How not to feed the troll in you

Meet FUD the friendly troll

FUD, the troll within

Trolls aren’t just those abject creatures lurking in the lowest and murkiest levels of social media, they are also those intangible elements, such as fear, uncertainty and doubt, that haunt and taunt you into aborting a venture you so dearly want to bring to life, making you think it’ll be more of a Mini-Frankenstein than a Mini-Me… fear of mockery, uncertainty of your worth, doubt about getting that message across, the one that seemed so clear in your head a few minutes ago.

Still there? Super, because that, in 83 words and 479 characters, was an example of a proverbial long sentence, something you don’t find too much today in the fast paced, lowbrow, short attention span orientated communications we usually get served. Communications have to be short, to the point, above-the-fold, bullet listed and in-your-face if they’re to catch a reader’s interest and don’t bother about Anaphora and her sisters Anadiplosis, Polysyndeton and Hypophora, whoever they may be.

But don’t lose faith because, to paraphrase and abuse of that already much abused quote from Mark Twain, “The reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated.” There are still writers who believe that in order to write Buzzfeed-style you first need to master the art of literary writing, writers who still present their work to a publisher knowing there’s a 99,95% chance of it being rejected, writers who strive to do better and are able to harmonize grammatical accuracy with flair and imagination. And the average blogger in all this?  It’s important to understand that while grammatical rules can be bent, it’s best to master them first after which, and only then, you can warp them to your heart’s content, write like a little green Jedi and still be credible.

Cudgeling word processing into the 21st century

Continuing on the subject of writing for hard print publishing, purists claim that the best works are produced on an old-fashioned typewriter because it forces perfection. If you have never typed on Remington (my parents had one) you will never have known the joys of ripping out a sheet of paper for one small typo and having to start all over again. Word processing changed all that by removing, not only the need for paper notebooks full of penciled notes but also the mental effort of having to do it right or do it again. Perhaps  I am thankful for the evolution. It may look romantic watching a writer in some movie typing away at his or her next bestseller but the image doesn’t always bring across the toil and trouble word processing has taken out of writing.

When IBM first came up with the maxim “Machines should work. People should think” they were responding to a growing business need of the time: Replace physical paperwork with an electronic alternative and when word processing went mainstream in the 1970s little thought was given as to how word processing would shape up 40 years on. Fast forward to today and a new, perhaps foreseeable debate is forming: If typewriting was to be eclipsed by word processing, then what next for word processing*? If typewriters were associated with ribbons and blue carbon paper, then word processing as we know it today, is undoubtedly linked to printers. So the question is, can word processing adapt to modern-day cross-device writing requirements, i.e. for the Web and mobile devices, or, if not, will it get substituted, like the typewriter, by cross-platform technologies such as the deep learning startup Anyline?
* One idea for a next step could be to make the word processing tools talk to each other and to other platforms. This post was written using MS Word but it needed reworking once in my blog site (WordPress), same thing if I transfer it to OpenOffice or Polaris.

Murder, he wrote

I was going to call this post something like “The precipitous extinction of the long sentence in writing” but those who know better suggested it would kill the post stone dead before it even got read. It seems a title like that doesn’t quite, and I quote, “trigger a strong, actionable emotion the reader already has about the subject at hand” and that if it got the reader nodding his or her head it would be from weariness rather than interest. In other words, the title has to light a fire, preferably in the reader’s brain, as should the sub headline, then hit the reader with all you’ve got. Wordsmithing is an art but writing can also be fun so if you ever feel the troll in you taking control a) read through someone else’s blog to see how they’re doing and take a leaf out of their book and b) take advice from sympathetic professionals.

Acknowledgements to the following, among others, for inspiration and a lot of research material:

thecopybot.com

www.copyblogger.com

@demianfarnworth

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Posted in Everyday life | Tagged , , ,

Finding your place as a writer, author, chronicler…

(This post has been edited)

Hot off the press! Entrepreneur and LinkedIn Influencer James Caan CBE was recently called out by someone in the comments section of his Aug 10 post. The keen-sighted “commentard” spotted a first line blooper, a classical grammatical mistake – one grammatical mistake, long since corrected – and took him to task over it. And you know what? I’m pleased the whole “non-story” came to light. Pleased not through Schadenfreude (Oh, how the mighty may stumble and fall), not because Mr. Caan thought it necessary to take the time and write his Mea Culpa.

No, I’m pleased because Mr. Caan explained in an unassuming way that he, not a PR team, ghost-writer, bot or whatever wrote the article and in doing so raised a good point: With the abundance of advice and counsel available today, are we becoming more critical and less tolerant of even occasional and benign mistakes others may make when communicating (he who has never sinned, etc.)? I’m pleased because I’m not sure people even draw a benefit from criticizing others and this was an exercise in putting things back into perspective.

Error, what error?

I know one Localization team – stand up, you know who you are – who apply (or did so when I was with them) a noteworthy error grading structure (minor, major, critical and blooping show-stopper) for all their translations, that basically asked: Does an error corrupt the messaging, yes or no and if so, explain to what degree. The aim was to get the reviewer to qualify the error and rate its impact on the overall message. This helped optimize content flow, eliminate redundancy, reduce endless, often unnecessary communications, hold people accountable and best of all, neutralize unqualified comments.

As for me, James Caan’s recent (Aug 16) post was helpful in several ways. Firstly, it motivated me to move on with an article that had been sitting in my pending folder for a few weeks now and it inspired this post. Secondly it also helped to confirm that if you have the aptitude you can write, you just need the tools: a subject, inspiration, motivation, time, a thick skin, discipline, a good level of grammar, an eye for detail, a faculty for expression and a vision of where you want to go”. Finally, it also confirmed, as if it needed saying, that no matter how good you are, people will also find matter to criticize your work (again that John 8:7).

Personally, I love writing, not because I like the sound of my own voice but because I love playing with words, syntaxes, meanings etc., and writing gives me the canvas to do it on. Different people have different ways of expressing themselves. Some people paint, some build, some teach, others debate and the really gifted communicators do all of that. Me, I like writing, and you?

Posted in Everyday life, Publishing, Society, Uncategorized, Work | Tagged

Tales from Bishkek: Far from the madding crowd

Fleeing the turmoil and nonsensicality of recent events in Europe (the UK’s utterly shambolic and farcical Brexit referendum, the ensuing political meltdown and the tragic terror attack at Istanbul’s Atatürk airport, through which my wife and I had transited, not 2 days earlier) and wanting to go off-line for a while, what better than a trip to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, that intriguing little country in central Asia, situated along the Silk Road, south of Kazakhstan.

Respecting a standing arrangement, to visit the in-laws every second year, this particular visit also coincided with the birth of my stepdaughter’s 3rd child, initially planned for 2-3 days after our arrival in Bishkek (one week later and much to the daughter ‘s consternation, there was still no sign of the baby).
The other reason for going to Bishkek this year was that my wife and daughter had recently acquired some real estate. Paperwork needed doing, the newly acquired real estate needed renovating and builders needed persuading, this was my job, that work time doesn’t rhyme with vodka time, even if the conveniently placed corner shop lady was more than happy with the workers’ patronage, because, well that’s what “Convenience” means in Bishkek.

Convenience, as in…

Popular some 50 or 60 years ago in Western Europe, before the arrival of the mega supermarkets, little street corner “Convenience stores”, that flourish in Kyrgyzstan, are now something of an anachronism in most western urban or suburban areas – if you’re curious, I’ve written at length about these Convenience stores in my book “Destination Bishkek – especially when the said “Convenience store” is often nothing more than a circa 70 cbm shipping container courtesy of the “China Shipping” conglomerate, with a facade and air conditioning, parked on some street corner. And if you’re wondering at the “unusualness” of such installations just remember that the Kyrgyz are a traditionally nomadic and pragmatic people so let’s say the containers are just replacing the traditional “Yurt”. Actually, there are so many shipping containers in Bishkek – just go to Bishkek’s Dordoi bazaar to get an idea – it’s a wonder the Chinese, themselves, aren’t wondering where all their shipping containers have gone. And if you still can’t imagine a shipping container being used for something other than its primary function read up on the East London container city complex.

For me as a westerner, going shopping in Bishkek, whether at a convenience store or at one of the bigger “Narodny” stores, is like a kid in a sweet shop. I love discovering the local and regional products (i.e. from neighbouring Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and China). Sure, you can find universally familiar brand names, American sodas, French shampoos, Swiss chocolate bars, German brand coffees, Turkish beers, etc. but what’s more interesting is trying the local products*, sausages, smoked fish, pastry goods, salads, cheeses, dairy products, cakes and drinks and because the exchange rate is so favourable for westerners, shopping is (still) very cheap. It’s a standard of living related issue and what may shock a western visitor is that while there are obvious signs of social distress Kyrgyzstan has its 1%ers who are doing extremely well. In fact, in some ways, it’s a bit like the US, without Walmart.
* NB. while I tend to steer clear of the clothes, basically because, made in China, the quality is lower compared to clothes in Europe, I do recommend carpets, tableware, household articles and most of all the crystal, China porcelain tea and coffee sets and sundry metal dishes and bowls.

The taste

Discovering local food products is fun but comes with a caveat. The quality isn’t always up to expectations; origins are vague and contents approximate. For all the bickering going on in Europe, and specifically in the EU, and even more specifically in the UK, regulating the origin, descriptive and content of products has gone a long way to ensuring that sausages actually contain a guaranteed quantity of sausage meat and that when a cheese is labeled “Dutch” it really does come from the Netherlands and not from some factory somewhere in Russia or Kazakhstan.

Originating from Kyrgyzstan, it affects my wife, each time she goes back to Bishkek, to see the quality of the foodstuffs changing so. As an example take the German style breakfast Schinkenwurst sausage sold in Bishkek. The sausage used to contain large chunks of real ham in with the processed meat. Now there is less and less “real” ham and more and more “processed” meat. The aforementioned Dutch cheese doesn’t come from Holland and the industrially produced, 10 cm long, Hovis style Russian bread – always a symbol, always a barometer – is such that I personally prefer the local Kyrgyz bread.

I suppose if you eat such foods each and every day, it’s a matter of taste but even though food is still cheap in Kyrgyzstan it does make you wonder what the foodstuffs would be like if EU-style regulations dictated their production. Would food be more expensive? Certainly. Would food be healthier? Perhaps. Explaining to people, earning very basic wages with minimum social protection that it’s for their benefit might take time and be difficult, very difficult. It took the EU decades and a lot of coaxing to eventually align member states to the same standards and if I research further I’m sure I could find examples of where the EU has exerted influence over non-member countries, eager to trade with the EU, to adopt certain of its standards, e.g. health, safety, education, or forego access to the EU’s trade market.

Good local cooking

One of my other favourite pastimes in Bishkek is eating in the local,  i.e. frequented by the locals, canteen style, no frills, honest worker food restaurants serving generous portions of regional dishes, though not necessarily of Kyrgyz origin, such as Lagman, Pilaff, Ganfin, or Bortsch washed down with a natural homemade fruit juice called Compot and/or tea and all that for 5 USD for 2!
(NB. Don’t look for bottled water or sodas either in such canteens… you’re more likely to something called Kvas, the Russian equivalent of a Coke, made from plants, with a slight taste of liquorice or Schoro, a fermenting (no spelling mistake) cereal drink but that’s it).

And just why would I prefer such a non-descript canteen to a more upper market downtown eatery? Because, for having worked a long time in the hotel and catering trade, and for having had my own restaurant, it’s frustrating to be treated like a tourist, to be fleeced, overpriced, short-changed and badly served in a downtown restaurant.

It’s tempting to make generalities about the Kyrgyz people and the local Russian people in Kyrgyzstan but as a rule and although apt at trading, they, generally, have no feel for the finer points of, let’s say, customer satisfaction. You are there to leave your money or get parted of it (I’ll explain this in a bit). One good example of this is the flourishing local used car business. The locals love trading big powerful cars, mainly Mercedes, BMWs, Audis and SUVs of any brand (“bought” in Germany and/or the Baltic countries, e.g. Lithuania) and I suppose this replaces horse trading but go into any shop and the notion of service with a smile is an alien one, especially when for lack of customers you interrupt the shop assistant while they’re watching a local/Russian soap opera or chatting on the Russian Facebook.

The expression “A fool and his money are soon parted” has never made more sense to me than in Kyrgyzstan, except that here fool rhymes with foreigner. A hard thing to say? Perhaps. In any case, when in Kyrgyzstan I try not to look like a pigeon but a +100kg/1,86m white, albeit tanned, male Caucasian Gaijin does rather tend to stand out in a group of locals. Whether you’re asking for Aspirin at the local pharmacy, or ordering a beer in a shopping mall bar there’s a chance you will get short-changed. So one word of advice, be streetwise, be on your guard and if you don’t speak the language, go with someone who does and you’ll enjoy the experience all the more.

To finish on this particular subject, when in Bishkek my all-time favourite occupation is taking a Marshrutka to one of the local bazaars, of which Bishkek has many: Osh, Ortezai, Madina and of course: Dordoi. It’s a real journey into what Bishkek is really like, rather like the North African souks. Along time ago my wife used to have a stall – a container – in the Dordoi bazaar and she often tells me stories about the people and their techniques for selling. I also notice that she keeps a particularly tight grip on her handbag and is forever telling me to pay attention. She will even occasionally tell me to come and stand next to her using a tone that urges immediate compliance.

As a side note. When in Bishkek I strip my wallet of everything unnecessary: driver’s license, fidelity cards, photos and the such like but when visiting a bazaar everything else is removed as well, leaving just some cash for shopping so that if the wallet does get lifted then tough on me. I’m out-of-pocket but not by much and everything of value is safe elsewhere. No, the real pleasure in visiting these bazaars is in the experience. It’s not quite Moscow rules but there is always someone watching you and if you don’t pay attention well, then say goodbye to some personal belongings. In such a closed environment with all the hustle and bustle, you will get bumped into any number of times and any one of those encounters is potentially an attempt to test you and maybe rifle your pockets or shopping bags.
Finally, I like to think I’m a physiognomist and I like observing people and situations and have subsequently seen or have been able to negotiate situations that had I not have been paying attention could have gone differently. You can’t avoid or avert each and every situation but I like to think it’s a good way of putting into practice what I’ve learnt at one of those on-the-job “E.I.”, “Empathy” and “Situation Management” training courses most of us go on during the course of our working lives.

Post scriptum. And if you’ve got this far and are wondering whatever happened to the baby we came to Bishkek for (and bless you for asking) I can say yes, my step-daughter gave birth to a blue-eyed, 3 kilos something, 50 cm baby girl in the early hours of the day we were to fly back home from Bishkek. What a magical finish to our stay in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

 

Footnote: for readability sake, all Russian names have been typed phonetically.

Posted in Everyday life, Society, Voyages | Tagged ,

Digital Hydras

Have you ever felt that something not quite tangible is happening and you can’t quite put your finger on it? Well, I have that feeling at the moment about what’s happening today in the digital world. It’s happening and if you’re paying attention the tell-tale signs are there to prove it.

Just as I was starting to feel that Apple, Alphabet/Google, Amazon, Facebook, Uber & Co… and Microsoft (still in the race, but only just, with their operation ”Windows 10 as a Service”) were slowly but surely stifling all competition and neutralizing all opposition, on their way to uncontested and indisputable world dominance, a series of events are happening that might just help re-establish some semblance of free enterprise and level the playing field for high street/corner shop type business models.

So what is happening and who is doing it? Let’s start with Apple. Due to market saturation, Apple iPhone sales are dropping double-digits. The house that Steve built is also facing difficulties in China where manufacturing costs are now higher than in certain parts of the US and where the Chinese government has banned the sale of iTunes Movies and iBooks Store services. Donald J Trump is threatening, if elected, to force Apple to bring manufacturing back to the USA which, if the Trump succeeds, would, according to one Tech analyst, result in a price surge of iPhones of approx. 66%. And to top it all the US Senate is investigating the company’s tax practices.

Alphabet/Google. While Alphabet’s X Lab is literally looking to achieve immortality, by finding a cure for ageing, the European Commission is, a) looking into slapping Google with an antitrust charge which if successful would result in a €3.4 billion fine, approximately 6,4 times the fine the EU imposed on Microsoft (€561 million) in 2013  and b) the European court of justice is backing the right to be forgotten and is obliging Google to respect and execute requestor demands to have all information concerning them deleted from the web.

Amazon, everyone’s favourite producer, wholesaler, retailer, carrier, publisher, and web service provider. Out of all the digital giants Amazon is the only one in the news because workers, in Amazon’s German warehouses, strike for better work conditions. Apparently, not everyone gets coconut flavoured mineral water, free meals or gym facilities,
The EC also want to investigate Amazon for breach of rule concerning cross-border trading and as if that wasn’t enough, Donald Trump is lambasting Jeff Bezos for using the Washington Post for his own private political agenda, a moot point. The Donald might have a point but you have to admit, sales statistics show that the WP is doing considerably better since Bezos bought it!

And to finish with: Facebook. The social media platform with 1.65 billion monthly active users, and counting, isn’t really worried about the occasional online complaint. No, what apparently worries or rather mystifies Facebook is that certain authorities do not share the company’s benevolent vision of Internet for all. Facebook wants to position itself as a one-stop shop, where you access the web, read the news, make purchases, engage with businesses and stay in contact with family and friends without wasting time Googling and Bing-ing.

The European Commission (EC), have an issue with this benevolent and charitable vision, saying that Facebook isn’t respecting certain prerequisites, such as the user privacy and data protection, which the EC suspect are being exploited for commercial purposes. That the EC recently adopted (in April 2016) the General Data Protection Regulation, and nullified the so-called Safe Harbor data protection directive, is a detail for Facebook. They’ve one data center in Lulea, Sweden and soon a second one in Ireland, and can move European user data around as much as they like because the data stays in Europe.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the puddle, the US Senate Commerce Committee is requiring some explanations from Facebook concerning allegations that news curators are suppressing conservative leaning news articles from their “Trending News” sections. It’s a fair question except that when you look the typical FB user you could be forgiven for thinking that if the “Trending News” sections contain more “New York Post” or “Daily Mail” than Right-wing media then it’s only reflecting user character, morals and culture. And at the end of the day, as long as it stays within predetermined legal boundaries, Facebook is a social media platform-cum-commercial enterprise and, until otherwise constrained, does what it pleases.

So, go on and tell me I imagining it. There is no eurocratic entity trying to maintain a semblance of free enterprise and safeguard the world from the unrestrainable market dominance by a small group of mighty digital giants (There can be only one, McLeod) and there is no populist Hercules, or Xena, trying to rid us of an all-consuming digital Hydra before it subjugates the world.

Posted in Everyday life, Society | Tagged , , , , ,

Opinions

Opinions! Everyone has one and you know what? We all love sharing an opinion. Opinionating and gossiping, it’s hard-wired in our DNA and has been ever since Lucy walked the plains down in Africa.
And what an era we live in. Today we have Social Media to give the world and their dog a soapbox to stand on and voice an opinion, you even feel a little wiser after reading some of them.

For others though, well, sometimes you wonder, not because the article was particularly bad or biased but because it simply wasn’t relevant, for you. It was one of many that get written and published on subjects such as “5 ways to play mind games with your boss” or “Decode British etiquette (and avoid getting ruthlessly stared at as you push your way to the coffee machine)”.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m the first to get on my soap box and comment on a topic in a blog <uh, hum> not many people will ever read. I also happen to believe that a) there’s no age limit to learning, b) that age is no guarantee of intelligence and c) good advice can put even a jaded professional back on track. It’s for that reason I’ll give everyone a chance but I’ll take a good thought-provoking article by an experienced peer over a Dr. Travis Bradberry special any day, not to mention any article about how I should sign my emails.

Just so there’s no misunderstanding. For having written a few articles myself, I make a point of never shooting down the writer, just the chosen subject. I’ll even offer an opinion on the style but as a boss once told me “if it’s not relevant then why write about it”? OK, I hear you. It might not be relevant for me but it might be relevant for a Millennial. But come to think of it, why a Millennial? After all, they’ve just finished 4+ years in college, they’re educated, tech savvy and have wordplay so let them “Disrupt” established email etiquette if they want to.

Millennials

Gen_TimelineSource: Common Sense Advisory, Inc.

Talking of which. I see the need for categorizing niche market products like green diesel or vegan cheese but why this obsession with sticking a label on a Generation? Oh, I get it! The phone rings: “Hello Mr. “Gen X”. May we interest you in a pension scheme or some retirement real estate in southern Spain? Or, “… and just so you know, moving forward, we’re processing your résumé using our new, “Next-Gen-Tech” “HRaaS” software. That way, we’ll be able to process your profile and get the company’s answer back to you a lot quicker!” Great! And the imponderables in all that?

As a side note. If recruiters worry about “Quality of End User Experience” then one way of assuring customer satisfaction would be to highlight the human touch, flexibility and organic processing over next generation technology. Before anyone reacts, I know some who do go out-of-the-box and they know who they are but I’ve also had my share of recruiters, or their databases, who’ve confused my candidature with someone else’s. And while I’m about it. It really isn’t encouraging to learn from an HR “Expert” that, due to cost reductions, “Next Gen Tech” AI algorithms soon will be parsing job-seeker profiles.  that’s one slippery slope they have there.

I know your secret, uh, pain point!

Still on the matter of recruiting, I just finished reading an article on LinkedIn by a recruitment specialist and “INfluencer”, followed by the comments, offering, as to be expected, a totally different but very reasonable HR rationale. I like reading these articles and their comments because the insight is always good for the taking, elaborating on and re-sharing (echo chamber, here I come), even when not needed immediately.

I can’t profess to being an expert on the subject but writing an article about pain letters as if they were the cure for cancer seems a bit risky, unless, of course, the candidate is an expert business analyst with 30 years’ trade experience. Personally, I’d advise against writing a pain letter to a prospective employer telling them what their problem is and how they, a job-seeker, can change the situation. At best it’s brave and ambitious, at worst its pretentious and somewhat arrogant to pretend that one single job-seeker, alone, could turn a company’s fortunes around… Alone? Bad plan!

Personally, I’d use a different approach. Use psychology and emotional intelligence (know your contact and their environment), show proof of win, experience, and/or adaptability, expression, culture, motivation and know a bit about the company and its market position. What better way to showcase a candidate’s value-add, even for a Millennial “Gen Zer” … “Millennial” is so last year!

Posted in Everyday life, Society, Work | Tagged , | 1 Comment

The wonderful world of IoT

Online

When talking IoT and digital connectivity to a data management professional, especially the sales variety just watch the body language. For them it means data centres, hybrid cloud, virtual machines, hyper-converged systems, in short, revenue. For most consumers, though, Internet of Things is still science fiction, except that when you stop to think of it, it’s already happening, as recent news articles about self-driving cars is proving. Personally, I’m still wondering why, in 2016, we are only just getting round to making a refrigerator talk when Arthur C Clarke and Stanley Kubrick teased me with Hiltons in space, cool looking space clippers, Moon habitation and manned flight to Jupiter in their epic 1968 science fiction film 2001: A Spaces Odyssey.

Got Milk?

OK, so maybe Sci Fi writers of the period couldn’t have predicted events such as the 1973 oil crisis, the fall of the Soviet Empire, Pan-Am’s bankruptcy, AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) and so on, or maybe they could but thought better of it. The fact is, smartphone owners are only just getting used to their favourite health app textually suggesting they take the stairs instead of the lift. We are still at that stage where we would probably freak out if the fridge called us up in supermarket to say that, you’re out of milk and butter, and as you’re at the Dairy counter, you’d better take some more.Hal9000

The thing is, while most consumers are trying to grasp the concept of health Apps verbally engaging them – imagine the scene, “Dave, should you really be putting cream in your coffee? You haven’t achieved any goals recently – the data industry is upgrading its infrastructure – cue for a discreet plug – and shrewd marketeers are researching ways of monetizing some very insightful data, data protection laws permitting.

OK, so maybe it’s because I didn’t get my trip in a super space clipper, yet, but, while I get Smart TVs, when I read the hype around some other digitally connected appliances I can’t help being dubious. Plus on top of that and perhaps because I work in a data management and globalization strategy environment, I have no illusions about how Marketeers use the valuable insight gained from cozy chats in front of a semi-intelligent but perfectly receptive TV.

Mind-boggling potential

There’s a whole new industry developing to cover the Zettabytes of global data available today, an industry offering data management, collection, transmission, storage and analysis solutions. Take Amazon as an example. What started as a simple online retail business, in 1994, morphed into a completely independent, self-sufficient, sector-disrupting supply chain offering everything from Prime TV, fresh fruit & vegetables, vinyl records to cloud services and data management facilities (I’ll skip the space travel bit). And you know what? I can perfectly live with the thought of Amazon, plus a few select others, retrieving my data but I balk at the thought of Facebook doing the same! Irrational, isn’t it? Well no, I can handle Amazon’s redundant Ad suggestions based on items I purchased recently because, even if they have categorized me by purchase type, wallet, Geo location etc., I have something to show for it, whereas with Facebook, well read on.

Still have doubts how clever minds quickly find ways to monetize an activity? Think about this next time you’re looking at those carefully engineered Ads that appear on the right of favourite social media webpage, before you even click “Post”. If sharp minds could create high-frequency, nano-second algorithmic trading and disrupt the Stock Market just imagine what some equally sharp mind could think of to bring advertising to you via your digitally connected e-devices. Soon high-frequency nano-second adverts will be punctuating, real-time, communications between the fridge and your smartphone, offering you special promotions on selected products at the milk counter you just walked past. Surprised?  Well you shouldn’t be, product packagings have RFID chips containing data fed in by the producer. Imagine the scene: a shopper with a smartphone and a certain App installed on it walks past a specific product, the product’s RFID chip alerts the smartphone App and a “Take two, Pay one” e-coupon pops up on your smartphone screen, clever, huh?… Extreme Couponing just changed playing field.

Posted in Everyday life, IT & Computing, Society | Tagged , , , , , ,

A case for Uberization and your role in shaping the future

While Social Media is focusing on the battle raging around the world between traditional cab/taxi services (Hackney cabs, you like ‘em or you don’t!) and “Sign Up to Drive” services a more disruptive change is taking place: the uberization of banking institutions and healthcare services.

Now while I happily subscribe to uberizing today’s banking system, and essentially any service that removes middlemen (and often inexplicable commissions and margins) standing between the consumer and the service provider, disrupting the healthcare system in yours and my favourite country poses some deeply ethical questions. Can the medical profession rethink itself and come to terms with something as fundamental as replacing a physical visit to the local GP or MD by an on-line consultation? Should insurance companies act as facilitators in the uberization process? Do health schemes need to be profitable and what form should any profit take? Many healthcare systems today are facing some complex issues, For example 1) rural desertification and the resulting closure of medical cabinets, clinics and local care centres. 2) overcrowded and understaffed A&E units, because patients object to waiting months for an appointment with their local GP, 3) resistance to any national, federal or centrally run system, a resistance aggravated by what people see as ubiquitous but redundant bureaucracy, and absence of any form of corporate style governance in what is essentially a non-profit making public service.

Pandora’s Box

I know this is opening a Pandora’s Box to all sorts of arguments, for and against, and I know it irritates a lot of qualified people, with +7 years medical training and six figure college fees to pay back, to hear that people would rather consult some on-line medical dictionary, or worse, Wikipedia, than their local GP/MD. The fact is though, and this partly due to the above mentioned problems, its more convenient, and alluring, to go on-line instead of sitting around in some doctor’s waiting room or A&E unit for an overworked nurse or a physician to have a look at them, and we all have scary stories about sitting around in A&E units.

There’s no doubt, there’s room for innovation and while I, personally, believe you should never substitute a qualified medical opinion with something out of Wikipedia (especially when you have a rabbit’s bone blocking the esophagus and are turning blue in the face), I can see why people may do so. Perhaps the solution to this would be to create an on-line access to a local qualified professional, using Google Maps, Skype or similar applications, it might be a viable solution, in particular when the nearest doctor/clinic is some 50 or more miles away.

OK, so I hear the first questions: Who’s going to pay and why would anyone want to pay for an on-line consultation anyway when all you have to do is open Taber’s online Medical Dictionary? It’s a valid point but think about it, most state healthcare systems are by definition state sponsored so simply signing in on-line to the service would already assure payment to the MD. For those preferring private health schemes, these would already offer payment solutions such as PayPal, Apple Pay etc. And what about the treatment or medication? Well let’s think about it. If the MD prescribes immediate treatment an ambulance would be dispatched and either dispense first aid or take the patient to the nearest clinic. Alternatively, if the MD simply prescribes medication some enterprising 03rd party, delivery hero service would drop the medication off at the doorstep. Unworkable? Not necessarily, there are plenty of stories of kids who ran errands after school and made a business out of it because they were motivated and knew how to take it to the next level.

The good, the bad and the AI

Looking at the bigger picture there really is no reason to think that uberizing whatever as a service will rob honest workers of a job or that Robby the Robot will be hosting next Monday morning’s staff meeting instead of Todd, the team lead. Fortunately, we have tech and industry leaders such as Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos or Tim Cook, who, having secured their own places in history, are now offering counsel and insight on almost every imaginable aspect of technological innovation. And how reassuring to see them publicly intervening in matters of net neutrality and data privacy.

Whatever you think about uberization, AI, or the future in general for that matter, the fact is innovative services or technological breakthroughs aren’t always the result of some hoodie wearing billionaire’s eureka moment. Things, good or not so good get created every day and as a famous Vulcan once said “May I say that I have not thoroughly enjoyed serving with humans? I find their illogic and foolish emotions a constant irritant” … my bad, I meant, “Computers make excellent and efficient servants, but I have no wish to serve under them”. In other words, if the thought of having your daily life (and personal data) controlled by some Facebook style cyber-intelligence panics or irks you, get off your butt, react and do something constructive about it. And while you are doing that, take comfort (or Schadenfreude) from the fact that even the best laid schemes of mice and billionaires may go awry, as we saw recently in India.
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Edit/addendum. After writing this post I read an insightful article courtesy of Vala Afshar (@ValaAfshar / http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vala-afshar/about disrupting yourself. I read it and felt it confirmed, in better words, what I’ve always thought about a) entitlement and b) not being a victim. Read the article to see what I mean.
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