Tag Archives: Facebook

Paths Through the Forest of Ideas

I wrote what hangs below on Facebook, before I saw the irony:

My current model of the creative world has everything as a multi-dimensional network of interconnected ideas, some of which may be ‘fictional’. Narrative is a path through the maze. Writers, teachers and consultants are all selling their services as guides to the pathways that can lead you to enclose a chosen ‘volume’ of ‘knowledge’. Or I’ve been sitting in a room on my own for too long.

It grows more difficult to gain funding for work that expands or enriches the network for the good of everyone and increasingly profitable to enclose information for profit. We appear to be approaching The Inclosure Act of the Information Revolution.

On Wednesday, I plan to attend the initial meeting of the Open Rights Group, Birmingham. See Meetup for details(!)

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Google Plus, Circles, your data

I just saw a tweet by :
“Tim Berners-Lee: we, not companies, should own the data about us”, pointing to this article.
http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/oct/08/sir-tim-berners-lee-speaks-out-on-data-ownership

Last night I found a draft of a post that was published on the dark side of the blogosphere, inside a company firewall, dated 2011. Sadly, I didn’t invent The Internet, so no-one heeded my warning 🙂 I hope TB-L has more luck.

I’ve spent so much time reverse-engineering business requirements from poorly implemented IT systems so they can be re-written properly, that I think it’s become an illness. I’ve spent my evening puzzling out how Google+ Circles work because to quote NCIS’ Gibbs, “my gut tells me” that something is wrong.

Google’s Circles are probably squares really. Imagine a matrix where each column represents one of the “People in your circles” and each row represents “one of your circles”. There might be a 1 for each person in the circle and a 0 for everyone who isn’t. In our mental model, the circles are a Venn diagram and can intersect or contain other circles but the matrix doesn’t need to know about that.

What do the Circles represent? Google (at this point) don’t care. They are our personal classifications of other people, in as many ways as we wish to invent. It might be by their interests, location, language, friendship group etc.

For outgoing messages Circles allow us to specify foreach message, which classification of people we think should receive it. We might do this to exclude people we don’t think will be interested or who we do not wish to see the message. A message can be imagined to break free from our personal Circle defences through toward everyone who has at least one match to the selected Circles (a logical OR of all the selected rows.) Mechanisms that mix up classification of information with security have always come back to bite me, so this is my first concern.

For incoming messages, Circles act as filters, removing information that we do not wish to see, according to our current Circle selection. Therefore, once a message has escaped from our own Circles, it also has to be accepted into the Circles of each target person before each of them will  see it. Here the problem is that some of my friends are in intersecting circles. If one of my friends is in my ‘computers’ circle but also writes about ‘football’ then I have to decide whether to exclude that person from the group or dread match-nights. There ought to be a simple solution to this: ask the friend to take me out of his/her ‘football’ circle and only send football messages to that circle, but I have no idea if there is such a circle because their Circles are private. Similarly I may not be in his computers ‘Circle’, so communication on a topic of mutual interest could be accidentally one-way.

‘Circle taxonomies’ need to be public, preferably shareable in some way. We are building a map of all human relationships and we can only see our piece of the jigsaw. Only Google can see the whole picture. They can’t fix these issues without breaking Goggle’s business model. We’ve been given what is good for Google not good for us. This is Version 0.1. Must try harder.

Later, I discovered that Google appeared to have lifted the concepts behind Circles from the ‘aspects’ (of your life) feature of the open-source social network Diaspora*, which had tried much harder to respect personal privacy, as a reaction to FaceBook’s abuse of private information.

Changing Socialism

I’ve been trying to get my head around politics, hierarchy and evolution.
I don’t believe in “growth” and since growth is the  fuel of Capitalism I can’t believe in market capitalism, or in the establishment hierarchy which supports it but I can see markets with my own eyes. They are real, so I have to believe in them.

I’ve also seen that neither the USSR or China were able to make their versions of Socialism work, and closer to home, I found Arthur Scargill at least as terrifying as Maggie Thatcher.

We have talked of “The Collider”. Perhaps it could help? An early, Leanly Manufactured prototype has been built and I have installed it, with my bed as the focus point, so I can start my research every morning before The Street is thoroughly aired.

The information feeds at this point are:

  • BBC Radio 4 – delivered by the medium of DAB alarm-clock radio. I like to think that the delay softens the impact. I listen for an hour through the filter of semi-conciousness that precedes my first coffee. The  filter throws the idea-stream into soft-focus, which I hope will model biological mutation.

Caffeine consumption is best achieved in an at least semi-upright posture which then enables my Internet feeds. They normally consist of

  • Facebook – but it is rarely fun in the morning. I seem to befriend more owls than worms, so my first call is often
  • LinkedIn – but I’d already thrown some bait out there yesterday. I’d posted a quotation I found, about ‘The Lean Mindset’ at http://www.poppendieck.com
    “Great companies are not in business to make money, they make money to stay in business and accomplish an important purpose.”
    I also responded to a link to an article about hierarchy on Forbes.com, called:
    ‘No Managers? No Hierarchy? No Way!’
    It had 5 ‘thumbs up’ and one comment in agreement when I arrived (well “kind of”. He may have been disagreeing politely). I said, “I disagree that nature is inherently hierarchical…” then everything went quiet. Top-level LinkedIn appears to be frequented by few people willing to take the chance of being on the Wrong side of an argument. I asked questions but had received no reply. I must assume that the author took them to be rhetorical or wished me to go away.

This seems to be what hierarchies do to protect themselves. (The next stages are social exclusion of the critic and finally expulsion, should anyone wish to plot their own position on a handy graph.) It was too early for fighting or having a perfectly sound argument ignored, so on to

  • Twitter -A few days ago, I realised most of my favourite tweeters are young, female, introverted, hopeful misanthropes who are interested in EVERYTHING but, like me, take an outsider’s view on Real Life. This probably says something about me but who cares what anyone else thinks, right?

I find Nat Guest, @unfortunatalie particularly good to wake up to.

  1. She gets up at a sensible time. There won’t be a backlog to catch up on. Let’s face it, Twitter, I’m only ever going to see a sunrise if I stay up particularly late.
  2. With Nat, there is rarely any need for further randomisation in pre-processing. She comes ready-muxed.
  3. I totally relate to her pseudo-parallel, chaotic changes in thought direction, constant “over” analysis and bemused observation of life’s absurdities.

This morning, in between her dislike of Calvin & Hobbes, increased bean varieties, the modern face of racism and a brief adventure into self-parody she told a sad story of Socialism failing. Failing again. “My favourite socialist-run stationery shop is closing. He has suffragette printing presses in his basement. Another woman & I are staring in through the window & commiserating”, she tweeted.
UpClose
This place has history. It seems the sort of place London Communists might have gathered before marching to protect the Jewish commuity from the Blackshirts, when the police weren’t going to – one of England’s finest moments.
ShopClosing
But look at that window display. It could be Soviet Russia. It’s main competitor is probably Amazon. How ironic.

There was a newsagent opposite my house that had remained unchanged since at least the mid-nineteen-sixties. It closed a few years ago, when the matriarch of the family, back minding the shop, was threatened with a gun. As far as I know, it was run along market-capitalist lines, as a family business. It just wasn’t making enough to be worth fighting for any more. Two car parking spaces were plenty. The environment had changed. I only ever went in there a few times, as a child and with my children. They didn’t sell much I wanted. I liked knowing it was there though and I miss it. It was a sign that things didn’t always have to change.

If you’re worried about the old lady, she told the robber, “bugger off, you’ll have to shoot me first” and he ran away. I wonder if that’s worth trying with Tower Hamlets Council. She didn’t live much longer though. I guess the shop was her life.

Maybe evolution has pre-disposed us to be selfish and grow because it is too dangerous to stay still, and contraction also causes resource depletion. We should find bigger purposes that we can all believe in.

If you’d like to know more about the Spitalfields shop, @unfortunatelie sent me this
spitalfieldslife.com > 2010 > 02 > 03 > Gary-arber-printer <http://spitalfieldslife.com/2010/02/03/gary-arber-printer/>  I was wrong about Communist Russia.
Natalie Guest owns the Copyleft to the photographs but has given permission to use them under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial Licence https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Social vs Capital Part 2

To recap:

Unix happened because companies trying to run their businesses using software didn’t like being dependent on the whims of hardware manufacturers. Each manufacturer defined their own hardware architecture. Customers wanted hardware-independence.

GNU/Linux and the Free & Open-Source Software movement happened because coders didn’t like waiting for someone else to fix their problems or to decide not to fix them. They wanted access to the source code and the legal right to change software and share their changes. They wanted software-supplier independence.

I simplified last time. BSD, GNU & Linux weren’t the only game in town. An important book was published: ‘Operating Systems, Design And Implementation’ by Andrew Tanenbaum. Tanenbaum believed in giving his students access to working source code. He had used Unix but when AT&T pulled up their draw-bridge, he needed a replacement that his readers could use and change – so he wrote one. ‘Minix’ was a minimal rewrite  of the key functions of Unix v7 which ran on a twin-floppy IBM PC (just about.) Unfortunately, the publishers, Prentice-Hall, insisted on retaining Copyright to the software. To get a copy, you had to buy a computer science book you probably didn’t want but. But I bought it, as did a young man called Linus Torvald. Tanenbaum was also instrumental in the production of the Amsterdam Compiler Kit which was the starting point for the GNU C compiler. My first sight of the GNU effort was on a listing for a 9-inch tape from the DEC User Society: It included emacs, gcc & the ACK, to be run on your own commercial Unix system.

Stallman and the GNU organisation were writing another replacement for Unix, free of copyrighted code. Their aim was to ensure that if you used their software, no-one else would ever prevent you from using code, particularly if you had contributed to it. Copyleft was born. ‘Free’ (as in beer) licences were not new. The BSD licence allows anyone to take BSD code and do what they wish with it, including building non-Free code on top and selling it.  OS X is built on FreeBSD but Apple sells licences and protects “its” intellectual property from re-use by competitors, including those companies that contributed code that Apple used. ‘Strangely’ Stallman didn’t think this was fair so worked towards creating the GNU licence, the GPL. The original idea has been described as “viral”. If you used GNU-licensed code then your code was required to be GNU-licensed too and you were required to make it available to anyone who wanted it, for only the cost of reproduction. THe GPL was arguably ‘less free’ because it enforced sharing and prevented commercial exploitation. GPL supporters point out that the code you contribute becomes a marketing tool to sell a future service. You offer a service (typically to write other software) rather than sell a software product licence. There is downward market pressure on price and upward on quality, to provide the best value service.
Compromises were made to the GPL  later, leading to the ‘Lesser’ LGPL. This allowed  software libraries to be used in conventionally licensed commercial software.

Having established the new ground-rules, GNU started work, from the top downwards. The bottom layer, the HURD kernel, has still not been delivered. Fortunately, that guy Linus started at the bottom and worked up. When he and his Internet recruits started needing to test their kernel, the GNU tools were ready. Because GNU & Linux were both copying the same open system interfaces, they worked together.

The Free Software movement happened because all these individuals knew they couldn’t do everything on their own. If they wrote something new or fixed a problem, they gave it away. In return, someone else would have fixed a future problem before they found it and shared the solution with them, free.

People sometimes question what happened to ‘the hippy generation’. It appears that many of them went into computer science and carried right on with implementing a community based on freedom & love, inside any institution that would pay them a salary. ‘The Community’ developed a culture and distributed processes and tools that anyone was allowed to use. When people who had grown up in this community started their own companies, they didn’t follow the IBM model, as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs had. They adopted the Free tool-kits of the hippies. Facebook, Google, the Nokia Maemo/MeeGo team, Red Hat, Canonical (Ubuntu Linux) and the Steam gaming platform come from a new breed of entrepreneur. They are not in business to sell you hardware or software as a product. They sell you a service on the Internet. Many of these services are ‘free at point of delivery’.

But there are costs and someone has to pay. You are no longer locked into a hardware or software supplier but to a single service provider and they have your information, probably the most valuable asset of your organisation.