Monthly Archives: March 2005

Googling quotes

Google has a couple of cool new features: If you put in a sticker symbol, it will give you a quote. And if you have Firefox or Mozilla, it will pre-fetch the first page for you, so that it is already cached when you click on it.
Which leads me to suspect (especially when you include Google Desktop and Google’s limitation of its first page to 26 words or so) that Google is a company populated by Morlocks intent on bringing back the command line interface….

Distributed password cracking

Interesting article in the Washington post about how the Secret Service in the States is using grid computing to crack passwords. Interesting because it adds an aspect of social engineering by creating targeted word lists based on the suspect’s emails, web cache etc.
In other words: Be eclectic, multilingual, and really good at remembering non-meaningful passwords…..
(from Slashdot, which for once had some good jokes in the comments)

Peter Drucker on protectionism

Peter Drucker, who remains the “consultant’s consultant” shows his form in his article The Evolution of Protectionism in National Interest, arguing that the United States is no longer the single dominant economy in a world where blocking imports no longer can protect home industries, since prices are set in worldwide markets where information is freely available. Protectionism has evolved from tariffs to export subsidies and bureaucracy – especially on agriculture. And regulatory bodies, especially national ones, matter less since multinational companies increasingly are small and outside the realms of economic statistics. Excerpt:

We have almost no data on the world economy of the multinationals. Our statistics are primarily domestic. Nor do we truly understand the multinational and how it is being managed. How, for instance, does a multinational pharmaceutical company decide in what country first to introduce a new drug? How does a medium-sized multinational, like the German surgical-instrument maker mentioned earlier, decide whether to keep importing into the United States? To buy a small American competitor who has become available? To build its own plant in the United States and to start manufacturing there? Our dominant economic theories–both Keynes and Friedman’s monetarism–assume that any but the smallest national economy can be managed in isolation from world economy and world society. With an estimated 30 percent of the U.S. workforce affected by foreign trade (and a much higher percentage in most European countries), this is patently absurd. But an economic theory of the world economy exists so far only in fragments. It is badly needed. In the meantime, however, the world economy of multinationals has become a truly global one, rather than one dominated by America and by U.S. companies.
He finishes by painting a picture of an (as it seems to me, at least, global) “new mercantilism” increasingly influenced by the E.U. and its standards and regulations, adopted as free market alternative to the US-dominated NAFTA.
(Via Marginal Revolution)

Open software move on ERP?

So, IBM will buy Ascential, presumably to fill out its software range, which has been missing a good ERP suite.
From a purely economic and technical viewpoint, this one does not make sense. IBM is a company which has as a strategy that they will do anything that creates value for the customer (which really isn’t a strategy according to Porter’s definiton, but IBM might be the only company in the enterprise space that still could make this claim and sound believable.) If the company sticks to anything, it is that they believe in open standards and modularism, as evidenced in their heavy support for Linux, Java, XML and other open standards.
Which begs the question – if your future direction is all about open standards, you really shouldn’t need to own companies and software like Ascential, you could just work with whatever comes down the pipeline and publishes to the right standards. You could have a partnership, recommend Ascential because your salesforcre knew it, but really let the customers decide.
So, I guess the interesting question is what IBM will do with Ascential’s stuff once they own it? Will they reengineer it to become thoroughly open standard and pull the same trick on SAP as they pulled on Microsoft (that is, make the software (which IBM can’t sell anyway) available for free and make their money on modifications, operation and perhaps added hardware sales?)
If that is in the offing, we can look forward to some really interesting years ahead, with competition heating up and utility computing perhaps really happening at last.

Integrated air travel

The Economist has an interesting article on the coming optimization of airline processes, to make travel easier. Most of this is stuff that travellers have known for quite a while – self-service kiosks, electronic tickets, and check-in via mobile telephone. A more substantial investment (both in terms of equipment and procedural changes) is RFID for luggage handling. This will take longer time, and RFID technology will have to improve quite a bit. The article mentions 95% accuracy RFID tag reading in transportation settings, but a large company I talked to said it was more in the neighbourhood or 80-90%, that is, the same as unassisted bar codes and nowhere near what is necessary for accurate large-scale luggage handling.
That will change, of course. The main way forward, as the article points out, lies in standardization and interlinking – making all airlines use these technologies. Wonderful for the traveller, but it erodes the potential for differentiation. But that potential has probably disappeared already, since most of the large airlines, at least those within functioning alliances, have the technologies anyway.
The article briefly touches on the real problem of airline travel: The interlinking to procedures and services not provided by airlines. The high-speed train to the airport which requires you to queue through a moronically designed ticket reader (try Gardermoen in Oslo, where the train does 200km/h and then leaves you waiting for 5 minutes to get off the concourse), the taxi service (which in many countries, notably the US and China, still don’t take credit cards) and the various public control activities will need to be streamlined and interlinked as well.
A few years ago, when I travelled frequently to the US, I had a wonderful thing called the INSpass, which was a biometric identification system (hand geometry) that would get me into the US in less than two minutes. I walked up to the INSpass kiosk, pulled an electronic card through, typed in how long I would stay, put my hand on the hand reader, got a receipt I put in my passport and I was on my way. Wonderful, and if my technological insticts don’t totally underserve me, at least as secure and accurate as a manual check by an agent, electronic passport or not. The upshot was that I was through immigration in no time flat, and, with only carry-on luggage, could make my connection to Boston two hours ahead of my original booking.
Airlines cut costs and improve accuracy by using electronic identification. I just wich public control services would do the same thing. The INSpass was brilliant – I spent 45 minutes getting it, and saved many hours using it. I just wish the US Immigration office would revive it – and that many other public control organizations would look at the INSpass and realize that it is a lot easier to sell increased control to travellers by offering convenience than an increasingly threadbare offer of more security from terrorists.
Integration within airlines will help. Integration outside airlines is even better, but the benefits of the integation have to show through to the individual traveller.
And while we are at it – as a friend of mine once wondered, how come we carry our luggage until we are almost on the airplane, then drop it off on a conveyor belt that feeds into an incredibly expensive mechanism to take the bag the last 500 meters to the plane? Why not let us drop the bag off closer to home – or have us carry it all the way out to the plane? I am aware of the need for load balancing before loading the plane, but you could do that calculation at the gate, you could also get your luggage at the gate when you leave. This would reduce the wear and tear and theft that comes with moving luggage around on big airports, for instance. Of course, you would still need the conveyor system for transfers, but still….. Seing your bag leaving the plane on a conveyor belt as you disembark and knowing that you will see it again, if you are lucky, after 20 minutes deep in the not particularly friendly bowels of whatever airport you are at does not give the impression of a well integrated service. But I ramble…..
Change is in the air. But not really – what is happening so far has a strong whiff of speeding up the mess. And that, of course, is marginally useful.

English is as English does

Jeremy Paxman: The English: Portrait of a people
Fun book – really a collection of essays – on the English (not to be confused with Britain…..). A good companion to Bill Bryson’s Notes From a Small Island, which Paxman pans a number of times with the huffiness of an academically oriented journalist beaten to the punch by an American with better jokes and fewer footnotes.
Paxman sees the English myth – of “mustn’t grumble”, uneducated elite and imperial post-partum depressions – as a big lie. Hooliganism, modernism and individuality are not aberrations, but the true English character, and have always been. Interesting chapter on the strict hierarchical relationship between the sexes, as well as the consequences of generations trained never to display emotion.