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Blockchain and its implications

February 17, 2018 Leave a comment

What do mangoes, diamonds and orangutans have in common?  A technology called blockchain. How is that, you ask?  Read-on..


What is blockchain?

Banks which were the trusted middleman of yore gave way to virtual middlemen – exchanges like eBay.  As technology and human aspirations evolve eBay might give way to OpenBazaar (based on Ethereum blockchain) which cuts out the middleman and connects buyers directly to sellers.

The Economist describes blockchain as “a shared, trusted, public ledger that everyone can inspect, but which no single user controls.”  Bettina Warburg describes blockchain as a public registry, a decentralized database which stores a record of assets and transactions across a peer to peer network. Transactions are secured via cryptography, the transaction history is locked in blocks of data which are cryptographically linked and secured.  Record are replicated on every computer using the network.

Think of blockchain as a global platform which stores ownership of assets like home titles, financial contracts etc.. A blockchain has 3 components: a distributed network, a shared ledger and digital transactions

What are use cases for blockchain?

Binding contracts which don’t need a third party enforcer. Today you can contest a charge on your personal credit card but what if you want this level of personal enforcement without a credit card?  This is where blockchain could help.

Another use case relevant to our times is in identifying the source of food contamination during a food safety recall.  Governments can use blockchain as a tool against money laundering by criminal enterprises.

Blockchain provides a way to combat real-estate fraud in emerging markets where unscrupulous people may alter property records thus defrauding legitimate buyers. If property records were “tamper proof” and stored in a block chain then it becomes easier for a title insurer to access the records so they may clear a title.  Buyers could buy property sight unseen knowing that they are less likely to be defrauded.

Today a music content creator doesn’t have the flexibility to change prices for music by tiers of consumers as middlemen like youtube or spotify set the rules. By cutting out the middleman, blockchain empowers the music creator and improves the content creator’s chances of personally profiting from their creation.  Case in point: Imogene Heap released her music on the blockchain

Retail use cases for blockchain


Walmart used blockchain to track the movement of Mexican mangoes in 2.2 sec vs 7 days in trials. This could help greatly when there is an e coli or salmonella outbreak that could seriously impact children or adults with weakened immune systems by helping retail giants like Walmart identify the source of contaminated food before it does its damage.

Eco friendly implications of block chain?

monkey-orangutan-animal-face-52530As a consumer, you could potentially ensure that the palm oil used to fry your chips is not derived from a place like Borneo or Sumatra where orangutans are slaughtered mercilessly to clear the forest so palm trees may be planted.

You could confirm that the diamonds you bought for an engagement ring are not “blood diamonds”– mined in a war zone to finance an insurgency using gullible child soldiers as canon fodder.

chocolateAs a chocoholic you could confirm that dark chocolate bought in an upscale chocolatier is not tainted by cadmium or lead from being sourced in countries which don’t have lead-free gasoline

You can rest easy knowing that the shrimp you bought at a seafood store wasn’t derived from slave labor in Thailand.

Manufacturers of pet food can quickly identify the source of contamination in tainted and potentially poisonous pet-food before unsuspecting animals pay the price.

As you see, the potential benefits are endless.  Blockchain might yet prove to be the technology that changes our world beyond our wildest dreams..

Categories: Big Data and Hadoop

What to ask IBM Watson?

February 26, 2017 Leave a comment

On an uncharacteristically cloudy California afternoon looking out at gathering rain clouds I wondered what do IBM Watson – the artificial intelligence platform – and my favorite characters Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson have in common?  Unlike Sherlock Holmes who was introduced to the world over 125 years ago by Sr. Arthur Conan Doyle, the world came to know about IBM Watson primarily after the TV show Jeopardy.  Today you read about IBM Watson being used in every possible vertical market – from banking to finance.  Excuse me for using the tiresome cliche “when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail” but to avoid exactly that let’s look at what problems are better suited for IBM Watson over others. Watson works by collecting large amounts of data (articles, blogs, tweets, research data), generating dozens of hypothesis around this data, ranking various candidates for answers and answering with the first candidate if the confidence level is high enough.

Book Illustration Depicting Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in a Train Cabin

Attribution: By Sidney Paget (1860-1908) (Strand Magazine) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Watson excels in Natural Language Processing (NLP).  An example of a question relevant to our times and posed in natural language would be: Is White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer accurate when he states that Donald Trump drew “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe”

Any question that requires active learning, that uses context based search, or that uses inference chaining would be eminently suited for IBM Watson.  You could also potentially use Watson for predictive analytics, to answer a question relevant to merchandisers “Are stay at home dads more likely to buy beer when they step out to buy diapers for the infants in their care?”   A data scientist who thinks about these matters might explain that Watson has some predictive analytics capability because it uses CHi-squared Automatic Interaction Detection (CHAID) algorithms.  For now we’ll leave the why and focus on the what.

On the other hand, topics like inductive reasoning may be better suited for tools other than Watson.  What is inductive reasoning you ask? The statement “All performers want to perform before large crowds like those at Presidential inaugurations, Elton John is a performer so Elton John must want to perform at Trump’s inauguration” would be an example of deductive reasoning even if Sir Elton John would disagree with the final conclusion.

Conversely the statement: Garth Brooks is a performer, Garth Brooks “prays” for Trump, so all performers must be praying for Trump. In this statement there is no logical movement from the initial premise to the final conclusion.  This would be an example of inductive reasoning.

Just as Dr. Watson wonders how Sherlock Holmes arrives at his seemingly fantastic conclusions you might wonder what internal reasoning is used by IBM Watson to arrive at its conclusions?  The IBM WatsonPaths solution graph might give you some clues.  More on Watson on another rainy afternoon.


Musings on Cognitive systems & Artificial Intelligence

January 29, 2017 Leave a comment

Some would describe cognitive systems as systems which are not programmed, they   understand, reason and learn.  In these respects they are similar to the human brain.  Artificial intelligence which is usually associated with machine learning could be viewed as a subset of Cognitive systems

The physicist Stephen Hawking states “The primitive forms of artificial intelligence we already have proved very useful. But I think the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

The general thinking is that today AI is not self-aware, it has no consciousness and is far from being a sentient being.  However before you get too comfortable, consider this.  If we assume that the first step towards reaching self-awareness is to achieve “creativity” we should pause to reflect on the fact that scientists at Columbia University taught robots to paint on canvas– of the robots so trained PX18 stood out in its artistic abilities as you see here.


[Included with permission from Hod Lipson of Columbia University]

If creativity has been breached and the next step is self-awareness, consider this:  Roboticists at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York have built a trio of robots that were put through the classic ‘wise men puzzle’ test of self-awareness – and one of them passed.

Think about IBM Watson for a minute, Watson appeared on the TV show Jeopardy and was posed a question: “Iron fitting on the hoof of a horse or a card-dealing box in a casino.”  Watson responded with the correct answer: “What is shoe?” 

Reflect on this for a moment.  The word shoe was used as a pun, a way to confuse Watson – a pun being defined as the use of a word in an ambiguous way so as to draw parallels between two concepts.  The implication to humanity according to Thomas L Friedman (a columnist for the NY Times) is: A “Cognitive computer was faster than 2 humans in identifying a pun posed in natural language!

One of the many successors to Watson is IBM’s Watson Explorer a tool which uses natural language processing, can provide search, indexing and a 360 degree view of entities to its user.  A Japanese insurance company Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance, is reportedly replacing 34 human insurance claim workers with “IBM Watson Explorer,” starting January 2017.

So to our fearless leader who proclaimed that he would build “ a great, great wall on our southern border”  to stem the flow of manufacturing jobs,  I must break the news it is not just blue-collar jobs but also white-collar jobs that will need to refocus to ensure gainful employment for all.  Stemming the tide of technology isn’t a realistic option, it is too late to close Pandora’s box now. Cognitive systems and AI are here to stay, now the question before humanity is – How will we use them for our collective betterment?


[Engraving based on a painting by FS Church]

My name is Kai and this is my story..

December 8, 2016 Leave a comment


I was born Feb 29, 2016 in a leap year which happens once in 4 years! A runt in a litter sired by my father a Great Dane and my mother a mix of Border Collie and Great Pyrenees.  I vaguely recall my siblings being all white-and-black  pups like me.  It was warm and cozy being together but like anything in life it didn’t last long…  My human owners couldn’t deal with us so we were soon to be adopted by others.

I can never understand this human fascination with “owning” an animal you call a “pet”.  It reminds me of two fleas arguing over who owns the dog!  You are no more owners of animals as you are of this beautiful planet all of us call home.  Granted 7 billion of you humans have infested this planet and destroyed pretty much all other life forms in your obsession to “own” every square meter of land but I have no interest in your follies..  This is primarily my story.

I was put up for adoption by a volunteer rescue group Pawsitive Connections in front of a PetSmart store.  A kindly teenage girl who became my human sister, came to help out with the vague intention of accumulating volunteer points for school and she ended up sitting with me in my cage.. At the end of the day as no one had adopted me she carried me home and I recall her mother and she discussing in hushed tones on the ride home how to break the news to her dad – a cynical middle aged man whose motto was “one dog in our home is enough – we can’t afford another!”  The official story was that I was a “foster” but we all knew I had no intention of leaving! My human sister christened me Kai – don’t ask me what it means, I wouldn’t know! All I know is that responding to the word Kai equated to belly rubs and treats!

For the first few days in my new home, I missed my siblings and their warm bodies.. but then I bonded with the 8 year old black Labrador  mix Angel who resided at the home.  Angel become my friend, protector and “mother-figure” all rolled into one.  I ate from her food bowl, chewed her toys, slept on her bed and she would move away with a resigned air and nary a complaint.  My grumpy human father ended up walking me every morning muttering about getting late to work  or about having to walk two dogs every morning..  Little did he realize then how much he had to be thankful for, a reason to exercise his heart, a warm home to come home to, a human family, Angel and yours truly!

During my walks, I basked in the joy of every falling leaf, every scampering squirrel.  I found the rising sun fascinating and the moon and stars wonderful.  I never met a dog I didn’t like (or try to hump) nor a human I disliked.  I jumped on every passersby much to my grumpy human father’s annoyance..  I ran wild in empty spaces and tennis courts in the mornings, I loved the freedom of playing in the grass.   Angel was often too tired to run or play with me.  I made friends with a boxer Levi who like me enjoyed playing rough.  Angel would periodically look up from munching on grass (what’s up with that??) and snap at the boxer to indicate her displeasure when he was too rough with me.. In her heart I was Angel’s baby and she never let anyone forget it..  Covered in doggie drool I walked home contentedly..

Seven months flew by and one Sunday morning in November,  I ran away from my human father chasing a squirrel all over the park..  An oncoming speeding car hit me and I was thrown on the side of the road.. an hour passed in a painful blur, the girl whose car hit me apologized then left hurriedly in tears.  A kindly human gave my human father a ride to the vet where my father couldn’t get me attended to immediately as he didn’t have his wallet!  Half an hour later my human mother showed up with a credit card by which time I could feel myself beginning to leave my earthly body.  15 min with the vet trying CPR on me and I was gone.. My human family wrapped me in their arms with nary a blanket (the vet’s office didn’t have any spares to loan) and drove home in tears..

My human family grieved over me, argued with the vet online about the delay in attending to me but as you humans say “it is all water under the bridge”.  I left this world in body but lingered in spirit.  A few days later my human family received a handwritten holiday card from their online dog food supplier Chewy from whom they bought  vegetarian kibble (I couldn’t eat another animal, can you?) and wrote back to them as in acknowledgement mentioning my passing.  Tiffany at Chewy sent over a beautiful bouquet of roses and Peruvian lilies in my memory.  Today the flowers gave my teenage human sister solace as she arranged them in a vase a tear running down her cheek.  I miss her too and wish I could tell her I’m at peace now!

Peruvian lilies and roses.jpg

I enjoyed the short 7 months of my life.  I was a free spirit, I ate what I liked, I ran where I liked, played with whichever dog I liked and lived life on my own terms.  To quote the legendary Frank Sinatra: “I’ve lived a life that’s full, I’ve traveled each and every highway, But more, much more than this, I did it my way” To my grumpy human father and his family all I can say is – Lighten up a little and start living life!  It was fun living with you, but we all have to go some day, some sooner than others.  Would you rather that I  survived the accident but could never run again?   What type of a life would that be for me?  If you are second guessing that fateful day remember Omar Khayyam’s words – The moving finger writes; and having writ, moves on: nor all thy piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.

To other humans who read this my advise to you is:

Don’t waste your lives chasing something beyond the rainbow waiting to be happy till you find it, stop brutalizing weaker animals for food or “sport”, live life as I did with joy each day, find wonder in everything, enjoy this tiny blue planet you share with so many billions of creatures, be compassionate to all.  We will all become dust one day.. when that happens wouldn’t you prefer that your lives had some meaning and someone somewhere will think fondly of you and recall that you left this earth a tiny bit better than you found it?  And while you are about it, why not adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue group?  You won’t find a better friend or a more joyful companion!

Movin’ on up… SAN switching to DevOps automation, workload generation to application performance monitoring

March 31, 2016 Leave a comment

I’m reminded of the Jeffersons theme song “movin’ on up” as I read the latest news in the technology world.  Every vendor appears to be  moving on up and wants a bigger piece of the proverbial pie.   SAN switching vendor Brocade aims to move up into automation of DevOps by acquiring StackStorm, workflow generator vendor LoadDynamix merges with application performance monitoring vendor Virtual Instruments..  These developments are a sign that vendors are not content to stick to their niche but  keen to expand into new areas and deliver additional in the hat

Brocade has managed a steady $2.25Billion in annual revenues as of 2015.  However jaded storage analysts looked at these earnings with a “okay but where are the growth prospects?”.. Brocade demonstrates out-of-the-box thinking by moving beyond its comfort zone of Fibre Channel and Ethernet switching into DevOps automation and orchestration – a world previously dominated by products like Puppet, Chef, Ansible.  From what I hear configuration mgmt. tools like Puppet and Chef work at a node level, they execute code against a node, updated state information is then sent to an upstream device like a Chef server or PuppetDB , then other nodes converge with updated data.  These multiple steps result in added latency. StackStorm acts as an uber orchestrator by orchestrating runs of automation tools like Chef or Puppet on different nodes.  It should come as no surprise that while numerous customers downloaded and used the open-source tool from StackStorm only a few like Target, Netflix and MasterCard paid for the enterprise version.  The pressure to show revenue from paying customers might have caused StackStorm to take Brocade up on its offer of a buy-out. With Brocade thinking out of the box Cisco won’t be content to remain a mere investor in PuppetLabs but might take a more serious interest in being the single pane of glass for orchestration and automation.

On a different note, LoadDynamix is a vendor with an appliance that generates network load and can be used to model workflows.  An IT dept. can use it to make an objective comparison of multiple storage solutions to identify the one that best meets their needs. A storage vendor could also use LoadDynamix products to emulate the effect of mount storms from NFS clients.   On the other side of the spectrum, Virtual Instruments is a vendor that targeted a niche untapped by SAN vendors – namely troubleshooting latency exhibited by applications running in virtual environments.  They do this  by capturing and monitoring application flows all the way from multiple hypervisors down to the storage.   Since both vendors have non-overlapping technology offerings there is scope for innovation after they merge.  This should cause Cisco and Brocade to take notice..






Categories: DevOps, Orchestration

3D XPoint memory is here, 8K video games anyone?

July 31, 2015 1 comment

Computer gamingIntel & Micron jointly announced a new class of memory called 3D XPoint™.  They claim that this new persistent (non-volatile) memory type will be 1000 times faster and last 1000 times longer than traditional NAND flash. 3D XPoint uses a cross point architecture – the memory cell which stores one bit of data, sits at the point of intersection of a word line and a bit line, allowing each cell to be addressed individually.  This is a different approach than is found in transistor based NAND where a large block of cells have to be erased before a single bit can be stored.

The goal in computing has always been to bring data closer to the CPU. Today some data is stored within the CPU, some in DRAM, some in NAND flash based SSD (where latency is measured in microseconds) and the rest on spinning disks (where latency is measured in milliseconds). As CPUs got faster, spinning disk improved in density but didn’t keep up in performance.

Enter 3D XPoint with characteristics like:
• 10 times the density of DRAM
• latency in nanoseconds (one billionth of a second)
• Non-volatile nature (persist data when the power is turned off).
• Durability of 10, 000 000 write cycles (vs 10,000 write cycles for NAND)

What are the implications for a personal computer manufacturer? This new memory type could be used as main memory (think Terabytes of 3D XPoint memory) since it will be almost as fast as RAM but cheaper than RAM. The computer user in turn experiences the efficiencies of an “always-on” application.

How about server manufacturers? If you consider that worldwide over 1 billion Android capable devices were sold in 2014, and if you assume 2 active TCP connections from each of these devices to Google’s datacenter, in 2014 alone 2 billion TCP connections were hitting Google’s custom manufactured servers so the users may run applications like Gmail or Hangout. Google would achieve greater efficiencies by using 3D Xpoint in place of RAM in their custom servers.

How about enterprise applications like real-time fraud detection? Rather than move data from spinning disk to SSD then to RAM, 3D XPoint can pre-fetch the data that may be needed by the application, hence improving the real-time aspect of detecting fraud in ongoing financial transactions.

How about consumer applications? Voice recognition applications like Siri Assistant on a 3D XPoint -enabled smart phone could see a benefit.  Another consumer application that would benefit is 8K gaming (at 7680*4320 resolution).  8K is not so far out considering that Sharp is promoting 8K resolution TVs today.

What’s in it for networked storage? Just as RAM, DRAM and NAND Flash co-exist with spinning disk today, 3D XPoint will add one more effective transit point between the CPU in the server and the networked storage. Once the interfaces are worked out it could even replace NAND from SSDs.   I welcome any relevant thoughts you may have on this topic.

Predictive analytics & IoT in Healthcare

June 28, 2015 Leave a comment

GE CT scannerA Computerized Tomography (CT) scanner uses ionizing radiation in small doses to produce a diagnostic image – a cross sectional image of the human body. Increase the radiation dose above the minimum required level and you risk causing cancer in the patient. How do you find that right balance of minimum dose and optimal diagnostic image?

Consider how one CT scanner maker GE achieves this balance – Each GE CT scanner is connected to a web based tool called GE Dosewatch™ which gives hospitals a web-based radiation dose monitoring system that tracks a patient’s exposure to radiation from imaging devices. This means clinicians can reduce the cumulative radiation dose produced by a series of imaging procedures, while still delivering the image quality needed to diagnose and treat cancer. DoseWatch uses GE Predix™ (GE’s software platform for the industrial internet) which in turn bundles Pivotal software. Gazzang provides encryption and key management for the Pivotal app that is embedded within GE Predix.  You may wonder how secure wireless communications is achieved for such a solution? GE partners with AT&T and Verizon who aim to deliver a global SIM for secure machine-to-machine communications.

Meanwhile GE’s competitors namely Siemens and Toshiba are not sitting idle.  While GE partners with Pivotal, Siemens partners with Teradata and is deploying Teradata Unified Data Architecture (data warehouse appliance, discovery platform, Hadoop appliance) for a big data lake. Siemens also partners with SAP to use the HANA Cloud Platform (HCP) as the basis of its own cloud to derive insights from IoT machine data. Siemens has its own deviceWISE IOT Cloud software which appears to be their answer to GE’s Predix. Siemens has also invested in CyberFlow Analytics to secure the IoT.   Not to be outdone Toshiba has partnered with Microsoft so consumers with sensor-enabled Toshiba devices can access predictive analytics over Microsoft Azure IoT cloud infrastructure.  This intersection of healthcare, IoT, big data and predictive analytics is just a scratch on the surface of what is to come in the years ahead.