Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘history’

I’ve just finished reading Code Warriors: NSA’s Codebreakers and the Secret Intelligence War Against the Soviet Union by Stephen Budiansky. It tells the story of the US National Security Agency (NSA) up through the end of the Cold War.

Given the number of dry histories of the people and agencies who deal with cryptography and spying, this book is reasonably readable. If you’re looking for a less arch, and more human view on how things got to where they are; you’ll like this book.

The takeaway from the book is that the biggest hindrance in the world of security is people. People who are control freaks or don’t believe that rules apply to them, or believe that the “other side” is stupid, or are just too damn lazy to do the simple things that would avoid issues are the problem. You can’t design your way around them. If you try, you’ll only make things worse.

You can’t pretend you have the moral high ground when you’re collecting enough information to make the US National Archives, the Library of Congress, Google and Facebook look redundant. I’m not picking sides, I’m just saying that if you’ve got a hammer and you use the hammer, own up to the fact and don’t go around telling everybody and their brother that they shouldn’t use hammers and that in fact that hammers either don’t exist or are illegal (or would be if they did actually exist, which they don’t).

Along the way, you’ll be introduced to a cast of well-intentioned, clueless, brilliant and ruthless individuals. There are miscommunications, denial of responsibilities, bruised egos, moments of insight and face palm moments.

Please keep in mind Hanlon’s razor.

 

Read Full Post »

The Chrysanthemum and The Sword is an exploration of what makes the Japanese tick. At least from the standpoint of a early 20th century scholar. Ruth Benedict was one of that era’s foremost anthropologist.

I could go into the interesting discussion of how the American and Japanese cultures are compared and contrasted. Or how she describes the Japanese approach to Buddhism as being free of non-corporeal entanglements. I’ll leave those to the earnest reader.

What made the greatest impression on me was the lengthy and detailed exploration of on (恩) and giri (義理). These can broadly thought of as debt and obligation. In the west, we have a fixation on equivalent exchange. We like to pretend that there is nothing which cannot be fully bought and paid for. The Japanese fully recognize that this is not the case and have build a society around the concepts of overlapping obligations.

One that I have always found difficult to explain is that of shogimu (諸義務) or obligation to one’s teacher/mentor. This is always an asymmetrical relationship. The apprentice has nothing to offer in exchange in comparison to what they are given. In the west, we, as they say, “just take the money and run.” This is especially true in regard to the attitude of Googling for the answers. People have come to believe that they can monetize the collected knowledge of the world without cost to themselves. The problem comes not to this first generation, but to the second and finally fully realized in the third generation of internet users. The problem is that of who supplies the knowledge.

One of the big complaints of the pre-internet era was how big companies hoarded knowledge, making it available only at a premium. Should it not be free to all? Between the small band of developers (relatively speaking) who contributed to open source, the internet and google, we find ourselves in a place where you don’t need a master to monetize. And so rather than having to pay for software as a function of complexity and craftsmanship, we tolerate mediocre software because it’s free (with ads or in exchange for our personal information).

Meanwhile that high quality software we wouldn’t pay for when it was $400 with a year of updates, we will pay for when it’s a $120 annual subscription to a cloud service. Except that now if we stop paying, we lose access.

But back to the thorny question. Do we really believe that the Google-for-code and I-built-it-all-from-other-people’s-stuff crowd are going to give back to the community? What will happen when those who made all these goodies possible and available retire? If we take the C++ community as an example, there are hundreds supporting millions. This doesn’t scale.

Answers? Nope.

Thoughts? Some.

Personally, I’ve got a bucket full of on, so I should get back to it.

Read Full Post »

One of the interesting things that happens to me when I attend events like yesterday’s PDX Summit III is that it gets me thinking about things in a new and more connected way. For many who know me this will be perceived to mean that for some indeterminate length of time that I’ll be a bit more random than usual.

To misappropriate the Bard, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are accessible from your contact list.”

This morning I started reading Galileo’s Telescope and it got me thinking in terms of the big data / open source elements brought up at the summit. Before you injure your neck doing that head tilt puzzled look thing that dogs do, let me explain.

I have a great affinity toward data visualization. I could probably press my own olive oil with the stack of books I’ve got on the subject. So when I saw that Galileo had written a text entitled Sidereus Nuncius, my first thought was, “if you took nuncius (message) and pushed it forward into present day English, you’d end up at announce, denounce and enounce. What if you pushed it backward in time? How about sideways toward French? If we visualized this map, what would it look like? How would we navigate it?

I’ve always found it fascinating how speech informs thought. We live in a society where using ‘little words’ is encouraged in an effort to be more inclusive. The problem is that these ‘big words’ aren’t big for the sake of big. They encapsulate entire concepts and histories. We talk about ‘the big picture,’ ‘big data,’ and the like, but in our attempt to make it all accessible all we seem to be doing is creating a meaningless assemblage of words and acronyms, that at the end of the day, have the precision of a ten pound sledgehammer in a omelet shop.

What if instead of constantly, reducing our communication to the green card, red card of sports; we instead could point to the 21st century version of Korzybski’s Structural Differential and literally be on the same page? How would language acquisition be improved for both native and foreign languages, if you could build understanding based on the natural evolution of the language’s concept basis? What would the impact on science be if we could visualize past crossover points between disciplines? How much more readily would students learn the concepts of computer science and engineering if they could put present day abstractions into the context of past constraints rather than simply memorizing a given language, framework or operating system’s implementation?

Yeah, this is one of those posts that has no conclusion. It’s a digital scribble intended to be a jumping off point for future endeavors.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: