Friday, November 19, 2004

Distributed journalism

An interesting alternate future near-history, in the form of a Flash animation, explores the possibilities of an 'arms-race' between:

1) Microsoft (and Friendster)
2) Google (and Blogger and Amazon)

Talks a little on the ideas of automatic recommendation, and multiple preferential filters (e.g. preferred editors, in this context)

Sunday, November 14, 2004

A new theory of war

The New York Time has an article on the Pentagon's network upgrade.

In it, it is claimed that "military intelligence - including secret satellite surveillance covering most of the earth - will be posted on the war net and shared with troops".

Good to know that the well-trained members of the US military will be able to take advantage of this promising new thing called the Intar-web.
[An interesting paper on friendly-fire inspired by Gulf War 1]

How will they manage the changing tension between:

1) The chain-of-command
  • Alternate instructions from the ERDC's TeleEngineering Operations Center
  • Strategic vs tactical views might impel soldiers to act in their immediate best interest (staying alive?) instead of acting to achieve strategically or tactically important objectives

2) The chain-of-reporting

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Technical competence

"Universities can cobble together a cluster of off-the-shelf PCs in a couple of weeks and create a relatively cheap cluster that takes at least the 20 spot on the Top500 fastest machines list" trumpets El Reg.

Keep in mind that the NICs and switch ports for networks other than Ethernet tend to be quite expensive (with a better price/performance ratio than 10GE at the moment).

Let's review:
(source material)

Rank Interconnect
1. Custom IBM
2. Custom SGI (NUMAlink) and InfiniBand
3. Custom NEC
4. Myrinet
5. Quadrics
6. Quadrics
7. InfiniBand
8. Custom IBM
9. Custom IBM (Federation)
10. Myrinet
11. Custom IBM (Federation)
12. Custom IBM (Federation)
13. Myrinet
14. InfiniBand, Myrinet, Custom NEC
15. Custom IBM
16. Quadrics
17. Myrinet
18. Myrinet
19. Quadrics
20. Custom IBM (SP2)

None of the top 20 (with the exception of the Riken Super Combined Cluster at #14) use Gigabit Ethernet as an interconnect.

So "relatively cheap" is cheap compared to what?

Irony is everything

ABC and several (up to 65) affiliate stations recently self-censored, by choosing not to show Saving Private Ryan in order to avoid possible FCC indecency rulings.

I was all set to write an article about the Parents Television Council and their statement of "context is everything".

On the surface, this seems reasonable, but consider, for example, their attempt to change the context itself. I'm sure that a definition that can be re-moulded on demand by massive mobilization spurred by the PTC is exactly what they would prefer.

To cut a short article long, Lisa de Moraes has beaten me to the punch.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Selection is censorship

The Register rabbits on (again) about the dangers of using PR as a source of news.

The problem is not whether PR has news value. PR is just pre-packaged and ready for aggregation (a.k.a. 'publishing') by a news intermediary1. Information wants to be [re-]published.

The problem is really whose PR do you re-publish?

If you publish PR from company (or party) of size x, why not publish PR from those of size >x?

Lettice writes "you need to interface the automated system and the human judgment" and that "censorship has to be a basic component of the selection process".

Now this is just plain wrong. Why censor?

This is Google. They of the 10,000 server back-end (appropriately enough the story also talks about PR flacks having difficulty censoring company geeks). They of the mysterious (yet published) PageRank algorithm. A few simple (ahem) modifications and you could have your own biased outlook on the web.

This should be an exercise in hermeneutics, rather than hermits.

- Al

1 Why not dispense with the taxonomy of publisher, PR agency, news agency, broadcaster, aggregator, blog, et al? Any secondary source is an intermediary between a primary source and the end consumer (i.e. you! And you communicate with your friends, so you are an intermediary too, from their point of view). Envision endless chains of re-publication, eventually arriving at a consumer, only to be bounced further along to other consumers.

The primary source then becomes a special case of intermediary, with no input from other sources. All other intermediaries accept and re-distribute after applying idiosyncratic changes to the data.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Recognizing blogging bias


Kelly McNeill, operator of, writes about bias in blogging:
"publishers of tech news sites that cherry pick links, and claim that this strategy keeps the site from being associated with bias", "a trend in continually linking to select number of articles that cary [sic] the same controversial subject matter", etc.

Blogs, as opposed to more traditional news aggregators (e.g. Slashdot) and news sites (e.g. The Register), are surely more personal in nature. The 'party line' that is followed is the often varying (based on differing input), often inconsistent (based on similar input) point of view of one individual. This point of view has a low "ideological inertia" and so can be tossed on the tempest of perception of an individual subjecting his- or herself to such a wide or narrow variety of inputs.

'Man is not a rational animal; he is a rationalizing animal.'
- Gulf by Robert Heinlein

McNeill then writes two closely entwined but seemingly contradictory statements:
  • 'The only logical alternative is to let the community dictate coverage'
  • 'News editors that feel inclined to incorporate personal bias into the content only stand to eventually cause their readers to be disenchanted with the content they publish'
Now community coverage is what weblogs are tending toward; in fact this is what they are. But this community-dictated coverage should be de-multiplexed from the parent blog. Comments on blogs could have an attribution mechanism (persistent, cross-site, etc) that would then enable the 2nd statement to be true.

McNeill's disillusionment seems to stem from tiring of sorting the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the chaff, looking for the diamond in the rough and the Emperor's New Clothes. Is it bad that the "publishers are sifting it for you"?

This is no more than a change in roles. The publisher is currently the teller of the story. The 'facts' are presented. Do you want the AP, Reuters, AFP, Xinhua, ABCD[isney], CBS, Fox, SABC, BBC, DW, Ananova, Daily *, Sunday *, *Times or even version?, Slashdot, Fark, et al aggregate these for you. Browsing from a central repository might show inconsistency in interpretation, but probably not on basic facts (at least, not after the first few versions have been proofread and fact-checked by millions).

The choice is NOT: Who is your source?
The choice is NOW: Who is your source-choosing proxy?

If your proxy is, how do you evaluate Is it systematically leading you to the Dark Side (Bush / Microsoft / Tory / Nuclear - delete as appropriate)? The Online Journalism Review's article Balancing Act shows that even simple differences in search terms can show difference in bias.

So, who do you trust?

Who do you trust?
You cannot personally verify details of friends of friends of friends ad nauseam. Google's Orkut helps build social networks, and all that remains is for trust (á là PGP) and recommendations (á là Amazon, Firefly, et al) to be integrated and presented individually.

Google does it already, and makes the results available free of charge to the public. It's called PageRank :) But it's not individualised.

Not yet.

Thursday, November 04, 2004


(from an interview with Benazir Bhutto at the Asia Times)

[atimes]: Islamic extremists have called for "death to America", with no room for compromise.
[atimes]: The US says "you are with us or against us" - all-out war with no compromise.

Bhutto replies:
'We need to counter such extremism [...]. In such moderation lies the harmony and well being of the world community. Moreover, we need to address unresolved political issues to prevent extremists from exploiting them [...].'

Game theory and politics are ever bedfellows.

Complexity and the Stock Market

A complex system view of why stock markets crash:

Thursday, July 08, 2004

The Foolishness of Blogs

I noted an article linked from the news page on July 6th: 'The Wisdom of Blogs'.

The article by Biz Stone is a take on The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki, trying to extend his observations to blogs and the blogosphere.

Obviously this is self-promotion (of blogs and the blogging phenomenon, not of the author) - in essence a survival strategy.

However, the arguments seem shaky when more closely examined. Surowiecki talks of four basic conditions for collective intelligence to outweigh individual experts:

1) Diversity of opinion
2) Independence of members from one another
3) Decentralization
4) A good method for aggregating opinions

Stone's analogy fails on conditions 2 (Independence)& 4 (Aggregation).

Stone writes:
Except for your friends saying "You've got to blog about that!" bloggers are not controlled by anyone else.

Unfortunately, this phrase glosses over the so-called 'Blog Noise' problem:

Blogs are not independent. The aggregation mechanisms act as positive feedback within the blog community, destroying any independence but the immediate (the bandwidth effects have yet to be determined :) )

The Amazon review does mention this specific aspect: "independence keeps people from being swayed by a single opinion leader". Blogs are swayed by each other, forming a graph of many opinion leaders, sub-leaders, etc. This tight clustering of authority is detrimental to the independence of each voice: is authority used as a substitute for personal analysis and opinion?

Stone writes 'Instead of answering "How many jelly beans are in the jar?" the blog crowd is answering the unasked question, "What is worth my attention on the Web?"' Thus blogs are shown not to be a tool for answering empirical questions, but rather evaluational or subjective questions. The further likening of bloggers to neurons in the blogospheric-hivemind is closer to the truth than that of the intermediate argument presented (that of crowd-wisdom arising from blogs).

This is not to say that the metaphor cannot be applied to other network forms: Blogs (and the blog community) can be viewed as a form of genetic algorithm or effective, highly connected meme transfer. It remains to be seen whether local minima - the wisdom of blogs - can be successfully escaped in the quest for the global minimum (or maximum, if that's your sort of thing...)

- Al
Welcome to the Nets blog!

This blog focuses on boundary conditions, circuits, complexity, control theory, balance, coupling, data structures, feedback, feedforward, game theory, genetic algorithms, memes, memetics, traffic, network theory, and networks in general.

These subjects have many aspects in common, and articles about them will be linked to from - and discussed - here.

- Al