mm083: Corning claims optical fiber breakthrough | NetworkWorld.com Community

July 25, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Interesting thing I found at NetworkWorld.com on my way to finding something else…

networkworld

Corning claims optical fiber breakthrough

Submitted by Paul McNamara on Mon, 07/23/2007 – 4:24pm.

Corning researchers say their newest breakthrough – optical fiber that can bend without significant signal loss – will greatly accelerate the expansion of fiber optic connections directly into homes, especially those of the nation’s 25 million high-rise dwellers.

From an Associated Press report:

The world’s largest maker of optical fiber said Monday it has developed a new fiber that is at least 100 times more bendable than standard fiber, clearing a major hurdle for telecommunications carriers drawing fiber into homes.

“This is a game-changing technology for telecommunications applications,” said Corning’s president, Peter Volanakis. “We have developed an optical fiber cable that is as rugged as copper cable but with all of the bandwidth benefits of fiber.”

Verizon has been working with Corning for years to conquer this difficulty as part of the former’s FiOS push. Both the problem and Corning’s solution are spelled out in this Fortune story:

This intolerance for bending can make fiber optics a nightmare to install in someone’s home. Snaking the wiring along the floorboards is out of the question – just one tight turn around the bookcase, and the signal is kaput. So Verizon’s installers have been forced to come up with alternate routes, such as drilling holes in walls to get the cabling from one room to another. The process is time-consuming, expensive, and potentially destructive. The problem is particularly acute in apartment buildings – and there are a lot of those in Verizon’s East Coast territory – which are full of conduits, shafts, and corners that must be navigated in order to hook up each customer. (In most single-family homes Verizon just needs to connect the fiber to a special box on the outside of the customer’s house.) Fun fact: To get a fiber connection to a typical basement apartment, installers encounter an average of 12 right-angle turns.

Those hoping to learn from press coverage exactly how Corning accomplishes this feat are likely to be disappointed. From the Fortune article:

Corning’s researchers figured out a way to keep the light going as it turns corners – lots and lots of corners. We can’t go too deep into the technical details – the company exhibits CIA-levels of paranoia about its inventions. But essentially Corning’s technology infuses the cladding that surrounds the fiber’s narrow core with microscopic guardrails called nanostructures. They help keep the light from seeping out of the fiber, even when it is wound around a pencil – treatment that normally would render it completely useless.

Sounds amazing, although the news might not be welcomed by all. Just last month, Siemens was touting the wonders of its new polymer optical-fiber cable, which the company said was capable of transmitting data at about 1Gbps, in part because polymer could bend in ways fiber cannot handle.

Corning claims optical fiber breakthrough | NetworkWorld.com Community

MUDGEville is not located on the east coast, but our legacy copperwire dinosaur of a carrier seems many, many years away from getting anywhere near here with fiber of any degree of flexibility (and even if they somehow find our upscale town — MUDGE is proud to live in its downscalest corner, and thus the lowest priority area when upgrades are considered).

So, we’re stuck with the monopoly cable provider for our broadband service; wouldn’t you just know that of all the national outfits (and I use that term in its banditry sense!), ours scores lowest in performance, service, you name it.

Thus, I jump on stories about making fiber to the home more likely, since fiber is the best shot I have at liberation from the chafing shackles of broadband cable, dinosaur or no.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm082: Knock Knock, It’s Your Big Mac

July 24, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

I fight a battle with myself all the time: The Economist or Business Week — how to choose? Both take time to read carefully. Both reward the careful reader. Here’s a story from a couple of issues ago that just tickled me…

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Europe July 12, 2007, 8:44AM EST text size: TT

Knock Knock, It’s Your Big Mac

From São Paulo to Shanghai, McDonald’s is boosting growth with speedy delivery

by Michael Arndt

Mickey D delivers? You bet. While Americans suffering from a Big Mac attack typically pull up to the drive-through window, in the developing world the fast-food chain increasingly does the driving. In traffic-choked cities from Manila to Montevideo, McDonald’s deploys fleets of motor scooters to get hot food to customers fast. “I’m too lazy to go out and stand in line,” confesses Nada Abou el Soud, a Cairo high school student. She says she calls in an order for a Mc- Chicken combo meal at least once a week, dropping about $4.25 each time, including a 70 cents delivery fee.

All told, McDonald’s delivers in some 25 cities, with a half-dozen more on deck. The company just launched deliveries in Taipei, with 1,000 drivers, is expanding Shanghai to citywide service this summer, and is testing the concept in Beirut and Riyadh. In Egypt, where the setup was pioneered in 1995, deliveries now account for 27% of all McDonald’s revenue and up to 80% at some restaurants. Globally, delivery sales are expected to total more than $110 million in 2007, up from $90 million last year, the company says. While that’s spare change for the $21.6 billion giant, the business is growing by 20% to 30% annually, more than triple the chain’s overall rate.

NO CLEANUP
It’s profitable, too. Delivery margins usually top the 13% to 14% that McDonald’s outlets generally yield. That’s because the courier fee, which runs from 50 cents to $1, covers the cost of handling phoned-in orders and the fleets of drivers and motorbikes. “And we don’t even have to clean up a table,” notes Timothy J. Fenton, president of McDonald’s Corp. (MCD) operations outside the Americas and Europe. “It’s incremental profit for us.”

The business is emblematic of the change in thinking at the Oak Brook (Ill.) company. From McDonald’s start in 1955, headquarters dictated pretty much every detail of running a franchise. But as revenue growth stalled several years ago, management began encouraging experimentation. So while the basic menu and layout of a McDonald’s is still pretty much the same everywhere, restaurants in China now have latitude to substitute corn for fries in Happy Meals, some in the U.S. blend fruit smoothies, and those in Australia and France have coffee lounges that feel like a Starbucks (SBUX). “Management is looking beyond Oak Brook for inspiration,” says UBS Securities (UBS) analyst David S. Palmer. “They’re becoming better at sharing the best ideas around the globe.”

McDonald’s opened its first location in Egypt in 1994. Its local licensee quickly suggested adding delivery after noticing that other fast-food chains, and even five-star hotels, offered the service. The first trial took place six months later at two outlets. One key was setting up a call center with a single toll-free phone number for metropolitan Cairo. The other was hiring hundreds of scooter drivers to snake their way through the city’s thick traffic to make their drop-offs before the McNuggets get cold. Today, almost all of McDonald’s 35 restaurants in and around Cairo deliver, while only a couple have drive-through windows. McDonald’s has mimicked this setup as it has expanded the service to other countries.

One place, though, that the Golden Arches won’t come knocking is the U.S. The delivery model works well in congested cities where there’s no affordable space for drive-through windows, but plenty of cheap labor to ferry the food to customers. Except in Manhattan, where a handful of McDonald’s deliver phoned-in orders to nearby high-rises, land isn’t an issue in U.S. cities and people find it easier to pick up meals themselves. But with ever more sales coming from abroad, Ronald McDonald will be plenty busy making the rounds for some time.

With Caroline Ghobrial in Cairo


Knock Knock, It’s Your Big Mac

Remember the conversation years ago? McDonald’s is so American, it won’t go over over there.

Well that battle has been won. And one of the reasons is obvious — they are not afraid to try a different delivery model, and of course different menus, where appropriate.

BTW, in the four plus years that MUDGE has been trying to maintain a low carb existence, I’ve eaten at a McDonald’s just a couple of times, and that on the road, where dependability (and the promise of a reasonably clean restroom) is paramount.

This sudden avoidance of mine was a radical change from old habits (several visits per week, week in and week out, for all my adult life), and I’m sure the resulting revenue impact just from the loss of my business alone was a primary factor when Mickey D decided that the overseas thing just had to work.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm081: Infoporn: Despite the Web, Americans Remain Woefully Ill-Informed

July 23, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Scary thing I found on my way to finding something else…

WIRED

Patrick di Justo Email 06.26.07 | 2:00 AM

More than a decade after the Internet went mainstream, the world’s richest information source hasn’t necessarily made its users any more informed. A new study from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press shows that Americans, on average, are less able to correctly answer questions about current events than they were in 1989. Citizens who call the Internet their primary news source know slightly less than fans of TV and radio news. Hmmm… maybe a little less Perez Hilton and a little more Jim Lehrer.

wiredchart1

wirechart2

*The five questions: Who is the vice president? Who is your state’s governor? Does the US have a trade deficit or surplus? Which party controls the House of Representatives? Is the chief justice of the Supreme Court a liberal, moderate, or conservative?

Source: the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press

Infoporn: Despite the Web, Americans Remain Woefully Ill-Informed

Ladies and gentlemen: For your bemusement, the American electorate!

Whatever they’re doing on the web, they’re not getting wiser.

If it weren’t for the age thing, someone’s cute cat just might have a shot at the presidency next year…

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm080: Why most terrorists are so incompetent. – By Tim Harford – Slate Magazine

July 23, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

We wrote about the terrorist attempts in Britain a few weeks ago. Here’s an incisive analysis from yet another columnist I try not to miss at Slate.com blogroll2.

slate

the undercover economist: The economic mysteries of daily life.

Dumb Bomb – Why most terrorists are so incompetent.

By Tim Harford
Posted Saturday, July 21, 2007, at 7:53 AM ET

The attempted attacks in London and Glasgow, Scotland, three weeks ago surprised many people for two reasons: that the suspects were all educated medical professionals rather than desperate, uneducated vagrants; and that they bitched the job so badly.

The first revelation should not, by now, have been much of a surprise. My Financial Times colleague Gideon Rachman has reminded us that Osama Bin Laden is an engineer, his family is fabulously wealthy, and his deputy is a doctor.

Economist Alan Krueger, author of a new book called What Makes a Terrorist?: Economics and the Roots of Terrorism, attempts to add to these examples with a systematic study of the evidence. He concludes that terrorists, political extremists, and those who commit hate crimes are often relatively well-to-do. This is a difficult thing to prove, not least because each of those categories is controversial and there is a world of difference between, say, Northern Ireland and Sri Lanka. Krueger dips into different sources of data, each one imperfect, trying to build up a compelling picture from opinion polls, biographies of terrorists, and broader studies.

Opinion polls from Gaza and the West Bank conducted in December 2001 show that students and professionals are more likely than the unemployed or laborers to say that terrorism can be justified, and more likely to deny that a suicide bombing in a Tel Aviv nightclub should be described as “a terrorist act.” (The polls reveal more unanimity than disagreement on these points but certainly offer no evidence that education or wealth leads to more moderate views.)

When he was a graduate student at Princeton, the young economist Claude Berrebi gathered data on more than 40 Palestinian suicide bombers. He concluded that they were far better educated than the typical Palestinian, and also richer. Krueger offers a complementary picture using biographies of 129 Hezbollah fighters killed in action, although not necessarily while attempting a terrorist attack. They, too, were somewhat better educated and less likely to be poor than the typical young Lebanese man of the time.

More indirect evidence comes from studies of hate crimes, which are thought to have some parallels with terrorism. Again, economic motives are hard to find. It was once the conventional wisdom that lynchings in the American South were more common whenever cotton prices were low, indicating tough times for the economy. Historians no longer believe in the correlation. In general, hate crimes do not seem to be more common in economic downturns—although economist Emily Oster seems to have found an exception in medieval witch hunts, which were more common when crops failed.

All in all, the research that professor Krueger gathers together suggests that if there is a link between poverty, education, and terrorism, it is the opposite of the one popularly assumed. We should not be surprised to find that terrorists can add up, read, and even write prescriptions.

What is more surprising is that the attackers in London and Glasgow were so incompetent. Claude Berrebi and Harvard economist Efraim Benmelech studied—there’s no nice way to put this—the human-resources policy of Palestinian terrorist groups. They found that older, better-educated terrorists secured more important suicide missions and killed more people. Having more than a high-school education doubles the chance of escaping capture, for example.

If the terrorists in this case do turn out to be the doctors and other professionals who are, as I write, suspected of the crime, it would demonstrate that even years of education and experience do not guarantee a successful attack. Blowing up innocent people is obviously harder than it looks, and for that we can all be grateful.

Why most terrorists are so incompetent. – By Tim Harford – Slate Magazine

This is all most disturbing. If these were U.S. trained doctors, you’d think that they might have decided to blow themselves up to get off the hook for their student loans. [Ba-dum-bump].

Two questions (well, at least two) come to mind after reading this:

  1. Hey, TSA — how’s that air travel profiling coming?
  2. How well do our ever-intrusive domestic security agencies know what’s up in our own Muslim communities? (And by the way, does anyone call it Detroitistan?)

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm079: A refreshing change of climate — chicagotribune.com

July 22, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Back to the political world, after a couple of weekend jaunts into my professional world, which is political in the corporate politics context only.

From MUDGE’s hometown newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, comes this eye-opening report from its Sunday Perspectives section. The sidebar below it repeats a news story from earlier this week regarding congressional testimony from a former surgeon general in George III’s administration.

chitrib

PERSON OF INTEREST: ROGER PEDERSEN

A refreshing change of climate

Having left U.S., stem cell researcher finds British view is music to his ears

By Jeremy Manier a Tribune staff reporter

July 22, 2007 CAMBRIDGE, England

To see Roger Pedersen relaxing at a favorite spot beside the River Cam, it’s hard to fathom that this unassuming scientist helped spark America’s fiery debate over embryonic stem cells.

Pedersen stirred fears of a mass emigration of stem cell researchers in 2001, when he left his prominent research post in California for the University of Cambridge, citing Britain’s looser stem cell laws. To this day, backers of stem cell research invoke the specter of a brain drain to Britain and other countries as one reason for rolling back the restrictions President Bush placed on stem cell funding.

Yet Bush’s policy never drove away much American research talent, thanks in part to state initiatives that have compensated for the federal funding limits. These days, what’s most striking to an American observer in Britain is the utter absence of the intensity and rancor that have charged the stem cell debate in the U.S.

The calm scene in Britain may offer a glimpse at the stem cell conversation in a post-Bush America. Many of the current Democratic and GOP presidential candidates have pledged to loosen or remove Bush’s restrictions.

Pedersen’s move to Britain has led him to research success, a new marriage and a new hobby: violin-making. He said his home country would do well to copy his adopted nation’s stem cell consensus.

“I’m very happy to be in a place where the first thing that comes to your mind when you say ‘stem cells’ isn’t politics,” said Pedersen, 62, co-director of the Cambridge Stem Cell Initiative.

No one knows how the U.S. research scene might have developed had Bush not limited funding for embryonic stem cells — microscopic blank slates that can grow into virtually any type of tissue. But Pedersen’s experience illustrates just how pivotal the 2001 policy shift was for many scientists.

For Pedersen, the first American researcher to apply for federal funding of work on embryonic stem cells, Bush’s moral qualms about the field spurred a personal and professional crisis.

The administration often states that Bush was the first president actually to fund embryonic stem cell research, but that’s a bit misleading. In reality, President Bill Clinton authorized such funding for the first time in 2000, under a relatively loose regulatory scheme.

After Clinton’s announcement, Pedersen immediately applied for a federal grant to support his stem cell work at the University of California at San Francisco. For Pedersen, who in 1997 had lost the race to be the first to isolate human embryonic stem cells (to James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin), the federal money offered a measure of protection from the vagaries of private biotech funding.

But a few months after Bush took office, Pedersen received a phone call on April 12, 2001, from the National Institutes of Health saying it had suspended consideration of his grant.

“It was very disappointing because in the previous four years I had ramped up my lab to do research on embryonic stem cells,” Pedersen said. “On the day I was told there would be no federal funding, I knew I would either have to change the direction of my lab or leave. And I happened to have an offer from Cambridge literally simultaneously.”

The departure of a major figure such as Pedersen from UCSF, a citadel of the American medical research community, helped launch stem cells to the top of the national agenda. Many experts warned that other scientists were poised to follow Pedersen’s lead and leave for friendlier shores.

Instead of ordering a total ban, Bush restricted stem cell funding to exclude cell colonies made after 2001. That may have prevented a stampede of scientists, but Pedersen said the limits fostered an “invisible brain drain.” Many young researchers have told him that the field appeared so uncertain after Bush’s decision that they simply chose a less controversial area of medical research.

Most American scientists would have found it difficult to follow Pedersen’s example in any event. He said he took a pay cut of about 50 percent when he left the U.S. — a reduction that he could partially offset with retirement savings. But he still makes “substantially less” than the $200,000 salary an institute director of his stature could command in the United States.

Pedersen said he tries to snatch all the good American talent he can for his center, but it’s more of a brain trickle than a brain drain. He often competes in recruiting with Harvard, which has a large, privately funded stem cell program, and universities in California, home to the nation’s largest state-supported stem cell initiative.

What Britain can promise young scientists is a political climate that Americans would find unrecognizable.

All three of the nation’s major parties substantially agree about the value of funding work on embryonic stem cells. The government has successfully portrayed its investment in stem cell research as having a practical basis in the potential long-term benefit to patients in the state-funded health care system.

“It’s a culture shock now for me to go back to the States and be reminded what a political football stem cells are,” Pedersen said. “Here it’s much more about patient care for its own sake.”

The untroubled approach to stem cells is possible because most Britons see the underlying abortion debate as essentially settled. Parliament decriminalized abortion in the late 1960s, and subsequent attempts to change that law have been “flatly unsuccessful,” said David Albert Jones, a Catholic bioethicist at St. Mary’s University College Twickenham in London.

“Ultimately you do have quite a lot of consensus here, because the lines of debate are drawn differently,” Jones said. “Anti-abortion views that are common in the U.S. command about 10 to 15 percent support here.”

Pedersen said he does not regret moving to Cambridge, which has a rich store of researchers doing work on stem cells. He found Britain too expensive to pursue his old hobby of flying single-engine airplanes, but he discovered a different pastime more appropriate to the town’s medieval feel when he decided to take up violin-making.

“The variation that your eye can detect in an instrument is on the order of the size of a human embryo,” Pedersen said. Working on stem cells, he said, is “very much linked to this experience of making a violin, in the sense that you have to be precise, patient and persistent to make it all come out.”
———-
jmanier@tribune.com

– – – SIDEBAR – – –

In testimony before Congress earlier this month, former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona bemoaned the “partisanship and political manipulation” that greeted him in Washington after being appointed by President Bush. Carmona said White House officials sought to silence him on such issues as mental health, secondhand smoke, contraception and embryonic stem cell research. Following are excerpts from his testimony:

POLITICAL SCIENCE

On being ignored
“The reality is that the nation’s doctor has been marginalized and relegated to a position with no independent budget and with supervisors who are political appointees with partisan agendas. Anything that doesn’t fit into the political appointees’ ideological, theological or political agenda is often ignored, marginalized or simply buried.”

On telling the truth
“I was often instructed what to say or what not to say. I did the best I could to speak out on issues. Honestly, I never lied, I never covered the truth, but it was a fine line that I walked all the time because often the particular issue already had a preconceived political solution. … I would see policy moving forward and I would scratch my head and think, shouldn’t the surgeon general have been involved in this discussion?”

On global warming
“The issue of global warming came up once … with senior officials, where they were heralding global warming to be nothing more than — you know, a liberal cause that had no merit, and they were kind of dismissing it. And then I — and I remember thinking — I said, ‘Well, I understand why they want me here now. They want me to discuss the science because obviously they don’t understand the science.’ And I had this scientific discussion for about a half an hour, and I was never invited back to the meeting.”

On speechwriting
“I was asked to say certain things at meetings, things were put into my speeches — in fact, I had two speechwriters who ultimately quit because they were so intimidated and browbeaten by appointed officials. … We’d play this game [of] taking things out, putting things in. And finally, I told the staff, ‘Let them put in whatever they want. I’m not going to say it anyway.’ ”

On public health
“The problem with this approach is that in public health, as in a democracy, there is nothing worse than ignoring science or marginalizing the voice of science for reasons driven by changing political winds. The job of the surgeon general is to be the doctor of the nation, not the doctor of a political party.”

Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune

A refreshing change of climate — chicagotribune.com

I have become aware lately that stem cell research may be able to lead to cures for such wide spread, potentially treatable but currently not curable diseases as Alzheimer’s and diabetes. It’s criminal that such research has been stymied in the U.S.; galling that Roger Pedersen needed to emigrate to find the funding and academic freedom to pursue his vital research.

And, the testimony of Dr. Carmona is positively chilling. And except in our fundamentalized, right-wing politicized and downright lunacized era, it shouldn’t have to be said, as quoted above, “The job of the surgeon general is to be the doctor of the nation, not the doctor of a political party.”

Congress, wake up! Start please by impeaching Viceroy Cheney. Then …

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


WcW002: Web Conferencing Week – On location

July 22, 2007

wcw1

Web Conferencing Week

In our first venture in this direction, WcW001, I described the week just past as filled with unusualities (coined in this space tyvm; if I use it 500 more times, think that it gets added to anyone’s dictionary?), and described one. Here’s another.

Only a few times in the five years I have been plying my trade at the HCA, have I been asked to conduct business outside the friendly confines of the navel of the known universe, our dual expansive campuses and its outlying but nearby satellite sites.

But, Wednesday afternoon I received voicemail from one of my most frequent clients, the sales training functionary for one of our most important product families, asking that I assist Friday at an all-day session emanating from a hotel near the airport.

Sent off a memo to the contact that had been specified, detailing the logistical arrangements that I would require (broadband access, a phone connection for the web conference’s accompanying telephone conference call, a second phone line and phone for monitoring purposes, sufficient power connections, table/chair near the audio technician, etc), received a quick response including the name and contact information for the event handler at the hotel. A quick call to this person confirmed that all would be as required, and her smooth and professional demeanor actually filled me with confidence that it indeed it would.

So, Friday, instead of trundling out to the navel, etc., trundled instead to the vicinity of the airport, to a very nice and upscale hotel, the likes of which grunts such as yours truly work at, but surely can’t afford to stay at.

After the usual flurry of activity around finding the venue, and locating the key contacts among people with whom one has spoken but never before seen (and no one wears red carnations to identify themselves any more — why is that?), located the hotel employee audio technician who was handling the event and, after at my request he arranged the switching out of his equipment table for something large enough for the both of us, began setting up.

The main problem in the morning during the run-up to the start of the broadcast sessions was the speed of the internet connection I was furnished. It seemed that everyone in the hotel was competing for the same not-so-broadband connection, and I found this to be somewhat crippling as I dealt with last minute changes to the presentation.

And, by the way, wireless was not an option. Not only did my laptop not detect wireless access in the room (although others PCs did, so that was a limitation of my equipment), but it is my hard experience that, for a very network-centric application such as a web conference, the flaky nature of most wireless connections is toxic.

As with most web conferencing applications, Lotus Sametime uses two major modes to display information to those connecting to it: screen sharing and its whiteboard. Screen sharing is the simplest mode: whatever the person sharing is doing on her desktop shows up within the screen sharing window in the instance of all participants’ internet browser connected to the meeting.

The meeting room whiteboard is not as simple to use; it requires prior setup to load (or, in Sametime nomenclature, attach) whatever presentation files to be shown. The value add for this setup requirement is that most presentations transmit throughout the network much more efficiently, since the information to be transmitted is cached on the server (i.e., while the current slide is shown, the next one is being loaded into memory, and the previous one remains available).

However, on the dead slow connection I experienced mid-morning at the hotel, the revised version of the presentation file I received could not load into the meeting — the process timed out. This was frustrating.

I persisted, and eventually, late in the morning, and perilously close to the noon start time of the first of the two events taking place in that room, the revision finally got loaded (I’m thinking that the contention for bandwidth on the hotel’s connection eased closer to lunchtime), and I was finally good to go. We connected the audio tech’s phone (running the interface from the room’s sound system so that all those using microphones would be heard on the phone) to the telephone conference operator, and at the proper time the event began.

Meanwhile, in this large conference room, an earlier event not requiring my participation had begun, and I had a chance to observe the participants from the tech table at the front side of the room. Well more than 100 young (everybody in corporate life is younger than yours truly these days!), attractive field sales people were in the midst of a several days long training conference. This day’s meetings were devoted to product knowledge.

Our field sales people have to know well a great deal of technical data, as well as all of the nuts and bolts of technical selling (a topic I’m certain was handled, or reinforced at least, on other days of this conference).

For most applications of web conferencing, usage is quite straightforward. The leader of the meeting connects to the Sametime server, connects his laptop PC to a projector, and uses the screen sharing mode to simultaneously project his presentation in the meeting room while making it available to remote attendees. In smaller meetings, whatever overhead is added for the web conference is minor, and whatever distraction that the electronic meeting may cause usually is minor.

However, for large meetings, that overhead and potential distraction is not acceptable. Early in my web conference facilitation experience I learned that for these types of large-scale events the best approach is to split the function of running the web conference away from the in-room presentation function.

And this is what we did for the meetings in the hotel conference center. This way, there was no spillover from the electronic conference into the meeting room itself; so had there been technical problems, or even communication from the remote participants relevant to the web conference, it would have been invisible to those in the room, and especially to the speakers, whose demonstrated technical expertise might not have extended to the web conferencing arena and whom in any event would not have welcomed such interruptions.

So, the idea is that two copies of the presentation are required: one, for the laptop PC connected to the projector in the conference room. The other, for the PC connected to and leading (“moderating” in Sametime nomenclature) the web conference.

After the energetic activities of preparation described above (and there’s always something in large meetings) things in the first, 50-minute session went quite smoothly, as did most of the second one until the last 90 minutes or so of that four-hour(!) presentation.

The last 90 minutes? Well, the second speaker neglected to mention the existence of, much less share his umpteenth and latest presentation revision with me. Turned out he had about 85 slides; I had only 67. Ouch. So I vamped as best I could (at one point I used my text annotation tool to announce that there were some new slides showing that were unavailable to the web conference).

Well, afterwards, my contact in field sales training consoled me by saying, “how many people do you think were actually paying attention in that last hour?”

And separately, the speaker apologized to me (after all, even those present in the room did not have those slides in their printed handouts) by saying, “they usually only allot me two hours.” Sigh.

But, in the larger context of the day this was minor (the organizers certainly reported so) although that could have been 5 o’clock Friday of a hugely busy week manifesting itself. But, if my customers are happy, so am I (especially if the issue in question was totally outside my ability to rectify).

Could I have anticipated a new version of the presentation? Of course, there almost always is. Could, under the constraints of time (just about 10 minutes from the end of the first meeting to the start of the second) and a suspect broadband connection (remember it took about 90 minutes elapsed time to upload the smaller revision to the first presentation) I have actually accomplished the successful update in time? Perhaps not. Sigh.

While it doesn’t really apply totally to this context, since the speaker was guilty with an excuse (had to fill a lot more time than usual — and by the way, his extended topics were interesting, to this amateur scientist, and relevant). Often, though, the last-minute tweaks that cause this practitioner of meetings so much gut-churning distress are mostly gilding the lily. So, it gives me the opportunity to roll out:

lifelesson

But, overall, a good and an interesting day. Can I apply the science I was exposed to during five-plus hours of presentations to my job, or my everyday life? Absolutely not. Was it interesting, in the context of learning for learning’s sake? Absolutely. Forty-eight hours later as I write this, can I remember any of it? Please don’t ask me that!

All told, an interesting end to a more unusual than usual week in the world of web conferencing.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm078: Hillary Clinton and the Terrorists – Early Warning | The Pentagon Insults Hillary Clinton. Big mistake. – Slate

July 21, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Sorry, Michael Bloomberg fans: Hillary Clinton is actually running for President, and is the subject of a couple of interesting stories this week…

So, a first ever double gutbuster clipjoint!

First, the always wonderful William Arkin of the Washington Post. As I’ve previously noted, my son the former Navy lieutenant frequently calls my attention to his blog on military affairs, Early Warning. blogroll2

Early Warning

William M. Arkin on National and Homeland Security
Hillary Clinton and the Terrorists

Fred Hiatt’s column in today’s Post helps explain why Sen. Hillary Clinton will probably be the next president of the United States.

If Hiatt is right — and I think he is — Sen. Clinton believes that “winning” in Iraq, or at least succeeding in the U.S. goal of achieving a basic level of governance and stability, is in the national interest. And that goal may demand keeping U.S. forces in Iraq for the foreseeable future.

It is pretty clear that what Clinton has in mind isn’t the Bush administration’s war. She doesn’t close the door on the withdrawal of most combat troops. But she is nuanced and careful and seems to realize that public opinion is not always the best guide to policy, which is why she would probably make a good president.

The interesting question is whether it will make any difference for the United States in the long term if the Iraq enterprise fails. I think the answer is no.

Hiatt highlights the difference between the message Clinton wants to convey to potential voters and her actual view regarding Iraq. Clinton is against the war, and surely against the Bush administration’s war. But as Hiatt writes of a recent speech she gave in Iowa on Iraq: “Toward the end, Clinton noted that it would be ‘a great worry for our country’ if Iraq ‘becomes a breeding ground for exporting terrorists, as it appears it already is.'”

Hiatt goes on to point out that Clinton supports keeping special operations forces in Iraq for “narrow and targeted operations,” and that she supports a continued U.S. military and economic commitment to train Iraqi forces and keep the country afloat. This is the so called Baker-Hamilton “consensus” from the Iraq Study Group. Hiatt then goes on to question the consistency of Clinton’s view, arguing that military counterterrorism efforts in Pakistan, Gaza and Lebanon have been unsuccessful.

I suppose Sen. Clinton would argue that all the instruments of national policy are needed to make an effective counterterrorism strategy. She could also argue, as she’ll undoubtedly have to do a lot more of after September’s report demands more U.S. commitment, that all she is saying is that we not close the door because the stakes are so large.

It is all predicated on the Bush administration’s 9/11 view of terrorism: that terrorists were able to flourish because they had a sanctuary in which to gather — Afghanistan. Thus Iraq must not become another “sanctuary” that allows terrorists to flourish and plot against the United States and the West.

But this view is simplistic. Terrorism gathers and flourishes not just because terrorists have a sanctuary but because those who take up arms are fueled by continued and seemingly unregulated U.S. military action in the region. Clinton probably can’t make this point; the blogosphere will bellow that she is a member of the “Blame America First” crowd and never let go.

I’m hoping, however, that somewhere in the back of her mind, she makes the connection that terrorism is not only about empty spaces but also about anger: anger toward those who have power and how they wield it. Maybe the American public may not be quite ready to hear this. But part of what a good president does is articulate a worldview, however unpopular, and then argue and cajole and persuade the public to go along with it.

A note regarding my Friday posting, “Listening to the Generals?”: So many readers have posted comments and sent e-mail asking about the bold statement in my piece about current general officers thinking “the war is lost” that further explanation is in order.

I wrote that “the brass is avoiding the president and the war in Iraq — and doing so in the passive-aggressive way that has come to characterize our current civilian-military relations.” This characterization of the Pentagon leadership’s passive aggressive ways goes back at least to Somalia in the first Bush administration and the introduction of “peacekeeping.” It was meant as a more nuanced explanation of their views on Iraq. Of course not many generals (read: Army and Marine Corps generals) actually serving in Iraq believe the war is lost. How could they and continue to command and fight? That’s why they should always be listened to, respectfully, but not be in charge.

By William M. Arkin |  July 16, 2007; 7:10 AM ET

Hillary Clinton and the Terrorists – Early Warning

Next, this fascinating story from the always interesting Fred Kaplan of Slate. blogroll2

slate

war stories: Military analysis.

The Pentagon Insults Hillary Clinton. Big mistake.

By Fred Kaplan
Posted Friday, July 20, 2007, at 6:05 PM ET

Hillary Clinton. Click here to expand.Hillary Clinton

The extraordinary exchange of letters between Sen. Hillary Clinton and the undersecretary of defense for policy may turn out to be a signal event in the congressional debate over the Iraq war—and possibly in the 2008 presidential election.

The undersecretary’s letter to Clinton embodies the administration’s contempt for Congress, Democrats, anyone named Clinton, and—implicitly, in its tone—anyone who falls in these categories and is also a woman. It is the sort of letter that could arouse resentment among lots of senators, even Republicans—and among lots of female voters, especially those who are all too familiar with the condescension of powerful men.

For those of you who haven’t been following in the blogs, here’s the back story. On May 22, Clinton sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, requesting a briefing—for the relevant oversight committees, if not for her personally—about contingency plans for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq.

On July 16—eight weeks later—she received a reply from the undersecretary of defense for policy, Eric Edelman, saying that he was writing on behalf of Secretary Gates. After a page of boilerplate, Edelman got to the point:

Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia. … Such talk understandably unnerves the very same Iraqi allies we are asking to assume enormous personal risk in order to achieve compromises of national reconciliation. …

He concluded:

I assure you, however, that as with other plans, we are always evaluating and planning for possible contingencies. As you know, it is long-standing departmental policy that operational plans, including contingency plans, are not related outside of the department.

I appreciate your interest in our mission in Iraq, and would be happy to answer any further questions.

In effect, Edelman was telling her three things. First, you’re practically a traitor for even asking these questions. Second, maybe we do have contingency plans for withdrawal, but we’re not going to tell you about them. Third, run along now, little lady, I’ve got work to do.

Today, Clinton wrote a second letter to Gates, informing him that this underling Edelman—”writing on your behalf”—seems to believe “that congressional oversight emboldens our enemies.” Calling his letter “outrageous and dangerous,” Clinton wondered whether it “accurately characterizes your views as secretary of defense.” She then renewed her request for the briefing, “classified if necessary,” and added, as a kicker, “I would appreciate the courtesy of a prompt response directly from you.”

A couple basic facts need to be highlighted here.

First, Clinton’s original letter to Gates was not at all extraordinary. Members of key congressional committees—on armed services, intelligence, or the defense subcommittees of the budget and appropriations panels—make such requests all the time, and they are generally honored. (Clinton is a member of the Senate armed services committee.) In the range of sensitive material that officials routinely present to these committees, contingency planning for an Iraqi troop withdrawal is fairly low-grade.

Second, these contingency plans do exist. In February 2006, U.S. Army generals in Iraq started asking military archivists to dig up official records from the 1970s involving troop withdrawals from Vietnam. The generals were interested in procedures for disposing and transferring military property, the precise sequence of demobilization—the basic logistics of pulling out. The intention was explicit: They knew they would, at some point, be staging a withdrawal from Iraq. Once it began, it could spin out of control, so they needed an advance plan for an orderly exit. (I wrote about this request in an article for the Atlantic a year ago.)

Clinton was expressing the same concern as the generals. “Congress must be sure,” she wrote in her May letter to Gates, “that we are prepared to withdraw our forces without any unnecessary danger.” She mentioned nothing about withdrawing now or even soon: She asked only whether the military now has a blueprint for when the time to leave comes. There’s nothing heretical or traitorous about this line of inquiry, either. Even President Bush acknowledges that U.S. troops will leave Iraq at some point.

As a discrete episode, this spat may soon fade away. Gates, who may well have no more than a dim awareness of Edelman’s letter (or of Clinton’s initial request), will probably eat the proverbial humble pie by sending over someone with a classified briefing—or maybe even delivering it himself.

But as a political symbol, the incident may have greater endurance. Senators put up with a lot of evasion and deceit from the executive branch, but one thing they will not tolerate is being explicitly left out of the loop. In his letter to Clinton, Edelman not only said she had no business in the loop, he all but accused of her treason for asking to be let in. If senators feel the slightest tug of solidarity (and they tend to, on matters of senatorial privilege), they may rally around their trampled colleague. The sense of insult may spill over into their feelings about the war in general and perhaps strengthen, if just slightly, the ranks of the opposed.

As for the broader electorate, women have famously mixed feelings about Hillary Clinton, but many of them tend to drop their caveats when they sense that her womanhood is under attack. In her 2000 Senate campaign, a turning point came toward the end of the candidates’ debate in Buffalo, when her Republican opponent, Long Island Rep. Rick Lazio, charged her podium and pestered her to sign a pledge to take no soft money.

Maureen Dowd wrote (purchase required) for the next day’s New York Times about a woman in the audience who switched to Hillary at that moment because Lazio “suddenly conjured up the image of her husband, waving a credit card receipt in her face, yelling at her that she had overcharged, his eyes bulging, his veins popping, screaming at her to return everything to the store.”

Dowd may have slightly overdramatized, but the woman in Buffalo was not alone. Polls the following week showed a huge spike in support for Clinton among suburban women, who until the debate had been divided or slightly leaning toward Lazio.

Eric Edelman wasn’t yelling at Clinton, but he was patronizing her (“I appreciate your interest in our mission in Iraq. …”), shooing her away from serious men’s business—and that may, in its own way, decisively rankle.

Who is this Edelman? He’s had a long career in the diplomatic corps, going back to the Reagan years and continuing through the presidencies of the first Bush and Clinton. He’s been ambassador to Turkey and Finland, deputy chief of mission to the Czech Republic, special assistant to secretaries of state. None of these posts has required him to deal much with pesky senators. Professionally cultivated indifference may have ratcheted upward to hostility during the first two and a half years of George W. Bush’s first term, when he served as Vice President Dick Cheney’s deputy assistant for national security. Like so much else poisonous about this administration, then, the clash can be traced back to Cheney.

The Pentagon insults Hillary Clinton. Big mistake. – By Fred Kaplan – Slate Magazine

It’s still many, many months to the primaries, and I still consider Hillary Clinton a long shot due to (pick one) her gender, husband, history, home state.

But she’s one smart senator (thank god this country seems to have a few).

Is Michael Bloomberg’s purported plan to swoop in at the last minute viable? On the one hand, all the usual suspects bleating all the usual slogans all of the time will undoubtedly cause voter fatigue, and a highly qualified fresh face might startle the electorate out of its likely boredom.

Meanwhile, though, Sen. Clinton is making cogent news every week (every day?); thinking people, especially women as indicated by Kaplan’s insights above, may already be making up their minds.

Think it over, Mike!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm077: We pause for a few words about process

July 21, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

So, this blogging thing could consume my entire life if I let it. There is so much to write about. There is so much to read about.

At the end of mm076.1 just now, I ran off a litany of important topics. I decided to add value (?) by linking them to recent entries in the ‘sphere, as found just then in Technorati.

Found a couple of very interesting sources that I only wish I had time to explore, and perhaps make part of my regular reading routine. But, god, where is there time?

When WordPress.com greets me, they remind me how huge is the ‘sphere:

wordpress7721

So many blogs! So little time!

As I’ve said before, my writing would be more informed if I read more. But, where to start? How can I possibly keep up? And, if I could spend 24/7/52 reading, and maybe 2/6/52 writing, and 2,300 hours or so making a living, and that pesky eating and sleeping and spending time with my lovely wife, how does that compute?

Sigh.

But, this is about process. Last week I popped for an upgrade to one of my favorite screen capture tools, SnagIt. I’ve used it for nine years professionally, and although like all software it has its moments (such as: why can’t I set a preference so it would always print in landscape mode?), I wouldn’t be without it at HCA.

So, after I plunked down my $19.95 upgrade charge for my home copy of SnagIt 8, to take advantage of their Firefox extension that required a more up-to-date version than I was running, as well as their plug-in offered for Windows Live Writer, I suddenly recalled another extension already running in my crowded Firefox add-on pile: Picnik.

See, the way I use SnagIt is to capture the contents of the screen, open up a graphics program (a huge topic for another time, tyvm) to crop the part I want, resize it, add a border, etc. and convert it to JPEG.

Now, consider Picnik: I right-click on the web page I’ve found, select “Send Page to Picnik,” select from Visible Page or Full Page, and a new tab opens at Picnik.com, where some great Flash functionality allows me to crop (usually what I do, and what I just did as I wrote this to grab the WordPress fragment shown above), perhaps add a border and save as a JPEG right in one seamless operation.

And I’ve just scratched the surface of Picnik’s graphic capabilities. So, of course, it’s limited to web pages, and thus I’ll not be replacing SnagIt at work, where screen captures require a wider universe than that. But for blogging, it’s a beautiful piece of work. Well done, Picnik! And, the price is right: $0.00!

So, MUDGE’S blogging process hall of fame has a new member:

halloffame

Wouldn’t be without either one.

I’ve raved previously about WLW, as has WordPress.com itself, saying that it’s used by more of its bloggers than any other tool. It has so simplified the task of preparing my posts, and the Blog This in Windows Live Writer Firefox extension is sweet.

Blogging about blogging. Well, it’s interesting to me. The process always threatens to overwhelm content, for me. In fact, I had to discipline myself last night, waiting to create my new Web Conferencing Week logo (not bad for a left-handed amateur, tyvm) until after I wrote the damned first post.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm076.1: Bees Dying: Is It a Crisis or a Phase? – New York Times

July 21, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

The Times spins the bee-crisis differently from Slate, as posted here the other day in mm076

nytimes

July 17, 2007

Bees Dying: Is It a Crisis or a Phase?

By ANDREW C. REVKIN

Over the last year, large die-offs of commercial honeybee colonies, from unknown causes, have raised concern that an agricultural crisis is at hand. Now, however, some experts on insect biology and bee rearing are questioning how unusual the die-offs are, saying commercial beekeeping has long had a pattern of die-offs, and without better monitoring, there is not enough information to know if anything new or calamitous is happening.

If the problem is worse than before, they say, it may be because more bee colonies are being housed and trucked by fewer beekeepers, raising the chances of infestations or infections spreading.

The official word, endorsed by many scientists and people in beekeeping businesses, is that a newly named syndrome, called colony collapse disorder,or CCD, is at work and poses a significant threat to American fruit, nut and vegetable crops.

An action plan released Friday by the Department of Agriculture used the phrase “CCD crisis” to describe the recent die-offs, even as it said it was “uncertain whether CCD is a new phenomenon” and described similar die-offs as long ago as 1898.

No one in the field doubts that commercial beekeepers in more than 20 states have seen large declines in hive populations in the last year — more than 70 percent in some cases — and that agriculture is facing problems pollinating some crops.

It is also clear that bees in the Americas, both wild native species and honeybees, which were imported long ago and are the commercial standard, have been hard hit in recent decades by mites and infectious agents.

What some scientists say is missing from the debate is historical context. “Every time there are these disappearances, the ills of the moment tend to be held accountable,” said May Berenbaum, who heads the entomology department at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and led a National Academy of Sciences review of the status of North American bees and other pollinators that was published last year.

“In the ’60s it was synthetic organic insecticides,” Dr. Berenbaum said. “In the ’70s it was Africanized bee genes. In the 19th century, there is a wonderful report about this resulting from a lack of moral fiber. Weak character was why they weren’t returning to the hives.”

One thing almost everyone seems to agree on is the need for consistent, frequent censuses of the country’s bee populations, but money for monitoring has not been increased, bee experts said.

Eric Mussen, a bee expert at the University of California, Davis, said he did not understand the talk of catastrophe, noting that even after colonies are lost, beekeepers can quickly replace them.

Michael Burgett, a professor emeritus of entomology at Oregon State University, said the big honeybee losses in some regions could simply reflect unremarkable spikes above a common level of mortality of more than 20 percent in recent decades.

“In the late 1970s we had another scare similar to this,” Dr. Burgett said. “They called it ‘disappearing disease’ at the time. But we never found a specific cause for it, we continued to improve our bee management programs and ‘disappearing disease’ disappeared.”

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Bees Dying: Is It a Crisis or a Phase? – New York Times

So, after the late 1970s, <“…’disappearing disease’ disappeared.”>.

Seems my friend ClapSo (commenting on mm076) has it right, as he always does: Panic of the Week.

Guess I can go back to thinking about Michael Bloomberg, and Iraq, and North Korea, and Iran and China and, and, and… 

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


WcW001: Web Conferencing Week

July 20, 2007

WcW logo

Web Conferencing Week

Trying something different here at Left-Handed Complement — back to my roots, or at least my original intentions for this space, to regularly explore my professional existence. I have previously written about what I do, and my very recent, quite futile aspirations toward management, but it’s been sporadic at best. Not my intention when I started.

This is an attempt to apply some discipline — maybe most work weeks haven’t recently seemed very interesting to me (although the one just completed was altogether not routine), but I believe that what I do is quite unusual in any corporation, small or large, so I’ll explore those unusualities (have I just coined a MUDGE-ism?) in this space, I hope every week or more often.

And, for you completists out there, clicking the “Web Conferencing” tag cloud on the sidebar will catch you up.

The tent-poles for many weeks are the large scale conferences (or even small, but critical ones) for which I provide consultative, or substantive services. This week was busier in that respect than many lately.

For one thing, I assisted a high level HR manager as he ran a focus group with a group of administrative assistants for one of HCA’s (remember, Heart of Corporate America, not it’s real name) most hidebound and traditional divisions, its corporate attorneys. In the year 2007, I must admit it was jarring to hear more than one of these women (and they were all women) refer to themselves as secretaries. Is it any wonder they had a lot to complain about?

My role: to make the HR manager’s slides available to the several administrative assistants connecting from outside the navel of the known universe (the heart of the Heart, as it were), including one humorous (or perhaps I simply mean good humored) person in Europe for whom the meeting started after 5pmCET (Central European Time, did you know?), and for her didn’t finish until about 7pm.

This meeting was both easier, and more complex for me than usual. Easier because there were few enough remote participants, and the slide content was simple enough, that the PowerPoint slide deck could simply be “Screen Shared,” so that those in the meeting room and those connecting remotely watched exactly the same presentation at the same time.

Complex, because I had arrived at the conference center first (always my goal) and found the room dark, furnished correctly but otherwise unprepared electrically and electronically. The electronic podium had been pushed out of the way to accommodate a meeting that I had worked a day and a half earlier, never replaced in position and thus was totally inert.

I dug up an A/V tech, who found a bunch of thick cables in the floor, and (I hoped) matching ones curled up in the podium that needed to be connected, a job that took this stranger (and I thought by this time I knew most of the guys) about 20 minutes. There had to be 30 colored wires with metal connectors for each end among the cabled groups; glad he wasn’t color blind!

I offered the manager the opportunity to sit at a table closer to his group, so as a result I stood by the podium to advance the presentation slides at his command, which I must admit got a little old after 90 minutes (actually, between arriving early, and the meeting starting about 25 minutes late due to the above mentioned technical snafu I was standing for well over two hours, not my favorite way to spend a late morning, especially a late morning under-snacked and under-hydrated). Such is show business.

But the wonderful news, as I related the high points to my manager later that day, was that the technical issues were A/V ones, not web conferencing ones. Whew! Our system has been behaving itself of late, and I don’t take that for granted, working as I do out there among my customers.

My colleagues on the team are, by training and by inclination, telephone support types. Let’s face it, most IT professionals take up the career because they are introverts who are more comfortable relating to hardware and software than the people who consume their work product.

The thought of encountering a real live client having trouble with our technology makes them sick to their stomach, and I’m not really exaggerating — they’ve told me so countless times. So the fact that I go out there so frequently putting my own ego, as well as my team’s reputation on the line, in person, confounds them.

It’s what I do.

But as always, it was fascinating to pay attention to the content of the meeting. This little job of mine provides a very unusual opportunity to be a fly on the wall for some most interesting sessions, and as touched on above this was one of those.

I guess HCA’s corporate law department is stuck in some 1950’s time warp, as distinct from “public” law firms which I have to feel are somewhat more up to date (one person recently arrived from one reported that for the work she and most her colleagues do at HCA, a public firm would describe and compensate them as paralegals, not secretaries).

The attorneys like it this way, I’m sure (more than one of the women described their bosses (male and female) as “needy,” for example working in longhand [on legal pads, I’m sure] and claiming not to know even the basics of their computers), but I don’t understand how the assistants can stand it.

By the way, the IT building I work in must have close to 600 employees; maybe eight of them are administrative assistants, and I’m sure that the bean counters think that this number is twice as large as necessary. We are hardly needy — we do for ourselves.

What I wanted to say to this group of put-upon legal division employees (and of course I didn’t since flies on the wall don’t say a word, ever) was, be thankful you work for whom you do; any other department and there would be half or fewer of you!

And that’s just one of the several meetings and or events this week, and I find that reflecting on it has spent my Friday evening energy, but we’ll renew this effort later this weekend, I promise.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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