Bulletin 4 May 2018 – Absolutes corrupt absolutely, and other idea-ologies

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“Information wants to be free” — Stewart Brand, founder, Whole Earth Catalog

“Privacy is dead – deal with it” — Scott McNealy, founder and CEO, Sun Microsystems

The technology industry is founded on a platform of ideas and aspirations. Engineering has played its part, of course, creating the basis for instantaneous, global communications and massively scalable data processing. But our mental models have set the scene for what we do with all this wonderful electronic gubbins. 

This has its plusses and minuses, of course. One of the reasons for starting this newsletter was a recognition that tech can cut both ways: working in the industry has to be founded on an optimism that the good will outweigh the bad, which has been true thus far. 

Despite the digital revolution being founded on shades of grey (sic), on the ideas and aspirations front, people respond better to black and white: we have Highlander-like, “there can be only one” war of ideas, and may the most powerful win over the rest. 

(Indeed, I’m guilty as charged: when I first heard about the OpenFog Consortium for example, my first thought was, “That’s a bit of a vague name — couldn’t they have come up with something stronger?”)

As troops rally behind an idea, they find themselves exposed to its flaws and become defenders of, even apologists for, its weaknesses. For example, on notions of information wanting to be free, open data advocates now face the reality of (largely corporate) machine learning; privacy being dead is the yang to open data’s yin. 

Meanwhile, people of influence are judged by their ability to offer clarity — it’s a trick employed by futurists, rock star analysts and others to demonstrate prowess. And, frankly, it’s much easier for pundits to speak in absolutes, than it is to second-guess the way that complexity will take us. 

It would be counter to this whole line of thinking to suggest that ideas are therefore bad. Ideas serve a purpose, they offer a rallying cry behind which people, and budgets, can unite. They catalyse change and break through inertia. But they have a decay curve, which the human psyche is ill-equipped to deal with. 

The deeper truth is that the dynamics of an idea — where it came from, the purpose it serves and the impact it has, are more important than static notions. Ideas are stakes in the ground, nails in an ever-moving nail-and-string picture. Sure, we can offer clarity at various moments in time, but clarity too has a sell-by date. 

With this in mind, here’s some articles for the week. 


5 questions for… Auddly, targeting the source of music creation

Ensuring people get paid for their art is a complex web, easily exploitable by, well, anybody who wants to stand between artist and recipient. Most attempts to resolve this operate at the listening end of the gramophone, whereas Auddly inserts itself right at the start of the production process. The service is designed to meet an industry need, by those who need it, and it has some pretty solid backing. As always, the challenge will be in take-up, of the service and more importantly, the practice (of logging participation) it represents


5 questions for… Cloudistics. More than a cloud in a box? 

Continuing on last week’s hybrid theme, Cloudisitcs is looking to bring the cloud into the data centre — its stated USP is that it brings software-defined networking along with it. Any vendor in this space has a mountain to climb: my gut feel is that the company is more about establishing its IP than about becoming the world’s number one purveyor of hybrid cloud infrastructure. Though the latter would be very nice, and all big companies have to start somewhere, the laws of probability are stacked against it. Here’s an overview, and my take. 


5 questions for… Densify — Redux as the link was wrong last week (thanks Alan)!

As I was saying, the number of meta-infrastructure solutions — that is, technologies that help organisations decide what to do with their resources, wherever they are — appears to be proliferating. Densify helps organisations migrate workloads to the cloud, or optimise them once they are there, by understanding which of the (quite complex) options are appropriate. And it will continue to have a role as long as cloud providers are not offering optimisation as a service. 


Extra-curricular: Super-Awesome, The Musical

As if I didn’t have enough on, I’ve been writing a musical. About the tech industry. Yes, you heard that right. It’s a kind of cross between Rocky Horror and The Office. I’ve completed a draft of the first half, and I’m now finishing the second, which means turning it into Alexandrine (two-part hexameter) form as a hat-tip to Cyrano de Bergerac. I have absolutely no idea whether it will see the light of day, but I’m loving doing it…


Sincere thanks for reading this far, and for sticking with this bulletin. A long time ago, I can remember my boss admonishing me (gently) for rushing into his office, starting to describing a problem, then saying, “Oh yeah, I’ve got it,” and rushing out again. By saying things out loud I’m starting to build a picture, which will play into the various things already bubbling away. More news soon, and good luck with all of your own projects!


All the best, Jon

Bulletin 4 May 2018 – Absolutes corrupt absolutely, and other idea-ologies

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