Ian Bogost, Edward Tufte, and Gamejunk




When I had lunch with Ian Bogost a couple weeks ago in Seoul, he railed venomously against gamification, startups, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and pretty much anything with a pulse. Having never read any of his work, I charitably attributed his attitude to a raging case of jetlag. When I later read his scathing takedowns “Gamification is Bullshit” and “Shit Crayons”, I realized that he is even more cantankerous on a full night’s sleep. I subscribed to his RSS feed hoping something constructive would come down the pipe. Today I got my reward.

Ian’s latest post, “Notes on Loyalty”, is wonderful. He contrasts two types of interactions as a frequent flyer of Delta Airlines. In the negative interactions, the airline tries to placate or manipulate him by awarding loyalty points as meaningless, generic, and asymmetric gestures. In the positive example, the customer service representative understands his problem, helps him solve it, and thoughtfully reimburses him for the inconvenience.

During our lunch, Ian was vocal about things that he thought were unfair, dishonest, or otherwise in poor taste, but much less forthcoming on what he saw as “good”, and I appreciate that Loyalty contains such an example. The first thing that came to mind as I read is the old adage that “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” Writing incendiary posts overflowing with bile (intellectualized trolling?) might garner pageviews, but does little to convince people. Focusing on a positive example does wonders for persuasive power.

Loyalty‘s message made me think of information visualization guru Edward Tufte. Like Bogost, despite being a proponent of information visualization in general, Tufte spends tremendous effort railing against poorly-executed visualizations, and against Powerpoint in particular.

Tufte also advances his own principles of what makes for good visualizations. Among these, my favorite are the notions of chartjunk and data-ink as introduced in the 1983 classic, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information:

The interior decoration of graphics generates a lot of ink that does not tell the viewer anything new. The purpose of decoration varies — to make the graphic appear more scientific and precise, to enliven the display, to give the designer an opportunity to exercise artistic skills. Regardless of its cause, it is all non-data-ink or redundant data-ink, and it is often chartjunk.

Above all else show the data.

To make the principle concrete, Tufte proposes the data-ink ratio, which is the ratio of ink used to convey the information in a graphic to the total ink in the graphic. As an illustrative example, he conducts a sequential redesign of an information graphic in which ink is removed in steps until there are no more removals possible without eliminating data from the graphic:

A visualization redesign example from Tufte's Visual Display of Quantitative Information, in which he successively removes ink from an original diagram on the left until all that is left is data ink on the right.

I wonder whether, at some level, Ian is trying to make a Tufte-esque point about game-like interactions in business systems, which is that user interactions which don’t contribute to the core purpose of the task – in this case, serving the customer – are wasteful at best and dishonest at worst. In the spirit of Tufte’s chartjunk, I wonder whether he would approve of the term gamejunk for systems interactions that distract from or obscure the underlying transactions. Or whether he would blast it for trivializing something that is complex and nuanced. Either way, I appreciate his sharp perspective.

The Ford Test

Anybody who reads this blog knows that I’m hungry for learning and inspiration and look for it in every direction. My friend Bill Ford has been a major source of inspiration over the past couple years. In addition to being my yoga teacher, he is also an opinionated and multi-talented designer and technologist, and you can see his fingerprints over all my work.

Recently, inspired in turn by Milton Glaser, Bill has proposed the following framework for design, which is to answer three simple questions:

  • Who am I talking to?
  • What do I want to say to them?
  • What do I want them to do as a result?

Applying these questions – which I’m now dubbing The Ford Test– to this blog as a whole, and to each of my posts in turn, I discovered (re-discovered?) that although I have plenty to say, I have no idea who I’m talking to, and no sense of how or whether the content is actionable in any meaningful way.

Remixed

After failing the test miserably, I decided to give it another thought. This isn’t necessarily what the blog is in its current form, but what it wants to be.

Who am I talking to?

You are a friend, friend in the making, or simply a like-minded explorer of the nooks and crannies of this globalized and increasingly techo-biased world. You’re fascinated by the micro and the macro alike.

What do I want to say to them?

I’m giving you a set of complete thoughts that dissect a system way too complex for me to properly understand. When weaved together, they form a larger, slowly congealing narrative. Underlying all these thoughts is a general theme is about getting better about whatever we do, as individuals, as a group, and as a society.

Life is too complex to figure much of anything out, but it’s possible to make powerful steps forward by making small observations, generalizing them, broadcasting them to a community, gathering feedback, and synthesizing. (Or, as Bill would call it, “flocking”)

What do I want them to do as a result?

Agree with me. Disagree with me. Point me at examples, counter-examples, related points of view, and tangents. Let’s solve this riddle together as a distributed army of Watsons that together form a mega-Holmes in a Voltron-like symbiosis. Are you feeling it?!

Reflected

With all that in mind, I need to get a lot better at engaging. Getting my thoughts out is only a small part of the feedback loop. To that point:

  • Does this outlook speak to you?
  • Should I focus tighter, and if so, where?
  • Do you have any suggestions for creating a healthy discussion here?

Please share your thoughts below – your feedback is crucial … and much appreciated!

Image courtesy of Fool-on-the-Hill at Flickr under Creative Commons License.

Going with my Gut

In 2006 I made a flippant prediction of the 2008 financial crisis. I got the details all wrong, but the root cause and the end results were mostly correct. This time, with a similar rumbling in my gut, I’m making another prediction of financial doom, and considering how to react to this feeling.

Fool Me Once

On a 2006 visit to the US, my father-in-law commented that people in the US seemed to live much more comfortably than their Korean counterparts. I explained to him that a lot of this comfort was made possible by unsustainable personal debt, and the modern American lifestyle was a house of cards that would collapse and lead to economic catastrophe. (Fun fact: 800B of debt is carried by over 50M households – an average of nearly $17K per household!) It was a flippant prediction: I didn’t think it through, didn’t back it up with numbers, and didn’t follow through. Nevertheless, two years later it all came to pass in the form of the Subprime Mortgage Crisis.

It’d be wrong to say I called it, and I’m making no such claim. I had no idea it would be housing debt that would ultimately break the bank. I also had no sense of the timing – even if I’d been bold enough to place a bet on my statement, I doubt I could have made much money. I didn’t know that the financial back-end was acting as irresponsibly as the consumers borrowing into it. But my gut was correct: that something was horribly rotten in the area of household debt, and that in the end it would result in a systemic failure above and beyond personal bankruptcies. In some very abstract sense, I did call it.

Won’t Be Fooled Again

These days, much more than ever before, I can’t shake the feelings of impending economic doom. My observations from 2006 still stand, and if anything the situation is a lot more dire than it was back then. In addition to a population living well above its means, with an average consumer debt of $7800 and national debt of $47,500 for every man, woman, and child in the US, now we have a hamstrung government that is not even sure whether or not it wants to pay its federal debts, let alone what we should do to solve the problem. At this rate, will we even be able to orchestrate a bailout the next time we have a massive breakdown?

I predict that over the next 10 years, the US economy will see a series of corrections, as the market adjusts to match the reality of a rotten system, and consumer and federal spending/debts adjust to bring themselves closer to their means. Because of tremendous social/political inertia, I predict these adjustments will be largely reactive and forced, rather than proactive and voluntary. In short, I believe we are in for an extremely bumpy decade, and that’s if we’re lucky. If we’re unlucky, it’ll all come crashing down at once, there will be massive tectonic shift in the global political and economic landscape.

Just like in 2006, I have no idea how this will all play out. But this time around, rather than simply making a flippant prediction, I’m trusting my gut and am beginning to take action.

Emergency Preparedness

In 1999, I laughed at the paranoids wringing their hands about the Y2K problem and stockpiling food, water, and weapons for the impending global collapse. Twelve years later, I’m that guy. Here’s my checklist.

Investments. Without going into details, I continue to bias my investments internationally. As a US citizen and resident, I am implicitly so heavily invested in the US that regardless of my outlook on the economy I should invest internationally as a hedge. In light of my views, I will increase and target my investing bias over the coming years.

Career. My career perspective is that in times of uncertainty, one should focus on getting the basics right. My mental model of industry mirrors Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, with soft skills at the top of the pyramid, and tangible contributions forming the base. This hierarchy exists at both the industrial and the individual career level. In industry, intangibles like media and advertising form the top of the pyramid while necessities like farming and construction are at the bottom. For the individual, it’s politics and communication up top, product design and development down below. I’m dismayed because everywhere I look I see a race upwards. Companies like HP, the largest PC business in the world, considering dumping their hardware business to focus on enterprise software. At the career level I see people all around me, particularly those working in large companies, sprinting into abstraction as fast as they can. Having invested the last 20 years in Computer Software, I can’t easily change my industry and will remain in the upper-middle of the pyramid. But from a career standpoint, I continue to bet heavily on grounded skills concerning the design and production of software, since I believe these will always be truly valuable even if the “margin” may be slowly eroded through globalization.

Residence. My biggest contingency concerns my physical residence. I spent the first half of 2011 traveling around South America and Southeast Asia. The primary purpose of this trip was honeymoon and relaxation, but a secondary concern was to build a better understanding of the developing economies of the world. On each stop along the way, my wife and I tried to understand the economy and quality of life in each country. Our final stop ended up being Seoul, my wife’s hometown. Under different circumstances I would not consider living in Seoul, due to language and culture barriers. By the end of this trip I will have been here for four months, and I may come back again next year to stay for a longer period. I believe Korea an ultra-industrious, ultra-dynamic country with its feet firmly on the ground, and that as an American I can learn a lot from the way of life here. I’ll be posting those findings here as I find them (e.g. on healthcare, local business). I firmly believe that families with a footing in two or more countries will have a much easier time navigating the upcoming economic and social challenges in the coming decades. I still have many reservations about moving here for the long term, but I want to keep that option open and be prepared with a solid network and the basic skills to live here comfortably and happily.

Activism. This is the fuzziest item on my list. With a problem as big as the one I am observing, it’s really unclear how an individual can contribute, but I’m slowly working out my plan as it relates to US competitiveness and sustainability. This blog is my first step: a mental sandbox as I start to try to understand what’s going on. In parallel, I am working on creating a business in the personal finance domain targeting the US market. I believe that responsible consumer investment is a powerful lever to address some of the major concerns. And finally, I hope to increasingly contribute to causes in line with my belief system.

Sound Off

I am increasingly pessimistic about the US economy, and while I lack any detailed proof or substantiation, I have tried to articulate the basis for my sincere concern. At the 10,000 foot level, I’ve also outlined what I plan to do about it.

Do you agree with my prognosis? If not, why not? If so, what do you think about my response? What are you doing about it? Do you know any meaningful efforts towards creating sustainable lifestyles and economic competitiveness? Please add your thoughts in the comments.

Image courtesy of Esther Gibbons on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

DuoDerm and the Korean Medical System

DuoDerm is a Hydrocolloid Dressing, a high-tech bandage straight out of a sci-fi novel. It’s an adhesive film that can be taped over a wound, does not need any other ointment, can be worn in the shower, and can last for days before it needs to be replaced. It uses the fluids from the wound to help hydrate and heal the skin. Really amazing stuff, but you’ve probably never heard of it. The technology was developed in the USA, but it took an injury in Korea for me to find out about it.

I discovered DuoDerm in Seoul. Over the past couple weeks, due to the summer heat and wearing sandals every day, the skin of my feet have dried out and I’ve been getting painful fissures on my heels. Being accustomed to a functional medical system, my wife and mother-in-law insisted that I go to see a dermatologist. A 5 minute walk to a clinic, a 10 minute wait, 60 minutes of treatment, and only $50 (without insurance!) later, I had a solid diagnosis, a few weeks of prescription anti-fungal lotion, some specialized moisturizer, and a DuoDerm-bandaged foot. It was fantastic – my feet are living in the future.

But this isn’t a story about how great DuoDerm or the Korean medical system are. Rather it’s a lamentation of the US system, which seems broken on many levels.

Preconceptions. As an American, I have been trained that seeing a doctor is an expensive and time-consuming process, let alone seeing a medical specialist like a dermatologist. Let alone seeing a specialist when I don’t have any medical coverage. I wouldn’t have even considered going were it not for my in-laws insisting upon it.

Human capital. In the US, doctors time-slice patients, spending the minimum amount of time with each patient. The same is true in Korea. However, in Korea, you pay a ridiculously small amount for that sliver of time. The government is committed to providing healthcare for everybody, and they make sure that it is affordable even for those lacking insurance.

Technology. DuoDerm was developed by ConvaTec, a US company, over 20 years ago, but I bet most Americans haven’t heard of it. The one Korean I mentioned it to said she uses it regularly. There also seems to be an enthusiasm to stay on the cutting edge here, which is wonderful. Prescription drugs and other medical treatments are also much cheaper in Korea, presumably due to government policy, and as a consequence people are able to actually benefit from technological innovations. 

So fine, I fixed my foot. It probably would have healed in a few more days anyway. Big deal, right? Once you have a strong, functional, and convenient medial system, a lot of other possibilities open up.

Preventative medicine. Chief among these possibilities is preventative medicine. Korean companies pay for their employees to take comprehensive health exams every year. With these exams, they can catch diseases at their early stages when they are easy to treat. This is particularly important for cancer, which can often be easily treated if it’s caught in the early phases. As a consequence, Korea is making great headway at fighting cancer nationally.

Medical tourism. It also enables a blossoming medical tourism industry. Korea’s top-class medical care and low prices are bringing in patients from all over the world for everything from complex treatments to cosmetic surgery. While Korea is a latecomer to the business, like everything it does, it’s going all out with “Medi-tourism” signs in the airports, and other an international marketing campaign.

Exports. Korea has even started exporting its medical systems and management skills to the Middle East, potentially opening up yet another market for their considerable expertise.

I sincerely hope that the US can learn from Korea, especially when it comes to healthcare. The longer I spend here, the more clear it becomes that we are living in the past, while the rest of the world shoots by, both by investing in its citizens and continually pushing the envelope on technology, practices, and business models.

Image courtesy of David Arnall, Ph.D.

Sixth Sense: Ghosts on Main Street

For the past seven months my wife Keywon and I been traveling around the world and it has been a veritable smörgåsbord of sites, tastes, and experiences. However, the most profound experience of a long trip like this is the shock of returning home and discovering that something fundamental has changed inside. Last week I returned from Seoul to the US for a friend’s wedding, and while I was only home for a few days, I am still reeling from the shock. When I left for the trip, I regarded my hometown of Berkeley as a pinacle of civilization. When I returned, it was as if I’d developed some kind of sixth sense, and instead saw it as a sad ghost town. After getting over the initial trauma of seeing my stomping ground in this diminished light, I began to realize that understanding what made Seoul so dynamic might also lead to constructive solutions for the US.

Home Sweet Home

From before I was born until the present, Berkeley has been a truly remarkable place in the world. Berkeley really pushes the envelope despite it’s small size. In the mid-1960’s it was the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement and one of the focal points for the tremendous cultural shifts that happened across the country during that decade. UC Berkeley is one of the best educational institutions anywhere, attracting top talent from every corner of the globe, and advancing human understanding in nearly every academic discipline. Its residents are also extraordinary, including notable authors, musicians, chefs, and so on. Berkeley tries to embrace and celebrate diversity — ethnic, cultural, sexual, religious, and otherwise. Its politics is about as progressive as they come, and to me, that’s by and large a great thing. All in all, even today, with only 110,000 residents, it’s per-capita impact on the world is phenomenal.

In addition to these more objective measures, Berkeley is my home and was a wonderful place to grow up as a kid and get educated as a young adult. I’ve lived 29 of my 37 years in the East Bay, and 5 more just across the Bay in San Francisco. From a personal perspective, I will always be fiercely proud of my home sweet home.

Paradise Lost

My hometown pride took a kick in the gut when I came back from my travels. It was like stepping out of a time machine.

My first impressionistic experience was a personal one. My parents’ home hasn’t changed in years. The trappings of 40 years of modest middle-class living has accumulated in piles in various rooms around the house. Two of my parents’ five bedrooms are used primarily for storing junk. There is a layer of dust over everything. While my parents are at least a standard deviation out on the messiness curve, the proliferation of storage lockers tells me that this amount of “stuff” is not so abnormal, with 1 in 10 US households renting a storage locker. Meanwhile the rest of the world is just starting to have the prosperity to enable families to have this kind of accumulation. I think it’s significant that the US has been enjoying this kind of abundance for years.

My next experience was about the state of commerce in Berkeley. For months I’d been craving a good American breakfast, so my first stop was the Westside Bakery Cafe. At first, I was delighted to be eating extraordinarily tasty french toast on Sunday morning, in a spacious dining room with only a handful of fellow diners scattered around the room. With a huge smile on my face, I commented to Keywon how it was such a nice and refreshing change from Seoul, which by comparison is crowded and expensive. She replied that something must be horribly wrong for the restaurant to have so few patrons during what should be the Sunday brunch rush hour. As usual, she was completely right. I left the restaurant shaken.

Businesses on Telegraph, Shattuck, and Solano, three of Berkeley’s traditional shopping streets, have been hit hard over the past five years, and the more time I spent there, the more of these impressionistic moments I had. From a sedate lunch at an almost empty Zachary’s Pizza, a local favorite that was always busy in its heyday, to a listless stroll through the heart of Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto. I’d heard this repeatedly from my mom as her employer, Sue Johnson Lamps & Shades, has struggled to stay afloat during tough times, but it was another thing to experience it first hand, particularly in comparison to Seoul, where a tiny side street can have as much foot traffic as some of the busier parts of Manhattan.

Argh

The worst part is that I don’t understand what’s going on, neither from the supply nor the demand side. From the supply side, i.e. the producers of goods and services, there seems to be a lethargy and unwillingness to adapt to the change of environment. From the demand side, i.e. consumers, there seems to continue to be an abundance of wealth in the area, but a lack of spending.

Suppliers seem to blame their situation on a combination of the diminished economy along with the the Amazons and Walmarts of the world. In my view that’s only a small part of the problem, and it has much more to do with stagnation in the midst of a rapidly evolving global market. A few days before our trip, my wife took her skirt to an East Bay seamstress for a hem. They told her no problem, but asked if she could pick it up in a couple weeks. In Seoul, by contrast, any corner cleaners can do a hem that afternoon, and 10 minutes by subway gets you can access some of the best and speediest tailors in the world.1 After laughing when my wife asked if they could do it that day, she left the shop in frustration.

Looking for Answers

In addition to making things cheaper and faster, local businesses can learn a lot from Korea in terms of service innovation. Koreans will try anything to differentiate and serve an untapped market.

Like an ice cream truck for neat freaks, this shop on wheels cruises around Seoul, selling brooms, toilet plungers, and other household supplies, broadcasting its wares by loudspeaker.

The other night I was walking through the Hongdae neighborhood of Seoul, a trendy university district with lots of bars & shops. Rolling down one of the alleyways was a truck, packed to the ceiling with toilet brushes, cleaning supplies, and other household items, hawking its wares over a loudspeaker, sort of like an ice cream truck for urban residents in need. A block later I saw a similar truck selling stuffed Angry Birds, rubber chickens, and other novelty items. I have no idea whether these trucks make good money, but you can’t fault them for not trying.

Inside a beautiful Catholic church-cum-wedding hall for a friend's wedding. An international buffet is included downstairs, and is standard fare for a Korean wedding.

A very different approach is the wedding hall industry in Korea. All over the city, wedding halls put together configurable wedding experiences at the push of a button. They may lack the individuality of a US wedding with separately coordinated venue, catering, rentals, invitations, and personal wedding planner (running a pricey $30K on average and taking months to put together), but they are infinitely more convenient with a wide range of styles and price points.

Taking the push-button wedding hall concept in a different direction, an extreme and slightly morbid example of this innovation is that some large Korean hospitals provide chapels, funeral services, and even suit rentals on-site.

Sometimes their approaches seem wild to the point of random, or seem to be crude, but the end result is a hotbed of service innovation. While the US still seems to have the edge in technology and brand marketing, I think that US local businesses can learn a lot from their Korean counterparts.

Food for Thought

After the US Debt Ceiling Crisis, there has been a lot of doom and gloom about the inevitable “fall of the US empire“. People blame the government, the military, the banks and Wall Street, and the rich and poor alike. There is more than enough blame to go around, and in my opinion the bulk of it does fall on the major strategic blunders of the the past decade ranging from tax policy to unnecessary wars to greedy and grossly irresponsible investing practices.

That said, it wasn’t until my recent trip back to the US that I realized how crazy things are on “Main Street”, and I don’t think most Americans even realize how bad it is, let alone how much we can improve if we push the status quo. To remain competitive as a country we will need to fix every aspect of our economy and social infrastructure. Observing the energy, competitiveness, and innovation of the Korean marketplace not only highlights the stagnation of US local businesses, but also points towards possible solutions.

Ghost town image courtesy of Pascal Bovet at Flickr under Creative Commons license.

  1. In Seoul, it’s the other extreme where I don’t understand how cheap this stuff can be, given the high cost of living here, but that’s another post. []

Patriotic Millionaires

The Patriotic Millionaires are a group of individuals making over $1M a year who are petitioning to increase taxes for wealthy Americans. The back and forth between this group and Sen. Orrin Hatch, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee is facepalm-inducing.

From the Millionaires’ web site:

Our country has been good to us. It provided a foundation through which we could succeed. Now, we want to do our part to keep that foundation strong so that others can succeed as we have.

Hatch’s response:

All those rich, liberal democrats who are eager to pay higher taxes can do just that. They can write a check to the IRS and make an extra payment on their tax return to pay down the federal debt. The option is right there at the bottom of their tax return.

What an asshat. This is the kind of thing that makes me want to pull out whatever hair I have left. If this keeps up we’re simply going to get run over as a country.

I appreciated John Stewart’s take on the same issue:

Image courtesy of random letters on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

To Make Money

One Silicon Valley software company asks its new engineering hires this question at the engineering orientation:

What is the job of a Software Engineer?

I would probably answer “to write software.” If I was feeling ambitious, maybe “to write great software,” or even, “to delight customers.” The desired answer:

To make money.

This fits the company’s culture, and unsurprisingly, the company makes a ton of money and doesn’t delight its customers.

This money-first attitude is also common among individuals. I ran across a comment thread on the Mini-Microsoft Blog of Microsoft employees discussing their compensation. It contained this gem:

What could possibly be more important to you at your job than understanding how your pay system works?

Hmm, I wonder. Argh.1

As the US economy falters, I can only imagine that this type of money grubbing, both by companies and individuals (and political parties!), will get a lot worse before it gets better.

My reaction to all this:

Do good work and make sure people know about it.

Apple is the shining example of this principle at work, but is admittedly an outlier – and apparently in addition to doing excellent work, spends considerable effort to squeeze its partners in every single deal.

At a more accessible level, one of the best articulations of this simple idea is Evernote’s CEO Phil Libin detailing the Evernote business model. He does a great job to bridge the gap between idealism and practicality, giving a step-by-step recipe for how they improve their business by improving their product. Please take a few minutes to watch!

Image courtesy of CJ Isherwood on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

  1. I forced myself to wade through the whole thread, despite its rampant petty unpleasantness. It made me think about a recent proposal in the Atlantic to make employee compensation public. My gut said no – I picture the comment thread out loud, in every hallway, all day, every day. On the other hand, who knows? []

Lowering the Bar on Language Understanding

As a developer of language understanding software, it can be frustrating to tackle problems that are not completely solvable using today’s technologies, and it’s always a challenge to evaluate the software in meaningful ways. Concepts like precision and recall are useful to compare two different approaches to the same problem, but they don’t necessarily map well to a person’s experience using the software, which may require extremely high accuracy for some tasks but not for others, and which may have as much to do with the way the results are presented than with the quality. I have struggled with meaningful evaluation on every project I’ve ever worked on.

As a novice Korean speaker, living in Seoul with a Korean wife, Korean in-laws, and Korean friends, I am also a frequent user of Google Translate, which attempts to solve language translation, one of the thorniest language problems around. I’m often pasting in an email or Facebook comment to get the gist of what was said, so I don’t have to bother somebody for a full translation unless it’s important. Sometimes the results are complete nonsense, sometimes they are really funny, but mostly they are far from perfect but still completely useful for my needs. (And as an atypical user who appreciates how difficult the problem is, perhaps my expectations are a lot lower.)

At any rate, I was delighted to see feedback drop-down (helpful | not helpful | offensive) on the latest Translate user interface. It seems like an obvious question to ask, but it’s the first time I’ve seen this feedback mechanism on an intelligent system like this. I really like that it doesn’t ask about the degree of correctness of the answer, but rather whether the (probably not completely accurate) results were good enough to help the user with whatever they were trying to do.  I’m sure they are collecting a ton of really great data to improve their tool in a variety of ways, and I can imagine applying this to a lot of other artificially intelligent systems.

Finally, if anybody from the Google Translate team is reading this post, I’d like to make a request. I often share humorously poor translations with my wife, but I’d bet they are quite tame and mundane compared to the stuff you’re collecting with the offensive button. I’d bet that you even have an internal “hall of shame” for this kind of thing. If you can share any of these without violating your privacy terms, I’m sure all your diehard users would appreciate a peak at the worst of the worst. At least I would. 🙂

Image courtesy Google Translate UI.

Strong Medicine

As a gut reaction, it’s encouraging that the media is starting to scream about the shameful state of US politics and economy today.1 Unfortunately, the country’s bottom line is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s going to a long-term overhaul to get us to where we need to be.

Also, while “burning the place to the ground” is a fair characterization of the republican role in the debt crisis, I think this guy’s use of the phrase is glib and lets them off way too easy. What kind of person wants to destroy there own country, and how do these people manage to get elected? Completely insane.

  1. As a historical illiterate, there’s a lot I need to track down to make full sense of this video. []

New Blog!

Despite several tries at blogging over the past decade, I’ve never managed to consistently turn my thoughts into bits and blast them out to the Internets. An eternal optimist, I’m at it again. This time the blog is public, rather than being restricted to a password-protected audience. I’ll also post whatever I feel like – gosh! – but mostly I plan to write about technology, startups, finance, and globalization.

If you like what you see:

  • Subscribe to the feed to see posts hot off the press!
  • Comment on the posts! Your thoughts are most welcome!

I’ve also got a travel blog. It’s out of date, but contains some nice pictures from parts of my marathon honeymoon, which I plan to update one of these days.

Image courtesy of leeksandbounds on Flickr under Creative Commons license.