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‘Gods’ Make Comeback at Toyota as Humans Steal Jobs From Robots – Bloomberg

Factory Automation with industrial robots for ...
Factory Automation with industrial robots for metal die casting in foundry industry, robotics in metal manufacturing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“We need to become more solid and get back to basics, to sharpen our manual skills and further develop them,” said Kawai, a half century-long company veteran tapped by President Akio Toyoda to promote craftsmanship at Toyota’s plants. “When I was a novice, experienced masters used to be called gods, and they could make anything.”

via ‘Gods’ Make Comeback at Toyota as Humans Steal Jobs From Robots – Bloomberg.

It’s not a Luddite reaction to eschew the new technology in favor of the old, not always. I still do work on my own gas powered lawn equipment. It takes me longer, I’m less skilled generally than a pro, but I learn a lot every time. And part of that learning is helping me diagnose problems or hopefully in the long run get more life out of the equipment I have. In some ways, if we don’t practice those hard won skills we become victims to the status quo. If you delegate tasks to robots because they can do them “better” and for less pay, then what you get is a high tech version of the status quo. A robot will not see the inefficiency in what it’s been tasked with doing. It’s not going to notice the room for improvement. It’s not going to suggest to the line manager, “Hey this bolt needs to be mechanically hardened, it seems like it might sheer off easily”. Same is true for the Engineers and Designers who make the production lines, if they aren’t well versed in the steps or willing to take feedback from the production line, how long before we call an end to innovation? One of the great strengths of Japanese car manufacture after World War 2 was the W. Edwards Demming method of statistical quality control. Part of that is not simply always getting zero defects out of a production line. Some of that is gaining input from the workers as the whole car is put together. If you don’t have a feedback loop, and that’s what this article is pointing to, then you’re going to be making the same car at the same price for a very, very long time. Statistical quality control implies continuous improvement not just in the product but for the experience of the workers too, including safety, and doing a great job, enjoying what you are doing. All those come into play and are lost when as much of the work as is possible is turned over to the robots. Let’s not lose those hard won skills of knowing how to be a machinist, fabricator and assembler. Let’s exercise them, and become better at what we’re downing now, and what we’re doing in the future.

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To carry or not to carry that is the question (Grocery shopping in the U.S.)

I’m a loyal customer to the brands I choose

Supermarket shelf with laundry detergent

Store shelf with Calgon detergent included

Presented for your approval. to you dear reader. These two seemingly benign mobile phone pics were taken from a nameless, faceless supermarket store chain (I will withhold their name for now).

I have shopped at this store regularly since around 2005 or so and since at least 2006 have shopped there once every two weeks spending anywhere from $50-$100 (not much compared to big families I’m sure). But what ticks me off is that no matter how refined the Inventory and Tracking systems are for any regional grocery store chain, and no matter how much I use my ‘loyalty’ surveillance card for that particular regional grocery store, they still seem to be stuck in the 20th Century. I say that as I have observed the following bad habits time after time, and not just with one regional grocery store but with the top two store chains where I live. Neither one, no matter how much data they collect can seem to keep carrying some items I purchase once every two weeks. Or maybe less frequently than that depending on the product. For instance look at the two photos presented at the top of the webpage. On the left you see what I would describe conservatively as the ‘oddball’ or ‘old-fashioned’ specialty laundry supply shelf. In this regional grocery store, that’s on the very top shelf where it’s less convenient to reach up and haul down a 5 pound box of some kind of laundry product. All the ‘average’ mass market stuff is at waist level or on the bottom where it can easily be slid onto the shopping cart’s bottom cargo shelf (so it’s already a struggle to get to this stuff). The product I like to purchase is the Calgon water softener. Why you ask? Well let me first turn back the clock to the 1970s and this old TV commercial:

As a kid I didn’t do laundry. My Mom would do all the washing and folding up until I was in my later teens. That’s when I had a few experiences washing and folding myself (and occasionally fixing the washing machine too!). I never once in that time really thought about fabric softener or any of those additives market to the heads of households. Whether it was for fragrance or softness or any of those other qualities I didn’t really care once I left home. I just wanted the soap to dissolved completely, do it’s job and rinse completely out of the clothes. Over time the soap/detergent issue came up time and again where a load of laundry would be fouled with undissolved detergent granules that just wouldn’t rinse clean. Which is EXACTLY the opposite of what a clothes washer is supposed to do. At the very least, a clothes washer should do no harm, and not make your clothes dirtier by leaving this sugar like residue clinging tenaciously to your jeans and shirts. But I digress, what I’ve always wanted was a measure of insurance that I wouldn’t suffer from undissolved detergent. The surest way towards that is using really hot water at the initial stage or using a chemical like Calgon to help all the detergent mix into the water. And that’s the refinement I eventually developed all on my own living by myself, doing my own laundry. It took years to get to this point.

So the day that I eventually caved into buying Calgon (I don’t remember when it was exactly but I did it  some years before I got married), I stuck with it. My grocery store had no problem keeping that product in stock along with such other oddities as 20 Mule Team Borax and Color Safe Clorox bleach (in the blue box). You can see both of them in the pictures above. The other store I visit also keeps a handy supply of Fel’s Naptha and Downy Flakes as well for the people who crave the old-fashioned products that aren’t designed to ‘Do-it-All’. In fact I think I’ve even seen little blue bottles of ‘Bluing Agent’ to get white dress shirts extra white too. I fully understand the connection, nay emotional tie some seniors and very valuable store customers might have to their favorite brand name cleaner. I too count myself among their ranks.

However, now you can imagine my surprise when I discovered for the first time in 9 years or more that my grocery store has suddenly run out of Calgon. Worse yet as the ‘Before’ picture shows, it’s GONE. No shelf label, no space set aside. It would have been located roughly in that gap between the two Oxy-Clean bottles near the middle (one with green cap, one with yellow). That’s where the Calgon had been sitting for literally 9 years at that store. But I paused and I thought I might become and old man and complain bitterly that, ‘they keep moving things in this store, I can’t find anything’. In fact I did a hardcore search up and down and on successive visits, never once seeing the Calgon return. So I gave up. I stopped using it because I couldn’t find it anywhere else. Months pass, almost 5 months in fact. Out of the blue I decided once more to look and see if they ever got anymore Calgon boxes. I had not looked in that long because it showed no sign of ever returning. I even had looked at buying it by the case online through Amazon (minimum 10 boxes per case at roughly $5.20 per box=$52.00 plus shipping). When I looked this time however, I found it!

Reckitt Benckiser's Calgon logo
Image via Wikipedia

Calgon had magically re-appeared not in the same spot, but at least near it’s friend 20 Mule Team Borax on the top shelf as always. There it was, and not just one box. I counted at least 7 boxes in total so someone must have purchased at least 3 boxes out of the case they put on the shelf. Whew! I thought, how lucky am I that whatever oversight, misstep or mistake was made it is now rectified. But it wasn’t enough for me, to just be happy and let this go. I have had more than one of these episodes occur at both the grocery stores I visit. Let me tell you another story about a loyal shopper in search of a brand name product that suddenly vanishes altogether.

My favorite gum, Trident Xtra Care (in any flavor whatsoever, I’m not picky)

Trident Xtra Care gum, I’ve seen it come and go. And now I can’t find it anywhere even after a small glimmer of hope at a national drug store chain. I’ve been buying it every week from two different supermarkets. And yet, no love in return. I had hope when one of the supermarkets it started carrying it after dropping it for a while. Now even the drugstore where I had found a stash of gum has now dropped it too.

Trident Xtra Care gum
Why can't stores in my area keep this in stock?

Hershey’s Extra Dark is not the same as Hershey’s Special Dark. They are in different leagues, worlds apart from one another.

Hershey Special Dark chocolate bar
Not as good! Hershey Special Dark
Hershey Extra Dark Chocolate bar
Good! Hershey Extra Dark

Special Dark as you recall from your trick-or-treating days is the Bit-0-honey of the Hershey’s Mini Assortment  bag. It was like black licorice, blech! It wasn’t all that special, but more bitter than anything else. I despise Hershey Special Dark. However it’s cousin Hershey Extra Dark is different. It’s a 60% Cocoa dream and smoother than any Cadbury, Ghirardelli or Scharffen-Berger. It is the most inexpensive choice save for Cadbury but Cadbury Dark is a dead ringer for Hershey Special Dark and just as objectionable from a taste standpoint. However as I have been pointing out, my favorite product apparently is too difficult for the local grocery stores to keep in stock. I have to go for weeks without a decent chocolate bar usually ending in me buying a Cadbury Special Dark which as I have said is no different than Hershey Special Dark. The best way for me describe it is like eating Nestle bittersweet chocolate morsels (somewhat bitter but WAY too much sugar and 0% cocoa butter).

I guess I should be thankful I make enough money to buy these items regularly. I am so lucky, how lucky I am to have the ability to earn money and have spare time to write about these minor annoyances. It’s true. But at the same time I am achingly curious over the decisions that drive what stores choose to stock and those they let lapse through a fiscal quarter and fiscal year. Is it all a big mistake or is it absolutely necessary to meet your quarterly sales targets? So one customer (namely ME) is inconvenienced and is unlikely to say or do anything about their favorite product going missing without explanation. But this is where I’m drawing the line and asking why, especially give the technology underlying the whole product mix and stocking practices at any retailer. Those guys know what they are doing and I’m an unhappy customer. I am writing this as a way of identifying the damage in the network and will have to begin routing around just like the Internet. Goodbye Supermarket brick and mortar store, hello Amazon dot Com.

vague interests

GreenArrays, Inc.

GreenArrays, Inc..

vague interests

CMOS sensor inventor Eric Fossum discusses digital image sensors: Digital Photography Review

CMOS sensor inventor Eric Fossum discusses digital image sensors: Digital Photography Review.

Check out the video of the Lecture. Dr. Fossum attempts to address the societal and privacy implications of his invention the CMOS sensor. You don’t find too many scientists willing to engage in this type of presentation. And he brings the thorny issues early in the presentation so that he doesn’t run out of time to cover them by sticking them at the end.

Also interesting in this video is Dr. Fossum’s story about how he was assigned the task of improving the reliability of CCDs (charged coupled devices) that were being sent into space. Defects in the sensor could occur when a highly energetic particle entered the sensor and created a defect in the sensor itself (ruing the ability to read out data accurately from the chip). The CCD works by collecting a sample than moving it one step at a time out to the edge of the chip, where it then gets amplified and read, and recorded. So if a defect occurs, the buckets moving a particular row or column of pixels will hit the defect and alter the reading or stop it from reading altogether.

Dr. Fossum was able to get around this by building an amplifier into each pixel. This was achieved, hanks to the scaling down of micro-electronics available in silicon semi-conductors and Moore’s Law. A double-benefit of using CMOS semiconductors for the sensor is you can add all kinds of OTHER electronic circuits on the same chip as the sensor, so things get really interesting because you can integrate them on the silicon (bring up performance, bringing down costs). As Dr. Fossum says, “basically we can integrate so many things, we can create a full camera on a chip. All you do is add power, and out comes an image,…”

Also liked this quote, “The force of marketing is greater than the force of engineering…”

Lastly, he covers his research of quanta-image sensor (QIS) which sounds pretty interesting too.

CMOS Image Sensor has photo diodes (PD), same ...
Image via Wikipedia
vague interests

Always nice to get an update on the elmcity project from Jon Udell. It is the ‘calendar’ of calendars and a great project showing how one can leverage open data, but at the same time confront some technological challenges too.

Jon Udell

As I review and improve the elmcity hubs in selected cities, I am again reminded of William Gibson’s wonderful aphorism: “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” Yesterday we saw that the future of community calendars hasn’t yet arrived at the University of Michigan. But today I was delighted to see that it has arrived, in a big way, for the Ann Arbor public schools. Almost all of them, it turns out, are making good use of Google Calendar to publish machine-readable calendar information. This morning I rounded up thirty of those calendars and added them to Ann Arbor’s elmcity hub, bringing the total number of feeds from 194 to 224.

Here’s the breakdown of the 309 events from the grade schools:

Abbot Elementary8
Allen Elementary13
Angell Elementary7
Bryant Elementary29
Dicken Elementary118
Eberwhite Elementary19
Haisley Elementary25
Mitchell Elementary23

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cloud computers data center google surveillance vague interests

U.S. Requests for Google User Data Spike 29 Percent in Six Months | Threat Level |

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

The number of U.S. government requests for data on Google users for use in criminal investigations rose 29 percent in the last six months, according to data released by the search giant Monday.

via U.S. Requests for Google User Data Spike 29 Percent in Six Months | Threat Level |

Not good news in imho. The reason being is the mission creep and abuses that come with absolute power in the form of a National Security Letter. The other part of the equation is Google’s business model runs opposite to the idea of protecting people’s information. If you disagree, I ask that you read this blog post from Christopher Soghoian, where he details just what exactly it is Google does when it keeps all your data unencrypted in its data centers. In order to sell AdWords and serve advertisements to you, Google needs to keep everything open and unencrypted. At the same time they aren’t too casual in their stewardship of your data, but they do respond to law enforcement requests for customer data. To quote Seghoian at the end of his blog entry:

The end result is that law enforcement agencies can, and regularly do request user data from the company — requests that would lead to nothing if the company put user security and privacy first.”

And that indeed is the moral of the story. Which leaves everyone asking what’s the alternative? Earlier in the same story the blame is placed square on the end-user for not protecting themselves. Encryption tools for email and personal documents have been around for a long time. And often there are commercial products available to help accomplish some level of privacy even for so-called Cloud hosted data. But the friction point is always going to be the level of familiarity, ease of use and cost of the product before it is as widely used and adopted as Webmail has been since the advent of desktop email clients like Eudora.

So if you really have concerns, take action, don’t wait for Google to act to defend your rights. Encrypt your email, your documents and make Google one bit less culpable for any law enforcement requests that may or may not include your personal data.

vague interests

I’ve been trying to find this movie for a while, now I got the link.

High Tech History

This past June, fellow High Tech History writer Gil Press wrote an entry  in recognition of International Business Machines’ centennial. In the interim, I came across a documentary created by noted filmmaker Errol Morris  for IBM that draws on the experiences of, among others, the corporation’s former technicians and executives to tell a thirty-minute story of some of IBM’s more notable achievements in computing over the last one hundred years.

In this instance, Morris’ collaboration with noted composer Philip Glass resulted in an expertly produced, sentimental (occasionally overly so), and informative oral history. Morris and Glass previously worked together on the 2003 Oscar-winning documentary, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara. And this was not the first time that Morris had been commissioned to work for IBM. In 1999 he filmed a short documentary intended to screen at an in-house conference for IBM employees. The conference never took place…

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Erik Duval's Weblog

Wolfgang Greller made some interesting comments on his blog about an interview with me on Learning Analytics.

I’m a bit puzzled by his remark that

Duval being a computer scientist strongly believes in the power of data and the revelations it holds.

Actually, I am not sure what would be the alternative to ‘believing in data’ – not believing in data? Isn’t confronting theories with data one of the core activities of any science?

For me, there lies one of the most important promises of learning analytics: as a research domain, technology enhanced learning is too much a field of opinions – maybe learning analytics can help to turn the field into more of a collection of experimentally validated theories? Into more of a science?

I’m not sure I understand the problem that Wolfgang seems to have with data. Of course, a real issue is selecting what kind of data…

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Pioneering Campus CIOs Say Necessity Drives Shift to Cloud — Campus Technology

Cloud computing stack showing infrastructure, ...
Image via Wikipedia
The Seal of the United States Federal Bureau o...
Image via Wikipedia

Pioneering Campus CIOs Say Necessity Drives Shift to Cloud By David Raths 10/25/11
A recent survey of campus IT leaders suggested that most colleges and universities are still gun shy about cloud computing. Yet if attendance at conference meetings is any gauge, there is widespread curiosity about the experience of early adopters.

via Pioneering Campus CIOs Say Necessity Drives Shift to Cloud — Campus Technology.

The number of U.S. government requests for data on Google users for use in criminal investigations rose 29 percent in the last six months, according to data released by the search giant Monday. By Ryan Singel Email Author October 25, 2011  |  11:07 am

via U.S. Requests for Google User Data Spike 29 Percent in Six Months | Threat Level |

I think the old adage about Greeks Bearing Gifts applies here, or should I say geeks bearing gifts?! Cloud computing as it applies to desktop productivity apps is a double-edged sword as it is commonly practiced in Higher Ed. What was once seen as a major outsourcing/cost-savings dumping Student email off to willing companies like Google is now seen as the ‘wave of the future’ where desktops give way to mobile devices and Web apps slowly evolve into just apps, independent of the websites where they actually run. However beware dear reader as those contracts you sign and the myriad terms of your Service Level Agreement are hammered out, rules can change. And by that I mean, the rule regarding simple things like, National Security Letters sent by the FBI to Google Inc. for the email of an individual you have outsourced your Student Email services to. I ask here to anyone who is reading, does Google under the terms of its contracts with a Higher Ed I.T. unit have to notify anyone that they are sending 6 months or more of GMail messages to the FBI to read at their leisure?

I’m reminded somewhat of the bad old days under Napster, where Higher Ed eventually started to receive mass quantities of DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) notices about infringing music files being shared over their data networks. In cases like that, each school could set its own policy. Some were very neutral asking for proof of the infringement, and in some cases ignoring the request because the point of origin was not the copyright holder but a 3rd party clearance group who spammed every University on behalf of the Recording Industry (RIAA). The beauty of the democracy and law for DMCA requests meant each institution could now decide how best to pursue the matter and do so at their own discretion. Not so with government requests for electronic data, oh no. For a national security letter, the University doesn’t even have to notify the individual that their data is being shared to the FBI. Nor can the tell anyone, it’s a complete, air-tight gag order placed on the service provider whomever they may be (Library, Student Records, or University I.T.) Whither the case of the outsourced University I.T. then?

In the haste to save money the SLAs Universities across the U.S. have made with big name providers like Google have made everyone subject to the rules governing that provider. Google is not an institution of Higher Ed. They are for profit, a U.S. corporation subject to all the laws governing any company chartered in the U.S. And they unlike Higher Ed do not have the interest, much less the luxury of responding to National Security letters in their own way, or at their own discretion. In fact, they don’t have to tell anyone what their actually policy as such is that’s private only for their top level officers and their Legal Dept. to know. So in the mad rush to create the omnipresent future of ‘Cloud Computing’ one must ask themselves, are we really only making the surveillance by Government easier? Are we really understanding what we give up when we decide to adopt applications/data hosted in the Cloud? Sure, yes, privacy as then CEO of Sun Microsystems Scott McNeely once boasted is ‘You have zero privacy anyway, get over it‘. But do we really understand the full implication of what this means?

I dare say it’s the folks focusing on the bottom line who are signing away our rights without us ever getting a say. And while I understand that even non-profit Higher Ed is run like a business, they are the last folks who should be participating in this construction of the Data Cloud Surveillance State we find ourselves in now. If we cannot choose for ourselves, what then do we have left for ourselves? Our thoughts? Our feelings? Sorry no, those too are now housed in the cloud by the likes of Facebook Timeline lifesteaming. Now everyone knows everything and you have surrendered it all just for the sake of catching up with some old College and High School friends. That’s too high a price to pay I think. So, to the degree possible I am unwilling to just let this ‘freedom’ ebb through a process of adopting this new App or that new platform. The new New Thing maybe cool, but there’s a whole lotta string attached.

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The 20 Most Notable Engineers of All Time | High Tech History

John Ambrose Fleming
Image via Wikipedia

No. 7.  John Ambrose Fleming: Sir John Ambrose Fleming is the inventor of the first vacuum tube. His engineering feat is known as the precursor to electronics — even though the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated his patent.

via The 20 Most Notable Engineers of All Time | High Tech History.

Until I read this list, I didn’t know who invented the vacuum tube. I did however understand the incredible importance of the vacuum tube though. Especially as it applied to the early computer industry. After that the transistor took over. But oh that early time of designing circuits and working on logic! Without any of those historical antecedents we would not have the computers of today. The necessity of switching voltages from high to low is the only way to mimic the registers in an adding machine, spinning, counting off one digit at a time. Wiring those tubes up into circuits and creating logic with them was the next big leap in intuition.

Without the vacuum tube there would be no electrical engineering, no electronics industry and no devices like wireless telegraphs, wireless radio, etc. Everything hinged on this invention. So cheers to John Ambrose Fleming and the vaccuum tube. Being able to apply some kind of useful purpose to what would have been thought of as a laboratory curiosity, a magic toy to manipulate cathode rays. But somehow Fleming was able to see an application of this technology to a useful end and the rest they say is history.