Automating Compute Infrastructure

Brad Feld writes:

I realized that in the past year, Ive introduced a new set of computing tools in my daily life. A lot of this has been driven off of the shift to web-based applications, but RSS and the way that I interact with real time information has changed this as well. As I thought about this, I got aggravated with the number of things that I have to do to simply interact with my compute infrastructure. They range from the trivial (manually synchronizing my bookmarks across multiple computers since I use Firefox, I can use the Bookmark Sync plug in to keep the bookmarks across my four computers synced but I still have to actually click on Sync when I make a change) to the more complex (dealing with all of the email-based meeting requests that I get fortunately my assistant Wendy handles much of this, but it is clearly something my compute infrastructure should be smart enough to figure out.)

Ive started to think about how to increase my compute infrastructure to the next level especially with regard to automating all the trivial shit that my computer should be smart enough to deal with for me. I want my compute infrastructure to continually get smarter, do more effective things for me in the background, and free my time up to actually generate content.

MIT’s $100 Laptop Plans

Wired has more details on Nicholas Negroponte’s idea:

The $100 laptop will not only be something to own and feel empowered by, it will also be portable and a tool for collaboration. Students will be able to access thousands of textbooks electronically and learn how to program, one of the best ways to “learn how to learn,” according to my MIT colleagues Seymour Papert and Mitch Resnick. So in addition to using readily available applications, young people might also develop software suited to their own purposes. And when students attach cameras, microphones, and printers, the basic laptop will become a foundation for innovation, a tool in tune with their different interests and talents.

Displays are one of the most expensive components of a laptop – typically costing manufacturers about $170 – and thus, they present one of our highest hurdles. Two up-and-coming technologies help the cause, however. The first is a thin, folding screen in development at MIT’s Things That Think consortium. Unlike typical LCDs, this approach uses rear-projection, and with its fold-away design, a laptop could be quite small. Best of all, a 12-inch screen of this variety could cost as little as $30.

The second promising technology would allow us to keep the current laptop form and is based on lowering the cost of thin-film transistors used in LCDs. This approach uses a nascent technique called printed electronics to print transistor patterns with special semiconducting inks. There are about two dozen projects under way at startups like E Ink and Kovio (I was a founder of both), as well as at large corporations focused on adapting the economics of printing to the manufacture of TFTs and displays. These efforts could lead to 12-inch displays that also cost about $30.

MSNBC adds:

Here’s the MIT team’s current recipe: Put the laptop on a software diet; use the freely distributed Linux operating system; design a battery capable of being recharged with a hand crank; and use newly developed “electronic ink” or a novel rear-projected image display with a 12-inch screen. Then, give it Wi-Fi access, and add USB ports to hook up peripheral devices.

Most importantly, take profits, sales costs and marketing expenses out of the picture. “The technology challenge is real, and you need to make some breakthroughs, but most of the money is saved in other ways,” said Negroponte, who pitched the project in January at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, the annual confab of global powerbrokers.

Negroponte has also met with Chinese and Brazilian officials to discuss expected orders and production in those countries, which would create local jobs. Two prototypes have been built, and test units could be shipped by the middle of next year. The project would essentially be nonprofit, with about $90 covering hardware for each computer and an extra $10 for contingencies or a small profit margin depending on how each government’s order is structured.

Wired News adds: “The mission: to make laptops as ubiquitous as cell phones in technology-deprived regions. Negroponte’s pitch: The cost of a laptop comes in far lower than a child’s textbook expenses for the computer’s lifespan.”

A Slashdot discussion Simputer: “Picopeta sold 2,000 units over the past year, while Encore Software sold 2,000 Simputers. Only 10% of the devices were bought for rural areas, which the device was originally designed for. The reason? The companies need to sell quite a few simplistic monochrome devices to allow for the low price tag of $200.”

Also see earlier Emergic posts [1 2] about the $100 laptop.

Why Wikipedia Succeeds

WorldChanging has a post by Jeremy Faludi on a talk given by Jimmy Wales:

According to Wales, its not primarily a technological innovation, but a social & design innovation. Its elements:

  • 100% free software and content: everyone has the freedom to copy, modify, redistribute, and redistribute modified versions of it and its content.
  • Neutrality as bedrock principle (skirting philosophical issue of Objective Truth, just getting people to agree that whats written tells a fair story)
  • Software design which reflects needs of users and has good quality-control features
  • Security not through user access permissions, but through vigilant users who clean stuff up after vandalism, and easy ways to see when things have been changed.
  • No set structure of governance–consensus, democracy, aristocracy by reputation, and occasionally a monarchy of Jim are all used to decide issues or settle disputes. They are flexible about the process, because they care more about the results than the process.

    He reinforced the vaguely-known wisdom that motivated people will collaborate with whatever tools they have.

  • ASP Initiatives

    InfoWorld writes about the various ASP initiatives:

    What started as a cute marketing slogan — “Just say no to software” — may turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The herd of CRM and ERP ASPs is growing stronger not only in services and features but also in number of customers. And as the herd grows stronger, it’s fissuring over whether customers are best served by specialized, industry-specific applications or the tools to customize hosted services for their particular needs.

    Siebel Systems revealed that it will unveil an on-demand version of its UAN (Universal Application Network) platform later this year. UAN for OnDemand, now in trials, will officially become available this fall, said Keith Raffel, group vice president of products at Siebel CRM OnDemand.

    Siebel’s plans come as a counter to, which earlier this month upped the ASP ante by previewing Multiforce, a so-called multitasking technology due in June that will allow customers to run simultaneous on-demand applications on the site. In addition, because the solutions are built on sforce they share the same data, security model, and interface.

    Blending both sides of the argument, NetSuite [recently] detailed NetFlex, a platform for customizing NetSuite applications. Earlier this month the company also released a vertical application, NetCRM-Services Edition, tailored for accounting, medical, and other professional services.

    Epiphany, a CRM vendor whose customers include Citibank, Gap, Microsoft, and Nestl, offers a variation of the on-premise model using a component-based SOA (service-oriented architecture).

    According to Jon Miller, vice president of product marketing at Epiphany, the debate about hosted vs. on-premise obfuscates the real problem: how to integrate customer data scattered across dozens, if not hundreds, of systems into a single view.

    Mono and .Net

    Mono is the open source development platform based upon Microsoft’s .NET framework. Miguel de Icaza of Novell explains:

    We are an open source implementation of the virtual machine, the C# language, the base class libraries, and we have a compatibility stack (ASP.NET, ADO.NET, and Windows.Forms). In addition to that, Mono has produced a very large set of extra libraries.

    A few of the attributes that Mono [has] over traditional environments are:

    * Easy to integrate with native libraries: The Platform/Invoke feature allows developers to call into native operating system libraries without having to write glue code.
    * Automatic memory management: Using a language with a garbage collector is a great productivity gain, as developers can focus on real problems instead of fighting with the circuitry every time.
    * A feature-full runtime: The runtime provides many features to applications running on it, from a thread-aware and thread-safe set of libraries to built-in garbage collection.
    * Modern APIs: The industry has learned a lot about OO API design in the last few years; this are now available for developers to use in a nice package.

    TECH TALK: The Future of Search: The Wider View

    Information Dashboards are the next upgrade to reading (viewing) the Web. They will be have highly intuitive and interactive interfaces using Ajax-like remote scripting technologies along with ideas from video games to integrate the query and results display environments. As an idea, dashboards are not new as an example, we see them in the cars we drive. Many enterprise products also have corporate dashboards or portals which allow users to see a wide variety of information.

    What is different about the information dashboards as envisioned by portals like MyToday is that they are almost entirely built around RSS and OPML. As a result, they become the view for the Incremental Web. The Reference Web, on the other hand, is viewed via stored bookmarks, results of searches, and via links that we receive in emails sent by others. The problem in each of these cases is that it is difficult for us to track any changes or new information on the sites we see. As a result, when we like a new site, we can either add it to our own bookmarks or put it on a site like for our own benefit and share it with others. But the granularity of the Reference Web is the URL.

    The Incremental Web, built around RSS and OPML, extends this and flips the model from pull to push. Sites make available new information via RSS. We can subscribe to these RSS feeds as and when we come across a new site that we like. The URL of the site no longer needs to be remembered or bookmarked. From then on, the incremental content published by the site flows to our information dashboard without us ever having to go to that site again to check whats new. Collections of RSS subscriptions OPMLs can be shared with others via transclusion.

    In addition, all the RSS items that we receive from our subscriptions can be automatically stored. This becomes our Archived Web. Search should be first done across these items, followed by the Archived Webs of our neighbourhood. This allows us to get more relevant results because weve already defined what we like in our subscriptions and the flow of RSS items is a reflection of our interests. Storage space is cheap enough now to store everything and anything.

    What Information Dashboards ensure is a combination of flow and focus of folk content. Flow means that information gets velocity. The problem we face is not that there isnt enough information but that the right information is not available to us at the right time. Flow via dashboards ensures that information can be tagged and tapped at the right moment. Filters can also ensure delivery to mobile devices so we have a near real-time view of the world around. Focus is about being able to get top-level views on different topics (on the Web, as well as in the enterprise context) to get a sense of what is happening quickly. Dashboards allow drill-down from top-levels. Folk content is what we are already creating via blogs because publishing tools are so much easier. Folk content can also be created by applications and sensors. Each unit of folk content has a permalink, with each stream having an RSS descriptor. Once that happens, folk content becomes part of the Incremental Web and ready for viewing and sharing via information dashboards. [My thanks to Ramesh Jain for having coined the phrase folk content.]

    Tomorrow: Information Marketplaces

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