tymshft

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Archive for the month “January, 2017”

Good old government workers

Fedscoop recently published an article criticizing the federal government hiring freeze, and cited three reasons why this was a bad idea. I’m going to concentrate on one of them.

More than 60 percent of the federal workforce is over the age of 45: Public sector workers are significantly older than their private sector counterparts. And nearly two-thirds of the government’s senior executives are already eligible to retire. As federal employees retire en masse over the coming years, agencies will need to fill critical roles. That means recruiting more new talent, not less, and finding and grooming the next generation of career civil servant leaders.

Now certain segments of the private sector – (cough) tech (cough) have the opposite problem. Even after years of complaints, articles such as Silicon Valley’s Peter Pan Syndrome vs. the Aging of Aquarius are still appearing. The Fortune article made a point of quoting Vinod Khosla:

“People under 35 are the people who make change happen. People over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas.”

When Khosla made that statement in 2011, he was over 55 years old. Obviously that idea wasn’t worth discussing. And after 2011, Khosla advanced oter ideas that can easily be ignored, such as ideas about meat and ideas about medicine (twice).

Government is having the opposite problem. Rather than jettisoning people when they get “too old,” they’re having problems getting people to join in the first place. Even under the best of circumstances, government salaries are capped because voters don’t like it when government workers make more than they do. On the state level, they complain when a state university head football coach makes over $1 million a year, but they’d really complain if they had a coach that made less than the governor. Good coaches don’t come cheap.

Therefore, your cybersecurity grads are more often than not going to skip that job application process with a federal agency. With student loans to pay, they’re better off going into the private sector.

But what happens when the 60% of federal employees over age 45 retire – and there are few people left to fill the empty requisitions?

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Will “America First” hasten “China First”?

I have written a number of things in this tymshft blog over the years, but if I were to look over them again, I suspect that every one of them was written with an exclusively Western mindset.

Which is surprising when you think about it, because the most significant trend that people have been talking about for decades is the coming end of American dominance.

Over the last several hundred years, various countries and empires have taken turns as major world powers. For the people of today, it is inconceivable that Portugal was once one of those world powers. Now it’s the holiday spot for people from England, who themselves once presided over an empire upon which the sun never set. After the United States pretty much bailed Britain out in the 1940s, there were two world powers – and by 1990, there was only one.

Meanwhile, futurists kept an eye on the billion-plus people in the so-called “uncivilized” part of the world. Here’s part of what the American Conservative wrote in 2012:

[China’s poverty] began to change very rapidly once Deng Xiaoping initiated his free-market reforms in 1978, first throughout the countryside and eventually in the smaller industrial enterprises of the coastal provinces. By 1985, The Economist ran a cover story praising China’s 700,000,000 peasants for having doubled their agricultural production in just seven years, an achievement almost unprecedented in world history. Meanwhile, China’s newly adopted one-child policy, despite its considerable unpopularity, had sharply reduced population growth rates in a country possessing relatively little arable land….

Even a century ago, near the nadir of China’s later weakness and decay, some of America’s foremost public intellectuals, such as Edward A. Ross and Lothrop Stoddard, boldly predicted the forthcoming restoration of the Chinese nation to global influence, the former with equanimity and the latter with serious concern.

While the American Conservative article goes on to argue that China’s ascendancy does not necessarily mean the United States’ decline, it argued that at the time (2012) we were clearly heading that way.

Our elites boast about the greatness of our constitutional democracy, the wondrous human rights we enjoy, the freedom and rule of law that have long made America a light unto the nations of the world and a spiritual draw for oppressed peoples everywhere, including China itself. But are these claims actually correct? They often stack up very strangely when they appear in the opinion pages of our major newspapers, coming just after the news reporting, whose facts tell a very different story.

Just last year, the Obama administration initiated a massive months-long bombing campaign against the duly recognized government of Libya on “humanitarian” grounds, then argued with a straight face that a military effort comprising hundreds of bombing sorties and over a billion dollars in combat costs did not actually constitute “warfare,” and hence was completely exempt from the established provisions of the Congressional War Powers Act.

But as the 2012 author well knew, the Obama administration would not be in power forever. At worst, Obama would be re-elected in 2012, but would leave office by 2017.

What if a very different leader were to take his place? What if a new President were to appeal to those who were NOT elite? What if he were to (intentionally or unintentionally) heed the George Washington warning against entangling alliances, and were to reverse the traditional isolationism that dominated the United States for most of the years between 1789 and 1940 – when the “America First” movement fell due to Communist disapproval (after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union), followed by American disapproval the next year after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor?

What if, on Inauguration Day in 2017, a new President were to stand on the Capitol steps and, despite their loaded meaning, actually utter the words “America First”?

Twice?

Well, that could lead to unexpected consequences:

This year’s Davos forum taking place from January 17, is supposed to be dominated by a haunting specter of hostility to globalization and the rise of protectionism around the world. It comes at a time, when the new U.S. president-elect is talking tough on trade, promising tariffs and increased government interference in the market. The forum will end on the day the new president is sworn in. It also, for the first time, features the Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Xi’s pitch was fundamentally a focus on free trade rather than geopolitical confrontation, and a pitch for inclusive globalization. Protectionism, nativism and populism were identified as three threats that must be contended with by a more cooperative approach to global trade.

The speech itself comprised of a robust defense of the current world order.

The above was written by Sumantra Maitra at china.org.cn. And why not use china.org.cn as a reference? The Davos crowd, hit by the double whammy of Brexit and Trump, is all too willing to welcome anyone who champions the global interconnectedness of nations. And while there are some who argue that China remains a totalitarian state, with its population controls and its notorious “Great Firewall,” China can simply tell its critics to look in the mirror.

As Maitra poses the argument, two new coalitions of nations are forming. One consists of the nationalists – the United Kingdom, the United States, Russia, and possibly other European nations in the coming months – nations who value nationalism and protectionism. According to Maitra, the other coalition consists of nations such as China who remain committed to globalism. Maitra concludes:

One needs to understand, that as long as there are laws of demand and supply, trade will be paramount and the forces of economics will favor countries which are pro-trade. Countries, which will try to be protectionist, will ultimately suffer as the market will inevitably punish them due to the lack of competitive advantage. Smaller countries will automatically coalesce around the powers which are more open to trade, and that should be a point well-articulated in Davos.

And as those small countries coalesce around the larger countries, obviously the larger countries will take the lead.

And which country is the largest country of all? Hint – it isn’t Switzerland.

When I shared this hypothesis with Tad Donaghe, a futurist whom I respect, I shared it in much shorter form. I was responding to this statement:

We will not accept Trump as the Leader of the free world.

I replied (while sharing the Maitra article):

Many have thought that the US would pass from world leadership regardless, and that China would ascend as the world leader. Perhaps this is happening, and both “America First” conservatives and “human rights” liberals are now on the sidelines.

His response:

We cannot allow that. There is no real freedom at all in China.

But csn “the West” truly prevent that from happening? And if so, how? None of the past Presidents – Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43, or Obama – were able to free China’s masses, and Trump doesn’t look like he can do it either.

Continue the discussion here, or at Tad’s Facebook post.

No Zeptember or Rocktober in Norway – FM radio is being shut down

Chris Kim A linked to an Atlas Obscura post that linked to a phys.org post. The common topic of all of these is the phased shutdown of FM radio stations in Norway, beginning on January 11 and extending through the year.

I’ve talked about FM radio shutdowns before – my college campus radio station, KRRC, surrendered its FCC license several years ago. This was partly due to government hassles – other nonprofits kept on trying to grab KRRC’s spectrum allocation, and in some cases were successful, causing the radio station to move. (During my college years, a frequency change resulted in a change of KRRC’s slogan – the former submarine of the airwaves became the highest station on the dial.) Another reason – with only 10 watts of power, the station signal couldn’t go all that far. As digital radio technology improved, it became easier to just can the whole thing.

Norway actually has similar issues on a technological front. According to phys.org, “[t]he FM spectrum has room for a maximum of only five national stations.” There are already over 40 digital stations, so why not switch now?

Only one problem. Most of the population can’t receive those digital stations yet.

But many think the shift is premature.

A poll in Dagbladet newspaper in December found 66 percent of Norwegians are against shutting down FM, with only 17 percent in favour.

While around three quarters of the population have at least one DAB radio set, many motorists are unhappy, as only about a third of cars currently on the road are equipped.

Converting a car radio involves buying an adaptor for between 1,000 and 2,000 kroner (110 to 220 euros), or getting a whole new radio.

This is a common problem when a government phases out one service to replace it with another service – people aren’t willing to pay to make the change. Often the government has to force the issue, as the United States government did a few years ago when it forced the analog television channels to shut down in favor of digital channels. People who didn’t have cable had to buy special digital antennas to receive the new channels over the air. (But the antennas didn’t cost over $100.)

Should such a scenario happen in the United States, there is one advantage that we would have. While my smartphone cannot pick up digital radio broadcasts, it can pick up streaming Internet broadcasts via various apps such as the iHeart Radio app, so even if I didn’t buy a digital radio, I could still listen to some stuff on my phone as I drive.

However, the loss of FM radio in countries beyond Norway, probably also including the United States, will also have a cultural impact. While FM radio first appeared in 1945, it didn’t really hit its stride until the late 1960s, when FM “rock” stations began to appear. Technically, they offered better sound quality than the AM radio stations of the time. Culturally, they offered…well, something.

Hello, I’m Jim Ladd. (sucking sound) Now we’re going to play an entire album side of music, recorded live at the Spent Seed Hall by a supergroup featuring members of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, along with The Grateful Dead, Big Fat Green Colombian Marmalade, and The Archies. Put your headphones on now. After this, I’ll be heading out to the Sunset Strip, and the next show on this station will be hosted by The Rock Chick.

Hi, I’m the Rock Chick. After this 25 minute album side, I’ll be speaking to you in my deep gravelly voice and playing the new Zeppelin cut. Since it’s August 31, this is a great time to hear this, because we are going to be celebrating Zeptember all next month, followed by our celebration of Rocktober. Let me say that again in my deep voice – ROCKTOBER. Then I’m going to replay yesterday’s interview of a Black Panther at the local Free Clinic.

So what will the cultural impact of digital radio stations be? Will R. Crumb trucking give way to R. Scoble in the shower?

But WHY were the iPhone naysayers incorrect?

When I look at predictions that were incorrect – more often than not, my own predictions – my intent is not to make fun of the stupid people (generally me) who got it so wrong, but to ask the question – WHY was the original prediction incorrect?

When Apple came up with its iPod that was also a phone – with the wildly unoriginal name “iPhone” – it was not an overnight success. In fact, some very influential people thought that it would be a spectacular failure.

Ben Sin revisited those incorrect predictions, but again he was not laughing at the bad predictions:

Now, this piece isn’t in any way meant to poke fun at people who predicted failure for the iPhone. Nobody, not even Jobs, could have known the iPhone would be the single most important invention of the past decade.

So why did people such as Steve Ballmer, TechCrunch, and others think that the iPhone would fail? For a lot of reasons, but I’d like to focus on two of them.

First, several people didn’t like the idea of a touchscreen at all. TechCrunch:

That virtual keyboard will be about as useful for tapping out emails and text messages as a rotary phone. Don’t be surprised if a sizable contingent of iPhone buyers express some remorse at ditching their BlackBerry when they spend an extra hour each day pumping out emails on the road.

David Platt:

…users will detest the touch screen interface due to its lack of tactile feedback. Using a thumb keyboard, as on the very popular Treo phone, allows the user to feel the keys and know subconsciously that he’s about to press this one and not the one next to it. A touch screen doesn’t allow that, so the user will have to be looking at the keyboard at all times while using it.

And I’ll include myself in that number. For years after 2007, I resisted getting a phone that didn’t have a “real” keyboard. Even though I hsve relatively thin fingers, I knew that there was no way that I could accurately type on a virtual keyboard that was so small.

So what did I learn, and what did others learn, when we finally got an iPhone or an Android phone that had a virtual keyboard?

Auto-correct.

Granted that auto-correct is constantly vilified, but on balance it does more good than harm. Contrary to the 2007 belief that people would take forever to type anything on a virtual keyboard, I type at a pretty fast rate – and my phone corrects my errant keystrokes more often than not.

And by freeing up the space formerly occupied by a physical keyboard, modern phones can now either have a bigger screen, or can do away with the complexities of a “chiclet” model phone in which the keyboard slid in and out. This resulted in a better user experience.

Add to that another thing that Jobs wasn’t banking on in 2007 – voice dictation. I personally am not a big user of voice dictation, but as we get more comfortable with the technology and as Siri, Alexa, and their friends continue to evolve, input will be even easier.

(One caveat: voice dictation has its own drawbacks. If you get irritated when you see a crowd of people all staring at their phones, you will get REALLY irritated when that same crowd of people all starts TALKING to their phones.)

So what’s the second reason that people thought the iPhone would fail? The cost was too damn high. Even back in 2007, when most people were not exposed to the full cost of buying a phone because it was buried in their data plan, people worried that the iPhone would be a failure because other phones could do the same thing much more cheaply.

Ballmer:

It’s a $500 subsidized item. They may make a lot of money. But if you actually take a look at the 1.3 billion phones that get sold, I’d prefer to have our software in 60% or 70% or 80% of them, than I would to have 2% or 3%, which is what Apple might get.

So, what happened? The iPhone came out, it was really expensive, and in the U.S. it was only available on a single cellular network. Sounds like a recipe for failure, right?

No. Because people really, really wanted the iPhone, and they loudly demanded that Apple release the iPhone for Verizon and other networks. And in economic terms, it became a scarce good with pent-up demand.

Not every Apple product has been a runaway success, but they have clearly had several successes over their decades-long history, and the iPhone was clearly one of them. While it could have gone the other way, and while certain aspects of the iPhone marketing have been ridiculed (“It’s white! OMG OMG OMG!”), the iPhone delivered enough functionality and included enough revisions that people continued to have interest in it.

And the iPhone influenced other products, and even other markets. Today you have Android phones that receive calls, play music, and access the Internet. And they’re really expensive and don’t have keyboards.

On a personal note, one of those iPhone revisions affected my industry, biometrics. In the years before 2007, if someone had told you to put your finger on a phone to unlock it, you would have resisted the idea because that’s what police do to criminals. But when Apple put a fingerprint reader on an iPhone, use of the technology in consumer markets became acceptable.

In 2007, it was difficult to predict that this new device would change things as much as it did. And we never really know when a new product will succeed, and when it will fail. So frankly, when the next revolutionary product comes out, we probably won’t be any better at knowing whether it will change everything, or be a spectacular failure.

Anyone got an iPod for sale?

Perceptive RETURN from Travel

There are a number of people who write about traveling. There are blogs (allow me to single out Perceptive Travel for special mention), books, and other media that describe the sensation of going away from your home to a strange and different place.

However, there isn’t really any emphasis in talking about coming home from travel.

Of course, there are a couple of exceptions.

One that comes to mind is The Odyssey. If you want to talk about a long business trip, look to Odysseus. He went away from home for ten years to fight in the Trojan War, and then it took another ten years for him to actually get home. The Odyssey describes the second set of ten years, but it doesn’t end at the point that he says, “Honey, I’m home.” You see, Odysseus’ long absence meant that he had to take care of some personal business before he could relax at home with his family.

The second exception comes not from ancient Greece, but from modern Mississippi. In a post entitled Vujà dé all over again, Shawn Zehnder Rossi describes her feelings upon returning home after spending ten days in Paris. Obviously she experienced a lot of new things during her time in Paris, but her post described what happened when she came back home from her trip. An excerpt:

At home, I add sugar-free syrups to my coffee. But this morning, the sugar-free syrups tasted completely different. What once was a comfort food addition now just adds a strange taste. And it was a strange moment.

I sat in my armchair this morning to watch TV and read my morning news on the laptop — and I had to get used to it again. My bed felt “new” last night. It is a strange sensation to have so many things I’ve known for so long feel new again.

I guess this means that Rossi is…um…a homer.

Before that pendulum shifts away from the cloud, check the full story

The secret to writing success, political success, or whatever is to make an outlandish statement which gets people so angry that they can’t help but read it. I haven’t quite gotten to that stage yet, but my 2014 post The pendulum is shifting away from the cloud. Told you so. was admittedly a bit of a contrarian attention-getter. Not that I’m negating my basic point – that we switch between distributed vs. centralized computing in a pendulum-like fashion – but back in 2014, you could clearly get more attention by saying that the cloud is out.

Well, cloud is still hot – in fact, my employer deployed a cloud-based solution last year – but people are beginning to question whether the cloud is totally wonderful.

And so we have this Geektime article:

With a steady increase in concerns for our cyber security, people will begin to move away from the cloud to secure their data and provide their own solutions.

Why? Because Yahoo, apparently. At the time that I write this, Yahoo (and its acquirer Verizon) are dealing with the fallout from a revelation of a second attack on Yahoo’s accounts – this one netting information from a billion accounts. Because of this and other threats, people are looking at non-cloud solutions.

Last month, CNET reviewed home storage solutions that cost less than $100, making it affordable to store data locally in one’s own “Cloud in your Attic.”

Even the inventor of the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, said, “As people assert control over their data, the web will ‘re-decentralise,’ reducing dependency on technology giants, returning power to individuals and businesses and allowing developers a rich space for innovation.”

And who would know better than the man who got us all online?

However, before you jump ahead and spend $99.99 to get your own server, ask yourself – are you a better cybersecurity professional than Yahoo’s cybersecurity professionals? Because if you’re not, then your system will be LESS safe than Yahoo’s system, which was breached at least twice.

Because one thing is constant whether you’re dealing with public cloud, private cloud, or your own box – someone is going to have to secure the thing. While I’ll admit that Yahoo is a much more tempting hacker target than, say, Joe’s Server in the Hall Closet, both need to be secured.

In my case, I am not a cybersecurity expert, so if I were to implement a home server, I’d need to get someone to secure the thing for me. And even people who are cybersecurity experts are not necessarily going to know all of the threats that could affect a home server.

I’m not saying that there aren’t valid reasons to move off the cloud in some instances. But before you move off the cloud because it’s “not secure,” think through the ramifications of selecting an alternative.

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