Category Archives: Future Tech

2015, Marty McFly, and Programming.

Lots of internet posts, memes, and even videos have appeared to lament the missed predictions for 2015 from Back to the Future. However, one thing is for certain, we’ve seen a lot of other predictions come true.

We may not have a hover-board that will allow us to cruise across ponds, but we’ve got some awesome new tools.

1. Google Android Studio

http://developer.android.com/sdk/index.html

This thing has some real potential. Until now most of our developers have been using Eclipse which isn’t exactly an Android IDE, but merely a Java IDE. Initial impressions: “wow”. Our clients may opt to just build their own droid apps with technology becoming so self-contained and interactive.

2. Wearables

http://www.android.com/wear/

We’re not there yet, but 2015 could be the year. Android beat Apple to the punch in 2014 but Apple is set to release their offering which is sure to inspire all manufacturers to imagine and put their best foot forward. What’s still missing (and we have some ideas) is what “else” can a wearable do? Google Glass for instance, really missed the price point in its first iteration, but we don’t expect that we’ve seen the last of that. On our wrists we want more than a watch, or calculator, or even view of our emails. What can be cleverly fit there? Expecting some big surprises in 2015.

3. Code Automation

http://macaw.co/

WYSIWYG has always managed to stay just a little bit too good to be true. I’m having flashbacks of Visual Studio form layouts that don’t quite look good enough “snapped to grid” only to end up meticulously go to the properties of multiple elements to adjust the dimensions manually. Or gosh, remember the Dreamweaver days of little golden shields? As dynamic content became more functional those little golden shields took over the whole WYSIWYG pipe-dream. 2015 may finally turn designers into full-on coders, but this is probably one of the least likely scenarios in the list today.

4. SaaS

We shall believe it when we see it. 2015 will bring about more offerings, and while Google Docs and TurboTax have managed to establish some niches, other common offerings continue to disappoint. The problem in this space seems to be lack of ambition. Just last week we had a client demonstrate their new provider as they moved from ADP to Abila. It was like a bad movie that makes you want to spend time and money doing the public service of warning the world to avoid. Other niche offerings like FreshBooks or even some of the web-based anti-virus systems are volume based propositions. They exist because they managed to keep pricing very low and volume high. A crap shoot to say the least. This is probably our most off-the-wall prediction in this list, but expect 2015 to see SaaS decline as developer tools continue to enhance productivity and organizations continue the trend toward in-house teams. What in-house team is going to allow their shop to pay FreshBooks any significant monthly fee to do what any decent developer can build from scratch in a matter of a few days?

I imagine that 2015 will surprise us, but we’re off to the races with some of these tools and looking forward to it!

Adaptation, on the origin of the integrated health registry.

For more than two years I’ve witnessed firsthand the evolution of healthcare via skunk works in Southern Colorado. The concept seemed simple enough. The need to coordinate care for clients between multiple agencies.  With enough familiarity with the local resources that are available to guide, to “navigate”, to council medicaid members through their care decisions they’ll justify the extra effort in reducing waste from a few key areas. It seemed simple.

“I felt a bit like Noah suggesting that we build an ark.”

“The missing link in this evolution was the tool. EHR [Electronic Health Record] software is designed to document treatment from a limited and pretty specific list of specialties. Care coordination is an entirely different thing. Purposely broad and general in nature. I felt a bit like Noah suggesting that we build an ark. When the state seems to be suggesting that they are going to flood your organization with 100,000 new responsibilities a sense of urgency is an understatement. We panicked a bit in a very good way. Two years ago we panicked. Now it’s raining and we’re enjoying the rain. We didn’t misinterpret the signs. We’ve hit 60,000 members in January and that population is growing weekly. So far our ark is holding up.”

That “ark” is an application that Spanish Peaks refers to as an integrated health registry (IHR).

health-registry

“We originally just called it ‘the care coordination application’ internally, and then we called it ‘CareTracker’ until we discovered there was already an EHR of the same name and we were even using that EHR at one of our centers!”

Now they call it an integrated health registry. Whatever they call it the functions are crucial to the management of a large influx of members and needs.

“Just like Noah, we haven’t gotten to this point without our share of detractors. Now some of them are standing in the rain and still shaking their fists, pleading ignorance, and rationalizing their strategies. When the state gives us two years’ notice that our entire medicaid population is going to transition into a new model of accountable and integrated care, it’s imperative that we adapt.”

Adapt they did, and only now is the necessity of their new tool becoming evident. Spanish Peaks has now dedicated a large portion of a building and more than a handful of FTEs to this effort. Their jobs are somewhere between RN, social worker, and telemarketer. The contact management data they require and collect is just such a different schema from care-oriented electronic health record software.

“You can try to store your eggs in the cookie jar with the cookies, but it won’t be very efficient.”

“We realized early on that trying to use an EHR to do integrated care would be like trying to jam a square peg into a round hole. There are names and addresses, basic demographics like any system, but beyond that one needs to get far too creative to justify creating bogus treatment plans, placeholder services, and then tripping through the clumsy process all that would necessitate. You can try to store your eggs in the cookie jar with the cookies, but it won’t be very efficient.”

Spanish Peaks Behavioral Health Centers of Southern Colorado have leveraged technology effectively to perfect integrated care coordination through their integrated health registry program. When asked about the technology:

“We’re mostly a Microsoft shop, and we’ve combined a few key products in an unconventional way. Not the expensive products either. This effort cost the organization nothing in new licensing.”

When pressed further, one of the developers admitted with a smirk:

“I didn’t say it was entirely Microsoft. I said mostly. So 51% or so, make of that what you want. We’ve had to roll with a lot of punches, so this thing had to be fantastically flexible, but also functionally concise. We’re back to not even knowing what to call it, but in my 20 years of software development I’ve never seen a system architecture quite like this. It is quite literally infinitly flexible, without being cumbersome. That’s a tough balance to maintain on top of the rigorous security requirements.”

I got a peek at their system and it is quite unique. The user interface looked more like a colorful PDF report than an average windows application. Yet tap elements in the report and the magic begins. On the Windows Surface tablet I was using – rumor has it it works on iPads too – the gestures and format were very intuitive. A drill-down report that was literally a robust interface to a full featured IHR (Integrated Health Registry), or whatever they decide to call it next month. Leadership in Integrated Care coming from a rural area of Southern Colorado. Newsworthy.

-Josh

Fancy Frameworks and Trendy Tech

I wonder if in a few years coding to spec will come back in style and I’ll have to start wearing skinny jeans and using a Mac. I kinda hope not. Coding to spec instead of trying to fit the spec into a subset of pre-existing modules is a nice niche. MVC and such are nice conventions, but public conventions can be a security risk in and of themselves. Sure you can call them “standards” but having predated social media driven “standards” doesn’t mean we didn’t have “standards” we just had to understand them much better than the fanfare of today’s pretentious “guru” atmosphere. We had to actually code to spec.

I really gave “test-driven” development a shot… but what a laugh! It’s like having to do everything twice. I imagine that’s important for beginners, but after 20 years of coding I’ll just do it right the first time thanks. The first time you spend an hour debugging someone else’s “test” you’ll have to question if there really is a baby in that nasty bath water.

It’s amazing how lean and mean code written for the spec can be compared to the bloat of piles of libraries just to get started with some packages. JavaScript is super easy and super powerful, yet how many people import JQuery just because they can’t code a 5 line function? Or for some reason believe they can’t maintain browser compatibility? Don’t they know that compatibility bugs in JQuery can last months? Any that show up in your function should take less time to fix than installing a new version of JQuery.

Alas, I’m afraid we’re bound to come full circle. After the last just-another-web-framework comes along and the déjà vu is undeniable, someone with skinny jeans, dark rimmed glasses, and a shirt that ensures that he cannot tie his shoes without mooning someone; that guy will profoundly declare to his bazillion Twitter zombies that coding to spec is the new bleeding edge. We just need to wait long enough for everyone to forget that option ever existed.

Google Maps, NY Guns, and reasonable data expectations.

While the entire nation was in an uproar about New York’s plunge over the slippery slope of lost public trust, one thing seemed obvious to a number cruncher like me. The map cannot possibly be current, complete, or even accurate, because the data cannot be. What has happened though, is we have realized that a State that requires gun registration can (and will) soon after release permit information to the public. Living in a state where permits are not required this makes me laugh. Perhaps the most practical result of liberal loons divulging what they believed to be gun owners’ addresses, will actually be a solid foundation for resistance to such a rule in states where registration is not required. How is that for contradicting their own agenda?

How simple was this to realize? Well, feel free to zoom into any site familiar to you on Google maps. Flip on “satellite” view, or even street view, and try to guess what year that photo was taken. I tried this with a house I moved out of in 2007 and there’s my truck in the driveway. With the piles of data that Google attempts to juggle there is only one answer to the processing challenge… batching. When trying to database the entire planet you can bet those batches can be separated by years, not days. Even websites on the internet have become so outdated in Google’s index that they will reference a non existent page for years after it was removed. This just keeps getting worse, but what’s even more suspicious is that Google represents the more competent side of this 2 sided coin.

In order to post “gun owner” addresses Google had to reference a government database of gun registrations. If you think my description of Google’s concurrency challenges was bad, the state is the worst. They are almost always as incompetent as they come. This isn’t 24, with Jack Bauer and a team of the best IT people in the world. I’ve known some good IT guys, and can assure you NONE of them would would work for the government for fear that gubment incompetence is contagious. So the formula is almost certainly useless. The saying: “good enough for government work” describes this syndrome pretty accurately.

Recently some wise states have begun asking the private sector to bail them out of the tangled mess that unaccountable pseudo-developers get them into. We get inquiries from government agencies regularly but we do not allow our staff to be held captive to misguided bureaucracy. They are too smart for that, so the only contracts we accept are self-managed. We don’t need no stinking Dilbertesque PHB experimenting with project management while we are on task. So watch out northwestern USA. If local government entities do get their act together the next time someone wants to publish a government dataset, the results might actually be correct!

Microsoft PubCenter Omen?

PubCenter for Content
The illusive PubCenter for Content!
It is true that there are a few web publishers that have the ability to put Microsoft’s PubCenter ads on their websites. We have seen the interface ourselves, and have come to learn a bit about it.

For the last few years Microsoft has not allowed new users to access this function and rumor has been that it is for a lack of ad inventory. A few folks that got in early have enjoyed some reasonable payouts on par with Google AdSense, and recently sometimes on par with the glory days of YPN (Yahoo Publisher Network). However, the interface was chintzy to say the least. Plagued with odd bugs and dysfunction. If Microsoft’s acquisition of Yahoo included a review of YPN it would undoubtedly have been chosen as the most ready-to-ship interface.

Accounts have remained available for integrating with Windows Phone 7 and Windows 8 applications. However, the web is full of laments about low payouts. Our clients tend to focus on Droid or iPhone, and neither are supported by Microsoft’s PubCenter. Whether short sighted, or strategic, it is what it is.

So now for the omen, at the end of last month we were contacted by a client that had noticed a drastic drop in ad revenue. As we mentioned before, the interface is bug ridden, not just a little bit. Our alpha demos typically have fewer bugs. If you click in the wrong place your browser may well go into a seizure of recursive reloading. Use any browser but IE and you’ll be lucky to get any results at all. QA has clearly been procrastinated. However, working with a group like a possibly rouge and obscure advertising team within a big organization like Microsoft requires some street smarts. If you so much as change your email address in a fragile system like this revenues could collapse to never recover. It’s a degree of paranoia that is necessary. Once you’ve got things balanced, don’t touch ’em! Don’t even comment in a forum about them — more less write a whole article — just leave them alone!

However, our client had carefully heeded our warning. Even resisting the urge to view reports too often for utter fear that the balance would collapse. It’s only weird if it doesn’t work right? Yet earnings were dropping, very quickly. Earnings that had remained stable for several years, offering nice bonuses on occasion, but never such a dive. We were confounded. Their traffic demographic was exactly the same. Other ad programs were actually earning more, not less. Coverage (the percent of pages that showed ads) was identical to prior months at 99%. Yet PubCenter has flat-lined.

On a call, we had to ask again, are you sure you didn’t change anything? They hesitated, and then finally admitted that they had attempted to submit a new W9 to the site. We lamented, first that they hadn’t explained this sooner, but secondly that this may be irreversible. Like an episode of House M.D., after a strained admission on the patient’s part, we had diagnosed the cause and we’re pretty certain that it is terminal.

So in delusional hope we offer other possibilities, this could be somehow related to the end of the year. Though that seems unlikely since their “publisher traffic quality score” steadily dropped from 10 (for over a year straight) to 1.5 within 6 weeks. The only other thought is that M$FT may be giving up on content ads altogether. It would be nice to hear from any of the endangered species of organization that may be running content ads via PubCenter. However unlikely as it may be, since those individuals have quickly learned to keep their heads down and not rock the boat.

We are now more like divers exploring a ship wreck than developers coding to standards. In the secretive world of online advertising, be it Google, or Microsoft, or even obscure 3rd parties, we are left with vague TOS documents that may or may not contain any clue as to why Zeus chose to frown on our client today. Instead we try a half dozen different things in hopes one will work. This client is lucky, they have an AdSense account already. That is until Google’s Zeus is unhappy with his breakfast and decides to take it out on the minions.

Holiday Tech

I’m probably the worst choice for writing this article, but my raving at the office about my kid’s new Xbox 360 landed me the task.

First let me say that Happy Action Theater for the Kinect is just plain fun for all ages. That is what I have raved about, is the fantastic sense of humor and imagination the makers at Double Fine demonstrate in this whimsical entertainment masterpiece. My kids love it, and I’ll admit floating around on a rock taking pot shots at them with my own fireball shooting hands is pretty entertaining too. As a bonus it appears that they are offering a free game until December 31st. I’ll be back in a minute.

Ok, so now that I got my anecdote off my chest, let’s move on to the future tech, as there are some neat developments. Firstly, let’s talk about phones, I will skip the iPhone for once, and jump right to Androids. Why? We’ve told you before, iPhones rarely offer anything to talk about. They are usually a quarter to a full 6 mos behind the other devices out there. Sure, they make some polished devices, but they don’t believe in “bleeding” edge, and probably could not even be called “cutting” edge. They rest safe and sound on the established tech, and for many this is a great thing.

For those of you who are “bleeders” here’s the scoop. 1920×1080 on a PHONE!! No joke, it’s for real. I remember when the first laptops came out that could do that resolution. They were monsters. Mac users remember when the Macs supported that, in fact I think it’s still maximum on the iMacs… but a phone!?!! Yes, the HTC DNA boasts 1920×1080, that’s FULL HD. Of course with a special cable you can plug this right into your HD TV via HDMI. That takes first place in my book, but be warned. There are rumors that many graphically demanding games perform poorly on this device because of the high resolution. I’ve seen figures as low as 25% of the frame rate. They call this bleeding edge for a reason.

Next up, 4G. There are three main flavors of this: lte, HSPA+, and Wi-Max. Of course, Apple again missed the boat, their iPhone 4 was NOT 4G at all. By the time the iPhone 5 was finally getting 5Mbits/s on LTE Androids were pushing 40Mbits/s. Even here in Podunk, 16Mbits/s is not rare, unless you own the newest iPhone. Sure it’s faster than 3G but as usual, slower than the new Droids, and more expensive too. Solution? Almost any new droid, HTC DNA above, if you don’t want to “bleed” quite so much, then try the Motorola Razr HD. Respectable at 720p.

Finally, if you are a conservative techie try anything old now. iPhone 5s are dirt cheap now. $127 at Walmart, now that is a reasonable price for old tech. Remember old tech, is tried and true. You are bound to have less trouble when the technology has been tested. Gen 3 iPads at $400 we could never recommend though. You can get a fully functional laptop for that price. Or for < $250 you could get a Chromebook. These represent a new way to think about computing, and “the Cloud” (despite its 70s hippy connotations) has some real promise for average users that just want don’t want to worry about the safety of their data. If you’re a power user you probably already caught Wozniak’s predictions that the cloud trend will reverse itself for power users. That NAND (solid state) technology is taking data centers by storm. If you haven’t have a look: Wozniak on Forbes.

So there you have it. Rumor has it that the XBox 720 is on the horizon, but Microsoft has claimed that the 360 is only half way through its life-cycle. Whatever the truth of that is the Xbox + Kinect bundle has been popping up dirt cheap. A colleague told me to chip in his 2 cents, and remind readers that the PS3 (Sony’s console) can play blu-ray discs (which XBox cannot) as well as offers a free online services whereas Microsoft charges for XBox live. As an XBox user there is no way I’ll be paying them for XBox live, which saves me on two levels. Of course the monthly fee, but also the temptation to purchase any multi-player title that requires said subscription.

4G, HD smart phones, and amazing deals on respectable last-generation technology like the iPhone 5 are all things to keep in mind. While I wouldn’t be too interested in a Chromebook myself, it does seem like it should be intriguing to non-power users looking for simplicity.

Have funny, and Happy 2013!

iPhone 5 predictions.

The iPhone is selling below expectation, but that doesn’t mean much. Since when does expectation not follow an indefinite upward trend? Investors know that indefinite upward trends don’t exists. As usuall they limited their initial production batch. So they “sell-out” even when sales are below expectations. That’s just good marketing. 5,000,000 is a lot of phones.

The long-term determination of a post-Jobs Apple may not be their marketing. It definitely won’t be their screen tech. It most-likely won’t even be their processor. What it will probably be is their battery.

Apple has a long history of sealing batteries into their products almost as though they never expect this consumable part to ever wear out. A throwback to 15 years ago that has since been innovated out of everything right down to musical greeting cards. However, Apple is always thinking about the release cycle.

For the iPhone 4 the official cost of replacing your battery is $79 and up to 5 days (Apple Service Page). However, with most cell plans, the phone itself doesn’t even cost that much. So what will people do? They will buy the next one. Ingenious… but…

A big BUT, is that LTE (4G) is a battery burner. If Apple’s iPhone 5 battery is anywhere near as obsolete as some of the other components (like the screen tech, it’s still LCD instead of OLED which also happens to burn much more battery), then they will be disappointing users within a month or two of release when the charge capacity falls. Even under warranty a 5 day turnaround is no fun.

So come Thanksgiving time, keep an ear out for the news.

Patents and Copyrights

This has been a popular topic in the past, and since we love hate mail, and since I happen to be reading “The Fatal Conceit” by Hayek, I thought I’d bring up the issue yet again.

Perhaps you remember the article January about SOPA where we posted this great video:

When I stumbled on this great quote from Hayek’s book, I was inspired to repeat this again, perhaps better articulated. Our copyright and patent laws are an affront to social evolution:

“The difference between these and other kinds of property rights is this: while ownership of material goods guides the user of scarce means to their most important uses, in the case of immaterial goods such as literary productions and technological inventions the ability to produce them is also limited, yet once they have come into existence, they can be indefinitely multiplied and can be made scarce only by law in order to create an inducement to produce such ideas. Yet it is not obvious that such forced scarcity is the most effective way to stimulate the human creative process. I doubt whether there exists a single great work of literature which we would not possess had the author been unable to obtain an exclusive copyright for it; it seems to me that the case for copyright must rest almost entirely on the circumstance that such exceedingly useful works as encyclopaedias, dictionaries, textbooks and other works of reference could not be produced if, once they existed, they could freely be reproduced.

Similarly, recurrent re-examinations of the problem have not demonstrated that the obtainability of patents of invention actually enhances the flow of new technical knowledge rather than leading to wasteful concentration of research on problems whose solution in the near future can be foreseen and where, in consequence of the law, anyone who hits upon a solution a moment before the next gains the right to its exclusive use for a prolonged period.

It would be hard to say it any better than this brilliant economist, but I’d like to reword that last bit based on my experience: The kind of anti-competitive behavior associated with copyrights and patents lead to a WASTE of time and resources creating an imaginary race to be the first to claim rights to the next invention. Individuals and corporations alike buy their lottery ticket by funding teams that work concurrently to other teams at other companies on the exact same concepts. WASTEFUL of resources, and WASTEFUL of life. Perhaps nowhere is this more blatant than in the realm of medicine. This WASTE turns all business into another high stakes gamble. A horse race to be exact. It has the exact opposite effect that was intended. In fact the “horses” will steal any concept that isn’t nailed down in their charge for the claim of originality. In the end there is less originality rather than more.

Time and again we meet another “entrepreneur” wanting to chase a new concept that a dozen other chaps are already chasing. No capitalist in their right minds would do this if it weren’t for the possibility of beating the others out for the patent. Worse yet, then convincing the world of the value of their patent, up to and including bribing the FDA. What a mess.

Being a software engineer may be enough to make me wise to the fact that we cannot engineer society. Most importantly we cannot allow Sony to engineer society. When they do it they fight for the right to record cable shows on their VCRs and then fight against the right to copy their shows to MP3 … they fight for their profit. If we let them, they will. Stop social engineering. One less Transformers movie won’t hurt anyone. In fact, maybe the guy about to discover the cure for cancer will be in the lab instead of watching another DVD.

SOPA?

SOPA Censorship

Please click the image on the right and submit the petition!

I am writing to you as a voter in your district. I urge you to vote “no” on cloture for S. 968, the PROTECT IP Act, on Jan. 24th. The PROTECT IP Act is dangerous, ineffective, and short-sighted. It does not deserve floor consideration. I urge my representative to vote “no” on SOPA, the corresponding House bill.

Over coming days you’ll be hearing from the many businesses, advocacy organizations, and ordinary Americans who oppose this legislation because of the myriad ways in which it will stifle free speech and innovation. We hope you’ll take our concerns to heart and oppose this legislation by voting “no” on cloture.

While we’re at it, what do you think about this?

Are you a Monoglot?

Technology is like a religion for some. If it ain’t in their language it must “suck”. We may be able to thank headhunters and job descriptions for this unnecessary level of specialization. Jobs often come with a laundry list of specific required skills and those specific skills are either the result of a monoglot project leader or the preference of the previous developer. Either way requiring 15 years of .NET programming experience is a sure way to weed out some great prospective brain power. (as well as any honest candidates in this case since .NET hasn’t been around that long)

We often steer folks away from .NET implementations for the simple reason that compiled languages add an unnecessary layer of complexity to the production process & have caused a nightmare for maintainers. I personally love writing C# but can’t recommend it for a web site. Not when interpreted languages are so powerful and often perform better than the .NET VM.

However the title of “sucks” is reserved for a handful of technologies whose developers knew exactly what they were doing. Making products purposely limited to control the user base does suck in the tyrannical, Godwin’s law, way. That’s all I’ll say about that for now.

However, if you are a polyglot you may be a dying breed. Unless you’re careful that work you’re doing now will be the only work you ever learn to do. The more specific your experiences are the less adaptable your solutions will be. Then one day you’ll say, without any embarrassment: “I don’t know how to do that.” … If you are a real technologist that sentence had better be followed by: “ … but I’ll figure out how.” … if it is not, you are probably a monoglot, and you may well find yourself cursed with the ungraceful miasma of obsolete skills. Perhaps your employer will “keep” you because of your obsolete skills, but you’ll be stuck, and it will suck. You’ll rot in your office chair anxious for the day you can retire.

Polyglots like us have the gigantic benefit of never becoming obsolete, we are edge cutters, we aren’t afraid of new stuff, we assimilate new technologies like Cheerios. Polyglots are cool, and we may make a hobby of antagonizing the Monoglots (or “fanboys”) but our license is our knowledge. We can rip on the things we know, it’s what the “fanboys” don’t know that make them entertaining.

If you are a monoglot, stop it. Stop it now! Then you’ll get the joke.