Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Enjoy Your Bananas - They Are Going to Go Extinct

The bananas you so love will soon vanish into the mists of time. The world's Cavendish variety of bananas are threatened by a strain of Tropical Race 4 fungus which is expected to wipe them out. The Cavendish is of one of a number of banana cultivars and include commercially important versions such as 'Dwarf Cavendish' and 'Grand Nain'.

The $4 billion-a-year worldwide banana export trade is almost entirely based on vast plantations filled with genetically identical Cavendish clones. It is the supermarket banana’s lack of genetic diversity that has put it at risk, perhaps even (as some scientists say) at risk of extinction. A similar situation with another crop, the potato, set the stage for the great Irish famine of the 1840s, after the high-yielding potato varieties favored by Irish farmers fell prey to an airborne fungus that turned whole fields of tubers black and rotten overnight. Today, similar pests are stalking the banana. 

Read more at the Smithsonian Magazine...

Monday, December 28, 2020

Goes Both Ways - Fast! Robotaxi purpose-built from the tarmac up...

 The Zoox Robotaxi Is a Bi-Directional autonomous vehicle, built specifically to be a robot car.  

We learn over at Yanko that the Amazon-owned Zoox...

... is a conventional cube-shaped with a unique bi-directional ride sans any steering wheel – having the capability to smoothly navigate tight spaces without much fuzz since it comes with a 4 wheel independent suspension system. The fact that it can move in any direction (independent turning wheels) and does not need to reverse (remember it is bi-directional) gives it an advantage on urban roads as it measures just 3.63 meters. 

The interior of the autonomous ride has charging ports and a small display is quite minimalistic with emphasis on passenger safety as there are next-generation airbags enveloping the passengers, providing five-star safety standards by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. 

To further enhance the safety of the riders, the vehicle is decked in six LIDAR pucks, multiple sensors, and cameras for a 270-degree field of view – covering the blind spots and having the ability to see objects 150 meters away en route for a safe ride. And it can achieve a top speed of 70 miles per hour, so you can rest assured of arriving at your destination on time.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Ireland - From Developing Country to One of the Richest in 100 Years

After hundreds of years of being under the thumb of the imperialist/colonialist neighbor,  Ireland in 1957 shifted from a proto-communist model to a property capitalistic model. Once the "sick man of Europe," the Tallaght Strategy changed the country's economic trajectory. 

Fast forward to just a few years ago, the Republic of Ireland is an unlikely pick for an EU economic and political maverick. A nation of fewer than 5 million people, it was one of the hardest hit by the 2008 global financial crisis. But the country has managed to grow its economy at rates well above the EU average (and on par with the People's Republic of China, in some areas) and went through several landmark cultural transformations that brought it closer to its European neighbors. So, how did Ireland do it?

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Will Diversity Become Part of Corporate Governance?

In the USA, the Nasdaq asked the Securities and Exchange Commission if it can require all 3,300+ companies that trade on its exchange to (a) publicly disclose diversity statistics about their boards of directors, and (b) retain at least two diverse directors (one woman, one who identifies as an underrepresented minority and/or LGBTQ).

If the SEC gives the nod, boards will have two years to bring on at least one diverse director and two+ years to hire the second. If companies miss the deadline and fail to provide a sufficient explanation of why they missed it, they could get delisted.  

As of now, 75% of Nasdaq-listed companies would not meet that benchmark. We know corporate America has made slow progress improving diversity at the top. In 2018, women held less than 1/4 of Fortune 500 board seats. From 2010–2018, seats held by Black directors increased just one percentage point to 9%.

This would mark the first time a major exchange would impose such requirements, but it's not alone in pushing for board diversity. California requires at least one diverse director for companies headquartered in the state, and Goldman Sachs does as well to underwrite an IPO. 

For diversity as a success story, just turn to Europe: EU companies and others are successful in bringing more women into the top ranks of business. Norway was the first to introduce quotas for women in 2003. Iceland, Spain, and France followed with 40% targets. In 2015, Germany became the largest economy to impose a quota, mandating 30% of supervisory board seats be filled by women. Across Europe, the number of women on boards is climbing, although from a low base. The number of women board members at 734 large publicly traded companies across the Europe in 2016 was 23%, up from 11% in 2007, according to EU data. In countries with quotas in place, it’s higher: 44% in Iceland, 39% in Norway, 36% in France and 26% in Germany (2016 numbers).


What Every Happened with the Drone Sightings at Gatwick?

Short answer: not much.

Around 9pm on Wednesday December 19, 2018, a security guard observed two drones inside the security perimeter at Gatwick Airport,  Unauthorized drone activity is considered a danger to aircraft and passengers due to the risk of collision. Within minutes, Gatwick’s only runway had been closed and all flights were suspended -- the full details are documented here.

The Gatwick drone incident was the first time a major airport was shut down by drones. The unknowns -- was this a terrorism incident, or just random overflight by irresponsible parties -- remain. Two years on, the perpetrators remain unidentified, despite a law enforcement operation that lasted 18 months, cost £800,000 and involved five different organizations.

Without evidence – or any leads or convincing motives – Sussex police and Gatwick maintain it was a sophisticated, malicious, and well-planned attack. In other circles. the Gatwick drone has become a punchline, with doubts of the drones' very existence.

Read more at the Guardian...

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

AWS Jumps on the M1 Bandwagon... at a premium price

Amazon's web services cloud provisioning is now offering Apple Mac Mini as an option for Apple developers. Over at an AWS blog, we read:

Powered by Mac mini hardware and the AWS Nitro System, you can use Amazon EC2 Mac instances to build, test, package, and sign Xcode applications for the Apple platform including macOS, iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, watchOS, and Safari. The instances feature an 8th generation, 6-core Intel Core i7 (Coffee Lake) processor running at 3.2 GHz, with Turbo Boost up to 4.6 GHz. There’s 32 GiB of memory and access to other AWS services including Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS), Amazon Elastic File System (EFS), Amazon FSx for Windows File Server, Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3), AWS Systems Manager, and so forth.

On the networking side, the instances run in a Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) and include ENA networking with up to 10 Gbps of throughput. With EBS-Optimization, and the ability to deliver up to 55,000 IOPS (16KB block size) and 8 Gbps of throughput for data transfer, EBS volumes attached to the instances can deliver the performance needed to support I/O-intensive build operations.

Found at AWS re:Invent, these new Mac instances for its Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) enable developers to natively run macOS in Amazon Web Services for the first time.


Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Amazon Changes Course - Outsources Drone Manufacturing

Amazon is reportedly laying off dozens of staff working on its delivery drone project, Amazon Prime Air, turning to external manufacturers to help build the devices instead. 

The jobs would be lost in research and development as well as in manufacturing, the Financial Times reported Thursday, citing a person familiar with Amazon's plans.

The online retailer has reached tentative deals with Spain's Aernnova Aerospace and Austria's FACC Aerospace to manufacture component parts of its drone, according to the FT.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Need to Get Around in Barcelona? Take a Robot Helo-Taxi

Enaire, Spain’s air navigation authority, has announced plans to begin demonstrating flying taxis in Barcelona and Santiago de Compostela in 2022.

“We need to move urban mobility into the third dimension: airspace. And we need to do it as efficiently and sustainably as we can,” the authority’s director general, Ángel Luis Arias, told an online conference this week.

 Ehang, a Chinese drone company, announced a new product at CES it's calling the Ehang 184, an all electric quadcopter scaled up from a drone so that it's large enough to carry a passenger. Ehang calls it an autonomous aerial vehicle, I prefer personal pilotless helicopter, but if you need to explain what it is to anyone, just say it's a driverless car for the sky.

Ehang says the 184, which is all electric, can carry a single passenger up to 10 miles or roughly 23 minutes of flight. The person in the cockpit doesn’t do any piloting, they just input their destination and enjoy the ride. The aircraft claims to be able to autonomously take off, fly a route, sense obstacles, and land. And if anything goes wrong, a human pilot is supposed to step in and take over the controls from a remote command station.Read 

more over at the Guardian...

Monday, November 2, 2020

Green Screen Technology Gets Improved with LEDs

Green Screen is a cool way to composition in the background for motion graphics in films. But LED panels -- that use the same technology as video game engines -- place a realistic-looking world behind the actors, in a giant leap forward in special effects tech.

The result is a huge improvement, as green screens actually have drawbacks. Removing the green screen is never as quick as VFX artists would hope, and it also casts green light over the set and the actors. Even green-screen substitutes, like projecting an image onto a screen behind the actor, fail to dynamically respond to camera movements the way they would in the real world. ILM's solution fixes a lot of those problems. 

It also led to creative breakthroughs in which the old Hollywood order of making a TV show or movie -- wherein VFX came last -- was suddenly reversed. Now, artists such Charmaine Chan work alongside actors, set designers, and other crew members during filming. That collaboration means this technology doesn't just eliminate a screen -- it eliminates a creative barrier. As a compositor for venerable visual-effects house Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), Charmaine Chan has worked on films like The Last Jedi, assembling various digital elements into a beautiful, seamless image. While working on The Mandalorian, one of the first shows to use ILM's upgrade for the green screen, she saw some huge advances.

Here's a video to see how the improved approach works...

Friday, October 30, 2020

Let's All Cheer - Tom Lehrer Give Us the Gift of a Laugh or Two

Songwriter Tom Lehrer became a star in the 1950s and '60s writing and performing satirical songs that skewered just about everything... Lehrer, 92, announced via his website that he's effectively putting everything he ever wrote into the public domain. That means his lyrics and sheet music are available for anyone to use or perform, without having to pay royalties or lawyers... [Most of Lehrer's music "will be added gradually later with further disclaimers," according to Lehrer's web site.] 

Lehrer is giving up royalties, but in exchange, he is giving his work a boost. Siva Vaidhyanathan, a media studies professor at the University of Virginia, suggests, "Lehrer, in this case, is basically saying, 'Hey everybody, come revisit my material, come do with it what you want,'" he said... That could mean we'll be hearing more of Tom Lehrer's work, said Jennifer Jenkins, who runs the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke Law School. "There is empirical research showing that when material enters the public domain, it actually gets used more," she said.

Lehrer's lyrics touched on geeky subjects including nuclear weapons, Wernher von Braun, and one song where he set the names of the chemical elements to a tune by Gilbert and Sullivan.

Wikipedia reports Lehrer "largely retired" in the 1970s to become a mathematics teacher at the University of California, Santa Cruz (also teaching the history of musical theatre). In that decade he also wrote ten songs for The Electric Company, an educational TV show about reading broadcast on America's public television, singing two of the songs himself — L-Y and Silent E.

Read more about Tom Lehrer here...

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Think Creatively How to Incorporate AI into You Strategy

Over at the Financial Times, a panel discussed the realities of AI — what it can and cannot do, and what it may mean for the future. AI was defined as “any machine that does things a brain can do.” Intelligent machines under that definition still have many limitations; we are a long way from the kill-bot cyborgs from the Terminator.

Machine intelligence is not likely to replace humans in the near future -- but it will continue to evolve as a valuable tool. Because of developments in neural technology and data collection, as well as increased computing power, we can use a.i. to augment many human activities. And streamline repetitive manufacturing processes. Such machine intelligence will continue to increase capability to perform routine tasks involving language and pattern recognition, as well as assist in medical diagnoses and treatment. Used properly, intelligent machines can improve outcomes for products and services.

"...professional services, law firms have applied language recognition to assess contracts, streamline redaction and sift materials for review in litigation cases, as well as to analyse judgments. The London firm Clifford Chance notes, however, that the facilitation of processes does not yet “transform the legal approach”.

Prof Susskind says: “I am in no doubt that much of the work of today’s lawyers will be taken on by tomorrow’s machines.” This could have major implications for how lawyers are trained and recruited.

It should be obvious that organizations should be thinking creatively about how to incorporate a.i. into their strategies.

Read more at the FT...

Monday, October 19, 2020

Quantum Computers are Good at Randomizing -- so how about a service for that?

 A new commercial endeavor offers up progress in the devilishly complicated field:

Last week, Cambridge Quantum Computing announced the first commercial, verifiable quantum random generation number service designed to run on an existing IBM quantum computer. Initially, the service will only be available to the 100 or so corporate and academic members of IBM’s Q network but it will be open to other users later this year. Its first applications are likely to be for cryptography, material science, computer games, insurance and options pricing.

Read more at over at the FT... 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Fragmentation Threatens the Global Internet

Influential thought leader Roger Cochetti is concerned about the impact of governments asserting control over the internet within their borders. Mr Cochetti was an internet public policy expert for IBM in the early 1990s and later served as Senior Vice-President & Chief Policy Officer for VeriSign and Group Policy Director for CompTIA.

Over at SlashDot, we read about the balkanization of the global information superhighway. One needs to recognize that — by most any measure — the global internet is controlled by businesses and non-profits subject to the jurisdiction of the United States government. Within a roughly 1,000-mile strip of land stretching from San Diego to Seattle lie most major internet businesses and network control or standards bodies (and those that aren't there likely lie elsewhere in the United States). So — as the governments of China, Russia and Iran never tire of explaining — while Americans constitute around 310 million out of the world's 4.3 billion internet users (around 8%), the U.S. government exercises influence or control over more than 70% of the internet's controls and services

The first major step in the introduction of a new, China-centric internet may have taken place last year when China introduced to the UN's International Telecommunications Union a proposal for a new type of protocol that would connect networks in a way comparable to, but different from, the way that the internet protocols have done. This was quickly dubbed China's New IP, and it has been the subject of major controversy as the nations and companies decide how to react. Whether a new Chinese-centric internet is based on a new series of protocols or is simply based on a new set of internet domain names and numbers, it seems likely that this alternate internet will give national governments quite a bit more control over what happens within their territories than does the global, open internet. This feature will attract quite a few national governments to join in — not least Russia, Iran and perhaps Turkey and India. 

The combined market power of those participating countries would make it difficult for any global internet business to avoid such a new medium. The likely result being two, parallel global computer inter-networking systems... which is pretty much what Google CEO Eric Schmidt predicted.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Has the Robot Future Pulled Up to the Curb?

In a milestone for the self-driving industry, Waymo said it will open up its autonomous ride-hailing service to the general public in metro Phoenix, Arizona. In the upcoming weeks, people in the Phoenix area can hail a taxi like they would a Lyft or an Uber ... then hop in a car that’ll know where they want to go to be taken to that destination. But... the car will be driving itself!

Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving vehicle division, has been testing its cars in the Phoenix area since 2016, diligently upgrading the technology and capacity to eventually roll out a fully fledged commercial service.  Hundreds of testers have been experimenting with the Robot Taxi service through the Waymo One app. 

The announcement expands the current program in two ways:

  • Existing customers of Waymo One can start taking their friends and family along.
  • By November, Waymo will make the app available to the “general public” in the Phoenix area.

To deal with the current pandemic, Waymo is limiting the scope of its service by restricting it to fully driverless rides. It is installing barriers in its vehicles so down the road it can plunk a human safety driver in the front seat and address a larger geographical market. 

Other car companies -- namely Tesla and GM -- are racing to introduce driverless vehicles, but Waymo has recently pulled away from the pack. This spring, it raised $3 billion to accelerate the rollout of its commercial service, using money for the first time from a company not associated with Google.

Read more here...

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

OS X is built on a UNIX kernel... will Microsoft Windows be, too?

Open-source software guru Eric Raymond has authored an argument that the presence of Linux on the desktop is imminent because Microsoft will soon run out of options to improve Windows. 

In his on-line html-based journal, Raymond argues that the porting of the Edge browsers to Ubuntu is a harbinger of the future. Microsoft developers are now embedding features in the Linux kernel to improve Windows System for Linux (WSL).  This points in a potential technical direction -- one influenced by Microsoft’s revenue stream and how has changed since the launch of its cloud service in 2010. Look at Proton, the emulation layer that allows Windows games distributed on Steam to run over Linux. 

According to  Raymond, Microsoft Windows becomes a Proton-like emulation layer over a Linux kernel, with the layer getting thinner over time as more of the support lands in the mainline kernel sources. The economic motive is that Microsoft sheds an ever-larger fraction of its development costs as less and less has to be done in-house.

A big advancement at Apple, when Steve Jobs returned, was the transition to OS X, built on top of the NeXT operating system core of BSD Unix. 

Monday, October 5, 2020

Bill Gates offers up a plan to rid the world of COVID19

Ever the optimist, the founder of Microsoft writes: because we will be able to immunize against the disease, governments will be able to lift social distancing measures. People will stop having to wear masks. The world’s economy will start running again at full speed.

Bill Gates writes that the virus won't go away soon... even with a vaccine. He does predict that likely more than one vaccine will be available by the early part of 2021, but dealing with the pandemic would first require the capacity to make enough of the various medicines, and then ensure a global reach to deliver dosages.

"Right now," he said, "most of the world's supply of COVID-19 vaccines is slated to go to rich countries." Those countries at the other end of the scale are not so lucky: "As things stand now, these countries will be able to cover, at most, 14 per cent of their people."

Removing the ethical / moral considerations out of the equation, the result, according to Gates, is the virus will continue its rampage through large parts of the globe -- wealthy nations risking reinfection because, after all, not everybody will line up for vaccination. "The only way to eliminate the threat of this disease somewhere is to eliminate it everywhere," insisted Gates.

Read more... 

Thursday, October 1, 2020

"Public Trust" - film from outdoors company Patagonia

Public Trust is the company's effort at broadening the scale and scope of their storytelling on the issues of around conservation. This new feature film aims to raise awareness of federal land being turned over to oil drillers, miners, and others who’d destroy our wild refuges. Patagonia, famously declaring that the POTUS has stolen our lands, back in 2017, produced this film to raise awareness of the kleptocracy-in-progress with the present administration. 

The brand is launching a feature documentary on YouTube called Public Trust, which makes the case for protecting American public lands -- and how extractive industries are actively working to shrink and privatize them. 

Executive produced by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and Robert Redford, the film focuses on three conflicts: the gutting of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, the threatened destruction of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and the fight over oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Watch the entire film here...

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

What is 5G? Depends who you ask...

The concept of 5G seems to be... muddled. Some even think it is a bad joke:

Let's start with the name itself. There is no single "5G." There are, in fact, three different varieties, with very different kinds of performance... But, what most people want, what most people lust for is 1Gbps speeds with less than 10 milliseconds of latency... [T]o get that kind of speed you must have mmWave 5G — and it comes with a lot of caveats. 

First, it has a range, at best, of 150 meters. If you're driving, that means, until 5G base stations are everywhere, you're going to be losing your high-speed signal a lot. Practically speaking, for the next few years, if you're on the move, you're not going to be seeing high-speed 5G. And, even if you are in range of a 5G base station, anything — and I mean anything — can block its high-frequency signal. Window glass, for instance, can stop it dead. So, you could have a 5G transceiver literally on your street corner and not be able to get a good signal. How bad is this? NTT DoCoMo, Japan's top mobile phone service provider, is working on a new kind of window glass, just so their mmWave 5G will work. I don't know about you, but I don't want to shell out a few grand to replace my windows just to get my phone to work.

Let's say, though, that you've got a 5G phone and you're sure you can get 5G service — what kind of performance can you really expect? According to Washington Post tech columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler, you can expect to see a "diddly squat" 5G performance... ["roughly the same as on 4G LTE," while some places "actually have been slower."] It wasn't just him, since he lives in that technology backwater known as the San Francisco bay area. He checked with several national firms tracking 5G performance. They found that all three major U.S. telecom networks' 5G isn't that much faster than 4G. Indeed, OpenSignal reports that U.S. 5G users saw an average speed of 33.4Mbps. Better than 4G, yes, but not "Wow! This is great!" speeds most people seem to be dreaming of. It's also, I might add, much worse than any other country using 5G, with the exception of the United Kingdom.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Logistics Nightmare as Brexit Deadline Looms

Trouble with border crossings coming, it seems, due to Brexit. A key IT system for avoiding border chaos after Brexit will not be ready on January 1, according to Britain's biggest logistics trade group, Logistics UK. The Smart Freight System, designed to smooth traffic flows and avoid snarl-ups at ports, will only be in beta-testing at year-end, and won't be fully tested until April, the group said.

“To find out, with only 14 weeks to go, that there will not be a ready, workable solution for those moving goods to the EU is a massive blow to U.K. businesses and the economy,” said Elizabeth de Jong, director of policy at Logistics UK. “It is a crushing disappointment.”

Read more here

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Bronze Age Europeans Couldn't Drink Milk, It Seems

About 3,000 years ago, thousands of warriors fought on the banks of the Tollense river in northern Germany. They wielded weapons of wood, stone, and bronze to deadly effect: Over the past decade, archaeologists have unearthed the skeletal remains of hundreds of people buried in marshy soil. It's one of the largest prehistoric conflicts ever discovered. Now, genetic testing of the skeletons reveals the homelands of the warriors—and unearths a shocker about early European diets: These soldiers couldn't digest fresh milk...

The results leave scientists more puzzled than ever about exactly when and why Europeans began to drink milk. "Natural genetic drift can't explain it, and there's no evidence that it was population turnover either," says Christina Warinner, a geneticist at Harvard University and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History who was not involved with the study. "It's almost embarrassing that this is the strongest example of selection we have and we can't really explain it."

Perhaps something about fresh milk helped people ward off disease in the increasingly crowded and pathogen-ridden European towns and villages of the Iron Age and Roman period, says the study's co-author. But he admits he's baffled too. "We have to find a reason why you need this drink."

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Does Wok-from-Home Cripple a Segment of the Economy?

With the pandemic sending millions of workers home, suggests MIT economist David Autor in a paper last month, the office economy is under threat. The pandemic, he and his co-author, Elisabeth Reynolds, a lecturer at MIT, write, has made a permanent shift to remote work for a large part of the office workforce a near certainty. 

And with that, tens of thousands of workers in the office support economy — those who “feed, transport, clothe, entertain, and shelter people when they are not in their own homes” — will lose their jobs.

Read more here...

Friday, September 11, 2020

Windows Custom Themes Can Be Used to Steal Credentials

Researcher Jimmy Bayne revealed that specially crafted Windows themes could be used to perform Pass-the-Hash attacks. Pass-the-Hash attacks are used to steal Windows login names and password hashes by tricking a user into accessing a remote SMB share that requires authentication. 

When trying to access the remote resource, Windows will automatically try to login to the remote system by sending the Windows user's login name and an NTLM hash of their password. In a Pass-the-Hash attack, the sent credentials are harvested by the attackers, who then attempt to dehash the password to access the visitors' login name and password.

Specially crafted Windows 10 themes and theme packs can be used in 'Pass-the-Hash' attacks to steal Windows account credentials from unsuspecting users. Windows allows users to create custom themes that contain customized colors, sounds, mouse cursors, and the wallpaper that the operating system will use. Windows users can then switch between different themes as desired to change the appearance of the operating system. 

A theme's settings are saved under the %AppData%\Microsoft\Windows\Themes folder as a file with a .theme extension, such as 'Custom Dark.theme.' Windows themes can then be shared with other users by right-clicking on an active theme and selecting 'Save theme for sharing,' which will package the theme into a '.deskthemepack' file. These desktop theme packs can then be shared via email or as downloads on websites, and installed by double-clicking them. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

NSA Surveillance Was Unconstitutional

The National Security Agency program that swept up details on billions of Americans' phone calls was illegal and possibly unconstitutional, a federal appeals court ruled:

However, the unanimous three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the role the so-called telephone metadata program played in a criminal terror-fundraising case against four Somali immigrants was so minor that it did not undermine their convictions. 

The long-awaited decision is a victory for prosecutors, but some language in the court's opinion could be viewed as a rebuke of sorts to officials who defended the snooping by pointing to the case involving Basaaly Moalin and three other men found guilty by a San Diego jury in 2013 on charges of fundraising for Al-Shabaab. Judge Marsha Berzon's opinion, which contains a half-dozen references to the role of former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden in disclosing the NSA metadata program, concludes that the "bulk collection" of such data violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. 

The call-tracking effort began without court authorization under President George W. Bush following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. A similar program was approved by the secretive FISA Court beginning in 2006 and renewed numerous times, but the 9th Circuit panel said those rulings were legally flawed.

Read more... 

Monday, August 31, 2020

Skynet is on its way - AI wins against human fighter pilot in DARPA dogfight

As we read over at some military news site,

DARPA's AlphaDogfight trials have officially come to a close with Heron Systems' incredible artificial intelligence pilot system defeating not only its industry competitors, but going on to secure 5 straight victories against a highly trained U.S. Air Force F-16 pilot, without the human pilot scoring a single hit.

This should not be confused with the Intelligent Flight Control System (IFCS), a next-generation flight control system designed to provide increased safety for the crew and passengers of aircraft as well as to optimize the aircraft performance under normal conditions. What is most valuable to 99% of the rest of the world -- outside of military applications -- is regarding passenger planes which fly autonomously. Software would have to be capable of handling emergency situations. At present, modern airliners do a good job of flying automatically until something unexpected happens. At that point, a pilot takes control and typically resolves the problem. Very rarely, though, a pilot must act to save the aircraft from catastrophe. 

There's more details about autonomous flight over at the I-triple-E, Application of AI Methods to Aircraft Guidance and Control.


Monday, August 24, 2020

Another Test of Universal Basic Income

This month approximately 100 or so Germans will receive a form of universal basic income every month for three years.

Germany is about to become the latest country to trial a universal basic income, starting a three-year study of how it affects the economy and recipients' well-being. As part of the study, 120 people will receive 1,200 euros, or about $1,430, each month for three years -- an amount just above Germany's poverty line -- and researchers will compare their experiences with another group of 1,380 people who will not receive the payments. 

Read more about the study at Business Insider. It is being conducted by the German Institute for Economic Research, and has been funded by 140,000 private donations. All participants will be asked to complete questionnaires about their lives, work, and emotional state to see whether a basic income has had a significant impact. A pro-basic-income lobbying group called Mein Grundeinkommen is funding the experiment. The group has used donations from its supporters to fund monthly 1,000-euro payments for 668 people since 2014.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Robots delivering in Tokyo

Another measure to reduce the spread of Covid-19 infection, one of Japan's largest door-to-door delivery service companies, Yamato Holdings, and the government-owned courier firm Japan Post is testing delivery robots in Tokyo.

Hopefully robots will help contain the spread of the coronavirus — while alleviating the shortage of delivery drivers.


Monday, August 10, 2020

Implementing DevOps could save your organization big money...

A primary purpose of DevOps is to release software builds at better quality with higher frequency. Automation in DevOps should be embraced to realize this objective, without introducing a negative effect into the quality or frequency of software released to end-users. Based on an analysis conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of GitLab, the report concludes organizations can save as much as $3.7 million by reducing the number of DevOps tools they need to acquire by a factor of four.

The report also claims organizations can also see a 12x increase in the number of revenue-generating application releases in a year, resulting in $12.3 million in additional revenue, while at the same time reducing code defects to generate more than $16.8 million in savings. Overall, the report says there is a 407% return on investment (ROI) in the GitLab platform.

As a global economic downturn brought on by the pandemic unfolds, many organizations are focusing on costs. Being able to accelerate the rate of application development -- and deployment -- should be part of digital business transformation initiatives. The more business processes become automated, the less expensive to maintain. This is obvious giving the more dependent organizations are becoming on software. But many leaders are navigating ways to reduce costs without forcing every member of the team to standardize.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Russia is Expert at Online Disinformation

At her Thursday keynote, Stanford Internet Observatory's research manager Renee DiResta explained how Russian military intelligence – the GRU – and the private Internet Research Agency (IRA) were putting the likes of China to shame. Security companies and government agencies have good reason to move their focus from Beijing to Moscow, she warned.

The basic methods of hacking public opinion are fairly simple, DiResta explained. Fake accounts generate content and spam it out on social media to amplify the message. If enough real people pick up and the posts go viral the mainstream media kicks in and amplifies the desired message still further.

In Russia's case, it spreads divisive material, stolen information, and fake news in an attempt to turn Americans against each other, sour civil society, sow doubt, and create distractions, leaving people unsure of what's really going on. This worked. In China's case, it tried to make people like China. This didn't work.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Empower the Real Users of Software - with a No-Code Approach

Way back in the distant past, I used Hypercard, FileMaker, and, later, NeXT tools, to build complex expert systems, knowledge management, and financial planning tools for a diverse customer base. Applying a little bit of "MBA-powered" know-how with real-world entrepreneurialism enabled me to solve problems in the environmental sector, for small businesses, and even for the mortgage industry.

Fast forward to present day, and we see many software-as-a-service solutions that offer pre-packaged solutions to widely acknowledged challenges. My own solution for team management comes from a history of fixing broken projects for others -- I am a firm believer in the philosophy of "eat your own dogfood."

Now, we loop back to the past, with the increasing availability to low- or no-code software development solutions. Airtable, the Salesforce platform and web-based tools such as Ninox for databases are all useful tools to quickly assemble software to address highly specific problems. These are kind of the "spreadsheet" of the 21st century. One stand-out is Zapier, which has opened the door for many to integrate existing platforms with other popular web apps. Integrating applications with code can be a challenge, but Zapier makes it possible with a few clicks.

While no-code won't solve all technical challenges, having an easily accessible stack can undoubtedly help get specific jobs done faster, easier, and cheaper. Democratizing development is the overall benefit of no-code software development solutions. A few others include reducing the work load on an IT department, as such solutions enable business users to build applications without any coding knowledge. This reduces the burden on an understaffed IT department.

We can also enjoy an accelerated development cycle, so one doesn't have to wait for solution requests to be answered by theaters. Tasks that used to take months (even years) to complete can now be done in a few hours or days, depending on its complexity.

With many point-and-click user interfaces for the development of no-code solutions, one can quickly build solutions to meet exact requirements and specifications, and be updated on the fly. These aspects are important to keep the business competitive and agile. While a no-code solution allows the development of applications for immediate impact, it can also prove to be cost-efficient in the long run.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Oracle or SAP? How about.. neither? Go Open Source for your ERP

Seems like there are two major contenders for an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, Oracle and SAP. However, there are a number of flexible, feature-rich, and cost-effective open source ERP systems available, as well.

Over at Forbes, we read:

How Do The Core Businesses For Oracle And SAP Compare? Oracle provides products and services that address enterprise information technology environments. The products and services include applications and infrastructure offerings that are delivered worldwide through a variety of flexible and interoperable IT deployment models. These models include on-premise deployments, cloud-based deployments, and hybrid deployments (an approach that combines both on-premise and cloud-based deployment).       Oracle’s geographical revenue mix is strong with 55% coming from the Americas, 29% from EMEA countries (Europe, Middle East, and Africa), and the rest from Asia-Pacific.
   SAP is a multinational software corporation that develops and delivers software, services, and support that address business needs. The company offers a wide range of enterprise resource planning applications which includes customer relationship management, human capital management, financial management, product life-cycle management, and supply chain management. The company also has a foray in business intelligence with SAP BusinessObjects. SAP’s geographical revenue mix is also strong with 44% coming from EMEA countries (Europe, Middle East, and Africa), 40% from the Americas, and rest from Asia-Pacific.

Depending on the organization's needs, more features doesn't always mean better. Further needs may evolve as the business grows, so search for an ERP system that can expand. That could mean the system has additional modules or supports plugins and add-ons.

Most open source ERP systems are web applications that can be downloaded and installed on a server or with a VM image. But if lacking the skills or staff to maintain a system, look for a hosted version of the application. Choose an application that has good documentation and good support, which may be either paid support or an active user community. Some include:

ERPNext is a classic open source projects, featured on in 2014. It was designed to address a particular need, replacing a creaky and expensive proprietary ERP implementations. It includes modules for accounting, managing inventory, sales, purchase, and project management. The applications that make up ERPNext are form-driven—you fill information in a set of fields and let the application do the rest. The whole suite is easy to use.

pache OFBiz's suite of related business tools is built on a common architecture that enables organizations to customize the ERP to their needs. As a result, it's best suited for midsize or large enterprises that have the internal development resources to adapt and integrate it within their existing IT and business processes.

OFBiz is a mature open source ERP system; its website says it's been a top-level Apache project for a decade. Modules are available for accounting, manufacturing, HR, inventory management, catalog management, CRM, and e-commerce. You can also demo out its e-commerce web store and backend.

Odoo is an integrated suite of ERP applications: project management, billing, accounting, inventory management, manufacturing, and purchasing. Those modules can communicate with each other to efficiently and seamlessly exchange information. Odoo provides a friendly, almost spartan, interface. Odoo is a web app, with subscriptions to individual modules, or download the source code from GitHub. It's licensed under LGPLv3.

Solving complicated supply chain or financial management problems for a business doesn’t mean buying a big-money ERP system. While vendors like Oracle and SAP may dominate the market, there are free and open source solutions that can help get an organization digital with little investment.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Another Tool to Help Address the Housing Crisis

Most believe renters "throw away" money because they don’t build equity over time. But new startups are hoping to offer  a different approach. For example, when someone rents an apartment in a new complex in Columbus, Ohio, they can now also get a financial stake in the building.

Companies such as Rhove offer the security of ownership with the flexibility of renting. Rhove extends “renterships” to tenants in Rhove-partnered apartment complexes. The arrangements give tenants a stake in the building -- and their assets grow with the property’s value.

Rhove acts as an investor in the property by paying a lump sum to the owners. Tenants earn returns as property owners collect rent from the whole building, and as the property appreciates, the value of the shares increases. Another start-up, Nico, offers a similar concept, launching in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Echo Park, where gentrification threatened to push out some long-time residents. By purchasing rent-stabilized buildings and registering them in a financial trust, Nico offers portfolio shares to residents. This provides an opportunity keep their homes. Such ideas are not new: a real estate investment trust (REIT) is a closed-end investment company that owns assets related to real estate such as buildings, land and real estate securities. REITs sell on the major stock market exchanges just like common stock.

According to Hotpads, a young person will spend $200k+ in rent over the course of his or her lifetime. With many Americans spending a third of their income on rent, it can be difficult to save money to eventually buy a home. And renters generally don’t have the same opportunities to accrue wealth as homeowners. This Harvard study found wide wealth gaps between older homeowners and renters, even when their incomes are similar.

Read more here

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

New Chips from Apple - Good for Performance, but Goodbye Bootcamp

Apple has said that switching to its own, ARM-based Apple silicon will end Boot Camp support.  Apple will start switching its Macs to its own ARM-based processors later in 2020, but users won't be able to run Windows in Boot Camp mode on them.

Microsoft only licenses Windows 10 on ARM to PC makers to preinstall on new hardware, and the company hasn't made copies of the operating system available for anyone to license or freely install. By switching to ARM-based machines, Apple might not be ruling out Bootcamp, Parallels, etc., but it is significantly reduce the number of available apps available on either operating system. ARM CPUs process instructions differently from x86 CPUs (made by Intel and AMD) so any specific app has to be written for ARM in order to function. This will hurt people who rely on specific apps (either MacOS or Windows) until/unless the vendors for those apps release updates that support ARM.

On John Gruber's WWDC Talk Show, Craig Federighi confirmed that Apple would not support Boot Camp on ARM Macs: "We're not direct booting an alternate operating system. Purely virtualization is the route. These hypervisors can be very efficient, so the need to direct boot shouldn't really be the concern."

Apple demonstrated Parallels Desktop running Linux in a virtual machine, but there was no mention of Windows support. VMWare has asked its community about how they would use its Fusion virtualization on ARM-based Macs, but there’s no commitment to building the app just yet.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Robo-Taxis on the Streets of China... by the millions?

Chinese ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing says it plans to operate more than a million self-driving vehicles by 2030. The robo-taxis are to be deployed in places where ride-hailing drivers are less available, according to Meng Xing, Didi’s chief operating officer, speaking at an online conference hosted by the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post newspaper.

In 2016, US tech giant Apple invested $1bn in Didi in an unusually large and public investment. Apple is known to be interested in autonomous driving, having tested its own driverless vehicle on public roads in California in recent years.

The local government in Shanghai awarded Didi a permit to test its autonomous vehicles on public roads in Jiading District of Shanghai. The company says it plans to expand beyond that district starting in 2021, deploying “30 different models of L4 autonomous vehicles.” (L4 means Level 4 on the Society of Automotive Engineers scale of autonomy, which means the vehicle is able to operate without any human intervention within a defined geographic area.)

It wasn't that long ago that the company experimented with autonomous vehicles... read more here...

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Leverage Serverless for a Better Tomorrow

Over at this podcast, we hear Johnny Boursiquot, Site Reliability Engineer at Heroku tell how he has found Go to be a useful language for building Function-as-a-Service (FaaS) style applications -- an extension of microservices. In an interview, he expounds on the capability to build Go applications into a static binary -- and reduce the need for dependency management. With rapid application startup, another benefit is runtime speed and scaling.

Focusing on a development toolchain focused on the cloud means programmers benefit from flexibility. For example, many cloud providers provide local runtimes such as AWS SAM Local, and service simulators. Testing in production is facilitated by the ability to do on-channel launches and test deployments with a "canary in a coal mine" approach.

One can develop “serverless” applications while not avoiding the need for operational expertise on a DevOps team. Designing systems appropriately and getting the most out of the runtime (with minimal cost) requires knowledge of the underlying infrastructure components.

An emerging role is that of the Site Reliability Engineering (SRE), often an expert who can adapt well-established patterns and practices into their activities. They act as “go-betweens,” working closely with product teams to share knowledge around operational best practices.

One under appreciated skill is the ability to teach or mentor, regardless of the job. Knowledge transfer to coders or setting as SOPs important operational principles is extremely valuable.

Listen to the podcast here...

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Distributed Data Model Wins Out in the UK for Tracking COVID19

The UK government will abandon its centralized COVID-19 contact-tracing smartphone app in favor of the distributed system proposed by Apple and Google more than two months ago. This decision follows that the app, once said to be a key part of the government's test-and-trace system, would not be ready until at least winter this year.

The idea is that a user runs one of these apps on their phone, and the software uses the Apple-Google-developed interface to communicate with copies of itself on other people's nearby devices over Bluetooth. When someone declares, via the app, that they may have likely or certainly caught the COVID-19 disease, all phones that have been in the vicinity of that person's mobile will find out, alerting their owners that they may have been exposed to the virus. Each country or region is expected to have its own app. No data goes to Apple or Google. The numbers of people coming in contact with those thought or confirmed to be infected may help experts monitor and analyze the actual spread of the virus.

In related news, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has offered to roll out the German Corona-Warn-App in the UK in a short time at "zero cost to the taxpayers". "If the government can't pull themselves together, we can," via a tweet.

Read more at the BBC...

Monday, June 22, 2020

Pandemic Fallout: the printer industry

Analyst firm IDC reports that the printer industry has been suffering as a result of the Pandemic. The firm suggested predicted “page volume will fall 13.7percent in 2020, from 3.2 trillion pages in 2019 to 2.8 trillion pages in 2020.” The impact will be lasting: between 2015 and 2019 compound annual growth rate for pages printed was -1.2 percent. From 2020 to 2024 that will hit -4.8 percent.

"The dramatic and sudden transition to work from home in many of the world's largest economies had a direct impact on office device print volumes," said Ilona Stankeova, IDC Europe’s senior research director for Imaging Devices and Document Solutions. "More than six million pages were printed every minute globally in 2019. This amount covers the area of 54 football pitches. COVID-19 is expected to remove print volume that would fill the area of seven football fields every minute in 2020."
"Multifunction printers (MFPs) and increasing adoption of digitization efforts on a global scale are pushing for further maturation of the single-function printer (SFP) market. The trade war between China and the United States and the economic downturn in Western Europe are also pushing down shipment expectations. We still expect the market to be sustainable through the forecast period as SFPs still provide a lower-cost option for customers interested in printing." — Max Pepper, research analyst, IDC's Imaging, Printing, and Document Solutions
The IDC study covers worldwide printer market opportunities and analyzes issues, trends, and product advances. It contains 2013–2018 data showing actual unit shipments, value of shipments (end-user spending), and average selling value. 2019–2023 data is projected.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Entrepreneurs can contribute to solving global problems

Check out this Entrepreneur Magazine article on how entrepreneurs can help solve the world’s biggest challenges, leveraging the unique mindset shared of entrepreneurs: born problem-solvers, always looking for new and better ways to do things.
Damian Merlak, co-founder of NGEN: “Even something as seemingly simple as app development can improve the flexibility, scalability and redundancy of a problem-solving solution,” he explained, continuing that, “Real-time data collection, remote access, more efficient energy production — all of these can serve as a jumping-off point for developing more effective solutions that reach a wider number of people. Finding new ways to use the technology that is available can unlock amazing innovations.”
...As bleak as present circumstances can feel, this is no time for entrepreneurs to give up. You may be asked to “hunker down” physically, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep working toward meaningful solutions that will improve our world as a whole. And few are better equipped for the challenge than an entrepreneur.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Aerial Delivery in the People's Republic of China, via Drone

Chinese drones will deliver goods to houses -- the tech company EHang will use its advanced drone pilot-less helicopters to deliver bulky goods to residents' houses after receiving official permission to demo the service.

These 'air taxis' can carry up to 150 kilos (331 pounds) of goods per flight and send them to remote and mountainous areas, according to their manufacturer. The mega drones will be tasked to transport products 'between ground and hilltop and between shore and islands' in the Chinese city of Taizhou during trial runs.

Watch the flight:

Based in Guangzhou, EHang suggests that their drones are the world's first electric passenger-carrying autonomous aerial vehicles. The company obtained approval from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) to use its drones in for transporting heavy-lifting merchandise.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Contact Tracing App API from Apple and Google

Isolate potentially infected individuals, track and trace contacts -- these are steps responsible governments are taking to help stem the tide of the COVID19 pandemic in 2020.

Many governments around the world are developing contact tracing apps which meet the privacy standard advocated by Google and Apple, in order to ensure their apps will function only on Android and IOS devices. Google and Apple, the world’s leading makers of smartphone operating systems, recently released their contact tracing API (known as the “exposure notification” API) to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Some 22 countries (including Ireland) across 5 continents and a number of US states have already requested access to the software.  Notably missing from this list are France and the UK.

The API is not itself a contact tracing application -- instead, it enables governments and public health authorities to incorporate the software into their own apps that people install. The API will enable Bluetooth technology to run in the background of the phone, including on a locked phone. Without this ability for background use of Bluetooth technology, the utility of Apps would be greatly decreased.

Users would turn on and unlocks their phones, for the Apps to be able to use Bluetooth and log encounters. Apple and Google are limiting use of their API technology to government contact-tracing Apps.

Privacy activists have praised the protections ordered by Apple and Google’s API, as being in line with the principles of data protection by design and by default.

Google and Apple have explicitly barred use of the API in any apps that seek GPS loca on data from users, which means some apps being developed by public health authori es for contact tracing will not be able to use the API. In addition, the API can will only work on Apps using a decentralized system that uses randomly generated temporary keys created on a user’s device (but not linked to their specific identity or exact location).

The API allows public health officials to decide what constitutes exposure in terms of exposure time and distance. They can adjust transmission risk and other factors according to their own standards.


Monday, June 1, 2020

Think Six-Sigma Code is Not Possible? You just need to think like NASA

To get high quality code in your application, consider adopting NASA’s 10 rules for writing mission-critical source code:

  1. Restrict all code to very simple control flow constructs – do not use goto statements, setjmp or longjmp constructs, and direct or indirect recursion.
  2. All loops must have a fixed upper-bound. It must be trivially possible for a checking tool to prove statically that a preset upper-bound on the number of iterations of a loop cannot be exceeded. If the loop-bound cannot be proven statically, the rule is considered violated.
  3. Do not use dynamic memory allocation after initialization.
  4. No function should be longer than what can be printed on a single sheet of paper in a standard reference format with one line per statement and one line per declaration. Typically, this means no more than about 60 lines of code per function.
  5. The assertion density of the code should average to a minimum of two assertions per function. Assertions are used to check for anomalous conditions that should never happen in real-life executions. Assertions must always be side-effect free and should be defined as Boolean tests. When an assertion fails, an explicit recovery action must be taken, e.g., by returning an error condition to the caller of the function that executes the failing assertion. Any assertion for which a static checking tool can prove that it can never fail or never hold violates this rule (I.e., it is not possible to satisfy the rule by adding unhelpful “assert(true)” statements).
  6. Data objects must be declared at the smallest possible level of scope.
  7. The return value of non-void functions must be checked by each calling function, and the validity of parameters must be checked inside each function.
  8. The use of the preprocessor must be limited to the inclusion of header files and simple macro definitions. Token pasting, variable argument lists (ellipses), and recursive macro calls are not allowed. All macros must expand into complete syntactic units. The use of conditional compilation directives is often also dubious, but cannot always be avoided. This means that there should rarely be justification for more than one or two conditional compilation directives even in large software development efforts, beyond the standard boilerplate that avoids multiple inclusion of the same header file. Each such use should be flagged by a tool-based checker and justified in the code.
  9. The use of pointers should be restricted. Specifically, no more than one level of dereferencing is allowed. Pointer dereference operations may not be hidden in macro definitions or inside typedef declarations. Function pointers are not permitted.
  10. All code must be compiled, from the first day of development, with all compiler warnings enabled at the compiler’s most pedantic setting. All code must compile with these setting without any warnings. All code must be checked daily with at least one, but preferably more than one, state-of-the-art static source code analyzer and should pass the analyses with zero warnings.

According to NASA, the rules act like the seatbelt in your car: initially they are perhaps a little uncomfortable, but after a while their use becomes second-nature and not using them becomes unimaginable.

Read more here...

Friday, May 29, 2020

Work from home? Work from anywhere

Perhaps you are responding to an order to work from home? Or as an employer, you are considering the safety of your team, and your community? Working from home has gotten a big boost during this situation. But what about... remote work from anywhere? As the article at Techcrunch relates,

“Work From Home” is terrible branding, precisely because it fails to communicate the fundamental freedom that comes with these new policies. It’s not about further imprisoning us in our homes — it’s about empowering us to think and work exactly where we are personally most productive.

Sure, some remote jobs might have location requirements:

  • Meetings: to be close in proximity to company for customer offices for in-person meetings
  • Taxes: employment tax law requirements pertaining to their state or country
  • Certifications: a job requires certifications that are location-specific
  • Travel: a position is travel-heavy so you need to be close to transport hubs
  • Time zone: addressing collaboration with peers a certain time zone

If you can dod the job one mile from the office, what is stopping you from one hundred miles, or the other side of the globe/ Working remotely increases flexibility and autonomy for staff. Technology such as the internet, video conferencing, collaboration platforms, and cloud services keep people connected. Attend meetings and be productive on projects from anywhere, anytime. You can also find more and better-qualified candidates, and incentivize to retain talent, and saving on overhead costs.
Read more here...

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Read an Article about Group Problem Solving, Improved by Distance

From the BBC, we learn of the latest psychological literature suggesting that less communication might actually be better than constant inputs. Collaboration in an "always on" mode may in fact reduce ‘collective intelligence’ (a team’s joint problem-solving ability). Instead of always staying in touch with colleagues with continual chats on Slack, for example, the study suggests a better model would be to concentrate group communication to short, intermittent bursts – a single daily video call, for example – to boost team problem solving and creativity.

Besides helping us to make better use of our time during the current crisis, these findings could help to shape the ways that we go about team decision making in the future. Even if we are in the office, we might all benefit from having a bit more me time and a bit less team time.

Read more and download a PDF of the article.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Cold Warrior Satellites Like Corona Help Track Species Decline

The United States launched early spy satellites in response to the Soviet Union Sputnik (first artificial satellite, 1957) and other space efforts. The espionage program, titled Corona, was aimed at locating Soviet missile sites, but its orbital photography captured something unintended: snapshots of animals and their habitats frozen in time. Now, by comparing these images with modern data, scientists have found a way to track the decline of biodiversity in regions that lack historic records.

The researchers tested the approach on bobak marmot (Marmota bobak) populations in the grassland region of northern Kazakhstan. There, Soviets converted millions of hectares of natural habitat into cropland in the 1960s. The scientists searched the satellites' black and white film images on a U.S. Geological Survey database for signs of the squirrel-like animal's burrows.

They identified more than 5,000 historic marmot homes and compared them with contemporary digital images of the region, mapping more than 12,000 marmot burrows in all. About eight generations of marmots occupied the same burrows in the study area over more than 50 years, even when their habitats underwent major changes, the team reports in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Overall, the researchers estimate the number of marmot burrows dropped by 14% since the '60s. But the number of burrows in some of the oldest fields -- those persistently disturbed by humans plowing grassland to plant wheat -- plunged by much more -- about 60%.
Read more over at Slashdot...

Friday, May 22, 2020

People Would Be More Accepting of Jonny-Cab Once They Try Them Out

Autonomous vehicles seem to have s public perception problem, according to new survey data collected by an industry group. Partners for Automated Vehicle Education surveyed 1,200 Americans earlier this year and found that 48 percent of Americans say they would "never get in a taxi or ride-share vehicle that was being driven autonomously." And slightly more Americans -- 20 percent versus 18 percent -- think autonomous vehicles will never be safe compared to those who say they'd put their names down on a waiting list to get a ride in an autonomous vehicle.

According to the survey data, getting a ride in a robotaxi might change some of those minds. Three in five said that they'd have more trust in autonomous vehicles if they had a better understanding of how those vehicles worked, and 58 percent said that firsthand experience -- i.e. going for a ride in a self-driving car -- would make them trust the technology more.
"Of the 1,200 survey respondents, 678 reported owning an [advanced driver assistance system] ADAS-equipped vehicle, and three-quarters of them said they 'will feel safer on the road when I know that most other vehicles have enhanced safety features,' with the same number saying they are eager to see what new safety features will be on their next vehicle," the report adds.

As describer at Slashdot, "Interestingly, drivers who own cars with forward collision warning (FCW), blind spot monitoring (BSM), lane departure warning (LDW), and automatic emergency braking (AEB) were also more likely to believe that safe autonomous vehicles would be available within the next 10 years compared to those without those features."

Monday, May 18, 2020

Old Dogs Can Learn... to love Open Source

In 2001, then Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer described Linux as "a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches."

This week at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, Microsoft's current president Brad Smith admitted that--

"Microsoft was on the wrong side of history when open-source exploded at the beginning of the century." "And I can say that about me personally. The good news is that, if life is long enough, you can learn...that you need to change.

"Today, Microsoft is the single largest contributor to open-source projects in the world when it comes to businesses. When we look at GitHub, we see it as the home for open-source development, and we see our responsibility as its steward to make it a secure, productive home for [developers]."

So there you have it... acknowledgement of what the world-at-large has known for quite some time. By its very nature, open source enables anyone to look for and fix security flaws. And since it is peer-reviewed, software is opened up to a larger cadre of inspectors who can quickly detect issues. In fact, many open source solutions are much more secure than proprietary commercial-off-the-shelf products.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Internet Co-Founder on the Value of... the Internet During this Pandemic

One of the creators of the internet, Vint Cerf, suggests that privacy legislation might hinder the development of a vaccination for the COVID-19 coronavirus. He does highlight that the global network has more than proven its worth by facilitating social interactions and economic activity that would otherwise would be conducted face-to-face. With many places in lock-down, these interactions may not have been conducted at all.
Score one for the Interweb!

The novel SARS-COV-2 virus that leads to COVID-19 disease is teaching us a great many lessons about infrastructure writ large. We are discovering weaknesses in socio-economic safety nets, in our healthcare systems, public transportation system, our education systems and many others.

To the degree that working and living can be done in some remote way, the Internet has become an important component of COVID-19 response. It permits remote interaction with customers and even patients. It allows people to order goods and services online for delivery to doorsteps. It provides researchers with access to global sources of information and to computing power in unprecedented quantities. The openness, interoperability and distributed nature of the Internet has contributed to its utility. Its scalability in many dimensions has allowed it to expand to accommodate new demands. Remarkably, the capacity to support streaming video is now also supporting real-time videoconferencing as a substitute for in-person meetings.

The grey-beard of the internet age values privacy as much as anyone, but observers, "Variations of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) are propagating around the world with good intent although implementation has shown some unintended consequences, not least of which may be the ability to share health information that would assist in finding a vaccine against SARS-COV-2." Europe's GDPR does require researchers to develop the same data management plans as those of commercial entities -- sometimes a heavy lift. This article in the European Journal Of Human Genetics (March 2020) elucidates on how GDPR means secondary researchers can’t identify individuals and could therefore make it harder to translate research into action.

The Internet, World-Wide-Web, and mobile phones are a powerful combination for some tracking and tracing system designs. Vint Cerf doesn't describe the current remote education tool as being complete: "...the current crisis has shown that online education is powerful but needs further evolution."

“More generally, we must imagine other potential global catastrophes and put in place plans to mitigate,” he says as the piece winds up. “The time to agree on best practices for emergency response is before the emergency, not during.”

“We must not allow this pandemic or a future one to become our society’s Titanic.”

Read the full article here...

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

How to do Contact Tracing while Respecting Privacy -- and avoiding the Hunger Games?

With the pandemic continuing, the agreed-upon model for dealing with this (until and if a vaccine can be developed) is a combination of social distancing, stepped-up testing for exposure, and contact tracing.

Following the vectors for infection is a key way to get those infected to self-quarantine. Using smart phones as a tool has been shown by South Korea to be effective. But any system that uses our ubiquitous smartphone to track locations and contacts could bump up against privacy needs, and create surveillance problem. Of course, surveillance of infected persons could also save millions of lives — and put us back on tract to get out to work, and restart the economy. Thus is born a paradoxical challenge: to build a comprehensive tracking system without it becoming a tool of oppression.

South Korea has shown to be effective in the management of the viral outbreak and spread of the novel coronavirus disease COVID-19. One area is South Korea’s enormous virus testing program. Another is the country’s use of surveillance technology, notably CCTV and the tracking of bank card and mobile phone usage, to identify who to test. The central part of the South Korean strategy is simple: test as many people as possible. But if patients can’t be located, testing capacity doesn’t matter. This is where smart city infrastructure comes in, with the goal of working out where known patients have been and test anyone who might have come into contact with them. South Korea uses contactless payment transactions to plot a card user’s movements on a map. Smartphone data is also used, because phone locations are automatically recorded when devices connect to up to to three transceivers (for triangulation). Facila recognition with CCTV cameras also enable authorities to identify people who have been in contact with COVID-19 patients.

Does this sound like a technological panopticon? To many westerners, such tracking could be anathema to the philosophy of individual privacy. Apple and Google have mapped a possible solution, obfuscating smartphone data enough to obscure individuals, but proving enough data to enable vector mapping of infected persons.

Abuse by authorities of raw location data could reveal sensitive information about anyone — from political dissent to journalists' sources. The big tech companies are looking to enable contact tracing systems without mass surveillance. We will soon see apps that notify potentially exposed users without revealing location data to the government. In some cases, personal information and health privacy laws means keep an infected individual's test results private while still warning anyone who might have entered their physical zone of contact.

The best way to protect geolocation data from abuse, is not to collect it in the first place. Or so suggests Stanford computer scientist Cristina White, working on the project. Covid-Watch uses Bluetooth as a kind of proximity detector. The app constantly pings out Bluetooth signals to nearby phones, looking for others that might be running the app within about two meters, or six and a half feet. If two phones spend 15 minutes in range of each other, the app considers them to have had a "contact event." They each generate a unique random number for that event, record the numbers, and transmit them to each other.

GPS location tracking will likely play a role in contact-tracing apps, too, with all of the privacy risks that come with sharing a map of users’ movements.

Read more here

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Another Potential Outcome of Pandemic Re-Engineering: Will Agile Adoption Grow?

A core aspect of agile is the idea that if a product or service does what customers need, they will be willing to pay for. At many organizations, an agile principle of customer collaboration is key. Products can be delivered quicker by working in iterations. In multi-disciplined teams professionals work together to deliver working software. This presentation talks about the financial returns generated via an agile approach.

It may take an expert in management consulting to translate into actual behavior and decision terms such as ‘waste’ (in Lean) or ‘flow’ (in Kanban), but the results can be impactful. But how do you know if work done by your teams result in value? What does ‘maximizing value’ mean in terms of behavior and decisions? What are the different kinds of value -- and are they equal? How do you compare them?

In these days of re-imagining the very foundations of conducting business, delivering a product or services, and other challenges brought about as a result of global pandemic, we could think of "business value" as an informal term that includes all forms of positive inputs that contribute to the health and well-being of an organization in the long run. The idea that agile can be used outside of software development is growing. Darrell K. Rigby, Sarah Elk, and Steve Berez of Bain:

“To create a truly agile enterprise,” in the May-June 2020 article, “The Agile C-Suite”, discuses, “the top officers—most, if not all, of the C-suite—must embrace agile principles too.”

Loyal readers of this venue recognize that agility, of course, is not a new idea. With members of the C-suite -- besides the CIO -- embracing the approach, will we see improved efficiency in other lines-of-business?

Read more at the HBR...

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Supply Chain Management Systems Are Taking a Beating During this Pandemic

From medical supply shortages to consumers hoarding toilet paper, the links in supply chains are under strain. Can we learn valuable lessons for the future?

For example, design of the medical supply chain in the United States has low stress resilience. In early stages of the pandemic, most hospitals are already experience a shortage of personal protective equipment, such as N95 masks. As COVID19 cases spread, so will scarcity.

Normally, most enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions can reliably analyze things like inventory levels, historical purchasing trends, and discounts to recommend how much of a product to order. During the worldwide disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many programs a are making fluctuating recommendations, and adjustments to inputs are occurring more frequently. As this becomes more dynamic, the frequency of monitoring by supply chain managers is increasing. Human interventions into automated systems can have adverse impacts on algorithms.

Most retail companies rely on some type of model or algorithm to help predict customer demand, from a basic Excel spreadsheet or a refined, software engineer-built application. Normally, those models are fairly reliable and work well. But as with virtual all other systems, they are being impacted by the pandemic. On the news, we see how customers may be concerned about having enough access to essentials such as paper towels.

One reason for added stress is that a lot of trade is international -- for example, trade between the US and other countries, particularly China, has been under stress due to the virus. So distributors and retailers have had to find new sources for products.

Machine learning-based algorithms are the foundation of the next generation of ERP, particularly around logistics. We will see the most significant cost efficiencies around advanced resource scheduling. Neural net and A.I.-based methods are the foundation of a broad spectrum of next-generation logistics and supply chain technologies under the hood of the best ERP solutions. Significant gains are being made where machine learning can contribute to addressing complex constraint, cost, and delivery problems organizations face. Automated analysis can help provide significant insights into how supply chain performance can be improved, anticipating anomalies in logistics constraints, and matching "pull" performance before shortages occur.

Another example is using a decentralized supply chain for track-and-trace applications. This would improve performance and reduce costs. A study found that in a 30-node configuration when blockchain is used to share data in real-time across a supplier network, combined with better analytics insight, cost savings appeared to be more than $5 million a year.

Watch this video to learn more, or read this article.

Friday, April 24, 2020

This Crisis Will Be With Us for Awhile -- What Can We Do to Help, Now?

This pandemic will be with us for awhile. Although studies are showing that quarantine and isolation methods are indeed “flattening the curve” and that we should all continue to keep our physical distance, it is hard not to grow impatient: how long this is likely to last?

IN an interview on with the BBC, Mark Woolhouse, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom, says, “Waiting for a vaccine should not be honored with the name ‘strategy;’ that is not a strategy.” Governments should not rely on the advent of vaccines to end the pandemic. Bottom line: a vaccine might be available in 12-18 months. The logistics of inoculating millions will be substantial, once such a solution is mass-produced.

A professor of vaccinology at the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford in the U.K. and Head of the Department of Immunology at the University of Bern in Switzerland, Professor Martin Bachmann said, “The real question is, can you keep it down long enough to have a vaccine? Without a vaccine, we are maybe looking at something like a year. But this would mean that 60–70% of the population would have had exposure to the virus.”

So what should we do, as knowledge workers, for the foreseeable future? As management consultants, the team here at Bluedog recommends a few steps that can be undertaken now, to ease the burden. Start by enabling easy, yet secure, remote access for staff who can effectively work at home.

Many jobs can at least partly be done remotely. Staff who may contribute to a customer experience, for example, should be able to do so. Even back office staff can be part of a solution, even more so in times of crisis. We suggest investing in infrastructure and tools that your employees need to stay productive and in contact, even when they cannot come into the office.

From a human resources perspective, ensure the organization has relevant guidelines and procedures in place that help people to work remotely. This includes training on systems that people need to do their work via remote access. To minimize the disaster recovery challenges, run these systems in the cloud. An important aspect of this infrastructure is an appropriate set of productivity tools that facilitate people working collaboratively. There are a plethora of software suites available that allow this, starting with Microsoft’s Office365 along with Slack, Zoom, Google Hang Outs, and many more. Of course, with Workbench “Always on the Job!” an organization can manage teams and projects, in the cloud.

Automation can improve effectiveness and efficiency. For example, give sales representatives backup by building A.I.-like conversational technologies that take away some of the upfront workload. One way to achieve this is implementing a conversational A.I. that supports your business processes. Pre-screen inquiries with fast and efficient flows that get to the root question a customer contact has. Be sure to enable short implementation times to achieve value.

There are a number of techniques, tools, and technologies that can smooth over the radical changes we are all experiencing — remote work is just one aspect of the changing world, as we all work together to weather this crisis.