Saturday, December 01, 2012

Some thoughts on/from the last 2 days.

1. The mix of people actually worked quite well,
but that was lucky - it would be
better to have more structure another time. When cool points came up,
we shoud facilitate them being captured, nailed down, aired...etc

2. Academics (professors) tend to profess -
they also tend to profess "their thing"
all the time without trying to listen to others
first and then re-structure their
thing to fit - this is worse with engineering minded folks
(the MIT gang) than with social/humanaties/user type folks -
hence interventions from Alan Blackwell
(despite or because of his strategy of being contrarian),
and especially from Aaron Sloman were most useful.
Surprisingly (in a very good way) John Doyle was awesomely good at this too,
as well as having presented the most thoughtful (along with Aaron) piece of the day.

3. Key take homes

Architecture is probably a badly wrong word, but we're probably stuck with it.
Constraints that Deconstrain are crucial - crucially, picking the right constraint
(e.g. IP, the narrow waist of the hourglass) was a constraint, which freed up
everything above and below...
It isn't clear whether evolution (natural selection, survival of fittest of multipledifferent species) is better or worse than intelligent design  - certainly bacteria
appear to use a mix in some sense, and networks (and other artefacts of
"architecting") appear to use a mix too...(there were _many_ precursors to the Internet Architecture - this is also true of
mobile phone tech,, operating systems (pre unix/OSX/Linux), utilities, etc)

Users are important - William Gibson didn't just say
"The future is already here, it's just unevenly distributed";
He also said that "the street finds its use for tech":
so when mobile phones added SMS as an after thought, people started to do gifting
(emoticons etc) - twitter followed suit - and people (*users*) revised twitter
to add #tags, retweets, mentions - this is true of use of email for filesharing, and
use of OSNs for photos

Elephants in the room

-- We didn't ask any architects (in the Frank Lloyd Wright sense)
   Actually it's not clear to me that that would have helped (much)

-- We didn't say much about ethics- there's not really such a thing as an "ethically
neutral technology" -- many of the early internet technology inventors appeared to
have a strong societal gifting ethic -- so (in my experience) from 1980 til at least 2000, much of the work towards manking the internet work and deploying it, was done by
people for free or for little personal gain in wealth terms (ok, so a lot of social
capital accrued, although often with people who didn't really do the main work) - youfind a lot of the internet architects also do other stuff they don't speak much about
(e.g. community nets in their home towns) - Bruce Maggs at Akamia/Duke, runs free
community wireless access - Kevin Fall  and other folks at Berkeley deploy wireless
mesh nets in develping countries ....

-- Creeping asymmetry (in the sense of apps, power, centralisation, access links, ability
to server as well as be a client) - we mentioned the "evil" that is centralisation andp0wning of personal data by Online Social Network behemoths but this is just part and parcel of the post gift-era Internet - and the failure to maintain symmetry of powerbetween all Internet uses goes right down to the wire (asymetric capacity on uplink &downlink for ADSL and for 3G/4G, lack of always on, globally reachable IP addresses,all the way up to stunning operating systems on appliance-like tablets and smart
phones so they can't act as servers or routers, blocking of P2P apps by ISPs, and so
on and so on...)

4. Future workshop possible themes

A. I agree having some social scientists study folks like clark/doyle/wroclaski
"doing architecture" to some new stuff
(my 3 examples, for example) might yield
useful some methodology for
re-use in education (in computer science/engineering courses).

B. doing something on what Jane Q. Public "think" the net is,
and how they (re-)invent uses for it would be good

C. It'd be good to get some people from industry (perhaps industrial design)
engaged too..

Quotes of the day:-

- the Internet is a Giraffe built out of fish parts.

- biological (bacteria's) and computers operating systems - create a facade of diversity.

- deconstraining constraints is important
(see also, layering,
 generative architectures,
 a la Turing M/C, ]
and the "art of programming language design.

We're mainly bacteria, but we're impressed with all the rest.

Aaron Sloman:

Ptolemy versus aristotle:
Philosophies that are closing versus opning up
(bit like closed v. open questions)

Alan blackwell:
Relevance is the enemy

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Waste of Mind

I was watching someone on the train the other day using an iPad - swooshing here, scrolling there, zooming here - they spend the best part of 45 minutes engaged in _navigating between and amongst apps - they spent very little time actually reading or viewing a given piece of content, or engaged in anything that looked even couch-potato-ish, let alone worthwhile productive intellectually stimulating pastimes - i.e. they were marginalised in the sense of being pushed to the margin of the universe of ideas by the sexiness of the UI, rather than pulled in to the actual creative work as a consumer or producer (as John Naughton has pointed out in his excellent memex blog, the iPad is a consumer device par excellence anyhow, not really a producer device, but nevertheless this person wasn't even consuming much, except in t he sense of being stimulated pointlessly by the whiz-bang-gee-core-lummyness of the groovy graphics Apple had devized.

This, coupled with adverts taking more and more eyeball time/screen real-estate, and attention, seems to me to be doing the very opposite of Mark Weiser's vision for calm computing.

I bet if you measure people's productivity (or their time spent gainfully involved in a fine ebook or movie or game even) it is falling lower and lower, whilst the bits of the brain that deal with being over-stimulated are going into over-drive - I bet if you measure people's stress-levels using this junk, you'll find that they are getting worse and worse.
I bet we could do a whole lot better - when I look at someone using a kindle (no, I am not trying to sell you amazon's gadget, nor do I have shares, I'm just using it as an example), with its ultra-stripped down UI, concentrating screen real estate and interface on one and one task only, you'd find calm, productive use of time and lower stress.

I reckon, as I've said elsewhere, that Apple (and others - Android phones and tablets are no better, since the Googleplex is just another PARC wannabe just like Apple), are basically at the point of Decline and Fall.

I bet a really good cultural historian could look at giant empires like Apple, and point to Gibbons fine work (or if you prefer, Isaac Asimov's re-setting of it in the Foundation "trilogy"), and see exactly the analogous signs of fin-de-siecle setting in - the concentration on the superficial (interface rather than content) the use of Ryan Air style tricks to turn a profit (change the plug/cable, instead of innovate like Nokia doing cordless charging:), basically decay, and rot and bloat and basically, decadence (love that word - say it slowly:- de-cadence).

There, that's better....

Thursday, October 11, 2012

dilemma on your mind

so i was reading these fine papers due to a colleague pointing me at them:
and decided we need to re-christen these
the acursed dilemma,
the re-cursed dilemma
a theory of mindlessness

this essentially then reduces to the ultimate game - viz

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Narrative Ark

Today's idea for a SF novel, entitled,
The Narrative Ark.

A collection of loosely linked tales about pairs of characters - bound together by representing the full range of human stories, being sent either as an education for aliens in other star systems, or else actually as a social-dna pool to rebuild all of earth as the old terra firma has been destroyed/stolen/lost - the ark
inhabitants (passengers) don't know....


The Laughing Cow and the Crying Wolf
The Tragicat and the Comidog
The Good and Bad Cops

things to avoid
i) moses jokes
ii) too much similarity to the very excellent
Not Wanted on the Voyage
iii) any notion of god

Sunday, September 09, 2012

un-Science Fiction and Dr Who

When I was growing up, a friend of mine, Josh Griefer, lived up the road and I'd go round a lot to lose at chess (worse, Go) and here stories - his father, Lewis Griefer, was a well known TV scriptwriter who penned words for the Avengers, the Prisoner, and a few Dr Who episodes- in the 1970s, when I was at University (first), in Trinity College every Saturday religiously, we'd gather in the junior common room to watch this - back in those days, it was nearly as good as now.

So what about the science? well, we'd laugh, because it was all so gloriously wrong - none so daft as the Sonic Screwdriver.

However, I distinctly remmeber going round to the Griefers' around that time and Josh's dad quizzing us about how you could make such a device work, and then mischiveously grinning when we said "you couldn't", saying "excellent, so I can use that plot device then".

Lewis was a very smart and amusing guy (sadly missed) and I believe that my memory is if not accurate, definitely in spirit with his work.

Dr Who continues to be gloriously wrong frequently. I don't think the current producers and writers are doing this out of ignorance, but in a great tradition of un-science fiction.

[oh, Lewis often signed his scripts "Joshua Adam" after his two sons, if you're looking things up on imdb or the like]

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

BGP and canals

who'd have think it, but there's a policy routing mechanism on your everyday british canal syste - when a richer canal company joined a lower one, they'd put in a gratuitous lock, to control the flow of water - i.e. tier 1 to tier 2 would make sure that people would always benefit the tier-1 in terms of water supply

so you get these itty bitty 6 inch high lock gates every now and then

of course, now its all british waterways board, so its one VPN sort of:)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Psychology of Computer Programmers - Guest Posting by Libby Enstrom

The Psychology of Computer Programmers

Computer programmers understand human behavior from a goal-oriented, task-driven perspective. They assume that people want to accomplish the same tasks more quickly and receive benefits and satisfaction from improving processes. In short, programmers use applied psychology to add incentives for consumers to use their products. However, the incentives are often based in reality, not in cyberspace.

Saving time is one important goal that new applications strive to accomplish for their users. In addition to time, there are other “currencies” that coders can tap into. One recently developed website, called: “Confusometer,” helps students provide direct feedback to lectures.

Created by a professor at the University of Toronto, Liam Kaufman, the confusometer allows students with Internet access to record whether they understand the topic or do not. Users simply navigate to the website, either by laptop or mobile device, and press the red button if they do not understand. Once the material sinks in, they press the green button. Consequently, students no longer need to raise their hands to engage, which adds a ton of value to large lectures where many students do not want to interrupt such a large group.

The back end of the web site is another front end, of sorts. The website automatically forms a metric in real time, which visually represents the level of intelligibility of the subject to the class. The website is called “” It has been implemented successfully in over three undergraduate courses at the University of Toronto. Students love it. Professors swear by it. Business intelligence software developers could learn a lot from this simple program.

Professor Kaufman’s design demonstrates a number of important facets of a quickly emerging field: Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). Firstly, technology has improved to the point of allowing non-professionals to devise their own programs. This trend is likely to steepen in the near future, and it importantly saves programmers a lot of homework. Instead of devising particular apps that will perform one range of tasks, developers are focusing on creating platforms that support modification to the platform itself. Facebook, for instance, supports social applications. Spotify, one app that is integrated with Facebook, nests its own applications on top of that. Given the increased ease of designing applications, it may not take long before business software enables employees to devise their own programs to save time, money, and work.

More general applications rely on principles that guide human interaction. Just as the colors green and red are used by “” to tap into students’ preconceived notions of go and stop, Apple uses other, even more basic assumptions to help consumers interact with products.

Note-taking and mind-mapping are two areas that facilitate understanding and are sometimes combined. Essentially, these apps help users to visualize the relationships between facts, ideas, pictures and concepts. Users can input notes, then connect them, break them apart, and otherwise manipulate them to accurately represent their ideas in a graphical format. In the construction of these programs, Apple taps into the popularity of visual thinking, the penchant that most people have for thinking visually. By giving its users the ability to see their ideas represented in a graphical environment, the company essentially allows consumers to play to their own mental strength.

For more specific applications, such as Professor Kaufman’s, programmers would need to have direct experience with the goals, values, and processes of the people they aim to help. By developing platforms that support programming innovations, coders are essentially saving themselves a lot of homework and working to give users the tools they need to improve their own lives, in whatever “currency” they deem most valuable.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Net Ends

Not the net at all - just a blatant plea for sponsorship for this ride we;re doing in just over a week's time:)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

ACE Talk by Brian Carpenter

Nice talk about Turing's ACE report today in the Wednesday seminar series - nice to reflect on the delta between the ACE and the Raspberry PI (700-fold speedup in 60 years, but also a reduction in development costs of about 1Million:) Was interesting to reflect on people being told "do not do X"....viz Maurice Wilkes told us not to try building the Turing Switch idea, and the EPSRC told Peter Kirstein to stop building the internet.... some of them are not wrong, sometimes....

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Dice and Decideability

Dice and Decideability,
or Just a Minute at the Institute for Advanced Studies
with apologies to Jane Austin

"It is a fact universally computed that a single man in possession
of a small fortune wheel, might not actually be in search of a

ALbert looked at Mrs Einstein over the breakfast table in the warm
Prince Town sunlight of late august with admiration.

"You're talking about Alan again aren't you my dear?" he asked her.
Alan Mathison Turing was the talk of the town, since he arrived
with his small travelling show in tow. Everyone had become addicted
to the game, where you had to discuss one of the 23 famous Hilbert
Challenges for 1 minute, without any hesitation (the halting problem),
repetition (the loop), or dangling pointers (relevance).

The Elephant in the Room was the undeniable fact that Alan had
already solved one of them, but had not had space on the limited
stone tablet that was all Cambridge University could afford him, to
write down the proof.

Mrs Einstein was pleased that Johnny von Neumann had finally
settled down and was getting on with that huge birdsnest of glowing
tubes that looked like it was going to make a great Christmas
Lights, or maybe decorate the Founders Hall for the Alumni Ball -
what fun that was, with old students and colleagues dressed to the
nines (often wearing leopard skin pillbox hats and accompanying
tails in satin). Even Albert usually brushed his hair for the
occasion, although Alan would probably make himself scarce. A few
thousand people was a lot to cater for, when counting Austrain
Pastries, but was a vanishingly small number when it came to
counting the number of ways that their gene's could combine, or
indeed, just the time it would take to fly to the stats in the
relativistically challenged Wright Brothers' phantastic new

What fun. All the fun of the fair. And with Alan's new infinite
wheel of fortune (or non-deterministic mill, as he rather strangely
called it), even if God didn't, Albert would be playing Dice once

of course, all the best stories end after happily, ever tale recursive

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The DNS is not a right. Oh yes It is. Oh no it isn't. Oh yes it is...

There has been a debate in the public recently about this. On the one
hand, the Interweb evangelist for the Houyhnhnms Corporation
has claimed that the DNS is not a right. On the other hand
Lord Waterloo of Sandwich has claimed that it is. On the other hand (if
you're a monkey like me) I claim this is just a bit more subtle than
either of these thinly disguised gentlemen admit.

Cory Doctorow of Boing-Boing fame has made a passionate plea
to comprehend the nature of arbitrary restrictions that various
agencies are trying to impose on General Computing, and, by extension,
on the end-to-end services of the Internet, in the name of Security or

See this link for the video of his talk
at the Chaos Computer Convention at the end of 2011.

The core of his argument is that computers embody Turing machines,
which of course are, as Alan Turing pointed out, capable of arbitrary
computations. Placing extreme (e.g. remove any arbitrary recursion or iteration, or simply remove ability to re-programme) restrictions on these (reducing them to a mere
appliance capable of a single task) throws away their fundamental
value (adaptability/shared use). Anything less in restriction will
always be surmountable.

By analogy, the Internet is the most general form of communications
network one can envisage. The famous hour-glass model partly illustrates this. Previous attempts by vested interests (i.e. telcos) to control the vertical stack led to stovepipe monopolies with a tip of a pyramid. By contrast, the narrow waist of the hourglass allows arbitrary channels below, and an arbitrary inverted pyramid (a very wide divergence) of heterogeneous applications above.

Recently, various aberrations caused both by bad luck (lack of IPv4 address space) and bad design (lack of decent end system security) have appeared in the deployed internet. Because the core must still maintain some end-to-end services, workarounds for these aberrations (NATs, Firewalls, other broken-middle-boxes) always manage to appear. As (I believe) J. Noel Chiappa once said,
the Internet will route around damage.

So the only way that the Internet can be restricted as a right is to
make it a narrow pyramid structure rather than an hour glass - i.e.
remove the "Turing Complete" nature of the service.

Now, there are arguments for the agencies policing laws and carrying out intelligence services doing various things on the net to make sure that other human rights are not abused. However, these do not require the stunning of the Internet technology so that it can't provide an arbitrary range of technical communication activities. Such laws (and ethics) require those agencies to look at what people say (write) and do, in the same way they always have. And the require all of us as users to behave responsibly too.

So why have I titled this piece "The DNS is not a right". Well because
this is a reductio ad absurdum. It is well known that one of the most
extreme ways to route around damage is to run IP over DNS queries and
build a DNS server that de-capsulates the (Unicoded) IP packet from
the DNS Lookup and forwards it on native. To remove this capablity
would require an agency to own all the DNS servers in the world. Or to
remove the DNS itself.

To illustrate another aspect of the problem, lets think about
TCP-friendliness. TCP-friendliness is not a right. That is true -
you can send traffic in an uncontrolled way. However, pretty soon,
your ISP might disconnect you. or charge you a lot of money. Its not
that you can't send TCP-unfriendly traffic. Its just irresponsible.

And that's no joke.

You'll notice that I have not gone on to discuss different
notions of what a "right" is. There are some pretty important, but
subtle differences between what is considered a right in the
Bill of Rights that the US employs, versus other notions of Universal Human Rights such as those in the
UN declaration on same topic. US rights are operationally encoded
in the constitution, and crucially controlled by a set of checks and
balances. These are sufficient to understand that the same approach
can be taken to providing a TCP-friendly, Human Readably Named
Internet, that can embody the abstract notion of the Right to
communicate freely with whomsoever we wish on any subject they care to
hear about, in a concrete technology that is the communications
equivalent of a Turing Complete Difference Engine.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

some SF MS found in a 3rd party cookie

1. Cache

boy from a primative tribe is playing in the woods and finds a
strange bulbous hand sized box which, when knobs are pushed, shows
funny poictures and sounds on the screen.....

after years of this, one day the battery falkls out (of the soloar
panel wears out) and the words "Psion 5a NC" fade for ever

the young man and his memories are now the sole remaining wireless web
Cache active on the planet

2. Stability

A tribe worship the route of all things, the ring that binds them,
the end to endless truth, but they get blackholed by a passing gibson

3. the end 2 end and hop by hop principles of go-betweens, young
lovers and their triangles

rashevskys number is the number of possible neural interconnects
in the human brain (permutations) - it is more than enough to number
al the atoms in the known universe and give their (floating in the
sky, point-less) position to the nearest heartbeat or caress, but not
both at the same time

Seven, 7, is the number of people it takes to reach across the human
population from any hermit to any recluse, mailman by rider, pony
express by next door neighbour

what have these two numbers in common except this story?

5. The Protocols of the Elders of ARPA, wearing Mitres, walking tall,
and Society of Blind CIDRs have written, on whatever it is that they
write it on up there, that
wot is writ is rot
wot is done is achieved
and what is recorded is restored
but never can the PCBs and TCP
be removed from the O-Zone

6. A Moo, is an ever changing world of the imaginmation, limited only
by your vocabulary and syntax ....

for many years, one moo sings louder and brighter than all others
and is a focus of strange set of interactors become
the high priests of virtual personality fashion...

one day, the participants discover that in fact, they are all also
working in the day at the same chicken factory, canning mutant
salmonella (a safe, and highly nutritious form of something that used
to plague the poultry industry, until they reversed the role of
disease and foodstuff)....

7. statelessness is next to godliness
after e-mail, f-mail

f-mail is fumigated, and powered by certificates, but people develope
a yen for a new form of mail, c-mail. c-mail is clean, and uses only a
working set of 300 words, all harmless...

one day, the world is invaded by aliens, who have no trouble taking
over because noone can remember the word for

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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