Imagine elevators that group together people going to the same floors.
I ride on a lot of elevators in a variety of buildings, but today I rode on some of the most interesting ones I've ever seen.
The elevator is actually a bank of elevators. Each elevator is pretty typical, but it's the way they work together that's so interesting. The button panel to call the elevator isn't the usual pair of up and down buttons. Rather it's a list of floors, one button per floor--what's normally inside the elevator rather than on the wall outside. You push the button for the floor you want to go to. A display next to the buttons shows a letter and arrow indicating which elevator to go to. Sure enough, each elevator door has a different letter above it; you go to the elevator indicated on the display and wait for the elevator. When the doors open and you get on the elevator, there are no buttons to press to select the floor; rather a display shows the floors the elevator is going to, including yours. It's like the control system for the elevators is turned inside out, with the controls on the outside instead of the inside.
Rather than pressing "up" or "down" in the lobby, and then indicating the destination floor once one has boarded the elevator, one may alternatively key in one's destination floor whilst in the lobby, using a central dispatch panel. The dispatch panel will then tell the passenger which elevator to use.
What's really cool about this approach is this: Since the elevator system knows where everyone's going (not just up or down), it groups people going to the same floor in the same elevator. Rather than getting on an elevator which stops on every floor, yours only goes to a couple of floors. This means the elevators travel less, saving energy, and elevator rides take less time.
Register your destination on a keypad before you enter the elevator.
Advance knowledge of every passenger’s destination before they even reach the elevator.
Reduced passenger journey times.
Elimination of crowding during heavy traffic.
Assurance of a dedicated service for people with special needs.
Greater design flexibility for building core configuration.
I just think this is really neat and wish more large elevators systems (multiple elevator cars, lots of floors) worked this way. BTW, I'm also fortunate that I visited this building with a friend who'd been before and knew how this worked. Otherwise, I probably would've been pretty confused on how to simply use the elevator!
There are three different achievement levels--contributing, professional, and master--which show increasing levels of accomplishment.
If you've published on dW and would like to receive this recognition, About the program explains how to register and how to gain points. This also applies to anyone who would like to become an author and start tracking points for recognition. (Sort of like a frequent flyer program for authors.) When you register, you'll get a welcome package with a tracking tool; this may take a couple of weeks, esp. if you have published several articles because the tool will be prepopulated with that list of contributions. Once you have the tool, you can use it to track your progress and submit it when you achieve a new level.
Also, even if you're "just" a reader of articles, check out the list of recognized authors to see who's been contributing a lot, and then search to find their articles and check them out.
What I found really interesting about this book it the way it challenges conventional wisdom--convenient, comforting, widely-held ideas which are not necessarily, in fact, true. The authors use regression analysis--a tool which economists use to sort through piles of raw data, holding constant every variable except two, to see if and how those two variables are related--in search of a statistical basis for these well-known ideas. The analysis looks for correlation--the degree to which two variables change together--to find relationships in the otherwise random-seeming data. The value of one variable can be an indicator--a specific measure that helps predict a more general condition--of what the other value will tend to be (all else being equal, which is what the regression analysis is trying to control). But as is often said, correlation does not imply causation, causation being that the presence of the first value makes the second value present as well.
So the book is looking for statistical correlation to support or refute conventional wisdom, and probabilistic proof of causation, showing that one characteristic or event causes another. Not too surprisingly, the book examines certain pieces of conventional wisdom that turn out to be wrong; it shows how the data doesn't support any correlation, and finds where there is a correlation, often a surprising one, one that can often be shown to be a cause.
A lot of the book hovers around the motivations--what economists call incentives--for why we do what we do. Of particular interest is a section on why we worry about problems that are rather unlikely--airplane crashes, terrorist attacks, mad-cow disease--yet sometimes don't worry about problems that are much more likely--car crashes, heart disease, E. coli in your own kitchen. A lot of it has to do with suddenness, control, and dread. A terrorist attack happens suddenly, is beyond our control, and seems like a horrifying and needless way to die--thus our fear of terrorism, even though any one of us is very unlikely to die of a terrorist incident. By comparison, heart disease builds up over years, is caused primarily by the diet we choose to consume, and is seen as more of a natural consequence of aging--thus we don't fear heart disease so much even though it's a very common and preventable cause of death.
One consultant on risk communication even has a formula for what motivates us: Risk = hazard + outrage. Because outrage tends to have a greater weight, unlikely hazards can seem very risky if they're shocking enough. Activists try to make an issue seem more outrageous; keepers of the status quo try to downplay outrageousness.
The last two chapters concern what makes a good parent. Surprisingly, the data shows that the eventual success of your child has a lot more to do with who you are as a parent--education, steady job, optimism, etc.--then what you do with your child--read to them, spank them, take them to museums. How well your child will turn out, at least early in their life, mostly has to do with how well you turned out before your child was ever born. So if you made a mistake with your child today, cut yourself some slack, it probably hasn't screwed them up that much after all. [Read More]
A smart electric grid in Houston which can quickly isolate outages for repairs and meanwhile route around them (similar to Smart Gird City)
A food distribution tracking network in Norway which can tell you farm a package of meat came from
What do these problem domains have in common? They can all be modeled a smart networks. A dumb network cannot measure its own effectiveness, whereas a smart network can measure its operating condition, report its status, diagnose problems, and repair itself. A smart network can be autonomic, which a dumb one cannot.
Why are smart networks such a big opportunity? Two industries that are the biggest, most successful users of computer software are the financial and insurance industries. This is because their products are virtual and so can easily be modeled and operated by computers. Another huge user of computers are telephony companies because their product, the phone network (as well as data networks) are, well, networks which can easily be modeled and operated by computers.
The big insight of smart networks is approaches for being able to model more phenomena in life as networks. By putting sensors in the network and tagging the items in the network so that they can be tracked (by sensing them), the network can be modeled; by embedding actuators with the sensors, the network can also be operated by computers.
And being in a business magazine, the article pointed out that IBM is making a fortune doing this.
View the mysterious world of China's Forbidden City as IBM and the Chinese government unveils an exact replica of Beijing's Forbidden City in a fully immersive, totally interactive, web-accessible, virtual world. Visitors will be able to explore, in minute and photo-accurate detail, one of the greatest royal palaces the world has ever known. Discover a fascinating blend of history, technology and human drama.
Business Week has just published an article, "Java? It's So Nineties." It asks: "Can it possibly be that Java--once the hippest of hip software--has become a legacy technology?"
The article talks about competition to Java from LAMP, .NET, and AJAX. It points out that popular sites like Google and Yahoo don't use much Java.
This information may be correct, but it's also missing (a lot of) the point. The question is whether you need business logic in your Web site, or whether your Web site just shows users your database.
The article talks about tasks that don't require much business logic. Google just displays search results, e-mail, and map images. Yahoo is the poster child for portals, aggregating existing info and integrating it on the glass. They both use read-only data that can be highly replicated; users can configure the display. Those tasks require minimal programming logic, so PHP scripting and a simple SQL database be all you need (plus a Web server and OS). Even then, huge sites like Google and Yahoo must be doing much more than just using PHP.
But a lot of sites need more than scripting. Do your users need to: Find airline tickets? Trade stocks? Does your implementation need to: Integrate with EISs? Enforce security? Coordinate multiple users updating the same data concurrently? Good luck with PHP scripts. You're gonna need J2EE or .NET for that. I can tell you that this is what WebSphere (WAS) customers are doing.
This is an old argument. I remember in the early '90s when Smalltalk would compete with tools like PowerBuilder. PB would let you CRUD your data, but not much more. Smalltalk would give you business logic. Which was better? Depends on what you need. If you just need to CRUD your data, PB was easier. For more sophisticated apps, Smalltalk was more sophisticated and capable.
So LAMP may well work if you want open-source everything and just want to display (and CRUD?) your database. But for full-blown applications hosted on the Web, LAMP won't cut it. AJAX is a cool display technology (see Ajax and Java), but it's only a display; you still need a server behind it running something (LAMP, Java, .NET, etc.). .NET is on the same level as J2EE, and c# is very Java-like, so then that comparison is the old Microsoft-only vs. semi-open-standards and write once, run everywhere argument.
The article seems to miss a lot of emerging trends. It fails to distinguish between Java and J2EE (aka Java EE), comparing Java to .NET. It doesn't discuss the biggest trend in IT today, SOA; much less IBM's new SOA programming model, SCA. It seems like Java and J2EE have grown a lot since Peter Yared was an exec at Sun.
So yeah, Java may not be the technology of choice for displaying your database. But hopefully your Web apps are doing a lot more than that. [Read More]
I started my wiki three months ago. Why have a wiki in addition to a blog? Because hopefully the wiki is a better way to browse info I build up over time. Meanwhile, I still announce the major additions and changes on my blog, so you can check them out incrementally, a few minutes each day.
So how is this working? When you see a blog posting that points to a wiki page, do you follow the link and check out the info on the wiki? Do you find it helpful the way that page links to other pages? When a page is especially useful, do you bookmark to return later?
I can keep doing the wiki, or drop it, depending on what people are getting out of it. So if you like it and want to see more, please say so. If you have opinions, positive (supportive) or negative (constructive), please add a comment and let me know. Thanks.[Read More]
Do laypeople understand what scientists mean when they describe an idea as a theory?
A scientific theory is "a hypothesis that is widely accepted by the scientific community." The qualities of a scientific theory include: "A scientific theory must be testable. It must be possible in principle to prove it wrong. Experiments are the sole judge of scientific truth."
In "Why Science Will Triumph Only When Theory Becomes Law," Clive Thompson contends that many people don't understand this. He points out that "in science the word theory means an explanation of how the world works that has stood up to repeated, rigorous testing. ... But for most people, theory means a haphazard guess you've pulled out of your, uh, hat."
We also use "theory" in a way that is far from the everyday usage (where a theory is pretty much a hunch), particularly when we talk of "the theory of . . ."; examples are relativity, electromagnetism, evolution, plate tectonics, the standard model of particle physics. ... These theories are far from guesses; they will survive no matter what new evidence is accumulated. They are complex constructs that incorporate and explain a significant body of evidence. They have demonstrated predictive power as well as descriptive power.
So if laypeople don't understand what a scientific theory is, then what should such a profound understanding be called? Thompson and Quinn propose that, for the purposes of the public at large, scientists should describe such well-established science as "law." People understand laws--like the law of gravity--and understand that they're always true, are not going to change, and are silly to debate. Since that's what scientists mean when they describe these well-tested theories, then they should describe them the way the public will understand, as laws.
So are people really this stupid, that they don't understand what a scientific theory is? If so, how are we supposed to have any sort of intelligent discussion about anything remotely based on science? Guess that explains the kind of public discourse we have these days that passes for "discussion." This really seems like more Idiocracy and Truthiness and the Triumph of Opinion over Expertise. [Read More]
A computer which outsmarts people at games isn't so far fetched. Deep Blue is a computer which not only plays chess but in 1997 was able to beat the reigning World Chess Champion. IBM Research has details.
Whereas the trick to winning chess strategies is largely mathematical, the trick for trivia is sorting through vast amounts of data and drawing inferences, including understanding semantics (the meanings behind words). What does this have to do with business? Watson is part of IBM's smarter planet efforts. As IBM's CEO explains it, "With advanced computing power and deep analytics, we can infuse business and societal systems with intelligence."
There's even a YouTube video introducing the idea:
Google has announced its own open source Web browser, Chrome.
Chrome (home page here?) will be a Web browser from Google to compete with Internet Explorer and Firefox. According to A fresh take on the browser on the Google blog, "We will be launching the beta version of Google Chrome tomorrow [Tuesday] in more than 100 countries." They even have a comic book to explain its virtues.
Search and user experience -- Rather than a browser full of tabs, each tab will be more like its own browser.
Standards -- The browser is open source, the code will be available for other uses, and will include the Google Gears software for offline access of online content. (None of this is truly a standard, but is at least open source.)
Chrome seems to be a key part of a Google plan to develop an Internet-based operating system, where users can use the same applications with the same experience from any computer connected to the Internet.
I suspect that Internet Explorer users who haven't been interested enough to move to Firefox also won't move to Chorme either, at least until they find IE frustrating enough to move to something else. I suspect Firefox fans will be torn on whether to make Chrome their primary browser, depending on how good Chrome really is and on how quickly Firefox improves to compete. If Chrome is a hit, it seems fairly likely to me that it and Firefox will merge, although it's also possible that the Firefox and Chrome development camps could become mortal enemies.
Marquez says, "Despite the total meltdowns of the U.S. and global economies last October, IBM executed flawlessly and handily beat analysts' earnings estimates, expanding both its margins and its profit outlook for 2009." Others have also made positive evaluations of IBM's earnings report, such as "IBM posts earnings rise, sees strong growth in 2009" (MarketWatch), and the stock rose as a result ("IBM shares rise after earnings beat expectations" in MarketWatch). Marquez also says, "The virtue of IBM's model is that it has effectively transformed itself from the cyclical hardware company that gave it its name into a software-and-service-oriented firm that gives it a recurring revenue stream. In addition into this well-thought-out business model that concentrates on high-margin, value-added businesses." Yeah, I think that sounds like us.
Another point Marquez makes is that "the many stimulus plans being implemented around the world will no doubt increase demand in many of IBM’s product-and-service areas." This sounds like a nod to the "Smarter Planet" efforts IBM has been talking about.
Marquez also advises his nephew, who has an internship at IBM, to try to leverage it into a permanent job with the company because "It is a superb global company, with a bullet-proof business model and a balance sheet that gives them a huge sustainable competitive advantage." So, Marquez thinks IBM is a good place to work, too.
IBM CEO Sam Palmisano is giving a talk to the Council on Foreign Relations, "A Smarter Planet."
The gist of the talk is that IBM believes that the world is not only becoming smaller and flatter, it's about to become a lot smarter. Significant trends occurring right now like the newly elected US president, the global financial crisis, and global environmental change create the need and opportunity for us to make our societies around the world work better. In "I.B.M. Has Tech Answer for Woes of Economy," the New York Times describes this proposal as "a technology-fueled economic recovery plan that calls for public and private investment in more efficient systems for utility grids, traffic management, food distribution, water conservation and health care."
When IBM releases the text of the speech, I'll link to it.
"How Apple's iPhone Reshaped the Industry" (Business Week) discusses how the usefulness of cell phones is moving from making calls and sending text messages to running applications. Thus the most important aspect of your phone is shifting from who is your service provider (in the US: AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, etc.) to what platform the phone embodies (such as Palm, BlackBerry, or iPhone). This represents a loss of power for the service providers; they're being disintermediated.
Not so fast (it seems to me). You typically (in the US) buy your cell phone from your service provider, and that phone only works on that provider's network. So although AT&T and Sprint sell virtually identical BlackBerry models (to pick an example), a BlackBerry you buy from AT&T won't work on Sprint's network and vice versa. This is partially a technical issue (CDMA vs. GSM, two different standards for cell phone networks and thus the chip in the phone that wirelessly connects the phone to the network), it's also political: The service provides subsidize the cost of the phone when you sign-up for a long-term service agreement and otherwise don't want you using their phone on another network.
Computers don't work this way. If you want a Dell PC, you don't buy it from AOL (to pick an example) and then have a computer that can only connect to the Internet via AOL. No, you buy a computer from your favorite vendor (Dell, Lenovo, Apple, etc.) and then connect via your favorite ISP (AOL, Earthlink, your hotel's wi-fi network, etc.). Any computer works with any Internet provider. Both groups have to constantly compete to provide the best equipment and service to get you to continue to choose them instead of the competition.
The cell phone industry doesn't have this kind of interchangeability, where any phone will work on any service provider's network. Until that's the case, I'd say we're still pretty locked into our service providers. Google was supposedly working towards a cell phone that works with any carrier (see the Open Handset Alliance, such as "Breaking Wireless Wide Open" (Business Week)), but the Google G1 cell phone only works with T-Mobile (in the US); so much for neutrality.
Let's hope I'm wrong. More specifically, we should hope that Mike Judge's film Idiocracy isn't prophetic. It is however, a good (not great, but interesting) movie, so check it out.
For me, the term "idiocracy" is now becoming an indictment I use to label any event or trend that seems to be bringing civilized society to ruin. Let's give it a try: Lindsay Lohan gets arrested for DUI again, and it's front page news? That's idiocracy. Try it yourself, it's fun (though depressing, too).
IBM sees the coming infrastructure boom as a big opportunity.
"Big Blue's big plan" (Fortune Magazine) talks about how CEO Sam Palmisano sees the current financial crisis as "humanity screaming for change" and an opportunity for systemic overhaul to what IBM terms its "Smarter Planet" initiative. IBM envisions embedding sensors into everything--food shipments, water pipes, electrical grids--to detect what's happening, and making sense of it all through data analytics software, so that each system can be treated as and managed as a massive network. This will be used to make these systems run more efficiently, provide better service, and place less strain on the environment.