Inspiring Commencement Addresses

13 01 2013

We don’t really have the same culture of commencement addresses in Australia that the US seems to have. And while I am sure many commencement addresses are forgettable, every so often one pops up on Youtube (or elsewhere) that is amazing. Here are a few of my favourites….

Steve Jobs, Stanford University 2005
Jobs talks about getting fired from Apple and how he came back from that devastating setback.


Professor Randy Pausch, Carnegie Mellon, 2008
Prof Pausch was dying of cancer when he made a surprise return to Carnegie Mellon University.

“We don’t beat the reaper by living longer. We beat the reaper by living well… The question is, what do we do between the time we’re born and the time he shows up?”


Oprah Winfrey, Stanford University, 2008
After first embarrassing her god-daughter and giving us a view of the human side of Oprah, she talks about finding her way and the challenges she faced overcoming set ideas of what a television personality looked like early in her career.


JK Rowling, Harvard 2008
The Harry Potter author talks about her imagination and creativity at a young age and how her parents, wanting the best for her, encouraged “straight” education over the classics and artistic pursuits that interested her.


A year in blog-land

7 07 2012

I started blogging approximately a year ago.

I had been intending to blog for some time, and had even started a couple of times on various topics, then abandoned them when I decided that the topics were too self-indulgent and really of no value or interest to anyone other than myself. And even my interest was fleeting.

The decision about topics was problematic for me – I wasn’t intending for it to be a work related blog, it wasn’t to establish my credibility or expertise in a field. But the types of things I was interested in were many and varied and really didn’t hang together very well, except in that they interested me.

Analysis Paralysis.

The answer was: write about what interests you. Once I decided I had permission for this to be about interesting things rather than being constrained by a specific topic, I was off and running – or writing. In the end it doesn’t seem to have mattered that I have several different topics going. Some weeks I blog every day and sometimes have several new posts in a day. Other weeks I can barely get one post up. And occasionally one topic – for instance the leap second – inspires three posts. (Did you sleep well? , Nostradamus and Y2K and Why the moon rules your life)

As well as what I have posted (this is my 301st post), I have about 70 drafts sitting behind the scenes. Some are posts that I started and haven’t finished because the story petered out. Others are where I just made a quick note about a topic for those days we the topics seem hard to come by.

I am loving the stats page, and particularly the maps. I initially thought I was probably writing for my friends (and thank you for visiting, liking and commenting!) But it turns out that people visit from all over the world, even some small islands I didn’t know were separate countries. It’s really quite interesting to ponder what might interest someone in Belize, Venezuela, Jordan, Iceland, or the Russian Republic, and how someone from Trinidad and Tobago, Malta, Qatar, and El Salvador might have ended up reading an Australian blog. Truly international, and always fascinating to see who has been here.

The topics vary quite widely, but I don’t seem to be able to predict what will attract a broad readership. I loved being able to go through my holiday photos and record and relive some of the places we went and the things we saw. I also love pondering news events and recent studies that I have come across, and the occasional joke or cartoon. Social media, psychology, science (particularly weird science or pseudo-science) usually capture my attention and interest long enough for a post to evolve.

Sharing on StumbleUpon has been a surprising and unpredictable event. A posting on Steve Jobs garnered 9,822 viewings, thanks in large part to StumbleUpon. The general page comes second with 7,958, followed distantly by How to Open a Padlocked Suitcase: A lesson in travel safety for us all with 804, and Imagine what you could do if you thought you couldn’t fail at 597 (this posting was on Moira Kelly, the woman who sponsored Krishna and Trishna, conjoined twins from Bangladesh).

I also post links on Facebook (mudmap) and Twitter (mudmapped) and occasionally on Pinterest, although I have not had much success there. But StumbleUpon has driven the occasional peaks in my stats – a top score of 4,837 views on one day that seems almost impossible to beat and quite bizarre to contemplate. I don’t know how it happened and I can’t replicate it, but it is amusing and rewarding to think that something I wrote “touched a chord” and nearly went viral! (This was some considerable time after the death of Steve Jobs so I didn’t really expect a massive reaction.)

In one year Mudmap has had just under 28,500 viewings (and increasing as we speak). This is a lot more than I probably could have expected if I had written a book – unless I wrote the Da Vinci Code or Fifty Shades of Grey. I know that some of you are repeat readers. Some of you are my friends, family and acquaintances, others are people I will never meet. Some are fellow-bloggers who stop by and encourage, chat and exchange ideas. Thanks you, everyone!

As a frustrated writer, it is gratifying to be able to write something that someone else will read. And on a good day, you might click “like”. And sometimes you might comment. I appreciate each and every one of these.

Here’s to the next year! (Please drop me a line….)

and more from the bizarre worlds of marketing and espionage…

10 02 2012

Well, after yesterday’s look at bizarre social media stories, the strangeness continues. Is it a full moon?

1. BMW apologises for weather front deaths. Ad agency Sassenbach apparently advised its client, BMW, to sponsor a weather front crossing Europe. The idea was to promote the wind-and-weather-proof-ness of their Mini Cooper. Hence the Cooper weather system was christened and – well it had already unleashed itself on Europe, but it continued on its merry and somewhat unpredictable way. Apparently the German weather bureau allows brands to sponsor weather systems. Full marks to them for being able to “monetize” weather forecasting.

What’s wrong with this idea? Well, by definition, in order too have a name, the weather front must be (what they call in the business) “significant”. For significant, the lay-reader can substitute any of the following words: dangerous, inconvenient, catastrophic, deadly. You get the idea. So when the Cooper weather system resulted in 100 deaths in Poland and the Ukraine, BMW was put in the bizarre situation of apologising for the deaths associated with their weather front. (And for those that have picked the obvious link, I’m not going there. You’re on your own.)

So here is another interesting question. The weather bureau organises the sponsorship – could they not predict that this was going to be a bad system and might have potential downsides not only for their client, BMW, but also for the whole selling-off weather systems industry generally?

The story is here.

2. Gamification meets espionage. OK, so this is a pretty interesting concept, and I am sure there will be a movie made about this soon, if there hasn’t already been. Now I’m pretty keen on the concept of gamification – application of gaming principles (and often the gamers themselves) into solving real-world problems. In a previous posting I looked at how gamers had solved a biological puzzle about the shape of a protein that scientists had been unable to solve.

The US State Department and the US Embassy in Prague are sponsoring a social media game where gamers can win money by tracking down five people whose mugshots are shown on the game-site. Each of these people (who, in this instance, are paid actors and not real-life terrorists) is wearing a t-shirt saying that they are indeed the target, so there should be no difficulty differentiating them from other look-alikes. To win, you need to photograph all five and upload their images to the website.

So here’s where I went with this one.

1. This game, while harnessing the gaming-populace to achieve an aim, doesn’t really harness the cooperative effort that the previous gamification example did, where individuals worked together and worked off each other’s work to develop a result that was better than the efforts of any one individual (see definitions of “synergy” and “leverage”).

2. While this example has people wearing t-shirts to identify for the gamers that they have indeed identified and photographed the correct person, in real life there is considerable possibility of identity mix-ups. For instance, I am a dead-ringer for Angelina Jolie……(OK, I know that’s not relevant, I just dropped it in there as an example, and to implant this concept in your mind).

3. In real life we are talking about dangerous people being identified through this means. While harnessing the community to look out for each other is a good thing, I suspect any terrorist suddenly being followed by gamers and photographed is going to get a little (more) paranoid. And possibly aggressive. This could result in a lot of danger and possibly death for amateur detectives competing for $5k.

4. The other application mentioned in the article is tracking down missing children. Is gaming going to be more effective than saturation coverage of the child’s picture? Are we assuming that people are only going to be motivated by the possibility of winning a game worth $5k, and that it will be more effective than the current strategies of saturation coverage of photographs to the entire population, appeals about the safety of young innocents and often much larger financial rewards? What is this saying about us as a society? (And keep in mind that we already have instances of children and families being inadvertently identified as “missing children” – a very similar looking girl was photographed and tracked down in the very sad Madeleine McCann case. Imagine having random people taking photographs of your children when you were out in public – talk about paranoid.)

Now maybe this is a fabulous idea…..I don’t say yay or nay, I simply ask the questions and hope that the people doing these things are thinking very carefully about the ethics and implications of what they are setting up.

3. What the Steve Jobs file shows us about FBI investigative methodology. Gotta love this one. The recently released FBI file on Steve Jobs relates to a time during the Bush era when he was being considered for a US Federal advisory position. Much of the standard stuff is covered – they looked at his employment and family history, his political affiliations, interviewed colleagues etc. But the really interesting thing is the questionnaire that Jobs filled out for them. It contains such gems as…

24b. “Do you now use or supply, or with in the last five years have you used or supplied marijuana, cocaine, narcotics, hallucinogenics or other dangerous or illegal drugs?”

Seriously? Does anyone ever answer “yes” to that question, particularly when a government agency is asking the question? Is there any value in actually asking this question? Even if it was to cover the employer in case he is found out to be dealing drugs later – he’s dealing drugs, you can sack him on those grounds. You don’t need to also say he lied on his application.

And then, the 1950s throw-back gem… “Have you ever been a member, officer or employee of The Communist Party?” (Jobs answered no.) I am fascinated that they considered this to still be relevant in 1991 – or was Bush Snr planning to bring back reds-under-the-beds mentality? Perhaps this was plan A prior to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, which gave him his “us and them” target in the Persian Gulf War. It would be interesting to know if this question is still on the application form.

But let’s finish on a positive note – a couple of positive stories, one on social media and one on the application of technology to remote medicine.

4. American Airlines and agency Weber Shandwick have released a case study on how they managed social media during a 2010 hijacking threat. After receiving an anonymous threat about a plane about to take off at JFK International Airport in New York, the plane was sequestered on a remote side of the airport and the passengers were kept on-board.

Of course in this day and age, “everyone” is connected to social media, and rumours rapidly swirled in the twitter-sphere. Two passengers in particular became identified as authorities on the unfolding events and were being contacted by news media for information. American Airlines monitors their social media mentions and hence was quickly aware of what was happening and how incorrect rumours were being repeated in social media and fed back to the passengers on-board. In a case-study of “how-to” they were quick and responsive, dealing in real-time with both the social media mentions, and also keeping their passengers informed about what was really happening. They recognised that their passengers were in fact de-facto reporters. And overall, they managed to contain any panic that escalating and unfounded rumours can cause.

American Airlines creative manager for social media, (the appropriately named) Jonathon Bird says: “The experience opened our eyes to the fact that we need to be able to respond immediately and accurately every time. And we are getting faster, better integrated and far less siloed.”

The case study is here.

The other thing I really like about this case study is how it demonstrates that social media is increasingly driving “old media” – newspaper and television journalists were using Twitter to source information.

I have added a couple of links about social media in emergency management to the bottom of this posting.

5. Mobile tablet technology saves lives. A 24-year-old Camerooni engineer, Arthur Zang, has invented a Cardiopad , which allows ECGs and other cardio-diagnostic tests to be done remotely and the results wirelessly sent to city-based specialists. Cameroon is a central-African country of 20 million, with only 30 cardiac specialists all concentrated in the two major cities. Remote area medicine is a major problem for many countries – including first world countries such as Australia and this invention has the potential to provide cutting-edge diagnostics in remote areas, cutting the costs of providing health care in remote areas, and also the travel and inconvenience experienced by patients residing in remote areas.

He is currently looking for venture capital to commercially produce the Cardiopad. So let’s harness the power of social media and pass this on – see if we can find the Venture Capitalist willing to back it. If ever an internationally worthwhile invention deserved funding on commercial and humanitarian grounds, this is surely it.

Interested in Social Media? here are a few more you might be interested in…
Social Media in Emergency Management
Social Media in Emergency Situations
And today’s bizarre social media news…

Steve Jobs’ 11 Rules of Success

25 11 2011

photo credit: Mawel

I have been given this in hard copy so I am assuming the attribution is correct! Nonetheless, interesting lessons for us all.

1. Do what you love to do. Find your true passion. Make a difference. The only way to do great work is to love what you do.

2. Be different. Think different. Better to be a pirate than join the navy.

3. Do your best at every job. Don’t sleep! Success generates more success so be hungry for it. Hire good people with a passion for excellence.

4. Perform SWOT analysis. As soon as you join / start a company, make a list of strengths and weaknesses of yourself and your company on a piece of paper. Don’t hesitate to throw bad apples out of the company. (Blogger’s note: Gotta love a pun!)

5. Be entrepreneurial. Look for the next big thing. Find a set of ideas that need to be acted upon quickly and decisively and jump through that window. Sometimes the first step is the hardest one. Just take it. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.

6. Start small, think big. Don;t worry about too many things at once. Take a handful of simple things to begin with and then progress to more complex ones. Think about not just tomorrow, but the future. Put a ding in the universe.

7. Strive to become a market leader. Own and control the primary technology in everything you do. If there’s a better technology available, use it regardless of whether or not anyone else is using it. Be the first, and make it an industry standard.

8. People judge you by your performance, so focus on the outcome. Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected. Advertise. If they don’t know about it, they won’t buy your product. Pay attention to design. We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them. Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

9. Innovate. innovation distinguishes a leader from a follower. Delegate. Let other top executives do 50% of your routine work to be able to spend 50% of your time on the new stuff. Say no to 1000 things to make sure you don;t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. Concentrate on really important creations and radical innovation. Hire people who want to make the best things in the world. You need a very product-oriented culture, even in a technology company. Lots of companies have tons of great engineers and smart people. But ultimately, there needs to be some gravitational force that pulls it all together.

10. Learn from failures. Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly and get on with improving your other innovations.

11. Learn continually. There’s always “one more thing” to learn. Cross-pollinate ideas with others both within and outside your company. learn from customers, competitors, and partners. If you partner with someone you don’t like, learn to like them – praise tem and benefit from them. Learn to criticize your enemies openly, but honestly.

And in case you didn’t see it, here is Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University.

“Stay Hungry; Stay Foolish”

Interested in some more salient life lessons for the business world? Try….
Doing the Impossible – the Richard Branson story
The Parable of the Flying Frog
Swimming with Sharks