Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Internet is Broken

I would direct you to some intersting and insightful comments on the state of the Internet infrastructure by MIT's David D. Clark in

The Internet Is Broken

The Net's basic flaws cost firms billions, impede innovation, and threaten national security. It's time for a clean-slate approach, says MIT's David D. Clark.

By David Talbot

Here are some quotes to get your attention

In his office within the gleaming-stainless-steel and orange-brick jumble of MIT's Stata Center, Internet elder statesman and onetime chief protocol architect David D. Clark prints out an old PowerPoint talk. Dated July 1992, it ranges over technical issues like domain naming and scalability. But in one slide, Clark points to the Internet's dark side: its lack of built-in security.

In others, he observes that sometimes the worst disasters are caused not by sudden events but by slow, incremental processes -- and that humans are good at ignoring problems. "Things get worse slowly. People adjust," Clark noted in his presentation. "The problem is assigning the correct degree of fear to distant elephants."


Indeed, for the average user, the Internet these days all too often resembles New York's Times Square in the 1980s. It was exciting and vibrant, but you made sure to keep your head down, lest you be offered drugs, robbed, or harangued by the insane. Times Square has been cleaned up, but the Internet keeps getting worse, both at the user's level, and -- in the view of Clark and others -- deep within its architecture.

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies, or opinions.

Friday, December 30, 2005

How to Become More Creative in Solving Problems

Over my 20+ year career, I have had the opportunity to observe many different co-workers in fields as diverse as computer programming (business), computer programming (scientific & engineering), solid state physics, antennas, digital logic design, systems integration, customer service, accounting, web design, mathematics, banking, insurance, manufacturing, marketing, databases, acousto-optical signal processing, microwave electronics, management consulting, package-enabled business transformation, radar, security, and enterprise architecture. There are more to the list but I won’t bore you.

It seems that no matter what field, there are always a few people who stand above the rest as being really creative and innovative in the way the solve problems. They’re the ones you go to when you have a really intractable problem.

The solution they select may not always be elegant in the academic sense. Sometimes the “problem” is the project schedule and the solution really needed is something which can be done quickly. Sometimes the solution isn't a technical one either. Perhaps there is a political solution or an idea can be "sold" differently.

I find myself often wondering “Why do some people come up with more creative approaches than others?” and “Is this kind of creative problem solving something innate (something we are born with, a gift) or is this a skill that almost anyone can learn?”

I suspect the answer is a little of both. For the creativity I was born with, I am truly grateful.

As for developing my creativity as a skill.... I am not an expert on how the brain works, but I have noticed that my most creative ideas come at times when I am exposed to new ideas from others. When I hear them express problems or solutions in a way different from mine, it gets me out of a rut. It makes me exercise new and/or different brain cells.

For example, I filed a patent application on an idea I had while listening to someone else’s presentation at a large IBM technical conference. I had this burst of insight when I looked at a particular block diagram in the presentation. As the guy talked, I immediately thought “His diagram is missing the XXX !” (where the XXX was my idea, not to be talked about here)

For any management who might be reading, this (perhaps unoriginal) observation of mine doesn’t bode well for all the emphasis on distance learning which saves money by eliminating travel costs but greatly reduces the chance of accidental discovery of new people and ideas!

I would say that it is probably good for our creativity if we allow ourselves the opportunity to “hang out” with people who are really different from us occasionally. This may mean “different” because they have different areas of expertise (see my first paragraph), personalities, personal backgrounds, employment histories, motivations, hobbies, etc. Me being a conservative preacher’s kid from the Bible Belt, I must admit that I learned a great deal about Object-Oriented Analysis and Design from a guy who liked to hit strip clubs in the evening after work. :-) (If you’re reading this - you know who you are... and thanks for the great mentoring!) Therefore, I recommend developing personal relationships with people on all extremes.

I have gotten similar bursts of inspiration when reading material that is off-the-wall or outside my area of expertise. I had some frequent flier miles on an airline I don’t travel very often that I used to subscribe to some different magazine than I normally read. I found the following to be particularly “different” from my usual fare to get creative juices flowing:

Technology Review: MIT's Magazine of Innovation – This one has lots of stuff on all the cool gadgets, cool ideas, cool projects in corporate research labs, etc.

Fast Company – This one is really focused on business, motivating people, and what makes people tick. Incidentally, I first heard of this magazine during a talk given by the head of IBM Research at an IBM conference in Toronto I attended several years ago.
I can’t prove it but I think learning to play a musical instrument or learning a foreign language will also “wire” your brain to be more creative, though probably most effective if done when young.

I will end my post with a list of links which you may find thought provoking and examples of the outside-the-box kind of thinking I’ve been talking about.

Fast Company Dec 2004 The 6 Myths of Creativity

Fast Company Dec 2004 What Makes Beautiful Minds

Johns Hopkins Feb 2005 Changing Their Tune (entrepreneurship in the field of classical music?)

Wired Feb 2005 – Revenge of the Right Brain

Here’s a book I will admit to only partially reading as it is very long, but it provides a fascinating look at how we mentally name and categorize things in our native language. The book is called Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things. The title comes from a classification in Dyirbal, an aboriginal language of Australia. Imagine a culture where the terms women, fire, and dangerous things are thought of as "going together" ? :-)

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies, or opinions.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Dangers of Wikipedia

It seems that I am seeing references to Wikipedia everywhere these days. The idea of tapping the expertise of millions of volunteer experts around the world to create an immense online encyclopedia is intriquing indeed. No doubt there are tons of useful information which we might otherwise not have available to us were it not for this information-age repository of knowledge. But... how do we know if the informaiton is correct? What if the volunteer was in error. What if they were just showing off?

The dirty secret is that it does happen. See a Boston Globe article "The Wiki Effect" which describes how one prominent free speech advocate found he had been listed as a suspect in the assasinations of both John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy. As it turns out, the man who posted this assertion which was freely available to all for months eventually admitted it was all a hoax designed to dismay a co-worker.

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies, or opinions.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Forget Business - I/T Alignment ?

I found an illuminating post on I/T Architecture that proposes a view about Enterprise Architecture which is counter to the prevailing “business – I/T alignment” winds. This post called “Why Enterprise Architects should eschew IT / Business alignment“ in James McGovern’s blog “Enterprise Architecture: Thought Leadership” advocates approaches which are no doubt heretical to some – but makes points that have worried me for some time.

Here are some provocative quotes to get your attention:

“The phrase, IT should align with the business is commonly heard in magazines such as CIO. I have blogged sporadically on the fact that this form of hype is actually detrimental to the health of the enterprise.”
“Enterprise Architects that embrace agile methods understand that there is a chaordic balance and attempting to make everything predictable is not only limiting the possibilities of greatness but in many situations futile. Predictability as a system quality is further championed by folks who don’t write working software for a living and instead focus in on comprehensive documentation. These folks encourage practices such as Six Sigma, Eight Omega, CMM and other efforts without focusing on the real problem space; lack of innovation.”Predictability causes mediocrity. Enterprises that desire to be predictable buy the same software as their competitors, are rare to implement technology within their vertical first and prefer to let other enterprises work out all the bugs. “
“I am firm in my own belief that the recent practice of vendor consolidation may be the decline of the IT enterprise as many within our profession have outsourced their architecture via Powerpoint to vendors whose sole competency is commoditizing solutions and promoting them to your competitors.”

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies, or opinions.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Do You Want Out of Your Arranged I/T Marriage?

I had gotten pretty far behind in my reading and decided to take some time to thumb through some of the trade magazines I’ve been avoiding for too long. Inside the November 2005 issue of Java Development Journal, I stumbled across something which got my I/T Architect antenna twitching.

You see, there is a side of us architects that thinks that if only our clients or organizations would devote some more resources to creating Enterprise-wide shared components, shared infrastructure, shared services, etc. life in the land of software development would be sweet. Great project success would happen in parallel as multiple teams reaped the benefits of all the smart decisions previously made.

Well Yakov Fain was able to burst my bubble and return me to reality in his article “Arranged Java Marriages” where he compares the uneasy relationship between the masses of Java developers and the architects who are tasked with centralized creation of reusable components or services or any other kind of software asset. As this arranged marriage progresses from honeymoon to adding children to fighting over the family budget, all is not always well. These arranged marriages usually take place in a culture where divorce is not an option, too.... or at least frowned upon. So the trick is, how do we architects live peaceful, productive lives with our programmer “spouses”?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

How to Write Unmaintainable Code

More chuckles: How to Write Unmaintainable Code

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies, or opinions.