Comparison Shopping


Comparison shopping on mobile devices has been around for a long time. I first saw apps pop up for Palm many years ago even before I had Bluetooth connectivity. Today things are even easier because of devices like iPhone and Android.

A couple of weeks ago I was listening to a Harvard Business Review Ideacast podcast with John Donahoe , which was refreshing  in itself because John had a refreshingly clear vision and understanding of what eBay is as a business, which is not about selling stuff on eBay. Have a listen for yourself. Any business should understand what it really does in order to be able to do it well. For example if you think a grocery store is there to sell groceries, or a car lot is there to sell cars, then you need to listen to this interview.

Anyway, he was explaining why eBay bought the company Red Laser, which reads bar codes through the camera on your iPhone or Android and lets you see information about the product and compare pricing at both other retailers and websites, such as Amazon and of course their new owner eBay.

This is really exciting, especially in countries like New Zealand where items such as books, which I buy a lot of, are really expensive, so shopping around makes a lot of sense. In that area, I have to say that locally I buy on impulse, when I see something I really want or when its on special. They are just too expensive otherwise. Of course if I had an iPhone or an Android, I could check in real time and see if it is worth buying now or paying the postage from the US.

It was really sad to hear that Borders is likely to file for Bankruptcy this month. They really are my favorite bookstore by far, even though I have complained that in NZ since Whitcoulls bought the local franchise, they are slowly turning them into bigger versions of Whitcoulls which pretty much defeats the purpose, although this situation may vindicate them.

One of the arguments sited for Borders’ woes is their failure to prepare for the growth of the eBook market. This may be true to some degree and it is inevitable that print media will follow the music industry. I’ve blogged about this before, which you can find if you dig into my tags. Print is expensive but there are lots of things that you can do. eBook readers is one, but for Borders I would have thought a great opportunity would be Print On Demand, because this can still  be done via the store and allow access to massive stocks without worrying about the costs of shelf space and aged stock.

Whoops, off on a tangent again. I was talking about comparison shopping. Yes there are loads of applications available, I’ve only picked on one. Mashable has a huge number of blogs on this topic if you want to find more.

So have a look at the Red Laser site, to see what what they are all about and watch the short video below from DizzyDougTV to see how cool this is. You don’t need a bar code reader, just the camera on your SmartPhone. Damn I do have to get an iPhone or an Android soon! Maybe I should set up a website with a PayPal (another eBay subsidiary) link called by Luigi a Smartphone:) Would you donate?

Footnote, a lot of people think of Smartphone apps as being the domain of men, but for women who love sales and special deals, this is one for you. I’ll leave the last word to CHIP Chick.

Robots to learn human emotions


At the University of Hertfordshire they have been working on a model of children’s early attachment behavior for robots. Their goal is to apply nature and nurture with artificial intelligence so that robots can become caregivers for children in hospital.

“What the Hal?” I thought when I read about this in The Futurist. If you follow my blog, you will have read previous posts such as the one I wrote about Singularity. AI is obviously going to come, but the concept of nurture applied to a robot is something I struggle with, especially with children and even more so sick children who are in pain or stressed.

In principle the idea of a robot that can play games with children, have unlimited patience and intelligence, makes total sense and is a great idea. But when it comes to EQ, I’m not sure how it would interpret immature and potentially irrational behavior.

There have been a number of studies suggesting that children and even teenagers are often unable to understand the consequences of their actions. Many people argue that risk taking is a natural growth path in the development from children to adults. This makes me wonder what would happen if robots learn from children and interpret their behavior as normal. Imagine for example if a robot goes from learning paper, rock scissors, as in this video and then learns to pillow fight or throw objects, from the children.

I’m not being a Luddite, I love new technology, but I do have some concerns about singularity and whilst I would love a robot to vacuum, mow the lawns, cook and do other chores for me, I would prefer them without the emotional senses.

I’ll leave the last word to HAL 9000

Would you like HAL looking after your sick child?

Farmville and the new Virtual Economy


The computer gaming industry is of course massive and simulation games have been popular for a long time. Traditionally though, game makers made their money by selling games and upgrades for games. The SIMS being one of the best examples. I must admit to having enjoyed some of their games in the past, especially the classic Sim City.

Zynga has taken this to a whole new level of success with Farmville, a sim game which has become incredibly popular on Facebook. People pay real money to buy virtual tractors and other items in the game. This has now gone to such an extreme that Tesco is now about to start to sell real money vouchers in their stores.

In About Us on Zynga, they emphasize that their games are free, which is totally true, but there are elements in many of their games where you pay money to buy virtual things, or for example in the poker game, to buy back in to the weekly tournament if you lose your chips.

This adds an amazing dimension to this free game business. According to industry experts, as reported on Rev2.org, Zynga could be worth as much as US$5 Billion, which they predict could double in the next 5 years. Seems the concept of free and internet based games may have some commercial merit:)



On Human Singularity, IQ and EQ


Barton Kunstler wrote an enlightening article in The Futurist entitled The Singularity’s Impact on Business Leaders: A Scenario, where amongst other insightful information, he pondered the question of how technologically enhanced people in a workplace environment would interact with ‘normal individuals’. It gave me a number of EUREKA moments that I may or may not get into in this blog.

In the latest copy of IT Brief a publication of Action Media, the editorial by Clare Coulson talked about IQ and EQ and how they often don’t come together. This is very true, but there is a tension that Barton Kunstler picked up on wasn’t so much the problem for people with high IQ, but with their ‘peers’ acceptance or intimidation, intolerance by people who might feel threatened by their enhanced capabilities.

He postulated that management in a traditional environment, which evolved as an “efficient survival and social-enhancement mechanism. He suggested that human beings who  had enhanced mental, perceptual and physiological capability would totally disrupt the status quo.

My take from this was that the lack of EQ in the average manager would consider these people known as ESI’s or enhanced singular individuals as a threat, which from an instinctive perspective, in the evolved human brain could be perceived as a threat to the status quo and the ‘superior’ position of today’s ‘Manager’, which could be in fact any person in an authority position.

This could be a fatal flaw and will be a major problem faced in all areas where people are bred or enhanced to have a higher intellect. This could be simply a greater ability to use their natural intelligence, or a connection to external intelligence such as a computer. I don’t want to go into the feasibility of this in this blog, because I have already covered this to some degree in my previous blog, Singularity and ESI’s, which talked about people who have lost limbs and can control prosthesis’ with their brains, which is already relatively common place.

So if we assume this is possible and perhaps already taking place in the labs at DARPA and other well financed institutions, then how can we deal with this problem? The first aspect of this is defining the problem. Is the problem that people with high IQ’s, don’t have high EQ, or is it that the people who don’t have a high IQ don’t have high EQ either?

A progressive manager in today’s world, will employ best of breed staff on the basis that the better the people in his employ, the more successful the business will be and the more that will reflect on him or her. The traditional manager will not want people smarter than they are and will feel threatened by them. I believe the latter is more prevalent, certainly from my personal experience.

An argument that many people put forward is that people with high IQ’s don’t have high EQ (required for rational human type problem solving). In some cases that is true. There are many case studies of people who were encouraged at an early age to study hard, be it music, maths, linguistics, what they studied doesn’t really matter, it was their inherent ability to study and I suspect that those people would have been good at what ever discipline they chose. So we see students going to university at the age of 13 or 14.

Many of these kids have degrees before their age group peers finish high school. In many cases they are poorly tolerated by their fellow university students, who can’t relate to them and drift into a lonely life. The relating makes sense, the social life of an average aged university student is very different to a pubescent teenager. They are barely emotionally compatible and some parents do their best to ensure that young gifted children in this situation still get to play sport and enjoy their childhood, which in some cases is very successful, but those children often find that they are intellectually so far ahead of the others, that they find the chatter childish and can no longer relate, so they are left in limbo.

Most public education systems lack support for gifted children and a common thread is that gifted children suffer from asynchronous development and that they need to stay within their own age group in order to develop social behaviors, physical coordination and dexterity and emotional maturity. They may lift them a level above their age group, but little more is done for them. Many gifted children are home schooled where they come from parents who were also intellectually gifted and learned from the lack of support they grew up with.

A serious problem I see for the future is intolerance of gifted people, or holding them back, limiting their independence and controlling what they can and can’t do.

For example, in the military, they are looking at developing combat personnel with extreme strength, fast reactions and reasoning. But what traditional military leader who has worked their way up the ranks is going to accept a junior ESI telling them what to do? This is highly unlikely and will cause all sorts of stress.

I can see more success in the fields of science, but if and when ESI’s are developed, however that takes place, there is going to be a serious ‘Us and Them’ situation taking place and this will lead to workforce and community problems between the enhanced humans and as Kunstler calls them, the ‘Norms’.

Living in New Zealand, we have an endemic Tall Poppy Syndrome attitude towards people who appear to be brighter than others, or more likely to over achieve. It is interesting that Wikipedia singles out the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand as being countries that particularly single out overachievers, unless it is in the area of sport.

Kiwis will celebrate intelligence after the event, but often it takes a little help along the way. Ernest Rutherford was credited with having a gifted teacher, who helped him on his way to splitting the atom.

Other Kiwi children with high intelligence have had different experiences. For example a child who was exhaustively tested for 2 weeks by the Psychology Department of Auckland University and told he had an IQ of in excess of 165, was frequently bullied by a teacher who was incensed with being corrected by a child of 11. According to one web site, Einstein’s IQ was 160 as was Bill Gates. Charles Darwin apparently ranked 165. This student, as a result of school zoning was sent to a school with a brilliant history of rugby success, but a very poor academic record and certainly no support for a child who was reading and understanding Kafka and cosmic string theory.

Another common experience in New Zealand colleges is where children have been  threatened by their lesser performing peers that they will be beaten up if their exam results are significantly higher. In many Kiwi schools, getting on the 1st 15 in rugby is a far more highly praised achievement, yet those with intellectual prowess could well be the ones to combine Kiwi ingenuity with intelligence to build the country up as a knowledge society.

I want to ponder this some more, because ESI’s are being ‘created’ as I write this and the problem is, as Kunstler identified: How can ESI’s and Norms coexist? It doesn’t take a super brain to known that human’s are damaging our planet. Humans are a wonder of nature and their ascendancy to governing and damaging the planet is perhaps a result of their poor EQ. Logic might suggest that humans are bad for the longevity of life on earth. An ESI might decide that the best way to deal with this situation is to control the norms or eliminate them.

Note to self, read Vernor Vinge and see what he has to say, because the common thread that comes to me so often is Science Fiction becoming reality.

Perhaps what we need is another disruption to deal with the disruption. In effect take away the threat of human singularity, while embracing it’s ability to do good, rather than making better combat warriors.

The last word today goes to the many New Zealand Members of Parliament who abused their privileges and ministerial credit cards in droves. It appears that they have been rorting the system for years, but over the last year, have been getting caught out on everything from $1,000 lunches to buying themselves things like a new set of golf clubs. Add that to listening to them on radio or watching them on Parliament TV, you would have to wonder if EQ is on their qualification set.

The Internet as a battlefield


I’ve been trying to work on this post for ages, but never seem to get it finished. The more I think about it, the more tangents I head in, so here’s a start anyway. Maybe you can add a comment to the thread.

When we, Joe Citizen think of warfare, the common picture is either soldiers, tanks and planes, or more recently terrorist attacks. Information warfare is not a topic that we think of very often.

Of course using media such as radio, print and TV have been used for decades to provide disinformation, but now that we have the Internet, there is potential for a new front that could cripple economies and cause massive disruption to life as we know it.

Last month 14 Virgin Blue flights were cancelled in Melbourne when a broken cable disrupted their computer systems, stranding thousands of passengers. A total of 48 domestic flights were cancelled as a follow on of this problem.

Periodically there are major EFTPOS failures, which can happen at the worst possible times. For example in 2005 the EFTPOS network in New Zealand broke down for 2 hours on 23rd December. The estimate was that around half a million transactions were lost on one of the busiest days for retailers in the year. Millions of dollars in transactions were lost because people don’t really carry cash any more.

In November last year Brazil and some of Venezuela lost their power. Nine of Brazil’s states were out of power, representing millions of people. Whilst many complained they couldn’t watch their favorite soap opera, traffic lights were not working, trains weren’t running and parts of the country pretty much ground to a halt.

If a country or a terrorist organisation wanted to cause chaos or in some way to a country or city in the modern world, it would be incredibly easy. In Holland a guy called Max Cornelisse has created chaos and recorded it on YouTube to show how easy it is to disrupt services we take for granted. Amongst other things he has meddled with electronic signs on freeways, opened and closed bridges over canals from his PDA, sent people running from one platform to another by controlling automated PA messages at railway stations and in this YouTube Video he controlled the autoprompter at a Dutch TV station causing confusion to the newsreaders on live TV. Unfortunately it is in Dutch, but you’ll get the idea.

This is just a guy having a little fun, but what could you do if you seriously wanted to disrupt a country or city. What chaos would you create simply by shutting down the Internet. How would your business function without the Internet? How would your community function without the Internet? Imagine no email, no Voice over IP, no web browsing, no IM, no Facebook or Twitter? No online share trading. No banking, no EFTPOS, no ATM’s and who carries cash?

That’s just for starters. I wonder how long it would take for a major city, like New York, London or Amsterdam to fall into chaos? What would happen after a day, a week, even longer?

Last week there was a story on NPR about cyber terrorism. It quoted USA Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blaire saying that “Every single day, Blair said, sensitive information is “stolen from both government and private sector networks” as criminals become increasingly more sophisticated.”

Interestingly on 16 February 2010 an event will take place in a simulated Whitehouse Situation Room which is scripted to emulate a cyber terrorist attack. Those taking part will include former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponter and former Homeland Security Advisor Fran Townsend, who will have to work out how to deal with it as it plays out.

This has happened shortly “after the House overwhelmingly passed The Cybersecurity Enhancement Act. Something that gives the Obama administration the power to switch off the Internet,” according to Techeye. For more on the Act, check here.

Just as a final thought for now. If you know how to defend against an attack, you also know how to initiate one. I’m not for a moment suggesting any Western power would do that, but given the right circumstances…….

I am very happy to be living in New Zealand in that respect. Although we have allowed ourselves to become very dependant on our friends and allies, not even able to fully feed ourselves if we bacame isolated.

New Zealand gets TomTom Car Navigation on iPhone first!


OK, we were only ahead of Australia by a couple of hours, but we need everything we can get. Maybe we should give some iPhones to the All Blacks to help them find the try line in the TriNations and Bledisloe on Saturday, but that’s another story. As another aside, when I wrote TriNations, my spell checker suggested ‘urinations’. We’ll let that one be too.

So this morning I got a phone call letting me know that TomTom Car Navigation is now available with GeoSmart maps, for New Zealand in the iTunes Apps Store. This is awesome news. We’ve had some routing applications available in New Zealand, but nothing with any real accuracy. Also the other apps required that you download data frequently, which means additional cost to your Telco, whereas the iPhone application has all of the maps and Points of Interest you need on the device.

The application requires OS3.0 but as I understand it, as long as you have the OS version, you can run the application on any iPhone as well as iPod Touch if you purchase the TomTom Car Kit. Neither helps me as I only have an iPod Classic and a Blackberry, but I hope to remedy that situation soon.

The car kit itself seems very cool and I hope to get the chance to try one. The car kit includes the new TomTom mount, which I really like. It also incorporates a speaker and a microphone as well as an external GPS antenna which means that you don’t have to buy the very latest iPhone with GPS and Compass (although that would be my pick right now) if you already have an iPhone or iPod Touch. The car kit also charges the iPhone when it is in the cradle.

Now the debate has begun in earnest. Why buy the iPhone App and Car Kit, when for the same price you can buy a dedicated PND (Portable Navigation Device) for the same price or maybe even less? This is a similar question to the one I get frequently, which is, what navigation unit or brand is the best? My answer is that ‘best’ is subjective. Different brands and different models currently have different features and the feature set is part of the argument that defines what is best for you.

TomTom and Navman both have new product ranges and different features relating to the user interface, functionality etc. Both brands in New Zealand have GeoSmart Maps (and if you don’t know by now, I work for GeoSmart) which are the most accurate for New Zealand. Why is not relevant for today’s blog. For example Navman now has AA Traffic and TomTom has IQ Routes (which are not the same concept, just an example).

Perhaps part of the answer is how often you travel. As I’ve said in previous blogs. your mobile is your ubiquitous device. You always have it with you. I always have car navigation in my car, but if I’m out of town (without my car) I don’t always take it with me.

The TomTom iPhone Car Kit solves another problem because you can use it as a hands free kit for your mobile. From 1 November, driving and talking on a handheld mobile will become illegal. You will either have to use a hands free kit of some sort or not use your phone at all in the car. I have stopped accepting or making any calls in the car, although I might accept important calls if I had a hands free kit. There is always a tension and anxiety around not answering calls on your mobile. People expect to be able to reach you, which causes an unpleasant feeling for both parties. So here’s a nice solution for your car.

So back to the application, this is essentially the same application as the one residing on the normal PND devices carried by your favourite consumer electronics stores. One cute thing is that on iPhone you can orient your phone to landscape or portrait and it will automatically adapt itself.

The nature of car navigation is changing and like most new technologies it is becoming increasingly difficult to predict what will happen in the near future. LBS on mobile is a given and if you search through my blogs, you will find several about mobile applications, car navigation on mobile will become common place and of course there are many situations where you would like guidance while walking, exercising, travelling in a taxi or on public transport. These are often scenarios where you want to travel light, but wouldn’t go without your mobile.

If you had asked me last year, where car navigation is going, I would have told you about ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems), for which R&D has been funded by the European Governments. This was to develop systems that would reduce accidents in a number of ways, including monitoring vehicles positions in relation to the lane markings on roads, legal driving speeds, speed and distance of vehicles in front and behind you and much more. Many of the innovations for this are being developed and in some cases launched by brands as far apart as BMW and Nissan.

This system was originally going to be made mandatory in all new cars sold in Europe from 2012 and if this was still the case, it could have meant significantly reduced demand for PND’s. When I was in The Netherlands earlier this year, I was advised that the date had been dropped and the European Union were having a rethink on the subject, and particularly their ongoing commitment to funding it. They determined that it would take more than 10 years before the majority of vehicles in Europe would have this system in place and therefore the deadline wouldn’t have any immediate impact. A cynic would say that this would mean that current politicians would not get any credit within their career to justify spending time on it.

So now we have (I reiterate I haven’t tried it yet) a new system which will provide an all but identical experience to a PND on your iPhone. Of course TomTom isn’t the only mobile product available, but it is the first one being commercially sold in New Zealand. The new Android phones also have GPS and Compass and of course there are some very good Windows Mobile applications as well such as iGO8. Will there be a move away from PND’s? I doubt it, at least in the near future. Navman will certainly be hoping not.

There will be a camp that says a PND is the best device at being a PND. They said the same about PDA’s, but SmartPhones are now viable devices, even though I still have to reboot my new Blackberry Bold at least a couple of times a week. The future is going to be interesting. There are phone companies such as Nokia who showed their intention by purchasing Navteq and are planning converged devices that combine a mobile with car navigation. There are PND manufacturers who are going to be putting SIM Card slots into their car navigation devices.

The market will decide what the best is and the answer to all questions will be yes:)

I’ll leave the last word for today to TomTom.

Another Reason Why Newspapers Will Fade Away


This morning for the 2nd time in 2 weeks my NZ Herald wasn’t delivered. This happened a couple of times previously with the Sunday Herald which was actually the one I used to enjoy the most. After the 2nd time I cancelled it. Two weeks ago when my Saturday Herald didn’t turn up, I tried to call them and got a voice message saying that I had called outside of working hours. I thought to myself that perhaps reading hours might disappear as well and this morning I told them that 3 strikes and they could say goodbye to my subscription.

This is one of the reasons why newspapers are on the way out. Not only are they reliant on people who really don’t want to go out on wet cold dark winter mornings, but a printed newspaper is becoming so inefficient.

I get headline tweets from the NZ Herald along with 1,648 other people, with links to the stories I want to read. Online I can see the headlines and major stories on their homepage and then I can see the headlines for each section and go straight to the stories that interest me. The Herald is only one publication I subscribe to on Twitter, there are several news services that flick past me on the side of my browser using Twitbin which is a Firefox plugin.

I also use iGoogle for my RSS feed. This gives me the latest news on all the topics I want to keep up to date on. That includes lots of streams around topics such as GPS, LBS, Psychology, Music and much more. It updates itself automatically all day and I can see which stories I have read in case my memory fails me.

Twitter of course is also a great vehicle for getting the latest news about anything. It told me that there was an earthquake in LA just as I boarded a plane there, although it turned out to be inconsequential. It told me what was going on in Iran and even if you can’t spell swine flu you’ll find out what’s happening to real people like Izzy who just found out her brother has it.  If you could spell it correctly you’ll find out what is happening, which famous people have just caught it and more than you’ll ever want to know.

I started off saying that newspapers are closing and you probably thought I was exaggerating didn’t you. Well think again. Here are a few examples.

Of course there are also stories around the world talking about job cuts in the newspaper industry like this one in the Guardian.

This doesn’t mean, of course that we don’t want news. Of course we do, but we have new vehicles that are far more efficient, we now have a choice, in fact we’re spoiled for it. Did you wait for news about Michael Jackson’s death to appear in the newspaper? Of course not, it was on every TV news channel and you got it up to date. By the time the newspapers came out, the stories that were in it, such as him not being dead, but only in a coma, had long since been refuted.

The big problem for the print media companies, is that they don’t know how, or if they can monetise the online media. There are of course ways that they can do this, but they have to switch their thinking, which is so enrenched in ‘this is the way we’ve always done it’ that many of them won’t be doing it at all in the future. Sounds a lot like the recording industry doesn’t it?