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Archive for February, 2012

Zillow partners with Tom Ferry.

To say one word more is one too many.

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  • 6 comments

    Ask the Broker: Has going FSBO lost its fizz?

    This came in over the transom. I’m not answering the whole question. To say the truth, I feel as if I’m being shopped with every conceivable infraction in the HUD handbook. So, you, too, please do also exercise restraint on the subject of commissions. For all of me, the FSBO question is more interesting, anyway.

    From my interlocutor:

    We are selling our home in a very upscale part of Atlanta. We want to do it “by owner” using one of several services advertised on line. Who pays the buyer’s agent and what percentage? We’ve been told its negotiable but too little and no one will show it. The home will sell in the $400,000 range if that makes a difference.

    I start here: I want to know more about “one of several services advertised on line.”

    I don’t know the real estate market in Atlanta, but this strikes me as being a very poor time to sell without the MLS. If the “services advertised” are limited service MLS listings — which is as far as anyone should go, in my opinion, down the “by owner” road — then those listing agents can address the commission questions.

    The seller will definitely be paying the buyer’s agent, of course: If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product — an idea that never seems to occur to home buyers.

    But I think it would be a huge marketing disadvantage to forego the MLS. In the age of the internet, an MLS listing is more valuable than ever before. (I think this has come up lately in the Dipshit Broker News, but I stopped following that crap years ago.)

    But even more than that, I think the right full-service listing agent can more than repay his marginal cost. The house is unlikely to attract a lot of attention if it is not listed in the MLS system, but, even then, if it is not marketed to its fullest advantage, it will sell more slowly and for less money than it could have.

    My take is that most listing agents aren’t worth a damn, but the right agent will bring home more money than he costs with a lot less aggravation, a double profit. For Sale By Owner as a business model has made less and less sense to me in this seemingly endless downturn. By now, paying a buyer’s agent but not a marketing agent just seems like a colossal error to me.

    That argument is probably an easy sell in this crowd, but I’m interested in hearing about if I’ve gone wrong.

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  • The FSBO and BUBBA variety hour: How to make the buyer’s agents dance . . .

  • 16 comments

    Lunchtime links: Will the robo-signing settlement fail? Will Western Civ collapse to ruins? Who cares? Sheldon Cooper lives!

    From good friend of the dawgs, Jim Klein, comes this grim reminder of the times we live in: SurvivalRealty.com.

    Todd Zywicki finds the robo-signing settlement unsettling.

    But despair you nothing: There is a real-life Sheldon Cooper going to high school in Nevada.

    Limited lunchtime? Give it all to the third article. It’s the best read, and the most inspiring. The world runs by itself, but your spirit does not. Feed it wisely.

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  • 1 comment

    Experts Smexperts – It’s About Results – Go Tear ‘Em a New One!

    I love it when life presents an example in real time, don’t you? In pro sports, basketball included, the surprise superstar, even if it’s only potential, is fairly rare. What with video tape, computers, and sophisticated scouting systems, it’s very difficult for a player with serious game to fall through the cracks. Add so-called ‘super scouts’ to the menu, and it becomes even more unlikely.

    Though I’m open to your take, in my lifetime, the biggest ‘miss’ in pro sports has been recently retired Major League Baseball catcher Mike Piazza. The only reason he was drafted at all was cuz his Godfather, Tommy Lasorda, as a favor to Mike’s dad, called his name in the 62nd round of the 1988 Amateur Draft. Apparently ALL of baseball’s vaunted experts, including their super scouts, deemed the 1,389 players taken before him as having superior potential.

    How wrong were they?

    He retired in May of ’08 after having hit more homers than any MLB catcher who ever wore a uniform. More than Yogi Berra. More than Johnny Bench. More than Carlton Fisk. More than all of ‘em. There’ve been just 10 players in the history of Major League Baseball who’ve hit 400 home runs while sportin’ a lifetime batting average over .300 — while never striking out more than 100 times in a season. Piazza’s a member of that wicked elite group.

    The Captain Obvious statement of the year is that he’s a slam dunk first ballot Hall of Famer when his name comes up in the next year or two.

    He was drafted as a favor. Baseball’s brain trust appraised his talent as virtually without value. Think about it. Every single MLB team drafted over 40 players they thought had more potential to at least reach the Bigs than did Mike Piazza.

    So much for reliable talent evaluation. ‘Course, there are the excuse makers who now say, in their defense, that he never showed the incredible talent he demonstrated so soon thereafter. We’ve all heard of late bloomers. Shoot, I are one. But a sure first ballot Hall of Famer never shows even one scout a whisper of a hint that maybe he’s as good as the 1,000th guy taken in that year’s draft?

    The experts are now makin’ the same lame excuses about why they passed on Jeremy Lin. The difference? Lin absolutely showed what he could be since high school. He’s played lights out everywhere he’s been given the ball. When he’s at the helm, his team wins. His stats at Harvard are unmatched in the basketball history of the school. His high school in Palo Alto was in Stanford’s backyard. All they did with Lin as their point guard was win win win. Yet, Standford’s brain trust didn’t even deem him skilled enough for a scholarship. So much for the geniuses there. It’s called results. All he does is produce wins. Maybe the most impressive stat he’s produced so far is found in the Knicks’ team field goal percentage. (% of attempted shots made.) Around 43% before Lin. About 64% in his first 7-8 games with him at point guard.

    Oh, did I mention the team’s two super stars were outa the lineup for all but two of those games? Only one is back now. In his first eight games with Lin controlling the action at point guard, the Knicks won all but one. With their two superstars, but sans Lin, they were winning only about a third of the time. Hhmmm.

    The Warriors passed on him, as did the Rockets. To be fair, his days with the Knicks were probably nearing an end ’til both their superstars were snatched from the starting lineup due to an injury and a tragic death in the family.

    Ultimately it’s never about anything but results.

    I used Piazza and Lin cuz they were/are pro athletes, and cuz I could. I also chose them as examples of those who, for whatever reason(s) were reckoned by ‘experts’ as lacking in essential skill sets.

    Ever felt you’ve been underestimated?

    Boy, I sure have. As the boss’s son, my career began being measured by a bar so high I couldn’t relate to it or begin to understand it, much less aspire to meet it. At 18 years old, I wasn’t five months past my senior freakin’ prom. My best defense (unknown to me at the time), was being so massively ignorant I never realized I shoulda been scared @%#*less. Other agents mistook my ignorance-based bliss for fearlessness. What a farce. It’s funny now, but back then? I thank God for that ignorance.

    Have those around you given you the distinct feeling they don’t expect you to excel? Have you accepted their apparent appraisal?

    Long ago I learned pickin’ future big-time producers in a real estate office is a worthless endeavor. I’ve seen housewives with no experience whatsoever explode with production. Seen a Chinese immigrant who barely spoke the language, and even then was scarcely understood, embarrass an entire company with his results.

    I’ll never forget the meeting attended by all the offices. The brokerage owner was singing this guy’s praises when he heard another agent mutter under his breath, “Nobody can understand a word he says.” The owner quickly, and while laughin’ his ass off, retorted, “Well, tough guy, apparently the owners of the nine homes he listed last month understood him well enough.” The office erupted in laughter. That agent taught me much the next few years.

    It’s about results.

    Winners — big-time producers — aren’t picked. They emerge. Ever noticed that in anything in life, people wanna know the final result before anything else? It’s only when the final results are known, that they wanna know how they were produced. Johnny’s walkin’ home from his Little League game, and his buddy’s father next door sees him. What’s the first question he asks the kid? It’s ‘who won’? Right? Only then does he query the boy how he did personally.

    How many potential athletes never made it to the Bigs in their sport cuz they bought in to how others assessed them? We’ll never know, but I imagine it’s been hundreds. A scout tells a high school kid he simply doesn’t ‘have what it takes’. The kid gives up, cuz the scout knows, right?

    Nobody knows — except maybe you.

    Sure, it’s cliché, but you know what you’re willing to do to succeed on a large scale. You also realize the only person who’s been holding you back is you. Experts can’t scout character. They can’t see heart. They don’t have the beginning of a clue what you’re capable of producing.

    42 years in the business and I still can’t predictably pick two big time producers in a row. In fact, the next time I pick one out before everyone knows it, will be the first. All of us carry within us the seed of superstardom. The first step you can take to nurture that seed?

    Stop listening to the morons who’ve already pigeonholed you. I’m here to tell ya they’re clueless.

    Now — go tear ‘em a new one!

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  • 9 comments

    Schmoozing on-line with the Junior League may or may not get you a listing, but TwitBooking is corporate networking on steroids.

    Spam from ARMLS:

    On February 13, 2012, at a Special Called Meeting of the ARMLS Board of Directors, Bob Bemis tendered his resignation notice as ARMLS CEO, to accept the newly created position of Vice President of Partner Relations for Zillow, Inc. in Seattle.

    Good on him. I’m thinking the retirement plan might be better, although I wonder how Bemis will fare in a non-DMV environment. I might start to worry about an echo-chamber, too, if it were me at the helm, but I don’t have much to do with social media — or with that kind of networking — to begin with.

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  • 1 comment

    Those Entering the Arena Daily Know the Secret To Skinnin’ Cats – And It Ain’t About Tryin’ Really Really Hard

    What I love about our business is that there’re no points awarded for effort. With rare exceptions, it’s a heartless, merit based culture. Trying really really hard is for first time T-Ballers. Real estate owners don’t sign contracts promising to pay us for our efforts. They agree to pay when we produce 100% of the results outlined in that contract. 99% = go fish, no paycheck. The rest qualifies as ‘the dog ate my homework’ crappola. Coincidentally, this is why the vast majority of new agents make like steam and disappear in their first year or two. They found out the hard way, that in the real world, the world refusing to pay for anything less than the bargained for results, attempting never equals achievement.

    Apparently, to buyers and sellers of real estate, results matter — they matter big time.

    I write this post to those agents who’ve been workin’ like dogs, without much reward. Been there, lived that. I sympathize and empathize. You’ve already demonstrated what’s most lacking in our industry, a consistently OldSchool work ethic. Allow me to gently redirect your energy.

    Join the Brother/Sisterhood of Gladiators — enter the arena of those who value achievement, read: results, over the culture of ‘Participation Trophies’.

    There are two kinds of licensees. Those who enter the arena daily, and those who work their asses off to avoid the arena at all costs. The former generally make an excellent to elite living. The latter either struggle from year to year, or find what we often refer to as a W-2 job. The key factor in the new career is that they get paid whether they produce optimum results or not. There’s no arena involved.

    In real estate, we’re more or less bounty hunters. No skinned cat, no paycheck. No exceptions.

    We’re almost at the halfway point of 2012′s first quarter. If you’re able to look at your activities since January 1st in written form, do so. What percentage of your time were you either prospecting, belly to belly with a prospective client, or, like one of my mentors used to say, ‘out among ‘em, talking’?

    If you, like the bulk of your colleagues, are spending most of your time doin’ things disguised as productive work, but in reality designed to avoid having folks tell you ‘no’, I have some advice. Leave the business now. You’ve already embarked on your exit strategy — and I’m here to tell ya it’ll work like a charm. It’s been a tried and true game plan for generations now. It’s the surest way I know to make minimum wage as a real estate agent.

    The hundreds of thousands of agents who’ve been told this before, thought they could Gump their way to the big money too. They were just as outa touch as the majority of today’s agents are.

    To Repeat: Those unwilling to enter the arena daily are doomed to abject failure.

    Your only hope is to join a team whose leader is a gladiator. They’ll do all the fighting for you, hand you leads they’ve generated, then show you how to convert them to closed transactions. Tragically, most agents have shown over time that they can’t succeed even when spoon fed directly by a gladiator. Ask any team leader. They’ll roll their eyes in agreement — and astonishment.

    The #1 reason 70-80% of agents are outa the business in a couple years or sooner is cuz they simply refuse to do what’s known to work — what they must know in their heart of hearts will work. There is no #2. Proof of their fear of rejection? They tend to fail at nearly the same rate even when ‘protected’ by a gladiator. Therefore, they’re limited to transactions fallin’ outa the sky.

    If the perusal of your 2012 schedule/activities shows you’re playin’ dodgeball with what really works, be honest. Ask yourself why? Then ask yourself what’s stoppin’ you from quickly morphing into a gladiator. Then ask yourself, why not? It’s not magic. It’s a decision. A decision you can easily choose to make — or not. If all else fails, ask yourself how your current strategy has been workin’ out for ya lately.

    Those makin’ the good money are battling in the arena every day. They do it with OldSchool methods, high tech ‘systems’, blogs, you name it. The common denominator between them, the elephant in the room for those avoiding it like the plague, is they embrace the possibility of rejection. Unlike Rome’s gladiators, they learned rejection doesn’t mean certain death. It’s a million dollar epiphany.

    The Takeaway

    In fact, and here’s the takeaway, experienced gladiators will tell ya that rejection affects them the same way the death of an anonymous cockroach does. It literally means nothing to them. That gives them a monstrous advantage over their competition. It always has, and it always will.

    And that, ladies and gents, is why tryin’ really really hard, doesn’t matter a whit to your success, when all you’re doin’ is workin’ yourself to death avoiding what actually puts cat skins on your wall.

    Let me help you get started. The arena is just around that corner over there. The gate’s always open. Anyone is welcome to enter.

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  • 13 comments

    Two years ago, when the iPad was introduced, I said: “Google and MicroSoft can’t even copy genius.”

    Vide licet:

    With the iPad and its closed software universe, has Steve Jobs committed an unforced error — unnecessarily created an obvious opening for Google and MicroSoft to compete?

    Today, Google says: “If you throw enough crap at the wall, sooner or later something’s gotta stick.”

    Today, Microsoft says: “Pigs will eat anything.”

    The revolution is not the technology.

    This is the revolution: The consumer is now in charge.

    Learn to love it — or get liquidated. PT Barnum’s day in the marketplace is done.

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  • 6 comments

    Picking Our Pockets One Wallet at a Time

    “State and federal officials say the settlement could eventually help as many as a million households. Roughly 750,000 borrowers who lost their homes to foreclosure between 2008 and 2011 will get a cash payment of about $2,000.”

    Oh, I appreciate there are gory details in this $25 billion settlement, but I don’t give a damn.  My money…your money, going to folks who lost their homes to foreclosure?  And by the way, before you tell me “the banks are paying”, please rely on one of the classic rules of economics:  ”He has who has the gold makes the rules.”  This ain’t no free lunch for any of us.  Costs get (that’s right……everyone raise their hands) passed along to the consumers, which would be you and me, foreclosed upon or not.

    Holy crap!  These are criminals who continue to pick my pocket, skim off some for themselves, and then redistribute to hard luck cases, while insidiously destroying all of the good faith any of us had in basic right and wrong.  This story gets a headline for a couple of days.  Then the banks entrench and stretch out their liabilities as far as the eye can see, with no apparent benefit accruing to the average homeowner, and a significant token of mea culpa passed along to a some small group of apparently disenfranchised, needier than their neighbors, down and outers.

     Well, you group of Attorney’s General, banks and the glorified Fed….you can’t pick my pockets any more.

     

     

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  • 3 comments

    Wow… And you thought the gonophs at ReMax were mercenary…

    Spam today from RealtyExecutives, which really used to matter in Phoenix:

    I love the monthly fee with the huge, larcenous split. RealtyExecs actually invented the 100% commission plan. It was that idea that Dave Liniger spirited away to Denver, where he founded ReMax. He discovered right away that a 100% brokerage is a giant cash sink — for the broker — but, luckily, his minions in Canada figured out how to combine the 100% claim with a hidden 5% split. Liniger flies in a private jet today because his 100% commission brokerages are all actually split shops.

    Still, $95 a month plus a 15% split is a little steep. HomeSmart will do you a monthly deal for twenty-five bucks plus E&O. But before its ignominious bankruptcy, RealtyExecutives was charging on the order of $750 a month — nine grand a year! — whether you closed anything or not. In the interim, a whole lot of Big Names have moved from RealtyExecs to HomeSmart.

    I love the rest of the ad, though: 78% of RealtyExecutives’ agents made less than six figures in 2011. And if the average agent closed 12 deals, that suggests that a whole bunch of those agents sold five houses or fewer last year.

    And to think: You could be an “executive” too!

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  • 7 comments

    Debunking Artificial Intelligence — while programming your computer to be almost as smart as your dog.

    Everything you’ve been taught about Artificial Intelligence for your whole life is false. AI researchers are not frauds, I don’t think, but they’re exuberant when they talk to reporters, and the reporters are ignorant, thoughtless and brash. In real life, AI is Siri, which can reliably lead you to the nearest closed-down super-market. In your imagination, AI is C-3PO, who can lecture you on Chinese lithography while clobbering you at backgammon.

    This is the truth — and telling the truth about AI is as rash as telling the truth about Anthropogenic Global Warming or abortion, an incitation to a frothy wrath: There is no Artificial Intelligence anywhere — nor will there be any time soon, if ever. This is a case where new theory really is required. The theories currently being deployed in AI research will produce ever-more-competent Siris — which achievements will be hailed as “proof” of Artificial Intelligence — but they will never produce any actual intelligence.

    Why? Ontology and teleology, of course.

    AI fails because it is not actually attempting to model intelligence but simply to mimic the effects of intelligence. In this respect, AI is a cargo cult, and its argument of “proof” is the same as that of any cargo cult: Post hoc, ergo propter hocafter this, therefore because of this. If the destination turned out to be a super-market, even if it’s a bankrupt super-market, then Siri is “intelligent.”

    Just that much is an error of identification. When you play chess against your iPhone, this is not “man versus machine,” it’s you versus a team of programmers — and they’re cheating, which is how they win. If you could pop out to do 50,000 pre-programmed calculations per move, you’d kick their program’s ass.

    It is that error of identification that produces all the absurd AI claims in the popular media: Someone is doing something differently! It must be a miracle! So far, there is nothing in AI that cannot be adequately explained as human ratiocination. The fact that software is written in advance does not mean that the process is driven by anything other than human intelligence. The output of all software is never anything more than the consequence of interactions among human beings — the end-user and the programmers. Any intelligence you perceive is 100% human in origin.

    To infer is to follow a rule of inference, but to originate that rule of inference is an entirely different process. That statement alone risks a new cargo cult: A smart computer would generate its own rules of inference! That won’t help, alas. Organisms — the only entities we know of that exhibit traits we might describe as intelligence — are internally-motivated to act, where computers and software are not. Oops! Another cargo cult: Motivated computers! Sorry, that won’t work, either. Whatever it is that makes organisms want to stay alive, there is nothing made by the mind of man that evidences anything even remotely like a will to live.

    (And the micro-biologists can stand down. They don’t make life, they mix and match pre-existing components they don’t know how to make from scratch. But: If there is a hope for new AI theory, my money would be on the biologists, not on computer scientists.)

    Every organism is aware of its environment to some degree, but there is no such thing as computing hardware or software that is aware in this way. Siri is not as smart as a helpful child. Siri is not even as smart as an amoeba. Siri is not aware of anything, ever, nor is any other piece of AI technology. This is a fundamental ontological misidentification, and it is the source of all the absurd claims made about Artificial Intelligence. In due course, we are going to talk about “intelligent” responses to signaling events, but the ability of hardware and software to detect some of those events and to respond “appropriately” is simply more computer chess: Canned ratiocination, human reasoning done in advance and encoded in that hardware and software.

    In this respect, Artificial Intelligence is a dancing-bear theory:

    [T]here are only three kinds of social science “news” stories. When the “news” deigns to inform you of your nature or your mental acumen, the breathless revelation will come in one of these forms:

    1. We now know we know nothing!

    2. Your good behavior is not to your credit, but at least your bad behavior is not your fault!

    3. Dancing Bears are just as smart as you!

    The purpose of a dancing bear story — always — is to induce you to denigrate your own mind. I don’t believe this is what the AI researchers are doing, but they sure aren’t doing anything to correct the popular misapprehension of what software can and cannot do. The ignorant, thoughtless, brash reporters may or may not be in on the conspiracy to undermine human intelligence and free will, but, either way, their work product is a manifestation of the unavoidable consequences of philosophical premises: Our culture is at war with the mind, and dancing bear stories of all types are just individual intellectual bombs in that conflict.

    Here’s some good news: Dancing bears do have a purpose, even if it’s not to induce human beings to spit on their own beautiful minds. And here’s some even better news: Dancing bears, even though they are not and cannot be what we insist they are, can be very useful vehicles in the pursuit of the fully-human life.

    An actual dancing bear is pretty useless, unless you’re coming up on your fifth birthday, but human civilization as we know it would not exist in its present form if we had not gotten very good at training animals. Beasts of burden still matter to many human economies, but most of the trained animals in America, by now, are pets. And the pet that matters most to Americans is the very best dancing bear in the history of human life on earth: Canis familiaris, the family dog.

    If “intelligence” is defined a certain way, your dog is intelligent in the same way all non-human organisms are intelligent: It is equipped by nature to be aware of its environment and to respond in ways that are usually appropriate to its circumstances. Non-human organisms are not conceptually aware, so your dog does not know what’s really happening nearby. It simply has elaborate pattern-matching systems — each one “defended” in the dog-brain analog of post hoc, ergo propter hoc — that it deploys to respond to events it has encountered before. If you put a puppy in front of a mirror, it will bark and growl, on the guidance of its instincts. An older dog will not do this, because it will have modified its responses to account for things that look like dogs but have no scent at all. (And that last claim is fundamentally indefensible, since I have no way of discovering what goes on inside a dog’s brain. All I can do is draw inferences from its observed behavior.)

    A dog is certainly not intelligent in the ways you are most likely to claim it is: It does not love you in any conceptual way — it cannot identify a concept like love — and it does not know how you feel — nor even that feelings can be identified and conceptualized. Dancing bears are not at all like human beings, for the simple reason that no non-human organism is capable of identifying and acting upon concepts abstracted from the chaos of sensory information in the immediate environment. There is no argument to be made about the mental functioning of a dancing bear that would offer any analogous understanding about human rationality and free will. We are like animals when we behave like animals — when we snuggle, for instance, or when we attempt to communicate by grunting or growling — but because we can reason conceptually and choose freely, animals are nothing like us.

    But that doesn’t mean they’re not useful. Because your dog has no way of distinguishing the significant from the insignificant — an amazingly complex conceptual problem — it pays attention to everything. Because it does not conceptualize, and therefore cannot abstract logical predictive propositions, your dog’s brain works by referencing an elaborate pattern-matching system. Everything is a cargo cult to your dog: The “reason” for everything is post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

    One of our dogs always “knows” when it’s time to start campaigning for a walk. We think she is referencing the quality of sunlight she sees through the windows — she starts earlier on cloudy days — but, of course, we have no way of knowing this for sure. We used to feed our dogs reliably at 9 am and 9 pm, and a dog we had in those days would always come to tell us if we were even a few minutes late. Could she tell time? Obviously not. But some sequence of reliable patterns added up in her brain to the “conclusion” that being fed should be the next event in the cargo cult chain.

    Note that those two phenomena, and many others I could name, all turn on a very stupid “notion” of causal determinism: If being fed or being walked are the unavoidable consequences of the prior observed events in the pattern, then there would be no need to campaign for them. Dogs — very much unlike social scientists and newspaper reporters — exhibit a fundamental if uncomprehended “faith” in human free will: They would not need to try to influence our future behavior if that behavior were deterministically inescapable. Take note, however, that as stupid as all this is — the dog is accidentally “right” about free will as a consequence of its being accidentally “wrong” about everything in existence — as stupid as that is, your dog is still “intelligent” in some degree, where no artifact of Artificial Intelligence ever is.

    The challenge for software engineers is to effect this kind of dog-like pattern-matching faux-epistemology in ways that are useful to human beings. And this, at last, is what Artificial Intelligence actually is: Pattern-matching software. Software cannot be aware, not as aware as a dog and not as aware as an amoeba. Within certain algorithmic limits, software cannot modify its behavior to respond to previously unforeseen circumstances, like the puppy learning that a scentless image of a live dog should not elicit a response. And unlike a dog, desperate to earn its keep as the dancing bear you long for most, software has no motivation of any kind.

    And yet software can be programmed to exhibit any sort of dancing bear behavior its corresponding hardware can effect. You can write a simple rule in your mail client to look for triggers in your email and send the apposite auto-response in reply. Siri can direct you to the nearest super-market — and with just a little extra coding, she could warn you that that particular market has gone broke. If you are awash in statistical data, chances are you have software that can find a best fit with the push of a button. None of this software is “intelligent” in even the crippled way a dog or other non-human organism is intelligent, but by modeling the pattern-matching behavior of non-human organisms, software becomes massively more useful to human beings.

    And this is what I have been talking about in a general way in this series of technology posts: Writing software that more perfectly emulates the pattern-matching “intelligence” of non-human organisms. Trigger and response — post hoc, ergo propter hoc — is a good start. Better still is a database of past triggers and responses, with the software working probabilistically to determine the best response to the current trigger. Better still is real-time interaction between you and your software, first so you can show it which triggers are significant and which are not, and second so you can show it your ideal response to particular significant triggers. That is to say, software that you can train like you trained your dog.

    That much is what I’m looking for when I talk about Sarah, your software secretary. Practically speaking, I’m talking about a whole new style of AI. Not “expert” systems, like a Labrador perfectly trained to hunt waterfowl, but, rather, “trainee” systems, like a puppy, dumb as a thumb but eager to please. This is not to say that software like Sarah, or Heidi or Antoinette or Constance cannot have built in “expertise” — pre-programmed canned responses. It’s simply an acknowledgement that one size does not fit all.

    The central piece of this argument is still to come. I keep waiting for someone to jump up, shouting, “I get it! I get it!” And it is no doubt shamefully rude for me to point out that the AI empire — as it is presented in the popular media — is a completely naked realm. Nothing that is promoted as being Artificially Intelligent is intelligent in any way — nor even aware as the simplest of organisms is aware. But what AI actually is — canned, pre-programmed human intelligence — is very useful already, and it will only come to be more useful as we get a grip on the idea that we should program software for human beings, rather than always trying to reprogram human beings to fit our software.

    It would help, too, if we would take a moment to rejoice in the amazing power of the human mind — as represented in the tools we have seen from AI researchers so far — instead of always crafting bogus arguments to dismiss, deride and denigrate the incredible intelligence to be found between your ears.

     
    Our story so far: Lately, I have been tap-dancing around an idea for a new kind of computer-user operating paradigm. I haven’t explicated the central thesis yet, but it should be easy enough to infer from the essays I’ve written so far:

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    Building the perfect beast: A round-up of my recent technology posts.

    Caveat lector! The words you are about to read are unvetted, unhomogenized and unlicensed. One of my longer-term projects is to write essays on reasons why you should dismiss the things I have to say. I’ve only done two so far: You should dismiss me because I don’t care if you do and because I can see right through you. There are zillions more reasons, whether I get to them or not, but the one that matters most, in this context, is this one:

    I am completely without credentials.

    That’s a statement I could quibble with, but I don’t want to. There is no limit to the caviling to be found on that road, and I don’t care, anyway. I am writing about tools that could and should exist, and if you want to dismiss what I have to say because I don’t fit your profile of a nerd — so much the worse for you. The world is awash in a billion blends of stupid, and credentialism is hardly the worst of the bunch. Looking outside yourself for your intellectual self-defense is the parent of that error, though, and that one is deadly.

    Whatever. I think these ideas are fun. I’m looking at a much bigger picture, philosophically, but the technology I’m talking about here is a way of effecting those larger ideas in everyday life. You might plead for better organization — and, truly, there is a book scattered around in this stuff — but I believe reading these essays will repay your effort.

     
    Our story so far: Lately, I have been tap-dancing around an idea for a new kind of computer-user operating paradigm. I haven’t explicated the central thesis yet, but it should be easy enough to infer from the essays I’ve written so far:

     
    There’s more. Here are the essays I wrote about the iPad, at the time of its introduction. Entries #2 and #8 are the best of the bunch, in my opinion.

     
    My early posts on the iPad:

    That’s a lot of reading, I know, but what else are you going to do with your time — watch football?

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    Q: Your smartphone has just been stolen. What should happen next? A: Your phone should get the cops on the horn and lead them to the thief.

    Here’s the truth of your life: Your so-called smartphone is pretty damned dumb. For one thing, it’s always interrupting your work with phone calls, wiping out whatever screen you happen to be working on. It does this because Steve Jobs, genius though he was, never quite wrapped his head around the idea of the cell-phone function as just another arrow in the quiver of your smartphone’s capabilities. What you actually want, when your phone rings while you are working at something else, is notice that you can drop everything to take the call — or not — without the phone making that decision for you.

    I can do more: There is no reason for caller ID to be as stupid as it is. I want Heidi, of course, a full-blown database look-up when a new caller shows up on my phone. But lacking that, a truly smart smartphone would at least Google the number and display whatever information that search suggests about the caller.

    But once we’ve gone that far, we get to an important question: Why is your smartphone shipping phone calls to you as phone calls? Data is data, and there is no longer any hardware or software reason to transmit phone calls by Ma Bell’s antiquated protocols. There may be cost or efficiency reasons, but it remains that a file-server-based “switchboard” could be a whole lot smarter than present-day cell-phone vendors seem to be. A lot of the Constance the Connector ideas would be best implemented on a truly smart phone system — one that pre-manages your calls before anything in your pocket sets off a racket.

    But here is an entirely new way of thinking about smartphones, one that lets me solve a problem Jim Klein threw my way way back in the last century: Your phone can manage your online security better than any other means devised so far. With the right hardware and software, your phone, together with Sarah and Constance, can manage all of your financial transactions with perfect security and impenetrable encryption. Your phone can identify you — by way of your Constance profile — to any other hardware devices or software services you might use, effortlessly networking you — and handling all of that idiotic password diplomacy. Best of all, your phone can monitor your personal security, calling the police when you are at peril — or when it is.

    I want for any device that draws electrical power — wired, battery-powered or generated, as with your car — to be IP addressable, controllable and reprogrammable by remote software. Why would this matter for, say, a refrigerator? So that its performance can be optimized, both according to your own usage patterns and in keeping with the manufacturer’s design profile, as it ages. If the data collected by your refrigerator is shared into your Constance profile, then anyone who might be able to make productive use of that kind of data will have a lot of it to play with — which suggests that you might get some fat coupons around replacement time, with that replacement having been designed in cognizance of all of that real-world data.

    That’s a simple example, but here’s a better one: Imagine that you’re at a wedding. The professional photographers are in control of their own equipment, but they’ve also made several PTZ (pan-tilt-zoom) video cameras, mounted high over the crowd, available to the guests. Those cameras are IP addressable, like every good thing, so you can log-in to an ad hoc network that lets you control a camera remotely from your smartphone or tablet computer. Precedence is negotiated by the age-old “dibs” system, with limits on access so everyone gets a chance to play. At the end of the wedding, the video from those cameras is available to everyone who participated, each one of whom can edit his or her own perfect wedding video.

    Making devices remotely IP addressable enables a new style of networking. By interacting with my smartphone, by way of Constance, I can take super-user control over any new hardware I install. The act of installation itself implies the integration of the new device into the existing network of computing devices, and the negotiations needed to effect that integration are all handled by hardware and software, with no immemorable passwords or arcane networking protocols needed from me. Where are the APIs and drivers needed to set up communication? On Constance, of course, with each type of device capable of this kind of networking having its own Constance profile, and with each new device in your network reporting its performance and usage data out to your own Constance profile.

    So I just came home with a brand new printer. I unbox it and plug it in, and, as I am doing this, Sarah on my phone is watching me do it and is pulling all the data she will need to successfully network that printer. She knows where it is in space, approximately, but she knows precisely where it is in my network topology. What’s left to do comes down to hardware and software hand-shaking — and Sarah can put an unhackable password on that printer that will protect it from unauthorized use but which I will never have to even see, much less learn or remember.

    Meanwhile, I need to let Sarah know who else in my home or office is also authorized to use that printer, and which of those people share super-user powers with me. Ideally, I will have already set this up in my “circle” for this particular network. In other words, my printer will have been fully integrated into my network by Sarah, and all I had to do was plug it in. For the PTZ cameras at the wedding, the “circle” for that temporary network might have been the wedding invitation list or perhaps just every smart device within a radius of 50 yards or whatever. Once we have established that your smartphone is your digital ID card, any sort of networking is just a software problem.

    So let’s think about what might make for a smarter smartphone. Sarah and Constance are doing the heavy lifting, but first the phone needs to be able to know that it is dealing with you and you alone. It must be able to identify you perfectly, without error. How can it do this? Biometrics.

    I want for Sarah to be watching you all the time, as much as you will let her. She should be watching you from your phone’s cameras, but she should also watch you from any other camera in your vicinity that she can control. The data from those cameras is actually more than enough to identify you in a fault-free fashion, but your smartphone should also be monitoring your pulse, your skin temperature, your breathing, your speech patterns, etc. Your phone — and hence Sarah — should know with absolute certainty if the hand holding it is yours or someone else’s.

    And that’s why your phone should call the cops as soon as it is stolen: It will know this has happened at once, since all of the biometric data will be suddenly and wildly different. Apple’s “find my phone” feature is cool — for now — but there is no reason that a truly smart smartphone should not be able to manage its own theft and recovery. Note the implication: No phone this smart would ever be stolen. The manufacturer would have to build a special procedure to permit resale, which, essentially, would mean reinitialization.

    Jim Klein’s problem was this: How can I shop online without exposing my credit card information, possibly making it accessible to thieves? Just that much is a Constance job — my identification at checkout is @gswann. But Constance could easily take the next step of querying my phone to see if it’s really me shopping, or if someone is pretending to be me. All of the security hand-shaking can be handled by Sarah, deploying robust encryption and using protocols that are not even available to wet-ware devices like you. This is perfect identification coupled with perfect security — all of it super-fast and unimaginably cheap.

    And all of the personal security ideas I wrote about in my discussion of ubiquitous video can be effected by these same means. If your smartphone is watching you and everyone around you all the time, it would be duck-soup to do the kind of facial recognition, behavioral profiling and data-base mining I talked about in that essay. With nothing more than a phone sticking out of your shirt pocket and the appropriate software on the server side, you would be forevermore protected from virtually all common crime. There is no accounting for madness or rage, but crimes-of-calculation against your person — mugging, pick-pocketing, rape — would be a thing of the past. You don’t even need elaborate software to achieve this outcome, just live streaming from your phone into the cloud — one snapshot a second would be plenty — so you create an incontrovertible evidence trail wherever you go.

    There’s a lot more to this that I can take up in a weblog post. Because your phone is your personalized interface into the universe of IP addressable hardware and password-mediated software, a smarter smartphone endowed with the kind of software I am talking about, both in the phone and in the cloud, could take over most of the management of the devices and software services you use. At some point I plan to talk about the software design paradigm that will have to replace the ever-more-chaotic world of “apps,” but this, ultimately, is what you have to look forward to: Not a world without “apps” or desktop applications or browser-based software, but a world where your smartphone and its support software are smart enough to handle virtually all of the things you are currently doing by touchpad, mouse or keyboard.

    How will you know when this day has arrived? When your smartphone shoots you an email to let you know that it had been swiped but that the police have already recovered it. If you want for that day to be soon — and it easily could be — you’ll have to let Apple, Samsung, HTC and all the other vendors of dumb-ass smartphones know that they can, should and must do better.

     
    Our story so far: Lately, I have been tap-dancing around an idea for a new kind of computer-user operating paradigm. I haven’t explicated the central thesis yet, but it should be easy enough to infer from the essays I’ve written so far:

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    Holy cow! They made a movie about your life…

    Digitals from Chris Crutchfield on Vimeo.

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