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Listening to Twitter

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In an article entitled “You Don’t Have To Tweet To Twitter“, venture capitalist Bill Gurley makes the case that Twitter’s unappreciated value is as a tool for listeners, not broadcasters:

The second, and more critical, Twitter misperception is that you need to tweet, to have something to say and broadcast, for the service to be meaningful to you. For many non-Twitter users, Twitter is an intimidating proposition. “Why would I tweet?,” and “…but I don’t want to tweet” are two common refrains from the non-adopter that highlight this key misperception. But this completely misses the point as to why Twitter has become such an amazingly powerful Internet destination for 100 million others. For the vast majority of Twitter’s next 900 million users, the core usage modality will have very little to do with “tweeting,” and everything to do with “listening” or “hearing.”

I agree, more or less. I think Twitter was initially promoted as a means to feed your own ego by broadcasting utterly useless data about yourself to people who really don’t care what you had for breakfast (“Belgian waffles—MMMMM!!!!!”). And if they really do care what you had for breakfast, perhaps you should consider getting a restraining order.

I rarely tweet, but I “listen” to Twitter every day. From up-to-the-minute local traffic information to the latest MLB trade rumors; news, sports, work, hobbies. Of course, the signal-to-noise ratio can vary widely, depending on the topic. But subscriptions, search terms, and hashtags can help filter through the crowd noise. And it’s occasionally entertaining to follow the live #yankees or #tarheels tweets while watching a ballgame.

So tweet if you must. But also take the time to listen to what is being said.

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Written by breckfield

November 19, 2011 at 10:21 am

Dogs Can Smell Lung Cancer

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A new study by German researchers apparently shows that “sniffer dogs” can reliably smell lung cancer on the breath of patients. The finding could significantly improve early detection methods of the disease, which is the deadliest form of cancer worldwide.

via Freakonomics » Dogs Can Smell Lung Cancer.

Written by breckfield

August 20, 2011 at 9:11 am

Posted in science, technology

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Information Overload: Focus, Filter, and Forget

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At The Economist, Schumpeter talks about the all-too-common problem of “information overload”…

First, information overload can make people feel anxious and powerless: scientists have discovered that multitaskers produce more stress hormones. Second, overload can reduce creativity. Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School has spent more than a decade studying the work habits of 238 people, collecting a total of 12,000 diary entries between them. She finds that focus and creativity are connected. People are more likely to be creative if they are allowed to focus on something for some time without interruptions. If constantly interrupted or forced to attend meetings, they are less likely to be creative. Third, overload can also make workers less productive. David Meyer, of the University of Michigan, has shown that people who complete certain tasks in parallel take much longer and make many more errors than people who complete the same tasks in sequence.

…and how to cope:

Derek Dean and Caroline Webb of McKinsey urge businesses to embrace three principles to deal with data overload: find time to focus, filter out noise and forget about work when you can. Business leaders are chipping in. David Novak of Yum! Brands urges people to ask themselves whether what they are doing is constructive or a mere “activity”. John Doerr, a venture capitalist, urges people to focus on a narrow range of objectives and filter out everything else. Cristobal Conde of SunGard, an IT firm, preserves “thinking time” in his schedule when he cannot be disturbed. This might sound like common sense. But common sense is rare amid the cacophony of corporate life.

Written by breckfield

July 7, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Pentagon: Cyber Attacks Can Be Considered An Act of War

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The Wall Street Journal reports:

The Pentagon has concluded that computer sabotage coming from another country can constitute an act of war, a finding that for the first time opens the door for the U.S. to respond using traditional military force…

In part, the Pentagon intends its plan as a warning to potential adversaries of the consequences of attacking the U.S. in this way. “If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks,” said a military official.

An interesting—if unsurprising—development in the wake of last year’s Stuxnet virus attack on Iran’s computers and last weekend’s news of a cyber attack on Lockheed Martin.

Defense Tech‘s Kevin Coleman comments:

A cruise missile taking out a data center spewing malicious traffic is now on the table as a real option… I must say the leak occurring after Lockheed experienced what has been called “a significant and tenacious attack” makes me wonder.

Written by breckfield

May 31, 2011 at 5:52 pm

Posted in military, technology

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Quality Reading: 5 Sources for Long Form Articles

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Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

–Nicholas Carr

Whether or not Nicholas Carr is right about the Internet making us stupid, we all should try to work some long form, magazine-length articles into our lightweight Twitter-flavored diet. Some topics deserve more than 140 characters, or even 140 words, and our minds can use the exercise.

The following websites offer long form articles from a wide variety of sources:

Since longer articles take longer to read, you may want to save them to read later. Instapaper is great for this purpose. It offers a “Read Later” bookmarklet that lets you quickly save articles to Instapaper for reading later, and you can set Instapaper for automatic delivery to your Kindle, iPhone, or other devices.

Written by breckfield

March 6, 2011 at 9:56 am

Back It Up: The Flickr Fiasco

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When you fail to have proper data backup-and-restore processes in place, you risk losing more than just your data.

Take, for example, this recent Flickr fiasco:

Yahoo’s Flickr may have another PR nightmare on their hands. IT architect and Flickr user Mirco Wilhelm couldn’t log on to his 5-year old account yesterday, and when he asked the Flickr team about this issue they flat out told him they had accidentally flushed his entire account, and the 4,000 photos that were in it, straight down the drain.

Apparently Wilhelm reported a Flickr user with an account that held ‘obviously stolen material’ to the company last weekend, but a staff member erroneously incinerated his account instead of the culprit’s.

It appears that Wilhelm does have his images backed up elsewhere. But Flickr’s failure means that he will probably be spending a lot of time uploading his 4,000 images from backup and reestablishing all the links that previously existed.

If you store non-trivial data in The Cloud, be sure to back it up yourself, as Wilhelm did. Don’t assume that they have a backup plan.

And if you’re on the other end, managing those data servers, learn from Flickr’s mistakes. Your reputation and your business may depend on it.

UPDATE: Flickr has restored Wilhelm’s photos:

Yahoo! is pleased to share that the Flickr team has fully restored a member’s account that was mistakenly deleted yesterday. We regret the human error that led to the mistake and have worked hard to rectify the situation, including reloading the entire photo portfolio and providing the member with 25 years of free Flickr Pro membership. Flickr takes the trust of our members very seriously and we appreciate the patience shown by this member and our community. Flickr will also soon roll out functionality that will allow us to restore deleted accounts more easily in the future.

Let that be a lesson to you.

 

Written by breckfield

February 2, 2011 at 9:51 am

Posted in business, technology

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Screw Nazis: Apple’s Struggle for Absolute Control

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Apple is switching to a new type of screw on iPhones and other Apple products, to prevent owners from being able to open up their products to perform repairs and battery replacements themselves.

PC World reports:

New MacBook Pros, iPhone 4s and MacBook Airs will have the Pentalobular screw, making it harder for do-it-yourselfers to make repairs. What about existing products in the field? Pentalobular screws might find their way into them, too.

But wait! There’s more:

Apple technicians have been ordered to replace the Phillip screws with Pentalobular screws in every device they service, according to Wiens. Apparently, you won’t get your Phillip screws back.

I assume that Apple has a legal right to do this, but is it The Right Thing To Do?

Apple makes great hardware (we own a MacBook Pro and 2 iPods). And their design and marketing savvy has produced a consumer cult that is the envy of the corporate world.

But are they taking unfair advantage of their loyal customers? Some members of the Apple family seem to think so. According to iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens:

We’ve spoken with the Apple Store geniuses tasked with carrying out this policy, and they are ashamed of the practice.

Apple has a long history of trying to maintain strict control over its products, wielding a wide variety of legal and technological weapons to defend its domain. This is one of the major reasons why they failed to achieve a significant PC market share. While Microsoft actively encouraged PC manufacturers to install its operating systems in the 1980s and 90s, Apple sued to prevent its OS from being used on anything but Apple’s own hardware. Not surprisingly, Microsoft crushed Apple in the battle for market share.

The iPod and iPhone have been huge successes for Apple, rescuing it from the financial doldrums that it had found itself in. Since then, Apple has maintained strict price controls on its products and micro-managed its App Store.

The Pentalobular Affair will not register much of an impact with Apple or its customer base. Let’s face it: relatively few people will have much interest or need to crack open their Apple devices.

But, as the old saying goes, It’s the Principle Of The Thing. And this is just one more shot fired in Apple’s battle to maintain absolute control.

Written by breckfield

January 23, 2011 at 1:54 pm

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