Google can only do so much

Google can only tell us what it has already been told.  It does that brilliantly but it cannot do complete justice to many subjects because so much of the information has not been captured.  Sure we know facts that have been published and are digitally stored in archives or that are regularly updated in such vehicles as Wikipedia.  But to really understand a particular subject, nothing can replace personal experience.  Until the day that search engines/aggregators are able to read human memory, I think our common human database of information will contain only a representative sample of all that we’ve lived.

Do a Google on yourself.  You might be surprised at what you see.  You probably forgot you clicked on Like or that you commented on that article you read in an online newspaper, or that you were a speaker listed on the agenda of a long-forgotten corporate event.  Do the collected links tell the whole story of you?  Of course not.  Just as TV and other two-dimensional media cannot fully portray to the viewer the exquisite proportional accuracy of the statue of David, neither can a search engine find and present to the viewer enough information to flesh out a human subject. Too much memory of that person’s deeds and life remain stored in the private realm, in the memories of the people with whom they lived and knew.

I thought of this recently when my sister informed me that Reno Bertoia had passed away.  It’s almost a certainty that the name rings no bell for you.  I knew him for the first 20 years of my life, first as the great guy with the young family who lived directly across the street, then as my hometown’s most famous former professional athlete (this was during a time when pro athletes lived like mere mortals), and finally as a very engaging history teacher during my high school years.   If you were to click on that link I embedded above, and if you were to read all the information contained in all those links, you would not learn that Reno Bertoia gave a baseball bat and ball to two very young boys who lived across the street.  You would also never find it written that those items were from the collection belonging to the Detroit Tiger baseball club, for whom Reno had played.  You would also not read that Reno took them to Tiger Stadium to meet the ’68 World Series champions in the dressing room one hot summer day.

You may read about all this in the future though, since I wrote it down.

Counter-productive messaging

In this month’s issue of the Harvard Business Review, the regular feature called Defend Your Research presents a study by Stefano Puntoni that showed a majority of women reacted negatively (and would contribute less) to campaign ads containing stereotypical female colors, symbols, and voices.  Counter-intuitive, no?  The strong examples cited were the pink-wrapped campaigns against breast and ovarian cancer and the conclusion reached was that women feel threatened by gender-specific messages when it is associated with harm they may eventually suffer. To be clear, they found that pink is fine; it’s just a color. But when that color was associated with a specific message about something perceived as a mortal threat, then the turning away occurred. The researchers know this not just because that finding was repeated over and over but also because the reaction of women to gender-neutral messaging resulted in no defensiveness.  Further research showed that men do not react negatively or defensively to gender-specific campaigns that fight prostate cancer.  The researchers theorize that prostate cancer is seen by men as an older man’s disease (and therefore too distant for worry for younger men) while breast and ovarian cancers are seen by women as killers even of the young.

Apparently marketers are taking notice, and have been for the last 10 years, of this type of deeper research around targeted messaging and the need to understand, what I term, primal drivers.  That is, how things like color, symbols, and sound connect a message to impulses inside us.

Cold equals Hot

An interesting piece was published in today’s Globe and Mail about Canada being a prime location for cloud computing data centers.  The writer didn’t mention cloud computing explicitly, but that’s what he meant.  I mean, what other driver is there these days for the scramble to build massive complexes to house servers and other computing equipment?  We know Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft (and others) are quietly building out the required infrastructure to support an array of cloud-based applications and services and  Steve Ladurantaye (the writer) relates how Canada is ranked second (the U.S. is first) for the best places in the world to build.  It ranks so high by virtue of its wealth of relatively cheap electricity, inexpensive cooling  (because it’s cold for so much of the year, it would be cheap to cool the heat-intensive hardware), competitive corporate tax rates, and political stability.

This is actually the second time I heard of this idea, that Canada should push to be the data center location of choice because of its colder climate.  The first was at a CA Technologies Cloud event back in February at the CN Tower where Dr. Michael Geist, the Canada Research Chair of Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, suggested it as a completely sensible thing to strive for.

Canada is blessed with peace, order (notwithstanding the occasional hockey-inspired riot), and gorgeous geography.  Who could have known that what is normally seen as a negative, our formidable frigid temperatures, would one day allow us to reap giant financial gain?

Enduring legacies of supercomputers and the Big Man

The statistics associated with Fujitsu’s Supercomputer will make you hyperventilate.  That is, if you can grasp the enormity of the numbers.  How many instructions can you execute per second?  Never mind.  That computer can execute 8,000 trillion instructions per second which, at the very least, introduces a new word to my lexicon….quadrillion, or 1,000 trillion. 

In the industry in which I work, one becomes inured to the steady onslaught of news that yet another record has been broken for speed, or for size (meaning, ever smaller).  It’s not that I don’t appreciate the achievements, because I certainly do, but when the records fall with increasing regularity and with (what seems to me) a decrease in attention from the popular media…..let’s just say that the wow factor is not quite what it used to be. 

So when that piece of news arrived on the same day I learned that Clarence Clemons died, the contrast between the two events could not have been more stark.   One story is about physics and human intelligence combining to produce a noteworthy achievement, but (alas) one that will be broken in a few short months.  The other story is about a huge and gentle personality that endured and grew stronger under the unforgiving microscope of popular culture for over forty years, about a man who changed his world by simply letting his raw talent soar.  To an impressionable young man watching a Springsteen show live in Detroit in 1976, the Big Man’s presence was something new, immensely alive, and powerful.

If I can remember only one of these two events a few decades from now, which do you think it will be?

The Cloud is passe: the world according to Benioff

CEO Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com fired a shot across the bows of a host of companies when he pronounced that the cloud is passe.   He said that his company has moved on and that the future of business lies in the creation of something he calls “the social enterprise”.  I think he was just being realistic.  Things changed when a new generational wave crashed the shore made up of traditional business models.  The winners will be those companies that figure out in a real-time way how their brand is doing and what they can be doing differently to positively influence that.  He’s known for stirring the pot and I’m sure he was being intentionally provocative, while at the same time obliquely pushing his own company’s applications that play to that space.  But his record of business success is strong. 

Much as certain large vendors would like to convince you that they can provide all the IT you need to run your business in the Cloud, the reality will be a lot messier and complicated, and a whole lot more flexible and dynamic.  If you read the article, you’ll see that the future Mr Benioff envisions is one driven by innovation and a clear focus on the customer as an individual.  Having that as a primary business goal may sound lofty and expensive but it’s also a smart way to constantly strive for differentiation from the competition.

Computing and exponentialism

I return to a theme I’ve discussed before… thoughts that come my way while listening to radio programs on the infernal drive in to the office.  Today’s program was about Google’s driver-less car.  It’s exactly what the phrase implies,  a car that drives itself using sophisticated computer hardware and software.  It won a competition and, apparently, even the engineers who lost the competition were impressed.  Anyway, the only thing I want to add is a comment on one particular statistic I heard from the engineer who was interviewed on today’s show.  He mentioned that the car’s computer collects 1 million data points every single second.  It uses those points to calculate a myriad of decisions it needs to make in subsequent seconds, decisions that we humans don’t even think about but make every time we’re behind the wheel of our cars.

That statistic caused me to recall a recent conversation I had with a customer.   He was relating to me that the monitoring tool his company uses (bought from my employer) collects 12 million “events” (anomalies in the system) per MONTH.  I don’t present that here for comparison purposes.  I merely raise it to suggest that the numbers we are dealing with since the advent of the computer are very, very large (like the debts of some countries) and there seems to be no way to get a grip on them unless we exploit the power of the computer even more.

Ratings for a better life

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has a cool tool called the Better Life Index on its website.  It’s very easy to manipulate and uses 11 measures for human happiness to help you decide which country in the world (or at least the ones in the OECD) would be the best place for you to live.  I clicked on my rating for each measure and, not wanting to influence my own choices, refused to look at the interactive graph as it changed after each of my clicks.  Guess what… I still ended up with Canada.  🙂