s3e18: You Want To Classify Prime Numbers Now? 

by danhon

0.0 Station Ident

Wednesday, April 27th 2016 at the XOXO Outpost in Portland. Today was one of those toddler days where I’m in awe of how my wife has the patience to deal with our threenager as he *says* that he wants to do one thing but patently *doesn’t* do that thing by doing, in various orders, Every Other Thing It’s Possible To Do. Item one: reading books is not brushing your teeth, item two: playing a tambourine is not putting on socks.

And against all of this, I  am absolutely and totally unapologetic as to getting so far as getting out my (not used very much) bicycle, checking its tires, finding my helmet and then *not* riding it to the Outpost because I can’t find the bit that I put my phone in so that I know which roads to go down because *obviously* that’s the thing that’s stopping me from riding my bike.

Anxiety is mid-to-high levels, probably falling a bit later, probably rising later, too. There’s a whole bunch of stuff knocking around inside my head and one of the things that I’ve learned (seriously, it’s taken like ten years of therapy to realise this) is that my head sometimes is just *too* full of stuff. That that feeling of pressure is, in some way, a metaphorical literal pressure (whatever that means) which means there’s not room for *anything else*. Anyway. You’ll see what I mean.

Today’s episode Contact quote will make sense further down, I hope.

1.0 It’s All Connected In Some Way, Trust Me

First off, please read Rose Eveleth’s[0] piece on Fusion about how bodyhackers have been around for ages – they’re called women[1] and then follow that up with Natalie Zutter[2]’s reaction and discussion[3] on Tor.com. This all fits in my head with the whole “we had marketing but now we call it growth-hacking and it’s a bro-engineering thing” and the “look, you can be a poet but let’s just make sure that you’re a dude working in Silicon Valley” [citations needed both times]. I’m reminded of one of the tactics – if you can call it a tactic, one other way of thinking about it is just straight-up calling it cultural appropriation – which was how certain advertising agencies would “borrow” from, say, black culture and then make it mainstream when they needed to get you to buy some new sneakers. Of course those advertising agencies now totally feel bad about that.

I have a list of currently-not-existing Wikipedia articles in my head, the first of which is List Of Ill-Advised Startups, of which I’d include Social Autopsy (I’m not even going to link, sorry), and the most recent of which is Beige Notes[4], via Cyd Harrell[5]. Beige Notes is – in minimum viable product terms – a way for you (and I have to admit, my sexist stereotyping is firing madly here), a likely insecure male in his twenties – to get feedback about Just Why She Wasn’t That In To You – by providing some sort of interactive intermediary platform (in this MVP instance, a fucking Typeform), a sort of “trusted third party provides feedback” which I *suppose* could be handwaved away in terms of “well, isn’t that how matchmakers work?” and “isn’t that how your friends set you up with better dates” but all *I* can see is some sense of weird tingly “but this isn’t a technology problem and this doesn’t feel like the right way to solve the problem” because the way of getting feedback is to *just ask* and if she (most likely) doesn’t want to give you feedback then *that’s ok* because you can’t force her to. Or, maybe it’s just because I haven’t been dating in (counts) 15 years and I don’t have to deal with the angst that is being ghosted.

Next! It’s not thermal imaging cameras that detected hidden motors / motorised doping in cyclocross, it was… magnetic resonance imaging?! There we all were, thinking that infrared cameras detecting the heat blooms of tiny hidden motors would be the ones giving away dishonest cyclists but Cyclingtips reports that Van den Dreissche has been banned for six years[6]. The governing body said that it used “new magnetic resonance testing” that “detected the motor while the bike was in the rider’s pit area. The motor was a Vivax which was concealed along with a battery in the seat-tube. It was controlled by a Bluetooth switch installed underneath the handlebar tape.” To which, I have to go read up on and remember because I can’t remember if having an MRI[7] is the one where you go to hospital and take off all your metal and lie down inside the big (but small) claustrophobic tube that goes THRUM THRUM THRUM, or the other one where economists get all excited about what happens when you think about price anchoring and how functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) will let us see blood flow to the bit of the brain that loves a good sale price on Black Friday.

But, you know, I guess portable MRIs[8] exist now? In which case, is the UCI actually using the awesomely named SQUIDs[9] (superconducting quantum interference devices) out in the field *to detect cheating cyclists*?

The second currently-not-existing Wikipedia article is, of course, A List Of Things That Have Bluetooth In Them.

Next: remember that thing about outlawing prime numbers? As we all know from watching Sneakers, prime numbers is How Encryption Works (and also, from watching Contact, how we establish communication with other intelligent beings because Mathematics Is The Universal Language), news via Lee Maguire[10] that certain of the British Prime Minister’s colleagues are alleged to have been co-ordinating their activity in the “in” European Union referendum campaign using WhatsApp[11] of all things because, of course, otherwise their communications would be subject to Freedom of Information Requests. This is a bit like Hillary using her own email server only, well, funnier, and also means we get to ask the question: were Cameron’s mates using WhatsApp before, or only after, the app implemented end-to-end encryption? The answer if before: they were using it ages ago. Maguire points out that it’s only a matter of time before government staff share strategy papers using oroborous loops on Snapchat[12] to avoid FOIA, too.

Next, next: it’s not necessarily that we *want* things to get smarter, it’s more that (at least on one axis) Intel needs to keep growing to satisfy The Market and in that way you can kind-of-blame Late-Stage-Capitalism for the plugging of the analogue hole and Intel proposing replacing the standard 3.5mm dumb-analog-audio-headphone jack with a USB Type-C connector[13] that the new MacBook only has one of. Sure, you can still pipe analog audio over the same jack by not having any smarts, but where’s the shareholder value in that? Look, if we just put chips in everything then everything will be OK and quantifiable and we totally don’t have anything to worry about like malware in planes or nuclear reactors[14]. I mean, sure, we can probably do way more cool stuff [citation needed] with a fully-digital audio path, but it also means that now you have to be a sysadmin for when YOUR HEADPHONES DON’T WORK. Or that your headphones might have malware. Or that your headphones might secretly be recording everything you say. Or that… hey, your headphones are Turing-Complete. What’s not to love?

Lastly, and more seriously, and probably the kind of stuff that a bunch of you read this stuff for. Russell Davies, again, this time on wanting to not have to start from the beginning every time he does a high-level executive presentation on What Digital Is And Why It Matters And Here’s What We Need To Do[14], where he points out the inherent tension between inevitably simplifying everything and building back up from first principles (here’s how the internet works, here’s what the world wide web does, it’s different from the internet, here’s why smartphones are important, here’s why being networked is important) and the fact that these days the good news is that there’s a non-zero probability that *someone* in the audience he’s presenting to actually *does* understand this stuff and has been saying it for ages only nobody inside has been listening to her because in this theoretical example a) she’s a woman, b) no-one listens to anyone about digital anyway and c) she wants to get him to get on with it and get to the good bit.

This kind of thing used to to happen to me, in a roundabout way, when I was working at an ad agency and we’d go down to visit, variously, a large Search Advertising Company or a large Social Networking Company and they’d talk to us, the People Who Work On The Large Shoe Company account. The Large Search and Social Networking Company people would invariably really fucking dumb things down and (some) of my colleagues would reward the dumbing down by asking questions that on the one hand, were reasonable, but on the other hand, didn’t help me because I Actually Knew What I Wanted With Regard To The Digital Stuff and I’d have to do something embarassing like ask a pointed question in order to do some status signalling so I could have a side-bar with Person From The Large Search Company where we’d talk about in-depth stuff and not just at the level of, “you know, teenagers watch a lot of video on YouTube”.

But anyway. Yes. It’d be nice to not have to start from first principles. Part of the problem that Russell points out is that – in the same way that I ripped the Samaritans a new one for their Radar project and whichever other non-profit did an ill-advised “digital campaign” and appeared to be hoodwinked into it by an *advertising* or *digital* agency – sometimes it’s hard for a non-digital-native company to *know* or be reassured of what “good digital” is. You can have your digital strategy, but if there’s no-one in your executive team who can properly assess it, or if your CEO doesn’t trust your Chief Digital Officer (if you even have one!) that it’s the right strategy, or even a good strategy, and if your board doesn’t even know where to hire one from, and if you can’t even turn to a consultancy because *most of them aren’t very good compared to the private sector who just get on with it and *even then* it’s a crapshoot (and yes I just realised I nested *s for emphasis), then what are you supposed to do? I mean, I’m fairly certain that if I go to Freshfields or Herbert Smith or any other Magic Circle firm in London I’m going to get pretty good legal advice. I mean, I should do, right? Is it really the case that you can’t really go to IBM or Accenture or Deloitte or whoever to get good advice? The answer, right now, feels that in the most part, no, you can’t and that it’s utterly dependent upon the particular person you get. Or there are, but they’re small consultancies. Or there aren’t. Or maybe it’s just because compared to law or accounting, both several hundred year old professions, there’s a certain body of knowledge that’s been built up, but really in the digital space we’re just dicking around with stuff that’s only existed for twenty years or so, and the *big secret* that no-one talks about is that it doesn’t even have much to do with the stuff that existed for twenty years or so because the strategy isn’t about the *how*, which is how a lot of people approach IT, but the *what*.


Wow. That was quite a bit.

Twitte procrastination today was:

– what if the cookie notices required by that goddamn stupid EU law still existed in the Star Trek: Next Generation universe: Dan Hon is typing on Twitter: “Stardate 47869.2 Data walks up to his ops console: “By continuing to use this LCARS console you agree to Starfleet’s use of cookies””

– for some reason I was thinking about forced bussing[15] which is a thing that exists or existed in America that I never had any knowledge of As A British to desegregate communities and services and had it mashed up in my head with the filter bubble that a lot of ourselves find ourselves in (all my friends would never vote for Trump! Voting for Trump is inconceivable! etc) and instead Forced Bussing For Desegretation But In Online Communities (Dan Hon is typing on Twitter: “Forced Bussing For Desegregation But In Online Communities”) in which case thanks to Sarah Emerson for the delightful mental image of Twitch Does… Pinterest! which plays off a bunch of mildly unhelpful stereotypes.

– and, lastly, Ready Player One, but with a message hidden inside Prince’s last will and testament: Dan Hon is typing on Twitter: “Ready Player One but with a message hidden in Prince’s Last Will and Testament”

– also, Fitbit only raised double (about $60m) the amount of money that Withings raised. One of those companies is “worth” about three billion dollars, the other one was *actually* worth $190m.

[0] Rose Eveleth (@roseveleth) | Twitter
[1] Bodyhackers are all around you, they’re called women | Fusion
[2] Natalie Zutter (@nataliezutter) | Twitter
[3] At Least Ten Percent of Women Are Cyborgs | Tor.com
[4] Beige Notes
[5] Cyd Harrell (@cydharrell) | Twitter
[6] Hidden motors: Van den Dreissche banned for six years, stripped of European and Belgian Under 23 titles | CyclingTips
[7] Magnetic resonance imaging – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[8] Portable MRI named Top 10 Breakthrough of 2015 by Physics World magazine
[9] SQUID – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[10] gwire (@gwire) | Twitter
[11] PM’s aides and ministers are using WhatsApp in pro-EU campaign to avoid embarrassing leaks
[12] gwire on Twitter: “2017: Government officials sharing strategy documents via Snapchat to avoid FOIA.”
[13] Intel Proposes to Use USB Type-C Digital Audio Technology
[14] Russell Davies: Subtleties
[15] Desegregation busing – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

OK. Time to stop.

Love, kisses and hugs, and send me notes as always because I like them.