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Archive for August, 2011

Just a few years ago, much of the software that IBM sold was operating systems and middleware. Vital stuff, to be sure, but not very sexy. The move to analytics has changed things. For example, we provide some really nifty software for New York’s U.S. Open Tennis Championships, which kick off today and will build to a crescendo in two weeks with the finals.

Credit: TigerPuppala

Credit: TigerPuppala

IBM’s sponsorship of the championships gives us the opportunity to showcase amazing new technologies for some of the most sophisticated tennis fans in the world. During this year’s championships, fans and broadcasters alike will be able to enjoy matches with a depth of understanding far beyond anything they have experienced at the tournament before. That’s thanks to U.S. Open PointStream, a new match analysis feature on the U.S. Open Web site.

PointStream represents a great leap forward for tennis fans. Last year, fans received a wealth of statistical information about players and matches on the site. But now, thanks to PointStream, they can access deep analysis spelling out what each player needs to do to increase their chances of winning a match, how the match is going in real time and when the momentum is shifting.

PointStream also signals a new level of technical sophistication emerging worldwide that is deepening our understanding of nearly every human endeavor. Thanks to new analytics capabilities, people are able to gather huge quantities of pertinent information about nearly any topic, extract insights, and get up-to-the second updates about what’s happening and why. At IBM, we call this the smarter planet.

When we started talking about the smarter planet nearly three years ago, it was a vision of what could be. Now, after more than 2,000 engagements with clients, it’s a firm reality.

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August 29th, 2011

Another person for a smarter planet

Alexander AminiAmidst moving to a new country, starting a new school, making new friends, and digging into an intensive scientific research project, Alexander Amini still had time for tennis. Generally two hours a day, several days a week.

“I started playing tennis before I can remember,” Amini said. “I’ve always had a tennis racquet in my hand.”

Amini’s love of tennis served him well when he decided to enter Ireland’s national high school science competition–the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE)–upon moving to Dublin from New York state with his family last fall.

He enrolled in Castleknock College, a private boys high school, and devoted himself to writing software that can identify a tennis player’s strokes based on data transmitted from wireless sensors worn on the body.

“In my project I was able to automatically detect 13 different tennis strokes with an average accuracy of 95 percent,” Amini said. “For four of those strokes, the accuracy was above 99 percent.”

Last January, after four months of hard work, Amini won top prize out of a field of 513 entries and was named BT Young Scientist and Technologist 2011. In September, he will represent Ireland at the 23rd European Union Contest for Young Scientists in Helsinki, Finland.

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Even though energy mavens have been advocating smart meter deployments for nearly a decade, an IBM survey of 10,000 people in 15 countries shows that consumers are confused about what a smart grid is and what it means to them. It’s startling new evidence that if you want a smarter planet, you have to communicate better about it.

Sixty percent of those surveyed did not know the meaning of the terms “smart grid” or “smart meters.” Half of them didn’t understand the term “time of use pricing,” which is essential to understanding the benefits these technologies offer such as improved reliability, lower costs and increased efficiency. Thirty percent were unaware of the basic mechanism used for charging for electricity–the amount paid per kilowatt hour.

This confusion helps explain why the consumer uptake has been slower than hoped for, according to Michael Valocchi, IBM’s vice president for Global Energy & Utilities. His prescription: Utilities, regulators, government officials and technology companies need to go back to basics when communicating with consumers. “Today, the industry is focused on engineering and regulatory matters. All the companies in the ecosystem have to connect better with the consumer.”

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Everyone loves a good story and one of the ways IBM is marking its centennial is by sharing not one, but 100 stories about the milestones that have shaped the company and the world in the last century.

These iconic stories and their uniquely designed accompanying “marks”—dubbed “Icons of Progress”— have been published regularly since January 20, and will continue through September 20 on the the ibm100 Web site.  Some of the Icons detail well-known IBM innovations, such as the 1401 (the first mainframe) and the Selectric typewriter, while others fall into the “I didn’t know IBM did that” category—innovations that impact our daily lives and have helped shaped modern business or culture, such as the UPC bar code and the technique behind LASIK eye surgery.

In a company of more than 400,000 employees, with tens of thousands of patents—that counts Nobel laureates and National Medal of Technology Award winners among its employees—how do you pick the right 100 stories? Very carefully.

The process of choosing the 100 Icons of Progress stories started early last year with a call for submissions that went out to IBM divisions, locations, business units and channels. Some 860 story submissions poured in from around the world.

In a three-day curatorial session, a small group of editorial stakeholders and agency partners culled the 860 down to 100 stories, with many of the original submissions grouped as supporting stories under bigger topics. The stories were aligned to three themes: changing the way the world works; pioneering the science of information; and reinventing the modern corporation, which also served as organizing principles for the Centennial book .  A thesis statement and argument was crafted for each story to guide the archival and online research and writing. And for each story a “mark” – an actual graphic icon – was designed.

While the cumulative effect of 100 milestones is impressive, I think it is the smaller moments behind the big events that  often are most memorable—the “ah ha!” epiphany in the lab; the quotidian details of being caught in a months-long race against all odds to make a critical deadline; the off-hand conversation that led to a life-changing decision.  Here are three not to be missed:

Behind the Silicon Germanium Chips Icon:     silicon_germ_chip__icon__300x180      


In 1979, when working in a lab as a grad student, Bernie Meyerson had inadvertently dropped a one-inch piece of silicon he’d just cleaned in hydrofluoric acid. When he retrieved it and washed it off, he noticed that the silicon wafer was water-repellant—he had work to do so filed the observation away in the back of his mind. Three years later, he returned to thinking about the dropped silicon event. “That was the epiphany,” explains Meyerson—which led to his discovery of the silicon germanium chip.

Behind the Magnetic Stripe Technology Icon :


Back in the early 1960s, the first person to affix magnetic media to a plastic card for data storage was IBM engineer Forrest Parry. He wanted to attach a strip of magnetized tape to a plastic identity card for officials of the CIA, and he couldn’t figure out how to do it. When he mentioned his problem to his wife, who happened to be ironing clothing at the time, she suggested that he use the iron to essentially melt the strip on. That’s what he did. IBM became a pioneer in magnetic stripe technology…the serendipitous result of a household chat. 

 Behind the Excimer Laser Surgery Icon:    lasik__icon__300x180


“We wondered if the excimer laser could so cleanly etch polymeric material, what would happen if we tried it on human or animal tissue?” remembers James Wynne. “What really broke things open, after all the talk of what kind of tissue we would use, was that Sri brought his Thanksgiving turkey leftovers into the lab the day after Thanksgiving in 1981,” said Wynne. “He used the excimer laser to etch a pattern in whatever bone, cartilage or meat was on the tissue sample. I had this moment of ‘eureka,’ we have a new form of surgery!” 

Yet to come

As of August 24, some 90 Icons have been published—and some of the most interesting stories are yet to come: Exploring Undersea Frontiers about IBM’s work with Jacques Cousteau; collaborating with Mars Incorporated to re-engineer the cocoa bean into a more sustainable crop; and preserving the artifacts of the ancient cultures of Egypt, Italy and Indonesia through technology.

The ones that got away

Some very compelling stories did not get chosen to be retold. For example, IBM’s 40-year history of innovations in supporting the Olympic Games around the world. And IBM’s decades-long ties with Hollywood movies. They are for the next major IBM birthday. When all of the Icons are published, I’ll share my list of favorite stories and invite you to do the same.





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Ben Hodges, Associate Professor, UT Austin Center for Research in Water Resources

The following is a guest post authored by Ben Hodges,  Associate Professor, University of Texas at Austin Center for Research in Water Resources.

Although many of us are sweltering in record-breaking heat, a recent Wall Street Journal story about the race to shore up aging, damaged levee systems along the Mississipi River reminds us that flood season is just around the corner.  And according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the multi-billion dollar restoration won’t be done by spring.

Deciding where to begin is a complex task.  But with the right mix of technology and expertise, engineers could have a snapshot of how a river and its tributaries will behave in flood situations and other extreme weather conditions, allowing them to prioritize levee restoration efforts according to which areas are at highest risk of flooding, and when that’s likely to happen.

As part of a Research collaboration with the University of Texas at Austin, IBM has come up with a new technology that could provide such a snapshot.  YouTube Preview Image

This new flood prediction technology can simulate tens of thousands of river branches at a time and could scale further to predict the behavior of millions of branches simultaneously. By coupling analytics software with advanced weather simulation models, such as IBM’s Deep Thunder, municipalities and disaster response teams could make emergency plans and pinpoint potential flood areas on a river.

Floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States, but traditional flood prediction methods are focused only on the main stems of the largest rivers – overlooking extensive tributary networks where flooding actually starts, and where flash floods threaten lives and property.

As a testing ground, the team is presently applying the model to predict the entire 230 mile-long Guadalupe River and over 9,000 miles of tributaries in Texas. In a single hour the system can currently generate up to 100 hours of river behavior.

By combining IBM’s complex system modeling with UT Austin’s research into river physics, we’ve developed new ways to look at an old problem. Unlike previous methods, the IBM approach scales-up for massive networks and has the potential to simulate millions of river miles at once. With the use of river sensors integrated into web-based information systems, we can take this model even further.

In addition to flood prediction, a similar system could be used for irrigation management, helping to create equitable irrigation plans and ensure compliance with habitat conservation efforts. The models could allow managers to evaluate multiple “what if” scenarios to create better plans for handling both droughts and water surplus.

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August 22nd, 2011

Sharing is a cornerstone of what we humans do on the Web today, what puts the social in social media. We post pictures and video, offer opinions, ratings and reviews, volunteer our interests and locations. We reveal ourselves and our relationships in a billion different public acts every day.


Individually and collectively, we appear to be growing more comfortable living in public like this through our profiles, social networks and mobile communications.

Like all exponential changes, this shift in attitude and practice has crept up on us — it gradually and quietly gathered momentum over the “Web 2.0″ era of the last seven years. In the last several years, the volume and ubiquity of this sharing and conversing has gone supercritical. From Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and LinkedIn to hundreds of other online avenues, sharing has become the defining quality of digital society.

Now businesses and organizations are seeking to adapt to the Social Web and incorporate this big switch in human behavior and cultural habits into their operations and strategies.  At IBM — and consultancies such as Dachis and Altimeter — this new stratagem is often referred to as “social business.” It entails more than just business use of social software and networks for external purposes such as marketing. In the fuller view, social business is about re-shaping organizations to become more collaborative, communal and capable in fostering human relationships. Not surprisingly, such a new frontier is right in the wheelhouse of the strategy & transformation consulting services offered by Global Business Services (GBS), the part of IBM I work in.

The leader of my group in GBS communications, Christine Kinser, makes an excellent point about the human dynamics at the heart of social business — that our relationships (with colleagues and customers) are forged on trust, a shared sense of purpose and a willingness to share and build on each other’s ideas. In this sense I think you could say that a social business strives to be a much more human (and humane) kind of entity.


Like many IBM colleagues, I’m one of those early adopter types that constitutionally likes to try new things and share everywhere. Inside IBM, we share prodigiously through our intranet infrastructure of blogs, wikis, forums, file-sharing, social bookmarks and communities. Externally, we engage via a seemingly endless array of vehicles and methods (IBMers are, for example, one of the largest groups represented on the new Google Plus network).  I am also fortunate that my knowledge-hunting, -gathering and -sharing is a central part of my job.

On this score, my informal social contract with IBM is pretty great — I’m not just able to devote time and energy to strategic sharing and innovating in social media, I am generally recognized and rewarded for leading by these examples.

In my view, more people, in more kinds of companies and in a wider range of roles, need this kind of clear charter. Social computing skills and best practices should no longer be limited to “evangelists” or enthusiasts, but should become an integral facet of professional business leadership.  Just as organizations are starting to get serious about “socializing” functions such as HR, customer support and market research, an aspiring social business needs to get serious about professionalizing capabilities such as community management, social media relations and knowledge sharing.

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Since IBM CEO Sam Palmisano visited a team of scientists at IBM Research – Almaden a few weeks ago, he has been joking that they have designed a new computer chip that’s “as large as a worm’s brain.” It’s a good quip. Why would highly-talented researchers spend their time creating a chip like that? It’s also quite an understatement. True, the chip isn’t very smart, in itself. But it signals what could be the beginning of a major new computing architecture that compliments today’s computers. When Palmisano tells the story, he makes sure his audience knows how proud he is of IBM’s researchers.

The chip, a product of IBM’s three-year-old SyNAPSE project, could become a building block for a new generation of computers designed to emulate the animal brain’s abilities for sensing and cognition–all the while consuming many orders of magnitude less power and space than today’s computers. “We believe we have reproduced the core circuit of the brain in silicon,” says Dharmendra Modha, program lead for IBM Research’s cognitive computing department at the Almaden lab. “All mammal brains are built on the same blueprint. We believe that we have found the core design that encapsulates the key architectural principles of the brain.”

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Twenty years ago, Finnish graduate student Linus Torvalds launched a revolution–but he didn’t know he was doing so at the time. He posted a notice on a computing message board saying he was creating a kernel, or central utility, for a “free” computer operating system. He planned on using components from the GNU open-source software portfolio and using a popular open-source license called GPL, so people could freely use and contribute to the software. He named his operating system Linux and invited anybody who wished to contribute code. This was “just a hobby,” he wrote.

Today Linux is one of the most important pieces of software on the planet. It runs the computers for major Web sites including Facebook, and Google; powers 75% of the stock exchanges worldwide; and is a core technology in 95% of the world’s supercomputers. Linux  runs in many mobile phones and is a core ingredient of cloud computing.

torvaldsAnd Torvalds? He’s a fellow at the Linux Foundation, which is the organization that coordinates Linux development and promotion. He works at his home office in Portland, Oregon, presiding over the continuing development of the kernel. Torvalds agreed to answer a few questions by email about Linux and what he’s up to. He declined to address big open-ended questions, such as what Linux has accomplished. He leaves such judgments to others.

Question: On the 20th anniversary, how do you feel about Linux and your role in its development?.

Torvalds: I’m very happy with how things are going. Twenty years into it, it’s still interesting and it’s still challenging. And it’s different, and it’s never gotten to be some boring daily grind. And while my role in it has changed from being a core developer to be more of a manager (but without the logistical side to it. I don’t need to “take care” of people, only worry about the technical side), I still feel that I add value, so I’m happy.


Here’s a video commemorating the anniversary from the Linux Foundation:

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August 10th, 2011

MarkDeanBy Mark Dean
Chief Technology Officer
IBM Middle East and Africa

It’s amazing to me to think that August 12 marks the 30th anniversary of the IBM Personal Computer. The announcement helped launch a phenomenon that changed the way we work, play and communicate.  Little did we expect to create an industry that ultimately peaked at more than 300 million unit sales per year. I’m proud that I was one of a dozen IBM engineers who designed the first machine and was fortunate to have lead subsequent IBM PC designs through the 1980s.  It may be odd for me to say this, but I’m also proud IBM decided to leave the personal computer business in 2005, selling our PC division to Lenovo. While many in the tech industry questioned IBM’s decision to exit the business at the time, it’s now clear that our company was in the vanguard of the post-PC era.

I, personally, have moved beyond the PC as well. My primary computer now is a tablet. When I helped design the PC, I didn’t think I’d live long enough to witness its decline. But, while PCs will continue to be much-used devices, they’re no longer at the leading edge of computing. They’re going the way of the vacuum tube, typewriter, vinyl records, CRT and incandescent light bulbs.

PCs are being replaced at the center of computing not by another type of device—though there’s plenty of excitement about smart phones and tablets—but by new ideas about the role that computing can play in progress. These days, it’s becoming clear that innovation flourishes best not on devices but in the social spaces between them, where people and ideas meet and interact. It is there that computing can have the most powerful impact on economy, society and people’s lives.

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Posted by
Steve Hamm in

Internships have  long been a routine way for students to get a taste of the work-a-day world, and for companies to try win the affections of top talents when they’re on the verge of making career decisions. But there are internships and then there are INTERNSHIPS.

IBM’s Extreme Blue falls into the second category. Groups of four students spend 12 weeks working on a real-world technology problem, writing a business plan, and producing a prototype product or service that might end up being a piece of IBM’s portfolio. Since the program started in 1999, students have generated more than 500 patent submissions, helped create more than 50 new product capabilities, and contributed more than 15 pieces of software to the open-source community. This year, 48 students in the US and Canada participated in the program that wrapped up today with a series of presentations and product demos.

I asked some of the students to describe what was most valuable about their Extreme Blue experience. Here’s what they had to say:

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Aya Catalina Ibarra

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