Monday, September 30, 2013

China's Top-Down Take on Innovation - WSJ.com

China's Top-Down Take on Innovation - WSJ.com:

"In China, that's an especially tough transition. Chinese scientists complain that Beijing focuses too heavily on headline-grabbing efforts, like building supercomputers—it currently makes the world's fastest supercomputer, in a ranking done every six months by Top500, a group of leading computer scientists—rather than fundamental science that could spawn new industries."
Yes, but same is true almost anywhere. Resource allocation will be biased by media attention. Chinese way to encourage innovation is actually very capitalistic, if think the state as a corporation. The strategist at the headquarter pick the areas that are key to the growth, and the CEO and CFO throw tons of money into those areas. The conglomerate corporations operate this way, and Chinese leaders learn the lessons from them. Whether it is effective is another question.
Over the coming weeks, Chinese leaders will need to confront a fundamental question: How much are they willing to ease control, let markets operate more freely and encourage curiosity-based innovation? The more they pull back, the more they may reduce their ability to control society. The more they continue to dominate, the less they spur the kind of innovation that can create new technologies and industries.
I don't think the it would worry them. Science and engineering thrived in Stalin's Soviet Union and Hitler's Germany, or this is what the Chinese leaders have learned from their history book. Even if they are confronted with the either-or choice, they will make the decision in a heart beat, and you know the answer.

Further reading:
When China is looking for next Elon Musk, Bryan Mezue thinks Emerging Markets don't need one

Sunday, September 29, 2013

BlackBerry!

When BlackBerry Reigned (the Queen Got One!), and How It Fell - Graphic - NYTimes.com:

and Globe and Mail
September 27, 2013

How BlackBerry blew it: The inside story

By SEAN SILCOFF, JACQUIE McNISH AND STEVE LADURANTAYE

Canada's prized technology company is now confronted with many challenges as it tries to find a model for survival

This investigative report reveals that:
  • Shortly after the release of the first iPhone, Verizon asked BlackBerry to create a touchscreen "iPhone killer." But the result was a flop, so Verizon turned to Motorola and Google instead.
  • In 2012, one-time co-CEO Jim Balsillie quit the board and cut all ties to BlackBerry in protest after his plan to shift focus to instant-messaging software, which had been opposed by founder Mike Lazaridis, was killed by current CEO Thorsten Heins.
  • Mr. Lazaridis opposed the launch plan for the BlackBerry 10 phones and argued strongly in favour of emphasizing keyboard devices. But Mr. Heins and his executives did not take the advice and launched the touchscreen Z10, with disastrous results
Late last year, Research In Motion Ltd. chief executive officer Thorsten Heins sat down with the board of directors at the company's Waterloo, Ont., headquarters to review plans for the launch of a new phone designed to turn around the company's fortunes.
His weapon was the BlackBerry Z10, a slim device with the kind of glass touchscreen that had made Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. the dominant names in the global smartphone market.
But one of RIM's directors was frustrated by what he saw, and spoke out, according to one person who was in the room. There is a cultural problem at RIM, he told the group, and the Z10 was a glaring manifestation of it.
The speaker was none other than Michael Lazaridis, the genius behind the BlackBerry, the company's co-founder and its former co-CEO. Minutes earlier, he said, he had spoken with Mr. Heins's newest executive recruits, chief marketing officer Frank Boulben and chief operating officer Kristian Tear.
Mr. Boulben and Mr. Tear had dismissively told Mr. Lazaridis that the market for keyboard-equipped mobile phones – RIM's signature offering – was dead.
In the board meeting, Mr. Lazaridis pointed to a BlackBerry with a keyboard. "I get this," he said. "It's clearly differentiated." Then he pointed to a touchscreen phone. "I don't get this."
To turn away from a product that had always done well with corporate customers, and focus on selling yet another all-touch smartphone in a market crowded with them, was a huge mistake, Mr. Lazaridis warned his fellow directors. Some of them agreed.
The boardroom confrontation was a telling moment in the downfall of Research In Motion.
Once the giant of the smartphone business, RIM, which was renamed BlackBerry Ltd. in the summer, is now on its knees. The company reported a $965-million (U.S.) fiscal second-quarter loss Friday, primarily because of a massive writedown of Z10 phones that sit, unsold and unwanted, about eight months after they first hit the market. The company is cutting 4,500 jobs, 40 per cent of its work force, in a desperate bid to bring costs in line with plummeting revenue.
Investors, who have lived through the destruction of more than $75-billion of the company's market value over the past five years, are still wondering how BlackBerry managed to blow its runaway lead and became a bit player in the smartphone market it invented.
An investigation by The Globe and Mail, which included interviews with two dozen past and present company insiders, exposes a series of deep rifts at the executive and boardroom levels.
Those divisions hurt the company's ability to develop products just as it faced its greatest challenge from more nimble and creative rivals – and contributed to the downfall of Canada's biggest technology company.
Once a fast-moving innovator that kept two steps ahead of the competition, RIM grew into a stumbling corporation, blinded by its own success and unable to replicate it. Several years ago, it owned the smartphone world: Even U.S. President Barack Obama was a BlackBerry addict. But after new rivals redefined the market, RIM responded with a string of devices that were late to market, missed the mark with consumers, and opened dangerous fault lines across the organization.
Months before their boardroom showdown, Mr. Heins and Mr. Lazaridis found themselves in another strategic standoff in which they were pitted against Jim Balsillie, Mr. Lazaridis's long-time business partner and co-CEO.
Inside RIM, the brash Mr. Balsillie had championed a bold strategy to re-establish the company's place at the forefront of mobile communications. The plan was to push wireless carriers to adopt RIM's popular BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) instant messaging service as a replacement for their short text messaging system (SMS) applications – no matter what kind of phone their customers used.
It was a novel plan. If RIM could get BBM onto hundreds of millions of non-BlackBerry phones, and charge fees for it, the company would have an enormous new source of profit, Mr. Balsillie believed. "It was a really big idea," said an employee who was involved in the project.
But the plan ran into stiff opposition at senior levels. Not long after Mr. Heins took over as RIM's CEO in January, 2012, he killed it, with Mr. Lazaridis's support.
That was it for Mr. Balsillie. Weeks later, he resigned from the board and cut his ties to the company.
"My reason for leaving the RIM board in March, 2012, was due to the company's decision to cancel the BBM cross-platform strategy," Mr. Balsillie said in a brief statement to The Globe and Mail, his first public comments on his departure. He declined a request for an interview.
Mr. Lazaridis, who declined to speak about board matters, resigned as a director this past March after delaying his retirement by a year at the board's request.
Now, BlackBerry's future is in doubt. This week, Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd., a Toronto-based investment company, announced a plan1 to lead a $4.7-billion takeover of the company. The offer is conditional, and requires a group of so-far uncommitted institutional investors to back Fairfax and provide financing.
The company's near-collapse is a painful situation for Mr. Lazaridis, a gifted engineer who co-founded RIM in a tiny Waterloo office above a bagel shop in 1984.
"It's really hurting me," he said in an interview. "I can't imagine what the employees must be thinking. Everyone is talking about the most likely scenario being that it will be broken up and sold off for parts. What will happen to the Waterloo region, or Canada? What company will take its place?"
Competition rising
Mike Lazaridis was at home on his treadmill and watching television when he first saw the Apple iPhone in early 2007. There were a few things he didn't understand about the product. So, that summer, he pried one open to look inside and was shocked. It was like Apple had stuffed a Mac computer into a cellphone, he thought.
To Mr. Lazaridis, a life-long tinkerer who had built an oscilloscope and computer while in high school, the iPhone was a device that broke all the rules. The operating system alone took up 700 megabytes of memory, and the device used two processors. The entire BlackBerry ran on one processor and used 32 MB. Unlike the BlackBerry, the iPhone had a fully Internet-capable browser. That meant it would strain the networks of wireless companies like AT&T Inc., something those carriers hadn't previously allowed. RIM by contrast used a rudimentary browser that limited data usage.
"I said, 'How did they get AT&T to allow [that]?' Mr. Lazaridis recalled in the interview at his Waterloo office. " 'It's going to collapse the network.' And in fact, some time later it did."
Publicly, Mr. Lazaridis and Mr. Balsillie belittled the iPhone and its shortcomings, including its short battery life, weaker security and initial lack of e-mail. That earned them a reputation for being cocky and, eventually, out of touch. "That's marketing," Mr. Lazaridis explained. "You position your strengths against their weaknesses."
Internally, he had a very different message. "If that thing catches on, we're competing with a Mac, not a Nokia," he recalled telling his staff.
RIM soon earned a chance to show up its new rival. RIM's early smartphones had been a hit for Verizon Wireless, one of the biggest U.S. wireless players. Frozen out of the iPhone – Apple had signed an exclusive deal with AT&T – Verizon executives approached RIM in June, 2007, and asked if it could develop "an iPhone killer." The product would need to have a touchscreen with no physical keyboard. Verizon would back the U.S. launch with a massive marketing campaign.
RIM executives jumped at the chance. At one management meeting, Mr. Balsillie called it RIM's most important strategic opportunity since the launch of its two-way e-mail pager.
The product was the BlackBerry Storm. It was the most complex and ambitious project the company had ever done, but "the technology was cobbled together quickly and wasn't quite ready," said one former senior company insider who was involved in the project.
The product was months late, hitting the market just before U.S. Thanksgiving in 2008. Many customers hated it. The touchscreen, RIM's first, was awkward to manipulate. The product ran on a single processor and was slow and buggy. Mr. Balsillie put on a brave face, declaring the launch to be "an overwhelming success," but sales lagged the iPhone and customer returns were high.
The Storm campaign didn't seem so disastrous at the time: RIM was in the midst of a torrid global expansion. In August, 2009, Fortune crowned it the world's fastest-growing company. A year after the Storm launch, market research firm comScore reported that four of the top five smartphones U.S. customers intended to buy in the next three months were BlackBerrys.
But the Storm had failed to give Verizon Wireless the Apple-killer it coveted, and RIM soon abandoned the product. So the carrier turned to Google Inc. and its new operating system, Android, and built a massive marketing campaign around Motorola's Droid phone in 2009 – at the expense of marketing dollars to support BlackBerry products. Verizon's "iDon't" campaign highlighted all the shortcomings of the iPhone that Android addressed with its consumer-friendly user interface.
Rather than hurt Apple, the Droid and other Android-powered phones began to steal share first from Palm and Microsoft, and then RIM. By December, 2010, Android's market share in the U.S. had grown to 23.5 per cent from 5.2 per cent a year earlier, as RIM's dropped by 10 points, to 31.6 per cent, according to comScore. By late 2011, Android commanded 47.3 per cent of the U.S. market, while RIM had just 16 per cent.
A shift by smartphone users
This post-iPhone period was an era of strategic confusion for RIM. The overall state of the industry "was a bit schizophrenic," said Patrick Spence, RIM's former executive vice-president of global sales, who left in 2012. "There was a time when the [wireless] carriers tried to keep data usage predictable. Then it shifted to a period of trying to drive much more usage in different packages, when the iPhone became compelling."
If there were new rules of the game, RIM would require new tools. The summer after the Storm launched, Mr. Lazaridis bought Torch Mobile, a software development firm that created Internet browsers for mobile phones.
But the process of moving, or "porting," the Torch browser onto RIM's highly-customized system proved complex and time-consuming. RIM's technology was based on Java computer code and an operating system built in the 1990s, while the Apple and Android systems used newer software platforms and standards that made it easier to build friendlier user interfaces. "This really meant we were not positioned for the future," Mr. Lazaridis said. In order to survive, RIM would have to change its DNA.
RIM executives figured they had time to reinvent the company. For years they had successfully fended off a host of challengers. Apple's aggressive negotiating tactics had alienated many carriers, and the iPhone didn't seem like a threat to RIM's most loyal base of customers – businesses and governments. They would sustain RIM while it fixed its technology issues.
But smartphone users were rapidly shifting their focus to software applications, rather than choosing devices based solely on hardware. RIM found it difficult to make the transition, said Neeraj Monga, director of research with Veritas Investment Research Corp. The company's engineering culture had served it well when it delivered efficient, low-power devices to enterprise customers. But features that suited corporate chief information officers weren't what appealed to the general public.
"The problem wasn't that we stopped listening to customers," said one former RIM insider. "We believed we knew better what customers needed long term than they did. Consumers would say, 'I want a faster browser.' We might say, 'You might think you want a faster browser, but you don't want to pay overage on your bill.' 'Well, I want a super big very responsive touchscreen.' 'Well, you might think you want that, but you don't want your phone to die at 2 p.m.' "We would say, 'We know better, and they'll eventually figure it out.' "
Trying to satisfy its two sets of customers – consumers and corporate users – could leave the company satisfying neither. When RIM executives showed off plans to add camera, game and music applications to its products to several hundred Fortune 500 chief information officers at a company event in Orlando in 2010, they weren't prepared for the backlash that followed. Large corporate customers didn't want personal applications on corporate phones, said a former RIM executive who attended the session.
Meanwhile, it turned out consumers didn't care so much about battery life or security features. They wanted apps. Apple's iOs and Google's Android systems were relatively easy for outside software developers to use, compared to BlackBerry's technically complicated Java-based system.
Blackberry's apps looked "uglier" than those programmed in more modern languages, and the simulator used to test the apps often didn't recreate the actual experience, said Trevor Nimegeers, a Calgary-based entrepreneur whose software company, Wmode, has developed apps for BlackBerry. Further, RIM exerted tight control over developers before it would sign off on their apps for use on BlackBerrys, stifling creativity. "Developers wanted to be embraced, not controlled," Mr. Nimegeers said. As a result, hot apps such as Instagram and Tumblr bypassed BlackBerry.
A split company
One key to RIM's early success was its corporate structure. It is unusual for a company to have two CEOs – Mr. Lazaridis focused on engineering, product management and supply chain, while Mr. Balsillie looked after sales, finance and other corporate functions – but for a long time, it worked. Mr. Lazaridis's side of the shop made the phones, and Mr. Balsillie's sold them. The two men were collegial and collaborative.
Below the top executives, however, the two sides of the company didn't always get along. And as the company grew into a leviathan with $20-billion in annual sales, the structure sometimes made it difficult to get definitive decisions or establish clear accountability. That contributed to a chronic problem for RIM: speed. "They were always slow to market, and there were always delays in launching," said James Moorman, an analyst with S&P Capital IQ Equity Research. "It was compounded by miscalculating the speed at which the consumer market changed."
Sometimes, feedback from customers that might inspire changes would die at middle management, because senior executives didn't want to bring it to Mr. Lazaridis, a former insider said.
The split company also lost a major unifying force when chief operating officer Larry Conlee retired in 2009. Mr. Conlee was a whip-cracker who held executives to account for decisions and deadlines, establishing a project management office. Many insiders agreed that after he left, a slack attitude toward hitting targets began to permeate the company. "There was a gap" after Mr. Conlee's departure, Adam Belsher, a former RIM vice-president, told The Globe last year. "There was no real operational executive on the product side that would really get teams to hit deadlines."
After relying on its own technology for so long, Mr. Lazaridis decided the company's next advance would come from outside. In April, 2010, RIM announced a deal to acquire Ottawa-based QNX Software, a cutting-edge software maker that would provide the building blocks for the BlackBerry 10 operating system – the new platform Mr. Lazaridis knew the company needed.
QNX was a specialist in industrial controls that used up-to-date software tools to run applications ranging from 911 call centres to wireless broadband services in vehicles. Its technology was the perfect core for smartphones and tablets, RIM's leaders felt.
Mr. Lazaridis decided to take a page from the business strategy book The Innovator's Dilemma by Clayton Christensen. The book outlines how established organizations that succeeded against challengers often did so by allowing small, cloistered teams to develop their own disruptive products, free from the influence of the rest of the organization.
Mr. Lazaridis decided he would isolate the QNX team and get them to focus solely on the new operating system, while leaving existing programmers to work on products for its existing platform, BlackBerry 7. Eventually he hoped QNX, led by its CEO Dan Dodge, would retrain his entire organization.
But first, RIM had to answer a key question: If it wanted to remake the BlackBerry on the QNX system, what was the best way to do that? Should it move over some of its old Java-based applications, or rewrite them all from scratch? If the company abandoned Java altogether, what would it mean for third-party developers who used it?
These were not easy decisions. Discussions among the senior leaders in Mr. Lazaridis' organization dragged on for a year – far too long, according to several insiders.
Eventually, the decision was made: BlackBerry 10 would be built from scratch. The problem with that approach was that a new team was being entrusted to recreate the BlackBerry. Those who had created the original system were still working on devices for the BlackBerry 7 platform. Once again, the company was split.
"We had bought a powerful operating system and needed to move to it. But the BB7 was late," Mr. Lazaridis said. "Every week, I was getting requests for more hires, more resources. The conundrum was, how do I pull resources off the BB7 to rewrite all the apps on top of QNX?"
PlayBook pain
The QNX team's first assignment was to work on an operating system for the PlayBook, RIM's answer to Apple's successful iPad tablet. Mr. Lazaridis saw the work as a precursor to the BlackBerry 10 line of smartphones and was impressed by what the team brought to the product. "It helped our developers experience the power and elegance of QNX," he said.
But the QNX team was overwhelmed and needed to draw heavily on the company's other resources to complete the PlayBook. Similar issues arose later on the BlackBerry 10. The tablet, originally slated to come out in the fall of 2010, didn't appear until April, 2011, and it failed to sell. It was an awkward accessory to RIM's smartphones, and lacked e-mail, contacts and apps. Once again, RIM had missed the mark: Tablets that sold well worked as standalone devices, which the PlayBook wasn't.
Some questioned the wisdom of launching the PlayBook in the first place, feeling it was a needless and costly distraction. And the decision to isolate QNX also created tensions and morale problems: Those who weren't on the team worried about their future.
"To me, the most logical thing would have been to integrate the operating system organizations into one," said one senior executive who was caught up in the fray. "Then you'd have a whole team, not 150 people sitting around saying, 'I don't know what I'm going to do next,' and another 150 people saying 'I'm over my head.' "
Meanwhile, RIM's lack of an advanced smartphone meant that it continued to bleed market share to Apple and Android, especially in the United States. In December, 2010, Verizon Wireless announced it would invest in fourth generation (4G) LTE technology to accommodate the growing demands of customers who wanted to surf the Internet on their phones. It signalled to device makers that it would look to feature 4G smartphones in its marketing.
RIM's 4G phone effort was the BlackBerry 10, but it was far from ready. RIM executives tried to make an engineering argument to carriers that 4G technology was no more efficient than 3G, and that its Bold phones were just fine. Mr. Lazaridis, Mr. Heins and chief technology officer David Yach "were trying to reshape the argument because they knew our products couldn't go there," a former executive said. "It was a fight to stay in [promotional] programs with carriers. We lost channel support and feature ads."
The PlayBook debacle and mounting delays of the BlackBerry 10 harmed the organization in other ways.
For years, Mr. Yach and Mr. Lazaridis had enjoyed a close working relationship. But as the well-regarded Mr. Yach began to question the company's ability to hit deadlines on products, his views were dismissed and he was made to feel he wasn't a team player, damaging their relationship, observers said. He left the company in early 2012.
The PlayBook flop merely added to the sense of a company in decline; 2011 became a significant turning point for RIM. As it became clear the brand was getting trounced in the market, and the BlackBerry 10 project was hit by significant delays, the stock plunged, falling from $69 (Canadian) in February to less than $15 by the year's end.
The pressure mounted on Mr. Balsillie, Mr. Lazaridis and the board. In January, 2012, they stepped aside as co-CEOs and handed it over to Thorsten Heins, a German executive who had run the company's handset division.
Almost immediately, there was division about how to roll out the BlackBerry 10. The original strategy had called for the company to launch an all-touchscreen version first, because sales were still going well for the company's BlackBerry 7 keyboard phone.
But by 2012, sales of BlackBerry 7 phones had lost steam, and Mr. Lazaridis, now deputy chairman, felt the company should switch its priority to getting a keyboard version out, to meet the demand from BlackBerry die-hards.
"This is our bread and butter, our iconic device," he told an executive at the company. "The keyboard is one of the reasons they buy BlackBerrys."
Mr. Heins's new management team held firm, sources close to the board said. "They believed everything was going to full touch" and that the QNX-designed system was clearly superior to what was available on other mobile operating systems.
To Mr. Lazaridis, abandoning the company's competitive advantage in the hopes consumers would embrace yet another touchscreen was too risky a strategy, setting up the showdown at the board last year. In the end, management agreed to continue developing the Q10 keyboard phone. But the all-touchscreen Z10 would be launched first.
By the time the first BlackBerry 10 smartphones were unveiled in January of this year, market observers generally agreed that the products were two years too late – a view widely shared among many senior RIM insiders.
"Buying QNX was the right play ultimately," said Mr. Spence. "But we didn't make the turn fast enough. Everyone underestimated the complexity" involved in building the new system.
A BBM plan
For 20 years, Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis operated in tandem, building an increasingly successful partnership that allowed each other's strengths to flourish.
They shared an office in their early years, even possessing each other's voice mail passwords.
As RIM grew, they worked in separate buildings but spoke several times a day. "They had a relationship I wish I had with my wife," one mid-level executive said.
But they had different personalities and their lives seldom intersected outside the office. They have barely spoken since leaving the company.
For Mr. Lazaridis, science was both a job and a pastime. Mr. Balsillie was brash, competitive and athletic, and wore his reputation for being aggressive, even bullying in meetings, as a badge of honour. If anything, he viewed that outward toughness as a job requirement, not unlike tech CEOs such as Steve Ballmer at Microsoft Corp. or Apple's Steve Jobs. "Show me how else you build a $20-billion company," he once confided to a colleague. "If I was Mr. Easy-going, they would kill BlackBerry."
The two rarely disagreed on key strategic moves – until their last year together. Mr. Lazaridis believed BlackBerry 10 would herald RIM's renaissance. Mr. Balsillie wasn't so sure.
Mr. Balsillie was concerned that Google had commoditized the smartphone market by making its Android operating system available for free to any handset maker. By 2011, wireless carriers were warning him that they would be ordering fewer BlackBerry products unless he dropped his prices to match rival manufacturers.
So Mr. Balsillie pushed an alternative plan.
The idea started with Aaron Brown, the executive who oversaw the services division at RIM. By 2010, this division was earning $800-million per quarter in revenue from the monthly service access fee it charged mobile carriers for every BlackBerry subscriber. More than 90 per cent of that was profit. Carriers tried to chip away at those fees – Google and Apple didn't charge them – but RIM always pushed back. Mr. Balsillie was particularly insistent on keeping the service fees. But the executives knew the company's weakening position in devices would increase pressure on services revenues as well.
Even after its terrible year in 2011, RIM still had several advantages, including close relationships with the world's major carriers. It also had BlackBerry Messenger.
RIM developers created the BBM app in 2005 to enable users to communicate not by e-mail but by using their devices' "personal identification numbers" or PINs. It was the first instant messaging service built for wireless devices, and it caught on quickly. It was reliable, free, always on and users could send as many messages as they wanted at no extra cost, unlike basic text messages. PINs were random codes, not phone numbers or e-mail addresses, enhancing privacy. That made BBM extremely popular in countries where citizens didn't enjoy as many freedoms as Western democracies, and helped drive handset sales there.
BBM's developers added a few clever elements that also made it addictive. For example, users would know when a message had been delivered and when it had been read, marked D and R. Today there are 60 million monthly active users.
But BBM only worked on BlackBerrys. As Apple and Android took off, BBM knock-offs appeared that could function on those devices, including Kik Interactive Inc., founded by Ted Livingston, a former RIM co-op student. Today Kik, boasts 85 million users, more than BlackBerry (which sued Mr. Livingston for allegedly copying its program). Others, such as WhatsApp, are even larger. Instant messaging "is the killer app of the mobile era," Mr. Livingston said. "We think there will be a Google or Facebook-sized company that comes out of this category."
RIM's Mr. Brown believed he could tap into this unfolding trend. While working with Mr. Balsillie on other projects, around late 2010 and early 2011, he began to talk up the concept of offering BBM on other mobile platforms.
Mr. Balsillie loved it. At the time, some carriers were pushing for rebates on their monthly service fees. Mr. Brown was willing to comply if the carriers would agree to open new parts of their business to RIM. He and Mr. Balsillie struck upon an idea: Why not give carriers the opportunity to offer BBM to all their customers – no matter what devices they used?
Most wireless executives were not fans of instant messaging services and other "over-the-top" apps such as Skype because they eroded the carriers' revenue from text messaging.
To counter that threat, carriers banded together to develop a standardized "rich communication service" (RCS) platform that would enable their customers to exchange text messages, videos, games and other digital information. But the initiative has gained little traction; one commentator recently labelled RCS a "zombie technology."
SMS 2.0
Mr. Balsillie began floating the idea that carriers could instead offer BBM as their own enhanced version of text messaging, generating revenue for carriers while providing a cut for RIM. He called it "SMS 2.0." (SMS stands for "short message service.") RIM would agree to reduce the fees it charged for services, in exchange for gaining access to hundreds of millions of non-BlackBerry users.
He and Mr. Brown discussed several options. For example, carriers could offer BBM as part of a standard "talk and text" plan for entry-level smartphone users. Because of its extra functions, BBM would save customers from having to buy a data plan.
Or, carriers could offer an expensive plan that included BBM and other offerings from BlackBerry, including one gigabyte of cloud storage on which they could keep photos or songs. The carriers could then sell extra services such as radio through BBM. It would also make the wireless companies' customers "stickier" – less likely to defect – since they couldn't move stored data to rival mobile carriers as easily.
The SMS 2.0 plan was a throwback to RIM's move a decade earlier to form partnerships with mobile providers and share revenues. It was a chance to make BBM the dominant chat messaging service, and would have created a new story
for the BlackBerry brand.
A few carriers responded positively to Mr. Balsillie's initial entreaties and by mid-2011, he was calling SMS 2.0 the company's top strategic priority.
To round out the strategy, and build a suite of cross-platform services, RIM made a few acquisitions, such as instant messaging firm LiveProfile. The service had about 15 million users and worked on Apple and Android devices, giving BBM the entrée it needed to those platforms.
But the plan deeply divided the company. BBM was still an important driver of BlackBerry sales. Making it widely available to competitors represented an added threat to RIM's faltering handset business, led by Mr. Heins at the time. Many inside the company felt a cross-platform BBM made sense, but only when BlackBerry 10 was out. Mr. Balsillie and proponents of his plan felt that would be too late.
"It's fair to say [the risk to handset sales] was a shared concern of everybody I spoke to," said former RIM executive Mr. Spence. "But it was hard to deny the fact [carriers' text messaging] revenue was declining. These carriers were looking for a solution and this was a potential solution."
One former executive felt Mr. Balsillie was overestimating the revenue potential of his software-driven strategy. As Mr. Balsillie talked up SMS 2.0, Mr. Heins and his team increasingly cast doubt on it internally. "He was absolutely canvassing behind the scenes working to kill it," said one company insider.
As for Mr. Lazaridis, he was supportive of launching BBM for rival operating systems, but was concerned about the costs and risks involved in building out the SMS 2.0 strategy, said a source close to the board. "We weren't in a position to be investing in free services that required massive capital expenditure [and could provide] zero payback for maybe a few years if we're successful," the source said. Like others, Mr. Lazaridis worried about handset sales.
But Mr. Balsillie was increasingly convinced that SMS 2.0 was the way to go. After pitching the plan to CEOs of 12 of the largest wireless carriers in the world in late 2011, he believed he could sign up at least one major U.S. carrier – insiders say AT&T was interested – as well as Telefonica and one or two other European carriers. That's all it would take, he felt, to convince others to adopt BBM en masse.
But other RIM executives who were part of the growing SMS 2.0 team also encountered resistance.
Mr. Balsillie was pushing to formally launch SMS 2.0 at an industry conference at the end of February, 2013. But with the company under mounting pressure to overhaul its top leadership, he and Mr. Lazaridis handed the reins to Mr. Heins in late January.
A few weeks later, Mr. Heins killed the SMS 2.0 strategy, backed by Mr. Lazaridis.
"We had to get the BlackBerry 10 out, and we couldn't be distracted," said a source close to the board. "Everything else was shelved. And if that meant getting rid of strategies that didn't fit, or weren't complete, or required resources, I think [Mr. Heins] did the right thing."
The Globe and Mail requested interviews with Mr. Heins and with Barbara Stymiest, the chair of the board. The company declined, but agreed to agreed to provide answers to written questions.
Asked why he shelved SMS 2.0, Mr. Heins said in an e-mailed response: "There are so many [instant messaging] alternatives in the marketplace that we wanted to be careful to launch only when we felt we could clearly differentiate our offering."
Mr. Balsillie, no longer an executive but still a board member, urged directors to reconsider, but they backed the new CEO. Mr. Balsillie couldn't abide by the decision. He resigned from the board in late March, then sold all his stock. Few people knew the reason for his departure, including his long-time co-CEO, Mr. Lazaridis.
BlackBerry did launch a version of its BBM application last weekend for iPhones and Android devices, but simply as a stand-alone app. Andrew Bocking, the executive who oversees BBM, said that with built-in capabilities to have group chats, share photos, calendar items and other features, "it really takes BBM to a whole other level ... I believe there is an opportunity for a dominant player in instant messaging and there will be one winner-take-all."
To those who championed the SMS 2.0 strategy, most of them now gone, RIM should have been well on its way there already.
A fizzled launch
Finally, close to six years after Apple unveiled the iPhone, the long-awaited BlackBerry 10 made its debut at a glitzy launch event in January, featuring singer Alicia Keys as the company's "global creative director." It was a minor detail in a much larger story, but the made-up title and meaningless job irked some who wondered why the company was distracting itself with celebrity endorsements while in the fight of its life.
The Z10 device itself won a number of positive reviews. The New York Times' David Pogue, who previously had predicted that the BlackBerry was doomed, began his review: "I'm sorry. I was wrong." But eight months later, it's hard to see the launch as anything other than a total business failure, given the sheer volume of unsold smartphones now written off.
The marketing campaign was confusing and vague: An ad that ran during the Super Bowl failed to explain what made the product distinct. A source close to the board said directors weren't shown the ad before it ran, and some didn't understand the content or the slogan, "Keep Moving." There were no lineups, and no buzz for the product – nothing like the frenzy of publicity that seems to surround the launch of each new version of the iPhone.
Once again, the market had shifted, and there was little demand for the Z10 in an era where sophisticated operating systems were commonplace and phones were getting cheaper. The one advantage the BlackBerry may have had over its rivals – a physical keyboard – wasn't present in the first model to hit the market.
"The only people still clamouring for a new smartphone from BlackBerry were in it for the keyboard," said S&P's Mr. Moorman. "Then they come out with a touchscreen. Anyone who wanted a touchscreen was already gone."
As it turns out, both Mr. Balsillie and Mr. Lazaridis were proven right. It was hard enough to compete in a commoditizing smartphone market. Leading with the wrong product on top of that only made BlackBerry's task more hopeless. Mr. Heins's strategic errors only compounded the challenging situation he had inherited.
The product was difficult to sell for other reasons. One company insider said it could take close to an hour for young sales staff to demonstrate the product in dealer stores.
And many long-time BlackBerry users found that the new system was too different from the classic BlackBerry experience for their liking. Many of the little "moments of delight," as they are called in the company, were forgotten or overlooked by the QNX developers who lacked ties to the company's past. For example, users can't hit "u" and look at the last unread message in their inbox, nor can they easily shift to the next or previous e-mail, as they could on older BlackBerrys. Pocket-dialling is a constant hazard.
Meanwhile, the company was slow to provide service to business users – such as helping them to transfer applications they had written for the old BlackBerry system. Software developers were left with dead-end investments after learning they would have to rewrite their apps for the new system if they wanted to remain part of the BlackBerry world. Many simply didn't bother.
"The decisions we made over the last two years were made within the context of a volatile, competitive and ever-changing marketplace – and always with the goal of delivering the vital technology that our customers need," Mr. Heins said in a written response to questions about the success of the BlackBerry 10 launch. While he called the launch "a significant accomplishment and one that involved the reinvention of our company," he acknowledged it "did not meet our expectations."
As for Mr. Lazaridis, he has not given up on the enterprise he founded 29 years ago.
He is still a minority shareholder in BlackBerry, and continues to be the subject of rumours he may join a group to buy out his former company.
Mr. Lazaridis declined to discuss any such plans, but it is clear he believes the BlackBerry story is not over.
"Many companies go through cycles. Intel experienced it, IBM experienced it, Apple experienced it. Our job was to reinvent ourselves, which we all believed BB10 would do," he said.
"The fact that a Canadian company was able to compete in that space with two of the largest tech companies in the world is a big deal. People counted IBM, Apple and other companies out only to be proven wrong. I am rooting that they are wrong on BlackBerry as well."
With reports from Tara Perkins, Omar El Akkad and Iain Marlow
-------------------------------
AN INTERVIEW WITH CEO THORSTEN HEINS
Did you make the most of the strategic opportunities before you when you became CEO? Did you make the right choices? Are there any you would reconsider?
When I was appointed CEO in January, 2012, I knew there were challenges and opportunities for all of us at BlackBerry. We had an aging OS and no LTE product, for example. What we have created with BlackBerry 10, BES 10 and BBM is a reliable and secure foundation to enable us to continue to innovate and create new opportunities. The decisions we made over the last two years were made within the context of a volatile, competitive and ever-changing marketplace – and always with the goal of delivering the vital technology that our customers need and creating value for our shareholders.
How do you feel about the way things have turned out with the BlackBerry 10 launch?
We launched a new platform that delivers a new and different user experience, an experience that was engineered for people who value extreme productivity, but the downside is that there is a steeper learning curve when it comes to adopting any new technology that is disruptive, and I believe that contributed to the slower sales.
Why was BlackBerry 10 so late?
As you know, there were delays during the process, but we are proud of what our team has developed and brought to market. The integration of the new features into the platform proved to be more complex and thus more time-consuming than anticipated. The issues were not related to the quality or functionality of the features in the software, but rather the time required to manage the integration of such a large volume of code and prepare it for commercial use globally.
Has this been difficult for you personally?
This isn't about me; this is about our employees and our customers. One of BlackBerry's greatest strengths is its talented, committed and passionate employees. And that is why the recent reduction to the work force was particularly challenging and difficult, albeit necessary, to address our position in a maturing and more competitive industry, and to drive the company toward profitability.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
-------------------------------
Why the China plan was shelved
One of the many strategies that became a casualty of internal feuding at Research In Motion Ltd. was a confidential plan for a China-backed venture to sell the company's wireless network systems in Asia.
In the summer of 2010, RIM's chairwoman Barbara Stymiest and then co-chief executive officer Jim Balsillie approached the state-owned fund China Investment Corp. (CIC) with an overture to form a joint venture. According to people familiar with the discussions, Mr. Balsillie and CIC reached a preliminary understanding in 2011. Under the plan, Beijing agreed to approve RIM as the official supplier of wireless operating systems in China, one of world's biggest and fastest growing mobile markets that was virtually closed to foreign competitors.
A new China-based company would be formed and owned by CIC, RIM and a handful of Chinese mobile phone makers. The venture would sell Chinese-made phones which, under a licensing agreement, would operate on RIM's core software.
"Beijing was very keen to do this deal," said one person involved in the talks.
Mr. Balsillie championed the venture as a lucrative window into the tightly controlled Chinese market. But according to insiders, RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis and a number of directors worried the plan would distract the company from its core focus on launching a new smartphone, the BlackBerry 10.
While RIM's executives debated the China strategy internally for nearly two years, its potential Asian partners were left in the dark. "We heard nothing. The whole thing just frittered away," said one person close to the Chinese partners.
Shortly after Thorsten Heins was appointed RIM's CEO in 2013, the China plan was shelved. Mr. Heins declined in a statement to discuss the abandoned venture.
Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff

References

  1. www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/read-the-letter-from-fairfax-to-blackberrys-board/article14505072

11 Books Every Young Leader Must Read - John Coleman - Harvard Business Review


I know, I know, we have tons of list of must read already. So it does not hurt to go over another one:
Marcus Aurelius, The Emperor’s Handbook.Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning.
Tom Wolfe, A Man in Full.Michael Lewis, Liar’s Poker.
Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t.
Robert Cialdini, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
Richard Tedlow, Giants of Enterprise: Seven Business Innovators and the Empires They Built
Niall Ferguson, The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World.
Clayton M. Christensen, The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail
Stephen R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
Bill George, True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership. 
Surprised that "Good to Great" could make to the list in year of 2012. (The great companies in the 2001 book include Circuit City, Fannie Mae and Wells Fargo.)

'Strings Attached' Co-Author Offers Solutions for Education - WSJ.com

'Strings Attached' Co-Author Offers Solutions for Education - WSJ.com:

Tough teachers get good results, but tough teachers could get fired. Maybe we need to understand what is right about the "old" style.
1. A little pain is good for you.
2. Drill, baby, drill.
3. Failure is an option.
4. Strict is better than nice.
5. Creativity can be learned.
6. Grit trumps talent.
7. Praise makes you weak…
8.…while stress makes you strong.
BTW, I overheard the Shanghai student out-tested US kids in English. Something is wrong, I would say.


Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Complexity of Greatness: Beyond Talent or Practice

The Complexity of Greatness: Beyond Talent or Practice | Beautiful Minds, Scientific American Blog Network:

David Z. Hambrick and colleagues found that deliberate practice explained about 30% of the variation in performance in the two most widely studied domains in expertise research– chess and music (Hambrick et al., 2013). On the one hand, this is a very impressive amount of variation explained. Clearly, deliberate practice matters a lot, perhaps trumping any other single personal characteristic. But at the same time, most of the variation was left unexplained by other personal and environmental factors.
But if we dig even deeper, we can see more complications. What is the genetic contribution to the willingness to practice in the first place? While passion and persistence are certainly important for greatness, where do these characteristics come from (Cordova & Lepper, 1996; Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, Michael, & Kelly, 2007; Ryan & Deci, 2000; Kaufman, 2009, Vallerand et al., 2003)? Behavioral geneticists have discovered that virtually all psychological dispositions have a heritable basis (Turkheimer, 2000). Therefore, motivation and the ability to persevere and persist in the face of obstacles are likely influenced (although not completely determined) by genetic factors, which are always interacting with environmental factors."
What has become clear is that the 10-year rule is not actually a rule, but an average with significant variation around the mean.
The topic of greatness is one of the most fascinating in all of psychology and has relevance for every single human being on this planet. As it turns out, the truth is far more nuanced, complex, and fascinating than any one viewpoint or paradigm can possibly reveal. It’s time to go beyond talent or practice. Greatness is much, much more.

Forget Mentors. Find a Mirror | Entrepreneur.com

Forget Mentors. Find a Mirror | Entrepreneur.com:
"Just as a mirror allows you to see your true appearance, other people in your life can help you see beyond your assumptions and blind spots. No matter how confident you are in your abilities, there will come a time when you are uncertain of the next step. In these situations, it’s important to have someone who can help you stay aligned and remind you of what’s truly important.
Are there people in your life who have full permission to speak truth to you about what they see? These kinds of relationships are not easy to cultivate, because you must find people you trust and respect, and who you know will speak out of a genuine concern for your best interests rather than as a way to influence you toward their own. However, if you can identify a few people to play this role for you, it can provide you with a tremendous amount of confidence because you know that others are also watching out for you."
Interesting (and old) idea, though hard to implement.

 "Know thyself" (Greek: γνῶθι σεαυτόν), -- one of the Delphic maxims and was inscribed in the pronaos (forecourt) of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi

《墨子·非攻中》:“君子不镜于水而镜於人。镜于水,见面之容;镜于人,则知吉与凶。”

《资治通鉴·卷第一百九十六》
上思征不已,谓侍臣:“人以铜为镜,可以正衣冠,以古为镜,可以见兴替,以人为镜,可以知得失;魏征没,朕亡一镜矣!”

R 3.0.2 and RStudio 0.9.8 are released!

R 3.0.2 and RStudio 0.9.8 are released!

Download R 3.0.2 and RStudio 0.9.8 Preview.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Muse: A Better Way to Job Hunt? - WSJ.com

The Muse: A Better Way to Job Hunt? - WSJ.com:

"What current job search systems have lost is the ability to treat applicants like individuals," says the 27-year-old Ms. Minshew, referring to job application aggregating systems and job search sites. "We plan to keep chipping away at the system until job search is human again."
The Muse profiles specific companies' cultures and provides career advice along with job postings. Ms. Minshew says she believes its business model fits the changing way job seekers approach their careers, with emphasis on finding fulfilling jobs and fitting into an appropriate company culture."

The most unisex names in US history

The most unisex names in US history:

And:

The new IPCC climate report

RealClimate: The new IPCC climate report:

After several years of work by over 800 scientists from around the world, and after days of extensive discussion at the IPCC plenary meeting in Stockholm, the Summary for Policymakers was formally adopted at 5 o’clock this morning. Congratulations to all the colleagues who were there and worked night shifts. The full text of the report will be available online beginning of next week.


The new IPCC report gives no reason for complacency – even if politically motivated “climate skeptics” have tried to give this impression ahead of its release with frantic PR activities. Many wrong things have been written which now collapse in the light of the actual report.
The opposite is true. Many developments are now considered to be more urgent than in the fourth IPCC report, released in 2007. That the IPCC often needs to correct itself “upward” is an illustration of the fact that it tends to produce very cautious and conservative statements, due to its consensus structure – the IPCC statements form a kind of lowest common denominator on which many researchers can agree. The New York Times has given some examples for the IPCC “bending over backward to be scientifically conservative”. Despite or perhaps even because of this conservatism, IPCC reports are extremely valuable – as long as one is aware of it."
The report is available for download.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Resurgence of Liquid Air for Energy Storage | MIT Technology Review

The Resurgence of Liquid Air for Energy Storage | MIT Technology Review:

Some engineers are dusting off an old idea for storing energy—using electricity to liquefy air by cooling it down to nearly 200 °C below zero. When power is needed, the liquefied air is allowed to warm up and expand to drive a steam turbine and generator.
I like 19th century ...

Counting the Sins of China's Synthetic Gas - IEEE Spectrum

Counting the Sins of China's Synthetic Gas - IEEE Spectrum:

 Nine synthetic gas plants recently approved by Beijing would increase the annual demand for water in the country's arid northern regions by over 180 million metric tons, the Duke team concluded, while emissions of carbon dioxide would entirely wipe out the climate-cooling impact of China's massive wind and solar power installations.
Synthetic gas plants use extreme heat and pressure to gasify coal, producing a combination of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. Steam and catalysts are then added to convert those gases to methane to produce a pipeline-ready substitute for natural gas.
I am at odds with IEEE Spectrum a lot recently. Synthetic gas plants might have more carbon footprint than fracking, but shall we compare  the process to burning coal, which is the source of this process?
Fracking requires technology China has not mastered, and burning coal put much worse elements in the air than CO2. Does anyone remember the horrifying pictures of Beijing in smog? To be honest, when you live in the smog for more than half the time through the year, CO2 is the about the last "pollutant" you would worry about.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Can Rotterdam's Port Become a Virtual Power Plant? - IEEE Spectrum

The energy sector is critical to Rotterdam’s economy, but the port city has aggressive plans to cut its carbon dioxide emissions in half by 2025.
The city takes in imports of oil, coal, biomass, and natural gas that are used across Northwest Europe. It is not just a stopover, but also a major refinery hub for the region. Even though Rotterdam relies heavily on the fossil fuel industry, it is increasingly focused on how to leverage renewables and existing assets to power its own port.
Rotterdam is partnering with General Electric [PDF] to develop a smart grid that can act as a virtual power plant (VPP), which would integrate thermal and renewable power production with flexible users in a centrally controlled system that would act as a single power plant. The city has been working with GE in the past few years to reduce emissions, improve water management and increase energy efficiency.
A virtual power plant takes energy efficiency and demand-side management to another level. It can be thought of as a sophisticated microgrid cluster, in which digital measurement and monitoring equipment on distributed resources can respond to the needs of the grid in real time. For example, many of the large industrial plants in the port produce their own electricity and heat, which can be sold into the grid when wind or solar production falls. There may also be more traditional generation, such as a coal-fired power plant or combined heat and power.

Crowd Investing Sites Start Offering Shares in Startups | MIT Technology Review

Crowd Investing Sites Start Offering Shares in Startups | MIT Technology Review: "
“Crowd investing” is the idea that anyone should be able to invest easily in startup companies. That idea took a big step forward thanks to new federal regulations that allow startups, for the first time, to invite large swaths of the public to invest in them. 

With crowd investing, however, people will actually be buying shares in new companies. For now, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which regulates financial markets, is limiting crowd investing to accredited investors, or people with $1 million in the bank or who earn more than $200,000 a year. However, the SEC is developing other regulations, due out next year, that would let any member of the public invest small sums in startups. 

It’s still uncertain how big an impact crowd investing will have. The SEC is considering further rules, including requiring startups to track all their advertising, including every mention in the news media. That has some investors worried that crowd investing could flop. Investor Brad Feld, a partner at the Foundry Group, recently called the SEC’s additional rules “one scary mess that could undermine the whole thing.”

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

U.S. Coal vs. the World - WSJ.com

HEARD ON THE STREET: U.S. Coal vs. the World - WSJ.com:

Beijing has recognized that a growth model skewed towards heavy investment is unbalancing the economy and poisoning the environment. As China seeks to boost consumption and services, the electricity required to generate each incremental yuan of gross domestic product should decline. Furthermore, a slower pace of infrastructure investment should curb growth in Chinese steel demand. Meanwhile, ferocious smog in Beijing and elsewhere has sparked protests, prompting a government pledge this month to cut coal use in eastern parts of the country. Carbon isn't the burning issue here, but the effect could be much the same as the EPA's moves in the U.S., with coal losing market share to gas and renewable power.
Compounding the issue for U.S. miners is that China's own coal industry is improving. Sanford C. Bernstein points out that the country's top 55 miners account for more and more of China's coal production, suggesting smaller, less efficient operators are being acquired or squeezed out.And consolidation, as well as China's growing rail network, should ultimately reduce the cost of domestic coal, limiting the need for imports further. Bernstein sees Chinese coal imports peaking in 2015. U.S. coal miners can hardly expect the likes of India and Europe to pick up all the slack.
Clean coal remains more talk than reality. Cleaner coal might be more likely. If the cost of natural gas remains low, the coal firing power plants won't make much sense. Seeing the climate change debate shifting from whether it is true to whether human have caused it. We may see the shift to whether to tax carbon or cap-and-trade.

GE to Muscle into Fuel Cells with Hybrid System - IEEE Spectrum

GE to Muscle into Fuel Cells with Hybrid System - IEEE Spectrum:

General Electric is working on an efficient distributed power system that combines proprietary fuel cell technology with its existing gas engines [like the one in the photo].

The company's research organization is developing a novel fuel cell that operates on natural gas, according to Mark Little, the director of GE Global Research and chief technology officer. When combined with an engine generator, the system can convert 70 percent of the fuel to electricity, which is more efficient than the combined cycle natural gas power plants powering the grid.

The fuel cell will generate electricity from reformed natural gas, or gas that's treated with steam and heat to make hydrogen and oxygen, he says. Residual gases from the fuel cell process—a "synthesis gas" that contains carbon monoxide and hydrogen—would then be burned in a piston engine to generate more electricity. The waste gas that comes from the fuel cell needs to be specially treated but “we know we can burn these things. They’re well within the fuel specs of our current engine,” Little says.

This distributed power system could provide electricity to a small industrial site or a data center, for example. It would replace diesel generators that are often used to power remote locations or bring electricity to places without a central grid.

GE sells engines from two companies it acquired, Austria-based Jenbacher and Wisconsin-based Waukesha. It has done its own research on solid oxide fuel cells, and in 2011, it invested in Plug Power, which makes fuel cells for homes and small businesses. But Little indicated that this distributed power system will use new fuel cell technology invented by GE and configured to work in tandem with GE's engines. “We have a real breakthrough in fuel cell technology that we think can enable the system to be distributed and yet work at a very high efficiency level,” he says.

Commercial customers are showing more interest in stationary fuel cells and natural gas generators because they can provide back-up power and potentially lower energy costs. GE's system, which is still a few years a way from commercial availability, will be aimed at customers outside of the United States, Little says. Because the United States has relatively cheap natural gas, the combined power generation unit is unlikely to be cost competitive with grid power there. However, the price for natural gas in many other countries is more than double that in the United States and the hybrid power generation unit will “compete beautifully,” Little says.

GE's hybrid fuel system is just one of many research efforts the conglomerate has underway to take advantage of unconventional oil and natural gas drilling. Among the projects now being considered at a planned research center in Oklahoma is a way to use liquid carbon dioxide as the fluid to fracture, or frack, wells, rather than a mixture of water and chemicals. The company is developing a hybrid locomotive engine that can run on both diesel and natural gas. And it is working on small-scale liquid natural gas fueling stations that could be placed along railroad lines.

In another effort, GE is developing sensors and software to make oil and gas wells smarter. Researchers are working on different types of photonic sensors that are able to withstand very high heat and pressure. These would be better than electronic sensors for gathering flow and fluid composition data within wells, according to GE researchers.

Monday, September 23, 2013

EPA Issues Regulations for New Coal-Fired Plants - IEEE Spectrum

EPA Issues Regulations for New Coal-Fired Plants - IEEE Spectrum:

"The EPA originally aimed to set a single standard for both coal and gas plants, at the lower limit, but under pressure from industry, it slightly eased the limit for coal. It is a minor concession. ...
The EPA's regulations are being universally interpreted to imply, therefore, that no new coal plant can be built in the United States unless it provides for carbon capture and storage (CSS)."
In the meantime, regulatory uncertainty will be one more reason for energy companies not to build new coal plants on any basis. But that uncertainty is but one of three conditions, any one of which is sufficient to virtually guarantee there will be no new coal-based generation. For a real renaissance in coal-fired power to occur, not only would gas prices have to rise sharply, but there would have to a fundamental change in environmentalist opinion.
Why would anyone, excepted those with vested interest, like "a real renaissance" of coal? Who is missing the smoking chimneys?
We want energy, and clean air. If coal cannot provide that, so we look somewhere else. Nothing to be sad about. 

A Nation Built for Immigrants - WSJ.com

A Nation Built for Immigrants - WSJ.com:

A nation built by the immigrants, of the immigrants and for the immigrants.
Will the recent surge of newcomers tear the U.S. apart? Not if history is any guide: From the beginning, America was made to unite citizens, even those with deep differences.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Cook, Ive, and Federighi on the New iPhone and Apple's Once and Future Strategy - Businessweek

Cook, Ive, and Federighi on the New iPhone and Apple's Once and Future Strategy - Businessweek:

Good case study material for the strategy class I am taking on Coursera. Tim Cook explains Apple's mission, vision, what Apple is trying deliver, what Apple is not going to compete with and the plan to execute it.
Of course, a little jab that is going to rattle some fans in other camps.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The STEM Crisis is a Myth: An Ongoing Discussion - IEEE Spectrum

The STEM Crisis is a Myth: An Ongoing Discussion - IEEE Spectrum:

Reading list:

Is a Career in STEM Really for Me?An 8th grader ponders the options, finds science and engineering far down on the list
Is There a U.S. IT Worker Shortage?New demand for big data, cloud computing and HIT workers will be in millions by 2015
An Engineering Career: Only a Young Person’s Game?Half-life of knowledge pressures employers to seek out young engineers
What Ever Happened to STEM Job Security?A personal view on how decades of recurring recessions, downsizing, outsourcing and H-1B visas changed the social compact between STEM workers and their employers
Are STEM Workers Overpaid?Lowering STEM worker pay seems to be hidden agenda of many tech companies
My favorite line:
Pursuing a career in STEM has become little different from pursing a career in professional sports. It can be exciting and highly rewarding if you have the talent and are willing to work hard, and have a bit of luck in which major you choose and company you start off with. Graduating at the start of an economic boom also helps.
The IEEE Spectrum's editorial board's opposition to H1B is well known, but the opposition to recruiting more members in to STEM profession is news to me. Maybe they want a board certified systems like the medical practice, so that they can make the STEM crisis real and secure their jobs?

Just glance the titles they pick.
1.Is a Career in STEM Really for Me?
Career choice is totally personal, and monetary incentive is only one of many factors. The STEM crisis is a macro problem, and career choice is micro.

2. Is There a U.S. IT Worker Shortage?
Globalization! If workers can not immigrate/emigrate, the jobs will.

3. An Engineering Career: Only a Young Person’s Game?
Admit it, most professional jobs are young person's game. Just check the ages when Nobel achievements were made. When our ancestors lived in caves, life is a young person's game.

4. What Ever Happened to STEM Job Security?
Give me a break, who has job security?

5. Are STEM Workers Overpaid? - Lowering STEM worker pay seems to be hidden agenda of many tech companies
BS.
Lowering workers is the open agenda of the employers. It is called capitalism!

It seems to me, those who are not willing accept changes are trying to voice their fear!

Improving Design Reliability by Avoiding EOS - IEEE Spectrum

Improving Design Reliability by Avoiding EOS - IEEE Spectrum:

Companies Unplug From the Electric Grid, Delivering a Jolt to Utilities - WSJ.com

Companies Unplug From the Electric Grid, Delivering a Jolt to Utilities - WSJ.com:
Since 2006, the number of electricity-generation units at commercial and industrial sites has more than quadrupled to roughly 40,000 from about 10,000, according to federal statistics.
On-site generation still accounts for less than 5% of U.S. electricity production. But it is peeling off some of the bulk sales that utilities find especially profitable. And some of the companies getting into the business think it is approaching a tipping point called "grid parity," at which point power would be as cheap to make as to buy from a utility.
Interesting. It seems the distributed power is the growing market, and in the following paragraphs, solar panels are singled out as choice of generation method.
How would traditional fossil powered generators play in this segment?

It seems that the utilities are responding the threat, by deterring the competition.
Regulated utilities in a number of states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho and Louisiana—have started to complain about the various benefits for photovoltaics (PV), 
And blah, blah, ....

BusinessWeek does not think the future is bright for them.
Regulators set rates; utilities get guaranteed returns; investors get sure-thing dividends. It’s a model that hasn’t changed much since Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. And it’s doomed to obsolescence.  That’s the opinion of David Crane, chief executive officer of NRG Energy, a wholesale power company based in Princeton, N.J. What’s afoot is a confluence of green energy and computer technology, deregulation, cheap natural gas, and political pressure that, as Crane starkly frames it, poses “a mortal threat to the existing utility system.” He says that in about the time it has taken cell phones to supplant land lines in most U.S. homes, the grid will become increasingly irrelevant as customers move toward decentralized homegrown green energy. Rooftop solar, in particular, is turning tens of thousands of businesses and households into power producers. Such distributed generation, to use the industry’s term for power produced outside the grid, is certain to grow.
The energy market will be fun to watch in next decade ...

Monday, September 16, 2013

Brainstorming Is Dead; Long Live Brainstorming - Forbes

Brainstorming Is Dead; Long Live Brainstorming - Forbes:
"What our experiences and the critics of brainstorming fail to realize is two-fold: 1) brainstorming is typically never done properly and 2) brainstorming isn’t a stand-alone process."
Well, if something as great as "brainstorming" is "typically never done properly", that is THE problem. A good methodology should be a methodology that could be easily understood and implemented. If it needs a Ph.D. in brainstorming to facilitate, it fails right there.
I agree with the second point. It is just one piece of the puzzle. Many more are needed to put it together.

Further reading:
The Rise of the New Groupthink By SUSAN CAIN


4 Books Every Entrepreneur Must Read | Entrepreneur.com

4 Books Every Entrepreneur Must Read | Entrepreneur.com: "

1. First Things First by Stephen R. Covey "
2. Built To Sell by John Warrillow
3. Choose Yourself! by James Altucher
4. Mastery by Robert Greene

Round 2: Is There a Shortage of STEM Students and STEM professionals? - IEEE Spectrum

Is There a Shortage of STEM Students and STEM professionals? - IEEE Spectrum:

More than six out of ten said there weren’t enough STEM students and professionals, ...
Of the 470 people surveyed, 42 percent responded.

you can download the full survey results.


Rooftop Solar Faces Growing Opposition from Utilities - IEEE Spectrum

Rooftop Solar Faces Growing Opposition from Utilities - IEEE Spectrum:
 "In some ways, the debate over net metering is rather closely analogous to arguments that have raged in U.S. education policy over school vouchers and, more recently, charter schools. There too, critics complain that allowing parents to take their children out of public schools at public expense results in less revenue for maintenance of school infrastructure. As in the education debates, political libertarians, including some Tea Party members, tend to support net metering because it permits and encourages individuals to produce their own power. "

To read: EVILICIOUS by Marc Hauser

EVILICIOUS | Marc Hauser: Reflections, Innovations, Insights:

The idea I develop is that evildoers are made in much the same way that addicts are made.  Both processes start with unsatisfied desires.  Whether it is a taste for violence or a taste for alcohol, drugs, food, or gambling, individuals develop cravings but find the desired experience less and less rewarding, a separation between desire and reward that leads to excess.  To justify the excess, the psychology of desire recruits the psychology of denial, enabling individuals to immerse themselves in a new reality that feels right.  Whereas addicts cause great harm to themselves by indulging in excessive consumption or expenditures, evildoers cause great harm to others by indulging in excessive or gratuitous cruelty.  Whereas addicts deny their drug dependency or their obesity, evildoers deny the moral worth of their victims or invent a reality that presents them as dangerous threats.  The cruelty carries no moral weight because the victims have been dehumanized or conceived as dangerous.  The combination of unsatisfied desire and denial is a recipe for evil.  Like the addict’s search for ever more satisfying means of consuming or spending, evildoers search for ever more satisfying and creative ways of harming others.
...
If my explanation for how evil develops in individuals and how it evolved is correct, it suggests that each of us has the potential to engage in cruel acts against innocent others. Equipped with the gift of imagination, we all entertain goals that are out of reach either because of personal limitations or because of constraints imposed by our own and others’ moral standards. Tempted to achieve such goals, we may morally disengage, sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously. When we morally disengage, we enable a process of false justification for our actions, including self-deception and the dehumanization of others. On this view, everyone is capable of engaging in gratuitous cruelty because the ingredients that make up the recipe for evil are part of human nature, part of our uniquely evolved brains.
The book will be published early this summer (2013) online at Amazon as a Kindle Select, for print-on-demand at Createspace, and as an audio book at Audible (also available on Amazon).
Looking forward to it.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

On blogging


 "The necessary conceit of the essayist must be that in writing down what is obvious to him he is not wasting his reader’s time. The value of what he does will depend on the quality of his perception, not on the length of his manuscript."
--  From the Land of Shadows, Clive James (1982)

Hat-tip to Andrew Gelman.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Is the STEM Crisis a Myth?

The STEM Crisis is a Myth: An Ongoing Discussion - IEEE Spectrum:
Throughout the month of September, IEEE Spectrum will provide continuing coverage and debate.

Computing for Data Analysis & Data Analysis back on Coursera!

The return of the stat – Computing for Data Analysis & Data Analysis back on Coursera! | Simply Statistics:
Roger Peng and Jeff Leek are going to be re-offering their Coursera courses: Computing for Data Analysis (starts Sept 23)

and Data Analysis (starts Oct 28)


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Can Your Results be Replicated? | (R-bloggers)

Can Your Results be Replicated?:
It’s very easy when you’re working through someone else’s code to be satisfied when you’ve successfully got your computer to produce the same numbers you see in the paper. But replicating a published result in one software package does not mean that you necessarily understand what that software package is doing, that the software is doing it correctly, or that doing it at all is the appropriate thing to do – in our case none of those were true and working out why was key to writing our paper.
Replicated vs. reproducible Research.

Interesting observation that we reply on the software to find a "solution" without much understanding of the algorithm used by the software. If this can happen for academic papers, think how many more you will see in industrial and business.
I have seen many meaningless, but colorful and pretty charts produced by Crystal Ball, Minitab, or Weibull++. Copy and Paste from Excel, click a button, and behold!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The STEM Crisis Is a Myth - IEEE Spectrum

The STEM Crisis Is a Myth - IEEE Spectrum:
I don't have enough data to comment whether the STEM shortage is true, but I certainly agree with the author on broader STEM education. STEM education for all public, not necessarily, career in STEM.
 "A broader view, I and many others would argue, is that everyone needs a solid grounding in science, engineering, and math. In that sense, there is indeed a shortage—a STEM knowledge shortage. To fill that shortage, you don’t necessarily need a college or university degree in a STEM discipline, but you do need to learn those subjects, and learn them well, from childhood until you head off to college or get a job. Improving everyone’s STEM skills would clearly be good for the workforce and for people’s employment prospects, for public policy debates, and for everyday tasks like balancing checkbooks and calculating risks. And, of course, when science, math, and engineering are taught well, they engage students’ intellectual curiosity about the world and how it works."

Don’t be so quick to place politicians’ views of “national interests” above the mood of the public — The Monkey Cage

Don’t be so quick to place politicians’ views of “national interests” above the mood of the public — The Monkey Cage:
Political scientist Benjamin Page wrote a few years ago, there are systematic differences between the attitudes of the public and of U.S. foreign policy elites:
"Most gaps between citizens and officials appear to have more to do with differing values and interests than with differing levels of information and expertise. To the extent that this is true and that Americans’ collective policy preferences are coherent and reflective of the best available information, there would seem to be a strong argument, based on democratic theory, that policy makers should pay more heed to the public’s wishes."
Interesting, and it is supported by data. Still thinking when a society in which people pay far more attention to iPhones and MTV than foreign policy, why collective policy preferences would be better. Maybe distorted personal interest is more vicious than lack of knowledge?