Friday, September 14, 2018

Is the importance of "prescience" fading away?

A screenshot from my Google search for the definition of "prescience" - this expanded version includes an Ngram analysis
Having been interested and/or employed in the world of forecasting for much of my career, I feel I have only recently discovered a great word that relates. That is the noun "prescience", which along with its adjective form "prescient", generally describes seeing into the future (see the top of the screenshot above for definition details). The search I captured came about the other day, as I was using the word in nothing more elaborate than a tweet, wanting to make sure I had the meaning just right. What was included is the graph on the bottom of the screenshot gave me some unexpected alarm!

Except for a minor uptick in the past few years it's a two-century downtrend, as displayed by the Ngram viewer, which tracks vocabulary frequency as used in the English-language books Google has scanned as part of Google Books. I had to wonder - does the shape of the graph add evidence to the societal trend of rejecting logic and science, and thus an eye to the future? (A quick interpretation of the word "prescience" as printed on a page or screen may lead to thinking the word is an expression of the world before science, i.e. "pre-science", but I will treat that as a coincidence, while sure there is an etymological explanation.) But with the trend with the word's usage, are we witnessing the downplaying the value of visions of the future?

I decided a little research was called for. I was in the middle of reading Bad Blood and that saga surely shows the value of a vision can be overdone. Elizabeth Hughes' idea that in the near future a drop of blood from a finger stick could be used for myriad blood tests was easy to see, but impossible to execute, at least in the recently ended lifespan of her company, Theranos. Going back farther, I tried to remember who mocked "the vision thing" and it turned out it was during the successful 1988 presidential campaign of George H.W. Bush. I even remember as a quite young kid that a prescient (there I go) aunt forecasting someday soon that our drive down Interstate 5 would be accessible only by attaching your personal vehicle (car) to a rail, to be safely and quickly pulled along.

While that 50-plus-year-old forecast about hooking passenger cars to rails could be seen as "foreknowledge" of the upcoming autonomous car revolution, it could also be interpreted as missing the mark. With "prescience" trending down ("foreknowledge" too), what about that adjective form, "prescient" that I just found the need to use in the previous paragraph? Well, it's doing all right - as can be seen from the Ngram graph just below. Leading to the conclusion that my quick analysis about the status of the importance of vision into the future might just be all about how and what words are used to describe it. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

Review: Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Secrets and Lies - I'll say! What a great book, that meant so much to me as much of it takes place around the old haunts in Silicon Valley, and specifically Palo Alto, where I spent lots of time during my 25-year Hewlett Packard career. In addition to the geographic familiarity, I greatly enjoyed learning about the blood-testing field, so important as we learn "doctors base 70 percent of their treatment decisions on lab results". It's a skillfully woven tale, leading right into the author's wheelhouse as an investigative reporter at the Wall Street Journal, when it becomes a first-person narrative of breaking the story of fraud and deceit, so viciously defended by Theranos CEO Elizabeth Hughes and company. Interesting, too, as she plays to the political big-hitters of her present (Obama, Biden, and eventually Hillary Clinton) and past, including the nonagenarians who inhabit her board of directors, Hughes and her thugs' tactics are actually extremely similar to the current POTUS (DJT) and his thugs, in seeking out and trying to crush whistle-blowers and truth-tellers. The book couldn't be more timely, with the Theranos shut-down just last week (early September 2018). Here's a real spoiler - Rupert Murdoch comes off looking good!

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Friday, August 31, 2018

Review: When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With the subject being "perfect timing", there is something ironic (or something else) about the fact that I read this between January and August of this year. Stretching out a read like this would be horrible if it weren't for Kindle highlights, which allowed me to catch up from a long time lag in reading. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and found unexpected insights, including the importance of the word "time" in the English language. Don't miss the final chapter.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Review: Educated: A Memoir

Educated: A Memoir Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A very interesting glimpse into the lives of "fellow Idahoans", albeit from a very different region of our state. (Seemingly another century as well, at least at times.) Westover's story includes both the familiar and the shocking - but none all that surprising. A page-turner, for sure.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

This Old (Apple) Watch

The hype - and my curiosity - got me to buy an Apple Watch in June 2015, and it became my next bright shiny thing.

Three years ago this month I bought the newly-released Apple Watch. With that purchase, I was proud and excited to continue my early adopter streak in the computer wearables category. Now with a mostly happy record of wearing and using that original Series 1 watch every day for three years, I have "moved on up" to a new (for me) model, the Apple Watch Series 2 Nike edition, which I have been wearing for a week now. This transition has given me an opportunity for a few reflections, which I will share here, with a future post scheduled to comment on my new Series 2 and the future.

My new Apple Watch arrived in June 2015 and I have been wearing it ever since.

The original Apple Watch purchase in June 2015 coincided nicely with my withdrawal from active (i.e. traveling) work as a blogger/analyst for the printing and imaging industry. It led me to lightheartedly view it as my "retirement watch" in the fine tradition of such things, even though it wasn't gold and it was a self-funded award. (I have found, by the way, that going from "working full-time and not retired", to "semi-semi-retired", to "semi-retired", to "still working a bit", leads to many transitions. These changes are quite the contrary of the "knife-edge rolls", aka product-development checkpoints, that I learned to live by during my early days in the tech industry.)

As already mentioned, the Apple Watch I chose was not made of gold, but it was expensive, at least in my book. Apple's line of watches introduced by CEO Tim Cook during the iPhone 6 launch event in Fall 2014, went from the least expensive Sport models, up to a yellow 18k gold luxury edition. (see Business Insider's "A Timeline of how the Apple Watch was created".) I opted for the 38mm Sport model, one of the least expensive available, at $349 plus tax. It featured a metallic case and a bright blue rubber watchband.

The box reminded me of one that would hold a set of baseball cards
About a week after placing my order (direct through Apple) a box arrived at my front door that looked like it should hold a complete set of Topp's baseball cards, but instead held the watch, nested in packaging several levels deep. There had been lots of Wall Street anticipation that the watch would be Apple's "next big thing", revenues- and profits-wise, had me thinking that delivery times should be longer than a week if sales were robust, just a month and change following the very first sales. The quick shipping gave me a first-hand clue that order rates weren't exactly shooting through the roof, but I was very happy to get my new watch as soon as possible.

At that time, Apple offered personal training, via Facetime-like software, where new owners signed up for a one-on-one appointment with a specialist. I did mine right away, but admittedly remained a bit confused about the meaning of watch-specific software things like "complications", but I moved on as an active user and even sometimes something of an evangelist. (See "Watch complications: What is Apple talking about?" )

At the time Smartwatches were not a totally new category for me, as I had been wearing a Pebble for a while. Its much lower price and simpler feature set were quite satisfactory for me, and I joked that it was my money-saving "placebo" keeping me from buying an Apple. But all the media attention paid to the Apple Watch at the time of its announcement and launch were too much for me, and I caved. The short gap between first shipments and getting mine certainly still qualified me as an Apple Watch early adopter, and I joined in some of the extra-curricular activities like participating in the Wristly weekly satisfaction surveys with my fellow innovators*. The high-water mark for that organization (which let their once-weekly surveys peter out about a year after launch) was when Tim Cook quoted their "user satisfaction level" (See screen shot below and "Have You Given Up on Your Apple Watch?", from a few months later when the natives were restless as to the new product's success, or lack of. )

With the pressure on Apple to hit a home run with Apple Watch, Wristly and its survey data were there to help.

The Pebble had me accustomed to watch-based notifications of activity on my iPhone, like texts, calls, and others messages, so the Apple watch offered little new there. The "Apple Pay" function was something I was eager to try, though, especially at the local McDonald's where years before I had an experimental "wand" that allowed wireless payments. I got the watch to work for that a few times, thanks to patient and helpful McDonalds employees, but I stopped trying as the actual utility very little if any benefit compared to swiping a credit card. It was the same with software like the Fidelity app. I got it to work, but reviewing and trading in my IRA account did not seem like a natural fit for a watch!

What I did like was its Activity Tracker and a few other things, and when the one-year anniversary of the Apple Watch got some media attention and some responses in the press including that of Ed Baig of USAToday. I responded to Baig's column (see "Would I still buy an Apple Watch? On balance, yes - USA Today") with an answer of my own to the question. Looking back on that two-year old post (See "State of the Apple Watch - Inspired by USAToday's Ed Baig - I would buy one again too!"), things haven't changed much after two additional years.

The biggest watch-related event of the past two years was shortly after that one-year anniversary, when my watch stopped taking a full charge (often an early warning sign of big problems in many a gadget), and then went completely bonkers and stopped working altogether. I was out of warranty by only a month or two, and an appeal to Apple to make an exception to the one-year window was successful, based on a phone call with one of their support managers, who reviewed my activity with Apple including lots of purchases of iPhones and iPads, and made that exception, leading to a swap to a perfectly-working watch that has continued on to this day. (Also noted - when I wrote at the beginning of this post that I have been wearing that original Apple Watch I bought in June 2015 on a daily basis since then
, that's not quite accurate. I have been wearing it, and its warranty replacement, ever since.)

My suspicion of what may have caused the problem was exposure to water as I have always kept the watch on in many wet situations including the shower. The final failure was also in late-summer, highly humid Philadelphia, which I suspected played a part. Regardless, Apple's willingness to give me a break on the warranty greatly strengthened my loyalty towards the company, just like the marketing book predict will happen!

But when reading recently that the next big operating system roll would work only with the Apple Watch Series 2 and later (see "Here's Why watchOS5 Is a Game-Changer for Apple Watch"), I figured it was time to upgrade. And while my new watch is not the newest, latest and greatest model, I am pretty happy with it so far. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on some of my experiences.

* - The original customer adoption model popularized by Jeff Moore's "Crossing the Chasm" in the 1980s distinguishes between innovators and early adopters. I don't, for the most part.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The three leading "voices" weigh in on a basic (dumb) question

There's a well-known saying that "there's no such thing as a dumb question" but I beg to differ. One of those truly dumb questions has to be, "Is a dolphin a fish?", but that did not keep one my grandsons and I from having fun teasing each other with the answer a few weeks back. It was one of those quasi-arguments that bonds the generations!

Of course, during our current times (2018), it doesn't take too long to pose any open question to one of our "smart assistants" and their varied answers were revealing. The Amazon Echo Alexa gave a nice, short, definitive answer. Apple's Siri found some reading on the web we might like to do. And the Google Home Assistant went even deeper than Alexa. I have to admit I prefer the "just give me the answer" approach rather than the homework assignment.

And now back to that dumb question... The Miami Dolphins football fans often root on "the fish", and there is a popular gamefish called the "dolphin" - in fact I caught a few in the Atlantic some years back. But beyond that, what of this smart-speaker connection with dolphins? Weirdly, in the scandal about these assistants being able to "hear" and respond to high-frequency voices beyond human hearing range, reference is made to "dolphin attacks"!

Probably mostly random observations, but I find them interesting!

Friday, March 09, 2018

Two of my famous economics professors - Thaler and Navarro

Through my years involving higher education, both student and teacher, I have encountered a number of memorable educators. Two of my economics professors have come to prominence in the past six months or so, and their similarities and differences are worthy of a few "compare and contrast" notes.
In the Fall, it was announced that the year's (only) Nobel Prize winner in Economics was the behavioral economist Richard Thaler. He was my Microeconomics professor during my first semester of my MBA program, at Cornell's Johnson School of Business. I had followed his career, which found him ending up at the Economic mecca University of Chicago, and in my teaching the past dozen years, I have used a range of Thaler's examples going all the way back to Cornell and his "sunk cost fallacy" - lessons which never left me - as well as his more recent work, which includes the well-known book Nudge, co-authored with Cass Sunstein, who served in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2012.

Fast-forwarding a few decades, but back to me on the student side, Peter Navarro was my instructor for several courses, including refreshers in Micro- and Macroeconomics, just in the last several years. The educational forum where I studied under Navarro was, appropriate in keeping with the times, Coursera, the Palo Alto-based start-up that has helped pioneer Massive Open Online Courses, i.e. MOOCs. Navarro's courses were fast-paced, to the point, and among the earliest offered. I was only marginally aware of Navarro's reputation as a China-phobic trade protectionist, something that has become newsworthy in the past few weeks, and as he is considered for the nation's top Economic Advisor job.

Was my experience different, with the live, in-class encounters with Thaler, versus the online video experience with Navarro. Of course, in many ways, but the economists are different enough, and memorable enough by themselves to make the learning format only one of the variables. I enjoyed my time with both, learned a lot, and while I may not always agree, at least I have had the opportunity to hear and ponder their views.