Before I get to the “bond genius” part of the title, a personal moment, to share my 3 Bowie favorites:
Album: Diamond Dogs – nothing like it. On first listen, it’s nearly repelling, in its unconventional musicianship and song-writing. But, listen closely and play it again, and the whole thing starts to become absolutely mesmerizing – an other-worldly lyrical vision and sound.
Song: Rebel, Rebel – ironically, the “hit” from Diamond Dogs. The irony is from the fact that the song sounds nothing like the rest of the album. Being over 40 years old, the track is far lesser-known to the Gen X and Y kids. It gets lost because it’s sandwiched in between the original Ziggy tracks and the latter-day, far better known Let’s Dance tracks. But, for my money, Rebel, Rebel is one of the most hard-charging rock-and-roll riffs of all time.
Video: Heroes – just watch…
Live: The Backyard, Austin TX, April 27, 2004 – An amazing night. The Austin Chronicle’s review is on target, but of course comes up short with being able to capture the magic of the night.
Bowie was “on” and the crowd ate it up, me included. He and the band delivered the perfect set list. A night and a concert performance I’ll never forget.
* * *
Ok, now for the “bond genius” part. For this, I have to give full credit to one of my new favorite, morning newsletters, Quartz. I recommend that you check it out. It’s become part of my morning routine, with multiple round-the-clock issues available to be sent to your email. I get the early morning edition that hits my inbox around 5am.
This past weekend, they editors did a marvelous intro to the daily edition, talking about Bowie’s forward-thinking, on multiple levels. I really can’t improve on what they wrote, so I’m citing it here, in full – all credit (copyright) goes to Quartz. (Keep up the good work, Team Quartz!)
The late musician was always internet savvy—he started his own ISP way back in the AOL days, and was among the first artists to offer a downloadable album, just when Napster was starting to scare the bejesus out of the record labels.
His insight into digital music led him to predict the internet’s disruption of the music industry and cash out early. Back in 1997, he created an entirely new financial instrument: “Bowie bonds” were essentially a bet against the recorded-music business, providing the musician a $55 million payout, secured by future royalties from his enormous back catalog.
”Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity,” he told the New York Times in 2002. “The absolute transformation of everything that we ever thought about music will take place within 10 years, and nothing is going to be able to stop it. So it’s like, just take advantage of these last few years because none of this is ever going to happen again.”
In 1999, global music industry revenues were $14.6 billion; by 2009, they were only $6.3 billion. The entire offering of Bowie bonds was sold to Prudential Securities, which didn’t turn out to be very prudent: The 10-year bonds were eventually downgraded to junk status as music sales, including Bowie’s back catalog, evaporated.
Not all of Bowie’s predictions came true: He also told the Times that copyright itself was doomed. Due to the lobbying prowess of major media companies, copyright protection is stronger than ever—not that it has helped musicians much.
Streaming music services like Spotify pay out tiny fractions of a penny for every song played, making most professional musicians dependent on touring and other revenue streams. (Bowie predicted that too.)
Incidentally, the banker who helped to create Bowie bonds is now securitizing the royalty streams of one-hit wonders like Right Said Fred, the luminaries behind “I’m Too Sexy.”
RIP, indeed. Carpe diem, my friends.
It’s New Year’s Day 2016. And, in the spirit of this symbolic fresh start, I’ll offer a perspective for a fresh start to problem selection for software. Stay with me here…it gets less geeky…
I’ll confess, I’ve never read any of Berkun’s books, nor heard him speak. But, he was among the earlier people I followed on twitter and I’ve enjoyed many of his posts since.
Anyhow, I’ve captured the series of tweets below, because they got me thinking about a topic that I would normally dismiss as bordering on nonsensical. (NOTE: the best way to read them is to scroll to the bottom and then read to the top.)
They first appeared as one of those rants that you sometimes see people fire off, due to anger, frustration, sadness, etc. So, when I read the first couple, my internal dismissive voice said “yeah, right.”
It was quickly followed by my internal logical voice which said “technology is just a tool; those kinds of changes only happen due to the actions of people.”
But then, a third, internal voice of challenge said “but, wait a second; why can’t we demand of our tools that they contribute in a substantial way to these kinds of desirable social changes?”
As the rant illustrates at the beginning (bottom): too often, our design & development efforts are focused on improving the speed or effectiveness of imperfect solutions to problems.
Or, they are focused on applying an “X of Y” adaptation (i.e., the “Airbnb of parking spaces”).
But, we tend to think that problems concerning social innovation and behavioral change are outside of the province of technology. When, perhaps instead, that’s the next frontier of app development.
So, as you plan out your 2016 today and in the coming days, think about how you can help bring to life an app that can change the world.
I don’t know about you, but I think we Austinites have a lot to be thankful for, as we close out 2015. Sure, there’s much more to do. And, we can begin that work tomorrow. But, today, we should reflect on the good things going on.
“Thank you” to the mayor, city council, and the city of Austin (and surrounding city jurisdictions) staff & management, for the leadership and public service provided. Let’s keep working to make the greater Austin area a shining city, welcoming to all.
Here’s Mayor Adler’s 2015 year-end letter – enjoy!
= = =
Dear Rebecca & Steve,
• Leveraged private sector and philanthropy to assist nonprofits in housing homeless veterans
- Among the intersections that were a part of the City’s Don’t Block the Box initiative, there were 5 intersections that experienced a blockage during at least 10% of the cycles with an average blockage of 32% of the time. While officers were station at these intersections, the blockage percentage was cut in half to 16% of the time. The two intersections for which we have after data shows that the blockages percentage increased to 22% after officers stopped enforcement.
- Retimed a third of the signals, resulting in 15% reduction in travel times and 40% reduction in stops.
In my experience, there are 4 levels of translation:
- Basic comprehension
- you can get this level from translate.google.com, Microsoft’s Skype Translator, or other similar tools
- this is sufficient for about 40-60% comprehension
- using these tools is ok for quick chat app translations and other headlines or phrases from non-native websites
- but, I’ve found trying to use them for anything else is quite cumbersome and unproductive
- avoid using them for document or web page translation. It’ll look like a 5 year old translated it to the native speaker
- Rough draft
- you can get this level from application providers, like bablic.com, transperfect.com, and other similar tools
- this is sufficient for 60-80% comprehension and 80-90% spelling/grammar precision
- they are useful for a head-start on large volume translation, but they aren’t a replacement for people…yet
- the providers of these tools tend to imply that higher quality results are possible over time with statements like “the more you use the tool, the more it will become tuned to your favored phrases and words”
- indeed, some possess what appears to be basic machine learning capability, but it remains inferior to the judgment of a human translator
- Finished, professional copy
- for this level, you need a live human being (preferably a team) who is expert in the source (“starting”) and target (“ending”) languages
- this is sufficient for 80-90% comprehension and 90-95% spelling/grammar precision
- most people typically use a fluent, bi-lingual employee, a translator from a university that has students majoring in foreign languages, or an online service with independent contractors like upwork.com (formerly Odesk) or elance.com
- I highly recommend testing two or three of these providers with the same 3-4 sample work products, at the same time. Once they finish translating all samples, then have a trusted individual, fluent in the target language, review and score the results. (If possible, have more than one person do the review, so they can compare notes.)
- before you give them the test – which you should pay them for, BTW – require that they provide you their pricing structure, both for the test as well as the full project or long-term assignment you have for them, so that you can do an “apples to apples” comparison of cost v. quality
- Localized, native-equivalent content
- for this level, you need a fluent, bi- or multi-lingual speaker AND reader, either highly familiar with the target region or a native of it
- this is sufficient for up to 99% comprehension and spelling/grammar precision
- the difference between this level and the prior, “professional” level is like the difference between an English-language news release written by an Australian-based translator for US target audience versus the same news release written by an American-based translator.
- the former may choose to include “ue” at the end of words like “catalog” or “dialog” or use “s” instead of “z” for words like “categorize” or “digitize”
- they will also have a different understanding of idioms and colloquialisms that indicate a truly, locally-appropriate translation
- providers for this level of quality are usually from the top translating agencies in the target countries, for example, in China it would be companies like Linguitronics and Real Idea
How an American Software Startup Chose an Indigenous Australian Marsupial as the Logo of a Chinese Mobile App
I know, right? Truth is better than fiction, most of the time.
But, indeed, that second blog title is the more colorful description of the actual process from 3 years ago, when I oversaw the creation of the logo and name for Appconomy’s first mobile app in China.
NOTE: The brand design example in this post is drawn from a larger presentation – Brand Element Basics – that is available on Slideshare.
Here’s what happened.
Our first app was designed to be an “every man’s” version of the Starbucks loyalty app, primarily for small-footprint, food & beverage (F&B) locations, like small tea shops or food stands, but also for other retail merchants, like jewelry stores or mobile phone kiosks.
It is very common for Asia-Pacific mobile apps to have mascots or other anthropomorphic features (like eyes or hands) integrated into their branding.
So, we began by studying and evaluating the branding of various competing apps that were broadly in our category, as show in the example below.
From that initial survey, we chose a lengthy set of shape/color/font combinations, each with one or more referring sources.
We had already gone through an initial app naming process, settling on the working name of “Jinnang.”
A jinnang is a special kind of man-purse, if you will, that is a key element in Chinese fairy tale that nearly everyone in China knows, kind of like the magic beans in Jack-in-the-Beanstalk, from Mother Goose in the US.
From the large set of options, we worked through pros and cons and down-selected to a smaller set of concepts that we wanted to further develop.
For the next round, we focused more on shapes and narrowing in on simple, unique, original imagery.
To help, we kept to a mostly black & white palette, to keep attention on the core visual composition.
As you can see, by this stage there were 2 macro-design concepts emerging, with one purely emphasizing the magic purse and another incorporating cute animal mascots.
The kangaroo was a natural option because of its pouch, which was kind of a built-in jinnang, and because it had friendly, yet strong character attributes.
And, it was a mascot that was still available, unclaimed by any other major software competitor, as far as we could tell.
Next, we undertook yet another round of narrowing on images, with the addition of color and fonts to the options, to give them full character.
At this point, it was TIME to CHOOSE a final concept!
Winner: the kangaroo!
From there, we advanced to a round of micro-tailoring of the concept elements, e.g., mouth, headwear, neckwear, color and more.
As you can see, we made him skinnier and gave him better posture, in the process!
Eventually, we settled on the finalized logo, both symbol & wordmark.
You may have noticed that, in the process, between the 4th round and the 6th & final round, the brand name changed from Jinnang to Jinjin.
The simple rationale was that “jin jin” was easier for English speakers to say and, as a meaningless set of morphemes – similar to the “goo goo or ga ga” of babytalk – it would be easier to trademark.
There’s more to it than that, but I’ll save that story for another time.
A few years ago, I wrote a post for Austin Startup in a weekly column I was doing called mobileTech Tuesdays.
The post was entitled “This Is Not A Smartphone And I Don’t Care” in which I reviewed my impressions of the first and only DellWorld I’ve attended, in 2011.
Going “all in” on enterprise wasn’t a bad idea, so I wasn’t indicting the strategy. But, it irked me that the company was still trying to have it both ways, by continuing to spit out half-ass consumer products.
Even though I had supported the “home team” for many years, by buying Wintel PCs from Dell, I’d finally had enough a year later. I documented my frustrations with my Inspiron XP in a post entitled “I’m Done with Dell” in September 2012.
That didn’t necessarily mean I was done with Dell entirely. As far as I was concerned, Dell for the enterprise was the only viable option, having served as a Chief Information Officer (CIO) and a consultant to CIOs for a number of years, earlier in my career.
So, about a year later, I was intrigued when Dell introduced a product called the Cloud Connect in late 2013. I got on the beta program list and received my copy of the product.
This is a good example of when a product sounds good in theory, but unravels in practice for all but the most niche use-cases.
Interestingly, the product reminded me of an identical idea, introduced a decade earlier in 2003 by a company called Seaside, that had a Microsoft Exchange dedicated PC-on-a-USB called the xKey.
This was a time well before mass-market smartphones, back when pagers and the first pager-sized Blackberrys (we called them “Crackberrys” because they were so addictive, even then!) were the norm.
So, the idea of carrying a secure, battery-less PC in your pocket, seemed to make more sense. But, today, as the battle rages between iPhones and high-function/low-cost smartphone makers out of Asia, like Xiaomi, the Cloud Connect makes much less sense.
Because, while they would like you to think all you need is this, plus a monitor (preferably a Wyse)…
What you really need is this…
So much for portability!
And, while anyone 3-year old can use an iPhone or an iPad (product docs on top), I felt like I was returning to mainframe configuration class, when I slogged through the Cloud Connect docs (on bottom).
In fact, I had to laugh when, just like back in the days of IBM 360/370 Assembler manuals I had in college and my early days of Accenture, the Cloud Connect docs included the legendary “This page intentionally blank” apology.
A much smarter solution, in my humble opinion, would have been for Dell to focus on partnering with (or buying) an MDM software maker and then creating a flawless smartphone & mobile device management experience across its servers, network devices, and now vast array of storage, with EMC.
My guess is that the product serves some particular US federal or state agency niche or one for foreign governments or NGOs requiring some extreme form of physical and digital security.
If not, then it demonstrates how far a company will go when it makes a strategic decision to avoid the consumer tech products business, even if it essentially means denying the ubiquity of smartphones & tablets, by instead recreating a smart version of mainframe computer networks, 50 years after they were the only show in town.