I Deleted All My Tweets Before 2017

Continuing the grooming of my digital self, I’ve deleted all my Tweets prior to 2017. These tweets offer almost no beneft to my traffic to my site, or the sales of my content, products, and services. They do contain many things that could be taken out of context, and potentially be used as leverage against me when it comes to potential legal cases, insurance prices, credit decisions, job or project prospects, and many other negative things that I just do not need in my world.

So far I’ve deleted my Gmail, and my Facebook history for anything @kinlane. I’ve also cleaned up my storage units for Amazon S3 and Dropbox, putting anything historical on a local drive, and secondarily on an SD card that is stored in separate location. I’m not deleting my accounts, or taking unrealistic stances with my digital presence, I’m just cleaning up things and keeping my house in order. Having these massive archives out there don’t do me any good, and only really benefit the platforms, and 3rd parties who are looking to enrich their data sets.

This is a practice I’m only applying to my personal accounts. If it is @apievangelist, or another one of my professional productions I am keeping the history in place as it brings benefits to the table, and tends to be more business focused. I’m also not cleaning up my personal blogging on kinlane.com, and my other personal domains, as this archive is within my control to clean up and delete at any time I desire. I consider this practice something I am calling reclaim. It is just the regular practice of maintaining my personal digital presence, assert control over what the web says about me, and limiting potential damage to my online, and offline worlds.

I wish that I had more trust in these service providers, but in the current online climate I just don’t trust that they have my back, and are being honest with me regarding who they are sharing my information with. I also don’t trust the ENTIRE online world these days. There are too many folks looking to troll, incite mayhem, and chaos. With this effort, I am just looking to minimize the surface in which they have access to when it comes to stirring their cyber(in)security pots, and limit any potential damage in my life.

Update: I never shared the tool I used - TweetDeleter. I purposely used this instead of the API, because I wanted others to be able to do it without any coding skills.

Showing What Algorithmic Influence On Markets Leaves Out

I’ve been playing with different ways of visualizing the impact that algorithms are making on our lives. How they are being used to distort the immigration debate, and how the current administration is being influenced and p0wned by Russian propaganda. I find shedding light on how algorithms are directly influencing a variety of conversations using machine learning a fun pastime. I’m also interested in finding ways to shine a light on what gets filtered out, omitted, censored, or completely forgotten by algorithms, and their authors.

One of my latest filters I’ve trained using TensorFlow is called “Feed the People”. It is an early 20th century Soviet propaganda poster that I do not know much history behind, but I feel provides a compelling point, while also providing an attractive and usable color palette and textures–I will have to do more research on the back story. I took this propaganda poster and trained a TensorFlow machine learning model for about 24 hours on an AWS EC2 GPU instance, which cost me about $18.00 for the entire process–leaving me with a ML model I can apply to any image.

Once I had my trained machine learning model I applied to a handful of images, including one I took of the economist Adam Smith statue in Edinburgh, Scotland–which interestingly was commissioned by the Adam Smith Institute (ASI), a neoliberal (formerly libertarian) think tank and lobbying group based in the United Kingdom, named after Adam Smith, a Scottish moral philosopher and classical economist in 2003. Taking the essence of the “feed the people” propaganda and algorithmically transferring it an image of the famous economist from the 18th century that was installed on the city streets by a neoliberal think tank in 2003.

I’m super fascinated by how algorithms influence markets, from high speed trading, all the way to how stories about markets are spread on Facebook by investors, and libertarian and neoliberal influencers. Algorithms are being used to distort, contort, p0wn, influence and create new markets. I am continuing to trying to understand how propaganda and ideology is influencing these algorithms, but more importantly highlighting the conversations, and people that are ultimately left behind in the cracks as algorithms continue to consume our digital and physical worlds, and disrupt everything along the way.

I Flushed The Last 9 Years Of My Facebook Profile

I flushed the the last 9 years of my Facebook profile over the last couple of days. Instead of deleting my account, I just cleaned up everything except what I have posted in 2017. In the future I will make it a yearly ritual to flush the previous year of my Facebook profile–something including an altar, candles, and Mark Zuckerberg picture. After watching the last nine years flash by before my eyes, slowly over the last 4 days–I feel confident that I’m not going to need ANY of this social media diarrhea.

This work is part of a larger effort to go through all layers of my digital self and clean house. I recently delete all but the last year of my Gmail, and deleted my central MySQL database, which has been up for the last decade in some instance. Of course, I have downloaded my Facebook archive, and created backups of my Gmail and MySQL databases–which I zip up and store locally on SD cards. Along the way I managed to also cleaned up my Amazon S3 storage which has been up since 2006, and stored what I wanted to keep from their on the same SD cards.

Why am I doing this? I am just just asserting control over my digital self. Gmail and Facebook provide an unprecedented look into our lives–my life. I’m thankful (sometimes) for the tools they provide, but I’m not convinced that they need to possess this intimiate look into my life for an entire decade. I’m not naive enough to think they don’t have some sort of backup, cache, or at least some sort of algorithm trained on my data. But asserting control, and cleaning it up makes me feel like I am a little more in control of my digital self in a time where I feel like I’m increasingly losing control of who I am it this surveillance economy.

I did not manually clean up my Facebook profile manually. I could have automated it using the Facebook API, but I wanted to use a tool that would be available for my readers to use. I’m following the lead of my partner in crime Audrey Watters, who is using F___book Post Manager to delete her network. I took many hours to delete some years, but I just tackled it year by year going back from 2016 until 2007, until it had done its job. I had to rerun it couple times to get some more stragglers, and there are still a handful of things that won’t go away no matter what–not sure what is going on here. However, the majority of my Facebook profile has now been removed, except for anything in 2017.

When you clean up your digital profile this scale, you always think twice about it–what if I need something in here at some point? However, once you are done, this feeling fades away, and you realize you will almost never need any of it, and the one or two items you do, will end up being just fine. Somewhere along the way we were convinced that all of this matters. I’m not saying it doesn’t matter at all, it just doesn’t matter as much as we’ve convinced ourselves that it does, and we do not need a record of everything that has gone on in the past at this scale. We don’t.

Having the last decade of my Facebook doesn’t benefit me. It benefits Facebook. It benefits Facebook partners and advertisers. They want us to think it benefits us, but rarely will it actually serve us better ads, or surface that amazing news article or video. However, the chances that someone will be targeting you, surveilling you, or use a piece of your Facebook out of context to negatively impact your life is pretty great. In this modern digital world we’ve created for ourselves, the more companies and governments have on our behavior, the bigger target we will become–for advertising, surveilling, and p0wning.

I didn’t want to delete my Facebook profile. I like keeping my network, because I enjoy sharing news I curate, and publishing the stories I write here. I also like staying in tune with my friends or families lives on Facebook. However, all of this has an expiration date, which I’ve identified as 1 year. The last year of my life is all I need on there. Once it rolls over a year, I archive it, and move on. Facebook has already aggregated the data, and trained their ML models. Keeping all this data does me no good, and just allows application integrations, advertisers, and other digital actors to look into my life, as well as my past. MY past.

I’m going to move on to Twitter next, cleaning it up just like I have done with my Facebook. I’ll continue to work through all of my personal accounts in this way. I won’t be doing this to any of my business accounts, or my personal blogs, because I see more value in keeping a history of my business activity out there, and happy to maintain a more personal view of my world that gets published within my own domain. As I learn more about my digital self, and develop a deeper awareness of the digital bits of mine that are floating around out there–the more I want to take control, curate, clean, and assert control over these bits. They are mine. It is me.

I Deleted My MySQL Database

I just deleted my primary MySQL database. Of course, I backed up everything, but it is the first time since 2011 I’ve cleaned up my entire database backend to the point where I could delete the entire instance (with confidence). I was motivated to do this mostly because I couldn’t downsize the AWS RDS instance to a smaller instance due to a variety of constraints. The situation gave me the opportunity to clean house, and rethink my next moves.

Instead of setting up a new MySQL instance, I went with the new MySQL compatible Amazon Aurora. I setup a smaller instance that was more affordable, and I was able to easily import the database backups I had made in my previous setup, but now I had a cleaner, more modern Amazon Aurora situation. Which as Amazon claims, “provides up to five times better performance than MySQL with the security, availability, and reliability of a commercial database at one tenth the cost”. Time will tell…

I like cleaning up my database and migrating to a new solution, even if the solution is still with the same provider. It helps me think through things, shed unnecessary databases, tables, and hopefully costs. Everywhere I’ve worked, and within all the businesses I have owned the database is always the hardest thing to manage, and migrate. I want that to be a thing of the past. Now that I have things cleaned up, I’m going to keep my databases small, modular, and using standardized solutions that top tier providers support. This means I can migrate my data wherever I need to, and wherever it makes sense to my business.

Another thing that has also allowed me to migrate my data in this way is that I have offloaded a significant portion of the data I manage, which drives my public research to Google Sheets. This approach helps me simplify, and modularize my data, again using a common tool (spreadsheet / CSV), but in a way that I can easily collaborate with others, and publish to Jekyll and GIthub using YAML. This shift in my world is all about helping me reduce the bulk on the backend of my business, and making sure I spread out my business data, content, and algorithms across a variety of solutions. While making sure all the services I use have APIs that allow me to automate, orchestrate, and of course migrate my data whenever I need to.

The Algorithmic Undertow On Our Reality

After this last election I have concluded that we have severely underestimating the grip the average U.S. citizen has on reality, and the dangers of the algorithmic undertow that has been sweeping us off our feet on a regular basis. These dangers become even more life threatening when you consider the pharmaceutically-charged, doorstep delivered assaults on our reality–something that can become pretty isolating and damaging when you lived in a rural environment.

Ok, what is reality though? This is definitely up for grabs. Your view from middle America, to the coasts, or the north to the south will vary widely. Left wing, right wing, rich, or poor, we will have different views on what actually is reality. Religious–reality shifts even further. However, I think we underestimated the power of the collective reality we had when it was just newspapers, radio, and a choice between NBC, CBS, ABC, or PBS nightly news. I kind of feel like some people were a little better off with less information, or at least a more editorially controlled drip of information each day.

I speak on this grip on reality from a very real place. I struggle with reality myself. From 1988 to 1996 I was pretty high all the time. Ingesting professional levels of LSD, DMT, mushrooms, and any other hallucinogen I could get my hands on, then ultimately doing Heroin to be able to come down and stabilize–yeah, I know. I know. Beginning in 1997 I began to get to work on the heavy lifting involved with reconstructing my reality, taking back my life, finding a career, and eventually building a family. A significant portion of this was about stabilizing myself, and the world immediately around me in way that was conducive to living a sane life–it took me some time for me to craft a working version of reality, something that is still very much a work in progress today.

Another front I struggle with reality on is when it comes to my rural upbringing. I know a number of pretty “out there christians”, but I know even more “out there hippies”. Honestly, I can’t tell the difference between them anymore, they’ve seemed to have merged at some point. I know many people who are anti-vaccine, believe in chem-trails, Jesus, and believe the government is completely incapable of doing anything, but can also pull off some pretty amazing conspiracies without missing a beat. These are cousins, friends, and my immediate family, who really do not have a firm grip on reality, for a variety of reasons. Ultimately we are talking about mental illness, isolation, and the effects of our environment, which includes heavy doses of poverty–I’m not excluding myself from this group, I grew up in this, and suffer daily from its effects.

I know people who are deathly afraid of brown people, because they do not know any. I know people who truly believe in the illuminati and the deep state–it is their greatest fear, and their answer to why everything is the way it is, in the world “out there”. In the last decade I think we have focused on the benefits of the Internet when it comes to the mainstream world, but have significantly underestimated what a slippery slope it would be for isolated folks who do not have a decent grip on reality, and honestly are increasingly on pharmaceutical and other legal, and illegal body and mind altering substances. I’ve seen the effects of Internet culture on these folks first hand. I’ve tried to dive in and understand the information diet they’ve subscribed to, but it is something that is too toxic for even me to endure–no wonder they are so afraid. They’ve created this prison for themselves, and then signed up for a digital mainlining of information that keeps their prison walls in tact.

I know people who are selling herbal concoctions locally and regionally to people, who believe this is proven science, and that they are actively defying the government regulators, and completely unaware that herbal supplements is just one of many affiliate programs of Alex Jones, and the other alt-right evangelists. God, politics, and herbal supplements all swirled together with legal or illegal weed, pharmaceuticals, and good old fashion black tar, with a heavy algorithmic undertow to sweep you off your feet during each election–or on demand, as needed mid election. While many people are on surer footing and can handle the daily algorithmic tides swirling around under their feet, I think a significant portion of our society cannot. While you are all focused on your tech startups, or advertising revenue generation, I’m seeing an increasing number of people left spinning, unsure which way is up, left, right, north or south. Not only are we not having an open conversation about addiction and mental illness in this country, we are not being honest with ourselves about the dangerous effects algorithms are having as an undertow on the reality of many of our citizens.

I Deleted All But The Last Six Months Of My Gmail

I continuing my effort to take control over my data, and digital presence and the next target on my list is Gmail. I have been using Gmail heavily since early 2007, and the application contained a significant amount of my data in its archives. I didn’t need any tools to delete my email, as Gmail provides some easy “select all” options for folders, which easily allows me to delete from inbox, archives, and anywhere else.

I’m not fooling myself to think that Google has some index of my history, or that they’ve already enriched their machine learning models using my data, but cleaning up my past feels good, and is something I will be repeating every six months. Before I got started, I downloaded my archive using Google Takeout, which I’ve put in a backup location for possible future reference.

What was difficult for me is getting over the notion that somehow I needed access to my Gmail history. I can count on both hands the number of times I’ve had to search the archives for anything historically important, and in all of the situations I would have been fine if I did not find what I was looking for. The stories we’ve told ourselves about needing this history is powerful, and something that is very difficult to overcome–I do not know where this has originated, but is something I’ll explore further in future stories.

When I copied the downloaded Gmail archive to my backup location I saw the Outlook .pst files for 2000 through 2006, before I switched to Google–something I have never cracked open. I question the need to even keep these archives–what the hell am I going to do with them? I’m going through each of the other digital services that I use and will be setting up a similar strategy for cleaning up my history and archives on each platform. As I do this work I keep having concerns about the algorithms not treating me the same, my ranking and scoring taking a dive, and other worries. These are all concerns that are made up, and are in place to protect platforms interests, and really have nothing to do with me, except to ensure that I keep giving away my data, and the digital exhaust from my daily work.

Tightly Coupled To Our Mobile Phones

I had ditched my phone last year after being with AT&T for just shy of 20 years. Not having a phone made me realize how much you need a phone number to exist online these days. Facebook, Twitter, Google, all needed me to have a phone number which I can verify from time to time, to keep my accounts active.

In addition to just needing it for an account, I also need it regularly to secure my world via two-factor authentication. Sometimes I need it for SMS, but mostly I just need the authenticator app–both requiring at least having the mobile device in my presence. I’m not very tightly coupled with my phone, but it feels like it increasingly like it is always coupled to me.

I’m guessing that if it isn’t our mobile phones, in the future there will always be at least one device we will be required to have as part of our identity, and be helping us secure both our physical and digital worlds. It isn’t something I enjoy but like pretty everyone else, it is not a cord I am going to be able to cut anytime soon.

Patents As A Measure Of Individual Success

I read a lot of patents as part of my work as the API Evangelist, and I tend to stalk and tune into the social media accounts of some of the authors. I have noticed that some of them work at large companies, and are counting each patent they file and are announcing each one like it is a badge of honor. I’m fascinated by this. Each company’s approach to showcasing or downplaying their patent portfolio tells a lot about the company, something that I feel trickles down to each individual author.

The theater of showcasing the number of patents is fascinating to me. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, just something I think is worthy of more discussion in the modern age. I don’t showcase the number of patents I have filed because 1) I don’t have any patents 2) I cannot afford to file any patents 3) I don’t showcase my ideas, I showcase things I do and the stories I tell. Ok, maybe a patent is a story right? A story about what is possible, that you’ve paid a fee to file with the government, and convinced them that the story is true? I’m just trying to get at the thinking behind this theater production, and why some folks feel that it is a badge of honor.

The biggest differentiator here for me is that I cannot afford to file patents. It is a rich man’s game. Is this why people showcase? To declare they are part of the elite? Even if I could afford to file one patent, I definitely cannot afford to file many patents, and I cannot ever afford to litigate and defend a patent in a court of law. Making patents completely useless to me, even if I wanted to legally define my stories and ideas like this. Another thing that I notice is that there are no individuals filing patents, it is always an individual filing on behalf of a large company who has the money to file, and to litigate on behalf of the patent portfolio, which for me diminishes the individual merit of showcasing–look ma, I got a new patent (for my company)!!

A patent feels like one of those carrots that get dangled in front of individuals to get them to perform while on the hamster wheel. You get told in high school and college by your mentors that the number of patents you have is a badge of honor. However, you never get told that it is your organization that owns the portfolio, and made aware of the closed door dealings or litigation that will occur around your patent portfolio. IDK, it could be that I’m naive and uneducated about the wider world of patents, and how revenue is generated from patent portfolios–it won’t be the first time I’ve spouted off about something I don’t get, nor will it be the last. I write to understand.

Ultimately I think patents are a rich person game, and how a significant amount of ideas are locked up and made part of larger flows of power, or rendered a non-threat. It isn’t a game I’m part of because I don’t operate at that level, which is why it is foreign to me. I’ve never heard someone tell me that they respect someone for their patent portfolio, or that they were an author on a patent. I think patents are one of those legacy stories that used to have meaning and purpose in the industrial world, and long ago became the game of rich folks, while also becoming pretty distorted in the translation from the physical to the digital. It is a game people still showcase as a badge of honor because of mythical stories they have heard those in power tell–they have little to do with your own success or the value of your ideas.

For me, I measure my success based on the stories I tell about my ideas, and the stories others retell about my ideas. I also measure my success based upon the number of my ideas that become real, and are part of everyday practice in an industry, even if I do not receive royalty checks, or able to litigate and make deals based upon my idea portfolio…but, this is just me. I’m an oddball like that.

In The Future Our Current Views Of Personal Data Will Be Shocking

The way we view personal data in this early Internet age will continue to change and evolve, until one day we are looking back at this period and find we are shocked regarding how we didn’t see people’s digital bits as their own, and something we should respect and protect the privacy and security of.

Right now my private, network shared, or even public posts are widely viewed as a commodity, something the platform operator, and other companies have every right to buy, sell, mine, extract, and generally do as they wish. Very few startups see these posts as my personal thoughts, they simply see the opportunity for generating value and revenue as part of their interests. Sure, there are exceptions, but this is the general view of personal data in this Internet age.

We are barely 20 years into the web being mainstream, and barely over five years into mobile phones being mainstream. We are only beginning to enter even more immersions of Internet in our lives via our cars, televisions, appliances, and much more. We are only getting going when it comes to generating and understanding personal data, and the impacts of technology on our privacy, security, and overall human well-being. What is going on right now will not stay the norm, and we are already seeing signs of pushback from humans regarding ownership of their data, as well as our privacy and security.

While technology companies and their investors seem all powerful right now, and many humans seem oblivious to what is going, the landscape is shifting, and I’m confident that humans will prevail, and there will be pushback that begins helping us all define our digital self, and reclaiming the privacy and security we are entitled to. When we look back on this period in 50 years we will not look favorably on companies and government agencies who exploited human’s personal data. We will see the frenzy over big data generation, accumulation, and treating it like a commodity, over something that belongs to a human as deeply troubling.

Which side of history are you going to be on?

The Stories We Tell Our Children

As I contemplate the world on this Memorial day, I am thinking about the father I never had a chance to know, and thinking deeply about the stories we tell on these holidays, as well as the cracks in between. This was one of the only photos I had of my father while growing up. As a young impressionable male, I wanted to join the military, fill my void with service and days spent fighting “the enemy”–a fire that was stoked daily by the adults in my life. After hearing the 6:00 news, from the radio out in the shop, and around the dining room table, my friends and I would spend our weekends at the river, running military exercises to prepare us for when the Russians invaded–WOLVERINES!!!!

The adults around me would tell us stories, purchase us backpacks, guns, and knives, all fueled by their own fears–completely unaware of what this was doing to us. I now hear these same adults telling stories about how Russia has a strong leader, and we should be afraid of those brown people over there, that we should go to war with them, and that we should not let them into our country. They are letting their fears be stoked, be used (yet again) to make the world a more hostile place, and ensuring that the next generation will be just afraid of the world as they are, and where societal and financial collapse becomes the only hope you have (you spend your days waiting, hoping for the next collapse, all the data points to it being October 5th)–this becomes the light at the end of the tunnel.

On this day I think about what my life would have been like if I had not got that hit of album cover acid at the Dylan & The Dead concert in 1987 and found my own way out. I found my own way out of rural poverty (thumb on the freeway), away from the stories of fear that were rooted in generations of racism and isolation. I’m thankful that I was able to break the cycle of stories that are told in rural parts this country, where boys do not know their fathers, they worship their guns, fear brown people, and never trust those people over there in the city, or in that other country I have never actually ever been to.

I Have To Comply With DJI Update Or My Drone Will Be Crippled

I received this email from DJI about my drone this weekend, telling me about an upcoming update this week where I will be forced to comply with an update that is designed to limit where I can operate my drone. It is a pretty interesting look at the future of this Internet of Things beast we’ve unleashed.

Dear Customers,

DJI will soon introduce a new application activation process for international customers. This new step, to take effect at the end of this week, ensures you will use the correct set of geospatial information and flight functions for your aircraft, as determined by your geographical location and user profile. All existing flight safety limitations, such as geofencing boundaries and altitude limits, remain the same.

Even if you have registered when activating your aircraft upon purchase, you will have to log in once when you update the new version of DJI GO or GO 4 App. If you have forgotten your password since your initial login, you can reset it using a function within the DJI GO and DJI GO 4 apps.

You will need a data connection to the Internet for your smartphone or tablet when you log in, in order to verify the account information and activate the updated software or firmware. If this activation process is not performed, the aircraft will not have access to the correct geospatial information and flight functions for that region, and its operations will be restricted if you update the upcoming firmware: Live camera streaming will be disabled, and flight will be limited to a 50-meter (164-foot) radius up to 30 meters (98 feet) high.

The feature applies to all aircraft (except standalone A3 and N3) that have been upgraded to the latest firmware or when using future versions of the DJI GO and GO 4 apps.

DJI encourages pilots to always follow applicable laws and regulations in the countries where they operate, and provides information about these regulations on its FlySafe website at flysafe.dji.com.


Your DJI Team

I find it really fascinating that if you do not comply with the update your device will be limited in where it can operate, and taking away some features. That “this new step, to take effect at the end of this week, ensures you will use the correct set of geospatial information and flight functions for your aircraft, as determined by your geographical location and user profile.”

This email provides us with a look at the future, where all our devices are connected to the Internet, and if we don’t comply with all updates, and forward motion, the objects in our lives can be turned off, or limited in what they can do.

The Oil Industry Waking Up To Data Being The New Oil

When you hang out in startup circles you hear the phrase, “data is the new oil” a lot. Getting rights to the mining and extracting, and generating revenue from data is big business, and VC, Hedge Funds, and even government are getting in on the game. Whether it is gathered from private or public sectors, or in your living room and pocket, everyone wants access to data.

One sign that this discussion is reaching new levels, is that the oil industry is talking about data being the new oil. That is right. I’m increasingly coming across stories about big data and the revenue opportunities derived from data when it comes to IoT, social, and many other trending sectors. The big oil supply chain has access to a lot of data to support its efforts, as well as generated from the exhaust of daily oil production to consumption–the opportunity is real man!

To entrepreneurs this shift is exciting I’m sure. To me, it’s troubling. Wall Street turning their sites to the data opportunity, and hedge funds getting in on the game worried me, but big oil being interested an even greater sign that things are reaching some extreme levels. It is one thing to use data is the new oil as a skeuomorph to find investment in your startup, or acquire new customers. It is another thing for the folks behind big oil to be paying attention–these are the same people who like to start wars to get at what they want.

Anyways, it is just one of many troubling signs emerging across the landscape. Many of my readers will dismiss as meaningless, but these discussions are just signs of an overall illness around how we see data, privacy, and security. Remember when we’d topple dictators to get at oil resources in the world? Well, welcome to the new world where you topple democracies if you have access to the right data resources.

Liquid To Filter Out The Future On My Blogs

I created a little hack on my Jekyll-driven websites to allow me to publish a week’s worth of posts (or more) ahead of time. I’ve been scheduling these publishing using my homebrew CMS, but I recently ditched it for Siteleaf, and one of the things that were not possible with the CMS was scheduling–so I needed a hack.

I wanted to be able to just publish at least a weeks worth of blog posts, but then just trickle them out somehow using Jekyll, and avoid using the CMS layer. I got to work publishing a couple of “future” posts and tightening up any holes where the future might leak out into the present–specifically the blog and RSS/Atom listings.

First I set a variable to tell me what the date and time were for any given moment:

Then I translated the publish date for each post into the same format as my definition for now (seconds):

Then you just check to make sure each blog post that is being displayed using Liquid is truly from the past:

Voila, a filter for the future on my blog listing page, and the RSS or Atom feeds. After this, I published a schedule.xml feed which showed all my blog posts, even for the future. I use this to schedule Tweets, and other social media posts for my blogs throughout the week–allowing my social media management tooling to see into the future when it comes to my blogs.

It is a hack for achieving a blog schedule, but it works. It allows me to schedule my world days or weeks ahead, and stay focused on project work. One of the reasons I abandoned my homegrown CMS is I wanted to be forced to find solutions within the cracks of a variety of SaaS tooling, using feeds and APIs. I feel like these approaches are going to be more valuable to my readers, as I can’t expect everyone to deploy a custom solution like I was doing.

Observability Is Needed to Quantify A DDoS Attack

The FCC released a statement from the CIO's office about a Denial-of-Service Attack on the FCC comment system, after John Oliver directed his viewers to go there and "express themselves". Oliver even published a domain (gofccyourself.com) that redirects you to the exact location of the comment system form, saving users a number of clicks before they could actually submit something. I am not making any linkage between what John Oliver did, and the DDoS attack claims from the FCC but would like to just highlight the complexity of what is DDoS, and how it's becoming an essential tool in our Cybersecurity Theater toolbox.

According to Wikipedia, "a denial-of-service attack (DoS attack) is a cyber-attack where the perpetrator seeks to make a machine or network resource unavailable to its intended users by temporarily or indefinitely disrupting services of a host connected to the Internet. Denial of service is typically accomplished by flooding the targeted machine or resource with superfluous requests in an attempt to overload systems and prevent some or all legitimate requests from being fulfilled." It is a pretty straightforward way of taking down a website, application, and increasingly devices, but it is one that is often more theater than reality.

There are two sides of the DDoS coin: 1) how many requests an attacker can make, and 2) how many requests an attack receiver can handle. If a website, form or another service can only handle 100 requests in any second, it doesn't take much to become a DDoS attack. I worked at a company once, where the IT director claimed to be under sustained DDoS attack for weeks, crippling business, but after a review, it turned out he was running some really inefficient services, in an under-resourced server environment. My point is, that there is always a human making the decision about how many requests we should handle before things are actually are crippled, either by limiting the resources available before an attack occurs or by cutting off scaling up existing infrastructure because it would cost too much to achieve.

There are variations of the DDoS attacks, sometimes called a "cash overflow" attack, where a website operates in a scalable cloud, and can handle a large volume of requests, but eventually will cost a provider too much, and they will cut if off because they can't afford to pay the bill. A DDoS attack can be successful for a variety of reasons. Sometimes providers don't have the infrastructure to support and scale to the number of requests, sometimes providers can't afford to scale infrastructure to support, and other times a provider just makes the decision that a website, form, or device isn't worth scaling to support any level of demand beyond what is politically sensible.

I'm sure that many DDoS attacks are legitimate, but I know personally that in some cases they are also a theater skit performed by providers who are looking to cry foul or stimulate a specific type of conversation or response from a specific audience. I just think it is important to remember the definition of what a DDoS attack is, and always think a little more deeply about the motivations of both the DDoS attacker, as well as those under attack, and the political motivations of everyone involved, as well as the resource they have to contribute to the two-way street that is a distributed denial of service attack (DDoS)

The Value Of Our Digital Bits

I think way too much about the digital bits being transmitted online each day. I study the APIs that are increasingly being used to share these bits via websites, mobile, and other Internet-connected devices. These bits can be as simple as your messages and images or can be as complex as the inputs and outputs of algorithms used in self-driving cars. I think about bits at the level up from just the 1s and 0s, at the point where they start to become something more meaningful, and tangible--as they are sent and received via the Internet, using web technology.

The average person takes these digital bits for granted, and are not burdened with the technical, business, and political concerns surrounding each of these bits. For many other folks across a variety of sectors, these bits are valuable and they are looking to get access to as many of them as you can. These folks might work at technology startups, hedge funds, maybe in law enforcement or just tech-savvy hacker or activist on the Internet. If you hang out in these circles, data is often the new oil, and you are looking to get your hands on as much of it as you can, and are eager to mine it everywhere you possibly can. 

In 2010, I started mapping out this layer of the web that was emerging, where bits were beginning to be sent and received via mobile devices, expanding the opportunity to make money from these increasingly valuable bits on the web. This move to mobile added a new dimension to each bit, making it even more valuable than they were before--it now possessed a latitude and longitude, telling us where it originated. Soon, this approach to sending and receiving digital bits spread to other Internet-connected devices beyond just our mobile phones, like our automobiles, home thermostats, and even wearables--to name just a few of the emerging areas.

The value of these bits will vary from situation to situation, with much of the value lying in the view of whoever is looking to acquire it. The value of a Facebook wall post is worth a different amount to an advertiser looking for a potential audience, then it will be to law enforcement looking for clues in an investigation, and let's not forget the value of this bit to the person who is posting it, or maybe their friends who are viewing it. When it comes to business in 2017, it is clear that our digital bits are valuable, even if much of this value is purely based on perception and very little tangible value in the real world. With many wild claims about the value and benefit of gathering, storing, and selling bits.

Markets are continually working to define the value of bits at a macro level, with many technology companies dominating the list, and APIs are defining the value of bits at the micro level--this is where I pay attention to things, at the individual API transaction level. I enjoy studying the value of individual bits, not because I want to make money off of them, but because I want to understand how those in power positions perceive the value of our bits and are buying and selling our bits at scale. Whether it is compute and storage in the cloud, or the television programs we stream, and pictures and videos we share in our homes, these bits are increasing in value, and I want to understand the process how everything we do is being reduced to a transaction. 

Many Perspectives On Internet Domains

I am always fascinated by how people see Internet domains. I do not expect everyone to grasp all of the technical details of DNS or the nuance of the meaning behind the word domain, but I'm perpetually amazed by what people associate or do not associate with the concept. I like to write about these things under my domain literacy work, saving the research I do for future use, but also using the process to polish my storytelling on the subject, and hopefully being more influential when it comes to domain literacy discussions.

After watching the conversation around Audrey's decision to block annotation from her domain(s), I just wanted to take a moment and capture a few of the strange misconceptions around domains I've seen come up, as well as rework some of the existing myths and misunderstandings I deal with regularly when it comes to my API research, and wider domain literacy work. Let's explore some of the storytelling going on when it comes to what is an Internet domain.

What Is A Domain?
Many folks have no idea what a domain is. That they type them in regularly in their browsers, click on them, let alone that you can buy and own your own domain. This illiteracy actually plays into the hands of tech entrepreneurs, and each wave of capitalists who are investing in them--they do not want you knowing the details of each domain, who is behind them, and they want to make sure you are always operating on someone else's domain. It is how they will own, aggregate, and monetize your bits, always being the first to extract any value from what you do online, and via your mobile phones.

You Don't Own Your Domain!
A regular thing I hear back from people about domains is that you don't every truly own your domain. Well, I'd first say that you never really truly own ANYTHING, but that is probably another conversation. Do you really own your house? What happens if you don't pay your taxes, or use and respect the title company, and other powers involved? What about imminent domain laws? Sure, you don't really own your domain, but you are able to purchase it, control the addressing of it, and decide what gets hosted there (or not). It's pretty damn close to a common definition of ownership for this discussion.

Your Domain Is On the Internet So It Is Public!
Just walk yourself through the top domains you can think of. Does this argument hold any water? Every part, of every domain on the Internet is public because it uses public DNS and Internet infrastructure? No. There are so many grades of access and availability across many domains that use public infrastructure. Domain owners and operators get to determine which portions of a domain are accessible by the public, private partners, and even across internal actors. Even on the public areas, not protected by a password, there can be different levels of content delivery based upon region, individual IP address, or just randomly, leaving it to the algorithm to personalize what you will see. There are no guaranttees of something being public, just because it uses a public domain.

Domain Name Servers (DNS) Is Voodoo
Yes. DNS is voodoo. I've been managing DNS professionally for domains since 1998, and I still think it's voodoo. Even with DNS being a dark art, it is still something the average person can comprehend, and even manage at a basic level for simple domains, especially with the help of DNS service providers. DNS is the address, doorway and even the fence for the perimeter of your domain. DNS also helps you define and quantify the size of your domain, with the number of domains exponentially expanding your digital territory. A basic level proficiency with DNS is required to manage your own domain(s) successfully.

We Own What You Do In Our Domain!
Ok. Sure. Any new data or content that is generated by systems running within your domain can be seen as YOUR intellectual property. However, when you invite people to bring their bits (photos, videos, thoughts) to your domain and don't really educate them about intellectual property, and what you are up to, it can be easily argued that maybe what people generate in your domain isn't always yours. Even with that said, ensuring things happen within a specific domain, so that you can place some sort of ownership claim over those bits is a pretty standard operating procedure for the web today. This is why most of my work is conducted via my own domain(s) each day, and syndicated out to other domains as I see fit.

There Is No Real Difference Between Domains 
As people surf the web, they rarely see the difference between each domain. Unless it's big brands like Twitter, Facebook, Google, and others, I don't think people really ever consider the domain they are on, or who might be behind it. Those of us in the business do a lot of thinking about domains and see the crack in the web, but the average person doesn't see the boundaries, differences, or motivations behind. This all contributes to many different paths people take when it comes to domain literacy--depending on where they boarded with the concepts they'll see domains very differently. While some of us enjoy helping others understand domains, there are many who think it should be kept in the realm of the dark arts, and something normals shouldn't worry their pretty little heads about.

Everybody Gets The Same Experience At A Public Domain
Each domain you visit on the public web looks the same for everyone who visits, is a common perception I get from folks. We are good at projecting our reality at common online domains onto other people. The news I see on my favorite news site is what everyone else sees. My view of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter is similar to what other people experience, or rather, I don't think people spend much time thinking about it, things are the way they are through a lack of curiosity. My Facebook is definitely not your Facebook. Our web experience is increasingly personalized and bubbleized, changing how and what each domain will mean to different folks. Net Neutrality is under attack on many fronts and is rapidly being eroded away in our browsers and on our mobile phones via the major providers.

I am captivated by this version of our online world that is unfolding around us. What worries me is the lack of understanding about how it works and some awareness of where they are all operating when online. People don't seem concerned with knowing what is safe, what is not. What worries me the most is that number of people who don't even have the concept of a domain, domain ownership, and any sense of separation between sites online. After that, the misuse, misinformation, and obfuscation of the digital world by people operating in the shadows and benefitting from ad revenue. I know many folks who would argue that we need to create safe spaces (domains) like Facebook where people can operate, but I feel pretty strongly that this is an Internet discussion, and not merely a platform one.

We have a lot of work ahead of us when it comes to web literacy. With the amount of time we are spending online, and the ways we are letting it infiltrate our physical worlds, we have to do better and educating people about the basic building blocks of the web. If we let "them" ruin the web, and platforms are the only safe place to be--cooperations win, and this grand experiment called the web is over. Maybe it already is, or maybe it never was, or maybe we can just help folks just see the web for what it is.

FREE Always Seems To Suck The Oxygen Out Of The Room

I closely watch the value the digital bits being exchanged via the Interwebz--it is what I do. @audreywatters always says that APIs are "reducing everything to a transaction", and I am interested understanding the value of these bits, what people are buying and selling them for, and how it keeps the Internet machine chugging along--for better or worse. As I watch Audrey battle with folks about the availability of content with her domain and experience my own shift in what should be made freely available by API providers, I'm left thinking about the damaging effects free has had on our world.

I feel like the seeds of this were set into motion by John Perry Barlow followers imparting their ideology on the web, but was something that was capitalized on during the Web 2.0 movement by tech giants like Google, Twitter, and Facebook when it came to leveling the playing field, giving them the competitive advantage they needed. It is very difficult to compete with FREE. Only certain companies can operate in this environment. It's a brilliant and cutthroat way of doing business, setting a tone for how business should be done in a way that keeps competitors out of the game. When the free and open Internet armies become wielded by this type of passive aggressive capitalism, the resulting zombie army becomes a pretty effect force for attacking any providers who are left operating in this oxygen-deprived environment.

These free zombie armies think the web should be free and openly accessible for them to do what they want, most notably build a startup, getting funding, and sell that startup to another company. Your detailed website of business listings, research into an industry, and other valuable exhaust that MUST remain free is ripe for picking, and inclusion into their businesses. The zombies rarely go picketing after tech giants, telling them that everything must remain free and available, they go after the small service provider who is trying to make a living and build an actual small business. If the tech giants sucking the oxygen out of space with FREE don't get you, the free and open zombies will pick you clean through a sustained, and systematic assault from Reddit and Hacker News.

I'm always amazed at the bipolar conversations I have with folks about how I manage to make a living doing my API research, how rich and detailed my work is, while also being asked to jump on a phone call to talk through my research, so it can be used in their startup, marketing, or infographic. Never being asked if they could pay me, and when I mention getting paid-- they often just scatter. This continuous assault on the web has pushed me to shift my views on what should be FREE, and what we publish and openly license on the web, as well as make available at the lowest tiers of our APIs. These are my valuable bits. I've managed to stay alive and make a living in a field where most analysts either burn out or are acquired and coopted. My bits are how I make a living, please stop demanding that they always be free. Not everyone can operate like Google, Facebook, or Twitter--sometimes things cost money to do well, and might not need to be done at scale.

Expressing My Concern About Startup Dependability When I Talk To VCs

I talk to venture capital (VC) folks on a regular basis, answering questions about specific API-centric companies, all the way to general trends regarding where technology is headed. This week I was talking with a firm about the viability of one of the API companies I work with regularly, and the topic of startup dependability came up, as we were talking about the challenges this particular startup is facing.

While I am using this particular startup in my business operations I expressed concern about the viability and stability of the startup in the long run. This concern has less to do with the startup, as I fully trust the team, and the technology they develop, it is more about the nature of how investment works, as well as the looming threats for the 1000lb pound gorillas in the space. I just do not trust that ANY startup will be around in coming months, and I craft my API integrations accordingly--always with a plan b, and hopefully a plan c waiting in the shadows.

This isn't just me. I've had similar conversations with companies of all shapes and sizes, university technology groups, as well as government agencies. After each wave of startups failing or achieving their exits, us end-users who are often in charge of purchasing decisions are suffering from whiplash, and our necks hurt. Every time there is a new tool on the table, we are asking ourselves whether or not it is worth it this time. Should we be investing in yet another software as a service that will likely go away in 12 to 24 months? The burden on us has been too high, and we are left feeling like the startups and their investors really do not give a shit about us--they have their own business model that they are moving forward with, where we are just a number.

There are no guarantees in business, but startups and VCs aren't doing enough to address the dependability of their portfolio companies. At some point, it will catch up with them, if it already isn't. As the API Evangelist, I am already toning down my excitement over new startups because I really do not want to be responsible for helping convince people to adopt a new tool, and then be held accountable when the startup goes away. Each week I have an inbox full of startups asking me to write about them, and most of them are unaware of how much my neck hurts, they are narrowly focused on their vision, with little concern for the rest of us, as long as they get their payout.

Why You Have Trouble Talking About The Negative Impacts Of Technology?

When you are a critic of technology you get a lot of pushback from technologists, who seem to almost aways impulsively respond that not all technology is bad, echoing conversations around race and gender. There are two default responses you get when you ask some hard questions about how technology is used: 1) Not all technology is bad 2) Why do you hate all technology? These pretty default responses from a culture of people (mostly men) who feel that they have to defend technology in all scenarios, rather than actually being capable of participating in constructive conversations about the sensible use of technology. 

I like technology and have made a good living as an Internet technology specialist. I'm definitely not someone who is anti-technology. However, the bi-product of folks believing so blindly in the power of technology is leaving a trail of negative consequences in its wake, and I find myself regularly stepping up to ask some of the harder questions--resulting in folks increasingly pushing back on me in this impulsive way. I would say that the pushback from technologists has exceeded the push back I get from business folks when it comes to the power of markets, but when you have technologists who have also drunk the markets Kool-Aid while also believe so blindly in technology, a very disturbing conversation emerges.

As Internet technology continues its penetration into every aspect of our personal and business worlds we have to get better at asking the hard questions about the negative and often unforeseen consequences of using Internet technology. I'm always amazed by the annoying tone that technologists take with me when I bring up the hard questions, and how they resort to immediately defending technology, and technologists. Rarely is it a conversation about the possibilities (good or bad), it immediately becomes an attack on what someone does for a living, their belief system, making it a personal attack--one that regularly becomes unproductive in a digital environment.

For the folks who do this, I ask, "do you ever step back and evaluate why you feel so compelled to defend technology?" If you pause and think about some of the negative things we've seen in the world this century, is it so hard to conceive that, as technologists, we might be missing some negative situations, and that we might be too close to the technology, or maybe there are views we are not considering because of how close we are? Why is your immediate responses in defense of technology, over the defense of people? Why are you so unwilling to have a discussion with other people about Internet technology, and understand their perspective of technology?

When people step up and criticize APIs I often have the same emotional response in my head. Not all APIs are bad! I'm doing good with APIs! Then I stop myself, and I remind myself that technology doesn't need defending. People do. Maybe I should listen to what someone is saying. Even if I don't end up agreeing with them, I almost always benefit from understanding their perspective. If I don't agree with them, I also remind myself that the situation doesn't always warrant a response. Technology doesn't need me defending it. If there is a human involved in my rebuttal to an argument I may actually respond with a defense, but if it is just technology--it can defend itself. 

My Procedures For Crossing Borders With Digital Devices

I just got back from two weeks in the United Kingdom, which was my first international travel in a Trump and Brexit dystopia. My travel leaving the country, and coming back through LAX were uneventful, but it gave me the opportunity to begin pulling together my procedures for crossing borders with my digital devices. 

Pausing, and thinking about which devices I will be traveling with, what I am storing on these devices, and the applications I'm operating provided a significant opportunity to get my security and privacy house in order. It allows me to go through my digital self, think about the impact of traveling with too much data, and prepare and protect myself from potentially compromising situations at the border.

When I started my planning process I had invested in a burner Google Chromebook, but because I'm currently working on some projects that require Adobe products, I resorted to taking my older Macbook Air, that if I had confiscated I would be alright leaving behind (who wants a violated machine?). When it comes to my iPhone and iPad, I cannot afford to leave them behind, as I need the most recent iPhone to work with my new Mavic drone, and my Osmo+ video camera--both from DJI.

Any law enforcement looking to get access to my MacBook, iPhone, or iPad are going to go after all my essential bits: contacts, messages, images, audio, and video. So I made sure that all of these areas are cleared before I crossed any border. I keep only the applications I need to navigate and stay in touch with key people--no social media except Twitter. Since I use OnePass for my password management, I don't actually know any of my passwords, and once I remove the OnePass application, I can't actually get into anything I'm not already logged into.

The process of developing my border processing procedure also helped me think through my account hierarchy. My iCloud and Google are definitely my primary accounts, with everything else remembered by OnePass. I even set up an alternate Kin Lane for iCLoud, Twitter, and Google, which I log into with all of my devices when crossing a border. I made sure all social and messaging applications are removed except for the essentials, and double checked I had two-factor authentication turned on for EVERYTHING.

I store nothing on the iPhone or the iPad. Everything on my Macbook is stored in a synced Dropbox folder, which is removed before any border is crossed. I clear all SD cards and camera storage on the device. Everything is stored in the cloud when I travel, leaving nothing on the device. When you are really in tune with the bits you create and need to operate each day, it isn't much work to minimize your on-device footprint like this. The more you exercise, the easier it is to keep the data you store on-device as minimal as you possibly can. One footnote on storage though--if you can't get all your data uploaded to the cloud in time because of network constraints, store on mini-SD cards, which can be hidden pretty easily.

The areas I focused on as part of my procedure were focused on device storage, application connections to the cloud, and what is baked into the device like address book, etc.--running everything in the lightest, bare bones mode possible. It really sucks that we have to even do this at all, but I actually find the process rewarding--think of it like fasting, but for your digital self. I'm looking forward to furthering refining my approach and keeping it as something that I do EVERY time I cross a border. Eventually, it will just become standard operating procedure, and something I do without thinking, and will definitely begin to impact my more permanent digital footprint--keeping everything I do online as thoughtful, meaningful, and secure as possible.

The Valuable Bits On Your Cell Phone That Everybody Wants

I track on which digital resources are valuable. Products, contacts, messages, compute, images, video, and the other valuable bits that are being moved around, and bought and sold via the Internet. I'm always trying to understand what is valuable to developers, platform operators, investors, and even the police and government agencies. 

I was reading a post on how Denver police are using Cellebrite, a solution for accessing cell phones, and an OCR image from the story had a list of bullet points regarding Cellebrite's functionality, which I think provides a nice snapshot of what data is valuable on your cell phone currently. They are looking for the following bits:

  • Device ID - The unique identification of your device.
  • Address Book - The names, and information for your contacts.
  • Phone Call - The details of every call you have made.
  • Emails - All of the emails you sent and received.
  • Messages - Your text and images messaging and SMS.
  • Videos - All of the videos you have watched and created.
  • Photos - All of the photos you have watched and created.
  • Audio - Any podcast you've listened to and audio file created.
  • Location - The history of where you have been with GPS.
  • Social - Your social messages and connections for used networks.
  • Password - The code you use to get into your device.
  • Wifi - The networks you have connected to with your device.

It provides a pretty nice snapshot of what is valued in today's digital world. These are the essential bits of all of our lives, and everyone is working overtime to get their hands on them. It's not just the government, every single company doing business online wants to get at these bits, connect the dots, and make money from them. Law enforcement is interested in the same bits, just for very different reasons--they have a very different business model than the startups, but they both have a shared desire.

How free we are in the future is going to come down to how much control we have over our bits. Everyone wants them. The government, hedge funds, venture capitalists, hackers. I think the last one wifi, or our network, is the canary in the coal mine. The current tone being set by the FCC, and Trump administration, is the sign that things will begin to get much more toxic. Even beyond the Silicon Valley operated, cyber(in)secure world we find ourselves operating in currently--hang on to your bits, it is going to be a wild ride!

The Role Of The University In Our World

I had come across Your College Degree is Worthless as part of my regular monitoring of the API space, which is a story I see regularly from the startup community, partly due to my relative position to my partner in crime Audrey Watters (@audreywatters) and her Hack Education work. It is a story startup like to tell when they are selling technology fueled solutions they see as a replacement to the college degree, in this case, the author is developing a startup based on selling apprenticeships with other startups. I'm linking to the story and startup not because I support them, but because it provides a great example of the corrosive effects that startup culture has become.

Shortly after reading this story I went to Oxford in the UK to speak with the Oxford Dictionaries API, and while in Oxford I walked around several of the schools there. While experiencing Christ Church and Magdalen colleges this story came to mind, and I spent time thinking deeply of the hubris and delusion of tech culture. Imagine believing that an internship at a startup is more valuable than a college degree and that higher educational institutions should be dismantled and replaced with startup culture--we have created quite a magical echo chamber.

I get it, you think the startup experience is amazing, and everyone should do it. You see academia as an exclusive group. A party maybe you were never fully invited to. Also, you smell opportunity, selling folks what you see as an alternative. But, you are missing so much. How can an apprenticeship at a startup every replace studying literature at a university, and immersing yourself in, well, learning? What a hollow, empty world to live in where running a business would ever replace literature, philosophy, art, and other meaningful aspects of being human.

While in the UK I had the pleasure of taking my 16-year-old daughter with me, and I took her with me to Oxford that day. It isn't a school she'd be applying to, but we also visited Edinburgh University on the trip, which might actually make it on her list of schools she'll be applying to in a year or so. I think about the experience my daughter would have at startups vs the experience she would have in a university environment. I want my daughter to be successful, but this doesn't just mean making money, it also involves be happy, healthy, and well-adjusted in her life. Something that a university environment would contribute to, but I shudder to think about in the volatile, male-dominated, "meritocracy" of startup culture.

I do not have a university degree. Hell, I do not even have a high school diploma. I have no allegiance to any academic institution, but I completely respect what they do, and refuse to take for granted what they have done for our world. Sure, higher educational institutions have their problems, but so does startup culture. It troubles me that so many would be willing to support the concept of a university degree being worthless, willfully dismissing what a university degree has done for so many on the planet. It leaves me seeing startup culture as some sort of virus being unleashed on almost every sector of our society today.

I know. I know. Not all startups. Yes. Just like not all men. Just like not all white men. But have you ever taken the time to actually step back from your startup aspirations, let the effects of the kool-aid fade, and thought about life beyond technology and making money? There are so many other aspects of life that make it worth living, something that universities have played a significant role in. Maybe we could spend more time thinking about the positive role startups should play, and not the dismantling of good things, simply so you can profit frsellinging their replacement.

Working To Understand The Digital World Around Us

My partner in crime Audrey Watters and I recently rebranded our umbrella company as Contrafabulists, and along the way, we worked with our friend Bryan Mathers to help us develop some graphics that would help define our work. Bryan quickly developed a logo for Contrafabulists that I think represents what we do--embedding ourselves within the gears of the machine, pushing back on the daily stories from the technology sector.

Bryan has a unique approach to conducting his work. He spent time wth us on a video call discussing our vision, listening to both of us speak, while also applying some of what he already knew of Audrey's Hack Education work, as well as my API Evangelist and Drone Recovery work. From this discussion, he created a banner image, that we use as the banner for the Contrafabulists website -- providing another great visualization of our work.

I love staring into the eyes of the owl, which stares back at you with its mechanical gaze, forcing you to ask the hard questions about how you are using technology. Maybe you are complicit in the stories coming out of the technology sector, or maybe you are just a listener or narrator of these stories being--either way, the owl's eyes quickly get to work understanding you, and what defines you from a technical view.

After we launched the Contrafabulists website, Bryan was listening to our podcast, where Audrey and I rant about the week and he produced an image that was unexpected and resonates with me in some powerful ways. Bryans work illustrates where we are at when it comes to defining who we are in the digital world unfolding around us, while the machines are all learning about us as well.

I do not know which conversation inspired Bryan's work, but I'm assuming it was our discussion around what machine learning technology can do, and what it can't do. Machine learning is a very (intentionally so) abstract term that is being used across the latest wave of rhetoric coming out of the technology sector, that often invokes magical visions in your head about what the machines are learning. Understanding more about what is machine learning is, and what it isn't, is a significant portion of my work as API Evangelist, overlapping with Audrey's work on Hack Education--Bryan's work is extremely relevant and continues to help augment our storytelling in an important way.

There are three significant things going on in his image for me. At first glance, it feels like a representation of what the machine sees of us, when trying to interpret a photo of us using facial or object recognition, defining our face, the space and context around us, while also linking that to other aspects of our social and digital footprint. Then I'm overwhelmed with feelings of my own efforts to define who I am, with each blog post, social media post, or image uploaded--in which the machine is working so hard to understand in the same moment. Then there is the intersection of these two worlds, and the struggle to understand, connect, find meaning, and deliver value--the struggle to define our digital self, something we either do ourselves, or it will be done for us by the technological platforms we operate on.

As I process these thoughts, I would add a fourth dimension to this struggle, something that is very API driven--the role 3rd parties play in defining us, and the world around us, in an increasingly digital world. Our world is increasingly being shaped by platforms, and the 3rd parties who have learned how to p0wn these platforms, whether for ideological or financial gain. Our understanding of the immigration debate is perpetually being shaped by platforms like Twitter or Facebook, and a small group of 3rd party influencers who have learned to shape and game the algorithm.

As we are learning, the machine's are also learning about us, something that is being used against us in real-time, by those who understand how to manipulate the algorithms to achieve their objectives. Helping people understand what we mean when we mean when we say machine learning is difficult--this is because machine learning is technically complicated, but it is also designed to provide a smoke screen for any exploitation and manipulation that is occurring behind the scenes. Machine learning is designed to be understood by a handful of wizards, leaving everyone else to bask in the glow of the personalization and convenience it delivers, leaving no questions regarding the magical capabilities of the machine.

Machine learning is increasingly defining us in the online world, watching everything we do on Facebook, Instagram, Twiter, and via search engines like Google, but it is also beginning to define how we see the physical world around us, helping shape how we see other cities, countries, and places we may never actually visit, and experience in person--algorithmically painting a picture of how we see the world.

Audrey and I are dedicated to understanding the stories coming out of the tech sector, cutting through the marketing, hype, and storytelling accompanying each wave of technology. Machine learning is just one of many areas we work to understand, in an increasingly complex landscape of magic and wizardry being sold via the Internet and applications that are infiltrating our mobile phones, televisions, automobiles, and every other corner of our personal and professional lives. 

I'm thankful to have folks like Bryan Mathers along for the ride, assisting us in crafting images for the stories we tell. I feel like our words are critical, but it is equally important to have meaningful images to go along with the words we write each day. Amidst the constant assault of information each day, sometimes all we have time for is just a couple seconds to absorb a single image, making the photo and image gallery an important section in our Contrafabulists toolbox. I imagine using Bryan's machine learning photos in dozens of stories over the next couple of years, and I'm hoping that eventually, it will continue to come into focus, helping us better connect the dots, and see our digital reflection in this pool we have waded into.

Machine Learning Will Be A Vehicle For Many Heists In The Future

I am spending some cycles on my algorithmic rotoscope work. Which is basically a stationary exercise bicycle for my learning about what is, and what is not machine learning. I am using it to help me understand and tell stories about machine learning by creating images using machine learning that I can use in my machine learning storytelling. Picture a bunch of machine learning gears all working together to help make sense of what I'm doing, and WTF I am talking about.

As I'm writing a story on how image style transfer machine learning could be put to use by libraries, museums, and collection curators, I'm reminded of what a con machine learning will be in the future, and be a vehicle for the extraction of value and outright theft. My image style transfer work is just one tiny slice of this pie. I am browsing through the art collections of museums, finding images that have meaning and value, and then I'm firing up an AWS instance that costs me $1 per hour to run, pointing it at this image, and extracting the style, text, color, and other characteristics. I take what I extracted from a machine learning training session, and package up into a machine learning model, that I can use in a variety of algorithmic objectives I have.

I didn't learn anything about the work of art. I basically took a copy of its likeness and features. Kind of like the old Indian chief would say to the photographer in the 19th century when they'd take his photo. I'm not just taking a digital copy of this image. I'm taking a digital copy of the essence of this image. Now I can take this essence and apply in an Instagram-like application, transferring the essence of the image to any new photo the end-user desires. Is this theft? Do I own the owner of the image anything? I'm guessing it depends on the licensing of the image I used in the image style transfer model--which is why I tend to use openly license photos. I'll have to learn more about copyright and see if there are any algorithmic machine learning precedents to be had.

My theft example in this story is just low-level algorithmic art essence theft. However, this same approach will play out across all sectors. A company will approach another company telling them they have this amazing machine learning voodoo, and if we run against your data, content, and media, it will tell you exactly what you need to know, give you the awareness of a deity. Oh, and thank you for giving me access to all your data, content, and media, it has significantly increased the value of my machine learning models--something that might not be expressed in our business agreement. This type of business model is above your pay grade, and operating on a different plane of existence.

Machine learning has a number of valuable use, with some very interesting advancements having been made in recent years, notably around Tensorflow. Machine learning doesn't have me concerned. It is the investment behind machine learning, and the less than ethical approaches behind some machine learning companies I am watching, and their tendencies towards making wild claims about what machine learning can do. Machine learning will be the trojan horse for this latest wave of artificial intelligence snake oil salesman. All I am saying is, that you should be thoughtful about what machine learning solutions you connect to your backend, and when possible make sure you are just connecting them to a sandboxed, special version of your world that won't actually do any damage when things go south.

Why Would People Want Fine Art Trained Machine Learning Models

I'm spending time on my algorithmic rotoscope work, and thinking about how the machine learning style textures I've been marking can be put to use. I'm trying to see things from different vantage points and develop a better understanding of how texture styles can be put to use in the regular world.

I am enjoying using image style filters in my writing. It gives me kind of a gamified layer to my photography and drone hobby that allows me to create actual images I can use in my work as the API Evangelist. Having unique filtered images available for use in my writing is valuable to me--enough to justify the couple hundreds of dollars I spend each month on AWS servers.

I know why I like applying image styles to my photos, but why do others? Most of the image filters out there we've seen from apps like Prisma are focused on fine art. Training image style transfer machine learning models on popular art that people are already familiar with. I guess this is allows people to apply the characteristics of art they like to the photographic layer of our increasingly digital lives.

To me, it feels like some sort of art placebo. A way of superficially and algorithmic injecting what are brain tells us is artsy to our fairly empty, digital photo reality. Taking photos in real time isn't satisfying enough anymore. We need to distract ourselves from the world by applying reality to our digitally documented physical world--almost the opposite of augmented reality if there is such a thing. Getting lost in the ability to look at the real world through the algorithmic lens of our online life.

We are stealing the essence the meaningful, tangible art from our real world, and digitizing it. We take this essense and algorithmically apply it our everyday life trying to add some color, some texture, but not too much. We need the photos to still be meaningful, and have context in our life, but we need to be able to spray an algorithmic lacquer of meaning on our intangible lives.

The more filters we have, the more lenses we have to look at the exact same moment we live each day. We go to work. We go to school. We see the same scenery, the same people, and the same pictures each day. Now we are able to algorithmic shift, distort, and paint the picture of our lives we want to see.

Now we can add color to our life. We are being trained to think we can change the palette, and are in control over our lives. We can colorize the old World War 2 era photos of our day, and choose whether we want to color within, or outside the lines. Our lives don't have to be just binary 1s and 0s, and black or white.

Slowly, picture by picture, algorithmic transfer by algorithmic transfer, the way we see the world changes. We no longer settle for the way things are, the way our mobile phone camera catches it. The digital version is the image we share with my friends, family, and the world. It should always be the most brilliant, the most colorful, and the painting that catches their eye and makes them stand in front of on the wall of your Facebook feed captivated.

We no longer will remember what reality looks like, or what art looks like. Our collective social media memory will dictate what the world looks like. The number of likes will determine what is artistic, and what is beautiful or ugly. The algorithm will only show us what images match the world it wants us to see. Algorithmically, artistically painting the inside walls of our digital bubble.

Eventually, the sensors that stimulate us when we see photos will be well worn. They will be well programmed, with known inputs, and predictable outputs. The algorithm will be able to deliver exactly what we need, and correctly predict what we will need next. Scheduling up and queuing the next fifty possible scenarios--with exactly the right colors, textures, and meaning.

How we see art will be forever changed by the algorithm. Our machines will never see art. Our machines will never know art. Our machines will only be able to transfer the characteristics we see and deliver them into newer, more relevant, timely, and meaningful images. Distilling down the essence of art into binary, and programming us to think this synthetic art is meaningful, and still applies to our physical world.

Like I said, I think people like applying artistic image filters to their mobile photos because it is the opposite of augmented reality. They are trying to augment their digital (hopes of reality) presence with the essence of what we (algorithm) think matters to use in the world. This process isn't about training a model to see art like some folks may tell you. It is about distilling down some of the most simple aspects of what our eyes see as art, and give this algorithm to our mobile phones and social networks to apply to the photograph digital logging of our physical reality.

It feels like this is about reprogramming people. It is about reprogramming what stimulates you. Automating an algorithmic view of what matters when it comes to art, and applying it to a digital view of matters in our daily worlds, via our social networks. Just one more area of our life where we are allowing algorithms to reprogram us, and bend our reality to be more digital.

I Borrowed This Image From University of Maine Museum of Art