JimPinto.com - Connections for Growth & Success™
No. 85 : May 17, 2002

Keeping an eye on technology futures.
Business commentary - no hidden agendas.
New attitudes, no platitudes.

  • The education of GE's Jeff Inmelt
  • Machines are filling in for human soldiers
  • Wolfram's long-awaited book - "A new kind of science"
  • Webshots - digital photos on your desktop
  • Poem - Angel Angles
  • eFeedback:
    • Comments on 'Creeping Criminality'
    • 'Soft walls' technology cannot be used for aircraft control
    • View of Siemens from Australia

The education of GE's Jeff Inmelt

The Jack Welch era is history. Through his failed attempt to acquire Honeywell and his latest romantic escapades, Jack Welch himself has lost some of the admiration that he had seemingly deserved in the past. For GE, the Welch era is a glamorous artifact of a corporate world that no longer exists. Now, GE is a whole new ball game.

During his short tenure as chairman and CEO of GE, Jeff Inmelt has been struggling. Despite a sagging economy, GE was delivering a solid 17% earnings increase - before accounting changes. Spooked by the implosion of Enron, and accounting scandals at Tyco, investors bailed because of flat revenues and GE's cautious outlook. GE shares have plunged.

Jeff Immelt's rite of passage as CEO had been meticulously planned; he spent almost two decades apprenticing for the job. He was to be Jack Welch's final legacy. But sadly, many of the challenges Inmelt faces are not the ones he prepared for.

Click Business Week : The education of Jeff Inmelt

Machines are filling in for soldiers

In some key arenas, soldiers are being replaced by machines - with sensors and weapons that can be operated by remote control or are autonomous. These new robotic weapons can function as heat detectors, radar, cameras, and microphones; they can reveal decoys, pierce camouflage, operate in darkness and bad weather, do video surveillance, and detect enemy vehicles. They are smaller, lighter, cheaper, more fuel efficient, and easier to move. Robots are better at tedious, time-consuming tasks and can be deployed for missions that could cause harm to humans.

Remember Rodney Brooks of the MIT Robot Lab (eNews 7 Feb 02 and 27 March 02)? His company iRobot has a US Defense contract to build a robot, about the size of a suitcase, which can climb stairs, crawl over ditches, survive three-story falls. Instead of carrying bombs, this robot has eyes and ears, transmitting what it sees and hears over a wireless link. This is a "Packbot" which can be thrown into a vehicle and then hurled through windows of buildings where the enemy may have hostages.

And too, there is the robotic war correspondent. The "Afghan Explorer" looks like a cross between a lawnmower and a robotic dog and has been designed to travel to war zones to provide images, sound and interviews from hostile environments that are off-limits to human reporters.

Click NY Times Science: Machines are filling in for troops

Click MIT Tech Review: The Robots are coming

Click BBC News: Robo-Reporter Goes to War

Wolfram's book is here!

In a previous JimPinto.com eNews (Jan. 01, 2001) we featured the Stephen Wolfram story : "God, Stephen Wolfram & everything else."

This week (May 14, 02) Wolfram's long-awaited book "A New Kind of Science" was published. Wolfram has spent more than ten years writing this book in which he presents what he describes as "dramatic discoveries" based on his experiments with cellular automata.

Stephen Wolfram, the genius creator of Mathematica software, has been investigating the potential role of cellular automata as a universal computer capable of producing patterns for everything from quasars to bumblebees, hurricanes, stock markets, and rose petals. The book addresses a wide array of fundamental issues in science, from the origins of apparent randomness in physical systems to the development of complexity in biology, the possibility of an algorithmic theory of physics, the interplay between free will and determinism, and the nature of intelligence in the universe.

Wolfram insists that his book is sure to become a landmark in the history of modern science. He says, "I've discovered that some of the very simplest imaginable computer programs can do things as complex as anything in our whole universe. Understanding this point seems to be the key to a whole new way of thinking about a lot of very fundamental questions in science and elsewhere."

Is Wolfram's assessment of his own work correct? Ray Kurzweil's comprehensive review of Wolfram's 1,200 page treatise was published at 12:01 am on May 14 when the reviewer embargo was lifted.

Click Ray Kurzweil's review of Wolfram's book

Click Wolfram's A New Kind of Science - website

Click Review & buy the book from Amazon

Webshots - digital photos on your desktop

Hey! What do YOU do with those hundreds of digital photos you take on that nifty little digital camera?

That little LCD screen on the camera itself is too small for more than a squint. So how do you show your pictures? When you do have access to your large desktop computer screen, how do you cycle through the pictures?

Well, I found a nice way to put the digital photos from our recent Caribbean cruise on our home computer. It is called Webshots - and I'm sure you'll like it too!

The best pictures are cycled as the desktop background. The complete set of photos cycle through as the screen-saver, with an adjustable time-cycle. All the pictures are automatically resized to fill the screen. When we get bored with seeing those, we can quickly switch to pictures from previous vacations, parties, picnics or weddings.

Webshots is a freeware program which you can download quickly. Within a couple of minutes, you can show off as many of those pictures as you want, right on your computer.

Click Webshots website

Angel Angles

There are about 4,000 "angel" investors in the US. These are not venture-capitalists - professional investors using funds obtained from other sources. Angels are private individuals who invest their own money as seed capital in early-stage companies that catch their interest and help to accelerate them to market leadership.

I am a member of the San Diego Tech Coast Angels, a group of S. California private investors with affiliates in Orange County and Los Angeles.

Who are these "angels" anyway? And why do they invest? You might enjoy the poem I wrote for the CONNECT newsletter, published May 14, 2002.

    The inventor is getting pretty close to the end
    All tapped out and in need of a friend
    The prototype is already built
    The home is mortgaged up to the hilt
    The market is big
    For this thingamajig
    But they’re out of money and the plan disentangles
    What they need is some angel angles

Click Read the full poem - Angel Angles

Click Visit the TechCoastAngels website


My essay on Creeping Criminality brought these comments from Bob Holland [answers@twohollands.com]:
    "From a historical perspective, what you describe is not new to our species. We see evidence of the same underlying behaviors going right back in history to the earliest foundations of civilization. A craving for status and wealth is endemic in virtually all human societies. Only the level of organization of the society seems to dictate a difference in the degree of 'creeping criminality'.

    "Hunter gatherers were mostly very strong believers in the equality of their fellows and were often satisfied with status symbols that were insignificant compared to those of, for instance, some American CEOs. Only when agriculture allowed us to increase our population density enough to create multi-level societies do we see evidence of creeping criminality on a large scale. But even so, it existed 5000 years ago, and was little different than what you describe. So "insidious wealth addiction" (greed) is part of human nature.

    "Your closing thought posits the question of what can be done about this, but offers no answers. So let me throw one out: Liberal Arts Education. The Arts celebrate, overwhelmingly, what's good, true and universal in man. By studying them, and including a healthy dose of the sciences, and disciplines like psychology and history, we are exposed to different sets of values than those you identify as being the root cause of creeping criminality. I am personally appalled at the incredible reduction in liberal arts education programs that has occurred in my lifetime. Perhaps there exists a correlation: liberal arts in our public schools and colleges down - creeping criminality up?"

Jake Brodsky [frussle@erols.com], a licensed and instrument rated Private Pilot for many years, commented on "soft wall" technology to prevent aircraft from flying into restricted areas.
    "This is NOT the answer. Aviation databases are notorious for the rate at which they are updated, and for the outright errors. The database for the GPS navigation receiver in my airplane has to be updated EVERY 28 DAYS. And even then, I still have to sort through lists of updates as long as my arm before filing an instrument flight plan.

    "Now, imagine your aircraft with the panic button. How do we even know that the information is good? What if someone decided to wreak havoc by putting errors in the navigation database?

    "What you've done is move the risk area from one place to another. I'd rather have a real human being in the cockpit who can override this nonsense, than to have a passenger who can't do a damned thing about his predicament. Wouldn't you rather place your trust in a flesh and blood pilot in the cockpit - one whose fate will probably be the same as yours if there is a screw up?

    "Another problem: Navigation systems themselves are fallible. Did I mention how many aircraft are struck by lightning every year? It's much higher than you think. And yes, there often is damage to all sorts of instruments on board. That's why there are redundant systems. However, it takes a human being to know which ones are real and which ones are broken."

An ex-Siemens executive (name withheld - "it may unwittingly offend some of my German friends") provided these insights from his time with Siemens in Australia:
    "I was with the major exodus of Siemens employees in Australia when they shut down their Industrial Services division. Your comments on German/Japanese companies therefore caught my attention as a former Siemens employee.

    "I couldn't help but sense that many of the German Siemens management I met who were visiting the Antipodes were viewing us as "inferiors" to be looked down upon. I could only think how out of place it was. None of the German staff in Australia were like that fortunately, and I am grateful for these friendships that have continued beyond my time there.

    "Another observation was of a meeting that took place in Berlin with about 500 senior management from around the world. They were told by 'the Fuehrer' that if they did not improve their game, they would experience 'disposition'. They were also told that the reason why they were not meeting their sales was not that the targets were too high, but rather because they were not using the approved 'Top Plus' strategy. I was amazed that one could ignore a global meltdown in the technology industry, and blame subordinates.

    "It was also sad to see that 'the Fuehrer' was not modeling the success that he was expecting of his senior managers. In true autocratic style, one manager was interviewed after the bashing they all received, and said: 'I was encouraged to learn that we can do it.' Dream on!"

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