When the ‘Internet of Things’ Attacks

30. August 2014

Date: 30-08-2014
Source: The Wall Street Journal

Joe Queenan wonders: What happens when our devices have minds of their own?

Security experts are warning that the more home appliances get linked via the “Internet of Things,” the greater the possibility is of digital mischief or mayhem. If the wireless subwoofers are linked to the voice-activated oven, which is linked to the Lexus, which is linked to the PC’s external drive, then hackers in Moscow could easily break in through your kid’s PlayStation and clean out your 401(k). The same is true if the snowblower is linked to the smoke detector, which is linked to the laptop, which is linked to your cash-strapped grandma’s bank account. A castle is only as strong as its weakest portcullis.

But the most worrisome thing isn’t the possibility of having your short-term bond funds liquidated or your identity stolen. A more terrifying threat is a wave of maddening global nuisance-making carried out by entry-level terrorists or local teens who don’t appreciate your McCain/Palin 2008 car decal. Consider this scenario:
Your fridge is programmed to alert you when you need more milk. It may even be programmed to order the milk and arrange for delivery. Then hackers break in and reprogram the fridge to order thousands of gallons of banana-flavored soy milk every week. Or carloads of coconut water. Or immense quantities of goat cheese. Anything to bust your chops. Or maybe they program the fridge to lie about expiration dates, leaving you with curdled milk, rotten eggs and smelly, decaying asparagus. Thanks, Internet of Things! Thanks a bunch! Read the rest of this entry »

Love of Labor

25. August 2014

 Typical Nick Carr! (hfk)

Date: 25-08-2014
Source: Technology Review

Automation makes things easier, whether it’s on the factory floor or online. Is it also eroding too many of the valuable skills that define us as people?

WHY IT MATTERS: Automation is creeping into more of our work and our leisure.

Messages move at light speed. maps speak directions. Groceries arrive at the door. Floors mop themselves. Automation provides irresistible conveniences.

Carr Glass CageAnd yet automation can also be cast as a villain. When machines take over work that once required sweat and skill, humans atrophy into mere button-pushing operators. Laments about automation are as familiar as John Henry, the railroad steel-driver of lore who could not outlast a steam-powered version of himself. The latest is The Glass Cage by Nicholas Carr, who worries about the implications as machines and software advance far past the railroad and the assembly line to the cockpit, the courtroom, and even the battle­field. Machines and computers now do much more than rote mechanical work. They monitor complex systems, synthesize data, learn from experience, and make fine-grained, split-second judgments.

What will be left for us to do? While economists and policy makers are debating what automation will mean for employment and inequality (see “How Technology Is Destroying Jobs,” July/August 2013), Carr’s book does not sort out those implications. It is about what he fears will be diminished—our autonomy, our feelings of accomplishment, our engagement with the world—if we no longer have to carry out as many difficult tasks, whether at home or at work.

The centerpiece of his argument is the Yerkes-Dodson curve, which plots the relationship between human performance and the stimulation our tasks provide. Too much stimulation makes us feel panicked and overloaded, but when we have too little stimulation—when our work is too easy—we become lethargic and withdrawn. Activities that provide moderate stimulation yield the highest level of performance and, as Carr argues, turn us into better people in the process.

Things reviewed

The Glass Cage: Automation and Us
NORTON, 2014 Read the rest of this entry »

Replacing the board

15. August 2014

   Date: 15-08-2014
 Source: The Economist: Schumpeter

The case for outsourcing company boards

CORPORATE boards are among the most important institutions in capitalism. Their job is to police the relationship between shareholders who own companies and managers who run them. This means keeping an eye out for managerial incompetence and fraud. It also means standing back and offering strategic advice on hiring new managers or buying competitors.

Yet their record might politely be described as mixed. The first decade of the 21st century produced an embarrassment of dismal oversight, from the Enron and WorldCom scandals of 2001-02 to the financial crisis of 2007-08. “I actually don’t think risk management failed,” said Larry Fink, the boss of BlackRock, an investment firm. “I think corporate governance failed, because…the boards didn’t ask the right questions.”

Problems have been widespread and deep-rooted. Chief executives have packed boards with cronies: Michael Eisner’s board at Disney once included the former headmistress of his children’s school and the man who designed his house. They have sidelined critics: when a member of the Bank of America’s board criticised the CEO’s compensation in 2000 she was dropped. Read the rest of this entry »

Work-Life Balance and the New Night Shift

13. August 2014

   Date: 13-08-2014
 Source: BusinessWeek By Brad Stone

I’m toiling away on my laptop, getting lots of work done. Notes are being reviewed, interviews are being prepared, and I’m exchanging instant messages with two colleagues. This productivity is great! But I feel so, so tired. Like I should be under the covers instead of checking off my endless to-do list. That’s because it’s bedtime, 11 p.m., and I’m home in my striped pajamas. This isn’t an anomaly or the result of a new deadline or an unusually busy week. It’s my normal nighttime routine—and probably yours, too.

Work has been leeching onto people’s off-duty time for years. E-mail makes it easier to communicate and more likely that annoyingly ambitious colleagues will respond to every message, at length and in real time. (In-box volumes are increasing by about 15 percent a year, according to global data group Experian.) With the growing irresistibility of the smartphone and the ubiquity of cloud collaboration, evening work for many professionals has become standard. We come home from the office, change into more comfortable clothes, put the kids to bed, and maybe open a bottle of wine. And then we grab our laptops and log back in. Read the rest of this entry »

Leading Light: Warren Bennis is Dead

9. August 2014

Date: 09-08-2014

Source: The Economist: Schumpeter

Bennis The man who invented the study of corporate leadership, Warren Bennis, died on July 31. WARREN BENNIS was the world’s most important thinker on the subject that business leaders care about more than any other: themselves. When he started writing about leadership in the 1950s the subject was a back road. When he died on July 31st it was an eight-lane highway crowded with superstar professors whizzing along in multi-million-dollar muscle cars.

Mr Bennis produced about 30 books on leadership.

Some of them are classics, such as “On Becoming a Leader” (1989). All are surprisingly readable, stuffed with anecdotes, examples and literary references. He offered advice to leaders from all walks of life. Howard Schultz, the chairman of Starbucks, regarded him as a mentor. Presidents from both sides of the aisle—John Kennedy and Gerald Ford, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan—sought his advice. If Peter Drucker was the man who invented management (as a book about him claimed), then Warren Bennis was the man who invented leadership as a business idea. 

Central to his thinking was a distinction between managers and leaders. Managers are people who like to do things right, he argued. Leaders are people who do the right thing. Managers have their eye on the bottom line. Leaders have their eye on the horizon. Managers help you to get to where you want to go. Leaders tell you what it is you want. He chastised business schools for focusing on the first at the expense of the second. People took MBAs, he said, not because they wanted to be middle managers but because they wanted to be chief executives. He argued that “failing organisations are usually over-managed and under-led”. Read the rest of this entry »