Saturday, May 29, 2010

Search strategies

Ever lost something in your house?  Thought you knew where it was but turns out you didn't?  When you go looking for it, its just not there.  What do you do?

Search nearby? Search in ever widening circles around the spot where it should be? Try to retrace steps? Look in the lost-and-found basket? Ask someone else? Systematically begin searching everywhere? Quarter the house and start a search grid?  Do a sampled search of specific areas? Try to apply probability to where it most likely could be? Employ search agents( not your children... really, it doesn't work.)

There are some interesting strategies for searching for an thing in an unknown environment. There are a few ways to try to optimize the search but they are often dependent on properties of either the thing, the environment or the search tool(s).  Not always generalizable.

As you might have guessed, I have lost something.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Artificial Creativity systems and software children

Just read an article on David Cope and his computer generated music. (This is such an understatement)

Now I have found an article on him on wikipedia ( which is where I should have stared anyway) which gives a much better background.
This reminds me of an article I read on software used to generate origional images. Even the background on the creator has echos. Sort of a "genius builds artificial child to help with creative process then lives off its success" spin.

This is a link to information about AARON the image creation software.(Which now has a download... nice. )
I can't find the original article. I think it was in a copy of Wired back in the day.

Anyway, the common theme I was seeing was the way the subject was presented. That these special purpose pieces of software, once they started doing something creative, were personified as some sort of "child" of the creator. I know its not explicit, but its still the impression I took away from reading the articles. 

I wonder if this is the easiest way to communicate these concepts to the reading public? Obviously the creators feel some sense of ownership and creation about their tools that they have spent so much time and effort to build. But why are they not seen as a creator with a really cool tool that extends their personal ability and reach?  Surely the macros and tools I write do not have a life of their own. (Although some of them certainly generate a lot of "social activity" as it were.) But they are just extensions of their users ability. I guess once the tool starts to operate fairly automatically with little (new) input from the creator, it has crossed some threshold. It certainly becomes an encapsulated thing that does not need the creator to function and can be "triggered" by anyone.

However as the tool contains a huge library of content and encoded knowledge from the creator; just because its turned on by someone else, do they get to claim its output as a product of their effort? Does a person who uses a knife get to claim the product of using the knife is a product of their effort? Even if the knife is a product of a huge amount of cleaver design and work hours by someone else?  It's a clear line when the tool is a "dumb" thing that extends the ability of the user but does not enhance it beyond what they could achieve in other ways.  But when the tool not only extends the users ability but supplements it in ways that the user could not otherwise achieve without either hiring the original creator of the tool... then its a more complex case.

I would debate that much of the product of the tool is still more closely related to the tools creator than to the user of the tool. But that begins to blur the line between intellectual property and real property.Conceptually, when the tool itself changed hands, so did some right to the intellectual property encoded in the tool. (Obviously, as this is the case with any software) however it becomes much more emotive when that IP is what has hitherto been seen as some "magical" ability to be "creative". Another of those special properties that people use to try to differentiate themselves from "lower life forms". 

But then again, should the tool be identified somehow as being autonomous? Having an existence apart from its creator? Certainly if it continues to collect more information and evolves beyond its creator.  But what if there are some limitations that were encoded intentionally or unintentionally by its creators that it cannot evolve past? Or are these just a failure in some way?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Privacy, Sharing and Social Media

Good article on the evolution of privacy with social media.

This ties into a lecture I went to last night on eHealth Records by Prof. Peter Croll. There were themes about privacy vs the utility of the information stored in the system for providing health services. There was also a discussion of the various layers of control and who would have control over the information.
Generally I would break it down into a number of different groups of topics.

* Functionality. - What information the system can hold and how it can be delivered.
* Control - who can add, edit, see, delete and under what conditions.
* Ownership - At the end of the day, who gets to say what happens to the information, Who has access to the information or derived information ( de-identified information and summary information etc)
* Peace-Of-Mind - This captures trust, perception of safety, perception of accuracy, sense of security etc not the actual reality of these things.
* Oversight - Who is the magical "third party" that will enforce all the rules and policies and how with this third party evolve over time?

Now getting back to the whole social media spin. So much of the issues with privacy and sense of control are already being played out in the social media systems. I think the developers of an eHealth system could do well to look at the issues and some of the solutions that have already been tried and solved. But since the Gov. is funding the show, we all know it will turn into a large slow fragile system that is of marginal use and great cost and will be scrapped in a few years once people have taken the next step and relaxed a bit.  Then the next system can be implemented on the bones of the old one.  Its evolution but painful to watch.

The worst part of these evolutionary systems is just how little seems to be learned by the corporate IT who do the development. They seem to want to re-invent every single wheel and learn every single bad lesson for themselves again and again and again.... but I digress.

These systems are essentially made up of people connected by a thin layer of technology. It will need to be flexible with lots of layers of control.

Another of the big issues with a system like this is its future use. I know the value of a large data set, so does every other data architect. I can bet that somewhere someone is in the ear of the designers about trying to make sure the data is permanent. No matter what the users see, the data record cannot be deleted. Ethically there are issues here, functionally there are probably other issues, and technically it just makes the job a little bit harder. From the perception point of view it would probably solve some of the difficulties but all that will go for nothing when someone finally figures out that they don't really have the level of control they thought they had.
The question is whether the owners of the data set (I can only assume the Gov. will claim it) will be willing to accept termite-ing of the data set over time or not. Likely? I think not.

It will be fun to watch....

Idea Notes - Markup Language for soundtracks for video and movies

The problem. Searchable content in a video stream which is currently hard to index. This also has accessibility issues for people with language, hearing, vision differences etc.

The actual content stream could be dialog ( the script track ), sound effects ( both salient and ambient ), characters activities ( salient activities and ambient ) set & location information and finally camera framing, shot length etc. You could also make notes on colour palate, lighting, effects ( slomo, fast speed, cutting, montage etc)

There is a lot that could be borrowed from an animation directors work notes I guess. The point being that with a common and open language specification it would be possible to reverse-engineer any peices of video and apply this meta data to it.  This would be useful for film restoration as well as feeding a whole slew of useful data into search engines.

All it needs is a catchy name.  Something like OpenVideoDescriptionLanguage (OVDL). Or eXtensibleVideoDescriptionLanguage. (XVDL).  Every one likes four letter acronymns....

Friday, May 7, 2010

Thoughts on the MySchool - NAPLAN argument

The teachers Union have been out played. There's no other way to describe it. They have played their one and only trump card and then been left like shags on a rock with nothing else.

If they really wanted to be players in the game (which seems debatable once a Union gets involved) they should have come up with a much better set of "trumps". For instance (in no particular order):

* Refuse to administer the test (their only idea)
* Administer the test but not submit the results
* Administer the test but corrupt the results
* Administer the test to only their best student and then copy the results for every other student in the class. (Obviously detectable. But still makes a point)
* Administer the test and report only the results for the worst result in the class.
* Do the tests themselves and leave the students completely out of it.
* Report their results - as they honestly think they should be reported. (Be that whatever it may be)
* Ask the politicians to personally administer the tests.
* Ask the students parents to administer the tests and submit the results.
* etc.

There are so many options for civil disobedience but they chose none of them. Which really suggests that the Union chose none of them. At the end of the day this says more about the Australian Education Union than it does about anything else in this debacle.

At the end of all this, I actually like the compromise that they have all arrived at. I think Julia has gotten the result she wanted, the Union got to feel like they mattered and the teachers are under the illusion someone is listening to them. I don't seriously think anyone is going to listen to a consultative committee... but if it makes them feel better, its done its job.

Good to see a politician who can get a result. Even in the face of bargaining with a Union with so little a clue.

Case Study on WePay service

Yet another interesting use of the cloud to provide a solution to a complex social problem.

This is a very cleaver application that helps groups collect, manage and spend money. For the group, by the group. Something that happens all over the world in different ways and has the same problems no matter what the culture. (People.... if you were wondering what I was referring to!)

Very nice. Hope they can make it work.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Cloudy Day

The main thing that has changed since I was last working in the private sector is the availability and utility of cloud services.  Every day I find more and more useful, mature services. The thing that has not changed is people. There is still a hesitancy to trust something that you can't touch or a person you can't look in the eye. I think this is the one cognitive leap that divides the current digital businesses from the nearly-digital businesses. Somewhere there is someone in a decision making capacity that just can't make that leap.

If you have ever seen a flock of sheep pile up because one sheep could not walk past a particular rock or bush... same dynamic. All the other sheep are going "I can't see anything... but maybe.... what do you think??"
The natural urge to caution comes out and all the sheep are reduced to the level of the most conservative sheep. Nothing wrong with that. That strategy has good strong survival instincts built in.

This brings us back to cloud services.  How do those conservative choices apply with cloud services?

Look at risk management.  Cloud services are a risk managers worst nightmare.  How do you quantify and mitigate the risk of a business that you rely on going bust and disappearing into the night with your data and potentially a critical element in your business?

Same way businesses have always played the trust game. Contracts.

Behind every cloud service is a person who can have "penalty clauses" applied to them.  But for that to happen, you need to be able to find them and their jurisdiction.  You need to be able to contract agents in that jurisdiction who can act on your behalf. This is a game that has been played out in different ways countless times over the past centuries with traders selling things to people in "foreign" lands.  It always comes down to a choice. Even though there is a "deal" ( read contract) in place. It's only useful as long as things are going well.  When the deal goes sour, to actually apply the penalty clauses, there usually has to be someone who will "honor" the terms of the contract voluntarily.  This usually means there has to be a business or owner or the estate/assets etc who will "do the right thing".  When that comes to a pile of digital records and digital assets and your ability to contact agents in foreign parts is limited by you being a small to medium enterprise without a litigation department. What do you do? Who can you call?

Some thing to think about when purchasing cloud services.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Old Leaf - New Leaf

I'm starting to spin up my consulting business again. It's been quiet for a couple of years, so there are all sorts of things that need to be dusted off and refreshed. Being a little older and wiser, I see just how much has changed.  The major things that I have come to appreciate are the issues around risk and risk management. Previously I was happy to dive into a job and swim.
Now I'm a little more aware of the risks before I even dip my toe in the water. I have always said that getting the technology right in a system was just a factor of time and energy, but getting the people in a system right is a whole different ball of wax.  Working at the Uni has given me a much greater appreciation for just how much trouble there can be in the politics of large distributed organizations.  This all ties back to my interest in Behavioral Economics but that's just a pleasant side project.

Anyway, to cut a long ramble short. While I'm more confident and relaxed about consulting in medium enterprises now, I am also more aware of the complexity that larger groups of people generate. Getting the people right is now the first priority. The question, as always, is how.

 Things to dust off...

* Advertising
* Presentation (Business cards, phone numbers, web presence, letter head etc)
* Infrastructure ( Office space, servers and workstation, development tools, toolkit, laptop etc)
* Network ( People, Suppliers, Sub-contractors )
* Business and tax knowledge
* Reading list (Read more ads and less facts)
* Spreadsheets, Invoices and Gantt charts

Tick, tick tick.... the game is on.