Monday, January 28, 2013

Someone to drive you home? That's worth alot!

In this Forbes article, the author makes some audacious claims:

...the driverless car has broad implications for society, for the economy and for individual businesses. Just in the U.S., the car puts up for grab some $2 trillion a year in revenue and even more market cap. It creates business opportunities that dwarf Google’s current search-based business and unleashes existential challenges to market leaders across numerous industries, including car makers, auto insurers, energy companies and others that share in car-related revenue.

As readers of this blog may have noticed, I like cars. Particularly German ones (even if one is owned by an American company. Driving is more than just reaching a destination, in my mind. It is about freedom, excitement, and more.

However, commuting is another story. One of my other loves, the bicycle, addresses this problem neatly. Still, as a SciFi fan, I find the thought of a self-driving car irresistible. An autonomous car, or robot car, is an autonomous vehicle capable of fulfilling transportation needs of a traditional car -- without a human to drive it. As an autonomous vehicle, such a car should be capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input. The goal is -- you choose the destination, but you are required to operate the vehicle.

Perhaps the elderly or other less-ably-bodied will be the initial focus of the robot car? One aspect I like about Google's approach: there is no centralized control, like in the next-generation air traffic control, where each aircraft "controls" the space around it, communicating directly with others in its vicinity. Safer, higher volume/higher density of traffic, and more direct routing (for quicker arrivals). Getting that on the beltway or at the airport would be welcome.

I never thought I'd See This: Consultants are, gasp, Good?!

In a recent Slate article, we read that management consultants are actually a boon to business!

A recent experiment by World Bank and Stanford researchers illustrate the dramatic impact of management “technology” on the way companies are run. The researchers randomly assigned a management makeover to a handful of Indian textile firms, while at the same time following a set of control textile factories to benchmark the effects of good management.
Out of chaos, order arose: Supply closets were no longer strewn about with yarn, factory floors were cleaned up, inventory and control processes improved production line efficiency. The benefits of good management were such that Accenture’s services—which were provided to the companies for free as part of the experiment—would have paid for themselves through greater profitability within a year: The researchers estimated a profit increase of more than $300,000 annually as a result of management improvements, as compared with the $250,000 market price of the consulting services they received.
What brought about these changes? Exactly the sorts of things that the managers of Davos are good at: designing incentives, ensuring clear and well-defined assignments of tasks and responsibilities, putting in place protocols to manage and track inventory and production. These are not new ideas. They have been the standard protocols of much-maligned managers since they first appeared on the scene with the advent of transcontinental railroad. It’s just that management, despite its age, is not evenly distributed around the world.

Slate's assertion: Better management stands a far greater likelihood of making the world wealthier and healthier. And that's a good thing.

- Posted by Tom/Bluedog

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Apple Misses Target, Shares Slip

Some disappointing news for Apple Fandom (well, shareholders). While sales of iPhone and other nifty gadgets continue, some targets are missed. Of course, Tim Cook looks on the bright side:

“No technology company has ever reported these kind of results,” chief executive Tim Cook said in a conference call with analysts after the company reported its earnings for the first quarter of its fiscal 2013 year. “Apple is in one of the most prolific periods of innovation and new products in its history.”

Sorry to be a downer, but I said this *way back* when SJ left/was booted out the first time. Without its leader, a cult, ahem, company has ultimately a hard time avoiding the downwards spiral (the same as Microsoft without Bill Gates, IMHO).

Luckily, SJ started NeXT, and was able to continue development of the BSD-based operating system that powers Macs and iOS today. And he picked up Pixar, which saved Disney, thanks to John Lasseter. And learned an awful lot about life...

But no to be 100% negative -- I think Apple has a WHOLE LOT of smart/creative and driven people. It will continue to be a great company. But without its founder at the helm, stormy seas ahead.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Intellectual property and file sharing co-habitation re-think needed

As this ZDNet opinion rightly points out, file sharing and copyright infringement are not synonymous. Kim Dotcom
deserves the protection of New Zealand's legal system; the case against him is muddled, and a rush to extradite him to the U.S. was ill-thought-out. Even if he broke some U.S. laws, Kim Dotcom's mega site may not even be about theft, as the New York Times points out.

In the middle of the 20th century, criminal law reformers were sufficiently annoyed by all of this specialization and ad hoc-ness that they decided to do something about it.

In 1962, the prestigious American Law Institute issued the Model Penal Code, resulting in the confused state of theft law we’re still dealing with today.

In a radical departure from prior law, the code defined “property” to refer to “anything of value.” Henceforth, it would no longer matter whether the property misappropriated was tangible or intangible, real or personal, a good or a service. All of these things were now to be treated uniformly.

Before long, the code would inform the criminal law that virtually every law student in the country was learning. And when these new lawyers went to work on Capitol Hill, at the Justice Department and elsewhere, they had that approach to theft in mind.

Then technology caught up.

The NYT presents a pretty clear thesis: "...stop trying to shoehorn the 21st-century problem of illegal downloading into a moral and legal regime that was developed with a pre-20th-century economy in mind. Second, we should recognize that the criminal law is least effective — and least legitimate — when it is at odds with widely held moral intuitions."

Sunday, January 20, 2013

High Tech Projects can have Serious Complexity Issues

Boeing is the leader in air craft manufacturing, and the Dreamliner is characterized as the most advanced, best performing and most comfortable passenger plane to date. The approach the company took in the design and building of the plane is just as revolutionary.

Boeing took a radical approach to working with many suppliers -- 787 development and production involved a large-scale collaboration with numerous suppliers around the world. The manufacturer assigned the global subcontractors to do as much assembly themselves as practical, and deliver completed subassemblies to Boeing for final construction. The intent was to have a leaner assembly line and lower inventory, with pre-installed systems reducing final assembly time by as much as three days.

The aircraft was designed to become the first production composite airliner, with its fuselage assembled in one-piece composite tubular sections instead of multiple aluminum sheets, the approach used on most modern aircraft. Its "fly-by-wire" approach is the most extensive implemented, outside of the U.S. military.

But, as with many complex technological undertakings, problems materialize, sometimes even after the project is stamped "done" by management. In fact, with the case of the Dreamliner, serious concerns have arisen regarding electrical problems. And, with an aircraft, such problems translate into the safety of passengers, crew and others. Human life is at stake when 200+ people are traveling at subsonic speeds. So, caution is always called for, as the recent grounding of All Nippon Airway's fleet of Dreamliners shows.

What can information technology professionals learn from this on-going story? In the past, all products were handmade, the work of artisans rather than manufacturers. Cars, clocks, and firearms, for example, started out as being made one at a time, and each iteration was subtly different than the one the craftsmen finished just the day before. Over time industry has learned the value of standardized, interchangeable parts, and ultimately, about mass production. Even "mass customization." Though the retro movement highlights handiwork, for most products, systematic production yields far better products at much lower costs.

This FastCompany article discusses how NASA makes their onboard shuttle software. Take a look at NASA's checklist (PDF) to see how 100% defect free is necessary when lives are on the line.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

File under WTF...

Your best employee is your most productive, right? Maybe he/she is TOO productive. Take this case... the top tech person at this firm outsourced his own job, and garnered top ratings for his "efforts."

A security audit of a US critical infrastructure company last year revealed that its star developer had outsourced his own job to a Chinese subcontractor and was spending all his work time playing around on the internet.

The firm's telecommunications supplier Verizon was called in after the company set up a basic VPN system with two-factor authentication so staff could work at home. The VPN traffic logs showed a regular series of logins to the company's main server from Shenyang, China, using the credentials of the firm's top programmer, "Bob".

Read more at The Register...

Saturday, January 12, 2013

JAva still important to cloud efforts

Cloud and SOA - Saving the Federal Government Big Bucks
— The U.S. government's Federal Trade Commission’s long list of responsibilities includes handling consumer fraud com-plaints, the National Do Not Call Registry for marketers and iden-tity theft cases. Until recently, the FTC's information technology systems handled these different types of complaints separately without communicating with one another. But that all changed when Bluedog, a systems integrator and software developer based in Dublin, Ireland, helped bring to fruition an SOA (service-oriented architecture) that modernized the FTC’s CIS (consumer information system). The $1.2 mil- lion upgrade involved bringing open standards and a Web-based architecture to the core system. Now, with cloud capabilities "baked in," the once-radical idea of SOA as a means to de-couple services from applications means big savings, for government and commercial.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Embrace the Tao of the Cloud

In my forthcoming book, The Tao of the Cloud, I expand upon the core elements of The Zen of SOA: An Executive Blueprint to Web-Enable Your Organization With Service-Oriented Architecture, my first book. Many have come to realize that the Cloud builds on SOA, and embracing de-coupled, standardized services paves the way to a cloud migration strategy. This ZDNet article explains, shared, service-oriented infrastructure will go a long way in today's craptastic economic environment. One benefit: by building out the architecture, all [services are] discoverable, and [one] can get to the data with a HTTPS message. Pretty compelling, in a time when nobody wants to spend money on new infrastructure.

- Posted by Tom/Bluedog

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Health Care in the Cloud - public portals as a solution

At the dawn of the dot-com era, portals and information exchanges were all the rage (I designed oversaw construction of a few, myself). My recent work at MITRE on the Affordable Health Care Act's federal information hub involve my designing a portal for those states who did not want to build their own.

Patient portals are the information aggregation and user interface engines now linking several applications, such as the organization’s electronic health record, including admission, transfer, discharge, or any hospital information system.

In this article,the idea of making use of publicly available solutions is raised:

The idea is to place this very complex data into an understandable context to provide the patient with a complete view of their health, including recent diagnostics, treatments, medications, and, most importantly, the monitoring of current health data to work more productivity with their doctors.

The article rightly points out that many in health care technology personnel push back on the use of cloud computing because of the privacy and security issues around patient data. But well-architected solutions with adequate security measures abound.

Read more here...

Friday, January 4, 2013

Need some diversion? How about cool MTB pictures?

Nothing gets me motivated more quickly than thinking about getting work done so I can get outside. This site has some awesome mountain bike pictures and videos.

Mountain biking is a kick-ass way to stay in shape, burn off stress, and get out in the woods. Research suggests that light stimulates brain chemicals that improve mood, and for good results, get sunlight exposure first thing in the morning. Phototropism in plants is mirrored in our own evolution.

So if you want to get a change of pace going, consider a change in workout to make your exercise regime more interesting.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Facebook privacy woes are nothing compared to what the government is snooping about you

Many people clamber for the setting link when Facebook changes its privacy policies, but, as TechDirt discusses, nobody really seems to mind the eroding of their privacy rights by the US government.

There's currently nothing on the New York Times web site about the votes (either yesterday's or today's). The Associated Press wrote a story about the House's vote in September but nothing yet from yesterday or today. The Washington Post did post a story this morning. A Google news search will land hits with mostly tech or web-based media outlets.
Compare the lack of response to the way people react to privacy breaches connected to Facebook or Twitter. Media outlet after media outlet carried reports about a private picture of Randi Zuckerberg, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's sister, accidentally being made public somehow through social media channels. And how many of your Facebook friends posted that silly, pointless "privacy notice" on their walls?

- TT/Bd