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Jim Morris's Thought of the Week (or month, or year, ...)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Innovating with Information

The 2008 Alamden Institute had the theme Innovating with Information. There were two days of excellent, varied speakers.

Hal Varian mused about why many innovations occur almost simultaneously. He suggested looking at all the conditions surrounding them rather than the innovator. Eli Whitney might get credit for interchangeable parts but there was a long lead up to them going back to the French of Jefferson's time.

Moore's Law was not a law but a way to coordinate the whole IT industry, allowing everyone in the value chain to predict the future.

Google should do AdSense--ads on others web sites--simply to nuture the internet from which it profits.

Kristopher Pister, the creator of Smart Dust, revealed that secret to commercialization of the idea was supporting industrial sensing. "It's the avoidance of wires, stupid!" I was reminded of David Gerlenter's introduction to Mirror Worlds in which he predicts a singularity on the day the control of the real world passes to the internet.

Someone suggested that social networks are important tools for coping with information overload.

Mark Dean describe opportunities in Africa for computing, especially mobile, and IBM's commitment to the continent. I wonder if the real opportunities for mobile business are in the developing world. There is less money there, but less competing infrastructure. Esther Dyson, at the Berkman@10 conference raised the cautionary note that many phone companies in Africa are just as retrograde and entrenched as our own.

Brenda Dietrich asked what a "bill of materials" would look like for a consulting gig.

My overall takeaway: the "clicks to bricks" investing approach is alive and well. The internet represents a delightful, friction-free zone where information is cheap. So buy information on the internet and sell it in the physical world where things are not cheap. Find ways to apply the internet to real, non-information problems: industrial automation, health care, energy, Africa, ...

posted by Jim Morris @ 10:50 AM  42 comments

Monday, February 25, 2008

Cisco’s Connected Urban Development Conference

John Chambers made a commitment to the Clinton Global Initiatives Foundation to do something about the environment and the Connected Urban Development is it. My initial suspicion that it was Cisco-serving was dispelled. From Chambers on down, all the Cisco people at the conference were focused on higher goals, were businesslike, and sincere.

Because 50% of the world’s population and 80% of the CO2 comes from cities the program is focused there. Half of the CO2 generally comes from transport and half from building. San Francisco, Amsterdam, and Seoul are the initial members; Lisbon, Madrid, Hamburg, and Birmingham, England have just joined. Cisco appears to be the gatekeeper and financial backer. Each city has its own program to become more sustainable. I would love to see Pittsburgh join someday.

For me, the great insights were about how computers (called ICT by Europeans) can be the basis for sustainability. Partly, this is Cisco pushing its industry; there were compelling cases made, especially by Carlota Perez, a renowned Venezuelan researcher ( She reviewed five technology revolutions (Industrial, Steam, Steel, Automobile, and Information) and emphasized how they changed life paradigms. Echoing others, she claimed that the way forward on mastering climate change must be through improving the quality of life today. Her theory suggests that we are at the mid-point of the information revolution and it is time for the financial sector to behave themselves and play a supporting role.

The coolest technology presentation was by William Mitchell, Director of MIT’s Design Laboratories. He described the City Car (, a truly revolutionary system of robotic urban taxis.

I focused on the transportation sessions. The most compelling performance was from Todd Litman from Victoria, BC who claimed that the most important technology in transportation was the roller board suitcase! Ridiculing supersonic planes and their ilk, he argued that roller boards allow people to walk more places with more stuff. I personally think the cell phone can also become a significant factor in transportation if only by killing off drivers who use it.

Other notable people there included:

  • Robin Chase, founder of ZipCar, who has new ideas about ride sharing ( and wireless infrastructure
  • Craig of Craigslist.
  • Gary Bridge, Cisco VP, who appears to be the driver of this effort.

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posted by Jim Morris @ 9:31 AM  2 comments

Sunday, February 10, 2008

How to get attention.

Here are my suggestions with how to communicate using various tools, ordered by increasing urgency of message.

1. Post an event on a calendar or a public calendar. If someone is curious they can look.
2. Invite, via Google Calendar, someone to an event or meeting.
3. Send an email via Google Calendar to the invitee.
4. Send a regular email to someone.
5. Send a repeat email to someone with "[Second Request]" appended to the subject.
6. Call someone on the phone.
7. Go to someone's office and talk to them.
8. Put a gun to someone's head. :-)

posted by Jim Morris @ 8:12 PM  0 comments

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

We Need Debate Referees!

Referees play a vital role in sports. Since political campaigns verge on being a sport, why don't we have referee's who say "Five yards for evading the question" or "Fifteen yards for talking bullshit"?

The referee is a relatively recent invention. According to Wikipedia:
The term referee originated in association football (soccer). Originally the team captains would consult with each other in order to resolve any dispute on the pitch. Eventually this role was delegated to an umpire. Each team would bring their own partisan umpire allowing the team captains to concentrate on the game. Later, the referee, a third "neutral" official was added, this referee would be "referred to" if the umpires could not resolve a dispute. The referee did not take his place on the pitch until 1891, when the umpires became linesmen (now assistant referees). Today, in many amateur football matches, each side will still supply their own partisan assistant referees (still commonly called club linesmen) to assist the neutral referee appointed by the governing football association.

I'm sure it is difficult to spell out the rules for debate and rhetoric, but NFL referees have to make very nuanced judgments every Sunday. If we anyone could write down some debate rules, a referee could interpret them.

In a court trial the judge is a sort of referee. In my observation (of e.g. Law and Order) they seem to intervene only on very formal grounds, usually in response to an objection by an attorney. If some more rules like "The witness is not being responsive." could be added we might have start. Are there traditions where the judge is more proactive?

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posted by Jim Morris @ 9:06 PM  0 comments

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Al Gore

As Al was getting his Nobel Prize I was finishing his book, The Assault on Reason. Chapter 1 is an intriguing assault on television, arguing that it has destroyed citizen activism. Chapers 2 through 8 are an assault on Bush, rehashing the past six years. Chapter 9 is a call for protecting and exploiting the internet to renew public communication.

posted by Jim Morris @ 9:43 PM  1 comments

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Climate Change

All of my reading and writing energies recently have gone into exploring climate change issues. See The Temperate Zone for a wiki. I'd appreciate advice about both the content and ways in which I could build that document into a growing forum for discussion.

posted by Jim Morris @ 9:42 PM  0 comments

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change Conference

I spent two days at this meeting in Sacramento. They had been hoping for about 120 people and 500 showed up. There were excellent talks and the vibe was great. How could it not be with 500 idealistic, altruistic activists there?

My take-aways:

When marketing an innovation you need to decide what to present as new, what to present as old, and what to hide. Edison said Electricity was new, the actual lighting was old—just like gas light—and the electricity generation and distribution was all hidden. Today, Google presented page-rank and new, advertising as old—just like New Yorker column ads—and hid all the fancy web-crawling, indexing, and machine learning. Encasing a compact fluorescent bulb in the familiar light bulb shape is a suggestion. Such tricks are called skeuomorphs.

Andy Hargadon,
Center for Entrepreneurship UC Davis

Jim Sweeney, Director, Precourt Institute for Energy Efficiency, Stanford University was a major sponsor. He knows Max Henrion, Granger Morgan, and other from Carnegie Mellon and would be a good ally.

The carbon footprint of a single cheeseburger (counting cow manure) is 5kg of CO2.

Jamais Cascio, Institute for the Future

Asking hotel guests to “help the hotel be green” by reusing towels elicits 30% participation.
Asking them to “join with the 52% of other guests” elicits 60% participation.
Asking them to “join with the 52% of guests who stayed in this room” elicits 75% participation.
A Zillo-like service that showed your neighbors’ energy bills would be powerful.

Robert Cialdini, Professor of Psychology, Arizona State University

A social web site devoted to promising and self-reporting on various green practices,, can build wide-spread green communities.

Jennifer Mankoff, Human-Computer Interaction, Carnegie Mellon University

European energy efficiency product labels use an ABCD ranking system that causes manufacturers to tweak their products to raise their letter grades. The US system which simply uses a number has no effect. Comparing the energy efficiency = capacity/energy is less useful than comparing total energy used if you want people to buy the smaller product.

Jennifer Thorne Amann, ACEEE

The VALS system classifies archetypes into idealists, achievers, and experiencers. We are generally idealists and should be pitching the achievers.

Bill Guns, President and CEO, SRI Consulting Business Intelligence

The fictional movie The Day After Tomorrow had a much wider impact than the LiveEarth concert, and even bigger than An Inconvenient Truth. The latter two may have preached effectively to the choir.

Anthony Leiserowitz, Director, Yale Project on Climate Change, Yale University

Stanford’s Precourt Institute is building a Bibliographic Database on BECC Topics. See

Carrie Armel, Stanford

The Alliance for Climate Protection is spearheading a massive campaign to persuade Americans--and people elsewhere in the world--of the importance and urgency of adopting and implementing comprehensive solutions for the climate crisis. The organization is chaired by Former Vice President Al Gore who gave it his Nobel Peace Prize award money. It has portfolio of activities, including the recent global Live Earth concerts, viewer-generated advertising contests, collaborations with new community-based organizations and a forthcoming substantial mass media campaign. This is located in Silicon Valley and looks like the real deal to me (jhm). See

Cathy Zoi, Alliance for Climate Protection

Linda Schuck of the California Institute for Energy & Environment appears to have been the impresario of this very well-run conference.

All the presentations will be posted at or around

posted by Jim Morris @ 4:06 PM  0 comments

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