Dark Web Drug Sales Show No Signs of Slowing

February 10, 2017

Business is apparently booming for Dark Web drug sales. Business Insider published an article that reports on this news: An in-depth new study shows that the online market for illegal drugs is skyrocketing. The study conducted by RAND Europe found the number of transactions on illegal drug sites has tripled since 2013, and revenues have almost doubled. Apparently, most of the shipping routes are within North America. The article tells us,

Elsewhere in the study, researchers found that wholesale transactions (which it categorised as sales worth over $1,000 [£770]) generated a quarter of total revenue for drug marketplaces. That figure was unchanged between 2013 and 2016, though. Cannabis was the most popular drug globally, making up 33% of drug marketplace transactions. But the report looked at sales to Holland specifically and found that it only made up 17% of transactions there. That’s likely because the sale of cannabis is legal in the country through licensed venues, reducing the need for people to use illegal online stores.

The year 2013 carries meaning because it was in fall 2013 that the Silk Road was shut down. This study suggests its closure did not eliminate Dark Web drug sales. As the article alludes to, as cannabis laws may or may not change in the United States, it will be interesting to see how this affects Dark web use and marketplace sales.

Megan Feil, February 10, 2017

The Game-Changing Power of Visualization

February 8, 2017

Data visualization may be hitting at just the right time. Data Floq shared an article highlighting the latest, Data Visualisation Can Change How We Think About The World. As the article mentions, we are primed for it biologically: the human eye and brain processes 10 to 12 separate images per second, comfortably. Considering the output, visualization provides the ability to rapidly incorporate new data sets, remove metadata and increase performance. Data visualization is not without challenge. The article explains,

Perhaps the biggest challenge for data visualisation is understanding how to abstract and represent abstraction without compromising one of the two in the process. This challenge is deep rooted in the inherent simplicity of descriptive visual tools, which significantly clashes with the inherent complexity that defines predictive analytics. For the moment, this is a major issue in communicating data; The Chartered Management Institute found that 86% of 2,000 financiers surveyed late 2013, were still struggling to turn volumes of data into valuable insights. There is a need, for people to understand what led to the visualisation, each stage of the process that led to its design. But, as we increasingly adopt more and more data this is becoming increasingly difficult.

Is data visualization changing how we think about the world, or is the existence of big data the culprit? We would argue data visualization is simply a tool to present data; it is a product rather than an impetus for a paradigm shift. This piece is right, however in bringing attention to the conflict between detail and accessibility of information. We can’t help but think the meaning is likely in the balancing of both.

Megan Feil, February 8, 2017

HonkinNews for 7 February 2017 Now Available

February 7, 2017

This week’s program highlights Google’s pre school and K-3 robot innovation from Boston Dynamics. In June 2016 we thought Toyota was purchasing the robot reindeer company. We think Boston Dynamics may still be part of the Alphabet letter set. Also, curious about search vendor pivots. Learn about two shuffles (Composite Software and CopperEye) which underscore why plain old search is a tough market. You will learn about the Alexa Conference and the winner of the Alexathon. Alexa seems to be a semi hot product. When will we move “beyond Alexa”? Social media analysis has strategic value? What vendor seems to have provided “inputs” to the Trump campaign and the Brexit now crowd? HonkinNews reveals the hot outfit making social media data output slick moves. We provide a run down of some semantic “news” which found its way to Harrod’s Creek. SEO, writing tips, and a semantic scorecard illustrate the enthusiasm some have for semantics. We’re not that enthusiastic, however. Google is reducing its losses from its big bets like the Loon balloon. How much? We reveal the savings, and it is a surprising number. And those fun and friendly robots. Yes, the robots. You can view the video at this link. Google Video provides a complete run down of the HonkinNews programs too. Just search for HonkinNews.

Kenny Toth, February 7, 2017

Scanning for the True Underbelly of the Dark Web

February 7, 2017

Some articles about the Dark Web are erring on the side of humor about it’s threat-factor. Metro UK published 12 scary things which happen when you go on the ‘Dark Web’, which points out some less commonly reported happenings on the Dark Web. Amongst the sightings mentioned were: a German man selling pretzels, someone with a 10/10 rating at his carrot (the actual vegetable) marketplace, and a template for creating counterfeit Gucci designs. The article reports,

Reddit users shared their stories about the ‘dark web’ – specifically Tor sites, invisible to normal browsers, and notorious for hosting drug markets and child pornography. Using the free Tor browser, you can access special .onion sites – only accessible using the browser – many of which openly host highly illegal content including pirated music and films, drugs, child pornography and sites where credit card details are bought and sold.

While we chose not to summarize several of the more dark happenings mentioned by Redditors, we know the media has given enough of that side to let your imaginations run wild. Of course, as has also been reported by more serious publications, it is a myth that the Dark Web is only filled with cybercriminals. Unless pretzels have qualities that have yet to be understood as malicious.

Megan Feil, February 7, 2017

Search, Intelligence, and the Nobel Prize

February 6, 2017

For me, intelligence requires search. Professional operatives rely on search and retrieval technology. The name of the function is changed because keywords are no longer capable of making one’s heart beat more rapidly. Call search text analytics, cognitive insight, or something similar, and search generates excitement.

I thought about the link between finding information and intelligence. My context is not that of a person looking for a pizza joint using Cortana. The application is the use of tools to make sense of flows of digital information.

I read “Intelligence & the Nobel Peace Prize.” My recommendation is that you read the article as well. The main point is that recognition for those making important contributions has ossified. I would agree.

The most interesting facet of the write up is a recommendation that the Nobel Committee award the Nobel Peace Prize to a former intelligence operative and officer. The write up explains:

the Committee would do well to consider information-era criteria for its nomination this year and going forward into the future. An examination of all Nobel Peace Prizes awarded to date finds that none have been awarded for local to global scale information and intelligence endeavors – for information peacekeeping or peacekeeping intelligence that empowers the peace-loving public while constraining war-mongering banks and governments. It was this final realization that compelled me to recommend one of our authors, Robert David Steele, for nomination by one of our Norwegian Ministers, for the Nobel Peace Prize. We do not expect him to be selected – or even placed on the short list – but in our view as editors, he is qualified both for helping to prevent World War III this past year, publicly confronting the lies being told by his own national intelligence community with respect to the Russians hacking the US election,[5] and for his body of work in the preceding year and over time…

My view is that this is an excellent idea for three reasons:

Robert Steele has been one of the intelligence professionals with whom I have worked who appreciates the value of objective search and retrieval technology. This is unusual in my experience.

Second, Steele’s writings provide a continuing series of insights generated by the blend of experience, thought, and research. Where there is serious reading and research, there is information retrieval.

Third, Steele is a high energy thinker. His ideas cluster around themes which provide thought provoking insights to stabilizing some of the more fractious aspects of an uncertain world.

If you want to get a sense of Steele’s thinking, begin with this link or begin reading his “Public Intelligence Blog” at www.phibetaiota.net. (In the interest of keeping you informed, Steele wrote the preface to my monograph CyberOSINT: Next Generation Information Access.)

Stephen E Arnold, February 6, 2017

Googling on the Google Pixel: Let Us Count the Ways

February 6, 2017

I read “There Are Too Many Ways to Google on Android.” I don’t use a Google Pixel phone. What’s interesting about the write up is that the litany of options underscores one big point about the Alphabet Google thing: Getting organized is not part of the company’s ethos. In the Google quest to offset the erosion of the desktop boat anchor desktop search ad model, Google is putting search in places which seem to have surprised the with-it author of the “There Are Too Many Ways…” article. The options include:

  • Allo
  • Assistant
  • Chrome
  • GBoard
  • G button
  • Google Now thing or whatever it is called
  • Screen search

The idea seems to be that putting search as many places as possible will generate clicks. Clicks spawn ads some hope.

Stepping back, Google Pixel is emulating the featuritis I once heard senior Googlers says was a Microsoft disease.

For me, it hints at desperation and a lack of product focus. Hey, where is that Universal Search? Obviously not in the Google Pixel.

Stephen E Arnold, February 6, 2017

Visualizing a Web of Sites

February 6, 2017

While the World Wide Web is clearly a web, it has not traditionally been presented visually as such. Digital Trends published an article centered around a new visualization of Wikipedia, Race through the Wikiverse for your next internet search. This web-based interactive 3D visualization of the open source encyclopedia is at Wikiverse.io. It was created by Owen Cornec, a Harvard data visualization engineer. It pulls about 250,000 articles from Wikipedia and makes connections between articles based on overlapping content. The write-up tells us,

Of course it would be unreasonable to expect all of Wikipedia’s articles to be on Wikiverse, but Cornec made sure to include top categories, super-domains, and the top 25 articles of the week.

Upon a visit to the site, users are greeted with three options, each of course having different CPU and load-time implications for your computer: “Light,” with 50,000 articles, 1 percent of Wikipedia, “Medium,” 100,000 articles, 2 percent of Wikipedia, and “Complete,” 250,000 articles, 5 percent of Wikipedia.

Will this pave the way for web-visualized search? Or, as the article suggests, become an even more exciting playing field for The Wikipedia Game? Regardless, this advance makes it clear the importance of semantic search. Oh, right — perhaps this would be a better link to locate semantic search (it made the 1 percent “Light” cut).

Megan Feil, February 6, 2017

JustOne: When a Pivot Is Not Possible

February 4, 2017

CopperEye hit my radar when I did a project for the now-forgotten Speed of Mind search system. CopperEye delivered high speed search in a patented hierarchical data management system. The company snagged some In-Q-Tel interest in 2007, but by 2009, I lost track of the company. Several of the CopperEye senior managers teamed to create the JustOne database, search and analytic system. One of the new company’s inventions is documented in “Apparatus, Systems, and Methods for Data Storage and/or Retrieval Based on a Database Model-agnostic, Schema-Agnostic, and Workload-Agnostic Data Storage and Access Models.” If you are into patent documents about making sense of Big Data, you will find US20140317115 interesting. I will leave it to you to determine if there is any overlap between this system and method and those of the now low profile CopperEye.

Why would In-Q-Tel get interested in another database? From my point of view, CopperEye was interesting because:

  1. The system and method was idea for finding information from large collections of intercept information
  2. The tech whiz behind the JustOne system wanted to avoid “band-aid” architectures; that is, software shims, wrappers, and workarounds that other data management and information access systems generated like rabbits
  3. The method of finding information achieved or exceeded the performance of the very, very snappy Speed of Mind system
  4. The system sidestepped a number of the problems which plague Oracle-style databases trying to deal with floods of real time information from telecommunication traffic, surveillance, and Internet of Things transmissions or “emissions.”

How import6ant is JustOne? I think the company is one of those outfits which has a better mousetrap. Unlike the champions of XML, JustOne uses JSON and other “open” technologies. In fact, a useful version of the JustOne system is available for download from the JustOne Web site. Be aware that the name “JustOne” is in use by other vendors.

image

The fragmented world of database and information access. Source: Duncan Pauly

A good, but older, write up explains some of the strengths of the JustOne approach to search and retrieval couched in the lingo of the database world. The key points from “The Evolution of Data Management” strikes me as helpful in understanding why Jerry Yang and Scott McNealy invested in the CopperEye veterans’ start up. I highlighted these points:

  • Databases have to be operational and analytical; that is, storing information is not enough
  • Transaction rates are high; that is, real time flows from telecommunications activity
  • Transaction size varies from the very small to hefty; that is, the opposite of the old school records associated with old school IBM IMS system
  • High concurrency; that is, more than one “thing” at a time
  • Dynamic schema and query definition

I highlighted this statement as suggestive:

In scaled-out environments, transactions need to be able to choose what guarantees they require – rather than enforcing or relaxing ACID constraints across a whole database. Each transaction should be able to decide how synchronous, atomic or durable it needs to be and how it must interact with other transactions. For example, must a transaction be applied in chronological order or can it be allowed out of time order with other transactions providing the cumulative result remains the same? Not all transactions need be rigorously ACID and likewise not all transactions can afford to be non-atomic or potentially inconsistent.

My take on this CopperEye wind down and JustOne wind up is that CopperEye, for whatever management reason, was not able to pivot from where CopperEye was to where CopperEye had to be to grow. More information is available from the JustOne Database Web site at www.justonedb.com.

Is Duncan Pauly one of the most innovative engineers laboring in the database search sector? Could be.

Stephen E Arnold, February 4, 2017

Little New Hampshire Public Library Takes on Homeland Security over Right to Tor

February 3, 2017

The article on AP titled Browse Free or Die? New Hampshire Library Is at Privacy Fore relates the ongoing battle between The Kilton Public Library of Lebanon, New Hampshire and Homeland Security. This fierce little library was the first in the nation to use Tor, the location and identity scrambling software with a seriously bad rap. It is true, Tor can be used by criminals, and has been used by terrorists. As this battle unfolds in the USA, France is also scrutinizing Tor. But for librarians, the case is simple,

Tor can protect shoppers, victims of domestic violence, whistleblowers, dissidents, undercover agents — and criminals — alike. A recent routine internet search using Tor on one of Kilton’s computers was routed through Ukraine, Germany and the Netherlands. “Libraries are bastions of freedom,” said Shari Steele, executive director of the Tor Project, a nonprofit started in 2004 to promote the use of Tor worldwide. “They are a great natural ally.”… “Kilton’s really committed as a library to the values of intellectual privacy.

To illustrate a history of action by libraries on behalf of patron privacy, the article briefly lists events surrounding the Cold War, the Patriot Act, and the Edward Snowden leak. It is difficult to argue with librarians. For many of us, they were amongst the first authority figures, they are extremely well read, and they are clearly arguing passionately about an issue that few people fully understand. One of the library patrons spoke about how he is comforted by the ability to use Tor for innocent research that might get him flagged by the NSA all the same. Libraries might become the haven of democracy in what has increasingly become a state of constant surveillance. One argument might go along these lines: if we let Homeland Security take over the Internet and give up intellectual freedom, don’t the terrorists win anyway?

Chelsea Kerwin, February 3, 2017

Bradley Metrock and the Alexa Conference: Alexa As a Game Changer for Search and Publishing

February 2, 2017

Bradley Metrock, Score Publishing, organized The Alexa Conference held in January 2017. More than 60 attendees shared technical and business insights about Amazon’s voice-search enabled device. The conference recognized the opportunity Amazon’s innovative product represents. Keyword search traditionally has been dependent on a keyboard. Alexa changes the nature of information access. An Alexa owner can talk to a device which is about the size of a can of vegetables. Alexa is poised to nudge the world of information access and applications in new directions.

Bradley Metrock, Score Publishing, organized The Alexa Conference in January 2017. An expanded event is in the works.

After hearing a positive review of the conference, its speakers, and the programming event, I spoke with Mr. Metrock. The full text of the interview appears below:

Thanks for taking the time to speak with me.

Delighted to do it.

What path did you follow to arrive at The Alexa Conference?

A somewhat surprising one. My background is in business, but I’ve always been keenly interested in publishing.  It’s fascinating how the world of publishing has been ripped open by technology, allowing us as a society to shed gatekeepers and hear more stories from more people than we ever would have otherwise. In 2013, when I was in the process of selling a business, I discovered Apple’s iBooks Author software.  I couldn’t understand why more people weren’t talking about it.  It was such a gift: the ability to create next-generation, interactive and multimedia digital books that could be sold on Apple hardware (iPads at first, then later iPhones) all for no cost.  The software was completely free. I formed Score Publishing, published books using iBooks Author, and organized the annual iBooks Author Conference which all sorts of people attend from all over the world.  It’s been fun.

Where does Alexa fit into your interest in publishing books?

I approached Alexa at first from the standpoint of digital content creators: What do they need to get out of this tool?  And out of the Internet of Things, in general?

Do you have an answer to this question about using Alexa as an authoring tool?

No, not yet. My long-term ambition with Alexa is to produce authoring tools for it that allow content creators to leverage their content effectively in an audio-only environment.  Not just audio books, but the creation of voice-enabled applications around published works, from books to white papers and so forth.

What is needed to make it easy for an author or developer to leverage Amazon’s remarkable device and ecosystem?

That’s a good question. The first step toward doing that is learning Alexa myself and incorporating it into what Score Publishing already does.  To that end, we decided to put on the first-ever Alexa Conference. We experienced directly the incredible value in bringing communities of people together on the iBooks Author side of things.  We saw the same exact things with the just-completed Alexa Conference and can’t wait to do it again next January. In fact, we’re already planning it.

What were some of the takeaways for you from The Alexa Conference?

I think Amazon has opened an entirely new world with Alexa that perhaps even they didn’t fully appreciate at first.  Alexa puts voice search in the home. But far from just new ways to buy products or services, Alexa allows every computing interface that exists today to be re-imagined with greater efficiency, while also creating greater accessibility to content than ever before.  My eyes were opened in a big way.

Can you give me an example?

I can try, but it’s hard for me to even begin to explain, being relatively new to the technology and the ideas that Alexa (and IoT in general) bring to the table, but a good place to start is the summary from the first Alexa Conference.  This report gives a taste of the topics and ideas covered.

One of the most interesting events at The Alexa Conference was the programming of an Alexa skill. You called it the Alexathon, right?

Yes, and it was fascinating to watch the participants at work and then experience what they created in less than 24 hours. Developers are red-hot for this technology and are eager to explore its full potential.  They understand these are the early days, just like it was a decade ago with iOS apps for the iPad and iPhone. They see, in my opinion, a combination of opportunity and necessity in being part of it all.

What was the winning Alexa skill?

The winner was Xander Morrison, the Digital Community Coordinator at Sony Music’s Provident Label Group. It took Morrison just 24 hours to create his Nashville Tour Guide as an Alexa skill.

How does Alexa intersect with publishing?

I think the publishing industry doesn’t really understand the implications of the internet of things on its business. Companies like HarperCollins, whom I invited to be part of The Alexa Conference, sent Jolene Barto to the conference. She described how her company built an Alexa skill for one of the company’s most important markets. Her remarks sparked a lively question-and-answer session. HarperColllins seems to be one of the more proactive publishers in the Alexa space at this time.

Is it game over for Google and the other companies offering Alexa-type products and services?

No. I think it is the dawn of the voice enabled application era. Right now, it looks as if Alexa has a clear lead. But the Internet of Things is a very dynamic technology trend. The winner will probably be the company which creates tools.

What do you mean tools?

Software and system that make it easy for digital content to flow into it and be re-purposed in new and exciting ways.

Is this an opportunity for you and Score Publishing?

Yes. As I mentioned earlier, this is an area I want Score Publishing involved in. We may create some of the tools to help bridge the gap for content creators. Many authors and publishers have no interest in learning how to code. Alexa and the competing products do not make it easy for authors and publishers to get their content into the ecosystem all the same.

Google has a competing product and recently updated it. What’s your view of Google with regard to Alexa?

Google is definitely in the fray with Apple Siri and Microsoft Cortana. Also, there are several other less well known competitors. Amazon’s primary advantage is how early Amazon opened up Alexa to third-party development.  Alexa’s other advantages include the sheer marketing reach of Amazon. I learned at the conference that Amazon has done a great job in promoting promoting its hardware, from the Echo, Tap, and Dot. Now the the Amazon Kindle has Alexa baked into the device. Amazon has, in contrast to Apple and Google, demonstrated its willingness to spend significant dollars to advertise both Alexa and Alexa-enabled hardware.

However, Google has something Amazon doesn’t–search data.  And Apple has the dominant mobile device.  So there are advantages these other companies can bring to bear in competing in this space.  I want to point out that Amazon has its shopping data, and its Alexa team will find ways to to leverage its consumer behavior data as Alexa evolves over time.

What are your ideas for The Alexa Conference 2018?

Yes. We will be having another The Alexa Conference in January 2018. The event will be held in Nashville, Tennessee. We want to expand the program. We hope to feature topic and industry-specific sub-tracks as well. If your readers want to sign up, we have Super Early Bird passes available now. There is a limited supply of these. We expect to announce more information in the next month or so.

How can a person inte4reserted in The Alexa Conference and Score Publishing contact you?

We have a number of de-centralized websites such as the iBooks Author Conference, the iBooks Author Universe (a free online learning resource for iBooks Author digital publishing) and now, the Alexa Conference.  Following us on Twitter at @iBAConference and @AlexaConf is a great idea to stay in the know on either technology, and to reach me, people can email me directly at Bradley@AlexaConference.com.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.

Stephen E. Arnold, February 2, 2017

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