Thursday, February 23, 2006

Organick Lecture - University of Utah - Alan Kay (Part II)

After a great dinner at a local Greek restaurant, we returned to the University of Utah to listen to the second presentation by Alan Kay - Learners, Powerful Ideas, and the $100 Laptop

As I have been following the progress of the $100 Laptop project, I have a lot of my own ideas of where this device might succeed, and what it might become. I'm looking forward to what Alan has to say about this space.

Is a "$100 Laptop" Possible?
Alans slide showed a portable DVD player that has a 7" TFT LCD screen. The price on this product is $122.99 on-line. Obviously, this proves out the fact that the raw hardware of a $100 Laptop is quite possible. Swap the DVD drive for a keyboard, and add some flash memory and you have a decent computer. With the addition of a real manufacturer - Quanta - everything has started to fall into place.

Alan brought up an interesting point where these devices could create a huge grey-market, where the laptops might not actually make it to children. Instead, they might be grabbed up and used by others ... sold for various profits. They are intending to add features to the products so that they are customized to the child so that it will not work for anybody but that child.

The laptop is going to have mesh networking as a core feature, and they are exploring various power options. The hand-crank is the most well known, but they are also working on a tredle(?) design for foot powering the device.

The "layers" of this device are:
  • The $100 hardware - the foundation for everything
  • Free Software - the operating system from RedHat and Squeak?
  • Authoring & User Interface - the first level of interaction with children
  • Content & Pedagogy - interaction to educate
  • Mentoring - a large list of things we don't know how to make happen!
His comment refering to this list of layers - The Music Isn't In The Piano!

Future of Printing?
Alan again went through his progression of the history of printing. Where a new medium appears, and initially is used to mimic the older mediums. It was 100 years after the creation of the printing press that this new medium was exploited to massively alter global society. It finally provided for the presentation and distribution of radical new ideas.

How the Mind Works
Neuro-ethology is a newer study of the brain and behavior. He talked about research being done with babies, and at 8 weeks some of the things that they are capable of doing. One of these was that a baby that young was able to use an artificial nipple, with some electronics attached, to control the focus of a slide projector showing a picture of their mother. Amazing ...

He also talked about other pattern recognition tests done, and the ability of babies to show interest in various patterns ... and the increase in interest in more complex patterns as the baby develops.

This led to a discussion of Human Universals vs. non-Universals. Those things found in almost every culture around the world ... vs. those things that are not. Examples of the Universals: Social, Communications, Language, Culture, Fantasies, Stories, Loud Noises & Snakes - he had a longer list but these were very common and present in over 300 cultures studied.

Thge non-Universals are things that modern education are all about: Democracy, advanced mathematics, equal rights, etc. - these are the things that are only gained through deep thinking and teaching. This appears to be much of what Alan believes can be brought to more cultures in the world using the $100 Laptop!

He went on to do demonstrations of using Squeak, and talking about some of the amazing educational advances that have been taking place. All of which will only be available to more and more people on earth.

Overall, it was a great presentation and shows the commitment that Alan has to making a difference in the world with his talents and abilities. And the $100 Laptop will become a reality ... and is only going to spur more developments in this space.

Some of my final thoughts linked to his comments about security of the devices, etc. I start to wonder what is going to occur as unscrupulous people choose to take advantage of the children who are given these machines. I also start to wonder how these children in developing countries might end up being "remotely exploited" over the Internet by these same types of people ...

In either case, it is going to open whole new channels of communications, and create a very different networked world ... with whole new sets of eyeballs, and new participants in globalization. The next 10 years are going to be amazing to live through!

Organick Lecture - University of Utah - Alan Kay

Phil Windley blogged about this lecture series, and the fact that Alan Kay was speaking today. I had to take the time to come and hear Alan, as his focus on computing for children and education demonstrates a true commitment to the future.

I have often used his quote: The best way to predict the future is to invent it. His opening slide had the quote ... slightly modified ... toggling between:
  • Is the Best Way To Predict The Future To Invent It?
  • Is the Best Way To Predict The Future To Prevent It?
His talk is about about Computer Science and Software Engineering ... are they Oxymorons?

Some points from his talk:
  • he feels that our industry has been mired for years ... perhaps since the 1970's
  • the commercialization of Personal Computers was a tremendous distraction from computer science ... and we may never recover from this distraction
  • computer science is teaching non-scalable algorythms and data structures
  • this is like teaching gears ... something that is non-scalable
  • the Internet is a vastly different solution that is highly distributed and operates non-stop ... and scales
  • the human body consists of 100 trillions cells, created through only 50 cell divisions
  • all of the atoms in your body have been changed out within the last 7 years ... even your bones!
He talked about Bob Barton, and his early work and papers. He referenced a paper that outlines seven of the top ten things that people ought to know about software. He said it is worth reading the six page paper ... that includes a full page bashing IBM. The slide about Bob referenced the Burroughs B5000 built in 1961. Bob taught by destroying traditional thought ... allowing more freedom to contemplate what is possible.

He began to talk about "engineering" and gave several examples of what he feels is real engineering - the building of the Empire State Building (<3000 people for <11 months start to occupancy), the massive pumps that survived the longest during the Katrina hurricane - built in 1922 and 1912!

He talked about the real meaning of the word "Architecture" - the building of arches. He used this to connect analogies of Microsoft Windows, and the ancient pyramids of Egypt. The Egyptians had no arches, and so they built the pyramids by piling on rock, creating a "garbage dump", and then covering it with a "pretty UI". It was only those who understood and perfected the building of arches that truly developed architecture.

Humans have been on earth for ~100,000+ years, however Science has only been around for ~400. But it didn't emerge from genetic evolution ... so Science has always existed. He then showed the video called "Private Universe" which was a series of interviews with Harvard University graduates who were being asked basic questions about "What causes the seasons?" and "What causes the phases of the moon?" The majority were not able to answer accurately.

I have to admit that I stopped taking notes as Alan went into a very interesting conversation about the Future of Printing. He started to talk about the original printing press, and how it immediately began to be used to mimic the handwritten manuscript books of the time ... instead of creating a new type of communications ... a new medium to argue within society and to present new ideas.

Alan used this as a way to describe the revelation that hit him when he first thought of children using computers. Up to that point, they had simply thought of computers looking like terminals, without the mainframe. He drew a cartoon back in the 1960s of children using what would become his idea of the dynabook.

He emphasized the stagnent aspects of computer science and software engineering ... at the end he questioned how students of these disciplines were using yesterdays technologies - hardware and software - when trying to create the solutions of the future. He commented that it was only because his team was using $20,000 computers more powerful than anything in its time, that they were able to create solutions for the future. This is a really good point ...

As usual ... an amazing presentation that spurs a lot of thoughts.

February CTO Breakfast

Wow ... what a crowd! This morning was quite packed, and there was a good variety of people from many roles in Utah companies.

Phil started off talking with Hilarie Orman from Purple Streak. It turns out that Phil was familiar with some of the previous work of Hilarie, and some of the people that she worked with. This led into an interesting conversation about security, encryption, and quantum computing. She was involved in the Demo Conference ... on a security panel. She mentioned that Koogle(?) was one of the more interesting demos.

Bruce Grant started to talk about his perspectives of Demo, and some of the mobile applications and thoughts on where mobile devices are going. He talked about the difficulty in developing software for these devices due to all of the various operating systems, etc. He also commented that there will be some sort of consolidation ... which I agree with. This is a standard EVO-DEVO pattern.

I commented that I believe that the Negroponte $100 laptop is going to be one of the catalysts that is going to cause the consolidation. I'm not so sure that this device is going to be in high demand for the developed world, however it is going to drive innovation and solutions that wil be delivered at a slightly higher price point.

I missed a good bit of conversation going to get some food, but when I returned we were well into a conversation about AJAX, and the new Web 2.0 trends. One of the people brought up a new Marc Andreessen project called Ning. Very cool ... some very innovative ideas as a platform for the creation and sharing of social application. This is a variation on JotSpot ... and I'm going to do some experimenting.

Fun morning ...

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

DevUtah February Geek Dinner

Tonight was the DevUtah Geek Dinner. There was a slightly smaller group, but there was a great topic - Agile & Adaptive Project Management. David Spann kicked off by doing a quick exercise in thinking of the top traits of a great leader/manager. Most of these ended up centering around communications, trust, and involvement. He went on to talk about the The Agile-Adaptive Management Model:
  • Know the Purpose and Organizational Value of any project
  • Hire great people - use the best people
  • Do Something Innovative!
  • Learn and Reflect - spend the time (often!) to look at what you are doing
  • Deliver Results - ensure that you are delivering on the project
If you follow this model, then innovation will occur. In addition, this is how knowledge is built.

Alistair then jumped in and gave some background on how he got going in the industry, and how he began his writing career. He talked about the history of the creation of the Agile Manifesto, and the follow on for managers of Agile projects - the Declaration of Interdependence.

He offered a fun way to think about software: Developing software consists of making ideas concrete in an economic context. In addition, he posits that software development - and most any business - can be seen as a cooperative game of invention and communication. This then leads to where Agile is a special case of software development.

Expanding on this, he summarized the Agile Manifesto as being values ...

More Valuable
Has Value
Individuals and Interactions
Processes and Tools
Working Software
Comprehensive Documentation
Customer Collaboration
Contract Negotiation
Responding to Change
Following a Plan

All of these work from: communication, trust, feedback, fluidity

David and Alistair progressed into Q&A to address many of the questions that were brought up:
  1. How do you convince business people to use Agile?
    • focus on ROI - delivering customer value which generates revenue
  2. How do you deal with Feature Creep?
    • base development on constant re-prioritization and customer renegotiation
    • do not use a fixed requirements model ... constantly adjust and adapt with the customer
There was some other conversation ... I got too interested in listening and forgot to write. David closed with a good point and that was that it's easy to celebrate the "wins" and what was accomplished ... the real learning comes, however, when you can celebrate what didn't go well, or what could be improved.

It's always fun to hear David and Alistair ... they both consult in this area, and bring a lot of knowledge and experience!

Human Extensions

This is a great article, however I don't know that it goes far enough! Seldom do we really think about the wide range of "tools" that we depend on ... that have become an extension of our own humanity. In this day and age, an automobile is now a necessary extension ... enabling us to collaborate with others. And even wired telephones ... this form of communications is what allowed for the creation of global virtual communities in the first place. Well ... after the telegraph. And smoke signals. It is not only here in America, but all over the globe that humans are developing whole new capabilities based on these "gadgets" ... these Human Extensions ...
Americans 'Need' Their Gadgets. Whether it's a personal computer, an iPod or TiVo, Americans are growing increasingly dependent on personal technology. Not everyone thinks this is healthy. [Wired News]

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

More progress on recreating identification

Although it is primitive, this is a very cool example of where research is taking things with respect to identity, identifying, and self-recognition.
Robot Demonstrates Self-awareness. [Slashdot]

Realizing where you stand

In each day of our lives, it's very easy to fall prey to the normal complaining about our lives. Oh me, oh my ... what I don't have in my life ... what I should have! :-)

Miguel posted this link and it's an amazing presentation to remind you of where you stand in life ... the majority of people on earth live on less than the equivilent of $10/day.
Human Development Trends.

Various statistics of human development trends in flash-tutorial form here By Miguel de Icaza ( [Miguel de Icaza]

Botnets ... the unknown reality

I find it hard to believe that many people are not aware of botnets, and what they are doing. Of course, I'm so deep in technology and the Internet that my "common sense" is now severely distorted. For those people who have not heard about botnets, this Washington Post botnet article is a great place to start. It's an eye opener.

When you read this article, just realize that this is about the botnets that have been discovered and are known. There are more out there that are unknown, and the sizes of some of these botnets is staggering. Read here, here, or here, about the FBI arrest of a many running a 400,000+ node botnet! Oh yeah ... and he was 20 years old.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Tagging++ ... where the web is heading?

I have to admit that I really love RSS. Not necessarily "blogging", but the concepts of RSS itself. It is an amazingly simple idea, and yet it can be used for extremely powerful solution. The whole world of blogging, and news aggregators, is built on the foundation of RSS.

Of course, then came "pinging". When a RSS feed is updated with new posts or data, it can "ping" a service to notify others that it has been updated. This provides a way to subscribe to the updates of huge numbers of RSS feeds and blogs. So if I can then get all of these updates, how do I make sense of them? Enter "tagging" ...

Tagging is an ingenious idea ... it embraces the concepts of "microformats" where additional metadata can be embedded into content like RSS feeds and blogs. In the most simple cases, tagging allows for a post to be "categorized" using simple keywords ... anything. So now if I subscribe to the updates of large numbers of posts, I can scan each post for "tags" and create new outbound feeds (which is what Technorati does) or do my own sorting and filtering based on tags.

Tonight I was reading about Edgeio in a post by Tom Raftery. This is a whole new step in tagging ... and it's really getting me thinking. This is where the tags can now designate a post in a blog for a specific purpose! This is not just about categorizing ... but now hinting at what the content is ... and allowing for specialized engines - like Edgeio - to consume the posts to create new aggregated solutions. In the case of Edgeio, the new tags are for "listings" ... posts about things that you want to have listed on the Edgeio web site.

What I really like about this, is it that it represents the latest turns in the whole microformat/tagging process. Now, I can simple posts something in my blog, and provide some custom tags that will tell various engines out in the Internet what my intentions are with that post. Already I'm using tags to allow people to simply subscribe to tag feeds ... RSS feeds of posts along a particular topical category. But now I'm able to tag a post to indicate to some engine that this is a post that I want it to consume and take action on! This is an impressive capability.

I can start to think of other directions that this could take. For example, Flickr - the popular photo sharing web site - could now begin to support tags that would indicate a post contains photos that are to be included into Flickr. So instead of uploading my images ... I simply blog about my photos, including the images in my posts. Flickr could detect these images based on tags that I include and automatically consume them. This is where whole new types of tags and actions can begin to take place ... and create some interesting new directions with the web. This introduces yet another "neural" aspect to the applications emerging on the Internet.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

wikiCalc ... and interesting example

I downloaded wikiCalc today and began to play with it. It reminds a lot of Radio Userland ... wikiCalc is an application that installs on your desktop and then uses a browser for the UI. It appears to be using AJAX for a lot of the interaction, and has an interesting publishing architecture.

I really like to see more and more applications like this. I believe that they represent an interesting intersection of client and server ... leveraging the power of the desktop, while allowing for remote access. I simply point my browser at a "server" - running on my local machine, or a remote machine - and I am presented with a flexible UI that contains rich AJAX functionality.

I like it!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Great series of Global Thinkers

I found this post from Thomas Barnett early, but only recently began to download and listen to the podcasts ... amazing stuff! This is a great series about global politics, etc.
A video of my Blueprint for Action brief.

This is the one I delivered in early November in DC to the seminar series put on by Johns Hopkins and the Office of Force Transformation.

It is found here: You can watch it in chunks or download the entire brief as a file.

You can also access a PDF compilation of the slides. Pretty cool package!

[Thomas P.M. Barnett :: Weblog]

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Manipulating biology

I have recently been at a few events where I mentioned reading the article about the rat brains being used to fly a F-22 jet simulator. Here is the article - Why this brain flies on rat cunning - and the reference below is where I first found it. Yes ... I find this really cool ... amazing work.
Why this brain flies on rat cunning. A "brain" grown from 25,000 neural cells extracted from a single rat embryo has been taught to fly an F-22 jet simulator by scientists at the University of Florida.

They hope their research into neural computation will help develop sophisticated h... [ Accelerating Intelligence News]

Friday, February 03, 2006

Apple - moving to Intel, and Tablet PCs?

I caught this article about Apple Patents for Tablet Mac designs today on Engadget. I figured that this is a no-brainer ... Apple *has* to catch up at some point. Now get me right ... I'm not talking about catching up outside the context of the Tablet PC. It's that they really had to catch up and produce a Tablet PC/Mac. I didn't even know there was a previous Apple Tablet Patent also.

As I have been researching more and more on the Tablet PC, I have to say that it is a much more natural interface in many cases. I have found that I like the convertable designs far better ... where I can switch from using it in laptop configuration, to using it in a slate configuration. The HP that I am using is designed this way.

As for the value of a Tablet, the most impressive aspect to me is when I have allow my son, nieces and nephews to play with it. For them, it is an absolutely intuitive experience.

The one real advantage that I see about Apple jumping into the fray is that it will truly begin to validate the Tablet PC concepts and market. Apple will also begin to push the designs, features, and ergonomics of the Tablet. The one thing that has really kept me from fully adopting only a Tablet PC is the limitations in the devices when compared to a regular laptop.

I like seeing Apple jump into the fray. 2006 is shaping up to be a very interesting year for computer platforms. Hardware is really making leaps and bounds ...

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Use cell phones ... live longer ...

A the CTO Breakfast the other day I was talking about breif paper that I wrote at Novell positing that "If you evolve to have a cell phone you will live longer than those without a cell phone." It was sort of a spoof of a paper, however my overall theory is that those who use technology can gain from it.

I just got this today in an eWeek mail blast ... again showing these same benefits ... cell phones extending the life of medical patients. Ok, slight variation ... "If your doctor evolves to use a cell phone ..."

1. News: More Cell Phone Use, Less Medical Error, Study Shows

The use of cell phones by medical personnel lowered the
overall error rate, due to adequate communication; because
of changes in technology, there's less risk of interference
with hospital equipment.