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Archive for July, 2009

When I bought my Jeep 3 years ago, I was thrilled that it had a navigation system. I was tired of printing out Google map directions or trying to send them to my phone to navigate the suburbs to which I had recently moved.

I didn’t know I was creating a new dependency in my life.

It should be said that I have … well… not the greatest sense of direction. Invariably, I always, always turn left when I know I should turn right. It’s a good thing Chicago has a lake to orient me when I’m there… by the time I left Chicago still driving my old Jeep, I had most of the major streets, and their order south to north, memorized.

(Yeah. It’s kinda sad. I have to memorize the order. I would have made a terrible carrier pigeon.)

That said, when I had to print out maps and look at directions and memorize them, I was at least learning.

Over the past week, my nav system broke down while I was in Alabama.

So I drove home without it.

Here’s what I noticed.

Not having that woman’s voice tell me every turn to make, not seeing the big red target, not knowing precisely how many miles I have left and how long it will take to drive them is strangely liberating on the one hand and troublesome on the other.

Liberating because then I just… drive until I get home. Use road signs. Pay attention to where I’m getting off and how to get back on the highway. Fortunately this trip was really easy – find 65 and follow it for 800 miles or so. No beltways or confusing cities.

Troublesome for much the same reason – because I didn’t always know exactly how far I had to go. The kids and I have a ritual in which we cheer after we drive every 100 miles and every hour ticks down on the time left. This time, when they asked how much longer, I had to say, “I don’t know” and anyone who has kids knows that answer simply Will. Not. Do. (They got over it after about the 100th time I said, “We’ll be there when we get there.”)

Troublesome too, because I realized that I have become dependent on a CD-ROM to tell me where I am in the world. I should know where I am. I should know where I’m going. I should have a sense of how long it will take to drive the 350 miles I drove yesterday.

So now I am thinking – maybe I won’t get the nav system fixed. Maybe I’ll just use my iPhone for backup. Maybe being forced to really pay attention will force me to really learn where I live, instead of waiting for some woman’s voice to tell me.

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So, this blogging thing. What’s it about, really? What’s it for?

Are blogs like websites in the late 90s?

Somehow, you don’t exist if you don’t have one, even if it’s just brochureware?

Here is what I have learned, so far:

The more sensational and celebrity-obsessed your blog is, the better your numbers will be.

(Unfortunately, I do not care about celebrities.)

The snarkier your blog is, the more repeat viewers and comments you’ll get.

(Unfortunately, I reserve my snarkiness for face to face conversation.)

If you have really controversial, poorly thought-out political or religious ideas that you cannot in any way support in an argument, you’re sure to drum up a ton of traffic. And vitriol.

(Unfortunately, I do not enjoy courting vitriol, and I rarely talk politics or religion with people because most people can’t be rational about them, or they are out to change my mind about something like… intelligent design. Or that Dick Cheney is a good guy.)

That’s about all I know for sure so far.

Leaving comments on blog sites themselves is kind of a pain, though I understand why it’s that way. Many of the comments that are directed at my blog are actually left on Facebook, since I post links back to my blog in there. For now I don’t care enough to prove how popular I am over there by copying and pasting what people say over here.

What else do I know about blogging… I like the interface I use to publish it. If this were my product I’d be pretty happy with it. I also like the fact that the WordPress people appear not to take themselves too seriously.

I wonder about mobile blogging. Does anyone actually do it? Because it would take me an awfully long time to tap this stuff out, re-read it, edit and post it on my iPhone.

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Imagine:

  • Never using a “computer” again – simply using an access device for personal and work data. Probably one without a keyboard, but a microphone, camera and stylus.
  • Never using an “application” to access your data, because your data is simply… data that you manage. There is no such thing as software, or manually accessing a network. It’s all available, all the time.
  • Using a network that never slows down, never shuts down, clamps down on viruses before they get to your device.
  • A network that distributes upgrades to everyone on the larger system or any subsystem automatically, all at once.
  • A network that is global and shared, but discrete and split off into a system unique to your needs or your business needs.
  • A network that makes upgrades, calls to tech support and compatibility problems obsolete.

Even more concretely, imagine: After a car accident in Kuala Lampur, you are taken to a hospital, unconscious. A DNA sample taken by a doctor in that hospital makes it possible to pull up private and secure medical records, as well as genomic information about potential issues. Your insurance company is automatically alerted and all necessary forms are generated and sent to appropriate places. Once you are treated and released, your records are automatically updated. You never deal with data in any form. You are simply treated, and released.

When I first started reading about autonomic computing – an idea for an international information technology structure that emulates the behavior of the human autonomous nervous system – my immediate thought was, HAL. Big Brother. The Matrix.

But… not one to be overly reactive, I decided to keep reading. I read the Autonomic Computing Manifesto written by IBM Research. Now, anything called a Manifesto… I admit… gives me a bit of a shiver. But I waded on.

The most important point made by this manifesto is that we simply must change how computers and networks are managed globally. Not only is what we have today too complex for the users (how many devices do you use to access your data today?), but the number of IT workers needed to manage these complex and multiplying systems – well, there just aren’t enough people to manage it now, much less as needs grow. As a sheer labor force issue, the idea that we don’t have enough bodies to manage our current or future needs is just about as scary to me as Frankenfoods are (no, really. They are horrifying and should scare the bejeezus out of everyone).

So… the idea is to automate much of what is performed by humans today, including just about everything you use your IT team for – upgrades, troubleshooting, training, maintenance of the larger system and individual spokes on that wheel.

We can’t do this yet. We don’t know how to build machines and networks that can manage themselves, be managed at a higher level, be controlled and secure, perform dynamic launching of software agents, split themselves into smaller systems or combine into larger ones without human intervention. But the thought process is there; the march toward unity proceeds… XML, RAID, cloud computing, shared computing and peer-to-peer,  grid/utility systems, open source operating systems and software… just a matter of time, really.

I have a couple of concerns around the idea – mainly, what is personal data and where is it kept? Who can gain access to it? How do we give permission to access it? Minority Report, anyone? Those questions also apply to businesses and even things like diplomacy, certainly to national security… weapons systems… if everyone and everything is on one network, how do we securely and reliably segment data for user groups, and defend data from improper use?

Now. Isn’t that waaaaay more interesting than old fashioned cloud computing? I think so.

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