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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?

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Remotely Yours: Internet of Things Meets Father’s Day

[Graphic: Google Glass by Wilbert Baan via Flickr]

[Graphic: Google Glass by Wilbert Baan via Flickr]

After all you father-types have finished opening your gift-wrapped nifty new cellphones and car stereo systems, wireless remote thermostats, fitness tracking watches, and Google Glasses received from your adoring spawn, you might want set aside a little downtime for reading — perhaps on that tablet or e-reader you received for Father’s Day.

Predicting the future on the Web’s 25th anniversary*, a Pew Internet study published in March this year, reveals the depth of naivete bordering on gross ignorance on the part of so-called experts surveyed for this report.

The subhead alone should concern you:

Experts say the Internet will become ‘like electricity’ over the next decade–less visible, yet more deeply embedded in people’s lives, with many good and potentially bad results

Emphasis mine — because really, how much more deeply embedded does the internet need to become in our lives before we begin to rethink its widening application?

At the risk of sounding Ted Kaczynski-ish, we have allowed the development, implementation and integration of technology to run amok. We’ve only paid attention to the narrowest benefits we might receive from explicit application of any new technology, failing to look at the systemic repercussions of all our technology on all our society and on the planet we share.

It’s not your remote controlled light switch in itself that is a problem. Go ahead, turn on your lights at home while you’re on your summer vacation across country.

It’s the lack of thought about the entirety of the internet itself and its embedment that is a major problem. We’ve already become utterly dependent upon it. The additional little tools and toys we inanely call the “internet of things” will only make the situation more complex.

Ask yourself this: If the internet suddenly crashed this week, completely collapsed for an unspecified length of time, what would happen to the global economy?

What would happen to the health of patients in hospitals and care facilities — are there monitoring and medication-dispensing applications that are both life saving and internet mediated?

How would we conduct and record any kind of transaction, between individuals, between businesses, between governments?

Would our power grid continue to run smoothly without the use of the internet?

At a minimum we should be asking ourselves at what point our government will limit its tracking and compilation of meta data, let alone whether it can use data from one’s wireless slowcooker as a criteria to dispatch a deadly drone. Imagine the mind-boggling size of the data farm required to house all the meta data alone from the internet of things.

We should be asking what happens if foreign governments conduct cyber war through this internet of things what our response should be — conduct cyber-retaliation with equal and measured response, taking out wireless ricecookers and teapots on the other side of the globe?

What happens if our cyberweapons are deployed against us, like a customized Stuxnet invisibly tweaking all the settings on all our internet of things? Would we know we’d been targeted until far too late?

Anyhow, just some food for thought, something to mull over as you flip your remotely monitored ribs on the smoker while sipping on your icy cold brew produced from your wirelessly controlled refrigerator — which may tell you soon you’re low on beer.

Happy Father’s Day!

* h/t @sarahkendzior

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Sunday Buffet: Domestic Drones, Cosmic Clouts, and More

photo: Parrot AR Drone via Amazon.com

photo: Parrot AR Drone via Amazon.com

Here’s an assortment of goodies that crossed my tablet over the last 24 hours or so. Which of these tidbits fires you up?

•  The Verge reported Friday that a new bi-partisan privacy bill sponsored by representatives Ted Poe (R-TX) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) targets the use of drones in the US.

“As written, it would ban police from operating unmanned aerial vehicles armed with weapons of any kind, and any drone surveillance operation would require a warrant notifying the target within 10 days, except when the notice would “jeopardize” an investigation. It also requires they make efforts to “minimize” the amount of data collected or shared, to avoid violating privacy unnecessarily. …

…Fears over the use of drones have increased lately as both President Obama and his counterterrorism chief John Brennan refused to answer whether lethal strikes could be used against American citizens on US soil. …”

When drones can be remotely operated by iPhone or Android cellphones and cost less than $300, we’re way past time for this bill. It might not hurt citizens to act locally as Charlottesville, Virginia has, enacting a ban on their use in their municipality. Think a drone couldn’t possibly slip by you to monitor you without permission? This one pictured here is only 22 inches long, comes equipped with a 720p high-def camera on board–imagine it hovering and peering in your bedroom window, or your kid’s room, its video output watched from an iPhone miles away.

•  Friday’s meteorite-asteroid-meteorite triple whammy certainly shook up the globe. What? You didn’t hear about the third one? Apparently when the smaller meteorite passed over California about 7:42 pm PST, the media had already used up its allotment of cosmic-related coverage for the week. Or year. Anyhow, objects hit our planet all the time that we don’t notice or publicize widely; it was the rare confluence of a near-miss asteroid and a larger-than-average meteorite within a 24-hour window that only made us think earth’s pummeling by space debris is unusual. Given that meteorites and asteroids are not all that rare, it seems like we’d do more to be prepared for impacts–especially since we’ve had pretty decent guesstimates about the damage space objects could inflict.

•  Speaking of science, science writer Philip Ball looks at the discovery of the microscope and its dramatic impact on science and religion. Technology that allowed us to look at our world at meta-scale has also had an impact on our perspective; the famous “blue marble” photo* from an Apollo mission is credited with increasing public interest in ecological studies, environmental protection, and space exploration. What technology will encourage us to get our tails in gear on climate change?

•  Finally, this photo-dense piece gives me pause. I was two years old when these were taken; what an incredible year that was. I wish I’d been old enough to remember any of these events, and yet, I’m glad some of them were well behind us by the time I was school-aged. Some of these photos remind me how little things have changed. Just Google “church arson” or “race hate crime” and you’ll see what I mean.

By the way, I’m open to suggestions as to naming these collections of newsy bits and pieces. Leave me your thoughts in comments. Thanks!

* When I first drafted this post, I didn’t know today marked the anniversary of the similarly important “pale blue dot” photo. How time flies.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt: the Real Cyber Attack on the Truth [UPDATE]

[photo: cdrummbks via Flickr]

[UPDATE – see end of article.]

One weaselly senator–with long-identified agendas and a pathetically thin understanding of technology–takes to the microphone. Suddenly, by virtue of wrapping his senatorial lips around a few scary words on topics about which he knows little, we citizens are supposed to quake in fear and plead for salvation.

Screw that noise. This is textbook  “fear, uncertainty, and doubt” — more commonly referred to as FUD in the information technology industry.

Since the 1970s, FUD tactics have used to suppress competition in the computer marketplace, targeting both hardware and software. Roger Irwin explained,

…It is a marketing technique used when a competitor launches a product that is both better than yours and costs less, i.e. your product is no longer competitive. Unable to respond with hard facts, scare-mongering is used via ‘gossip channels’ to cast a shadow of doubt over the competitors offerings and make people think twice before using it.In general it is used by companies with a large market share, and the overall message is ‘Hey, it could be risky going down that road, stick with us and you are with the crowd. Our next soon-to-be-released version will be better than that anyway’. …

FUD has non-technology applications as well; one need only look at product and service brands that encourage doubts about using any product other than their own, in lieu of actually promoting the advantages their product or service might have.

So what’s the FUD about? Senator Joe Lieberman spouted off about cyber attacks in September last year, claiming Iran was behind disruptive efforts targeting U.S. banks.

Right. Uh-huh. Predictable, yes?

But FUD is used in situations where there is competition, one might point out. Yes, exactly; in September 2012, the case for support of unilateral attacks against Iran was up against the news cycle crush, powered by the post-Benghazi fallout and the drive toward the November general election, followed by the terror that was the “fiscal cliff.” That’s a lot of powerful, compelling competition for both attention, votes, and tax dollars, when members of a reliable but lame duck Congress could be mounting up a pre-emptive cyber war without the headwind of public awareness and resistance, or the too-inquisitive pushback from newbies in the next seated Congress. Read more

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.