Spaghetti of Things

Spaghetti software was a popular term in the 90s, when I just started to learn programming. When a tool is given to someone who does not plan for dimensioning, scalability and extensibility, the end result becomes a spaghetti. And I did create a couple of spaghetti-projects myself, with all my love to quick-fixes and limited time to hand in assignments at university. Spaghetti code requires shorter starting curve but is not future proof. 
Similarly, “spaghetti” can easily be created when Internet of Things solutions are put together. A couple of years ago my team at Ericsson Research has created a prototype of a fully automated logistics system that consisted of some 100 sensors and actuators and used a control algorithm that could deal with any number of resources (vehicles, cranes, cargo) and adjusted to new logistics tasks and resource changes in real-time. No spaghetti code here. And a very beautiful demo that we presented at Mobile World Congress’2015. Underneath, however, was a “spaghetti” of cables, simply because not all of our devices were capable of wireless connectivity at that time.
Another example could be found at our place 5 years ago. I called it “brain of our apartment”. A couple of net disks, wireless router, and even a stationary phone(!). Now we don’t have cables any more, all is wireless and in the cloud, and still, there is a risk of creating virtual spaghetti. Ordinary users of a home kits such as Apple’s or Telldus‘ can now easily automate their homes without any knowledge of the underlying technologies as all the complexity is hidden. The invisible cables will however connect our fridges, tv-boxes, coffee machines and temperature sensors to different servers and when you ask your TV to check how your cigars are doing, your AppleTV will send a request to an iCloud server somewhere in the world to decode what you actually meant by this phrase, get back your request in a machine-readable form, send it to your Apple HomeKit, further to the HomeKit application server, back home, then to Telldus server somewhere in the world, back home to the cigar humidor where the humidity sensor is placed, and all the way back to your TV to deliver the answer to your question. No wonder that responses can take time. And the loger the chain of events the longer the response times. Instead, the involved cloud services could talk between themselves and deliver back an answer, and hopefully they can find a “close” friend to discuss.

Commodities in Our Life

We are constantly looking for new values that can be created out of old technologies that become more mature and scalable. Processors are powerful enough to give us search results in seconds, telecom networks become fast enough to transmit huge amounts of information almost instantly, small connected devices are deployed in everything, we expect mobile internet to work everywhere, and we expect all this to be for free, or almost for free. What we gladly pay for is the “Jet Black” shade of the phone, fancy filters in the camera application and Siri with a sense of humor. And we can easily forgive these value-adding services when they misbehave – it’s not a big deal if Siri does not get what you want from her. But when we lose coverage it becomes very annoying. Or if your device suddenly freezes and restarts, especially when you are right in the middle of credit card payment process. Can I trust that my microphone is actually muted after I clicked on mute? Can I trust that my information will stay secure?

Apple iOS 10 is Apple’s high score in the number of bugs. And here we’re talking about bugs in that basic functionality, such as battery life or sound, that we do not want to pay any extra for. They have already released several updates to it, still failing to fix the sounds problem on iPhone 6S. Isn’t is unacceptable for a phone that costs $600?  There are tons of information on the web about fixes and workarounds for the bugs in iOS 10, and even detailed instructions on how to revert to iOS 9. Some people even turn it to something positive: “Apple are so quick with their bug fixes and updates!” But isn’t it exactly what we paid Apple for from the very beginning – things just worked. 
If my device tells me that the sound is on when in fact there is no sound, can I trust it’s muted microphone to actually be muted? Does the fancy outfit matter when you stop trusting someone?

Saying no to IoT

I did not think I would ever do it – refuse some new sensors around me. Generally I’m all for that, and I will gladly augment my body with IoT devices when the technology is mature enough. And now this offer from Stockholm university arrives: my little boy has been selected to participate in a research study that tracks brain wave patterns through an electroencephalogram. Check it out:

Most probably the researcher who composed the letter does not have own kids. Because to me this picture looks as if it has been taken directly from a horror movie, and I would never let my little Paul participate in such an experiment, even if I know that the small metal discs with electrodes placed on the scalp only read and send the signals. This is still too much for a mother. This is how my heart reacts – we are programmed to defend our kids in every situation. And of course I see the value of such experiments and that researchers in linguistics do need a representative population of small kids to make experiments on. But then at least ask a marketing person to present it to parents in a selling way, especially when using Stockholm University branding. 

Slow Science

Did it ever happen to you that you cannot see the forest for the trees? I could see it so clearly right after vacation. And this time of year we are busy finalizing the targets for this year and at the same time setting the strategy for the next year. And technological progress is constantly accelerating, researchers are supposed to deliver new results in a high pace, publish more papers, submit more project applications and produce more PhD students. 
Quality of research education can be assessed with respect to different expected outcomes of it – the quality of the produced PhD thesis, the quality of the main product of PhD education, i.e. the independent researcher, and the ability of this independent researcher to drive science and well-being forward by collaboration and innovation. Studies [123] state that several factors impact PhD thesis quality in a negative way. Governments require universities to increase the quantity (in terms of completed PhDs and articles), which results in situations when persons not suitable for PhD education are being recruited. In combination with difficulty of termination of PhD thesis work it results in situation when supervisor puts major effort in the student’s PhD thesis just to get it done.  Additionally, with increased number of students per supervisor and a time limit for producing a PhD thesis, there is a decrease of thesis quality. In other words, when academic research tries to move with a pace of technological progress, there is a negative effect on the quality. 
What about decreasing the pace and letting scientific results emerge at their own pace? Slowness has got a lot of attention recently. Slow cooking, Slow gardeningSlow readingSlow educationSlow parentingSlow designSlow cinema, and Slow photography are examles of so-called Slow Movement that has been coined as opposed to increasing speed of technological progress. And the concept of Slow science is based on the belief that science should be a slow, steady, methodical process, and that scientists should not be expected to provide quick fixes to society’s problems. Slow science supports curiosity-driven scientific research and opposes performance targets [4].
And even though I can see values in Slowness, it is not my thing. I have never liked longer hikes, meditation and power walks. Long-distance running is OK only within a race, and long-distance xc-skiing is OK only in a hilly terrain. But in some cases one needs to go slow and I was lucky that 18 years ago my PhD supervisor did not let me have these quick ego-kicks that i was craving. We had to give it time, let the work mature and only publish it in the best forums. Sometimes we need time to find the right thing, and sometimes there’s love at the first sight and no time to lose. 


Facebook Inc., how could you…

Hello, it’s been a while since I wrote something here. Vacation, and not like my thoughts ever stopped spinning but I just could not get them out in written form. Now I’m back home where me and my laptop can get some private time.

So Instagram (Facebook Inc.) comes out with this new feature of photos/videos that disappear within 24 hours. As in Snapchat, that is. Paul’s immediate reaction: why would I ever want to post something that disappears? This is a natural reaction of a perfectionist. Every photo or video that he produces is a small piece of art which only ends up on social media if Paul thinks it’s beautiful or at least interesting enough. Why would he want it to be erased. I am not a perfectionist. I love quick and dirty, good enough and low-hanging fruits. And my purpose of posting something on social media is to share an immediate thought or sight. It is some kind of therapy of putting it down and sharing, like in this blog. And as I do it in quick and dirty manner my posts do not necessarily end up future-proof.

In other words, I do see value in disappearing media, as many others on Snapchat. And naturally Instagram needed to fill the gap and implemented it. The small feature is just a piece of software and cannot be protected by patents. Still, lots of debates took place. “How could they just copy something that Snapchat has been developing for so long!”, they said in Swedish media. No, I do not think they have been developing it for so long. I do not think they’ve been brainstorming for months to come up with the feature. Somebody just came up with it, built a community and got the feature copied into another community – it’s evolution. 

Pocket Money

Some time ago we agreed with Elin (8) and Alexander (7) that they would receive pocket money from us every week. Surely a good thing to teach the kids to keep track of the money, plan, count, save. The only problem is that we never have cash. The kids will soon get their bank accounts with automatic transfers but they won’t be able to log in to the bank themselves to manage their accounts and hence to see the transaction history and the balance. Instead, they will have to manually keep track of the transactions, either by writing them down on paper, or, more likely, by using a dedicated app for that purpose, such as “veckopengen”. It’s amazing to see how quickly apps fulfilling some new purpose are being created. Cash was king just recently, and now it’s not any more accepted in many places in Sweden, such and cafés and busses. Swish is used everywhere, from hotdog stands on a street to online stores. Some people say that the barrier of spending virtual money compared to physical is lower. For me it has always been the opposite – as soon as cash leaves my bank account and ends up in my pocket it’s gone.

Digitalization, Digitization and Resistance

The buzz-words have been around for a while, and now it’s a fashion to use them everywhere. People don’t even bother to check the right wording. In the example from Twitter below, Ana is using error correction when citing Ann’s slide.


Here are two definitions from Gartner’s IT Glossary:

  • Digitalization is the use of digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities; it is the process of moving to a digital business.
  • Digitization is the process of changing from analog to digital form.
Obviously, it’s not so difficult to notice the change from analog to digital, so the slide above does not make sense. But enough of being word police. We all know that digitalization is a good thing. However there are industries that resist digitalisation even though it would have been easy to implement. One example is champagne industry. There is so much pride in having human riddlers coming thought the cellar every day and turning each bottle 1/8th of a turn. In my eyes it is a perfect task for automation. Another example is music industry. In 2015 Gibson released a new lineup of electric guitars that came with a bunch of really cool features. At least according to me and Paul. The coolest feature is their G-FORCE™ – an automatic tuning system that came on most of their 2015 models. This new lineup turned out an economic failure for Gibson. Musicians like trying new things but cherish classical features, and the new lineup received tones of negative reactions. The new automated tuning system was claimed to be inaccurate, the guitars dropped in price and the new features were removed in 2016 lineup. Paul was however happy about the 2015 guitars being on sale and got himself two… And in fact, according to his and other musicians’ measurements, the automated tuning system seems to work perfectly.