The Modularity of Creation

Any explanation of the creative process is sure to be filled with generalizations and weak attempts to infiltrate the mind of the artist and others. As I thought about this essay, I found myself hitting wall after wall I attempted to navigate through this world and searched for a portal through which I could move to a level of understanding – of the process and, more importantly, the mindset of the artist as he or she contemplates the corporeal, aesthetic and spiritual world in which they live.

In thinking this over, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are a couple of ways to look at this.   First, there is the singularity of the idea.   In a recent conversation regarding the repetitive nature of the Agnes Martin retrospective at the Guggenheim, my friend Russ D’Italia made this point by quoting Marcel Proust: “The great men of letters have never created more than a single work, or rather have never done more than refract through various mediums an identical beauty which they bring into the world.” I think this concept applies not only to the catalog of literature but to visual, spatial and musical arts as well – and is supported by the development of technology and artificial intelligence as we move to a post-information society and toward an environment of simulation and rationality of machines.

Consider the career of painter Jackson Pollock. After being mentored by Thomas Hart Benton, Pollock spent the early part of his career painting expressive but figurative art that seemed to languish. However in the mid 1940s a convergence of influences, including various forms of totemic art, Native American sand painting and, in 1946, a viewing of the paintings of Janet Sobel, brought Pollock to a new place and surfaced the idea of “action painting”. This style of drip painting eschewed the use of an easel (the canvas was laid on the floor), and eliminated the use of traditional brushwork.   This work was called “all over painting” by art critic Clement Greenberg, and was characterized by constant movement by the artist and the utilization of the force of the whole body to paint.   Pollock offered the following description: “I feel nearer, more a part of the painting, since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting.”   The body of work that resulted was emotional and energized and it solidified Pollock’s place at the foundation of Abstract Expressionism.

However, it this single idea and revelation that propelled the creative process of Pollock and that we see replicated through his work and through the arts in general.   Other examples abound in historical works as well as inside the current manifestations.   Turner, for example, as he evolved toward an abstract and impressionistic view of Nature, seemed to replicate his technique and use of color and light. Mark Rothko, in turn, , with his large contemplative paintings, like Pollock, provides subtle yet profound variations on a central, recurring theme. Other examples include the stories of John Cheever and Edgar Allan Poe with their use of settings, milieu and, in the case of Poe, emotional; and visceral response.

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In the current music scene, there is little in the way of what I would consider artistry, some hip hop notwithstanding, with the possible, notable, exception of Trent Reznor.   Through his primary vehicle, Nine Inch Nails, and other projects (including Oscar winning film scores), Reznor and his collaborator Atticus Ross have created a catalog of music that, on the surface, transcends genre and form.   However, reviews of their latest EP, Not the Actual Events, observers have concluded that they have reverted to a place that is reminiscent of the formula that was developed in their 1990’s work.   Reznor himself acknowledges this “ We allowed ourselves to become self-referential, look back at some of the things we have done and write a song like something else, which has never been the starting point, But it was listening back to some mid ‘90s stuff that sounded pretty exciting having not listened to it in a while. ‘Lets make something that is referencing that’ “. The ‘90s LPs that Reznor refers to include The Downward Spiral and The Fragile, both featuring lyrics of angst and despair, coupled with structured music, augmented by dichotomous sound that served to add the element of aggression while reinforcing the gradual layering of melody and electronic accompaniment.   While he has,, through other vehicles, experimented with other forms, it is the self referencing nature of the current NIN work that brings to mind the use of a formula – even with an artist as self-aware as Reznor.

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Secondly, there is a slightly different twist on the notion of a single idea that, interestingly enough, is shown quite convincingly in the gestalt and strategies of business – particularly those in the forefront of technology.   The variation is found in the creation of platforms as the basis of future corporate growth and strategic layering of products. The word platform is traditionally used in the area of software development, but has evolved to refer to the forming of a base that provides the ability to add and variate offerings in an almost modular fashion.   These platforms offer companies a variety of avenues that can be pursued to push the logic of growth and the provision of continuing value to their customers.

AT&T for example, has recently announced the development of a 5G wireless network platform with gigabit content delivery capability. That platform, known as Network 3.0 Indigo, among other things, will leverage and provide the support for big data, cloud processing, machine learning, artificial intelligence and open source software development.   And in a more accessible way, it is also will be the platform for delivery of Direct TV video streaming, which then, in turn, provides the vehicle to deliver a wide variety of content under acquisition in the company’s bid to buy Time Warner. 3.0 is a massive investment that is designed to provide such a wide range of variation that it has also created a workforce skills transformation as the company rebuilds itself as one that is clearly software driven.   In other words, AT&T is constructing a total reinvention that is designed to drive them into future growth and prosperity.   And it is the concept of a sophisticated platform that is the fundamental underneath it all.

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Singularity of the idea and the development of a platform that form a basis for variation and expression are only two ways to look at the process of creation.   But it is the inherent use of modules that brings the concept into focus – the convergence of the artist and businessman as they look to keep themselves current and reflect the continual need for self-expression and individual and institutional growth.

 

The Specter of Computing

A few days ago, I read an article in Wired magazine about a computer system built by Google and partners that defeated a Grandmaster at Go, five games in a row.   Go is a 2500 year old Chinese strategy game with exponentially more complexity and potential moves than Chess and, unlike Chess, has until now resisted the powers of computing competition and remained in the realm of the human mind. I read the this article with casual interest, but it stayed with me and as I continued to think about it, I began to shift to an examination of the short history of supercomputing and artificial intelligence (AI) and reflected on the implications of a technical revolution that has blown Moore’s Law to bits.

In the 1970’s and 80’s, Cray Research (founded by Seymour Cray) was, in its heyday, building lightning fast machines used for high capacity scientific and commercial applications. In 1983, Danny Hillis founded Thinking Machines Corporation in order to build a massively parallel processing machine (known as the Connection Machine) that fundamentally altered the von Neumann architecture of computing.   These pioneers, along with others, built systems that provided an enabling platform for the work spearheaded at MIT in the field of AI.

Artificial Intelligence research has been in place for 60 years now and, while remaining on the periphery of the consciousness of the average technology buff, it has produced remarkable, almost unbelievable, manifestations. The predictions of the AI thought leaders (Marvin Minsky, Herbert Simon, et. al.) have largely been realized through expert systems and other applications.   The latest victory on a Go board signals a new breakthrough in the deep learning and application capabilities that today’s computing power and neural networks allow. Right now, as unsettling as it is, , it is clearly possible to envision machines with greater rational intelligence than humans.

In surveying the inexorable rise of computing power, networking and the resulting AI progress, it is inevitable that people begin to think about the effect on society and our daily lives.   Clearly, the world of human decision making (both quantitative and qualitative) is sure to be greatly altered.   Extremists feel that whole industries will be transformed (including the military education and the judicial system). Corporate management as we know it would be radically different with highly intelligent computers doing the work of scores of white collar workers. There are already robots in manufacturing facilities.   The cost of a digital workforce would be much less than its current level.   No healthcare, no pensions, no 401k to support.   In fact, the world would enter the post-information age, where information and the ultra sophisticated decision support apparatus that results would be a given and the role of the worker would be in support of those systems and networks.   It will be an economy based on the reach of computing.

However, thoughtful these views are, they leave out some of the most human of endeavors that give texture to the fabric of society. Here are three thoughts:

The arts, for example, will always be a human activity, even though the media used may (and will ) often be digital in nature.   The expression of emotion and an examination of the human condition are what the arts are about and the beauty created by an artistic representation will always remain rooted in humanity.

In addition, while the role of computer -generated learning will sure increase (e.g. IBM’s Watson), the role of teachers must also remain in the realm of human interaction. A teacher provides not only the explanation of the curriculum, but also counseling and empathetic support for the student’s issues and learning strategies. In other words the role of educational mentoring reaches far beyond the delivery of information, but reaches into the psychological support of each developing student.   That role cannot be performed even with the most powerful of AI systems.

Lastly, the democratic political process and the election of government leaders will (and should) remain in the control and with the consent of the body politic. Governing strategies will be greatly enhanced by the intervention of proliferated computing power, but leadership is a qualitative trait that engages and galvanizes people toward the gestalt of the nation. We follow those who lead and provide an emotional connection to the solutions provided by the expert systems at work. We elect our leaders – we don’t calculate them.

The future of computing and artificial intelligence hold great promise for the future of society.   While fundamentally altering the economic construct, it allows for a fundamentally new paradigm for the development and fulfillment of a meaningful career and provides a basis of knowledge that will guide, rather than supplant, the lives of human beings.   I don’t believe we will ever reach the stage of truly sentient computing and that being said, machines will never be able to replicate that most basic of human emotions – the capacity and need to give and receive love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Dimensions of the Artistic Use of Light

 

The 19th French novelist George Sand once said “ The artist vocation is to send light into the human heart.”   While that may be metaphorically true of literature and even music, it is the visual and spatial arts that utilize light itself to communicate beauty and drama to their audiences.

For example, the elements of painting – composition, color and light – have remained relatively in tact but have morphed and evolved continuously throughout their history. Subject matter has ranged from the sacred, to the natural, to the human condition and to the purely contemplative as schools of art developed from the realism of the Renaissance and beyond to the Abstract Expressionism of the 20th Century.

But it is the utilization of light that has remained central to the expressive visual arts – painting, sculpture, photography and cinematography, and architecture. It is light that offers the power of drama, of energy and atmosphere.   It is a tool of effect that creates space and affects our perception of multi dimensional volume and depth. As put by Ciro Vidal Fontenelle “ The perception of space is directly connected to the way light integrates with it. What we see, what we experience and how we interpret the elements is affected by how light interacts with us and the environment.”

Artists have been known to go to great lengths to involve lighting as a central tenet of their work. In making the film Barry Lyndon, director Stanley Kubrick found that there was no lens available that could shoot scenes lit only by candlelight.   To overcome this challenge, Kubrick had a special wide aperture lens retrofitted for this purpose. The resulting unaugmented lighting situations were the epitome of low-key natural lighting at its most extreme and enhanced the atmosphere, realism and beauty of the film immeasurably..

In reflecting upon his field, Le Corbusier famously said “…architecture is the masterly, correct and magnificent play of volumes brought together in light. “ Indeed, light illuminates perception and the layered process of creating great art has continually utilized its electromagnetic radiation as a powerful affectation and, more recently, as a immersive, non visceral subject in and of itself.

 

THE PAINTERS

Caravaggio and Rembrandt – Drama and Theatre

 To begin a discussion around these two painters, it is important to define chiaroscuro and place it in the context of the work of these two great artists.   Chiaroscuro ( Italian; “ light-dark”) refers to the use of contrasting light to create an illusion of volume and dramatic effect. In painting, it is a representation of clear contrasts where subject matter is depicted with high-keyed whites against very low-keyed darks.

The use of chiaroscuro technique, while introduced by Leonardo and other Renaissance painters in the 15th Century, was prominently manifested in the work of Caravaggio in the years surrounding 1600. Caravaggio (1571-1610) was an Italian painter best known for his penetrating studies of the human condition, in both religious and secular contexts, depicted dramatically through the use of contrasting light to create the illusion of a spotlight being turned on his subjects affecting the whole composition.   At times, in fact, one can see examples where the emphasis on light and shadow were more important than the scene itself

The Calling of St Matthew was completed by Caravaggio for the church of San Luigi del Francesi in Rome in 1600, where it remains today. It recalls the biblical moment when Matthew the tax collector is singled out by Jesus to repent and follow him into a life of sanctity and devotion.   Compositionally, the painting juxtaposes two geometric patterns – the horizontal rectangle of the tax collectors on the left and the vertical figure of Jesus on the right – connected and integrated by the beckoning arm and hand of Christ.

The lighting is dramatic, with the subjects draped in shadow with spotlights engulfing the protagonists and infusing the picture with dramatic intent. The central symbolic lighting is the beam on light of unknown origin (presumably from heaven) shining on Matthew and his brethren to shed enlightenment and divine mercy upon them.

The Crucifixion of St Peter (1601) depicts the martyrdom of the first Bishop of Rome, when he is crucified upside down by Nero.   The picture is grim.   The dark background and contrasting light serves to highlight the figures in various states of pain and remorse – the three Romans whose faces are hidden in shame from the viewer and Peter, the old man who is suffering pain in fear of death.   The dramatic lighting illustrates that the death of Peter was not a heroic one – it is one of horror and humiliation.

 

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) is generally considered one of the greatest painters in European art and the most important in Dutch history.   He was prolific but, significantly, his work lies in strong contrast to the European Baroque movement pioneered by Caravaggio 30 years before.

While diverging form Caravaggio and others, Rembrandt also used lighting ,and in particular chiaroscuro, to add a profound sense of drama to his major works – both those in observation and invention and the multitude of self- portraiture he produced throughout his career.

 

 

The Night Watch (1651)is one of Rembrandt’s most famous works and is an example of this technique.   The painting depicts the mobilization of a Dutch militia, at war against the Spaniards, led by Captain Frans Banning Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch.   Through the dramatic use of lighting, the viewers eye is led to the two leaders (symbolizing the sectarian unity of the Dutch Catholic and Dutch Protestant churches) and to the young girl angled behind them.   The figures stand in stark contrast to the rest of the militia who are bathed in shadow but exhibit an excitement and loyalty as they prepare to enter a nationalistic war. The painting and its effective lighting constitute a theatrical departure from the ritualistic group portraits that were popular during this period.

In contrast to the heroic nature of The Night Watch, Rembrandt often softened the edges of his lighting effects to achieve an air of calmness and simplicity around his subjects. A good example of this can be seen with An Old Man in Red (1652). As the light softly bathes from the subject’s right, the viewer sees a man who exemplifies the positive aspects of age and experience. The man sits in confident, spiritual calm as the light emphasizes the painter’s brush strokes and use of color designed to highlight hands that although gnarled, are now at rest and the dignified, beatific face of a man who sits in representation of the nobility of the human condition.

 

Turner – Energy and Repose

 J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) was the 19th century’s greatest landscape painter. His work included many representations of Nature, in particular the sea, and his painting often times depicted the 19th century Romantic notion of the “sublime” – or the symbol of the insignificance of Man as he relates to Nature. Significantly, his work consistently centered around the motif of brilliantly modulated light emanating from the sun and moon, particularly over water. As Katherine Stephen describes “It is this rendering of light and other atmospheric effects such as fog and mist – Turner’s “exalting experiences of light and color,” as described by art writer Graham Reynolds – that ultimately wows the viewer more than the sound and fury of many of his most dramatic subjects”.

To me, the key to Turner is the evolution of his work as he progressed through his life and seemingly removed the superfluous dynamic from it, focusing on those parts most pure and that stand alone.   As he aged, Turner’s work and presumably his worldview turned inexorably to the elemental forces depicted by light and color. The paintings conceived and executed during the later stages of his life show a radical departure from the artistic modality of the early 19th century and foreshadowed the emergence of Impressionism 30 or so years hence.

Consider Snow Storm – Steamboat off a Harbour’s Mouth (1842)

 

The inherent violence of the sea and the force of the storm are shown by the emphatic brush stokes and use of contrasting light. Here Turner is less concerned about the specific – he has moved to a more abstract and elemental view of the physical power of Nature. The ship is in serious jeopardy but the vision is of the energy of the storm.

Late in life Turner’s vision had turned to an almost purely abstract view and explored not a specific subject but, rather, a study of light itself in Sun Setting Over a Lake (1840).

The depiction of light is all that matters here – physical objects are rendered unrecognizable and superfluous – but the sublime beauty of the scene is captured in a blending of color and brushwork skilled beyond measure.

 

Edward Hopper – Atmosphere

 Edward Hopper (1882-1967) was a prominent and famous American realist painter and printmaker.   His work has been prominently displayed and reproduced for many decades as his gifts for draftsmanship and teasing narratives have been enjoyed and studied by many.   Hopper made strong use of light and shadow in constructing his narratives and emphasizing the inherent architecture in the construction of a scene.

By way of example, let us look at what is arguably Hopper’s most famous painting –Nighthawks (1942).

In this painting Hopper depicts an ordinary scene at an all night diner in his home neighborhood of Greenwich Village, New York City.   The protagonists are quietly eating and sipping coffee as the diner worker cleans up under the counter. The chiaroscuro technique emphasizes the well lit diner but it also acts to draw the viewer to the geometry of the painting – the dramatic diagonals and verticals that frame the composition.

When viewing this painting, I reflect on the subjects, and I wonder what the narrative and interactions must be like inside that diner late at night. I look at the gleaming coffee urns and the cherry countertop. I wonder particularly about the man with his back to the viewer – is he a sinister character or just someone enjoying a late night cup of coffee? But the juxtaposition of the bright lights of the diner vis a vis the shadowy streets of the neighborhood remind me that these people are isolated at this moment within a city of great energy and dynamism.   John Updike once observed that “Hopper is always on the verge of telling a story”. And in Nighthawks that is certainly the case- and it is the dramatic use of light and shadow that give the viewer an entry into the narrative and offer a set of questions about the alienation and loneliness that continues to pervade our society.

 

THE SCULPTOR OF LIGHT

James Turrell – In and of Itself

The art of James Turrell (1943 – ) is unlike any other.   A pioneer in the light and space movement of the 21st century, Turrell creates contemplative and experiential spaces where light is no longer a tool to create an effect or enhance the composition of a presentation, but rather light is itself the subject of the piece.

The character of the works are difficult to describe in words – large installations of geometric boundaries that are made illusionary by the use of light to create new spaces and new consciousness.   Turrell, in his peaceful and challenging light chambers, conjures and makes real something that is not there.   This is art that must be experienced to be fully realized – one must invest time and effort to see its secrets revealed.   The notable art critic Robert Hughes wrote “…one is confronted – perhaps more vividly than any current painting – with the reflection of one’s own mind creating its illusions and orientations, and this becomes the subject of the work.   The art, it transpires, is not in front of your eyes. It is behind them.”

In 2013, the Guggenheim Museum in New York presented a collection of Turrell’s work. http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/exhibitions/past/exhibit/4819, featuring a new installation, Aten Reign (2013) that filled the museum’s rotunda space with a spectrum of changing artificial and natural light.   See the website above for a description by the show’s curators and comments from the artist himself.

Turrell’s magnum opus, however, is Roden Crater – an elaborate series of celestial observation tunnels and chambers built into an extinct volcanic crater outside Flagstaff, Arizona.   Turrell has been constructing this massive installation since 1979 and it is, apparently, near completion in preparation for public viewing. A project of this size and magnitude serves, among other things, to remind us of the meaninglessness of time when building something that is designed to last for centuries. It is the epitome of an artist’s life work.

Light, at its most elemental, informs the work of James Turrell and serves as a guidepost, a means and an end to answer art’s most fundamental questions and narratives.

 

Sources

Robert Hughes, Nothing if not Critical

www.huntingdon.org

www.boundless.com

www.visual-arts-cork.com

www.ehow.com

www.emptyeasel.com

www.guggenheim.org

Wikipedia

 

The Technology Vacuum

Like many, I follow with interest the trajectory and vectors of technology trends in our time.   As I read the 2016 surveys, however, I am struck by the esoteric nature of the developments and the lack of context of the engineering investments made by today’s technology companies.

Based on readouts from firms such as Deloitte, Goldman Sachs and others, the consensus seems to include and focus on the following developmental platforms:

 

  • Cognitive computing
  • Machine to Machine wireless communication ( Internet of Things)
  • Continued development of Big Data and analytics
  • Cloud computing
  • Semiconductor advancement

For purposes of length and space, I won’t go into each of these individually, but, taken together, they represent and decidedly incremental leap in computing power and potential reach.   For me, the key word is potential – and the question remains as to the applicability of these platforms to the everyday lives of ordinary people.

For example, I live in South Central Pennsylvania – a region whose economy is largely driven by working, family farms and small businesses. As I review these trends, I reflect on how the engineering investments made by large technology firms match the market needs of a region like this.   And, more universally, how do the developers envision the use of their innovations to improve the quality of life for the disenfranchised American middle and lower income classes.?

I believe that the working and poor families of this country do not pay attention to the technological initiatives being put forth by companies like AT&T, IBM, Cisco, Wipro Technologies and others.   There is a large dichotomy between the end user demand for these technologies and the forecasted revenue engines that they represent to corporate interests.

Clearly, innovation is a hallmark of American capitalism.   And innovation in software engineering is front and center in today’s information based economy. Correspondingly, many prominently attribute our current educational and jobs crisis on a lack of a national skill set in the areas of software and code development.   But the nagging thought remains that until companies find a profitable way to apply technology to the social and economic needs of the full compliment of the population, then they will be left with a glut of supply and a skeptical and questioning market demand.

In other words, if you build it, they will not necessarily come unless the design and purpose of technical innovation matches the urgent needs of our societal crises.

 

 

 

Orson Welles and the Art of the Self

May 2015 marked what would have been the 100th birthday of Orson Welles.   Actor, Director, Producer, Magician, Welles has been largely regarded as one of the great artists of the 20th Century and one of its most curious and enigmatic.   Active in film, radio, theatre and television, he produced works of notoriety and critical acclaim amid continual struggles with the Hollywood studio system and, through Citizen Kane, the powerful news media controlled by William Randolph Hearst.

Welles first achieved fame at 23 as the voice and creative force behind his Mercury Theatre’s radio production of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds in 1938. The broadcast simulated an alien invasion of the United States and reportedly caused widespread panic among its listeners.   This was followed by Citizen Kane in 1941, a roman a clef depicting the life and downfall of newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane. While the film received nine Academy Award nominations including Best Actor and Best Director for Welles, its only Oscar was for Best Screenplay shared by Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz. ( see Raising Kane by Pauline Kael). The Hearst newspapers boycotted the film and, while producing continual excellence in film for many years, Welles’ relationship with Hollywood would never fully recover.

Welles went on to produce many seminal films and theatre productions over the next 25 years. The Magnificent Ambersons, The Lady from Shanghai, Mr Arkadin, Touch of Evil, Chimes at Midnight, F for Fake, an all African American production of Macbeth – all superb in their innovation and commitment to the creative process. Strangely, ss any of you who are my age will remember, Welles, in the latter part of his life, was a frequent guest on talk shows and was ironically famous for the Paul Masson advertisement tagline “ We will sell no wine before its time.”

As a point of interest however, along with the obvious excellence of his produced work, is the long and rocky list of unfinished projects that are littered along American cinematic history.   There are many reasons for this abandonment – lack of creative control, budget problems, shaky financing from the Shah of Iran – conspiring to create an image of Welles as a highly talented but incomplete artist. When looking Welles’ career, one cannot help but to think not so much of his accomplishments but , rather, of what might have been.   For many years I have thought of Welles as a dynamo of potential – instead of a fulfilled and sustained artist.

Part of the problem comes because of Welles’ seeming detachment from the material and emphasis on innovation as a standalone goal.   Each of his film, radio and theatre productions can be seen in an almost experimental light.   Camera work, lighting, set design, narrative structure – all designed to dazzle, to entertain, to challenge. One can only imagine what he would have done with the technology of today. Welles by avocation was a magician and there is a certain amount of conjuring inherent in all of his work.   It is stylized, it is flamboyant – but is it art?

Welles’ productive output was a reflection of his talent and creative power.   It is not about those rare and beautiful moments when art is created.   He was daring and courageous but in the end his work was simply self reflecting, the curse of the auteur. And watching him perform magic tricks on the Merv Griffin Show only substantiated the feeling that this was an incredibly talented person whose time had passed and was left with only illusions and extraordinarily clever monuments to himself.

Modern Networks and Self Service Portals

Modern Networks and Self Service Portals

With today’s critical emphasis on job creation in the US and elsewhere, it is important to examine the relationship between economic growth through employment and the inexorable rise of optimization in corporate environments.

Network modernization and the rise of communication environments is an apt microcosm of that paradigm. I would like to examine those modernization trends with you and discuss the evolution of carrier portals as a critical vehicle to achieve the benefits associated with applied communication technologies.

Significant among those changes has been the technological migration from basic private line and packet networks ( Frame Relay/ATM) to MPLS – based Virtual Private Networks ( VPN). VPNs offer customers an inherent benefit of optimization precision through Class of Service ( CoS) designations.

In addition, carriers such as AT&T and Verizon now offer customers a wider range of adjacent services designed to add value as well as build sustainable customer relationships and competitive firewalls. Managed Hosting, Internet Access, Security Services, Platform as a Service (PaaS) Machine to Machine ( M2M) and Virtualization are good examples of carrier offerings that have gain IT wallet share and have expanded the management scope of corporate telecom staffs. As with VPNs, usage visibility is critical and fundamental to the effective management of these services and, as such, carriers must provide it to their customers.

While emerging services such as those noted above represent significant change, it is important to note that there is still a very large base of packet and private line networks in place. The management of those networks, however, is functional in nature – reliant on basic fault, ordering and provisioning management.

This functional management, while remaining critical to network reliability and performance, lends itself to an optimal approach through the use of carrier portals and electronic bonding connections.

The transition of work associated with the management of legacy networks from manual to online portals actually can be fairly seamless and offer customers multiple efficiencies. In a manual environment, for example, customers generally must contact their carrier representative or call an 800 number to open a trouble ticket or place an order. In this world, potential problems loom.

First, there is an inherent time delay due to call backs from representatives or call center queues. The timetables for alarm resolution or order provisioning are delayed as the requests work their way through carrier operational processes. In addition, billing errors can occur downstream causing customer payables reworks and receivables issues for carriers.

By contrast, online portals allow customers to enjoy access to carrier maintenance and ordering systems and processes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Back-end flow-though portal functionality allows customer input to be imported directly to carrier systems -minimizing errors and transposition. On-line billing and analysis functionality provide customers with detailed efficiency in reconciliation, trending , variance identification and dispute management.

When considering the management of the evolving service environment discussed earlier, however, the equation changes significantly.

For example, VPN transport allows customers to deliver voice, data and video traffic in an optimized manner and, as such, require the IT manager to be in closer touch with his or her business partners to ensure that the network design supports the core and departmental competencies of the firm.

Here I’d like to emphasze two points:

  1. Each of these management opportunities require visibility into the environments which are being managed. Carrier self-service portals can perform this role as they move beyond functional capabilities and offer customers robust performance reporting and network monitoring.
  2. Portal applications should provide users with functional integration. For example, as network engineers identify optimization opportunities, those opportunities need to be turned into order requests that can be quickly (near real-time) provisioned, monitored, and tracked for billing integrity.

When considering these trends, incorporating self-service carrier portals into IT processes and organizations is both useful and necessary as an integration enabler and driver of efficiencies. The challenges that remain, however, are decidedly human ones. Technology drives us, as always, to the difficult conclusion that while we may need fewer workers, the ones that we will need will require a different, informational kind of mind.

However, as budgets begin to be distributed across departmental units, IT managers must build larger and better business liaison functions within their organizations to ensure the interoperability of departmental and enterprise applications and networks. And the continual evolution of network, hosting and Software as a Service (SaaS) environments will require sophisticated project management skills and capabilities.

Taken together with the utilization of online carrier portals, these changes offer enterprise IT departments and workers great opportunity when the elements are combined in a cost-effective, optimized manner.

 

Political Confusion: Confessions of an Irritated Independent

As an American citizen, I try to participate in the democracy that it is our privilege to embrace.   I try to stay informed of world and national events and properly exercise my duty to vote and have my voice be heard. As we all know, the environment today is one of continual confrontations between the Republican and Democratic parties across the Executive and Legislative branches.   While ideology is the underpinning of this conundrum, it is overt party politics that inform much of the dysfunctional maneuvering within Congress and the fight against the President. Issues are subordinated to political party control and the exercise of power.

Within this context, I still search for my positions and opinions on the challenges we face; but because of the nature of the political discourse I find myself determining the party with whom I align myself rather than making an informed set of judgments.   Making matters worse, today’s polarized media do much to create a confusing landscape for the interested observer of the political scene.   Fox, MSNBC, CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, Politico, the Hill, the Atlantic, the Nation, the National Review – all are partisan in nature and their readers and viewers are drawn into the vortex of news laced with party oriented opinion. In the face of extreme partisanship and the growing tendency of the electorate to vote the “party line”, I thought it would be instructive to my search to examine the history and legacies of the parties we adhere to today. The ironies are striking.

The American political party system has its roots in the opposition experienced by our Founding Fathers in the late 18th century. The Jeffersonian Democratic Republicans (known as the Republicans) were defined primarily by their distrust of a controlling government, support of the agrarian society and states rights. They feared the concentration of economic and political power and believed that government intervention in the economy benefited special-interest groups and created corporate monopolies that favored the rich (1). It’s important to note that this party morphed into the Democratic Party in 1832 with the election of Andrew Jackson as President, who embodied these principles.   The party began to liberalize at the turn of the 20th century around the populism of William Jennings Bryan, which paved the way for the government ubiquity of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal beginning in 1933.

The Republican Party, by contrast, had its origins in the Federalist Party of Alexander Hamilton. It evolved to the Whig party, in the early 19th century and emerged in its current form in 1854 in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska act that extended slavery into the territories. They also favored a program of modernization of the economy through industrialization.   With the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, the Republicans came to dominate the Presidency until 1932. The party was pro-business, favoring banks and high tariffs to grow industry faster and, in addition, had a progressive element typified by Theodore Roosevelt and Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin and, beginning in the 1930s, a strong evolving liberal faction located predominately in the northeast.  Those liberal Republicans, such as Fiorello LaGuardia, Thomas Dewey, and later, Nelson Rockefeller and John Lindsay supported labor unions, government spending and the New Deal. Barry Goldwater, however, in the 1960 Presidential race emerged as a de facto Republican leader initiating a trend to subordinate the party liberals and launching a conservative platform.

While just a thumbnail sketch, looking back at party ideological history brings to mind certain ironies.   The main tenets and identities of the parties’ historical platforms seem like a double helix when compared to today. And when surveying the political landscape as an interested citizen along party lines, as seemingly required, it is ever more difficult to reconcile todays partisan battles along historically accurate guidelines.   In addition, in this partisan environment it is increasingly difficult to take a position on a particular issue without wandering into the ideological mix of party legacies and crossing over from one party to another.

But at the end of the day, it is my privilege to have the right to vote.   We have already initiated the 2016 Presidential election campaigns and I am in a nightly funk as I attempt to understand the prospective candidates and their position on the important economic, foreign policy, and social issues.   I am already getting the feeling that if I reject the notion of voting for a party and take the independent view of voting for a particular candidate based on their position of the issues, I will ultimately be compromised and disappointed.   After all, issues do not, by and large, decide local elections. They are decided by voting the party line. In the case of Presidential elections today, voting the party line means alignment with a particular faction in the continuing battle of confrontation and power.   It is unclear how the resolution of the issues will be put forth on a partisan basis, as the branches of government jockey for position and gain control over the domestic and geopolitical agenda.

In today’s environment, it is virtually impossible to be an independent thinker and voter.   Individual issues are subordinated to the parliamentary battles between the Republican and Democratic Parties and casting a vote is not a decision to weigh in on an amalgamation of issues, but, rather, a decision to determine which side of a zero sum game you are on.