Thursday, April 10, 2008

Microsoft Clearflow as an example of over-engineering

Microsoft announced plans to launch Clearflow, a web service that incorporates complex software models to help users avoid traffic jams. Read about it in various places, including the New York Times. My first thought when reading about it wasn't that it sounds like a cool technology, it was that it sounds like a ridiculously over-engineered solution to a problem.

The problem:

Commuters don't have accurate data regarding current traffic situations on main and side streets.

The artificial intelligence researchers' solution:

Form a team and spend 5 years building a predictive model for current traffic conditions based on four years of data and 16,500 trips covering 125,000 miles. The end result means that Clearflow combines live traffic data based on data from traffic sensors and combines that with predicted traffic events based on variables such as time of day, weather, current sporting events.

End result:

Probably more accurate traffic information, but largely based on intelligent guesses.

My solution (I'm not an artificial intelligence researcher):

Use real data, not predictive models. My GPS knows which road I'm on, the speed limit of that road, where the next intersection is, and how fast I'm traveling. Because my GPS knows that, the GPS satellite knows that. Because the GPS satellite knows that about me, it also knows it about other drivers on that same road or other roads. So, let's use all of that data to determine how fast traffic is actually moving on a particular road (relative to the speed limits and intersections) and therefore determine whether traffic problems exist on that road right now. Next step: automatically update the display on my GPS to suggest alternate routes that do not currently have similar traffic problems.

End result:

Extremely accurate traffic information, using actual current data and no guesses.

Perhaps I'm missing something obvious. Or perhaps this is an example of the adage, "to the man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail". Thoughts? Counter-arguments? Anyone?

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Connect the dots

I alluded to The Usual Suspects' flashback sequence previously, and I noted that the mainstream press haven't grasped the significance of this yet, but I didn't lay out how I see the dots connecting. And I'm not going to draw a map here. But think of how this all relates to the breakthrough mobile device and see if you can connect them yourself:

Mac OS X. XCode. Cocoa. Core Data. Core Audio. Core Video. Core Animation.

Yellow Box, Intel,

iPod, iTunes, Apple TV, media distribution.

PDA, Apple PDA (lack thereof), game console, portable gaming device (PSP), games.

Apple stores, AT&T, Best Buy, Starbucks.

Microsoft, Exchange, SQL, cloud computing.

If that sounded like a random string of SEO buzzwords, then we don't connect the dots the same way. Or you don't follow Apple and/or the computer industry closely enough to know what some of those things mean. Or maybe I'm full of crap.

I do know that if I had money to invest, I'd put it into AAPL now before everyone else connects the dots. Or, maybe they'll never connect the dots and AAPL won't explode until 1-2 quarters after June. We'll see. I'm betting on one or two analysts announcing a $225 or so target price this week and AAPL will accelerate. But I wouldn't put too much faith in analysts...

Apple and The Usual Suspects

You know that scene at the end of The Usual Suspects when elements of the plot that were right in front of you the whole time are suddenly revealed right in front of you? That's how I felt when I watched Apple's iPhone SDK roadmap announcement on Thursday. As the event unfolded, I could suddenly see why Apple has been making the choices it has made for the past several years. I could suddenly see the strategy of this secretive company laid out perfectly clearly. Everything suddenly made sense.

I haven't seen anything in the mainstream press yet to indicate that any publications or analysts understand what happened. There are a few bloggers who seem to get it. And most of the posters in this thread at Google Finance seem to understand. I'm not sure where the big boys are right now, but they seem utterly clueless. Maybe because they truly are clueless about Apple; how anyone could follow Apple closely over the past five years or so and still come to the conclusion that the announcement was about iPhone software is beyond me. It defies belief. Some of the follow-up stories such as RIM, Apple borrow from each other's playbook are almost embarrassing in their lack of understanding.

The one comment I've seen that perfectly sums it up is from "Ozman" at Fake Steve's site: That sound you just heard was over half the valley realizing that there pants are around their ankles, and Steve is already in his car on his way home.

Remember that the iPhone SDK is not just for the iPhone, but the iPod (Touch) as well. Remember too that the iPhone is not a phone. It is a mobile computer that happens to have an "always on" data connection and it happens to be able to make and receive phone calls. You also need to understand that the iPhone/iPod Touch run the proven Mac OS X -- a computer platform. And that they are mobile computers. In your pocket. Did you hear John Doerr say that this will be a bigger platform than the personal computer?

Apple has put in motion what may prove to be an unstoppable circular, recursive business model. This SDK was the missing piece (or at least one of the missing pieces because there may be more to come).

If you don't know what I'm talking about, let me lay out some of it for you. Because it's recursive, I can start anywhere in my description. But it's getting late and I'll do that tomorrow. Sorry!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Possibly the most ridiculous lawsuit ever

Looks like Jonathan Swift is alive and well, working for a law firm somewhere in California. How else to explain this article, describing what is quite possibly the single most ridiculous lawsuit to ever receive this much media coverage.

Unfortunately, I'm guessing these clowns are serious. The best thing about this is that there is a tiny little chance it will lead to a change in the flawed DMCA.

If they succeed, I have several lucrative new business ideas that I will be pursuing with vigor!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The benefits of a Googleable name

Interesting article in the Wall Street Journal today about the benefits of a unique, Googleable name. As someone who naturally possesses one of these types of names, I guess Kevin J. Delaney wouldn't consider me a nobody. So that's something.

I wrote about names once before in my long-since abandoned blog, which was started to commemorate my son's birth. I dropped that public blog due to lack of time (not coincidentally I started my current job right when RJ was born).

Anyway, this kind of leads in to my Why Blog post that is still in draft mode because I can't find the time to finish it. Which you would find ironic if you read the draft, but I digress.

To get back on topic, there are some key points that Delaney's article doesn't touch on. Significantly, Google results change over time and can expand dramatically. Searching for Smithurst resulted in me, KJ (my sister who is now a Stewart), Ben (appears to be a Unix guru from England who I have never met and am not related to), and Michael (a hockey player for the Norwegian national team) even just a few years ago. Now, the Smithursts around the world are crawling out of the woodwork. Still, it's better than "Smith" and always will be--try Googling my step-dad, David Smith, and let me know how you make out!

I Google (and "MySpace") job applicants and often people I am developing a working relationship with--such as outside partners or whatever. In fact, I even have a barebones MySpace profile just so I can log in and have the ability to search better. From an employer's perspective, it is frustrating when Bob Jones applies for a job with you. Someone named Tilda Swindlehurst would be much preferred--unless no results come up for Tilda. Being in the technology industry, I would be very suspicious of a job applicant with an uncommon name who was not findable on Google...

You might not want to be Googleable anyway. A huge disadvantage of an uncommon name is that anything you post online could come back to haunt you very easily. For example, I once was considering a resume that looked fairly good and definitely seemed interviewable. However, among other potential problems discovered online was the person's MySpace page. I wouldn't necessarily negatively judge someone by their MySpace page or what they do in their spare time, BUT this person's "About Me" basically indicated that they hated working and preferred to sit on the beach daydreaming. Not such a good impression for obvious reasons. No interview. Our HR department will probably kill me for sharing that story, but there you have it.

It's pretty easy to find odd links to me online, but there's nothing I'm really embarrassed about. If I was in the job-market, I don't think there is anything out there that would hurt me. And, hey, I'm somebody! Abigail and Kevin would be proud...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

My final comment on iPods and security (for now)

Cara took a bit of flack on various blogs and on Network World's own forums for her series of articles about iPods and security. Wherever you stand on the issue, or even if you couldn't care less, I find it interesting to see how naive many of those posters are. I wonder what people think the job of a journalist is.

Where do people think that a journalist gets story ideas from? Could it sometimes be from insider information gleaned from press releases or perhaps gossip or tips from sources they have a relationship with?

Where do people think that follow-up story ideas come from? Is it possible that if readers show an interest in a topic that a journalist might be compelled to write a follow-up to capitalize on that interest?

How is opening up a topic for discussion "causing controversy" or "creating an issue"? If you disagree, then disagree - at least Network World has a forum and allows you to post your disagreement.

While I think it is an interesting discussion point, I've already said all I have to say on this for now. If you disagree with me, that's perfectly okay. Feel free to post a comment!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Should Apple include security with iPods?

I corresponded with Cara Garretson via email yesterday, after I read her article but before I wrote my previous post. She invited me to comment on a follow-up article she was considering: should Apple include security with iPods?

I actually received that message from her while driving home from the office, and the wheels have been turning ever since. Perhaps a bit too much so because now I'm not sure I understand which angle she is thinking of taking. It's a very good question, but I can spin it a number of ways. My questions in bold followed by my answers:
  1. Should Apple include security features that make it less likely for an end-user's iPod to be infected by malware?
    Notwithstanding Kaspersky's recent claim of an iPod virus, there is no real evidence that it is likely (or possible) for an iPod to be infected by malware. The problems with Kaspersky's claims are obvious -- not only is it a harmless "proof of concept" virus, but Linux must be installed on the iPod (something that no one outside of a few in the Slashdot crowd or MIT Media Lab is likely to do) in order for it to be vulnerable in the first place. Therefore, I would argue that Apple already does a good job of making it unlikely for an iPod to become infected; with 100 million iPods sold and zero vulnerabilities, it would be hard to argue differently.

  2. Should Apple include security features that make it less likely for an end-user to be tempted to use their iPod for evil?
    I don't know how this would be possible without restricting the user's ability to use the product correctly. One of the selling features of iPods is the fact that they can be used as a portable hard disk. Witness the explosion of portable applications designed to be launched from an iPod or datakey: common sense says there must be a market for these applications if so many vendors are creating them. Existence of a market proves there must be customer demand. Also, Mac OS X has promised the concept of portable home directories for years now and I believe this capability will be built in to iPods and OS X in the near future. So, I would say that this is not Apple's responsibility nor would it be desirable.

  3. Should Apple include security features that make it easier for IT staff to protect against end-users using iPods for evil?
    To me, this is the most legitimate angle. There are possibly arguments to be made that Apple should provide this somehow, and although I can think of a few scenarios to make this possible, there are many more questions raised. Would it be done in software? If so, would Apple charge for the software? How would the software be distributed? How would an IT person deploy, configure, monitor, and manage the software? Perhaps most importantly, what problem would Apple be solving by doing this? There are already software products in existence that could be used to block iPods (my company Faronics makes one called Device Filter Mac); what could or should Apple bring to the table that doesn't already exist?

  4. Because Apple is responsible for 100 million iPods in existence, all of which could potentially be used for nefarious purposes, does Apple have a moral or legal responsibility to ensure iPods are used for good instead of evil?
    I don't believe it is Apple's responsibility to ensure iPods are used for good any more than I believe it is Honda's responsibility to ensure a Civic is never used as a getaway car. In both cases, the product is only a means of potentially enabling a type of behavior, but is not intended to encourage that behavior. Perhaps if there were no alternative security solutions available, Apple would have some minor responsibility here, but the truth is that the worldwide market for endpoint security products is larger than the worldwide market for iPod accessories. If a need exists, someone will fill that need and profit from it. Isn't that what free enterprise is all about?