Category Archives: IT

The end of diversity?

We are seeing a push in the gaming world, one that is coming before the next gen follow ups are here. Before the PS4Pro is maturing, before even the Xbox Scorpio is launched, we see new games that are told to be another style of Far Cry (Horizon Zero Dawn), another Dark Souls (Nioh), another Sniper Elite and in that same trend more sequels and more prequels. Yet, the overall game time seems to be dwindling down. Resident Evil 7 for all its amazing changes and story line, the game can be played in 10 hours, with speed gamers (not my cup of soup) doping it in less than 2 hours.

The same people who trolled No Mans Sky, pointing at absurd newscasts by writers trying to score exclusivity points and airing utter BS video’s with ‘scientific’ reviews whilst the game offered well over 50 hours (to get the 100% achievements) of gaming fun. That game gets trolled! In equal measure they all praise Tomb Raider, a game that could be completed in 12-15 hours. The quantity and quality of games falling more and more when considering the cost of games in dollars per gaming hour.

Now, let’s get back to the mention of Far Cry 3. For me a pivotal point as the first one on Xbox 360 was the only game I ever traded in because it was such a bad game. I had never done that before and I had not done that since. I steered clear of the second game and I only played the third one when it was offered on either PS Plus or Gold Live (I forgot which one), that is when I learned what an amazing game Far Cry three had turned out to be. So as Horizon Zero Dawn is ‘tainted’ to be some Far Cry/Tomb Raider game, some people get nervous. Are they doing it because of the references, or the lack of play that Tomb Raider offered?

Dan Silver of the Guardian (at https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/feb/20/horizon-zero-dawn-review-a-stunning-but-barely-evolved-rpg-contradiction) states “At times Horizon: Zero Dawn, the latest title from Dutch studio Guerrilla Games, those behind the Killzone series, feels uncannily like prophecy rather than escapism” as well as “in truth, there’s no real freedom here to play any role other than that proscribed by the game’s writers” and in conclusion “the RPG elements of Horizon: Zero Dawn are undercooked and ultimately unnecessary, or a sneaking acknowledgement that its action is so good players will want to jump straight into it – but both sentiments have a ring of truth“. The last one gives the part that matters with ‘both sentiments have a ring of truth‘, this is the can of worms I see.

Now let’s state this up front: ‘I have not played this game yet!

The game gets released in a week and what YouTube offered via Guerrilla Games shows a game that is well worth the time and also worth the effort. It is the image shown by Guerrilla games and there is no doubt that they are showing the more enticing parts. Yet the fight in the dark showed that there are more sides to the game, there is a mandatory intro part and there are parts that separate acts, so that you cannot take some ultimate short cut. All very acceptable in gaming.

In that same manner I saw some 15 things to learn before you buy Mass Effect 4 and I never bothered to watch the whole list. Speculation and listed ‘innovation’ from demos by people who are not involved with making the game. The only part that was interesting is that the launch was done between Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, which is not surprising. At this point, in light of the Microsoft Console Unconsented Data Collections that are currently happening, I have switched off my Xbox One for now, which is annoying as I love Elite Dangerous and SubNautica, but fortunately one of them will be released on the PS4 in the coming quarter.

Yet, in the same air of originality I want to play the remastered version of System Shock (also coming to PS4). I feel that my drive is the ability to play this game in what is now possible. In that same trend System Shock 2 makes me equally anxious to replay what I loved so much. There is a list of games that give me this feeling, mainly because they were the originals. These games drove the existence of other new games. Games that were not bad, in some cases great, but it is the original game that drove us towards these games. Yet the creation of some games were uncanny, some made games with vision. Just like the maker FTL games who saw Asteroids and Moon lander and decided to create Oids (very addictive in those days). They were already famous with Dungeon Master and less known was the space explorer and trade game Sundogs, but overall they were true visionaries in games. So was the game the Sentinel on the Atari ST, which was later relaunched (with an awful cover story) on the PC. Cover story or not, they gave the game with the sentiment that the original had with the amazing bonus of the music made by John Carpenter, which was a bonus you should never deny yourself.

It is the decades of experience that made me design the story for a new single player Elder Scrolls (Elder Scrolls: Restoration), which is still on my desk. It gave me the idea for a New Ultima game, yet none of this is original. Our minds allow to create what we loved in the face of what we see now, which is re-engineering at best, it is not creation as such. It might still be the foundation of a great game, yet it is unlikely to become a great game without proper evolution of what initially was. It will appeal to the original lovers of the game with an updated following of those who never played it. Yet as greed comes around the corner, what we hoped to be great (example: Dungeon Keeper on the tablet), becomes a hoax that is soon after hated by all who loved the original. In that same fuel we might love a new Dungeon Keeper 2, a new Magic Carpet and a new Populous. In a similar trend, remaster these originals to Tablets could still work (when we kill the greed driving entities connected to them). Games like Flood were fun to play and the history of games is full of examples that people could and would enjoy if given the chance to play them again.

The issue of diversity rises again and again as we see the failure of true innovative gaming. Far Cry 4 gave us that as it tried to upgrade Far Cry 3 and as I personally saw it fail. In that Far Cry Primal is to some extent equally a non-winner. I phrase it like that because the game has good sides and it is not a bad game, yet the curve and growth allow for more escapism, whilst not giving true challenges in gaming. The issue with the ‘duplicated’ map is not even on my radar because anyone who could memorise a map like that has perhaps different issues to work with. The Ubisoft failure checklist is as I personally see it their biggest problem. In addition, there approach to include more and more might generalise gaming, yet I feel it, it is also reason these games lose more and more success ratings.

This is clearly in contrast with For Honor, which is reviewed as not a great single player game (some advised against getting the game for that reason), but at its core it is an overwhelmingly amazing multi player experience. So far having seen several video’s some at amazing resolutions, For Honor seems to deliver the best multi player action that 2017 is likely to offer. Which early in the year is quite the statement to make.

In all this Horizon New Dawn is still a force to be reckoned with. The biggest threshold now becomes, how many hours does the game offer and have they given thought to replayability. So as we replay Diablo 3 again and again with different characters, we see other games failing in that attempt, or succeed only to the smallest degree. Skyrim is perhaps the only one who offers decent levels of replayability, although we can all accept that the need to surpass level 70 to get to the legendary dragon achievement is still decently beyond ridiculous.

As we accept certain needs, values and requirements, there is always the danger that my view is the view only I would appreciate. In that I disagree, as I have heard similar views from others, some to a smaller extent and some to a larger extent. As I see the replayability option grow, I see that games like SubNautica will score high with the gaming community when the full game is launched on other platforms, seldom have I ever seen a game where the evolution of a game keeps on coming as it now enters the 4th wave of evolution and additions. It is to the same degree that nearly all RPG fans agree that the Witcher 3 is pretty much the most perfect RPG game ever created and as Project Red still has a future RPG (we hope) on the development table (read: Cyberpunk 2077), most gamers are looking forward to what 2018 and 2019 will bring.

So if some places see the light by opening their eyes, we hope that a specific place (Electronic Arts) will take steps to avoid to get the repeat label ‘A Cancer That’s Eroding The Market‘ (by Kotaku), where the quote ““A cynically motivated skeleton of a non-game, a scam that will take your cash and offer nothing in return,” writes Escapist’s Jim Sterling, “A perversion of a respected series, twisted by some of the most soulless, selfish, and nauseating human beings to ever blight the game industry”” is at the heart of the matter of despicability. You see, there are plenty of other games that could make the jump, yet as I see it, when such a game still acquires 4 star ratings, we know that the game is rigged and the provider of these games are trusted less and less. There is a certain failing when we see 136K people gave it a 5 star rating. Not with the push for money spending this game offers! Yet it is a similar population that is crying ‘foul’ with the 50+ hours that No Mans Sky offers and the fact that no extra cash was needed. When you look at the initial videos, the game was to the greatest degree what was promised. We have seen actual issues with the game and most of them were all patched away, none of the patches have been over 150 Mb, whilst the Ubisoft patches that did not solve too many issues surpassed Gigabytes in size. Hello Games with only 11 people achieved something amazing, but that is not what this is about!

I reckon that games like No Mans Sky are likely to be at the rear end, some of the last games that had true diversity in them. It can be the Horizon New Dawn is equally a game offering diversity, but the reviews call that in question to at least the smallest degree. Prey by Arkane Studios shows some originality, but when you play, there are elements that give a Bioshock view, a Dishonored view and more than one source is making the reference to System Shock. It led me to the question, when is new diversity no longer diverse? When we see the architecture and internals, there is a Bioshock feeling to it all (even though this is not under water). When we see the first person abilities with alien powers we see a glimpse of Dishonored. And it is the wrench start that gives us other references. They might just be winks to games like Half Life, it does not make it less diverse. Yet it takes more time and more game play to see actual diversity, so I wonder if we are seeing the end of it. As we play games and wonder about the replay of the Mass Effect and Fable Trilogy, is that the part we now hunger for? That feeling we had when we took another path to see Bowerstone Old Town evolve in a place not with gardens, but muddy with thugs?

Perhaps we want to do the journey one more time, because no matter how we slice it, both trilogies had an amazing storyline and it shows that the TV station FX had the best slogan of them all: ‘the story is everything‘. This is the side we desire and System Shock delivered like no game ever did ever before. Dungeon master had the long term challenge based on the shallowest of reasons (get to the exit). We saw again and again that storylines do the job. In that, a game I never cared for (Final Fantasy series) did deliver way beyond my comprehension, so I am very aware that this game has plenty of reasons to be adored by millions. So as I see it, it might be the equal view that shows us that a game like Prey will deliver on its own merit.

I wonder whether diversity without a decent story has a chance, just like great stories without diversity. In that last example it is the Assassins Creed line that is the best example. From my point of view it is the glitches that killed it, but diversity is equally a reason. When we consider these points, we see that the old great games are still optional winners. They offered originality, diversity and challenge. The response that remake (even 20 years later) is no diversity at all is true and I agree for those replaying it, but for those who never played it before it will be plenty diverse. Now we can depend on that element, as well as the essential element that it is the personal desire to replay a game, yet how does that get us to the never completed remake (at present) game called Midwinter? In the old days, being able to do all these different things on the Atari ST was truly amazing, but those moments have been surpassed long ago by Far Cry 3, so where is its need? We can see that plenty of people would love to see the remake of Paradroid 90, a game that should work easily on tablets and as such it could be a nice way for Andrew Braybrook to increase his retirement fund by a fair bit, because absent a few little issues, the game was near perfect and playable to the largest of extents. I always regarded Loderunner, the ‘1984 game of the year’ in a similar way. I actually had to take the day off (read: sickie) one time as I had been playing all night and continues playing through the day, when I finally made it to level 151 I saw the very first level again yet now at a higher speed. With 80+ lives left I started again until I had enough, I stopped before level 200, exhausted with millions of accumulated points. Best gaming day ever, I was deaf and blind to whatever happened around me and the biggest workout for my Sharp TV ever (in those days).

Perhaps it is that feeling I desire, a feeling many gamers desire, but I do not think so. I believe that the challenges we saw in the past (Mass Effect trilogy) were almost equalled, but never surpassed by anyone, System Shock falls into that category, so do the titles Neverwinter Nights, Dungeon Master (1+2) as well as the 1985 original Elite, which was released on the PC, MAC and Xbox One as Elite Dangerous. The fact that the Elite Dangerous group on Facebook gets dozens of images added on a daily bases for places seen and Elite statuses achieved, shows that this game enhanced and surpassed its own limitation due to limited hardware in 1985. That alone gives rise to the remake of other games. Bullfrog games are likely to top these games, yet the quality that Origin games (Ultima series) offered then and could offer now boggles the mind. In light of what Bethesda Elder Scrolls crated offers a view to remade games that would be overwhelming, whilst not needing to be an Elder Scrolls clone, the challenge of Britannia and the Serpent Isles (Ultima locations) have massive levels of original, never remade options here. The fact that Ultima 4-7 has a deep philosophical drive is equally good as the bulk of RPG games never emulated that part to the degree the Ultima series did. In an age of Intellectual Property, the gaming industry has millions up for grabs, the question is how well this IP has been maintained and at what price are the owners willing to part with it?

This leaves me to the final game that can make it on several fields. In this day and age where the people are eager to have their kids learn abilities through gaming, I cannot remember when, but in the 80’s I was handed a game by Epyx, that was an isometric game where you had to program a droid to walk around scan and avoid obstacles. It was called Chip Bits but never saw the light of day. We can agree that it was a geeky game, but in this day and age where the user age lowers with every iteration of computer hardware, it seems to me that teaching a skill like that could change the implementation curve (and it was truly original). So we are looking at two groups, the ones that were great and the ones that for the silliest of reasons never made it to the final stage. As we see the ease of releasing IOS and Android games, we see a fountain of possible revenue on many levels and the best part is that the starting obstacle is low enough for most toddlers to pass. Even as we see the success of all these mini consoles with dozens of games being released and most of them initially sold out in every shop, is this such a leap? We know that plenty of games have been redone and in some cases surpassed, that is for the games some publishers deemed worthy for release. I remember Psygnosis and the only reason that Lemmings got released because the Marketing manager had nothing to do, literally ‘had nothing to do‘, and those who remember the game might also remember the success it became in the end. So what about the games that didn’t make the cut? Of what about the games that were not that highly regarded initially? ‘Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?‘, an educational game that can easily become a tablet mega seller. Yet, what about the Castles of Dr Creep? Remapped that game might make for a nice puzzle game. So many options, but in itself, there is too much remake on the horizon, which returns me to the initial question:

Are we seeing the end of diversity in gaming?

The answer is yes to a certain extent, but that does not need to be a bad thing, because the limits that we saw in games like Soul Reaver are those we can easily surpass nowadays, meaning that a game that was 20-30 hours on the first PlayStation, could be a 50+ hours game on the PlayStation 4 (and equal systems), giving us plenty to game and plenty to enjoy, whilst the question whether it is diverse enough remains a valid question; one we need to keep in the back of our minds. This remains a valid stopper for a game like Rampage world tour, but is that equally true of a game like Crusader: No remorse? That answer hangs with the evolution the game goes through, meaning that it requires added diversity, showing again that diversity is a gaming currency which decides success to some degree, but it gets added value as the story and challenge are high in the game.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Gaming, IT, Media

Creating a dangerous joke

There is a lot going on. At first I wanted to take you into the world of fake news, it is a problem and it is a global one, but the elements in play, so many of them will confuse the hell out of anyone. It is not a simple story, it is an issue that will take many pages and there are plenty of people that cannot be bothered to read that much, I most certainly get that.

So why three issues?

They are only casually linked, but the events as they are taking places all at the same time makes me wonder if, and to what extent they will intersect.

north-korea-disk-jpg
The first one is regarding everyone’s favourite ‘democracy’, North Korea! They decided to fire a missile for 500 Km to make a show of force. So millions were spend to make a show of strength that their missile will make it for 4% of the journey. This whilst we need to realise that the bulk of the 44,000 that became homeless in the floods 5 months ago are still for the most homeless. This event is making South Korea very nervous as the missile can reach them, the USA will make a show out of it all, even as there is no evidence that the missile could ever successfully make the other 96% and hit something substantial after that. As stated, there is no evidence, that in light of the military command setting the pass with Dell desktop computers that most gamers would not even touch in sheer desperation just so that they could play a game.

 

 

 

The second issue is another part all together. There has been a flaming row between Piers Morgan and JK Rowling. In this, I need to try and get through to people who seem to have a massive hatred for the Trump presidency. The video (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MrbXk5xOOM) gives us part of that. We usually do not get the full story as more than one media outlet, or opponent does not like him to complete his train of thought. He makes a few points that need to be considered. It goes far beyond mere freedom of speech, I will never be against it, yet in all this the papers need to be accountable for what they do. The situation is similar that the UK has with Brexit. So when we see the Rowling v Morgan event (at http://honey.nine.com.au/2017/02/13/07/54/jk-rowling-piers-morgan-twitter-spat), which has been going on for a few days now. The nine event shows a short part where Piers gets splattered as he was not allowed to finish his words. The quote “President Trump’s travel ban because the British TV presenter won’t call it a Muslim ban. Trump has tried to stop citizens of seven predominately Muslim countries, including Iran and Syria, from entering the US“, which is what he actually said. The part where Piers is correct is that his assessment is correct. You see the 7 nations are: Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Sudan and Somalia. Some of the Muslim nations that are not on the list and not banned are: Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, Muslim nations are not on that list. In addition, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nigeria, United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Egypt. Yes, it is correct that the 7 nations are predominantly Muslim, yet until that list at least doubles, it is not a Muslim ban.

adolf-hitler-world-tour-t-shirt-web
It was ‘nice’ and original that Jim Jefferies reflected on how Adolf Hitler grew into his role whilst singing a lullaby to 6 million Jews, but the reality is not the same here. So in a comedian like atmosphere he can tell Piers to Eff You Kay off, but he is deceiving you. In that regard the quote from JK Rowling ““Yes”, she tweeted.” Watching Piers Morgan being told to f–k off on live TV is *exactly* as satisfying as I’d always imagined“, might be valid from a celebrity like her as she has seen the darker less acceptable side of journo’s on a global level, but in all , the facts were not correctly given. And the press seems to be heralding to a larger extent, for too long to give the microphone to any person willing to loudly speak out against the current US president. This situation is more important than you think, you see, President Trump is doing almost exactly what he promised to do, yet if we consider that 100% of his voters are 50% of the nation, is he doing the right thing for America? It is a serious question and the answer is less easy to give, because the losing side is trying to create flame after flame via emotional broadcasts. The left has grown its media domain to such an extent that part of the US is unlikely to ever get the full facts. The Piers Morgan video gives us that. They give the realm where we hear on how CNN is implied to have some sort of buddy system with the previous administration. That is actually more alarming than you might think, because in such a setting, have we heard any reliable news from CNN over the last 3 years? Did you consider that part of the equation?

erdoganmemeTurkey is the last part in this equation. As we see thousands of people getting fired, arrested and prosecuted in what most call a massive aversion of the course of justice, we see that the list has grown. The BBC recapped the last 7 months as an event “following the failed coup attempt, nearly 100,000 civil servants have been removed from their posts. That includes teachers, police officers, soldiers, academics and lawyers“, where it should be clear that several of these groups would not be caught alive talking to one another, we must wonder how this shift, how this automation towards a totalitarian political shift is not the disastrous move that Germany found itself in on 30th January 1933. With the death of Paul von Hindenburg on 2nd August 1934, the shift of Adolf’s rise to power was complete. In this the danger we see Turkey in due to the acts of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are a lot higher than we get from President Trump, more important, as we see a massive political ‘Erdogan’ shift, what does that spell for the rest of Turkey? Will we become witness to the rise of a dictatorship, not unlike the one from Saddam Hussein? The changes he started in the 70’s, which led to the executions (read: purges), which would kill well over 250,000 Iraqis? More important, how will Europe interact at that point, or would Europe even allow itself to any interaction with Turkey?

 

These three are interacting because the Turkish population all over Europe will react to what happens in Turkey, more important, as Turkey becomes more ‘driven’ and President Erdogan finds the European doors close on him, we will get a new intelligence issue. As the Millî İstihbarat Teşkilatı (MİT) will be given the similar tasks, but now if finds itself more and more collecting international security intelligence, which changes the game as the allegiance with the USA will shift. The one with the FSB does not change that much as the FSB never really shares intelligence unless they know there are two other sources able to offer the information. As the open EU borders shut down to their original state, we will suddenly see that those outside of certain discussions will now become absent of being informed. It is the natural consequence of ending an open border environment. So as we see the Cold War escalate, there is at least the smallest chance that they will try to leave the hints of gullibility with the MİT. There is no evidence, but the Russian Intelligence side of things (before they started to call themselves FSB) has plenty of examples and lets not forget that they are still sore regarding a certain fighter plane that was shot down for transgressing Turkish borders for no more than 14 seconds.

This now gets another turn of complications as the two parts that we see escalating in the Washington Post with “White House national security adviser Michael Flynn is under increasing political pressure and risks losing the confidence of some colleagues following reports that he misled senior administration officials about his discussion of sanctions with a Russian envoy shortly before President Trump took office“, as well as “Former acting attorney general Sally Q. Yates warned the White House that national security adviser General Michael Flynn may be vulnerable to Russian blackmail, the Washington Post reported on Monday“, so as we ponder this, just a mere 1800 seconds ago we get “Flynn has acknowledged he might have discussed sanctions with the Russians but could not remember with 100 percent certainty, which officials said had upset Pence, who felt he had been misled“. ‘Is this the geriatric division of the Intelligence community?‘ I might drop a nickel every now and then, but I am not the national security adviser and neither is I having to be a General! Two very visible places where an event where things like ‘sanctions‘ and ‘could not remember with 100 percent certainty‘ what factors were having an impact on the sanctions. That part should have been clearly documented as filed so that the alphabet group knows what’s coming (those in charge that is). You see, as we all face the news of escalations (especially Turkey and Russia), the Russian issues with America (and vice versa) implies that we are on the forefront of an optional new cold war.

This is not just me, several sources are raising the threat of the new cold war (or Cyber cold war) as some call it. In this we will face several fronts, because there is currently an issue with the top positions and I feel that I can claim with a decent certainty that Breitbart News will be massively out of its depth when it misplaces, misrepresents or misquotes any element in such an affair. In addition, the General Flynn issue gives rise to the issue that this optional war is one that America will not be ‘in like Flynn‘, which gives away some of its lack of preparedness at that point.

So as North Korea might soon be making a few more boasts whilst we get incriminations addressed towards America and South Korea by China, we will see more speeches, considerations and not so carefully worded denials. In the end, we are skating towards a diminishing field of options. Well, actually, the question becomes what will happen, as we now see the resignation letter of the National Security Advisor (which might have been the only move left), the USA is now forced to get another person confirmed for the role. In a time when getting proper advice is pretty stellar important, selecting the right advisor would have been pretty important. All this in the first 100 days is not the best way for the new president to make any headway. Attached to this is the press, who have been on a massive Trump bash. The left who has been enjoying a lefty point of politics and getting enabled at every corner is now facing a vindictive administration, which is counterproductive on both sides, because any escalation down the Cold War front means that proper informing the people on what is actually happening is going to be much more important. In that regard, perhaps it is starting to be more and more important to label the tabloids with a brand that it is not truly presenting the news, I would prefer that they also lose the 0% VAT option, the idea that intentional misinforming the people comes with a tax break! Does that not bother you?

You see, these elements as stated are linked, not directly on the events, but how we react to them, this can have an increasing negative consequence, especially as we use social media to gain favour and laughs. Yet the other side tends to be less recipient. Some will take the moral offended side of the matter. So as we heard Jim Jefferies Hitler reference, some reacted, some did not and most reactions were against Piers Morgan. Now, I am no fan of him. I think that he plays a dangerous game, trying to side with the emotional side of people, as do Journo’s like Lisa Wilkinson, yet in some lights she tends to be a lot more level headed here. In contrast, when we see the Morgan quote: “To all the ignorant, bigoted transgender community members continuing to abuse me re @janetmock – I’m bored of you now, go away. Thanks.

Piers need to equally realise that if he does not consider thinking things through before making his case knowing very well that there will be open outrage, he needs to realise sooner rather than later that he is not part of any solution, he remains part of the problem.

This story will get a sequel as certain events are currently still evolving.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under IT, Media, Military, Politics

Healthy or Smart?

Earlier (16.4 hours ago roughly) I talked about the NHS, more important about an article in the Guardian about the NHS. An article that I considered to be a sales pitch, and not a very good one. Today I am taking a look at the ‘Smarter Health: boosting analytical capacity at NHS‘ pdf. First we need to take a look at the players, you see when we read a story we need to know what the story is about, the first step here is to take a look at who is telling us the story, because that matters, especially in the world we see today. The front page gives us the people involved:

Beth Simone Noveck – a Professor at NYU, director and co-founder.
Stefaan Verhulst – Chief Research and Development Officer of the Governance Laboratory at New York University.
Andrew Young – Associate Director of Research at The GovLab, and in addition, he is NOT the Managing Director of APY Consulting Ltd, who has the same name, but looks a few decades older.
Maria Hermosilla and Anirudh Dinesh are also directly linked to Govlab and it is Juliet McMurren who is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps she is merely a minion in that digital publishing machine, but her name pops up in a few papers, but only at the introduction, perhaps she is the one putting the reports together.

You see, if the story is everything, we need to see the storytellers in their environment, because they are setting the stage on how we should see the information given to us. This is given to us from the very beginning as the headline in the executive summary tells us: “It would be impractical and prohibitively expensive to fulfill all of NHS’s analytical needs through more hiring“, which is exactly what I raised yesterday, in addition, I did mention that part as well, just the pathway that follows is not the pathway I trust. I believe that some skills should be managed inside the NHS. I do not trust the outsider telling me how it is, especially after consultants walked off with a large slice of £11.2 billion whilst the NHS has nothing to show for it. In addition, having outsiders access to NHS data is even scarier to me than losing those billions. You see, once the data is out there, the people whose data is out there get to be the victims of dangers they never signed up for. As I see it, once copied the NHS becomes useless to them and whomever walks away with that ends up diminishing the value of the NHS and those people even more. That is in my view a big no-no! (I am not accusing Govlab of having done anything immoral or questionable), I am merely raising the issue.

I notice that part of the paper is what we read yesterday in the Guardian. It makes it easier for me as I had already crossed off several issues on my list and I stand by these elements. Yet, the report is not all bad, it is illustrative in parts, but also suggestive and that lack of clarity is never part of a good paper.  The reader tends to go from assumptions and that goes to either too positive or too negative, there is never ever a balanced in-between there.

When they give us: “The NHS should also create a variety of online knowledge networks of those inside and outside of NHS, especially in UK universities, who possess the skills and willingness to help the NHS with their data analytical questions. For example, last week the Rockefeller Foundation launched the Zilient platform to connect resilience practitioners, and the GovLab and Justice Management Institute launched DataJustice. Both are designed to connect networks of professionals for mutual learning“, which could be novel, were it not that I actually gave a similar (less eloquent) idea on June 29th 2014 in my article ‘What’s in a health system?‘ (at https://lawlordtobe.com/2014/06/29/whats-in-a-health-system/), where I state: “What if we take the next generation in solutions and take away 30% of that workload? When people ask which company will do this, the answer should be ‘None!’. The UK is filled with universities, some of them regarded as the most prestigious and brightest on the planet. Consider that most IT people, might claim experience, yet their drama skills are the only ones that improved for the most, is it not up to the Universities, those who are introduced to the newest ideas, design a solution that would make the work of the doctors and nurses at the NHS better, slightly more efficient and a truckload of less hassle! Is that such a tall order? We will get to the solutions if we are willing to navigate other options. We have seen that the current path is not a success; new methods might not be a failure. It is a road that politicians should be willing to go, if only to make sure that a possible solution was not overlooked“, I admit, not as eloquent, but pretty much the same story and it came whilst the NHS was 2.5 years further away from the ‘Abyss of non-existence’ it finds itself in front of at present.

So let’s take a look at the recommendations, and the first one gives us: “The NHS should build a Project Marketplace like the environmental protection agency’s one EPA Skills Marketplace and help supply find the demand“, so how do these outside talents not cost the NHS? Even as it hides behind ‘help with specific assignments, the skills marketplace helps to match talent to those opportunities to use it‘, you see, the more specific a need is, the more expensive such an expertise tends to get. The more generic and shallow, the less need for such a marketplace, more important, as a little more is asked on what needs to be done, the costs of these people will rise substantially and it tends to rise fast.

The second recommendation gives us “The NHS should construct an NHS Data Lab modelled on the Ministry of Justice Data Lab to make better use of sensitive administrative data“, which also sounds nice, but data labs cost, there is hardware, there is software and hiding it all in some cloud with questionable security will not be a solution, in addition, IT gets stretched even further and there is a difference between ‘better use of sensitive administrative data‘ and ‘safe and responsible use of sensitive administrative data‘, they are not the same, not by a long shot. In addition, I already made that point effective enough in the previous blog. The third one counts “The NHS should build an employee expert network like health and human services’ HHS Profiles and help the demand find the supply across the NHS“, which is what I partially raised when I opted for ‘low level‘ people in my previous blog. Yet this issue is correctly raised and if recommendation is started on yesterday by the NHS HR, than that would be an excellent idea as well. Adding a training path where some can learn skills like Q-Software, data cleaning skills and data capture skills, that might not be the worst idea either as it allows for an IT growth path. There are plenty of NHS volunteers, who are now retired, but still desire to be engaged, not everyone is doing that holding a set of people skills, some are happy to do other tasks. In addition there is the Employer-supported volunteering path, where Market Research and Data employees could spend a few hours a week working on the NHS systems, helping and teaching to create dashboards. In that HQIP Director Dr Danny Keenan might hold his hand up as high as possible to get started on the communication issues he currently states to have. Recommendations 4, 5 and 6 are basically skill finders in another dimension, so having that crossed off with HR to set a proper visibility path should solve all these issues. Option 7 gets us “bring in more talent from outside, including from the private sector“, which is a cost and not a small one either, that is depending on the needs there are. Recommendation 8 is the one that stopped me. You see ‘Open Data Learning Hub‘ I almost like I mentioned earlier, but here we see ‘data scientists to grow its data science community‘ with the added quote “Each toolkit includes the original data and step-by-step instructions for using the data to conduct sample analyses, create visualisations from the data and connect interested data scientists“, which makes me wonder, have they considered that the cost here will increase dramatically fast? In addition, how many data scientists are there now? If there are a few, why a training growth path was not initialised a few weeks after the first data scientist was hired. Because from some of the required trivial reports, those people are really expensive to use for making the ‘basic’ reports. Now, there is a part that I am not aware of, but recommendation 8 is leaving me with questions. If there are proper data scientists, why was growth not acted on long ago, if there are no Data scientists, that open learning hub will attract experts stating that ‘it is a complex issue‘ on too many projects, making this a marketing jump to hiring people, which is not the path we want to go through. Recommendation is just dangerous. As I stated, I have no faith in certain groups and ‘exchange data to help solve public problems. These collaborations focus both on sharing data but also on sharing talent‘, yet when certain ‘assisting‘ experts in the insurance world have been accessing the data sets, once they have the aggregated data they need, they will fall from vision like snowflakes in a summer sunshine, this recommendation is one that should be rejected as soon as the rejecter has read the words. It reads like Recommendation 10 is a potpourri of some of the previous recommendations, yet again we see “a “conversational” infrastructure to a secure physical infrastructure for managing data to tap the best know-how outside NHS on an ongoing basis“, which is pretty much an introduction towards hiring external consultants, which was a bad idea from the very beginning. The entire papers is followed by a score of issues, some I blew away in the previous blog article, some are there to (as I personally see it) illustrate fortune cookie wisdom, which is always debatable and will always be used out of context. An examples is: ‘We are achieving 1% of the potential to improve people’s lives‘. When we see ‘Healthcare data in England is collected, published and used by a variety of institutions, each of which has its own cadre of statisticians, analysts, and economists‘, there is the implied part, but the actual scope who is collecting what and who is collecting it for private organisations and insurances is equally left out there. As we see the groups we also see quotes like “Among its staff are approximately 150 people who hold the title of analyst for NHS England, including those in an operational research and evaluation unit created in 2014. NHS England publishes indicators on performance and satisfaction data about patient experience, bed availability, and wait times, and administers friends and family satisfaction testing“, yet when we see the group ‘Clinical Commissioning Groups‘, we get to see “We know there is lots of information on quality out there but don’t know if all NHS staff, such as clinicians, commissioners and service managers, are equipped to access and analyse it for both operational and improvement purposes, nor do we know if it meets people’s requirements, says one of NHS England’s clinical leads“, which beckons the question, did this clinical lead not know who to ask, what to ask and when to expect an answer? This reads like a ‘let’s set the premise of ignorance‘, whilst the systems in place would (read: should) have been there to inform the participants. This is not a paper on informing, this reads like a paper on creating doubt, preferably a paper pushing towards the recommendations regarding hiring and sharing, which is I admit is a speculation form my side. Yet it is strengthened when we read the premise with NHS Digital, where the language is phrased as “NHS Digital has a statutory monopoly over the collection of certain kinds of data, and over 300 professionals work on the collection and analysis” as well as “Of this group, approximately 250 are classified as analysts, whose work is focused on this routine and statutorily-mandated data collection and the publication of statistical reports“, whilst we get the implied accusation of “NHS Digital has not made much use of predictive modelling to evaluate innovations, conduct experiments or design new models of clinical care“. It seems that at New York University, the weight of a loss of £11.2 billion has no weight at all. That from a nation that has accumulated a debt of $20 trillion, should they be regarded as the experts? So when we read “no mandate—to translate that into policy recommendations nor to do research, according to Dr John Varlow, Director of Information Analysis at NHS Digital. In total, the organisation has 2000 professional staff, most of whom focus on information technology and the maintenance of NHS websites“, I need to wonder if that was the full part of the contribution of Dr John Varlow. Especially when we consider the work that maintenance of NHS websites requires. How many pages, what hardware infrastructure, more important, what other tasks are part of their workflow. An issue (as I personally see it) intentionally set outside of proper dimensionality. So when we consider the ‘produces over 250 annual official publications on topics from GP earnings to drug use among school children. These reports are accompanied by data in formatted Excel spreadsheets and machine-readable comma separated variable (csv) text files. Anonymised population-level data is available both on the NHS Digital website and on data.gov.uk‘. The reader should realise that this adds up to a little over 20 reports a month, that needs exporting, cleaning (personal data markers) set into final data forms and uploaded to the proper places. It should come down to one person does this full time, but the reality is that 1-2 other employees need to check this, to make sure identity sensitive data is not there.  In addition we need to consider ‘NHS Digital publishes over a thousand indicators‘, which we can accept as a given, but based on whose recommendations? When is the policy to publish set through political means and requirements?

This gets me to the subtitle ‘The current emphasis on performance analytics needs to expand to predictive analytics, simulation and modelling‘, on what premise and whose budget? Whenever we see a statistician running around with a massive erection shouting  ‘predictive analytics‘ and ‘modelling‘ it is usually because the linked implication that this additional work usually comes with a not to modest pay rise. When ‘simulation‘ is thrown into the mix, it tends to link to either resource needs, budgeting or failure analyses, which now implies that hiring becomes almost essential as these people were either hired from the start, or the skill set was not deemed essential, so raising it here raises a lot more than the reader will fathom. So when the writers decide to add Tim Kelsey on page 37, they should have considered the Guardian (at https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/sep/17/cameron-adviser-leaves-controversial-nhs-data-scheme-private-sector), where we see: “Kelsey was appointed to the Cabinet Office in 2012 as the UK’s first transparency and open data director. However a few months later he joined the NHS, where he was the driving force behind care.data. The programme was supposed to be in place in 8,000 GP practices by 2014 but has been beset by controversies since its launch last year. It was finally put on hold after a series of blunders exposed serious problems relating to the confidentiality of patient information“, there we got the issues that the Guardian headlined with ‘NHS patient data to be made available for sale to drug and insurance firms‘ and ‘Privacy experts warn there will be no way for public to work out who has their medical records or how they are using it‘, which is actually an issue I raised more than once. So is Professor Noveck soliciting for data? Because there have been more than one marker in that paper to see as a consequence and the US in general is still massively horny for the UK NHS data sets. The report goes on for a total of 82 pages. In total it is actually a good sales pitch, but with my utterly paranoid mindset of once that data is no longer just with the NHS, the people relying on it will prefer to be dead than have to live through the aggravation that insurance companies will push them through. The page 78 mention of “the NHS could use this Brain Trust to expand its expertise outside its institutional borders. A pilot deployment would make it possible to determine empirically whether technology can bring expertise in from the outside efficiently” continues that path, because Brain Trust and expertise requires data access to set into a result. In addition ‘pilot deployment would make it possible to determine‘ tends to come with data attached, or accessible. I am not convinced that juice will be worth the squeeze and until the ghosts of data loss are set to rest (which is unlikely to ever happen), the entire sales pitch, no matter how good cloaked in 78 pages is one that the NHS needs to walk away from really fast. The PDF is at http://www.thegovlab.org/static/files/publications/nhs-health.pdf, so I will let you all decide how paranoid I am. The fact that the NHS did this with NYU and no critical report from, for example the University of Cambridge or the University of Westminster is actually an issue that a few others should make (just two of a collection of worthy investigative parties).

So is this ‘Smarter Health’ report healthy or smart? At present I fear it is neither!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Finance, IT, Media, Politics, Science

Choosing an inability

This all started last night when a link flashed before my eyes. It had the magical word ‘NHS’ in there and that word works on me like a red cloth on a bull. I believe that there is a lot wrong there and even more needs fixing, it needs to be done. There is no disagreement from anyone. The way to do it that is where the shoes start feeling tight. There are so many sides to fix, the side to start with is not always a given. There will be agreement and disagreement, yet overall most paths when leading to improvement should be fine. There is however one almighty agreement. You see the data analyses side of health care is not that high on the list. Most would agree that knowing certain stuff is nice, but when you have a primary shortage (nurses and doctors) the analyst does not rank that high on the equation. Although I am an analyst myself, I agree to that assessment of the NHS, my need is a lot lower than getting an extra nurse (at present). So when I see ‘Another NHS crisis looms – an inability to analyse data‘ (at https://www.theguardian.com/science/political-science/2017/feb/08/another-nhs-crisis-looms-an-inability-to-analyse-data), I start wondering what actually is going on. The first issue that rises is the author. Beth Simone Noveck is as the Guardian states “the former United States Deputy Chief Technology Officer and Director, White House Open Government Initiative. A professor at New York University“, you see, it is a given that Yanks always have an agenda. Is this about her book ‘Smart Citizens, Smarter State: The Technologies of Expertise and the Future of Governing‘? Just asking, because the by-line there is: “New tools—what Beth Simone Noveck calls technologies of expertise—are making it possible to match citizen expertise to the demand for it in government. She offers a vision of participatory democracy rooted not in voting or crowdsourcing but in people’s knowledge and know-how“, which seems to match the article. So, is this her sales pitch? You see, she must have missed the memo where the previous labour government wasted £11.2 billion on something that never worked and now as the NHS has plenty of crises moments, spending it on something that limits the growth towards nurses and doctors is a really bad idea.

Then she sets the focus on the HQIP with: “The Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership (HQIP) conducts forty annual audits comparing hospital and physician outcomes, and the implementation of National Institute of Clinical Excellence standards across England and Wales. But, as HQIP Director Dr Danny Keenan admits, although they have the expertise to do the analysis, “we are woefully inadequate at translating such analysis into improvements. What’s the takeaway for the hospital or community provider Board or the medical director? They cannot understand what they have to do.”“, from that I get that the existence of the HQIP is under discussion because they cannot communicate. This we see in: ‘They cannot understand what they have to do‘, which means that the hospital or community provider Boards or the medical directors are either incompetent or there is a communication issue. I am willing to ‘auto-set’ to: ‘the inability to communicate’. I admit that I would have to read those reports to get a better view, but it is clear that the HQIP has a few cogs missing, which is on them and not on the NHS as such. So if the NHS needs to cut further, that’s where the cutting can start.

Am I against the HQIP? No, of course not, but the NHS has actual problems and putting more resources in communication gaps when a place is running low on gauss and staff the priority seems to be pretty clear. I also accept that if this path is taken that restoration of the NHS will take longer, I get that, but I hope you can agree with me that once the ability to properly aid patients is restored, we can look at the next stage of fixing the NHS, because aiding patients’ needs to be the primary concern for all sides of the NHS.

A second element in the given sales pitch comes from Dr Geraldine Strathdee, where we see “National Mental Health Intelligence Network, together with partners, launched the Fingertips Mental Health data dashboard of common mental health conditions in every locality. Strathdee points out there is a tremendous need for such benchmarking data: to design services based on local need, build community assets, and improve NHS services“, I have stated at a few conferences (mid 90’s) that there is an inherent need to document and create clear paths of internal knowledge retention, which included healthcare, education and government departments. I literally stated “as you grow the knowhow with your own staff members, you will increase their value, they will be better motivated and you create a moment when you become less and less reliant on outside sources, which usually cost a fair amount“, I have been proven correct in more than one way and the lack from some people who saw the gravy train benefit by being aligned with consultants is now at an end and those people tend to not have any allegiance, other than the need to grow their bank account. Creating internal knowledge points has always been a primary need and as this opportunity was wasted, we now see the plea ‘a tremendous need for such benchmarking data‘. They should have listened to some of their IT people a long time ago. The second opposition is seen in “Without it, NHS resourcing is just based on historical allocations, guesswork or the “loudest voice”“. This implies that there has been no proper data collection and reporting for well over 5 years, whilst 10 year gap would sound a little more correct (an assumption from my side). When you look at the Netherlands, there is a long list of reports that psychiatrists and psycho analysts need to adhere to and deliver towards those paying for the services. That has been the case for the longest time. What happens afterwards? Are they not properly collated and reported? In the Netherlands it was and I think it still is (a fact, not verified at present). Yet what happens in the UK? The yank might not know, but I reckon that if the MP’s ask these questions from Dr Geraldine Strathdee that we will get proper responses on what is done now, how it is recorded, reported on and considered for continued improvement. If all of that is absent, who should we talk to? Who needs to give an accountable response?

At that point the doctor becomes a little confusing to me; perhaps that is just me, because when I read “The data dictates investment in early intervention psychosis teams, which dramatically improves outcomes. Fifty per cent of patients get back to education, training or employment. However, there is a shortage of people able to draw these insights“, I just wonder what is set in reports. It is confusing because psychosis is only one of many mental health issues that are in play. When someone gets diagnosed as such a treatment plan comes into focus and as such data had no impact. The patient is either correctly treated or the patient is not. Data had no influence there, it is the carer’s report that is submitted and for that this person will either get the resources needed, or not. Data will not influence this. A report on how many are treated with psychosis is required, but as the reports are handed upwards, those numbers would be known and as such the required needs in medications, staff, treatment plans and of course the required funds to pay for all this would be known. If not, the question becomes: is Professor Noveck there to aid in obscuring events, or should we consider that the National Mental Health Intelligence Network has become redundant and is draining funds needlessly? If you think that this is an exaggerated notion, consider that when we look for the ‘National Mental Health Intelligence Network‘, we get the website (at http://mentalhealthpartnerships.com/network/mental-health-intelligence-network/), the latest thing on their website is a meeting from September 2013, in addition there is something from Professor Chris Cutts on STORM Skills Training and that is May 2014. So I think that the National Mental Health Intelligence Network did get itself involved in a sales pitch and a very poorly constructed one I might add. You see, when we go to Public Health England, we see that there are health Intelligence Networks, but the one they have is called ‘National Mental Health, Dementia and Neurology Intelligence Networks (NMHDNINs)‘, perhaps an oversight from the two sales people? You see the Mental Health Dementia and Neurology path gives us all kinds of information (shallow information I admit), but I wonder if that is wrong or just not the proper place to find it. In addition I see when I look at ‘Severe Mental Illness‘, some 2017 mentions (so it is up to date) with the Psychosis Care Pathway, where I see “The Psychosis Care Pathway provides a high level summary using 16 key indicators to help users assess and benchmark how they manage this important condition. This pathway is consistent with and linked to the Commissioning for Value Psychosis packs to be published by NHS England“, this is an interesting part isn’t it? Does this mean that this is happening, not happening, or more important, what on earth does Dr Geraldine Strathdee think she is doing? Perhaps it is an ill-conceived hostile takeover using an outsider who was published and has a name, whilst the minimum needs to be taken seriously are not even there (an up to date website perhaps). This whilst the mention ‘based at Public Health England‘ is an issue as the Public Health England (at https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/public-health-england), has no mention at all of the ‘National Mental Health Intelligence Network‘, is that not odd? So what ill-conceived sales pitch are we reading in The Guardian?

Perhaps the quote ‘The NHS needs data analytical talent, which comes from a variety of disciplines‘ gives us that. And as the NHS has no immediate need to hire analysts, see there, the ‘National Mental Health Intelligence Network’ would come to the rescue and save the moment. Perhaps the first thing they would consider is hire a web designer and make sure that the latest INTEL is not 2+ years old (cautious advice from my side). In addition, as it seems that the NHS is likely to be pushed into a ‘we need analytics data‘ conversation (one they can go without at present), not taking the word from a professor and a doctor who dropped the ball might be a first notion to consider. Making a proper inventory of what data the NHS has and seeing if a conversation (a non-invoiced conversation) with someone from Q Research Software is likely to be a hell of a lot more productive than talking to the previous two ‘sales’ people that the Guardian article touches on. I will be honest I had a few issues with that program in the past (for specific reasons) but Q Software has never stopped improving and it has grown to the extent that it is now chiseling to the marginal groups IBM Statistics had and they are now losing those customers to Q Research, which is quite the accomplishment. In that I think it is Dr Danny Keenan who is likely to get the most out of such a meeting. From what the Guardian tells us, we get the implied understanding that he needs the solution to tell a better story. You see, translating statistical results into actions is done through stories. Not fabrications mind you, but a story that helps the receiver understand what direction would be the best to take. The listener will get a few options and each will have a plus and a minus side and usually the one with the best track movement tends to win. If that path includes successfully suppressing the negative elements even more, so much the better.

My main reason for opening this door is because there is enough low level talent in the NHS in several places that might have the ability to do this on the side, a simple path that allows additional reporting whilst not needing to drain essential resources. I call them ‘low level’ not because of anything negative. When working with proper analytics you need to have someone on your back and call with a degree in applied mathematics. Anyone claiming that this is not needed is usually lying to you. In the case of Q, a lot of the calculations have been auto completed and the numbers that are reflecting in the tables still need some level of statistics, but many with a tertiary business degree would have had exposure to a lot more stats than is needed here so as such this person would be low-level only in that regard. It is for all intent and purposes a reporting tool that goes a lot further than mere tabulation and significance levels. It could be the tool of choice for the NHS. Even when they start getting forward momentum, this tool would still be massively useful to them and any change might be limited to getting a dedicated person for this goal. Which with the current shortages all over the NHS is not that far a stretch anyway.

So as we realise what one program can do, we see the questionable approach that the sales person named Beth Noveck is making. The mention “the NHS should expand efforts already underway to construct an NHS Data Lab“, “Improving public institutions with data also requires strong communications, design and visualisation skills. Digital designers are needed who know how to turn raw data into dashboards and other feedback mechanisms, to support managers’ decisions” and “So the NHS needs to be able to tap into a wide range of data analytic know-how, from computer scientists, statisticians, economists, ethicists and social scientists. It is impractical and expensive to meet all of these needs through more hiring. But there are other ways that the NHS can match its demand for data expertise to the supply of knowledgeable talent both within and outside the organization

Three distinct statements which are not false, yet the first one is currently not feasible with the shortages that the NHS has the second one was debunked by me in merely 5 minutes as I introduced Q Research Software to you the reader. Anyone stating that this is not the best solution has a case, but in the shortage world the NHS lives in, with the cost of Q-Software against 93% of all other software solutions, it is the best value for money the NHS could ever lay there fingers on and the third one is even more worrying, because that expensive track of consultants is one of the ways that partially accounts for the £11.2 billion loss that the NHS already suffered. Should the esteemed professor come up with ‘additional considerations’ the NHS should become really scared, because there is a growing concern that some people want to get their fingers on the NHS data, the one treasure the bulk of ALL American healthcare insurers and provides want, because that is one data warehouse they have never been able to properly build.

She ends the article with “Whether the NHS wants to know how to spot the most high-risk patients or where to allocate beds during a particularly cold winter, it can use online networks to find the talent hiding in plain sight, inside and outside the health and social care system“, so how does that work? Where to allocate a bed in cold winter? Are they moved by truck to another location (impeding nurses and doctors as more aid needs to be given at that location), will it require the patient to move, which is actually simply done by finding out where a bed is available. The article is a worrying one, in that light that the article was published and I wonder if it was properly vetted, because there is a difference of many miles between a political science piece and an opinionated sales pitch. So my next step is to take a very critical look at “Smarter Health: Boosting Analytical Capacity at NHS England“, because my spidey sense is tingling and I might find more worrying ammunition in that piece.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under IT, Media, Politics, Science

Is it a Prise, Prize or Price fight?

This is an interesting time, you see, many will not yet realise it, but we are roughly 19 months away from a game changing moment in our lives. There are groups of people scurrying to get to a virtual starting position, because they have learned the hard way that not setting the stage for the fight means that they will lose out the second time and this time there will be no third round for them. If you are at this point considering that I am kidding or that my statement is over the top, you better reconsider fast, because Orange Poland is now starting to get backers who have serious amounts of cash and last Wednesday, AT&T released ECOMP (their version) in San Francisco. They called it Indigo and it is one of two markers that are now actively in place to set the stage for massive shifts in Big Data. Yes, you are reading this correct!

This is not just a stage of evolution, this is now starting to be a stage of transition. As the people are marketed into a sullied state of dreams, they are tempted to seek what the places bring to them. Places like Tableau relying on AdWords top placement to show how important they are in this industry, with others using the same path on how ‘the magic quadrant of Big Business‘ is the solution, on how we see the ‘Gartner Magic Quadrant Leader‘, but the truth is actually in another direction. Places like AT&T who basically got their asses handed to them as they did not act in the 90’s, they now see that being there ahead of the game is the only move left to them, because AT&T sees that America will not make them great, it will not make them the global player. That is the first shift we see are now witnessing.

In this a very similar view can be found in the movie Assassins Creed. Now, it got written off by a several critics, but the beauty of the product is not in the movie, which is still bringing in a decent amount of profit (millions) for first time producer (and actor) Michael Fassbender. The reason why this movie is so interesting is seen in the revenue. Only 25% came from the US, the rest international. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story does it to some degree where the US and international set is 50/50, the US is no longer the bulk of the income for, a basic issue that now needs addressing, especially by the American players.  That time has gone and these players have caught on that in 22 months the infrastructure is either in place, or they are out of the race. Even as we still see large players (like the Dutch KPN) rely on presentations on how ‘great’ they are. Certain players are realising more that tactics need to change, the presentation is no longer enough, and they need to be ready sooner than ever expected.

This is seen in another way, a way I already saw coming. This time it is the Canberra Times (at http://www.canberratimes.com.au/technology/technology-news/ftc-accuses-vizio-of-spying-on-smart-tv-customers-20170206-gu70p5.html) that gives the goods. We see ‘The US Federal Trade Commission said on Monday that Vizio used 11 million televisions to spy on its customers‘, which reminded me of my blog article ‘The back door‘ (at https://lawlordtobe.com/2016/12/29/the-back-door/), which I wrote on December 29th 2016 with the part “consider the amount of mail you have at present and see what happens when 10 devices are added to your house profile. The refrigerator, your smart TV, your smart recorder, your game console, your laptop/tablet/PC, your 5 smart devices” as well as “A large group of people will get more and more access to your way of life. In addition, there will be an option to influence your way of life, which is a side nobody signed up for“, a stage that is now coming a lot faster than I expected. The Vizio case is only the most visible one now, this whilst more evidence is coming that Microsoft is engaged in similar actions. Is it not interesting that Microsoft is not mentioned? Perhaps that is because they are only doing that outside of the US? What is interesting is that with Vizio, places like Time.com states how to deactivate certain options, there are more and more indicators out there that this is not an option with Windows 10. How many devices use that? The other part we need to know is that the Vizio case started all the way back in 2014. So it took the trade commission well over 2 years to get there, and for how long was data collected? The interesting part is however not there, it is in the quote “manufactured VIZIO smart TVs that capture second-by-second information about video displayed on the smart TV, including video from consumer cable, broadband, set-top box, DVD, over-the-air broadcasts, and streaming devices. In addition, VIZIO facilitated appending specific demographic information to the viewing data, such as sex, age, income, marital status, household size, education level, home ownership, and household value, the agencies allege. VIZIO sold this information to third parties, who used it for various purposes, including targeting advertising to consumers across devices, according to the complaint“. You see, the issue is not seen towards one place, when you consider ‘including video from consumer cable, broadband, set-top box, DVD, over-the-air broadcasts, and streaming devices‘, this implies that Vizio played the field and was also getting the data from Consoles (which hurts Microsoft and Sony) as well as Foxtel (several data paths), so did Vizio get dobbed in? You see, in 2014 this field was in its infancy, now in 2017, whilst data will be the essential centre stage to all matters big data related, now it gets to be a different thing and still the media at large is asking way too few questions on the who, where and for how long. And as our exposure is set to 2014 cases that are only decided now. Even as now suddenly a wave of newscasts is hitting the screens of people on how Microsoft has privacy tools, how Microsoft is trying to quash gag orders. Microsoft is part of all this from the ground up. Whilst within a Chinese wall environment, one side of the wall is boasting that they champion the privacy of others. As we see that there are now Microsoft privacy tools, we see that that part comes with the small quote “coming to future editions of Windows 10“, which is the case because Microsoft and AT&T are very aware that being alive is being in the game and data is the one element that allows them to do it in an affordable way. There is an additional side, which was brought by Forbes. It is just a week old and gives us the consideration we actually need. The part where we get hit with ‘Tempest in a Teapot’, which could just be a storm in a teacup is not that minor an issue. You see Forbes own Thomas Fox-Brewster is setting the stage, but is he doing it intentionally so? consider “Trump’s decision should only affect the privacy of data handled by government agencies, not private companies” as well as “the only way in which the order may affect non-U.S. individuals lies in the manner the Department of Homeland Security handles personal information“, which is actually the part we should not care about. It is the ‘private companies‘ part that is the actual danger. First we need to take a look at the legal part. Now, I can do that, but the experienced people at DLA Piper (at https://www.dlapiper.com/en/us/insights/publications/2016/07/privacy-shield-is-final/) did that and I just hate inventing the wheel twice. Yet in that part the following issue rose, and it did so because it has happened before (and it will happen again). It is seen in this part ‘Secure personal data and ensure the ability to restrict secondary uses‘ and the issue is not because of that part exactly, it is because of the technological side to it. You see the restrictions on data and backup data are not the same, backup data is not seen as data. Forbes actually raised it in 2012 with “First and foremost, IT auditors need to come up to speed on the implications of auditing data that’s beyond the organization’s control and beyond the organization’s home borders. While some auditors are worried, many are more optimistic that these requirements provide business opportunities within the security, compliance and auditing community as organizations move data and long-term storage into the cloud” as well as “When data is moved beyond an organization’s technological and geographic borders, the organization runs the risk of losing control of how that data complies with regulatory compliance. By addressing legal and regulatory challenges up front through technology, an organization can begin architecting an off-premise, cloud-based storage solution that meets the business’s needs as well as keeps regulatory compliance at bay“, yet only now, or better stated only recently do we see a shift that places like SAP are now realising that technicians and consultants have their own agenda’s and an American one does not see things the same way a European technician sees things. Computer Weekly raised it, but they did so with the interesting quote “data analytics technology, will ensure that only technicians in Europe will have access to potentially sensitive data held in its cloud datacentres, if companies demand it“, you see, it’s the ‘if companies demand it‘ part that matters. If provider A has an infrastructure yet it gets its backup serviced by consultancy provider B who uses a different cloud and cloud system, where is the security set when system B is in the USA and system A is in Italy? There we might see the term ‘data safety is not impacted‘, yet it is equally not impacted when Intelligence Agency ‘who gives a damn‘ has mirrored that backup and now has 100% of all data. That is the realistic issue that the Privacy Shield addresses, but does it do that in equal measure for a cloud corporate infrastructure? Is the backup party vetted, or even identified? You see, this is not about paranoia or what people learn about me. This is about large corporations getting an even more unbalanced advantage. That part is not addressed because those supporting large corporation only need to delay things (Vizio 2014 is evidence enough). It is Kevin Werbach from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania who gives the parts I have been referring to. In a podcast on innovation we get “Companies like Uber and Airbnb are built on algorithms. They’re built on software that understands supply and demand and matches people on both sides of the network“, THIS IS IT!

That is why the players need the data and as much as they can. Do you think that people like Mike McNamara (Target Corp) got a massive oversized budget for the fun of it? No, he realised (and successfully sold that to the board of directors), that if he had the data and the systems in place he can take K-Mart and Walmart to town and take chunks of their share, in the next 6 months we are likely to see the first small victories, small in start but it will be a growing wave, have no doubt about that part. These are the advantages that larger corporations have and some are doing it ethically acceptable. Yet in a similar fashion I see that those taking a different path are not questioned or hold to any level of accountability. How is that for screwed up? I have nothing against these places, but in the global setting, Target would gain an advantage against the Dutch C&A if this continues. I believe that to some degree competitiveness is a good thing, but what happens when the tools available are not available to all? What happens when one retailer is ethically kept blind, whilst the outside competitor has a dataset describing the national population in excellent detail? Where is the fairness then?

So are we facing a fight with three players? That is not a given, there are a few elements in motion over the next 18+ months so there will be shifting. Except those who are claiming and considering not participating, they are pretty much out of the game for good. Nokia is now re-joining the mobile fight, trying to bring a competitor to the Pixar XL and the iPhone 7 to the fight (Nokia P1), what was interesting is that they avoided the one ‘mistake’ the Google Pixar has. It will be one way for people to get a cheap solution this year, but will it be enough?

Not enough data to tell and that is where it sets the pace of the continuing fighters, who has the data? Which might be the premise of a joke. Three fighters were getting into the match. One thought it was a prize fight, one thought it was a prise fight and one assumed it was a price fight.

Which player do you think will be the one left standing in the end?

 

Leave a comment

Filed under IT, Law, Media, Science

Alphabet Soup

I have been away for a little while. I delivered my final paper on Friday after a 34 hour stretch, mainly because I have the unequaled ability to doubt my own work any given moment. This is weird, because when it comes to data and data systems, I can see through the fog of implied BS in ways most cannot fathom. In that same way, I am now seeing a weird transition by Microsoft that has the ability to endanger its own customer base, which might be a new low in their list of achievements. After a day of attempted rest whilst I faced 44 degrees (summer in Sydney), the Guardian treats me (at https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/feb/03/skills-shortage-harming-uks-ability-to-protect-itself-from-cyber-attacks). There is something either incomplete or not matching here. The article by ‘Rajeev Syal and agencies’ is actually quite good, it gives us “the role of the Cabinet Office, which is responsible for coordinating information protection across government, remains unclear“, which is in one way awesome because of the admitted issue, a little less so when you consider that his has been going on for over 6 years. You see, those people still got paid, and the admission of non-clarity for that amount of time should validate a few additional questions to those occupying postal code SW1A 2AS. So, when you are in front of that Downing Street fence, which separates the Prime Minister from the common riff raff, it will be the building on the right! One of the interesting quotes is: “The threat of cybercrime is ever-growing, yet evidence shows Britain ranks below Brazil, South Africa and China in keeping phones and laptops secure. In this context it should concern us all that the government is struggling to ensure its security profession has the skills it needs.

I would add to that is the fact that those nations tend to hold employees accountable for cyber losses, which might not be fair but it is apparently wildly effective. In the cyber industry a decent dose of paranoia tends to keep people cautious and on their toes, which does allow to explain the situation the Commonwealth at large finds itself in, not just the UK. One of the gems in the article was “The report said the Cabinet Office’s ability to make informed decisions about security is “undermined by inconsistent and chaotic processes for recording personal data breaches”“, that is just one factor. The fact that Microsoft has been uploading gigabytes of data (per person) from gaming consoles, without consent and whilst Microsoft is in denial blaming the ISP for this event, the question the press at large has not considered asking Microsoft. Why do you need 6 GB of data from a console playing a single player game? There is no way that this is about ‘enhancing‘ the experience.

newzoo-games-market-segments

This is about collecting data and in addition, there is no divulging on what exactly is being uploaded, the fact that it is done without consent is another matter and there is no record on the system. If one victim had not shown me the $60 additional fee he got for 2 weeks of unknown uploading, I would not have believed it. The fact is that this person had mobile broadband was a kink in the attempt to keep the uploads unnoticed is one that Microsoft had not considered and as such we need to consider that an Xbox User needs to realise he is facing an estimated $1400 a year in additional fees upload fees, how affordable is that console now?

So is this about money, about data or about privacy? The issue is that worldwide 15 million were sold by November 2015, whilst the US has roughly 8.5 million of them. So a sizeable chunk of the 6.5 million outstanding consoles are in the UK and whilst Microsoft is not revealing the sales numbers, likely as the humiliation against the PS4 sales is too great, we also need to wonder in light of the upcoming Scorpio (the Xbox One plus plus) edition, the light of so much uploads without consent is an issue, because in the first the people did not get a choice and the second is that there is no way to tell what was uploaded, how much privacy information. In that light, we need to look at not just what is done, but what actions need to be made against these large corporations and I am willing to bet the house that these ‘inconsistent and chaotic processes for recording personal data breaches‘ involve groups giving protection to Microsoft to some degree creating chaos. In addition, I wonder if GCHQ is aware on what Microsoft is pushing into its Azure cloud via Windows 10, what level of privacy breaches is Microsoft involved in?

That is part of all the issues because there is no issue with skill shortage, especially when cybercrimes cannot be properly monitored as everything is in a cloud environment, a US driven cloud environment I might add. Before those in Whitehall start to snicker on the premise of gaming, perhaps those are reminded that as we see in Newzoo (at https://newzoo.com/insights/articles/global-games-market-reaches-99-6-billion-2016-mobile-generating-37/), the gaming industry is a $100 billion plus field and the UK has shown its teeth in this field for the longest of times.

q2_2016_newzoo_global_games_market_revenue_growth_2015-2019

Yet the makers are now creating an unfair advantage (and without consent) on mineable data allowing US companies to take the highest road at the least cost. In all this they have the ability of selling spiked lemons, impeding the industry outside of the AAA American companies’ even further. That is all before we see the dangers of cloud intrusions and the damage organised crime can inflict. And any of those people claiming that this cannot happen, I would advise those people to take a look at the Sony track record of getting hacked. There are too many unknowns, but the fact that a lot of this is done without consent is perhaps the most damaging one and so far, it seems that skills shortage in the UK is not even the most debilitating one. When you consider this quote: “The government ignored its own advice by failing to carry out a business case for government security classifications system, which was meant to deliver £110- to £150m-a-year in benefits, MPs said“, a quote that is not in question perse, yet the fact that the games industry surpassed $100 billion, in this the UK could stand to corner up to $30 billion, I am decently certain that ‘£110- to £150m-a-year in benefits‘ won’t be getting close to covering it any day soon.

The losses and the growing loss of industries in several sectors are leaving the UK with a diminishing amount of options in an industry that will the first and almost the only one growing its production, manufacturing and development base. All items that would have the effect of spicing the coffers of her majesties treasury by a fair bit, that is of course not the bottom line, but it is the icing on the cake and those who had to live by ‘let them eat cake‘ have been doing so without any icing for nearly a decade. And that is all before Google has decided on the next step that could bring them an additional 6-13 billion (13 billion would be most advantageous forecasted model), a jump that will affect software and hardware evolutions in a few ways for the next decade as 5G gets a hold of these new devices and opens the field for even more devices and concept solution. A change few had seen coming and less of them thought the change was realistic, some hold that opinion even today, it’s a sad world, I know!

In that atmosphere the Cabinet office and MP’s are deliberating on Cyber needs and skills whilst their train is already 3 stops delayed and they have no idea what is awaiting two stops ahead, meaning they are already one train stop behind and that is just delay through inaction. So as we are looking at the last part given, where we see: “A National Cyber Security Centre spokesman said: “The government has been clear that the newly formed NCSC is the UK’s definitive authority on cyber security. In the four months since becoming operational, the NCSC has transformed how the UK deals with cyber security by offering incident management capabilities, fostering technical innovation to help prevent attacks and providing real-time cyber threat information to 3,000 organisations from over 20 different industries”“, yet in that, where is the turnaround? You see, as we see linked to all this: “New generation of ethical hackers aims to impress recruiters“, we see: “Defence experts have long warned of the growing menace of cyber-crime and now they have good reason to believe the threat is being given priority treatment“, yet we do not see: “Last year’s Cyber Security Challenge was fairly fanciful. It involved a bio-hazard attack and a threat against a minor royal. This year, the challenge is more grounded in reality. The contestants are asked to find evidence of large corporations gaining an increased advantage by uploading personal data without consent for advantageous data mining“, that no less a threat and it seems that government parties on a global scale are actively avoiding this. You see, we agree that organised crime and batches of exploiting hackers must be stopped, yet for the longest time, the party’s involved are ignoring the ‘legal‘ crimes and how it is shifting the balance of cyber power. slowly but certainly towards the 5 big players leaving the field barren for nearly all other innovative corporation hoping to grow into that field and as the field is limited to 5 players we will lose out on actual innovation and we are left with the iterative field we have had for slightly too long. By the way, this goes far beyond games, this field is now intersecting a very different field. Consider the paper ‘Big Data Framework for Analyzing Patents to Support Strategic R&D Planning‘, by Wonchul Seo, Namhyoung Kim and Sungchul Choi. In this paper they set in the abstract “In this paper, we propose a big data framework to process and analyse large-scale patent data. The proposed framework consists of four layers: an aggregator layer, a storage layer, an analysis layer, and an application layer. These layers are designed to collect patent data, store the collected data, analyse the data, and present the results. The primary objectives of the proposed framework are to provide a patent analysis service platform based on big data technologies, and to support strategic R&D planning for organizations“, now consider interfacing that with a database that has the goods on 270 million devices using Windows 10. Does it still sound so strange? The gaming industry might seem juvenile to the people in Whitehall, but even they cannot be stupid enough to ignore a $100 billion plus industry. So as Microsoft is uploading data and no one is asking questions, we have to wonder why the questions are not asked, more important, the fact that ‘without consent‘ is not addressed is even more worrying, especially with the cyber players in town and the fact that anyone actively ignoring a few billion in revenue tends to not have a career after that comes out.

So you tell me, is the water still too murky or are the players murky about the actions taken?

And when we see the marketing responses like ‘to give the players a better gaming experience‘ or ‘uploading is not with us, that responsibility lies with your ISP‘, you better be able to answer the question why the ISP is dumping all that data on the Azure cloud, because ISP’s tend to not do anything they aren’t paid for and they tend to not do anything without consent, as the retaliatory claims and penalties tend to be much too high. So when the alphabet soup gives us Avarice, Build-up & Covetousness. Is the alphabet soup about protecting against cyber-attacks or trying to minimise corporate losses?

They are both victims, but one does not include the other, I’ll leave it up to you to decide who remains a victim in the long run.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Finance, Gaming, IT, Media, Politics, Science

Taking Xbox to Court?

Microsoft seems to have done it again and if the evidence holds up, there will be a powerful backlash towards Microsoft which will have interesting repercussions for Sony. Now, we have seen this all before and even I have a few issues with this all, which was until the following evidence was presented.

  1. The Broadband 4G modem had been exclusively used for the Xbox One.
  2. Security was properly in place (as far as I have been able to confirm)

The following had happened:

Without consent, the Xbox One has seemingly uploaded the following amounts of data:

Date Uploads Date Uploads
2017-01-13 339.1 MB 2017-01-21 591.0 MB
2017-01-14 445.1 MB 2017-01-22 277.6 MB
2017-01-15 242.3 MB 2017-01-23 607.5 MB
2017-01-16 268.8 MB 2017-01-24 210.6 MB
2017-01-17 113.1 MB 2017-01-25 358.8 MB
2017-01-18 793.6 MB 2017-01-26 493.5 MB
2017-01-19 251.6 MB 2017-01-27 482.4 MB
2017-01-20 332.0 MB 2017-01-28 65.2 MB

 

According to the mobile provider the uploaded files are all labelled Windows Azure – support large files download? When calling Microsoft, the help was not any better, the lady was trying to be nice, yet not really aware of what she was talking about. Her response was: ‘we have no influence on uploads, that is the responsibility of your ISP!

So, as the Xbox is uploading, that is suddenly the worry of the victims ISP?

So far the player has only played Fallout 4 without DLC’s, Diablo 3 and the Ezio Collection (Assassins Creed), all these games were played in single player only, so there is absolutely no reason to upload at all. What is even more disturbing is that there are no checks on this part, the mobile provider data so far matches the times that the system was in use for gaming and the times the uploads were happening.

What Microsoft would not be realising, which was a former Microsoft executive referred to as Don Mattrick, who tried to be funny with: “Fortunately we have a product for people who aren’t able to get some form of connectivity; it’s called Xbox 360“, yes and as orders were cancelled all over the place Xbox suddenly had a new boss. This all started in November 2015. Well as we seem to gather Microsoft is at it again and they haven’t been thinking this through as per usual (that is, if the facts handed to me and collected are correct), because some gamers are now facing a $120 a month additional bill, so year one for these gamers would be 12 * $120 + $450 for the console, making this device at $1850, three times more expensive than any other console. I think Microsoft forgot about mobile broadband users, they just get additional hardship. What is the issue is that all this is happening without consent and as far as the absent help from Xbox support has indicated, without the ability to switch it off. You see, there are plenty of places where broadband is an issue and those people are depending on mobile broadband and at $10 per 1 GB it adds up really fast.

So, even as Microsoft has now changed this approach (again), would customers have a case to get a full refund for console and all purchased games? Let’s not forget that Microsoft has done a 180 degrees turn on their ‘online requirements’ twice now, as well as it seems the requirement to be online to upload, which in light of single player games should result in several additional questions by parties involved.

So this is where I now stand. Awaiting two additional pieces of evidence. Should they arrive, the plan as the victim wants it is to prohibit Microsoft to continue sales of their devices until the forced uploads are deactivated, as well as reimbursements have been made. I do not think that this has any decent chance, but I will lend my support to all this. Microsoft has been playing their game via third party ‘players’ and as such there have been a few things rising to the surface. I personally believe it to be a harassment approach by Microsoft ‘to be online or else‘. I tested that with the Ezio collection. I went offline and played the game, so far after two days, after restarting the game, the achievement begotten whilst off line did not update. An issue the Xbox 360 never had and actually until recently it was not an issue (so this might be the side effect of something else). As I see it, the same day our victim suddenly say his annual Xbox one usage cost go up by a potential $1440, so we can agree that Microsoft, as per their usual self decided that profit at the expense of anyone else is preferred to a situation where the needs of the customer were respected, especially after the backlash that the first attempt had given them, again, awaiting those two pieces of evidence.

So far all contacts with Microsoft have been with the given air of ‘Well, everyone has unlimited broadband, don’t they?‘, which is nice until you get confronted with the most dangerous of obstacles, the disagreeable landlord, which in this day and age is not a good person to cross and that tends to happen more and more often, yet that is not what this fight is about. We are dealing with consent and undocumented consequences that doubles a person’s internet bill, through means that were not even essential. Off course that is not regarding the need Microsoft has to keep a record and copy of everything you are doing on your console, which by the way is well over 1000% of what multiplayer bandwidth would require, so there too are questions that need to be addressed.

From my point of view, apart from the financial damages that some players are now facing there is:

  1. How can uploads without consent be allowed?
  2. How can 2 single player games trigger a 5.8 GB upload in 15 days?
  3. The reference that the Mobile operator gave was: ‘Windows Azure – support large files download’, all uploads have that same title!
  4. Why is there no logging of uploads in the Xbox One?
  5. Which files and what exactly is being uploaded?
  6. Why did this suddenly start at midnight Friday January 13th 2017? (Which reads equally weird).

These are questions that matter, the reason is that without certain facts, there is absolutely no guarantee that this isn’t merely a hijacked router, which I have been able to prove that this is not the case to some extent.

Questions remain, you see, that part is given by the following sources: “They have clearly mentioned that their commitment to the UK is unchanged. In particular, those customers in Microsoft’s UK data centres should continue to rely on Microsoft’s significant investment plans there“, as well as “Microsoft highlighted that they have more than 5,000 highly qualified people working in fields including support, marketing, gaming, communications, cybersecurity and computer science research in the UK. Also, they have built a global centre of excellence for the development of artificial intelligence and other computing disciplines“, which we see in MS Power User (at https://mspoweruser.com/microsoft-re-affirms-its-commitment-to-the-uk-data-centre-expansion-plans-are-still-on-track/), now we need to realise that these are statements from a spokesperson, which means that that we are misrepresented without being lied to. I know, it’s a harsh world. Yet ‘5,000 highly qualified people‘, whilst seeing ‘marketing, gaming, communications, cybersecurity‘, could clearly imply that these are employees and it is not impossible that 40% of that workforce is not working on or connected to Azure. You see, the issue is when we see “Global Data Center Market Strategies, Analysis and Opportunities 2017-2023: Amazon (AWS), Microsoft, Google, and Facebook are in a Class of Their Own“, which we see in Global Newswire. The question that these parts lead to is whether it is possible that:

  1. Microsoft is trying to get an advantage on its capabilities and is trying to maximise the load of their Azure data centres, someone had the bright idea to use gamers for that and the people who tend to be useless in the technical field (read: senior management) forgot about the fact that not everyone has unlimited broadband and that some people (all over the world) pay per gigabyte and after a certain point that gets to be very expensive.
  2. Because the test requires that all (read: unknowingly) must participate, there is no option to switch uploads off, leaving us with the mess in option 1.

Now, this is for now speculative, but in light that I got this scoop and the media is ignoring gaming issues, just like the Sony Issue of 2012, so I am going ahead, so mind you, this story will be updated and there will be a part 2 when the rest of the evidence arrives, which could spark an official request against Microsoft with the Australian ACCC and the British CPS, and if Microsoft is proven not to be the evil organisation that they have been too often, than I will report that too, because just and fairness go both ways, and because it must rain on the just and unjust alike.

So stay tuned!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Gaming, IT, Science