Machines Who Think

The practical birth of A.I. dates back to the 1950s, when Frank Rosenblatt developed the Perceptron algorithm. Interestingly, while it was initially conceived as software for the IBM 704 computer, the “productized” implementation was a hardware solution called the Mark 1 Perceptron. Even back then, the best experience was a complete one: hardware and software combined for a specific task; in this case, image classification. A version of that algorithm is still around today – in fact, Shelby uses a Multi-Layer Perceptron for its chat interface.

The point is, there are a countable number of steps, over relatively recent history, in the field of machine learning. Most of what is in-use today is derived from what we knew yesterday. If you narrow that field to manufacturing, the milestones are even more sparse. If you narrow it again to algorithmic learning that runs within the operation, Sherlock is virtually peerless. The release of this product is a markedly significant point in the history of artificially intelligence…

The above is an excerpt from the email I sent my team upon completion of our latest 1.0. I included it because I didn’t think I could write anything better to mark this spot in time. I’ve introduced you to Shelby in the past, and while Shelby observes an operation, its newest sibling, Sherlock, actually learns from it.

I didn’t invent Sherlock (nor was I the only inventor on Shelby!) – in this case, the product is deeply indebted to the research and development of folks much, much smarter than me. But I did lead the effort to productize it, and I’m proud that I got a part in bringing it to life. Launching a 1.0 product in manufacturing is act of sheer willpower; once again, I got lucky to have a small core team of people who believed in an idea enough to pour some of themselves into it with me.

This release was step two in a 3-step strategy I helped put together almost 4 years ago: Device -> System -> Enterprise — our plan to make sense of the data in a manufacturing environment in an automatic fashion. I signed up for step 1, committed to step 2 after-the-fact because of the great partnership, and watched someone else make a total mess of step 3.

Most of the people who worked on that strategy with me have given up, or moved on (although one of them recently came back!) and the leadership that originally endorsed it lost focus, or position, or faith… it’s been a long and bruising haul getting to this point — and often a lonely one.

As proud as I am of what we’ve built, I am also very, very tired…

Weird Science

In general, I find US Patent law to be both abused and abusive. Companies usually amass patents for predatory or defensive reasons. They use their patent portfolios either as a business model, attempting to make money on litigation, or as a defense against those who do. Patents are often frivolous, obvious and meaningless, but companies acquire them anyway, if not for suit, then for counter-suit when they are inevitably sued.

All that said, there is something awful nice about seeing something you invented officially ratified and recognized. I’ve been cut out of the patent process a number of times in my career — once I was even left out of the patent for a system I designed. Rarely do these things have much monetary value for the individual employee (Microsoft is the exception, where royalty payments can be quite lucrative), but there’s definitely an emotional reward to seeing your contribution recognized.

Since Shelby, and to a smaller extent, Sherlock, were very much emotional, as well as intellectual, investments for me over the past 3+ years, to finally have one of the many patents we applied for make it through the long process, recognized both internally and by an official government body, is a milestone worth recording…

US patent 10225216

A New Swede

After trying most of the advertised car buying patterns, and realizing there aren’t any strategies where the end customer ever comes out ahead, we’ve settled on buying expensive and nice cars — after the original owners have moved on. In this fashion, we’re able to ride in style without breaking the bank. A vehicle that starts out life at $60,000 drops to a much more manageable $20-30,000 in just a few years, but still has lots of life left in it.

Of course, with a used car comes the probability of repair costs. You dare not go too old, or the repair costs will begin to exceed the monthly payment on a new car. Somewhere in the middle is a sweet spot, where the financed amount can be quickly paid off, but there’s still a few years before the repair bills start.

Nic’s last vehicle, a 2008 Audi Q7 came loaded with features, and was 6 years and 90,000 miles old when we got it. We put another 50,000 miles and 4+ years on it, but the bit was about to flip. Looming repair estimates exceeded trade in costs, so after nearly 3 years without car payments, it was time to start the cycle again.

This time were were able to afford to go for a little younger luxury SUV, a 2016 Volvo XC90 with 69,000 miles on it. In immaculate condition, and with a perfect service history, it has virtually every hi-tech and comfort feature imaginable, including:

  • All wheel drive on a twin-charged 2 liter, 4 cylinder, 320hp engine (with much higher fuel efficiency then our Audi’s V8!)
  • 3 rows of seating — 2 rows of heated seats (and a heated steering wheel!)
  • Pilot assist with adaptive cruise and automatic lane keeping
  • Blind spot sensors and 5 cameras, for a 360 view and traffic monitoring
  • 9″ touch screen navigation infotainment system, and digital display dashboard
  • Automatic parallel parking
  • Automatic power folding mirrors and lift gate
  • Panoramic sunroof and “Thor’s hammer” signature headlights

Of course its no Saab — we bought my 95 at 100,000 miles and intend to keep it on the road until at least 200,000. But for the family wagon, and its precious cargo, the possibility of being stuck on the side of the highway between Ohio and Ontario is not something we’re willing to consider. The XC90 shares Swedish roots with our Saab, comes with a 5-star rating for every safety scenario, and we fully anticipate getting at least 5 years of road trips, youth group events and Girl Scout meetings out of this one… and look pretty good doing it too!

Stop buying new smart phones!

Apple kicked off 2019 by announcing that iPhone sales are down — way down. Their letter to investors largely laid the blame on China (and indirectly, on the trade war with China) but more astute observers noticed some sub-text: people just aren’t buying the new iPhones they way Cupertino is used to.

Shocking, no? $1000 cell phones that are largely unchanged from last years model aren’t flying off the shelves?

When I was growing up, the effects of Moore’s Law were hard at work. I sold computers in college, and the joke customers would make as they walked out the door was “this thing will be obsolete by the time I get it home, won’t it?” At the time, they weren’t far from wrong. Just look at this chart that I stole from someone on the Internet — CPU speeds were literally doubling every year.

Thanks, random Internet person:

Then something happened: the point of diminishing returns. Just off this chart is our current home computer, a 2011 iMac. Its had a RAM upgrade and a newer OS installed, but 8 years later, that machine still does everything the kids need it to. And its not just the kids — I’m a professional software developer, and I’m typing this on a rebuilt 2008 MacBook Pro. Why? Because there’s no reason to upgrade. None.

Smart phones had their own curve, that arguably really ramped up starting in 2007 (I couldn’t find a chart to steal.) Like PCs in the 80s, there was a rapid evolution of features, capabilities, form factors and speeds, but their point of diminishing returns hit around 2015: Apple’s peak was the iPhone 6s. After that, they literally began removing features, and focusing more on cosmetics than capabilities (the camera being an exception with a slightly offset maturity curve.)

Of course, the drooling public was a little slower to catch on. Apple got 4 more years of grinding semi-annual upgrades out of the masses, but now even that group is catching on. Its not just China, Americans are having trouble justifying paying a grand every year or two for something not materially different than what’s already in their pocket.

This decline forces companies to look for new revenue models — because the “next big thing” hasn’t emerged yet (hint: its not going to be Virtual Reality). And that’s where you and me, and our personal data, comes into play. If you won’t give them money directly, you can be monetized indirectly — through harvesting of your data.

So, what are you going to do about it? I’ve written before about how the Internet could still be good — if we’d all stop behaving like sheep, and acted more like responsible human beings. You can similarly turn the spy you invite into your bedroom back into a reasonable useful tool:

  • Don’t buy a new one. If your battery sucks, replace it — even at Apple’s full price of $79, that’s a lot less than $1000 for a new phone. And if your phone breaks entirely, buy a refurb. You’ll love having a headphone jack again, and you won’t need all new charging cables!
  • Tame your phone: turn off notifications and location services unless you really need them. A Pebble or a Fitbit are a nice way to get critical notifications without needing to be tempted by the rest of your phone — keep it in your pocket.
  • Leave it behind: there’s a trend toward companion phones (my parents call them “beach phones” — but they live on a tropical island) that I really like. Its hard to be completely out of touch, but you can get a “dumb” phone and swap out your SIM when you don’t need constant access to email or Instagram.
  • Turn it off at night: “I use it as my alarm clock” is a dumb excuse for having a hot microphone and a radio next to your head all night: you can pick up an alarm clock at Walmart for $8 and you’ll sleep better.
  • Don’t use native apps if you don’t need them: when possible, use the website instead of the app — they get a lot less out of you that way.
  • Don’t buy one for your pre-teen. Today I learned that children at my kids school aren’t allowed to run on the playground at recess — but they are allowed to have a cell phone. If this isn’t a generational crisis unfolding before our eyes, I have no idea what is.

I’m going to end this with an anecdote, for those who think I’m being alarmist: I worked for a large online retailer with a consumer electronics division, back when Facebook was still a powerful and popular Internet service. We wanted a native Facebook app for our devices, and Facebook couldn’t be bothered supporting us (even though we could have re-used 99% of their existing Android app with only minor modifications.) When we went to the negotiation table to try to change their minds, do you know what they offered? Give us your customer’s buying data, and we’ll give you an app. Not content to know about all your relationships, conversations, photos and travels, what Facebook wanted most from us is to know everything you were buying too. (To its credit, the big retailer told Facebook to pound sand.)

Big tech companies don’t value you as a person, and they don’t make hot new gadgets out of altruism. They build these things to extract revenue from you. No one loves gadgets as much as I do, but be aware that each of these toys and services you add to your lifestyle has a dark side — if you don’t control them, they will control you.

So I Tied An Onion To My Belt – 2018 Edition

Another year behind us! Hard to believe this is will be our fourth in Ohio, and I’m past the 3 year mark in basically the same job — a record, for me! If 2017 was a culmination, 2018 was an opportunity to enjoy some of the rewards of the work we’ve put into carving out a spot for the Wises in the Mid-West.

Professionally, Shelby pulled in 2 awards for the product, another for the team, and one for me personally. At the same time, we started the follow-up effort, dubbed Sherlock internally. Its been fun working with two talented teams on stuff that has the potential to change an industry, and the recognition is nice too. It afforded me with a few opportunities to travel; San Diego, Sweden, and Poland were great, but going to Sydney, Australia with Nicole was the highlight!

Jon and Nic in Downtown Sydney

For the kids, Nic’s involvement in their school has been a real blessing, giving her the opportunity to guide their growth outside the home. Eli relishes school and hasn’t yet experienced any real challenges. But because of some funding changes, both Ben and Abi were launched into Middle School in the fall, and although some adjustment was necessary, they’ve both managed to find their footing academically and socially in the new environment.

Speaking of new environments, 2018 was the year we finally found a church home: a small gathering of practical and servant-hearted believers in a Christian and Missionary Alliance congregation 15 minutes from home. We served at a CMA church in urban Cleveland for our first 3 years here, and this was our second summer going to a CMA Family Camp. We find their doctrinal positions and missions focus to be roundly satisfying, and while no church is perfect, this one feels like home.

The best part of a good home, of course, is having a launch pad from which to take off, and we had plenty of opportunity for adventure — with 3 weddings to attend, road trips to Ontario, and a flight out West to visit dear friends and much-missed family. We spent nearly 2 weeks in Alberta and BC on a beautiful lake, and the mountains in-between, affirming our resolve to get out that way at least every other year.

Dock Life in Moyie, BC with the Wises and Epps

Seattle friends that met us in BC

For 2019 we want to maintain our launch pad, which is budgeted to include some plumbing work and a light kitchen renovation. Our cars are both about decade old and although they’re running fine today, we keep awaiting the day one or both kicks the bucket. And of course, travel is high on the list of priorities. In Ohio, kids are done school in May, giving us almost a month where the popular destinations aren’t too busy (although we’ll likely look outside the popular spots!) We have no more idea what the future holds than we have in year’s past, but looking back, its clear that the Lord is faithful, so as for me and my house, we will do our best to serve Him.

Cousins in Ontario at Christmas

Game and Watch

These are a few of my favorite things from 2018. Abandoned tech is a treasure trove of ideas, both good and bad, and always makes you wonder how the world would be different if a given technology battle had gone another away. Take, for example, this little phone: the Palm Pre3 (by HP.) Although HP had big plans for the platform when they bought the ailing Palm company, a change in leadership resulted in a sudden death for the technology dubbed webOS.

More than just a name, webOS provided a Linux-based environment where both front-end, and back-end (service) apps were written in web technology (namely, Javascript.) On the user-facing side, the first Javascript framework was called Mojo, and supported the phones, followed by Enyo, with support for the short-lived TouchPad tablets (and later phones.) On the service side, an early version of NodeJS provided Javascript for lower-level platform coding. This is interesting to me, because my own Shelby product has a similar architecture — although its backed by Windows instead of Linux.

Its arguable whether webOS had the right combination to make it in the Apple vs. Google smart phone war, but we’ll never know, because shortly after they launched the TouchPad, HP chickened out. In its short life, developers produced some brilliant apps for webOS, delivering them onto a friendly form factor that tucked away a real keyboard behind a smooth, svelt and totally pocketable phone. The whole thing is truly delightful, and a blast to write code for. Had HP stuck with it, would we have the surveillance state we have now? Or would someone have offered us an alternative to the penetrating and oppressive spying platforms we line up to buy now?

Another delightful also-ran is the Pebble smart watch. Launched as a Kickstarter, Pebble was arguably there first. Using a battery-sipping eInk display, the Pebble could run for a week on a charge, count laps while you swim, thanks to its water-proof design, and get apps and notifications from any smart watch.

Later versions improved the design and added color, but kept compatibility with the add-ons and watch faces that a vibrant developer community created for it. Long before the Apple Watch provided a luxury status symbol for your wrist, the premium Pebble Steel lent both tech cred and good looks to the wearer.

Pebble was bought by FitBit, the distant second-place winner in the smart watch race, who, like the other purchaser in this post, summarily killed it off in a quick strategy change. Although HP did the classy thing and open-sourced much of webOS (then sold the rest to LG, who uses it in Smart TVs), FitBit went even further, and pledged a period of active support to the Pebble developer community as they took-over the Pebble services.

Re-launched as Rebble, most of the Pebble capabilities are up-and-running again, on community-run servers, and watch faces and apps can once-again be loaded onto your wrist. The Pebble Time remains an in-demand and highly capable smart watch, for a fraction the price of an Apple Watch.

This year, I wrote a trio of apps for this kit, with help from the communities that still back them. Stopwatch was my starter app for webOS, followed by Night Moves, which makes the phone fit your life (instead of the other way around), and finally I modernized an old app called mWatch, re-structuring and re-designing it as My Watch, to connect a Pebble watch to a webOS phone.

Early next year, Microsoft will block connections using TLS 1.1, in the name of security. This effectively cuts off a generation of still-useful devices from getting email from their servers. Much of the web is going the same way — ostensibly to protect us, but really to lock us in to a combined ecosystem of vendors that need to know what their users are doing at all times. This New Year’s Eve, I think I’ll raise a toast to all those hackers still keeping alive the idealized version of the Internet we once all dreamt about…

The less-open Internet

The Internet is in crisis. Famously called “The Four” by marketing author and professor Scott Galloway, the companies that have become the pillars of our world wide web are all showing signs of cracking around the edges:

The cyberpunk utopia that the tech-literate hippies of yesterday dreamt up is gone: with the surfaces most people see commercialized to sell crap to the lowest common denominator Internet-using persona, while the rest of the web becomes the seedy under-belly of a filthy red-light district where criminals and sex-traffickers lurk.
Much of the blame lies with the users, of course.
The first at fault were those who flocked to the web with the intent only to consume. Entrepreneurial start-ups looking to leverage the next technology wave found a vote-with-their-wallet force that practically demanded to be exploited. The people who chose to use the Internet, without understanding it, were doomed to be used by it. Clicking blindly on every link, without understanding how that link was formed or how the content it retrieved was served up, made it only too easy for predators to trap their first prey. It may be victim-blaming, but let’s face it, there were a lot of willing victims eager to trade their banking information for gold from a Nigerian prince.
This group spawned the next generation of sheep, those who viewed their computer, and later their smart phone, as an appliance. These assumed its accessibility meant it was safe to use, like a microwave, not a potentially dangerous tool like a gun. So they loaded it up, pointed it at their face, and then acted surprised when it went off, filling their homes with garbage, and spilling their personal information on the ground for others to grind into by-product meal for trade and barter. Assuming a level of literacy-through-familiarity, this generation actually understands even less than the AOL users of yesterday. Back when you couldn’t get online without knowing at least the basic modem init commands, the competence bar was set to a level that insured at least a little comprehension. Now you can send nudes to your boyfriend in seconds without any awareness of the potential consequences.
The next wave of online stupidity is coming soon, and who is going to protect us? The ones that made us victims in the first place.
Google — the same company that leaked the (sometimes coerced) personal information of half a million users of their dormant social network, then hid it from us all — has declared war on Internet standards. In the past months, they have:

And the increasingly incompetent population of the Internet accepts these things, because like sheep, we’re frightened, and desperately want someone to save us from ourselves. We see no choice but to be fenced into a smaller and smaller enclosure, without realizing that not only are we not producers, we aren’t even customers any more. We have become the product.
If the Internet is a loaded gun, and its pointed in all of our faces, and we gave it to someone else and assumed they wouldn’t use it to mug us, then its sort of our own fault. We should have realized the power of the tool we had, we should have learned to use it properly, we should have put it safely away when it wasn’t appropriate to wave it around, and if we needed it to hunt for a meal, we should have had respect for that hunt, and the product it produced.
If a web browser is a speeding car on an information highway, and we set the cruise to 100, climbed in the backseat, and started Instagramming pictures of the scenery, while we let a criminal drive and gave him our wallet, then are they really to blame when we end up in a car wreck after our identity has been stolen? Or do we have some culpability for not paying attention in Driver’s Ed, learning the rules of the road, and being careful about who we invite on a roadtrip?
Once, if you wanted to have a popular service online, you had to provide an open programming interface (an API), that allowed technical users to connect to, interact with, and observe what your service was doing. One-by-one these APIs are being closed off, making services a black-box. The thing is, you’d have to be technically savvy to understand the implications of cutting off the openness of the web — the dishonesty of hiding your intent behind a closed-API.
There’s pieces of this Internet left that still look like it was meant to be. There are still some sites where you can “view:source” and learn what’s really going on in the page. Most sites still have a (usually hidden) RSS link where you can get the content without being assaulted by the ads. Take advantage of what remains of our freedom: use a search engine other than Google, rotate your browsers so one vendor doesn’t get all your history, and beware of articles that you agree (or disagree!) with too much — you’ve probably already been targeted. While Instagram and Facebook make it easy to share with your friends, email still works, and WordPress is still free — don’t put all your eggs in one basket, then let someone else sell the basket. Services you build yourself, or pay for, are less likely to exploit you.
Here’s something I never thought I’d say: don’t buy an Apple product any more. Or if you do, don’t buy one made after Steve Jobs died — they’re cheaper anyway. Maybe he wasn’t the nicest guy in the world, but he had the right influences, and figured out how to find a balance. If you want a nice piece of kit, turns out Microsoft, the big baddy of the 90s, had a change of heart (or at least, leadership) a couple years ago, and have put their culture back the way it should have always been – then started making some really nice hardware.
And for sense of community, pick a topic that interests you and find a non-Facebook (and non-Twitter) forum for it. There’s lots of kinds of geeks on the Internet, and while the UI on most forum sites may not be as polished, the conversation, depth and comradery is much better in a specific community than in a big-block-store-where-you-are-the-block. Even if that means the site doesn’t have an HTTPS certificate, or an AMP-optimized SEO — just don’t give out your home address, post any boudoir pictures, or accept money sent via Western Union.
My latest trick — and I’m finding it quite freeing — is to leave my phone behind, or use an alternate communication device (a “dumb phone“) that doesn’t track my location all the time. Most phone calls from unknown numbers are scams anyway, and most communication doesn’t actually need to be instant.
I’m not alone in mourning the death of the dream. Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, is ready to re-invent it. Politicians now understand that its been weaponized against us. Even Harvard Law is writing about how the echo chamber is destroying nuance and discourse. This was supposed to be a global community of ideas, information, exploration and collaboration, where trolls were labelled as such, and spam recognized and laughed at. Instead, the users of the platform became increasingly simple, while our predators become ever more sophisticated.
When John Perry Barlow (yes, that one) posted the Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, he thought the enemy of that realm would be the government. He was wrong. We are the destroyers of cyberspace — we, and those we willingly became victims to. While he borrowed the phrase “Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed” he could just as easily as written “Google derives its power from the consent of its users.” Stop consenting so much.

So Long Sweet Summer

And what a summer it was! Its hard to believe this August marks 3 years in Ohio, but to make up for it, we had to go almost everywhere else!

We continued our annual Family Camp tradition, saw dear friends and much missed family in Ontario — including a parent’s weekend away in Niagara Falls, flew to Calgary, then drove through the Rockies to Lake Moyie, BC where the whole Wise clan reunited for the first time in years, and we got to visit with more good friends who live on the West coast. Nic and the kids got more time in Ontario, while I went to Vegas for work. And we attended 3 separate, but equally special weddings of young people we’ve known…since we were young! All that pretty much filled up our July, so with school starting early here, we stayed around home for a few weeks, where we’d invested in a membership at a private pool club for the summer.
Once the kids were settled back into school, and with much thanks to Nana and Papa for babysitting for a week, Nic and I took advantage of a work trip to Australia — scratching one big destination off our bucket list.
I spent the work days helping out, and speaking at an event, and we spent most evenings, and a good chunk of our last day exploring the amazing city of Sydney, and a nearby national park. Driving on the wrong side of the road in big city traffic was scary, and it was “winter” there (lows in the mid-60s) — plus that 23 hour trip is not to be taken lightly — but it was totally worth it. We even got lucky and spotted some wild kangaroos!

On an organizational note, the Internet has changed a lot since this site was first created, so I’ve re-arranged some functions to take better advantage of free services that are available (and reduce our need for other services that are no longer free/safe.) All of our pictures from this summer can be found via a link on the new home page of — the clue to figuring out the password is there, too, and should be easy enough for anyone we know!

The curious incident of the dog in the night-time…

In the 90s, the world of software development pivoted around a concept called “Object Oriented Programming.” The previous unit of capability in an application was its functions or procedures (hence the later moniker “Procedural Programming”) where a program would move through a series of steps, often in a loop, executing functional steps (check for user input, process that input, write the result somewhere, repeat).
In Object Oriented Programming, an application is made up of things (or, “objects”) just like in the real world. Objects have functions, but they also have properties, and events. This lent itself well to the Graphical User Interface, where something like a button is easily understood as an object. A button has a property that describes its label text, an event that happens when its pressed, and a function it performs when that press is complete. Objects also have hierarchy, where one object is the “parent” of another — a model that lets a programmer travel a program from its higher level functions, to its smallest blocks of capability.
More powerful languages included a sophisticated feature called “classes.” These are a little harder to explain. If you think of a car as an object, then abstract that a little: a car is an object in a Vehicle class. All vehicles share some common properties, like a chassis and a seat, common functions like MoveForward, MoveBackward, and common events like StartingUp. Creating the class lets you define those once, and every object that derives from that class shares those attributes automatically.
You can then create a “sub-class”, called FourWheeledMotorVehicles, which shares all the common properties and functions of the Vehicle class, but declares its own set of common attributes. You can apply this cascading inheritance through as many sub-classes as you want, but you can’t actually interact with them — to do that, you have to create a object which is an instance of a class. An object inherits all the properties of the class it derives from, and those become interactive when the object is instantiated (created).
An information “super highway” then is full of objects that can be queried for information (through their properties) given instructions (through their functions) and can inform other objects of what’s happening to them (through their events.) And the class inheritance approach lets a programmer understand things about many objects, without having to know the full details about each of them (eg: most objects on this highway derive from the Vehicle class, so if I know how to get information from a Vehicle, I know how to get information from most of the objects.)
To get more information, a programmer may have to learn how to talk to the FourWheeledVehicle class; those capabilities are a little more specialized (some of what I learn might not be applicable to another class called TwoWheeledVehicle) but for that set of objects, also more specific and powerful.
Of course, this is only a surface explanation, and I provide it only to point out that this was a powerful concept that helped change computing permanently. One of the pioneers of Object Oriented Programming was NeXT, who delivered a brand new operating system around this model. That OS, called NeXTStep became Apple’s OSX, and iOS, powering modern Macs and iPhones. Other vendors were working on similar efforts, and by the end of the 90s, the pivot was complete… for some people.
The thing is, this powerful shift never really came to manufacturing — not fully. Manufacturing technology has layers, with primitive, physical switches, motors and buttons at the bottom, and orchestration and business software at the top. Those layers were famously modeled at Purdue in the 90s; a first step toward understanding the flow of data in an operation. At the top layers, most software moved to Object Oriented Programming — having been delivered by, and for, Information Technology (IT) resources. In the mid-to-bottom layers, technology remained largely in the realm of the electrical engineer; skilled in orchestrating logic flow, and used to working with physical wiring, programming for the electrical engineer evolved from wiring diagrams, into a concept called “ladder logic.” Ladder logic allows a programmer to express functions and loops in software, which are designed to be applied against physical equipment. This kind of programming is written to a PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) or PAC (Programmable Automation Controller) that controls the operation. We often call this Operational Technology (OT).
The result of this alternate evolution is that there is no object model in the lower layers of a manufacturing network. Sure, there are physical objects, and there’s a mapping between rungs of ladder logic, and points of data (called tags), to the real world — but that mapping is largely in the programmers head. There’s no forcing mechanism (and rarely even the facility) to model manufacturing objects in code. As a result, the individual or team who programmed a machine can look into the code and understand how the machine works — but no one else can. Nothing else can. Another program can’t come along, inspect the objects, map them against classes of common capabilities, and create value out of the information the system emits…because there’s no way to understand what that information means, without asking a human being to participate.
This is where my career began, about 20 years ago: building higher level information software systems that attempted to assemble an after-the-fact object model for a manufacturing system — by asking a human to construct it. If we could just get people to participate in (re)establishing an object model, we could give them powerful information (analytics) about what was happening with their systems. It took the industry most of two decades to realize that this wasn’t broadly accomplishable. The divide between the skills of the people who build manufacturing systems, and the skills of people who built information systems, was too hard and too expensive to bridge. For an “information superhighway” to come to life inside manufacturing, we were going to need to bridge the gap on-behalf of our users.
That’s what Shelby does — in a small way. By discovering devices on a manufacturing network, Shelby can match each of them to a device Class that we pre-define inside of Shelby (we call these “Profiles”). Using the closest match we can find, we’re able to create an instance of that device inside Shelby’s object model, and automatically begin asking the device about its status (calling functions), collecting information (defining properties) and surfacing diagnostic notifications (events), about some of the primitive components of the network. Shelby can’t understand what those parts are doing, or many details about how the objects are related to each other — that info is still trapped in the ladder logic. But it can do something we couldn’t before: it can create information value automatically, and begin to bridge operational and informational technology worlds together. That’s why Shelby works in minutes, where all other information software takes days, weeks or months.
SherlockThis is only the beginning, of course. Understanding parts of a system is an important step along the way, but we need to get inside the head of the implementer — and the best surface we have for that is the Controller (PLC); the place where the engineer articulated their understanding, and intent for, the system. To automate this understanding is another technology leap, one that goes beyond modeling the presence of devices, and begins to understand the physics of an operation. That’s where Sherlock comes in, and that’s why its one of the most important innovations manufacturing will see this decade…

Why I stopped attending your church

Its been a frustrating 6 years trying to find a church home here in the States. There’s lots of them, sometimes they’re just barely afloat, and when you get there, you start to wonder why they keep trying. We’ve been to lots, and given up on quite a few. We’re not fickle “church shoppers”. We know that churches are made up of imperfect people, like ourselves, and therefore there is no perfect church. We’re willing to make a commitment, and love other people through their foibles and hope they can put up with ours. But with the kids approaching middle school, its reasonable to have a minimal set of expectations, so that we can maintain that commitment through their challenging “youth group” years. Here’s some of the reasons we haven’t been able to find a permanent church home (within a reasonable drive of our actual home!)

You weren’t prepared
Having a theme and an anchor verse for your message is not preparation. You are charged with delivering the most important material in history — take that responsibility seriously. A good sermon requires careful study, serious exegesis, historical research, and thoughtful application, delivered in a structure that allows even the most immature congregant to follow along as you deliver the material. You don’t get to just pick a topic and pray for the Spirit to speak through you. Granted, thinly prepared material, disguised with a charismatic, folksy story-telling style is at least entertaining (I’ll get to that in a minute), but it doesn’t make up for a lack of substance. Disorganized rambling is even worse.

Whether you intend to deliver a topical message or an expository one, I expect your sermon to be backed by a significant chunk of contiguous scripture, which is read aloud and, during the course of your sermon, is properly contextualized (from its source) and applied (to the target.) And I say “contiguous scripture” because you’re not allowed to pull one verse from the Old Testament, another from the New Testament, and claim the Bible backs up whatever point you’re making — that’s called proof-texting, and you should be shown out of the room when you do it. That doesn’t mean you can’t show relationships in Scripture — it means you don’t get to make up your own.
(By the way, be real careful about fresh new discoveries in the Word — most of them aren’t fresh and new. Most of them are heresy that someone in the 1st century already tried.)

Your music wasn’t worship
I get it, church music is hard. Different people have different tastes, and most don’t like to be outside their comfort zone. Immature believers are unwilling to put their personal preferences aside for the good of the body. My point is not about style or preference, its about who the music is for (hint, its supposed to be for God!) When you lead corporate music, your job is to facilitate the worship of others, not put on a show, impose your preferences, or create an experience. You should all but disappear.

There are lots of ways to get that wrong: are you the only one who knows the song you’re singing? are you selecting a variety of styles so even the most “immature” congregant can feel a part of the worship — or are you only selecting your favorite style and hoping everyone else adapts to you? did you rehearse together in advance so that you can lead properly? is the tempo so slow that people are yawning? did you decide not to sing Christmas songs at Christmas for some reason? if you’ve rejected hymnals on the belief that no one can read music, are the words on the screen at least the ones you’re actually going to sing, or are you planning to free-form it, and leave everyone guessing? are you singing so many songs that the congregation is tired and the older folks have to sit down?
You don’t have to cater to everyone’s preference. You do have to create an inclusive and transparent environment, so that you disappear and God can become the focus. The golden rule for church music: don’t be a distraction…

You thought this was an entertainment venue
Related to music, but not strictly limited to it, I did not attend your church service to be entertained by you. There are plenty of entertainment venues in the world — I can go to a movie theater, a play or a concert if I want to be entertained. I didn’t come here for that. I came to be with fellow believers, to worship God, and hopefully to feed and be fed in the Word. Sound, lights and video can facilitate that, if used appropriately and with restraint, but they shouldn’t replace it.

I have no problem with technology in worship — we can give glory to God with the tools He gave us. But if we replace worship with tech or media, or use those things in ways that are so distracting that we can’t focus on what we’re there for, then we have made an idol of our technology, and we should repent of our sin and stop.

You tried to manipulate my emotions instead of engaging my brain
This kind of manipulation can happen with tech and media, but it also happens in more subtle ways. Repeating a line or chorus in a song repeatedly is a technique used in cults to induce a suggestive state — don’t do it. God doesn’t need us in a suggestive state to speak to us through you. Three times is plenty of repetition for healthy communication. “Setting a mood” by changing the lighting, inviting weeping testimonials on stage or playing them in a video, or delivering prayers that are disguised instructions to the congregation (“God, we know that many in the room want to come forward right now…”) are blatantly manipulative. I’m not talking about spontaneous response to the Holy Spirit — I’m talking about staged, planned activities designed to induce an emotional response. These are inappropriate.

Instead, allow God to deal with matters of the heart — what I feel is not your responsibility. Instead, pour over the Word, earnestly seek what God would have you share, and communicate that clearly and intelligently. Prepare your message with multiple levels of depth so that you can speak to everyone, no matter where they’re at in their maturity or life. By all means, use anecdotes or testimonials to help me understand or apply the message, but if you find yourself trying to create a feeling, or appeal to an emotion, just stop. That’s not teaching, its manipulating, and its wrong.

You didn’t create an on-ramp
Unfortunately, most of the churches who get the above things wrong are the ones who get this right. The inverse is also often true. You can get everything wrong, and keep people who came for the wrong reasons. You can get everything else right, but if you don’t have a way for me to fit in, you fail too.

And really it doesn’t take much. I’ve been a “professional church lay person” for 20 years — I’ve been a dedicated volunteer in many ministries, a part of church leadership, and I even have a seminary certificate. I’m ready to plug-in… if I can figure out how! We once attended an (almost everything right) church for a year, including signing up for a small group, going to kids activities, and trying to get ourselves invited to other events. After a year, no one knew our names except for the people we knew before we started going, and the people in our small group wouldn’t make eye contact when we saw them outside the group. One time I went as a new-comer to a dad-and-son event at this church, and I was the only one identifying and greeting other new-comers.

Here’s another hint: an on-ramp isn’t inviting new comers to identify themselves to the entire congregation, or participate in a large group activity that makes them stand out. Its a “Getting Started” class facilitated by a few members of the congregation who are gifted in hospitality, or a “Welcome Lunch” with the elders or pastor.

If your church can’t engage a mature Christian that’s ready and willing to get involved, then how will you ever reach the lost?

Getting it right
There’s lots of books out there, and lots of “mega church” patterns to try to follow. But despite all the church strategy, I suspect its much easier than you think. From all the churches we’ve seen over the years, I think the formula is pretty simple:

  • Pastors: study the Word, communicate as clearly as you can, trust God to speak to the heart.
  • Music leaders: don’t put on a show, don’t try to create a mood. Just lead music that everyone can sing and try to be invisible, so people can focus on God instead of you. If that means there’s less people on stage, and less technology involved, so be it.
  • Church body: love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.

We won’t all get these things right all the time, but if you’d at least try, it’d be a lot easier to stick with you through the tough spots.