Filling Voids

VoidI’m paying much more attention to my writing these days and, stepping back for a moment last night, I realized that some of the things I’ve been writing are to fill voids.

There’s the issue of purchasing land in Trinidad and Tobago, which isn’t actually hard, but it is something a significant amount of people I have encountered in the world and social media have not gotten right. When so many people are screwing something up, one has to wonder why that is. It’s easily dismissed as people being stupid, but it’s improperly dismissed that way. People simply don’t know. Despite writing that article, there’s a demographic that will still screw it up – but I’ve done my part.

That lead me to wonder why local media hasn’t successfully addressed the problem, if at all. Of course, they may have covered it – I spend less and less time reading local media – but the problem persists. So if that article helps one person, it will have done it’s job. If it helps 100, it’s a success. If it influences 1,000 people to do things properly, it will be slightly awesome. It will have served a purpose.

There are things people need to know. In the world, information like that is guarded for no real reason, and it keeps people back.

In a world of information, we have information fiefdoms guarded by gatekeepers. There’s no reason for any of this to be hard or difficult other than the highest priority of a gatekeeper seems to be self-preservation.

The truth is, I like the voids. As a software engineer, I fell in love with the problems no one else could solve, even with the advent of the Internet and search engines – the bleeding edge.

There’s plenty of bleeding edge outside of technology, too – we tend to think of things on the horizon when that bleeding edge is instead getting people to tie their shoes so that they don’t trip on the way there.

Having tripped on my shoelaces so often while staring into a void, I do not find it amusing to see other people do it.

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Information Fiefdoms

Social Media Information OverloadYesterday, I found myself standing in Nigel Khan’s bookstore in Southpark, looking at what I consider old books.

I have a habit when I look at books, something I picked up in Trinidad some years ago after the Internet became more than a novelty. I check the date a book was published. It keeps me from buying antiques, though I have also been known to buy books in thrift shops abroad (though I am very picky).

I found myself looking at Tim Wu’s ‘The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires‘. Given some of the stuff I’d been talking about in different circles, it interested me – and Tim Wu I knew from his work with Network Neutrality. I checked the publication date.

November, 2010.
It’s August, 2018.

8 years. 5.33 evolutions of Moore’s Law, which is unfair since it isn’t a technology book – but it’s an indicator. Things change quickly. Information empires rise and fall in less time these days – someone was celebrating integrating something with OneNote in one of the groups I participate in, thinking that he’d finally gotten things on track – when, in fact, it’s just a snapshot more subject to Moore’s Law than anyone cares admit – except for the people who want to sell you more hardware and more software. They’ve evolved to the subscription model to make their financial flow rates more consistent, while you, dear subscriber, don’t actually own anything you subscribe to.

You’re building a house with everything on loan from the hardware store. When your subscription is up, the house disappears.

Information empires indeed. Your information may be your own, but how you get to it is controlled by someone who might not be there tomorrow.

We tend to think of information in very limited ways when we are in fact surrounded by it. We are information. From our DNA to our fingerprints, from our ears to our hair follicles – we are information, information that moves around and interacts with other information. We still haven’t figured out our brains, a depressing fact since it seems a few of us have them, but there we have it.

Information empires. What separates data from information is only really one thing – being used. Data sits there; it’s a scalar. Information is a vector – and really, information has more than one vector. Your mother is only a mother to you – she might be an aunt to someone else, a boss to someone else, an employee to someone else, and a daughter to your grandmother. Information allows context, and there’s more than one context.

If you’re fortunate, you see at least one tree a day. That tree says a lot, and you may not know it. Some trees need a lot of water, some don’t. Some require rich soil, some don’t. Simply by existing, it tells us about the environment it is in. Information surrounds us.

Yet we tend to think of information in the context of libraries, or of database tables. And we tend to look at Information Empires – be they by copyright, by access (Net Neutrality, digital divide, et al), or simply because of incompatible technologies. They come and go, increasingly not entering the public domain, increasingly lost – perhaps sometimes for good.

And if you go outside right now and stand, breathing the air, feeling the wind, watching the foliage shift left and right, you are awash in information that you take for granted – an empire older than we are, information going between plants through fungus.

There are truly no information empires in humanity other than those that are protected by laws. These are fiefdoms, gatekeepers to information.

The information empire – there is only one – surrounds us.

The Age of Dune

The-Spice-Must-Flow-PosterWe’re in a strange age of Dune, metaphorically. If you haven’t read the books or, for the reading impaired, the movie, you won’t get the metaphor – you should go do either immediately and not return to the internet until you have.

If you’ll recall, the book was about Spice – and how the spice must flow. Last century, it was a metaphor for oil, and this century, it’s a metaphor for information.

I bring this all up because of the Russian submarines making NATO nervous because they’re prowling near underwater cables. The conversations around this speculated on them eavesdropping – relatively tinfoil hat – when a real threat is the severing off those cables. Remember how Mua’dib rose to power? Who can destroy the Spice controls the Spice, and who controls the Spice is the real power.

Factor in the death of network neutrality, which has been long dead in other ways while people have been discussing the imminent rigor mortis while poking it with a stick. It’s not as if Facebook has been deleting accounts at the requests of the U.S. and Israeli governments.  It’s not as if any despot of any sort hasn’t at least tried to control the information flow. The trouble is that most people don’t understand information and don’t understand data beyond the definitions in dictionaries and antiquated textbooks.

Information flows. In a battlefield somewhere, a severed submarine cable can mean chaos on the ground somewhere. In a world where cables connect markets, severed cables mean being unable to get access to those markets. It means isolation.

The spice must flow, the information must flow. And those who seek to destroy information, from burning books to limiting access for people to information is about isolating, about controlling, and about power. How will it end?

I’ll be in my garden, monitoring the situation. You kids play nice.

Nature and Data Structures (2013)

Cactus Flower Blooms (at night)

I haven’t written much of late as I moved to Florida last week and have been busy networking, job hunting, writing about the journey and taking pictures. I’ll be writing more often.

With the recent return to Florida, I’ve clearly been working on finding work amongst other things. I’ve also been enjoying the flora and fauna because of the good fortune I’ve had in finding a friend’s home a temporary lodging. This reminded me this morning of how often people at Honeywell, during my time there, thought I was goofing off when I walked outside and stared at the trees outside. I wasn’t really goofing off. I was considering the natural structures and finding some assistance in designing data structures for the work I was doing.

Natural data architectures are compelling, simple at some levels and very complex. Almost all of them are built on osmosis, where concentrations allow atoms and molecules to wander through permeable membranes based on pressure – not unlike electrical voltages across resistance or water through a plumbing system. The difference between natural structures and artificial structures is that, as Feynman once said,

For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.

Failed data structures in nature are pretty easy to spot.

They’re dead.

Yet even in death they have value – they are recycled, the essence of the philosophical ‘rebirth’ found in some religions. In a well operating ecosystem, nothing is wasted – everything that is ‘alive’ or ‘dead’ has some worth to the ecosystem or it is quickly replaced.

The flower on the left is a picture of a cactus flower I took last night. It opens only at night.

This can be related to a structure such as a website. The flower has a purpose which, as most would understand it, is marketing. It has a definite demographic for who it is marketing to. I’m not sure what exactly it attracts, but I’d wager it is targeting nocturnal insects and perhaps even bats – but whatever its market, it isn’t the classic stuff that people are taught in school such as bees and birds.

Once pollenated, the structure goes about doing what most other flowers do – something pretty well documented anywhere. But this particular data structure is interesting in that it has evolved over millenia to bloom at night, when it’s cool, when life is more mobile in climates where the days are decidedly hot. It’s a wonderfully beautiful thing that most people don’t get to see because they’re not out at night. The scent is wonderful as well.

Studying data structures like this, looking for hints from nature on how to do something, provides us methods of making a better data ecosystem.

Maybe the internet and social media would be a better place if more software developers stepped outside a bit more often. The days of software architects and developers fearing sunlight have past.