The cloud never forgets — “You may not know what you do on a regular basis, but I know”

According to Bloomberg’s David Gauvey Herbert in “This Company Has Built a Profile on Every American Adult

IDI, a year-old company in the so-called data-fusion business, is the first to centralize and weaponize all that information for its customers. The Boca Raton, Fla., company’s database service, idiCORE, combines public records with purchasing, demographic, and behavioral data. Chief Executive Officer Derek Dubner says the system isn’t waiting for requests from clients—it’s already built a profile on every American adult, including young people who wouldn’t be swept up in conventional databases, which only index transactions. “We have data on that 21-year-old who’s living at home with mom and dad,” he says.


The reports also include photos of cars taken by private companies using automated license plate readers—billions of snapshots tagged with GPS coordinates and time stamps to help PIs surveil people or bust alibis.


Users and industry analysts say the addition of purchasing and behavioral data to conventional data fusion outmatches rival systems in terms of capabilities—and creepiness. “The cloud never forgets, and imperfect pictures of you composed from your data profile are carefully filled in over time,” says Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates, a consulting firm. “We’re like bugs in amber, completely trapped in the web of our own data.”


“You may not know what you do on a regular basis, but I know,” Rambam says. “I know it’s Thursday, you haven’t eaten Chinese food in two weeks, and I know you’re due.”

See also “Surveillance vs. morality“.




“If there is something scientists fear, it is to become like pariahs”

According to Huw Price

Again, there’s a sociological explanation why few people are willing to look at the evidence. They put their reputations at risk by doing so. Cold fusion is tainted, and the taint is contagious – anyone seen to take it seriously risks contamination. So the subject is stuck in a place that is largely inaccessible to reason – a reputation trap, we might call it. People outside the trap won’t go near it, for fear of falling in. ‘If there is something scientists fear, it is to become like pariahs,’ as Lundin puts it. People inside the trap are already regarded as disreputable, an attitude that trumps any efforts that they might make to argue their way out, by reason and evidence.

Outsiders might be surprised to learn how well-populated the trap actually is, in the case of cold fusion and LENR. The field never entirely went away, nor vanished from the laboratories of respected institutions. (Rossi’s own background is not in these laboratories, but he acknowledges that his methods owe much to those who are, or were – especially to the late Sergio Focardi, one of the pioneers of the field.) To anyone willing to listen, the community will say that they have amassed a great deal of evidence of excess heat, not explicable in chemical terms, and of various markers of nuclear processes. Some, including a team at one of Italy’s leading research centres, say that they have many replications of the Fleischmann and Pons results.

Again, the explanation for ignoring these claims cannot be that other attempts failed 25 years ago. That makes no sense at all. Rather, it’s the reputation trap. The results are ignored because they concern cold fusion, which we ‘know’ to be pseudoscience – we know it because attempts to replicate these experiments failed 25 years ago! The reasoning is still entirely circular, but the reputation trap gives its conclusion a convincing mask of respectability. That’s how the trap works.

Fifty years ago, Thomas Kuhn taught us that this is the usual way for science to deal with paradigm-threatening anomalies. The borders of dominant paradigms are often protected by reputation traps, which deter all but the most reckless or brilliant critics.

MLK on true compassion and a revolution of values

According to Martin Luther King on April 4, 1967 (exactly a year before he was martyred in Memphis on April 4, 1968)

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.


A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

According to Clayborne Carson, as interviewed in “Clayborne Carson: King’s Chronicler

He always put the immediate issue into greater context. In all of his great speeches, what he does is say we’re here, engaged in this immediate struggle, but the broader struggle is global and historical. The movement for human rights is taking place on a global level. And it has deep historical roots. It’s been going on since the time of slavery and after the passage of civil rights legislation, and if he were alive today he would say it’s still going on. That’s why he was an inspiring, visionary figure. He understood the larger context.


What I try to emphasize in my work is how deeply rooted his ideas were and how radical they were. Look at love letters he wrote to Coretta in 1952, which I quote in the book. If those letters had been revealed in the late ’50s — where he’s talking about his anti-capitalism orientation — he probably would have been seriously damaged as a leader. That’s why Coretta kept the letters hidden — rumored to be under her bed — almost to the end of her life. She realized how politically damaging they could be to him.

Why do so few unwrap the gift of Santa Claus?

The Santa Claus game is a loving demonstration that 

  1. The entire society, including your nearest and dearest, will conspire to tell you noble lies.
  2. No matter how absurd, you will believe them. 

So why doesn’t this lesson sink in?

Aside: The deep lie beneath the jolly surface lie is karma — a causal arrow from my personal choice of naughty or nice to whether I’ll taste every good thing in life or only the switch’s sting.  If the horn of plenty flows to me like the hot water in my morning shower, while those others must fetch back their rations in a dirty old bucket, well then, I deserve it and so do they.

Originally posted December 2008.


Surveillance vs. morality

A beautiful essay by Emrys Westacott concludes

Ultimately, the ideal college is one in which every student is genuinely interested in learning and needs neither extrinsic motivators to encourage study, nor surveillance to deter cheating. Ultimately, the ideal society is one in which, if taxes are necessary, everyone pays them as freely and cheerfully as they pay their dues to some club of which they are devoted members – where citizen and state can trust each other perfectly. We know our present society is a long way from such ideals, yet we should be wary of practices that take us ever further from them. One of the goals of moral education is to cultivate a conscience – the little voice inside telling us that we should do what is right because it is right. As surveillance becomes increasingly ubiquitous, however, the chances are reduced that conscience will ever be anything more than the little voice inside telling us that someone, somewhere, may be watching.

I’ve often thought about how heavily I lean on the crutch of vanity, simply to exercise and eat right. And I’ve wondered, “How would it change me if everyone could read my mind?” Not for the better.

Soon some big organizations will be able to read our minds. According to an old USA radio drama series, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” Soon we will really have such a Shadow.

The anti-moral, anti-creative force of groupthink will get more intense.

According to George Dyson

The ultimate goal of signals intelligence and analysis is to learn not only what is being said, and what is being done, but what is being thought. With the proliferation of search engines that directly track the links between individual human minds and the words, images, and ideas that both characterize and increasingly constitute their thoughts, this goal appears within reach at last. “But, how can the machine know what I think?” you ask. It does not need to know what you think — no more than one person ever really knows what another person thinks. A reasonable guess at what you are thinking is good enough.


The United States has established a coordinated system that links suspect individuals (only foreigners, of course, but that definition becomes fuzzy at times) to dangerous ideas, and, if the links and suspicions are strong enough, our drone fleet, deployed ever more widely, is authorized to execute a strike. This is only a primitive first step toward something else. Why kill possibly dangerous individuals (and the inevitable innocent bystanders) when it will soon become technically irresistible to exterminate the dangerous ideas themselves?

There is one problem — and it is the Decision Problem once again. It will never be entirely possible to systematically distinguish truly dangerous ideas from good ones that appear suspicious, without trying them out. Any formal system that is granted (or assumes) the absolute power to protect itself against dangerous ideas will of necessity also be defensive against original and creative thoughts. And, for both human beings individually and for human society collectively, that will be our loss. This is the fatal flaw in the ideal of a security state.

According to Tim Harford in Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure

It isn’t right to expect a Mario Capecchi to risk his career on a life-saving idea because the rest of don’t want to take a chance.


The moral of the story is not that we should admire stubborn geniuses, although we should. It is that we shouldn’t require stubbornness as a quality in our geniuses. How many vital scientific or technological advances have foundered, not because their developers lacked insight, but because they simply didn’t have Mario Capecchi’s extraordinarily defiant character?


Jack Galvin also taught Petraeus that it is not enough to tolerate dissent: sometimes you have to demand it.

Hunting dogs and the whites of our eyes

I recommend the following article about human/canine co-evolution and why we humans flaunt the whites of our eyes.

See also “Dogs can read emotion in human faces“. By the way, left-gaze bias is a reason why you look so different in a video than you do in a mirror.

A mutation that causes white sclerae like those of humans has occasionally arisen in chimpanzees, but it has not spread in that species. Photo by Geza Teleki via American Scientist.
“A mutation that causes white sclerae like those of humans has occasionally arisen in chimpanzees, but it has not spread in that species.” Photo by Geza Teleki via American Scientist.

Fast forward — how to overcome socially imposed life slowness?

Think big, move fast, and make some mistakes.

Easier said than done. Sure, you can and should build in mechanisms to detect mistakes fast, too. But the harder problem is that when you slip into that mode, the people around you start moving in slo-mo, or so it feels, and you start to annoy them and they start to annoy you.

It’s a rare person that can resist the spell of their little village. So what options are you left with? Sink back into mediocrity? Find a better village? Build your own?

According to William J. Beaty

In his book “Surely You’re Joking…”, R. Feynman experimented with personal time sense, and he wondered what determines it. I think it might be social, not physiology. My first summer job was raking leaves on Elmira College campus, and it quickly became apparent that my normal rate of work was wrong. I did things much faster than the seasoned workers, and I attracted funny looks, so I adjusted my performance. I thought it was sort of stupid; why didn’t everyone rake leaves normally instead of in slow motion? But slow raking was the “way you’re supposed to do it,” and anyone who strayed from the norm would encounter group pressure to slow down. But… that’s how infants become people!!! We change behavior as we encounter immense nonverbal pressure from parents, friends, outsiders, etc., otherwise we’d all behave as one-year-olds even when adult. In different societies the standards are different; I’ve heard that tourists south of the border complain that everyone does everything slowly… and islanders complain about crazy Americans who are always rushing about. WHAT IF HUMAN TIME SENSE IS SOCIETALLY DETERMINED? I’ve experimented with this and find that it is. If I’m alone I can push myself to perform tasks much faster until until “faster” becomes habitual and unnoticed, but I get huge amounts of work done, and it takes forever for the clock to get to lunchtime. It feels like really waking up, at least until it starts being normal. Also, my usual body movements become tiring, and I find it’s much easier to move in curves rather than starting/stopping the considerable mass of limbs. (Like switching to ‘racewalk’ rather than just speeding up my normal walk.) And when I tried it for days at a time, I started losing weight and had to eat extra meals. If I asked someone a question or tried conversing, their slow responses and slow thinking was quite irritating. But whenever I kept all this up in public, people responded badly. They seemed to be thinking “what’s WRONG with that guy? What drug is HE on? Is he insane or something?” Bingo! That’s the societal pressure which usually keeps its members living at the “proper” speed. It’s the same as if I started acting like a 2-yr-old, or if I moved to a country where things happened at different speed: I’d encounter the same type of pressure to adapt. So… I wonder how far this can be pushed. Can we live at 5x normal? Will we get huge amounts of work done, then have a crash from “exhaustion of manic energy” or perhaps die prematurely of old age? Or go the other route and let the outer world speed up to 5x faster while we stay “the same.”

A lot of intriguing speculations there about the social impact on personal time sense, and it’s backed up by real experimental data. I would add — Is there an optimal life speed for provoking creativity? for concentration? for retention of studied material? Does concentration impact life speed? How long does it take a typical person to get in sync with new lifespeed norms after relocating?

In addition to the theoretical/scientific questions raised, it seems to me like there’s a powerful effectiveness tool lurking here.  If you could just find a way to get in fine control of your own lifespeed! — fast-forwarding during a task that is just a means to ends (where the journey itself has little reward), but slo-moing during the good stuff (like enjoying a fine meal or making love).

See also “Life isn’t short“.

Stop just getting things done and start making things happen.

Trail speed

Root cause analysis

Thoreau, perhaps alluding to 1 Timothy 6:10

For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

wrote in the first chapter of Walden

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, and it may be that he who bestows the largest amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of life to produce that misery which he strives in vain to relieve.

According to self-help author Tony Robbins

There’s a story I love to tell of a fellow standing on the banks of a river. Suddenly, he sees someone caught in the raging current, bounced about on the jagged rocks, and hears him calling for help. He leaps in, pulls the drowning man to safety, gives him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, attends to the man’s wounds, and calls for medical help. As he’s still catching his breath, he hears two more screams emanating from the river. Again, he jumps in and makes another daring rescue, this time of two women. Before he even has a chance to think, he hears four more people calling for help.

Pretty soon the man is exhausted, having rescued victim after victim, and yet the screams continue. If only he had taken the time to travel a short distance upriver, he could have discovered who was throwing all those people in the water in the first place!

According to Martin Luther King, Jr.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

Why are we usually engaged in “Trivial Pursuit” instead of asking and answering fundamental questions, instead of “striking at the root”? Why do we avert our eyes?

Recall what Dr. Zaius in Planet of the Apes advises Col. Taylor before he rides off down the beach with his rifle and his lover. Taylor says, “There’s got to be an answer.” and Zaius replies

Don’t look for it, Taylor. You may not like what you find.

Sometimes, especially as I try to hang on to my retirement money, I fear that money is my true God.

According to Cognitive Dissonance

Are these men and women sell-outs, traitors to their beliefs, or are they just realists who are surviving like everyone else? Though I suppose we should redefine ‘surviving’. Is the act of gaming the system and our fellow man for our own benefit ‘surviving’, or is it total capitulation to avarice and pleasure via Borg like assimilation? I’ve been lectured by several of my old classmates over the years regarding our youth of naïve and innocent idealistic fantasies. A common theme thrust into my face is how hard they have worked to build this or that enterprise or profession. It’s pretty obvious they’ve been practicing their righteous indignation in front of the mirror for many years.

The point never was and still isn’t how hard they worked, but what they worked for and who gets screwed by all that hard work in their self described dog eat dog global game. Many of my old classmates regale me with stories of all the good their work has done…..conveniently pushing aside many of society’s ills as bigger social or governmental problems not of their making. I’m often told they don’t make the rules, they just play the game. Nearly every single one feels they are (relatively) pure of heart and mind and they can prove it with their cancelled checks to charity. When I ask if their business and political activities are creating the very social problems they are donating money to fix, they quickly change the subject or find someone else to talk to.

If the average person in the room isn’t smarter than you, you’re in the wrong room.

When you find yourself above-average, it’s time to get moving and take it to the next level.

We’re herd animals, and a psychological force of gravity pulls us into orbit around the norms of our current social network.  Your level of success depends on how often you can achieve escape velocity from your bush league up toward the big leagues, which depends on how you react to people who are better than you at something, or even to the idea of such people.

I have a friend who quit taking art classes after encountering a particularly talented classmate. What a waste! In a world of almost 7 billion people, you name it and there are always a million people somewhere who are more talented than you.  To be successful at something, an obvious key skill is to find those people, befriend them, work with them, learn from them, etc.  If encountering someone more talented disheartens you, there’s a serious problem in your thinking somewhere, a serious denial problem that’s getting in your way.

Learning isn’t a comfortable activity, so get into your discomfort zone.  If you’re not below-average, you’re stuck in orbit, going no place.

Yes, a huge part of success is getting involved with smart, successful, big-thinking people, thereby raising your standards and learning from their example. But … the problem is, what’s in it for them?


Aside: According to Gérald Carpentier as translated by Entreprises 35

First of all, prepare the success biscuits.

The commons can build things that work and serve real needs

According to David Bollier in “The Commons as a Different Engine for Innovation

The commons offers us some practical ways to build new types of participatory and transparent democratic structures. Although this is very much a work-in-progress, I see the commons as one of the few areas of life about which I am exceedingly hopeful. Why? Because it’s already taking off. When theory needs to catch up with practice, you know that something powerful is going on.

A couple of examples

This is a photo of Rajendra Singh, the founder of Tarun Bharat Sangh (or TBS, which stands for Young India Association). Singh has healed the local ecosystem in Rajasthan – where several rivers had completely dried up – by applying some near-forgotten indigenous Indian knowledge about hydrology. His idea was to treat the groundwater and rivers as commons, subject to community stewardship and participation, and to re-instill a sense of sacred obligation to the water.

By building small dams with water resources, TBS was able to bring the Arvari River and four other once-dry riverbeds back to life and to raise groundwater levels by 20 feet. The soil has become more fertile and wetter, too, which means that people who once abandoned the area are moving back to farm and start businesses.

I was in India in January, so I have another such story of how a self-organized commons can overcome free-market pathologies. In the small village of Erakulapally some two hours west of Hyderabad, a community of rural, poor women from the lowest caste in the country – so-called dalit – used to be bonded laborers working on a landlord’s farm. They earned only enough to eat one meal a day. Then they came up with the idea of searching for and regenerating dozens of traditional seeds, seeds that their ancestors had grown for centuries and brilliantly adapted to the semi-arid ecosystem and climate of Andhra Pradesh.

By finding and then sharing the seeds among themselves rather than buying proprietary modern seeds, the women were able to resurrect their more sustainable, nutritious agricultural crops. They were able to emancipate themselves from a market economy that was never going to serve their interests because they would never earn enough money. I might add, these women achieved food security without relying upon outside experts or government subsidies. This model has spread, and there are now some 5,000 women in 75 villages who share seeds and farming advice with each other.

According to Muto Ichiyo in 1990

The situation calls for the declaration of a new right of the people: to intervene in, modify, regulate and ultimately control any decisions that affect their lives, no matter where those decisions are made. This should be established as a universal right that recognizes no borders.

According to Bollier

R. Buckminster Fuller once said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” That’s the real appeal of the commons. It can build something that works and serves real needs. It’s not just an ideological mantra.

Cicero also had a great line: “Freedom is participation in power.” The commons decentralizes power and invites participation. People are invited to contribute their creativity on a decentralized, horizontal scale, rather than become supplicants to the elites who manage a centralized, expert-driven, legalistic hierarchy, such as our regulatory system.

But neither should we underestimate what the government itself could do to help to leverage local participation.

In “Meeting India’s tree planting guru” Amarnath Tewary talks to SM Raju about how he organized the villagers of India’s poorest state to reforest, including planting almost a billion trees in one day.

Under NREGA – initiated in February 2006 as the government’s most ambitious employment generation scheme for poor people – the authorities are bound by law to provide a minimum of 100 days of employment a year to members of families living below the poverty line.

About 44% of Bihar’s population fall into this category.


“I told the villagers that they would get 100 days employment in a year simply by planting trees and protecting them. The old, handicapped and widows would be given preference,” he explained.

Every village council has now been given a target of planting 50,000 saplings – a group of four families has to plant 200 seedlings and they must protect them for three years till the plants grow more sturdy.

“They would get the full payment if they can ensure the survival of 90% of the plants under their care. For a 75-80% survival rate, they will be paid only half the wage. If the survival rate is less than 75%, the families in the group will be replaced,” the guidelines say.

Under NREGA rules, each worker has to be paid 100 rupees ($2) per day for 100 days in a year.