Tag Archives: data

The dangers of cloud computing

cloudJonathan Zittrain explores some of the downsides of the incipient cloud computing revolution in this article at the New York Times:

If you entrust your data to others, they can let you down or outright betray you. For example, if your favorite music is rented or authorized from an online subscription service rather than freely in your custody as a compact disc or an MP3 file on your hard drive, you can lose your music if you fall behind on your payments — or if the vendor goes bankrupt or loses interest in the service.

The crucial legacy of the personal computer is that anyone can write code for it and give or sell that code to you — and the vendors of the PC and its operating system have no more to say about it than your phone company does about which answering machine you decide to buy.

This freedom is at risk in the cloud, where the vendor of a platform has much more control over whether and how to let others write new software. Facebook allows outsiders to add functionality to the site but reserves the right to change that policy at any time, to charge a fee for applications, or to de-emphasize or eliminate apps that court controversy or that they simply don’t like.

As useful as storing links, calandars, emails, and documents in the cloud is I like to keep local backups of all my stuff (where possible). The further threat to the decentralised innovation that has characterised software development over the last several decades is another reason to be sceptical of the benefits of the cloud.

[image from Dan Queiroz on flickr]

News cycle identified

lipstickonapSome glorious and fascinating reportage-porn at memetracker that shows how news stories are taken up and how long they last and what their impact is:

They found a consistent rhythm as stories rose into prominence and then fell off over just a few days, with a “heartbeat” pattern of handoffs between blogs and mainstream media. In mainstream media, they found, a story rises to prominence slowly then dies quickly; in the blogosphere, stories rise in popularity very quickly but then stay around longer, as discussion goes back and forth. Eventually though, almost every story is pushed aside by something newer.

There is something truly wonderful about seeing this information laid out in such an intuitive manner. This kind of analysis of the growth, spread, and retention of ideas is certainly an area that will expand and grow over time.

[via Physorg, from MemeTracker]

Computer memory to last a billion years

lifevsbitIn an attempt to address the problem of a digital dark age engineers at Berkeley have developed a technique called Nanoscale Reversible Mass Transport for Archival Memory that is intended to combine high bit-density and deep-time survival:

We have developed a new mechanism for digital memory storage with the potential to store data with both long lifetime and high density. Our memory device consists of a crystalline iron nanoparticle enclosed in a multiwalled carbon nanotube.  The nanotube can be reversibly moved through the nanotube by applying a low voltage, “writing” the device to a binary state represented by the position of the nanoparticle. The state of the device can then be subsequently read by a simple resistance measurement.

The abstract of the paper claims thermodynamic stability in excess of one billion years with data density of 1012 bits/in2.

[via Next Big Future][graph courtesy Zettl Research Group, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of California at Berkeley]

Wired’s manifesto for radical financial transparency

stock value reportsIf there’s one thing every politician seems able to agree on at the moment, it’s that we need to overhaul the way the financial sector works so as to (hopefully) avoid another catastrophic screw-up like the one we’re currently mired in. Part of the problem was caused by regulatory bodies being simply unable to keep up with the huge amount of publicly filed data  from financial businesses, and by some of that data being… massaged, shall we say. [image by pfala]

The obvious answer is “more regulation” (though we might want to throw in brainscans for CEOs while we’re at it), but that’s just going to build another baroque architecture on top of the one we already have… and baroque architecture has plenty of hiding places for gargoyles, if I might overextend my analogy.

Daniel Roth at Wired has a different idea, and it’s one that resonates with the way the web works. He calls it radical transparency: a way to sum it up in a nutshell might be to say that instead of worrying about who should watch the watchers, why don’t we make sure everyone – and anyone – can get at all the data in standardized formats?

The whole article is well worth a read, but here’s Roth’s three-point manifesto:

Set the data free

Today, public companies and financial institutions disclose their activities in endless documents stuffed with figures and stats. Instead, they should be forced to file using universal tags that make the data easy to explore.

Empower all investors

Once every company’s data carries identical tags, anyone can manipulate the numbers to compare performance. And they can see details of every financial instrument—not just balance sheets and income statements.

Create an army of citizen-regulators

By giving everyone access to every piece of data—and making it easy to crunch—we can crowdsource regulation, creating a self-correcting financial system and unlocking new ways of measuring the market’s health.

Those of you with no trust in free markets probably find this even less appealing than the current system, but it makes a certain amount of sense to me. As Roth points out, the web has enabled a similar sea-change in journalism, and as a result changes are afoot in governmental and corporate practice around the world, because it has become easier for whistleblowers and contrary voices to have their say.

TechDirt‘s Mike Masnick came up with a similar idea late last year; as he points out, it’s unlikely to gain much support right away because it takes the power away from the financiers, and they’re unlikely to be particularly keen on that arrangement. But that’s all the more reason to discuss the notion now, while trust is at an all-time low; after all, as Masnick says:

We’re not going to fix a broken Wall Street by throwing extra money at the problem, but we might be able to fix it by opening up, adopting radical transparency, and then letting the market more accurately value things based on real data.

Amen to that.