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It’s a fair question. You might not think about it much, but I do.

I’ve been talking about the concept of perfect microwave popcorn since at least 1995. Heck, I wrote about it in a variety of books in the 90’s. And still, it doesn’t quite exist….

If you try to make microwave popcorn, chances are it will go like this. What if appliance manufacturers used Internet connectivity to redesign the microwave.

So here’s the latest October article from my CAMagazine column.

Maybe I have an obsession with this, but the concept does provide interesting ‘food for thought,’ if you pardon the pun.

Your appliances are getting smarter
By Jim Carroll

Perfect microwave popcorn. I thought by now we’d have mastered this but, for all its successes, the high-tech industry still has not figured out how to make perfect microwave popcorn.

The problem with making popcorn in a microwave is that every oven has a different power output, so all you can do is listen carefully to the popping pattern to figure out when it might be finished. There has to be a better way.

Back in the early 1990s, as the concept of Internet-based home automation started to appear, I figured there would one day be a perfect microwave popcorn machine. While on stage talking about the future, I would tell the story of perfect microwave popcorn — predicting that I’d have a device in my home that would read the bar code on the popcorn bag, query a database through the Internet, and figure out the exact timing for that particular microwave device.

Orville Redenbacher would partner with appliance manufacturers and come up with a really cool automated system that would provide perfect popcorn every time. Internet-linked appliances, back-end databases and a marriage of consumer food products to the Internet and technology. It seemed like a pretty simple idea.
Well, as far as I know, it hasn’t happened — yet.

But this year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, there were glimmers of hope. Clearly, there were two big trends on display — tech/connectivity in the car, and tech/connectivity in the home.

A lot of the news sizzle surrounds tech in the car; the tech-in-the-home field isn’t getting as much attention, because it’s just not as exciting as wheels. But there are glimpses of what is going on: Whirlpool has announced that in 2011, it will have produced one million smart-grid-compatible clothes dryers that utilize smart connectivity to become more efficient. And imagine having a dishwasher or clothes dryer that sends you a text message when the cycle is finished — that’s going to be a regular part of our lives soon, too.

Massive pervasive interactivity on a grand and unimaginable scope will soon be upon us — and the younger generation, weaned on a diet of connectivity, will begin reshaping their world in fascinating ways. Already my 16-year-old son reminds me to stop one car length behind the normal spot at a red light — because he knows I’ll be on a pressure pad that will force an automatic green turn light.

What happens to our world when everything around us plugs in? Fascinating things, including perfect microwave popcorn. Buy the intelligent microwave, bring it home, and plug it into the wall. The microwave will use the basic Internet connectivity found in your home to establish a connection.

The package of microwave popcorn you purchased includes a bar code that uniquely identifies it. When you press “cook,” the microwave will read the bar code. It will then use the Internet connectivity to send a query to a central database. There, it will ask, in effect: “For this particular model of microwave and for this particular package of popcorn, how long is the cooking time?” Receiving the answer, it will proceed to provide you with perfect popcorn — every time.

Farfetched? I don’t think so. I believe we are destined for a future in which everyday appliances and technologies will be linked to the Internet; often through the home network or a wireless Internet connection that is set to invade your home. As this occurs, devices will emerge with capabilities that are quite unimaginable today.

Here I am speaking to an audience of 4,000 at the National Recreation and Parks Association Congress in Salt Lake City – a keynote in which I challenge recreation professionals to think about the future!


This was the keynote in which I received an email thanking me for “changing lives.” It was a powerful day, a powerful talk, and I’ve got lots more video to share in the days to come!

0-sydney_master.jpgEarlier this week, I spoke to a group of executives for a financial institution in Sydney, Australia, live via a fibre optic link — a distance of almost 10,000 miles (or 15,000 kilometres)

The client had wanted to bring me directly to Sydney, but the timing conflicted with a number of other events. Hence, the alternative method of “getting me there.”

Utilizing the services of Toronto based TV2GO, we had a direct fiber optic video and audio link into the conference at the Hotel Intercontinental in downtown Sydney. In addition, I had a live feed of the audience; not only that, but a number of “runners” had microphones available which provided for a direct, instant 2-way Q&A session at the end of my talk. In addition, I had a full Powerpoint deck running on separate screens in Sydney, transitioning to my cue from Toronto.

I’ve worked with TV2Go before, including on a live feed into CNBC for the Business of Innovation show.

If you are looking to me into your next event, you might consider this type of fiber optic or satellite link. With TV2Go, I can get myself via satellite and fiber connectivity to major conference centers or hotels in North America and South America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, if they are properly equipped. In the case of Sydney, the financial institution set out to find the facility with the greatest technical experience with this type of thing: hence, the Hotel Intercontinental.

The folks at TV2Go are experts in such international link-ups : their staff speaks, in addition to English, “Italian, French, Spanish, Romanian, Hungarian, German, Egyptian Arabic, Russian, Turkish, and even a little Japanese.” The organization routinely sends feeds into Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, the UK, Spain, France, Germany, Poland, Romania, Russia, Israel, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, India, South Africa, Tanzania, and even the Sudan.

What we need at your end is a facility that is capable of receiving a fibre optic feed via one of their global partners; or that can ‘see’ one of the dozens of satellites to which they can uplink. These include Telesat, Intelsat, PanAmSat, SES Americom, New Skies, Hispasat, LORAL and Eutelsat satellites.

The key to making this work is having a fibre/satellite friendly AV team at the other end. In the case of my Sydney, Australia event, Stuart Haynes was a real pro. He’s with the Intercontinental Sydney, and has managed dozens of such events through the years. On short notice, he pulled together an AV team that managed the feed, provided for several cameras in the room to feed back to Toronto, and an AV team that transitioned through my slide deck on cue.

Overall, a tremendous experience, and one that you might consider for your next corporate event.

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  • TV2Go

CareersEnd.jpgWay back in 1987, I was immersed in many of the early networking technologies which would one day form the Internet. I was convinced that we were at the edge of a transformative time, and that the emerging global network would have a profound impact on our world — politics, the structure of organizations and jobs.

I remember being stunned when I read an editorial in the New York Times that October, which forever shaped my view of the future.

The article essentially predicted a future in which organizations would become smaller, grow and contract as needs arise, and become something fundamentally different.

That one article forever shaped my view of the future, and has formed the basis of much of what I focus upon today in terms of the transformative trends that surround us.

Fast forward to today’s economy. With this recovery, as with all others before, organizations are increasingly reluctant to hire staff as they continue to shed even more staff. Organizations are going to go forward with a smaller employee footprint. They’re expanding and contracting as necessary. It’s all about contract work, part time relationships, and external partnerships.

This is not a new trend; indeed, back in the mid-90’s, I wrote a variety of articles and chapters in various of my books that touched on this theme in a variety of ways. I’ve put online a chapter from my 1997 book, Surviving the Information Age, which took a look at this trend. Read it now, and it was stunningly accurate. (The link is below).

For now, this editorial from 1987 makes for a great read.

“Tomorrow’s Company Won’t Have Walls”, New York Times, October 1987

The hub of the network organization will be small, centralized and
local. At the same time, it will be connected to an extended network
that is big, decentralized and global. People from the network and
from outside the company will join the group at the hub for periods
of time and then leave it.

But the network organization will also present its own set of
paradoxes. For instance, how will these new organizations be able to
manage the often conflicting interests of the centralized hub and the
decentralized network? And how can a system that is both centralized
and decentralized be unified and coordinated and quick to respond to
changes in the market place?

For the global organization of the future, the ability to acquire new
products, services, technologies and capital will not be the problem.
The marketplace is crowded with each of these as never before.

But for exactly this reason, the challenge for each company will be
to nurture its own unique culture and develop the quality of its
human resources. That is because competitive advantage will rest
increasingly in the way each network organization gathers and
assesses information, makes its decisions and then carries out those
decisions.

The 21st-century will be full of organizational surprises. The
challenge of arranging cooperative efforts between companies to
achieve strategic gains is beginning to emerge. Changes in the
marketplace have given companies from around the world the
opportunity to develop these new linkages. Advances in
telecommunications technology also enable companies to bring people
together for competitive advantage. The time has now come to form
new global collections of companies, and to fully utilize human
relationships.

12 years ago, in Surviving the Information Age, I wrote about what this 1987 New York Times article really meant. The predictions were pretty bang on.

Today? We’re in the midst of the jobless recovery – exactly what was predicted. Companies aren’t hiring back staff but they will be hiring back lots of people through contracts and partnerships!

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