Systems and Software: Make Them Really Easy to Use

May 18, 2022

Isn’t software supposed to make work easier and more efficient? Even as reliance on technology in the workplace has increased, it appears to have become just the opposite. TechRadar Pro reports, “Software Frustration Is Costing Workers Millions of Hours Every Week.” Writer Will McCurdy cites a recent survey from Userlane, a company that makes and sells a digital adoption platform. He tells us:

“The company found a third – 35% – of UK employees waste at least one hour per week tackling software-related issues, while 61% spend at least 30 minutes per week on these challenges. The majority – 70% – of employers state that their overall use of technology at work has increased over the past two years according to Userlane’s data, as the demand for online collaboration in particular has skyrocketed with the move to hybrid working. What’s frustrating workers? The fact that software can be time-consuming to use was the most common complaint among those surveyed and was cited by 44% of the survey’s respondents. The IT department not responding to queries or issues quickly enough was another common complaint, cited by 39% of respondents. Software that involves too many complex processes was another common issue, cited by 23% of users. Userlane’s survey also suggests that software challenges are impacting how users approach their jobs.”

For example, nearly half the respondents have put off important tasks because of this frustration, almost 20% have dropped back to manual methods, and 8% have considered quitting over software woes. Apparently, the most common way for companies to battle complaints is to explain the technology’s benefits to workers—an approach we expect some may find patronizing. Other, perhaps wiser, methods include expanding IT support capacity and supplying workers with classroom and/or written training. Userlane also found nearly a third of companies are using a digital adoption platform, like the one it happens to sell. Whether such a guidance platform helps, though, will vary greatly by employee. It is, after all, another layer of software.

Cynthia Murrell, May 18, 2022

Big Tech, Big Winners: Good or Bad

May 17, 2022

Science-fiction and many different types of smart people have informed us that technology and related information is dangerous if unregulated and left in the hands of a few individuals. Engadget focuses on the current reasons why big tech companies are dangerous in the article, “Hitting the Books: US Regulators Are Losing The Fight Against Big Tech.” Meta (formerly Zuckbook), Amazon, Google, and Apple control the technology space and consume…er…purchase startups before they can become a competitor. The government used to regulate the technology marketplace and, according to some written laws, they still do. The current advancement in technology has overwhelmed the government’s capacity to govern it.

Oxford professor Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and author Thomas Range wrote Access Rules: Freeing Data From Big Tech For a Better Future agree that Big Tech companies are hoarding information and there needs to be a more equitable way of accessing it. Biden’s administration has attempted to address Big Tech’s monopolies, but their efforts aren’t effective.

Biden appointed Tim to the National Economic Council as a special assistant to the president for technology and competition policy. Wu favors breaking up Big Tech companies and it was a sign that Biden leaned this way. Another signal of Biden’s leanings was Lina Khan as the Federal Trade Commission chair. Khan favors regulating Big Tech like utilities similar to electricity and AT&T before telecom deregulation. The Big Tech monopolies are not good, because it is preventing future innovation, but politicians are arguing over how to solve a convoluted issue. There are antitrust laws but are they enforceable? The complicated issue is:

“And yet it’s questionable that well-intentioned activist regulators bolstered by broad public support will succeed. The challenge is a combination of the structural and the political. As Lina Khan herself argued, existing antitrust laws are less than useful. Big Tech may not have violated them sufficiently to warrant breaking them up. And other powerful measures, such as declaring them utilities, require legislative action. Given the delicate power balance in Congress and hyper-partisan politics, it’s likely that such bold legislative proposals would not get enough votes to become enacted. The political factions may agree on the problem, but they are far apart on the solution. The left wants an effective remedy, while the right insists on the importance of market forces and worries about antitrust action micromanaging economic activity. That leaves a fairly narrow corridor of acceptable incremental legislative steps, such as “post-acquisition lockups.” This may be politically palatable, but insufficient to achieve real and sustained success.”

The Big Tech people, politicians, and other involved parties are concerned with short-term gains. The long game is being ignored in favor of the present benefits, while the future is left to deteriorate. Europe has better antitrust laws in actions against Big Tech companies. To plan for a better future, the US should copy Europe.

Whitney Grace, May 17, 2022

Why Stuff Is Stupid: Yep, Online Is One Factor

May 16, 2022

I read “IQ Scores Are Falling and Have Been for Decades, New Study Finds.” Once again academic research has verified what anyone asking a young person to make change at a fast food restaurant knows: Ain’t happening.

The article reports:

IQ scores have been steadily falling for the past few decades, and environmental factors are to blame, a new study says. The research suggests that genes aren’t what’s driving the decline in IQ scores…

What, pray tell and back up with allegedly accurate data from numerous sources? I learned:

“The causes in IQ increases over time and now the decline is due to environmental factors,” said Rogeburg [Ole Rogeberg, a senior research fellow at the Ragnar Frisch Center for Economic Research in Norway], who believes the change is not due to genetics. “It’s not that dumb people are having more kids than smart people, to put it crudely. It’s something to do with the environment, because we’re seeing the same differences within families,” he said. These environmental factors could include changes in the education system and media environment, nutrition, reading less and being online more, Rogeberg said.

Ah, ha. Media and online.

Were not these innovations going to super charge learning?

I know how it is working out when I watch a teen struggling to calculate that 57 cents from $1.00 is $5.00 and 43 cents. Yes!

I am not sure to what to make of another research study. “Why Do Those with Higher IQs Live Longer? A New Study Points to Answers” reveals:

“The slight benefit to longevity from higher intelligence seems to increase all the way up the intelligence scale, so that very smart people live longer than smart people, who live longer than averagely intelligent people, and so on.” The researchers … found an association between childhood intelligence and a reduced risk of death from dementia and, on a smaller scale, suicide. Similar results were seen among men and women, except for lower rates of suicide, which had a correlation to higher childhood intelligence among men but not women.

My rule of thumb is not to stand in front of a smart self-driving automobile.

Stephen E Arnold, May 16, 2022

Quantum Computing: Who Sent the Memo? Who Read It?

May 12, 2022

I read “America Is Losing the Quantum Race with China.” Interesting because Google claimed “quantum supremacy” in 2019. NASA helped out the Google, and I wonder if the author of the Newsweek article got the memo. Then, as I recall, an IBM blog took a positive view of Google’s PR play, but in 2021 fired up its marketing system and announced it had achieved quantum supremacy (whatever this term means).

Okay, what’s the story? Is it IBM, Google, or the mysterious and semi-questionable Chinese?

The Newsweek story designed to strike fear into the hearts of those who care about keeping encrypted messaging encrypted learned:

Quantum computing, a form of high-speed calculation at the subatomic level conducted at extraordinarily cold temperatures, will bring computers to speeds barely imaginable today. Atoms, photons and electrons that operate beyond the classical laws of physics and in the realm of “quantum” can be harnessed for extraordinary computing power. Complex problems that once took years to solve could take seconds. And that means everything we know about cybersecurity—every lock secured by current encryption methods—could get blown wide open.

Yikes.

What’s the solution? Teaching American students to make change, avoid the plague of innumeracy as one expert called being sort of stupid, and reading books, not TikTok hashtags?

Here’s the fix:

President Biden’s recent moves will better coordinate our government’s efforts to prevent this nightmare scenario, by bringing federal agencies and critical infrastructure companies together to address quantum threats. It also brings the National Quantum Initiative Advisory Committee under White House control.

Sounds like a plan. However, with US firms already quantumly supreme is a committee necessary? And if the US methods fall short of the mark, there’s always PR. TikTok videos are much more important than wrestling with a differential equation.

Stephen E Arnold, May 12, 2022

Kyndi: Advanced Search Technology with Quanton Methods. Yes, Quonton

April 29, 2022

One of my newsfeeds spit out this story: “Kyndi Unveils the Kyndi Natural Language Search Solution – Enables Enterprises to Discover and Deliver the Most Relevant and Precise Contextual Business Information at Unprecedented Speed.” The Kyndi founders appear to be business oriented, not engineering focused. The use of jargon like natural language understanding, contextual information, artificial intelligence, software robots, explainable artificial intelligence, and others is now almost automatic as if generated by smart software, not people who have struggled to make content processing and information retrieval work for users.

The firm’s Web site does not provide much detail about the technical pl8umbing for the company’s search and retrieval system. I took a quick look at the firm’s patents and noted these. I have added bold face to highlight some of  the interesting words in these documents.

  • A method using Birkhoff polytopes and Landau numbers. See US11205135 “Quanton [sic] Representation for Emulating Quantum-lie Computation on Classical Processors,”  granted December 21, 2021. Inventor: Arun Majumdar, possibly in Alexandria, Virginia.
  • A method employing combinatorial hyper maps. See US10985775 “System and Method of Combinatorial Hypermap Based Data Representations and Operations,” Granted April 20, 2021. Inventor: Arun Majumdar, possibly in Alexandria, Virginia. (As a point of interest the document Includes the word bijectively.)
  • A method making use of Q-Medoids and Q-Hashing. See US10747740 “Cognitive Memory Graph Indexing, Storage and Retrieval,” granted August 18, 2020. Inventor: Arun Majumdar, possibly in San Mateo, California.
  • A method using Semantic Boundary Indices and a variant of the VivoMind* Analogy Engine. See US10387784 “Technical and Semantic Signal Processing in Large, Unstructured Data Fields,” granted August 20, 2019. Inventor: Arun Majumdar, possibly in Alexandria, Virginia. *VivoMind was a company started my Arun Majumdar prior to his relationship with Kyndi.
  • A method using rvachev functions and  transfinite interpolations. See US10372724 “Relativistic Concept Measuring System for Data Clustering,” granted August 6, 2019. Inventor: Arun Majumdar, possibly in Alexandria, Virginia.
  • A method using Clifford algebra. See US10120933 “Weighted Subsymbolic Data Encoding,” granted November 6, 2018. Inventor: Arun Majumdar, possibly in Alexandria, Virginia.

The inventor is not listed on the firm’s Web site. Mr. Majumdar’s contributions are significant. The chief technology officer is Dan Gartung, who is a programmer and entrepreneur. However, there does not seem to be an observable link among the founders, the current CTO, and Mr. Majumdar.

The company will have to work hard to capture mindshare from companies like Algolia (now working to reinvent enterprise search), Mindbreeze, Yext, and X1 (morphing into an eDiscovery system it seems), among others. Kyndi has absorbed more than  $20 million plus in venture funding, but a competitor like Lucidworks has captured in the neighborhood of $200 million.

It is worth noting that one facet of the firm’s marketing is to hire the whiz kids from a couple of mid tier consulting firms to explain the firm’s approach to search. It might be a good idea for the analysts from these firms to read the Kyndi patents and determine how the Vivomind methods have been updated and applied to the Kyndi product. A bit of benchmarking might be helpful. For example, my team uses a collection of Google patents and indexes them, runs tests queries, and analyzes the result sets. Almost incomprehensible specialist terminology is one thing, but solid, methodical analysis of a system’s real life performance is another. Precision and recall scores remain helpful, particularly for certain content; for example, pharma research, engineered materials, and nuclear physics.

Stephen E Arnold, April 29, 2022

System Glitches: A Glimpse of Our Future?

April 4, 2022

I read “Nearly All Businesses Hit by IT Downtime Last Year – Here’s What’s to Blame.” The write up reports:

More than three-quarters (75%) of businesses experienced downtime in 2021, up 25% compared to the previous year, new research has claimed. Cybersecurity firm Acronis polled more than 6,200 IT users and IT managers from small businesses and enterprises in 22 countries, finding that downtime stemmed from multiple sources, with system crashes (52%) being the most prevalent cause. Human error (42%) was also a major issue, followed by cyber attacks (36%) and insider attacks (20%).

Interesting. A cyber security company reports these data. The cyber security industry sector should know. Many of the smart systems have demonstrated that those systems are somewhat slow when it comes to safeguarding licensees.

What’s the cause of the issue?

There are “crashes.” But what’s a crash. Human error. Humans make mistakes and most of the software systems with which I am familiar are dumb: Blackmagic ATEM software which “forgets” that users drag and drop. Users don’t intuitively know to put an image one place and then put that image another so that the original image is summarily replaced. Windows Defender lights up when we test software from an outfit named Chris. Excel happily exports to PowerPoint but loses the format of the table when it is pasted. There are USB keys and Secure Digital cards which just stop working. Go figure. There are enterprise search systems which cannot display a document saved by a colleague before lunch. Where is it? Yeah, good question. In the indexing queue maybe? Oh, well, perhaps tomorrow the colleague will get the requested feedback?

My takeaway from the write up is that the wild and crazy, helter skelter approach to software and some hardware has created weaknesses, flaws, and dependencies no one knows about. When something goes south, the Easter egg hunt begins. A dead Android device elicits button pushing and the hope that the gizmo shows some signs of life. Mostly not in my experience.

Let’s assume the research is correct. The increase noted in the write up means that software and systems will continue to degrade. What’s the fix? Like many things — from making a government bureaucracy more effective to having an airline depart on time — seem headed on a downward path.

My take is that we are getting a glimpse of the future. Reality is very different from the perfectly functioning demo and the slick assertions in a PowerPoint deck.

Stephen E Arnold, April 4, 2022

Nudge, Nudge: Internet of Things Leads to the Internet of Behavior

March 23, 2022

By now most of us are aware that our search and social-media histories are used to fine-tune the targeted marketing that comes our way. But did you know the Internet of Things also contributes marketing intel? ReadWrite examines “The Developing Internet of Behavior Technology and its Applications.” Yes, the IoT has led to the IoB because of course it did. Writer Dronacharya Dave reports:

“A device such as a smartphone can easily track and note a user’s movements and obtain their real-time geographical positions. With the help of advanced technologies, companies can connect smartphones to devices like cameras, laptops, and voice assistants. Today, smartphones can even record the text and voice of the users. In addition, brands can get information about the users with the help of IoB, such as likes, dislikes, and interests. … Internet of Things (IoT) and Internet of Behavior (IoB) together can provide a lot of important information to the companies for making better decisions related to their marketing and branding efforts.”

One might be surprised by the data that can be garnered from connected gadgets. Naturally there is personal data, like name, gender, IP address, and browser cookies. Engagement data answers whether a user favors communication through texting, email, mobile apps, or social media. Behavioral data includes purchase history, product usage information, and qualitative data like mouse movements. Finally, attitudinal data reports factors like consumer satisfaction, product desirability, and purchase criteria. This seems like a lot of information to surrender for the ability to count steps or preheat one’s oven on the ride home. The write-up tells us how companies get their hands on this data:

“The data and information from the consumers are collected from different websites, sensors, telematics, beacons, social media platforms, health monitors (like Fitbit), and others. Each of these collects additional data from consumers while indulging in doing online activities. Everything is captured by the IoB technology, from the time spent online to all that a user searches for. For example, with the application of IoB, websites can capture the information on the amount of time spent by the customers while searching the website. This data can be highly profitable for the marketing and advertising activities if analyzed accurately.”

The post examines ways marketing departments can make the most of this data and supplies a couple of examples. It also gives an obligatory nod to the risk involved—that bad actors could get their hands on this trove of user data if companies’ security measures are at all lacking. But surely every company is on top of cybersecurity best practices, right?

Cynthia Murrell, March 23, 2022

Software Bloat: Why Popular Now?

March 8, 2022

I think I spotted four references to a January 2022 write up called “Why (Enterprise) Software Is Bloated.” The write up states:

People are often baffled why enterprise software is slow, uses lots of memory, and is generally a pain to work with.

Those characteristics did in a number of outfits whose marketing assertions were essentially science fiction. Examples? Delphes, Entopia, and Fast Search & Transfer. There are other examples as well, but the companies share a common human failing: Describing the future instead of building a product that delivers the future.

Overall, the article highlights some answers to the big Why?

Among the reasons I remember are:

  • It is easier to build and just wait until the low code or no code “revolution” upends one’s organic coffee
  • Companies want to start selling, presumably to keep funding sources happy and to get cash to hire people who can write what the art history major in marketing put in a slide deck
  • Companies want to sell maintenance contracts which are an attempt to shift to a subscription service for some activities
  • Companies have specific needs. With each sale the “enterprise software” becomes a suit tailored for someone with class (maybe Prince Andrew?)
  • Partners get the job of making the enterprise software work. That can be exciting.
  • Software development as it is practiced today in inherently complex and its DNA includes unexpected issues.

I have a different take on the subject. Let’s be contrarian.

REASON 1: No one cares about the product. The focus is on telling a story, getting cash (either from a funding source or from a customer).

REASON 2: Staff are unable to make the product work in a way that solves a customer problem the customer expected the system to solve.

REASON 3: Shifting responsibility and blame. Yep, integrators, certified partners, college pals looking for something new to sell, and so on.

REASON 4: The short cut technologies (open source, the cloud, and no or low code methods) are too time consuming and costly to make work like that slide deck said they would.

REASON 5: Demand for services may be slowing. See “Service Side of US Economy Grew in February at Alowest Pace in a Year, ISM Shows.”

Is there a way out of this quagmire of enterprise software? Sure, just hire a wizard, attend conferences, and update the slide deck. Alternatively demand more and look for lower cost options.

Now the Why? Enterprise software customers are finally making a feeble attempt to get vendors to do better because money… Will it work? The answer is in the next enterprise software vendor’s slide deck.

Stephen E Arnold, March 7, 2022

How to Be Happy the Microsoft Way: Endorsed by the Harvard Business Review?

February 25, 2022

I read a fascinating article about being happy. “A Microsoft Exec Says Tech, Not People, Makes Employees Really Happy” recycles an article from the estimable Harvard Business Review published an article titled “In a Hybrid World, Your Tech Defines Employee Experience.” I want to be upfront. I find most of the information in the HBR focused on authors hawking some type of consulting expertise. The outputs in the HBR acted like a magnet on blue chip consulting firms. Getting an article in the HBR was the equivalent of getting Elvis Presley to throw a perspiration tinged scarf to an adoring fan.

According to the source recycling the HRB information about being happy, I noted these statements of Delphic grade insight minus the blood of a dove, a goat, and possibly a misbehaving acolyte.

  1. Employee experiences are defined by technology.
  2. Technology and workplace tools are the new workplace. [HBR apparently likes this type of repetition]
  3. “Technology is “becoming central in attracting and retaining new talent, fostering workplace culture, creating productivity, and more.”

I want to offer some of my personal happy experiences with Microsoft technology:

  1. Updates which kill functions; for example, a system cannot print. This makes me happy for sure.
  2. Posturing about security when the vulnerabilities spawned by Microsoft software thrill bad actors each and every day.
  3. Microsoft Word’s remarkable ability to move images in delightful ways.
  4. The shallow spidering of the just so wonderful Bing content processing system.
  5. Rumors and allegations about Bill Gates and his interesting interactions with other Microsoft professionals
  6. A foldable phone with weird performance characteristics for two-screeners with good eyes
  7. Microsoft WiFi hardware which a Softie told me, “Doesn’t work.”
  8. Meaningless features in a screen capture utility
  9. Did I mention Exchange Server vulnerabilities? Yeah.
  10. And Teams for those using a Mac without a Microsoft 365 subscription. That’s a thrill.

I recall one meeting at which a senior Softie took an iPhone from an employee in a meeting with lots of people in the audience. I recall the baffled looks on the faces of Microsoft Research experts when I asked for a show of hands for those who were familiar with Kolmogorov’s approach to probability. No hands went up. Bummer. I recall a mobile meeting in which I was told, “Mobiles will never have multiple radios.”

Ah, memories.

But the HBR write up explains that my experiences would make me happier via technology.

Yeah, right. Thoughts from the Microsoft person who pointed the finger at a 1,000 engineers directed by a nation state to compromise Citadel Windows. Yep, that person.

Stephen E Arnold, February 25, 2022

New York Times May Be Embracing the High School Science Club Management Method

February 10, 2022

I read “New York Times Opposes Tech Staff Push to Organize.” The write up from the always-objective outfit owned by the esteemed information kingpin Rupert Murdoch reports:

Danielle Rhoades Ha, a spokeswoman for the Times, said the company didn’t voluntarily recognize a technology union because it would be ‘an unproven experiment with lasting implications.’”

The Guardian reported in “Leaked Messages Reveal New York Times’ Aggressive Anti-Union Strategy” stated on February 1, 2022:

Meredith Kopit Levien, the chief executive of the New York Times Company, wrote a memo on 19 January circulated to staff titled “Why a Tech Union Isn’t Right for Us” on the tech workers’ union election at XFun, the group within the New York Times responsible for product development operations. “In short, we don’t believe unionizing in XFun is the right move. But that’s not because I’m anti-union,” said Kopit Levien. In the memo, Kopit Levien cited the origin of the XFun group and its growth, and attributed any disconnect workers might be feeling to working apart during the pandemic. She also cited Wirecutter’s union as a warning sign for unionization.

From my vantage point in rural Kentucky, the Manhattan centric dust up is amusing. We have the Gray Lady, who wants to expand its online subscription business, reduce costs via adoption of smart software, and a staff of professional who are quite sharp. One might say really woke.

My hypothesis is:

  1. Workers are divided into classes; that is, the “real” journalists and the others.
  2. The others sense that they are like Google marketing and legal professionals: Down the management crafted totem pole.
  3. The union effort is one way to try and put up a Chinese wall so that jobs can be defended. (If the wall is like the nifty one in China, it will demonstrate the skills of those who built it. You have to respect that Chinese wall even though it is tough to ride a horse from Point A to Point B on the top of the wall.)

The result is that the traditional publishing wants its class structure. It wants to be digitally hip as the XFun vivifies. However, the others are not in the game plan.

So far New York Times’ management team have taken decisions which remind me of the moves employed by Facebook- and Google-like outfits in Silicon Valley. The shallowness of the approach creates drama.

Drama makes news. News is good. The publicity may not be so beneficial. The lasting implications, however, may be great for the not-real-journalists. Despite snappy podcasts, “real” journalists may not be able to select, optimize, and maintain the smart systems the Gray Lady wants and needs. Talking about technology is not the same as doing technology in my experience.

Stephen E Arnold, February 10, 2022

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