Thursday, December 31, 2015

End-of-Year Roundup

In 2016, virtualization in the cloud will mean most any application will run within a cloud environment — s step forward for many organizations. Just build and deploy in the native container (Java’s JVM, a dot-net infrastructure, PHP or other scripted language). Of course, Gartner predicts growth, some of which will come from calling traditional IT offerings "cloud" just by way of moving apps to a new data center. Nevertheless, migration of applications to cloud-based infrastructure will continue. While infrastructure is the usual focus, better services will be delivered via an application-oriented migration. Virtualization addresses infrastructure expansion, but being “cloud-ready” will mean expansion into app-level deployments that are agile (easy to maintain and upgrade), scalable (take advantage of on-demand capacity) and reliable (secure and crash-proof).

To leverage this coming groundswell, I advise revisiting applications, their integration, and the underlying data architectures. Perhaps these components need to be tweaked, or revised? I suggest considering new tools for deployment, monitoring, and management. Bluedog’s own infrastructure uses automated monitoring to alert our technologists to bottlenecks and highlight potential capacity issues — before an outage occurs. We use Nagios to monitoring infrastructure. It generates alerts when running out of disk, CPU, or memory, a reactive approach. Proactive monitoring generates alerts when a system is starting to experience symptoms that can lead to a degradation of performance or capacity, a preferable outcome. Tools such as the SWING Dashboard displays key performance indicators (KPI) daily, with a user-focused, visually appealing display.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Reach out and touch someone...

Haptic feedback can be useful with touch displays. How about holographic haptic feedback? Engineering researchers in Japan have come up with just such a scheme!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

D.I.Y. Auto-Drive

Tired of waiting for a solution, George Hotz designed a self-driving car. Himself. Although his self-driving configuration is more like an autopilot feature on a Tesla -- meant for highways, not city streets. Nevertheless, impressive engineering feat, from the original iPhone hacker.

Read more at Bloomberg

Thursday, December 17, 2015

To Catch a Drone, You Need a Drone

In Japan, the police are being proactive about illegal dangerous drone incursions, with a drone-snatching... drone. In video footage and pictures photos, the police unit appears to be equipped with a custom net for netting illicit aerial vehicles in the skies over Tokyo.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

US Government: Don't Impede E.U.-U.S. travel

US citizens may require visas to enter the EU should the United States move ahead with plans to scrap visa-free travel for select EU nationals. Twenty-eight member state ambassadors to the US made the threat on Monday (14 December) in an op-ed in The Hill after the US House of Representatives voted in support of the Visa Waiver Program Improvement Act of 2015. The US bill would ban certain EU nationals from entering the US without a visa if they had visited Iraq, Iran, Syria or Sudan after March 2011. This is referring to specific nationals with a history of travel to Iraq, Iran, Syria, or the Sudan, but the idea that visas will be required in addition to the security screenings (and biometric scanning) already done, is an added impediment to U.S. - E.U. partnership.

This is a very bad idea.

Monday, December 14, 2015

U.K. Poised to Garner Benefits of Autonomous Vehicles, as the U.S. Over-regulates

Over at The Telegraph, we read that Google considers the UK a key market for development of its self-driving cars. It seems the company is "very positive about the non-regulatory approach being taken in the UK, [placing] the UK in a good position and could be seen as an example of best practice." Google has also escaped excessive regulation in the area of drone development in the easier regulatory climes of Australia.

The U.S., on the other hand, is regulating toys as well as radio-controlled vehicles and non-UAV type drones. All but the smallest will qualify for tracking by the Federal Aviation Administration as the agency attempts to impose order on the burgeoning hobbyist use of the unmanned craft. Drones must be registered starting Dec. 21 and the agency will charge a $5 fee, which is required under current law, according to the FAA.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Google's Quantum Computer

From over at Futurism:

Google claims that a controversial computer it purchased in 2013 is capable of using quantum physics to solve math much faster than regular computers. They note that the type of math it solves is crucial to the development of artificial intelligence (AI).

Companies such as Microsoft, IBM, and Google (as well as several governments) have been trying to develop quantum computers which use quantum mechanics to handle data. It is believed that quantum computers can make AI computers much more powerful. NASA has high hopes for the technology, as well. “It is a truly disruptive technology that could change how we do everything,” said Deepak Biswas, director of exploration technology at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Holiday Parable... Of Sorts

Once upon a time, in a kingdom not far from here, a king summoned two
of his advisors for a test. He showed them both a shiny metal box
with two slots in the top, a control knob, and a lever. "What do
you think this is?"

Read the rest, here...

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Tired of Scrum? Get Ready for the "Open Development" Methodology

While Scrum and other agile methodologies have made inroads since 1990s, much has changed. Startups and enterprises with workforces spread across time zones can no longer co-locate their employees as they were once expected to be able to. As the world shrinks, organizations are finding themselves in a position to decouple the software development approach from traditional means. We see open source everywhere in 2015 -- with the diversity of teams developing for the most popular open source projects, one wonders how to succeed without the benefit of managers, meetings, and code sprints?

With "open development," decisions are made in public view, and Project Managers and engineers are responsible for their own actions -- autonomous but accountable. The approach emphasizes more than just code delivery, but collaboration and transparency. The other aspect of open development method is in keeping the peer review process business-like and professional.

Another consideration is the role of software patents, an issue that remains controversial in the software industry. There has also been much discussion in the software development community over the increasing use of Web 2.0-style software services, otherwise known as Software as a Service (SaaS) or the ‘Service Cloud’.

As part of an open development method, code quality is paramount, so code should be legible, able to be tested, module and minimally verbose. Each of these factors benefits not only the development team, but stakeholders (and, ultimately, end users). Here's a quick summary of the open development philosophy.

Friday, November 13, 2015

How the Web-Based Platform Disintermediates Trade of Ideas and Knowledge

Here at Bluedog, we believe in fostering marketplaces that are a decentralized means of transferring individual ownership (the quid-pro-quo exchanges of goods and services). Unfortunately the concentrations of ownership that exist right now are not the natural tendency of the capitalist market form, but to some extent the result of government privileges and prohibitions that deform markets — including privileges to landlords, bankers, factory owners, etc. (think bail-outs, corporate welfare, government-granted monopolies). Sometimes we see suppression of grassroots or horizontal forms of economic organization (governments mandating people to buy into a corporate insurance market, shutting down free clinics and mutual aid societies, busting unions through Taft-Hartley and “Right-to-Work,” etc.).

The e-marketplace that Bluedog participates in is business-to-business oriented, in which buyers and sellers exchange services and information. This consortia helps the individual business operate more efficiently (by connecting geographically dispersed teams), and groups of businesses help each other, by enabling the free exchange of useful content, connections to experts, and assessment of business opportunities with an eye towards teaming.

With many of today’s social-based economies, we see the opportunity to decentralize, from the bottom up. With Uber, AirBnB and others, there’s a platform-based environment to connect suppliers (people with cars or empty flats) with buyers (travelers). This is facilitated via the internet, where technology has enabled a cooperative model. Perhaps soon we will see more co-ops, worker-owned businesses and individuals trying out new experiments in trading with each other for the things or services people need or want.

What does this model mean for businesses? Easier access to talented individuals, called up upon demand, but free to go about their lives without being chained to a location, or stuck in a traffic jamb getting there. Better allocation of financial resources will enable smaller firms to compete with bigger ones. Perhaps technologies such as 3d printing will make micro-manufacturing feasible — such as automobiles or we will be able to deconstruct medical services such that costs are dramatically lowered?

The single-point-of-access through a web browser provides a compelling model, where information inside an organization, or across organizational boundaries, facilitates connectivity via an electronic intermediary. A secondary value is the aggregation of information, avoiding the limitations of direct interaction by lowering search costs, the lack of privacy, and other risks. Add mobile computing to this, where iPhones and iPads foster real-time access to information and tools anywhere there’s a wireless connection, and you’ve got fertile ground for innovation.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

How Project Managers May Facilitate Software Developers

Over at Frederico Tomassetti's blog, he discusses how PMs and developers should communicate business priorities and consider technical priorities as part of the process of improving how these two professions interact, with the goal of improving a work product.

As a student of the Toyota Method, I've often looked to industrial process improvement for ideas on how to better manage teams, specifically around technology projects. But software development is not about 'manufacturing' an application. Modern management comes from the industrial revolution, and the idea of increasing production by adding labor, machines, etc. Software, to me, is still very much an artisan craft. Understanding user requirements to be functional is key -- the more detailed the requirements, the more time developers spend figuring out how to implement. Beyond this, some problems require the abstract thinking of a software engineer or architect, not just the assembly of blocks of code.

I have found that unrealistic schedules are the major cause of project failure. In the 1980s, Frederick Brooks noted in “The Mythical Manmonth” that adding staff to a project that was behind schedule only helped it to be further behind schedule. When estimating a technology project, two key components are difficult to assess: the complexity of requirements; and, the productivity levels (outputs) of the development team.

My solution is to track progress, and that means capturing data (metrics). But if information is not collected or collected so inconsistently, comparisons and trends are impossible. If no data is being collected, management has not required it. If collected inconsistently, KPIs have not been established and enforced, or standards are burdensome so they are circumvented. Productivity measurement and project management are powerful tools for planning, overseeing, and evaluating software development and maintenance projects -- the PM should guide the ship, so developers can pull the oars together.

Read more here...

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Take a Cloud Computing Quiz

Many times customers ask me, "I am scared of the cloud. It is too dangerous to keep my precious data in." My response: probably not for you, then, if you think that. I like to quiz potential cloud computing aficionados, for example, asking, what is private cloud? Is it a gated community on the internet, or a cloud architecture built within an enterprise data center? What can you do with a cloud-based computing environment? Have no worries about running out of storage, immediate access to computing resources, and pay only for what your apps use?

Answering questions like those help focus customers on the advantages of cloud computing. Confronting the myths about the Cloud can be challenging. Read more here...

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Why Taxis Need Uber...

The so-called "gig economy" is picking up steam... freelancers replacing full-time staff, companies focus on profits and shareholder value rather than hiring new permanent employees. With this type of work arrangement, geographically diffuse and independent workers are paid piecemeal for completing tasks -- facilitated by the connections from internet-based apps.

Amazon of course has Mechanical Turk, the original "piece work over the internet" freelancers platform. Another Amazon effort riffs on Uber: package delivery. Mechanical Turk is a platform where workers complete microtasks (such as transcribing, proofreading or answering surveys) for, many times, cents on the dollar. These internet denizens work on their own time and can pick up gigs on-demand.

But with the competition to taxis, Uber is really reshaping how the freelance economy works. People forget, in the U.S., most taxi companies retain drivers as 'contractors,' and require the drivers to pay for fuel, maintenance, etc. Regulation has come about to make a partially-public service (shared rides) more consumer-friendly (taxi meters, inspections, licensing). Tim O'Reilly says,

Regulation is not a good in itself. It is a means of achieving public goods. And so far, it is pretty clear that Uber and Lyft (and in particular, the competition between them) are improving the transportation options in American cities. Regulators should be using the opportunity to revisit the old way of doing things rather than trying to make the new conform to outdated rules that no longer serve their purpose...


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Will Über and Others Make Autonomous Cars Ubiquitous?

Of course they will! That headline is sort of silly -- as we read over at BuzzFeed, "There’s a lot of skepticism about self-driving cars. About how successful they’ll be, about whether people will really want to use them, about whether they’re safe. But this is what you should know about autonomous vehicles: They are coming. Inevitably. Inexorably. Coming."

Further on...

The first time I rode in a fully autonomous car, what really impressed me was when the car saw something that I could not. As I rode down a residential street in Mountain View, the car slowed, for no apparent reason. Yet in the front seat, a laptop showed everything the car could “see.” And up ahead, there was a man, in the street, standing behind a double-parked vehicle. He was concealed from my eyes, but the car detected him. And it slowed down, anticipating that he might step out unexpectedly.

We read at Forbes that Google’s $258M investment in Uber shows it is serious about commercializing the Google Car. Even without car sharing, driverless cars will deliver tremendous social and economic benefits. Every year, more than 1.3 million people die in car accidents worldwide, and more than 50 million are seriously injured. In the US alone, more than 34 thousand die and 2.2 million are injured in over 5 million accidents. 90% of these accidents are caused by human error. Google has declared its intention to reduce accidents by 90% using driverless vehicle technology. Volvo is on a mission to eliminate all deaths and injuries in its cars by 2020.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Microservices - decomposition writ small

Building robust enterprise solutions requires thinking differently. For many, service oriented architecture is the way to go. But recently, the influx of microservices challenges the idea that there's only one way to skin the proverbial Information Technology cat. As Torsten Winterberg puts it, “Microservices are the kind of SOA we have been talking about for the last decade. Microservices must be independently deployable, whereas SOA services are often implemented in deployment monoliths. Classic SOA is more platform driven, so microservices offer more choices in all dimensions.”

I have always been of the mind that service oriented architecture (SOA) represents an architectural pattern for software design where application components provide services to other components via a communications protocol, typically over the internetwork. Today, many embrace the idea of micro services -- in which complex applications are composed of small, independent processes communicating with each other using language-agnostic APIs. Now, this seems to be splitting hairs, but in practice the concept of microservices might be hard to distinguish from SOA principles. Think of it this way: With SOA, one could write business logic to query a dataset to GetPaymentsAndCustomerInformationAndPurchaseHistoryDataAPI and AuthenticateUsersAPI. The approach from a microservices pattern would simply be to deconstruct those two APIs into much smaller units (GetCustomer; SubmitPassword). The net result is of course the same transactional processing and data traversing the wire, but in smaller increments. And new uses for the multiple APIs could be found, perhaps.

Perhaps the biggest gains in taking a microservices approach resides in cloud-deployed applications. Monolithic applications are sometimes wholesale moved to the cloud, but every time a rev is made, even to a small part of the app, the entire solution to be rebuilt, tested and deployed. With the alternative, smaller units are revised with agility, and downtime is reduced or eliminated.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Queuing - Single Queue Works, But Why Doesn't Everywhere Do That?

Queuing theory utilizes applied mathematics to deal with the phenomenon of waiting -- arising from the use of mathematical analysis to improve production processes. So why doesn't McDonald's utilize this approach? Customer what times over 90 seconds can be problematic. But perceived wait time is more critical - like page loads in your web browser. If the UI/UX designer has come up with a novel way of loading content, a user will wait out the progress bar. Or, if the content is so compelling (think, your bank account, or cat videos).

But it helps to think of getting your french fry fix take-out as involving a series of work stations, each with a separate task. And each task takes time (e.g. ordering food, instructing workers, retrieving hot fries, putting into packaging food, payment). These stations are generally attended in sequence, and each station takes some time to process one customer. The sequence of stations is a pipeline. But some steps take longer than others -- so building in wait time at certain points actually serves to move the production process along without bottlenecks. McDonalds provides several queues in parallel, the first for ordering and paying, and the second, an (invisible) station where customers wait while their food is gathered and served. The time it takes to cook the food is accounted for in the time taken to gather the food items.

The same analysis can be applied to packet switching with internetworking, or with automobile assembly. For my masters work, I looked at a supplier to a Japanese auto manufacturer -- with a supply chain represented as a multi-input, multi-stage queuing network. An input order to the supply chain was represented by stochastic variables, for the occurrence time and for the quantity of items to be delivered in each order. I had seen such an approach when learning about the (now sunsetted) wide area network at the central bank, where I was involved with information security. A "star" network topology has a central top level node that all other nodes connect to. "Packets" are passed through the central node. This helped me understand alternate ways of queuing -- something I have carried forward with my efforts at automating workflow in Bluedog's SAAS offering, where 'jobs' have to be passed from one stage to another, based on business rules.

The typical first-come, first-serve system of waiting in line is incredibly inefficient, in terms of both time and space. First, it essentially rewards people for wasting their time: Those who arrive first get the goods, but they also spend more hours of their precious time on Earth standing around and waiting. Second, long lines tend to create congestion and bottlenecks that cause problems for others. Think of the traffic jams that form as cars try to leave a football game, or the long boarding line at an airport that snakes across the walkway, getting in everyone else's way.

Read more here... Danish Researcher Report or read this guy's ideas.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Using Process Improvement to Delivery Relief - from Toyota to NYC

Kaizen is all about process improvement. Toyota brought their knowledge of supply chain management to relief efforts in New York City after Hurricane Sandy. The benefits of Toyota Production System in nonprofits is clear: smooth operations, lowered cost, faster turn-around. Non-profit organizations are experiencing increasing client demand, making operational improvements critical to growth and success. Particularly in the food bank arena, issues of timely deliveries to partner agencies mirror warehousing and logistic issues in other industries, making the Toyota Production System (TPS) philosophy and lean principles applicable to this setting.

Watch the video here...

Friday, July 31, 2015

Google Cars in the Wild - Someone's Impressions

Read about Google Cars in California...

Int4resting how "polite" the GoogleCar seems to be... the author comments (regarding his motorcycle riding):

Once, I got a little caught out as the traffic transitioned from slow moving back to normal speed. I was in a lane between a Google car and some random truck and, partially out of experiment and partially out of impatience, I gunned it and cut off the Google car sort of harder than maybe I needed too... The car handled it perfectly (maybe too perfectly). It slowed down and let me in. However, it left a fairly significant gap between me and it. If I had been behind it, I probably would have found this gap excessive and the lengthy slowdown annoying. Honestly, I don't think it will take long for other drivers to realize that self-driving cars are "easy targets" in traffic.

Seems like California, home of the American big car culture of the 10950s, the suburban / commute phenomenon and other automobile trends, is a perfect petri dish for autonomous vehicles.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Shooting A Drone Out of The Sky? Not so fast, private property rights still exist...

It may sound funny, or perhaps even your right, to blast an unmanned aerial vehicle out of the skies over your property. But, in California at least, private property rights still prevail. Further, many suggest that shooting down a drone with a gun should technically be a federal felony offense. Because the Federal Aviation Administration has decided to consider drones "aircraft" (and has fought for that distinction in court) and has not yet created specific rules about their use, shooting at one should be a violation of federal code 18 §32, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

The judge ruled that "McBay acted unreasonably in having his son shoot the drone down regardless of whether it was over his property or not." Though it’s not necessarily precedent-setting, it’s still an important case, according to Brendan Schulman, an attorney at Kramer Levin who has more experience in drone law than anyone else in the country.

"Even though it’s from small claims court, it supports the proposition that destruction of someone’s property is not an appropriate way to respond to the presence of a drone," Schulman told me. "Even if a drone is causing a nuisance, potentially invading privacy, creating a hazard, or violating some other law, the appropriate way to respond is to call the authorities, not to take self-help measures involving firearms. Notably, the verdict states that the discharge of the firearm was unreasonable regardless of whether the drone was being flown over the shooter’s property. I think this case is more about the response to the drone operation than it is an indication of what laws apply to the operation of the drone itself."

So before you go off half-cocked, remember to respect others' properties. And know the privacy laws of your jurisdiction.

Read more here...

Do the French, Communist all, Hate the Sharing Economy?

In Paris, taxi drivers are rioting against Uber... In protest against the ride-sharing app service, in particular targeting areas around airports and train stations, as well as blocking the Périphérique ring-road. Uber's app connects private, non-professional drivers with passengers, circumventing the French law for mandatory 250 hours training required for commercial drivers.

French hoteliers have taken up arms against AirBnb, penning an open letter to the prime minister urging protectionism to "even out" the competition.

According to this site, France is the most visited country in the world, with 83 million tourists a year. The tourism sector accounts for seven percent of the country’s GDP, with annual spending by foreign tourists amounting to €36 billion.

Why all the hate towards these innovative, consumer-friendly services? When somebody uses one of these apps (or websites) to find a ride or a passenger, or a place to stay, they’re only doing what countless others have done via old-fashioned bulletin boards, but with the help of the internet.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Robot Cars Fight it Out!

This past Thursday, two self-driving prototype cars, one operated by Google Inc and the other by Delphi Automotive Plc, had a close call on a Silicon Valley street, according to Reuters -- possibly the first such incident involving two vehicles specially equipped for automated driving.

The incident occurred Tuesday on San Antonio Road in Palo Alto, said John Absmeier, director of Delphi's Silicon Valley lab and global business director for the company's automated driving program, who was a passenger in one of the cars. No collision took place. The Delphi vehicle was a prototype Audi Q5 crossover vehicle equipped with lasers, radar, cameras and special computer software, with a person at the wheel as a backup.

As the Delphi vehicle prepared to change lanes, a Google self-driving prototype - a Lexus RX400h crossover fitted with similar hardware and software - cut off the Audi, forcing it to abort the lane change, Absmeier said.

Google declined to comment.

Check out The Register...

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Ethics of Robotic Decisions - the Trolley Dilemma

Given an emergency situation, would you save one life, but eliminate others in doing so? Or, visa-versa? In the world of autonomous vehicles, this becomes a very real problem, potentially. As this article discusses, how your self-driving car responds in an accident scenario may very well be the most challenging problem for computer scientists to tackle.

Friday, June 5, 2015

GoogleCar in the wild...

While some of Google’s self-driving vehicles have been involved in (but not the case of) a few crashes, Google is now producing monthly progress reports. Google has made a dedicated site to catalog the vehicles being tested, the total amount of miles traveled in both autonomous and “manual” mode, along with “interesting situations.”

The first report provides a broad view and compiled all the crashes GoogleCars have been involved in since the project began in 2009.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Autonomous Cars = Less Private Cars

Would you give up your car, if a robot would ferry you where you need to go?

According to Brian Johnson in his report Disruptive Mobility, when most vehicles are self-driving he predicts around 2025—new car sales in the U.S. could drop by 40 percent, while the number of cars on American roads could decline by 60 percent to fewer than 100 million. Many see driving as more of a chore than something pleasurable.

Read more in the CS...

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Merc Lorry is on Nevada Roads, Now the GoogleCar is Roadworthy

Just a year since we saw its self-driving car prototype, Google is ready to go from the test track to public roads in California. The company moves to the next phase of testing, which will see vehicles with removable steering wheels, accelerator and brake pedals undergo the same testing that its modified self-driving Lexus SUVs were put under. Google prototype autonomous vehicles have already racked up "nearly a million autonomous miles" on its test tracks and have recently been driving 10,000 miles on their own each week. Although the idea is for the cars to operate completely free from human interaction, Google says the removable controls are there for a safety driver to take over if required. Of course, Mercedes (Daimler) is charging ahead, with its self-driving truck.

From Engadget: When they do hit the streets of Mountain View, the prototypes will be limited to 25mph. Although they're controlled by the same systems already in use inside its Lexus test models, Google says it wants to "uncover challenges that are unique to a fully self-driving vehicle." This will certainly include monitoring stopping distances and whether it can navigate its way through a congested area, but it will also help the public familiarize themselves with the vehicles. Google may have already overcome the technological obstacles, but ensuring they're accepted by Californians may be an even bigger challenge

Watch the video!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Real-World Accident Rate for Autonomous Cars is Incredibly Low

The US Department of Transportation says about 33,000 people die on America’s roads every year. Enthusiasm for self-driving cars hinges in some part on their potential to reduce accident rates. Self-driving cars are being tested primarily in California and Nevada. With 11 accidents over six years, the Google Car is incredibly free of accidents. In two of the four cases, the car was doing the driving at the time of the crash. In the other two, the person behind the wheel had taken control of the car. The crashes were among the nearly 50 self-driving cars now being operated in California.

Read more here and here...

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Orbital Espresso? Yes, it is (ha ha) out of this world!

When astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti wants to satisfy the all-too-Italian craving for an espresso, she can so so the way many Earth-bound coffee drinkers do, with the push of a button. Ms. Cristoforetti, the seventh Italian and the first Italian woman to venture into orbit aboard the International Space Station, uses a specially designed machine to create the optimal coffee beverage, high above the rest of us.

LavAzza partnered with Italian space-food supplier Argotec to create the first-ever microgravity capsule brewer, to actually deliver the coffee-maker to the space station. The space station is pressurized to Earth sea level, keeping the boiling temperature of coffee the same as we know it. But there can be no coffee grounds loose, which, in microgravity would quickly dirty up the station. To keep the rig contained with no risk for shorting out delicate scientific equipment while someone tries to draw a delicious crema, the machine has been engineered to European Space Agency and NASA standards.

The an important deviation from sidling up to the bar at a café is that the coffee will be delivered into sealed packets, to contain the liquid.

Hmmm, delicious espresso! Read more here...

Friday, May 1, 2015

Bridge Your Solar Load at Night with a TeslaMotors Battery

Tesla is offering a consumer battery, called the Powerwall, priced starting at $3,500, and derived from the batteries the car company uses in its Model S vehicles.

So when it is nighttime, or cloudy, your solar panels are not doing anything. When becalmed, your wind powered generator is idle. With a battery to store the energy produced during peak times, your home will be free of the grid more often. The device, which Tesla will start producing later this year, will be installed by licensed technicians

Read more... TreeHugger

Designing Software That Works for Your Organization

When undertaking a major -- enterprise -- software project, it may be useful to consider Conway’s Law, named for Melvin Conway, which states: Any organization that designs a system (defined broadly) will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization's communication structure.

Consider this person's approach: “We should model our teams and our communication structures after the architecture we want.”

I have seen a looming problem for many of my customers: making effective use of big data is impeded by data being scatted around silos, across departments or even teams. At Bluedog, we do not have a top-down model. The management is not hierarchical management, so Workbench doesn't focus on centralized tools or reporting, which many managers see as necessary to control workers. Bluedog's architecture is focused more on the needs of the end users than on the needs of management. Perhaps report proliferation indicates a hunger for data, but difficulty for business analysts to define what is important?

If you've read my books, you know I have seen application structures evolve from the late 1980s from monolithic to modular solutions of this century, using techniques such as encapsulation and abstraction to reduce coupling and increase cohesion. With service oriented architecture, the purpose of doing so is obvious – the results are software systems that are easier to understand, change, reuse, and enhance.

How has Bluedog been successful? We start with as small a team as possible. We avoid making architectural decisions at the top, but keeping the team "understaffed," to reduce the possibility of building complexity, or over-architecting. If possible, we put the developers in the same room as the customers, business analysts, GUI designer, database gurus. Proximity encourages communication.

Monday, April 27, 2015

When Your Service Provider Can Sink Your Business

This is an amazing (and sad) story -- a mid-sized business relies on its web hosting service provider for its web site. Typical, really. But they were also utilizing the hosting service for their entire back-office data -- CRM, accounting, payroll, and more.

Without an understanding of the ramifications -- perhaps lacking even a systems administrator, let alone a CIO -- the company was processing and storing all its data on its website. One day, a developer was optimizing the database and removing records that the business no longer needed (so he thought). But a single, poorly formed delete query wiped out the database table. This minor error in a SQL command deleted the sum of the company's data; the company was rocked to the core. In a few months, they went belly-up.

Lesson: choose a proper SAAS provider that can handle your data properly. Know what you want, what you are getting into, and what happens to your data.

Read more here... Death by Delete

Spreading Life with Drones

While not as good as sowing seeds for trees the old fashion way, a former NASA engineer wants to increase the planet's forest canopy by deploying seedlings via drone. Using off-the-shelf technology, he suggests drones that first fly above an area and report on its potential for restoration. IF appropriate, the quadracopters would take up a position 10-15 feet above the ground and deploy pods containing seeds that are pre-germinated and covered in a nutritious hydrogel.

BioCarbon Engineering would plant germinated seeds using precision agriculture techniques. Their scalable, automated technology significantly reduces the manpower requirements -- thus, costs. Finally, mapping from the company's unmanned aerial vehicles will provide invaluable intelligence on planting patterns, landscape design and other factors.

Read more here....

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Good News, Everybody! (well, bean-counters) SAAS is Deductible!

The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) released an accounting standards update, which covers the fees paid for cloud computing. This is part of FASB's simplification initiative aimed at eliminating unnecessary complexity in accounting standards. In the first update, “Accounting Standards Update No. 2015-05—Intangibles—Goodwill and Other—Internal-Use Software (Subtopic 350-40): Customer’s Accounting for Fees Paid in a Cloud Computing Arrangement,” FASB noted that existing GAAP does not include explicit guidance about a customer’s accounting for fees paid in a cloud computing arrangement. These can include software as a service, platform as a service, infrastructure as a service, and other similar hosting arrangements. FASB said it heard from stakeholders that the absence of explicit guidance resulted in some diversity in practice, along with unnecessary costs and complexity, in evaluating the accounting for those fees.

The guidance already exists in the FASB Accounting Standards Codification, but it's included in a subtopic applied by cloud service providers to determine whether an arrangement includes the sale or license of software. The amendments in the latest update provide guidance to customers about whether a cloud computing arrangement includes a software license.

If a cloud computing arrangement includes a software license, then FASB said the customer should account for the software license element of the arrangement consistent with the acquisition of other software licenses. If a cloud computing arrangement does not include a software license, the customer should account for the arrangement as a service contract. The guidance will not change generally accepted accounting practices GAAP for a customer’s accounting for service contracts.

Read more at... Accounting Today!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Ask Your Developer: Is this a Web or Cloud App?

When a customer asks, should we go Cloud vs Web, my response is frequently, what's the difference? Then, I try to illuminate with the following. These days cloud applications are all the rage… but what’s the difference between a cloud app and a web app, if they both run in your browser? And are mobile apps cloud-only? Confused? Don’t be. Here’s a quick primer on the differences (and similarities).

Let’s start with web applications — software accessed over a network such as the internet or an intranet via a web browser such as Safari or Chrome. Such tools are built with= a browser-based language (e.g. JavaScript), displayed with HTML and accessed with a common web browser. In web apps, the software as well as the database resides on a central server. This saves software developers from building and maintaining multiple client versions for a specific operating systems.

Cloud apps are hosted by cloud providers (Amazon, Google, others) and are accessed over the Internet. The software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider owns the software while the customers “rent the app” in a pay per use model. As web apps, they are used through a web browser so nothing needs to be installed locally. Cloud apps are generally architected to support multi-tenancy — enabling multiple customers (tenants) to be aggregated into the same application). Pricing is based on actual usage or per-user.

They seem similar, don’t they? Both types of apps are stored on a server and delivered through a browser interface over the internet. Cloud apps should have high availability (through mirrored installations in multiple locations) as a feature, while many web apps are limited in ability to support a fixed number of users. Cloud apps may offer extra security and integration with other systems via web services. Administrators of cloud apps can easily configure workload and traffic patterns in order to utilize the exact amount of infrastructure offered. Web applications are usually developed for a given platform, limiting scalability.

Mobile apps that access the same back-end over the internet would be considered cloud apps if the architecture and supporting infrastructure are cloud-based.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Driving Change, Faster than an Über Car

It is possible we will enjoy the benefits of auto-piloted transport very soon. In as many as 30 locations by 2016? That might be optimistic, but here's a round-up of autonomous vehicle reports, lately.

Mercedes is on the forefront, including trying out a cool concept in San Francisco. More important than passenger traffic, what if package delivery were to be automated, not just by drones?

Of course, with Google in the mix, one naturally assumes the biggest company in the world would have a toe in the water, and it seems Apple is up to something.

Would autonomous driving lower insurance rates? Very possible -- as well as save lives, of course.

And the new industry will either ruin people's lives, or make us all rich.


UPDATE 3 March 2015
In Wired... we will want fewer cars...

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Use Kanban for Visual Project Management

With kanban boards, there is a visual approach available to manage tasks. With a simple post-it note system, you can see work in progress and understand complex processes, activity relationships, and you/your team’s impediments to completing work on schedule.

We humans are visually oriented — it is easier to process information with a visual aid. A kanban board helps teams to understand all aspects of a project. A visual management tool means your team doesn’t need to sift through email threads to find the piece of information regarding a specific task. You won’t have to decipher a massive spreadsheet to determine whether a task or project has been started or completed.

Of course, the beauty of kanban is simplicity. Get started with a kanban board by writing a sticky note and pasting it to a whiteboard — anyone can use them for just about any purpose. Even just leveraging the visual nature of kanban boards will help you keep track of your daily goals.

Every project manager can appreciate the effectiveness of the kanban board as a collaboration tool. You spend less time communicating status updates because the boards create transparency — it is literally on the wall! Team members working either on-site or remotely can see the status or a project in real time if you go the electronic route. Either way, kanban improves overall team efficiency, and can even be used by individuals to manage their own workload.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Want to Compete Against the Big Players? SAAS can give you an edge...

Government contracts should be well-versed with the spreadsheet, juggling around materials, labor and subcontractor costs until the perfect financial balance is reached for a given government opportunity. When IT is thrown in, however, projects achieve a new level of complexity -- and uncertainty. When small contractors lack support from internal tech teams or have no in-house expertise, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offers up solutions in a small business environment with comprehensive automation. If given a chance to erase IT expense in favor of an agile, pay-as-you-go operational model, most business decision makers would jump for joy. This can be accomplished with SaaS -- where software delivery via browser or mobile device, configuration, maintenance and update responsibilities are on the service provider. With a vast selection of tools to benefit small government contractors, small- to medium-size businesses (SMBs) can dramatically reduce IT support needed, and tap into a pool of automated tools to help run a small business like a large one -- so the business can evolve into a large one.

Read more at Forbes...

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Will the Car be the Next SmartPhone?

Many believe that auto manufacturers, while continuing to focus on horsepower, who may want to appeal to a younger generation -- who are driving approximately 23% less than they used to -- should look at future cars as, well, iPhones. But a crucial challenge will be to keep up with changing technology. There is the possibility that changes might be made irrelevant by the introduction of driverless car technology, which would free up our hands altogether.

Read more at the BBC...

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

In this article, Are Legacy Cloud Providers Here to Stay?, we read:

When talking about the legacy cloud providers, the some common names usually come up. Amazon has become the leader in providing cloud services with its Amazon Web Services (AWS), jumping out to a dominant lead in terms of market share at 27 percent. That’s a larger share than its next four closest competitors combined. Microsoft with its Microsoft Azure service is second place with an 8 percent market share, though it is growing at the fastest rate of 154 percent, a much faster rate than AWS. IBM comes in third at 6.5 percent market share and a rate of growth of 80 percent. Combine these tech giants with Google, which is also in the top five, and it forms a clear picture of the level of competition for cloud computing customers.

What is the life-span of such providers? IMHO, quite long -- the incentive for switching from one provider to another is pretty low, assuming the provide meets SLAs. Here is a solid list of infrastructure-as-a-service (IAAS) providers.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Yes, the US is an Oligarchy

From this site...

When Americans see charts like this one which illustrate that virtually all the food on grocery store shelves basically comes from no more than 10 megacompanies, or hear statements like this one from our own Attorney General Eric Holder who told the Senate Judiciary Committee that some banks are just too big to prosecute, or check out studies like this one out of Princeton which openly declare we are not a democracy but an oligarchy…it’s kinda hard to believe we aren’t an oligarchy (because we are).

In short, the myth of “democracy” and freedom in the United States – the beacon around the world – perpetuates, despite a few blemishes. But in reality, the Oligarchy took hold some time ago, has not let up and perhaps never will.