Working Up

Working Up in Project Management, Systems Engineering, Technology, and Writing

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March 26th, 2015 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

It seems the world has redefined what it means to be an engineer.

A recent story on the web discussed how Twitter will change the appearance of its home page. Involved in the story is Twitter’s Vice President of Engineering.

I am an engineer; I have been an engineer for several decades. I don’t understand why the VP of Engineering is involved in a change in how a home page looks. I understand how graphics designers and such would be involved, but really, the engineers?

Perhaps someone can enlighten me on this one.

→ No CommentsTags: Engineering

The FCC and the Open Internet

March 24th, 2015 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

I read the FCC’s document on Net Neutrality (“Report and order,” 2015) and provide my comments.

The FCC recently released the full text of their document on the Open Internet (the full document is available in PDF here). I read all 400 pages of document and assenting and dissenting views of the five commissioners. Here are a few things I noticed while reading the 400 pages. The order of items below is per the order that I read them in the document.

0. The English Language

Government bodies are infamous for butchering the English language. This document continues that tradition. Did anyone at the FCC take English in high school? Perhaps they can hire a few retired high school English teachers part time to proof read these documents. This is just plain awful.

1. Broadband Leaps from the Past

A paraphrase that is repeated often:

We reread the Communications Act of 1934 and found that we have the authority to regulate Broadband Internet access service (BIAS) providers.

2. The Public Good

Another paraphrase:

We believe that the Open Internet is good for the public. Therefore, we declare that we have the authority to prohibit anything that we believe hurts the Open Internet.

3. Clear, Bright-Line Rules

I am not sure what “bright-line” means, but the phrase is used often. Anyways, the meat of the document is:

  1. No blocking
  2. No throttling
  3. No paid prioritization
  4. No unreasonable interference or unreasonable disadvantage to consumers or edge providers

If we don’t think about these much, there is nothing to argue. I like these as general goals. As always, the details tend to make a mess of this.

4. Accurate and Precise

This one astounds me. These two words are loaded in the science and technology world. Educated S&T persons don’t use these words unless the are sure what they are doing. The FCC, however, uses them several times in the document. Yikes.

5. Light-Touch Title II

This is a major point in the document as the FCC claims to use Title II (BIAS is a telecommunications service) but only lightly. At lease they don’t call it “Agile Title II.”

6. We Take Credit for the Internet

Several times the document claims that all this great investment and innovation in the Internet is a result of previous FCC regulation. Never do they mention the possibility that the past occurred despite FCC regulation.

7. We are Here to Protect You (from yourself)

The FCC see itself as the grand protector keeping companies from harming the public. The FCC does not see companies as part of the public. I guess this is a part of the “business is evil” concept.

8. Communities of Color

This phrase refers to persons. This phrase is actually in the document in an attempt to represent poor(er) persons. I’m not making this up.

9. Mobile and Fixed Broadband

The FCC believes that these two fall under the same topic, and the FCC has the authority to regulate them both equally.

10. Past Mistakes, Future Infallibility

The FCC admits to past mistakes in classifying Comcast as a provider of information services. Now, Comcast is a provider of telecommunications services. My paraphrase:

We made mistakes in the past, but henceforth, we are infallible.

11. Virtuous Cycle

The document uses this phrase over and over to describe how the Internet has come to be and how the FCC will guide it in the future.

12. Guilty by Ability

The FCC explains how broadband providers have the technical ability to hurt consumers. Hence, the FCC must protect consumers from providers. The first part is true. The second part denies the existence of the marketplace (if I hate Comcast enough, I will switch to Verizon). The second part also assumes future guilt before any action is taken. And all this time I thought we were innocent until proven guilty.

13. Telecommunications

The FCC declares, despite history, that broadband Internet access service is a telecommunications service. That declaration brings with hit some 80 years of declarations, laws, and court decisions. Everyone should be worried about what is buried in those eight decades.

14. (No) Service Level Agreement

The FCC will hear complaints from anyone who has a complaint. They, however, give no fixed time for responding to complaints. They will work as fast as they can or want (whichever they choose). Wow! What a service level agreement.

15. Disagreement Implies Incorrectness

The FCC declares that they are correct. If you disagree with the FCC, you are incorrect.

16. Here Come the Taxes

The FCC reserves the ability to slap taxes on our ISP bills. Remember all those fees on your old phone bill. We will see them again.

17. Justifications

Large portions of the document contain justifications for the rulings. This always makes me suspicious. If the rulings were so simple and good, why would anyone write so many justifications?

18. Dissenting Opinions

Of the 400 pages, 80 of them are dissenting opinions from the two commissioners who voted “no.” Much of the dissenting opinions are that the FCC is bound by law as to how it goes about making such declarative documents. The dissenters contend that the FCC violated many of these laws.

Then there are technical matters. Namely, broadband Internet access service providers fall under information services not telecommunications services.

Then there is the White House, a.k.a., our President and his staff members. The dissenters contend that this declarative document was written at the White House with minor edits at the FCC. Again, this type of thing is illegal.

19. Summary

The report itself is about 320 pages long. That sure seems like a lot of pages to give four bright-line rules. The FCC didn’t issue a draft of the report for public comment; that seems odd. The FCC declarations are amazingly similar to statements made by our President. The similarity leads me to believe that there is no coincidence.

Several people have summarized the document as (paraphrase):

This creates a national jobs program for communications lawyers.

Federal Communications Commission, (2015). Report and order on remand, declaratory ruling, and order (FCC 15-24)

→ No CommentsTags: Government

It is the People, not the Technology

March 23rd, 2015 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

We try to relearn this again: people have to use technology in some “smart” way.

Money goes to big data projects, but not much comes back.

Where have I heard this before? Oh yes, it was with fill-in-the-blank-with-one-of-those-new-technologies-that-was-going-to-change-the-world-by-itself. People use technology. Well, sometimes we use it, and sometimes we use it in clever, well-thought-out ways. And then there are all those other times.

Big data is just like all other technologies in that it won’t save my world all by itself. I have to do something. I must have an idea or a purpose or a goal or something other than a desire to put a technology on my resume.

Here is a rule of thumb:

If someone does not show the before and after of their technology use, they proceeded without thought.

Proceeding without thought can be dangerous.

→ No CommentsTags: Management · People · Technology · Thinking

Self-Applying Information

March 19th, 2015 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Mankind is searching for that self-applying information so we can life the good life. Perhaps this is a silly fantasy, perhaps it is a dystopian future.

Is this the singularity? Is this beyond the singularity?

Consider this future. The computer mines information and doesn’t present it to a person, but uses it immediately (like in a few nanoseconds because that is how long it takes a computer to “think”).

I think this is beyond the singularity because, as I understand “singularity,” that is what a person can do. The self-applying information goes far beyond what a person can do.

For example, a computer search finds that four researchers around the globe have written papers on a similar ground-breaking topic. These four have no connections (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.). The software scans their four calendars, finds an open time, schedules a video chat room, and opens their applications at the right time, etc. The software also arranges funding from venture capitalists, files incorporation papers, and arranges an IPO, and so on.

Perhaps a person has to define the ground-breaking topic so the computer can do its part. Perhaps the computer understands ground-breaking topics.

Still, we search for that magic self-applying information so that we can sit on the beach, sip a cool drink, watch the waves, and enjoy the good life. We will pay for this recreation with the money earned by the corporation that was started by a computer applying information all but itself.

But who will serve us those cool drinks?

→ No CommentsTags: Computing · Ideas · Magic

Automatic Photo Recognition and Advertising

March 16th, 2015 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Tech companies use photo recognition algorithms to learn about you. They sell this information to advertisers, and the rest is history.

It is with humble apologies to the professors who ushered me into research in computer vision and image processing that I present this post.

Google and others are constantly improving their algorithms that recognize the people and things in photographs. They are becoming pretty darn good at it. They can recognize emotion, gender, age, and other attributes of people. They can recognize if you are next to food or cars or tourists attractions.

Pass these recognitions to advertisers who put 1 and 1 together to make 27. Viola, you start receiving ads that fit you and your lifestyle.

What happened? How did that travel agent know about my trip to Alaska and my love for chocolate ice cream?

→ No CommentsTags: Science · Technology

Success Leads to Dissolution or Bureaucracy

March 12th, 2015 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

The success of many endeavors should lead to dissolving the endeavor. It is unfortunate, however, that the result is often bureaucracy.

I have seen it many times.

Let’s start an association:

to improve the performance of X,

to increase the awareness of Y,

to teach the practice of Z, or

some such noble task.

People form the association, they perform the work, they accomplish the goal, i.e., they succeed. Now what?

One next step is to dissolve the association. It is no longer needed as the reason for its existence is gone.

Another next step is to continue the association and grow it. Collect dues; establish rules of membership; lobby the legislature, and go big time. In other words, create a bureaucracy. The bureaucracy appeals to the ego. I mean, I could be the founder and president of a 10,000-member association that I started with three friends at my kitchen table. Wow! Wouldn’t that be a nice thing to have said at my funeral?

Of course the bureaucracy could be bloated, wasteful, corrupt, and generally be a big waste of time.

Choices, choices, choices.

→ No CommentsTags: Adapting · Change · Choose · General Systems Thinking

Selling a Program, Keeping it Sold

March 9th, 2015 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

To gain approval for an endeavor, you must “sell” it to those who decide such things. Then, as work progresses, you must continue to engage those who decide and keep the project “sold.”

I hate this topic. That is because one of my worst experiences in my career was due to my ignorance of it. I had this naive belief that once the powers that be decided to do something, that was that. Get to work and do it. Let me attempt to express this as a sort of conversation.

High Manager: We have decided to do Project X. Dwayne, you execute the project. You have the resources, get to it.

Dwayne: Yes all-knowing,  grand-exalted High Manager. I will put my head down and work, work, work.

…some time later

Low-Ranking Person: I hate Project X. I think it is stupid. I think I’ll kill it.

Dwayne: But the High Manger(s) decided to do it and allocated the resources for it. They are High Managers, you are a Low-Ranking Person, this doesn’t make sense to naive engineers like myself.

Low-Ranking Person: Some High Managers decided to do project X. Some of them have moved on to other grand, high-exalted positions. We have a few new High Managers who are my friends. I’ll visit them in the evening for some informal chats.

Dwayne: Huh?

…some time later

Low-Ranking Person: Did you know that Dwayne is running wild on Project X, and that Project X is stupid.

New High Manager: Is that so? I’ll have to keep an eye on Dwayne and that stupid Project X.

Low-Ranking Person: We should cancel Project X and do away with that dastardly Dwayne.

New High Manager: Sounds like a sensible idea.

…some time later

New High Manager: Dwayne, Project X is cancelled and you are fired.

Dwayne: Huh?

My failure was that I did not pay attention to the comings and goings of High Managers. I also did not continue to speak with the High Managers about the wise decision the prior High Managers made, i.e., I did not work to keep the project sold.

The Low Ranking Person worked to sell a new idea to new High Managers. I felt what they did was unethical, but then again, I was a naive, put-your-head-down-and-work engineer.

→ No CommentsTags: Change · Communication · Expectations · Management

Efficiency from Laziness

March 5th, 2015 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Some of today’s more efficient technologies are efficient because we are lazy.

FORTRAN is an efficient programming language. The executable files are small. The programs execute quickly. There is a simple reasons why FORTRAN is an efficient programming language: the compilers were created at a time when computing resources were much less than they are today.

We should update the compilers to take advantage of today’s more abundant computing resources. We, however, don’t update them. We have more important things to do with our time. Well, maybe it’s just because we have things to do that we like more than updating old compilers.

This is also known as being lazy.

That is a bit more blunt than, “we have limited personnel expertise and have based allocation of resources on return on investment analysis,” but is also a bit more closer to the truth.

→ No CommentsTags: Choose · Computing · Excuses

Augmented Reality Glasses

March 2nd, 2015 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

The application of augment reality glasses remains the same as it always has been. The trouble is that application isn’t fashionable or cool.

Google Glass is up and down these days. I can’t follow the story, so I don’t know if it is dead or reborn or something.

The application of augmented reality glasses remains as it always has been:

Augmented reality glasses are useful in situations when a person is using both hands for a critical task.

Consider a car mechanic who has both hands grasping tools in the middle of an engine and needs to understand what that little part in front of him is and is supposed to do and how it is supposed to appear and so on. The mechanic can’t stop and find answers in a manual or online. The mechanic needs the augmented reality glasses to recognize the part and display pertinent information.

Now consider a surgeon who has both hands holding tools inside your chest on the operating table. Hmm, that’s a bit more important than an oil change on your car.

Now consider a parent holding a baby still with both hands while trying to determine how to remove that object that is preventing the baby from breathing. Again, a bit more important than an oil change.

These examples are much more important that pointing Google Glass towards a city block full of restaurants while trying to learn which has the best, latest reviews for Chinese food.

It is a matter of perspective.

→ No CommentsTags: Technology

People-Augmented Applications

February 26th, 2015 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Every now and then we remember that we can allow a person to help another person and that we have the technology to enable that.

Be My Eyes is a combined application and service that helps sight-impaired people see things clearly. The impaired person points their smartphone at a thing and is connected to a fully sighted person. The fully sighted person helps the sight-impaired person understand the thing. Our software technology doesn’t understand the thing as well as a person.

This isn’t the only app in the world that employs a person to help software help another person. A key to these apps is the communications infrastructure we have and the smartphone that has a camera and a gateway to the communications infrastructure.

I think this is the near-term future of person-helping software. Of course near-term is subjective and may mean anything from one week to one century.

I believe that person-helping software is the only kind that has any value.

Video games are nice, but pale when compared to helping a blind person take medicine that will heal instead of medicine that will kill.

→ No CommentsTags: Communication · Consulting · Ideas · People