Daily Tech Digest - December 05, 2020

What Tech Jargon Reveals about Bias in the Industry

Tech language was developed back in the early days of modern computing during a time when globally racism was much more explicit and often went unchallenged. But there is no reason we can’t change that language. It’s not embedded in the code itself; it’s just how we talk about these concepts. I recently heard of an example where a team of coders working on a solution had to go through the “blacklist and whitelist” of terms/commands for a specific product. The “blacklist” was terms/commands they couldn’t or shouldn’t use while the “whitelist” was stuff that’s OK. Because of the Black Lives Matter movement and what’s in the news, they noticed these terms in a new light for the first time and changed the language they were using to avoid using those racialized terms. It’s easy to just use different words, so why not? It’s an easy low-cost, low-tech solution to change language and improve output. Recently, Microsoft removed terms like these from their documentation. Cloudflare is debiasing some of the terms used in their coding. There are no reasons why such simple conscious actions can’t be undertaken for the benefit of us all. The benefits of diversity are widely stated. But they’re actually only available to companies when they include people. 

How to make remote pair programming work

When you cannot assemble a team physically, turn to pair programming remotely. But to see the benefits of remote pair programming, approach the practice systematically with one of the following styles: unstructured, driver/navigator or ping-pong. Plan pair programming remotely with decisions about the team's skill level: Should novices work with experts, or is a different approach better? Editor's note: Interest in remote pair programming has risen during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Developers working in distributed, at-home settings for the first time should also check out tips to empower productive remote dev teams, and insights into psychological safety when the workplace is suddenly part of home life. ... Most pair programming relationships fall into the unstructured style, where two programmers work together in an ad hoc manner. With the collaboration being loosely guided, both programmers should have matching skill levels. A common variant of this style is the unstructured expert-novice pair, where an expert programmer guides a novice. An unstructured approach is hard to discipline and unlikely to persist on longer projects. Unstructured pair programming is also harder to sustain remotely than styles with established guidelines.

Enterprise Architecture: What It Is, Why It's Important And How To Talk About It

The enterprise architect’s ultimate goal is to enact effective and measurable change. To do so, architects work to create not just a complete picture of the organization, but also roadmaps that represent different desired future states. By mapping out the paths to desired future states, they can decide the best path to take—with metrics to back up that decision showing how much better the organization will operate once changes are made. With precise understanding of the tradeoffs that come with each potential scenario, architects can propose multiple solutions in line with changing strategies. These scenarios can be optimized for different business outcomes, like growth, cost optimization, risk reduction, etc., and ultimately drive important business decisions that can be confidently backed with data. Modern enterprise architecture tools go far beyond the old-school perceptions of EA as a simple visualization tool, and now include dynamic and collaborative data that supports the different ways to model future states. One example of enterprise architecture in action comes from New Zealand’s largest retail grocery organization, Foodstuffs, which implemented enterprise architecture to help it stay agile and competitive.

Intel details Horse Ridge II as helping overcome quantum computing hurdle

Horse Ridge II, Intel says, supports "enhanced capabilities and higher levels of integration for elegant control of the quantum system". New features include the ability to manipulate and read qubit states and control the potential of several gates required to entangle multiple qubits. Horse Ridge II builds on the first-generation system-on-chip (SoC) ability to generate radio frequency pulses to manipulate the state of the qubit, known as qubit drive. "With Horse Ridge I, we essentially were able to drive the qubit, basically apply signals that would manipulate the state of the qubit between 0-1; with Horse Ridge II, we can not only drive the qubit, but we can read out the state of the qubit, we can apply pulses that would allow us to control the interaction between two qubits, and so we've added additional controller capabilities to Horse Ridge II," Clarke said. "We have a very programmable filter that would allow us to send a variety of different pulse shapes to control our qubits, we have an integrated microcontroller, we have a lot of DACs -- digital to analogue controllers -- that would allow us to control the individual qubits to a greater extent and these DACs would otherwise be discrete boxes in a control rack external to the refrigerator, so we're starting to take some of these boxes and put them into our SoC inside of our qubit refrigerator."

What organisations should expect next in the evolution of data

Before Covid-19 hit, data was already becoming fundamental to organisations’ future success. That journey has been supercharged. According to new research from Druva, 79% of IT decision makers in the US and UK now see data management and protection as key to competitive advantage. Similarly, 73% say they rely more heavily on data for business decisions, while 33% believe its value has permanently increased since the pandemic began. Therefore, if the message for IT leaders on their data strategy pre-pandemic was ‘get moving’, in 2021 it will be ‘go faster’. As the move towards a digitally-led future gathers pace, we’ll see a growing number of organisations move to make data a pervasive part of everything, from operational decision-making to customer experiences. Rapid availability and analysis will be vital. That’s not to say this transformation comes without risk. The same Druva research found 73% of IT decision makers have become more concerned about protecting their data from ransomware, and rightly so. Many report a year-on-year increase in phishing, malware and ransomware attacks. With large numbers of people working outside the office and some high-profile recent successes for cyber criminals, we can expect this threat to grow further in 2021.

Blockchain Attempts To Secure The Supply Chain

Counterfeiting is a real and growing problem. “We have several customers who are very concerned about counterfeiting and other security issues, and they are thinking of multiple ways to secure their ICs and systems,” said Geoff Tate, CEO of Flex Logix. This is partly the role of identity, but identity may not be sufficient without the further knowledge of the history of the item. And that history can involve an enormous range of considerations. How much to include must balance the cost of tracking and storing data about huge numbers of individual components and systems against the consequences of having too little historical information. “Blockchains provide a convenient means to permanently record transactions, and they have application to the provenance of components,” said John Hallman, product manager for trust and security at OneSpin Solutions. Dave Huntley, business development at PDF Solutions and co-chair of three SEMI committees/task forces, elaborated further. “When a new asset like a package is assembled, it is enrolled as a brand-new asset on the blockchain, along with its bill of materials,” he said. “You now have a genealogy, and you could take a module from a car, open it up, figure out the printed circuit board and slide it out, open that up, look at the packages inside, open one of them up, and look at the die inside. ...”

Building real cyber resiliency in government

While threats are constantly evolving, Branko Bokan, a cybersecurity specialist at CISA, said the tactics, techniques and procedures are actually the same -- the real change is in the distribution type and frequency of these attacks. “Regardless of how well we try to prevent cyberattacks, they will always happen, and we have to be ready and able to detect bad things when they happen, or as soon as possible after they happen,” he said. Often, organizations think of cybersecurity as preventing/protecting networks against cyber threats – but that is just one element of the cybersecurity framework, as outlined by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. NIST framework includes five functions, which match the pillars for cyber resiliency: identify, protect, prevent, respond and recover. By dividing cybersecurity into these five stages, agencies can identify cyber actions adversaries might take. It can also help them create a coverage map of the threat landscape to see how their current capabilities can protect, detect and respond to each one of these actual threat actions – and identify where the gaps are. As agencies take a threat-based approach to security, cloud is also playing a large role in resiliency plans.

Microsoft Cloud Security Exec Talks New Tech, WFH, Gamification

From a cloud operator's perspective, Ollmann is seeing the growth of cloud security posture management (CSPM) technologies, which are meant to help security teams bring together their assets and resources in one place to better manage and understand their cloud infrastructure.  "CSPM has been that vehicle for providing visibility of security risk, vulnerabilities, vulnerability management, and then a little bit of gamification to enable and help customers and organizations improve their security posture as they go along," he explained. Security posture management gives infosec teams visibility and control while managing policies. The gamification – a "loose interpretation" of the term, Ollmann noted – is in the score, which informs teams of the risk or security value in a particular asset, resource, application, or environment as a whole. Every vulnerability and poor or absent configuration has a value tied to it. By addressing the weaknesses, a team can increase its overall security score. "Security will never be 100%, so hopefully as you develop these sorts of things, you keep improving on your score," he said. Some larger businesses have multiple apps in multiple environments, and teams compete against one another to boost their numbers.

The resurgence of enterprise architecture

Because enterprise architecture enables a business to map out all their systems and processes and how they connect together, EA is becoming a “very important method and tool to drive forward digital transformation,” said Christ. He explained that since most transformations don’t start off as greenfield projects, about 70% of them fail due to their existing IT landscape. Having a solid baseline, which EA aims to provide, is crucial for any transformation initiative.  “The reason for this is that once you’ve started a transformation program, you discover new dependencies because of applications connected to other systems that you never knew of before. So replacing them with better applications, with newer interfaces, and with better APIs all of a sudden isn’t as easy as you thought when you were starting the transformation program,” he explained.  Businesses also want to understand where their investments in the IT landscape are going, and connect the business strategic goals to the activities in their transformation program. “This is where enterprise architecture can help you. It allows you to look at this whole hierarchy of objectives and programs you are setting up, the affected applications you are having, and the underlying changes in detail,” said Christ.

Quantum Acceleration in 2020

Many frameworks and tools have emerged for developing quantum applications based on these algorithms. Microsoft’s Quantum Development Kit (QDK), for example, provides a tool set integrated with leading development environments, open-source resources, and the company’s high-level programming language, Q#. It also offers access to quantum inspired optimization (QIO) solvers for running optimization problems in the cloud. For building quantum circuits and algorithms that take advantage of quantum processors, IBM offers Qiskit, an open-source quantum computing library for Python. Cirq is yet another quantum programming library created by the team of scientists and engineers at Google. It contains a growing set of functionalities allowing users to manipulate and simulate quantum circuits. Finally, Quil is a quantum programming toolkit from Rigetti that also provides a diverse array of functionalities and data structures for supporting quantum computation. There are also packages, such as Xanadu’s Strawberry Fields and D-Wave's Leap, aimed at quantum backends that are not based on the gate model paradigm. In addition, we see the ongoing creation of domain-specific tools, such as OpenFermion and Xanadu’s PennyLane, purpose-built for running quantum chemistry and quantum machine learning applications, respectively.

Quote for the day:

"The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

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