Simon Bisson (sbisson) wrote,
Simon Bisson

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500 Words Into The Future is more like several thousand...

Time for the usual irregular round up of recent posts I've written for our ZDNet blog...

A Little (Digital) Bit Of Me
There's a conversation I've been having with many different people over the years. It revolves around trying to understand how we use context to make IT easier to consume. We keep approaching answers from different directions, from the worlds of search, of knowledge management, of business analytics, from the smartphone platforms, to the tools that power web search. The aim is simple – how do we make sure the right people get the right piece of information at the right time to make the right decision? Call it "right time information" for want of a better phrase.

Science fiction writer friends of mine think of it as "intelligence amplification", tools that make us smarter. There's an aspect of that in our relationship with our smartphones. I often think of mine as a "memory prosthesis", a note taking and search tool in my pocket. Instead of remembering where the pictures hung on a wall we recently painted, I just photographed then with my iPhone and uploaded them into the cloud using Evernote. How often do you quickly look up something on Google or Wikipedia or IMDB in the middle of a conversation? Getting that little bit of an intelligence boost is a big win, especially with such a small device.

But there's also a downside. How many telephone numbers do you remember these days? Or do you (like me) just look them up in your phone's copious address book? And do you find yourself missing that pocket intelligence booster when confronted by rapacious data roaming charges?
Read more.

Is there still a logical flaw in Apple's maths?
The problem, of course, is not knowing just how Apple calculates signal strength. It's all in the algorithm, converting the received signal strength into those bars.

RF engineers measure signal strength in dBm, a logarithmic scale that has the advantage of being allowing engineers to display both very large and very small numbers in very little space, by referencing everything to 1mW. That means that 0dBm is equivalent to 1mW of received power - roughly the output of a Bluetooth radio at a range of 1m.

0dBm is actually a lot of power for a mobile phone to be receiving. You can expect a phone to be receiving around -10dBm or about 100μW. That's not very much at all, and the signal strength fluctuations resulting from the complex RF environment mobile phones operate in can mean significant variations down from that. But a big change in received power is only a small change in the measured dBm.

It's quite easy to imagine a group of software engineers being given a set of numbers by RF engineers to expect that this nice linear dBm scale is in fact a nice linear measure of power. When writing the code needed to converting those negative dBm numbers into a bar chart, it's also easy to see those software engineers using (say) a 3dBm drop in signal to remove one bar, not actually realising that that 3dBm drop is actually a 50% drop in the signal strength received by the phone.
Read more.

It's a small small (basic) world.
There's a big problem facing the IT world: Where are all the new developers going to come from?

I'm from the 8-bit generation. We had our Spectrums and our BBC Micros, all with built in BASICs of all shapes and sizes, able to start programming from the moment that flashing cursor appeared on the screen, even if it was as simple as printing our name on the screen in an endless loop. Fire up Windows or Mac OS X or even Linux and you're there in a shiny happy world of windows and icons and apps. There's plenty of interaction, but no code.

Is it any wonder that developers have gone to the web? JavaScript is the new BASIC, a simple language that's easy to use and easy to get results. There are plenty of free development tools, and plenty of web hosts were you can show the world your code. But object oriented loosely typed languages like JavaScript are best thought of as secondary school languages, needing a reasonable knowledge of just what programming is before you get started. It's not very BBC Micro…

Microsoft's been making educational computing waves this week. First there was reference to engaging with the hobbyist community in the leaked Windows 8 planning slides. Getting hobbyist developers on board is something that Microsoft has been trying to do for some years now, with initiatives like Coding4Fun and the free Visual Studio Express tools. They've had some impact, but they still need work to get your code online and running.
Read more.

Outlook: Cloudy
It's Wimbledon fortnight, and living in south west London I'm watching out for the inevitable clouds and rain, something that made me think about the other cloud...

I'm not really one to use cloud services. I like my data safe and sound on my desktop or on my servers. It's under control, I know just where it is, and the data protection registrar won’t be asking me where I keep that address book.

At least that's what I liked to think.

Not surprisingly it turns out that that's not actually the case.

I did a little personal cloud audit the other day, while playing with Microsoft's new Live Essentials tools, to discover I seem to be living the "software+services" life without realising it…

First there's the obvious, uploading my photos to Flickr and using Gmail and Hotmail as backup (and disposable) email. My social graph lives in Facebook, and there are all manner of websites and services I use for everything from ebooks to video. Some of the sites and services have even managed to supplant the physical - I use the SkyPlayer in my Media Center PC far more than I do the satellite dish on the outside of the house.
Read more.

The hidden roots of the web: fifty years of PLATO
Imagine a computer network when you can connect with thousands of other users, can play multiplayer games, chat online and share information across the world, explore complex documents that link between pages and between different elements of content – all on terminals with local memory and high resolution touch displays.

Sound familiar?

There’s just one thing.

It’s 1973.

Ten years before the PC, and nearly 30 before the consumer Internet, the University of Illinois’ PLATO laid the foundations for most of the modern computing world, innovating in a unique “can-do” culture and inspiring many folk who would go on to deliver PLATO-inspired software.
Read more.

TechEd. It's all about the Ed, not the Tech.
We’re currently in a hot and humid New Orleans with 11,000 IT pros and developers, at Microsoft’s TechEd North America event. It’s one of those events that helps you drill down into the deep and dark places that underpin Microsoft’s growing technology stack with the folk behind the tools and the services. It’s about what’s here today, and what IT professionals will be using in the next few months at their workplaces and in their and their cloud providers’ data centres.

It’s not an event where Microsoft launches big new tools and features (though it’s happy enough to show some things it’s working on). Which is why it’s odd that people are comparing it to Apple’s WWDC, and expressing dismay that all Microsoft launched was a service pack for server and desktops with VDI enhancements for Windows, an enterprise service bus for on-premises and in-cloud applications, and upgrades to its cloud platform. (Actually, I’d have thought that was plenty enough for the show’s IT pro audience, already working on desktop upgrades, virtualisation consolidations, and massive application roll outs.)

Enterprise IT is a very different kettle of fish from Apple’s refashioning as a consumer electronics company. Microsoft’s TechEd customers are spending millions of pounds and millions of dollars on building and running data centres and on keeping business critical applications supporting the businesses they power. They’re people who think long term, who plan carefully, and test everything several times before deploying. Setting up a stateless application running on top of a set of federated cross-business service oriented components is a long way away from a shiny metal iPhone – especially when the application is being built on top of the AppFabric platform and can run on-premises or on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform.
Read more.

Please comment over there!
Tags: writing, zdnet
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