Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Between Madison, Hamilton, and Jackson, it just occurred to me that today's couples may be (slightly) infatuated with naming their children after US Presidents.
Following this train of thought, I've discovered there's quite a treasure trove of names we can derive from our rich Presidential history -
Potential Names (in no particular order)
As for the first three names highlighted, here are their respective definitions -
Hamilton - means "flat topped hill" (ummm...)
Madison - is derived from Madeleine (woman from Magdala)
Jackson - means "son of Jack"
Other Amusing Definitions
Carter - means "one who transports goods"
Pierce - means "rock" (as in "you rock" or "hard as a rock"?)
Tyler - means " worker in roof tiles"
Taylor - means "tailor"
Fillmore - means "very famous" (which is ironic considering Fillmore is probably the least famous of the Presidents); I would have thought the name meant "to fill more" (like what you want the gas attendant to do to your car)
Garfield - means "spear field" (ouch!)
Lincoln - means "lake colony"
Buchanon - means "house of the canon"
Monroe - means "mouth of the river"
Washington - means "clever man's settlement"
With a lot like this, it's no wonder Washington was our first President!
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
The age old question: "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" Of course, chickens come from eggs (fertilized ones), but then that begs the question, where do the eggs come from? Chickens???
Following that line of thought, I began to wonder, where do seedless fruits (like seedless watermelon) come from? After all, a seedless fruit is somewhat of an oxymoron, since a fruit is defined as a mature ovary containing seeds. And if the fruits themselves contain no seeds, how do they propagate?
Turns out seedless fruit plants generally propagate through grafting. In other words, the farmer cuts off a part of the plant and uses it to grow a new one. And this clipping, having the same genetic makeup as its original, essentially produces a clone of the parent. Talk about identical twins gone wild!
However, one thing to note - unlike other seedless fruits, seedless watermelon actually come from seeds, which are produced by crossing diploid and tetraploid lines of watermelon. And the fruits result from pollination provided by neighboring diploid strains.
So, while we can't definitively solve the chicken egg riddle, we (at least) managed to decipher the origins of the seedless watermelon riddle... the seeds came first!
Sunday, April 18, 2010
These days, up on the ivory tower of the boardroom, strategy reigns supreme – so much so, that top executives focused on “big picture” strategy (which is often times mired in charts, graphs, spreadsheets, and presentations) lose sight of the people that make it all happen.
Just watch an episode of CBS’ “CEO Undercover,” and you’ll see what I mean.
It’s a tough balancing act being a good manager – one must lead AND follow. Most managers have the “leading” part of the equation down pat, it’s the following part that still needs work.
In ancient China, a famous imperial advisor once compared the relationship between the king and his ministers to that between the head and the body, which in some ways reveals a truth. Both need each other. The head by itself is useless without the body, and similarly, the body is useless without the head.
After all, a headless body does not know where it’s going, and a bodiless head gets nowhere.
While there is an implicit understanding that both must act in concert with each other, sometimes things get lost in translation, especially as the head becomes farther and farther removed from the body.
With new technological tools at their disposal, managers may feel increasingly confident that they know everything that goes on in their supply chain, making it less likely for them to visit the trenches to see what goes on in the guts of their operations. Heeding to this newfound complacency would be a mistake.
No matter how you slice it, numbers only tell part of the story. The human aspect tells the other part, and cannot be ignored. There are plenty of examples where data points can be misleading. And more importantly, sound theories just don’t always work out in practice.
There needs to be an open dialogue between leaders and workers, based on mutual trust and respect. This relationship needs to be a partnership, so that when problems arise, they can be constructively resolved in a timely manner, without the need for finger pointing and blame.
A manager setting lofty sales targets may be pleased at rising growth rates, unaware that salespeople are stuffing the inventory channel to make current numbers, at the expense of future sales. This would have been more evident if the manager had ongoing dialogues with his sales force.
A manager launching a superior product offering may be unaware that sales are declining because consumers are not sufficiently informed about the product. This would have been different if managers spoke with training and marketing personnel, as well as potential consumers buying their products.
A manager setting new manufacturing productivity protocols may not have realized that these guidelines are causing discontent within the workforce, resulting in an impending strike that would lower future productivity. This would have been different if managers visited their manufacturing plants to witness worker’s reactions to the new plans. At the very least, managers should visit the plants to see the new protocols in action.
Just because we are living in the information age, where data can be accessed at a mouse click (without the need for human interaction) does not mean that old business practices can be tossed aside. The workers are the life-blood of the company. Managers must not forget that.
I am reminded by Sun Tsu’s famous saying from his work Art of War, “Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys. Look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death!”
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
One of my readers recently asked, “How and why do stores like The Sharper Image and catalogs like Sky Mall survive?” After all, one would think the market for a personal ionic air purifier that you wear around the neck, or a Lord of the Rings incense burner shouldn’t be that large - and if you’re catering to such a small customer demographic, it would only seem logical that the amount of sales generated by these niche products would scarcely be able to cover the operating expenses needed to run the businesses (profitably).
Well, turns out these businesses are able to survive. For example, the Sky Mall has been around for nearly two decades, and the Sharper Image (although it declared Chapter 11 in 2008) operated for over 32 years before its shutdown. The reason for this is a concept called the “long tail.”
What is the long tail, you may ask? I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not part of an animal…
It’s a concept popularized by Chris Anderson in an October 2004 Wired magazine article, which highlights the art of selling less of more. Turns out, in a market with a high freedom of choice, people will gravitate towards the upper 20% of items sold (for example, scented candles v. LOR incense burners, or pop music v. alternative, or CNN.com v. some unknown blog site). The other 80% is much less popular. In business, this is generally referred to as the “80/20 rule.”
You’re probably now wondering, if people only buy the top 20% of items, doesn’t that make the other 80% worthless? Not necessarily.
Even though 20% of the products out there are deemed “bestsellers” or “blockbusters,” products in low demand or have low sales volume (those in the other 80%) can collectively make up a market share that rivals or even exceeds best-selling products. The total sales of these “non-hit items” are the Long Tail. And the trick to capturing this “long tail” (those in the 80% group) is “variety.”
For example, if you only sold LOR incense burners, you would only capture a fraction of the population who liked LOR and incense (and more importantly, the two combined together – a very small population indeed). However, if you sold LOR incense burners and Star Trek coasters, and all other things sci fi, you would broaden your customer appeal to comic book lovers, astronomy aficionados, and nerds/geeks everywhere. And if you broadened your inventory of niche products even further, your customer base would grow even larger.
The long tail is pretty obvious when it comes to a business like eBay (think about the weird things you find there). However, it’s also found in more traditional businesses like Amazon, Netflix, and even Wal*Mart. Amazon used to be just books, but now it’s toys, electronics, appliances – and even niche items like spare cell phone parts and memorabilia. Netflix not only offers blockbusters, but foreign films and artsy films that cater to only a small subset of the population.
So remember, it’s all about variety. As some say, variety is the spice of life, and the long tail proves that true. So, next time you peruse through the Sky Mall catalog and think, “What kind of weirdo would buy that?” Just remember, one weirdo may not make a difference, but a bunch of weirdoes is a powerful thing (because they make up a long tail)…
Thursday, November 5, 2009
I've noticed it's become much more common for women to hyphenate their last names when they get married. Perhaps it's to retain their independence, or individuality, or to preserve their family history (when there are no males to carry on the family name). Whatever the case, it makes for an interesting topic of discussion. For one, what happens when the next generation of hyphenated last names hits the block?
Will last names turn into complex amalgamations, like names of law firms or merged investment banks? The name Carol Lynn-Johnson sounds alright, but what about Carol Lynn-Johnson-Smyth-Simpson-Thatcher-Adams? What was your last name again? On the bright side, the hyphen key (which has been much neglected on the keyboard) would finally see the light of day. On the other hand, imagine filling out your name to apply for a driver's license or a standardized test! I recently read that the investment bank Fox Pitt's full name is "Fox-Pitt Kelton Cochran Caronia Waller." What a mouthful! That even tops Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. And by that logic, should there be JP Morgan Chase Bear Stearns Washington Mutual? What if we truncated names after a certain point - how would you decide what stays and what goes?
Then again, what if we merged last names together, kind of like how "spoon" and "fork" combine to form "spork"? I mean, some West Indian and Russian cultures ascribe to this naming convention. Though, that could lead to some amusing results. For example, if Robert Butts marries Jody Kissinger, would she be called Mrs. Jody Buttkissinger?
And what if last names turned into rolling couplets? True, the FIFO naming convention would surely cut down on the wordiness of last names, but it would also create some confusion. Are the Larke-Friar's of Connecticut related to the Potato-Friars of Idaho? I don't know... maybe Shakespeare was wrong - perhaps there is more to a name...
For now, tradition seems to have fallen by the wayside, which means the Scrabble board is still in play. Alphabet soup, anyone?
Sunday, October 18, 2009
In business, it is often thought that the secret to success is to deliver what your customer wants. Therefore, the logical solution is to ask your customer.
Unfortunately, things are not that simple. Often times, customers don't know what they want, and companies that soley rely on customer feedback to determine their new product pipeline inherently fail at the innovation game.
For example, if you asked a person in the 1800's what they really wanted in a transportation device, they would probably reply, "a faster horse." And in response, a horse seller would innovate his product line by feeding his horses a better diet, or putting them on a more intensive training regiment in attempts to create the "faster horse." Using this methodology of thinking, there would be no way the horse seller would move his new product line towards the development of an automobile, which would eventually displace horses. On the same note, the consumer would probably never envision a four-wheeled rolling steel carriage capable of carrying them quickly from point A to point B. Both would fail at the innovation game.
More recently, in the 1970's, if you asked a secretary what they wanted in a device that would improve their lives, they would probably respond, "a more versatile typewriter, that would allow them to correct mistakes on the fly." The typewriter maker, in attempts to satisfy their customer's request would look towards adding a "white-out" feature to their typewriter, and call it a day. Both parties would fail to see the potential of the computer (which was originally considered to be a big, clunky adding machine). And the computer would eventually displace both secretaries and typewriters, effectively putting both the customer and the manufacturer out of business.
I'm not berating the customer or the manufacturer - just pointing out how hard the innovation game is. In both examples, both parties acted rationally (to the best of their abilities, yet both parties failed). This is because customers don't know what they want (they only know what they like or dislike), and on the flip side, manufacturers have no crystal ball for telling the future.
Sure, ask the first person whether they like the automobile, fax machine, or cell phone, and they will nod fervently (with an emphatic YES), but ask them what they will need in the future, and they will either shrug their shoulders (or settle for the status quo).
In short, businesses that continue to succeed need to think out of the box. They need to take giant leaps, not baby steps - and therefore, if you're a manufacturer that's just plodding along, you might need to "think differently" (to paraphrase Apple's old slogan). This seems pretty self evident, but it actually isn't - that's why so many successful businesses fail.
Leading manufacturers need to anticipate what customers want in the future, before they even think it. They have to innovate, and take the leap of faith that their customers will eventually move in that same direction - and that's the difference between good and great.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
The phrase "the pen is mightier than the sword" is commonly attributed to the old English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who coined the phrase in his 1839 play, Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy, though it has appeared in many forms prior. For example, in 1600, Shakespeare in Hamlet stated (through the character Rosencrantz) that "many wearing rapiers are afraid of goosequills." And the Greek playwright Euripides (who died in 406 BC) had supposedly written, "the tongue is mightier than the blade." Before that, the Old and New Testaments state, "Indeed the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart."
Clearly, this powerful phrase has penetrated the hearts and souls of many - and stood the test of time.
This got me thinking - what would a more updated version of this concept be? After all, writing implements have long gone to the wayside (with the advent of computers) and the only time we see swords are in fencing matches (or movies).
Hmmm... how about the keyboard is mightier than the semi-automatic machine gun? Or facebook and twitter and mightier than the atomic bomb?
Perhaps there's something to be said about our society, where everything is already electronic (or in the process of going electronic). For today's youth, there's little concept of a non-virtual universe, let alone electronic relics, like record players, cassettes, land lines, or even remote-less TVs. They've become dependent on a online world that they've assumed will exist forever (simply because it's existed all their lives).
When today's archaeologists dig up the past, they find physical evidence of stone tablets and withered papyrus sheets, filled with cryptic symbols that they struggle to decipher. Even so, for them, there's concrete evidence that these civilizations took the time to (thoughtfully) solidify their thoughts and opinions in a highly accessible medium (possibly for the benefit of future generations).
What happens when future generations dig up our past, only to find plastic shells, silicon chips, and magnetic plates? Without the tools to uncover what lies hidden beneath, will they think of us as uncultured heathens and hoarders of metal and plastic?
Technology has allowed us to store vast amounts of information, but it has also created a very virtual medium for all of this data. This works well - as long as the power doesn't shut down.
Years from now, when we pull the plug, will all of this go away? And what will future generations do, when they have to revert back to ink (and gasp) paper?
Just a thought.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Have you ever played the handheld game 20Q and wondered how it works? It's a pretty ordinary looking plastic orb that's sold in most toy stores, but no matter what you think of, it seems to miraculously read your mind (by asking you just 20 questions) - which makes it quite extraordinary!
Like me, you probably thought it was a cheap parlor trick. In actuality, it isn't. Turns out 20Q uses a form of artificial intelligence called neural networks to figure out what you're thinking.
The computer program not only asks for input, but also has the ability to draw its own conclusions on how to interpret the information you provide. With every game played, it develops more knowledge and learns, and like an actual human brain, it builds synaptic connections from the information it receives.
In fact, the online version of the game, which garners far more playtime than individual 20Q games (which sometimes get neglected in the toy chest), has developed about 10,000,000 synaptic connections - and the more games 20Q plays, the smarter it gets.
What's more stunning is the program can learn and adapt. For example, if the player was thinking of a "horse" and answered "No" to the question "Is it an animal?," the neural network would still guess correctly, despite being told that a horse is not an animal.
In effect, 20Q is not only good as guessing things, but it also can read between the lines and ignore irrelevant information. Furthermore, it is not bound by emotional biases or other human frailties, and in some ways can serve a human "lie detector" test.
Just think of all the conflicting and competing information that we get inundated with during the day. What if a program like 20Q could cut through the clutter and tell us what people are really thinking? And what if it told us what people's true motivations were, even if they told us otherwise. It's both an exciting (and scary) thought.
Today, a lot of needless arguments arise because people simply can't read minds. But what if computers can?
On a personal level, there would no longer be an excuse for not doing something because you didn't know what someone was thinking - that would certainly help guys out on the dating (and marriage) front.
From a business standpoint, the human psyche (which remains a black box) would be open for the public to see (and possibly exploit). And unlike Mel Gibson from the movie "What Women Want," you wouldn't need to paint your nails, dress up in pantyhose, and get struck by lightening.
In essence, it would be a heightened form of reality - and all it would take is for you to answer 20 questions...
Ready for question #1?
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Have you ever used Re-Gift Robin and wondered how it works?
First try it out (http://www.regiftable.com), then view the proof below -
The trick lies in the number 9
All of the items corresponding with a multiple of nine on the grid are the same re-gift...
Here's the simple mathematical proof:
f = first digit of the number
s = second digit of the number
= (10*f) + (1*s) - f - s
= 10 * f - f
= 9 * f
The website randomly changes the item every time, so that it seems like they're playing a Jedi mind trick on you...
But don't be fooled! ;-)
Thursday, September 10, 2009
We’re all born with a sense of wonderment. As children, our curiosity and our never-ending drive to learn have led us to achieve many milestones in our lives: from our first steps, to learning to read and write, to finishing up high school and beyond.
In the early days, we were taught that if we stumbled, we should get back up and try again (like the little train that could, or the tortoise from that famous fable). We had no fear of trying new things (or failing). We expected no reward for our success, aside from the sheer joy of accomplishment. We had no expectations. We were free to explore successes and failures alike without judgment or ridicule.
However, somewhere between then and now, we became trapped. We started worrying about what others thought about us. We started measuring our success. We started to be set in our ways. We started to be complacent. We started to be lazy.
True, we had come a long way from where we’ve been, and we had accomplished quite a bit. We had risen to a certain level in life, but it also made us wary of looking down, because the fall would be too great. We felt we earned ourselves a break, having worked so hard before. We became enamored by our successes and crippled by our failures. And somewhere between then and now, success and perfection became ideals that we could not live without, and failure became a curse word deemed unacceptable.
What causes this? Dr. Carol Dweck calls it the “CEO disease” – I call it pride (incidentally, one of the seven deadly sins). CEOs (surrounded by “yes” men) face this dilemma all the time. Should they continue doing what they’ve been accustomed to doing, or should they change course at the risk of looking stupid?
Lots of famous people get the CEO disease. Lee Iacocca had it. After his initial success as head of Chrysler Motors, he kept bringing out the same car models over and over again with superficial changes. This worked well for a while, until eventually these became the models that nobody wanted.
Tennis star John McEnroe also is a classic case. He would make excuses about why he lost matches, rather than doubling his efforts to succeed the next time around. This cost him his career.
Even ordinary people get this disease. They become complacent in their lives. They take people for granted. They become too self-centered.
Pride makes you feel like you have something to lose, and making excuses provides a mental cushion for mistakes. It’s often easier to say you “could have” or “should have” done something without actually doing it, than to put all of your heart and soul into something just to see it fail.
Leaders who are successful are usually humble enough to admit their mistakes and to change course when they’re wrong. For example, Steve Jobs was publicly fired from a company that he himself built, but rather than mope on his “fall from grace,” he started two companies (Pixar and Next) and later returned to Apple to turnaround the company he started. He realized that (even he) had nothing to lose – that every day could be his last. Similarly, Michael Bloomberg was fired from Salomon Brothers only to end up creating one of the largest financial media conglomerates, and to become the mayor of New York.
In his commencement speech to Stanford graduates in 2005, Steve Jobs’s advice came from the last issue of “The Whole Earth Catalog,” which featured a photograph of an early morning country road with the caption saying, “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”
Perhaps if we all took this advice, and were a little more foolish (and a little more humble), we’d be better off… because we all have nothing to lose (and everything to gain).
Monday, September 7, 2009
It may be mere coincidence, but the number 1.61803 has been popping up everywhere - from art to mathematics to science to nature and beyond. Nobody exactly knows what makes this number so special, but its mere impact on everything we see, touch, feel, taste, and hear should be proof enough of its importance.
Once denoted by the Greek letter tau (now represented by the Greek letter phi), this number is often referred to as the "golden ratio" - and some call it the "divine ratio" or "divine proportion," given its unique properties and prevalence in nature.
Euclid first defined the "divine proportion" in 300 B.C. as the ratio produced when a "whole line is to the greater segment, as the greater is to the less." In other words, assuming a line segment ACB, the divine ratio is the ratio at which AC/CB = AB/AC. Specifically, the ratio equals 0.5 *(1+sqrt(5)), or approximately 1.61803.
Since Euclid's accidental discovery, this ratio has appeared in many unexpected places, leading biologists, artists, musicians, historians, architects, psychologists, and even mystics to ponder on its ubiquity and appeal. Intellectuals have attempted to uncover the meaning behind this "golden ratio" for the past 2,400 years, but to this day, more is known about where it exists, than why it exists.
Below are some places where the "divine ratio" is found:
Fibonacci Sequence - A Fibonacci sequence is constructed by summing the two preceding numbers to produce the next number. The divine ratio is used to calculate the nth number in a Fibonacci sequence.
Trigonometry - The trigonometric functions (and natural logs) can be defined using the "divine ratio."
Human Heartbeat - The human heartbeat is often considered to be an integral part of the human soul. It has been shown that a heartbeat that follows the "divine ratio" represents a state of health, peace, and harmony."
Human anatomy - Each section of your index finger is proportionately larger than the preceding one by the "divine ratio." The ratio of your forearm to your hand is also the "divine ratio." Your feet follow the divine ratio: 1) the middle arch of the foot 2) the widest part of the foot 3) the base oft the toe line and the big toe. And it doesn't stop at that - your body, your face, even your teeth follow the divine ratio!
DNA - The double helix of a DNA molecule follows the "divine ratio."
Nature - The spiral of sea shells, the eye-like markings of moths, and even the dimensions of a dolphin's body follow the "divine ratio." This can be applied to all other types of fish, birds, mammals, and insects.
Plants - Flower petals, fruit seed, and tree branches have been shown to follow the "divine ratio."
Beauty - De Divina Proportione by Luca Pacioli, a three-volume work published in 1509 suggests the golden ratio's application yields pleasing, harmonious proportions, which we interpret as beauty.
Architecture - Studies show the Parthenon and the Great Mosque of Kairouan's proportions approximate the "divine ratio."
Painting - The "divine ratio" was employed in Leonardo da Vinci's illustrations in De Divina Proportione and the Mona Lisa, Salvador Dalí's The Sacrament of the Last Supper, many of Mondrian's works.
Music - The "divine ratio" appears in a variety of works, including Debussy's Image, Reflections in Water.
Technical Analysis - Elliott Wave Theory uses the "divine ratio" to predict up and down movements in the stock market.
Space - Anything from the distance between planets, to the structure of Saturn's rings relates to the "divine ratio."
In many ways, the "divine ratio" seems way too methodical to be random. It provides a sort of harmonious predictability in a world where things are often times considered to be unorganized and chaotic. It also unifies us all. Perhaps this is part of the divine message: we all come from the same place. We may never fully understand the relevance behind the actual number itself, but the beauty that manifests itself from this ratio is truly "divine" - and it doesn't take much brain power to see that...