Tuesday, December 13, 2011

If the Euro implodes, fraud will explode

The potential for fraud is enormous if the Euro has problems
Today, the New York Times carried an article about some of the issues which would arise if Greece drops the Euro. There were many listed, and they were horrifying. It also points out that planning for it is being discouraged for fear that would make it more likely. Yet, it is clearly Top Management's fiduciary responsibility to do so. If they do not, and it happens, they could be held legally responsible for any negative results.

One of the most uncertain in size, but inevitability in occurrence is fraud. Any sudden realignment of currencies (and it would have to be sudden to prevent flight of capital), would provide enormous opportunities to fraud rings. Most current fraud prevention methods would be helpless as they could not act fast enough. Billions would be lost by the companies that engage in business using Euros. Few have considered this as the fragmentation of the Euro looks very possible.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

How to make sense of Big data

The advance of database technology and hardware enables us to built larger and larger data warehouses with massive amounts of data - big data. The increasing demands from financial transactions, network connections, and other areas makes this a requirement. Yet, trying to make sense of this data is like trying to take a sip of water from a fire-hose. The quantity of data is just too large to review using tables. Even data-mining requires hypothesis formation to write the query. The only way to access this data in a useful way is through visualization. Initially, this has been through graphs and diagrams. However, these are relatively clumsy and require reference back to the tables and charts. Our knowledge of human perception has advanced, along with algorithms and the capability of the Graphical Processing Unit to the point that Synerscope presents big data in a way which the human eye and brain finds natural. This means that humans can draw meaning from visualizations that hold millions of pieces of data.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The successful, incurious man or woman

There are many people who are successful without being curious, yet others are. You could not create iPods were you not curious, but you might be able to be a successful commodity trader. Curiosity is laudable, like virtue, in itself, not because of any material reward it brings. I do find it more interesting to be in the company of curious people, but those who are not may be just as decent, or perhaps more so. There is no correlation.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Magical thinking is not just for children any more.

So often we see intelligent adults assume that you can get the behavior and process you want by a simple change in one element. Whether this is as simple as an assumption that transferring policing or fighting wars to private enterprise will make it more effective and efficient, or that changing electoral systems will create greater democracy, it is usually too simplistic to be true. Both government and private enterprise have internal as well as external pressures. Many of these hurt efficiency as others help it. Voting systems can create greater democracy, but only if other conditions are present. To assume that making one simple macro change will automatically improve the way things are done is magical thinking of the sort that is normally found in 5 year old children.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Is the BBC'S impact in the US growing by the personal presence of Katty Kay?

The BBC has long had a positive image in the US. Known for impartial news and high quality programs, whether entertainment or informative, it has nevertheless not been a major presence in the US. With the introduction of two cable channels, that has started to change. Yet, that is not itself enough. However, it seems that the main news anchor on BBC news America, Katty Kay, is everywhere these days. On Sunday morning talk shows, authoring a book, and speaking at conferences, she has made the BBC real to many Americans. If only there were more people like her showcasing the BBC, it would be more watched and listened to. Which does beg the question of why when one person does it so well, why are there not more people doing it at all?

Friday, November 04, 2011

Kachingle is a new model in monetizing the web

Kachingle, http://www.kachingle.com/home.php, is a new model that allows readers to reward content they like by making micro-payments. The reader sets a monthly budget, say $5 or much more. Then when they see a site they like, they click on the button to send a proportion of that to the site. It is more like NPR than the Wall Street Journal, as it relies on an honor system, but it does seem to work well.

Infrastructure is the reason why the US is crumbling

The recent snowstorm in the Northeast highlighted our crumbling infrastructure. 50% of homes in CT without power four days later. Apparently, CT is three times as forested now as it was in 1985. So, if you insist on hanging power lines from poles, the likelihood of them being brought down by falling trees has gone up several times. Add to that a 20% reduction in work crews and a reduction in regular tree trimming (now done only once every five years) and power outages are inevitable. Add to that, reductions in maintenance of roads, bridges, railroad tracks and rolling stock, and the US is the only developed or developing country where infrastructure is getting worse, not better.

The inevitable conclusion, if maintenance and repair continues to fall behind is continued erosion of infrastructure. Thinking ahead, as we used to in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, would prevent this from happening.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Why do US speed limits end in "5"?

Every other country, including our neighbor, Canada, has almost all speed limits end in "0." So, we get 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, etc. H0wever, in the US, they almost always end in "5," even though car speedometers show speeds ending in "0." I have often wondered why the US adopted this counter-intuitive and probably more difficult system. But like light switches going up to turn a light on, it is yet another example of American exceptionalism. I have tried to find the origins of this, but perhaps, like driving on the right or the left, there is no sure answer.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The US Post Office is quite remarkable

For 48c a letter can be picked up from any of over 100 Million locations, and within one to three days, bo transported thousands of miles, to any of over 100 Million locations, with a precision which is remarkable - much more accurately than Fedex or UPS, which will charge about 40X as much. Other Western countries charge around twice as much and cover few far locations and far smaller distances. We see one of the most effective and accurate services ever to exist, at a price that is unequalled. Yet, we fail to value it enough and never think to marvel at how it achieves this. When it finally dies, our descendents will find it difficult to believe.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Do journalists have an obligation to check facts, or should they merely repeat what they hear?

It has long amazed me to see that usually, when an interviewee blatantly lies or makes an incorrect statement, the journalist will let it stand. To me, this undermines the credibility of the journalist. yet it is not seen as the function of most journalists. It seems that the justification for the special position of the Fourth Estate is the fact that it seeks the truth to put in front of the public. Yet it has become more like entertainment. If journalists are not charged with seeking the truth, and challening untruths, why should the press occupy a special position?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why do we blog?

Do we simply like to hear the sound of our own voices? Are we seeking publicity? Do we want to make money? Are we altruistic? Do we want to keep learning by being on the leading edge?

I suspect that while the balance may vary, most bloggers have more than one motivation. With many millions of blogs out there, most get little or no readership, and a tiny percentage get in the thousands of readers. I also find that it is a good self-discipline to force myself to think of a topic on a (semi)-regular basis and then to articulate the thought. It is harder work than Tweeting or reposting articles to Facebook or Digg. I would encourage everyone to have a go.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

When does media impartiality become irresponsible?

The media in many democracies tries to be impartial in its news coverage. However, sometimes presenting a balanced view of two perspectives if one is wrong, is a disservice and betrayal of the reader or viewer. Giving equal time to flat-earthers may be one of those, or to those who argue that the moon landings were rigged. So at what point does it become irresponsible to not point out that Iraq did not have WMDs? In regard to the debt ceiling? It is wrong not to point out that to refuse to pay for debts which were incurred when Congress authorized the spending, will have bad consequences, as when a homeowner refuses to make mortgage payments, or a credit card holder refuses to pay even the minimum payment.
This suggests that the media now misunderstands its proper role in a democracy. Informing the audience of opinions is not mandatory, but it is of facts, and opinions should be marked as such.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Putting barriers between you and a prospective customer or client

It always amazes me that companies will put barriers between them and a prospect. One of the most common is forcing them to provide contact information before allowing them to download a brochure (even if you call it a white paper). If you really believe that a prospect will think more highly of you after they have read it, why create a disincentive? You should want to get it into as many hands as possible. Prospects want to buy! They would not be looking otherwise. So it is important to streamline the process by stripping out the obstacles in the way. Allow the prospect to buy by putting them in control of the process.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

How to land a corporate job after 50!

Conventional wisdom has it that people over 50 never land jobs with corporations. Yet, while it is immensely difficult, I do know many people who have. In fact, I was recently talking to a friend, who at 67, has just landed a senior position with a very well known corporation. With no college degree, he has landed about 4 times since he was 50 at major corporations. How does he, and all the others, do it? Quite simple - he has built a strong network of people who know and trust him so much that they reach out to him. This does not mean that he is passive - far from it. He has spent a lifetime building that network, and works hard to maintain it. As your friends and colleagues retire, or even die, the network must be kept fresh. Do favors for them, even unasked, and keep your skills fresh. No one finds a job after 50 by simply going through the routine application process (even at younger ages, this is rare), but through the networks you build.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Google+ How about "Friends" and "Close Friends'?

So far, I like Google+. I like how it splits Facebook's "Friends" into two classes. However, I hate "Friends" and "Acquaintances." It is almost an insult to label someone who may have been a friend on Facebook, an "acquaintance." Why did they not call them "Friends" and "Close Friends?"

How to bring optimism back

Events can be a function of attitude. Today, there is pessimism all around and no one who seems to have a big vision. There are those who have small visions, but the world and its component parts seem headed off a cliff. This need not be the case. It takes a catalyst to change this. One leader who can give people a sense of possibilities. This cannot mean just for a few, but for everyone. Divisions of class, race, income or religion hurt any vision.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What happened to hope?

In the 50s and 60s there was immense hope and optimism in the USA. It was not partisan, but applied to all Americans, and most of the rest of the world too. America, under a Republican President, started investing massively in infrastructure. The Interstate system, railroads (much of the current rolling stock was acquired during that period), electric grid, airports, all were built or rebuilt. The space program offered hope and inspiration to everyone, in particular budding scientists and engineers, culminating in the 1969 moon landing. Social progress was made, ranging from racial equality activism and legislation and gender equality to gay rights movements starting. While there was push back from the establishment, young people (and some old) took to the streets to push their causes. Woodstock and other youth events transformed the way we looked at the world. The Vietnam war created an anti-war activism which had been minimal during all previous wars. While there were many problems still - poverty, worker safety, voter registration, pay inequality and more, there was a feeling that these would get better.

Today, we see reduced optimism about the future. People see the decline of the USA, and indeed the West. Activism is reduced, even though as many people believe in change. So how can we change the mood? I will address this in my next post.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

If you want good ideas, show appreciation for bad ones

So often people complain that they do not get enough good ideas from subordinates, friends or consultants. Yet, most people have not learned that to ge good ideas you have to show how much you appreciate any ideas. If people give you ideas, which you ignore without explanation, they gradually give you fewer and fewer. This applies even to subordinates or consultants, who are paid to give you ideas.

When you get an idea that you decide not to pursue, you need to thank the originator, explain why you are not accepting it, and best yet, engage in a dialog to make it better. If people are rewarded for ideas, then they will work harder to come up with more.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Now why have I been so dilatory?

Firstly, I am a regular contributor to the MENG Blend blog, http://blog.mengonline.com/
but I cannot use that as an excuse since it only requires a post a month (next week I have one coming up about the accuracy of the data we use). Really, I suppose that writing regularly maintains momentum, stopping for a while makes it much more difficult to start again. There are so many other priorities in life, from work to family. I have also started getting heavily involved in a new software company which shows great promise. More about that in a later post.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Re-inventing new business models - not only in high tech

Yesterday Cisco announced that it was closing the Flip video business which it had bought in 2009. Only founded in 2007, it apparently grew, matured, and died in the space of four years. Many other businesses have been obsoleted - the Walkman by the iPod, film by digital cameras. Yet, we also see new business models which re-invigorate the category much as broadband re-invented cable. One of the most interesting is how the curb-side pick up bus is displacing the old point to point bus companies such as Greyhound http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/11_16/b4224062391848.htm
I remember in 1969 traveling around America by Greyhound on a 99 day for $99 ticket. Greyhound gradually declined to bankruptcy, but never thought of this. It took entrepreneurs to think of the idea, and then a large company with no vested prestige in the old way to make it successful.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The danger of overpromising - BMW does it

There is nothing so dangerous as advertising which over-promises. As the saying goes, "nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising." For example, BMW advertising implies that a BMW Certified pre-owned car is as good as a new one. Imagine the disappointment if this is not true. When a car company relies on a dealer to represent the company, disappointment can soon follow. My son recently bought a 3 year old Certified pre-owned car - his third BMW and the first to be bought from a dealer. His previous ones were older and purchased from private owners, yet he had fewer initial problems than with this one. Yet, all dealers stack the deck by strongly asking customers to only give them a top grade when the car company sends a survey to the customer. This is completely counter-productive, and should not be allowed by the car company. Apple retail stores do not allow it and if they discover it, a firing offense. Yet car companies must be aware of it and therefore are conspiring to invalidate their own research. Even when the customer does give excellent ratings, they are usually resentful about the pressure.
However, as a result of this over-claim, BMW has disappointed and since word of mouth is so powerful the company probably will lose sales, even of new cars. Interestingly, while many companies now track online comments, I have found that the least effective companies do not. I would be intrigued to see if BMW does - I know that Kia pays close attention to online comment.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Why do people talk too much?

I know a number of people who talk too much. They do not realize that it is very counter-productive. When you are talking you are not listening and cannot learn. You also encourage the other person to drift off and think of something else. They also do not have the chance to ask questions and often instead of persuading them to your opinion, it actually dissuades them. Many of us have the tendency to talk to much, but it is a good habit to deliberately pause and allow the other person to talk or ask questions. In fact it is a good idea to encourage the other person to talk.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Are "independents" in the US really independent, or merely undecided?

The term "independent," those who are not registered with either major party, is usually used as synonymous with those in the center. This is not necessarily correct. It may be more true that they are simply less interested, or that they have more esoteric views. It is a virtually meaningless term in countries other than the US. In the UK, perhaps the analogous term is "undecided." it would probably be more precise to use a different set of terms in the US.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. The Best Goals?

Canada was created by the British North America Act of 1867. It declares the purpose of Government to be to make laws for the Peace, Order, and good Government of Canada. This is a very different philosophy about the purpose of Government. While in the case of Canada, its citizens may be just as free and happy as Americans, it is a set of concepts which is often used to support the idea of a benevolent dictatorship. This is the kind of approach which the Chinese government would use to justify how it works. Arguably, the majority would be quite happy with this system.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Is Government in the US simply less efficient and effective than in other countries?

Mary Meeker recently produced an analysis which treated the US as a business. http://www.kpcb.com/usainc/USA_Inc.pdf The inescapable conclusion from this is that time and again, the US gets less value from much government spending that other countries do.I have to wonder if this is based on the people in government (and less it is lower status than in most other countries and often lower paid), are the grandfathered processes of government at fault, is the inefficiency of having 50 states duplicate much effort and lose the economies of scale which smaller countries, such as France, can achieve, does the greater dislike of government in the US hinder it from doing its job, or is there some other cause?

In this vein, I must wonder whether US business is as well managed as it seems, or does the scale advantages of operating in a huge country mask inefficiencies?

Friday, March 04, 2011

The problem with US health care, education, law enforcement and much else is the system not the spending

The US spends more per capital on health care, education, law enforcement and much else, both in actual $s and as a % of GDP than any other Western country, for poorer results than most. Yet, this is rarely questioned. All too often the solution is to spend more money (this probably also applies to military spending too). The issue in most cases is that the entire structure is not viewed as a single system whose interests are aligned with the patient, the student, the person who is supposed to benefit from all the spending. In health care, the doctor, the hospital, the laboratory, the insurance company, the billing company, each only focuses on their own interests. As a result, even it each becomes more efficient, it is as though each of the car component manufacturers are designing the best component without reference to the design of the whole car. The best tires in the world are useless if they do not fit onto the car. However, someone will make money providing adapters to make the tire fit on the car. Now, there is little incentive for each participant to change their actions to benefit the whole, and thereby the patient. As has been said, one person's waste is another's way of making a living. The fact that each primary care physician requires 4 people for administration is of no concern to the insurance company or hospital. Nor are the inefficiencies of the laboratory or equipment manufacturer of concern to the doctor.

The same kind of issues impact so many services in the US. In order to repair this the entire system has to be addressed, and in a way which focuses on the person for whose benefit the spending takes place. Much as Walmart sees the entire supply chain so that it can provide the best product for the lowest cost to the shopper, we have to view the health care, education, law enforcement, transportation, defence and other services to citizens in much the same way.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Why will Apple maintain it's dominance of the tablet market?

The Apple iPad is expected to continue to maintain a market share well over 75% through 2011. The question in my mind i s why so low? It is an elegant, fast piece of hardware, with a usable screen, the widest supply of software, and the lowest price. I envisage Apple continue to dominate, much as it does in MP3 players. As more and more computing moves to tablets, Apple will gradually become an even bigger player in the total market, particularly as the Air provides powerful computing in a package not much bigger than the iPad.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

We talk too much

I have noticed that in a conversation, many of us (never me of course) talk too much. We are so eager to share our point of view, or what we know that we do not pause to listen to others. I know people who will not remember what others say after a conversation because they are so focused on what they said. If we do not stop talking to listen, then we will never learn anything. If we talk all the time we lose control of the conversation - no one can listen intently for more than a few minutes, so when someone else talks too long, their mind wanders and the speaker is communicating less. Most of us need to learn to speak briefly and listen better. We would be more effective in our business and personal lives.