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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Automated lies, network disruption, and Cogeco

After a bout of significant Internet disruption from Cogeco - upload and download speeds are highly-variable with upstream being intermittently non-existent and I don't expect them to know or really care what's wrong, even if I called - it's become apparent how non-resilient a lot of software is to inconsistent network performance.

It reminded me of how much our software lies to us about what is wrong. The software can't tell me that my ISP is performing poorly, so it says that the connection can't be made (it can - just slowly). Or it says that the Internet is down (it's not - it's just slow). Or it says that the web page is broken (it's not - it just can't be loaded fast enough).

Automation lies because it doesn't know any better. Even the best automation lies for this reason. It assumes that giving you some information is better than giving you truthful information. Exception handling is difficult and time-consuming; and most developers don't care that much about it, if they even considered it at all.

This has been apparent since the days of call centre call trees, if not sooner. It's not possible that every single time I call my financial institution, that the wait times are going to be a long time because call volumes are abnormally high. But that's what the system is programmed to say when wait times are high. You can't prove otherwise, it's just doing what it's told, and the person responsible has probably already been promoted and the problem is now beneath their pay grade.

Given our increasing daily interaction with software and other forms of automation, I can't help wondering if all of these miniature lies told to us throughout the day affect the standard of truth we expect elsewhere in our non-automated interactions.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The more things change...

Someone recently asked me a rather innocuous question: "so, is this going to be your 'forever house'?"

You'd think it would be a straightforward question to answer, but it's not. Fifteen years ago, it would have been a plausible "yes" when speaking about the house I've now decided to leave. Five years ago, even. So how could it ever be a plausible "yes" ever again? You simply don't know how events will unfold.

I mean... if I'd died five years ago, it would have been my "forever house" and nobody would have been able to prove me wrong.

So, no... it's probably not my "forever house". There's probably a retirement home that hasn't been built yet with that label on it.

The process of house-staging, decluttering, and then triaging what will and will not follow you to the next life forces you to assess what important to you now vs. what was important to you in the past. Sometimes it's like looking back at a different person, even if the core hasn't changed.

So here's my list, with a clear and apparent bias toward real estate. All of these things came up at some point in some strange way when assessing the above situation, even if they don't seem directly relevant.

What has always made sense to me
  • Owning a home
  • The clarity that you don't really "own a home" until the mortgage is paid off.
  • Supporting endeavours, products, and business dealings that allow people to earn a living wage, sometimes in lieu of charitable donations with an unclear destination.
  • Walking - leaving the car at home.
What I used to "get" but no longer do (mostly related to "growing up")
  • Artisanal food
  • Farmers' markets
  • Adbusters magazine
  • "Health food stores" that advocate many conflicting theories of health attached to the products they sell, as if there is no conflict
  • 100% efficiency. It's too costly (in multiple ways) to achieve.
  • Reel lawn mowers, regardless of the size of your lawn
  • The idea that multiple walks of life living in the same neighbourhood enrich the neighbourhood for everyone and motivate aspiration upward. This used to be true but I'm not convinced that it still is.
What never made sense to me
  • Self-declared "health stores" that only sell jars of dried powder
  • 4 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms
  • Snout houses
  • Dishwashers
  • Fridge water dispensers
  • Ceilings that are so tall that nobody can figure out how to change the lightbulb that is installed there.
  • Swimming pools and deep fryers. How are these related? For all of the hassles, cost, waste, and other shortcomings of privatizing these facilities, it's best to use public pools and buy your fried food outside.
  • Tattoos
  • Drugs of any kind
  • Drunkenness
  • While we're in this category: laughter that gets louder when a more important person is in the room, and the tendency or desire for a job promotion to motivate putting a sportcoat over almost any base layer at all.
To be determined
  • Water softeners
  • Houses without chimneys
  • Sardine-style neighbourhoods with no memorable trees

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Christmas, Again

I recently thoroughly enjoyed a very simple movie called Christmas, Again about a fellow selling Christmas trees amidst the street life of New York City. It's been said that "nothing happens" in that movie.

A week or so later, I tried watching the latest entry in the "Mission: Impossible" saga called Mission: Impossible - Fallout. Lots happened. I was instantly bored, struggling to find a plot among the fast cuts, explosions, and bombastic rhetoric.

I can see how, decades ago, you could have turned to a movie like "MI: Fallout" for escapism. Are these movies still escapism? I think the tables have turned: when fast cuts, explosions, and bombastic rhetoric are the norm in your day-to-day life, "Christmas, Again" is the new escapism. It felt like a refuge.

I'm not sure I was made for these times.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

After domain registration spam comes the domain renewal scam

Following on from the vast amount of spam I received after registering a domain last year, now that it's approaching renewal time I am receiving a significant number of scam offerings to renew (and somewhat covertly transfer to another very expensive registrar) my domain registration for another year at very inflated prices over what it would cost to simply renew at my original registrar when the time comes.

I have even received e-mails falsely claiming that my domain registration has already expired and that I need to urgently "click here" to renew.

In one case, I received physical mail to my home to do the same.

The prices quoted are often 5+ times the typical price to renew at any of the popular registrars. Once you renew at 5+ times the price, I imagine that the rate going forward would be at least that much.

I wonder how many of these go to businesses who simply pay them as they would any other invoice.

The amount of mental inventory and cross-checking required to identify and deflect scams these days can be significant and I'm not surprised that older people with declining mental faculties fall prey to them (though maybe not the ones from the government demanding payment on iTunes).

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Breaking news only matters if it's happening next door

Like many people, I appreciate the distractions provided by the 24-hour news cycle. It is great for when I don't have the mental energy to absorb anything else.

However, I'm increasingly ignoring "breaking news" these days. After the initial story breaks, the lack of real information is spackled with speculation, opinion, and tendentious political commentary. Even from sources that I pay for.

I'd rather wait and read a longer three-dimensional analysis in a trusted and considered weekly or monthly publication.

"Breaking news" increasingly only matters to me if it's happening next door.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Mark Zuckerberg and the Chinese competition

An interesting quote from Mark Zuckerberg during this week's appearance on Capitol Hill:

Quote:
“Some of these use cases that are very sensitive, like face recognition for example,” he said carefully. “And I think that there’s a balance that’s extremely important to strike here where you obtain special consent for sensitive features like facial recognition. But don’t — but that we still need to make it so that American companies can innovate in those areas.

“Or else we’re going to fall behind Chinese competitors and others around the world who have different regimes for different, new features like that.”

I think that this is a valid point; however, falling behind Chinese competitors can have many meanings. I assume he didn't mean this one:

Quote:
The technology’s veneer of convenience conceals a dark truth: Quietly and very rapidly, facial recognition has enabled China to become the world’s most advanced surveillance state.

A hugely ambitious new government program called the “social credit system” aims to compile unprecedented data sets, including everything from bank-account numbers to court records to internet-search histories, for all Chinese citizens. Based on this information, each person could be assigned a numerical score, to which points might be added for good behavior like winning a community award, and deducted for bad actions like failure to pay a traffic fine.

The goal of the program, as stated in government documents, is to “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”

Anyone who has seen S03E01 of Black Mirror would likely recall the following:


Thursday, March 08, 2018

Data, privacy, good AI, and stupid AI

With so many hands after my data, I occasionally think about the extent to which personal data should be protected.

Beyond the obvious - the attributes that the system so depends on to uniquely identify you and if stolen could lead to identity theft, such as your SIN and birth date - is your more mundane personal data worth protecting? Or do you trust that by making more data about yourself available, it will feed an ever-growing profile that allows public and non-public organizations to serve you better?

My answer is that I'm not too concerned about protecting my own trivial data. But having seen what #metoo can do to people with very little evidence - and really this was just a capstone on what has been emerging for a decade or more - I am concerned about protecting the data of people who want to exercise their democratic rights or perhaps even act to sustain them.

I'm not really the agitating type, but I recognize that we need agitators. We need journalists (and we need to pay for our journalism so that the people who want to sell us things don't pay them instead). We need whistleblowers. We need politicians who speak up when they see something that isn't right (and we need to stop assuming that all politicians are up to no good - else what genuinely upstanding person would want to do the job?).

I don't want to see those valuable people Shanghaied into keeping quiet because of some hijacked data that could be twisted to concoct a negative story that isn't that bad in the grand scheme of things but could still be fed to a shallow media to rapidly shut someone down.

So, that's my position at the moment - we need to collectively be concerned about privacy to protect the people whose privacy is most important in society, even if that's not our own.

Beyond that, my main personal concern is that I don't want faulty AI making stupid decisions with my data and presenting these decisions to human decision makers who decide my fate in various minor ways each day. We don't know what will be possible in 10 years with data that is harvested today. Who imagined that someone would be able to determine your name from a photograph you posted online 10 years ago as is increasingly possible these days?

The very best AI will be extremely valuable to society and this AI will be in the miniscule minority. The rest will be used to squeeze private profit from dust with the mental health of society receiving collateral damage.