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Selling is about healthy relationships! (RE: Harvard Business Review blog on “Selling is not about relationships”)

September 30, 2011


This blog post was inspired by reading a blog post on Harvard Business Review.

Go there and read it if you’d like, first.  I’ll wait 😉

For starters… I want to frame this post with the following items of understanding:

  • Little editing was done to this before draft-to-publish.  I hope it stands up to my regular concept of a quality blog post 😉
  • I was in sales for the early part of my adult life.  Much of it was “retail”, and a lot of the measurements and thoughts in the referenced blog are for “b2b”.  That these are different selling environments is accepted as true, although, I posit that in both cases, people can be selling to other people, if they are doing it right.  In both cases (retail and b2b) it is p2p that matters, or so I have always thought.
  • I don’t regularly read Harvard Business Review.  The link I followed was courtesy of LinkedIn.
  • I have always felt that there is a sales component to every job that people do.  Many people do not like salespeople.  I argue that they haven’t met the right salespeople.  In the best of worlds, salespeople are highly trained professionals, adept at understanding what you need, and matching those things, of the products and services that they provide, which match your need.  A true sales professional, in my opinion, is one who is categorized by a quote I share from one of my sales directors (when I was managing as cellular retail phone store back in the days of analog cellular.  Her name is Wendy, and as I am quoting from memory, I have paraphrased a bit, most likely.)

I define a great sales person as:  ‘One who is capable of turning shoppers into buyers with sales that wear well’

In the article, the authors categorize all b2b sales people as one of 5 types (the descriptions are in the HBR blog post.)

  • Relationship Builders
  • Hard Workers
  • Lone Wolves
  • Reactive Problem Solvers
  • Challengers

Typically, it is thought that the first group would outperform all others, and sales as relationship building has gotten a great deal of effort, training, recruiting, etc… associated with it.  The authors posit that it is not relationship builders, but rather, the last group, Challengers that truly perform the best (There is a study to back it up.  The study also suggests that those in the Relationship Builders class perform the lowest.)   I will paste the descriptions of the two below, for making the rest of my blog post clear:

  • Relationship Builders focus on developing strong personal and professional relationships and advocates across the customer organization. They are generous with their time, strive to meet customers’ every need, and work hard to resolve tensions in the commercial relationship.
  • Challengers use their deep understanding of their customers’ business to push their thinking and take control of the sales conversation. They’re not afraid to share even potentially controversial views and are assertive — with both their customers and bosses.

I think this is a very positive thing for both types if, indeed, customers respond better to the Challengers.  It is good for the people who keep trained, keep knowledgeable about all approaches, and understand their customer deeply enough to know where proposed solutions might not match desired outcomes.   This involves identifying with the problems that their customers are facing, listening both to what they are saying, and what they are not saying, and suggesting alternatives that should provide better solutions.  As these people are strong of mind and will, they stand up to organizational pressures from both sides of the “aisle”.

So, maybe you are asking the question: Why is it good for Relationship Builders as well?

My theory is simple:

  • Challengers are not actually a distinct type of sales person.  Challengers are a special type of the “Relationship Builders” category.  The in-common skills and behaviors they possess are that they (are trying to) form relationships with their customers.
  • Challengers are a special non-“co-dependant” subset of the Relationship Builders type.  Simply put, they are  not “yesmen”.  They help the customer buy what they need, even if it is not precisely what they came to the table wanting.
  • It is highly possible that the original models for the “relationship based selling” hubbub were actually Challengers.  Not only did they understand the environment.  Not only were they responsive and available to their customers, but they had such a healthy relationship with the people at these organizations, that they could effectively say “no, I don’t think we should do it that way–and I’ll tell you why.”  They had a healthy enough relationship with their co-workers that they could say “I think we can do this better.”
  • In the rush to hire relationship based sales people, or to refactor their existing sales organizations into being relationship based, sales organizations may have wound up with a significant number of pseudo-relationship based practices and salespeople.

Not sure if I am right, but I think I am.

And I can’t help but think that this type of pseudo-personality based selling is what has brought us to the “customer loyalty card” fiasco at local shopping stores.  (How many do you have in your wallet/on your keychain?)   The various keyword based ads we see online.   The impersonal attempts of a computer system to sound personal while harvesting your data and delivering your eyeballs to the highest bidding purveyor of crap.   Every business now wants you to “Like” them on Facebook.

There is a project that I have been aware of for awhile called Project VRM.   It looks to address the issues that the world of “Client Relationship Management” (CRM) has exacerbated.    Doc Searls is involved (an understatement) — It looks like its where he focuses most of his effort these days.   If these things aren’t related, I’m sure Doc would tell me why 😉  I am pretty sure that they are.

If I have to “be sold”, you probably haven’t done your job right.  If you suggest something, and I want to buy it, because I get the distinct feeling that you’ve paid attention to the information I’ve shared, and done some thinking on top of it,  chances are you did your job right.

I posit that you can’t just talk to people.  It is about the conversation.  Every time you encounter a potential customer, it is about relating.   It is about understanding.  It is about creating a healthy relationship with other people, where something you are selling may indeed be what they are buying.


Check your assumptions :: Science is comprised of theories that have yet to be disproved (aka “Roll your own express elevators”)

September 19, 2011

Mainly, I am a bystander in the global warming discussion.  In many circles, catastrophic signals of global warming seem to be incontrovertible fact.  Many pseudo-scientists weigh in on the discussion, and of course, brow-beating and other impolite forms of debate ensue.  In the wake, real scientists on either side of the issue (namely: Are humans irrevocably changing the environment of this earth in ways that will make it unsuitable for human life in the relatively not-to-distant-future?) get caught in a perilous cross-fire of politics, religious fanaticism, and debate trolls.

My gut feeling is that the environment is changing, and to the detriment of humans living on the earth.  This was my gut feeling before Al Gore began his crusade.  It was my feeling before Al Gore invented the internet ;).

I was thinking recently of how sometimes data acts to reinforce myths as fact.  Information that could be analyzed in a positive light toward the theory at hand are used to bolster said theory.

Take for example, a theory that I held regarding elevators in tall buildings, specifically ones that stop, it seems, on every floor imaginable on the way to the floor you are trying to get to.  These elevators lack an “express” button.  The theory was simply this:  if I held down simultaneously the “door close” button and the button for the floor that I was trying to get to, it would keep the elevator from stopping.  (Let us disregard whether this is a polite thing to do in a building where many people need to change floors frequently, that is a different debate.  Also,  let us debate whether or not taking the stairs instead of the elevator might function as a low-tech “stairmaster” and improve my overall health.  Again, a different debate.)

Armed with this theory of the “roll your own” express elevator, I could put it to the test.  Every time I needed to get to Floor 12 from the Lobby, I performed this action.  Going down?  The same.   For a solid week.  And you know what?  Evidence suggested that I was correct.  Wow!  I figured it out!  No more waiting for various passengers, I was the master of the building’s vertical transportation!  Mwu ha ha ha…

Except: the theory was wrong.  One day, assuming I could express my way downstairs and head to the parking lot, it stopped on floor 10.  And then 9.  And then 2.  What went wrong?

I had gathered evidence for my theory, but theories are never proven.  They remain theories until disproven (disproved?).  Science works like this.  What went wrong is that, when dealing with scientific theory, it is the data that disproves that is sought, and constantly re-sought.  Theories are proposed.  The model environment for experimentation is one where data is cast in the role of skeptic.  Theories that stand the test of time (rigorous experimentation  and data gathering) are stronger theories, but they are still theories.

Climate science (and the “Climate Science” debate) lacks this perspective, by and by.

I am not saying that there are not serious scientists trying to figure out if we have irrevocably horked up our “operating environment”.   The (not-actually-in-the) background chatter is noise.  And I think that the issue needs serious scientific discussion to be of use.

An aside…  I have not given up the idea that there is a “roll your own” express elevator — just came to realize that the “floor+close” method does not work 😉

PS: Many times, when I author a post like this, I spend a great deal of time fashioning and re-fashioning my thought.  This post kind of got drafted and written in a 5 minute window, so I hope it holds up to my normal “post-blogged review” standards.  I don’t intend to edit it.
PPS: Also, when writing a blog, I generally try to incorporate links to what I read that inspired me at that time to write something about a topic.  Today I tried something different.  I deliberately sought out some topic to blog about today, as I have been remiss in updates to this blog.  As such, these places are not my usual blog hangouts.  Still, referencing (linking) is the glue that holds the internet together.  So, for this blog post, they are here:

  • This is a blog I saw featured on the wordpress dashboard, as a popular wordpress blog.  It is a little more “the end is nigh”-ey than I normally would find myself reading.
  • This is a blog post that mentions some scientists that have taken abuse and/or have chosen to dis-associate themselves with “reputable” science organizations due to the lack of science in  Climate Science (it asks if Climate Science can be considered a science)  (also from scouring the wordpress blog links on the dashboard)

Google, Motorola, Patent Shields and the Double-Edged Sword

August 16, 2011

The Official Google blog starts by discussing Motorola’s history in the wireless market, from early cell phones (remember the analog ‘Brick’ phone?  The ‘Flip’?) to the early introduction of the tiny StarTAC; they also remind their readers that Motorola bet their smart phone strategy on the Android operating platform.  It says  “That is why I am so excited today to announce that we have agreed to acquire Motorola.”  (Link to press announcement)

I’ve read some commentary, and some background…  Eric Raymond has added an almost permanent fixture on his blog, a series of posts that begin with “The Smartphone Wars:” …  so as a regular observer of his work, I have been primed.  His thoughts on the acquisition, and his immediate predictions, can be found here.  It is clear to Eric that this is about the patents.  Most commentary on the blog also acknowledges this, and much commentary goes back and forth about whether this is all about the patents, or mostly about the patents.  When today’s announcement is a somewhat distant past, the truth will be clear.  Until then, people can feel free to discuss.

I might have a few readers who have not given much thought to patents.  There was a reason why patents exist, and in the constitution, it is said (essentially, and heavily paraphrased) that it provides inventors the incentive to take the risks inherent in bringing new inventions and discoveries to public light.  They exist to encourage people to invent, and to share, by protecting the patent-holder’s right (for a limited time) to decide who can use their inventions, and at what cost.  In many cases, this is (or was at least) true.  While I suppose this discussion could broaden to other patentable fields, the one that is most relevant here is that of Software Patents.  Regardless of what their initial intent was,  it seems that software patents act with a chilling effect to stifle true invention.  For years, big software companies have been amassing what are called “Patent Portfolios”.  These portfolios can act as swords (weapons to use against competitors), and they can act as shields (deterrents).  They really do not mother invention.

Part of the issue is that the people issuing patents really lack the technical savvy to determine actually patentable software.  Maybe some people are familiar with this 1975 patent issued for the “Method of concealing partial baldness”.  (I wonder how many aging men had to pay their dues to the patent holder of the comb-over, that is, before it was no longer enforceable.)    What most people don’t know, is that there are many patents like this in the software industry, that are a horrible abuse of the system.  You can defend yourself (perhaps a small software development shop) against patent litigation with one of these specious patents by proving the existence of “prior art.”  So:  no harm, no foul.  Right?  Well, yes and no.  You can prove prior art, when you get your day in court.  In today’s system, however, the amount of money you need to spend to defend yourself against patent litigation by companies with endless zombie armies of litigious patent warriors is astronomical.  It is often just easier, and cheaper, to fold up your tent.

Back to The Sword and The Shield.  If you are a big company, and you don’t like competition, you can get your hands on some good legal ammunition by buying up companies that have interesting patents.  They don’t really have to be valid, they just have to be issued.  Many battles over intellectual property have been fought with patents as the weapon, but mostly it is used as extortion (various forms… “Don’t do it, or we’ll sue” .. or “Do it, and pay us $$$, or we’ll sue.”)  But like any go0d arms race, get enough big players in the game, and instead of wars of attrition, you get cold wars, and delicate truces.  There is a likelihood that two players in the same sub-section of the software field will technically infringe on one another’s crazy patents.  So, something like “You could sue me for XYZ .. but I’ll countersue for ABC … ” is the detente.

Here is where we get back to the subject that precipitated the discussion.  A (the?) primary reason for Google wanting to buy Motorola, is, as Eric Raymond said:

This is Google telling Apple and Microsoft and Oracle “You want to play silly-buggers with junk patents? Bring it on; we’ll countersue you into oblivion.”

It makes perfect sense.  The android market is threatened by people who want a bigger piece of the smartphone money, and this move would be a brilliant counter-stroke on behalf of Google’s partners, and to protect Google’s interest in the platform.  Motorola’s patents are good for the portfolio.  Google steps into the arena, and wields the double-edged sword, and screams “I am Spartacus!”

The deafening cheers of the crowds that look on shakes the very skies with its intensity.   The hero has arrived.

.. still reading?

The patent sword is double-edged, with a flaming hilt as well.  One expects repeat offender patent trolls to use the tactic.  Bad guys do bad things.  The peril for Google is the mind share that it has:  this sword cuts the wielder as well as the opponent.     Google began with the near-perfecting of the delicate art of web search.  Making it bigger, better, quicker and relevant.  True innovation.  When Google went public, many feared that it would shed its nice-guy role, and descend into the depths of  hell, to be crowned “that big evil corporation”.   Google has spread its innovation across various aspects of the web.  Say what you want.  Fear what you must.  But, they certainly innovate.

So, certainly, going nuclear at this stage is unbecoming…

..let my mind wander briefly back to the broader issue of patents, before I wander back to Google and Motorola again:

It is a damned shame that software has come to this state.   Google has interests in the Android platform.  It is open.  Google has partners.  It is a shame that it has to muck through this filth to protect what it has built.  But here is where I, with 81.34% certainty (a number most certainly pulled straight out of my ass), can state that there is no better way.  Spend the money to buy the flaming shit-shield of a smart-phone patent arsenal, or spend the money fighting the trolls with rocks and sticks.   I have resigned myself to this, in the current state of patents in the USA, as being a necessary act of legal war.

I guess the other fear is that Google now will own the hardware that its software runs on.  The “vertical”.  Many posit that it will shed itself of the actual hardware business, and keep the patents.  This may be.  As I said earlier:

When today’s announcement is a somewhat distant past, the truth will be clear.

Google has made some mistakes.  And much of the way that they are ever-present in the internet of today frightens me.  If only because, in time, those who run Google now might not be those who run  Google in the future when.  But Google has innovated.  Its possible that they will tinker with the hardware, and try to combine their drive to build the biggest rat-trap with Motorola’s (if sometimes spotty and perhaps roller-coastery) history of cell phone leadership, and come up with something extraordinary.

I guess I’ve come all this way to say, I just don’t know.  I want to believe, but real heroes are few and far between.

And to Doc , who inspired me to weigh in on my blog, I quote and paraphrase some my scattered, initial thoughts on the matter, as a close.  In essence, I want to believe that Google will be true to their origins, but this was my gut reaction:

I am currently reviewing the googarola thing … It is obviously
potentially fraught with danger… and a great deal of it comes down
to trusting that Google’s “Do No Evil” philosophy can survive Wall
Streets “Cover your ass-ets” mindset–especially in light of patent

The real question is how strong is the existing community of “Open”
developers for the Android market — can they absorb the Patent +
Closed Source influx and change minds?  One could say that it marks a
sort of test — if the “open way” is better–it should win.  But that
person would also be missing the fact that Patents miss the mark they
were intended to make — they often stifle the type of innovative
thought, the “free marketplace of ideas” … in the name of promoting

The biggest danger, is, that Google seems to get a pass from the
otherwise “big corp” leery(sp) techies.  “It’s google–their heart is
in the right place” .. except they’re not a garage band anymore,
they’re playing the big arenas…and big money means compromise where
“the art” is concerned.  Almost always.    And they might amass their
flocks of t-shirt wearing fans with hard-hitting provocative thought
— but its all teenie-bopper when the real world of economics settles

This, children, is something that we used to call “a book”

July 9, 2011

The Grandson(Fred Savage): A book?
Grandpa(Peter Falk): That’s right. When I was your age, television was called books. And this is a special book. It was the book my father used to read to me when I was sick, and I used to read it to your father. And today I’m gonna read it to you.
The Grandson: Has it got any sports in it?
Grandpa: Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…
The Grandson: Doesn’t sound too bad. I’ll try to stay awake.
Grandpa: Oh, well, thank you very much, very nice of you. Your vote of confidence is overwhelming.

The Princess Bride (Movie) 1987  (Director: Rob Reiner)

So.  I have been reading “The Shallows : What the Internet is doing to our brains” {by Nicholas Carr} .  For anybody who has not read it, this is a book well worth reading.   I am not done with it yet, but can safely say that it will be one of my favorites of its genre, if only for putting to words something that has been nagging my gut for a while already.

This book seemed to me to be a natural next step following  “Code: And Other Laws of Cyberspace” and “Free Culture : The Nature and Future of Creativity” (both by Lawrence Lessig) .. and “The Big Switch: Rewiring the World from Edison to Google” (also by Carr).  Even though these authors cover different aspects of internet and culture, there are parallels and intersections that fascinate me in most literature, regardless of how close or far apart they are in realm or scope.

The generations that follow mine have become enamored with the “World Wide Computer”.  Social networking sites.  Blogs.  Twitter.  Web pages.  Online multi-player games.  Wiki for homework… Email.  Forums.   …we find freaks who are just like us; distance (which in the physical world assists in marginalizing outcasts) is negligible between any two points on the internet (The Giant Zero).  The internet society is omnipresent, and its allure undeniable– one could get lost in a place like this: many people do.

Before this starts sounding like some sort of old man rant (“When I was your age, we didn’t have no namby pamby Facebook.  We had BBSes, Commodore 64s, and BASIC… and we liked it that way!“)… my generation has become enamored also…. and much of my parents’ generation — and even some of their parents as well.  It has developed as an all-purpose tool and toy:  it has fascinated people from all walks of life.

The point that Nicholas Carr makes {so far, still reading ;), almost done :)} throughout the book (The Shallows, which, incidentally, is developed and laid out in a similar style to The Big Switch) is that as humanity shapes and forges tools, those tools shape and forge humanity.  And not (only) in an abstract way.  The actual wiring of the brain is altered through repetition.  Tools (such as the typewriter, the word processor, the word processing computer applications, the weblog tools, etc..) affect the actual way that the thoughts are forged and presented.  In so doing, they manipulate the author, just as the author manipulates them.

He traces the history of this dual influencer<->influencee relationship that we have with tools back as far as the changes that the phonetic alphabet brought to thought, and the changes that “spaces” between words brought as well.   The section regarding the transformation that the written word brought to the concepts of thought and imagination was one of those moments for me where I understood it instantly, and it made perfect sense, despite the fact that I had never thought of it quite that way before.  What was actually created with the tools of the written language differed substantially from the works of oral tradition that preceded it.  The technology of books encouraged linear thought; reading involved a deeper set of thought processes than the traditions which preceded it.

Not intending to summarize each and every part of the book, I will say, it lays out a history of these changes, one that it seems modern neuroscience is beginning to understand:  an evolution, where time and again, the tinkerer finds that the new invention tinkers with his or her mind.   And it is no case more true than with the Internet (the World Wide Web, Web 2.0/3.0, etc…)  And in fact, the book makes a compelling argument that the Web has the potential to make the mind-altering neurological changes at rapid speed (many of the stimuli required to form such changes in the brain happen multiple times a second when using a computer to browse the World Wide Database.)

It is the second argument of the book, though, that concerned me enough to start writing this post before finishing the reading of the book.  (Or perhaps, it is some of these re-wired neurons, driving me to write this post online,  rather than have the patience to wait for the finishing of the reading of the book…)   Even if (while) you accept the premise that the tools we use for expressing thought can actually alter the content (and not just the delivery) of the thought, you still might not find cause for alarm.   It has been happening with disruptive technologies for all of history.   Here is where Nicholas Carr brings in what may indeed be a cause for alarm.  Studies done show that the the internet stimulates several senses, at a much greater and unrelenting pace than previous technologies,  and does not allow for the relaxed mind that can engage in deeper thought.  It is the argument that the Age of the Web (as opposed to the Age of Books) encourages superficial learning, and perhaps over time, more superficial thought.  Some accept this as certain, and state that it is OK.  Perhaps the small period of the democratization of deep thought (brought about by the ubiquitous availability of books) was an aberration from a natural state where elite thinkers thought deep thoughts, and the rest of society labored.  And if that is so, the internet (web) can entertain the masses superficially, and allow a dedicated set of thinkers to worry about deeper meaning.  I hope not.

The question I ask (and I invite others to read this book and participate in this conversation):  Is it true?  And if so, is this step of wading in “The Shallows” part of a larger process relating to the internet that has yet to take hold?  Is the current state of the internet, and the tools, akin to the alphabet and scriptura continua stage that preceded the Age of Books?  Or does this technology inevitably rewire our brain in a way destined to short circuit our brain’s function, ultimately, from deeper cognition?  Do we wade in the shallows of thought, waiting for the tide of knowledge to come crashing back in with a new opportunity to delve deeper, or do we fumble about in the low tides for the foreseeable future?

The socialite, the social network and the outcast

June 21, 2011

I am not the first person to think (or write) things such as what follows, but feel the need to express them here anyway:

There seems to be a fundamental disconnect between social behavior, and social networks.  Social networks allow one to keep people at arms length, or further, rather than have meaningful conversations– all this while increasing the virtual contact with other people (both the number of people that one is “connected” to, and many times one “communicates” with those people.)  It is the illusion of the social.

I was not certain where my initial revulsion to MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, etc… came from, but the revulsion was (and to a decent part, still is) there.  On the face of it, these places provide a means and an opportunity to share your life with many people– some of them people who are separated by geography, some of them people that you wish to keep at an arm’s length (or further.)   The problem is: these relationships take the skin out of the game.  They are superficial– because they are, by design, subsets of the “real you” distilled for online consumption; they are a poor substitute for genuine humanity.

The contexts are mixed online, and in ways that significantly make social networks dangerous.  People are not one thing to everybody.  My mom shared a story (a decently long time ago) with me once that helps to clarify this:

My mom was involved in a great many activities at college, and she had a collection of different people who were friends.  In many cases, these people had things in common.  In many others, the thing they had in common was her.  She had said that she thought she’d have a get-together, and introduce them to one another (after all, if they all were her friends, they could also be friends with one another.)   Now, it being years ago, I don’t recall the specifics, other than to say that I am pretty sure this story was a lesson for me: Not all of your friends will like one another, even though they like you.  The get-together did not go as planned.

The logic makes sense, it is almost like transitive math, until you put real personality into the picture.  The math.  A likes B and C.  B likes D and E.  C likes F and G.  Therefore A should like D and E, and F and G.   Put them in a set, and A thru G should be one big posse.  Enter human nature: We are not one thing to many people, we are many things to many people.

The partitioning of our selves into different aspects is common in the real world.  It is essential, in some cases.  Many people are blessed with doing the things that they love for a living.   In order to pay the bills, many others take one kind of job, and keep their passions in their projects and hobbies.  (The reasons are varied and numerous for this, and outside of the scope of the blog post.  Rest assured, if you allow for this as a premise, I can take you somewhere useful.)  Some people call this particular division “Work/Life Balance”.  We do work at work, we do home at home.  At work, we use different skills (and are often required to deal with people we might not otherwise choose to spend time with), and therefore, we are, essentially, someone else.  This division is greater for some people than others, but usually, there is some sort of split.  (When there isn’t a split, it is usually the “home” persona that suffers.)

We have the self that we show to the world in general.  We have the self that we show to acquaintances.  We have the self that we share with friends, with our extended families, with our immediate families, with our partners…  And then there is the self that we show to no one, or not if we can help it.  There are places where we feel insecure, and places where we feel confident.  There are personalities that we use to adapt to each of these situations.

Social Networks collapse these boundaries, and force, in many, the integration of these multiple personas in ways that may not be healthy.  They place the sum total of the people you have known in your life (at least those who are online, and on the network) into one great big mixer of a get-together.  They encourage the sharing of photos, and thoughts, and the bringing together of people.  The impersonal nature of the social networks mean that the context for such communication is blurry at best.  The fact that policies that govern the information you place there make it unclear which acquaintances of your acquaintances can actually see what you put there, you make a trade off.  For the people who care, you post what you post.  You let your guard down, and assume that what you post for a small group will interest a small group of your “Friends”.  And indeed, those who think like you have the offline context to understand the posts and shares.  Those people who do not know you in that context (and perhaps, the world, depending on your settings), can see such communications in a different they set based on what they don’t know about you, and form certain opinions of you that can spill over into your real world interactions with them.

So, you say, don’t “Friend” them.  Were it that simple.  People find you, and you are, after all, in a public forum.  Many peoples’ default is simply to go ahead and let these people in.  The other option says “I do not like you, get away.”  — even if it isn’t fully what you intend.

Let’s say you’re out with your family at the park (do people even do that anymore?).  You see someone from work there, and they notice you, and start to approach.  Very few of us say “Hey–I’m with my family.  You are ‘work’.  Talk to you on Monday.”  We are not wired to do that.  We are wired to seek out other people, and society marks that type of behavior as “rude.”  So there is a more polite way to handle this.  “Hey Bob..  How are you doing?” (and we don’t care–this question never means that, it is one of the social niceties meant to keep things civil.)  We hope that Bob will answer with the socially acceptable “OK..  out with the family?”  so you can say “yeah … we’re having great family time.” .. We hope  Bob won’t actually tell us how he’s feeling–we simply don’t see Bob that way 🙂

The point of the above is that it is awkward to have someone peek over the wall into our private lives, even if we know them somewhat.  It is even more awkward to have to figure out how to tell them “no”, without making this online slight turn into an offline slight.  The alternative, again, is to let them in.  And this is where a scenario plays out that is  “Six Degrees of Separation”  meets “Oprah” meets “Lord of the Flies”, and the walls that keep our lives sane can crumble.   It is how people wind up with hundreds of Facebook friends, and forget what it is like to hang out with real friends.

Partly, this is by system design.  Facebook is a company, with share-holders, and profit incentives.  They are interested in getting the largest set of “people you know” communicating with one another superficially.  They want the eyeballs to show content to, they want the bellies and the gullets to feed, they want the backs needing shirts and the feet needing shoes.  With everyone all in one place, they want to perform some educated guesswork on what it is you want, and then provide you (and your posse), on a platter, to those people who sell it.  They are not interested in the many yous.  They are interested in the one with the credit card.  Again, “companies making profit” is not a bad thing, but when you choose to spend your time (hours, days) on social networks such as Facebook, remember that it is not you that they want.

Facebook does not believe in multiple personas.  It is believed that you are who you are, and should be one thing to everyone– after all, what do you have to hide?

People are wired to behave differently in public than others.  Some people are true socialites, and they lay it all out bare, in public sight, on public sites.  Facebook is perfect for people who measure their worth in the number of people who can see them, and want to see what they are up to.  I think most people want to “be liked” … and they want to share meaningful things with people.  Putting people in a situation where they are among “Friends” makes them share more… after all, “these are 500 of my closest friends!  what could go wrong?”.

Our lives are more online than ever.  That is true for most people.  To what degree differs.  People who wish to interact with us know this.  Prospective employers, people from our past that we’d rather leave there, you name it.  What we are encouraged to say to our closest Facebook friends has great impact on our privacy.  We take part in the pseudo-conversation, and risk exposing information to people (unintended third parties, friends of friends of friends, etc..) that have no right otherwise to see it.   Our employers can spy on us, find things they don’t like, and find reasons to no longer employ us.  Our future employers can see into our private lives in ways that are not legally available to them otherwise.   People that we want to avoid can find out what we are doing, what we are thinking.  Perhaps you can make a list of your own group of people that you would never dream of saying some of the things that people say on Facebook to.  Chances are, with a little work, and possibly very little work, they can read it, in multi-media glory.

Online can be an escape, and it most likely has become so for many.  It certainly can feel liberating to invent yourself in a brand new persona, a personal self that exists only on the web.  A person maybe you would never have the courage to be in real life.

These social networks fill a gap in our current society.  Driven to be online more than ever, and to put more of ourselves online, we are left with a chasm between real emotion, and online wordplay.   Sure.. we can be “Friends” on Facebook:  There’s  no skin in the game.  As long as our paths are somewhat and in some ways intersecting, we can share two directional one-way dialogue all day long.

In a world where our lives are moving at break-neck speeds to “online”, a real hunger for actual human contact is being met with the trappings of a virtual society– a place we call home that is akin to a digital refugee camp.

On this patch of land … (or: Organic growth still requires intervention)

June 12, 2011

I spent the majority of the day working on my garden.  And yes, for my area (and for many) it is a little late to be planting — the truth is, another power did the “planting” for me this year, for the most part, but I think we will hold that bit for later.

Working in my garden involves the following:

  • Clearing weeds.
  • Clearing old plants from previous planting seasons (such as winter/spring)
  • Amending soil (organic compost)
  • Deciding which volunteer plants stay, and which volunteers go
  • Planning where everything that is left will go this year
  • Planting, if possible ( *hopefully tomorrow 🙂 )

  I suppose that this can be considered a pretty mundane task by many, but to me, it is a spiritual process.  You see, natural (organic) growth still requires a lot of intervention if something useful is to remain.   Consider the following:

  • You can start all the seedlings (indoors or direct sow) all you want, sometimes you get nothing, and sometimes you get too much of one type.
  • You can plant the seedlings in the “best of all” places/conditions {at least, as far as at the beginning of the season} and still wind up with nothing to show for it.
  • Sometimes, the garden surprises you in unintended ways
    • Sometimes this is in good ways ..
    • ..sometimes this is in bad ways.
  • Sometimes, outside forces take decisions out of your hands, and leave you with the “best of the worst”

Nevertheless, gardening is an endeavor that I have a passion for.   Sometimes I do not have time for it, but I certainly hold the passion.  It is similar to how I feel about the internet.  And while it is not the first time I have thought it, today, a conceit (extended metaphor) came to me that I thought could focus my thought on the internet.  It is not a fully thought out idea, so it may seem a bit odd at first.

The internet is facing my organic gardener’s conundrum: The internet is my garden, year 4.

Read more…

Rain from The Cloud doesn’t fall in this desert

May 31, 2011

I am working on a piece about “The Cloud.” I have some initial feelings about this new phase in computing, but those feelings are merely gut reactions… I have not come to an informed decision. For any of you interested, I am applying the filter of Lawrence Lessig’s Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace (the first edition) to Nicholas Carr’s The Big Switch: From Edison to Google.  Neither of these books came out recently, but due to the period of time I spent avoiding all things internet that were not directly related to the paying of my bills and expenses, they are new to me 🙂 .

This piece is not about that.  This piece is about access to whatever it is that The Cloud does offer.  It is about the plumbing.

The Cloud and Utility Computing:

While the subject of this piece is not a discussion of the merits (perceived, actual, and mis-represented) of The Cloud, it will help, I think, to frame the discussion:

There is a great deal of hype, and bandying about of the term “Cloud Computing” in the media, and in technology circles.  The first three times I tried to explain “The Cloud” to someone who didn’t already know what it was, I tripped over terms and phrases that made it sound fairly indistinguishable from “The Internet”.  Essentially, the internet evolves, and part of that evolution are new technologies, or new ways to use old technologies; at first blush, they don’t seem much different.  Also, many times certain “category killers” utilize these new (r)evolutionary paradigms before they’ve been given a public face (think: Google,, Amazon…).  Also, I think technologists like to know more than the rest of the population …  All of these things combine to make the “revolution” seem like “what we have now” {those not at the cutting edge actually missed the coup occurring ;-)}

I didn’t want to get into a long discussion about this new piece of the internet puzzle, but I think it is important to understand what we are talking about.  Companies who came to the internet early did so as a competitive edge; companies that came to the show late did so out of some measure of desperation.  The internet came to become a de facto requirement for doing any measure of business.  (Actually, the Nicholas Carr book points out that this is somewhere along the line of evolutions that have brought us to Utility Computing, or The Cloud.)

While everyone was racing to the internet, they found themselves building their own supporting infrastructures (application servers, database servers, corporate networks including massive client-server architectures.).  These corporate networks come with costs of their own (hardware expenses, software expenses {both application, and security software to keep the data and network safe}, and employees to keep the whole thing running.)  These costs are fairly identical across different companies, and different market segments.  They are bottom line “cost of doing business” expenses, and companies “grin and bear it” to keep from being marginalized in their real core business (whatever that may be.)

The Cloud promises to change that.  It takes this “wasteful” duplication of physical resources across the board, and focuses it into enormous data centers, places whose entire role  becomes the providing of information processing centrally.  Massive clusters of information processing and application space, it is said, will bring about an era of computing as a utility.  Everything can run in the cloud, store in the cloud, and exist in the cloud.  Thin clients (hardware that runs the smallest amount of software) will be able to harness this power.  On the surface it certainly does make sense.

Broadband: Herald  of utility computing:

Read more…

Hark! The (Auto)pen is mightier than the Sword of Liberty! (or has apathy done the slicing and dicing?)

May 27, 2011


I remember that day.  It all happened while I sat in traffic on the Long Island Expressway, on my way to work.

Then came the calls and the emails.  The shutting down of the airlines.  Friends and colleagues stuck across the country at a trade show, everyone just really wanting to get home.  To figure it out.  To find out the fate of friends working in The City.  Fear.

Started out writing this:

I can’t remember when I started (or when I actually gave it up), but sometime around then, I created my own rudimentary publishing system, and posted a blog at Geocities.  (Don’t look, it is gone now 😉 ).

And then found a link on Doc’s old weblog, and found this:

[Edit] Link removed for personal reasons — it was the Way Back Machine, and it was there 🙂

So — it looks like that was 9/16/2001.

The immediate and imminent fears of September 11th had passed.  A different kind of fear surfaced.  And as I quote a memory of nearly a decade a go, of the voice inside my head, it said something like:

Holy <expletive> <expletive> Dave!  This is what they were waiting for.

Read more…

The Pragmatic Rapture

May 26, 2011

Let me begin by saying that the intent of this article is not to find common and well-treaded paths of cliche’ regarding the named subject.  Bear with me for a little background, and hear my proposition.


There are a group of the faithful who insist that the “End of the World” is approaching quickly.  In some circles, it is proposed that this apocalypse is preceded by an event, “The Rapture”.  At the time of this event, those who have achieved a state of grace, will be rescued from the impending apocalypse, and brought to a place where they can live out their eternity in the presence of their God.

There are naturally strong opinions on both sides of this argument, and one could possibly  bring to question the maths that have set the dates.  In fact, even amongst many who are certain that the End is indeed near, there is no clear agreement as to when this all happens.   Common belief, though, is soon.  Like, October 21, 2011 soon.  Or December 21, 2012 soon.

Part of my point, is this:  Such claims are not really verifiable, and if there comes a time when they are verified, those people who remain  unsaved are then essentially screwed.  Sure, at least they can be spared the “See, I told you!” snipes, as anyone who can say that with a straight face has become Homo Emeritus .. they have retired now from the race that we humans run.  And our connection with them, just as their connection with the world, has been severed.

Post Rapture concerns:

Or has it?  Do we mourn the loss of our friends and family, if we are indeed one of those not chosen?

Maybe, it really depends on the individual…

Read more…

Hey there old friend! (cc:world)

May 25, 2011

I’ve tripped myself up with writer’s block on my first blog post, otherwise, this would have arrived minutes after creating my wordpress site.  People who know me well might be surprised at the thought of Dave with “nothing to say”.  But, when trying to re-enter the world of blogging, a simple  “Hello, world!” seems unworthy.

 My son suggested that I just “write” (a suggestion I’ve often made to him, so, turnabout and all that … )   Doc Searls suggested that one trick he uses might work for me:

“I think of blogging as writing public emails. Basically, cc:world. It’s a mind trick, but it works.”

 (I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing 😉 )

So, here goes. 

I’ve spent the past few years ignoring the internet as much as possible.  Coming from a technologist, this might sound like an odd confession.  There are so many exciting (and scary) things going on these days, why avoid even looking?  Perhaps it was technology overload or  some idyllic hope that it was just me dreaming, and that social networking sites had not replaced genuine human interraction.  But, the world is indeed what it is.

Recently, I’ve had the yearning to be involved, even moreso than in the past, and I have been immersing myself in some of the old posts and letters of the web, “catching up”.  While looking on to the conversations on the internet, I have  exercised an almost self-imposed period of silence, reflection and thought, mixed with a slight bit of inertia (or apathy, if you will.)   I have had things to say, but neither the forum to do so, or the will to dive in.  This changed yesterday, when I realized the following:

But for the absence of a blog of my own, there are many things this past month that I would have spoken about.   I’ll provide a short list, in no specific chronological  or symbolic order of importance:

  • Ubiquitous high speed internet, in general, and North Carolina’s latest example of squashing fair competition in the name of protecting fair competition.  See here, and here (a link in Lawrence Lessig’s open letter to Governor Perdue on Huffington  , or even here (if you like the nitty gritty of the actual law)
  • The Rapture.  If you need links, you haven’t been paying attention 😉
  • “The Cloud”.  Ditto.
  • The abysmal performance of my organic seed starts this year (as opposed to three years’ previous when my germination rate was near 100%, the last of which featured some form of inability {driven by economy [new job] and massively tiny start obliterating heat surge that coincided with a new 1 hour commute, leaving less time for watering} to get the whole thing working as hoped for.)
  • And conversely, the amazing sheer performance of volunteer vegetable plants in last years’ weed-pit of a former garden.  (70+ tomato starts, a basil plant or two, some lettuce, and 4 already massive pumpkin vines out back)

Sitting here thinking .. “but wait, Dave, there was plenty more!”.  Call it time shortage.  Call it laziness.  Call it my mind not as good at instant recall as it was in my roaring twenties (or even early thirties) … but that will do as the list for now.  More on all that later.  I end this blog post as I began it, to those who will read, to the internet as it is now, and as it was:

Hey there old friend!  (cc:world)