Bitcoin Alternative Monero Accepted by AlphaBay

March 17, 2017

As institutions like banks and law enforcement come to grips with the flow of Bitcoin, another cyber currency is suddenly gaining ground. Bloomberg Technology reveals, “New Digital Currency Spikes as Drug Dealers Get More Secrecy.” The coin in question, Monero, has been around for a couple of years, but was recently given a boost by the marketplace AlphaBay, one of the most popular destinations for buyers of illicit drugs on the Dark Web. In the two weeks after the site announced it would soon accept Monero, the total worth of that currency in circulation jumped to over $100 million (from about $25 million the previous month). Writer Yuji Nakamura explains why a shift may be underway:

Bitcoin, the most popular digital currency in the world with a total value of $9.1 billion, also allows users to move funds discreetly and uses a network of miners to verify the authenticity of each trade. But its privacy has come under threat as governments and private investigators increase their ability to track transactions across the bitcoin network and trace funds to bank accounts ultimately used to convert digital assets to and from traditional currencies like U.S. dollars.

Monero similarly uses a network of miners to verify its trades, but mixes multiple transactions together to make it harder to trace the genesis of the funds. It also adopts ‘dual-key stealth’ addresses, which make it difficult for third-parties to pinpoint who received the funds.

For any two outputs, from the same or different transactions, you cannot prove they were sent to the same person,’ Riccardo Spagni, a lead developer of Monero, wrote by e-mail. Jumbling trades together makes it ‘impossible to tell which transaction, of a set of transactions, a particular input comes from. It appears to come from all of them.

Though Monero has yet to withstand the trials of AlphaBay-level volumes for long, its security features received praise from investor and prominent digital-currency-advocate Roger Ver. As of this writing, Monero is ranked fifth among digital currencies in overall market value. Click here for a list of digital currencies ranked, in real time, by market cap.

Cynthia Murrell, March 17, 2017

Dark Web Explosives Buyer Busted Through FBI Infiltration

March 9, 2017

Here is the story of another successful Dark Web bust. Motherboard reports, “Undercover FBI Agent Busts Alleged Explosives Buyer on the Dark Web.” The 50-year-old suspect was based in Houston, and reporter Joseph Cox examined the related documents from the Southern District of Texas court. We are not surprised to learn that the FBI found this suspect through its infiltration of AlphaBay.; Cox writes:

The arrest was largely due to the work of an undercover agent who posed as an explosives seller on the dark web marketplace AlphaBay, showing that, even in the age of easy-to-use anonymization technology, old-school policing tactics are still highly effective at catching suspects.

According to the complaint, on August 21, an FBI Online Covert Employee (OCE)—essentially an undercover agent—located outside Houston logged into an AlphaBay vendor account they were running and opened an unsolicited private message from a user called boatmanstv. ‘looking for wireless transmitter with detonator,’ the message read. ‘Everything I need to set of a 5 gallon can of gas from a good distance away [sic].’ The pair started a rapport, and boatmanstv went into some detail about what he wanted to do with the explosives.

One thing led to another, and the buyer and “seller” agreed to an exchange after communicating for a couple of weeks. (Dark Web sting operations require patience. Lots of patience.) It became clear that Boatmanstv had some very specific plans in mind for a very specific target, and that he’d made plenty of purchases from AlphaBay before. The FBI was able to connect the suspect’s email account to other accounts, and finally to his place of business. He was arrested shortly after receiving and opening the FBI’s package, so it would appear there is one fewer violent criminal on the streets of Houston.

It is clear that the FBI, and other intelligence organizations, are infiltrating the Dark Web more and more. Let the illicit buyer be wary.

Cynthia Murrell, March 9, 2016

Fake News Is Old News. Fake Research Is Old Too.

March 1, 2017

I read “Crossfire” on the Andrewgelman.com site. I liked the write up. I noted the introduction’s quotation from 1967. I had heard something similar from one of my college instructors in 1962. My recollection is that one of his professors told him about crazy research, fiddled experiments, and lousy math in the late 1930s. My hunch is that this declaration of “a crisis” has been pointed out since folks gathered for lectures about mathiness and rational thought.

I did highlight several passages from the write up:

  • A comment about a flawed study: “The basic problem here is not the results, but the basic implausibility of the methods combined with the results.”
  • On getting published in an academic journal: “Everything will get published, if you just keep submitting it to journal after journal.”
  • On the state of “real” research: “The real problem is that this sort of work is standard operating practice in the field of psychology, no better and no worse (except for the faked data) than the papers on himmicanes, air rage, etc., endorsed by the prestigious National Academy of Sciences. As long as this stuff is taken seriously…”

There’s interest in fake news. A British newspaper staffed with “real” journalists has been banned as a source for Wikipedia. What about “real” scholars who crank out fake research? Oh, right, it takes expertise to identify some academic baloney. Who has time for academic research when watching Facebook videos is the better way to become a critical thinker. Marketing for tenure: Great idea.

Stephen E Arnold, March 1, 2017

Finding Meaning in Snapchat Images, One Billion at a Time

February 27, 2017

The article on InfoQ titled Amazon Introduces Rekognition for Image Analysis explores the managed service aimed at the explosive image market. According to research cited in the article, over 1 billion photos are taken every single day on Snapchat alone, compared to the 80 billion total taken in the year 2000. Rekognition’s deep learning power is focused on identifying meaning in visual content. The article states,

The capabilities that Rekognition provides include Object and Scene detection, Facial Analysis, Face Comparison and Facial Recognition. While Amazon Rekognition is a new public service, it has a proven track record. Jeff Barr, chief evangelist at AWS, explains: Powered by deep learning and built by our Computer Vision team over the course of many years, this fully-managed service already analyzes billions of images daily. It has been trained on thousands of objects and scenes. Rekognition was designed from the get-go to run at scale.

The facial analysis features include markers for image quality, facial landmarks like facial hair and open eyes, and sentiment expressed (smiling = happy.) The face comparison feature includes a similarity score that estimates the likelihood of two pictures being of the same person. Perhaps the most useful feature is object and scene detection, which Amazon believes will help users find specific moments by searching for certain objects. The use cases also span vacation rental markets and travel sites, which can now tag images with key terms for improved classifications.

Chelsea Kerwin, February 27, 2017

IBM Watson: Mixed Signals from the Real World and IBM Marketers

February 21, 2017

I read a write up which might be fake news for all I know. I live in rural Kentucky and the doings of folks in a big city like Houston are mysterious and far away. Out local doctor squeezes in humans after dealing with race horses and dogs.

I read in Forbes, the capitalist tool, this story: “MD Anderson Benches IBM Watson In Setback For Artificial Intelligence In Medicine.”

The main idea is easy to grasp, even for folks like me sitting near the wood stove in Harrod’s Creek. As I understand it, IBM Watson was supposed to be helping the doctors at the número uno cancer treatment center in their quest to eradicate cancer. I assume the idea was to make more time available to physicians and other health care givers because IBM Watson would have had answers about patient treatment. IBM Watson knew the Jeopardy answers, right. Dealing with cancer-related questions seems to me to be easier: More narrow domain, more consistent terminology, smart people, etc etc.

The possibly fake news write up says:

The partnership between IBM and one of the world’s top cancer research institutions is falling apart. The project is on hold, MD Anderson confirms, and has been since late last year. MD Anderson is actively requesting bids from other contractors who might replace IBM in future efforts. And a scathing report from auditors at the University of Texas says the project cost MD Anderson more than $62 million and yet did not meet its goals.

But there is good news, or at least face saving news. I like this statement in the capitalist tool:

The report, however, states: “Results stated herein should not be interpreted as an opinion on the scientific basis or functional capabilities of the system in its current state.”

The door is not locked. Perhaps IBM Watson will once again be allowed to dine in the MD Anderson cafeteria and spark the pixels on the MD Anderson computing devices. Every smart software cloud may have a silver lining. Right?

But the project seems to be on “hold.” If the news is fake, then the project is full steam ahead, but I think the truth is closer to something like this: The users found the system like other smart software. Sort of helpful sometimes. At other times, the smart software was adding work, time, and frustration to an already high pressure, high stakes environment.

The capitalist tool ventures this observation:

The disclosure comes at an uncomfortable moment for IBM. Tomorrow, the company’s chief executive, Ginni Rometty, will make a presentation to a giant health information technology conference detailing the progress Watson has made in health care, and announcing the launch of new products for managing medical images and making sure hospitals deliver value for the money, as well as new partnerships with healthcare systems. The end of the MD Anderson collaboration looks bad.

I have zero idea what giant conference is held “tomorrow.” But I did notice this write up, which may be a coincidence: “IBM Sees Watson As a Primary Care Provider’s Assistant.” This seems similar to what IBM Watson was going to do at the MD Anderson cancer center. The write up asserts:

IBM is prepping Watson to work alongside primary care physicians and streamline processes. The company also added features to its Watson-based health cloud services.

The IBM Watson system has been enhanced too. The write up reports:

That Watson-primary care provider connection is being rolled out in Central New York in a six-county region and more than 2,000 providers. Meanwhile, Atrius Health, based in Massachusetts, will embed IBM’s cognitive computing tools inside its electronic medical records workflow for primary care providers.

This sounds good. Perhaps this is the “real” IBM Watson news. Rapid adoption and new capabilities make IBM Watson a must have in the smart health care providers arsenal of disease fighting weapons.

But there is that MD Anderson situation.

What do I make of these apparently contradictory write ups, which I assume are fake news, of course?

  1. IBM Watson, like other end user smart software systems, is a disappointment in actual use. Humans have to learn how to use the system and then take time to figure out which of the outputs are the ones that are likely to be useful in a particular patient’s case. Instead of saving time, the smart software adds tasks to already stretched professionals.
  2. The marketing and sales pressure is great. As a result, the marketers’ explanations may not match up with the engineering realities of a search-based system. When the marketers have left the building, the users learn the reality. After normal bureaucratic jabbering, the users’ dissatisfaction become too much for administrators to deal with. Hasta la vista, Sr. Watson.
  3. IBM, like other outfits betting on smart software, continue to repeat the cycle of belief, hyperbolic marketing, and learning about the costs and problems the smart system triggers. So why did Fast Search & Transfer’s run to fame fall off a cliff? Why is Hewlett Packard annoyed with Autonomy Software? Why did Entopia fail? Why is Lexmark’s new owners trying to exit the search with smart software business? Answer: Hope does not make an end user facing smart system generate sustainable revenues.

Because this IBM Watson news is fake. Why worry? Smart software will lift IBM to heights not experienced since the mainframe was the go to solution to computing needs. If you have a z series, you can run IBM Watson on it. Now that’s something I wish I could experience. My hunch is that none of the docs at MD Anderson will buy a z series and load up Watson because it is so darned useful. Maybe that is the “real” reality?

How does IBM get this Watson thing under control and generating money and producing happy customers? Let’s ask Watson? On the other hand, I don’t think the outputs will be too helpful.

Stephen E Arnold, February 21, 2017

Lucidworks (Really?) Channels Exalead Circa 2006

February 16, 2017

I know that many search wizards have short memories. If the mavens have long memories, the thought process may be that no one remembers the past. Yo, gentle reader, I do. Exalead, a search and retrieval system, spawned by a former member of the AltaVista team is now part of Dassault, the French super engineering firm. At one time, clear eyed marketers at Exalead decided that the best way to sell licenses to Exalead’s pretty good search system was to position the system as the enabler of search based applications. One of the Dassault Exalead wizards wrote a book about this. The book appeared in 2011 as “Search Based Applications: At the Confluence of Search and Database Technologies” by Dr. David Grefenstette and Laura Wilbur.

Imagine my surprise when I read “Lucidworks Fusion 3 Enables Teams to Build Enterprise Search Apps Easier and Faster.” The write up explains:

Fusion 3 provides out-of-the-box capabilities for teams seeking to build robust enterprise-level search applications. With greater operational simplicity, IT personnel can now leapfrog months ahead in the development cycle, which allows them to focus on customizing applications to meet unique business needs. Shortening the development cycle even more, a streamlined guided setup feature makes Fusion 3 accessible to non-technical teams who can quickly build search applications that meet high user expectations.

There you go. A decade after the Exalead push for search based applications, Lucidworks (really?) has recycled another vendor’s concept. Note that the phrase “search based applications” was not new to Exalead. I recall hearing it used by one of Personal Library Software’s marketers decades earlier.

Will Lucidworks (really?) marketing pitch generate revenue? Exalead used its positioning to sell itself to Dassault in 2009? Will Lucidworks (really?) find a buyer? There are a number of open source integrators floating around.

More than recycled plastic is going to be needed to spark a renaissance in vendors piggybacking on the free and open source Lucene and Solr software in my opinion.

Then there is search history, but that’s no longer important or even interesting. This type of search marketing recycling amuses me, and I was an adviser to Exalead and one of the reviewers of the Search Based Applications book.

Stephen E Arnold, February 16, 2017

Creating a Product Taxonomy Just Got a Whole Lot Easier

February 16, 2017

The article on PRWeb titled WAND, Inc. Announces the Launch of the WAND eCommerce Taxonomy Portal discusses the breakthrough in classification technology from WAND. WAND Inc. is a Denver-based company that has been around since 1938 and holds a tight grip on industry vertical taxonomies, business taxonomies, and specialty domain taxonomies.

Users of the WAND eCommerce Taxonomy Portal can select from a content library of more than 44,000 hierarchical categories, 70,000 attributes, and over 260,000 attribute values to jump-start a taxonomy. Tools to customize the category hierarchy and attribute templates are simple to use and the pre-defined content can be augmented with new categories and attributes to efficiently build a custom taxonomy. The resulting custom product taxonomy can be exported into any common data format for import into product information management software or ecommerce platforms.

Perfect for retail, ecommerce, procurement, MDM, and manufacturing companies, the eCommerce Taxonomy Portal provides a foundation to build on, and averts the painstaking process of building classifications up from scratch. Mark Leher, WAND’s COO, is quoted in the article defining the web-based applications place in the master data management arena. He explains that it can be used to speed up taxonomy projects by empowering users to simply edit, rather than start from the very beginning.

Chelsea Kerwin, February 16, 2017

Investment Group Acquires Lexmark

February 15, 2017

We read with some trepidation the Kansas City Business Journal’s article, “Former Perceptive’s Parent Gets Acquired for $3.6B in Cash.”  The parent company referred to here is Lexmark, which bought up one of our favorite search systems, ISYS Search, in 2012 and placed it under its Perceptive subsidiary, based in Lenexa, Kentucky. We do hope this valuable tool is not lost in the shuffle.

Reporter Dora Grote specifies:

A few months after announcing that it was exploring ‘strategic alternatives,’ Lexmark International Inc. has agreed to be acquired by a consortium of investors led by Apex Technology Co. Ltd. and PAG Asia Capital for $3.6 billion cash, or $40.50 a share. Legend Capital Management Co. Ltd. is also a member of the consortium.

Lexmark Enterprise Software in Lenexa, formerly known as Perceptive Software, is expected to ‘continue unaffected and benefit strategically and financially from the transaction’ the company wrote in a release. The Lenexa operation — which makes enterprise content management software that helps digitize paper records — dropped the Perceptive Software name for the parent’s brand in 2014. Lexmark, which acquired Perceptive for $280 million in cash in 2010, is a $3.7 billion global technology company.

If the Lexmark Enterprise Software (formerly known as Perceptive) division will be unaffected, it seems they will be the lucky ones. Grote notes that Lexmark has announced that more than a thousand jobs are to be cut amid restructuring. She also observes that the company’s buildings in Lenexa have considerable space up for rent. Lexmark CEO Paul Rooke is expected to keep his job, and headquarters should remain in Lexington, Kentucky.

Cynthia Murrell, February 15, 2017

Online Gun Sales Strengthens the Technology and Law Enforcement Connection

February 14, 2017

A feature article on CNN recently provided some background on Dark Web marketplaces. Entitled Inside the illegal online weapons trade, this piece shares the story of Michael Andrew Ryan. Ryan adopted the moniker gunrunner and opened up a gun sales business on the Dark Web while based in a small town in Kansas. Dark Web trading statistics are tough to pinpoint. However, in comparison with other illegal online trading, gun sales on the Dark Web are less than 3% according to a Carnegie Mellon professor and researcher. The author writes,

By the way, it’s entirely legal to buy guns online in the U.S. — although the process is more complicated, depending on various factors. Nonetheless, the ATF said it’s taking enforcement to a new level by creating an Internet Investigations Center aimed at combating illegal online gunrunners. The center includes federal agents, legal counsel and investigators. Their job: track illegal online firearms trafficking and feed intelligence to agents in the field. It’s a gigantic task, which aims to hit a constantly moving target.

While we will not comment on the sensationalizing and dramatizing of the Dark Web through Ryan’s story, we can say found the concluding remarks above to be helpful. This presents a good picture of the interconnectivity between multiple layers of law enforcement. It also hints at a need for technology upgrades in this cybersecurity arena.

Megan Feil, February 14, 2017

Data Mining Firm Cambridge Analytica Set to Capture Trump White House Communications Contract and Trump Organization Sales Contract

February 13, 2017

The article titled Data Firm in Talks for Role in White House Messaging — And Trump Business on The Guardian discusses the future role of Cambridge Analytica in both White House communication and the Trump Organization as well. Cambridge Analytica is a data company based out of London that boasts crucial marketing and psychological data on roughly 230 million Americans. The article points out,

Cambridge’s data could be helpful in both “driving sales and driving policy goals”, said the digital source, adding: “Cambridge is positioned to be the preferred vendor for all of that.”… The potential windfall for the company comes after the Mercers and Cambridge played key roles in Trump’s victory. Cambridge Analytica was tapped as a leading campaign data vendor as the Mercers… The Mercers reportedly pushed for the addition of a few top campaign aides, including Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, who became campaign manager.

Robert Mercer is a major investor in Cambridge Analytica as well as Breitbart News, Steve Bannon’s alt-right news organization. Steve Bannon is also on the board of Cambridge Analytica. The entanglements mount. Prior to potentially snagging these two wildly conflicting contracts, Cambridge Analytica helped Trump win the presidency with their data modeling and psychological profiling that focuses on building intimate relationships between brands and consumers to drive action.

Chelsea Kerwin, February 13, 2017

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