xrematon

September 18, 2017

A duo of posts on physiological introspection – Part II

In the second part of these two posts on health/science books I have recently read, I will focus on Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee.  I was particularly interested in getting to grips with this book as there is lots of chatter about genes. I have become aware of the fact that it is all too easy to merrily throw on some bullet points about genome testing, personalised health plans and diets etc, but what does this actually mean?

In reading Gene, I was struck by the fact that in order to understand how our thinking about genes has developed over time, we need to go back and look at how science explains differences between and among ourselves and also other living organisms. Perhaps, therefore not surprisingly, we spend some time with Darwin, as well as looking back at Greek philosophers/scientists, whose perspectives were always, surprisingly insightful/provocative, despite they effectively ‘knew’ less than we do now.

There was a section on the interest in eugenics in the US in the 1920s. Reading this made me realise how, when we look back in time, we often make simplistic assumptions about what ideas to associate with particular eras. Eugenics – that was obviously the handiwork of those nasty Nazis – well, not just them it seems. A number of medical professionals and politicians in the US were determined to stop ‘bad heredity’ and to set up ‘eugenic sterilizations of the feeble-minded’. In 1927, the state of Indiana passed a law to sterilize ‘confirmed criminals, idiots, imbeciles and rapists’ and other states followed with even stricter laws to sterilize men and women judged to be genetically inferior. This preoccupation with the right heredity was reflected in popular culture at the time, for example, by the late 1920’s, premarital genetic-fitness tests were being widely advertised to the American public. However, it is important to remember DNA testing, as we know it, had not yet been uncovered. Instead, they consisted of assessments of family histories to pick up on incidences of mental retardation, epilepsy, deafness, dwarfism, blindness etc.

It was not until the 1950’s that the chemical structure of the gene was uncovered. I find it fascinating that so much had already happened, eg laws instituted, as described above, around a part of ourselves – the genome – which we had not really ‘seen’ as such and did not know really how it worked. As a child of the modern era, I have the naïve and simplistic assumption that we know everything before we decide to ‘use’ it!

Reading Gene made me realise that there in fact is much more uncertainty around the impact genes have than perhaps comes across in popular media and culture. One aspect to this is that there still seems to be much life in the nature versus nurture debate. This is down to the fairly new area within gene studies of epigenetics. As explained here, “Epigenetics is essentially additional information layered on top of the sequence of letters (strings of molecules called A, C, G, and T) that makes up DNA. If you consider a DNA sequence as the text of an instruction manual that explains how to make a human body, epigenetics is as if someone’s taken a pack of highlighters and used different colours to mark up different parts of the text in different ways. For example, someone might use a pink highlighter to mark parts of the text that need to be read the most carefully, and a blue highlighter to mark parts that aren’t as important….But the really interesting thing about epigenetics is that the marks aren’t fixed in the same way the DNA sequence is: some of them can change throughout your lifetime, and in response to outside influences. Some can even be inherited, just like some highlighting still shows up when text is photocopied.” So it seems looking at what it’s in your genome will only tell you so much; the messiness of real life has an important impact.

Another angle is the fact that only about 1 percent of our genome encodes proteins. The rest is DNA dark matter. It is still incompletely understood, but some of it involves regulation of the genome itself. As a reviewer observed, “Ironically, the more we study the genome, the more “the gene” recedes. … Some scientists are even moving away from the gene as a physical thing. They think of it as a “higher-order concept” or a “framework” that shifts with the needs of the cell. The old genome was a linear set of instructions, interspersed with junk; the new genome is a dynamic, three-dimensional body. The gene is not a Platonic ideal. It is a human idea, ever changing and always rooted in time and place.”

It makes me wonder what Gene – An Intimate History would include if it was written a hundred years from now?

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June 16, 2017

Through the keyhole

Filed under: Consumer Trends,Technology,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 8:04 pm
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Time for another photo essay. This time I have some images from a visit to Eltham Palace. Eltham has a fascinating history: in its original incarnation, it was a place where royalty resided, from Edward III at the start of the 14th century to being where Henry VIII spent his childhood. However, it fell into disrepair during the Civil War and then rumbled on as a farm. Like a phoenix that rises from the ashes, Eltham Palace’s new heyday came when wealthy socialites Stephen and Ginnie Courtauld gave the house and gardens a lot of TLC. The Courtaulds restored the medieval Great Hall and then added in a splash of modernity: Art Deco extensions and cutting edge innovations from that time. It was this angle – the latest technology from eight decades ago – that most intrigued me.

Time for the first photo: an image which shows how the building combines old and new. Here we can see the medieval Great Hall on the left, and then the new extension on the right.

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And what about these new technologies? Well, there are some similarities in the approach taken to integrating tech then and how it is done today. One is the desire to make technology invisible: lights were put in alcoves out of sight but with their glow would spread out over the ceiling, often made to ‘go further’ with carefully positioned mirrors. Music would float dreamily throughout the room from hidden speakers – obviously not really visible in this picture!

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Now, how does that compare to these speakers from today disguised as anodyne wall decorations?

Another quirky feature was the centralised vacuum cleaner, powered by a motor in the basement. Better than a robot cleaner surely?

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And there were plenty of other features, such as electrical clocks built into the walls, phones (very new then), underfloor heating, and more. These features were reflective of owners’ concern to make sure that everything was just right. Apparently Ginnie chose the colour of the leather on the seats in the dining room (a soft pink) as this set off ladies’ evening wear best…

The central hall was the most stunning space – Art Deco with lots of lovely warm wood (for both furniture as well as wall decoration). The design here, as in much of the rest of the Palace, was reminiscent of the décor for luxury liners with furniture integrated into the walls and circular shapes (think port hole windows and curving walls).

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I have included a set of final pictures to show another surprising aspect to Eltham Palace. Though the Palace is in London (zone 4), it is surrounded by gardens and fields, and thus walking round outside feels surprisingly green and non-urban.

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The towers and spires of London can be spied as a distant memory on the horizon.

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May 17, 2017

Homo Deus

Filed under: Business,Futures,Innovation,Technology,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 9:32 pm
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In an earlier post, I gave some thoughts on Yuval Noah Harari’s first book Sapiens. Though I don’t normally like to read books by the same author, preferring to endlessly taste the new and different, I had the opportunity to get to grips with his follow-up tome, Homo Deus, as I received it as a gift.

As with Sapiens, it is an intoxicating read, with grand sweeping ideas set to make you think differently and challenge your assumptions about how you think things are progressing. In Homo Deus, the Big Idea is that now Man has learnt how to conquer famine and horrible diseases that used to wipe out whole populations, he can think about higher objectives. We can focus on achieving immortality and eternal happiness, making use of the latest technological innovations to reach this goal. Our brains and bodies will be re-engineered by algorithms with those controlling these algorithms becoming the elite and the rest rendered useless from a societal perspective.

Harari puts forward all too convincing evidence and examples of how the steps leading to this are already taking place. Whilst I agree with his prognosis of increasing and insidious inequality spreading beyond basic wealth status to social mental and physical wellbeing, I am not so convinced that the conversion to a technologically determined utopia (for some) will be that straightforward.

These ideas make sense when taking a macro, more ‘godlike’ top down perspective, but less so when going bottom up and thinking about how individuals think and act. For a start, people have become more wary about how their personal data is used. 84% of US consumers are worried about the security of their personally identifiable information.

And there are signs that people simply can’t bothered to keep collecting personal data if it is left up to them. Research among those who have invested in wearables, still very much at the early adopter stage, reveals that barely a third of them continue to gather information about personal performance. This is surprising low for what would otherwise be assumed to be the keenest part of the market.

In addition, I am not sure that people will necessarily be that keen on options which have been designed as perfect for them. Instead, realistically, they are more likely to go to opt for what is most satisfying. Food is the most obvious example here. Though vitamin pills have been around for a long time, we still bother to prepare food. Soylent is still has pretty niche appeal, despite its recent efforts to go mainstream. And I haven’t even touched upon resistance to genetically modified and other forms of manipulated food.

My final quick challenge is about something completely different and only an aside, albeit an interesting one. In chapter one, Harari uses lawns as a way to illustrate how many of our preferences and aspirations connect back to earlier dynamics in society, though we are often now oblivious. Lawns were the preserve of the rich and thus associated with political power.

But I would argue that the ‘smart set’ are now increasingly opting for astro turf.  In fact, this is actually another demonstration of how the elite are using better technology to improve their lives. But it could be done better: surely the super elite would have grass personalised to match their wellbeing needs, being in the right shade and right texture to deliver optimal stress release. Perhaps I should try that on Kickstarter…..

October 18, 2015

A bus man’s holiday – if you work in marketing

My last summer holidays were enjoyable as well as being fascinating. In this post, I would like to take to share three observations inspired by this time away.

1. We talk lots about happiness, but what about fun? This realisation struck me as I spend two weeks in environments carefully designed to deliver optimum levels of fun. Yes, I am talking about our visit to the Orlando theme parks. What was particularly interesting was the fact that it soon became apparent that not all fun is equal, or more precisely, equivalent. Visiting one park after another allowed me to see that the delivery of fun can be differentiated.

  • Disney, as one might expect, excelled at a magical fun which warms the hearts of the whole family. It offers rides, shows and experiences which don’t exclude and cater to our desire for nostalgia (if we are older), or dreams and fantasies (if we are younger).
  • Universal is more thrilling and will instead get hearts beating faster. The rides and experiences are more intense, attacking all our senses with great energy. And they are not for everyone: it has been calculated that a total of 21 attractions at Universal Orlando have height requirements, for an average of 10.5 per park, whilst at Walt Disney World, the average is 4.75 per park.

2. Visiting Orlando also brought home the power of brands. Whilst the parks themselves are effectively brands in their own right, they also encapsulate a maelstrom of other brands. In fact, I think it would be more appropriate to use the analogy of a galaxy (that’s the park) which contains many different stars, some of which are fading, and some of which are burning bright and very strong. It’s doesn’t take long to think of some examples.

  • At Universal, there is an ET ride, which is certainly charming, but will be lost on anyone born after 1990. Over the past couple of years there have been rumours brewing that the ride will be placed.
  • A star of a very different nature, also at Universal, is Harry Potter. Now this has proved to be a winning addition, glowing bright and strong, drawing people in. According to a piece in the New York Times, “When Universal Orlando opened the Wizarding World of Harry Potter four years ago, that resort went from an also-ran to a must-visit almost overnight. Year-on-year attendance shot up 30 percent as families swarmed the snow-capped shops of Hogsmeade and rode three Potter-themed rides.”

3. My final observation relates to the role of technology in the whole experience. Technology is clearly a very broad term and gives me licence to touch upon a variety of different angles.

  • There is the technology that is involved in the delivery of experiences themselves. I wasn’t so interested in what makes the rides so whizzy and fast, though the use of electro-magnetic propulsion on Cheetah Hunt (at Busch Gardens) was a particular highlight.
  • What was more noteworthy was the use of media to enhance rides, something which Universal has been accused of relying on to excess. Rather than be physically transported to different scenes, you are thrown about in your ‘carriage’ with 3D film visuals and sound bouncing around you. It worked to wonderful effect in the Simpsons ride (which was refreshingly humorous – most rides tend to be either scary, sweet or awe-inspiring).
  • There is also more ancillary technology which acts as a facilitator to make visiting parks easier and more convenient. Here I am thinking of the park apps, of which my husband became very fond, so much so that he still continues to check them now periodically some two months after our trip! Planning a trip to minimise queueing and wasted time becomes a form of entertainment in its own right. Having chatted with other families who have done this kind of holiday, print-outs with highlighted sections and spread sheets become de rigeur.
  • Though we personally did not use this, I should also mention the Disney MagicBands. These are equipped with radio frequency identification chips that interact with scanners throughout the park. These MagicBands allow guests to gain access to everything from their hotel rooms to rides and attractions. Though it was not straightforward to get these off the ground , they represent the ultimate in terms of CRM. Interestingly, Disney itself now prefers to talk about Customer Managed Relationships, claiming that it is putting into place initiatives that put the guests in control, despite the fact that the bands are collecting endless amounts of data for Disney about each little thing the customer does, when and where.

I’ll end with a bonus photo of the cleaning staff at Disney. They are in immaculate white uniforms and in constant contact with the Powers That Be to ensure they focus their efforts on where it is most needed. Disney is proud of the fact that it overmanages. When it comes to clean toilets with lots of loo roll, that’s fine by me!

Disney cleaner uniform

September 9, 2013

Don’t forget Small Data

Filed under: Business,Innovation,Marketing,Technology — by xrematon @ 7:42 pm
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There is lots of chatter about Big Data and how it has the potential to transform many aspects of our daily lives, whether it’s in terms of improving our bodies or what we buy. As a counterpoint, I want to highlight three examples which would be regarded as rather ‘data-lite’ and distinctly low tech, but which are still very powerful.

My first example is the instruction/care leaflet that came with a new fridge. As fridge manufacturers now sell their products across the globe, they need to make sure that any documentation given to customers is available in many different languages. This means you can often end up with those rather annoyingly bulky booklets with 90% of the content redundant to you. Or else you can have what I found – which is a completely visual leaflet telling you everything without any words. It is a neat solution and I think it just about works.

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My second examples is from an article in The Economist, which describes an invention by Mohammad Abdul Quaiyum of the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Dhaka. The invention is a standardised birth mat, which helps reduce the risk of women bleeding to death after having given birth.

Losing more than half a litre of blood after childbirth is a sign of trouble. Dr Quaiyum’s mat, a 50cm square made of cotton and tissue paper, is therefore designed to absorb just over 400 millilitres. If it gets saturated, the midwife should seek medical help for the mother immediately. Of those 77,000 new mothers who had given birth using kits updated with the new mats, 37 fewer than expected died.

My final example also happens to be from an article in the same edition of The Economist describing the ‘humble hero’ that is the shipping container. According to new research, the container has been more of a driver of globalisation than all trade agreements in the past 50 years taken together. Though it is essentially just a big metal box, its introduction in the 1950’s brought many advantages over the existing system (men would try to squeeze as much cargo in as possible, taking up valuable time and often siphoning off a small part of the cargo off for themselves). With the containers, things improved across many different areas.

In 1965, dock labour could move only 1.7 tonnes per hour onto a cargo ship; five years later a container crew could load 30 tonnes per hour. This allowed freight lines to use bigger ships and still slash the time spent in port. The journey time from door to door fell by half and became more consistent. The container also upended a rigid labour force. Falling labour demand reduced dockworkers’ bargaining power and cut the number of strikes. And because containers could be packed and sealed at the factory, losses to theft (and insurance rates) plummeted.

So it seems it is possible to receive information without written instructions, save lives with a bit of cotton and tissue paper, and stimulate global prosperity with big metal boxes.

August 12, 2013

Where do good ideas come from? Part 2

Filed under: Business,Consumer Trends,Marketing,Technology — by xrematon @ 9:12 pm
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I had the opportunity to share some of the ideas captured in my earlier blog post with Stephen Wise, the founder of Bright Young Minds , a crowdsourcing and co-creation agency. I was interested to get his perspective as someone who has clients knocking on his door for ways to get those good ideas.

To begin with, Stephen made some interesting observations about Big Data.

  • Regardless of what we might find out from playing around with Big Data, it already has an upfront advantage in that it removes the need to talk to consumers directly, saving time and money.
  • It can be more representative than qualitative research. Whilst it is possible to observe customers to find out how they really engage with a product or service, the numbers involved will always be fairly limited. Big Data means it is possible to survey the behaviours of vast swatches of the customer base.
  • It’s worth thinking about where Big Analysis lives within an organisation and how this affects how it will be approached. More traditional research will be the remit of the marketing team, who will be looking to learn as much as possible from any research; Big Data is often from the social team who may be mining it in order to find the answer to a specific question and put the findings in a different context. As is raised in this piece from the New York Times, it is important to recognise that Big Data is not neutral – those who work with it will feed in their own assumptions and biases.
  • However, ultimately, it’s important to recognise that Big Data is only a starting point. Big Data is a useful platform – but it needs to be surrounded by great consumer connectivity and co-creation (more on this below), and not just traditional qualitative research to make the most of it.

So – next to co-creation – Stephen explained how the whole space has evolved.

  • Initially business embraced co-creation in a fairly crude way – the aim of the game was to get consumer involvement and input in any way possible.
  • The next stage involved a slightly more discerning use of co-creation in which only the best ideas were taken.
  • We are now at co-creation 3.0 – this is when the consumers involved in co-creation are used selectively – those with appropriate skill-sets are invited to participate on a particular problem. (This is the core principle behind Bright Young Minds).

In terms of thinking about creativity and sourcing good ideas, I was particularly struck by Stephen’s point that, regardless of what the ideas themselves are, often what is more important is the process by which these ideas are brought to the organisation. From my own experience of innovation, I can vouch for this too – all too often end outputs are received as an anti-climax as the client is less than enthusiastic, feeling that the ideas can’t be acted upon or have already been tried but failed. This means that in addition to thinking about where good ideas might come from, you really need to think about how to manage the whole process so that the client is aligned and ready to embrace what is being proposed.

And what might good ideas look like? We talked about the idea of good ideas clustering in a bell curve – that magic diagram which can be used to capture so many different concepts. However simplistic this may seem, it is reasonable to assume that most people’s ideas will cluster. The question then becomes about how to get to those ‘outlier ideas’ – the more radical/fresh concepts that no one else will have thought of. It’s clear that’s where getting the right people will make a difference – find those who are the best lateral thinkers.

Finally, we turned to the future. Here, Stephen is optimistic that as businesses get more open and keen to embrace these kinds of techniques, they will be ready to use skill sets which are not only outside their organisation, but also outside their sector.

To me, that sounds like more than co-creation – how inspiration extraction?

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July 24, 2012

Being too good just isn’t sporting

Filed under: Marketing,Technology — by xrematon @ 7:34 pm
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I have recently been involved in a report looking at the future of golf – and must confess to having found it all far more engrossing than I expected. That having been said, let me take the opportunity to plug the report written by The Futures Company for HSBC.

One theme that intrigued me was the impact of technological advances in improving player performances. There are a variety of different ways in which technology is used.

Some players are using their own IT to improve their game – players take their iPads out on the course to film themselves taking their shots, and then carefully analyse their strokes using video analysis software.

Then there are changes in the equipment directly used to play the game. In writing the report, we deliberately didn’t go into this area, but there was one development which cropped up.  A number of people we spoke to brought up the fact that changes modern balls can travel increasing distances. This is a source of concern to those in the industry as the below quote from Gary Player (interviewed for the report) illustrates.

“The golf equipment and ball have completely changed. One of my main concerns at the moment is how far the ball travels.  With the advances in golf ball technology, courses now have to be needlessly lengthened.  These costs are hurting the game because courses will have to recoup the costs somewhere.  The expense to scale back the ball would be miniscule compared to the money being spent around the world modifying golf courses.”

The third area I would like to bring up is technology being used to replicate the whole game experience, whether this is through video games, or golf simulation. One of the hypotheses posited in the report is the idea that virtual golfers become real world golfers. Indeed, comments from Urban Golf founder, James Day, who has set up three golf simulation experiences, suggest that virtual is very much about encouraging interest in the ‘real thing’, not a replacement.

‘I think the simulator model is going to be the best way to keep players hungry to play outdoors.’

Obviously, golf is not alone amongst sports in being impacted, in both desirable and undesirable ways, by developments in technology. Similar to the issue presented by golf balls which travel too far, so too the distance reached by javelin throwers became a source of concern.

It was whilst mulling over these issues that an article in The Economist caught my eye – it’s about how high tech is causing ripples in the angling world too.

“It is really getting kind of unfair,” says Macquarie’s Dr Brown. “If you are going to use GPS to take you to a location, sonar to identify the fish and a lure which reflects light that humans can’t even see, you may as well just go to McDonald’s and order a fish sandwich.’

Indeed!

June 1, 2012

Modern malaise – glass half full or empty?

I trained as a life coach five years or so ago and remain interested in seeing what write-up coaching gets in the media.  Before the bust, it was all glossy and glamorous. Now, according to a recent piece in the New York Times, life coaching is a symptom of what is Going Very Wrong With Our Society Today.

The article highlights how there now seems to be a market for anything you might need, including the services of a ‘wantologist’ (a type of life coach) to help you work out what it is you might want in the first place. The author, Arlie Russell Hochschild, a professor of sociology at the University of California, is particularly disturbed by the fact that

‘It is increasingly possible to outsource emotional attachment. A busy executive, for example, focuses on efficiency; his assistant tells me, “My boss outsources patience to me.’

Now, having invested time and money in training to be a life coach, I do feel coaching has a lot to offer, and that it is about positivity and progress. However, I am not sure that I agree with the rebuttal made in The Atlantic to Hochschild’s article. In crude terms, the argument here is that not knowing what we want and feeling anxiety is the sign of a successful society as we have moved from answering our basic needs to thinking about our higher purpose. (Yes – a diagram of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is included as part of the article.)

Perhaps the author of the Atlantic article needs to read The Spirit Level. This shows there is another way. We can be prosperous without having to go through a phase of being miserable. We just all need to be equally prosperous, which is admittedly, easier said than done.

I came across another pair of articles presenting opposing points of view about the state of modern life. One piece was from Sherry Turkle of ‘Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other’ fame. Her article described the sad state of affairs we are in: we don’t seem to be going through the effort of talking properly to each other any more; we have lost the patience this requires; we expect faster responses; we ask simpler questions; and find it’s easier just to turn to some form of technology instead.

Again, there is a rebuttal from the Atlantic.  Here, Alexandra Samuel points out that many face to face conversations are in fact pretty inane, and we should recognise that these technologies can enhance, rather than replace, communication, in whatever form it might take place.

Once more, there is another reference I want to bring to the table. Susan Cain’s ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts’  makes the case for people whose natural preference is to flee big social gatherings. This suggests there is another aspect to the debate to take into account: people might not be talking so much as they tend to respond to the world around them in a different way – namely by reading and writing and listening. And that should be just fine.

Glass half full or empty?

March 30, 2012

Lit crit or spooky surveillance?

Filed under: Business,Futures,Technology — by xrematon @ 9:38 pm
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Ever written the word ‘confused’, ‘secretive’ or ‘angry’ in a work email? Watch out – as someone might think you are on the cusp of plotting some dastardly scheme according to a recent article in the Economist.

The article describes how certain companies, in particular those at risk of employee fraud, are using specialist software to analyse the email communication of their staff and check for any suspicious activity. Apparently, using some of the above words would suggest an employee who is unhappy and worth keeping an eye on. Other give-aways include ‘call my mobile’ or ‘come by my office’ as they imply a desire to talk without being overheard; likewise be wary of words that suggest a personal relationship between an employee and an outsider (to potentially tip off) such as ‘beer’, ‘Facebook’ or ‘evening’.

All this surveillance sounds rather disturbing, and such concerns are picked up in the reader comments. The one I have included below also makes the point that governments as much as corporates are doing this kind of thing in America.

Why no mention of the core market for surveillance that has undoubtedly funded all this technology? Are corporate surveillance techniques not dwarfed by the American government’s own capabilities to mine all emails and phone calls along with a much deeper trove of personal, financial, and medical data? If our civil rights can be abrogated with impunity, a dictator can define his own “crooks,” much like a corporate titan can, to include any threat to his rule. The opinions of lawyers are malleable, as shown by Obama’s promise-breaking continuation of Bush and Cheney’s flouting of the constitution.

However, what intrigued me most in the article was the fact that the software must learn to adapt to the particular style of communication within a given sector.

For example, when software gurus at E&Y looked at e-mails among financial traders, their first impression was that “these guys’ hair is on fire,” recalls Vincent Walden, a fraudbuster at the firm. The e-mails were packed solid with swear-words. But this is how traders normally talk. It is when they go quiet that the software must prick up its electronic ears.

Imagine applying this software for another purpose – to evaluate the different literary styles across organisations and industries. The above suggests prose from financial traders would need to be x-rated; I wonder what would come up if we looked at doctors – perhaps not much better – or teachers – or saintly and demure librarians?!

March 13, 2012

On the wrong side of the digital divide

Filed under: Business,Technology — by xrematon @ 10:40 pm
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Does it sound silly for me to say that I feel digitally excluded? Obviously, it does in some senses given that I have typed this blog post. So what do I mean?

Well, I am thinking about the times when my ‘digital activity’ has been compromised as I don’t have a printer and it is assumed that being online also means having a printer. No point in getting some handy vouchers – I can’t print them off. Or ticket bookings.

The time I got very cross was opening a new bank account with Santander. It was – admittedly – an eSaver account – but why should that mean I need a printer too? There was one particular form necessary to activate the account, which I was emailed through with the assumption that I could print out a hard copy, fill in and then post off. I went to the effort of ringing to see if I could get the form sent to me in the post, but the person I spoke to was adamant this was not an option. Grrrr…

As a counterpoint to this frustrating experience, let me describe a more positive interaction with Amazon. I wanted to return an item and followed the instructions on the site. I reached the stage when there was a form to print out – my heart sank – and then rose again when I read on. You could just send back the sales slip that came with the pack. Hooray – I could function!

Perhaps I am being rather silly and making a mountain out of a molehill but I really don’t want to be forced into getting a printer. They are ugly dark boxes (there is no beautifully-designed Apple-equivalent of a printer despite the claims of this article); producing extra paper doesn’t make sense in a world when we are trying to streamline the amount of stuff we use up; and given this, why can’t I use just a code or an email sent through on a smart phone instead?

But I do have an Achilles heel – I like my photos to be tangible – but that’s what Photobox is for!

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