torstai 18. joulukuuta 2008

Of heavy and light work

Computers and the Internet have changed our world totally. We work, spend leisure time, communicate, and do a bunch of things differently today compared to that of 20 years ago. The internet is one big technological break-through. Even though it's so obvious today, there was a time that not every big player believed in it. Internet was thought by some to be merely a short-term trend, an asteroid that would pass but wouldn't come back.

I've dreamed and still am dreaming of an automated information workflow at home. We get paper - that's the problem. Paper tends to be a nuisance. You have to flip pages, to get to the message. Paper can get torn, wet, overrun by milk, lost - oh yes, definitely lost. I usually half-process a letter. For example, when there's an insurance company letter stating a lot of blah-blah, I open the letter but leave it hanging on the table for some time. I just don't feel like processing it to the very end at that time. So when I would need it, the piece of paper isn't in the location I left it.

Imagine the papers would be automatically converted into PDF documents or something else, but essentially they'd be digitized and indexed with good keywords. You could search through thousands and thousands of documents in a blink of an eye. Your first paycheck? Got it, there! Your latest employment certificate? No problem, it's here.

It would bring about a tremendous change to the efficiency we handle information.
And the most important thing is that it would be exactly our own, personal,
important information - not just anybody's blog or an article on a webzine, but it
would be the most valuable piece of information we have. How much would you value
such a system?

keskiviikko 17. joulukuuta 2008

the world of blogging - short course

The World of Blogging - short course

I won't go much over the history of blogging itself, nor the technology behind. What's interesting is the nature of blogging, its uses, people behind the scenes (that's everybody - us) and what new blogging can bring to everyone's lives.

Some people are really into blogs. They may read tens or even hundreds of different blogs. It's like receiving in a textual mode your favorite columnists works, for free. Even though traditional magazines are coming with on-line content, it sometimes requires payment for viewing. On the other hand, I've never come across a blog that would cost - even though it's not impossible (if there's one, please keep me updated and drop a mail or comment right here on this blog).

It's magnificient how many blogs are being kept all over the world. Some are chronological diaries of one's personal life, others are concentrated on certain topics ranging from a car hobby to political blogs. I started reading a book about blogging, and this article will evolve as I go through the pages and thoughts start to emerge. According to a study, about 8% of Internet users keep a blog. Much more are reading at least one blog: 39%.

Munching on new stuff
The blogosphere has bought a lot of phenomena with it. When somebody publishes a new blog entry, the end-user reaction varies a lot. People who are trying to track even hundreds of blogs, might sigh and feel overburdened - once more. Others, to whom the blog entry may represent the whole communication quota of the week, are very happy to have new content.

Quality over quantity

RSS feeds, which are closely related to blogs, are sometimes being really swallowed in the hundreds. I don't think quantity can beat quality. By reading less but more quality blogs you will probably get more and stay focused. I've heard of supposedly-project leaders, who are spending 5-6 hours a day just to keep ahead of technology blogs. To be honest, it sounds creepy.
(For those of you who RSS feeds are not known, they are kind of active pointers
to new blog content. By subscribing to a feed, you can always receive the newest
snippets of your favorite blogs. The blog has to have a support for RSS, and also your web browser or other reading software).

I started keeping the PSIIC blog inspired by both the easy way the Blogger.com enables one to keep a blog, and I had some ramblings in my mind.

The salt of blogs is that people can comment on the writings. This is a whole new perspective to traditional publishing, which is quite unidirected. The comments can make hints to the writer as to what's interesting, where people are united, where they differ in opinions, and give wholly new ideas for further writings.

Blogs cause social movement and enlightenment, sometimes way faster than any ordinary media can bring focus to things. For example, there's the US Kryptonite lock issue, where a very famous and supposedly safe lock could indeed be opened quickly with an ordinary pen. Youtube movie: Kryptonite
I don't know whether the blogosphere is more difficult to control than ordinary www-pages, which have sometimes been hit hard by censorship. Basically we're talking about servers which use a network and run pieces of software that provide the outcome of a blog to the general public.

...to be continued! Any ideas and questions are really welcome.

maanantai 15. joulukuuta 2008

Does cloud computing have a good future?

Cloud computing means creating an information system whereby the users do not need to have sophisticated computers, instead they are accessing data and programs which are stored and run on a powerful central computer. The idea is not new; in fact in computer science there's been trends going back and forth, from spread-out to centralized paradigms.

I'm thinking about the future of cloud computing. The issue can be illuminated by taking several slices:
- security
- usability
- benefits to the user
- ease of administration
- cost issues

Security is a first major issue. What might come to mind is that cloud computing
must be inherently insecure: since the data is stored on a central computer's
memory, then simply the subversion of this single computer would yield data
of several thousands of users - or even more.

But then again, in reality it might be exactly the opposite: instead of having
data spread over thousands of insecure amateur's computers, why not use a
well-designed security architecture on a single computer which can be definitely
secured?

Usability depends on basically three things: local computer performance,
the network connecting the local and central computer, and the performance of
the central computer.
If you have all these things in order, usability will not be an issue. So
have a well-designed, ergonomic local computer; a fast, lossless and low-lag
network; and finally a supercomputer which can churn out data even when there's
a lot of load.
If any of these 3 lags behind the standards, then we're going through the lowest
common denominator and usability is trashed.

Benefits to the user are probably in three key areas: costs, availability of
information, and performance. Costs can hopefully be cut by using a central
computer. This is not obvious, since the computer costs will probably be
divided by user count, and thus it requires a certain amount of users to
support a computer economically.

Availability of information plays a great part: the cloud computing should
mean that information processing would be available 24hrs a day, 365 days a year.
No matter where or what kind of equipment the user was running, he would have
the data and tools available everywhere. Availability also includes data redundancy,
or the fact that the central computer has a good set of backups of all the data.
Redundancy would be ideally totally transparent to the user, so that even when
there would have been physical loss of data at some point, the redundancy mechanism
would automatically repair any loss and the user would not even notice.

Performance in an interesting area. The central computer would have to split its
computing power by the number of users running programs. But as usual, not everyone
is needing 100% of power all the time, and thus this time sharing of the power
can be viable option. In fact, multitasking operating systems have been around
for quite some time.

There are good reasons to believe that cloud computing is on its way to making
into the use at home and office. As to how much and in what kinds of solutions,
I'm still out there to look for it.

Cloudy today
We're already seeing a lot of examples of cloudish style computing. Take all the
portals on World Wide Web: there's email providers like Gmail, social networks
like Facebook, instant messaging portals, sites for discussion, all kinds of
interactive web pages. And we're free to use (most of them) anywhere in the world.
You can live in Finland, but log on to your Facebook account in Thailand to show
off some nice pictures and greetings from the trip. Just right now, I'm writing
this blog entry in the library, a couple of kilometers away from home. Even though the hardware is far from identical, there's usually couple of things that smooth out the unevenness: the operating system, and the web browser. It really makes information processing a lot smoother to have these "toys of the DARPA origin". For more information on what DARPA is, see DARPA article on Wikipedia.

sunnuntai 14. joulukuuta 2008

automatic CV, making job application easier

The way we go through a job application, on both sides, is sometimes cumbersome. What strikes me most is the unaccuracy and possibly completely unverified nature of "job experience" listed in the CV.

The job applicant has to write a lot of text, and make changes to it periodically so as to keep it up to date. It seems more a fact that no-one updates their CV, unless it is strictly necessary.

And the content of the CV is not very well defined. Especially when companies are using international recruitment, it becomes even harder to really understand what the applicant has done in the past.

What if we could somehow make a standardized job application form? And instead of all free-text forms, we could make a machine gather the nature of job currently at hand, and add these work-experience-bits into the application automatically. So you'd just do work, and the computer would update your CV while you are working.

The content of the bits would have to be agreed, though. And it wouldn't be a very easy task. Programming in one context might be different from another context. Language is tricky! But there would be elements where can, on the other hand,
have a common acceptance. Dates and times only have that much variety - there's
a target for automation. Job descriptions are usually either as a whole field,
containing everything about the job; or it's split up into lines which list
single tasks you've done in the company.

What about logging the time spent on instant messaging? Really nice to see on your
CV that you spend 50% of the time at work place IM'ing. :) EVEN THOUGH it would be
valid time spent there, collaborating with your mates.

Perhaps free form CV's are here to stay for a long time.

tiistai 9. joulukuuta 2008

the next 50 years - comments about possible technological and other advances

Reading Thomas Sowell's books about economics is refreshing for a technocrat like me.
He's an american economist, born in 1930. Sowell likes to write text which is
understandable to common man, yet he brings out distinguished phenomena of economics in very interesting way.

Those kinds of books and their acute findings about even very counter-intuitive
phenomena happening in this world are worth every penny. They bring on the
imagination engine while soothing the soul by bringing evidence of what really
happens, when certain actions are taken in order to bring about change. Change
itself is inevitable, so instead of observing the change we should ready ourselves
to make an impact and direct the change.

The sleet and darkness of Finnish winter is one huge ingredient of invention. Our
environment makes everything hard: moving from place to another, whether it be
walking, driving, or flying. Even the sea is a harsh environment especially in the
wintertime. We've got first class marine technology, yet big ships have to stay
at port in order to minimize hazards.

It was a sleety Tuesday evening, and I was getting chores done at downtown.
The early evening is pitch dark; sleet coming down from the sky, illuminated by the
xenon headlights of the car.

There's something strange and refreshing in spending time inside a car. I usually start driving these thoughts about possible new things, the way life goes, and what not. It's the combination of observing people do things, and thinking what are they
looking for, why do they do it like that, could there be possibly an alternative?

It's an inexplicable feeling of getting an insight into things. Sometimes I don't
have the energy to put down these ponderings, but then there's times that poisoning
this blog with some ASCII seems proper.

I already talked about getting better services in the future, as the concept called
Tuokko was mentioned as one example. Then there's plenty of things coming - probably.

1. Money as we have used to thinking, will stop existing. There's buying power as
you have it now, but you will be identified somehow else, so money objects (cards,
bills, notes, coins) will no longer be useful. They simply will not matter anymore.

2. Wearable technology or wearable computers will become so commonplace that you
use them 24 hours a day. There's gadgets which will enhance your own memory, your
thinking power, your emotions, your quality of sleep, the physical capabilities.
It's like the car: it has evolved from basically a motorized bicycle to the modern
computer-enhanced swift chariot.

3. Your senses will be enhanced by technology much more un-inhibiting: there's no
need to wear contact lenses. You will have the enhanced eye electronics implanted,
after which you can for example zoom in and out in your scene of vision just like
a camera. And the ubicomp electronics keep your journeys well documented, automatically. You don't thus need to use a camera - you can just edit the pictures
you like, and scrap the rest.

4. Your snail mail (paper mail) is automatically scanned in electronic documents.
The text of these documents can be google'd or otherwise fastly searched. So let's
say you receive a mail today, but don't find it interesting. You throw the paper
copy away... only to regret it 2 weeks later, when the issue becomes very interesting. With the new virtual mail technology you can retrieve the copy very
fast, and there's no need to worry about conserving the paper ones.

5. Psychostimulators can be installed next to your brain. These stimulators
can alter your moods by direct electromagnetic stimulation of neurons. The
stimulators also make curing mental illness without chemicals possible. However,
the stimulators
bear the same properties as ordinary medicine: it can be misused, and thus
there will exist stimu-junkies. The government will try to make the abuse impossible
by using several different technologies, but always some geek will crack the
protection and thus enable abuse. Price of the circumventing technology depends
on how hard it is to crack the engines.

6. Cars will join into a pool of intelligent vehicles, and total throughput of
traffic can be significantly increased, while making traffic accidents and deaths
almost zero. Navigation technology seen in 2000s is only the beginning. There
will be much more intelligent, and what most important, connected vehicles.

...and: Oh yes! You will have a TAXI button in your cellular. Just by single
press of a button you can order a taxi.

What are the implications of these technologies that are making super-humans?
I think the type of work we can accomplish will be different. The way we spend
our leisure time will be different from today. In a word, life will evolve into
a new level, and I'm saying that without any emotions attached. I'm not to judge
whether life is better or worse, it will only be different - for sure.

When we would have
enhanced memory and capability for information processing, there's the possibility
that an array of yet unimaginable things can be done. Just like we have adopted
technology so far (from fire, to metals, the hammer, the wheel) so we will continue
to adopt more of it. And it will not necessarily be "advanced", but it will be
different and somewhat always based on already existing technology.

=> Work will probably make riches. The products can be sold or utilized otherwise.

=> The conditions of people making very hard work will improve. Because the new
tech will be kind of like a "shield" protecting human flesh from bare encounter. So at least there's the possibility to make conditions much more humane, unless the work force are already completely mechanized.

=> First class touch to the nature can be diminished. Just like today already, we are
beginning to be the prisoners of our cars, houses, subways, shopping malls; so will these enhancements drop the level of reality we are experiencing. We will be perceiving the world through intelligent electronics, which creates a thin veil of virtuality on top of real things. The difference can perhaps only be sensed when one drops out of this enhanced life back to ordinary level.

maanantai 8. joulukuuta 2008

Tuokko - the personal transportation service

One of the things future brings is better service. Take Finland for example,
a small country in the northern hemisphere, which doesn't have too much of
natural resources. We've been struggling for independence and survival for
probably as long as we've existed. What makes us rich, is the capability to innovate New.

New meaning ways of doing things, delivering content, mixing and mashing,
making brain cells spark to create buck. But - actually it isn't about money.
For a good service, you need - a need! There has to be a really strong
urge to have something, in order to create a good delivery mechanism. I'm talking
about the personal transporation service of tomorrow.

What is it? Imagine there were a neat way to order any kind of thing you
could imagine and have it delivered on your door. There are just sometimes
those moments that you could pay anything to have something delivered. Think
of leaving work after a long shift - you're on your way home, going in the
motor way, and suddenly you receive a phone call. It's your girlfriend asking
for headache remedy. She's having a severe headache. So are you, soon. Since it's
independence day, the pharmacist stores are closed. Where on earth are you going
to get medication, and how far do you have to travel in order to get it?

Wouldn't it be great to have a service that could do this? 24/7 readiness,
bringing you a pizza, a tobacco carton, or the day's groceries - you name it!
I think there would definitely be demand for this kind of utility - but once
the mentality of getting good delivery service is acquired. It requires someone
to make the pilot plan and implement it. I'm staying tuned. Just waiting to
announce one year that NOW it's reality.

The benefits would be possibly environmental as well as on a personal level. The persons using this kind of service would save time, and thus having the ability to spend it in things they really like: hobbies, family, you name it. You can never have too much time; it's scarce. And currently everyone is making a back-and-forth trip to the shop, probably around 10-20 km away. It equates to over 2 million liters of fuel used every day, just to get bread and butter on the table.