Archive

Archive by topic: Technology

The merger of biology and technology: Intelligence, Mondays, on CBS

March 5th, 2014

It was stunning to see that the 2/17/14 episode of the TV show, Intelligence, actually included the topic of “the singularity.” The TV series, itself, is not an “A,” but this particular episode and the main character, himself, illustrate the accelerating pace of the merger of biology (in this case, the human body) and technology.

I first learned about “transhumanism” and “the singularity” during a seminar led by Jose Cordeiro at a conference of the World Future Society, and I was fascinated!  In brief, as Wikipedia describes,

  • Transhumanism (abbreviated as H+ or h+) is an international cultural and intellectual movement with an eventual goal of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities. Transhumanist thinkers study the potential benefits and dangers of emerging technologies that could overcome fundamental human limitations, as well as study the ethical matters involved in developing and using such technologies. They predict that human beings may eventually be able to transform themselves into beings with such greatly expanded abilities as to merit the label “posthuman“.
  • “The technological singularity, or simply the singularity, is a hypothetical moment in time when artificial intelligence will have progressed to the point of a greater-than-human intelligence, radically changing civilization, and perhaps human nature.  Since the capabilities of such an intelligence may be difficult for a human to comprehend, the technological singularity is often seen as an occurrence (akin to a gravitational singularity) beyond which the future course of human history is unpredictable or even unfathomable.”

Ray Kurzweil (You may have seen a television ad in which he appears and says, “I invented Siri.”) has been a thought leader in this realm, has lectured and written widely about it.  If you would like to know more, you may want to read one of his books.  You could also watch Intelligence.  Today, it is science fiction.  Tomorrow?

The concepts are exhilarating and frightening and will, undoubtedly, be cause for heated (and important) debate as the future unfolds!

 



Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger: Good for public?

February 17th, 2014

In this article, Joel Maxcy, Associate Professor, Temple University, makes a strong case for the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger being bad for the public.

If your schedule permits, please take a few minutes to read it and tell me whether you agree.

 



Healthgrades.com: What’s missing

December 14th, 2013

First, because healthcare is a hot topic, let me be PERFECTLY clear:  I am not an expert on “Obamacare” and do not know whether it will prove, overall, to be a good or a bad thing.  My comments here focus solely on a missing piece at healthgrades.com and NOT any legislation.

If you have followed my blog, you know that I am a strong advocate for results-based hiring and results-based management.  Many bad hiring decisions have been made because decisions were based on “industry experience” rather than results.  Many companies have failed because management was not evaluated or rewarded based on results.

Physicians, too, should be evaluated based on results, and healthgrades.com has an opportunity to help with that.  Currently, their review criteria (somewhat edited) are:

  • Ease of scheduling urgent appointments
  • Office environment
  • Staff friendliness
  • Total wait time
  • Level of trust in doctor’s decisions
  • How well doctor explains
  • How well provider listens
  • Spends an appropriate amount of time

What’s missing?  Level of satisfaction with results.

To illustrate my point:  Although I do care about how long I have to wait, how good a listener my physician is, etc., my main concern is results.  Almost 10 years ago I had a problem with my foot.  I saw a well-known orthopedic surgeon/foot specialist.  His office was exceptionally well-organized; he did not keep me waiting;  he was VERY nice, a VERY good listener, took time to answer my questions, but his recommended solution was a surgery that would have kept me off my feet for 3-6 months.  For a second opinion, I saw a different orthopedic surgeon/foot specialist. His office was not as well-organized, and he was gruff, to say the least.  Bottom line:  He recommended a change in orthotics instead of surgery.  Ten years later, I am doing well and have not had to have surgery, thank you very much!  As you might imagine, I prefer Dr. Gruff-who-got-results-without-surgery to Dr. Nice!  (Of course, the dream doctor is the one who is both nice, etc. AND gets the best results.)

Sometimes, people make decisions–selecting doctors, treatments, etc.,  based on how they feel rather than on results achieved.  If healthgrades.com added “Satisfaction with results” to the list of criteria, it would likely help both physicians and prospective patients focus more on outcomes.

Renee’s Rule™: Results matter.



Sky Motion: more accurate weather forecasting?

November 7th, 2013

My son Jason lives approximately 15 minutes east of me.  Some time ago, when we were talking on the phone, I said, “It’s hailing here.”  A few minutes later, he said, “Now, it’s hailing here.”  We decided that if we could set up observation stations starting at the Oregon Coast on the west, we could likely get very accurate short-term weather forecasts.

Sky Motion, just acquired by AccuWeather, uses that concept and makes it even more reliable on the hyper-local level.  The Sky Motion app on my iPhone combines analyses of radar images with ground observations from users.

So far, I’ve found it to be incredibly reliable!



X1: THE search solution!

November 7th, 2013

Tired of trying to find documents and emails in Windows?  Spending hours doing it?  Try X1

It will change your life!!!  I have been using it for more than a year.  Finding documents is super easy and super fast–and their customer support (rarely needed) is SUPERB.



Has Personalization gone amuck?

September 14th, 2013

Am I the only person who feels “over-personalized?”

The Wall Street Journal on-line now wants to “personalize” my news.  I absolutely love being able to get my news on-line, but one of the biggest reasons I subscribe is to learn about topics that should or might be of interest to me–just like I did when I used to read print newspapers. Over-personalization could deprive me of that opportunity, or, at least, make it more difficult.

On top of that, the current trend to on-line “personalization” can misinterpret my interests.  For example:  On news.google.com (my home page), I read about the Kim Kardashian/Kanye West hook-up.  Into my mind popped, “What a perfect couple!”  (I do not mean that in a nice way…) and–don’t ask me what possessed me–but I clicked to see the article.   For WEEKS thereafter, every time I looked at Google News, there was news about those two.  Was I interested?  No?  But Google News thought I was.

Somewhere between no personalization and extreme personalization is the perfect solution, and I hope someone develops it soon.

What do you think?



Beware Googlemaps

August 21st, 2013

After I got my iPhone 5, I started to rely on the googlemaps app for voice driving directions.   If I wanted to see where I was going before I left, I looked at google maps on my computer.  I loved being able to see the street view. From my perspective, google maps represented perfection.  In fact, until two weeks ago, I had nothing but great experiences with All Things Google.  Those days are evidently over.

The maps have “lost it.”  For example, last week, I needed to meet someone at 5 Centerpointe Drive in Lake Oswego, OR.  Google maps on my computer and on my iPhone showed it in a part of town 45 minutes from the building’s real location.  This was the second time in two weeks that I had encountered this kind of problem, so I checked and double checked to be sure I wasn’t imagining things.  I did report the map error, and it is now fixed, but the maps have gone from almost 100% reliable to not reliable–Now, I need to check googlemaps against mapquest every time.  That is easy when I am in my home town, Portland; not so easy if I am traveling in an unfamiliar city.

I know I am not the only person having this problem.  My next door neighbors spent two hours driving around yesterday because of the same problem.  (Different address, of course)

Do you have any information about this issue?  If so, please share!

This is not a Renee’s Rule™, but it is a rule I follow:  “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”



Windows 8/Surface–my analysis and prediction

November 25th, 2012

The tech pundits have cited multiple reasons for slower-than-anticipated sales of Windows 8 and related phones and tablets:

  1. Availability and pricing
  2. Poor connectivity, hardware problems
  3. Mixed early reactions
  4. Clumsy interface
  5. Misc. + the “current economic crisis”

Although all of the above reasons may, in fact, be contributing to slower sales, my gut feel (If “gut feel” is good enough for other pundits, it’s good enough for me!) is that the biggest issue is that everyone knows that it’s a mistake to be the first to get a new Microsoft program, let alone, a new piece of Microsoft hardware.  There will be the inevitable “updates” and “fixes.”

Personally, I’m going to wait a few months and then update my PC to Windows 8 and switch to a Windows 8 phone and tablet.    Am betting I’ll have lots of company.

So much for punditry.  Calling Nate Silver!  Any input on this burning issue?

 

 



Yahoo’s new CEO

July 17th, 2012

In a Wall Street Journal article, Is Yahoo’s New Female CEO Headed for the ‘Glass Cliff’?, Christopher Shea asks whether Marissa Mayer’s appointment  is a case of of a woman being hired for “mission impossible” so that a man won’t have to risk his reputation in such a role.

I have no idea whether that is the case, but I do know that this is a job I would not want and would not accept.  For that reason, I am hoping that Ms. Mayer sees possibilities for Yahoo that I do not.

 



Personal political information: Opt-in or Opt-out?

June 9th, 2012

Some people may have been thrilled to learn about Votizen.com, which, according to their website, “is a web service that allows you to discover how your friends on social networks are registered to vote, and campaign with them to elect candidates that share your values.

The heart of Votizen is the over 200MM–strong voter database which is social media ready. Voters can connect to their own records to see their voting registration and history, as well as use it to prove their power to those that hold and seek office. Voters can then scan their social networks and reveal the voters they can work with to campaign for candidates they believe in, whether it’s nationwide for a Presidential election, or in a local city council race.”

If you are like me and were dismayed to discover that your personal political information might be available to your “connections” on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, Votizen says that there is a way to protect your information.  Send an email to help@votizen.com and ask them to send you an opt-out link.

Don’t misunderstand:  I appreciate Votizen’s stated intention to “create a new political currency based on voter-to-voter connections, reducing the influence of money and increasing the importance of relationships in civic engagement.”  At the same time, I prefer to keep my political affiliations private and think that revealing this kind of information should be “opt-in” rather than “opt-out.”

On a separate note, Votizen’s claims make me worry about our educational system because, unless I am missing something, it appears that the people at Votizen failed to pass or did not take the Common Sense Math course and did not learn the Double Check Your Work rule.

Fact check:  Votizen claims to have a database of more than 200 million registered voters which would mean that approximately 2/3 of all citizens are registered voters.  That felt wrong to me, so I did some checking and discovered that it really is wrong.  The current population of the United States is approximately 314 million, and the US Commerce Department reported only approximately 137 million registered voters in 2010.  (To see specifics, click on this link, the select Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2010, Detailed tables, Table 1.)

As a voter, a former elected public official and a former teacher, I believe that Votizen is wrong on its voter registration stats and wrong to make political affiliations public without permission.

 



Call centers off shore

November 26th, 2011

The New York Times today has a story, “A New Capital of Call Centers,” which focuses on the fact that many  companies with US customers are moving their call centers to the Phillipines or back to the U.S. because personnel in the new locations speak better English than, say, their counterparts in India.

Evidently, these companies believe that customers’ primary concern is the quality of the language used by the call center agents.  My primary concern, however, is whether or not the call center agent is actually able to answer my questions, solve my problem, and/or take my order accurately.  Overall,  I’ve had much better luck with the hard-to-understand foreign agents who seem to know what they are talking about than with US-based agents who are poorly trained and/or work in call centers in which no system is in place to help callers actually get their questions answered.

In brief, I wish companies would pay more attention to this Renee’s Rule™: Make my life easy.

What do you wish?

 

 



A picture’s worth a thousand words……

June 13th, 2011

It’s no wonder Sears is in trouble.  Their personnel training and software systems need help.

The situation:  A repair person came to perform annual preventive maintenance on my Kenmore washer and dryer.  When I showed the person that I could not get the lint screen clean, he offered to send me a new one because a clogged screen slows down the drying process and uses more electricity.

He ordered a replacement screen.  Sears sent the wrong screen.   It would not fit into the slot.

I called Sears to order a replacement for the replacement and carefully explained what had happened, including that the problem was  that the screen, itself, had lint that could not be removed by the repair person or by me.

Again, Sears sent the wrong part–but a different wrong part.  In the photo below, the original part is on the top; the second replacement part, on the bottom.  As you can see, there is no “screen” on the second part.

Original  and  replacement "screen"

Original and Replacement "Screen"

Here’s the worst part:  After getting the second wrong part, I tried cleaning the screen with a soft-scrubbing sponge–guess what?  It worked!  If the repair person had only been properly trained……

Sears’ cost:  Time for the repair person and the operators who took both the first and second orders + shipping for two parts + an unhappy customer.

 

 

 

 



Thefoundary.com vs foundary.com

June 13th, 2011

A professional friend recently pointed out to me that in my two  most recent posts, I was actually addressing the fact that www.thefoundary.com did not have a search function.   It still doesn’t have one.

On the other hand,  www.foundary.com, does have a search function but is likely just a site set up by a domain squatter to capture ad revenue from visitors who do what I did:   type in the wrong URL.

Or..is it?  Perhaps the people behind thefoundary.com are also using the name “foundary” in order to increase their revenue at a very low cost….

 

 



Trends 2011- #2

March 6th, 2011

I promised to provide a series of posts regarding my predictions for 10-year trends.  So..here is the first:  Over the next 10 years, at least one appliance maker will figure out how to produce reliable, long-lasting appliances at a moderate cost.   (I am thinking particularly about ovens and refrigerators.)  These appliances will sell like the proverbial hot cakes.

Their success will be driven by three things:

  1. Consumer demand for appliances that work and require few repairs
  2. Improved production technology that will produce such appliances more cheaply than is now possible
  3. Viral “advertising” via the internet as consumers discover that such appliances exist

I hope this is not wishful thinking…….



What does a turnaround expert DO?

February 21st, 2011

I have recently been asked by reporters, “What would you do at Harry and David?”

I responded with a description of the turnaround steps described below.  Those steps are always the same, but the specifics vary from project to project.  (When I spoke with reporters, I also discussed some of the situation-specific actions I would initiate.)

My S.O.P. (Standard operating procedure)

  1. Get total control of cash
  2. Prepare short-term cash forecast
  3. Select Turnaround Team from key, existing management team members
  4. Convene the team; go through financial statements line by line–first, looking for ways to improve short-term cash situation, second, identifying ways to increase revenues (and/or margins) and decrease costs — (note: understanding the financial statements inside and out is critical!)
  5. The result is a written plan that includes a list of who is responsible for achieving what results by which dates and financial projections, which are the numeric representation of the plan.
  6. Then, it’s time for the team to implement!
  7. Design and begin  implementation of a sound management control system if one does not exist
  8. In the meantime, there are generally crises to contend with and negotiations with a wide range of stakeholders.

In addition to the above, I also send a web-based confidential survey to all employees.  The employees know what’s wrong, what needs to be fixed, and often see things that people at “corporate” miss.  Surveys to vendors and customers can be equally enlightening.

The above steps make it sound like the turnaround process is an orderly one, but it’s not.  Leading a turnaround is like being a general on the battlefield.  It’s messy and fraught with peril.   You have a plan, but unexpected crises are constantly arising.  I always tell prospective clients that it will feel like the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan.  One of my favorite owner/clients used to stop by my office occasionally and say, “I’m having a ‘Saving Private Ryan’ day.”



Beware of LinkedIn!

February 13th, 2011

The lesson:  If you want to invite people you know to “connect” on LinkedIn, don’t use the section that says, “Enter Email Addresses.”

This is a lesson I learned the hard way.

Recently, I uploaded the email addresses of my key professional contacts (people who were already receiving my periodic email updates) to LinkedIn so I could “connect” with those who wished to do so.  There was no indication that these invitations would be different from those I frequently receive from others.  Those invitations appear only once, and I can either accept or reject them. End of story.

Shortly after the upload, however, I received an email from a long-time professional friend who told me that he had received not one—not two—but three separate invites from me to “connect.”   I was appalled and immediately contacted LinkedIn to stop that process.

Now, I have sent an email note of apology to those who may have received the multiple messages.

If I were the CEO of LinkedIn, I would understand that business relationships must be guarded carefully and take steps to ensure that LinkedIn’s processes would be clearly defined so that my customers could proceed without worry that they might damage their valuable professional relationships.  Evidently the real CEO, Jeff Weiner, does not share my concern.



Leadership and Nokia

October 14th, 2010

In the 9/20-9/26 edition of Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Matthew Lynn (and the photo that accompanied the article) implied that Stephen Elop, who became CEO of Nokia on 9/21, is not the best person to lead the turnaround because Elop is not a “phone expert.”

I do not know a great deal about Elop except that he was recently “the Canadian head of Microsoft’s business unit” and that he has software experience and a reputation for “shaking up” businesses, but I do know that Lynn’s apparent assumption—that “industry experience” is central to a turnaround—is just plain flawed.

One needs to look no further than Alex Mandel’s leadership of Teligent in the late ‘90’s to see that “industry experience” does not guarantee success. Mandel had been president and COO of AT&T, but Teligent failed spectacularly under his leadership. Although the failure was blamed on “the downturn and overcapacity,” the underlying issue was that on the ground and in the trenches, Teligent was simply unable to provide the reliable wireless services it promised. The lesson: The leadership skills required to launch a technology start-up with no existing infrastructure are very different from those required to lead a long-established company.

In a turnaround, where time truly is “of the essence,” the most valuable commodity is effective leadership, not industry expertise. I’ve had 34 clients. Of those, 3 were in one industry; 2 were in another; the rest were all “one-off.” Based on that experience, it is clear to me that industry experience is not, by any means, the determining factor.

The most important skills needed in leading a turnaround are

· The “power of the glance;” i.e., the ability to see quickly what needs to be done
· Common sense
· Ability to establish the right priorities
· Clarity of vision and the ability to convey that vision
· Decisiveness
· Ability to mobilize the troops to provide ideas and support the effort

Is having industry expertise a plus? Yes. But it is no substitute for having the right leadership skills. No matter what the industry, it is relatively easy to find someone with industry expertise. It is much more difficult to find someone who has the right leadership skills.

I’m rooting for Stephen Elop and hope he proves Mr. Lynn wrong!



Hats off to American Express!

September 12th, 2010

Recently, I had to place a call to American Express’ customer service. First, my problem was solved right away. Second, almost immediately thereafter, I received a customer survey. Guess what the first survey question was? “Do you remember this call?” (paraphrased)

I almost fell out of my chair. Someone had finally THOUGHT about a customer survey and what it was trying to accomplish!

Customer satisfaction surveys are conducted, presumably, to get feedback about the customer’s “experience.” These surveys could be powerful tools for gaining and retaining customers and for reducing costs, but too often they are not. I call them the “Silly Surveys.” (Actually, some additional “S words” spring to mind…)

How many surveys have you received and wondered, “Which call and what person is this survey asking about?” If you are like me, too often, either I’ve had to talk with more than one support person, or the survey arrives long enough after the incident that I am not sure which incident, contact, or person the survey is asking about.

In addition, too many surveys fail to ask a critical question: Should this call have been necessary in the first place? Instead, it asks: Was the support person knowledgeable, clear, polite? Was the problem solved? The answer is often, “Yes, to all of the above,” but too often, the underlying problem is that the company has a poorly constructed website that makes it difficult to accomplish simple tasks–tasks that are easy to accomplish at other sites. I had to waste my time placing a call that should have been unnecessary.

In the case of the above example, the support person will get kudos (or, at least, won’t get into trouble), but I, the customer, having made too many similar calls to this company, am likely to be considering changing vendors, and the company is missing an opportunity to reduce its tech support costs. If customers could easily accomplish simple tasks at the website, fewer tech support people would be needed.

Renee’s Rule™: Put yourself in your customer’s shoes.



Technology can be a game changer.

June 1st, 2010

Last week, The Deal quoted me as saying that technology just might give Borders a second lease on life.  Links to the article are available only to The Deal subscribers, so let me explain.

As you may know, financier Bennett LeBow recently invested $25 million in Borders and became its Chairman. That $25 million infusion will buy Borders some time, and a combination of savvy marketing and the savvy use of technology may dramatically improve the company’s prospects.

  • Technology has transformed the marketing battlefield.
  • Although Borders is late to the digital distribution game, the company has a key, not-to-be-discounted asset made valuable through the wonders of current technology: The list of 30-million email addresses they have accumulated through their “free” Borders’ Rewards program.
  • That list is a springboard that will allow Borders to promote its new digital offerings rapidly to a massive, already existing database of customers.
  • Current technology will allow them not only to reach those customers but also to know the book-buying  preferences of those customers.  In addition, Borders will be able to send personalize emailed “pitches” to the 30 million—right away—without delay and at a relatively low cost per customer.
  • As a result, Borders will likely attract digital book buyers quickly at a low cost-per-customer and per-purchase.

I, personally, would not invest in Borders now, but it’s premature to count them out.