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June 18, 2007

'If I had asked people what they wanted, I would have built a faster horse' — Henry Ford's response when asked if he had carried out market research before he created the Model T


I happened on this nugget in a May 30, 2007 Financial Times article by Maurice Saatchi, co-founder and executive director of M&C Saatchi.

In it he scoffed at those who predict an upcoming golden age of targeted advertising based on statistical models and the like.

Read it for yourself and see what you think.

    Google data versus human nature

    Now I am going to tell you about a scorpion. This scorpion wanted to cross a river, so he asked the frog to carry him. "No," said the frog. "No, thank you. If I let you on my back, you may sting me and the sting of the scorpion is death." "Now, where," asked the scorpion, "is the logic of that?" (For scorpions always try to be logical.) "If I sting you, you will die and I will drown." So the frog was convinced and allowed the scorpion on his back. But just in the middle of the river he felt a terrible pain and realised that, after all, the scorpion had stung him. "Logic!" cried the dying frog as he started under, bearing the scorpion down with him. "There is no logic in this!" "I know," said the scorpion, "but I cannot help it — it is my nature."

    Orson Welles told this story to show the importance of understanding human nature. If the frog had known the scorpion's true nature he would still be alive.

    Today, the world's great consumer goods companies are agog at the potential of the internet to identify "human nature", measure it and control it; at how Google's systematic, logical computation can lead the advertiser into an earthly paradise of universal enlightenment — where all the problems of selling and marketing are solved by the same method: the method of data.

    Haunted by the pronouncement of the founder of Unilever that, "Half my advertising is wasted but I don't know which half," marketers have long sought a set of testable rules about selling as robust as the laws of physics. So they are understandably mesmerised by the possibility that the wastage involved in the $600bn (£302bn) spent annually on advertising can be eliminated at the touch of a button.

    First, under the Yellow Pages model of advertising known as "Search", advertisers are relieved of the burden of addressing those who are not interested in buying their product. If I am selling washing machines, why waste money on costly advertisements for people who are not in the market for a washing machine at the time? How much better if I could talk only to people who are just about to buy a washing machine.

    Second, the advertiser is said to have been disadvantaged by lack of data about human nature. The proponents of this theory point out that the amount of data stored on computers last year is equal to the sum of all previously recorded human knowledge; 74,000 times all the books in the US Library of Congress. So now, they say, we can go beyond mere "demographics" and "buying habits" to reach our target market. You could always reach women in Vogue, and gardeners in The Gardeners' Chronicle, but now internet data technology can provide "personal profiling" or "strategic targeting" — an intimate knowledge of who you are, your true nature. As the founder of Google says, it can tell you: "What to do tomorrow."

    No wonder people are so excited about all the saving of money this knowledge could bring.

    Unfortunately, it will not work out quite like that.

    All of us know that the sensations produced by the same object can vary with the circumstances. Lukewarm water will seem hot to a cold hand and cold to a hot hand. Colours look very different through a microscope. Even the sun in the heavens we see only as it was eight minutes before.

    The commercial proof of this was best explained by Britain's most successful newspaper publisher, the late Viscount Rothermere. When challenged on why he did not conduct more research among Daily Mail readers to find out what they wanted, he said this type of data would be unhelpful. Newspapers were emotional items, he said, because: "Getting someone else's newspaper is like getting into someone else's bath after they've just left it."

    He said it was not that easy. If it were, it would have been the researchers sitting behind the desk of Lord Northcliffe, the Mail's founder, not him.

    It is an inconvenient and stubborn fact that outside Newton's universe, where physical laws govern reality, the world is conditioned by perception. And, as Freud's Law of Ambivalence stated, human beings are so complicated that they can love and hate the same object at the same time.

    People do not know what they want until a brilliant person shows them. Henry Ford confirmed the point. Asked if he had carried out research before he invented the Model T Ford, he replied: "If I had asked people what they wan-ted, I would have built a faster horse."

    Human nature is not amenable to prediction based on the trends or tendencies prevailing at the time. It is amenable to startling creativity of the kind practised by great artists, directors, writers, musicians, actors, who know how to touch a chord in humans everywhere. They are the people that are needed to help advertisers navigate the internet because, as Aristotle knew 2,000 years ago: "Fire burns both here and in Persia. But what is thought just changes before our eyes. The decision rests with perception."


    If anybody should know this it is the founding geniuses of Google — the living embodiment of the irrational human dream of "two men in a garage" who change the world.

June 18, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

TechnoDolt™ meets .tv — and it ain't very pretty


Above and below, what you'll see when you visit, respectively, joe.tv, www.joe.tv and bookofjoe.tv; and www.bookofjoe.tv.

I paid thousands for joe.tv in 2005 and $175 for 5 years of bookofjoe.tv and all I got were these lousy placekeepers, which direct people everywhere but here.

Too bad I'm unable to go beyond what you see.







June 18, 2007 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Were Lamarck and Lysenko right?


They both believed that acquired characteristics could be inherited, and have long been derided and dismissed as wrong.

Now comes research which appears to demonstrate they may well have been correct.

In the new (June 16, 2007) issue of The Economist the cover story on "Biology's Big Bang," — the rise of RNA as perhaps the key to understanding the nature of life — concludes with the following four paragraphs.

    It's evolutionary, my dear Watson

    What is being proposed is the inheritance of characteristics acquired during an individual's lifetime, rather than as the result of chance mutations. This was first suggested by Jean Baptiste Lamarck, before Charles Darwin's idea of natural selection swept the board. However, even Darwin did not reject the idea that Lamarckian inheritance had some part to play, and it did not disappear as a serious idea until 20th-century genetic experiments failed to find evidence for it.

    The wiggle room for the re-admission of Lamarck's ideas comes from the discovery that small RNAs are active in cells' nuclei as well as in their outer reaches. Greg Hannon, of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York State, thinks that some of these RNA molecules are helping to direct subtle chemical modifications to DNA. Such modifications make it harder for a cell's code-reading machinery to get at the affected region of the genome. They thus change the effective composition of the genome in a way similar to mutation of the DNA itself (it is such mutations that are the raw material of natural selection). Indeed, they sometimes stimulate actual chemical changes in the DNA—in other words, real mutations.

    Even this observation, interesting though it is, does not restore Lamarckism because such changes are not necessarily advantageous. But what Dr Hannon believes is that the changes in question sometimes happen in response to stimuli in the environment. The chances are that even this is still a random process, and that offspring born with such environmentally induced changes are no more likely to benefit than if those changes had been induced by a chemical or a dose of radiation. And yet, it is just possible Dr Hannon is on to something. The idea that the RNA operating system which is emerging into view can, as it were, re-write the DNA hard-drive in a predesigned way, is not completely ridiculous.

    This could not result in genuine novelty. That must still come from natural selection. But it might optimise the next generation using the experience of the present one, even though the optimising software is the result of Darwinism. And if that turned out to be commonplace, it would be the paradigm shift to end them all.

June 18, 2007 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

100 of the Best Legal Free Full-Version Games You Can Download Online


Via digg comes this superb page.

June 18, 2007 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


At first it was Authors@Google, with Martin Amis and Joseph Stiglitz and their ilk visiting the Googleplex to chat about their latest books.

Josh Mendelsohn, a program manager in online sales at Google, told Rhymer Rigby in a story appearing in today's Financial Times, "It started as a program to take advantage of interesting individuals who stopped by Google HQ."

The talks take place during working hours in eight offices worldwide, with employees not able to attend in person linked via live feeds to auditoriums in other locations.

The talks are then put up on YouTube without, I noticed, the 10 minute limit on all other YouTube videos: Cory Doctorow's May 21, 2007 talk (top), for example, clocks in at 56 minutes and 58 seconds.

My toy, my rules.

But I digress.

Here's Neil Gaiman.

Clotilde Dusoulier.

David Batstone.

Ben Jervey.

Andrew Keen.

Robin Miller.

David Weinberger.

Bjorn Turoque.

In all there are 85 talks, nicely aggregated on one page.

Bonus: You can subscribe so that you get each new talk as it's added.

There goes the day.

Fair warning.

June 18, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

What is it?


Answer here this time tomorrow.

Oh, alright — here's


a hint.

June 18, 2007 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack



What's this?

It came in at 4:02 a.m. today, while I was sleeping.

Maybe I haven't woken up yet.

    Hey, joe — are your eyes closed?


    'Cause you must be dreaming.

June 18, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Rolling Luggage Cart Desk — You can take it with you


From the website:

    Rolling Luggage Cart And Desk

    This rolling luggage cart converts into a stable work platform, providing a sturdy place to use your laptop while traveling when there are no convenient tables, and eliminating the need to perilously perch a portable computer upon your lap.

    The desktop is integrated into the cart's molded ABS and lightweight anodized aluminum frame, and it unfolds at the touch of a button into a platform 26" from the floor, secured by the telescoping handle at two points and reinforced by a Y-brace underneath.

    The platform can hold up to 20 lbs. and can accommodate a 17"-wide laptop or a smaller laptop with an external mouse.

    The carrying platform hold a 36"-wide bag, yet the 17-3/4" width of the cart allows it to maneuver in airplane aisles.

    When fully compacted and stowed it will easily fit into an overhead compartment.

    17-1/2"L x 15-1/2"H x 6"D.

    11-1/4 lbs.



Now if only version 2.0 would feature a laptop sleeve....


June 18, 2007 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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