Remember when the meteor hit Siberia a few months ago? There was awesome video of the event on all of the news outlets and we all wondered how that happened given the early time of day and the randomness of the event.
The answer was stranger than the act of nature it reported on. Apparently, Siberians are in the habit of equipping their cars with dash-mounted video cameras that record everything that the driver sees happening in front of the car. The cameras, it was revealed, are needed to provide evidence when a pedestrian accidentally falls on a hood and tries to collect damages. The cameras are also useful for refuting spurious claims from corrupt police who might pull motorists over. Some news organizations played a variety of those more pedestrian videos as proof.
So, the car cameras provided serendipitous coverage of the meteor shower that in all likelihood would have been otherwise missed. That’s how I imagine Google Glass — the lensless eyewear that Google is now field testing — becoming part of our lives.
Google Glass is an apparatus that we’ll someday wear to capture reality and enhance our recollections of meetings and other everyday events. It will significantly enhance recall and make memories more precise and I am not looking forward to it. However, I see no reason to be agitated or afraid of Google Glass either.
Nonetheless, I do think that we should have a conversation about memory and storage. How long should these every day videos of normalcy be kept around? Do others have rights concerning our video? What are our responsibilities to others — in other words, how does this affect the social contract?
Memory degrades over time and experts who study this kind of thing have shown that even eyewitness accounts can be faulty. Moreover, even with perfect fidelity and reproduction digital data can also produce faulty information over time.
Really? That’s a tantalizing statement, if I say so myself.
Last week in the New York Times Bill Keller told an interesting story of how such a thing can happen. According to Keller, most states have laws that enable criminal records for some offenses to be wiped clean. In Connecticut the law states that a person with an erased record can even legally testify in court that he or she has never been arrested and booked once the official erasure has been approved by a court.
That sounds good and fair. After all, we all make mistakes, especially when we are “Young and irresponsible,” as George W. Bush once quipped. The trouble is that any ancillary records, such as news articles and video of the moment, are not automatically erased simply because a court erases the record of an incident. The result is an Internet full of historically accurate but legally untrue information, some of it damaging to the individual.
What’s to be done? I really don’t know. The problem of the historically accurate and legally false piece of information is akin to the problem of unsmoking a cigarette. All of this comes crashing down around the Google Glass beta project, which makes it possible for a huge number of these situations to exist someday.
It occurs to me that we have reached a point when we need to acknowledge that 1) No one ever anointed the Internet as the official historian of everyone’s lives and 2) We may need a multi-tiered Internet in which some data is freely available and some is archival and either redacted or otherwise updated to subsequent events.
Perhaps a more natural approach would be useful. What if we treated everyday data as a perishable inventory like milk and produce on a store shelf? After a reasonable period of time, the data could either be automatically deleted or downgraded or placed in private storage and not generally available to the public.
This won’t solve all data security and veracity problems but it will get a conversation going in which some very good ideas are sure to emerge. The European Parliament is now contemplating legislation regarding data security and the individual’s right to be forgotten. The whole issue has many facets that ought to be explored. If you have some ideas about long-term storage of personal experience data that incidentally captures information about other people, I would love to hear from you.
I saw an ad for a webcast the other day and it said in part:
“The scope, scale and complexity of enterprise data centers is rapidly rising due to increased use of virtualization, cloud, big data and mobility. Applications and workloads are becoming more dynamic and volatile and IT staff are being asked to become more efficient and responsive. Automation across physical, virtual and cloud data centers is vital for effective operations and consistent service levels.”
Did you catch the change? Today it’s virtualization, cloud, big data and mobility the new four horsemen of business advance. In case you’re wondering they replace social, SaaS, mobile and cloud. Small difference? Yeah, but big change. If you were hip over the last five or so years you did the social, SaaS, etc. thing but if you missed the onramp, virtualization and big data give you a chance to save face. You weren’t being overly conservative. No, no, NO! You were being prudent, waiting for the technologies to mature into a coherent whole.
Really? After all this time and all the disruptive innovation cycles, you were waiting? Coherent?
In case you were wondering, virtualization and cloud made SaaS acceptable to those who worried obsessively that their data, the same data they couldn’t find an elephant hiding in would suddenly reveal golden nuggets to hackers. Big Data gives us all a way to accept social without ever for one minute admitting that our employees were not simply “playing” with social media at work — you can and should thank analytics for that. And mobility is mobility because your customers and employees are walking — some away from you and some towards you and you need to know and use it.
I was in The Valley the other day talking with a guy who is sometimes a client but always a friend. He’s a young guy who has already worked at Salesforce back in the day, did another startup with a Salesforce alumnus and is on his third company, this time running the whole marketing shebang. His take? Companies are looking to form data centers of excellence around analytics.
My take? It’s IT’s way of preserving itself. Remember Gartner’s forecast that the CMO would soon be spending more on technology than the CIO? This is IT’s response and I think it’s a good one because it potentially shows both groups reaching out to create greater value for the enterprise.
As commodity servers take hold of the world, it becomes less and less rational for a company to run its own IT so virtualization and cloud here we come. But what’s left behind is very interesting. IT might be buying the commodity farm but the secret sauce is still information and how you use it. So the IT data center of excellence is both a way to keep IT employed and more or less in house and an important way for IT to save some serious coin on commodity processing.
Larry Dignon of ZDNet put his finger on it about a week ago when he examined the possibility that IBM might sell off its x86 server business to new pal Lenovo. Servers are not going away but they are going to the farm and with that change comes greater focus on management systems overlaying everything because server farms are becoming quite huge. This opens up opportunities for companies like Oracle/Sun. Despite the catcalls from critics calling advanced servers the new mainframes, they have an important purpose and a growing niche, not to mention a new and as yet unstated goal of nine nines of reliability to achieve the promise of true utility computing.
So, yes, the scope, scale and complexity of data centers, wherever they’re located and whatever they’re called, is rapidly increasing and as the economy continues its rebound I will remain interested in finding
Many thanks to all of you who called, emailed, tweeted or otherwise lobbed a quick inquiry — “You Ok?” they asked in unison.
Yes, I am Ok, though the city I most closely associate my life with is not.
Many Americans have an association with Boston, which makes yesterday’s tragedy so tough. It’s like something bad happened in your other hometown. Many people went to school here, interned or just took a long weekend to tour the cemeteries and battlegrounds of the Revolution. Maybe you ran the marathon once or twice or recall when John Williams conducted the Pops and wowed Hollywood with his film scores.
Other things need only a word, a name or just a year to conjure complete memories shared by many people who don’t live here. Lexington-Concord, Paul Revere, Hawthorn, Thoreau, Emerson, Heartbreak Hill, JFK, 1967, 2004. And forever, with new meaning after yesterday, The Boston Marathon. It’s what makes yesterday so tough.
Boston has been a marathon Mecca since 1897 but it was given a boost in the 1970’s after the American Frank Shorter won the 1972 Olympic race and author Jim Fixx published “The Complete Book of Running”. Fixx mythologized the marathon and Boston’s long tradition born from its late nineteenth century Classical Revival in which it celebrated Pheidippides’ long run from the battlefield at Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory over the Persians in 490 BC.
After a long day of running all over the battlefield as a messenger, Pheidippides set off, running, for Athens to bring news of the victory. On reaching Athens it is said that Pheidippides uttered only one word, nikomen (“We have won”), and then expired. With Fixx’s help, race participation mushroomed to the point that you now have to qualify by running another marathon just to register for Boston.
If you ever ran Boston, or any other marathon, you probably know of Fixx’s prescription for finishing. It takes sixteen weeks of daily training to finish Boston, assuming the weather gods are with you and you don’t cramp a calf muscle on Heartbreak Hill. If you do the math, running Boston is not something you take lightly, it’s a New Year’s resolution that you commit to usually by running in the cold, dark and slush.
I can’t help thinking that whoever did this unspeakable thing yesterday made a similar resolution. But I won’t dwell on it. I know the authorities will find those responsible for this atrocity and bring them to justice. Meanwhile, today I am thinking about something Ted Kennedy wrote in his memoir a few years ago. You can’t change yesterday so there isn’t a lot of good that comes out of worrying about it. Today is something we can affect and mold, and tomorrow is something we can transform. The governor said today wouldn’t be business as usual exactly but the city is persevering and in the face of this tragedy I think that’s what’s important.
The technology world made significant behind the scenes contributions on behalf of both political parties in the recent presidential election. That was all kept out of the spotlight for good reasons during the campaign but now that it’s all over some of the people involved are talking, most notably the people at Salesforce who provided IT services to the Obama campaign.
No doubt you recall how close the election seemed and how some people were using old style gut feel to predict a GOP victory. Meanwhile people like Nate Silver of the New York Times and MSNBC were using data analysis and regression testing and who knows what else to tease apart reams of data to arrive at very different conclusions.
The data came from many sources and much of it was collected on iPads and mobile devices and sent to Salesforce.com where the national campaign workers could aggregate, cull and analyze the data and then deploy resources exactly where they were needed. It’s very difficult to discuss almost anything political these days and in New York Marc Benioff emphasized that this week when he introduced this video.
Forget about who won, who you backed and all the other stuff. This is about something else. This video is about how a billion dollar organization came to life and ran full tilt changing its software on the fly as needs arose. As a business case it’s pretty stark too because unlike business an election is a one time thing, the #2 company in a market might still have plenty of opportunities but not a political candidate. That’s one of the things that make this video and what the Obama team did using Salesforce so interesting.
We’ve been avoiding or at least minimizing comment on the latest round of computer hacking allegedly by a special unit of the Chinese Army. However as stories have flowed in the New York Times, like this one, it is abundantly clear that the Chinese have been hacking into many of the organizations that our democracy and western economies require to operate.
The Times has done a good job of analyzing the problem and cites a reticence by many corporations to come out publicly to admit to the world that they’ve been hacked and valuable intellectual property taken. The reasons are obvious and unfortunately they articulate the old saw about boiling a frog. Many victims see themselves as unique and fear the consequences of exposing the bully — including consequences of irate shareholders who would blame them and demand a scalp. In the best traditions of courageous journalism, the Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal have all come forward to say they’ve been hacked.
In some cases the hacking goes on for many months and some organizations have let the hackers do their business to understand what the hackers are looking for and to better help them trace the intrusion back to a city block off Datong Road in Shanghai, China. There sits a twelve story building housing People’s Liberation Army Unit 61398, which does the hacking. The Chinese government has denied everything.
What’s interesting to me is the partial list published in the Times which includes “the International Olympic Committee, Exxon Mobil, Baker Hughes, Royal Dutch Shell, BP, ConocoPhillips, Chesapeake Energy, the British energy giant BG Group, the steel maker ArcelorMittal and Coca-Cola.”
Look at all the oil companies in the sample. Another list could easily show tech providers like Intel, Google, Adobe and others. I think each hacking incident has its own rationale. The newspapers were hacked by the Chinese Army looking for dissident sources used by reporters in unflattering stories. One hot storyline has been about the corrupt connections between new Chinese leaders with the government trying to shut down criticism. The same was true of Google when the Chinese went after Gmail looking for email addresses of the same dissidents.
As bad as all that seems, the energy companies have my attention. It should be noted, with the vast majority of crude being controlled by national oil companies that the primary source of information about crude oil should come from the nationals themselves. Surely they could be hacked. But not so fast.
Back in the 1990’s all of OPEC did some fancy bookkeeping on their proven reserves sitting in the ground. Everyone roughly doubled the estimates of reserves they had without lifting a finger to drill another well or to do anything to actually find oil. This was prospecting on the balance sheet, shady bookkeeping. A few intrepid souls called bullpucky on the doubling but back in the 1990’s oil was cheap, the North Sea was producing at accelerating rates and casual market watchers could easily believe the fiction that there was a heck of a lot of oil in the ground.
Twenty years came and went and the North Sea is slowing down. Meanwhile the supply of crude is very tight — that’s why we’re paying nearly $4 per gallon today. If oil really were abundant relative to demand the price at the pump would be a more 1990’s-ish buck a gallon.
So, back to the Chinese. They know supply is tight and they have a vested interest in keeping the oil flowing into their expanding economy. Understanding the supply side is important to them because they have a centrally planned economy and they make demand decisions based on realistic supply options. The alternative is to brace for war which all governments do all the time. I am not the first to refer to the hacking as cyber war and it’s an apt description.
There has been an open door policy between western governments and the oil producers — Dick Cheney was the CEO of Halliburton after all and W. was a wildcatter. So the U.S. government has always had multiple good sources of information on what has been going on. Not so the Chinese. Which gets us back to hacking.
While hacking into someone else’s computer systems is not to be condoned, the bigger point is that the intellectual property — even the knowledge of production rates, their declines and proven reserves — is critical to keeping the economy functioning. It is interesting, to say the least, that our emerging adversary has such a keen interest in this information and that our free society is so blasé about it and its implications.