Honesty

Earlier this week I had a short job interview with a U.K.-based company for a position developing hardware drivers for small devices. The work would be quite rewarding in that I would get to see my work being used in millions of devices around the world, though very few people would ever know of my contributions. Travel to Europe would be required twice per year but, other than this, I could work from home and earn about 15% more than my current salary, which would likely make up for the fact that I'd be responsible for dealing with all the legal requirements of working in Japan as a remote worker1. All in all, I like the company, agree with many of their goals, and would look forward to the switch from writing software for schools (professionally) to enabling a small computer to efficiently talk to all the pieces inside its case.

But then I had to go and mess the whole thing up.

A Theoretical IoT Network. Theoretical because there's no way anyone would set it up so neatly.

After the background and technical questions were done and over with, I was asked for my thoughts on IoT, the Internet of Things, and whether I had any devices in my house. To which I responded:

No, there will never be an Alexa or anything like that in my house if it involves sending data to an external server. A lot of the hype around IoT today reminds me of the hype around smart phones in 2010, social networks in 2007, and blogging in 2003. It's a nightmare waiting to happen where millions or billions of people willingly give up their last vestiges of individual sovereignty in exchange for a couple of creature comforts. IoT to measure the world, our cities, and our businesses is one thing. IoT in the house? Only if the data never leaves my absolute control.

There was a moment of quiet on the other end of the call before the next question arrived, but it was clear that my answer was not exactly what they were expecting to hear. Five minutes later, we thanked each other for the call and went about the rest of our day. While I've not heard back whether the organisation would like another chat or not, something tells me that any company that is investing in IoT will want evangelists who will insist everyone have a hundred devices inside their home measuring everything from the toilet seat temperature to the amount of water being delivered to every tap in the house. Outside the home, tiny devices could measure how many pedestrians are using various sidewalks, how many dogs are using the park, and the velocity of street traffic during school hours. Sure, there are a lot of things that can be measured, collected, and interacted with ... but not in my home. Not unless — as I said — I have complete control over that data.

Sensors to provide us with information can be very useful. Interactive, voice-controlled assistants to help us with tasks can be very useful. Regardless of what creature comforts the big corporations might offer us, data sovereignty is key to making IoT fair and trustworthy. If someone wants to have a company like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, or any other organisation host their data, perform analytics, and provide services based on the results, that's up to the individual. Most people will not want to set up a server in their house or deal with the ongoing maintenance of the devices and their data over extended periods of time. This is understandable and perfectly fine. Companies offering IoT devices, however, should give people the option to have their data stored on a machine of their choosing, ideally without first going through the hardware provider's servers2.

But I'm repeating myself ... .

Ultimately, I like a lot of what IoT can offer us as individuals and as a community. My concern primarily focuses on who owns what, and nobody outside my home owns any of the data that is created within without conscious consent3.


  1. I would need to pay the taxes and deductions myself, as well as switch my pension over from employer-backed to personal-paid. Getting everything set up would be a pain but, after the umpteen trips to the various government buildings to fill out paperwork and stamp documents, I'd just have to make sure to report my income every 3 months to have the monthly taxes adjusted.
  2. There are a number of popular home security cameras in Japan that will save any video captured to your computer. However, for "convenience", the data is first uploaded to the camera maker's servers before being made available to the customer. So not only do you have to pay the company for the camera, you get to pay for the electricity to power it, the bandwidth to upload the video stream, the bandwidth to download the video stream, and handle any installation and maintenance yourself. This is a very good deal for the camera maker and a complete scam for anyone who thinks about what they're actually buying.
  3. I strongly dislike situations like "By reading this sentence you agree to blah, blah, blah." That's bullshit and is not conscious consent by any stretch of the imagination.

Can't Leave Well Enough Alone

A few days ago I decided to stop using Dropbox and OneDrive and instead host everything myself with a NextCloud installation running from a "server"1 in my upstairs closet. What I like about this is that I can follow the data from the time it leaves my notebook to the time it lands on the server, and I can verify that the data never left the house. This ensures that information that I put in a synchronised folder will leak a lot less than it would if I were to use one of the commercial offerings that make use of data centres all over the world. As an added bonus, there is also less of a chance of someone pushing a file into my Dropbox or OneDrive account and having it automatically appear on my personal and professional machines2. There are applications for the major desktop and mobile operating systems, and the web interface is clean and easy to use as well. All in all, I like a lot of what NextCloud offers and should have probably done this a while back.

Unfortunately, I just can't leave well enough alone and am already digging into the code of various plugins and core features in order to better understand the system and, in the case of the audio player, fix some functionality issues.

One of these days I might just learn how to install a piece of software and leave it be. Hopefully that day will never arrive.


  1. This server is really just a Lenovo Thinkpad W541 with a beefy Core i7, 32GB of RAM, a terabyte of SSD, and (now) 12TB in USB3-attached storage. It may not be a server in the traditional sense of the word, but it sure as heck can handle most of what I throw at it.
  2. This would be an interesting way to plant incriminating files on a person's machine, or simply distribute malware.

Five Things

Look … I Am My Father

Now that the boy is exploring the concept of cause and effect, he’s pushing his luck in more ways than one. A lot of my day is now spent telling him not to do something because of the consequences. As one would expect, he cares not one bit and will do things regardless of what I say. The last couple of weeks have been particularly exhausting, which has me saying things that my father used to say to me. I do have one new like, though: “Stop making work for me.”

I dislike this part of parenthood, but it’s incredibly important the boy doesn’t grow up to be a jerk.

Christmas Shopping is Done

Three weeks before the big day, all of the gifts and decorations what were on the list this year have been bought. As a result, there’s one less reason to drive the half-hour to the nearest big mall that’s almost always overcrowded with people who pay more attention to their phones than where they’re walking.

I wish Pokémon Go was never created.

C-C-C-C-Cold …

Now that I rarely leave the house during the week aside from walking Nozomi, my body is consistently cold. My legs and bum are much thinner than they were a year ago when I could get about 7km of walking per day, and this has translated into a body that doesn’t generate nearly as much heat as it used to. This weekend the temperature dropped to 3°C at 6:30pm, when Nozomi goes outside one last time for the day, and my hands were aching cold within minutes.

Why don’t we have heated clothes that are always warm?

NextCloud Is Pretty Decent

A few years back I stopped using a personal Dropbox solution called OwnCloud because the software wasn’t very reliable and I was getting worried about how much money I was giving to Amazon every month for the luxury of having the system always available. Now that my home internet connection can he used to host content, I decided to give the newer forked version a try. All in all, it’s pretty darn good. I was able to get NextCloud set up in no time on my home server and it’s now a central place for several family members to share files and have an offsite backup of their important data.

The software has come quite a long way over the last few years. This gives me hope that more people will see the benefits of hosting their own cloud storage.

Warm

With December being such a chilly month, the electric blankets have come out early and are keeping everyone comfortable at night. There’s something magical about crawling into bed at the end of the day and finding it’s already warm enough for you. This is a modern luxury everyone should have.

Cell phones are a distraction. Warm blankets are a blessing.

Useful Communication

The boy loves to talk. From the moment he wakes up until later in the day when he loses consciousness1 he has something to say. Colours. Numbers. Vegetables. People. Books. Characters from his TV shows. Everything will be said at least a hundred times an hour. Given the boy is not yet two, this is apparently a pretty decent amount of linguistic development. What's interesting, though, is that the boy is now moving beyond one and two word statements to adjective+noun, person+location, and — as of the last few weeks — personal conditions. When he's uncomfortable, he'll say so. When he's sad, he'll say so. When he wants to play, he'll say so. At last ... useful communication!

Watching the boy learn how to interact with the world has been quite fascinating. Every few days he surprises me with something new. It's easy to see why most parents think their children are way more skilled and talented than similarly-aged kids.


  1. This would be nap time or bed time, of course. I'm not knocking him out.

Noise

Earlier this week I took another look at Mastodon, a federated social network that has recently gained a great deal of popularity for its openness. One of the reasons for this was because I've been toying around with the idea of having 10Cv5 posts work with Mastodon federation, and the other is that I've been curious to know what sorts of new features have been added to the platform since the last time I dabbled in it. After a couple of days, though, I'm not sure whether an integration with Mastodon would be something people want.

Mastodon

From a technical standpoint, having 10C and Mastodon work together would be pretty simple for social posts. Very rarely do people publish something longer than 500 characters and, when it does happen, there are already a number of good options available to let readers get access to the full post. The primary concern that I see with having the two networks working together has to do with the sheer amount of noise that is streaming across the more popular network. After just a couple of days of looking through the federated timeline, I've come to the conclusion that Mastodon is a place for younger people who are looking for a place to share nude photos, play around with day-long memes, and generally goof around while bots interrupt the silliness with links to websites nobody will visit. There's nothing wrong with any of this1, but I can't see anyone who currently uses 10C2 wanting to interact on Mastodon via my service when everyone is already part of the federated network elsewhere. I could be wrong, but this isn't something that anyone has specifically asked for.

At the moment I'm still (just barely) on track to have the core components of 10Cv5 completed for the end of this year so that everyone can be migrated to the newer API in time for January 1, 2019. Adding Mastodon integration would require a couple of days so, rather than slip past yet another self-imposed deadline, it would be better to get the core system out the door and then expand the tool based on the feedback received. If people would like to have 10C's social service, a.k.a. Nice.Social, integrated with Mastodon, then it can certainly be done. If people don't want it, then I'll have time to work on other features.

Mastodon is certainly an interesting piece of work that has a great deal of potential. It will be interesting to see how federated networks evolve over the coming years as more people move away from large silos to collections of disparate containers.


  1. There's nothing wrong with this when it's on someone else's server, mind you.
  2. This is a dwindling number, mind you.

Asinine Fiefdoms

"Incestuous, homogeneous fiefdoms of self-proclaimed expertise are always rank-closing and mutually self-defending, above all else."
> — Glenn Greenwald

Corporate politics is a terrible game to play and often damages an organisation more than anything else. People who plot and politick for personal gain often work to construct fiefdoms, surrounding themselves with allies who will defend the group and its members like vassals would protect nobles in the middle ages. Never have I encountered a fiefdom that has benefited an organisation, and never have I been able to tolerate the pointless asininity that comes from them. It's unfortunate that my employer has a multitude of these to contend with across three continents.

People want control. I get it. The goal is also completely understandable as control begets power, which begets opportunity and security. What's odd is that a lot of corporate fiefdoms are often dominated by people who suck at developing and executing long term strategies. Like Jafar in Disney's Aladdin, many decisions are made based on short-term objectives that are shrouded in secrecy. Failures are blamed on people outside the fiefdom, and successes are hoarded and heaped on the central "noble" who coordinates the group.

Jafar the Ambitious

But why? Perspective and context are two important concepts that a person needs in order to understand how others think, but getting into the mind of a middle manager1 with delusions of grandeur is no easy feat. Is this a natural defence mechanism employed by a person who is outside their comfortable skill level? Is this just a standard character flaw in most people who are given the responsibility of running a team? Is this just a natural mistake people make and learn from when first given a management position? Considering how I'm neither a psychologist nor a psychoanalyst, I don't have any definitive answer. Our minds are complicated, so there are bound to be hundreds of reasons.

At the day job, I'm required to work closely with members from two fiefdoms while a third tries in vain to get their hands on work I've performed in order to take credit for it2. Generally I keep my interactions with these groups professional and text-based, but it can be hard to stay calm when the same ridiculous patterns are seen again and again.

Generally what is the best way to interact with corporate fiefdoms? The organisation needs things to be done, so ignoring silliness is not always an option. At the same time it's important that people perform their work with honour. I tend to help as much as possible, but there's always a clear cut-off. When people start talking about wanting direct access to servers or databases that I used to perform a task, I start saying "no". When people demand source code when they've never written a line of code in their life and have a history of giving corporate IP to vendors to "complete the work", I start saying "no". When people begin going up the chain to complain about how difficult I am being, I dig right in and refuse to work with people. Does this make me small? I think so.

At the end of the day, my goal is to use my time and skills to help teachers, students, and staff at schools around the world meet their objectives. The asinine office politics that takes place behind the scenes within the corporate HQ buildings fly counter to this. Despite the silliness, though, I need to learn how to better respond to their tactics without becoming just like them. It's no secret that I'm hardly the easiest person to work with, but I'd rather be unemployed than play politics when there's real work to be done.


  1. Often it's the middle managers who build and maintain fiefdoms, I find.
  2. This has already happened twice in the last couple of months, and I'm not at all enthused about their renewed attempts to completely usurp some of the more complex work I've done in order to pass it off as their own. The company has the results. My departmental colleagues and managers have the source code. I have the honour of "being difficult to work with" for not capitulating.

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