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Studio Rhode and Library Futures

Posted By David Marble, Friday, February 24, 2017

The evolution of libraries is an intriguing subject to me.  In an era where we hear the words digital divide almost daily, I am dismayed by the fact that more attention is not paid to libraries as a potential key part of a solution.  To me, libraries have always played a role in the “divide” whether analog or digital.  Libraries were created as natural community centers, repositories of both the essential and uncommon tools of learning, creation and entertainment.  At its base, a library has always been a community buying collaborative, a place to gain access to tools that would be impractical to buy for occasional use or unaffordable in general.  Of course, the first tool was the book but that has evolved over time to include all sorts of things including music and video resources.  Now, an essential component of the library ecosystem includes digital information access, hence the emergence over time of on-site personal computers. 


Through it all, the unsung essential element has been the library staff.  Ever at your service to teach you how to use the Dewey Decimal system or locate that rare physics book that explains Schrodinger’s cat, the librarian is the orchestrator and facilitator of the library universe.  Much in the way that teachers were initially thrown into the technology vortex without any guidance, library staff is going through a similar transition.  As we are now learning to help teachers and as next-generation libraries emerge, I advocate strongly for programs that help library staff gain digital skills so they can continue to serve their patrons with the same passion and expertise as before.


RI’s Office of Innovation has kicked off a program, Studio Rhode, sponsored by Apple, to generate ideas for programs designed to showcase the art of the possible for next-generation libraries here in RI.  The Studio Rhode challenge is currently evaluating submissions from area libraries that will utilize the latest tools from Apple for a wide range of digital projects such as digital literacy, storytelling and art to name a few.


From the official program statements from the Office of Innovation:


The following are three essential elements of the Studio Rhode framework:


1.           Community Concierge: The Community Concierge imagines a library that is shaped around the needs of all community members, regardless of ability, socioeconomic status, or age.  Libraries need to use the experience they hope to provide to each user as the key driver of the design of both the physical and virtual space of the library. We believe this will create an open, inclusive, engaging, and interactive place for collaboration, driven by a clear understanding of user requirements, tools, and learning activities tailored to those needs.


2.                  Digital Creation Studio: Studio Rhode envisions the library as a place for members of the community to design, create, and share knowledge with next generation digital tools. Studio Rhode seeks to transform libraries into places to engage in crucial community building cornerstones in a 21st century way—by creating digital stories, new media, or using digital tools to develop new ideas in service of community or self.


3.                  New Tools: Studio Rhode libraries will leverage technology to support the creation of the Community Concierge and Digital Creation Studio. For example, Studio Rhode will provide community members with access to Apple hardware and a rich content ecosystem -- through the App Store, iBooks Store, iTunes U and iTunes -- and the tools to become content creators through Apple’s creativity and productivity apps. These tools are designed to be accessible to users of all ages and abilities. Using these tools, Studio Rhode will provide new learning experiences designed to engage users in developing the digital skills needed to lead as next generation innovators.


I am excited to see these projects emerge and will be reporting my findings as we move along.  Libraries should be supported as the digital divide is never as simple as gaining access to Google search.  OSHEAN is a supporter of the work at the Office of Innovation and I encourage this audience to learn more about their efforts.  You can follow this program and all the projects of the office at

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Blockchain Impact

Posted By David Marble, Wednesday, October 12, 2016

As I write this blog, I already wonder how it will be received.  Will it will be taken as intended?  Will the reader say “Hmm, that’s interesting and I should look more into this…” or will it be “Duh, when did Marble wake up from his nap?”  The subject that has captured my interest lately is “blockchain” and its potential impact on the very fabric of our economy and beyond.  Much is being written about the technology these days and it has fascinated me enough to write about it here.  One of the reasons I follow developments in nuclear fusion is the potential it brings to completely revolutionize the energy industry and in turn, our lives.  I am beginning to believe blockchain technologies may have that same potential for impact.


As a matter of background, blockchain is the underlying technology used to develop Bitcoin, the digital currency used in many internet based financial trust applications.  Much like the internet itself, there is no real central authority in a blockchain.  Think of it as a series of trusted transactions with each link having a piece or “hash” of the previous link which binds the chain.  Running algorithms keep the history of the chain up to date at all times and also have the interesting characteristic of becoming more and more bulletproof as they get bigger.  Encryption is inherent so security is central to the architecture.  This is a completely decentralized model.  Think of a distributed ledger with no central or master database.  What sounds chaotic is massively elegant and revolutionary and its potential impact is staggering.  Consider just the idea of eliminating central banks for a moment, replaced by a completely distributed software-based digital trust model.  The trust model in many applications cuts out the middle man.  For instance, the blockchain between the consumer and say, a musician can be direct with no need for distribution labels or even on-line music stores.  Makes one wonder about the long term play for Amazon or the iTunes store.


The technology is one thing and there are tons of hurdles in an open and completely distributed software world.  I am fascinated though by the social impact and its implications.  One article used the analogy that very few people knew what TCP/IP is nor cared as the internet was evolving.  Blockchain may develop the very same way.  The cool thing to think about is the potential ability to deal with ideas of trust and identity in a very new way, something that is on the front burner for many of us.  As with any new technology, there are many naysayers and hype masters.  For me personally at this stage, I just think it is a tremendously interesting topic to explore from both the technical and social perspective.

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The Future….Really?

Posted By David Marble, Thursday, June 23, 2016


When we broached the topic of a theme for the upcoming annual Member Forum, I wanted to have it be forward looking.  The future of technology….hmmm….what in the world does that mean?  Given the breadth of the technology we all deal with and the pace of change, it’s a daunting subject.  Overlay the vast differences of our membership’s vertical markets (i.e. healthcare, higher-ed, K-12, govt., etc…) and the disparity of implementations within a given segment, it becomes presumptuous on our part to even try and present the future.  However, aren’t we all charged with painting that picture at some level?  I find strategic planning to be far more nebulous than it used to be but still fundamentally required.  In my humble opinion, anyone with a five-year plan in IT these days is fooling themselves, given the pace of change and the volatility of budgets alone.  Equipment depreciation schedules, once 10-15 years, now are 3-5!  That being said, if we don’t understand macro industry trends and develop some methodology for assessment we will quickly be devoured by either the market itself or the financial death knell of inefficiency.  Make a technology mistake and it can be like missing on the third pick in the NBA draft which we pray the Celtics do not do this week.  It just as important to grasp an important trend as it is to ignore or skip over the shiny new object.  The evolution of optical transport is a classic example.  OSHEAN is skipping entire generations of optical technology.  We will not implement 40G and may even skip 100G if the 200G price points hit what we need this coming year.  In keeping with this example, what is incumbent on OSHEAN engineering is not to be definitive about the 3-5 year milestones, price points and even the technology itself but to continuously evaluate the market and its associated technology evolution.  That continuous evaluation and judicious timing can save large sums of money.  The challenge that comes with continuous evaluation is the resource drain, discipline and time required, especially with the many technologies we deal with.

I am part of a CEO advisory group called Vistage.  We had been discussing the challenge of building strategic discipline into our work weeks as we often felt we were “working in the business instead of on the business”.  The solution many of us have found useful is the concept of building a Pain vs. Gain profile into one’s schedule.  The idea, popularized by author and entrepreneur Steve McClatchey, recognizes that we technically default to reactionary “have to” Pain tasks which maintain us but don’t necessarily help us move forward.  I now have a 2-hour block in my calendar every week for “Gain” time dedicated to strategic activities for OSHEAN.  This simple practice can set the stage for building the underlying methodology for assessment that is right for you.

So, this week we will have our annual Member Forum and publish our latest eCurrent, both dedicated to the concept of “future tech”, but my real observation is that we can’t presume to know the answer.  We can presume however, that we need to be dedicated to continuous learning.

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Student Privacy

Posted By David Marble, Tuesday, March 29, 2016

This past week I was alerted by our astute K12 member, Paul Barret of Smithfield, to a bill in the RI Senate (S 2171 titled “RELATING TO EDUCATION -- PROTECTING STUDENT PRIVACY ON SCHOOL-OWNED TECHNOLOGY”.  This bill was moving quickly through committee and Paul had alerted me that there was a hearing last Wednesday where public comment was to be heard.  I decided to research and go to the session.

What I found was a bill that raised a ton of questions both at a general policy and overall implementation level.  The ACLU, who testified in support, is making an overall case for student privacy and for parental opt out of take home technology programs.  These are the subjects of our times.  Make no mistake, their concern has merit  and should be discussed with great diligence.  My caution is not about the intent of bills like this, its about the necessity to have deep and thoughtful discussion with the right people on the right ways to handle the issue.

I have long been uneasy when legislation and technology meet.  Since I have found it difficult myself to keep up with the pace of technology change, I am dubious of legislation trying to do the same.  As I read this bill with my technical background filter, I see incongruous statements, lack of definition, conflicts with local and national policy and infeasible implementation requirements.  No one would argue that protecting a student’s privacy is first and foremost to any program where data is collected but the mere term “data” begs for definition in this regard.  An example of the bill’s language includes the right of a parent to demand the school unblock a website upon request.  While I would debate the policy in general, it is impossible to implement from a technical perspective as it would have to be unblocked for the whole school and would hamper the school’s ability to maintain cybersecurity practice.  There are many examples including restricting the school’s right to remote access even though it’s the schools property.

I also think the debate of the rights of parent’s to opt out is interesting.  I will state that take home tech programs need to ensure fairness and equitable access as table stakes but that being said, should opt out be allowed?  One would never think of opting out of take home books but now that they may be on a tablet, we can say no?

The intersection of privacy rights and technology are two speeding trains in the middle of a horrific crash.  It is a deep and fascinating subject, one which hits the center of our complex culture, politics, security, institutional practices and technological evolution.  In our opposition testimonies at the Senate this past week, we offered and were granted the ability to take a look at the current language and propose ways to come together on an agreement that properly balances the rights of the institution and the rights of the students in this most important arena.  Stay tuned or better yet, get involved! 

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Big Data and Supercomputing is Changing the World

Posted By David Marble, Tuesday, February 16, 2016


I am on my way back from the Quilt winter meetings in beautiful La Jolla CA.  While it was hard to ignore the fact that it was 85 degrees all week while back home was feeling the brunt of snowstorms and record breaking frigid temps, I was far more impacted by our visit to the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) at UCSD.  Calit2 is home to some of more compelling applications of high bandwidth research in the world.  Its network, Pacific Wave, is the research backbone enabled by our friends at CENIC and covers the west coast and the international Pacific Rim with a 100Gbps fiber infrastructure connecting many of the major research institutions in the region.  The platform presents an unprecedented research opportunity independent of location and, populated with supercomputing endpoints, enabling a profound new collaboration opportunity. 


Our CENIC hosts provided a program which covered three such examples.  The first was a visit to the “cave” a virtual reality experience at a level of quality I had never experienced.  The resolution was “above 8K” as I visited Florence and went on a tour of the Bapistery, much to the chagrin of my wife who has this on her bucket list.  Gone were the feelings of dizziness and nausea I had experienced with other VR environments.  This was truly a pleasure.


Next we were given an overview by cyber archeologist Tom Levy .  I had never heard of the term cyber archeology nor the term “cultural heritage engineering” but understood immediately the application.  The cyber archeologist uses a suite of digital tools and custom workflow programming involving high resolution laser scanning, Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) and multispectral imaging to capture and analyze massive amounts of data from historical sites.  They also utilize a fleet of drones and balloons to fly over and into spaces not easily accessible.  Cyber archeologists are racing to digitally archive the world’s most important historic treasures, many of which as we know from recent headlines from Palmyra, are threatened by destructive actions of militant forces.  The amount of data pouring from these sites is staggering.


Lastly and most impressive was a discussion by Dr. Larry Smarr, founder of Calit2 and resident guru.  Dr. Smarr is an astrophysicist turned data analytics scientist and enthusiast.  It was a timely event for him and us as the world awakened the next day to the announcement of the discovery of gravitational waves, an area of specific work by Dr. Smarr over the last 20 years.  Larry’s talk however, was not about physics but about the emerging world of microbiomes.  Turns out he has been categorizing the behavior of the microbial environment in his own body for the last 15 years.  This massive data collection technique of his microbial ecology requires high resolution genome sequencing feeding Big Data parallel supercomputers led to the discovery of his having Crohn’s disease long before traditional medicine ever would have.  Since that discovery, he has tracked the progression of the disease and the effects of attempted pharmaceutical combat in a way that will ultimately be the way we look at the body and medicine in general in the future.  The link I provide here is a TEDtalk he gave in 2013 which gives you an overview of his work but know that he continues to make groundbreaking discoveries with this research as recent as the day before we met.  Larry believes that the evolution of the FitBit or like personal health devices in combination with non-invasive testing and web-based applications will transform the world’s health care practice from the reactionary sick care system it is today to a data-centric, preventative system tomorrow.

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