JimPinto.com - Connections for Growth & Success™
No. 218 : 4 October 2006

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

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Emerson launches industrial wireless breakthrough

This week, at the Emerson annual information exchange conference before an industry audience of 2,000 in Nashville, TN. Emerson made its big announcement on wireless networking. It was billed: "The next, biggest opportunity in industrial process markets."

John Berra, president of Emerson Process Management has been in this industry for a long time, and is normally unflappable. Now he showed his excitement, "The technical obstacles to wireless communication in plants and factories are falling. No wires means no limits to what we can see and hear in the plant. We can put in more monitoring points at 1/10 the cost of wired sensors. This will open new doors in many old and new applications."

John Berra stressed that wireless networking would save money in factories and process plants, not by not using copper wire, but because previously unreachable data can now be accessed for improved availability and operational performance.

John Berra told me separately that Emerson Process Management has been field testing various approaches with several customers for over 3 years. "Emerson has an approach that has proven itself in the 'canyons of metal' that are Process plants and refineries. Wireless will open new capabilities in maintenance. Technicians can carry on conversations with the things they are troubleshooting and pinpoint issues quickly and easily."

And then, John Berra nails it down, "This announcement is not a launch with a promise down the road - the products are here and ready today. Emerson is ready to take orders and ship."

Overall, Emerson claims that its wireless trial customers have experienced 99.9% network reliability, extremely easy deployment, industrial strength security, long battery life, and as much as 90% less installed cost.

To give customers an easy way to try these new products, Emerson is offering a "Starter Pack" which includes field instruments, a router, and software. It is designed to be easy to use and simple, and can be put to work out-of-the-box. It allows customers to start with small projects and scale up.

As if to signal success and certify the credibility, John Berra commented (though numbers are not final yet) on the latest Emerson financials for the process management division he heads. Sales are up 15% this year, pushing total revenues to $4.8B. "We expect to push past $5B next year!" boasts Berra.

Click Emerson's Wireless announcements

Click Emerson's Wireless SmartPack

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The specter of electronic voting fraud

As we approach the US mid-term elections (Nov. 2006) there is increasing concern about the problems of electronic voting. Some people think that this could make the contested 2000 presidential election look orderly by comparison.

This November, 80% of voters will be casting their ballots on electronic voting machines. Many of these machines have been demonstrated to be very vulnerable to tampering. Many have no voter-verified paper trail, so there would be no way to perform reliable recounts.

By law, only 27 states require the use of voter-verified paper trails in electronic machines. 8 more states utilize, but don't require, paper trails. This leaves 15 states with no mandated requirements for safeguarding votes.

Electronic voting problems are not new, but no one is really ready for this electronic election. During the 2004 presidential election there were several isolated problems, but there were no "smoking guns" which forced any major results to be changed. Now what?

There are 4 primary manufacturers of electronic voting systems, none of which has been demonstrated to be really secure. Diebold, based in Ohio, is the most well-known and it was the Diebold CEO who boldly asserted that he "would deliver Ohio for GW Bush." Somehow, he wasn't nailed for that juvenile comment.

Now a new study with Diebold's AccuVote-TS machine found that hackers can easily modify results to disable machines and change vote totals.

A 2005 Government Accountability Office report on electronic voting confirms the worst fears of watchdog groups and election officials. Says that report, "There is evidence that some of these concerns have been realized and have caused problems with recent elections, resulting in the loss and miscount of votes."

This is simply unacceptable. But, what have Congress and the White House done? Nothing, nada, zero, zilch. We won't get to Katrina until at least a few days after the hurricane.

Click Hackers Pose Real Danger To Electronic Voting Machines

Click Understanding the Debate Over Electronic Voting Machines

Click Support Verified Voting

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Global warming - natural or man-made?

Many people are becoming aware of global warming simply because of recent warm weather, plus increasing hurricane activity.

Clearly the Earth's climate is changing - here are the facts:

  • Average global temperatures have risen about 0.5 C in the past century
  • Glaciers have melted and retreated dramatically
  • Ecosystems around the world are being altered
Here are some of the dire warnings :
  • The world has already entered a state of dangerous climate change. If the current pace of change continues a catastrophic sea level rise of 13 feet could occur in this century.
  • Recent studies suggest that climate change is rapidly leading to genetic impacts. Tiny shifts in average temperature are effecting genetic changes in living organisms.
  • Increases in hurricane intensity are due to humanity's greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists calculate that two-thirds of the recent rise in sea temperatures is due to human emissions.
  • Siberia is melting. Vast tracts of Russian tundra, frozen for tens of thousands of years, are starting to thaw. Some experts say the process is taking place so fast, they can only attribute it to the effects of global warming.
  • The amount of Arctic sea ice is shrinking not only in the summer but in the winter as well - linked directly to global warming. In 2005 & 2006, the extent of winter ice was about 6% smaller than the average amount over the past 26 years. This is much faster than the previously observed long-term decrease of 1.5% to 2% per decade.
But, this is not new news. These changes started 18,000 years ago as the earth emerged from the Ice Age. Glaciers have alternately retreated and advanced as Earth has warmed and cooled, in cycles spanning hundreds, thousands, and millions of years.

Historical data from ocean sediments and ice cores indicate that warm interglacial periods of 15,000 - 20,000 years separate each major ice age. We currently are in an interglacial period, and are due (some say overdue) for the next 100,000-year Ice Age.

There are many sources for the million-year history of the variations of temperature. Perhaps our human ego makes us think that we are the primary cause, and that we can control nature and stop the changes. Over the past centuries, data indicates that the Earth is indeed warming, but most of the warming (about 95%) is due to natural causes and beyond our control.

Global warming should be expected to continue, perhaps as high as medieval times. Then, there will be a sharp drop, to a small "ice age", which will take about another 600 years. Perhaps at that time, human-generated global warming may even have a positive effect. (smile)

Because of the sound-bytes and short-attention span of trigger-happy media, we are completely unprepared for long-term issues. The media tests out several scary issues, seeing which will generate widespread "traction". And then we run scared. We start making laws to prepare for the "cataclysmic changes" that are coming.

Global-warming is a long-term issue. Let's recognize that human effects are the cause of only about 5% - the other 95% is "natural".

I agree with Al Gore that we should "manage" the human effects on global warming through reduced emissions and other solutions he suggests. But, let's not spend our national budget trying to stop or reverse a natural process.

Click Is global warming real?

Click Top scientist's fears for climate

Click Human causes of global warming

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Cheap worldwide telephone calls

In the last issue of eNews, we discussed worldwide free telephone calls with Skype. Lots of good feedback. But, what about those who'd like to make telephone calls without a computer?

The recent availability of VOIP (voice-over-Internet-protocol) has indeed made a BIG difference with telephone call pricing. Many telephone companies now have plans that match any cellphone service - unlimited calls to anywhere in the US for a fixed monthly charge. The best known, Vonage will give you special equipment to use with a CableTV connection to do the same for an even lower price, still using your regular telephone equipment.

Hey, until recently I've been calling friends and family in India via AT&T for $ 0.35 per minute and England for $ 0.09 a minute. Well, I discovered that Reliance - one of the largest telephone companies in India - has an excellent, low-cost telephone service for calls between the US, Canada, UK and India.

It's easy to use - works like this: you call a toll-free number and identify yourself with a PIN (or, if you're on your home telephone, it reads your caller-ID and knows its you). You then dial the number in India, and voila, you're connected at $ 0.12 a minute (about 1/3 the AT&T cost).

There are a couple of ways to pay - you can be billed monthly, or (as I do) I pay $ 25.00 or $ 50.00 (via the web). When I call, a pleasant voice tells me how many minutes I have available.

Here's another interesting trick - it's easy to fumble a long country-code city-code local-number (011 plus 12 digits for most countries). But, via the Reliance website, you can preset the primary numbers you dial as codes - so, when I call my brother in India now, I push one digit (my quick dial for the Reliance 866 number) and when it responds, I push another digit (the preset number); the voice tells me how many minutes I have with my already-paid balance, and I'm connected.

You can do the same to call the UK (a separate toll-free number). You know what, I talked with my brother Paul for 95 minutes the other day and it cost me about 2 bucks. Wow!

Click Reliance - calls between USA, Canada, UK and India

Click How VOIP works

Click Vonage - Leading the Internet phone revolution

Click New VOIP service - using your regular phone numbers

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Book: iWoz - the ultimate geek's manifesto

Over the years, there've been stories about Steve Wozniak - "Woz" to his friends - about his brilliant engineering that led to the development of PC, and his quirky techno-pranks that bemused and befuddled anyone who was around.

But now, finally, the brain behind the first Apple computers sheds his low profile and tells his story in his autobiography, just published (Sept. 2006) - "iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple and Had Fun Doing It".

This is a book that's fun for everyone to read, and a delightful treat for an engineer like me. It's a wonderful story, and it's told like Woz talks.

Since childhood, Steve Wozniak has been fascinated with technical stuff. Before he got to high school he was already re-designing (on paper) the mini-computers of the day, making them simpler, smaller, faster and cheaper. In 1975, he designed Apple I, the first personal computer. On that front, the rest is history.

Woz's life before and after Apple is an eclectic and eccentric mix - engineer, concert promoter, fifth-grade teacher, philanthropist, and irrepressible prankster. From his childhood learning fro his engineer-dad, to the invention of the first personal computer, to the rise of Apple as an industry giant, his book presents a firsthand account. Here's the story of the genius inventor who sparked the computer revolution and the humanist who still enjoys teaching kids and playing pranks. There are 16 pages of photos, from his childhood to more recent ones that show Woz with one of his many Segways. When he likes a techno-gadget, Woz usually buys several and gives them away to friends.

Woz was at HP in the days before Apple, and worked for Stan Mintz who was later VP Engineering at Action Instruments. He mentions Stan in the credits, for "providing a great environment for an engineer to develop". I met Woz through Stan, and have stayed in touch over the years.

Steve Wozniak has been inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame and received lots of awards, including the National Medal of Technology and the Heinz Award. He still lives in N. California.

Click Wozniak book reveals the core of Apple

Click Review & Buy iWOZ from Amazon.com

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Fr. Ken Vavrina [STRSCHURCH@aol.com]from Omaha, NE. considers Individualism to be vastly more dangerous than Terrorism:
    "We Americans pay rapt attention to the danger of Terrorism. But, we face a greater adversary than terrorism, which we generate from within and which negatively affects every aspect of our lives. This evil, individualism, has so successfully permeated our culture that we are oblivious to its presence.

    "Over the past 40 years, Americans have twisted individuality into individualism. As a cultural evil, it sets conditions and boundaries for every personal choice. Individualism, resulting in subjective morality, owes no debt to society and reduces religion to therapy for losers.

    "Commitment, such as marriage, becomes counterproductive when it interferes with personal happiness. Disconnected from everyone, life becomes empty and void of love. Boring. Sound like someone you know? Maybe yourself?

    "Deep within us is a need to give of ourselves. Individualism is juxtaposed with a loving relationship. It is only with the heart that we can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye."

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Steve YATES [steve.yates@gmail.com] is enthusiastic about Skype:

    "Skype has drastically reduced our phone bills, as ex-pat Brits in France we used get horrendous bi-monthly bills because of the need to keep in contact with people at home. Now using Skype and SkypeOut we have reduced the 'call' part of our bill by 2/3.

    "Two positive things you didn't mention are Conference calls, for up to 4 people I believe, where you can actually mix Skype and SkypeOut contacts. Secondly the ability to send SMS messages direct from your PC, for me this is far easier than struggling with the keypad of my phone.

    "One negative point is the relatively high costs of calling mobile phones using SkypeOut."

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The always analytical Dan Greenberg [dangreenberg@hotmail.com] comments on our recent feature on the world Happiness survey:

    "It's interesting that the Scandinavian countries led in happiness. Year after year, these same countries lead the world in suicide. There are many interpretations possible:

    1. Happiness is the wrong metric, not measured properly, or not related to suicidal tendencies.
    2. Sampling error on happiness: the unhappy people remove themselves from the sample.
    3. They're so happy they could die. (Sorry - that's a bit glib.)
    4. There's something in their genetics that leads to the more extreme. More happy people balanced by more unhappy people.
    5. Suicide rates are not properly reported due to social stigma.
    6. Happiness rates are over-reported due to some social status.

    "Just some things to think about."

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Steve Wozniak - iWOZ
Steve Wozniak
Ultimate geek's manifesto

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