April 29, 2012

Strategy, Blue and Red and Successful All Over

Recently, I was reading about something called “Blue Ocean Strategy.”

The notion is that in pursuing differentiation, an organization’s aim is “not to out-perform the competition in the exiting industry [and to fight it out turning the oceans blood red), but [rather] to create a new market space or a blue ocean, thereby making the competition irrelevant.”

While I like the ocean’s metaphor and agree with the need for organizations to innovate and create new products and services (“blue oceans”), I think that competition (“red oceans”) is not something that is inescapable, in any way.

In profitable industries or market spaces, competition will enter until supply and demand equilibrium are met, so that consumers are getting more or less, the optimal supply at the requisite demand. The result is that organizations will and must constantly fight for survival in a dynamic marketplace.

Moreover, as we know, any organization that rests on its past successes, is doomed to the trash heaps of history as John Champers, the CEO of Cisco stated: It’s “easy to say we’re the best…we don’t need to change, but that’s exactly how you disappear.”

In essence, while we may wish to avoid a duke-it-out, red ocean strategy, every successful innovative, differentiation-driven, blue ocean strategy will result in a subsequent red ocean strategy as competitors smell blood and hone in for the kill and their piece of flesh and cut of market share, revenue, and profit hide.

To me, it is na├»ve to think that blue ocean and red ocean strategies are distinct, because every blue ocean eventually turns blood red with competition, unless you are dealing with a monopoly or unfair competitive environment that favors one organization over any others.

The key to success and organizational longevity is for innovations to never cease.  When innovation dries up, it is the moment when the organization begins their drowning decent into the ocean’s abyss.

So as with the lifecycle of all organizations, blue ocean strategies will eventually result in red oceans strategies.  Once this occurs, either the organization will leverage their next blue ocean strategy or bleed red until their body drains itself out and dies off—leaving the superior organization’s blue ocean strategy to carry the day.

Together, blue oceans and red oceans—drive the next great innovation and healthy competition in our dynamic, flourishing market.

(Source Photo: here with attribution to freezingmariner)

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April 28, 2012

Governing the Internet Commons

Recently, I've been watching a terrific series called America: The Story of Us (12 episodes)--from the History Channel. 

It is a beautiful portrayal of the the founding and history of America.

One theme though that repeats again and again is that as a nation, we use the common resources and deplete them until near exhaustion. 

The show portrays an America of lush forests with billions of trees that are chopped down for timber, herds of 30 million buffalo slaughtered for their hides, rollings plains of cotton for a thriving clothing industry that is over-planted, a huge whaling industry used for oil that is over-fished.  

Unfortunately, as we know, the story is not just historical, but goes on to modern-day times, with fisheries depleted, whole species of animals hunted to extinction, energy resources furiously pumped and mined to a foreseen depletion, city streets turned into slushy slums, and national forests carelessly burned down, and more. 

The point is what is called the "Tragedy of the Commons"--where items held in trust for everyone is misused, overused, and ultimately destroyed. With private property, people are caretakers with the incentive to maintain or raise the value to profit later. However, with common property, people grab whatever they can now, in order to profit from it before someone else gets it first. 

This phenomenon was first laid out in the Torah (Bible) with a law for a "Shabbath Year" called Shmita mandating that people let fields (i.e agriculture) lie fallow for a full year every 7 years and similarly, the law of Jubilee (i.e. Yovel), that slaves be freed and loans forgiven every 50 years. I think that the idea is to regulate our personal consumption habits and return what the historical 
"commons" back to its normal state of freedom from exploitation.  

This notion was echoed by ecologist Garrett Harden in the journal Science in 1968, where he described European herders overgrazing common land with their cows to maximize their short-term individual profits at the expense of longer-term term societal benefits. Harden suggested that regulation or privatization can help to solve the "Tragedy of the Commons." 

In the 21st century, we see the modern equivalent of the commons with the Internet, which is an open, shared networking resource for our computing and telecommunications.Without protection, we have the Wild West equivalent with things like spam, malware, and attacks proliferating--clogging up the network and causing disruptions and destruction, and where some people use more than their fair share 

Here are some examples of the Tragedy of the Internet:

- Symantec reports that even with spam decreasing with the shutdown of spam-hosting sites, in 2011, it is still 70% of all emails.

- McAfee reports that malware peaked as of the first half of 2010, with 10 million new pieces.

- Kaspersky reports that web-based attacks were up to 580 million in 2010--8 times the amount of the previous year.

- Verizon Wireless reports 3% of their users use 40% of their bandwidth.

If we value the Internet and want to continue using and enjoying it, then like with our other vital resources, we need to take care of it through effective governance and prudent resource management.  

This means that we do the following:

1) Regulation--manage the appropriate use of the Internet through incentives and disincentives for people to behave civilly online. For example, if someone is abusing the system sending out millions or billions of spam messages, charge them for it!

2) Privatization--create ownership over the Internet. For example, do an Internet IPO and sell shares in it--so everyone can proverbially, own a piece of it and share financially in it's success (or failures). 

3) Security Administration--enhance security of the Internet through public and private partnership with new tools, methods, and advanced skills sets. This is the equivalent of sending out the constable or sheriff to patrol the commons and ensure people are doing the right thing, and if not then depending on who the violating actor(s) are take appropriate law enforcement or military action.

Only by managing the Internet Commons, can we protect this vital resource for all to use, enjoy, and even profit by. 

(Source Photo: here)

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April 27, 2012

Securing The Internet: A Historical Perspective

This week, I had the opportunity take a great class in Cyber Security / Information Assurance.

As part of the class, we had to do a team project and my part was to present a brief history of the Internet and how this best positions the Federal Government to take the lead in securing the Internet.

Here is my part of the presentation:

Good morning. I am Andy Blumenthal, and I am here to talk with you today about the wealth of historical experience that the U.S. Federal Government has with managing the Internet and why we are best positioned to govern the security of it in partnership with the private sector and international community.

As you’ll see on the timeline, the U.S. Government has played a major role in virtually every development with the Internet from inventing it, to building it, and to governing it, and it is therefore, best prepared to lead in securing it.

It all started with the invention of the Internet by the government.

Starting in 1957 with the Sputnik Crisis, where the Soviets leaped ahead of us in putting the first satellite in Earth’s orbit—this caused great fear in this country and ultimately led to a space and technology race between us and the Soviet Union.

As a result of this, in 1958, the U.S. Government established the Advanced Research Projects Agency (or ARPA) to advance our technology superiority and prevent any future technology surprises.

In 1962, ARPA created the Information Process Techniques Office (IPTO) for enhancing telecommunications for sharing ideas and computing resources.

Finally in 1964, the concept of the Internet was founded with the publication by RAND (on contract with the Air Force) of “On Distributed Communications,” which essentially invented the idea of a distributed computing network (i.e. the Internet) with packet switching and no single point of failure.  This was seen as critical in order to strengthen the U.S. telecomm infrastructure for survivability in the event of nuclear attack by the Soviets.

The Internet era was born!

The U.S. government then set out to build this great Internet.

In 1968, ARPA contracted for first 4 nodes of this network (for $563,000).

Then in 1982, after 8 years of anti-trust litigation, the U.S. government oversaw the breakup of AT&T into the Baby Bells in order to ensure competition, value, and innovation for the consumer.

In 1983, ARPANET split off MILNET, but continued to be linked to it through TCP/IP.

In 1987, the National Science Foundation (NSF) built a T1 “Internet Backbone” for NSFNET hooking up the nation’s five supercomputers for high-speed and high capacity transmission.

And in 1991, the National Research and Education Network (NREN, a specialized ISP) was funded for a five-year contract with $2 billion by Congress to upgrade the Internet backbone.

At this point, the Internet was well on its way!

But the U.S. government’s involvement did not end there, after inventing it and building it, we went on to effectively govern it. 

In 2005, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) issued the Internet Policy Statement (related to Net Neutrality) with principles to govern an open Internet—where consumers are entitled to choice of content, apps, devices, and service providers.

And now, most recently, in 2012, we have a proposed bill for the Cybersecurity Act to ensure that companies share cyber security information through government exchanges and that they meet critical infrastructure protection standards.

You see, the government understands the Internet, it’s architecture, it’s vulnerabilities, and has a long history with the Internet from its invention, to its building, and its governance.

It only makes sense for the government to take the lead in the security of the Internet and to balance this effectively with the principles for an open Internet.   

Only the government can ensure that the private sector and our international partners have the incentives and disincentives to do what needs to be done to secure the Internet and thereby our critical infrastructure protection.

Thank you for your undivided attention, and now I will now turn it over to my colleague who will talk to you about the legal precedents for this. 

(Source Graphic: Andy Blumenthal)

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April 24, 2012

Cyberwar--Threat Level Severe

!
This video is of an incredible opening statement by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), Subcommittee Chairman on Oversight, Investigations, and Management on the topic--Cybersecurity Threats to the United States.

Some of the highlights from his statement:

- America's computers are under attack and every American is at risk.

- The attacks are real, stealthy, persistent, and can devastate our nation.

- Cyber attacks occur at the speed of light, are global, can come from anywhere, and can penetrate our traditional defenses.

- In the event of a major cyber attack, what could we expect? Department off Defense networks collapsing, oil refinery fires, lethal clouds of gas from chemical plants, the financial systems collapsing with no idea of who owns what, pipeliness of natural gas exploding, trains and subways derailed, a nationwide blackout. This is not science fiction scenarios. (Adapted from Richard Clark, former Senior Advisor of Cyber Security)

- It is not a matter of if, but when a Cyber Pearl Harbor will occur.  We have been fortunate [so far]. (Adapted from General Keith Alexander, Director of the NSA).

I believe we must address these threats and our vulnerabilities in at least five main ways:

1) Increase research and development for new tools and techniques--both defensive and offensive--for fighting cyberwar.

2) Establish a regulatory framework with meaningful incentives and disincentives to significantly tighten cybersecurity across our critical infrastructure.

3) Create a cybersecurity corps of highly trained and experienced personnel with expertise in both the strategic and operational aspects of cybersecurity.

4) Prepare nationwide contingency plans for the fallout of a cyberwar, if and when it should occur. 

5) Create a clear policy for preventing cyberattacks by taking preemptive action when their is a known threat as well as for responding with devastating force when attacks do occur. 

With cyberwar, just as in conventional war, there is no way to guarantee we will not be attacked, but we must prepare with the same commitment and zeal--because the consequences can be just, if not more, deadly.

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April 22, 2012

I Hate Paper

Paper has been around for approximately two thousand years, since it's invention in China, and it has served as the medium of choice for recording and sharing information ever since. 

However, enter the age of information technology and we are now able to capture, process, and store far more information, quicker, cheaper, and more efficiently than we ever could with paper. 

Combine that with the environmental impact and the need to conserve, and we have numerous federal laws calling for the reduction or elimination of paper, to the extent practical.

1) The Paperwork Reduction Act (1980) calls for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to regulate collection of information and establish information policies to reduce the paper handled by the government. 

2) The Government Paperwork Elimination Act (1998) mandates the use of electronic forms, filings, and signatures for official business with the public. 

3) E-Government Act (2002) requires use of the Internet to improve citizen access to information and services. 

All three are a recognition of the need to move from costly paper-based processes and the management of maintenance of mountains of paper records to instead leverage information technology to re-engineer and improve the way we perform information management. 

It's funny, but for me it's almost become a personal crusade to make better use of information technology to perform our mission and business of government more effectively, and I personally keep as little paper records, as possible--instead choosing to manage predominantly online--and it's great.   

Aside from having a cleaner office--no paper files, I enjoy all the benefits of electronic filing, search, and the ability to quickly share files with others in the office without having to rummage through a stack of papers 3 feet deep! 

Working in some areas that are still paper intensive for case management and so on, I have taken on the mantra, which I frequency cite of "I hate paper!" 

No, I don't really hate it, but in order to change decades old manual and paper intensive processes, we need to exaggerate a little and tell ourselves and other we hate it, so we can help change the inefficient and costly status quo. 

You can only imagine how surprised I was to read in The Atlantic (20 April 2012)--that "Paper: [Is] The Material of the Future."

Essentially, the article touts the new developments with paper using nanotechnology to make it water-proof (although you can still write on it), magnetic, fluorescent, and even anti-bacterial. 

Imagine paper that you can stick to your file cabinet, spill coffee on, light up the room with, and even keep you from getting sick--yes, that's fairly impressive!

However, while these new features are wonderful indeed and will increase the usability of paper as well as improve records management of them, I do not want to see us get complacent with reducing our use of paper and making better use of technology.  

Even with these cool nano-tech improvements to paper coming our way, I am still going to say, "I hate paper!"

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Earthworm)

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April 21, 2012

Don't Throw Out The Pre-Crime With the Bathwater

The Atlantic (17 April 2012) has an article this week called " Homeland Security's 'Pre-Crime' Screening Will Never Work." 

The Atlantic mocks the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST) for attempting to screen terrorists based on physiological and behavioral cues to analyze and detect people demonstrating abnormal or dangerous indicators.

The article calls this "pre-crime detection" similar to that in Tom Cruise's movie Minority Report, and labels it a  "super creepy invasion of privacy" and of "little to no marginal security" benefit.

They base this on a 70% success rate in "first round of field tests" and the "false-positive paradox," whereby there would be a large number of innocent false positives and that distinguishing these would be a "non-trivial and invasive task." 

However, I do not agree that they are correct for a number of reasons: 

1) Accuracy Rates Will Improve--the current accuracy rate is no predictor of future accuracy rates. With additional research and development and testing, there is no reason to believe that over time we cannot significantly improve the accuracy rates to screen for such common things as "elevated heart rate, eye movement, body temperature, facial patterns, and body language" to help us weed out friend from foe. 

2) False-Positives Can Be Managed--Just as in disease detection and medical diagnosis, there can be false-positives, and we manage these by validating the results through repeating the tests or performing additional corroborating tests; so too with pre-crime screening, false-positives can be managed with validation testing, such as through interviews, matching against terrorist watch lists, biometric screening tools, scans and searches, and more. In other words, pre-crime detection through observable cues are only a single layer of a comprehensive, multilayer screening strategy.

Contrary to what The Atlantic states that pre-crime screening is "doomed from the word go by a preponderance of false-positives," terrorist screening is actually is vital and necessary part of a defense-in-depth strategy and is based on risk management principles. To secure the homeland with finite resources, we must continuously narrow in on the terrorist target by screening and refining results through validation testing, so that we can safeguard the nation as well as protect privacy and civil liberties of those who are not a threat to others. 

Additionally, The Atlantic questions whether subjects used in experimental screening will be able to accurately mimic the cues that real terrorist would have in the field. However, with the wealth of surveillance that we have gathered of terrorists planning or conducting attacks, especially in the last decade in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as with reams of scientific study of the mind and body, we should be able to distinguish the difference between someone about to commit mass murder from someone simply visiting their grandmother in Miami. 

The Atlantic's position is that  terrorist screening's "(possible) gain is not worth the cost"; However, this is ridiculous since the only alternative to pre-crime detection is post-crime analysis--where rather than try and prevent terrorist attacks, we let the terrorists commit their deadly deeds--and clean up the mess afterwards. 

In an age, when terrorists will stop at nothing to hit their target and hit it hard and shoe and underwear bombs are serious issues and not late night comedy, we must invest in the technology tools like pre-crime screening to help us identify those who would do us harm, and continuously work to filter them out before they attack. 

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Dan and Eric Sweeney)

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April 20, 2012

Robot Guard Thyself


The Asian Forum of Corrections in South Korea has developed this 5' tall robot for patrolling prisons.

But rather than restraints and weapons, this prison guard carries a suite of technology:

- 3-D Cameras for monitoring safety and security

- Recording devices for capturing activity

- 2-way wireless communications between corrections officials and prisoners

- Pattern recognition and anomaly detection software for differentiating normal behavior from problems

While this sparks the imagination for where this might go in the future, I'm not quite sold on this. 

Firstly, how well can these robots really recognize and interpret human behavior, especially from those who may be fairly adroit at hiding or masking their activities, day-in and day-out. 

And maybe more importantly, without some serious defensive and offensive tricks up its robot sleeve, I have a feeling that many a prisoner with a two by four, would put this million dollar robot in the junk yard pretty fast, indeed. 

I'd rate this as not there yet! ;-)

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April 17, 2012

Let's Come Clean About The Cloud

An article in Federal Times (16 April 2011) states that "Experts See Little Return For Agencies' Cloud Investments."

The question is were the savings really achievable to begin and how do you know whether we are getting to the target if we don't have an accurate baseline to being with. 

From an enterprise architecture perspective, we need to have a common criteria for where we are and where we are going.

The notion that cloud was going to save $5 billion a year as the former federal CIO stated seems to now be in doubt  as the article states that "last year agencies reported their projected saving would be far less..."

Again in yet another article in the same issue of Federal Times, it states that the Army's "original estimate of $100 million per year [savings in moving email to the DISA private cloud] was [also] 'overstated.'"

If we don't know where we are really trying to go, then as they say any road will get us there. 

So are we moving to cloud computing today only to be moving back tomorrow because of potentially soft assumptions and the desire to believe so badly. 

For example, what are our assumptions in determining our current in-house costs for email--are these costs distinctly broken out from other enterprise IT costs to begin? Is it too easy to claim savings when we are coming up with your own cost figures for the as-is?

If we do not mandate that proclaimed cost-savings are to be returned to the Treasury, how can we  ensure that we are not just caught up in the prevailing groupthink and rush to action. 

This situation is reminiscent of the pendulum swinging between outsourcing and in-sourcing and the savings that each is claimed to yield depending on the policy at the time. 

I think it is great that there is momentum for improved technology and cost-savings. However, if we don't match that enthusiasm with the transparency and accuracy in reporting numbers, then we have exactly what happens with what the papers are reporting now and we undermine our own credibility.  

While cloud computing or other such initiatives may indeed be the way go, we've got to keep sight of the process by which we make decisions and not get caught up in hype or speculation. 

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Opensourceway)

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April 15, 2012

Beating Social Media Isolation

There is a debate called the "Internet Paradox" about whether social media is actually connecting us or making us more feel more isolated.  

I think it is actually a bit of both as we are connected to more people with time and space virtually no impediment any longer; however, those connections are often more shallow and less fulfilling.

There is an important article in The Atlantic (May 2012) called "Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?" that lends tremendous perspective on information technology, social media and our relationships.
The premise is that "for all this [new] connectivity, new research suggests that we have never been lonelier."

The article is very absolute that despite all the technology and communication at our fingertips, we are experiencing unbelievable loneliness that is making people miserable, and the author calls out our almost incessant feelings of unprecedented alienation, an epidemic of loneliness, and social disintegration.

Of course, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that almost everyone can share, but there are also numerous studies supporting this, including: 

1) Study on Confidants (2004)--showed that our average number of confidants shrunk by almost 50% from approximately 3 people in 1985 to 2 people in 2004; moreover, in 1985 only 10% of Americans said they had no one to talk to, but this number jumped 1.5 times to 25% by 2004. 

2) AARP Study (2010)--that showed that the percentage of adults over 45 that were chronically lonely had almost doubled from 20% in 2000 to 35% in 2010.

Some important takeaways from the research:

- Married people are less lonely than singles, if their spouses are confidants.

- "Active believers" in G-d were less lonely, but not for those "with mere belief in G-d."

- People are going to mental professionals (psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, therapists, and counselors) as "replacement confidants." 

- Loneliness is "extremely bad for your health."

- Our appetite for independence, self-reliance, self-determination, and individualism can lead to the very loneliness that can makes people miserable. 

- Using social media, we are compelled to assert our constant happiness and curate our exhibitionism of the self--"we are imprison[ed] in the business of self-presenting."

- Technology tools can lead to more integration or more isolation, depending on what we do with them--do we practice "passive consumption and broadcasting" or do we cultivate deeper personal interactions from our social networks?

Personally, I like social media and find it an important tool to connect, build and maintain relationships, share, and also relax and have fun online. 

But I realize that technology is not a substitute for other forms of human interaction that can go much deeper such as when looking into someone's eyes or holding their hand, sharing life events, laughing and crying together, and confiding in each other.

In January 2011, CNBC ran a special called "The Facebook Obsession," the name of which represents the almost 1 billion people globally that use it. To me though, the real Facebook obsession is how preoccupied people get with it, practically forgetting that virtual reality, online, is not the same as physical, emotional, and spiritual reality that we experience offline.

At times, offline, real-world relationships can be particularly tough--challenging and painful to work out our differences--but also where we find some of the deepest meaning of anything we can do in this life. 

Facebook and other social media's biggest challenge is to break the trend of isolation that people are feeling and make the experience one that is truly satisfying and can be taken to many different levels online and off--so that we do not end up a society of social media zombies dying of loneliness. 

Social media companies can do this not just for altruistic reasons, but because if they offer a more integrated solution for relationships, they will also be more profitable in the end. 

(Source Photo: here with attribution to h.koppdelaney)

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April 14, 2012

Reading With Technology Is Fundamental

For it's 45th anniversary, the non-profit organization, Reading is Fundamental (a.k.a. RIF) came out with a new logo and brand this past November.

RIF's vision is "a literate America in which all children have access to books and discover the joys and value of reading."

Their new logo--can be seen in comparison to the prior version at Brand New--and is supposed to re-energize RIF, which according to its own press release has lost its public awareness and almost $25 million in Congressional funding.

While the logo is bolder with the yellow and blue and a more rounded and open book, I think that RIF has really missed the mark here in terms of being contemporary and in tune with the times. 

Most kids, like their adult mentors, are doing more and more reading not in traditional paper books, but rather online and through mobile applications. 

Whether using tablet readers like the iPad, Nook, or Kindle Fire or just going online and surfing the Internet for news, information, research and more, technology is changing the way we read. 

At a time when the largest book stores are closing down--Borders is already gone and Barnes and Nobles is experiencing financial problems as well, and the publishing industry is in trouble and continuing to lose subscribers and ad dollars, the shift to technology is jarring. 

While RIF does mention in their press release--4 bullets in--that they want to increase mobile applications to "create mobile literacy experiences for children and families to enjoy while on the go," RIF is definitely missing the bigger picture here--which is that reading is moving to technology platforms and is not just just another supplemental vehicle for people anymore.  

On their site store, RIF sells monogrammed iPhone and iPad cases, but why not actual computers, book readers, and learning software--perhaps donated, recycled, or even subsidized models for families in need. 

Additionally, RIF can become more environmentally-friendly by promoting use of energy-efficient technology and reusing, recycling, and reducing thereby helping us move toward a more efficient, thrifty, and paperless society. 

Don't get me wrong, I love books, newspapers, and magazines, but the time that I spend with a hardcopy in my hands these days, is maybe 20% of the time that I am reading and writing online.  

To serve American families in driving literacy, RIF firsts needs to be relevant and another book logo just doesn't get them where they need to be technologically and environmentally.

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Michael Monello)


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April 13, 2012

Be Who You Are

I watched an interesting TED video presented by Brene Brown, who has a doctorate in social work and is a author many times over--she talked about one book in particular called The Gifts of Imperfection: Letting Go of Who We Think We Should Be and Embracing Who We Are (2010).

She said that from all her studies and research, what she learned is that purpose and meaning in life comes from the connections we make and maintain.

But what gets in the way is shame and fear--shame that we are not good enough and fear that we cannot make real connections with others.
To move beyond shame and fear, we need to feel worthy as human beings--true self acceptance--and say "I am enough."
 
However, she points out that as a society there is a lot of numbing going on (i.e. plenty of shame and fear) and that is why we are the most in debt, obese, addicted, and medicated society in history.  I liked this presentation and thought about how hard we are on ourselves--we are never good enough.

  • All our lives we pursue signs of advancement from that gold star in grade school to collections of degrees, awards, promotions, material goods, and even relationships.
  • We constantly push ourselves further and faster on the treadmill of life--in part to learn, grow and be better, but also to try to achieve our sense of self-worth and -acceptance.
Yet, as Brown points out those that are successful with relationships and have a strong sense of love and belonging are those that feel they are inherently worthy. They have self-esteem without having to achieve any of these things.

That sense of self-worth and confidence, Brown says, enables you to achieve three key things in life:

  1. Courage--This is the courage to be yourself and to tell others who you are with a whole heart (i.e. they don't hide in shame).
  2. Compassion--That is compassion for others, but also for yourself first--you accept yourself.
  3. Connection--Getting to solid relationships in life is a result of our own capacity to be authentic.

When you have that self-worth and confidence then you can embrace your vulnerabilities and make them beautiful, rather than numb yourself to constantly try to cover the disdain you feel for your frailties and weaknesses. 

From my perspective, our growth and contributions to the world are good things--leave the world better than you found it!

However, the proving ourselves and amassing "things," while milestones in life, are not a measure of a person's true worth. 

Sometimes it is fine to get over it all--accept yourself, be yourself, and stop worrying that your never good enough.

In the Torah (bible), when Moshe asked G-d his name--G-d replies in Exodus 3:14: "I am that I am."  


To me, this is really the lesson here--if we but try to emulate G-d, then "we are what we are."

That is not defeat or giving up on bettering ourselves, but acceptance of who we are, where we came from, and where we want to go in our lives.

We don't have to beat ourselves up for being those things or for making good faith mistakes along the way. 



 (Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
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April 9, 2012

Changing Regrets Into Fulfillment

The Guardian (1 February 2012) published an important article called "The Top Five Regrets of the Dying."

The items mentioned were compiled by a palliative nurse caring for patients at end of life. 

The list is a wake up call for many of us who work hard, but in the process perhaps forget the most important aspects of life are the people we love and the pursuit of opportunities to really be ourselves and achieve our purpose.  

Here is the list of top 5 things you can do different in your life before it passes you by:

1. Be your true self--"I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me." 

- Ask yourself what are your dreams and how can you make them happen!

2. Work less--"I wish I hadn't worked so hard." 

- Ask yourself are you living to work or working to live? 

3. Express yourself--"I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings."

- Ask yourself if you've told significant others how you really feel and genuinely worked things out with them.

4. Maintain relationships--"I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends"

- Ask yourself have you been generous with your time, emotions, and material things with family, friends, and others important to you?

5. Seek out opportunities for happiness--"I wish that I had let myself be happier."

- Ask yourself what does happiness even really mean to you and how can you find it amidst the daily grind.

Life is always too short and everyone makes mistakes and has regrets--that's part of being human, learning, and growing. 

But if we can get our priorities straights and set clear goals, perhaps we can leave the world with less bitterness and more fulfillment in lives granted and well spent. 

(Source Photo: here with Attribution to Raspberries1)

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April 8, 2012

Poisons Anonymous

One of the Buddhist teachings is that there are 3 poisons in this world: greed, anger, and ignorance

But that by turning these poisons around into generosity, compassion, and wisdom, we can create life-healing. 

While this is sort of simplistic, it does point to a number of important things:

1) We can have an impact on our destiny. We can choose our direction and work towards something that is good or we can fall harmfully into some bad and destructive ways.

2) Everything has an antidote.  While we may not know the antidote at the time, generally everything has its corollary or opposite and we can find healing by moving towards that. 

3) The answers in life are not so far away. How much of a stretch is it to turned a clenched fist into an open hand or to quench ignorance with learning--these things are doable.

If we look at people and events at face value, it is easy as times to get angry and feel hatred at the corruption and injustices out there--but I believe, the key is to channel those feeling into something positive--into change and Tikkun Olam--"fixing the world". 

By channeling our feelings into constructive actions, then we are changing not just ourselves, but can have a broader influence--one deed at a time.  

(Source Graphic: Andy Blumenthal)

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Returning From The Brink Of National Suicide

It is not only because we are in an election year that politics in Washington D.C. has become more cutting, oppositional, and unproductive.

Unfortunately, there has been a downward trend for some time and we saw this recently with everything from confrontations to raising the federal debt ceiling, passing a federal budget, near government shutdowns, and what has now become regular showdowns over every major legislation from healthcare to deficit reduction.

We are a nation with government at the crossroads of neuroticism where situations get treated as virtually unsolvable by oppositional political movements who themselves appear hopeless of genuinely working together. 

Harvard Business Review (March 2012) in an article titled "What's Wrong With U.S. Politics," described the "ineffectiveness of America's [current] political system," where instead of opposing sides coming together to craft compromise positions that bring together the best of multiple points of view to find a balanced approach and prudent course for the American people, now instead compromise is seen as surrender, and "the fervor to win too often appears to trump everything else."

While traditionally the source of political parties and politics itself in America is founded in the opposing views of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton--one who opposed strong central government and the other who favored it, these diametric opposites where a source of national strength, because they strived ultimately to find an almost perfect compromise to whatever ailed the nation.

However, something has profoundly changed--from where "rigorous rivalry between the two political philosophies used to be highly productive" to the current situation of absolutism, where like in July 2011 debt-ceiling crisis, "some politicians even suggested that a government default or shutdown would be less damaging than compromise."  

When last August, Standard and Poor took the historically unprecedented step of downgrading U.S. debt from AAA to AA+, they cited "that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions had weakened."

This should be of dire concern to everyone in this nation, because we all depend on government to solve problems and do what is ultimately right for the people. 

One of the suggestions that HBR makes is grounded in the techniques of negotiation, where we facilitate and help each side "not merely split the difference," but also "articulate their highest parties, with an eye toward facilitating the best of best of both over time."

While this is certainly an important element in moving to compromise, there is another core element that is missing and needs to be addressed and that is a mutual respect for all parties and points of view, one where we see ourselves first as one nation, and only second as political parties and positions--in other words, we recognize that our common values and goals obviate the more subtle differences between us.

This coming together as a nation can only happen when there is basic trust between the all sides, so that each knows that the other will not take advantage of them when they wield power, but rather that the views of all will be respected and duly represented in any solution, and moreover that the core beliefs of each will be protected at some fundamental level, even when they are not in power or outvoted.

What this means is that compromise, balance, and fairness prevail over whichever political party resides in power in at the time, and assures each side of the same treatment and protections under the other.  

Violating this ultimate balance of power is tantamount to taking the first shot in a situation akin to Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), when each side wields destructive nuclear capability. 

With critical decisions coming up again on deficit reduction, federal debt ceiling, and social entitlements and national defense spending, and each side digging in, we are fast approaching the equivalent of a thermonuclear showdown in politics, and it is time for both sides to pull back from the brink of national suicide and to once again reinforce the basic principles of mutual respect and enduring compromise--even when one side, or another, has the upper hand. 

As a next step, let each side of the aisle demonstrate true compromise in negotiations with the other to reestablish confidence and trust that neither will be wholly overrun or defeated in the political wrangling and fighting that ensues.

The important question in politics must not be which side will wield power, but who can bring the best leadership to the nation to forge a path of sensibility, balance and mutual respect to any solution. 

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Elvert Barnes)

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April 7, 2012

Passover 21st Century


This video (2011) by Aish.com is terrific! The story of Passover--"Google Exodus"-- with all the technology of instant messaging, email, social networking, mapping, and more.

I love how they make the traditional and sacred, new and promising again by "letting people go" and being able to see and interact with it in modern terms. 

While some may find it challenging not to lose the essence of the old, when keeping it fresh, I think the past becomes more meaningful when we can truly integrate it into our daily lives. 

I personally am still not comfortable with the idea of online Passover Seders or DIY Haggadah's--and I don't think I ever really will be--probably more because of guilt at not following strictly and the concern that people may change things so much as to either misinterpret or actually distort the truth of G-d.

However, I do think that we can strengthen regular people's connection to their past and their faith only by truly bringing it in our present and looking to the future, as well. 

The world of religion-can often be filled with controversy between those that maintain iron-clad religious practices from thousands of years ago and those that seek evolving routes to religion and G-d today.  

When we can use technology to help people bridge the religious divide, we are helping people connect with their G-d and choose good over evil in their daily lives. 

Neither modernism nor technology is inherently "bad," and we do not have to run away from it--or escape through the Red Sea from it.  

Rather, faith in the Almighty, in His hand that guides all, and in the doing good in all that we do, are fundamental to religion and can be shared online and off, as G-d is truly everywhere and in each of us. 

Sometimes, I wonder when Orthodox people probe and judge with incessant questions of "What Shul do you go to?" "What Yeshiva do your kids attend?" "Do you keep Kosher?"  and more, I imagine G-d looking down on his "people of the book," not with satisfaction that they follow his commandments, but with disdain for how people can hurt others and not even realize that is not religious. 

While I agree that unguided, people and practices can go astray, I also believe that automatic suspicion and rejection of new things is impractical and actually harmful. 

Modernism and technology can be a blessing, if coupled with faith and integrity.

Congratulations to Aish.com for the good work they are doing in helping people integrate the old and new in a balanced way.

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April 6, 2012

Two Lessons On The Road To Enlightenment

I watched a terrific PBS Emmy-nominated documentary called The Buddha (2010).

The show described the life of Prince Siddhartha from India about 2500 years ago and his "quest for serenity and eternal enlightenment."

There were two highlights that I feel are really worth noting: 

1) The Story of the Glass:

Prince Siddhartha saw a glass and marveled how it held the water, how it made a distinct ringing sound when tapped, and how it so beautifully reflected the light off of it.  

After this, he imagined what would happen to the glass if the wind or shaking knocked it down and it shattered. 

Then he realized the reality of this world is that the glass was (as if) already broken, and that we should appreciate the goodness of the glass all the more while it is still whole. 

I loved this story, because it so encompasses Buddhist thinking in terms of its seeking to overcome human loss and suffering.

Like the glass, the reality of this world is impermanence and therefore, it is as if we have already lost all the people and things we love--therefore, we should appreciate them all the more while they are here. 

Further, we can learn to cope with these feelings of (eventual) loss and suffering by ending material cravings and instead seeking out inner tranquility and spiritual enlightenment. 

2) The Story of the Four Meetings:

The Prince who had been pampered his whole life (up until about the age 29) and had only known pleasure--the finest food, clothing, and women--until one day he went out and meet four people. 

- The first was an old man and so, he came to know how people change.

- The second was a sick person, and so, he came to know how people suffer.

- The third was a corpse, and so, he came to know impermanence and death.

- The fourth was a spiritual seeker, and so he came to know escape.

I thought this story was profound in understanding the cycle of life--from birth to maturity and ultimately to decline and death. 

And in order to escape from the loss and suffering (that occurs again and again through the continual cycle of birth and death and rebirth), we must seek to liberate ourselves from materialist desire, greed, envy, and jealousy.

These things ultimately causes us to sin and suffer and if we can break the cycle by meditation, asceticism, and spiritual wisdom, then we can find true inner peace and achieve nirvana. 

Some personal takeaways:

While I am no expert nor a practitioner of Buddhism, I do appreciate the Buddhist teachings and try to integrate it where possible with my Judaism, so that I can find meaning in the path toward spirituality and faith in G-d.

One of my personal goals is to overcome the senseless drive for chasing endless materialism for it's own--and ultimately--meaningless sake, and instead be able to really focus and achieve something meaningful.  

I believe that meaning is different for each individual, and is part of our path of finding ourselves and our in place in this universe. 

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Christos Tsoumplekas)


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April 5, 2012

iGlasses, Your Next Smartphone


Yesterday, a hyped-up video came out by Google on Project Glass.

Basically this is Star Trek-type glasses that provide everything that's on your smartphone plus some augmented reality, where real world sensation is augmented with computer-generated information. 

The video shows the glasses integrated with functionality for email/messaging/phones calls, photos/videos, music, reminders, weather, maps/directions, transportation updates, and more. 

Aside from the integration into the glasses themselves, they really didn't demonstrate any major new technologies--and was sort of disappointing actually.

It reminds of Google+, which came out and didn't add anything much new over FaceBook, and hence hasn't really caught on--copycatting just isn't enough in the high-tech industry, where real innovation is what's valued. 

While I like the idea of more and better ways of getting the types of information and functionality that's on your smartphone, I really don't think glasses is the way to go.

Frankly, after having LASIK surgery more than 12 years ago, I am so happy not to have to wear those obtrusive frames on my face anymore, and I certainly wouldn't want to go back.

I would envision having these functions either built microscopically into contact lens or projected by mini-wearable cameras in front of you as a true reality overlay--and I think Minority Report thought of that one first. 

The only way that I would even consider wearing glasses for this was if Apple made them and called them iGlasses. ;-)

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April 3, 2012

Robot Firefighters To The Rescue


Meet Octavia, a new firefighting robot from the Navy's Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research (LASR) in Washington, D.C.

Octavia and her brother Lucas are the the latest in firefighting technology. 

These robots can hear commands, see through infrared cameras, identify patterns, and algorithmically make decisions on diverse information sets.

While the current prototypes move around like a Segway, future versions will be able to climb ladders and get around naval vessels.
It is pretty cool seeing this robot spray flame retardant to douse the fire, and you can imagine similar type robots shooting guns on the front line at our enemies.

Robots are going to play an increasingly important role in all sorts of jobs, and not only the repetitive ones where we put automatons, but also the dangerous situations (like the bomb disposal robots), where robots can get out in front and safeguard human lives.

While the technology is still not there yet--and the robot seems to need quite a bit of instruction and hand waving--you can still get a decent glimpse of what is to come.

Robots with artificial intelligence and natural language processing will be putting out those fires all by themselves...and then some. 

Imagine a robot revolution is coming, and what we now call mobile computing is going to take on a whole new meaning with robots on the go--autonomously capturing data, processing it, and acting on it.

I never did see an iPhone or iPad put out a fire, but Octavia and brother Lucas will--and in the not too distant future!

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April 2, 2012

Mind Readers and The Psychology of Excess

Animal_house
Seeing a number of senior officials in the last year "ousted," I find it sort of scary the risks and travails that executive leadership can entail.

There are so many good, hardworking people at GSA making progress for the Government in terms of property management, contract management, fleet management, and more, that it was a huge shock to many today, when GSA leadership including the Administrator, were ousted for what White House Chief of Staff called "excessive spending, questionable dealings with contractors, and disregard for taxpayer dollars." 

This at a time when the nation is struggling to reduce the national deficit now at $15.6 trillion and avoid another debt ratings cut from the three credit report agencies that would potentially drive interest up and cause even more damage to the nation's economy.

Of course, the GSA is not the only example, just last year, we had the unfortunate "muffin mini-scandal" as reported by Bloomberg BusinessWeek (29 September 2011), where the Government was alleged to have paid $16.80 apiece for muffins.

What causes this psychology of excess where taxpayers end up footing the bill for extravagant items and events? 

1) Hubris--Are there people who feel they are so high and mighty, they just have all the trimmings of office coming to them and theirs?

2) Neglect--Do some executives rise too far and fast, and maybe things get out of control?

3) Misguided--Is it possible that some may actually really think that hiring a mind reader on the taxpayer dime is a good idea?

4) Accident--At times, oversights, mistakes, and accidents happen, and while we may prefer they didn't, they are a learning opportunities.

5) All of the above--Perhaps it is some combination of all the prior four?

It reminds me of something my father taught me that "G-d does not let any flower grow into the sky."

This means that no matter how good we are or how far we go in our careers and in life, we remain mortal and infirm, and subject to human imperfections. 

That's why it's never a good idea to tout your own infallibility.  Just Last Thursday, the GSA Administrator, as reported by Government Executive Magazine, told a conference "Why us? Because we're the expert shoppers. We're the folks you want on your team when budgets are tight, you're making purchases, and there's no room for error..."

Obviously, I assume there was no intent to brag, but we all say things like this at one time or another, and it's good to reflect and stop ourselves from going too far. 

This is not about the GSA or any other agency or organization in particular, but rather a lesson in humility for all of us. 

This unfortunate incident should not obscure the good work, done every day, at all levels, by every Federal agency.  

(Source Photo: here)

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April 1, 2012

A Word Indeed


The information in your smartphone and managed by your telecommunications carrier is available and accessible to others with today's tools and following the right processes. 

Bloomberg BusinessWeek (29 March 2012) reports on a new tool for law enforcement that captures your data from smartphones. 

It is called the Cellebrite or Universal Forensic Extraction Device (UFED).

As the video describes it works with almost every mobile device out there--over 1,800 of them. 

And when attached to a smartphone, it can extract everything from your call log, emails, texts, contact list, web history, as well as photos and videos. 

The forensic tool can even retrieve deleted files from your phone. 

Your smartphone is a digital treasure trove of personal information and the privacy protection afforded to it is still under debate. 

The article cites varying court opinions on "whether it's fair game to examine the contents of a mobile phone without a warrant," since it is in the suspect's immediate possession. 

According to law enforcement sources quoted in the article, "we use it now on a daily basis."

Aside from the contents on the phone itself, Bloomberg BusinessWeek (29 September 2012) earlier reported that telecommunications companies are also storing your personal data for various lengths of time.

For example, detail call records and text contacts are retained for up to 7 years and phone location information indefinitely, depending on the carrier.

This data is available too under the processes specified in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. 

While the technology is constantly getting better for us to electronically manage our information and communicate with each other, the reach and life cycle of digital information can certainly be far and long.

As we should all by now know, working remotely, digitally, in cyberspace, and encrypting, deleting, or even attempting to destroy data files does not ensure their ultimate privacy. 

In that respect, both digital and non-digital information are the same in one very important facet and that is as we all learned early in life that "a word once said cannot be taken back."

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