Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Uncle Charlie, Jingles, and Co-creation

When I was a kid my father used to take my brother and me to go see Uncle Charlie, who was actually a great uncle or some other kind of second or third order relative. I remember very clearly that he had several toasters, and a collection of small appliances. Today we might think that poor Uncle Charlie or Aunt Evangeline was hooked on QVC or some other shopping channel. But back then it was the fruit of Uncle Charlie's jingles. For those of you not yet of a certain age, the term jingle may be a little unfamiliar. From Wikipedia:
A jingle is a short song or tune used in advertising and for other commercial uses. The jingle contains one or more hooks and meaning that explicitly promote the product or service being advertised, usually through the use of one or more advertising slogans. Ad buyers use jingles in radio and television commercials; they can also be used in non-advertising contexts to establish or maintain a brand image.
Here is an example of some jingles played on the radio in the 1950's; Soundcloud has a pretty large selection. Most jingles were composed by professional jingle writers, but contests funded by advertisers were big in the 1950's and 1960's and some of those contests were to elicit jingles from the public. I don't know when my uncle decided to try this out but by the number of duplicate household items in their house, I imagine it had been more than something to wile away his years of retirement. It also appears he was pretty good at this. Some people took this to another level and Evelyn Ryan was able to help support her family through her jingle writing/composing; there was even a book and a movie made about her, so it was really a thing back then.

Yannig Roth's blog has an excellent post about this phenomenon, and he makes the point that using contests to get jingles and recipes from ordinary people was a very early form of what we now call crowdsourcing. (I know, how meta to have a link to Wikipedia's definition of crowdsourcing) Today, crowdsourcing efforts are enabled and amplified by the connectivity of the internet. But I see that there is more to crowdsourcing that Amazon's Mechanical Turks, which focus primarily on distributing microtasks to anyone with an internet connection; this can be a bit of translation or image recognition and this is an example of an act of co-creation, albeit not usually an act where one received recognition for the addition of intellectual property.

At its best co-creation enables and engages the imaginative and innovative energy of its participants. Examples are:

  • Github where those who create in code can collaborate. The community includes companies who use the platform to securely host and manage their code, open source communities such as The Apache Software Foundation, and I also have my own bits and bobs of code.
  • Thingiverse where those who create shapes for 3D printers can share their ideas; many shapes can be downloaded and edited by anyone and then shared again.
  • Lego Ideas where fans can submit their ideas for Lego© sets to be voted on by other Lego fans- and 10,000 "thumbs-up" guarantees that your idea will be reviewed by Lego designers. There are also subject-specific contests where the top 25 votegetters will be assessed by judges and the winner will receive "The opportunity to have your model adapted into an exclusive LEGO Gift with Purchase set".
  • GE’s FirstBuild micro factory, "a kind of crowdsourcing makerspace for people to collaborate with GE to design appliances" (Makezine). 

The last two items in the list above demonstrate how a commercial entity (as big as GE) works to reduce the cost of developing new products by allowing "super users" (and "super fans" in the case of Lego) to provide ideas and feedback before sending a product out for retail "on spec".

So it's a long road from my Uncle Charlie's jingles providing my Aunt Evangeline with far more toasters that could fit into her kitchen to GE and other companies (DeWalt & Price Chopper) providing a platform for customers to go from consumer to co-creator. But the constant is to increase a sense of buy-in to the product or service by engaging people's creativity.

Anyone else out there have an experience with co-creating? Jingle-writing??

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Multipotentialites - Thank you Emilie Wapnick!

This post is a slightly modified version of a response I gave to a blog post about the difference between ADD and Multipotentiality (see below for more on that).

I was diagnosed with ADD as an adult. The criteria seemed to fit and I had always wondered what was "wrong" with me that I could never seem to settle on any one particular career path.

Some history: Out of college I worked in Silicon Valley in the late 70's and early 80's, moved to construction for the next 13 years, to programming in the mid-90's, and from 2000 on I "settled' on biomedical informatics. At least that discipline had enough dimensions that it kept me pretty much on the same career path.

So in 2004 I had that diagnosis. I started to take Adderall regularly and it did seem to help. I had always been a big coffee drinker so this just seemed like coffee on steroids. However last year I had a big crisis at work where everything seemed to fall apart. Talk about feeling like a total imposter! I had a complete meltdown, something I had not had since I was in high school. After I got a horrible review at work I decided I had to really get coaching for my ADD.

Luckily I went to see a neuropsychologist who wanted to give me a complete neurocognitive assessment before working with me. When she gave me the results she told me that, clinically speaking, I did not have ADD. Rather I was very bright and had multiple aptitudes. This meant that I didn't have anything wrong, I just needed some help in figuring out how to harness and filter all those things I'd like to do.

This was a huge relief for me since it removed the stigma I had placed on myself for most of my adult life. There wasn't anything wrong with me, I just could never be fully engaged by any one thing. Then I came across Emilie Wapnick's TED talk (http://goo.gl/Dc6fzu) on Multipotentialites and it was a revelation that not only was I okay, I was not alone. Here is a definition of the term from Wikipedia:
 “An educational and psychological term referring to a pattern found among intellectually gifted individuals. [Multipotentialites] generally have diverse interests across numerous domains and may be capable of success in many endeavors or professions, they are confronted with unique decisions as a result of these choices.”
Emilie's site, http://www.puttylike.com, is a continuing source of comfort and inspiration.

Since then I've come across something called T-shaped persons (see http://tsummit.org/ for some interesting information). This describes a person who has a particular strength (the upright part of the T) and connects with many other interests or disciplines (the crossbar at the top of the T). I think of myself as more crossbar than upright, but everyone is different. I find that I enjoy being at the crossroads between many disciplines - this is probably why I have lasted as long as I did in my current field. Biomedical Informatics covers a whole lot of territory!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Turkey Club Sandwich Experience

Turkey Club Sandwich photo courtesy of http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/14237/classic+turkey+club+sandwich

The other day on my way home from Boston I ordered a Turkey Club at Au Bon Pain at South Station. When I went to pick the sandwich up, I was asked if I had wanted the one without mayonnaise. I was confused and didn’t quite know why. Finally I wondered aloud, “Is a Turkey Club Sandwich without mayonnaise really a Turkey Club?”. No one bothered answering me, which is not surprising since everyone was busy getting ready to get on a train or a bus somewhere. But still it got me thinking about how this sandwich was an example of a system.

Well, I could be wrong about what defines a Turkey Club Sandwich. The Wikipedia entry for Club Sandwich states, 
“A club sandwich, also called a clubhouse sandwich, is a sandwich of toasted bread, sliced poultry, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise. It is often cut into quarters or halves and held together by hors d'Ĺ“uvre sticks [AKA toothpicks]. Modern versions frequently have two layers which are separated by an additional slice of bread.” [emphasis added]
So based on the list of items, it would appear that mayonnaise is indeed critical to the makeup of a club sandwich. But I seemed to have an almost visceral response to the absence of mayo, so what else was going on? 

It turns out that the definition of a system is helpful:
"A system is a set of interacting or interdependent components forming an integrated whole."
So I think it was this concept of the "integrated whole" that unconsciously came to mind when I started wondering about the role of mayonnaise in a Turkey Club Sandwich. And it really does make sense when you apply this idea to other kinds of meals or snacks. Taken alone, each part of a club sandwich tastes good (tomatoes in season and picked ripe are essential here!), but when put together, the whole is really more than the sum of the parts. Each component - bacon, lettuce, turkey, toast and mayo - contributes along multiple dimensions to the overall experience. So I made up this table to help me think this through:


So based on this admittedly non-technical set of categories I can see that for me, the mayo contributes something missing from all the other ingredients that comes from either the lemon or vinegar added to it. But this still is a bit reductionist for my "taste". For me it is ultimately the combination of all these components with their different attributes all interacting in my mouth at the same time that make up the "Turkey Club Sandwich Experience". It's like the toast, turkey, tomato, lettuce, mayonnaise and bacon are all having a rave party in my mouth!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Wolves, Grizzlies, Elk and Berries - an unexpected set of dependencies

I just got through reading the Science Daily version [1] of a journal article, Trophic cascades from wolves to grizzly bears in Yellowstone.[2] The article describes how an unexpected relationship has been discovered between the populations of wolves, elk and grizzly bears through berries. Turns out without wolves around the elk suffered little predation - except for human hunting - and their expanding numbers fed on berries, reducing their availability to the grizzly bear. However, the grizzly really needed that late summer/early fall crop of berries to get them ready for winter, so fewer berries meant fewer grizzlies. Although grizzlies are omnivores and did take their share of elk, this was not enough to sustain their numbers. So with the re-introduction of wolves, the population of elk was naturally reduced, which led to more berries being available, which led to greater numbers of grizzlies surviving their winters. So, very simplistically, the relationship could be represented by a series of statements:

Wolves /\ => Elk \/
Elk \/ => Berries /\
Berries /\ => Grizzlies /\
Wolves /\ => Grizzlies /\

What is really interesting to me is that there has tended to be a certain hysteria that has taken over discussions in the US about re-introducing wolves into local wilderness over the last 40 years or so. The hysteria seems to be driven by anectdotal "evidence" of how wolves are responsible for widespread livestock losses, reductions of game animals such as elk, or deaths of humans and/or their pets. Although the wolf does indeed feed upon both wild prey and domesticated animals, the wolf seems to have been portrayed as an evil and vicious creature in fables and myths as a result of the view centered on our reliance on the sheep, cows and pigs we've raised for sustenance. Even so, the wolf needs to calculate any preference for domesticated livestock over wild prey against fear of humans. If there is a shortage of wild prey (often called "game animals" in the US), then the wolves' hunger will overcome that fear. In Eurasia where there is little wild prey available, wolves are much more likely to attack domesticated livestock than in the US where there are substantial numbers of animals for the wolves to feed on [3][4].

[1] Of bears and berries: Return of wolves aids grizzly bears in Yellowstone
[2] William J. Ripple, Robert L. Beschta, Jennifer K. Fortin, Charles T. Robbins. Trophic cascades from wolves to grizzly bears in Yellowstone. Journal of Animal Ecology, 2013; DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.12123
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gray_wolf#Relationships_with_humans
[4] Mech, L. David; Boitani, Luigi (2003). Wolves: Behaviour, Ecology and Conservation. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-51696-2.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Death and Dying on LinkedIn

Has a friend or colleague who is also a contact on LinkedIn passed away? I recently attempted to follow LinkedIn directions on how to notify them about a friend's death since his profile was still active and he had died over two years ago; it was not easy. The process laid out by LinkedIn did not work - the instructions were wrong/unclear/incomplete and so I had to do this through the Help & Support system with multiple messages back and forth over two weeks. Even then, if I search for my deceased friend, here is the message I get back from the system:

I suppose that technically this is true, but this message has no meaning at all for anyone else who might be searching from my friend. In fact, I would even say that this is cruel and puts LinkedIn in a bad light. I sent a message about this plus asking about an Obituary section to the Help & Support team and this was the response:

Hi Paul,

I'm sorry for the missing part of your inquiry. Currently, the Docusign form is our official notification and process in order to identify and close a deceased member's account. You're unable to view the profile because of it having recently been closed. 

Feedback from members like you provides us with insights that identify the needs of our customers. I sent your message to our research and development team for review and consideration in future developments.

Although every idea cannot be individually responded to or implemented, please know that we do monitor suggestions quite closely for recurring themes. I'd like to invite you to follow us on Twitter http://twitter.com/linkedin or check out the LinkedIn Blog http://blog.linkedin.com for the latest notifications on site improvements. Both options are great ways to stay informed about new releases and exciting work going on behind the scenes here at LinkedIn.


LinkedIn Trust & Safety

Notice that Jason does not address the bizarre nature of the message I received when searching. And apparently the death of members is not seen as a "recurring theme" by support. Unbelievable.

As you know if you have lost anyone, it's hard enough to notify others, but if the process to do the notification is arduous, well that just is unacceptable. I recently went through this process with a family member and I saw how a good funeral home makes the process as smooth as possible. Of course, this is their business, but really it takes people who realize that if their company is built on connections, they must, must, must be able to gracefully honor the unfortunate severing of those connections due to someone's death.

Another LinkedIn member suggested that there be an Obituary section, which I think is a fantastic idea. I'm not an actuary, but with the number of members LinkedIn has, and a recent LinkedIn blog put that number at 58 million, there has to be a non-trivial number who die each year. On Obit section would be a great way of honoring friends and colleagues. It would also be great to have a way of having colleagues notified when someone dies.

However, organizational processes are a reflection of the organizational culture and it looks to me like the culture of LinkedIn is all about growing their community and looking forward to a glorious future. But not so much about looking back or considering the messy & difficult processes involved in death and dying or even just accepting the unpleasant fact of death. It may be that it comes from the energies of the 20 & 30 year olds that make up most of the company's ranks. I never thought much about death when I was that young!

Nevertheless, Facebook has accepted that people will die and they provide a process for "memorializing" or deleting an account upon that member's death:

Memorializing the account:
It is our policy to memorialize the account of a deceased person.
In order to protect the privacy of the deceased person, we cannot provide login information for the account. However, once it has been memorialized, we take measures to secure the account.
If you need to report a timeline to be memorialized, please contact us.
Removing the account:
Verified immediate family members may request the removal of a loved one’s account from the site.

So it's really not so hard to do. I wonder how long it will take LinkedIn to come up with the same? 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Thoughts while I'm walking the dogs

Almost every day I take our two dogs, Sierra and Leone, out for a walk in our neighborhood in Lebanon, NH.  It used to be that I'd find some music on Pandora that would help me relax or focus or whatever I needed at the time but these days I just walk sans earbuds and think.

These days with President Obama reelected there are lots of things to think about.  He has a fresh outlook on how the world works that was unfortunately obscured by having to deal with a Republican Party unwilling to consider non-dogmatic approaches - by which I mean that he seems to get that our lives are surrounded by and enmeshed in all kinds of systems.  So when he proposed changes in, say, healthcare, he was  able to articulate a vision of how the reduction in the cost of healthcare, the improvement in the quality of healthcare and improvements in the economy are all connected, though again the message definitely got garbled by his willingness to consider other means of obtaining the same goal. Having said that, it is still so easy for some to focus on single issues because they don't have to think thoughts about how that issue may be affected by or may affect other issues.  People are sometimes so desperate for a single answer to their problems that they just want to hide everything else from their view. Granted, healthcare is an extremely complex and complicated system of systems and it can be difficult to see how to make headway.

This reminds me of how I was taught to solve problems in my physics and engineering training: since the real world is horrendously complicated, take away the parts that you deem to be either irrelevant or have a negligible effect on the solution to the problem.  Classic reductionism.  And sometimes in order to understand how a system of interacting components works you need to be very reductive. But you can't forgo the next step of synthesizing your new knowledge about the component all by itself with how you observe it to behave in the presence of other components. If you don't synthesize, you arrive at a solution that ignores those important interactions and you become blind to aspects of the your that don't fit.  Some people become so focused on a particular approach in science that they fail to see when throwing away the parts of the system that don't fit their solution causes their "solution" to no longer be of any real value. New solutions arise out of new frameworks and approaches that allow for these other parts of the system.

There are groups of people, for instance, that seem to believe that if we just had a flat tax that would be the answer to our problems.  There are others, the 912-ers, who fervently believe that if you just follow the 9 principles and the 12 Values everything will be solved. These are generally very black and white perspectives on the world.  Either you are with me or you are with "them".  It seems that there is this deep and desperate desire to find the One Solution and never anymore have to think or make decisions, except about whether what one is doing is being done according to the One Solution or not.

Yet in my experience there has not so far been a "One Solution" that has been able to answer all questions in a way that makes sense perfectly for all time.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Why I usually wear my headphones at work...

Someone close by was offering technical support over the phone. After my neighbor listened to the other person for a bit, she replied, "Oh, you're in the wrong universe!" All I could visualize were incorrectly labeled wormholes.