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 1907.

The captain of the ship noticed 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 editors/printers.

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 over to the 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 war.

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
Wikipedia 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