Cumulus Partners

27. August 2014 22:08


Airplanes are built to fly, cars are built to crash

27. August 2014 22:08 by mike barlow | 3 Comments

I read an interesting story in the New York Times recently about why we don't have flying cars yet. The author of the story noted that while almost all aircraft are designed to eliminate every unnecessary ounce of weight, car designers have a bit more freedom around the weight issue. It's a good article and worth reading.

Here's my perspective, as a pilot and a driver: The culture of driving and the culture of flying are very different. A car is built with the assumption that at some point, a driver will do something idiotic and the car will be involved in an accident. An airplane is designed with the assumption that every pilot will do his or her utmost to avoid an accident. Cars are basically "crash worthy," and airplanes, which are generally built for maximum "lightness," are not. As a pilot, you learn that difference very quickly, and as a result, you try to fly carefully all the time. That said, I suppose it's only a matter of time before a "texting while flying" accident occurs ... 

27. April 2014 07:09


Fred and Ginger in "The Great Gatsby"

27. April 2014 07:09 by mike barlow | 0 Comments

On Friday night, we watched "Red River" on TCM. It's a truly great movie, worthy of comparisons to "King Lear," with John Wayne as Lear, Montgomery Clift as a fascinating Edgar/Cordelia fusion and Walter Brennan as, of course, the Fool. Texas and Kansas serve as the blasted heath; Lear's kingdom is a temperamental herd of 10,000 cattle.
 
The story qualifies as tragedy in no uncertain terms, but director Henry Hathaway lost his nerve and tacked on a happy ending that is so patently bogus that it can't taken seriously. It's as bad as the ending of any Perry Mason episode, and even worse, since it comes less than two minutes after Wayne's character has murdered one of the movie's principal characters, played by John Ireland.
 
That got me thinking: What if Fitzgerald's publisher had insisted that he write a comic ending for "The Great Gatsby" and as a result, the comedy version was the only version we knew? Then the movie version of the book would have made a great vehicle for William Powell and Myrna Loy ...
 
Even better, it would have made a great foundation for a series of light romantic musical comedies with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers!
 
Fred would play Gatsby, Ginger would play Daisy, Edward Everett Horton would play Nick and Erik Rhodes would play Tom Buchanan as an Argentine millionaire playboy. I can hear Rhodes saying something like "I theenk that Gatsby fellow is making eyeballs for my leetle Daisy," to Horton, and Horton reacting by dropping the tea cup he's holding.
 
At any rate, I recommend "Red River," which is worth watching, despite the bizarre ending.

5. January 2014 07:38


Storytelling, content or IP? From a writer's perspective, they're all the same ...

5. January 2014 07:38 by mike barlow | 0 Comments

I remember when I first heard the word "content," I was happy because it suggested that people other than storytellers were taking storytelling seriously and that bean counters were consciously assigning economic value to stories.

That said, things spiraled out of control fairly quickly afterwards, and it wasn't long before the term became genuinely wearisome. But that's cool. Some clients still prefer to see the word "content" in a contract and wince when they hear me talk about "storytelling." I have a client who will only refer to content as "IP," which I find really irritating. As long as his checks don't bounce, I can live with it, no matter how silly. From a writer's perspective, words such as "storytelling," "content" and "IP" all pretty much translate into the same thing. And that's fine with me!

10. November 2013 13:23


Writing about big data and its impact on the real world

10. November 2013 13:23 by mike barlow | 0 Comments

Way back in October 2012, mere days before Hurricane Sandy filled our basement with five feet of water, the nice editors at O’Reilly Media asked me to write a white paper on the emerging architecture of big data. That paper was followed by two more, one about the emerging culture of big data, and another about the impact of big data on the traditional IT function.

You can download the papers from the O'Reilly website. They're free, and the folks at O'Reilly will appreciate your interest. If for some reason you cannot access the papers directly from O'Reilly, you can click on the images at right and download them. Either way, they're free! 

Despite my attempts to make all three papers seem wildly different, they all share a common theme or subtext, namely that the technology of big data is evolving far more quickly than the people and processes of big data.

In other words, the tools are more advanced than the organizations using them. At least that’s my takeaway. After interviewing dozens of data analysts, industry experts, and senior-level corporate executives, I’m convinced that the technology is advancing faster than the abilities of the people trying to use it.

In retrospect, it’s not surprising that the technology of big data has evolved more rapidly than the organizational structures required to harness big data and convert it into a steady source of value. C-level executives and boards of directors regard big data as promising, but they weren’t born yesterday, and they need to see the business case before they start writing big checks. “Tactics in search of a strategy” is how one senior executive recently summed up his thoughts on big data.

Many of us sense that big data is destined to become the next big thing, but none of us is quite sure how it will all play out.

We can take comfort in the knowledge that this has all happened before. When airplanes were first pressed into military service, they were used exclusively for reconnaissance. When a team of engineers led by Anthony Fokker developed the synchronized machine gun, airplanes morphed into lethal weapons and a new strategy—aerial warfare—was born.

Most of us know the story of how the folks at Xerox didn’t understand the value of the clunky computer mouse they had invented, and how Steve Jobs took the basic idea and engineered it into a practical tool that helped launch a revolution in personal computing.

Based on what I’ve been hearing from my sources, I have the feeling that we are five or six inventions away from a similar revolution in big data. I’m not really sure what form those inventions will take—or I would quit my day job and invest in the companies making them—but I am certain that multiple disciplines and technologies will be involved.

When it arrives, the big data revolution will transform the modern enterprise, accelerate the growth of markets, and launch a new era of social commerce. The changes—particularly in emerging economies—will be mind-boggling in both scale and scope.

Ten years from now, we’re going to look back and wonder why we didn’t see it coming, but by then we’ll be on to the next big thing, and big data will seem about as interesting as a laptop from the 1990s. Meantime, encourage your kids to learn Python, Ruby, and R.

Cheers!

Editor's note: This post initially appeared in the O'Reilly Strata newsletter

2. June 2013 02:58


Big data vs. big reality

2. June 2013 02:58 by mike barlow | 0 Comments

Quentin Hardy's recent post in the Bits blog of the New York Times touched on the gap between representation and reality that is a core element of practically every human enterprise. His post is titled "Why Big Data is Not Truth," and I recommend it for anyone who feels like joining the phony argument over whether "big data" represents reality better than traditional data.

In a nutshell, this "us" vs. "them" approach is like trying to poke a fight between oil painters and water colorists. Neither oil painting nor water colors are "truth;" both are forms of representation. And here's the important part: Representation is exactly that -- a representation or interpretation of someone's perceived reality. Pitting "big data" against traditional data is like asking you if Rembrandt is more "real" than Gainsborough. Both of them are artists and both painted representations of the world they perceived around them.

The problem with false arguments like the one posed by Hardy is that they obscure the value of data -- traditional data and big data -- and the impact of data on our culture. I'm now working my way through "Raw Data" is an Oxymoron, an anthology of short essays about data. I recommend it for anyone who is seriously interested in thinking about the many ways in which data has influenced (and continues influencing) our lives. I especially recommend "facts and FACTS: Abolitionists' Database Innovations" by Ellen Gruber Garvey. As its title suggests, the essay focuses on what proves to be an absolutely fascinating period of U.S. history in which the anti-slavery movement harvested data from real advertisements in Southern newspapers to paint a vivid and believable picture of the routine horrors inflicted by the slave system on real human beings.

That 19th century use of data mining built support for the anti-slavery movement, both in the U.S. and in England. The data played a key role in making the case for abolishing slavery -- even though it required the bloodiest war in U.S. history to make abolition a fact.

Data itself has no quality. It's what you do with it that counts.

 

9. December 2012 07:39


Reading two cool books on data and decision making ...

9. December 2012 07:39 by mike barlow | 0 Comments

Well, I'm not exactly sure that Nick Taleb would agree that his new book, Antifragile, is about data or decision making, but I'm seeing everything these days through those lenses, and Taleb's book certainly fits into the big data analytics worldview -- at least from my perspective. The other book I'm reading is The Signal and The Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail -- But Some Don't by Nate Silver. Both books are really about fate, fortune and understanding the future. And both were recommended to me by a client, which is a nice side benefit of working with smart people who care about the underlying laws of the universe.

 

 

23. October 2012 02:10


A deeper dive into the big data dimension!

23. October 2012 02:10 by mike barlow | 0 Comments

Heading off to Strata Conference + Hadoop World in NYC this week. Should be valuable, and interesting. I've been writing about "big data" for a while now, but an upcoming gig puts me deeper into the weeds of real-time big data analytics. I'm looking forward to learning more, meeting a bunch of really smart people, and then turning all of my experiences into a series of seamless narratives. Of course, I also hope the snacks are good ...

1. July 2012 16:15


Meanwhile, back in the hall of mirrors ...

1. July 2012 16:15 by mike barlow | 0 Comments

As a parent, I approached Elizabeth Kolbert's excellent article in the New Yorker about spoiled children with a reasonable degree of trepidation. I mean, who wants to read more about the awful failure of our generation to produce kids who are as perfect as we were?

Like all of Ms. Kolbert's articles, this one was lucid, entertaining, and frightening. About halfway though, however, I had the distinct feeling that I was trapped in an echo chamber, or perhaps a hall of mirrors. Older generations always find fault with the habits of younger generations, and the Baby Boomers are no different in this respect. What's odd is how we've blamed ourselves for the alleged flaws and shortcomings exibited by our children as they face one of the most difficult periods of social transformation since the Industrial Revolution.

People are going to look back at the early 21st century and wonder how anyone kept their head screwed on straight. I have complete faith in the ability of my children and their pals to negotiate the twists and turns of whatever lies ahead. And I have no doubt that the future will be difficult and dangerous because that's the nature of the future. The past is always less dangerous because it's dead and buried. 

I counsel my children to enjoy the present, seize the day, and cherish the moment. I also advise them to follow the timeless motto of the Boy Scouts: "Be prepared."  

  

22. May 2012 03:18


If a tree falls in the forest ...

22. May 2012 03:18 by mike barlow | 0 Comments

I recommend reading John Stepper's excellent new post, "Your best use of social media may not require a single post." Although John's post is about regulated industries such as banking, it touches on an area that many social media professionals find ... touchy.

Here's the rub: Ask most social media pros how they judge the success of a post and they'll tell you by the number of comments that it generates. Many people consider comments to be a valid proxy for engagement and interest.

Personally, I don’t believe that comments are a valid proxy for engagement or interest. The content you post has intrinsic value whether lots of people or few people — or no people — reply. Not every piece of information you post has to inspire a dialogue to get the job done.

Seems to me like a variant on the old, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it fall, does it make a sound?” Yes, of course it makes a sound, and yes, when you post content on a social collaboration platform, that content has value — even if it does not result in a social conversation that can be tracked and quantified.

10. April 2012 08:34


Flying into the cloud

10. April 2012 08:34 by mike barlow | 0 Comments

So it looks like HP is going into the public cloud business. Can't hurt, I suppose. There's still plenty of room for competition, so it makes sense for HP to join the party. Ed Oswald has a good post about it in betanews. I don't think the news will rock the industry, but it's another data point in the slow march toward broader acceptance of the public cloud as a legitimate part of the IT infrastructure universe.