Seamus K - Irish tech industry expat living in Sweden.

Category: Tech (page 1 of 2)

Technology, the internet, cloud, and digital society.

Stop it with the WiFi bashing


There is a bit of schadenfreude going on over the problems with WiFi at the WebSummit in Portugal. I am amused at this. It is a total red herring. I have been to a lot of big tech events in the last year or two. Huge ones like Mobile World Congress (MWC), and CES which have about 100,000 attendees. These are serious tech events, that have been running for years. And the wifi doesn’t work there either.

I am heavily involved in the planning for our presence at MWC 2017. A few weeks ago I had a discussion with the guy responsible for our floor demos. In jest I said I wanted him to allocate me space for something 50m long, 10m high, which would need 4MW of power. His only reaction was:

“Will it need WiFi? As long as it doesn’t need WiFi anything is possible”

The reality is WiFi is not designed to handle massive numbers of concurrent users as you get at huge trade shows. When you put thousands of people on the same limited amount of shared spectrum it will go down.

Perhaps Paddy Cosgrove actually believes WiFi is an issue. I think it is far more likely that the reason he took his circus on the road was it had outgrown Dublin. There is no conference venue in the city that can take 80,000 people. The RDS was a cobbled together option that had reached it’s capacity and was barely suitable. I have seen proper conference setups in Las Vegas, Barcelona, Austin, London, San Francisco. They are purpose built for these things. And they look nothing like repurosed 19th century show grounds.

It Dublin wants to attract the big tech events (and I think it can) then a real conference venue (start with something capable of handling 50,000 attendees, served by rail links) is needed. And not gloating over an ongoing tech problem that can’t be solved anyway.


Blockchain, IoT and trust. They all go together

I just had another blog post published at work. This one is in in support of an eBook I have been working on for a while – with Mads Becker Jørgensen and Michael Bennet Cohn of course! Lets call me the editor of it. 

The ebook is about some things that are “hot topics” these days – the Internet of Things (IoT) and Blockchain technology. Blockchain is often just thought of as something for crypto currencies. But the intrinsic nature of its distributed database, makes it an excellent platform for an integrity assurance solution. The eBook talks about that in the context of IoT.

In a lot of ways Integrity is the poor child of the security trioka. The other two being Confidentiality – is my stuff secret. And Availability – can I get to it when I want. Integrity is about do I trust it. Has someone tampered with it. These are the differences between “is the bank’s internet service up” so you can get to your money (availability), “have account balances and transaction details remained private” (confidentiality), and has someone changed my balance to read €0 (integrity).

Pretty important when you get down to it. But read the book for more information.

The important thing though is that this is a real application of blockchain technology. And it is in use today. It’s not just hype.


Missed opportunities

Grrr, I have a wailing and gnashing of teeth underway as I am missing the opportunity to meet and work with this amazing Engineer in a few weeks in San Francisco. I am not part of our team travelling to be there.

My elder daughter and I have started watching all sort of cool geeky stuff on YouTube at night. It was Chris Hadfield* this evening. Tomorrow I think it needs to be Simone.

* She was fascinated by the whole life on the space station thing. And I have been asked three times to explain why everything floats in space. Its great when you can stimulate curiosity like that**

** The one complaint – she was amazed when she saw a female astronaut. I need to beat that submissive attitude out of her.


Blogging for the man – sneaking one in

About once a month I post a blog post for work*. This week I had one posted on cloud business models. You can read the post if you want. It has been moderately successful, gaining views and conversions.

churchillPersonally I am chuffed though that I managed to get them to include a photo of Churchill as part of the post. Who would have thought we could get a perspective from the man in Cloud Computing?

I’ll have to see what I can manage for the next one. I do take requests as well. Stick something in the comments if you have an idea.

* The demands of writing for work are part of the reason why I can be erratic posting here.


I don’t care that WhatsApp is now encrypted end to end. I am not going to start using it. I will stick with my usual communication channels of phone call, SMS, email (3 accounts),  Telegram, G+ hangouts, Apple Facetime, Microsoft Lync, Slack, Voxer, Snapchat, Tinder, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and nothing else!


Oculus Rift vs the HTC Vive

I have been humming and hawing for a while about  VR headset. I am excited by the technology and I have played around with it at work (2nd gen Oculus) and at CES (3rd Gen). Hey I had even played around with one of the original arcade VR systems back in the 1990s when they first came out.

The problem has been deciding which headset to go for – Oculus Rift or a HTC Vive. The descriptions of the capabilities of the Vive do seem better – full room scale VR, and it will ship with proper controllers. Though there haven’t been proper head to head comparisons yet but they will come.

The reality though is that the Oculus Rift has already lost this battle, and has a serious credibility problem. Less than a month from the launch date, they have amassed three pretty major strikes against themselves*:

  • They bungled the launch and seriously mislead consumers with their pricing shock. After leading everyone to believe that the device would cost about $350 they came in with a price nearly twice that.
  • They don’t have the controllers ready. Buyers have to make do with an X-Box controller which hobbles the experience. HTC are providing their handset with the right UI hardware from the start.
  • And now it appears they cannot even ship the headset. It is not clear how many people (other than journalists) got them, but it looks like most punters are being told they won’t get theirs yet. It is a launch that is not a launch.

The race for the VR business is just beginning, and already Oculus are coming across as shifty and a laggard compared to the competition. Much of this may be because – Oculus is backed by the deep pockets of Facebook, but neither has ever shipped hardware before. HTC for all its troubles in the handset business is experienced at this.

In the next year or two we may see the market discussion go the way of the console wars where Playstation and XBox sales figures are compared every quarter. But just as the PS4 soundly thrashed the XBox One in terms of sales, I think the same is in store for the Oculus – despite the price difference.

Once I have sold the kidney to pay for it, I know which one I will certainly be getting.

* And now Eve Valkyrie, which was a launch exclusive title for the Rift will be available for the Vive later this year. That was something of a killer app for me. Now it is coming to the competition that’s game set and match to the Vive.


I need to change my bio

I have another mini-blog post up at work on Cloud and digital indistrialization. Looking at it I realize, I really need to change my bio 🙂


Privacy Shield vs Safe Harbour

This is a good overview of Privacy Shield, the replacement for Safe Harbour.

The big question is whether it will pass muster by the CJEU. And as many or the original concerns there related to US government surveillance it is not clear whether these have been sufficiently addressed.



Mobile World Congress 2016

Arlanda airport on a February morning as I wait to travel to Barcelona.

Arlanda airport on a February morning as I wait to travel to Barcelona.

Here I am sitting in Stockholm’s Arlanda airport, waiting to board a plane towards Barcelona. I am going to be down there for the week for Mobile World Congress 2016. This is the highlight of the marketing calendar for us. The last few weeks have been occupied with getting ready. Long hours, far too much caffeine and sugar, all the frustration of trying to co-ordinate dozens of people across multiple countries, and aligning different often contradictory messages makes the job stressful and often frustrating.

During the week I will man a stand, organise meetings with employees, media, analysts, customers and partners. I I will act as a spokesman, a bouncer, a recruiter, a foreman, a camera man, an interviewer, an author, a scout and an spy. And I will talk my vocal cords raw (my voice went by the end of the second day last year).

But deep down I will love much of it. I am learning new things every day, about business, marketing and most importantly cloud technology. I rarely consider going back to college, when I learn far more intensively at work every day. I get to do really interesting things, like be one of the small team delivering a huge launch for a Fortune 500 company. But mostly I get to work with really great people. The team is totally international, from and spread around the globe. It is full of smart people who are pushing every day to be better, learn more and do more.

And when it all comes together it is a hell of a rush.


The weather, Cloud Computing and automation

My pre-getting-out-of-bed ritual includes a check on the weather. This morning I see that in Upplands Vasby (the Stockholm suburb where I live) the high will be 1°C and the low -3°C. Which is fine, except the current temperature is below -8°C.

When automated calculations go wrong

When automated calculations go wrong


And it is not just Weather Underground with this problem. The BBC is reporting similar unusual conditions for Stockholm with a minimum temperature 6°C warmer than it actually is already.

Whoever wrote the system for generating or importing the forecasts must have left out a check to see does the forecast match the current reality. But then again, if they did have one, what can the system do if it finds a mis match? Ask for the forecast to be re-run (a massive computation problem for the agencies that produce them), or try and come up with their own? Neither really is viable. I guess they just have t hope that the theory and the reality will converge during the day.

It’s an interesting problem from a technical point of view though. At the weekend I talked with a guy who works at making sure the reviews you see on price comparison sites are correct. He doesn’t ensure that if someone says a TV is great, that it is. His problem is that when they scrape the retailers websites for product details and prices, they must match the products that internet users are actually looking for. Nothing would damage the credibility of a site faster than if you search for details of a fridge, but the responses include electric toothbrushes.

The solutions of course cannot involve humans checking these things. The volume and variety of things that people look for in the internet mean this all has to run without human involvement. The job of the people is to build and tune machine learning systems that constantly improve the quality of the output.

This is one of the key things that I have learned about Cloud – it’s all about the machines. Providing services on demand to users at scale means automation. Everywhere. From the things people see – you don’t ring up AWS to get an EC2 instance provisioned. Through the back end platforms – the only time a human in Amazon should get involved in your bill is when it becomes so big that they feel you need your own account manager. All the way through to the management of the underlying infrastructure.

A metric I was given recently was that in a traditional data centre 1 person can manage about 50-300 servers. In a Hyperscale data centre like Google’s or Facebook’s it is well over 10,000 per admin. Why? Because of automation. As well as enabling the system to manage itself (I am sure they rarely see “routine” errors), automating everything also removes one of the biggest causes of issues in the first place – human error.

Of course this isn’t easy to do (or everyone would be at it). Cracking the problems of automation, governance, and machine learning has enabled the likes of Google, Amazon and Facebook to scale to the size they have, without collapsing under the need to recruit half the planet to be admins for their infrastructure.

The challenge then is bringing that capability to everyone else. That’s what the teams I work with are doing, and is one of the reasons why I am (usually) happy to head into work each morning, even if it is -9°C.

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