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?

About Stearns

Howard Stearns works at High Fidelity, Inc., creating the metaverse. Mr. Stearns has a quarter century experience in systems engineering, applications consulting, and management of advanced software technologies. He was the technical lead of University of Wisconsin's Croquet project, an ambitious project convened by computing pioneer Alan Kay to transform collaboration through 3D graphics and real-time, persistent shared spaces. The CAD integration products Mr. Stearns created for expert system pioneer ICAD set the market standard through IPO and acquisition by Oracle. The embedded systems he wrote helped transform the industrial diamond market. In the early 2000s, Mr. Stearns was named Technology Strategist for Curl, the only startup founded by WWW pioneer Tim Berners-Lee. An expert on programming languages and operating systems, Mr. Stearns created the Eclipse commercial Common Lisp programming implementation. Mr. Stearns has two degrees from M.I.T., and has directed family businesses in early childhood education and publishing.


  1. My leasure. And I am pleased to be able to keep up on advances in Croquet. I continue to hope that we can, through a sound technology policy and continued advancement, free human beings from the tyranny of a few by their means to control communication and information. At the same time, I am all too aware of how such technologies can become the tools of tyranny. Makes life fun, don’t it.

    On the 60th anniversary of Hiroshima, it is perhaps useful to think of what a complex thing atomic power and the atomic bomb are. Potential solvation of mankind by making war too terrible to contemplate and making electricity too cheap to meter. Potential death of mankind by nuclear oblivion or poisoning ourselves with waste.

    As a religious man, I can’t help but wonder a bit about God’s parenting style. I hope, like a 17 year old with the family car, we learn to drive responsibly rather than slam into a tree or drive off the road.

  2. Hmm. Just before I got my license, my parents got rid of our ’65 Impala and ’70 Chevelle, and bought a Chevette econo-box. Just in time. If I’d been driving one of those muscle cars when I ran off the road and into those trees, me and my three friends would probably be dead.

    On might hope I’ve learned as I’ve aged. Maybe I’ll be sufficiently cautioned by the parts I’ve had on my desk since ’87 from the Jaguar I wrecked.

    I like to think I’m cautious and conservative and responsible. But I can’t ignore the evidence to the contrary.

    How does any of us know?

    The only answer I can think of, incomplete as it is, is make sure we keep asking the questions.

  3. “. . . in the end they will be the mechanism by which machine intelligence becomes like electricity–that is, invisible and ubiquitous.”

    Precisely. That’s why we say, “I fear these things. . .”

  4. Mesh Networks:
    a friend of mine in santa cruz put together his own ad-hoc (mesh) network (the wiki wiki wan) which was my only internet connection for about six months. it worked great. it was all about line-of site from my rooftop to another participant’s to another to a final wired fat pipe.

  5. There’s a project going on called the $100 laptop, which is a whole subject onto itself, but one aspect of it is to get computers with low power consumption into the hands of kids in places like Thailand and Cambodia. No wired infrastructure. Sure, satellites might work, but the idea is to not use a lot of power.

    One proposed solution is something called magic dust: tiny (possibly even nano-scaled) mesh network repeaters to be scattered from airplanes over the jungle, and using photovoltaic power or charging from air-pressure changes, or some such.

    Pleasant dreams, Johnny.

  6. “But the most disruptive business impact of meshes will be this: telecommunications companies do not own them. Meshes profoundly diminish the organizations that own and manage communications backbones.”

    Unfortunately economics, geography, politics and even technology will play a role in keeping them to a certain degree, part of the picture. The global Internet is still not as redundent as people suppose. Plus WiFi being unlicensed, and therefore a free-for-all will bring it’s own set of problems.

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