Inventing the Future: electronic discourse done right

Maybe we don’t have to choose between persistence and spontaneity, between synchronous and asynchronous.

Consider threaded blogs vs live chat. The former has a permanent record and structure, and people can collaborate asynchronously, but lacks spontaneous give and take. The latter is spontaneous, but lacks permanence (unless someone saves a transcript, and manages their collection of transcripts, and the sharing of same with others). But do these have to be different mechanisms? Maybe we can have everything with a single interface, so people don’t have to choose?

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No on Gonzales

Wetmachine is a technocentric place. We talk about, mostly, science and technology and their relation to society. My own particular hobbyhorse is unforseen side effects of technology, especially negative side effects. I guess you would say I’m a dystopian, happiest whenever some new technopolistic horror happens and I can say “See! See! I told you we never should have angered the gods by making fire!”

I don’t generally post political rants here. (I have a diary at daily Kos for that.)

But I’m going to add my puny voice to the chorus opposing Alberto Gonzales for Attorney General, because there are limits, after all, to my perverse delight in seeing technophilia run amok. Gonzales truly is an Orwellian character, a minion of Older Sibling and a cog in the machine that is hell-bent on turning my beloved United States of America into a high-tech Ociania–replete with a prole-filled gulag and a worldwide secret army of faceless enforcers brought up on videogames and armed to the teeth with gizmos, gadgets and all the latest in mind-fuck technology.

A vote for Gonzales is a vote not only for torture and the debasement of a proud American tradition that began, literally, with George Washington. A vote for Gonzales is a vote for the gulag, an the corruption of our republic that inveitably goes with it.

No on Gonzales.

outsource top management

This essay by Dick Gabriel is cute, short (one page), and worth reading. Dick has a long history of thought-provoking good-news bad news jokes: this one’s about outsourcing and executive compensation.

By the way, Dick was great Lisp programmer at Stanford who founded a great Lisp company and sold it to his competitor to go work in computer science labs. Then he dropped out of tech at to get an MFA in poetry at a relatively advanced age. He writes, talks to anyone who will listen, and is a great curmudgeon. Reminds me a lot of John. Check out the photo. Better yet, check out his other writings at his Dreamsongs site.

Inventing the Future: learning the system

Dear Diary,

I’m off to Japan Tuesday for the big conference. Better take a snapshot of what I’ve been doing, because I expect my world to change by the time I get back. My first six weeks on this radical Croquet project were spent with very general learning of what’s what. Drinking knowledge from a firehose. For the next six we’ve been prototyping some of the features from conference papers written by my boss, Julian, and his counterpart at U. Minnesota. We’re going to demo these at the conference, and we go on right after Alan Kay’s keynote address. Yikes. Good thing Julian gives great demos! I imagine the conference organizers know that and put him in that slot accordingly. (Cast of characters here).

[details below the fold]

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Tales of the Sausage Factory: Will the Last Powell Out Please Turn Off the Lights?

Michael Powell has announced his resignation as Chair of the FCC. Hardcore libertarian fiscal conservatives — such as the Wall St. J. and the CATO Institute — mourn his departure. By contrast, most public interest folks celebrate and condemn his legacies. Industry people, always wary of burning any bridges, give carefully guarded statements. And, of course, everyone speculates on who will be next chair.

As for my views? See below of course!

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The incumbents go for speed over finese in this latest round. LB 157, just introduced in the NE legislature, proposes a flat out ban on municipal systems. Critically, this has been designated “emergency legislation” so that it can move through the legislature swiftly and with minimal debate. Apparently, the idea that citizens might have a say in their own governance is an “emergency” in Nebraska — at least if you are a legislator who is also a wholly owned subsidiary of the Telco and Cable lobby.

Here’s hoping the people of Nebraska find out what’s going on soon enough to act!

stay tuned . . . .

Newsflash: Titan sounds like old Atari 2600 games

Being somewhat of a space nerd, I’ve been following the progress of the Huygens probe mission for the last few days (besides, watching space press conferences streaming via the web is more fun than working, even if they are largely in French and German).

One of the instruments on the Huygens was essentially a microphone, and in addition to the pictures that look like they were taken with a first generation Logitech webcam, the ESA have released MP3s of sounds recorded through the microphone. I was anxious to hear what another planet sounded like… boy was I shocked to learn it sounded a lot like the bleeps and hisses that passed for sound in the old Atari 2600 game console from the 70’s and 80’s.

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Feynman Nine

In my technoparanoid thriller Acts of The Apostles (which you can download for free by clicking on the left), two characters named Dieter Steffen and Pavel Isaacs develop a nanomachine for rearranging human DNA. There are implications for Gulf War Syndrome, and hints of a plot to lure the Americans back to Iraq for a second war, where they’ll be beaten. (Acts was published in 1999). They call the machine Feynman Nine.

Recently sometime-Wetmachiner Ron sent me these links:

Feynman Nine becoming reality, and and one of the leading bioinformatics molecular biology researchers around is indeed named Pavel in real life. He’s working on algorithms for rearranging genomes.

At some point in the future I’m gonna compile a compendium of all the stuff I made up for that book that has since happened.

Or else I’ll get Ron to do it — he’s been sending me “Acts of the Apostles technology sitings” for years.

Inventing the Future: players

So, you join a university team that is in the middle of a project that is throwing away the models of how computer programs and interfaces work and starting again from scratch. Where do you begin?

There’s a nice outside review of the scope and implications of the Croquet project in
this person’s blog.

This is deep stuff — too deep for me to fully grasp in my first two months. So I started by sorting out the people and their projects.

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An obstacle to human progress

So I decided to ego surf the google usenet archives the other day and was kind of taken aback to see that the first entry for “John Sundman” was this little nugget from

John Sundman

People like “John Sundman” are obstacles to the progress of human knowledge and

deserve to be put out of their misery

It was a comment I hadn’t seen before in response to this story I wrote for Salon about artifical intelligence, or more precisely, about how certain AI types could stand to, y’know, lighten up a little! (Why, the nerve of me!). God, seeing that comment cracked me up, I must thay.

I was tempted to try to make some kind of extrapolation from that comment to Godwin’s Law, but I’m somehow not really all that motivated. So in closing I guess it’s only fair that I should remind you that you’ve just wasted half a minute of your life with an obstacle to human progress. Now, I want you to go off and think about that before you make any more foolish mistakes today.