Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Catchy Name Is Indispensable

I think a significant chunk of the success of a product or marketing campaign is often attributable to catchy naming. I've noticed several very mudane business processes that are made to sound much more exciting and sophisticated via a cool-sounding name:

Sky-hooking: back in the 80s, when insurance claims still arrived as paper, and before off-shoring was in the dictionary, an insurance company sent boxes of claims, air-freight, to Ireland, to take advantage of lower-wage, English speaking labor to process them. The sky part obviously came from the airflight aspect of the process. I really don't know what, if anything, hooking derived from, unless perhaps it was some kind of pre-existing claims-processing lingo.

Blow-back to paper: 5 years ago, the idea of receiving mortgage documents via DVD was somewhat cutting-edge. So cutting-edge, in fact, that we had no processes for internally processing them as images. Our vendor, Xerox, helpfully explained to us that was no problem, there imaging workflow included the option to "blow back to paper". Translation: mass-print the entire contents of the DVD, for further processing 100% unchanged from the past generation of dead-tree-oriented workflow.

Skip-tracing: in the debt-servicing industry, this refers to the process of methodically filling in gaps in address records.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Finally, the Perfect Use for Texting

This has been a very rainy spring here in Minnesota. I have 3 kids in practices, and am coordinator for one of their teams. More than once, it has been touch-and-go as to whether weather would cause a practice to be canceled. When storms threaten, several things happen, all bad:
  • Parents call the coaches cell phone all afternoon.
  • Some parents don't get cancellation emails in time, and make the trip for nothing
  • Other parents assume practice is canceled, when it isn't
While email is very convenient, it is often not timely enough. One, because not everyone carries a BlackBerry; two, because many people use the work email address.

It finally dawned on me that texting was the solution. Everybody carries cell phones, all the time, and texting is very near-real-time.

But I didn't want to solicit and hand-enter 40 or more cell phone numbers (2-3 per athlete). And I wanted all 3 coaches to be able to send the cancellation (or non-cancellation) message.

I looked around the web a little bit, and found a site called It's basically a newsgroup for texting. Ad-supported. It has the key features I need:
  1. Self-service registering for the members (parents).
  2. Ability to designate administrators--the only people who can send messages to the group.
  3. Ability to send texts to the group from a computer.
I put out the word to the parents only two days ago, expecting to have low participation. I figured maybe after the next time it was a rainout, that would motivate more people to sign up. But this spring being the wet, unpredictable season it has been, 48 hours later we had our first opportunity to use it. When I logged in, I was surprised to see 23 members registered.

It seemed to work well, one of the parents even replied (by email) thanking me for setting it up, and another replied by text. To be honest, I am surprised this hasn't caught on more. This seems like a very obvious area for Google to move into.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Environmentalism Issue Strategy Memo, Part III

In Parts I and II, we looked at how hard it is to get consumers to focus, in a deep and sustained way, on the stuff that really matters in improving the environment. In Part III, I put forth an idea that seems like it might, just might, in some small way, work.

We need a solution that measures and displays electrical consumption in real-time. The solution I envision would involve wirelessly transmitting power consumption data for appliances to a small screen, conveniently mounted in the kitchen or family room. Ideally, major appliances would each have a built-in transmitter. In the meantime, X10-style plug in modules for major appliances would go a long way.

Clever graphical representation of the data would be the other piece of the puzzle. Showing people how much more $ and carbon they consumed the day they kept their thermostat at 72, versus when they set it at 65, etc.

Postscript 2008-05-14

This city-sized, accidental experiment in Juneau is interesting:
“People are suddenly interested in talking about their water heaters,” said Maria Gladziszewski, who handles special projects for the city manager’s office. “As they say, it’s a teachable moment.”

Postscript 2008-01-25

This experiment demonstrates the potential:
The results of the research project...suggest that if households have digital tools to set temperature and price preferences, the peak loads on utility grids could be trimmed by up to 15 percent a year.

MS just does not get user experience

In addition to letting their OEM partners load the machines with crapware/trialware, they are now going to force us to take a lousy OS, Vista, whether we want it or not. I think Apple will slowly eat their lunch. What an irony that MS is reknowned for its senior management being cognizant of the fact that tech supremacy rarely lasts.

You would think MS-Access would be smart enough

to recognize its own auto-assigned PKs, and not try to auto-link them when you add tables with them to the query pane.

Facebook / LinkedIn feature idea

LinkedIn has checkboxes for you to indicate what you are interested in (keeping in touch, career opportunities, etc). I don't find them to be very useful, though. Especially for potential job seekers, I would like a rating of 1-5 to indicate interest level in job opportunities:
  • 1 = Very Motivated (i.e., unemployed)
  • 2 = Motivated (i.e., worried about losing job or hate job)
  • 3 = Interested (i.e., looking for a better opportunity, but in no hurry)
  • 4 = Would Consider the Right Opportunity (i.e., it would have to be my dream job)
  • 5 = Not Interested
I know that when I have been looking to fill positions, I would have found this very, very useful in mining my network.

Dumbest Feature (Not) in MS Office

There is absolutely no incremental versioning. One wrong click and everything is lost. Whereas Google docs automagically gives you many, many versions.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Eat for Exercise Recovery

Not that I am by any stretch a talented athlete, but the way people complain about soreness, I've just never understood it. I get a little sore, but it just doesn't feel that bad. However, I do like to eat, a lot, and I really, really like protein. So that might explain a lot.