Thursday, July 31, 2008

Randy Pausch, author of The Last Lecture, has died.

Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor whose final lecture inspired millions, has died of pancreatic cancer. Dr. Pausch, 47, who turned the lecture into a book, said that no one would have been interested in his words of wisdom were he not a man in his 40s with a terminal illness.

read more | digg story

If you haven't seen the lecture, here it is:


and, oh, by the way... "it's not for us, it's for his kids"

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It’s called Positioning, not Spying


When Nike and Apple announced the Nike + iPod partnership I thought, "Man! That's brilliant!" My second impression was, "Dude! That's cheap!" After all, it was only $29 for the sport kit and I already had the shoes and the iPod.

The technical term for that is wearable computing. That is computer devices that are worn in clothing and I'm proud to say that my Alma Matter, Carnegie Mellon University, is a leader in that space. In the Nike + Apple case, a Bluetooth transmitter located in the sole of the shoe would send information to the iPod. This in turn, when synchronized with the home computer, sends the information to an Apple + Nike website for exercise tracking. The concept is simple and seems harmless.

In my opinion, the media killed that product. Newscaster all over the world claimed that you could keep track of people by sampling the Bluetooth signal sent by the shoe. A college student demonstrated it by hanging Bluetooth scanners around his university campus while he was keeping track of his girlfriend as she run.

The key here is that having the ability to track somebody does not necessarily make it a bad product. What about the people that wants to willingly be tracked? Say military personnel in Iraq, Alzheimer patients, Autistic children, or outdoor adventurers. For those, there are wonderful products coming out. A terrific example is ID Conex.

The direct benefit is that you can quickly locate a human being when in trouble, anywhere in the world. Thru a beacon type of signal, the GPS capable shoe can forward the exact coordinates of the person to ID Conex and plot it in a map. Of course, privacy is important, so ID Conex offers two modes of operation: One where ID Conex will receive geographical information upon request of the wearer - say by pressing a button – and another one where the shoe is constantly uploading its coordinates to the server. It is very promising for the military, healthcare, sports, and adventure markets.

Finally, there are two main concerns about such product. First of all, what is the opportunity cost of having such ability in your shoes? ID Conex and the shoe manufacturers think that it is around $300. I personally think that it is too high still. It should be closer to $200 instead. And last but not least, how good of a shoe is it? Notice that, contrary to the Nike + Apple product, this is not an addition to any regular shoe. The computer is embedded into the shoe. Is that going to affect the comfort and quality of the shoe? Say for example, that it may eventually compete in the sports market segment with Apple and Nike. Then it better be a good running shoe, because it is hard to beat Nike in that space.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Issues that can be anticipated when using a Web 2.0/social media platform in the Enterprise?

To name a few issues that you would face if you do not enforce policies to control the use of Web 2.0 technologies in the enterprise:

  • Very difficult for all the systems to interoperate, users may never adopt them - in the real world we have the average teenager using Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Digg.com, Del.icio.us, MySpace, and other tools. These all need to interconnect to make it successful. Take a look at Facebook's ability to have applications talk to it. For example, Twitter can update Facebook's status, and you can show your diggs in your Facebook profile.
  • People get bored of them easily - the fad runs away sooner or later, and MySpace gets displaced by Facebook. Blogs get displaced by Twitter. You may experience a boom of one tool that fades away in a few months.
  • Employees leaving the company can't take their networks with them - like a computer backup, you'd like to take your social networks with you, outside of your job, and this needs to be simple and possible
  • Employees leaving the company can take confidential information - if you make it easy for employees to fully personalize their web 2.0 environment outside of the company, they may take and share internal information
  • Since people like to keep pleasure and work separate, employees may not adopt these technologies in favor of leaving them for personal use - if, for example, you were to use Facebook or MySpace for inside of the company, few employees would like to have their bosses as friends in Facebook.
Now, here's my disclaimer. I don't favor policing and strictly enforcing control over Web 2.0 deployments for company use. Quite the opposite, I favor the full freedom for employees to utilize these tools as they see best fit. Also, they should be open to the public; not only for internal use, so that productivity may be expanded in all directions: customers, partners, coworkers, managers, friends, and family.