Category Archives: Technology

The End of the PC

Sales of PCs – not just Windows machines, but all personal computers – have fallen 14%, the biggest drop since 1994.  But while many are blaming Windows 8, I actually like.  Instead, a Time article fingers the real culprit:

It’s not just that people are stubbornly refusing to see newer versions of Windows as superior to older versions of Windows. Back in the 1990s and early years of this century, PC hardware was getting better at such a rapid clip that new PCs were often far better than the machine you’d bought two or three years earlier. Today, even a four- or five-year-old PC may still have more processing power, RAM and disk space than you need. And the industry is having trouble coming up with new features that large numbers of people find irresistible.

I’m typing this on my desktop, my primary office computer, which runs on a Core2 Duo that was a mid-range processor when I bought it as an upgrade five years ago.  A year ago, I replaced the video card when it failed after seven years in the machine.

And despite my machine’s age, I don’t see a need to buy a new one.  Applications are responsive, they load quickly, and I’m even able to play most games.  And this is on five year old hardware.  Contrast this with ten years ago, when new versions of basic productivity software needed the latest hardware.  And that’s the problem faced by Microsoft and the PC makers: unlike ten years ago, when I needed a new PC every other year merely to keep up, I feel like I’m doing great on a rig that’s a half decade old.

Startup Trail Places Third at Startup Weekend New York: Music and Gaming

Have you ever sat at work, toiling away in the salt mines, and dreamt of running a tech startup – the next Google, Facebook, or even  Did you grow up playing classic simulation games like Sim City or Oregon Trail?  The The Startup Trail is for you – a mobile game that helps you learn about how to run a startup, but in a fun environment.  Whether you’re a hardcore gamer, a successful founder, or you’ve never done either, you’ll be interested in the Startup Trail.

Startup Trail requires you to make the hard business decisions startup founders face every day, like managing cash flow, securing investment, hiring and firing employees, managing a team, making product decisions, and attracting customers.  In doing so, you get exposed to the best thinking about how to manage a successful startup, and an opportunity to practice it in a fun game environment. 

Manage your first employees in The Startup Trail

Unlike most mobile games, we’ve got a social bridge to the ‘real world’ too.  Your in-game startups will be represented on the internet in a mock “launch page,” and you can validate your real startup ideas by seeing if they attract social “Likes” through Facebook, which then also become in-game customers.  You can also co-found startups with your friends, and compete with other customers around the world.   And companies that make products for startups can get involved too, placing their products as options in the game which have tangible effects on gameplay, just like they’d effect a startup in real life.

If this sounds great to you, you’re thinking like the judges at Startup Weekend New York: Musing and Gaming, who awarded us 3rd place.  If you’ve never heard of Startup Weekend, it involves a team of developers, designers, and business-folk coming together to take an idea that’s pitched on Friday night, into a thought out business plan, validated customer interest, and a working prototype by the end of the weekend 58 hours later.

So at the end of an intense weekend, our 60 second pitch for “Oregon Trail for Startups” became the 4-minute presentation you see here, along with a working prototype, mapped out game mechanics, and a series of amazing graphics that brought the game to life.   And none of it would have been possible without an amazing team. 

So what’s next for The Startup Trail?  We’re in talks with some people, dabbling in it as a team, and thinking about a Kickstarter.  If you’ve got any ideas or support, leave them in the comments.  And if you love the graphics, they were made by Ryan Requena, who’s available as a freelancer and does phenomenal work.

The Startup Trail Team

The Big Data Gold Rush

As storage costs plummet, NoSQL databases mature, and processing power continues to follow Moore’s Law into the stratosphere, companies everywhere  are talking about the potential of Big Data to revolutionize business, unlocking hidden value and allowing companies to gain a competitive edge.  If you ask the vendors and consultants involved in this space, every company is sitting on a gold mine of untapped data, just waiting for a clever statistician with the right tools to dig out its value.  But is the whole big data push just hype?  An analyst at Seeking Alpha seems to think so.  First, he breaks down the six sub-hypotheses underpinning the big data impetus:

A) This data collection is a recent phenomenon B) Value is not already being extracted from whatever data is being collected C) Companies will need outside help to extract insights D) Outsiders can help companies extract insights without having deep industry knowledge E) The insights gathered from ever larger data sets have more value and are more accurate than insights gathered from smaller data sets F) Unstructured and cross functional data have huge value waiting to be extracted.

His final conclusion after examining each one?

My personal opinion is that the potential market size and value proposition are both over-hyped. I’m reminded of the hype over biotechnology in late eighties and early nineties. For example, biotechnology was supposed to have brought us juicy red, delicious and stackably cubical tomatoes that would yield square slices that fit a slice of bread. I’m still waiting for my square tomato slices.

In fact, when you look at the “success” stories of companies such as IBM, the ballyhooed results are almost comical (“Reduced Report Generation Time by 63%!”). Another common theme, found on all the data analytics companies websites, is that their focus areas seem to be internet, banking, healthcare, industrial, life sciences, CPG, insurance – the very areas which have traditionally crunched large amounts of data before it became “sexy”.  So where are the big inroads into new markets? One example of such an inroad is law. Law firms’ revenues have beendestroyed by revolutionary data analytics technology, which has replaced law associates with software, leading savvy clients to pay very much less for the same work.

The law firm example is especially apt for this blog, and hopefully I’ll have time to dive into the world of big data in law another time, but for now – I’m even more interested in his point about magic sandwich tomatoes from the early 90s.  The more I hear consultants touting big data as the next big thing, the more it sounds like the exact same language they’ve used to describe any sort of deep analytics over the past ten years.  Big data isn’t new, it’s a repackaging of the same old.

Consider this McKinsey report, widely cited in the industry, which may as well have been written in 1999 and updated to change gigabytes to terabytes or petabytes.  Big data to revolutionize retail?  Wal-mart, Target, and other big-box stores have been doing it for decades – that’s the whole reason grocery stores have loyalty cards.  The big data techniques for marketing have been used for decades in order to improve the effectiveness of direct mail.  In many corporate functions, like supply chain and HR, the promises of Big Data are the same as the promises that enterprise resource planning providers like Oracle and SAP have been touting for years.

So if Big Data is all hype, is there any gold there?  Underneath the surface, there’s still some opportunity.  First, the returns to rudimentary analytical skills continue to grow.  We’re reaching a point where innumeracy in the business world is becoming an even greater handicap, and the ability to analyze and interpret data will take a professional a long way.  Second, analytics is democratizing.  Many sources of big data are being made public, or available at low cost, on cloud computing servers, through services like Twitter, or by academics.  The more eyes looking at data, the greater the likelihood someone will find something revolutionary, which is why Kaggle competitions offer so much potential.    Third, the de-anonymization of the internet has the potential to allow marketers to link together a wide variety of consumer data (of course, with worrying privacy implications), which could open new opportunities.

So while I don’t think Big Data is the Next Big Thing, it’s still the continuation of an exciting trend that’s helping businesses become more effective and more efficient.   And when consultants find a new label for “crunching your numbers to help you find insights,” touting it as The Next Revolution For Business, I’ll probably use this same post again, and update my petabytes to exabytes.

Do Kids Care If We Stick Their Robot Friend in the Closet?

Some researchers decided to figure out how kids viewed friendly robots – are they people? animals? things? some new thing in between?

The session involves a game of “I Spy,” a guessing game where Robovie gives the child verbal clues to help them locate objects around the room. After the game is finished, Robovie asks for a hug, which is another one of those bonding moments, and then the game is played again, this time with the child giving clues and Robovie guessing the objects. Here’s where things get interesting: in the middle of this phase of the game, an adult experimenter enters the lab and cuts the game short with some consequences for Robovie.

Overall, 80 percent of the participants felt that Robovie was intelligent, and 60 percent thought that Robovie had feelings. At the same time, over 80 percent believed that it was just fine for people to own and sell Robovie. Hmm. Only 50 percent of the children felt that it was not all right to put Robovie in the closet, although close to 90 percent agreed with Robovie that it wasn’t fair to put it in the closet and it should have been allowed to at least finish the game it was playing. 

Mentally, I know that the robot is just a thing – I even know that there’s a person controlling it.  Still, it’s disconcerting to force something into a closet while it’s actively asking you not to.  It has to be worse for kids, who are used to anthropormophocizing their completely inanimate toys.

Even more, including a video of Robovie and a teenager, over at IEEE Spectrum:  Do Kids Care If Their Robot Friend Gets Stuffed Into a Closet?


Electronic Maintenance Records

From The Onion, “Quick Lube Shop Masters Electronic Record Keeping Six Years Before Medical Industry

“We figured that a basic database would help us with everything from scheduling regular appointments to predicting future lubrication requirements,” said the proprietor of the local oil-change shop, Karl Lemke, who has no special logistical or programming skills, and who described his organizational methods, which are far more advanced than those of any hospital emergency room, as “basic, common-sense stuff.”