A week since MoogFest 2017

It’s been a week since MoogFest, and I’ve started to reflect on the experience. I’ve not seen any published numbers, but it certainly seemed much smaller than 2016’s MoogFest.  A report in the local paper said that 2016 was over 10,000 people with 65% or more being from out of town.  This year, in the sessions I was in, I would expect that the number coming in would be less than 7,000 (I guess we will hear some time closer to next year).

The number of technical sessions during the day seemed to be significantly smaller than 2016, but I was able to go to all the ones I wanted to, but one.  The one I couldn’t go to was completely full by the time I registered for sessions, it was a session on VR.  Well, I’ve played with Occulus in the past, so perhaps I didn’t miss anything.

There were three sessions that I really like a lot:

The first was from a professor at Ga. Tech, who teaches a class on musical instrument design. New Instruments, interfaces and Robotic Musicians – Was presented by Dr. Timothy Hsu and a PhD student – Mike Winters.  The talked about various instruments that people designed, and the contest that students compete in – http://guthman.gatech.edu/2017-winners .  The Guthman Musical Instrument Competition, has some really interesting designs by students and others.  I found the Rib-Cage instrument to be very cool.  Go check out the videos – Here.
The second session was from a Professor at Duke University – Brain-Machine Interfaces: From Basic Science to Neurological Rehabilitation – (Miguel A. L. Nicolelis, MD, PhD).  This session was inspirational and amazing!  During the 2014 World Cup, Dr. Nicolelis and a team of 100’s of scientists from around the globe worked together, in 18 months, to build an exoskelleton and train 9 quadriplegics to walk out on the field during the opening ceremonies and have one of them kick a soccer ball.  While this in itself was amazing, the part that was truly inspirational was the results of what happened after the World Cup.  Many people who are defined as permently quadriplegic due to a severed spinal cord, actually have 5-20% of the cord still in tact.  What Dr. Nicolelis and his team discovered was that after the training of the World Cup, many of the subjects actually started feeling below their defined injury.  Not only that, but some are even walking now!  Evidently the brain can be retrained to start controlling the limbs with the very limited spinal cord, after the injury (and without the exoskeleton).  While they are still doing research, this is very promising technology, and by training people with VR and other techniques that used during the World Cup work they can help people regain some control, and live a much more normal life.

The final session was really a set of sessions by a group of scientists who are all working with CERN and the LHC.  Dr. Steve Goldfarb, Dr. Kate Shaw, and Dr. Mark Kruse.  This group of experimental physicists talked about the Large Hadron Collider and physics across a multitude of sessions.  Sunday ended with a pub crawl at FullSteam brewery and an open Q&A session.  Had a great time talking physics with them.  Go follow their work on twitter at ICTP-News

Moving On – Staying the Same

Over the last few years I’ve had a really cool and challenging job – My job was in IBM research.  I worked to help our researchers get their innovations to market via customer engagements and trying to get product teams to take those assets and integrate them into products.  The basic idea was that we have tons of really valuable technology in research that is struggling to drive high revenue growth for the rest of the company, since it was not a fully supported product.  I was really lucky to focus in areas of technology that I love, Internet of Things and Cognitive Technologies. I also helped drive a new process that allowed research assets to be exposed publicaly on the cloud, so customers could experiment with these technologies.  The roll was really fun and exciting, but as with any really large corporation, sometimes it is hard to get things going as fast as I’d like.

Well now that I feel we have a good, and repeatable process, for getting these research capabilities into the hands of customers via the cloud, I am moving on to a new challenge.  The new challenge will be focusing on the Internet of Things and Cognitive technologies, but from a brand persepctive.  I will be working on “big plays” – meaning things that move the needle financially, in these two areas for the Watson IoT business.  And I know that I will be leveraging research… So now I will work to get research assets to market in order to drive financial growth and success.

I like to think of this transition in the following way… the last few years I was pushing research capabilities to the business to drive growth, and now I will pull research assets into the business unit to drive growth.  I love working for a company where I get these opportunities.  

Let’s do this!

Is an increase coming for Electric Bills

Over the last 18 years, we’ve investigated putting solar panels on our house many times. Unfortunately, there are many reasons we have not installed them:

  • The house is facing the wrong direction, we can get around this by putting the panels at an inclined angle, but living in the Hurricane state, this would be like putting a sail on the house. When high winds come in, it would rip off our roof (not an attractive option).
  • We have too many trees, and we don’t to lose them.  We could cut them down, but see the first bullet.
  • We have been talked out of it by our general contractor. He claimed to have been a big supporter, but lost so much money in the 90’s that he could not support installing them anymore.

Well, North Carolina is one of the top states in the country using solar.  I believe one reason is Apple built a new data center in the state, that uses solar.

One of the things we see around the globe is that the costs for the electric grid are spread out over years and consumers.  As Germany has installed tons of solar, the existing grid is being impacted by lost revenue.  When I saw the report today that Amazon is starting to put solar panels on all their warehouses, I had a crazy thought.  As more and more businesses install solar panels, their use of the Grid will drop.  As their use drops, the consumers will be burdened with more and more of the fixed costs of running the grid.  Raising our basic rates.

Somehow we need to accelerate the adoption of solar by home users.

Freedom of the Press

This will be a biased blog post.  The bias will be mine.  The bias is formed by my life, my education, and my beliefs.

When the United States was young, very young, we wrote a document called “The Constitution“. The purpose of this document was to correct the many problems that were identified by our first attempt at starting a government with “The Articles of Confederation“. (For those who don’t remember these, they were an attempt to make the states the center of the country and to grossly limit the powers of the federal government).  Part of getting “The Constitution” accepted, was the creation of a the first 10 amendments.  These amendments are know as “The Bill of Rights“.  

The “First Amendment” was created, in my mind, as the MOST important amendment.  While the NRA and other gun rights supporters may feel that the “Second Amendment” is the most important, I tend to disagree.  

The first address a few issues that were critical for a representative democracy. Let’s look at the words:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

First, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”.  With much of the country being settled by families that had lived under monarchies (who were “legitimized” by god, i.e. by a religious fiat), removing this aspect and allowing people to worship in the matter which is aligned with their own beliefs and conscious, was critical to allowing ideas and thoughts to grow.  With no establishment of religion, people can also choose NOT to believe in a good or religion.  That is there right.

Second, “or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press;”.  Again, when your prior government was announced to be anointed by god, and therefore unassailable, the freedom of speech and the press phrase shows that the people are allowed and encoured to speak up, and have an advocate in the press.  We see this point challenged quickly with the “Alien and Sedition Acts.”  The idea of voter suppression was a key part of these acts, the Federalists were worried that too many people were becoming citizens and would change the direction of the company.  Three of the four acts will quickly repealed after Thomas Jefferson became president. 

And third, “or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Governament of a redress of grievances.” And finally with a thoughtful and vocal populous, the writers of this amendment encourage us to question the government and petition for change.  

I am a supporter of the first amendment. I got my undergraduate degree in Journalism.  I podcast. I blog. 

When I see the behavior of government officials attacking the press, because they don’t agree with questions or stories, I look back at the first amendment and like to call BS. We have these right, and even when we don’t agree with people, they have the right to speak their minds.  Free speech, can be done thru words and actions.

A feel good movie, but so much more

This past weekend I finally got to see the movie “Hidden Figures” – the true story of three African American women in the 1960s who worked at NASA and helped send John Glenn into orbit, and safely back to earth.  As you may know, I work at IBM, and IBM helped provide some resources for this movie, but this post is not about IBM’s part in the movie.  

While the movie hit all the right points of making you feel good about people being given a chance to perform at their very best, people over coming the adversity of institutional racism, and the advancement of society as a whole, I did come away with a few other impressions.  I loved this movies, and will certainly add it to my movie collection once it is available for purchase.  It made me cry and swell with pride on the triumph of smart people achieving great things.  Watching the closing credits to see how far the three women advanced in NASA, with many firsts among them, lifted my spirits after a long hard week of work.

Having said this, the other take away was that we, as a society, have not really advanced much and we have back slid in some areas.  First, we have the constant advancement of technology and its impact on people’s jobs and livelihood.  There are two groups of computers at NASA:  The East (all white) and West (all African American).  When the IBM computer starts getting installed, one of the characters, who have is also skilled in mechanical engineering, not only takes it upon hereself to fix some wiring (which has caused many delays in the getting the IBM computer installed and working) but also spends time to learn how to program in FORTRAN, as she sees that if she doesn’t learn she will lose her job.  She not only teaches herself to program but she setups classes to reach the rest of the West computing group to program, there by saving their jobs.  The East group does not do this, and ultimately has to come to her to get trained and get a few of the staff jobs in programming. We have seen this play out time and time again in our society, technology advances, and those who don’t retrain fall behind.  A former IBMer I had the opportunity to work with years ago, recently posted a blog post on this thought as it relates to AI; – Thanks Irving Wladawsky-Berger.  Navigating these transitions can be scary but as we’ve seen in the past, we’ve managed before.

Second, if we look at the tech industry we continue to hear about the disproportional amount of guys who are programmers and engineers.  When we look back at history there are multiple great examples of women who did great things and we don’t celebrate enough to drive diversity in the industry.  The creator of COBOL Dr. Grace Hopper was female and Ada Lovelace was instrumental in founding programming working with Charles Babbage.  But somehow, the number of women in computing, mathmatics and science continues to be low.  We need to celebrate achievements and continue to drive more and more of our talents kids and teenagers to these fields.  If we don’t do this, will be able to make the next transition as technologies advance, or will we continue to fall back to more and more social disparities.

Finally, the 1960’s and 70’s drove the US to break down racial barriers. We had common goals and a rising social consciousness which got people to break down the Jim Crow laws, integrate schools and businesses, and focus on our raising all people out of problems caused by segregation.  Beginning in the 1980s and continuing to now, we have been slowly resegrating parts of our society.  We see this thru things like redlining and the drawings of congressional districts.  This slow restablishing of social segregation, drives sterotypes and prejudices. 

Hopefully, we can address all three of these society issues thru continued and renewed focus on learning and education.  If we help all people learn to the maximum of their potential, we can establish a workforce ready for the new jobs of the future.  As people work in these new jobs they will go to the areas where the jobs are (via social mobility) and hopefully this break down the tendency to restablish residential segregation. 

As a kid, I was considered different because I liked school.  As an adult I continue to love to learn.  Hopefully movies like “Hidden Figures” will get more people to focus on the careers and technologies of the future.

Latest Musings (January 2017)

OK, this post may rub people the wrong way, but my goal for this blog has always been away of thinking out loud.  My thoughts are just that, my thoughts.

We have just witnessed a huge, tremendous, historic election and inauguration. Well, it wasn’t huge in turn out, with a lot of people sitting out the election.  In my opinion people sat out for one of three reasons:

  1. Frustration with the selection of candidates.  I was not a major supporter of Hillary Clinton, and I never understood the visceral hatred that she engendered with a whole swath of the electorate.  I was a fan President Bill Clinton, I even had the opportunity to see him twice… once when he was running for President in 1992 (got to shake his hands) and once a few years ago in North Carolina.  He oversaw an impressive era of growth and transition.  But he wasn’t running. I was never a fan of Donald Trump, to me he represents the worst of worst.  In my opinion, his public persona on his reality TV show is the epitome of the entitled CEO.  He ran a campaign appealing to the base hatred of the masses, racism, sexism, isolationism, and nationalism. All things, I believe, have driven horrible behavior in people since the dawn of time.
  2. Systematic gerrymandering of state election practices.  Both parties republicans and democrates have practiced this over the years, but the republicans have perfected this over the last two decades.  When we look at the results of the popular vote and the electoral college vote, there is a disconnect between what the people want and what they got.  I don’t believe we should only look at the popular vote, as this impacts minority and underrepresented voters, in the election of their representatives in congress, but this gerrymandering was set up to play to the extremes of both parties.  And now we see the results.
  3. Focusing on personalities instead of policies.  When the majority of the republican primary was driven by attacks and bullying by Donald Trump against the other candidates, “lying Ted”, etc.  This same behavior was passsd into the election with “Crooked Hillary”, which caused people to not engage.  The focus on email servers, which were proven multiple times to not be different behavior than the prior two Secretaries of State, seem to me to force people to focus on playing into the personality discussion instead of the policies.  On the Trump side, he once again played to fear, uncertainty and doubt instead of detailed policies.  I am wondering if in the next two years, we see a major backlash to the outcomes of the policies that follow.

Since the election is over, we now are seeing major backlash from the progressive supporters.  I expect given the systematic gerrymandering and playing to the extremes of both parties, we would have seen similar backlash on the far conservative right too.  

I went to Journalism School and have long been frustrated that cable news has gone from news to opinion.  My belief is that this “business” focus of news has been the cause of the loss of respect that the news has gotten.  It is why I don’t call it “the media”.  The media includes entertainment, the news is about facts.  Dan Rather has been doing a great set of blog posts on Facebook for the last year.  Reminds me of Walter Cronkite.  I enjoy NPR and the BBC. Both of which provide long form news stories and in depth analysis.  The Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC’s of the world to me are more entertinament then they are news.  I hope what we are seeing with the total lack of respect for the “forth estate” on holding our government accountable doesn’t cause even more people to bow out of the election.  If it does, I am afraid we will see more “Donald Trumps” in government.  Years ago we saw the rise of the MBA President (treating government as business) which I believe is a big mistake.  I’d hate to see what comes next with our current trajectory.