AIR spam

So I was installing a fresh version of Acrobat Reader 9 on an XP machine a few days ago and guess what … it comes bundled with AIR runtime by the looks (and there is no option to select/deselect when you try to install).

“Interesting” tactic by Adobe to rapidly grow the installed base who can run AIR applications.

Installer options:

Acrobat Installer
Acrobat Installer


My Add/Remove programs after installation

Air installs with Acrobat Reader
Air installs with Acrobat Reader

Information Democracy

Nick Carr wrote a piece a while ago about the pros and cons of easy information distribution of information. Specifically the double edged sword: GPS

As GPS transceivers become common accessories in cars, the benefits have been manifold. Millions of us have been relieved of the nuisance of getting lost or, even worse, the shame of having to ask a passerby for directions.

But, as with all popular technologies, those dashboard maps are having some unintended consequences. In many cases, the shortest route between two points turns out to run through once-quiet neighborhoods and formerly out-of-the-way hamlets.

Scores of villages have been overrun by cars and lorries whose drivers robotically follow the instructions dispensed by their satellite navigation systems.

That’s the problem with the so-called transparency that’s resulting from instantly available digital information. When we all know what everyone else knows, it becomes ever harder to escape the pack.
There is, of course, much to be said for the easy access to information that the internet is allowing. Information that was once reserved for the rich, the well-connected, and the powerful is becoming accessible to all. That helps level the playing field, spreading economic and social opportunities more widely and fairly.

At the same time, though, transparency is erasing the advantages that once went to the intrepid, the dogged, and the resourceful … The commuter who pored over printed maps to find a short cut to work finds herself stuck in a jam with the GPS-enabled multitudes.

You have to wonder whether, as what was once opaque is made transparent, the bolder among us will lose the incentive to strike out for undiscovered territory. What’s the point when every secret becomes, in a real-time instant, common knowledge?

I don’t buy the argument.

It’s safe to assume that technological advances (like GPS) will lead to externalities (unintended side effects, both positive and negative). I live in a village which suffers every now and again from GPS-enabled truck drivers getting stuck in narrow lanes – so I can see where he’s coming from with this particular criticism. But it seems to me that Nick is arguing something more than just about side-effects. He seems to arguing that there is something in the very nature of the technological advances – “what was once opaque is made transparent” – that devalues us. That makes us less willing to strike out for something new.

Hogwash. What is the point of striking out for undiscovered territory? People will always do that just for the hell of it, in the hope of commercial gain or personal aggrandisement. For a number of reasons. What they are striking out for may be different to what their grand-parents considered undiscovered but they will continue nonetheless.

I like analogies. When I think of Nick Carr railing against GPS making it “too easy” to get from A to B I try to imagine similar scenarios. So how about going back 1000 years to the introduction of the abacus into Western Europe which made it far easier to do your maths than it would have been to multiply CLXI by XIV in Roman Numerals. In the same way that GPS democratises navigational data, the abacus democratised the ability to do mathematical calculations. That’s a good thing, right?

Queen Victoria and Technological Innovation

Here’s a nice quote from Melvyn Bragg’s The Adventure Of English

It is difficult now to realise the excitement and pride in British engineering which the Great Exhibition [1851] brought to the country. An extract from the journal of Queen Victoria after her visit gives us a taste of it:
 “Went to the machinery part, where we remained two hours, and which is excessively interesting and instructive …. What used to be done by hand and used to take months doing is now accomplished in a few instants by the most beautiful machinery.”

I wonder to what degree the powers that be today are as excited by technological innovations as Queen Victoria was in 1851.

On Nick Carr, Stupid, Google, Motor Cars and Cowpaths in the Brain

Nick Carr’s article “Is Google Making us Stupid?”  certainly provoked some brouhaha across the global interwebs. I read a lot of the commentary, particularly this before the article so I was surprised on finally reading the article to find that I really enjoyed it. Even though the question in the title was obviously intended to rile people.

How about asking: “Did the motor car make us lazy?”

You know what – the motor car probably did make some people lazy. And at the same time, for others  opened up more possibilities than ever before.

Overall it’s not a very useful question.  Nor is “Is Google making us stupid?” It may be a useful soundbite but it’s not a useful question.

The question is really asking two different things:
(a) Can use of google cause a fundamental change in the brain?
(b) If so, is this a change for the worse?

There seems to be a lot of agreement that (a) is possible. Nick Carr references some examples to demonstrate that the mind re-wires itself according to how it is used. “.. readers of ideograms, such as Chinese, develop a mental circuitry for reading that is very different from the circuitry found in those of us whose written language employs an alphabet”.

Here’s another example that suggests that the brain not only re-wires itself, but changes physical shape according to how it is used: Apparently the brains of London taxi drivers have been seen to physically change in response to their work.  

A study of London cabbies used brain scanners to show that a part of the brain linked with navigational skills is bigger in taxi drivers than in other members of the public. The scientists also found that the size of the hippocampus – which lies deep within the temporal lobes of the brain just behind the eyes – gets bigger in proportion to a taxi driver’s length of service.

Sounds strange when you first hear it but starts making sense in a “paving the cowpaths in your brain” sense. but makes sense. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about then check:, and esp. the link from there to here:

So I buy part (a) – using google (i.e. the internet) can change the way my brain operates.

But (b) is far less clear. Assuming this kind of brain re-wiring has happened is it “bad” or “good”? Or “neither”. Or “both”. Look back at the motor car again. Was it able to effect changes in how people physically interact with the world? Yes. They were able to drive rather than walk. Was this change “bad” or “good”? How bad is it to be a bit “lazier” because you can drive rather than walk?

Nick seems to assume that “stupid” equates to skim reading rather than deep reading. I’m not so sure that intelligence is as simple as this. I have known plenty of people far smarter than me who spent their whole university lives skim reading books and yet apparently understanding them. 

Does Google encourage us to skim read? Possibly yes. But possibly, just possibly, faster and easier access to information might even help people reach better understanding better than was possible before. Just like the motor car enabled us to get from A to B more easily than ever before.

Overheard on the train

One: two girls, apparently recent uni grads. They discuss catching up with a friend of theirs on Facebook. And they discuss the blog another friend of theirs used to have.

Two: a “young professional” couple. logging onto Facebook to catch up with friends.

I love the way so much technology is being more and more, well, normal.

10, 20 years ago, technology was strictly for young men with dubious hygiene skills and an aversion to sunlight and exercise. (I still remember the farting competitions held by some ABAP colleagues in their windowless office). You even got bonus management credibility points for NOT knowing how computers worked and needing someone else to type your documents for you.

But fast forward to 2008 and my 10-year old god-daughter spends a LOT of time on sites like while Instant Messaging their friends.

And this article on Mashable

I find this shift very exciting. I only wish I were at school now and had the internet to help me discover the world.

Blame the users, or the technology?

Hardly a news story but this week’s Supply Management has a news story headline “Councils: most buying goals met“.

One of the goals listed in the article that was not met was the use of e-marketplaces.

Each council was also meant to be using an e-marketplace by 2006, but latest figures show only 22 per cent have met this target.

The traditional response to such a dismal failure to adopt a new technology is: “more change management, please, doctor”. As if the technology users are always to blame for being to blinkered.

But are people always and everywhere scared of new technology? I don’t think so. People are not afraid of adopting new technologies if those technologies are good. Excel. Mobile phones. SMS. Email. Social Networks. Online airline check-in. Google. Online banking. Etc etc. (yes, I am old enough to remember offices before Excel. I spent some time working as an accountant doing 4 column trial balances on paper. That was horrible).

Oh yes iPods. Good technology. Vista. Not as good technology.

You can make your own lists.

To come back to the SM article: if an e-marketplace helps buyers buy stuff better then of course they will use it. But if it is just a pain in the a** to use then they will stick to email and Excel. And don’t talk about nebulous downstream process improvements, puh-lease. People want process improvements now, not some unidentified time in the future.

When a fly keeps banging its head against a pane of glass trying to get out of your house, it’s obvious what the fly needs is a different approach: an open window. The same is true in enterprise software. Software developers: stop bashing your heads on the change management window. Do something to your software so the users don’t need change management to want to use it.

The exciting news is that there are some people who are daring to do the undoable. Thingamy for example has the audacity to be challenging not only the rigid process-driven ERP mindset prevalent in the industry, but also how we do something as basic as accounting. Will they succeed? Who knows. But the more people who take Sig’s lead and try to re-invent enterprise software, the more chance we’ll have of getting those buyers all happily using their e-marketplaces.

Amazon Kindle doesn’t sound like a winner

Amazon’s new Kindle device has ignited a large amount of opinion, much of it negative. A good summary is:

As ever, Fake Steve has an entertaining take that is a bit close to the bone:
Yet has still managed respectable sales, according to the BBC:

The Economist, disappointingly, are hedging their bets. They recall the naysayers at the time of the iPod’s launch in 2001, whose criticisms are eerily similar to comments on the Kindle.

But back in 2001 people already had mp3 players and had been through portable tape players, portable CD players, even portably minidisc players. People could easily understand the point of a better-looking mp3 player. Amazon is targeting a market in a much more incipient state than the market for portable music was back in 2001.

So, despite not even having seen the damn thing for real, I will remain on the Grinch side of the fence. Bezos’ investment in seems to me to be a better bet than his punt on the Kindle.
(* disclosure: I don’t even own an iPod).