The Scientist “Star” system

Saw a very good piece on 60 minutes last Sunday on Dr. Bob Ballard, underwater explorer, best known for his discovery of the Titanic.

If you want to read as opposed to watch, the transcripts are here (part 1 and part 2). The piece is worth watching in its entirety but a couple of things really caught my eye.

  1. While he is best known for finding the Titanic, Dr. Ballard regards his greatest triumph as the discovery of giant tube worms at 8,000 feet underwater that thrive in total darkness on hydrogen sulfide.
  2. and to the point of this entry – he was very articulate in describing the ‘star’ system in science.He also acknowledged it doesn’t hurt to be known as the guy who found the Titanic, but he said that comes with baggage. “Science is a ‘we,’ not an ‘I.’ It truly is. I didn’t do anything. We did a lot of things. But in our system, in America, we have this star-based system. Star athletes, star news people, star politicians. And stars are ‘I.’ And the academic world is really, honestly a ‘we.’”

The success of folks like Dr. Ballard , Richard Dawkins, Steve Jobs or Barak Obama is based on the endeavors of many. While acknowledging that they didn’t accomplish everything alone (or as Isaac Newton said 400 years ago – “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”) we tend to focus on one person as the smartest guy/gal in the room and totally ignore everyone else.

One wonders in this age of instant collaboration including social networks with their promise of the wisdom of the crowds what will happen to tomorrow’s stars – will they be original thinkers or the best at harnessing the thoughts of others? Who knows?

“Welcome to the Future”


I don’t have many C&W (country and western) songs on my iPOD but last night I caught Brad Paisley singing “Welcome to the Future” on the 2009 CMA awards. It is a catchy tune with lyrics that sum up the “understanding gap” between the young and old.

And I’d have given anything
To have my own Pac-Man game at home
I used to have to get a ride down to the arcade
Now I’ve got it on my phone


Hey, everyday is a revolution
Welcome to the future
Hey, so many things I never thought I’d see
Happening right in front of me

One of the challenges facing society is not only the absorption of all this technology by folks but also an understanding of how far life has changed.

The mantra used to be that “knowledge is power” but if knowledge is widely shared and accessible where does the advantage come from, perhaps to it should be rephrased to “timeliness is power”.   Think real estate. Agents/brokers used to use their ‘knowledge’ of the housing market as a key competitive advantage, but now that knowledge is widely available (see Zillow) and their value is much more about negotiating skills and  speed of action to  ‘close the deal’.

Telcos need to recognize that ‘timeliness’ is where they can bring significant value add and be paid for it !!

“Police officers are not delicate flowers.”

Wonderful post from about the cultural difficulties of rolling out new technology, in this case the deployment of 40,000 plus smart phones, such as Blackberrys, to the British Police. Even dixon-of-dock-green though the benefits are easy for everyone to see, basically more time on the beat and less in station, rolling out the innovation has not been easy.

"This is not really a technology project," Hitch added. "The technology is there and in many ways that’s the easy bit – what this is is a people project. This is about cultural change. This is about getting people to work differently. This is about getting people who have never really used a mobile phone for anything other than answering calls and making calls to actually do their day to day job on a small, tiny in some cases, PDA.


"There’s a lot of culture to overcome."

Yet, as a recent survey from  synovate showed, mobile phones are becoming a necessity.

Three quarters of the survey respondents – including 82% of Americans – never leave home without their phones, and 36% of people across the world (42% of Americans) go as far as to say they ‘cannot live without’ their cell phone.

Perhaps more interesting was how the phones were being used. Other than voice and SMS, the most used features were in order

  1. Alarm clock – 67% globally use this regularly / 56% of Americans
  2. Camera – 62% globally / 68% of Americans
  3. Games – 33% globally / 31% of Americans

In terms of services that require 3G.

  • Overall, 17% of respondents use email on their mobile on a regular basis, led by 26% in the US and 25% in the UK.
  • Similarly, an overall 17% use internet browsing, topped by the UK at 31% and the US at 26%.
  • Eleven percent say they social network regularly via mobile, again led by the UK (17%) and the US (15%).

What would Dixon of Dock Green have made of it all?

I am not quite into you

A great short funny 4 minute video from TED. In a short, less than four minute, video, Renny Gleeson talks about the new “culture of availability” and its consequence the “expectation of availability” and how society is struggling to come up with acceptable behaviour.  He also makes the point that for many “the present reality is not as interesting as the story I will tell about it later”. In other words, there is not only your own individuality but also the identity you are projecting to the outside world (are there any realistic avatars in second life?) and that reconciling these two identities is still being worked out. In order for this new shared experience to work, he makes a final plea to the audience to make technology that makes people more human not less.

We have all been frustrated (and frustrated others) by the incoming call/text/e-mail in the middle of a conversation. Sadly it says, in a not so subtle way, that you are not as important as whatever the  interuption was. That is one reason, I like Skype video (and its equivalents) – you feel you have the undivided attention of the recipient as opposed to sharing it with the web or their e-mail list. Maybe the picture-phone will make a comeback.

As I was watching some of the examples, I was struck how this “two or more things at once“  is not a new phenomenon – I still remember my surprise when watching “Klute“  over 30 years ago and seeing Jane Fonda checking her watch in the middle of the sex scene. Check out Renny Gleeson’s video, it is very good.