Monday, December 31, 2007

the true age of the internet?

so lots of people have varying views on the age of the internet - people date it from the victorean steam telegram, or from the first IMP-IMP message, or the Queen sending the first email to the pope (oops, no, it was the US president) - and then they have X anniversary celebrations (latest one is the 25th anniversay of the DNS...).

But Internet time is not driven by the earth's orbital period around the sun, and the internet is not the same as it was - it goes through phases of life more like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly (replacing the command line with the browser) or like a snake (replacing the NSFNet with the multi-tiered relationship between ISPs), or like an ecosystem (punctated equilibrium - everyone's doin social networks now - what will the craze be in 2008)

So in my humble opinion, the internet doesn't have an age (and so it shouldn't get a capital letter either)...its a situation, not a thing or a process:)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

me and mrs marconi

I'll tell you the story of
Marconi, and Crippen...and me

Prepare to be amazed

I helped a recently completed
PhD student, Rex Hughes, in Cambridge,
who comes from Seattle,
with his research and after his graduation
ceremony, he gave me (along with some very
good champagne) a signed copy of a book
entitled Thunderstruck, by an American author
who lives in Seattle called Erik Larson who
was a friend of my student's mother.

Thunderstruck is essentially a history book
about two true stories that strangely
intertwined, and, rather oddly (ah, the
interconnectedness of all things), both link
co-incidentally with me.

Dr Crippen was a famous turn-of-the century
murderer who had come to live in England with
his wannabe Music Hall actress/singer of a> wife.
He fell in love with a north London
working girl, and decided that his (apparently
rather awful) spouse had to go.

Guglielmo Marconi was a half Italian, half
Irish inventor who created the idea of using
radios for communication, and demonstrated
their use at around the turn of the century,
to successfully send messages across the
Atlantic (between Cornwall and Newfoundland,
initially). Marconi's success was instantly
turned into a thriving business, particularly
for ship-to-shore, and was immediately seized
on almost like the early Internet, by the
public who created news papers especially for
ships (the various shipping lines had their
own reporters and editors). Marconi is a
role model for the entrepreneur.

Crippen did away with his wife, and eloped
with his girlfriend first to Belgium, and then
took a ship to the US to try to vanish in the
vast reaches beyond the long arm of the law
that was Scotland Yard.

Unluckily for him, a rather fine detective
(called Dew) realised what had happened and
"put out an APB" - this had never been done
before, as the idea of radios had simply not
impinged on anyone's consciousness back in

The captain of the ship that Crippen and his
girlfriend were on (his girlfriend was
disguised as a young boy - almost
Shakespearean in its weirdness- oh, and she
was completely innocent about the wife's
dreadful fate), received a notice, and
realised that this man and his "son" seemed a
bit oddly intimate. He tipped of Dew of
the Yard (again by radio) and Dew caught a
faster boat across the Atlantic. Of course in
those days, boats took 5-10 days to get from
Europe to North America, and every day, the
reporters on ships and on all the countries i
the world wired progress reports. The only
people who did not know (ah, the delicious
irony of it all) were the people on board the
boat that Crippen and his girlfriend were on,
because the radio or "Marconi set") operator
was told by the captain not to pass on those
parts of the news to the ships

On arrival in the US, Crippen was met by Dew
and (apparently) Dew said "I would like you to
accompany me to answer some questions" and
Crippen actually said something like "I will
come quietly"!!!

Why should this have any connection with me?
Well, my Chair in Cambridge was endowed by
Marconi's company exactly 100 years after this
all happened, when they donated (with Marconi's
daughter's approval) 3M pounds to the
University of Cambridge. So my job title is
"Marconi Professor". But that's not all.
Crippen lived with, and killed his wife in 32
Hilldrop Crescent in Kentish Town, about 100
yards from where I was born and now live. And
that's not all. Marconi was not only
half-Irish, he also married an Irish woman.
so am I married to an Irish woman.

The Marconi company, sadly, went broke buying
another company in the height of the Internet
dot com madness, called Fore Systems, founded
by two people I know. Marconi was then bought
by a Swedish Company, Ericsson, after I
advised them of future directions. Marconi's
daughter, Degna, sadly passed away in 1998,
and the Marconi Villas in Bologna and Rome
have been turned into Italian National
Museums. There is a Marconi room at UCL (where
I used to work) and it has several instruments
that were used in radios in 1907. My
grandfather (father's father) used some in his
work in building radar kit in the 2nd world

Crippen, a homoeopathic doctor, was found
guilty of murdering his wife who went by the
stage name of Belle Elmore,
and hanged in 1910 - his girlfriend
was found completely innocent and emigrated,
changed her name (sadly, as her name was the
rather amazing Ethel Le Neve), and lived
for a long time and had a fairly normal life.

And another thing. And this really takes the
biscuit for bizarre coincidences. My great
great aunt on my mother's side was one
Marie Tempest Etherington (actually made a
Dame!), and was a light opera singer and
comedy actress, who my mother remembers. Well,
Dame Marie was a close friend of Belle Elmore,
and was one of 3 people who tipped off the
police, by talking to inspector Dew about her
suspicions of Dr Crippen.

For a lovely picture of Marie, see
wili entry on Marie

Now how about that as a story? you wouldn't
believe it if it was in the newspapers:)

late breaking news - apparently, DNA testing reveals that
the body wasn't that of Mrs Crippen after all!

The plot thickens

Monday, December 10, 2007

wiiphone for sociophiles - yes, you heard it here first

so y'know how anyone with cool technology (apple ipod, google, ) wants to hack the cellular industry

so here's nintendo's free gifthorse of an idea - the wii-phone - with accelerometers (like the chumby too - why isnt that an ansafone and skype box anyhow), you
call your friends with gestures

to make this _ultra_ sine qua ultra cool, it uses your social net as the space, rather than the classical trimphone 0-9 dial interface - so what you do is
swim to the person you want to call through a visual sea of contacts

if you prefer, you can overlay shelob's web, and fight, sam gamgee like, your way to phone your frodo,

soon all astronauts on mars will want to call home with one over Nasa's interplanetary telephone net....which will, of course, run haggle software:)

Monday, December 03, 2007

ofcom + bt = less bandwidth

why is it that ofcom and bt are so conservative when it comes to bandwidth and business models? this is yet another head-in-the-sand set of statements about the lack of business case for fiber to the home roll out - fact is that if they started now it would only just be in time by the actual time the got any decent fraction of the population covered. why? because lots of people want to do
peer-assisted video and i) symmetric and ii) higher capacity than 25-50Mbps (e.g. HD) and iii) latency and equipment costs at the exchange buildings will all mean that fiber is the only sensible way forward -what annoys me is that the statement from Ofcom is purely based on business too - the UK economy as a whole might benefit even if margins for bit-carriers and music and film publishers are pushed even lower by a fiber roll out, and ofcom is a government regulator, not a spokesbody for industry- it isn't just supposed to profit maximize for the telecom sector . it should include public benefits in its considerations. fiber (and some high bandwidth wireless) should be a UK priority - we have a massive underground industry of media, digital film production, games software and smart phone software companies - we need to connect up the dots...:)

greenflying the internet

so this post recently on greening the internet (a popular topic since I promoted accepting a paper at sigcomm a couple of years back which lots of others didnt seem to want then:)
is partly wrong

a couple of problems here
1. optical isn't cheaper powerbudget necessarily - lasers take a lot of power and
dissipate a lot of heat needing a lot of aircon -
2. decentralising resources (e.g. into people's homes) removes need for aircon
which reduces power needs and means a lot of requests can be satisfied locally
reducing load on net, reducing net power budget
3. people dont like putting resources in central sites - attacks,
latency, ownership, censorship and other problems abound
4. the issue isn't the price of power, its the nmber of KWatts -
one obvous thing about putting resources in everyone's home is that everyone needs hot water, so one can
use heath exchange to cool computer to pre-heat water - this sort of thing is very good karma
and cheap technology...

so i disagree with the blog!!! in fact, i take a diametrically opposed viewpoint.

but thanks to bill for posting all the usual useful stuff at
his canadian net news site

we need a Free Hard (Sci) Fi Training Manual

readng lotsa hard sf, particularly stuff about post human societies (e.g. stross, accelerando, but also older stuff by sterling, and really classic stuff like feersum enjin by banksm or blood music, by greg bear) one cant help but feel that there is a standard set of knowledge one needs to acquire before embarking on writing this stuff

obviously cybernetics, compsci #101 (recursion, macros, language processing), and a smattering of lifesciences (ecologies,
dna as code for machine, conway etc)m plus some retro geek joke material based on older knowledge than the author could possibly have personal experience ("Oh, a spaceship run by an IBM 3090 600, how unspeakably quaint"), plus the obligatory smattering of historical and classical references (hieroglyphs as an efficient way to interface people and computers - get real - we don\t use PL/1!!!)

charset drawn from aescylus, plot from norse legend by way of wagner, sets from brecht and weill opera, soundtrack from dowland, and special effects courtesy of jacobean tragedy....whatever next ? you'll accuse me of being a closet Farscape addict (which i am)...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

HMRC fiasco and risks

so i've heard two unbelievably ignorant comments by senior politicians in the wake of the fiasco where HMRC accidentally "lost" 2 CDs with 25M people's children names, addresses and parents bank account details

1. biometrics wont have this problem
ok so what if the passport office accidentally released the database with 60M people's biometric data? well, according to experts, it is crypted doing a 1 way function so you can't reverse engineer someone's Iris or fingerprint from the data.
But what if there is 1 single bug in the way they'v done this? just 1. d it can.
everyone's biometric is compromised, once and for all and for ever. game over. doh.

2. encryption would have meant the problem with the 2 CDs wasnt a problem.

ok so how was the NAO (or KPMG) going to read the data? magic? no, they had to have the leys (and password) too. SO how were those sent? securely? do we know they aren't the same key and password as are used for loads of other data bases inside HMG's various termianly ICT challenged departments? no we dont, nor do they.

anyhow, both these are irrelevant - the fact that junior (and therefore large numebrs) of staff have access to the entire database means that it is effectively open to all and sundry (as with polis databases) who can afford to find any bribably or blackmailable or just careless person in a large population of junioer clerks.

"all the eggs in one basket" appears to be a phrase that wasn't part of Darling's education (or browns).

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

HMRC incompetence beggars belief.

Everyone's aware that the HMRC (british tax and customs government agency) accidentally shipped a plaintext file on disks in the ordinary post with 25M people's national insurance, bank account and other personal information, in response to a request from the Govermnet audit office for some sample data.
Ross Anderson and Ian Brown (and others) appeared on Newsnight last night to very good effect, and it was quite clear that the government spokesperson failed to understand the real nature of the problem which is not the "one off" nature of the error in sending a file unencrypted (this is an operational error of fairly huge proportions) but is the fact that this is symptomatic of a government that allows low level staff the ability to even create a copy of the entire database - this should not be possible, by design. Any decent system of mission critical data will have methods to control the damage that can be done - have they never heard of the idea of "need to know"??? As was pointed out, the fact that they are so ignorant of the simplest principles of data based access control means that they are unfit to propose other systems in this space (ID cards, NHS spine, etc etc) since they will make the same, criminally negligent, mistakes.

I'd like to point out that if I now claim someone has withdrawn money from my ank account, or masqueraded as me using my NI (national insurance == social security ID), they have no course but to believe that it is from this leak. we could run a massive denial of service attack on the bank accounts of many people now by simply observing that ID is virtually worthless.

pathetic, no - more - someone should go to jail.

oh, another note: someone seems to think (brown?) that they've "lost" the records!!!
they havnt - dont they understand that they have still got them - what they have done is PUBLISHED the records, by making a copy widely available. when wil lpeople understand that "sending" a datum is not "sending" - it is making a copy, and transmitting the copy...and if you send to persons unknown, you are publishing.

Friday, November 16, 2007

anti-social networks

great article on how to kill off community networks - should be mandatory reading for comms #101 startup wannabees and software engineers...:) this has a lot of good other points about standards, APIs and how not to make innovative technology succeed.

on the other hand...

now everyone (i.e. cory doctorow) is on the case about the built in contradictions of social nets - apparently, they will evaporate - so this is a bit like a "hawking radiation" model of black holes- unfortunately the likely model is far more like diffusion (social diffusion and memes are well understood at least statistically) where basically people will slow down in atttrachtion towards each social net hub until there's a stable equilibirum established....

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

on the tip of your tongue....and recall yet takes so long

so you know when you are trying to remember something (name of film, actor in film etc) and you know you know it, and your conscious effort tells you you know it, but not what it is - indeed, sometimes, it seems, the harder you try, the less you are able to recall the item - so how does this work? then you get distracted (perhaps for a long time, but sometimes just for a shortish while) and then suddenly, in an inappropriate moment (sleep awakeinging in extremis) the datum/factoid comes flooding back

so that is weird right? I mean the neuroscience of the brain says its a set of synapses that are slow, but not that slow, organised into some sort of (very high degree) holographic, or swarm retrieval might be slow - each "hop" in the net needs lots of time by silicon standards, and you need quite a few hops...

I am guessing that the memory is also partitioned, and there's only so much resource between the clusters of memory items and those resources are used to statmux requests for retrieval - if some region is currently isolated because you are
busy using the "links" to it for soemthing else, then is just like "call blocking" in a telephone net - it takes a while...and then, when you have re-organized things due to task switching, the pathways are freed up and a queued request (call) gets thru - this also helps explain the patchy way memory loss works - if you actually lose "pinout" from a region, it might all be still holding info, but you simply can't route to it....without re-training some other component - a lot of this reminds me of large scale P2P systems where request routing is slow and complex and re-org of nodes (known as "churn" in systems like pastry or kademlia) leads to some possible loss of info, and certainly to potential long periods (compared with single node performance) of no access....

curt cobain said something about memories...and I dont have a gun, which wasnt true

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

so where do metro drivers live? start or end of line

and how does it affect the schedule where they live eh? thats what I want to know

Hands off is also an odd expression when you think about is hands-on (experience) - surely brains connected would be more useful?

Friday, November 09, 2007

copy protection and payment

so hollywood screenwriters are on strike because they don't get extra payments when
productions are released on other media according to the bbc story on WGA . Irony, isn't it that when users copy DVDs and MP3s hollywood runs around getting the RIAA on the case to sue them, but when hollywood copies material written by authors and makes more money, it isn't prepared to share it iwith the original creators. Classic hypocrisy in big business in action. why should we have any sympathy at all? send them all to Iran (no, wait, Friends is the most popular soap in Iran - dont send them there!!!)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

animated evidence

there was this incident in london where a brazillian was shot dead (deliberately ) by
armed police shortly after the london suicide bombings....the chattering classes beat
themselves up about it a lot out of guilt, but the police have been largely let off
although recently found guilty collectively under health and safety law (bizarrely)

the bbc has assembled a fairly detailed flash animation of the events - see

it would be interesting to know if anyone uses tools like this in court cases -
if done right, it could simply jury's work quite a bit

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

newsbabyreaderavatars - they're here: be afraid!

The bb asked kids to come up with newsworthy gadgets which to receive stories via - my idea is to have a bunch of people re-enact the news via a real=time, generated screen play - the remote news feed will give them the script and stage directions via smart phones (internet audio for the hard of thinking, and pictures and so on for the less smart ) and the group of kids will then interpret the news in their own local physical way - e.g. they will show and tell how the queen greets the king of saudi, and how the suicide bomber in iraq was funded. they can replay with graphic detail the effect of the failed negotiations about sudan, and the treachery of the janjaweed, whilst showing the imact news has on young people that is hidden when we merely let them see it on TV in between Blue Peter and the Simpsons, and in between walking home from school scared of somali gangs in north london, to play Halo 3 on their Xboxes.

Now that would be an interesting device and experience.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

file sharing versus piracy

there seems to be some serious confusion in the UK government, and I think the ISPA shoudl them better - in a recent quote (and it may be a misquote) on the bbc, a
spokesperson said that they dont want to come down on 14 year olds file sharing ,but they do want to stop people making money out of piracy. So one of the glaring errors in this is that people who are doing a lot of UPLOADING from P2P systems are NOT MAKING money - if they were it would be easy to prosecute them as there would be evidence of this from a payment system (bankaccounts receipts etc) and often they'd probably also not be paying tax (e.g. VAT etc) and could also be done for that - the problem is that frequent uploaders are just downloaders with LOADS of uplink capacity (e.g. students) and often have no money.

If they had a means to do DRM and Payment, then they would also have a means to make LOADS OF MONEY like the record companies, because if someone had a cool way to do online music distribution for profit and not just fun, they'd LICENSE the technology to official record companies to replace the RUBBISH DRM currently around.

Fact is there isnt a decent system, so the ONLY reason for a government to clamp down is to
a) protect unreasonable profits from music business (which is dying)
b) delay people working on solving this lack of a decent technology which protects
only Big Record Companies, and not indies or artists, and doesn't actually protect consumers or large numbers of artists or create a platform for innovation.

If the government wants to get in on the loop on piracy, follow the money is sufficient - you don't need special laws. they only serve to delay a better world.

You heard it hear last.

Monday, October 22, 2007

more diamond age wizradry

there's a nice piece in the Diamond Age (neal stephonson) about aerial nanotech defensive systems - one throwaway remark about them is that the attacks they have to withstand are from more nanotech distributed nodes, and so any system cannot operate an "impermeable shield" (shades of star wars) but instead must "hack the mean free path"
and its left as an exercise for the reader to figure out what this means (basically, the defensive net has to be long enough that for a set of random walks (c.f. Einstein: Brownian motion) the probability of any attacking node making it through the defensive nodes (i.e. the number of variances of the path length) is vanishingly small - like
Hiro Protagonists "usual car chase" in Snow Crash, this is a masterpiece of minimalism...

another interesting point is the throwaway remark about forensic geeks carrying cards to help identify which "species" of cookie cutter has been used on a victim, by looking at the arcs of intersection of the shockwave (circular, or part of solid angle intersecting a sphere?) with the skin, leaving a set of curves - given the shockwave does most its damage at a fixed distance from the two "epicenters", this means the radius of curvature of the intersection with skin is fixed, so you can tell the initial velocity (assuming its largely mass independent - I suppose the slowdown is dependent mainly on the size of cookie cutter fragments and viscosity of humans, rather than the interital mass:)

doesn't really bear close examination near breakfast:)

Monday, October 15, 2007

london dungeon is genuinely quite scary!

not that it has much to do with the internet...but I thought it was rather fine - the useof mix of son et lumiere/live actor, and smelly "underneath the arches" locale was very good - the actors were very nice to kids and did the whole mockney/interaction thing very well - i guess the nearest link/seguay would be conspiracy theory - there were a lot of those in the stories they tell, and, of course, we all know that the Internet was only put in place to support consipracy theorists:)

anyhow, the dungeon is a fine place, and almst all politicians should be sent there.

Monday, October 08, 2007

riaa - so why do music biz behave the way they do?

It is often said that one should be quicker to suspect human stupidity for certain classes of corporate and government behaviour, than conspiracy - so right now, lotsa people expressed amazement at the fine levied a poor file sharer in the USA, but then the backlash starts - then there's the backlash, then there's the not quite so simple meta-para-backlash...

Andrew Orlowski writes that instead of whinging, we should get behind proposals (of which he mentions quite a few very plausible looking ones) to change the face of the music business = the claim is that, if only they could see, they would make more money "our way" (cue Frank Sinatra singing that music).

Well, while the proposals sound good, I'd assert that if they did work out right, several people would have just done it (oops, did i just infringe some footwear sweatshop's trademark?:=)

So given the power of shareholders, not A&R men, is what determines the behaviour of big business mostly, one has to ask "why havnt they done it yet?".

I don't have an answer (and I've spent a large part of the last 5 years looking at disruptive technologies and how they alter business, so I am qualified, but stumped!

I guess just maybe, just maybe this once (cue Liza Milleni Cabaret toon)
it is a conspiracy after all!!!

So here's another thought - I think this is a classic tipping-point type situation - shareholders have their eye on the bottom ine each year, but only have a horizon of 1 year - disruptive technologies (think IP breaking PSTN, or VOIP on WiFi breaking cellular) like mp3 on the net instead of CDs in the shops, grow from small beginnings - the growth is mirrowed by a fall in sales of CDs but until the scale of the business falls below a certain point, it is worth the incumbent industry (legacy technology)_ spending more and more on defending itself against the newcomer - at some point, the cost of defense exceed the revenue, and Madonna resigns and Radiohead say they will only charge people what they want to pay, and people start to ship albums for free on myspace etc etc

so the point when this happens can be in less than 1 year, and the only outcome can be bancruptxcty for the traditional business - repalcement (e.g. subscription or
listen for free but you have to see these **** adverts*** o nthe web page when you download (e.g. facebook and google's revenue models) work fine - but only when the old guys DIE is this gonna stop being fought tooth and nail. but they will die very sudddenly (other exampls I give above like VOIP on wifi or on IP on 3G, have already happened).

Tip, tip, tip: don;t by shares in EMI, don't buy shares in people making a noise at BPI or RIAA, they are the people about to lose big time: prediction: most music will be subscription or paid by adverts and other stuff (as in live gigs making money on T-shirts) by 2010. no, 2009. no wait, 2007.

Friday, October 05, 2007

de-face book application idea

here's an idea for anonymity in facebook - for why, see
this spoof ad or cory doctorow's article on googlevil...

So the defacebook ad is basically a Chaum Mix plus Onion Routing applied to the social net - what you do is for each person running the application:
a) create a whole bunch of fake people
b) create a set of communities by mixing interests, groups, affiliations from other people running the application, with a deliberste plicy of skewing the statisitcs away from the small worlds in the "true" data (Max entropy is your friend, just like Max Headroom used to me)
c) build an overlay of links with obfuscation/crypto hops, to keep the "real" relationships (note average "path" will be way longer but thats ok:) its not internet time we are working on here) - the beauty of this is that facebook encouragem nay, even PAY you to write apps!

and bob is no longer your uncle - in fact, he has plausible deniability that he ever met your aunt.

Ho ho!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

INRIA PhD on Securing Coordinate Systems...

Yesterday I attended Dali's defence of a very nice thesis on securing internet coordinate systems (viz, ACM SIGCOMM 2007 paper he has on it for a good summary:-).
Meanwhile, I had some very nice food, firstly in a place in Antibes called (I think) Brulot, where I had a great Soupe de Poisson and a very nice moules farcie, and then in a place near Sophia called Le Bois Dore, where I had a really great salad (see photos) and an excellent pintardeau (argh, sp? - guinea fowl, in english)

One of the salads looked a bit like Dali's algorithm, see if you can guess which:)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

poor excuse for online banking servie

Some pundits have explained the options for banksto avoid their service crashing under load and rightly point out that this can be done with dynamic provisioning, which is commercially available (e.g. via virtualised servers in data centers) but does take some money (which usually banks aren;t exactly short of ironically:)

I'd just point out that for all every hit the Northern Rock site took, the BBC must have taken 100 - ok so the BBC doesn't run a transaction service, but it does have a b**dy good response time - and it is a public service - so a Bank that can't be bothered to provision its online business properly deserves to lose. Frankly, even the guys selling Led Zeppelin tickets did better (and that IS a transaction service) logging 20M registrations in a day. Northern dodo doesn't haev 20M customers.

yrs, not impressed frankly. I suppose Egg and HSBC might suffer a bit if they were hit bigtime by a run, but I am guessing that (given egg especially, but also First Direct) prior experience, they might actually cope a bit better - my feeling is that in the 21st century, we have a right not only to demand money from our bank branch from our current account (sneject to suitable ID proof of course) but we ought also to be able to demand our moeny from any online bank's service to accounts with the same conditions (yes, i understand many of the northern doodad's customers had deposit accounts which don't give the same guarantees or response and thats fine as that is how stability and interest rates are meneat to operate).

Sunday, September 02, 2007

cones of intersecting sounds of silence

so we see people talking across a crowded room using cell phones or mikes - if we had phase array speaker and microphone system, one could have overlapping sets of people having conversations in the same physical volume!

that'd be cool!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

turning japanese, I think so

I think I'm turning japanese - visiting tokyo and kyoto for
sigcomm 2007 has been a wonderful experience. Starting with NTT labs, and hanging out in Shinjuku area of Tokyo, then moving to Kyoto to check out Ashai Dry (a bar as well as a beer), some amazing Eel dishes, a japanese beer garden with Geishas and an eclipse of the moon, and the temples at Nara (giant climb thru buddhas) and Kodaiji, with spooky Shakahuchi flute music and a fabulus garden. Doing Karaoke with mad PhD students from all around the world! really, generally, quite awesome - I know prefer Miso soup for breakfast and a bowl of Ramen last thing after dinner by the river!

In the OO session last night, I played (thanks to Kenjiro Cho, for loan of lovely silent clasical guitar) (and spoke) this tune and someone asked me to post the modified lyrics:

Apoligies to Ella Fitzgerald and Cole Porter:

AbM7 DbM7
AbM7 DbM7 AbM7
we submit to sigcomm
Fm7 Bbm7 Eb7/9
I die a little
AbM7 Bbm7 BM7 Bbm7 (Eb7/9) AbM7 Ab7
Everytime we submit to sigcomm
DbM7 F#7
I wonder why a little
AbM7 Bb7 Eb7/11 Eb7
Why the gods above me
Ebm7 Ab7 DbM7
Who must be in the know
Dbm7 Cm7
Think so little of me
Bdim Bbm7 Eb7/9
but yet they allow your papers to go, in.

AbM7 DbM7
When it's near
AbM7 DbM7 AbM7
There’s such an air
Fm7 Bbm7 Eb7/9
Of spring about it
AbM7 Bbm7 BM7 Bbm7 (Eb7/9) AbM7 Ab7
I can hear a berkeley grad student somewhere
DbM7 F#7
Begin to sing about it
AbM7 Bb7 Eb7/11 Eb7
There’s no conference finer
Ebm7 Ab7
But how strange the change
DbM7 F#7
From scott shenker to paul francis
AbM7 Fm7 Bbm7 Eb7(b9) AbM7 DbM7
Everytime we go to sigcomm

( I transposed it up a semitone as Am is a whole lot easier than Abm :)

The T-Shirt was a reference to the brilliant "Blink" episode of Dr Who in the last series.
Mark Handley took some wonderful pictures of the
Kodai-Ji temple where the conference banquet event started later that evening! quite a few others
also took pix

Friday, August 24, 2007

ninja cats and quantum computing

i just heard the best explanation so far for how quantum computing will work - its like ninja cats in manga making clones of themselves - if you've seen the movie Next, with Nicholas Cage, you'll get the idea


Thursday, August 23, 2007

vanishing cell phones: truly hands free (the walls have ears)

so why do we carry cell phones ? with iris recognition and fixed infrastructrue, the environment should be the phone - any device nearby that can pick up your voice, and has a speaker, should be enlisted as part of the phone net - we then just "speak into the air" and "listen to the voices"

it would look less loony than wearing those STUPID BLUETOOTH HEADSETs, and would be much cooler in terms of battery life:)

the walls have ears - even on a beach, this should work (suitable sub ocean woofers could modulate the remote speakers voice and generate the sound in the surf).

true ubicomp, like nature, will be made of 1 trillion weird hacks like this, just to get around the problems with recharging and pollution from nicads etc...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

two internet ideas and a story

patrick is 9 - here are his internet ideas today:
1/ Internet Shower - you read your email while having a show - a laser projects a keyboard onto the shower water as it falls and projects a display too and detects your typing....very japanese, very cool, very keanu reeves (without the full length blacsk leather coat)

2/ the internet in a bag - get the very big bag and hold it over the internet for 5 hours, then quickly put a big plate on top to stop the web pagesfrom falling out, and voila -you have the internet, pret a porter...

3/ a story: when I was born, my writing was like I was clinging to a cliff top with a finger nail. then a finger, then later one hand, then finally to hands, and I pulled myself up to the top of the cliff and lay tyhere panting to see my pareents walking away. In the distance was shakespeare - he never fell off the cliff in the first place

patrick mckeever crowcroft, 15.8.2007

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

look behind you!

The things in this blog entry are all behind you

Monday, July 30, 2007

I dont the best I can and now I want my blog back

Please mr google sir, can I have my blog back?

remember that awesome moment a while back when after a year of experimentally allowing the world to down load the ITU standards for free, there was this announcement on their website saying

it was a moment that revealed the complete cognitive failure of the ITU to "get it" about the Internet.

Well, I've just had one of those moments myself. I have seen the light and I want my blog back here where I can change it not out there where you mr and ms google boss can

so what abaht it? like I can migrate my phoen (with number) to another telephone provider - i can even up and move my web site to another place, so lets say I want to have someone else run my blog but have all the links and alerts still work? why not

BLOG portability now - you know its fair

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

file sharing is communist, declares congress>p2p is unamerican and clearly must be suppressed, but the congressmen were dismayed to find that despite billions of dollars of subsidy to DARPA and BBN and Lockheed and so on, the Internet has no off button. The vice president has no clothes.

give away secrets? i dunno, perhaps they ought to pay us for inventing the web:-)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

the internet of tings

so we now have a full fledged conference on
internet of stuff and i suppose there's probably on on the internet of nonsense too, but what abut the internet of tings - we had the Internet of Pings (planetlab) and the internet of nothings (well, ones and nothings), but what would the Internet of Tings consist of? or rather,
of what would the Internet of Tings consist?

a quick consultation with the OED and we find that a Ting is

. The sound emitted by a small bell, or other resonant body, as a thin glass vessel, as the result of a single stroke; a thinner or sharper sound than that expressed by TANG.

so then, the interne of tings would be somewhat musical - and could be accompanied by an internet of tangs, too.

next week, we'll take a look at the Internet of Mings.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

the atlantic auction

can we offer eBay on eBay?
e-z money, or e-king out a living?

Monday, July 16, 2007

RAND survey on self regulation for the internet

the RAND corporation, who have some claim to being the inventors of the internet (paul baran's report possibly predating al gore by some 30 odd years) are running a survey on internet self regulation which seems like a usefully tautologous thing for us to fill in:)

Saturday, July 14, 2007

complexity/diversity at multiple bio-scales

a lot of cosmology nowadays is about linking up between scale at quantum/particle, and galactic/cosmic, as well as very short and long time scales to explain the structure of the universe. this is where all the work on the standard model, and univifcation of the 4 forces etc is all coming into focus

meanwhile, i just read an interesting book on Life: An Introduction to Complex Systems Biology, and previously read Kaufmans's work on The Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution by Stuart A. Kauffman

so again, we see something similar , but not in the simplicity, as in the physical world, but in the complexity of biological systems - DNA appears to be a very crazy search engine, which finds literally millions of molecules/proteins to make us out of, and finds millions of different ways (species) to make out of these proteins - this is interesting as it implies that life is very easy to construct - it isn't as if DNA and natural selection is a subtle design - its a blunt instrument (although, admittedly, programmes are run for a very long time, and are very wasteful in terms of wrong outputs (things that end up dead and extinct), but it is also very succesful - i'd say somewhat surprisingly so....

yet another proof of the existence of 42?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Crowcroft's 10 Laws of Startups

1. Start with two founders, both technical. One must be prepared to move to management (e.g. do MBA) - they can then decide on equal but different footing. Three (unlike stools) is unstable.

2. You need to realize that your first idea is not going to make money. Nor is the bigger, better system you build after you get money. Something very dull and boring based on lots of perl scripts and mysql that you write to make ideas 1 and 2 work may very well turn out to be the winner. If you can GPL the first idea, give away the second, then make money o nthe third, you are probably in good shape.

3. you need to have either very small or very large first round funding - otherwise 2nd round will result in an unsable stock split, and endless arguments, and probably a new CEO

4. Hire a CEO who understands technology, not one who relies on secretaries to read their email and work their voicemail.

5, Do not split over more than 4 hours of timezone differences between sites.

6. Do not waste time and money on IPR (patent,copyright) - write that code faster so the competition are getting further behind.

7. You have 3 exit strategies that are good, one that is ok, one soso, and one that is bad
i) get acquired
ii) IPO
iii) stay a profitable business, but never big
iv) pay off the seed money and go dormant
v) fail to pay back the VC.

8. laugh at your first marketeering and white papers when talking to technical customers about them.

9. eat your own dog and cat food.

10. Computer scientists start lists with zero.

Monday, July 02, 2007

a battery of broken dreams - wireless senseless networks

sensor nets, whats that about then eh? wireless sensor nets. so look at the trends in battery life and the proposals (smart dust, speckled computing etc) for more and more resources distributed in the environment - aint gonna happen - we just looked at a 1 month experiment simply logging where all of a high school population is - we need 2000 devices with either 2000 batteries changing every 10 days, or else being recharged.

its all fantasy - cloud cuckoo senseless vapourware.

but some cute algorithms of course (wicked grin)

self organisation is so much more fun than command and control

Friday, June 29, 2007

an internet of action

I am fed up with the cliche about the internet of things - the cool thing with the net
so far is that it is an internet of ideas - if we want the next exciting stage, it is not an internet of things (light switches) it is an internet of action -

The All Action Internet (AAI) - this will be an internet where you can make stuff happen (your heart beats faster as you click on an icon and your shoes change colour)

You slide on a scroll bar at the side of the car dash board and the car in front moves further away

you tab through various house designs on a fashion site, and the walls and furniture in your house morph

thats what
I'm talking about

oh, and i dislike people getting credit for terms they didn't make up - dave clark was talking about the
internet of things before yahoo was even dreamed of.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

public broadcasting on the internet

the bbc has long been an innovator and I am very happy that they've revived Dr Who so fabulously

but the plan to allow downloads of programmes using iplayer to only one OS platform is, for me just plain unacceptable, and I want a portion of my license fee back for 2 reasons
1. I have 3 Macs at home - none will run windows unless I spend money on a VM
or alternatively, I have to buy a windows machine AND a license
2. if some of my public broadcast service license fee has been used to subsidizew the development of a piece of software that only benefits one main vendor, this is a gross misuse of public funds.

I am not a religously anti-microsoft person at all - I believe they are a typical giant company, and they (especially in their research) are trying to improve their products and services as fast as possible, but I think the BBC could have developed an open platform using more open DRM technology -given a large part of their content is already captured and re-disted using bit torrent, they are fighting a losing battle and they are the wrong people to fight it - leave that to commercial channels who have clout and
reasons to avoid losing advertising revenue.

There are a lot of people who would help the beeb develop and distribute an open tool that time limited programmes, and compiled and ran on all major platforms - the issue of CODECs has long been solved for multiplatform audio/video - the DRM module in such software could easily be made portable (it is not media or network or OS dependant or can be made independant if you must insist on media specific watermarking techniques too)

sorry, but this is the wrong way for the british broadcasting corporation to evolve and surely they know it? see their report on
eu action in this space for other critique

n.b. zattoo ( for example, do the OS/Codec independant iptv stuff

meanwhile, other mejeeya newz:

scientolgists to play anti-nazi conspirators is
just too much for germans

It'd be ok for me if it was a comedy (e.g. like THe Producers, with tom cruise singing
springtime for hitler, only not)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

internet mileage metering - how to measure?

how would you measure how "far" you have gone in the Internet?

Obviously one could just log URLs visited (most browsers do), but some urls are nearer to each other than others (small world etc).

At the IP level, one can run traceroutes and see how many IP networks (prefixes) and how many ASs (ISPs) one has visited or traversed (again, some ISPs are next to each other - some nets are "within" other nets, so it makes for a fun challenge - the AS level graph is well known to have an (approximately) power law node degree).

Why would you want to do this? Because that's what we do in the Internet: mostly harmless, mostly useless stuff:-)

So another metric might be (sort of like googlewhacking) - how many places do you go that very few others do (whether IP addrs, ports, or URLs)? That might then act as a "weirdness" or "geekiness" metric. On the other hand, it might just be sad:)
Like only going to the field of Lost Vagueness in Glastonbury and never standing neck-deep in mud by the Pyramid Stage grooving to the Arctics...

Thursday, June 14, 2007

total cost of ownership & grids

so networks went from circuit to packet mode partly because of the stat muxing gain.
is there a stat muxing gain for CPUs hosting virtual services? looking at eScience, I doubt it very much - most the apps want all the cycles they can get and then some so why dont those greedy physicistas lay off and buy their own computers for the LHC then, eh?

and why dont they just use botnets if its so useful - irc is so much more efficient than SOAP as a control plane and even with dyndns the anonimity seems good enough to stop them being closed down very often...

or xenoservers (oh stop it:)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

new approach to email

I'm trying an experiment just now - all my e-mail is deleted - if you want to send me a message you need to put it on a web log (sorry, blog) or wikipedia, and I will get a google alert on a (private, whilelist only) mail address and will get back to you. This both rate limits how often new people can send to me, and scales my mail to google's search/alert system, which is probably better than the university's - of course, if everyone did it it might be very interesting!

three things one hopes to learn
a. how fast google scan/alert stuff runs
(it hasn't found michael dales blog of my email autoanswer yet, but its early days
b. how many people care
c. if anyone thinks of an attack...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

the angels have the phone box

I'm not usually a sucker for 1 liners but this one yesterday on a certain british tv show takes the biscuit - I want the T-shirt - i want the transcript

and no, if you don't know what I'm talking about, too bad:-)
if you do, blink:-(

p.s. quantum neutral aliens who don't exist when you observe them,
how cool is that, eh?

possibly the best scifi transcript (with the coversation between a live person and easter eggs on 40 year old dvds) in decades.

magic and not a dalek in sight

so alas half the folks selling (very nice) T shirt design's have sold out:(

meanwhile, when will the Dr get an honarary chair in some decent university (Cambridge, obviously since he's a techie) and then become
Professor Who!

Friday, June 08, 2007

mobilising networks visually

just came across the Colorado visualisation tools for mobile devices - very nice stuff - if only i was teaching soemthign now I could use it!!!

Monday, June 04, 2007

a use for spam - verifying availability (e.g. for torrent)

so I can prove how available (and how much bandwidth i have, modulo asymmetry) by how much spam I get - i dont have to see the spam, but I can prove that i got it (e.g. summary hashes) and then use this to verify I am a high avaialbility, high capacity site -i could bootstrap my trust in (say) bittorrent from this...

how about this?

would there be a perverse incentive for people to spam themselves to get more bittorrent tokens? no - they would do better to just actually use the acpacity fore bittorrent

would spammers have an incentive to boost artificially, some sites over others? not really (as far as i can see) - a "popular" person would stay (at least pro rate) popular...

Friday, May 25, 2007

practical ad hoc networks in rural areas: man-made-meteor(ng)

many areas of the world where there is poor infrastructure also suffer from strife

during strife, there are lots of handy airplanes (often unmanned aerial vehicles conveniently supplied by the US) flying overhead as well as many people on the ground in possession of handy ground-to-air missiles

so if you want a good coverage radio net with better than line-of-sight, one way is to use meteor showers - of course, pesky meteors don't always show up when you want them,
so the solution is DIY - make your own meteor storm out of a few SAM missles and a few UAVs, then bounce your 802.11 WILD signals off those, and, voila, half of sudan covered in 11Mbps capacity unlicensed radio and no complaints from the telco

of course, the UAVs also make it less unethical since no pilots are hurt, although the wreckage hitting the ground may cause some minor problems

Monday, May 21, 2007

packet switching in the air

steve hailes just pointed me at this beautiful animation of flights over the USA....

now thats what I call public understanding of science!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

endless-to-endless debate about pointless-to-pointless things

the end-to-end interest list is sometimes a place for interesting information (e.g. discussion of congestion control etc, was there in 1980s - see also comp.protocols.tcp-up etc etc) - but the current haranguing about architecture versus economics really takes the biscuit - in amongst the noise, there is some signal, but its pretty hard to find (you need to have a lot of spare time on your hands). one thing for sure is that a lot of arm-chair amateur economists (most of whom, in line with the usual cliche, seem to be techno-libetarians) wont get us anywhere , especially when even if they are right, they may not actually be in any position of power to influence things - i dont want to bet my shirt on the market being the best way to choose the next steps in Internet technology, especially since
i) there's no such thing as a free market (or lunch, although there's not necessarily a connection between those two facts)
ii) the market didn't choose IP (or cellular telephones) they were pushed (IP by DoD and cellular by the European Commission) so in this area at least, the argument is bogus.

someone said "the only things that are inevitable are taxes and death" - actually, for many hunderes of years, many people didn't pay tax, so they were only 50% right, but there's probably only two things that are evitable: IPv6 and IPmulticast, no, wait, three things, IPv6, multicast and mobile IP, no, wait, 4 things, IPv6, multicast, mobile IP and QoS, no, wait, no (argh - no-one expects the end-to-end inquisition...thud thud thud)....

the discussio nappears to have moved on to variable length addresses in much the manner of high school kids discussions of variable length willies...

Friday, May 18, 2007

the quantum distance between EE and CS...

wen it comes to talking about circuits, i heard the following phrase yesterday in an EE department, several times...

"...and them some holes leak in..."

something do do with creating excitons

hum - in my world, things leak out of holes, not vice versa:)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

google announces the G-phone...

google's global hegemony took one step closer to reality today when
they announced their new open wifi hotspot voip service, dubbed the
G-spot. only avaialble to customers who have purchased the g-phone, these will have unlimited world wide calls for free.

The first customers will be the feds, or g-men as they have become known - often visible talking into hidden microphones built into their grey suits to avoid making the public jealous, g-men will now save the US governemnt millions of cents in AT&T bills

asked whether the FBI should trust google not to spy on their voice traffic, the director dwayne edgar hoobler said "oh yes, we trust google - we use them to spy on you after all"

you will be able to purchase g-phones soon, as seen on G-TV, so long as you have a Gisa credit card.

this has been unreal, and i am not serious, no really. no i am not. i mean it. stop it.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Press Freedom, and what Pops?

Today's Topic: Which freedoms do you want?

Time: May 14, 2007: 20.00 hrs.
Venue: Roger Needham room, Chancellor's Building, Wolfson College

press gangs of people talk about really fun stuff frequently at my college - i hope to be there to learn from them (but it deep ends on the weather!)

as i've advocated, it 'd be neat to have censorship proof publication channels - one can always use social nets to express disapproval of libel and slander and anyhow, what do sleezier magazines want in the world anyhow?

think how much less bad things would have been for Kelly if the Bliar stories had been allowed a bit more airtime before Government Central Spin took control - more importantly, perhaps, think how many less dead iraqis there might be (contentious, moi?)

was pretty interesting in the end - one idea popped up - China now has a Class Based Society!!! !!! Mao will be turning in his groove...

Thursday, May 10, 2007

tilda, home at last,

so i just learned that the french word for "~" is
"pas de probleme" - this, above all else, will make me feel
at home in France!!!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

virtualisation of networks, systems and users:)

was discussing virtualisation (in the context of GENI, a US programme, much of which appears to be proposing to use Xorp on Xen, both largely work done by Ian Pratt et al from Cambridge England, and Mark Handley (and Atanu Ghosh et al), from UCL England, but nevermind. We're proposing virtualising lots more things - I guess every home should have a virtual internet, plus we should virtualise handsets (since that way, we can actually programme the stupid things, and do an end run on the terminal stupidity of the people who write most handset "OSs", which are ab embarasment to Computer Science.

Aside from Red and Black nets and Red and Black sandboxes for "service provider approved" handset applications versus downloaded stuff playpens, we can have red and black set top boxes too for iptv and p2p. We can also (hopefully) start to give some stability to application developers - in the games world, they have to live with writing to the sony playstation, or nintendo wii, or microsoft XBox world, but in cellphone smart phones, they have at least 11 awful environments to write to, NONE of which has a decent market share or has tipped the world, so there's no real incentive to innovate (unless you make heroic efforts like RIM to write entire systems or are as big and patient as microsoft to just outwait everyone).

Saturday, April 28, 2007

up town top spam ranking

a majority of spam i see is marked as spam these days and refiled into folders (to be later deleted) - in our case, spam assasin seems to be okish at catching most stuff so long as the rules are kept up to date.

so if i posted this spam (its in an MH folder) to a web page, say using mhonarc, titled (say, to avoid confusion) spam, linked off my home page, which is indexed by google, and i then also link to other people's spamhauspages, assuming i can pursuade people to do this, then I could use this to compare, contrast, and improve the spam rules of different systems. of course, there's a sort of equilibirum it would reach (spammers would use the rue sto build spam that would get thru the rules, but then we'd post the new rules next day and the filters would all update....i wonder what the stable level of spam would be if this was done?

reason i suggest this is that, curisoul, google's gmail spam stuff aint that good (it is NOT as good as my spam assasin config, either in terms of false positive or negatives) so maybe cooperative diversity is the solution (well a step, of course, there are no @solutions@ per se:-)

Friday, April 27, 2007

4G whither IP?

attended 4g forum in london today ... interesting panel session with lots of people making cool visionary predictions - but why, oh why, do people assume we have to make money:-) what if it was a public service as well as spectrum being a public good?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

wireless internet causes cancer and attention disorder scare:-)

Someone had left a copy of yesterday's Daily Mail on the train open to an article by their "Science
Correspondent", Fiona Macrae, about the "possible health risk for pupils" of WiFi in the class room.

The article quoted several pressure groups, and some unnamed "scientists", and asserted that sitting in a room
with a WiFi station could be like being in the direct beam of a GSM Cellular tower at 300meters. This, it was
claimed, could lead to ADHD, Cancer and premature senility.

Firstly, the guilt by association simply by being "radio" annoyed me - WiFi uses the ISM (Medical and
Scienticic Instrument band) around 2.4GHz, not the GSM Cellular bands which means even the vaguest idea that it
might resonate with certain common energy levels in certain molecular links common in biological systems (one of the
pet theories about how GSM might be a problem) is wrong, because its a completely different
frequency/waevlenth. Secondly, its a completely different power level that the user is exposed to:
you don't hold the laptop to your head, and the laptop's WiFi card and the WiFi Access Point (AP)
are roughly symmetric in power terms, whereas a GSM cell tower is much more powerful than a handset.
Thirdly, there are on the order of 100M such systems in the
world, and if there was a significant problem it would have shown up (the article points to increasing levels
of ADHD - this predates WiFi in any case, and is strongly associated with people using computers whether they
have wireless nets or not, and is far more likely to be a symptom of the type of kids that use computers too much,
not of the idea that the computer (or the network) directly cause attention deficit disorders.

I get very annoyed by this sort of article, particularly
because the author has failed to seek any balancing view from an actual, named scientist
which simply smacks of lazy journalism, especially when a few seconds with Google and Wikipedia would find
plenty of information rather than hearsay and supersititon, and might elicit a quote from a neutral person who
has a clue.

By all means, have a further investigation (although there have, contrary to the article's assertion, been
checks on the problems with 802.11/ISM band health risks)....but unsupported allegations are not really
"science" journalism.

Sometimes, I get the impression that people who write these columns in those types of newspapers are
like the PE teachers who used to (in the bad old days) end up being landed with taking the geography O-level class.

Friday, April 13, 2007

wombling: wireless overlay multicast basic long-term internet next generation

plunderground, plover-ground, wombling to avoid top-downitis in next generation architecture research? just don't fund it:)

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

talkin bout carbon feetprints now - the semantic web tax

so in these days of sustainability, we should consider the damage done to the environment by spam - it requires processing (85% of email I send is spam, that means that 99% of email you get from me is spam - that means 99% of CPUs in the world are consuming spam) and generates (as do cows) much heat due to the lack of optimisation of todays processors - we should either
i) demand that intel, amd etc build processors for which spam is a no-op and can be removed by the instruction scheduler
ii) fine the spammers for causing us t oreach the heat death of the universe sooner than we would with more meaningful electronic communication

indeed, this might be achieved by
i) minimum entropy coding of instruction sets
ii) a negative tax on meaning.

0wning the air - new mobile threat

batnets, flights of radio controlled helicopters with wifi, gsm and UMTS and wimax transceivers , descend like locusts (or like vampire bats) and 0wn the airpsace, physically AND virtually.

coming to a community wifi and 3G Provider near you real soon now. the
Vampire batnet phenomenon - remember, you saw it here first.

[perhaps this will also be known as a denial of surface attack]

Saturday, March 24, 2007

science finction and the canon

So I just went to the first half of this - and jolly good it was too - congrats to the organiser for putting together some great speakers and fun people!

SF & the Canon at Anglia Ruskin University. Alas I had to bail (to go help clear out a library in london of a couple of thousand old SF books, by bizarre coincidence), but the first 1/2 of the talks were very informative, thought provoking, and, compared to a lot of "pure" old SF events I used to go to, human. Several thoughts of interest from discussions (not mine - I'm just noting them):

1. was Asimov a closet marxist - maybe (looking at the later Grand Unification of Gaia and Robots and Empire, he was - psycho-history is far more Das Kapital than Beyond the Pleasure Principle) - btw, harry harrison has a great throway line in one of his books about how "free markets were some mad social scheme tried in the dim past along with nazism and christianity, that noone can remmeber why anymore because its so clear they are bad ideas)

2. interstial joke - someone needs to do that trick that Lewis Caroll did with the ultra-short chapter (and it really was a kitten after all), and neal stephenson did in Snow Crash with a epic phantasy space opera between 1 volume and the next should be an ultra-slim volume with one line "and then there was the usual odessey"...

I misread the title "the past is an acid planet", and was disappointed it wasn't all about Lord of Light...

3. the asimovian speaker had spotted my cheeky blog and did a riff on it - he was spot on!

4 a paper on Sparrow (which i realized half way through, i had actually read!), was very very moving - I hadn't appreciated how powerful it was and will now go re-read it! makes my sf structure as joke look a bit weak in fact (even if its mostly harmlessly true)

5. a paper about the genealogy of cyborgs was interesting - the only one i had the nerve to make an observation about - that

  • cyborgs in ancient times were gadgets vought to life with magic (ichor) and runes ("meth/emeth", for golem on/off).
  • cyborgs later were monsters given some of the elements of life by unethical scientists (viktor)
  • cybermen were people who gave up part of their humanity (the borg)
  • but there are nore democritised cyber-folks (extropians) who take a wider view of the use of technology to enhance the human condition
  • often, the view of the cyber-organism reflects the superstitions of the time - magic creats robots, but they may be random liek the ancient gods. eldridtch science may bring dead cadavers back to life, but it is a Bad Thing and will lead to No Good, and even the Monster will be Pissed Off...especially when he has to float around in the melting polar sea.
  • but then science may remove your soul, which would be even worse (Dr Who, Seven of Nine etc etc?), on the other hand, it might be even better if the soul was just some illusion that caused confusion and made you remove somethign actually useful, whereas with out it you might just add something (like a keyboard, mouse, cell phone, pda, noise cancelling headphones and nanotech muscle toner).
  • oh, on afterthought/discussion with speaker, i think John Sladek's Roderick book, especially th first one, contains a LOT of good material o nthe difference between robots and cyborgs and where we perceive the difference too...remember to be unafraid of robots may be just as dangerous as to be terribly afraid, jung and annafreud as they say.

I hadn't thought what a clever clogs pun it is to call Arnie (the termiantor) the "governator" ( as in Gubernator or kybernetes) - some americal gags are quite erudite (and amusingly e-it-rude)

6. great paper about the pastoral (as in elizabethan literature such as Arcadia) and the way le Guin (especially in Always Coming Home) is an interesting angle on pastoral - i wondered if one might view anares in the dispossessed as an allegory of the early Kibbutzim in pre-UN sanctioned Israel - also, the Canticle for Leibowitz looks pretty pastroal in the first half.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

gaming the shareprice spammers to death?

so has anyone done a study of the correlation between spam on share price predictions and actual stock market behaviour? a colleague suggests this ought to be easy to game - that'd stop people doing it pretty fast...or if not would make for interesting world depression:)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Science Fiction is no laughing matter

There's a pile of work about the nature of satire. Basically the "modern" view is that satirical writing is inherently reactionary. Essentially, satire uses exaggeration to ridicule, and in doing so, re-enforces stereotypes, and preaches to the converted. Typically it works within the comfort zone of the reader.

Satirical work in science fiction goes back to Lucian (satirical sketches includes a trip to the moon) and forward until now. Dystopia is a common feature of the genre (whatever that is) and many dystopic visions use satirical mechanisms to present aspects of society to good or bad contrast. (Think Swift, Laputa etc). Again, SF lives in the comfort zone of the reader (or viewer in film, TV, or even music).

More specifically, SF often uses the form (particularly in short stories) of a joke - quite literally in the case of some writers such as Norman Spinrad, Robert Sheckley, Fred Pohl/Cyril Kornbluth, Philip K. Dick and similar, particularly in magazines of the 1950s and 1960s - where the structure is often extremely closely modelled on the "shaggy dog story" or other extended joke - viz Freud's Jokes&the Unconscious and other sad attempts to explain poor humour. At its height one can see this very clearly in the snappy Twilight Zone tales of Rod Serling - one story that one could home in on, though, is The Joker, by Isaac Asimov. This is a self-referential tale (somewhat like the Lottery of Babylon, the Library of Babel, If on a Winter's Night a Traveller etc etc), but also echos back to the Ancient Greek (viz Lucian, above) with the motif of a Theos Ex Maxina (deus Ex Machina- sorry for lack of Greek font and spelling:).

So what's the point here - well I guess I am going to make some sort of terrible faux pas when it comes to post-modern criticism, as I am making a value judgement - this sort of SF is poor. There is other writing (such as Vonnegut, some Arthur Clark, and Dorothy L. Sayers and one early Mervyn Peake) which attempts to examine this aspect of life without falling into the reactionary trap - I am thinking of the play, Comedians, by Trevor Griffiths (a fairly harrowing experience if you ever get a chance to see it - there is a fairly good film of the original stage production) - it is NOT funny.

So you want a joke: well, all I can say is that I take humour very seriously and Science Fiction is no laughing matter. But if you want something funny then how about this:

An Englishman, a Welshman and a Scotsman go into a bar, and the barman says:
"Is this some kind of a joke?".

A Martian, a dolphin and a robot go into a bar, and the Earthman says
"Twighlight Zone is next door, we only serve people here"
"OK it'll be a human for me, and the robot and dolphin will take an oil cheque"


A possible form for the dissertation (based on something radical a friend of
mine did in the alternative English faculty in Cambridge in 1981 - his
dissertation was about TS Eliot's "The Waste Land", and was written entirely
using quites from critiques of Eliot's work, and more specifically, by
juxtaposing writings that agreed with each other, where my friend agreed with them,
and disagreed with each other, where he disagreed with them, and the context of
the pome made it clear who was "wrong".

I propose to write at least one version of the dissertation as an annotation
in the same manner, of "The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams,
showing where the
original version of a joke (e.g. 42 versus the mystical significance of the
number 23 in the Illumianatus Trilogy; also, overly friendly doors and
depressive robots in Sheckley (actually also the bathetic character
of Slartibartfast == GoD)).

Thesis Outline

Satire and Futurism
Gods and Aliens
Jokes and the Clairvoyant

Motivation and Background
The Liberal Ethic in Speculative Fiction
The Liberal Ethic and Humour
The Structure of Some Jokes
The structure of the classic 1950s SF short story
Combat Liberalism, and the Reactionary Nature of Satire
Combat Liberalism, and the Reactionary Nature of Satire

The Joker and other Self Referential Concepts in SF Writings of the Period
Gods and Alients - Deus ex Machine revisited

Film and Text
Dr Feelgood and the Bomb
Dr Strangelove and the Joke
How I learned to live with depressed robots

Exaggeration in One Dimension
In Humour
In Satire
In Speculative (Science) Fiction
Exaggeration as a tool for Bisociation

Conclusions and Remarks
How was it for you?
How many science fiction writers does it take to change a light bulb?
Why are there no cell phones in SF movies?
Towards a radical chic for true SF satire.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

reactobad glasses and DASERs

so you've seen reactolite glasses that turn shade on as the sunlights up your day, and are quite cool - but wouldn't it be cooler still if you had shades that reacted to the scene you were in ? say things turn bad, you need to look cool even if its dark - think bruce willis crawling thru the aircon ducts in the airport at nite in die hard XVII, or sigourney weaver about to combat a googleplex of aliens on the moon with no name, or vin diesel in pitch black....then when things lighten up metaphorasmically, you wanna look innerlecktual and smart, your glasses revery to full on transparency...presto, Professor Indiana Jones, voila, ecco ergo cogito

of course, silly of me to forget that dna invented something quite how about this as Another Bad Idea: Rechargeable Glassses - these use sunlight to charge up and then show you things in the dark that were there earlier - these things may not be there anymore, but at least you can feel like there's an element of visual stability about the scene. brings a whole new meaning to the after dinner speech announcement: "gentlemen, re-charge your glasses"....

The DASER Is a new device that we have come up with at the Institute. It is an aronym which stands for "Darkness Amplified by Stimulated Evasion of Radiation", and it (like noise cancelling headphones) is not hard to imagine, but is quite hard to get right. There is a short story in the cunningly crafted collection of cornucopia by Arthur C. Clark called "Takes from the White Stag", which describes how noise cancellation (a.k.a. zone of silence) can go horribly wrong. Try to imagine the end of the universe and bacon sandwiches at the same time, and you will understand how bad a DASER could be in the wrong hands.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Engendered Species and SF

There's a sub-genre of SF where a world with some gender variance is envisaged - e.g. Left Hand of Darkness, where people are hermaphrodite, or Maul, where (most) males are dead - so most of these are proto-feminist literature trying to examine societies without male dominance arrogance and aggression, and are often very fine (and frequently (all?) by women authors...

so its about time we had one where all women died out - the speculation i would have is that society might not become either spartan (gay buddy+violence) or particularly random (mad max, random acts of senseless violence, escape from new york) - without women to SHOW OFF to, men might become civilized:)

as one of trician sullivan's excellent character's says, why werent the wives, mothers and sisters of the concentration camp commandants tried too? They stood by while their husbands, sons and brothers committed those crimes - perhaps if they hadn't been there, the crimes might not have happened...

oh, ok so we need to figure out cloning and stuff, but thats just the standard SciFi McGuffin (backstory)....easy peasy - the hard bit is how socieity would switch as
People of a Pure Chromosomic Nature (women) start to die off...

Friday, March 09, 2007

recovered memory

No I am not talking about those expensive (but useful) services where they extract data of your hard drive after a head crash - Yes I am talking about the psychological phenomena where you recall something but cannot tell if it is a true event or not (all recall is, of course, re-invention anyhow - we are softwired not hardwired)

So, I was always puzzled about how and why i found my first computing course so easy and natural a subject to study - i had this dream that a math teacher had taken a class of us in 1963 to a hospital where we spent an afternoon every week for a term learning this weird code and punching holes in tapes and getting an electronic beastie to do stuff for us that made maths easier. I talked to an old (yes really, thanks matthew bury)) friend who was at same school and he confirms that we did in fact do this - it really wasn't a dream after all. it was a DEC PDP 8, and we learned machine code (yes, machine code, not assembler) on it - the ibm 360 running pheonix in cambridge duing phsycis was much less interesting. the DEC 10 i programmed (cobol, fortran and algol 60, yes and Bliss) at north london poly was bliss in comparison. The ICL2980 at QMW which i programmed in algol 68 (truly the Flaubert's Parrot of programming languages - it should get le Palme Pilote d'Or at the Palais des Festivals at Cannes merely for its layout) was "interesting", when one had to use a glass tty to type code in on ,but then print out punch cards to input to the remote access/job entry system...argh!!!

so clearing out my mum's cllectio nof old sf trivia this weekend, we came across the manifesto for the Cybernetics Serendipity show at the ICA in 1968 - this remined me - I went to that - Donald Michie was showing off AI and a lot of very cool computer music and graphics stuff was on show - again, I had forgotten I went to it (or that I'd actually understood what was going on) as it was more in my memory as a "happening" (a bit like some Pink FFloyd gigs and the Notting Hill carnival I used to get dragged to around then) - looking at the event programme, there were a LOT of cool people involved from MIT, Cambridge etc etc!!

Then there was the real time OS (no-one I ask ever seems to know this, from MITRE) called MOS on LSI/11s and version 6 unix on LSI/PDP 11 (programmed in macro 11), and for a bit, 2.8 and 4.1cBSD Unix on PDP 11/44,
then there's these odd 16032 whitechapel computers (
better than sun 2s with their naff bus and 68k processor, but just british, so doomed from day zero - the story of the BSD unix port to those nice machines is interesting and would be good to get gospel on from people who were there)...

We also had some Sun 1s (never sold by Sun - same board as cisco router - sun=stanford university network, and stanford were always a bit slack on who got to walk away with tech from their labs:) ah well, IPR rules now would never let that happen, now xen, now xen...virtualisation is just a state of mind.

Not as mad as the sun workstion with a paper tape reader which connected to a paper tape punch connected to an A2D device on an analogue radar system on a US navy aircraft carreier in the naval ocean systems center in a farady cage as big as San Diego harbour (where it was), so that the sun workstation could display the SAME roatating green display you got on the original analoigue radar, I am not kidding:)

At some point along the way, i spose i did this port of SR to a few weird architecture machines (i dreamt i was re-doin the runtime in assembler on an
ICL1900, but that cannae be so there).

Luckily now i have given up programming as, like maryjane and charlie, sex, religion and rock and roll, it screws with ones ability to programme.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

science friction

theres this interesting "sci fi and the canon" workshop coming up soon:-
anglia ruskin university)

the agenda is below with my annotations - my personal feeling is that
this is more about Sci Fi and the the Freudian sense:)

Tony Keen: Open University - 'A Secret Psychohistory: Appropriating Gibbon in Asimov's Foundation'

Asimov's main problem was his over-compensation for an almost neurotic anxiety about being Russian in origin and having to be more american than americans to offset this - the approproaite of gibbon in Foundation is not as relevant as the re-invention of America in the Future as Rome of Empire - the myth was inherent/and explicit, in Star Trek of course.

3. Genevieve Liveley: University of Bristol - 'A Cyborg Genealogy: Science, Fiction, and the Classics'

Read Sladek on RUR and Golem - many myths on Zombie/Golem/Mandrake/Dryad, come together in the cyborg - for filmic horror sci fi, you can't do a whole lot better than videodrome. I like the Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition at the ICA in around 1968....the attributes of the gods as spaceshoes of the gods (or basically technology so advanced that it is indestingishuable from an Arthur C Clark story) (as in Zelazny's excellent Lord of Light), etc etc

11.15 to 11.30 Coffee

coffee is basically mental-space-craft fuel.

11.30 to 12.45 Session Two: Science Fiction, Genre and the Canon
1. Andy Sawyer: Liverpool University - 'U.K. Le Guin and Pastoral'

Le Guin's "pastorals" are actually pretty gruesome au font - lik lullabys, superficially things are fine (in form) but fundamentally thigns are bad (content)
really some are pretty harsh allegories (e.g. of vietnam war)

2. Rowlie Wymer: Anglia Ruskin University - 'Mary Doria Russell's Rakhat novels'
as in jeff (high) noon, anthropology and human inform much better class of books!
12.45 to 14.00 Lunch
which comes before the long dark tea-time of the first post-lunch fallout dystopia

14.00 to 15.30 Session Three: Two Parallel Panels Panel One: Science Fiction and the Victorian Imagination

1. Christopher Pittard: University of Exeter - 'Dickens: Bleak House and the Dystopia of Bladerunner'
do androids dream of electric steam irons

2. Jess Nevins: Sam Houston State University - 'Victorian SF and the Canon'
The homegenisation of victorian era is weird - it was a very long period which went thru many changes...i wonder if here was any english working class oral/folk sci fi tradition? we'll probably never know. perhaps Mark and Darwin will turn out to be science fiction (maybe there really is a flying spaghetti monster, and she's pissed)

3. Katalin Kocsis: Szeged University - 'The Island of Doctor Moreau'

Islands are an interesting genre within the utopic literature - thing Aldous Huxley, the Island, and other Island books (and films - viz classic: This Island Earth) -
No man is an I&I land living in an Un-sound-system (brixton dub circa 1980)

Panel Two: Steampunk, Cyberpunk and the Contemporary Canon
1. Sandor Klapcsik: Debrecen Univeristy (Eotvos Fellow at Liverpool University) - 'Cyberpunk and the Contemporary Canon'

A lot of loose canons here - my persona feeling is that cyberpunk uses chandleresque shorthand as a prop to cover up for the (usual) lack of characterisation. (If a real character showed up in a hard sf book, it would scare the bejesus out of the sterotypical spotty adolescent geek male reader)

2. Lovorka Gruit Grmusa: Rijeka University - 'The Postmodern Perspective: Is SF only a tool?'

See Geek Chic - how many self-conscious moments are there in Sci Fi (and horror) movies when someone stops to do mugshot to audience and say "we did't really break the rules there did we?" -c.f. time travel for example (time&again, by his bootstraps)

3. Jason Ellis: Liverpool University - 'Steampunk and H. G. Wells'
The original vulcan? fire and fear eats the soul - I never liked Wells, esp. not Mr Polly - I think some histories are not worth learning from.

15.30 to 16.15 Tea

16.15 to 17.30 Session Four
1. Keverne Smith: Kings Lynn - 'The Tempest and Frankenstein: Forerunners of SF'
Ariel and Robbie the Robot?
Mary Shelley and Metropolis?
A Midsummer Nights Manned Mission to Mars?

Given Patrick Stewert appearing in the RSCs Tempest right now, this is timely, if not barking

2. Patricia MacCormack: Anglia Ruskin University - 'Deleuze and the Daemonic Fold: Lovecraft's Baroque Becomings'

Cthulu is mainly an experiment in getting readers to sound silly in front of their friends - eldritch is possibly a good name for a Detective Fiction writer from Harvard in 1874 -

17.30 Wine Reception and Closing Paper Michael Bywater: writer and journalist - 'Zorking Hell: How The PC Made Hobbits of Us All'

As a Mac using hobbit, I resent this:)

[added note in response to comment: while its true that multi-player networked games VR/dungeons&dragons and other fantasy, economy and eco type systems are far more common on PCs than on Apple platforms now, they were originally developed on pre-PC systems (see wikipedia entry on zork including apple, atari and commodores, because those systems had the functionality and had the user base (i.e. geeks) before the PC existed and long after until PCs got decent graphics. of course the point of the talk above iis probably going to be in the "Us All" bit, so its ubiquity of platform that matters and thats surely now the wintel boxen. however, the 3rd gen console systems are all networked, and PS3, WII and Xbox are way way better experiences and may end up replacing PCs since most people don't really want to run Microsoft Office at home - most the "Us All" want skype/IM, web, email, media center and games console (and whatever new mad thing people come up with) - Gates' was clueful when he targetted business applications, which is why the PC was always the unpleasant clunky cousin of computers that were "designed for living" - it wasn't a priority for Microsoft - but as computers vanish into the environment, incorporating design becomes a priority.

what i find interesting about the big online community games is that aspects of
Real Life like economy, and gritty grottiness somees to be a priority - this is something that a lot of fantasy literature seems to live out (do Orcs shit in the woods of Lorian?)

Monday, March 05, 2007

geek definitions #101

did you ever wonder what a myth was? my best take is that a myth is a smell

a smell triggersmemory like nothing else - in geek terms, its the key for content addressable memory (e.g. you hash the smell and it directly returns the event it was last associated with) - a myth is the same, but the hash is like a bloom filter in that it works for ANYONE despite the fact that lots of people have different specific memories - it is a leaky/approximate hash and works to address content in your memory whoever you are - this is why different explnations of myths from different people, err, differ:)

neurolinguistic programmers note: hash, bloom and buckey/collision are standard tricks available to lowly assembler and C programmers, so we've got your number, whereever you are

the Enki of Loki are but a Tokeni Bucketi Lookupi away - oh lord, gimme shelter from
Los Angelos Ducatti

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Less' (as in not Moore's) Law and the Internet

Less law miht make you think I am some sort of anti-litigous nutter (which I am) but what I am writing about here is the same thing that John Ousterhout observed a while back (
"why arent operating systems geting faster as fast as hardware?").

The net got a lot bigger. we built a lot of big, fat pipes everywhere. Since 1987 (20 years), in accordance with Moore's law and it's variants for storage capacity and commincations bandwidth, we have had approximately 2^20, which is a staggering 1 Million-fold increase in the basic hardware performance on any metric you care to choose - check out the simplest thing, a cell phone - my cell has 1Gig of memory and a 100MHz processor, a 2Mbps wireless UMTS link and cost under 100$, so it must be true right?

Wrong. because of bloat. some of the bloat is sensible - p2p (storage localized to you rather than the data center or content provider) is there to beat the "tyranny of latency" thus a HUGE amount of storage is distributed around the world in 1 Billion pCs on the internet, just so's you don't have to wait 100msec to get it over your DSL line.

On the other hand the laptop I am typing on has a dual core intel procvessor and 2Gig of memory. in 1979, I used to use a DEC 10 which supported 300 simulataneous users doing engineering design on CAD software and it ony had 600kwords of memory (K,. not M and certainly not G) - try supporting 300 users on a Mac Book:)

Basically, there's no incentive for the software vendors to fix this because the price of gadgets keeps going down. However, service providers might think about it, as the energy consumption of the net keeps going UP. The heat death of the Internet is imminent, unless we come up with a scheme (e.g. like Bit torrent's tit for tat)

Perhaps we should have a Carbon Tax on profligate power consumption - we could start by instrumenting services and allowing people to do Ethical, Eco-Friendly Internet Browsing.

We could add meta data to HTTP/HTML (dare i say XML? - no way - XML is one of the MOST bloated bits of nonsense). And then users could vote with their feet (well, maybe with their Mice).

Governments could enforce it - Bush could invade countries that have hidden Weapons of Mass Deforestation and harbour carbon terrorists! No wait, he'd have to invade california first....oh well, thats the end of another fine idea...pip pip

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misery me, there is a floccipaucinihilipilification (*) of chronsynclastic infundibuli in these parts and I must therefore refer you to frank zappa instead, and go home