September 15, 2014

Misconceptions about privacy and surveillance

Everybody is confused about privacy and surveillance. So I’m renewing my efforts to consciousness-raise within the tech community. For if we don’t figure out and explain the issues clearly enough, there isn’t a snowball’s chance in Hades our lawmakers will get it right without us.

How bad is the confusion? Well, even Edward Snowden is getting it wrong. A Wired interview with Snowden says:

“If somebody’s really watching me, they’ve got a team of guys whose job is just to hack me,” he says. “I don’t think they’ve geolocated me, but they almost certainly monitor who I’m talking to online. Even if they don’t know what you’re saying, because it’s encrypted, they can still get a lot from who you’re talking to and when you’re talking to them.”

That is surely correct. But the same article also says:

“We have the means and we have the technology to end mass surveillance without any legislative action at all, without any policy changes.” The answer, he says, is robust encryption. “By basically adopting changes like making encryption a universal standard—where all communications are encrypted by default—we can end mass surveillance not just in the United States but around the world.”

That is false, for a myriad of reasons, and indeed is contradicted by the first excerpt I cited.

What privacy/surveillance commentators evidently keep forgetting is:

So closing down a few vectors of privacy attack doesn’t solve the underlying problem at all.

Worst of all, commentators forget that the correct metric for danger is not just harmful information use, but chilling effects on the exercise of ordinary liberties. But in the interest of space, I won’t reiterate that argument in this post.

Perhaps I can refresh your memory why each of those bulleted claims is correct. Major categories of privacy-destroying information (raw or derived) include:

Read more

May 6, 2014

Notes and comments, May 6, 2014

After visiting California recently, I made a flurry of posts, several of which generated considerable discussion.

Here is a catch-all post to complete the set.  Read more

February 2, 2014

Some stuff I’m thinking about (early 2014)

From time to time I like to do “what I’m working on” posts. From my recent blogging, you probably already know that includes:

Other stuff on my mind includes but is not limited to:

1. Certain categories of buying organizations are inherently leading-edge.

Fine. But what really intrigues me is when more ordinary enterprises also put leading-edge technologies into production. I pester everybody for examples of that.

Read more

January 9, 2014

The games of Watson

IBM excels at game technology, most famously in Deep Blue (chess) and Watson (Jeopardy!). But except at the chip level — PowerPC — IBM hasn’t accomplished much at game/real world crossover. And so I suspect the Watson hype is far overblown.

I believe that for two main reasons. First, whenever IBM talks about big initiatives like Watson, it winds up bundling a bunch of dissimilar things together and claiming they’re a seamless whole. Second, some core Watson claims are eerily similar to artificial intelligence (AI) over-hype three or more decades past. For example, the leukemia treatment advisor that is being hopefully built in Watson now sounds a lot like MYCIN from the early 1970s, and the idea of collecting a lot of tidbits of information sounds a lot like the Cyc project. And by the way:

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December 8, 2013

DataStax/Cassandra update

Cassandra’s reputation in many quarters is:

This has led competitors to use, and get away with, sales claims along the lines of “Well, if you really need geo-distribution and can’t wait for us to catch up — which we soon will! — you should use Cassandra. But otherwise, there are better choices.”

My friends at DataStax, naturally, don’t think that’s quite fair. And so I invited them — specifically Billy Bosworth and Patrick McFadin — to educate me. Here are some highlights of that exercise.

DataStax and Cassandra have some very impressive accounts, which don’t necessarily revolve around geo-distribution. Netflix, probably the flagship Cassandra user — since Cassandra inventor Facebook adopted HBase instead — actually hasn’t been using the geo-distribution feature. Confidential accounts include:

DataStax and Cassandra won’t necessarily win customer-brag wars versus MongoDB, Couchbase, or even HBase, but at least they’re strongly in the competition.

DataStax claims that simplicity is now a strength. There are two main parts to that surprising assertion. Read more

August 24, 2013

Hortonworks business notes

Hortonworks did a business-oriented round of outreach, talking with at least Derrick Harris and me. Notes  from my call — for which Rob Bearden* didn’t bother showing up — include, in no particular order:

*Speaking of CEO Bearden, an interesting note from Derrick’s piece is that Bearden is quoted as saying “I started this company from day one …”, notwithstanding that the now-departed Eric Baldeschwieler was founding CEO.

In Hortonworks’ view, Hadoop adopters typically start with a specific use case around a new type of data, such as clickstream, sensor, server log, geolocation, or social.  Read more

July 12, 2013

More notes on predictive modeling

My July 2 comments on predictive modeling were far from my best work. Let’s try again.

1. Predictive analytics has two very different aspects.

Developing models, aka “modeling”:

More precisely, some modeling algorithms are straightforward to parallelize and/or integrate into RDBMS, but many are not.

Using models, most commonly:

2. Some people think that all a modeler needs are a few basic algorithms. (That’s why, for example, analytic RDBMS vendors are proud of integrating a few specific modeling routines.) Other people think that’s ridiculous. Depending on use case, either group can be right.

3. If adoption of DBMS-integrated modeling is high, I haven’t noticed.

Read more

April 25, 2013

Analytic application themes

I talk with a lot of companies, and repeatedly hear some of the same application themes. This post is my attempt to collect some of those ideas in one place.

1. So far, the buzzword of the year is “real-time analytics”, generally with “operational” or “big data” included as well. I hear variants of that positioning from NewSQL vendors (e.g. MemSQL), NoSQL vendors (e.g. AeroSpike), BI stack vendors (e.g. Platfora), application-stack vendors (e.g. WibiData), log analysis vendors (led by Splunk), data management vendors (e.g. Cloudera), and of course the CEP industry.

Yeah, yeah, I know — not all the named companies are in exactly the right market category. But that’s hard to avoid.

Why this gold rush? On the demand side, there’s a real or imagined need for speed. On the supply side, I’d say:

2. More generally, most of the applications I hear about are analytic, or have a strong analytic aspect. The three biggest areas — and these overlap — are:

Also arising fairly frequently are:

I’m hearing less about quality, defect tracking, and equipment maintenance than I used to, but those application areas have anyway been ebbing and flowing for decades.

Read more

January 28, 2013

Attack of the Frankenschemas

In typical debates, the extremists on both sides are wrong. “SQL vs. NoSQL” is an example of that rule. For many traditional categories of database or application, it is reasonable to say:

Reasons to abandon SQL in any given area usually start:

Some would further say that NoSQL is cheaper, scales better, is cooler or whatever, but given the range of NewSQL alternatives, those claims are often overstated.

Sectors where these reasons kick in include but are not limited to: Read more

October 18, 2012

Notes on Hadoop adoption and trends

With Strata/Hadoop World being next week, there is much Hadoop discussion. One theme of the season is BI over Hadoop. I have at least 5 clients claiming they’re uniquely positioned to support that (most of whom partner with a 6th client, Tableau); the first 2 whose offerings I’ve actually written about are Teradata Aster and Hadapt. More generally, I’m hearing “Using Hadoop is hard; we’re here to make it easier for you.”

If enterprises aren’t yet happily running business intelligence against Hadoop, what are they doing with it instead? I took the opportunity to ask Cloudera, whose answers didn’t contradict anything I’m hearing elsewhere. As Cloudera tells it (approximately — this part of the conversation* was rushed):   Read more

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