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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Semantic Sci-Fi: Search Is Great

March 23, 2020

I read “Keyword Search is DEAD; Semantic Search Is Smart.” I assume the folks at Medium consider each article, weigh its value, and then release only the highest value content.

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Semantic search is better than any other type of search in the galaxy.

Let’s assume that the write up is correct and keyword search is dead. Further, we shall ignore the syntax of SQL queries, the dependence of policeware and intelware systems on users’ looking for named entities, and overlook the interaction of people using an automobile’s navigation service by saying, “Home.” These are examples of keyword search, and I decided to give a few examples, skipping how keyword search functions in desktop search, chemical structure systems, medical research, and good old, bandwidth trimming YouTube.

Okay, what’s the write up say beyond “keyword search is dead.”

Here are some points I extracted as I worked my way through the write up. I required more than three minutes (the Medium estimate) because my blood pressure was spiking, and I was hyper ventilating.

Factoid 1 from the write up :

If you do semantic search, you can get all information as per your intent.

What’s with this “all.” Content domains, no matter what the clueless believe, are incomplete. There is no “all” when it comes online information which is indexed.

Factoid 2 from the write up:

semantic search seeks to understand natural language the way a human would.

Yep, natural language queries are possible within certain types of content domains. However, the systems I have worked with and have an opportunity to use in controlled situations exhibit a number of persistent problems. These range from computational constraints. One system could support four simultaneous users on a corpus of fewer than 100,000 text documents. Others simply output “good enough” results. Not surprisingly when a physician needs an antitoxin to save a child’s life, keywords work better than “good enough” in my experience. NLP has been getting better, but the idea that systems can integrate widely different data which may be incomplete, incorrect, or stale and return a useful output is a big hurdle. So far no one has gotten over it on a consistent, affordable basis. Short cuts to reduce index look ups can be packaged as semantics and NLP but mostly these are clever ways to improve “efficiency.” Understanding sometimes. Precision and recall? Not yet.

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Amazon Revealed by the BBC: Analysis and News about the Bezos Bulldozer

February 18, 2020

The BBC is a subsidized news outfit. As a person who lives in America, I don’t understand the approach taken to either obtaining money or to programming. I do miss the Lilliburlero tune. Also, wouldn’t it be helpful to be able to locate BBC audio programs? Well, maybe not.

DarkCyber noted “Why Amazon Knows So Much about You.” The write up is notable for several reasons. First, it uses one of those Web layouts that are popular: Sliding windows, white text on black backgrounds, and graphics like this one of Mr. Bezos, zeros and ones, and a headline designed to make the reader uncomfortable:

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Second, the article is labeled as news, but it is more of a chatty essay about Amazon, its Great Leader, and the data the company gathers via the front scoop of the Bezos bulldozer. But news? Maybe one of those chatty podcasts which purport to reveal the secrets of some companies’ success.

Third, the write up seems long. There are plenty of snappy graphics, dialog which reads a bit like the script for the video program Silicon Valley, and embedded video; for example, Margreth Vestager:

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Note that this image is in close proximity to this image of Mr. Bezos and his friend. Happenstance? Sure.

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The write up goes deep into Amazon history with details about a snowy, cold, and dark night. The stage setting is worthy of Edward Bulwer Lytton, the fellow who allegedly coined the phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword.” Is the BBC’s pen mightier than an Amazon sword, available in the US for $23.70 with free shipping for Prime members:

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With that in mind, what is “Why Amazon Knows So Much about You?”

The most straightforward way to respond to this question is to look at what the write up covers. Here’s the general layout of the almost 5,000 word “semi news” story:

Introduction with the author’s personal take on Amazon

The early days (the meeting in the mountains) of “planning to suck data”

Amazon’s approach to business: Slippery, clever, and maybe some Google-style deflection

The Ring moment when the Shark Tank people proved they were not qualified to work for Mr. Bezos

Amazon is just like those other American monopolies and the sky is falling because staff are complaining about many things

Amazon’s big ideas for making even more money.

 

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Google May Be Facing a Moon Shot Challenge

February 17, 2020

DarkCyber wants to reflect on a challenge, a difficult one.

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DarkCyber read “Google Removes 500+ Malicious Chrome Extensions from the Web Store.” No, not a “the” store. The store is Google’s online store toward which every Android phone longs to visit. Some mobile devices have no choice. Other Android phones have some restraints, but “home is home.”

According to the write up:

The removed extensions operated by injecting malicious ads (malvertising) inside users’ browsing sessions. The malicious code injected by the extensions activated under certain conditions and redirected users to specific sites. In some cases, the destination would be an affiliate link on legitimate sites like Macys, Dell, or BestBuy; but in other instances, the destination link would be something malicious, such as a malware download site or a phishing page.

You should read the ZDNet story mentioned above and follow its links. However, the notion that DarkCyber has been noodling involves Google’s large online advertising business. Here are some questions we drafted after our morning call:

  • If the Google Android store is disseminating software which generates clicks, how will those affected advertisers be compensated?
  • What other ad centric spoofs or manipulations exist within the ad system for YouTube?
  • What malware or manipulative techniques operate within the core AdWords’ system?
  • What role to click bots or click farms play in manipulating Google’s online advertising data?
  • What about human Googler manipulation of advertising systems; for example, as quarters draw to a close?

DarkCyber only has these and a number of other questions. The answer to these questions may call into question the reliability, accuracy, and honesty of the Google online advertising operation.

If the answers fail to reassure advertisers and others, the strength of Google might become its most serious challenge in the company’s rise from objective search system to global online ad giant.

Challenge? Maybe multiple challenges: Credibility, legal, technical, and managerial.

Stephen E Arnold, February

Data Are a Problem? And the Solution Is?

January 8, 2020

I attended a conference about managing data last year. I sat in six sessions and listened as enthusiastic people explained that in order to tap the value of data, one has to have a process. Okay? A process is good.

Then in each of the sessions, the speakers explained the problem and outlined that knowing about the data and then putting it in a system is the way to derive value.

Neither Pros Nor Cons: Just Consulting Talk

This morning I read an article called “The Pros and Cons of Data Integration Architectures.” The write up concludes with this statement:

Much of the data owned and stored by businesses and government departments alike is constrained by the silos it’s stuck in, many of which have been built over the years as organizations grow. When you consider the consolidation of both legacy and new IT systems, the number of these data silos only increases. What’s more, the impact of this is significant. It has been widely reported that up to 80 per cent of a data scientist’s time is spent on collecting, labeling, cleaning and organizing data in order to get it into a usable form for analysis.

Now this is most true. However, the 80 percent figure is not backed up. An IDG expert whipped up some percentages about data and time, and these, I suspect, have become part of the received wisdom of those struggling with silos for decades. Most of a data scientist’s time is frittered away in meetings, struggling with budgets and other resources, and figuring out what data are “good” and what to do with the data identified by person or machine as “bad.”

The source of this statement is MarkLogic, a privately held company founded in 2001 and a magnet for $173 million from funding sources. That works out to an 18 years young start up if DarkCyber adopts a Silicon Valley T shirt.

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A modern silo is made of metal and impervious to some pests and most types of weather.

One question the write up begs is, “After 18 years, why hasn’t the methodology of MarkLogic swept the checker board?” But the same question can be asked of other providers’ solutions, open source solutions, and the home grown solutions creaking in some government agencies in Europe and elsewhere.

Several reasons:

  1. The technical solution offered by MarkLogic-type companies can “work”; however, proprietary considerations linked with the issues inherent in “silos” have caused data management solutions to become consultantized; that is, process becomes the task, not delivering on the promise of data, elther dark or sunlit.
  2. Customers realize that the cost of dealing with the secrecy, legal, and technical problems of disparate, digital plastic trash bags of bits cannot be justified. Like odd duck knickknacks one of my failed publishers shoved into his lumber room, ignoring data is often a good solution.
  3. Individuals tasked with organizing data begin with gusto and quickly morph into bureaucrats who treasure meetings with consultants and companies pitching magic software and expensive wizards able to make the code mostly work.

DarkCyber recognizes that with boundaries like budgets, timetables, measurable objectives, federation can deliver some zip.

Silos: A Moment of Reflection

The article uses the word “silo” five times. That’s the same frequency of its use in the presentations to which I listened in mid December 2019.

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So you want to break down this missile silo which is hardened and protected by autonomous weapons? That’s what happens when a data scientist pokes around a pharma company’s lab notebook for a high potential new drug.

Let’s pause a moment to consider what a silo is. A silo is a tower or a pit used to store core, wheat, or some other grain. Dust is silos can be exciting. Tip: Don’t light a match in a silo on a dry, hot day in a state where farms still operate. A silo can also be a structure used to house a ballistic missile, but one has to be a child of the Cold War to appreciate this connotation.

As applied to data, it seems that a silo is a storage device containing data. Unlike a silo used to house maize or a nuclear capable missile, the data silo contains information of value. How much value? No one knows. Are the data in a digital silo explosive? Who knows? Maybe some people should not know? What wants to flick a Bic and poke around?

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Informatica: A Play for Greater Relevance in an Amazon Chess Game?

January 3, 2020

Informatica was set up in 1993. The company was private, then public, and now private. Its new CEO is a former McKinsey professional, a background which some may find reassuring and others terrifying. (McKinsey had a racketeering lawsuit dismissed. How does a consulting firm ensnare itself in an allegation of racketeering? I will leave it to you to answer that question.)

The big news, however, is that Informatica is making an attempt to retain its relevance and increase its impact among Fortune 1000 firms, investment banks, financial services firms, insurance companies, and other blue chip customers.

The method, its seems to DarkCyber, involves Amazon. Keep in mind that Informatica’s previous attempts to add some zing to its quarter century of database-related work involved Microsoft and Salesforce, both next big things.

According to “Informatica Aims to Better Track Data Lineage with AI-Powered Data Catalog,”

its AI-powered data catalog, called Catalog of Catalogs is notable because it is trying to track data lineage across ecosystems. Catalog of Catalogs includes metadata scanners for business intelligence, data warehouses, big data and third party repositories.

The “new” Informatica is represented in this graphic, which has a remarkable resemblance to Amazon Web Services blockchain diagrams:

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Is this an Amazon diagram in recognizable AWS orange or an Informatica diagram?

There’s a hook to Amazon’s data marketplace technology, support for Amazon’s smart workflow, and the federation of metadata.

But what’s missing in this real news story?

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Ancient Search Recipes: Bread Pork Chops

December 16, 2019

I noted a report in the Times of Israel titled “Cache of Crypto-Jewish Recipes Dating to Inquisition Found in Miami Kitchen.” One of the recipes explained how to make a pork chop from bread and milk. (Dairy? Guess so.) Here’s what you and I can whip up using this ancient recipe:

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The cookbook contains information which the author “didn’t think to question the idiosyncratic customs her mother and grandmothers practiced in the kitchen.”

By coincidence, my news alert spit out this article in the same list: “The Growth of Cognitive Search in the Enterprise, and Why It Matters.”

Magic. Bread pork chops created from zeros and ones.

Search matters. Cognitive search matters more. Who buys? The enterprise.

The write up recycles the equivalent of the break pork chop formula. Mix jargon, sprinkle with the notion of federated data, and bake until the checks clear the bank.

The article is fascinating, and it overlooks a few milestones in the history of enterprise search. What for example? Glad you asked:

  1. Forrester, the Wave folks, has created a report for its paying customers which reveal that search is now cognitive, able to tap dark data, and ready for prime time. Again! The Wave returns.
  2. Big companies are into search, including Microsoft  with its Fast inspired solution and Amazon Kendra with an open source how de doo to Elastic and LucidWorks. Some use old spices; others, open source flavoring with proprietary special seasonings.
  3. Outfits which have been around for more than a decade like Coveo are now smarter than ever in their decade long effort to pay off their patient investors
  4. Autonomy gets a nod despite the interesting trial underway in the UK.

The point is that enterprise search is going to be in the news whether anyone wants to revisit hyperbole which makes the chatter around artificial intelligence and quantum computing seem rational and credible.

Here’s a quick refresher about why untapped data in an organization is likely to remained untapped or at the very least not tapped by vendors of smart key word search systems:

First, data are in silos for a reason. No enterprise search system with which I am familiar can navigate the permissions and access controls required to put siloed data in one index. There’s a chance that the Amazon blockchain permissions system can deliver this, but for now, the patents are explanations and federated enterprise search is a sales pitch.

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Arnold Interviewed about Amazon Blockchain Inventions

December 5, 2019

Robert David Steele, former CIA professional and open source intelligence expert, interviewed Stephen E Arnold about Amazon’s blockchain inventions. Arnold recently completed a chapter for a forthcoming academic press book about blockchain. That chapter and its information prompted journalists from the US and France to interview Arnold about his findings. Arnold’s information was included in news stories appearing in the New York Times, MIT Technology Review, and Le Monde.

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Steele obtained an exclusive video interview with Arnold about his Amazon blockchain research. Among the topics discussed in the 30 minute program are:

  • The “trigger” for the research
  • Sources of data and research methods
  • The major findings from the 18 month research project
  • The likely trajectory of Amazon’s products and services incorporating the company’s more than 12 blockchain inventions.
  • How to obtain a summary of Arnold’s research findings.

You can view the video at this link. Steele has compiled links to other Amazon information obtained from Arnold at this link.

Kenny Toth, December 5, 2019

Why Is MiningLamp Getting Ink?

December 3, 2019

The question “Why is MiningLamp getting ink?” is an interesting one to some people. The firm was founded in 2014. The company was a product of bunsha practiced by Miaozhen Systems, a company engaged in advertising “analysis.” The company is funded by Tencent, China Renaissance, and Sequoia Capital China. The firm may have revenues in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Data about the influence of the Chinese government is not available to the DarkCyber team at this time. MiningLamp may have received as much as $290 million from its backers.

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Companies want publicity to get sales leads, attract investors, create buzz to lure new hires, and become known to procurement professionals in government agencies.

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We noted talk about MiningLamp at a couple of law enforcement and intelligence conferences. The company provides policeware and intelware to customers in China and elsewhere. You can read about the firm on its Web site at this link. (Be patient. The service seems to provide a high latency experience.) Product pages also seem to be missing in action.

Nevertheless, “Chinese Data Mining Firm MiningLamp, Now a National AI Champion, Began by Helping Police Solve Crimes” does not talk about a dearth of public information. The write up states that “MiningLamp’s business analytics tools are used by more than 200 companies in the Fortune 200.” That’s a lot of big companies embracing investigative software. Judging from the attendees at law enforcement and intelligence conference, these big companies are finding out about a Chinese company somehow.

The news story states that “Like Palantir, this Chinese start up uses AI to help corporate clients convert huge volumes of data into actionable information.” Palantir is a big ticket item. Perhaps price is a factor or Fortune 200 companies want to rely on a business intelligence system operated by a company located outside the span of control of some government authorities.

The company has been named a Chinese champion. The article reveals:

Although not as well known as US equivalent Palantir Technologies, which reportedly contributed to America’s success in hunting down Osama bin Laden, MiningLamp’s data mining software is used to spot crime patterns, track drug dealers and prevent human trafficking.

DarkCyber thinks that any company which has 200 Fortune listed companies as customers is reasonably well known.

We learned:

“Cases are being resolved on our platforms every day” in more than 60 cities and regions in China, said founder and CEO Wu Minghui. “We can run fast analysis on potential drug dealers or major suspects, improving the overall case-solving efficiency several hundred times.”

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Amazon Loses JEDI: Now What?

October 26, 2019

Friday (October 25, 2019) Amazon and the Bezos bulldozer drove into a granite erratic. The Department of Defense awarded the multi-year, multi-billion dollar contract for cloud services to Microsoft. “Microsoft Snags Hotly Contested $10 Billion Defense Contract, Beating Out Amazon” reported the collision between PowerPoint’s owner and the killing machine which has devastated retail.

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CNBC reports:

If the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure deal, known by the acronym JEDI, ends up being worth $10 billion, it would likely be a bigger deal to Microsoft than it would have been to Amazon. Microsoft does not disclose Azure revenue in dollar figures but it’s widely believed to have a smaller share of the market than Amazon, which received $9 billion in revenue from AWS in the third quarter.

The write up pointed out:

While Trump didn’t cite Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos by name at the time, the billionaire executive has been a constant source of frustration for the president. Bezos owns The Washington Post, which Trump regularly criticizes for its coverage of his administration. Trump also has gone after Amazon repeatedly on other fronts, such as claiming it does not pay its fair share of taxes and rips off the U.S. Post Office.

There are other twists and turns to the JEDI story, but I will leave it to you, gentle reader, to determine if the Oracle anti-Amazon campaign played a role.

There are some questions which I discussed with my DarkCyber team when we heard the news as a rather uneventful week in the technology world wound down. Let’s look at four of these and the “answers” my team floated as possibilities.

Question 1: Will this defeat alter Amazon’s strategy for policeware and intelware business?

Answer 1: No. Since 2007, Amazon has been grinding forward in the manner of the Bezos bulldozer with its flywheel spinning and its electricity sparking. As big as $10 billion is, Amazon has invested significant time and resources in policeware and intelware inventions like DeepLens, software like SageMaker, and infrastructure designed to deliver information that many US government agencies will want and for which many of the more than 60 badge-and-gun entities in the US government will pay. The existing sales team may be juggled as former Microsoft government sales professional Teresa Carlson wrestles with the question, “What next?” Failure turns on a bright spotlight. The DoD is just one, albeit deep pocket entity, of many US government agencies needing cloud services. And there is always next year which begins October 1, 2020.

Question 2: Has Amazon tuned its cloud services and functions to the needs of the Department of Defense?

Answer 2: No. Amazon offers services which meet the needs of numerous government agencies at the federal as well as local jurisdictional levels. In fact, there is one US government agency deals with more money than the DoD that is a potential ATM for Amazon. The Bezos bulldozer drivers may be uniquely positioned to deliver cloud services and investigative tools with the potential payout to Amazon larger than the JEDI deal.

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