Virtual Machines

AMC Queue has an article by Mendel Rosenblum of Stanford University and VMWare about the return of virtual machines:

Although hardware-level virtualization went from being widely used during the 1970s to near extinction in the 1980s, it has come back in a strong way. The success of VMware’s products in the commercial marketplace, together with recent hardware support for virtualization such as Intel’s Vanderpool technology and extensions to IBM’s Power architecture, indicate that it is a technology just now beginning to be fully realized and that it is here to stay.

Computing trends indicate that the data center of the future will likely include a hardware-level virtualization layer and a control system. Services will run in virtual machines and will be mapped onto available hardware resources. Not only will this greatly ease the management of data centers, it will also ease the handling of new hardware, as well as failed hardware. The failure of a single physical box will reduce the pool of available resources, not the availability of a particular service.

Similarly, virtual machine technology will be used to allow aggressive innovation in the area of system software, providing the ability to maintain backward compatibility. Virtual machines will allow for the support of old applications, as well as the current versions, and will test the deployment of new versions that are all based on the same hardware.

One consequence of Moore’s law of semiconductor growth has been the exponential increase in the performance of computing systems. The overhead of a well-tuned hardware virtualization system is extremely small compared with the performance increase. This means that the computing industry can, for only a few percentage points of performance, realize the huge benefits of hardware-level virtualization. Such benefits include the management of both the hardware and the software that runs in virtual machinescurrently a large expense in modern computing environments.

The Innovator’s Battle Plan

[via Anish Sankhalia] HBS Working Knowledge has an excerpt from a new book co-authored by Clay Christensen:

When companies have the same capabilities and motivation, they care about the battle and have the necessary skills to fight it. Skills in execution make the difference hereand because other scholars have addressed these challenges quite capably, we do not focus on them in this book.

The more interesting scenarios occur when there are asymmetriesimportant differences of motivation or skills. Asymmetries of motivation occur when one firm wants to do something that another firm specifically does not want to do. Asymmetries of skills occur when one firm’s strength is another firm’s weakness.

The section discusses three topics:

1. How asymmetries power the process of disruption

2. How to identify the company with the shield of asymmetric motivation and the sword of asymmetric skills on its side

3. How to identify circumstances in which a high-potential disruptive development will prove disappointing, ending in either a brutal fight or incumbent co-option

PVRs and Events

Jon Udell discusses event coverage in the context of the Olympics:

Every fourth summer, IT trade pubs write about the technology that powers the Olympic Games. Its always an interesting topic, but apart from an enhanced focus on security, the Athens 2004 stories were little changed from their Sydney 2000 counterparts. And yet, this Olympics was utterly transformed, for me and for a few million other viewers, by TiVo.

Thanks to this cheap, Linux-based appliance, I was able to compress all of the events that interested me into a fraction of the time it would otherwise have taken to watch them. Ill always remember the Athens games as the first TiVo Olympics. Now Im thinking about ways to make the next one even better.

A portable PVR (personal video recorder) schedule would be a nice improvement. I took a week of vacation during this years games, so while the TiVo back home was recording everything for later use, I couldnt review each days events from my hotel rooms.

Well, why not? Suppose your hotel had a central server with a months worth of the popular cable channels. Filter that using your PVR schedule and voil! the hotel television is rescued from the jaws of irrelevance.

Think about the last conference you attended. You had to make hard choices about which sessions to attend and which to skip. Audio or video proceedings may have been available afterward, but they didnt flow to your PVR. Blogs written by participants and observers helped you fill in the gaps but didnt richly annotate the AV content.

Still, were getting awfully close. In our world where blogs, Wi-Fi, and computer-attached video cameras are the norm weve begun to redefine the art of event coverage. If you want to see how the Beijing Olympics should be covered in 2008, visit a tech conference next year.

Social Interface

Joel Spolsky writes about the need to look beyond the user interface and focus on designing the right social interface:

Software in the 1980s, when usability was “invented,” was all about computer-human interaction. A lot of software still is. But the Internet brings us a new kind of software: software that’s about human-human interaction.

Discussion groups. Social networking. Online classifieds. Oh, and, uh, email. It’s all software that mediates between people, not between the human and the computer.

When you’re writing software that mediates between people, after you get the usability right, you have to get the social interface right. And the social interface is more important. The best UI in the world won’t save software with an awkward social interface.

The Science of Word Recognition

Slashdot has a pointer to a paper by Kevin Larson of Microsoft Research.

Evidence from the last 20 years of work in cognitive psychology indicates that we use the letters within a word to recognize a word. Many typographers and other text enthusiasts Ive met insist that words are recognized by the outline made around the word shape. Some have used the term bouma as a synonym for word shape, though I was unfamiliar with the term. The term bouma appears in Paul Saengers 1997 book Space Between Words: The Origins of Silent Reading. There I learned to my chagrin that we recognize words from their word shape and that Modern psychologists call this image the Bouma shape.

This paper is written from the perspective of a reading psychologist. The data from dozens of experiments all come from peer reviewed journals where the experiments are well specified so that anyone could reproduce the experiment and expect to achieve the same result.

The goal of this paper is to review the history of why psychologists moved from a word shape model of word recognition to a letter recognition model, and to help others to come to the same conclusion. This paper will cover many topics in relatively few pages.

I will start by describing three major categories or word recognition models: the word shape model, and serial and parallel models of letter recognition. I will present representative data that was used as evidence to support each model. After all the evidence has been presented, I will evaluate the models in terms of their ability to support the data. And finally I will describe some recent developments in word recognition and a more detailed model that is currently popular among psychologists.

TECH TALK: Creating Options: How?

So, the question that arises is: how do we go about creating options? While there is no single formula that will work well in all situations, here are a few pointers which can help:

Evaluate Objectively: It is important that we assess the situation that we face on its merit. What are the assumptions that we are making? What if those assumptions are not true? What are the constraints that are there? Can we work around those constraints? These are some of the questions that we should be asking. In many cases, we will find that for a small increase in personal effort, time or money, we can create situations where we have much greater control of what is likely to happen.

Understand Probabilities: As former US Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin writes in his book, In An Uncertain World: People who have worked with me know I dont believe in certainty. We should also not do so. We obviously cannot prepare for black swan events, but we should also not go to the other extreme of believing that what we want will happen. There are probabilities of various events occurring, and if we can mentally think through the chances, we can then better understand the alternatives.

Be Dispassionate: Emotions and feelings can impair decision-making, and force us down paths which we otherwise may not take. It could be positive or negative feelings about places or people. While we do want past experiences to have a bearing on the future, we need to separate out those bits which can bring needless bias into the decisions we make.

Be Alert: It is the point I had made earlier about Lifes Little Clues. If we can just be that little extra careful and observant, we will see that there are many signals that are there around us like the shepherd sees in Paulo Coelhos The Alchemist.

Experimentation Matters: We need to create the environment where we have multiple choices. We can only do this if we try out different things. This is especially true at an early stage of a new venture wherein it may not always be clear which of the ideas may work. Keeping an open mind with some trials to reinforce ones views can help us reduce errors.

Think Chess: Chess (and other games of strategy) can teach us a lot. We can either be reactive, or we can do some planning by considering some of the paths that the game can take. If we are willing to think a little ahead in Chess and work on creating situations which benefit us, why not do the same in real life?

Sub-optimal Optimisation: We have to be careful what we need to optimise. It is not easy getting all three of faster, better, cheaper. So, we need to consider what we are willing to give up in order to ensure we get the others. On a lighter note, it is the difference in knowing when to book a hotel through and one gives you a good price without the flexibility of location, and the other gives the choice of the hotel, though the price you are likely to pay is going to be higher.

Creating options is what life is about. A little thinking ahead of time can make a big difference as we go through our personal and professional lives. In the words of Jean Nidetch: It’s choice – not chance – that determines your destiny.

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