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Joint Meeting of the Los Angeles Chapter of ACM and The Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

About key technologies in Computing, Communications, and Business Applications

Peter Coffee

(Note that this meeting will be on the 2nd Wednesday!)

With products like Windows® Vista and chip-based security, the battle of the PC is still going strong. Long-awaited breakthroughs in nano-scale manufacture and high-speed communication are finally leaving the laboratory, the Internet is maturing into a distributed computing platform with industry standards for remote Web services interaction.

Make sense of it all in an evening of analysis and comment with Peter Coffee; he will provide an "insider’s" view and forecasts for key technologies in computing, communications, and business and technical applications. His talk will span the range from nanometer chip fabrication techniques to worldwide multi-gigabit networks and will include time for questions.

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at He joined the company in January of 2007 after spending 18 years as a technology analyst and columnist at the industry magazines eWEEK and PC Week. He currently works with enterprise and commercial developers to clarify their requirements for use of the Salesforce Platform in developing and deploying on-demand applications.

Peter was previously the first manager of PC planning at The Aerospace Corporation, where he also worked in space systems applications of artificial intelligence techniques. Before that Peter was a Senior Engineer working in arctic project management, chemical facility construction and synthetic fuels project planning at Exxon. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, where he also served as a faculty member for information systems management; he has held other faculty appointments in computer science at UCLA and in business analytics at Chapman College. He is the author of two books, How to Program Java and Peter Coffee Teaches PCs. Peter's current commentaries for the developer network appear at URL:
prepared by Paul Schmidt


LA ACM Chapter September Meeting. Held Wednesday September 10, 2008.

PETER COFFEE’S ANNUAL FORECAST -- “Thinking About 'The New Normal'”

The presentation was “Thinking About 'The New Normal'.” Peter Coffee is the Director of Platform Research at This was a joint meeting of the Los Angeles Chapter of ACM and the Los Angeles Chapter of the Association for Information Technology Professionals (AITP) and was held at the Spitfire Grill near the Santa Monica airport. This year AITP, once again, did the hard work of making the arrangements for the meeting.

Peter Coffee started out taking questions at the “Round Table” before the main presentation.
        Where is Chrome going?   Where is Microsoft going?

Much nonsense has been written about Chrome including this is the operating system for web applications ignoring the fact that it only runs on Windows. Why can't you get a Mac version? There are a lot of security systems on Vista Chrome uses that would require additional effort to install on other operating systems. Peter has downloaded Chrome and found some things that had run in Firefox that did not run under Chrome. The longest awaited change since the "Year of the LAN" is the way we use the web. We are getting away from the idea that we do everything on one screen and some people have been getting 15% more work done by having two screens available and in use. We are more excited about getting rid of extra dedicated devices. Everything not only should be inter-connected, but also do something intelligent. Something like having the TV die down when your phone rings would be useful. Desktop devices will not define the web.

If Microsoft had delivered Longhorn Project on time it with what was called the “3 colors of Longhorn” would have been very good. Peter was enthusiastic about it and gave some examples of what it was supposed to do. The demos were convincing, not just slideware. Two years later they delivered a poor subset of Longhorn and Peter was very much disappointed.

Where is Microsoft? The web is going toward a place where it is so tied together with nonproprietary interfaces like service protocols and such can interact with many different interfaces. It is now pretty much impossible for one party to insist on setting things so they operate only with their systems on the web. Has anyone seen the Seinfield – Gates ads on the web or TV? What does it mean? Market systems based on the premise that you don’t know how dumb you are don’t usually succeed even if they are well-founded. Microsoft is openly talking about some new operating system called Windows 7 and suggests that it doesn’t matter if people like it or not. This type of advertising leads people to hate something before they even encounter it. Microsoft already put out Vista, whether people liked it or not. There was a recent Newsweek story about all the things Bush did right in his second term by undoing some of the things he did in his first term. Vista is hated for how it was when it came out but is now quite a bit better than it was originally.

Microsoft is more than just operating systems. The problem is it is so much more. You can be a complete Microsoft shop today without anyone else’s code. Microsoft’s next big thing is a unified communications venture. They have a large amount of software in development that is not being shipped in a coordinated way. Bill Gates said 10 years ago that you will seldom find a leader in one major phase who is the leader in the next major phase of the industry. They almost accomplished a move to an internet centric world with .Net. They said if you know .NET that is all you need to know. Can they make the next major move to major industries that run off “The Cloud”? Microsoft is flexible enough but they have too many proprietary applications that are difficult to convert to new systems and interfaces. Microsoft wants to run everything on their own servers by applications coming in over wires. Microsoft runs into problems on initial releases but usually gets it “righter” on the third try. They want to make it so you either get your applications done by Microsoft directly or by a “trusted” partner working very closely with them.

The problem is that it is a problem to put all of the information you have available together. Microsoft has a lot of talented people working on the problem. Another version is to have the capability available in “The Cloud” with internet service applications. If everything is available on the internet then all you need is to be able to identify yourself and find yourself with your full set of applications available for use.

XML is completely device neutral protocol neutral content descriptive language. It has been resistant to being hijacked by graphics arts people because they consider it ugly. It was slowed down in its spread because it used more resources, but this has been less of a problem with advances in broadband capability.

Two guys with laptops in India can become software developers in a matter of weeks by using online resources. They can simulate the interactive experience and write debug code. They can run on data centers provided by other people at much lower cost than providing their own systems. There has been a total change in the economics and geopolitics of the software industry. Access to capital is no longer an issue. In many respects Microsoft is out there ahead of this process. Microsoft has a degree granting institution in Beijing, China. One Microsoft lab is the single biggest world graphics provider. Graphics don’t require much language capability so it is a good choice for international development. People who said Microsoft is on its knees have been wrong in the past. Peter isn’t going to say they are but they are facing major changes in their environment and are going to have to react to it.

Javascript was regarded as out of date, too limited and too slow and was supposedly going nowhere. We are now able to do things that were too expensive to do because of resource limits, and Javascript and other script languages are still popular. When processing gets more and more free it is easier to do things economically.

Jane Harman (California Representative) said many people are ready to retire from the Aerospace industry and it is hard to find talent. Talent is easy to find in places like India, but much of the Aerospace industry may not be able to use it because of security requirements.

Think of software as a bundle of services. Bill Gates was talking about this idea in the 1980’s. Use standardized interfaces so people can easily implement it to add valuable. One problem was that this made some systems vulnerable to viruses. The idea was good but there were implementation problems. There are more marketing and pricing problems than technical problems. This has provided many new business opportunities. Amazon makes money not just by selling books, but by providing access to books that are not easily available. Ebay provides an incredible market place that is actually a bundle of software services.

Peter will be discussing other issues in detail in the main part of his talk, including the presidential election. He says more important things are not usually discussed during the campaign which concentrates on talking about putting lipstick on pigs and the personal life of candidates.

Privacy including passwords and phone numbers can easily be purchased if someone is willing to give away very small, inexpensive items. People’s desire for privacy is easily shown to be low by simple testing. The modern internet world is getting to be like a small town where everyone can find out things about everyone else. Employers can easily eliminate some candidates for jobs by reading their FaceBook pages when they post embarrassing information themselves.

At this time the Round Table discussion was ended and their was a break for food.

(After the meeting Peter Coffee handed me his notes from the meeting that I am providing in this report. He did not repeat verbally much of what is on the charts, but added other astute commentary. I will attempt to add his comments to these notes.)

Peter said that things fall into 4 bins and is not going to provide a linear narrative. There is a lot of discussion about what is happening out in the cloud. People use that to mean many different things. Peter found 2,256 separate items searching on the phrase “Cloud Computing”. It is not being talked about in terms of technology as much as in terms of money. There are 4 distinctive types of cloud and you don’t want to buy the wrong version. It could be like trying to go into an auto parts shop, buy parts and assemble a Ferrari. Information transfer can be compared to electrical grids, but the analogy is not very good. Clusters are an even older idea accomplished by using VAX or Mac clusters to do tasks. Clusters tend to be a single type of node on a specific finite configuration and you compile the code to use that number of nodes. Adding new nodes required recompiling the configuration. Virtual servers are cool but you still have the same problems you have putting code on a real server. Management remains a difficult problem.

The Cloud system prevents you from becoming locked into something unless you download proprietary software to be used on your own machine, but why bother? IBM is spending $300 million on building 13 data centers around the world and HP is providing software to connect data centers. We are getting far beyond simple packet processing. Some bank systems may be using a data center in the Cloud without realizing it. Users have access to as much computing as they need to do their jobs and they may have no idea where their jobs are being processed. Many privacy laws requiring that things be processed within political boundaries are not enforceable and don’t make sense. You can have situations where the data is all stored encrypted in one location, but accessible only by a key in the possession of a person in another country. California requires people be notified of leaks of unencrypted data but not data that is encrypted. The problem is that encryption is not defined so it is covered by virtually any kind of encryption whether it is strong or not. Until there is case law none of these rules mean anything. Perhaps it might be better to use general fraud laws to prosecute computer data crimes. Absence of “due care” is a concept that has been around for a long time.

The way we have done computing for the last 50 years is no longer valid. If a company claims they are not using internet computing they probably don't know everything that is going on in their company. By 2011 everyone will believe they can't afford to put up a new data center. New data centers require very high power consumption. The saving grace is that Cloud computing provides a definite cost advantage. No one wants a copier, everyone wants copies and it might be cheaper to request copies on line and get your copies delivered to your door.

Google Chrome opens a window and does not look like a browser. It is a vehicle for delivering a web application. Chrome is reconceptualizing what the browser is and is more about the gestalt than it is about the technology.

High Level Tech

  • Being Digital
    • Loss of analog edges
    • Implications for data, experience, discovery

  • Video
    • Interactive editing
    • HD video in SLRs/Points&Shoots

  • Energy
    • It’s not even being measured as an IT expense
    • Gartner and data center density: 600W/sq.ft!

  • Outbedded solutions
    • Memory cards that include on-line backup?
    • Is “embedded database” tomorrow’s solution to yesterday’s problem?

Low level technology is alive and well. There is the continued thrashing of the microprocessor industry to try to make something useful of the new capabilities provided by Moore’s which provide not necessarily more computer speed, but more usable transistors on a chip. It is not possible to break all processes into separately processed modules.

Low Tech Level

  • Intel Skulltrail
    • 8 cores with "Catastrophic performance"
    •           Intel’s own research blog ruefully estimates that parallel programming has been whatever you’d call that next thing smaller than a niche…. Until recently this means that students graduating [from] undergraduate programs were unprepared for multi-core programming.
    • 1kW power supply + 2.5 kW cooling consumption

This gets to be a real problem.

                    “My other computer is a data center”

  • Chrome
    • Threads and Processes
    • What’s an Operating System?
    • Accelerometers and GPS
    • Security

  • Generating exploits from patches

  • Unmonitored deployment

  • System restarts
    • Virtualization
    •     Again, tomorrow’s solution to yesterday’s problem

Virtualization is deployed in all Fortune 100 companies and 80% of Fortune 1,000 companies.

                    Electron mobility:   Buckyball transistors

Some companies believe that virtual machines are more secure than physical machines, but this is not true.

Products and Markets

The buyer of the computer is not the customer, the customer is the company that puts together the hardware and the software and sells it to you. A new Windows OS is used to sell Intel hardware and both companies benefit, but not necessarily the computer owner. Vista is sad, compared to what it could have been. One of Vista’s advantages is that it does multi-media well. This helps Sony sell you a high definition HD camcorder.

High level technology.

Memory cards include automatic agents for on-line backup. An insurance company has a “black box” that sends data via a cellular phone connection. This can be tied to automatic things like GPS devices that provide them with the actual mileage people are driving and can be used to set their insurance rates. The government could use this type of system to tax automobile mileage instead of gasoline. A person had her laptop stolen and it “phoned home” to report it was stolen. At Wimbledon we were able to get a complete description of what happened. Digital is yes or no, but does not provides any shades of gray.

Products and Markets

How much free publicity did Starbucks get merely because they created a website where customers could make suggestions? Dell also got some good publicity, but was blamed for stealing from Starbucks but both were using the same customized software surface. Fry’s didn’t provide there own interface, but were faced instead with a “Fry’s Sucks” website.

Microsoft Office has been entrenched for years, but is now facing much more competition from software services. Google provides the capability of several people to work on the same document at the same time. Office 2007 by default provides file format that are not readable by earlier unless they download a conversion system. People don’t want to do extra things, they just want to open the files. Star and Open Office are available, but they don’t open all Microsoft files correctly so quite a few people don’t want to use them. There are many things that are provided free, but have other disadvantages.

  • Social tools and networks: host the party, or they'll talk about you anyway

  • Bill Gates Departure
    • Struggle to sell Vista
    • Acknowledging the power of the cloud
    • Essentiality of authentication
    • Live Mesh versus zero-thickness clients
    •     If you have complex resources, define a complex problem.

  • Rebranding Kinko’s to FedEx Office

  • “Bricking Bugs” – argument for thinner clients and “disposable [virtualized] Pcs”

  • DOCX is evil; PPTX only slightly less so
    • Online conversion—but notification flagged as spam…sensitive files?

  • Price versus value in the era of “free”

Free sometimes has its own costs.

    • Intrinsic worth?
    • IRR?
    • Incremental return on incremental cost?

  • China as next huge market: 33%/year forecast growth for SaaS?

If your system doesn’t make sense in China it probably doesn’t make sense anywhere.

Governments and Environments

  • The Career
    • Dirty Job No. 7 is “Legacy Systems Archaeologist.” There’s a right way and a wrong way to get continued leverage from your Cobol assets.
    • Dirty Job No. 6 is “Help Desk Zombie.”: most organizations are staffing too many help-desk slots because they’re using too much on-premise technology. Andy Steggles, CIO of the Risk and Insurance Management Society told Baseline magazine last month that using software-as-a-service has allowed him to shift his limited IT headcount away from management and support toward addressing project backlogs.
    • Dirty Job No. 5 is “On-Site Reboot Specialist.” The less fat-client code you run, the fewer times you’ll have to help a system to its feet after it collapses beneath the weight.
    • Dirty Job No. 4 is “Interdepartmental Peace Negotiator.” The conflict between control-oriented IT departments and innovation-hungry business units is substantially defused by a multi-tenant SaaS architecture, with its combination of disciplined governance and metadata-based flexible customization.
    • Dirty Job No. 3 is “Enterprise Espionage Engineer.”—and I have to admit, I believe I’d actually enjoy doing white-hat social-engineering and penetration tests for clients checking out the state of their systems. What SaaS can do, though, is minimize the value of stolen user credentials and replace the amount of data that’s readily stolen from the network’s edge.
    • Dirty Job No. 2 is “Datacenter Migration Specialist.” I can understand why that would be an ever more valuable skill – but I hardly need to point out that SaaS adoption can largely void the question. “where do we build the new data center” (and how do you find the person to do it?)
    • Dirty Job No. 1 is “Sludge Systems Architect” – and there, they have me. As ever more sophisticated IT goes into the bowels of the factory and process plant, the digital roughneck who can interface bits with atoms is going to be an in-demand synthesist. If you’re looking for a job you can do today, or do next decade on Mars or next century on a starship, this is one of your options.

  • Terry Childs syndrome
    • …This is the same DA’s office that placed valid group usernames and passwords into the public record, and an IT department that ran public, unprotected websites containing internal emails, core network details, as well as usernames and passwords.
    • Peter doesn’t understand why organizations still allow one root “god” user who is the only person who can do critical things.

  • Solve problems before they change
    • Key observations from Gartner’s CRM Summit, held last week in Florida:
    •     Up to 25% of CRM implementations in 2008 will be postponed due to human resources shortages.
          Staff turnover makes long implementation times, often on the order of a year, highly vulnerable to loss of key players and consequent restart of key portions of the effort.
    • Developer productivity, with radical shortening of the time from idea to application deployment, is therefore becoming a more non-linear issue than ever. If a process takes a month, you hit the target before it moves; if it takes a quarter, you may still have the team you started to do Release 2.0; if it takes a year, you may never get out of prototype mode. Elevate the priority of Getting [Stuff] Done.

  • Scarcity—Irrelevance?
    • Out of 800 enterprise-IT managers, 86 per cent have a hard time finding qualified people; 54 per cent have trouble keeping the ones they have. Specifically,
    •     36 per cent of them can’t staff security specialists
          31 per cent of them can’t staff database administrators
          26 per cent of them can’t staff storage administrators
    • I mention these three disciplines in particular, because they’re skills that don’t create much competitive advantage when done perfectly, but they represent enormous downside risks when done less well, So, why retain the burden of doing them in-house?

  • The Election
    • Net neutrality
    •   Obama: legislated
        McCain: avoid over-regulation
    • Digital Divide
    •     Obama proposed re-defining broadband, which the FCC currently defines data transferred at 200 kilobits per second. That is “astonishingly low,” Obama said.
          Obama also pledged to reform the universal service fund, which provides money for telecommunications services at schools and libraries; make better use of wireless spectrum; provide resources and training to bring broadband to schools, libraries, households and hospitals; and encourage federally funded public-private partnerships to bring broadband to underserved areas.
          “As president, I will set a goal of ensuring that every American has broadband access, no matter where you live, no matter how much money you have or don’t have.” Obama said during his visit to Google. “We will raise the standards for broadband speed, we will connect schools and libraries and hospitals, and we will take on the special interests so we can finally unleash the power of wireless spectrum for our safety, our security and our connectivity.”
          McCain has also voiced support for increasing the current definition of broadband, but has promoted a more hands-off approach to broadband deployment that would rely more on market forces than government regulation.
          McCain was one of five senators, and the only Republican, to vote against the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which further deregulated the telecom industry. He did so not because he was opposed to deregulation but because he believed the bill included far too many handouts for special interests.
    • Offshore employment
    •     “The status quo is not satisfactory.” McCain said during his visit to Google’s headquarters. “We got to make sure that young people all over the world who want to come to our country and are qualified to study in our best institutions have the opportunity to do so.”
          “I support increases in H-1B visas,” McCain told earlier this year. “I believe that real immigration reform probably will not come until 2009. There’s just too much gridlock in Washington on the issue. But it’ll be one of my highest priorities to sit down, Republican and Democrat, and we work out what is a federal responsibility—not a state or local responsibility—to enact comprehensive immigration reform, beginning with securing our borders.”
          Obama is pushing for an overhaul of the entire immigration system so that “immigrants who earn their degrees in the U.S. [can] stay, work, and become Americans over time.” But “most H-1B new arrivals…have earned a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent abroad.” Obama said “They are not all Ph. Ds. We can and should produce more Americans with bachelor’s degrees that lead to jobs in technology.”
          He pushed for a system that would make workers “less dependent on their employers for their right to stay in the country and would hold accountable employers who abuse the system and their workers.
    • Privacy
    •   Obama: legislative agenda
        McCain: limited, more deference to national security.
    • Intellectual Property
    •     Obama promised in his technology white paper to “ensure intellectual property is protected in foreign markets, and promote greater cooperation on international standards that allow our technologies to compete everywhere.”
          To do that, the U.S. needs to update and reform its copyright and patent system “to promote civic discourse, innovation and investment while ensuring that intellectual property owners are fairly treated,” he said.
          “Washington must keep pace with this change and develop new approaches to ensure that our ideas are protected, our intellectual property rights are respected, and our economic outreach serves the American workers today and in the future,” according to McCain’s policy statement.
          McCain promoted himself as a free trader during his visit to Google. The government should step in if “someone is blatantly abusing patents, [or] blatantly abusing intellectually property rights…but I think the worst thing that could happen to the United States of America is for us to go into protectionism,” he said.

  • These issues are massively under-reported by the regular media.


  • “We’re no longer talking about inconvenience issues like delayed emails,” said Mohn Amin, chairman of the recently launched International Multilateral Partnership Against Cyber Terrorism. “As we get more dependent on the internet, on networks ... lives and economies are at stake.” Amin expects that within the next 24 months there will be “high level discussions” within international bodies like the United Nation Security Council to create some form of ‘rules of engagement’ for cyber-war. “It’s something we should have ground rules on,” he said, comparing the online case to international regulation of chemical and biological weapons or cluster bombs.

  • Sri Lankan director general of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission Priyapperuma, backed the call for international bodies to create a charter against online war. “It’s a global problem therefore it’s necessary for each country to contribute,” he said. “ The security of the cyber world must also be taken care of at the highest level possible…let’s sign that charter.”

  • “If you do not have international cooperation I’m afraid this problem cannot be eliminated,” said ITU deputy secretary-general Houlkin Zhao. But he added that making rules for cyber-war is a foreboding task, saying “the definition of criminal action cannot easily be agreed upon.”

Citizen Relationship Management?

  • Robert Bennett, President and CEO of San Francisco’s Family Service Agency, spoke to the group about his agency’s use of technology to provide what Bennett has called “access at our fingertips to demographic, outcome and productivity reports across all services and programs, giving us visibility into the effectiveness of our client programs and the ability to set and track metric-based benchmarks for client progress.”

  • During Bennett’s remarks to the summit, he said “Three years ago, 50% of our labor went into data entry -- once in the ‘chart’ it was dead. There was nothing we could do with it. The platform, in the long run, could link all of the city’s agencies in a rich program of information sharing.”

  • We subsequently heard from San Francisco’s mayor, the Honorable Gavin Newsom, who amplified on that vision: “Every client goes through your database. We know where they’ve been in the system, we actually know how many homeless we have and we have real information as to who’s achieving what outcomes. It’s changing our approach in a fundamental way,” the mayor said.

This is the same city that allowed Terry Childs, the only person with the “root password” to stop some city vital functions.

New South Wales is moving over a million users to Gmail. Google likes it but doesn’t think it is a big deal.

(This report was made using his notes, my notes from his talk, and an audio-tape of his speech. This write-up is not a transcript of his remarks and leaves out many interesting and entertaining side remarks. I did not include some commentary that was thoroughly covered in his notes. Peter did not have time to comment on some interesting things such as Cyberwar that are explained in his notes.)

If you wish to comment on this report send your message to:

This was first meeting of the LA Chapter year and was attended by about 49 persons.
Mike Walsh, LA ACM Secretary 

And coming in October . . . It is a return to the Professional Mixer Format. Come and have dinner with other members, discuss current computing events, or just enjoy a good meal an listen to others talk.
Join us in October.

The Los Angeles Chapter will meet this September on the second Wednesday, Sept. 10th, at The Spitfire Grill, 3300 Airport Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90405, (310) 397-3455. (Click here for a map.)

Directions to the Restaurant:
From South: 405 North exit National Blvd. Turn left (West). Travel west to Bundy Dr. Turn Left (South). Proceed to Airport Ave. Turn right. Restaurant will be on your left.

From North: 405 South to west 10. Travel west to Bundy Dr. Exit to Bundy south. Proceed to Airport Ave. Turn right. Restaurant will be on your left.

The September 8th mixer will be held at the El Segundo Fish Company ( Check here for location info.).

The Schedule for September 8th is

5:30 p.m.    Council Meeting (at LMU, Doolan Hall)
6:30 p.m.    Dinner & Mixer at the El Segundo Fish Company
(Click here to return to the top of the page.)

No resevations are required for the September 8th Professional Mixer. You are on your own for dinner, but join us for the networking.

The Schedule for September 10th is

6:30 p.m.    Roundtable Q&A
7:00 p.m.    Food
7:30 p.m.    Presnetation
(Click here to return to the top of the page.)

Reservations are required for the September 10th Meeting. Call Mike Walsh at (818)785-5056, or send email to Mike Walsh with your name and telephone number by Sept. 7th.

If you have any questions about the meeting, call Mike Walsh at (818)785-5056, or send email to Mike Walsh .

For membership information, contact Mike Walsh, (818)785-5056 or follow this link.

Other Affiliated groups



Please visit our website for meeting dates, and news of upcoming events.

For further details contact the SIGPHONE at (310) 288-1148 or at, or

Software Process Improvement Network (SPIN) Groups
Check out some other interesting software groups in the Los Angeles area, which also hold frequent technical meetings.

Southern California SPIN Web Page

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