Castle and Punishment

The scene outside the living room window looks like a pen and ink wash. The stark black strokes of tree trunks towering above the white of newly fallen snow has mellowed with the freezing rain, bringing out shades of grey, on the trees, in the snow, the sky and the house in the distance.

Today, I stopped at the nursing home as part of our church’s ministry. The signs warned of a gastrointestinal illness at the facility and urged visitors to consider rescheduling their visit. Many of my friends have been posting about stomach bugs online and I hesitated for a moment. Yet I suspected that the residents may have had less visitors than usual and my visit might be all the more important.

The greyness and illness have dampened my enthusiasm for research and writing this weekend. I was thinking about installing Neo4J and playing with that a little bit, but that is more than I’m up for right now. I had been thinking of writing more about some of my recent dreams, which have been intricate and complicated.

Then there are the books I received for Christmas. They’ve been giving me ideas for various writing projects that I haven’t been able to launch into.

Meanwhile, Fiona is listening to ‘Castle’, which she does a lot. As one episode ended and the wrapped up all the pieces, it struck me, an episode of Castle that might be particularly interesting would be of an impoverished ex-student who kills a pawn broker.

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Organizing Information

I’ve been looking at app development recently and speaking with different people about the tools they use. One of them mentioned MongoDB. MongoDB is a document oriented NoSQL database. I loaded it on one of my servers and played with it a little. I was impressed with the simplicity of getting started with it.

Yet as we move away from tabular storage of data, it poses the question, how should we think about organizing information?

There is the great line from The Cluetrain Manifesto, Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. There is a lot in that statement. To what extent are hyperlinks subverting authoritarian structures based on hierarchy? How is this playing out in media, education, and politics? And, how is it playing out in organizing information?

As I dig a little deeper into NoSQL databases, I’m finding myself more interested in triple store or graph oriented databases. Instead of having a limited, predefined set of relationships like, parent child in a traditional relational database, what can we do when we start storing many different types of relationships in databases? What can we do when we start graphing out this information?

So, on my radar for future explorations are Neo4j and Sparql. From there, I may wander back into topics like RDF, the Semantic Web, and of course once information becomes more machine readable, back to the singularity.

Are you playing with MongoDB? Neo4J? Sparql? RDF? The Semantic Web? What things do you think I should be looking into? Are there good starting points and tutorials?

2013 In Blogging Review

Doing a quick check of Google Analytics and other metrics of my blog for 2013, I find that the blog post that got the most traffic last year was one that I wrote back in 2009 about using GraphViz. The second most popular was also a blog post from 2009, which was about Matlab and Excel. Coming in third was a post from 2010 about adding Google Document forms to Tumblr. This was followed by another 2010 blog post about recovering a bricked Nokia N900 and rounding out the top five posts was a 2009 blog post about performing an SQL style “group ny” in Matlab. So, the top five blog posts were old technical how to blog posts.

According to Google Analytics, the next most popular post was about when the Thule Weekender met its end. This was a 2013 blog post. However, when I look at the data from my server, this blog post doesn’t show up as significant.

My server shows the my most popular blog post of 2013 being one of my random collections of topics. It is hard to tell what aspect of the post brought the traffic, but I’m guessing it was talking about Ingress.

The second most popular post was about opening the Supreme Court to the highest bidder and the third returned to technology themes as I talked about both Google Glass and Ingress. This was followed by a blog post mixing technology, politics with a little bit of poetry as I adapted the beginning of Howl to events in 2013. The final of the top five from this list was a blog post about health care discussions online.

Technology and politics continue to be what brings people to this blog. My most popular blog posts are from a few years ago. Should I write more to the technology and politics audience? Should I further my explorations in other topics? How much does one write for oneself and how much does one write for others?

It will be interesting to see what 2014 brings.

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Poor Customer Service from @amitywines

Like many others, I stopped off to pick up a little bubbly to celebrate New Year’s Eve. It was a few hours before closing. The store was busy, but not bad. I wandered around for a little bit to try and find something nice. I picked up two bottles of a sparkling wine that Kim had recommended and went to check out.

The cashier swiped my card through the card reader and it didn’t work. She tried a few more times and asked another person to help her. He didn’t have much better luck so they called a manager over. He tried swiping the card through the reader and didn’t have any luck. He asked if I had a different card. I told him I didn’t I asked if he could manually enter it, and he said he couldn’t.

This struck me as odd. I know that the magnetic strip on my card is starting to wear thin. There have been a handful of stores whose reader can’t read it. Sometimes, they put the card in a plastic shopping bag, which usually does the trick. If it doesn’t, they manually enter the card number. I’ve never had the situation where I couldn’t ultimately use my card, until New Year’s Eve.

I ended up leaving without any sparkling wine. Their intransigence lost them a sale. When I got home and told the story to my wife and some friends, my wife said she knew someone there and she would contact them.

Today, she sent an email and received the following response:

My apologies on your husbands experience.
However, if a credit card or debit card does not swipe it can not be validated that the card was in fact in the store if the charge was ever disputed. That obviously would not be the case here, but it's protection against any fraudulent charges.
If the card number is entered manually there is no protection for that. The swipe can be tracked.
There is no doubt that the funds are the account and that was never in question, it is a protection policy against credit card fraud.

Our cashiers are trained to let a manager know if a credit card doesn't swipe through the system. They know they are not allowed to enter it manually.

This struck as particularly odd. As I mentioned, no other store has ever refused to manually enter the credit card number. So, I contacted some experts in bank fraud. They responded:

Hey, the store owner is wrong. Cards can be manually entered and still not liable for fraud. Swiped transactions give merchants more protection, but they're still protected if they manually enter the info correctly. Sounds like this merchant is over interpreting the reg and being extra cautious.

So, I will be extra cautious from now on as well. I will not shop at Amity Wines and I will discourage others from possibly running into similar experiences.

While I’m at it, I’ll also contact Webster’s bank to get a replacement card with a new magnetic strip. When I’ve had banking issues, their customer service has always been exemplary.

Update 1/3/2014:

A friend sent me Card Acceptance Guidelines for Visa Merchants

Starting on page 19 the document fairly clearly contradicts what the person at Amity Wines claimed.

In traditional sales environments, merchants are required to take all reasonable steps to assure that the card, cardholder, and transaction are legitimate . Proper card acceptance begins and ends with sales staff and is critical to customer satisfaction and profitability.

Later, in the section about what to do when a card doesn't swipe, it goes into detail about making an imprint to show that the card was in the store to protect against possible chargebacks.

Singularity Vigor: Transhumanism, Hybrid Vigor, and Filter Bubbles

“The Singularity is Near” Thus wrote Ray Kurzweil in his 2005 book with that title. For those not acquainted with the idea of the singularity, Wikipedia describes it as

a hypothetical moment in time when artificial intelligence will have progressed to the point of a greater-than-human intelligence, radically changing civilization, and perhaps human nature.

Yet is is about much more than just artificial intelligence, as proponents talk about human biological enhancement, artificial intelligence,, and brain-computer interfaces. It is a topic people have brought up more often to me since I’ve started wearing Google Glass. Glass is not really a human biological enhancement or a brain-computer interface as imagined by many singularity enthusiasts, but it is wearable computing which enhances the interface between technology and humans.

Kurzweil has a utopian view of the singularity, but others are less optimistic. On New Years Eve, my wife and I finished watching the first season of H+ The Digital Series. It raises questions of competing technologies in the singularity and what role the anti-technologists play. It doesn’t get into the digital divide or the role of large governments that much, although there are concerns raised about large corporations.

Will the singularity be iOS based? Android based? Available to a small group of Linux based hackers? What role will the NSA play? Will they just listen? Will they try to reprogram the singularity? Singularity Free America?

What happens when someone tries to bridge the iOS singularity with the Android singularity. Are characters like Edward Snowden the real world Henry Dorsett Case’s?

Perhaps it is necessary for their to be multiple singularities. In H+ a large group of people get wiped out by a virus which shuts down the predominant implant. In biology, we see these viruses and call for hybrid vigor. WIll we seek such vigor in our singularity?

Maybe that is already happening. The singularity is tied to the information that is being accessed, and we’re already seeing a self selection if we are to believe books like ‘The Filter Bubble’, ‘The Information Diet’, and ‘Rewire’. Perhaps, instead of railing against these information ghettos, we should encourage them as part of Singularity Vigor.

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