It takes me 20-30 minutes to complete a crossword or Sudoku puzzle. I am in no hurry, and I find the process relaxing. But what if you were paid to complete a puzzle? In that case, finishing the puzzle sooner, in fewer minutes, means more money in your paycheck per hour worked! However, getting paid would mean that doing these puzzles may no longer be fun or relaxing.
The idea of converting a hobby into a revenue-generating activity is not new. Who wouldn't want to earn money doing something you were planning to do already? The television is full of commercial advertisements for credit cards where you can earn Double Miles or Cash Rewards just for spending money on things you were going to spend on anyways.
But is "earn" the right word? The merchants pay a percentage fee every time a patron uses a credit card, and the bank is just providing a marketing incentive in the form of a portion of those fees back to the consumer, to encourage more usage of their card versus other forms of payment. Sort of like "profit sharing".
I am almost fell out of my chair when I saw that [iPhone app Viggle rewards couch potatoes for watching television]. For those not familiar with American slang, the term couch potato refers to [a lazy person who does nothing but sit on the couch and watch television]. But you can't be called lazy if you are getting paid to do it, right?
(FTC Disclosure: I am a full-time employee and shareholder of the IBM Corporation. This blog post should not be considered an endorsement for anything. My opinions and writings are based on publicly available information and my own experiences doing freelance work prior to my employment at IBM. I have no hands-on experience with Amazon Mechanical Turk, neither as a worker nor requester, have not participated in TopCoder contests, nor have I used the Viggle app. I do not have any financial interest in Amazon, TopCoder, Viggle or any other third-party company mentioned on this blog post, nor has anyone paid me to mention their company names, brands or offerings.)
Here's how it works. You get the app on your phone, and register each television show as you watch it. You can watch the show live, or much later recorded on your Tivo. You watch the shows you were going to watch anyways, and just provide your demographics, all in the name of market research. You get two points per minute of watching, and after 7,500 points, you get a $5 gift card from retailers such as from retailers such as Burger King, Starbucks, Best Buy, Sephora, Fandango, and CVS drugstores. For the typical American, it would take about three weeks to watch that much television!
Of course, this is not the only way to earn money working from home. A reader asked me for my opinions of [Amazon Mechanical Turk]. While the other examples above are done for marketing purposes, Mechanical Turk can be used for a variety of other things. Up to now, the IT industry has regarded the Cloud as the delivery of computing as a service, with the infrastructure, hardware and software existing on internationally networked servers, effectively invisible to the end user. This model is now to being applied broadly to people.
Basically, Mechanical Turk acts as a marketplace, where employers post Human Intelligent Tasks (HITs) that workers can do. Most can be completed in minutes and you are paid pennies to do so. Some examples might help illustrate what a HIT looks like:
As a Mechanical Turk worker, you only work on the HITs you choose to work on, presumably those that interest you, and that you can do well and quickly. Workers can do this anytime, anywhere, such as 2:00am in the morning, at home, when you can't sleep or taking care of children. You can choose to work as much or as little as you like.
The employers--referred to as Mechanical Turk requesters--put money into their payroll accounts, load up their tasks, and hit publish. This gives them immediate access to a global, on-demand 24-by-7 workforce that can help complete thousands of HITs in minutes. These employers won't have to put an advertisement in the want ads and interview potential candidates, just to let them go later when the project is over.
Just like any other job, Mechanical Turk wages are reported to the IRS, and each person's work is evaluated for quality. In doing these tasks, you build up your "digital reputation" that will either prevent you or allow you to work on certain HITs. You can also take tests to reach Qualification levels to be eligible to work on HITs not available to everyone else.
Software engineers would have a hard time writing an Artificial Intelligence [AI] program to do these simple tasks, so being able to generate a HIT for something in the middle of a computer program might be the easiest way to get past a difficult part of an algorithm. Amusingly, Amazon describes this form of [crowdsourcing] as an artificial form of Artificial Intelligence!
While this approach may work for small, easily defined tasks, what about works that require a high amount of Human Intelligence, like storage software or hardware development?
When I was working for IBM as a software engineer in the 1980s and 1990s, it took us years to get a project done, using the traditional [Waterfall Model]. My job as a software architect was to estimate the thousands of lines of code (KLOC) a project would require, estimate the number of Person-Years (PY) it would take, and recommend the appropriate sized team. Back then, each engineer averaged only about 1,000 lines of software code per year, so KLOC and PY were often used interchangeably. Fellow IBM author Fred Brooks wrote an excellent book on the process called [The Mythical Man-Month].
The Waterfall model has the advantage that people only have to work a portion of the cycle on the project. In between, there was plenty of downtime to attend training, improve your skills, or take vacation. As our director Lynn Yates would often complain, "if they are only writing two lines of code in the morning, and two in the afternoon, why do they need time to rest?"
The Waterfall model was not perfect, and had its share of critics. One downside was that the clients didn't see anything until General Availability (GA), with a few getting a glimpse a few months earlier during our Early Support Program (ESP). By the time clients could tell us it was not what they wanted or expected, it was too late to change until the next release.
To address this concern, 17 software engineers wrote the now famous [Agile Manifesto]. The authors felt that collaboration, between the developers and with the clients, is critical to success. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams. The result is an iterative approach that allows the client to see working prototypes early in the process, allowing last-minute changes to requirements to influence the final product.
Combining the Mechanical Turk concept with Agile programming methodology gives you what IBM calls an "Outcomes Model" approach. In the IBM research paper [Software Economies] (PDF, 5 pages), the authors argue that there are four fundamental principles needed for an "Outcomes Model" approach:
I was surprised to see that [the TopCoder Community is 390,593 strong], nearly the size of the entire IBM company. TopCoder is focused on computer programming and digital creation using the Outcomes Model approach. Rather than paying everyone for their work, however, the platform is designed around challenges and competitions, and the top players or contributors are rewarded with cash prizes.
Does it make sense for permanent IT staff to become freelancers in an international "talent cloud"? I can understand why large corporations would prefer [international employment contracts that help circumvent restrictive regulations of certain countries], but can they convince enough people to give up social security protection, guaranteed salary, paid vacations and sick leave, just to have some added freedom and flexibility? According to Matthew Ingram from GigaOM, [many people are choosing a freelance lifestyle].
As an innovative company, IBM constantly explores a variety of means and approaches to offer value to its clients and customers. These new approaches may have some distinct advantages not just for IBM and its shareholders, but also for its clients and the freelancers hired to work on these projects. The global marketplace is getting flatter, smaller and smarter. It will be interesting how this plays out. If the discussion above encourages you to hone your technical skills, perhaps that is motivation enough to get off the couch and stop watching so much television!
Continuing my coverage of the 30th annual [Data Center Conference]. Here is a recap of more of the Tuesday afternoon sessions:
New projects like virtualization, Cloud computing and Big Data are giving companies a new opportunity to re-evaluate their strategies for storage, process and governance.
Last week, I presented "An Introduction to Cloud Computing" for two hours to the local Institute of Management Accountants [IMA] for their Continuing Professional Education [CPE]. Since I present IBM's leadership in Cloud Storage offerings, I have had to become an expert in Cloud Computing overall. The audience was a mix of bookkeepers, accountants, auditors, comptrollers, CPAs, and accounting teachers.
I have posted my charts on Slideshare.Net:
Here is a sample of the questions I took during and after my presentation:If I need to shut down host machine, I lose all my virtual machines as well?
No, it is possible to seemlessly move virtual machines from one host to another. If you need to shut down a host machine, move all the VMs to other hosts, then you can shut down the empty host without impacting business.Does the SaaS provider have to build their own app, can they not buy an app and then rent it out?
Yes, but they won't have competitive differentiation, and the software development they buy from will want a big cut of the action. SaaS developers that build their own applications can keep more of the profits for themselves.How do backups work in cloud computing? Do I have to contact someone at the cloud computing company to find the backup tape?
Large datacenters often keep the most recent backups on disk, and older versions on tape in automated tape libraries that can fetch your backup in less than 2 minutes. Because of this, there is no need to talk to anyone, you can schedule or invoke your own backups, and often perform the recovery yourself using self-service tools.Last month, my sister tried to rent a car during the week the Tucson Gem Show, but they were out of cars she wanted to drive. Could this happen with Cloud Computing?
Not likely. With rental cars, the cars have to be physically in Tucson to rent them. Rental companies could have brought cars down from Phoenix to satisfy demand. With Cloud Computing, it is all accessible over the global network, you are not limited to the cloud providers nearest you.Is there a reason why Amazon Web Services (AWS) charges more for a Windows image than a Linux image?
Yes, Amazon and Microsoft have a patent cross-licensing agreement where Amazon pays Microsoft for the priveledge of offering Windows-based images on their EC2 cloud infrastructure. It just makes business sense to pass those costs onto the consumer. Linux is a free open source operating system, and is often the better choice.So if we rent a machine from Amazon, they send it to my accounting office? What exactly am I getting for 12 cents per hour?
No. The computer remains in their datacenter. You get a virtual machine that runs 1.2Ghz Intel processor, with 1700MB of RAM, and 160GB of hard disk space, with Windows operating system running on it, comparable to a machine you can get at the local BestBuy, but instead of it running in the next room, it is running in a datacenter somewhere else in the United States with electricity and air conditioning. You access it remotely from your desktop or laptop PC.Why would I ever rent more than one computer?
It depends on your workload. For example, Derek Gottfrid at the New York Times needed to convert 11 million articles from TIFF format to PDF format so that he could put them up on the web. This would have taken him months using a single computer, so he rented 100 computers and got the entire stack converted in 24 hours, for a cost of about $240. See the articles [Self-Service, Prorated, Super Computing] and [TimesMachine] for details.What about throughput? Won't I need to run cables from my accounting office to this cloud computing data center?
You will need connectivity, most likely from connections provided by your local telephone or cable company, or through the Internet. Certainly, there can be cases where direct privately-owned fiber optic cables, known as "dark fiber", can directly connect consumers to local Cloud service providers, for added security.What about medical records? Will Cloud Computing help the Healthcare industry?
Yes, hospitals are finding that digitizing their records greatly reduces costs. IBM offers the Grid Medical Archive Solution [GMAS] as a private cloud storage solution to store X-ray images and other electronic medical records on disk and tape, and these records can be accessed from multiple hospitals and clinics, wherever the doctor or patient happens to be.The advantage of personal computers was individualization, I could put on my own choices of software, and customize my own settings, won't we lose this with Cloud Computing?
Yes, customized software and settings cost companies millions of dollars with help desk calls. Cloud Computing attempts to provide some standardization, reducing the amount of effort to support IT operations.Won't putting all the computers into a big datacenter make them more vulnerable to hackers?
Security is a well-known concern, but this is being addressed with encryption, access control lists, multi-tenancy isolation, and VPN connections.My daughter has a BlackBerry or iPod or something, and when we mentioned that someone in Phoenix wore a monkey suit to avoid photo-radar speed cameras, she was able to pull up a picture on her little hand-held thing, is this the future?
Yes, mobile phones and other hand-held devices now have internet access to take advantage of Cloud Computing services. People will be able to access the information they need from wherever they happen to be. (You can see the picture here: [Man Dons Mask for Speed-Camera Photos])
IBM offers a variety of Cloud Computing services, as well as customized solutions and integrated systems that can be deployed on-premises behind your corporate firewall. To learn more, go to [ibm.com/cloud].
The second speaker was local celebrity Dan Ryan presenting the financials for the upcoming [Rosemont Copper] mining operations. Copper is needed for emerging markets, such as hybrid vehicles and wind turbines. Copper is a major industry in Arizona.
Continuing my coverage of the Data Center Conference 2009, held Dec 1-4 in Las Vegas, the title of this session refers to the mess of "management standards" for Cloud Computing.
The analyst quickly reviewed the concepts of IaaS (Amazon EC2, for example), PaaS (Microsoft Azure, for example), and SaaS (IBM LotusLive, for example). The problem is that each provider has developed their own set of APIs.
(One exception was [Eucalyptus], which adopts the Amazon EC2, S3 and EBS style of interfaces. Eucalyptus is an open-source infrastrcture that stands for "Elastic Utility Computing Architecture Linking Your Programs To Useful Systems". You can build your own private cloud using the new Cloud APIs included Ubuntu Linux 9.10 Karmic Koala termed Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud (UEC). See these instructions in InformationWeek article [Roll Your Own Ubuntu Private Cloud].)
The analyst went into specific Virtual Infrastructure (VI) and public cloud providers.
If you prefer a common management system independent of cloud provider, or perhaps across multiple cloud providers, you may want to consider one of the "Big 4" instead. These are the top four system management software vendors: IBM, HP, BMC Software, and Computer Associates (CA).
A survey of the audience found the number one challenge was "integration". How to integrate new cloud services into an existing traditional data center. Who will give you confidence to deliver not tools for remote management of external cloud services? Survey shows:
Some final thoughts offered by the analyst. First, nearly a third of all IT vendors disappear after two years, and the cloud will probably have similar, if not worse, track record. Traditional server, storage and network administrators should not consider Cloud technologies as a death knell for in-house on-premises IT. Companies should probably explore a mix of private and public cloud options.
technorati tags: , Eucalyptis, IBM, HP, BMC, CA, Amazon, AWS, EC2, Microsoft, Azure, IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, LotusLive, Eucalyptus, S3, EBS, Ubuntu, Linux, UEC, VMware, vCloud+Express, VMware+Go, Xen, Citrix, C3, CloudWatch,