Thursday, August 10, 2017

You Don't Know Tech: Google Steps on the Weenie.

A wise man (whether it was Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain or the author of the Book of Proverbs is in dispute) once said "It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt."

We live in an age where the fool has countless opportunities to remove doubt, and furthermore, is actively encouraged to do so.

Your Overlord is pleased: the sooner idiots self-identify, the sooner we can start killing them off.

Today's invective (I've been told that what I do is not "writing", it's merely "invective". By other fools) concerns itself, in a tertiary fashion, with the recent kerfuffle at Google.

For those of you who live under rocks, the short version: Google encouraged it's employees to engage in a discussion about problems within it's workforce. One man did. However, since his viewpoints were not popular, he was fired for it. I would love to be his attorney, right now.

I'm not getting into the weeds about whether the gentleman was right (fuck yeah, he was!) or the objections to his statements (mostly based upon feelz and political correctness), or of the science he used to back up his point-of-view. People much smarter than Your Overlord have devoured scads of bandwidth -- and will continue to do so for months, perhaps years, to come -- on the subject, and I freely admit I can't really add anything substantive to the discussion.

However, my Facebook feed is full of people who keep asking me for my opinion on the subject, because I've been in and around IT for what seems centuries, already, and mostly they want to know is if this sort of ideological witch hunting is a common thing in IT. My answer is: yes, it is. It didn't used to be, but that was back in the days when people became adults, and didn't linger in self-absorbed adolescence until age 35. It's not the business that's changed - it's the people who go into it that have. And for the worst, sez me. It was uncommon to find a truly stupid person in the IT world 15 or 20 years ago, because they got weeded out very quickly by their inability to do the work. Nowadays, the universities are turning them out by the thousands, and the legal system and the tyranny of corporate HR admins makes it next to impossible to get rid of them.

In answering and discussing these things, I've noticed a tendency among people, in general, but specifically among those who would defend Google for it's actions, to be..oh, what's the word I'm looking for? Pig-fucking-ignorant about what Google is, what it does, and how it does it.

In fact, I'm finding that when it comes to our high-tech world, the appellation of Pig-fucking-ignorant may be over-generous. The main issue is that many of these people are incredibly technically illiterate. They are unaware of how tech works, and that the tech they now routinely use is not "new". They aren't even aware of the tendency to dumb-down tech (a deliberate policy) to make it mass-marketable. Windows, touch screens, swiping, this is all designed so that you don't have to know how jack shit about how the Magic Box works, and we can make it idiot-proof enough to sell it to you as a necessity.

In many cases, the basic concepts have been around for a very long time, or have been standard practices for a very long time, and it's only new to them because they didn't know of it's existence 20, 30, or even 5,000 years ago. Mostly this is because the basic concepts were specific-use (reserved for specific classes of people or workers), or because the technology that had the potential to make them marketable and salable to the general public did not exist or was prohibitively expensive until recently.

Let's begin with a very, VERY basic explanation of what Google does and how it does it. We're talking the very heart of Google, not the whizz-bang, gee-whiz stuff, we're talking the thing that makes Google Google before it makes it anything else, and which makes Mr. Google fucking rich beyond the wildest dreams of avarice.

What Google is is a collector of data, first and foremost. Google does not produce data, it does not even produce a product of any tangible kind, it simply collects data (builds data bases), and then manipulates the data it collects for specific purposes (runs programs to refine data, in much the same way as ore is processed to refine metal. This used to be known as "Data Processing").

Three concepts are at work here:

1. The Database (the collection of data)
2. Data Warehousing (the storage of data)
3. Data Mining (refining data into convenient, usable form for specific purposes).

That's it.

There's no secret here. It's nothing new, either, since the collection and dissemination of data is as natural to Man as breathing. One only has to look through the pages of history to see it: data is recorded everywhere. The earliest examples of writing known to us are the cuneiform tablets produced by Sumerian priests as tax receipts; they record the tax-payer's name, what he paid, where he lived, what was due, etc, etc.

There are monuments all over this planet, raised by ancient kings and civilizations, that contain data in various forms. The Ancients recorded everything -- their creation tales, their military victories, their laws, their rates of exchange, commemorated important events and functions -- in stone, everywhere. The tombs of Egyptian pharaohs are adorned with the spells the dead king would need to enter the afterlife, genealogies, a recitation of the man's virtues and accomplishments.

After writing became a widespread activity, scrolls and books made the collection and retention of data even easier. The concentration of the written word in libraries (another kind of database!) made the storage of, and access to, information easier. We find things like Roman Census records or the Domesday Book of Norman England popping up and being used for all sorts of purposes. Mostly having to do with taxes, naturally. The printing press made this process infinitely easier, and allowed access to wider audiences.

Even before Men wrote and carved stone, they had memory and traditions (a database); they spoke to one another (refined and transmitted data), they taught their children by the spoken word and example.

The Database is nothing new; only it's form has changed from memory to stone to paper to electronic bytes. Newer technology just allows this data to be collected faster, be processed faster, and stored more easily and cheaply, and thus, searched more easily.

The concept of Data Warehousing, likewise is not not new. Libraries are data warehouses. Dusty storerooms where Civil Servants collect Birth, Death and Property records in your hometown, are not new. The Archives of your local newspaper, where old reports, columns, editorials, photographs, etc, reside, are not new. Men have been warehousing data for centuries.

Likewise, Data Mining, the search through an existing Data Warehouse for specific information, is not new. You did it as a kid when you went to the library and looked for a book in the card catalog, and used the Dewey Decimal system, for example. If you are of a certain age, you have experience with dictionaries and encyclopedias. People interested in all sorts of specific things have spent innumerable hours pouring over dusty tomes, maps, globes, letters, diaries, novels, plays, poems, political tracts, scientific writings, in the effort to produce usable data from an existing pile of often jumbled and confused sources.

So, let's not make the case that Google has reinvented the wheel. Because they haven't. They aren't doing anything that Man hasn't already been doing for generations untold. They just -- for now -- happen to do it better than their competitors, using technology that wasn't generally available before (technology, incidentally, Google does not create).

When you think about it, Google doesn't even produce it's own data; it depends upon access to already-public sources, and it's customers voluntarily giving data up. All Google does then is figure out how to market that compiled data to someone who wants to pay for it's use, mostly to sell advertising, but also for a variety of other purposes, most not generally nefarious, but merely annoying.

Before we go on, it has to be said that most people are unaware of what, exactly, is meant by "data". I mean, they understand "data" to be synonymous with "information" but that is about as far as their thinking takes them. They aren't schooled in what constitutes data and to what uses it can be put.

You become a fountain of data at the very second of conception. In fact, you can be said to be a creation of data. DNA, the basic building block of all known life, is not just a bunch of icky chemical goop inside your body: it is both a creator and collector of data. Your genes are databases; they contain information about you -- what color eyes you will have, what diseases or defects you will be born with, they contain the genetic markers of both of your parents, and a whole lot more. You are DATA, itself.

But, your data isn't safe even in the womb; it can be accessed with modern medical methods, like an amniocentesis, or doctors may even take a sample of developing child's DNA to detect and correct birth defects or potential defects before you're even born. Every parent, these days, loves showing off sonograms; that's data about their unborn child. Medical records are compiled during pregnancy which collect all sorts of information about an unborn child -- heart rates, growth rates, and lord knows how many other facts about you are recorded in them. Eventually, you are born, and one of the first things that happen to you then is that someone takes an impression of your footprints (so that you can be identified, since you don't, at birth, have fingerprints). A Birth Certificate is filled out, it is filed with the authorities. As you grow, you will be enrolled in school, your grades will be recorded, your medical file gets bigger, your Mom will sign you up for swim lessons, you will take First Aid courses at the Y,  you get a library card, you are issued a Social Security number.

As you age, you will attend college (where you voluntarily enrolled and gave up data, and presumably, applied for a loan). You will probably, over the course of your lifetime, get a job, open a bank account, buy insurance and make a claim, you will vote,  you will move several times and leave forwarding addresses, or get new telephone numbers, perhaps have a run-in with the law and get arrested or get a speeding ticket. You will be counted on the census at some point.

You will fill in countless forms for gym memberships, credit cards, a mortgage, job applications, a dog license, a driver's license, a professional qualification. You will seek out debt consolidators, open a stock account or an IRA, you will fill in tax forms, pay bills by check, and even take those really stupid online click-bait quizzes to find out what your "True Personality" really is, your FitBit can be scanned on your morning jog, your credit card numbers can be sniffed out by an RFID scanner, you leave notes and write memos and send greeting cards, your picture has probably been taken by hundreds of CCTV cameras already, you applied for a passport and passed through Control and Customs, heck, you bought a plane ticket and flew to Bermuda.

You had a credit card transaction that originated in a legal brothel outside Reno. You have given donations to organizations who put you on a donor list, you gave blood, you fill prescriptions, you're that dingus in the end zone on TV in the rainbow afro wig holding up the "John 3:16 Sign" for the whole world to see. You tell secrets to your friends and lovers.

You expel personal data as easily as you breathe, and with about as much thought or effort. Heck, there are cases of criminals being identified and captured by analysis of their shit or saliva left behind at crime scenes. Most of us think this voluntary, thoughtless surrender of data is harmless, simply the price of being alive in civilization.

All of this information is recorded....somewhere.

However, think about this: data, once produced, is (almost) NEVER destroyed. It exists forever, whether it it is in written or visual form, human memory, a file cabinet in a long-forgotten government office, or stored on a piece of silicon somewhere, data is forever. Data, strictly speaking, is too valuable to destroy, and too valuable to lose, so that even the most inconsequential (to you) voluntary surrender of personal data (like to a dating website, for example) will linger for the simple purpose that it's too good to lose, and because by it's very nature, it can be put to so many uses.

You live in a world where every aspect of your life is most likely sitting on a disc drive someplace. Even the stuff you thought was "secret", even the stuff you might find embarrassing, even the stuff that could ruin your career. And you control (almost) none of it, because it's (almost) all public record, or able to be sold off in the form of mailing lists, e-mail lists, input to scientific or social or market research, etc.

Data, ounce for ounce, is more precious -- and useful -- than gold, diamonds, or uranium. What's even more valuable is the ability to use data as you need to. It can be put to so many uses by the truly creative...or truly destructive.

It is a fact that you produce data every second of every day of your existence, and that Google has the ability to collect it, store it, and manipulate it, makes Google what it is. All the other stuff, driverless cars, search engines, etc, etc, is simply fruit from the data collection tree.

Right now, even this stuff I've just written is being scrutinized by marketing experts, psychologists, political scientists, just to begin with, who are creating a profile of who (they think) I am.
 And maybe even before I post it!

I'm not, to them, The Overlord: I'm a blogger who needs third party blogger tools that someone would like to sell me; I'm an IT professional who may need to renew his credentials or acquire new skills that a host of educational establishments would like to offer me; I'm a coffee drinker; I like hockey; I vote republican; I hate old people; I have a personal stock portfolio; I'm a taxpayer; I'm a Pepsi drinker; I love hot dogs; I don't like Indian food; someone will use this as an example of "White Male Patriarchal Thinking" in their "One-boobed, club-footed, Asiatic Lesbians In American Lit " lecture.  All of this information is worth something to someone.

Google just collects it and sifts it for them. No big whoop.

Speaking of "Search Engines", the thing Google is celebrated for, that's not even new, either. The first "Search Engine" was the mind; then came the written version -- a codex, or a card-based system -- and then the electronic one, which, for all intents and purposes traces it's origins back to World War II and cryptanalysis (the breaking of codes and ciphers), where crude computers were first programmed to find repeating patterns in coded radio traffic. "Search Engine" is merely a modern term for something that existed in one form or another for a very long time.

And much of the technology that the average person sees today has a similar pedigree. It's new TO THEM, it's not new TO ME, and even when I see something I never knew about I can promise you there were people who knew it about way back when. And that means whenever you're speaking about technology,  you're beginning at a grave disadvantage, unless you've seen what I have, done what I have. Which probably means you shouldn't argue with an expert, or at least, someone better-informed than you are.

Most of the common tech you see these days I was working with, in some form or another, 32 years ago, and a lot of it has a longer history than that. They weren't known to you because the technology to make it available for mass sale either didn't exist or was too impractical. The point being, none of it sprang into existence overnight, and all of it existed before there was a Google.

Your cell phone? The cellphone concept was designed, literally, on the back of a cocktail an actress, Hedy Lamarr. It was used as a means of providing secure communications to Allied secret agents in the field in the fight against the Nazis. The basic concept, then, was called "frequency hopping".

The smartphone?  Been around since the1970's. At that time, IBM Customer Engineers (field service personnel) were supplied with a device called the PT. With it, the CE was able to access technical libraries on all of the products he was likely to service, send messages to other engineers or IBM troubleshooters (and receive them, too), order parts and supplies, respond to customer inquiries , schedule maintenance, and much more. It predated the laptop and the smartphone by a decade and a half.

The "Smart" App? It's a computer program, doofus. There's been programs ever since there were computers, and they've always, by their very nature, been tailored for specific purposes....other than the modern one, which seems to be "absolving the new breed of jackass from having to think...about anything."

Facebook? Snapchat? Instagram? Vines? Give me a break. The BBS and the early Internet are far older than that, and served very much the same purposes.

I mean, I could go on. Data streaming? Older than dirt. Predictive modelling? Was doing that in high school, Bub. Artificial intelligence? I've been an automation programmer for 20 years, Son. Remote Access and data sharing and Clouds?  Have you never heard of a "turnkey" data center? A time sharing system? Virtual Machines? Outsourcing?

To those of us who know, there is nothing new under the Sun when it comes to technology. Or at least those things associated with modern computing, for the simple reason that there hasn't been an extraordinary breakthrough that would revolutionize the field in about 30 years. Always, it's a refinement or marketing of existing tech, and the application of the now-refined tech to old ideas. The next Great Leap Forward won't be the driverless car, the autonomous drone, the robot line worker; those are systems and devices that will simply be natural outgrowths of the current technology. The next major breakthrough will be the combination (personal interfacing) of people with computers, and frankly, that's  a world I don't believe any of us really want to live in.

And if Google has any part of it, considering that when it had the choice between upholding it's fake-ass commitment to "Diversity" and openly discriminating against a man for voicing a contrary opinion it fucking asked for, and Mr. Google decided that the best answer to this dilemma was "discrimination in the name of Diversity is a sacred virtue", you wouldn't want them to, either.

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