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Archive for the month “December, 2012”

Relationships change – Wallace Henley and Chuck Colson

In 1973, Wallace Henley and Chuck Colson both worked in the Nixon White House. Colson was Special Counsel to the President. Henley occupied a significantly lower position.

By 1974, both Henley and Colson found themselves in Alabama. Henley, after leaving the White House, responded to a previously-ignored call to become a pastor. Colson, after leaving the White House, became a prisoner in a Federal facility at Maxwell Air Force Base.

When Henley first went to visit Colson, he reflected on how things had changed:

I was stunned when I saw Chuck. I had known him in the White House garbed in expensive lawyer-type, elegantly tailored pinstriped suits. Now Chuck was dressed in prison garb, the pants and shirtsleeves too-short. They smelled of the prison laundry, where Chuck had been put to work folding clothes.

When we were together in meetings in the White House Roosevelt Room, across from the Oval Office, Chuck, a senior staffer, had been at the big table in the middle of the room. I was a low-grade aide who sat around the periphery. The unofficial protocol dictated that those not at the table were to be silent, take good notes, and not bother the big people.

But on that first encounter at Maxwell, the protocols were gone.

Henley subsequently assisted Colson in the latter’s Prison Fellowship outreach.

Tad Donaghe’s technology predictions for 2013

Yes, it’s prediction time again.

Tad Donaghe, who has been quoted in this blog previously (most recently here), has published ten technology predictions for 2013. The prediction cover a variety of topics, and I’m only going to share two of them.

2. LED Lighting – 2013 will be the Year of the LED light bulb. By the end of the year, good 75W replacement LED bulbs will be selling for less than $10/bulb. Throughout the year, consumers and industry will continue adopting LED bulbs in great numbers. By the end of the year, we’ll see a few news stories about how this adoption is leading to significantly less drain on the national power grid.

I really haven’t followed LED lighting, but I wonder if even $10 is too high a price point for mass adoption. Faced with a choice between a low-cost cheap item and a high-cost outstanding item, consumers often go for cheap. I suspect the growth will be minimal.

9. Books: Fewer people will read books printed on paper next year – we may reach parity with eBooks – 50% of people reading eBook in 2013. Public school districts in the US will very slowly continue to adopt digital texts, though the numbers won’t be significant for another 10 years or more.

The part of this post that intrigues me is the last part regarding the public school districts (and, by extension, private schools and colleges/universities). Public school districts often seem to be resistant to change, but at the same time public school districts are strapped for money. What if ebooks offer demonstrated cost savings to a public school district (or to another educational entity)? Policies toward ebooks won’t automatically change overnight, but there’s a chance that Tad may be pessimistic on this prediction. Maybe we’ll see significant change in five years rather than ten.

Do you want to see Donaghe’s predictions about 3D printing, self-driving cars, health care, and other topics? Read his post.

So you’re applying to Penn? It was different when I was your age

It’s Christmas week, and I was checking the analytics for my Empoprise-BI business blog. Surprisingly, I discovered that my October post Are you apathetic, or ravenous? had become extremely popular over the last few days. At first I couldn’t figure out why, but then I began looking at the search terms people were using to get to my blog, and I found several searches that were variations on these words:

Given the undergraduate school to which you are applying, please discuss how you will engage academically at Penn.

Why would people arrive at my blog from those searches? And why were people conducting those searches in the first place?

Then I remembered.

It’s that time of year when high school seniors are applying to colleges.

The apathetic/ravenous post quoted from a particular essay question in the University of Pennsylvania’s application.

A quick check of the University of Pennsylvania website revealed that applications are due on January 1.

Now you get the picture.

Joe and Jane Student are busily working on their applications to Penn, and they come upon the essay questions. Applications are due in a few days, and they’re a little tense. While trying to think of ways to answer the application essay questions, they turn to the web for help. Unfortunately for them, they run across my October Empoprise-BI post. (Even more unfortunate will be the high school students that arrive at THIS post. Ha! Caught you.)

This example just illustrates how the whole college application process has changed in the decades since I applied to college. (I didn’t apply to Penn, but I did apply to Haverford.) Back in the dark ages, when I got ready to type my essay answers on a typewriter, I had to turn to printed books to figure out what I was going to write. Today, of course, much of the process takes place online. You can apply to colleges online, you can research colleges online – and you can figure out how to answer essay questions online.

Well, I’ll throw a bone to those unfortunate Penn applicants who have ended up at this blog post, hoping to get wise advice on the application process. I can offer these tips.

First, be yourself. If you become someone else in your application essays, you may regret it later.

Second, chcek your spelling.

Third, check your spelling again, in case you missed something the last time.

Fourth, bear in mind that your college experience may introduce you to brand new wonderful things that you can’t even envision today. This week you may think that you’re going to get a biology degree so that you can become a doctor, but perhaps two years from now you’ll find yourself onstage at the campus theater, leaving the medical world far behind. Colleges (at least the good ones) are looking for students who want to learn, and who want to take advantage of what the college has to offer. Yes, you may have a particular undergraduate school or major in mind, and you may have an idea about how you will engage academically, but remember that you don’t know what you don’t know.

Oh, and if you cite this blog post in your application essay, I’m John Bredehoft, not Patrick Bredehoft.

P.S. The apathetic/ravenous post isn’t the only post on my Empoprise-BI business blog that has recently enjoyed sudden popularity. It turns out that my several posts on KitchenAid oven temperature probes have suddenly become popular again. All that Christmas cooking, you know.

Unexciting is good – we won’t see virtual furniture for some time

I happened to notice a tweet from Inland Valley Daily Bulletin columnist David Allen. (For those who are not familiar with the newspaper, it is based in my hometown of Ontario, California.) Allen said the following as part of his tweet:

Former Borders Books in Montclair gets a new, if unexciting, tenant: a furniture store.

Allen then linked to his column, “Furniture replaces fiction in Montclair.” The new tenant is Ashley Furniture, and the store is expected to open in April. Ashley Furniture will occupy (#OccupyFurniture) the space formerly used by Borders and by a Sport Chalet.

In the column, Allen (an avid reader) makes a comment regarding the change from a bookstore to a furniture store:

It’s good news for Montclair to fill such a high-profile vacancy, even if a furniture store isn’t going to add much to Montclair’s cultural standing.

I’m sure that many of you know the story of Borders Books, a company that started back in the day when people purchased physical books sold in bookstores. Borders, unlike other companies, was unable to successfully adapt to the new environment, in which virtual books are sold from web pages.

Despite Allen’s cultural concerns, the switch from bookstore to furniture store is actually a good thing. While it is possible to replace a physical book with a virtual one, it is difficult to replace a physical table or chair with a virtual one.

I say difficult, but not impossible. You can go to a website and order a chair or a table without ever setting foot in a physical store. The furniture that you receive, however, will be physical and not virtual, and it will take some time to arrive at your home (unlike a virtual book, which you can receive in seconds). And it’s certainly conceivable that you can use a 3-D printer to print a chair or table; again, the resulting furniture will be physical.

That having been said, it’s apparent that a brick-and-mortar furniture store may potentially enjoy better success these days than a brick-and-mortar bookstore.

Even though the Ethan Allen (no relation) store in Montclair has also closed, along with the Borders and Sport Chalet. It’s fair to say, however, that Ashley Furniture enjoys a larger addressable market than the expensive furniture from Ethan Allen. Although if you’re so inclined, Ethan Allen has an online store also…

Augmented reality in the 12th century

Since I’m obviously thinking about augmented reality, I started to wonder about augmented reality systems that were used before November 2012.

Before I did so, I figured I’d better get my definitions straight. Erick Schonfeld wrote the following in 2010:

If virtual reality is a complete immersion in a digital world, augmented reality (AR) is more a digital overlay onto the real world.

Thus, something like Google Ingress is augmented reality, and something like Second Life is virtual reality (although real things can enter into that virtual reality).

Dan Sung wrote a brief history of augmented reality that went back to the 1990s – actually, to the 1950s – but he began his history with the following note:

The term “augmented reality” has been around since 1990 but that doesn’t mean that it was never there before. The moment that man made gadgets that could relate to their environment and supply their users with information based on that, AR was there. It’s just that nobody thought to call it that.

So, what was the first “augmented reality”? Let’s ignore Schonfeld’s use of the word “digital” in his definition; let’s think about any old overlay onto the real world.

That’s what got me thinking about sunglasses. Sunglasses are as basic an overlay as you can get. And, in a sense, they change your perception of reality; things you can’t see in the blinding sun can clearly be discerned when you put your pre-Google sunglasses on.

But how long have sunglasses been around? While many sources acknowledge the pioneering work of Sam Foster (the Foster of Foster Grant), even those sources note that this was not an original invention of Foster. John Gibb:

The 12th century is when sunglasses were invented properly, in China. They were using lenses made from imperfection-heavy quartz to block out the light from the sun, and primitive frames to hold them against the wearer’s face. These sunglasses didn’t protect against harmful UV rays or help their wearer to see any better (in fact, they made it very difficult to see), but they provided some relief from having the bright sun constantly shining into their eyes. Only the rich had them, but they found many uses for them – Chinese rulers and judges, for example, found that they could use the sunglasses to hide the expression on their face when they were talking to someone, allowing them to seem emotionally detached from situations.

Can you think of an earlier implementation of augmented reality? If so, please share it in the comments.

Public safety employees – those people running around your city “hacking” with their smartphones may be playing a Google game (Ingress)

This post is addressed to public safety employees, such as police officers and firefighters. It is also applicable to other government employees, such as postal workers, docents, and park rangers. Advances in technology are resulting in some new behavior by citizens, and as an interested party I thought that you should be aware of these.

Public safety and other government officials encounter citizens in the course of their jobs. Sometimes the citizens are pleasant; sometimes they’re not. And perhaps in the last month or so you’ve noticed some citizens who are acting in a very strange manner.

For example, let’s say that you’re a firefighter. Late one night, you see two people park their cars, get out, and focus their attention to a spot just to the north of your fire station. The two people are focused on small electronic devices in their hands that appear to be cellular telephones. As the two people interact with their devices, they engage in some seemingly bizarre conversation.

Were you able to hack the fire station portal?

Yeah, but I didn’t get anything. Shall we fire the XMP bursters?

Yeah, let’s wipe those Enlightened out. Resistance rules!

My XMP burster did hardly anything!

The portal has shields on it. This will take a while.

Well, I have plenty of smaller XMP bursters. Hopefully we have enough.

One resonator down!

Great. Let me bring in the big guns.

(a couple of minutes pass)

Got it! All the resonators are wiped out! The fire station is now blue.

OK, I’ll deploy my own resonators here.

Shall we go recharge the post office?

I can’t. I’m out of XM.

Well, let’s drive around a bit and get some XM. I’ll go by the museum and meet you at the police station.

As a fire fighter, you may be understandably alarmed when people say that they are firing at your place of employment. You may be especially alarmed if you see two different people outside the station the next night, doing similar things.

But before you make that emergency call to the Department of Homeland Security, consider this:

There’s a chance that the people outside your fire station may be playing a Google game.

In November, Google announced that its new game, Ingress, was entering “closed beta” mode. The game was announced via a cryptic video and website.

Once Ingress entered the closed beta mode, this meant that people who received the coveted invitations could join this game in which two factions battle for control of the world.

Unlike other games such as Risk, however, the two factions are battling for control of the REAL world – sort of.

You see, the same GPS technology that public safety agencies use to locate traffic accidents, fires, and criminal activity can also be used to create a world-wide “game board.” In essence, the game “portals” are overlaid over the real world. For example, here is the “game board” for downtown Ontario, California:


The circles (which in this case are blue, although they could be green) represent the “portals” that the two teams in Ingress are fighting to control.

So where are these portals located? This is what Google says about portal location:

Portals live in publicly accessible areas, and are most highly concentrated in denser and more urban settings. Portals manifest themselves usually as public art such as statues and monuments, unique architecture, outdoor murals, historic buildings, and unique local businesses.

While players can actually propose new portals to add to the game, many of the initial portals in Ingress happen to be at…places such as fire stations and post offices.

So the people that you see that are staring at your firehouse may not care about your firehouse at all. They are concentrating on something that only exists in the virtual world – but which has a complement in the real world.

However, Google reminds Ingress players that they are playing in the real world, and that they should behave accordingly. Here are excerpts from Google’s Community Guidelines for Ingress:

We want Ingress to be a fun and safe experience for all players, and for everyone out in the real world where the game is played. Following these common-sense guidelines will help to ensure you and other players have a great experience, and that others are not affected by your game play. Remember that certain interactions that seem harmless or fun to you may be perceived completely differently by other players or bystanders.

Treat other players and bystanders with respect and courtesy and conduct yourself in an appropriate manner while playing Ingress….

Trespass: Don’t trespass while playing Ingress (and don’t try to lawyer that guideline, just respect it). Do not access any property or location while playing the game if you’re not sure you have the right to be there.

Now obviously if someone does go on someone else’s property while playing Ingress, that person is guilty of trespassing. (This includes people who go to a public place after closing hours – for example, if someone makes a midnight visit to a park that closes at dusk.) But if someone is legally on public property, and if that person is not harrassing others, then there shouldn’t be any problem.

However, there are some public safety officials who don’t necessarily realize that Ingress players are just playing a game. At least one Ingress player was detained for nearly three hours because the police were suspicious of the player’s actions.

So why am I writing about this now? As I mentioned earlier, the Ingress game is currently in closed beta, and not that many people are playing it. At some point, Google is expected to open game participation to everyone. This means that a whole bunch of people are going to be running around your towns, pointing their smartphones at public places, and talking about “hacking portals” and “firing at resonators.”

I figured I’d give you advance notice now, so that you’ll know what’s going on when you run into it.

Additional notes: I wrote this becuase as far as I can tell, Google DIDN’T write this. I’ve previously written about the person who was detained. Incidentally, I previously thought that the game would exit closed beta on November 30; I was wrong.

Some companies are acquired, while others cease altogether

Sometimes when we play the game “remember when,” we think of specific products or companies that used to exist but are no longer around in their former form.

Sometimes an existing company simply changes its name. Although I won’t talk about this topic in this particular post, we’ll encounter one of these name-changing companies later in the post – Altria Group, formerly known as Philip Morris.

There are two other things that can happen to a company – it can be acquired by another company, or it can cease operations altogether. MSNBC published a list of 15 companies that no longer exist in their present form.

Some of these companies were acquired by others – Compaq was acquired by Hewlett Packard; E.F. Hutton was merged into what became Citigroup; and General Foods was acquired by Philip Morris (now Altria), merged with Kraft, and later spun off again (as Kraft).

Other companies simply ceased operations and/or were liquidated; Enron, Merry-Go-Round, Eastern Airlines.

Words on paper? What is that?

Michael Hanscom posted his Christmas list – primarily for his father’s benefit, but if anyone else wanted to buy him stuff he probably wouldn’t mind. One of his Christmas list categories, however, is a little puzzling.

Books! Words on paper! Physical entertainment that doesn’t need plugs, batteries, or anything more than a little free time and a comfortable place to sit.

I wasn’t able to figure out the compatibility requirements for these “words on paper,” so I asked a few questions.

Michael, could you explain this “words on paper” thing that you mentioned in your post? You say that it doesn’t need plugs or batteries – so is it solar powered? How much will the words on paper providers charge us to store these things in the cloud? Under what circumstances will the providers negate our license to the content and take our words on paper away? This whole idea seems way too futuristic and extremely unattainable.

Very confusing.

One day, your cable or satellite provider will have some suggestions for resolving your current marital argument

Jim and Jane were sitting in front of the television set one night in 2014.

“You never listen to me!” screamed Jane.

Jim looked up from his smartphone. “What?” he asked.

This did not help Jane’s mood, and she uttered a few choice words that I cannot reprint in this family blog. However, her tirade stopped when a commercial aired on the TV screen.

“Hey, Smith family!” said a friendly voice on the TV. “Do you need marriage counseling?”

Jane stopped her rant. “Why did that ad air just now?”

Jim held up his smart phone so Jane could read the article. “It’s new technology that’s being integrated into set top boxes.”

Jane read the article:

I am questioning the introduction of cameras and microphones into the home to monitor its inhabitants by some service and application providers. Although, not yet implemented, Verizon has filed for a patent on technology that could be included in set top boxes to improve their ability to target ads to anyone and all watching TV or using the set top box for entertainment purposes. In addition to knowing who would be in the room, including pets, the technology would allow for ad selection based upon what is seen or being said in the room. According to the filing, if a couple was arguing, an ad for marriage counseling could be shown.

“So our set top box is listening to us?” asked Jane.

“And it’s watching us,” replied Jim. “I read another article that talked about how set top boxes could be outfitted with infrared sensors.”

Jane sat, deep in thought. “So do we really need marriage counseling?”

“No,” said Jim. “It’s just like any other advertisement. They try to sell you stuff that you might not need. How many new car commercials do you see every day? Oh, and I’m sorry for not listening to you earlier.”

“I’m sorry, too,” said Jane as she reached over and hugged Jim.

“TROJAN MAN!” declared the TV.

What if Enron had the bomb?

Back in the early 1950s, two countries had nuclear capability. While other countries obtained nuclear capability over the next few decades, they were all pretty much aligned with those two countries.

Then the Cold War ended.

Now the situation is a little more messy. As Jim Ulvog notes, there are now nine nuclear countries, and there is the possibility of more countries joining the nuclear club. When you have nine countries in the nuclear club, and the nine countries potentially represent as many as nine different points of view, nuclear control is less likely to be implemented.

But why stop at countries? There is always the possibility of any entity – not just a government – obtaining a dirty bomb. And although dirty bombs are less complex and less powerful than nuclear bombs, they can certainly do some sort of damage.

Depending on the sophistication of the bomb, wind conditions, and the speed with which the area of the attack was evacuated, the number of deaths and injuries from a dirty bomb explosion might not be substantially greater than from a conventional bomb explosion. But panic over radioactivity and evacuation measures could snarl a city. Moreover, the area struck would be off-limits for at least several months—possibly years—during cleanup efforts, which could paralyze a local economy and reinforce public fears about being near a radioactive area.

Let’s play a little “what if” game here. First, what if entities other than nations were able to master the more complex technology of nuclear weapons? Yes, this would require significant funding and significant expertise, but it’s certainly possible for a non government entity – such as al Qaeda – to get the money and the experts. And if you believe the U.S. political conservatives, private enterprise is more efficient than government anyway, so dedicated organizations should presumably be able to come up with a nuke more quickly.

This brings us into a situation where dozens upon dozens – or perhaps hundreds – of entities could have the bomb. Imagine all sorts of evil terrorist organizations having nuclear weapons.

But why stop there?

What if a future-day7 Montgomery Ward or Enron, trying to stave off bankruptcy, obtained a nuclear weapon and threatened its creditors with it?

Yes, it’s a ridiculous thought, and even the most pessimistic people may think that the probability of a U.S. business obtaining a nuclear weapon is small.

But then again, who imagined that a terrorist organization would hijack four planes at the same time and send (or try to send) them on suicidal missions?

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