Tools, Technology and Internet

Innocense of Denmark

by Limbic on August 8, 2014

"Trust is a reducer of social complexity" by Pelle Sten
“Trust is a reducer of social complexity” by Pelle Sten (Flickr)

I continue to be astounded at how vulnerable Danes and Denmark are to cyber criminals.

Everyone needs Java installed to operate NemID, the authentication mechanism that is used by every government IT system and accepted as a mechanisms for almost all large business too (e.g. banks). Admittedly NemID itself uses a decent two factor authentication system, but an entire country with Java installed.

You need to give your social security to everyone. Video rental stores, dentists, language schools, they all need it. As a consequence there have been some mega breaches of the database. There is no current way to change it either, so it is likely that bad actors have CPR numbers for most adult Danes.

Everyone is in the phone directory by default. People put their names on the their doors and post boxes. It is identity theft paradise and Danish online retailers pay a heavy price for it.

All these systems are interconnected too. I was amazed when I got my passport picture taken at a local studio and they informed me that part of the price was automatic submission of the photos to the passport bureau.

Wonderful convenience. Just what IT should be. But wide open to exploitation?


Susan Sons on Girls and Tech

by Limbic on February 23, 2014

Great post on girls and tech by legendary hacker Susan Sons. At the age of 12 she became a respect member of an IRC channel where she was fully accepted despite her age and gender:

Open source was my refuge because it was a place were nobody cared what my pedigree was or what I looked like—they cared only about what I did. I ingratiated myself to people who could help me learn by doing dull scutwork: triaging issues to keep the issue queues neat and orderly, writing documentation and fixing code comments. I was the helpful kid, so when I needed help, the community was there. I’d never met another programmer in real life at this point, but I knew more about programming than some college students. 

Twelve-year-old girls today don’t generally get to have the experiences that I did. Parents are warned to keep kids off the computer lest they get lured away by child molesters or worse—become fat! That goes doubly for girls, who then grow up to be liberal arts majors. Then, in their late teens or early twenties, someone who feels the gender skew in technology communities is a problem drags them to a LUG meeting or an IRC channel. Shockingly, this doesn’t turn the young women into hackers.

Why does anyone, anywhere, think this will work? Start with a young woman who’s already formed her identity. Dump her in a situation that operates on different social scripts than she’s accustomed to, full of people talking about a subject she doesn’t yet understand. Then tell her the community is hostile toward women and therefore doesn’t have enough of them, all while showing her off like a prize poodle so you can feel good about recruiting a female. This is a recipe for failure.

Young women don’t magically become technologists at 22. Neither do young men. Hackers are born in childhood, because that’s when the addiction to solving the puzzle or building something kicks in to those who’ve experienced that “victory!” moment like I had when I imposed my will on a couple electronic primates.

Unfortunately, our society has set girls up to be anything but technologists. My son is in elementary school. Last year, his school offered a robotics class for girls only. When my son asked why he couldn’t join, it was explained to him that girls need special help to become interested in technology, and that if there are boys around, the girls will be too scared to try.

My son came home very confused. You see, he grew up with a mom who coded while she breastfed and brought him to his first LUG meeting at age seven weeks. The first time he saw a home-built robot, it was shown to him by a local hackerspace member, a woman who happens to administer one of the country’s biggest supercomputers. Why was his school acting like girls were dumb?

Thanks so much, modern-day “feminism”, for putting very unfeminist ideas in my son’s head.


Satya Nadella–New CEO of Microsoft

by Limbic on February 6, 2014

I am very happy he has been chosen. I liked him from the first moment I saw him.


Microsoft’s 2014 Super Bowl Ads

by Limbic on February 3, 2014

Make sure you watch the individual stories briefly touched on by the ad above below.

All the ads are here.

Meanwhile it seems these ads beat the competition by a mile.

[click to continue…]


Clay Shirky on Culture Cones

by Limbic on February 2, 2014


Last month (January 2014) Clay Shirky gave a talk at Microsoft (50mins with Q&A). He took the opportunity to float some new ideas he has about Culture Cones, a metaphor he has borrowed from the physics concept of light cones.

He starts the description of the concept at 12m 45s into the talk.

Imagine two observers. The first is one light year from a supernova, the other is two light years away from the supernova.  If the supernova explodes with a flash, the event will "happen" one year later to the first observer and two years later to the second observer. One sees it a year before the other.

So it is with cultural events and memes. Culture cones move through networks like light cones through space.

Shirky asks, "When was the first time you heard about bitcoin?", a culture cone moving though society right now.

Less connected people experience these events much later. They just saw the supernova flash no matter how long ago it actually happened. Technologists have this all the time when their family eventually ask them about some new thing that is actually old, "So what’s this Tor thing?"

It’s worth watching the talk. He even mentions Boyd’s and OODA loops.

Clay Shirky – Social Computing Symposium -16 January 2014


The Power of Networks

by Limbic on September 3, 2012

A new video from the lovely RSA Animate team, this time on the Power of Networks.  

Introduced me to the concept of “Rhizome“:

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari use the term “rhizome” and “rhizomatic” to describe theory and research that allows for multiple, non-hierarchical entry and exit points in data representation and interpretation. In A Thousand Plateaus, they oppose it to an arborescent conception of knowledge, which works with dualist categories and binary choices. A rhizome works with planar and trans-species connections, while an arborescent model works with vertical and linear connections. Their use of the “orchid and the wasp” is taken from the biological concept of mutualism, in which two different species interact together to form a multiplicity (i.e. a unity that is multiple in itself). Horizontal gene transfer would also be a good illustration.

As a model for culture, the rhizome resists the organizational structure of the root-tree system which charts causality along chronological lines and looks for the original source of “things” and looks towards the pinnacle or conclusion of those “things.” A rhizome, on the other hand, is characterized by “ceaselessly established connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles.” The rhizome presents history and culture as a map or wide array of attractions and influences with no specific origin or genesis, for a “rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo.” The planar movement of the rhizome resists chronology and organization, instead favoring a nomadic system of growth and propagation. In this model, culture spreads like the surface of a body of water, spreading towards available spaces or trickling downwards towards new spaces through fissures and gaps, eroding what is in its way. The surface can be interrupted and moved, but these disturbances leave no trace, as the water is charged with pressure and potential to always seek its equilibrium, and thereby establish smooth space. – Wikipedia 



GoPro cameras and the active life

by Limbic on March 21, 2012

Michael Yon posted in Facebook that the best camera for soldiers to take to Afghanistan are GoPro sports camera.

I popped over to the site and the video they have on the front page is superb!



Algorithm wars and ultrafast machine ecologies

by Limbic on February 18, 2012

In an amazing 2011 TED talk, Kevin Slavin explained how “algorithms shape our world”.

Its well worth a watch to prepare you for the the main part of this post, an analysis of Black Swan events  in financial markets caused by exactly the sort of algorithms Slavin describes.

From “Financial black swans driven by ultrafast machine ecology”:

Society’s drive toward ever faster socio-technical systems, means that there is an urgent need to understand the threat from ‘black swan’ extreme events that might emerge. On 6 May 2010, it took just five minutes for a spontaneous mix of human and machine interactions in the global trading cyberspace to generate an unprecedented system-wide Flash Crash. However, little is known about what lies ahead in the crucial sub-second regime where humans become unable to respond or intervene sufficiently quickly. Here we analyze a set of 18,520 ultrafast black swan events that we have uncovered in stock-price movements between 2006 and 2011. We provide empirical evidence for, and an accompanying theory of, an abrupt system-wide transition from a mixed human-machine phase to a new all-machine phase characterized by frequent black swan events with ultrafast durations (<650ms for crashes, <950ms for spikes). Our theory quantifies the systemic fluctuations in these two distinct phases in terms of the diversity of the system’s internal ecology and the amount of global information being processed. Our finding that the ten most susceptible entities are major international banks, hints at a hidden relationship between these ultrafast ‘fractures’ and the slow ‘breaking’ of the global financial system post-2006. More generally, our work provides tools to help predict and mitigate the systemic risk developing in any complex socio-technical system that attempts to operate at, or beyond, the limits of human response times.

As a great friend of mine, who happens to be a banker who is very senior in the markets, once commented to me by mail, talking about how trading was accelerating into millisecond cascades as described by this paper:

slow the fck down everyone


Robots and software really are eating jobs

by Limbic on November 7, 2011

Following on from my post last night (“Robots and the Chinese“), I recieved a great link in the mail this morning.

From the Economist, “Difference Engine: Luddite legacy“:

But here is the question: if the pace of technological progress is accelerating faster than ever, as all the evidence indicates it is, why has unemployment remained so stubbornly high—despite the rebound in business profits to record levels? Two-and-a-half years after the Great Recession officially ended, unemployment has remained above 9% in America. That is only one percentage point better than the country’s joblessness three years ago at the depths of the recession.

…The conventional explanation for America’s current plight is that, at an annualised 2.5% for the most recent quarter (compared with an historical average of 3.3%), the economy is simply not expanding fast enough to put all the people who lost their jobs back to work. Consumer demand, say economists like Dr Tyson, is evidently not there for companies to start hiring again. Clearly, too many chastened Americans are continuing to pay off their debts and save for rainy days, rather than splurging on things they may fancy but can easily manage without.

There is a good deal of truth in that. But it misses a crucial change that economists are loth to accept, though technologists have been concerned about it for several years. This is the disturbing thought that, sluggish business cycles aside, America’s current employment woes stem from a precipitous and permanent change caused by not too little technological progress, but too much. The evidence is irrefutable that computerised automation, networks and artificial intelligence (AI)—including machine-learning, language-translation, and speech- and pattern-recognition software—are beginning to render many jobs simply obsolete.


Acer Aspire One Wireless Problem

by Limbic on November 4, 2011

I was driven mad by a problem on a little Netbook (Acer aspire One AOA150) I use for dangerous travel (i.e. its a disposable fully encrypted machine*) .

Running XP, I could not get it to connect to my home wireless, but it did connect to some wireless networks.

Turns out the problem is was that it could connect to WEP or unsecured networks, but not WPA or WPA2.


The wireless driver file that you get from Acer for this model ( is faulty. You have to download a driver for another Netbook model like an AOD250 which offers you a newer driver (7.7.321) that works perfectly.Thanks to Tazzy and the Acer Guy for the solution.

I also encountered a problem when the laptop cuts out after 30 seconds to a minute. Just powers off. Dead.

The fix appears to be to uplug the cord and battery. Hold the power switch for 20 seconds. Plug in power cord. Boot. Plug in battery.

Seems to have worked.

*I user TrueCypt’s superb Full disk encryption for this.


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