Help Find Jim Gray With Web 2.0

At this point it seems unlikely that Gray will be found alive; that sounds pretty insensitive to write but the ocean is unforgiving and Gray has been missing for 7 days. That’s some very cold water at this time of year (52 degrees, if that) and a very big ocean, even with top notch survival gear it’s hard to survive long in the water. The boat was equipped with a survival raft but no EPIRB signal was detected, which would seem to indicate that Gray never used the life raft.

The thing that is odd about this story is that the days before and after the first report of Gray’s boat gone missing featured very mild weather for this time of year. Sailing outside the Bay is a challenge any time of the year but especially so in winter, however it would appear that Gray picked a pretty bad time to go sailing as there were no appreciable winds and that meant he would have had to motor most of the way. Gray’s boat, a 40′ C&C, certainly is capable of sailing in a range of conditions and Gray himself is an experienced sailor known for being well prepared and keeping his boat in good working order.

Gray was sailing to the Farallones, an island and rock cluster 27 miles due west of the Golden Gate also known as “whitey’s house” for the large numbers of great white sharks that congregate in the area and feed on the islands primary inhabitants, seals. Winds typically run 15-20 knots out of the west/northwest but it’s been quite calm for the last couple of weeks, unseasonably so, and the swell conditions in that area tend not to be too hazardous because of the depth of the water.

Like a lot of people, I have been following this story over the last week. Gray is a legitimate legend, not just respected by his peers but also liked and that alone is a rare accomplishment in this business. The effort that Amazon is undertaking using MT to scan satellite images is pretty creative, maybe next time something like this happens they will be quick to put it into action at the first reports.

Help Find Jim Gray With Web 2.0:

Then Amazon stepped in. They arranged for a satellite sweep of the area and stored the images on their S3 storage service. They then created a task on their Mechanical Turk service to allow volunteers to scan the images to look for the boat. It’s a tough task – the boat would only be about six pixels in size in an image, and there was a lot of cloud cover obscuring large parts of the area scanned. But volunteers are pouring in to help out.

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Technocrats and Glowing Panties (lighting regulation)

Virginia Postrel hits the proverbial nail on the head with regard to the latest attempt by technocrats to tell us what is good for us.

The dirty secret is that this is really an aesthetic battle. It’s the latest version of the old American conflict between pleasure and Puritanism (the triumph of the latter led to the current smoking ban in Dallas restaurants (Jeff: I support smoking bans and don’t agree with Postrel on this point)). Efficiency-minded engineers regard anything more than simple illumination as waste. Environmental activists are repulsed by “unnecessary” consumption. The boards that set energy codes and evaluate their effectiveness include engineers and environmentalists. They don’t include artists or designers, much less lingerie shoppers.

You see this attitude in the Valley on a constant basis given how engineering centric the culture is. How many times have you heard either of these phrases:

1) It doesn’t need to look good if it works well (I give you craigslist).

2) It’s more logical to organize/build/design it this way, when users learn how to use it then they will agree.

In researching this post I found this hilarious, but very serious article about coin systems (as in loose change type of coins). The computer scientist quoted says “what the U.S. needs is an 18 cent piece” based on the analysis that:

“The combination of 1 cent, 5 cents, 18 cents, and 25 cents requires only 3.89 coins in change per transaction (versus the current 4.7 coins), as does the combination of 1 cent, 5 cents, 18 cents, and 29 cents.”

Quick, how much is in your pocket if you have three 18 cents coins and one 29 cents piece? But hey, it’s 17 percent more efficient even though most people couldn’t figure out how much is in their pocket. Typical.

Here’s one area where I greatly admire the Europeans, by and large their cultures appreciate the design of products (and their money for that matter) as much as the utility.

The other charge leveled at the lowly incandescent light bulb is that it’s 125 years old so it’s only logical that it’s can’t have any value in today’s world… so switch to CFLs because they are better technology even though they look like crap in anything but purely utilitarian situations (I have one at the the front door of my house, just fine there). This attitude introduces a degree of tunnel vision that obscures the reality that new technology has to provide at least the same emotional experience as the thing it is replacing before the benefits can be realized.

BTW, lest anyone think this is simply a defense of incandescent light bulbs, which in itself would be rather neurotic, consider that I have been a big proponent of OLED technology and believe that when the manufacturing costs are reduced these will be an ideal replacement for incandescent light bulbs, and provide significantly environmental benefits as well. LED lighting technology has already made a big impact in the automotive world providing significant safety benefits while at the same time reducing the baseline power draw, which means less power robbing generation systems and a small amount of fuel economy as a result.

Postrel makes obvious a very good point that is lost in the debate, namely that a market based mechanism for achieving environmental goals is always going to be more effective and less disruptive than government agencies creating new and increasingly complex regulations.

“If clean air were really the goal, the law would attack pollution directly. It would go after car exhausts and power-plant emissions, not incandescent spotlights. If energy conservation were the goal, the law would reward using less energy. Or it would raise the price of electricity to encourage people to use less. It would focus on how much energy people use, not how they get to that total. It wouldn’t tell retailers what light fixtures to buy.”

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McDonald’s beats Starbucks in coffee smackdown

I stopped at a McDonald’s just this last week on my way to my office to satisfy a random craving for one of their egg mcmuffins. I had not set foot in a McDonald’s in years and was really surprised to see how much they have changed. Aside from the very obvious fixing up of the place to make it more adult friendly with warm soft colors, there were sofas and lounge chairs, flat screen televisions with cable news running, and wifi. Free wifi, unlike Starbucks.

I didn’t think of my recent experience at a Starbucks until I read the linked story below, but a couple of weeks ago I stopped to get a grande latte and got in my car and spilled part of it out the top because it was too full. I took it back and told the barista guy that gave me a single shot of espresso, way too much milk and no foam, in other words a cup of coffee with milk and not a latte. I had my suspicions while watching him work the first time as he appeared more interested in making it fast rather than making it well, in spite of the fact that there were no other people waiting behind me at the time. I have also noticed that their baked goods are looking a little sloppy, the blueberry muffins don’t have that many blueberries in them, and then as I already stated, there is increasing variation in quality of the drinks.

Let’s face it, you don’t really go to Starbucks for quality coffee, it’s more the fact that they are consistent across the entire chain and are utterly ubiquitous in most cities. This is potentially the problem for Starbucks, many of their retail outlets are high traffic and after several years certainly look worn, and not in that funky cool kind of way that the corner cafe is either. Their merchandising efforts seem to be the primary strategy these days, it’s like running a gantlet past coffee mugs, gift bags, coffee packs, and CDs to get to the register where you reach the final obstacle, navigating through the selection of gift cards and other incidentals.

Then there is that other strategy they apparently have to broaden the waistlines of far too many people who think a Venti white chocolate frappuccino at 760 calories is a good way to start the day. I have written about this before, but I wonder how many fast food and bad-food-in-school-vending-machines critics stop at Starbucks for a caramel frappuccino on their way to the press conference where they excoriate those they believe responsible for fattening Americans.

Here’s a startling fact, according to Starbucks 80% of their revenue is generated by customers who visit a Starbucks 18 times a month or more. You could easily argue that this is an asset for Starbucks, loyal customers are less likely to be switchers, but I would argue that the risk for Starbucks is huge if a competing offering is moderately better than Starbucks, more tailored to frequent customers, located in high traffic competing locations, and then offers the extras, like free wifi.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think McDonalds is overtaking Starbucks in the specialty coffee business in my lifetime but in assessing the relative quality of both organizations I could make a point that the gap is a lot narrower than most would expect.


McDonald’s beats Starbucks in coffee smackdown – Los Angeles Times:

Consumer Reports magazine said today that in a test conducted at two locations of each emporium, its tasters found McDonald’s coffee to be “decent and moderately strong” with “no flaws.” On the other hand, the Starbucks brew “was strong, but burnt and bitter enough to make your eyes water instead of open.”

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