Turbotodd

Ruminations on IT, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Archive for the ‘hollywood’ Category

Live From IBM Pulse 2013: Chris Gardner And His Pursuit of Happyness

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Author, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Chris Gardner speaks to the Tivoli Business Partner Summit audience in Las Vegas about his trials and tribulations as a single father who, despite finding he and his infant son homeless on the streets of San Francisco, overcame his great adversity and inspired millions around the world, and in the process raised the world's consciousness about the perils of homelessness and the importance of parenting.

Author, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Chris Gardner speaks to the gathered Tivoli Business Partner Summit audience in Las Vegas about his trials and tribulations as a single father who, despite finding he and his infant son homeless on the streets of San Francisco, overcame his great adversity and inspired millions around the world, and in the process raised the world’s consciousness about the perils of homelessness and the importance of parenting.

You may not know Chris Gardner by name or by face. But if he told you that one of the world’s most bankable movie stars, one who travels with a four bodyguard security entourage, made a movie about his story, he might just get your attention, as he got mine when he kicked off this afternoon’s session at the Tivoli Business Partner Summit here at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

And that’s when Mr. Gardner explained that Will Smith was not going to be joining us, and also the first moment Chris Gardner had the audience in the palm of his hands, which he never let go for the ensuing 45 minutes.

If you don’t know the story behind the story behind “The Pursuit of Happyness,” then you’re missing out. But the irony wasn’t lost on Mr. Gardner, who joked that the people in “Hollyweird” spent $70 million to recreate a story he endured “for nothing.”

But as it turns out, it wasn’t for nothing, as it’s a story that has inspired people around the world, in the form of both a movie and a book, one which has been translated into six dialects of the Chinese language.

And it all started with an interview that Mr. Gardner almost didn’t  do with Barbara Walters for “20/20.”

But he did do the interview, which ran on a Friday, and on Monday the floodgates opened with calls wanting to exploit his story. Juxtapose that with another Friday he found himself in a Bay Area jail, a much longer weekend where he had to wait to get released so he could go and find his infant son.

Because ultimately, Gardner explained, that was his life’s work, a promise to himself: To break the cycle of failed fatherhood among black males, a promise he made when he was only five himself and didn’t have his own father around.

Soon, there was one call from the entertainment realm that interested him, one from Steve Tisch, a co-producer on “Forrest Gump” and part of a firm called “Escape Artists,” who convinced Gardner he wanted to help him share his story with the world through the form of a major motion picture.

Though Gardner was at first hesitant to okay Will Smith as the star — “This story is about inner space, not outer space” Gardner explained —  his daughter ultimately convinced him when she said “Papa, don’t worry.  If he can play Muhammad Ali he can play you.”

The key question everyone wanted to know, Gardner then continued, was “how do you become homeless?”

And his answer was, “life happens.”

He had worked his way into a great job at a local university, was soon married and an expectant father, and he was all about seizing opportunity.  After enduring for a period a cushy if modest lab equipment sales job, he one day saw a guy driving a Ferrari, which he offered to help find a parking spot for.  But he first wanted an answer to two questions:

“What do you do, and how do you do that?”

The answer was the guy was a stockbroker, cleared about $80,000 a month, and because Gardner was “pretty good with numbers,” decided that’s what he wanted to do with his life.

But as he again explained, “life happens,” and before he knew it he was destitute due to some accumulated parking tickets and some domestic woes at home.  Before he knew it, he was without a job, health care, and soon, even his wife and son.

It was a single policeman who, during his ten day jail stay, cut him some slack and allowed him to make a phone call so he could postpone the all-important stock trader assistant job position he was applying for.

Shortly thereafter, he was successful in getting the job, but he lost his wife and now had an infant son to take care of.  The boarding house he was staying in didn’t allow children, so he quickly found himself and his son on the streets of Oakland with no place to go.

It was at this point that Gardner explained that an estimated 23% of homeless people “have jobs and go to work everyday,” and that this problem has only grown through the economic downturn.

But through a series of ingenious, if challenging, moves, he found a way to take care of his son and endure the hard-nosed requirements of the new job, staying at times on the streets, at others in dime hotels, and yes, acceding to the kindness of strangers.

Including a reverend at a local homeless food distributor, Mo’s Kitchen, the proprietor of which saw Gardner standing in line with his infant son, an anomaly considering most of the kitchen’s visitors were homeless women with children.

“What are you doing with that baby?” the reverend asked one day.  “I’m gonna keep it,” Gardner explained.

And so every day for a year, that’s precisely what Gardner did.  “You would see me, my son, a stroller, one suit on my back and another in a hanging bag, and we hit the street, every day for a year.”

They slept outside, at airports (this was pre 9/11), a Union Station bathroom…wherever they could.  And Gardner observed the one thing his son remembers from this period was this: “Every time I looked up, my father was there.”

Gardner remembers, “He didn’t know we were homeless.”

And despite all else, Gardner stayed homeless, until such time that he could save enough money to find his own place, a small apartment not two blocks from the train station they once frequented for shelter.

Gardner went to explain that his son didn’t know that some of the times he ate, Gardner went hungry, or that sometimes he was able to get a hotel room only after first giving blood.  He didn’t know that, Gardner explained, “because that’s what fathers do.”

After spending their first night in their new home, Gardner’s son saw him leaving the apartment without carrying everything he owned, which he’d been forced to do for the better part of that year.

Gardner explained to him, “You know what son, we got a key now…we’re home.  We don’t have to carry stuff anymore.”

“That was the start of turning our lives around,” Gardner related, although it hadn’t come easy.  “After a year of struggle, I didn’t know how much more I could take when one day, my son, stood up in the bathtub, and said, ‘Papa, you know what?  You a good papa.’”

We know the rest of the story from the movie, and from Gardner’s retelling.  He went on to enjoy great success as a stock broker, ultimately arriving at Bear Sterns’ San Francisco office and making millions.

“Sometimes it’s okay to laugh all the way to the bank,” Gardner joked.

But through it all, Gardner never lost his perspective.

Much later, the great American poet Maya Angelou explained to Gardner that “This story ain’t even about you. This is about every mother who ever also had to be a father, and every father who ever also had to be a mother.”

This was about breaking the cycle of men who have not been there for their children.

And though you might not recognize Chris Gardner walking down the street if you ran right into him, he was there for his son.

And in the end, that’s all he really wanted any of us to know.

Written by turbotodd

March 3, 2013 at 11:56 pm

Patents And Oscars

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This is a big day for announcements.

First, IBM announced a record 6,478 patents in 2012, patents for inventions that will enable fundamental advancements across key domains that includes analytics, big data, cybersecurity, cloud, mobile, social networking, as well as industry solutions like retail, banking, healthcare, and transportations.

These patented inventions also will advance a major shift in computing, known as the era of cognitive systems.

This is the 20th consecutive year that IBM topped the annual list of U.S. patent recipients.

Ginny Rometty, IBM’s chairman and CEO, had this to say about the milestone:

“We are proud of this new benchmark in technological and scientific creativity, which grows out of IBM’s century-long commitment to research and development. Most concretely, our 2012 patent record and the two decades of leadership it extends are a testament to thousands of brilliant IBM inventors — the living embodiments of our devotion to innovation that matters, for our clients, for our company and for the world.”

IBM’s record-setting 2012 patent tally was made possible by more than 8,000 IBM inventors residing in 46 different U.S. states and 35 countries. IBM inventors residing outside the U.S. contributed to nearly 30% of the company’s 2012 U.S. patent output.

There was also an early morning announcement from Los Angeles, this year’s Academy Award nominees.

There was another long slate of Best Film nominees, including Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty.

I’ve seen five of the nine, which puts me well ahead of where I am most years in terms of what films I have and haven’t seen.

Best Actor nominations were led by Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln and Bradley Cooper for Silver Linings Playbook.  If you’ve seen Lincoln, it’s hard to see how the Best Actor Oscar doesn’t go do DDL.

On the Best Actress front, the nominations were led by Juillard-trained Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty and Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook.  But don’t rule out Emmanualle Riva for Amour, or the chamelon-like Naomi Watts in The Impossible. In a crazy year, Quvenzhane Wallis could even walk away with the Oscar for her crazy good performance in Beasts of the Southern Wild, one of the most unique, imaginative films I’ve seen in years.

Quentin Tarantino got a nomination for Django Unchained in the Best Original Screenplay category, but I think that one is there for the taking by Mark Boal, screenwriter for Zero Dark Thirty.

Congrats to all this year’s nominees.  As a big movie fan myself, looking at that slate of Best Pic nominees, you realize what a strong movie year it’s been.

Finally, on the topic of movies, if you’re a big movie fan, check out Stephen Rodrick’s piece in The New York Times magazine about the trials and tribulations renowned screenwriter-director Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Affliction, et al.) had financing and making his new film, The Canyons, which stars that ever-intemperate actress Lindsay Lohan.

Meanwhile, below I’ve included a nice video clip summarizing IBM’s 20 successive years of patent leadership, and you can learn more about IBM’s patent efforts on our Tumblr site.

Written by turbotodd

January 10, 2013 at 4:56 pm

Faster Media

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I indicated in a post recently that I had gotten rid of my HBO bundle through AT&T U-Verse’s system, with all due apologies to Bill Maher and the new show about news, “The Newsroom.”

But my underlying futility was really about the inability to buy or rent specific content “a la carte” (i.e., be able to buy specific channels of content without having to provide the financial overhead underwriting others) than it was about the quality of the content itself.

New models are of digital content development and management are emerging that can help challenge these legacy financial constructs. Today, at the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC), IBM announced it has helped Canal+ Group deliver and archive digital comment.

Canal+ Group is the leading pay-TV broadcaster in France, and now will be able to more easily launch and manage new channels and services such as on-demand, web-TV, and even mobile-TV.

Prior to its process and archiving overhaul, Canal+ often used separate and isolated systems to manage its services, often making the production process cumbersome, manually intensive and costly.

Today, the staff has access to an interactive portal that collates and manages over 170 hours of content per day or 8,000 programs per year, whether from tape, external files or post-production video.

The intuitive portal allows multimedia content to flow back and forth in real-time across business units such as programming, advertising, editorial, archiving, production, and distribution.

“This project has helped Canal+ undergo a major transformation, not just in terms of how we operate internally, but how we service our customers,” said Jo Guegan, executive vice president, Technology and Information Systems, Canal+ Group. “

“This new intelligent system ensures we have the tools to produce and process programs in a time frame that keeps us ahead of our competitors in France and globally. As a result, Canal+ has become one of the first organizations in the world to dynamically monitor its workflow processes.”

Written by turbotodd

September 10, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Breaking Bad Habits

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I recently gave up my HBO habit.

I was tired of paying the premium through my AT&T U-Verse subscription, and I’d been putting off for far too long giving some money to The New York Times digital edition, content from which I consume daily.

So far, it’s been a mostly fair trade.

Though I’m going to miss shows like “Game of Thrones” and “The Newsroom” and “True Blood,” as well as Bill Maher (especially during the political season), I figured being able to get all of the Times’ content on any of my digital devices (and I have many!) at any time was easy math: The digital paywall became more forbidding than the bundle became enticing.

No sooner do I make this move, than I read in Variety this morning that HBO is going to give the Nordic countries the opportunity to cut the chord by allowing folks to subscribe to HBO without having to have an HBO pay-TV subscription.

The Variety story dug deeper into the Nordic permafrost, indicating this was a competitive matching move, an announcement short on the heels of Netflix announcing its move into Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark.

I laugh at this — I don’t live in a Nordic country, what good does this do me??!!

I did visit Stockholm once — could that qualify me for a subscription???

It’s no wonder more and more people are cutting the cord on cable TV.

Cable has a business model for offering content that is completely antiquated, and entirely out of line with the direction of more a la carte offerings in a digital world.

I only cut a small piece of the cord…this time around…but unless I’m giving more choices and flexibility in content soon, as opposed to their traditional bundling…well, HBO isn’t the only habit I can break.

Written by turbotodd

August 31, 2012 at 2:18 pm

All About The Content Razorblades

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The Interwebs platform wars continue to escalate.

Not days after I read Ken Auletta’s fine New Yorker piece on the U.S. antitrust suit against Apple and several book publishers for alleged price fixing — a scheme that clearly had Amazon and its Kindle Fire in its gunsights — do we discover that Amazon is working with Foxconn on its own mobile mousetrap, one that, like the Fire, would presumably provide easy access to all kinds of compelling content from Amazon’s vast cloud of digital entertainment.

Books, movies, gaming apps…Amazon’s play suggests that the Internet industry is moving into the razor/razorblade club, with the devices being the razors, and the razorblades being all that vast digital content.

I, personally, mostly don’t care which razor I use. I’ve owned tablets and smartphones both Android and iOS now, and most recently have given a Kindle (not the Fire) a test drive.

The most important element for me in the digital content wars are the depth and sophistication of the content libraries themselves.

That is to say, help me move beyond Amazon and Apples’  57 Channels On Demand and Nothing On!

Amazon’s bookstore, of course, has virtually the world’s book population at your disposal, so no complaints when it comes to reading (although I do agree we need healthy, competitive alternatives to the Amazon reading ecosystem).

But when I go into my Amazon Prime movie library, which lets me watch some movies for free with my Prime subscription, it’s like dragging the bottom of the movie barrel.

To some degree, I see the same problem with Netflix, although Netflix has seemed to have worked more diligently to expand its library.  Amazon Prime, on the other hand,  just added a bunch of new episodes of William F. Buckley’s “Firing Line.”

Woo hoo, where do I renew my subscription??!

The cloud providers may be lining to try and lock in as many denizens as they can via their device and subscription services, but the form factor is less important than the catalog function.

What’s kept me from cutting my own cord on the TV is the fact that the Netflix’s and Amazons of the world don’t have enough diversity of content (never mind live event access to major sporting events, which for my money are msotly worth the high cost of monthly cable subscriptions alone).

So if the Apples and Googles and Amazons really want to move these markets, they need to quickly hire some sophisticated business development executives and hard-driving attorneys who can  make some negotiation headway in the hills of Hollywood’s film libraries  rather than try to draw lines around the device footprints.

It’s never about the razors, always about the razorblades.

Written by turbotodd

July 6, 2012 at 2:45 pm

Nora Ephron: I’ll Have What She’s Having

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We lost a great writer with the passing of Nora Ephron.

Judging from all the accounts of those who knew her, we also lost a great human being.

I did not know her, but I knew her work.  Anyone who followed American cinema over the past three decades, how could they not?

Starting with the anti-love love story (about love, and Ephron’s love for New York City), “When Harry Met Sally,” when both Harry and Sally decided they couldn’t just be friends after all…“You’ve Got Mail,” the first movie that presciently understood love in the late 20th cyber century…“Julie and Julia,” which brilliantly bridged time and space, juxtaposing a young female blogger in Queens in the early oughts struggling to follow her life’s passion with Julia Childs bushwhacking her way through male-dominated culinarydom in Paris in the 1950s.

What I liked most about Ephron’s writing was her humor.  But I also liked that she challenged accepted and conventional wisdom about women and humanity in general…and threw most of that conventional wisdom right out the window.

She understood their were universalities that underscored us all — men, women, children, — and made us all seem more like one, despite all our supposed differences.  She could also brilliantly underscore those universals with her fantastic humor, humor that highlighted our common humanity and sometimes made seem so frail, but stubbornly persistent, our human condition.

But she wasn’t always about funny.  1983’s “Silkwood,” much of which was shot at the then new Las Colinas film studios near Dallas, demonstrated Ephron’s knack for serious storytelling, revealing the story of Karen Silkwood, an Oklahoma nuclear plant employee whistleblower (played brilliantly by Meryl Streep) who disappeared under suspicious circumstances before she could arrive for a New York Times interview.  It was a serious movie about some very serious and relevant issues, and paved the way for later whistleblowing films like “The Insider.”

Or “Heartburn,” which laid bare the thorny thistles underlying marriage, again with Meryl Streep playing her alter ego to Ephron’s former husband Carl Bernstein (played devilishly by Jack Nicholson), with Ephron falling in love with the insider Washington columnist despite her (valid) fears about marriage, only to find him living a double life with another woman (John Edwards, anyone?).

No, I didn’t know Nora Ephron.  But for the last thirty years, I did know her work, much of which still makes me chuckle years later.  That’s a rare talent, especially these days.

I don’t know what it exactly what it was that Ephron had…but I’d like to have just a little bit of it nonetheless.

Written by turbotodd

June 27, 2012 at 3:10 pm

A Billion Angry Birds Served…And Counting

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Remember that scene from the movie “The Social Network,” the one where Sean Parker is advising Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin over cocktails?

It goes something like this:

Sean Parker: You don’t even know what the thing is yet. How big it can get, how far it can go. This is no time to take your chips down. A million dollars isn’t cool, you know what’s cool?

Eduardo Saverin: You??

Eduardo Saverin: (As the scene shifts back to the deposition room): A billion dollars!

With the looming Facebook IPO, it seems that Parker was off only by a factor of 100, but a minor detail.

Well, it appears Facebook is not the only one reaching the upper echelons of the Internet stratosphere.

Overnight, TechCrunch reported that in Rovio’s newsletter this week, the company announced its own revenues had increased by more than tenfold in 2011, and that its “Angry Birds” gaming phenom had passed the one billion download mark.

I can see the big Angry Birds McDonald sign in the sky now, over 1 billion Angry Birds served!

What’s probably less well known is that Rovio has turned into a merchandising juggernaut, selling Angry Birds-stamped merchandise ranging from T-shirts to pencil eraser sets (of which I am now the proud owner of 2 — assembly required!).

Some 30 percent of all Rovio revenues came in last year via its massive merchandising efforts.

Could an Angry Birds movie be next? Well, perhaps not an entire movie, but certainly a spoof that pretends to be directed by Hollywood action auteur Michael Bay:

Such drama!

Of course, with all those “Angry Birds” game editions replicating like rabbits, you’re soon going to require a super-duper-bird-throwing-handheld-supercomputer to be able to keep up with all those pigs running around.

Good thing Apple’s allegedly now set to deliver a new version of the iPhone in September (this according to Apple Insider, although no details of the new iPhone have yet been released.)

One can only hope for some hopped up “Angry Birds”-optimized iPhone DRAM!

IBM Impact 2012: A Q&A With Steve Jobs’ Biographer Walter Isaacson On Steve Jobs And Innovation, The Renaissance In New Orleans, And His Forthcoming Book On The History Of Computing

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The opportunity I had to sit down and interview Steve Jobs’ biographer Walter Isaacson last week at IBM’s Impact 2012 event in Las Vegas was a kind of career denouement moment for me.  Let me explain: In 1994, as I was finishing work on my Master’s degree in Radio/TV/Film (they hadn’t yet added “Internet” to the RTVF degree in 1994) at the University of North Texas, I distinctly remember sending my resume off to the new inner digital sanctum of Time magazine, “Pathfinder,” which had recently been started to put some muscle behind Time’s digital presence.  They didn’t hire me, but they did hire Walter Isaacson, who would be asked to run the groundbreaking digital media organization for a short period before he was later promoted to editor of Time and, later, chairman of CNN.  

As for me, information technology, and the Internet in particular, would become central to Isaacson’s life, first at Pathfinder, later at Time magazine, and of course as the biographer of great figures ranging from Albert Einstein to Benjamin Franklin to Steve Jobs, all of whom were unique innovators in and of their own right.  What’s not as well known about Isaacson is that he is a Renaissance Man of sorts himself.  To read his biography (see below) is to witness the firsthand account of a personal witness to and participant in American life over these past forty years, one whose own accounts will be cherished for many years to come. I hope you enjoy reading the interview as much as I did conducting it!

(Photo by Patrice Gilbert) Walter Isaacson is the president and CEO of the Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan educational and policy studies institute based in Washington, DC. He has been the chairman and CEO of CNN and the editor of TIME magazine. He is the author of Steve Jobs (2011), Einstein: His Life and Universe (2007), Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (2003), and Kissinger: A Biography (1992), and coauthor of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made (1986). Isaacson was born on May 20, 1952, in New Orleans. He is a graduate of Harvard College and of Pembroke College of Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He began his career at The Sunday Times of London and then the New Orleans Times Picayune/States-Item. He joined TIME in 1978 and served as a political correspondent, national editor, and editor of new media before becoming the magazine’s 14th editor in 1996. He became chairman and CEO of CNN in 2001, and then president and CEO of the Aspen Institute in 2003. He is the chairman of the board of Teach for America, which recruits recent college graduates to teach in underserved communities. He was appointed by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate to serve as the chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and other international broadcasts of the United States, a position he held until 2012. He is vice-chair of Partners for a New Beginning, a public-private group tasked with forging ties between the United States and the Muslim world. He is on the board of United Airlines, Tulane University, and the Overseers of Harvard University. From 2005-2007, after Hurricane Katrina, he was the vice-chair of the Louisiana Recovery Authority. He lives with his wife and daughter in Washington, DC.

Turbo: First of all, thank you for taking the time to speak with me, I know you’re very busy. You’ve now written biographies across a range of iconic figures of American life — Einstein, Franklin, Kissinger, and now Steve Jobs — I’m curious across all of these if you start to see some common traits and characteristics?

Walter Isaacson: Yeah, well like I said in the speech today, curiosity, a passion for what you do, an ability to think different, an ability to be imaginative and to think out of the box. You know Steve’s great mantra was “Think Different.” He also loved “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.” The fact that Einstein and Benjamin Franklin, even in their final years, were thinking different, being creative, being innovative….to me, that’s the goal of life.

Turbo: Were there other characteristics? Some not so positive?

Walter Isaacson: They were different in some ways.  Benjamin Franklin is a nice counterpart to Steve Jobs, because Steve was more of a genius, more creative…but Franklin was more collaborative, kinder to the people around him, and more open to different viewpoints. So, Benjamin Franklin was really great at collaborating with other people. Franklin tells a wonderful story in his autobiography of listing all the virtues you need to have to be good in business: industry, honesty, frugality…and after he has all twelve of the virtues and he practices them, a person in the club he’s formed, called the “Leather Apron” club, says “You’re missing a virtue.” And Franklin says “What’s that?” And the friend says “Humility, you might want to try that one.”

Turbo: (Laughs)

Walter Isaacson: And Franklin says, “I was never very good at the virtue of humility, but I was very good at the pretense of humility…I could fake it very well. And I learned that the pretense of humility was as useful as the reality of humility. Because it made you listen to the person next to you, it made you try to see if you could find common ground.” And that was something that was part of the nature of Benjamin Franklin.  It was not part of the nature of Steve Jobs.

But, that’s why biographies are not how-to manuals…they’re tales about real people.  And you have to extract the lessons from each character that you think might apply to you. So for me, I’ll never be a genius like Steve Jobs…I’ll never drive to the concept of an iPad, drive into existence an iPad…I’m just not that genius…but I try to think about Steve’s passion for perfection, and I also try to think about Ben Franklin’s ability to bring people together, and be very nice and kind to people of all walks of life.

Turbo: I know you conducted 40-something interviews with Jobs, and I know you spoke with a lot of his friends, his family members and even his rivals…Was there anything that they all consistently said when they talked about Jobs as a person?

Walter Isaacson: I think that they consistently said that he was on the surface, very impatient and petulant. But once you got to know him, the important thing to understand, was that the petulance, that brattiness at times, was connected to a passion for perfection, and that’s what the narrative of the book is about, which is anybody can be a jerk.  It wasn’t that Steve was a jerk, it was that he had a passion for perfection and that’s why by the end of the book, you should be admiring him.

Turbo: We got to speak with Steve Wozniak at our IBM Pulse event earlier this year, and I asked him…and I’d like to ask you the same question I asked him, which is what do you think the world lost with him leaving us so soon?

Walter Isaacson: I think Steve was a person who reinvented at least seven industries: Personal computing, the music business, retail stores, digital animation, tablet publishing, journalism, phones…he would have reinvented more industries — digital photography, textbooks, television — we lost with Steve somebody who, because of his ability to think different, was able to transform industries. And that’s what the book is about: Sometimes you have to have a driven, intense personality in order to have the passion it takes to change industries.

Turbo: Okay, thank you for that.  I wanted to now take a step back in time to 1995-1996…I don’t know exactly what year it was, but I believe it’s when you took over the Time digital arm, Pathfinder.

Walter Isaacson: Yeah, actually it was a couple of years before that…when I took over Time, the magazine, at the end of 1995…

Turbo: Could you just describe for me that time at Time?

Walter Isaacson:  It was very interesting during that period.  In the early 1990s, there was a sea change happening. The Internet up until then had been based on community and networking and chat.  It had the BBS boards of the original Internet, you’d had the communities like The Well, and you had online services like CompuServe and AOL, where people gathered in chat rooms and on bulletin boards.

In the early 1990s, there was a shift from that type of Internet to a web-based Internet. That had some great advantages, but a few disadvantages.  The Web became a place that we could put all of our content up on Web sites, but it was more of a publishing medium than it was a community medium. You know, comments got relegated to the bottom of the page, as opposed to the smart bulletin boards and discussion groups, and Listserves, we used to have before the Web dominated the Internet.

Secondly, the business model for putting up your content online with a service like CompuServe or AOL, you would make money because people paid to be on those services, and people shared the money with you, if you were Time magazine. But once you started to put stuff on the Web, it sort of became free, and it undermined to some extent the business model of having journalists and bureaus around the world.

Of course it had much more of an upside than it had a downside, because it opened up reporting and journalism and commentary to everybody, not just those who owned a magazine.

Turbo: What are your thoughts on the greater impact of not only the commercialization of the Internet, but some of the trends it has enabled.  If we look at some of the workforce dislocation, and creating new market opportunities in countries like India and China, because of this wonderful connection via first satellites and later the Internet…When we’re looking back 100 years from now, what do you think historians will be saying about this time?

Walter Isaacson: They will be saying that the Internet was, like every information technology starting with the invention of papyrus and paper and Gutenberg’s movable type, that it empowered individuals. The free flow of information tends, over the course of time, to take power away from authorities and elites and empower individuals. The Internet’s role 100 years from now will be this transformation that not only did it take power away from the elites and mainstream media, but also the people running authoritarian regimes around the world.

Turbo: So, in looking at some of what we’ve seen with the Arab Spring….and China now trying with this recent situation (the social media crackdowns by the Chinese government)…

Walter Isaacson: I don’t think that it’s a simple process where free flow of information automatically leads to democracy. Because you’ll have a lot of back and forth. But, it does bend the arc of history towards empowerment and democracy and, eventually, whether it takes 10 or 50 years, what’s happening with the Arab Spring, what’s happening in China, what’s happening in many places, will be a trend towards more personal freedom and more democracy.

Turbo: You were chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, and for people who don’t know them, they oversee Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America.  What’s the changing role of the Board and the VOA in this increasingly Internet connected world?

Walter Isaacson: I think that if, sixty years ago, when VOA and Radio Free Europe were being created, if they had had the ability to sketch out on the whiteboard what would be the perfect technology to help their cause, they would have invented the Internet. Something that doesn’t respect national boundaries that well, that allows people to find proxy servers to get through to information they need. So there will be a big shift towards digital information. And I hope towards community and discussion, not just handing down information the way Edward R. Murrow would have done when he ran Voice of America but creating communities and discussions that can be facilitated by the Internet.

Turbo: A couple of other quick questions…You have deep roots in New Orleans: You grew up there, you went to school there.  And after Hurricane Katrina, Governor Kathleen Blanco appointed you vice chairman of the Louisiana Recovery Authority.  We’re now seven years on — how do you feel New Orleans is doing?  Have you been back recently?

Walter Isaacson: I go back all the time.  And New Orleans has not only come back, but in most ways, it’s better than before the storm.

Turbo: How so?

Walter Isaacson: We have a better school system. More choice for kids in the schools.  More than 70 percent of the kids are in charter schools which allows innovative, entrepreneurial people like KIPP Academy to create schools that stay open until seven in the evening, eleven months a year, which is the way we should have education in our society. Likewise, there’s more entrepreneurship in New Orleans.

I think Forbes magazine called it maybe the best city for startups and entrepreneurship because so many young people are coming in. There’s a brain magnet in New Orleans.  Teach for America has almost tripled in size in New Orleans since before the storm, bringing young people in who want to be part of the educational renaissance there.  Tim Williamson has created Idea Village, which is an incubator for start-ups right in the heart of New Orleans. Tulane University has three times as many applicants as it did before the storm because eager, adventurous, entrepreneurial people want to be part of a city that’s rebuilding.

Mitch Landrieu is a great mayor — we have a political system that is much better than it was before the storm. There are even more restaurants than there were before the storm, probably more bars. So, for those of us who were worried that New Orleans would never come back, it is a great case study not only in resilience, but in reinvention — to say, if we were to build a school system from scratch, would we build it the same way we had it before the storm? No.  Let’s start a more entrepreneurial school system where the schools are open later, they spend more of the year where they compete for students, and you’ve had double-digit test score gains, every year for the past three years.

So, these are the types of things that keep me coming back to New Orleans, but also make me glad that so many young tech and web entrepreneurs have moved to the city to create this vibrant start-up community there.

Turbo: That’s great.  My ears perked up in your keynote when you talked about how you’re working on this new book about the information revolution.  Any themes you’re starting to see in your research that you can share with us in advance of its publication?

Walter Isaacson: One major theme, which is the theme of the Steve Jobs book and everything else I’ve written, which is innovation comes where there’s an intersection between the arts and the sciences. When there’s an intersection between poetry and microprocessors. Where a great feel for beauty and design is connected with a great feel for technology and engineering. That’s what Steve Jobs is all about, that’s what Ben Franklin was all about, that’s what Einstein was about.

So it starts with Ada Byron Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron, who becomes a great mathematician, because her mother doesn’t want her to grow up to be like her dad. And, she also has within her the poetry of her genetic code, of her heritage. And so she works in the 1830s with Charles Babbage, who creates the first prototype of a computer, and she helps describe and envision how computers can become universal machines, and not just mathematical calculators.

And then it leaps forward from that chapter to Alan Turing, who also has a great feel for beauty, but helps invent the first computers at Bletchley Park when they’re breaking the German Enigma codes in England. And then to places like IBM, which is doing the Mark I computer at Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania where they’re doing the Eniac, and the University of Iowa where John Atanassof is creating in the basement of the physics building an early version of the computer.

The computer and the Internet are the two most important inventions of the modern era. And yet most people don’t know how poetic, ingenious, and creative the people who invented those things were. In fact, most people don’t even know exactly who invented them.

And so this is a tale of inventiveness that will take us from Ada Lovelace all the way to, I hope, people who are doing social networks, mobile computing, and artificial intelligence today. It starts with Ada Byron Lovelace concluding that machines will never think, they will never originate their own creative ideas, and that’s certainly something that Alan Turing explores, but now it’s something that with Watson at IBM, and with the notion of artificial intelligence, is still something we look at and wonder will it ever happen?

(Blogger’s Note: I wanted to extend, as always, a special thank you to the consummate professionals with Drury Design Dynamics, a family business whose primary focus is nothing less than excellence. In particular, I’d like to thank Chris Drury and Mark Felix — they always keep me on my toes and are integral to making these Q&As happen at IBM customer events.) 

Into The Amazon Digital Jungle

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Whoa, what ants got into Amazon.com’s pants this quarter??

Amazon announced earnings earlier today, and though profits for the first quarter dropped 35 percent to $130 million from last year’s same quarter, revenue jumped 34 percent to $13.2 billion, beating the Street’s expectations.

Is this a bellwether indicator for e-commerce en generale, or is it isolated to the ‘Zon?

Hard to say, but The Wall Street Journal is reporting that part of Amazon’s spending has gone towards making itself operate more efficiently.  If you remember, Amazon spent a cool $775 million to buy Kiva Systems last month, which is intended to help them automate and lower their warehouse operations costs.

The Journal story’s also highlighting the fact that the e-commerce market in general “has been strong,” with Amazon reporting particularly good sales for digital goods, including e-books and online video (which, read, means little to no distribution costs other than bandwidth!)

In Amazon’s earnings press release, Amazon pointed out that “9 out of 10 top sellers on Amazon.com were digital products — Kindle, Kindle books, movies, music and apps.”

In the quarter, Amazon also introduced a new version of its Kindle for iPad app, which is the #5 free iPad app of all time and the #1 free books app on iPad.

The Amazon left jab strikes Apple on the chin! Pow!

The Kindle, retailing for $199 through Amazon, continues to be the company’s best-selling product, and the most “gifted.”

I may have even contributed to the strong quarter with a few Amazon purchases meself, come to think of it!

For my money (what little I have left of it after shopping with Amazon), this digital trend is a larger barometric indicator — folks are finally getting more comfortable with consuming books and other media in digital formats, and though it certainly has a negative impact on the “traditional” media industries on one side of the balance sheet, that starts to get offset as the digital column increases.

Of course, I haven’t even gotten to some of the social commerce trends which Amazon is also likely benefiting from (mentions via Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and their own leading adoption of customer ratings and reviews.

Click, mortar, AND pixels is the name of the game for smarter commerce, something IBM thought leaders will be discussing at the upcoming IBM Global Smarter Commerce Summit in Madrid May 22-24th.

More on that in a prior post here.

The Green Monster

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I picked a heckuva week to travel up to Boston.  I arrived the same day as the Boston Marathon, and apparently, the weather this year for the run was “hellish.”  In fact, I met a guy on the rental car shuttle bus who had just run the marathon, and he explained all he wanted was a beer, he was SO sick of drinking Gatorade to stay hydrated during the race.

But also this week, we’re witnessing the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park, one of the classic old baseball parks and home to the 7 time World Series champion Boston Red Sox.

No sooner do I arrive in Boston than I start reading that former Texas Rangers manager Bobby Valentine is stirring up agita amidst the player ranks in Boston — ah, we miss you down in Texas, Bobby.

I’m expecting to attend the Rangers/Red Sox game this evening at Fenway, my first time there.  I’ll be the crazy Texan along the third base line wearing the cowboy hat (not really).

Since age-based segmentation schemes no longer suffice in the connected consumer era, IBM Media & Entertainment is finding that behavior-based segmentation is now essential. IBM's 2011 survey revealed four prominent types of digital personalities that are not age-based, but instead are based on the combination of degree of access to content and intensity of content interaction This type of analysis is now essential to delivering compelling consumer experiences.

Now, out in viva Las Vegas, the National Association of Broadcasters show has kicked off.  As part of the festivities, IBM just released a new IBM study of the media and entertainment market, which reveals that as consumers adopt an increasing number of digital devices, four distinct new “digital personalities” are emerging.

Think Sybil for iPad users!

This shift, in turn, is compelling companies to adopt more innovative business models that deliver personalized experiences.

Here’s some details behind the study: First, not all these folks are college students, contrary to popular belief. Sixty-five percent of respondents aged 55 to 64 report surfing the Web and texting with friends while watching TV.  Take that, young whippersnappers.

Eighty-two percent of surveyed global consumers aged 18 to 64 embracing connected digital devices.  And more than 50 percent of consumers in China and the United States are moving away from traditional forms of media and using online sources for breaking news.

The New Personalities: Instant, Efficient, And Social

With the growth of digital devices, one-way communication and distribution of content is no longer enough. Connected consumers these days are demanding instant access to personalized content on their own terms.   These new “personalities” look as follows:

  • Efficiency Experts: With 41 percent in this category, these respondents use digital devices and services to simplify day-to-day activities. Efficiency experts send emails rather than letters, use Facebook to communicate with others, access the Internet via mobile phones, and shop online.
  • Content Kings: Are generally male consumers, who frequently play online games, download movies and music, and watch TV online. This audience represents 9 percent of the global sample.
  • Social Butterflies: Place emphasis on social interaction – they require instant access to friends, regardless of time or place. Fifteen percent of consumers surveyed reported they frequently maintain and update social networking sites, add labels or tags to online photos, and view videos from other users.
  • Connected Maestros: 35 percent of those surveyed take a more advanced approach to media consumption by using mobile devices and Smartphone applications to access games, music, and video or to check news, weather, sports, etc.

“Media companies need to engage with consumers based on their digital personalities, if they are going to maintain a sustainable and connected relationship, said Saul Berman, Global Strategy Consulting Leader, IBM Global Business Services, and co-author of the study. “With the mass infiltration of digital devices, organizations can now enhance, extend or redefine the customer experience within minutes due to a steady stream of real-time data via social media. Future success is dependent upon successfully executing on insights based on this data, to reach the right consumer, at the right time and place, using the right tools.”

According to the IBM study, media and entertainment companies’ payment infrastructures need to be flexible and scalable to allow a variety of innovative pricing approaches to attract consumers with different preferences to their content.

The need for payment option flexibility, even for the same set of consumers, is apparent by looking at those most active in adopting new devices.

This group’s preferred mode of payment to watch a movie on a website is by viewing advertising that is included with the movie (39 percent of this segment chose this option), while they prefer to see movies on a tablet by purchasing a subscription (chosen by 36 percent). But to watch movies on a smart phone, they prefer to pay per use (the payment choice of 36 percent).

IBM surveyed 3,800 consumers in six countries – China, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States for this study, and also met with global representatives in broadcasting, publishing, as well as media service agencies, and telecommunication providers, to evaluate digital consumption behaviors.

You can register to download the full report here. 

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