avg(exception) = nothing

I'm on this mailing list where everybody is suddenly raving over this new book "The Information".  Amazon describes it as:

In a sense, The Information is a book about everything, from words themselves to talking drums, writing and lexicography, early attempts at an analytical engine, the telegraph and telephone, ENIAC, and the ubiquitous computers that followed. But that's just the "History." The "Theory" focuses on such 20th-century notables as Claude Shannon, Norbert Wiener, Alan Turing, and others who worked on coding, decoding, and re-coding both the meaning and the myriad messages transmitted via the media of their times. In the "Flood," Gleick explains genetics as biology's mechanism for informational exchange--Is a chicken just an egg's way of making another egg?--and discusses self-replicating memes (ideas as different as earworms and racism) as information's own evolving meta-life forms. Along the way, readers learn about music and quantum mechanics, why forgetting takes work, the meaning of an "interesting number," and why "[t]he bit is the ultimate unsplittable particle." What results is a visceral sense of information's contemporary precedence as a way of understanding the world, a physical/symbolic palimpsest of self-propelled exchange, the universe itself as the ultimate analytical engine. If Borges's "Library of Babel" is literature's iconic cautionary tale about the extreme of informational overload, Gleick sees the opposite, the world as an endlessly unfolding opportunity in which "creatures of the information" may just recognize themselves. --Jason Kirk

I don't know about you, but I can't piece together anything meaningful other than "Wow wow wow!!!!!"

I'm really curious to hear if anybody who reads the book actually changes their opinion on anything as a result.  I fear a lot of these books just have "something for everybody" such that you walk away feeling stronger in your belief no matter what that belief is.  Sorta like MSG: it makes everything taste better, without having any flavor by itself.  I'd love to hear somebody say "I've held this passionate belief my entire life, but as a result of reading this book I've changed my mind."

Somewhat related, I spoke at a conference recently, and the other presenters had these really incredible, well-researched, inspiring presentations.  But I realized afterwards that a major problem with so many of these broad trend analyzes is they lack statistical relevance.

For example, I find everybody talks about Twitter, Facebook, Google, and a half-dozen mega names -- and then draws inferences based on them.  But that's equivalent to "averaging the exceptions", which just isn't a valid technique: the problem with outliers is they're *outliers* and by definition defy the baseline trends.  They are too few and too different to be summarized in any meaningful way.

Rather, I think these business-fad, pop-psychology, averaging-the-exception techniques just create hysteria and excitement where perhaps none is really warranted.  Even if they're 100% "accurate", they're so incredibly imprecise as to be non-actionable.  Said another way, even if you're totally right on predicting the wave, if you can't say with any certainty the time and magnitude when it will hit, it's not worth getting excited about.

Don't get me wrong, hysteria and excitement are great ways to sell books or promote products.  But as the people being sold and promoted *to*, it's in our interests to take these fantastic claims -- each of which seems increasingly fantastic with increasing frequency -- with a corresponding amount of skepticism and composure.

iPad is a Handbag

I'm here at the Kynetx Impact conference (come see me talk tomorrow at 11am!) learning about the "live web" through a series of keynotes.  One of those keynotes will be moderated by Robert Scoble, and he happens to be sitting 5' to my left as I type these words.  A few minutes ago I was labeled a "curmudgeon" (I didn't know that word was used anymore!  but I managed to spell it right on first shot, so go me) for being an iPad skeptic.  Robert took it upon himself to explain to me why the iPad is so incredible... and alas, it didn't take.  But while he was trying, I think I learned *why* I'm an iPad skeptic: because it's primarily a fashion accessory, and I'm not fashionable.

Now that's a bold statement.  (The first one, not the second.)  You might say "but it clearly has better workmanship than any competitor!" and "it does all sorts of genuinely helpful things!"  And those statements are definitely true.  But the same could be said of a haute couture handbag -- many of which cost vastly more than an iPad despite doing so much less.

I've been toying with this notion for a while, but it really rung for me as Robert was trying to extol the virtues of the iPad -- clearly incredulous that I wasn't blown away. 

He brought up an app that shows a ton of videos in a huge virtual wall: an impressive work that looks super cool for browsing random videos.  But I never do that; I probably look at a video sent to me by some friend maybe once a week, probably less.  I'd never ever sit down and just randomly browse videos.

Then he brought up Wolfram Alpha, showing the periodic table in an amazingly gorgeous, exquisite way.  But I haven't needed a periodic table since high school.

Then there was the cool news reader, this neat app for learning fiddles, etc.  All of them are really neat, fantastic executions of their concept.  Executions that simply couldn't be done on any other device -- executions that are made *possible* by the iPad.

But their incredible executions of concepts that range from mildly to totally uninteresting.  Given that, I just couldn't get excited about them, and that was clearly not the reaction he intended.

At this point we highlighted that I'm incredibly far off the edge when it comes to my habits.  I don't watch TV, I don't have a car, I work more or less continuously, and when I'm not on my absurdly-small laptop I'm drinking wine with my wife and walking my beagle.  I carry a Palm Pre (which replaced my Sidekick), I use Verizon Broadband (and Ricochet back in the day), etc, etc.  He said "you make me look mainstream".

Given all that, it's possible that I'm just so overworked and socially deficient that I simply cannot conceive of this value that is universally recognized by everyone else.  It's possible.

But I don't buy it.  I think a more simple explanation is that I'm simply not fashionable.

I think when most people see an iPad, they see this incredible world of possibilities -- and they want to participate in that world, even if  
they don't personally use those possibilities in any meaningful way (or even if many of those possibilities don't actually exist yet).  And I actually think that feeling of participation is akin or even equivalent to fashion.

For example, Robert said Android wouldn't compete with iPhone until it had 10,000 *good* apps.  But then he acknowledged that virtually everyone is always playing Angry Birds, or one of a tiny set of other apps.  So I don't think the 10K app collection is important because people actually use those apps.  I think it's necessary to create this image of endless possibility -- without that, the suspension of disbelief that's so critical to fashion just isn't there.

Similar to fashionable clothing.  A common theme is they always use the best materials, the highest quality stitching, the most exotic product placements and high-class endorsements, etc.  I think all of these are necessary to create this image of supreme quality that justifies a 10x purchase price (or 10x brand loyalty) despite only being marginally better in any measurable way.

Indeed, when I look back on my extreme product choices in the past, they actually *were* the best.  I was doing email and browsing real webpages on my phone in 2002.  I had wireless broadband in 2000.  Compared to any Mac laptop, mine has a longer battery life, higher resolution screen, a smaller form factor, and built-in Verizon Broadband, etc.  They were genuinely better than the other options at the time, but those options just weren't fashionable.

But my point isn't to tout my awesomeness (though I could do that all day).  Nor is my point to say the iPad isn't awesome (it is), or that tablets aren't superior to laptops for certain use cases (they are, though in far fewer cases than is usually claimed).

Rather, I'm saying the iPad -- like any fashion accessory -- isn't nearly awesome as people say it is, and most of its differentiating value over other tablets is simply the strength of Apple's brand in telling a story of infinite possibilities, most of which don't actually matter, and many of which don't yet exist.

Google testing new amazing knowledge feature?

I haven't seen this mentioned anywhere, but see screenshot below.  I was curious when PayCycle was founded, so I searched "paycycle founded".  Google apparently saw enough similarity in the search results that rather than just giving me the links, it gave me *the answer*. Especially interesting because not all of the answers were right (eg, the second search result is clearly wrong).  Pretty amazing!

Founder and CEO of Expensify
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