May 27, 2016
Open source software is an excellent idea, because it allows programmers across the globe to share and contribute to the same project. It also creates a think tank like environment that can be applied (arguably) to any tech field. There is a downside to open source and creative commons software and that is it not a sustainable model. Open Source Everything For The 21st Century discusses the issue in their post about “Robert Steele: Should Open Source Code Have A PayPal Address & AON Sliding Scale Rate Sheet?”
The post explains that open source delivers an unclear message about how code is generated, it comes from the greater whole rather than a few people. It also is not sustainable, because people do need funds to survive as well as maintain the open source software. Fair Source is a reasonable solution: users are charged if the software is used at a company with fifteen or more employees, but it too is not sustainable.
Micro-payments, small payments of a few cents, might be the ultimate solution. Robert Steele wrote that:
“I see the need for bits of code to have embedded within them both a PayPalPayPal-like address able to handle micro-payments (fractions of a cent), and a CISCO-like Application Oriented Network (AON) rules and rate sheet that can be updated globally with financial-level latency (which is to say, instantly) and full transparency. Some standards should be set for payment scales, e.g. 10 employees, 100, 1000 and up; such that a package of code with X number of coders will automatically begin to generate PayPal payments to the individual coders when the package hits N use cases within Z organizational or network structures.”
Micro-payments are not a bad idea and it has occasionally been put into practice, but not very widespread. No one has really pioneered an effective system for it.
Steele is also an advocate for “…Internet access and individual access to code is a human right, devising new rules for a sharing economy in which code is a cost of doing business at a fractional level in comparison to legacy proprietary code — between 1% and 10% of what is paid now.”
It is the ideal version of the Internet, where people are able to make money from their content and creations, users’ privacy is maintained, and ethics is essential are respected. The current trouble with YouTube channels and copyright comes to mind as does stolen information sold on the Dark Web and the desire to eradicate online bullying.
May 26, 2016
The Turkish government has been forcibly seizing and intimidating the nation’s media, we learn from “Erdogan’s Latest Media Takeover is About More than Just One Newspaper” at Mashable. Is this the future of publishing?
Turkish police fought protesters and manhandled journalists as the government wrested control of Zaman, Turkey’s most popular newspaper and, as journalist Suna Vidinli puts it, the country’s “last remaining effective voice of criticism in the press.” She continues:
“President Erdogan had long planned to take over Zaman as the paper was affiliated with Gulen Group, his main remaining adversary in his quest for absolute power. Earlier in the week, the Turkish Supreme Court — in a surprising and rare move — had released two top editors of Cumhuriyet, Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, from prison. They were imprisoned for writing about the illegal trafficking of weapons to radicals in Syria.
“Erdogan saw their release as a direct move against his authority and wowed to show who was boss. He signaled that the two journalists would be put back in prison soon and declared ‘things can get shaky in the following days.’ Hence, the takeover of Zaman was carefully planned as the most brutal confiscation of media to date in Turkish history.
“The confiscation of Zaman media group highlights some critical developments in Turkey. The government immediately took the media group offline, and a special tech team was brought in to completely wipe out the news archive and web content of the newspaper.”
The Chihan News Agency was also included in the seizure, a group we learn was the only non-governmental organization to monitor Turkish exit polls to ensure fair elections. The article notes that the remaining independent media in Turkey seem to have been effectively cowed, since none of them reported on the violent takeover. Governments, media groups, and human rights organizations around the world condemned the seizure; the U.S. State Department called Turkey’s pattern of media suppression “troubling.” We couldn’t agree more.
Cynthia Murrell, May 26, 2016
May 26, 2016
As soon as we think we have figured out how to get our content to the top of Google’s search rankings, the search engine goes and changes its algorithms. The Digital Journal offers some insight into “Op-Ed: How Will The Google 2016 Algorithm Change Affect Our Content?”
In early 2016, Google announced they were going to update their Truth Algorithm and it carries on many of the aspects they have been trying to push. Quality content over quantity is still very important. Keyword heavy content is negated in favor of pushing Web sites that offer relevant, in-depth content and that better answer a user’s intent.
“The rapid advancement of mobile technologies is deeply affecting the entire web scenario. Software developers are shifting towards the development of new apps and mobile websites, which clearly represent the future of information technology. Even the content for mobile websites and apps is now different, and Google had to account for that with the new ranking system changes. The average mobile user is very task oriented and checks his phones just to quickly accomplish a specific task, like finding a nearby café or cinema. Mobile-oriented content must be much shorter and concise than web-oriented one. The average web surfer wants to know, learn and explore things in a much more relaxed setting.”
Google wants to clear its search results of what is known as unviable information and offer users a better quality search experience for both their mobile devices and standard desk computers. Good to know that someone wants to deliver a decent product.
May 25, 2016
Some of us consider the movie Minority Report to be a cautionary tale, but apparently the Chinese government sees it as more of good suggestion. According to eTeknix, that country seems to be planning a crime-prediction unit similar to the one in the movie, except this one will use algorithms instead of psychics. We learn about the initiative from the brief write-up, “China Creating ‘Precrime’ System.” Writer Gareth Andrews informs us:
“The movie Minority Report posed an interesting question to people: if you knew that someone was going to commit a crime, would you be able to charge them for it before it even happens? If we knew you were going to pirate a video game when it goes online, does that mean we can charge you for stealing the game before you’ve even done it?
“China is looking to do just that by creating a ‘unified information environment’ where every piece of information about you would tell the authorities just what you normally do. Decide you want to something today and it could be an indication that you are about to commit or already have committed a criminal activity.
“With machine learning and artificial intelligence being at the core of the project, predicting your activities and finding something which ‘deviates from the norm’ can be difficult for even a person to figure out. When the new system goes live, being flagged up to the authorities would be as simple as making a few purchases online….”
Indeed. Today’s tech is being used to gradually erode privacy rights around the world, all in the name of security. There is a scene in that Minority Report that has stuck with me: Citizens in an apartment building are shown pausing their activities to passively accept the intrusion of spider-like spy-bots into their homes, upon their very faces even, then resuming where they left off as if such an incursion were perfectly normal. If we do not pay attention, one day it may become so.
Cynthia Murrell, May 25, 2016
May 25, 2016
In the 1990s, we were promised that virtual reality was a sure thing. While flying toaster screen savers and Pixar’s computer animation kept us distracted, virtual reality was forgotten until recent developments in the gaming industry, such as the semi-affordable Oculus Rift, made it available for the average person. Virtual reality has become so advanced that people are already saying it will change how we live.
Do not forget, however, that virtual reality is still fake. It is a reflection of the real world and no matter how high in definition the graphics are, it is not real. Uber Gizmo says that Google does not want to give its users a fake experience, rather “Google’s Focus Reportedly On AR, Not On VR”.
AR stands for augmented reality and Google has already experimented in the area. The Google Glass was an augmented reality headset, although it had a limited reach and appeal. The new Google Cardboard, however, is a VR platform that provides a cheaper alternative to expensive VR goggles. Google is heading into the augmented reality arena, because:
“Apparently the reason for going with augmented reality is because Google doesn’t think that the public will invest too much in virtual reality headsets, which in their current iteration are huge and chunky devices that can’t really be worn outside. This is versus augmented reality in which your phone could offer up such features, and not to mention the more svelte design of the Google Glass.”
Virtual reality is simply the predecessor to augmented reality, similar to how motion capture techniques are replacing some live action special effects. It is another example of how we are at the start of something new, but it will take time to catch on.
May 23, 2016
The Panama Papers have released an entire slew of scandals that sent out ripples we will be dealing with for years to come. It also strikes another notch in the power of software and that nothing is private anymore. But how were the Panama Papers leaked? Reuters reports that a “Small Australian Software Firm Helps Join The Dots On The Panama Papers”.
Nuix Pty Ltd. is a Sydney-based software development company that donated its document analysis program to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) to delve through the data from Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian law firm that leaked the documents. Reporters have searched through the data for some time and discovered within the 2.6 terabytes the names of politicians and public figures with questionable offshore financial accounts.
“By using the software, the Washington-based ICIJ was able to make millions of scanned documents, some decades old, text-searchable and help its network of journalists cross reference Mossack Fonseca’s clients across these documents. The massive leak has prompted global investigations into suspected illegal activities by the world’s wealthy and powerful. Mossack Fonseca, the firm at the center of the leaks, denies any wrongdoing. The use of advanced document and data analysis technology shows the growing importance of technology’s role in helping journalists make better sense of increasingly bigger news discoveries.”
Nuix Pty is a ten-year-old company and their products have been used to conduct data analysis in child pornography rings, people trafficking, and high-end tax evasion. Another selling feature for the company is their dedication to their clients’ privacy. They did not allow themselves to have access to the information within the Panama Papers. That is an interesting fact, considering how some tech companies need to have total access to their clients’ information.
Nuix sounds like the Swiss bank of software companies, guaranteeing high-quality services and products that guarantee results, plus undeniable privacy.
May 23, 2016
Who exactly are today’s innovators? The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) performed a survey to find out, and shares a summary of their results in, “The Demographics of Innovation in the United States.” The write-up sets the context before getting into the findings:
“Behind every technological innovation is an individual or a team of individuals responsible for the hard scientific or engineering work. And behind each of them is an education and a set of experiences that impart the requisite knowledge, expertise, and opportunity. These scientists and engineers drive technological progress by creating innovative new products and services that raise incomes and improve quality of life for everyone….
“This study surveys people who are responsible for some of the most important innovations in America. These include people who have won national awards for their inventions, people who have filed for international, triadic patents for their innovative ideas in three technology areas (information technology, life sciences, and materials sciences), and innovators who have filed triadic patents for large advanced-technology companies. In total, 6,418 innovators were contacted for this report, and 923 provided viable responses. This diverse, yet focused sampling approach enables a broad, yet nuanced examination of individuals driving innovation in the United States.”
See the summary for results, including a helpful graphic. Here are some highlights: Unsurprisingly to anyone who has been paying attention, women and U.S.-born minorities are woefully underrepresented. Many of those surveyed are immigrants. The majority of survey-takers have at least one advanced degree (many from MIT), and nearly all majored in STEM subject as undergrads. Large companies contribute more than small businesses do while innovations are clustered in California, the Northeast, and close to sources of public research funding. And take heart, anyone over 30, for despite the popular image of 20-somethings reinventing the world, the median age of those surveyed is 47.
The piece concludes with some recommendations: We should encourage both women and minorities to study STEM subjects from elementary school on, especially in disadvantaged neighborhoods. We should also lend more support to talented immigrants who wish to stay in the U.S. after they attend college here. The researchers conclude that, with targeted action from the government on education, funding, technology transfer, and immigration policy, our nation can tap into a much wider pool of innovation.
Cynthia Murrell, May 23, 2016
May 19, 2016
I read “The Real Lesson for Data Science That is Demonstrated by Palantir’s Struggles · Simply Statistics.” I love write ups that plunk the word statistics near simple.
Here’s the passage I highlighted in money green:
… What is the value of data analysis?, and secondarily, how do you communicate that value?
I want to step away from the Palantir Technologies’ example and consider a broader spectrum of outfits tossing around the jargon “big data,” “analytics,” and synonyms for smart software. One doesn’t communicate value. One finds a person who needs a solution and crafts the message to close the deal.
When a company and its perceived technology catches the attention of allegedly informed buyers, a bandwagon effort kicks in. Talks inside an organization leads to mentions in internal meetings. The vendor whose products and services are the subject of these comments begins to hint at bigger and better things at conferences. Then a real journalist may catch a scent of “something happening” and writes an article. Technical talks at niche conferences generate wonky articles usually without dates or footnotes which make sense to someone without access to commercial databases. If a social media breeze whips up the smoldering interest, then a fire breaks out.
A start up should be so clever, lucky, or tactically gifted to pull off this type of wildfire. But when it happens, big money chases the outfit. Once money flows, the company and its products and services become real.
The problem with companies processing a range of data is that there are some friction inducing processes that are tough to coat with Teflon. These include:
- Taking different types of data, normalizing it, indexing it in a meaningful manner, and creating metadata which is accurate and timely
- Converting numerical recipes, many with built in threshold settings and chains of calculations, into marching band order able to produce recognizable outputs.
- Figuring out how to provide an infrastructure that can sort of keep pace with the flows of new data and the updates/corrections to the already processed data.
- Generating outputs that people in a hurry or in a hot zone can use to positive effect; for example, in a war zone, not get killed when the visualization is not spot on.
The write up focuses on a single company and its alleged problems. That’s okay, but it understates the problem. Most content processing companies run out of revenue steam. The reason is that the licensees or customers want the systems to work better, faster, and more cheaply than predecessor or incumbent systems.
The vast majority of search and content processing systems are flawed, expensive to set up and maintain, and really difficult to use in a way that produces high reliability outputs over time. I would suggest that the problem bedevils a number of companies.
Some of those struggling with these issues are big names. Others are much smaller firms. What’s interesting to me is that the trajectory content processing companies follow is a well worn path. One can read about Autonomy, Convera, Endeca, Fast Search & Transfer, Verity, and dozens of other outfits and discern what’s going to happen. Here’s a summary for those who don’t want to work through the case studies on my Xenky intel site:
Stage 1: Early struggles and wild and crazy efforts to get big name clients
Stage 2: Making promises that are difficult to implement but which are essential to capture customers looking actively for a silver bullet
Stage 3: Frantic building and deployment accompanied with heroic exertions to keep the customers happy
Stage 4: Closing as many deals as possible either for additional financing or for licensing/consulting deals
Stage 5: The early customers start grousing and the momentum slows
Stage 6: Sell off the company or shut down like Delphes, Entopia, Siderean Software and dozens of others.
The problem is not technology, math, or Big Data. The force which undermines these types of outfits is the difficulty of making sense out of words and numbers. In my experience, the task is a very difficult one for humans and for software. Humans want to golf, cruise Facebook, emulate Amazon Echo, or like water find the path of least resistance.
Making sense out of information when someone is lobbing mortars at one is a problem which technology can only solve in a haphazard manner. Hope springs eternal and managers are known to buy or license a solution in the hopes that my view of the content processing world is dead wrong.
So far I am on the beam. Content processing requires time, humans, and a range of flawed tools which must be used by a person with old fashioned human thought processes and procedures.
Value is in the eye of the beholder, not in zeros and ones.
Stephen E Arnold, May 19, 2016
May 19, 2016
Funnelback has been silent as of late, according to our research, but the search company has emerged from the tomb with eyes wide open and a heartbeat. The Funnelback blog has shared some new updates with us. The first bit of news is if you are “Searchless In Seattle? (AKA We’ve Just Opened A New Office!)” explains that Funnelback opened a new office in Seattle, Washington. The search company already has offices in Poland, United Kingdom, and New Zealand, but now they want to establish a branch in the United States. Given their successful track record with the finance, higher education, and government sectors in the other countries they stand a chance to offer more competition in the US. Seattle also has a reputable technology center and Funnelback will not have to deal with the Silicon Valley group.
The second piece of Funnelback news deals with “Driving Channel Shift With Site Search.” Channel shift is the process of creating the most efficient and cost effective way to deliver information access and usage to users. It can be difficult to implement a channel shift, but increasing the effectiveness of a Web site’s search can have a huge impact.
Being able to quickly and effectively locate information on a Web site saves time for not only more important facts, but it also can drive sales, further reputation, etc.
“You can go further still, using your search solution to provide targeted experiences; outputting results on maps, searching by postcode, allowing for short-listing and comparison baskets and even dynamically serving content related to what you know of a visitor, up-weighting content that is most relevant to them based on their browsing history or registered account.
Couple any of the features above with some intelligent search analytics, that highlight the content your users are finding and importantly what they aren’t finding (allowing you to make the relevant connections through promoted results, metadata tweaking or synonyms), and your online experience is starting to become a lot more appealing to users than that queue on hold at your call centre.”
I have written about it many times, but a decent Web site search function can make or break a site. Not only does it demonstrate that the Web site is not professional, it does not inspire confidence in a business. It is a very big rookie mistake to make.
May 18, 2016
The article on Elle titled Google SA Launches the Mzansi Experience On Maps illustrates the new Google Street View collection for South Africa. For people without the ability to travel, or scared of malaria or Oscar Pistorius, this collection offers an in-depth platform to view some of South Africa’s natural wonders and parks. The article explains,
“Using images collected by the Street View Tripod and Trekker, Google has created 360-degree imagery of some of South Africa’s most beautiful locations, and created virtual tours that enable visitors to see the sights for themselves on their phones, tablets or computers. Visitors will be able to, for the first time, visit a family of elephants in the Kruger National Park, take a virtual walk on Table Mountain, admire Cape Point, or take a walk along Durban’s Golden Mile.”
For South Africa, this initiative might spark increased tourism once people realize just how much the country has to offer. So many of the images of Africa that we are exposed to in the US are reductive and patronizing, like those ceaseless commercials depicting all of Africa as a small, poverty-stricken village. Google’s new collection helps to promote a more diverse and appealing look at one African country: South Africa. Whether you want to go in person or virtually, this is worth checking out!
Chelsea Kerwin, May 18, 2016