Designers to the nth power

I’m hanging out with designers from all over our beautiful planet these days. It’s a soul filling experience to hear them talk about their inspirations and then to see their visual portfolios. As many have said recently – we’re in a new age of design, where it’s not isolated to big corporate brands or labels found on everyday things.

Instead what I’m seeing is humans expressing a desire to rethink [borrowing a TEDxRainier theme] the ugly world around them; where the expression is hand crafted beauty. We don’t want to accept the old world of ugly aesthetics. We have proven in recent years that humans can create beautiful things – especially in the industrial world which rewards mechanical efficiency and materials optimization.

I’ll try to add some of my own primitive sketches to give you a sense of what my beautiful thoughts are. Meanwhile go find something hand crafted and report back.

Make it easier to make it cheaper

Read this recently from Venture Beat:

What I want to play with [assuming the role of VC for a moment] is the intersection of these web platforms with cheaper components. Arduino’s latest wi-fi module with a half mile range hints at what’s coming. And with all eyes on Chrome don’t forget about Mozilla.

I do wonder: why would emerging markets give USA manufacturers their people, their factories when they can build low-cost computing devices themselves?  Then they can sell whatever they build in their local markets [or if you’re say a Mexican manufacturer] pan-region.  Isn’t this disrupting the supply chain in reverse? I can imagine a day when USA consumers looking for deals [let’s call it the budget category – ask yourself: how many of your friends buy a new PC every year?] start craving these low cost devices, then go looking for them in the emerging markets where the local product is as good as any product built by USA manufacturers.

Meanwhile I see some large companies are continuing to apply price pressure down while moving value up – it’s built in marketing – by selling mid quality hardware loaded with high quality software.  Consumers get more for less; or so the pitch goes.  Quality of hardware does matter, but it matters less as the software inside meets all your digital life needs.

Holiday shopping season in the USA is coming up; let’s see what shows up…

MSR Events in your calendar

In previous posts I described the collaboration with Jon Udell and others to build apps using open, semantic data services.

Here’s an update on another open service Jon helped us design. The basic, practical idea was to provide an iCal calendar feed for Microsoft Research events. The feed could be used to add each event to a calendar or to create a new calendar with all the events. Well, the calendar feed is now live.

There’s a couple of endpoints for the service depending on what you want to do with the events.
1. This endpoint is used to create a calendar of all future Microsoft Research events:

To show how easy it is to consume the above endpoint, all I had to do was click on the link on a machine with a calendar application installed.  In my case it was a Windows 7 machine with Outlook 2013.  Clicking the link opened the Outlook 2013 Calendar and imported the MSR events into a new calendar; which is shown in the screenshot below.

MSR Events Outlook 2013 Calendar

Once the MSR events are imported into an Outlook 2013 calendar; it’s easy to share an individual MSR event.  Let’s say you’re planning to attend one of the Azure for Science training events and want to invite a friend to join you.  All you have to do is forward the calendar item to them and they can add it to their calendar; regardless of the calendar app they use.  In the screenshot below Outlook 2013 provides an option to forward in iCal format.

MSR Events calendar item sharing

This is one of the great benefits from having the event in iCal format to start with.

2. This endpoint is used to create a single calendar item; i.e. if you don’t want to consume all future MSR events:

Just browse the list of MSR events and click the calendar icon for the one you want to add to your calendar.  It’s super easy.


Try the new calendar feeds and let us know how they work for you. Or build some apps using the feeds and send me some screenshots.

Science might help find a cure

I’m part of a large extended family. At times the size of my family gets very small, especially when an email lands in my inbox notifying me someone I love is ill with a disease. Not being a doctor it can make you feel helpless. Fortunately working in the tech. industry, especially Microsoft Research, can fill you with immense hope that science can breakthrough and solve hard problems; maybe even cure a disease.

According to the World Health Organization these were the top ten diseases in 2011:
WHO Top Ten Diseases 2011


















Microsoft Research has published work related to these diseases. Here’s a list of searches on for some of the diseases:

heart disease

Lower respitory infections




Lung cancers

Diabetes Mellitus

Science is cool but curing sick people is even better.

URL Addressable Identity

In a previous post I talked about how hard it was to reach me while traveling on the Washington Coast, which is a cellular service dead zone. Yes I could eventually pick up a voice mail or email message once cellular service or internet access was available. But something more fundamental in this situation seems broken.

Companies, organizations and proxies for humans [blogs, personal web sites…] have unique IDs on the internet. Domain name services and internet protocol routing and other networking magic make this possible. With this magic, for example, is a unique address that resolves to one location on the internet; i.e. you can reach no matter what you use to get on the internet, what you use to request a URL.

Why can’t humans have a unique address on the internet? Each human could use a unique address to share their ‘internet homepage’ with anyone because it would be easier to hand out – and easier to remember – than a long URL derived from a blog or custom domain or whatever they use to create web presence. Humans could also use a unique address to aggregate their online data and manage access to it. A precedence for a unique address exists today with mobile phone numbers, which facilitate the relationship between a unique person and how to reach this person via cellular networks, routing mechanisms and other networking magic. I want to reach frank; I call his mobile phone number. Why can’t we do this on the internet?

Well, there are several reasons why a unique address for all humans can’t be implemented on the internet today; starting with how to disambiguate common names, for example ‘John Smith’. There’s no single registry or list of all humans on the planet that I know of. Lacking this, what would the internet use to lookup two or many John Smiths to determine which one was the one you intended to ‘call’?

And even if there were a way to create a single registry of all humans; who’s the best or right organization to manage it? The ideal organization would be non-commercial; similar to the W3C or IETF. This organization would be tasked with creating standards that would have to be agreed upon by existing and new internet traffic stakeholders for the unique address system to gain adoption. Standards would include [but not be limited to] consumer privacy, security; naming conventions, name resolution; performance, relationships to existing laws and policies.

The organization would also be tasked with creating fair, well documented opportunities for commercial interests to leverage a unique ID system.

In the absence of a single registry of all humans we have commercial interests – see Facebook adoption worldwide – building their equivalent registry.

What could help move us toward an open system is to design contextual IQ into the architecture for how humans are looked up on the internet. Back to the ‘John Smith’ example, the unique address registry needs to query signals for who I am in relation to where I am in relation to who I’m trying to find. If I’m trying to ‘call’ my friend John Smith and we both have associations to a common city and we have have social graph intersections and other signals then the unique address registry should narrow the connection to my friend John Smith.

More on this later with some graph intersection sketches…

Local banking

I want to disrupt the check cashing industry. It’s a drug dealing enterprise disguised as financial services. Let’s get families out of the cycle of depending on this industry and cash.

TODO list to get started:
– Get families living at the poverty level setup with a local bank account so they can convert paychecks or other income into a manageable account. The local bank component is critical to broker a relationship between people who need this service and banks who should get to know and invest in their immediate communities.

– Through the use of a local bank account educate poverty level families on sustainable personal finance practices.

– Moving poverty level families dependent/addicted to cash into using a local bank account is a significant culture change. Advocacy could start with a joint campaign lead by local bankers and rental property owners, who take the largest percentage of their income.

– Other advocacy partnerships could be with grocery stores, community centers, libraries, churches. Then follow up with family support groups who help poverty level families make the transition.

This could all tie in with an emerging market phone product; something in between a feature phone and smartphone.
Local Bank Workflow

Query for ads

One of the problems I see with mobile ads – looking at you Facebook – is that I’m served ads [push] when instead I want to ask for ads [pull]. Pushed ads are often not relevant nor do they leverage signals in a way that makes the ad hard to ignore. Inspire me to tap the ad; show me something I can’t ignore.

PCC ad searchA pulled ad model could work something like query the ‘system’; where the system returns best matches for an ad by location, by store, by product based on what’s entered in the search box + signals from the mobile device.

Or the system could be queried for a specific location, store, product. If I shop at PCC and my mobile device signals that I’m near PCC; show me ads for PCC. And if I’ve previously purchased Santa Cruz beverages – something PCC should have data about – show me ads for Santa Cruz beverages available at PCC.
Santa Cruz ad search

These pulled ads should be presented in separate feeds than the news or tweet stream. BTW: With their new Gmail tabs system, Google has done a great job helping me mentally seperate what’s primary and what’s a promotion.

Or even better the system should expose dials to ‘tune’ what shows up in pulled ads; to improve the relevance beyond the current X to delete/show more model.