Mircosoft can't write O/S code

This cartoon lampoons Windows 7.0 Beta. Eerie.

It underlines for me that Microsoft is crap at writing Operating Systems code.
O/S's need to be correct, secure, robust (resilient to errors internal & hardware) first and foremost. Only after that look to features and 'performance'.


Costs of NBN - National Broadband Network, Fibre-to-the-Home

Connecting Australia with broadband/fibre systems is closer to implementing Cable TV than a new Phone network. The $43B estimate is 3-5 times too high based on Cable TV rollouts.

That difference completely changes the economics of the project.


Death by Success

Being too successful leads to failure unless you are aware of the problem and carefully monitor and protect against it. Every large company faces this problem - in I.T. for example, Google and Microsoft.


Microsoft Troubles - V

More on the theme of "Microsoft will experience a Financial Pothole" from a Financial perspective.

For less rigorous commentaries, there's Motley Fools piece "The Two Words Bill Gates Doesn't Want You to Hear" (A: Cloud Computing) [Article requires signing-up, but can be found from Your Favourite Search Engine]
A commentary on that piece from Carbonite, a 'Cloud' vendor.

Victor Cook at Customers and Capital has a series of pieces on Microsoft and its fundamentals.
His series on 'Brands' compares GOOG & MSFT at times.
The first post in the 'Blue Ocean Strategy' series, the second, third and fourth posts.
His analyses of a number of issues are informed and enlightening - MSFT vs GOOG, the YHOO & Double-Click acquisitions...

Cook points at a March-19 2009 piece at 'The Wild Investor' called "The State of Microsoft" that starts:
Well we are not in the 1990’s anymore, and unless you plan to hold the stock for 50 years there is really no point to holding shares of Microsoft. Here is why…
and ends with:
The bottom line is that the luster behind Microsot is no longer there. Sure, there is upside to the stock, but how much. We are in a new time where the old blue chips are no longer blue. Stocks like Cisco (CSCO), IBM (IBM), and General Electric (GE) are no longer fun or smart companies to invest in.


How "The Internet Changes Everything" for Journalists

Update 1: 26-May-2009
A very kind person @ ABC took the time to read this piece and to give me some valuable comments:
  • We are paid to make editorial decisions ... This is our job.
  • news is about immediate events and happenings and it is short, brief and factual.
  • 'News' is just one kind of ABC broadcast.
    Don't confuse it with our entire output.
  • As to your specific proposals...
    - SPAM is a "dropdead" problem (my words)
    - automatically generated responses are a waste of time... listener input should be read and acknowledged by a real person,
    - but the problem is that we are all under time pressure.

So where to from here?
Appears to be end-of-the-road for this approach.

How does "The Internet Changes Everything" apply to News and Journalism at the ABC - Australia's national broadcaster?

Contents: Background, How the Internet Changes Everything and Proposal

What are the sources of Good Stories?
Do Journalists have a monopoly on sources and Perfect Judgement on story 'size' & importance?
Obviously not.

But how do folk "out of the loop" gain access to the Gatekeepers of the public media?

Consider two cases and what, if anything, has changed now if they were to be repeated:
  • The "Erin Brokovich effect": through persistent talking & listening to ordinary householders, an apparently minor legal matter became massive. The romantic story of the film has the primary evidence, "the smoking gun", only arriving accidentally, and
  • "Dr. Death" allegations at Rockhampton hospital: a set of nurses at the hospital attempted, for years, to raise their concerns internally & externally without getting any 'traction'. Meanwhile, people were needlessly being harmed, there's no media coverage and hence no political interest in investigating the claims.


The ABC News website is clear, well structured, informative and completely useless and frustrating for someone like me who's not sending Press Releases, submitting news tips/vision, already known to journalists or a 'recognised industry expert'.

I spent a week trying to contact any journalist inside the ABC who might be able to pick up a small but important question that goes to the heart of the National Broadband Network Fibre-to-the-Premises proposal of the Rudd Government: the published pricing ($5,500/house) is 2-5 times higher than both the 1995 Optus/Telstra cable TV roll-out to 2-3M houses and recent FTTP installations.

Something looks very wrong, and asking this and consequential questions of both Politicians and Telco experts/consultants would make good copy and put the ABC at the forefront of this News thread.

But I can't get through... E-mails, web-form emails and phone calls (with follow-ups) have drawn a blank. I'm not some major 'name' or consultancy so my 30+ years experience in the field and a bunch of good innovations just don't count... Which is what I have to presume, because I've heard nothing back. Not even an automatic response.

From my position outside, it appears that internally ABC News operates as a set of independent 'silos' - groups that are completely isolated from one another. If you get through to anyone, they might reject it but offer no assistance in what to try next.

The next step is "go to the top". Which would be the newly appointed "Head of News", who shows up in media releases, interviews, in the Organisation Chart [PDF], but not yet in the 'Contacts' page - which curiously has only postal and telephone contact information. That implies there isn't an automatic system to update all relevant webpages. Writing to 'webmaster' should work - but from my experience, I'm disinclined to try.

If there are permanent electronic addresses to contact people in senior roles, they are not disclosed.

Ditto for any set of 'Editors', 'News Desks' or targeted 'Correspondents'.
Is it possible internally ABC News is this chaotic & unorganised?
Is this "Wall of Granite" exposed to outsiders accidental or intentional?

"The Internet Changes Everything"

Radio is a highly personal medium: Philip Adams insight is in speaking to 'the listener'. He knows he is having a personal conversation with individuals, not a group or an 'audience' as you find in theatres and sports grounds.

People listening to radio are more likely to want to continue the conversation on-line. This is facilitated on the ABC site by web-form email, forums and even a 'Complaints' facility.

The News site even has a 'Contribute' page:
If you witness a news event, the ABC wants to hear from you. We would like you to send us your newsworthy photos, videos, audio clips or even written eyewitness accounts for consideration for use on ABC News.

Can you see the assumption in there? It's insular and iconoclastic.
We find 'the news', you listen.

There's a secondary assumption:
News is only 'events' that can be represented in sound-bites and pictures. There is no allowance for informed contributions and bigger stories.

There is a simple test:
Does the system facilitate or block major public interest stories like "Dr. Death" at Rockhampton Hospital, false 'evidence' claims as in the 'Children Overboard' affair, or problems like gross waste/misuse of public money, dereliction of duty, outrageous behaviour of public officials/politicians or endemic corruption?

It is embarrassingly insular to assume that, as a publisher/broadcaster, you always know better than the entire listening audience what is going on.

That one person, using the technology well and wisely, can access and leverage community knowledge, globally, and affect a major outcome is shown by 'PJ' (Pamela Jones) of Groklaw and her influence on the "SCO case". SCO became the final licensee of the AT&T Unix codebase and sought to leverage this into a 'tax' on Linux, a re-implementation loosely based on Unix.
In the intervening years (2003 - 2007) PJ and Groklaw can be credited with unearthing and exposing many of the flaws in SCO’s case, most notably, obtaining and publishing the 1994 settlement in the USL vs BSDi case, which had been hidden from public view and played a significant role in undermining SCO’s claims to the ownership of Unix.
PJ's efforts and collaboration with the global community were instrumental in SCO losing its case. No one company, even vendors like IBM, Novell and AT&T, and certainly no consumer, had all the information nor all requisite manpower to definitively dismiss the claims.

Lesson: One person can make a difference, if they apply themselves and the technology appropriately.

The Internet is a new thing - it's not just a faster, cheaper, better way to do the same things.
If you simple-mindedly automate existing practices, you will open the floodgates and will drown in electronic verbiage.

When the 'barriers to entry', the cost in time, energy & money, of communicating are very low then people will bombard you with messages. The sheer volume and the Signal-to-Noise ratio means the content is worthless: a small army, let alone a single person, won't be able to read everything and duplicate/irrelevant information will drown out any gems therein.

Computers also hold the key to the problem - they are Cognitive Amplifiers.
They enable one person to do the work of 10, 100 or 1,000. More quickly, more cheaply and often 'better' in important ways.

The ABC News Division employs 700 professionals.
They certainly perform very well, but are they sufficient to find and research all worthy stories locally, let alone all local interest stories occurring world-wide?

What's the price to the Organisation, the Australian Media, Government/Politics and the Australian Public of missing important stories??

There are many problems to be addressed and overcome before a useful system can emerge:
  • SPAM
  • Security/malware - controlling & avoiding upload/dissemination
  • Denial-of-Service attacks and webpage and other information hacking,
  • Retaliatory attacks and deliberate mis-information by 'sources'.
  • Mischief makers, Gossips and Defamatory statements.
  • 'Personal Agendas' and Vendettas/Disgruntled persons,
  • Copyright violation and Plagiarism,
  • Nuisance, time-wasting, 'serial pests' and Vexatious persons
Ain't no bed of roses...

There are always going to be people who wish to remain anonymous - either completely or in the usual 'off the record' sense where they do not wish to be publicly quoted, but are willing provide a written statement and, if necessary, to stand by their comments in court.

One key technical method to address many of these problems is strong identification of posters.
This has to be of similar strength to X.509 client certificates for browsers with the concomitant off-line checks issuing them.
Off-line confirmation identity is essential - like checking the whitepages and calling the person, or sending an SMS - up to sighting 'photo id'.

A Proposal:

Immediately, three improvements would help address my frustrations:
  • publish role-based, not personal, email addresses for both senior positions and the various news desks/editors/specialist correspondents that must exist internally.
  • Add a new contact form for story requests, useful information and leads.
    The sorts of things needed for investigative journalists. It must include topic categorisation for automatic distribution to the news desks/story areas.
  • Automatically acknowledge all contacts - by via email or SMS or other simple means.
A backend system is needed to automatically store and distribute input. Something of this sort must already exist - it certainly is there for published stories.

Writing is a skill that must be practised.

Members of the public do not have journalistic skills, nor a sense of what journalists consider 'newsworthy', nor what is needed to successfully pitch a story - even if they have found the right person. The limited feedback I've received amounts to "just write clearly". I know how to do that in a number of domains, but have no idea what journalists want and need.

This can be addressed at 3 levels:
  • An on-line tutorial and example system.
    Including some template questions and suggestions for ways to both condense/summarise your information and to self-assess its 'importance' and 'newsworthiness'.
  • A limited (5 minutes) response by a journalist to any specific questions or advice.
  • The ability to pay for editorial help in constructing a pitch and a even a story.
    The rate would have to be $50-$75/hour for cost recovery, more to act as brake on overuse.
One very strong asset of the ABC is its 'Friends'.

With the increasing numbers of retired Baby Boomers - including ex-journalists, there should be a large pool of free labour available to review, categorise and respond to the information fire hose that would be unleashed.

The Internet means people can volunteer for an organisation without the classic problems of desk-space, real-time supervision, insurance and other entitlements. Volunteers work from home, when and for as long as they like. They could even be self-administering.

At the end of the day, it comes down to just one question:
What does the ABC consider its own and the community's on-going roles, and
how will it stay current with sociological, cultural & technological changes?


Alan Kay - History and Revolution in I.T.

Alan Kay invented Object Oriented Programming around 40 years ago with Smalltalk.
Kay not only has a lot to say, his accomplishments lend him credibility. In 2003 he said:
"our field is a field that's the next great 500-year idea after the printing press"
The ACM awarded him its highest honour, The Turing Award, in 2003. The short Citation:
For pioneering many of the ideas at the root of contemporary object-oriented programming languages, leading the team that developed Smalltalk, and for fundamental contributions to personal computing.
Video of his 60min talk on the ACM site, and elsewhere, a transcript. The slides & demo used are not available.

This 1982 talk for "Creative Think" brought this reporter reaction (the link is worth reading for the list of line-liners alone):
Alan's speech was revelatory and was perhaps the most inspiring talk that I ever attended.
This is my current favourite quote of Alan Kay's from Wikiquote:
"Point of view is worth 80 IQ point"
A 2004 conversation with Kay on the (deep) History of Computing Languages is well worth reading. Here are two interesting remarks:
One could actually argue—as I sometimes do—that the success of commercial personal computing and operating systems has actually led to a considerable retrogression in many, many respects. (starting circa 1984)
Just as an aside, to give you an interesting benchmark—on roughly the same system, roughly optimized the same way, a benchmark from 1979 at Xerox PARC runs only 50 times faster today.
Moore’s law has given us somewhere between 40,000 and 60,000 times improvement in that time.
So there’s approximately a factor of 1,000 in efficiency that has been lost by bad CPU architectures.
Kay, in this piece, also mentions a theme - the central problem of writing large systems is Scaling - the Design & Architecture of systems. Anybody can take lumber, hammer, saw, nails and produce some version of a dog-house. To scale up to something very large requires skill, discipline and insight - Architecture is literally "the science of arches", the difference between Chartres Cathedral and the Parthenon. Both contain around the same amount of material, the cathedral encloses ~20 times the volume and towers are 10+ times higher.
AK Most software today is very much like an Egyptian pyramid with millions of bricks piled on top of each other, with no structural integrity, but just done by brute force and thousands of slaves.

SF The analogy is even better because there are the hidden chambers that nobody can understand.

AK I would compare the Smalltalk stuff that we did in the ’70s with something like a Gothic cathedral. We had two ideas, really. One of them we got from Lisp: late binding. The other one was the idea of objects. Those gave us something a little bit like the arch, so we were able to make complex, seemingly large structures out of very little material, but I wouldn’t put us much past the engineering of 1,000 years ago.

If you look at [Doug] Engelbart’s demo (wikipedia) [a live online hypermedia demonstration of the pioneering work that Engelbart’s group had been doing at Stanford Research Institute, presented at the 1968 Fall Joint Computer Conference], then you see many more ideas about how to boost the collective IQ of groups and help them to work together than you see in the commercial systems today.

Other interesting pages on Alan Kay talks:

Relevance to Open Source and Paradigm shifts

Kay claims that 95% of people are 'instrumental reasoners' and the remaining 5% 'are interested in ideas'.
an instrumental reasoner is a person who judges any new tool or idea by how well that tool or idea contributes to his or her current goal.
He goes onto talk about reward/motivation and says that 85% of people are 'outer motivated' versus 15% 'inner motivated'.

Most people (~80%) fall into the 'outer motivated instrumental reasoners' group.
These people won't pick up an idea if other people aren't doing it. Which seems like a very wise evolutionary group tactic - if a little safe.

Kay, in his ACM talk, uses a contagion or forest fire model to demonstrate/claim that around 66% of a population is needed to achieve 'ignition'. To hit the tipping point where 'everyone is doing it' and the new idea takes over.

Kay also makes the observation that Big Ideas (he cites Unix) often take around 30 years to hit the streets - to become normally used.
And also wondered why after ~40 years Ivan Sutherland's ideas from his 'sketch' program from his ~1961 thesis haven't broken through.

Applying to Open Source Propagation

Putting this idea, if correct, of 'tipping point' to work in spreading FOSS :
  • find/choose communities who are high in 'interested in ideas' (artists & creatives?)
  • find a small community and intensively sell/lobby/influence it to get to the tipping point.
  • leverage these communities or even artificial environments by introducing 'outsiders' (high schoolers?) to a converted environment.
But what Kay doesn't go near is that even the best marketers, PR and media people can't predict the next fad/craze/mene - they happen because they happen.