According to a new report by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), the US airspace system is incredibly vulnerable to hacking and a state-sponsored hacking effort could paralyze air traffic over North America. Very scary stuff. And as a licensed pilot for 45 years, I can tell you that it’s both true and not true, that the system is horribly hackable but that very vulnerability might be what we need to stimulate real airspace innovation.
Ask any American pilot how they feel about the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and you’ll get variations on the same negative theme. It’s not that pilots love-hate the FAA: there’s no love about it. Pilots tend to hate-ignore the FAA, which is generally viewed as a vindictive regulatory agency caught-up in internal politics and bullshit (that’s a technical term for bureaucratic lethargy). Nobody loves the FAA.
I’m an older guy with younger kids so to some extent I live vicariously through my friends, many of whom have children who are now entering the work force and some of those children can’t find jobs. We’re not in a recession, the economy is expanding, new positions are supposedly being added every day, but the sons and daughters of my friends aren’t generally getting those jobs so they are staying in school or going back to school, joining the Peace Corps., whatever. Everyone is rattled by this. Kids don’t want to move home and parents don’t want to have them move home. Student debt continues to increase. Everyone wants to get on with the lives they thought they were promised -- the lives they’d signed up for and earned.
I haven’t been writing as much lately. This has been for several reasons, some of which may surprise you. It’s true I’ve had to spend a lot of time fending-off attacks from IBM corporate (more on that below) but I’ve mainly been at work on two secret projects. One is a new documentary series for PBS and the other a new technology startup I’m doing with a partner. The PBS series will be announced when PBS decides to announce it but most of the shooting is already done. The startup has taken the traditional VC route and looks, surprisingly, like it will actually be funded. Evidently if your idea is wild enough and your partner is smart enough it’s still possible for an idiot (that would be me) to make it in Silicon Valley. This project, too, will be announced when the money is dry, hopefully in a week or two.
In the meantime I’ve been working on several columns. One of these, about Yahoo, has been especially frustrating. There was a time when companies actually wanted reporters to write about them, but I guess those days are past. I e-mailed Yahoo corporate communications (twice) and have yet to hear back from email@example.com. I called (again twice) the number they give on Yahoo press releases, leaving messages both times but have yet to get a call back from 408-349-4040. For awhile the Yahoo press site was completely down.
With Radio Shack having declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy, with hundreds of stores closing and others possibly becoming Sprint locations, let’s take a moment to look back at the important contributions the company made in the early days of personal computing.
Charles Tandy started the Tandy Leather Company which opened hundreds of little shops in the 1950s selling kits for consumers to make their own tooled leather belts, for example. I made one in 1959, burning my name into the belt with a soldering iron. As leather craft faded as a hobby and electronics boomed many of those Tandy Leather stores became Radio Shacks (but not all -- a few leather stores survive even today). Radio Shack stores always had the advantage of proximity balanced by higher prices. If you needed a part or two you drove down to Radio Shack but if you had a bunch of electronic parts to buy there was generally some cheaper store across town.
gad·fly (ˈɡadˌflī/) noun. 1. a fly that bites livestock, especially a horsefly, warble fly, or botfly. 2. an annoying person, especially one who provokes others into action by criticism.
Sometimes being a gadfly is exactly what’s required. That’s certainly the case with IBM and has been for the almost eight years I’ve been following this depressing story. Gadflies came up because IBM finally reacted today to my last column predicting a massive force reduction this week. They denied it, of course -- not the workforce reduction but its size, saying there won’t be even close to 110,000 workers laid off -- and they called me a gadfly, which was apparently intended as criticism, but I’m rather proud of it.
IBM’s big layoff-cum-reorganization called Project Chrome kicks-off next week when 26 percent of IBM employees will get calls from their managers followed by thick envelopes on their doorsteps. By the end of February all 26 percent will be gone. I’m told this has been in the planning for months and I first heard about it back in November. This biggest reorganization in IBM history is going to be a nightmare for everyone and at first I expected it to be a failure for IBM management, too. But then I thought further and I think I’ve figured it out…
I don’t think IBM management actually cares. More on this later.
It’s time, finally, for my long-delayed 2015 predictions. Things just kept changing so fast I had to keep re-writing, but have finally stopped. 2015 will definitely be the Year of Monetization, by which I mean it’s the year when the bottom line and showing profits will become a key motivator in almost every market. And while profit -- like beer -- is generally good, it isn’t always good for everyone.
So here are my 10 predictions in no particular order.
This was supposed to be time for my technology predictions for 2015, which I’ll get to yet, I promise, but first I want to explain the major trend I see, that 2015 will become known as The Year When Nothing Happened. Of course things will happen in 2015, but I think the year of truly revolutionary change will be 2016, not 2015. It takes time for trends to develop and revolutionary products to hit the market. I’d say the trends are clear, it’s the products and their manufacturers who aren’t yet identifiable.
So here are three areas where I’ll disagree with most of my peers and say I don’t expect to see much visible progress in 2015.
This is the time of year when when I typically write my technology predictions, an annual exercise in ego and humiliation I’ve been doing for about a dozen years. Historically I’ve been around 70 percent correct, which is more accurate than a random walk and therefore maybe -- maybe -- worth reading. You decide.
But first let’s look back at my predictions from a year ago to see how I did. Understand that I’m the only pundit who actually reviews his previous year’s predictions. If only I could be a weasel like those other guys!
Readers have been asking me to write about the recent network hack at Sony Pictures Entertainment. If you run a company like Sony Pictures it has to be tough to see your company secrets stolen all at once -- salaries, scripts, and Social Security numbers all revealed along with a pre-release HD copy of Annie, not to mention an entire database of unhappy Sony employees who want to work anywhere Adam Sandler doesn’t. But frankly my dear I don’t give a damn about any of that so let’s cut to the heart of this problem which really comes down to executive privilege.
Sony was hacked because some president or vice-president or division head or maybe an honest-to-God movie star didn’t want something stupid like network security to interfere with their Facebook/YouTube/porn/whatever workplace obsession. Security at Sony Pictures wasn’t breached, it was abandoned, and this recent hack is the perfectly logical result.
Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe, when I worked for him 20 years ago, taught me that we tend to over-estimate change in the short term and under-estimate it in the long term. So it can be pretty obvious what is coming but not at all obvious when. And what we know about the when of it is that making money from new technologies is often a matter of investing right before that bend upward in the hockey stick of exponential change.
We all know television is bound to enter a new era sooner or later. Heck, I’ve written dozens of columns on the subject over my 17 years in this job. But this is the first time I feel confident in saying when this TV transition will take place. It already has. Forces are already in motion that will completely transform TV over the next 24 months. Come back two years from today and it will all be different with at least a few new leaders and a few icons gone bust. Get ready for TV 3.0.
Given IBM’s earnings miss last week and the impact it had on company shares I thought rather than just criticizing the company it might make better sense to consolidate my ideas for how to fix IBM. Here they are.
Early in his tenure as CEO, Sam Palmisano made changes that created IBM’s problems today. IBM customers are buying fewer products and services. Revenue has dropped each quarter for the past ten. Sam’s changes alienated IBM customers, many of whom are ending what has been in many cases a multi-decade relationship. No amount of earnings promises, no amount of financial engineering, will fix this problem.
This week, of all weeks, with IBM seemingly melting-down, you’d think I’d be writing about it and I have been, just not here. You can read two columns on IBM I published over at forbes.com, here and here. They are first day and second day analyses of IBM’s earnings announcement and sale of its chip division to GlobalFoundries. I could publish them here three days from now but by then nobody will care so instead I’ll just give you the links.
One thing I can do here is consider the way IBM CEO Ginni Rometty is spinning this story. She was all over the news on Monday repudiating the 2015 earnings target set by her predecessor Sam Palmisano and more or less claiming to be a victim -- along with the rest of IBM -- of Sam’s bad management. Well she isn’t a victim. Ginni was an active participant in developing the Death March 2015 strategy. And as CEO -- now CEO and chairman -- it’s laughable to contend, as Ginni apparently does, that she has been somehow bound by Sam’s bad plan.
Two weeks ago IBM told the IT world it was taking on Intel in the battle for server chips with new Power8 processors incorporating advanced interconnection and GPU technology from NVIDIA. This followed an announcement earlier in the year that Google was using Power8 processors in some of its homemade servers. All this bodes well for IBM’s chip unit, right?
Not so fast.
Back in the 1980s, when I was the networking editor at InfoWorld, one of my jobs was to write profiles of corporate networks. One of those profiles was of the Adolph Coors Brewing Company of Golden, Colorado, now known as Molson Coors Brewing. I visited the company’s one brewery at the time, interviewed the head of IT and the top network guy, then asked for a copy of the very impressive network map they had on the wall.
"Sorry, we can’t give you that," they said. "It’s private".