JimPinto.com - Connections for Growth & Success™
No. 229 : 9 May 2007

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

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11 mins.

Higher patent standards

The US Supreme Court has just made it more difficult to obtain a patent. This is a boon to technology firms that are accused of patent infringement with claims that are "too obvious".

In a decision with far-reaching implications, the Supreme Court unanimously overturned a lower court's decision, ruling that that there needs to be a fairly high standard for patentability.

The decisions by the court indicate a growing trend in favor of companies that are targeted for infringing on patents that most people consider obvious. If just any common-sense invention is able to receive a patent, "patents might stifle, rather than promote, the progress of useful arts."

With this Supreme Court ruling, the US Patent Office will now be applying the higher standard toward patents. Any earlier patents that were granted with the low previous standard will stand. But, if challenged, they are subject to the new standard.

An interesting series of patent infringement lawsuits had been impacting the industrial automation business over the past several years. Solaia Technology, a company solely in the business of enforcing patents, partnered with Schneider Automation to pursue patent infringements. Hey, I wonder what happened to Solaia. If you know, tell me.

Click High court send message on patent obviousness

Click Patent reform: Is this the year?

Click Automation 'patent trolls' net millions from end-users

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Iacocca - Where have all the leaders gone?

Lee Iacocca is 82, but still as feisty as ever. The former Ford and Chrysler president is passionately angry about US leadership.

In his new book, Iacocca starts with the list of sins committed by President Bush and says that "he should visit the real world". The old warhorse is outspoken about cronyism in Washington, the abysmal situation in Iraq, and failed policies at home. He decries the lack of leadership in vital national concerns such as the health-care crisis, our loss of competitive edge in the global marketplace, the massive trade deficit, and the slow death of the middle class. He thinks Congress is spineless and should simply take a year off from passing laws and spending money. He lambastes business leaders for being obsessed with stock options and multimillion-dollar salaries.

He criticizes the American auto industry for its vast failures. He's mad-as-hell about the sale of Chrysler to Daimler-Benz, and feels that the once proud, independent company lost its soul. He didn't know yet that there's talk about Chrysler being sold again, and that employees may take a big ownership stake - he'd surely be pleased with that turn of events.

As in his previous best-selling autobiography, Iacocca is engaging and entertaining. He personally knows most of the current crop of presidential hopefuls and shares his views freely. His honesty is refreshing - he tells why he passed on a Presidential run, admits to voting for Bush in 2000, and confesses that he himself handpicked the guy who sold Chrysler to the Germans. But he is not a pessimist, and comes up with credible solutions. He hopes to inspire more young people to get involved and vote.

Click Book excerpt (& blogs) - Where Have All the Leaders Gone?

Click Read reviews and buy the book on Amazon.com

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Water wars on the horizon

Oil has always been considered a cause of conflict. Since oil was discovered in the Mid-east, countries have squabbled over borders that would give them access to new riches. In Iraq today, many think that Oil is the root cause of the war. Imagine the world's response if Oil was suddenly discovered in Darfur.

In the future, something else will start taking over from oil as the likeliest cause of conflict. It's an ever scarcer and more valuable commodity: WATER. The fear is that as populations grow and development spreads, vicious battles will erupt between water-rich and water-poor nations, particularly in major river basins where upstream nations control the flow downstream water.

The doomsayers warn that global warming will only make things worse by decreasing rainfall and increasing evaporation in critical areas. Our future will involve scarcity of water, though forecasts of vast deserts are a little too exaggerated.

Many of the arguments that have been applied to Peak Oil are also applicable to water. If the current rates of growth in supply and demand continue, then water will become a very scarce resource. When I was in India recently, there was a BIG strike between neighboring states over new laws that changed water rights. As water becomes more and more scarce in populated areas, conflict will inevitably be the appropriate response to water shortages.

Are we heading for an era in which rivers and lakes and aquifers become national security assets that are fought over? With water availability shrinking across the Middle East, Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, violent conflict between states is increasingly likely. Major government agencies, including the CIA, have already raised the specter of future "water wars".

Said Mark Twain, "Whisky is for drinking, water is for fighting over". In August 2007, experts from 140 countries will gather at the annual World Water Week forum in Stockholm. And the ghost of Mark Twain will be present as they debate the links between water scarcity and violent conflict.

Click World Water

Click Wars for Water

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The future is female

Here is some more "futurology" for you - trends that many advanced companies are already considering.

British Telecomm futurologist Ian Pearson predicts that some 20 years from now, intelligent machines will do more and more of the kind of work that men do in business today. Women will provide emotional abilities that machines cannot. The more advanced technology gets, the more it makes us appreciate the types of human skills in which women excel.

Ray Kurzweil predicts that machines will soon have "consciousness" - intelligence comparable with humans. When that comes, people will have a very different part to play; they will add the human element to business, getting close to customers on an emotional level. The result will be that women's role will become more important in business. The future will become a women-driven economy.

Technology already allows women to do jobs that previously needed male strength - like driving trucks, firefighting, even combat roles. Similarly, automation of intelligence means that neither men nor women will be needed in many future business roles in the information economy.

The social and emotional skills normally associated with women are harder to automate, and traditional management hierarchies will change drastically. Fewer managers will be required as computers take over - extrapolating the elimination of supervisory and management layers in the factory-based economy. Computers will coordinate the knowledge workforce. The remaining management jobs will mostly require female characteristics and skills.

Today, women achieve leadership roles when they show male characteristics. Tomorrow, men will become leaders only when they use their female side.

A workplace dominated by women could have negative side-effects. If men start to feel "bossed" by women, they may start to look for other "male" challenges. History suggests that when large numbers of men remain stagnant they start to blame other groups, and start wars. Unintended consequences.....

Click British prediction - The future is female

Click The balance between Masculine & Feminine

Click Looking to female leaders for healing

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How to REALLY erase a hard drive

Do you have an uneasy feeling when you give away your old computer that perhaps someone could recover precious passwords and sensitive old files? If you don't - you should. It's quite easy to recover old "deleted" information from a hard disk.

You can spend hours going through your hard drive deleting all the files and documents, but Windows only removes the shortcuts to those files which makes them invisible to users. Deleted files still reside on the hard drive, even if you empty the "Recycle bin". Almost anyone can reinstate your files.

Formatting the hard drive is a bit more secure than simply erasing the files. However, formatting a disk does not erase the data on the disk, only the address tables. It makes it more difficult to recover the files. But a fairly savvy hacker can recover most or all the files.

If you're preparing a system for retirement, you should consider complete removal of all data. Besides identity theft, data theft may leave you or your company liable under federal and state laws, with criminal penalties.

There are lots of programs that you can buy to completely erase your hard disk. (Weblinks below) But, if you're in the mood for a little hacking, or have access to a geek, you can use a utility that's already on your computer. This is "Secure Erase", a set of commands embedded in most drives built since 2001. It is disabled by most motherboard BIOSes; but you can still use it if you really want to. (Weblink below).

Some people say that there's another, simpler way. Just take out the hard-disk, and destroy it - break it with a hammer. Let whoever you're giving it to buy a new hard-drive - they're cheap enough.

Click How should I erase my hard drive before I give it away?

Click How to REALLY erase a hard drive

Click How to Completely Erase a Hard Disk Drive

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Nick Masucci [nick.j.masucci@us.abb.com] agrees that to develop renewable resource industries we need Statesman not Politicians:
    "I live in Syracuse N.Y. and am amazed sometimes as to what goes on in Upstate N.Y. as far as Business Development. The Upstate community needs a new technological business base and is really ripe for renewable energy type business innovation. I have gone to benefits and local resource meetings. There, I rub shoulders with assemblymen, councilors and other government representatives. I hear bits and pieces of projects that seem to have great promise.

    "The amazing thing is, I also hear at the same time how a $60M bid for a new business in this town, actually sat on the desk of some administrator. The company just went elsewhere.

    "Siemens offered a completely built Green Power Plant using renewable resources. It just became very difficult to plan, start and build the project with local decision makers! They gave up. Meanwhile, New York State just over-taxes what's left of the poor middle class. Heh, itís just easier for them.

    "The answer seems to boil down to a person or group who cares more than any political gain. I wouldn't mind a job like that. It needs a good Salesman/Statesman to see the Good and the Gain and convince companies and governments to come together."

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Martin Greenwood [Martin.Greenwood@iesystems.com.au] comments on my recent prognostications on the future of Automation:

    "You mention that future developments will come from several possible sources, including 'production at the lowest cost for global distribution, and fast time-to-market'.

    "The trouble in industrial automation is that no matter how cheap and off-the-shelf widgets become, they still need to be engineered into a working system and installed in the plant they control.

    "These systems are becoming more and more complex. As the cost of the hardware comes down, the cost of engineering and installation dominates the total cost. Free devices still cost time and money to use.

    "One of the features of our industry is that (almost) all installations are bespoke - no-one produces ammonia plants or oil refineries by the thousands, hundreds or even tens identical down to the last terminal. So the economies of scale that lead to efficiencies in many other industries do not apply.

    "Reducing the time and cost of system design and engineering for complex systems will become an increasingly important factor affecting the growth of industrial automation."

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Bob Fritz [rfritz@avtron.com] traces some ancient Automation history:

    "Automation certainly did not start with Dick Morley, or with Honeywell in the 1970s.

    "During the Spanish American War, American warships incorporated a mechanical analog computer. When the big guns were fired, the ship would move backward several hundred yards in the water. Accelerometers would alert the computer, which would automatically re-lay (change the angle) of the guns for the next salvo, so that it did not miss by several hundred yards.

    "There is also the story of the Roman Emperor who ordered that a certain large lake be drained. The centurion in charge drained it much faster than expected. He had applied a Screw of Archimedes hooked to a wooden gear mechanism so that oxen could walk in circles and efficiently empty the lake, instead of having slaves carry buckets of water over the hill. The emperor rewarded him with a bag of gold but also had the mechanism burned, because further use would have created unemployment among the slaves.

    "Thus the perennial conflict between intelligent engineers and political know-nothings."

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