Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Email: The Nail in the Coffin

I have been musing for a while now about the seemingly imminent death of email, but last night I became convinced that personal email is already dead, we are just hammering the nails in the coffin.

Yes, there is no doubt that business email is still alive ( and broken and annoying)- but that is another post. Let's focus on Personal email.

I was on a phone call with my mom when the ringing of the hammer sounded clearly.

"We decided to talk to Verizon and get off of AOL and just use our Verizon email."

Excellent news! AOL ( stop cringing) was the right choice for my parents back in 1990, when the web was new and there were not many user friendly email interfaces. Now, it just inevitably led them to clicking on links in ways that launch that horrid AOL browser and things were broken. Plus, it is spending money on a service they really don't need. Times are tight and money is not free.

"Your Dad was reluctant and is concerned about how the email will look, but I told him it really did not matter, hardly anyone we know uses email any more. When I look at my email, it is almost all junk or ads or things people forwarded me. We don't have many people who send us stuff any more- you all moved to Facebook".

Wow. Astute for a basically computer challenged person who strongly resists change of any kind. She was not happy about the shift, mind you- ( I did not even want to boggle her with the plethora of social networks where I have a home... we will just leave it as Facebook for now).

"I am going to have to get on Facebook if I want to keep in touch, and just when I learn it, you will all probably move someplace else. But there is no doubt that email is just dead."

This from a 64 year old woman who is far from a computer analyst and does not know Facebook at all, apart from her grandaughters talking about it and the little bit we showed her over the Easter Holiday.

If she is not on Facebook soon, I have no doubt she will be on by the end of my daughters' week-long visit with them the first week of June. Honestly, I think she will like it better than AOL email.. but for my sanity and hers, I hope someone solves the interoperability/open authetication/platform communication before they leave and migrate to the next great social networking platform and leave her behind on Facebook wthout a linkage.

Life in a Dying Town: When the potential for death makes you famous

A year ago, hardly anyone had heard of Kokomo. After tomorrow, people all over the world will know who we are when the "World Have Your Say" team from the BBC spends the day visiting with Kokomo.

Apparently, the 3rd most dying town in the nation is a good place to investigate the impact of Obama's first 100 days. Since they are spending part of their time in the UAW hall, I have to wonder if any of it is co-incidental with the fact that tomorrow is also a vote day for the Chrysler unio workers as they vote to ratify ( or not) an agreement between Chrysler, Fiat and the unions. At this point, anything that keeps Chrysler alive and well in this town is going to seem like a good deal, so I really wonder why they even bother voting. Is anyone really fool-hardy enough to vote against keeping the town alive??

The purpose is supposed to be to look at how the first 100 days have impacted us... which made me wonder how they have. More rounds of layoffs have continued, the population continues to drop, which lowers the tax base. No new astounding businesses ave relocated here, boosting the economy. But are any of those things really the responsibility of our federal government? I do not believe they are.

The Government has gotten involved in the automaker's worlds, which impacts us because of Chrysler, and because Delphi is still financially tied to GM in odd ways. They have also declared Auto Supplier assistance, but that I know of, Delphi has not gotten any of that cash ( not yet, anyway.. not sure if it is coming). Delphi's Chapter 11 status remains an unsettling factor in the city economy, but there is no indication if Obama's actions have helped or hindered.

My official verdict? Too soon to tell. As a matter of fact, even when the economy is good I am not sure any president could make a difference in just 100 days any more, unless they were in a second term and did not need to create cabinets an advisors and learn the ropes. We don't yet know if Chrysler will survive and if Obama helped. We will not know for another couple of weeks if Delphi will survive. Money designated for stimulas plans is still being disbursed, how could we expect to see results.

And how will the BBC visit help? Will they show the wonderful parts of the town? The parks and the families and the fact that we are a relatively safe place to live? Will they show the kids gathering for Children's Theatre practise tomorrow night? Will they show the local orchestra an the Community band rehearsing? Will they talk to our championship sports and music groups? Will they show the still growing and thriving local restaurants, bars and gathering places? Will the BBC portray us as a town that is working hard to thive, that is a great place to live and raise a family and has great potential for businesses to locate here? Or will they grasp on to the underlying sense of fear and desperation that lingers under every breathe we take and focus on that?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Spring Kwakcon Kometh

Sycamore house is a-bustle with activity today. We are making final preparations to get ready for Kwakcon, our biannual gaming event. It looks to be a good crowd this time around, with some old familiar faces and some first time attendees. We have some long running adventures continuing ( ShadowRun and Call of Cthuhlu) a second round in Traveller and some new games ( Paranoia, Untold and something top secret Hobbes is bringing to playtest). We have folks coming from at least 4 states this time, and we are really excited to have Brannon and Nathan the inventors of Untold joining us to "game their fingers off". If they can come from Alabama to check out the action, almost anything is possible.

I will probably be fairly quiet on Twitter and the Blog for the rest of today, as I am busy cleaning, shopping and cooking before the crew arrives at 8ish, but I will be active off and on all weekend on Twitter and the Kwakcon website. Be sure to stop by and check out the happenings.. even if you are far away. Hopefully you will be able to come and game with us in the fall.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Lunchtime gardening

During gardening season, one of the great advantages of working mostly from home is that I can slip outside over my lunch hour and get some gardening done. After several days of being stuck inside due to rain, rain, hail and more rain, it was a joy to get outside and get a bit caught up. There is still a lot of spring prep to be done over the next 2 weeks , but here is what I got done today:

  • Moved the three chain saw carved Mushroom the Ogre made a few years back from the garden where Cthulhu has landed to the new hill garden by the mailbox ( this now names them the Cthulhu garden and the Mushroom garden)
  • Dug up, split and transplanted ornamental grass from perennial hill garden to the new Mushroom hill garden.
  • Planted 25 Freesia bulbs in the Mushroom garden
  • Picked up 2 wheelbarrow loads of winter debris that had been cleared out of the Cthulhu garden right before the rains came and dumped it in the firepit.

Not bad for 40 minutes of work.

As you can see, there is still a lot of work to do in all of these gardens ( as well as all the other gardens around the house), but I am pleased where they stand at this point on the calendar.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Leveraging Resource for Innovation

In order to succeed, small businesses and entrepreneurs need to innovate in ways that set them above the rest of the market. Producing a product that merely tweaks existing designs will not be enough. To gain market share, new business ventures need to be providing goods or services that are something completely new. Both the Council on Competitiveness and the US DOE/Office of Science call simulation and computational science the "third leg" of innovation, with recommendations for the use of High Performance Computing (HPC) to make simulation more productive and cost effective. The Council on Competitiveness notes that there are three factors that tend to keep businesses from using HPC aggressively: Lack of talent/expertise, Lack of easy-to-use, scalable, production ready software, and cost/ROI. For start ups and small to mid-sized businesses ( SMBs), these hurdles can be especially high. Large HPC clusters are very expensive, programmers with HPC experience do not hire cheap and software licensing costs can add to the cost burden. While there are several programs that attempt to make these resources more available to businesses, we still have significant room for improvement. The US DOE's INCITE program, for example will benefit 9 different corporations in 2009 with grants of processing time on some of the nations largest supercomputers, but less than 10% of the grants given in 2009 will benefit non-academics. Although businesses as diverse as Intel and Dreamworks have been previous grant recipients, for small businesses still on the low end of the HPC learning curve, the INCITE program does not fill the HPC gap.
In many cases, government granting agencies actually make it difficult for academic grant recipients to assist for-profit ventures. For example, the NSF Grant Policy Manual (gpm05_131) states:

544 Principles Relating to the Use of NSF-Supported Research Instrumentation and Facilities

The following principles on use of NSF-supported instrumentation and facilities were adopted by the National Science Board:

The National Science Foundation seeks the maximum productive use of the Nation's scientific instrumentation and research expertise. Ensuring that the highest quality instrumentation, facilities, and services are available to scientific users, both academic and industrial, is a key requirement, as are harmonious relations and cooperation between industry and universities. Private research and testing laboratories, as well as university, government, and industrial laboratories, have a contribution to make.

The National Science Board recognizes that there may be circumstances where NSF grantees use NSF-supported research instrumentation to provide services in commerce for a fee, to an extent that such practice, (1) detracts from the performance of their obligation under the grant, and/or (2) may have a material and deleterious effect on the success of private companies engaged in the provision of equivalent services. It is contrary to the NSF's intent for grantees to use NSF-supported research instrumentation or facilities to provide services for a fee in competition with private companies in a manner that is prohibited by OMB Circular A-110.

Grantees should implement the above principles and related grant conditions in a reasonable manner. Grantees are expected to provide fair and adequate consideration of any complaints about use of instrumentation and facilities.

The "gray" nature of what is allowed and what is not, along with the concerns of time and resources needed to provide documentation and explanation if complaints are made has caused most universities and research institutions to avoid selling low cost services to businesses. While regulations like this were put in place to prevent grant recipients from forming enterprises that unfairly compete with unfunded business ventures, in times of economic trouble where outside the box thinking is needed, we need regulations that are not only clearly stated to permit some assistance to businesses, but actually encourage the huge pools of talent and resources currently locked in our universities to grow the HPC and simulation capabilities in the business ecosystem.

It is important to state that I am not trying to argue for the diversion of research funds away from pure science, or the pursuit of "big questions" ( climate shifts, the origin of the universe, cancer research, etc...), but I do believe that all of us could benefit just as much or more by allowing universities that purchase technology with grants to sell the leftover cycles to businesses. It does not matter if the cycles are actual computer cycles to run simulations, or leftover "cycles" of people time to provide consulting or training; fully utilizing the resources our tax dollars pay for to assist in business innovations seems only prudent in today's competitive market. I believe that this is important enough that I would be fully in agreement of preference for grants to recipients who can show a plan and an infrastructure to provide such services. Are you an entrepreneur or SMB owner? What could you do with access to low cost, high quality HPC resources, consulting services and/or training?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Shop and Save (a student)

This was the Kokomo HS WinterGuard's State Championship Performance last year. As many of my Twitter followers know, my eldest daughter is in the Kokomo HS Winter Guard. The Guard did great this year, placing second in the state their first year in the IHSCGA Open Class and placing fourth in the world at the WGI World Competition just a couple of weeks ago. The guard has lots to be proud of, but unfortunately they are also still fundraising. Xandra still has to raise about 700$. Ouch.
Luckily they have a new fundraiser that actually has an internet store as well. So, we kindly ask you to poke around and see if there is anything that would be useful in your home. I am looking seriously at the flower bulbs, and some of the kitchen utensils are interesting as well. Please do not buy if you can not make good use of the item, but if there is something there that would make your life a little better or a little easier, please consider using the following information to give part of the profits to Xandra's guard fund.

Century Resources(
Group Code: 5187
Student Name: Alex Glenn
Student's grade: 11

The Future of Email is Bleak

I am battling to not fall into a generation communication/media gap. I have noticed for some time now that email use is declining, especially amongst teenagers. I honestly wanted to write this off as one of the follys of youth- "they can play around with their social network messaging now, but once they grow up and enter the real world, they will have to adjust to email". It was a comforting thought to help me through the annoyance of logging into multiple social networking sites to check messages. I can not fathom my future spent in such an annoying way ( and I do still believe that the way that social networks interact will have to change for them to survive) .

Having my parents here over the past weekend and spending more than one discussion/argument over the shift from paper communication to digital/email has really made me accept that the shift to social network messaging is not just a folly of youth, but the next evolutionary shift in digital communications. It does not mean that email is dead. The generations of people and businesses heavily invested in email are not going to disappear overnight. But the change is coming and if you have a business or an interest in being able to continue to communicate to the next generation of adults, you had better be prepared. Just as my generation sends paper communications less and less, my childrens' generation uses email less and less. This does not mean that I think that social network messaging is better than email, just that the current shift is rapidly moving away from it. For my part, it means that I am going to stop haranguing my children to check their email and trying to convince them that email is important to their future.

How do you communicate with the teenagers in your life? How is your business adapting to accomodate the shift in communication?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Breathing in the Social Networks

What will it take for social networks to become as pervasive as air? Charlene Li, the co-author of Groundswell, recently gave a talk at OReilly's Graphing Social Patterns conference on the future of social networks that you can hear via the IT Conversation Network, (you can also see the slides to the talk on Slideshare) where she envisions a future where social networks become as pervasive as air- following us everywhere we go without effort.

I was listening to this podcast on my way back from the airport yesterday, and more than once during her talk wished I was at the conference to talk with her in real time.

The first time was when she was first defining "like air" as following you everywhere on the web- it sounds futuristic, but I immediately thought of my recent experiences with Glue. The more she talked, especially when she talked about wanting to "see friends reviews" on Amazon, the more I wanted to run up to her with my miniLaptop and say "look at THIS!". In some ways, Glue does exactly what she was talking about in the realm of sahring recommendations and experiences online with friends, regardless of where you know someone from. If someone is listed as my friend on Glue, it does not matter if they looked at and reviewed an item on Amazon and I am on the BestBuy site, I will still get their feedback on that item. The thing that makes Glue less useful than it could be is the same thing that made Twitter less interesting 18 months ago... a lack of participants. But even with low numbers, I am already more excited about Glue than I was in the early days of Twitter. I am excited to envision what will be possible when my entire Twitter, Facebook and gTalk networks are on Glue. I am also looking forward to the first Glue Ap for my BB, where I can scan in a product barcode via the cell phone camera and have Glue give me back the feedback of my network who browsed it online.. and vice versa.

My second moment of wanting to share directly with Charlene was when she was talking about the current closed circle nature of socialmetworks and how this needs to change. It came fast on the heels of my attempt at explaining Facebook to my mom. Taking my mom on the Facebook journey was honestly not my idea, it came because my eldest daughter spent most of their visit this weekend trying to convince her grandmother to join, so they can communicate more easily. I had been reluctant to drag my mom into this, because I knew that her learning curve might not keep up with the shift in social networks. My teenaged daughter does not have much of a vision about life before (or after)Facebook and she has no idea that in other geo-ethnic groups Facebook is NOT the place to be, it might be Bebo or Hi5 or Orkut or one of a shifting group of social networks. My fear has been that just as my parents learn and feel comfortable on Facebook, their grandchildren will move on to the next hot thing in social networks and leave them behind again. I know there is a coming shift from email to social network messaging, but what we really need is an interface to bridge the gaps. I need a way to forward my daughter's external email address to her Facebook inbox and she needs a way to send messages from her inbox to people she knows external to Facebook- either to an email address or to an inbox on another social network.

As Charlene points out, if the social networks themselves will not put this in place, there will be portals that start to agreggate and cross link the networks. This still needs better authentication schemes and ways of creating site and contact grooups to manage it. I do not want everyone I know to have access to everything I do, but I would love to be able to have a networking group called "professional" and when I add you to it, you automatically have access to me on LinkedIn, see my HPCMfg Blog feeds, are linked to the ZoneMfg blog, and send are in my "professional contact" group on GoogleVoice. Folks who get added as friends get added to Facebook, Twitter, LastFM, Glue,StumbleUpon, get the feed to this blog, and are in my "friends" contact group on GoogleVoice. Music Lover? You get connected to me on AmieStreet, Glue, iLike, LastFM, get the feed for my Vox music review blog, and get the feed for all things I tag "music" on Delicious. Family? Techie?CurtainCall? Kids? Gardener? WebSurfer? All of these would be configured as different subsets of my activity online and I could add someone's ID to as many of these groups as I wanted to customize and fine tune their access and our interactions. If anyone out there is working on this today, I want to BetaTest it.

edit: Phil Windley kindly pointed out that although the Graphing Social Patterns conference was presented by OReilly, IT Conversations is not associated with O'Reilly. I have corrected the original post text. ( I was also excited to note when I looked up his Twitter page, that Phil uses Glue.)