Monday, February 16, 2015

the me-oh-my tube revolution is coming and it will not be televised

decentralized cloud - you know it makes sense. So youtube/google make a lot out of the amount of material that is uploaded every day. However, note that the usual zipf law of popularity (the very very very very very very long tail, where the vast vast vast majority of cats-falling-off-bicycle-videos are only ever viewed by .5 people) means that this stuff stays on 1 server, and never gets replicated (pushed) to caches.

So why upload it? Its personal - only you and your mum ever look at it.
Perhaps you are an aspiring pop star and its your video - so still, why upload it ? you only need to be _indexed_. Its far more efficient if you serve it yourself and you get to count how many people look at it directly, and from where, and get 100% of any advertising revenue (If you chose to host adverts too).

its obvious.

dis-intermediate google now!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Privacy in the Past

Have been reading about the past some, recently. For example, the rather fine England Arise! by Juliet Barker, about the revolt by Peasants in late 14th century England, triggered by the last straw, yet antherpoll tax (lets not pause to reflect how the rediculous sanctions threatened against Greece if they renege on their debt, and revoke their austerity measures under their own democatically elected governement might by related in some way:)

What I am more interested in here is the notion, reported in some places, that the idea of personal privacy is somehow only a recent invention.

Its actually quite hard to find good evidence on this,  of course, but it is clear that in every day life, most people lived hand-in-glove with each other to the extent that routinely private activities (the privy and procreation) were likely not terribly private, from your kith and kin.

Note well, though, this is the nub -- "private" is a triadic adjective. WHat is private about you, with respect to whom. I doubt very much if medieval peasants would have appreciated strangers turning up to queue at the window of their toilet or marital bed to watch. There was a social context.

What is interesting in the account in the book is that a highly distributed, lightly (hardly) coordinated activity arose which could not have used letters to coordinate since many were barely literate, but also due to cost, let alone the Victorian Internet (telegraph) or the telephone or e-mail or Online Social Networks. So people rode around on horseback, or walked about a lot to tell others what was happening.

And yet the powers that be were practically caught napping.

i.e. no surveillance state.

I assume the folks running this uprising were not idiots (they nearly succeeded, after all) and realized that a moducum of secrecy was needed in planning resistince and events. So they had a pretty good clue, obviously that their discussions and communications were indeed private, at least against being overheard by adversaries.

As with all revisionism, apologists angling to support the encroachment of the surveillance state on civil society, use the claim that privacy was a brief-lived, recent invention associated with wealth and individualism, and they use this to justify, in the face of relatively small injury to open societies, massive revokation of the right to privacy of every day folk (of course, secrecy in government (and banking and so on) is retained - why? do they have anything more to hide, I wonder:)).

Fact is, privacy is as old as whispering.innocently

Addendum  - just dealing with yet another teenager - do you remember hiding stuff from your parents when you were a kid? Its normal. Its part of asserting your individual nature and becoming self sufficient. Growing up. SPying on your kids is bad for them and you. Spying on your citizens is same, oh governments...

Sunday, January 11, 2015

anonymous, boring, repetitive and dull

I've just read two very good (but quite similar books on Anonymous, one is We Are Anonymous by Parmy Olson, and the other is Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy by Gabriella Coleman.

While I like a shot of lulz as much as the next guy, and the righteous support of Wikieleaks, and even more, support of Arab Spring uprisings (esp. Tunisia) was a Good Thing, a huge amount of what these folks did is really rather dull and tedious. Indeed, reading the Enki of Loki (apologies to Neal Stephenson ) or any random religious tract of biblical proportions is really quite similar (and topiary slew glenbarry who slew kayla who was the daugther of Satan who was the son of SkuleMystress who lay with socketscientist and beget IIS and Apache vulernabilities daily etc etc)

Sheesh, if i wanted this sort of stuff I could just turn to the Gideon's Bible (cue Bungalow Bill)

Open Sauce

Recent moves in US and EU have meant that Science (especially publications) that is largely funded from the public purse, is being made openly available by requiring Scientists (now, no longer in an adventure with Pirates) to publish in Open Access journals and conferences - this is a jolly good thing, in my view. Indeed, the science (drugs, software, machines) itself should also be so available.

But what about other walks of life  like Comedy, or even Politics, Economics and Philosophy?
Surely most of this is developed at Universities, and so should be made freely available to the public in the same way? Indeed, I think it would be a tragedy if we don't have Open Access to Comedy and Rock and Roll as soon as possible.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Just finishing the excellent Hacker/Anonymous book by Gabriella Coleman. Its really a work of an anthropologist, studinying the weird new tribes in the cyber-jungle and their odd, odd, but it does make one wonder (especially bits about Arab Spring) how nuch of a "performance installation/artwork" this all is, how much truth, rather than a Margaret Mead type debacle...we shall see....(or probably not, given the nature of Anonymous....

Thursday, December 11, 2014

collaborated to death

I'm working on quite a few projects, and we use what used to be quaintly known as "productivity tools" - basically, we use (for example - non exhaustive list):

twitter/facebook/google groups & email lists and sms to coordinate stuff

shared calender tools

Git, Svn, Basecamp and a zillion other version controlling repositories

wikis, wordpress, for shared live journaling/awareness/coordination where > 140 char and less ephemeral, but not as versions as code, reports/papers

hotcrp, easychair, edas for conference management

webex, skype, younameit for video/voice realtime meetings

sharedlatex, office360, google docs for shared edits

This is a triumph of toolsets over sanity! I spend the first 7 minutes of any meeting trying to remember the use-context of the tools....arghhh!!!

death by computer supported collaborative computing!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Big Brother2.0 debate/conversazione, Lady Mitchell Hall, Nov 1, 11-12.30

I'm going to discuss things from a technical (computing) perspective, but with a modicum of social science

1. The canard: "If you've got nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear" needs debunking
(cue visual duck being thrown out of a hammock:)

This oft-repeated statement misses various important features of the way the world and people work:
Firstly, we all hide things all the time - the reasons are many:

some things are not finished, and need further work before they are presentable - 
sometimes, that is our own selves -our half baked opinions.

some things are hurtful to some people, but not to others

we present ourselves differently to different people - our kin, our close friends, our colleagues, our acquaintances and people that we encounter - all are given different levels of trust, because there are different levels of shared experience (and many other reasons). Context matters

Surveillance is toxic. It reduces everyone's choice of behaviour to that which is acceptable to everyone else. For all time. 

2. Because of the change of context over time (we grow older, our social network varies, the world changes, new stuff gets discovered, people forget stuff), we need to control aspects of information about ourselves as seen by others - indeed, we need to have obsolete data removed from their view

The statement that this is "censorship" is false. It is about a generalization of the "public right to know"

In general, the "public" is a set of people who we can send information to - e.g. my family, my friends, google, facebook, Sky TV, Isil, or GCHQ or the NSA or the Polis. Most of these, most the time, do not have a "right" to know. this is obviously false. I have a right to tell or not. I can judge my context.

e.g. Wes Hardaker, en route from san Francisco to Vancouver in SFO airport tweets to his partner at 5am "this airport is so dead" - the NSA might think he's a terrorist. he isn't - he means that the airport is really quiet (its 5am, after all).

e.g. Euan Blair on his 18th birthday gets drunk and is found /photographed in a gutter. before he was 18 it was no-one's business (he's a minor)- after he's 18, he's an adult -t he fact that his father is prime minister isn't relevant. the fact that many of the journalists covering the story are functional alcoholics and hipocrites is of no more interest, either, even if it is deliciously ironic.

e.g. mark thatcher gets lost in a rally drive across the sahara isn't specially interesting - see above. His mother isn't responsible for her 25yr old son's poor navigation skills doesn't reflect on her free market dogma or handbagging skills

3.with a suitable combination of technology (tracking content using DRM just as music and movie companies do, but on behalf of the citizen) we can tell if people send our data further than we wish, and law (data protection law, esp. in Germany - mainly because over time, the experience of the Stasi surveillance state rammed home why you really should care about this) we can 
catch bad people, fine them, put them in jail and (hopefully) make people think about whether they should inappropriately gossip - we can also age and remove from sight data that is no longer relevant (criminal records for crimes that the perp has rehabilitated, health records of no public interest, financial info that is out of date). THis is no less true of trivia (my birthdate is not necessary for buying a drink, just the fact that I am over age X...)

4. Enforcement ideally should be social, but should include suitable independent organisations - perhaps a new Estate (the first virtual estate)

5. GCHQ (and the NSA etc) are in no special privileged relation to most people in regards the above.
We need to incent them to do their job right. expensive surveillance is not a substitute for good old fashioned Humint....

6. Google (facebook, NHS care data/Price Waterhouse) aren't exempt either

7. we need law with sharper teeth, because of the heavily asymmetric power held by agencies named above compared with the individual

8. data,just because it can be copied without error, is not necessarily true in the first place. and it can become false (law change, for example). recall by humans is revisionist, because context changes. Data without context is inherently false

9. Every decoding is an encoding (Maurice Zapp, Small World, by david lodge).

10. If you don't by this, give me all your keys and all your passwords.

There's a lot of background work to this, but I'm assuming the audience probably won't want bell, book, candle and footnotes:-)

My 10 cents

stephen farrell quite (59 mins in):

terrorism, evidence etc report card:

CATO report on costs of counter terrorism compared to what:

John Naughton's notes are now available too

Friday, October 24, 2014

Not wrong to be forgotten

A few more points after the illuminating debate at the Cambridge Union Society last night (23.10.14).

i) so people are still hung up on the notion that,
because the internet/web/cloud can copy/store things so cheaply,
then deletion is impossible -

first off, that isn't necessarily so,
but even assuming it is,
its tantamount to arguing that
because we can now 3D print guns, we don't have to bother with gun control law...

- in fact, if there is a reason to remove data from publication
(its required by law - because its  defamatory or wrong,
or its required by ethics because the use is no longer relevant,
or its required by emotions - it would hurt someone's feelings again and again)
then the imperative is to embed the right in a law so that we incent people to withold their copies
(which is not the same as _erasure_ but is quite possible, and easily enforced

keeping a copy of my ex-partners photos private is fine (i do) -
re-broadcasting them 35 years later is not.

ii)  preventing search producing a hit on content from i) isn't pointless -
its just a weaker version of stopping people re-publishing stuff
the european court finding was blurry on this
because of the definitions of stakeholders in current law. poor.

iii) the argument that there are many search engines and meta-search,
and that the internet "routes around damage"
so people will setup sites like "blockedbygoogle"
minutes after something is not returned by search, is irrelevant -

if we get the law right, and the right put into action, then technology can work -

scale out of distributing rules for filtering spam (e.g. see how ApamAssinsin shares filter rules, see how ingress filtering and BGP policy checks work, see how legal censorship works etc etc and see how collaborative filtering and recommendation engines work), and
other tricks works vert well (no, not 100% -but we aren't arguing 100% -
we're arguing shifting the balance so
a) people think a bit about this,
b) law that gives victims teeth, so deliberate flouting
earns the perpetrator fines/criminal records, public opprobrium etc

personal clouds, with personal control of flow of data through cloud, and
making the relationships between people and between people and organsations
(whether government or corporate)
more symmetric in terms of control of flow and lifetime of data)
is essential

people get confused about "google do x" or "person re-tweets y" -
the size of the agencies shouldn't
matter - anyone can leverage the internet to scale out cheap copying of data to many,
but should they?, is the question to ask?,
to whom? who is the entitled audience, now? or later? -
see next points:

iv) people are confused that this is censorship -
certainly currently the legal framework, and its "enforcement" by Google is a form of censorship,
because the "right to know" (i.e. public interest)
isn't being tested by an organisation that _represents_ public interest,
in any accountable way - sure, that's a bug, but we can fix that too - that doesn't mean
the right to be forgotten is wrong either

popular journalism (especially in recent years) has not helped :-)

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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