Ahh, the holidays. With the joy of a few days off looming, why is it some people cram as much stress in as possible until then?
We've been picking up some bits and pieces as we come across them for the last few weeks but I've skillfully avoided any major excursions. Unless there is a spectacular sale, a specialty item I can't get anywhere else, or I'm out anyway and make a serendipitous find, I'll stick to online. I can cover more "ground" online in less time, at less cost, and the variety is endless.
I'm not alone in my predilection for virtual shopping. eMarketer estimates that online holiday season sales will reach $32 billion in 2008, up 10% over 2007. That's up an incredible 350% from the year 2000! Although Tech Observer reports online shopping may dip this year as people carefully budget their holiday shopping, I have doubts.
I thought I'd share some of my favorite places to browse for the holidays. Check these out for those hard to shop for folks on your list:
- Think Geek - I love this place. It's not just for the closet techies in your life. There are items for the just plain smart people too!
- Lush Fresh handmade cosmetics. Awesome soaps and such. The Body Shop is a close second.
- Amazon - Books and Beyond. It's possible to spend too much time and money here but its always enjoyable
- Abe Books - This is THE spot for those other, ie not new, titles. They have new releases too but that's why I have Amazon. Slowly building a wish list from here. The link goes to their listing of the First British Edition of 1984 by Orwell. Came across that when searching for the First Canadian Edition to price a flea market find.
- i-Sobot - World's smallest humanoid robot. I just found this awesome guy for $99!
- Game Buzz Awesome shops mainly in the Montreal area. It's not obvious from their site but you can get a membership a la NetFlix to get games mailed to you for a monthly fee. Return when you want. Plus, they are an authorized Nintendo product reseller.
- Apple If you have the coin you can't go wrong buying anything Apple.
- Toys R UsI still find some goodies here now and again. That's not to say I won't comparison shop once I've found something I like.
- Kiva - Donate in someone else's name. Great gift that benefits a third world entrepreneur.
- EBay - If you're feeling adventurous. Not a big fan when time constraints are in the mix but you can find some hard to get things here.
Alternatively, you can do some open searching of your own. Several product oriented search engines exist, including Google's product search Beta:
- Google Products
- MySimon - easy comparison shopping
- If that's not enough there are a bunch more links here.
Got an awesome site or hidden treasure to share? Let me know!
Former President William Jefferson Clinton visited Moncton New Brunswick this week.
Given the current state of the financial markets, Clinton chose the economy as the focus of his talk. He emphasized that all nations are interdependent, Canada and the United States even more than most.
Referring to the recession, he joked (paraphrasing), "as an American, I want to say to all Canadians, and the world, sorry about that".
Clinton has firm opinions on the immediate causes of this recession and what our best options are for recovery. He mentions that, as much as a year ago, Hillary Clinton warned that the problems in subprime mortgages would soon be a much wider spread issue. I'll try and give a point by point overview of how it was explained:
- Post 9/11 housing boom (2001-2007) became a prime investment strategy by brokerages.
- Housing investments became very profitable and the economy improved.
- Subprime mortgages became widely available (2004-2006) increasing profitability.
- Housing became the sole, or at least largest by far, pillar of growth and investment.
- Mortgages were bound, sold (Mortgage-backed_Securities), and hedged against, increasing risk.
- fyi - Mortgage brokers are not subject to Federal regulation
- The bubble burst, house prices began to decline, mortgage delinquencies increased, and mortgage backed securities lost value.
- Many financial institutions had over extended credit out in mortgages and had no way to recover their capital with housing prices refusing to rise.
- The elimination of the Uptick Rule allowed stock values to plummet without pause, egged on by short sellers.
- Even with government bailouts, institutions are holding on to their cash in an attempt to ride out the storm.
Clinton gave a personal example of how credit is still being pushed on people regardless of their personal circumstance. On a day off from campaigning with Hillary, he received two robo-calls at home from companies offering credit cards.
What Hope for the Future?
Clinton proposes that people remain optimistic. He warns not to be "like the cat that sat on a hot stove, got burned, and now won't sit on a cold one". That is, do not sit on cash like many companies, but invest in the economy. He tempers this with the old saw, "if it sounds too good to be true, it is". So, don't look to any magic investment to make everything better; be sensible. He predicts the economy will recover in no less than 1 year and no more than 3. He comments that President-elect Barack Obama has put together an excellent economic council and a solid plan to attack the financial crisis.
Clinton goes on to point out the wide spread effects of the economic crisis. One example he relates is a bank closure in Iceland that resulted in the loss of pensions for UK constables. In another example Clinton relates recently he was invited to Dubai by the president of the nation's largest bank. This country has billions in cash reserves and a strong oil industry and yet, due to the spreading financial hysteria, its stock market is plummeting. Clinton says this is a psychological reaction that we are likely to see more of.
Clinton suggests government economic stimulus take the form of infrastructure expansion:
- Upgrade the aging electrical grid to more efficiently service all areas and allow optimal alternate energy regions to contribute power back through the grid.
- Improve rural internet backbones to stimulate small business growth.
- Upgrade the rail system.
- Build the better electric or hybrid vehicle now. Don't wait for Europe or Asia. Reclaim the market share that is being lost by trucks and SUVs due to high gas prices.
Clinton points to the real estate crash in Japan in 1990 as an example of improper economic stimulus. A fortune was invested in public works projects that provided a temporary economic boost but no long lasting benefit.
Clinton raised another point about the auto industry. He said that without some promise of aid GM would not likely survive to see President-elect Barack Obama inaugurated. Chrysler and Ford would also be sorely affected by a loss of suppliers if GM crumples. If the auto industry crashes in the US, it is certain to have an effect on Canadian suppliers. Across all industries, Clinton warns Canadians not to expect US trade relation expansion for some time. At least, not until it rebuilds manufacturing jobs of its own. Once the US economy begins it recovery, Canada can look forward to the renewed benefits of our interdependence.
Downloaded the Google Mobile App last night so I could test out the new voice search capabilities. The app is not 100% hands free but it's a great step.
To get started:
- Open the Google App (requires a screen tap)
- Choose Search from the icons along the bottom (if you had it open before it's still on that selection)
- Now you hit the microphone icon in the top right and speak
- OR (here's the no tap part) simply bring the phone up to your ear.
Either way, you'll hear a tone when the app is ready to receive your search criteria.
If you've hit the button you'll get an even bigger hint.
After a moment or two of the working screen you get your results. I've had decent luck with my test queries. It seems the best results come from common searches. That is, the more popular the search term, the more likely voice search is to get it right.
For example, while I got odd results looking for Jon Reid (hey, you would have searched for you, admit it) Tim O'Reilly quickly turned up the Web 2.0 man himself. In fact I had better results slowly spelling out J O N R E I D than I did when saying it.
Here are my results for a quick snack in the GTA:
The snapshot isn't wonderful but if you can make it out, you see that I get addresses, phone numbers, and links to maps. Not bad! Search can also be tied to you GPS location so you can search for nearby goodies.
My ultimate vision of voice search has me asking Google questions as I drive. Letting me get directions safely without having to pull over first to type.
I know that day is coming!
Alas, we aren't there quite yet.
Came across a new blog and I've always loved this girl's writing. It's her first post in some time but I've already added her blog to my list to follow.
Check it out: http://softoctober.blogspot.com/
Welcome back to the blogosphere!
I was recently in the market for a new phone. Like a lot of us I was smitten with the iPhone and it's easy extensibility. A couple of my good friends and work colleagues were adamant that texting and responding to email is bound to be easier on their jazzy Blackberry keyboards. Sure, they said, the iPhone is sexy but I can type on my phone without even looking.
So, being the good friend that I am, I ignored their sage advice and gave into my newfound Apple craving. A couple of months in, I have to admit, it was a bit easier to type on my old Motorola Q. I'm steadily improving but I still mistype now and then. Especially annoying when I'm posting a direct response on Twitterific.
Now however, recent developments have me posing a question to all you iPhone text bashers:
Can you type faster than you can talk?
Haha, perhaps those innovation masters at Google are on the verge of removing this question from the list of topics on the smart phone forums.
It's in the early stages but I have high hopes for other applications using speech recognition. It's been a dream of mine to be able to safely GTD while driving, jogging, or any way other than sitting in front of my computer.
Downloading now, review to come asap.
The weather is finally starting to turn. I fully expect snow in the next few days. I'm resigned to it but the transition is often annoying.
However, it's not all bad! The blogo/twittersphere brought me 2 awesome tools this week that I can see using for a long time to come, yay!
Tool #1 - The aptly named Drop Box.
Check out the intro video. Sounds ok at first, but you'll be saying to yourself, "um, I have ftp...", but by the end it had me. Still testing it out but I have high hopes in using it with my virtual team mates. I hear from good sources in local colleges that it's the real deal.
Tool #2 -TokBox
Kind of funny that someone introduced this to me the same evening I see Gtalk integrate video chatting. Plus there's the fact that I and most of my team are on Macs so we have the iChat option.
Still it was a big hit at the last team meeting because it shows you the video stream of everyone at once!! Something nice about seeing everyone for a change. Not to mention it was kind of Brady Bunch when we finally hit nine people.
I'll know for sure if these apps pass the acid test over the next couple of weeks. Something I hope to see is an API. By the time that's available, I'll be surprised if both of these are still free.
I've become increasingly interested in the art of online marketing.
Some may argue the use of the term art when used in reference to marketing but I checked this out fairly carefully right after I wrote that sentence.
According to the handy dictionary on my Mac, art can be defined as:
- a skill at doing a specified thing, typically one acquired through practice : the art of conversation
- works produced by such skill and imagination
- the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power
Wikipedia backs this last one up with the definition:
- Art is the process or product of deliberately and creatively arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions
If you still aren't convinced, think of any ad that has ever appealed to you in any way. Sometimes they are visually stunning or interesting to watch, but the most impact is often achieved through basic human emotion.
By this last definition, anything that deliberately appeals to your senses or emotions in a creative fashion can be labeled art. So, to answer the question posed by the title above, I'll stick to calling marketing, at least effective marketing, a form of art.
My wife points out that I've argued an objection that no one posed in this post. Hopefully you'll forgive me; she did
I have so much to say on marketing that I opted to devote an entire page to the topic. Stay tuned to read my musings on testing and measuring your online marketing efforts.
I haven't had a major problem with this but a couple of blatant spam artists have started following me on twitter.
This article, How 'Follower Spam' Infiltrated Twitter , got me thinking.
The easiest way to filter Twitter spam would be for Twitter to give us more info in the follower notification email.
I'm unlikely to take time to check details on my followers if I start getting many per day (hasn't happened yet).
So why not add this user information right to the notification email:
- no. of followers
- 2 sample posts
Spammers will be quickly identified if they only have one post (i.e. make money now!!!) and a small number of followers.
You aren't playing in the bush leagues anymore Twitter people. Update your lightweight notifications already.