Episode Ninety: Supply Chain Management For Seven Billion; Too Early; WATCH_DOGS

by danhon

0.0 Station Ident

Wife and son get home tonight, plus I have a man date to go see an early screening of All You Need Is Kill, er, I mean, TOM CRUISE’S EDGE OF TOMORROW, which by all accounts should be fun.

One of the things I talked about with my therapist today was the anxious feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop. By that, I mean I feel like I haven’t – for whatever reason – fallen apart or collapsed given what’s happened over the last few weeks. Sure, I’ve had wobbles, but it feels like stupendous progress to be able to stumble and keep going rather than to fall down and not be able to get up. That’s what it feels like. I *think* that’s resilience: to know that I can keep going and actually have it in me to keep going, to not get trapped into that place I’m familiar with where it’s impossible to do anything. And I really do think that part of it is about the network of support that I’ve fashioned for myself. You might have read the story about toast, the latest artisanal food craze in San Francisco[1] and yes, you Won’t Believe How It Ends, but really, you should read it. I feel like, through writing this newsletter, and building a quite remarkable network of relationships through it, I’ve made myself a lot stronger. So whether you’ve been reading these from day one, or whether you’re one of the fifteen who’ve subscribed so far today, thank you.

[1] http://www.psmag.com/navigation/health-and-behavior/toast-story-latest-artisanal-food-craze-72676/

1.0 Supply Chain Management For Seven Billion

One provocative reply[1] to my thought about smart things from episode eighty eight[2] was the idea of the frictionless domestic supply chain. If you’re talking about one thing that would help the stereotypical and somewhat gag-inducing “typical working parents” who have a household to manage, anything that saves time is a Good Thing. Anything that saves time without any further expenditure of cash money is an even gooder thing.

There was a talk at one of the few advertising conferences that I went to – AdAge Digital 2013[3], I think, by Lisa Utzschneider, VP of Global Advertising Sales at Amazon. Utzschneider’s talk was interesting not because of the advertising bits (blah blah opportunites for brands to connect with consumers) but because it illuminated Amazon’s goal of working for the consumer (let’s just say: the regular person) through efforts like subscribe and save. Utzschneider was a fairly vocal advocate of doing all your shopping from your phone, via Amazon, and not having to do that dreaded weekly shop (which, I think, is slightly more of a British phenomenon than an American one?) where you drag your kids out to a giant box store and cart everything around. Instead, imagine a much more civilized future where you just say “Oh, don’t we need some more toilet paper” and then toilet paper magically appears.

But even that isn’t frictionless enough. It’s where things like Berg’s Cloudwash[4] come in that do the mythical task of automatically ordering consumable supplies for you in the background. Of course, it’d be great if we could simultaneously envisage a future where those consumables didn’t come locked, HP DRM printer-cartridge style to a particular service provider and there’s nothing necessarily preventing an open consumable washing machine future (yes, we really type those sentences now) other than sheer bloody headed obstinance on the part of a manufacturer, retailer or FMCG brand.

Anyway: it seems that you can divide home automation by looking at spooky-action-at-a-distance tasks (is my sump about to overrun, can I turn the lights on) and recurring supply-chain type tasks. I’m going to preface *all* of this by saying that Jesus Christ I don’t want to sound like some sort of Mansplainer who’s going to come in and tell you all about domestic maintenance, so if at any point I *do* sound like that, know that it’s not my intention and these are just wildly inaccurate, possibly sexist, probably insensitive reckonings from someone who still is struggling to live in non-traditional domestic harmony.

(An aside: there’s a difference, for example, between *cleaning* your clothes and *caring* for your clothes – and in the extensive conversations my wife and I have had about the subject it’s clear that my interest in the matter extends only so far as cleaning, whereas hers is much more in-depth and concerned with caring. Which is why we have a gazillion piles for different clothes, programs and washing detergents.)

So it strikes me that, *as a general principle*, if someone actually went and asked the people who by default end up performing the vast majority of domestic maintenance what would make their lives easier, you could probably free up a bunch of time. This idea of using technology to reduce friction is a common one, and one where it intuitively feels like there’s a whole tonne of friction that can be disrupted out, as it were. America has its own problems that make nationwide scaleable delivery services difficult, but things like Amazon Fresh are making inroads whereas in the UK, grocery chains like Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Ocado/Waitrose have been busy making hay with the increased population density. The idea of taking a look at what it takes to keep a house – for individuals, couples, cohabiters and families – and working to make that as easy and as pleasurable as possible feels like something that, opportunistically speaking, opens up a whole market that the valley doesn’t traditionally take notice of.

It’s hard to think about this *without* Amazon coming to mind. When you say things like “how do you develop a supply chain for the mundane tasks and requirements of the next seven billion”, you instinctively reach for one of the private companies that’s already doing it: with their distribution centres and their Kiva robots and their zero-hour contract workers picking, packing and sending, what we have when we peel back the veneer of the gloss of the Amazon user interface is the underbelly of what it takes to move all that materiel, every single day, and make sure it gets to the right person on time. I refuse – in a bit of an obstinate way – to believe that this is a winner-takes-all market in terms of the “getting stuff to people” problem, but Amazon have a bit of a head start. Competition is always good, right?

[1] Thanks, Rachel Coldicutt: http://fabricofthings.wordpress.com and I write this deliberately provoking Ms. Plowright
[2] https://newsletter.danhon.com/episode-eighty-eight-smarts-the-real-internet/
[3] http://events.adage.com/digital2013/agenda/
[4] http://bergcloud.com/case-studies/cloudwash/

2.0 Too Early

Hanging out in San Francisco with friends I’ve had for nearly fifteen years now – through the first dotcom boom, through web 2.0 and now through this fourth internet – whatever that is – there was a lot of nostalgia. Many of us who started blogging in the late nineties met up for the first time in a pub in London and remained close friends ever since, and it’s been interesting to see where we’ve all ended up. Some of us even nearly became rich, even nearly made it, even nearly came up with that one killer app.

What mostly happened, though, was that a fair few of us were early. I ended up looking today at a friends-only wiki page that had advice for choosing a mobile phone in the pre-iPhone era, lots of talk about people having Nokia N95 devices that were generally frustrating. And from there it was only a short hop skip and a jump to the Wikipedia entry for another thing I remember: Nokia Sports Tracker[1], something that was hacked together at Nokia that mainly used the built-in GPS of some of their devices to rudimentarily track your running or cycling activity, and that had later been hacked together to use accelerometer data too. (It turns out that the N95 had an accelerometer but used it more for device orientation when taking photographs than anything else).

So it turns out that so many of those ideas people had, like Upcoming, like Dopplr, like Flickr, turned out to be too early. They could see what technology could do and bring but the tools, materials and critical mass just weren’t all there at the same time. And sometimes, people forget that what happened was that simply something was too early, as opposed to completely the wrong thing.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nokia_Sports_Tracker


So I spent some time yesterday playing Ubisoft’s WATCH_DOGS, a so-on-the-nose-zeitgeist new aesthetic open world game all about resistance and surveillance and hacking and all that jazz. The visual direction is so bleeding edge it hurts: there’s glitch art all over the main menus, cutscenes themselves dissolve into broken MPEG blocks slip-sliding across the screen like those puzzle games with the missing square, ASCII art fades in through the background, interstitials are not rendered environments but instead 3D LIDAR pointclouds of a fictitious Chicago, and the protagonist character I swear spends his *entire* time staring at his phone.

So far, it’s your standard open world game. Ezio – I mean, Aiden – wanders around in his Assassin’s – I mean, vigilante’s outfit – and hides – I mean “uses cover” – and then trails people to surveil them and then picks their pockets – I mean hacks – them.

There was a bit of a weird moment where I think I did a mission by accident and ended up stranded in a new area of the map where I hadn’t unlocked any ctOS (hah! Get it? It’s a smart city operating system that when pronounced, sounds like ceetee oh ess!) and ended up running around wondering why I couldn’t hack anything (in this world, you simply aim yourself at a thing and if it’s hackable, you press square to hack, which, I guess, is sort of how real life works).

The only depressing thing so far (because otherwise it’s open world as usual) is that hacking minigames *still* can’t help presenting themselves as anything but slightly funkier and cyber-ier Pipe Mania minigames in that there are electrical circuits with cyber juice flowing through them and you need to redirect them from the start of the cyber juice, where it goes into the circuit, to where it needs to go, because all cyber juice misses its mum and wants to go home to finish the circuit.

But otherwise: yummy. And yes. There was an update I needed to download to my PS4, but I could play it without it. And there’s some in-game advertising, too! Nice one, Diesel.

[1] WatchDogs
PS4: http://amzn.to/1lRHfqg
PS3: http://amzn.to/RCm96V
Xbox One: http://amzn.to/1lRHphh
Xbox 360: http://amzn.to/1ouQwe4

Okay, that’s it. Notes please! Send them!