Ten Years of Wetmachine Already? Some Preliminary Observations

In the immediately prior post, Harold Feld reflects on ten years of blogging at Wetmachine.

Go read that post; it’s short & fun & informational. I’ll wait for you below the fold, where I offer some further reflections on Harold’s reflections.

An Arisian Encounter

As Harold notes, he and I first met at Arisia, an annual SF Convention held in Boston. As I recall, the panel I was on (in my memory I had conflated his panel & mine into one, but he’s probably correct that our panels were distinct) was on the topic of whether governments could control the Internet. At the time, the Internet was presumed to be pretty much free & open in the USA, while largely unavailable in more totalitarian places like China & Saudi Arabia.

Presumably, I was speaking as a great expert on the topic because I had written a few TCP/IP programming manuals fifteen years earlier. I don’t recall what I said, but I imagine that I was moderately optimistic that the Internet would be impervious to government censorship, monitoring, etc, because (a) the Internet has no single points of failure which implies that it would be hard to restrict – it was designed to detect and route around nodes that had gone out of commission (b) who would have the infrastructure to monitor the whole thing? etc. (Yeah, I know. Silly me.)

Now, by the standards required to participate on a panel on a topic such as this at an actual computer/software/hacker conference, I was wildly unqualified. I never would have made it onto a panel at Usenix or Defcon, for example. But I knew more about the topic than most Arisians did, and, it seemed to me, I even knew more about the topic than most of my fellow panelists. But when Harold started talking about his years working with ICANN, I quickly figured out that I was no longer the top Internet wonk-dog in the room.

Anyway, shortly after we introduced ourselves to each other, I suggested he buy a copy of my (then only extant) novel Acts of the Apostles. And he demurred, saying it was the Sabbath, so he wouldn’t be making any purchases, but that perhaps he would buy a copy if he ran into me on Sunday. (Which he did do, by the way.) I said I could arrange to meet him someplace and he said, No, he would decide about it tomorrow. It took me a minute to realize that he wouldn’t make a plan to meet me on Sunday because that would have been entering into a contract of sorts, which would be a violation of the Sabbath.

This was my first exposure to the role that Judaism plays in Harold’s life. Having been raised Catholic myself & being the graduate of a Jesuit high school, and now living on Martha’s Vineyard where the (quite “Reform”, it would appear) Hebrew Center has a female rabbi, I don’t generally hang out with more traditionally observant, kosher-keeping Jews. While it’s literally true that many of my longest & best friends are Jewish, none of them keep kosher, none of them are biblical scholars like Harold is. So in a way he was, for want of a better word, a bit exotic to me. Long time readers of Tales of the Sausage Factory know how Harold’s religious background & belief inform his take on public policy. See, for example, his recent post Intellectual Property, Jewish Ethics, and Aaron Swartz. I think this perspective is part of what make Harold’s policy analysis so distinctive, and I’ve learned an awful lot from it. Harold’s become my go-to authority on all things relating to the Jewish scriptures & their interpretation. It’s just another illustration of the unexpected roads this group blog has travelled since its chance inception. (I’m not religious myself, but I do value Jewish scripture & commentary both as things in themselves, and as important foundations of Western civilization with which any well-rounded person should be at least somewhat familiar. And I also have a fascination with the so-called Judeo-Christian bible & the subset of Christian theology called Christology, which presumes such a familiarity. . .)

But Wetmachine is Not Just Harold’s Blog, Right?

Like Harold, I’ve been here at Wetmachine for ten years too, as has our long-suffering , unflappable and ever-reliable webmaster (and intermittent blogger, mostly of topics of insanely esotericly geeky) Gary Gray. Howard Stearns, although he’s been quiet of late, has posted many dozens of provocative articles about the nature of software engineering, the nature of engineering more generally, and how engineering relates to life in general. Greg Rose (whom I’ve never met in meat space) blogged with us for a while, his every post being virtually a scholarly article on some aspect of electronic communication. And then there are the less prominent members of our crew, including a few “neutrino Wetmachiners,” those who have posted fewer than three times here – and a few of them only once.

I think I’ll write a retrospective about what the past decade of Wetmachine has meant to me. But will take a little while; I’ll have to collect my thoughts and do a little research. Because until Harold pointed it out, I hadn’t realized that our anniversary was upon us. So I have nothing prepared. (How unusual. Not.)

I think it’s kind of interesting that Wetmachine had its genesis in a discussion about the future of the Internet at a science fiction convention. Because when I look back on what Wetmachine has been about over the last ten years, at least 50% of what we’ve written about bears directly on the future of the Internet (& telecommunication generally) and another 30% deals with science-fictiony topics; for example, “futuristic” DNA technology that has become commonplace.

Before signing off I did want to repeat what I said in a long comment I wrote on Harold’s post but which Wetmachine lost before posting. (Yes, it happens to us to. Don’t blame me, blame WordPress. We’re aware of some problems. But let’s not get into that right now.) Which is, Wetmachine isn’t my blog; it just happens to be one I started & have helped nudge along. I also own the domain name. But Wetmachine belongs to the people who’ve made it what it has become over the last ten years, which includes, in addition to myself, everybody mentioned above.

I would love to hear comments from readers — longtime, first time, or in between, about how you got here and what you think of our little home on the Web.

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