Steve Goulet

Cognitive Engagement

Boomerang by Michael Lewis

Boomerang: Travels in the New Third WorldBoomerang: Travels in the New Third World by Michael Lewis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I appreciated Mr. Lewis’ even handed analysis of this financial nightmare. If you are looking for someone to blame politically for this crisis, you won’t find that partisanship here. Many of the personal stories and cultural observations were unique and entertaining, but the math is terrifying.

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Sugata Mitra

Professor Mitra is suggesting an innovative way to bring education to the millions of children who have no schools and no teachers. The idea is to provide them with tools to teach themselves, in the form of Self Organised Learning Environments. “A self-organising system is one where the system structure appears without explicit intervention from outside the system.”

He’s already gotten some amazing results.

Khan Academy

Over the past several months, my 10 year old has been spending his free time teaching himself advanced math — thanks in part to Salman Khan, who has published 1,200 educational videos on YouTube. Salman quit his job as a hedge fund manager and donated his time to the cause of educating the world. Every day there are 10,000 students watching these videos for free.

Michael Pollan at MSU

We saw Michael Pollan speak at MSU last night. This article does a good job of summarizing his talk at Tufts, which looks like it was very similar to the one we heard at MSU: http://tuftsjournal.tufts.edu/2009/04_1/features/01/.

He caught me off guard with his criticism of nutritional science: “Nutritional science is fascinating, but sort of where surgery was in 1650. It’s interesting and promising, but are you ready to get on the table?” He thinks we need to simplify the way we eat by following a few basic rules: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Our focus on various nutrients in food is part of the problem: “There is always some satanic nutrient we are trying to drive from the food supply, such as trans fat or sodium. At the same time, there is always a blessed nutrient that if we ate enough of, we would live forever, such as omega-3 fatty acids or fiber.”

It was disturbing to hear how hard this nutrition science mono culture has been on our farmers. They get a tiny fraction of the money that is spent on our so called “food”. Even the packagers make more than the farmers. Most of our grocery dollars go to the marketing and manufacture of food like substances that barely resemble the real food that farmers grow/raise. The message was clear to me — get to know your local farmer and buy directly from him/her whenever possible.

He also discussed how different cultures handle the concept of eating enough at a meal. In America we eat quickly and keep eating until we are “full”. Other cultures have settled on a different strategy — they eat until they are no longer hungry.  This requires that you eat more slowly, and take time to listen to your body.

Understanding Google’s Open Strategy

Stephen Arnold makes some great observations on his blog frequently.  Here he is trying to explain why Apple, Microsoft and Cisco have a hard time fathoming the “Open Approach” that pervades almost all Google undertakings:

The problem is perspective. Google is not in a fish bowl. Google owns a fish bowl.  Getting creatures into the fish bowl is the name of the game. Once in the Google fish bowl, the inhabitants have a tough time figuring out life beyond the glass walls. I can’t see very well underwater, and the folks in the fish bowl can’t see very well either.

As a result, the Android is one way of putting inhabitants in the Google fish bowl. Open source is one method but not the only method. The objective is to become the owner not of a fish bowl but an aquarium, maybe dozens of aquaria. That’s the perspective. The Android is not an Apple play. It is operating at a much higher level of abstraction, which may be difficult for Google to achieve. 

Open Systems in Sustainability

Open systems appear to have a huge advantage over traditional, closed systems. Witness Firefox 3.5 ascending to the most used Web browser, or Wikipedia revolutionizing the world of online encyclopedias.  The folks at Google recently outlined their understanding of the meaning of open.  This paragraph stood out:

Open systems have the potential to spawn industries. They harness the intellect of the general population and spur businesses to compete, innovate, and win based on the merits of their products and not just the brilliance of their business tactics. The race to map the human genome is one example.

Sustainability metrics are growing in importance as organizations attempt to better measure their environmental impact.  For more information, see the Aquinas College Center for Sustainability.  If you doubt the importance of these initiatives, have a look at the Walmart Sustainability Index and consider how the third largest company in the world might drive some new requirements in this area.

I believe that the need to share, compare, and aggregate sustainability data will drive the creation of open standards in sustainability metrics.  We need transparency, collaboration, and standardization in order to build meaningful measures.

Disparate IT systems typically store information in silos and surface that data in closed formats that cannot be aggregated or integrated across organizations. Measuring the percentage of recyclable/reusable materials, use of hazardous materials/chemicals, and carbon/energy footprint of a product will continue to be guess work without standards and protocols to collect and surface this data.

Blue Sphere experienced this dilemma first hand when we helped create a system to measure the sustainability of products consisting of parts supplied by many different manufacturers within a supply chain.  We quickly learned that without standards and open systems by which to communicate data, measuring the recyclable content or carbon footprint of an assembled product is almost impossible. 

Open standards, XML and Web Services could be the answer.  Manufacturers could require an XML schema for each part or piece of material supplied.  That schema could describe the relevant sustainability data, which would be consumed and aggregated by a standardized process.  Each supplier in the value added supply chain could feed sustainability data to the consumer of their product or material.  The end result would be the transparency we need, with consumers and businesses choosing sustainable products based on accurate data and a meaningful feedback loop.

The Future of SharePoint and Windows 7

Over the summer the NY times blogged about strong SharePoint sales during the recession.   SharePoint is already the biggest selling server product ever for Microsoft, it is no stretch to consider that it has the potential to one day become Microsoft’s next big operating system.  Cloud operating system, that is.

The latest version of SharePoint arrives in late October, so this is a good time to speculate about the future.  “SharePoint is saving Microsoft’s Office business even as it paves the way for a new era of Microsoft lock-in,” said Matt Asay, an executive at Alfresco, which makes an open-source content management system. “It is simultaneously the most interesting and dangerous Microsoft technology, and has largely caught its competitors napping…   It’s a brilliant strategy that mimics open source in its viral, free distribution, but transcends open source in its ability to lock customers into a complete, not-free-at-all Microsoft stack – one for which they’ll pay more and more the deeper they get into SharePoint.”

I agree with Mr. Asay that customers will pay more and more, the deeper they get into SharePoint.  Similarly, open source solutions are back loaded for consulting fees.  Licensing costs are rarely the majority cost for a software project or solution. 

Many people don’t realize that the free version of SharePoint is available to any company that already owns a Windows Server license.  MS thinks of SharePoint as part of Windows, which justifies the “free” license for internal employees of a company that has already purchased Windows Server

When SharePoint 2007 was released it became clear that MS had also decided to make the full (and expensive) version of SharePoint part of the Office family, thus the name Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS).  But now with the release of SharePoint 2010, things have changed.  When MS announced the new version, they put it like this:

What happened to the Office piece of the name? We love MOSS. . . .

The first thing you’ll notice is that the MOSS acronym goes away with the new name since Office is no longer in the SharePoint official name. No one should worry that SharePoint doesn’t work great with Office 2010 since we removed Office from the name, just like people didn’t worry whether SharePoint was a great portal product when we removed Portal from the 2007 name.

I’m not convinced that it’s quite that simple.  SharePoint could evolve in to a cloud hosted business operating system.  By decoupling SharePoint from the Office suite, MS may be positioning it as a cloud based OS.  Someday, MS might have to consider an advertisement supported version of SharePoint to compete with Google’s suite of online products. 

Windows 7 may also become an important player in this transition.  As noted here, Windows 7 will allow Microsoft to host your entire network experience, including Active Directory.  More to the point:  “Microsoft will actually be able to run your entire environment in their datacenter, yet let users securely connect to that environment from their own Windows machines.”

State of Michigan to Build Huge Green Data Center

The State of Michigan is planning to build a huge data center using green technology.  The new system “would cut the cost of running government by reducing the number of duplicate computer systems operated by cities, counties and state agencies. The plan envisions a public-sector cloud that would offer application hosting and managed services to any public entity in Michigan”, according to an article from Government Technology published in early September of 2009.

Ken Theis, CIO of the State of Michigan, explained more details on the green technology. “Michigan will tap funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and other sources to make the facility as green as possible”, said Theis. “Energy efficiency will be a key to the new data center’s success as an engine for economic development”.

Leap

I’m looking forward to reading Leap, based on what I’ve read so far at the Blog of Tim Ferriss.  According to Leap, Bill Gates and many other seemingly crazy entrepreneurs didn’t really risk much at all when they started their companies.  They took calculated risks and leveraged opportunities while simultaneously working their arses off.  I never new that Mary Gates (Bill’s mom) was connected to IBM through her relationship to other execs while sitting as committee chair on the board of national committee for the United Way.  Bill Gates was not taking much of a leap when he dropped out of Harvard to start MS.  The stars were already aligned.

This passage is similar to the descriptions of Gates (in his early years)  from Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, one of my all time favorite books.

Subsidizing both the Treatment and Cause of Type II Diabetes

From Michael Pollan’s Op Ed in the NY Times:

And so the government is poised to go on encouraging America’s fast-food diet with its farm policies even as it takes on added responsibilities for covering the medical costs of that diet. To put it more bluntly, the government is putting itself in the uncomfortable position of subsidizing both the costs of treating Type 2 diabetes and the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup.

Holly and I had this discussion last week.  The high cost of health care in this country is linked to obesity, and our federal government is encouraging obesity with farm policy.

We’re spending $147 billion to treat obesity, $116 billion to treat diabetes, and hundreds of billions more to treat cardiovascular disease and the many types of cancer that have been linked to the so-called Western diet.

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