Thursday, October 24, 2013

Bitlock: Bluetooth Bike Lock

Bitlock, a Kickstarter project for a Bluetooth-equipped bike lock, looks like it has a lot potential. It is a nice example of one more physical thing that a mobile device can replace. More than once, I have embarked on a local bike errand, only to realize I forgot the key to the lock.

So the obvious number one benefit is--one fewer physical object in life to keep track of. Based on the video, a close second is the effortless proximity unlock. Fishing out one's key, and fiddling with it in the lock, is a bit of a hassle. Instant, effortless proximity unlock (it's not NFC, you don't have to hold your phone against the lock) is a big value-add.[1]

The video goes on to describe more esoteric use cases, mostly variations on ad-hoc bike sharing. While novel and intriguing, I suspect these are, for most people, the features that look cool in the demo, but never get used in real life. That's fine--the two core features are compelling enough.[2]

The Kickstarter price is $99, not bad. U-Locks are pricey, easily $50-70 in the bike shop, so if this works as advertised, for a frequent bike commuter, could be well worth it.

As an aside--if I were an incumbent seller of U-Locks, I would make this a Manhattan project internally. It's kind of amazing that this hasn't already come on the market. Classic example of the adage that innovation comes from startups, not incumbents.

[1] It looks like they have covered the important exception case of phone unavailable, with provision for a pre-assigned code. Nice touch.

[2] They say a 5-year battery life, and weatherproof. So assuming that is as-advertised, they have those important details covered.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Example of Doc *Not* Disabusing Patient of Placebo Belief

I'm always interested in placebo effect and in particular, the ethics of leveraging it. Here is an interesting case of a doc explicitly speaking to his approach of not warning a patient off a benign placebo:
On the other hand, Felson says he doesn't disabuse patients of the notion that the supplements are helping if patients truly believe they are, even though a month's supply can cost $30 to $50. "Far be it from me to take away either the placebo effect or an idiosyncratic reaction that might be of benefit," he says.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Changing Accepted Terms is Annoying "Inside Baseball"

Promulgating a new term, getting a name or acronym to become generally accepted, is often an important goal for an organization. Sometimes, the term in question constitutes an annoying exercise in branding or euphemism (think "gaming" for gambling), of course, but often, a generally accepted term is a useful addition to the collective vocabulary. Thus, it annoys me is when some insider constituency attempts to unilaterally alter the usage of a generally accepted term.

A couple of examples that I have noticed recently:

MEA is an abbreviation for the Minnesota Education Association. It is also shorthand for the two-day teacher's conference/fall break throughout the state of Minnesota. Everybody with school-age kids, or who went to school in the state, knows exactly what someone means when they say "Oh, I'm taking off next week for MEA". It's a great example of deep branding. So what does the Association do? They rename their conference to "Education Minnesota Professional Conference". Everybody still calls it "MEA".

GLBT/LGBT. Sometime in the past decade, the acronym GLBT took hold as an umbrella term, covering the overlapping concerns of Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual and Trans-gendered persons. It was actually quite an achievement to get this to become an accepted term, given both the political disagreements involved, and the lingusitic un-loveliness of the term. But it succeeded--even people with hostile to the general thrust of the GLBT "movement" would recognize, and probably even use, the term. So then, seems like a couple of years ago, those in the know suddenly starting using "LGBT". 
It's not hard to imagine this is a well-meaning nod toward equality, within a constituency that is probably extra-sensitive to anything that smacks of inequality and unfairness. But it is just too soon, and too arbitrary. What's next--BTGL? Bi-annual rotation of the letters, until all 24 permutations have been covered? This change is just too silly, and too much "inside baseball"--especially for a movement that is likely already suspected by some to be obsessed with "political correctness".
UPDATE 01/25/14: Moving toward parody, apparently the latest is "LGBTQ".
There are some techniques for evolving a publicly accepted term or brand:

  • Combine the old and new, to form a transitional compound. E.g., "MEA--Teachers' Professional Conference". 
  • Retain the initials, making them vestigal--e.g., KFC, 3M.
  • Or, if it can be pulled off, change the meaning but keep the acronym--"Minnesota Educators Annual Conference Weekend", would work as "MEA Weekend" for short..

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Obama Should Throw the Republicans a Bone, then Declare

The nature of Speaker John Boehner’s final battle with the White House on the budget crisis is now clear: It doesn’t matter what House Republicans win in exchange for raising the debt ceiling and re-opening government, as long as they win something...
...And that’s precisely why the president can’t agree to it, even though the impact would be minimal.
I'm extremely sympathetic to this argument, but I have an idea for an alternative. Obama gives the Republicans the smallest, least harmful thing that will provide the fig leaf they seek. Then, as soon a the dust settles, he explains what he has done. In plain language, explains how the Republicans sausage was made.

Fadwatch: High Intensity Workouts

a few minutes of any strenuous exercise is sufficient to improve various measures of health and fitness.
Prediction: super-high-intensity workouts will be a fad. Reminds me of the publicity, a few years back, that insinuated 30 minutes a day of puttering in the garden was about as good as a regular exercise routine.

Not to mention, the people attracted by very short, very intense workouts are not the kind of people who will want to endure the pain they involve.