Thank goodness.


Nuff said.

We may all have seen Miyoko Shida Rigolo do this before. It is pretty incredible — and only in the very end can you appreciate how incredibly interdependent the entire balance is. After you watch, you will have context for what I’ll write below — about the change we seek, and navigating our getting there.

(Wait until you think you’ve seen it all. Then keep watching.)

This came back up in an email today, at a time when I’ve been looking for a metaphor that is easily comprehensible by all, to describe how society’s ills are each difficult to address on their own, due to how interconnected they all are.

This is an unbelievably oversimplified metaphor, since its contact points are singular (where linkages for each of society’s fronds touch in multiple ways), and since the palms are not individually in motion (where ours all are not only in independent motion, but are themselves driven by multiple factions of their own).

Our expectation that things can be changed in many vacuums without at least comprehension, if not consideration, of all other fronds, is as unrealistic as ceteris paribas models.

While it is daunting to think about, change in every niche requires big-picture consideration — in every leg or arm muscle tweak, at each increment, for both transition and sustainability.

Wait until you think you’ve seen it all. Then keep watching.

It goes without saying that the current crisis is inflicting its pain and suffering in multiple dimensions – from illness and loss of life, to the suspension of business and disruption of the world as we knew it, with hunger and displacement in between. In order to make it through, and possibly emerge stronger and more sustainably, the situation requires solutions on multiple dimensions.
We are all well aware of the health impacts and loss of life, the risks that medical professionals are taking, and the burdens on our health care system. We see the scrambling to procure PPE and ventilators, produce and distribute diagnostics, and develop antivirals and vaccines.
On the business and financial side, Federal actions have ranged from an early interest rate cut, backstopping and providing liquidity to credit markets, and the rounds thus far of payroll protection and low rate loan plans with potential forgiveness. These efforts help soften the blow and reduce immediate impact on the old normal, though don’t encourage us in necessary new directions.
Yes, it is likely that corporate America will emerge a different animal – it already is a different one. Years’ worth of change toward remote work was compressed to a month’s time, and it is likely that a significant portion of that will remain so. This has implications on commercial office space needs, commuting demands, and the geography of the services economy around them — that will no doubt persist to some extent. It is also likely to impact consumption patterns at the individual level, which changes how retail America will operate – with greater online demand and more drive-thru accommodation in our retail.
Still, without any sense as to how long our social distancing will be necessary to turn the corner on at least this wave of the crisis itself, it remains to be seen how many small businesses will have to fold rather than re-open, or re-open only to find they cannot survive what the new normal turns out to be.
What additional measures can be taken to prolong their viability, if not enable them to survive? What longer term shifts will we see as a result of this situation? And what can be re-thought/re-engineered in our re-booting of the world, in order to best capitalize on the pause we are experiencing?
At the large corporate and infrastructure end, we should valorize re-imagining/re-engineering for the re-start, those processes that are known to be impactful to the planet – from their sourcing to their byproducts and pollutants. Quick and noticeable rebounds in air and water quality, and re-emergence of wildlife, bring to the forefront the impacts we’ve had, and underscore the need to embrace changes through our recovery to retain the benefits and make further progress. And at the small company end, we should find efficiencies to provide for a more stable supply chain for tail risk. Perhaps loan forgiveness (in whole or partial) should be dependent upon shifting to use of resources that are deemed less impactful/more sustainable.
Large and well capitalized companies that are nimble enough can ramp up and down segments in which they operate, in order to manage through some of this and best capitalize on appropriate opportunities. Small companies, however, are more limited in the scope and scale of their ability to pivot and/or balance accordingly – not to mention, keeping the lights on and making payroll.
As a result, as Howard Schulz, Starbucks’ emeritus CEO discussed on April 23, 2020, millions of small businesses will have to make the decision soon as to whether they shutter their doors permanently, or can hang on. Yes, it is the American way that some things will fail, and other things will come along to replace them; and arguments will be made for letting market forces be. But these are not normal times, and in the interim, the economy, and more importantly all its lives, lie in the balance. To the extent the magnitude and amplitude of the extending waves of impact can be dampened by anything beyond our federal support, the fewer lives will be shattered, and the shorter this suffering needs to be. The cascade runs from job losses, to the elimination of goods-throughput from what would have been if they remained in operation; the real estate vacancies that will result from their shuttering; the reduction in property owner demand for related services; the commerce and tax revenue from everything along the waterfall of everyone involved, including the subsequent shuttering of downstream business.
Let this be a call to action for Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Tom Steyer, Warren Buffett, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and Steve Ballmer. Some names are deliberately excluded, for reasons you’ll understand shortly, but it is certainly not limited to these. Collectively, they’re worth half a trillion dollars. Together, they could rapidly collectivize thousands and thousands of these businesses in a massive incubation strategy. This isn’t expected to be done out of altruism, but in keeping with the principles of capitalism, while also saving the world. Great efficiencies could be achieved through information sharing, sourcing and cross-industry resource management, and strides can be made toward robustness and transparency into supply chain provenance, optimization and sustainability.
This could involve any range of company types, from gyms, restaurants, auto garages, office supply stores, tech startups… Backstopped by deep pockets, to operate with an agenda of not just making it through, but getting onto a back-end that streamlines and integrates everything from accounting, ordering, inventory management, transportation, fulfillment, even HR resources… The possible optimization and capabilities from the integration and knowledge roll-up could propel efficiencies and development.
With initial support of the collective, companies could take one of several paths in the ensuing few years: extract themselves from the collective as they wish or are able; remain members in the network of resources and benefits; or allow themselves to be fully consolidated into the collective. There are some among the wealthiest Americans who likely could not participate, since the effort might be construed as competitive to their own companies. But the result, considering those who remain members and those being consolidated, might be something that competes with vertically integrated Walmart, Amazon, Costco and Target. They are not the enemy – in fact, thank goodness for them and their abilities during this trying time.
Minds like these could re-think on a broad scale, the information integration across every one of the businesses involved, and massively increase efficiency, keep people employed, keep resources flowing. Yes, this would create issues of competition and privacy, and reshape society as we know it. But it could avert ripples of destruction we otherwise likely see.

Update on an old post about bikeshare and Social Bicycles, which is now JUMP (after it added electric pedal assist), and has agreed to become part of Uber, addressing the economics of short (car) trips.  That old post just scratched the surface of the complex structure involved in bikeshare – involving bike design/making, software to operate and manage the fleet, an owner/operator (sometimes private, public or some combination), a municipality, and a community…  But here is a great “Most Complete Taxonomy of Bikeshare (so far) post that really delves into the complexity at play here (including some of the newer dynamics with inexpensive bikes peppering the landscape).

Related to this much older post about realtime translation, Kintrans is yet another dimension of this type of capability.

 

Perhaps I’m missing something.

English: The Tesla Roadster is the only all-el...

With regard to the issues being argued around Tesla’s direct-to-consumer sales model and the legality of such – while the concerns of auto dealers (profitability, sales guidance, and service facilities for customers) have merit, the lower maintenance architecture of all-electric vehicles do give rise to the need for new “thinking” in terms of the models that manage and regulate the related activities and processes.  The point of this post though is NOT to argue those merits, but to suggest what seems a relatively straightforward solution for Tesla.

 

State laws at issue appear to prohibit the sale through other than an independent intermediary. It is not unusual for companies to have exclusive contractual arrangements which also include many other stipulations.  In that regard, would it not be a reasonable solution for the “galleries” through which it displays and facilitates remote-purchase of its vehicles to be independent, to have territorially exclusive ability to non-electronically “show” the product, in exchange for being bound to strict operating requirements.  And included in such contract could be the payment by Tesla of the operating costs they would otherwise spend on the Galleries had they been owned by Tesla – protected by the operating requirements (which may be subject to revision yada yada yada).Electric discharge showing the lightning-like ...

 

Perhaps this is too naive as an outsider perspective, but in essence, the facilities would be light-weight and lean virtual art galleries with physical examples as well.   Disruption is sometimes mostly in mindset.  In looking at the requirements (on the Motor Vehicles pages of a few states – for example NJ or VA) there are specific requrements, but they do not seem insurmountable (NJ requires TWO vehicles) relative to what may already be in place in an existing Tesla Gallery.

 

 

 

 

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Bicycle stand

Bicycle stand (Photo credit: Superburschi)

Having spent much of the last year focused on  startup work, analysis, and angel investing, I wanted to briefly outline a focal point of the efficiency technology segment that I gravitate toward.  In particular, the most interesting opportunities revolve around existing activities that contain friction and inefficiency, and where the markets and providers seem comfortably numb –  and where entrepreneurs with a blend of critical and strategic thinking have seen beyond existing models and methods.

By evaluating issues facing each of an engagement’s constituencies, and re-thinking the engagement mechanisms of the activities involved, revisions for reducing or eliminating friction can be made to the processes so as to also elicit valuable inputs from participants, unlock additional value — even for bystanders, and/or open doors for new constituents.  Entrepreneurs and companies who are doing this with a vision for what lies beyond initial disruption are the ones that really pique my interest.

A great example lies in one of my earliest individual angel investments (outside of the Soundboard Angel Fund that I am involved with — which also subsequently invested). The company is Social Bicycles  (a.k.a. SoBi), led by Ryan Rzepecki.  Their focus at this point is in the bikeshare space, which is generally outlined pretty well in this article.   Some of the key issues around bikeshares (beyond those for the operator, such as reliability/repair/maintenance, loss of bikes, and fleet management and flexibility) tend to involve: ability for users to locate bike availability where they want it, and importantly, knowledge that there is space at their destination station to receive their bike.  This is due in large part to bikeshares generally being “station” based.

 

Citi Bike Share

Citi Bike Share (Photo credit: ccho)

Such station-based systems have their “smarts” in the kiosk and rack assemblies that hold the bikes.  Once you take a bike from such a system, you’re on your own until you bring it back into the system by parking it in another of the system’s smart racks.  Obviously, the destination rack won’t always be at the exact location you’d like to go to, and when you arrive at the one closest to your destination, it may well be full — meaning you have to find another of the system’s racks in order to park/return it.  Chances are, particularly if you’re using the bike for commuting purposes, you don’t have a lot of time to hunt for a parking space, nor do you have the flexibility to show up late because you were doing so.

 

In contrast, (and not to oversimplify all that Ryan and Social Bicycles have done), SoBi has shifted the smarts and locks, from residing within the rack system to the bikes themselves, integrating GPS into the bikes, and using the cloud for procurement — and in so doing, they’ve evolved bikesharing to an un-tethered state.

Ring and post bicycle stands in Toronto, Canada

Bike stands, Toronto, Can (Wikipedia)

This means you can pull out your smartphone and find the bike closest to you, reserve it before you get there, unlock it on arrival, and take it wherever you want to go, without worrying that there might not be a space at your destination because, while they prefer you lock it to a designated regular old bike rack, in a pinch you can lock it to a tree or parking meter (local rules allowing).

With reduced infrastructure requirements, other added benefits of this revised approach include significantly lowering the cost of entry, not to mention lowering the hurdle for any necessary approvals.  The cost per bike is about a fifth that of a station-based scenario, and can be eased into and adjusted relatively flexibly in response to what is learned in regards to demand and patterns through operation.

There are many other details to this particular system, and there are many other realms to which this approach of constituency analysis is unlocking real value.  In future posts, I plan to share more about some of the other companies I have found to be doing this good work.

(SoundBoard Angel Fund is a democratic fund, with members active in selection and analysis of companies and in ongoing relationships with its portfolio, which is primarly focused in education, consumer products and services, and efficiency technologies).

Related articles

 

January 2015 related article: http://raisethehammer.org/article/2447/my_first_experience_using_hamilton_bike_share

 

 

 

 

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Entity relationship diagram, essential for the...

Entity relationship diagram… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What better way is there to celebrate Valentine’s Day than to focus on relationships?  Forget about the fact that we’re talking about relationships among data.  I’m sure that’s what Eric Franzon of semanticweb.com was thinking about when he posted Chris Moran’s White Paper: The Business Value of Semantic Technology.  You’ll find his post here, with a link to the white paper itself.

 

English: RDF graph for Eric Miller provided as...

RDF graph for Eric Miller on w3c website http://www.w3.org/TR/rdf-primer/ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If your true passion is in philosophizing about data, you can dive in and enjoy.  If it isn’t, then just imagine this is dark chocolate or cake and let your imagination go.  This focuses on the form in which data is stored, and not the infrastructure nor NLP (including natural language understanding.  One key aspect of business value derives from a point made almost too subtly: “if we want to improve upon our understanding of [data], we can simply add more information. It isn’t necessary to redesign a data model.”  In other words, it is possible to improve your data by making additions without the need to re-architect the database.  Not having to re-architect saves time and money, and not being bound by coming up with structures at the outset also plays to iterating, and unshackles the development process in that regard.

Ignore for the moment any existential interpretation of Chris’ point “[t]here is, in fact, no information until the data is consumed by the application.”  The point is that data, on its own, doesn’t mean anything without definition and context – and including that right in with the data itself frees the data up from what has been preconceived as a need (and written into an application) and lets the questions be asked of it directly, with the relationships among the data being found within the data itself.

By integrating the meaning of the data within the data itself, and reducing the need for that to be handled by the application, the point is made that semantic structure reduces costs and “removes the need to maintain a staff whose purpose is simply to “keep the silo operating”.”  Still, there is great need for curation and consideration of what is meant within different silos, and management of vocabularies such that the names and terms used are the correct ones.  For business purposes, it is still important that there be consistency (within intent) in order to be useful/valuable information.

His bottom line: “The value of semantics is in… a reduction in complexity, a reduction in operating cost, a reduction in the sheer amount of storage and computing capacity, a better use of talent, and a leap forward in our ability to further automate what we do.”

Related articles

 

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The Newegg.com logo.

Newegg.com from Wikipedia

Remember 1984 and the launch of CompuServe Mall?  Well here’s something you can still get from it: Freedom!

Here’s a great writeup of how Newegg cracked the shell on this patent boondoggle that has been siphoning off millions based on “shopping cart” network sales patents US5715314 and US5909492 and this access monitoring and control patent US7272639.

In a nutshell, the fact that the same such commerce was facilitated by CompuServe Mall nearly 15 years prior to these patents means that buying/selling stuff electronically (regardless of whether it was dial-up or always-on) was “obvious” or not novel.

Wow.

 

 

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As usual, loving the interstices of this envizualization – of the disciplines of User Experience Design:

 

envizualizations.com – The Disciplines of UXD

 

 

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