Sunday, December 18, 2011

Fluid information reality

When I was a kid back in the 20th century, it was a BIG DEAL to be read around the world, and part of the reason was the vast amount of resources needed to accomplish the task.  Someone had to print, maybe translate, and publish in country after country which usually meant you were either very important or had a lot of money yourself.

For a music artist to be in multiple countries was back then considered an extraordinary achievement, so artists might just concentrate on their home country, and look at foreign distribution as a distant possibility, as for records, well, someone had to stamp out those records, long ago, before CD's and now pure digital distribution.

But today an artist can just put up a video on YouTube.

Information moves around our world with a fluidity that has disconnected from money, as the vast infrastructure of the web, and the investment of billions of dollars worldwide to create it, has to a large extent removed money from the information flow equation, so now it is more important to be more interesting.

And I think about such things partly because I have distribution around the world myself, with very little money invested, or returned, like with my open source project.  Checking now for this post--such easy access to information--I see it had 719 downloads from 80 countries last month, which of course was November.

So, I have worldwide software distribution, because information is so fluid, where the downloads aren't even a lot!

That would have been impossible through most of the 20th century, before the rise of the Internet.

So that was 80 countries in just one month, and I'll admit that I didn't even know how many countries there were in the world till I started checking my web stats.  Across my various websites, including my blogs, I am read annually from 100+ countries, every single year.  And it has been that way for years.

(Curious about today?  Checking Blogger stats I have hits so far today from the US, UK, Germany, Finland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Serbia and South Africa, as of 10:49 am PST.)

Now the fluidity of information has dramatic impact on lots of things, including politics!  And it is fascinating to watch political races and see politicians try to use 20th century techniques against a 21st century fluidity of information.

So, for instance, they can spend lots of money on television advertising only to find it is all invalidated by some tweets on Twitter, which go viral, or even worse, a YouTube video which goes viral and maybe even just destroys the candidate.

That couldn't happen in the 20th century.

Then knowing how to manage television and PR, as well as spin meant a politician had a lot of time to crash and burn, with mitigation techniques which required a lot of money.

Today a politician's career can be crushed in minutes.

As information fluidity changes our world rapidly, it is intriguing to watch as people shift, and for me, fascinating to watch as politicians evolve.

Some are already brilliant, effectively using social media while their opponents waste vast sums of money to no avail.

It is a different world than when I was a kid, growing up in the 20th century, and I welcome the change, as it was so boring seeing the same politicians over and over again trotting out the same boring lies.

Today, they have to be much more creative, and, well, fluid.

James Harris

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Thanks for the downloads!

Would like to take the time and thank people for the continuing interest in my Class Viewer project. Checking SourceForge stats for this post I have 5078 downloads from 118 countries so far this year, which I think is really cool.

As that brings me good feelings I think I should take the time to acknowledge it and thank you.

Thank you to those of you who have interest in this project.

The project is what I like to call a middleware app which relies primarily on the Java Reflections Api.

It began in 2002 as a test program for my study for the Java Certification and was put on SourceForge in 2004.

The program itself should work indefinitely through releases of the Java language as it primarily puts a GUI on Java Reflections, so as changes are made to Java it shifts as well. Nonetheless I monitor to see if any changes invalidate any aspect of it. So far that has not happened.

James Harris

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Return of the thin client

When I took my first college course back in 1982, the computer I worked on was not a desktop general purpose computer, but a mainframe. Access was through a terminal--the original thin client.

I remember sitting at the screen those first excited times, happy to be finally able to play with a real live computer after having watched so much sci-fi and then disappointed with how little I was able to do. But then again I was only 12. My mom had put me in a (boring) computer course at the local community college.

Regardless, the reality for computer use for quite a while was access to a mainframe from a terminal, which for some has never changed, while for most the pc, or personal computer was the general purpose device that gave them their first computer experience.

However, the thing is so powerful that for most it is a mysterious box. And for experienced computer users like myself, it is often a mysterious box, and as the disk drive light flashes, and I can hear it whirring, I often wonder to myself, what in the hell is it doing?

Today more specialized computing allows people more precision in fitting their needs, from these incredible mobile phones that do just about anything, to e-readers and who knows what else, you can specialize.

The web has emerged as kind of the ultimate mainframe.

And we can plug into it through our general purpose desktop computers, but I've found that often that is a waste of power as I spend all day on the web, doing things like, well like typing this blog post!

Why should I have a very powerful general purpose desktop wasting cycles on just using the super computer most people know as the World Wide Web?

So I'm quite happy that thin clients are back in force with the Chrome OS, and I kind of get an extra kick as a few years ago I was predicting the rise of the BOS, short for Browser Operating System.

The post was May 2008, and I titled it somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but I think that name is appropriate. Little did I know at that time that it would be over three years before I'd find time to comment on a company putting one on the market.

But then again, with ideas often it takes a little while, and hey, I get to toss out that I was one of the people predicting such a thing some time ago. Reading over what was a bit of a rant I have to chuckle, but also I feel gratified. I was, after all, right I'm sure.

As computing becomes more specialized we all benefit. Efficiency--machines that don't waste their time, or ours--is the result. And hey, maybe I can spend less time wondering what in the hell the computer is doing, as I know what it is doing.

It is working, for me.

James Harris

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Discovering new classes with Class Viewer

A while back I noticed myself using the Java StringBuilder class. But if I learned about that class long ago I don't remember it happening, and finally stopped to ask myself, how do I know about it now?

Answer is that I use the String class as my primary example class with my Class Viewer program. I was coming up with more examples or something and it turns out when I look at the String class with my program, there in the Constructors section is a construction of a String with StringBuilder.

It must have caught my eye, and I started using it without thinking about it much.

What I've noticed that Class Viewer gives me is a quick reference tool that is constantly updated. If there are any new public constructors, methods or fields to a class, I can see them immediately.

Beats having a book that may become outdated.

And that is how I started using a new class with String. Also notice that to keep up with the bulk of classes that handle Strings I can just use Class Viewer and only remember the String class itself, which is what I do.

Leaves more room to remember more important things.

James Harris

Sunday, May 01, 2011

My tab ad video idea

I like to do web searches around things related to my research and various interests, like on the names of my blogs, so I was doing a search on "lostincomment" and was fascinated to find a link to Search Engine Journal showing comments I made almost 3 years ago--back May 12th according to the date on the site--in response to an article they were doing about Youtube launching new ads for video.

Thing is I used to sit around and think about monetizing Youtube, for various reasons, and toss ideas out there like on my blogs. And one day I'm thinking to myself, hey, they should have a tab on popular videos that says "Ad Supported" and if people want to see the ad and who is sponsoring the video, they would have to click on the tab! (I know, maybe seems a little dumb.)

Here's a link to the Search Engine Journal article with comments.

And here's a link to my original idea on my Lost in Comment blog: Stealthier advertising

I still think my original idea is clever, even though presumably most people would never click on the "Ad" tab, so never see the sponsor, but others might and sit through a full commercial.

So I'm tossing it back out there into the mix. Of course Youtube monetization is not the news item it was way back then when so many questioned if Google could ever figure it out.

James Harris

Monday, February 28, 2011

Problem solving healthcare

Techniques in problem solving appear to be a lot more advanced than knowledge of them, which is unfortunate given the growing list of problems that are critical in our everyday lives. I was lucky enough as a kid to have courses on problem solving and also to have a lot of personal reading on the subject. As an adult I am at times mystified when solutions that seem simple to me not only are not known, but people still don't do them even when given solutions that are easy, and easy to explain.

Like consider healthcare insurance which is big in the news a lot lately as well it should be. Healthcare costs are a growing cost of government, and they are spiraling out of control, where one major issue is insuring everyone.

Insurance companies don't want to insure sick people, or people they deem very likely to get sick.

People need insurance though and politicians try to force insurance companies to "insure" people when it really just becomes paying their medical bills as it's no longer insurance when you know the person is already sick, or very likely to get sick. Kind of like asking auto insurance companies to give car insurance to people after the car has been in a wreck.

Oddly enough, politicians seem intent on framing the problem as evil insurance companies, when the proper framing of the problem appears to be, who pays for people who are ill or likely to become ill.

Seem like a small shift? Not really.

I worked for a while at a corporation that had a health insurance company that third party administered its health insurance. So the health insurance company issued us their insurance card, but our company actually paid the insurance costs.

What makes that story even more remarkable to me was that I was working at an insurance company. Naively you might wonder why they didn't just do the insurance themselves, which I wondered. Turns out it was better business to let another insurance company do the administration, while they paid the actual money out.

So if the problem is who pays for people for whom "insurance" is the wrong word, simple answer I'd think is the government, but they still have the same insurance as everyone else, in that they get the same card, but are third party administered.

See? All that from properly framing the problem, but it gets better.

If health insurance companies only directly insure healthy people but everyone has the same insurance while the government just pays for some who are third party administered, then they have a business incentive to keep people healthy!!!

Wow. We just went from evil insurance companies that won't "insure" sick people to benefit partners who work to keep people healthy.

Can that system be gamed?

How? If health insurance companies can only directly bill healthy people what possible incentive might they have to, say, diminish their profit area by saying someone is not healthy if they are? And why would they claim someone ill is healthy? Then they're back to the issue they have today!

I've given more on the pluses and minuses with a full plan that I tweeted a while back and then expanded on one of my other blogs.

I tweeted it July 26th and put it on my blog September 9th, in 2009.

I've watched the healthcare debate with a lot of interest since then, and what is clear to me is that demonizing insurance companies is about asking them to not do the business of insurance, but instead engage in social welfare, without calling it such, when they can be valuable forces for good, by having a simple system that allows them to work hard to increase the number, yup, of healthy people who would be happily paying customers.

Oh, so what happens when a healthy person gets sick? Their insurance company pays to the limits of the policy. Beyond those limits that person gets paid for by the government, but they keep their insurance company which begins third party administration.

So is there some reason it would be really hard for third party administration on the national level? I'll admit, I do not know. Looking for web information on it, here's something I found on the Wikipedia, which I think can give an idea:

Oh, and what about government entities that already take care of people like Medicare and Medicaid?

Under this idea they'd no longer be necessary.

The government would pay for people who were third party administered and would collect their insurance premiums (yes, you'd still pay premiums if you could afford them), so the cost of administration would be shifted off of the government and onto the insurance companies, leaving the government to handle the social welfare role.

Leaving the business of insurance, to the insurance companies.

James Harris