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Business 2.0's 101 Dumbest Moments in Business

Every year I enjoy reading through the list of the dumbest moments in business. I love the executive quotes they sometimes capture.
Speaking at an ad industry event in Toronto, WPP Group's worldwide creative director, Neil French, says there aren't more female creative directors "because they're crap" and they eventually "wimp out" and "go off and suckle something."
And the boneheaded moves involving data.
In February, ChoicePoint -- the self-proclaimed "leading provider of identification and credential verification services" -- admits that it sold the personal data of 145,000 people to a number of unauthorized recipients, including an identity-theft ring in Los Angeles. ChoicePoint thoughtfully offers the victims a free credit report -- but still makes them pay to see the detailed information that was provided to the criminals.
And marketing (my perennial favorite, BK delivers two years in a row!).
In July, Burger King launches an ad campaign for its new Chicken Fries featuring a faux heavy-metal band called CoqRoq. initially features photos of female fans captioned "Groupies love the Coq." After the captions are removed, Burger King spokeswoman Edna Johnson tells Advertising Age that they were written and assigned randomly by computer software that has since been disabled.
And of course chutzpah
"If I can help people focus on preparedness ... then I hope I can help the country in some way." -- Former FEMA director Michael Brown, just two months after he resigned in the wake of his agency's failed response to Hurricane Katrina, announcing plans to start his own disaster-preparedness consulting firm.

Microstrategy Loses Patent Fight

I really dislike software patents. I think they're the wrong mechanism for protecting the investment software companies make in their software. Add a broken US patent system and stir in some less than honest corporations and you end up with these frivolous patent suits. In this case, Microstrategy sued Business Objects over patent infringement. Instead of winning, they had their patents invalidated and end up with no case.

This case also highlights some major patent problems. Prior art is rarely discovered in software patents because it's inside products, and nobody discloses source code - that would be stupid. So in some cases the patents appear to be valid even though there is prior art to show that they aren't. There's also a sea of hidden software inside every corporation. IT departments don't sit around maintaining third party software all day. They also write code, none of which ever surfaces in a search for prior art. So do people writing code on their own. Then there's the vast library of open source software and shareware which rarely gets examined by the patent office.

Method patents are a particularly nasty form of patent. They are ambiguous and do not cover any novel invention 99% of the time. Instead, they cover a use for a something which may not otherwise be patentable. From the article:
"Finally, he ruled that Business Objects had not infringed the 033 patent, which describes a system for allowing users to request reports for later processing, and to prevent duplication of processing a report requested multiple times."
In other words, Microstrategy patented scheduling and caching. Somebody invented scheduling processes and caching results before Microstrategy, probably back in the 1950s. But theirs is unique because it's for scheduling reports? Please.

Patents were designed to protect unique invention in an era when invention required specialized equipment and processes, limiting the number of concurrent people who could work on a problem and making the prior art search much simpler. Software is different in that anyone can sit down in front of a computer and write code. The distributed nature of this development, different from the less ubiquitous development of material products, leads to things like hidden prior art.

It's also obvious when a new invention is worthy of a patent, unlike software, where we're seeing patents on the equivalent of different lengths of nail. If software were nails we'd see a patent on every color, length and material of nail. I'm surprised nobody has patented a FOR loop yet.

Link to patent article
Link to EFF so you can read up on the patent 10 most wanted

Two Interesting Search Visualizations

I was playing with Ujiko today and I'm not sure I'm sold on it yet, but I do like the idea of automatic classification and showing the results. They create colored blocks in the center pane of the interface that equate to clusters of related materials and allow you to refine your search. I'm always tweaking terms and and advanced keywords in google to egt what I want. I like the idea that the search interface might take some of this work on for me. So far, the results are mixed. But it is pretty.

From the Ujiko web site:
1. The first search engine which evolves with your expertise,
2. Regroup search results by thematic on an intuitive circular map,
3. Offer an innovative and advance information management system,
4. Offer personalization of results according to thematic and previous searches,
5. Propose different visual skins to change the way your UJIKO applet looks

The other search interface they have is Kartoo. This meta-search tool creates a map of the clustered results. I didn't find it as useful because not enough information is displayed with the map to decide whether the search results were relevant, instead displaying a keyword used for grouping and the web site name under a collection of documents. I did like the way it highlights the links between two web sites containing hits.

Both are worth a look to see what's available. Imagine using some of these techniques to display text mining results, particularly in an area where you might be linking text results to tabular data, as in warranty analysis. I like exploratory interfaces, and that's the advantage of a map metaphor.

Google Paper on Querying Massive Amounts of Data

Google labs has an interesting paper on a method for going through large volumes of data. New techniques are needed for dealing with extremely large data warehouses. I've been looking at a couple of tens to a hundred terabyte data warehouses and trying to figure out how to address the problem of detailed questions. This paper describes one possibility, assuming that you have a lot of computers available.

Also a nice animated map of google search data for a 24 hour period in 2003, in case you haven't had enough of animated maps postings yet.
link to animation
link to paper

American Innovation, by Other Countries

Here's a positive-spinning press release from the US patent and trademerk office listing the top 10 US patent recipients titled "USPTO Releases Annual List of Top 10 Organizations Receiving Most U.S. Patents" with the subtitle "American Innovation Continues to Top the Field".

The catch? In a list of US patents, there are only four US companies. The list is actually dominated by Asian firms. I loved this text:
"The USPTO has taken and will continue to take aggressive steps that will enhance quality and improve productivity to ensure that U.S. intellectual property protection remains the best in the world, protecting American innovation and sustaining economic growth."
I applaud the reverse psychology this administration is using to manage the economy. Genius!
via Kottke

Drive-bay Cupholder, With Working Lighter

How many times have you wanted to sip a cold one while getting toked, only to spill your beer on the keyboard while reaching for the lighter? The solution is the ThermalTake Xray. A cigarette lighter/power adapter and cupholder for that wasted drive bay in your computer.

If I weren't so stoned that I spilled my beer on my keyboard I'd buy one right now.

Visualization of the Latest News Using Tags

I'm posting this because it seems that a lot of data warehouse people (unless they deal with text mining) aren't aware of some of the neat things being done in tags, folksonomies and visualizing the results. Newzingo is a site that scans Google News for common words to use as tags, aggregates them, and then scales the size of the tag to the relative number articles in order to highlight the most popular items. Slapped together using Ruby on Rails (or so I gather) and the Google API. There's also tech-related news at Techzingo and culture (I use that term lightly) news at Buzzingo.

You can see the same thing at Flickr (this has been around for ages, where have you been?) and Technorati (ditto). What's different is that Flickr and Technorati take user-entered tags, while the various zingos attempt to extract meaningful tags automatically.

Economy Crosses the Line

According to this article Americans spent more in 2005 than they earned, something that hasn't happened since the great depression. This, after listening to Bush stumping last week about the country's healthy economy. Personal bankruptcy as the answer to federal bankruptcy?


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