Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Whither Palm?

I use a Palm Treo 650 as my PDA phone, and it's been a decent, serviceable option for me. Of course, Palm essentially invented the PDA market way back when with the black on green screen, the funky handwriting, the stylus, and funny little clicking sound whenever you did anything. It's amazing how far those devices have come in such a short time, isn't it?

The last couple years have been hard for the Sunnyvale, CA company. Microsoft's mobile OS is far more functional and customizable. And there are many more devices to choose from once you move off the Palm OS. It's too bad, but it seems as though they've had their day in the sun, but they couldn't really sustain it over the long haul. They are closing their retail stores (who thought that was a good idea?), sending refunds to customers because of defective hardware, and they haven't been able to incorporate new features (GPS, WiFi, Apple-compatibility) into a compelling product.

So my Treo's days are numbered. But which model from here?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Where will the juice come from?

A few years back, I settled on the idea that the next big breakthrough in computing will come in the area of power management. My thought was that the increasing mobility of various devices, coupled with a seemingly non-stop increase in appetite for electricity, was going to create an impasse. Either batteries have to pack more power in their current size and weight dimensions, or devices need to get far more efficient. The Vista bloat is not an encouraging sign, though, and neither was the exploding battery problem from a few years back. To date, the only real progress I've seen is that business travelers seem to be spending more time in the gym than in the past... so that they can lug around the batteries they need.

Needless to say, I haven't seen any breakthroughs. However, the recent and dramatic increase in energy prices may end up being the "necessity" that births the efficiency invention. Data Centers are need a lot of power. And as engineers pack more and more hardware into the same square footage, that demand is sure to increase. The HVAC requirements for today's data center boggle the mind, not to mention the electricity required just to keep the machines running. Some estimates put the change in American datacenters' demand for electricity at somewhere north of 25% annually. Let's just suppose that the true change is only 12%. That still means we're looking at double the electricity requirements in 6 years.

Where will this power come from?
Given that it takes decades (not years) to get a new power plant up, we're faced with relatively fixed supply.... and we're faced with increasing demand. If you were awake for your supply & demand curve lectures in MacroEconomics, then you know that the current rise in energy prices is just the beginning.

The opportunity is ripe for the hardware manufacturer firm who can bring to market servers and PC's that run cooler and draw less power than today's standard machines. The consumer market will pick up on this soon enough, but it's the CIOs who have to drive this innovation. The CFOs will start to notice their utility bills, and will demand solutions from IT.

And for a simple money-saving tip you can put into practice without a new PC, schedule all your desktop updates for 7pm local time and shut them down overnight. Any firm with a decent number of PC's (say 500+) is likely to see a material change in their energy costs.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Can the government use Web 2.0?

It seems that someone in the US government is starting to realize that departmental walls are harmful to organizational effectiveness. A couple of security agencies are starting to use Wiki's to create better intelligence and faster analysis. The sites are apparently secured from malicious access (or at least they better be!) and have served to bring staff from disparate agencies together. According to an article in today's Wall Street Journal, users are told, "We want your knowledge, not your agency seal."

If this technology has broken down barriers to improving our security, then it has done something nearly miraculous.

Credit where credit is due: WSJ Online Article. Link requires registration.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Social Networks outpace the bureaucrats .... again

A Canadian university has threatened to expel a student for .... get this .... setting up a study group. What has the world come to? College students studying? Aren't they supposed to be partying?

Apparently, the student crossed the line when they put this group together using Facebook. The university said the site "offered the potential for cheating on wide scale." This is ridiculous. No students were actually accused of cheating. Nonetheless, the student will receive no credit for taking the class.

For those of us that are long past the worries of dealing with cranky-old liberal professors who think they're smarter than everyone else, this story has a few object lessons.
** First, our technology use policies need to be reviewed every 24-36 months. It's not a fun chore, but things continue to change so quickly that it's easy to find ourselves behind the curve.
** Next, we have to be on the lookout for practices that threaten to stifle innovation and creativity. Just because we have too much experience to understand this stuff doesn't mean that it's bad.
** Finally, senior managers must invest the time in learning how to use these technologies. It's not just the policies that can get behind the times. And executives that are in that position cannot see the opportunities and lead their firms into taking advantage of them.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Needing workers

Do you have unfilled senior developer positions in your firm? Join the club.

At the same time, there are firms that are pre-filtering their search in favor of H1B visa holders. That means that they are expressly favoring non-citizens in their desire to control wage expenses.

Far be it from me to be against any effort to keep wages in line with reality. And far be it from me to stand against plans that force all workers to compete vigorously for scarce resources.

But why are these firms kicking dollars out of the way to pick up nickels? What I mean is that there is an opportunity cost for every incremental day that it takes to get a project done. And if the project takes longer because someone was too cheap to pay for the labor needed to get it done, then they are reducing the return on the investment (by pushing the return further into the future).

There is always a balance to be struck, of course. But, if the evaluation of the project accounted for the incremental benefits, then a rational decision can be made using the different labor costs and the increased speed to delivery. More often than not, the benefits of getting done faster will far outweigh the higher costs of American labor. After all, of all the resources that we have, time is certainly the most rare and precious.