The Center IT outfit I work for is dumping as much on premise Exchange Mailbox hosting as it can. However we are sticking with Outlook365 as provisioned by Microsoft (essentially an Outlook’d version of Hotmail). It has the calendar and global address list we all have come to rely on. But as this article goes into great detail on the rest of the Office Suite, people aren’t creating as many documents as they once did. We’re viewing them yes, but we just aren’t creating them.
I wonder how much of this is due in part to re-use or the assignment of duties to much higher top level people to become the authors. Your average admin assistant or even secretary doesn’t draft anything dictated to them anymore. The top level types now generally would be embarrassed to dictate something out to anyone. Plus the culture of secrecy necessitates more 1-to-1 style communications. And long form writing? Who does that anymore? No one writes letters, they write brief email or even briefer text, Tweets or Facebook updates. Everything is abbreviated to such a degree you don’t need thesaurus, pagination, or any of the super specialized doo-dads and add-ons we all begged M$ and Novell to add to their première word processors back in the day.
From an evolutionary standpoint, we could get by with the original text editors first made available on timesharing systems. I’m thinking of utilities like line editors (that’s really a step backwards, so I’m being really facetious here). The point I’m making is we’ve gone through a very advanced stage in the evolution of our writing tool of choice and it became a monopoly. WordPerfect lost out and fell by the wayside. Primary, Secondary and Middle Schools across the U.S. adopted M$ Word. They made it a requirement. Every college freshman has been given discounts to further the loyalty to the Office Suite. Now we don’t write like we used to, much less read. What’s the use of writing something so long in pages, no one will ever read it? We’ve jumped the shark of long form writing, and therefore the premiere app, the killer app for the desktop computer is slowly receding behind us as we keep speeding ahead. Eventually we’ll see it on the horizon, it’s sails being the last visible part, the crow’s nest, then poof! It will disappear below the horizon line. We’ll be left with our nostalgic memories of the first time we used MS Word.
One day I’m sure everyone will routinely collect all sorts of data about themselves. But because I’ve been interested in data for a very long time, I started doing this long ago. I actually assumed lots of other people were doing it too, but apparently they were not. And so now I have what is probably one of the world’s largest collections of personal data.
In some ways similar to Stephen Wolfram, Gordon Bell at Microsoft has engaged in an attempt to record his “LifeBits” using a ‘wearable’ computer to record video and capture what goes on in his life. In my opinion, Stephen Wolfram has done Gordon Bell one better by collecting data over a much longer period and of a much wider range than Gordon Bell accomplished within the scope of LifeBits. Reading Wolfram’s summary of all his data plots is as interesting as seeing the plots themselves. There can be no doubt that Stephen Wolfram has always and will continue to think differently than most folks, and dare I say most scientists. Bravo!
The biggest difference between MyLifeBits versus Wolfram’s personal data collection is the Wolram’s emphasis on non-image based data. The goal it seems for the Microsoft Research group is to fulfill the promise of Vannevar Bush’s old article titled “As we may think” printed in the Atlantic, July 1945. In this article Bush proposes a prototype of a more ‘visual computer’ that would act as a memory recall and analytic thinking aid. He named it the Memex.
Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell of Microsoft Research, seemed to be focused on the novelty of a camera carried and taking pictures automatically of the area immediately in front of it. This log of ‘what was seen’ was meant to help cement visual memory and recall. Gordon Bell had spent a long period of time digitizing, “articles, books, cards, CDs, letters, memos, papers, photos, pictures, presentations, home movies, videotaped lectures, and voice recordings and stored them digitally.” This over emphasis on visual data I think if used properly might be useful to some but is more a product of Gordon Bell’s own personal interest in seeing how much he could capture then catalog after the fact.
Stephen Wolfram’s data wasn’t even necessarily based on a ‘wearable computer‘ the way MyLifeBits seems to be. Wolfram built in a logging/capture system into things he did daily on a computer. This even included data collected by a digital pedometer to measure the steps he would take in a day. The plots of the data are most interesting in comparison to one another especially given the length of time over which they were collected (a much bigger set than Gordon Bell’s Life Bits I dare say). So maybe this points to another step forward in the evolution of Lifebits perhaps? Wolfram’s data seems to be more useful in a lot of ways, he’s not as focused on memory and recall of any given day. But maybe a synthesis of Wolfram’s data collection methods and analysis and Gordon Bell’s MyLifeBits capture of image data might be useful to a broader range of people if someone wanted to embrace and extend these two scientists’ personal data projects.
In the old telephone dial-up, modem pool days there were a lot of people re-selling their data connections to provide on-ramps to the Information Superhighway. Now that’s about all you can drive on is the Superhighway. All the back streets and side roads are slowly kind of being ignored by the more popular social networking platforms
Famously proprietary Microsoft never dared to extract a tax on every piece of software written by others for Windows—perhaps because, in the absence of consistent Internet access in the 1990s through which to manage purchases and licenses, there’d be no realistic way to make it happen.
While true that Microsoft didn’t tax Software Developers who sold product running on the Windows OS, a kind of a tax levy did exist for hardware manufacturers creating desktop pc’s with Intel chips inside. But message received I get the bigger point, cul-de-sacs don’t make good computers. They do however make good appliances. But as the author Jonathan Zittrain points out we are becoming less aware of the distinction between a computer and an applicance, and have lowered our expectation accordingly.
In fact this points to the bigger trend of not just computers becoming silos of information/entertainment consumption no, not by a long shot. This trend was preceded by the wild popularity of MySpace, followed quickly by Facebook and now Twitter. All platforms as described by their owners with some amount of API publishing and hooks allowed to let in 3rd party developers (like game maker Zynga). But so what if I can play Scrabble or Farmville with my ‘friends’ on a social networking ‘platform’? Am I still getting access to the Internet? Probably not, as you are most likely reading what ever filters into or out of the central all-encompassing data store of the Social Networking Platform.
Like the old World Maps in the days before Columbus, there be Dragons and the world ends HERE even though platform owners might say otherwise. It is an Intranet pure and simple, a gated community that forces unique identities on all participants. Worse yet it is a big brother-like panopticon where each step and every little movement monitored and tallied. You take quizzes, you like, you share, all these things are collection points, check points to get more data about you. And that is the TAX levied on anyone who voluntarily participates in a social networking platform.
So long live the Internet, even though it’s frontier, wild-catting days are nearly over. There will be books and movies like How the Cyberspace was Won, and the pioneers will all be noted and revered. We’ll remember when we could go anywhere we wanted and do lots of things we never dreamed. But those days are slipping as new laws get passed under very suspicious pretenses all in the name of Commerce. As for me I much prefer Freedom over Commerce, and you can log that in your stupid little database.
Microsoft has a Cloud Data platform entitled Azure that competes with Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). However beyond just having a product offering out there to let people use their C# development environment for making cloud based applications, there doesn’t seem to be a greater grander goal. Or is there,…
Probase is a Microsoft Research project described as an “ongoing project that focuses on knowledge acquisition and knowledge serving.” Its primary goal is to “enable machines to understand human behavior and human communication.” It can be compared to Cyc, DBpedia or Freebase in that it is attempting to compile a massive collection of structured data that can be used to power artificial intelligence applications.
Who knew Microsoft was so interested in things only IBM Research’s Watson could demonstrate? AI (artificial intelligence) seems to be targeted at Bing search engine results. And in order to back this all up, they have to ditch their huge commitment to Microsoft SQL Server and go for a NoSQL database in order to hold all the unstructured data. This seems like a huge shift away from desktop and data center applications and something much more oriented to a cloud computing application where collected data is money in the bank. This is best expressed in the example given in the story of Google vs. Facebook. Google may collect data, but it is really delivering ads to eyeballs. Whereas Facebook is just collecting the data and sharing that to the highest bidder. Seems like Microsoft is going the Facebook route of wanting to collect and own the data rather than merely hosting other people’s data (like Google and Yahoo).
“We believe the issue is resolved as we have expanded the database threshold to more than 1 trillion records. In the meantime, we are working with Microsoft to develop a warning system on database thresholds so we can anticipate these issues in the future.”
This is the key phrase regarding the recent event where BI stopped sending out alerts for the criminals it was tracking on behalf of police departments around the country. A company like this should do everything it can to design it’s systems for tracking so an eventuality like this doesn’t happen. How long before they bump up against the 1 Trillion record limit? I ask you. Let’s go back to the original article as it was posted on the BBC Online:
Thousands of US sex offenders, prisoners on parole and other convicts were left unmonitored after an electronic tagging system shut down because of data overload.
BI Incorporated, which runs the system, reached its data threshold – more than two billion records – on Tuesday.
This left authorities across 49 states unaware of offenders’ movement for about 12 hours.
BI increased its data storage capacity to avoid a repeat of the problem.
Prisons and other corrections agencies were blocked from getting notifications on about 16,000 people, BI Incorporated spokesman Jock Waldo said on Wednesday.
So the question I have a question as to how 16,000 people results in 2 Billion records in the database? Is that really all they are doing? How much old junk data are they keeping for legal purposes or just because they can keep it for potential future use? And how is it that a company depends on Microsoft to bail them out of such a critical situation. These seems like a very amateurish mistake. And could have been avoided by anyone with the title of Database Administrator who monitors the server on a regular basis. They should have known this thing was hitting an upper limit months ago and started rolling out a new database and moving records into it. This also shows the fundamental flaw in using SQL based record keeping for so-called real time data. Facebook gave up on it long ago as did Google. Rows and Tables and real time updates, doesn’t scale well. And if you cannot employ a Database Administrator to tell you when you are hitting a critical limit, but are dumping it off on the vendor, well good luck with that one guys.
A few years ago nVidia opened up its video cards to software programmers to write applications that could re-use the video card to perform other tasks. One of those tasks useful to an average person is to speed up converting videos from one format to another. Now Microsoft is saying they invented the idea and are claiming they own the patent on using a video card to speed up video encoding.
Microsoft hasnt been granted the patent despite it having been first filed in September 2004, but it may face challenges to the claims from companies that began using GPU video encoding independently after the patent application was filed but before it was published.
Given that it took nVidia quite a while before they got any developers to work on shipping products that took advantage of their programmable GPUs (the CUDA architecture), it’s a surprise to me that Microsoft even filed a patent on this. Previously I have re-posted some press releases surrounding the products known as Avivo (from ATI/AMD) and Badaboom, which was designed to speed up this very thing. You rip a DVD and you want to save it to a smaller file size or one that’s compatible with a portable video player. But it takes forever on your computer, so what’s a person to do? Well thanks to nVidia and product X you just add a little software and speed up that transcoding to .mp4 format. It’s like discovering your car can do something you didn’t know was even possible, like turning into a Corvette on straight flat roadways. Now be advised not all roads are straight or flat, but when they are Boom! You can go as fast as you want. That’s what having an accelerated video encoding is like. It’s specialized but when you use it, it really works and it really speeds things up. I think part of why Microsoft wants to enforce this is in the hope of possibly getting licensing fees but part of it is also maintaining it’s bullying prowess on the desktop computer. They own the OS right? So why not remind everyone that were it not for their generosity and research labs we would all be using pocket calculators to do our taxes. This is one case, a premiere example of how patents are stifling innovation. And I would love to see this patent never be enforced or struck down.