Sunday, 20 September 2015

Cloud Computing?

Are we really ready for cloud based applications and data? In this blog, I am gong to argue that we are not. I have a number of concerns but the primary ones are network reliability, security, and data ownership. These issues are often not discussed and there is an assumption that because we can do it, it is what we should do.

The push toward mobile applications on tablets and smart phones has increased our dependence on the internet and the cloud space. Most apps for smart phones or tablets are downloaded to the device but many depend on a data connection or if you want to share data then the cloud comes in to play. Purchasing apps is cloud based. All this works reasonably fine when the data is also stored on the phone or when there is a reliable data connection.

My experience is that I can't guarantee a reliable internet connection everywhere that I might want access to my applications of data. The only places that I am confident of a connection is my home, those of friends, and the wired connection in my office. Wireless connection in large public buildings such as workplaces is problematic. This includes some workplaces that claim some level of dependence on network access. Being dependent on a cell connection is still totally unreliable and the speed is still too slow for any data intensive application. When travelling, wireless access in hotels proved unreliable to the point that we treated it as none existent. Even at a conference venue, you had to be in the right places to get a reliable signal. Supposedly, these are in first world locations so what of the options for other nations? If the assumption of the design of our applications and data usage is that we have reliable network access then I would contend we are not in that position yet.

My second concern is security. From the level of spams that I now receive, I am not convinced of the security of our data networks or servers. Many running servers don't seem to understand issues of ethics or data ownership. As a user, I don't want to have to be verifying the security and ethics of every server on the network but the nature of the internet is that the user doesn't control the path of messages nor their data once it enters the cloud. The routing is dynamic but we want to be sure that the nodes or severs that our messages are likely to pass through are secure. We also want to know that systems that we become users on are not sharing our data with those whom we don't want it shared with. Personally, I have no confidence in many of the social networks or of many other services offered on the internet. It seems to be too easy for anyone to obtain and misuse personal data.

Another aspect of security is access to systems within our home. I have tried to ensure that our internal systems are not accessible from outside the house. The router is the gateway but it should be for us to reach out into the internet and not for others to reach in. Supposedly, the firewall stops others reaching in. I am conscious that our network and cable TV provider seem to be able to reach in and manipulate the router and TV box. If they can manipulate the router, can they also see what devices are attached and from that reach the devices. Although the firewall restricts access, it won't stop someone who has access to management functions on the router.

This comes to my third concern, and a reason why I reject the internet of things, is the question of whose data it is. We installed solar panels and the installing company installed power monitoring equipment. The selling point for this monitoring system is that I can access the generation, import, export, and usage data from anywhere but who holds the data and who else has access to the data? We don't hold the data. In fact, we have no direct access to the raw data. We can download data after the fact but I have discovered that last year's data was deleted from their servers before I had ensured that we had a copy. It wasn't our decision to delete it. The decision was made by the supplier of the system. At the moment, the data is so unreliable that anyone else having access does't have accurate data to work from but should they have access to the data in the first place? My investigations of smart energy metering suggest the same applies. The energy company sees the data as their data primarily for billing purposes. Our access or use of the data is secondary. Yet that data is related to our generation and usage. Shouldn't we be given at least equal access? Yes, I can see that the energy company wants to ensure that the data cannot be manipulated but why can't we have access to it to manage our energy usage? More importantly from my perspective is why can't I get access directly to the data rather than pulling it back in form the cloud.

If I am using cloud based applications, where is my data stored? If it is on the cloud then who manages that data and ensures it is backed up? Do I have the ability to define the backup cycle and what access I have for recovery of files from backups. If I don't have access to the backups run by the server provider, am I able to backup the data onto my own local systems? Can I get the data in a form that I can do something with it? It is my data and I want to ensure its security but I may also want to do other processing of that data to obtain different outputs. Can I trust companies who operate for commercial gain to keep my data secure and in a state that only those I want get access to it?

If you get the impression that I don't think we are ready for cloud based computing, you are correct and I would say that I am only scratching at the surface of the potential problems. Those promoting cloud based computing have a long way to go to convince me that I should rely exclusively on cloud based applications and data.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Conformity More Important Than Principles

The election of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party highlights one of the major problems with British politics, news media, and possibly society. The criticisms of Jeremy Corbyn have less to do with the principles that he stands for and more to do with his lack of conformity. Let us look at some examples.

  1. It is more important that he wears a tie at the shadow cabinet meetings than that he stands up for the principles which saw him elected to the leadership. In the news broadcasts at the end of the day this was almost the first item about the shadow cabinet meeting. In not wearing a tie, he was not conforming to the rules of the position and therefore could not possibly be good material for leading the country.
  2. Will he wear a white or a red poppy to the remembrance services? The assumption here is that a white poppy dishonours those who died in the wars to defend this country. But is that the real meaning of the white poppy? Should Jeremy Corbyn abandon his principles of seeking peace through peaceful means and not military means? It seems that we don't want to look at the legacy of war and on going conflict and ask whether there isa better way. Those who believe in restorative justice are being told that conforming to the military regime is more important. Was the South African truth and reconciliation commission of no value in bringing change and peace to that country? Are similar attempts at reconciliation thropugh dealing with the underlying issues of no value?
  3. It is more important that he steps away from his economic principles rather than standing firm. After all his economic principles don't agree with current practice but wait, what has changed since the economic crisis that will ensure that another crisis won't happen again? Conforming to a failing system seems to be more important that exploring alternatives and questioning the validity of the failing systems.

I am sure if I explored the critiques of Jeremy Corbyn, the message would be clear. Mr Corbyn needs to abandon the principles that saw him get elected and conform to “accepted” norms even though the evidence suggests those norms are failing. This is also in spite of the evidence that many distrust politicians because they don't stand by the principles that saw them get elected.

My advice to Jeremy Corbyn and the new Labour shadow cabinet is listen to the people who elected Corbyn. Fail to do so and “Yes,” you will remain in the political wilderness. After all, if you don't stand by those principles, it will be another ten years or more of Tory rule simply because you will have conformed to their story and forgotten the roots that saw the Labour party formed.

British news media needs to learn how to accept questioning of the status quo and stop being the bastions continuing a push for conformity. Britain has no future without innovative ideas some of which will challenge those foundations currently being seen as the core to critiquing Jeremy Corbyn and his core supporters.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Who is to blame?

Dominating the news for some weeks now has been the refugee / migrant crisis in Europe. I believe that most of the people endeavouring to come to Europe are refugees but there is a broader view that freedom and progress are to be found in certain countries and that others are backward. I have talked with students who came to the UK to study and have sought to stay. Their view (this isn't an accurate survey or study) is that there are more opportunities here and that it will take some time before their home countries catch up. Yes, some of these students come from countries that are in political upheaval or war but many are from countries that seem to be politically stable and making progress in the prosperity stakes. So shouldn't we be asking why this movement of people and how do we correct the underlying issues?

I do agree that the answer is difficult and there is no simple solution especially in war torn regions such as Syria and Iraq. However, I also believe there is a wider problem that the countries that dominate the big economic gatherings ignore. I am thinking wider that the G7 (Germany, France, US, UK, Italy, Japan, and Canada).

I see a lot of our world problems coming from the attitudes that fuelled colonialism and empire building. Where it used to be control of countries, it is now control of the economic resources. Some might say it is corporatism. Allowing the major economic units to flourish despite the nationalism associated with political boundaries.

However, it is easy to place the blame on others for the displacement of people and the economic, educational, and general inequality that exists in our world. I have struggled with my response to the people seeking refugee in European countries. Yes, these people need a place that is safe and access to the normal things of life but is migration to other countries the solution and what pressure will it put on the resources of the destination countries? Are these issues that we should be taking into account?

Brian McLaren (2007) describes the interlocking systems that he sees make up the world societal system. These are the prosperity system, the equity system, and the security system. All of us has a desire to be prosperous. We all seek security and strive for at least equality with others. As I reflect on the refugee crisis, I find myself seeking to provide equality for the refugees but I also want to retain my own prosperity and security. Putting up barriers to entry helps retain my prosperity and sense of security but it does nothing for those who have lost or never had prosperity and security. As to equality, how does that apply across international boundaries? I have already talked about the search for somewhere better in a previous blog (5 September 2015). However, inequality is more than economic equality.

In the end most of us want to have a “business as usual” situation. We don't like things that change the way things are done. We want stability. As a result, we seek to protect what we have and that means not giving access to what we have to those who don't have what we have. Our desire for prosperity drives our desire for security and overrides any feelings that their should be any form of equality. We play a certain amount of lip-service to equality providing opportunities to others as long as it doesn't impact our prosperity and security. These attitudes exist on a personal level, a community level, a regional level, a national level, and at an international level. I would contend that these are part of the framing story that we live by and that I personally struggle with.

If we are to see an end to the problems that disturb our world then we need to ask questions about what we need to change personally, what we need to change locally (community or workplace), what we need to change regionally (town or city or district), what we need to change nationally, and what we need to change internationally? The starting point is with ourselves and what we are prepared to accept and not accept. Are we in this world for what we can gain for ourselves or are we in this world for what we can contribute to the lives of others? When our prosperity improves, how do we pass the same benefits on to others? On an international front, how do we spread economic prosperity to all nations in a way that ensures equality especially when we see concentration of ideas and wealth in a few nations?

I am struggling with writing this because as soon as I ask a question, I am asking whether it is the right question. For example, if I was to ask why I wouldn't live in certain countries or places, and then say if I helped that country to remove that obstacle then we would have solved the problem, have I asked the right question and obtained the right answer? I suspect not. To some extent, trying to resolve the answer to that question has caused some of the problems as we have hoisted our ideas and solutions onto others. Providing our solutions, rather than letting them develop their solutions has caused more problems because we have destroyed some of what they already had that we didn't see as important. But if we say it is their problem to resolve then we may not be ensuring that they have access to the resources that they need in order to be able to resolve the problem.

Who is to blame for the refugee or migrant crisis? We are all to blame and we are all part of the solution but it has to be done with the people and not just for them or by them. We have to listen and work with them but we have to also be willing to let go of some of what we have in order to bring equality and stability to all.

Reference:

McLaren, B. D. (2007). Everything must change: when the world's biggest problems and Jesus' good news collide. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Who is the mysterious public?

I write this in the wake of a landslide victory of Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership. There are a number of issues that show the blindness of politicians and BBC news reporters. It is their assumptions about the voters who backed Corbyn in this election and the “public” whom they assume won't back Corbyn in a general election. It raises the question who are these members of the Labour party who voted for Corbyn and who is this mysterious “public” referred to by the news media. First of all, I am not a member of the Labour party and probably never will be so I didn't vote in this leadership race but I am of the view that Corbyn and his supporters are saying some things that need to be heard and listened to.

What disturbs me is the way that Corbyn supporters and those who might vote for him are being written off by many senior political figures and the BBC news reporters. According to the news reports, this was the largest number of voters who voted in a Labour leadership election and that a staggering 59.5% of these Labour party members voted for Jeremy Corbyn. I don't know enough about the change in Labour party membership leading up to this election but I don't believe the Labour party membership more than doubled in the lead up to the vote. This means there must be a reasonable amount of support from existing party members for the Corbyn views or maybe an alternative view to that dominating politics.

Let me turn my attention to the reporting and in particular to the way that the Labour party voters are referred to and the way that the media refers to a mysterious group called “the Public.” The media seems to be saying that “the Public” wouldn't vote for Jeremy Corbyn and his policies so does this mean the 251,417 of the 422,664 votes cast in the Labour leadership election are not part of “the Public”? If they are not part of “the public” then who are they? Where did this huge number of eligible voters come from that stands opposed to the view of “the Public”? After all, the way the term “the Public” is used, I am supposed to know who they are and that they wouldn't tolerate Corbynomics so these supporters of Jermey Corbyn must be some terrible infiltrators of the system who must be stopped.

But wait, I don't agree with “the Public” view as expressed. In fact, I wouldn't vote for anyone who stood for what “the Public” is supposed to believe even if I wouldn't vote for Jeremy Corbyn. Does this mean that I have been disenfranchised? My vote and possibly thousands and possibly millions like me are excluded from “the Public”? Should we have no voice? Rather than asking who these mysterious people are who voted for Corbyn, I should be asking who this mysterious “public” is who wouldn't back his policies or policies that disagree with the current minority Conservative government. Yes, they have the majority of the seats but they won less than 50% of the vote. At least Corbyn can clam a majority of those who voted for the Labour leadership.

As I listened to last night's news reports on the BBC, I wondered how they would refer to me and people like me. We don't believe in austerity. We challenge the current economic thinking. We don't back the arms industry. We show compassion to the poor and disadvantaged. We might be a minority but are we not part of the wider British Public?

The use of the word “public” in these reports implies that there is some group of people who hold to a particular view of how things should be and should work (a framing story). This is not the framing story that Jeremy Corbyn holds but I am lead to believe by the reporting style that if I am a member of “the Public” then I should hold this view. My problem is that I don't so I am not part of “the Public” and neither are the 251,417 people who voted for Jeremy Corbyn. My vote and their votes don't count. I and they have some weird view of how the world should be and we need to be told so.

Maybe the BBC and the politicians need to wake up that a quite percentage of “the Public” have spoken and that they don't actually agree with the framing story being sold to them by politicians, business leaders, and leading news media outlets. Maybe, there is a greater percentage of this mysterious public who disagree with the direction our economics is charging in and who want to see an alternative. Are the politicians and news media ready to listen and to allow this disenfranchised minority or majority to have a voice?

Saturday, 5 September 2015

In Search of Somewhere Better

How do we respond to the migrant or refugee problem? What causes this mass migration of people? Why do people move to certain countries or cities?

The reality of inequality became very obvious to me as we travelled to Cyprus and observed patterns within that country. Cyprus has a very long history reflected in the many archaeological sites scattered around the island but it isn't the history that I want to focus on. It is some very simple observations that hold true in many countries and cities around the world. Is it possible that these simple observations reveal a lot about humanity, inequality, and human migration.

The observation that I want to make relates to centralisation of prosperity. On a journey to the Troodos mountain and the Kykkos Monastery, we stopped at a small village, Omodos. It like many other small villages has its monastery with its painted icons. Although the district produces wine, what dominated the shops was lace and embroidered fabrics. The things that tourists would purchase. We could have been like many tourists and walked through the main square to the monastery and then back to the carpark. Two bus loads did this while we were there but we were interested in the lace so explored some of the side alleys.

Here we were enticed into a shop run by an elderly couple who seemed to be well into their retirement years. We were the tourists with the money they needed to survive or at least that was how it felt. There was almost the appeal of “buy this” as we looked around. Although we brought a small item, I couldn't help feeling that our miniscule offering didn't really add anything to their prosperity or ability to survive. They weren't on the main street although they were not far from the main entrance to the monastery. Most of the shops and cafes that we walked past seemed more geared for the tourist than the local citizens so I wondered how these people survived away from the tourist trade. Troodos Resort at the top of the mountains also had this feel but maybe we never really went into the village. Even at Kykkos monastery, this feeling of tourist focus seemed obvious. The community seemed to rely heavily on what came from outside and not what was produced locally. How really did these communities operate? Was there an envy for the tourist who spent in their shops? Could these people afford to travel as we were? Could they enjoy some of the items that I carried with me as I explored their streets and enjoyed their produce? How would I feel if my village was invaded by bus loads of tourists seeming to have what I didn't have access to?

Although that journey left lots of questions about the local economy, it was the difference between the area around our hotel and the old city around the castle that really made me think. We had two meals in the cafes around the castle but we tried to support the local restaurants around our hotel. One small shop that made crepes and sold ice cream seemed to be very popular with the locals. Around this shop, there seemed to be some a community spirit which was enjoyable to experience. But in other local restaurants, we seemed to be the only customers and we wondered how they survived. There was no brisk tourist trade here or even local trade. How could they survive on serving one or two meals per night?

In contrast, on the nights when we went to the restaurants around the castle, they were packed with people and the trade seemed really brisk. It seemed obvious that this area around the castle was the place to have your restaurant business if you wanted to survive but this left me thinking about migration trends and the way some areas of a city or some cities seem to be the focus of growth ahead of others. I am not going to argue that all businesses around the castle prospered in Limassol but it seemed rather obvious that if you wanted a prosperous business then this was an area of the city where you needed to be. You might get more open views in the restaurants away from the castle. It might even be quieter and more relaxing but you didn't get the patronage, the flow of money that would make your business prosper. Is this difference the quality of food or service? There was better food presentation in the busier restaurants but that small crepe restaurant served good food and had a much nicer atmosphere and a patron who was more welcoming, friendly, and remembered you from your last visit. The outer restaurants simply didn't get the patronage and financial rewards of those much busier inner city restaurants.

But we have these patterns where humanity centralises activities. In New Zealand the most popular city is Auckland and in the UK, it is London. This centralisation is reflected in costs, including house prices, the size of the population, and businesses. People flock to these cities believing that there they will have greater opportunity. These are the hubs of activity. Sometimes, you don't have to go far from the centre of these cities to see the inequality generated. In fact prosperity and poverty seem to develop side by side. Although other cities have some degree of prosperity, it is clear that there is a huge centralisation of wealth within these key cities and in the nations.

What about the more major migrant or refugee problem? Why isn't resolving the conflict or just getting away from their war torn countries enough? Why do they seek to migrate to other countries such as Germany or the United Kingdom? It isn't any European country but rather specific countries that are the focus of the migration. The wars and instability in the home countries of the migrant people certainly makes it easier to consider packing up and risking all for what seems like greater prosperity in western nations. However, the basic problem is that of inequality whether financial, educational, or in opportunity. In the same way as there is more likelihood that a restaurant situated around the Limassol castle will prosper or there is greater chance of prosperity in a major city, so there is apparently a greater chance of prosperity in certain countries (US, Germany, UK, ...) around the world and these countries that appear prosperous fight to retain their status and position. They seek to shut out those seekign the benefits of this perceived prosperity.

If we want to resolve the world's problems, the international refugee / immigration crisis, or the local centralisation of wealth, we have to change the way we think about prosperity, economics, and equality. We also need to reconsider what prosperity or a quality of life really means.

Monetary reform alone won't solve these issues. Monetary reform may make it easier for governments to fund activities in struggling communities. Monetary reform may even allow governments to address environmental issues. But if we really wish to have permanent solutions to the problems that surround us, we have to consider our framing stories that drive our understanding of prosperity and wealth distribution.

Inequality isn't new. Migrant's fleeing war torn countries or persecution are not new. Even some of my ancestors fled persecution in Europe for a better life in America. There have been the poor houses or work houses for the poor and outcastes of society. Those that ended up in these didn't do so because they lacked skills. Some ended up there simply because their skill or trade was seen as no longer needed. I have personally experienced this insult from recruitment agents as the computer industry moved from mainframes to personal computers, only for me to prove to them that their attitude is wrong and that despite learning my computing craft in Fortran, COBOL, and other long forgotten languages, I could adapt my skills and knowledge to the new environments, languages, and paradigms. Yet, I know our current graduates run into the same barriers that I have experienced in forty years of involvement in a supposedly changing computer industry. Humanity has a habit of framing someone's value by their current job or situation and not by their potential.

We also reward people not by their need but some formula of greed or perceived value. As a result in an organisation, a CEO can be earning hundreds of times more than the worker who actually delivers the product. Is the CEO more essential that the worker on the shop floor? Is such disparity in incomes really justifiable? Why do we think a sports or entertainment star or fashion model is worth millions while a farmer or farm labourer or factory worker who ensures there is food on our table or produces the goods we desire isn't even worth what they need to live?

These disparities are the result of our framing stories. The stories that help us to decide what is valuable. They are not the result of perceived differences in skills or some unchangeable force of nature. We don't seek to reward for the ordinary or the essential, for what people need to do in order for others to live. We see value rather in entertainment, gambling in financial markets, and other parasitic industries that deliver no real value but help turn the wheels of money and debt.

If we return to the refugees, those living outside the major cities, those running their businesses away from the central business district, the couple who would seek to retire, we don't see these people as being of value even though they are necessary for all of us simply to survive. Rather we focus on earning money, protecting what we have from those who haven't. We in effect race to our own self destruction.