Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Reinventing Inventions

A friend posted an article on LinkedIn about the cool Retina Display of the much heralded, newly released iPad3 (marketed simply as iPad). I commented, Apple has redefined the very device that they themselves defined.

This article from The New Yorker spoke intelligently and persuasively on the state of affairs and the outlook for Apple, at this point in time, in the news not just for the amazing take-up among consumers of that iconic iPad, but also for their decision to pay out dividends to shareholders from massive cash coffers.

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If Steve Jobs were still alive and well, and had, say, another decade to innovate and launch insanely great products, he would have had to do things that broke his own mold. There is such an onslaught of tips from management gurus and business leaders alike, which speak to what he did to become successful and which draw lessons learned and best practices. But this is a conventional, misguided way of learning, developing and improving. The man himself probably would not have followed his own lessons and practices.

To this point, then, I ask, What does Apple have to do, in order to buck historical trends in competition and diseconomies of scale?

It is to evolve, and become something that it cannot even conceive of now. It has to morph into new states, systems, models and talents. It has to reinvent the very algorithms of invention.

The question now is, Can Apple do this? Of course, no one knows for certain, not even those at Apple. But if it can, then the answer is ‘yes’ to bucking those historical trends.

There is an even greater precedent for this that John Cassidy, with The New Yorker, didn't speak to:  the human race, and other species of life that have endured across millennia, by virtue of their ability to evolve.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Talent Trumps Products

From the beginning, as I helped my daughter with her math homework and tests, I encouraged her, and guided her, on learning the underlying principles and concepts.  She had to solve several problems on a regular basis, so this was our focus. Making sure she completed what she had to, for her class, and making sure she did well on her tests.

But regardless of what section in her book we were working on, we kept an ongoing effort to learn those principles and concepts. Once she grasped these, I told her, she could solve a thousand problems easily. In fact, it didn’t matter how many problems she had to solve. As long as she understood what she had to do, essentially, she could solve them all.

Kevin Rose, right, now with Google (image credit)

All of this as a preamble for speaking to what Google, Twitter and Facebook are doing, of late, as CNN Money reported. Anyone with cash can acquire any company that is within their means. It’s the products, tools and systems, then, which are the spoils of victory. But acquiring the talent behind all of these spoils is an even greater letter to write home about. The brains inside those talented people, and their motivation, ability, and energy (MAE), can conceivably create more of those cool products.

A few key people, then, newly gathered under wing, can come up with a much greater number of products, tools and systems, than even big companies can afford, but which are an imperative to the likes of Google, Twitter and Facebook.

Polynomials are among the most complex in math, certainly for a great majority of 7th graders. But my daughter, one among students at this grade, clearly has a knack for polynomials. More importantly, as I told her, she’s been grasping those underlying principles and concepts more and more, and in doing so built up her fundamental abilities to grasp newer, more complex math.

What’s the connection here?

I am juxtaposing my daughter with Kevin Rose, founder of Digg and Milk, who is the latest talent acquisition by Google. You see, it’s about helping her build her own talent, because it is this which will help her grasp and do many more cool, complex things in her life.

Oh, by the way, for a girl who was struggling with math, and hating it, she now has a running A+ average grade for this quarter, and has not been getting anything less than an A- in her tests in recent weeks.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Tripartite Model and STEM

A former general manager once called me a dilettante. He was a smart man, who had a way with words, and this was veiled but unmistakable hostility. He meant that I pursued and dabbled in different subjects, which, to him, indicated lack of serious focus.

I can admire men and women, in all fields of endeavor, dedicating their lives to a particular profession, research or art. They take a vertical approach that plunges them deeply into a subject, and they earn the right, over time, to be called experts in that area.

While there is truth to anyone describing my tact as horizontal, in contrast, it isn’t entirely true.

You see, I’m creating a Tripartite Model that forthrightly positions science, art and religion as a complete epistemology. This being a better way for us to grasp things about ourselves, our world, and our universe. This effort requires that I go both horizontally and vertically.

I graduated with a BA in psychology and a PhD in clinical psychology. I don’t mind describing myself as a psychologist, but more accurately I position myself best as a thinker. Over the past two years, for example, I’ve poured over Albert Einstein (physicist) and John Nash (mathematician); written scores of poetry, while schooling myself in the work of master painters like Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Rothko and Picasso; and learned as much as I could about Islam from Muslim friends. All far afield, in the eyes of my colleagues, from psychology.

But why not?

I have always held to the belief on life as being infinitely interesting. That there are so many intriguing things to explore, discover and grasp. Many of which, in the wide-eyed world of media and technology, are free and accessible literally at our fingertips.

So why not?

Kareem Abdul Jabbar (image credit)
Basketball legend, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, spoke recently to high school students and their parents in Chicago, and I can only underscore what he encouraged and advised. That they may very well pursue their love in sports and entertainment.  But for goodness sake, explore other subjects, too. Especially those as critical to our day and age as STEM:  science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Because only through such exploration, which is horizontal, can they know their potential and realize it. Well said, Kareem.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Type I and Type II Errors are Real Possibilities

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Statistics, research and analysis often have to work with uncertainties and ambiguities, despite their occasional posturing as precise and accurate. We as human beings are blessed with intelligence, yet it seems we are also cursed with limits and pitfalls in the very thinking capabilities that give rise to that intelligence.

So imagine a crowd of, say, 1000 people. They’re milling about in a mall, heading in and out of shops, as you watch them from a high balcony. Depending on what you subscribe to, as far as the attributes of people are concerned, you may decide that among these 1000 people, a great majority are good guys but a notable minority are bad guys. What’s more, you’re privileged to have varying, but less than complete, amounts of information on every single one of them. Your job is to identify, and of course stop, any would-be bad guy intent on committing harm.

Got the scenario, so far?

You commit a Type I Error, if you dismiss a guy who’s actually bad. You commit a Type II Error, alternatively, if you arrest a guy who’s actually good. Remember what I said about statistics at the outset, and remember that any information about any one guy is bound to be incomplete. So the likelihood of either a Type I or Type II Error is very real, in our shopping mall scenario or any other human situation.

That’s the rub, for me, as I read Google Adds (Even More) Links to the Pentagon about the (even more) intricate relations between Google and the US military.

I can feel reassured that the Pentagon serves its purpose of protecting us Americans, by drawing on Google’s far reaching and sophisticated means for gathering, organizing and analyzing information on the internet. I can also feel afraid that because there is no such thing as perfect, foolproof means of intelligence, a Type I or Type II Error can occur.

You see, emotions as far as our lives are concerned are not either-or, mutually exclusive phenomena. So I can very well feel varying degrees of both reassured and afraid at any given moment. Nonetheless, I can pray, too, that these giant organizations that impact our lives, whether we like it or not, avoid any such errors and do indeed safeguard us, above all.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Googol [squared], Coming up

You may already know the story. Google is a misspelling of the word ‘googol,’ which is an unimaginably large number. Specifically, it’s 10 raised to the 100th power. In time, maybe sooner than we think, Google will have to change its name, because its gathering of data on the internet will surpass a googol. How about googol squared, that is, 10 raised to the 200th power?

My friend, Patrick, often sends me great articles on business and leadership, and among these are about Big Data from McKinsey Quarterly.  In time, I’m sure, a googol will actually be small data, because it is the point of these articles that Big Data will only become Bigger Data.

How big? This article from Business Insider helps us grasp how big, specifically by comparing it to traditional media and older technology. A time and a world, after which our children were born into.

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DVDs are gradually becoming passe, because of easy and direct downloads of videos and music to our devices. Still, it’s staggering to know that it would take 168 million of these little buggers to house the amount of information consumed on the internet. In one day.

It would take the US Postal Service two years to process our mail, if their collective mailbags brought in the number of e-mails that easily get bandied about in cyberspace. 294 billion. And the USPS is one of the best in the world, in my experience. 

There was time when, well, Time was one news magazine of choice, along with Newsweek and US News & World Report. For me, it was better to digest my news once a week, than try to keep up with it on a daily basis. Just the two million blog posts in one day, authored by many more reporters than any of these publications can hire, would apparently keep Time humming for 770 years.
Finally, iPhone sales outpaces births in a given day: 378,000-to-371,000. I know it’s foolhardy even to imagine each of these babies holding an iPhone coming out of the womb. For, sadly, the majority of them, I’m sure, are born to impoverished circumstances. But imagine, nonetheless, if Apple can sustain this sales growth indefinitely, then in time there will be many more of these hotsellers floating around than there are people.

It’s mind-boggling, to say the least. But there we have it. Our capacity as humankind has accelerated in a geometric (i.e., exponential) progression.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Monday, March 5, 2012

Just Dive In

Guy Kawasaki (image credit)
Just dive in, Guy Kawasaki advised.

It is my personality first to think things through and plan things out. But in the swift acrobatics of media and technology, I am learning to simply jump in and get my feet wet. I didn’t hesitate, for example, to get into Google+, when I got an invite.

However, I hesitated a long time to create a page on Facebook, as I really wanted to clarify my intent and build my know-how. But I realized there was so much more to figure out. The best way to do this, as I learned, was to navigate through it over time, as I added post after post and tried feature after feature (e.g., highlights, albums and shares). So, planning notwithstanding, I simply needed to dive in.

Setting goals, identifying targets, and confirming purpose are all well-and-good, too. I have always believed in Stephen Covey’s habit of begin with the end in mind.

But again in the rapidly evolving landscape of media and technology, we may not fully grasp what it is we really want to achieve. At least not in the initial stages. We may have an inkling that social media is powerful and useful, but how to use it to our advantage may not be so clear until we’ve immersed ourselves in it.

So once you’ve dived in:
  • Enjoy, make friends, converse with people. 
  • Keep eyes wide open, tease out lessons learned. 
  • Share what you think, what you’ve learned, what you figure out. 
Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Pwn Plug

I heard about the Pwn Plug on Google+, and ars technica described it as a little white box that can hack your network. I am certain that in information and computing technology, and perhaps espionage in particular, this unassuming little device is not at all a breakthrough creation.

A practice of subterfuge 

I know it’s common practice for a company to test its procedures and systems surreptitiously. Retail outfits will engage "mystery shoppers," for example, to come into their stores, buy stuff to check how their staff serve customers, and report back to management. So it’s no surprise that a bank will test its security by having a faux technician like Jayson Street come in, and their staff, apparently trained to be friendly and accommodating, welcome him with open arms. I gather that his client has been duly informed and advised on his findings.

You get the picture. Surreptitious efforts like these are a test, above all, of the people who implement those procedures and manage those systems. If the staff have been properly trained, sufficiently reminded, and clearly held accountable for what they have to do on the job, and they fall down from such a test, then they can be reprimanded accordingly.

Still, let’s keep this in mind. Even the smartest, most capable and conscientious staff will fall down on the job. Why? Because like everyone else, they’re only human and they’re prone to mistakes. Also, when you have someone like Street deliberately offering a sham reason to get into your building, and he installs a device that looks very familiar to many Americans, I ask, Who among us haven’t been fooled at least once?

The Pwn Plug even comes with “stealthy decal stickers” that say “fressh,” as its maker Pwnie Express shows on its website (above).  So it literally masquerades as a plug-in air freshener (below). Frankly it’s about subterfuge, and unfortunately all kinds of people have been subjected to such.

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A question of ethics

My point in all of this?

 There may in fact be legal grounds for the maker of Pwn Plug to keep making such devices. There may in fact be legal grounds as well for companies to keep doing these kinds of tests on their procedures and systems, and on their people, too.  But I question the ethics of such business practices. 

The fact that Pwn Plug can easily hack into your networks is a serious issue, of course. Privacy is already a growing concern for ordinary denizens on the internet, like me, and I can only imagine how extraordinarily more complicated it is for major companies. There are people out there, who are intent on doing evil and inflicting harm. The livelihoods of people working for those companies depend on proper measures of safety and security. Resorting to subterfuge, however, is at best questionable ethics.

You see, ours is indeed a brave new world. While the tools and tricks of the trade are age-old, there is so much more at stake now. So many more opportunities and such growing wealth of data for people to ply their type of trade. Just as we have to institute real practical measures, we ought to stop, even for a moment, to question the ethics of all of this, and act accordingly.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD