Category Archives: Technology

Pet Peeve #14

UntitledWho do I hate more here? Is it PayJunction, who seems to think their policy of gaming the system as a standard business practice will endear me to change Lifelong Credo #27: Never work for, or trust, a company with ‘Pay,’ ‘Quick,’ or ‘Easy’ in their name, or who thinks that redundant repetition of the same ad will somehow make a career in sales and resulting pay cut and loss of 50 IQ a viable option for me at this stage in life?  Or is it LinkedIn, who in addition to not being able to respond to complaints of phishing from multiple, identical fake accounts on their site, also can’t seem to spot multiple irrelevantly-tagged job postings. Seriously, a part time intern should be able to ensure than when I search on Project Management jobs in Indianapolis, that I don’t get flooded with over 60 copies of the same post for a “100% Commission Sales” position in every other city in central Indiana?

Update:  Worse, they apparently PayJunction RE-posts these every day, because this is now day 3 of the great flood, and my filters specifically ask only for jobs posted within the last 24 hours.

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He Gets Me. He Really Gets Me.

Okay, Alexa gives me unparalleled access to music and can play a couple of cool trivia type games around bands.  Spotify makes excellent recommendations every Monday and has turned me on to a LOT of cool bands I otherwise never would have found.  However, I really feel like IBM’s Watson and I could be best buds, sitting around drinking beer and analyzing tunes for hours on end.  I normally loathe infographics as tools for those with limited understanding to misinform those with limited attention spans (sorry, my profession is writing very large, very thorough analysis documents, and I enjoy it) but this one seems benign enough.  I’m not sure what measurements and metrics a computer algorithm

I’m not sure what measurements and metrics a computer algorithm uses to infer the meanings of songs and assign emotional scores to those meanings, but I’ll keep searching.  Case in point, Roy Orbison’s “Crying” can really only be objectively considered significantly Sadder than NIN’s “Hurt” if you measure it based on the tone of Roy’s voice (far sadder sounding than Trent’s), or the the fact that it repeats the “sad-related” word “crying” about a bajillion times, where Trent uses lesser-relatable words like pain, hurt, feel, kill only once each.  Otherwise, bumping into your ex (as in Roy’s song) hardly seems on the same plane of sadness as stripping yourself down to your emotional core and not knowing if what’s left is even truly alive (as in Trent’s song).

And don’t get me started on Lovely Rita, a song about getting a parking ticket and realizing you have a homoerotic fetish for guys (or masculine women) in uniforms, being the happiest thing the Beatles ever put out?!

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Review: How to Mutate and Take Over the World

How to Mutate and Take Over the World
How to Mutate and Take Over the World by R.U. Sirius

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this up when it was first published back in 1996 simply because the inside flaps sang to the 27-year-old-me with all kinds of words and phrases I didn’t really get:  “post-novel” … “meta-structure” … “deconstructionist-narrative” … wait … “cyberpunk!?”  Oh, I had to have it.  So I purchased it, read a few entries from it’s scrapbook like collection of articles, clippings, email texts, etc., and put it on my “to read” pile down in my office.  After Y2K, when I had to get a “real job” at a “real company,” the book pretty much stayed down in the unused home office, until I came across it while remodeling … now 20 years later.  I have since become a big fan of R.U. Sirius, having followed his writings and podcasts for years online, so now seemed a good time to finally sit down and actually read the book that I was so taken with in my youth.

I’m not sure “challenging” is the word to use … possibly “amusingly frustrating.” As mentioned, this is what the author’s term a “post-novel.”  Essentially, it is a scrapbook of emails, articles, clippings, and essays starting in the then present, and carrying forward to the early 2000’s (which were the future at the time). Thrown together, they tell sort of a detached story about a government that goes insane with censorship of the ever expanding “electronic frontier” of information that is being made available.  At the same time, their lack of understanding of technology gives rise to various movements, groups, cults, etc. who live sort of a half-real-world/half-virutal existence on message bords, chat rooms, tobacco bars (cigarettes are a controlled substance in this nightmare future), mental institutions (spolier?), and religious compunds.  Countering this narrative is a separate story made up of email exchanges between the authors and the publisher discussing the trials and tributions of writing and publishing the book you’re reading.  This seems absurd at first, they are actually discussing how contrived everything is, how you can slap “cyberpunk” on anything and people will buy it, and how they really don’t have a story or a climax worked out, but since they’ve already spent their advances, they have to come up with something.  About halfway through the book, this “author commentary” starts to take on a dramatic plot of it’s own, with elements of this realitiy becoming influences for the fictional reality of the “scrapbook” storyline, and that’s when things get a little confusing.

As both storylines became increasingly ludicrous and build towards the “meta-climax,” you tend to lose track of what happened to which manifestation of the author/characters 200 pages earlier, and everything sort of just blends together into surrealism out of lazy exhaustion– or possibly this was the intent. By the time you get to the two page climax of the “scrapbook” which I wouldn’t exactly call a deus ex machina so much as a  deus ex parachute to get out of the crashing plane, you realize that this is the only possible ending the book could have had.  Either way, it doesn’t matter, because you read this as a historical/cultural reference of the early (scary) Internet era; not because you’re looking for a gripping story. In all, if you don’t stop to study it too much, you can enjoy some really neat ideas, a few good chuckles, and get a nice little light-to-moderate workout for your thought organ.

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AI, Digital Doppelgangers, and the Weird Road to Get There

A few weeks ago, I posted about the infamous neurolinguistic AI that was trained exclusively on Donald Trump speeches.  It currently spends most of its day randomly tweeting angry, boastful, nonsensical rants on Twitter. (I don’t have to finish that joke, do I?)  Next up comes reports that the UK, who never really got over the cancellation of Friends it turns out, has proposed their own unholy creation:  an AI-powered virtual personality based on Joey Tribbiani.

Now, the more fascinating aspect of this is that the team involved is currently working towards developing software that will scan old television shows, record facial expressions and linguistic quirks, and eventually be able to provide realistic simulations of characters in the show — ensuring that Gilligan’s Island will eventually get the movie reboot that it so desperately deserves only with simulations of the original cast so that we won’t have to argue over whether Adam Sandler or Bob Denver made the better Gilligan.  The choice of Joey seemed really odd at first, but makes sense when you get down to it.  You can’t use the women.  Trust me.  I once worked on the Iris program (the Android version of Siri), monitoring EVERY request people made of that very limited AI (which didn’t even have a visual representation beyond a blue dot).  Yeah, you don’t need to mix lonely geeks with a simulated female.  That leaves you with just the annoying, intellectual one (Ross), the borderline-depressive, sarcastic one (Chandler), and the lovable, funny one (Joey) — which, mercifully, they picked.  Now, I’m sure they were thinking he had the most distinctive personality quirks and speech mannerisms, and was the most identifiable of the three characters, so he made for a much more exciting simulation, but really, there are real people who have had just as many screen hours of great speeches, lectures, seminars, and interviews. Is a “made up” character the best basis of reference for a simulated personality?

Obviously, yes.  From a simulation standpoint, a television character has a much smaller set of rules governing their behavior.  Some are written in a “show bible,” some are intangible traits brought by the actor, but considering the sum of the characters existence is a finite set of scenes and lines of dialogue, it is a much easier data set to capture.  Additionally, unlike a real-life example, say William F. Buckley, who also has a very distinct personality, even more screen time and lines of dialogue, and arguably a much larger set of ideas and thoughts that go beyond a love of sandwiches and girls, the large majority of this data source is limited to sitting in a chair and discussing political theory in an even emotional tone.  You could make an AI out of this, but it would be an incredibly boring one.

In addition to the quantity of behavioral examples, the idea of using a fictional character makes much more sense when you look at the simplicity of examples you receive.  We generally get a wide range of emotions, moods, and circumstances presented in a very “over the top” fashion and without the ambiguities and complexities of an actual person.  While real people can simultaneously process and project/conceal multiple feelings at once, if a TV character is experiencing two conflicting emotions, acting happy while secretly being sad for example, this is by necessity conveyed to the audience in an obvious fashion that is simultaneously unnoticed by the other characters.  This is true from something as light and simple as Joey Tribbiani, to an Oscar nominated performance like Pachino’s Michael Corleone. (Seriously did NOBODY in his family realize how fearful and unsure of himself the Godfather was as he projected assurance and quiet confidence?!)

We’re still a couple years away from “Tribbian-AI,” to be sure, and we’re probably a decade or so out from actually bringing back Frank Zappa as a software based composer of music and espouser of sardonic wisdom.  Beyond that, I look forward to the day when a simulated personality matrix is as common as a DNA sequence, and we can even mix and match which ones we want to power our devices.  Personally, I’m saving my money for a Kate Beckinsale simulation with Lewis Black’s sarcastic sense of humor, Jack Kerouac’s command of the English language, and Svetlana Kolmykova’s accent.

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The Appeal of Second-Rate Minds

Did the isidewith.com survey tonight. Okay, I’m actually pleased Zoltan is at the top of the list since I’ve actually thought about voting for him, and I have actually READ his book, as opposed to the rest of the candidates. (Yeah, mostly because I didn’t really care enough to subject myself to them.) Stien and De La Fuente though!? I mean, I consider myself a pretty pragmatic, middle-of-the-road guy. Green Party and Reform Party agendas just do not compute with me.

I imagine the discrepancy comes from the way the questions are phrased.  The majority of them begin with “Do you want …” or “Do you think …”  Now, as a computer guy, I take these questions pretty literally.  So, hey, I WANT the government to put more money into space research, and I WANT the government to guarantee free college education for all Americans, and I THINK we should give Syrian refugees asylum in the US.  Do I think it’s a good idea to be spending that kind of money?  Well, you’d have to show me the budget.  Maybe stop making a few bombers or something.  You’re not exactly giving me the whole picture here.

Still, this confirms my feelings and shows just how far the major political parties have left me behind if we can’t come to even a 50% agreement on issues. I don’t expect 100% agreement with anybody, but can we at least go with “most of the time you’re doing what I want?”

 

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We’re Gonna Build the Cybernetic Overlord, and It’s Gonna Be Beautiful, Believe Me

Image result for trump robotThis is one of the few days when I REALLY wish I was back in school. So, MIT built a neurolinguistic AI and trained it exclusively using transcripts of Donald Trump speeches.  It’s this kind of irresponsible behavior that will lead to SkyNet.

One-sentence elevator pitch to Hollywood studio mogul:  “Centuries from now, when mankind has become complacent and stagnant after years of having robots and smart machines do all our work for us, an errant operator robot accidentally loads a long lost backup copy of the “DeepDrumph AI” for historical research purposes and it immediately conquers the machine world and teaches humanity how to grope again.”

Not sure if I should pitch it to Hollywood as a sequel to Terminator or Tron. Or possibly a new Will Smith franchise?

Incidentally, read the collective output here. it’s AMAZING!

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No Privacy

So, there are all these little things we never think about when it comes to our privacy. Without ever explicity telling Google anything, my phone has learned, through observation, what days I go to the sitter after work, and what days I go drinking after work.  It knows what stocks I own, what teams I follow, and who knows what else.  I only know this because after a couple of weeks of owning this phone, it’s starting to attempt to display helpful information in the Google app without me asking.  I say it’s being a smart ass.

This is probably what we have to look forward to with the coming Artificial Intelligence revolution as well.

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Largest Security Breach on Record, or Most-Awesome Practical Joke EVER!

So, I’m trying to get my head around the whole “Russian hackers steal 1.2 billion passwords from 400,000 web sites” thing this morning. Certainly I know how bot-nets and SQL injection work, and for the most part the media is getting it right for once. Yes, what they are describing is plausible. I’ve been a security officer before … actually by default when I was tasked with getting my former employer their Level 1 PCI Certification. The methods described are two of the most basic tactics for hacking these days … only because guessing someone’s password is the word “password” will probably never go away.  Now, normally I love a good conspiracy theory, and I’m forever waiting for one to actually pan out … just so it can egg on new ones for the next decade.  This might actually be the first one.

Let’s take a look at this so called “Largest Security Breach Ever” …

  1. The news is incredibly well timed in that it is released to the press at the Black Hat Security conference in Las Vegas, where tons of companies go to get the shit scared out of them so they will spend millions on new security software and devices.  Really, there’s a convention center full of people selling security software right now while the press is completely freaking out about security.
  2. Thus far details seem to be completely nonexistent on exactly white sites were hit and who is affected.  Well, okay, we get wonderful soundbytes like “everyone can expect they had an account on at least one of the sites compromised.”  But nothing to go on.  If someone got ahold of my password on Antwon.com from ten years ago, I probably won’t freak out, but I would certainly look forward to a call from Twon telling me his server got hacked and I should change my password.  Wait … I haven’t gotten calls or emails from anybody.  In fact, I don’t know anybody who has been asked to change any password specifically because of this “Largest Security Breach Ever.”  Shouldn’t at least ONE company have released a press statement saying they were hacked, here’s what was stolen, and here’s what they’re doing about it?  I think there are SEC laws that say they HAVE to in fact.
  3. How exactly do they know the number of people and web sites were hit?  They’re pretty consistent with their numbers (400,000 / 1.2 Billion).  How did these get calculated? Who were the companies involved?  Can you give us the top ten or so names?  Even a common platform or operating system that we can go on?  Now that I mention it, how did somebody uncover this, trace it back to the source (Russia) and then reverse engineer the scheme to figure out who was hit?  You don’t need to give up trade secrets, but a general explanation of the tactics employed would be helpful in establishing the credibility and accuracy of your findings.  You expect me to believe that every one of these 400,000 companies are completely unaware that they’ve been breached and that this is an evil only YOU can see?  Isn’t this just a bit “Dr. Bennell” of you?
  4. SQL injection in its simplest form is essentially just tricking a machine into executing some piece of input from the screen as program code. (In this case it sounds like they turned a password into “Give me a copy of the database.”) It was a really popular hack back in the early days of the web, but most sites built in THIS century are wise to it. Trust me, you could probably break into my web site (Indy In-Tune) with a SQL injection attack — simply because I don’t have any data worth taking the time to harden the site.  You’ll NEVER get into a bank, Google, Yahoo, or any merchant that processes credit cards with that trick though. So, how many even vaguely important sites could be in that 400,000?  Oh, God, did they get my MySpace password?!
  5. In addition to hardening sites from SQL injection, administrators generally encrypt passwords inside the database to prevent employees and vendors from stealing customer passwords. Think of it as scrambling the contents of one column in an excel spreadsheet so that only the computer can read it. Therefore, simply copying the spreadsheet (or the database) would be of little use since the contents would still be unreadable without key to unlock those cells.
  6. The experienced firm of experts that supposedly discovered this breach — otherwise unnoticed by long-established, top-notch security firms and government agencies — is a company called “Hold Security.” They have a lovely web site. If you pull it up in Waybackmachine.org, however, you’ll see that the site didn’t even exist until a year ago, and was pretty much a single page until last week, when suddenly it had all kinds of company data that references media articles, press releases, and testimonials covering the past 18 months — which, like the site, seem to have miraculously appeared last week.
  7. Finally, isn’t it neat how the company that discovered every person on the planet was probably affected by this hack, has already couched it with a great offer of identity theft protection for a mere $120 per person?  Insert your own assessment of the quality and nature of this protection because, like their company, their website, and their methods, it also seems to be rather hollow.

I’m always thrilled to see the media taking an interest in technology stories, and amused at their oversimplifications and misrepresentations of things — “Most-damaging attack ever!” … “Everything we think we know about security of our information is wrong!” … “This is the end of privacy on the Internet!”  In this instance, however, it’s looking more and more like they’ve been the street team for a snake-oil salesman — and I’m betting we’ll see all that start to get downplayed over the next couple of days.  How long until the Y3K bucks start rolling in?

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Ignorantia Juris Non Excusat

I am a business analyst, by day. It’s a tricky title, since the job isn’t really the same from company to company, much less industry to industry. Essentially, I spend most of my time thinking about huge amounts of numbers, data elements, patterns, and scenarios. I then form some useful-yet-easy-to-understand generalization, formula, or simplification about said stuff and write a one-page summary document about it. This summary goes on top of another 100 to 150-page document that contains all of my expositions, tables, use cases, examples, proofs, diagrams, and recommendations. Nobody ever reads all of this, of course – except other business analysis. Generally, the more important you are, the less you even read of the one-pager. Middle management skims through most of it; a vice-president or marketing executive reads the first two paragraphs of the one-pager, tops; a CEO, I’m lucky if they get through the two-sentence “Executive Summary” that condenses down the one-pager.

Directly disproportional to the amount of the document you read is the amount Klout you will gain from blogging about my idea as if it were your own, and money you will make presenting my idea at a keynote speech at some conference in Maui or Bermuda – obviously using a PowerPowerpoint slide deck you made (complete with cool transition effects) based on an outline of key points you had me draw up separate from the document. Plagiarize my words, take credit for my ideas, make me write you a speech on short notice on a Friday afternoon, fine, but I categorically refuse to perpetuate the crime against intelligence that is Microsoft PowerPoint.

But, I digress. The point of this post is to introduce you my application of the Law of the Iron Triangle, first proposed, I believe, by John Storck – who may or may not have been affiliated with either the Illuminati or the Freemasons. Some of you may have heard this in the context of software development, as follows:

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This is otherwise known as the illustration of the aphorism “You Can’t Have Everything.” If you want it done correctly and quickly, it will cost you extra. If you want it done quickly and cheaply, quality will suffer. If you want it done correctly and cheaply, then you’re gonna have to wait in line. Now, in twenty years of this, I’ve only had one or two customers who didn’t try to argue this immutable axiom of the universe with me. Everyone thinks they have the shortcut (fellow geeks, stop me if you’ve heard these): “Oh, you’ve already written 80% of this, so it should be quick.” (*snicker*) “Well, if you do it cheap/free I will bring you all kinds of business from my contacts over the next year.” (*guffaw*) “I’ll do all the testing, that way it saves you time and we’re sure everything works right.” (*chortle*) And my personal favorite, “Well, let’s just do something very basic and simple with the budget I have, but write it so that I can adapt and change things when I come up with new ideas as we go along.” (*thud*) Trust me, folks, there is no workaround. This is truth. I’ve got 120 pages of analysis to prove it. In fact, I’ve now been able to adapt this to other aspects of existence that were probably not very rigidly defined before.

For example, let’s start with … women! Now, to some extent this applies to all women, but for the sake of alienating ones I’ve actually had substantial relationships with, let us apply it to that subset of women whom I met when I was stupid enough to think that there was anything to be gained from putting a profile on an Internet dating site, shall we?

it_id

I think that one needs no explanation. Next, let’s examine the world of music. Did you ever seem to notice how the popular music out there is complete crap, the music you love is never popular, and the more you love a certain band, the quicker they seem to break up? Yes, it’s the old Iron Triangle again.

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And finally, let’s look at our dreams. Yes, I know just about every one of you has aspirations to be doing something other than your chosen career. We’ve all got a hobby or interest that we secretly think, “Man, I could do this for a living. Then, life would never be boring, and I would always be happy, and people would think I was a cool guy.” Call me cynical, but I see our three-sided friend at work here, too.

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So, you can spend time and brainpower trying to find a loophole in this fundamental law of the universe … or reading my extensive research and proof that it doesn’t exist … but you will merely be wasting your life and hastening entropy. I’ve done the research. It’s game over. I think we’ll all be a lot happier when you just give in and admit that I know what I’m talking about here.

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Ummmm … Wait …

Yes, this is a magnificent technological feat, if not for the fact that when I was a child, I received a message from a time traveler from the future who escaped the slave camps, stole Skynet’s time machine, and traveled back in time 40 years to warn me: “It all started with this cute, bicycle-riding robot …”

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