09
Apr 14

Measures <> data

“The reason why businesses love measures is because they mistakenly believe that measures are real, hard data.”

Karen Phelan, author of “I’m Sorry I Broke Your Company.


07
Mar 14

Henry Ford on watches

“As a lad he became expert as an amateur watchmaker. Disliking farm work because, “considering the results, there was too much work on the place,” he became an apprentice mechanic in Detroit, and repaired watches in a jewelry shop at night. He flirted with the idea of entering the watch manufacturing business on a large scale, “but I did not because I figured out that watches were not universal necessities.” His apprenticeship over, he served with the local representative of the Westinghouse Company, setting up and repairing their road engines.”

– Excerpt From Automotive Giants of America (iBooks)

Given the constant rumormongering about the iWatch, reading this (from a book written in 1926) amused me.


03
Dec 13

Walter Chrysler on Troubled Companies

“The first thing I do when I start to look into the affairs of a failing company is to study the personnel of the organization and the individuality of the men. I am concerned first of all with executives, because if their principles are not right it is useless to look for results from the men. When I have measured up in my own mind the capacity of the executives, I get out into the operation of the plant and watch the men. I look around to see how many of them are standing still and how many of them are moving around the plant. Highly paid workmen should be busy with accomplishment, not useless motion. If there is a lot of movement I know the plant is being badly operated.

I do not believe in idle machines or idle men. Outside of the idle investment involved, it is bad policy. If a man is working next to an idle machine it not only has a bad effect on him mentally, but he takes less care of his own machine because he thinks he has a ready substitute. I believe in keeping people out of temptation, for many of them cannot resist it.” - Walter Chrysler – Excerpt From Automotive Giants of America (iBooks)

Even though the above advice is almost a century old, I believe it is still quite relevant. Too many companies today waste far too much time on meetings, bureaucracy, and busywork.


03
Aug 13

The Szilard Dilemma

Given recent events, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about metadata. The “Patriot”* act, signed in the hazy, fear-driven months after 9/11 was a piece of legislation that was so broad that even one of the authors now says the hoovering of telephone metadata was never the intent of the law. Law, like any type of contract, is a funny thing. It’s not so much what you say, it’s what you don’t say that matters. I was concerned about the potential exploitability of the fear-driven, rushed passage of such a law – turns out I was right.

At Microsoft, the Security Development Lifecycle (SDL) is deployed across the company as a method to build software which is secure by design. A core tenet of this process involves threat modeling. Simplistically, with threat modeling, you create scenarios and examine all possible exploits for your software design, and work to mitigate them ahead of time. Just as importantly, with threat modeling, you also wind up with have a model to work from when your software does wind up being exploited down the line.

As a practice, threat modeling requires one to consider the absolute worst end results that can come about by the creation of the system being examined. When we look at the “Patriot” act, it is obvious that no threat modeling occurred prior to the drafting and passage of the legislature. Just as importantly, even with their supposed oversight of the NSA’s actions, legislators renewed the act again in 2011 without forcing the NSA to curtail overly broad metadata gathering.

In the US, the goals of the shareholder are often at odds with the goal of the citizen. The shareholder wants to see YoY earnings growth, all too often with little concern about how much that growth costs in terms of the environment, employee retention, or even long-term sustainability of the business. It’s about here and now. In a Gordon Gekko-ish tone, it’s often about greed. The citizen wants to see businesses grow, but not by impeding on their rights, cutting their salary or survivability, or by harming the long-term potential of the republic (which I believe includes the environment).

Politicians in the US all too often reward the companies which helped finance their election, even if doing so results in harming the interests of individual citizens or the republic or state at large. Referred to as soft corruption, money in to the system is used to affect purchasing or policy outbound. We see this happen all the time – for example, individuals who used to head the Department of Homeland Security enthusiastically lobbying the DHS to deploy full-body scanners en masse, without disclosing that he is being paid by manufacturers of the devices – and despite the fact that millions of dollars of these devices would wind up being junked. This isn’t new – as I mentioned yesterday, Thomas Jefferson alluded to the same greed-driven, myopic decision making happening 200 years ago.

The interests of the intelligence community (and the businesses that sell them technology) are often also at odds with the interest of the citizen. IBM gleefully sent executives on a junket to lobby for the passage of CISPA, a cyber-security bill whose creator may have even had conflicts of interest in the passage of. One can only imagine the back-door lobbying that IT companies providing infrastructure to the NSA did ahead of the “Patriot” act renewal in 2011.

As we stand back and consider the NSA’s massive metadata harvesting machine, it’s easy enough to see how we got here.

  1. A bill passed without adequate consideration for the risks it was creating (versus the ones it was attempting to mitigate).
  2. An intelligence community that will do whatever it takes, including going right up to the creepy line and beyond in terms of of how the founding documents of our country, and the “Patriot” act can be interpreted.
  3. Many business will often do whatever it takes to sell technology, software, and services to the intelligence community, without regard to the harm they are causing to the republic and the rights of citizens.

All of these steps happened (and can and will likely happen again) without any regard to the chilling effect they have on civil liberties, are likely to have on the adoption of cloud services sold by US companies, or the long-term harm they do to the trust of citizens in their country, and the stability of the republic overall.

When creating anything, whether it is software, technology, anything… envision the worst possible scenario for its exploitation. Imagine malevolent actors with more hunger for power or money than integrity. Imagine being Leo Szilard, a brilliant scientist. Contemplating the risks of a nuclear chain reaction being used by others to create a bomb, and defensively sending President Roosevelt a letter about the technology and the risks against your country. Your action in turn results in the Manhattan Project, with the technology ironically headed towards offensive use as a military device against civilians against the wishes of you and many of your peers. The result? Your petition is ignored, you and your peers are investigated and penalized, and your prediction of an arms race that can’t be won comes to fruition.

Here we find ourselves in 2013, hurtling drones around the world, killing supposed bad actors, without any consideration of the fact that this action invites a response in kind down the road when bad actors can obtain adequate technology and return the favor. We try to stop people from printing guns; as if people looking to break the law will only buy 3D printers that are legal. Same with 3D key replicators or devices that can easily unlock and start many kinds of vehicles. The velocity of technological change is continuing to accelerate, faster than ever before. An incredibly large number of innovations in the recent past (including the technologies used by the NSA to process this volume of (meta)data) invite require us to understand the ethical ramifications of them before we bring them up and put them into place; and when these technologies are exploited, analyze the ethical reasons behind why. Our evolving world requires us to think long-term, and consider the ramifications of our actions before we begin.

*I always write the name of this piece of… legislation this way, in quotes. This law overreached and damaged our republic. It also even damaged the meaning of the word ‘patriot’.


30
Jul 13

Nimblstand – the laptop deconstructed

During 2012, I used my iPad as the primary device for writing most of the time  on the road. I also used a new stand with it, which proved quite useful when both writing with it on my lap and while on planes to and from conferences. For the longest time, I regularly had to answer the question, “Where can I get one?” – only to wind up disappointing them since I had a prototype and you couldn’t buy it yet.  I went all of 30 minutes at the SharePoint Conference last year before another person asked me what kind of stand I was using – his words, I kid you not, were “that thing is a work of art”. Now you can buy one too.

The Nimblstand (don’t forget to forget the ‘e’) is a stand for the iPad that makes the most of the iPad and an Apple bluetooth keyboard. I’ve sworn by the Apple bluetooth keyboard for years as a companion to my iPad. I hate to compromise with any smaller keyboard, and the Apple on-screen keyboard, while handy for quick typing, is useless when trying to type at length. For almost a year, since I bought my iPad (2), I had used an Origami case with it and my Apple keyboard. But the Nimblstand provides an interesting alternative to it. Combine it with with the fact that the velcro on my Origami had begun to fail, and my Nimblstand prototype came along at just the right time.

So what IS the Nimblstand? It is a simple product which enables you to carry a stand for your iPad, and directly incorporates an Apple bluetooth keyboard and a Wacom Bamboo stylus. The keyboard slides into the stand, and the stylus can either be stored inside the stand when not in use, or placed next to the iPad when being used.

Here you can see what the Nimblstand looks like:

Nimblstand

As you can see, the stand itself supports two angles for the iPad. The first, when using the keyboard, is a traditional laptop angle (also similar to the Surface RT kickstand), and another more banked angle where the stand is reversed, where the user is either not using a keyboard, or is using the on-screen keyboard. It’s a great stand, and works with numerous devices, not just iPads. The stand is light in weight, but durable, very versatile, and (a point proudly made by my friend who has spent so much of his personal time to perfect this product) even made in the United States. The Nimblstand is now available from nimblstand.com and sells for $49.95 for the stand, or $66.95, for the stand and an included Wacom Bamboo stylus (Apple bluetooth keyboard sold separately).


23
Apr 13

“Bring this country to its knees…”

“It’s increasingly likely that a small group of well-financed people are going to be able to really bring this country to its knees.”

I couldn’t agree more, which is why we shouldn’t let them be re-elected. Anyone willing to grab a pitchfork and stab the rule of law in the name of fear doesn’t deserve to hold office in this country.

 

Fox News: Republican lawmaker defends call to torture

(Linked from USA Today)

 

 

 


22
Apr 13

Learn one weird old trick to reducing your disappointment in life

Stop buying more stuff, believing that buying more stuff will make you happy.

 

Happy Earth Day.


05
Apr 13

A few of my favorite movies (or: Hollywood – death by 1,000 paper cuts)

Over a year ago, I wrote a missive about how idiotic Hollywood’s “Rental Window” was. Luckily, things have changed, and now you can easily stream a movie from almost any streaming service the same day it comes out on Blu-ray and DVD.

I kid. You know that’s never going to happen. I recall as a kid when we wanted to rent a movie on VHS, we had to go to the video store and see if they a) stocked it or b) had a copy in stock (or were all out). If you really wanted a movie, say for a child’s birthday party or similar, you might have to hit several video stores before you could find a copy (and hopefully it wasn’t the copy with the spot of the tape that was bent or demagnetized. TRACKING!!! SOMEBODY ADJUST THE TRACKING!

But I digress. My point is that we’ve come more than 30 years into the future from when that era started, yet we haven’t moved at all. I was out with some friends the other day, and mentioned a few of my favorite movies. They asked for a list, and I thought – sure, in fact, I’ll add links to streamable versions for those I can.

But the insanity that is trying to find streamed movies results in so much chaos. There are dozens of streaming services, each with different catalogs. And some movies – either because they’re too old, or the studio is holding them hostage for a later day, aren’t available on streaming, only on shiny media.

Enter Can I Stream It?, a service that attempts to tell you where you can stream (or rent) movies. It’s an IMDB of movie availability, and also has apps available for several platforms.

Here are some of my favorite drama or suspense movies:

 
Here are some of my favorite comedy movies (I accept no liability if you watch them and hate them):

 

 

 

 


03
Oct 12

Windows Store: Show me the numbers.

If you haven’t yet read my post from yesterday, please do. It’s very relevant to this conversation. As I stated – The Windows Store doesn’t need a large number of apps to be successful. It needs a number of great apps that drive people to the platform.

Sermon aside, I know many people are visiting this site to find out where the store is at, and where it may be by 10/26. So let’s have a look.

As of today, the Windows Store has 3,610 Windows Store apps available for purchase or free download. This is a non-trivial increase, and I’ve been seeing an average of 118 apps per day, but it ebbs and flows. Nothing so far matches the huge increase seen on 9/13, but during three days of the last week, over 240 apps hit the store each day. Charted with the earlier data, here is the result:

Pretty strong growth. If you trend that out, the Windows Store will indeed be at over 5,000 apps by launch day.

There was a rush of paid apps that became available, but generally a much higher percentage of apps coming in the store have been free. As of today, 88% of the store’s global inventory consists of free apps. Here’s how that has been trending:

There are a total of 1,837 developers (both individuals and organizations) represented in the store, with the majority having one application available each, though a large number have submitted 2 or more up to about 5. Above that, the spread gets thinner, with the top 10 developers all having 20 or more applications in the store. The top development organization has 96 applications, and the second most is the individual who previously had the most – who now has 51 applications available. There are quite a few larger organizations represented in the Windows Store, such as Asus, AT&T, Amazon (of course),  BMW, eBay, NBCUniversal, Toshiba, and Viacom among others – but I’m also seeing a lot of apps written by individual developers, and a fair amount from Microsoft IT consulting organizations as well.

Many apps on the store are smaller, unitasking apps – the kind I’d frankly like to see less of, since it makes the store harder to navigate. In some ways, these small tchotchke apps are like the Windows command-line tools of yore – power toys for power users. Nice to have, but I’m hoping we start to see some truly unique, well-designed apps that reflect the tenets I mentioned yesterday.

From here on out, all stats are for the US English store (which still has the largest app inventory, at 2,420 apps).

Here’s how the categories break down:

The top two categories are the same, but games have declined 2% in the overall inventory (down from 20%), Entertainment is up 1%, and Tools is up dramatically, from 5% to 10%. Education is up dramatically, from 4% previously. Unfortunately, all of this took a toll on productivity, which is down 2% to 6% of overall inventory today. The Music and Video and Lifestyle categories were unchanged.

94% of the titles that are on x86 or x64 are available on ARM at the current time – though it remains to be seen if that changes after developers can obtain Windows RT systems to test their applications on.

Microsoft’s Mail, Calendar, and Contacts suite of applications has the largest number of ratings submissions by users, at 1,511 – with a rating of 3.2. A rating I expect to improve over time as Microsoft enhances and improves the somewhat constrained applications. The app with the second most ratings is Fruit Ninja, with a rating of 4.0. Aside from that, the apps with the most ratings so far are generally those from Microsoft, landing most in high 3 to 4.x territory.

 


12
Sep 12

Introducing! The new iPhone Disappointment!

No. This isn’t going to be one of those posts. It’s not going to be derisive about Apple at all. So if you came here for a good old fashioned “Steve Jobs wouldn’t have done that” beating, you might want to just click back or close this tab.

Even at the age of 39, I still enjoy visiting Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Why? Because, if you let your mind go, and your imagination wander, they’re amazing places. For a lot of grownups, if you look around either Disney park, you’ll see a bunch of concrete buildings, fake plants and lakes, and a shipload of stores. As Tim Berners-Lee used to tell his children, “Everything you don’t understand is magic.”

If you’re a magician and you hang around other magicians, I can only imagine magic could, well… lose it’s magic.

Among the technophiles I follow on Twitter, most were either in the “this is a disappointment” (net negative) or “I expected more” (net neutral) camp, though a fair amount were still positive about the changes. A little over a year ago, I wrote about my philosophy on the evolutionary/revolutionary cycles that the iPhone generally goes through. To that end, this year should have been a revolutionary cycle. And honestly it was. Stay with me for a second.

In the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi“, there is a brilliant dialog from, I believe, one of Jiro’s former apprentices. In his segment, he discusses how Jiro’s eldest son must not just meet Jiro’s standards when Jiro passes away or stops working there, but instead his son must work twice as hard or risk losing customers simply due to perception. That is possibly the case. But the core of the matter is, only Jiro’s most steadfast critics wouldn’t go there simply because Jiro is gone. But imagine Jiro’s son had started the restaurant, and Jiro had never been there? All of a sudden, the units of measure change.

Most consumers don’t intimately track iPhone evolution. Most consumers don’t intimately track phones. Most consumers don’t have the time or wherewithall to keep track of the megafoo and Near-Field bar. The reality is that this SNL Verizon video wasn’t comedy to any consumer that watched it. It was documentary.

Consumers don’t buy iPhones because they want the latest foo or bar. They buy iPhones because the device – the Apple ecosystem – is a known quantity that works for them. Apple has turned electronics into appliances. Rather foolproof appliances. Most consumers love that idea.

So while the geeks look at today’s iPhone and laugh at how technologically inadequate the iPhone 5 is, how Apple “dropped the ball” (again!), and how “Steve Jobs would never have released this!”, the reality is this “disappointing” device will sell in volumes and at price points that will school effectively every other phone produced this year. Because it just works. That it is thinner, lighter, faster, has better battery life, and a larger screen? Handy. Doesn’t matter. It’s the new iPhone. It will continue to keep the wind in Apple’s sales.