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)...

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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