Thursday, July 29, 2004

Economics of light rail

Via Houston's Clear Thinkers: (scroll down)

...it would have been much more economically prudent to buy a new Toyota
Prius for all the light rail riders than to build and maintain the light rail
system.
It's an interesting study in how the benefits to a few (construction related cos) can overpower the costs of the many (taxpayers) and create an environment where these projects are difficult to oppose.

I live in Houston. I've yet to ride the rail. I would like for a system like this to be viable in our city and achieve the noble goals that it aspires to. It makes me think of New York. I think New York has a certain charm because of its population density. Makes me wonder if our votes for mass transit are an attempt to associate ourselves with a city that has that charm.

By the way, if you're looking for a blogosphere perspective on Houston, I'd recommed Houston's Clear Thinkers by Tom Kirkendall. I've been reading him for a few months now, and he always has an interesting perspective- not to mention he's rekindled my interest in Astros baseball. No small feat when you consider how the season is going.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

With productivity comes liability?

via lawyersweekly.com: Companies can now worry about getting Sued Over an Employee's Phone Call. Cell phone that is. While driving. Precedents are being set that employers can be held liable if their employee is talking and driving. Regardless of the hour of the incident, it is easy to find out the person on the other end of the line and make a case that there was a business purpose to the discussion.

Expanding your sales force? You may want to set some guidelines in this area.

The custom craze- when will it end?

Never, I hope:
via bizjournals.com: "Indeed, the $20 billion-plus motorcycle market is going through a major growth spurt -- one that has lasted more than a decade. According to Mike Mount, spokesman for the Irvine, Calif.-based Motorcycle Industry Council, the number of on-highway bikes sold annually increased by 211 percent between 1993 and 2003. Last year, sales topped out at nearly 1 million motorcycles. "

I prefer American Chopper to Monster Garage, but maybe that's just b/c I love my dad so much. I'm waiting for custom chopper fantasy camp, where you get to take a week and go build your own bike. Seriously, where does an armchair fan go to really learn how to do this stuff?

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Voice recognition: the next wave of productivity

bizjournals.com: "Elizabeth Harrell, an analyst for Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass., said speech recognition applications and services for businesses could grow from a less than $700 million market to a multibillion-dollar one by 2008. "

I certainly hope this happens. It appears that they are talking about technology that can expect a certain range of response. I've tried Dragon's Naturally Speaking, but wasn't to impressed. It seemed to run at about 50%. I'm looking for the holy grail of true speech recognition where I can finally capture thoughts as they happen. How 'bout it science?

Services like Audible provide a great alternate use of time when I'm in the car. The MIT Media Lab is also doing some interesting work on human-computer interfaces. The Affective Computing Department is bypassing speech and going directly to emotion recognition.

Nonprofits look on-line for fundraising

bizjournals.com:

"Internet donations to 13 area nonprofits that supplied numbers for the survey
rose 76.5 percent -- up from a little more than $1 million in 2002 to almost
$1.8 million in 2003. "
The question in my mind is what part of the sales cycle is most influenced by the on-line presence. Are the nonprofits finding their niche better, are they remaining in front of their donors more frequently, or are they simply creating an environment where folks are more comfortable donating? Perhaps its the technophile in me, but I really believe that online technologies are going to eliminate sales, rather prospecting, as we know it. The article didn't specifically contrast their recent and previous marketing effrots, but how do you feel answering an unsolicited phone call? How much time do you spend online daily (work/non-work)? How information can you process audibly? Visually? Different people respond to different messages, how can you afford to waste your important message on a medium with such a low probability of communicating valuable information?

Counterpoint: don't count on e-mail to build relationships

bizjournals.com

"You have to remind people that face-to-face is the best communication, that you
have to sometimes walk the 9 feet to the person. My rule of thumb is that if you
start messaging single sentences, then pick up the phone."
The balance to the argument for cybersales is that it you can't count on it to maintain relationships. Although here, they're talking more about internal relationships. The interesting thing is that it seems more and more you really do have to develop relationships within your own organization in order to get results that should already be written into everyone's job responsibilities. I have an acquaintance who recently left a good job in the financial services industry because she was sick of kissing up to everyone in order for them to do their job.

Monday, July 19, 2004

15 billion ATM transactions handle more than $1 trillion a year

via bizjournals.com:

"Authorities also are seeing skimming devices that allow thieves to capture PINs -- personal identification numbers -- and magnetic stripe information using external 'parasites' on ATMs. "

Gannon said the hackers use skimming devices to read the data on a card's magnetic stripe while a camera records the personal identification numbers as they are punched in. The information can be beamed for several miles, he said.

"Bad guys can now sit in a parking lot with an antenna and intercept signals from ATMs, then transfer them anywhere," he said.