Is AI a distraction???

AutomationI was recently in an exchange with a respected industry analyst where they stated that AI is not living up to its hype – they called AI ‘incremental’ and a ‘distraction’. This caught me a bit my surprise, since my view is that there are more capabilities and approaches available for AI practitioners than ever before. It may be the business and tech decision makers approach that is at fault.

It got me thinking about the differences in ‘small’ AI efforts vs. Enterprise AI efforts. Small AI are those innovative, quick efforts that can prove a point and deliver value and understanding in the near term. Big AI (and automation efforts) are those that are associated with ERP and other enterprise systems that take years to implement. These are likely the kinds of efforts that the analyst was involved with.

Many of the newer approaches enable the use of the abundance of capabilities available to mine the value out of the existing data that lies fallow in most organizations. These technologies can be tried out and applied in well defined, short sprints whose success criteria can be well-defined. If along the way, the answers were not quite what was expected, adjustments can be made, assumptions changed, and value can still be generated. The key is going into these projects with expectations but still flexible enough to change based on what is known rather than just supposition.

These approaches can be implemented across the range of business processes (e.g., budgeting, billing, support) as well as information sources (IoT, existing ERP or CRM). They can automate the mundane and free up high-value personnel to focus on generating even greater value and better service. Many times, these focused issues can be unique to an organization or industry and provide immediate return. This is not the generally not the focus of Enterprise IT solutions.

This may be the reason some senior IT leaders are disillusioned with the progress of AI in their enterprise. The smaller, high-value project’s contributions are round off error to their scope. They are looking for the big hit and by its very nature will be a compromise, if not a value to really move the ball in any definitive way – everyone who is deploying the same enterprise solution, will have access to the same tools…

My advice to those leaders disenchanted with the return from AI is to shift their focus. Get a small team out there experimenting with ‘the possible’. Give them clear problems (and expectations) but allow them the flexibility to bring in some new tools and approaches. Make them show progress but be flexible enough to understand that if their results point in a different direction, to shift expectations based on facts and results. There is the possibility of fundamentally different levels of costs and value generation.  

The keys are:

1)      Think about the large problems but act on those that can be validated and addressed quickly – invest in the small wins

2)      Have expectations that can be quantified and focus on value – Projects are not a ‘science fair’ or a strategic campaign just a part of the business

3)      Be flexible and adjust as insight is developed – just because you want the answer to be ‘yes’ doesn’t mean it will be, but any answer is valuable when compared to a guess

Sure, this approach may be ‘incremental’ (to start) but it should make up for that with momentum and results. If the approach is based on expectations, value generation and is done right, it should never be a ‘distraction’.


An SUV I couldn’t stand

This weekend, we rented a car to go to a high school graduation in Texas. When we arrived in Houston, I hopped out of the rental car bus looking forward to my choice of cars. There at the end of the aisle was a Mercedes SUV. I thought “I’ve never had one of those, now’s the Time.” We jumped in and off we went.

The first thing I noticed was that there were 4 (count them four) levers on the steering column. Who needs a porcupine for a steering column.

It was foggy. The first encounter with this little design gem was that one of the levers was located in exactly the same location as the wiper controls on my wife’s Chevy Equinox. The big difference in experience was that if you touch this lever, it drops you into neutral and one time even into park.

There is also a button on the console between the seats that when your hand brushes it, you are now in manual transmission mode rather than automatic. That happened twice before I figured out what was causing it. Flappy paddle shifting can be fun, but only when you expect it.

A bonus feature was that along my drive between Houston and Austin, the following screen kept popping up:

I like a leasurely drive as much as the next person, but to remind me to stop and take a break every 30 minutes is a bit much. I am driving across Texas, not to the grocery store. There is only so much coffee one can drink.

Another thing I found truly disappointing was the entertainment system. In the Equinox, Chevy has made it so the phone can display maps… on the large screen built into the car, allowing me to see the map that I am trying to follow or the progress in the podcast. Not on the Mercedes!

The final bow was when I was about half an hour from the rental return, the car decided it had enough of the Texas heat, and the window cracked, halfway across the drivers side.

I must say that for a car that costs as much as a down payment for a family home, I was a bit disappointed. Maybe that’s because the folks who buy this are looking for status and not convenient transportation. I’m out.

First flight in months

Headed to Round Rock, TX for a graduation. This is my first flight since October and after all the issues and controversy about flying lately, I am hoping for an uneventful flight.

Based on the level of traffic at the Starbucks in the Savannah airport, it should be a quiet flight.

Hopefully, I’ll be home before the first tropical depression of the year can make things interesting.

Woodworking and Yard Dice

diceAn interesting game my daughter recently showed me was Lawn Farkle or Lawn Yahtzee. For these games, you’ll need 5-6 lawn size dice. When I looked on-line, these dice ranged from about $30 up to $100 for a set of 6. Naturally, I thought I should be able to make these with stuff I had lying around. It did turn out to be a bit more work than I expected.

This post is a summary to make these (not so little) gems. I have a more detailed version (with pictures) if anyone is interested.

1)      First, you start with a 24” 4×4 or two glued together 2x4s to make about 24 inches that are 3 ½ inches on a side, since we’re going to turn them into 3 ½ inch wooden cubes. Be aware of where the knots in the wood are located, since you may need a longer piece of wood to work around these flaws.

2)      If you are using 2x4s.

  1. If you have a joiner, join the two faces of the 2×4 that you plan to glue together. This will enable an almost seamless connection.
  2. Glue both faces of the 2x4s you plan to glue together to ensure a strong seam. Make sure there is smooth even coat of water proof glue, since the dice will be used outside.
  3. Clamp them together and wait about 24 hours for the glue to set. You may need to clamp in two dimensions to ensure that boards are aligned. You may want to look at the grain of the wood and how they come together before you glue, to make the desired grain pattern. The end grain of the glued together board formed a pattern like this: )( Essentially, forming an X.

3)      If you have a joiner, clean up the side of the wood to make it smooth, square and ready to rip. The joined face is the one that will be placed against the fence of the table saw.

4)      You’ll need to rip the board (based on their shortest dimension) to form the square cross-section. Measure the smallest dimension and use that to rip the other dimension to the same size. If you made this out of 2x4s glued together, you’ll end up with a 3×3 (approximately) board after ripping. You may be tempted to use a ¼ inch roundover router bit right now to round off the edges, while the board is still large, but wait — since you’ll likely need to resurface the edges later.

5)      Measure the board’s width and use the smallest dimension to cut the board into cubes, using a chop saw. I found it best to measure again after each cut, don’t try to make all the cuts at once, since the saw will take out some of the wood each cut.

7)      Next, find a set of dice and use one as a reference and mark the wooden cubes with a pencil, where the faces should be. Use an awl and mark the cubes, where the spots should be located. The following illustration should useful.



8)      There are several ways to tackle placing the spots on the dice. You could use a ½” Forstner bit, wood burning, paint, epoxy… This description, will use the Forstner bit to make the hole and then put in a contrasting colored plug.  Keep in mind, you’re going to need a large number of these plugs since each dice has 21 spots.

9) Drill the holes in the cube where the awl marks are located. I used a drill press to make the holes and made them about 1/8” in depth.

10) Next you’ll need to use a ½” plug cutter to make the plugs for dots. In my case, I used some scrap walnut strips. The wood will need to be a bit longer than the hole depth cut in the previous step. Keep in mind, you’re going to need quite a bit of whatever material you choose. Go slow when cutting the holes, since it is easy to tear out.

The other choice is to use an appropriately sized dowel and cut plugs to the correct length using a scroll saw. This was much faster than making the plugs.

11) Place some glue in the holes of the cube and insert the plugs you’ve cut. You may need a hammer at this point. I recommend using a waterproof glue since these are going to be used outside.

12) Next, you’ll likely need to trim off the excess wood from the plugs (with a band saw) and sand the face until smooth

13)  Finally, you can route the edges with a ¼ inch roundover router bit.

14)  You can stain the cubes and use polyurethane or Danish oil… to protect them from the elements. Since two of the faces will be end cut, you may want to use some glue size on these surfaces to minimize the amount of stain that’s absorbed. If you don’t, these faces will be significantly darker. You can either buy glue size or just make it by diluting your wood glue by 90% and painting it on the ends, to fill up the end grain.

15) To roll a set of dice, you’ll need some kind of bucket, large enough to hold them all.

Tools required:

  1. Pencil
  2. Table saw to rip the boards into square boards
  3. Chop saw to make the cubes
  4. Band saw to trim the spots on the cubes
  5. Drill Press
  6. Drill ½” bit or equivalent for the spots (and dowels or a plug cutter if you’re going to fill them in with wood)
  7. Sander
  8. Sand paper
  9. Tape measure
  10. Rubber Mallet
  11. Waterproof glue
  12. Joiner


And pretty much any other dice game you can think of.

Operating FT8 out of South Carolina

I recently (finally) put up a stealth antenna on my new home in South Carolina. Due to home owners association rules… it is not as easy as it used to be for hams to have an outside antenna. Thanks to an MFJ automatic remote antenna tuner I mounted on my roof and a long wire, I have an antenna – not a great antenna but any antenna is better than no antenna, when you’re a ham.

One thing that has changed in the last year that I’ve been in the process of moving to SC is the innovation of FT8, a weak-signal mode that came on the ham scene in a big way during the latter half of 2017. This mode, combined with some signal tracking (PSKreporter), provides a good mechanism for identifying how well your antenna is working.

Usually, this time of year, the 20 meter band closes up a few hours after sunset – if it opens up at all based on the sunspot cycle. Last night (May 17th), at about 8PM Eastern, I made a few contacts with FT8 on 20 meters and then left the radio tracking the stations it heard overnight. I tracked 539 transmitters in 31 countries – most of them between 8PM and 10PM.

A visual of what was heard looks like:

stations heard

I was also interested in how well I was heard between 8 and 9PM when I was transmitting, using about 25 watts. The stations that heard me looked like:

stations the heard me

That was 247 stations in 31 countries.

Not too bad considering the house has techshield radiant barrier, turning the inside of the house into a Faraday cage. I am going to continue experimenting with bands and times of day and hope to compare it against other local hams that have ‘real’ antennas.

One of the great things about this hobby is that even those that are resource constrained can still have fun and experiment.

May the Fourth be with you

May_the_4th_be_with_you_(Star_Wars_Day)Yes, once again it’s Star Wars day, which also happens to be my birthday. Kismet!

Here is a link to a post a few years back on the topic of What if CIOs were Star War’s characters?

Here is a segment from 2017 on ABC with more background on this ‘holiday’.

With Solo: A Star Wars Story coming out later this month to open out the summer blockbuster season, this is a time of abundance for Star Wars Fans.

The GIF is a fan created GIF, I had to borrow.

New Yorker Article on Digital Vigilantes

securityIf you are interested in Cybersecurity, there is an article I found well worth reading (or at least skimming) in the New Yorker – The Digital Vigilantes Who Hack Back. It seemed like something I’d be more likely to find in Wired than The New Yorker, but I’ll take stories like this where I can find them.

The article talks about some of the techniques and issues for moving beyond a pro-active cyber defence.

With tools like Canary and techniques to create homegrown honeypots becoming more prevalent, it’s good to see (what I saw as) a well thought out article discussing some of the technical and legislative issues, using layman terminology.