The Game Can Change In A Blink

…Or how dreams go can go down the sink.

Earlier, this evening I found out that my cousin was pregnant, but she’s like a little sister, so I feel like I’m going to be an uncle. I’ve been having a hard time trying not to judge and just be happy, but it’s hard. She’s known for years what she wanted to do, and has had it all planned out, and then out of nowhere a surprise that’s going to shake her life. The unexpected turn that can derail even the best laid plans. Now I’m trying to fight myself off, I know she’ll be a great mom, but I can’t help but wish there was another way.

I’m fighting myself over being judgmental, but also fighting my own hypocrisy; when I was 16 my girlfriend got pregnant, it wasn’t mine but that didn’t matter to me. I offered to help her raise it, and be the father that the child would need, and started prepping for it. A few weeks later, after having discussed it, but without telling me until it was done, my girlfriend had an abortion. I understood the reason, fully, but it still hurt, then as it does now. My girlfriend, was trying to get rid of a bad dream for her, and open back both of our opportunities for the future.

During those few weeks, I felt invigorated, filled with more passion than anything before. During those weeks, I realized I had to fight, not for me, but for the child’s future. I’m not a fighter, when it comes to myself, I do what I do to survive, but I don’t really try harder than that. It’s unnatural to me. Tonight, that passion was revived,  this time I’m fighting for not just my ‘niece/nephew’ but also for my cousin’s future. I really don’t want to see her end up on the same path, I’ve gone down. I don’t want her dream to die.

It’s time to drop my humble approach towards life: Allow life to happen. It’s time for me to grab the bull by the horns and take this life for a run. The only thing that could happen is that I fall, and have to get back up. Infinite Upside. I’ve got nothing to lose, and so much to give.

…Or why business plans stink.

So far this post has been pretty personal, now let’s talk about business; business plans to be exact. The idea of a business plan is to provide some guidance about the market, your growth, competition, and strategy to achieve that growth. It used to be that the plans were long-term, 5-10 years. The problem with this, is that as our world becomes ever quicker to adopt new changes, your strategy can be invalidated. You very well may be stuck playing checkers, while everyone else plays chess, if you stick to the business plan.

If you want to stay alive, you have to change your strategy to fit the new rules of the game, otherwise you will lose. This means that you need to constantly be on the ball, and willing to change as you get new data, which requires that you actually acquire, analyze, and adapt to some set of data. And you need to be constantly aware, but also have some lag on decisions, so that you don’t get stuck working on a fad. Business plans have become near useless, for long-term prediction.

The important things now, aren’t the plans, per say, but that you understand your market and competition, can do what you say, and are willing to keep going with the feedback you get. You have to preempt competitive maneuvers and always be on the look out for new competition. The game is now not just about who gets there first or who does it better, but who does most of what I need, how I want

If you do everything according to plan, you will be beat, there is no doubt in my mind. You become predictable, you have to change the game that’s being played, and adapt to the new rules, when others change the game. If your plan is invalidated, don’t fight to save the plan, take that information and adapt to it. If you can’t stop there, then maybe you should go hang out with the telecom and cable giants, they’ll keep clawing to keep their duopolies on the market, but the casket will close on them if they aren’t careful. The status quo is deadly.

Be prepared to go to the brink, for what you believe.

You’ve got to take everything you’ve got and just go headlong into the fray. Life doesn’t stop because you want it to;  don’t try to stop it. Enjoy it, all of it, even hardships. What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, after all. Make your moves with patience and diligence, but do make your moves before the clock stops.

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Living Last Mile

I apologize for any cursing I do, this is an issue I fight with daily, and it’s a ridiculous one.

I live in semi-rural WV, but I also live without adequate access to information, at a nominal rate. In order to get an internet connection, where I live it costs roughly $50 on top of a phone bill for 768kbps ADSL. There is also no means of getting television, besides paying for satellite service, which also doesn’t come with local channels f or some absurd reason. Ever since the Analog-to-Digital transition in June ’09, the reception which is known to be bad in mountainous areas, dropped completely off the map, because it became an all or nothing signal.

What you end up with is exorbitant costs for minimal service, even though people within a mile, have no such issues; cable is provided along the main road on the backside of the property, but it’s about 3/10th’s of a mile. Currently, the two bills are $80 for TV, for mid-range satellite service, that isn’t 2/3 Christian broadcast, receiver rental, and 2 broadcast station feeds, that should be locally provided, and $65 for Phone & Internet. It pisses me off to know that just because we live just outside, the service area of the cable companies, we are charged out the ass.

If our house was moved less than half a mile, we would have a more stable internet connection that is 10x as fast, basic enough tv with local stations, we really only need broadcast stations. For about half the price. This needs to be addressed, as well as anti-competitiveness in areas, companies trade off in areas and create virtual monopolies on local markets. I’m just frustrated at how close, and yet how far the access to information is, and I also know that I’m not the only one in the area that feels this way.

Our nation, has turned its back on those that live last mile, and the infrastructure required to provide its citizens decent access to information. We are solidly driving forward, in improvements, but those improvements are generally within the large metro areas, where they see maybe a 2x increase ever 3-4 years, while those living last mile slip further behind. I understand it’s not feasible for the companies to create the infrastructure, that they won’t see a return on any time soon, but there has to be a way to improve our nations information infrastructure(IPv6 should be included).

Super WiFi is probably the only decent technology for this area, considering everyone is stretched rather thin, the infrastructure costs would be lower, but that’s not a likely roll-out option for at least 4-5 years, if not a decade. That’s how slow progress is, when you’re living last mile. It’s infuriating to see improvements so close, and simultaneously know that it will be held right in front of your face, but out of your grasp.

What Made Facebook Special

Why did people join Facebook; what made it special?* This is a though I have so often, it’s become funny, but my answer has never been precise enough, “critical mass.”

Critical mass doesn’t tell you anything, except that they manage to get enough people to use it, and as more did, it became almost invaluable to the rest. The problem with such a simple, and ignorant response is that doesn’t really help to understand how they generated that critical response anyways. That’s the real question that needs to be answered.

We all know about FaceMash, and the exclusivity presented by the college email restrictions in the beginnings. I think through every phase of the company it has held momentum by voluntarily limiting growth, and strategically raising the level of suspense, and necessity via critical mass in various markets.

One quote paraphrased as I remember, “When we went to add Baylor, they wouldn’t allow us on campus, so we went to all of the surrounding schools, and added them to the network. In effect, we built the demand within Baylor by adding most of their friends from other schools to the network, and then expanded to Baylor.” [Editorial Remark: It was from The Facebook Effect. The paragraph was about the “surround strategy.” Also, I originally thought it was BYU, and not Baylor.

I find that brilliant, they built demand in the market, before releasing in the market. The same can be said of Mark’s original FaceMash, which provided him with enough notoriety and acknowledgment within Harvard to release Facebook, as well as providing access to a tool that helped to keep up with your friends.

The whole reason I brought this up is I started thinking about how my friend made me create a new account** when I got to WVU, ‘because everyone uses it.’ I find it interesting that it had created such a critical mass at that point in schools, and it seems to have managed to maintain critical mass among it’s markets this whole time, I find it simply amazing.

Notes:

* = More general “Why did/do people use/join/verb X Company?” I ask these type of questions all the time.

** = I had one for a week or two in HS, because I got tired of fighting the school admins with proxies to get to myspace, and couldn’t remember how to access it.

(Original written January 29th, 2011)(Last Edited March, 17th 2011)

Microsoft Needs Vision, Here It Is

I’ve been thinking for a few weeks about Microsoft, and what they’re doing wrong. What are they doing wrong; quite a bit, but what if they’ve managed to set up an integrated platform, under our noses. They could easily bring us something that no one else can, in short order. No competitors can catch up, not Google, not Apple, no one, if they take the proper path.

Microsoft has before it a golden goose, it’s up to them to decide whether to continue starving it or to feed it. The first step is to look at where they have already invested: everywhere, from the enterprise through to the cloud and mobile systems. They have a wide base and a tall hierarchy, but they aren’t capitalizing as successfully as they could or even should be.

Why are they failing? It comes down to 3 reasons: horrific marketing, horrific web presence, and lack of integrated focus.  The one I’m primarily wanting to touch on is their lack of integrated focus, because without it they are gone, but I’ll touch on the other two.

A few weeks ago, Microsoft released an update to their Office Live system, something that has been around for nearly 3 years, and yet many people still have no clue about. Why; why doesn’t anyone know about this? It is common for people to bash Microsoft, because they don’t offer a cloud alternative for the desktop Office Suite, but it’s simply not true. Who’s fault is this? It’s the marketing department, they haven’t bothered to promote the platform; it’s also partly due to how confusing Microsoft’s web presence is, it’s anything but simple. Their presence exists in two ends of the spectrum: a mangled mess of links to variations of systems on their main domains and a group of domains that can be hard to find, because of a lack of directions to them. So what they need is a simplified interface, and user direction, from both marketing and a user experience standpoint.

Microsoft, regardless of their poor marketing and website design, has a unique opportunity. Microsoft, is the only company to have an operating system on 4 platforms(enterprise, desktop, mobile, and consoles), a web presence that includes search, email, and cloud systems(enterprise & consumer), high-quality desktop software, and near-universal hardware support. The one thing they are missing in integration across all of these levels, and it makes them look like they are wandering aimlessly. The need to figure out what to focus on, and how to make the entire system more seamless.

My first recommendation to them is to start with the future of the desktop, quick boot systems that allow near instant access to the internet. I propose that they provide a hybrid-OS offering using an instant-on system, that provides access to a browser and several other basic applications. The next recommendation, is one I’ve already made, clean up your web interfaces to make them more user-friendly, and make your cloud systems more prevalent. After you’ve dealt with these issues, you’re ready to more actively promote systems like Live Mesh, that will allow you to integrate and sync cloud data, across multiple systems; I recommend purchasing DropBox to help with this.  The should continue to work on integrating Office and their cloud systems, during this.

In the foreseeable future, the majority of what we will be doing, will be on the internet, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t need our fully developed operating systems. Using a hybrid-OS approach, they will be able to provide both instant-on support for average use case, while still providing the ability to switch over to the full system for heavier workloads. This is what we need in the next few years, ChromeOS can match you in the first, but not the second, except via remote-desktop support. One issue with instant-on systems, is trying to get universal support, but Microsoft is at an advantage as it’s already worked with low-level compatibility, are there going to be hitches, I’m sure, but they should still have some ability to solve this problem, along with manufacturers.

Next step is to make their web presence more coherent and simple.  Promote your integrated services together, rather than splitting them across different domains, you have two live office platforms, three email services, and a search engine, and none of them are connected in a highly sensible way. You’ve also failed at promoting these from your main website, because of the kludgy method of navigation and association among your many many products. Simplify. Simplify. Simplify. Simplify. It’s all about simplification so that your users can find what they are looking for; help them out.

Now, you’re doing okay on this next thing, you’ve got Skydrive and Live Mesh, as well as Office 2010 integration with Office Live, but you can still do so much more to make it simple. Google is kicking your ass as simple collaboration, you need to get this right, and make sure you’re doing it better than they are. You need to get syncing to both the cloud and to other devices down, that’s why I recommend you purchasing DropBox, it would provide a great starting point.  This is going to be one of the key changes you need to get right, and get it right, now. The sooner you get people  using your system and having it seamlessly integrated between the desktop-mobile-cloud the better you will be.

Maybe they’ve been working on this in the background, and they’re just failing to compile the parts, or they have failed to have vision as to what they actually have, and how it can be connected. Either way, it seems that Ballmer is stumbling in providing his teams the ability to create a fully integrated system, either he has the vision or he doesn’t; I’d go with the latter. Now, is when they need to make the move, get to work on bringing your teams together, so they can create a seamless experience, and hire new marketing people.

The Halting Point

I’ve hit a point where I have to halt the majority of what I do, and shift focus to current matters at hand. Sadly, this means that I must drop my project, there are multiple reasons, that I’ll get to in a second. I have to figure out my five year plan, as well as my  three month, six month, and annual plans. The rail I’m currently on is running short, and if I don’t switch tracks now the future goes up, I can’t ignore and put off any longer.

As for what I’m referring to, is my current situation, financial, physically, educationally, and “professionally.” Financially, I’m done, I have about 2 months left to handle my bills, which also places me in a position, where I can’t risk it all on the web, the risk to see a turn-around that quickly, isn’t feasible. So in the upcoming months, the blog might shift, sites will go away, but they won’t die or be lost, I have contingencies in place. Physically, a few months ago, I had doctors tell me that I needed to get my thyroid checked out, because it was enlarged, and I had lost close to 20 lbs. in the course of  six months, I failed to make that appointment, and two months later, I’m down another 12 lbs. I’m not a big guy, I’ve never been over 150, so this is a bit of an issue.

Educationally, this has stalled as well, even though I constantly learn something, it’s becoming more and more of a struggle to learn something that is actually of value. I need to make a change, and become more focused in my learning, this is probably my biggest issue, I research topics, as doing so I follow tangents; which is a very interesting way to learn of a new thing, but it doesn’t help with actually learning. Another issue, is I have very broad interests, one second I can be reading up on Accounting or Marketing, the next I could be reading a text on Algorithm Design, or just doing Calculus, this obviously leads into the professional situation.

I don’t have a clue what I want to do professionally, I know what I wanted as a kid, I know where my interests lie, and I know what I’m good at, but that doesn’t help me figure it out, it just makes it murkier. As a child I always wanted to work with computers and robots, I never thought that I’d step back from this position. My interests over the past five years have been in programming, cryptology, economics, finance, business, and design. What I feel at least somewhat competent at is financial analysis, and architectural design.  This of courses, raises issue with what I should do, because I, honestly, don’t have a clue, finance or trying to make my childhood dream work. I don’t know, but I’m leaning toward the financial aspect, and letting the programs slip to the side, which brings me to the project.

The past two years, I’ve focused into  understanding how to analyze data to create semantic content, one of the biggest moves in my thinking was to take the initial load off of the machine, and place it in the hands of a human, the biological entity that understands the semantics of an item. Let the user build the connections, let them do all of the heavy lifting, and then use these seeded inputs as an ever expanding learning set for the machine. This meant making something usable  for a user to interact with, first it was an RSS Reader, then it was a URL shortener, that handled multiple links, then the idea grew into a distributed network of bundled connections. All of these I’ve managed to fail on in some way, except for the last, I’ve just hit a wall as far as I can go on it, with my understanding.

I thought hard over the past week, about seeking a more technical person, or just releasing the current source of the project, after it’s cleaned up a bit. The first way would have the possibility for a good return, but I oddly feel bad about it, it makes me feel like I failed. So I’ll be working to clean up the code, write out lots of the mental documentations I have, as well as collect and clean up the digital and physical documentation, so that others can take the idea to the next level. Currently, there is already a working model of what I saw it being about three-months down the line, at BagtheWeb, they did some things better, mainly having a fully functional product, not just a prototype, but their product is still in early enough stages that it could be caught and surpassed. I just don’t have time, with having to deal with these other issues, to devote  wholeheartedly to the issue.

So I apologize to the people who did play with the project, and provided quite valuable feedback, it wouldn’t be anywhere close to what it is, even as little as it is without you. It won’t be going anywhere for now, but I also doubt updates for the indefinite future. I just have stuff to sort out first, maybe one day I’ll come back to it, with the passion I had, when I was creating a research tool, with a semantic future.