A True History of the Internet

yes its true, all of it - the internet doesn't really exist, so it must be.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Right to be forgotten & trolls & hobbits & elves

A two-part blog today

1. Right to be forgotten.
This is a very bad phrase. The right should be to not be reminded (as much).
The false dichotomy is just that - the binary decision between "remember and not remember".
Neither humans nor technology remember things accurately.

a) Every encoding is a decoding (Maurice Zapp, of Euphoric State University, in David Lodge's fictional Small World) - recall is revisionist for humans. It is also revisionist in technology - you may decide to do an audit (who read the file, when ? these are often recorded or appended to meta data) - where were the people looking at the data? why. Should we sort the results of a search to show more recently accessed data higher? this will affect others. Just as it does with your own grey matter!
b) We need to forget things - its part of coping with trauma, even just at the level of embarassment
c) We evolve (and we all evolve) so stuff we did that they agreed with then, we and they may not agree with anymore. Why should we be faulted now for what was ok back then?

Delete, by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger

Better solutions - social nets should use interaction/activity based weights to decide what is recalled easily - stuff should fade - this copes with public figures naturally (as they interact with world but about their public duties, not their private lives) as well as the private individual online - if I havn't seen you for 25 years, I won't naturally recal lstuff about you - if you show up asking mefor a reference, maybe some stuff will come "flooding back" - this maps also to natural cognitive resource limits that are known about in humans, and implements a nice form of relevance filtering easily. THis also implements "unfriending without tears" on online social media - you just ddidn't interact with someone (like or mention or comment on their timeline) so they slowly fade from memory - many systems already are implementing things a bit like this, but for somewhat misguided reasons - lets fix it - its easy!

2. Trolls
There's a saying from 30 years or more of newsgroups (Usenet, if you go back that far):
"Don't feed the trolls"

So trolling is getting worse - this is not surprising - there's more people in the hills (which have eyes) than ever. These people don't know from Adam (and they are probably eating the apple). Why do they troll - to share in your glory? who knows....but they can because of what I might call Internet Induced Empathic Disorder - they are alienated, and they don't know you are a person - many of them do stuff they wouldn't dream of doing in the same room as you - this is well known. Its worse where there are too many terrible cultural examples (see the Russian Social Media abuse below, but nearer to home, see BBC's :Have your say" comments  or Youtube's hilarious children from hell type comments on videos there (remindes me of the evil devils on rollerblades in the hilarious film, Dogma!)

How to fix? Engage or Ignore? I don't believe the troll's target is the right person - we need to have a social response - peer pressure - show the troll where they sit, surrounded by hobbits and wizards (and elves) - that'll wake them up, or else turn them to stone, come sunrise.

Protest 2.0 - networked negoative consolidation

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The Lottery of Babel and the Library of Babylon

On every floor of the tower, it is sometimes said, a different language is spoken. once a month, the floor manager buys a ticket for the lottery. if the ticket wins, the language stays the same. otherwise, a new language is chosen, and everyone on that floor must learn it. the chances are rare that the language stays the same for 2 months in a row, let alone a lifetime. however, it is rumoured that sometimes this has happened. Indeed, it is said that there are dizzy heights and possibly sepulchrous depths in the tower where denizens of neighbouring floors have found they spoke the same language as each other for a time. the lottery is administered, of course, by a priesthood, who either understand all the languages, or else have their own universal tongue and each learn the language of a handful of floors. nobody knows which.

few people on each floor are capable of learning a new language every month, and so most people cannot truly understand one another. sometimes, a group get together and try to keep the old tongue alive. these cathars claim too that there are no priests and there is no lottery. they are quickly suppressed.

In the library of babylon, the most sacred works of all religions are kept. the more common books, such as the bible, the torah, the koran, the vedas and so on occur in many versions. the rarer religions, or ones for whom there are few remaining living followers, often have a single copy, or even only a partial segment of the Ur text. the organisation of the library is chaotic. the librarians wanted to organise the text in order of date, but could not agree on whose calendar to employ. then a small group  proposed alphabetizing the entire collection, but were resisted by those who pointed out that there were more ways of writing than there were religions.

the theological experts suggested that there was a tree of religions, not to imply "older" or more "fundamental", but that one could see many similarities in the gods - the indo-european polytheists at least, and the abrahamic religions.

the chief librarian suggested that this was merely the result of errors that crept in during the copying of texts due to the biases of the monks at the time.

as a result, no-one can vouch for the correctness of any of the religious tracts. reform and born-again are thrown together in confusion. there is a ground swell of opinion that the library must be burned, as it represents the ultimate sacrilege. the librarians have all deserted the buildings, which stretch far across the sands to the sea, where the boats full of foreigners are arriving. it will not be long now.

Monday, August 25, 2014

I Need a Vacation

I went away (as we do) for 2 weeks to Paleochora, Crete and then 1 week in La Villa, Fosciadora, Garfagnana so I should be feeling great, n'est ce pas? well up til the last minute in each place, all was v. good, but then, in each case, there's a long drive to an airport, waiting around for a plane, and a long drive home from the airport in England. Then there's no food in the house and everything smells of damp and cat. Then there's a pile of obscure letters on the doormat. Then there's kids' results to open and ponder.

Then there are rental car add-on bills in the e-mail which appear to be made up out of thin air (thank you Maggiore, yes that's you - bogus bill about twice the amount of the quote on the booking).

Then there's email - two weeks away and 1300 mesages to deal with, at least 100 of which actually require thought - 1 week away, and another 450 messages - this is in august, for godsakes, when most people should be on a beach or by the pool, but no, they are writing research proposals, drafting theses, preparing responses to research funding agency calls, discussing research code releases, posting papers from conferences (yes that's you SIGCOMM, right in the middle of august and in Chicago, where no sane person would go except to see Buddy Guy, and then not in mid-summer). And my vacation away mail told people (and I told all my colleagues I'd be offline too).

I think that German Company that started to delete all e-mail for people on vacation has the right idea - work/life balance tricks like that are essential for some sort of sanity. I actually had a vacation message that said that once, but still people resent stuff after I know they got my auto-response.

Modern Technology is not progress - repeat after me:)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

NPfIT - NP Hard and Not Fit for Purpose

In an interesting report from the Cambridge MPhil for Public Policy student group, on the largest IT project failure ever, so far, a lot of historical detail is dredged up, and a number of useful conclusions drawn under headings like Haste, Design, Culture & Skills, which are pretty hard to disagree with.

Some stuff goes unsaid, but reading between the lines, one might ask

1. were no "references taken up" for the people who were shortlisted for the contract? I mean I know BT pretty well, and I'd never hire them for a systems integration job like this - sure, for the spine/N2 (which worked fine, and afaik, were loosely modelled on SuperJANET), but not to bring together an unknown outfit with a dodgy sounding name (iSoft - wannabe Microsoft:) and Fujitsu (ok, make decent clone PCs once then, but large databases etc? Not really).

2. So I realize it was a while ago, but even then, we had rapid growth internet outfits with many services (like google and apple and onlone gaming) who had built customer relation databases (with ok security) for 100s Millions of users, which managed a lot of stuff that scaled out, and could address the srts of needs the NHS requirements said (oh, ok - the requirement capture was one of the biggest failings in the whole thing, of course) - one thing that open source, internet/cloud companies do is to stay agile, so they can interface to legacy systems (as they get big enough to acquire them - e.g. google buying youtube or the maps system, or microsoft buying skype) - in the same way, rather tan imposing a central design on an heterogeneous set of health services, interfacing between them woould have been just fine...

3. How bad was Lorenzo? Didn't anyone do a code inspection ever? It sounds a bit like the Obamacare sign-on system fiasco - but why? I mean lashing up a bunch of patient recor databases into mongodb, mysql or whatever (let alone Oracle or Ingres or some big iron dbase) is not rocket science. Its done by Internet startups 100s of times a year and is hardly ever the reason they fail.

Of course, the other component that work (Picture Archiving / Comms) worked because there is much less heterogeneity in those systems - image standards exist and you just need web/email access to glue systems together....so lucky no-one managed to balls up that part, eh!

Anyhow, nice report, but would be nice to hear more about the contract failures (lack of penalty clauses with enough teeth)....

Sunday, July 20, 2014

forget me, forget me not - how to implement?

some haev argued that
copyright takedown == right to be forgotten
(ie. not quite the same as censorship - just enforcement of access control
by the data owner (in case of PII, person is owner of rights to access some
facts about themselves, unless there's a compelling argument for public knowledge) -
there are other arguments for and against, but this analogy (whatever its flaws) might be useful for estimating the cost of the right to be forgotten (as per EU court ruling)

whatever the many of pros and cons on the topic, but how to implement?
well, if you upload film, music (or stills) to youtube, and are worried about copyright, don't:
google have made it their business to acquire legal copies of Just About Everything digital, and will eventually match whatever you've uploaded to a copy they have in house - they will then discover if there is a rights holder (that isn't you) and, if they havn't already done so, will contact said owner, and ask/ngotiate
 a) do they want content taken down b) do they want analytics c) do they want advertising revenue -
in fact, google can and do optimise this by region by doing blanket agreements with large publishers of digital content.

so to do the same for stories in webpages (and search results) concerning individuals could be done exact same way (probably is) - the technical cost might be a bit higher because you need to
keep a per page (per region) filter entry. The bigger cost (by far) is establishing genuine rights holder (data subject) and whether there's a public interest angle or not - this requires judgement (rather than just money:) so I think its interesting that Google is doing this now...

but the negotiation is where this differs and that's a really tricky business...

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Mutually Assured Distraction

A lot of commentary on the current fad for extra-territorial mass surveillance misses the point - the reason countries are doing this isn't just because they can, its because they can't currently be held to account.

In the old days, spies would be caught from time to time, and executed (or exchanged). Now, the spies aren't in the other territory, and plausible deniability means you can't even use extradition agreements between allegedly friendly countries (e.g UK &US) to get them bought to book/justice. This shows up in other domains than mere military intelligence:

1. Drones
2. Finance
3. Energy

Sadly for all these, the level of technological development of a country really doesn't have to be that great to gear up to use a bunch of 100$ radio control quadcopters, or a cunning HFT instrument, or even just the ability to turn off the gas pipeline to a neighbour - of course, there are expensive versions of these weaponised tools (e.g. BAe Systems drones that US uses in Pakistan are quite pricey - surprisingly so given cost of crop spraying, or outside sports broadcast drones, really - but then the MoD/DoD were always targets for ripoff pricing) - also the US threatens banks who don't reveal US taxpaying customers accounts/transactions details with massive fines if the bank has a stateside operation (of course, swiss and german banks just close down US tax payer accounts rather than face this), and Putin wields the russian gas wealth like the playground chess playing bully he is:)

But the low cost versions are just as bad.

Hence, talking about this needs to move up a level, methinks, as the realpolitik of using this stuff is not going to go the way of nukes, quite the reverse, since the Use of Weapons of this type doesn't lead to Mass Destruction, just death by a thousand strikes......

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Horizon Digital Economy annual shindig - some ideas...

so we had the Horizon annual conference last 2 days in Nottingham, and jolly good it was too - esp. two v. good "industry" talks, one on New Media from local 21st century 'cinema' people in notts, the other from the link guy for NHS data projects which was v. v cool

couple of ideas sproinged up during discussions

1. the loneliness of the long distance spectator - instead of filing a long strung out event (marathon run, tour de france etc) from central, string together a set of friends and family of a given participant into a narrative...lovely idea  - whole new experience for all concerned - main problem is legal consent (if spe, participants have prior agreement, e.g. with news media channels) - should be fairly easy tho to think through

2. informedConsent.com - a startup idea - we are suffering from ethics questionnaire fatigue - we need a pool of people who agree to be study groups for repeated things (a la Nielsson ratings biz model) and just deal with their informed consent once (or occasionally) for all those twitter/facebook/email/emotionsense/mypersonality etc etc

3. Embrace Messy

Lots of studies of systems (esp. internet of things or other tech embedded in everyday life) involve lots of noise - e.g. multiple occupancy houses etc etc - why bother trying to be a control freak nailing down who is who (e.g. with fascistic rfid tagging of everyone or even worse, invasive use of cameras or mikes and face speaker/gait/gesture recognition etc) - embrace the mess - for example, lots of people in my house use computers at random, so we all get each others' profiles/recommendations - this is amusing and, indeed, gives us a community feel about who likes/watches/listens to what!! this is good not bad:)

the fact that it also acts as cover traffic is also good for fuzzing (plausible deniability:)

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misery me, there is a floccipaucinihilipilification (*) of chronsynclastic infundibuli in these parts and I must therefore refer you to frank zappa instead, and go home