Jackie No

The “The Law of the Telephone” by Herbert Kellogg in The Yale Law Journal 4(6) (June 1895) is a fantastic read. It begins by establishing that the basis of the law of the telephone is the law of the telegraph:

Like all common carriers the telephone company may establish reasonable conditions which applicants must comply with; and the use of profane or obscene language over a telephone may justify a company in refusing further service, on the same ground that a telegraph is not liable for a failure to send immoral or gambling messages.

Thus the new medium inherits from the old one. But is this true in social terms? Whole books were written to set out an etiquette for the telephone and to explain to the person in the street how to use the new technology in a civilised manner. I predict we are weeks, perhaps hours, away from a similar book for new Google Glasses users. I can see that there has already been plenty of thinking about the ethics of wearable computing, so we should probably start there rather than wait for new regulation evolve to govern us.

He also said that in deference to social expectations, he puts his wearable glasses around his neck, rather than on his head, when he enters private places like a restroom.

[From Privacy Challenges of Wearable Computing – NYTimes.com]

I remember reading something about memes once. I can’t remember where it was ever couldn’t find it through superficial googling, but I remember the example that was given, which was the way that women started to wear sunglasses pushed up on the top of their heads apparently in emulation of Jackie Kennedy, wife of the noted philanderer Jack Kennedy. I’ve no idea whether this is true or not and I’m sure someone will be else send me a picture of a woman wearing sunglasses on the top of her head before Jackie Kennedy was born, but the example stuck with me and returns whenever I think about the spread of means within a population, evolving social norms and the role of media. So it is with great pleasure that I announce the first new meme for Google Glasses. I call it the “Jackie No” rule. It is this: when you go into a public restroom, you should push your Google Glasses to the top of your head, Jackie Kennedy style, to signal to anyone you might meet that you are not a pervert. I imagine that there are many circumstances where merely wearing Google classes will arouse suspicion you are not entirely normal, but here is one case where the inherent boundaries that make a civilised society possible must be made explicit for the safe functioning of civil society.

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

It was all fields round here

It is 1975, and at the Park Senior High School (as bog standard a comprehensive as they came) a group of curious schoolboys led by a farsighted maths teacher take the bus into Swindon town centre and enter the headquarters of the Nationwide Building Society. There, we potter down to the computer room where we are allowed access to their mainframe (a UNIVAC 1109 with drum storage, if my memory serves) because they didn’t use it in the evening. I will never forget that kindness from Nationwide and they still have place in my heart for it today. It was there we worked on our first serious programming project, a system to schedule appointments for the parent’s evenings! Can you imagine ringing up, say, Barclays Bank today and asking them if some school kids could use their mainframe in the evening if they’re not too busy? Astonishing.

Having a whole computer to yourself was then a novelty. When Brian Dyer, the then-deputy headmaster of Park asked me and a few friends if we’d be interested in sitting a Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE) in Computer Studies (the school had no lessons in the subject, so we had to just read up in our spare time) my first contact with a general-purpose stored-value computer system came via punched cards sent to the University of Bristol once each week. You punched your cards, they were sent off and a week later you got back your print out. I think it was an ICL 1902A, the first IC-based range they produced (the A meant it had a floating point unit for scientific calculations), and we wrote in FORTRAN. The school got a teletype, and we had access to a GEISCO time-sharing system using Dartmouth BASIC. I think we were allowed an hour per week, or something like that. I got Grade 1, and was set for life…

Other weeks we took the bus up to the now-demolished Swindon College, where we used their Elliott 803B with a then-amazing 8Kb of core memory (you tell the kids of today that…) to write Algol programmes on 5-track paper tape. You loaded the compiler, the loaded your program and the machine produced a machine code tape (for their strange 39-bit word instruction set) and then loaded your machine code and executed. Here’s a video of someone using one of these beasts! I don’t remember much about what software we wrote, although I do remember spending an inordinate amount of time working on my football simulation that used random numbers to work out where the ball went after each kick.

Park PiratesPark School 1976: Me, Clive Debenham (Rest in Peace), Simon Turpin and Bob Kirby (Rest in Peace).

In the hot summer of 1976, we were also allowed, and I have no memory of how this came about, to cycle out to the Royal Military College of Science in Shrivenham and use their more advanced computer system — although I can’t remember what this was — to write in Algol 68-R. In those pre-Al Qaeda days, we were allowed to amble around the campus and wander in and out of the computer room essentially unfettered. This all stood me in good stead. When I got my first vacation job at college it was for the Southern Water Authority in Eastleigh. One day my boss asked me if I could help him with a problem. The IT department (in Brighton) were sending him the wrong statistics. Did I know anything about computers? We opened the cupboard at the end of the corridor and found a teletype connected to a 1900-series (a 1906?) running Fortran under GEORGE III, which fortunately I knew how to use. I was instantly appointed departmental IT supremo, and never looked back!


In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

Book review: Demystifying communications risk

Demystifying Communications Risk: A guide to revenue risk management in the communications sector.
Mark Johnson (Gower: 2012).

In telecommunications, just as in banking and retailing and most other businesses as far as I can tell, fraud is an ever present cost of staying in business and managing that fraud down to acceptable levels is one of the most important roles of operational management. That’s easy to say, but hard to execute. I picked up Mark Johnson’s “Demystifying Communications Risk” (recently published by our friends at Gower) by Mark Johnson from The Risk Management Group hoping for a few ideas on this front and I wasn’t disappointed. I’m not an expert on the operational management side of telecommuncations, but I think for someone entering the field Mark’s layout, examples and checklists combine to make the book a very useful starting point.

The overall message of the book, for me, was (as always) isn’t hackers who are the problem, but the staff. Here I found Chapter Four the most relevant. It is fascinating discussion on managing insider fraud, written by Nick Mann of Nick Mann Associates, which shows just how hard this is, partly because of the variety of the frauds and partly because of the statistics. Basically, most employees are potential fraudsters! He gives a case study of an internal fraud that was uncovered after $6 million in losses, yet not a penny was recovered., highlight the point that prevention is better than cure. Actually, I thought Michael’s use of specific case studies was very helpful throughout the book and in some cases very surprising (for example, the clock drift on a switch leading to incorrect rating). I found his discussion of prepaid frauds especially interesting, partly because they are so simple and partly because I think the growth in prepaid will continue over the coming years.

I rather liked Michael suggestion of a risk management “dashboard” of relevant key performance indicators. We do a lot of risk management work in the digital money and digital identity fields, and help clients to devise and implement appropriate countermeasures, and I will be certainly using the dashboard idea in the future.

Mark covers many of the areas that will be familiar to risk management practitioners including computer and communications security, countermeasure return on investment and revenue assurance control points but he also introduces management techniques that strike me as being pretty helpful to newcomers (looking at risk strategy as the interconnection between risk management cycles, for example). I think he will open many people’s eyes to some wholly new categories of risk that will need managing in the modern communications service provider. He gives over a whole chapter to the specific headache of dealing with anti-money-laundering and anti corruption controls that are unfortunately part of the customer billing and management world now: a very valuable summary.

All in all, this book distills a great many years of practical experience in a presentable and practical form and is sure to be useful to those entering the realm of revenue management.

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes


Ambling back towards Waterloo, through the frozen streets of a wintry London, I noticed (via the Twitterverse) that old Guardian chum Aleks Krotoski was lecturing at the London School of Economics (LSE) on Tuesday night. What happy chance! Informed by serendipity, I executed a smartish turn into Portugal Street and then into the LSE East Building. I was a few minutes early, so I caught an impenetrable end session of a lecture about calculus (game theory calculus, if I wasn’t mistaken) and then settled down to a terrific talk from Alex. She was talking about her new book — based on some Guardian and Observer columns — on “Untangling the Web”.


Alex kicked off by saying that there is a culture of fear about the Internet because people (and especially, in my opinion, politicians) don’t really understand it. I thought this was an interesting observation to make during the week where world governments are squabbling about the control of the Internet at some UN beanfeast in Dubai! I’m sure she’s right, by the way. Everything seems a little scary: Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Google and Apple are all scary to someone, which crystallised set of thoughts for me and I think I will write something about that in the future. Her central point, at least to me, is that insofar as we understand how power will work in the virtual world (which is not very much at the moment) it is something to do with the role of the inter-mediate in technologies and those technologies have context. Right now, it’s essentially a Northern Californian context.

Aleks talked about the Google search algorithms as an example of how technology isn’t neutral in shaping our views of the world, but it occurred to me that there is an even more fundamental angle on this which links to the Dubai wrangling. When it came to question time I asked her about this and she said that she was neither optimistic nor pessimistic about the direction that we might take. I think I might be mildly pessimistic, in that I think it likely that the Internet will fracture into a number of different blocs in the future, but that may be an age related disorder!

Aleks asked (these aren’t her exact words, this is a paraphrase) if we are stuck in a quicksand of me, me, me narcissistic exhibitionism. I certainly am.


In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

House of snores

When I was bored on a plane recently, I switched on a show I’d never heard of before called “House of Lies“. It was mislabelled as a comedy, although it didn’t have a single even mildly amusing line in it. It was exactly as uninteresting as you will imagine it to be when I tell you it is about management consultants. The main characters are meant to be from Bain or McKinsey or somewhere like that, and the central plot device (which does accord with reality) is that the main purpose of their engagements with customers is to obtain more money from the customer rather than to fix any problems. The central characters form a realistic team: a very attractive women who is used to destabilise the largely male management of target companies, the male nerd and the main business guy. They work for a caricature rainmaker.

It was superficial, boring and annoying in that it clearly thinks it is being somehow subversive when it isn’t at all. I looked up a couple of reviews as I was writing this post and was astonished to find that some people like it. There really is no accounting for taste.

Although consultants as good-guys (even thieving good-guys) is itself a tough sell, House of Lies makes it all work by having the victims – companies, executives – look like even more unsympathetic dupes who deserve what they get because of their greed or stupidity.

[From TV Review: ‘House of Lies’ Gives Showtime a Raunchy Laugher – Hollywood Reporter]

The main conceit is that the characters are more interested in having sex than in work, but I suppose that’s true of any group of highly paid professionals who spend a lot of time away from home.

My advice is to ignore the show. Real management consulting reports are often funnier.


In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes


I started getting a lot of messages saying that people had endorsed me on LinkedIn. Many thanks to everyone who did so. I’m genuinely grateful. But I’m afraid I won’t be endorsing anyone at all. Here’s the standard response to any request for an endorsement.

Please don’t take my refusal to endorse personally! I’m more than happy to endorse you in person to anyone, but not via LinkedIn. The problem that I have with LinkedIn endorsements is this. The first time I ever got a request for an endorsement it was from a guy I’d worked for a few years before. He was very good at his job, and I happily endorsed him. The second time someone asked me for an endorsement, it was from a woman who I thought was useless. I could not face the embarrassment of refusing her, so I decided not to take part in the system. Being English, I cannot deal with embarrassment and if I endorse some people, then other people will know that I’m not endorsing them, if you see what I mean! It’s nothing personal, but the LinkedIn recommendation system just doesn’t work for me.

When it comes down to it, I’m just too English to be able use the system.


In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes


Barclays have started a new service whereby you can upload your own image and get a personalised debit card. This sounded like a really fun idea, so I thought I’d give it a try. Unfortunately, Barclays rejected my chosen image because it “has not met our image guidelines”. So I thought I’d better read them before I send another image. The guidelines are that the image must not contain any of the following:

  • Trademarks or company names (e.g., images marked with ® or ™ signs);
  • Images or text protected by copyright (e.g., images marked with © or other watermarks or notations);
  • Slogans, tag lines, branding, marketing or promotional products, services or images of companies;
  • Images of, or the name or nickname of, celebrities, musicians, sportspersons, entertainers, public-figures, film stars, cartoon characters, members of the Royal Family or other famous people;
  • Contact information (e.g., telephone numbers, online usernames, account numbers, addresses or e-mail addresses);
  • Political statements, or images relating to ethnicity or religion;
  • Images of flags;
  • Images, signs, symbols or text relating to money, currency, drugs, tobacco, alcohol, gangs, hatred, graffiti, betting, gambling, or financial products or services;
  • Provocative, lewd or sexual images or content;
  • Nudity;
  • Offensive material (e.g., images, signs, symbols or text relating to violence, death, injury, racism, cruelty, profanity, obscenity, weapons, firearms, ammunition or terrorism);
  • Anti-social or obscene behaviour, or socially unacceptable groups;
  • Content where drinking (or being drunk), smoking or gambling is the focus;
  • Text unless benign and in the English language;
  • Any image that might reflect poorly or might engender hostility toward company brands (including MasterCard®, Visa® or Barclays);
  • Any reference to the Olympic Games, World Cup or any other international branded event;
  • Reference to any bank, building society or other monetary institution;
  • Any inappropriate content;
  • Weapons may only be included if they are being shown in a ceremonial context.

Having scoured the contents of my hard disk I’ve been unable to locate a single image that doesn’t fall foul of these guidelines, so I’ve had to abandon the experiment.

Interestingly, my existing Barclays debit card appears to fall foul of these guidelines because it makes reference to a bank and shows my account number. I will call the help desk to warn them.


In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

Slide rule precision

I’ve written before about my interest in paleofutures. I think it’s important not just to look at what people used to think about the future but why they thought it. Not to make fun of them, but to try and understand why they were wrong, so that we can use that knowledge to help to construct our own narratives about the future. I need these for work, because narratives are the way to create shared visions for organisations try to develop realistic strategies (and therefore make the right tactical investments right now).

Technology’s Martyrs: The Slide Rule” by Kirk Johnson in the New York Times (3rd January 1987) covers the story of Keuffel & Esser. This company, founded in 1867, was America’s pre-eminent manufacturer of slide rules. In 1965, they sold one million of them. In 1967, their centenary, they were commissioned to prepare a report about the future called “Life in the year 2067”, looking a century on. They interviewed scientists to come up with a vision that predicted electric cars and 3D TV. What it didn’t predict was that they would be out of business within a few years because of the electronic calculator. The end came quickly. On this day in 1976

K&E produced its last slide rule, which it presented to the Smithsonian Institution.

[From Computer History Museum | Exhibits | This Day in History: July 11]

In less than a decade they were gone because of technological change. But note the “Gibson” take on this: the invention that destroyed them, the electronic calculator, already existed when they wrote their report. In fact the first all electronic calculator desktop calculator went on sale in 1961

At the end of 1961 the Bell Punch Company put the Anita Mk VII on the market in continental Europe and the Anita Mk 8 in the rest of the world as the world’s first electronic desktop calculators. These were the only commercial electronic desktop calculators for more than 2 years

[From Anita: the world’s first electronic desktop calculator]

What’s more, the first electronic all-transistor calculator (from Sharp) went on sale in 1964. So by the time the slide rule guys did their study, the technology that would destroy them had been on open sale for several years. They made the mistake, I guess, of thinking that because slide rules cost $10 and calculators cost $1,000 they would never compete, forgetting that the inevitable curve of technology price/performance would do for them in time. And, I suspect, the scientists that wrote the report all used slide rules and were perfectly happy with them.


In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

Government’s Magic Boxes will get rid of porn

Well, excellent scoop from Channel 4. Apparently, the government has discovered a Magic Box of some description.

Internet and phone firms are preparing to install “black boxes” to monitor UK internet and phone traffic, and decode encrypted messages – including Facebook and GMail messages.

[From ‘Black boxes’ to monitor all internet and phone data – Channel 4 News]

When I say scoop, of course, I’m being sarcastic, since the plans are well-known and several years old.

Home Office officials have told senior figures from the internet and telecommunications industries that the “black box” technology could automatically retain and store raw data from the web before transferring it to a giant central database controlled by the Government.

[From Government black boxes will ‘collect every email’ – Home News – UK – The Independent]

But Channel 4 say that these boxes have some pretty amazing abilities, including that of decrypting all internet traffic. Apparently the government’s Magic Box decrypts everything, throws away the content and then sends the message headers back to the ISP for storage, although why they would bother doing this isn’t clear – why doesn’t the government store them? Anyway, the point is that the government knows what you are looking at. So…

The Prime Minister spoke recently about the possibility that internet services or devices might come with a filter on as their default setting, and said that the government should investigate that option and seek views on it.

[From Ministers consult public on ‘opt in for smut’ plans • The Register]

Why can’t the government do this? Since it knows what you’re looking at, if you’re looking at child pornography, Nazi drug-dealing propaganda or the Labour party manifesto then the Magic Box can simply throw away the traffic. I’m thinking of popping along to the Conservative Technology Forum in a couple of weeks’ time so I’ll ask the question there: if these Magic Boxes do exist, then why doesn’t the government use them to block child pornography? And if they say that they won’t, then I’ll write the Daily Wail headline myself: “Cameron decides to allow child pornography”.

I’ve tried googling to find out how the Magic Boxes are going to decrypt SSL sessions but without success. It could be that one of the big IT suppliers has told the government that it can be done provided several hundred million quid are invested in building custom systems, and that when a billion quid has been wasted on it they will just cancel the project (like the NHS Supercomputer). One implication is obvious though: the government will have to ban VPNs and PGP.


In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

TEDdy bear

A few years ago, while banging my head against the brick wall that was Her Majesty’s Government’s ID Cards scheme, I had an idea for trying to explain what technology could do to deliver a better national identity infrastructure for the 21st century: use Dr. Who’s “psychic paper” as the narrative pivot, much as the technologists of a previous generation used the Star Trek “Communicator” as the template for the mobile phone.

What was an amusing notion for a talk at a small conference took hold and I developed the concept in a paper that was published in the Journal of Identity in the Information Society back in 2009 [here] and evolved the idea of the “Psychic ID”.

what started off as an idea in a discussion — basically, trying to visualise 21st-century digital identity management using Dr. Who’s psychic paper as a reference point, having given up on trying to explain keys, certificates and all the rest of the crypto-infrastructure — became a presentation and then a paper and finally a peer-reviewed paper that I’m rather proud of. I’ve found a way to explain to non-technical audiences — well, British non-technical audiences at least — that the combination of widely-available devices and intelligence can deliver an identity management infrastructure that can achieve much more than they imagine.

[From Digital Identity: I can see an article of some sort. Anyone called David?]

The idea went down tolerably well, so when I was very kindly invited to give my first TEDx talk at Sussex University I thought I’d give it a try. It was actually very difficult to know what to present. We ran through it a couple of times at the office, but I wasn’t sure who would be in the audience or what they would be interested in so it was hard to judge to contact. Anyway, it seemed to go down OK on the day, and I was quite excited when I got a link to a video of the talk.

When I saw the video, I was horrified! Points not made properly, interrupted trains of thought, stupid jokes in the wrong place (or half completed, including a good joke about banks having problems with id management), a series of distractions, key points not made properly, too many slides with variable pacing… I could go on. I rather pride myself on presenting as my only comparative advantage and contribution to Consult Hyperion, so I was, to say the least, not very happy with it.

Hence I was astonished, and genuinely flattered, to get an e-mail informing me that my talk was one of the less than one in a hundred of the TEDx talks that are shown on the main TED site. And as of today, there it is.

I won’t get over this for a while.


In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes