Walmart’s RFID strategy is gradually being rolled out

I have been at the neighborhood Super Walmart store quite a few times over the last couple of months. Company policies notwithstanding, I always enjoy shopping at that store. Contrary to popular “anecdotes”, I have always had great customer service, and at times, the sales staff has even helped me pick out colors of bed sheets, and assisted in transporting big electronic stuff in my car.

Everyone remembers the huge brouhaha over Walmart’s extremely tight RFID rollout deadline to its suppliers. Well, it looks like Walmart is already starting to use RFID tags on almost everything it sells. There are new signs at various locations inside every store reminding the shopper that Walmart uses advanced technologies to monitor their storeshelves and inventory.

I found this collection of pictures of a Walmart store with the RDIF tags on various electronic products. This is amazing. Talk about instant notification to the store inventory frontend whenever a big item on the shelves is purchased by a shopper. Examples are furniture, mattresses, etc.

Link – http://www.spychips.com/protest/walmart/spychip-slideshow/pages/can-you-spot-the-hp-spychip.html

A reason to go camping in rainy cold weather

I happened to go to the local Best Buy only to discover dozens of people camping out in the cold weather outside the store. I thought that Black Friday was long gone, and there had to be a good reason for the gala. Turned out that there was a rumor that Best Buy stores were getting an undisclosed shipment of Xbox 360s at midnight. Some fanatics did not want to lose the opportunity to get the Christmas gift of the season, and so decided to camp out all night to get hands on one as soon as the store opened in the morning. Of course, some people were camping out just so they could re-sell the console at a profit margin of more than $300.

Deliberate or not, this Xbox 360 shortage has me puzzled. Why would Microsoft do something like this, especially in the busy Christmas shopping season? They said their plan was to sell a million units within 90 days of the launch. Are they near that objective?

I will get a new generation gaming console myself one of these days.

The rules have changed, but the game remains the same

While I sat on my chair looking at my first greatly successful website, I realized that getting visitors to my site was a bigger challenge then (late 90s) than it is now. The only formula was to get a successful listing in the Yahoo! Directory. It is no joke, Yahoo! was the best way to get traffic to your site in those days. I remember rejoicing when my website was finally listed in Yahoo! (It still remains listed to this day)

Banner exchange programs were another way to expose your website to the masses. The idea was to put up a huge graphical banner on top of your main webpage to advertise other websites. These banners were mostly animated. In return of advertising other websites, you got your own banner advertised on someone else’s website. The idea was simple, and over 200,000 websites in that time actually subscribed to one or the other banner exchange services.

One of the biggest such services was LinkExchange, which was eventually bought by Microsoft in 1998 for $250 million in stock. It seemed like a smart move for Microsoft at the time considering that they really wanted to develop an Internet business strategy. Something that they did not have until Balmer literally yelled at Gates for. Of course, LinkExchange was fairly profitable at that time, and had a user base of about a quarter of a million websites, both professional and not so professional.

Everyone likes to increase their website’s traffic, but no one likes “scandalous” third party banners on their webpages. What if a banner supporting the Linux SANs crops up on your webpage about the Windows Server family? People wanted an easier way to market their websites cheaply, and in a targetted manner. This is when Google launched a search engine, and some time later, their Adsense/AdWords service.

AdSense does not display any annoying big-sized banners on top of your webpage, and you can customize the ads in any way you wish. The end goal still remains at bringing more surfers to your webpage. Only, this time you don’t exchange ads. Rather, you get paid for publishing third party ads on your site. So, how do you increase viewership? You just invest a little in the AdWords program and get ads posted on publishers’ websites. Not everyone wants increased viewership. Some display ads just to make money off their websites. The scheme makes perfect sense, and isn’t annoying for either the publisher or the advertiser. Everyone goes home happy!

If only Microsoft hadn’t given up on the golden opportunity to revolutionize online advertising at a time when the Internet was growing at the rate of 100% every 2-3 months, they would have been a far more happier bunch. It is strange how the world’s best software company couldn’t come up first with a more user-friendly service.

Is Yahoo! the next big media company ?

Reading the news on Yahoo! News in the morning today, I saw an ad for Yahoo! VideoGames, and clicked on it, only to discover a very good looking and comprehensive site about videogames. It was much more organized and eye-friendly than Gamespot, and covered all the consoles, handhelds, and PC configurations. Yahoo! even has its own video game reviews/discussion show called “Reset”.

This made me wonder. Is Yahoo! the next big media company? They have been in the Internet business ever since it took birth, and have invented a lot of the stuff/ideas we have come to live with. The Internet is a carrier of voice calls, videos, music, and gradually even television today. Where is Yahoo! in all this?

Well,

1. Yahoo! owns Dialpad, a VoIP telephony provider. It plans to include dialpad technology into Yahoo! Messenger to provide global calling plans for only a couple cents a minute.

2. Yahoo! owns Launch/Yahoo! Music, one of the fastest growing music subscription services.

3. Yahoo! acquired broadcast.com in 1999, aiming to target corporate marketers, and financial analysis media outlets.

4. Yahoo! provides exclusive live audio/video webcasts of college sports on a paid subscription basis.

5. Yahoo! provides a suit of comprehensive domain registration, hosting, and small business solutions.

Finally, Yahoo! has some of the best software developers on their payroll, which distinguishes them from rival Google, which hasn’t come out with one good client based software other than Google Earth. Yahoo! has consistently been bringing good software (Music, messenger, Maps API, etc.) to the end-users.

Another thing seems to be Yahoo!’s emphasis on basing their technology/products on actual user experience. They believe in a more human managed approach to bringing the best of the web to users (del.icio.us, Flickr, MyWeb2; all of which are based on tagging).

Not all their acquisitions have worked in their favor though, and they have actually been known to make a lot of their acquisitions non user-friendly in the past (egroups, flickr, etc.), but they are changing it for the better. Also, most of their new services (Yahoo! Answers, Maps Beta) are a step above what the nearest competitor provides.

Truly interesting times indeed…and the best part is that I see very little hype in Yahoo!’s efforts.

Bill Gates is responsible for the first game on an IBM PC

Not many people that spend their day in front of their computer screens playing Halo or other MMORPGs are aware that Bill Gates was responsible for writing probably the first ever color graphics game for the IBM PC!

I remember playing this game in 1990 and spending a couple hours on it. Click on the Wikipedia link above for more information about the game. Trivial by today’s standards, Donkey was a really fun game at the time. Not to mention the wow factor of using an expensive PC to play games on it.

This came to my mind while I was responding to a post on JobsBlog about a TV program where Bill Gates will grant a wish to a kid. I have always admired Gates for what he has done for the industry as a whole (the anti-competitive practices notwithstanding), and have always aspired to be like him some day. Only time will tell if my wish would be granted.

🙂

ADDENDUM: While I am at the topic of Mr. Gates, I would like to share this funny video where Dr. Dave Bradley “compliments” Gates for making the “Three Finger Salute” so pervasive. I was Dr. Bradley’s assistant for about a year, and his “I love Me” collection has to be one of the most inspirational things I have seen in my life.

Expired Milk !

NOTE TO SELF:

Always check the expiry date of milk before buying it.

So, yesterday I bought a gallon of yummy strawberry milk only to take a sip full of some solid particles in it. Upon looking at the cap, it turned out that the milk had officially gone unfit to drink 5 days ago!

I don’t blame Harris Teeter though. This was just a sign that I need to switch to a brand that people actually buy before it starts rotting in the store fridge.

😉

GPS tracking of all vehicles might soon be a reality

I have been talking about the idea of using an in-built GPS system in cars to track them for a long time. Turns out that is indeed going to become a reality with the Government announcing grants to develop such systems.

Their main premise is that such a deployment would allow them to setup a mechanism of “value pricing” for cars using public infrastructure like bridges etc. I am not sure if that’s the only true use of such a promising technology. As usual, privacy advocates are going to be up in arms about this, but I wouldn’t agree with them.

Let’s see where this goes!

Google Local for Mobiles is awesome !

I installed Google Local for Mobiles on my Sony Ericsson S710a a couple days ago. The best part about this service is that it is a 100kb Java program that actually installs in your cellphone. This means that you don’t need to use the browser or type in any obscure URLs when you need to find the nearest Indian restaurant!

It is noteworthy that this service is completely free of cost, unlike the $4 a month that Mapquest charges for a similar service. You can also look at satellite pictures of your destination or the route much like the full-blown Google Maps service.

Personally, this service doesn’t have much appeal to me other than helping find the phone numbers of various businesses while on the road. I am quite content with my Garmin StreetPilot C330 GPS device. Although the StreetPilot has millions of points of interest on its hard drive, replete with phone numbers, there are instances when I am unable to find the restaurant of my choice or a working phone number. This is when the Google service on my cellphone would help me. It is faster than using Google.com, and I can easily connect to the business by clicking on the contact number directly from within the software!

I tried it tonight, and was impressed by the fact that it stores recently searched addresses and locations for future use. One thing I would like to see is more phones with GPS technology built in so that you do not have to input your current location manually!

Software Patents are evolving, too

Lawyers love patents. Engineers crave patents. Businessmen have mixed feelings. Visionaries hate them.

Patents are an amazing concept. They give a new meaning to ideas and their conceptualization and ownership. I think the American intellectual property preservation/regulatory system is the mainstay of its hitherto tremendous technological lead, as well as the entrepreneurial spirit at the academic as well as corporate level.

Software patents have always been the cause of huge debates. Almost no academic personality likes them. Open source developers disdain them wholeheartedly, citing innovation stagnation as a reason to not enforce them. From a theoretical point of view, software patents do not make much sense. Software is an idea expressed in a language. As such, it is more of a literary work than a process. At the same time, it is not entirely a piece of literary work as software more often than not helps achieve something. It is a means to an end to some real life problem. As such, software patents fall under a gray area, and some descretion is to be observed when enforcing patent rules.

For example, I think it is very logical to patent an encryption algorithm because an algorithm is actually a process. It is unique, and actually is an innovation that has the potential to change the computing/tech world for years to come. On the other hand, patents like that protecting the “innovation” of one click purchasing are pretty darn stupid…in my opinion. Are we actually celebrating innovation by granting such patents?

I came across this great webpage at MIT discussing the good and the bad about software patents. It is surprising what kind of ideas are being patented as software innovations in the present times. This is some sort of reverse evolution.

At the same time, I feel that we need to congratulate companies like Microsoft and IBM that actually use their patent portfolios to fortify their innovative endeavors rather than stymie creativity by others. For personal developers and open source projects, these big “patentors” hardly pose any roadblocks.

Patents are the artillery of big companies. That is the only way they can mark boundaries in this extremely volatile industry. In a way, software patents also help overall innovation in the form of diverse products from different companies. Patent attorneys remain happy, too.

I just hope that some sort of system is developed that inhibits false/stupid/ridiculous patents from being considered, much less filed.