My new favourite property is “everywhereness”

I’ve been reading The Four-Dimensional Human by Laurence Scott. It’s subtitled “Ways of Being in the Digital World” and I found it thought-provoking in a very positive way. I particularly like the core conceit of social media as another dimension, outside our normal time and space, a dimension we are able to traverse as starships are able to traverse our universe through wormholes into parallel spaces. Think of it as a kind of Flatland of our time, explaining spheres to squares, so to speak.

“Everywhereness” describes how it feels when there is no longer any experience – meeting a friend, looking out of a window, feeling momentarily exasperated or exhilarated – that is particular to that moment, that place, those people. Social media make each moment four-dimensional

[From Society, mediated | TLS]

This makes complete sense to me, and makes much more sense than Interstellar did (that was dreary in all four dimensions, and I especially hated that stupid robot TARD). Everywhereness. What a great word.

Of course, since the days of Flatland we’ve had Einstein and the idea of space as the fourth dimension. Perhaps it’s time to readjust the paradigm. Scott makes me that that as I traverse the mundane plane, tracing out a four-dimensional time-space trajectory as envisaged by Einstein, I’m also tracing out a five-dimensional time-space-media trajectory. You may not know my exact location and momentum simultaneously, but you may be able to deduce strong approximations from my Twitter feed.

01. August 2016 by davebirch
Categories: Society | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The official blockchain quatrain

The moving finger writes; and having writ

Moves on; nor all your piety nor wit

shall lure it back to cancel half a line,

Nor all your tears wash out a word of it.

 

#Blockchain

 

OK, I added the hashtag, but the rest is from Edward Marlborough’s 1859 translation of the Rubáiyát of mathematician, astronomer, philosopher and poet Omar Ahayyám (1048-1131).

31. July 2016 by davebirch
Categories: Technology | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Small is beautiful

In 1657, Blaise Pascal made a comment in a letter. In English, it translates as

“I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter”.

[From If I Had More Time, I Would Have Written a Shorter Letter | Quote Investigator]

I love this quote, and I’ve heard it many times. The first time I heard it I think it was attributed to Lord Palmerston or Teddy Roosevelt, but that’s by the by. It’s a great quote, and it came to mind when I was talking to someone about Twitter. I enjoy being forced to squeeze a thought into 140 characters and it makes me work and it makes me appreciate the work of others. As Pascal was saying, it’s more work to make a point that way, but it’s better.

Supposedly US President Woodrow Wilson said something along the same lines in 1918 when asked how long it would take him to write a speech. I’d heard this quote before, and it is one of my favourites, but it accords so closely with my own thought processes.

“That depends on the length of the speech,” answered the President. “If it is a ten-minute speech it takes me all of two weeks to prepare it; if it is a half-hour speech it takes me a week; if I can talk as long as I want to it requires no preparation at all. I am ready now.”

[From If I Had More Time, I Would Have Written a Shorter Letter | Quote Investigator]

If you’re wondering why I bring this up, it’s because there is going to be a TEDxWoking! Oh yes, Woking is finally on the post-modern intellectual map. And what’s more the organisers have asked me to be one of the speakers, which I’m very excited about, partly because it’s flattering and partly because it’s an opportunity to sit down and (as Wilson indicates) spend around a week working on a great talk. So now, whereas I would have no problem at all giving a an hour long talk on half-a-dozen different topics at the drop of a hat, I’ve got to think about picking one topic and squeezing it down into 18 minutes.

Now, as you may know, I’ve given one of these talks before. (And to be honest, if I’d known how important it was to get on the TED home page for a weekend I’d have put more effort into !) It’s still online at TED and you can watch it here if you like:

So. I’m not sure what I’m going to talk about in Woking in January, but I think I might do something about the future of money. Something about communities and cities and decentralisation. Something about the economy and London and Jane Jacobs and Gill Freehand and the C50. I’m considering “Never mind the Euro, get us out of the Pound”. What do you think?

In the future, everyone will be
famous for fifteen megabytes

23. November 2014 by davebirch
Categories: Society | Tags: , , | 2 comments

Identity is the New Money

Well, the book has been published. Identity is the New Money (London Publishing Partnership: 2014). I’m very excited about it. By the time I finished it, I was sick of it. Writing a book turned out to be much more work than I’d thought. But having done it, I’m ready to do it again and this time I think it will be a lot easier – I made a lot of mistakes, but I think I learned from them.

Birch cover for LPP site border

If you are curious about the subject, but can’t be bothered to read a book, here’s a nice two-page spread from Financial World magazine [PDF, 1.4Mb].

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

30. April 2014 by davebirch
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What does the fox say? You won’t find out here

I heard an interesting piece on Radio 4 a while back when an interviewer was talking to Nate Silver, the author of The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction, who used the familiar fox and hedgehog framing when discussing the way people deal with information. Foxes (ie, people who scrounge for tidbits of information) make better predictions than hedgehogs (ie, people who have one big idea). As a corollary he also said that we should be suspicious of overly precise or accurate predictions as they are very likely to be wrong. I was discussing this with someone recently and he said, quite accurately, something along the lines of “yes but the last time I heard you on the radio, you sounded like a hedgehog”. A fair point.

The thing is, when you are called by the TV or radio or newspaper folk, they’re not looking for foxes. Foxes are dead air. They’re looking for hedgehogs.

Many years ago, when I was not long in the consulting business, I went on a media training course. It was run by a couple of ex-journalists (one of whom, if I remember correctly, worked for the FT and one for radio) and although I don’t remember too much about it, I do remember their advice on press comment. We did an exercise where we pretended to work for a big company (it may have been a bank) and in response to a couple of different kinds of press enquiry we had to compose a comment for journalists. I can remember agonising over my response to the imaginary press enquiry and getting told off by the course leader who pointed out to me that my goal was to get the company name into the paper in a non-negative context — I wasn’t being judged on my spelling and grammar — and he said something to the effect of “in six months time, no-one will remember what the story was or what you said, but when one of your guys walks into a client’s office, the client will think ‘oh right, Consult Hyperion, I read something about them in the FT / saw something about them on Sky News / heard something about them on Radio 4’ and that’s your job”. Or something similar. But I got the message.

I took the message to heart. So if a journalist calls and says, for example, “why is UK card fraud up 17% in the first six months of this year”, I don’t respond with a very detailed (and very accurate) account of trends in card usage, technology roadmaps, chargeback management and such like”. You get one sentence, one soundbite. So, in this case, you might say something like “well it is largely due to the rise in online fraud” or whatever. And that will get the company name on screen.

Screenshot 2013-12-16 19.23.55

When you are working for a client, though, you are a fox. You have to be careful to assemble all of the relevant information and try and make sense of it, to glean a plan from the pickings. Is Bitcoin the currency going to succeed? Who knows, but here are the factors we think are relevant and on balance we think unlikely. However, there may be some opportunities to use Bitcoin or Bitcoin-like technology in your business to create a new product. And so on. Is our mobile wallet secure? Well, here are the results of our detailed risk analysis and the key countermeasures that will reduce exposure to management levels. This sort of thing won’t get you on the telly, but it’s what we do and it’s why we have been successful.

At a charity event I attended earlier in the month, a friend came me up to me and asked if had been on BBC radio in the last couple of weeks. I told them that I had and asked them what show they had been listening to and what the topic of discussion was. “I don’t remember”, she said, “probably Radio 4. It was something to do with the internet. I thought you sounded very knowledgeable. Does your company do a lot of that sort of thing?”. In actual fact I’d been on the BBC World Service talking about Bitcoin. But it doesn’t matter what the programme was or what I was talking about, exactly as predicted by the hacks that trained me all those years ago. What matters is that I sounded like I knew what I was talking about!

There’s a similar dynamic around blogging. This blog is, I hope, a good example. We try to make it interesting and relevant to clients and potential clients, but we also try to make it entertaining. This is more difficult than it seems, because we want to post fun stuff about exciting applications or new technology in the secure electronic transaction space but on the other hand we don’t want to give away anything we are actually working on for clients until they decide to go public with it. This can be quite a conundrum: looking at the recent example if HCE, we’re we’d been working on projects for a couple of years before any of clients said anything about it in public.

Foxes and hedgehogs. Case closed.

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

24. December 2013 by davebirch
Categories: Society | Tags: , , | Comments Off on What does the fox say? You won’t find out here

The best thing since… oh, that’s not on the list

The Atlantic magazine published one of those articles based on the latest that I really should ignore and not take too seriously but can’t help reading — Fallows, J., “The 50 Greatest Breakthroughs Since The Wheel” in “The Atlantic” p.56(9) (Nov. 2013). This time it was the 50 greatest breakthroughs since the wheel. They asked various scientists, historians and technologists to rank a list of innovations for the article, and then put them together into a nice feature.

I’ll spoil the ending for you by telling you that number one on this list was the printing press! I was surprised that the telegraph only made it as far as position 26 because as an acolyte of the Economist writer Tom Standage (“The Victorian Internet”), I do think that the step change between being unable to communicate faster than physical matter could be propelled and being able to communicate at the speed of light represented some fundamental cusp in human history rather than any kind of marginal improvement, so think I would have pushed it further up the list. Damn. There I am getting caught up in thinking about the list again.

Oh and one more thing. The most amazing fact that I think I saw in the article concerns the sequencing of human DNA. The article notes that in the past 12 years the cost of sequencing human DNA has fallen to a millionth of its previous level. That’s an astonishing six orders of magnitude cost reduction in a decade. Now I can’t decide whether DNA sequencing or 3-D printing will feature in some future list as the most important technological breakthrough of our current era.

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

29. November 2013 by davebirch
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Smart watches and dumb watchers

For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, the technology world is excited about the prospect of smart watches.

Now that rumors suggest Google and LG are both planning on jumping into the smart watch war to compete with Samsung and Apple it’s time to stop thinking of this thing as a time-telling piece. Yes, these gadgets will go around people’s wrists and probably display the time.

[From The Smartwatch Is Not a Watch – Rebecca Greenfield – The Atlantic Wire]

I have to tell you this story. Some years ago, I was at a dinner at IBM in Zurich. A chap from their research labs was showing off a Linux-powered watch. The chap was Swiss, and I imagine unfamiliar with the British sense of humour. When he’d finished demoing the watch’s ability to show some news and contacts, or whatever, he asked if we had any questions. “Yes”, I said, straightfaced, “does it tell the time?”. I’d said it as a joke, of course, and expected a laugh. But… ”No,” he told me, entirely seriously, they couldn’t load the “clock” programme because they’d run out of memory!

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

31. October 2013 by davebirch
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Networks and the male brain

The Great She Elephant’s mention of City AM reminded me that I made a note on this organ in my little black book, but I couldn’t remember what it was, so I went and looked it up and I realised that it was a thing I was writing about the “laws” of networks and of male brains! Writing in his “The Long View” column in City AM, managing editor Marc Sidwell pointed to Metcalfe’s Law and Reed’s Law in a discussion on network economics and mentions that Reed’s Law may be more important — see “Bitcoin is a lesson in now networks can supercharge innovation economies”, City AM. p.16 (12th Apr. 2013). Now, I wrote a couple of articles about this a few years ago. As I said back in 2007…

I’m a Reed’s Law man, myself

[From Digital Money: More on Moore’s Law]

I tried really hard not to comment on Marc’s column but I wrote down those notes and because of GSE I just found them so I thought I would blog them for fun. They reveal a fundamental character flaw but I can’t help sharing it!

At a recent event, a telecommunications supplier invited me along to a reception they were having in a club downtown somewhere so I went over with the guys for a half of shandy and a packet of pork scratchings. While we were there, a magician was moving through the crowd doing tricks. The magician, who was absolutely brilliant (the card tricks he did with the group of us were jaw-dropping) was Indian. I mean he was English but of Indian descent. I introduce his ethnicity only because it is relevant to the story. He began one of the tricks by saying something along the lines “My great grandfather learned this trick from an old man back in New Delhi when Queen Victoria was still the Empress of India”. For what reason I don’t know, but a deep-seated and fundamentally male character flaw was exposed at that moment, because I couldn’t help myself from saying “But New Delhi wasn’t founded until Edwardian times”, thus ruining the atmosphere. I apologised unreservedly (I then googled and discovered it was founded in 1911.)

Sometimes, you see, I just can’t help myself. I know it doesn’t matter to the point being made but I’m driven to trip over factual errors. I can’t think round them. So back to communications laws. I read this in a magazine and made a note to post a comment (which I never did).

In 1980, Bob Metcalfe, an inventor trying to persuade people to buy his $5,000 Ethernet cards, which connected computers in a local area network, came up with a formula that expressed the value of a network as the number of connections squared. The specifics of “Metcalfe’s Law” have frequently been challenged, but the basic idea that networks add value exponentially as they grow has not.

[From The Web’s New Monopolists – Atlantic Mobile]

What was my comment? Well, for one thing, “squared” isn’t “exponential” – they mean completely different things – and for another thing Metcalfe’s Law has been measured to be something more like NlogN rather than N*N anyway. There is an exponential law to networking, but this is the Reed’s Law mentioned by Marc. It is named after the AT&T researcher David Reed, which says that the power of a networks grow according to the number of subgroups that can be formed with the network, and this is a 2^N curve. I agree with Marc about its importance. In fact I wrote an article for Financial World magazine back in November 2006 explaining these laws for financial services professionals and saying that I thought that over time Reed’s Law dominates (we place it centrally in the technology roadmaps that we develop for clients at Consult Hyperion). Metcalfe’s Law doesn’t shape financial services much anymore (everything is already connected to everything else) and Reed’s 2^N zooms off into the stratosphere leaving both Moore’s Law and Metcalfe’s Law behind.

What does this mean in strategy terms? I think it means that the shape financial services in any future that we can see is going to be shaped by the technologies that define, control and manage subgroups: in other words, the “disconnection technologies” of encryption, identification and authentication. 

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

27. October 2013 by davebirch
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Let’s use Parliament to crack down on porn

Internet porn and surveillance is all the rage in the newspapers today. The general sense of middle England, as far as I can see, is that they want to police to snoop on their children (to stop them seeing stuff like The Daily Mail) and their neighbours (in case they are terrorists or child pornographers) but not on themselves. Hhmmm. No good will come of this. The bad news is that government ministers have decided to do something about.

Minister explains why we MUST force Google to crack down on web filth

[From Why I, as a mother, am determined to protect my children from the depravity of internet porn: Minister explains why we MUST force Google to crack down on web filth | Mail Online]

The woman quoted here is Maria Miller, the MP for Basingstoke. Her background is in advertising and marketing, which is why I suppose she sees Google as the gateway to world. But my point is that if MPs do decide to go ahead with some “dangerous dogs”-style legislation, whereby internet companies are forced to block certain websites and charge their customers for the privilege of being censored, I suggest they use Parliament as a test case for a few months. The news that parliamentary PCs are used to access foot fetish, adultery, gay cruising resources and, most intriguingly, a website for women who posed naked next to cats, suggests that the Parliamentary firewall might be a hard case to test bad law.

Harry Potter, a barrister specialising in obscenity cases, said: ‘Having viewed the material, it does not in my opinion fall foul of the law as constituting extreme pornography. It is, however, undoubtedly hardcore pornography.’

[From MPs¿ computers used to access porn sites, including foot and fat fetishism, more than 2,500 times | Mail Online]

Seriously? “Harry Potter”? The man’s life must be a misery. Anyway, it won’t work, of course. Even if the internet titans that Maria refers to were able to come up with software that could distinguish between an MP viewing legal foot fetishism and an MP viewing illegal “extreme” foot perversions, the firewall will be trivially circumvented. I was using a customer’s network the other day when I clicked on a link to a story about credit card fraud. The story turned out to be in the Sun newspaper, and the customer had sensibly blocked access to Britain’s favourite newspaper’s website on the grounds that it contained “nudity and/or content of an adult nature “. So I logged in via a VPN and carried on. I did the same at a friends house when I was checking something on the Pirate Bay. Virgin had blocked it, so I went to by VPN. The last time I was in the US and wanted to listen to the football on BBC Radio Five, iPlayer told me that I couldn’t, so I logged on via a VPN that made me appear to be in the UK and listened to the match. And if I was a pervert MP looking for porn when I should be voting on an Internet censorship bill, I would do the same thing.

In fact, I saw an article about people snooping on Wi-Fi in cafes and hotels so I decided to go via VPN whenever out and about. I’m sure I can’t be the only person who has gone down this route and I’m sure that the use of VPNs will continue to grow significantly over the coming years. Every time someone gets a letter from their ISP complaining on behalf of record companies that that person has been visiting filesharing sites, the VPN vendor’s share prices will go up accordingly.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, you have to imagine that the “declines” reported in file sharing and cyberlockers severely undercounts those things too, as using some rather basic tools can let people hide that sort of information from being collected — and the efforts by Hadopi to “educate” the public likely educated them about how to use VPNs

[From Three Strikes May Decrease File Sharing, But If Sales Keep Dropping, Who Cares? | Techdirt]

Now, you have to wonder if this is a good thing. After all, if the copyright mentalists and MPs drive us all to use VPNs for everything, life will actually get harder for the forces of law enforcement who have legitimate reasons to want to monitor Internet traffic. If everything is encrypted, PRISM will need more computing power than the planet has to offer in order to track to down international ne’er-do-wells. Hollywood’s stupid deep packet inspection (DPI) nonsense won’t work, but nor will anyone else’s. So my challenge to MPs is this: tell us what you want. Do you want the Internet set up so that Sony, the Daily Mail and the Bulgarian Mafia can see what websites you are visiting, or not?

 

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

16. June 2013 by davebirch
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Teutonic order. I’m a fan.

Since I am flying around Europe in economy class a lot at the moment, one of my pet hates is the abuse of the carry-on rules, particularly (I’ve observed) by women. The rule is ONE carry-on. Like all sensible travellers, I have a sturdy piece of Samsonite that was specifically purchased to fit exactly the airline carry-on dimensions. Here it is. ONE carry-on with my laptop etc inside.

Untitled

I took a Lufthansa flight recently. I was behind a woman who was clearly taking the piss. As well as a carry-on the same size as mine she had a laptop briefcase and a gigantic purse. Here is the photographic evidence of same.

Untitled

Imagine the magnitude of my schadenfreude then when, as we started to board, she was pulled out of line and told she had to check the largest bag. I couldn’t understand the conversation, but from the gesturing and facial expressions, I think she was trying to pull a gender-specific exemption on the grounds that her gigantic purse didn’t count in the grand airline reckoning. But good old Lufthansa. Rules are rules, and she was politely but firmly made to check it. As, I noticed, were a number Chinese travellers in a tour group and an American family who were pulling a similar stunt.

The result of this firm but fair application of the widely-displayed policy was that embarkation and disembarkation of a full 737-300 was smooth, with none of the BA-style to-ing and fro-ing trying find space in lockers or negotiating with grumpy travellers as to whether they can put the gigantic purse under the seat in front instead of in the overhead lockers. The plane still wasn’t on time though.

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes.

07. June 2013 by davebirch
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