Nova Spivack points me to an interesting piece from TheFeature.com about new technology under development at NASA that will allow people to "speak silently". Nova explains succintly:
Their system intercepts nerve signals to the vocal cords before the speaker makes a sound and then figures out what words they signify. This technology will enable people to speak silently on the phone or to their computers, without moving their lips or making a sound. It's almost telepathy.
"Almost telepathy" because the system intercepts motor signals from the brain to the vocal area, and not the thoughts that precede the motor signals. Even so, it's an immensely impressive achievement just to be able to do this.
But there is one thing I'd like to know: could this technique work with Chinese and Vietnamese? These are languages that depend on tonal variations to convey meaning. My (completely uneducated) guess is that tonal variations aren't conveyed in the nerve signals prior to the word actually being spoken.
For that matter, even when it comes to English, tonal variations in speech convey tons of contextual information.
Polite: "Sit down."
Exasperated: "Sit down!"
Loving: "Sit down."
Commanding: "Sit down."
Were you to read that simple phrase without the prefatory descriptions, you'd have no idea what the context was.
So I think sound is essential before the electronic ventriloqust will be bundled with tomorrow's cellphones. Of course, there will be countless other applications that require limited or no audible context. Or I could be dead wrong in the first place about the system's ability to detect tonal variations!
Lush is a new radio station in Singapore that has quickly become the It Thing on Singapore's airwaves. The station plays a mix of jazz and lounge music, and promises that it will never play more than two ads in a row ever. The station also doesn't have any of those irritating talking mouths that clog up the ether on other frequencies.
That's all super but the reason I'm posting about Lush here is that they seem to have pioneered (in Singapore, at least) a new kind of advertising.
Imagine this: you're driving along listening to Lush. A smooth voice begins speaking after the end of a song and gives you tips on what kinds of shoes to wear the next time you're out clubbing and mentions the name of a particular brand. After the voice is done, it's back to the music.
I don't know what you'd be thinking but the first few times I heard that, I didn't even realise it was an ad! I thought it was a radio host with a cool personality handing out fashion tips.
And it wasn't a hard sell. Far from it. The background music fit in perfectly with Lush's usual sounds. There was no fake excited voice disgorging senseless superlatives. In short, the ad did a great job of sliding under my skin.
Why is this Google-like? Well, first of all, the Lush ads was no-frills. (Google's ads are primarily text-only, like the ad bar on this page.) No jarring jingles, no excited voice. That makes for a good listener experience. I'm actually listening instead of tuning out or getting irritated at the change in mood.
A more subtle point is that, of the ads I've heard thus far, all have been lifestyle-oriented and highly targeted. No ads for mattresses, no ads for discounted electronics merchandise. I also think the ads are remarkably well integrated with Lush's usual music. In short, highly targeted to the Lush fan.
(Yes, of course Google's ads have a dozen other features, such as response-tracking, extreme customisation, pay-per-click and so on, but I still thought Lush and Google had quite a few commonalities.)
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Google has plans that will dramatically improve the results of internet news searches, by ranking them according to quality rather than simply by their date and relevance to search terms.
This means that articles carrying more authority, say from CNN or the BBC, can be ousted from the first page of results, simply because they are not as recent or as relevant to the keyword entered in the search line.
"More authority"? I don't know if there's a communication gap or whether Google really intends to implement the "authority"-linked search algorithm detailed below.
[Google's] database will be built by continually monitoring the number of stories from all news sources, along with average story length, number with bylines, and number of the bureaux cited, along with how long they have been in business. Google's database will also keep track of the number of staff a news source employs, the volume of internet traffic to its website and the number of countries accessing the site.
Google will take all these parameters, weight them according to formulae it is constructing, and distil them down to create a single value. This number will then be used to rank the results of any news search.
Questions that popped into my head when I read the article (and the reason why I label this idea stupid):
Where does a system like this leave bloggers?
Can a top-down system like this truly cover all sources?
Doesn't a system like this create possibilities for abuse? Or, at the very least, a perception of bias?
...asks John Gapper of the FT, and responds that they are not. In fact, they are not only unnecessary but can be downright undesirable for certain kinds of investors. Why?
Although investors tend to get a better deal from automated trading than human market makers, stock exchanges remain imperfect trading places for the biggest investors, institutions that want to buy and sell big blocks of shares.
The problem is size. No investment fund wants to declare openly that it has 500,000 shares in Microsoft to sell. The market would be pushed down until the trade was executed because its sell order would outweigh many small buy orders.
So large investors rely on workarounds, such as getting banks to be their intermediaries or fragmenting their trades into manageable chunks. Each approach has its drawbacks.
Instead of this system, Gapper highlights a peer-to-peer software available from Liquidnet, an institutional broker, that allows large trades to be matched and negotiated anonymously.
As things stand, Liquidnet relies on the public exchanges to establish prices: most bargains settle close to the mid-price being quoted at the time. But it is not fanciful to imagine peer-to-peer networking among large investors developing to the degree that such trading starts to lead rather than follow share price movements. At that point, they would gain a degree of independence from stock exchanges.
(I wonder if these job posts are going to become a habit...!)
Singapore-based consulting firm seeks to hire IT professional with 2-4 years' experience in business intelligence and data warehousing technologies. Some domain knowledge of banking and/or telecom desired but not essential.
If interested, drop me an email at "blogfeedback [at] murli [dot] net" with a brief résumé and I'll get back to you.
An insightful article on AltAssets on how to sell businesses, even lemons. Summary (but do read the complete article):
Tell a coherent, credible story that seamlessly takes the business from the past into the future. Pitch the business appropriately for the intended purchasers. Beware the disingenuous over-bidder; they are often the worst of all time wasters. Agree a process to allow the purchaser to get comfortable with the risks of the business. Look well ahead as well as at the road in front of you and know when it's best to do nothing. And, remember Akerlof's Nobel Prize and "The Market for Lemons": Where information is asymmetric, if you don't know what you are doing, there is a very real risk that an asset won't sell, whatever the price.
In today's Telegraph is a piece about European public companies imitating the techniques of LBO houses.
Anything you can do, I can do better. That, at least, is the attitude of some European public companies to the headway being made in the deals business by leveraged buyout houses.
It seems some public companies have piled on debt in their pursuit of returns-enhancing deals. The author cautions against this.
But is this something very new? In the M&A class I am taking at grad school, I've already come across a couple of cases where companies had the option to pursue leveraged recapitalisations and acquisitions. These cases weren't particularly recent. The only thing I can think of that might make a difference is that the cases we studied were all US-based.
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