Friday, 14 October 2011

The Point of the #Occupy Movement

The movement to occupy Wall Street, which has spawned other occupy movements here in Canada, is being called by some as an attack on capitalism. This kind of reaction by the media is just fear-mongering and serves as an attempt to reduce the actions to a level of ridiculousness; to get the majority of people to ignore the situation as a group of horny, drug-fueled students and hippies, asking for hand-outs and seeking attention for their own gains.

Saying that these people are looking for an end to capitalism is like saying that religious folk are looking for an end to science. It's reductio ad absurdum. The truth is, it's not just students and hippies. It's the middle-class workers who work just as hard as the multi-millionaires, work just as many hours, sacrifice just as much, and often are the reason the mega-rich are as rich as they are. These people are tired of the breaks that the corporations get and the multi-million dollar bonuses of board members who drive the companies.

It's the right-wing folk who are most against this.

Truth is: much of what the "Occupation Army" are asking for can be achieved while still maintaining capitalism. It isn't a black and white decision. We don't have to have pure capitalism or pure socialism. We just need to have a system of capitalism that's fair to the middle class and lower class.

Greed is at the root of the problem, both in the corporations and in the government. Money is power and the corporations with the most money push government toward legislation that best serves the top 5% of the citizens. In return, governments have introduced tax breaks to the ultra-rich to the point where it's been reported that some of the most wealthy among us paid no tax last year.

A great refreshing voice among all this comes from one of the richest in America: Warren Buffet. Buffet has asked for the rich to be taxed more. Buffet donates much of his money to charities and other not-for-profits. Why don't others? A small fraction of individuals making $10+ Million annually donate at all. Where do most donations come from? From the middle class!
Low-income working families are the most generous group in America, giving away about 4.5 percent of their income on average.
With all the tax incentives that governments put in place, why aren't the uber-rich giving more of it to good will? Well, because they don't have to. There are so many other ways for them to avoid taxes, that they end up being able to keep more of it for themselves. I mean, who wouldn't want to get another new yacht this year? Instead of giving it to charities, the wealthy go and give it to the already-wealthy politicians that hold sway in decision making.

So this all comes back to the cause that the Occupation Army are fighting for. Equality, and an end to greed. Yes, this sounds very utopian, but what's so utopian about asking for those who have, to have just a little less? What's utopian to ask for a fair chance? These people are not asking for communism, nor an end to capitalism. The mega-rich can stay rich, but the divide between the upper and lower classes is growing at a scary rate, and to what end? When will it be enough? We've already seen a recent recession that was caused at least in part by the extreme greed on Wall Street. By the driving factors behind awarding massive bonuses to shareholders. And by corruption in banking and lord knows how many other business sectors. Even locally, we've learned that Nova Scotia Power has asked for increases to energy rates to customers, citing a need to increase shareholder dividends as a reason for the increase.

The point is not to receive handouts. On the contrary: if anything, government money should be handed out less easily. There are too many handouts given, leading to a lazy nation. What the government gives back isn't the focus, it's what the governments take. The lower and middle class pay a higher percentage of income tax than the upper class. #TaxationFail

The point is not to pass legislation that requires equal distribution of wealth throughout the land. That's the extreme socialist scenario that the right-wing media use to scare off people from supporting this, and to rally corporations to battle the moment.

The point is not to bring down large corporations. Large corporations create jobs. And yes they do pay taxes. But we need to focus at the level of individuals that are making millions and paying no tax, or avoid most of it.

The point is to bring about some sensibility in how wealth is retained. If there's anyone who is going to receive lots of tax breaks, it could be the lowest income. If we want to reduce the national debt, increase taxes to those who will miss it less. This isn't heresy. This isn't communism, it's honest capitalism. It also isn't new. In France, the most wealthy have asked to be taxed more as a response to Buffet's cry. Viva La France!

Someone who nets $10 million a year won't lose their homes because this year they only brought home $9.8 million. Despite what Bill O'Reilly might say or "threaten". Corporations don't have to leave the country because they now have to pay an extra $300,000 a year in taxes. Just make better use of the money you do have. That goes for you too governments.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Steve Jobs Impact on the World, and Me

You know how every guy with a girlfriend that you know says they're not "whipped"? Well I'm going to make the claim that I'm not an Apple fanboy.
"I'm wicked cool"

But I am, admittedly, a Steve Jobs fanboy.

Like most people, I saw Steve Jobs as a visionary and technological maverick. In my eyes, Jobs could do no wrong... at least in how he saw the future through such clear lenses. From some of the things I've read and what I've seen, his managing style was very atypical from what management schools might tell you works and less than ideal from the employee perspective. Just ask the guys who were there in the beginning at Apple. But you can't argue with positive results, and that's something Steve Jobs certainly achieved.

While most people know he changed the mobile phone market, perhaps less known are a couple of his other greats. Did you know he created fonts? Yes, fonts! Sure, it was early in the consumer market industry and there hadn't been much time for people to demand it, since computers were still only beginning to infiltrate homes. But I think that's even most astounding. Before there was even a demand, Steve Jobs determined that fonts would be a necessity.

Jobs was also at the forefront of the introduction of the mouse. Before that time, computers rested mostly in the hands of programmers who didn't need them... or at least didn't think they needed them. While it wasn't his invention like some report, it was Jobs' design and vision for a personal home computer that included a graphical user interface (or, GUI) with a keyboard and mouse that made the little input device we all know and love a huge success.

Cutting-edge at the time

Jobs also holds a huge pile of patents on the iPhone. While the concept of touch-screen interfaces is very old (no, Apple was not the first to create touch-screen interfaces), it was Jobs who nearly perfected it. Touch-screen interfaces have been around since the 80s but no one really knew how to use it effectively. No one knew how consumers would want it to work intuitively. No one knew how to integrate it with products in a way that people would want to use every day.

No one. Except Steve Jobs.

How ever you are reading this today, Steve Jobs had a hand in laying the cornerstone for it or revolutionized it. The personal home computer was a creation of Steve and Woz. The smart phone landscape was completely terraformed by Apple under Steve Jobs direction and vision. And the tablet? Well those were revolutionized by Steve Jobs. Quite frankly, before him, tablets were crap.

Steve's vision had its most profound impact on me personally in the way that he targeted products for real people. He continuously advocated simplicity of design and beauty of the interface. Things should be kept as simple as possible. And then made simpler some how. A beautiful interface with intuitive usability can be used out of the box and that's often how Apple products come.

A tool helps its user accomplish its goals. A good tool does a good job of this, requiring an experienced user have little training to use it. A great tool requires no training and only some experience or education to use. But a perfect tool is beautiful and requires nothing and teaches its user how to use it.

This is something I've learned from Steve Jobs vision and advocacy and something I try to bring into my own job and life.

We've lost the greatest technology visionary of our times. He will be greatly missed.

Steve Jobs
1955 - 2011

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

iPhone 4s: What's in a Name?

I'm not sure if I understand the feverish disappointment that seems to be floating around the Internet these last 24 hours with regards to the new Apple iPhone 4s release. Mostly, it's disappointment that it's the iPhone 4s and not the iPhone 5. What's in a name?

Some writers are going so far as to say that they were going to buy the new iPhone, but it's just an iPhone 4s. Others are writing about the "why"of the name, labeling it a meager step forward for the iPhone product suite. My question is: what does it really matter?

What features are planned for the iPhone 5? I figure if anyone knew that outside of Apple, it'd be the folks over at Engadget. Turns out, it's all rumors and hearsay. Truth is, Apple guards its new product releases fairly well. No one really knows what to expect in the iPhone 5, so why the disappointment. If a new full-integer increment of an iPhone version is tied to the appearance of the case, such as would be the case with the move to iPhone 3G and iPhone 4, then go ahead and call the new iPhone the iPhone 5. It comes sporting a blistering fast A5 chip, larger HD, an improved antenna system, beefed up camera, and shiny back-side glass. Why didn't Apple call it iPhone 5? I don't know. When they released the 3Gs, the 'S' was presumed to mean 'speed'. The same is probably true here since the new version is nearly twice the speed of the iPhone 4.

But the real reason I think it's called the iPhone 4s and not the iPhone 5? Come on... you know this... 

It's to get droves of people to buy TWO new iPhones!

Apple probably knows it won't have enough significant hardware advances to release between October 2011 and October 2012 that would let them get away with an iPhone 6 in 2012. However some predict it may. But it doesn't really matter, does it? Apple knows they get lineups of people to buy every version of every product it releases, even when people have the previous version. I personally find this phenomenon intriquing, but this isn't the time to get into that.

So Apple ships iPhone 4s in November 2011, then iPhone 5 in November 2012. Then iPhone 6 in November 2013. And so on until iPhone X in November 2007+X. What does it matter what it's called? IF you were anticipating a new iPhone for this year and were hopeful to buy one, then go ahead, get the iPhone 4s and call it the iPhone 5 if you want. The fact that it isn't labeled what you wanted it to be labelled is moot, since no one has any real solid evidence of what the iPhone 5 will have anyway. 

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

What Will Amazon Silk Do for the Web?

Amazon's Kindle Fire might just change
the way we compute in the browser

I had a discussion with a friend recently about the idea that some day, what I thought would be a few years out from now, mobile devices could delegate all of their computing to the cloud, doing everything from graphics rendering to text switching in web pages.
Well, it looks like it won't be a few years away after all.
Amazon has just released its new Kindle Fire, including a revolutionary browser: Silk. Silk is designed to be a thin client browser which delegates much of its work to a Silk back-end server. The back-end server does the heavy lifting including retrieving web pages, resizing images, and anything else that can be outsourced. The best part?
It's all done "in the cloud".
This is Silk's claim to fame regarding it's performance. Much of the work done by a client-side browser in establishing multiple connections, downloading images which need to be resized and positioned, and other actions, are now all completed by an army of high end computers floating around the Amazon EC2 cloud.

Even modern browsers establish several connections to a Web server in order to collect everything you need to see a Web page. This takes time and resources which are especially critical on mobile devices like phones and tablets. But Amazon Silk outsources all this to the cloud for you, accelerating web page delivery to the end-user.

What does this mean? Well with the growing emphasis on mobile web apps and companies like Amazon and Apple all advocating thin devices (storing everything in the cloud), mobile devices can become lighter, thinner, and have longer battery lives. In addition, computation which was previously prohibited on the small CPUs of mobile devices can now be done transparently by the cloud without much (or perhaps any) application modifications by developers since the core of the whole application delivery stack is the same, chiefly, JS+CSS+HTML. This may even change how developers create web applications. Webpage design could do with a re-imagining that could leverage even more of the power of Silk and the Amazon EC2 Cloud. If this works out for Amazon, and developers start designing web apps for optimal delivery via Silk, the whole mobile browser landscape could change. Tasks like machine learning, matrix calculations, simulations, large-scale game environment rendering and state modelling, and kaboodles of other interestingness could all be implemented using browser technologies but computed in the cloud if any or all JavaScript execution could be moved to the cloud.

Is this a silver bullet? Not yet. There is still a bottleneck in network communication for the time being, but that's being chipped away at as well. I know network communication is fast, but to make real-time computation a reality in the cloud, the request for a calculation and its response will have to be nearly instantaneous to support the kind of user experience that users would get from a similar application running on a high-end desktop computer.