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February 2008

Hanging Loose in Maui: a Whale of a Family Vacation

Polo_beach_club We spent a relaxing mid-winter break in Hawaii last week, staying at the Polo Beach Club in (or near) Wailea on Maui, the same spot where Amy and I honeymooned nearly 20 years ago. This stay was a little different than the last time - I don't want to say the honeymoon is over, but we are no longer newlyweds (or not "just Mauied", in local tourist T-shirt jargon), and staying there with a 16 year old daughter and 12 year old son added an entirely new dimension to the experience.

The area is far more developed than the last time we visited, when it seemed like the Polo Beach Club was the only sign of human habitation in sight (the photo in the top right is from around that time period)... and in some dimensions, I suppose we are more developed - as individuals, as a couple and now a family. After walking, driving and kayaking around the area, I still think this is the best place to stay in Maui, if one wants to get "up close and personal" with the ocean ... and its inhabitants.

Humpback whale breaching off Papawai Point (cropped)Aside from familial changes, one of the key differences this time was seasonal changes, as we were visiting in February rather than August ... whale season (!). We saw hundreds of whales [and we really saw whales this time, unlike the last time I wrote about watching for whales, but [only] seeing what I wanted to see (rather than what really was - or, more specifically, was not - there) during our last family vacation, along the Oregon coast]. I snapped hundreds, but ultimately uploaded only a few dozen, of photos of the humpback whales we saw off Maui to my Flickr account. We saw them from our balcony, we saw them from the beach, we saw them from kayaks, we saw them from our car, we saw them from restaurants and shops ... we saw them nearly everywhere we went.

We could also hear the whales singing when we went snorkeling - sometimes rather loudly. Prompted by a comment by Dana on an earlier post on music and personality, I discovered a transcript from the log of the 5 year Voyage of the Odyssey entitled The Ocean's Elaborate Composers, which offered more information about the whale songs:

A song can be defined as one or more notes that are repeated in a pattern. Technically, the repeated sounds of birds, frogs and even crickets are songs. Yet, it is the song of the Humpback whale that is the most grand and complex in the animal kingdom.

As Roger Payne wrote in his book, Among Whales -

"They are divided into repeating phrases called themes. When the phrase is heard to change (usually after a few minutes), it heralds the start of a new theme. Songs contain from two to nine themes and are strung together without pauses so that a long singing session is an exuberant, uninterrupted river of sound that can flow on for twenty-four hours or longer".

Themes are sung in a deliberate order, with the entire song lasting anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour. Humpbacks even employ rhymes in their songs; perhaps this helps them to remember them, a trick which is also used in human composition. Male humpbacks have been known to sing for hours, even days.

We made recordings of each vocalization throughout the afternoon. Each song lasted an average of seventeen to twenty minutes before the animal surfaced. The whale took only three breaths in quick succession before diving again.

Remarkably, all male humpback whales from the same population sing the same song, while the songs of each population are quite distinct from one another. This means that the structure and content of all of the songs we recorded today are the same, yet different from a whale that may also be singing today in his mating grounds in the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans. As Roger Payne observed "Humpback whales change their songs continually so that after about five years they are singing an entirely new song and apparently do not ever return to the original".

Canonef75300mmiiiusmlens Dakotaeliteweatherproof10x42binocul I was delightfully obsessed with the whales during our stay ... but I'll move on to another obsession: photography. Shortly after starting our Oregon vacation, the scenery was so beautiful along the coast that I went out and bought a Canon EOS 40D / Digital Rebel XTi (my first digital SLR camera). Shortly after starting this vacation, and seeing all the whales, and feeling frustrated with not being able to get closer to them (photographically speaking), I went out and bought a Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III USM Telephoto Zoom Lens - and a Dakota Elite Weatherproof 10x42 Binocular (to watch whales without photographing them) from Ritz Camera. While I was happy to be able to take many more closeup photos of the whales during my stay, upon closer inspection, few of the images were not blurred (one of the reasons I uploaded so few photos to my Flickr account), so I plan to return the lens for one of the Image Stabilization (IS) lenses (perhaps the ultracompact Diffractive Optics (DO) version).

More whale watching on the HinaWe did make attempts to get physically closer to the whales. We enjoyed a two-hour Hawaiian sailing canoe adventure on the Hina (which docks - or I should probably say "beaches" - at the Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel, next door to the Polo Beach Club), during which we learned about the local geography, history, ecology and culture, and saw sea turtles and numerous colorful fish while snorkeling. Unfortunately, although most of the times we saw the Hina from our condo, it was near whales (an example is shown in the photo to the right), we saw no whales from the Hina the day we went out, though we did hear them while we were snorkeling.

Whale watching via kayakSo, another day, we rented two-seater sea kayaks - also at the Fairmont Hotel beach - and set off on our own to get up close and personal with these magnificent mammals. We managed to approach within approximately 100 yards of a few whales - which is, as I understand it, the closest that any boat is supposed to get to a whale - but not nearly as close as some other kayaks seemed to get (an extreme example is shown on the left). However, we got close enough to enough whales that the kids decided that they didn't want to go out on a whale watching boat at the Pacific Whale Foundation. We read about a boat that had gone out two weeks before we arrived that had been the victim of a "whale mugging", where they were stranded in the water for over an hour while whales were swimming around the boat (boats aren't supposed to move when whales are within 100 yards). In retrospect, I think it would have been fun to go out on a whale watch boat the first day, if only to learn more about - and thus be able to better appreciate - the whales we saw (and heard) so much of.

We also went snorkeling in the Ahini-Kinau Preserve, down around the southern tip of the island - well some of us did (Amy, Meg and me ... Evan had a sore ankle that morning). We saw more sea turtles, tropical fish and coral ... and as the preserve volunteers warned us, discovered that "the rocks are alive" - I cut my thumb and finger, and got a sliver of some kind in another finger, while walking on my hands out beyond the shallow, rocky area on the shore. We rented snorkeling gear from Maui Dive Shop - $25/week for the "deluxe" package (which comes with better gear than the $15 "standard" package) - and I think it would have been worthwhile to inquire about and/or invest in gloves, as I saw many other snorkelers wearing. Also, even though we snorkeled in the morning (around 9:30 or 10:00), I got sunburned after only 45 minutes, so wearing sunblock and/or a tee shirt, even before "peak" sunlight hours, would also have been worthwhile ... an aspect for which I could have been better prepared if I'd read up on some snorkeling tips (update: expanded into The Ultimate Guide to Snorkling) before setting out. Fortunately, this happened on our last full day on the island, so it had minimal impact (there).

Family Photo OpBack on terra firma, another obsession I / we indulged during the vacation was gustatory exploration. Among our favorite restaurants from this visit are:

  • Spago (best combination of food, service, decor and view, most romantic ... and most expensive)
  • Sansei (tie for best food and service, with good decor but no view)
  • Mama's Fish House (very good food, service and view)
  • Tommy Bahama (very good food, service, decor and entertainment, but no view)
  • Seawatch (good food and service, very good decor, outstanding view, site of family photo op to the right)
  • Who Cut the Cheese (not a restaurant, per se, but a wine & cheese shop where we picked up an array of fine cheeses - including 5 year old Gouda and Roaring Forties - and a bottle of Hartford 2005 Russian River Zinfandel, which we enjoyed back at the condo)

Full reviews for all of these restaurants - with more details about which menu items and other specific aspects we liked (and didn't like), and several photos I took at each one (with my iPhone, not my Canon telephoto lens) - can be found on my Yelp profile page. I'll simply note that we tried - and enjoyed - Ahi rolls of some kind at nearly all of these establishments ... and include a few sample photos below.

Img_0186Img_0150 Img_0160

We ate a lot of fish while on Maui, and Evan was initially interested in indulging a related passion (that isn't quite an obsession ... for him ... yet) - catching fish. We'd gone fishing during earlier vacations to Cabo, Mexico (which was great), and Tampa, Florida (which was not so great), so we looked into possibilities on Maui. I found an excellent web site on Maui sport fishing, created and maintained - I might say "captained" - by Captain Mike Crawford. Captain Mike was very helpful - via telephone and email - in helping us explore the different options regarding harbors, fishing times, days and the age of my son (and my desire to be simply a "rider", as I'm not much of a fisherman). Unfortunately, I didn't contact Mike early enough to find a boat that would fit our schedule - and our desire for a relatively short trip - but maybe next time.

One dimension of potential obsession that we observed but in which we did not indulge was Mustang convertibles. I've never seen so many Mustang convertibles before. I can't remember what kind of car we rented in 1988, but the 1988 Ford Mustang was not a car that I found particularly appealing, and I doubt I would have been willing to pay an upgrade fee to drive one. In 2008, however, I would have gladly paid extra to drive one of the new 2008 Mustang convertibles ... but alas, with four people, and a full load of luggage, that would not have been practical (or even possible, without renting a second car). Instead, we got a free upgrade to a Cadillac, which was fine.

Speaking of car rentals, some of the lessons we learned about traveling to / from / within Maui include the following:

  • The Enterprise Rental Car facility near Kahalui Airport (OGG) closes at 9:00pm. I nearly always use Enterprise wherever I go (I've waxed poetic about my experience of great customer care at Enterprise - and United Airlines - in an earlier blog post), and had a reservation with Enterprise this trip, but when our flight out of Los Angeles was delayed, we were rescheduled to arrive around 10:00pm. Fortunately, although the Hertz counter at OGG [also] closes at 9:00pm, the off-site facility stays open until 11:00pm, so I was able to book a new reservation at Hertz - for a lower rate than I'd gotten many months ago when I originally booked the Enterprise reservation - while we were waiting at LAX.
  • The United Airlines ticket counter at OGG has a priority line for their Premier, 1K, First Class and Global Services members. However, the agents behind the counter did not accord any priority to people in this line (while we were in it). There were only two agents in front of the priority queue, and another five in front of the main queue; when one of the priority queue agents got sidetracked - for at least the half hour we were in line - helping one family, none of the other agents to the right appeared to notice or respond by signaling to people waiting in the priority queue ... and, unfortunately, none of the people ahead of us in the priority queue appeared to be sufficiently assertive to compensate for this lack of agent response (perhaps they were still on "island time") ... until I stepped forward to offer some gentle "prompting". This was all after having the unexpected extra measure of some kind of agriculturally-focused luggage pre-screening, and before the long security lines, which unlike SEA and LAX (and SFO and nearly every other U.S. airport I've been to), did not have a priority queue for frequent fliers with "status". I mention all this because we arrived at the airport with the recommended 90 minutes of lead time for our 10:00pm "red-eye" flight, which I expected was more than enough time, given the priority queues I'm used to elsewhere, and we barely made it through all the lines in time for our flight (which they had intended to have depart early). So, [frequent] flier beware!

Despite the sleep deprivation of the red-eye flight, compounded by a [scheduled] 2+ hour layover in San Francisco on the way back to Seattle, we would still choose this option again - though allotting 2 hours for navigating the queues at OGG - as it allowed us an extra day of sightseeing and whale watching (from shore), culminating with a delicious sunset meal at the beach (at Mama's), a fitting end to a Maui-velous vacation.


Re-rethinking Recommendation Engines: Psychology and the Influence of False Negatives

Alex Iskold posted an interesting article on Rethinking Recommendation Engines on ReadWriteWeb yesterday. I like (and recommend) his crisp and clear delineation of different types or sources of recommendations - personalized (based on your past behavior), social (based on past behavior of others who are similar to you) and item-based (based on the recommendable items themselves) - and his emphasis on the importance of incorporating psychological principles, not just technological ones, into the design of effective recommendation engines. [I also like (and recommend) Rick MacManus' associated recommendations on 10 Recommended Recommendation Engines, but that may be biased by MyStrands' prominent placement in that list.] However, I take issue with - or at least re-rethink - some of Alex' contentions regarding the road to successful recommender systems being paved with false negatives.

First, I want to agree with Alex (and Gavin Potter, the Guy in the Garage that Alex references) about the importance of psychology in technology design and in general ("Enhancing formulas with a bit of human psychology is a really good idea") and the value of recognizing and capitalizing on human inertia. However, his characterization of inertia - the tendency of our ratings to be heavily influenced (or primed) by other recent ratings - seems more characteristic of a primacy or recency effect than inertia (as I understand these concepts). However, I do think that inertia plays an important role in the adoption and use (or non-adoption / non-use) of any technology - people do not tend to change much or even expend much effort, unless or until sufficient incentive is provided.

So I think the inertia problem, with respect to recommendation engines, is more one of motivating users to rate things ... and I actually think the Netflix ratings system for movies (which provides the basis for much of the article) is an outstanding example - it doesn't require much effort (you are automatically prompted for a rating whenever you login to the site after having sent a DVD back), and the more you rate, the better the recommendations you receive, offering intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation ... and explaining why the system has motivated millions of its users to contribute an estimated 2 billion ratings. [Aside: I see that ReadWriteWeb is offering an extrinsic incentive for comments and trackbacks - a chance to win an Amazon gift certificate - but I was already planning on adding a trackback for intrinsic reasons.] In any case, however one labels these psychological influences - inertia, priming and/or recency - they are important to incorporate into the design of recommendation engines, and the systems that use them.

Further along in the article, Alex distinguishes false positives - recommendations for things that (it later turns out) we do not like - from false negatives - recommendations against things (it would later or perhaps likely turn out) we do like, and correctly recommends leveraging false negatives more effectively in the design of recommendation engines. [And just to round things out, in case it isn't obvious, true positives are recommendations for things that we will / do like, and true negatives are recommendations for things that we will / do not like ... and thanks to Eric for helping me set the record straight with respect to "do likes" and "don't' likes" in my description of false negatives (!)]

Unfortunately, he extends this thread to some propositions that lie beyond my comfort zone:

We do not need recommendations, because we are already over subscribed. We need noise filters. An algorithm that says: 'hey, you are definitely not going to like that' and hide it. ... If the machines can do the work of aggressively throwing information out for us, then we can deal with the rest on our own.

Now, on the one hand, I am sympathetic to the problem of information overload. However, as I noted in my notes from CSCW 2006, Paul Dourish pointed out that this is not a new problem:

One of the diseases of this age is the multiplicity of books; they doth so overcharge the world that it is not able to digest the abundance of idle matter that is every day hatched and brought forth into the world.

-- Barnaby Rich (1580-1617), writing in 1613 (!); quoted by de Solla Price in his 1963 book "Little Science, Big Science."

I'm also reminded of James Carse's observation about evil in his marvelous (and highly recommended) book, Finite and Infinite Games:

Evil is never intended as evil. Indeed, the contradiction inherent in all evil is that it originates in the desire to eliminate evil. "The only good Indian is a dead Indian."

I think that too aggressively filtering out [presumed] false negatives can render us more easily manipulated by technology ... and the people and organizations who control technology. Although there is considerable debate about what Web 2.0 is, one of its key ingredients is surely the provisioning of architectures of participation, in contrast to the "command and control" paradigm of earlier technologies (and eras). One of the beneficial side effects of the growth of Web 2.0 - for me - has been enhanced opportunities for serendipity, and allowing more false negatives is likely to yield fewer instances of serendipity. Furthermore, I believe increasing the probability - or acceptability - of false negatives may have the unfortunate consequence of moving further up the head of the long tail ... and/or further down toward the lowest common denominator(s). Book burning lies at or near the extreme end of the "acceptance of false negatives" spectrum, though I do not mean to imply that any of these consequences are intended or desired by the article or author.

In earlier chapters of my career, when I was more focused on natural language processing and automatic speech recognition, I became familiar with the concept of Equal Error Rate (EER), which represents a way of measuring the balance between false positives (which yields what is called the False Acceptance Rate, or FAR) and false negatives (False Rejection Rate, or FRR). The documentation for the BioID biometrics system SDK from HumanScan provides a nice articulation of these concepts, including the graph below:

Eergraph

Perhaps the solution to the tension between false positives and false negatives in recommender systems is to incorporate some kind of control for the user to specify an acceptable balance or threshold (which may default to the EER)  ... although that would also require devising a solution to the tension between user inertia and input ... but that simply provides additional corroboration for Alex's primary argument that we need to incorporate more psychology into our designs of good - or better - recommender system technologies.


CharmingBurka: Bridging Gaps and Lifting Veils via Bluetooth

CharmingBurkaSeamless2008 I visited BoingBoing - one of my favorite blogs - for the first time in [too long] a while, and, as usual, encountered a post of great interest and intrigue: CharmingBurka:

CharmingBurka

A project by Markus Kison.

Synopsis

The CharmingBurka sends a self-defined picture of the wearing person to every mobile phone next to it. Laws of the Koran are not broken.

Project description

The Charming Burka deals with Freud's idea that all clothes can be positioned between appeal and shame. The Burka was chosen, because it is often perceived in the west as a symbol of repression. A digital layer was added so that women can decide for themselves where they want to position themselves virtually. The Burka sends an image, chosen by the wearer, via Bluetooth technology. Every person next to her can receive her picture via mobile phone and see the women's self-determined identity. The virtual appeals can not be gathered by the laws of the Koran and so the CharmingBurka fulfills the desire of living a more western life, which some Muslim women have today.

Therefore the Burka is equipped with bluetooth antenna/micro-controller and uses the OBEX protocol, already working with most mobile phones.

Sponsor / technology

The prototype is realised with the bluetooth marketing solution Bluebot developed by Haase & Martin, the mobile marketing company in Dresden/Germany.

This looks like a religious[ly]-inspired variation on the theme of "seeing and being seen" exemplified by the Nokia Sensor application (among others). I don't think any of these applications have achieved mass (or even signficant niche) market appeal, but they are provocative and inspiring, on a number of levels.

It appears, from a video on the site, that the CharmingBurka charmed the crowd at the recent Seamless 2008 fashion event in Boston, but I do wonder whether / how this innovative mechanism for bridging the gaps between people by bridging the gaps between online and offline worlds - and thereby [virtually] lifting veils - would truly be accepted in a region (or even an event) with a higher concentration of Muslims ... or whether it would truly be desired by many Muslim women (living in Muslim countries). It seems to me that this kind of technology would increase the risks for such women, especially as the description of the design suggests that the user has no control over who is offered a virtual peek behind the veil.

The Bluebot site references a number of other events - including a Leipzig trade fair, a wedding fair and a Bavarian night club - in which other Bluetooth marketing systems (I see the CharmingBurka as a personal marketing system) were deployed, but the latest was in October 2006 ... leading me to [also] wonder whether / when their innovative technology will cross the chasm from novelty into commercial success. I suspect the success of such systems lies along trajectories wherein the technology is solving problems that people truly experience ... in ways that don't put them at [even greater] risk.


The Coming Ad Revolution: Predatory vs. Participatory

Esther Dyson wrote an insightful opinion piece in Monday's Wall Street Journal on "The Coming Ad Revolution". I agree with many of her observations and prognostications about how advertising will (and will not) evolve - or, perhaps, revolve - but I had a strong adverse reaction to her use of "targeting" with respect to the future form of advertising.

She begins by noting the importance of validation in social networks (and advertising):

The discussion about privacy is changing as users take control over their own online data. While they spread their Web presence, these users are not looking for privacy, but for recognition as individuals [emphasis mine] - whether by friends or vendors. This will eventually change the whole world of advertising.

Dyson goes on to describe examples of how social networking and advertising might interact, primarily revolving around travel, e.g.,

I'm an individual with specific travel plans, which I intentionally make visible to preferred vendors. British Airways, of course, will pay Dopplr a handsome sponsorship fee to be eligible to be my "friend".

She concludes by noting:

Value is being created in users' own walled gardens, which they will cultivate for themselves in real estate owned by the social networks. The new value creators are companies -- like Facebook and Dopplr -- that know how to build and support online communities.

I liked and agreed with what she had to say throughout much of the article, but there is a big disconnect for me in this last point. The users are cultivating value (inside walled gardens) and yet the attribution of value creation - and all the financial proceeds thereto - goes to the landlords. This strikes me as online feudalism, which is the antithesis of the architectures of participation that many other commentators are placing at the core of Web 2.0 (a paradigm, or at least a perspective, which encompasses services like Facebook and Dopplr). Why should Dopplr or Facebook (or any other social networking service) be the sole financial beneficiaries of our gardening? This seems more evolutionary than revolutionary to me - more of a platform shift than a paradigm shift, with a slew of new lords.

Targeted advertising is all the rage these days, perhaps best exemplified by Google Adwords, with many other services and companies - notably including Microsoft and Yahoo! (who are mentioned by Dyson, along with some newer players such as NebuAd, Project Rialto, Phorm, Frontporch and Adzilla) - jockeying for a piece of that pie. But even this terminology reflects a feudal - or perhaps predatory - mentality. Who wants to be a target? The word clearly has some non-positive connotations - "something or someone fired at or marked for attack; an object of ridicule or criticism" - that reinforce (for me) an imbalance between advertisers and the consumers they want to reach. In this context, current social networks seem more like hunting ranches or fishing farms than gardens, but perhaps that distinction simply reflects my bias toward fauna over flora (at least with respect to domestication or manipulation).

In another section, Dyson makes reference to "a hypothetical Amazon 2.0, new and more personalized"; I'm not sure how the current Amazon falls short of the personalization she has in mind, but its affiliates program offers one model for how online lords can share some of the yields of the vassals' efforts through referral fees and/or commissions. Why not share the financial benefits from the social production of social value in social networks more universally - sharing the wealth of networks across all the participants in the network(s)? This would be a real revolution in advertising.

Ruminating on revolution, gardening and bargaining brings to mind a musical reference (a recurring experience for me, especially lately) - the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young version of Woodstock:

We are stardust, we are golden,
We are caught in the devil's bargain,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.


Music and Personality: Reflective and Complex

As part of my ongoing personal and professional re-engagement with music (since the initiation of my instigation at MyStrands), and renewed exploration of how tastes in music and other media can offer new opportunities for engagement marketing, I was reading up on some of the work by Peter Jason Rentfrow and Sam Gosling on music and personality.

Their research, which includes a short test of music preferences (STOMP), explores mappings between preferences for music and [other] personality traits. Based on data collected from 3,500 people, they identified four music preference categories:

  • Reflective and Complex
  • Intense and Rebellious
  • Upbeat and Conventional
  • Energetic and Rhythmic

and report that "Preference for these music dimensions were related to a wide array of personality dimensions (e.g., Openness), self-views (e.g., political orientation), and cognitive abilities (e.g., verbal ability)."

Far more details about their research methodology and findings are included in a paper they published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology - a journal I keep encountering in my research (perhaps reflecting my increasing orientation toward the social and psychological implications and applications of technology (so much so, that I've decided to join the Society for Personality and Social Psychology and subscribe to the journal)):

Rentfrow, P. J., & Gosling, S. D. (2003). The do re mi’s of everyday life: The structure and personality correlates of music preferences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 1236-1256.

I won't delve deeply into all the details of this paper, but some of the highlights (for me) include corroboration for a number of theories / intuitions I've entertained:

One of the dimensions of music preferences the authors did not investigate [thoroughly] was the situational aspect - the music I like to listen to is strongly influenced by where I am, who I'm with and what I'm doing (among other things). The authors did report on the range of contexts in which people listen to music (e.g., waking up, going to sleep, driving, studying, working, hanging out with friends and exercising), but did not explore how those contexts influence music preferences.

MusicFX - a group recommender system we created several years ago to allocate influence over the music playing in a fitness center based on the preferences of those who were actually working out at any given time - succeeded largely because we asked people only for their preferences for music while they were in the fitness center. We had several users who submitted comments like "I really like opera, but not while I'm working out" (the situational influence of place, activity and perhaps time), and we observed instances where users adjusted their preferences toward more popular genres when their initial preferences resulted in rather unusual genres of music being played (the situational influence of other people). I've referenced a number of other situational music preference systems in an earlier post on roadcasting, and MyStrands' partyStrands application is a more recent example of such a system.

Rentfrow and Gosling note that their study represents just one piece of a full[er] theory of music preferences (and personality) - and it certainly represents an important contribution. I recently ordered Daniel Levitan's book, This Is Your Brain On Music, which I suspect also offers important contributions to a more complete theory of music and personality.

Of course, in the commercial domain, radio advertising has long recognized the connections between music preferences and self-image (and projections of image). With the growth of online radio, however, traditional radio advertising has declined, or at least flattened out, despite the fact that 93% of consumers in America still listen to traditional radio (according to the Radio Advertising Bureau). Cranking up the music in your car or dorm room used to be a popular way of projecting one's personality and tastes (ahem, at least for some people), but I imagine the growth of other [online] media that are being utilized for self-image construction and projection - Facebook, MySpace and other social networking services - may be affecting choices of projection channels these days.

[Interestingly, and somewhat related to preferences, advertising and brains, the recent Advertising Age video piece on [what amounts to] your brain on advertising (based on Sands Research neurophysiological testing of people watching Super Bowl Ads), suggests that the connection between brain activity and other, more conscious activities and behaviors indicators such as the USA Today Ad Meter and other popularity polls - or perhaps people purchasing products - is not very strong.]

Popping up a few levels, and turning from academic and market research to methods that are somewhat more generally approachable, Rentfrow has developed and posted a web-based music and personality test. I took the test, which yielded the results shown in the screenshot below:

Doremime

The results page goes on to describe the various facets in further detail. I'll just include the first category, which appears to be the dominant one (96%) for me.

People with high scores on the reflective and complex music-preference dimension tend to be open to new experiences, creative, intellectual, and enjoy trying new things. When it comes to politics, they tend to lean toward the liberal side. Wisdom, diversity, and fine arts are all important to them. When it comes to lifestyle, high scorers tend to be sophisticated, and relatively well off financially. After a hard day of work, if they're not listening to music or reading a book, they enjoy documentary films, independent, classic, or foreign films.

This certainly matches my self-image, as eerily closely as the description of the ENFP personality type (in the Myers-Briggs typology) in which I was categorized after taking the Keirsey Temperament Sorter II test. I'll note that these results can both be viewed simply as self-fulfilling prophecies - I was answering the questions from the perspective (conscious or unconscious) of my self-image ... or self-projection. But that's OK, if the goal is simply to link some elements of my self-image to other elements of my self-image, especially for the purpose of facilitating my discovery of new people, places or things that may be of interest and value to me (and/or my self-image). I'm not sure yet how to effectively technologize this kind of linking (and thinking), but will be delving deeper into these potential linkages.

BTW, Rentfrow has also created a web-based test to find your Star Wars twin ... the results for which suggest I'm a cross between Yoda (95%) and Obi Wan Kenobi (90%). I wonder what kind of music they like to listen to ...


Commenting on Validation / Validating Comments

Ever since my last post, which started out about locked-in syndrome (inspired by The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), but which developed into a revisitation of a frequently discussed topic [on this blog] - "the need for approval ... for validation ... for appreciation ... for mattering" - I've been attuned to validation in a variety of forms and forums.

The stream of comments that followed my initial post were incredibly engaging and validating - to know that two people I admire so much were touched by the post, as was another person who serendipitously stumbled upon it - and all of them helped draw me a bit deeper (and more broadly) in a followup comment into the topic(s) I'd touched on in the initial post ... culminating in my revisiting one of the most validating poems I've ever encountered: "Love after Love", by Derek Walcott ("... You will love again the stranger who was yourself ...").

However, another comment on that thread - and a number of other recent comments on a number of other posts - initially appeared validating, but upon closer inspection (and reflection), seem less so. In an earlier post, in which I was commenting on commenting, I explicitly named - and thus (I believe) alienated - a friend who had posted a validating comment which had a very similar syntactic look and feel to other comments which I labeled spampliments - thinly, though sometimes effectively (due to my incurable addiction to validation - online or offline), disguised spam compliments. Such comments appear to be primarily intended to add "google juice" to various web sites - by incorporating a URL in the comment itself and/or in the commenter self-reference. I'm tempted to delve deeper into this shadow - I tend to be very self-referential in both my blog posts and comments on this and other blogs - but given my perception that I lost a blog commenter (if not reader (if not friend)) last time I ranted about this, I think I'll simply drop it, but not without first noting that validating comments that [initially] appear to be validating me (or my blog ... not that I think the difference is significant (and therein lies the rub)) is an ongoing challenge. I do want to be very explicit, though, that I really do appreciate (and feel validated by) comments from people who are in some way moved by what I write. [Ironically, I recently noticed that the number of comments on my blog has superseded the number of posts ... and that trend may reverse itself [now] ... but I feel impelled to write what I think and feel.]

Anyhow, returning to the original thread, yesterday, during the 4+ hour drive down to MyStrands HQ in Corvallis, OR, I had an unusually long time for audio engagement. During the first portion of the drive, I listened to the audiobook rendition of The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz. I've already written about his second agreement - don't take anything personally (the same post in which I explored my shadow(s) about commenting on commenting) - and his fourth agreement - always do your best (about which I [still] feel strongly ambivalent). One of the things that jumped out at me during this particular listening experience was his description of how, as young children, the adults in positions of authority (parents, teachers, ministers) hooked our attention, and "domesticated" us by cultivating an addiction to future attention ... resulting in, among other things, our willingness - and even desire - to [try to] be who we are not simply to please other people ... i.e., just to receive validation (from others).

Sheryl_crow_300 Sherylcrow TuesdayNightMusicClub I then switched on the radio, to catch some NPR news ... which was immediately followed by Terry Gross' Fresh Aire interview of Sheryl Crow, one of my favorite artists (make no mistake). During the interview, entitled Sheryl Crow: Gracefully Navigating "Detours", she spoke - among other things - of her need to be accepted and appreciated for her music, not [simply] for her physical beauty. She said she intentionally dressed in a bedraggled style and used black makeup in the photo shoots for the cover[t] art on her first two albums - Tuesday Night Music Club and the self-titled Sheryl Crow (I always thought it odd to have a self-titled second album) - in an attempt to obscure her visual attractiveness, so that people would be better able to hear and appreciate her aural artistry. Well, at the risk of dating myself, and without delving too deeply into this shadow, her first two albums were my gateway into opening up again to popular music, after a nearly 20-year "dry spell". Her musical talents shined brightly (for me), and despite her attempts to hide her physical attributes, those too shined through pretty clearly (I'll briefly note that Pink Floyd's song, "Shine On, You Crazy Diamond", was released near the end of what I consider the [last] golden age of rock and roll). Anyhow, the point I really want to emphasize here is that I find it reassuring that even an artist as immensely talented as Sheryl Crow still feels the need to be validated ... which makes me just a wee bit less self-conscious and more accepting about this need in my self ... perhaps enabling me to better love [myself] with a paper thin heart.


Locked-in Syndrome: Diving Bells, Butterflies, Freedoms and Families

Divingbellposterbig Thedivingbellandthebutterflybook Amy and I recently saw The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (or, more properly, Le Scaphandre et le Papillon), during an unexpected extended layover in San Francisco. The movie is about the late Jean-Dominique Bauby, former editor of the fashion magazine Elle, who at age 43 suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed except for his left eye, after which he continued to suffer for the next 12 2 years from locked-in syndrome - aware and awake, but unable to communicate. Fortunately (at least for viewers and readers), a dedicated speech therapist (Henriette) was able to open up a new communication channel for him - through repeatedly reciting a frequency-sorted version of the alphabet and watching for him to blink his eye when she reached the desired letter - and a dedicated transcriber (Claude) was able to navigate this channel with him to help him get his story out. And that story is a powerful one, touching on the challenges he faced in dealing with his highly constrained condition, and its effects on his opportunities - past, present and future.

The diving bell in the title is an allusion to the restrictions imposed by his physical condition, while the butterfly refers to the relative freedom of his mental and imaginative capacities that he appreciated - and indulged - all the more after the stroke. What struck me most about the film was that we all suffer some degree of locked-in syndrome - unable (or, perhaps more often, unwilling) to communicate effectively with the people around us. I do not mean to imply for a moment that most of us suffer anything close to the incredible challenges Bauby faced, but the movie did offer me an opportunity to reflect on how often I underutilize communication channels in my own life (this blog notwithstanding).

I remember one time, at the beginning of a surgical procedure, I had been given anesthesia, but it had not yet taken [full] effect before someone started inserting a tube down my throat. I tried to alert the medical staff to the pain I was feeling during this part of the procedure, but was unable to move or talk, and the fear I felt about being so incapable of communicating my predicament was at least as painful as the insertion itself. This was a far more dramatic example of feeling locked-in than most of my experiences, in which I am able to communicate, but unable to effectively convey something I am thinking or feeling to another person ... or situations in which I consciously or unconsciously choose not to communicate at all.

Bauby, of course, could have also chosen not to communicate. It required far more effort for him - and for the people with whom he was communicating - than it typically does for me (and presumably, however ponderous my writing and speaking may be, for the people with whom I communicate), and his willingness to make that effort to not only communicate with the people around him in his activities of daily living but to dictate a book about his experience is inspiring. I was reminded of a Richard Bach quote,

Argue for your limitations and sure enough, they're yours

as well as the lyrics to the Eagles song, Already Gone [video],

So oftentimes it happens that we live our lives in chains
and we never even know we have the key.

Another aspect of the film that moved me was Bauby's relationship with his children ... and their mother (Celine, to whom he was not married). After his stroke, his ability to interact with them was extremely limited, illustrated by a picnic on the beach, during which they play the word game hangman. Amy and I were watching the film on the eve of my "homecoming" - after having commuted nearly every week from Seattle to Palo Alto (or other business-related destinations) for 16 months - and so the lost opportunities for enjoying time with his children was especially poignant ... as was his continued underappreciation for Celine.

Th0084_107_35 Bauby's relationship with his father was also very poignant (for me). Early in the movie, while Bauby is shaving his father (Papinou), his father expresses how proud he is of his son, which brought back memories of my own father expressing pride and approval - as best he could - for his son ... as well as more painful memories of him not expressing pride or approval ... for his son or himself. [In writing this, I'm struck by how my father suffered from a form of locked-in syndrome, tightly bottling up his emotions, which eventually started leaking out in various ways, shapes and forms.]  In my last conversation with him before he died - in 1996 - I was talking with him about the three job offers I had as I was nearing the completion of my Ph.D. One would have enabled me to continue working text-based information extraction; a second would have enabled me to work in the related area of speech interfaces; the third, which seemed both the most promising and the most challenging - what he called "the big job" - would have enabled me to work on something completely different. His last words to me were "Take the big job. You can do it!" I did take that big job - I felt the fear and did it anyway - but I never saw him [alive] again. Although I have many memories of episodes in which I did not receive much-desired approval (from him ... and other authority figures in my life), I'm glad to have the most recent - and lasting - memory be an example of explicit and enthusiastic approval.

During the shaving scene in the film, Bauby expands on this theme, noting "We all are children. We all need approval." Andrea Gronvall expands this theme even further, in her Chicago Reader review:

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly inter-twines the need for validation—which is tied to the impulse to create—and the inevitability of isolation and death. Locked in, Jean-Dominique Bauby wrote a luminous treatise on life and love, leaving behind a work of art that says “I was here and I mattered.” [Director Julian] Schnabel honors that impulse with this mature, resonant portrait of an artist.

This need for approval ... for validation ... for appreciation ... for mattering ... is something I continually struggle with. As I noted in an earlier post on living without a goal, and mattering without being useful:

I can't honestly say I'm entirely willing to release my attachment to others' [expressions of] appreciation at this moment -- despite the opportunities for practicing such detachment currently being offered me -- but I'm at least willing to re-open the question of whether and how I matter ... and if it is possible to matter without being [acknowledged as] useful to others.

And so I guess I'm still in the question ... perhaps locked-in to the question ... and in the current context, I'm wondering whether the answer - or the key - lies along the path of the butterflies.


Principal Instigator at MyStrands: A Prospective Perspective

MyStrands This is my first week as Principal Instigator at MyStrands. I wrote last week about leaving Nokia to join MyStrands, in which I focused primarily on the leaving part. I wanted to write a little more today about the joining part, and the excitement I feel about reprising and redefining my principal instigator role in a new organization. I have meetings next week in Corvallis with some of my new colleagues in the Innovation group to discuss more generally and specifically what we'll be doing - collectively and individually - and hope to post another entry toward the end of next week regarding what the soon-to-be-established Seattle lab will look like - and do.

In a bio blurb I recently sent to Dan Oestreich to preface some of my favorite poems about leadership (The Journey, by Mary Oliver, The Invitation, by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, and Our Deepest Fear, by Marianne Williamson) in his growing collection of leadership poems, I wrote that "Joe is in the people business, serving technology" (riffing on a perspective articulated by the passionate, persevering and partnering Howard Schultz that he - and Starbucks - is in the "people business, serving coffee"). So I want to write about both the people and the technology at MyStrands that infuse me with enthusiasm for this new adventure. [Update: a variation of the blurb I sent to Dan is now on my bio page in the collection of MyStrands Management Team pages.]

I first met the Francisco Martin, CEO of MyStrands, and Atakan Cetinsoy, VP of Corporate Development, rather serendipitously at a Supernova conference pre-party in San Francisco in the summer of 2006, where they were going to be giving a presentation (I was in town for another event, and just happened to get on the party invitation list). We started chatting during the party about the work I'd done - especially an earlier group recommender system for music (MusicFX) and some more recent proactive display applications - and they told me about their social recommendation core technology (which started out with music recommendations) and their [then] new partyStrands application that combines music recommendation with large displays and mobile phones to promote social interactions in party settings. I joined Nokia Research Center Palo Alto shortly thereafter, where - among other activities - I instigated a new generation of proactive displays that promote community in a workplace environment. MyStrands, meanwhile, has continued to make great strides in areas of mutual interest.

Francisco recently contacted me about the possibility of starting up a new MyStrands lab in Seattle. MyStrands already has labs in Barcelona and New York that are developing a range of new innovations for the company (and its customers) - not that I mean to imply that innovations only arise out of the labs (at MyStrands or elsewhere) ... indeed, one of the refrains I heard from everyone I spoke with over the past month or so was [what I would call] distributed empowerment - everyone is encouraged to innovate (and feels supported in doing so). The company's recent infusion of capital has vastly increased the ability and incentive to expand, and I'm honored and delighted to have been asked to help facilitate that expansion - in people and innovations - in Seattle.

Other people I spoke with at MyStrands after my reconnection with Francisco reinforced many of the positive prospects I sensed during our initial discussions. Rick Hangartner, the Chief Scientist, confirmed that many of the things I'm interested in doing are very well aligned with MyStrands' vision, mission and goals, and that many of the projects already underway will help support and propel many of the new ideas we all have in mind. Jason Herskowitz, VP of Consumer Products (as well as blogger, creator of me*dia*or, a Ning social network site focused on music, and regular contributor to the Music 2.0 Directory that is charting out the future of [digital] music), shared some of his aspirations for creating ever more engaging future music experiences and assured me that he and others at MyStrands were preparing for the potential disruptions in the music industry I recently read about in the Future of Music. Peyman Faratin, Principal Scientist and director of the new MyStrands lab in New York, has some interesting ideas about economics, market mechanisms and business models that I'm looking forward to learning more about (and capitalizing on) ... and it is very reassuring to have a compadre on the east coast who will be facing many of the same opportunities and challenges that I anticipate in Seattle. Marc Torrens, Chief Innovation Officer and my (& Peyman's) direct manager, described his management style as very facilitative and connective, and hopes to help Peyman and me learn quickly about what MyStrands already has in the works, and how our ideas can help expand or extend innovations most effectively - or perhaps introduce entirely new strands to the growing range of social recommendation systems in the MyStrands family.

Mystrandsbloglogo Gabi Aldamiz-echevaria, VP of Marketing and Communications - as well as others throughout the MyStrands organization - do a great job of walking the talk of open innovation by openly communicating through the MyStrands blog (which recently posted an entry announcing my joining MyStrands). The blog manifests much of the positive energy I've felt in all my email and phone exchanges with other Stranders, and I'm really excited about tapping into and promulgating that positive energy as our paths (strands?) increasingly intertwine.

A final note on technology: MyStrands is an all-Apple shop. Although Nokia had been a Windows shop, I was one of the more than 50% of researchers at Nokia Research Center Palo Alto who had switched to Macs, so that part of the transition is going smoothly. However, I also got a brand new iPhone (which my daughter thinks is exceedingly unfair), and so I may start nonconsensually exhibiting iPhone iGloat - I have not figured how to modify the "Sent from my iPhone" signature. Nokia was kind enough to let me keep my N95 ... which, as my new colleagues recently noted on their blog, runs the MyStrands Social Player (ranked among 25 coolest mobile applications for the N95) ... so I'm not yet sure which will become my primary mobile "phone" (or, perhaps I should say my primary "mobile social media connection device").

[Oops - I forgot to add a final note on terminology. At Nokia, it became clear that "instigator" did not translate easily into Finnish, the native language of many of my former colleagues. In case the word does not translate easily into Spanish - the native language of many of my new colleagues - I wanted to include a Merriam Webster's definition of instigate:

to goad or urge forward : provoke

I also want to clarify that this title is not intended to suggest that I am the chief instigator - I am sure there are many instigators throughout the company (as there are throughout Nokia) - but rather to suggest that instigation is what I will principally be doing ... I think this better characterizes my modus operandi than "Scientist" or "Researcher", or even "Manager" or "Director", although I do like to intermingle research and science - and even some management and direction - along with design, development and deployment ... and, of course, instigation :-) ]