Nobody wants to use…

Everyone wants to have everything. Bertil Muth has a great blog on software invisibility and use, where he asserts “Nobody wants to use software“.

Bertil makes a good case for AI driven software, that senses or learns why it exists, and just does what it should. Of course building such software is hard, very hard. It’s a good read though with some thought provoking points.

In the article when discussing Amazon he made a claim it was worth clarifying. It’s about the “infamous” 1-click patent. My comment is here.

“Then they [Amazon]pioneered 1-Click payment”
Actually they didn’t, they popularized a prior method, which after re-examination by the patent office was restricted to the use online, only in shopping carts.

The idea of a single click payment or financial transaction had been implemented many times before, however, prior to 1982 software patents were extremely hard to get for individual functions of so-called unique concepts, and were reserved for much broader, unique “inventions”.

In 1984, I was one of many working on Chemical Banks Pronto Home Banking System. For transfers between accounts within the bank, we initiated a 1-click on the UI for the PC Junior version of Pronto.

As far as I’m aware, nothing from Pronto was patented due to the high cost at the time. It wasn’t until the late 1980’s software patents started to be filed for individual methods, by the mid-90’s software patents became commonplace, and their use both defensive and offensive, sadly became commonplace too.

Overall though, it’s an excellent post which resonates with many of the themes of simplicity and usability I’ve argued here and elsewhere over the years.

What makes a good technical manager?

Is it possible to engineer the perfect boss? Google was up to the task and found data that will forever change the keys to getting promoted.

A few people posted, quoted and retweeted this INC. Article on my social media streams. The “Eight Habits of Highly Effective Google Managers.” is a good list and set of checkpoints.

For me though, as longtime readers will know, I’ve long been a believer in the non-technical manager, most of my best managers and executives were managers first and technical second. On one post on Facebook it summed it up as:

A good company employs managers to manage the company for employees, and employees for the company.

If the company doesn’t have senior technical non-manager positions and technicians are becoming managers to get promoted, you and the managers are at the wrong company in the first place.

I’d tried being a teamlead very early on in my career, it wasn’t good for me or the team, but then I was just 25-years old. Later on, not being a manager became a source of pride, making it through the corporate ranks at IBM without ever being a manager. My mentoring/career presentation has it on slide-2 and slide-10.

These days I think I’d be a good manager, my patience has certainly improved, I’ve achieved everything and more, that I set out to do, and while I’m still technical, I know my boundaries and wouldn’t want to cross them.

Wikileaks Revelations Expose How the CIA Wants to Destroy Everyone’s Privacy

Analysis of the recent CIA/Wikileaks dump. Backdoors, and known defects used for exploitation are ALWAYS a bad idea. Any politician who advocates for backdoors simply doesn’t understand the Pandora’s box they are opening.

Josep Goded

On Tuesday, Wikileaks published 8,761 documents revealing how the CIA hacks Samsung TVs, computers, phones and cars to spy on civilians from all over the world. For that to happen, a CIA team created a new software capable of infecting the previously mentioned devices to transform them into microphones ready to spy on their owners, including when the devices are apparently in off mode.

Once the device is infected, the CIA can bypass the encryption on apps such as WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal by using phones that use Google’s Android and IOS platforms to collect audio and message traffic before encryption is applied. Further, infected devices can also be instructed to send the CIA the user’s geolocation, audio and text communications as well as to covertly activate the phone’s camera and microphone.

According to Wikileaks, each technique the CIA has created ‘forms a “fingerprint” that can be used by…

View original post 628 more words

Local StorageTek Legacy

May 2016

When I first moved to Colorado, I was fascinated and amused, sometimes twice per day on the school run, I’d pass Tape and Disk(or was it disc?) Dr. The roads led to nothing. and empty site, full of scrub grass and weeds. I’d always assumed it was a failed tax break development scheme. This seemed particularly likely as there is a large multi-property multi-family housing development across the street.

I was surprised recently on a Wednesday morning ride when one of the guys I was riding with declared he used to work at StorageTek there. I was fascinated. Although I remember IBM had a plant here that developed laser printers, but I knew that location was sold to Lexmark.

Rather than the roads leading to an undeveloped location, the location had at one time been a thriving location. Some poking around on the Denver Business Journal website revealed the story, and google maps had some pictures of the site in better days and from I36 you can even see some of the buildings. The picture below is a 2008 aerial picture of the site. Disk Dr is the road onto the site in the upper right, and Tape Dr on the lower right.StorageTek

From the Denver Business Journal

Asides from questions about the future of the site, the only real question is when did the site transfer between Louisville and Broomfield cities, see pictures above.

Open letter: CD Recycling

Dear IT Industry Colleague,

I’ve just moved house. In the process I realised that I had hundreds of old datas CD’s. Some of them with old backups, many of them used to copy copies of other CD’s some DVD’s with dumps of system folders and so on a so forth.

I figured I’d just dump them in the recycling, which gets collected bi-weekly. On checking though, not only are these not recyclable, but they are actually pretty hard to completely destroy. They also contain a large amount of toxic chemicals, and unless they are sent to a specialty recycling center, most end up in incinerators or landfill, neither is a good thing.

There is a good article here on the general problems with the creation and disposal of CD/DVD’s, from 2013. It says, among other things:

The discs are made of layers of different mixed materials, including a combination of various mined metals and petroleum–derived plastics, lacquers and dyes, which, when disposed of, can pollute groundwater and bring on a myriad of health problems. Most jewel cases are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which has been thought to produce a higher-than-normal cancer rate within workers and those who live in the area where it is manufactured. They also release harmful chemicals when incinerated.

Having realized the problems, what did I do? First, when disposing old data CD’s and DVD’s you must understand there is an obvious potential security exposure. In principle, any data can be read from the CD. In practice, it may not be that simple if the data is formatted using specific backup programs, encrypted etc. But you do have to consider this before discarding them.

man eating cdI came up with a couple of easy ways to make recovering data hard. One involved scratching the recording sides (remember, some are dual sided). The scratches can be removed but it’s a time consuming process and not something done by someone who casually comes across your CD.

The second process used a nail in a set of grips, I heated the nail and simply pushed a couple of holes through each CD/DVD. Again, some data could still be read by the determined, but very unlikely.

IMG_20160609_182555Once I was done marking all the media, I threw them in an old Amazon box, too them to the US Post Office, mailed them as “media mail” to the CD Recycling Center of America. The CD Recycling Center provides “certified destruction” of your CD’s.

Our industry uses vast amounts of natural resources, it consumes rare minerals at an alarming rate, often mined in difficult, dangerous, and sometimes illegal conditions. Individually this is hard for us to do anything about. Please though, don’t throw old data CDs, DVD’s or any others in the garbage/trash/refuse and especially the recycling.

Yes, it takes a few minutes of your time; yes, it will cost you to box, tape, address and actually post the package back for destruction. Over the years IT has made me a lot of money, it is the least I could do. Please join me. Thank you.

 

Woe are apps

As a follow-on to my recent app post, a couple of interesting udates. First up, marketplace.org ran an interesting piece on apps on June 9th. Sabri Ben-Achour covered the Apple iTunes announcement by saying:

  • It’s hard for app developers to get noticed(thats a “no shit sherlock” moment)
  • It’s hard to make money (thats NSS #2)
  • There are 1.6 million apps on the Apple store, the search function isn’t that great
  • There have been 75 billion app downloads, but the average user downloads zero apps per month.

Apples answer? Paid promotion within the iTunes store. Of course if apps didn’t exist and companies and developers were using the power of mobile through web, css etc. their sites would be found in context of content and SEO. They could focus their efforts in a single way to promote their content and the web UI to access it.

Also new, to me, I went to use Skype to contact one of my kids in Europe the other day and was surprised, and more than a little disappointed to find the Skype app was no longer working and no longer available. It’s not clear if this was a business decision, or a technology one. The app was the only one I ever used on the Samsung SmartTV that used the camera. Yeah, I know I should have taped over the camera.

That’s the problem with apps, you wait for ages for a platform that makes sense, and then two or more come along at the same time. You better hope you pick the right one. There are some 137 pages on a single thread on the Skype Community forums debating if either Skype or Samsung was the wrong platform.

Apps

The app hell of the future

Just over 5-years ago, in April 2011, I wrote this post after having a fairly interesting exchange with my then boss, Michael Dell, and George Conoly, co-founder and CEO of Forrester Research. I’m guessing in the long term, the disagreement, and semi-public dissension shut some doors in front of me.

Fast forward 5-years, and we are getting the equivalent of a do-over as the Internet of Things and “bots” become the next big thing. This arrived in my email the other day:

This year, MobileBeat is diving deep into the new paradigm that’s rocking the mobile world. It’s the big shift away from our love affair with apps to AI, messaging, and bots – and is poised to transform the mobile ecosystem.

Yes, it’s the emperor’s new clothes of software over again. Marketing lead software always does this, over imagines what’s possible, under estimates the issues with building in and then the fast fail product methodology kicks-in. So, bots will be the next bloatware, becoming a security attack front. Too much code, forced-fit into micro-controllers. The ecosystem driven solely by the need to make money. Instead of tiny pieces of firmware that have a single job, wax-on, wax-off, they will become dumping ground for lots of short-term fixes, that never go away.

Screenshot_20160524-113359Meanwhile, the app hell of today continues. My phone apps update all the time, mostly with no noticeable new function; I’m required to register with loads of different “app stores” each one a walled garden with few published rules, no oversight, and little transparency. The only real source of trusted apps is github and the like where you can at least scan the source code.IMG_20160504_074211

IMG_20160504_081201When these apps update, it doesn’t always go well. See this picture of my Garmin Fenix 3, a classic walled garden, my phone starts to update at 8:10 a.m., and when it’s done, my watch says it’s now 7:11 a.m.

IMG_20160111_074518Over on my Samsung Smart TV, I switch it from monitor to Smart TV mode and get this… it never ends. Nothing resolves it accept disconnecting the power supply. It recovered OK but this is hardly a good user experience.

Yeah, I have a lot of smart home stuff,  but little or none of it is immune to the app upgrade death spiral; each app upgrade taking the device nearer to obsolescence because there isn’t enough memory, storage or the processor isn’t fast enough to include the bloated functions marketing thinks it needs.

If the IoT and message bots are really the future, then software engineers need to stand up and be counted. Design small, tight reentrant code. Document the interfaces, publish the source and instead of continuously being pushed to deliver more and more function, push back, software has got to become engineering and not a form of story telling.

YesToUninstallAnUpdate[1]


About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formally a Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group; before that Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell. Prior to that, I was IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I'm an information technology optimist.


I was a member of the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative Steering committee. Read more about it here.

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