March 2009 Archives

CWID Keynote

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Heard a great talk given today by Major General Kevin Kennedy, Director, Joint Capability Development Directorate (J-8), HQ Joint Forces Command at the CWID Final Planning Conference. I've heard some good talks and some okay talks, but this was one of the better talks as it relates to CWID. I was hoping to have General Mattis though. Maybe next year.

One of the issues to be resolved in a coalition fight is data communication. How can pertinent data be formatted, transmitted, remain secure, and be trusted is key to more efficient and effective fighting in the future. He related this as being similar to Zip codes. Zip codes were created to make the sorting of mail more efficient. When more refinement was needed the Post Office came up with Zip+4. A similar thing needs to be done for data so that warfighters on the ground can use equipment that will communicate coalition force's equipment, perhaps directly. Doing so would reduce the time required and the possibility of introducing errors.

"Why College Towns Are Looking Smart" by Kelly Evans. Wall Street Journal, CCLIII, No. 68, Tuesday, 24 March 2009, p. D1.

College towns are the places to go for jobs. Out of six metropolitan towns with unemployment below 4%, three boast colleges in their environs. Not only do the universities in these towns often have jobs available, the towns themselves, "long-considered recession resistant", also have openings.

According to Harvard economist Edward Glaeser when the "adult population with college degrees in a city increases by 10%, wages correspondingly rise by about 7.8%." This seems to indicate that one of the best incentives to stimulate the economy is to get more people in, and out of, college. Of course it will take time to educate the population, and they have be capable of completing college in the first place, but in the long run it does seems to indicate economic prosperity.

Unfortunately most state legislatures are too short-sighted and education is often one of the first items to be cut in the budget when the economy gets tough. Why? Because it directly impacts the fewest number of constituents in the near-term. It does hurt everyone in the long-term, however.

On Monday I noticed that my iPhone was getting unusually warm, even I wasn't using it. I also noticed that it was not holding charge anywhere near the amount of time it did on Sunday. I tried a reboot, did a restore, double checked the settings, and on Tuesday it was still not working like it should. I asked around and no one else was having the same problem so I called Apple Support.

I first get to talk to a computer as my call is directed to the appropriate people. As long as the voice is not annoying and process is quick, I don't mind talking to a computer at all. Once I get directed to the appropriate place I get a message telling me that my estimated wait time is 5 minutes. With AT&T I always get the "we are experiencing an unusually high call volume" which makes me questions, how does it take for an unusually high call volume to become normal call volume?

While I am waiting I am asked by the computer if I would like to be directed to a web site that may could help me solve my problem. I replied "no" and was simply placed on hold. With AT&T you are not given a choice, you are forced to listen to trouble shooting that you have already been through. Those of us with half a brain know that if the problem is simple, looking it up on the web is usually faster than calling tech support. Thank you Apple for not assuming I'm too freaking stupid to try to solve the problem on my own.

Way less that 5 minutes later, a real person answers the phone and I give him the vitals--product, serial number, email address, name, etc. I then describe the problem and he says it does indeed sound like a battery problem. None of the usual AT&T garbage about powering it down, let's walk through fifty steps that you have already been through and then we get somewhere. Nope, it was a simple "you've got a battery problem."

The tech rep then presented me with three repair options. I could send the phone in, have it repaired or replaced, and returned in a few days. I could pay a $30 fee and have Apple ship me a new phone and I could return the broken one. Or, I could go to an Apple Store and have it looked at and replaced. Given my travel schedule and the possibility of not having a replacement arrive in time, I opted for the Apple Store.

He tech rep set up an appointment with the Genius Bar at the Apple Store in Ridgeland, Mississippi. It was a two hour drive away but worth it to get the phone ASAP. I drove to the Apple Store later in the day and arrived at the Genius Bar about ten minutes before my appointment. I was warmly greeted at the store and logged in as having arrived for my appointment.

I went to the Genius Bar and they asked me to wait a few minutes and someone would be with me shortly. Right on time, someone called me up. Imagine that, actually being called at the time of your appointment. (Medical doctors--take note!) It took very little time for the Genius to agree that my phone needed to be replaced and he set about getting a new one and activating it.

My new phone did not have enough juice to activate so it had to be plugged in and charged for a few minutes. During those few minutes I wandered around the store and the assistant manager, who I met about ten minutes prior, walked up, called me by name, and asked if there was a problem. He was actually concerned that I was not getting the service I needed. He and I talked for a few more minutes, I looked around a few more minutes, and then my phone was ready. No hassles, no arguments, no problems. I actually left feeling good about the experience.

Compare that to my experiences with AT&T. I am always in a worse mood after talking to them than I was in before I talked to them. They always assume I am an idiot and we start each and every session at square one. Seldom is the issue resolved after one call.

Now I have to admit that Apple is not the only company with good service. I have been impressed with the service given by Dell's XPS technical support. The biggest problem I have had with Dell was the actual ordering of a computer last year. I also have not had much luck in working with their customer service, but their XPS technical support is great.

AT&T, take a lesson from Dell and Apple. With a little effort you too can have satisfied customers.

Dell Prpares for Adamo

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"New From Dell, a Luxury Laptop", Vol CCLII, No. 63Wednesday, 18 Mach 2009, p. B5. By Justin Scheck and Rex Crum.

Dell is taking orders for their high end Adamo notebook which is expected to compete with Apple's MacBook Air. This is a luxury laptop and the article points out that Dell will likely not sell many given the economy. Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst with Sanford Bernstein & Co. said "a broad shift to low-cost computing is a long-term possibility".

The economy will certainly hurt the sale of new computers but I'm not one who thinks everyone will go the cheap route. I have learned that when you use something often enough you are better off spending money and getting a quality product. Sure, the casual PC user may opt for cheap, but the die-hard users, those who rely on their computers for work and pleasure will surely continue to spend what is needed to get a good product. That may or may not be the Adamo but I tend to think the line will be successful.

"Sony, Google Mount Challenge To Amazon Over Digital Books", Wall Street Journal, Vol. CCLIII, No. 64.,Thursday 19 March 2009, p. B5. By Geoffrey A. Fowler and Jessica E. Vascellaro.

"Read Our Lips: Sony, Google Take On Amazon's Kindle", ChannelWeb (

Google and Sony may mount a challenge but it I doubt it will be much more than a challenge to Amazon. Let's face it, the Kindlehas taken off. Just over a year old it is already in its second version. This coupled with the tie to the store at Amazon cinches the deal, in my opinion.

The model I use is the iPod. What is the iPod without iTunes? Nothing more than an mp3 player. There are and have been other mp3 players. Know anyone who has a Zune? Maybe, but probably not many. I actually have somewhere a Dell Digital Jukebox. It was heavy and large and lacking in style. I tried it but soon I converted to the iPod and iTunes and have never looked back.

The will be other eBook readers, some will be good, others not so good. But I suspect the Kindlewill be the iPod of eBook readers.

Google and Sony may have teamed but the books available from Google all are pre-1923. Here the Kindleclearly has the advantage. "The Sony and Google partnership isn't exclusive. [Google spokeswoman Jennie Johnson] said Google isn't in talks with Amazon about a similar deal for the Kindle, but was open to the idea." Clearly there is potential here.

From my troubleshooting I believe my DSL modem is dead or dying. It will work for a while then quit. If I unplug for a few seconds and then power it up again it will work for a while then die. So, last night I called AT&T Tech Support and they decided to send out a tech because it would be faster than sending me a new modem.

I had a "confirmed" appointment between 1:00 and 5:00 today. I say "confirmed" because according to AT&T "confirmed" means we are going to make up some stuff top make you happy and after you wait at home for us and we don't show we won't care. But, to make it sound really interesting we will call you to remind you of your "confirmed" appointment.

Well, this afternoon comes and goes, after we made sure someone was home all afternoon. I get in and call AT&T which is "experiencing an unusually high volume of calls". After holding they tell me the ticket is still "open". I ask what that means and they say "if a technician is still out he may come by". So "confirmed" means...absolutely nothing. Oh yes, they will call to remind me that they have an appointment scheduled but they do not call to let you know they will not be coming.

You would think that the "Work Management Center" could find out where the workers were but you would be wrong. Apparently the techs do not give their cell phones to AT&T.

So now I have another "confirmed" appointment for tomorrow morning. I can't find a DSL modem in stock around here or I would fix the problem myself. Come Monday I think it is time to call the cable company and see if they can offer me a better deal.

Bottom line, AT&T remains one of the worst-run companies I've dealt with. To be a telecommunications company they certainly communications capability. And the scary part is that they are among those who are going to roll out broadband and stimulate the economy. My friends, we are in trouble.

MyKindle 2

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I tend to be an early adopter of technology but put off the Kindle for a while. I wondered if it would really be that useful, if reading would be as easy as Amazon said it would be, and if I would enjoy it as much as the price would dictate. I did not buy the first Kindle but looked hard at the Kindle 2. I read about it before it was released and then looked at it and read reviews shortly after it was released. Finally, about a week ago, I place the order.

I requested overnight shipping with Saturday delivery. I was heading out of town and thought taking it with me would be a good test. The Kindle 2 arrived and I began to unbox it. Amazon seems to be taking lessons from Apple in terms packaging and the whole customer experience. The Kindle arrived as expected.

Kindle 1.jpg

I pulled the tear strip on the side of the box and folded back the top of the box to reveal another package. It was a black box as was the interior of the shipping container.

Kindle 2.jpg

I opened the inner container and found a cardboard top which I removed...

Kindle 3.jpg reveal the Kindle 2.

Kindle 4.jpg

I lifted it from the box and found the Quick Start booklet and the computer cable/AC adapter underneath.

Kindle 5.jpg

I then unpacked everything.

Kindle 6.jpg

I plugged the Kindle into the power adapter and removed the protective plastic cover.

When I turned on the Kindle for the first time I found some items were already pre-loaded. The user manual of course was already loaded. Why send a printed manual when the purpose of the device you just purchased is to read documents? I also found that the Kindle had already been registered to me so I was ready to make my first purchase.

So, what book did I first purchase? Why Great Powers by Thomas P M Barnett of course. I already had the hardback version but wanted it in Kindle format as well.

I took the Kindle with me on my trip and was able to read it a little bit. I found to be easy to read and enjoy the ability to vary the font size. I find that I usually read with the font set to the smallest size but as I get tired, or late at night, I will sometimes bump it up a size just to lessen the eye strain. I found it was easy to read in the car (not while driving of course). I also had it nearby during the meeting but did not have time to read it.

I did order a few accessories when I ordered the Kindle 2 but I opted for 2-Day delivery on them. Being an Amazon Prime member 2-day shipping was free and I really no need for the accessories until Monday. The accessories I purchased were the Amazon Kindle 2 Leather Cover
to keep the screen from getting scratched while in my computer bag, and the Mighty Bright XtraFlex2 Clip-On Light so I can read in the dark, on planes, etc. The light is necessary for low-light conditions because the screen is called electronic paper. It is not backlit which makes it easier to read for long periods of time.

As best I can tell, this is not a purchase I will regret. I always have a book or four nearby and with the Kindle 2 I can have some 1500 books with me. When I travel I will often pack 3 or 4 books just to have variety. I take the one I am currently reading and plan to finish it on the trip. I usually pack the next book I want to start, and then I will often pack one or two optional books.

With the Kindle I will be able to greatly reduce the weight of my bags, and be able to negotiate airports much easier. Any time I get on a plane I either have a book in hand or have one in my bag. If it is in my hand then I have to negotiate the boarding pass, the coffee cup, and the carry-on. The hardback books (I seldom anything but) can be difficult to manipulate without tearing the dust jacket. The Kindle will be much easier to manipulate plus it will eliminate the need to get into my carry-on in-flight to get the next book out.

There are a couple of things I'd like to see incorporated for the Kindle. First I'd like to have some reference to the page number of the physical book. Right now all the Kindle shows is the section which is a good reference but is not he page number. If the page number were available it would make it easier to discuss works in book clubs and also allow for referencing pages in academic works. I don't think many journals would accept a footnote referencing a section of the Kindle book...not just yet anyway.

Another feature I would like to see is the bundling of hard copy with electronic copy. I still like the look and feel of real live books that you can put on the shelf. I doubt I'll ever give up on them completely, but there is something to be said for the convenience of having them on the Kindle too. Although most Kindle books are only $9.99, some are more expensive, especially some of the newer books. For example, I paid almost as much for the Kindle version of Great Powers as I did the hardback version. I would gladly buy a hardback book and then pay $5 or $6 more to get the Kindle version with it. Perhaps Amazon is reading. (If not, I've emailed them already.)

What's on my Kindle now? Here are the books I have purchased to date:
Great Powers by Thomas P M Barnett
The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century by George Friedman
Winston Churchill by John Keegan
Types of Naval Officers, Drawn from the History of the British Navy by Alfred Thayer Mahan
Character & Success by Theodore Roosevelt
The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783 - with all maps and illustrations by Alfred Thayer Mahan
UR by Stephen King
The Holy Bible English Standard Version (ESV)
US Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, Bill of Rights, and Guide to US Government
by MobileReference

Along with the documents that came with the Kindle:
Welcome Letter from Jeff Bezos
Kindle 2 User's Guide
The New Oxford American Dictionary

Lorenz on Leadership

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General Stephen R. Lorenz, USAF was on the campus of Mississippi State University and gave one of the best lectures on ledership I have ver seen. The talk was directed towards the ROTC (Army and Air Force) cadets but he had nuggets for eveyone.

He gave his ten tenets f leadership which are:

1. Learn the art of balancing shortfalls. There is never enough money, time, or manpower.
2. Those who do their
3. The toughest word in the English language to say is..."Yes"
4. Don't lose your temper...unless you plan to.
5. Work on your boss's boss's problem...and you won't have any problems.
6. Self-confidence and motivation 95% of any great endeavor.
7. Study the profession and read--especially biographies.
8. Life is a marathon, not a 50-yard dash.
9. Being in our profession [the military] is all about service to others.
10. You never know you're going to make a difference.

General Lorenz also said that good grades will get you better opportunities but the fact that you do not have great grades will not necessarily keep you from achieving great things. He used self-deprecatng humor to drive his point home in saying the he made the top 75% of his class at the USAF Academy...possible.

I started to think about it and I came to the conclusion that the best leaders I have worked with were not always the top academicaly. They were surely intelligent, competent, and capable, but not always the straight-A students. In fact, the straight-A students have tened to be farly poor leaders.

I have to admit I truly loved his repeated appeals to students to read. Read anything but especially biographies.

Overal a great lecture. I hope we can get him back and have him talk to a larger audience.

The Mississippi Engineering Society meeting went well. At lunch we had a very good discussion of the B +30 Model Law for engineering registration. I began the session with a short talk based in large part on the article by Norman Augustine in this month's issue of Prism in which he outlines what he thinks is required of a 21st century engineer. My concern remains that the extra hours required for registration will be filled with more technical courses and not nearly enough of the other courses everyone seems to call for--history, public policy, literature, etc.

At the awards banquet tonight I was able to recognize the Bagley College Outstanding Engineering Senior. It is always a tough decision to make because we have so many good students but I always do enjoy presenting the award.

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