NEW BLOGGING LOCATION

Just a reminder — I’ve migrated to mechanizedintelligence.com, which is where all new material is being posted.

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Nice overview on blogging analytics for beginners

If you’re interested in analyzing your blog traffic, but don’t know how to get started, check out Mack Collier’s comprehensive post on beginner blog analytics.

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Moving Cross-Town

Well, cross-Wordpress sites, anyway.  I’m moving to a new blog, “MechanizedIntelligence“, hosted at mechanizedintelligence.wordpress.com.  Mechanized Intelligence is a term I first saw in Tyler Cowen’s book, “Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation“.  To me it neatly encapsulates the incredible promise and the staggering challenges of life in the 21st century.  We are all of us — whether we like it or not — at the center of an amazing system of technology, informatics, and science that leverages intelligence and skills to unprecedented levels.  This web includes not only our personal mobile phone, digital cameras, social networks, and productivity tools, but those of other people and organizations around us.  The extent to which each of us succeeds or fails will in large part depend on how we adapt to this new reality.

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Boston edges out Cambridge for new technology firms

In a somewhat surprising development, Boston actually had more venture capital deals than Cambridge in 2013.  Ninety-seven deals were signed in Boston, vs. 78 in Cambridge.  Cambridge does still hold a commanding lead in the dollar amount, however, with total funding of $820 million (down $105m from 2012), vs. $593 for Boston (up $85m from 2012).  The entire Boston metro area totaled over $3 billion in funding (approximately the same as in 2012).

As reported in the Boston Globe, Boston seems to be attracting more of the very small and very early stage firms, while Kendall Square in Cambridge and Waltham in the suburbs have matured somewhat, with far more mid-sized and large established companies.  In contrast, really small startups and associated venture capital firms alike are increasingly finding homes in Boston’s downtown Innovation, Financial and Leather Districts.  Anecdotally, it’s a younger crowd being attracted to downtown.

“There are more subway lines, and it’s a little hipper in the downtown in many ways because there’s better food”

Besides the tasty food, another big factor is the proximity affect.  One VC firm, NextView Ventures, is an investor in 9 companies that are all within walking distance from its offices in the Leather district.  Of course Cambridge and Boston are so close that you can almost walk from one to the other during your lunch hour, so parsing out Cambridge vs. Boston’s lead in VC funding is a bit of hair-splitting.  What I can say is that on a clear day, I can see a surprising number of construction cranes in both cities.

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Peter Drucker on Outsourcing and Information Technology

I stumbled on a 2004 interview of Peter Drucker, one of the giants of management consulting and education.  Drucker was famous for coining the term “knowledge worker”, and he was an early proponent of outsourcing (starting decades ago).  It’s worth reading the interview in its entirety, but here are a couple of excerpts that resonated with me, now, in 2014.  The first one is on the true value of outsourcing.  Hint: it’s not cost savings.

Q: How can the productivity of knowledge workers be measured and improved?

A: Nobody has really looked at productivity in white-collar work in a scientific way. But whenever we do look at it, it is grotesquely unproductive. As you know, most of my work these days is with universities and hospitals and churches, which are three of the biggest knowledge-worker employers, and their productivity is dismal. In part this is because knowledge work by definition is highly specialized, and that means that the utilization of the knowledge worker tends to be very low.

The inefficiency of knowledge workers is partly the legacy of the 19th-century belief that a modern company tries to do everything for itself. Now, thank God, we’ve discovered outsourcing, but I would also say we don’t yet really know how to do outsourcing well. Most look at outsourcing from the point of view of cutting costs, which I think is a delusion. What outsourcing does is greatly improve the quality of the people who still work for you. I believe you should outsource everything for which there is no career track that could lead into senior management. When you outsource to a total-quality-control specialist, he is busy 48 weeks a year working for you and a number of other clients on something he sees as challenging. Whereas a total-quality-control person employed by the company is busy six weeks a year and the rest of the time is writing memoranda and looking for projects. That’s why when you outsource you may actually increase costs, but you also get better effectiveness.

Here’s another comment on information technology:

Information technology forces you to organize your processes more logically. The computer can handle only things to which the answer is yes or no. It cannot handle maybe. It’s not the computerization that’s important, then; it’s the discipline you have to bring to your processes. You have to do your thinking before you computerize it or else the computer simply goes on strike.

This enforced discipline has some disadvantages, because it often forces people to oversimplify. Also, the process of arriving at business decisions isn’t always systematic enough to be supported by computers. You have to take the assumptions out of the mind of the decision-maker and put them explicitly into the process, along with a method to check them, and only then can a computer help you manage it. Older executives find it excruciating to have to be that explicit, because they just don’t want to be. Besides, as we all know, many decisions are ultimately made by the hydrostatic pressure in the boss’s bladder.

As I said, read the whole thing.  It’s still very relevant, 10 years later.

 

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Juno

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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Spectacular Night Sky as Winter Turns to Spring

As Winter turned to Spring here in Eastern Massachusetts, tonight’s sky was spectacular (the image above is a fairly good approximation).  At about 9 o’clock facing West, there was an amazing view of Orion looming in the middle of the sky, with Canis Major following close on his heels.  Up and to the right was Taurus, and further on, the Pleiades.  Directly above Orion, Jupiter shone brightly in the middle of Gemini.  Over my left shoulder was Leo, and directly behind me was the Big Dipper (or Ursa Major, if you prefer).  The stars were especially clear and bright with a dark background sky.  Through a 10×50 binoculars, the Pleiades cluster looked like 7 scattered diamonds on sparkling velvet.  The individual stars Betelgeuse and Aldebaran were bright orange, and Sirius and Rigel cold blue.  Orion’s belt and sword, including the Orion Nebula, were crystal clear (though not nearly as colorful as in all the photographs you see online).  Even through my binoculars, I could make out two of Jupiter’s moons, and when I got out my 70mm telescope Calisto, Ganymede, and Io stretched out like little jewels on both sides of the planet’s striped disk.  Apparently, Europa was in front of Jupiter at the time:

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 11.56.52 PMAll in all, an amazing show for our light-polluted sky!

If all that sounded like a lot of Greek (or Roman, or Arabic) to you, try reading H.A. Rey’s
Find the Constellations.  It’s great place to start learning about the stars.  No telescope or binoculars required.

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