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“Got kitesurfing on the mind, mixed with some search & classification tech, and a dab of political ranting”

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Windy, Gusty, Short Ebb to Big Flood…welcome to Crissy Field and the EPIC Demo Day

Posted by direwolff on March 25, 2010

What a crazy afternoon it was today. Managed to get out with some of local racers, which included Chip Wasson, while it was still ebbing at Crissy Field. Started by pumping up an EPIC Renegade 9m, but with the lulls dropping in, thought better of it and also pumped up an EPIC Renegade 11m. Knowing that Dimitri Maramenides of EPIC Kites would be visiting our Nor Cal enclave, I figured lots of people would be wanting to try his kites so it couldn’t hurt to have extra ones pumped up. Of course, as it turned out, any of these kites would have been fine as the wind persisted nicely, albeit gusty on occasion.

Wind at Crissy Field (San Francisco, CA)

Got out on the 11m Renegade towards the end of the ebb current and made it out to the Golden Gate Bridge. Always a lovely site and there was some nice swell heading from mid span crossing towards the other side of the north tower of the bridge, that was rockin’. Also caught up with a few tourist ferries, which make for some great swell riding as long as you can keep up with them. While I’ve ridden the Renegade 9m, this was my first time on the 11m and what struck me was how smooth and consistently it turns, just like the 9m. I just didn’t feel the size difference in the reaction of the kite. This of course is EPIC’s wave kite, but it’s so stable and predictable that you can really ride in any condition. The bar is very reactive and powered, which is great when wanting to keep your turns strong on a wave or on the swells put out by the ferries.

EPIC Renegade 11m

After about an hour or so of awesome riding under the bridge, I returned to shore to find Dimitri and his new bride, Helen, ready to enjoy the Crissy vibe. Dimitri rushed up to me to get me to try out the Screamer 12m which is a completely different kite. It’s also very different than the Screamer 10m LTD which is the other kite I have. It didn’t take much convincing to take the Screamer out for spin. Of course, it was nuking by this time and anything bigger than a 9m was totally unnecessary, but I thought it would be good to put the bigger kite to the test, especially on a directional board, so I could see how much wind it could withstand.

EPIC Screamer 12m

To my surprise, this kite not only had very light bar pressure despite the 25+ gusts we were getting, but it was totally stable in what would certainly be overpowered conditions for most 12m kites. It also handled great around turns, and you could only tell the full power of the kite by boosting a jump and realizing that it was keeping a lot bottled up. On any jump, it would unleash its fury and you’d get really scary BIG air. The thought of a kite offering that much control in that much wind with so little bar pressure is unheard of to me. It’s a very different shaped kite than the Renegade, but one that you have to take seriously. For unhooked tricks in any conditions, this would be the superior kite, since you’d be sacrificing nothing in terms of performance in order to get some very forgiving bar pressure.

Lots of kiters got a chance to trial these kites, and all came back raving about the different features of each kite. Because I like to ride a lot of waves, I naturally prefer the all in power of the Renegades, but secretly I harbor desires to have full quivers of both Renegades and Screamers to match my mood of the day.

As the flood tide moved into action and the winds got gustier, those trying the kites were still having no problems making it back to shore. One friend even went out on the 9m Renegade and managed to get back in what seemed to be very light winds. The downstroke power of the Renegade gets you through any adverse low wind circumstances.

Needless to say, I’m a big fan of these kites and recommend that anyone considering new kites at least give these babies a try out. Looks like Dimitri is sticking around the SF Bay area one more day on Thursday (3/25/10), and if the winds come up on the coast, he will likely be doing another demo day at Ocean Beach, otherwise he will be back at Crissy Field. Look for tweets about where he will be for the demo on the Epic Kites site.

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Great coverage of the Cabrinha Race Series 2008, first event

Posted by direwolff on April 26, 2008

Steve Gunn from Cabrinha Kites wrote up a great recap and shared some cool pics of the first Cabrinha Race Series 2008 event from Thursday April 17th here.  While it’s a beautiful site to see all of these colored kites nicely ordered making their way to the start, being in the pack of racers is pretty crazy and feels a lot less organized ;)  A blast was had by all though, and I highly recommend this event.

Here’s the newly designed perpetual trophy for the event…

Very cool to have Cabrinha involved in this event and even nicer to see two good friends in Anthony Chavez (as 2006 champion) and Jeff Kafka (as 2007 champion), have their names mounted first.  2008 should bring some great fun and competition to this event, if this first race is any sign of what’s to come.

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Cool Aussies and a discussion about Plaxo

Posted by direwolff on April 22, 2008

While at the SocialMedia Happy Hour this afternoon met some cool Aussies, one of which I knew while the other two became new acquaintances. One of them is involved in some of the social media standards work going on behind the scenes, but for the purposes of this post, it’s not necessary to mention who they were.

As we discussed the various social media services we somehow got to Plaxo with me stating that since the beginning of Plaxo’s release, I was always impressed with the service. But while I found it theoretically elegant and worthwhile, I was never able to get past the point of distant admiration to the point of becoming a registered user. For the life of the service and the changes and evolution that they have undergone, it’s teams have always been bright, but some how that just wasn’t enough to get me over the hump of adoption. Even where I’ve been an early user of just about every social network that came out during the initial years, services like Ryze, Friendster, LinkedIn, Tribe, MySpace, Vox and Facebook once it opened up, Plaxo was just never an option.

In discussing this with my acquaintances, I was surprised by the fact that both of them echoed the exact same sentiments. Both praised the service yet neither one of them was a member. Now with Comcast having acquired them, or so the very persistent rumors go, it’s not likely to be a choice for any of us at all, but what was it that kept us away, I wonder. It’s very perplexing to me how many folks I’ve talked to who understand the service (pre-Pulse), who thought it was a useful service, who thought highly of folks like Joe Smarr, but who never joined or leveraged this power to maintain their address book in this distributed service. It’s something I’m going to ponder further, as it’s requiring me to be very introspective about what seems like it should have been a natural choice application for me.

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Not a Big Fan of Personalized Search

Posted by direwolff on March 9, 2007

As I’ve previously mentioned in other posts, I’m not a huge fan of personalized search. Gord Hotchkiss on the blog “Search Engine Land” provides an overview of why he likes it and what many of the objections arising from this topic are. While he does a good job outlining “The Pros & Cons of Personalized Search“, there’s a section that crystalizes for me the myth of personalized search. Specifically, Hotchkiss writes:

Imagine you had two alternatives when you went shopping. One is a vast department store which carried everything you could possibly imagine. The store is usually well organized and everything is well labeled, but it’s up to you to navigate through the store and find what you’re looking for. There’s no one to really help you, although there are a number of useful signs to keep you pointed in the right direction.

The other option small store ran by a store owner who you deal with all the time; a store owner that knows you as a friend, knows your personal likes and dislikes and always seems to find just the right thing for you. In fact, all you have to do is say what you’re looking for in a few words, and based on how well he knows you, the store owner runs in the back and never fails to bring back exactly the right product, in the right size and the right color.

The first scenario describes where search is today. The second scenario describes where search wants to go in the future. As the scope of the Internet gets larger and larger, the need for personalization to bring it within our scope becomes more and more important. Search had a tough enough job when it was just trying to connect us with websites.

Well, by the standards he describes in his second scenario, I’d say that if there’s such a thing as a store owner that was good enough to know the right product, the right size and the right color about any product I desired, we would call her a psychic, and she should quickly get out of the store owning business as there are more lucrative ways to use such talent. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, it’s all about context, and while there might be some context to extract from search history for some future searches, this is not a universal phenomena that can be indiscriminately applied across all future searches.

Disambiguation as Gord discusses it, is an issue, and indeed search engines are poor at that (though I agree that Quintura has done something innovative here, and I’m a fan of Vivisimo’s Clusty for their efforts here too). You’d think the search engines would start with some basic things here, like trying to derive semantic relatedness of terms used in a query when there’s more than one. Heck, even people in their daily interaction require disambiguation assistance. Some of these clues come in facial expressions and tone of voice, but these are only guides and when they don’t suffice we ask another question (it’s called communication). Why should it be any different with a search engine? Sorry, but I don’t buy that users are being asked to do too much given how little they already do in entering one to three word queries. Users are not currently communicating effectively with search engines. But let’s discuss the context issue a bit more since I believe it’s at the core of the solutions being attempted in the various personalization methods.

Searching for an Italian restaurant and seeing those in my neighborhood come to the top of the list is nice contextualization of the results. This could be addressed today by looking at the IP address of the searcher. Now, this would be a very bad way to do this if I live in Oakland but want to have dinner in San Francisco. Hence, why I need to tell the system a location in the form of city & state or zip code. What if I follow this up with a search request for theatre tickets, should I see these sorted by places near the restaurant locations I previously clicked on? Perhaps a nice way to sort the results except that I wanted the theatre tickets for another night…doh! In spending some time thinking about my search behavior, I find that search histories are useful when I want to re-find something that I know I previously looked for, but I’m not a fan of applying them to form some sort of context. Much like I’m not a fan of having my friends’ search activity impacting my results. Every search isn’t about a recommendation.

Context is a very difficult notion that includes multiple axes, only some of which can be captured by a computer and the data around the activities that I’m involved with. Already I mentioned facial expressions and tone of voice as some of the “tells” that help context. Note that when we interact with someone on the phone and don’t have these “tells” to help us out, our conversations require longer interactions and more communication. This is why I believe that communicating with computers requires people being more educated how to do so more effectively, while technology can continue to get better at helping us disambiguate language. It’s not about divination and replacing the human effort, which seems to be the kick that all of those talking about personalized search are on, but it’s about making it easier for people to communicate their intent.

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Mainstream Media going the way of Retailers, ’bout time!

Posted by direwolff on November 16, 2006

In the Spring of 1994, I joined a new group at Reuters, where I was tasked with exploring the business opportunities for Reuters on the Internet. What a gig. This was my first job straight out of the MBA program I had just completed where I radically changed my career direction from being an systems analyst to hopping into the biz dev world. I couldn’t believe they’d pay someone to do this job. Heck, I would have done it for free or just lunch money if they had offerred it to me that way. While I have many memories of those days, the one feeling that stands out the most, was how incredulous it felt that so many large companies, whose products and services could be made more easily accessible over the Internet, were resisting it so.

Two categories of companies really surprised me the most. First it was the retailers. Here was a group that was already accustomed to having a catalog business running in parallel to their physical stores, and for some reason instead of running, they were crawling up to the starting line of (at the time) the Information Superhighway. To this day, I credit Amazon‘s success to the “wait & see” attitude of all of the big retailers. Even Barnes & Noble, who was the most obviously threatened by this new start-up’s foray, stayed on the sidelines for a while before finally jumping in. Just given B&N’s brand, they would have commanded significant attention and customers early in the going, but instead, they sat it out and Amazon ran away with the category. Sure, there were several other causes for Amazon’s success, but this benchwarming attitude by most retailers during the first year or two that retail start-ups came into being, really hurt them.

Mainstream Media had already been doing the dance with the online services like AOL, Compuserve, Prodigy, and a host of other smaller players. However, they kept the good stuff away, in part because of bandwidth issues and the limited broadband adoption, at least in the U.S. But as things opened up more, and broadband deployments increased they still withheld their content from being made accessible online. Video being the content that lots of people wanted to share and discuss contextually. When the water cooler discussions moved to the Net, discussions about what happened on the Jay Leno Show the previous night with people who might have missed it, really could use the context of the video. Well, with the advent of services like YouTube, only a couple of years in existence, it has been interesting to see how users have effectively forced the hand of media companies (through piracy of all things) to begin opening up the vaults and making that video content accessible, as text has over the past 8 to 10 years now.

While it seemed obvious to many of my new media (by the standards of the mid ’90s) peers, that media companies with video content should be making that more easily available as there are plenty of ways to monetize this, and people like Fred Wilson talked up the idea of microchunking as the way to go, it was YouTube that forced every one’s hand. And so today’s announcement from Comedy Central, that they plan to facilitate syndication of their own content is welcomed while also being one of those “I told you so” type of events that also makes you wonder, “why did it take you so long to do this?”. I guess all that matters is that they’ve done it, and for that we’re all grateful and hope this is the beginning of all video content companies open things up like this.

Next up, the wireless carriers opening up their platforms more completely (see every other country for examples of what this means). That’s one that’s way beyond its time.

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In the beginning…

Posted by direwolff on May 21, 2006

…there was my Blogger blog. Just sucked it up here so that I can consolidate it with some other blogs that I started several months later as I was assessing the various platforms.  With the flexibility offered by the WordPress environment I feel that I’ll be better able to experiment with the various interesting widgets that I’ve been seeing out there in the blogosphere. Let the fun begin.

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