I closed our storage facility today (finally got rid of a bunch of crap) and was saying good bye to the lady I've been working with for several years as we've been consolidating, recycling and tossing stuff and she gave me a very hopeful economic indicator. She says things are looking up.
OK, is she crazy? Maybe, she's got kind of a wild look in her eye, but she's been working in the self-storage business for several decades, and like me, she has seen her share of recessions. She told me about five years ago she predicted to her bosses that a recession was coming based on patterns she has seen in the storage usage of Stanford students. They told her she was crazy then, but she started making plans accordingly.
So what is the pattern?
Whenever a recession is about to hit, Stanford students start consolidating stored materials in shared units. Whenever the economy is about to rebound, they start getting their own units for their own stuff. She said the pattern has repeated itself for every recession she's seen since she started in the industry during the Carter administration. It usually takes about two years to see the actual effect of the downside or the upside of the pattern.
So, why does she think things are on the upswing?
She just closed out the last shared unit this morning. All Stanford students using units at the three facilities she manages all now have their own.
Hope, like gold, is where you find it.
For a couple of months now, I've been doing live broadcasts on a variety of subject, ranging from semiconductor design to marijuana legalization, on a new network called Vpype. The broadcasts are sponsored by Vpype and Magma Design Automation and can be about anything that might pop into my mine. Yesterday, I had an interview fall through so I vamped on the subject of privacy in social networks, which I had touched on earlier this week in a blog. This is a big topic right now and I'm kinda surprised I haven't had more discussion... but a lot of people may be on vacation. So the interview can be seen here, and you can comment here, or go directly to my channel on Vpype (that's even better for the show).
From the press release; "Fuller will drive product news, information and community and also provide engineers and their marketing teams with the assistance they need to bring products to market more effectively, leveraging the breadth of EE Times' capabilities -- from products to e-learning, news, events, courses, webinars and video."
This is ridiculously good news for the semiconductor industry's marketing wonks, especially those who have come to appreciate and implement social media strategies within their ranks (and there are still damn few of those). Brian has been on a personal journey into the social world that began at EE Times and their convulsions over whether to stay as a traditional media house or to branch out into other directions. In that journey he learned what it was like to be a PR hack, an in-house marketing guru, a freelance writer and unemployment.
He brings back to EE Times a great understanding of how difficult it is to have a vision for communication when most of the industry is still trying to work like it's 1999.
But be prepared. Brian is a very nice guy and will talk pleasantly with you, even if you have not a clue how to communicate your product. If you are one of those, he will walk away and it will be like the conversation never happened. Be proactive. pick his brain and listen to what he advises. You'll be better off
Article appeared in the SF Chronicackle today by Mike Elgan of Computerworld on the "Five Stages of Facebook Grief." Again he focuses on the lack of security and discovering that others outside of your immediate circle can find out stuff about you.
Let me make it very clear: If you don't want to participate in a particular aspect of society ore society itself, you don't have to.
You don't need an iPhone to survive (I don't) You don't need to be on Facebook or Twitter or Gowalla or any other kind of social network. You also don't have to join Kiwanis, or a gym or a church or watch TV or listen to the radio. You can abandon your car and home, fill a garbage bag with clothes and a hunting knife and go live in a cave in the Sierras.
But when you are looking to buy something, sell something, look for a job, hire someone, get some information, get a point of view that you might value, find a vacation home in a foreign country, get an introduction to an influential person... well, you are going to have to participate in some social activity where you interact with another human being.
Social media is a medium, just like a piece of paper. If you put your name and phone number on a hundred Post-it notes and spread them around your neighborhood, chances are someone is going to call you. A telephone is a medium. If you have one, one day you might get a call from someone you don't know because they dialed your number by mistake. They might even hack into your line and buy porn from it. If you use a medium to communicate with someone, it's possible that it might be misused and it's possible that you might waste your time using it (how many brochures have you read that you felt were a waste of your time?)
Elgan brings up some real-world examples, like the guy who had pictures taken of him throwing up after a binge drunk, posted on Facebook and his grandparents saw them. That's supposed to be an example of why social media was bad. Let me restate: The fact that the guy is binge drinking is not bad. That the grandparents saw him binge drinking is bad. Maybe I have a different family dynamic, but if I did something bad as a young person, my parents generally were able to figure it out because we had a close enough community that they would find out about it. I knew this to be true. As a result, I avoided doing a lot of stupid stuff growing up. I did stupid stuff, but I did not do some others.
The fact is we think it's OK to lie, cheat and steal as long as we don't get caught and as long as we don't cross the line as to where WE think that line is. We've developed that attitude over decades of being "private people." But in our privacy we also become isolated and alone. When disaster hits we find we have no one to turn to and blame others for our misery, when if we had just been a bit more social, we might have easily found comfort and direction.
This extends to the corporate world where marketing philosophies isolate the corporation from the real world. Messages are highly controlled and insular. As long as everything is going well, it doesn't seem to matter, but when thing go wrong, the attitude that that we can control the message cuts the company off from reality and bad decisions are made. Social withdrawal makes the situation even worse.
I have friends and clients that eschew social media and in some cases it is a justified position. It is especially appropriate when you actually want to limit who you interact with. But at the same time, those people are generally miserable and pessimistic.
What we have to realize is that we are not only in this together, but none of us are getting out of here alive. Benjamin Franklin said, "We must all hang together or we will all hang separately." John Donne said it better, though:
At 11:40 AM, PST, I'll be doing an episode of Around the Coffee Bar on my Facebook Vpype Channel in a live interview with James Colgan of Xuropa on measuring the ROI of social media in real dollars. If you don't have Facebook or miss the live interview it will be archived and I'll put a link here. Thanks to Vpype and Magma Design for sponsoring this series.
This will actually be a conclusion to an interview I did with James at DAC 2010... that got rudely interrupted at the key moment when the conventions wonky internet connection took a dive. If you've ever had a question about what a social media program can do for your company, check it out.
The EE Times website redesign, delayed for several weeks because of performance issues, hit the internet today and frankly, I'm pretty damn impressed. It's clean, modern, easy for follow (as opposed to the hopelessly cluttered and confusing site it was previously) and, damn, does it fly! Even their crappy search engine seems to have been updated.
Some people might be put off with all the animation going on, but that is a cultural issue that we are going to have to get used to. Asian websites are usually filled with all kinds of flashing lights, animations and web-design gimmicks used for catching your attention and it's something we are going to have to learn how to deal with, but the site design is really quite pleasing.
However, I'm not a design guy. I dig content and what I have not dug for years is the preponderance of rewritten press releases cluttering up the landing pages of trade publications. That crap is not gone, but now you are going to have to look for it on EE Times. That, in itself, makes this site worth your time. You will have to start looking for the corporate line in EE Times now and the original content that made the publication a must read is back to being front and center.
What really excited me was the new EE Life section that brings back the real value of EE Times -- engineers talking about problems anyone can identify with. My favorite in the initial launch was the article about a kid's high school science project to use shake charged flashlights as a personal power source.
It's well been worth the wait for this site.
James Colgan of Xuropa sent me a piece by Michael Arrington at Tech Crunch regarding media bias and whether it is important for journalists to make overt effort to show where there bias lies. Arrington submits that it is a requirement for all journalists to state clearly where they stand on issues and individuals in their reporting, while a journalist he was taking about claims his training keeps him objective... and he needs to keep his opinions secret.
As one of those trained journalists I have to say... I side with Arrington on this one.
Journalists are trained to approach what they are reporting on with as much objectivity as the possibly can muster. I know some journalists that have never registered to vote in an effort to remain objective. But my training clearly states that when we do have a bias, we are required to disclose that bias publicly. Fox News, for all the crap that gets thrown at it, never makes an apology for it's right of center position, but it also clearly differentiates what it calls news and what it calls opinion. That is clearly not the case with some other news organizations (MSNBC) that continue to claim objectivity though obviously biased and damage their own credibility in the process.
In the world of online journalism, most bloggers, including Arrington, clearly take sides and say what side that is. You don't have to agree with them, but the audience has the responsibility of determining if the facts they present as the basis for their argument are acceptable. Modern journalism is not about spoon feeding information to an acquiescent public. It is about force feeding information and making the audience work on it.
This has historical precedent. As I've stated in previous blogs, the focus on objectivity for journalism is only about 50 years old and began with coverage of WW II. But even at that point, news coverage was biased. Walter Cronkite and Eric Severeid were obviously biased toward the Allied Powers, and since that side won, they became trusted sources. If we had lost, they might have been tried as war criminals by the Nazis. But no one is ever truly objective. Ever. Even Woodward and Bernstein were driven to report Watergate by their shared hatred of Richard Nixon and is administration. They were ridden by their bosses to "get back to work" covering daily news in the early days of their investigation but their zeal for bringing down the President drove them to complete that job, and we are all the better for it.
Arrington states that we "need more opinion, not less" in journalism today. I'm not sure I agree with that statement because our news media is almost nothing but opinion. But I do agree that a reporter's bias must be disclosed honestly so the audience can determine how to view the content and where to go to find balance and how to find a trusted source.
Incidently, I'm going to be talking about how to determine trusted sources in your social network tomorrow on Around the Coffee Bar on Vpype. Check in with your comments.
Last week I talked about how it isn't important for engineers to join the market discussion because they don't care why they do what they do; all they want to know is what the parameters of the problem you want them to solve. The conversation on social media doesn't really need their input either, it's just a means of determining the parameters.
But that doesn't mean social media can't help engineers do their jobs better.
This all got started when John Cooley trotted out the hackneyed complaint that he doesn't care about what someone had for breakfast so Twitter and other social networks are useless to him. He says the conversation is too much of a distraction. My position is, if all he sees on social media is inane chatter, he needs to get a better social circle. But let me give a tangential example and then a solution that engineers might appreciate.
My daughter, Beth, is following in my footsteps as a communications consultant, but is staying away from technology to follow her own passion: Drama and Dance. She is working with several non-profit organizations to go into public and private schools bringing arts programs in at no cost to the schools. She's established a summer program, developed and promoted several productions and sits on the board of one of the theater groups she works with. Quite proud of her.
She is also very active in social networks and participates in both the inane and important discussions that go on in them... pretty much like everyone else does. But she uses these technologies to improve here own business opportunities. Here's the example:
She has come up with an idea to create a Shakespearean drama program for elementary schools and has the support of a couple of theater groups, but no money. She is known in the drama community around the Bay Area, so she threw out the idea on Facebook and asked if anyone knew any grant writers that might be able to help her find funding. Within 24 hours she got a response from a grant writer that she did not know existed and who is also active in community theater. They are working on the project as I type this.
A problem, a solution, a strategy and a project all created through the use of social media and "inane chatter." This can be easily applied to John Cooley's work.
John works as a consultant to many companies helping them through particularly difficult design challenges. It's not easy but John is very good at what he does. Sometimes, though, he approaches others for advice on how to approach a problem. He has to do that through email, or on his Deep Chip reports, all of which can take days and weeks to get a response from. Why? Because John, like everyone else, is overwhelmed by the flood of information and dreck that comes through his email system. Sometimes important things get lost in spam filters and, as John said, he needs to concentrate on his problem and doesn't have time to go through all the "inane chatter" he gets through email... which is really his primary source of communication.
If, however, he was using Twitter or even Facebook, he could cut through a lot of that chatter by spending 5 minutes a day for a couple of weeks, creating a social community made up of people he trusts. That's where a lot of people fail in the arena of social media: They don't take care regarding who they let in. If John did establish a Twitter account, he would probably be swamped by the number of people who would follow him, but what he may not understand is he does not have to follow any of the once he does not recognize or respect, and that he could make a direct connection with those he does. Once making that connection with what the social media world calls a "trusted source" he can use Twitter to post a simple question about a particularly thorny problem he's trying to resolve. i.e. "Anyone having any luck with new Cadence's XYZ tool? DM me."
Now he has opened a conversation with a very short question. Those he has established as a trusted source can send back a direct message with a short overview of what they have discovered. If it works within the parameters of his need, he can now send an email or make a phone call. Twitter has now become a valuable filter that bypasses traditional email conversations and avoids "inane chatter."
There are many people who use social media as a time filler, but you can say that about instant messaging, texting, email, or even coupon clipping. The value of your communication lines is entirely up to the individual using it. My 26-year-old daughter can figure that much out.