October 24th, 2011

Residential Property Management

http://www.bsudailynews.com/ball-state-receives-1-million-from-seattle-development-company-1.2649967#.TqVowOZMsZM

That's an ugly looking URL. Sorry.

Anyway. 2nd paragraph of the article in its entirety:

"Weidner Apartment Homes gifted the RPM program $1 million based purely on the high quality of interns and employees Weidner has recruited from Ball State over the past three years."

Ignoring the verb choice, wow! Explanation later in the article: the person at Weidner, Virgillo, thought the program might be struggling and wanted to make sure it survived, partly because the students graduate with credentials the employers would otherwise have to pay for them to get, partly because the program is "well developed".

Back when I was asking questions like, can you get a degree in property management? I would have been overjoyed to stumble across an article like this. Actually, I still am. If you are a Young Person and you don't want to go into health care or engineering, I'd stick Property Management somewhere on your list of Reliable Day Jobs. I haven't been able to ascertain the typical travel commitment, yet, however, so that might still suck.

The Next Bubble is In the Cloud

This is the second attempt at a post with this title. I'm enamored of the title and the idea inherent in it.

Bubbles aren't bad things, at least when they get started. When they are little, itty, bitty starter bubbles, they represent enthusiasm and energy and innovation associated with a genuinely wonderful thing: canals, railroads, electricity, radio, jet engines, automobiles, calculators, personal computers, you name it. Even non-agency mortgage backed securities and derivatives based on them have some genuinely awesome wonderfulness associated with them (the pretend-the-risk-vanishes part, not so much, and the pack-it-full-of-vanished-risk really not at all).

By the time corporations (never mind the investing horde) gets hold of an idea, it's usually been scuffed up a bit. The basic idea of the Cloud is: you can use my compute cycles/memory/data storage from a distant device, if you compensate me. That's really not a new idea -- that's how all kinds of people figured out a way to justify the purchase of a mainframe or several for a corporation when no department could possibly afford it on its own. But there are a bunch of aspects to it that make it a "Cloud": It Just Works, You Don't Have to Think About IT (<-- little joke there, har de har har) and It's way cheaper than running my own IT.

Old forms of shared compute cycles/memory/data storage tended to present in a really user-unfriendly way; the Cloud doesn't make you work through a file system (or worse), which is also genuinely helpful -- and the Cloud (at least if your applications are implemented correctly) also offers reliability characteristics that are really fantastic. For people running businesses on the web, the Cloud is tantalizing, because it's not just expensive to keep everything up and running all the time. It's hard. For someone else to offer a turnkey solution? Sweet Deity, Praise the Whoever.

It's quite fine to get all excited about the Cloud and what companies can do with the Cloud (or a Cloud or several Clouds or whatever). We're going to be seeing a lot of that in the near future. We're also going to see a whole swathe of IT people looking for other work.

http://www.zdnet.com/blog/btl/cloud-computings-real-creative-destruction-may-be-the-it-workforce/61581

I would imagine it'll look a little like all those guys working at printeries for newspapers and/or magazines and/or direct mail advertising and/or books etc.: more jobs lost than created, even if LightningSource is hiring.

The flip side, however, is that whenever it gets easier/cheaper to use a tool, a whole crowd of people show up and start using that tool to do things that weren't possible/economically feasible before -- new and interesting things. And _that_ is where I predict we'll see the Cloud bubble. It's going to look a little like all the apps made for Android and/or iOS and all the self-published books/music/video produced for numerous platforms: a lot of crap, a fair amount of interesting/good stuff that's hard to find, and a few monster smash hits that we can't remember not knowing about after they've been around a couple years. It'll also look a little like name-compute/memory-intensive-algorithm-that-does-something-people-will-pay-a-little-for -- that is, every idea that AI ever had that wasn't actually feasible is probably going to get trotted out again and tried whenever time in a/the/some Cloud is cheap and paused during the Christmas season when cycles are fully utilized. Recommendations engines and social-wtf will likely top this list, but I wouldn't be too surprised to see matchmaking services go really and truly nuts (think airbnb, relayrides, etc., but for the moral equivalent of Pets.com). There will be big promises, like, We'll figure out who those people are in your collection of old photographs, track down their email address and connect you via Facebook! We'll find the perfect playdate for your n-month-old! Those promises will seem stupid cool when they're being advertised with sock puppets during the SuperBowl. And we all know already how that will turn out.

File this under: predictions to laugh about when I turn out to be totally wrong.

Or Maybe in Voice Control

This is a follow-up to my next bubble is in the cloud post.

My next door neighbor recently went back to work. She works from home part of the time, but there is a substantial travel commitment and when, on those rare occasions, we get a chance to chat, she always has interesting things to say. This time, she was repeating part of Mary Meeker's presentation, specifically, the bit about the first 6 quarters of the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. The first thing out of my mouth every time someone mentions Mary Meeker is not a kind thing to say (and, honestly, probably not fair to Ms. Meeker so I won't repeat it here) and I took it partway back after qualifying it as being based on my perceptions of Meeker back in the late 1990s (when she was super gung ho on Amazon based in part on free cash flow; a lot of people _really_ liked that an analyst "got it" but she was _super_ gung ho and there's this whole go up fast come down hard thing with stocks that should never ever ever be forgotten). The graph is an interesting one and thought provoking; the slide deck as a whole is as well.

http://www.businessinsider.com/mary-meekers-latest-awesome-web-20-presentation-about-the-state-of-the-web-2011-10

As part of the same conversation, J. asked me what I thought about voice control and we passed that idea back a few times. I'm very skeptical of the idea that keyboards are going to go away, but I could imagine -- as J. was suggesting -- that there are probably more people quite happy to interact with things through voice control than there are people who, like me, find keyboards wildly more efficient. I don't see an voice based input system letting me work as efficiently (especially if you factor in going back and editing something). But you never know.

Part of my skepticism about voice input/control is because I loathe listening to information-as-information. Unless I'm studying the non-verbals/crowd response, I'd far rather read a speech than listen to it (it's way faster, too).

But there are some areas where voice might make a ton of sense. Programming the Tivo is a monster PITA; if I could speak the names of the shows I want it to record and tell it how I want it to handle clashes (if there are three things to record at a particular point, tell it which one to delay for a later airing/skip entirely), I think I'd be way happier. One of the rumors out there based on the Jobs bio is that Apple TV is going to be combined with the Apple Cloud and Siri to Just Do The Right Thing. I sure hope that's true -- and I sure don't believe it is.

I cannot, however, shake the feeling that we might be looking at a near future in which we're talking to our toasters, a la Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy [<-- yeah, that's wrong. As R. points out in the comments, Red Dwarf] -- and the toasters will probably talk back. Hopefully they won't be depressed geniuses.

Can You Have an Education Bubble?

I'm not saying there is one. I'm just wondering if there might possibly be one. It seems unlikely, but bear with me for a moment.

Perhaps you have heard of Salman Kahn of Kahn Academy. I would assume you have, because I think I've seen him interviewed on at least three different programs, but R. hadn't so maybe you haven't either.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khan_academy
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salman_Khan_%28educator%29

Khan is a fantastically appealing man. I'm just happy he's using all his intelligence and charisma to teach people, gosh, everything, rather than stumping for some appalling ideology. Khan is not a bubble, or an indication of a bubble. However.

Nate Hoffelder visited http://wirelessedtech.com/, Wireless Ed Tech 2011, thinking there might be e-reader stuff there to cover in his truly excellent blog. There's wasn't any e-reader stuff in there, but he blogged about it in a couple posts anyway and I'm really happy he did.

http://www.the-digital-reader.com/2011/10/23/no-one-talked-e-readers-at-the-wirelessedtech-conference-pt-1/
http://www.the-digital-reader.com/2011/10/23/wirelessedtech-conference-pt-2/

Mr. Hoffelder likes the NookStudy for textbooks and was pleased to find teachers/school systems who agreed with him. Then he passed this along from a couple teachers:

"One other interesting detail was that the teachers I met were trying to get the laptops’ software filter changed (or removed, hopefully). It’s set to block Youtube, and that means that when students take the laptop home they can’t watch educational resources like Khan Academy."

Obviously, I think teachers _ought_ to like Khan Academy, but that in no way guarantees that any of them would like it at all. It's nice to hear at least a couple of them do.

Hoffelder covers the Maine program (including their insanely low per student/per year cost). He also comments that a lot of people are trying to build products around smartphones (because they are ubiquitous and make it fairly straightforward to share things, have cameras, etc.), then predicts that products cheaper than smartphones but with many of the same characteristics might be the wave of the future.

A lot of people have tried to come up with technology specific to education over the decades (for suitable definitions of technology and education, for a lot longer than decades) with mixed results. Like everything else, technology tends to get ossified when it gets into schools and becomes awkward, difficult to upgrade and somehow weirdly less useful. But it is interesting to think about how damn _cheap_ all the gadgetry is (and how powerful) and try to imagine what kinds of products could be sold to schools on a worse-is-better basis. And anyone who has looked in supply rooms in schools and seen racks of textbooks sitting there taking up heated and/or air conditioned space can see the appeal of at least some of the technology.