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4orty2wo

posts from the life professional

Month

October 2008

The World is Just Awesome

The Discovery Channel ad, Boom-de-yada, is simply Awesome.

They’ve built a webpage where one can download the audio as MP3, the video as MP4 (great for portable players), and a page for parodies.  What most people have done is kept the same soundtrack, but spliced together their own video from the Simpsons, Dr Who, VideoGames….

But none of them beats the original.

There are several YouTube videos – this one has a hi-def version that’s distinctly clearer, but DOES run at double the file size of the low-def version:

The bit I like best is where a squid flees from the camera, and the lyrics go “I love the Giant Squid”.  Then there’s a short bit near the end where you see Stephen Hawking in his wheelchair, with his computer synthesized voice.

I love Giant Squid myself.  See this post.

Brilliant ad.  Great example of something that can fly virally.

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Banking on Morals as a foundation, not Greed

Just a few weeks ago, on Bruce Nussbaum’s “NussbaumOnDesign” blog, Muhammad Yunus is quoted as saying:

“Our loans are real, they are transparent and they are being paid back by the people,” said the Nobel Prize Winner. “You can’t say that about the states.”

There is a hit of gloating in the quote, but who can blame Mr Yunus?  His Grameen Bank venture has often been eyed with suspicion and had drawn criticism from traditional western banking experts (and on the flipside, has many won many admirers for his innovation and courage), and now stands taller and more solidly than the biggest of the big – the Citis, Lehmans, Morgan Stanleys, UBS’, RBS’……

This week, there is a longer businessweek article stating a position that goes against the grain of the current trend where governments, in taking stakes in ailing banks, are moving slowly and surely into nationalization of the banks they rescue.  This is the subhead of the article:

The microfinance pioneer, of Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank, advocates a free market solution, not government takeovers

Also this week, from the BBC, an article titled “Finance with a moral foundation“, which talks about the impact of the global credit crunch on Islamic Finance.

Reading both these articles make one think of how the US housing bubble which triggered the credit crunch which triggered the crisis for the global financial system all comes down to a foundation of greed, which drove excessive risk taking.  One thinks of the actions of speculators who drove up fuel and food prices for the sake of raking in huge profits, harming the poor all over the world through their greed.  One thinks of the retirees, the middle class already long squeezed by inflation and stagnant incomes (in comparison to the remuneration paid out to the superstars in the finance industry) seeing their savings wiped out from investments in structured deposits they did not understand.

I can’t help thinking of Mary Poppins.  There is a scene where a Director of the Dawes Tomes Mousley Grubbs Fidelity Fiduciary Bank (played by Dick van Dyke in heavy make-up) tries to take the money from Jane and Michael (the Banks’ children) to deposit it into the system that makes commerce and wealth generation run.    Michael resists, saying he wants to use the money to “feed the birds” (the song of this title should have won the Academy award for best song, not “Chim Chim Cher-ee”). Chaos ensues, and through a comedy of errors, alarmed customers panic and there is a run on the bank! (and no Government bailout from Gordon Brown, I’m sure)

Mr Yunus built his bank to serve the needs of the poor – to bring them benefits that could never come from foreign aid and government hand-outs.  Islamic Banking is based on Sharia Law, which is subject to differing interpretations by Scholars, but is still based on what is good for the people rather than greed and personal enrichment at the expense of others.

As the EU, US and Gxx leaders come together to attempt a new model for global banking, let’s hope they give some thought to the call of the old lady who sits outside St Paul’s Cathedral:

Though her words are simple and few,

Listen, listen, she’s calling to you:

“Feed the birds, tuppence a bag,

Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag”

The Art of the Start

Early this week, I had the pleasure of being part of a panel of Judges, presiding over presentations by bright young men and women, students at Singapore tertiary institutes, telling us about how they wanted to employ technology to improve the prospects of small and medium businesses. 

It was a pleasure because these young people were earnest and eager.  They were unencumbered by the knowledge of “what can’t be done”.  Some projected their voices very well.  All had clearly worked very hard on their projects.  A few oozed genuine passion for their cause.  

After the morning’s judging work, I asked the organiser if she could spring for books for all participants. The book I had in mind was “the Art of the Start” by Guy Kawasaki.

I’ve been reading Guy Kawasaki’s books since first coming across a copy of “the Macintosh Way” back in the early 90s.  In the first of his books I bought, “Selling the Dream”, he put his compuserve email address in the book somewhere.  I wrote to him, and he sent me a short and gracious reply, wishing me well in my intended venture.  Guy has a delightfully irreverent writing style, one that’s very easy to enjoy.  “The Art of the Start” would make a great gift to these students.  

There’s a PDF summary in manifesto form, available for free (download) at http://changethis.com/1.ArtOfTheStart

There are many other excellent manifestos at http://changethis.com and the site is well worth a visit. 

Guy has a great blog he modestly calls “How to Change the World“.  The subtitle is “a practical blog for impractical people”.  It makes a great read, and I’ve gained many great ideas and much entertainment from it. 

So what made me think of “The Art of the Start” as a gift to the students?  As the students delivered their presentations, all with powerpoint and some with color printouts of their proposals, I felt like a venture capitalist listening to pitches from startups.  I found myself recalling Guy’s 10/20/30 Rule of Powerpoint, and realising what wisdom is encapsulated in:

  • 10 slides
  • 20 minutes
  • 30 point fonts

You can read his post on this topic, from Dec 2005 here.

Brilliant Stuff!

1 World 2 Wheels

Excited to read this, because I’ve been increasingly thinking about how parents should be approaching buying computers for kids, by thinking about their experiences with bicycles when they were young themselves.  More on this in a future post.

Trek (the company that makes the bikes that Lance Armstrong competes on) has a new online campaign called 1 World 2 Wheels.  The campaign landing page is headed “Change the World. Pledge to go by bike” 

On the site, one can download widgets for a whole series of platforms and social networking sites.  I’m trying out the gadget for the vista side bar, and it works better as detached.  If left in the side bar, it’s too wide, and some of the gadget is hidden.  I’ll try out the Google Gadget on ubuntu when I get home. 

This could go extremely viral for Trek.  They’ve taken the trouble to support many different widget/gadget types and sites, and have text to paste into websites and blogs – to get displays like this:

I really like how Trek has translated “miles pledged” into metrics that make a lot of sense to ordinary folks:

  • reduce carbon footprint (lbs CO2)
  • reduce a propensity to grow fat (calories burned)
  • reduce petrol/diesel expenditure (gas $)

Very easy to understand. Visually appealing. I hope this campaign becomes hugely successful.

Design

I’ve got the new HP Touchsmart PC on my desk for testing purposes.  I’m running through how it does factory restore, software updates and in particular, seeing what Vista64bit looks like.  This is my first time playing with Vista64bit – the PC has 4G of RAM in it, and mostly 32bit apps.  I don’t feel like I’m getting anything special compared to the Vista32bit Enterprise and Business versions I’ve been playing with.  Perhaps there’s a lot under the hood with Vista64, but it’s benefits are just not obvious to me, with my not-too-power-user type computing needs.  My limited experience with 64bit Linux (Ubuntu’s Gutsy Gibbon) was painful – in the area of apps and browser plug-ins.  I very quickly jumped back to the 32bit version.  

But that’s not the topic of this post.  Design is.  Two blogs I’ve been enjoying lately are from Frog Design and Tim Brown of IDEO.  I’m impressed by the engineering know-how and systems thinking that goes into beautiful designs.  It’s more than just having an artist’s eye and being good with a pen and brush – there’s hard-stuff knowledge of materials, fabrication techniques, manufacturing processes ….. and soft-stuff know how like human psychology, how people value things and how they see color/texture. 

Here are the links for:

 Tim Brown penned an excellent article for Fast Company, called Strategy by Design.  It’s well worth a read.

              

I’m closing this post with a bit more on the Touchsmart.  There are some very nice design touches on the touchsmart that are not must-haves but simply appeal to me as signs that the designers have applied some love to their work. 

  • A front face devoid of buttons – except one.  The button to launch the touchsmart custom interface for browsing media
  • A small LED to indicate the Camera is ON and capturing
  • A nite-light with 3 brightness levels behind the lower part of the screen
  • The built in slot in which one can slide a Personal Media Drive (2.5″ USB SATA HDD)

On the whole, a very attractive facade – and if I owned this unit and it was in my living room, one of the first things I’d do is to remove the 3 stickers (Energy Star, Intel and Vista) on the bottom left of the LCD touch-screen.  I’m starting to get used to the touchscreen and relying less on the mouse and keyboard.  Writing with a fingernail generally results in something Vista can recognise and convert into text but  I get much better results with a soft wood disposable chopstick that I carved into a makeshift pen.  Not a design masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but perfectly functional and cost-effective.

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