Wisconsin destroys a business

Even as our Croquet software was going open source and the company winding down, I haven’t been posting much. I’ve been distracted. Here’s one reason why.

This is a tale of a government that destroyed a business. My business, along with my wife who is the speaker in the video. Ours was just one of  hundreds of mom-and-pop early-education business targeted by the state, but this is specifically about what happened to us.

Mostly Reliable Performance of Software Processes by Dynamic Control of Quality Parameters

[I wrote this just over four years ago for a conference I never went to. I’m submitting it now in the sprit of my “Disclose This” entry, in which I promised to disclose ideas that I’d like myself and others to be able to use, and not be prevented from doing so by software patents.]


We have a complex software application with a number of multi-media subsystem processes. We would like the application to meet certain minimum overall performance criteria. Many of the subsystem processes can be executed at varying quality levels, and these have various effects on system performance. The situation is complicated by the fact that system performance is also dependent on factors outside the software application itself (e.g., processor and network load from other applications). We apply a number of independently-operating standard industrial process-controllers to vary subsystem quality as needed so that performance criteria is met or exceeded when possible.
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Disclose This

When one of my children was learning to speak and to control the world around her, we told her that some behavior was a good idea. (I don’t remember what the behavior was.) She declared, “I do not like this good idea!”

As a software developers, I have ideas all the time, and I think some of them are good and would help people. I don’t want some corporation preventing others from using those ideas simply because they don’t like for others to do so. What would happen to software patents and business process patents if there was prior art in the blogosphere? We now live in a time where every utterance is available to others, and I’d like some good to come of that. So here are a bunch of ideas that I might like myself and everyone else to be able use in the future.

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Jobs. Ritchie. McCarthy. What’s God up to? When do you think it will be out?

The 40th Anniversary of Lisp was 13 years ago. I remember being mostly relieved that the old man didn’t attend my presentation, as it wasn’t really very good. But I’ll remember McCarthy. I haven’t programmed Lisp on a computer in a decade, but I still think in it. About a week ago, I had a sudden urge to play with it again. Here’s the coolest thing I ever wrote in any language, with comments removed. It’s sort of a y-combinator for a fixed-point of three levels of eval/apply.

(defmacro eclipse::WITH-UNIQUE-NAMES (vars &body body)
  `(let ,(loop for var in vars
	       collect `(,var (make-symbol ,(symbol-name var))))

(defmacro eclipse::REBINDING (vars &body body)
  (loop for var in vars
	for name = (make-symbol (symbol-name var))
	collect `(,name ,var) into renames
	collect ``(,,var ,,name) into temps
	finally (return `(let ,renames
			   (eclipse::with-unique-names ,vars
				`(let (,,@temps)

What Were They Thinking?

I guess I don’t have to worry about giving away any secrets regarding the strange behavior of HP in the last few months, because developers like me haven’t been told anything that isn’t available publicly. Maybe I’m a little more compulsive than most in collecting that info, so I thought it might be interesting to assemble the story so far as I understand it. Continue reading

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.

These “Clouds” Have a Dark Lining

Do you like dealing with your cable company or your bank? How would you like to resolve an account issue with them if they had cut off access to all your documents, email, contacts, pictures, links, and all else digital in your life?

It is important to recognize that the term “Cloud” is a pernicious misnomer. This isn’t Napster or Bit Torrent or a DHT. As both legally and technically implemented today, your vital data is not stored in the ether, owned and accessible only to you. It is simply stored on a huge corporation’s servers, accessible and controllable by them for any purpose and disclosure whatsoever, and with no protections for continued access by you. Ah, but Google are “good guys”, right? Well, any Google employee will tell you that the cult is not one of actions and good works of the form “do no evil”, but rather a self-ruling predestined “don’t BE evil.”

Anyway, we don’t have to imagine or guess what will happen. It has already has. Read the tale of Thomas Monopoly. There are bound to be many more concerning aspects of the still-experimental g+, such as this one. Indeed, my G+ invitation came through the artist and storyteller known as Cheeseburger Brown. He has now had to shut down his g+ account for fear of running afoul of Google’s anti-pseudonymity policy. Even as Google decides to make his commercial and artistic identity a social unperson, the man who illustrated the modern anticorporatist 1984 cannot risk loosing his gmail or blogger access. When I tried to comment on the corpse of his g+ identity, I am told only that “There was a problem updating your comment.” The point is not the degree to which these or comparable Facebook incidents are defensible or temporary, but rather that the Monopoly affair is not an isolated incident.

As a child I used to wonder how whole populations in history could collectively engage in self-ruination. Through the work of experimental economists such as Vernon Smith, we now know that people do indeed create market bubbles and bubbles of perception around ideas that they know to not be true, but which they’d like to get away with being temporarily true. Whether wanton violence during war or rapacious speculation in a housing bubble, people will abandon the rules they have always lived by as long as they believe that many others are now doing so as well. (I do not think we yet understand which people will abandon which beliefs under which circumstances.)

With this in mind, I have no doubt that people in this second part of the Information Age will happily give up their most important information to corporations that offer no protection for it whatsoever.

I do not think that the US government is currently inclined to help, nor the US voter inclined to demand protection for individuals. Read the tale of The United States v. Aaron Swartz. Among the principles we have collectively abandoned recently, is the dictum that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Hundreds of years ago, we designed our system of government with each limited-power group counterbalancing each other, and simultaneously modeled our economic philosophy the same way. But now we have radically allowed no limitation on the power, control, “speech”, access or operations of the largest corporations. We ignore the evidence of the effects of that we see today on our environment, economy, and government process. What we will soon have, then, is internationals answerable to no one, with access to everything.

One Word

I’ve changed one term in my “Weapons of Math Destruction” post : “value” has been altered to read “interest” throughout the post.

The original public expressions of Metcalfe’s Law expressed the theoretical potential value of a communications network as being proportional to the number of pairwise connections — growing quadratically with the number of users). Similarly for community networks being valued by the number of subgroups under Reed’s Law — growing exponentially with the number of users.

I originally used the same terminology, but I’ve found the term “interest” to be less confusing. It’s hard to reason about what “theoretical potential value” means, but I think the best way to think about is that it is simply how “interesting” a network can be.

In fact, if you look at the capital valuation of a community company such as Facebook, you see that it has grown exponentially — in time, not in users. Also, the number of users has grown exponentially in time. Why?

  1. To have exponential growth in users, the number of users added each month must increase exponentially. The number of users each month is a direct expression of interest, which as Reed says, is in proportion to 2 to the number of users (in the previous month).
  2. I’m not quite sure how to look at market valuation.
    1. If market valuation is simply an irrational expression of exuberance, than we should see it increase each month according to interest, just like the number of users grows. That fits the data.
    2. However, investors may be assigning a rational valuation based on the expected potential revenue. That also fits the data, using a sober flat rate per user (of about $100).

This revision of “value” => “interest” lets us reason separately about user growth and monetization. For example, the current fashion for monetizing social media is based on either subscriptions, virtual goods, or advertising. Each of these are based on an amount per user, not per subgroup. Thus monetized value for these will grow exponentially in time just as the number of users grow exponentially in time, but not double-exponentially.

Controlling Time: TeaTime

Previous: Dial-tone for Cyberspace

Many of us remember where we were when we saw some seminal event unfold on TV. We may have been doing different things, but we shared a common experience through the live broadcast. Parts of each person’s experience were not shared. The shared experience is the part that came off the screen and out the speakers. Continue reading