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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

"Commander in Cheap"-Parallel-to-Reality

ABC’s new show "Commander in Chief" is a deliberate attempt to soothe the nation into the alien concept of a female president in order to grease the skids for a Hillary Clinton presidential bid in 2008. It's perfectly timed so Geena Davis' vice president character takes over for the dead president mid term to align the 2007 – 2008 season for a reelection plotline that coincides with the actual elections so "fictional" episodes can illustrate right-wing smear campaigns against the "independent" Geena Davis while ultimately allowing her character to overcome and triumph.

As I watched the show and developed this utter hatred and contempt for the entire conspiracy, I was alerted to the unveiled attempts to connect the characters with reality. Cheney's name was mentioned (by Geena herself) to make me believe the timeframe of this farce is sometime after the present day; however, I couldn't help but notice the countless references to the Clintons – "when Mrs. Clinton was first lady she did this" – as if George W. Bush had never been elected.

The parallels to the Democrat agenda for Hillary are so blatantly obvious that it insults my intelligence to have me assume there is no hidden ruse. In today's television culture, it's quite scary to think of the implications to the masses of ignorant lemmings that feed hungrily on the pap shoveled into their faces by a liberal slanted media.

With a simple formula for success in television programming – copy any program that works – the networks don't need to invest much time in creative broadcasting. "Lost" has spawned "Surface" and "Invasion". The buxom Jennifer Love Hewitt stars in "The Ghost Whisperer", a parallel to "Medium". Just how many lawyer shows are there? Lesser known MTV reality shows preceded "Survivor" which begat countless reality based, vote-off shows. People follow the network airwaves to the shows they are familiar with. They incorporate the plotlines and politics into their view of the world; possibly because the television is their only source of education. In my recent jury duty, it was mentioned that there was "no forensic evidence like on 'CSI' so we can't possibly convict".

It pains me to think of uninformed couch potatoes appearing in droves at the polls in 2008 armed with their television guides and utter conviction that a female president (no doubt Hillary) will further the cause of American democracy and be the best choice for our Republic. After all, she does fine on TV.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Intelligent Evolution

A trial is underway to decide whether a concept called "Intelligent Design" should be introduced in high school science classes before curriculum on evolution is taught. As I see it, the trial should be over rather quickly as this all just seems to be a mix up. Intelligent Design should definitely be taught in high schools; however, it should be in religion class, not science class. I can’t believe this isn’t obvious to everyone.

First, let’s state the fact that Intelligent Design – like its root: Creationism – is a creation of someone’s imagination. A thought – even a brilliant one – does not a scientific theory make. Science is based on the scientific method in which one develops a hypothesis based on observations and then seeks evidence through experimentation to prove or disprove the hypothesis. A predictable and repeatable test to demonstrate a hypothesis can sometimes elevate the idea to a theory. Scientific laws have the utmost stringent requirements for demonstrable proof and positive reinforcement. Evolution is a theory – not a law. Creationism is neither.

Darwin wrote his theories of evolution after long observations on what could be considered as close to a closed biological system that is possible in a real world environment. His theories have consistently been reinforced by further scientific research in many fields. Sub-cellular biology has provided a deep knowledge of the inner workings of our most basic of building blocks that unite all species. And still, natural selection holds true.

Intelligent Design reasons a higher power of intelligence had to be involved in the creation of species because the sheer complexity of life itself is far too intricate to have evolved from lesser building blocks. This is a debate based on flawed logic. Intelligent Design is not a theory because you can’t disprove it. It can only be a theory if there is demonstrable proof in favor of its hypothesis.

I can tell you that an elephant is sitting here telling me what to type and as absurd as you think it is, you have to believe it unless you can prove me wrong. Therefore, elephants are not only superior beings able to communicate with a human, but they possess an elevated intellect and the ability to link thoughts and ideas to express an opinion and defend its validity. One can easily find an elephant and disprove this. Further elephant research would confirm that this outrageous claim is most likely false. With ongoing support, wild elephants could be evaluated to debunk this ruse. However, Intelligent Design proponents are quite a bit more lucky because the “intelligence” (which is simply the term used to obscure the pink elephant in the room: creationists have found a politically correct way to say “god”) is not to be found and therefore, unable to be questioned.

Of course, this works both ways. Intelligent Design can not be proven for the same reasons its proponents believe it can’t be unproven. There is nothing to test. There is no demonstrable evidence in favor of the hypothesis as there is none against it. Therefore, Intelligent Design is nothing more than an idea of how we got here. In a fact based study like science with rules and methods to develop sound ideas into theories and facts, there is no place for a proposal that ignores the rules and presents no evidence to forward a concept that already has a place in the church – not the science classroom.

~ Postscript ~

The time and complexity involved in the theories of evolution and natural selection may well be too broad to comprehend for the human mind. The observations of Darwin and those who followed in his footsteps have only occurred over less than 200 years. The scale of the entire evolutionary process that the theories describe occurred over billions of years. It is foolish to expect to see noticeable and dramatic changes in decades versus the possible mutations that can occur over millions of years – let alone billions.

Perhaps it is not for the human mind to understand or even comprehend how or why we are here. Perhaps our best purpose – and that of science – should be focused on understanding the afflictions that affect us and the inherent flaws in human nature that cause us to act in certain ways. While there is valuable insight to be gained from the knowledge of how we came about, debates between religious ideas that are simply though up and scientific theory that has been rigorously tested and supported have no place in the quest for fact-based knowledge.

Until we can apply proven science to cure death, we all will eventually learn the answer to Intelligent Design’s real question – is there or is there not a god.

Friday, September 23, 2005

IP Telephony Doesn't Mean Phones

In my previous entry Takeaways from VON, I commented that Voice over IP doesn't mean IP telephones on desktops, but rather, simply: Voice over IP. That of course translates to anywhere IP can go, voice can go. Hence, if IP can go to a computer, so can voice - and with software phones, there is no need for the physical handset to sit on a desktop.

In fact, the handset is an anchor for mobility. If you rely on the handset, you are no longer allowed to experience the true mobility that VoIP can offer. Recently, I've started relying solely on my IP Communicator (Cisco software phone) rather than my desktop 7970. I've had no issues - other than the headset being rather odd instead of the usual phone handset. The only reason I keep the 7970 connected is to get the video provided with VT Advantage as this is not yet supported on the IP Communicator client.

As I sent an email to Cisco asking when a future VT Advantage/IP Communicator integration will happen, I found myself wondering if it ever would. It doesn’t make good business sense for a company that sells hardware IP phones (among other things) to integrate their software offerings such that they eliminate the need for the hardware. I’m quite sure IP telephones do not make a substantial contribution to Cisco’s bottom line, but with the latest announcements for IP phone rollouts, 60,000 7970 phones passed over for cheap software would make quite a dent in a salesman’s pocket.

The barrier for entry into the VoIP realm for a vendor is substantially lower if the vendor realizes they do not need to produce an actual hardware phone. Software development alone is much cheaper than the hardware and software development needed for a hardware platform not to mention the associated manufacturing costs that are surpassed in favor of a software only solution. Take Microsoft’s Live Communication Server (LCS) client – at VON, this seemed to be the software phone of the future (without expressly saying so). Microsoft doesn’t make an IP phone nor do they manufacture servers for IP PBX’s; however, they don’t plan on missing out on the VoIP market.

While the fact remains that most end users appreciate the comfort of a hardware handset (even I still find myself reaching for the 7970 occasionally), as convergence enables multiple modes of communication from the computer itself, the phone will logically (and physically) move there. Even if I did still use the 7970, I don’t need to actually dial numbers as I have a select and dial application that automatically connects my handset to a dialed number without me lifting a finger (except to click the mouse button). With the ability to launch instant messaging or video from the computer desktop, the telephony integration occurs with more ease in the same space.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Takeaways from VON

I wrapped up my attendance at the VON conference in Boston today and I'm left with a few takeaways that are insights, opinions and still some unanswered questions. While the entire conference seemed more focused on VoIP endpoints and VoIP offerings for service providers, there were still some presentations geared toward the enterprise customers.

In particular, I was interested in Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and its role in future VoIP deployments as well as possible migration and integration paths to SIP from current VoIP architectures. Currently, I'm in an enterprise that uses mainly Cisco Call Manager (CCM) for voice and H.323 systems for video (with a mix of other technologies) and the messaging platform is non-Microsoft. This presents many hurdles when talking about the future of network collaboration: presence.

While Microsoft had its own booth at VON, every vendor presentation I attended included tie-ins to Live Communication Server (LCS) 2005. This seems to be the de facto standard for presence aware collaboration in the convergence realm. This assumption leaves me wondering about a few things in particular: buddy lists, PBX integration and email.

While I do use a personal address book for contacts that are not in my company, I do not use the company's personal address book for internal contacts. I use Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) because it is dynamically updated as employees join, leave and change contact information and it is centralized. I seem to remember the precursor to the Domain Name System (DNS) – the hosts file – failing miserably when trying to scale to meet the ever growing needs of the Internet. As enterprises grow in size, a centralized database of users and their endpoints is essential. The "buddy lists" that we learned to love from AOL Instant Messenger can play a small role for important quick contacts, but a desktop client showing all users and their presence is not practical. Furthermore, having to add users to my local list just to contact them is unacceptable.

My second thought is a concern spawned by the lack of Cisco demos showing future SIP and presence aware applications integrating with CCM. This is very troubling as an enterprise customer with an investment in CCM and a desire to enable real-time collaboration for my user community. It seems the Cisco/Microsoft alliance for CCM could be reaching an end now that people are realizing that VoIP does not imply a Voice over IP telephone, but simply Voice over IP [read: the endpoint does not need to be hardware on a user's desktop]. While Cisco makes a software phone, it is not nearly as integrated with LCS 2005 as Microsoft's client. Furthermore, Microsoft's dominance on the desktop enables them to develop a software phone that integrates Voice over IP with on-demand video, instant messaging and conferencing. While today, an IP PBX may be required for the backend functionality like conferencing, call-park and transfer, it may not be long before those traditional PBX features are "bundled" into LCS.

Finally, with the latest polls citing Instant Messaging (IM) will surpass email usage by 2008, I'm left wondering what will become of email? It's just a matter of time before I can send an IM to an offline user and the smart IM server stores the request (much like email) until it can be sent to the client. The new IM client is no longer a chat window but a more robust email-like client that sorts messages like a news reader – in threads by author. Unread messages highlight the author's name in my client and allow me to drill down and read messages or respond real-time if the remote party is online. This merging of email and IM seems the next logical step as the lines between the two technologies blur.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Reach the Beach Relay - 2005

Up until the Wednesday night before the race, we only had a 10-person team. Amazingly, we found another runner and convinced a colleague to fly and drive in from Cincinnati to round out our 12-person roster.

For all the last minute planning and the dedicated running of our team, we placed 36th overall out of 300 teams and 8 out of 23 in our class - Men's Masters.

Genetically Challenged - Men's Masters

36/285 - 8/23

Back row from left: Matt (leg 12), Gabriel [aka: The Janitor] (leg 3), Jeff (leg 11), Gavin (leg 6), Jul (leg 5), Rich [aka: El Capitain] (leg 1), John (leg 7)

Front row from left: Tom (leg 9), Jason (leg 4), Vince [aka: Me] (leg 2), Dan (leg 10), Ted (leg 8)

The Adventures of Rich and Vince

Characters courtesy of Planearium

Monday, September 12, 2005

IP Telephony Applications Go Beyond the Phone

I recently read an article that quoted a survey from a research firm that asked customers what were the motivating factors for IP telephony. ‘Applications’ came in a close second to integrated networks. The article went on to describe the myriad of third party and integrator written applications that provide a user interface through Extensible Mark-up Language (XML) on the IP telephone. They missed the point completely.

IP telephony indeed creates converged networks and allows for tight integration between a telephone and a computer. Thus, traditionally computer based applications can be incorporated into the phone, but much more beneficial from both an ease of use and productivity perspective is the integration of telephony to the computer desktop.

An attendance application accessed through an IP telephone display allowing a teacher to track student attendance and record it to a backend database is a novel idea. However, most classrooms I’ve been in don’t have a telephone on the teacher’s desk. What’s more, you’d be hard pressed to find a teacher without a laptop nowadays. With the push for Internet ready classrooms, a wired (if not wireless) connection is available for the teacher’s computer eliminating the need for the IP telephone attendance application. Furthermore, ever try dialing by name on a 10-digit numeric keypad? It’s painful and slow when compared to the more intuitive interface for alpha-numeric entry into a computer system – the keyboard and mouse.

IP telephone applications can serve a purpose – easy access to a calculator or measurement converter, weather reports by zip code – in fact, any application that requires number input is relatively easy and intuitive. Additionally, phones are much more pervasive than computers, so the right IP telephone application can fill a void where a computer would have otherwise needed to exist. For example, an IP telephone time clock application on a factory floor eliminates the need for a separate phone and time clock and can seamlessly link the time clock application to an IP database that integrates with workers’ personnel information. The original article covered the IP telephone based applications but completely missed the integration of telephony to computer applications. This is where the real benefit of IP telephony is seen.

An IP telephony based call center integrates computer based ticketing systems and user directories with a telephony Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and queuing mechanisms for callers. Screen pops to the support personnel’s monitor offer detailed caller information based on data gathered by the IVR menu system. Select and dial applications allow a user to highlight a phone number anywhere on the computer desktop – in a contact database, a document or even a web page – and send the number to the IP telephone for dialing. IP software phones can even eliminate the need for a hardware handset. For mobile users, this provides the next level of flexibility in communications. With a VPN, a remote user can use their work phone extension as if they were at their desk.

Integrating telephony into traditional computer applications will give rise to the next “killer app”. A presence aware application that unites disparate communications paths regardless of vendor or end device is not a fantasy. Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) enabled devices will provide the uniform protocol to enable application writers to tie email, voice mail and instant messaging with audio and video telephony and real-time collaboration all from a user’s computer. Moving audio telephony to the computer and doing away with the hardware phone set completes the true mobility solution and allows a user freedom of communication transparency. The user can be anywhere and yet collaborate with team members as if they were in a conference room or sitting next to each other at their office desks.

Moving away from a telephone handset and a videoconferencing endpoint and providing these services through desktop based application allows for cost savings on expensive hardware and transfers capital expenditures to more affordable software model. Licensing costs may vary depending on vendor, but with open standards like SIP, there are sure to be freeware alternatives for Small and Medium sized Business (SMB).

The benefit of IP telephony can not be expressed in a single statement – a converged network is easier to manage, users have more mobility, support costs are reduced, application integration increases productivity. These are all true statements, so the motivating factors for an IP telephony deployment can not be reduced to a single requirement. Rather, a holistic view of the benefits to the enterprise and its users help to justify the movement towards converged communications, not a sexy application on an IP telephone’s display.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Who's to Blame for Natural Disasters?

It's quite disappointing to see story after story of political bashing and racial insinuation regarding the response (or lack thereof) to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. However poorly the coordinated response looked, it took a lot of people to mess things up as badly as is being portrayed. Laying blame on the president or his administration is woefully short of the full culpability for all involved parties including local and state officials who were criminally negligent in not ordering mandatory evacuations.

In fact, mandatory evacuations would have solved many of the current problems. There would be no worries about dropping water to survivors stranded on bridges. There would be no search and rescue (recovery) missions conducted while looters shoot at helicopters. There would be issues of toxic water threatening the stubborn populace that insists on remaining in their flood ravaged shells in the newest southern bayou. Take a lesson from the Israelis and their state sponsored evacuations of Gaza.

The fact remains that mandatory evacuations would have been a highly political issue in and of itself for the local and state government – those who maintain the first line of defense and ultimately should bear the full brunt of responsibility for their lack of inaction. Unfortunately, it seems political ambition took the place of prudent forecasting and now as we all watch relief efforts and point fingers, it seems left slanted media are completing the illusion by deflecting blame and questions towards the federal response that addresses the symptoms rather than the glaring lack of immediate local and state response that would have eliminated the problem before it began.

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