2.02.2005

Not blogging

I guess the only way I'll be able to blog is with enough of a time gap to be able to "bleep" anything I really ought not to be writing about. Some interesting (I guess that's the best word to use) things going on lately. I'll blog about them next month ^_~

11.15.2004

Get on and ride it, ride it

It's been a real roller coaster over the last month or two. I've had long-term clients jumping ship, short-term, high-profile, and, well... flaky clients knocking on my door. Real feast or famine, but with too much famine for my tastes. My safety pillow, or at least the one I tell myself about ^_^, has largely dried up.

So, I happened to run into someone who knew someone who knew a guy who worked for a prominent new incubator/VC outfit. First, I didn't think there was any VC around any more, at least outside the pages of FastWired2.0 (get it? they're all the same...). But these guys are smooth. I fake it good, but they live it. Black conference table. Enough padding in the carpet that it feels like it's going to eat your heals. "This is Pacey, he's the smartest IP guy I know." (I almost said, "oh, you don't know Larry?" but I wisely held my tongue.)

I don't want to have a Ferrari and a helicopter and a little penthouse in New York and a personal masseuse and a golden litter with buff and adroit slaves to carry me aloft and a pair of white tigers... where was I. Oh, I don't really want to cash out. I just want there to be cash when I go to the ATM. Consistently. And I promise to save like a sober sailor if I ever am flush again.

I've signed something that says I can't say I signed anything or ever saw anyone or ever may utter my true name again. So... oh, shit! Just pretend you didn't read this entry. (Won't be that hard, I guess.)

10.25.2004

Not so funny

It started off as something I could laugh off. Clients are dropping like flies, and for no obvious reason. Many of my clients are in high tech, and the sector (along with my clients) is booming. As Auric Goldfinger says: "Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action." Of course, I am in a business built on paranoia, but it is hard not to see something is afoot. Current theories:

(a) I have been cursed. As nice as a week in New Orleans finding some help from the voudou community sounds, I'm afraid this is unlikely.

(b) Someone is saying nasty things about me in order to scare up business for themselves. This is possible, but it seems unlikely. These are customers with whom I have had good, longstanding relationships. There isn't much that would make them flinch easily.

(c) They are reading my blog. OK, in some ways this is the scariest. Yes, this is a business built on discretion. It isn't hard to find my blog. On the other hand, I have never mentioned the name of my business here, and I often do business under a different personal name. I have noted where I am at certain points of time, but, as a professional who looks for such patterns, I haven't revealed anything that would link me to a particular client.

It could just be a way for the fates to tell me to move on and, for instance, return to grad school. But if this were the case, you would think that they could wait until next September. As it stands, I am already diving deep into my savings to make mortgage payments and buy cat food.

10.18.2004

MyEchelon

Techworld is running a piece on the hardware behind Echelon. No shocks in there, but I am always interested to see how this plays out in discussion. How is it that the vast majority of Americans are unfamiliar with Echelon, a program (if you include Shamrock) that is more than twice as old as I am.

What is interesting is to look at this in comparison with Microsoft's e-diary, and dozens of similar projects. Will we all someday have our own Echelons? I have my own mini-E. But really, that's what an aggregator is, at some level, isn't it. Will I be telling my kids that the machines they carry around in their pockets perform the functions that used to be handled by acres of computing machinery watched over by some of the smartest people in the world and paid for with a large chunk of taxpayer money? And that 99% of Americans had never heard of it?

Windy city

There's a reason this is called the Windy City. I vaguely remember that it doesn't have anything to do with the wind, but with the fact that they talk a lot. This from Larson's Devil in the White City, I think. In any case, you could certainly be forgiven for thinking that it might be because of the wind. The city is like a giant wind tunnel, and the gusts today feel like they can knock you over. It was a gray day today, and the wind drove through your clothing and made you feel like it was autumn deep in your bones.

Meeting today in a building in which I wouldn't be surprised to turn a corner and find Sam Spade's office. People didn't look right, though. Cheap suits. I'm not a style maven, by any measure, but a man in a cheap suit is hard to believe, and this was no exception. Here is someone who I know makes an annual salary of over $300K, and probably an income much more than this, so why is he wearing a $300 suit? I'm all about saving money, but the fabric on this thing is already showing wear, and I suspect it's not a very old suit. The guy has a publicist that is paid solely to polish his public image, you'd think she would tell him to go buy a decent suit.

Chicago always puts me ill at ease. I feel like I somehow should like the city, but it somehow doesn't feel "real" in the same way other cities do. I always feel out of place here. But the hotel shower has good water pressure, it's a comfortable bed, and I am done for the day. No complaints here. A quick dinner at the hotel restaurant, alone, and a bit of TV (end of the Farscape miniseries!), and I'll be as good as new.

10.08.2004

Not dead yet!

After a valiant attempt to be a blogger, I've failed to keep up with the post-a-day mentality. But now I've been invited to "guest blog" for a friend's college course, which means, like it or not, I need to polish my blogging instinct. More on that later.

Besides, now that Bruce is keeping up a regular blog, I kind of have to, if only to keep up with the Joneses.

I'm putting in my formal application to the iSchool for a Ph.D. in Information Science. I'm not entirely sure I want to start as a regular student in the fall of next year, but I want to keep that option open. I'm also not sure about the whole "Information Science" thing, but it seems to be a good place to do what I want to do. I'm leaving aside any pretense of security, and looking directly at work in visualizing large-scale unstructured text. My hope is that some of the tools I've developed for my private use can be improved, and possibly even commercialized. My life, of late, has been too exciting for comfort.

Though I like the academic world, it doesn't feel like it is naturally me. I feel far more comfortable with the street rats on the Ave (a commercial street near the university) than I do in the classrooms. But I can play academic, I think. I can fake it through a day, at least. You know, trade the board in for a bike, tie my hair back, wear glasses. I can out academic the best of them.

7.30.2004

Butterfly effect

Late last night, I got a call from a client. I should say the client. His company was one of the first people to put me on contract, and for the last few years, they have kept me on retainer. It was almost like having a real job: that is, no matter how bad it has been in a given month, I had their monthly check to pay my bills. One phone call and that is now gone.

I tried desperately to figure out why. He said they were moving my work in-house, but I find that extremely unlikely. After a couple of minutes, I had resigned myself to the fact that Y wasn't going to let me know what had gone wrong or what had changed. And late last night, I was OK with that. Today is a different story. This has a real financial impact on my (no, it's not terrible, I have a surfeit of work right now, but it was steady), but moreover, it has a mental impact. I just can't figure it out.

I've been taking graduate courses at UW over the last few years as a "non-matriculating" student. This may just be a wake-up call. I talk to a lot of people who think I would do well in the academic world, but then I know so many people who are interesting grad students and then have anything of interest slowly bleached from them by the time they enter the academic world. No, not everyone, but that seems to be the trend. And how often do I talk to people who have gone the academic or research route and envy my freedom. In any case, I've been hoping to make a change. With the safety net gone, this might just be the opportunity for such a change.

7.12.2004

Virtual Friends are Best Friends

It turns out that people think more of others they meet virtually than they do of people they first meet in person. David Telen abstracts a study(I haven't met you but I like you) that shows that people tend to project their ideal images on people they meet on-line, and because believing otherwise once meeting someone in person would require a significant cognitive shift, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It's an interesting idea. A lot of the talk about virtual friendship early on suggested a utopian way to "get around" issues of race and gender, allowing people to get to know one another for their personalities first. Of course, I find that online personalities are rarely a perfect match to "real life" personalities, but there is clearly a strong overlap. Most of my business is done over the telephone or over the Net, and it always seems a bit off-putting to "meet" people I "know." I'm sure this happened in some businesses before the internet, but it is now a common sort of a thing.

At this point, I just avoid meeting my "virtual" friends in person. It's like a segmented life. I am rarely disappointed in the "reality," but it is somehow disquieting. Likewise, although we use cell phones and IMs to arrange physical meetings, I would much rather have a conversation with one of my RL friends in RL. If we are chatting on the phone, it's not unusual for one of us to say "I'll come over."

I wonder if other people actively segment their "real" and "virtual" lives. This blog is somehow a major bridge between the two worlds. I just found out that some of my RL friends are reading the blog. Most of them know in more detail what I do, and how I am. And most say my online persona is somehow different from the one they know in person. Of course, I see no difference at all, and they don't seem able to put their finger on how it is different, aside from some ribbing about my photo, which really doesn't look like me at all.

In some ways, this blog is a new coming out, a new way to interact with people. And some of that has to do with figuring out what I am going to be doing with my career and my life over the next few years. Given the agenda, I guess it's a good thing if the person on this blog is not the person who I am now.

7.09.2004

Genetically Modified Foods, Global Warming, and Datamining

These things all have something in common: you don't know how bad they are until they happen. If they are bad, once they happen you can't move backwards; it's a one-way function. A genetic mistake could lead to the obliteration of the "good" crops (or of diversity), and global warming could raise the sea level, and if these risks are realized, it is already too late.

Indeed, that should be the real message of a recent GAO report on federal datamining discussed in this article in FCW. The study finds that there may be reason for concern over increased datamining of unclassified sources. Well, duh! In some ways, I wish we *were* stuck in the 70s. It wasn't that long ago when we realized that the real threat of computing to privacy was not the collection of personal information. Our neighbors have been doing that since the begninings of time. The real threat was the aggregation of these data into a portfolio. I remember when I was a young child thinking that this is what was really scary about the Eastern Block. The values shared between the East and West, outside of economic issues, were pretty similar. The big difference was that we didn't have to worry about an internal security apparatus tracking our every move. We were free. Ah, the times they are a-changin'.

So what does Daniel Akaka, senator from Hawaii, now recommend to rectify the situation? Another GAO study. Which will take another year. And will still investigate only the unclassified datamining.

Perhaps the problem is the term. Maybe if we called it "profiling" or "indexing" or something that doesn't sound quite so ambiguous. The words "statistical model" are enough to make most folks tune out. When you tell them what it means, accumulating and comparing millions of bits of information collected about individuals from disparate sources, one wonders why a study is needed to decide if there are risks. The question is not whether the risks exist, but whether they are likely to lead us down a road that won't support a U-turn.

As it is, we'll keep boiling frogs, and when we wake up with a police state, we'll wonder why no one said anything.

7.08.2004

Friending people

David Weinberger has a post on Many2Many about redefining friendship. Of course, as some of my "RL" friends know, I am new to the idea of having "friends" that are not of the Jenga-playing variety, and so I have been trying to work out many of the same kinds of issues that David is.

I've been lucky to have lived in the same place for a while, so I do have a pretty good local network of people who I would consider friends. The mobility of today's professional means that physically local friends, even neighbors, are a dying breed. But that measurement is pretty arbitrary. I know that psychologists have tried to operationalize it as "someone to whom you would readily lend $100," but monetizing the relationship seems like it adds in something else. I have less than a half-dozen friends who have the alarm codes and keys for my house. I am a very private person (with a blog :), so I wouldn't give that out lightly. I wouldn't give those to David. I'd might lend him a $100, if he really needed it, even though he's not my friend, because he seems a trustworthy sort.

I know he's not my friend, because I asked him. I recently joined Orkut in an effort to be more "out" as a personage, and so I quickly sent off invites to people who I had met, even if only briefly, and even to a few people I had only interacted with online. Sure, I felt a bit strange about that. My close friends know they are my friends, and we see no need to seek out mutual certifications. Obviously, they aren't on Orkut, because they have no interest, but I don't feel like they are any less friends because they haven't certified their friendship. Anyway, having seen a friendly familiar face, I asked David if he would be my friend, and was shunned.

It's funny how friending feels more like a verb in these conditions, but the truth is that friending is always a verb. David suggests that it exists in what you don't do (complain about stinky feet), though I would think it has more with what you do do. A friend is someone who will surprise you with their generosity, who is willing to take a risk on investing in you - in emotion, in time, in trust - without the guarantee that it will be reciprocated.

That lack of a guarantee is what made the Godfather unfriendly. At some point, a day which may or may not come, he expected reciprocation. While, as Marcel Mauss argues, there may be no such thing as a selfless gift and every favor must inscribe the expectation of reciprocation, this remains deeply buried in real friendships. And so, Orkut and other such services do not allow you to "friend," but only to unfriend, only to take what is a deeply buried fetish of human culture, bring it out into the light, and thereby kill it.

I asked a relatively well-known blogger, whom I had never met in person, if he would link to me ("friend" me) on Orkut. It was a long-shot, since we really didn't know one another, but I thought we shared some affinity of thought and ideals. He turned me down with a personal note, in which he wondered whether we really *were* acquaintances. I replied that I was much more interested in someday being real friends than friends on Orkut. Of course, ideally the latter would lead to the former. In practice, though, I wonder if the latter takes something vital away from the former.

In other words, Orkut is for those who have personal networks to burn, who collect friends like they collect books: not to read, but to be admired.

6.29.2004

Get out of jail free card?

Michael Froomkin points to this great breakdown of where the US Supreme Court Justices stand on detention, in the form of a color chart. Someone needs to laminate these up and sell them, or maybe petition for them to be included in passports as a public service.

6.27.2004

Taming Text

Computerworld is running an article on the use of unstructured text mining in large companies. What it doesn't talk about is the security implications. The advantages to internal text mining, and there are many, will drive a push toward the aggregation of such data. While obscurity is never a substitute for real security, concentrating this information in one place will make it the grail for someone attempting to obtain information from the outside. If they can hit this one "point," they will have the keys to the kingdom.

As the article notes, the software itself is easy to install. I wonder how many of the companies who have started down this path have a competent data warehousing specialist who will make certain that the data that is being aggregated is being used appropriately, and that it is kept secure?

6.23.2004

Diego Garcia as Torture Haven?

Looks like Blair is going to have to defend his ground, or his atoll as the case may be. There are claims that the US is using Diego Garcia as one of its torture camps/prisons. Doubt anyone will be able to make much of this: no pictures likely to leave the island. Does make for an interesting theme for the next Survivor, though, doesn't it?

Black Blogging

It was bound to happen. When blogging became big enough to show up on the radar of marketers and politicos, it was bound to intersect with money. The next year or so will be a turbulent time while people work out the issue of trust and the black blog.

Everyone enters blogs with opinions. No one expects them to be opinion free. In fact, that is one of the drivers of blogging, it is rife with opinion. But it has also been a great way for people without a lot of money to have their opinion count. When people are paid to blog, this dynamic changes.

What happens when someone is paid to blog. There are two forms of this, one in which the backing is secret, and another in which the backing is transparent. Let's deal with the secret case first.

Why should it matter if I am paid to express the opinions I am putting forth? Because they are not "my" opinions, they are astroturf. People, with some justification, turn to blogs for a biased opinion, yes, but an authentic biased opinion. If I say that 60% of bloggers are in favor of Kerry, it means something, because you assume that they wouldn't be giving up time with their kids on a Tuesday night to rant about something they don't believe in.

When Rosie gets a new vacuum cleaner from Target for mentioning them on her show, we are generally OK with that, because we know and expect the mass media to be bent by the influence of advertisers. But blogs, until recently, have been relatively free from that stain.

Steve Rubel points to two articles on such efforts. Naturally, he has his own opinion on astroturf (or we can assume it's his opinion), given his job. But it seems pretty clear to me that whoring your opinion for a personal weblog is disruptive to the entire world of blogging. It also seems pretty inevitable. Which is unfortunate, because that means the end of blogging.

Astroturf in the political realm shows up in a Daily Standard article on Black Blogs, that is, blogs that are created in order to put forward compelling political arguments, after gaining the trust of a readership. This is, of course, much cheaper than trying to infiltrate a "legitimate" source of news, and allows for a much greater degree of anonymity. Are spooks already doing this? Of course, but the lead is coming from the industry.

I've already been approached to help coordinate blog-based astroturfing campaigns. I've turned down the job, not on moral grounds, but logistical ones. The Daily Standard article suggests a process of establishing a blog and a readership in order to then "turn" them at an appropriate moment. The truth is that this is an expensive, time-consuming, hit-or-miss proposition. Far better is to turn one of these opinion leaders, which can also be expensive, either in terms of a direct pay-off or something more subtle, but is also more effective. The traditional "black bag" tools, most especially blackmail, can be an effective way to have people espouse ideas they would not otherwise hold. Could this have a significant effect. Of course! Blogs may not really be about news, but they definitely are about opinion leadership. Unfortunately, it will only take a few instances of this before people begin to raise their guards, and when trust dissolves in the blogosphere, it will be good for no one.

Can you avoid this by opening and transparently underwriting a blog? No. No matter how open the support is, everyone will have to take an opinion with a grain of salt. It's impossible to get rid of the effects of money paid for an opinion. Even if the supporter says that you have complete editorial control, you now have a relationship with an underwriter, and that relationship is inevitably an unequal one. Regardless of the reality, this also opens the door to increased scrutiny and skepticism.

Scrutiny and skepticism are both good, and sorely lacking in the blogosphere, but too much of a good thing will lead to distrust and a lack of community. When we introduce commercialism, we also introduce distrust. As it did with Usenet, BBSs, and the Web at large, commercialization of blogging will change it forever. Enjoy the (relatively) non-commercial blogosphere while it lasts!

GMail invites

Like everyone else, I now have several extra invites for Google's GMail beta. They will go to those who send me the juciest secrets of marketable value. I promise I won't post them to the blog, but I don't promise not to sell them ;). Email me at laplace (at) gmail.com.

War Kayaking

I love kayaking. I love war*ing. So naturally, I love it when the two go together: war kayaking in Seattle. This is one of those "I wish I'd done that" sorts of things. I've never thought to bring my PDA out on the lake. I guess it was because I think of it as "disconnect time," and I get a little nervous about the idea of my PDA surrounded by that much water. I also think about how many times I've fumbled my PDA, and the 214 foot drop to the murky bottom of the lake.

6.22.2004

Small consolation

Being a woman martial artist can often be especially challenging. But there are some small advantages, as this great Viagara commercial suggests.

Reboot

Ok, so, I'm obviously taking a little longer to catch on to this whole "blog" thing than I thought I would. I am going to take another run at things, being a little more forthcoming, and at the same time, not treating it as a diary. That is, you really don't need to know what my cat coughed up this morning (believe me, I wish I didn't have to know/guess). Instead, I'm repurposing this with an audience in mind.

From now on, I pass on to you thoughts and knowledge about hiding, uncovering, and predicting knowledge, with a focus on environmental scanning. That's right: I am going to try to be as transparent as possible about how to be less transparent, among other topics. I won't remain entirely constrained by this: you might very well hear about my cat once in a while, but I'm going to start to think about a potential reader. If you are more than a potential reader, please comment! I'm pretending to be uninterested in my own logs, but I know it will be hard to keep up posting if no one is reading the posts!

5.05.2004

It Wasn't Me

Let me begin by saying that I have never tortured anyone, nor been tortured. Yet, when I turn on the news and I hear "private contractors," my first thought is "Hey! They're talking about me!" And unfortunately, they are not saying nice things about me. And this got me thinking about slippery slopes.

I may or may not have done work for the US intelligence corps. I'm not being cagey here: I just don't know. I've certainly never gotten an invoice back with a check signed by the "CIA" or from any of their better known corporate partners / proprietary companies (think Evergreen, MiApollo, CSC/DynCorp and White Cloud; and FedEx and Denny's if you read the conspiracy press…), but the nature of trading in information is that you rarely know who the proximate consumer is, let alone the ultimate consumer. And while US intelligence may or may not be the biggest consumer of information, it certainly seems to suck up a lot of data. Now, if you asked if I had ever worked directly for a royal family (not the one you are thinking of), I might have a different answer.

Anyway, slippery slopes. As I've noted already, I trade in information at times that requires me to act in violation of various laws. I can say with confidence that I violate privacy statutes in the EU on a daily basis, and cause others to violate laws in Singapore and China on an equally ongoing basis. A large part of my business consists of a large-scale, multifaceted, ongoing environmental scan that hits both general areas of interest and specific watch-themes for my clients. In some cases, I am doing this for what I think is honestly the greater good. In other cases, I am doing it for reasons that are more selfish: paying my rent and/or increasing the value of my business. This work at the edge of an ethical fog requires me to be far more vigilant, I suspect, than my colleagues who only do "defensive" corporate intelligence, or the like. At each step of the way, I have to thing, who is this going to potentially hurt, and what are the risks of that happening?

The claim, not surprisingly, from the administration is that the Abu Ghraib was a one-off, a mistake that was unfortunate but unique. Of course, any thinking person is not going to buy this: why would it be that the one "mistake" managed to leak to the world press and yet evade local oversight. Not very likely. (And, as an aside, I haven't yet seen people linking this to Guantanamo in the mainstream US press, but how long can that connection remain uninvestigated?)

The problem is that I recognize that some of my work is in furtherance of many of the same aims that drive the MI folks who are questioning/torturing prisoners. No one would ever think to come to me if they needed information that required this, but there are certain circumstances in which I could have chosen to hire a subcontractor who would use such means. Believe me: large corporations are at least as likely as governments and militaries to use physical and psychological coercion as a lever to obtain information. In other words, I am enmeshed. I am not the person who threatens someone's family, but I may be the person who decides which family should be threatened and where they live. I don't blackmail people over secrets they might not want publicly revealed, but I do provide the secrets to people who do. This places me uncomfortable position.

And so, Abu Ghraib delivers a more personal message to me than to others. Others might feel guilty because, as Americans, we all share the responsibility for what went on. Indeed, whenever someone is made to feel pain by the hands of our government, even in those many situations when it is justified and important to do so, all Americans must share the responsibility for inflicting that pain. Yet for me, this hits closer to home. The success of my business as it stands makes it increasingly hard to walk away from some of the work I do that is more about finding out than covering up. And, I have to admit that I find the process of uncovering vastly more interesting than that of telling employees not to share their passwords. That said, it may be time to shift gears, and reinvest the money that is finally flowing in the door in a new rebirth of my practice.

4.14.2004

I knew keeping up with the blog would be a bit of a hassle. I figured that would be because it would be too easy to have it eat up my life. Little did I know that it would do nothing of the sort! I just got sucked into a lot of travel and a lot of last minute work. This is good for business, but not so good for my sleep cycle, or for Dinger ("my" cat), since I've been away from the place.

So, the tech sector is visibly picking up. I see this as much in the outlook of some of my friends as I do in actual numbers. For various reasons, I suspect we're trailing most of the tech industry regionally, but even here, you are starting to see people talk about new ventures. And this brings me back to the question of whether to go "legit." I have to say, one of the advantages of this would be that life would be a lot less complicated for me than it is now. At present, I have to do a lot of balancing in terms of clients and schedules. And while I do a good deal of repeat business, since I don't knock on doors, it's hard to be able to predict what my work load will look like. I mean, for the last two weeks I've averaged probably 4-5 hours of sleep, just because when business comes in, I can't really turn it down.

The initial plan was that I would start this thing up on bubble-gum-and-caffeine and in a year or two we'd be golden. Everyone knew that competitive intelligence and computer security were going to be growth industries, and I and my friends were some of the best--or at least we could fake it long enough to become the best. We were pulling clients left and right, and while no one was rash enough to declare victory, we had a feeling that this was going to be the startup that was going to make it.

So I bought a building. OK, dumb move, I'll admit it, but even though I consider myself a realist, it was hard to know that not only we could fail to be the NBT, but that everyone would. I mean, it wasn't the end of the world for anyone, we were all fine, but things seemed to happen so quickly when they went South. I bought this old 1920s warehouse in a district that I assumed would be the next "place." The warehouse was unused, and had been for several years. It was, frankly, a mess. You could see the sky in places you shouldn't have been able to. My thinking: we do largely a virtual business right now, meeting clients on their own turf anyway. By the time we are big enough for them to come to us, we can do a complete rebuild and be the gem of the new cyber-business district.

When a "household name" computing leased offices in a refurb on the edge of the same district for their new, hot content product, I gave myself a tour (as a "courier") one day. They did exactly what I was planning, using the brick to its full effect, putting in a compact (but nice) atrium, and a lot of smoked glass to separate out offices. During the same time, a "household name" company bought an old hospital nearby to refurbish it into a high-tech campus. I figured I was golden.

Four months later, when the lease was coming up on my apartment, I moved into the warehouse. I didn't have to, it just made sense at the time. I was paying upwards of $1600 a month in rent for an apartment that I barely saw any more. Yes, it had a jaw-dropping view, but entertaining had become ordering in Chinese with some friends while sitting around a white board. Mind you, I liked this. The work was thrilling, and we were still making decent money. But it seemed silly to keep the apartment. The move was going to be temporary: just until I decided where to buy, or maybe--the way things were going--I'd get a big boat and live aboard for a while. Three years later, here I am...

So what do I miss about my old place? I miss the people. Just the idea of coming out the front door and seeing people walking down the street, at almost any hour, was a strangely nice feeling. I know there are others that live in this area--at least a handful. In warehouses or industrial spaces I mean; this seems to be the preferred haunting ground of most of the homeless. This is where the older, hardcore homeless make their residence--not the fluffy and unpredictable runaways of my old neighborhood.

So, when I got home from London (contract is now signed and I'm up with them for a nice, long-term, above-boards project), I had a steady client call me the same night and ask me to fly to Mexico to meet with him. He's an American (Texan), but he seems to prefer to meet in Mexico. He has a house down there, though I've never been inside it, and I guess he's just more comfortable doing business there than in the US. He also prefers to pay me in cash. I don't like cash, for a lot of different reasons, but I'll certainly take it over nothing.

Anyway, he likes to meet in the bar of Oso Negro (not the real name), this old hotel in the heart of the city. It's far from the worst hotel I've stayed in, but there is this feeling from the staff that they could care less whether you were there or not. I guess that's a good thing. It's not like they remember me ever. So we sit in this bar that is entirely full of American tourist, and sip on awful $10 margaritas. We might as well be in Houston. But I think this plays into his idea of how "spies" meet. He already has the cigarillos; I half-expect him to show up in a trench coat in one of our meetings.

OK, I'm going to try to take this blogging thing a bit more seriously. I'm starting to look through some other blogs, and getting some ideas. Don't expect a big redesign or anything, but at least I should put up a list of blogs I'm reading.

3.24.2004

AWONA (Away Without Net Access) for a short time and it turns out I'm famous! After mentioning Michael Froomkin's croc experience in the last post, he noticed me and mused about (of course) my identity. I should have foreseen this. In his shoes, I would also be interested in a masked blogger. My first instinct was just to drop him an email and reveal all, but that pretty much goes against plan, here. I know better than most that a secret shared with even the most trusted person is infinitely more likely to come back to bite you. It will be difficult to post without seeming coy--I doubt Michael would recognize my name, though he might remember my face. I'll leave a breadcrumb.

He writes about Simson Garfinkle's hobby of extracting content from used hard drives, something I do for profit rather than fun. Here is a hint to my identity, though extremely abstruse. Let's see, the first time I met Simson? It was a dark and stormy night. I remember this because I met him a large dimly-lit octagonal conference room with a huge skylight, and the rain beating down on the windows and crashing lightning made it feel like Dr. Frankenstein would walk in the door any minute. We chatted for a bit about some shared interests, especially the process of packet-sniffing local networks remotely. But the meeting itself was fairly uneventful, and, well, dull. The group I was with at the time had only a tangential interest in his work (he was in the process of writing a book), and he, IMHO, misgauged how best to extract information from them. The combination of the outside environment and the clashing cultures inside leaves it as a memory of a missed opportunity.

Luckily, today I took the opportunity of a little down-time in London. It seems the last couple times I've been here, I have been too busy to do anything fun. I usually hate working with clients' travel people, but in this case they booked me a non-stop on BA. I left at around 6 last night, got in just before noon, and actually managed to get some good sleep on the flight. I took advantage of having the afternoon to myself and caught a couple of hours at one of my favorite museums in the whole world, the Victoria and Albert, after a quick croissant and fresh orange juice at a bakery across the way. We have a decent small bakery in my current hometown, but for some strange reason it's hard to find a good croissant--the city is butter-averse, I guess. Headed up to Tottenham Court Road for a little book-hunting (most of the shops were closed) and had supper at Wagamama, a great noodle joint in a basement just south of the British Museum.

I'm staying at an American chain hotel in the north of London that is a bit older, and slightly run down. It's walking distance to the client's shop, at least. But I have no net! Feels weird to pay for access. Luckily, I noticed an Easy Internet Cafe right near the Tottenham tube stop. The bright orange is hard to miss. These places are getting familiar In the last six months or so, I've used one in Amsterdam, conveniently located within about a hundred steps from the train station and right next to the Sex Workers Museum (I think that's what it's called), and then at the place they have just off Times Square. They are becoming almost as ubiquitous a sight in big cities as the Golden Arches or KFC.

So, brief set of meetings tomorrow, and then back home. What is with the executive face-to-face meeting? I've been working pretty closely with a liaison for the last couple of weeks on a project, and we've done fine without ever being in the same room. What is the deal with having to put on the dog-and-pony act for the muckety-mucks in person? Whatever: I think I have a nice presentation ready.

3.22.2004

Just a quick culinary note. A posting by Michael here reminds me of a favorite meal that is very difficult to find in my current city: croc. I had a friend who used to make crocodile steaks with an amazing white wine sauce. I do have the recipe filed away somewhere. It's not too difficult to make, if I recall correctly. Finding croc meat would be the only hard part, but isn't that what the Internet is for?

Strangely enough, I already knew one place to find it, but had forgotten: Seattle's Exotic Meats. I love that they are selling wagyu for about $30 a pound and a local restaurant had it last week for nearly that much an ounce. Since some places let you bring your own wine in and charge you a storage and "corkage" fee, I wonder if they would let you do the same with a cut of meat...

3.20.2004

People complain about the postmodernists just playing games with words, but when academics from b-schools and other "practical" fields play with the whole data/information/knowledge/wisdom thing it just gets tiring quickly. Take, for example this article from the Journal of Evolutionary Economics: "Data, information and knowledge: have we got it right?" (It's here in Adobe Acrobat format.)

OK, I didn't spend as much time as I should reading it, but it seems to be suggesting that Shannon got it right. Is this news these days? Given the introduction, I thought they would really be getting somewhere. I've always liked to think about information through the lense of crypto. If you need a kick in the head, all you have to think about is this: the most information is stored in a message that most closely approximates random noise. Sounds like a zen koan or something. When you think through it, it makes perfect sense. Anything short of noise and you have redundancies, and redundancies aren't information.

But then, if noise is information, then how do we make sense of it. That, of course is knowledge. I mean, knowledge is information over time. You can only make sense of this noise if you have "context" and context only comes over time. That is, at some point you get a key that unlocks this noise.

Here's the trick, knowledge requires redundancy. You need to be able to query someone and get a range of responses before you know your code is right. So knowledge is the process of accumulating redundancy through interactive communication.

Is that really so hard to understand. Heck, I could do it with math, but I don't do math real well. I know people who do, but I don't talk to them about things like this, because they whip out their dry erase markers (you know who you are!) and start writing on any nearby glass surfaces. And then I get bored.

Maybe the difference is that when I get bored, I don't sit down and write an article.

Well, here it is. I've been following weblogs of various kinds for years because of my work. In fact, I would venture to guess that I have one of the longer reading-to-writing ratios among bloggers. The reasons for not keeping a blog have been easy.

I am a freelance purveyor of difficult to locate and valuable information. I know that is not exactly precise. One of the things I will need to do is work out how vague I must remain in terms of the kind of work I do. I don't break laws unless I really have to, and I try to remain ethical in the jobs I take, though once I agree to a job, I feel obligated to do almost whatever it takes to maintain my obligation to my client. I would say that I am a "troubleshooter" or maybe simply a "process consultant" (I've used both of these titles in the past.) But basically my job is to provide a client with the means to make a decision, and sometimes to help coordinate the solution.

Anyway, since my work involves providing an informational advantage to clients, a public blog doesn't mesh well with that. I don't advertise: my clients come to me because of a very strong reputation within various circles. I do have business cards, but that's about it. Those who hire me would generally (although there are exceptions) rather others did not know that they had. Perhaps that's the best description of my work: I am the ace in a client's sleeve.

There is some irony in the blog that has changed my mind: Belle de Jour, written by someone who has a job that sometimes feels very much like my own, though sex is never part of my transaction with a client (even if in some very specific cases, I wouldn't have minded if it was ;). Along with a recent post on anonymous blogs by Kaye Trammel--and the knowledge that if anyone should be able to remain anonymous, it is me--I've decided to make the plunge.

Of course, I will have to be a bit deceptive in the specific information I give, and names and places (among other facts) might be changed to protect the innocent and not-so-innocent. But at the same time, I hope I can provide information that will be helpful for those who can't afford to hire me. The best customer is one who knows exactly what they are getting into, and there is nothing worse than wasting your time with a client who thinks they need you, but who could just hire better people internally, or become better informed themselves. That's not to say I won't help them, but it's generally not my favorite kind of work. Usually, it means recruiting someone for them that can do the job for less than my hefty fee.

I will also probably use this as a place to spout some of my political and social commentary. It's not good to do this when you are working, so this can be a bit of an outlet for me, perhaps.

Finally, I've resisted blogging because the last thing I need is another thing to take up my time. I'm off to jujistu practice. I'm going to have to limit my posts to a few a week, and keep them short, if I'm going to be able to keep this up. Wish me luck!