Thursday, September 22, 2005

Apple iPod Nano and FedEx-Impossibly Fast

In December 2004 I ordered an iPod for my son. The engraved and free shipping marvel traveled from China to NH (click to see that post) in about 6 days from order

September 19th I ordered the new iPod Nano, again with free shipping and engraving. September 22nd at noon the Nano showed up, having been customized and shipped all the way from China in less than 3 days!

Clearly a truly amazing performance for a mass customized (engraved) product, enabled by a superb supply chain collaboration between Apple and Fed Ex and of course the Impossibly Small size of the product itself!

As a runner I think the easy to use stop watch feature on the Nano is a useful bonus and a first for iPods.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


BACKPACKING LIGHT - The Ultralight Backpacking Magazine and Lightweight Backpacking Gear Shop

While there is a subscription of $25 per year this specialized site on ultra lightweight outdoor gear combines insightful editorial with an active community of members who analyze, comment, modify, and weigh gear down to the fraction of an ounce. Great example of an authoritative, if somewhat obsessive niche resource, and online community on a specific subject. Larger manufacturers are well advised to linger and participate a while.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Emergency Alert System-Another Relic?

As I was taking a break at noon today I turned on the TV. From the kitchen I heard the squawk of the Emergency Alert System. Looking at the screen on a beautiful sunny day I saw a statewide alert was in progress. A voice came on, completely unintelligle and incomprehensible through the static of what must have been a cold war era connection. Of course usually these are weather alerts and text appears on the screen. Concerned, I flipped to my local TV station where I was informed by a newscaster that it was an Amber alert for 3 children kidnapped by their mother. As with Katrina, so much for the system..or the loose wire. Certainly a better voice or text overlay should be possible. Fortunately, the children were recovered unharmed.

Frog Design Mind - Gizmodo- Perception and Product Design

Frog Design Mind - Gizmodo

Very interesting article which explores the use of conventions in design to change how people perceive products. Among other things why do consumers almost universally perceive the iPod design as "clean" and what associations might consumers have made based on the design to arrive at that perception?

Monday, September 05, 2005

Katrina: Communications, Supply Chains, Hub and Spoke, and Leadership

I have been riveted by the horrors of the last week: the unspeakable destruction and loss of life, the breakdown of planning and response, and the slow to start but increasingly effective effort- voluntary and government.

Clearly our internet and technology enabled world is not what the inventors of the internet imagined when they conceived of a mesh of communications to survive a nuclear war. In fact, the web of communications in the disaster area and beyond completely broke down in my view because most every communication funnels through "hub and spokes" be they large telecom hubs or bureaucracies, a model the airlines functioned with and failed with. The wireless systems which provide us such mobility failed along with the rest, no power and they were tied into the hubs as well. And even if you could get a signal with no power to charge a cell or raido battery, communications went dead. I always carry a charger to hand crank charge my cell if need be. Satellite phones, a business barely sustained by news organizations, NGO's and yachts proved invaluble- the few in the hands of the media from their travels to Iraq and the Third World. AM radio served as the only means of communications in New Orleans.

The centralized FEMA and LA state government were paralyzed by indecision and even paperwork! in the early going. They clearly didn't understand the geography. The playbook should have gone out the window earlier and bold initiative should have gone into action . Even watching TV and interfacing with the resourceful journalists would have brought help further and earlier to the stranded as the newspeople were on the scene and communicating.

Tragically, real long term plans to raise the levees as the land sank and the wetlands were filled in for development languished for decades with the most clearly at risk, the poorest, also those with the least politcal clout. There was a big picture of increasing risk which went largely answered for decades despite warnings.

Further, our reliance on "supply chains" timed to the second to maximize efficiencies when was combined with the geographical importance of New Orleans as the funnel for so many goods and so much energy sharply underlined the fragility of a chain vs. a mesh of mutiple sources. Now that the "supply chain" of relief is flowing efficiently, help is surely coming, but to late for how many?

Early initiative to help resided with the nimble and focused-the Coast Guard, other military and volunteers. The Coast Guard saves lives from water and storm and that is exactly what they did. Leadership came from General Honore who like a later day Patton (one with a heart) charged in with force and a clear mission. He "personally" brought help and visibly defused tensions by telling soldiers to lower the weapons-"You're not in Iraq" he told them. These situations demand organized leaders who function on initiative, seeing the big picture, flexibility, action, and passion- not exactly the conventional and current model of specialization so prevelant in business and FEMA? and also so sought after from a higher educational system focused on research and test scores.

The Bakeoff- Software, Cookie, and Product Development

Comments on a New Yorker Article 9/5/05 “The Bakeoff” by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell is one of my favorite thinkers and writers; author of The Tipping Point, Blink, and many great articles bridging business, technology, science, and the complex ways humans act individually and in groups.

The Bakeoff concerns a top food industry development firm located in Silicon Valley testing three methodologies of invention to come up with a new cookie.

Fascinated by software development the principal decided to test 2 current approaches to software development vs. a traditional product development process.

The development processes were:

  • The XP or extreme software model where 2 people partner and iterate multiple times- in this case a foodie and a food technologist pretty much doing everything from ideas to making the cookies. This approach is now quite popular in software development.
  • The Linux or open source model where a large group of gurus attempt to collaborate- in this case the Dream Team was made up of an all-star cast of cookie technologists from multiple consumer companies.
  • The traditional model- in this case led by the firm’s director of marketing who was not a food technologist but a brilliant, high energy idea person with broad knowledge. She was supported by one of the firm’s product development directors who would execute her ideas.

The teams were all given certain tough “health” parameters for the product: fat, carbs, etc.. but otherwise free to innovate. At the end of the process the 3 cookies were sent for taste testing to several hundred consumers.

The results:

The winner based on the consumer testing was the traditional model followed closely by the open source or multiple collaborating gurus approach.

The XP model was far behind in the taste test but actually had a decent product first. They went right to work, in a highly linear fashion but did not really think outside the box.

The Dream Team had plenty of expertise and came up with 34 possibilities but due to large group size, egos, and a deliberate lack of leadership and disconnected remote nature there was to much friction to get a really innovative product out the door despite all their talents. Yet, they were close to the winners.

The winner took a long time getting going due to “idea a minute” but in the end because of her broad knowledge she was able to connect laterally to another product, a tortilla chip of all things sitting on her desk which was part of another project, to come up with the idea of a tasty coating “an explosion of flavor” similar to a tortilla chip but on the sweet side of course. which her team executed on. She was well supported by her very experienced product development person and his team. She found the big idea.