The timeliness of my columns has suffered the past two or
three months because my work has involved a tremendous amount
of travel around the globe, but I have been productive in
other areas and have seen and learned so much more about our
world in the process.
I'm writing this milestone column, my 50th for my pal Hal
Eisner, at 40,000 feet on a flight back to Los Angeles from
Tampa. Many business folks take advantage of the dead time,
and the technology we have in laptops, to work in the air
all the time. I don't usually use my airplane time for working,
but I am now because I am excited about something I've just
done and want to share it with you.
Too often we take the benefits of technology for granted,
and although we demand that the technology be used for bettering
our lives, it's usually more talk than bark. I hear people
say we should help our educational system with all this new
technology and yet, we rarely do so in urban areas.
Public schools are usually running behind private schools
in implementing the latest in high tech to help our kids learn.
I'm trying to do something about that, in some small way,
and hope that you'll show an interest in making a difference
in how you cover and report education news. Few reporters
I know really like to cover education. It can be so boring
and doesn't usually provide good footage for TV or sound bites
for radio. If it doesn't bleed, it doesn't lead, we always
hear, unless, of course, it's a school shooting or gang fight.
As I travel around, I see parts of our country where the
education system does not fare well, and it bothers me to
think what a terrible foundation is being laid for the lives
of so many future Americans.
I'm a businessman, not a bleeding-heart complainer/do-gooder/"government
has all the answers" type of guy, but this issue has
been gnawing at me for some time. I wanted to do something
as a businessman to help education, but it was more of a frustrated
dream than something plausible.
Then, this spring, I ran into a couple of Brits at a technology
trade show in San Francisco who were promoting a new product
in the Internet search engine optimization field. These are
the types of people who make it easier for you and me to find
what we're looking for when we go to search engines like Google,
Yahoo, and the others. But these chaps had a better idea than
just what's called "keyword" ranking in the search
business, finding info using one or two key words.
They had a much broader concept called "contextual search"
where it makes the search engines work smarter, so that when
you type in the word "bridge", for example, the
"contextual search" capability leads you more directly
to what you want to find. I had not previously given this
a lot of thought, but let's say you type in the word "bridge"
because you want to know more about the game of bridge.
Right now, the search engines will spit out connections not
only to info about the game, but also info about dental bridges,
bridges that cross rivers, and bridging relationships. The
"contextual search" apparatus alerts you up front
of the possibilities and allows you to narrow your search
and focus ONLY on the type of "bridge" information
you want to find.
Well, I have to tell you I thought this was one of the greatest
inventions I had seen in a long time, but I was about to find
the real diamond in this company named Crystal Semantics.
I learned they were based in Wales, just a ferry boat ride
from Ireland and down the coast from Liverpool, birthplace
of the Beatles. And I learned that their parent company was
called Crystal Reference and that "Crystal" was
actually Dr. David Crystal, a world authority in linguistics
and one of the world's foremost authorities on language.
What self-respecting journalist or communicator can't get
excited about meeting or possibly speaking with a guy who
has that kind of global glitter? But it gets better. Turns
out that Dr. Crystal, who is honorary professor of linguistics
at the University of Wales, Bangor, and formerly professor
of linguistic science at the University of Reading, has written
over 100 books on linguistics and English language studies.
Wow, this guy can easily become a worship model for a wordsmith
who loves and respects our wonderful robust, but sometimes
confusing language, which too many people don't appreciate
and butcher in such an awful way. I also learned the good
doctor was awarded an Order of the British Empire for services
to the English language. And then the real kicker: Dr. David
Crystal WROTE both the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language
(2nd edition 1997) and the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English
Language (2nd edition 2003). He WROTE them.
I thought maybe that was a mistake and he just edited them
or proofed them or some other cursory role. No, he actually
spent five long years writing these two giant bibles of language.
NOW I was excited. But it got better. I found out the good
doctor and his company co-founder, a delightful chap named
Ian Saunders (that name is SO British); were already big players
in the U.S. and they had a link to A & E Television, home
of the Biography Channel and the History Channel.
As a big Soprano fan, I know my hero Tony Soprano LOVES watching
the History Channel, but I never wondered from where all that
historical data was stored. Same for the Biography Channel.
Then I found out A & E and Biography.com license the 26,000
or so biographies from my new found friends, Ian and Dr. Crystal.
Another WOW! It turns out the Brits are helping us learn how
keep a record of our past. But it got better still.
I didn't know that Crystal Reference possesses a substantial
portfolio of reference and lexical intellectual property and
has provided reference material and online content for many
major publishers including Penguin Books, Webster Publishing,
several others, and is one of the fastest growing online content
publishers in Europe. They also have a site for schools with
one of the largest learning data bases in the world.
Aha!! Maybe here was my chance to try and do something to
improve the lot of education in America. The dreaded English,
whom we fled 229 years ago over taxation issues, now potentially
held the answer to my concerns about improving education.
Between Crystal Semantics and Crystal Reference, Ian and Dr.
Crystal possessed a wealth of technology, information, education
content, the whole shebang that I realized I had been looking
for without much success.
Now what do I do? They were "across the pond",
as the Brits like to say in minimizing the great expanse of
the Atlantic Ocean, and here I was in California, which is
quickly becoming one of the worst places to get a good education.
So I did what any good business person would do - I convinced
them they needed to significantly expand their operations
in the U.S. and I made them an offer they couldn't refuse
- I began the process of buying them. Hey, you gotta do what
you gotta do if you're serious about making a difference.
I went to CEO Gerry Jacobs and Chairman Ben Jennings, my
partners at Think Partnership, a holding company for top notch
Internet companies, and where I am on the Board of Directors,
and they were as excited as I was. The hard task of starting
the due diligence fell to another partner, President Scott
Mitchell, for whom such work should be a breeze. How many
guys do you know who dropped out of high school in the ninth
grade because they were bored and decided to try college instead?
By the time he was 21, Scott had earned two Bachelors degrees
and THREE Masters degrees.
The due diligence went well. Jennings, a big bear of a guy
who got a perfect score on his SATs, then went from being
a star football player at Rice University into investment
banking, used his creative financing skills to bridge the
gap from the U.K. to the U.S. and voila! - Dr. David Crystal
and Ian Saunders now have a family and a home in the U.S.
to among other things, help address my concerns about education.
It's an exciting acquisition deal, my first since joining
THK. That's what we call Think Partnership - THK - which is
the company's stock symbol on the American Stock Exchange.
All this traveling I have been doing has paid off in many
ways, but now in trying to achieve this dream. I found part
of the answer to America's education woes in England, via
a technology trade show in San Francisco.
Now, my new commitment is to help my new British pals make
their vast educational data base, their patented and proprietary
search technology, the brain power of Dr. David Crystal, and
the sharp business savvy of Ian Saunders and my U.S. partners,
reach every school building in America. Nothing is free and
it won't be cheap for the big picture, but I can feel proud
that now we have something real, and really good, to offer
our children in the world of education that they never previously
The best and the brightest in the world of information, technology,
and education, is available now and coming to America and
it's not just a matter of the twisted semantics we have been
getting from our lying, thieving, stalling politicians. This,
my friends, is a Crystal clear solution now, and for the future.
I like to think of it as a partnership between old friends,
coming together across a vast ocean, and giving our kids the
seeds of knowledge for a bright and hopeful tomorrow - today!