Microsoft and Kroger: Have These Outfits Actually Shopped at a Kroger Store in Kentucky?

January 8, 2019

The answer is, “Of course not.”

Kroger’s technological capability is modest, even by the low standards which define the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Home of the corrupt sports programs, bourbon, horse racing, river boat gambling, and other intellectual high water marks.

I read “Microsoft and Kroger to Create Data-Driven Connected Grocery Stores.” What this means is that Kroger wants to get rid of humans, keep the lights at mortuary levels, and not have to fool around with pesky customers who spend actual bank notes.

The write up takes a slightly different approach, stating:

The first fruit of the partnership is a digital shelving system, which was actually announced last year and is in the process of rolling out to dozens of Kroger stores across the U.S. Called EDGE (Enhanced Display for Grocery Environment), it bypasses paper price tags for digital shelf displays that can be changed in real time from anywhere, and it also can display promotions, dietary information, and more.

Yep, that’s an idea. But the flaw is that Kroger’s in Kentucky struggle to complete these tasks in an orderly, coherent way:

  1. Restock. Aisles are choked with people trying to cram products on shelves in aisles clogged with free standing cardboard promotions, mothers wrangling toddlers, and clueless males struggling to locate milk and bread.
  2. Functioning check outs. At the Louisville Westport Kroger, the store has a dozen next generation self check out machines. At 1225 pm Eastern exactly three of the machines were working. The hapless attendant was clueless and an even more confused “manager” was trying to calm down impatient shoppers. How many human check outs were open at this fine retail outlet? Exactly one. Yeah, Windows 10 will fix this puppy.
  3. Accurate data. I routinely locate products on shelves with prices different from what the Kroger check out systems display. The error rate seems to chug along at somewhere between 10 and 15 percent. The solution? Hide the prices so the hapless shopper will not be able to compare what one tag says with what the invisible database says. I suppose one could ask Cortana.

But the kicker is the idea that a shelf will illuminate only when a person is interfacing. It is pretty tough to buy a frozen burrito when the automatic illumination systems does not function. That assumes, of course, that one can actually locate frozen burritos which are in the frozen snack freezer two aisles away from frozen Mexican food.

Should I talk about the crazy Kroger app for wireless shopping and payment. Nope, I am heading to Whole Foods.

Stephen E Arnold, January 8, 2019

The Five Stages of Digital Death and Dying

January 5, 2019

Check out “Childhood’s End.” I noted this passage:

The digital revolution progressed through five stages: the repurposing of war-surplus analog vacuum tube components into the first generation of fully-electronic stored-program computers; the era of large central mainframes; the era of the microprocessor and personal computer; the advent of the Internet; and finally the era of fully-metazoan codes that populate the mobile landscape of today. The next revolution is the assembly of digital components into analog computers, similar to the way analog components were assembled into digital computers in the aftermath of World War II.

There you go, you fully metazoan code unit. Is this another way for a vacuum expert to say something sucks?

Stephen E Arnold, January 5, 2019

Blood Sugar Levels Will Not Work. What about Death?

November 17, 2018

Google, as I recall, wanted to smash through medical barriers. When the contact lens thing surfaced at Microsoft with inputs from Babak Parviz, I figured Google knew something Microsoft did not. I read “Alphabet Stops Its Project to Create a Glucose-Measuring Contact Lens for Diabetes Patients” and learned:

Verily, Alphabet‘s life sciences arm, has paused work on its so-called “smart lens” program, which was aiming to put tiny sensors on contact lenses to measure blood sugar levels in tears.

Parviz, one of the wizards responsible for Google Glass (that’s a story as well) is now at Amazon. The contact lens thing is a goner.

That happens. But it raises a question in my mind:

If Google can’t make blood sugar monitoring work, what’s that say about the company’s goal of solving death?

High school science club project? Maybe. Death may be a more difficult problem, but it might spark fascinating ad sales.

Stephen E Arnold, November 17, 2018

Quantum Computing: Rah, Rah, Rah

November 16, 2018

I don’t pay much attention to quantum computing. I gave a lecture at Yale, a fine institution a decade ago. At lunch, one of the lights of intellectual insight was yammering about quantum computing. I listened and offered, “Quantum. Think about light. Photon lensing maybe?” Wow, quite a reaction to the wave/particle thing that my former employer Halliburton Nuclear found interesting. I fell silent and listened to explanations of low temperatures, states, and the end of encryption as we know it. Believe me, I was glad to get to the train station and head back to rural Kentucky.

Over the years, I have noted the increasing interest in quantum computing. The idea is that the barriers or limitations of today’s computing methods are not doing the job. You know. Predicting the weather, figuring out what bond to buy or sell, and solving cancer or maybe even solving death. (That’s a Google thing, by the way.)

I read “The Case Against Quantum Computing.” I want to highlight a couple of statements in the write up. After the dust settles, you may be a believer in quantum computing or own a chunk of D-Wave Systems or some other forward leaning quantum computing outfit.


The D-Wave 2000Q is perfect for use on the run, in your home office, or on the beach.

The first statement I marked was:

It has gotten to the point where many researchers in various fields of physics feel obliged to justify whatever work they are doing by claiming that it has some relevance to quantum computing.

This is the everybody’s doing it approach. I am waiting for some bright spark to suggest that quantum computing enterprise search will make it possible to find the most recent version of a PowerPoint a sales manager used in a presentation yesterday after a wine infused lunch.

The second statement I noted was:

When will useful quantum computers be constructed? The most optimistic experts estimate it will take 5 to 10 years. More cautious ones predict 20 to 30 years. (Similar predictions have been voiced, by the way, for the last 20 years.) I belong to a tiny minority that answers, “Not in the foreseeable future.”

Roger that.

I found this statement interesting as well:

A useful quantum computer needs to process a set of continuous parameters that is larger than the number of subatomic particles in the observable universe.

My hunch is that the wizard at Yale thinks that quantum computing will be the next big thing. That’s useful.

Stephen E Arnold, November 16, 2018

Quantum Computing for Your Office?

November 13, 2018

I read “Inside IBM’s Zurich Lab, Where Scientists are Banking on Being the First to Crack the Quantum Code.” The write up is okay as descriptions of the next big thing in computers go. Quantum computing will, so the assertion flows, will render existing crypto security methods obsolete.

That is indeed true. The issue is when. One conference organizers told me a coupled of months ago, “I’m all in on quantum computing.” When one considers that this individual offers training to law enforcement and security personnel, it may be a while before the technology becomes available and in a form factor that fits into an office setting.

The most interesting part of the article is that it provides some insight into the physical structure of the IBM quantum computer. Here’s a snap of part of the gizmo from the write up:


Can you see this parked next to the vending machines?

Not shown in the picture are the cooling units which emit constant clamoring, whirring noise.

The hardware required for the IBM Q Experience is formidable.

As pointed out:

It would be tempting to conclude from all this that the basic problems are solved in principle and the path to a future of ubiquitous quantum computing is now just a matter of engineering. But that would be a mistake. The fundamental physics of quantum computing is far from solved and can’t be readily disentangled from its implementation.

It will be a few years before quantum computing finds its way to Harrod’s Creek. But hyperbole travels faster and farther.

Stephen E Arnold, November 13, 2018

High School Science Club: Making Traffic Better

November 9, 2018

I read “BlackFly the Autonomous VTOL Backed by Larry Page.” I immediately thought of my high school science club. I also thought about a fellow whom I know. This person built an airplane in his garage. No one will go for a ride in the thing. Experimental is not a magnet for some in Harrod’s Creek. However, one will allegedly be able to beat traffic by buying a BlackFly. Imagine. Those wonderfully courteous drivers piloting their own flying car. What could possibly go wrong? Here’s what the well healed high school science club member will be “flying” to the prom with a beauty content winner from another school or a source provided by doting parents.

Traffic problems in the air? Never. Science club person traveling alone. Yep.

Stephen E Arnold, November 9, 2018

Guess Who Has Not Been in an MIT Dorm for Men?

October 16, 2018

I know that Wikileaks is an interesting source of information. I usually do not mention the organization, its founder, or its information in this blog. However, I read “Leaked Memo: No Internet Until You Clean Your Bathroom, Ecuador Told Julian Assange.” Good stuff. So, let me make an exception to my minimalist approach to Wikeleaks.

I noted this statement in the write up:

London’s Ecuadorian embassy has slapped WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with a nine-page memo of house rules to follow if he wants to see the internet again under their roof.

The nine page memo contained this passage, which strikes me as a classic administrative response to a guest who has undesirable habits:

In order to safeguard the sanitary conditions of the Embassy facilities, Mr Julian Assange and his visitors will conserve the cleanliness and hygiene of the bathroom and other spaces that they use inside the embassy. For the same reasons, Mr Julian Assange will be responsible for the well-being, food, cleanliness and proper care of your pet. If the pet is not given due attention, the Head of Mission will ask Mr Assange to deliver the pet to another person or an animal shelter outside the Diplomatic Mission.

Yep, the cat is likely to be a pivot point.

However, what the memo reveals to me is that no one in the Ecuadorian embassy has had an opportunity to live in an MIT men’s dorm, spend time with some of the professionals participating in hackathons which require around the clock coding, or checked out the garbage left on Starbuck tables at 175 East El Camino Road.

Mr. Assange may be behaving in a manner which seems normal and—quite possibly—expected of a person with technical expertise.

Ecuador, however, does not seem to understand the cultural context of Mr. Assange’s approach to maintaining self, pet, and domicile.

What happens when an irresistible force meets and immovable object?

Trash and slovenly behavior escalate. Entropy takes numerous forms.

Stephen E Arnold, October 16, 2018

The Hacking Hit Parade

October 12, 2018

Beyond Search readers may find “Top 10 Web Hacking Techniques of 2017 interesting.” Many of these may seem to be small potatoes compared to the allegedly hacking of Supermicro motherboards, but intriguing nevertheless.

The top three techniques, according to the write up, are:

  • Coming in at number three is a method for spoofing customer support tickets. The key is “implicit trust.”
  • At number two is Web cache deception. The idea is to put data into a Web cache in order to get the good stuff.
  • And, the number one, hacking method for 2017 was use of server side request forgery. Now this method is like a multiple warhead weapon; that is, once can use some quite interesting methods of delivery and create what the innovator calls “quick fun”.

We will provide more information in our November 27, 2018, DarkCyber news program.

Stephen E Arnold, November 27, 2018

HSSCM: Updates from Facebook and Snapchat

October 5, 2018

High school science club management methods are flourishing.

I wanted to highlight two examples of interesting ways to operate publicly traded companies in the spotlight.

The first example of HSSCM comes from Facebook, truly a gold mine of examples. I learned that a Facebook executive sat in a photo op location during the Brett Kavanaugh  hearing. My source was “Facebook’s Head of Public Policy Is Supporting the Kavanaugh Nomination, and Some Employees Are Livid.” A Facebook top dog named Joel Kaplan appeared, at least to the Verge, to endorse “his close friend.”

The result, according to the write up, “roiled the social network.” I like the word roiled. The real journalists at the Verge reported:

For Facebook, the controversy over Kaplan represents a new point of division at a company that is still grappling with the Instagram founders’ unexpected departure and the largest data breach in its history. Only when it comes to the Kaplan controversy, it’s not clear to me what the company’s next move should be. The C suite seems to have been annoyed by Kaplan’s attendance, but was initially dismissive of employees’ concerns. (How concerned are employees? My favorite detail in Isaac’s story is that they went into Kaplan’s calendar and learned that he had not in fact taken the 27th as a personal day, as Kaplan initially stated. The calendar was later updated to reflect that it was, indeed, a personal day.)

It appears in the canon of the HSSCM method that it is not necessary to know what senior executives are doing. Furthermore, revisionism in the form of modifying a digital calendar, is supported. I also enjoyed learning that in this particular HSSCM example, the concerns of the employees were not at the top of the to do list.

Implications? I suppose there is a possibility that some MBA might interpret the method as exemplary decision making regarding a chain of command, time allocation, and awareness of the senior staff activities.

The second example concerns Snapchat, a service which I admit I never understood and still do not.

I captured this HSSCM method in the write up “9 Highlights from Snapchat CEO’s 6000-Word Leaked Memo on Survival.” Like leaks at Google and Palantir, the fact that someone released an internal memo suggests that shared values about how to handle confidential information may be lacking. Science club members have to be loyal, right?

My first reaction to the write up was, “6,000 words is a lot of words for a memo.” If I worked at Snapchat, I am not sure I would read that document. Some employees obviously concluded that reading and leaking were proof of the HSSCM approach.

I found a couple of the management principles embedded in the memo semi-interesting.

Item One, I noted the admission that the company moved too quickly. Well, it did break things, including usage of the software. An added plus was social media visibility. Annoyed users expressed their displeasure with a Snapchat design tweak. HSSCM knows how to get publicity. That’s a plus.

Item Two, a service called Discover is good. But the service is a “mess.” Hey, that’s part of the break things. The fix? Make Discover a “lean back” experience. I love the word experience. HSSCM methods deliver experiences, just like Google ads’ redesign which features the word “experience” instead of “increasing revenues”. See the email sent by Google on October 4, 2018, with the friendly, warm experience of the mail address:

To sum up, here are the HSSCM methods I extracted from these two case examples:

  • It is not necessary to know what senior managers are doing during the day on prime time television for six or seven hours
  • It is okay to make it easy to modify digital calendars which is a trendy approach to revisionism
  • It is okay to make decision in a hurry, ignore feedback, and then apologize. That is a way to move fast and put broken things back together.
  • It is okay to create services which appear to be a mess. Creative destruction, right?

No wonder sign ups for MBA degrees are sinking. Who needs to study management when HSSCM methods are within reach of anyone working at a tech centric company?

Stephen E Arnold, October 5, 2018

COBOL Cowboys. Where Are the Cowgirls? Where Is the Trail Boss?

October 4, 2018

I love ThomsonReuters. Every once in a while, its real journalists craft a gem. I submit that “Banks Scramble to Fix Old Systems as IT Cowboys Ride into Sunset.” I will not point out that eliminating the “the” before “sunset” is a quite trendy touch.

The point of the write up is that when a bank hires an individual to work on systems, that engineer may love python, tolerate C, and maybe invite Java in for coffee once a month or so.

The write up reports that a banker allegedly said:

It [dealing with COBOL based systems] is immensely complex which sells new IT infrastructure to banks. “Legacy systems from different generations are layered and often heavily intertwined.

No kidding. Who knew? I recall the Year 2000 hysteria which sparked a bit of interest in COBOL. My memory may be fading. Perhaps that money gusher for COBOL professionals was an illusion.

A couple of observations:

First, COBOL has been around for 60 years. Innovations and alternatives have been around for decades. The failure of major institutions to invest in infrastructure is one reason why Amazon could provide a solution. There’s more money in banking than there is in selling eBooks, by the way.

Second, the notion of programmers as cowboys strikes me as odd when the #MeToo movement and its assorted fireworks are in evidence. A modest nod to non male COBOL wizards seems to be an odd omission. I saw the word cowboys and I wondered if the folks running this outfit should be asked to create a more appropriate name; for example, Gender Neutral COBOL Remediation or GNCR. I like it. Perhaps a Twitter storm will erupt.

Third, years ago I assumed Boards of Directors were supposed to provide inputs and help senior management figure out what to do with computers, software, and other business decisions. Have the Boards of Directors remained unaware of technological advances for more than half a century? That’s a question to which the answer seems to be, “Yes.” I am assuming that the TR write up is on the money.

Finally, what’s up with bank regulatory entities? It seems to me that somewhere along the regulatory chain the question, “What should be the minimum for bank technology enhancements?” I wonder if IBM has played a small role in keeping those mainframes humming? No, IBM would not make it difficult (technically or financially) to get free from the mainframe grasp. I assume I could ask Watson, but maybe not.

To sum up, ThomsonReuters’ article is a gem. I wonder if ThomsonReuters is running obsolete computer and network infrastructure hardware? Are these some DEC 20s lurking in Boston? Are banks able to search their documents in a reliable, satisfactory way? Why have the trail bosses lost the cattle?

Yikes, too many questions.

Stephen E Arnold, October 4, 2018

Next Page »

  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Meta