Technical Debt: Less Like Tetris, More Like Ignoring Rotting Foundations

January 21, 2020

Googlers were chattering about technical debt years ago. I can’t recall the specific service which triggered a discussion about investing, patching, ignoring, or shuttering a service due to “costs.” The online ad giant was not the first mover in MBA/bean counter thinking about the resources consumed maintaining, enhancing, and changing the oil in its massive online systems.

DarkCyber noted “Technical Debt Is like a Tetris Game.” The write up is interesting, and the comparison in some ways is apt. However, video games are set up so that “winning” is often elusive. Dealing with technical debt in an organization is a bit different. The erosion often takes time and may be caused by wrapping the core software in more code. How often are substantive changes made to Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft services. Amazon recommends books the DarkCyber team has already read. Why not look up recommendations in the user’s list of Kindle purchases? An expense for technical debt or managerial indifference? Facebook routinely purges false accounts, but DarkCyber’s mascot has a Facebook page and posts infrequently and then via a software script. The page is still alive and kicking. Why not match user activity to an account and dump the dogs? Pun intended. Technical rot, not technical debt and who wants to lose a “user”? Google delivers irrelevant search results for many queries. Why not fix up the clever PageRank thing? Technical debt or the lack of programmers who want to plunge their hands into the terracotta tiles of the Stanford Mycenaean’s? And Microsoft? Why not make numbering work in Word or document the known dependencies in the Pharonic Fast Search & Transfer code.

These are not game scenarios. These examples are conscious choices to avoid fiddling with software developed decades ago. The premise appears to be that “good enough” is indeed the path to riches. DarkCyber believes that a failure to invest in foundations means that the structure will sag over time. If the structure collapses, the problems are not the death of colorful digital creatures. The implosion will affect humans. Not a game.

There is not money, time, and skilled personnel to remediate what’s chugging along. Decades, not weeks or months. Decades.

Stephen E Arnold, January 21, 2020

US China Deal: The Honeymoon Will Not Last Long

January 17, 2020

DarkCyber spotted a write up called “China Bracing for US Tech War with Plan to Cut Reliance on Imports of Key Components to Just 25 Per Cent.” If the information in the write up is accurate, the implications for certain countries and companies selling to China could be interesting. We noted this statement in the article:

China is aiming to increase its reliance on domestic production for key components, including chips and controlling systems, to 75 per cent by 2025, according to a former minister.

So a dollar spent by China to shore up its Great Firewall will allegedly become $0.25 in 60 months or less.

This statement seemed to more of a warning and less of an olive branch extended to the US:

The move, which includes a series of plans to improve weak links in the areas of hi-tech research and crucial component development “one by one”, is seen as part of China’s preparation for a intensifying technology war with the United States.

(“China Must Rein in SOEs to Gain Upper Hand in Tech War, Help Private Firms like Huawei to Innovate” provides some color on China’s desire to become the dominant technology player in the future.)

To support the knowledge sector, the write up reveals:

China will also increase the number of “national manufacturing innovation centers” to 40 by 2025 from 11 at the end of 2019 “to cover all major industries”. China’s first national manufacturing innovation centre was launched in 2016, focusing on making and researching electric vehicle batteries.

The concluding section of the write up states the obvious:

is increasingly clear that a technology rivalry between China and US is set to deepen…with competition in next generation communication, 5G and artificial intelligence key areas of contention.

Net net: A calm before the storm.

Stephen E Arnold, January 17, 2020

Software: Duct Tape Is the Fabric of Solutions

January 16, 2020

Polygon published “The Truth Is That Many Games Are Held Together by Duct Tape.” The write up explains that software is messy. Here’s one statement from the write up:

Time and time again, development stories of video games reveal that, because video games have so many different moving parts, from game design to sound, that things often don’t come together until the last possible secondif they come together at all.

We noted this passage as well:

Obviously, developers should care about game-breaking bugs, or anything that gets in the way of a player’s enjoyment of the experience, but as they say, perfect is the enemy of good.

DarkCyber has one issue with the article. The focus is narrow when it should be more inclusive. Microsoft Word numbering, Framemaker’s handling of color, iTunes inability to delete items, Android widget disappearance, and similar quirks have been nettlesome for years, and in some cases decades.

Good enough is the name of the game.

And to provide a light at the end of a very long tunnel: smart software and point and click programming will solve these problems. Sure enough.

Stephen E Arnold, February 16, 2020

Smart Software: Is Control Too Late Arriving?

January 4, 2020

I read “US Government Limits Exports of Artificial Intelligence Software.” The main idea is that smart software is important. The insight may be arriving after the train has left the station. The trusty Thomson Reuters’ report states:

It comes amid growing frustration from Republican and Democratic lawmakers over the slow roll-out of rules toughening up export controls, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, urging the Commerce Department to speed up the process.

And the reason (presented via a quote from an expert) seems to be “rival powers like China.”

I took a quick spin through other items in my newsfeed this morning, Saturday, January 3, 2020. Here’s a selection of five items. Remember. It’s Saturday and a day when many Silicon Valley types get ready for some football.

Not far from where I am writing this, more than 100 exchange students are working in teams to master a range of technologies, including smart software. One group is Chinese; another is German. Will the smart software encountered by these students be constrained in some way? What if the good stuff has been internalized, summarized, and emailed to fellow travelers in another country?

DarkCyber has a question, “Is it perhaps a little late in the game to change the rules?”

Stephen E Arnold, January 4, 2020

Trouble Ahead for Deep Fakes and Fancy Technology?

January 3, 2020

At a New Year’s get together, a person mentioned a review of the film “Cats.” I don’t go to movies, but the person’s comments intrigued me. I returned home and tracked down “How Cats Became a Box Office Catastrophe.”

I noted one sentence in the write which was:

We probably don’t need to remind you of the backlash the internet unleashed upon Cats the moment the Cats trailer dropped. Viewers gasped in horror as Universal’s vision of adding cat fur and features to the proportions of a human body was finally revealed. It was uncomfortable to look at, a clear example of the uncanny valley, where viewers are unsettled by artificially constructed beings that are just shy of realism.

The write then added:

Beyond subjective opinions, critics highlighted several issues including glitchy and unpolished CGI that could have been a result of its rushed production, that took place within a single year. In contrast, this year’s photo-realistic Lion King movie began work in 2016.

Two points: Backlash for the context and the “unpolished CGI.”

What happens when the rough hewn nature of other fantastical technology, swathed in investor hype and marketers’ misrepresentations, is understood?

Exciting for some in 2020.

Stephen E Arnold, January 3, 2020

Riding the Hypemobile for Quantum Computing

January 1, 2020

I am convinced that quantum computing will become a useful approach to solving certain types of problems. Google has already claimed the crown of big time quantum computerism. But IBM, by golly, is going to get to the top of the mountain. Too bad the mountain these outfits are confident flies their corporate flags are in China’s AI province. Yeah, China. Bummer.

But there’s hope for countries without big mountains like those like Amne Machin. No, Machin is not a corruption of machine.

Navigate to “Scientists At Lancaster University Use Legos In Quantum Computing Research.” The write up explains, albeit breathlessly:

Scientists at Lancaster University in England conducted an experiment in which they froze several Lego blocks to the lowest possible temperature, and what they discovered could be useful in the development of quantum computing.

Why?

Lego blocks could be used as thermal insulators. Note that some universities have quiet rooms, animals for students to pet, and counseling services available 24×7. Lego blocks, therefore, are likely to be abundant in some university facilities.

How did the experiment go? The write up reports without much enthusiasm:

“While it’s unlikely that Lego blocks per se will be used as a part of a quantum computer, we’ve found the right direction for creating cheap thermal insulators: 3D printing,” Zmeev [a quantum wizard] said. “Lego is made from ABS plastic and one can also create ABS structures simply by 3D printing them. We are currently studying the properties of such 3D printed structures at ultralow temperatures close to absolute zero.”

Ah, 2020 will usher in many insights into quantum computing which is, of course, just around the corner and may already be powering Google’s advertising machine.

Technology marches forward.

Stephen E Arnold, January 1, 2020

Emergent Neuron Network

December 31, 2019

I want to keep this item short. The information in “Brain-Like Functions Emerging in a Metallic Nanowire Network” may be off base. However, if true, the emergent behavior in a nanowire network is suggestive. We noted this statement:

The joint research team recently built a complex brain-like network by integrating numerous silver (Ag) nanowires coated with a polymer (PVP) insulating layer approximately 1 nanometer in thickness. A junction between two nanowires forms a variable resistive element (i.e., a synaptic element) that behaves like a neuronal synapse. This nanowire network, which contains a large number of intricately interacting synaptic elements, forms a “neuromorphic network”. When a voltage was applied to the neuromorphic network, it appeared to “struggle” to find optimal current pathways (i.e., the most electrically efficient pathways). The research team measured the processes of current pathway formation, retention and deactivation while electric current was flowing through the network and found that these processes always fluctuate as they progress, similar to the human brain’s memorization, learning, and forgetting processes. The observed temporal fluctuations also resemble the processes by which the brain becomes alert or returns to calm. Brain-like functions simulated by the neuromorphic network were found to occur as the huge number of synaptic elements in the network collectively work to optimize current transport, in the other words, as a result of self-organized and emerging dynamic processes.

What can the emergent nanowire structure do? The write up states:

Using this network, the team was able to generate electrical characteristics similar to those associated with higher order brain functions unique to humans, such as memorization, learning, forgetting, becoming alert and returning to calm. The team then clarified the mechanisms that induced these electrical characteristics.

DarkCyber finds the emergent behavior interesting and suggestive. Worth monitoring because there may be one individual working at Google who will embrace a nanowire implant. A singular person indeed.

Stephen E Arnold, December 31, 2019

Did You Know This Barn Burned 20 Years Ago?

December 30, 2019

Now let’s be positive. One can play games any time, any place. One can broadcast one’s thoughts any time, any place. One can find objective information any time, any place. What’s not to like?

Quite a bit, according to a newspaper which has tried for years to embrace zeros and ones. No, not embrace, love those zeros and ones. Navigate to “We’ve Spent the Decade Letting Our Tech Define Us. It’s Out of Control” and relive the old news: Barn burned. Horses killed or rustled. Amazon warehouse built on the site.

Yep, old news.

The write up states:

What this decade’s critiques miss is that over the past 10 years, our tech has grown from some devices and platforms we use to an entire environment in which we function. We don’t “go online” by turning on a computer and dialing up through a modem; we live online 24/7, creating data as we move through our lives, accessible to everyone and everything.

Obviously the newspaper continues to write about what happened quite a while ago. The history of online was set when online databases crushed traditional print indexes. Online outfits like Dialog, SDC, and even Dialcom for goodness sakes changed research and journal publishing. Did anyone notice? Sure, those disintermediated. But the nature of online information was evident by 1980. Let’s see, wasn’t that about 40 years ago.

But now we have a decade to consider.

The newspaper notes, almost with a little surprise:

We’ve spent the last 10 years as participants in a feedback loop between surveillance technology, predictive algorithms, behavioral manipulation and human activity. And it has spun out of anyone’s control.

The datasphere surprises, it seems. The basic law of online is that a monopoly structure is the basic protein structure of the digital world. It’s a surprise that once data flow through a system, those data must be logged. Logged data have to be analyzed. More data begets additional data. And there are other “laws” of online.

The venerable newspaper, with its begging for dollars please rendered in #ffff00 is reporting the news.

One problem: The news is really old. The new year is almost upon us. Maybe old news is just safer, easier, and more clickworthy than what is actually scrolling and swiping to the future.

Keep in mind that that Amazon delivery will arrive today.

Stephen E Arnold, December 30, 2019

Online Calendars: Maybe Not for Everyone?

December 27, 2019

Fast Company published an unusual “hey, technology may not be the cat’s pajamas” article. The title? “This Old-School Weekly Planner Runs My Life.” The main point is that writing stuff in a paper monthly planner works reasonably well. For anyone giving a deposition, trying to gather data for a tax audit, or just sitting down with a lawyer—those paper calendars may be more usable than electronic systems. Plus, the calendars are fungible. This hard copy approach can be a net positive in some circumstances.

This very Silicon Valley information service states:

In an era of technological inundation, I’ve found that the one thing that actually does keep me on track is an old-school, pencil and paper weekly planner. It allows me to map out my life, week to week, and pull all my disparate notifications and notes from emails, texts, in-person meetings, and phone calls into one place.

Just a thought that makes sense from a publication which often touts some wonky analyses.

Stephen E Arnold, December 27, 2019

Underground Operations: Some Considerations

December 27, 2019

We believe the greatest dangers posed to modern society come from the air in the forms of intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear bombs, and armed drones. The Federation of American Scientists, however, explain that US soldiers face subterranean dangers too as explained in a new manual entitled, “ATP 3-21.51 Subterranean Operations -November 2019.”

Subterranean warfare is one of the oldest and most successful forms of combat. Ancient civilizations built underground fortifications to fend off their enemies or used them to transport supplies or as escape routes. In World War II, the Japanese built underground bunkers in their island hopping campaign to fight the Allied Powers. During the Vietnam War, the Vietcong constructed elaborate tunnel systems that ranged for miles and were booby-trapped. In October 1978, a tunnel was discovered on the North and South Korean borders. The North Koreans planned to use the tunnel to attack Seoul and it was estimated the 30,000 armed troops could march through it.

Subterranean warfare may seem primitive, but it remains one of the most effective means of combat. Current conflicts within the Middle East and Syria rely on tunnels and the Hamas use tunnels to protect Israeli leaders from air raids:

“Whether to protect vital assets and capabilities, mitigate weapon system and sensor overmatch, to strengthen a larger defensive position, or simply to be used for transportation in our largest cities, subterranean systems continue to be expanded and relied upon throughout the world. Therefore, our Soldiers and leaders must be prepared to fight and win in this environment.”

While tunnels and underground bunkers prove to be reliable, the greatest dangers may come from soldiers and other personnel forced to serve underground.

“Soldiers descending into unknown subterranean spaces often face a sense of isolation, entrapment, and claustrophobia due to the temperature changes, navigating a strange maze of passageways, lack of natural light and air movement, and other factors prevalent in subterranean spaces. Additionally, spiritual, philosophical, cultural beliefs, and previous experiences with subterranean spaces may affect a Soldier’s psychological well-being. The darkness and disconnection from the surface environment affects an individual’s conception of time. Entering unknown subterranean spaces may reduce a Soldier’s perceived sense of security, even before direct fire contact with the enemy.”

No matter the training, a stressful environment will take its toll on a soldier’s mind. Technology to the rescue? Not yet.

Whitney Grace, December 5, 2019

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