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Libraries Continue to Stay Awesome by Renting Out the Internet

August 26, 2016

The article on The Seattle Public Library titled SPL HOTSPOT offers library patrons a great option for “checking out” a mobile hotspot for up to 21 days for free with a valid library card. This is an excellent service for those of us without reliable Internet (thanks, Time Warner Cable) or who are travelling within the United States. More than anything, though, this service provides low-income Internet access. The article explains,

“The SPL HotSpot is an easy-to-use, mobile hotspot that keeps your tablet, laptop and other Wi-Fi–enabled devices connected to the Internet.

You can connect up to 15 devices to 4G LTE and 3G networks, and also charge external devices… You can return the hotspot to any Library location or book drop, just like other items. You must return the device with all the original packaging and accessories. Please fully charge the battery before you return the device.”

There are a few drawbacks: there is a $199 fine is the device is not returned on time, and according to user responses, the wait time is current up to 2 months. But due to the Internet monopolies by massive corporations, the cost of access is increasing; while at the same time so is our collective dependence on the Internet. Can you imagine going even a day without having it available? This is an invaluable service that will hopefully catch on elsewhere!

Chelsea Kerwin, August 26, 2016

Technology: The New Dr. Evil in the Digital Dark Age

August 9, 2016

When I ride my mule down the streets of Harrod’s Creek, I marvel at the young folks who walk while playing with their mobile phones. Heading home after buying oats for Melissa, I look forward to my kerosene lamps.

Technology does not frighten me. I find technology and the whiz kids amusing. I read “Technology Is Now Pop Culture’s Favorite Enemy.” Goodness. I find gizmos and bits fun. The write up suggests that fun loving, top one percenters in education and wealth are finding themselves at the wrong end of a varmint trap.

I find it interesting that technology, which some folks in big cities believe is the way out of a gloomy tunnel, is maybe not flowers, butterflies, and rainbows. (The unicorns have taken to the woods it seems. No unicorns at the moment.)

I learned:

The ubiquitous nature of futuristic technology has lead to an exponential increase in our distrust of each other and the products we use, but most interesting, has taken away some of the blame from government bodies and corporations. We no longer fear agency bodies as much as we fear the physical technology they use.

That seems harsh. I like the phrase, “We’re from the government and here to help you.” Don’t you?

The write up adds a philosophical note:

Despite us being more savvy of how to use social media or despite us having a better understanding of how computers work in general, most of us still aren’t fluent in how it all fits together. We give so much of ourselves over to our devices, and we don’t ask for much in return. When we give something that inanimate that much control over us, it’s terrifying to think that we’re willingly giving up our freedom.

Let’s think about technology in terms of public Web search. One plugs a query into a system. The system returns a list of results; that is, suggestions where information related to the query may be found.

But what is happening is that the person reviewing the outputs does not have to ask, “Are these results accurate? Are they advertising? Are they comprehensive?” There is another question as well, “Is the information objective?” And what about, “Is the information accurate; that is, verifiable?”

The search systems perform another magic trick. The user becomes a content input. This means that the person with access to the queries as a group or the query subset related to a particular individual has new information. In my experience, knowledge is power, and the folks using the search system do not generally have access to this information.

Asymmetry results. The technology outfits offering service have more information than the users. Search does more to illuminate the dark corners of those using the search system than the results of a search illuminate the user’s mind.

Without the inclination to figure out what’s valid and what’s not or lacking the expertise to perform this type of search results vetting, the users become the used.

That sounds philosophical but there is a practical value to the observation. Without access and capability, the information presented becomes a strong influence on how one thinks, views facts, and has behavior influenced.

My thought is, “Welcome to the medieval world.” It is good to be a king or a queen. To be an information peasant is the opposite.

Giddy up, Melissa. Time to be heading back to the digital hollow to think about the new digital Dr. Evil.

Stephen E Arnold, August 9, 2016

Library Search and Survival

July 29, 2016

I read “Library Systems Report 2016.” Interesting round up of niche player companies. The focus is upon library systems. This is today’s equivalent of the card catalogs I used when I was a wee lad in central Illinois.

Three points jumped out at me:

  • Most of the companies mentioned in the report are unknown outside of the library market. That’s okay. One can make a great deal of money serving niche markets. The takeaway for me was the technologies referenced struck me as decidedly 1990s-ish. There are no Palantir Technologies in this collection of “high tech” leaders.
  • The industry, which strikes me as small, compared with Pokémon Go is consolidating. I have no problem with this, but it suggests that library funding may be further constrained. With fewer libraries, there will be fewer customers; therefore, only the “big” will survive. MBAs threaten MLSs it seems.
  • Open source software and Web based and cloud solutions are beginning to have an impact. As I said, 1990s-ish thinking perhaps.

This quote sums up how one of the big dogs approaches the financial challenges it faces:

EBSCO Information Services stands as one of the major forces in the library technology sector, despite not offering it own comprehensive management product.

Unlike Google or Facebook, EBSCO, a company once known for making three ring binders, wants to be everyone’s connectivity pal.

Which of these vendors will become a billion dollar company? Which library start up will be the next big thing on Shark Tank?

I think I know the answer to these questions. Do you?

Stephen E Arnold, July 29, 2016

Bing Becomes More Like Telex

July 23, 2016

Decades ago, probably around 1980, I met with a person in New York City. The purpose of the meeting was to talk about value added information provided to users of the Telex system. (If you want a round up of Telex, let Wikipedia do it at this link.)

At that meeting, I saw the information available on the Telex “menu” for operators. There was a list of pop songs as I recall. Other “intellectual” goodies were the day’s astrological predictions, movies, and some star info. The demonstration consumed Telex minutes and, therefore, produced money for the outfit with which I was meeting. I knew that value added information like the content for which I responsible decades ago was a loser, non starter, dead dog, and of zero interest to this big company. The Telex provided information was breezy and designed to keep bored Telex operators amused when not typing out messages of grave import. It was, in a word, fluff. But it made money until the Telex world was vaporized by digital flows incompatible with double digit baud text delivery.

I thought of this demo when I read “Bing’s Home Page Gets Smart with Trivia, Quizzes & Polls.” The Bing innovation is a lowest common denominator function. Like the Telex information, it appeals to those with little to do. The intellectual payload is close to zero.

The write up, for understandable reasons, is not in the business of reminding the new Microsoft that it is imitating a Telex system’s content. I learned:

Senior managing editor Kristen Kennedy and senior program manager Vinay Krishna said they want Bing’s homepage to be a source of inspiration for millions and an entry point to learn more about the world.

Learning can be fun. What’s your sign? How is that horoscope’s accuracy today, gentle reader? What is the lowest common search denominator? Answer: Bing maybe?

Stephen E Arnold, July 23, 2016

DuckDuckGo: Filtering

July 22, 2016

I read “Is DuckDuckGo.com Partially Enforcing the “Celebrity Threesome Injunction“? The point of the write up is that information is filtered from search systems, including the privacy-centric system DuckDuckGo.com. I assume the queries summarized in the write up are spot on. If accurate, one cannot search that which is not in an index. That’s helpful for those who want to be thorough. It is also helpful for those who find themselves the subject of write ups already published and want to keep the links out of a search system’s results page. With folks loving the mobile research experience, who would know? The more interesting question, “Does anyone care?” A good example is the “artist” whose work disappeared from the Alphabet Google thing’s Blogger system. See “Google Deletes Artist’s Blog and a Decade of His Work along with It.” Back ups are good if not filtered by a helpful cloud service. Where did my music go anyway?

Stephen E Arnold, July 22, 2016

Real Time Remains Complicated and Costly

July 14, 2016

I love it when search and content processing vendors yammer about their “real time systems.” Years ago I did a report for a client in Europe about the costs of real time. Summarizing the six month research effort is easy: Real time is tough in computer systems. Latency exists.

To get a sense of how tough it is to accelerate certain online actions, navigate to “Legendary Hedge Fund Wants to Use Atomic Clocks to Beat High-Speed Traders.” Despite the wonky “legendary,” I noted this comment:

Patent application no. 14/451,356 [to find this puppy use US2016/0035027] has one goal: to outrun the speed demons of Wall Street. The 16-page document was quietly published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in February. Replete with schematic drawings, the filing describes a novel way for “executing synchronized trades in multiple exchanges.” The invention consists of not only sophisticated algorithms and a host of computer servers, but atomic clocks — precisely calibrated to vibrations of irradiated cesium atoms — to sync orders to within a few billionths of a second.

I also highlighted:

Its invention, developed by the firm’s co-chief executive officers, Robert Mercer and Peter Brown, first sends an order to a central server, which breaks it up into multiple smaller orders. Those are then routed to venues that offer the best prices and most liquidity, much the same as brokers do now. But before that happens, the smaller orders are sent to servers located as close to the exchanges as possible, along with instructions on the precise times they should be executed. The co-located servers sync their transactions so HFT firms won’t have enough time to identify an order on one exchange and then race to another to trade against it. A crucial part of the system is the optical, atomic or GPS clocks that will be used synchronize those orders. Renaissance says in its application that GPS clocks are accurate to within nanoseconds and any time differences between them are “too small to be perceived” by HFT firms.

How much is an atomic clock centric trading system? A well heeled Wall Street firm can afford these systems. The reason is that the infrastructure to pull off this near real time approach is out of reach for many outfits.

How close to real time is a search and content processing system? You can believe the index is up to date, but I would suggest that you are looking at last week’s leftover barbeque chicken in a Tupperware box. Saying “real time” is less difficult and expensive than shaving milliseconds off an online action. Enjoy that chicken?

Stephen E Arnold, July 14, 2016

Thomson Reuters: Selling at Peak Value?

July 12, 2016

I read “Thomson Reuters Announces Definitive Agreement to Sell its Intellectual Property & Science Business to Onex and Baring Asia for $3.55 billion.” Thomson Reuters has been working hard to pump up revenue and generate a juicy profit for its stakeholders. Like IBM, it seems that the best way to get a large, established company in gear is to sell assets. According to the write up, Thomson Reuters’ management thinks:

“With the completion of this divestiture, Thomson Reuters will be even more focused on operating at the intersection of global commerce and regulation.”

What’s next for Thomson Reuters? More video? More Palantir repackaging? Higher fees for its professional information services?

Thomson Reuters has tried many things in the last two decades. The result is suggested in this chart:


The top line has been drifting down. The profit margin (the all important red line) has been a roller coaster. The net income has been a result of management moves and cost controls.

The question is: Is this collection of patent and IP related properties at peak value?

My hunch is that Thomson Reuters found the deal palatable. What will the new owners do with the properties. Both are investment outfits. The trajectory of these “services” like Compumark will be interesting to follow.

For Thomson Reuters, the hurdle remains growth. Isn’t that a problem with which IBM is struggling? Running specialist businesses with those who are not experts in each niche has been a challenge for many firms. Now the new owners Onex Partners and Baring Private Equity Asia have an opportunity to display their management expertise.

Selling is easier than innovating. Managing a bundle of businesses may be even more difficult.

Stephen E Arnold, July 12, 2016

Bad Actor Investments in Research

July 8, 2016

Want to chop your overhead? One easy way is to eliminate research and development. Most US companies are thinking long and hard about buying start ups to get innovative opportunities. Bad actors like hackers and online thieves are taking a slightly different approach. Navigate to “Hackers Investing 40% of Crime Proceeds in New Criminal Technologies.” Now this 40 percent number may be fluff, but the idea is an interesting one. Instead of recycling old exploits which smart networking monitoring services are able to thwart, the bad actors are doing the Thomas Edison thing: Some innovative, some borrowing, and some rethinking old methods (hybridization).

The write up highlights the innovation angle, stating:

Nikolay Nikiforov, an official spokesperson at Russia’s Ministry of Communications, told SC that investment of crime proceeds in new attack methods is mainly due to a change of priorities by hackers seen in recent years whereby they are no longer solely interested in attacks on the private bank accounts of individuals, but mainly targeting the breach of correspondent accounts of banks.

I find the moving upstream angle an intriguing one. What happens when US companies chop off spending for research and development? Do these outfits become more vulnerable? One of my former clients commented that his firm would worry about hacking when something happened. Yep, that’s enlightened thinking.

Stephen E Arnold, July 8, 2016

Digital Censorship: The Dartmouth Solution

June 21, 2016

I love the Ivy League. Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, et al. I read “New Tool to Take Down Terrorism Images Online Spurs Debate on What Constitutes Extremist Content.” The source is the Bezos owned newspaper, which may or may not make a difference when applying the filters.

Here’s the method I circled in Hawthorne A red:

It [censoring mechanism] works by creating a distinct digital signature or “hash” for each image, video or audio track. The idea is to create a database of hashed content that Internet firms can use in automated fashion to vet images uploaded to their platforms. If there’s a match, the company can determine whether it violates its terms of service and should be taken down.

The write up brings up the challenge of defining what should and should not be filtered. If you are interested in automated filtering, check out the write up and the Dartmouth wizard who has created what he thinks may be a “game changer.”

What could go wrong with an Ivy League created system? If one cannot find information online, it does not exist. Is non existence a net good?

Stephen E Arnold, June 21, 2016

Digital Currencies: More Excitement

June 21, 2016

An “attacker” explains the legal perception he has. You can read this argument at this link. I do not have a horse in this race. In my recent lecture at a security conference in Myrtle Beach, SC, I pointed out that digital currencies work reasonably well for what I call small scale transactions. Putting one’s life savings into a digital currency is a step some bad actors are reluctant to take. Traditional non digital money laundering and tax evasion methods will slowly yield to Fancy Dan types of “money.” But if you are adventurous, have a go.

Stephen E Arnold, June 21, 2106

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