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Personal Data Law

Friday, January 19th, 2018

The Economist cover story this week is on Taming the Titans, by which they mean the new titans of Google, Facebook and Amazon. They talk about how these players could be regulated to avoid the abuse of monopolies and they make a nice comparison between how we deal with Intellectual Property and how we could deal with Personal Data:

Just as America drew up sophisticated rules about intellectual property in the 19th century, so it needs a new set of laws to govern the ownership and exchange of data, with the aim of giving solid rights to individuals.

The Economist, How to Tame the Tech Titans []

We have personal data laws in many places but the comparison to IP is a good one (despite the myriad problems with out-of-date IP law…)

R.I.P. Dad

Saturday, October 28th, 2017

Goodbye and thanks for everything, I would not be here and I would not be who I am without you.

The Faces of Copyright

Tuesday, October 24th, 2017

Another case of IP law needing to be updated for the computer age…

Someone is suing movie studios over the copyright to characters which were created using facial contour mapping of actors onto CGI faces. the defence is arguing that this would be equivilant to Microsoft owning the copyright text written in Word or Adobe owning images made with Photoshop. of course the plaintiff disagrees:

”Generally, an author writes a book by typing every word into a Word document, and an artist creates a work of art by deciding on specific treatment of every pixel in a Photoshop file,” continues the brief. “But in neither case does their work provide input to software that synthesizes an original expression that is distinct from the author’s or artist’s input. … The core distinction between defendants’ analogies and the MOVA Contour program is the degree to which the output is the product of the effort of the program’s user versus the program itself. Where the program does the ‘lion’s share of the work’ in creating the output — as the complaint alleges the MOVA Contour program does here — the copyright in the output belongs to the programmer, not the end-user or the director.”

Lawyers of Rearden LLC in their brief as quoted in Hollywood Confronts a Copyright Argument With Potential for Mass Disruption [].<\cite>

I don’t buy the argument on grounds of common sense. The idea that the computer does the “Lion’s share of the work” crunching numbers implies that the binary math the CPU does, as instructed, is more valuable than all the other work done to produce a blockbuster film, or the work of the actor behind the CGI, stikes seems absurd. Computer programs do the Lion’s share of the work in so many aspects of the modern world.

Programers make programs to do things, people use the programs to do those things. If he wins then programer will own the world. 

Now is the time

Thursday, October 5th, 2017

Sorry Mitch McConnell, there is no more appropriate time to discuss legislative solutions to the material failure of current US laws to protect Americans from gun violence. Congress does not need time to mourn, it needs to debate and legislate.

Politicians just continue to dodge the issue:

“Entirely premature to be discussing about legislative solutions if any,”

Mitch McConnell, speaking in the aftermath of the shootings in Las Vegas, from McConnell swats away talk of gun control []

Rural Broadband Revisited

Friday, September 29th, 2017

Just watched this video…

It reminded me that I posted the same idea [] back in 2010. the idea that we should use the framework of the rural electrification act to promote broadband expansion in low density places.

And not much has changed in the interceeding 7 years. Based on the 4G wireless coverage map in the video it would seem that maybe my mobile work work on my grandparents farm. So, I guess that’s progress.

It would be sad if the government does scale back their definition of broadband to 4G speeds and just declare victory and move on. I still think that high speed data is as important as roads and power to the modern world (I’m not going to mention water – it’s already on the “required for life” list) and the government has a key role in making sure this infrastructure reaches all its citizens. Rural co-ops still seem, to me, to be the best model based on things already proven to work.

If you’re good at it you deserve a medal

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

“Adulthood is kind of like the Olympics where the main event is trying not to fall apart under the weight of your own ennui”

Rae Paoletta in “Screaming Hairy Armadillos Articulate Our Existential Dread” [] on

American Bigotry

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

Being the token American overseas for the better half of two decades now I have had the “American Racism” conversation many times. Usually my stock response is something like this:

“Bigotry is the norm. I’ve seen, though not often experienced racism everywhere I’ve lived and most places I’ve traveled — all over Europe and many places in Southeast Asia. The big difference between racism in American and everywhere else is that America has an ongoing, public discussion of its own racism. Most places don’t. Americans are racist. So are The British. And the Chinese. The Japanese and the Swedish are racist. The mix of passive vs. active racism differs, but it seems that racism is a universal human trait (really bigotry in all its ugly -isms is: racism, sexism, ageism, chauvinism, etc.). America’s history of slavery and global immigration means that in many places, where the melting pot extends beyond Europeans, we are confronted daily with the reality of people who are visibly different, and not just their skin. We have a much longer history of this than most places, possibly exception London and its imperial heritage. Even places far from the city have, in my lifetime — in my adult lifetime — have experienced more diversity. The number of Hispanics in my home town or in Northern Virginia where I attended college. The number of Somali refugees in Souix Falls, South Dakota near my grandparents farm.

When I lived in London there was a big news story about a murder, I don’t remember the details but the story sticks in my mind because of an observation one of my dorm mates made of a press conference. They pointed out the police official stumbled over the correct word to use to describe the mans race. This was the first time I had the thought that the public discussion of racism in America meant they everyone knows the acceptable terms for people of different races. There are norms about how you refer to people of this or that race. There are norms of speech and behaviour that when crossed will get someone accused of racism. It’s not to say that people don’t say things that are racist or act in racist ways, just that they know what is legal and what is socially acceptable. This does not fix the problem, it pushes active racism to the fringes though passive racism persists. It’s a step in the right direction but we have a long way to go to realise our founding principle of equality.”

Now those norms have been challenged, Trump has emboldened those who want to return to active, in-your-face racism. My hometown has become ground zero for the new race war []. I don’t even know what to say about it. I abhor what the bigoted fucks who showed up for the “Unite the Right” rally stand for. At the same time I believe in the liberal idea of free speech. Free speech isn’t absolute but, except very few and specific things, people should be free and feel free to voice their opinions. No other system works, just imagine if your opinion was the unpopular or “wrong” one… should you be prevented from voicing it? I Guess all I can say is that I absolutely believe bigotry in all it’s guises is wrong, I try to live that way and we need people who believe that to scream it at the top of their lungs to drown out the bigots and drive them back beyond the fringes.

AppleTV + HomePod

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

Dear Apple,
The HomePod is cool and all, after all the Echo is cool, and I’m sure it would be awesome in the bedroom. But… what I really want is a mashup of the HomePod and another Apple product. The AppleTV.

Rather than have an AppleTV and a HomePod in my living room I’d like to have a soundbar-esque AppleTV that incorporates the HomePod functions.

Thank you,

Big Data and a Brown Paper Bag

Sunday, June 18th, 2017

So, Amazon bought Whole Foods. I haven’t read much analysis — just seen a lot of jokes about Alexa misunderstanding Jeff Bezos and buying it for him. I think it makes total sense for a couple of reasons and I’ve been intending to write a post one one of those reasons since before Amazon opened the Amazon Go store (yes, I’m slow writing and posting things here…).

The first reason I think Amazon-Whole Foods makes sense is that Whole Foods gives Amazon a perfect platform to take AmazonFresh national. Whole Foods shoppers are exactly the type of people that would use the AmazonFresh service so Amazon gains access to these people. Whole Foods stores and the local contracts allow the currently limited service to to launch the nationwide.

The second thing — the one I have been meaning to write about — is about fundamentally changing the model for supermarkets and how we shop is about the data.

I’ve been talking about this with a colleague at work for a while. The discussion basically comes down to “Supermarkets business model is dead. Because… Data. If they don’t embrace the data then someone else will and they’ll put us out of their misery”.
At issue is the basic supermarket business model, as I understand it. That is getting people into the shop to buy the staples goods they need and selling them overpriced extra goods they don’t need. As far as I can tell this model has not changed since the 50’s. In order to enable this buiness model supermarkets need to be huge and stock everything and use every psychological trick in the book, and invent a few more over the past half century, to get you to put that extraneous stuff into to your cart.

But supermarkets have been sitting on a treasure trove of data, from their loyalty programs, that they are basically ignoring. Millions of people have loyalty cards for their shopping and every time they swipe it the supermarket can link their purchases to a person. Think about how they could use that data. They know what you purchase and how often. They know I buy milk every week, they know the brand. They know I buy cloths detergent every month. Why don’t they take the initiative?

Why don’t I get a message from them every week that my regular purchases are ready for delivery or pickup at my regular store? They could offer me specials that I have purchased in the past or similar offers. They could offer to delivery my regular basket. Would I like to add this weeks super-special-only-for-me to my basket. They could turn week-in, week-out grocery shopping into eCommerce and take advantage of a whole new back of tricks.

By taking the initiative they could streamline their logistics chain and maybe reduce their physical store sizes since they don’t need to keep all that just-in-case stock. Lowering they rent bill needs to more than make up for the losses for those impulse buys. Has someone done this analysis?
This model relies on selling me the things I need with greater convenience. Increasing the margins on those sales and not relying on impulse buys. I think the traditional supermarkets are blinded by their established business plan. They survived the dotcom bubble and the various grocery delivery startups that popped up them and maybe they don’t think the time is up for the current model this round. But I think big data will kill the supermarket (as we know it) and I expect to see Amazon disrupting the supermarket landscape quickly once this deal is closed.

Viral Post

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

I was recently discussing with a development line manager on one of my projects an aspect of the solution I was proposing. The line manager seemed to think this was an incredibly hard development job. I think it was simple for any mid level developer.

I got to  thinking about the code problem and later that night I posted an update to LinkedIn:

Anyone in Singapore want to hire an underpaid Solutions Architect to be an overpaid Software Engineer again? I miss writing code.

I know I can’t make a decent living writing code in Singapore, but it is all I ever really wanted to do. So…

Anyway. This post is by far the most viewed and commented thing I have ever posted to linked in. And I suspect it is more cowered than anything here or on Facebook (maybe some stack overflow questions/answers have more):

So, Capgemini, Optus and Ericcson – got any development jobs in Singapore?