Ambient Devices

Glass That Glows and Gives Stock Information is the title of this story from NYTimes which is about Ambient Devices, [which] is producing devices that display limited information in ways that can be understood with just a glance.

Ambient started with a $299 color-shifting glass orb sold primarily through Hammacher Schlemmer and Web sites like ThinkGeek. The direction of the stock market deep red when the Dow Jones Industrial Average is headed down, shading to bright green when it is surging has been the most common subject of interest for the 800 or so early purchasers, Mr. David Rose said.

The orbs are plugged into the wall and are meant to be left on like clocks. They receive their data wirelessly through radio signals sent over pager networks. The orbs can represent any type of information available on the Internet, but such content is translated and compressed by Ambient’s main server into a proprietary code so that only brief snippets of data are needed to control the orb’s color.

Ambient offers a few data streams like stock indexes and weather reports free with the device. But it charges a subscription fee, generally $7 a month, for more specialized data, like tracking a particular stock.

Stories like this are a tribute – and challenge – to one’s imagination!

Dell’s History (sourced from HBS Working Knowledge) traces Dell’s story and how it transformed itself after 1994:

Account selection: Dell purposely selected customers with relatively predictable purchasing patterns and low service costs. The company developed a core competence in targeting customers and kept a massive database for this purpose.

Demand management: “Sell what you have” was the phrase that Dell developed for the crucial function of matching incoming demand to predetermined supply.

Two surprises greeted the Dell executives who were creating this new process.

First, as inventory dropped, lead-time performance improved. This happened because Dell was not simply carrying component inventory against forecasted sales, but rather was aligning inventory and sales, managing profitability on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.

Second, as inventory disappeared, the company’s returns grew disproportionately. Not only did Dell avoid carrying costs and obsolete stock, but it was also saving enormous amounts of money on purchasing components because the component prices were dropping 3 percent per month.

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Creativity and Innovation

Renee Hopkins discusses the differences between creativity and innovation, quoting Arnold Wasserman of The Idea Factory:

People always tend to use the terms innovation and creativity interchangeably. We’re very clear about the linkages and the distinction. Creativity is getting the great ideas, it’s sort of the R&D, and everybody is creative, everybody has got great ideas, every organisation has more great ideas than it can ever implement or bring into the marketplace. Innovation, however, is ‘creativity implemented. It’s taking creative ideas and bringing them into the world so that they change lives, and so they also change the organisations that bring them into the world.

Say that again: Innovation is creativity implemented.

BPO in India (Knowledge@Wharton) has an interview with Raman Roy of Spectramind (which has bought last yera by Wipro). Roy talks about how he built up the business process outsourcing (BPO) firm. BPO is seen as a hot ticket in India now, with almost every leading IT company having initiatives in the area. Roy, who head earlier set up GE’s call-centre business in India, talks about the challenges of managing in India:

There are certain aspects of India that the local managers learn to live with. We grow up our phones not working for some part of the time. We grow up knowing that, after you order equipment, there can be a six-month delay before it is delivered.

We learn to function, despite the processing of approvals moving at less than lightning speed. We cut our teeth on battling the poor infrastructure and related obstacles, and learn to work through and around these problems. Some international corporations find it very difficult to get used to all this, because it is so radically different from their business environments.

A second aspect is handling the Indian work force, which has its own idiosyncrasies. Indians who work in such jobs are well qualified, highly educated people. They are not a transient work force marking time while waiting for other things to happen. For them, BPO is a full-time career, and they expect some serious thinking on the part of the employers in terms of creating career paths for them. They also believe that holding on to a job is important. Therefore, what they ask for in a job and in a working environment is very different from the expectations and needs of workers doing similar work in other markets.

TECH TALK: Constructing the Memex: Putting It Together

Heres how it all starts to fit together.

Each of us creates a weblog and a personal directory (MyMemex). In fact, for each of our interest areas, we should create a separate page with its own blogroll and directory. This is used to help focus the results that we will get on our Mirror Blog. [The one thing I am not too sure people will do is whether they will build their outline of interests the personal directory. Perhaps, by looking at the posts they are doing and the blogroll, it should be possible to create a taxonomy based on the categories of the Open Directory Project (DMOZ) and then allow users to make their additions and alterations.]

On a regular basis, we go about updating our weblog. New inputs can come from our own thinking, emails that we get or write, documents that we receive or create, web pages and blog posts that we see and like, subscribed RSS feeds coming in to our mailbox, and perhaps inputs from digital cameras.

As each of us updates our MyMemex or the GroupMemex for the communities that we belong to, the interactions of the Memex with the rest of the ecosystem will result in the constant updation of the MirrorBlog, which will point us to people, ideas and information that could be of use to us. It also captures the state of the world (for example, the days headlines and weather) to give a context to the thinking that is happening.

One can think of the Mirror Blog as a blogdex for our neighborhood. The current Blogdex (and Daypop) sites show whats popular across the world of bloggers. More often than not, we are not as much interested as what is being discussed by the rest of the world. Our interest is likely to be greater to see what is being discussed by our friends, and their friends. It is this neighbourhood context that the Mirror Blog will focus on.

We can also go to someone elses Mirror Blog. For example, if you know that I write on information management, if you are keen to get the wider context on information management, you may decide to come and see the Mirror Blog for my information management category on my weblog. It is not something you may do everyday, but every once in a while to keep yourself abreast of the most recent happenings in the space.

It is more important than ever before now to keep a wide-angle lens. As the world gets more closely linked together both electronically and through immigration and trade, developments in one part of the world can have spiraling effects elsewhere. Witness for example the recent spread of the SARS virus from China across many countries of the world. The same could tomorrow apply to idea viruses emerging out of not the developed world, but one of the emerging markets.

In a world increasingly driven by knowledge, the Memex can help us get a lead-in to new ideas. In my case, I couldnt have imagined thinking or writing about the Memex a year or so ago. But over the year, being plugged in to the grid of bloggers has helped provide a fascinating set of ideas which otherwise I would not have been exposed to easily sitting in an area (Mumbai in India) far away from Silicon Valley. In a way, I have created by own prototype of a Memex in the form of my blog, driven by the selective and widespread reading, and interactions with people Ive never met. The challenge now is to make it available for a wider audience.

Tomorrow: Why Now

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Permalink Miracle

Tom Coates makes an important point: “[The permalink] may seem like a trivial piece of functionality now, but it was effectively the device that turned weblogs from an ease-of-publishing phenomenon into a conversational mess of overlapping communities. For the first time it became relatively easy to gesture directly at a highly specific post on someone else’s site and talk about it. Discussion emerged. Chat emerged. And – as a result – friendships emerged or became more entrenched. The permalink was the first – and most successful – attempt to build bridges between weblogs.”

It may seem like a trivial idea now, but it was undoubtedly this simple concept which transformed publishing. The permalink is also at the heart of our belief that blog post search needs to focus not on the page but on the post. If we recognise the granularity of the blog as the post and the permalink as its identifier, then there is a lot we can do on the analysis front.