Category Archives: Technology

Tech stuff from nerdsville

The art of dissembling

When a word fits you should use it


verb: dissemble; 3rd person present: dissembles; past tense: dissembled; past participle: dissembled; gerund or present participle: dissembling

conceal or disguise one’s true feelings or beliefs.
“an honest, sincere person with no need to dissemble”
synonyms: dissimulate, pretend, deceive, feign, act, masquerade, sham, fake, bluff, counterfeit, pose, posture, hide one’s feelings, be dishonest, put on a false front, lie; More
cover up, conceal, disguise, hide, mask, veil, shroud
“she is an honest, sincere person who has no need to dissemble”
disguise or conceal (a feeling or intention).
“she smiled, dissembling her true emotion”

That’s what Google provided as a dictionary definition. This is what prompted my query

Zuckerberg says Facebook is ‘not a traditional media company

One of the richest men in the world (don’t you love how capitalism rewards the deserving) is well practiced in the art of dissembling which may well explain why the platform itself is rife with so-called “fake news”.

Clean cut, intelligent but somehow struggles with defining what Facebook is. Well blind freddy can see it’s advertising company on steroids but I’m sure you will never get such a frank disclosure from Zucks. It also happens to occupy the space formerly dominated by mainstream media companies, which means it is a defacto media outlet even if they are at pains to avoid talking about it.

So while this “chat” might appear to be a public statement that recognises what anyone with media experience already knows, that is, one of the functional roles of Facebook is similar to that of a traditional media outlet, the “chat” also serves to obscure the economic reality which is the core business for the Facebook juggernaut.



What Paradox?

Recently the New Yorker has caught my attention with a series of short and concise essays broadly around the Donald’s ascent. In that vein, the recent article about Silicon Valley and “fake news” struck me as insightful but I couldn’t help but wondering if the author was deliberately obtuse or if in fact I do live in an different dimension.

This paragraph

Whether self-driving cars and trucks, drones, privatization of civic services like transportation, or dynamic pricing, all these developments embrace automation and efficiency, and abhor friction and waste. As Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management told MIT Technology Review, “Productivity is at record levels, innovation has never been faster, and yet at the same time, we have a falling median income and we have fewer jobs. People are falling behind because technology is advancing so fast and our skills and organizations aren’t keeping up.”

There is a punch line but as I’ve argued here before these indicators of success, productivity, innovation and efficiency depend on your perspective. If you are a capitalist business such things are beneficial to your bottom line, if on the other hand you owe your existence as a wage slave to the things arising from the consequence of inefficiencies or the lack of innovation then such measures become a threat.

The perfect example offered by Om Malik is the long haul truck driver, and a recent test to replace the driver with an automated process. Great for Uber (who bought the company doing the development) but not so good for the long haul truck drivers.

But returning to the “paradox”. Erik Brynjolfsson concluded the paragraph above with these words

It is, he said, “the great paradox of our era.”

I would argue that it is only a paradox if you assume that the interests pushing innovative disruption, ie the technocratic elite actually have a genuine interest in the welfare of the people affected by its change. Further, you could even argue that concerns about social impacts may well be seen as a unnecessary distraction to those who want to rule the new world. In other words, the disciples of disruptive technology regard the social aspect of their work as something disconnected from the actual technology, a thing apart.

You can see evidence of this in all sorts of places but primarily you see it in the utterances of (well paid) experts who champion technological innovation and production efficiency. Their view is that these things are naturally good because they are good for business and since what is good for business is good for the economy, so they should be also economically good. Since by extension a good economy is apparently good for everyone then the circle is complete, everyone benefits. Troublesome exceptions such as a large pool of potentially unemployed drivers will sort themselves out (magically).

The problem here is one of perspective. It is assumed that because technology is useful that it somehow trumps the social and personal. Unfortunately the obvious truth is “technology-powered capitalism…tends to reward fewer and fewer members of society”. Equally obviously, King Trump isn’t going to do bugger all about it. In fact if you want a conspiratorial analysis you might suspect that the powers to be understand that a, technology is going to fuck the existing socio-economic order leading to b. widespread social unrest which c. will undoubtedly lead to violent internal dissent which is why d. we are waging a so-called war on terror while the state steadily increases the surveillance and policing of its own.

Or maybe I read too much science fiction.


How did we get to this?

As the Facebook generation enters adulthood I do wonder if the thinly disguised reference to a sinister side of “the platform” in the latest Jason Bourne movie has any substance. For those of you who aren’t a JB fan, one of the plot lines in the latest movie reveals the agency has a “special” relationship with the architect of a rapidly growing social media platform.

Let’s face it, if you wanted to install a surveillance state, Facebook is gold. Team it with a mobile phone and there’s a basic profile without having to lift a finger from the keyboard.

Nor do I think this is particularly paranoid. It just is the way it is. A surveillance state by stealth and what could be stealthier than something we have willingly signed up for?

But getting back to the JB plot line. While I think it isn’t outlandish to claim that government agencies might have special relationships with IT companies (since in fact they do, despite the widely reported Apple iPhone case) I am more interested in the real politics. To be Machiavellian, who benefits from the rise and rise of Facebook?

Obviously Zuckerberg gets rich. One day he will catch up with his sponsor Gates. But if you look at the impacts of a rising Facebook on the old world social fabric it seems to me that something else is going on.

The claim of Facebook is that everything is social and by definition, connected. Facebook rather innocuously claims to just be what people want, despite the obvious fact that Facebook is very tightly controlled and managed. Without intervention, Facebook would be a mess, much like the world is in real life. So in a sense Facebook is a sanitized version of life with some room for a bit of nastiness.

Is it a platform for social change? Remember the chest beating about the role of social media in the Arab Spring? And where exactly did that end up? Syria? Iraq?

It has been remarked by others that Facebook tends to be a sort of echo chamber where we tend to gravitate towards comfort zones, friends we agree with, pictures we like, groups we think are worthy, pages that appeal to us. Facebook makes it extremely easy to avoid anything we don’t like or agree with. In fact we are so bombarded with stuff we like or should know about that we simply don’t have time or the energy to look at anything else. And this is happening to billion plus facebook users every day.

Sociology isn’t my area of expertise but I suspect what is going on here amounts to something that is actually the antithesis of social connections. By immersing ourselves in our echo chamber of choice we actually disconnect from the rest of society. The divide between us and them appears to disappear but only because we never have to deal with them on Facebook, until they burst into our lives armed with guns and start shooting.

A lot of screentime has been consumed recently devoted to the apparent demise of democracy, specifically the two party state variety and how fractured traditional political models have become. Is this a consequence of the Facebook effect? Impossible to answer definitively but there is something in the rise of authoritarian nationalism which is enabled by a media platform which facilitates close minded bigotry which in turn preys on the breakup of seemingly weaker tolerant liberal society.

And to which we add the spying capacity of Facebook and mobile phones. Scary huh? Particularly when you consider the role of the secret police in authoritarian regimes.

Of course the truth is usually seen as the best weapon in defense of liberty and justice but what happens when truth assumes a totally relativistic position. Well you get Trump, that what’s happens.

The advocates of change and disruption are quite strident in how we have to embrace the new. The problem is the new has some worrying old coming along for the ride and it is quite possible all this technotopia will simply usher in an age we might live to regret. If we survive.


Turnbull gives Community TV the heave ho

Superficially Malcolm Turnbull is applying free market logic however his government’s ideology is steeped in fear and loathing for the community sector, unless it’s the mining community or banking community or property owners community…

Clearly this is not an issue about the viability of broadcast free-to-air TV in general since the minister is not directing other TV networks to vacate the spectrum. It is kicking off community TV because they can’t pay the ransom fees the other players pay. When Turnbull says he can get more money for this spectrum elsewhere, he’s probably right but he is also protecting the existing TV networks from any similar competition, a fact that probably wont be forgotten.

However you do have to feel for the community TV players. Told to fend for themselves from the beginning, the only government help was lower licence fees and access to the RF spectrum, which paradoxically left them totally exposed to the whims of the new right wing junta currently flexing its muscles in Canberra. Slowly they have evolved into cultural icons perhaps best illustrated by Melbourne’s Ch31 only to fall victim to the new right’s culture warriors.

I think this is the real battle. It could be just about the money but several points don’t make a lot of sense unless you factor in the Libs natural antipathy for anything communal or socially based. For example, Turnbull is on the one hand telling the world we don’t need faster internet and then telling content generators that the internet is their future. Huh? How does that work? If you look at traffic generators on the web, video gobbles up bandwidth faster than anything. Horses, carts anyone?

Of course the dark side of me also says wait a minute, the thing about free to air TV is you can’t actually tell who is watching stuff whereas as we all know these days the government knows exactly what you are doing on the internet. Could this be a not too subtle effort to get deviant left leaning community TV watchers onto the web so their thoughts could be monitored? Just another case of making sure everything is monitored and controlled? Surely the party of freedom and Bob Menzies wouldn’t be so motivated would they?

Of course in the meantime it will disrupt the noisome rabble and allow the ruling class to get on with business. The fifteen month transition window is hopelessly inadequate and similarly speaks to the minister’s ignorance on how things work in the real world. Broadcast TV is not a Youtube channel. I can be a Youtube channel with nothing more than camera-phone and an internet connection. There is no standard I have to adhere to (other than some prudish Google rules and some Byzantine copyright interpretations), I don’t have any professional obligations, if I choose my anonymity is virtually guaranteed, I can do and say virtually anything. I also don’t need elaborate studios, personnel or technical infrastructure, offices or general managers. But best of all I don’t need to broadcast according to some rigid timetable, I can just make shit up as I go along. Yes Minister, the future of TV is the internet but not TV as we know it.

The real 21st century solution to both spectrum allocation issues and cultural plurality is actually denied by this government’s decision to restrict the NBN to fibre to the node. Again it speaks to the technical ignorance of this mob who think the internet is the sum of Google and Facebook, with the odd email thrown in. It is possible with increasing bandwidth and reliability to distribute media via the public internet but that requires a different mindset to the Youtube mentality. Critically it also depends on the sort of infrastructure the NBN was supposed to be. In a nutshell it boils down to doing cable TV on the internet which of course leads to talk about how the Lib’s NBN is payback to Rupert and Foxtel.

So, in rather typical fashion, the gubbermints decision is superficially about one set of economics but seems to be about another set of economics with some serious cultural implications tossed in (and aside). If Turnbull was fair dinkum he would devote some of his department’s energy into investigating how broadcasters like CH31 can transition to a cableTV/internet model. The keystone objects are largely in place with payment options (pay per view, subscriptions etc) and technical delivery systems already established, but working models are few. Inquiring into this sort of stuff is the sort of things governments are good at, but then again it probably wouldn’t happen inside of 15 years let alone 15 months.

In one sense Tunbull is right when he says the future for TV is the internet, but either he is wilfully ignorant about how the two differ culturally and economically or he doesn’t care as long as he silences the annoying rabble amongst the clattering class.

Community TV gets pushed onto internet.


Drowning not waving in the information age

So the wild west was won by the forces of law and order, lo and behold the US became, well the US. It saw how good was idea of private enterprise when backed up by muscle prepared to do violence and decided to dress it up as democracy for the rest of the world. They even erected a statue supposedly symbolising the eternal nature of individual liberty. Then they gave us Facebook.

Well to be fair they also gave us Microsoft, Apple and Google, as well as Oracle and IBM. Bastions of entrepeneurial success and validation of the system of private enterprise. Yay team! So confident was the US in its model they even believed that modernising China and sending all their hitech comapnies over there to make even more money would only ever be a good thing. The rest of the world couldn’t wait to join the party.

But somewhere along the way, the government of the people by the people and for the people got lost. Maybe it was never there, those were just some nice sounding words a politician used to “connect” with the people. But at least there did exist the idea that in a democracy people had some agency in deciding what affected them, even if it was reduceable to a simple choice between tweedledee and tweedledum.

Lately there has been a bit or talk about so-called antipolitics, a apparently widespread phenomenon whereby voters in modern democracies are apparently not interested in voting for either tweedledee or tweedledum, opting instead to vote for the jokers in the pack or not voting at all. Democracy is apparently in crisis with our political institutions seemingly irrelevant to the rest of our lives.

Still life goes on. People eat and sleep while the wheels of industry keep on trucking. Last time I looked belief in the institution of money was pretty strong. It seems to have no problem in convincing people of its relevance to the rest of our lives.

And then there are the new masters. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple. These companies are effectively above the laws created by the rest of us, their wealth largely untaxed and their capacity to do things that affect us grows every time someone likes something or asks a question or connects to a friend. Not only do we have no power in this relationship, the state which one could argue is supposed to protect our interests is instead only interested in exploiting the modern panopticon in the interests of law and order. The regressive nature of such actions should be obvious to any child over the age of 5.

We need to be utterly clear about this. Google is not our friend, it does evil. Facebook likewise. They have graduated from the hardware/software moguls like Microsoft and Apple that merely tried to lock us into using certain things. Now not only do we have to battle what we use or how we use the tools of the so-called information age, we also have to do battle with those who seek to control how we think and about what we think.

And just in case this is seen as some kind of extremist libertarian ratbaggery, consider the views of Jay Rosen or look at what happens when Greenpeace crosses the mighty Shell. The internet age heralds no new dawn for freedom.

Worse still, the demise of the idea of democracy in the mind of people reinforces a prevailing sense of powerlessness. There is some connection between the rise of companies who are effectively beyoond our control and the demise of democratic government although its exact nature is obscure. My suggestion is to follow the money. Look at who wins even if the method is odscure.


Work in 2025

Ross Dawson, doing his best to look relaxed and at ease with himself in the Age’s supplied photo has this rather alarming conclusion

a rapid increase in self-employment as larger organisations cut the number of permanent employees and hire expertise from anywhere in the world only when they need it.

I have some experience with self-employment. It’s very much a two edged sword kinda thing. Yes on the one hand you do get substantially more time to do other things with your life but, and this is very much a big but, your relationship with your employers is far more subservient than is the norm in structured workplaces. Further, your financial security is far less certain with periods of gainful employment greatly outnumbered by long stretches of scraping by.

We used to have a term for this back in the days of our agricultural dominated economy, we called it seasonal work. You would work like buggery for a short period of time usually somewhere where you didn’t usually live, make a pile of money and then spend the rest of the year living of it and whatever else came your way. But in those days the cost of living was pretty cheap, in a sense money went further or could be stretched more. These days just having a roof over your head is almost more than you get on unemployment benefit and that means you eat shoe leather the rest of the time.

There is something very disconcerting about Ross Dawson’s prediction and that is the degree to which he paints this as some kind of technological utopia. Along with any claim that productivity is good for the economy in general is an unspoken truth. Improvements in productivity is a measure of how much of value is produced by a company or business or organisation or individual over time. In widget speak if I make 5 widgets a day and I buy a widget maker which allows me to make 50 widgets a day my productivity has improved. Leaving aside the accounting of cost, presumably the purchase of a widget maker is returned in terms of extra productivity since the only ongoing costs are my wage and whatever maintenance costs are associated with the widget maker. Me and my widget maker…

This is a rather crucial point. The widget maker is not another person, so someone else looking for a job has to go and find somewhere else to make gidgets because we, my widget maker and me have suddenly got the widget market to ourselves. Go innovate yourself a new job in Smokin Joe speak. Now this is all very well and fine since the last 70 odd years we have seen a pattern where investments in widget makers has not actually produced a seismic shift in employment but more recently what we have seen is a dramatic shift in the distribution of wealth with the elites suddenly tucking it away at a rather obscene rate. The assumption of economists is that technology that improves productivity is generally good for employment is based purely on the belief that what we have seen in recent times will always continue but there is nothing guaranteed in that relationship.

The case for businesses employing people is basically a matter of making money. Something of value needs to be done, widget making for example, and this doesn’t happen unless someone does it. But in the brave new world of Ross Dawson, widget will be made by pressing a button, or clicking an icon or just simply be created on demand untouched by human hands. Where will jobs be if companies can make money without workers?

The big problem is this. Ross Dawson and his kind of technological mind set assume that the capitalist system is fundamentally human and that its human value will prevail in terms of social good yet there seems to be abundant evidence to suggest that social good is the last thing to be considered in terms of private wealth creation. In fact the social world is viewed as unclaimed territory by those seeking to expand their business horizons.

That is where we are heading. You want a human for something, then you pay. You can make do with a machine, then here’s your choices but you also pay. Most of us will be reduced to begging to be used so we can do something of value to the rest of the world. Playing with yourself might seem like fun for a while but when the novelty wears off the reality is most of us need to make money to survive.

But I daresay Ross will fine.

Read more:


Trove — Introducing Trove

New website/app boasting

It’s a social news app bringing you the best stories picked by people who share your interests.

I’m sure it’s not unique and I’m struck by the idea of filtering. Ok so the claim by Trove and the like is that other people share your interests who can pick and choose good stuff for you to consume read. But I like the more general news sites because while some things interest me more than others, I often find something else that catches my eye. These excursions of interest have a distinctive serendipitous flavour and I suspect its lack equates to boredom. So while it might be great to be immersed in the subjects of your choice via Trove or any other site I suspect the novelty will have a limited shelf life. However the argument is meaningless since its each to their own but for all of the web’s beadth and sophistication in content delivery it seems that maybe it hasn’t really got that much to offer.

Unless you dig for it yourself…

Trove — Introducing Trove.


An alternative plan for the GM #Holden factory

News that California is offering Tesla $35M in tax breaks to help that company expand its electric vehicle construction operations is food for thought. So to is the news that GMH is considering building 126 electric Commodores. 126!

Given the Mr Abbott’s government is still gloating about how it stood up for the taxpayer and ended Labor’s corporate welfare, albeit at the expense of several thousand Labor voting unionised workers it is hard to imagine that Mr Abbott’s government would entertain a plan to accomodate something like the Tesla deal, especially as it might involve science and research.

But what is Australia’s greatest asset? Year long solar energy, easily converted in electricity if you could be bothered which should make building electric cars a no-brainer. Unless of course you prefer to keep things the way they were and let the poor eat cake.

Tesla announcement, GMH news.


Shorter Zucks, government spying is bad, Facebook spying is good

Brazen! Amazing how wealth translates into authority but there you go. Zuckerberg prances around the world stage telling others that the US government “blew it” on spying, meanwhile Facebook enables the most insidious spying on a fellow humans the planet has ever seen.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg says US ‘really blew it’ on surveillance.


NSA surveillance goes beyond Orwell’s imagination – Alan Rusbridger | World news |

Rusbridger said the NSA stories were “clearly” not a story about totalitarianism, but that an infrastructure had been created that could be dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands.

But there is something ironic in a story that cites Zuckerberg and his concerns about spying. Facebook prying and surveillance is ok because it’s a business? Isn’t the issue about any totalitarian surveillance, whether it is conducted by the state or a huge multinational business seems to miss the point.

via NSA surveillance goes beyond Orwell’s imagination – Alan Rusbridger | World news |