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Make the SmartGrid Accessible to All

What is the SmartGrid? It is a measured governmental and industry response to a growing emergency.

Electricity usage in the United States is projected to grow more than twice as fast as committed resources over the next 10 years, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) announced today in its annual 2007 Long-Term Reliability Assessment. Unless additional resources are brought into service, some areas could fall below their target capacity margins within two or three years. In parts of western Canada, demand is projected to outpace resource growth within about two years.

“We are at the stage where emergency situations are becoming more frequent,” said Rick Sergel, president and CEO of NERC. “Though some improvements have been made, we are requiring our aging grid to bear more and more strain, and are operating the system at or near its limits more often than ever before. As operating margins decrease, we are limiting our ability to manage unplanned events like equipment failures and extreme weather,” Sergel said.

In response, the Obama administration the two following choices. Increase supply which includes mining more copper for transmission and burning more coal for cost-effective production or reduce demand best achieved by efficiency and storage.
Is cost-savings or usability a better carrot?
Thus, we have competitive funding opportunities directly disbursed by the Dept of Energy to demonstrate and invest in lasting SmartGrid solutions. You would rightly assume that your utility is building a team of startups, large manufacturers and investors to apply for these matching government funds.

The key to the success of these SmartGrid solutions is often overlooked, the role of the general public. The current design of the program is based on the assumption that people will more efficiently use energy and voluntarily sacrifice the comfort of air conditioning or convenience of washing your clothes whenever they want. While there are individual consumers can actively reduce their bills dramatically, the average savings is only 5%. However, I question, will you give up your A/C on the hottest day of the year, in Miami, Florida, for 5% savings?

The “Today Show” shows clips of consumers using smart meters to control appliances and managing their energy consumption through an online web site, and it says the average resident in the trial saved 5 percent on their average monthly energy bill.

If saving money is the “carrot” at the end of the stick, then all they have is a stick. No, the Game-Changing technology that the SmartGrid will deliver is that finally our technology will be easier to use. Why do I make such a bold statement? Because it has to be usable and accessible to everyone.

In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. Inaccessible technology interferes with an individual’s ability to obtain and use information quickly and easily. Section 508 was enacted to eliminate barriers in information technology, to make available new opportunities for people with disabilities, and to encourage development of technologies that will help achieve these goals. The law applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology.

When the user interface is standardized to work with Screen Readers et al. we all benefit from its simplicity. No more will you have to deal with different remote controls and learn how to use each product separately. If you believe that the SmartGrid should benefit all of us, you can email the Dept. of Energy by May 6th at to ensure that our tax dollars support projects that are compliant with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.


Written by ishak

May 5, 2009 at 12:06 pm

Posted in Smart Grid

Cable wants your data, and charge you for their “service”

I’ve been saying it for quite some time now, Web 3.0 is about me.

I will choose who I do business with very carefully.  Why wouldn’t I?  Brands are no longer equated with trust.  A recent visitor to my office tells me that in France, you’re guilty unless you prove your innocence.  Not in the court system, but in the court of personal relationships.  In other words, you must earn trust from a stranger. It’s not automatic.

Your personal data today (credit card transactions, cellphone location, RFID toll collector) are not controllable by you.  They are identifiable, secretive data farms that can be used as evidence in a court of law.  These are social conveniences that we opt-in.  You don’t have to use these services, but they can save you time and money.  In the very near future, your carbon footprint and your health record will also be in the hands of some very large corporations.

So, I guess it makes sense for the Cable companies to force their “Personalization” features down your larynx.  My ideal of personalization is convenience, but not at the expense of control.  I want to be able to fire my service provider and still keep my data.  But, that is not the ecosystem that your cable provider has in mind…

This does not appear to be an opt-in service.  So, the convenience of personalization comes at the cost of privacy and lack of control.  Now, it doesn’t have to be that way.  Cable companies are in a great position to deliver great services to the technical and the not-so-technical.  They have the ability to make that first screen that you see when you turn on the tube to be everything you want to see and nothing you don’t.  It will require an open ecosystem of standards that allow you to control all of your things.  Let’s hope they embrace this model sooner rather than later.

Written by ishak

April 7, 2009 at 2:55 pm

Posted in Smart Grid

Do you want to Twitter your things?

I’m excited that about the Internet of Things.  In 2009, US Presidents can fire a CEO, but can’t limit a bonus to the employees.  C’mon, that’s progress.  Another thing is clear, your gadgety things are full of open source technology.  So, a start up that wants to make money on open source software is no different than, say General Electric.

My question is this: Who can deliver you a better customer experience?  Do big polycorps “get” it? I explained Twitter to a friend over the weekend, and the story that resonated was that I said Frank from @ComcastCares was a good guy.  He questioned how I would know such a thing.  I have never met him.  All I have is a couple of interviews, a friendly polo-shirt-wearing profile picture, and his Tweet Stream.  And, man, is that Tweet Stream impressive.  I know, I do the same thing. Figuring out people’s tech problems over the phone.  Using my personal experience, and intuition to troubleshoot the most likely problem you’re having.

You have to Comcast credit.  After taking over AT&T Broadband’s legacy of poor customer support, they perfected the self-installed DSL filter.  I remember, many years ago, setting up a router for my parents’ Comcast connection, searching high and low for the Gateway IP, DNS servers, etc.

Dreading to call that 800 number just to demand a “technical” person.  How shocking it was for me, to hear a pleasant-sounding older woman just ask me to reboot the modem.  It would sense the router, and we’re ready to roll.  My opinion of Comcast changed that day, and boy did they get it right by responding to Michael Arrington’s horrible customer experience by choosing Frank as their company persona.

He should be the face of the company now.  He certainly never tires of turning people around in their expectations of what it is like to ask a big company for help.  They “care?”  Why?  Because it is their business to care.  They are selling a commodity in a value-add world and everything is moving that way.  Energy, health care, entertainment, mobility, technical support, etc. are all up for grabs in the Internet of Things.  A tidal wave that no company, large or small, can escape.

Twitter is now a platform for companies to be the “good guy” again.  (hopefully, not as gender-specific as my example).  Does it make sense for companies to embed their products as twitter-compliant?  What do I mean?  Well, how do you want to use your things?  What is the ultimate user interface?  Only you can answer that question.  Not some trendy designer.  Definitely not a geeky engineer.  Maybe its time for Twitter to embrace open standards (XMPP) again.

Written by ishak

March 30, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Posted in Smart Grid

Are Walled Gardens and Vendor Lock-In Strategies old business?

Our power grids are the largest remaining artifact of the Industrial Age, and they’re due for a smart upgrade. Using broadband data streams, digital sensors and advanced analytics, demand can be understood in real time. Utilities can source and manage power more intelligently, helping to bring renewable sources onto the grid. And consumers could understand the variable cost of power and alter their behavior accordingly. A smarter utility network could also handle the growing demand for hybrid and electric cars. Today’s utility grid would struggle to manage this burden.

via Samuel J. Palmisano: Let’s Spend on Broadband and the Power Grid –

How in the world will this happen without open standards?  Is IBM an indicator of this massive shift from proprietary technologies to open standards? In a single press release IBM announced plans to increase the  publication of its technical innovations by 50% (>3000) foregoing the need for seeking patents. This, from a company that has just completed their 16th consecutive year leading all companies in patents with 4186 awarded in 2008.

Meanwhile, Cisco looks to manage connected devices using proprietary technology locked in their routers.  It’s a good approach that continues the silo trend in building energy management, but this will not work for the home.  Why not leverage their commitment to the IPSO Alliance keeping the management of devices open and IP-oriented?

Today, we are on such a precipice of change that large corporations are forced to hedge their bets on open technology and proprietary solutions.  If you are their customer, at what point will you want to be free of mandatory service contracts and proprietary hardware?

Written by ishak

February 15, 2009 at 4:27 am

XBRL and Spimes: How the Internet of Things will come to be

Inevitably, consumer electronics will all be networked, effectively becoming Spimes, objects trackable through space and time.  Coined by Bruce Sterling and comprehensively described in his industrial design manifesto, Shaping Things,

“Spimes are sustainable, enhanceable, uniquely identifiable, and made of substances that can and will be folded back into the production stream of future Spimes.”

Spimes may be our digital future, but today our products and logistics are still represented in analog.  The Universal Product Code, (UPC) better known as the barcode, was able to transform retail by solving the problem of needing to re-key pricing data. It was quickly realized that the standard’s killer application was supply chain management.  30 years after the first barcode was swiped, its successor was named, the Electronic Product Code or EPC based on RFID technology.

Early adoption of the EPC has produced mixed results for its practitioners due to inferior tag quality, inconsistent read rates and equipment incompatibility and functionality.  While most of these technical issues can be re-engineered, the value of that investment will be fully realized only through the standardization of the data between supply chain segments.

XBRL stands for Extensible Business Reporting Language and it is an XML-based global standard maintained by XBRL International Consortium designed to reduce the re-keying of data in financial reporting.  On January 30, 2009, the SEC released a 206 page report making it a requirement for US GAAP organizations to file reports in XBRL format.

Much like the introduction of the barcode, standardization will allow for additional benefits for other business processes. Whether or not XBRL replaces or merely assists with Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, the strategic opportunity for the CIO of an organization to embed XBRL-compliance within the identification of the products is hard to overstate.  Whether or not it is the EPC matures from only providing pallet-based tracking to actually creating an identity to the individual object, traditional networking of the identity of the product will eventually lead us to the Spime era.

Web 1.0 was you, Web 2.0 was us, Web 3.0 is me.

By giving an identity to the objects we create, consumers will be able to interact with them in a variety of personal ways.  What’s more, they will provide valuable feedback to a company to process for future product design and engineering.  The brand experience will be ubiquitous but not inconvenience the customer.  A Web 3.0 customer will be an active participant in the lifecycle of the product.  They will not return the product because they don’t know how to use it.  Because Web 3.0 is also largely considered to consist of the principles of the Semantic Web, the open structured metadata will assist the customer in choosing the right product, supporting its proper usage and assist with its end-of-life logistics.  With a back channel established between the product and the supply chain, a feedback cycle is established and manufacturers will gain the end user customer relationship they desire.

Web 2.0 services like Twitter or Facebook offer a great opportunity to pro-actively enhance this customer relationship.  Large companies have successfully can effectively use only one or two employees to communicate with these early adopters and help solve any issues before they escalate.  Online reputation management for you company is improved organically as search engines reveal the positive brand experience.

Why Reverse Logistics and Forward Logistics are united through the CIO.

The impact of this Web 3.0 technology affects the entire organization.  The Chief Information Officer can bridge the traditional silo structure between Finance, Sales and Marketing, Engineering and Service.  They can mitigate risk for all these departments simultaneously by implementing a system of data transparency and real-time monitoring of the products.  By measuring the ROI of an organizational change so dramatic, the early adopters will not be paying the price for their investments.  The mandate to search for increased profitability in the economic climate we face combined with other political factors can help accelerate the adoption of the Spime era.

Written by ishak

February 3, 2009 at 11:28 pm

Envisioning the Browser of the Future

Very interesting project.  I’m glad Mozilla is funding it.  But, I wonder,do they foster the trust necessary to deliver your personal user interface to the Internet of Things?

  1. Why do I even need a browser in the future?
  2. Is Mozilla the right platform to deliver?
  3. What about interoperability?
  4. How do I control devices that comprise Ubiquitous Web?
  5. Where are the intelligent agents?
  6. What about Mozilla’s relationship to Google?

I think that the world needs a company that makes a product that has a deeper trust relationship with its user in order to deliver a true user interface to IOT.

Written by ishak

January 28, 2009 at 3:21 am

Netbooks are Spimes

I was speaking with my friend Jez yesterday about our past adventures in hardware.  We discussed one company’s past attempt at productizing a pc much like a carrier-subsidized mobile phone.  Well, that sure sounds like a spime to me.  Bruce Sterling coined this term to describe the next class of gadget.  It has a unique identifier (epc) and thus has an identity.  It exists in space and time, networked, and ultimately enhanceable.  It fundamentally comprises the Internet of Things, perhaps our most drastic paradigm shift of the Information Age.  It builds upon all of the innovations that have come before… cloud computing, social networks, semantic web, software-as-a-service.  Actually, I like to characterize spimes as “hardware as a service.”

Netbooks are selling well.  The fact that Asus defined this market with their 7 inch screen, linux-based $299 eeePC and now has 18 models to choose from demonstrates that consumers didn’t care much about the consumer brand.  Asus may have the worst PR/marketing departments I’ve ever had the pleasure of approaching.  It doesn’t matter.  Lots of people wanted something cheap that surfed the web and didn’t require shoulders of steel to sherpa the thing around town.

This year at CES, new deals were announced that can ensure a tethered network connection back to the mothership.  A carrier-subsidized Netbook. Why is this significant?  As Jez described to me earlier, Americans are used to the free phone with 2 year service contract concept.  And, of course, all companies are looking for that Trojan Horse platform in order to sell you extra services, like a silly ringtone.  What will change is proprietary lock-in.  People always seemed psyched to dump their existing cell provider once their 2 years is up.  What a squandered opportunity to build customer loyalty.

Web 1.0 was you, Web 2.0 is us, and Web 3.0 will be me.

Doesn’t it make sense to bundle Internet with the device?  Sure, but will we only be able to choose from within the oligopoly?  Will the Obama-led government support a level playing field for the Internet?  Since I don’t get out much, I found it interesting how something as basic as electricity is sold and managed in England.  After Thatcher deregulated and privatized the grid, your “utility” could be the supermarket or the hardware store.  Electrons are the ultimate commodity and the brand synergies were the drivers.  We’ll “sell” you your power and you can save $20 on your grocery bill when you shop with us.  Does this translate to the Internet access market in the US?  Of course it does.   I remember

Let’s bring back the local ISP.

No, it doesn’t have to be a bunch of slovenly 20-somethings operating out of an abandoned retail store.  But, what if every spime that you purchased found its way back to the manufacturer in order to be enhanced in some way.  And, if you didn’t want it any longer, it would be nice if that manufacturer offered you a shiny replacement while folding your old spime back into their production stream.  That’s sustainable, and its why Mr. Sterling can be so hopeful about a near-Orwellian future.  We have our futurists to thank.  By authoring these cautionary tales, we have the ability to steer our techno-social future in positive ways for our planet.

So, the local ISP can be the brand that you trust.  The ones that will help you when the big boys can’t be bothered.  Its a tech-concierge future, and if you don’t like how you’re being served, fire them.  The ability to fire your service provider is a tremendously healthy aspect to this future.  Your digital life is not stored in your netbook.  Its just your user interface to the Internet of Things.  Why rent space on Facebook or Twitter when you can own your personal cache of data, relationships, media, health records, etc.  You’re using your hardware-as-a-service and you can hire whatever company or individual that can help you connect with people or things in a manner you want.  I’m cool with that future. How about you?

Written by ishak

January 23, 2009 at 8:52 pm