WFH WTF: A Reality Check for Newbies

March 30, 2020

On Sunday, my son who provides specialized services to the US government and I were talking about WFH or work from home. WFH is now the principal way many people earn money. My son asked me, “When did you start working from home?” He should have remembered, since he was a much younger version of his present technology consulting self.

The year was 1991 (nearly three decades, 29 years to be exact and I am now 76), and I had just avoided corporate RIFFing after an investment bank purchased the firm at which I served as a reasonably high ranking officer. I pitched a multi year consulting deal with the new owners (money people), and I decided that commuting among my home in Kentucky, the Big Apple, and Plastic Fantastic (Silicon Valley) was not for me.

I figured I had a few years of guaranteed income so I would avoid running out an leasing an office. No one who hires me cares whether they ever see me. I do special work; I don’t go to meetings; I don’t hang out at the squash club or golf course; and I don’t want people around me every day. In Plastic Fantastic, I requested an inside office. The company moved the fax machine, photocopier, and supply cabinet to my outside office with lots of windows. I took the dark, stuffy, and inhospitable inside office. Perfect it was.

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The seven deadly sins of working from home: [1] Waiting for the phone to ring or email to arrive, [2] eating, [3] laziness, [4] anger, [5]  envy, [6] philandering online or IRL, [7] greed. For the modern world I would add social media, online diversions, and fiddling with gizmos.

Why is this important for the WFH crowd?

The Internet is stuffed with articles like these:

The WFH articles I scanned — reading them was alternately amusing and painful — shared a common thread. None of them told the truth about WFH.

My son suggested, “Why not write up what’s really needed to make WFH pay off?” Okay, Erik, here’s the scoop. (By the way, he has implemented most of these behaviors as his technology consulting business has surged and his entrepreneurial ventures flourished. That’s what’s called “living proof” or it used to be before Plastic Fantastic speech took over discourse.)

Discipline. Discipline. Then Discipline Again

The idea is that one has to establish goals, work routines, and priorities. The effort is entirely mental. For nearly 30 years, I follow a disciplined routine. I am at my desk (hidden in a dark, damp basement) working on tasks. Yep, seven days a week, 10 hours a day unless I am sick, on a much loathed business trip, or in a meeting somewhere, not in my home office). Sound like fun? For me, it is, and discipline is not something to talk about in marketing oriented click bait articles. Discipline is what one manifests.

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Duh Report: Smart Software Creates Change

March 28, 2020

Another report from the edge of the obvious:

New technology changes lives. Duh.

Not exactly a news flash. But some are surprised. Ali Jazeera explores how artificial intelligence is changing modern society in the article, “Dataland: The Evolution Of Artificial Intelligence And Big Data.”

Classic science fiction generally takes an analog approach to futuristic technology as the concept of a digital landscape was not in the human scope. Our digital data is as identifiable as our fingerprints and different organizations use it to track us. In democracies, it is mostly used to sell products with targeted ads, while authoritarian governments use it to track their citizens’ locations and habits.

Dataland is a documentary that tracks how AI is used in different countries:

Dataland illustrates the different facets of big data and artificial intelligence being unleashed by the world’s most prolific data scientists. The film goes to Dublin where artificial intelligence is becoming an increasing influence on community life; to Finland where citizens transmit their DNA to improve public health and predictive medicine; and finally to China where facial recognition is routinely used by the state to track the movement, habits and private lives of common people.”

It is inspiring and startling to see how different societies use AI. We literally can only imagine how AI will be used next, then the technologists will make it a reality. It is only a matter of time (years or decades?) before AI is as common as mobile devices.

Interesting source too.

Whitney Grace, March 27, 2020

Acronym Shadow: Good Enough Presages the Future of US Technical Capabilities

February 6, 2020

Apps are nothing but drag and drop programming. The database stuff? A no brainer for Shadow. What other half informed generalizations contributed to the technical, managerial, and political issues with the Iowa caucus app. The New York Times, definitely a paragon of technical acumen, analyzed the situation. Navigate to “The App That Broke the Iowa Caucus.” Remember the NYT was the outfit that fumbled its original online play, ably directed my Jeff Pemberton—what, 40 years ago?—and then lost revenue by pulling its “exclusive” from the LexisNexis service a few years later. Now the NYT is a techno master, happily pointing out that failure took place.

There was no mini failure. Maybe some underhanded activity, maybe some carelessness, and maybe some “we’re experts and know what to do” thinking going on.

DarkCyber believes that the misstep, if that’s what it was, was a reminder that technical expertise and excellence are not as easy as writing a proposal, pulling some influence strings, or assuming that code actually works in the real world.

Nope, the good enough approach is operating.

But the larger message is that if the US expects to maintain a place among technology leaders, a different mind set is needed.

What is that mind set? For starters, big thinkers and MBA types must recognize that planning, attention to detail, quality checks, live tests, and making software usable are necessary.

A failure in a core democratic process is a signpost. For anyone who believes the baloney manufactured about artificial intelligence, natural language processing, and advanced analytics—good enough is not.

Is this a bright signal that American technologists cannot deliver when it matters and when those who seek to disrupt America are getting the clown show of a lifetime.

Stephen E Arnold, February 5, 2020

Another Google Gaffe?

December 30, 2019

Censorship is an intriguing job. A human — chock full of failings — has to figure out if an object is offensive, defensive, or maybe-sive.

If true, the BBC story “YouTube Admits Error over Bitcoin Video Purge” documents a misstep. DarkCyber loves the GOOG, and the research team doubts any anecdote suggesting a Google gaffe took place. For example:

Many video-makers have complained that YouTube’s current systems let so-called “copyright trolls” make false claims on their videos, while its automated detection tools often fail to understand when material has been legally used.

The BBC reports:

YouTube said in a statement that it had “made the wrong call” and confirmed that any content mistakenly removed would be restored. “With the massive volume of videos on our site, sometimes we make the wrong call,” it said.”When it’s brought to our attention that a video has been removed mistakenly, we act quickly to reinstate it.” It said there had been no changes to its polices, and insisted there would be “no penalty” to any channels that were affected by the incident.

I liked the idea that Googzilla is an it, very 2020. And the individuals who depend on YouTube for some money.

Yeah, well, you know, err.

Stephen E Arnold, December 30, 2019

YouTube: Will It Continue to Fancy Dance to the Editorial Control Be Bop?

September 20, 2019

Kids these days have ambitions of being astronauts, writers, scientists, and YouTubers. YouTubers are social media influences with mass followings that make decent livings through YouTube, mostly through ad revenue. YouTubers love and hate their platform of choice and it does not come as a surprise due to how controversial YouTube has become. The Guardian runs down YouTube’s recent headlines and spoke with YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki in the article, “YouTube’s Susan Wojcicki: ‘Where’s The Line Of Free Speech-Are You Removing Voices That Should Be Heard?’”

 

YouTube faces frequent scandals, involving its creators posting questionable content like hate speech, Holocaust deniers, etc. And there are those pedophiles who communicate in the comments of children’s videos or engage in code speak related to videos posted by a doting parent for digitally aware Silver Surfer.

YouTube made some progress with anti-hate speech policies to curb hate mongering videos and periodic takedowns. YouTube allegedly has a 10,000 alert, morally upright, dedicated human moderators working with smart software and systems able to the alleged five hundred hours of video posted every minute. Wojcicki seems to say her Googley unit cannot catch every instance of hate speech and questionable video, but they are trying and making a good effort at it.

The video streaming platform is one of the most popular ways Americans entertain themselves and generate money for the online ad giant. The problem is these scandals and bad actor videos that stain YouTube’s reputation, but does removing/banning them violate free speech:

“But hasn’t it been dangerously influential? [Wojcicki] pauses. ‘Look, [these question videos are] a very small percentage of our views, and the way that we think about it is: ‘Is this content violating one of our policies? Has it violated anything in terms of hate, harassment?’ If it has, we remove that content. We keep tightening and tightening the policies. We also get criticism, just to be clear, [about] where do you draw the lines of free speech and, if you draw it too tightly, are you removing voices of society that should be heard? We’re trying to strike a balance of enabling a broad set of voices, but also making sure that those voices play by a set of rules that are healthy conversations for society.’”

This particular write up adds a human dimension to the problem of hate speech and child abuse. Wojcicki’s life includes hobbies. (Imagine. A hard working Type A Googler having a hobby.) She is determined to leave a strong legacy and wants to influence more women to work in the technology industry. A good attitude is a plus when working for a company whose top lawyer makes headlines about personal behavior and the video content contains some darned awful data.

YouTube would have made a great MBA case study had not the market for MBAs imploded and free online classes demonstrated that MBA students go to school for contacts, not learning.

Nevertheless, a great case study awaits.

Whitney Grace, September 20, 2019

YouTube May Be Too Big to Monitor or Fail

September 17, 2019

A friend if mine who shall remain nameless, but who is a Baby Boomer and not technology illiterate once said that the United States government should just shut down the entire Dark Web. I burst out laughing at this statement and incredulously he asked why I guffawed. After explaining how wide spread the Dark Web is, the number of countries involved, and using the “herding cats” metaphor my point was made. Google is facing the same problem as it tries to sanitize YouTube, you can read the story from IT Wire.

YouTube is a big Web site and its expanse does not know an end. Google’s CEO Sundar Puchai stated to CNN that it was too difficult to clean up the entire video platform. YouTube tends to obey the US’s First Amendment Right to Freedom of Speech, but there is a mega backlash when it comes to YouTube hosting harmful content.

The definition of “harmful and malicious” content varies. The general consensus is videos related to neo-Nazism, white supremacy, racist, nudity, promoting terrorism, sexism, hate speech, and anything that specifically targets ethnic or social groups in a negative fashion fits the harmful definition.

Pichai said that using a combination humans and machines Google has gotten 99% of YouTube sanitation right, but videos still sneak between the upload cracks. This reminds me of Web filters “supposed’ to protect children from harmful Internet content, but they always took things to the extreme. Pichai admitted that while he wants the harmful content on YouTube to be well below 1%, he admitted that any large scale system will have a trace amount of fraud, take credit cards for example. Pichai remained silent when confronted with a conspiracy question:

“Asked why YouTube had taken nearly seven years to remove videos claiming that the massacre of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012 never took place, Pichai did not give a straight answer, but danced around, saying he wished that the company had gotten to the task of removing such videos much earlier. The Google chief was not asked about the fact that numerous alternative media sites have now been demonetized as a result of the purge of content which Google says is unsuitable for YouTube.”

Yep, impossible.

Whitney Grace, September 17, 2019

Machine Learning Created A Big Data Problem And Only Machine Learning Can Fix It

September 12, 2019

Companies heavily invest in machine learning algorithms, but they soon learn that the algorithms are not magic and do not deliver the desired business insights. Data scientists are then employed to handle junk data and “fix the problem,” but they hardly get to use their skills appropriately. The bigger problem, said Silicon Angle’s article, “The Real Big-Data Problem And Only Machine Learning Can Fix It” is that businesses do not employee machine leaning algorithms from the onset. Instead they concentrate on the end result and data quantity over quality, most of which is useless.

Tamr Inc. CEO Andy Palmer and its chief technology officer Michael Stonebraker believe that smaller startups offer more scalable big-data solutions for companies than the legacy companies. Tamr Inc. assists companies to use machine learning to unify their data silos. Palmer and Stonebraker have worked for years to share the truth about big data. It is better to use machine learning for the menial labor, so that the data can be cleaned and organized before it’s analyzed, marketed, or anything is sold with it.

Becoming entirely machine learning is another problem, but it has more to do with a company’s culture than anything else:

“Machine learning isn’t a silver bullet, Stonebraker conceded. Becoming truly data-driven requires both technological and cultural adjustments. In fact, 77% of surveyed executives said business adoption of big data/AI initiatives is difficult for their organizations, according to a NewVantage Partners LLC study. That’s up from last year despite plenty of new software flooding the market. These executives cited a number of obstacles holding back adoption, 95% of which were cultural or organizational, rather than technological. ‘Organizations … need a plan to get to production. Most don’t plan and treat big data as technology retail therapy,’ Gartner Inc. analyst Nick Heudecker has said.”

The culture is one reason why data scientists are forced to spend much of their time sifting and sorting the data. It also means replacing humans with machine learning. Will organizations have the knowledge to make this type of shift in an informed manner?

Whitney Grace, September 12, 2019

Is Amazon Chaotic?

September 1, 2019

DarkCyber found a FedEx tag on the door to our office. An Amazon FedEx delivery driver determined that we were not in the office. We were. Now what? FedEx did not care. We did not bother contacting Amazon. Will the package arrive? Who knows? But an outfit engaged in real news has invested one year in gathering information about Amazon’s delivery systems and methods. Note: This short write up will also be included in the Amazonia column in DarkCyber on Monday, September 2, 2019. Here’s a preview:

The Chaos of Amazon

DarkCyber read “Even Amazon’s Own Products Are Getting Hijacked by Imposter Sellers.”

This sentence seemed important, although its source is Marketplace Pulse, an information service with which DarkCyber has little knowledge:

“It just highlights yet another case of the chaos that exists on Amazon”

The “it” is hijacked listings. The procedure is to locate a product and then wait until Amazon stops selling that offering. Then a bad actor or a semi bad actor uses the listing to sell unrelated products. Reviews? Positive, of course. The write up explains the procedure this way:

One common tactic is to find a once popular, but now abandoned product and hijack its listing, using the page’s old reviews to make whatever you’re selling appear trustworthy.

There are some mechanics involved; for example, one source in the write up allegedly said:

She [former Amazon professional] says these listings were likely seized by a seller who contacted Amazon’s Seller Support team and asked them to push through a file containing the changes. The team is based mostly overseas, experiences high turnover, and is expected to work quickly, Greer says, and if you find the right person they won’t check what changes the file contains.

Is this a problem? Sure. Fix? Not an easy one. Think of the challenge as a type of YouTube vetting challenge. There’s so much going on, so much churn, one gets chaos. Interesting?

A Wobbling Flywheel?

The Cost of Next Day Delivery” is interesting. We noted this assertion:

Amazon’s next day delivery system has brought chaos and carnage to America’s streets. But the world’s biggest retailer has a system to escape blame.

That should activate the Amazon management team. A “Have you stopped beating your dog?” question puts the individual who is to respond near high RPM flywheel.

We noted this passage from the allegedly accurate essay:

the company’s [a subcontractor to Amazon] drivers worked under relentless demands to deliver hundreds of packages each shift — for a flat rate of around $160 a day — at the direction of dispatchers who often compel them to skip meals, bathroom breaks, and any other form of rest, discouraging them from going home until the very last box is delivered.

Okay, one example. A fluke? An outlier? An anomaly?

Buzzfeed asserts that Amazon:

in its relentless bid to offer ever-faster delivery at ever-lower costs, it has built a national delivery system from the ground up. In under six years, Amazon has created a sprawling, decentralized network of thousands of vans operating in and around nearly every major metropolitan area in the country, dropping nearly 5 million packages on America’s doorsteps seven days a week.

Amazon responded to this Buzzfeed essay, according to Buzzfeed, in this way:

“The assertions do not provide an accurate representation of Amazon’s commitment to safety and all the measures we take to ensure millions of packages are delivered to customers without incident. Whether it’s state-of-the art telemetrics and advanced safety technology in last-mile vans, driver safety training programs, or continuous improvements within our mapping and routing technology, we have invested tens of millions of dollars in safety mechanisms across our network, and regularly communicate safety best practices to drivers. We are committed to greater investments and management focus to continuously improve our safety performance.”

Buzzfeed, says Buzzfeed, conducted a year long investigation into delivery by Amazon. The conclusion:

Amazon’s pivot to delivery has, all too often, exposed communities across the country to chaos, exploitative working conditions, and, in many cases, peril.

Amazon kills people. Okay. The delivery vehicles are often poorly maintained. Subcontractors may have interesting pedigrees like interactions with law enforcement. Drivers may be attacked by a dog.

Amazon, like other super efficient, edge companies, pressures its suppliers. The method has worked for companies like Toyota. But the difference, it appears, is that Amazon is not unionized. The workflow for some delivery procedures may be based on what DarkCyber calls the “high school science club management method”. This ungainly phrase suggests, “We make stuff up as we go along.” Is it possible that this approach to management is one which allows cost suppression because mid level staff who often create guidelines, procedures, and handbooks of “rules of the road” are not needed. Making up procedures on the fly is expedient.

Buzzfeed focuses on the problems which, it appears, can be addressed with unionization and a mechanism for accountability. Examples in the Buzzfeed write up range from a desire to maximize resources to abuse of power, for example, this statement from the article:

“Amazon, you are so big,” he said. “Why do you want to treat your business partner this way?”

The answer, it seems to DarkCyber, is that efficiency generates “customer satisfaction” and “revenue.” Which is more important? Buzzfeed does not say. The article points out:

“Our [Amazon’s] #1 priority,” it said, “is getting every package to the customer on time.”

Net net: Buzzfeed is likely to step up its analysis of Amazon. Amazon, DarkCyber hypothesizes, will step up its scrutiny of Buzzfeed.

What other business practices will “me too” news organizations research and document? Amazon has been around since 1994. Interesting time lag: A quarter century and now an exposé? DarkCyber will stay tuned.

Stephen E Arnold, September 1, 2019

AI Reality: Making Music Requires Humans

August 31, 2019

The hype, double talk, and downright obfuscation about artificial intelligence is remarkable. For an excellent walk through of what is involved to use open source and Google developed tools, you may want to scan “How YACHT Fed Their Old Music to the Machine and Got a Killer New Album.” Tip: This title does not express the processes used by the band to generate “new” music. Just like the marketers who find it easier to make up stuff and use jargon to explain “smart software,” whoever write the title to this article probably should have invested a few minutes reading and thinking about the procedures the band followed. Yeah, push a button and get what? Nothing without manual and intellectual effort. In short, AI is available, but it takes bright humans to make tuneful magic.

Stephen E Arnold, August 31, 2019

Google and Details: Hey, Work? What?

August 24, 2019

DarkCyber noted several “real news” items related to what we call “the chill mentality”, one aspect of Google’s management methods.

Example 1: The Next Web reported “Google listed the wrong number for its product hotline, nobody noticed.” That’s one way to be efficient with regard to customer support costs.

Example 2: The Next Web reported “Open-source spyware bypasses Google Play defenses — twice.” Yep, security is Job One.

Example 3: Ars Technica noted: “85 Google Play apps with 8 million downloads forced full screen ads on users.” A paltry eight million downloads. Chill, folks.

Example 4: Slashgear pointed out that “Google just gave Hangouts a temporary stay of execution.” From the death sentence in January 2019 to August 2019, Google is just being flexible. Relax.

Be flexible.

Stephen E Arnold, August 24, 2019

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