CLOSING SHOP

March 11, 2020


Years ago, and I do mean years ago, I would watch my grandfather take the evening paper and a cup of coffee to the front porch, sit down in a rocker and read the entire newspaper, cover to cover. He did this before dinner; year after year without fail.  He was one of the best-informed men I have ever known.  A veteran of WWI, he realized that an informed citizen was critical to any democracy.

If we flash forward fifty years, we realize that one consequence, intended or unintended, of the digital age, is the demise of many newspapers and news magazines.  The digital age is marvelous transferring information but at a great cost, at least in my opinion.

The web site “24/7 Wall Street” tells us that over two thousand (2000) newspapers have closed in the past fifteen (15) years.  The newspaper industry has continued its relentless downward spiral, which started with the advent of the internet and accelerated during the Great Recession. The pace of the decline has not slowed. New research shows that over 2,000 newspapers have closed since 2004, a staggering figure given that the industry was once among the largest employers in America. According to Penny Abernathy, the Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Media and Journalism, is widely considered the preeminent authority on the number of newspapers in the United States. That is not an easy task, since the number is in the thousands, and some are so small that their fates are hard to track. She is the author of “The Expanding News Deserts,” a term coined to describe areas where there is almost no local news coverage.

Abernathy told 24/7 Wall St. that, “It appears at this stage that we’ve lost approximately two thousand one hundred (2,100) papers, all but seventy (70) of which are weeklies, since 2004.” The industry implosion has left almost half of the counties in America (1,449) with only one newspaper, which is usually a weekly. As of the most recent count, one hundred and seventy-one (171) counties do not have a paper at all.

The number of papers in America is currently about seven thousand (7,000), but as revenue at most of them declines, that number is bound to shrink further. Some newspapers already are close to shuttering. Publishers, both individual owners and chains, have resorted to the equivalent of life support. A recent example is that the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which was started two hundred and thirty-three (233) years ago, will cut the number of days it is printed from five to three. Two years ago, the paper appeared seven times a week. Management says that it plans to phase out the print edition completely. While the paper may survive online, the “downsizing” will cost dozens of jobs. A drop in the numbers of days a paper appears is part of the industry’s playbook to cut expenses.

Almost all of the other daily newspapers in America have similar problems. Print advertising has been eroding for nearly two decades. Classified advertising, in particular, has moved almost entirely online. Digital advertising growth at most newspapers has slowed. The digital advertising business, in general, is difficult because of the large market share held by Google and Facebook.

Papers also have difficulty convincing readers to pay for digital subscriptions. This is for two reasons. The first is that most newspapers have cut so many editorial employees that they cannot create compelling content. The other is that there is a massive amount of news, entertainment and sports material available online for free.  We all can thank the digital age for this one.  The digital map below will give you an indication as to the number of closings:

The tan dots show weekly newspapers and the blue dots show the daily newspapers. It becomes more evident when we look at the map. 

A recent survey indicates that most Americans get their news from social media.  OK, this is going to really get to you.  The Pew Research Center report found sixty-eight (68%) percent of people polled said they used social networks for news, with twenty (20%) percent saying they got information “often” from those services including Facebook and Twitter.  I consider Facebook and Twitter to be two of the least reliable sources on the planet for “hard and factual” news. That’s my opinion.

The percentages were largely unchanged from a year ago despite heightened scrutiny over misinformation and manipulation of online platforms, including by foreign actors.  More than half of those surveyed—fifty-seven (57%) percent—said they expect the news they see on social media to be “largely inaccurate,” according to Pew. Why continue to read it then?   Still, most respondents said getting news this way has made little difference in their understanding of current events—thirty-six (36%) percent said it helped their understanding of current events while fifteen (15%) percent said it made them “more confused.”

The survey comes with social networks under intense scrutiny as they become more important “gatekeepers” of news, with President Donald Trump and his allies recently accusing tech firms of political bias.  In the Pew survey, only eleven (11%) percent of respondents said news on social media was “too biased” while ten (10%) percent said the information was “low quality.”

Concerns about accuracy were more prevalent among Republicans, with seventy-two (72%) percent expressing this concern, compared with forty-six (46%) percent of Democrats and fifty-two (52%) percent of independents.

An estimated sixty-seven (67%) percent of Facebook’s users get news there, as do seventy-one (71%) percent of Twitter users and seventy-three (73%) percent of Reddit users. But because Facebook’s overall user base is much larger, far more Americans overall get news on Facebook than on other sites.

Smaller percentages get news from other online platforms such as YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat and WhatsApp, according to the report.  Pew surveyed 4,581 US adults between July 30 and August 12, with an estimated margin of error for the full sample of 2.5 percentage points.

CONCLUSION:  BRING BACK THE PAPERS.  DUMP FACEBOOK, TWITTER, INSTAGRAM, ETC ETC.  Let’s go back to believable.

TECHNOLOGY TRENDS FOR 2020

January 4, 2020


I want us to hop into Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine and go back about twenty (20) years.  Two decades ago, at the start of the millennium, IT (Internet Technology) was deeply concerned about Y2K.  I remember being an employee of General Electric at that time and GE programmers were paranoid over what might happen relative to Y2K.  It was a big deal and preparation for an IT apocalypse was being considered.  I have no idea as to how many terabytes of data was backed up on a daily basis getting ready for what might happen.  Also, the iPhone, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat and Facebook didn’t exist—had not been invented or at least commercialized.  So, what’s in store as a new decade begins?

Let’s take a very quick look at computer technology and how that technology drives just about everything we do now days.  Here we go:

Automation 2020: Hyper-automation.  In my younger years, I worked for a great engineer named Bob Ditto.  Now we are talking about the mid- 60’s so you will understand his vision when you hear his admonishment to me to get “computer-savvy” when the time comes.  He said: “if it can be automated, it will be automated and everyone better get ready for it.”  He was absolutely correct in that assessment.  Hyper-automation takes applications for performing various tasks to the next level. It enables application of advanced technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (MI), to increasingly automate processes and augment human requirements.

Multi-experience is the new experience 

From 2020 onward, multi-experience will see the traditional idea of computing evolve from a single point of interaction to include multisensory and multi-touchpoint interfaces, such as wearables and advanced computer sensors. Over the coming decade, this trend will become what is known as ambient experience.  If you read the literature, you will see that wearable technology is certainly one trend that will continue and advance relative to all possibilities, especially in wearable medical technology.   Multi-experience currently focuses on immersive experiences that use augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality, multichannel human-machine interfaces and sensing technologies. 

Democracy, 2020 style

The democratization of technology means providing people with easy access to technical or business expertise without extensive or expensive training.  Most people in our society today are not programmers and even if we are, we are not proficient enough to exact usable code but the day is approaching where “citizen access” will be possible. “Citizen access” will focus on four key areas: 1.) application development, 2.) data and analytics, 3.) design, and 4.) knowledge.  Democratization is expected to see the rise of citizen data scientists, programmers and other forms of DIY technology engagement. For example, it could enable more people to generate data models without having the skills of a data scientist. This would, in part, be made possible through AI-driven code generation.

Augmentation gets human 

The controversial trend of human augmentation focuses on the use of technology to enhance an individual’s cognitive and physical experiences. It comes with a range of cultural and ethical implications. For example, using CRISPR (clustered, regularly interspaced, short palindromic repeats) technologies to augment genes has significant ethical consequences. Physical augmentation changes an inherent physical capability by implanting or hosting a technology within or on the body. It’s a scary to think about human augmentation but that technology is being discussed and evaluated by medical literature.  Right now, most human augmentation is brought about by wearable technology but that is not the only way to accomplish specific ends.  Legislation is way behind this technology and it is truly sneaking up on the population at large.

Greater transparency and traceability

OKAY, do you really trust social media, GOOGLE, your bank, etc. with the data they collect on an hourly basis? You cannot go to an ATM without being tracked and documented.  You must know that.   This evolution of technology is creating a trust crisis. Particularly as consumers become more aware of how their personal data is collected and used, organizations are increasingly recognizing the liability of storing and gathering data. But many are also using AI and machine learning more to make decisions in place of humans.  This is a further cause of concern, which is driving the need for processes such as explainable AI and AI governance. This trend requires a focus on these key elements of trust: integrity, openness, accountability, competence and consistency. More legislation similar to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is likely to be enacted around the world in the coming years.  If you provide code you had better realize greater transparency will become a necessity in the upcoming decade.

The empowered edge

The growing edge computing trend is based on the idea that keeping traffic local and distributed will reduce latency. This involves a topology where information processing and content collection and delivery are placed closer to the sources of the information. The empowered edge employs the technology on the internet of things (IoT). This extends to the role of devices as the basis for smart spaces and moves key applications and services closer to the people and devices that use them. By 2023, there could be more than 20 times as many smart devices at the edge of the network as in conventional IT roles. 

The distributed cloud

The distributed cloud refers to the dispersal of public cloud services to locations outside the cloud provider’s physical data centers, while still in the control of the provider. In the distributed cloud, the provider is responsible for all aspects of cloud service architecture, delivery, operations, governance and updates.  The evolution from centralized public cloud to distributed public cloud ushers in a new era of cloud computing. The distributed cloud allows data centers to be located anywhere. This solves both technical and regulatory issues, such as latency and data sovereignty. It also offers the combined benefits of a public cloud service and a private, local cloud.  Now, with that in mind, there are many people who have issues with privacy when using the cloud.  Great idea but rife with areas where privacy can be compromised.  I certainly share these concerns and have had my engineering data compromised.  This is a real worry and companies providing cloud services must be on top of this one.

Even more autonomous things

Autonomous things, which include drones, robots, ships and appliances, exploit AI to perform tasks traditionally undertaken by humans. This technology operates on a spectrum of intelligence ranging from semiautonomous to fully autonomous and across a variety of environments including air, sea and land.  In this morning’s news, a segment regarding drones flying over Colorado and Kansas, logging data, is a concern.  No one seems to know what they are doing or who they are doing it for.  It remains, for the time being, a big mystery.   While currently, autonomous things mainly exist in controlled environments, such as warehouses, they will evolve to include open public spaces. Autonomous things will also move from standalone to collaborative swarms – such as the drone swarms used during the Winter Olympic Games in 2018.

Towards practical blockchain

Let’s define blockchain:  Blockchain technology enables distributed public ledgers that hold immutable data in a secure and encrypted way and ensure that transactions can never be altered. While Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are the most popular examples of blockchain usage, this “distributed ledger technology” (DLT) is finding a broad range of uses. Data storage, financial transactions, real estate, asset management and many more uses are being explored

Enterprise blockchain today takes a practical approach and implements only some of the elements of a complete blockchain. Everyone with permissioned access sees the same information, and integration is simplified by having a single shared blockchain.  In the future, true blockchain or “blockchain complete” will have the potential to transform industries, and eventually the economy, as complementary technologies such as AI and the IoT begin to integrate alongside blockchain.  This expands the type of participants to include machines, which will be able to exchange a variety of assets. For example, a car would be able to negotiate insurance prices directly with the insurance company based on data gathered by its sensors. Moreover, blockchain will be fully scalable by 2023.

Greater AI security 

Evolving technologies such as hyper-automation offers transformational opportunities in the business world. However, they also create security vulnerabilities through potential new points of attack. Security teams must address these challenges and be aware of how AI will impact the security space. 

Future AI security will have three key perspectives: first, protecting AI-powered systems, securing AI training data, and training pipelines and machine learning models; secondly, leveraging AI to enhance security defense, and using machine learning to understand patterns, uncover attacks and automate parts of the cybersecurity processes; third, anticipating nefarious use of AI by attackers – identifying attacks and defending against them. 

CONCLUSIONS:  Get ready for another decade of disruptive technology—and this is only in the IT and computer world. 


The International Space Station (ISS) has been in existence since 1969 in some form or the other.  A very quick history of its humble beginnings is given below.  Also, given below is a hyperlink to an absolutely fascinating UTUBE video of the existing ISS and various components of the internal workings of the station.  I do not know what I expected, but the facility is a marvelous combination of hardware, software and electronics.  I suppose when I thought of the ISS, I had in mind the deck of the Starship Enterprise.  Not even close—much more impressive.

A condensed version of the time line is given below but please go to the NASA website to get the extended chronology of the ISS.

  • On January 24, 1984, President Ronald Reagan commissioned NASA to build the international space station and to do so within the next 10 years.
  • On November 20, 1998 the first segment of the ISS launches: a Russian proton rocket named Zarya (“sunrise”).
  • On December 4, 1998, Unity, the first U.S.-built component of the International Space Station launches—the first Space Shuttle mission dedicated to assembly of the station.
  • The first crew to reside on the station was on November 2, 2000.  Astronaut Bill Shepherd and cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev become the first crew to reside onboard the station, staying several months.
  • U.S. Lab Module was Added February 7, 2001.  Destiny, the U.S. Laboratory module, becomes part of the station. Destiny continues to be the primary research laboratory for U.S. payloads.
  • The European Lab Joined the ISS February 7, 2008. The European Space Agency’s Columbus Laboratory becomes part of the station.
  • On March 11, 2008 the Japanese Lab joined the ISS.  The first Japanese Kibo laboratory module becomes part of the station.
  •  

HISTORY:

The International Space Station (ISS) took ten (10) years and more than thirty (30) missions to assemble. It is the result of unprecedented scientific and engineering collaboration among five space agencies representing fifteen (15) countries. The space station is approximately the size of a football field: a four hundred and sixty (460)-ton, permanently crewed platform orbiting two hundred and fifty (250) miles above Earth. It is about four times as large as the Russian space station Mir and five times as large as the U.S. Skylab.

The idea of a space station was once science fiction, existing only in the imagination until it became clear in the 1940s that construction of such a structure might be attainable by our nation. As the Space Age began in the 1950s, designs of “space planes” and stations dominated popular media. The first rudimentary station was created in 1969 by the linking of two Russian Soyuz vehicles in space, followed by other stations and developments in space technology until construction began on the ISS in 1998, aided by the first reusable spacecraft ever developed: the American shuttles.

Until recently, U.S. research space onboard the ISS had been reserved for mostly government initiatives, but new opportunities for commercial and academic use of the ISS are now available, facilitated by the ISS National Lab.

There is no way I can provide a better description of the ISS than the video I hope you will look at.  That hyperlink is given as follows:  Hope you enjoy it.

HOW IT WORKS: The International Space Station

BOEING 737 MAX

May 11, 2019


The five points given below were taken from an excellent article written by Jacob Beningo and appeared in “Electronics & Test Aerospace”, May 2, 2019.  I have added my own comment relative to those five (5) points.  It appears, from what we know now, there were no mechanical failures causing both aircraft to crash.  The real failures were lack of training and possibly embedded electronic systems effecting on-board systems. 

Recently the news headlines have been dominated by two crashes involving Boeing’s new 737 MAX aircraft. Both of these tragedies occurred under similar circumstances and within six months of each other. The fallout from these disasters may only be starting as aircraft around the world have been grounded, production of the 737 MAX has been decreased and March sales of the aircraft dropped to zero. The damage to Boeing’s reputation as a safety leader has now also come into question as investigations have been opened into how the system at the center of the investigations, MCAS, was developed and certified.

The investigations into the sequence of events that led to the loss of these aircraft with resulting causes will take time to fully discover—maybe even years but certainly months. However, with the information that has currently been released, embedded systems companies and developers can look at the fiasco Boeing is currently going through and learn and be reminded of several general lessons that they can apply to their own industries and products.

Lesson #1 – Don’t compromise your product to save or make money short-term

There is normal pressure on businesses and developers today to increase revenue, reduce costs and ship products as fast as possible. The result is not always quality. It isn’t security. It isn’t user friendly. The objective is maximum short-term growth at any cost as long as the short-term growth is maximized.  The company needed to remain in good standing with Wall Street and their investors.  That seems to be the bottom line.  Boeing appeared to be under significant pressure from customers and shareholders to deliver an aircraft that could compete with the Airbus A319neo.  They may have started to cave to this normative pressure.

Lesson #2 – Identify and mitigate single points of failure

Boeing and the FAA are looking at embedded systems in trying to discover the root cause of both failures and how corrections may be made to eliminate future tragedies.  In any embedded system that is being developed, it’s important to understand the potential failure modes and what effect those failures will have on the system and how they can be mitigated. There are many ways that teams go about doing this, including performing a Design Failure & Effects Analysis (DFMEA) which analyzes design functions, failure modes and their effect on the customer or user. Once such an analysis is done, we can then determine how we can mitigate the effect of a failure.  This is common practice for systems and subsystems of any complexity.

Lesson #3 – Don’t assume your user can handle it

An interesting lesson many engineers can take from the fiasco is that we can’t assume or rely on our users to properly operate our devices, especially if those devices are meant to operate autonomously. Complex systems require more time to analyze and troubleshoot. It seems that Boeing assumed that if an issue arose, the user had enough training and experience, and knew the existing procedures well enough to compensate. Right or wrong, as designers, we may need to use “lowered expectations” and do everything we can to protect the user from himself.

Lesson #4 – Highly tested and certified systems have defects

Edsger Dijkstra wrote that “Program testing can be used to show the presence of bugs, but never to show their absence.” We can’t show that a system doesn’t have bugs which means we have to assume that even our highly-tested and certified systems have defects. This should change the way every developer thinks about how they write software. Instead of trying to expose defects on a case-by-case basis, we should be developing defect strategies that can detect the system is not behaving properly or that something does not seem normal with its inputs. By doing this, we can test as many defects out of our system as possible. But when a new one arises in the field, a generic defect mechanism will hopefully be able to detect that something is amiss and take a corrective action.  

Lesson #5 – Sensors and systems fail

The fact that sensors and systems fail should seem like an obvious statement, but quite a few developers write software as if their microcontroller will never lock-up, encounter a single event upset or have corrupted memory. Sensors will freeze, processors will lock-up, garbage-in will produce garbage-out. Developers need to assume that things will go wrong and write code to handle those cases, rather than if we will always have a system that works as well in the field as it does on out lab benches. If you design your system considering the fact that it will fail, you’ll end up with a robust system that has to do a lot of hard work before it finally finds a way to fail (if it ever does).

I had an opportunity to hear the chief engineering program manager discuss the “Dreamliner” and the complexities of that system.  They were LEGION. Extremely complex.  Very time-consuming to work out all of the “bugs” relative to all of the computer programming necessary for successful AND safe air travel.  Trying to make a system “simple” by making it complex is a daunting task and one that needs to be accomplished, but it is always a “push” to get this done in a timely fashion and satisfy management and Wall Street.

MOST HATED COMPANIES

February 3, 2018


The list of the “most hated American companies” was provided by KATE GIBSON in the MONEYWATCH web site, February 1, 2018, 2:20 PM.  The text and narrative is this author’s.

Corporate America is sometimes, but not always, blamed for a number of misdeeds, swindles, “let’s bash the little guy”, etc. behavior.  Many times, those charges are warranted.   You get the picture.   Given below, is a very quick list of the twenty (20) most hated U.S. companies.  This list is according to 24/7 Wall St., which took customer surveys, employee reviews and news events into account in devising its list: ( I might mention the list is in descending order so the most-egregious offender is at the bottom.

  • The Weinstein Company. I think we can all understand this one but I strongly believe most of the employees of The Weinstein Company are honest hard-working individuals who do their job on a daily basis.  One big problem—you CANNOT tell me the word did not get around relative to Weinstein’s activities.  Those who knew are definitely complicit and should be ashamed of themselves.  This includes those holier-than-thou- actresses and actors pretending not-to-know.
  • United Airlines. The Chicago-based carrier is still in the dog housewith customers after a video of a passenger being forcibly removed from his seat on an overbooked flight went viral last year. You simply do NOT treat individuals, much less customers, in the manner in which this guy was treated.  I wonder how much money United has lost due to the video?
  • Fake news, deceptive ads, invasion of privacy.  You get the picture and YET millions subscribe.  This post will be hyperlinked to Facebook to improve readership.  That’s about the only reason I use the website.
  • I don’t really know these birds but apparently the telecom, one of the nation’s biggest internet and telephone service providers, reportedly gets poor reviews from customers and employees alike. I think that just might be said for many of the telecoms.
  • This one baffles me to a great extent but the chemical company has drawn public ire at a lengthy list of harmful products, including DDT, PCBs and Agent Orange. Most recently, it’s accused of causing cancer in hundreds exposed to its weed killer, Roundup.
  • I’m a Comcast subscriber and let me tell you their customer service is the WORST. They are terrible.  Enough said.
  • I have taken Uber multiple times with great success but there are individuals who have been harassed.  Hit by complaints of sexual harassment at the company and a video of its then-CEO Travis Kalanick arguing with an Uber driver, the company last year faced a slew of lawsuit and saw 13 executives resign, including Kalanick.
  • Sears Holdings. Sears plans to close more than one hundred (100) additional stores through the spring of 2018, with the count of Sears and Kmart stores already down to under 1,300 from 3,467 in 2007. Apparently, customer satisfaction is a huge problem also.  The retail giant needs a facelift and considerable management help to stay viable in this digital on-line-ordering world.
  • Trump Organization.  At this point in time, Donald Trumpis the least popular president in U.S. history, with a thirty-five (35) percent approval rating at the end of December. That disapproval extends to the Trump brand, which includes golf courses, a hotel chain and real estate holdings around the globe. One again, I suspect that most of the employees working for “the Donald” are honest hard-working individuals.
  • Wells Fargo. At one time, I had a Wells Fargo business account. NEVER AGAIN. I won’t go into detail.
  • The insurance industry is not exactly beloved, and allegations of fraud have not helped Cigna’s case. Multiple lawsuits allege the company inflated medical costs and overcharged customers.
  • Spirit Airlines. I’ve flown Spirit Airlines and you get what you pay for. I do not know why customers do not know that but it is always the case.  You want to be treated fairly, fly with other carriers.
  • Vice Media The media organization has lately been roiled by allegations of systemic sexual harassment, dating back to 2003. One of these day some bright individual in the corporate offices will understand you must value your employees.
  • The telecom gets knocked for poor customer experiences that could in part be due to service, with Sprint getting low grades for speed and data, as well as calling, texting and overall reliability.
  • Foxconn Technology Group. Once again, I’m not that familiar with Foxconn Technology Group. The company makes and assembles consumer electronics for entities including Apple and Nintendo. It’s also caught attention for poor working and living conditions after a series of employee suicides at a compound in China. It recently drew negative press for a planned complex in Wisconsin.
  • Electronic Arts. The video-game maker known for its successful franchises is also viewed poorly by gamers for buying smaller studios or operations for a specific game and then taking away its originality.
  • University of Phoenix. I would expect every potential student wishing to go on-line for training courses do their homework relative to the most-desirable provider. The University of Phoenix does a commendable job in advertising but apparently there are multiple complaints concerning the quality of services.
  • I’m a little burned out with the NFL right now. My Falcons and Titans have had a rough year and I’m ready to move on to baseball. Each club sets their own spring training reporting dates each year, though all camps open the same week. Pitchers and catchers always arrive first. The position players don’t have to show up until a few days later. Here are this year’s reporting dates for the 15 Cactus League teams, the teams that hold spring training in Arizona.
  • Fox Entertainment Group. If you do not like the channel—do something else.  I bounce back and forth across the various schedules to find something I really obtain value-added from.  The Food Network, the History Channel, SEC Network.  You choose.  There are hundreds of channels to take a look at.
  • The consumer credit reporting was hit by a massive hack last year, exposing the personal data of more than 145 million Americans and putting them at risk of identity theft. Arguably worse, the company sat on the information for a month before letting the public know.

CONCLUSIONS:  In looking at this survey, there are companies that deserve their most-hated-status and, in my opinion, some that do not.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  As always, I welcome your comments.

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