Sunday, December 20, 2015

Disasters bring out the best and the worst in people

I've been reading about disasters for a few years now.
As a result of friends struggling to let all their families know they were ok in the Tsunami in South East Asia a few years back, we embarked on the Haggle opportunistic networking
project, and more recently, partly fuelled by other problem in society including the current massive movement of refugees from the middle east, we instigated n4d, the networking for development lab, in cambridge, with many partners around the world, and leverage via the Internet Research Task Force's Global Access to the Internet for All (GAIA) activity.

Back at the beginning, I read this fine book about how people behave remarkably altruistically during disasters, that is until the first responders arrive (typically, 72 hours later) -- this made me quite optimistic about our efforts:
A Paradise built in Hell

However, more recently I've read this account of the neo-liberal industrial-military complex way of engaging, which makes for much more depressing prognostication:

Disaster Capitalism

(Contrast Haiti with Cuba just for a moment, but closer to home, the description of private security forces ("we're not mercenaries" and "we're only here for the money" occur multiple times in the same irony-free breath), look at the imposition of austerity on Greece,  where much European refugee money goes to non-greek security firms to run camps for Syrians and others arriving there, before moving on to Germany (the place that needs them for cheap menial labour but imposes restrictions on what the Greek government can do that stop employment for greek nationals picking up again. Grrrrr....

I'm not sure how to regain my optimism (or even sanity) but am tempted to re-target Mao's slogan Combat (Neo-)Liberalism sometime soon. Oddly enough, today someone pointed me at this excellent blog on insurrectionist civics in an age of mistrust which might help

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Review of "The tools and techniques of the adversarial reviewer"

This is my review of the paper
"How to review a paper \\ The tools and Techniques of the adversarial reviewer"
by Graham Cormode.

This paper appeared in the SIGMOD Record in December of 2008, but appears not to have gone through proper peer review. The paper suffers from at least three major problems

Motive  - is it really an interesting problem that reviewers are adversarial? Surely if reviewers colluded with the authors, we'd end up accepting all kinds of rubbish,  swamping our already bursting filing cabinets and cloud storage resources further, and taking cycles away from us just when we could be updating our blog or commenting on someone's Facebook status.
Is the fact that a reviewer doesn't like a paper a problem? Do we know that objective knowledge and reasoning based on the actual facts are the best way to evaluate scholarly work? Has anyone tried random paper selection to see if it is better or worse?

Means - the paper doesn't provide evidence to support its own argument While there is much anecdote, there are no data. The synthetic extracts from fictional reviewers are not evaluated quantitatively - e.g. to see which are more likely to lead to a paper rejection -- for example, it is not even shown that perhaps accepted papers may have more adversarial reviews than rejected papers, which may attract mere "meh" commentary.

Missed Opportunity - the paper could have a great opportunity to publish the names of the allegedly adversarial reviewers together with examples of their adverse reviews, to support the argumentation, and to allow other researchers to see if the results are reproducable, repeatable, and even useful.
For example, multiple programme committees could be constituted in parallel, and equipped with versions of reviewing software that modify reviews to include more or less adversarial comments. The outcomes of PC meetings could generate multiple conference events, and the quality of the different events compared. If particular outcomes can be determined to be superior, then the review process could subsequently be fully automated. It is only a small step from there to improving the automatic authoring of the papers themselves, and then the academic community will be relieved of a whole slew of irksome labour, and can get on with its real job.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

the thing is...

part un ..with the form factor of a hand, the thing can control any legacy actuator - possessed of several simple electromechanical motors, a set of fiber optics in the finger tips, leading back to a camera in the raspberry pi controller at the wrist, and a light, to look at stuff in the dark (extra-sensory perspective), the thing can run around your house and turn stuff on and off - it might be a bit scary (especially if you have several of them, and you see them going up stairs, or hanging off the old thermotat controller or VHS video or microwave) but through online legacy device manuals, these are the new universal remote control  - instead of getting a remote for each device, even devices which have no digital/IR/WiFi/Bluetooth/Zigbee/Audio interface can now be managed via an app on your phone which talks to your family of things...

this is cheaper, more deployable than expensive new tech, more secure (modulo any recurrences of early "hands of orlac" bugs), and can deal with tricky situations (e.g. get spider out of bath, unblock toilet) that most IoT engineers blanche at the thought of (which).

these things can turn your old dial phone into a cellular like device (indeed allow you to dial remotely using your cell phone) can take readings from utility meters and scan, OCR and email them to you, and then let you turn down the heating or turn up the gas as you can afford, without leaving the comfort of your internet cafe.

no cloud needed. no nudges or winks from a psychology/marketing department, just plain old wrist action and common sense.

its true, there may be a re-guard legal fight with the estate of charles addams, but we expect that to be handled easily

part deux - lust as actuators should be made visible agents, sensors too -- every thing that contains a sensor  should have a face - for example, any sensor should show a picture of the people currentlly looking at the output of the sensor - this is the moral equivalent of the facebook "show me as others see me" interface or the statistics on google's search dashboard...

this would give us the inverted panopticon (aka sousveillance) - this is not hard to do - indeed, a similar idea was applied for logging in to public wifi hotspots  where the router has a camera and display which yo ucan use from your laptop in a cafe, to make sure (or at least, improve your confidence that) you are using the real router, not some hacker sitting near by

this is also psychological. so using information flow control, and tracing, one could easily implement this - given the total number of people who should be able to see sensors' output is small, this should actually be scalable too

it could also e a service offered by HATDeX :-)

Friday, October 02, 2015

driverless cars uninsurable?

so some of the push to get autonomous vehicles out there appears to have support from the automotive insurance business.

this seems odd, in the long run for this kind of obvious reason.

driverless cars reduce the risk of accidents. when all vehicles are driverless, the risk (of accident, or "taking&driving away" theft) is zero. so why would you want or need insurance?

of course, there's the other thing - why would _you_ want a car either? the goal will be to maximise the use of  all vehicles so you'll just call up one via uber-uber-zip-zip

oh, and poor taxi drivers - bad enough to get ubered- but this will make them complete toast.

maybe a few chauffeur limo businesses will remain as "bespoke handicraft" signs of conspicuous consumption?

Sunday, August 30, 2015

technology embedding ethics

Having tried to confront ethics in internet experiments at a conference a couple of weeks ago, I'm trying to think about the way technologies like the internet embed ethics and how this challenges us both in every day life and as researchers into communications, but also for developers creating new technologies.

One obvious place where this shows up repeatedly is in the tension between free speech and hate crimes, as well as between privacy and accountability. but it also shows up in the power imbalance between large organisations and the individual. Taking these in the reverse order, then:

1/ The cloud is run by a small number of very big trans-national companies, for profit - original technical reasons for centralising resources (compared with the world wide web of the 1990s, or even early 2000s) was economic - scale gets price/performance advantages for servers, as management and control are run in one place for a lot of people. prevention of various attacks (e.g. denial of service on small sites) goes away as a problem, since few bad guys have the resource to launch a big attack on today's giant data centres (outside a couple of government agencies:)

However, once all that information is concentrated in one place, it affords opportunities which didn't make sense when it was decentralised. A for profit company has no choice: It has to maximise the shareholder value. This isn't mission creep, its just capitalism.

Of course, putting all your eggs in one basket does have a downside when there is a successful hack (viz the ever increasing list of Cablegates, Sony's, Ashley Maddison's)

2/ Privacy is not assured in a network. when you communicate, at least one other party now knows what you said. In a computer network, your privacy is now in their hands, since everything you "send" to them is a copy. They now have a copy. It can be copied again. While the parties to your original communication may be accounted for (you think/hope), further copies are not accounted for. This is a consequence also of the near-zero cost of copying. In days of illuminated manuscripts, only people with a monastery full of monks could copy stuff again. Nowadays, as downloaders know, anyone can re-upload. As YouTube demonstrated, you can even legitimise file sharing if you have enough power (see 1/:)

However, privacy is not dead. There are social norms which prevent us repeating all secrets to all and sundry. There are also legal situations where confidentiality is required (patient/doctor or client/lawyer, or just gf/bf but only if at least one of them is a celeb:)

What isn't clear because of the way technology has made copying easy, is when you are trespassing on those social norms - the technology could be less neutral - it is fairly easy now to provide tools that look (locally, on your device) at the information you have and make suggestions about reasonable use of it (delete now for ever, do not copy, etc) - in organisations that care about security (defense agencies) classification provides rules about where data can go - we could help every day people by building better support for remembering what you should and should not do.

3/ Many systems provide platforms for public utterances - blogs, have-your-say, comment-is-free, etc etc - but also just being able to get a throw away e-mail account at the drop of a hat.

Many are geared to ease of use, so don't need accountable sign-on, and don't check what is said or who it is said to.

Such systems allow trolling and other offence.

The problem is that the policing of what people can say, to whom, and where is generally regarded as a form of censorship, and in some countries, strongly opposed.
This conflates two things
a) anonymity (which has its place for whistleblowers, or people in countries where free speech is anathema anyhow)
b) free speech.

In general, if you think you have a right to say something, you should be able to stand by what you say, hence being anonymous is not only not a requirement, it is actually a really weird thing to require. Experiments on requiring true names, or at least accountable identities, on some sites have resulted in visible reduction in abuse.

So what I'm trying to say here is that we have built an internet, web, cloud, which to a large degree is not fit for human purpose.

  • It is good for corporations to make money at your expense
  • It is excellent for us to live in a panopticon
  • It is a fine public space for people to shout abuse at others while wearing a mask.
Time to fix this.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

lost and not not forgotten

social scientists studying the right to be forgotten have forgotten why

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

sharing and hiding - e-books and crypto comms

two ideas for the day:
1/ when you're reading an ebook, people around you don't have the pleasure of seeing what you're reading as they do by seeing the cover of a paper book....

so e-books have wireless for download - why not (up to you to turn on/off) use a whispernet style ad hoc meassage to broadcast to people nearby what you currenty are lookin at....?

2/ when you type an email that has a word like "attachment" in it, the mailer notices if there isn't an attachment often, & asks you if you meant to have one
how about the mail app (or browser) could also look at the email and make a guess "this looks private, don't you want to use the recipient's public key"?


Saturday, July 18, 2015

democracy and debate - what's wrong with vanguards etc

just listening to lots of talks by social scientists - when people talk about politics, they've spent a lot of time reading, digesting, thinking, synthesising and so on. so then they report their results back. what's the problem?

well, basically, TL;DR

the process has to be a process for al potential involved parties - this is why syndicalist anarchism is the way forward - direct democracy has to engage, so the naive extension of representative democracy into direct democracy just burdens people with too many irrelevant discussions, so is alienating in a worse way.

Friday, June 26, 2015

towards an antisocial contract

Towards an Anti-Social Contract

I've read the David Kaye's report, which I very much like (clarity and precision, but also happen to agree).
What is missing? A clear way to measure proportionality, and a social/legal framework to implement judgement of what is a (currently on hold) proposals to replace the European Human Rights proportional way to suspend crypto rights. So for example, the UK's where decisions are made, and replace them with politicians - with a UK Bill of Rights threatened to remove judges as the place Anderson's report makes it plain this is unacceptable (not just and proportional scheme to carryout lawful intercept, the advent of ethically, given conflict of interest, but constitutionally).
However, there's a very real threat that without a transparent, fair, intercept. Government agencies need to be persuaded to reduce their really good perfect forward secrecy mechanisms, and better key  management in general, will basically mean there will be no feasible (child porn , terrorism organisation, money laundering etc) would mission creep (similar to commercial agencies abuse of personal data) as that would mean legitimate policing of really bad uses of the net simply go completely unchecked.

There's a secondary threat, which is that wholesale monitoring by too: If citizens feel confident that monitoring is only done for good reason, and without weakening out crypto-systems, they may not feel the need to adopt unbreakable systems. Many agencies will result in a massive breach of privacy when should never have had access to 2 Million documents - modern cloud (inevitably) one of those agencies accidentally leaks a collection of monitoring data. This is the other lesson from Snowden (the NSA's internal security procedures were incompetent, in that one person providers do not let their system administrators have such privilege.
This is the balancing act that needs to be created, in my view. and nor should a security agency, and what better way to enforce this, than only to collect necessary and sufficient data in the first place - the needle, not the whole haystack.
A sort of Anti-Social Contract c.f. always on
So maybe we need a new arbiter organisation - a distributed citizenship v. government tie-breaker - not the police, business or the press or current national judiciary - a sort of 7th estate. It should, like the Internet itself, admit of no kings, just working codes of practice. It could manage rights to be forgotten too. It might need to employ some very smart social machines to cope with ddos, edit war, troll, bot farms etc etc

Friday, June 19, 2015

science and policy #101

Three recent pieces of work in Cambridge came to light

1. scientists have been working on the basis for randomized trials, and realized that, of course, we must have some non-randomized trials, to check if the very basis for randomization as part of scientific empirical method is sound.
In a bold inter-disciplinary move, the scientists collaborated with the department of history and analyzed a number of UK and other policies for economics and military action, to see if one could find random (e.g. the 100 years) and non-random (e.g. the 1st world) wars, as well as economics (e.g. monetarism, and austerity). The results will be published very soon, but are currently under embargo, in case they disturb a current experiment with Greece.

2. Engineers in Cambridge have long wanted to build a railway to replace the ageing bus and taxi system. Working from earlier chinese experiments with mono-rails, and the guided by the guided bus success, the proposal is not to take the modern electric line from Royston to King's Lynn, where customers are already used to the trains splitting at Cambridge, with one half going forward, for example, to Ely, and the other half, soon, to the Science Park. From next year, they hope to split the train laterally, with the left half going around the pieces (Christs, Parkers) and Commons (Midsummer etc), and the right half going in a long overhead loop, to Ely, allowing the Eels much easier migration along their breeding paths in the fens. If the duo-mono-rail is a success, the engineers propose to extend the routes to Paris and Brussels, where onward mono-mono routes could serve ski-resorts and some of the Belgian mountain regions where the finer beers are produced.

3. For some time now, a very ambitious project in CRASSH has been working on Consipiracy Theory. This work has involved linguists, computer scientists, taxi drivers and publicans, and has recently yielded a breakthrough. A new tool has been built that can detect consipiracy theories with a false positive rate of 2% and a false negative rate of 3%. The method is based on a mix of Bayes and various NLP clustering algorithms. Currently the tool is part of a possible startup and venture capitalists are clamouring to fund the work. The business case is unclear as yet, and there have been some suggestions that at least one major journalism organisation may have prior art, although scientists suggest that their conspiracy generator is based on different technology (followers of Chomsky will understand that recognition and generation are quite different linguistic machines). At least one government agency claims that they had build a system exactly like this in 1961, and that it correctly identified Cuba and Suez, but they could not reveal the technology for fear of showing potential national enemies how much more advanced the UK was than them. Security analysts have asked them to "put up or shut up" as this is not the first time that they have claimed to have approaches to their work that would save time and money, but have not deployed because they would have, err, saved time and money and lives and red faces.

Meanwhile, CRASSH were not available for comment.

Monday, June 01, 2015

intent with meaning - future network control

there's a lot of chat about intent-oriented networking e.g. Nemo, - latest fad - seems to be a little bit like predicate routing - or declarative networking - where you way, in a very high-level way (e.g. legalease, c.f. recent microsoft paper on compliance) what you want to happen. Hopefully, this is 11 layers higher than open flow, and employs P4 at a minimum, as most of the intents that aren't just 5-tuple flowspec based, must necessarily employ DPI and application based content patterns.

however, where are the semantics? this seems to me to be a massive missing mole of an elephant in the room

Who (subject/object) wants What (packet, router, link, user) to be Where (in a jurisdiction, or not) When (before T, after T etc), and Why (profit, loss, legal link, fun) - the WWWWW (High 5 ?) of networking - it shouldn't be too hard to do a bit of deontic logic and denotational sugar to get this right...a suitable job for computer science, and possibly, the NaaS project, but possibly not...

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Not Worn Down. or Out.

Some company has bet its farm on some new fangled wearable device called the Watch. A bunch of other wearable computing/communication devices have done ok (highly portable mp3 music players to alleviate the burden of having to talk to people while exercising, wrist bands to measure speed and vital signs to olympic precision, to save the burden of having to look at a map and step on a scales. etc etc

None of this stuff is for me - maybe I am an outlier, outlandish, outspoken (sure), and out there, but I can't stand this stuff but not for a luddite reason -

ALthough I've always been slow to take up a tech (didn't have broadband at home or computers in the house til the kids needed it for school, didn't have a mobile phone til someone gave me one at work, didn't have a car for decades before needing to transport elderly people and do shopping etc - all driven by cost benefit analysis basically), this is not why I'm eschewing the old wearable stuff...

I've not ever been able to wear a watch, and find it hard to wear gloves - no idea why, but when uncles gave me watches as presents when I was a kid, I would run into doors, walls, catch them on aunties pointy noses, smash the glass, rip the strap in shreds, or drop them in a cup of really hot tea, to see if Douglas Adams would be right - who knows why? I just find this stuff intensely irritating.

If someone built something so tough it wouldn't break, I'd end up like Isidora Duncan, killed by being dragged behind a drone that accidentally got entangled with the fitbit it just delivered to my left paw.

One of our cool students built the nearest thing to an ideal wearable for me, a high-visibility cycling jacket that is decently made, well waterproof, light enough to wear on anything except a really hot day, and has a set of lights and sensors built in. Good on you, Andy Li, for visijax - I am betting he actually could have saved lives, but I still managed to break it (note to andy - the jacket is still fine, so it still gets used, just needs re-wiring - my fault entirely)....

I am not especially known as clumsy  - I can do fiddly things like thread a needle or hand solder electrical stuff without having to use a vice...I am obviously not averse to having tablets, smart phones, internet tv, blogs, twitter etc etc - I am not eve averse to doing some exercise (12 miles per day cycling, occasional long (100 mile) rides) and having some idea how to plan pace and fuel over a day etc

but I for one, am not going to be sporting one those new, extremely expensive, hopelessly hipster wannabe things on my wrist any day soon, no not even if Apple gave me one:)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

EU versus US cloud economy

was at interesting meeting yesterday where it was shown that the EU lags the US in business adoption of  cloud technology, and that this is harming growth/productivity of companies (I think I can believe this) - positive role model companies do exist, so it isn't just head-in-the-sand

A lot of the talk was about the fact that the network deployment in EU is NOT a barrier  (capacity/latency/price are all fine), but at the same time, some of the net is actually under-utilisaed.

That's a useful point, and indeed, one could claim that the fact that the entire warfare about Net Neutrality has been largely US based is evidence that the stakes for content and service providers versus network providers are much higher in north american than in Europe.

for my part, I reckon a large part of the problem is that most european countries rely on overseas companies to provide cloud technology (Amazon, Microsoft, etc) and it is really hard to do a large scale business transformation that cloud can achieve with a remote company (or a company you don't trust, own, or have the same language/culture as). So the answer seems pretty obvious - the fact that the UK has less of a problem in this space is consistent with this, in that we have more local cloud expertise in the UK (having provided some of the core tech here anyhow:)

some people there disputed this viewpoint, and claimed there was no problem having BT or Microsoft cloud-ify their EU-based business - that assertion was made with no concrete examples.

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.

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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