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Issue [#250]: (Azure) Window on the world
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Hello!

I hope you've had a good week. I've really enjoyed mine, doing a whole range of different things.

This week's images were taken by me on various holidays my family have taken to Gozo, a little place off the Medterranean island of Malta. Tragically, this week, the 'Azure Window', a natural arch carved over millennia, collapsed into the sea. I'm mourning its loss almost as much as the Maltese people.

We'll head back to Gozo, of course, but it's such a small island that I reckon it could make a difference to the tourist economy. I always thought that the Azure Window would be where I learned to scuba dive...

It just goes to show, I guess, that nothing lasts forever and that you should grab opportunities while you can. That thing you want to see might not be there in 10 years' time, that opportunity might not come around twice, and that person may have moved on.

Azure Window, Gozo

Things worth commenting on this week

I asked the articles that I bookmarked and read this week to self-organise into groups, and this was the result:

1. Can we trust Wikileaks?

No one really knows who's behind Wikileaks — other than Julian Assange, of course. Is it the Russians? Is it actually part of the U.S. establishment trying to mix things up? The leaks certainly seem to bolster Donald Trump's position, so it's anyone's guess.

This week, Wikileaks revealed 'Vault 7', a huge trove of documents that reveal the extent to which the CIA stockpile vulnterabilities and exploits on a wide range of consumer devices. These range from creating a 'fake off' mode on Samsung Smart TVs so that they can listen in on targets, to compromising the every major desktop and mobile operating system.

It's easy to shrug and say (or think) that we don't have any privacy anyway, but there's no reason it has to be like this. We can and should resist intrusion into our lives, by both people and technology.

2. More on 'that blockchain thing'

Since doing the research for that presentation on blockchain I did a couple of weeks ago, I'm slightly more optimistic than I was that it's a technology that may actually lead to some good. 

Vinay Gupta, who's probably the smartest person I know, has an article in Harvard Business Review about how blockchain will remove 'middlemen' who make the world less efficient. He, of course, helped Imogen Heap release an album a couple of years ago on the blockchain. Vinay once told me (over a burger around the corner from the Mozilla offices) that he sees "...on the blockchain" as a way of making something seemingly ridiculous sound plausible — in a similar way to the role "...in Japan" served in the 1990s.

I couldn't give a flying toss about the financial services industry, to be honest, but I am interested in the world of 'smart contracts'. As I've said before, however, contracts are only ever as good as the people designing them. Otherwise, as in the case of the DAO hack on the Ethereum network, things can go horribly wrong. That's one of the reason why, even though Google is bullish about the blockchain for medical records, it's not my favoured use case. I'd rather see the blockchain used for much more prosaic things, such as procurement and proof of ownership.

3. Mark Zuckerberg and the decline of Western civilization

I'm not on Facebook. I have been, a couple of times, but I see it as a place of sugar-coated danger. I'm close to finishing Mary Beard's excellent SPQR: a history of ancient Rome, and there see to be more than a few parallels between the Roman emperors (especially Octavian/Augustus) and Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook. 

Some people think that he's on a mission to become not only the next President of the United States of America, but potentially the first President of the World. Hey, I wouldn't rule it out: good things happen slowly, bad things happen fast.

We've already seen the way that Zuckerberg is pretty much destroying journalism, and tied to his theory of human history, we could be in for nothing less than the decline of Western civilization. Or, at least, some writers think so.

Azure Window, Gozo

Other stuff worth sharing

These articles don't like groupwork:

Azure Window, Gozo

Things I published this week

Until next week!



PS Beyoncé Tank Engine. You're welcome. (Thanks Hannah!)

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Doug Belshaw

Dr. Doug Belshaw is a consultant and co-op co-founder who helps people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology.

Some people say he invented February. Others suspect his left arm is made of Dutch Gouda. Nobody has ever seen him dance a jig, Irish or otherwise.
 

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