Friday, June 10, 2011

My Memories of Maynard Hill

Today I was saddened to read of the passing of Maynard Hill in the Washington Post. Mr. Hill was a pioneer in unmanned aerial vehicles, and set many records for speed, duration, and altitude for radio-controlled aircraft. His most recent was the first trans-Atlantic flight of a model aircraft in 2003.
I interviewed Maynard Hill at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab twenty-seven years ago when I was researching a book on the future of military aviation. I had been assigned the chapters on rotary wing flight and unmanned aerial vehicles.
I trekked to the APL in Laurel, Maryland, and shared lunch with Mr. Hill. He told me about his projects, his views on the future of unmanned aerial vehicles (which turned out to be right on target), and his hobby of radio-controlled aircraft. I was amazed to hear stories such as when he set a distance flight record by driving north over 500 km from Virginia to Pennsylvania, controlling his aircraft from the back seat of a convertible.
At the end of the interview, I asked Mr. Hill what his most rewarding project was. He told me that the best project for him was his marriage and rearing his children. I was ambitious and twenty-something at the time, so it took my several years to realize that this was the most valuable lesson he gave me.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Kinect is for More than Games

I deal with a lot of exciting technology, but I can't remember anything that stirs quite as much enthusiasm as the work that InfoStrat's Advanced Technology Group is doing with Microsoft Kinect. Using Kinect with your PC opens up new ways of human computer interaction, and there are practical applications galore for government and business.

Our Surface channel http://www.youtube.com/user/infostratcville has some new videos showing Kinect used to manipulate maps, medical images, and more.



The low cost of Kinect is also a big part of the wow factor. While Microsoft Surface is impressive, I never could quite see my way clear to spend $12,500 to put one in my living room, and the 300 lb shipping weight made me think twice about taking it on the road. Kinect is available nationwide for only $150, and millions already own it for their Xbox at home.

Microsoft has announced plans to provide new software for Kinect, and is assigning people to dream up new applications. This should be an exciting summer.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Potbelly versus Subway -- The Value of Happiness

My office has several sandwich shops within two blocks, but the two closest are Subway and Potbelly. Although I have to walk a bit farther, I find myself choosing Potbelly again and again, and it's not just the sandwiches themselves.

Employees at my Potbelly make me feel like they enjoy their work and are happy to see me when I walk in the door. It doesn't hurt that they sometimes have live music. Sometimes the cashier sings along.

At my Subway, on the other hand, sandwich makers seem like they are serving some kind of sentence, and will be freed at the end of the day if they are lucky. While Potbelly asks me for my order before I reach the counter, Subway asks me for my order later, and somehow seems slower at moving people through the line. Sometimes I am even asked for my order twice at Subway.

I recall an outstanding manager at Subway several years ago who was outgoing and kept his staff smiling, but this somehow faded after a management change. The other Subway in my neighborhood is similarly lowkey.

I have been to several Potbelly locations, and they have all conveyed the same attitude of cheerfulness that the company website extolls. I don't know how they train the staff to have such a positive outlook, but whatever they are doing, it's working.

Here's hoping that more businesses learn from Potbelly.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Planning for Cloud Computing Failures

Last week's outage for some of Amazon's cloud computing customers has highlighted the importance of planning for cloud failures. While the large data centers run by the most competent companies such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have enviable performance and reliability, they are not perfect. Customers of cloud computing must still reckon with backups, failover, and contingency plans if they want to ensure a high level of availability.

I predict that we will witness a significant number of cloud computing failures which will affect large and small companies, governments, and individuals. Some will be from fumbles by the major players, but an even larger number will come from new companies and dabblers in cloud computing. The whitehot hype around cloud computing will create large numbers of businesses that ultimately fail.

Cloud computing is creating a smaller echo of the dot com boom, with small companies armed with ambitious business plans trying to carve out their pieces of the cloud pie. The frontier mentality will lead to aggressive marketing, aggressive sales, and aggressive pricing.

What will happen when new cloud companies start to run out of capital, or their venture capital masters give them a tighter leash? Will their priority be to help customers find a safe landing? How many cloud providers are willing to give customers backups that could quickly be restored with another provider?

The implication for customers of cloud computing is that customers must maintain options for moving from one provider to another or even moving systems in-house if necessary to protect themselves from technical and business contingencies.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Most Expensive Apple Laptop Purchase?

Today I saw an RFP on GSA eBuy for a single Apple MacBook Pro. I wonder how much the RFP, bid evaluation, and award will cost for this commodity item. How many vendors will respond? Does USDA not have a more efficient way to purchase this hardware?

Here are the details:


RFQ ID: RFQ555223 Reference #: 555223
RFQ Title: Apple Computer Category: 70: 132 32
RFQ Issue Date: 03/30/2011 04:14:28 PM EDT Contact: SHERI MARCELO
Department of Agriculture

sheri.marcelo@ars.usda.gov
RFQ Close Date: 04/05/2011 03:00:00 PM EDT (Time Remaining: 4D 22H 48M)
Delivery: Deliver 30 Days From Date of Award to Date of Completion
Description: Specifications:
15-inch: 2.2 GHz Model: MC723LL Part number: Z0M1
2.2GHz Quad-core Intel Core i7
8GB 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM - 2x4GB
500GB Serial ATA Drive @ 7200 rpm
SuperDrive 8x (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
MacBook Pro 15-inch Hi-Res Antiglare Widescreen Display
Backlit Keyboard (English)& User's Guide

AppleCare Protection Plan for MacBook Pro Part number: S3137LL/A

Monday, February 28, 2011

Microsoft's Brad Wilson on Dynamics CRM 2011

Lauren Carlson of Software Advice has published a series of video interviews with Microsoft Dynamics CRM general manager Brad Wilson.


State of the CRM Software Market



My notes:
In last ten years CRM has become a necessity and not optional
Value of your company is your customer relationships
Social CRM is a new trend
Microsoft Dynamics CRM offers four things: a complete suite, flexible configuration and deep customization, user experience, and affordability
"Malicious compliance" means barely using a deployed CRM


How Can Microsoft Dynamics CRM Partners Survive in the Cloud Era?



My notes:
ISVs can allow customers to download trials of their CRM solutions.
Partners will likely have higher number of leads to handle
Likely to close deals without ever meeting the customer in person
Smart partners will learn how to handle a larger number of leads and customer trials
Majority of services revenue has come from domain expertise and high value consulting

What Percentage of Customers are Deploying in the Cloud?



My notes:
Microsoft doesn't break down its business by cloud v on premise
Cloud deployment of CRM will grow, especially for small business
Microsoft wants to encourage customers to try CRM online first and then choose cloud or on premise deployment
Same code base used for both deployment models -- so user can migrate from one to the other


Is the Microsoft Dynamics Marketplace a Success?



My notes:
Applications from ISVs can be downloaded into customer trials
Microsoft will be able to deliver partner value to customers in "frictionless" way
Thousands of partners in the catalog and the first 50-100 are available as downloads
More will come soon
Need localized (multiple language) versions as well as targeted solutions for various customer types

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Victory of Quantity Over Quality

Technology and market efficiency are combining forces to give us more and more of worse and worse, and it's hard to tell what the net effect will be on our quality of life.

For us in the technology business, as well as affluent young people around the world, we have more and more gadgets, transactions, news sources and diversions than ever before. We have greater choices on where to get our news, for instance, and can drop traditional media such as the daily newspaper or network TV news show, while getting more information than ever before on our favorite topics.

Real, tangible things are getting cheaper as well. I pay less for a men's suit today in nominal terms, not to mention inflation adjusted terms, than I did twenty years ago. Food is inexpensive, and we know what the result is. In the information economy, there are vast numbers of things from software to information that are at no charge, especially if I'm willing to expose myself to advertising as part of the deal.

The growth of social media is the latest instance of the inexorable victory of quantity over quality. Why do most social networking sites seem like seedy dumps because of the irrelevant messages, obscenities and hate-mongering that are so common? On pseudo-professional sites like Linked In, there seems to be a group of people ready to pounce on any discussion topic with self-serving ads or promotions whether or not they are germane to the thread.

I'm suffering the death of a thousand cuts in the sheer number of emails, tweets, text messages, phone calls, ads, Facebook entries and more. I confess I have even been tempted to look at my smartphone when it shivers on the carseat beside me. I'm worried about how my son will be able to drive safely with so many distractions and so many distracted drivers around him.

Blogs like this one are another example of quantity beating quality. If each blogger had to justify the quality of his output by paying to publish it in a book, magazine or newsletter, few would see the light of day.

Twitter is the ultimate in quantity driving out quality. Its entire paradigm is based on a high volume of low value thoughtlets propogated by hundreds of thousands. How much time should I spend checking the continuous flow of tweets for the really interesting link I would not have noticed?

Business has adapted to technology and moved to a lower denominator, if not the least common denominator. I have business relationships driven by conference calls which last months before meeting in person, and important business decisions are communicated by terse emails.

The English language is another victim. Correct spelling seems as quaint as spats, and even grownups find it acceptable to embrace "c u soon" as an alternative to "sincerely". Job seekers routinely offer their services in emails that include misspellings on their first page or even in the subject line. Presumably these individuals eventually find a taker.

You may take it from my reflections and complaints that I am a real Luddite. To that, I say "fiddlesticks" and "flibbety floo." I may be a grumpy old man, but mark my words -- someday you will look back wistfully on the days when you thought deeper thoughts and consumed less but higher quality. I would write more on this important topic, but I need to sign off now to catch up on some tweets.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Controlling Maps with Microsoft Kinect

Although it was developed for the XBox360 game system to compete with the Nintendo Wii, the Kinect motion sensor also has serious applications.

Developers have created drivers to use Kinect on your PC, enabling control of applications with large and small gestures -- no mouse or touch screen required.

Here is a video that illustrates how you can manipulate an onscreen map with Kinect:



I expect that many government conference rooms and situation rooms will add this to the touch screens on tables and walls such as Microsoft Surface.

Unlike the touchscreens, however, the Kinect is quite inexpensive. A piece of the future is yours for $150.

Does this look like something out of Minority Report? You bet it does.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Microsoft Gearing up for Dynamics CRM 2011 Launch

Happy New Year to everyone. Now that the vacations are over, it's time to plan for a big 2011 at InfoStrat. Microsoft will start things off with a bang by sponsoring a series of events to promote the launch of its new version of Dynamics CRM.

For a countdown time, event details and more, see the official Dynamics CRM 2011 Launch website. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will be leading the event on January 20, 2011 starting at 9 am PST. Keynote speakers include:
  • Kirill Tatarinov (Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Business Solutions),
  • Michael Park (Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Business Solutions), and
  • Brad Wilson (General Manager, Microsoft Dynamics CRM).