Congratulations IBM on Wasting Watson

May 3, 2016

Here are three of the publicized uses of Watson (2,880 POWER7 processor threads and 16 terabytes of RAM — not quite a super computer such as IBM’s BlueGene but millions of dollars of hardware nevertheless):

A dress that lights up based on social network feedback

Oil Company defends against anti-fracking tweeting

And let’s not forget:

Customized granola

Honestly, IBM, couldn’t you leverage this platform for something more significant?  You got off to such a great start with clinical decision support.  Perhaps meaningful problems need more than “Human-like interaction” and “Big Data analysis”.



My Weight Loss

February 6, 2016

In the past 9 months, I’ve managed to lose 30 pounds and have kept it off.  I was motivated by a couple of things:

  1. A guy at work who works in India and sees me relatively infrequently said, in not so many words, I looked like I had put on weight.
  2. I was running out of clothes to wear.
  3. I was diagnosed with type-II diabetes.

The third one was the kicker.  Once you look into diabetes you realize how bad it can be:  blindness, stroke, circulation problems leading to amputation, etc.  Being overweight was a major contributor.

So I began a weight loss program of my own design.  It is actually pretty simple.

Rule #1:  Take in fewer calories than you burn.  This is a basic statement like saying you need to know F=ma to get to the moon.  Is is necessary but far from sufficient to succeed. I keep a mental note of my calorie intake per day and adjust as necessary.

Rule #2: Make time to take care of myself.  I dedicate 1/2 hour every morning to walk on a treadmill.  I typically do this early in the morning. I considered it a way to justify having breakfast.

Rule #3: I weigh myself every day.  If I am up a little, then I eat a little less for the day.

I changed what I ate, partly because of the type II diabetes:

— cut carbs
— increase fruit
— increase protein
— increase sugar-free, no-added-sugar, reduced-sugar “stuff”

You must pay attention to labels.  For example, most flavored yogurt has a lot of sugar.

Analyze your food triggers.  I found that stress at work made me want to eat.  It is not that I don’t eat; but I recognize the trigger and maybe will eat an apple or a large glass of water.

Recognize that your relationship with food is going to change.  There’s an old story about an actor talking with Cary Grant and Cary told him to not get involved with food to keep yourself in shape.  In my case, I try not to eat what I don’t enjoy and then eat less of what I do enjoy.  I think that has to become pretty pervasive.

I also take Metformin for my diabetes.  This has the side effect of helping in controlling hunger.  In my case, metformin has some unpleasant side effects (gas) and if I didn’t need it for my diabetes I certainly wouldn’t take it.

We’ll see how long I can keep this going.  I certainly feel better.   I find that my average speed walking on the treadmill has increased.  I’m hoping that my metabolism is improving.

There are also different plateaus.  I’m at 185 pounds and I definitely have to work to maintain that.  I would like to lose 10 more pounds but it will require a redoubling of my efforts.  I want to stay stable for a while.

Let’s see where we are a year from now.




A Commencement Comment

January 6, 2016

I sometimes ask myself:  If I could provide advice to recent graduates of my alma mater (RPI), what would I say?

Here is my comment:

It is good to have the freedom to do lots of different things. Being the master of your own time is good.

Being Rich allows this.

In some ways, being somewhat poor, in that you don’t have stuff tying you to a place, job, etc. that you don’t like, allows this.

Being affluent is a problem. Once you are affluent, you develop requirements for income.  You’re probably not rich enough to do just what you want. But you are not poor enough to walk away.

This means that if you are not happy doing what you want to do you may be stuck since you have a lifestyle that requires that you continue what you are doing.

I meet a lot of people in this situation.  I certainly have been in that situation at times in my life.

It is quite a challenge.

Another point:  Be kind.  Be measured by how you treat people that are “lesser.”  This doesn’t mean you have to not demand excellence from people around you, but being kind to these same people is not excluded.

That’s it.  Those are my two comments.  Maybe not quite “ra-ra” but deliberately so.



Where TV Technology is Going

September 29, 2015

Where is TV going?   That is a billion(s) dollar question.

Sure TV’s are going to 4K (and even 8K … see   But that is not the big game changer.

The big game changer is the inevitable convergence of the technology that brings you NetFlix and the technology that brings you “normal” TV.

If you have cable TV and Internet, you have both TV and IP networking coming over the same wire.  Both carry data packets. Cable TV is organized as MPEG2 transport streams.  The network is tightly controlled to ensure that each packet is delivered in time for a correctly rendered picture (every now and then you might notice blocks appearing on the screen when the packets are slightly disrupted). The data only travels in one direction: from cable “head end” to your cable set top box where it is decoded and converted to a format for your TV.  You tune into a channel and receive around 10 Mbps for that channel (it’s more complex than that but for our purposes it is good enough) and you are sort of guaranteed to get this bandwidth.

The IP network is much different. It carries packets in both directions.  There is no guarantee that you will get packets at any given rate.  However, you can get packets from anywhere in the internet (unlike the TV side of the network which allows you to get content from a limited number of channels).  The way video is delivered is more complex because of this.  Bits need to be buffered to ride through the vagaries of IP delays and incompatibility.  Sometimes you can get 10 Mbps, sometimes you can’t.

To handle this, a lot of work has been put into what is called Adaptive Bit Rate (ABR) delivery.  Without going into a lot of tedious technical detail, ABR is what allows NetFlix and YouTube and Hulu to deliver high def video to millions of viewers.

It is rapidly getting to the point that, given equivalent bandwidth to what is available for cable TV that a standard IP connection would be capable of delivering all the content that you see with cable TV.  Why is this important?  It enables many things:

  1. Infinite channels
  2. One infrastructure for the cable system (to be technical: DOCSIS without QAM).
  3. TV Guide is a web site
  4. TV Everywhere by default
  5. More personalized behavior

While some of these benefits may seem esoteric, it is likely that within 10 years this conversion will be well underway.  This goes beyond “IPTV” which is basically no different in behavior to “normal” cable TV.   It will make YouTube and NetFlix truly peers of CBS and HBO.  That is a huge difference in the market place.  It changes the way we think about content, how advertisers place ads (you may see a very different ad than your neighbor), and who controls access to the content.

Are there technical hurdles?  Yes!  If Netflix is consuming 30% of all North American bandwidth on the Internet, how will we handle 100’s of Netflix and an order of magnitude more viewers over the Internet?  It will fundamentally change how we manage networks, distribute content, and manage access rights.

But the course is inevitable.

My Short Experience With Project Fi — or — The Value of Customer Service

August 15, 2015

Here is a note I sent to the folks at Project Fi at Google.  I am not criticizing the Project Fi technology (though in my situation it didn’t really work), but rather the way they mishandled customer service.  For one of the richest companies in the world, the investment in customer service seems embarrassingly poor.


Now that my cancellation with Project Fi is complete, I would like to share some feedback.

1. For the life of me I can’t understand why I couldn’t get a payment plan for the phone. With a FICO score of 815 from Experian, a single late payment in 2013, and a history of paying off homes, cars, and consumer credit, this still has me flummoxed.

2. If you look at my history, it took forever to get my cancellation processed. There was confusion over whether my phone number could be reverted back to Google Voice. I spoke to a number of customer service people and had the case upgraded to a manager, Rosanne. Rosanne told me she would complete my cancellation process and transfer my phone number back to Google Voice and contact me when this was complete.

4. Four days later I returned to my Fi account to see it was active again. I resumed trying to Cancel it, found that the transfer to Google Voice option was now available, and I completed the cancellation. Rosanne never contacted me, I completed the transaction instead of customer service, and as far as I could tell there would be no follow-up from customer service.

5. At this point I still couldn’t return the phone to get credit for it. I had to ask for the mailing label and instructions to return the phone. Since I was out $500 for the phone (see #1), this was reasonably important.

6. I returned the phone, tracked its progress myself, and then monitored my credit card to see when the refund had been made. Since #2 I have not had any contact with Project Fi service.

Let me contrast this with two other service encounters I have had.

1. Renting books from Amazon. I rent the book, I received status on my order. I use the book. As my rental term nears expiration I receive instructions on how to return the book with mailing labels, etc. I drop off the book and receive E-mail that Amazon sees that I have dropped off the book and will let me know when they receive it (they track the return label automatically). I have assurance that my return is being handled, that Amazon is aware of it, and that all billing is satisfied. Keeping me informed gives me peace of mind and builds trust in the company to use them again.

2. Warranty work at Apple. My son has a problem with the graphics processor on his MacBook. It is not an uncommon problem. The folks at the Genius bar assess the problem, we note that there is a hairline fracture at the side of the screen, and the computer is sent off for repairs. The service center calls and says: You need a new screen. We exchange photos of the screen before and after shipping, the service center checks, in real time while talking with me, with the representative at the Genius Bar, and Apple agrees that the screen was further damaged in transit and replaces it free of charge. The Free of Charge was great, but it was the diligent communication with me that made the greatest difference.

Project Fi has some interesting technology (though that technology really didn’t work for my environment). But a cell phone provider is much more in the service business than the technology business. Being in the service business means a commitment to customer communication and proactive actions. You need to up your game significantly if you are going to be a serious player in this space or end up as an “experiment” that ultimately fails and is retired.


— Michael Kilian

Curmudgeon Rant #4

April 3, 2015

If you follow LinkedIn, it almost seems like failure is glorified:


True: one of the differences between a “master” and a “beginner” is experience.  Let’s not equate “experience” with “lots of failures.”

I would say masters do have more skills than the novice.  Some of these skills are innate; some are trained.  But let’s be honest:  I will never paint like a master, I will not solve difficult physics problems like the best physicists, and I can’t even program like the best (and I have been programming for a very, very long time with lots of failures).

I see lots of platitudes about resilience to failure, how failure is not bad, how to dust yourself off.  You know what:  Failure sucks and sometimes failure is a message to change what you are fundamentally doing because you will never master what you are working at.

I am not Charlie

January 21, 2015

The Charlie Hebdo killings were tragic.  However, I have found the chants of “Je Suis Charlie” as a commitment to Freedom of Expression to be puzzling.  While these terrorists claim these attacks were a reprisal against the magazines treatment of Mohammed and Islam, they were first and foremost murders against people.

An attack on Freedom of Expression is better characterized by an institutional attack on expression.  The arrest of Al Jazeera reporters in Egypt, the forbidding of all but state-sanctioned media in North Korea and China are examples of attacks on Freedom of Expression.  The confiscation of a Robert Mapplethorpe book by police in England in 1998 is an example of an attack on Freedom of Expression. The attack on Charlie Hedbo is a retaliation. We do not consider the assassination of JFK as an attack on Freedom of Expression, at least not as its primary intent.

The response by the Press was also underwhelming.  Many news outlets did not show the Charlie Hebdo covers.  To be honest, they are vulgar but in this day and age, you would think CNN could have put in a button to allow their readers to choose whether to see the covers or not.  Gerard Biard, now editor-in-chief at Charlie Hebdo, is outraged that the media has not reprinted the last cover.  This is where Freedom of Expression is tested.

In the end, the terrorists committed a violent act against people. Freedom of Expression was denied but that was not how we judge the terrorists: we judge them as murderers.  Our own press’ self-censorship should be the focus of our Freedom of Expression discussions.

Curmudgeon Rant #3

December 15, 2014

I continue my rants about platitudes that I’ve seen on Linked In.

Note that just because I rant about these platitudes, I don’t want people to dream and pursue objectives.  But I do get a little fed up with how many times we see these platitudes repeated, “liked” and redistributed without any substance behind them.  They have become the “Have a nice day” phrase of (at least) the technology professional world.

This set of platitudes focuses on interpersonal relationships (focused on but not limited to the office).

Take the following:  A friendship uncultivated will not grow and eventually will whither.  If you forget your friends, you will not sort out the real ones from the phony ones; you will become friendless.


Here are three platitudes positioning the “opinions of others.”  Yes, I understand that it is very important to develop your self-esteem.  But I’m afraid these platitudes can lead to “pathological self-esteem”:  arrogance, lack of compassion and empathy, hubris.  What if your sheep are your employees or your students?   It’s not your road and your road alone.  Any significant endeavor requires support from others.  And in fact, some of those folks may be building the road you are walking on (remember Obama’s misunderstood remarks about building a business alone?).  Be self-confident.  But don’t exclude the thoughts and support of all the people around you including the ones criticizing you, correcting you, and perhaps telling you are going in the wrong direction.

lions yourroad  seeyourself

This next one blows my mind.  It is patently untrue.  Tone of voice can exacerbate a conflict, but I don’t really believe it causes 90% of  the problems.  Think about the real conflicts in the world impacting millions of people:  Israel/Gaza, Ukraine/Russia, Syria, half of Saharan Africa. How many of these conflicts are about the “wrong tone of voice.”   How many times have you as a professional really had a conflict that was tone of voice versus contractual terms, group dynamics surrounding divisions of work, etc.  I hate to say it, but a lot of professional conflicts are resolved because of a Howard Beale moment ( where someone claims bullshit on a situation.  I know I have had my fair share of Howard Beale moments. It is not the preferable solution, but occasionally it serves as the only impetus available.


Finally, I don’t have a problem with the first two pillows — it is the third.  Delete Situations?  How about: face up to situations, work through them, be resilient, adapt, and cope.  Delete?  That sounds like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand.


Curmudgeon Rant #2

October 12, 2014

My next rant covers a bunch of things I’ve seen that are all basically saying:  Don’t be afraid of Failure!

platitude3 platitude1 platitude2 platitude4

Let me throw up another quote:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Albert Einstein

There are plenty of times when what you are doing is just plain wrong.  It is important to recognize this.  Sometimes you can’t or shouldn’t pursue something, even if it is your dream.  Or re-prioritize your efforts.  A hobby is not necessary enough to be a profession.

I’ve thought about changing careers.  I’d love to build things; I’m an avid woodworker.  It would be great if I didn’t have to worry about actually making a living at it (not too many woodworkers can make a livelihood from it).  Perhaps it will make a good retirement vocation.

So don’t fear failure…but be self-aware and be aware of how what you want to do fits into reality.  If you are an entrepreneur you need to know your market. Maybe you’ll make a new market (like Steve Jobs did with iTunes).  But realize that this is a rare circumstance.

In my personal experience, I think it is more important to be resilient, to change and adapt. Yes…that’s part of the learning part of failure.  I’m more impressed with folks that take their companies (or personal life) in new directions not so much because of failure but because of a conscious realization that there is a better path.


Curmudgeon Rant #1

October 10, 2014

A while back I annoyed someone on LinkedIn.  She had posted some feel-good post about following your passion or something like that and I commented back that maybe that’s not always available.  (Mike Rowe had a recent article about this very topic which I largely agree with:

This poor person was upset and frankly I say: Too Bad…don’t post to LinkedIn stuff that belongs on Facebook.

Since then I’ve collected a number of platitudes all from LinkedIn and thought I would do a little commentary on them.  This is the first platitude.


The point marked with the Star is an extremely small point.  In fact I think it is almost vanishingly small.  I am 52 and have worked in some wonderful jobs that I have enjoyed, that I have been good at, and I’ve been paid reasonably for that work. But the world has never needed an incremental compiler for a strongly typed language.  I’ve worked for volunteer organizations and I would say most would actually prefer your monetary donations over your physical presence.

If you can find something you get paid for that you enjoy, and you and your neighbor can live with what you do (i.e., you are not hurting anyone), then I think you are off to a good start.  If you can get paid beyond what you need (after saving for your retirement and your kids’ education), then be generous with charities.

If you are young, don’t worry about finding your ideal job.  Try things out.  I agree with Mike Rowe:  You don’t necessarily have to follow your passion; but you should be passionate about what you have found, be flexible, and follow your opportunities.  From that, hopefully you can find something that you are good at, can be fairly compensated for, and have enough time to do what brings you joy even if that is something you’re not paid for.  And don’t forget to help others.