Information Overload: Get Used to It

September 30, 2020

Modern humans have access to more information than any other generation before them. Better and more access to information is directly proportional to humanity’s technological progress. Scientific American’s article, “Unlimited Information Is Transforming Society” explores the correlation between technology and information.

Scientific and technological progress did not advance in the past as it does today. Any revelation was developed through craft traditions that contributed to humanity’s survival or daily tasks easier. Technology as we know it came about:

“In the late 1800s matters changed: craft traditions were reconstructed as “technology” that bore an important relation to science, and scientists began to take a deeper interest in applying theories to practical problems.”

Technology and science still did not work in tandem for years despite the parallels. For example, aviation was pioneered before scientists understand aeronautical science. The common belief was that machines weighing more than air could not fly.

What advanced science and technology the most in the past 175 years was the manipulation of energy and matter. The movement of energy and matter thus moved information and ideas. The best example of this is electricity, which led to then event of telecommunications devices, familiarly known as televisions, telegraphs, radios, and televisions. Electricity also changed manufacturing (moving factories away from water powered systems) and people’s daily lives from traveling to entertainment.

Computing would be the next big information mover and spreader. Nuclear energy and space travel were predicted to be the next big shake-ups, but the Cold War, a few nuclear meltdowns, and lack of funding for more space-related projects/earthly concerns were a few reasons they did not.

Everything is related (not in a conspiracy related way), but in how one sector of life affects another, such as electricity leading to television’s invention:

“That said, one change that is already underway in the movement of information is the blurring of boundaries between consumers and producers. In the past the flow of information was almost entirely one-way, from the newspaper, radio or television to the reader, listener or viewer. Today that flow is increasingly two-way—which was one of Tim Berners-Lee’s primary goals when he created the World Wide Web in 1990. We “consumers” can reach one another via Skype, Zoom and FaceTime; post information through Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat; and use software to publish our own books, music and videos—without leaving our couches.”

There is more information and access to it and this has also led to a more convenient way of life brought on by technological advances. Technology that also used to be available to a limited number of people, such as computers (remember big old monstrosities that took up entire building floors and processed 30 MB), are in the hands of children. Lines are blurring between the experts and the amateurs, public and private, male and female, etc. What does that mean for the future? One thing we do know is that we cannot predict that.

Whitney Grace, September 30, 2020

Technical Debt: Making Something Ignored Understandable to Suits

September 29, 2020

I have been fortunate to have been on the edges of a several start ups; for example, The Point (Top 5% of the Internet), a system ultimately sold to CMGI / Lycos in the late 1990s. When the small team began work on the product, we used available servers, available software, and methods based on our prior experience. When we started work on The Point in 1994, the task seemed pretty simple: Use what we know and provide an index to curated Web sites. At that time, it was possible to scan a list of new Web sites select ones which seemed promising. This was at first a manual process, but the handful of people working on this figured out ways to reduce the drudgery.

I learned (as one of the resources for hardware, software, and money) that those early decisions were both similar to established business economics and quite different in others. Let me give one brief example and then address the information in “Most Technical Debt Is Just Bullsh*t.”

For The Point one of the wizards on my team used Paradox. I know the Georgia Tech grade and Westinghouse Science winner asked me and I just grunted. Who cared? This was a mere test of an idea, not a project for an outfit like Thomson Corporation or the US government. My partner and I had worked on a CD of bird songs, and The Point seemed similar to that effort. Who knew in 1994? I sure did not.

That Paradox decision created technical debt. The database was okay, but it was not designed for multiple humans and software systems to update the files on a continuous basis. We could not do real time because the cheapo Sparc server I had was designed to run an indexing system called STAR. We figured out how to make Paradox work, but those early decisions had lasting impact.

I realized that making a database decision was similar to Henry Ford’s River Rouge. That concrete and building built at one end of the giant complex was not going anywhere. First, Mr. Ford was busy making cars. Second, Mr. Ford needed the resources to be directed at making more cars. Third, Mr. Ford had to make decisions about now problems, not problems that were not fully understood at the time of making fresh decisions. As a result, River Rouge became a giant thing that was mostly unchanged and unchangeable. The same observation can be made about Google-type companies. (Think of new features as software wrappers, not changes to the plumbing.)

That’s technical debt. The focus, resources, and understanding to change what has been put in place and actually working is not a hot topic for a robust discussion of “Let’s do this over again.” Nope.

The Louwrentius article dances around this reality in my opinion; for example, recasting Ward Cunningham, who coined the bound phrase, the write up states: Technical debt exists:

as a form of prototyping. To try out and test design/architecture to see if it fits the problem space at hand. But it also incorporates the willingness to spend extra time in the future to change the code to better reflect the current understanding of the problem at hand.

The write up ends with this statement:

Although Cunningham meant well, I think the metaphor of technical debt started to take on a life of its own. To a point where code that doesn’t conform to some Platonic ideal is called technical debt. Every mistake, every changing requirement, every tradeoff that becomes a bottleneck within the development process is labeled ‘technical debt’. I don’t think that this is constructive. I think my friend was right: the concept of technical debt has become bullshit. It doesn’t convey any better insight or meaning. On the contrary, it seems to obfuscate the true cause of a bottleneck. At this point, when people talk about technical debt, I would be very skeptical and would want more details. Technical debt doesn’t actually explain why we are where we are. It has become a hollow, hand-wavy ‘explanation’. With all due respect to Cunningham, because the concept is so widely misunderstood and abused, it may be better to retire it.

My personal view is:

  1. Technical debt is a bad way to say, “A software product or service is like a building that can either be a money loser or be torn down.” As long as it works — generates revenue — do as little as possible to keep the revenue flowing.
  2. Technical debt is fungible. It is like the poorly designed intake infrastructure for River Rouge. The bricks and concrete are not going away without significant investment and disruption.
  3. Technical debt is poorly understood. Humans are not very good at not knowing what one does not know. I suppose that Paradox-like. Who knew?

The good news is that CMGI’s check cleared the bank and The Point is now mostly forgotten like its technical debt. Who paid it off? I didn’t.

Stephen E Arnold, September 29, 2020

FinTech to TechFin: What Is With the Word Position Swap

September 29, 2020

I read an interesting essay called “A Look At The Power Shift From FinTech To TechFin.” I think the main idea is that banks are in the danger zone just as newspapers were and Main Street retail stores are.

I circled this passage:

With millennials becoming more and more comfortable using smartphones to pay for Uber, AirBnB, Amazon etc, the need for customer disintermediation arose and was well addressed by the FinTechs who had no overheads of physical distribution and were sitting on a lot of data. The ability to use non-traditional financial data, utilize SMS, utility bill payments and shopping history to build more accurate credit scoring helped the FinTech prove to be a credible challenge to the traditional lenders.

Okay. Thumbtypers on the march.

We also noted:

There is a need for an urgency to reposition and reinvent the traditional FinTech models as both, the customer expectation, as well as the landscape, is changing at lightning speed. There definitely would be tremendous action in the entire financial services space, including FinTech startups, within the next 2 years.

Several observations:

  • Big shoulder financial outfits may such oxygen out of the space; for example, Goldman and Apple
  • Regulators could — although it seems unlikely — might curtail monopolistic behavior in both banks and the rarified world of the FAANGs
  • Consumers like those who pay a penalty for being 99 percenters might propel social pushback with more momentum.

Yes, there is a need for adaptation. I am not sure a marketing pitch is going to get the result the author views as necessary.

Stephen E Arnold, September 29, 2020

Silicon Valley CEOs Called Psychopaths

September 28, 2020

Why Silicon Valley CEOs Are Such Raging Psychopaths?” calls Silicon Valley CEOs psychopaths. That’s not new, but the idea that these skilled managers are “raging” is a novel twist. The article states:

According to the Hare Psychopathy Checklist — the universally accepted diagnostic tool used to assess this disorder — a psychopathic personality includes traits such as a grandiose sense of self-worth, a lack of remorse or guilt, poor behavioral controls, pathological lying and a lack of empathy. These attributes aren’t just present “but celebrated in Silicon Valley,” says Gavet, who once held the position of executive vice-president of global operations for Priceline Group, among other roles.

The Gavet is, as if you did not know, is the author of a new book called “Trampled by Unicorns: Big Tech’s Empathy Problem and How to Fix It.” Maëlle Gavet worked at Priceline and tallied 15-years in Unicornville. The article states:

Research by the FBI found that companies managed by psychopaths tend to have decreased productivity and low employee morale. In fact, Silicon Valley’s psychopathic traits “trickle down through entire organizations,” says Gavet. “In effect creating psychopathic companies.” This is enabled by an “infantilized culture” at many start-up companies, where employees become accustomed to working in “hyper-privileged bubbles where their every whim is catered to and every need anticipated,” she writes.

Amazon takes a punch as well:

She sees evidence of it happening already. Tim Bray, a celebrated engineer at Amazon and their onetime vice president of Web Services, quit his job in May because of the “toxicity running through the company culture,” as he wrote in a blog post. “I choose neither to serve nor drink that poison,” he wrote.

DarkCyber notes that the publicist who nudged the New York Post to write an article and book marketing use case deserves a Google mouse pad. DarkCyber wonders if Rupert Murdoch’s other New York are property will provide similar dead tree coverage of the book?

Will Mr. Murdoch purchase a copy, or will the wiley John Wiley provide the esteemed publisher with a complimentary copy? This has been a tough year for trees. First Bolton, then Rage, and now the psychopath thing. Trees, be aware: There is Kindle to save you someday, maybe?

Stephen E Arnold, September 28, 2020

Quite an Emoji for 2020

September 28, 2020

DarkCyber does not use too many emojis. Sure, we put them in our DarkCyber video news program to add visual punctuation. Most days, words are okay or K in the lingo of the thumbtypers. One of the research team called attention to “These New Emojis Perfectly Sum Up This Dumpster Fire of a Year.” The image comes from an outfit called Emojipedia. We think this is the Oxford Dictionary updated for Gen X and Gen Y mobile messaging addicts.

image

Nifty and appropriate. Keep in mind that in about 12 weeks we can look back and reflect on the pandemic, economic erosion, social unrest, and the asteroid which will have collided with earth on or about the first week of November.

Does dumpster fire capture the spirit of this memorable year? The emoji does.

Stephen E Arnold, September 28, 2020

US Public Records: When Is Mail Mail?

September 25, 2020

DarkCyber operates from rural Kentucky. We do watch what other fly over states do. “Citizens Not Entitled to Receive Public Records by Email, Judge Rules” explains that in Oklahoma:

Custer County District Judge Jill Weedon ruled this summer, though, that the law does not entitle citizens to receive public records by email, upholding the county sheriff’s refusal to send a police report to a professor.

Like the song from “Oklahoma” says:

It’s a scandal, it’s an outrage!
Any farmer will tell you it’s true.

The article points out:

“The court … agrees that it would be more efficient to produce the requested documents electronically,” she said, “however [the act] does not require that the sheriff do so. The remedy … is in the Legislature, not the courts.”

The solution? Put on a mask and pick up the records in person maybe? That email stuff is progressive for Kentucky and obviously Oklahoma too.

Stephen E Arnold, September 25, 2020

Information Manipulation: A Rich Tradition

September 21, 2020

Scientists Use Big Data to Sway Elections and Predict Riots — Welcome to the 1960s” is an interesting write up. The essay begins with a quote from a high profile Xoogler, Anthony Levandowski. He’s the engineer who allegedly found information in his possession which was not supposed be in his possession. Things just happen, of course. The quote in the write up reminded me that Sillycon Valley in an interesting place.

The point of the write up is to romp through information manipulations related to elections in the US. One company — Simulmatics — applied systems and methods refined by other experts. I am not comfortable naming these people because it is 2020. Proper nouns can be tricky business.

The write up asserts:

The press called Simulmatics scientists the “What-If Men”, because their work — programming an IBM 704 — was based on endless what-if simulations. The IBM 704 was billed as the first mass-produced computer capable of doing complex mathematics. Today, this kind of work is much vaunted and lavishly funded. The 2018 Encyclopedia of Database Systems describes ‘what-if analysis’ as “a data-intensive simulation”. It refers to it as “a relatively recent discipline”. Not so.

The “not so” nails down the obvious. Information manipulation has been around for more years than Silicon Valley’s luminaries have been reshaping the world with digital services.

This quote warranted a check mark:

Although none of the researchers he had met “had malignant political designs on the American public”, Burdick warned, their very lack of interest in contemplating the possible consequences of their work stood as a terrible danger. Indeed, they might “radically reconstruct the American political system, build a new politics, and even modify revered and venerable American institutions — facts of which they are blissfully innocent”.

Yep, Sumulmatics. The other thought the write up evoked is, “When and to what does one pay attention?” Thumbtypers, what do you think?

Stephen E Arnold, September 21, 2020

The JEDI Questioned: Windows 10 Updates and Value

September 21, 2020

Windows 10 Updates Are Pretty Much Useless” suggests that the JEDI outfit and inventor of two mobile phones held together with a hinge is hand waving. Who knew? The article asserts: “IT professionals claim Windows 10 updates rarely deliver value.” The sample on which these shocking conclusions are based contained 500 people. No, we don’t know how these folks were selected or if they were wearing Steve Jobs-style jeans and shirts.

We noted these items from the write up:

  • Of the 500 respondents, 20 percent said they think Windows 10 updates deliver at least some value.
  • 22 percent said the updates left them “indifferent.”
  • In 2018, a similar survey revealed nearly 70% of IT personnel were dismissive of the bi-annual feature updates at the time.

Is Microsoft Windows winning over the hearts and minds of the JEDI minions? Not much progress it seems. How excited can one get when an operating system is a utility function. Fiddling with an operating system appears to put speed bumps on the information highway.

What about bum updates? Not even a bold online information services dares to enter that digital swamp.

Stephen E Arnold, September 21, 2020

Bowling Alone Furniture Fashion Trends

September 15, 2020

Two items plopped into the DarkCyber news watch system. The first is “This $25,000 Meditation Pod That Looks Like an Egg Is Designed [to] Be Installed in Offices and Airports. Here’s How It Works”. DarkCyber added the missing part of the infinitive, and we think we understand an isolation chamber. The write up, however, explains:

OpenSeed says it has a solution, in the form of 1,000-lb meditation pods that look like something that fell off a UFO. According to the company, they believe “that the human race will access higher states of awareness, not through external technological developments, but by taking the journey within.” That’s where Meditation Pods come in.

How much for one of these pods?

Just $25,000.

Color, audio, and seating options?

Check, check, and check.

The second item is “The Startup That Made Office Phone Booths for Google, Uber, and NASA Is Selling Modular Work Pods.” Surprise. These are squarish versions of the meditation egg. We learn:

The modular pods are like pop-up meeting rooms with extra ventilation, and Room is also offering a new analysis tool to give clients data on how office space is used, and how employees can safely return. Room’s proposal is just one idea popping up about how to work during a pandemic. Architect and designer Mohamed Radwan created a system of airtight office pods with air purifiers, and many other designers have created tiny backyard offices, or even ways to transform the home into an office, tastefully.

Interesting. Is this a trend?

DarkCyber remembers a wonderful night in a Japanese capsule hotel in 1999 or 2000. One of the team members said:

These look like three coffins bolted together.

Another noted:

Tiny houses designed by a D student in Architecture 101.

Either way, one can go from bowling alone to thinking or working alone. No information is available about injecting the scent of a bowling alley into the structures.

Stephen E Arnold, September 15, 2020

Nvidia Arm: An Artificial Intelligence Angle. Oh, Maybe a Monopoly Play Too?

September 14, 2020

As the claims, rumors, and outrage about Nvidia’s alleged acquisition of ARM swirl, DarkCyber noted an interesting story in ExtremeTech. “Nvidia Buys ARM for $40 Billion, Plans New AI Research Center” states:

According to Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang,

We are joining arms with Arm to create the leading computing company for the age of AI. AI is the most powerful technology force of our time. Learning from data, AI supercomputers can write software no human can. Amazingly, AI software can perceive its environment, infer the best plan, and act intelligently. This new form of software will expand computing to every corner of the globe. Someday, trillions of computers running AI will create a new internet — the internet-of-things — thousands of times bigger than today’s internet-of-people. In the same letter, Jensen notes that Nvidia will build a “world-class” AI center in Cambridge, where a state-of-the-art ARM-based supercomputer will conduct research. [Emphasis added by DarkCyber]

Assume the deal goes through. Assume Nvidia creates a new AI research center. Are there some implications of this type of move? Who knows, but it is often helpful to identify some potential downstream consequences:

  1. Nvidia becomes the de facto supplier of silicon for supercomputers
  2. Amazon, already keen on Nvidia, ramps up its efforts to boost Sagemaker and allied technologies in the AWS environment
  3. Google and Microsoft have to do some thinking about their approach to next-generation silicon
  4. IBM may be inspired to do more than issue Intel style news releases about creating stable silicon using fabrication techniques outside their competencies at this time
  5. Chinese and China-allied semiconductor companies will have to shift into a higher gear and amp up their marketing

Will the deal, if it takes place, create the semiconductor equivalent of a Facebook monopoly?

That’s a possibility. Those US regulators are on the job, ever vigilant, just like those on Wall Street.

Stephen E Arnold, September 17, 2020

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