Nerval's Lobster writes: "The CIA has signed a cloud-computing contract with Amazon worth $600 million over the next decade, according to Federal Computer Week. FCW drew its information from unnamed sources. Amazon executives and CIA officials apparently refused to comment on the matter. Amazon’s private-cloud infrastructure will allow the CIA to use data analytics and other technologies “in a cost-effective manner not possible under the CIA’s previous cloud efforts,” the article stated. Contracting with a privately held company could help the CIA manage its IT costs. For one thing, it could spare the agency from having to build additional data-centers and other infrastructure. It’s also possible that government negotiators—again, if FCW’s report is accurate—could have negotiated with Amazon for reduced rates with regard to cloud services. The first question that pops to mind, however, is one of security. It’s also possible that the CIA isn’t giving over all its internal data to the Amazon private cloud. At least in theory, it could isolate particularly sensitive information within another, separate data-center—while leaving data below a certain security level on the AWS platform."
Nerval's Lobster writes: "Why did Apple hire former Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch as vice president of technology? Adobe and Apple spent years fighting a much-publicized battle over the latter’s decision to ban Adobe Flash from iOS devices. Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs was very public in his condemnation of Flash as a tool for rich-content playback, denigrating it in an April 2010 letter posted on Apple’s Website as flawed with regard to battery life, security, reliability and performance. Lynch was very much the public face of Adobe’s public-relations pushback to Apple’s criticism; in a corporate video shot for an Adobe developer conference in 2009, he even helped run an iPhone over with a steamroller. (Hat tip to Daring Fireball’s John Gruber for digging that video up.) As recently as 2010, he was still arguing that Flash was superior to HTML5, which eventually surpassed it to become the virtual industry standard for Web-based rich content. It’s interesting to speculate whether Steve Jobs would have hired someone who so publicly denigrated Apple’s flagship product. But Jobs is dead, and his corporate successors in Cupertino—tasked with leading Apple through a period of fierce competition—obviously looked at Lynch and decided he’d make a perfect fit as an executive."
Nerval's Lobster writes: "At this year’s SXSW conference, Stephen Wolfram—most famous in tech circles as the chief designer of the Mathematica software platform, as well as the Wolfram Alpha “computation knowledge engine”—demonstrated his upcoming Programming Cloud, and indicated he was developing a mobile platform for engineering and mathematical applications based on the Wolfram programming language built for Mathematica. He also talked more broadly about the future of Wolfram Alpha, which he said will become more anticipatory of peoples’ queries. “People generally don’t understand all the things that Wolfram Alpha can do,” Wolfram told the audience. His researchers are also working on a system modeler tool, which will allow researchers to simulate complex devices with tens of thousands of components; in theory, you could even use such a platform for 3D printing. Wolfram also wants to set Wolfram Alpha loose on documents, with the ability to apply complex calculations to, say, company spreadsheets. “A whole bunch of things that I’ve been working on for 30 years are converging in a very nice way,” he said."
Nerval's Lobster writes: "At a SXSW panel titled, “Android’s Principles for Designing the Future, ” Helena Roeber (who headed up Android’s UX research from 2007 through 2012) and Rachel Garb (who leads interaction design for Android apps at Google) discussed the complex philosophy behind Android’s design. Roeber went back to the very beginning, recounting Google’s Android Baseline Study, in which the team made in-home visits to study how people use technology. “We saw the profound effect that technological design has on people’s lives,” she said. “Technology had become so pervasive that people had started to schedule and enforce deliberate offline moments to spend time with their family and friends.” From that study, the team learned that users were often overwhelmed by their options and “limitless flexibility,” leading them to consider how to design a mobile operating system that wouldn’t beat those users over the head (at least in the proverbial sense) on a minute-by-minute basis. Instead, they focused on an interface capable of serving features to users only when needed. That meant creating an interface that only interrupts users when needed; that does the “heavy lifting” of the user’s tasks and scheduling; that emphasizes “real objects” over buttons and menus; and that offers lots of chances for customization. All those elements—and many more—eventually ended up in Android’s trio of design principles. By the end of the process, Android’s creators had decided on designing Android in a way that would create more positive emotions than negative ones. There's much more about the design, including the importance of word choice and how Google Now factors into it all, on SlashCloud."
Nerval's Lobster writes: "IBM has announced at its IBM Pulse 2013 conference in Las Vegas that OpenStack will undergird its cloud services and software. OpenStack is an open-source Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) platform developed as part of a joint effort by Rackspace and NASA, launched in 2010. Dell recently made news when it announced that its new private cloud would be based on OpenStack; other members of the OpenStack Foundation include AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Red Hat and Canonical. Assembling under the open-source banner with other companies, and offering software compatible with open-source standards, may help IBM face down Amazon, the 800-pound gorilla of the cloud-infrastructure space."
Nerval's Lobster writes: "Computer games are big business, with millions of players and billions of dollars in revenue every year. But that popularity puts game studios in a tough spot, especially when it comes to mobile games that need to serve their players a constant stream of updates and rewards. That pressure is leading to an interesting phenomenon: while IT companies that create more "serious" software (i.e., productivity apps, business tools, etc.) are often viewed as cutting edge, it might be game developers actually doing the most innovative stuff when it comes to analytics, cloud and high-performance computing, and so on. Broken Bulb Studios, Hothead Games, and some other studios (along with some hosting companies) talk about how they've built their platforms to handle immense (and fluctuating) demand from gamers."
Nerval's Lobster writes: "Microsoft has joined the Open Data Center Alliance (ODCA) as a contributor member. As many of you know, the ODCA is an independent organization that counts dozens of companies among its members. It is publicly committed to crafting a cloud-computing future based on open and interoperable standards. As part of that vision, it hosts technical workgroups in which members gather to define the cloud’s development, usage and regulatory frameworks. Microsoft joining the ODCA seems like a pretty logical move, as it gives the company a seat at the table in defining the various aspects of cloud computing. It’s also a good bit of PR, by aligning it with other high-profile entities determined to keep the cloud seamless and open. But make no mistake about it: Microsoft fully intends to seize as much market share for its numerous cloud services as it possibly can."
Nerval's Lobster writes: "If you live in Hawaii, congratulations: according to a new study by researchers at the University of Vermont, you live in the happiest state in the union—at least as far as Twitter sentiment is concerned. (Hat tip to The Atlantic for posting about the research.) The researchers—affiliated with the University’s Department of Mathematics & Statistics, Complex Systems Center, Computational Story Lab, and Advanced Computing Core—collected 10 million geo-tagged Tweets from 373 urban areas across the United States in 2011 and ran them through a system designed to tag each on a scale from 1 (sad) to 9 (happy). According to the study, the five happiest states include Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Utah and Vermont; the five saddest are Louisiana, Mississippi, Maryland, Delaware and Georgia. In general, the West and Northeast seemed much happier than the Mid-Atlantic and South—with the exception of Florida, which shaded “happier” than many of the surrounding states. While the researchers admitted their study’s limitations, there are certainly a lot of opportunities for refining the model: for example, if Hawaii’s status as a vacation state affects its rate of “happy” Tweets, or if incorporating languages other than English into the dataset would affect the ultimate results."
Nerval's Lobster writes: "The automobile, once the most analog of technologies, is rapidly becoming a smartphone on wheels: Amazon announced Feb. 13 that Ford SYNC Applink-equipped vehicles will include the Amazon Cloud Player, allowing drivers to access their music libraries via voice command or dashboard controls. Ford isn’t the only automotive company seeking to integrate cloud computing into the driving experience. Tesla Motors’ Model S electric sedan boasts a 17-inch capacitive touch-screen in place of the usual dashboard buttons and dials. And who could forget Google's self-driving car? This isn't a future everybody wants—there are more than a few wannabe Steve McQueens who won’t feel complete unless they can stomp on a pedal connected to an internal-combustion engine, flick a physical dashboard knob to the radio station of their choice, and peel out their driveway in a cloud of burning rubber. But as the latest technology migrates into automobiles, it could well be the future we’re going to receive."
Nerval's Lobster writes: "Gavin Newsom, former mayor of San Francisco and current lieutenant governor of California, argues in his new book "Citizenville" that citizens need to take the lead in solving society's problems, sidestepping government bureaucracy with a variety of technological tools. It’s more efficient for those engineers and concerned citizens to take open government data and use it to build apps that serve a civic function—such as Google Earth, or a map that displays crime statistics—than for government to try and provide these tools itself. But Newsom doesn’t limit his attacks on government bureaucracy to politicians; he also reserves some fire for the IT departments, which he views as an outdated relic. “The traditional IT department, which set up and maintained complex, centralized services—networks, servers, computers, e-mail, printers—may be on its way out,” he writes. “As we move toward the cloud and technology gets easier to use, we’ll have less need for full-time teams of people to maintain our stuff.” Despite his advocacy of the cloud and collaboration, he's also ambivalent about Wikileaks. “It has made government and diplomacy much more challenging and ultimately less honest,” he writes at one point, “as people fear that their private communications might become public.” Nonetheless, he thinks WikiLeaks and its ilk are ultimately here to stay: “It is happening, and it’s going to keep happening, and it’s going to intensify.” In the end, he feels the benefits of collaboration and openness outweigh the drawbacks."
Nerval's Lobster writes: "A presidential campaign is many things to many people: a reason to hope in the future, a wellspring of jokes and debate fodder, an annoyance to tune out, a chance to participate in the civic process. But for a couple dozen software engineers and developers involved over the past two years in President Obama’s re-election effort, a campaign was something entirely different: a billion-dollar tech startup with an eighteen-month lifespan and a mandate to ship code under extreme pressure. Speaking to a New York City audience, some of Obama for America’s leading tech people—those involved in the all-important Dashboard and Narwhal projects, as well as fundraising and DevOps—characterized the experience as “insane,” filled with unending problems and the knowledge that, at the end of the whole process, nearly everything they worked on would likely end up tossed away. This is the story of what happened, and how technologies on a massive scale can make or break campaigns."
Nerval's Lobster writes: "Amazon’s explanation for the problem that took down Netflix and other sites on Christmas Eve: human error. The Web giant blamed an unnamed developer who ran a maintenance process against state data used by the company’s Elastic Load Balancers, or ELBs. That mistake cascaded into other areas. At its peak, 6.8 percent of the company’s ELBs were affected—which might not sound like a lot, but they were balancing loads across multiple servers. Netflix was forced to apologize for the outage, publicly pinning the blame on AWS infrastructure. Amazon’s mea culpa highlights two areas in which the company can improve: access to its infrastructure, and disaster recovery (even if that disaster was self-inflicted)."
Nerval's Lobster writes: "Tech icon Steve Wozniak has come forward with several predictions for 2013, with data center technologies an important part of the list. Wozniak’s predictions are based on a series of conversations he had recently with Brett Shockley, senior vice president and general manager of applications and emerging technologies at Avaya. They trace an arc from the consumer space up through the enterprise, with an interesting take on the BYOD phenomenon: Woz believes that mobile devices will eventually become the “remote controls,” so to speak, of the world. Although he’s most famous as the co-founder of Apple, Wozniak currently serves as chief scientist at Fusion-io, a manufacturer of enterprise flash storage for data centers and other devices. Although he’s most famous as the co-founder of Apple, Wozniak currently serves as chief scientist at Fusion-io, a manufacturer of enterprise flash storage for data centers and other devices."
Nerval's Lobster writes: "Are e-readers doomed? A research note earlier this week from IHS iSuppli suggested that, after years of solid growth, the e-book reader market was “on an alarmingly precipitous decline” thanks to the rise of tablets. The firm suggested that e-reader sales had declined from 23.2 million units in 2011 to 14.9 million this year—around 36 percent, in other words. The note blames tablets: “Single-task devices like the ebook are being replaced without remorse in the lives of consumers by their multifunction equivalents, in this case by media tablets." Even Amazon and Barnes & Noble, the reigning champs of the e-reader marketplace, have increasingly embraced full-color tablets as the best medium for selling their digital products. Backed by enormous cloud-based libraries that offer far more than just e-books, these devices are altogether more versatile than grayscale e-readers, provided their users want to do more than just read plain text."
Nerval's Lobster writes: "At this world's Dell World conference, Dell announced that its new private cloud will be based on the open-source OpenStack, an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) developed by Rackspace and NASA that launched in 2010. Dell released a statement supporting the open nature of OpenStack: “While Dell will continue to offer outstanding overall solutions for any type of cloud that customers want to run, the company believes the open and compatible nature of OpenStack allows customers to take advantage of hybrid capabilities to move workloads between private and public clouds. Michael Dell did not disclose the reasoning behind the decision. Back in 2011, his company announced that VMware technology would provide the foundation for its first public cloud. VMware also sits behind the Dell Cloud Dedicated Service, which delivers managed private cloud IaaS."