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2013-02 – Is New England and Island?

This dawned on me when talking with my nephews over the holidays.  At the time, I simply dismissed as trivial banter without real purpose.  Frankly I don’t even remember how it got started, but it had something to do with defining an island, and the difference between an island and a continent.  I remember immediately going to the web, and found the following definitions:



  1. A tract of land completely surrounded by water, and not large enough to be called a continent.

  2. Something resembling an island, especially in being isolated or having little or no direct communicationwith others.

  3. A raised platform with a counter or other work surface on top situated in the middle area of a room,especially a kitchen, so as to permit access from all sides.

  4. Safety island.

  5. A low concrete platform for gasoline pumps at an automotive service station.

Ignoring definitions 3, 4 and 5 it seems that the definition of island is mostly a circular definition, and contextualized in not being a continent.  Interestingly enough, looking at the definition of continent, we don’t get much more.


  1. one of the main landmasses of the globe, usually reckoned as seven in number (Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Australia, and Antarctica).

  2. a comparable landmass on another planet.

  3. the mainland, as distinguished from islands or peninsulas.

  4. the mainland of Europe, as distinguished from the British Isles.

  5. a continuous tract or extent, as of land.

In short, it’s either something so obvious due to its scale.
Wikipedia was not much better, but actually starts to move towards an operating definition.
“Greenland is the world’s largest island with an area of over 2.1 million km², while Australia, the world’s smallest continent has an area of 7.6 million km², but there is no standard of size which distinguishes islands from continents, or from islets. There is a difference between islands and continents in terms of geology. Continents sit on continental lithosphere which is part of tectonic plates floating high on Earth’s molten mantle. Oceanic crust is also part of tectonic plates, but it is denser than continental lithosphere, so it floats low on the mantle. Islands are either extensions of the oceanic crust (e.g. volcanic islands) or geologically they are part of some continent sitting on continental lithosphere (e.g. Greenland). This holds true for Australia, which sits on its own continental lithosphere and tectonic plate.
So in a way, we now have three rules to determine whether New England is an island.
  1. Must be surrounded by water (hard rule)
  2. Must be in the surface area range outlined above (soft rule)
  3. Must be an “extension of the oceanic crust, or part of some continent” (hard rule).
So… is New England an Island?  Let’s test it!

Rule 1: Surrounded by water: TRUE

The eastern section of New England is clearly water.  It’s the Atlantic Ocean.  But let’s anchor our area of exploration on two landmarks.  The Southernmost point being the mouth of the Hudson river in Manhattan (NYC), and the Northernmost point being the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River, in Quebec City.  So the question now is can you connect New York City and Manhattan through river ways alone.  Let’s start from the North.  The St. Lawrence river flows unobstructed (spare a dam or bridge here or there) from Lake Ontario all the way to Quebec City.  However, a little North of Montreal is the little town of Sorel, which has (as far as I know) no distinguishing feature other than being where the Richelieu river joins with the St. Lawrence river.
If you follow the Richelieu river south bound, it will take you through the beautiful pastoral countryside of Quebec, and ultimately take you to the Lake Champlain (note, we’re going up stream here).  Lake Champlain is where Canada, and the US come together, but also where New York and Vermont come together.  If you go to the southern most part of lake Champlain, there is the small Poultney river that reaches Whitehall, NY.  This is where the one of the NY Canals takes you from Whiehall all the way down to Fort Edward (near Glenn Falls and Hudson Falls), and runs into the Hudson river.  The Hudson river, as we know, runs all the way down to New York City.  So there you have it, we’ve been able to a land mass by connecting a number of streams.

Rule 2: Surface Area between 2.1 and 7.6 million km² (and ideally closer to 2.1): TRUE

Using Google Maps, we can measure the surface area (I used and got the total area of 425 thousand km2.  So well within the 2.1 million km2.

Rule 3: Part of some continent: TRUE

New England stands on the North American Plate.

So yes, New England is an island.  Of course, this relies on the man made canals in upstate New York.
But I think the point here is deeper.  It’s really about context.  We so often get stuck in what we believe to be true (namely that New England is not an Island).  But in fact if we look more closely we can easily be surprised by what we see.


In Praise of the iPad

A few days have gone by since Steve Jobs introduced Apple’s new iPad at the special event of January 27th. Since then a lot has been written about the new device, and most of it has been a lukewarm reception. I admit, as I watched the live blogs on January 27th my spirits quickly went from exhilaration of the potential at the start of day, to a sense of emptiness by the time the session was over.

My intent with this blog has never been to write about technology directly, I’ll leave that up to the likes of David Pogue, Leo Laporte and the number of other great journalists who make it their livelihood to do so. I’m choosing to make an exception today, because I sense that the criticism of the iPad is a little over the top.

To summarize the chief complaints about the iPad are as follows:
– Lack of camera (still or video),
– Lack of e-ink screen,
– Lack of multi-tasking,
– Potentially awkward dimensions,
– Weak OS (iPhone OS vs. OS X)
– Lack of publishers
– Ongoing support of AT&T for 3G

In thinking of how a tablet device can augment the functionality that one already has available and, to paraphrase Steve Jobs, do something that neither the laptop nor the iPhone can do, it has to be able to do the three following things:
– Gaming
– Media consumption, and
– Collaboration.

The iPad, covers 2 of those 3 areas, and the strongest criticism that should leveled against it is its weakness in providing collaborative functionality by the simple fact that it doesn’t have a camera. All other complaints, in my opinion are either misguided or capricious.

– Lack of e-ink screen: This may be the most valid other complaint about the iPad, but in Apple’s defense, the screen on the iPhone is actually quite good, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the quality and readability of text on the iPad wouldn’t be excellent. I have read chapters out of O’Reilly books on my iPhone, and the biggest problem was not eye strain, but the small screen size (which the iPad solves).

– Lack of multi-tasking: This is one of the more capricious complaints against the iPad. Assuming that we all need multi-tasking (a bit of a hype there too), multi-tasking is something that can be enabled through the Operating System, and we should except the iPhone OS 3.2 later this quarter (by the time the iPad ships it looks like), and I would expect that while it won’t be there then, it should be part of iPhone OS 4, which I believe would come out during the summer of 2010.

– Potentially awkward dimensions: This is generally tied to the 4 by 3 proportion of the iPad screen. This may very well be a justified complaint, one that I don’t think we will realize whether it’s a real problem until start using it.

– Weak OS: I would categorize this in the

– Lack of Publishers: This too has some potential legs, but one has to remember that the iPhone can (and thus the iPad will) run various ebook applications including Kindle’s, Barnes and Noble’s, and even O’Reilly’s. This doesn’t account for the waterfall effect caused once other publishers come online. One silver lining that I think many have missed is the fact that it may also create a forum for authors who otherwise may not get published to be able to gain some exposure.

– Ongoing support of AT&T for 3G: This is one that people love to gripe about, and frankly is simply capricious at this point. Yes, AT&T doesn’t have as good coverage as Verizon and other companies, but Apple is clearly making the push to open up the platform beyond AT&T. It hasn’t happened yet, but may very well happen this year (some rumors are already spreading about that).

So what will make or break the iPad. Well I think it’s the Apps. There is a fantastic community of developers for the iPhone OS, and I expect that they will seize on this opportunity to develop new and innovative apps across the gaming, media consumption and collaboration spectrum.

So I’m eager to get my iPad and tinker with it.

What is Urban Planning?

This question comes up all the time… How do you measure the effectiveness of planning.

City planning has been with us for millennia. One can find examples of planned cities from the Roman era and even before.

Systematically measuring planning effectiveness in a quantitative way can be challenging as planning is meant to respond to very localized needs and demands. I am not suggesting that measuring the effectiveness of planning is hard, but that coming up with steadfast metrics on what makes effective planning can be challenging, and furthermore, can be meaningless. For example, what does the significance of knowing that the City of New York has X planners per 1000 people mean to a city like Beijing or Mumbai?

Over the course of several entries, I hope to illustrate what are the important aspects of physical planning that need to be taken into account to have an effective planning organization.

But let’s start with a “simple” exercise. What is city planning?

For my purposes, the definition of urban planning that I will use moving forward is:
“The set of activities tied to the holistic organization of an urban environment to support the improvement of the health and welfare of the urban environment.”

So what falls under the set of activities?
– Urban Design: Construction, Zoning, Architecture, Landscape Architecture
– Transportation Planning: Engineers, Construction
– Economic Development: Creating the catalyst for the highest and best use of the land.
– Land Use Planning: The sets of decisions for how land should be utilized (basically the root of all planning)

Next Article: How do these activities relate to one another.

Moving Towards a Physical Typology of the City

Happy New Year to everyone!

The thoughts laid out below are very preliminary and unpolished, my hope is to engage in an evolutionary conversation to further refine these thoughts.

Starting off 2010, I wanted to focus my attention on a question that often comes up as part of my daily work. Regularly, I am asked to create segmentation of markets to help prioritize investments by clients. The standard approach has been to identify either economic or demographic segments (i.e. typologies) and use that to draw inferences on the type of investment that might be necessary.

Missing an important piece of the spectrum:
This approach generally yields results that work to understand the needs of certain customer types and the “treatments” that might work for those customers. Unfortunately it misses a very important piece of the spectrum, namely to understand how the shape of the city can catalyze or impede the success to serve/acquire those customer segments.

For example, take two fairly similar cities such as Boston and San Francisco. While San Francisco is larger than Boston, these two cousins cities generally have the same socio-economic profiles (highly educated, low unemployment rate, similar primary industries, similar industry make up – all from [Future entry: finding similar cities], but these cities are actually quite different in their physical shapes and structures, as such, a bank or retailer may need to think about their network configuration in those two cities very differently.

What do we know about San Francisco and Boston? San Francisco has many neighborhoods and pockets of population density. It also has a few major arteries that connect the various nodes of the cities. Finally, San Francisco is a “presque-isle” – a piece of land that juts out into the ocean.

Boston on the other hand, is very well connected to neighboring cities, and has different pockets of population density. Boston’s neighborhoods tend to either be larger (the North End), or string along major corridors (Allston).

This becomes important in thinking about one’s network density, especially in those industries where physical convenience is a factor. In those industries, the general axiom is that, up to a certain point, the closer same brand stores are to one another, the better it is for that stores bottom line. Conversely, the further stores are apart, the harder it is for those stores to maintain a strong brand awareness. But why would one of those companies put a store in an area where there are no consumers or businesses to serve.

Additionally, if the population in a given neighborhood is highly concentrated, then what decisions should be made about the shape of the stores in that location. (BTW, this is generally well understood).

My point is simply that the physical shape of the city does a lot to affect the performance of a network of stores.

How would I go about defining it.
So how would one go about measuring the shape of the city. For this, I would propose an approach that borrows from Kevin Lynch, Christopher Alexander and Richard T. T. Forman.

If you consider that the city is an ecosystem where people have a habitat that they thrive in and need to access food, you can start to think about the distribution network of a given company as a set of nodes, corridors and islands.

nodes are small locations where there might be one or two stores and very few people. This could be an up and coming neighborhood.

islands are different than nodes in such that they are not only larger, but also have a certain degree of self organization and structure within them. For example, San Francisco’s Chinatown is a form of island, as there is a cultural elements that self organizes that neighborhood.

Corridors are the arteries that connect nodes and islands. Generally these are the major commercial thoroughfares of a the city, but can also be the residential boulevards such as Comm. Ave in Boston.

A physical typology of a city would characterize each city by the number, size and shape of nodes, corridors and islands.

More to come on later posts
Thread: City Typology

Complex Questions & Tools

We just came out of a full day session thinking about fostering collaboration within the office environment. Overall an interesting day, albeit it a big unspecific for my taste. About midway through the day, I sat and listened to a conversation between two colleagues who were discussing the challenges that both of their teams face with helping answer questions from the field.

One colleague commented how on their team the nature of the questions were generally much more transactional without a lot of opportunity to interact and dig deeper. The other colleague described their team as one where the overwhelming majority of the questions seemed to be much more involved and offered many opportunities to collaborate with the field. While my role was to participate in the conversation and share observations from my own team’s experience, which, coincidentally does not resemble either of my colleagues’ teams’ experiences, I felt the urge to listen and see if I could potentially structure the challenge that was being described in a manner that would allow for a more structured conversation.

Through the conversation I was able to discern that, unbeknownst (SP???) to my colleagues, the conversation focused primarily on two areas that I think are important in being able to answer questions and solve problems:
– The nature and complexity of the question / problem. This can refer to either the specificity and clarity of the question (2+2 vs. if I sum two even numbers will I get 4), or the complexity of question (can you optimize the distribution of these points across distance, count, drive time, and traffic patterns).
– The sophistication of the tools, methods and knowledge available to answer said question.

For example a simple question like “What is 2+2?” can be easily answered because we have developed the tools and methods to calculate this. The question “How many Watts are needed to power these three devices?” is a bit more complex, but to those who have studied electricity and elementary physics are a lot easier to answer. This is due to their training which has been acquired. You can see the progression continue and get to questions that only extremely specialized individuals might even be able to begin to think about how to answer it.

To make things more complex, as individuals and teams grow, I believe that they want to have a “healthy” mix of these – well at least some do. I suspect that most people reading this will want to continue to develop their knowledge by solving and answering more and more complex questions, but that they also answer what they think are relatively simple questions on a regular basis. Satisfaction with your progress, I propose, is directly linked to the balance of being pushed and being comfortable. Different people will have different thresholds for what they consider a desirable state, but in general I would argue that they want both.

So I propose to you the following approach to thinking through complex problems.

Low Work /High Reward }{ High Work/ High Reward
Low Work/Low Reward }{ High Work / Low Reward
35% | 25%
35% | 5%
(Another article – how to balance over the development of a team)

As I develop my own thinking I would be delighted to get your thoughts on this framework


In thinking of this on a 2 by 2 matrix, I would argue that there are four positions:
– Codify: In a situation where questions are not very complex (“What is 14*11 squared?”), one can improve their knowledge to make answering these questions faster or easier. This can be done either by learning new knowledge on how to shortcut these types of questions, acquiring new tools (a calculator), or learning multiplication tables.

– Explore: In this area we are dealing with questions that are quite simple, but already have the tools. The opportunity here is to think about how can answer more sophisticated questions with the tools we have. EXAMPLE:

– Adjust: This is potentially the worst place to be. These are complex questions that we’re being asked to answer without the necessary knowledge, tools, and methods. Therefore our ability to answer those questions within any timeframe is fairly limited. For example, think of the highly unrealistic example of Sir Isaac Newton being asked to come up with a method for sending someone to the Moon. Even the best knowledge, tools and methods available at the time would not help in answering that question. It would take, after all, over 400 years for a human being to set foot on the moon. The advice for people with these types of questions if to find a why to shortcut the process and obtain the knowledge, methods and tools as fast as possible to get be able to answer the question, or (better) find a way to simplify (“ok we can’t get you to the Moon, but we can have you fly in a few years”).

– Innovate/Explore: This is a good place to be in. This is where research and development can really have an impact. This is the area where the tools, methods and knowledge are mature enough, and the problems remain complex enough that we can start explore the next S curve of tools, knowledge and methods. Overtime, questions answered here should migrate to the “codify” box.

Over time, questions in the Innovate category should make their way down to the Codify category (and hopefully t

How does this apply to NYTM:
In teams that seek to meet client demand, it’s important to have a healthy balance of work. I have found myself being involved with teams who too often are in the codify box and by trying to get to the innovate box (which, let’s face it, that where we want to be), end up derailed and thrown into the Adjust category. Recognizing this risk is a first step in organizing effective teams, managing balance between types of projects, and ensuring growth.

While I am using a 2 by 2 to represent this, I by no means believe projects and the nature of problem solving to be that simple. I fact, the process to move is much more iterative and “stepped”. A 2-by-2 is just an easy way to communicate this.