28 August 2005

Living in Your ATM

Posted by Jameson Penn
Common sense dictates that if something seems too good to be true, than it probably is. As home equity increases, more and more people are taking this to mean that they've struck it rich.

Suddenly, a no-interest, no money down "investment" in a fabulously over-priced condo, townhome, or single-family home is perceived as a golden opportunity for the homeowner. Refinancing that mortage will further draw down equity (if there even is any), but the homeowner walks away richer, at least in the short-term. While this may seem like something you've seen on a late-night "get-rich-quick" pyramid scheme infomercial, that's probably because it has been. In reality, money has not been created for the homeowner, but rather squeezed from their future.

On a macroeconomic scale, think of the consequences of inflation, where the government devalues the dollars held by consumers. In the short-term, everyone holding those dollars feels richer because of the sudden inflow; however in the long-term, inflation leads to the decline in the dollar's stored economic value. The same can be said for all of this "easy money" that is flooding the pockets of homeowners.

It is my opinion that low interest rates and the (artificially) sustained high demand for consumer goods is masking the drastic effects of our general homeowner binge. The Fed will typically raise interest rates to slow growth that may be leading to economic overdrive.

Further compounding the complexity of the situation we currently find ourselves is the fact that people feel richer, unemployment continues at an all-time low rate, and interest rates are still far below historical levels. I can't help but be afraid we are on our way to experiencing our own 10 years+ recession that Japan only recently emerged from.

Indeed, a cautious, if not scary indication of what may come if we don't reign in our consumption and giddy allergies to true equity.

The Graying Entrepreneurial Movement

Posted by Jameson Penn
Unpublished government data show that the number of Americans 55 and older categorized as self-employed in non-agricultural industries has increased 22 percent from 2,136,000 in May, 2000 to 2,598,000 as of May, 2005. These senior entrepreneurs now represent nearly 27 percent of all self-employed workers, which is second only to 45- to 54-year-olds who make up more than 27 percent of the self-employed.
While self-employment was expanding among those 55 and up, it was falling for almost every other age group. The biggest group of self-employed workers in 2000 was the 35- to 44-year-old cohort, which numbered 2,703,000. Their numbers have fallen 10 percent to 2,422,000. Self-employment has also dropped, by about two percent, among 25- to 34-year-olds.
Americans are retiring earlier than ever before and are now taking up second or third careers in their later years. This is an interesting development, given that the entrepreneurial spirit is typically identified in youthful and risky investments.

Web Sudoku

Posted by Jameson Penn

Web Sudoku is simple to understand but difficult to figure out.
The puzzle is most frequently a 9×9 grid made up of 3×3 subgrids (called "regions"). Some cells already contain numbers, known as "givens". The goal is to fill in the empty cells, one number in each, so that each column, row, and region contains the numbers 1–9 exactly once. Each number in the solution therefore occurs only once in each of three "directions", hence the "single numbers" implied by the puzzle's name.

Valuing Conceptual Learning Over Short-Term Application

Posted by Jameson Penn
Edward D. Lazowska, a professor at the University of Washington, points to students like Mr. Michelson as computer science success stories. The real value of the discipline, Mr. Lazowska said, is less in acquiring a skill with technology tools - the usual definition of computer literacy - than in teaching students to manage complexity; to navigate and assess information; to master modeling and abstraction; and to think analytically in terms of algorithms, or step-by-step procedures.
Even within the dynamic field of computer science, merely knowing the tools and competently applying them is not enough. Over time, necessary tools and demands will change, leaving an incumbent employee or student offering little or no added value to the company when the goal posts (or game itself) change. As a result, the employer or instructor is wise to encourage an overall conceptual understanding rather than short-term application.

A competent worker can adjust as needed, apply the necessary tools from one program or system to the next generation.

21 August 2005

Fact of the Day: Podcasting

Posted by Jameson Penn
So you think that it's the youth that is driving the podcasting revolution. You'd be wrong.
A survey of over 8,000 American consumers by pollsters CLX has revealed that podcasting is most popular with those over 45, with 21 per cent of those questioned listening to podcasts. This compares to just 13 per cent of 15 to 24-year olds.

Order From Chaos Via RSS

Posted by Jameson Penn

The Play Ethic

Posted by Jameson Penn
I really want to read this book, The Play Ethic: Manifesto for a Different Way of Living, when it becomes available in the US. There is no originality in declaring a certain unique trait in Generation Y's development in a world of play. By no means should play be interpreted in a negative light. Following the rhetoric of Steven Johnson (Everything Bad is Good For You: How Today's Pop Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter), play is imagination which is creativity which is desperately needed in corporate America, IMHO.

IBM is one of a few big names who have openly embraced blogging by their employees. Such play is not the typical websurfing that has been despised by employers ever since the addition of the internet to the workplace. Whether we are speaking from the perspective of the lurker or the blogger, this is an interactive and stimulating activity that provokes thought that certainly has externality effects for the employer.

This is not to say that there are not abusers out there who blog and browse at the expense of their employer's hard earned dollar. However, I'm confident that there were plenty of employees wasting time far before the advent of the push-button publishing revolution.

But I digress: kudos to the company that discovers how to harness the creativity of its employees from encouraging play in and out of the workplace. May the games begin!

Meetings Matter

Posted by Jameson Penn
While the amount of time spent in meetings is baffling (according to mcnellisco.com, executives spend 23 hours per week in meetings), consider that approximately 10 hours is spent preparing for every one of those hours. It would seem that improving the productivity of meetings should be top priority.

From Jerry McNellis:

Even worse than the statistics on meetings is the data about projects. There are many studies about the dismal rate of success for projects. One that I use a lot comes from the Standish Group which tracks information technology projects. There findings are that 23% of the projects were outright failures, 49% were over budget or didn’t meet the deliverables and 28% were deemed successes. 94% of all projects are restarted and average $2.22 spent for every dollar budgeted.

The results for all projects in general are probably pretty similar. And the question is "Why?" Why is the success rate for projects so low? And, why do meetings tend to be so ineffective? The real issue is an organization’s thinking system. Meetings and projects are simply a reflection of the ability of an organization to think collaboratively. We spend very little time improving this ability and almost no effort measuring it.

If the greatest benefit of meetings is the resulting collaborative thinking, then the objective should be to enhance the structure. This may seem counterintuitive, but many people have different communication styles. While extroverts may thrive under a loose discussion-based format, introverts will likely hunker down and not contribute to the collective.

Oftentimes, meetings are initiated to relay information that could better be dispensed in other ways, be it an email, memo, or in a report. However, many are caught up in having meetings for the sake of having meetings; admittedly, I experienced this more in the public sector than now. This leads to an important rule: always have a clear objective for a meeting before it is called. Non-purpose meetings waste time at best and sidetrack essential resources at worst.

Search Everywhere

Posted by Jameson Penn
John Battelle has done great work exploring the concept of search and not only what it means to us today, but what search will do for us in the future. Moving towards a digital world, it becomes increasingly easy to be overwhelmed by excessive information (content), whether we are talking about the generic search engine, our music collection, television, or even our photograph collections.

More and more of our world is becoming digitized. Embracing such a trend allows for our lives to become far more orderly, given that there is a way to organize, catalog, and store information in methodical if not logical ways.

From Battelle's book,
The Search:
What is TiVo, after all, but a search interface for television? ITunes? Search for music. That box of photographs under your bed and the pile of CDs teetering next to your stereo? Analog artifacts, awaiting their digital rebirth. How might you find that photo of you and your lover on the beach in Greece from fifteen years ago? Either you scan it in, or you lose it to the moldering embrace of analog obscurity. But your children will have no such problems; their photographs are already entirely digital and searchable—complete with metadata tagged right in (date, time, and soon, context).

But let’s not stop our digital fantasy train yet. It may sound farfetched, but in the future, your luggage will be searchable. Within two decades, nearly everything of value to someone will be tagged with tiny computing devices, devices capable of saying, upon radiowave-based query, “I’m here, right here, and here’s what I’ve been doing while you were away.” Instead of the ubiquitous bar codes airport officials now slap onto your luggage, there’ll simply be an RFID (radio frequency ID) chip. Lost your luggage? I don’t think so. Not when you can Google your Louis Vuitton in real time.

Think about that—Google your dog, your kid, your purse, your cell phone, your car. (Do you have an E-ZPass or OnStar yet? You will.) The list quickly stretches toward the infinite. Anywhere there might be a chip, there can and most likely will be search. But for perfect search to happen, search needs to be everywhere, attached to everything.

Future Tense

Posted by Jameson Penn
Corante has a new blog, Future Tense, focusing on the intersection of new technology/trends and the modern work place. When I first started with IBM,
the first trend that struck me was the wide-spread use of hotelling. Future Tense does a great job of taking such examples and further exploring what the impact and effects will be on the office.

If you have a moment, check it out.