Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Starbucks Demystified

Java Joe Starbuck is no longer a wall street favorite. Maybe having a store on every corner in America wasn't such a good idea.

Why has Starbucks been so successful? I didn't read the book, but I have a simple explanation. What is the 2nd worst thing that can happen to a woman wearing a new dress to an evening affair?

Answer: Seeing another woman wearing the same dress. The only thing worse than that is if the other woman is wearing the dress one size smaller.

The Starbuck's marketing mystique - the language and ordering options of vente, grande, caramel, chocolate, soy, no fat, no whip, extra shavings, steamed, macchiato, extra hot, etc. - serves one purpose: To allow customers (i.e. women) to order a drink that no other customer in the line is likely to order. No woman ever said "I'll have what she had" to the Starbuck's barista , unless she also wears pantsuits to evening affairs.

If don't believe me, spend a few minutes in Starbucks and watch the women ordering drinks. You won't have to wait long because women make up about 80% of the Starbucks clientel. Men have begun to figure out that this coffee "Jones" is more like a $5 milkshake Jones.

Monday, January 28, 2008

What a decade?

It's 2010 and America has just completed the first decade in the new millenium. For the last ten years, America's booming economy has invested hundreds of billions of dollars into the infrastructure for moving people, goods, electricity and internet packets. In addition, an entire generation has been educated on a 21st century version of the GI Bill.

The accumulated budget surplus has reduced the total Federal deficit by ~1 Trillion dollars. Americans now enjoy lower taxes, the security of low cost health care, and a sustainable retirement system that will endure for generations. The world showers the US with foreign investment. And the US is leading investments in fundamental technologies to improve world health and reduce the adverse impact of global warming.

Speaking at the United Nations, President Obama announced a "coalition of the welling" with funding from OPEC and other foreign entities to develop alternative energy solutions to replace world dependence on oil by 2030. Mars will have to wait.

Whoops, I was just dreaming that Bush did not steal the 2000 election and put America on a path to drain the treasury, suspend infrastructure, and sacrifice our children's future, on a fumbled effort at nation building.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Will my Grandkid's Grandkids work for robots?

My wife has a Roomba vacuum cleaner. It does a good job cleaning the carpet without assistance, and it doesn't need many brain cycles to do that job. But consider Moore's law compounded across multiple generations. Fifty years is 10**9, a factor of one billion. One hundred years is one billion x one billion. How many brain cycles will a Roomba have when my grandkids have grandkids? Will it clean the whole house, or will it own the house and it's occupants?

According Ray Kurtzweil and others, history points out that Moore's Law is simply a lower bound. Silicon efficiency is just one factor in the advancement of technology. Improvements in architecture, software, chemistry, biology, nano-construction, etc., all contribute acceleration factors to progress. "Punctuated Equilibrium", articulated by Stephen J. Gould, as a model for evolution of life species can also apply to technology. At some point in time, breakthroughs in multiple disciplines combine to throw a few more zeros on 10**18.

My grandkids will likely have iRoomba devices that are smarter than I am. They will use these devices for tasks I can't imagine though I am sure they will be indispensable. But as Beyond AI, J. Hall Storrs asks in "Beyond AI", at what point do "humans" become the "plants" - objects to be nurtured, and perhaps enjoyed by the machines.

AI is coming. Google is likely in the lead with their zillion-Pentium server farms and parallel processing algorithms. The world wide web becomes the world wide computer. Cloud computing resources like Amazon's EC2 will soon be available to virtually anyone. (Though few will really control it.)

The world wide social computer with millions of humans sharing perception and knowledge with millions of computers: a symbiosis for unpredictable futures.

Kurtzweil's "Singularity" not-withstanding, what do machines do for fun in 10,000 years? Do they climb into space ships and roam the galaxy for eons to find other "plants" to harvest? If that is inevitable, why haven't machines from other worlds visited Earth yet? Maybe machines lack the genetic blueprint for exploration, or the "dread of boredom"? Perhaps, like my Roomba, they get stuck in a corner and simply stop.