Well, That Was Weird

On May 7, 2011, my old-man-iest birthday yet, Teleplace stopped paying me. More about the circumstances another time, but what was I to do now? I had been working on Croquet for seven Halloweens, and I had no standard-label skills. My specialty is weird shit — the stuff that happens before there is an established technology stack. For 25 years, this had been at smaller companies selling to larger companies, as enterprise (or the military) had been the only ones who could afford such bleeding edge tech.

Surely since the iPad came out a year before, and probably earlier, this is no longer true. The consumer market is now the place to be. As I already had a year doing weird shit on mobile, I decided to work for Palm. I started on D-Day, just before the launch the TouchPad tablet. Ouch! It turns out that the wise men and women of the HP board think consumer mobile is just about the worst thing in the word to do. I don’t know what will become of the HP division formerly known as Palm, but I’m not sticking around to find out. Friday was my last day.

While I learned a lot at Palm about consumer product production, I don’t think I’ve picked up any positive examples about how the consumer market drives technology and product development. So tomorrow I’m off to TuneUpMedia, a company based on music metadata. There’s nothing more consumer-driven than music, and TuneUp has devoted itself to being smart about its users. The company has substantial revenue directly from end-users (which is very different from how Enterprise Software works), but also has third-party partnerships in the “two-sided market” arrangement so common to consumer tech. I’ll be working again with Teleplace founder Greg Nuyens, who is aggressive about technology development, but conservative about the product direction as experienced by users and partners. Just what I want to see.

Controlling Time: The Dial-tone for Cyberspace

Previous: Weapons of Math Destruction

Imagine we are at the Nasa Operations center, and it is filled with people attending to different aspects of a space launch. The operations director checks in with the different domain specialists: “Communications?” “Go.” “Environment?” “Go.” “Transport?” “Negative! We have a problem.”  Within that room, the specialists are focused on the complex applications and information in front of them. They all need to hear and speak to each other, and to see some common data on the big board at the front of the room.  As the situation changes, some of the problematic applications are examined by related specialists who were not looking at it previously.

Now imagine a distributed virtual operations center.

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Controlling Time: What Have We Made?

Previous: Demoed

In 2003, two of the world’s top computer scientists introduced their latest project: Croquet. David Reed and Alan Kay proposed a radical model for making computers work together on the Internet. With co-authors David Smith and Andreas Raab (old profile!), they developed the ideas over the next three years in conjunction with teams at HP, Intel, the Japanese National Institute of Information and Communications Technology, Viewpoints Research Institute, and the Universities of Wisconsin and Minnesota. Teleplace was formed in late 2005 (originally named Qwaq) to transform this research into a practical commercial system.

And the results are in.
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Controlling Time: Demoed

Previous: Done!

How can all this be possible? Magic. But learnable magic.

Next: What Have We Made?

Controlling Time: Intro

Six years ago I was hired by the University of Wisconsin to lead its development team on an internationally distributed open source project. Later a company named Qwaq was formed by project leaders and it later hired me and some of the other developers from various institutions. That company is now called Teleplace and its product sounds like science fiction, but it works. I’ve been blogging about the work since day one, and papers have been published by many people, but in the next six entries I’m going to try to bring together what I feel are the most significant accomplishments of all the various developers, and the science that has made them possible.

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I’ve been asserting for years how the right general magic technology enables some unbelievably broad applications. This week our group announced that Teleplace is building up a showcase of this with some of our heavyweight customers.

Tech heads and futurists might be particularly interested in one word buried in this news: “mobile”.

When working on Croquet at the University of Wisconsin, I was able to talk about my work as I was developing it, but commercial discussion has been quite a bit more retro. Sorry about going dark like that. Now that so many people have seen and even used this work, I’ll talk about what and how going forward. For now I’ll just show you the state it was in at the pepoikomai(*) moment a year ago (Novemeber 19, 2009), and let you try to work out what we’ve got.

(*) Whereas “Eureka” means simply that “I have found/discovered it,” I’m told that “Pepoikomai” meant “I have DONE it”, in the sense of “I have through my own exertions caused it to be accomplished.” Alas, I don’t happen to know what the first person plural is, which is what’s needed here. Sami Shaio (first CTO of Marimba) wrote the entire mobile side while I wrote the server side with huge, specific and direct support from Greg Nuyens, Andreas Raab, Brad Fowlow, Josh Gargus, Eliot Miranda, and Chis Croswhite.