Monday, June 29, 2020

Last One In is a Rotten Egg?

Launching Late

For the past several years, I’ve posted here about getting my boat into the water as early as possible in the year – sometimes as early as the end of April. My goal is to have the longest season possible with my boat and to fish for as many different species as I can, recognizing that some local fish species prefer the colder water of the early season and others stick around as the water temperatures rise. 

I generally start planning in February, looking through my records of what repairs might need to be done and what standard maintenance we “passed” on last year and so will certainly want to do this year. I contact my boat mechanic (who is also a friend of more than 40 years) and talk it through and I look at the calendar and pick a time frame to target. Meanwhile, I get the summer house opened up in March and April and make sure outside water is turned on and that my dock area is set and ready for the boats. If all works out, I get to launch my boat early in the season as planned. And that’s usually how this all goes.

I don’t need to explain to anyone reading this that 2020 has not been usual.

I started the process as described above in February, but when the time came to get parts for my boat in March, marinas and marine supply stores were all closed. My boat sat on stands in the driveway waiting for things to open up. When they did, parts that I needed were in short supply which added to delays.

As Memorial day approached, a full month later than I like to launch, neither of my boats were ready to go. I talked to my friend and mechanic and asked him whether we could prioritize the smaller boat my sons use, a really great 19’ Boston Whaler. We agreed that this would be a lot easier to prep and launch and so over Memorial Day weekend my family and I got to enjoy boating on the smaller boat.

Almost a full month later, just a few days ago, my boat, a 26’ EdgeWater center console sport fishing boat was finally ready. On the day before I launched, I looked up and down the lagoon where I keep my boat. Mine is usually one of the first 5 boats to be launched for the season. A few times, I was actually first. This year, I seemed to be last.

Once the boat was launched, all frustration was gone. The boat is and always has been a great pleasure for me. It’s set up the way I want in almost every regard. It handles beautifully and is comfortable at any speed. I caught several fish in these first few days and took a great friend of mine for a long ride through the waterways to the west of my house. I guess I'm off to a good (if late) start.

Kids sometimes say “last one in is a rotten egg” and it looks like my boat was last this year in my neighborhood, but it’s no rotten egg. Whether first or last, my boat Freedom is a joy and a pleasure that I will never take for granted. Maybe another common phrase is apt here: "Better late than never." 

Thanks for reading! A blog works best with active participation. If you enjoy this blog, leave a comment, and share it on your favorite social network. More readers will drive more discussion.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

A Slow (but good) Start to the Boating Season

the pandemic affects everything

As my friends know, I’m an avid boater and fisherman. Here in the northeastern US, and certainly in the neighborhood where I keep my boats, Memorial Day is when people launch and get started on their late-spring and early summer on-the-water activities.

My family and I use our boats (a 26’ Edgewater and a 19’ Boston Whaler, both center console open boats) for fishing, clamming, tubing, visiting waterfront restaurants at marinas, and taking day trips to other towns within a few hours ride. We are lucky to have a waterfront house and can keep our boats in the backyard waterway alongside our neighbors’ boats.

At the height of the season, there are about 32 boats docked in our waterway. Often, my larger boat, Freedom, is one of the first boats in for the season. Not this year, though. The COVID-19 pandemic kept the marinas and even the boat ramps closed for much of the spring. Once things began to open up a bit, just before Memorial Day, the boats that needed only minor prep for the spring could launch after a basic spring fitting (cleaning, bottom paint, checking safety gear, etc.). Any boats like mine that needed some parts and repairs, though, had to wait. 

My immediate family had been “sheltering at home” separately since April, with my two older sons at their own places separate from my wife, younger son, and me. Memorial Day would be our first chance to be together and to enjoy our boats. I spoke to my life-long friend and boat mechanic, Bill, and we decided together that the best move for the start of season would be to prep and launch our smaller boat, which normally plays second fiddle to my larger boat and gets launched later in June. My larger boat would have been more comfortable for our merry little band, but the change in plans was an easy decision to make under the circumstances.

Freedom, our 26 footer, not yet launched

Our 19 foot Whaler on the water
The weather last weekend in our area ended up being a bit cold and foggy, with a few overnight showers, but we got plenty of boating in when we could. We fished several times and caught an early season striped bass and an early season fluke - both on the short side so we carefully unhooked them, got a quick photo and released them to fight another day. We also went clamming twice and got plenty of clams and mussels to feed us all well for several meals - which was great since all our favorite restaurants were still closed.

young striped bass, released after this photo

young fluke, ready to be released

We also used the boat to cross the bay and dock at the ocean beach. It was a chilly and overcast day, and there were no lifeguards on duty. None of us swam, but we had a great time playing catch and bocce and we got some sun(burn) and drank some beer, all in good company and in a beautiful setting.

This was certainly a different Memorial Day. I missed my big boat, but I know I’ll have her in the water fairly soon. We caught up with our neighbors by shouting across the street or across the waterway instead of sitting together in each other’s backyards or talking up close near our boats. Still, no complaints at all here. My family was together and healthy, and we enjoyed our time on and around the water. 

All in all, another great Memorial Day and a summer to look forward to.

Thanks for reading! A blog works best with active participation. If you enjoy this blog, leave a comment, and share it on your favorite social network. More readers will drive more discussion.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Living alongside the Coronavirus

smaller and simpler life

As I write this blog post, more than a million US citizens have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease that can result from exposure to the Coronavirus. More testing is likely to reveal that a much higher number are now or have been infected. Tragically, there are now 60,000 who have lost their lives as a result and families everywhere are mourning. The majority of us at this point are staying home and hoping to help “flatten the curve,” to help the health care system to manage and hopefully to buy time for the development of therapies. Most people haven’t been exposed as far as we know, but we really can’t say. The vast majority of us haven’t been tested. In an effort to limit the spread most of us have been living a much smaller and simpler life, quarantined in our homes or at least minimizing our time out. The rest of this post are some of my observations in living this smaller and simpler life these past 7 weeks.

I must admit right from the start that I’m exceptionally lucky. I haven’t gotten sick. I live in a comfortable house with two family members who are great company. The house is large enough that we can be together when we want to be, and we can each have space to ourselves when we prefer it. My wife and I are both still working full time, and the prospects are good for that to continue for the foreseeable future so we have a comfortable income to go with the comfortable house. We know that there are so many others who aren’t so lucky.

Managing the Household

Having more time in the house means more time to deal with the house. Things have been put away and gone through and straightened up. I’m not a very handy person but by now my wife and I have addressed most of the small problems around the house including things we’d been living with for months. Every burned-out lightbulb has been replaced, some broken fixtures in the bathroom have been fixed or replaced, etc.  A few things are waiting for more expert repairmen when that’s possible. 

We’ve done more than our usual share of yard work, too. With the yard in nice shape, we sit outside when the weather allows and enjoy seeing a variety of birds, including not just robins and wrens but also bluejays, cardinals, and a woodpecker. There’s even what looks like a red-tailed hawk that we see from time to time.

Being home all the time means cooking and eating meals together a lot, which is great. It does make for more cleanup than we had been having to do in the past and the garbage and recycling has to be taken out way more often. We’re also running the dishwasher every day (sometimes more than once) which is a real change from the way things were before the lockdown.

The Fridge

Continuing a thought from above, we’ve ended up treating food differently. We try to do takeout only about once a week so three people are eating a lot of home made meals each week and just a few from takeout. One take-out order gets us a dinner plus a few meals from leftovers. Some of these “home made” meals are PBJs or a yogurt, but many of them are a little more involved. I like to cook, and so do my fellow “quarantiners.”

Food shopping is very different. I used to do one very big shopping a month and then 2 or 3 times a week I’d stop at the store for fresh fruit, veggies, dairy, etc., and while there I could pick up anything we were out of. Now things are different. I tried online ordering and it didn’t really work out, so trips to the supermarket are necessary. I try to shop once every 10 days and try hard to get EVERYTHING all at once. Being out among the potentially-contagious is not something we want to do too often. Making the shopping list now takes a lot more thought. When I get home, packing everything into the fridge is a game of 3D Tetris. Then, over the next 9 or so days, we eat our way through the food until a mostly empty fridge tells us it’s time to shop again. Because some things go bad more quickly than others, we also have to be more thoughtful about meal planning. In the past, I could buy fresh fruit and veggies as often as I needed to. Now we buy what we can fit, eat it while it’s fresh, and resort to frozen veggies later in that 10-day cycle.

We are also better than we were in the past about eating leftovers as lunches rather than throwing them away and wasting them. Sometimes, like when I grill, we intentionally make a little too much and plan a leftover meal for the following day.

Health and Appearance

Earlier this year I had been going to the gym 4 mornings a week and had dropped a few pounds while building some muscle. These days, I find that I’m not only getting less exercise, but I’m also eating more. I’m stuck in the house and the food is always just a few steps away. And frankly, I think my own uneasiness about the state of the world is stressing me out and I’m eating (and drinking) more as a reaction. Not such a great coping mechanism, but it’s a reality for me. I’m clearly going to need to fight this tendency or I’ll be shopping for a new wardrobe in larger sizes.

Like everyone else, my hair is getting longer (and grayer) and I’m not sure it’s a very good look. But I’ll ride it out for now. My wife gave herself a haircut a few days ago. My bet was that that wasn’t going to go very well but thankfully I was wrong. It looks great and she loves it. Still, I’m not letting her cut my hair!

The Roads

Yet another way in which we are lucky is that we are mobile if we need to be. We have three people at home and three cars all in good working order, and we rarely go out. My car hasn’t been out of the driveway for weeks since both of the other cars are SUVs which are much more suited to big grocery store trips. 

When we are out on the roads, it’s strange how there’s so little traffic even at times of day that are usually busy. In fact, when we take our daily walk around the neighborhood (my primary exercise these days) wearing face masks when we pass other walkers, we often walk in the road because the sidewalks are busier than the roads in my neighborhood. On the subject of neighborhood walks, we’ve begun to notice that we are seeing some of the same neighbors almost daily. Seems they’ve made daily walks a part of their schedule too. I can’t help wondering whether we’d regularly see a different set of people if we walked an hour earlier or an hour later.

Life with Zoom

Zoom has become a general adjective. “Let’s have a Zoom meeting.” Or a Zoom dinner. Or Zoom cocktail hour. Or anything else we used to do in person. Sometimes it’s actually a WebEx or FaceTime or something else, but in my circles it’s more often Zoom and even when it’s not we might slip and say Zoom. My youngest son was part of a college commencement ceremony a few days ago over Zoom and it went really well. While in some ways it was sad to miss out on the in-person experience, in other ways it was wonderful. I had a great comfortable seat, could grab a snack or beverage when I wanted, could easily have a rest room break, and could make jokes out loud without seeming too rude to the strangers seated next to us, since there weren’t any. My wife has had Zoom happy hours with coworkers, and she and I had a really fun Zoom dinner club night with three other couples with whom we’d usually go to a restaurant. Video chat has been a surprisingly comforting way to stay connected when we’re all locked up at home.

My band, The Lava Rocks

I’ve been playing in a classic rock cover band for a little over a year. The Lava Rocks were just finding our groove, playing local bars and clubs once or twice a month. Now our upcoming dates are canceled for the forseeable future which is sad. On a happier note, we still connect via Zoom twice a week to talk about active projects like web concerts and to plan songs to add to our music catalog. By doing this, the members of the band hope to stay connected and to pick up where we left off when that becomes possible.

Having a Sense of Humor

I’ve seen on social media that others have shared some funny parts of being locked up at home. I think we all have examples in our lives. Here’s mine: My wife and I both work as consultants, mostly from home. We can work on our computers, and often on WebEx and Zoom. Our morning ritual has long been to have coffee together while we watch the morning news and then to move on to work. Now we are just going to different parts of the house to work. Every day, without fail, as one of us heads off to take the first Zoom or WebEx call of the day my wife says “Bye, have a nice day at work.” As if I won’t be seeing her in the kitchen or the hallway about five times throughout the day!

Closing thoughts

As one of the many people lucky enough to have not gotten sick yet, I can see that we’re all adjusting in some pretty noticeable ways. Does this phase of the new normal give way to a new phase of the new normal in June or July as we (hopefully) enter a stage where the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to drop and more effective therapies make the risk of going out into the public more reasonable? Hard to say. And if June is hard to see from here, it’s impossible to see out to September or October with any clarity from the here and now.

As a final thought, I’ve noted above how lucky I feel during this crisis to be healthy, to have a safe and comfortable place to live, to have an income and food for my family. Not everyone is so lucky. I feel strongly that as someone with this kind of luck that it’s only right for me to help those less fortunate. There are countless good causes that need our help. If you are in a position to help, as I am, I encourage you to give generously and often. Support our medical professionals and first responders. Keep food pantries full. Help in ways that you can. There are so many who need it.

Thanks for reading! A blog works best with active participation. If you enjoy this blog, leave a comment, and share it on your favorite social network. More readers will drive more discussion.

[RapidGroove blog posts are my own and are in no way 
intended to represent the views of my employer]

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The COVID-19 “Upshift”

A graphical way to think about coming changes

As I write this in late March of 2020, we are living through a global pandemic. It’s difficult to see our way past the terrible daily news of rapidly mounting cases of COVID-19 and loss of life. Here in the northeastern US, we are on a lockdown in our homes. Schools are closed, and only essential businesses are operating. More than 3 million new unemployment claims were filed in the last week. The loss of life and the impact on people trying to manage huge economic disruption is tragic, and all of this seems likely to get worse before it starts to get better. In the United States, a $2-Trillion aid and stimulus package, much larger than we’ve ever seen, was just written and agreed to rapidly in a bipartisan way by congress and signed by the president. In so many ways, these are extraordinary times.

All of this considered, though, I’m optimistic for the long term. I believe that we are in this for the long haul, but I think we will come through and when we do I think there will be some things about the way we live our lives that will change. Some things will become more common, and some things less. As I think about the changes that may come, there’s a graph shape that keeps popping into my head that I think of as the “upshift.”
Upshift Curve - D.Kassabian March 2020 -

The Upshift Curve charts a behavior or activity (the y-axis) over time (the x-axis). It’s not intended to be an actual graph of hard data, but rather a rough trend shape that real data could eventually be compared with. The shape describes a steady state, an inflection point causing a rise, another inflection point as the initial change conditions are relaxed, and then a new steady state prevailing that is different (in this case, higher) than the earlier steady state.

Let’s talk through an example.

When people were sent home from work and from school earlier this month, there was a sudden and massive growth in remote work and in online teaching and learning. Neither of these things are new, but we went from some lower steady state level to a temporary level involving the majority of workers and students. Eventually, when we get past the worst of the pandemic, students will go back to college campuses and district schools and workers will go back to the office, but I believe that attitudes about remote work and online education will be changed, possibly drastically and possibly for the long term.

Let’s talk about working from home, a practice that is possible for some jobs (such as office desk workers) and not for others (first responders, for example). Many companies allowed for the remote work concept in limited ways while some companies and some staff supervisors were not comfortable with the idea. Thrust into remote work at scale as a necessity, though, I think many companies will find that it can work, that their workers appreciate the flexibility and lack of onerous commute and are able to be productive. Additionally, over time the practice could be cost effective for many businesses through reduction of office costs. While remote work is clearly not suitable for every job, and while some people may prefer full time in-office work surrounded by co-workers, this recent emergency is demonstrating that remote work is viable for many businesses and has some benefits. With that considered, I think the practice of work from home will level off post-pandemic at a level that’s higher (and possibly much higher) than before the pandemic struck. So let’s look at the upshift curve again.
Upshift Curve - D.Kassabian March 2020 -

As we think about this idea, the upshift could well apply for a great many things. How many of the following things that were already done at low levels before the pandemic might level off at substantially higher levels after? Consider the following list:

  1. Remote-work and work from home (described above)
  2. Online schooling, both K-12 and Higher Education
  3. Telemedicine/Telehealth (rather than visiting doctors and hospitals)
  4. Online ordering of most household groceries
  5. Online commerce (already big, but perhaps now growing faster)
  6. Use of online apps and payment systems for goods and services
For each of the above, what is your own sense of the likelihood that they will be in more common use post-pandemic than before? What would you add to that list?

I think of most of the above as primary or first order effects, and that for many of them there are cascading second order effects. For example, if more people work from home then the upshift curve might also describe the frequency with which we see our neighbors or the amount of weekday business that local neighborhood shops and restaurants get. 

These secondary effects suggest that there might be another kind of secondary effect, a kind of inverse or Downshift. The downshift curve is just the Upshift flipped on its head. These are things that I think experience the same kind of change but from a higher steady state pre-pandemic to a lower steady state post-pandemic. One obvious example might be handshaking and hugging in business and social settings, which probably won’t disappear but may well become less common.  I would bet that contact among family and very close friends will not experience this same Downshift (I certainly hope not), but in settings where it was a mere social pleasantry before it may become less common.

The Downshift curve looks like this:
Downshift Curve - D.Kassabian March 2020 -

As with the upshift, there’s a drastic change at an inflection point and then eventually a return to something closer to normal, but now at a lower steady state. Here are some possibilities I’ve thought of.

  1. Handshaking at work
  2. Full-day 5-days-a-week, in-office work
  3. Rush hour traffic, subway ridership, and urban congestion
  4. Walk-in traffic to food establishments and retail shops near large offices

Even if only some of these changes take hold, what do you think the impact will be on personal interactions? How will these things play through in the economy?

The Upshift and Downshift Curves have been a useful way for me to frame my thinking about what might change in our world in the coming months and years and how. What do you think? Is this a useful framing, and why or why not? Where would you apply an idea like the Upshift Curve to things that you think will change?

Please leave a comment and share your thinking with all of us.

Thanks for reading! A blog works best with active participation. If you enjoy this blog, leave a comment, and share it on your favorite social network. More readers will drive more discussion.

[RapidGroove blog posts are my own and are in no way 
intended to represent the views of my employer]

Friday, February 28, 2020

Wireless Charging

Another step toward cable-free convenience

We take it for granted these days that we can walk around with laptop computers, mobile phones, and tablets – untethered yet still actively on the Internet. I have news for those under 30 years old... this is not the way things always worked. Computers and telephones were anchored by communications cables until the end of the 20th century. WiFi networks and carrier 3G are both only about 20 years old, which for people my age is well within recent memory. 

Early mobile devices were large and heavy (by today's standards), battery life was limited, and data rates were... let's say "limited." Over the years, things have improved substantially. Data rates are much better on both 802.11 WiFi networks and on carrier networks, with a promise for big improvements in both in the coming years. Devices are thinner and lighter. Even the battery life is slowly improving which is a higher hurdle than might at first be obvious, because we keep putting faster processors, more memory, and higher performance communications electronics in our mobile devices all of which require real power.

Over that same set of years, cables still played a role for mobile devices. In the early days we plugged phones and tablets into computers to sync data and perform upgrades, and to charge their batteries while we did so. Over time, the mobile devices became less of a peripheral or accessory to a computer and more a standalone device. They became able to store and back up data in the cloud and to download application software and operating system upgrades without a computer playing a part. We now even have the option to get rid of wired ear buds as Bluetooth ear buds like the Apple AirPods are an (expensive) option. It seems as though everyone at the gym has them now, and I admit to loving mine.

But the cables are not yet completely gone. We still plug our mobile devices in at least once a day (for me, usually overnight) to fully charge the batteries.

Now, with inductive charging available for some mobile devices, and very likely a rapid increase in availability in the coming 1-2 years, we may get rid of the last of the cables. Setting my phone, tablet, and Bluetooth ear buds onto a charging mat once at the end of the day and never plugging anything into them at all would be a great next step.

Is this a convenience you want? What's a reasonable expectation in terms of charging time and cost of equipment? Leave a comment and let us know.


Thanks for reading! A blog works best with active participation. If you enjoy this blog, leave a comment, and share it on your favorite social network. More readers will drive more discussion.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Rethinking the TV Experience

Traditional "cable TV" may not be a winner for me anymore

Back in September of 2011, I wrote about cord-cutting, the idea that people like us who value flexibility and balk at cable's high prices might move away from standard cable packages. Since then, many of my friends have done it and most have been happy. And the world of video options is only getting more sophisticated (and complicated). In addition to traditional cable TV packages there are Internet streaming services that offer original content, and some that offer popular shows in reruns. Many offer movies. There are even streaming services that provide what traditional cable TV packages do – aggregations of commercial television channels but delivered via the Internet. More services are coming online all the time.

Let me describe the video entertainment service – or combination of services - I want. Then I'd love to hear whether this is the kind of service you want, too.

First, of course I want great content and on this score I’m really happy with the offerings we're seeing lately. There’s quality stuff these days on HBO, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video and other streaming services, with more services coming online often. Services like these probably account for 75% of my passive entertainment time. I don’t watch commercial TV much at all, other than news, sports, and Comedy Central.

Next, I want to watch without interspersed commercials. I can live with a few very short pre-rolls. And to be clear, I don’t just want to skip through commercials I prefer to have no commercials at all, like on HBO and Netflix. I recognize that as commercials are a monetization mechanism that this means I need to pay (more) for the limited set of things I want that are on "commercial" television. Even without commercials, I also want the ability to pause, rewind, and fast forward. 

I want to be able to watch all of this content on my large screen television sets, on my laptop computer, on my tablet, and on my smartphone. And when on my mobile devices I want to watch from anywhere and not just on my “home” network. I also want profiles, so that my wife and I can independently set up favorites and keep track of what episode we’re on if we happen to be watching the same show separately.

Lately, I find myself paying about $300 a month to a major cable television provider. And sure, that includes my Internet service, which really is quite good most of the time, but it’s still way too much and it isn’t quite the service I described above.

Is it time for me to “cut the cord?”

I’m seriously thinking of firing my cable television provider entirely and then getting a good Internet connection from a different service provider. Next, I’ll get a basic television service like YouTube TV, Sling TV, or FuboTV to get my primary news and sports channels. Then I’ll layer on a few streaming services. Netflix and Amazon for sure. Possibly HBO. Others are possible. 

When I do the math, the savings actually seem to be significant. I’d be going from a cable company triple play (including unused phone service) for $300, to a more limited set of channels delivered over a solid Internet connection, and then including Netflix, Amazon and HBO streaming. I’d add services like Britbox -- and in fact I'd add and remove video services as my interests change. For example, maybe I'd add CBS All Access for a while to watch the new Star Trek series and then cancel if and when it wasn't of interest. I can watch all of the content on television sets through my Apple TV boxes, watch on my laptop computer and mobile devices through apps. The total cost of what I want to do looks to be about $100 less per month than what I'm paying today.

Is there any reason not to do this? What's your plan? Leave a comment and let us know!


Thanks for reading! A blog works best with active participation. If you enjoy this blog, leave a comment, and share it on your favorite social network. More readers will drive more discussion.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Predicting The Future In the Past

10 years ago I was crazy enough to put my predictions down in black and white and share them as a "note" on Facebook. This was before I had a blog, which came along about a year and a half later. With the benefit of hindsight, how did I do? I welcome your critiques, scoring, high-praise, and laughter.

My post from Dec 24, 2009 follows, unedited. 

A Few Tech Predictions for "beyond 2010"
Deke Kassabian
December 24, 2009

At the end of every calendar year, the IT community tends to share predictions for technology for the coming year. It's the subject of many late December trade press articles, and a New Year's tradition. Those who make predictions sometimes review the accuracy of predictions made in the past. But why should tech pundits have all the fun? Let's join in.

My own day-to-day work, and the work of my teams, can often involve the internal details of low layer network communications, security and identity management, communication application interworking, and other areas that are not terribly exciting to most people not also working in those spaces. So, in what follows, I'll talk about my predictions in areas of more general technology interest.

What follows are predictions of mine for technology: not for next year, but for 2011 and beyond. These aren't areas in which I'm an expert, and they aren't things I've carefully researched. This is just for fun and obviously I could be way off base! The predictions that follow are based on some reading of scholarly engineering journals and also popular IT trade press (print and audio), some conversations with colleagues from around the country in multiple disciplines, and a little of my own thinking to synthesize it all.

I predict that the following technology developments will happen during the next decade, some a lot sooner than others. Don’t bet your retirement fund on any of these, but give them a read, tell me what you think, try your hand at a few predictions and share them, and have some fun.

Happy New Year!

(1) Robots among us

I'm picking the most exciting and outlandish of my predictions as my first: That robots get to be way more common place as an element of our technology.

Now, we know that there are many things already in reasonably broad use today that can be called "robots." Roomba floor cleaners, for example, have been around for years. But I think that when most people think of "robots" they think of Sci-fi movie robots or Rosie from the Jetsons -- something that stands and maybe walks and talks and responds to voice commands and looks vaguely humanoid in its size and/or shape. And my prediction is that these cooler robots are coming.

Close to home, in our own Engineering School, The GRASP Lab (see does amazing things with robotics, including robot motion that can handle inclines, irregular terrain, and even being pushed or bumped.

Commercially, Honda has the Asimo (see Fuji
Soft Inc and others are following suit. These companies have robots that stand and walk and can be programmed to move in ways we expect "movie robots" to move. Some of this stuff is commercially available now, though still a little expensive.

So, I think that impressive robot motion is clearly well on its way. What about interactivity? The fact that my car’s GPS device and my smart phone are (slowly) becoming better at interactive voice response tells me that the technology is coming along and may not be incredibly expensive. If a $500 (unsubsidized price) smart phone can do it, why not a $5,000 robot? But beyond just interactive voice response, robots may, even in the relatively short term, offer some visual feedback reminiscent of emotion. For robot development that may truly excite you -- or maybe creep you out -- check out Hanson Robotics (, developers of technology that bring facial expression and "attitude" to robots.

Allow me to now put a finer point on my prediction: maybe we won't all see a robot in every home and office in just a few years, but encountering a semi-autonomous, mobile, interactive humanoid robot a few times a year will I think be common for people in urban environments relatively soon.

Time frame: 2013-2015

(2) The Kindle and today's iPod fade

It has been really interesting to watch the growth of the e-book reader space. The Kindle became the first big-dog to the market and then the Sony and Barnes and Noble entries expanded that market. Most of us have experienced them, either by becoming owners of the technology or by trying out a friend's shiny new device.

My prediction is that the dedicated single purpose e-book reader will have a short life as a general interest device and will fade to a niche device for a much smaller community of users. My bolder prediction is that dedicated mp3 players like conventional iPods will do the same thing. The reason, in both cases, is that I think capacitive touch devices like today's smartphones (think iPhone and iPod Touch, or Droid), and tomorrows larger-screen tablet devices, will supplant them. Smart phones and future multi-media tablets promised by big players like Apple and Microsoft, and smaller players like Joo Joo (nee Crunchpad) and Notion Ink Tegra, will be able to function as an e-book reader or an mp3 player, but will also do much more. Voice calls, video calls, web browsing, TV and movie watching, organizing and sharing photo libraries, and much more, become natural on these devices. Having separate, dedicated music or book devices will only make sense if their user experience is much, much better, or if none of the tablets are any good or all of them are overpriced. And I don't think that will be the case.

Time frame: 2011

(3) SSD for serious laptops

This one is a little simpler and maybe a little more obvious. As memory continues to get cheaper, and as people continue to gravitate to laptops over desktops, fast boot and fast wake will be differentiators at first (and perhaps we’re already at this point) and expected soon after. So high-end laptops will move to Solid State Disk (SSD) for their primary storage, followed soon after by the mid-range. Prohibitively expensive for many now, it's just a matter of time for this stuff to get cheap. Conventional spinning disk drives for Netbooks and very low-end laptops will still make sense. SSD will be the choice for mid- to high-end laptops.

Time frame: 2012

(4) The “Clouds” are clearing

To borrow terminology from Gartner, and apply it to this year's biggest buzz-phrase, the slide from the "Peak of inflated expectations" into the "Trough of Disillusionment" is about due for Cloud Computing.

Cloud Computing as a service offered by some industry players is a very interesting tool that looks like it can be used strategically. But the assumption that it is the solution to a long list of IT woes, and a transformational technology to be broadly applied comes from, in my opinion, a misunderstanding of what Cloud Computing really is. This seems especially true within Higher-Ed.

Over the next several years there will be some outsourcing of email that will be mis-categorized as cloud computing (when it really is tactical outsourcing). In some cases, the use of ad-supported and otherwise free commodity web-based services will be mis-categorized as Cloud Computing. For other uses, the realization that it isn't free and it can be somewhat brittle will hit some of us over the head.

But then some enterprises will carefully study and understand the Cloud technology that is really available, will consider policy and law as it applies to services and data and will navigate the complexities of the SLAs, will do real ROI analyses for services that are not free, and will deploy services based on Cloud Computing -- some successfully and some not. As that happens, Cloud Computing will "level off" into its rightful place in the Gartner "Plateau of Productivity" and become one of many tools that the best IT shops will be able to use strategically and effectively.

Time frame: 2012

(5) 3D printing comes home (or at least to the small office)

3D printing, already in use at Penn at the School of Design and perhaps elsewhere, is the process of building up 3D objects through the printing of successive layers of plastic or other materials. The printer gets a 3D specification as input and literally prints out a 3D object.

This technology is very valuable for prototyping newly designed objects, but it might also turn out to be a handy way to get small and simple replacement parts in a hurry. Imagine printing a camera lens-cap, a battery cover, small toy parts, and more. Rather than writing to the manufacturer to buy something that costs more to ship than to make, the manufacturer could allow you to replace the parts yourself (and fully at your cost).

3D Printers are available today in the $10K-$20K range (and of course at much higher cost, too), with some new entries showing up at around $5K. If the price gets closer to $1,000 soon and $300 eventually, and if product manufacturers end up liking the idea of making some of their replacement parts available as specifications for home printing, these interesting devices could become a lot more common.

Time frame: 2015

(6) Cars that drive themselves

Really, truly, drive themselves. You sit there and read the newspaper (if newspapers still exist).

Several times over the last decade, teams from around the world competed in the DARPA Urban Challenge in which vehicles navigated and drove entirely on their own with no human driver and no remote control. The results so far are mixed, but that there are any successes at all is really quite impressive.

This one comes with a lot of anxiety. Would YOU get into a car that a machine was driving? Knowing all you know about the rate at which computers and other automation systems fail? Would you get in and trust your life and the lives of your loved ones to a non-human? Not today you wouldn't, and neither would I. But some day I think you will. In fact, you already do something like this all the time. Elements of air travel and even elements of car travel already depend upon technology in ways that have crept in over time. When technology works very reliably for a long period of time, we begin to trust it.

The pieces to make this real already exist in rudimentary form. In fact they are already commercially available. I know I’m oversimplifying, but … (GPS) + (Cruise Control) + (External proximity sensors) lead to self driving cars. Again, I’ll grant that there’s more to it than that. But how much more? Some high-end cars already have on-board systems that allow them to self-park. Others are starting to have crash detection systems that allow them to respond to imminent impact in ways that minimize passenger injury. Isn’t all that the beginning of self-drive?

Time frame: 2020 for the first workable self drive concept car from a major car manufacturer. A while longer before they are driving down your block.

(7) FAX will still be a technology in somewhat common use.


Time frame: 2020

Thanks for reading! A blog works best with active participation. If you enjoy this blog, leave a comment, and share it on your favorite social network. More readers will drive more discussion.