games are too complicated and not kid-friendly. The Lego Star Wars series, while a really fun concept, is created for 30-somethings who love Star Wars, not the kids looking at the "E" for everyone. I don't consider it fun to have to look up on the Internet hints and secret codes for getting from Level Whatever to Level Better. When my son tries to play it alone (without Paul), he often asks me to help him, but there is literally nothing I can do. But all this is changed now. Two weeks ago, we bought a Wii!
First of all, you can hook up a Wii in 5 minutes. Then, you create your "Mii," and you can play in about 5 more minutes. (My kids think the creating the Mii part is the best game so far.) The Wii Sports games that are pre-loaded and the games on Wii Play have very steep (short, fast)learning curves. Without investing time in honing special skills, mom can jump in, friends who come over can jump in, even grandparents can jump in. For our family, this is a much better game. Although complex games may sharpen problem-solving skills, blah, blah, blah, for our family, having something that everyone can play is much more important. "Game night" doesn't have to be Monopoly anymore! (On our wish list, Mario Party 8.)
We also have a Nintendo DS Lite for our daughter. Although she's not video-game crazy either, she really likes Nintendogs, a game the article points out is one of few marketed to girls. So, I guess if we have to concede that Nintendo is winning the gaming wars by marketing to the low-brow, low-tech masses, that's at least half our family!
Apple's new iPhone looks very cool. Here is a report on the launch. I have a Samsung i730, which is an amazing device in many ways, but it is clunky. Unfortunately, the iPhone will be available only through Cingular.
The W$J asks whether the iPhone is worth the hefty price tag ($599). "Yes" seems to be the early answer, at least if you think investors have their fingers on the pulse of the market. Apple's shares rose $7.10.
UPDATE: Check out Paul Kedrosky's brief discussion of Cisco v. Apple on the name "iPhone."
Further to my earlier rant on flight delays and airlines' failure to disclose them in timely fashion, Delta has just started a new service that reports flight delays to your designated phone number or email address. According to a press release, the new service
will notify customers when their flights are delayed and provide continuous, real-time updates when operational changes occur, such as rebooking options or gate changes.
I've just subscribed to the service, so I can't yet say whether notifications will be timely. But it's certainly a step in the right direction. As I wrote previously, this seems in the airline's interest as well as the passengers':
[I]s it that costly to disclose the departure delay in advance? Presumably, some passengers would find alternative flights, and Delta couldn’t impose cancellation penalties for flight commitments it couldn’t fulfill, right? Even assuming that’s right, it seems to me that it still might be profit maximizing for Delta to disclose early. First off, under current pricing practices, it would probably be difficult for most passengers to find a palatable fare on an alternative airline on such short notice, so there won’t be many cancellations—except for those passengers who simply decide not to fly that day. Second, wouldn’t a policy of early disclosure offer enormous marketing advantages? If an airline always disclosed flight delays as early as possible, I would certainly favor that airline over its less helpful competitors. Even if it didn’t enable me to switch flights, I would appreciate the information for planning purposes.
My office telephone has a message on it right now. I am supposed to call someone back. I hate calling people back. I like email, which allows me to write them back anytime of the day or night.
Lately, I have been noticing that many teens do not use email. See, e.g., here and here. I have learned that emails (not just mine, but emails generally) are a burden to my 18-year-old daughter. She doesn't like to respond to emails. She prefers texting. Or talking on the phone.
So I am feeling betwixt and between, not able to communicate effectively with the next generation older or younger. I am imagining myself twenty years from now, still blogging and using email, and annoying all of the younger professors.
The Milken Institute has just released an extensive report of biotechnology transfer entitled Mind to Market: A Global Analysis of University Biotechnology Transfer and Commercialization. The report ranks universities around the world based on "publication rankings, patenting activity and office of technology transfer (OTT) outcome measures, or how universities perform in the overall innovation pipeline."
Wisconsin ranked #14 in publications, #9 in patenting activity, and #22 in OTT outcomes. In addition, Wisconsin ranked #4 in licensing income and #5 in patents issued. Well done, Badgers!
Other key findings:
• Harvard ranks first in terms of biotech research, as measured by papers and citations, followed by the University of Tokyo and University of London. U.S. universities hold eight of the top 10, and 28 of the top 40 positions. California universities hold five of the top 25 rankings; the UK and Japan hold three each.
• The University of Texas system scores first on our Biotech Patent Composite Index, followed by UC San Francisco — which is likely first among individual campuses since the University of Texas doesn’t report data on individual campuses — and Johns Hopkins. Nine of the top 10 patent holders are U.S. universities. The University of London ranks first among foreign universities (10th overall). (U.S.-issued university biotech patents grew from a cumulative total of 433 through 1995 to 11,430 in 2004.)
• Our University Technology Transfer and Commercialization Index shows MIT first on outcome measures, which include such factors as licensing income and startups. The University of California system ranks second (led by UC San Francisco), with Caltech third, Stanford fourth and Florida fifth. The University of British Columbia was the highest-ranked Canadian institution, coming in eighth overall.
• Among U.S., Canadian and European universities, the United States leads in invention disclosures, patents filed and granted, licenses executed and licensing income. However, European universities surpass their U.S. counterparts in startups established.
• Research activity has a high rate of return. Each 10-point increase in our Research Papers score contributes an additional $1.7 million in annual licensing income.
• Investments into OTTs also offer high returns. For every $1 invested in OTT staff, the university receives alittle more than $6 of licensing income.
• In terms of job creation, the Amgens and Genentechs most differentiate the economic impact of U.S. university-based biotech commercialization that originates from universities in other nations.
Interesting stuff, though if you want to read the whole thing, you will need to reserve a few hours.
In this age of technology, why would you hire DJ for your wedding reception? Not for the music library -- for a typical $650 fee, you can download a lot of eclectic tunes. For the DJ's witty repartee? Perfect sense of timing to know just when the crowd wants to do the Chicken Dance? Probably not. The WSJ today warns that iPods are killing the DJ industry. For the cost of renting speakers and maybe cajoling a pre-teen cousin to watch the playlist, couples are opting out of the DJ era. This seems sensible to me. No one who plans a wedding ever really wants a DJ. You want music. However, live bands are expensive, so many people opt for the DJ. The D.J. is usually not something you tout -- he doesn't match the color scheme -- instead, you want him to be as inconspicuous as possible. What's more inconspicuous than an iPod?