Back To The Computer Stone Age

Back To The Computer Stone Age

According to Charles Kenny in Bloomberg BusinessWeek (20 June 2013), the Internet is quite a big disappointment–because it “failed to generate much in the way of economic growth.”

While on one hand, the author seems to see the impact that the Internet has had–“it sparks uprisings, makes shopping easier, help people find their soul mates, and enables government to collect troves of useful data on potential terrorists;” on the other hand, he pooh-poohs all this and says it hasn’t generated prosperity.

And in a sense, don’t the facts seem to support Kenny: GDP is still in the 2-3% range, labor productivity growth is even lower, and unemployment is still elevated at over 7%?

The problem is that the author is making false correlations between our economic conditions and the rise of the Internet, which already Jack Welch pronounced in 2000 as “the single most important event in the U.S. economy since the industrial revolution.”

Kenny seems to think that not only aren’t there that many economic benefits to the Internet, but whatever there is we basically squander by becoming Facebook and Youtube junkies.

It’s a shame that Bloomberg BusinessWeek decided to publish such a ridiculous article as its “Opening Remarks,” blaming the failure of the Internet for economic challenges that have been brewing for decades–with high-levels of debt, low levels of savings, hefty entitlement programs based on empty national trust funds, the global outsourcing of our manufacturing base, elevated political polarization in Washington, and various economic jolts based on runaway technology, real estate, and commodity bubbles.

It’s concerning that the author, someone with a masters in International Economics, wouldn’t address, let alone mention, any of these other critical factors affecting our national economy–just the Internet!

Kenny adds insult to injury in his diatribe, when he says that the Internet’s “biggest impact” is the delivery of “a form of entertainment more addictive than watching reruns of Friends.”

Maybe that’s the biggest impact for him, but I think most of us could no longer live seriously without the Internet–whether in how we keep in touch, share, collaborate, inform, innovate, compute, buy and sell, and even entertain (yes, were entitled to some downtime as well).

Maybe some would like to forget all the benefits of technology and send us back to the Stone Age before computing, but I have a feeling that not only would our economy be a lot worse than it is now, but so would we. 🙂

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Fun, The Good ‘ol Fashion Way

Fun, The Good 'ol Fashion Way

This was a funny picture today on the street in downtown D.C.

This guy was getting a cheap ride down the thoroughfare in a bin.

She was pushing and he had his arm raised as the winner of the big race.

It reminded me of when we were kids and used to ride go-karts down the hill–and only after we picked up some speed did we realize that the breaks didn’t work that good.

Oh well, a little flip and some chuckles and no worse for the wear.

Those were the days, young and carefree–nothing to worry about except whose house we were going over to, next, to wreck some havoc.

I remember, one day we were having a huge wet paper towel fight and one kid ran into the garage to escape the barrage, I gave chase and unwittingly pushed against the glass in the door to follow and oops my hand went right through.

Not a pretty sight, but I thank G-d lived to tell my kids about it, and now they got one up on me when they do something a little out of bounds and fun–actually they are a lot better than I was at that age.

And it wasn’t that I was a bad kid, I was actually one the good ones–or so I was told–but before we all had computers, the Internet, social media, and smartphones, we had each other.

It wasn’t the technology that drove us, but rather the evolving web of interactions (today my new best friend is…), the challenges we made up (let’s bike up to Tarrytown in 100+ degree heat), the fun we found ourselves in (from the board game Risk to early gaming on the Atari, or just cleaning out a friends garage for a few bucks)–times were simpler, more innocent, and in a way better.

When we went home at night from work or for the weekend, our time was our own–were weren’t glued to email and always on call.

When we attended an event, we didn’t check our Facebook and Twitter, but paid attention to the company we were in.

When we ate dinner together, maybe the one rabbit-ear TV was going in the background with one of the 3 networks stations, but everyone wasn’t being pulled away for gaming, blogging, or some Internet shopping.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my technology as much or maybe more than the next guy, but I also miss just being me in the physical world with my family and gang of friends, and not just so much TheTotalCIO in the office and in cyberspace. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

The Materiality of Super Strength Graphene

Scientific researchers in Britain, Norway and the U.S. are bringing us a major breakthrough in material science—by developing a “super strength” substance called graphene.

According to the Guardian (26 December 2012), graphene has “unmatched electrical and physical properties.” It’s made of an “atom-thick sheet of carbon molecules, arranged in a honeycomb lattice,” and promises to revolutionize telecommunications, electronics, energy industries, not to mention the untold applications for the military.

– Conductivity:  Transmits electricity a million times better than copper
– Strength: The strongest material known to humankind, 200 times that of steel (Sciencebuzz)
– Transparency & Flexibility:  So thin that light comes through it; more stretchable than any known conductor of electricity

Just a few of the amazing uses graphene will make possible (some of these from MarketOracle):

– Home windows that are also solar panels—clear off that roof and yard
– TV in your windows and mirrors—think you have information overload now?
– Thinner, lighter, and wrappable LED touch screens around your wrists—everyone can have Dick Tracy style
– Medical implants and organ replacements that can “last disease-free for a hundred years”—giving you that much more time to be a helicopter parent
– Vastly more powerful voice, video and data and palm-size computers—giving the average person the “power of 10,000 mainframes”
– Both larger and lighter satellites and space vehicles—imagine a skyscraper-size vehicle weighing less than your “patio barbecue grill”!
– Tougher and faster tanks and armored personnel carriers with the plus of an invisibility cloak—even “Harry Potter” would be jealous

The potential is truly amazing, so whomever thinks that the best technology is behind us, better think again. Better yet, soon they’ll be able to get a graphene brain implant to help them realize what they’ve been missing. 😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to University of Maryland)

A Trip To The Science Museum

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We went to the Ft. Lauderdale Museum of Discovery and Science—it was quite impressive.

Outside, where you enter, there is a huge clock -tower contraption with overhead slides and rolling balls, and water turning wheels on the side—it’s a “what is it” (exactly) moment and you know you’re there. 

We hit the space exhibits first—I entered a simulator for a jet fighter cockpit, managed to take off with relative ease, but soon crashed, flipping it upside down—oops a little too much thrust.

The NASA exhibits were cool such as the MARS rover and colony mockups. And the Styrofoam wings that you can put on in a wind chamber and see how aerodynamically you are (or are not) was fun. 

Next up was the medical exhibits—we put together a puzzle of full body x-rays (“the shin bones connected to the…”), maneuvered a Da Vinci surgical robot arms, and zapped tumor cells with a mock laser.  

Oddly placed but interesting was the Gecko exhibit—with different colorful species hanging upside down and sideways with their suction cup feet. Couldn’t help thinking, which of them had been selling car insurance on those always-on Geico commercials or maybe this is the place they send them when they don’t perform on cue? 

Going through the exhibit on levers and pulleys, I used between 1-6 pulleys to lift a large stack of cinderblocks—and for the fewer pulleys, I thought good thing I had some Wheaties in the morning for breakfast, so I wouldn’t be embarrassed pulling on the ropes. 

The minerals, gems, fossils, corals, and dinosaur displays were somewhat meager, but were nicely laid out and a decent representation to get the idea.  

There was also an Imax theatre with a 3-D movie and those crazy glasses you have to wear to watch these—but the cartoon playing wasn’t the action and adventure I was looking for. 

One of the exhibits’ I enjoyed the most was the fish—of all types—some favorites were a huge purple-like lobster, the playful otters, the bobbing water turtles and many others.

We also stood inside a mammoth replica of a shark and took turns hanging out of its mouth—and feeling what it was like to be Jonah and the whale.

There was also a weather news station, where you get to playact newscaster, and we used the TV cameras and tele-prompters to give updates of everything from hail storms to wild fires—now, I know how they always seem to know jusst what to say and when–so perfectly. 

Another cool display had to do with sustainability and the environment—with a robot sitting in the middle of piles of trash and recyclables—not sure why he was there though—was he trying to decide what to recycle and reuse?

I don’t believe that I saw anything significant on alternative energy or on general computers and the Internet—and if there wasn’t anything particualr on these, I would definitely like to see them added.

Overall, good job Ft. Lauderdale—worth the trip—and thank you for spreading a love of science with all. 

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Amazing 60’s VW Van

Band_kamp

Driving toward Rockville, I saw this incredible 60’s VW van with all the flaming rainbow designs for peace, love, and rock & roll.

It was parked on top of this bright orange and blue garage–not sure how it got up there.

I asked my wife to quickly snap a photo as we went by, and she was successful.

While I wasn’t even born yet, when this van would’ve been all the rage, I can still feel reminiscent for the times–when things seemed so much simpler and in a way, purer.

In my mind, it was a time when people rallied around democracy, freedom, human rights, peace and diversity.

While they didn’t know from personal computers, smartphones, and the Internet, people were full of hopes and dreams–perhaps that what ushered in all the great technology that soon followed.

(Source photo: Dannielle Blumenthal)

Stronger, Indeed.

Combine the Seattle Children’s Hospital Hemoncology Unit with Kelly Clarkson’s song “Stronger,” and you have the true essence of bravery and hope.

Having recently been in the hospital for a short time for my own health issues, I know how difficult it can be–how defeated it feels.

It is amazing when someone brings you just a glimmer of hope, how much stronger you can feel.

For me, my family with me made a world of difference, but also when they brought me a laptop connecting me back to the world and giving me the ability to write and express myself.

Other hospital visits for other health issues have been longer in the past–and I want to run out the door, and there was a time that I actually did–walking around the grounds in my hospital gown–any way to be free.

Having the freedom to help yourself, be yourself–and not just lay there–is a true gift.

When I see the little boy racing around the hospital floor in his go-car with the I.V. hanging off the back, I am inspired.

As when I see the victims singing, dancing, and holding signs of hope and strength.

May G-d have mercy on our ill and downtrodden and raise them up up to be stronger indeed.

>Ads Here, There, Everywhere

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This is wild–Adzookie, a mobile advertising company that puts location-based ads out on cell phones, is doing some unbelievable advertising of its own…

They are offering to paint people’s houses and even pay their mortgages every month that you let them have their brightly colored billboard painted onto the side of your house.

In less than a day, they got applications from 1000 homeowners (and even one church)!

Is this a sign of the tough economic times or what?

A number of important lessons here:

1) In case we already didn’t learn from Google, advertising is really big business–my G-d, this company will pay your mortgage for you just to advertise on your house. (okay it is a big advertisement and all…)

2) Advertising going online, is old news; the new news is that it’s going mobile, big time. Folks, the ads are following us. Wherever we go, the ads will be there. From print to TV to billboards on the side of the road and at bus stops, to the Internet and to our smartphones–there is no escape!

3) People will do almost anything for money (this is an old lesson revisited)–even make their “home sweet homes” into the laughing stock of the neighborhood–or do some people actually think this looks cool?

4) Technology is an enabler to make our lives more convenient (news, shopping, etc.) and a richer experience, but it also lets those obtrusive advertisements pop up or crawl across the computer screen when/where NOT desired. As technology is part of virtually every facet of our lives, the potential for advertising here, there, and everywhere can really go overboard. Perhaps, the time is ripe for additional privacy settings on our computers/phones, so that we could block ads (when we want to) and have the equivalent of a “do not call list” for those pesky ads that just never seem to give up–like the Energizer Bunny–“they just keep going and going and going.”

When it comes to technology (and the rest of our environment), I believe that we have to be able to control the flow–whether it’s information or advertising.

Even too much of a good thing, can be a real eye sore.

>The Cost of Underestimating Technology

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While research is important and I respect the people who devote themselves to doing this, sometimes they risk being disconnected from reality and the consequences associated with it.

From the Wall Street Journal, 2 April 2011–two economists calculated that “$1,700 is the benefit the average American derives from personal computers each year.”

They call this the “benefit we get from computers above and beyond what we pay for them.”

To me, this figure seems inconsistent with common sense and the realities on the ground.

In an information age, where we are connected virtually 24 x 7 and can download hundreds of thousands of apps for free, endlessly surf the internet, shop and bank online, get much of our entertainment, news, and gaming on the the web, and communicate around the globe by voice, video, and text for the cost on a monthly high speed connection, I say hogwash.

Moreover, we need to factor in that most of us are now information workers (about 20%) or depend on technology in performing our jobs everyday and earning our living.

Just yesterday in fact, the Wall Street Journal reported that more people work for the government (22.5 million–forget the private sector information workers for the moment) than in construction, farming, fishing, forestry, manufacturing, mining, and utilities combined!

Additionally, at work, we are using computers more and more not only for transaction processing, but also for content management, business intelligence, collaboration, mobility (and robotics and artificial intelligence is coming up fast).
Finally, technology enables breakthroughs–in medicine, energy, environment, education, materials sciences, and more–the impact of technology to us is not just now, but in the potential it brings us for further innovations down the road.
So is the benefit that you get from computers less than $5 day?

I know for me that’s the understatement of a lifetime.

Apparently by some, technology continues to be misunderstood, be undervalued and therefore potentially risks being underinvested in, which harms our nations competitiveness and our collective future.

As much respect as I have for economics, it doesn’t take an economist to think with common business sense.

>Watson Can Swim

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Watson2

With IBM’s Watson beating the pants off Jennings and Rutter in Jeopardy, a lot of people want to know can computers can really think?

Both sides of this debate have shown up in the last few weeks in some fascinating editorials in the Wall Street Journal.

On one hand, on 23 February 2011, John Searle of the University of California, Berkeley wrote that “IBM invented an ingenious program–not a computer that can think.” According to Searle, Watson (or any computer for that matter) is not thinking but is simulating thinking.

In his most passionate expression, Searle exclaims: “Watson did not understand the questions, nor its answers, not that some of its answers were right and some wrong, not that it was playing a game, nor that it won–because it doesn’t understand anything.

Today, on 14 March 2011 on the other hand, Stephen Baker, author of “Final Jeopardy–Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything” took the opposing view and stated: “Watson is an early sighting of a highly disruptive force…one that can handle [information] jobs held by people.

To the question of whether machine thinking is “real” thinking? Baker quotes David Ferrucci, IBM’s chief scientist who when asked if Watson can think, responded “Can a submarine swim?”

The analogy is a very good one.

Just because a submarine doesn’t swim like a fish or a person, doesn’t mean it can’t swim. In fact and in a sense, for the very reason that it doesn’t swim exactly like a fish or person, it actually can swim better.

So too with computers, just because they don’t “think” like humans doesn’t mean they don’t think. They just think differently and again in sense, maybe for the very same reason, in certain ways they can think better.

How can a computer sometimes think better than a person? Well here are just some possible examples (non-exhaustive):

– Computers can evaluate options purely based on facts (and not get “bogged down” in emotions, conflict, ego, and so forth like human beings).
– Computers can add processing power and storage at the push of button, like in cloud computing (people have the gray matter between their ears that G-d gave them, period).
– Computers do not tire by a problem–they will literally mechanically keep attacking it until solved (like cracking a password).
– Computers can be upgraded over time with new hardware, software, and operating systems (unlike people who age and pass).

At the same time, it is important to note that people still trump computers in a number of facets:

– We can evaluate things based on our conscience and think in terms of good and evil, and faith in a higher power (a topic of a prior blog).
– We can care for one another–especially children and the needy–in a altruistic way that is not based on information or facts, but on love.
– We can work together like ants in a colony or bees in a hive or crowdsourcing on- or off-line to get large jobs done with diversity and empowerment.
– We are motivated to better ourselves and our world–to advance ourselves, families, and society through continuous improvement.

Perhaps, like the submarine and the fish, both of which can “swim” in their own ways, so too both computers and people can “think”–each in their own capacity. Together, computers and people can augment the other–being stronger and more effective in carrying out the great tasks and challenges that confront us and await.