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Comment: Why Boston's Route 128 lost to Silicon Valley (Score 3, Interesting) 114 114

Non-compete agreements may be part of it, as were the decline and fall of Digital Equipment Corporation, Wang, Data General, Prime Computer and more. With the notable exception of Akamai, there were relatively few big Internet successes among Boston area companies, and the past 15 years have continued that trend.

But I think that Boston's terrible weather is also a big factor. Here's an analysis of Boston winters that shows the grim reality of 5 or 6 months out of every 12. When sunshine, mild weather, and Silicon Valley jobs beckon on a gloomy February day, it takes a wicked love for the Hub or the Bruins to turn down a good offer. The cost of housing is much higher in the Bay Area, but the bills for heating oil and winter clothing go away, and cars last a lot longer, just to name a few things.

Boston remains one of my favorite American cities to visit (only during baseball season, though), but I no longer [perhaps unfairly] associate it with startups. Maybe the innovative and creative ideas get frozen out.

Comment: Next challenge: FirefoxOS phones (Score 3, Interesting) 296 296

by twasserman (#49001687) Attached to: Firefox Succeeded In Its Goal -- But What's Next?
I use Thunderbird, but there's not much to be done there, and Mozilla has already put it on the "back burner". But I think that the challenge of FirefoxOS is much more interesting. I have a Flame phone running a prerelease of FirefoxOS 2.0, and it's pretty nice and very inexpensive compared to some other devices out there. I use it regularly when I travel internationally and need a local SIM chip. The FirefoxOS team is working with carriers around the world, almost entirely in developing countries, where the price of an iPhone or Galaxy S 5 is too high for the mass market. But even in relatively rich countries like the US, there is a sizeable population for whom those phones are too expensive. I think that the FirefoxOS phone is a great starter phone for kids, since it's cheap enough to replace when it gets damaged.

Unlike some other mobile operating systems, FirefoxOS is completely open and uses HTML5 to deliver content. BlackBerry and Windows Phone each have small market shares, and I don't think that's going to change anytime soon. So we mostly have only two choices of mobile OS. Don't get me wrong: I very much like my Android phone (Sony Xperia Z3 Compact) and my iPad, but I think that it's a worthwhile challenge to contribute to the FirefoxOS platform and/or to build apps for it.

Comment: My rights as a paying Netflix customer (Score 1) 437 437

by twasserman (#48728553) Attached to: Netflix Cracks Down On VPN and Proxy "Pirates"
I subscribe to Netflix. To me, that means that I should be able to use my subscription independently of where I am in the world. I'm often too busy when I'm at home to watch a full movie or to binge-watch a TV season, but I have more time when I am traveling. When I am outside the US, I must use a VPN to a US-based host. If Netflix blocks my access to their service from outside the US, then the value of the subscription drops significantly for me.

Comment: Open sourcing device software (Score 1) 165 165

I'd like to see the FDA (and its counterparts in other countries) require medical device manufacturers to make the source code for their products available under an OSI-approved open source license. Submission and review of the code would be a prerequisite for a device to be approved for sale and use in a particular country. If someone implants a device, e.g., a pacemaker, in me, I'd like to know exactly what it's doing. Does it call home and transmit my medical data to the vendor (or elsewhere)? Does that connection use up battery power that would require earlier surgery to replace it? Can the vendor (or a hacker) perform over-the-air updates to the code? It's not that I would plan to modify the source code or redistribute it, but it would allow non-vendor experts to review and certify the code, thus giving everyone greater confidence in the proper functioning and security of the device.

Comment: 20% smaller? Not likely (Score 1) 247 247

by twasserman (#47383969) Attached to: Tesla Aims For $30,000 Price, 2017 Launch For Model E
As a San Franciscan, I'd love to have a smaller and less expensive Tesla, even if the range were considerably less than the 200 miles of the Model S. But 20% smaller is unlikely, since that would make it the same of a Mini Cooper. If they are going to compete with the BMW 3-series or the Audi 3 in the $30K price range, then the Model E should be 8-10% shorter than the Model S. At 196 inches, the Model S is about 20 inches longer than the new Audi 3 sedan. Typical extras on the German cars puts their sticker prices closer to $40K (or even above that). But a Model E measuring around 180 inches and selling for $35K would make it my first choice to replace my old Honda, especially when you consider that a Chevy Volt, with only a 40 mile range, lists for more than $40K.

Comment: Publishing in academic journals (Score 4, Insightful) 210 210

by twasserman (#43689999) Attached to: Why Is Science Behind a Paywall?
Anyone pursuing an academic career knows that there are certain journals that are considered prestigious. Publishing your papers in such journals (typically those of professional societies and many of those owned by Elsevier, Springer, and Wiley) is an essential part of the academic promotion process. Failure to do so means that you are unlikely to be promoted to a senior tenured rank (e.g., Associate Professor), and is typically the end of your stay at that institution. Publishing in some of the new "fake" journals is worse than useless, even though it pads your resume. Many fields also look down upon conference papers, though that is less of a problem in computer science where there are numerous highly selective and well-regarded academically-oriented conferences, such as the Int'l Conf. on Software Engineering. Not surprisingly, many of the proceedings for those conferences are published by Elsevier and Springer.

The whole process, to date, is self-perpetuating, since serving as an Editor or Associate Editor for a prestigious journal also gets you points when you come up for promotion. As noted by others, serving in an editorial capacity or even as a reviewer for these journals is uncompensated. (You might think of it as falling into the same category as contributing voluntarily to an open source project.) The best that one can say for this activity is that it helps build an academic network, making it easier to obtain recommendation letters from senior faculty to include in your promotion case. The best way to disrupt this system in the short-term is for libraries refuse to renew their exorbitantly-priced journal subscriptions. (Money talks.) The high-quality online journals (e.g.,PLoS) have not yet made a significant dent against the biggest academic publishers.

Comment: BRR Project - tried building FOSS eval tools (Score 1) 110 110

In 2005, several of us started the Business Readiness Rating project. Its goal was to provide an objective (quantitative) evaluation of free and open source projects largely based on metrics, including project activity, downloads, publications on the project, etc. We originally defined 12 areas for evaluation, which I later reduced to 7. We thought (and still think) that such a tool would be a good idea, but we were an unsuccessful project ourselves, unable to attract sufficient funding or volunteers. There's an inactive SourceForge project and a single page website, ready to spin up if there is sufficient interest. I subsequently discovered that people wanted not just the numbers, but also subjective reviews in the style of Amazon, Rotten Tomatoes, or Yelp. I also personally believe that we need a way to evaluate FOSS projects against proprietary software so that more organizations will be able to justify FOSS solutions.

Comment: Source code access for medical devices (Score 4, Insightful) 38 38

by twasserman (#42596407) Attached to: Course Asks University Students To Tackle Medical Device Insecurity
I think that the FDA should require medical device makers to submit the source code of any device that is considered for approval. If someone is going to implant a device in my body, then I want the opportunity to see what it does and how it does it. What data is it collecting? What data is it transmitting? Can the operation of the device be modified or shut down over-the-air? As an example, is the algorithm for a heart pacemaker written efficiently so that battery life is maximized, thus reducing the need for repeated surgery?

This proposal raises the question of whether the creator of a device can protect the associated intellectual property if they are required to include source code as part of their submission for approval. I hope that we can have that discussion instead of continuing to treat all medical devices as black boxes.

Comment: Forward a meter, back a yard (Score 1) 1387 1387

We had a similar conversion proposal 40 years ago, back in the early 1970s. Apart from the very sizable costs of converting everything, the winning argument in favor of the status quo was that the American people wouldn't be able to learn to think in metric. Really! I think that meant that our elected representatives didn't understand the metric system.

In the meantime, virtually all manufacturing is done in metric, and almost every product that is sold includes metric weight, capacity, or dimensions, since that's what the rest of the world knows and expects. But even if the current petition inspires action (highly unlikely), it will take another 40 years before the majority of people use the metric system, and longer for Honey Boo Boo.

Comment: How about NoSQL database systems? (Score 1) 287 287

by twasserman (#42123763) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Which OSS Database Project To Help?
Not to take anything away from PostgreSQL and MySQL (and their forks), but these are mature systems with extensive communities and a very complex code base. If you want to learn the architecture of a new class of open source database systems, as well as to have the opportunity to make a significant contribution to a project, then you should consider joining a NoSQL project, such as Neo4j or MongoDB.

Comment: What Makes a Good Software Engineer? (Score 4, Insightful) 322 322

by twasserman (#42014887) Attached to: Computer Science vs. Software Engineering
I have always found that the best software engineers are those people who have a solid background in computer science. That knowledge is valuable throughout one's career and enables one to participate effectively in discussions and reviews of architectures, data models, and more even after being promoted to a position that doesn't include writing code. To me, the two areas are complementary.

Side note: I'm mystified at how someone with a Bachelor's degree in business can earn an MS in Software Engineering. Yes, management skills have an important role in an SE curriculum, but not to the exclusion of the technical skills.

Comment: Re:What do you have to offer an employer? (Score 2) 306 306

by twasserman (#41924739) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Finding Work Over 60?
About teaching -- don't just think of teaching CS in community colleges. Lots of other options: corporate training departments, software vendors who need field-based instructors for product training and consulting, online education, etc. For example, just think about the number of companies who are going to need Windows 8 training (whether or not we like it). I could imagine an entrepreneurial soul developing a couple of short courses of different lengths, picking a well-chosen domain name, creating a website to promote them, and strategically buying some keyword search terms to attract prospects.

Someone else mentioned teaching certificates - check out the alternative NYC programs at and (tech at the very bottom of this list).

Comment: What do you have to offer an employer? (Score 2) 306 306

by twasserman (#41922923) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Finding Work Over 60?
I suggest that you think about how you could market yourself. What are your top three features that would make you particularly attractive to an employer? Are there specific application domains where your experience would make you more valuable than less chronologically advanced people? Make sure that you have taken all of the modern steps to create an online presence, e.g., LinkedIn. Unfortunately, for many people who have been out of work for a few years, and especially for older people, it's hard to build a strong case for yourself over someone who is willing to work > 60 hours/week and who is more current in terms of technical skills and job history.

It's much easier to find a tech job with a government agency (local, state, or federal) than it is to find a job in industry. Government jobs are publicly posted, and governments are especially sensitive to various laws regarding equal employment opportunity; there's also a higher percentage of older employees in governments than you will find in most companies. There's something positive to be said for a steady 40-hour/week job. While I don't think much of certifications, some government job postings include them, in which case it would be worth pursuing that certification for a specific position.

If you enjoy teaching, you should consider finding a way to teach at the college level. Community colleges and university extension programs often need instructors, and there are numerous for-profit institutions that don't require advanced degrees of their faculty. While teaching itself can be personally rewarding (not so much financially, though), many of your students will be working for companies that might be willing to hire you as a contractor or perhaps even as an instructor for the company's internal education programs.

In summary, be realistic about what you can bring to the party, recognize that many companies simply find legal ways not to hire people over 40, and focus on those opportunities where you are on a relatively even playing field in seeking a job. Good luck.

Comment: HP in permanent decline (Score 5, Insightful) 184 184

by twasserman (#41543139) Attached to: HP Plans To Cut Product Lines; Company Turnaround In 2016
For the past 10 years or so, going back to Her Worship (Fiorina), HP has been cutting staff. Total layoffs through Hurd, Apotheker, and Meg are now up to 100K. HP has decimated its R&D capabilities, to the extent that they are essentially incapable of creating innovative products, which partly explains their 2100 printers. Too many of the people who are left are lifers who know how to keep their jobs. Anyone who is capable of finding a job elsewhere has done so.

If you are looking for a job, HP is a company without an interesting mobile strategy and a cloud strategy focused predominantly on IT services - not very attractive for entrepreneurial types, who have many other excellent opportunities.

Finally, the 100K HP departees are not likely to purchase HP products or to recommend them in their new settings. That's a very large pool of people who are going to advocate for competing products.

So the turnaround projected for 2016 is unlikely to happen, but it's a pretty fair bet than Meg Whitman won't be around HP when that day arrives.

"Ninety percent of baseball is half mental." -- Yogi Berra