June 26, 2011

How Leaders Can Imitate Art

Mental Floss (July-August 2011) has an article on the awesome art of "Christo and Jeanne-Claude." Their pieces are large, imposing, and environmentally-based. Some examples are:

1) The Umbrella (1991)--Installed 3,100 umbrellas across a 12-mile stretch in California and an 18-mile stretch in Japan."

2) The Gates (2005)--Erected "7,503 steel gates, each with a giant rectangle of orange fabric flowing from it."

3) Surrounded Islands (1983)--"Surrounded 11 uninhabited islands in Biscayne Bay with 700,000 square yards of pink fabric."

4) Wrapped Reichstag (1995)--Wrapped the German parliament in "119,600 square yards of shimmering silver fabric."

What I like about their art is the duality of on one hand, magnitude of the projects--they are huge!--and on the other hand, the utter simplicity of it--such as using a single color fabric to just line up along, spread over, or surround something.

Further, I really like their use of contrasts whether it is the colors of the blue water and green islands with the pink ribbon or the lush green valley with the blue umbrellas--it is in every case dynamic and spell-binding.

Each work even in a microcosm would be beautiful, but when done on a massive scale like with the entire German Parliament building or on multiple continents simultaneously, it takes on an air of magic, almost like Houdini.

Jeanne-Claude passed away in 2009, but together she and Christo created "20 gargantuan works of art, and Christo carries on the "couples's 45 years of collaboration" with new works today.

To me, Christo and Jeanne-Claude are incredibly inspirational:

1) They were highly productive and developed a multitude of magnificent works of art.

2) They defined a sense of beauty in both urban and rural settings that combined the natural surroundings and augmented it with human interventions to complete the creative process.

3) They took on monumental tasks, "funded all the projects themselves," and would obsessively plan all the details to get it right.

4) The were truly collaborative--Christo was the artist and Jeanne-Claude his encouragement and manager, yet they considered each other "equal partners in the creative process."

Their work reminds me of floating in virtual reality like in Second Life, but in this case, it's the real thing. And it's incredibly important because it teaches us that we are partners in the creative process and can do enormously great things in simple and beautiful ways. Similarly, true leadership is about being one with our surroundings, at peace, and yet envisioning how to improve on it and make the good things, spectacular.

(Source Photos of Umbrella and Gates: Wikipedia, and of Islands and Reichstag: here)


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June 25, 2011

Busting The Organizational Bunkers

There is a law in Switzerland that every citizen has to have quick access to a bomb shelter and that all new residences be outfitted with these.

According to the Wall Street Journal (25-26 June 2011), there are over 300,000 swiss bunkers with enough room "to shelter all 7.6 million citizens" and with 1 million to spare!

Yet, the Swiss continue to add 50,000 new spots a year in the bomb shelters.

Note, these are not just a proverbial hole in the wall shelter, but bomb bunkers able to withstand the "impact of a 12-megaton explosion at a distance of [only] 700 meters (765 yards)"--this is 800 times the energy discharged in the bombing of Hiroshima!

So the Swiss are very serious about sheltering themselves.

According to Swiss Info Channel, this preoccupation began in the 1960s with fear of nuclear attack and soviet invasion. Hence the slogan at the time, "Neutrality is no guarantee against radioactivity."

Despite the high cost of these shelters and the end of the Cold War, the Swiss hold dear to their shelters to protect against the variety of new dangers out there from terrorist's dirty bombs to nuclear/chemical/biological accidents, and natural disasters--and the recent events with Fukushima only served to reinforce those beliefs.

The WSJ points out, preparedness comes "second nature" to them--they popularized the Swiss pocket knife, they still have a mandatory military draft for men, and aside from the U.S. and Yemen, they have more guns per capita than anyone else out there.

I find their obsession with security fascinating, especially since they are a neutral country and haven't had a major conflict for about 200 years.

Perhaps, the Swiss as a small country surrounded by Germany, France, Italy, and Austria that were pummeled in World Wars I and II, witnessed enough bloodshed to be forever changed.

It reminds me of organizations with defective cultures, where employees see others beaten down so often and so long, they simply learn to keep their mouths shut and their heads down. They have in a sense learned to "shelter in place."

Of course, being prepared to duck when something is thrown at you is a good thing, but when you are perpetually stuck in a ducking stance, then something is wrong.

I admire the Swiss and the Israeli's propensity to prepare and survive, when they are the David's amidst the Goliath's.

However, in an organizational context, I am concerned when I see so many employees hiding in shelters, afraid to speak up and contribute, because they have been marginalized by broken organization cultures.

The organization is not the place for bunkers, it is the place for collaboration and productivity.

(All opinions my own)

(Photo Source: Facts Worth Knowing)

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June 24, 2011

Feedback, Can't Live Without It

Whether you call it feedback or performance measurement, we all need information on how we are doing in order to keep doing better over time.

Wired (July 2011) reports that there are 4 basic stages to feedback:

1. Evidence--"behavior is measured, captured, and stored."

2. Relevance--information is conveyed in a way that is "emotionally resonant."

3. Consequence--we are provided with the results of our (mis)deeds.

4. Action--individuals have the opportunity to"recalibrate a behavior, make a choice, and act."

The new action (in step 4) is also subject to measurement and the the feedback loop begins again.

Feedback plays a critical role in helping us achieve our goals; according to psychologist Albert Bandura, if we can identify our goals and measure our progress to them, we greatly increase the likelihood that we will achieve them.

Thus, feedback is the way that we continually are able to course correct in order hit our targets: if we veer too much to the right, we course correct left; if we veer too much to the left, we course correct right.

Feedback loops "can help people change bad behavior...[and] can encourage good habits."

From obesity to smoking, carbon emissions to criminal behavior, and energy use to employee performance, if we get feedback as to where we are going wrong and what negative effects it is having on us, we have the opportunity to improve.

And the way we generate improvement in people is not by trying to control them--since no one can really be controlled, they just rebel--instead we give them the feedback they need to gain self-control.

These days, feedback is not limited to having that heart-to-heart with somebody, but technology plays a critical role.

From sensors and monitors that capture and store information, to business intelligence that makes it meaningful in terms of trends, patterns, and graphs, to alerting and notification systems that let you know when some sort of anomaly occurs, we rely on technology to help us control our often chaotic environments.

While feedback can be scary and painful--no one wants to get a negative reaction, criticized, or even "punished"--in the end, we are better off knowing than not knowing, so we have the opportunity to evaluate the veracity and sincerity of the feedback and reflect on what to do next.

There are many obstacles to self-improvement including disbelief, obstinance, arrogance, as well as pure unadulterated laziness. All these can get in the way of making necessary changes in our lives; however, feedback has a way of continuing to come back and hit you over the head in life until you pay attention and act accordingly.

There is no escaping valid feedback.

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June 19, 2011

Crashing The Internet--Are We Prepared?


Almost week after week, I read and hear about the dangers of cyber attacks and whether "the big one" is coming.

The big one is what some experts have called a pending "digital Pearl Harbor."

Just last week, the Federal Times (13 June 2011) wrote that the "U.S. government computer networks are attacked about 1.8 billion times per month."


The Center for New American Security (CNAS) states that deterring and preventing cyber attacks will require "stronger and more proactive leadership."

Charles Dodd, a cyber security consultant in D.C. warns that "You've bought a stick to a gunfight, and you're arrogant about your capabilities."
So the question is--are we really paying attention to and being realistic about the probability and magnitude of the impact of the cyber threat out there?

Certainly, with so much critical infrastructure--from government, military, and private industry--dependent on the Internet, the effects of a concerted or prolonged cyber attack on our country would be devastating as documented most recently in The Lipman Report (October 2010) on "Threats to the Information Highway: Cyber Warfare, Cyber Terrorism, and Cyber Crime" as follows:

--"There is a great concern regarding the types of destructive attacks that are already occurring, but an even greater concern for the unknown that is yet to happen but is almost certainly even now in development. Cyberspace touches nearly every part of our daily lives."

It is in this regard that I read with serious concern today in ID Magazine (August 2011) that the University of Minnesota has "demonstrated in a simulation how an attack with a large botnet (a network of remotely-controlled PCs) could shut down the Internet."

And it took only 20 minutes to trigger the chain reaction in which "manipulated routers overloaded all other Internet routers worldwide...mak[ing] it impossible for Internet address to be found."
Granted it would take around 250,000 computers to carry out such an attack, but with the billions of people online with computer devices of all sorts...that does not seem like an inordinate amount to press forward with for a coordinated attack.

So the Internet in theory can be crashed!

Just think for a moment about how that would impact you and what you do every day...would anything be the same? Could we even function normally anymore?

As we move more and more of our applications, data, and infrastructure online to the cloud, we need to consider what additional risks does this bring to the individual, the organization, and the nation and how we can respond and recover should something happen to the Internet.

In the Federal government there are many agencies, commands, task forces, and groups working to secure the Internet, and at the same time, there are separate efforts to modernize and reform IT and reduce unnecessary expenditures, so what we need to do is better integrate the drive to the cloud with the urgency of securing our data, so that these efforts are strong and unified.
This is one of the things that I was trying to achieve when I created the CIO Support Services Framework in synthesizing the functions of IT Security with the other strategic CIO functions for Enterprise Architecture, IT Investment Management, Project Management, Customer Relationship Management, and Performance Management.

If the Internet can indeed be crashed, we had all better be prepared and make the right IT investment decisions now, so that we won't be sorry later.
(All opinions are my own)

(Source Photo: Heritage and History.com)

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June 18, 2011

Imagine Me Being Free

America's Got Talent is one of my favorite shows--I love the diversity of talent and the acts that never fail to amaze and entertain.

I thought the Silhouettes were particularly special.

A group of 38 kids ages 9 to 18 who work hard to be good in school and at dance.

They put on a beautiful show to the Kirk Franklin song Imagine Me.

The beauty of the dance both illustrates and shows an overcoming of the insecurity, need for acceptance, and lack of self esteem that is universal.

I believe that hope emanates from them to all of us for a world that is healed and where we can be strong and successful.

The Silhouettes are going to Vegas!

_____________________

To really understand the song, I think you really have to see the beautiful lyrics too.

So here they are...enjoy!

"Imagine Me"

Imagine me
Loving what I see when the mirror looks at me cause I
I imagine me
In a place of no insecurities
And I'm finally happy cause
I imagine me

Letting go of all of the ones who hurt me
Cause they never did deserve me
Can you imagine me?
Saying no to thoughts that try to control me
Remembering all you told me
Lord, can you imagine me?
Over what my mama said
And healed from what my daddy did
And I wanna live and not read that page again

[Chorus:]
Imagine me, being free, trusting you totally finally I can...
Imagine me
I admit it was hard to see
You being in love with someone like me
But finally I can...
Imagine me

Being strong
And not letting people break me down
You won't get that joy this time around
Can you imagine me?
In a world (in a world) where nobody has to live afraid
Because of your love fears gone away
Can you imagine me?

[Bridge:]
Letting go of my past
And glad I have another chance
And my heart will dance
'Cause I don't have to read that page again

[Chorus x2]

[Vamp:]
Gone, gone, it's gone, all gone

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June 17, 2011

Apps-The World At Your Fingertips

I came across this great video by the State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP).

The video demonstrates a vision for connecting people with applications and using these "to communicate, educate, and engage--beyond the gates of every embassy on the planet."

I like the way they detailed out specific use cases for the apps, where "Applications can be anything from trivia to media kits, visa procedures and event management to English language tutorials."

The video describes how everyone from a consular officer to a public affairs specialist and a college student to a journalist can take advantage of these.

I can see that one of the principles behind Apps@State is to maximize the sharing and re-use of content through an apps catalogue and the ability to customize the apps to local and individual needs.

The mobile and webs apps content will be made available through SMS, smartphones, and social networks.

This framework for a cloud computing platform can bring efficiency and effectiveness to foreign service officers and audiences world-wide that depend on and can benefit from these programs.

This is very much user-centric design in action, and I believe very much on target with the "25 Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal IT Management."

Other agencies are also developing significant apps catalogues, such as GSA with the Apps.Gov website, which now has more than fifty free social media applications for federal agencies in everything from analytics and search to blogs, contests, document sharing, video and photo sharing, idea generation, social media, wikis, and more.

Perhaps it is not too early to say that the Federal government is on a roll and that it will only get better with time.

(Note: All opinions my own)

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June 16, 2011

New Beginnings

Next week I am excited to begin a new journey as a Division Chief at the U.S. Department of State.

I just wanted to take a minute to thank the ATF for the opportunity to serve there as the Chief Technology Officer these last few years.

There are no finer or more dedicated law enforcement agents than those that work for our federal government, and I am so proud that the ATF chose me to support their vital mission of protecting our country.

I also greatly appreciate the opportunity to have worked and learned with such talented and dedicated professionals in the Office of Science and Technology.

Some people have asked me to comment on my tenure from the perspective of what's going on in the news. It wouldn't be appropriate for me to do that, but I do want to recognize and thank people for caring so passionately about our great country.

It's a new chapter in my life and I'm ready to roll up my sleeves, learn, and contribute as well.

I am grateful for the wonderful opportunity--ready, set, go!

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June 15, 2011

Apple Store "Heaven"

The Apple Store is always packed with people--it's like they are just camped out there, permanently.

According to the Wall Street Journal (15 June 2011), the Apple stores are an unbelievable success story:

1) The 326 stores sold about $11.7 billion worth of merchandise in 2010, and have an estimated 26.9% profit margin--compared with about 1% margin for Best Buy before taxes.

2) They led with sales per square foot of over $4,406--higher than Tiffany at $3,070,, Coach at $1,776, and Best Buy at $880

3) More people now visit Apple's stores in a single quarter than the 60 million who visited Disney's 4 biggest theme parks last year.
And people are not just "window shopping," but people are actively engaged trying out, testing, experimenting with the latest Apple products sitting out on the display desks.

Of course, there are also lots of sales people in their bright red Apple shirts ready to help, answer questions, and even sell you something.

Apple's stated "sales" philosophy--"not to sell, but rather to help customer solve problems."

Thus, employees receive no sales commissions and have no sales quotas--that's definitely pretty novel! (The exception is that "employees must sell services packages with devices"--I've always been a little leery of those, thinking why do I need the service package if the product is supposedly such high quality to begin with?)

Apple focuses their team on customer service, and their 20007 training manual uses the APPLE acronym as follows:

A--"Approach customers with a personalized warm welcome"
P--"Probe politely to understand all the customer needs"
P--"Present a solution for the customer to take home today"
L--"Listen for and resolve any issues or concerns"
E--"End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return"

I sort of like it--no where does it say to sell, up-sell, cross-sell the customer, but rather it's much more about services and solutions.
At checkout, the salespeople can ring you up from where ever you happen to be in the store on iPod touches with credit card readers.

And trouble shooting Apple products is done at the "Genius Bar"--something like the Geek Squad on steroids. This is where things start to get a little weird, since Apple only pays their geniuses something like $30 an hour, so but for the love of Apple, what are they doing there?

Overall though, I think the whole store experience is pretty ingenious: from "the clutter free look using natural materials like wood, glass, stone, and stainless steel" to the large image color displays of the products dotting the walls, the stores are inviting, hip, and you know when you walk out with a product, it'll be plug and play, immediately functional, and extremely sleek to match.

J.C. Penny made a brilliant move announcing the hiring of Ron Johnson as their new CEO, effective November--Ron is the brains behind the Apple store design. If Ron can Apple-fy the Penny stores, wow wow wow, but that this is not a sure thing, since Apple products are cool and sort of sell themselves anyway--they just needed the right ambience.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

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June 11, 2011

The Internet: A Right and a Responsibility

Poverty_computer

Good Online is reporting (10 June 2011) that the “U.N. Declares Internet Access a Human Right.”

According to the U.N. report, “The Internet has become a key means by which individuals exercise their right to freedom of expression.”

But as Good points out, this is not just a “third-world concern,” since even in America those without high-speed access cannot adequately perform certain functions “and that surely this affects their ability to get informed, educated, and employed.”

The U.N. is pushing for more protections for people to “assert themselves freely online,” but Good proposes that Internet access means more than just freedom of expression, but also the right to more public Wi-Fi access, better access to technology in libraries and I would assume in schools as well.

Interestingly enough, just on Thursday, Mayor Bloomberg of NYC and AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson announced that as part of NYC’s “Road Map for the Digital City,” they were launching a five-year initiative for free Wi-Fi service at 20 NYC parks—this is seen as a “critical developmental tool” for children, families, and communities.

The Internet stands alone as a technology that is now a “human right.” Radios, televisions, and telephones—none of these have that status. Yes, we have freedom of speech, but the technologies that enable them are not seen as a human right.

Similarly, access to the printing press (i.e. the technology for printing) itself is not a human right—rather, freedom of press (i.e. expression through print) is.

Do we not communicate and express ourselves over radio, TV, telephone, and other technologies as we do over the Internet? Do we not get information from them and through them? Do we not reach out with them to others both nationally and globally as we do over Net?

The answer to all of these is of course, we do.

So what is distinct about the Internet that the mere access to it is declared a human right?

I believe it is the fact that the Internet is the first technology whose very access enables the protection of all the other human rights, since it empowers EVERYONE to hear and speak from and to the masses about what is going in—whether in the tumultuous streets of the Arab Spring to the darkest prisons silencing political dissent.

While radio and television, in their time, were important in getting information and entertainment, but they were essentially unidirectional modes of communication and these can be manipulated by the powers that be. Similarly, the telephone while important to bridging communications over vast distances was for the most part constrained between two or at most a few individuals conversing. And publishing was limited to the realm of the professionals with printing presses.

In contrast, the Internet enables each person to become their own TV producer (think YouTube), radio announcer (think iTunes), telephone operator (think Skype) or publisher (think websites, blogs, wikis, etc.).

The Internet has put tremendous power into the hands of every individual. This is now a declared right. With that right, there is a tremendous responsibility to share information and collaborate with others for the benefit of all.

Of course, as a powerful tool of expression, the Internet can also be used malevolently to express hatred, racism, bigotry, etc. and to malign other people, their thoughts or opinions. Of course, it can also be used to steal, spy, hack, and otherwise disrupt normal civilization.

So we also all have the responsibility to behave appropriately, fairly, and with dignity to each other on the Internet.

While I applaud the U.N. for declaring the Internet a human right, I would like to see this expanded to include both a right and responsibility—this to me would be more balanced and beneficial to building not only access, but also giving and tolerance.

(Photo Source: WorldVisionReport.org)


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June 9, 2011

Misappropriating Twitter

By now we are all familiar with the news story regarding a prominent lawmaker, recently married, who admitted to a longstanding pattern of inappropriate sexual exploits via Twitter.

As The Wall Street Journal (9 June 2011) notes, the individual got caught when he “mistakenly sent the photo to tens of thousands of Twitter followers,” rather than as a private message.

As a public servant who is a proponent of social media technology used appropriately, I was very concerned when I saw this in the news (note: all opinions my own).

The government needs social media tools like Twitter. It is an important tool for sharing information and alerts. It is obviously not for “sexting” your followers, especially with a Twitter handle that is apparently coming from someone in the government.

Twitter is an important means of engaging the public in important ways, moving this great country forward on policy issues and a vision that is noble, righteous, and for the betterment of our world. What a shame when these tools are misappropriated!

So while I cannot say “with certitude” what exactly this person was thinking, I am certain that we need social media in government and that there are numerous positive ways for it to be applied. With the caveat that the basis for social media by anyone in government has to be truth, transparency and genuine outreach on issues of importance to the people.

A lot of government people and agencies are doing a good job with Twitter and other social media tools. Let's go back to focusing on the positive work that we can do with them, even as we note with caution how badly they can be misused.


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June 7, 2011

2048--And The World Will Be As One

John Lennon sang the song Imagine—envisioning a time when everyone will be at peace “and the world will be as one.”

Perusing the bookstore, I came across a relatively new book that came out last year called 2048 by J. Kirk Boyd, Executive Director of the 2048 Project at the U.C. Berkeley Law School that carries a vision of peace, unity and human rights similar to the song.

By 2048, Boyd envisions a world with an “agreement to live together”—marked by an International Bill of Rights with five key freedoms:

1) Freedom of Speech—includes freedoms of expression, media, assembly, and associations.

2) Freedom of Religion—the right to worship in your own way and separation of church and state.

3) Freedom from Want—everyone has a right to a useful and fairly paying job, a decent home, adequate medical care, and a good education.

4) Freedom from Fear—freedom from repression, enabled by an independent judiciary and the enforcement of the rule of law.

5) Freedom of the Environment—driven by preservation and sustainability for future generations.

I would see the freedoms in the U.S. Bill of Rights that are not explicitly mentioned here to be implicitly covered by the broad categories of Freedoms from Want and Fear.

For example, the right to bear arms and such could be covered under the Freedom of Want. Similarly, the guarantees to a speedy, public trial and not to be put in double jeopardy or unreasonably searched etc. could be covered under Freedom from Fear.

Boyd’s 2048 implementation of an International Bill of Rights carries forward the Declaration of Human Rights—that consists of 30 articles—by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948on it’s one hundred year anniversary—that has unfortunately not been fully realized yet.

In a time when so much oppression, repression, and global poverty still exist, I am awed by this vision and call for human rights throughout the world.

I like the clarity and simplicity of Boyd’s five freedoms. They can be easily understood and remembered.

The freedoms according to Boyd will enable us to focus together, think (and write) together, decide together, and move forward together.

This is a far different world than the one we live in today that is driven by scarcity, power and politics and that keep people in seemingly perpetual fighting mode.

What will it take to reach a world architecture that brings peace, prosperity, and dignity to all? A global catastrophe. A common enemy. A messianic fulfillment. Or is it possible, with G-d’s help, to move today—incrementally—through our own planning, reason and devices to live in peace as one humankind?


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June 5, 2011

Video Surveillance Made Easier

One of the big problems with video surveillance is that even the most alert security team can be lulled by fatigue and boredom into missing critical events and details on the closed-circuit television (CCTV).

Now there is a new technology called BriefCam (founded in 2007) from Hebrew University in Israel that summarizes hours of video in brief minutes.

What differentiates this new technology, according to The Economist (15 February 2011) is that rather than fast-forwarding or using motion detection to capture or select images, BriefCam captures everything, but "creates a summary of all moving events and play back a synopsis...not speeded up, each person moves at their actual pace. And at any time during the review an operator can switch [click-on the time stamp of the event of interest] to see the original video footage."

BriefCam creates like a time warp where "all moving events from the period of interest are collected and shifted in time to create the synopsis."

Essentially objects are overlaid on a timeless background, so you are seeing them occur simultaneously, each with a timestamp that can be selected and clicked to isolate the event.

What makes this an incredible forensic tool, is that there are controls for speed and density of what you watching, and for even moving objects out of the way on the screen.

The Chairman of BriefCam explains, "We don't try to replace human eyes, we just report what we see so that it is more comprehensible."

This is particularly helpful since according to CNBC (July 2010), which awarded BriefCam as number 2 of Europe's 25 Most Creative Companies, noted "the average person viewing surveillance footage has an effective attention span of about [only] 20 minutes."

This is why BriefCam can help our law enforcement and security personnel overcome the traditional video surveillance issues that the Wall Street Journal (27 September 2010) put as "there's not enough time and manpower to watch it all." This is one reason that the WSJ awarded BriefCam their 2010 Innovation Award.

Potential customers for this physical security technology includes police, homeland security, military, as well as commercial customers.

This is a very promising technology tool that with the addition or integration of recognition software and metadata tagging can help us monitor and safeguard our borders, streets, and critical infrastructure.

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June 4, 2011

Armored Skin


(Source Photo: CrunchGear)

Not just for super heroes in comic books anymore, ArmStar has invented a new non-lethal weapon called the BodyGuard.

It was invented by David Brown, a cameraman, editor, and producer, and supposed friend of Kevin Costner.

The idea of the encased ballistic nylon arm glove is that if you are wearing the weapon, you won't drop it or easily be disarmed by your opponent.

According to CrunchGear (31 May 2011), "The BodyGuard is an armored gauntlet with a 500,000-volt stunner protruding from the back of the hand, with room for any number of other weapons of self defense."

Aside from the stun gun, current prototypes come equipped with video camera, laser pointer, and flashlight; and future versions are envisioned to have chemical sensors, GPS, biometric readers, translators, and more.

I would imagine, you could also install things like mace or smoke that can be dispensed into action at the push of a button (with safety).

This is why the BodyGuard is seen not only as a weapon, but also as a weapons platform, with an actuator pressure pad in the palm of the hand controlling the release of the weapons.

The menacing display of voltage between the electrodes on the wrist, the green laser target on one's chest, as well as knowing that you may be videotaped (along with the possibility of other embedded weapons) can make the BodyGuard a useful tool for law enforcement to help prevent and defuse confrontations, deter criminals, and save lives.

The BodyGuard won a Popular Science 2011 Invention Award and according to their magazine "the first demo unit will be released to the Los Angeles sheriff's department later this year."
While I think the non-lethal version is promising for law enforcement, a lethal version for our military seems like a another market and next step in delivering ergonomic and flexible battle gear to our war fighters.

I think there is also potential here for non-weaponized versions, for commercial and personal use--where ever and whenever body protection and quick access to tools and gadgets are needed--construction, manufacturing, even mountain climbing!

Finally, while having this is nice on one arm, I think this could be expanded for modules for both arms, legs, and so forth.

This has a lot of potential and I wish I had one of these when riding the IRT subway late in the evenings in NYC as a kid...it would have been nice to hit the pressure button and watch the volts arc and the bad guys just run the other way.

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June 3, 2011

Describing Meal Time

The USDA released their new dietary guidelines yesterday (2 June).

And while there is no surprise in the recommendations that we eat more fruits and vegetables; what was refreshing was the new imagery for conveying the information.

Gone is the Food Pyramid and in is the Food Plate.
This new visualization overall makes a lot more sense since:

1) As the Wall Street Journal stated today (3 June 2011), "People don't eat off a pyramid, they eat off a plate." In other words, this is something we can relate to at meal times.

2) The plate here is used like a pie chart to easily show what portion of our meals should come from each food category. For example, you can clearly see that fruits and veggies makes up a full half of the plate. (Boy, I'm sure there are a lot of smiling moms and dads out there today, saying I told you so!) Also the role of protein in a healthy diet is reaffirmed with almost a full quadrant itself.
I am not sure why this initiative, according to the WSJ, cost about $2.9 million and three years to accomplish, since the representation seems fairly straight forward (unless some of that went to modifying the nutritional guidelines themselves).

In any case, I think we can all be glad they got rid of the 2005 version of the food pyramid that "left many baffled" as to what they were trying to say.

Still even in this new visualization, there are confusing aspects, for example:

1) Greater than a Pie--The Dairy piece is separate and off to the right of the plate. I would imagine that this is supposed to represent something like a glass of milk, but it is odd in this picture, since it takes away from the pie chart presentation of the plate where theoretically all the food groups on the "pie plate" would add up to 100%. Here, however, the Dairy plate (or glass) is off to the side, so we have something like 120% total--confusing!

2) Missing Percentages--The actual recommended percentages are not noted in the diagram. This type of information had previously been provided in the 1992 Food Pyramid through the recommended servings. Where did they go? I would suggest they annotate the pie slices for each food group with the actual recommended percentages, so that we have the imagery of the slices, but also have a target number to go with. Helpful, if you are counting your calories (and food types) on a diet.

In short, information visualization can be as important as the information itself--with information, having quality data is critical or else you have "garbage in, garbage out." Similarly, with information visualization, you can take perfectly good information and portray it poorly and confuse the heck out of folks--in essence making the resulting information into potential garbage again.

This is why efforts such as the Choose MyPlate are important to help us communicate important information effectively to people, in this case so they can eat and live healthier lives.
I think the new Food Plate is generally effective at presenting the information and I support this effort wholly, but I'm still looking forward to version 3.1.

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