Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tech that

I had the opportunity to meet Dr. James Whittaker today. He is Distinguished Tech Evangelist at Microsoft Corporation.

I was looking forward to his presentation because doing some amount of back ground research I had the feeling that he was a visionary pivotal in helping shape many projects at Microsoft and Google. I meet top developers often but most of the ones I have met stay contained within the work they have done (which is fine by me). So meeting a rebel kind who has rocked both the world of Microsoft and Google (he reported to Larry Page!) was an eye-opener.

He started his presentation with annoyance over the fact that none  of us follow him on Twitter!
I loved his approach when he told us that his 1 hour talk would span 40 years. Starting from 20 years of history (from today) to what it would look like 20 years into the future. We were ready to be engrossed in his reality distortion field.

While there are parts of the discussion that I cannot talk about owing to their sensitive nature, I would still like to list out some key take-away from the session. This blog would basically be a recap of the talk he gave today, so apologies for sudden context switches. 

To start off, did you know:
More than 500 Billion GiB of data gets generated on the web every 11 minutes.

The web is actually a very interesting paradigm. It will always be there, but the manner in which most of us consume it is radically changing. There is no point trying to write a web crawler that will consume the entire web, which is why we use apps which consume just a part of the web. (Say when you try to use Yelp, it would not bother to crawl the Sports part of the web). Returns quick and effective results.

Microsoft's Cortana came in much later than Siri, but most reports suggest that Cortana performs better than Siri. The obvious reason here is that Siri fetches most of its data from Bing (it also polls Wolfram Alpha and a few other sites). So currently the web has been indexed by Google and Bing. Whittaker pointed out that he does not feel that another company would be able to index the web as well as Google and Bing have done. The reason? The rate of expansion of the web is phenomenally higher than the rate at which it can be indexed. Long story short, you've missed the bus!

He mentioned a game involving payment at a restaurant after a meal. When he goes to restaurants with friends/colleagues everyone typically puts in their credit cards to pay for their own food, but there's a game they play here. They ask the waiter to ask them a question which each of the members of the group would then proceed to find the answer to, using their smart phones. Whoever answers correctly first is exempted from having to pay for their food :) Turns out you can never win if you use a browser to search for this! So its all about having the right apps and learning to use them right!

Dr. Whittaker pointed out that Steve Jobs is never really given the credit that he actually deserves. Yes he caused an industrial design revolution, but one thing that he introduced was the Apps business. What we have taken for granted now, was actually an enormously alternate approach. When everyone was browser driven, Apple introduced tiled apps. The apps being focused on just consuming a part of the web worked more effectively. The browser was not considered a one point solution platform anymore. Today Apple owns the driveways to people's homes and that is ridiculously amazing power.

Now that brings us to the fact that most of the searches we do on Google are typically using smart phones. How does that impact Google, a company which earns 97% of its Billions off ads? The probability of a smart phone user clicking on an ad on that tiny screen is amazingly low, compared to what it is on the desktop.

One of the points that he was trying to make involved the definition of an app in the form of a Noun and in the form of a Verb. I got confused about it. So I am hoping, someone who was there, or maybe Dr. Whittaker himself could help me here. (he had retweeted one of my tweets, I am hoping you are reading this Dr. W:)

One of the interesting anecdotes he talked about involved a date in his life, where he had gone for a movie. His date apparently kept looking at her smart phone for some time and then suddenly left the movie in the middle for a few minutes only to return later. Now social protocol dictates that the person who missed that part would ask their companion about what they missed. But she did not ask him and being proactive he decided to tell her that she did not actually miss anything critical. She replied with a "Yes I know that". Apparently she was monitoring http://runpee.com/ - an app which tells you the right time for taking a pee break in the middle of a movie!! Consuming the web vs consuming more liquids! Hmm!!

During the Q&A one of the questions involved Privacy and Dr. W's take on it. I was hoping he would answer it wittily and he did not disappoint. He defined Privacy as a spectrum with the NSA at one end of it and Santa Claus at the other.

What we might be missing is the fact that we are always overwhelmed by the fact that most of the search engines and other services offers help for free, but the data they collect about you might come back to bite you one day. For example you can go to your google.com/history page and find out what all you have searched about. Remember that you cannot ask Google to forget any of the stuff it knows about you.

Moving into the future Dr.W talked about how the Internet of things might actually be a sucky idea. However quantum computing is one thing that has potential to be a real game-changer. I cannot write much about it, but think of it as a means to construct data using tinier data bits. Right now everything boils down to a sequence of 0's and 1's. What if we have something that is a singular entity which is both a 0 and a 1 together (say more 0 and less 1 or vice versa). This could herald the world where no one goes offline. And should Elon Musk manage to get all of those satellites into orbit in another 10-15 years, everyone would know everything all the time. How do you advertise to people then?? What if your refrigerator already figured out what you need and ordered it on its own. No more coming home to "no beer in the fridge".

This brings us to the concept of a value driven economy instead of a greedy ad-driven economy.

You can read more about him here - http://blogs.msdn.com/b/jw_on_tech/
He highly recommended the book "Who owns the future" so that should go into my library soon.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

My Seattle Sky!

The sky is a hazy shade of blue-black.

You see the occasional scatter of light in the horizon like one of the stars are moving towards a secret sky. While your rationality argues if that is an airplane you focus your gaze on the trees. The trees no longer dance to the call of the wind. The wind, the harbinger of chill and doom has stripped down almost every one of them.

The incandescence from the street lamps roll on the wet streets trying to give warmth to the fallen, the leaves gasping for their last breath like a fish out of water.

The parking lot looks happy and content for all her kids are back in place. The kids breathe heavily for they have worked hard all day and now enjoy their moment of wait.

The police does his rounds in an aggressive piece of steel. One kid that runs through the night like the bad boy every mom fears his son would become. On the other side of the road sit a few of the tensed bad boys. People associate them with the Fire station. They always look tensed for they never know when they would have to scram. The signal lights lazily flicker although they expect none.

Within the window, his room is dark. There is a silent hum from the refrigerator and a white and bluish hue from all the computers running on standby. At the center lies a restless soul covered in bed sheets. Not wearing his specs, he squints hard at a handheld object emanating magical lights. The object occasionally breaks the silence of the room with a beep. This lights up his face and his fingers move restlessly over the light.