Random thoughts on a crazy week

A steady drumbeat coming from the armed services brass signals the end of the post-Cold-War era. The summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy references the “reemergence of long-term strategic competition.” That’s China, mainly. Maybe Russia too, but China has vastly more absolute capacity than Russia.

Of concern to military leadership is what they call the “rapid dispersion of technologies.” But hasn’t that always been true? Monopolies on catapults, gunpowder and muskets didn’t last very long.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Bob Neller was the keynote speaker at last night’s Sea Air Space gala at National Harbor. If you closed your eyes and conjured up an image of “Marine Corps commandant” you’d probably picture a craggy face like Neller’s.

In short remarks he could have said any of a thousand things. But he devoted a few sentences to, of all things, 3-D printing. Sometimes it’s called additive manufacturing. It has a couple of implications. One is that an adversary can quickly and at low cost gain the capability of duplicating critical items. Just clip a 3-D file online. And buy an output device anywhere.

But 3-D can also streamline maintenance and repair for U.S. forces. Weapons and delivery platforms have long life cycles. Parts can become expensive and hard to find. But with 3-D printing those problems go away.

Neller said the armed services will pay vendors for their intellectual property. But he added “the day when we ask you for parts is coming to an end.”

Zuckerberg dons a suit

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg does dress up sometimes. But can you believe that 42 senators lined up at yesterday’s two-committee hearing to question him? The Hart Senate Office Building was mobbed with spectators.

My question is, what do people who use Facebook expect? I don’t understand how people can be shocked their information is on Facebook when they voluntarily put it there. People post their politics, their medical travails, their new cars, their revealing photos, their vacation details and their  kids’ sports heroics online. If you sign on to Breitbart or The Daily Kos with Facebook, you’re going to attract one kind of ad or another.

Think of what information is not on your  Facebook.  Social Security number, vehicle identification numbers, back account numbers, and credit scores all come to mind. Unless you put them there.

From what I saw of the questions, a lot of, er, older folks didn’t really know what Facebook actually is or how it works.

And where was Google? It generates ads in exchange for free services like search or e-mail. You search for a new thingamajigger, and then every site you visit serves up thingamajigger ads. I tried a little experiment. From my gmail account I sent myself a nonsense e-mail with a bunch of keywords related to motorcycle.

Seconds later in my “social” tab an ad popped up for “Biker Planet.” Its motto: “She’s out there Riding. Are you going to go after her?” Well no, I’ll pass on the “thousands of single biker loving girls” — but gosh that was fast. But its not necessarily a privacy issue if a machine algorithm is blindly analyzing text. It becomes a privacy issue when Google, or whatever, ties name, e-mail and preference together, then sells it.

Ultimately, every social medium, app and free service is basically an ad server. That’s not to say they’re a bad bargain for what are often very useful services. Yet in an odd way, this mitigates in favor of high acceptance of government digital services. People can use them in an ad-free environment where their data is statutorily protected.

Yesterday Microsoft Federal was running demonstrations of software from public sector focused development partners. It showed an app called Gov2Go. For the several states that have deployed it, it brings numerous services like auto plate renewal,  hunting permits or tax filings into a nifty mobile experience. When you do renew your plate with your DMV or MVA, you don’t want an ad for studded chrome license plate frames.

All eggs in one basket?

Early in his abbreviated tenure, former VA Secretary David Shulkin made a lightning-bolt decision on a new electronic health record. VA would begin to abandon its decades old Vista system and replace it with the MHS Genesis system the Defense Department is adopting. In one of my interviews, I kidded Shulkin, telling him it would take 20 years.

Now the Coast Guard says it’ll also bring in MHS Genesis, from the EHR vendor Cerner. The Coast Guard was reduced to using paper records earlier this year when it gave up on a meandering project on which had spent something like $60 million. As Jared Serbu reports, the project is more headline-ware at this point than actual project. But somehow the Coast Guard will fly in under the DoD contract. Meanwhile the VA project is sort of on hold as the department goes headless.

The government is betting all its chips for 25 million veterans and service members on a single vendor’s technology. The risk is catastrophe. The upside is a unified system of such scale as to influence all EHRs everywhere. It will be more expensive and take longer than any current estimate. But like the F-35, eventually it’ll fly.


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