What Happens When One NOTs Out Web Sites?

April 30, 2012

We learned about Million Short. The idea is that a user can NOT out a block of Web sites. The use case is that a query is passed to the system, and the system filters out the top 1,000 or 100,000 Web sites. We think you will want to check it out. Once you have run some sample queries, consider these questions:

  1. When a handful of Web sites attract the most traffic, is popularity the road to comprehensive information retrieval?
  2. When sites are NOTted out, what do you gain? What do you lose?
  3. How do you know what is filtered from any Web search index? Do you run test queries and examine the results?

Enjoy. If you know a librarian, why not involve that person in your test queries?

Stephen E Arnold, May 1, 2012

Sponsored by PolySpot

Love Lost between Stochastic and Google AppEngine

March 30, 2012

Stochastic Technologies’ Stavros Korokithakis has some very harsh words for Google’s AppEngine in “Going from Loving AppEngine to Hating it in 9 Days.” Is the Google shifting its enterprise focus?

Stochastic’s service Dead Man’s Switch got a huge publicity boost from its recent Yahoo article, which drove thousands of new visitors to the site. Preparing for just such a surge, the company turned months ago to Google’s AppEngine to manage potential customers. At first, AppEngine worked just fine. The hassle-free deployments while rewriting and the free tier were just what the company needed at that stage.

Soon after the Yahoo piece, Stochastic knew they had to move from the free quota to a billable status. There was a huge penalty, though, for one small mistake: Korokithakis entered the wrong credit card number. No problem, just disable the billing and re-enable it with the correct information, right? Wrong. Billing could not be re-enabled for another week.

Things only got worse from there. Korokithakis attempted to change settings from Google Wallet, but all he could do was cancel the payment. He then found that, while he was trying to correct his credit card information, the AppEngine Mail API had reached its daily 100-recipient email limit. The limit would not be removed until the first charge cleared, which would take a week. The write up laments:

At this point, we had five thousand users waiting for their activation emails, and a lot of them were emailing us, asking what’s wrong and how they could log in. You can imagine our frustration when we couldn’t really help them, because there was no way to send email from the app! After trying for several days to contact Google, the AppEngine team, and the AppEngine support desk, we were at our wits’ end. Of all the tens of thousands of visitors that had come in with the Yahoo! article, only 100 managed to actually register and try out the site. The rest of the visitors were locked out, and there was nothing we could do.

Between sluggish payment processing and a bug in the Mail API, it actually took nine days before the Stochastic team could send emails and register users. The company undoubtedly lost many potential customers to the delay. In the meantime, to add charges to injury, the AppEngine task queue kept retrying to send the emails and ran up high instance fees.

It is no wonder that Stochastic is advising us all to stay away from Google’s AppEngine. Our experiences with Google have been positive. Perhaps this is an outlier’s experience?

Cynthia Murrell, March 30, 2012

Sponsored by Pandia.com

Fat Apps. What Happened to the Cloud?

February 5, 2012

If it seems like a step backward, that’s because it is: Network Computing declares,  “Fat Apps Are Where It’s At.” At least for now.

Writer Mike Fratto makes the case that, in the shift from desktop to mobile, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Cloud-based applications that run only the user interface on mobile devices are a great way to save space– if you can guarantee constant wireless access to the Web. That’s not happening yet. Wi-Fi is unreliable, and wireless data plans with their data caps can become very expensive very quickly.

Besides, says Fratto, services that aim to place the familiar desktop environment onto mobile devices, like Citrix XenApp or VMware ThinApp, are barking up the wrong tree. The article asserts:

There isn’t the screen real estate available on mobile devices–certainly not on phones–to populate menus and pull downs. . . . But that is how desktop apps are designed. Lots of features displayed for quick access because you have the room to do it while still providing enough screen space to write a document or work on a spreadsheet. Try using Excel as a thin app on your phone or tablet. See how long it takes for you to get frustrated.

So, Fratto proposes “fat apps” as the temporary alternative, applications designed for mobile use with local storage that let you continue to work without a connection. Bloatware is back, at least until we get affordable, universal wireless access worked out.

I am getting some app fatigue. What’s the next big thing?

Cynthia Murrell, February 5, 2012

Sponsored by Pandia.com

Regulating Facebook and Unexpected Consequences

April 23, 2018

After Mark Zuckerberg’s mostly frothy and somewhat entertaining testimonies for Congress and the Senate, what are we left with? Some tea leaves are saying that Facebook will likely be permitted to self regulate.

What happens if governments step in. One commentator worries not just for our privacy, but for society as a whole. We learned more from a recent Guardian story, “Facebook is a Tyranny and Our Government Isn’t Built to Stop it.”

According to the story:

“Many ideas for regulatory reforms to protect privacy fail to address the governance problems we face. Our government was not built to counter the tyranny of the global corporation…. “With the fervor of the early US founders, we need to debate and adopt a new structure for self-government that is strong enough to counter the global monopolies of the 21st century. Our liberty is at stake.”

Is Facebook really that serious of a threat? We’re ones to pump the brakes a little on this subject. However, that doesn’t mean that social media needs to change. Many people are inventing suggestions for ways in which Washington can regulate this world. Many are bunk, but some are legitimately solid. One that we have been leaning toward is a Digital Consumer Protection Agency. This keeps the senator and congress, who proved how shockingly little they know about social media when they grilled Zuckerberg, out of the fray.

Allegedly accurate information surfaced in Buzzfeed. The article “Cambridge Analytica Data Scientist Aleksandr Kogan Wants You To Know He’s Not A Russian Spy” will certainly spark some additional discussion of governance at Facebook and Cambridge University.

Aleksandr Kogan, a Russian, who appears to have been a key module in the Cambridge Analytica data service is quoted as saying, “I am not a Russian spy.” That’s good to know. The academic asserts that he was doing research. He wrote journal papers about that research. In fact, he wrote papers with Facebook professionals. He also “believes” that his work had not impact on elections. The information in the article is interesting.

Four observations:

  1. Government officials who do not understand Facebook are likely to find themselves relying on Facebook lobbyists for guidance.
  2. Facebook itself can continue to operate and use clever maneuvers to sidestep some regulations.
  3. With more than two billion users, Facebook has the capability of becoming a messaging system for itself.
  4. The story will continue to have momentum.

One unintended consequence is that it will be business as usual for Facebook.

Patrick Roland, April 23, 2018

MailChimp Swings Away from Cryptocurrency

April 19, 2018

Marketing automation platform MailChimp has made some customers very unhappy with a recent decision. Future Society declares, “MailChimp is Shutting Down ICO and Blockchain-Related Emails, and People Are Freaking Out.” Though one user charged the company with exercising “centralized capricious power,” MailChimp points to its (updated) Acceptable Use Policy, which does prohibit processing cryptocurrency transactions across their platform. Writer Foster Kamer tells us:

“We asked a few more questions about how MailChimp can actually delineate between emails from people involved in the shilling and profiteering of blockchain and ICOs versus people having news-related discussions of blockchain and ICOs (because, LOL, in the current moment, most non-algorithmic humans have a justifiably tough time distinguishing between the two). We’ll update here if they respond. In the meantime, it’ll be a hell of a lot of fun to watch (1) which companies follow MailChimp’s lead, (2) which companies capitalize off of the fact that they nixed this entire segment of people from their platform and go all in on blockchain, sweeping ’em up in MailChimp’s place, and (3) watching all of blockchain and ICO Twitter collectively lose their minds about feeling censored and repressed.”

Kamer has little sympathy for those objecting to MailChimp’s move, and points out they are free to take their email marketing needs to another business. We wonder, though, whether this action signifies a trend. Founded in 2001, MailChimp is based in Atlanta, and they happen to be hiring for several positions as of this writing.

Cynthia Murrell, April 19, 2018

Commercial Solutions for Government: A Path Forward

April 13, 2018

I often hear grumbling when I tell law enforcement and intelligence professionals to use commercial tools. Some LE and intel professionals are confident that open source tools like Maltego, a little midnight oil, and their in house technical staff can build a system better than commercial offerings. In my 50 year work career, that can happen. But it does not happen often. The 18f alternative to Squarespace is a good example of spending money for software which falls short of low cost, widely available commercial tools.

Cybercrime has become a serious hurdle for police. It seems that under-funded departments and agencies find that procurement cycles and technological advances by bad actors combine to make certain tasks difficult. We noted the PC Magazine story, “Feds Bust Black Market Forum Behind $530M in Cybercrimes.”

According to the article:

“The Department of Justice on Wednesday announced the indictments of 36 suspects allegedly responsible for the black market Infraud forum, which sold stolen credit card details, malware, and information that could be used for identity theft, including Social Security numbers.”

This is a win for cybercrime cops. Several of the American suspects have been arrested and several more international criminals are being extradited. However, we believe that only the private sector can adequately combat clever cybercrime. We recently heard about what seems to be a positive plan from Entrepreneur magazine.

Google’s new Chronicle cyber security company may offer LE a useful tool. The specialty for Chronicle is Zero Day Attacks, which are those sneaky cyber attacks that happen instantly—unlike ransomware, for example. This is just one small piece of a massive private sector puzzle that can help put cybercrime under control for good.

Combine the capabilities of Google with Recorded Future (a company in which Google has a stake), and the open source alternatives may come up short.

Patrick Roland, April 13, 2018

Social Media: Toxic for Children?

April 13, 2018

Facebook president’s marathon testimony sets the stage for some government action on the social media company. Bubbling beneath the surface, in my opinion, was the idea that Facebook influenced the 2016 presidential election, either wittingly or unwittingly. The math club culture, however, is pleased with its revenue, not the grilling.

Social media is a well-known grounds for toxic thought and behavior for adults. Shaming, bad mouthing, spreading rumors, and even more damaging acts have been attributed to Twitter, Facebook and the like. As bad as we know this world is, our children are experiencing just as nasty of an environment, one study suggests. We learned more in a recent Independent article, “Two in Five Children Made Anxious Every Week, When Using The Internet, Research Says.”

According to the story:

“Almost half of young people said that in the last year they had experienced someone being mean to them over the internet – or they had been excluded online, new research has revealed…. “Meanwhile, eight per cent of schoolchildren surveyed said these negative experiences happened to them all or most of the time, according to the poll.”

Sadly, this has become an unavoidable part of adolescence. It is impossible to shield children from this kind of behavior, but the Independent story doesn’t really offer a solution. Some experts have an interesting one: stay online. Much like standing up to a schoolyard bully in past years, this psychologist says children should not ignore or block a bully, but push back. Stand up for themselves and hopefully others will too, which will drive the bully off. It’s a bold thought for a problem that is dominating young minds today.

After more than a decade of “let them go,” some changes may be difficult because social media has transformed some hearts and minds.

Stephen E Arnold, April 13, 2018

Quote to Note: Statistics May Spoil Like Bananas

April 13, 2018

I noticed this synopsis for a talk by Andrew Gelman, a wizard who teaches at Columbia University. You can find the summary in “Do Statistical methods Have an Expiration Date?” Here’s the quote I noted:

The statistical methods which revolutionized science in the 1930s-1950s no longer seem to work in the 21st century. How can this be? It turns out that when effects are small and highly variable, the classical approach of black-box inference from randomized experiments or observational studies no longer works as advertised.

What happens when these methods are bolted into next generation data analytics systems which humans use to make decisions? My great uncle (Vladimir.I. Arnold and his co worker Andrey Kolmogorov could calculate an answer I assume?)

Stephen E Arnold, April 13, 2018

Making Informed Decisions Less Like Guessing

April 12, 2018

Psychic powers may not be able to bend spoons. Hunches? Well, those are as common as microbes in one’s gut.

With just a little Internet research, it becomes easy recognize the tricks psychics use to fool unsuspecting people. Despite psychic tomfoolery, humans have not stopped for ways to predict the future and AI software has somewhat breached that capability. Computer software is as limited as the humans that program it, but Newsweek reveals that: “Human Brains Are Able To Predict The Future Before The Eye Can Tell It What Happened.” Before you start trying to develop your innate sixth sense, the article explains how eyeballs moves faster than the brain can respond, so the brain uses that gap to predict what we will see next.

Scientists at the University of Glasgow discovered how this process works. The scientist…

“…used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and optical illusions to better understand what’s going on in our brain when we see. Whereas the eyes usually send information to the brain about what the surroundings look like, known as feedforward input, this study focused particularly on brain feedback input, the neurological process where the brain sends information to the eyes.

Study co-author Gracie Edwards, who specializes in neuroscience and psychology at the University of Glasgow, explained that the brain creates predictions based on memories of similar actions. ‘Feedforward and feedback information interact with one another to produce the visual scene we perceive every day,’ said Edwards.”

It sounds like the scientists discovered an explanation for déjà vu, but humans experience this process more regularly than that odd “done it before” feeling. AI programs are actually adapted from how neuroscience. AI algorithms already have the feedforward mechanism, but they lack the feedforward predictive mechanism.

Elon Musk’s fear of smart software may be an example of the grip of guessing. Season with predictive analytics and one can peer into the future with renewed confidence.

Whitney Grace, April 12, 2018

Video Search: Still a Challenge

April 6, 2018

As MIT Technology Review describes in its article, “The Next Big Step for AI? Understanding Video,” artificial intelligence still tends to have trouble correctly interpreting video. A recent slew of new jobs at YouTube (owned by Google) underscores this flaw—“YouTube is Hiring 10,000 People to Police Offensive Videos,” reports the New York Post. When it comes to objectionable content, algorithms just don’t get it. Yet. Meanwhile, the PR machine keeps running.

MIT Tech editor Will Knight discusses some promising solutions in the above article, beginning close to home with a collaboration between MIT and IBM. He writes:

“MIT and IBM this week released a vast data set of video clips painstakingly annotated with details of the action being carried out. The Moments in Time Dataset includes three-second snippets of everything from fishing to break-dancing. ‘A lot of things in the world change from one second to the next,’ says Aude Oliva, a principal research scientist at MIT and one of the people behind the project. ‘If you want to understand why something is happening, motion gives you lot of information that you cannot capture in a single frame.’” … “The MIT-IBM project is in fact just one of several video data sets designed to spur progress in training machines to understand actions in the physical world. Last year, for example, Google released a set of eight million tagged YouTube videos called YouTube-8M. Facebook is developing an annotated data set of video actions called the Scenes, Actions, and Objects set.”

Knight also mentions Twenty Billion Neurons, which, he notes:

“… Created a custom data set by paying crowdsourced workers to perform simple tasks. One of the company’s cofounders, Roland Memisevic, says it also uses a neural network designed specifically to process temporal vision information.”

So, we should not be surprised if, soon, AI can comprehend what it “sees.” Meanwhile, sites that host video content would do well to employ the judgment of humans.

Cynthia Murrell, April 6, 2018

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