Thursday, 30 June 2011

Cloud computing is the future of low cost periodical publishing.

Cloud computing provides the means to develop new editorial management techniques for web-based periodical publishing.
by Tom Thorne
Cloud computing is really not too complex. It’s main feature is that it saves big bucks for companies who don’t want to maintain their own IT hardware systems and the staff that goes with them. On the business computing front this is its main advantage. 
Because Cloud techniques are virtual, companies can expand by adding virtual computers looked after by a supplier who really acts as a common carrier. It’s a neat idea for business and should also be useful for web based editorial work to flourish at low cost.
In the new web media business Cloud computing holds a lot of promise. Media companies will be able to maintain complex editorial and publication systems by using low cost Clouds. This development can spur fully web-based publications and other video-based media distribution. 
Imagine a publication on a Cloud
Imagine a periodical publishing company resident on a Cloud. Each time they want to add a new publication they simply set up a virtual publication on an equally virtual machine that serves the new service to readers and also collects their subscriptions. 
The editorial systems for producing the publications are also using Clouds and are fed content from sources anywhere on earth and edited before publication perhaps even by artificial intelligence systems in a few years from now. 
In the media this change can evolve into small editorial and liaison IT staffs to work with the Cloud supplier. The rest of the editorial workers would likely be stringers who are paid by the story or by the assignment. Naturally, regular contributors will  evolve from this pool of talent likely working from home offices. 
This distributed work force also is a net saver of budget. Even the core editorial staff can work from their own home office removing any need in a Cloud-based publication for expensive bricks and mortar installations anywhere.
This means the costs will be for the lower cost virtual Cloud services provided by a supplier and the savings for brick and mortar offices can be plowed into editorial payments to writers and journalists.
Of course these virtual publications can also be supported by advertising and by users paying for subscriptions. Subscriptions are in place for many publications already. The big change, however, will not be in these standard ways of building revenue but in the way the editorial staff work together when they distributed and not concentrated in one place.

Editorial workers have started working this way already.
Probably a lot of editorial staff work this way already even in the print and broadcasting worlds but the need for physical space for offices is the next thing to go. It simply is not needed. However, this change in editorial practice will necessitate a new type of  highly skilled editorial management with finely honed personnel and technological skills.
The management of a Cloud publication will have to be very well organized and the way in which distributed writers and contributors work together will create new systems and editorial methods. This is probably the most difficult part of Cloud publishing to devise. Most personal computers have video link capabilities and so that will facilitate meeting and discussing. Most of us are already working constantly in email, texting, social media and Skype type phone systems so that won’t be a big change.
The big change will be the software on the Cloud that enables everyone producing a news publication to see it in preparation for release. It may very well work in real time with stories coming in, being edited, checked and posted and then updated as needed. It will be a web version of television with a combination of print and video links. 
The speed of contemporary information calls for a very strict editorial checking system if the stories released are to be credible. There may have to be new standards used to do breaking stories by tagging them with rumour, still being checked, through to substantiated fact. By clicking on a link the editorial process and sources of a breaking story can be seen and rated for reliability by the reader.
Commentary publications can be the first  to pilot the Cloud concept.
Commentaries, editorials and investigative journalism can be done very well on a web based service. In these cases there is not the need for the same speed demanded to edit a web based news service. It is possible to build a high quality Cloud publication of record that originates completely on the web by taking the cost savings and turning them into paying for first rate editorial material.
Such a high quality web based editorial service could be done for a fraction of the cost of television or print publications maintaining traditional offices and staff. The business model for this type of publication requires some new thinking and an ability to escape many old ideas.
No writer or contributor needs to be housed in a newsroom or office any more. The big expense is setting up the editorial software capable of working well with a distributed work force. Initially this start up can be financed  over the contributors and journalists who could also be the owners or shareholders of the Cloud publication. Ownership builds commitment to the success of the Cloud publication.
A virtual newsroom or editorial space needs to be created to maintain communications and editorial standards. The management of a publication like this may be much more democratic because the contributors and writers provide their own means of production in their home or in the field. It will be truly “freelance” a term that derives from landless knights who provided their “lance” for a fee in mediaeval times.
This style of editorial working may be the first time in periodical history where media baron big capital is not needed to start up a publication. It can be a shared enterprise of the people who at their own level own the entry means of production and with that production capability contribute to first class editorial content distributed produced and distributed 100 percent on the World Wide Web. They can also share its profits.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Monday, 27 June 2011

Is an economic downturn inevitable?

Is the bear approaching world financial markets?

© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Research in Motion: Blackberry is now a follower product line.

What really ails Research in Motion and the Blackberry brand?

by Tom Thorne
Research in Motion’s (RIM) Blackberry brand has managed to get inside the heads of business and government leaders with an innovative product  designed to serve the communications needs and mores of  a more conservative smart phone customer. These customers are a big segment of the smart phone market.
Blackberry is the smart phone of choice for politicians, government bureaucrats and business people. Although they are innovative Blackberry smart phones are stolid and largely function without the outward pizazz of an Apple IPhone.  The individuals who use Blackberry products are for the most part people looking for a network entry system that looks like they are for business users. Blackberry meet the needs of corporate information technology departments who consider Apple iPhones as some kind of toy. 
Of course the smart phone competitive field is filling up. RIM cannot expect that Google, Microsoft and Apple are going to let them dominate this lucrative sector of the high tech industry. And so RIM is under stress by bigger, well funded companies who want their piece of the smart phone pie and are determined to get it and  expand at RIM's expense.
It is also interesting that tech stock financial analysts have now downgraded RIM equities and decided that the bubble has burst for Blackberry and Research in Motion. This situation was amplified when the much heralded and equally disappointing introduction of the  Blackberry PlayBook tablet which went over like a lead balloon. Think of it.  PlayBook, the very word signals to conservative Blackberry users that RIM management  doesn't take tablet technology seriously. Who plays or admits to playing in business and politics?
Roll up the RIM to lose...
RIM’s customer base doesn’t play unless its competitively on a squash court. There is nothing laid back about RIM users. They are "A" personalities who enjoy and revel in a 24/7 relationship with their employers where they are always on call and in touch using RIMs superior security systems and software. They want to live in the world of constant communication even if it interrupts a child’s birthday party. So calling a tablet product a PlayBook was a big mistake for their established market.
RIM has done a lot to stimulate the smart phone market and they have done it with a focused attempt to wrap up business and government. They really don’t know how to get the younger cooler market except on price point and offers with smart phone network suppliers who are willing to provide cheap plans for older Blackberry models. They have managed to expand away from the business and government markets by attracting young people who cannot afford the entry capital costs for the Apple iPhone. But it’s not enough.
RIM’s Blackberry PlayBook  tells you something about where the current RIM thinking is focused. Apple obviously had a run away success with the first iPad and seems to be having further success with the iPad2.  Apple has captured the pad market and anyone else who enters it has to play second fiddle. All sorts of knockoff products have now flooded this market as RIM brought out the PlayBook. They appear as an also ran choice compounded by a large expanding field of follower products.
Apple strategy is get competitors to follow them into uncharted waters...
Apple has strategically drawn its biggest smart phone competitor into a new uncharted market place. RIM’s thinking was to follow and to understand the market in terms of playing not working.  Apple sees the iPad as a serious computer and has the apps to prove it. RIM looks to technical performance but countering Apple with small software differences like  iPad doesn’t run certain web animation software like Flash seems petty and self defeating. No one cares about this type of flimsy comparison. 
The main problem for Research in Motion is that their marketing is stalled. They have the software and hardware smarts to build good 3G phones and tablets but they are off the mark about their customer base. In addition, they decided to follow others into the market instead of leading the industry. They have lost their marketing edge in  sea of change and it may continue to cost them as they now have to compete in the tablet market with many competitors and with the leader who is already into their second generation product. RIM is playing competitor catchup, which is always a dangerous game.
If their key smart phone business begins to falter further and if there is a downturn in government spending on communications equipment they will suffer a deeper gash in their revenues. If the economy also goes sour in the private sector then they will continue to slide. And in a downturn someone in the US Congress is going to ask why Americans are buying Canadian made and designed products when budgets are being cut. 
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The contemporary economic system seems broken. It's time for something new.

The general sense of economic malaise persists. Let’s create a Cloud Dollar web based economy.
by Tom Thorne

When Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the current alleged economic recovery remains “fragile”, I think he is telling us to prepare for another downturn. The signs are everywhere. Blackberry maker Research in Motion is laying off staff and retooling their battle with Apple iPhone and other smart phone competitors. The Canadian federal government is cutting staff and playing hard back to work legislative games with its labour unions. In addition, the Obama administration is hovering on a budget supply crisis that could shut down the Government of the United States. Also, North American personal debt loads are the highest in history.
Add to this that the stock markets have been down for six weeks as confidence wanes. Youth unemployment among the well educated stubbornly continues wasting brains and talent. The creaking economic system seems poised for another correction probably brought on by record government debt, and especially the debt crises in Europe focusing on Ireland, Greece, and Portugal. 
After the last Meltdown nothing really substantial happened to rebuild the economy except governments printed money as  their meagre response to maintain the economic status quo. The mess financial institutions created with their shabby reselling of doubtful mortgages and other junk paper has gone largely uncorrected. That leaves a lot of people still suffering as a result with home foreclosures and stubborn joblessness.
Traditional economics is in the hands of fools
Unemployment remains high and growing.  Economies like China fix the exchange rates of their currencies with other world currencies helping to mount up debt for the Western world who buy their goods. It’s a kind of economic warfare where debt is held to maintain the status quo. There is no way that Chinese nine percent growth rates can be sustained without the world economy buying their goods as we and the Chinese all found out during and after the Meltdown. However, the Chinese continue their same economic policies of fixed currency exchange with no relief in sight.
The Chinese were shocked when they learned about a free economy’s “unseen hand” as their overheated economic activity and blatant use of resources began to slip when customer demand fell off in the West.  And although Chinese internal demand is large because people there still want to escape poverty as their main goal, it needs a lot of work to really serve the internal demand of the bulk of the Chinese population. 
It’s better for the Chinese government to export rather than serve the poor of their own countryside. The Chinese poor’s daily survival is a long way from building a middle class lifestyle that a few Chinese experience inside their hermetically sealed economic zones. Internal Chinese “progress” is a house of cards as long as a two-tiered economy is allowed to continue.
If the US can’t pay its way and continues to run up multi trillion dollar deficits, the result will be a devaluation of the American dollar as a world standard.  It is doubtful that the Yuan from China will gain world confidence in its inflated form and the Euro is also remain under pressure with defaulting countries along with the debt ridden British economy and its weakened Pound. There is only so much shoring up that Europe can do to stem economic collapse.
The modest proposal
Perhaps it is time for a virtual currency to arise on the web to really become the world standard. We could call this new virtual currency The Cloud Dollar. We could open virtual banks and capitalize them with Cloud dollars and if we could all agree to use them, then this new virtual currency could become the world standard.
Imagine logging onto iTunes for your favourite music or app and using Cloud Dollars to buy your choices? Why not? A Cloud Dollar is every bit as good as a US dollar or a credit card that is mired in debt. The US dollar could be renamed President Pictures and become collector’s items. 
Here’s how this new economy would start up. If you have an internet connection that is in your name, then you get a credit of 1000 Cloud Dollars which is equivalent to the value of $1000 US dollars. You start the ball rolling in this virtual economy by banking your 1000 Cloud Dollars in a Cloud Bank of your choice where you are paid 100 more Cloud dollars for making a deposit and interest of 3 percent per annum on balances.
You are laughing now aren’t you?  Well if you accept Cloud Dollars as a medium of exchange on the internet to start the internet economy you will be removed from all the current nonsense we have in the alleged “real economy”.  Each web transaction can only be made in Cloud Dollars. You start this economy going by spending and circulating your Cloud Dollars.
Cloud Banks can generate money. For each Cloud Dollar on deposit they can lend or create capital on a 5 to 1 ratio.  So your $1000 Cloud Dollar deposit in a Cloud Bank generates $5000 Cloud Dollars to lend out. If you need more Cloud dollars then you go to a Cloud bank for a loan. This Cloud money lends out at five percent. So the Cloud banks get a two percent spread. Since they are fully automated on Cloud servers they don’t have huge costs to cover.
Cloud loans are given to start up web businesses that use only Cloud dollars for their transactions. Soon people in the “real economy” will offer products and services in the Cloud Mall which will only be available on line for payment in Cloud dollars. When this happens Cloud Dollars will take on a value the same as any currency.
Cloud dollars made on the web will only be banked in Cloud banks and then loaned out at the 5 to 1 ratio to create more Cloud economic activity. This circumnavigates the now passé currencies of the US dollar, Euro, Pound and Yuan. 
Soon there will be Cloud entrepreneurs and likely Cloud millionaires. They will create more economic activity on the web. Imagine a Cloud Exchange where valuable companies with great ideas will be capitalized without Wall Street, or any other entity of the old economic order. Is it a dream? You be the judge.
© Copyright, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

What else is new? Stephen Harper is right of centre.

Air Canada and Canada Post: The Harper government’s labour relations are very much to the right of the political spectrum. 
by Tom Thorne
On 3 and 4 May I wrote two stories about what we could expect from the Harper government. At that time, I said, that Prime Minister Harper could take the high road towards a more centre politics for Canada because his majority was achieved by barely 38 percent of the voters. 
The other option was no matter what the mandate he received in percentage terms he  could become a shade of Mrs. Thatcher. Well Harper’s approach to the Air Canada and Post Office strikes indicate a more Thatcherite approach. The Harper government’s view of labour relations are very much in line with the right. In parliament today Harper described the Air Canada and Canada Post strikes as: “threatening to jeopardize economic recovery.”
Under the guise of “the economy is fragile” rhetoric Harper’s cabinet has put in motion legislation to order the Air Canada workers back to work, barely 24 hours into their strike and less than two weeks of rotating postal strikes. That seems excessive and the rhetoric is certainly over the top and far too strong. 
Strikes are threats to the fragile recovering economy...says Harper
Then today there was another announcement that the Canada Post strike will also not be tolerated by the Harper government.  After the workers were locked out by their management this morning  it  appears that the Harper government is prepared to become the arbitrator of collective bargaining especially if a service has a federal government relationship. Today, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt has put both unions on formal notice that they will be legislated back to work.
What will be interesting is whether private sector strikes will also be subject to the “the economy is fragile” and “threatening to jeopardize economic recovery” arguments of this government. Will they respect the collective bargaining process in the private sector? Or will they continue to use the heavy hand of their majority to tighten their grip on Canadian labour relations in general? There are certainly shivers in the federal public service tonight.
The temptations of power are all too present in the haste of these two decisions. At least  they are meeting parliament to bring on their legislation. However, after the summer recess of Parliament begins, watch for a more Star Chamber approach with cabinet orders in council being used to solve labour and other problems during the vacation period.
Of course Jack Layton and the NDP opposition will always call for a negotiated end to the strikes. He calls the Harper Government’s back to work legislation “draconian”.  I think Jack Layton and the rest of us should get used to much more arbitrary behaviors as the Harper majority puts its right wing agenda stamp on Canadian life and polarizes our political life in this country to a simple right and left choice. 
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Monday, 13 June 2011

Chain local newspapers never made investments in the future. They see the web in the same way.

Why local print newspapers are dying.
by Tom Thorne
The quality of the material produced in these chain newsrooms is akin to a bar tender watering down beer. In the past they served a purpose of getting new journalists exposed to real life, sending them out to cover local stories, doing the tough job of getting the picture of the dead teenager killed in a car crash, and generally learning the editorial process. Before there were journalism schools these newsrooms were the only places to learn the craft and many great journalists cut their teeth in these schools of hard knocks.  
At the local level the skeleton editorial staff put out a daily paper where perhaps 15-20 percent of its pages were and remain local stories that originated in the  paper’s local newsroom. The economic realities of putting out a daily paper in small town Canada ensured that new journalists learned how their stories would be slashed  and compromised by the need for generating advertising revenues. It was a lesson for journalists in Economics 101. It was always a tug and pull. Editorial needs were always second after the advertising department had their needs satisfied. It was an editorial survival of the fittest environment. 
Much of the local coverage was often planted by organizations who wanted promotional coverage for their local events and fund raising activities. National centralized newsroom material was regurgitated from Canadian Press, and only rewritten to fit it into the space left after the advertising was placed on the page. It was a grim training for any new journalist.
Websites were not the answer
In their attempt to stem their print edition demise these local papers started websites. They put local material up from and general material from their head office for free surrounding it with about the same percentage of ads as they had in print. Classified ads and death notices were big on the web as they were in print. This was their attempt to go with the web technological flow but there was never enough budget to keep abreast of of technological changes especially at the local level.
Then the management of these chains decided that editorial could be better if more was produced centrally and sent out to the hinterland as a way to save more money on local human editorial costs.  This was, in chain management's view, an exciting and innovative use of the new web technology. 
One case I know in some detail is typical of the lack of investment made by these chains even when they went to the web. First of all they reluctantly put in a few new computers which had to be shared. The big graphic screen they used for layout was for the advertising department first and for the editorial department second. 
They didn’t make any commitment to keeping their software current. One time I tried to send them a photograph and it simply would not work at their end. So I went downtown to see why. They were still using Apple OS 4.5 and I (and everyone else) were by that time using OS10. So going to the web and using computers was severely compromised because the head office would make no local budget available to keep up to date. 

Their archaic software ensured that even advertising agencies could not email their ads to them as attachments but had to rely on courier services for late inserts. Advertising had also been centralized at the head office but their planning called for software and computers to last at least five years with no updates.
Lost business to weekly papers
Once each week the same local editorial content appeared in competing weekly newspapers whose bulk was made up by big box store and grocery store flyers that the local paper had lost as its subscription list began to shrink.  As a result, there is little need for the print version of our local daily paper even from an advertiser’s point of view.  
Even in the pre-web days these local papers were mere shades of national and head office media. The web has heightened what was always a problem with newspaper chains. Recent graduates of journalism schools always cut their teeth in the chain newsrooms all over Canada and the good ones gravitated back to major markets after this sobering training. It was the same for broadcasting graduates who got first jobs in local radio stations. 
In a past life in the 1980s, working for TVOntario, I often visited these sparse chain newsrooms across Ontario trying to interest them in the expansion of the TVOntario network transmitters we were building. Chain owners spent as little as possible on local editorial content and the place where the few journalists toiled had all the charm of a Soviet railway station. They had poor morale and so they had very little interest in TVO’s  potential impact on their community. 
It was a Spartan experience furnished with drab grey metal desks. These dismal places reminded you of the art direction for 1930’s classic journalism movie Front Page. The newsrooms I remember often had grubby peeling paint, poor lighting and heating systems that never worked and dated computers splattered by coffee stains.  They were clearly out of town and very much out of touch, which may account more for their decline and demise than anything else. 
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Apple's iCloud service leads to other more interesting developments.

A strategic look at the concentration of data and information outside of your personal computer.
by Tom Thorne
Apple’s announcement of iCloud this last week is only a symptom of a bigger trend. Apple wants you to store and distribute your pictures, data and files remote from your personal computer and then retrieve them from their new servers. There is a natural affinity when you create networks, or as in this case webs of connection, to think that somewhere out there is a giant web node that is the core of all that is useful. That is what Apple and Google, and possibly a few other companies, want you to think as they launch these services. 
So what is the idea that  Apple and Google are trying out on you? Basically they have created large banks of servers to store and distribute your personal information and content.  Apple recently spent one billion dollars setting up the hardware and software for iCloud. There is nothing wrong with Apple’s enterprise except personal computer users can do it themselves for less than $100 per terabyte if they want.  I can store my own information right on my desktop and I can easily share it with a smart phone or iPad.  Apple tried this idea before with Mobile Me when they charged $99.00 per year connecting that service with iWeb which is why I conclude that they are interested in hosting content. iCloud will now provide this service free starting this fall. 
Free on-line storage creates marketing information...and opportunity for those that provide the service...
This blog is also stored for free on Google’s blogspot server, so I ask if these companies are prepared to store my data and information for free what’s in for them? They provide this hub for something else they want.  In this blog’s case I provide Google with the potential of placing cross promotional advertising on my content. Of course I get to promote my journalistic work so its not such a bad deal.
The argument Apple and Google present is that personal computers, iPads and mobile smart phones need a storage place to off load the information they generate or  simply to save music and film downloads.  Apple wants you to send them your entire iTunes library for storage. Why? Well they can know what you bought, what you like, and also what you have not bought or purloined. All this information has the potential to build up a customer profile and will result in tailored promotions hitting your email. How private can a service like this be? 
It will be a market researcher’s paradise no matter how much the service providers deny it. The customer data generated by iCloud will tempt even the most  high minded company from a straight and narrow privacy path. Earlier this year  Apple was found to be storing geographic locations of their iPhone users. Naturally there was denial that they ever used this information. However, I remain skeptical about the temptations data collection presents to even the most high minded of companies. The data and information collected by iCloud will exceed the iPhone experience. 
Implications of iCloud-like installations
Let’s look at the implications of big centralized servers. Several days ago I wrote in this space that I thought the next step would be searching the web with artificial intelligence search engines  located in several large data centres. iCloud and similar plans by Google and Amazon are at a first level designed to cement customer loyalty for Apple, Blackberry, or other mobile communication techniques that are current.
ICloud works when all your files are on the Apple server and with a few keystrokes you can download to your smart phone, iPad and computer your favourite music, photos and files. iCloud provides a central place to distribute your information to yourself or to your friends.
In addition, a development out of iCloud and similar ventures by Apple’s competition will create super hubs of not only customer mp3 files, photos, and files, but also blogs and editorial products that the users create that need storage and retrieval. That will mean that these new super hubs will have a lot of content on them such as web sites, blogs, epublications, short editorial content not just data and information. They are, in effect, becoming editorial distributors by default. 
This fact will offer the companies who were into this early to control content hubs that they can sell advertising around even more aggressively than they do at the moment with such services as Google Adsense. Watch the new services they will offer once you register to send your data and information or editorial materials to iCloud.  One only has to examine what Google offers me for this blog to clearly see this trend developing much further when Apple gets iCloud service rolling by the fall of 2011.
More about artificial intelligence search engines.
But let’s stop. Much of what I have discussed to this point is obvious. What is not obvious at this point in time for the implications of centralized storage and retrieval? What they are doing now is within the bounds of existing techniques. The development of other mobile friendly techniques and services are in the wings. Here's a prediction.
A super hub like iCloud will be the first to offer artificial intelligence search engines by about 2012 or 2013. Apple long and medium term planning can only involve entering the search engine business and when they do it will be very innovative and designed to set back Google and Yahoo a few notches.  They will also build this major web change into an integrated OS11 and their iPhone and iPad operating system will also go to a OS6 release with intelligent smarts to search the web. You heard it here first.
This service will enable the user to conduct a dialogue with a smart search engine in natural language or by texting. A system like this can build editorial content.  In nanoseconds these systems will be able to search an obscure need such as the following dialogue indicates:
User: Show me the ancient Egyptian step pyramid complex at Saqqara.
iSearch: There are photographs, schematic drawings, isometric diagrams.
User: Are there any aerial photographs?
iSearch: There are 1,200 aerial photographs of Saqqara available.
User: Choose one hundred of the most recent aerial photographs from all angles and display them.
iSearch: There is also a 360 degree aerial video in 1080p
User: Show the video.
iSearch: Should I compile your Saqqara information into your iCloud account as “Saqqara”?
User:  Call the file “Saqqara research” and also download it to my iPad.  Check all copyrights. Thanks iSearch
iSearch: I can link “Saqqara research” to other information on this topic if you like?
User: No thanks iSearch just leave an index list on iCloud and on my iPhone. 
iSearch:  All completed. Goodbye.
Here are some links to show what my hypothetical iSearch artificial intelligence engine could dig up in nanoseconds. It took me three minutes using Google. Take a look and think about how this information could be edited to the user’s needs by a smart search engine.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Honouring our Canadian World War II Normandy dead at Beny-sur-mer Cemetery

6 June 1944: Canadians land at Juno Beach in Normandy
by Tom Thorne
Today is the 67th Anniversary of the allies landing in Normandy. On that day Canadians landed on Juno Beach and began the arduous task of moving inland against determined German opposition. The last time I was in this part of Normandy was in 1996 when my wife and our two youngest children Peter and Alexandra made a trip down the French Atlantic coast on our way to visit friends in Spain. We saw a lot on that trip but the day we spent on and near our Juno Beach landing site left an indelible impression on all of us.
One of the most poignant places you can visit is our Canadian War Cemetery at Beny-sur-mer. It is located on high ground behind Juno. A veteran of that time, and the father of one of our closest friends landed several days after 6 June with his engineering unit. His initial task he told me was to put in Bailey Bridges on the way to Caen. That job was truncated because of the intense action going on in front of Caen and so this engineering unit was given a new task.
The new job was to quickly layout the Beny-sur-mer Cemetery site so the burial of our Canadian dead could start. It was needed. The bodies that had been brought back from the front were lying in an adjacent field and the smell of decomposition was overwhelming.
Our friend’s father began to layout the cemetery and as fast has it was laid out the bodies were placed in their graves. A solemn moment. Years later, when this engineering officer was attending a senior officer Staff College he went out on a Normandy tour with the people on his course. When they got to Beny-sur-mer their tour bus pulled up in front of the gate. The tour guide said: “This is a Canadian War cemetery, we won’t have time to get out and see it.” Then the tour bus quickly drove off and Colonel Leslie Brown never got to see the place he laid out with his engineering platoon in 1944.
Years later, while at a funeral reception for his wife, Colonel Brown and I got to talking because we were about to go on our trip to Normandy. That’s when I got this story you have just read. I told him I would take photos of the Beny-sur-mer and bring them back for him.  I did just that.
Resources: A short YouTube video

Honour roll of Canadian D-Day dead.

© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, Please copy this item 

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Explore the next level of web search engines. They will be smarter.

The structure of the World Wide Web and the business it generates will eventually rely on artificial intelligence search engines to find and assemble a story.
by Tom Thorne
Back in the 1980’s when Tim Berners-Lee and others were formulating the software and protocol structure of the World Wide Web the last application they thought about was the phenomenon of social media and search engines the way they have developed. Of course they foresaw the natural cross promotional aspects of the web’s structure but not how that structure would actually be put to use by web entrepreneurs. It is time now to rethink how the web develops towards 2020.
The big growth on the web is really in two areas. First there is an immediate need for a roadmap into the morass of  web sites that literally grow exponentially each minute of the day. This need spawned search engines and honed the development of sophisticated web browsers. The next level of this software will be a type of artificial intelligence.
Web browsers are the key...
A web browser is really your personal computer, smart phone or ipad entry point into the web. Most operating systems that run these devices to find store and retrieve files are fast smooth and very dumb.  However, the OS and web browser extensions of it are probably the most important software protocol that makes the web accessible from all platforms. It interprets codes and protocols for graphics and text and if needed it even finds a search engine site for you to delve further into the web. Browsers are key to the web wild west. Search engines are the links and maps into its content. Search engines have to get smarter and more sophisticated.
It is interesting that contemporary search engine companies have come to dominate the commercialized web with their huge revenues. They provide essential services to take users into the so called “electronic highway”. They are the pathfinders into the web and while they do this task they pepper users with commercial opportunities and hence become valuable to advertisers. 
On this blog I have activated Google Ad Sense to demonstrate the connection between the marketing promotional mix and finding what you want and linking ads to content. This connection will only get finer and finer delivering highly targeted prospects to advertisers. That speaks to a need for faster, smoother and smarter search engine software.
Personal security issues...
The other side of this is personal security issues as your personal tastes are tracked by advertisers building ultimately a very accurate profile of your interests and habits. Only in the digital electric age is this possible and because it is possible someone, somewhere will be gathering this valuable data. 
Search engines are also in the mapping business and to that end provide intriguing sites like Google Earth employing satellite data to find any coordinate on the planet. No doubt at some moment in time they will mine the Hubble Space Telescope data and provide us with Google Universe and as we become space travelers. Search engines may become the first technique from earth to help us colonize planets.
The real business search engine companies are in, however, is data mining. They find other people’s data and information, massage it with software, and present the user with a list, path, trail, road or if you are really lucky a highway to what you want to find out. They do not take information at this time and turn it into editorial content. They do virtually no editorial work  and limit their interest to finding what is there and report what they find to the user. This activity has been extremely profitable. 
Search engines are only as good as the words they are given by users to look for and as a result their searches are often broad and off the mark and simply demonstrates the lack of subtlety of the current search engines. 
The future of  web search engines...
We are a long way off from a HAL 9000 Super Computer as portrayed in the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. In that movie HAL is the ultimate search engine. He was programmed with or has access to a network of HALs on earth. This networked system contains all or most of human knowledge.  This fictional HAL machine could distinguish an information request with human like acumen. Although built into the space ship as a set of all seeing and listening terminals this computing device had software that could sense what you needed and speculate on the end use for the information. It understood natural language with all of its subtleties.
Artificial intelligence can make associations of information to create new information and new ideas, speculations and projections. I predict we will have HAL like (artificial intelligence)  search engines on the web long before the end of this decade.  A HAL  like system could produce an online news service without too much human intervention or provide editing hence taking its controllers into the realm of content production for the first time. 
Social media such as Facebook and Twitter are really personal and corporate information hubs.  The strength of social media is it s constantly linked from and to itself from most websites and is the real use of the web’s structures of hyperlinks. It is a clearing place for information, clues, promotions and directions into the web. Social media is online public and media relations. Imagine a search engine that could scour the web for like-minded individuals, papers, articles, etc. and create a knowledge base. A HAL 9000 could do this. “Hal, find everyone who likes Mars bars.”
The visual form of this type of site is YouTube where video information is exchanged. All of these social media sites are open and free to use so again the companies that provide these locations are supported by advertising and by providing user data to those advertisers. 
Smarter search engines have implications...
But smarter search engines could review disparate video in nanoseconds and again show links and make new information available first at the level of compiling and then finally to the level of editing the material together. Such a search engine could take all of the YouTube film, material from security cameras, cell phones, posted jpegs from personal cameras and professional journals and produce a narrative account of what happened in Cairo in Tahrir Square as part of the recent Egyptian Revolution. It would manage all times the footage was shot, the angles of shots related to Google Earth data of central Cairo and recreate the event. It could also indentify people in the crowd and relate this information to passport and identity checks. What a useful tool for secret police forces.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved