Why Messrs Brin and Page Said Adios

June 22, 2021

Years ago I signed a document saying I could not reveal any information obtained, intuited, learned, or received by any means electrical or mechanical from an interesting company for which I did some trivial work. I have been a good person, and I will continue of that path in this short blog post based on open source info and my own cogitations.

Yes, the GOOG. I want to remind readers that in 2019, the dynamic duo, the creators of Backrub, and the beneficiaries of some possible inspiration from Yahoo, GoTo.com, and Overture stepped away from their mom and pop online advertising store. With lots of money and eternal fame in the pantheon of online superstars, this was a good decision. Based on my understanding of information in open sources, the two decades of unparalleled fun was drawing to a close. Thus, hasta la vista. From my point of view, these visionaries who understood the opportunities to sell ads rendered silly ideas like doing good toothless. Go for the gold because there was no meaningful regulation as long as their was blood lust for tchotchkes like blinking Google pins or mouse pads with the Google logo.

But there were in open source information hints of impending trouble; for example:

  • Management issues, both personal and company centric. Who can forget drug overdoses, attempted suicides, and baby daddies in the legal department? Certainly not the online indexes which provide valid links here, here, and here. Keep in mind, gentle reader, that these items are from open sources.
  • Grousing from Web site owners, partners, and developers. The Foundem persistence gave hope to many that others would speak up despite Google’s power, money, and flotillas of legal destroyers.
  • Annoying bleats about competition were emitted with ever increasing stridency from those clueless EU officials. Example number one: Margrethe Vestager. Danes fouled up taking over England, other Scandinavia countries, and lost the lead in ham to the questionable Spanish who fed cinco jota pigs acorns.

Nope, bail out time.

I offer these prefatory sentences because those commenting, tweeting, and blogging about “Google Executives See Cracks in Their Company’s Success” seem to have forgotten the glorious past of the Google. I noted this statement which is eerily without historical context and presented as a novel idea:

But a restive class of Google executives worry that the company is showing cracks. They say Google’s work force is increasingly outspoken. Personnel problems are spilling into the public. Decisive leadership and big ideas have given way to risk aversion and incrementalism. And some of those executives are leaving and letting everyone know exactly why.

Okay. But Messrs Brin and Page left. This is a surprise? Why? The high school science club management method is no longer fun. The crazy technology is expensive and old. The Foosball table needs resurfacing. The bean bags smell. And — news flash — when Elvis left the building, the show was over.

Messrs Brin and Page left the building. Got the picture?

Stephen E Arnold, June 22, 2021

Microsoft: Corporate Athleticism and Missing Pro Day

June 9, 2021

Yep, now it is a “new” Windows. And Teams, the feature rich Word software which struggles to number stuff and keep text and images where the author put them. Plus the security system that will prevent SolarWinds’ missteps and Exchange Server from becoming the lap dog of bad actors. “How Microsoft Fumbled Skype – and Let Zoom Flourish” is an interesting article. The implicit messages in the document are intriguing: Microsoft is big but not really able to handle opportunities like Skype in a way that avoids head shaking and hand wringing.

I marked this passage in the source document:

Although Skype, launched in 2003, has been available nine years longer than Zoom and is owned by tech titan Microsoft, Zoom has effectively left it in its dust. People don’t say “I’ll Skype you” as often as they say “I’ll Zoom you” anymore.

The write up provides some historical color but nailed the reason for Microsoft’s Skype fumble:

In 2011, when Microsoft acquired Skype for US$8.5-billion, Zoom had just launched and Skype already had 100 million users. By 2014, Skype was popular enough to merit inclusion as a verb in the Oxford English Dictionary. And by 2015, it had 300 million users. But Skype’s technology wasn’t well-suited to mobile devices. When Microsoft set about to address that problem, it introduced a host of reliability nightmares for users. It gave them further headaches by redesigning Skype frequently and haphazardly while integrating messaging and video functions.

My experience with the new Skype is that the Teams’ environment is pretty darned confusing. This comment illustrates what happens when management guard rails are not in place for programmers who may have good ideas but cannot cope with the outstanding Microsoft operating systems:

When Microsoft set about to address that problem, it introduced a host of reliability nightmares for users. It gave them further headaches by redesigning Skype frequently and haphazardly while integrating messaging and video functions.

Could this Skype example provide some insight into the security issues Microsoft’s core systems face. I know which company will win the prize for most loved software from a coalition of Eastern European bad actors. Do you? Let’s ask a JEDI knight.

Stephen E Arnold, June 9, 2021

Amazon: Possibly Going for TikTok Clicks?

June 8, 2021

I don’t know if this story is true. For all I know, this could be the work of some TikTok wannabes who need clicks. Perhaps a large competitor of the online bookstore set up this incident? Despite my doubts, I find the information in “Video Shows Amazon Driver Punching 67-Year-Old Woman Who Reportedly Called Her a B*tch.” The main idea is that a person who could fight Logan Paul battled a 67 year old woman. That’s no thumbtyper. That’s a person who writes with a pencil on paper. The outrage.

According the the “real” news report:

SHOCKING VIDEO shows an Amazon Driver giving a 67 year old Castro Valley woman a beat down after words were exchanged. 21 year old woman arrested by Alco Sherriff…who says suspect claims self defense.

Yes, it is clear that the 67 year old confused the Amazon professional with a boxing performer. After a “verbal confrontation,” the individuals turned to the sweet science.

Pretty exciting and the event was captured on video and appears to be streaming without problems. That’s something that could not be said about the Showtime exhibition or Amazon and Amazon Twitch a few hours ago. (It is Tuesday, June 8, 2021, and Amazon was a helpless victim of another feisty Internet athlete.)

Exciting stuff. Will there be a rematch?

Stephen E Arnold, June 8, 2021

Online: Finding Info Is Easy or Another Dark Pattern?

May 7, 2021

When I attended meetings about online search, I found considerable amusement in comments like “Online makes finding information easy” and “I am an expert at finding information on Google.” Hoots for sure.

I read “How to Find a Buyer or Seller’s Facebook Profile on Marketplace.” According to the write up, at some time in the recent past “finding” information about a person offering something for sale on Facebook Marketplace was easy. Since I have never used Facebook Marketplace, I can accept the facile use of the word “easy” as something a normal thumbtyping Facebooker could do. Some investigators probably had the knowledge required to figure out who was pitching a product allegedly stolen from a bitcoin billionaire.

The write up identifies about nine steps in the process to navigate from a listing’s “seller handle” to the vendor’s Facebook profile. I thought this online search was easy.

I can think of several reasons why Facebook makes finding information difficult with weird words and wonky icons. (One of these was described as a “carrot” in the write up. A carrot? What’s up, Mark?

It is possible that Facebook wants to accrue clicks and stickiness. Since I don’t use Facebook, I am not a good judge of how sticky the site is. I do know that some individuals in government agencies think a lot about Facebook and the information the company’s databases contain.

Another possibility is that Facebook wants to make it more difficult for stalkers, miscreants, and investigators to move from a product listing to the seller information. The happy face side of me says, “Facebook cares about its users.” The frowny face says, “Facebook wants to make life difficult for anyone to get useful information because accountability is a bad thing.”

A third possibility is that Facebook’s engineers are just incompetent.

Net net: Finding information online is easy as long as one works at the organization with the data and the person doing the looking has root. Others get an opportunity to explore a Dark Pattern. Fun. Helpful even.

Stephen E Arnold, May 7, 2021

Xoogler Meredith Whittaker Explains How to Be Google Grade

May 7, 2021

I read the interview called “Ex-Googler Meredith Whittaker on Political Power in Tech, the Flaws of ‘The Social Dilemma,’ and More.” Very Silicon Valley. You will need to work through the transcript yourself. Here are the points I circled as checkpoints for being Google Grade. The phrase in my lingo means “How to keep your job at the GOOG.” I identified six behaviors; your mileage may vary.

  1. Be a white male.
  2. Float above the concerns of non-Google grade type people.
  3. Emulate senior Google leaders; for example, the affable, other directed Jeff Dean.
  4. Ethics. Ho ho ho. Embrace phenomenological existentialism within the Google context.
  5. Respond like a Pavlovian dog or pigeon when money and power are the payoff.
  6. Fight the impulse to be a contrarian.

And the interview ends on an interesting note. The Xoogler allegedly said:

It’s going to be really hard to repurpose that toward democratic, people-driven ends, given the consolidation of power that is right now dominating those infrastructures and given the neoliberal capitalist incentives that are driving those who dominate those infrastructures.

Maybe not hard, just too late.

Stephen E Arnold, May 7, 2021

Confirmed: Deloitte Cooperated with the DOJ on HPE Autonomy Case

April 22, 2021

The ghost of Arthur Andersen appeared I think.

Now we know why HPE (formerly HP) stopped making noise about suing auditing firm Deloitte for its role in the decision to buy Autonomy in 2011, which HPE famously came to regret. Forced to write down Autonomy’s value by $8.8 billion in 2012, HPE claimed the software firm and auditors at Deloitte had misrepresented its value. There were questions of whether HPE did its own due diligence before making its purchase, but the firm proceeded to take those it blamed to court. Autonomy’s CFO Sushovan Hussain was sentenced to five years in jail in 2019, and the case against CEO Mike Lynch is (oh so slowly) proceeding. Now The Register reveals, “Deloitte Settled HPE’s Autonomy Lawsuit for $45m Back in 2016 and Agreed to Cooperate with US DOJ.” Writer Gareth Corfield tells us:

“The amount of the settlement is less than 1 per cent of the $5bn for which HPE is pursuing Lynch and Hussain. Although HPE and Deloitte signed a confidentiality agreement over the $45m, its main details were hiding in plain sight inside the last ever accounts filed by Autonomy Corporation Ltd (ACL) before it was merged away into HPE’s corporate structure, becoming known as ACL Netherlands BV. A letter previously sent by HPE’s lawyers to Deloitte in 2014 alleged ‘there is evidence that Deloitte was complicit in aspects of the misstatements in Autonomy’s published information’. That allegation would never be tested in court, though Britain’s accounting regulator eventually found it proven. Public knowledge of the settlement sum also sheds light on why Deloitte was never a co-defendant with Lynch and Hussain in the High Court, despite the auditor being an obvious target for HPE following allegations of false accounting at Autonomy.”

When HPE filed its suit against Lynch and Hussain in 2015, it left open the option to include Deloitte but mysteriously withdrew that potential the next year. Now Corfield confirms that, as suspected, those at Deloitte who had worked on the account signed an agreement to cooperate with the Department of Justice. It specified that Deloitte admitted no wrongdoing or liability, and the firm granted HPE’s lawyers complete access to its Autonomy audit papers and emails. It is suspected that the court would have ruled against Deloitte had it not cooperated, and that by doing so the firm avoided damage to its reputation. Perhaps. But consider—whom do you want as your tax advisor?

Cynthia Murrell, April 22, 2021

MIT Deconstructs Language

April 14, 2021

I got a chuckle from the MIT Technology Review write up “Big Tech’s Guide to Talking about AI Ethics.” The core of the write up is a list of token words like “framework”, “transparency”, by design”, “progress”, and “trustworthy.” The idea is that instead of explaining the craziness of smart software with phrases like “yeah, the intern who set up the thresholds is now studying Zen in Denver” or “the lady in charge of that project left in weird circumstances but I don’t follow that human stuff.” The big tech outfits which have a generous dollop of grads from outfits like MIT string together token words to explain what 85 percent confidence means. Yeah, think about it when you ask your pediatrician if the antidote given your child will work. Here’s the answer most parents want to hear: “Ashton will be just fine.” Parents don’t want to hear, “probably 15 out of every 100 kids getting this drug will die. Close enough for horse shoes.”

The hoot is that I took a look at MIT’s statements about Jeffrey Epstein and the hoo-hah about the money this estimable person contributed to the MIT outfit. Here are some phrases I selected plus their source.

  • a thorough review of MIT’s engagements with Jeffrey Epstein (Link to source)
  • no role in approving MIT’s acceptance of the donations. (Link to source)
  • gifts to the Institute were approved under an informal framework (Link to source)
  • for all of us who love MIT and are dedicated to its mission (Link to source)
  • this situation demands openness and transparency (Link to source).

Yep, “framework”, “openness,” and “transparency.” Reassuring words like “thorough” and passive voice. Excellent.

Word tokens are worth what exactly?

Stephen E Arnold, April 14, 2021

No Joke: Academics Cheat Bit Time

April 1, 2021

It looks as though academic journals are finally addressing the scourge of fraudulent studies that plague their pages. Heck, that publisher Royal Society of Chemistry now publicly acknowledges the problem is a big step. Nature examines “The Fight Against Fake-Paper Factories that Churn Out Sham Science.” Prompted by outside investigations, journals have retracted hundreds of fraudulent papers since last January, with more under investigation. Nature has assembled a list of over 1,300 articles identified as possible paper-mill products over that time. Many of these suspect papers come from authors at Chinese hospitals, but China is not the only place fake research is churned out. Iran and Russia are also home to paper mills, for example. However, writers Holly Else and Richard Van Noorden report:

“China has long been known to have a problem with firms selling papers to researchers, says Xiaotian Chen, a librarian at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. As far back as 2010, a team led by Shen Yang, a management-studies researcher then at Wuhan University in China, warned of websites offering to ghostwrite papers on fictional research, or to bypass peer-review systems for payment. In 2013, Science reported on a market for authorships on research papers in China. In 2017, China’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) said it would crack down on misconduct after a scandal in which 107 papers were retracted at the journal Tumor Biology; their peer reviews had been fabricated and a MOST investigation concluded that some had been produced by third-party companies. Physicians in China are a particular target market because they typically need to publish research articles to gain promotions, but are so busy at hospitals that they might not have time to do the science, says Chen. Last August, the Beijing municipal health authority published a policy stipulating that an attending physician wanting to be promoted to deputy chief physician must have at least two first-author papers published in professional journals; three first-author papers are required to become a chief physician.”

Here’s a thought—maybe remove these requirements. We’re told reports produced by physicians in these positions are already widely suspect and not taken seriously, so where is the value in maintaining such hoops? See the lengthy article for more details on how the pros detect fraudulent papers and what the industry is planning to do about it.

Cynthia Murrell, April 1, 2021

Intellectual Cohesiveness: A Reading List

March 30, 2021

Why do liberal arts graduates struggle to understand the logic of a Facebook-type engineer or a Google-like wizard or the demeanor of a Twitter-like senior manager? Easy. The reading list for engineers includes books about math, physics, and programming. The well-rounded humanoid educated in the currents of Western culture read other books. Which other books? I am delighted you asked. You can find a list of the 1,138,841 most frequently assigned texts. Just click this link and view the Open Syllabus Galaxy. Yes, the diagram is not a list. Listicles are not popular with some of the thumbtypers, so behold a visualization.

image

Let’s return to the notion of intellectual cohesiveness, shall we? In order to build a shared knowledge base, educated individuals should have some familiarity with the most assigned college texts. That way, when someone references Napoleon and a winter walk, the others engaged in the conversation will know that the little emperor did skipped a lesson about winter in Eastern Europe.

Without a shared knowledge base, it is difficult to know what the other person is talking about. For a recent example, consider the questioning of big tech’s luminaries by the oh, so wise elected officials.

One observation. A person assigned a book to read does not guarantee that the book was read.

Cohesiveness must be obtained in some other way in our zip zip world I think.

Stephen E Arnold, March 30, 2021

Section 230: Just Flip the Regulation of Big Tech Around

March 30, 2021

I read “No One Agrees on How to Fix Big Tech.” The main point seems to be embodied in this quote from the article attributed to an elected US official:

The time for self-regulation is over. It’s time we legislate to hold you accountable.

Let’s look at the need for regulation in a different way.

Big tech is more democratic than some other systems. Big tech’s users are voting on its value, viability, and virtue with each click. Elected officials and the historical laws are essentially out of step with what people want.

The write up asserts:

You could suggest that each company’s statement on s230 is a reflection of their general values and attitude. Facebook wants to tweak the law to potentially weaken competitors, Google is hoping not to make waves, but won’t shout for the status quo too loudly, while Twitter is already mentally elsewhere. Unfortunately for Zuckerberg, Pichai and Dorsey, none of those positions are likely to sate politicians who understand that something needs to change, but aren’t sure what.

Another view is that big tech is a manifestation of the “new” democracy. The organizations are nation states, have support, and operate above the no longer meaningful laws of historical artifices.

It is increasingly clear that it is a thumbtyping world. Self regulation is not needed when the constituents vote to keep big tech in office.

Stephen E Arnold, March 30, 2021

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