I Found True Love With Big Data

We’ve been kind of silent on the blog front recently, mostly because we are making a big push to write Book 3 (oh, and we just submitted a short story for publication which, while it doesn’t feature our protagonist Emma, nonetheless has a technological base and – we think – a good use of humor). Book 3, as I think we’ve mentioned, takes places in Hawai’i so, in addition to other arduous tasks, we are busy planning some market research (i.e., another surf trip to Hawai’i, kupaianaha (yippee!)).

It hasn’t all been long hours at the PC or Mac. One of us recently attended a nerdy security conference  (is there any other kind?) at which, in addition to seeing a lot of old friends, she got to sign a lot of books (her employer graciously bought a number of copies of Outsourcing Murder and Denial of Service as giveaways in the corporate booth). Book signing was a lot of fun and thus far, the recipients of the books seem to like them (at least, if anybody hates them, they haven’t emailed, called, or posted on Facebook to say what an icky read either of them were).

The conference was inadvertently another opportunity to do market research, some of which will likely end up in Book 3. Any conference typically contains people breathlessly talking about the New Cool Topic and conference papers have a surfeit of references to New Cool Topic.  New Cool Topic, 95% of the time, is just a Boring Old Topic dressed up in new duds. Think “the look that is being pushed in Fashion Week, which everyone exclaims is Simply Marvelous even if the average woman wearing whatever the In Thing is looks like a tulle-covered toilet.” At the nerdy security conference, the New Cool Topic was Big Data. Big Data, for those who don’t already know, is – well – Big. Really Big.

Big Data, for those who are not acolytes worshipping at the altar, is not merely Data that has taken too many steroids, oh no. It’s the idea that you collect every possible piece of information you can – “if you can collect it, you should, because gee, you might need it some day, so just collect simply everything!” – analyze it for trends, and predict who is going to pick his nose at 2PM next Tuesday based on your analysis and will need your brand of Kleenex at 2:01PM. (Ok, I made that last bit up.) But the premise of Big Data is that you can Detect Big Trends based on it or, in the security context, which is what the conference focused on, you can do stuff like determine you are under attack by Bad Guys or (to be inclusive) Bad Girls. Big Data is interesting to us not only because it is one of the new technological religious cults (“On the sixth day, God created Big Data, and saw that it was Good”) but also because the combination of Big Data and cheap sensors makes for a lot of potential humor.

For example, what if a company … attached sensors to their employees to determine what they did every moment of the working day (the ostensible justification is so the company can continuously improve, rightsize, achieve six sigmoid – er, six sigma – or any other buzzword of corporate goodness)? What if they correlated things like, oh, what an employee ordered in the cafeteria with the activities the sensor tracked like … say … time in the bathroom. And what if the company decided that the cafeteria shouldn’t serve so much fiber (because employees were spending too much time … you know … and were thus less productive – unless you measure productivity in units of fertilizer, eww). See what we mean? Big Data, we hope, will lead to Big Laughs in Book 3.(1)

A minor character who has made appearances in our earlier books will feature more prominently in Book 3. He is a conspiracy nut (no, not “who shot JFK?” type-conspiracy, but “THEY know too much about you” conspiracies). And in fact, the combination of Big Data, the Internet (especially people blabbing too much on it) and the surveillance society makes for a lot of small seeds from which big conspiracies can grow. We’re counting on it.((2)

(1) You think we’re making this up, don’t you? We’re not. Companies that have used sensors include Bank of America, Cubist and Kimberly-Clark; one of them did redesign the cafeteria based on their findings.

(2) For conspiracy believers everywhere, try stealth wear: http://shop.primitivelondon.co.uk/collections/frontpage/products/anti-drone-burqa