Archives for October 2008


Printing *Products* on the Desktop: How Close is It?

Back in June of 2005, I wrote my first 3D printing post featuring ZCorp, and I’ve been keeping half an eye peeled for desktop extrusion or 3D printing technology, or even big humongous machines that a service bureau could buy (like a Heidelberg printing press), one that would enable the uploading of designs over the internet and have them ‘printed’ like a newsletter or other printed materials.

It was curious how there were two posts today on O’Reilly Radar blog (The Desktop 3D Printer and 3D Printers Now As Cheap as Laser Printers Were In 1985) that talked about desktop 3D printing and how it was now cheaper than the first laser printers were in 1985 at the beginning of the Desktop Publishing revolution.

Though I still want a Replicator like on Star Trek, this desktop 3D printing will have to do for now.

Inspiration came from the Ponoko blog and this post about how these devices have fallen in price. A comment on one of the O’Reilly blogs led me to another blog dedicated to fabrication and 3D printing on the desktop called Fabbaloo. Lastly, I felt compelled to do a quick Google search for videos of 3D printing and found this one by the aforementioned ZCorp, and thought you’d like to see it since it gets the concept across pretty quickly.


A Strategist for Obama

In my work as a strategist, it’s incumbent upon me to look at a question, problem or situation from a 360 degree perspective. I gather as much data as I can, connect the dots in the smartest and wisest way I’m able, kick around ideas with people smarter than me and then I create scenarios.

After doing this, it’s pretty clear which scenario’s are most likely to occur, and it’s apparent which strategies I collaborate on with leaders (for companies for whom I’ve worked and now for clients) are ones where we should place our bets.

Though this is probably a risk for me in the circles in which I run and for those that follow this blog, my chips have been laid down on a ‘blue scenario’ for months and I’m endorsing and voting for Obama. 

As I’ve moved from slightly right of center to slightly left politically — mainly by reading everything I could get my hands on for the last 8 years through my struggles to stay on top of every issue — I’ve rarely come across such a cogent case for ones endorsement as the one released today by a deep, strategic thinker, Tim O’Reilly.

Considerably troubled for over seven years (though long considering myself a Republican and someone who didn’t identify with populism thought or the Democratic party), I long ago decided on change, and that decision has only gained strength in recent months as I’ve witnessed how Obama has gone forth exhibiting leadership, surrounding himself with world class advisors and releasing sound fiscal and public policy positions, being open and transparent (and yes, leveraging social media and engaging the next generation wisely), and just barely dipping-his-toe in the waters of push-back when he’s been character-attacked.

One thing O’Reilly didn’t mention in his post is something that I’ve been puzzled by for eight years, and see as THE problematic continuation of the last eight years if there was a McCain presidency. The lack of vision and leadership.

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Keeping Your Eye on the “Peak Oil Ball”

While walking the dog early in the morning, I usually look at news headlines, primarily using the New York Times free iPhone app.

One article caught my eye early today, OPEC Orders Cut in Oil Production. It started out with, “The OPEC cartel said Friday that it would reduce its oil production by at least 1.5 million barrels a day to stem what it called “a dramatic collapse” in oil prices as the world economy slows down and oil demand shrinks” and then continues to point out how many countries have set social program and other country revenue-based spending on much higher per-barrel prices, and so there is a tremendous incentive to cut production in order to increase prices.

Though it’s clear OPEC members are trying to find a way to get prices back up, it’ll probably take quite awhile. Can’t we just revel in the good news that demand is shrinking and that gas prices are falling at the pump, airfares are already dropping, shipping costs will probably go down, and that we can breathe a sigh of relief?

Then a fleeting thought ran through my mind, one that I fear many might have and will fall back into old behaviors and go ahead and buy that new gas-guzzling SUV or low mileage car (or make other short-term decisions), “Oh great…maybe I didn’t have to buy that Prius after all!” and then remembered this MinnPost article I’d read in August along with this tremendous Potential Energy podcast in September (both on peak oil), coupled with one of THE most comprehensive, objective and sobering programs I’ve watched in a long, long time: PBS’ Frontline show called “HEAT” (you can watch the entire show online and it’s worth the investment of your time).

In that MinnPost article, the writer explains the predicament we’re in with the help of energy expert Matthew Simmons:

Along with others, Simmons has been warning about peak oil for two decades, but he’s not the first. M. King Hubbert, a geophysicist with Shell Oil, accurately predicted in 1956 that U.S. oil would peak by 1970. That’s when the United States went from being a producing nation to being one that today imports 70 percent of the oil it consumes.
Unlike climate change theorists, who rely on data and modeling, “peak oil” advocates rely on known production data that in every case shows a bell-curve history of discovery to increasing production to decreasing production to exhaustion. Taken together, the data from all oil production sites, along with such other information as the ratio of dry-hole to successful-hole drilling and economic growth rates, have helped geoscientists develop “peak” scenarios that are broadly accepted.

So should we be more focused on peak oil (and running out of it) or climate change?

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iTunes & The Paradox of iPhone App Choice

In a book that I read two years ago, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, psychology professor Barry Schwartz’ premise is that in today’s producing and consuming world, too many choices do the opposite of what you might think (that a staggering array of choices in every category would actually meet everyone’s needs and increase consumption) but rather that too many choices created a paralysis in people about making a decision and decreased consumption! (You can watch him explain the essence of his premise in this 19 minute July 2005 TED video).

In this post at GigaOM, 7 Real Reasons Why iPhone is a Smash Hit, Om Malik mentions this statistic (in bold) which I wasn’t aware of, “Apple says that in 102 days since the iPhone Apps store opened, nearly 200 million iPhone apps have been downloaded. There are about 5,500 apps available on the iPhone Apps store.

Sigh….5,500! I get weary even thinking about trying to sift through that many applications!

My personal paradox (and a problem experienced by developers I know as they try to sell their apps), when I’m seeking an app in the Photography category, for example, it isn’t the information presented for me to determine the value of the 114 iPhone apps available in that category, but rather it’s the laborious and time consuming way I have to click through iTunes and view each one, trying to make a decision about buying it by looking at a few screenshots or jumping out to the developer website in order to get more info.

After my initial enthusiasm with the explosion of apps for the iPhone and buying a bunch and downloading numerous free ones, I’ve found myself paralyzed with the volume of apps. But it’s the crappy and sloooow shopping experience (whether it’s in the somewhat slow iTunes browsing or the horrendously slow App Store browsing on the iPhone itself) that’s my biggest issue so guess what? My purchasing of apps has slowed way, way down (as has my browsing for and downloading free apps).

Apple’s iTunes shopping experience is pretty bad overall, whether it’s buying music, movies, TV shows or iPhone apps, or the one that has agitated me for a couple of years, subscribing to free podcasts (and with ~25,000 of them, finding good or new ones is too daunting to bother). There is just too much content and it’s too difficult and time consuming to make a choice.

Time to overhaul iTunes, Apple, and give us a Genius on steroids for iPhone apps.


HiDef Conferencing – Free until the end of 2008

For my other blog, Minnov8, we’ve been recording our Minnov8 Gang podcast using the HiDefConferencing service. Our interviewees and my fellow gang members can call in via Skype or a telephone, and as the main host have web controls, a backup mp3 recording and, most importantly, easy call-in for any participants. All for the up-to-10-participant $30 per month.

Then imagine my delight when I got this email below just now. Very smart marketing, good customer service and goodwill builder during this time where we’re all hunkered down watching our nickels-n-dimes.

To all of our valued customers:

We at know that these economic times create anxiety and uncertainty for many of you.  We want you to know that is on solid ground financially and is continuing to grow our user base at an exciting rate.

As our way of saying thanks we will not be charging you any fees for your account plans or any of your usage through the rest of this year, 2008  You will also continue to enjoy the same level of service and support that you have become accustomed to from but without any of the monthly charges that you have been paying.

A couple of things to keep in mind:

  • You will be able to use Skype and regular telephones
  • US Toll Free Service will remain subject to the same minute allocations as before
  • International Toll Free service unfortunately will have to remain inactive until January, 2009
  • The US local numbers will be available at no extra charge through the end of 2008.

In these uncertain times, we want to thank you for supporting and do our small part to help you out.  However, you can expect us to begin charging you around January 1, 2009.

If you have any questions, please contact us.

Ben Lilienthal, CEO


Plugin Hybrids Closer…

Even with gas prices down — though temporarily as global supply is dwindling (read about peak oil and listen to this sobering-but-informative Potential Energy podcast) — I’ve continued to find ways to strategically shift my and my family’s behaviors when it comes to recycling, using a rechargeable lawn mower, and now moving away from conventional cars to a hybrid.

Though there are strict covenants in my housing development — making a whole house natural gas generator, solar or wind driven energy options legally unavailable for us — I predict that as energy costs continue to rise, there will be modifications made making alternative energy sources mainstream and homeowner’s associations like mine willing to amend covenants.

I know, I know, there are a lot of other people that have been at this “green” thing for a long, long time, but the world auto manufacturer’s are finally responding to electric vehicle production which will bring the costs down to affordable levels and, even though we’re a year or two away from luxury versions of hybrid cars that get great mileage and are more carbon clean, I went ahead and stepped down to a Prius in order to step up and do my part.

Today is day four with my new Toyota Prius and I’m finding myself already in love with this car (though again, it would be nice if it were just a bit more luxurious). Though not broken in yet (conventional experiences shows 10,000 miles on the odometer is when peak efficiencies and mileage kicks in), I’ve been averaging 49.2mpg. Not bad, but I’m hyper-aware of what could be my mileage with a plugin hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) more complete battery pack like the Hymotion from A123 Systems, the company co-developing the PHEV system for the upcoming Chevrolet Volt.

Unfortunately, the cost of the Hymotion L5 is $9,995 plus $400 destination fee, requiring something goofy like 29 years to payback the additional investment (and that’s with $3.00+ gas prices).

How does 236mpg sound? The PriusChat forum has this thread on PHEV Prius modifications and this VERY comprehensive overview of the Hymotion install AND videos of the results that are incredibly interesting…like this hypermiler’s ability to squeeze out 236mpg on his home commute (NOTE: there is a technique in the Prius where one can slightly depress the accelerator and place the engine — driven either by gas or electric — into ‘glide’ mode, essentially turning it off).

With Toyota considering a Prius standalone brand to the Volt and other carmakers getting into the plugin game, no question there will be economies of scale that will make PHEV’s significantly more affordable than adding a $10,000 upgrade to a $29,000 car.


Adobe Makes Move to Keep Flash In-the-Game

With Apple saying “no thanks” to the Flash player on the iPhone, Google doing the same with the mobile Android OS, and Microsoft charting their own course with Silverlight, Adobe made a defensive move yesterday that can only be a strategic attempt to keep Flash the ubiquitous multimedia runtime used by all web users.

The Open Screen Project is a “…collaboration of over 20 companies with one clear vision: enabling users to access, consume, and share rich content seamlessly across multiple screens — regardless of the devices, operating systems, browsers, or networks used. Partners in the Open Screen Project work together to make this vision a reality by enabling a consistent runtime environment across devices, removing development and distribution barriers, and innovating through collaboration…because no one player can do it alone.

Though there seem to be some formidable partners involved with this effort, having been VP of Strategic Alliances at Lawson Software I know all too well how partnering is often a hedge against the possibility a company might actually win (in this case Adobe continuing to win out over Google, Apple and Microsoft, keeping Flash #1).

As both an offensive and defensive posture, Adobe lowered the cost of their Flash server, open sourced Flex and is now essentially doing that with the Flash container. What’s interesting to me, however, is how non-intuitive and challenging it is (and costly) to buy transcoding products in order to take a video and output it to Flash. It’s possible, but to then have it collapse into a Flash player that looks nice is hard.

At the end of the day all of this is good for we, the creators and consumers of content, although it’s not all that easy to bet on a specific horse to win this “runtime container” race.

If you’d like to know more, there is this good interview with Adobe CTO, Kevin Lynch, here.


What if you already had everything you need?

My grandparents in their first car

In this time of economic upheaval, most of us feeling fear, and the stock market ups-n-downs giving any investor heartburn, ask yourself this one question: What if I already had everything I need?

My maternal grandparents, Martin and Laura, were two of the most loving people I’ve ever known. They weren’t poor, but were damn close to it, and yet it always seemed that they had everything they needed: a home they owned; cars that ran; friends and family who loved them; and boxes of Zane Grey novels (my grandpa had every one ever published and loved ’em).

Growing up we often visited them in their small and modest home in Moorhead, MN, and as a kid I didn’t think anything of the fact that their furniture and cars were old, I had to sleep in the attic on a rollaway bed since there wasn’t room elsewhere, and in 1970 becoming aware that Grandpa drove a 23 year old 1947 Chevrolet that Mom used to take to visit her high school girlfriends with my sisters and I in the back seat.

My grandparents always seemed to be able to improvise and achieve what was needed in the moment. Whether it was Grandpa creating a line of knives from old sawmill steel blades and deer antlers (for the handles) for fun and profit, to Grandma cooking up meals from leftovers and stuff around the kitchen that amazed us with her creativity to feed us all with what was available, I’m certain that they would’ve liked to have been more cash flush, but they had a great life and sure seemed to have everything they needed to be fulfilled, successfully raise two kids, and be fabulous grandparents to a pack of us.

As someone who has acquired incredible amounts of stuff over my adult life, live in a home twice the size of what either my wife or I grew up in, drive luxury cars and been fortunate to have traveled the world, I realize how lucky I am to have achieved so much and yet still want new things like an HDTV I have my eye on, the just launched new Macbook Pro, a Nikon D300 camera body, another home in Arizona or Southern California, remodeling in our current home, and so on. With the current world economic situation, like just about everyone I know we’ve instead put every purchase and major expenditure on hold (as have my clients who have had capital budgets frozen and almost every client engagement I’m on or have proposed has been cut or completely eliminated…gulp).

Rather than lament about not feeling comfortable in burning cash right now on stuff that can wait (and on which I would’ve proceeded on previously without much thought), for nearly a year I’ve been starting every new project or thought process about what I want or need by asking, “Hmmm…what if I already had everything I need?”. I especially am doing this now when I’m going to require new clothes for some event, feel pent-up demand for some new gadget or device, when I prepare for key client projects or even when we’re creating a new product or service for our business.

Try asking that question before you do anything right now…I’m convinced that you’ll realize that you already have everything you need to do “X”, or at least to get started on it.


Consider the Impact of Behavior Changes…

One thing that hasn’t been discussed enough during the explosion in gas prices, the financial meltdown, is the impact on multiple industries with consumer changes in behavior. Sellers of non-imperative products are finding it rough going: car manufacturers to their dealers; insurance companies and consumer electronics; clothing and, frankly, retailers of all types; the tactical behavior changes people are making to save money are going to really make an impact this Fall selling season.

I’ve been observing my own behavior changes as I struggle to become more energy self-sufficient while still living in a housing development with pretty stringent convenants (would be tough, for instance, to stick a windmill in my backyard or solar panels on my roof!). Fortunately, my incentives to be ‘greener’ and more self-sufficient outweigh the inconveniences.

For readers of this blog, you’ll recall I purchased a Neuton rechargeable lawn mower this summer and posted about it here. For the same reason our family recycles like crazy (it takes two cans to hold everything and our trashcan is always half full), I bought it in order to start the process of making ourselves increasingly ‘green’ while experiencing what it’s like to be dependent on the substantially weaker energy we can pack into batteries vs. what’s in a lawnmower tank filled with gasoline.

The mower has precipitated a behavior change in me. Since I mulch, it sometimes take two passes to properly cut and make sure the grass is dispersed. It’s frustrating since it’s turned a 50 minute lawn cutting adventure in to nearly two hours (actually I learned to cut it once now…but have to cut every four days instead of once a week). I also have to make certain both batteries are charged otherwise I can’t cut the lawn in one evening, and I’ve forgotten a couple of times delaying my ability to cut the lawn by a day!

This week I’m taking delivery of a new Prius and will be giving up my Mercedes E320 CDI (the diesel version). Yes, the MB got great gas mileage, was safer, more comfortable and with more snob-appeal, but the Prius is the best compromise between fuel efficiency and comfort I could find (and I plan to hack it with non-destructive hacks like this one) and is my inevitable step toward a plugin hybrid when they’re more widely available (and when, like it’s rumored with Toyota, there will be step-up models that are more luxurious along with a possible separate Prius brand).

What does this all mean for you? If you’re delivering web applications, using them or trying to get them adopted within your company or organization, you must consider behavior changes necessary for successful adoption since few people are strategic goofballs like me, willing to compromise and step-down, in order to step-up and be more green (although one could argue I’m NOT an early adopter when it comes to cars but hey, I’m in Minnesota and like substantial cars for our winters).

It takes alot longer than you think — barring a crisis like gas price spikes or a financial meltdown — to see people change their behavior all on their own. Though it’s possible that in our current state of global flux we have a golden opportunity to introduce new things requiring behavior modifications (and people should be more open to compromise and changes), there is also a limit to what people can change all at once, so tread lightly while giving strong consideration to the implications of behavior change on whatever you’re delivering to yourself or for others.


Is the end of capitalism near & new ways of value exchange emerging?

Like you probably are, I’m trying to fathom the depth of the global financial crisis and ultimately what it means for my family and I. Unless you are a hedge fund manager who successfully shorted companies and are now sitting on a pile of cash, you probably are worried and fearful too.

We’ll eventually get out of this mess, but it’s brought to the forefront something I’ve been thinking about for a long, long time: that peer-to-peer production (think Wikipedia, crowdsourcing, et al) is fundamentally changing how we create and exchange value in the world.

Huh? Isn’t that socialism or at least communism Borsch? No, I don’t think so and many others don’t either. In many discussions with people much smarter than me (with advanced degrees in economics or folks like Peter Drucker who wrote Post Capitalist Society in the early 1990’s), I’m pleased and a bit surprised that more of them also recognize that we are right-smack-dab in the middle of a shift in value creation, distribution of value, and the beginnings of the end of scarcity.

First an anecdote: on a Star Trek Next Generation episode, the Enterprise comes across a ship with most people dead, but there are three survivors in suspended animation. They awaken these three who’ve been like this for 300 years. The woman in the group is stunned and sad she’ll never see her son again, but the Enterprise crew has discovered his descendants. One guy was a country singer who gets Picard to use the replicator and get him a famous Gibson guitar. The last guy is SO EXCITED at the prospect of getting back to Earth so he can see how compounding has worked on his investments. “I’ll be extremely wealthy,” he cries out.

This brings to a head something about Picard’s century and material value. Picard tries to get him to understand that “there is no more ‘want’ in the world” since they can make anything instantly and money is no longer an exchange of value (though it’s never exactly clear how economics work in their time and how people are incented and motivated). This guy finally realizes that he is going to have to adapt to a world and time where anything material can be created at the touch of a button, and he’ll have to find other motivators.

Aren’t we there in some ways right now?

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