What to do about China?

The Presidents tariffs continue to be a source of frustration and confusion. Who pays them, where the money goes and if they are even likely to solve the problem Trump thinks they will.

Meanwhile the boycotts on Huawei grow, ultimately threatening to split the technology world in two, everything that works in China and its allies, and technology that works everywhere else.

The software bro’s seem to think that won’t happen, or if it does it’s no biggie, since all the software they use is US based. Apart from the arrogance, it’s also completely ignorant.

Not only do the non-US aligned tech countries have their own software and operating systems, and massive customer base, we can’t make hardware without them.

With the upcoming 2020 Presidential elections, I wonder how many of the candidates understand how this would work, and what global bifurcation of the technology world would mean for the US?

I got my first idea from the ever excellent, Colorado Matters daily radio broadcast with Ryan Warner. Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper had given a foreign policy speech in Chicago, and Warner got him on the phone to discuss what he’d said. I’ve extracted the last few words from Hickenlooper on China. It’s a 1:47 sound clip included below.

In the clip Hickenlooper says:

right now China is making massive investments in South America, Africa, and large parts of Asia, they are making loans for infrastructure and various ports, and if the loans don’t get repaid, the Chinese end up owning that shipping port or that railroad station.

Long term, twenty, forty years, that will put American businesses, and the jobs of our children and grandchildren at risk

This is a big part of the story, except, China has doing this that I’ve known about since 1995. Add to this their investments in futures contracts and rare minerals and you have the perfect storm. I posted a response to twitter on this back in September(below). The NY Times had a good write-up on the Chinese Belt and Road initiative. It shows the scale and scope of the Chinese project around the world, all industries. Meanwhile, the US President refuses to work with the Democrats on infrastructure.

While we might be able to build an iPhone for around $3,000 given US prices, we might even be able to manufacture the components, like cameras, GPS, accelerometers. We won’t be able to do any of that without the raw materials that goes into the components in phones, tablets, motherboards, computer, alexa smartspeakers, and pretty much everything else that drives(2) modern lives, including cars, scooters, trains and planes.

The shoe is off the foot, it’s just a question of when it drops. This was, frankly, bloody obvious. Because the Chinese Government doesn’t have to participate in the media circus western democracy has become, they don’t have to make promises they either don’t want to, or won’t keep, they’ve been able to focus on the long game(1).

I don’t know who will be next US President, but he or she has a big job on their hands, and it’s not a short term one.

  1. More generally, any strategy with a long-term goal of gaining the upper-hand. Often used to describe politicians trying to outwit opponents.
  2. Yes, pun intended.

UPDATE: 5-29: Minor edits.

Real Time Payments Network

Bank Note Money Usd Funds Bills Us-dollar DollarThe clearing house has released business principles that outline the operation of the real time payments (RTP) Network. A full set of guidelines is here.

These are important inasmuch as they set out key points, among them most importantly:

TCH runs the RTP network as a utility for the benefit of the industry and RTP fees shall continue to be flat for all participants regardless of size, and shall not include volume discounts or minimum volume requirements.

It does though, contains a super-clause, which is typical of the monopolistic “free market” here in America. In an effort to restrain competition, and limit the ability of smaller financial institutions, the clause reads:

These principles apply so long as the RTP network is the only provider of faster real-time clearing and interbank settlement.

So here we are again, with another great example of limited competition. Who would provide an alternative, well, as listed in a prior post, the big tech companies are not likely to sign-up and get locked into RTP charging. Also, the Federal Reserve is considering a Faster Payments Network.

Sigh, here we go again, more glacial progress and lack of choice. Don’t stop ordering checkbooks anytime soon.

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‘Facebook can’t be trusted’

New Zealand’s Privacy Commissioner John Edwards (@jce_pc), was interviewed this morning on NPR by Rachel Martin. Edwards criticized Facebook after last month’s attacks on two mosques in Christchurch were live-streamed on Facebook.

It was a refreshing interview with a politician who doesn’t have all the answers, and knows it’s not his job to come up with them. He is also not beholden to big tech financing, as a New Zealand politician. Equally Edwards was clear where the blame and responsibility lay. The whole interview is well worth listening to, but Edwards rightly pointed out

we have a platform that has displayed shocking lack of responsibility and accountability for the tools that it has enabled

He [Zuckerberg] kinda conflated that [bad actors], with the live streaming of the atrocity in New Zealand, but that person didn’t go to any lengths, there were no systems. If you are going to offer a service that is capable of such deep and profound harm, then it is incumbent on you to ensure it is safe.

In the USA you have product liability, if a manufacturer makes something, a product, which causes harm, they are liable for that. It’s time we started to look to the social media companies for that.

… the lack of responsibility the company has taken. They should be acting now. If they can’t assure us that the streaming service is safe, then it should be taken down.

I was quite disappointed when I heard Mr Zuckerberg equate the atrocities in Christchurch with childrens birthday parties. He said if you put a delay in the system it might have prevented the uploading that video, but that would have broken the experience of people who use it for childrens parties.

I don’t understand the mathematics there, how many childrens parties, Mr Zuckerberg, equals one murder, one live streamed suicide, one sexual assault live streamed? It’s really incumbent on the platform to take responsibility to make the product safe. Until they ca, to take it down.

Bravo sir, bravo. In many aspects of life we have too easily succumbed to technology allowing us to do things which are not necessary, it’s there just because it can be. Facebook isn’t alone in this, and it’s time that we take a step back.

Remember when conference calls had live moderators? When you couldn’t speak until the lines were open? That wasn’t there just so the speaking presenter/executive could just say “next slide please”, it was there to stop unwanted and unruly interruptions. No one is saying one to one video communication should be outlawed, but live streaming needs to be moderated and regulated.

If the live streaming platforms won’t do that, can’t make it profitable, then so be it, ban it.

You can’t broadcast naked bums, boobs and dicks on American broadcast TV, at any time of the day. Yet, we allow facebook, youtube, twitter and other live streaming platforms to broadcast anything to anyone, anytime. This isn’t a free speech issue, I’d prefer grown-up movies to be broadcast unedited on TV, like streaming services. At least in the UK they have the 9pm ‘watershed‘.

It’s hard to see how anything will change here, until we have more politicians like Mr. Edwards.

Paranoimia

No, this isn’t a political post, it’s a blatant attempt to launch myself into the ring tone provider market(not!)

As I continue to ramble, sometimes alphabetically, through my 2000+ vinyl album collection, this had been sitting staring at me.

MaxheadroomMpegMan[1]It cleaned up nicely, and after editing, the tonality seemed pretty good. I’ve done a few personal ringtones before, it’s not complicated. This begged for one and here it is, wrappered at both ends by the iconic triangle. At 23-seconds its a bit on the long side, but still in “fair use” scope.

AI straight at you from 1985.

What I want to know is why are the only funny lines on this show, are the ones behind me?

Here’s MAX!

Vinyl the perfect archive medium?

As I continue to digitize my entire 2,000+ album collection, I’m constantly amazed by the quality and durability of Vinyl recordings.IMG_20190308_100641

It’s true that I have the really poor quality stuff yet to come, as part of a dj lot of 90’s trance/techno 12-inch singles, some without covers, and many that were sat in damp or wet conditions. The general usability of vinyl is amazing. Have a listen to this sample from Quincy Jones first album, the track is called: A Sleepin’ Bee

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Quincy Jones, recorded in 1956, probably pressed 1957.

The album is “This is how I feel about jazz“. It was recorded in 1956 exactly 1-year before I was born. It’s a mono recording, and this sample was taken from the album I own, a first pressing. admittedly I’ve cleaned and digitally enhanced the recording I made of the album. You can see pictures of the album and the actual vinyl on the entry in discogs via the link above.

I have working players and readers for most media that I’ve ever worked with and owned. I don’t have working computer tape drives, the sort that we used on mainframes from the 60’s to the early 2000s, or the modern versions. Nor do I have an IBM Mass Storage System for a couple of the cartridges I own. Also missing from my collection is a Videocassette Player(VCR). Although I could get one, I have no interest in collecting video tapes. “Videos” as they became known are perhap the worst example of home tape use(more on this later).

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Reel-to-Reel Tape

I do have two working reel-to-reel tape decks; a working dual cassette recorder/player; an 8-track player/recorder; a diskette drive: numerous CD, DVD drives and players; heck I even have a videodisc. All those formats though have their problems. Anything based on magnetic media, which would include tapes, cassettes and 8-tracks, as well as diskettes, can easily be ruined by putting them near or on top of something with a strong motor which destroys the magnetic encoding.

They also suffer from read errors. Almost anything that uses tape, uses a rubber or silicone wheel to move the tape. They often usually need a form of tension to hold them in the right place to pass over the head in order to be read. The wheels are destined to either attract dirt, or worse, cleaning with the incorrect fluid, which causes the material on the wheel to become “sticky” or decompose, which causes the tape to stick to it and jam. Tape itself is also prone to decomposition, and wear. It’s not unusual to pick up old cassette or reel-to-reel tapes that have the magnetic material flaking off.

Early “floppy” discs if stored correctly, are still useable, but since they have such small amounts of digital storage, really have no practical use. Yes, you can still get 3.5-inch diskettes and a drive, and the drivers are still embedded in Windows 10. The same can’t be said for 5 1/4-inch and 8-inch floppy discs. Again, these have so little space they are of no practical use today.

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CD, DVD, Laserdisc

Once we moved to laser based read/write heads and optical discs, a whole new era of problems opened-up. CD’s sold as the perfect solution and virtually indestructible, but in practise, they were so convenient they are used everywhere, and the surface quickly became scratched. While they can be re-polished and even re-surfaced, the problem with anything digital is that you depend on the error recovery built into the drive, and if it cannot read the data, and as explained in this video, be error corrected, the optical disc data just can’t be read. If the drive won’t read it, you can’t get at the data in order to correct it.

I have a eight professionally produced and manufactured DVD’s from the early 2000’s that are on triathlon training. I decided it was time to see if they could be sold on ebay. Before listing them, I decided to play each one and ensure it was OK. The oldest of the DVD’s wouldn’t read on the external drive I use for my laptop, no matter what I tried, including simple repairs. It does play in a dedicated blu-ray DVD player. Frustrating.

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The rough end of my collection – 90’s DJ vinyl

However, vinyl records always play, even if only poorly. Records suffer from four types of problems, each of which can be corrected, either digitally, or physically.

The first is surface noise and clicks. Basic surface noise is easily removed provided you can find a section of the record that has noise and no music or sound. You simply sample the noise and tell the software, in my case, the excellent open source Audacity, to remove all noise as sampled. Clicks can also be removed, sometime just by software, other times by digitally editing the wave form, for the very small time period, reducing the amplification to the point where the click isn’t heard.

Second, jumps. Where a record is scratched, if the scratch is deep enough, instead of the stylus gliding along the track, the scratch causes the stylus to jump one more more tracks. You can’t physically correct these, but given a digital copy, you can replace the bits. Small, identical sections, for example a few seconds from a chorus and can be cut and pasted over the original jump section. If that’s not possible, again, you can adjust the amplification to make the jump almost unnoticeable.

When listening to music tracks, unlike processing digital data, or watching digital TV, at least in my experience, the faint sound of a jump is often missed as you are immediately processing/hearing the sound that follows.

Third are warps. A significant warp or bend in a record requires careful heat treatment. I’ve had hit and miss with this, but on the couple of albums I’ve tried, I was able to heat and flatten the vinyl to the point where it was playable, and then required time to digitally correct the sound defects. Given the availability of cheap vinyl records on @discogs and ebay, it’s often worth just buying another copy.

If you do decide to go down this route, you’ll need to carefully heat with a hairdryer, and then be prepared to weight in down with a heavy weight that is totally flat, like gym weights. Also it requires only very little heat and a lot of weight and, and time. I’ve taken two plus hours and yes, I’ve ruined a few by overheating, which causes the grooves to collapse. The warp will be gone, but so is the groove.

The final form of damage is a crack in the vinyl. Success here depends on the original type of record. Shellac 78’s are easily glueable these days. It requires care and any seepage above the surface must be removed. It’s common the hear a loud pop as the needle passes over the crack on each revolution. The pops can be removed digitally. And, yes, I do have a number of 78’s.

Repairing singles/45’s if they have one crack, is often not necessary. 45’s tend to be thinner vinyl, you can place the record on the turntable, and assuming you have a felt or cork matt, gently push down on both sides of the crack and then play it and remove the pops digitally. Albums and singles can be glued. It’s better if you can, to glue just the edges and allow the capillary effect to get some of the glue into the actual crack.

And that’s it. Apart from a couple of records that I failed to fix the warp on, I’ve never had a vinyl record I couldn’t make a passable digital copy of. If you are interested in some ideas of how to physically recover, restore, rescue vinyl records, John Manship from the UK has some great tips.

I have no plan to sell my vinyl when finished. They’ll just sit there in the corner of the living room, looking great, and a perfect archive. You can follow my vinyl to digital journey here, on twitter.

Oh, one more thing. The ease of use and creation of CD’s also lead to massive counterfeit operations, and so while you might have thought that all the piracy action was online in digital files, it wasn’t. This case from 2018 year shows, one of the top sellers of CD’s on Amazon, was in fact selling fakes. You can read about it here or watch the news report here. So CD’s are easy to use, perhaps a little too easy!

And yes, there was a period where bootleg vinyl records were common, less so today but still worth taking great care if you are buying rare records.

‘Why does a check take as long to clear today as it did in 1982?’

The latest American Banker Podcast mirrors my recent post about Tech taking over the banks. Aaron Klein, a Brookings Institute fellow, makes a compelling argument for why the American banking system needs to be updated, unlike my general frustration, knowing that better is perfectly possible.

Among other reasons, Klein points out that people who are unfortunate enough to have their bank account balance at or near zero, deserve better. They need to know how long a check will take to process, how long before the deposit is final, and when they can plan payments for bills based on availability of funds. It’s well worth a listen. You can hear it below, or take the link over to the American Banker.

Microsoft TO-DO Privacy

I have to admit I really like the new Microsoft To-DO app for Windows and Android. You can create lists of to-do’s, it has a My Day function and lots of useful detail.desktop

Once I’d created my first set of serious to-do’s I suddenly realized how much sensitive data there was in my to-do’s. While I’m ok with Microsoft collecting and analyzing usage data, how many times I use the app, what platforms, where was I when I used them etc. I’m totally against them reading, copying or sharing the to-do’s with anyone that I have not explicitly authorized.

I checked a vast swathe of Microsoft web pages to see if I can find anything specific to To-Do, no luck. These included the following:

Microsoft Privacy Statement – November 2018.

My Microsoft Privacy Dashboard.

My Microsoft Account Privacy Settings.

Microsoft Office Trust Center

Reviewed the FAQ and other product pages via Microsoft Privacy Support

Visited the Trusted Cloud Privacy Center

I couldn’t find a definitive answer anywhere. Does Microsoft scan the data inside of TO-DO’s, or for that matter DOC files, XLS files shared and in the “cloud” in order to harvest trends, ad targeting etc.

For me this will be an absolute deal killer. I’ve submitted a question to the privacy team via this form, this will be interesting to follow-up on. For me, my TO-DO’s are much more sensitive, private than anything I ever posted on facebook. My support ticket number: 1463236572. Here is the text of my question.

Microsoft TO-DO is a new app for Windows and Android etc. I’ve searched the various privacy and trust dashboards and cannot find anywhere that allows me to be sure that the CONTENT of my TO-DO’s which could be highly sensitive, is not shared or read by Microsoft for any purpose except back-up and sharing among systems I choose.

For example, I may have a TO-DO that includes make bank payment to Jeff and includes his bank routing code and account number. How can I be sure you will never scan and retain or copy such data for purposes I have not explicitly authorised?

| Update 5th March 2019:  Microsoft were actually pretty good at replying, and pretty concise. Their reply came in less than 24-hours and said:

Hello,

Except as described in our Microsoft Privacy Statement, we won’t disclose your personal information to a third party without your consent. We do not use what you say in email, chat, video calls, or voicemail. Nor do we use your documents, photos, or other personal files. As of its longstanding commitment to privacy, Microsoft provides resources to help you protect your part online information. Please find additional guidance at the Privacy at Microsoft page.

Best Regards,

Microsoft Privacy

Which I read as they never process your actual data files, and sell the information contained in them. Which includes .doc, .xls, etc. So, that’s carry on with Microsoft To-Do.

Faster Payments – Will tech eat the banks?

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Checks and Pony Express

At last the big, big tech companies are driving the US Federal Reserve to sponsor and get behind a faster payments initiative.

Amazon, Apple, Google, PayPal, Square, Stripe and Intuit, have all co-signed a letter supporting the the Fed being in charge of the development of a system that can connect all the banks and credit unions in the U.S. to speed up payments. I’ve long complained here that the US System is laughably out of date, and the system Automated Clearing House and its associated network is still loosely based on the delivery times of the Pony Express and definately around checks.

The ACH itself still describes itself as a using batch processing and a store-and-forward system. And that’s exactly the problem, the store-and-forward part and the regional centers deployed to support it are largely based on the old Pony Express delivery model. The ACH and it’s partners have pivoted since the push by the tech giants, to lauding their fraud and safety. Largely the only reason they can is because of the huge inefficiency and delays built into their system, rather that the inherent security qualities they’ve developed.

While a fast payments network should not be implemented over the public Internet, it’s simply both unbelievable, and unacceptable that my bank cannot not directly send money from my account to your account. This isn’t about Bitcoin and similar nonsense, it does require databases that have the attributes of a Blockchain, but it doesn’t require a Blockchain. This isn’t spin to invest in some imaginary new technology, it is merely a plea to move to a modern switching network, with updated apps.

I don’t transfer money around in Europe or the UK anymore, maybe once a year or so. However, I’ve been able to use the UK Fast Payments network via my UK Bank, FirstDirect, to instantly pay other banks/accounts in the UK, as well as transfer money from UK Pounds Sterling to Euro’s in a German bank in less than 2-hours, all at not cost to me, and using a single system, rather than a secondary system, branded app, or external service. Faster Payments isn’t just a year or two ahead of the US, it’s currently celebrating its 10th Anniversary, and will likely be on its 15th before the US has anything.

That’s mostly why services like PayPal, Stripe, Square, PopMoney exist. To allow the banks and credit unions offer a service they themselves can’t offer. Also, when originally launched it was a way of charging extra for a service that was faster and more flexible than their ACH system offered. Any institution currently charging for these services is charging for lipstick on a big now.

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I first came to the USA in 1983 to work on the server-side of worlds first home banking system, Pronto, at Chemical Bank in New York; in 1987, I was hired by IBM UK in their London Banking Branch, to help London banks like Lloyds Bank, NatWest and TSB, as well as Abbey National, prepare their systems to start Year 2000 (Y2K) testing.

Finally, in 1998, was the Chief Architect for IBM in their NatWest (Business) Online implementation. The first at-scale version of Internet banking at National Westminster Bank, after failed projects by Sun Microsystems and Microsoft.

nwol

I have some idea of the complexity of updating and integrating batch, hub and spoke systems, it’s no cheap or easy. While it’s easy to assert the banks don’t want to change because as everyone believes, “they are making money out of the delays”. They are really not, in any meaningful way. What they are doing is simply avoiding making key investments and dressing it up under the guise of safety and security. Now they are blaming the “lack of a mandate“.

as everyone believes, “they are making money out of the delays”

And that’s what is likely to be their undoing. They’ll continue to push back and resist, until so much of their business has shifted to non-core systems. While the likes of Amazon and Google have to be in the ACH, and have Fed backing and security, they can increasingly provide a home run around the traditional banks.

An Apple a day keeps the Doctor Employed.

apple drCNBC has an interesting article about the number, and quality of Doctors they employ.  I’ve no idea what’s going on an Apple, for a number of reasons, I’ve never bought a single product of theirs.

However, given their deep pockets and ability to play a strategically long-game, I for one would be surprised if this isn’t significantly more than just about the watch and apps that can diagnose conditions based on data in collects.

Here are my thoughts, in the form tweets to @charlesarthur original tweet and link to his daily Startup link list overflow.

 

What’s a #blockchain?

I posted the above to twitter, but its not really a joke. #blockchain has become the emperor’s new clothes and to some degree, @AARP is right.  The original article may be a little more aimed at humour than technical depth, but it’s not wrong.

A few of my friends have already been cold called and offering blockchain backed securities and similar. We know that’s mostly just marketing BS, but they don’t know. So this is, whatever you think, a good way to get them thinking about it.

For 90+ percent of the AARP readers these are good enough descriptions. The people who are AARP members who need to know about Bitcoin and Blockchain, already do and won’t be influenced by @brucehorovitz full article.

1535400878477-lost_and_foundIf you are really interested in the concept, and a non-tech example of #blockchain, Vice has one of the best examples I know of. It explains how, since 1995, how the theory of a blockchain and public ledger have been used in a non-technical solution. It covers and explains the use of a digital document store. The key to their store, was in fact to publish the unique hash for every document, and rather than use a technology solution as the public ledger, simply to publish the unique hash in the New York Times.

A more technical explanation is by Steve Wilson, on Constellation Research, called Blockchain Plain and Simple, covers the subject, and keeps on topic.