Wednesday May 20, 2009

The Edge of Technology and Systems Thinking

Last year, competitive strategy guru and Harvard business school professor Michael Porter wrote about "Why America Needs an Economic Strategy." In this brief note for BusinessWeek, Porter emphasizes the importance of infrastructure, logistics and educational upgrades in the U.S. economic system, as key success factors.

These infrastructure upgrades will demand new IT technologies deployed throughout, including upgrades related to people logistics and transportation.

These upgrades, including upgrades that will affect the way we live and work in our urban and suburban environments and those that will make public transportation much more attractive alternatives, will also have a direct impact on other ecological problems we face, including the dangerous changes such as the ones that are now affecting the ice caps. See for example, the report in The Independent, "Exclusive: Scientists warn that there may be no ice at North Pole this summer."

System-level thinking teaches us that various domains of our activity and concern are in fact very well-connected and tied up in complex dynamics. 

Tragedies occur when systems and their dynamics are not properly understood.

Relying on hasty moves, fire-fighting and denying the interplay of of dynamics and time has led to many mispercieved problems and "solutions" that only aggravate problems or create new ones.

Careful attention, deep study and addressing the root causes of these global and systemic problems may deliver a better future path to recovery.

In order to do all this, one needs to have a good understanding of complex systems and their dyamics. This is subtle art and requires a comprehensive understanding of various system components and how they interact, including a mental model for these interactions.

I'm afraid I have to bring the news that not everyone has had the experience or has accumulated the knowledge for that kind of integrative thinking.  This is why we should set aside our bias against those who refuse to be dragged into firefights. These are people who pause to pay proper attention to problems and discover real solutions. This pause doesn't imply slow thinking, rather a paced mode of thinking. These people should be cherished rather than isolated, refused and blocked from hierarchical decision systems that emphasize perpetual firefights. (Studies have shown that "firefight" mode of thinking and acting is much more prevalent in U.S. business and government institutions when compare to Japan or other countries where root solutions are the focus. So, we may need a general cultural change to lay greater value to system thinking and problem-solving that addresses root causes.)

In general, systems thinking will get us to where we want to be. In general, symptomatic and firefight solutions may solve the problem momentarily but will only get us farther from where we want to head. 

Tuesday Apr 08, 2008

Open Source Databases on the Rise

Christopher Lawton of The Wall Street Journal reports on the rise of the open source databases:

The potential benefits in cost and flexibility have not been lost on customers. The market for open-source databases is expected to grow 35% to $270 million this year from $200 million in 2007, according to Gartner Inc. Among the earliest adopters are midsized companies, which don't always need the high-end features of conventional databases, says Carl Olofson, analyst with IDC, a market-research firm.

For example, Sun Microsystems Inc. provides supported offerings of MySQL, PostgreSQL and Java DB (Apache / Derby) to its customers.

If you're interested in discussion and community around open source database technologies for Solaris, see here.

Tuesday Oct 09, 2007

The Radical vs. The Conservative

The system-originating inventions can be labeled radical, the system-improving ones conservative.

Thomas P. Hughes (2004), American Genesis: A Century of Inventions and Technological Enthusiasm, 1870-1970 

James Gosling's Java was a radical invention. It was based on a radical design born out of several grueling decades of industry experiments in software languages and software development. Relational databases are implementations of a radical design formulated decades ago.

By Hughes' definition, a radical invention originates new systems.  You cannot have a radical invention without a system. An invention that neither originates a system nor improves it, may simply be called an experiment, or an exploratory idea.

Radical inventions come rarely and they are based on a radical design which answers to a multitude of converging needs. 

A major grouping of today's radical inventions are based on environmental and ecological designs that create intelligent contact with the environment. I like to call them intelligent scaffoldings, whether of networks, buildings, devices or whatever else it is that we live in or live with---customization to contain and to be contained.

What will attract the attention of system-builders of this and next decade? Given the ravages of war and militarism, only human concerns can be the center of such radical system building.  The best inventions are those that bring peace and prosperity, save us time and economize energy---they are inventions that allow us to focus our attentions on what matters most in life.

Tuesday Jan 09, 2007

Partitioning a Disk

Warning: This entry is the story of partitioning a disk.

I've recently moved offices within Sun and just got a new laptop. With a back-up work system, I figured it was a perfect time to go back to the Gateway desktop I've had in my office for some time and try to install Solaris on it.

As would be expected, we have weekly builds of Solaris here, and right across from my office, I can pick up the latest weekly build on a DVD. This seemed like a good place to start.

As a first step, I wondered if I should partition the hard disk on my Gateway machine which currently runs Windows. I didn't really need the Windows operating system any more. I don't use it for any application that would require it and all applications I run are either Java-based or available on Solaris, and I have used Open Office very successfully since 2003 to deal with MS Office based documents.

Nevertheless, I decided that the partitioning exercise was to be had not so much because I was interested in preserving my Windows files but because I wanted to see how easy it was to perform the task without paying for any software. James Liu had earlier mentioned QtParted tool available on Knoppix, which is a Linux OS possible to run from a CD. I had always wanted to use an open source partitioning facility, and this seemed like a good working choice. The alternative, of course, was just not to partition and install using the Solaris installation DVD.

When I was unable to produce my own working Knoppix CD, James kindly came to the rescue and gave me a working CD of Knoppix 5.1.1. James had burned this CD on Solaris. (The CD I had produced kept relegating me to a useless shell of Knoppix perhaps because I was producing it on a Windows XP system with a freeware CD image burner, probably not adequate for my purposes even at low burn speeds. There are commercial tools for burning CDs from CD images on Windows XP but I didn't want to use any of these.) 

The Knoppix OS on the CD works really well. I was now able to load the OS and then run QtParted to resize the existing partition and "create" new ones, and then run QtParted to "commit" these changes. I used suggestions from Richard Friedman which worked really well.

It turns out that the Ferrari laptop on which Richard installed Solaris Express has a similar size of disk to the Gateway machine in my office. The only difference is that QtParted performed the job of disk partitioning in less than 20 minutes on my Gateway machine which compares very well with the 2 hours in the Ferrari experience. As always, we shouldn't compare apples and oranges. The higher speed for partitioning has to do with the two CPUs and the large RAM available on the Gateway box in my office.

More later ...


Monday Jan 08, 2007

Comparing OS-X and Vista

John Welch compares Vista and OS-X. for Network Computing (courtesy of Information Week). He compares these to "Revolution" vs. "Evolution," with OS-X making steady progress towards 10.5 while Vista comes after 6 years of struggle. He puts OS-X on top. Welch includes an image gallery comparing the desktops and some of the dialog boxes and controls. Of course, I cannot say anything here of my own regarding Vista. I've not touched it yet and I use OS-X at home and am perfectly satisfied with it. In fact, we run it on two separate machines shared by 4 people, each with their own accounts, tastes and proclivities. It works just fine and the regular automatic upgrades of OS-X have actually been very useful and smooth as far as our applications of`interest are concerned.



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