Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What Architecture is Best for Cloud? Service-Oriented

At the ZDNet blog, Joe McKendrick writes, "...cloud computing is where the promises of SOA begin to see the light of day...." At many organizations, Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) and the Cloud are bringing operational efficiency and reduced costs by consolidating proven technologies.

Cloud adoption can be hindered by lack of standardized APIs, which means migration from one platform to another can be difficult. Security of data is foremost in the minds of IT executives; when your data resides at physical locations outside your control, anxiety can increase. And migrating servers and apps to the Cloud requires time and the efforts of specialists.

SOA bridges these gaps by putting proven frameworks in place to ensure portability of services (via APIs that are standardized), and, with the right models, ensures in-transit data and data-at-rest is encrypted. Finally, if new enterprise solutions are built with SOA in mind, migration is simplified.

Read more at ZDNet...

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Followup: iOS 8 + iPhone 6 = Portable Weather Station

With the iPhone six array of sensors, it is no wonder scientists are jumping on board. For example, OpenSignal is putting the barometer to use as old-fashioned weather sensors. Their app will download to any iPhone with iOS 8, with Apple’s two newest handsets you can take pressure readings, which Open Signal will plop into its crowdsourced weather map. Those readings combined with the barometric pressure measurements of Android users can then be used to give an ever-updating look at the pressure changes in your area. The data is also being sent off to climatologists, such as the University of Washington’s Cliff Mass, who are exploring ways of incorporating crowdsourced smartphone readings into future meteorology models.

Even add-on components are becoming available. Soon crowd-sourced real-time weather data will supplement satellite information to give us a better picture of our atmosphere. So you can do more than make satellite calls.

Interested in this technology? Read more here...

And, of course, sign up now for US national weather alerts...

East vs west, individualism vs collectivism

Cited from a recented New York Times article by T. M. Luhrmann -- some cultures are more individualistic, and others more interdependent. Agriculture may explain why. Some interesting -- if broadly reached -- conclusions based on an anthropologic view. I'm unsure there's sufficient evidence to support ALL the conclusions the author of this NYT article jumps to, but certainly the idea that individual-achievement vs the-collective-good is a worthy thought problem.

Why Are Some Cultures More Individualistic Than Others?

AMERICANS and Europeans stand out from the rest of the world for our sense of ourselves as individuals. We like to think of ourselves as unique, autonomous, self-motivated, self-made. As the anthropologist Clifford Geertzobserved, this is a peculiar idea.

People in the rest of the world are more likely to understand themselves as interwoven with other people — as interdependent, not independent. In such social worlds, your goal is to fit in and adjust yourself to others, not to stand out. People imagine themselves as part of a larger whole — threads in a web, not lone horsemen on the frontier. In America, we say that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. In Japan, people say that the nail that stands up gets hammered down.

These are broad brush strokes, but the research demonstrating the differences is remarkably robust and it shows that they have far-reaching consequences. The social psychologist Richard E. Nisbett and his colleagues found that these different orientations toward independence and interdependence affected cognitive processing. For example, Americans are more likely to ignore the context, and Asians to attend to it. Show an image of a large fish swimming among other fish and seaweed fronds, and the Americans will remember the single central fish first. That’s what sticks in their minds. Japanese viewers will begin their recall with the background. They’ll also remember more about the seaweed and other objects in the scene.

Another social psychologist, Hazel Rose Markus, asked people arriving at San Francisco International Airport to fill out a survey and offered them a handful of pens to use, for example four orange and one green; those of European descent more often chose the one pen that stood out, while the Asians chose the one more like the others.

Dr. Markus and her colleagues found that these differences could affect health. Negative affect — feeling bad about yourself — has big, persistent consequences for your body if you are a Westerner. Those effects are less powerful if you are Japanese, possibly because the Japanese are more likely to attribute the feelings to their larger situation and not to blame themselves.

There’s some truth to the modernization hypothesis — that as social worlds become wealthier, they also become more individualistic — but it does not explain the persistent interdependent style of Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong.

In May, the journal Science published a study, led by a young University of Virginia psychologist, Thomas Talhelm, that ascribed these different orientations to the social worlds created by wheat farming and rice farming. Rice is a finicky crop. Because rice paddies need standing water, they require complex irrigation systems that have to be built and drained each year. One farmer’s water use affects his neighbor’s yield. A community of rice farmers needs to work together in tightly integrated ways.

Not wheat farmers. Wheat needs only rainfall, not irrigation. To plant and harvest it takes half as much work as rice does, and substantially less coordination and cooperation. And historically, Europeans have been wheat farmers and Asians have grown rice.

The authors of the study in Science argue that over thousands of years, rice- and wheat-growing societies developed distinctive cultures: “You do not need to farm rice yourself to inherit rice culture.”

Their test case was China, where the Yangtze River divides northern wheat growers from southern rice growers. The researchers gave Han Chinese from these different regions a series of tasks. They asked, for example, which two of these three belonged together: a bus, a train and train tracks? More analytical, context-insensitive thinkers (the wheat growers) paired the bus and train, because they belong to the same abstract category. More holistic, context-sensitive thinkers (the rice growers) paired the train and train tracks, because they work together.

Asked to draw their social networks, wheat-region subjects drew themselves larger than they drew their friends; subjects from rice-growing regions drew their friends larger than themselves. Asked to describe how they’d behave if a friend caused them to lose money in a business, subjects from the rice region punished their friends less than subjects from the wheat region did. Those in the wheat provinces held more patents; those in the rice provinces had a lower rate of divorce.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Are you a Government CIO Looking for Answers About the Cloud?

Please jump over to GovernmentCIO magazine, my thoughts on getting started with the Cloud, for Federal agencies (and, frankly, any large organization with substantial investment in IT assets).

I describe briefly four tactics to consider when developing a multi-year roadmap: Cherry-Pick What To Move First; Lay a Solid Foundation; Take a Hybrid Approach; and, Secure Your Vital Data, No Matter Where it Rests.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Capitalism is first and foremost about people

Let's be clear: capitalism is based on meeting people's wants and needs, not short-term profit and growth. The focus many put on the actions of companies ignores the situation surrounding these companies: unfair and unbalanced access to markets, monopolization of capital, and utilization of the government to restrain competition.

Production in capitalism is aimed at the creation of surplus value -- and the transformation of a part of that value back into capital, that is returned to the shareholders of the company. That "surplus value", in the form of dividends, is free to be used by the shareholder as he or she sees fit. This freedom of choice is why capitalism is a lynchpin of American values.

Of course there is nothing wrong with making profit a company's goal. What is important is how one achieves it -- leaders of the most profitable corporations, in my opinion, treat profit as the result of other efforts, efforts they devote most of their attention. Steve Jobs had a focused strategy to deliver outstanding products to carefully-selected customers. Marissa Mayer pursued policies and practices to leverage results over costs, hiring people with the right attitude. Google does this: find the smart people who fit with the organization's culture, and good things will come. Matthias Müller looked for proper training and teams work to achieve success with Porsche.

In all these cases, profit naturally comes from the efforts of the organization. But remember, capitalist markets are an expression of the value of individual freedom, organized around voluntary exchange between people. Nobody is forced to engage in any particular exchange or trade. And free markets are an extremely effective mechanism for coordinating complex economic systems; they accomplish this remarkable result through supply, demand, and the autonomous price mechanism.

Adam Smith cautioned us that “the man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations...” will be unable to solve problems and to think for himself, and “...generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.”

Free markets demonstrate efficiency of allocation. When suppliers and consumers have completed their transactions, the market reaches a state of “pareto optimal” – no one can be made better off without someone being made worse off. We see that capitalist markets create incentives for risk-taking and innovation (why capitalism is an engine of economic growth). But government regulations of firms and markets interferes with these virtues. There is clearly a balance to be struck between regulation (the needs of the many) and freedom to choose (the needs of the few).

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Apple's iPhone Barometer - clear sailing for weather apps?

Many weather enthusiasts are seeing sunny days -- the new iPhone 6 carries a barometer, which measures atmospheric pressure. The sensor is mostly intended to provide elevation data to fitness and other apps (GPS satellites do a poor job of triangulating elevation, with an error rate of upwards of 60 feet +\-).

While barometric pressure readings can be subject to the vagaries of local conditions, accuracy may be an issue for weather-gathering apps. Combined with geo-located map data, however, you will have accurate on-point readings. Only flight requires accurate elevation readings that GPS can't give -- why you calibrate your baramoter at the apron of the departure runway, which has MSL marked on the chart. Using statistical sampling could overcome some data accumulation problems, as well.

Anytime scientists can gather more data, we all benefit. Look at Google's traffic display on their maps -- crowdsourcing works.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Want Safe Juice? Better Wear a USB Condom!

Waiting for your flight, your smart phone’s battery is about to die. Or perhaps at a hotel conference or shopping mall. You don’t have your power cable needed to charge your tablet or phone, but you do have a USB cord that can supply the needed power. Then you spot an help: a free charging kiosk.

Didn't think before connecting your phone to this unknown device -- which could be configured to read most of the data on your phone, and perhaps even upload malware? Better consider a USB Condom!

At the 2014 DefCon (a hacker's convention), over 350 attendees (who should be "in the know" about this) plugged their smart phones into a charging kiosk built by Brian Markus, president of Aires Security, and fellow researchers Joseph Mlodzianowski and Robert Rowley. They built the charging kiosk to educate attendees about the potential perils of juicing up at random power stations. To make their charging station more attractive to passersby, Markus and his pals equipped it with a variety of charging cables to fit the most popular wireless devices. When no device was connected, the LCD screen fitted into the charging station displayed a blue image with the words “Free Cell Phone Charging Kiosk.” The screen switched to a red warning sign when users plugged in any devices. The warning message read:

“You should not trust public kiosks with your smart phone. Information can be retrieved or downloaded without your consent. Luckily for you, this station has taken the ethical route and your data is safe. Enjoy the free charge!”
Markus said the comments from those who chose to juice up their phones at the kiosk were the most rewarding part of the project. But that's not all: Anything using USB is totally unsafe. A bold warning from Security Research Labs, given at Black Hat, another hacker con. Basically, any USB device can do anything it wants to your PC or Mac, and there's nothing you can do to stop it, detect it, or remediate it.

The security problems with USB devices isn’t just in what they carry, it is built into the core of how they work. That’s the takeaway from findings of security researchers Karsten Nohl and Jakob Lell. The malware they created, called BadUSB, can be installed on a USB device to completely take over a PC, invisibly alter files installed from the memory stick, or even redirect the user’s internet traffic. ... And the two researchers say there’s no easy fix. ... They spent months reverse engineering the firmware that runs the basic communication functions of USB devices. Read more at Slate...

Friday, August 1, 2014

Wait, cable companies are NOT common carriers, but ride-share is??

Maryland should not classify Uber and Lyftt and other ride-share businesses as common carriers. I mean, how messed up is it that the companies that provide the pipeline to the internet are NOT common carriers (Comcast, AT&T, Verizon)? But telecoms are (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile)? Yet, in the interest of "protecting us", the Public Service Commission wants to over-regulate ride-shares such as Uber.

Ride share is not a common carrier; our helpful government should not squelch consumer choice in Maryland by erroneous re-classisfying businesses such as Uber or Lyft. Uber and its competition provide flexibility: drivers have complete control over their businesses and schedules. The PSC’s proposed order would mean that Uber’s partner drivers can no longer own and operate independent companies; it would eliminate opportunities for residents to start their own businesses, make a living, and contribute to the economy.

Over-regulating would lessen low-cost options for low-income people who need to get to one place or another without a car. And the government's heavy hand isn't needed — the marketplace is the best regulator, in this case. Uber lets riders and drivers rate each other. Demand pricing means MORE available transportation, particularly when it is needed most — try getting a taxi last winter during that storm, or on New Years Eve, when so many people are drink-driving!

Shouldn't our government be looking to increase supply of alternative transportation, not decrease it? Fewer people owning fewer cars means transportation infrastructure costs go down. Pollution goes down. Congestion on our roads goes down. But not if you squelch new businesses.


How does Uber work? A customer requests a car using a smartphone app -- Uber sends its closest driver to their location, using the phone’s GPS. The fare is charged directly to your credit card. Uber provides five types of services: UberX, the cheapest option which allows for the hiring of livery car drivers with a smartphone; Uber Taxi, which lets you e-hail a yellow cab; Uber Black, a private hire car; Uber SUV, the car seats up to six people and Uber Lux, which features the priciest cars. UberX drivers are not licensed chauffeurs and they use their own cars. They also use their personal auto insurance policy while driving for Uber. According to the company website, all ride-sharing and livery drivers are thoroughly screened and the company conducts ongoing reviews of drivers’ motor vehicle records throughout their time with Uber.

While taxi operators may spend more than $1 million for a medallion to operate in some cities, Uber drivers don’t. At least six cities (Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska; Ann Arbor, Michigan; San Antonio and Austin, Texas; and Miami) as well as the state of Virginia have banned ride-sharing companies. Another seven cities and three states (California, Connecticut and Pennsylvania) are trying to regulate them. So let's see - government monopolies to keep prices high and provide crappy taxi service? Or freedom of choice?

You decide. Before the government does for you.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Commercial Space Flight for the Masses (well, the 1% of the masses)

SpaceShipTwo -- Virgin Galactic's rocket plane -- blasted off of its carrier plane for a second powered test, another step towards commercial trips for people to outer space. The rocket plane flew high above the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, deployed from the carrier plane, WhiteKnightTwo. After a 45 minute flight, SpaceShipTwo was released and glided back to the airport. It counted as SpaceShipTwo's 52nd flight and WhiteKnightTwo's 156th.

In January, SpaceShipTwo blasted off for a powered test and sailed through a follow-up glide flight; the bird is expected to go through a series of glide flights and powered flights that eventually rise beyond the boundary of outer space (60 miles or 100 kilometers in altitude, approximately). Virgin's billionaire founder, Richard Branson, could fly into space later this year depending on how flight tests go. More than 700 people have paid up to $250,000 each to take a ride once Virgin Galactic begins commercial service.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Any 8th-grader knows: replace roads with rails

In SimCity, an old-school Mac game where you build a city through urban planning, zoning, and setting the conditions right for the growing population of Sims, one quickly realizes that roads won't suffice for long.

The original SimCity was met with skepticism when SimCity creator Will Wright came out with a game that was focused on create, and game-play could continue virtually indefinitely, at a time where most games of the time were designed to last mere minutes and end in fiery explosions. SimCity is all about city planning, where you play as an omnisient and civic-minded honorific of Mayor, charged with managing the growth and planning of a simulated metropolis.

Here in the Washington DC area, the Wiehle-Reston East Metro is now open, after months and months of delays the Silver Line has begun service. Soon it will link one of the major airports to the city center.

In the game, we learn the secret to minimizing traffic congestion is a well-planned mass transit system that covers every building in SimCity. With a multitude of options, one can leverage mass transit many ways. One good way is to ensure at least one city in your region has a department of transportation module attached to the city hall. This is how WMATA should function, but, as the organization must content with three jurisdictions — and fight for funding from four sources, all competing — the mass transit mangers for Washington’s subways and busses have a tough situation to deal with. Marylanders don’t want to pay for the Silver Line. People in Northern Virginia don’t want to pay for the Purple Line (let alone law makers in Richmond). And nobody wants to pay for DC.

It wasn’t long ago that Metro was searching for a long-term fix. Of course, I advocate pursing a model like the Paris metro, one of the oldest subways: no more escalators. Save money on fixing the hundreds and hundreds of them, by shutting them off. Turn them into stairs, for the most part. That solves a huge maintenance issue, and perhaps will lead Washingtonians to walk more, and slow down obesity problems.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Could a Seismic Shift in Driving Be Coming?

The autonomous car - automobiles that can operate independent of human control - will soon be safely cruising down streets thanks to an array of sensors, LIDAR, and highly-accurate GPS navigation. Google, Mercedes, Volvo and others are hard at work.

But if the technology avoids getting squashed by government regulators and liability lawsuits, it could prompt a cultural shift similar to the early 20th century move away from horses as the primary means of transportation, as described here.

First and foremost, the author writes, the proliferation of driverless cars will likely greatly reduce the number of traffic accidents. For the U.S., accidents currently cost $871b annually. Beyond cars themselves, the design of roads and traffic today are built around the human needs and human behavior of human drivers. That means lots of road signs, lane markers, and street lights, and the need to keep trees and hedges from obstructing the visibility of corners. Getting a driver’s license at 16 or 17, and learning to safely operate a motor vehicle, is a major milestone of growing up in America. A child old enough to ride a bicycle or take the subway unescorted could be old enough to take a driverless car trip, especially assuming improvements in anti-theft technologies and the impossibility of even moving the car without being tracked. A driverless car could be turned into a mobile office, maybe even one with a fully-equipped mobile workstation. For jobs that require a lot of traveling, that could be an enormous blessing. For workers who want to lose less of their family time commuting, it offers the promise of a shorter day in the office.

For law enforcement in a driverless world, accessability of GPS data, and more generally the ability to redeploy resources away from traffic enforcement and prosecution of drunk drivers, could lead to better spending to combating more intentional crimes. For some jurisdictions, speed tickets are a major source of revenue. And for police everywhere, traffic stops occasioned by drivers in violation of traffic rules can be a major source of arrests for drug trafficking and other crimes.

So could the Google Car revolutionize our world? I think so. The question is -- will we enable that change, embrace it, or fight against it? Intellectual capitalism of course suggests that demand by consumers (the market) could be the driving force behind the coming shake-up.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Lest We Forget - We Have Walked on the Moon

On July 20, 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon -- go Team America! The scope of NASA's Apollo program seems staggering today. President Kennedy announced his moon goal just four years into the Space Age, but the United States had not even launched a human into orbit yet. Amazingly, just eight years later...

Twenty-four U.S. astronauts have traveled to the Moon. Three have made the trip twice, and twelve have walked on its surface. Apollo 8 was a lunar-orbit-only mission, Apollo 10 included undocking and Descent Orbit Insertion (DOI), followed by LM staging to CSM redocking, while Apollo 13, originally scheduled as a landing, ended up as a lunar fly-by. Apollo 7 and Apollo 9 never left Earth orbit. The inherent dangers of manned Moon expeditions as seen with Apollo 13 -- and of course the disaster of Apollo 1, the first manned mission of the U.S. The planned low Earth orbital test of the Apollo Command/Service Module never made its target launch date of February 21, 1967 because a cabin fire during a launch rehearsal test on January 27 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 34 killed all three crew members—Command Pilot Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, Senior Pilot Edward H. White II and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee—and destroyed the Command Module.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Wired Gives Five Reason to go "Cloud"

At Bluedog, we recognize that the cloud provides many solutions, and our product is aimed squarely at solving problems around collaboration and team content development.

Wire sees multiple reasons to start leveraging the cloud:

1. Cloud offers better insight. In a world awash in structured and, increasingly, unstructured data, 54% of leading organizations are using analytics to derive insights from big data, which helps them target customers and product opportunities more effectively.

2. Cloud helps collaboration. Cloud allows work to be accessed from multiple devices and from anywhere, which in turns makes it much easier for teams to collaborate on shared data.

3. Cloud drives better engagement. As we see the focus of business decision makers shift from cost efficiencies in their back-office systems to improvements in their systems of engagement, cloud is often seen as the most effective means of forging a tighter link with the customer.

4. Speed! Fifty-two percent of leading organizations are turning to the cloud to drive more rapid innovation in products and services.

5. Cloud benefits are measurable and pay for themselves. From efficiency gains to improved employee mobility, leading organizations are able to measure significant benefits from their cloud investments, but equally importantly, can pace their investments so they avoid big up-front capital expenses and pay monthly as their business scales.

Read the whole article here...

Even the Government Doesn't Trust the Government

The Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology, an independent body established by NIST last year to review the agency’s cryptographic standards development process, suggests the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) hire more cryptographers and lessen its reliance on the National Security Agency (NSA) for approving cryptographic algorithms.

NIST is the standards-setting body of the U.S. government. NSA is a signals intelligence gathering agency, part of the U.S. government's intelligence community.

NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked information showing NIST approved a random number generator (Dual EC_DRBG) that had been deliberately weakened by NSA. Because it did not have enough cryptography experts on staff, NIST was overly-reliant on NSA for expert advice on the standard and failed to notice problems even as private sector researchers were raising concerns.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Virtue of Starting Fresh

Bluedog is working on a new version of its product, Workbench "Always on the Job!"© And we are facing new challenges everyday. It is great to be back writing code, and on the front lines of working with end users. This is how better mousetraps get built, IMHO.

When we opted to upgrade, we went around in circles at the beginning about Ruby vs WebObjects. About keeping legacy code as a base layer, or starting fresh. Ripping up the SDD and starting again is one of the hardest decisions to do even — especially when its your baby.

At other places I have worked, too many people have invested too much in an on-going project. There are too many stakeholders, too much institutional momentum. As a result, the impulse is to try to fix what is there.

When I got my MBA, one of the best things I learned — and embraced — is the concept of “sunk cost.” So, cleaning the white board made the most sense for Workbench 2.0 -- while cloud computing, n-tier MVC architecture, and the web are going strong, there are many exciting new opportunities in the world of software-as-a-service. And the economic turmoil recently has encouraged our customers evolve. So we have.

When Steve Jobs took over Apple again in the 1998, one of his first moves was to throw overboard projects that weren’t working – such as, the “Newton” handheld device (which, as readers may know, I loved). He started over, wanting a clean slate.

I am lucky — with the great team at Bluedog, I am able to ask, “If we were just to start fresh, what would we do?” That’s what we are doing, and I am excited to see us get to the launch pad!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Monday Morning - let's talk tech: Service First, Apps Second

In the service oriented world cloud computing lives in, it behooves us to think in terms of the interface first, the resultant apps, second.

For example, think of a database you want to share with thousands of users. Who knows how individuals might want to access that data? How will you manage fine-grained permissions? Lightweight business logic, perhaps tied to an enterprise authentication solution such as LDAP, provides one path. One may also benefit from performance, as frequently accessed data could be cached. As “consumed” data flows through a web services layer, it is desirable to have fine-grained access control and analytics of the consumption of said services — and who doesn’t love a dashboard view of utilization?

The Bluedog approach is to think in terms of application programming interfaces (APIs), in the form of web services, so that organizations can open up legacy systems, improve efficiency and encourage others to tap the information resources already in use across the spectrum of IT assets. An API is a set of programming instructions and standards for accessing a software application. An example is the Google Maps API, which enables developers to embed Google Maps on a web page using a JavaScript interface. The Google Maps API is designed to work on mobile devices and desktop browsers, showing how flexible the approach can be.

The libraries in our software-as-a-service Workbench handle connectivity, access control, and search so our developers can focus on building a great user experience, whatever the platform (iPhone or iPad, browser, or even machine-to-machine).

Friday, July 4, 2014

Get Started with Your Own Business - infographic

Many times I am ask, "Hey, Tom, I have a killer idea for ______. How do I start a business?" That is usually when I finish off my pint and head for the door.

However, I came across this info graphic that provides a decent overview of how to get your company established and off the ground. Now all you need is a little capital, a little motivation, and a lot of luck.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Aereo asks: Are we moving towards a permission-based system for technology innovation?

Today the Supreme Court handed down a copyright ruling against internet company Aereo, whose business model was to "rent" small antennae to subscribers so they could watch over-the-air tv via their computer, laptop, smart phone or tablet. The company also provided DVR-type cloud storage for its customers.

The heart of the matter seemed to be, to the justices, that Aereo looks a lot like a cable provider, re-broadcasting content from the TV networks. This author agrees. Getting someone to pay you for someone else' content, without paying a royalty, is copyright infringement. Cable firms pay "re-broadcast" rights to the networks for their content; so should Aereo.

The internet is clearly a medium for content distribution; any ISP (be it COMCAST, AT&T or T-Mobile, or Verizon, here in the U.S.) should be classified as a "common carrier", as content providers such as XFINITY, Aereo, or even your local TV station's web page, are providing you quality (ha, we hope) content via the pipes that are the internet.

However, the founder of Aereo is right in asking, why should entrepreneurs ask permission to innovate? However, if they piggy-back on someone else, they should pay. That was this author's experience with Apple and SAP when we launched Bluedog as an application service provider in 1998 -- license WebObjects and R/3, to produce innovation and value for the customer. If there's money to be mad with an idea, everyone wins.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Build Drones, not roads

More from the "Robots are Good" file: Adreas Raptopoulos is the founder of Matternet, a company building a network of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to transport medicine and goods in places with poor road infrastructure. His idea -- "drones for good" -- employs small, electric UAVs to transport packages weighing up to a pound or so and containing items like vaccines, medicines or blood samples, over distances 10 kilometers at a time. using drones for transportation that leapfrogs roads, his idea could improve lives for many, many people. And make drones a popular tool for good, instead of evil.

Think of how mobile networks have overtaken land lines in poorly connected countries -- some countries just don't bother stringing wires. Why not the same, with roads? Where's the flying car when we need it?

Remember Bannockburn

While everyone remembers Guy Fawkes day, I like to remember the 24th of June, anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn. No rhyme, but a crucial lesson, regardless.

On this day some 700 years ago, the Scots were aiming for independence. Thinking outside the box, Robert the Bruce had his sappers dig a field of scores of holes, each only a few feet wide and deep, but excavated at a crucial point where the English were advancing. These small traps, capable of snapping horse's legs, meant the cavalry had to stay on the narrow Roman road. Unable to spread into a proper formation, they were left vulnerable.

While the battle ended well for the Scots, the war of independence dragged on. And, in the end, we all know how that worked out. perhaps wankers colonized Scotland, but history, well, history is written by the winners.

Lesson: act today with fortitude and cleverness — even in the face of certain disaster. Although, of course, the outcome may not matter in the long run.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Smaller Drones = Less Likely Injury

This Washington Post article highlights another problem with military-grade UAVs or drones: size. Of course, in physics, the larger the mass times the speed of the object, the greater the energy released. With commercial drones, size is often limited due to the economic constraints of constructing a vehicle large enough to carry out a specific objective, versus the monies a firm has to invest. With the government, and the military in particular, drones are often based on full-size aircraft. While the appeal of flying massive unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) has great appeal, it is this author's opinion that, as the pilot-in-command is not physically present when flying the craft, he or she has less incentive to keep that craft safe, and away from innocent people on the ground.

For example, in this story, the FA-18 pilot avoided a school full of children when his aircraft was in danger -- he was willing to risk injury or death to prevent others from coming to harm. When a UAV pilot is sitting in an air conditioned office flying a massive craft at speed, will he or she have the same reactions?

As with the Google Car, this author would be most comfortable with a large increase in the number of aircraft overhead in the CONUS should the government put forth guidelines on using autonomous control as a means of ensuring greater safety.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

What to do when the wind "don't blow an' the sun don't shine"

Solar and wind are the most talked about renewables when it comes to alternate energy sources. But when the wind doesn't blow, and the sun "don't" shine, how does one meet one's power needs?

A logical approach is to store electricity when those types of generators are out peak output, for consumption later. Batteries can be environmentally unfriendly, costly, and not meet performance goals.

Vanadium flow batteries offer the kind of low cost, high capacity energy storage solutions that will help transform the wind and the sun into power sources that rival fossil fuel plants for stability and reliability, but as always there are a couple of obstacles: where to get the transition metal vanadium, at a reasonable cost? One possibility is to recover the metal from other industrial activities, such as oil/gas production, or from recycling.

On a related note, why is the cost of solar so much less in Germany compared to the US? One possibility is that this s primarily due to Germany's more mature market, so market scale and associated learning-induced "cost reductions" are at work. However, as this article discusses, it seems the tax structure in the US is skewed away from adoption-incentives, resulting in higher costs for American buyers of solar over German ones.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Want a bigger return-on-investment? Try science, not war...

At Forbes, an excellent article on government outlays -- the choices our lawmakers exercise have a profound impact on us. And our children.

We’re in the midst of a remarkable stream of scientific and medical advances, spurred by dramatic advances in biotechnology, computing, and miniaturization. Our knowledge of biology has led to amazing leaps in our understanding of aging, immune responses, inherited diseases, and brain function, to name but a few. And yet we’re cutting science funding, year after year...

We've given up on the Super Conducting Super Collider, and the Tokamak reactor is limping along. Physics (expressed as math) is the study of the mechanical universe -- the basic science that underlies all the natural sciences. Uncovering basic rules of the behavior of matter and energy on every scale like quantum phenomena and the theory of the Big Bang, literally transform transformed our view of the natural world. Inventions like the transistor and the laser have ignited modern technology. Physics consists of many sub-fields, including particle and nuclear physics, atomic and molecular spectroscopy, optics, solid state physics, biological and medical physics, computational physics, acoustics, astrophysics and cosmology. We need to know more, to survive in this great universe.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Like Photoshop in the Virtual World? How about an eye dropper tool IRL?

From a near-by site: "Known as Scribble, the new technology lets you draw any colour in the world almost instantly.
The pen uses a 16-bit RGB colour sensor and scans real life items before creating a colour-matched ink, The Huffington Post reports. For example, you could scan a blade of grass (or an orange, as above) and the Scribble will create the exact colour for you and transfer it either onto paper or a mobile device."


Friday, June 6, 2014

Alternative to Autonomous Vehicles

You probably have heard of Uber and other car share apps/services. Here's twist - a self-organizing bus service. From Slashdot, we read...

'This new-old method of transport has comfortable seats and Wi-Fi. But its real innovation is in its routing. It is a "pop up" bus service, with routes dictated by millions of bits of data that show where people are and where they need to go. The private service uses chartered buses and is run by a start-up technology company called Bridj.' 'Bridj collects millions of bits of data about people's commutes from Google Earth, Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, LinkedIn, the census, municipal records and other sources. "We crunch these millions and millions of data points through a number of algorithms that are existing, or that we're refining, to tell us where people are living and working," Mr. George said. "And through our special sauce,we're able to determine how a city moves."'

Bridj collects millions of bits of data about people’s commutes from Google Earth, Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, LinkedIn, the census, municipal records and other sources. “We crunch these millions and millions of data points through a number of algorithms that are existing, or that we’re refining, to tell us where people are living and working,” Mr. George said. “And through our special sauce, we’re able to determine how a city moves.”

The NYT has more...

Monday, June 2, 2014

Wired thinks GoogleCar = more surveillance

Over at Wired Magazine,

...for most people, the link between government surveillance and freedom is more plainly understood by cars, rather than personal computers. As more and more objects become connected to the Internet these questions will grow in importance.And cars in particular might become, as Ryan Calo puts it in a 2011 article on drones, “a privacy catalyst”; an object giving us an opportunity to drag our privacy laws into the 21st century; an object that restores our mental model of what a privacy violation is.

The author continues,

“Self-driving” is another misnomer. Driving decisions are never “self-made.” They are accounted for by algorithms when they are not accounted for by drivers. These algorithms reflect many decisions that aren’t self-made either: they are the conscious answers to complicated safety, ethical, legal and commercial dilemmas. Calling a robotic car “self-driving” diverts attention from the surrender of autonomy to algorithms, making it harder to navigate the policy questions that arise.

Self-driving cars are coming–slowly and progressively, with various stages of automation before the streets are filled with no-hand-on-wheel vehicles like the prototype Google revealed Tuesday–but they are surely part of our near future. They hold considerable promise for the environment and for road safety.

They also embody our debate on freedom, autonomy, and privacy when it comes to computing systems–revealing just how intrusive remote access to computing systems by the government or individuals can become.

At The Atlantic, we read:

The automobile has afforded greater freedom to so many different kinds of Americans: the mad dreamers portrayed in On the Road; the post-World War II families who suddenly had the means to pack their kids in the backseat and vacation a thousand miles from home; the Jim Crow-era blacks for whom cars were an alternative to racist public-transportation systems; the generations of American teenagers who cruised the local strip in their own versions of American Graffiti. This heritage is dear to many, and helps explain popular opposition to policies as diverse as toll roads, speed cameras, and permitting the Transportation Security Administration to expand its operations on the nation's highways. All challenge a romantic preference for an America where anyone can climb into a car, fill up, and drive wherever they damn well please unimpeded.

But the anonymity of driving is fading. For example, automatic license-plate readers threaten much of the privacy we have enjoyed, getting to our destination.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The GoogleCar Will Change Our Cities, and Our Lives

A revolution in urban mobility, happening as we speak, says Alain Bertaud, senior research scholar at the New York University Urbanization Project.

"Within 10 years, urban transport will be transformed, and the productivity of large cities will improve."

From the outside, the nameless, prototype autonomous car looks like a cross between a golf cart and a Smart Car -- with two doors, two seats. The detailing and placement of the headlights and grille make the front look like a face with big child-sized eyes and a slight smile.

The inside lacks a steering wheel and column, and doesn't have a brake pedal or an accelerator. Classified officially by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as a Low-Speed Vehicle, a designation notable for its restricted top speed of 25 miles per hour, a regulation-approved glass windshield, the presence of side and rear-view mirrors, and a parking brake, the $150,000 electric Google robo-car can only go around 100 miles before needing a recharge. The autonomous self-driving technology uses pre-built maps overlaid by a real-time map built with a combination of cameras, sensors, and Lidar (a kind of laser "radar").

Bertaud predicts that the future of urban mobility will depend on autonomous vehicles that people use not only for the so-called "first-last mile," to connect people to public transportation systems when they live close to stops and stations, but not close enough, but also for when public transportation systems take too long to go relatively short distances.

The speed restriction falls into this classification of the Neighborhood Electric Vehicle, a sub-classification of the Low-Speed Vehicle that operates in mixed-used environments. Susan Shaheen, co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, says, "These are cars that are uniquely different from a standard vehicle, and may be considered as an alternative to vehicle ownership."

In addition to the technological and socioeconomic hurdles the Google car tech faces, it must also win over regulators in each of the 50 states.

Read More at c|net...

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Trolls Are People, Too.

Is the internet only populated with trolls, a-holes and the ignorant unwashed masses who happen to know how to click a mouse? In my opinion, no. And, after all, my opinion counts the most /sarcasm

The internet is about community, as much as technology. However, as a widely-reported 2006 study argued, since 1985, Americans have become more socially isolated, the size of their discussion networks has declined, and the diversity of those people with whom they discuss important subjects has shrunk. In particular, the study found that Americans have fewer close ties to those from their neighborhoods. Sociologists Miller McPherson, Lynn Smith-Lovin and Matthew Brashears suggest that new technologies, such as the internet and mobile phone, may play a role in advancing this trend.

Specifically, they argue that the type of social ties supported by these technologies are relatively weak and geographically dispersed, not the strong, often locally-based ties that tend to be a part of peoples’ core discussion network. They depicted the rise of internet and mobile phones as one of the major trends that pulls people away from traditional social settings, neighborhoods, voluntary associations, and public spaces that have been associated with large and diverse core networks.

But the reality of social connectivity via the internet is here to stay. A Pew Internet Personal Networks and Community survey shined a light on people’s use of mobile phones and the internet as ways to connect with larger and more diverse discussion networks. And, when we examine people’s full personal network — their strong and weak ties — internet use in general and use of social networking services such as Facebook in particular are associated with more diverse social networks. [ The Strength of Internet Ties, Boase, J., et al., 2006, Pew Internet & American Life Project: Washington, DC ]

Social media activities are associated with beneficial social activities, such as having discussion networks that are more likely to contain people from different backgrounds. As an example, frequent internet users such as those who maintain a blog are much more likely to confide in someone who is of another race. Those who share photos online are more likely to report that they discuss important matters with someone who is a member of another political party.

The Pew study found that, when one examines people’s full personal network — their strong ties and weak ties — internet use in general and use of social networking services such as Facebook in particular are associated with having a more diverse social network. This counters the perception that technology pulls people away from social engagement.

But the internet is also about obscurity. The recent newsworthy reporting on government surveillance of internet and telecom communications has made clear that, while we rely on these two technologies to communicate and collaborate, we have long assumed such dialog occurred in private, much like the whispered exchanges in back booths of cafés or empty aisles of bookstores of the past. The fact that all traffic on these networks, mapped by the Internet Protocol address — the "I.P." address — can be traced to originator and recipient, has largely been ignored by the vast populations using these tools. The obscurity we find with anonymous logins and random user names can be liberating. One can speak freely about topics often found uncomfortable in one's existing social circles, or ask questions that an immediate circle of friends, relatives or colleagues might not answer. But this anonymity is also a free pass to sling vitriol.

Anonymous communications play an important role in political and social discussion. The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that the right to anonymous free speech is protected by the First Amendment, such as the 1995 Supreme Court ruling in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission:

Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical minority views . . . Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society.

This tradition of anonymous speech ispredates the United States. Founders Alexander Hamilton James Madison and John Jay wrote the Federalist Papers under the pseudonym "Publius " and "the Federal Farmer" spoke up in rebuttal.

But the ease by which anyone can fake a name and voice any opinion — no matter how controversial or bigoted — without threat to their reputation is a driving forces behind the prevalence of hate speech online. Free speech does not mean freedom to disparage, libel, or foster hatred.

Anonymity on the internet desensitizes participants in a discussion. Such behavior, while rampant, is not found in the entire population of on-line commentators. Most so-call "trolls" might be easily classified as sociopathic narcissists, showing a callousness and lack of empathy for the objects/subjects of their derision. Unable to empathize with the pain of their victims, and perhaps having only contempt for others' feelings of distress and readily taking advantage of them, leads such participants in discussion threads to trample over the feelings of others. This reflects poor behavioral controls, found in the typical impulsive nature that can be observed in such personalities. Perhaps from the rage and abuse some of these participants have experienced, alternating with small expressions of love and approval, to produce an addictive cycle for abuser and abused. This may as well as foster a sense hopelessness in the victim, who finds an outlet in the obscurity of the vast whorl wide web, but engendered by a believe they are all-powerful, all-knowing, entitled to every wish, with no sense of personal boundaries, nor concern for their impact on others. Particularly with harsh words, submitted so quickly with a click of a mouse button.

Ultimately, people are behind the I.P. addressees that connect us all. What is low-cost approach to decrease the systemic negativity? Empathy, the cure for "trolling".

Wired magazine recently reported on a human rights group that introduced a new version of CAPTCHAs, those little boxes that make you type in a word to prove you are human before you can comment or register for a site. The new version doesn’t just present a scrambled word to be deciphered, but instead forces a person to choose the right word to unscramble based on the proper emotional response to a human rights violation. Civil Rights Defenders, the Swedish-based group that developed the tool, hopes the Civil Rights Captcha will help sites block spiders and bots, while letting humans in — and hopefully educating the humans at the same time.

More about trolls…
Chris Mooney reports at Slate that research conducted by Erin Buckels of the University of Manitoba confirmed that people who engage in internet trolling are characterized by personality traits that fall in the so-called Dark Tetrad:

Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others), narcissism (egotism and self-obsession), psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), and sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others). In the study, trolls were identified in a variety of ways. One was by simply asking survey participants what they 'enjoyed doing most' when on online comment sites, offering five options: 'debating issues that are important to you,' 'chatting with others,' 'making new friends,' 'trolling others,' and 'other.' The study recruited participants from Amazon's Mechanical Turk website and two measures of sadistic personality were administered (PDF): the Short Sadistic Impulse Scale and the Varieties of Sadistic Tendencies Scale. Only 5.6 percent of survey respondents actually specified that they enjoyed 'trolling.' By contrast, 41.3 percent of Internet users were 'non-commenters,' meaning they didn't like engaging online at all. So trolls are, as has often been suspected, a minority of online commenters, and an even smaller minority of overall Internet users. Overall, the authors found that the relationship between sadism and trolling was the strongest, and that indeed, sadists appear to troll because they find it pleasurable. 'Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others. Sadists just want to have fun ... and the Internet is their playground!' The study comes as websites are increasingly weighing steps to rein in trollish behavior but the study authors aren't sure that fix is a realistic one. 'Because the behaviors are intrinsically motivating for sadists, comment moderators will likely have a difficult time curbing trolling with punishments (e.g., banning users),' says Buckels. 'Ultimately, the allure of trolling may be too strong for sadists, who presumably have limited opportunities to express their sadistic interests in a socially-desirable manner.' Perhaps posting rights should only be unlocked if you pass a test.

Reading, specifically works of fiction, can lead to greater empathy. A study by a Washington and Lee University psychology professor has demonstrated that reading a short work of fiction can lead readers to empathize with the work’s characters, to detect subtle emotional expressions more effectively and to engage in pro-social behavior. Dan Johnson, assistant professor of psychology at Washington and Lee, published the results of his study in the November 2011 edition of the journal “Personality and Individual Differences.”

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Still Making Electricity At Your Own Shop? I didn't think so...

In the long-ago past, businesses had to make their own electricity. So we learn in The Big Switch, by Nicholas Carr. He explains how the use of electricity shifted from on-premise systems -- companies had electricity departments, complete with electrical architects and managers, sort of like IT departments today -- to third-party electrical grids that businesses simply tapped into. Electricity went from an item on which a business focused half its time, attention, and labor to a simple utility it plugged into and paid for.

Does that sound familiar? Your IT department may perhaps be going the way of the on-site electrician. Much like water, gas, electricity and the phone company, the concept of computing as utility is emerging with the availability of storage and server virtualization, grid computing, and automated provisioning of platforms. Service oriented architecture takes complex business procedures that could profoundly transform the nature of organizations’ IT services, strategies and infrastructure, and opens up access to complex computing power. With the application of cloud computing there could be concealment of the complexity of service oriented architecture, reduction of operational expenses, and converting of IT costs to variable ‘on-demand’ services.

Now consider the connection between freelance or contract labor and cloud computing: it makes sense for companies to make labor a variable cost rather than a fixed cost. This shift can be seen in the growth in the on-demand labor market. Online staffing is a $1.5 billion-a-year industry; it’s growing 50 percent a year, and it’s projected to be a $20 billion industry by 2020, according to Work Market. With respect to IT workers in particular, one often reads about employers complaining that they can’t find the skills they need, and skilled IT workers complaining they can’t find a job. Of course, the concept of "digital sweatshop" must be considered, such as World of Warcraft farmers in Mexico.

In the ultimate Cloud scenarios, organizations will be able to acquire as much IT services as they need, whenever and wherever they need them. In the near future, labor could also be similarly networked. Taken with secure online apps, this would facilitate “agility-integration” of IT and labor resources within and between virtual companies.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Cloud Can Set You Free... for a Price

Every small business operates on a limited budget. When the objective is to make a profit, and not to spend money on technology, the Cloud may offer answers. However, in today’s world adopting new technologies will help anyone launching or maintaining a small business. For example, many businesses have databases containing customer or prospect records, process or inventory information and other important data. This may require expensive server and storage technology that typically does not fit within a start-up's budget. With the cloud, such organizations can store their extensive data remotely, with no need to purchase costly hardware or hire in-house IT professionals to manage these systems. Plus, because you are are reducing the amount of computer hardware, you are also reducing electricity, licensing and maintenance costs associated with maintaining and running in-house technology.

In this Forbes article, we read,

What’s the role of cloud computing in these digital-driven shifts? Ultimately, cloud provides a foundation that is making things happen. But simply subscribing to cloud — or even building a private cloud — does not automatically transform a company into digital mode. Rather, it is a key step in a long-term evolutionary process, and part of many things that are going on at once. Over the long term, what’s notable about these shifts in business models is the underlying premise that is affecting just about every business: everyone, to some degree, is becoming both a consumer and provider of cloud-based software...

[There will be] a resurgence of middleware — a services layer that will sit between abstracted systems and front-end end-user applications. This is a natural role for cloud computing, but don’t expect cloud to address all these requirements overnight — or even over the next few years. As Accenture puts it: “It’s not possible to use a single platform to handle every business requirement. And don’t assume that cloud will always be the answer either.”

Reading emails is a killer app for mobile devices. This means having a mobile-friendly approach to engaging employees, customers and leads has never been more important. Mobile devices are quickly becoming the platform of choice for computing and collaboration versus sitting behind a desk. By embracing the iPhone and others, you can leverage data and drive service delivery. Deep knowledge of how business owners need to run their shops and the mission critical processes they depend on will be facilitated by the switch to mobile devices for computing needs. Look for solutions to be developed for mobile devices, tablets, beyond traditional desktops. Information and functionality will be available to customers, staff and others in any environment, without having to download or configure platform-specific legacy apps, or by going to the manual or to training programs. And data will be shared among these apps, which will accelerate a move away from on-premises installations of software to software-as-a-service/cloud-based implementations.

The advantages of mobile computing compound the benefits of the Cloud, and small businesses and other organizations have the means to free themselves, from the likes of the IT crowd :-)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Leave it to Micro$oft to want to take the Government backwards...

We've seen some proactive attempts to lower costs and increase choice in the public sector when it comes to the technology tools tax payers must foot the bill for. The U.K. Government's decision to look at open source software, for example, as an alternative to using products like Microsoft Office across entire departments could lead to major cost savings, according to a policy document. The policy is pretty broad, where the UK Government will consider OSS solutions alongside proprietary ones in IT procurements. Contracts will be awarded on a value for money basis and the UK Government will only use products for interoperability that support open standards and specifications in all future IT developments. This approach ensures avoiding lock-in to proprietary IT products and services.

Of course, when the iPhone debuted, the government was fully committed to Blackberry. Getting a new mobile platform in the door at U.S. federal agencies was no small task -- even with Apple's "walled garden" that made secure apps possible, and the "sandbox" memory partitions that keep iOS secure. Microsoft's own phone offering, a laggard in the consumer space, only just recently was able to get certification. Demand for the iPhone drove adoption at agencies -- just like Blackberry did back in 2001-2003. However, a lesson learned from that experience was that proprietary means more expensive -- and, with the iPhone, the concept of Bring-your-own-device (BYOD) was born. Now we see MS trying to roll back the clock, leveraging Exchange dominance to enforce use of its own products.

One of the most interesting things that struck me was that while many companies are developing products and services to help with Bring Your Own Device initiates, quite a few people, either privately or off the record, seemed to feel BYOD in government was a passing phase. So while the focus of many mobility efforts are squarely on BYOD, there is a huge pool of people who apparently don’t think it can, or should, last within government.

That means that instead, government agencies will eventually fall back to the older model where a set of uniform devices are purchased and configured by an agency and then deployed to users. But what devices will be used? A few years ago, the answer was easy: BlackBerry. But with its declining fortunes, it’s safe to say other companies are smelling blood in the water. BlackBerry was so successful at getting into government service because it offered a highly secure alternative, though not necessarily a more convenient one, to every consumer phone on the market at the time.

Windows phones have not done so well in the consumer market compared to Android and iOS devices, so the move toward government and business makes sense

Sometime this spring, Microsoft plans to push out an Enterprise Feature pack to every Windows phone. This heavy set of tools includes the ability to use S/MIME to sign and encrypt email, automatically configure and access information through a VPN tunnel and the important ability to manage, enroll, update and revoke security certificates for users on a corporate or government network.

Let's hope tight budgets and common sense push CIOs to reject a fall-back to the dark days of Blackberry dominance. Read more of John Breedon's view here...

Friday, March 7, 2014

Drones for Commercial Use Ruled Legal

A judge on the National Transportation Safety Board has ruled that the commercial use of small drones is in fact legal, although for the last six years, the Federal Aviation Administration has repeatedly said the contrary.

Over at The Verge,

Today Judge Patrick Geraghty dismissed a $10,000 fine levied by the FAA against Raphael Pirker, a Swiss drone operator who used a camera drone to film on the University of Virginia campus. "At the time of respondent's model aircraft operation ... there was no enforceable FAA rule or FAR Regulation application to model aircraft or for classifying model aircraft as an UAS," the judge writes.

Raphael Pirker had been fined $10,000 by the Federal Aviation Administration for using a drone to shoot a promotional video, won a dismissal yesterday of the charge of reckless flying. An administrative law judge determined the FAA had no authority over small unmanned aircraft when it imposed the first-ever such fine on a drone operator.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Autonomous Vehicles - What would riding in one be like?

The BBC reports on the Geneva Motor Show to show passengers' view of driverless cars. (4 March 2014 / Russell Hotten)

Autonomous cars, robotic cars, drone cars - call them what you will, but the self-driving car is coming to a showroom near you.

It might take a couple of years - it might take a couple of decades - but few people at the Geneva Motor Show would disagree that one day science fantasy will become fact.

However, while the likes of Google, BMW, Ford and IBM work on the technology, less attention has been given to what it means for passengers.

The Swiss automotive think tank Rinspeed has tried to give one possible vision of this future with its Xchange concept car, being premiered at Geneva.

"I wanted to put the passenger at the centre of what is possible, not the autonomous driving technology," says Rinspeed's founder and chief executive Frank Rinderknecht.

"Travelling in a driverless car will no longer require me to stare at the road, but will let me spend my time in a more meaningful way.

"The question then arises, would I like to work, to sleep, to read, to do whatever activities you might do on a train, a plane?

"I wanted to start thinking about how autonomous cars would 'move' people, and not just in the literal sense."

Swivel, tilt, slide
Rinspeed has taken a four-seater saloon and reconfigured the interior into something that would not look out of place inside a small private jet.

Except - and this was the real challenge - it is all done in a standard-sized car, in this case an electric Tesla Model S.

"It would have been easier in a van or stretch limousine, obviously," says Frank Rinderknecht.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Difference Between Websites and Web Apps

This is a good article to provide to consumers on the difference between the World Wide Web and, well, web apps.

The confusion comes from the fact that a web application, or any type of app performs some useful function. You interact with it somehow to complete some job that you need done. But now when most people hear the word app, they recall hearing the catchy phrase there's an app for that and associate that with their phone. Apps then become something that is on their phone.

TenPixesl wraps up with this bit of advice,

The train of thought required to build a web app is quite different than a web site. When building a web site, some common questions might be what information do I want to display, and what's the best way to display it? When building a web application, the questions become features. A developer will ask what does this app need to do? What are we trying to accomplish.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

User Experience for Commercial Drones - an exercise in design

Over at UX Magazine, Dan Saffer writes:

Technology asks, “Can it be done?” Design asks, “Should it be done, and how?” I’ve thought about these questions frequently in the weeks following the 60 Minutes’ introduction of Amazon’s PrimeAir. While some were horrified by the prospect of commercial drones buzzing through the skies, I was amazed and intrigued at this vision of the future. But that’s all it is right now: a vision, and a somewhat crude one at that—one that leaves many questions unanswered.

Some of those questions are logistical and legal: Will this work and in what environments? What are the implications on a social level and where safety is concerned? These are all tremendously important questions, but let’s assume the issues surrounding them can be worked out. After all, there is plenty of money to be made (by Amazon and others like FedEx) by making it a reality. In fact, Ross McCullough, vice president of corporate strategy at UPS, recently said: “I believe these things will be part of the system in the future. I don’t know when.”

While consumer drones are very much a reality and a hot topic at this week’s CES 2014, the biggest question on the commercial side remains mostly unanswered: What’s it really going to be like to have a drone deliver packages to your house? In other words, what will the experience truly be like?

This is in reference to the Amazon video that purports to show a drone delivery service,which really is more of an advertisement for Amazon itself, than a proof-of-concept.

Read more here...

Monday, February 10, 2014

Planning an Online Presence? Here's Some Tips

First question: "Why am I building this web site?" Are you building the site to make money? To share information? Or to build community, to keep in touch, or other collaborative effort?

If you are planning a commercial venture, consider tips on business planning, such as this magazine article.

The most basic tool to get started, after your business plan, would be a site map.

A site map is a diagram that represents the hierarchical structure of your site. The site will ultimately be rendered in Hypertext Markup Language (HTM), but this blueprint provides guidance on the overall navigation and structure.

To get started creating a "site map" of what you envision, read this...

You can use a tool such as this, http://slickplan.com/ or http://www.gliffy.com/ 

A site map is a planning aid that maps out the pages and navigation/structure, to help organize and categorize you content so that visitors can achieve the end goal of viewing your site.

Of course, you could also just use paper and pencil, which lets you free-think with little up-front learning.

Once you'd got your business plan and site map, you should decide if your site can be static (just HTML files) or dynamic (frequent content updates or interactivity, requiring more sophisticated technology such as a content management system (CMS) or actual computer code.

If you have relatively static (unchanging) content, the old method of updating an HTML file manually and uploading it to a server may suffice. This low-tech, low-cost approach can get a site launched fairly quickly.

if your content needs to be able to be updated regularly (daily, weekly, ad hoc), with different people adding content, or content that is updated automatically through the use of automated tools, a CMS might be the way to go.

Another advantage of a CMS -- no need to master HTML. In many organizations, content authors rely on web developers to put the mark-up formatting codes in place to make content web-ready. With a CMS, the content author/owner can access the parts of the site specific to their own content, and publish, often directly to the web site. Sometimes workflow is used, to enable third-party review and approval.

Finally, a CMS makes applying design standards more simple. With static pages, there is great flexibility, but one often relies on templates to ensure a consistent look across a site. With a CMS, non-authorized users cannot make changes to controlled areas.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Cloud vs Virtualization: A short primer

Virtualization is software that separates physical infrastructure from the servers (or, in some cases, routers) to create various dedicated platform resources. Virtualization software enables a hosting provider run multiple operating systems and multiple applications on the same server at the same time, in partitioned allocations of memory -- making servers, desktop environments, data storage and file systems independent of the physical hardware layer.

Cloud computing can be thought of as the service that results from the application of virutalization, when those virtual resources do not require human intervention to be enabled, and are accessed via the internet. The so-called "cloud" is the availability of shared resources, software, or data — as an on-demand service via the Internet.

The cloud most often includes virtualization resources to deliver the service or services. The cloud provides a self-service capability, elasticity, automated management, scalability, and pay-as you go service that is not in place with virtualization out-of-the-box.

At larger organizations, data center consolidation and modernization might result in so-called "private" clouds.

Sofware-as-a-service (SAAS) lets anyone enjoy software applications (such as Workbench "Always on the Job!"©) by licensing user "seats" on that is deployed by a provider, usually delivered in the browser or via a tablet or smart phone. The provider maintains the hardware and software, upgrades facilities and fixes problems -- users' total cost is lowered by eliminating deployment of the application in an organization's data center. SaaS applications are accessed over the Internet.

Virtualization is a technology that allows one or more physical server to appear to applications as multiple "logical platforms." These platforms can be accessed via the Internet, with automated tools, making them "Cloud" based.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Maker-Bot Revolution - Writ Large

The revolution continues in the transformation of our world, courtesy of the internet. One key technology is the 3d printer, which will open up new worlds by lowering the cost of many goods, speed the delivery of those goods into everyone's hands, and increase the creative options to enable ideas to become reality.

Some current 3d printers use the technique MakerBot and Da Vinci printers employ -- rolls of plastic wire that are then melted, piece by piece, and deposited as tiny dots to create objects. The resulting pieces can be light and strong, but their surfaces show a characteristic banded texture and the resolution is limited; the overall impression is crude. The so-called "printed gun" uses a much more sophisticated -- and expensive -- type of plastic dispensed from an industrial 3d printer.

One model that may emerge -- a bifurcated system, where the combination of 3D printing and manufacturing produces a low-end “Less Expensive, Less quality” model, where manufacturers focus on rapid iteration wth localized facilities, and a high-end “Premium” model, where groups provide product ideas and social capital to facilitate small businesses and local creativity.

Certainly the surface of the full gamut of possibilities of 3d printing are only being scratched. The people's gun is one area -- societal boundaries pushed. Another could be in terms of scale. With this device, you can "print" a house in 24 hours.

Created by Professor Behrokh Khoshnevis from the University of Southern California, this new giant 3D concrete printer can build a 2,500-square-foot house in just 24 hours, layer by layer. The giant robot replaces construction workers with a nozzle on a boom (pumping concrete from trucks), which squirts out concrete and can quickly build a home based on a CAD drawing.

For this author, it is not too difficult to imagine entrepreneurs or local small businesses competing with Ford or Kia to disrupt broad markets, such as for the automobile. The same holds true for other industries, such as consumer products or engineering. Don't underestimate the creativity of the motivated business person.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Analog Planning Tool

Each January I start a fresh paper planner/calendar. While I live and work by my product, www.workbench.net, I also maintain a paper-based tool. This allows me to work on task lists, calendar and a short list of contActs wherever I am, whenever.

One planner that I like very much is the Hobonichi Techo. This year marks the second year the Hobonichi Planner is available in an English edition. Sonya Park, owner and creative director of select shop ARTS&SCIENCE, has directed the project for an international Hobonichi Planner that can be enjoyed by customers anywhere in the world. The simple page design provides ample freedom and is easy for anyone to use. Several features of the original planner have been maintained in the English version, including the one-page-per-day design, lay-flat binding and daily quotes. The stylish, textured black cover is stamped in gold with the Japanese characters for techo along with the ARTS&SCIENCE logo. The 2014 edition cover features a slightly more matte finish.

For the convenience of global users, new features of the 2014 edition planner include a listing of holidays around the world, and a “Coming Up!” page before each month to allow users to write down important dates and devise plans for the month ahead.

From 1101.com

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Car Company And Universities Team Up for Auto-drive Improvements

Ford is joining MIT and Stanford University to develop solutions to the obstacles to autonomous driving.

“To deliver on our vision for the future of mobility, we need to work with many new partners across the public and private sectors, and we need to start today,” said Paul Mascarenas, chief technical officer and Vice President, Ford research and innovation.

Ford and MIT are working on advanced algorithms to help a vehicle learn to predict where moving vehicles and pedestrians could be. Ford and Stanford are exploring how sensors might see around obstacles. Ford says that the typical driver will maneuver around a line to allow them to see around obstacles like a big truck. The research with Stanford hopes to make sensors to see what is ahead of the robot vehicle.

Ford's automated Fusion Hybrid research vehicle uses the same technology already in the company's other vehicles available now for sale, but adds four LiDAR sensors to generate a real-time 3D map of the vehicle's surrounding environment.

The WSJ has more...

Monday, January 20, 2014

BBC reports on study casting doubt on quantum computing performance

Over at the BBC, research is reported on regarding the speed of commercial quantum computers. In some tests devised by a team of researchers, the commercial quantum computer has performed no faster than a standard desktop machine. The team set random maths problems for the D-Wave Two machine and a regular computer with an optimised algorithm.

The general feeling is, quantum computers have the potential to perform certain calculations significantly faster than silicon-based counterparts. The computer (or tablet or smart phone) we use today works by "flipping the switch" on bits that exist in one of two states: 0 or a 1. Quantum computers may address multiple states beyond the binary -- they encode information as quantum bits, or qubits, which can exist in superposition. Qubits represent atoms, ions, photons or electrons and their respective control devices that are working together to act as computer memory and a processor. Because a quantum computer can contain these multiple states simultaneously, such a device has the potential to be millions of times more powerful than today's most powerful supercomputers.

In the study, researchers comparing D-Wave's $15 million computer (utilizing quantum mechanics) was calculating faster than a regular machine. Of course, the researchers were only looking at one type of computing problem and the D-Wave may perform better in other tasks. Read more...

Monday, January 13, 2014

Want Your Mobile Apps to Work Better? Start with Canonical Services in Your Enterprise Architecture

To leverage legacy systems so they can be "mobilized," consider adopting an approach that aligns canonical data models in service oriented architecture (SOA) with your message models. Such a data model may be developed top-down based on business requirements or, alternately, through reverse engineering of existing data structures. This is the approach I've used most frequently.

So how to do this?

While it sometimes is difficult to create pure system-independent canonical models, aspiring to that in the context of SOA is a worthy goal. It helps to define data types (think of them as the "leaves" on the tress of your XSD, an XML schema or road map for the XML document). This structure could be similar to data types which are used in the RDBMS in your master data sources.

Next, find the differences -- map the supported data types in other systems and databases within your infrastructure. Typical conflict arises in types like "STRING" or "FLOAT". It pays to use more restricted form of this data type. If the databases contain something atypical -- for instance number of decimal places is lower than number which is required by your legal requirements (especially financial transactions) -- you can then disable that column to do critical transactions by creating a branch in data types. This can then be programmatically set during translations from system-specific data types in your Common Data Model, where you can use common static tables translating. The end result will be a set of data types compatible with your systems and also usable via in semantic standards over your ESB.

The next step is to define basic business objects representing entities within the semantic standard which will have structure, that will be understandable for you business and will be valid for consumers of your services. Of course, you will reuse data types from your data types set and business objects should be dependent on domain. For example, business objects for contract details in different domains if those domains require unique fields. Caveat: data types should be the same; look for archetypes in existing models such as Dublin core.

Finally, define the service interfaces. Are you utilizing a standardized form of message for request and response? Within this form you should use business objects, used whole prevent to fragmentation of interfaces, which could decrease the potential for reuse.

At Bluedog, we have found that canonical data model can provide a common format for the information content of the messages of the individual services, leading to a horizontal alignment of message formats across services.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Taking over the driver's seat - another study predicts uptake of autonomous vehicles

There are man benefits to the self-driving car, and these will drive acceptance once such vehicles clear regulatory hurdles.

Several traditional car makers are embarking on autonomous-vehicle projects, and are by the likes of Google and other major industry suppliers. IHS is only predicting self-driving cars to make up two-tenths of a percent of sales in 2025, with price premiums of $7,000 to $10,000. By 2035, 9.2-percent of new vehicles sold will be autonomous, as prices are driven down to a mere $3,000 more than a traditionally controlled vehicle.

“There are several benefits from self-driving cars to society, drivers and pedestrians,” says Egil Juliussen, principal analyst for infotainment and autonomous driver assisted systems at IHS Automotive. Juliussen co-authored the study with IHS Automotive senior ADAS analyst Jeremy Carlson.

“Accident rates will plunge to near zero for SDCs, although other cars will crash into SDCs, but as the market share of SDCs on the highway grows, overall accident rates will decline steadily,” Juliussen says. “Traffic congestion and air pollution per car should also decline because SDCs can be programmed to be more efficient in their driving patterns.”

Ford, for example, has initiated work on its own autonomous vehicle as well as a solar-powered hybrid plug-in outfitted with silicon panels right on the roof. The Ford C-MAX Solar Energi concept car gets an estimated EPA mileage rating of 100 mpg, and its rooftop array is capable of generating 300 watts. For the self-driving Fusion, Ford replaced the bulky LIDAR units on current autonomous vehicles are four smaller scanners. Linked together, the LIDAR units compose a 360-degree, three-dimensional view of the surroundings, processing the information and allowing the vehicle to accelerate, brake, and steer without driver intervention.