Them's Fitin' Words, Craig

When I first heard about the $100 laptop project, I didn’t get it. Sure, I saw the value in having one laptop per child worldwide – I’m not stupid or mean – but I didn’t see why it wouldn’t just happen on its own. Prices are falling all the time. To make this project happen, it didn’t require a world-class engineering team, it required a team of world-class shoppers, I thought. My mother-in-law should run this project. I even argued with Alan Kay about it, to the point where folks had to come take him away before I was able to understand why so much effort needed to be poured into this right now.

I was wrong, and Alan was absolutely right. (Big surprise, no?) I have been convinced by these dismissive remarks by Intel Chairman Craig Barret.

More links: UN, tech and good discussion, historical background, interview.

Network Model Security

Last week I described the network model we’re building for Croquet, and was asked about some security issues. I think the main security weaknesses to what I have described come from the ability to misrepresent oneself as the Introducer or as a machine responsible for a World, or to deny others access to a World or the Introducer by sending a bunch of messages to it that demand its attention. Part of the answer in both cases is to distribute the roles of Introducer and of Worlds among many machines

Continue reading

ICANN Considered Boring

Last week was the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunisia (“the land of civilization, culture and enlightened thinking”, according to the official Web page). It has been reported that the conference was supposed to be about narrowing the digital divide. Croquet architect and all-around Computer God Alan Kay presented a model of the dynabook, er, $100 laptop to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, while his buddy Nicholas Negroponte presented one to the Pope. Picture here. (And there was much amusement in the Stearns household when we realized that this made me one degree of separation from Annan and two from the Pope.) A lot of world leaders were taking this theme very seriously, but I hear the conference turned out to be all about US control over the ICANN system for Internet domain names. Even more leaders were taking seriously this idea, as argued by countries like China and Iran, that the world can’t accept ICANN to be under the control of a rogue state that practices state censorship, executions, unilateral invasion, torture, use of chemical weapons, etc. President Bush chose not to attend, in order to that he might visit Asia and criticize China regarding human rights.

The ICANN flap is interesting in several ways. There’s the timely main story in the news about the relationship between the US and the rest of the world. Then there’s the timeless backstory about the idea that progress is not achieved by consensus or committee, but by someone actually doing something that works. That’s what the US did. We only got into trouble because it was successful. I’m fascinated by this idea lately as it relates to development within Croquet. It’s hard for people who feel excluded to do other than to demand sharing, and particularly hard for them to realize that nobody “anointed” the folks who are producing the stuff they want to be shared. People do stuff and it works. Then other people want it. The trick, if it were possible to optimize such things, would be to share when things aren’t yet working so that others might join in the creative fun. But too many cooks and the management cost of such “optimization” can easily spoil the soup. It’s a dicey thing. I know, because I’m on both sides of the problem right now.

But the most noteworthy thing of all, to my mind, is that the ICANN flap is all so unecessary. US officials say the current system works just fine, technically, and they’re sort of right, except that the rest of the world says it doesn’t, and they’re right too. But I think there’s a much better way to handle the mapping of addresses, which we’re currently trying to build out in Croquet. Whether we’re the ones to do it or not, there’s no technical reason that the whole thing can’t be done in a way that makes the whole political argument moot.

Continue reading

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?

Mesh Networks

There’s an interesting short editorial in Tech Review about the significance of mesh networks. This is where wireless networks can be made from a vast network of independent, individually owned, volunteer peers, rather than a centralized distribution of wires or radios towers. The essay brings together three themes of Wetmachine.

The technology is an overlay on a self-organizing P2P network, closely related to Croquet and the Internet itself, and a strong interest of Croquet and TCP/IP architect David Reed. There’s “Inventing the Future.”

The essay then mentions how such networks are not owned by anyone, and that this effects commercial network carriers, particularly for the “last mile.” There’s “Tales of the Sausage Factory.” (Indeed, I am indebted to Harold for first exposing me to this powerful technology, right here on Wetmachine.)

Finally, the editor broaches the cybernetic quality of these beasts. Meshes draw inspiration from the behavior of swarming bees, so might not there be emergent properties in such meshes that go beyond sterile function? There’s our host John Sundman, whose “Cheap Complex Devices” draws more than a casual comparison between a swarm and human consciousness — or is it computer consciousness?

Jesus Speaks

This could give rise to an an interesting copyright challenge.

From some junk mail I got from the company that makes the technology: “Brian Morrissey of Adweek, wrote it better than we ever could: ‘Any institution around for thousands of years must know a thing or two about product promotion. That’s why churches are a great place to find new marketing tactics. Heck, the Pope is podcasting. Now a Palm Harbor, Fla. -based minister has produced what we’re guessing is the first interactive rich media representation of Jesus’…

”Since the dawn of the third millennium corporations have been using our VHost™ technology to deploy famous people including everyone from Elvis and Stephen King to Einstein and Woody Harrelson.”

Inventing the Future: connectivity and freedom

My dear friend John, whose generosity and interests drive this site, has said something in comment to this entry, which I just have to call him on:

“The more everything ties together the more we are open for invasion. But the Paris Hiltons of the world seem to embrace the great borgification, the assimilation into the overmind, in which notions such as autonomy and privacy are not so much quaint as incomprehensible.”

Whoa, there buddy! You’re going to have to explain why tying stuff together makes it more open to invasion. Ever try to invade a strawberry thicket? There’s good design and bad design (with respect to various desirable or undesirable effects), but I see no reason that a good interconnected design is any more pervious then a bunch of isolated stuff. In fact, in my admittedly limited understanding of military and tech. security history, the concepts of “defense in depth” and “divide and conquer” suggest to me that interconnected stuff (if done right) may be inherently safer.

Besides, I’m touchy-feely enough that I just plain like the idea of interconnectedness (done right) being not only safer, but freer and more open and enabling, not more oppressive. Croquet architect David Smith just attended the International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security in Madrid. They have produced a document that begins to articulate how I happen to feel. It is called The Infrastructure of Democracy.

I had a conversation with someone at the University here about architecting Croquet – or a class of Croquet applications – so that the infrastructure can be centrally controlled. By the University, by a consortium of universities or what have you. “This is wrong,” I thought. If you design it so that the whole thing – the very infrastructure — can be controlled by you, then it will be controlled, but not by you. Either Croquet will be a success or it won’t, and if it is a success, then the Elephant in the Hallway, Microsoft, will come along and control their version. Or some government, or terrorists, or whatever bad guys haunt your anxiety closet.

I’ve recently learned from some folks in the tech security community that security is weakened when you rely on prohibiting that which you cannot prevent. Systems fail, so design your system to fail gracefully. Connectivity is abused, so design your systems to respond to it. Openness and interconnectivity are powerful tools for dealing with the attacks we cannot prevent.

Inventing the Future: iPods

Duke and other schools are giving iPods to students. This site explains that they are looking for innovative ways to introduce technology in education. Poems and lit. to go. School fight songs. Info on the frosh dorms. I think that’s great. Why be so focused on visual information? It’s interesting to me that cell phone surfing seems to be done on phones outfitted with tiny visual screens and abuses of keyboards. Why not aural displays and voice interfaces? (Although I’m not too keen on the image of zombie students walking around in their own little isolation enforced by earplugs piping in the university’s message.)

Duke doesn’t mention anything about file sharing, but I wonder how much of their IT push is also meant to get them off the hook that some universities have been placed on in order to try to force them to be responsible for the file-sharing actions of their students.