Facebook: A Curious Weakness and a Microsoft Strength

September 7, 2021

I read “The Irony of Facebook’s VR Collaboration Debacle” authored by a wizard whom I associate with IBM. I am not sure why the author’s observations trigger images of Big Blue, mainframes, and blazing history of Watson.

The angle in this essay is:

Collaboration is a social process where people get together to collectively solve problems. But Facebook sucks at social. A more accurate descriptor is that Facebook is a gossip platform at scale, which has done considerable harm to several countries and put them at considerable existential risk.

Yikes. “Sucks.” “Gossip platform.” And “harm to several countries.”

The write up zips into Zoom-land which Facebook allegedly wants to reimagine as a virtual reality metaverse.

Where is the analysis of “Facebook sucks” heading? Here’s a clue:

Facebook’s Horizon Workrooms is not collaboration. Microsoft Teams would be a better solution for information sharing because you’d see Zuckerberg, not an avatar that looks nothing like him.

I think I have it. The write up is a rah-rah for Teams. I was hoping that the conclusion would point to IBM video services.

Nope, it’s Microsoft a company I presume which does not suck, is not a gossip platform, and has not done harm to several countries?

Stephen E Arnold, September 7, 2021

Intel: The Horse Collar/Ridge Whatever Outfit Does Alder Lake

August 30, 2021

I read “Intel Unveils Details of 100B-Transistor AI Chip and Alder Lake Hybrid Processor.” Interesting. The write up explains a chip with 100 billion transistors. Like IBM’s latest, the chip will include artificial intelligence. Like Lego blocks, “plates” can be snapped together.

Here’s the passage in “Alder Lake Extravaganza: Intel Unloads Details on its Next-Gen CPU” I found somewhat sobering

After six years stuck on 14nm, Intel needs to demonstrate that it can recapture process and performance leadership.

Who will fab these chips? Intel’s planned facilities in water-starved Arizona. TSMC? Existing facilities owned by Intel? An acquisition’s facilities?

When will these chips become available? After Horse chip leaves the stable?

Stephen E Arnold, August 30, 2021

99 Percent Accurate: Close Enough for PR Output

August 24, 2021

I am not entering a horse in this race, a dog in this fight, or a pigeon in this race. I want to point to a write up in a newspaper in some way very tenuously connected to the former driver of the Bezos bulldozer. That write is “Opinion: Apple’s New Child Safety Tool Comes with Privacy Trade-Offs — Just Like All the Others.”

Right off the bat I noted the word “all.” Okay, categorical affirmatives put my teeth edge the same way Miss Blackburn’s fingernails scraping on the blackboard in calculus class did. “All”. Very tidy.

The write up contains an interesting statement or two. I circled this one in Bezos bulldozer orange:

The practice of on-device flagging may sound unusually violative. Yet Apple has a strong argument that it’s actually more protective of privacy than the industry standard. The company will learn about the existence of CSAM only when the quantity of matches hits a certain threshold, indicating a collection.

The operative word is threshold. Like “all”, threshold sparks a few questions in my mind. Does it yours? Let me provide a hint: Who or what sets a threshold? And under what conditions is a threshold changed? There are others, but I want to make this post readable to my TikTok-like readers.

I liked the conundrum angle too:

The benefit of nabbing abusers in this case may outweigh these hypothetical harms, especially if Apple holds itself to account — and the public keeps on the pressure. Yet the company’s conundrum emphasizes an unpleasant truth: Doing something to protect public safety in the Internet age is better than doing nothing — yet every “something” introduces issues of its own.

Fascinating. I am curious how Apple PR and marketing will respond. Hopefully with fewer unsupported assertions, info about thresholds, and the logician’s bane: A categorical affirmative.

Stephen E Arnold, August 24, 2021

Yes, IBM Watson in Zoom Type Sessions

August 23, 2021

Zoom type meetings are not my fave. Your mileage may vary, but I miss the whole travel to meeting, small talk over crappy snacks, and watching the humanoids in action or inaction as the case may be.

I read “3 Smart Video Collaboration Features We Still Need.” The royal “we” is a nice touch for a consultant to IBM. The write up suggests that IBM Watson can tag along and monitor Zoom type meetings. When the hapless group of disinterested Zoom type participants needs “strategy” or “policy” information, good, old Watson will provide that input.

Here’s a comment from the write up:

There’s even something like IBM’s Watson Assistant, which could answer policy and strategy questions during a meeting. (Disclosure: IBM is a client of the author.) Many times, questions aren’t answered by the most knowledgeable person at the table, but by either the most obnoxious or most senior leader. Watson could steer the conversation toward the best outcome. We are on the cusp of taking collaboration systems much farther than they have ever gone. It’s time to turn them into the productivity engines they can be.

I like the disclosure at the end of the write up. Plus, the expert concludes with his strongest marketing pitch. The notion that staring at a camera and monitor will become a productivity engine is amusing. Sci fi fans will love the suggestion.

Oh, wait! Facebook has announced its next big thing. Slap on the virtual reality hood and have an almost real meeting. Stir in some Watson and we will have a winner.

A few observations:

  • Smart software can demonstrate bias and incorrect outputs; providing high value strategy and policy outputs not so much
  • IBM Watson is, as far as I know, the only smart software to fail in the cancer and Covid amelioration trial runs. Isn’t that zero for two?
  • Zoom type interactions have not slowed some companies in their attempt to get employees back into a setting in which those very same humanoids can be monitored, involved in meetings, and pulled into a conversation without the all-to-common “I can’t connect.”

Content marketing is interesting. Unfortunately it is too easy to spot the messaging. No Watson needed because that smart software struggles to deliver more than opportunities for cheerleading for an ageing amalgam of open source, home brew code, and acquired technology.

And the other features? A smart moderator for Zoom type meetings? Err. What? A mom? An Adam Carolla? Plus, another Zoom type meeting at the same time? Yikes. Gee whiz, Computerworld.

Stephen E Arnold, August 23, 2021

The Google Wants to Be Sciencey

August 19, 2021

This write up is not about time crystals. This write up is about being sciencey or more sciencey than any other online advertising company is at this time. Freeze that thought, please.

The Next Web exclaims, “Google’s ‘Time Crystals’ Could Be the Greatest Scientific Achievement of our Lifetimes: EurekaEurekaEurekaEureka!” We are told Google researchers and their partners “may” have created time crystals, which were hypothesized nine years ago. We also learn the research has yet to survive a full peer-review process. At the very least, this represents quite a leap for the company’s marketing department, which has been trying to position the company as the quantum leader for years. To say writer Tristan Greene is excited about the (potential) triumph is an understatement. He declares:

“Eureka! A research team featuring dozens of scientists working in partnership with Google‘s quantum computing labs may have created the world’s first time crystal inside a quantum computer. … These scientists may have produced an entirely new phase of matter.”

Greene notes that it is difficult to understand exactly what time crystals are, but he tries his best to explain it to us. See the write-up for his attempt, and/or turn to one of these alternate explanations for more details. The quantum-computing enthusiast goes on to explain why he is so excited:

“Literally everyone should care. As I wrote back in 2018, time crystals could be the miracle quantum computing needs. Time crystals have always been theoretical. And by ‘always,’ I mean: since 2012 when they were first hypothesized. If Google‘s actually created time-crystals, it could accelerate the timeline for quantum computing breakthroughs from ‘maybe never’ to ‘maybe within a few decades.’ At the far-fetched, super-optimistic end of things – we could see the creation of a working warp drive in our lifetimes. Imagine taking a trip to Mars or the edge of our solar system, and being back home on Earth in time to catch the evening news. And, even on the conservative end with more realistic expectations, it’s not hard to imagine quantum computing-based chemical and drug discovery leading to universally-effective cancer treatments. This could be the big eureka we’ve all been waiting for. I can’t wait to see what happens in peer-review.”

Yes, we too would like to see the outcome of that process. Will Google be trumpeting the results from the rooftops? Or will it quietly move on as with some previous Google endeavors?

It’s more likely that Google wants to generate some sciencey stuff to muffle the antitrust investigations, the Timnit Gebru matter, and the company’s data collection services which support online advertising.

Freeze that with a time crystal, please.

Cynthia Murrell, August 19, 2021

Is MIT Dissing Its CompSci Grads, Maybe the Google, IBM, and Possibly AI in General

August 3, 2021

Hey, what does one expect from an outfit which did some Fancy Dancing with alleged human trafficker Jeffrey Epstein? I don’t expect much. It was amusing to me to read “Hundreds of AI Tools Have Been Built to Catch Covid. None of Them Helped.” Why am I laughing? Well, there are the MIT spawned smart software systems populating architecturally disappointing structures in the Boston area. There is also the really nifty teaming with IBM Watson (yep, the smart software systems which is less exciting that RedHat when it comes to tickling shareholders’ fancies). Watson, as you may recall, is allegedly the first artificial intelligence system to be placed on a patient trolley and bustled out of the emergency room exit by a clutch of cancer docs.

The referenced write up makes clear that Covid is either smarter than the smartest people in the world, or the smartest people in the world are dumber than their résumés suggest. The truth, I admit, might be somewhere in the middle of tenure squabbles, non-reproducible results, and good old PT Barnun malarkey.

The write up states:

The AI community, in particular, rushed to develop software that many believed would allow hospitals to diagnose or triage patients faster, bringing much-needed support to the front lines—in theory. In the end, many hundreds of predictive tools were developed. None of them made a real difference, and some were potentially harmful.

Yo, what’s this harm thing? Like Google’s brilliant progress on solving death, the hubris and rah rah about what a PhD demonstration implies, and what those Rube Goldberg constructions of downloadable code deliver are quite different.

The write up drags a reader through case examples of baloney. The write up documents failure. Yep, F. Failure for whiz kids who never experienced a set back which a helicopter mom or proud PhD mentor couldn’t address. A phone call from donors like Mr. Epstein probably helped too.

So the big question is posed by the estimable MIT cuddled write up: What went wrong?

What’s the answer?

Guess what. Lots. Bad data, wonky algorithms, statistical drift, grant crazed researchers.

This is a surprise?

Nope. In a nutshell, the entire confection of smart software’s capabilities is deconstructed in my opinion:

In a sense, this is an old problem with research. Academic researchers have few career incentives to share work or validate existing results. There’s no reward for pushing through the last mile that takes tech from “lab bench to bedside,”.

Should I bring up Mr. Epstein’s penchant for bedside activities. History will have to judge which is the more problematic social behavior.

Stephen E Arnold, August 3, 2021

Marketing from Home

July 30, 2021

Many fields have seen a shift to remote work that is likely to stick around long after the pandemic is just a bitter memory. The Technology Headlines focuses on one sector in, “How Has the Crisis Affected Marketers?” The write-up states its figures come from executives, marketers, account managers, and brand directors from around the world. We learn:

“This rapid and profound change in the working model has far-reaching implications, as many social and economic challenges of 2020. But even with the adversity, you can already see the benefits that could positively impact the growth of the marketing industry for years to come. The main findings are as follows:

  1. By working remotely, account managers and brand managers are nearly twice as likely to be more productive as their top management.
  2. Remote creative collaboration is much more difficult for young marketers than for their more experienced counterparts.
  3. One in five marketers believes  that career opportunities have indeed improved during the pandemic.
  4. 42% of managers believe that communication with the team is better when working remotely.
  5. Working from home has become the norm, and most marketers say telecommuting will impact their hiring plans in the future.
  6. Marketing employees are far more eager to return to the office than their home-based counterparts.
  7. Direct mail and outdoor advertising are promotion channels that marketers assume will be a thing of the past after the pandemic, and there is already a rise in paid social activity, digital advertising and podcast sponsorship.”

Whether working remotely has been beneficial or not varies widely. While nearly a third of marketers reported improved productivity working remotely, almost a quarter stated the opposite. For 31% of workers, the situation gave them a chance to prove themselves to their managers. Perhaps that is only natural since time spent interacting in meetings drastically increased. Over half of the respondents expect the number of remote workers, whether full-time employees or freelancers, to actually increase going forward. For better or worse, it looks like the bulk of marketing work is not moving back into the office any time soon.

Cynthia Murrell, July 30, 2021

Inhale Scholarly Journal Content Marketing

July 29, 2021

Dominant e-cigarette maker Juul demonstrates content marketing can be used to address even the thorniest of problems—just buy a lot of story opportunities. The American Prospect reports, “Juul: Taking Academic Corruption to a New Level.” After vaping was shown to cause illness in 2019, Juul’s previously lofty fortunes plummeted. Its blatant marketing to teens did not help its standing. Now the FDA is considering whether to ban the sale of e-cigarettes in the US altogether. Naturally, Juul is investing millions to help it decide. There are the traditional lobbying efforts of course. Then there is the wholesale buying out of an “academic” journal. Reporter David Dayen cites a recent New York Times article as he writes:

“Juul, the Times reports, ‘paid $51,000 to have the entire May/June issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior devoted to publishing 11 studies funded by the company offering evidence that Juul products help smokers quit.’ The corruption of academic research is not a new subject. Corporations fund third-party studies and benefit from ‘independent’ validation of their perspectives all the time. But this is a new wrinkle. Juul didn’t just front money for a couple of academic papers; it bought an entire edition of the American Journal of Health Behavior (AJHB), which it can then point to as “proof” that its product has a public-health benefit, the key question currently before the FDA. And the more you look at this story, the stranger it gets. The $51,000 fee included $6,500 to unlock the entire journal for public access—so you can read the entire special 219-page Juul issue here. It’s fascinating. There are 26 named co-authors on the 11 studies. According to the ‘Conflict of Interest’ statements associated with them, 18 of the co-authors are either current full-time employees of Juul, or were full-time employees at the time they conducted the research. Five others are consultants with Pinney Associates, working ‘on an exclusive basis to Juul Labs.’ And the final three, who co-authored one of the 11 studies, are employees of the Centre for Substance Use Research, an ‘independent’ consultancy that designed that study under a contract with … Juul Labs.”

One of those Pinney Associates consultants also acted as the special issue’s internal editor and papers coordinator. “Independent” they say—I do not think that word means what they think it means. Readers will not be surprised the articles overwhelmingly support the notion e-cigarettes are a good thing because they shift smokers away from “combustible tobacco products,” providing an “aid to public health.” I suppose we are to accept all those vaping illnesses because they do not affect bystanders? The articles fail to mention their primary money maker: luring in a wealth of new nicotine addicts.

Daven also calls out the American Journal of Health Behavior for its part in the scheme. Though the journal touts its ethical guidelines, its practice of charging authors to publish would seem to encourage companies to buy up its pages to spread (mis)information. In the eyes of the law, all of this is just fine as long as the journal “adequately” discloses articles’ sponsorship. To Daven, though, pay-to-publish delivers a series of swindles. He writes:

“Academics are desperate to publish in journals to prove to their universities that they are working diligently. Corporations recognize the opportunity to underwrite research and produce independent validation of their goals. And they turn around and use that research to persuade policymakers, who presume themselves sophisticated about spotting fake research, but probably are not.”

And that is the why companies pursue these projects in the first place—too many decision makers are willing to take the word of what looks like an authority, no matter what disclosures are attached. The Juul issue appears to have been a bridge too far for at least some of the journal’s editorial board members, for the Times reports three of them resigned after the propaganda was produced. Let us hope they do not give these articles much weight as they make their decision.

Cynthia Murrell, July 29, 2021

NSO Group: A PR Consequence and Expected If Not Anticipated

July 28, 2021

The intelware outfit NSO Group has moved from a narrow, somewhat wonky specialized services niche to a different arena. The development was discussed my the DarkCyber research team when the news of the NSO Group ice cream spill floated to the top of the info river. (Why are we using the code phrase ice cream meltdown? Maybe a Ben and Jerry’s reference to certain interests not aligned with those of Israel’s specialized services industry? Metaphors are the stuff of poetry, so you will have to reach your own conclusions.)


So the ice cream meltdown is getting messy. DarkCyber was not surprised to read “Snowden Skewers Big Tech, Amoral Capital Firms for Enabling Insecurity Industry & Calls for Urgent Action.” The write up appears in an interesting publication which runs advertising to supplement its other sources of income. Snowden, as you may recall, is a former security sector worker bee who dumped documents, many of which are marked as secret or classified. Then Mr. Snowden found himself within the fashionable confines of Sheremetyevo International Airport. He then repaired to a more permanent location in Moscow and crafted a bit of work thinking, writing blog posts, doing lectures, and giving interviews. The topics are mostly about security, which is a shorthand way of rippling the fabric of some countries’ intelligence gathering nets.

The write up states:

In a searing post on his blog, ‘Continuing Ed’, the NSA whistleblower pointed to the Pegasus scandal as a “turning point” that exposed the “fatal consequences” of private-sector companies like the NSO Group that are part of this “out-of-control” industry – whose “sole purpose is the production of vulnerability.” “The phone in your hand exists in a state of perpetual insecurity, open to infection by anyone willing to put money in the hand of this new Insecurity Industry,” Snowden noted, adding that its clients range from countries to “sex-criminal Hollywood producers who can dig a few million out of their couch cushions.”

The write up, not content to link to Mr. Snowden’s intriguing blog, includes one of his tweets which is in italics below:

If you want to see Microsoft have a heart attack, talk about defining legal liability for bad code in a commercial product. To give Facebook nightmares, talk about making it legally liable for leaks of their unnecessarily collected personal records.

Several observations I want to capture before I forget them are:

  1. The NSO Group ice cream melting has become a sticky mess. The PR problem spilled into the political arena in Israel, and now it has captured other entities and their methods as well. I think it is crisis management time, not SEO content management time.
  2. Mr. Snowden’s comments indicate that he is not a fan of some of the business practices associated with the US and its allies. This raises the question, “To what is Mr. Snowden allied?”
  3. The language of the Russia Today write up makes it clear that NSO Group has jumped from specialized software to the foil for state-sponsored cyber activities. The NSO Group’s actions, one might conclude, make the actions of a few young hackers look like very small potatoes like those grown near the border of Estonia.

The NSO Group ice cream melt may spread farther, attract flies, and damage some very expensive kitchen furnishings, maybe a careless person’s jumper, and require replacement of some placemats.

Yep, melting ice cream. A mess with consequences for the specialized services sector.

Stephen E Arnold, July 28, 2021

NSO Group: PR Push?

July 26, 2021

I checked my Overflight system to see what’s shakin’ with the NSO Group pickle. (I ran these queries on July 25, 2021.)  I noted a series of write ups. Here’s a sampling:

Economic Times of India, “Millions Sleep Well at Night, Walk Safely on Streets Due to Technologies like Pegasus: NSO”

New Indian Express, “Millions Sleep Well at Night, Walk Safely on Streets Due to Technologies Like Pegasus: NSO”

ABP Live, “Millions Sleep Well At Night, Walk Safely On Streets Thanks To Technologies Like Pegasus: NSO”

Technology for You, “Millions Sleep Well, Walk Safely Due To Technologies Like Pegasus, Says NSO”

Devdiscourse, “Millions Sleep Well at Night, Walk Safely on Streets Due to Technologies like Pegasus: NSO”

And there are more, quite a few more.

Here’s a screenshot from the low profile Web search engine called 50 Thousand Feet. Notice that this is the fourth page of results:

a nso small results

After making brilliant statements over the last week, NSO Group is now demonstrating content marketing carpet bombing. The idea is to flood certain channels with the message about getting a good night’s sleep. In a market niche characterized by people and organizations keeping a low profile, NSO Group is a veritable Vasco de Gama. The company has launched its stout marketing in order to open a new path to understanding.

Several questions:

  1. Will the good news content marketing about NSO Group’s positive contributions to a good night sleep deflect the investigative journalists collecting information about the company?
  2. Was the PR effort a result of a suggestion from an Israeli government task force?
  3. What content marketing firm pushed out the stories?
  4. How will the deduplication functions of the stunning Bing.com search, the chart-topping Google search, and the bear-like Yandex handle the same story in numerous outlets?
  5. How much did this NSO content marketing campaign cost?
  6. Is the “sleeping well” story the first wave of content bombs or is it a one and done assault?
  7. Does the content marketing carpet bombing capture the attention of TikTok and YouTube consumers?

I find this an interesting PR campaign. Good news is welcome by many. For some, the flood of “sleeping well” assurances raises the question: “What’s NSO Group trying to accomplish?” The news organizations loosing their investigative reporters on this story may find the smoke, sound, and shock waves from the content marketing carpet bombing like a lavish picnic lunch on a blanket adjacent a fire ant mound:


Those Solenopsidini critters can be industrious, very industrious when content marketing pops the lids on picnic goodies as the campfire grills the mixture of lamb and ground beef. Where’s there is smoke, there is fire. Where there is fire in the summer, it’s either a picnic or disaster.

Stephen E Arnold, July 26, 2021

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