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Big Business Does It Better?

December 1, 2014

Not necessarily, but some models don’t scale well.  You’ll have to hang with me for a second, but check out this post from The Register.

Amazon has suspended next day delivery in Blighty after reporting its busiest day on record.

This decision could mean the families of last-minute present hunters will go without gifts on Christmas Day, because The Reg understands express delivery will not begin until the New Year.

There’s a list of items that were ordered and not given options for next-day shipping.  Later in the article, you see this (but really, go read the whole thing).

Xavier Garambois, vice-president of EU retail at Amazon, was flabbergasted at the size of the Black Friday sales rush.

He said: “Ever since we introduced Black Friday to the UK in 2010, sales have increased year-on-year but this year really has surpassed all of our expectations.

“Black Friday and Cyber Monday are increasingly influencing EU online shopping, particularly in the UK,” said analyst Michelle Beeson. “These traditionally US sales days may seem irrelevant now, but retail heavyweights like Apple and Amazon have a track record of influencing consumer behavior and setting new standards in Europe.”

So, there are quite a few nice bits in here.  First, the efforts to introduce, “deals” goes worldwide, and it affects everyone who needs a bit of cheap (or expensive) junk in the same way.  BUY, BUY, BUY!  I suppose the need to have junk goes beyond national boarders.

(For the record, we did buy something this weekend.  We’re not immune.)

But more interesting to me is that Amazon doesn’t have the capability in their current model to scale to the level of retail logistics.  Mind you, this hasn’t been proven to be in America yet, but still, the model broke.

Amazon really isn’t doing anything truly revolutionary.  It’s still retail, just a much bigger store.  People go there to buy things and take them home, but the “go” and “take” are changed.  Amazon has counted on parcel delivery to be the last mile, and that appears to have broken in England.  We could probably dig around and find places in England where a store ran out of stock on something and disappointed the people who had driven or bussed there, I suppose.  But this makes the “revolutionary” aspect of the Internet a little more mundane, no?

So now here’s something to watch in the battle for the future of retail.  Will we see the last mile strain in other places as the increase in cyber purchasing rises?  Does this mean that the model is completely broken, and has to be redone (drone delivery anyone?) in the future?  Will people instead opt for getting back in the car for instant gratification?

I suspect this is a blip that will be corrected, but still… very interesting to read.


Architecture for What You Can’t Build

November 24, 2014

Hey, anyone up for doing a bunch of research on something doesn’t exist?  In tech, that’s the norm.

Ericsson and IBM have announced a collaboration to jointly research phased-array antenna designs for 5G, which might prove interesting as nothing has yet been agreed on what 5G might involve.

Crucially for this work, nobody’s yet decided what frequencies 5G will operate on – although Ericsson has previously said it’s looking for 500MHz of contiguous spectrum at above 6GHz and that the technology will be an evolution of LTE.

Hey, what the heck.  Just because nobody knows what it is, doesn’t mean you can’t start thinking about what it could be.  To the point, wireless has always had to balance three factors: number of connections, bandwidth to the connection, and physical distance of the connection.  Most of the time, the number was fixes, and the distance was defined by where you could stick a tower, so it all came down to the bandwidth.  Which means that the bandwidth always suffered.

For the future, I expect that the big change will be, as the article states, directional antennas.  The implication is that micro-cells can be installed to focus on very set areas, with rapid hops from cell to cell.  In really population-dense areas, this could mean a cell every quarter mile or maybe less.  In this way, the bandwidth can be significantly increased, even over what you’d normally see with that much spectrum available.

Of course, radios that have to operate at this frequency will have to be completely redesigned.  If you ever experienced frustration with the battery life on 4G phones… the radios were not significantly changed from the 3G, but the frequency was increased.  That killed battery life as fast as the expanded screens did.  So whatever happens for the next generation, we’d better hope that some good analog engineers are available to do some power saving.

But anyway, this is cool, and it promises to advance connectivity to be even better as time goes on.  The change in the world in the last couple decades continues to astound me.  I can’t wait for technology to completely pass me by, if it hasn’t already.

“God Bless This Country We Love”

November 20, 2014

I just watched our president’s immigration speech.  I’m sure I could be snarky and impressed about a lot of things.  One thing I heard, though, was interesting.

“God bless this country we love.” (and dramatic walking away)

Um, what country is that?  “This country we love.”:  Um, America?  Mexico?  Botswana?

Really, I have no desire to be in politics.  I’m impressed by those who do want to be there.  I would gladly shake any president’s hand for doing a job I’d never want to do.  But really, “God bless this country we love?”

God Bless America

“I Made That Choice Ten Years Ago”

November 12, 2014

Okay, take a look at this:


The Atlas robot created by Google-owned firm Boston Dynamics is a formidable figure at 6ft 2in tall and weighing in at 330lb.

The robot boasts 28 hydraulically actuated joints and stereo vision, and is one of the most advanced robots ever created.

However, it’s not just karate – Ian has another trick up his sleeve – software written by the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Interaction which allows him to drive a car.

I was watching a news report where the commentator was talking about the robot’s ability to break into a door, essentially for search-and-rescue.  So let me say definitively, this is awesomely cool, and as a technology guy, I applaud the amazing efforts.  Stuff like this will change the world.


Here’s something I ask students interested in technology all the time.  Let’s take a driver-less car scenario for a simple robotics programming test.  The car is driving down the road, and suffers a catastrophic problem where it’s now headed to the curb with some ability to steer.  Where do you aim the car in the following cases?

  • Blank spot on the curb or a telephone pole
  • Telephone pole or solid wall
  • Blank spot or baby carriage
  • Baby carriage or elderly person

Those types of choices are going to be programmed into the car in some way, likely years ahead of the cars being on the road.  Obviously, the choices won’t be this black and white, but you get my point.  The car, or the robot, or the heavy machine has to make decisions.  And programmers will be responsible for those decisions years after the fact.

We make these types of choices already, but mostly in controlled environments.  Robots in the automotive industry, for instance, swing heavy cars all over the place with auto workers all around.  But those workers are trained in safety and know where to go and where not to go.  When these things are released into the “wild west” of the real world… well, that’s different.

Technology is totally emotionless, but the human impetus behind it can certainly turn it to a direction that will concern and confuse those who didn’t participate in the decision.  I’ll be very interested in seeing what happens as we start to release more of these amazing pieces of technology into a world where there’s plenty of emotion.

The Machine Tool Ate My Job

November 10, 2014

Hey, look, here’s some non-news!

RoTM One in three UK jobs will be performed by machine in as little as 20 years, according to a new study carried out by Deloitte and the University of Oxford.

Somewhere around a massive 10.8 million people could be replaced by machine by 2034, the researchers claim. Londoners are least likely to be affected (with only 30 per cent of jobs at risk compared to 35 per cent nationwide) and those higher up the management food chain are also safer than their minions from the threat of robo-replacement. “Lower-paid jobs are over five times more likely to be replaced than higher-paid, almost eight times as likely in London,” says the study.

Obviously, I’m not shocked.  Heck, my first real job was building machine controls for robots that were replacing auto workers on the assembly line.  This is called progress (and The Reg means it that way as well).  There are many jobs that will slowly, or rapidly, go away because technology will find better ways to do it.  And that’s how we move the workforce forward.  Really, does anyone want to still be typing data entries into a system when it can be scanned and done much faster?  Wouldn’t that same person be able to do a variety of other jobs that have a large scope but similar skills?

What still troubles me is that the education system is still focused on driving mass-production mentality onto students.  You could argue that the schools developed their base pedagogy back in the days when we were churning out assembly-line workers, and that the methods haven’t changed a lot.  We’re still focusing on bringing the margins (low and high) to the middle, rather than customizing the system.  This is why home-schooling is so popular; parents can tune education for the kids’ interests.

Either way, it continues to be a brave, new world.  Hopefully not in the Huxley sense.

The Parody of Commitment

October 30, 2014

I’ve been on a brutal 11-day business trip, on my way home over cloudy skies as I type.  And what comes to my browser but this piece of pap.

Have you ever wondered what you have to do to keep your man’s eye from wandering? One woman thinks she has the answer – it involves a scalpel and some silicone.

Self-titled sex expert Louise Van Der Velde is telling women who reach their forties to get plastic surgery or face their partner running off with a younger model. 

Louise, who runs a relationship therapy centre in central London, believes ladies only have themselves to blame if their husband starts to find other women more attractive.

Wait, there’s more.

Steering clear of cakes and keeping in shape with regular visits to the gym is not enough though – Louise thinks that women should start to have breast augmentation, liposuction, fillers and the rest as soon as parts of the body start to sag.

She said: ‘A lot of my female clients in their forties and fifties come in and they’re unhappy that their husbands are playing away but they’ve let themselves go.  

So… it’s entirely the woman’s fault when a guy starts catting around, and the only solution is to tart up?  That sounds like someone who makes a lot of money off of selling plastic surgery deciding to sell more.

I sometimes talk about the parody of radical Islam, or other faiths that encourage women to cover up in a tent so as not to arouse the lust of men who can’t control themselves.  So, women are to blame for men being sinful.  This is exactly the same sentiment.  Women are to blame for men being sinful and sleeping around, so they should take radical measures to prevent the sin.  I know it’s not worded that way, but it’s easily read that way once you look at it.

Hey, guys!  How about you make a commitment and love and respect your woman?  She’ll respond by respecting you and herself.  I bet that works better any day than $20k of artificial that begins a spiral to despair.

No Youth Movement

October 15, 2014

I’m sure plenty of my loyal readers would assume that I’d have an opinion on an HR move by tech companies.  And this is definitely more Lynn’s territory, but she’s been crazy at work… she still like y’all.

So anyway, here’s a new health benefit courtesy of the more “forward-thinking” technology groups.

According to a report from NBC News, both Facebook and Apple have begun offering human egg freezing as part of their employee benefits package. The plans would allow employees to have their eggs put on ice and used for conception at a later date.

Apple said the benefit was part of a family medical benefits package it offers workers.

“We continue to expand our benefits for women, with a new extended maternity leave policy, along with cyropreservation and egg storage as part of our extensive support for infertility treatments,” the iGiant said in a statement to The Register.

So first: It’s an interesting idea, and it will likely serve to attract females, especially the ambitious types.  Why not have a hedge to balancing career and family?  I’m sure more companies will start to offer it, especially as it becomes a more standard medical practice.  Note also the extended maternity leave.  Tech is leading the way in becoming more friendly to women.  It’s still not getting a lot more women in tech, but they’re trying.

Second: I’m interested about how charges are handled.  There’s got to be some form of storage fee.  How does that work once the woman leaves the company and goes elsewhere?  Likely it just falls back to the family.  That’s more a tactical question, but it makes me wonder if some potential families might view this as a different form of golden handcuffs.  Since I commented yesterday that uninformed opinion is dumb, I won’t speculate much beyond that.

But third: Wow, this is pretty cynical.  In some way, this backs up a couple of the worst parts of tech, especially tech in the Bay.  There’s an undercurrent in the tech industry that women can’t get ahead if they plan on having kids.  So this is just a way that some jerks of managers (both male and female, I’d note) can put pressure on women not to have kids.  Hey, you can have them later, if you want that promotion you should think about concentrating more on work (wink, wink)…  It also puts pressure on women to embrace an uncertain future in exchange for a promise today.  Freezing eggs doesn’t guarantee pregnancy later, it just increases the odds.

Most interesting to me: This continues the youth movement trend in technology that I know is being noticed by more of us in the gray-hair period of our career.  If you believe the implication that only women without kids can get ahead (and I don’t), and if you believe that the choice to finally have a child pushes the woman to stagnate the career (and I don’t), this essentially is saying that women should get ahead and get their money early in their lives, and then reap that reward by scaling back and having kids when they’re too old to be productive.  What ever happened to feeling that the most productive part of the career was late 40’s?  Not in tech, that’s apparently the time to think about pulling the kids out of the freezer and becoming part of the PTA.  Okay, the contrast is up on that statement, but you get what I’m saying.

So… good for tech in that it’s trying to get women more involved.  Not so good for reinforcing the stereotypes that work and family don’t get along.