Power, Geopolitics and Technology


Awesome, cheap. So what’s the catch?

News reaches the outpost in rural Ireland that Xiaomi, ‘China’s Apple’, fresh from launching their extraordinarily gorgeous steel-clad Android phone which at the top of the line retails at a similarly astounding €86 / $116, has now launched a $13 fit-band, which also looks really lovely. It appears from first reviews that the Chinese are figuring out how to do power and style (learned, perhaps, from making stylish things on behalf of those who wrote the book on design) as well as cheap, and that’s set to make some serious waves.

It made me think about the politics of technology, which I do quite a bit anyway. Connected people, and connected commerce ecosystems are clearly on the way. Being able to control those ecosystems gives enormous power. And one suspects that the Chinese are more interested in power than in profit, as while profit is currency limited, and therefore politically relative, power is a political absolute.  In other words, if the Chinese can dominate the smartphone / tablet business, and by extension the people instrumentation business, that would undermine American attempts at technological hegemony, and create a strong platform for China.  Therefore while Apple seeks to preserve its position as a premium brand with premium margin for premium profits, Xiaomi is playing a different game entirely.


The Nature of Privacy

data privacyThe recent publications in the Guardian about NSA access to Google, Facebook, Yahoo and all the rest have been met with a flurry of leftist abhorrence and mutterings from the twittering, as opposed to the twitter, classes.  However, all reports refer to access to data, in such a way as to make people think that their personal emails and photos and so on are being read by the NSA, or their computers – this is not the case.  Because the media is governed by soundbites, polemic and an absence of nuance, the headline is that the security services have access to data.  The truth is, they don’t need or want access to the data.  They need the models. And this allows the internet companies to deny they are granting access to the data.

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What goes around comes around

In the early 1990’s, I like many in my profession would goes aroundsing the praises of client-server computing and how it was such a quantum leap from the old days of IBM 3270 terminals hooked to mainframes. Then the internet happened and for a lot of folks, client-server was consigned to the dustbin of history. But not-so-fast, driven by economic necessity, old technology and a clever entrepreneur, client-server  is making a comeback in the classrooms of NYC.

An article on The Verge website describes in detail how Neverware is using a sophisticated server, running an internal private cloud within a school, to provide a consistent user experience across a jumble of new and old technologies. Gone are the days of long boot times and slow response depending on which computer a student was assigned. It is also extensible to support the latest technology challenge of BYOD (bring your own device). As I said very clever and inexpensive, relative to a full technology refresh which schools today just don’t have the money for.

With the federal mandate “that all public schools will have to administer their standardized tests digitally by the 2014-2015 school year”. Neverware may well be the answer schools are looking for.

Data is Money. Not like money, or as good as money. It is money.

(reminder and disclaimer – I work for IBM, but these are personal comments)

Almost three years ago, in Febraury 2010 (yeah, I know – three years!) the Economist ran a supplement called “The Data Deluge“, about Big Data and how it was transforming businesses all over the world.  In the middle of the supplement was an article called ‘Clicking for Gold‘, in which there’s a quote from Tim O’Reilly, who says that companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook ‘…are uncomfortable bringing so much attention to this because it is at the heart of their competitive advantage. Data are the coin of the realm. They have a big lead over other companies that do not ‘get’ this.’  For the intervening time, I’ve been quoting this to telcos all over the world, and they nod their heads, and – for the most part – don’t do much about it.

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Facebook is So Over, Dude…

There were two distressing cases in Ireland recently of young girls who took their own lives after cyber-bullying.  Both cases emerged after they had been exposed to the online behaviour on ask.fm, a social networking (Q&A, really) site that allows anonymity and has been taken up in great numbers by teenagers here.  When the first case happened, journalists tried to trace the company, but it was difficult, as it was snarled up in a web of offshore instruments and complex arrangements.  The site has been soaring in recent months, yet remains very small in terms of staff – ten people, no more.  It is particularly strong in non-English speaking countries, and countries where anonymity is useful.  My first question was “who is ask.fm?!” Now, just hold that thought. Continue reading

Can the internet keep up?

Spent an hour or so reading a great report on theSpider web in rainState of the Internet” by Analysys Mason for the Internet Society. It is a rebuttal to those who think the Internet is falling apart, needs fixing including the proposed shift to ‘sending network pays’.

The document is an excellent primer of the state of the internet today, the crucial role of IXPs and how historically three forces, technology, investment and changes in traffic flows have collectively met the challenge of the exploding use of the internet.

A good case in point, caught the tale end of a report on my local NPR station about how researchers at MIT and elsewhere that uses an algebraic equation to reconstitute dropped packets thereby removing data congestion bottlenecks.  The results are very impressive to quote:

Testing the system on Wi-Fi networks at MIT, where 2 percent of packets are typically lost, Medard’s group found that a normal bandwidth of one megabit per second was boosted to 16 megabits per second. In a circumstance where losses were 5 percent—common on a fast-moving train—the method boosted bandwidth from 0.5 megabits per second to 13.5 megabits per second. In a situation with zero losses, there was little if any benefit, but loss-free wireless scenarios are rare. [source]

Looks as if the internet will be around for a couple more years after all.

Connections: sometimes closer to home than you think

It has been a while since I put pen to paper (keyboard to blog) but after too long a hiatus, here we go.

I have long been a big fan of “Connections” both the book by James Burke as well as the PBS series. His underlying premise “however carefully you plan for the future, someone else’s actions will inevitably modify the way your plans turn out.”or the way I like to think about it “sometimes things come together in unanticipated ways” is used to understand the forces behind major technological, scientific and cultural shifts.op-1

So a few months ago, my son of the band Superhumanoids  started using this amazing new  portable synthesizer, which is made by the Swedish firm Teenage Engineering. This thing really is a technological marvel in a very small package.

About a year or so ago, I wrote about the real 3D revolution and how additive manufacturing was going to change manufacturing as we know it. So imagine, my surprise when I read on the Wired blog that Teenage Engineering, were no longer going to sell spare parts (knobs etc.) but going to allow their customers or third parties to make their own by providing the software code to drive a 3D printer. It was just too expensive to ship single items from Sweden to musicians around the world. As the Wired post concludes:

Teenage Engineering’s intriguing move points to a near future where you can jam on your synth, fire up your 3-D printer, build an accessory, and snap it onto the device within hours. If the pattern continues, other electronics manufacturers — and all companies in general — will soon follow suit.



Isn’t interesting how sometimes the ducks do line up.