Monday, May 30, 2016

Five Years Blogging

A little more than 5 years ago I started the RapidGroove blog with a post called “I think that bird said beep.”

I had my reasons for starting to blog; I wanted to challenge myself to be productive through more frequent writing on interesting non-work topics and hoped that it would help me to hone my writing skills. I also hoped it would be a fun way to connect with friends on interesting topics in an even deeper way than is practical on Facebook and Twitter.

In the spring of 2011 I had applied to grad school and was wait-listed. I knew I’d try again in 2012, so the year in between was a time during which disciplined writing practice made good sense. I’m happy to say that I got into my graduate program the following year on my second try, and two years after that completed my Ed.D. degree. 

During these last 5 years I’ve written nearly 200 blog posts – sometimes just once a month, at other times as many as 3 in a week. I even borrowed from my studies from time to time to share something with RapidGroove readers, such as when I posted a piece I wrote called Does History Matter.

Life Happens

Also during this same 5 year period, I have had some life experiences. During a management restructuring in 2015, after 20 years with my then employer, I suddenly found myself unemployed. I took the opportunity to step up my commitment to teaching both graduate and undergraduate college classes at several Philadelphia-area colleges and universities. I taught 7 courses over a little more than a year and attended many seminars and training sessions on modern teaching and learning practices. Most of all, I confirmed my suspicions that I would really enjoy teaching and being part of the student experience. I know that teaching is something I will return to when I can.

During this same time period, I started to look for a new challenge in a professional Information Technology position. Despite all the conventional career advice that a man in his 50s who finds himself out of work should look for a lateral move (that is, look for another Senior Director or Executive Director position in my field), I decided early on that I would set my sights higher. I would focus on moving up to a Chief Information Officer (CIO) or Chief Technology Officer (CTO) position.  As long as I was being aspirational, I decided that for now I would not seriously consider relocating, and I would remain focused on higher education, so I would be looking for great college and university positions within driving distance. That was a tall order – there aren’t all that many positions that met my criteria. Thank goodness my wife was supportive and well-employed. We could afford for me to methodically pursue such a position.

Months passed. I was teaching classes and applying for only a few great opportunities. I was also visiting my elderly mother more often. It was clear that she was coming to the end of her life and I was very glad that I could be with her more often. When she died in early February of 2016, I was grateful that I had spent quality time with her, including being with her on the day she passed away.

Over the months, I had made it to the final round of a few CIO searches but had not landed a position. By March, an exceptional local university was moving toward a decision and I was again a finalist. In April I accepted a position as Vice President and Chief Information Officer at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. I’ve been there now for about a month and I’m thrilled and honored to be part of their leadership team.

So what about that blog?

During these last five years, whatever else was going on (grad school, family issues, job changes, etc.), I blogged when I could. My blog posts have been seen more than 40,000 times. That’s a small number compared with the many popular sites on the Internet, but seems to me to be a fairly large number for a personal blog. I’m surprised and happy. Some of my popular posts have, predictably, been on technology topics. But other popular posts have been on grilling seafood, boating and fishing, and even the importance of voting. These and many other subjects I've written on are integral parts of who I am, and it is truly a pleasure to discuss them with all of you and to listen whether you agree or disagree with me.

Writing this blog has been a fun and rewarding experience for me. I’ll take a break for a while as I put all my effort into succeeding at my new position at West Chester University. But from time to time when an interesting topic comes my way, I still hope to write... just not as regularly or as often.

Thanks to you all for a great 5 years.


Thanks for reading! A blog works best with active participation. If you enjoy this blog, please +1 it and leave a comment. Share it on Twitter, Google+ or Facebook. More readers will drive more discussion.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Tesla Model 3

I don't hide the fact that I’m a fan of Tesla Motors and their founder Elon Musk. Back in June of 2012, I wrote in this blog about the introduction of the Tesla Model S. Since that time, I’ve seen the stylish Model S on the road from time to time. With it’s luxury car price tag and limited availability, though, these cars are still a bit rare. If you happen to own a Model S and would like to take me for a ride in it, I won’t argue at all.
Tesla Model 3

Announcing the Model 3

Now Tesla has announced a car that promises to be within reach of many more electric car enthusiasts – their new Model 3. When Tesla opened the books for pre-orders late last month, more than 325,000 interested buyers put down $1,000 each in just the first few days, meaning that Tesla collected $325M for a car that doesn’t yet exist. Not a bad start.

This new car from Tesla might be a direct competitor for the Chevy Bolt, with the Bolt shipping late in 2016 or early in 2017, and the Model 3 likely shipping later in 2017. A nice comparison is available from Motor Trend here.

Tesla Model 3 Features
The Model 3, which Tesla says “combines real world range, performance, safety and spaciousness into a premium sedan,” is the lowest priced car from Tesla yet, starting at $35,000. It will have a range of over 200 miles on a full charge. The graphic at left shows some of the features that Tesla emphasizes about their new Model 3.

According to that same Motor Trend article, “Tesla currently claims a best-case charge scenario of 170 miles of range within 30 minutes of Supercharging for Model S and Model X owners; it’ll likely be the same story for the Model 3.”

What would it take for you to seriously consider a Tesla? Is $35,000 to $40,000 a reasonable price for such a car? Does the range (170 miles on a fast charge, a little over 200 on a longer charge) work for your uses, or would you need more? Would charging stations need to be as numerous and distributed as gas stations are today? For electric cars to truly get a foothold in the auto market, these are some of the early questions that I think consumers will be asking themselves.

In other Tesla news

Tesla Model X
Earlier this month, Tesla announced a recall affecting a few thousand of their earliest Model X SUVs. Some of these cars, in very limited supply, appear to have a problem with a hinge that affects the third row of seats.

Tesla also recently announced some updates to its Model S. The new styling seems to echo some of the design choices made for the Model 3.

Tesla as a major force in the industry?

In my view, Tesla continues to innovate with interesting new cars and is having a positive impact on the auto industry. Perhaps my next car will be a Tesla.

Would you be interested in the Model 3 or one of the other models? Leave a comment and let us know.


Thanks for reading! A blog works best with active participation. If you enjoy this blog, please +1 it and leave a comment. Share it on Twitter, Google+ or Facebook. More readers will drive more discussion.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Have a Nice Tay

The Day the Denizens of the Internet Corrupted a Microsoft AI

On March 23rd, Microsoft Research introduced what was essentially an artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot named "Tay" to the world via twitter (TayTweets on twitter, @Tayandyou). Tay was designed to portray and interact as a 19 year old woman, with initial speech patterns to match. "She" was designed with the ability to interact and learn from the conversations she experienced on twitter.

Just a day later Microsoft decided that Tay needed a break from the Internet, which, it seems, is full of trolls. Tay fell in with the wrong crowd and learned a little too well from them. By the end of her first full day out, she was tweeting some terribly offensive racist and sexist things, and according to Microsoft themselves, wildly inappropriate and reprehensible words and imagesWhere did she learn to talk like that? She learned from the good people of the Internet. It turns out that not everyone is a nice person ready to guide young Tay on how to carry on a respectful conversation, and some of the "facts" she learned were a little less than solid.

What, if anything, can we learn from this? I readily admit that I know almost nothing about the AI that Microsoft used, but Wired reports that Tay's speech was trained through neural networks. I have no doubt that it was sophisticated and impressive. Human intelligence, though, is elusive. Lots of us are exposed to the rantings of Internet trolls every day and don't immediately turn into hate-slinging racists. That's because in all of our interactions, we also use a range of time-tested and well-honed tools to consider the sources of information and make judgments. When someone that we recognize as an expert or authority on a subject speaks, we give it more credit than when our blow-hard high school buddy offers us his opinion on good economic or immigration policy. We might choose to repeat what we heard from the expert, and try to forget what we hear from those a little less well-informed. Tay didn't yet have those skills mastered.

If Tay wasn't entirely ready for the trolls and haters on the Internet, maybe she needed a little more time to learn in a safer and more nurturing environment. We are careful about the company we let living, breathing young people keep and gradually expose them to the complexities of the world. Maybe Tay needed more time to develop some judgment about who to believe and what (not) to repeat. Tay could have spent a little more time in the equivalent of grade school before confronting the real world. Or maybe her algorithms just need some tweaks.

Is this the end of Tay? Maybe, maybe not. Certainly the hate speech that resulted needed to be stopped quickly and I'd say that Microsoft Research deserves credit for launching the experiment and also for pulling the plug with apologies and without delay. But it certainly shouldn't be and won't be the end of similar AI and learning experiments. Even in this unfortunate set of events, some learning happened and we'll see the benefits in the months and years to come – whether in later versions of Tay or in bold new experiments.

Did you get a chance to talk with Tay while she was online? Do you have thoughts to share on what happened? Please leave a comment and share it with us.

Reference Links:

Thanks for reading! A blog works best with active participation. If you enjoy this blog, please +1 it and leave a comment. Share it on Twitter, Google+ or Facebook. More readers will drive more discussion.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Terrorism, Technology, Security, Privacy, Apple and the FBI

Image credit:

The FBI has requested that Apple help to unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernadino shooters. I’ve been thinking about whether I could add anything useful to the discussion and decided the following three things:
  1. Neither Apple’s Tim Cook nor the FBI’s James Comey is a villain from my perspective. It is easy for me to believe that they both want safety and security for all of us.
  2. The collision of security, privacy, and technology brings out our passionate beliefs, and adding terrorism fans the flames. It is no surprise that this situation has become polarizing for many people. I believe, however, that if we intentionally stay away from the poles, we can have valuable discussions in the middle. I appreciate being a citizen in a country in which we can have those discussions in the open.
  3. I cannot add anything truly new to this discussion so I won’t be offering any analysis or opinion, at least for now. I’d rather watch as the situation develops and perhaps have commentary to offer later.

That said, watching the development of a complex issue like this one is best done from an informed position, so I decided to use my time to continue to educate myself and to curate and share a few of the articles I’ve found to be most useful on the subject. Those appear below. 

Image credit:
Do you have other articles that have helped to inform your opinion? Please consider leaving pointers and links in the comments. I'm also happy to hear your comments on how this is just a matter of Apple protecting their carefully crafted brand and bottom-line, or how the FBI is using this tragedy to try to establish precedent for future requests. As I said, I recognize the polarization and understand that that's part of the valuable discussion, too.

Thanks for reading!


CNET, Sean Hollister
This summary and FAQ is a good place to start.

Apple CEO Tim Cook
In this open letter, Apple CEO Tim Cook points out that Apple regularly cooperates with law enforcement by turning over data that they have access to when legal subpoenas and search warrants are presented, but characterizes the FBI's current request as a development effort for the circumvention of security features, creating a dangerous "backdoor."

FBI Director James Comey
Director James Comey makes the case that the FBI must do all it can under the law to investigate, and recognizes the tension evolving as new technology becomes available to all. He describes what's being asked of Apple and says that "We don’t want to break anyone’s encryption or set a master key loose on the land." Comey concludes by saying that the tension "should be resolved by the American people deciding how we want to govern ourselves in a world we have never seen before."

Dan Guido's Blog (Guido is a Security Researcher and CEO of Trail of Bits)
This piece is a thorough and understandable treatment of what the FBI has asked for and what it would take for Apple to comply.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
From the article: "Ultimately, this week's order risks undermining the interests of millions of iPhone users whose device security would be undermined by the development of a new backdoor."
(Full disclosure: I regularly donate to the EFF)

Jeff Schiller’s Blog (Schiller is a Higher Ed Security pioneer)
Schiller discusses how the press is characterizing the trade-off as between the Privacy of the individual vs. the Security of society. The real trade-off, he says, is between making the job of the FBI a little easier in exchange for introducing significant security vulnerabilities in the core fabric of our increasingly electronic world.

Bruce Schneier's Blog (Schneier is a security researcher and author)
In his own words: "I wish I could give the good guys the access they want without also giving the bad guys access, but I can't. If the FBI gets its way and forces companies to weaken encryption, all of us -- our data, our networks, our infrastructure, our society -- will be at risk."

CNN Money
A very nice summary of some important coming dates:

Thanks for reading! A blog works best with active participation. If you enjoy this blog, please +1 it and leave a comment. Share it on Twitter, Google+ or Facebook. More readers will drive more discussion.