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.

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.

Why networks matter

The Week

The Week (UK edition) had the following snippet

The Daily Mail famously publicized the Stephen Lawrence case, branding six suspects “Murderers” on its front page and daring them to sue. What’s less well-known is the link between Neville Lawrence and the Mail’s editor, Paul Dacre. Lawrence, it turns out, once re-plastered Dacre’s bathroom.

So when he felt the Mail had unfairly blamed him and his wife for a protest riot, he rang Dacre to ask him: “How could you do that? You know me.” After that, the paper became dogged in its pursuit of justice.

It is amazing to think that a case that changed the course of British justice by exposing institutional racism in the police force and leading to the repeal of the “double jeopardy defense” in murder cases was in a certain way dependent on a chance relationship.

It really was a case of you never knowing when a relationship will make a real difference.

IBM Selectric – a fond remembrance

selectric stamp July 31st was the 50th birthday of the IBM Selectric,  which may have been the most popular typewriter ever sold [link]. The swappable typeball was revolutionary for its time, and to quote Wikipedia.

The possibility to intersperse text in Latin letters with Greek letters and mathematical symbols made the machine especially useful for scientists writing manuscripts that included mathematical formulas. Proper mathematical typesetting was very laborious before the advent of TeX and done only for much-sold textbooks and very prestigious scientific journals.

In 1997, it was time to publish my PhD. thesis (100 plus pages and well over 100 formulas), I found a typist in NYC who would charge $1.00 per page plus $1.00 per formula. Even though the symbol  typeball made formulas possible, it still took her longer to do a single equation than a whole page of text. My how technology has changed but I think having gradually absorbed new technology I still underestimate its impact.

Then yesterday, I came across this wonderful post [link] on a group of college journalist who tried to publish a newspaper using technology from just twenty years ago (but there is no 1 key !!!, use the lowercase L instead). Besides their experiences, there are a couple  of memorable quotes that I found quite profound.

While archeologists try to recreate what life was like 10,000 years ago, and historians try to recreate what life was like 1,000 years ago, journalists can’t even recreate how they published a newspaper 20 years ago. No one documented the details or saved the old equipment. (I had to buy some of it from creepy old men through Craigslist.)

We are losing touch with old technology and while we are relatively good at saving content, the processes are being lost at an alarming rate. The second quote was from one of the student journalists.

Technology hasn’t made us lazier, but it has made it possible to be lazier while still producing the same amount of quality work. Now that I’ve realized this, I know I’ll definitely be working faster to produce more quality news. And unlike the ancient civilizations of the 20th century, I’ve got the technology to do it.

that is something to think about.

What are the British Telcos’ thinking?

The U.K. phone hacking scandal has been very much in the news this week. The hacking scandal, perpetrated at the News of the World, at first involved just celebrities but has expanded to now include families of murdered children.

Phone hacking is fairly easy and is usually accomplished by misrepresentation rather than code changes. New Scientist has a very good article on how voice mail systems have been compromised and how easy it is to accomplish.  While the motives and actions of the News of the World are deplorable, they were made so much easier by the lax safeguards typically in place at most mobile phone companies (this is not just a “British” problem).

Which brings us to the Guardian, which analyzed the advertising spend at the News of the World over the first 5 months of 2011 using the IBM Many Eyes program.

NoW Advertising

On examining this data further, 3 of the top 5 advertisers are mobile Telcos and all 4 major providers are in the top 10. So my question is, why would you continue to support and advertise in a newspaper that has abused your systems. They appear oblivious to the damage to their brands. I would of thought  that they could of used that money (over 4 million GBP) to put in better safeguards!!.