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Standards and Society

Say Goodbye to the Physical Kilogram (and Perhaps much More)

Standards and Society

NIST replica of the Kilogram, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/public domainOnce upon a time we lived in a society that was not only completely analog but infinitely simpler. A time when it seemed the physical world could be understood and described, perhaps even tamed, purely through the application of rational thought. Contemporaries dubbed that era the Age of Enlightenment and looked forward to the wonders that this brave new world would bring. This week, one of the last icons of that heady time was dethroned and retired to a museum in Paris.

I am speaking, of course, about the kilogram, the last of the seven International System of Units measures to be represented by a physical object rather than an “invariant constant of nature.” But where did it come from? And why, after two hundred twenty years, has it been replaced?

Open Data and Competitive Advantage

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Yesterday, the Deputy CTO of the US Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a press release highlighting the efforts (and success) of the Obama Administration in getting data compiled at public expense into the hands of the private sector for commercial repurposing.   The release refers to a McKinsey & Company report that estimates that making such data publicly available “can generate more than $3 trillion a year in additional value in seven key domains of the global economy, including education, transportation, and electricity.”

Thoughts on Open Innovation

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If I have seen farther it is by standing on the shoulders of giants
                                                 Sir Isaac Newton, 1676

H.F. Helmolt (ed.): History of the World. New York, 1901, Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at AustinIf the phrase “open innovation” has a familiar ring, that’s not surprising.  It’s not only a popular buzz phrase, but it has the type of virtuous ring to it that instinctively inspires a favorable reaction.  But like most simple phrases, it intrigues rather than enlightens. For example, is open innovation feasible in all areas of creative, commercial and scientific endeavor? If so, do the rules, challenges and rewards differ from discipline to discipline, and if it’s not universally feasible, why not?

A new free eBook of essays titled Thoughts on Open Innovation explores these issues, and more.

Leading Standards Organizations Assert Principles of a "New Global Standards Paradigm"

Standards and Society

Have you discovered The Alexandria Project?

The big news in the standards arena yesterday was a joint announcement by five of the standards setting organizations (SSOs) that have been most essential to the creation of the Internet and the Web: IEEE, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), Internet Architecture Board (IAB), Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), and Internet Society (the last three being closely affiliated entities).

Joint announcements by SSOs are rare, and the subject matter of this announcement was more so: each organization was joining in the endorsement of a set of five principles that they assert support a “new paradigm for standards” development. 

Where is There an End of It?

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It’s very rare for me to write a blog entry directed solely at what someone else has written, but there’s an exception to every rule. This one is directed at a posting by Alex Brown, entitled UK Open Standards *Sigh*. 

The short blog entry begins with Alex bemoaning the hard, cruel life of the selfless engineers that create technical standards:   It can be tough, putting effort into standardization activities – particularly if you're not paid to do it by your employer. The tedious meetings, the jet lag, the bureaucratic friction and the engineering compromises can all eat away at the soul.  

Poor Alex.  It does sound tough, doesn’t it?  

Re-Examining Public and Private Roles under the NTTAA

Standards and Society

The following is the introduction to the Feature Article in the most recent issue of Standards Today, the free "eJournal of News, Ideas and Analysis" that I have been writing for the last seven years.  You can read the entire article here, and sign up for a free subscription here.

For more than 100 years, the United States has been the exemplar of the "bottom up" model of standards development. Under this methodology, society relies on the private sector to identify standards-related needs and opportunities in most sectors, and then develops responsive specifications. Government, for its part, retains ultimate control over domains such as health, safety, and environmental protection, but preferentially uses private sector standards in procurement, and also references private sector standards into law when appropriate (e.g., as building codes).

Until recently, government agencies in the United States commonly developed their own standards for procurement purposes. This era of separate but equal standards creation officially came to an end with the passage of the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995.  With this legislation, Congress directed government agencies to use "voluntary consensus standards" (VCSs) and other private sector specifications wherever practical rather than "government unique standards," and to participate in the development of these standards as well. In 1998, Office of Management and Budget Circular A-119 was amended to provide additional guidance to the Federal agencies on complying with the NTTAA.

Measuring In the New Year

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The pace of technology is wondrous indeed. No corner of our lives seems safe from digital invasion, from picture frames to pasta makers. For years now, we have been threatened with Internet-enabled refrigerators, and perhaps 2011 will see it so.

Nor is the process likely to stop there. Soon, we are told, our homes will become infested by "mesh networks" of sensors, each one whispering information surreptitiously to its neighbor, in order to render our lives more energy efficient. But in so doing, they will observe our every move and report it to heavens knows whom.

A Call to Support a New Public-Private Partnership In U.S. Standards Development

Standards and Society


On December 8, the U.S. National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) issued a public Request for Information on behalf of the recently formed Sub-Committee on Standards of the National Council of Research and Technology. The titular goal of the RFI is to assist the Sub-Committee in assessing the “Effectiveness of Federal Agency Participation in Standardization in Select Technology Sectors.” Although the publication of the RFI gave rise to not a single article in the press, this event was none the less extremely consequential.   

Tagging the Noosphere

Standards and Society

The last issue of Standards Today focused on XML - the underpinning of ODF and hundreds of other standards - and one of the most important standards ever developed.  Here is the editorial from that issue.

One of the many intriguing concepts mooted by Pierre Tielhard de Chardin, a French philosopher and Jesuit priest with polymathic insights (his academic explorations range from paleontology to the meaning of the Cosmos) is the "noosphere." In de Chardin's vision, the reality of the world encompassed not just the geosphere (inanimate matter) and biosphere (all forms of life), but an ever expanding nimbus of knowledge representing the fusion of the minds and knowledge of all humans.

The Birth of the SGIP (Live from Denver)

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Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 st1:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ansi-language:#0400; mso-fareast-language:#0400; mso-bidi-language:#0400;} In a short while, an important vote will be taken in downtown Denver, Colorado.  If as expected that vote is in the affirmative, a unique and important public-private partnership will spring into being.  It will also have an extremely ambitious goal: to assess, assemble, explain and promote the complex and evolving web of standards that will be needed to make the vision of a Smart Grid in the United States a reality.  It will also mark the end of the first chapter in a journey that began with the passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

What is a Smart Grid, compared to what we have now?  Today, we have centralized  production of electricity, with distribution of that power being handled by somewhat interconnected, regional networks to commercial and home users.  We also have burgeoning green house gas emissions, growing dependence on foreign oil, both as a result of our need to keep increasing our generating capacity in order to meet whatever the peak national electrical need may be.

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