Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Heller and Shannon: Acquiring the target

Satiated, Garth pushed himself away from the table. “Good thing I don’t eat like this every day or I would have to change my name to “Girth”.”

He knew that he was getting buttered up. He knew that Shannon was going to ask him for a favor.

Frankly, he wasn’t pissed off. At least he got a good meal out of the deal, and if she asked for too much then he could always say “No”, like the time Ce’Diff wanted him to run ethernet cord through her whole house because she wanted more security than WIFI offered. Not only did she not want to pay him, but she implied he could "borrow" the cable from his employer and save her to cost of materials.

Belching, he cocked his head and said “What is on your mind?” to Shannon.

“I have a business idea…” Shannon started out.

“Lot’s of people have ideas for businesses” Garth said agreeably. Given that most of his peers were in “business” and they had a more entrepreneurial bent than most he had been sounded out for involvement in many “great investment opportunities”.

Mostly, he was unimpressed.

“I have a list of names of people who have shown an interest in this kind of product and I think they are the best sources of funding” Shannon said.

Garth perked up. That was a new twist. Shannon wasn’t going to try to sell him on the idea. She didn't want HIS money.

“How many names do you have?” Garth asked.

“One-hundred-and-sixty” Shannon admitted. “It is an overwhelming number and I was wondering if there was a smart way to narrow it down.”

Garth was hooked. He liked Shannon. She lacked many of the pretensions most of the other professions wore like a suit of clothes. She had always treated him with respect. That, and she asked for his opinion about finding “a smart way” to process data.

Garth prided himself on his intelligence. He favored elegance over brute-force.

“Where did you get the names?” Garth asked.

“I pulled them off of PluggedIn” Shannon admitted. She was afraid that he would look down on picking names off of a popular social media platform.

“That might make it very easy” Garth said. “Can you tell me a little bit more about the deliverables of this analysis? What are you looking for?”

Warming to the subject and Garth’s interest, Shannon said “I believe that there are a handful of opinion-makers in any group. If I can sell the pitch to any of the opinion-makers then the rest of the candidates will fall in line and invest in the idea.”

That sounded plausible to Garth.

“When you say ‘handful’, how many are you thinking?” Garth asked.

“I dunno. Maybe three or four alpha-players. But I don’t know how to pick them out” Shannon said.

Then she pointed to Heller “Heller reminded me that titles on org charts don’t always align with how things really work in organizations and such.”

“Why don’t you just buy that analysis from PluggedIn?” Garth asked.

The silence was profound.

“What do you mean, ‘just buy it from them’?” Shannon asked.

“Does PluggedIn charge you to have an account?” Garth asked.

“No. They are free” Shannon said. Everybody knew that.

“How do you think they make money?” Garth asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe advertising?” Shannon said.

“Can you remember a single ad that ever ran on PluggedIn?” Garth asked.

“Noooo….” Shannon admitted.

“They don’t make their money from advertising. They make their money from YOU. They sell your data” Garth said.

“Well, that is not strictly accurate” Garth amended his thought. “Data is everywhere and without context it doesn’t have much value.”

“PluggedIn slices-and-dices the data and sells the analysis to people just like you...people who want pre-mined and highly refined data.” Garth said.

“What can I get from them?” Shannon asked.

“That depends entirely on how much money you have to spend” Garth said.

“The cheapest analysis is the what-goes-with-what. It is exactly like when you order an item on-line and the retailer suggests other products: “Other customers who bought that item also bought these items”.

“The next most sophisticated analysis is Principal Component Analysis. That breaks down sub-groups within the population by various functions.”

“What does that mean in plain English?” Heller asked.

Garth was warming to his subject. He was pursuing his Masters in Applied Mathematics and this was one of the topics he had studied as an IT weenie.

“You might have a large group of people who work in the same place. But some of those people will be in the same golf league, some might have kids the same age who play on the same teams. Or some of them might go to the same church or play video-games together or belong to the same professional association. Or they might be joined together by other types of affiliation that is completely invisible to outsiders” Garth said.

“So if I am hearing this right, Shannon could give PluggedIn her list of one-hundred names and they could give her back a thousand and tell her which ones were the leaders?” Heller asked.

“Or more” Garth agreed. “It is all in what you ask for and how much money you have to pay. The more names you give them, the more they charge. The more names you want back and the more Principal Components you want back the more they charge.”

“I still can’t see how this Principal Components thing works” Heller objected. “I just can’t get a picture in my head.”

“Ever play a guitar?” Garth asked.

“I dinked around with one when I was a kid” Heller admitted.

“Did you ever notice that it sounds different depending on where you pluck it?” Garth asked.

“Yeah, but I never thought about it” Heller agreed.

“A string has a bunch of modes it can vibrate at. It can have one hump, or two humps or three humps. Each way it vibrates has a different frequency, more humps means a higher frequency. Where you pluck the string make a huge difference in which frequencies you excite” Garth said.

“Principal Component analysis picks out those different ways of interactions...those analyzing interactions between members” Garth said.

"But I still can't see how they do it" Heller said.

"Well, one way would be to track strings of unique key-words in emails" Garth said. "Somebody sends an idea up the food-chain, drilling straight up and then the BSDs send commands back down and it fans-out. It might take the email a week or a month to drill up through each level but only take minutes or hours for the BSD's commands to cascade down through each level."

Over a bottle of Templeton Rye Whiskey, Garth, Shannon and Heller negotiated the particulars of the analysis.


  1. Templeton?
    Ugh, swill....
    Halfway through a nice bottle of Chattanooga Whiskey Rye. Its not bad at all. A nice sipper.

    1. Half-way through a bottle of Rye by 7:21 AM? That is starting early, even by my standards.

    2. You know what they say..."You can't drink all day if you don't start early."

  2. Mr. ERJ Your a deep thinker, dang interesting, might take a shot of rye myself. Pushing lots of snow today. Woody

  3. A note before I shovel snow.

    Data can be bought one way CAN be bought the OTHER way.

    Shannon might be on the short end of the stick.

    1. Definitely a concern, which is why she is using public computers under another name.
      I wonder what people like her targets would do to check out a persona like what she is creating; if they realize she is fake too soon her scheme could implode.

    2. AND using the student ID of a Federal Policewoman who will be PISSED when this becomes known. SHE is a major threat as keyword search algorithms can turn on the camera of the public computer in real time.

      A scorned Federal Policewoman isn't my idea of a good idea.

      Yep, just like they can listen in on your OFF Cellphone, it's never OFF unless the battery is removed, and SOME have an emergency battery installed or like Apple cannot be removed.

  4. If there is no cost, you are the product.

    Also, why it is a good reminder that if you wish to remain as anonymous as possible on the InterWeb, share as little as possible.

    As always, engaging story ERJ. Simple breakdown of concepts for someone even like me.

  5. Very good. I like the illustration being so far away from the subject. Those resonate! ha!

    I didn't realize someone could buy that data off plugged-up. But it makes sense.

  6. Principal components are just eigenvectors of the covariance matrix. Your musical analogy sounds a little off.

    1. I dunno. It has been a few decades since I was formally "into" this stuff.

      Numerical methods for calculating frequencies (eigenvalues) and modes of motion (eigenvectors) create a universe of mutually orthogonal "vectors" similar to Principal Components.

      Essentially, it is a "synthetic" coordinate system that is useful in various ways. All observed motions can be translated into the synthetic system and the "important parts" might jump out at you.

  7. In other words...see what You can do with a pair of knee pads and a tube of chapstick.

  8. Please tell Garth it is principAL component analysis.
    Also please tell him about spectral graph theory - it is better suited for what Shannon is asking than PCA.
    From one applied mathematician to another :)


    1. Garth was informed and he promised to make the corrections.

      Thanks for the tips.

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  9. Wow!

    Shannon is learning really fast. The analysis you hint at could possibly work.

    But she cannot purchase the analysis from "PluggedIn" or any other source. Online payments can always be traced back to their source.

    Even the searches made by her friend Garth might be detected. It depends on who she antagonizes and how powerful they might be. She needs to be very careful in selected her final target. Somebody who can cause the destructive effect she wants, but without enough clout to track her or her friends down.

    Somebody rich, vain, and arrogant who has criminal liabilities that will trigger a bonfire when exposed to their opponents. That would keep them too busy to hunt down Shannon and her friends. Perhaps the collateral damage would take down C'Diff and her manager.

    The ex-girlfriend who is now an FBI agent is a dangerous loose end. If that link gets traced by contractors, the agent will get into trouble with her bosses for presumed unauthorized activities and might call in a whole team to "clear her name" (and cover her rear end).

    The target had better have some real attractive criminal activity which would allow the agent to take credit for a big bust and claim it was "all part of a clever plan". The messy details would then be swept under the rug, and Shannon would never be noticed.


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