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By Lou Washington

Recently I received a message from LinkedIn about the image I use for my profile picture within the LinkedIn application. They told me they had removed the image because it violated their standards for personal images.

Ouch! No one has ever accused me of being a shimmering paragon of human beauty, but I never dreamt I was actually violating standards. I’m glad I didn’t know this in high school, I would have never developed any self-confidence. I would have dutifully worn my paper bag to assure people didn’t have to experience the pain of looking at me.

Actually until then, I had used a cartoon drawn by my friend Tom Hortel. Tom is a super creative fellow who runs an innovation company, called Zenovate, They serve business people looking for someone with a real imagination. I was very fond of my avatar image and it was with great regret that I submitted to the demands of Linked In and replaced it with a regular photograph.

This was just a few days before Linked In announced their new iPad app. If you have an iPad, you know there are two kinds of apps available. First are those written to exploit the iPad and take advantage of the many wonderful features that make it such a useful tool. The second type is apps written for the iPhone or iPod Touch then ported to conform to the minimal compatibility requirements of the Pad.

Apps written for iPhone that also run on iPad are typically not as striking visually. Blowing up the standard size iPhone image with the “x2” button usually results in a fuzzy, grainy image. Forget about rotating the image to landscape orientation, the screen will stubbornly remain in portrait mode.

You can understand why I was a bit skeptical when I read that they were finally going to finally have an iPad only version of their app. Since these guys don’t like cartoons, I figured they probably were not going to please me with their revamped interface.

Before I go further with this, let me say, I’m a huge Linked In fan. It was really my first use of social media. I could see the utility of Linked In almost immediately. I’m not talking about the self promotion aspect of the product in a job seeking context, although I understand why that is important.

I like the idea of being able to talk to people knowledgeable in almost any given area or discipline by simply running a search or looking for a group. For someone involved in market analysis or industry trends, (like me) this is an invaluable tool.

Of all the social tools available, Linked In is the one I would be least likely to give up if I had to make a choice.

I’m happy to find that Linked In got it right. The new iPad app is a vast improvement. I might even say that I like it better than the desk top version.

The Updates page is fantastic. It is served up in a beautiful framed eMagazine type format with sections listing real-time updated data such as markets and weather. Personal events are maintained and displayed in a “day at a time”calendar like format that allows the user to scroll forward and back to see past and future events.

News of interest is also displayed via attractive graphics and headlines.  The other stuff, whose viewed your profile, co-worker activities and connection updates are all listed with those now required photos. So maybe a cartoon wasn’t such a great idea after all?

Navigation is now horizontal, using swiping page turns instead of scrolling up and down.

Moving over to the profile page, your profile is presented initially in a clean resume type format. Swiping to the next page reveals your connections, recent viewers, people you may know and your own update activity.This is navigated via up and down scrolling.

The inbox section is set up very much like an Outlook mailbox.. The highlighted piece is displayed on the right side of the screen, the assorted messages are listed in date order on the left. Again, picture images are included with each message.

Throughout the app, the ribbon like tool bar extends across the top of the screen. You can easily jump back and forth between the primary functions by simply touching the IN logo on upper left side of the screen.

If you are an iPad user and you haven’t made the jump to the new version I think you will be pleasantly surprised. If you have an iPad and haven’t added the Linked In app, you are missing out. Take the plunge, I think you will be pleased.

Good job Linked In!!

By Lou Washington

About 15 years ago I was listening to a fellow on the radio spouting off about the end of knowledge; more accurately, the end of new knowledge. He was predicting a new “Dark Age” and he was placing the blame for this pending catastrophe squarely on the internet.

His prediction was that the volume of information made readily available to the masses worldwide would somehow extinguish the level of original research conducted. The suggestion was that the internet would provide enough answers to enough questions that ongoing research would no longer be necessary. He suggested that the line between real research and search engine based internet queries was becoming blurred and people were often confusing one for the other.

This opinion was offered in the wake of journalist Pierre Salinger’s assertion that he had obtained “hard evidence” related to the downing of TWA Flight 800 off Long Island. Salinger had conducted some research on the issue and had come upon an internet based document that seemingly fixed blame for the crash on a friendly fire shoot down accident on the part of the U.S. Navy.

The document was soon determined to be bogus. Salinger, a veteran journalist and Washington DC insider had been taken in. It is interesting to note, that searching on this subject will still yield an incredible amount of grist for the conspiracy crowd.

I can remember using our family copy of the World Book Encyclopedia when I was growing up. I was struck by the fact that the book listed Dwight Eisenhower as the current president of the United States. I knew that was not correct and it made me wonder, what else in the encyclopedia was no longer valid.

The internet is in many ways like an aging encyclopedia. Documents, once published are difficult or impossible to entirely suppress. So, even truthful documents that have aged themselves into obsolescence are still there right alongside the current documents containing the current data. The researcher has to figure this out and learn to find what is new versus old, what is genuine versus counterfeit and what is truthful.

More recently, I was listening to a radio interview with a fellow who was writing about the Watergate investigation. This guy made the assertion that today this investigation would have never gotten off the ground. His suggestion was that the techniques used by Woodward and Bernstein to gather the incriminating evidence are no longer used by reporters.

Today, reporters rely on internet based information sources. The shoe leather journalism of reporters from the seventies and earlier is truly a thing of the past. I’m not making this assertion; this is what the interviewee was saying.

The Watergate fellow seemed to almost fulfill the prediction made by my radio friend of fifteen years past. Could it be? Are we really entering in the age of information stasis?

In short, the answer is, no! Maybe even, Hell No!

Consider the following quote taken from the IBM web site on Big Data:

“Every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data — so much that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. This data comes from everywhere: sensors used to gather climate information, posts to social media sites, digital pictures and videos, purchase transaction records, and cell phone GPS signals to name a few. This data is big data.”

That is an amazing statistic. 90% of the world’s data has been created in the past 24 months.

If anything, it would seem that our ability to massage, extract, organize, store and use data is woefully inadequate. One would think that Moore’s law would prevent us from ever catching up.  Instead of looking at price performance ratios in data storage and maintenance as being exemplary, we should be wringing our hands and pleading for more capacity, more speed, more access, more organization, more security, more everything.

What this means is there will be a need for radically new thinking in terms of how we store, index and retrieve data. How we synthesize information from the data we maintain. Additionally, we need something to measure the validity of the data we query.

I find myself going to the snopes.com site on a regular basis. Snopes is fine for the occasional rumor or wild stories that pop up now and then. But what about the rest of the stuff we wade through online?

For many people, a search engine and an internet connection are simply not enough. Businesses certainly need to be sure they are informed with accurate data from reliable sources.

We talk about business intelligence as a strategic necessity in the world of corporate data. The volume of data created today, drives that same level of urgency in other disciplines as well, even in journalism.

But still, I think Woodward and Bernstein would do just fine today. Rather than knocking on the doors of DC town houses, they would be browsing around in Face book. Rather than running down to Miami to speak with a witness, they would locate the guy in LinkedIn.  Perhaps they would have simply checked out the presidents Google+ circles, “. . . look Bob, Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt are both in Bob Haldeman’s Plumber’s Circle!”

Almost certainly, the manual search through the thousands of circulation records would not have happened.  Today, they could easily see anyone’s favorite books by reviewing their Amazon Reading List. Certainly, the LOC could have simply supplied them with access to online circulation records.

It really is still a matter of not believing everything you read. It doesn’t matter if it came from a newspaper, an encyclopedia or a Google search. The reader must beware; they must be skeptical and seek confirmation of validity.

“. . . and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free”

By Lou Washington

Last week, on April 8, 2012 Jack Tramiel died. His passing generated only modest notice on the part of the industry media. His death wasn’t ignored, but it just didn’t create the kind of buzz one associates with the death of a luminary in the IT industry.

Jack was the founder of Commodore International, the folks that brought the Commodore 64 to the world. He was also the top man at Atari when it was spun off from Warner International in 1984. He took on Atari after leaving Commodore.

The world of IT was a much different place in those days. The idea of personal computers was very new and in many quarters thought to be a waste of time. There were just a few fledgling companies trying to make money selling computers to everyday people. PCs were largely seen as toys for the hobbyist.

In the early 1980s, everyone knew the field of the future, the field to get into was information technology. But, the avenues of entry were limited. If you were interested in getting into the business of computing, you had several choices.

First, you could sell business or scientific computers for one of the companies actively addressing those markets. Second, you could major in computer science and learn the business from the more technical programming and systems architecture end. You could also go to a trade school and learn the mind numbing skill of keypunch. Finally, you could get into the business from a ground up type job such as a Tape Librarian, Computer Operator or similar titles used for entry-level hires in IT shops.

None of these options offered anything related to personal computers. They really didn’t exist, certainly not in the world of business. I saw the advent of the personal computer as way for me to expand my information system knowledge from a Records Management focus to include something with a bit of a technical edge. It would be a way for me to “get into computers” without having to back track in life and go back to school or take an entry-level job.

At that point, there were very few options. Tandy had their TRS systems, Osbourne and Sinclair had offerings. Apple was just rolling out their Apple 2 and IBM laughed at all of them by entering their “toy” computer into the mix. They called it The Peanut.

IBM just wasn’t seeing the vision. The vision they did see was the end of centralized, corporate computing being fostered by the PC on every desktop.

But, for me, all of those options were way beyond my price range. There really were no serious choices in the sub one thousand dollar range.

For the Masses not for the Classes

That’s where Jack Tramiel came into the market. Commodore offered up the Vic–20 for about fifty bucks and later the Commodore 64 for well under a couple of hundred. Jack was quoted making the statement that Commodore will be making computers for the masses not for the classes. He meant this as a double entendre, Apple was well on their way establishing their presence in academia with special programs for schools and colleges.

Jack wanted to sell to everyone. He almost did sell to everyone. The Commodore 64 set records for the largest number of installed systems. The record may still stand.

commodore sx-64

My SX-64

I owe Jack Tramiel a huge thank you for bringing the PC into my price range. I bought the VIC and almost immediately after, the Commodore 64. It did not take long for me to see the potential for these devices as personal tools. I was building spreadsheets and doing job estimates, tracking job expenses and all sorts of things that were manual process in my working environment.

Then Commodore did a most remarkable thing, they entered the world of Mobile technology. They introduced and I immediately bought the Commodore SX-64. An integrated 64 system with built-in color monitor and a 5.25 inch disk drive.

I used this system until the late 1980s when I succumbed and finally bought a real PC with a MS-DOS operating system.

I’m sure my story is not at all unique. This whole industry is populated with people who went through similar development in terms of acquiring their skills by investing in the technology that interested them.

This has become something of a tradition in our space. The whole notion of BYOD is based on the fact that people want to make their lives better by learning to use new tools. We can’t wait until someone hands us an iPad, we go out and buy one. No one thinks twice about acquiring their own smart phone, they just do it.

Jack Tramiel saw this vision and turned it into a reality. If the desk top revolution needed heroes, Jack Tramiel would surely be one of the greats.

By Lou Washington

During my last year of college I roomed with my best friend in his town house. He managed to graduate a couple of years earlier than I did. Once he had his degree in hand he went straight to IBM and started a lifelong career selling computers in what was then called the General Systems Division.

He was a consummate sales person. He had all the God-given tools of looks and personality but he also had the passion to work hard and to learn from every single thing to which he was exposed. He would literally rather be selling then doing anything else.

I used to kid him about being a huckster, a drummer and all the other semi-derogatory terms professional sales folks live with. He shut me up one day by pointing out one very important fact.

We were driving around one afternoon when a truck passed us. It had a bumper sticker displayed on the trailer; if you Bought it, a Truck Brought it!

Laughing, he turned to me and said that it should read; if you Bought it, a Salesman Sold it!

He was right of course. Every single thing we have, we acquire or are given was sold to us or to someone along the way. Products cannot get beyond the manufacturer until someone buys them. Many times they are sold multiple times before finding their way into the hands of the end-user.

We literally are dealing with sales people all day long.

Which brings up the question; what do you want from a sales rep? What makes a good sales person in your eyes? Why are you happy with some buying experiences and exhausted by others? What are the show stopper sales behaviors which kill the deal in your world?

For me, selling is all about knowledge transfer. I want to be equipped to make an informed buying decision. Here are my requirements for a sales person when it comes to technology purchases:

  • Knows the product inside and out
  • Ability to articulate and communicate their knowledge effectively
  • Empowered – (I know it’s an over-used word) Sales folks need to be able to quote or negotiate prices and special requirements
  • Empathetic in terms of seeing “my use” of the product and what that means in terms of requirements for a successful transaction
  • Curious and imaginative – The unasked question is sometimes more important than the unanswered question.

With technology products, sales is less about intrusive, aggressive and persistent touching and more about making it easier for the buyer to buy. After all, how often do you really find yourself being convinced to purchase something you didn’t already want? What you want is help. What you want is someone who can remove the obstacles to getting your pain mitigated or your need satisfied.

Technology purchases are frequently complex in nature; complex products, complex specifications, complex pricing and frequently complex buying requirements. Somebody has to be the expert in such an environment. Most often, we require the sales person to take on this role.

Sales people can’t be just lead generators, order takers, entertainers or hand-holders. They have to have the skills and tools necessary to serve the customer.

This means the ability to configure complex products and provide on the fly price quotes. It also means they are knowledgeable enough about their customers business to make intelligent suggestions and understand the issues that challenges the customer on a day-to-day basis. They should be able to make recommendations based on what is really best for the customer in any particular situation.

CRM systems, product configuration technology and pricing application are great places to start. But, mobilizing these technologies is just as essential. The knowledge needs to be where the transaction takes place. Usually, that will be in the customer’s office.

Selling will always be required at some level. Selling is what makes the whole thing work. One company buys and another company sells. Selling smart is just as important as buying smart. After all, business ultimately has only these two functions; buying things and selling things. Why not do them equally well?

By Lou Washington

We were discussing this concept today in a marketing context, a colleague of mine put it this way; it’s like the man behind the curtain, Oz is not real, the action and reality are behind the curtain.

We like to talk about simplifying the complex, but is that really what we mean?

Many years ago when I was seriously studying piano I attended a recital featuring pieces from the romantic era including some of the works of Franz Liszt. If you are not familiar with Liszt, he was a performing pianist of astounding technical ability.

In the late 1800s, the piano and the artists who played the piano were roughly the equivalent of today’s preeminent rock stars. From the standpoint of dazzling ability, Liszt stood head and shoulders above most of the artists active in that time. He was good looking and he knew what his audience wanted. He was essentially a phenom, a rock star.

Franz Liszt also composed for piano and he left us with a substantial body of work. Many of these pieces were specifically designed to be “show off” pieces for pianists. One of his more challenging works was a transcription of a series of violin pieces composed by the equally dazzling Italian violinist, Paganini.

It was one of these pieces that grabbed my attention that evening during the recital. The piece is nicknamed La Campanella. The piece opens with a straight forward recitation of a simple melody line. Then, over the course of the next four minutes or so, this theme is repeated again and again with increasing complexity. For the pianist, each repetition brings increasing technical demands that are displayed for the listener in the most astounding ways.

During my next session with my piano teacher I related how this piece had blown me away and how incredible it was that the artist could accomplish all these amazing physical feats. She, of course, was familiar with the piece but she was not as caught up by my excitement as I had expected. She was almost dismissive of it.

I finally had to ask why she was not as taken with it as I was. Her response was one of those lessons you remember because it really transcended music and reached into the whole of life.

She ask me to recall many years prior when I first began studying with her. She had introduced me to the works of J.S. Bach, in particular the series of 48 Preludes and Fugues known as the Well Tempered Clavier. She asked me to recall her introducing me to the very first piece in this series, the Prelude in C Major.

When you listen to this Bach Prelude the effect is altogether different from the other piece. Is is almost entirely devoid of the pianistic gymnastics evidenced in the Liszt piece. But, it is certainly every bit as captivating. The Bach pulls at your emotions, your senses and your spirit. The Liszt doesn’t really pull at anything other than perhaps your sense of amazement.

How is it that the simple, single melodic line of J.S. Bach moves your heart and senses so dramatically while the complex, intricate and rambunctious “La Campanella” leaves you feeling just a bit winded?

How does simplicity essentially blow complexity out of the water? The answer is; it doesn’t.

The Bach piece is far from simple. The Liszt piece is undoubtably complex sounding, but does that complexity result in great music or just a great demonstration of skill? What’s beneath the surface?

The Bach prelude is a long, slow development of a musical idea into a final shining resolution of musical tension that only flirts with flourish and ornamentation in the final couple of measures.

The simplicity sucks you in and then Bach gets your heart.

The life lesson in this is that simplicity is not simple at all. It matters not if you’re talking music or manufacturing. Simplicity is the effect, beneath it, hidden away from view, you will frequently find enormous complexity.

Systems that strive to simplify cannot be confused with simple systems. It you are talking software, it means an easy to use, uncluttered user experience. It means the ability to handle a complicated processes is delivered to the user in a way that saves them time and effort and increases the accuracy of their work.

Simplicity is an effect, an image or a veneer. It covers incredible complexity.

By Lou Washington

I’m devoting a few lines here to the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic. Titanic is a technology story and it also is a story that I’ve been fascinated by for many years.

Sometime during the day of April 14, 2012 a cruise liner full of passengers will arrive on station in the North Atlantic at the last position reported by RMS Titanic prior to her sinking one hundred years ago. That ship will remain on site throughout the night.

The passengers will engage in a number of activities supposedly timed to coincide with actions recorded in the historical records that document this most famous of all ship wrecks.

Food served on the cruise will match the menus used during Titanic’s only voyage. Music will be played by musicians covering the same numbers offered by Wallace Hartley and his small but very brave band of musicians as the liner foundered and sank. Signal rockets will be fired at intervals during the final two hours mimicking the real distress rockets fired at the command of Captain E. J. Smith in an attempt to call attention to his stricken vessel and request the assistance of anyone in visual range.

Hopefully, sometime during that evening someone will utter a prayer on behalf of the souls that perished in that horrible disaster.

I’m a Titanic junkie. My love affair with this ship started many years ago. I can’t even begin to tell you how many books I’ve read on the subject. I was thrilled when the James Cameron movie was released in the mid 1990s. And I enjoyed every minute of it.

For me there is a great unanswered question that looms above this event. The frustrating thing is the question itself is not discernible. Every book I read, every opinion I hear and every theory that is explained seeks to provide “the answer” to the question. But it is all for nought because the question itself is not known.

There are also numerous questions about the specific events of that evening which provide fuel for much speculation and in some cases passionate arguments. Books have been written about many of these “what if” scenarios and for many aficionados, this is what drives their own interest in the subject as a whole. If you want to get a flavor for this diversity of opinion, just google the name Stanley Lord.

There are those that see Titanic as a sort of microcosm or analogue of the post-Victorian world. They see it as an emblem of a class based society with privilege and comfort for a few supported and delivered by the discomfort, brutality and death of many.

Others will explain that Titanic and the fate of the ship and passengers was the result of arrogance. They see it as technology lifted on high like some sort of golden calf for man to worship. They believe that the sinking was the inevitable response of a Mosaic God striking down another false idol.

I think the question is much more basic. I think we look at our technological creations with some pride, and when they fail, I think our first reaction is always why. Why, with all of quality processes, all of the engineering and design specifications, all of the testing and research and careful production techniques do we still turn out products that fail. How can a company like Apple introduce a phone that has antennae issues. How can Toyota build a car that despite test after test has documented cases of a sticking accelerator. The list is endless and the results are anything from mild disappointment to death.

Perhaps the more appropriate reaction should be; Why Not?

We place a huge amount of trust in technology every single day. I wake up in the morning and jump in the shower; I’m not scalded. I take my assorted meds; I’m not poisoned. I trust green lights on my way to work, I drive my car at high speeds depending on brakes to slow me down when needed. I jump on an elevator and it safely takes me to the third floor of the office building where I work.

All sorts of technological creations work properly all day long and we are sustained by that functionality throughout our lives. Each time we place our trust in technology, we are betting it will do what we ask it to do.

But on the evening of April 14, 1912, 1,500+ souls lost the bet.

The ship was moving at flank speed in an area known to have icebergs. The ship was constructed of a type of iron that was susceptible to becoming brittle when exposed to cold temperatures and the rivets that held the ship together where similarly compromised. The life boats on Titanic were insufficient in number to accommodate the passengers and crew. The passengers themselves failed to react with sufficient urgency to the crews request to board those lifeboats and they indeed left the ship only partially full.

Titanic is indeed emblematic of a society that depends on technology. We risk disaster every day and there is no reason to believe we will stop or that we should stop. Progress is expensive.

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