How Forever Is The Internet And Your Data?

At one level we should all be very worried about anything we post online, because (as has been proven numerous times) when you post anything it can stay around forever. What you may flippantly say today can come back and bite you in the ass at any point, for decade’s to come. Just look at the current US presidential election. There are currently thousands of journalists trawling though every single word said, written or recorded by every prospective candidate, and anyone they ever knew, looking for anything to keep people looking across the next ad break.

Conversely it’s almost impossible to imagine that all the data that is being generated today will be kept forever. Through a mix of data corruption, replacement of legacy technology and efforts people make to delete older or boring material, it’s hard to know what data will be kept.

Today’s storage mediums such as disk drives, tape backups, solid state / flash memory, CD’s and DVD’s all have very finite lives.

• Tapes rely on the magnetic properties of metalized particles sprayed onto the surface of a long tape. Over time the magnetic alignment of the materials do decay, and because tape is wound as a spool, there is also the impact of different layers of the tape interacting. Actually since the most modern tapes use techniques to squash ever greater volumes of data per square inch, even with the latest data correction and recovery algorithms and the advanced physical material newer tape technologies may actually be getting less reliable in terms of longevity.

• Hard disks have the data stored on a magnetic layer sprayed onto disks, which spin at high speed with the read/write head sitting microns above the surface. There is a lot of continual physical movement and so they do wear out. They may last for decades, but ask anyone who runs a datacenter, how often they have to replace blown drives, it is a daily activity. Modern disk drives are exponentially more reliable than ones of decades ago, but there are just so many in use that the math means even a small percentage of a large number is a large number.

• CD’s and DVD’s in theory could last for hundreds of years, but writable ones are much more delicate than you would imagine. They rely on organic compounds as the writing layer. A small scratch on the label side can allow moisture to invade causing the written data to erode. Yes DVD’s “could” last a long time, but it’s not guaranteed. And in the same way that it always rains after you wash the car, that most critical disk is always the one that has a problem being read back.

• Solid state drives and flash cards don’t rely on magnetic particles or moving parts, but the longevity of them is not that clear, because they really haven’t been around for that long. Depending on the technology used some people say the storage time for offline drives could be as low as a few months. USB sticks seem to have longer planned lives, maybe in excess of 20 years or more. But we are in the “wait and see” phase.

There really is no medium in use today that can guarantee stored data will last hundreds or thousands of years. The most reliable medium we know of is still stone tablets and parchment, but it’s fair to say these have a very slow write and read speeds and the data capacity per square inch really doesn’t work for today’s data volumes ☺

Technology in use just thirty years ago to provide long terms storage probably worked quite well, but there are now so few drives available to read the stored data from that time, it’s not clear how good it really was.

Cloud storage sounds great, as you are making the problem someone else’s. The idea is you pay them, and they take on the burden of making sure your data is retrievable in the future. This is probably a good idea, as a company that spends all its time thinking about just storage should be able to keep moving data to modern new types of devices as they become available, therefore keeping it readable . The caveats are :

1. You need to keep paying them. Forget and your data could be deleted.
2. They had better stay in business.

As the years go on, the amount of new data being created explodes in terms of volume, and the information about the data (the meta-data) created with new data continues to improve. This means that older data seems to be harder to keep track of than modern data, and data can get old pretty quickly. How much effort do you put into keeping data you created five years ago? You probably still have it, but could you find it if you need it?

Data also becomes corrupted quite easily. Things happen. I have a lot of old emails that were created in formats that I no longer have ways of reading. I have old databases created in programs that no one has used for decades. This data is in effect now dead. I can try and convert it into modern formats, but in the process I’m hoping that every aspect of how the old data was created is maintained. But in my experience converting old formats into new formats never works quite as well as expected.

We all have more and more data to manage, and the older bits get less and less attention, until they are effectively unusable.

It doesn’t matter how you store it, the world moves on and old data looses its value quicker every year. Old data becomes harder to manage, and while it may still exist somewhere, it’s almost impossible to find and use.

There are two situations you can rely on:

1. If you said something once that is now embarrassing, that piece of information is most likely to survive and be readable.

2. If you want to access data that you created more than 5 years ago, it’s never easy.


Is the Apple Watch the must have gadget or the badge of the asshole nerd, or both?

New technology is something I’ve always been attracted to. I grew up enjoying, understanding and being enthralled by all thing tech. And today my house is about as automated as it’s possible to be. The internet of things lives in my pad, much to the chagrin of my good wife. While she prefers to read by turning paper, I’ve been a kindle freak from day one. Bluetooth ear pieces are my daily Borg implant, and I actually use a live scribe pen, taking notes and sending PDFs of scribble to my team on a regular basis. There isn’t a single light in my house that connects directly to a wall switch, everything is automated and it’s awesome!

It’s fair to say I’m what you would call an early adopter of tech, and I LOVE IT.

I’m also a watch collector. I have close to thirty watches and the sound of automatic watch winders is a constant friend in our house. Many of my relatives have ended up with high end watches, just to assuage my guilt from having possibly too many.

So it would seem like a simple step for me to pre-order an apple watch, but I’m not entirely convinced.

I have an iphone, and of all the phones I’ve used (and use today) I still prefer it, so I have the require base infrastructure in place. So what is stopping me taking the plunge?

It’s simple, I’m just not sure that I really want to make phone calls from my wrist, and I’m not sure it’s going to be a useful addition to my world.

I saw the Google glass, and thought it was a fantastic idea in principle, but in practice it did turn people into glass-holes.

I Love tech and I love watches, but do I really want or need a watch that needs charging every night, and that does exactly what my phone does, just on my wrist. And makes people look like a poor rendition of Dick Tracy meets Captain Kirk (original series and not even the slightly higher production quality reboots)

This is the first bit of new tech in many years that I can’t truly convince myself I want.

Now I’m not saying I won’t be getting up a 3am on the 10th to place my order, and I’m not saying I will. The jury in my mind palace is still out, and it quite possibly won’t be able to make a decision in time.


Droid vs iphone – late to the party, but with an opinion

Well it’s happened at last. I’ve supplemented my apple world with an android. Picked up a Samsung Galaxy S5 as a separate work phone. I’ve never been particularly anti-droid, but having invested in a stack of products with the half eaten fruit on the logo, it was just a pain to think about adding a product into the mix that did not integrate.

It’s so nice being able to bounce anything on display on the mac’s, pads and phones directly to either of my TV’s. And it’s nice that all my music and videos work on all my devices. Things like the cloud and sharing photos has also been so easy for so long.

I had the choice at work of getting another iphone or trying out the Samsung, and my inner geek got the better of me, and so I plumbed for the robot.

And it’s quite impressive in a samey but slight differenty sort of way.

I really like the slightly larger screen, it does make videos and gaming slightly better. But the form factor is slightly more annoying. Slim is nice, but wider and taller is just wider and taller. I got the Samsung flippy case, and that is great, except why the hell does closing the case end a phone call, that is just stupid. You open the case to make a call and then you need to close the case to hold it up to your ear.

Bending the case backwards to hold it up to your head, is somewhat like holding a spring loaded device up to your ear. There is pressure between your fingers and slightest mis-fingering could turn the phone into a projectile.

The rest of the case design seems okay.

There are some nice touches in the OS, along with some really stupid, Microsoft quality missteps. Too many ways to get to the same thing.

I love the micro SD slot though. Took a microsd card out of my pc and slapped it in the back and now have all the movies I care for on the phone.

Photos and music from my i-world are not going to make it to the droid, as there are “ways” of doing this, but none that are sensible. So my personal phone is going to stay apple for the foreseeable.

The Samsung does offer wifi cell phone calling, which means that in a crap cell reception area it pulls and pushes calls over an available wifi network transparently (expect it does gloat after every wifi call,a feature which I was able to turn off), which does go some way to mitigate the overall crappiness of every single smartphone in the world (why can’t smart phones also be good phones, as opposed to good pocket computers and poor phones, EVERY SINGLE ONE IN THE WORLD IS)

Overall the droid is a nice toy to hack around with, but not materially different that the iphone and so no real reason to move. But I’m glad to have one of each, as now I can geek out just that bit more…..


Generation Borg

The history of human existence has been one of supplementing our nature with technology.

Wearing clothes for protection against heat, cold or scraping dangly bits.

Using rocks and sticks to dig or hit or create chemical reactions (fire).

Writing down information on stones or in books.

And in a million other ways over the multitude of conscious millenium.

And more recently we are now living life vicariously through a little bit of glass, plastic and silicon.

The next step will be to directly interface with each sense. Google glass is showing the way, with a heads-up display of information supplemented by sound.

But how long will it be before we have direct implants into our brains to provide a whole range of additional inputs.

Initially maybe directly attaching to the optic nerve, and the signals coming from the ear. But then maybe adding direct hook-ups for smell, taste, touch. This is already being developed to help the sight impared, and I see no reason why it should stop there.

And maybe the next step should be to plug directly into memories, learning new things can be as simple as buying the module from amazon, and downloading.

And what about uploading, maybe we’re not that far away from brain backups. Keep a copy offline in case of a problem. Either do a disaster recovery or even run a copy in a disaster recovery center, basically running a copy of you in a computer or spare clone.

This may seem very weird, and fiction today. But with the rate and pace of technology development, and the changing perceptions of body augmentation, why not?

Maybe its decades, centuries or millennium away, but it seems like a reasonable extension of the human condition to continue to augment nature with technology.

Resistance is futile, assimilation may be inevitable.

I’m actually okay with that!



Breakup Note Signed by “Autopen” in Question; Relationship End Delayed 2 Months Pending Inquiry

January 3, 2013: Average Angry Wire Service:  A controversy is brewing in Washington, DC around the use of an autopen to sign an important document, namely a document which would end a controversial agreement between often arguing parties.

This is a boy-meets-girl story that began well enough on a Capitol Hill bar crawl stop at the Tune Inn dive bar and evolved into a semi-commited relationship between the two long-time singles. The relationship now includes a drawer at each other’s apartment, a joint credit card and an assumed “date” each Saturday night.  But as with many boy-meets-girl stories it got ugly after one unfortunate “toilet non-flushing” too many. Screaming, name calling and a storming out followed and then a few days later the “note” appeared in the boy’s Google + account.

The autopen is mightier than the swirl?
The autopen is mightier than the swirl?
The girl in question (Nancy), states that “It’s over!” and that autopen is a perfectly acceptable way to authenticate a breakup, BFF status change or other relationship decision.  Her former love (John, but known as “Boner” by friends and colleagues), disagrees and adamantly states that the breakup “isn’t the real deal without a real quill.”  He also refuses to relinquish her drawer, end their fiscal entanglements or change his Facebook relationship status until she returns from her family vacation in Hawaii (so they can come to a resolution face to face on neutral territory in Washington).

His challenge to the validity of the “Dear Boner” letter has caused Nancy stress on her Hawaiian vacation, according to her spokesperson, and almost led to her canceling a much anticipated golf game and cliff diving tour with the newly elected president of the local American Legion hall in Waikiki Beach.  Her spokesperson also stated that she’ll deal with the problem in 2 months when she returns to DC and that her debt to him will eventually be paid off and won’t cause his Visa account to reach its ceiling and hurt his credit rating.

Sources familiar with the couple said they couldn’t elaborate on the bathroom incident but heard her threaten him with a “swirly” or similar swirl related toilet action if he didn’t “clean up his act.”


Who Writes the Epitaph?

Consider Gore, Al.  For a guy who was never president, he’s incredibly well known for a great many things.  Which one will rise to the top and be his final 1-line epitaph?  Some possibilities include:

– 1/2 of the fiery young Clinton-Gore presidential team for 8 years who drove the “Reinventing Government” initiative to cut waste and red tape in Washington, DC

– Inventing the Internet (and making us capitalize “Internet”)

– “Inventing” the Global Warming issue (or the GW myth if you’re skeptical), and winning the Nobel Prize for it

– Losing his home state of Tenessee (with 11 Electoral votes) in a presidential election he lost by 5 Electoral votes

Candidate Gore’s famous on-stage kiss

– The icky, creepy on-stage, on-air erotic kisser of Tipper “Parental Advisory record labels” Gore

– Hanging chads and the most controversial election result in generations

– Co-founder of “Current TV” network (with Joel Hyatt)

…Or will Mr. Gore just be best remembered for being a hilarious “head-in-a-jar” (a preachy, boring one at that) on the animated TV show Futurama?

So, will Albert Arnold Gore, Jr. best be remembered for something “positive” or something “negative?”

There’s a saying from an Australian philanthropist, lifesaver and pubbuilder known as Sheepshagger John which may help you predict the answer, “You know, a man can do a thousand great things, but if you “shag” one lousy sheep…”– (5) (7)


When clouds go bad.

Like many people I make use of virtual servers from a major domain provider. It’s so easy to provision a server, setup a new domain name and add email addresses. The cloud is truly easy and low cost for a small business, but there is a catch. One that hit me this week.

I use as my provider, and this week they were hit by a denial of server (DDOS) attack.

It seems some would-be anarchist thought that taking down a lot of websites would either be fun or would make a point. Well I have no idea what point they were trying to make, but it was truly annoying.

It seems that even a single spotty teenager can take down a huge cloud with a few zombie machines.

It seems that to keep the cost of the cloud down and to make it easy to use, they skimped on security.

What did bring a little light into a dark situation was that they definetly use their own servers for their help desk. I called the helpdesk number when I noticed the servers were down and what I heard at the other end was frankly excellent.

Rather than the ususal “Welcome to Godaddy’s help desk queue. Your business is important to us, so we will make you listen to this message for a while etc..” what I got was “w,w,w,w,w,w,w,w go, go, go, go godaddy go, go go, welc, welc, welc” it was like a blast from the past. I thought I may have reached either max headroom or possibly the HAL 9000 just after Dave had removed those circuit boards.

I didn’t get to speak to a help desk agent, but while waiting I picked up the story online from a dozen sources, so knew what was going on.

The systems were down for several hours. I hear it may have been ALL their clients who were down.

Here’s hoping cloud technology implementations get better, there is no way that large cloud vendors can survive longterm if they don’t work out how to move beyond this (low) level if risk.



Debugging – old school

I grew up in early 70’s London, England. When I was young my father was an accountant in the city. Like many in that time, he was spending more and more time working on the mainframe, writing programs on punch cards and booking time to try them out. I remember him reading though stacks of cards at home in the evening checking his logic. But most of all, I remember the once-a-year event where all the kids of the staff would come into the city on the weekend and help with the debugging.

The system was shut down and we were sent into the racks to dust the cobwebs off the boards. We were small enough to reach between the cards with a feather duster. I remember being told just how important it was to keep the dust down as this helped airflow and stopped short circuits.

Looking back, I remember being amazed at all that advanced technology; it was an exciting time. But nowadays, no one believes me when I tell them my first ever job was debugging on the mainframe.
People growing up today will miss so many of the experiences that we had:

– Setting up your own bulletin board or using dial-up modems to connect systems all around the world
– Finding a very quiet place to format the servo surface of a 12-inch hard disk
– Making a line printer sing
– Stopping a system and stepping through the instructions on the front panel o Writing efficient code to do floating point math
– Saving space by using two digits for the date
– Knowing by the tone what speed your modem is connecting at.
– Soldering up an RS232 cable from memory
– Being able to discuss the relative merits of token ring versus vampire taps into the WAN
– Being able to read assembler from the HEX

While these and many other examples of getting down and dirty with technology may seem quaint, they gave us all a deep understanding of efficiency; we knew what it took to make something happen, and so understood the benefits of being neat. It’s why the mainframe is still so efficient today, and why it will be even more relevant as the world looks to be green.


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