Thursday, October 25, 2007

Refocus-able Cameras in Our Future

"So... you guys have heard of the camera that's refocus-able after the fact?"

I loved the way Stanford University Professor Marc Levoy oh-so-casually asked the question around 15 minutes into his video interview with Robert Scoble on the Scoble Show.

The idea: when you take a photo, the camera is actually storing more information than is displayed when you're viewing one image. Instead, the camera stores multiple versions for each point on the image. Thanks to the additional data, you can adjust the focus of the image after you've already taken the photo.

Focus shifts from the blinds in the background to the face in the foreground.

Focus shifts from the lady in the foreground to the people in the back.

Head over to Robert Scoble's blog to watch the entire interview, or catch the 5-minute excerpt.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Delivering Killer Presentations

Just listened in on a one-hour BlogTalkRadio show that's hosted by Bryan Person, entitled "How to Deliver Killer Presentations at PodCamp."

The guest speaker, Laura Fitton of Pistachio Consulting, generously shared several presentation tips and insights, which I feel are valuable to any presenter, whether or not they intend to speak at a PodCamp.

You can also listen to the online archive at your leisure.

The points that resonated with me were [minutes into the online audio archive]:

  • Interactions can be presentations. Even if you're not a formal speaker, anytime you walk up to someone, and shake their hand, and say hello, that in itself is a presentation. [5:42]
  • Don't stress out like, I've got to be up there, I've got to be like Tony Robbins, and I need to be high energy, and I've got to be a great speaker, and I've got to learn how to speak. All you've got to do is be effective and useful for your audience. [7:38]
  • Don't lose sight of the purpose. You're so anxious to get that information out, you're so anxious about what the other people are thinking of you, that you lose sight of the purpose of the presentation. [8:57]
  • Stop worrying about what you're going to say. Factor that in last. First think: who am I talking to? Take yourself as in-depth as you can about who will be there, why they are there, what they are looking for, and why might they come to the session [9:14]
  • Get to your room early and chat with people as they come in. Ask them what drew them to the session. Ask them what questions they have and what they're looking for [10:07]
  • What result do you want to achieve? There are results in every presentation, even if it's just to get people fired up, or to introduce yourself as a thought leader on a particular point. So figure out the results for your audience [11:50]
  • Thinking about your audience. It's important to prepare for a wide range of audience expectations. So when I'm brainstorming about the audience, I think of a couple of different profiles that I think might be there. [13:22]
  • Communications is 2-way. It's not just you up there speaking. You need to be watching and listening massively. As you present, you pick up cues from the audience: are they with you, are they zoning out, are they talking to each other... [13:40]
  • Make things interactive. You can take a room of 500 people and make it interactive by asking thought questions (where you stop and they think in their heads, and decide, and move forward), or using an 'interact with your neighbor and break into groups' kind of interaction. [16:10]
  • De-personalize the experience of presenting. If someone's leaving (during your presentation) it does not mean you suck. It does not mean you're being ineffective. They might have a meeting with a bigwig. They might have to pee. They might have to eat. That's not something to get too worried about. [17:22]
  • People are shy. That first question is a bit of an ice break that needs to happen. So instead of smiling awkwardly if there's silence, just say: "At this point, I generally get asked..." and then you ask yourself a question, and then you answer it. That gets the Q&A flow going. [20:29]
  • Don't end with Q&A. Have some kind of presentation ending that's very focused on your result that's going to follow the QA. As you get towards the end of your presentation, just say: I'm going to stop now, and hear how this has worked for you, and hear what kinds of questions you have on the topic, and then we'll finish up. Because the kind of energy during Q&A, even if it's going very well, is kind of not what you'd want to end on and it's not result oriented at all. [20:55]
  • Do not confuse the call to action with a call to buy. A call to action is a call to get people to do something physically. Think about the audience result in terms of what they physically do when you stop talking, what they do in the next hours and days, and what they do two weeks from now. That's how you plant really clear seeds. That's the difference between an engaging presentation vs. a presentation that's just a data dump. [25:16]
  • Think of setting up a website around your whole presentation, so people have a place to go to continue the conversation. With blogging software, it's so easy to do. You can set up a Wordpress blog, and have people go there even while you're talking, and you can collect comments and feedback there. It's a nice back channel. [26:50]
  • Don't ambush people with your 30-second pitch. It's great to have, but never launch it pro-actively. People are more receptive if you're listening first. If you address someone else's needs first, they'll have a much better impression of you, and they'll be much more open, and they'll think: that was a nice person, how can I help them? [32:20]
  • The first 30 seconds. Start with the A-ha! The so what? The why do I care? That's a hook to get them interested. In the first 30 seconds with the audience, you have a massive free ride. They're focused, they're listening, they want you to succeed, they're excited about you. Use those 30 seconds. Do something exciting, a bit outrageous, but not too crazy to start out. Keep it short and don't end with "Okay, here's the summary." End with a next step, and make it small and actionable so something might actually happen. [36:05]
  • Think about what you can control in the room. Is it too cold? Try to find a way to get it warmer. If you can't do anything about it, address it early on. Get through the Ah-a first before addressing it, or have someone address it as an administrative thing before you get to the stage. If they are sitting there being anxious about something, they're not listening to you. So to the extent you can address it, name it, that can help with people's preoccupations and anxieties. [41:10]
  • Watching videos of your presentations. The first time, just play it back. Don't be a critic and pick apart anything that's wrong. Just pick 3 things you did really really well and congratulate yourself. People learn from positive reinforcement; they don't learn from negative reinforcement. Ignore what didn't go well. The second time, watch it again but with the volume off and spend more time looking at the body language. If there are things you're doing that really stand out, then you can give yourself corrective feedback. The third time you watch, do it in fast forward. This is how you notice every 3 minutes you touch your left ear. You probably do not know you're doing it. When you watch it in fast forward, that stuff jumps right out. [46:13]
  • Body Language. Walk. Smile. Care. [48:37]
  • The glassy-eyed room. 5 to 7 minutes is the average adult human attention span. Is it just a matter of time and they just need a change of gears to wake back up? If they do, have them do something. Have them ask themselves a question, or get up or shake each other's hands. If it's just not the amount of time, then maybe they're not getting it. You can say: This is a technical topic and I'm used to talking about it with my friends. I'm not sure how you're used to talking about it. Can someone give me a follow-up question that relates to how you do this? Never be afraid to break away from your script. [52:30]
Check out Laura's blog, Great Presentations Mean Business, for more presentation gems.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Great Catwalk of China

Fendi, the luxury brand, held a fashion show on the Great Wall of China.

I had to watch video footage from ABC to actually believe it.

Laying down a stable catwalk on top of the wall is no easy feat! I remember almost twisting my ankle several times while navigating one stretch of it years ago.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Fascinating Dreamlines

Found Dreamlines via Picocool.

Dreamlines is a non-linear, interactive visual experience. The user enters one or more words that define the subject of a dream s/he would like to dream. The system looks in the Web for images related to those words, and takes them as input to generate an ambiguous painting, in perpetual change, where elements fuse into one another, in a process analogous to memory and free association.
Here are a couple of stills from my perpetually-changing painting.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Reflections on Vaseline's Free Kit Promo

I received an SMS message out of the blue the other day from my mobile phone provider Globe. The message read:

Globe Bidakard member: Congratulations! You are entitled to a FREE Vaseline Total Moisture Trial Kit (Lotion + discount coupons)! Just present this text and claim at any Watson's store from Oct 12 - Oct 31, 2007. [other text omitted]
I must admit I was a bit excited to read that message, because I've always been curious about how direct marketing could be achieved through SMS.

So that day, I made a point of heading to the nearest Watson's store during my lunch break, just to see what the promo mechanics were.

Claim Process

When I got to the store, I showed the SMS message on my phone to one of the cashiers, and asked if any purchase was necessary to claim the free kit.

She said no (whew!), then punched something into the cash register before pulling out a free kit from behind the counter. After the register spat out a little receipt, the cashier then asked me to write my name and signature on the back of the receipt.

She did not ask me for any form of ID to confirm that I had used my real name, nor did she check what I'd written on the back of the receipt. For all she knew, I could have just scribbled something completely unintelligible.

After I signed the slip of paper, she handed me the kit, then asked me to delete the SMS message from my phone. I deleted the message and told her as much. She did not bother to verify that it had indeed been erased.

And that was it! As easy as that, I got my kit.

The Kit

And it looked like this:

Kit contents: 25ml bottle of lotion (left) and a thin blue booklet that contains discount coupons to the following stores: Freeway, Ensembles, Bioessence, Wendy's, Ystilo Salon, Osim, GNC, Body and Sole, Matabungkay Beach Resort, and Ace Water Spa. There was also a P20.00 discount coupon for the future purchase of any Vaseline lotion.

What a Shame: Lost Opportunity to Collect Customer Data

While the kit itself was fine (I really had no expectations as to what its contents would be), I found myself disappointed that the claim process had been left so open-ended. Consequently:
  • Neither Globe, Watson's, nor Vaseline were able to collect any kind of meaningful data regarding the customers who had claimed the product.
  • At best, Watson's can only report the number of customers who claimed the kit, and indicate when and where they had been claimed.
  • None of them can consistently and reliably connect the Globe cellphone number to the person who actually claimed the kit.
Frankly, I was expecting that the cashier would, at a minimum, ask me for my name and cell phone number, because:
  • If I were Watson's or Vaseline, having these numbers would improve my ability to reach my prospective customers directly, and reduce my dependence on Globe.
  • If I were Globe, I would now know who among my subscribers are more likely to respond to similar promotions in the future, and I can therefore cut down on the number of messages I'd send out for the next text promo while achieving a higher response rate.
If any of the parties involved was concerned that customers would hesitate to provide their phone number just to claim a prize, they could have gotten around that problem by:
  • using a unique "coupon code" in each SMS
  • tracking which cellphone number received which "coupon code"
  • asking for the coupon code when customers claim the kit
The Watson's cashiers would, of course, need to write down or record the code somewhere when a customer claims a kit. Ideally, that data should be punched into the cash register the way they would have recorded a credit card number or a frequent shopper number during an actual purchase.

Those codes could then be collected on a daily basis together with the point-of-sale (POS) data, and Globe could then have obtained that data from Watson's and merged it with actual customer records to get a better sense of who responds to what kind of promo.

If unique coupon codes had been used, all the companies involved would also have a way of checking whether customers were fraudulently claiming more than one free kit.

Too Simplistic?

Obviously, I'm over-simplifying things a bit when I say all this; after all, it's no easy feat to get data out of POS systems, and it's even harder to negotiate data sharing of any kind between the companies that are involved.

I guess I just felt that it was a shame to go through all this trouble to prepare a kit, send out a call-to-action to so many anonymous customers, and still not use the opportunity to find out who actually responded... all this despite the fact that such knowledge can inform future direct marketing efforts.

Oh well. I guess I just have to wait a little while longer before I start seeing closed-loop, SMS-based direct marketing.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Philippine Journalist Reporting via Twitter

Manuel L. Quezon III, the journalist grandson of a former Philippine president, used his Twitter account to provide live updates about the impeachment complaint at the House of Representatives a few days ago.

Talk about wow.

With hat tip to Arnold Gamboa for (what else?) twittering about this.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Twitterfeed posts Flickr photos to Twitter

While writing up my experience testing the FlickrToTwitter service, I noticed that Ouriel Ohayon, a French-Israel venture capitalist and blogger whom I follow on Twitter, had sent a photo-tweet using Twitterfeed.

And that got me thinking. Flickr, after all, automatically creates RSS feeds for each tag that you specify in your Flickr photostream. I realized then that it should be a simple matter to grab whatever RSS feed you want to share and send it to Twitter!

So I looked at the Flickr page for my photos that are tagged with "4twit," grabbed the Flickr RSS feed which is located at the bottom of that page, and fed it to my Twitterfeed account.

I set Twitterfeed to post titles only, and asked it to include a link to the original photo. Then I waited for the requisite 30 minutes to pass until Twitterfeed checks the newly added feed.

The result: SUCCESS!!

And by golly, that was so much easier than I expected, since this approach has far less moving parts, plus the Twitterfeed platform was designed to do exactly this. I feel like kicking myself for not thinking of it on my own.

Thanks for the idea, Ouriel!

FlickrToTwitter Testing

With some prompting from Dave Winer, I'm blogging about my experience using the Twittergram Flickr to Twitter feature.

First Test: 2 Photos, "ForTwitter" tag

  • I signed-up for the service using my Twitter account on October 8 and used the tag "ForTwitter" to limit the photos that get posted.
  • I uploaded two photos to my Flickr account (one, two) and made sure they both had "ForTwitter" as tags (they still do).
  • I waited for an hour, but nothing showed up on my Twitter stream. So I concluded that something was wrong, and left a comment on Dave's blog.
  • During the hour that I was waiting to see if the photos would appear in my Twitter feed, I also noticed that a few of the people commenting on Fred Wilson's post about FlickrToTwitter were also not able to see their photos posted to their Twitter accounts.
  • Within the same day, Dave sent a tweet saying that he'd given the server a little kick and that all was well again. He also did some testing of his own which appeared to go well.
Second Test: 1 Photo, "fortwitter" tag
  • Since Dave's own FlickrToTwitter photos were showing up on his Twitter stream, I began to wonder if I'd entered my Twitter password incorrectly when I first registered, so I updated my registration on the FlickrToTwitter page, and this time, I used "fortwitter" (all in lower case) as my tag.
  • I uploaded my third test photo, this time with "fortwitter" as the tag, and waited. That didn't work either, so I asked Dave via Twitter if FlickrToTwitter was temporarily unavailable.
  • Dave later tweeted that the Twittergram server was looping again and that after giving it a little kick, it started working once more.
Third Test: 1 photo, no tag restriction
  • Still unwilling to give up, I updated my registration info on TwitterToFlickr but this time, I left the Tag field blank, so there would be no filters applied.
  • I then uploaded a fourth test photo to Flickr, and out of habit I still tagged it with "fortwitter"
  • Finally, it worked! FlickrToTwitter posted a total of 8 photos in rapid succession, one of which was my fourth test photo (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8). However, it inexplicably did not post my first three test photos, which I would have expected to see since they were more recent.
  • So now it's beginning to look like FlickrToTwitter works fine when it doesn't need to check tags, but it encounters problems once the tag-based filter is applied.
Final Test: 1 photo, "4twit" tag
  • So as one final test, I decided to use a shorter tag -- "4twit" -- and I updated my FlickrToTwitter registration again with this new tag.
  • I figured, if this still doesn't work, then it proves that FlickrToTwitter has problems dealing with tags.
  • I uploaded a fifth test photo with the tag "4twit" to see what happens.
  • And, after waiting 15 minutes.... still no joy. :-(
  • So I can only conclude that FlickrToTwitter will work for me only when there are no tags.
Hopefully, this blog entry was clear enough to be of help. 8-)


Update 1: Oct 13, 2007
Dave says there is indeed a problem with the FlickrToTwitter feature and he knows where to look.

Update 2: Oct 15, 2007
Dave believes he's licked the tagging bug in FlickrToTwitter. Will give that a test whirl the first chance I get something worth sending a photo about!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Upgraded to Treo 680

Since my old Treo 600 showed signs of truly giving up the ghost, I finally arranged for a friend who was flying in from Singapore to pick up a Treo 680 (unlocked, GSM) for me.

After using it for three days, I'm ready at last to post my initial impressions.

Things that I Liked
Especially in comparison to the Treo 600

  • Physically
    • Fantastic screen resolution (!!!)
    • No antenna
    • Lighter and slightly slimmer unit
    • Removable battery
  • Photos and Videos
    • Can record video (new)
    • Little portrait mirror next to camera lens (new)
    • Photo viewer / slideshow is very friendly
    • Can take photos at 2x zoom
  • Contacts
    • Can add photo or image for each contact (new)
    • Can specify ringtone for each contact (new)
  • Calendar
    • Can now categorize calendar entries (new)
    • Can now beam all calendar entries belonging to one category to another phone (instead of beaming per item, new)
    • Today's Agenda view (new)
    • Year view (new)
  • Messaging
    • Very clean integration of SMS and MMS features
    • Can delete single message from within a chat thread (new)
    • Can force messages to thread even if I haven't replied to a message (new)
    • Can save messages to a Saved Folder (new)
    • New sent folder provides easy access to my messages outside of chat threads
    • Auto-select messages in a chat thread as you scroll down (new)
    • MMSes with long subject names are delivered without errors
  • Web and Email
    • Blazer web browser lets me disable CSS and not display images
    • Gmail configuration is pre-built in, no need to set up POP and SMTP
  • New: Voice Recorder feature
    • Fantastic sound quality and playback volume
    • Great microphone sensitivity
  • Network
    • Bluetooth now available
What I Didn't Like:
  • Physically
    • Back cover has a slightly clunky feel, as does the side cover for the SD card
    • Have to remove battery to get to the SIM card (not so with the Treo 600)
    • Positions of buttons have been moved around and require some adjustment
  • Photos and Videos
    • No improvement in camera resolution. Still at VGA
    • Camera battery drain problem requires the installation of a software patch
  • Web and Email
    • Command to disconnect from the GRPS network used to be available from within the browser. Now it's only available in Network settings; requires extra navigation
  • Network
    • Still no wi-fi
Also, in the course of playing around with this unit, I learned about a few Treo features that were available even with the Treo 600, but which I had not used before:
  • You can beam your entire contact list from one Treo to another
  • You can beam only contacts belonging to one particular category
  • You can beam all your memos from one Treo to another
  • You can beam only memos of a particular category
  • You can use MMS to send an email
Overall, I'm incredibly happy with this upgrade, and in fact find myself wondering why I waited this long to switch!

Obviously, the Treo 680 is nowhere near as sexy as an iPhone, but since I'm very risk averse (i.e., I don't want to deal with a hacked phone) and I don't want to deal with the headaches of migrating data from one type of phone to another, the Treo 680 is just right for me.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Changing the World

Just finished listening to Episode #6 of Foreword Thinking: the Business and Motivational Book Review Podcast that's hosted by Mitch Joel.

His guest in this episode is John Wood, author of the memoir Leaving Microsoft to Change the World and founder of Room to Read, a non-profit organization that establishes schools, libraries, and other educational infrastructure in developing nations.

I was moved by the idea that this man would feel compelled to dedicate the best years of his life to battling illiteracy in countries so far from his own home. It's humbling because I live in a developing country, see poverty and the effects of a deteriorating educational system on a daily basis, and yet I don't do enough to help.

Below are a few of the quotes from the podcast which really struck me [minutes into the podcast]:

  • The Tyranny of Or. Sometimes there's this thing -- Steve Ballmer calls it the "Tyranny of Or" where everything's an Either-Or thing [7:26]
  • On over-thinking. In a certain sense, I'm glad I didn't over-think it, because I could have talked myself out of it very easily. There's no shortage of people who would tell me exactly why this is a bad idea, or why this wouldn't work, or how difficult it would be. And I think at a certain point, you just have to ignore those voices and dive into what you're passionate about. So looking at it now, where I am today 8 years later, if I'd over-thought it I probably wouldn't have done it and I'd probably still be at a desk at Microsoft or some other technology company [8:05]
  • Keeping Things Tangible. It's hard to be cynical about charity if you know exactly where the money is going to: you see a photograph of the finished school; you see a dedication plaque; it's very tangible for people. In this day and age when communication is ubiquitous, it's not difficult to raise money to do one project in the developing world. [15:42]
  • Education as Key to Personal Success. All of us who have done well in life, we have education to thank for our success in life. The fact that there are almost 1 billion people in the world today who are illiterate is a damning indictment on our world. How can we ever break the cycle of poverty for these kids if they don't go to school? It is impossible. [17:37]
  • Education affects Entire Countries. The United Nations has statistics where you can graph amazing things against the literacy rate. The most literate countries have the highest life expectancy; the most uneducated countries have the lowest life expectancy. Maternal death during childbirth: low literacy countries are losing 15 times as many women to death during childbirth as in an educated society like Iceland, or Norway, or Sweden. [18:05]
  • Education is not a hand-out, it's a hand-up. You're giving people the skills they need to break the cycle of poverty themselves. [18:55]
  • It is solvable; you don't need millions of dollars. We can build a school library and support it for the first three years and train a librarian and fill it with books for US$3000. We can put a girl on scholarship and keep her on scholarship and have a strong female mentor who looks after her, and pay her school fees, and give her a bicycle and pay for her school supplies and pay for her healthcare -- all of that is Cdn $275 a year. It's less than a $1 a day to put a girl in school and keep her in school [19:32]
  • Literate women and girls will educate the next generation. The statistic that I think is most depressing and most damning is that two-thirds of the people who are illiterate in the world today are women and girls. And if we don't educate the girls, we don't educate the next generation. That to me is one of the most important things in the world -- to get girls in school, keep them in school, they will break the cycle of poverty for their family. An educated mother -- I know from my own background; my grandmother and my mother were both educated and they both read to me. If they had been illiterate, my life would be very different today. [20:04]
  • Keep the solutions simple. Sometimes in the charity world, people make things overly complicated. I have people who say -- I want to help you plunk down a solar-powered, satellite enabled, remote learning station... and I'm like -- Oh, my God. Let's just build a library and put some books in the hands of kids and start with the basics. [20:48]
The hardcover edition of the book came out in 2006. The paperback edition was released in September 2007.