NASA and the birth of Brittle Computing…

16 04 2014
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Off the technical track for a day.

  1. I started following NASA in 1966 when I was five years old. I was enthralled by the concept of a human being able to leave the surly bounds of earth.
  2. I had the opportunity to work for a former CIO of NASA and talk about his perceptions about what was going on while he was there.

Two huge disclaimers in all fairness. I downloaded the iTunes Apollo mission recordings. I love the pause (Houston we are a go for retro burn – pause, pause, pause Roger Eagle you are a go.) I was riveted to the television for the replays of every launch. When the first Apollo test launch was announced I was beyond overjoyed. Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom was on the mission. I cried when that craft blew up. It was the hope and dream for all of us that day and it was a huge setback. In the end though it was only the first of others, and it was the door opener for the safe return of many more.

NASA launched me into discovery of Science Fiction. I read Asimov, Heinlein, Clark, Bova and Orson Scott Card. Each of them a unique vision of what could be. NASA made many of those pieces and dreams real. 

It shaped my love of technology and in the end my addiction to gadgets. Always looking for a different way to do things – make things easier and tasks smaller. It shaped my personal growth in the area of technology.

The reason for today’s post has to do with the number of posts I’ve made recently about the concept Brittle Computing. The optimism created by the NASA team in the end is part of why Brittle Computing started. People, coming off the successful NASA missions wanted to do more and more with computers. NASA was doing more with so much less (imagine – many of the computers and backups on the Apollo missions were 8 bit computers. You have more power in your cellular phone now).

I think, in examine the birth of Brittle Computing I’ve come to realize that there was another movement going on. Technology was pushing out of the enterprise and into the consumer world. That shift really hits full stride by the end of the initial great bubble burst the market underwent in 1999. What once was Enterprise IT driven (from the 50’s until nearly 2000) was giving way to a consumer driven reality.

It makes me wonder, what could NASA do today given the budgets of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. When NASA and the D.O.D. drove innovation in the computer world. How far could the space program move now without the need for building and developing entire technology families?

The other side of Brittle Computing – Brittle Innovation. It has two flavors – its not possible and do it somewhere else.


Scott Andersen

IASA Fellow.

The search for a small portable color printer…

15 04 2014
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I’ve had a number of small/portable color photo printers over the years. The first one I ever got was the Pogo – a printer that used Polaroid technology. I used it for a long time (maybe two years) and then got a VuPoint photo cube.

That was great because you could plug your iPhone 4 and 4s right into the printer and away you went.

I used the printer mostly for quickly printing out pictures mostly on vacation that could be easily shared. Passing around your iPhone isn’t the easiest way to share pictures. Plus, as a blind squirrel photographer I do occasional take good pictures.

Lately I have been considering upgrading to a wireless photo cube printer. I have virtually all of the printers in the house (other than the plotter and 3d printer) connected to the home network. I suspect in the long run I don’t need a portable photo printer but then again you never know.

It’s a nice to have – which of course is always the hardest thing to figure out. Additionally since I got my VuPoint the market has changed considerably. There are a number of nice solutions in the photo cube Dyesub printing market. Canon and Epson both have solutions. HP doesn’t have one that fits the bill but they do have a nice portable inkjet printer. DyeSub prints last longer than inkjet and do a better job for photos. I had an awesome Kodak years ago that printed up to 11 by 14 Dyesub but that was back when Kodak was still in that business – they have since exited.

In the end I am staying in the Canon family. I have a day to day wi-fi inkjet I use for throwing a quick print out. Just to see in the end if it looks at all like what I was shooting for. The Selphie is a nice product set and having a Dye Sublimation printer remains the best way to print a photo.


Scott Andersen

IASA Fellow.

The evolution of a Brittle Culture…

14 04 2014
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There have been a number of great blogs lately – 7 things highly effective people never do, 10 things poor employees always do. I think in the end they are interesting/great because they make me think about the interaction of people.

But there are more positive approaches that can be considered. The first is the reality of communication. All of us like the occasional pat on the back saying good job. Based on that as a manager it behooves us to do just that – say good job when a good job is done. That way if something isn’t done correctly you can simply point to the previous actions and say – let’s get this fixed.

If we consider the reality of a Brittle Culture we can begin to see the what and why of the impact of that as well. Brittle Cultures don’t bend (they break) and often do things over and over the same way. Survival would then in theory dictate that you “go with the flow” but you have to wonder if that is in the end the right thing to do.

Brittle isn’t just the edges of the culture. It can be the very core and function of an organization. Success can breed Brittleness into a culture (we’ve always done things this way). Failure can of course also create Brittleness but that is by design. Failure is the greatest teacher ever offered, ever. Consistent failure can be a fantastic learning experience. Or the end of a company/organization.

Communication can limit an organization’s effectiveness. Brittleness can limit the ability of an organization to continue on the path it has chosen. The last piece of this overall puzzle is time. It manifests itself by allowing for the continued “we’ve always done things this way” brittle edges to the culture. That in the end drives innovators away from the organization. Or worse, allows the innovations to exist (to prevent the brittle culture issues) but then kills the innovation by not knowing what to do with it.

Change is a very hard problem. Talking about and implementing change is a very risky business. But in the end there are wonderful opportunities that come from building and talking about the changes that have to happen. Brittle Computing and ultimately a Brittle Organization can change and evolve. You simply have to start talking about change!


Scott Andersen

IASA Fellow

Home lab or no home lab that is the question…

13 04 2014
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I’ve been arguing with myself for the past month or so about the “if” of a home server. For many years I had a lab in my basement with 6-7 physical boxes running as servers. I’ve moved away from that but now wonder if a single large box might not be a good idea. I could run it as a remote box to quickly spin up virtual machines when doing demo’s etc.

The debate roars on at least in my head. I have a box that can run 4 or 5 distinct VM’s now. I am looking for a unit that can be left on during the day without impacting its long term life. A laptop left on 8 hours a day degrades over time.

There are a number of vendors who sell custom liquid cooled PC’s that are intriguing. Back in the day I often debated the single vs. dual processor equation. I wonder now, in the 64 bit world if in fact 2 processors is that much more.

I suspect having 2 would allow the solution (as long as it was aware of multiple processors) to in fact take advantage of them. I guess the question now for me is should I spend the extra money.

This of course leads me back to the original point. Should I buy time from a CSP or should I become my own CSP.  After a month of debating I am not sure if in fact I should do either or potentially both. Having access to the pictures and video’s of my kids anywhere is nice. Being able to spin up a virtual machine from anywhere would be nice as well.

So, after a month of this debate I am right where I started. I’ve gotten a lot of great emails from readers with their thoughts but no argument that moves me either way.

I guess its still time to consider.


Scott Andersen

IASA Fellow.

Conjugate the verb educate…

12 04 2014
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Measuring the world around you. As a school teacher now 20 years ago I believed (and was taught by my father) that teaching math and science in the end was critical particularly with younger students. I added computer skills to the mix personally as I believed back in the 1980’s that computing was going to take off.

At that time I longed for technology that would allow me to automate many of the science lessons I was working on. From calculating the long math of a model rocket launch to measuring soil composition for our Acid Rain study there were many calculations that took up the chalkboard and had to be done, and then redone many times to make sure we didn’t have errors.

All of that easily replaced now by a series of connected devices. Beyond what we were doing also adding a number of new measurements to the process. We could measure the ambient light in all locations we had our plants. We could measure the temperature not just of the air but also the ground in all locations we had our plants. We could take slow motion video of our Rocket launches and evaluate them.

You can now easily connect camera’s to telescopes and allow students to create their own maps of the moon. (the Fox show Cosmos – a great teaching tool as well). All of these things easily moved to tablet’s and other devices for editing, sharing and examination.

I was a teacher to early in my career. From 3d printers to software and devices that support translation there are so many tools that school teachers can use and impact. The problem? They cost money and to date we still don’t fund education at the level that would have a greater impact.

Politicians have for years pointed out the low test scores in the US. I worry that in the end we are missing the point. Teaching is a profession, one that doesn’t pay well. People don’t go into teaching to make money they go into it because they feel a calling. They have a desire to help make the world a better place.

Its why I created the Society of Dead Teachers more than 20 years ago. Its why I devoted an entire section of the book “The Syncverse” to the broad concept of education (the Eduverse). We could change the world with education.


Scott Andersen

IASA Fellow.

Talking about the Eduverse…

11 04 2014
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In my book “The Syncverse” I dived into a topic that I still find incredibly relevant. The origin of the idea was the DTS-L forum founded by the Society of Dead Teachers as a listserv devoted to building and sharing ideas about teaching and teachers. I expanded that concept with the component of The Syncverse dedicated to educators that I called the Eduverse.

I keep coming back to that concept (you can get a copy of the Syncverse here of a site devoted to helping teachers. From sharing lesson plans to supporting non-native speakers with on-line capabilities the Eduverse would allow educators to focus on what they do best, teach.

There is so much capability that teachers could use and leverage that just isn’t freely available in the classroom. Many companies pay homage to STEM and STEAM by having people appear or working with boards and groups at a national level. But the problem isn’t at the top level. Its in the classroom. Its helping that individual teacher deliver both reading, writing and mathematics effectively.

I have the effective communication conversation all the time. Technical people who are so smart that once they start talking they have lost 90% of the audience and never get them back. Teachers can’t do that. They have to be able to reach, connect and inform everyone in the classroom. They are judged right or wrong on the outcome of students on a state mandated test.

Education is so much more than simply passing that state or federal test. It is introducing the concept of becoming a life long learner. Of seeking and wondering about everything around you.

The easiest way we could support that is simply to implement something like the Eduverse. Where teachers would have a single place to go where they have access to professionals around the world. Where they can simply download the video of a scientist talking about a process and create expanded learning opportunities. By allowing the kids who get a concept to go beyond that concept and find new avenues while at the same time helping those who don’t get the concept move forward. No one gets everything, there are many things that everyone fails at.

Education is enablement – so let’s use technology resources we could build today to help teachers around the world make our students better. Dr. King has a dream that his children would be judged not by the color of their skin but instead by the contents of their minds. Let’s enable that dream to come true.


Scott Andersen

IASA Fellow

Talking about Organizational and Solution Brittleness…

10 04 2014
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I got an email yesterday asking me why Brittle and not off-line computing. I used the word Brittle because it carries forward. Where now the Brittle nature of the solution is because it is stretched thin and before it was because it was all in one place in the end the concept works for both.

The more time I ponder this question as well as the overall concept the more I realize that Brittle Computing branched into two separate concepts, both of which are delaying a number of organizations move to cloud solutions.

Organizational Brittleness and Solution Stretched Brittleness are the new affectations of the Brittle Computing legacy. I talked a couple of days ago about both. Either and both can limit an organization as it considers cloud computing.

The question is always how and when. It doesn’t do you any good to ponder the why of impact, impact occurs because of a condition that exists. Let’s think about a solution stretched thin and how Brittle Computing manifests itself in that solution.

1.  Critical email is on a mobile device that is way outside the company wi-fi. The email includes an 8 meg PowerPoint that has to be sent to people inside and outside the company. The person who has the only copy is remote and in a poor cellular reception zone. Does that file eventually make it through (or is the call over before it does).

You could store that file on a cloud drive and share that drive with everyone else. Of course that assumes you want to open up your drive to everyone or at least that file. You could do it as a read only file but that isn’t easy to set-up on a mobile device. Particularly not in a low bandwidth scenario.

So you talk to the Slides and send them around after the call.

2.  That remote person above, moves to a place with wi-fi connectivity but now the risk is security. Someone could see the file on the laptop or worse they could pluck that laptop right out of the air and now whatever was critical on the presentation is open and available.

File security is an option – either encryption or password protecting but again doing that on the mobile device isn’t as easy.

The same can be done for organizational Brittleness. You get the idea with the two examples. There are many things that can be done but the limits of what can be done are always the device and the overall connectivity the user has.


Scott Andersen

IASA Fellow.


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