May 18, 2008

Occasional reader – Airport security, future of journalism, working with Yahoo!

Filed under: airlines, journalism, media, newspapers, reader, social networking, travel, web 2, web 2.0, weekly reader, yahoo — Rakesh Agrawal @ 5:17 pm

Some interesting reads from the past couple of weeks:

  • The Airport Security Follies (New York Times blog) – Pilot Patrick Smith takes a look at the idiocy of our airport screening processes. Smith argues (and I fully agree) that airport security is a charade designed to persuade people that the government is doing something, when in reality most of those measures have zero impact on safety. Part of the reason we tolerate this is that those who are most impacted by this idiocy are a small fraction of the population: pilots, flight attendants and very frequent fliers. Even the media largely ignore it, despite the billions in lost productivity. (This piece didn’t run in the paper.)
    When they do cover it, it’s for the theatrics: It never fails that when an idiotic measure is announced that the local TV news has a grandma who flies twice a year talking about how she’s willing to fly naked if that would improve security. The media love scare stories because they get people to watch. A CNN promo running this weekend intones “What if a hurricane hits, gas skyrockets to $10 a gallon and everything collapses?”
    Comment #3 to the entry, from another pilot, is also worth reading. via Adam Lasnik
  • So far, so good for Midway Airport’s new screening system (Chicago Tribune) – I was stuck in the metal detector line at SFO last week behind a guy who tried to go through wearing a bulky sweatshirt, a backpack and a baby. I’ve long wondered why airports don’t offer beginner, advanced and expert lanes. Chicago’s Midway now has security screening lines that uses ski resort-style lane designations to sort travelers. In theory, it would also benefit inexperienced travelers and families: “Shannon Spicer, who was traveling with her 2-year-old son, Liam, said she liked being able to take her time without other travelers breathing down her neck.” Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal reports similar signs at Cincinnati’s airport aren’t working well: “The TSA agent at the checkpoint said the signs look nice but they don’t help much. Everybody, she said, thinks they’re experts.” At least there are still the elite security lines at hub airports.
  • The Future (We Hope) of Journalism (Poynter Online) – Former Los Angeles Times editor John Carroll offers his take on the transition from lucrative virtual monopolies to rapidly shrinking competitors. Like many in the old media, Carroll takes potshots at bloggers: “Although blogs have contributed much to the national discussion, they offer only a rare flash of original reporting. For fresh information, the blogs remain deeply dependent on the old media, which they simultaneously deplore and utilize extensively.” Never mind that bloggers were instrumental in holding the old guard accountable in cases like Dan Rather’s erroneous National Guard story and the L.A. Times’ very similar fiasco about an assault on Tupac Shakur. Or that journalists frequently fill air time and ink by interviewing bloggers like Michelle Leder of Or that the old media are “deeply dependent” on press releases and political operatives.
  • Doing Business with the Semi-Permeable Corporation (Greg Cohn’s blog) – Blogs and social networks have made it much easier to reach out to key decision makers in large corporations. But they haven’t erased the rules of business. Yahoo’s Greg Cohn provides a look at the good and the bad of openness in a large public corporation.
About these ads

May 17, 2008

Old and new

Filed under: fun, random — Rakesh Agrawal @ 7:28 pm

Typewriter and Vista

Saw this odd juxtaposition of a Corona manual typewriter and Windows Vista Home Premium at a Noe Valley sidewalk sale today.

May 14, 2008

From chits to bits

Filed under: customer service, wireless — Rakesh Agrawal @ 8:42 pm

I was meeting some colleagues and partners last night for the Pistons playoff game. As we sat down for drinks, we realized that we’d left the tickets at our hotel – more than an hour away from the Palace. Six small pieces of paper were tucked in a blue backpack and there was no way to get there and back without missing most of the game.

We could get the hotel staff to find the tickets and send them to us by cab, but that would take at least an hour and we’d have to count on the cab driver not taking off with the prized tickets. (Which were worth a lot more than the $100 cab fare.)

A quick call to the box office and we found a solution: if we could fax the tickets to the box office, they would reprint them. A fax glitch later, we had three of our tickets. (Only one page went through.) Fortunately, I had a digital image of the fax in my email account and the Palace box office also does email.

As this experience illustrates, sports and entertainment venues are rapidly coming into the digital world. Being able to handle situations like this dramatically improves the guest experience and reduces costs for the venue:

  • Tickets purchased directly from the venue can often be reprinted with just a credit card.
  • Print-at-home ticketing eliminates mailing costs and reduces the number of people needed to staff will call windows. (Note that this doesn’t mean reduced costs for you, because the ticketing companies charge for this service.)
  • The San Francisco Giants Ticket Relay allows you to transfer tickets electronically to someone else. If you decide at the last minute that you can’t go to a game, you can transfer the tickets by email and your friend can pick them up at a kiosk.
  • The Washington Nationals are experimenting with mobile phone ticketing that sends a scannable 2-D bar code to your phone.The current technology is too kludgy to be useful, but it will get better.

Digital ticketing also allows venues to generate additional revenue. At the Boston Symphony, season subscribers can electronically return tickets for a tax deduction. Those tickets are then resold.

Major League Baseball’s deal with StubHub allows ticket resales even on the day of the game. (For StubHub tickets that can’t be transferred digitally the market dries up based on FedEx’s schedule.) And, of course, MLB gets a cut. Those extra butts in seats also help to pad concession revenues.

There’s an additional benefit to the venues: digital ticketing increases the risk of buying tickets from scalpers. An “authentic” ticket could have been invalidated electronically.

I expect that we’ll also see more last minute deals offered by email and mobile phone to fill seats at underperforming events.

Pistons Ticket

Pistons vs. Magic, Game 5

May 5, 2008

The Internet’s perpetual motion machine

Filed under: media, publishing, web 2.0 — Rakesh Agrawal @ 9:56 pm

In my comment on Clay Shirky’s speech on the cognitive surplus, I mentioned the effect of increased content production on consumption patterns. I didn’t mention the Internet’s perpetual motion machine.

I was reminded of that when I reviewed the post and saw a new WordPress addition: the “Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)”. This section uses technology from Sphere (recently acquired by AOL) to recommend other items that the reader might be interested in.

The suggestions include posts from this blog (in bold), other WordPress blogs and items from across the Web.

It’s too soon to provide a definitive verdict, but some of the initial results I’ve seen have been impressive. I was thinking “media fragmentation” as I wrote that post, and sure enough, Sphere generated a link to my earlier post, Living in a fragmented media world.

TV, radio and other media have long run promos, but none have been as effective in driving consumption as Internet links. With TV and radio, it’s too easy to forget about the program that was promoed before it airs. Network Web sites do a terrible job of cross promoting, even when they’re simultaneously available on the site.

Creative Commons image from flickr user Brian Bennett.

Occasional reader – cognitive surplus, Larry Page on changing the world, CSI and mapping crime

Filed under: apple, dash, google, gps, iphone, microsoft, reader, satellite navigation, video, weekly reader — Rakesh Agrawal @ 8:46 pm

Some interesting reads from the last few weeks:

  • Clay Shirky at Web 2.0 Expo on the cognitive surplus (Web 2.0 video) – Author Clay Shirky spoke recently on how much could be done if only a fraction of the time spent watching TV is put to other uses. He estimates that 2,000 Wikipedias could be created with just the time Americans spend watching TV in a year. (I just clicked off the TV to write this post.) While Shirky focuses his talk on production of content, all that production also has a significant effect on consumption. Time is a zero-sum game. The time I spend on Facebook or reading about Jon’s exploits in Russia is time I’m not spending with TV or traditional media. And for every producer, there are at least 10 to 20 consumers.
  • Larry Page on how to change the world (Fortune) – Google co-founder Larry Page lays out the challenges we face in changing the world. The core problem is that not enough people and companies take risks. Part of this undoubtedly is due to the risk/reward systems in most companies. Innovation (and the people who chase it) are often the first to go when belts need to be tightened.
    I was at a conference last week where Erik Jorgensen of Microsoft demoed some amazing technologies in mapping, such as 3D map tours. A questioner from the audience, a Microsoft shareholder, asked what the ROI was. Fortunately, Microsoft and Google do well enough in their core businesses that most investors give them the freedom to innovate.
  • ‘CSI’ sleuths out Microsoft’s latest technology (USA Today) – CSI:NY producer Anthony E. Zuiker is teaming with folks at Microsoft labs to bring bleeding edge technology to viewers. (And no doubt frustrating real life criminalists with increased expectations.) Last week’s episode featured Microsoft’s Photosynth technology. CSI:Miami used variations of Microsoft’s Surface computing. Microsoft isn’t the only one in the CSI product placement game; many of the pictures processed by the Photosynth technology in that episode were taken with iPhones.
  • Honda system to warn motorists of crime hotspots (AFP) – In-car navigation systems and PNDs are getting more data rich all the time. On recent Acuras you can get Zagat ratings. With a Dash Express PND, you have access to Yahoo! Search results. Now, in Japan, your Honda can tell you when you’re in a dangerous neighborhood. I suspect that fears of redlining and disparate data sources will keep that from happening here. But I wouldn’t be surprised if some enterprising Dash users use create and share localized feeds for such an app.

May 3, 2008

3D maps meet geotagged pictures

Filed under: flickr, geotagging, maps, mashups, microsoft, photography, web 2, web 2.0 — Rakesh Agrawal @ 11:32 pm

Microsoft’s Virtual Earth has a phenomenal addition to Live Search Maps that allows users to create virtual aerial tours. Here’s an example using pictures from my trip to Kauai:

The tours can be exported as a video file and uploaded to a video sharing site (as above) or shared by link to Live Search Maps. Like many such links on AJAX sites, it doesn’t preserve the correct state. Click “Tour in 3D” in the upper left and “aerial” above the map for best effect.

Tours can be created manually by pushing pins into a map. The service also plays nicely with GeoRSS, GPX, KML or KMZ files. The above tour was imported from my flickr pictures. (Unfortunately, flickr caps geo exports to the most recent 20 pictures per search.)

The 3d map tours can be generated from GPS tracklogs. Here’s a tour based on the tracklog from a recent bike trip through San Francisco, taking the ferry back from Sausalito:

Major cities, like San Francisco, benefit from 3D models of key buildings. The blue line in the video is the tracklog.

Both of these tours were created using the default settings. You can also customize the view shown at each location by rotating, tilting or zooming. I don’t see an option to playback the full tracklog.

Disclosure: I work for a Microsoft subsidiary.

Aloha to Kauai

Filed under: flickr, photography, rocky's travel — Rakesh Agrawal @ 6:42 pm

I finally got around to uploading the last of the pictures from my Kauai trip in February. Between the two of us, Wanita and I shot more than 1,000 pictures. I’ve narrowed them down to a highlights tour of 56. More are available on flickr.

We did a lot in our five days, including hiking the Kalalau Trail, horseback riding, attending the Waimea Town Celebration, driving the Waimea Canyon Road, going to services at a Hawaiian church and seeing rainbows, waterfalls and a lighthouse.

Kauai remains one of my favorite places on Earth. We thought the “Scenic Overlook” signs were a bit ridiculous (we saw about five) given that most of the island is a panorama of natural beauty.

Wanita at scenic overlook

Unfortunately, the island is being rapidly developed. If you’ve dreamed of going, you should go sooner rather than later. A large swath of the Southern part of the island is blocked off for a giant construction project as they build more malls and timeshares.

As always, there’s a map of the trip. (Some of the geocoding will be slightly off because Wanita wandered away from the GPS.)

The Silver is the New Black Theme. Create a free website or blog at


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 227 other followers

%d bloggers like this: