Friday, November 21, 2008

Small changes can make all the difference.

Some apps wander around the wilderness for a while until they can find the perfect home. For Evernote, that home is the iPhone. The note-taking, picture-capturing, voice-recording, handwriting-recognizing universal memory service has been under development for years and launched last February in private beta on the PC. But it wasn’t until May 29 that it debuted on the iTunes store as an iPhone app. That’s when it started to take off.
That is from Tech Crunch, and it reminds us how context-dependent successful innovation can be. Just a modest change in the context can make all the difference between failure (or muddling along) and rapid adoption. The full post is worth reading.

Monday, November 17, 2008

We hold these truths to be self evident...or do we?

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Those words from the Declaration of Independence were written in 1776 by a team led by Thomas Jefferson. They marked a revolution in political history: the American colonies declared "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." The American revolution was not just the overthrowing of a despotic king's power, but also the founding of a new form of government.

Though all men were declared equal in 1776, a terrible political compromise meant people of certain racial heritages were not considered full men. Thus they were denied the unalienable rights of liberty and the pursuit of happiness (and often of life, too).

Nearly ninety years later, that terrible compromise fell apart. And standing on a bloody battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Abraham Lincoln declared:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

Lincoln led the country through that awful test, and proved that not only could such a nation endure, but that it could endure even as it defined African Americans as full men. Slavery was abolished.

Yet still African Americans were unable to enjoy their full rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It was another ninety years before the Supreme Court (in Brown v. Board of Education) declared segregation of public schools to be unconstitutional in a case argued by Thurgood Marshall.

And still discrimination and even segregation continued for years.

This month's election of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the US marks, I hope, the beginning of the end of our heritage of racism in the US. Even most Americans with opposing political views are happy that this nation has voted to affirm at last that African Americans are created equal. This is cause for some pride and celebration, even though it took us over 230 years.

Which raises for me the following: Now that we have fully affirmed that our fellow black countrymen have full rights, what is the next frontier? Who among our neighbors are still suffering from discrimination? Who among us are unable to exercise their full rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? 

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Four Score and Seven Years Ago...

It was a wonderful night in my neighborhood after the election results came in last Tuesday.  I live in the U Street neighborhood of Washington, DC -- the old center of African American culture and business.  Duke Ellington was born just a couple of blocks away.  Now the neighborhood is highly mixed racially, culturally, and socio-economically.

At 11 pm, when the polls in California closed, the networks all called the race for Obama.  Almost instantly a huge roar went up from all quarters:  people opened their windows and cheered, other poured out of the restaurants and bars and sang, total strangers hugged on the streets, and cars honked their horns.  I finally went to sleep at 2 am, but the celebrations continued until 4 am or later.

Because I had to travel to California the next day, I never got a chance to put my feelings to paper.  And since then, many people (from all parts of the political spectrum) have commented more eloquently than I could about the meaning of the elections.   But of everything I have read and seen, perhaps nothing sums it up better than the cover of the New Yorker that arrived today:

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

How elections will change

It's been a much more positive election season this year than four years ago. Even Alex Tabarrok voted (for the first time). Change is in the air. But the election process itself is still stuck in the middle ages.

I had to stand in line today for more than an hour and a half before voting. And while I like the idea of going to a common place to vote and meeting my neighbors, thirty minutes would be plenty.

I have been struck by the huge gulf between: (a) the technology used to recruit voters and raise money; and (b) the technology used to record votes. The voter recruitment and fundraising efforts leverage Facebook, Skype, LinkedIn, email, text messaging, and Twitter. Voting still involves for the most part standing in line. Even the voting machines are nothing really new - we had mechanical versions of those in rural Kentucky in the 1960s.

A lot of people turned out today (and more voted early) because they felt so strongly about the state of the country and the candidates. But we can't take for granted next time. If we want to keep voter turnout high, we need to find a much better way to let people vote, probably via the internet.