The Pitter Patter of Digital Footprints

Golden TunnelAnything you have ever done online is a part of your digital footprint. The other part of your digital footprint is what other people and entities have determined your about you.

Some use this information to predict what you’re going to do even when you don’t know you’re going to do it. That’s fairly benign in the hands of marketers because all that will happen is that you’ll go broke buying things that you hopefully need… but likely just want because of ‘good’ marketing.

The increasingly granular bits of information out there might make it more toxic.  Old data hangs around, and while it may have representative of you at certain points, it may not represent you at this time.

I have that issue with and wherever I’ve posted my resume in the past. People still ask me if I want to do Drupal when, no, I don’t. But because of this latency of the information, I still get people with thick accents calling me about Drupal. This is an annoyance, but if it were something else it could be damaging. In fact, if I were looking for a job, it would limit me to what I have done rather than what I want to do. It would work against me.

So from my digital footprint, I cast Drupal in my digital shadow and it bytes me on the ankle. Why? Because I made the mistake of working with it for a while – and that, to headhunters who pay for old lists, means I’m still doing it well after leaving it behind for a year. Sure, we know that they’re cheap. That’s not the issue.

What is the issue is that I’m being judged based on data that is no longer relevant. It could just have easily been something else. It could be that I was accused of a crime that I was later found innocent of- and an employer might see that and decide that they don’t want to hire someone felonious. I boggle at writing an example of it because someone’s cheap bot might scrape it and think I did something wrong, when in fact, I did not. But it’s in there now, stuck in the head of a demented network. Like a bad song that plays only to me. Or you.

So when you’re making that little digital footprint sound in what you consider private, it’s not that private – and those little echoes will play until eternity.

Or everyone updates their databases.



Social Networks Don’t Make Sense To You?

3D Social NetworkingI was sitting by myself eating lunch, with only my Kindle as company, when I heard from a voice from another table say that they didn’t understand how to use LinkedIn.

A few other people agreed. One or two shook their heads in not-so-mock consternation. Having overheard this group before – beware solitary people with Kindles eating lunch – I knew that these were business folk. Marketers. Salespeople. And while there was a part of me that wanted to say something, I decided to be quiet and consider what they said.

After all, they’re right.

They don’t understand it. They owned that. In the grand scheme of things, that really isn’t a failure – social networks are hardly transparent in how they work, and they do allow people to think that it’s about the members of the community when the bottom line says it is not. There’s no shame in not understanding how social networks work, or don’t. There’s no shame in that at all, and coming to that conclusion within a moment or two, I listened some more.

I mean, really, social networks suck. They almost always show us things that we don’t want to see while somehow failing to show us what we need to see. Renowned sociologist, Zygmunt Bauman, said that social networks are traps – and largely, they are.

This leads us to the first thing you need to understand.

Social Networks Are Not About You

I know, I know, we all would like to think so as we impress upon each other our politics, our perspectives and our silliness – not to mention kittens.

Follow the logic:

  • The social network belongs to a company. =>
  • The company isn’t altruistic, it needs to make money. =>
  • The company makes money based on advertising and selling what they find out about you. =>
  • You are the product that buys and whose information is sold.

An antiquated perspective would say, “Well, then we’re in charge!”. The idea that you could control what is bought of you and sold to you is a bit naive at best; at worst it’s a simple matter of giving yourself away in bytes.

So then we like to think that, like a casino or lottery, we will come out the winner when no one else is beating the house. A few do. The majority will not. Despite your best efforts, you’re likely to be a part of the majority rather than the minority.

If that sounds bleak, well, shucks, I apologize for being the guy who gives you the news, but I do expect you to thank me at some point when it sinks in.

Now that we have established that it isn’t about you, you’re ready for the second point.

Social Networks Are Not Designed For You.

Wow, I’m just pulling down your worldview. It’s a bummer, I know, but someone pretty intelligent said to me recently, “the person who reads the reports makes the decisions, not the one who uses the user interface” (take a bow, M.E.). That summarizes it quite well.

The people who pay for your data and who pay the owner of the social network to sell you stuff are the ones who drive the interface. You’re just a statistic. They might tell you that they’re warm and fuzzy human beings, but that warm and fuzzy goes away fast when the black line falters.

And yet, I must make the final point.

Social Networks Can Benefit You.

When you realize that you’re just a squirrel in their world trying to get your nut, you learn how to gather your nuts by paying attention.

The first rule of being popular on a social network – something I’ve never tried to do except professionally – is not to be like everyone else. Your posts need to represent what you want your digital shadow to be seen for.

If you have a business, you should stand out not just with better products and services – what do you mean you don’t have those? Go get them and then finish reading this– you have to stand out. The best and easiest way to stand out is to be yourself. Don’t just post things about your company. Post things that people find interesting, and if you have good salespeople and marketers, they can give you input so you can at least fake it to the demographics you’re looking for.

If you’re an individual, take the risk of being yourself. Don’t post pictures of your food. Don’t use a professional network to explore your love life candidly. Use the funny shaped thing inside your skull, equidistant between your ears.

You may not be popular.

You’ll have a presence, and really, that’s the only way to leverage a social network your way. Be interesting, or as close to interesting as you (or your company) can abide.

I encourage you to read this LinkedIn post as well:

Your Personal Brand and LinkedIn




On Innovation (Part n)

Math WallInnovation is one of my favorite topics, but it’s one I don’t write about as often as I’d like to because… well, I write code and like everyone else who writes code, I have a boss who needs me to do more stuff, and so I don’t get to think about as much innovation as I’d like.

Just like about every other software engineer. It eats at the soul but it’s a necessary evil that can – and should – stretch the coder.

But off and on, I get an odd request about innovation because in some places I’m known for that.

So here’s the revised ‘Taran’s rules of innovation’. Note the lack of capitalization and numbers. The unspoken rule of innovation is that you never quote rules of innovation.

There is no rule book for innovation.

By definition, innovation breaks the mold. So if you read stuff – as you should! – don’t look for the solution right there in the text. Don’t try to think applying everything you read will be innovative; you’re copying someone else’s ideas more than likely and as much as you might think the ideas apply well to your project(s), in a few chapters or a few books from now you’ll find the folly in this. Trust me.

No one who wrote a book, created a video or otherwise broadcast something did it for your specific issue. You’re not that important. The people who think your problem is important are the ones who will be of most help.


Innovation is most likely to occur when there is a deep understanding of the problem, and deep understanding of many ways to solve the problem – and what works for the context.

I see people trying to force innovation. That forced peristalsis is how you get hemorrhoids. Stop it. You can’t really rush innovation. You can, however, create the right conditions for it, and there’s no magical solution for that too.

And no, you can’t spend money to directly fund innovation. That’s the cart before the horse.

Innovation requires looking at the same problem differently.

Einstein broke out of the rut of Physics in that way. In fact, any true advance in science and technology challenges the status quo. Breadth of knowledge is as important as depth. And hey, since I brought up Einstein, let’s paraphrase him.

The solution cannot be found with the same kind of thinking that hasn’t solved the problem – and may have even enabled it.

I’d argue that if you’re not solving a problem, you’re enabling it. Problems do not go away if you ignore them. However, people do. Trust me on both.

Innovation isn’t about spending money.

Granted, you will have to spend money to implement something, but throwing money at problems hasn’t worked for just about any problem out there. I could pick on government institutions, but that’s just too easy.

Innovation is about standing on the shoulders of giants.

I wrote about this in the context of knowledge quite some time ago, but what in short it’s really about is that knowledge you leverage from those who came before. There are plenty of good ideas out there that have never reached fruition because of many challenges.

Innovation is bigger than a blog post.

You’re not going to get more innovative by reading about it. Not even this post. But you can innovate by stretching yourself in new directions.

Should You Do What You Love?

That is all he has to say about that...So I was thinking of the possible dread irony of living most of our finite lives doing what we love, and then I realized it’s not an irony. Whether we’re happy with our time on Earth is appropriate, and ‘wasting’ time on it is not a life wastedThe irony is that I even thought it was irony. It’s what we should be doing.

I mean… the alternative is to die having not loved what you do.
How’s that better?

Quality And Schedule

busy schedule?One of the most insidious things we deal with every day is software rushed out before it’s ready – a point brought forward yet again in, ‘Why I’d Rather Wait Months For The Perfect Game Than Have A Rushed Disaster‘. It’s not just games. It’s the app on your phone. It’s the software in the office. It’s the software in your car. In fact, software is everywhere and if you look around, you’re likely to see something that was pushed out to meet a schedule.

It’s business. It happens. And we seem to be muddling through as a society, so what’s the issue? Well, we could talk about reputation.

As an example and in the vein of gaming, I’ll pick on Blizzard. I remember when they started Warcraft on $10 CDs hidden amongst a bunch of other games you no longer hear about. They have always been late with releases, as far as the games I follow (I’m a RTS kind of guy – Chess with an economy in real time). I’ve griped while waiting and yet, when the release comes out, I have nothing to gripe about every time.

I get a quality game as do many others despite not meeting publicly released launch dates. I get quality software. I will wait for releases from Blizzard because I know that it will not suck when I get it. To me, as someone who has worked with software for so long, this is counter-intuitive. I’m sure that they have some Project Managers and coders out there drinking more than their fair share of antacids. I’m sure that they’re under the gun on deadlines.

And I’m also sure that someone decides, somewhere in Blizzard, to make the right call because they don’t want to besmirch their reputation for quality. They get called out on it all the time when a release is late – and the gamer world is less than polite – but even Blizzard’s most acidic critics cannot deny that Blizzard provides quality. What a great cornerstone for reputation. Blizzard has not only built the RTS genre, they’ve stayed on top of it.

Because of quality.

There’s a magical balance somewhere between meeting a schedule and creating something that, when released, won’t detract from a reputation. Sure, everyone’s in a rush and things need to get out the door. Sure, given unlimited time, software engineers will keep working on a project and never release it.

The trick is finding that balance of quality and schedule.

You can apply this to so many other things.

Buying the Future – What are we buying?

Skynet for DummiesA while back, I wrote about the Tyranny of an Inefficient Skynet. I found the thought of a Skynet that is buggy and makes a lot of mistakes a bit scarily amusing. We project our logic onto what we build and we almost always imprint at least some of our irrational behavior on it. Software developers of all ilks have their own styles; the conformists are usually the ones who made the wrong choice in major and feel like they have to suffer for it for the rest of their lives. Either way, all these people hammering out Code. Remember Lessig’s Code: And Other Laws of Cyberspace, Version 2.0?

Now we have the Internet of Things. IoT. A dressed up and marketable version of Web 3.0. People attaching all manner of things to the Internet, collecting data, acting on data when the people themselves may not even know what the data is. Privacy is traded for convenience and the ability to post cat videos on Facebook. The data is collected, decisions made – enough so where people will quite literally have worse lives if they don’t meet the criteria the algorithms (written by those software developers, remember them?)  fit, even if the data is misrepresentative or outright wrong.

That’s where we are now.

And with 3 decades of using and adapting technology behind me, I can’t help but wonder where exactly we’re headed as a society. Feynman spoke about it in his lectures (The Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen-Scientist) – from his perspective, it’s society that drives how we use science and technology. From the Atomic Bomb to your smartphone and it’s applications, small decisions add up to societal decisions… and ultimately, this Skynet we’re building. The Cold War gone, we live in an era where governments war over the Internet with propaganda machines powered by technology and hackers who have an allegiance of some sort, be it to a government or to a corporation or to themselves – rarely for society itself.

Children that used to go outside to play stay indoors, using software (games), living in worlds created by the imagination(s) of teams and implemented by programmers, increasingly educated by the same software with data that is selectively converted into information. And it happens faster and faster. Remember Gleick’s Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything?

So where am I going with this? I’m just wondering more and more often what sort of society we’re buying with our finances that are upended by algorithms on Wall Street. I’m wondering about all the shoddy software pushed out to meet some business need before it’s ready, fragile enough in certain spots that it allows breaking and bending at the weak points. We’re changing the world and we hardly know it as we drive into work, sipping coffee as we dodge traffic – but soon, the cars will be transporting us around.

The Internet has allowed people with common bonds to work together, play together – but in doing so, inadvertently, it has also allowed us to war against those we dislike – from CAPS-LOCK stuck on to outright attacks on someone else’s systems.

Transporting us around so that we can write code to buy things and influence our own future without a thought as to the long term consequences of our actions in a period of time where medicine and associated technologies will have us living longer to see the consequences of our collective decisions.

The small unconscious decisions making the big unconscious decisions for us, mindfulness out the window.

I suppose I may be in a dark mood this morning. I suppose that this may seem pessimistic or cynical. I suppose it’s disturbing if one were to think about it all.

We should go buy something to feel better about all of this…

How I Chose the Pine64

pine64It’s no secret that I’ve backed the Pine64. I’ve waxed geek about that already. But why did I choose this platform for the clustering I have in mind?

I had been looking for the next personal project’s hardware for about a month after taking a few months to decide what I actually wanted to do (more on that some other time). I reached out to my network on Facebook at the time the Pi Zeros were coming out. Many of us were excited about this for various reasons. For me, it was a matter of cheap hardware for a cluster. I still wasn’t that excited. I just saw more hardware for my dollar.

Jon “Maddog” Hall, who I met back in 2005 in Boston at LinuxWorld, had other thoughts and interceded- I’d tagged him because I knew he was doing things in the Pi-sphere. He wrote a comment initially, and I’m guessing he had to do it one too many times and wrote an article: “The Run on the Raspberry Pi is Temporary. Don’t Panic.” The part that caught my attention:

…On the other hand, you can purchase an eight-core, 64-bit ARM system with two GB of RAM and wireless 802.11n built-in, running at 1.2 GHz for $99 [1]. The efficiency of OpenMP or OpenCL to control your parallel threads on a shared-memory model for your application instead of OpenMPI across networking interfaces will be breathtaking (this is not a slight on OpenMPI; every tool has its place)…

64 bit. That certainly would make my nodes more powerful singly and in parallel. I started looking at the 64 bit options in the Pi-Sphere and found nothing that really tugged at me. The market remains a bit of a “well here it is, as is” space and time spent researching allowed other new things to pop up. It was taking longer to research than to actually get started, and that paralysis was something I simply not accept from myself (I hate it enough in professional settings). And then I found the Pine64. It smells of potential, so I backed it with the 2 Gigabyte of RAM option so that I could get 10 of them. And in April I should have them.

It seems that when we go out to look for things, we look for familiar things – that’s probably why McDonalds in many countries serves so many tourists in other countries – the (misplaced?) comfort of something we all know. It’s what keeps people using the same technologies.

That’s pretty boring. I never have done boring well and I do have references.

So that’s why I picked the Pine64, and so far – despite my lack of hardware to this point – I’m using the time to plan things out for when they get here. And as it happens, through their updates, they’ve been doing some of the legwork for me by their partnerships, particularly the one with PicoCluster LLC. That one takes some will maybe take some of the administrative aspects of the clustering away.

So I await with very minty breath. While I’m waiting, maybe you should consider backing the Pine64 too.

The Internet of Trivial And Big Data

Panel: The Internet of Things Revolution - Functional, Usable, Wearable (AppsWorld London Notes)Sanjay points out some of the issues related to the Internet of Things.

Myself? I’ve been mocking it for some time because I remember the whole ‘Web2.0’ fad. What is the Internet of things other than Web3.0? And like Web2.0, most of it is crap. Complete, utterly useless, crap. It comes disguised as useful, like an infomercial product.

And some of the utterly useless crap for you is just an invasion of a privacy that you didn’t even know you had.

Which, of course, is part of the problem with big data anyway. Target could tell someone was pregnant (really), but what is the actual value of that? So that someone can sell baby stuff to people who don’t know that they are pregnant yet? The odds of women doing that does seem slim, but I’ll be the first to admit I don’t understand women. I have references.

Last weekend, I was coughing. My Amazon Echo might have been listening -what are the odds that my Amazon Kindle would start showing ads for Mucinex?

Wow. Targeted advertising, right? Awesome, right? Some people might think so, but here’s the crap part of that ‘awesome’. Am I going to order Mucinex from Or, if I needed it, wouldn’t I go somewhere that I could get it immediately?

If IoT means being sick for an entire day while waiting for Amazon to drop off some drugs in my mailbox is about as Darwinian as you can get. I’m sorry, that’s just pretty dumb.

When you get down to it, what’s this ‘hook anything up to the Internet’ really going to do? It’s going to make some people quite rich. That’s about all. The odds are good you’re not going to be one of them.

When you can use technology to do useful things, I’m game. And that’s why you don’t read much about IoT here.

If you must do IoT related stuff, have the good sense to read Sanjay’s article.

Over about 20 years, Sanjay Pande has remained one of the best tech friends whose hand I have never shook.



2015 Tech Notes

As slaves to an annual tradition based on an arbitrary date decided by someone else long ago, lots of people are going to say lots of things about last year…  Might as well say, “Hail Caesar”, really…

So, 2015.

As far as technology, a few cool things leap to my mind.

  • Google was kind enough to give us TensorFlow, for numerical computation. Of course, it’s all apparently Olde Python (2.7 I think) instead of 3.x.
  • I got an Amazon Echo. I coughed a few times last weekend. My kindle showed me Mucinex advertising. Coincidence? I think not. Do I like it? It’s OK, but I’m finding the flaws a few weeks into it. More on that another time. Still, it’s a nice platform for content delivery.
  • Pine64 is coming along nicely, and I’ll be getting my 10 somewhere before April. The partnership with PicoCluster LLC may make my life a little easier so I can focus on the fun stuff. Building clusters is kinda boring after you do it a few times. You can still back the Pine64, and I encourage you to do so.
  • OK, the retro gaming Pi is cool. Mainly because I’m growing old and nostalgic while accepting my future as a curmudgeon.  Get off my lawn.
  • Neural networks are getting increasing attention and investment, as has clustering. You wonder why I’m playing with this stuff? Wise men perceive approaching things.

The rest is all pretty much crap to me, and even the Echo and the retro gaming Pi are at least close to that category but appeal to me anyway.

I have no predictions for 2016. I’m not overly excited about anything. You can just follow me through the year and see what I am up to on my time here, on this blog.