Today was my boss’s last day, and, ironically, my first anniversary. Julian Lombardi will be Duke’s Assistant Vice President for Academic Services and Technology Support. He’ll be responsible for the university’s IT customer service and development.

They made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

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I’ve been trying to capture “what it is” about software that has a sense of fun, is toylike, and which allows users to feel they are directly manipulating “real” objects that they more-or-less understand. I want to shorten the link with pen pointers instead of mice. That’s a lot of words. There’s something more basic.

Touchability. I think human beings are uniquely wired to fondle stuff, and to want to do so. My dog sniffs and tastes. Ants use their antennae. We comprehend and alter the world with our hands. I play with my so-touchable wine glass, but not with the utilitarian water glass next to it. No child can resist touching a musical instrument left out, particularly strings and pianos because they don’t need lips. I always reach for my leather coat before my ski jacket. Bad Flash sites are visually stimulating, but good ones make me want to touch it all over to be rewarded with workings and sounds.

Senators want to jump-start Gattaca

Ars Technica is reporting about a proposed amendment to the Violence Against Women act that would let police collect the DNA of everyone they arrest, just in case they are a sexual predator. What could possibly go wrong with that? Oh, you know, just fostering a future like Gattaca where genetics rather than actual merit is used to determine who advances in life. But then, merit doesn’t really play much of a role these days, does it?.

Of course, if those arrested by the police were to have their DNA confiscated, there are several rather interesting people’s DNA would now be on file… and perhaps even leaked out to the public. Who knows what could be turned up in that…

The Way Things Go

Der Lauf der Dinge is that film in which a whole series of objects cascade in a very long Rube Goldberg. (I understand many cultures have had similar cartoonists. I think its wonderful that where previous generations drew pictures, civilization has developed to the point where individuals can and do actually realize and record such fantasies.) You may have seen a take-off of this in a car ad.

I think the reason for our fascination with this has to do with movement carrying the action. You can have theme and variation without movement, and without physical objects. Consider novels, painting, music, and zillion other things. But here we have a case where there is nothing of interest at all except for the theme and variation expressed by the movement and positioning of physical objects. And it is fascinating. A reviewer has written of the film that it is like watching a Hitchcock film with objects instead of people.

I think this all relates to previous discussion on narrative and 3D.

[This is fallout from a session at OOPSLA.]

What politician will claim, “I destroyed the Internet?”

I admit I haven’t thought through the implications of the FCC’s recent orders about the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, but I’m pretty damn sure that our leaders haven’t thought it through.

The idea is to create the biggest unfunded mandate in history by forcing all Internet service providers to retool their systems to make it easier for the feds to monitor communications. The cost to universities alone is said to be at least $7B. I don’t know what this does to municipal and home grown mesh network systems. I suppose that the intent is to make it too expensive for anyone but a TelCo to operate anything other than restrictive high-level services. The prophetic David Reed laid out the the issues five years ago, saying it much better than I can.

To this I would add an uneasiness as to what steps a person must now apply, or is allowed to apply, to protect “intellectual property.” We are required to take practical precautions to keep our freedom of privacy else we loose it. If we wreck the Internet in a rush to destroy any practical means of protecting privacy, then who in the end will be allowed to actually claim the priviledge of privacy? Only those large institutions who can afford to run their own government-approved private networks?

Waiting for the Operatic Hammer to Fall

Last week Dear Wife Betty & I were out in San Francisco where we took in, as they say, Dr. Atomic at the San Francisco Opera. It’s about the Manhattan Project on the eve of the test detonation of the first bomb in 1945; in particular it’s about the moral ambiguity of the bombmaking enterprise, layered on top of deep uncertainty about whether the thing would actually explode (and perhaps ignite the atmosphere and destroy the earth).

The composer is John Adams, and the musical style is modern quasi-minimalist. The director is Peter Sellars, and the staging is Sellarian, with giant stylized props representing the bomb-test tower, the remote dry mountains, the physics laboratories; even Mr. & Mrs. Oppenheimer’s marriage bed. During most of the opera, the characters Edward Teller, Robert Oppenheimer, Robert Wilson and Leslie Grove sing about bomb designs and yields, war strategy, sin, physics and whether lightning from a desert storm will accidentally set off the bomb before they can set if off on purpose. In the second act two women sing poetic nonsense over a crib; Kitty Oppenheimer the while holding a highball glass in one hand and a grasping the neck of a mostly empty bottle of rye with the other. Throughout both acts there is a large chorus dressed in Army fatigues frantically moving about hither and thither as Oppenheimer, dressed like David Bryne in an oversized zoot suit, broods metaphysically, spouting Baudelaire and John Donne.

Also there were dancers who appeared at random times and did balletic stuff like you used to see on shows like Solid Gold in the days before MTV. (Betty said that they looked like the Maoist dancers you used to see on the Ed Sullivan show, only without the long ribbons on sticks).

Despite many misgivings, I liked Dr. Atomic a lot.

After all, how often does one get to see a full dress, high, arch, 80-piece orchestra, operatic treatment of the heart-numbing dread that is the essence of technoparanoia?

More impressions (and some spoilers) below the fold.

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Paging John Connor: Hurry up with your training, son

last year I gloated when the robots failed in the great Mojave off-road trials. Well, no gloating this time.

Ordinarily, yknow, as a bit of a technoparanoaic, I would feel a little uneasy about the prospect of indestructable autonomous hunter-killer machines each armed with more firepower than a Wermacht Panzer division, set loose to “police” the “evildoers.”

But seeing as this is all being done under the auspices of the United States Department of Defense, which never acts improperly or with suspect motives, and which never makes tactical, much less strategic, miscalculations, I can go to bed tonight knowing that there’s nothing to be afraid of.

By the way, I feel like watching a video. Has anybody seen my copy of T2?

My speech in SF

Sorry to go dark so long. I was on the West Coast pretty much all last week, then came home in time for the Jewish New Year. Lots of stuff to blog about and will try to do updates over the next week or so.

Last week, I was at the amzing and cool conference put together by Esme Vos of Esme is proof of why the Internet is such a wonderful tool. With nothing more than interest and dedication two years ago, she created the muniwireless website which is now a central news source and repository of information about municipal wifi.

I’ve attached below the speech I gave at the conference last week. It’s 6 pages, so it’s kinda long.

Stay tuned . . . .

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