JimPinto.com - Connections for Growth & Success™
No. 59 : September 3, 2001


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

Contents:
  • Natural born Technohumans
  • Robots beat human traders on the stock market
  • Microsoft .Net impact on the Automation business
  • RIFs, Layoffs & Golden Handshakes
  • Try ISAjobs.org to post jobs, or view resumes
  • Sign-up for The Harrow Technology Report
  • eFeedback:
    • Arthur C. Clarke Scenario: Cloning + memorychip = immortality
    • More layoffs at Foxboro
    • ERP & DCS are both dinosaurs

Natural-born technohumans

More on the technohuman evolution theme, from an article Natural Born Cyborgs by Andy Clark.

As we understand more and more how the brain works, we recognize that human-mind upgrades have already been taking place over thousands of years. Technology is simply accelerating the changes.

You might think of your body as totally natural - no silicon chips, no retinal or cochlear implants, no pacemaker; perhaps you don't even wear glasses (though you do wear clothes). But, you have already advanced towards being a cyborg - a technohuman. This hybridization began with speech and counting, written text and numerals, then early printing (without moveable typefaces), and then the revolutions of moveable typefaces and the printing press, and most recently to the digital encodings that bring text, sound and image into a uniform and widely transmissible format. Such technologies constitute "mindware" upgrades, where the effective architecture of the human mind is altered and transformed. The process of hybridization is continuous. Society accepts the changes only after they become commonplace. It's only the speed of change that is disconcerting.

Pretty soon, and still without the need for wires, surgery or bodily alterations, we shall all be technohuman. Perhaps we already are, not in the merely superficial sense of combining flesh and wires, but in the more profound sense of being human-technology symbionts: thinking and reasoning systems whose minds and selves are spread across biological brain and non-biological extensions.

The famous Canadian communications theorist Marshall McLuhan wrote:

    The wheel is an extension of the foot
    The book is an extension of the eye
    The clothing is an extension of the skin
    Electric circuits are an extension of the nervous system
    The extension of any one sense alters the way we think and act - the way we perceive the world

We are all already "technohuman"......

Click Andy Clarkís fascinating article Natural Born Cyborgs

Click Read more Marshall McLuhan

Robots beat human traders in commodities trading

Robots can make more money than people when they trade commodities. An IBM Research team's results could have a much greater impact than the famous victory of the Deep Blue supercomputer over chess champion Kasparov. The impact might be measured in billions of dollars annually.

A commodities trader buys and sells goods, which are usually agricultural or mineral-based, like pork bellies or gold. Their aim is to buy low and sell high. Robotic trading agents have never competed against people before a recent IBM test, when software-based robotic trading agents - known as "bots" - made seven per cent more cash than human traders.

Both bots and people had the same set-up, allowing them to trade through an unbiased software-based auctioneer. The auction was designed to mimic the kind of commodities market where buyers and sellers have a fixed amount of time to trade in a single commodity. The goal was to maximize their profit at the end of trading.

The bots used very basic strategies. Some tried to make better offers incrementally, in the hope that they could strike a deal, while a more successful version tried to work out the best price to trade at, by calculating its probability of success based on the form. In any event, the bots won by a good margin.

The developers point out that these early robotic agents are very simple. One wonders what future developments will bring in this direction, and how those "robot traders" would have done in the stock market debacle this past week.

Click Robots beat human commodity traders

Microsoft XP and .NET - impact on industrial automation

The introduction of Microsoft Windows XP and .NET and the impact on industrial automation has generated a hot discussion on the Automation List. We have summarized the comments of marketing-guru Walt Boyes here.

Microsoft has terrified most IT professionals with the new "reporting" and "authorizing" features of Windows XP and .Net. There is no way that any sensible business will install an operating system that gives outsiders access to internal documents, for whatever purported benefit. It doesn't matter how "cool" .NET is. For the immediate future, it seems that "Microstupid" has shot themselves in the foot.

In the near term, people will continue to use the tools they've already been using, because THEY WORK WELL ENOUGH to do factory floor projects. Lots of people are using Microsoft's most stable platform, Windows NT4/SP6a, and they will continue to write ODBC and driver library hooks for the integration to SCM and ERP systems. Why should they upgrade?

Development costs money. In a time when all of the major automation companies are reporting reduced revenues, and all but two of the majors are in deep financial trouble, and at least three of them are in danger of destruction, there is nobody who is spending any significant amounts on R&D. Add to this the intense development work going on in the open source community, and you can only begin to get a picture of a seriously fragmented situation becoming even more fluid.

Walt Boyes is co-author of "e-Business in Manufacturing: Putting the Internet to Work in the Industrial Enterprise" ISA Press - Sept. 2001, ISBN:1-55617-758-5.

Click Send eMail to Walt Boyes: walt@waltboyes.com

Click Go to the Automation List discussion on this important topic

RIFs, layoffs and golden handshakes

In the past, the industrial automation business was stable - unlike the up-today-down-tomorrow high-tech stars and the dot.com darlings. However, these days big layoffs seem to be the only solution the current leaders of major automation companies seem to be able to come up with.

There are several expressions used to make the nasty job of layoffs more palatable - cutback, downsizing, reduction-in-force (RIF) are the most common. When a revenue slump occurs - and continues - downsizing is inevitable. The first cut is usually to eliminate marginal people - those who are clearly not contributing. But, what happens after that? When does a company hurt itself by letting good people go? Think about this : When your colleague is RIFd, it's a Recession; when YOU are RIFd it's a Depression!

My friend Bob Tutelman provided Robert's RIF Rules:

  • RIF 1: Liposuction
  • RIF 2: Amputation
  • RIF 3: Dismemberment
Most employees who are let-go are given "the standard company severance package". In the US, it is usually a week per year of service; in European countries itís typically more.

But, the deposed CEO, the one supposedly responsible for leading the company into decline, usually walks away with a "golden handshake: a big lump-sum payment equivalent to several years of his "compensation", plus possibly a pension and continuation of benefits.

Here are my Gorilla's Golden Guidelines :

  • GGG 1: Plant your buddies on the board.
  • GGG 2: Praise yourself and blame everyone else for poor performance.
  • GGG 3: Predict your exit, prepare your parachute, pull the ripcord.
(Hey! Notice the Pinto-P-alliteration - I didn't do it; it simply flowed from my keyboard...)

Click Great article by Rich Merritt - Layoff the Layoffs

Click InTech August 2001 - Slaying the Downsizing Dragon

Click Honeywell to pay Bonsignore $9 million severance plus benefits

Click Allen Yurko gets $7m when he departs Invensys

Jobs & Resumes on line at ISAjobs.org

For all industries that use instrumentation, systems, and automation, ISAJobs.org is the first place to post employment opportunities and/or view resumes of ISA Members who are available. Whether you seek a PLC expert or a sales manager for your new line of wireless control devices, ISA Members are the professionals you are looking for,

If you have open positions right now, go to ISAjobs.org. Post as many jobs as you like FREE between now and 31 October. Just enter coupon number F1001 when you get to the payment screen.

Click ISAjobs.org

Click Send email to: isajobs@isa.org

The Harrow Technology Report

You might know Jeffrey Harrow from his years of having authored the popular technology newsletter RCFoC - Compaq's Rapidly Changing Face of Computing.

Now Jeff Harrow has struck out on his own as a technology consultant. He will keep you informed of what he is doing on his new website (no affiliation with Compaq). This will also be the hub of how he can share his continuing insights into the worlds of computing and technology that surround us.

Click Sign-up (free) for The Harrow Technology Report

Click Archive of previous RCFoC - Oct. '96 onward

eFeedback

On the Technohuman theme, Tom Nelson [tgnelson@worldnet.att.net] from Sturtevant, Wisconsin (USA) brought up the plausible biotech scenario from Arthur C. Clarke's 1996 book: Richter 10:
    "Arthur Clarke wound together two easily conceivable technologies that would lead to virtual immortality. One technology is cloning. Independent of moral issues, there is no doubt that in the near future we will be able to clone ourselves. The second technology is the ongoing march toward increased miniaturization of microchips and their related huge storage capacity.

    "Clarke's scenario is this: We will be able to implant in our brain a microchip socket and it's chip to store and retrieve life's memory; a sort of carbon-to-silicon-interface RAM drive. The chip will contain all our memories with the capacity for several lifetimes. We will learn to address the memory through our carbon based RAM.

    "People will clone themselves at desired intervals and then transfer the chip from the old self to the new. Repeat the process every 40 - 50 years or affordable intervals. Life, in some sort of existence, could go on forever."

A former Foxboro employee who "pulled the ripcord in December 2000" sent this news on Wednesday, August 29, just before Memorial day:

    "Layoffs again at Foxboro today. So far there are 25 permanent employees terminated, 3 transfers, and 16 technical writers who were contract labor. The layoffs affected Systems Hardware and Software Development and Product Support, Documentation, PCB Design and Corporate Quality Assurance. This cripples support for their small, but highly profitable, nuclear industry product lines. There will be a total of 100 people terminated when all is through this week."

On the previous Invensys (which owns Foxboro) acquisition of Baan, a somewhat disillusioned engineer complained:

    "Invensys may actually succeed with Baan... After all, configuring a @#% ERP system is the same as configuring a @#%() DCS. I compare the work I do with Baan similar in nature to the work I used do on a Foxboro DCS. Boring, overkill for most situations, and not very flexible or agile. Components do not work out of the box. But hey, you can make lots of money selling services to configure and deploy those monsters.

    "So there may be a good fit in combining an ERP company with a DCS company. Both are dinosaurs...."

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