Two in One day!

Another email has flodded in! From yet another Stephen Bell would you believe? Steve says:

Hi, I’m Stephen Bell and would wish to join your list of Stephen Bells in the world.
I look forward to sharing my views on what it’s like to be called Stephen Bell and being constantly mistaken for the cartoonist Steve Bell. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

I’ll be back to you shortly, Steve! Coincidence is a strange thing, sometimes.


Steve Bells of the World Unite!

I received an email today from… Steve Bell. He said:

This is Steve Bell from Portsmouth, UK. I just thought I’d say hello. I found three other Steve Bells on the net. One is a gospel singer from Canada, another is an astronomer and the other is the political cartoonist from the UK. I work in Consumer Protection here in the UK. My interest is history and my website is about how my great Uncle died in World War two. Maybe we Steve Bells all ought to get together one day?

Well, if Dave Gorman can do it, why can’t we Steve Bells? If your name is also Steve Bell, do drop me a note from the Feedback Page, and if you’ve come here looking for a different Steve Bell altogether, there’s a set of links at the bottom of the right-hand margin to some others I have found.

In the meantime, I’ve added a link to Steve’s Website to that list. The site is not about him, but about The Royal Navy Ship HMS Glowworm. Do have a read, especially if you’re historically inclined.

3D Webcams are on the way

Click Here to Visit Microsoft Research Computer scientists at Microsoft’s research labs in Cambridge have developed “i2i”, a stereo camera for use with instant messaging technology that automatically frames and tracks its subject. This makes it seem that the user is looking at the camera, even they are actually looking at their PC screen: so video communication is more like a face-to-face conversation.

Using multiple webcams and a new algorithm, the technology creates a 3D image which can be rotated and viewed from many angles. Like 3D photography, this relies on combining two (or more) sets of camera data to produce one Cyclopean image. Unlike still photography however, the algorithm can produce the image in real time, on an ordinary laptop.

The team has also developed 3D emoticons. These can be keyed into the combined image, and appear to orbit around the users head!

Lead researcher Antonio Criminisi, who joined the research team at Microsoft from his post-doc work at Oxford, says the technology is not far off being ready for commercialisation. “Processor load is still an issue, but has come a long way in the last six months and will work respectably (at around 10 frames per second) on an unexceptional laptop now” he says.

There is, however, no guarantee that it will ever make it out of the lab and into product development. “It is what every researcher wants, to see your work make it in the real world, but we’ll wait and see,”

Once the system has worked out what is foreground and what is background, the background can be blurred, replaced, made monochrome and so on. The team is now working on a way of developing a 3D mask that could be wrapped over the users real face. This could be used to create avatars in games, for example. “Once you have reconstructed the 3D geometry of your image, there are so many cool things you can do,” says Criminisi. Click the picture above to see it in action.

New Internet Phone Technology: Skype VoIP

I like to tell you about new technology I have found. Here’s a stunning example of total brilliance.

Skype is Voice Over IP (VoIP) software that will enable you to make free calls anywhere in the world over your existng internet connection. OK, you’ll say we’ve been able to send voice over various ‘messenger’ type systems for ages, but they’ve never been much good. Exactly! Skype is superb. You only need your regular dial up or broadband connection and even a 33k connection will do. The quality is far better than anything I’ve heard before and certainly far better than a regular phone line. The delay is imperceptible, it’s fully two-way all the time. It doesn’t break, dip out, or degrade into low quality. There’s no microphone setup or settings to do, it ignores firewalls and it just works ‘Straight out of the box’. Oh yes, it’s also free!

Created by the people who brought you KaZaA, Skype uses genuinely innovative P2P (peer-to-peer) technology to connect you with other Skype users. Techies and even non-techies can read the technical explanation here. It’s very clever! It’s a radically new technology for VoIP communication. Skype is in beta test at the moment, but it’s already very useable and relible.

Skype is dead easy to install. Just download it, register, and within minutes you can call your friends on Skype. Skype calls are also highly secure with end-to-end encryption, which is vital in a peer to peer network. And, it’s worth repeating, Skype does not require you to reconfigure your firewall or router — it simply works!

Try it – you have nothing to lose – especially if you have friends and relations in foreign parts. Say goodbye to long distance phone bills.

Remember you heard it first at! Click the Skype Headset above to go to the site – and if you install it and want to try it out – give me a call! Skype Username: srbell

The Curse of Great Expectations

Click to Read Seth's Blog Once in a while, someone writes something that touches a nerve in all of us. One reads it and says “That’s what I think; I could have written that”. The fact is, I didn’t. Seth Godn wrote it. I usualy talk about marketing, new media and technology in this Blog. My excuse for repeating this here is that Seth Godin is one of my ‘heroes’ – the inventor of “Permission Marketing”.

In his blog he writes about what he calls “The Curse of Great Expectations”. I’m taking the liberty of repeating it in full – simply because it’s so good. I’m not alone in this, it has swiftly been repeated many times across the world. Do yourself a favour and stay with me for the three minutes it will take you to read this. Seth says . . .

I can benchmark everything now.

I can benchmark my morning workout. The rowing machine tells me if today’s workout was a personal best. Even better, I can go online and compare my workout to the efforts of thousands of other people.

On my way to work, I can track my mileage. (My record is 89 mpg). Once there, I can watch the status of my books on Amazon, comparing their sales to every other book published in the English language… and then go check out, where I can track the book’s performance over the last 90 days.

The problem with benchmarking is that nothing but continuous improvement (except maybe spectacular results) satisfies very much. Who wants to know that they will never again be able to beat their personal best rowing time? What entrepreneur wants to embrace the fact that the wait time at her new restaurant franchise is 20% behind the leader—and there’s no obvious way to improve it?

Our interconnected, 500-channel world lets us be picky. We can want a husband who is as tall as that guy, as rich as this guy and as loyal as my brother-in-law. We can ask for an apartment that is in just the right location, with just the right view and just the right rent—and then reject it because the carpeting in the hallway isn’t as nice as the one in the building next door. Monster lets us see 5,000 resumes for every job opening… and imagine that we can find someone with this guy’s education and that woman’s professional experience—who works as cheap as this person and is as local as that one.

In the old days, data was a lot harder to come by. You didn’t know everything about everyone. All the options weren’t right there, laid out in Froogle and compared by We didn’t have reality TV shows where each and every component of a singer’s presentation or a bridal prospect’s shtick were painstakingly compared.

Yes, benchmarking is terrific. Benchmarking is the reason that cars got so much better over the last twenty years. Benchmarking has the inexorable ability to make the mediocre better than average, and it pushes us to always outperform.

But it stresses us out. A benchmarked service business or product (or even a benchmarked relationship) is always under pressure. It’s hard to be number one, and even harder when the universe we choose to compare our options against is, in fact, the entire universe.

Of course, the boomers have this problem even worse (and we’re all boomers, aren’t we? Even if you’re not, we don’t care—it’s all about us). Boomers are getting older. We can benchmark our eyesight, our rowing speed, our memory or even our ability to come up with great ideas at a moment’s notice. As a result, we benchmark ourselves into a funk. We get stressed because we have to acknowledge that nothing is as good as it was.

In addition to the stress, benchmarking against the universe actually encourages us to be mediocre, to be average, to just do what everyone else is doing. The folks who invented the Mini (or the Hummer, for that matter) didn’t benchmark their way to the edges. Comparing themselves to other cars would never have created these fashionable exceptions. What really works is not having everything being up to spec… what works is everything being good enough, and one or two elements of a product or service being AMAZING.

So, I’m officially letting go. I’m going to stop comparing everything to my all time best, to your all time best, to everyone’s all time best. Instead of benchmarking everything, perhaps we win when we accept that the best we can do is the best we can do—and then try to find the guts to do one thing that’s remarkable.

If you wish to read Seth again, click the picture above.

Multi Media Messaging – not catching on!

According to a poll conducted by NOP, the mobile phone loving British have yet to embrace the multimedia messaging revolution.

T-Mobile, says 39% of new phones sold last year were MMS enabled, but users send a thousand times more SMS messages than MMS. This pattern is borne out right across the UK operators: NOP found that just over 55% of us have handsets capable of sending MMS messages. However, T-Mobile says that its network carried 4.39 million MMS messages in the UK in 2003, against 2.98 billion simple text messages. Yes, that was millions vs. billions!

There can be no blaming technophobia either. NOP reveals only 17 per cent of phone users didn’t know how how to send an MMS message. That means there are a lot of people out there who know how to send pictures, but are simply not doing it!

My view – phones are for talking with people and sending and receiving information. What with the prices for sending pictures being higher and the fact you can’t say, “Meet me outside the cinema at 7pm” in a picture, was it a pipe dream that we’d all want to send picture to one another?