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