Magic Box

Teases the NYT: “Imagine a magic box that gives you an extra half-hour of free time every day. Imagine that it could also shift any TV show so that it comes on just as you sit down to watch. Imagine a gizmo so amazing that everyone who bought it turned into an evangelical fanatic, extolling its virtues to anyone within earshot.”

The answer: a Digital Video Recorder.


The New York Times writes about “Go” (the game) in an article entitled In an Ancient Game, Computing’s Future:

Deceptively easy to learn, either for a computer or a human, it is a game of such depth and complexity that it can take years for a person to become a strong player. To date, no computer has been able to achieve a skill level beyond that of the casual player.

The game is played on a board divided into a grid of 19 horizontal and 19 vertical lines. Black and white pieces called stones are placed one at a time on the grid’s intersections. The object is to acquire and defend territory by surrounding it with stones.

Programmers working on Go see it as more accurate than chess in reflecting the ineffable ways in which the human mind works. The challenge of programming a computer to mimic that process goes to the core of artificial intelligence, which involves the study of learning and decision-making, strategic thinking, knowledge representation, pattern recognition and, perhaps most intriguingly, intuition.

“A good Go player could make a move and other players say, `Yes, that’s a good move,’ but they can’t explain to you why it’s a good move, or how they even know it’s a good move,” said Dr. John McCarthy, a professor emeritus at Stanford University and a pioneer in artificial intelligence.

Dr. Danny Hillis, a computer designer and chairman of the technology company Applied Minds, said that the depth of Go made it ripe for the kind of scientific progress that comes from studying one example in great detail. “We want the equivalent of a fruit fly to study,” Dr. Hillis said. “Chess was the fruit fly for studying logic. Go may be the fruit fly for studying intuition.”

Slashdot thread

Need to get the game. I had first read about it many years ago, but have never played it.

Bugzilla for Bugs and Project Management

Writes Cory Doctorow:

Bugzilla is the bug-tracker that was created for the hackers who work on the brilliant Mozilla browser. A bug-tracker’s job is to keep track of open tasks — features that need implmenting, bugs that need fixing, ideas for new stuff — keep track of who’s working on them, and log authoratative fixes. You know that $50,000 project-management database your company uses to keep track of its universe? That’s what Bugzilla does, only it’s free.

Every time I use Bugzilla, I think to myself, “Here is a tool that can and should be used by most every organization, a central repository of tasks and efforts that can be searched and accessed and referred back to.”

We need to look at Bugzilla for 2 reasons: one, for our own internal bug tracking system, and second, possibly seeing if we can use it build a project management system, which is one of the things we need to have to complement the Digital Dashboard and Enterprise Software solutions we are developing. Projects is what everyone does. Goes very well with blogs also.

Open Source TCO

InfoWorld’s Russell Pavlicek writes:

For the first time in recent memory, I find myself in total agreement with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. According to published accounts of the Microsoft Fusion 2002 conference, Mr. Ballmer said, “We haven’t figured out how to be lower-priced than Linux.”

He adds, “Cost of acquisition has been only a small part of the equation for calculating the TCO (total cost of ownership) of a PC solution.”, and then elaborates on the various factors that go into making up the TCO.

Separately, Brendan Scott has written a paper on Why Free Software’s Long Run TCO must be lower . The abstract:

This paper argues that the long run total cost of operations (TCO) for a suite of proprietary software must necessarily be greater than that for an equivalent suite of free software, with the TCO benefits maximised in the case of the GPL and GPL-like free software. The total cost of operation of a suite of free software is the price determined by a competitive market for a bundle of goods and services associated with that suite. Because the source code is open and not subject to limitations on development or distribution, the market for services relating to that code will be perfectly competitive. A rational vendor will use a proprietary route for a program only where releasing that program in that way will allow them to increase their profit above that which would be returned to them by the operation of a competitive market. This result should be hardly surprising, given that the express objective of copyright law is to mandate a market failure and permit software creators to extract above market rents as an incentive for the creation of that software.

Customers attempting to evaluate a free software v proprietary solution can confine their investigation to an evaluation of the ability of the packages to meet the customer’s needs, and may presume that the long run TCO will favor the free software package. Further, because the licensing costs are additional dead weight costs, a customer ought to also prefer a free software solution with functionality shortfalls where those shortfalls can be overcome for less than the licensing cost for the proprietary solution.

TCO is our selling point for the Thin Client-Thick Server solution. We need to examine all the factors that make up the TCO over a 3- to 5-year timeframe. It will also dictate how we do our pricing, and the complementors we need to work with for providing a total solution to the customers.

Russia – Business Week

From Russia’s New Wealth in Business Week:

A host of tycoons old and new–are deep into the hunt for the Next Big Thing in Russia’s economy, a hunt that’s drawing capital into previously neglected areas such as agriculture, natural gas, electricity, railroads, and financial services. These investments are still in the early stages. But a coterie of Russia’s billionaire businessmen are building on their political intelligence and dealmaking skills to choose the right initial investments. And if they succeed in grabbing big stakes in the newly open markets, they may well decide to pump a big portion of their fortunes into Russia rather than Swiss villas or bank accounts in Cyprus.

Two countries (emerging markets) I want to visit in the coming year: Russia and Brazil. Its very difficult imagining a country by reading an article. Spending even a few days there creates images which help put things in perspective and help in building the global mindset. I did that earlier with China (Shanghai) in Feb-Mar for 3 days.

World’s Top Brands

Business Week writes about BW’s study with Interbrand. A quote from David Martin, U.S. president of Interbrand: “When a brand earns our trust, we not only repeat our purchases, but we also tell all of our friends about it.

The top 10 brands: Coca-Cola, Microsoft, IBM, GE, Intel, Nokia, Disney, McDonalds, Marlboro, Mercedes.

How many of these brands do you use in your daily life? My answer: Microsoft (on a few PCs in our office), Intel (Inside), Nokia (some cellphones), McDonalds (dinner, once in a while).

Sun’s Software Strategy has an interview with Sun’s software czar, Jonathan Schwartz. A few interesting excerpts:

  • Do we believe there’s a healthy market opportunity to deliver a Linux client and do call centers, payment processing centers, reservation systems and factory floor plants? Absolutely.

  • The Gnome community has delivered the user environment. All we need is a browser to make sure we round out the trio.

  • If you run lots and lots of low-end systems, you need to worry about provisioning and management that you didn’t (have to worry about) when all you ran was one E15K (Sun’s top-end 72-processor server). All we’re doing [with N1] is taking the technology in an E15K and repurposing it for 2,000 Netra T1s and x86 blades.

  • Have you noticed we already ship MySQL on Linux and Solaris? What I’ve heard back from customers is that (IBM’s database) DB2 is outrageously expensive and (IBM’s e-commerce software) WebSphere is fifty thousand bucks (per) CPU. Our value proposition to them is, “Why on earth did you pay fifty-thousand bucks a CPU for WebSphere when you can get a free Application Server 7.0 from Sun running on Solaris and Linux–and by the way, we’ll give you a database as well? Why do you bother with DB2 on Linux? Why don’t you just run MySQL? It’s cheaper, faster and more stable…”

  • The challenge for us is to go deliver…solutions (rather than isolated packages). For example, when we talk about an identity solution (software to track computer users’ identities such as login names), it’s not integrated just with our directory, it’s with clustering so we have a highly available network identity solution–with JavaCard so we have microprocessor smart card element of a network identity solution, with the Portal Server so we have a network identity enabled single sign-on portal solution.

    A lot of food for thought out there, as we think the software components necessary for the emerging markets.

  • The New Napsters – Fortune

    Writes Fortune: “Napster as we knew it is gone. But what’s taken its place is a lot scarier for the music industry–and perhaps unstoppable. They’re called file-sharing services, or P2P networks in geek-speak, and the three most popular ones–Kazaa, Grokster, and Morpheus–have a combined 70 million active users, compared with only 20 million for Napster in its heyday. Oh, and it’s not just music being zapped across the Internet anymore. The new Napsters house videogames, software programs, and movies, including ones now playing in theaters.”

    A related story on Salon on Bootleg culture: “Powerful computers and easy-to-use editing software are challenging our conceptions of authorship and creativity. As usual, the entertainment industry doesn’t like this one bit.”

    TECH TALK: Tech’s 10X Tsunamis: Outsourcing: Partnering for Profit

    As companies worldwide focus on cutting costs in the face of slowing growth, one 10X force which is coming to the fore is Outsourcing. Manufacturing, Software Development, Web Hosting, Customer Support, RD all are being outsourced as companies focus on their core competencies. Technology has played a crucial part in enabling this transition to outsourcing by making it easier for enterprises to connect up their computer systems to create a real-time, extended enterprise.

    The Economist (July 11, 2002) gives an example of Quanta, the worlds largest contract manufacturer of laptops, and puts contract manufacturing in perspective:

    If you own a Dell laptop, there is a better-than-evens chance that it was made in Quanta’s factory near Taipei’s airport. If you have an IBM, Apple, Compaqin fact, any big brand except Toshibathere’s a fighting chance that it was made only metres away under the same roof. Quanta, in other words, is a contract manufacturera company that designs and makes gadgets but leaves the marketing (and increasingly only that) to companies with famous brands.

    Contract manufacturers tend to be either providers of so-called electronic manufacturing services (EMS) or original design manufacturers (ODMs). The former simply build machines designed by other companies. This makes economic sense, because aggregating several companies’ orders allows EMS firms to achieve greater economies of scale and lower risk than their customers could ever do.

    Outsourcing is what enabled Microsoft to build the Xbox in record-time, and take aim at Sony for the gaming consoles business (and perhaps, later, for the home media server market). Wired wrote about The Making of the Xbox in a cover story (November 2001):

    Without Flextronics, there would be no Xbox – only the idea of it. “Microsoft has a ton of money, but if they had to build factories, they wouldn’t have done this project,” says Flextronics chair and CEO Michael Marks. “If guys like us didn’t exist, guys like Microsoft wouldn’t do a hardware product. The risk would be too high.”

    Wired provides the wide-angle view on outsourced manufacturing:

    The move toward outsourced manufacturing represents an obvious opportunity for contract manufacturers, but it’s also a potential boon to product innovation. The future of gadget-making is not about making gadgets; it’s about imagining them. Someone else makes the imaginary real.

    “All that money that used to go to fund infrastructure is going into design and innovation,” says Marks. “The companies that thought they were being competitive by having manufacturing, well, now all their factories are half full, and they’re just getting cranky.”

    The result will be a hollowing out of the consumer electronics industry reminiscent of the forces that shaped the computer industry. Consumer electronics now is dominated by huge, vertically integrated conglomerates such as Matsushita (Panasonic), Sony, and Philips. The demands of component sourcing, manufacturing, distribution, and winning retail shelf space, all on the huge scale necessary to make money on slim margins, keep such unwieldy corporate giants on top. But take away the sourcing, manufacturing, and distribution, and suddenly the picture looks very different. All the value heads to innovation and marketing, allowing smaller companies, entrepreneurial firms, and those from outside the electronics industry to compete head-on with the incumbent titans. Microsoft is now taking on Sony, but tomorrow it could be Virgin. Or Nike. Such is the power of an enabling technology like contract manufacturing.

    Monday: Outsourcing (continued)