Culture

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Wednesday Morning: Simple Past, Perfect Future

There are thirteen verb tenses in English. I couldn’t recall the thirteenth one to save my life and now after digging through my old composition texts I still can’t figure out what the thirteenth is.

If I have to guess, it’s probably a special case referring to future action. Why should our language be any more lucid than our vision?

Vision we’ve lost; we don’t elect people of vision any longer because we don’t have any ourselves. We vote for people who promise us bullshit based on illusions of a simple past. We don’t choose people who assure us the road will be hard, but there will be rewards for our efforts.

Ad astra per aspera.

Fifty-five years ago today, John F. Kennedy Jr. spoke to a join session of Congress, asking our nation to go to the moon. I was six months old at the time. This quest framed my childhood; every math and science class shaped in some way by the pursuit, arts and humanities giving voice to the fears and aspirations at the same time.

In contrast I look at my children’s experience. My son, who graduates this year from high school, has not known a single year of K-12 education when we were not at war, when terrorism was a word foreign to his day, when we didn’t worry about paying for health care because we’d already bought perma-warfare. None of this was necessary at this scale, pervading our entire culture. What kind of vision does this create across an entire society?

I will say this: these children also don’t recall a time without the internet. They are deeply skeptical people who understand how easy it is to manipulate information. What vision they have may be biased toward technology, but their vision is high definition, and they can detect bullshit within bits and pixels. They also believe we have left them no choice but to boldly go and build a Plan B as we’ve thoroughly trashed Plan A.

Sic itur ad astra. Sic itur ad futurum.

Still looking at past, present, and future…

Past

Present

Future

  • Comparing Apple to BlackBerry, developer Marco Arment frets for Apple’s future (Marco.org) — I can’t help laugh at this bit:
    …When the iPhone came out, the BlackBerry continued to do well for a little while. But the iPhone had completely changed the game…

    Not only is Arment worrying Apple hasn’t grokked AI as Google has, he’s ignored Android’s ~80% global marketshare in mobile devices. That invisible giant which hadn’t ‘completely changed the game.’

  • Ivanpah Solar Power Facility in the Mojave Desert caught fire (WIRED) — IMO, sounds like a design problem; shouldn’t there be a fail-safe on this, a trigger when temps spike at the tower in the wrong place? Anyhow, it looks like Ivanpah has other problems ahead now that photovoltaic power production is cheaper than buggy concentrated solar power systems.
  • Women, especially WOC, win a record number of Nebula awards for sci-fi (HuffPo) — Prizes for Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story and Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy works went to women, which is huge improvement given how many writers and readers are women and women of color. What does the future look like when a greater percentage of humans are represented in fiction? What does a more gender-balanced, less-white future hold for us?

Either I start writing late the night before, or I give up the pretense this is a * morning * roundup. It’s still morning somewhere, I’ll leave this one as is for now. Catch you tomorrow morning — maybe — or early afternoon.

Tuesday Morning (Kind of): Assembly-Required Future

Sorry, gang, I’ve got a lot of balls in the air today and not much time to write. I’ll try to come back as time permits to flesh out this post but no promises.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the future — apart from the political realm, because that part of our future is just plain bat-shit crey — and I don’t know, nothing seems clear. My crystal ball reads like a shattered Apple iPad display.

Take a look at this new phone concept, Google’s Project Ara. Users can assemble the components they want or need at any time. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s not a phone at all. It’s a new mobile computer platform with communications capability. We’ll accept it more readily if we think of it as a phone first, though, especially since we have yet to fully grasp how our current smartphones have replaced PCs.

Do enough people want a customizable device like this badly enough to merit all the effort put into its R&D?

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably stepped barefoot on a LEGO piece in the middle of the night; imagine instead stepping on your kid’s camera component for their Ara. Or the baby swallowing one of the components. Or the cat flicking off the dresser a key part you needed with all your spreadsheets for work.

Color me skeptical.

The impending decision in the Oracle v. Google lawsuit over Java’s open-source license may also play a critical role. Not because Ara’s technology may be released as open source, but because a negative outcome in the lawsuit may have a chilling effect on development by component makers. If every company participating in the Java development community (prior to Oracle’s acquisition of Sun Microsystems) believed Java was open source, BUT the court thinks otherwise, what good are any other assurances that any technology is open source?

As usual, morning threads are open. Talk amongst yourselves. What’s the future look like in your crystal ball?

Monday Morning: Tarantela [UPDATE]

I could listen to this piece on a loop. It’s Santiago de Murcia’s “Tarantela,” performed by noted lutist Rolf Lislevand. The instrument he is playing is as important as the music and his artistry; it’s an extremely rare Stradivarius guitar called the Sabionari. While tarantellas more commonly feature additional instruments and percussion like tambourines, this instrument is stunning by itself.

You can learn more about the Sabionari at Open Culture, a site I highly recommend for all manner of educational and exploratory content.

And now to dance the tarantella we call Monday.

Wheels

  • What’s the German word for ‘omertà’? Because Volkswagen has it (Forbes) — Besides the use of obfuscation by translation, VW’s culture obstructs the investigation into Dieselgate by way of a “code of silence.” And money. Hush money helps.
  • Growing percentage of VW investors want an independent investigation (WSJ) — An association 25,000 investors now demands an investigation; the problem continues to be Lower Saxony, the Qatar sovereign-wealth fund and the Porsche family, which combined own 92% of voting stock.
  • VW production workers get a 5% pay raise (IBT) — Is this “hush money,” too, for the employees who can’t afford to be retired like VW’s executives? The rationale for the increase seems sketchy since inflation is negligible and VW group subsidiary workers at Audi and Porsche won’t receive a similar raise.
  • Insanity? VW Group a buy opportunity next month (The Street) — Caveat: I am not a stockbroker. This information is not provided for investment purposes. Your mileage may vary. But I think this is absolute insanity, suggesting VW group stock may offer a buy opportunity next month when VW publishes a strategy for the next decade. If this strategy includes the same utterly opaque organization committing fraud to sell vehicles, is it smart to buy even at today’s depressed prices? The parallel made with Apple stock is bizarre, literally comparing oranges to Apples. Just, no.

Bad News (Media)

Cybersec

  • Organized criminals steal $13M in minutes from Japanese ATMs (The Guardian) — And then they fled the country. What?! The mass thefts were facilitated by bank account information acquired from an unnamed South African bank. Both Japan and SA use chip-and-pin cards — so much for additional security. Good thing this organized criminal entity seeks money versus terror. Interesting that the South African bank has yet to be named.(*)
  • Slovenian student receives 15-month suspended sentence for disclosing state-created security problems (Softpedia) — The student at Slovenia’s Faculty of Criminal Justice and Security in Maribor, Slovenia had been investigating Slovenia’s TETRA encrypted communications protocol over the last four years as part of a school project. He used responsible disclosure practices, but authorities did not respond; he then revealed the encrypted comms’ failure publicly to force action. And law enforcement went after him for exposing their lazy culpability hacking them.
  • Related? Slovenian bank intended target for Vietnamese bank’s SWIFT attempted hack funds (Reuters) — Huh. Imagine that. Same country with highly flawed state-owned encrypted communications protocol was the target for monies hackers attempted to steal via SWIFT from Vietnamese TPBank. Surely just a coincidence, right?

Just for the heck of it, consider a lunch read/watch on a recent theory: World War 0. Sounds plausible to me, but this theory seems pretty fluid.

Catch you here tomorrow morning!

* UPDATE — 1:20 P.M. EDT —
Standard Bank reported it had lost 300 million rand, or USD $19.1 million to the attack on Japanese ATMs. First reports in South African media and Reuters were roughly 11 hours ago or 9:00 a.m. Johannesburg local time. It’s odd the name of the affected bank did not get wider coverage in western media, but then South Africa has a problem with disclosing bank breaches. There were five breaches alleged last year, but little public information about them; they do not appear on Hackmageddon’s list of breaches. This offers a false sense of security to South African banking customers and to banks’ investors alike.

Japan Times report attribute the thefts to a Malaysian crime gang. Neither Japan Times nor Manichi mention Standard Bank’s name as the affected South African bank. Both report the thefts actually took place more than a week ago on May 15th — another odd feature about reporting on this rash of well-organized thefts.

Friday Morning: Mi Ritmo

Oye como va
Mi ritmo
Bueno pa gozar
Mulata

— excerpt, Oye Como Va by Tito Puente

This Latin jazz song was on the very first album I owned — Santana’s Abraxas. I have no idea what possessed my father to select this way back in 1971 because he’s not musically inclined. I prefer to think he was persuaded by the music store staff to buy it for me rather than think the cover art did it for him. To this day I don’t dare ask; I’d rather live with my illusion.

Perhaps he simply liked Oye Como Va by Tito Puente and decided I needed it. Maybe that’s what he wanted to listen to when I played the album over and over again, ad nauseam. The song is still easy to listen to even when played by a septuagenarian, isn’t it? Though Puente probably still felt the same way about this song in his last live performance as he did when he first recorded it in 1963.

The personal irony I’m certain my father never considered: the last line is a reference to a mixed race “mulatto” woman. That’s me.

Vamos, amigos!

Wheels

  • South Korea frustrated by Volkswagen’s response to Dieselgate (Yonhap) — Hard to tell how many VW passenger diesel cars with the emissions controls defeat tech have been sold in South Korea to date. Last year’s sales of 35,700 suggest VW needs to exert itself a little more than offer to recall a total 125,000 cars.

Technology Trends

  • Breakthrough in memory technology could change computing dramatically (IBM via YouTube) — I’m still trying to wrap my head around this; could be the simplicity of the underlying science seems so obvious I can’t understand why it wasn’t discovered sooner. Using polycrystalline rather than amorphous material, more data can be stored and in a manner which is stable and not prone to loss when electricity is cut. This technology could replace DRAM at flash memory prices. Imagine how quickly systems could begin processing if they could avoid seeking programs and data.
  • Google’s annual I/O event chary on enterprise computing (ComputerWorld) — Wonder if Google executives’ expressed intent to focus on the enterprise is a veiled threat directed at Oracle? The I/O annual conference didn’t have enough enterprise applications to satisfy the curious; is Google holding back? Or are there pending acquisitions to fill this stated intent, ones not yet ready for publication? I wouldn’t be surprised to see Google launch something on par with Salesforce or Zoho very soon. Google Drive components already compete with or are integrated with some of those Zoho offers in its small business offering.
  • Android’s coming to Chromebooks — finally! (Google Blog) — I’ve put off buying another laptop until this happened, guess I’ll look at the first three models on which developers will focus their development. The applications available for Android phones have been mind-boggling in number; it’d be nice to have the same diversity of selection for laptops. And then maybe desktops in the not-too-distant future? That would really make a dent in enterprise computing.

Cybersec

  • Security camera not password protected? Police may be able to tap it (Engadget) — Love the subhead: “Don’t worry, it’s supposed to be for a good cause.” Just add the invisible snark tag. Purdue University researchers found surveillance cameras could be tapped to allow law enforcement to monitor a crime scene. I don’t know about you but this sounds like a backdoor, not a convenient vulnerability. If the police can use it soon, who might already be using it?
  • Qualcomm mobile chip flaw leaves 60% of Android devices exposed (Threatpost) — Not good, especially since this boo-boo may affect both oldest and newest Android versions. But a malicious app is required to take advantage of this flaw, unlike the Stagefright exploit. Android has already issued a patch; the problem is getting it to all affected devices.
  • LinkedIn’s 2012 breach yielded info on more than 100 million accounts (Motherboard) — Only 6.5 million accounts were initially breached — but that’s only the first batch published online. The actual haul from 2012 was at least 117 million accounts, now for sale for a mere five bitcoins or $2200. Are you a LinkedIn user? Time to check Have I Been Pwned? to see if your account is among those in the breach.

Climate Crises

  • Record high temp of 51C (124F) recorded in India (The Register) — Drought continues as well; article notes, “Back in India, relief from the heat is expected when the annual monsoon hits. The cooling rains generally arrive in mid-June.” Except that with a monster El Nino underway, the amount of rain and cooling will depart from average.
  • Polymath Eleanor Saitta considers climate change and comes to some grim, mortal conclusions (Storify by @AnthonyBriggs) — If you’re a policymaker, you’d better worry about dealing effectively with climate refugees and deaths in the millions. Maybe billions. Refugees from Syria will look like a minuscule blip. If you’re not terrified, you should be.

Looks like it’s going to be a lovely late spring weekend here — hope you’re going to have a nice one, too. See you Monday!

Thursday Morning, Late: Like a Sucker Punch

It’s true
That it kicks you in the teeth when you are least expecting
Bad news
Oh it beats you black and blue before you see it coming

— excerpt, Bad News by Bastille

This little ditty seemed appropos for today. I’m surprised it was just a B-side.

Spin Factory
BAD DOG, REUTERS — When a big event happens, news media jump all over it and churn out reporting. But in the age of social media and the failure of traditional business models, crap is published and too often blown off. Like this tweet:Reuters_tweet_813am_19MAY2016
Looks innocuous, right? But it’s not — this is the replacement for a tweet that preceded it. Same story, but with a frigging picture of Donald Trump attached. I’d post that original tweet here but they deleted it before I could snag it.

Initial reaction too often is “It’s just a tweet, it’s just Twitter.” No. Hell, no. If Reuters can’t get something as simple as a photo on a tweet correct, what else are they getting wrong with slap dash coverage?

Reuters isn’t just any news outlet; businesses pay its parent corporation, Thompson Reuters for their information products. What are businesses getting in purchased real-time feeds? Some of these businesses are broadcasters. Are erroneous feeds shaping broadcasters’ perceptions before they even reproduce news content? It’s rather important today when some news outlets sought whacko tweets and quotes from Trump before attempting to get a reaction from the White House.

Reuters’ alleged bias has already been controversial; a contributor left in 2013 claiming editorial bias for climate skepticism demanding false balance made reporting on climate change difficult. Reuters denied the claim.

ON THE MEDIA — Rather than allow media churn to burn us with bad (as in poorly executed and unethical) news, best to consult On The Media‘s Breaking News Consumer’s Guide — Airplane Edition.
OnTheMedia_BreakingNewsConsumersGuideAirplaneEd_19MAY2016

FIFTY CENT PARTY — You’ve probably seen a news story about this research. Cut out the middlemen and read it at this link:

King, Gary, Jennifer Pan, and Margaret E. Roberts. How the Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction, Not Engaged Argument. 2016. http://gking.harvard.edu/50c.

RIP MORLEY SAFER — And more bad (as in sad) news: former CBS reporter and correspondent Morley Safer has died at age 84. The three-time Peabody Award winner retired from CBS only last week. We need more journalists like Safer, who began his career with reporting from the Vietnam War that galled then-President Lyndon Johnson for its honesty.

Busy day here, can’t spend any more time at the keyboard. See you here tomorrow morning!

Wednesday Morning: Meet Me on the Floor

I admit it, I’ve betrayed my kind. I’ve been remiss in my responsibilities, haven’t been equitable.

To fix that, you need a dose of estrogen, stat. This morning’s medication is Veruca Salt’s Volcano Girls.

Feel better soon, eh?

Wheels
Mitsubishi’s Tetsuro Aikawa to leave, asks Nissan to name replacement (Bloomberg) — Announcement comes six days after Nissan announced it would buy a controlling interest in Mitsubishi. Nissan’s CEO Carlos Ghosn indicated he does not intend to subsume and phase out the Mitsubishi brand; this may have encouraged Aikawa he was leaving the company in good hands. I wouldn’t bet on some overlap between Nissan/Mitsubishi being eliminated.

Suzuki apologized for using the wrong fuel economy tests (Reuters) — Suzuki says it didn’t need to change its declared mileage data based on correct testing. I sure hope independent testing confirms this, though I suspect the same study which revealed Volkswagen’s cheat would have indicated additional validation needed.

Volkswagen says it will focus on profitability, pronto (Bloomberg) — Investors are restless and complaining about VW’s recalcitrance toward cost cutting in light of 16 billion euros it set aside for fixes and claims due to Dieselgate. Executives’ pay is on the butcher’s block. More than a little overdue as VW execs knew about the emissions controls defeat’s detection two years ago.

Forensic scientist reports to NHTSA Chevrolet’s dangerous cruise control problem (Zdziarski’s blog) — PAY ATTENTION TO THIS IF YOU’RE A LATE MODEL CHEVROLET OWNER. Read the linked post; Chevrolet’s response is deplorable, asking drivers to modify behavior rather than supply/fix product to work as documented and sold.

The (Fossil Fuel) Business
Goldman Sachs downgrades stocks to neutral while going bullish on oil (Bloomberg) — I like the subhead on this article: “Too many things to worry about.” ~LOL~ Excess valuation, lower growth, “a wall of stock market worries” encouraged the bear move. Things not explicitly mentioned: the U.S. and Australian elections and Brexit referendum outcome.

But…bullishness on oil out of whack (MarketWatch) — Another LOL-ish subhead today: “The fine print shows Goldman analysts believe oil will struggle to easily top $50.” So GS is telling its clients to reduce excess oil holdings while conditioning overall market to firm up what’s in their clients’ portfolios? ~smh~ Just as above, not mentioned in this take are any elections/referendums.

Note, too, that neither of these reports mentions Iran.

Anadarko Petroleum downgraded to neutral by Credit Suisse (Trade Calls) — You want another confusing take on fossil fuels? Read this article. Supports MarketWatch’s calling out GS on oil, though Anadarko also includes natural gas.

Total SA’s CEO Pouyanne pooh-poohs France’s ban on shale gas (Bloomberg) — Man, this dude is as arrogant as his predecessor. France could simply outlaw any imports without a certificate of origin, and force the industry to figure it out. Yet another article that doesn’t mention Iran, which sits on one of the largest natural gas reserves in the world. Pouyanne’s predecessor was cozy with Iran, too. So why all the attitude about North American shale gas imports?

Artificial Intelligence
Hedge fund used AI to pick through Fed Reserve’s minutes (Business Insider) — Using AI gleaned from a competition it hosted, Two Sigma fund analyzed the Fed Reserve. The app used Natural Language Processing and found some interesting trends. Wonder if the results would be different using Google’s SyntaxText open sourced this past week?

NSFWhut?
Cynically opportunistic marketing push promotes so-called ‘anti-Zika’ condoms (IBTImes-AU) — Pharmaco Starpharma Holdings and condom-maker Ansell will give Australia’s Olympians “Dual Protect” condoms lubricated with VivaGel for “almost 100-percent anti-viral protection” against Zika. Never let a perfectly good health crisis go to waste, right?

CDC says any condom will work against Zika (MarketWatch) — Yeah. That. I said this already: condoms are recommended for other viral STIs like herpes and HIV, will work fine for Zika, no special anti-Zika condom required. But you have to use the consistently and for at least six months after exposure to Zika since the virus can remain in men’s reproductive system for at least that long after infection.

ONE company will release condoms in 56 different sizes (Glamour) — Holy schnikes. This is a broader range of sizes than men’s off-the-rack suits. No excuses about not wearing condoms, there will be one bound to fit gents. Would be nice if ONE could hit the market with these in Brazil before the Olympics. (And don’t turn your nose up at Glamour. It’s one of the better articles I read today, includes some good links.)

There’s enough material to get you over the hump. Catch you in the morning tomorrow!

Tuesday Morning: Speed of Love

This video fascinates me. I’ve watched it a number of times since Nerdist shared it last month; it’s the 24-minute long set by Freddie Mercury and Queen at the 1985 Live Aid concert held in Wembley Stadium.

Nerdist noted the audience’s response reflects the speed of sound — the visible ripple of fans’ hands speeds across the crowd in response to the sound as it leaves the stage area and travels across the venue. The gif they shared was taken about 16:37 into this set, just as the band begins We Will Rock You.

I think there was more at work here because earlier snaps of the audience reaction during Radio Gaga (roughly 4:25 onward) don’t show the same marked wave across the crowd. But several points in the set Mercury interacts with the audience, coaxing them to sing and shout along with him.

And then at 16:35 when he begins We Will Rock You, the crowd is completely in sync with him. They adore him and are utterly engaged. The wave is not just sound but their feeling for Mercury and his performance.

Can you imagine a politician who could induce such a response?

Cybersecurity
Adobe Flash must die, and Google’s slowly exterminating it in Chrome (Ars Technica) — By year’s end, Flash will be disabled by default in Google’s Chrome browser. It will only play when manually enabled. All part of the slow migration to HTML5 away from risky Flash.

Antivirus app halts heart surgery (Ars Technica-UK) — Holy crap. Why does medical equipment need antivirus software to begin with, let alone how does an A/V app launch and run during surgery?

Artificial Intelligence
Dude, that female TA you hit on? An AI bot (Sydney Melbourne Herald) — Wow. Future’s already here and you can’t tell you’ve been dissed by both your prof and the chick-bot-TA.

A series of tubes
Remote healthcare not ready for prime time (ScienceDaily) — Study using fake patients to test direct-to-consumer teledermatology remote health care systems found security problems with IDs, poor-to-bad assignment of clinicians, many errors made in major diagnoses, insufficient warning to pregnant patients when meds prescribed, just for starters. Think of this as Healthcare Internet of Things Fail.

Super. Fast. Wireless. Internet. Coming. To. YOU! Really? (MIT Technology Review) — Ugh, so breathless with excitement they are about this startup called Starry. I was, too, initially, but we’ve been told this crap for more than a decade. Since this requires the cooperation of Verizon, AT&T, Facebook, and Google to standardize on this platform AND reception relies on line-of-sight, I’m not holding my breath.

The Business
New business for Amazon to tackle: its own private label groceries (Techcrunch) — Amazon doesn’t want to leave a penny on the table. If customers are too price sensitive to click their Dash button for a big name brand consumer good, they’ll offer their own instead. Prime accounts only, though; first goods will be heavy on baby needs, which makes sense given parents are often a captive audience.

Norway’s sovereign (oil) wealth fund to sue Volkswagen (AP) — Fossil fuel-created fund owns 1.64% stake in Volkswagen. It’s suing to protect its assets exposed by VW’s emissions controls cheat. Imagine me laughing at oil suing a car company for the manner in which it promulgated oil consumption.

Norway’s Statoil to launch first floating wind farm (Bloomberg) — This company is well ahead of Shell when it comes to diversifying energy production.

Flint Water Crisis
Michigan’s top law enforcement agent unaware of Michigan State Police “quiet investigation” (WZZM) — Still scratching my head over this one. Why did the governor ask MSP to conduct an administrative — not criminal — investigation, omitting the state attorney general? And who’s conducting a genuine criminal investigation, including the governor’s role?

Gender Equity
Toy maker(s) insisted Iron Man 3 movie must have male, not female villain (The Mary Sue) — In other words, Marvel’s big sweeping superhero movies are really just very long trailers to sell boys’ toys. Girls and women need not apply. I have no idea how they can make a decision based on any realistic data given the dearth of female villains on screen and in toys. Is this just some lame argument for inequity in front and behind the camera?

Running behind, probably read too much today and swamped my processing circuits. Hope mid-week becomes a little more focused — catch you tomorrow!

 

Monday Morning: Falling

This morning feels like a fall from great height — disorienting yet certain to end only one way.

Should have rolled over and gone back to sleep instead of mixing it up about politics during the wee hours. ~ yawn ~

The embedded video actually launches a playlist of Afro Celt Sound System. They’re a favorite mood lifter, a perfect example of diverse music styles meeting to create something even more special. Cuts I’ve worn out besides When You’re Falling (with Peter Gabriel) are Lagan, Life Begin Again (both with Robert Plant), and North — yes, I think my favorite album is Volume 3 – Further in Time.

Let’s fall forward.

Oracle v. Google: The most important technology case not about privacy and security
Yet another reminder/disclosure before I start on this case: I own $GOOG, $GOOGL, and $AAPL. I do not own $ORCL or $MSFT, nor did I ever own Sun before it was acquired.

That said, Oracle v. Google is about the gift economy, the march of time and its effect on technology companies, and patent/intellectual property trolling as a business model. The gift economy I’ve followed for years; I was hired to provide competitive intelligence on open source software because the company seeking my services felt it was a threat to their business. And it was, it very much was, though the threat changed over the last decade from free open source software (FOSS) to free software as a service (SaaS) provided with cloud storage.

In a nutshell, Oracle is suing Google for $9 billion — the amount it feels it is due as the heir to Java, acquired when it bought the former Sun Microsystems in 2010. You’ll recall that Sun Micro was once a moderately competitive producer of servers and the creator of open source operating system OpenSolaris (based on Solaris Unix) as well as Java.

Java is a software language used as an alternative to C and C++. Its creators at Sun wanted “Write Once, Run Anywhere” capability so that software written in Java could run on any hardware platform. Contrast this to Microsoft software which runs on Windows-compatible PCs only. Sun did not sell Java licenses but instead sold developers’ kits to encourage the propagation of both the language and its Java-friendly hardware and Solaris Unix operating system. Java was a loss leader offering — like the dozen eggs for free if your total grocery order is $50 or more. This is the gift economy at work.

Java’s creation was initially a response to the lock-in of the desktop PC environment. However, IBM began using Java, allowing the same language to be used on everything from its mainframes to IBM-supported handheld devices.

Handheld devices now include smartphones and tablets running the Android operating system, a variant of Linux now owned by Google after its acquisition of Android, Inc. in 2005. Android’s popularity ate away at cellphone market share running Symbian, Nokia OS, and Windows-based mobile OS. Approximately 80% of the world’s smartphones now run on Android and with it Java application programming interfaces (Java APIs). It’s this installed user base from which Oracle insists it deserves a cut of the revenues.

Oracle is a software company, though unless you are in a larger enterprise, you’ve probably not used their products. Initially, a relational database management system company, over time Oracle has purchased a number of middleware businesses which rely on databases. Like PeopleSoft, a human resource management software — human resource information in a database, manipulated and managed by a middleware application above it. It has also acquired software and businesses with which its products once competed. Innobase, an open-source relational database management system (RDBMS) developer, was acquired in 2005; its application was based on MySQL, another open-source RDBMS.

MySQL’s parent company MySQL AB was itself purchased by Sun in 2008, and acquired by Oracle with Sun in 2010. MySQL remains open source and underpins many commonly used applications used across the internet, though Oracle is now its owner/developer.

You can see the ownership chain gets incredibly messy over time. But it’s also easy to see that Oracle is predatory; its business model relies on consuming other businesses to ensure the survival of its underlying database software, not merely to flesh out its offerings. It has acquired software to build an enterprise stack, or it buys nascent threats to its database software and closes them off in a way to ensure no leak of profit-making opportunities (ex: killing OpenSolaris, the FOSS version of Sun’s Solaris operating system). It also buys businesses and applications used to monitor intellectual property and competitive intelligence.

Not a surprise, really, when one considers the founders — Larry Ellison, Bob Miner and Ed Oates — all once worked on a CIA project code-named Oracle.

A test of the gift economy and the open source movement are at the heart of this case. FOSS relies on it, and now the internet does, too. Anyone connecting to the internet is touched by software and hardware consisting of or shaped by FOSS. Many believe the roots of the open source movement are in software, but the underlying premise goes even further back, to the late 1700s and the first freedom of information law (Sweden’s Freedom of the Press Act, c. 1766). Based on freedom of information, some contemporary governments demand FOSS as a means to ensure citizens have access to information without regard to proprietary business models.

Read any of the links above and your head will spin with the Byzantine convolutions of the software industry over the last two decades. Add the snark-laden quirks of geekdom shaping the decision-making process — quirks which are inside baseball and define one’s belonging to the industry.

Top it off with the inexorable co-development and emergence of the gift economy, and it’s utterly beyond the comprehension of the average Joe or Josephine on the street. Unfortunately, Joe and Josephine are seated as jurors, directed by an equally clueless judge appointed by a neoliberal president (who likewise cannot grok anything created and given to benefit all without some immediate upfront cost benefit in an offshore account). The concepts behind APIs are particularly hard for the judge and jury to understand, exacerbated by testimony from people who did not rise to the top of their industry because of their facility with spoken English.

Read Sarah Jeong’s piece in Motherboard about this case. Read others, like the overview at Ars Technica (read the enlightening comments, too), but keep in mind that everyone who has a stake in the success of technology also has an agenda. Sometimes it’s as simple as their stock portfolio or the type of phone they hold in their hand.

Sometimes their agenda is more complex and based on the concepts of free open-source software and the gift economy. What is open-source if it can be bought and retroactively used as a profit center long after the horses have been freed from the barn? What did the progenitors and decades of collaborators intend Java to be: a profit center in itself for a company they couldn’t see coming more than a decade later, or a means by which users/owners could freely choose more than a single software or hardware company to accomplish their tasks?

And will this case discourage and suppress the explosion of technology developed using a variety of open source licenses?

Phew, this was more than I expected to write about this. Swamped my usual morning roundup, which I’ll save for tomorrow morning.

One more thing: after reading the above about the legal war between the Titans of Technology, you might find this speculative mythological fiction rather entertaining. Where do these Titans fit in this mythology?

Friday Morning: Get Smart

If yesterday was all about the stupid, today is smart — as in Get Smart. I usually explore a jazz genre on Fridays, but this morning’s theme took over and found its own — well, what else! — theme music.

This is the entirety of the piece from which the 1960s television spy comedy Get Smart was taken. The most recognizable parts of the theme occur after the 7:30 mark. Some of the video’s commenters called this variations on Get Smart, but I don’t think they realize bigger pieces are often used in TV themes and cut to fit. Compare to the honed and polished piece used on air.

And now let’s get smart.

Smart technology with a goofy name
Google released as open source its SyntaxNet — a neural network framework for development of natural language systems. With this anyone can develop their own voice-activated natural language systems. Google’s already done the work on an English language parser called Parsey McParseface. Goofy name, but it’s incredibly accurate at picking apart English as we use it.

What I want to know: is this English language parser based on SyntaxNet the tool Google’s AI team has been feeding romance literature to teach it human speech? Parsey McParseface has already been fed the English version of the Wall Street Journal and Penn Treebank newswire sentences, but human speech is more irregular and colloquial than those written texts.

Get smart about the global technology gap
This is a nifty test and educational graphic pairing by New Internationalist. Amazing how many people have high-speed internet (less than you may think) and how few have access to clean water or toilets (far more than you may think).

Smart move: London’s new mayor enlarges clean air zone
Unlike that sad clown Boris Johnson, Sadiq Khan doesn’t mess around, wasting no time on saving Londoner’s lives with expansion of the Ultra Low Emissions Zone. Roughly 9,500 of them die each year due to air pollution. But why limit the number to be saved to some fraction of that number, discriminating against a portion of London drivers who will now pay a fee for driving polluting vehicles? At some point, the issue of VW’s emissions standards cheating passenger diesel cars must enter the equation, too. Could Khan ban them until they are “fixed”?

Smart statement, rather too late
Perhaps if David Petraeus had worked against anti-Muslim sentiment before he blew up his moral authority he might be taken as seriously as he should be.

Get smart about history: on rhubarb and women’s wear

  • Fascinating look at the “rhubarb triangle” in Yorkshire UK (Guardian-UK) — Wow. Did not know they forced rhubarb, let alone harvested by candlelight. Really old school ag, this. Probably UK-only, but the popularity of rhubarb as an alternative to fruit in WWII surely shaped US’ rhubarb farming.
  • Women’s skirt lengths, men’s facial hair influenced by late Victorian science (Smithsonian) — Didn’t know this either, that the fad for trailing skirts in mid-Victorian era died off because of concerns about tuberculosis’ spread. Also didn’t realize “heroin chic” had a predecessor in consumptive women’s appearance. Men’s facial hair, though? Germ factories, just waiting for the development of the safety razor.
  • 31 years ago, Philadelphia police exterminated a family (Films for Action) — This is still as horrifying today as it was then. The dead included five children, murdered by law enforcement.

And yes, this is not a smart observation or point, but it’s Friday the 13th
The smartness is in Longreads’ three lunch-sized stories about superstition. Coincidentally, that’s one read each for today, Saturday, and Sunday.

I’ll see you Monday morning right here if I don’t get hit by lightning or a beer truck. Have a good weekend!

Thursday Not-Morning: Stupid

Jeepers. I need hip waders. There is just so damned much stupid over the last 24 hours. It’s a veritable flood.

The Future is here, and it’s stupid

  • Law firm “hires” first artificially intelligent lawyer (Futurism) — Oh how nice. Treat human misery like a fungible commodity by using IBM’s AI ‘lawyer’ Ross to process bankruptcies. Want to bet it’s cheaper to hire paralegals to do the work Ross does? Want to bet Baker & Hostetler’s Ross will be replaced by a competing internet-based firm processing bankruptcies even more inexpensively? Hey Congress: doesn’t it say something to you about the number and kind of bankruptcies when a ‘robot’ can process them?
  • Facial recognition expected to be $6 billion by 2020 (Curatti) — No invasion of privacy issues there, nor any security risks whatsoever. No chance at all two or more people have the same facial characteristics in terms of dimension.
  • Chinese tech company prepares for future where our consciousness lives forever in a computer (Bloomberg) — This is really creepy, and yet very much possible in the near-term future. If AI can nearly reproduce you from your social media, why can’t it replicate your consciousness?

The Past remains, and it’s stupid, too

  • Staffing company Portico sent home a receptionist for not wearing high heels (BBC) — A petition emerged in response, asking Parliament to outlaw such policies; 100,000 signatures mustered overnight. They’ve reversed their position today after a furor arose about their policy requiring women to wear 2-4 inch high heels on the job at a PriceWaterhouse Cooper facility. PwC says it’s not their policy. Come on now — it’s 2016, not 1956. It’s just plain stupid to ask workers of a specific gender to wear attire for looks — attire which causes discomfort and is not recommended by doctors.
  • Belgian beer company changes iconic American brand name to pander to voters (AdAge) — Take one of the oldest and most recognized U.S. brands on which hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to entrench an immigrant’s name into the American psyche. Then remove it and replace it with the country’s name for six months. My gods, the stupid on this one. Fortunately a West Michigan brewer is taking advantage of this opportunity with ‘Murica! I could use one right about now.
  • Some SAP accounting software users attacked because they screwed up in 2010 (The Register) — Talk about time travel. I’m sure there’s some folks who’d like to go back to 2010 and execute that security patch correctly this time before hackers smite their business to smithereens.

The Present’s no gift

  • Don’t feed the sea turtles (Scientific American) — Surprise! When tourists feed junk food to sea turtles, the turtles’ health mirrors that of humans fed the same crap.
  • Study: Ransomware cybercriminals provide better, faster service than internet service providers (Nature) — Not even a rational comparison next to Comcast. Seems like there’s a market opportunity here; if crooks held a machine hostage AND offered a PC tune-up, would PC owners happily fork over cash? Hmm.
  • Marijuana use during pregnancy increases risk for pre-term birth (ScienceDaily) — What a surprise that a psychoactive drug combined with toxic by-products from smoking a plant product might have negative effects on pregnancy.

Ugh. Hope tomorrow is kinder to us. See you in the morning!

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