Inventing the Future

What's a Server?

I was taught that science is all about managing complexity by creating abstractions over different domains. A common layman’s mistake is to anecdotally observe or hear that something is true at some level, somewhere, and assume that this fact or definition applies throughout every discussion. For example:
One hears that computers are “programmed in binary,” or that they “understand binary,” but in fact, programmers don’t write in binary. Programmers work at a higher level of abstraction than binary encoding.
One hears that computers use “digital circuits,” that are simply “on” or “off”, but in fact, the physics of each electronic component is continuously variable. Device physics is at a lower level of abstraction than digital electronics.

So, what’s a server and what is peer-to-peer? It depends on what ‘s being discussed?

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My Thoughts Exactly

Congressman Delahunt on Net Neutrality

I called Bill Delahunt’s office and sent him emails in support of net neutrality.

I received this response by email a few days ago. I’m entering it here for the record, without comment. I may comment on it later, and would be interested in what you think of it (espescially in the case where “you” == Harold Feld).

Dear Friend:

Thank you for your email message in support of net neutrality legislation.
I appreciate the benefit of your views, and wanted to take a moment to
explain my vote of “present” during last week’s consideration of the
Sensenbrenner-Conyers bill in the House Judiciary Committee.

First, I support keeping cyberspace free and open to all. As a member of
the House International Relations Committee, I’ve seen how the Internet has
made it possible to bridge cultural and political differences that exist.
As a father, email made it possible for me to keep in touch with my daughter
while she was working overseas in Spain – and helped me to make sure that
she was safe after the Madrid terrorist bombings.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Quick Reaction to AT&T-BellSouth Merger

Not really a surprise. The government has made clear it will accept the vicious cycle of “the previous merger you approved means I now have to merge.”

Sadly, because the regulators till think of these primarily as monopoly voice markets, and long ago gave up hope the Bells will compete with each other, they don’t worry about the increased size of the national footprint as an indicator of market power in any of the relevant service markets. If anything, it’s regarded as a plus because under the logic of “convergence,” this makes AT&T a better video competitior to Comcast, TW and other incumbent cable companies, while doing no “damage” in voice markets.

The complexity of interelated markets, the nature of market power on “upstream” internet content and service providers, and question of what the mature market looks like aludes them.

Oddly, I am at a conference on municipal broadband right now. Soon, cities may be the only competitors. I hope they will realize that they need interconnection and net neutrality to make a real go of it. Or so I will try to persuade them tomorrow.

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Inventing the Future

Eroica

Today was my boss’s last day, and, ironically, my first anniversary. Julian Lombardi will be Duke’s Assistant Vice President for Academic Services and Technology Support. He’ll be responsible for the university’s IT customer service and development.

They made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

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Posted in history: external milestones and context, Inventing the Future | Also tagged , , , , | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

Inventing the Future

Inventing the Future: digital convergence happens

Croquet is “about” real-time collaboration. A bunch of people can be in the same virtual environment and see the live effects of each other moving around and manipulating things. It seems natural to add audio chat using existing Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology. So now you can talk to folks in the same space while you work together. We’re working on Webcam video, too, so that it’s generally suitable for holding distance meetings in a Croquet place. I didn’t think much about displacing land-line telephones. Who cares.

We thought a bit about how you could connect the telephone system so that you could call in to a Croquet place and join a meeting (audio only?) from a cell phone.

But then I read this quote from Patrick Scaglia, Vice-President and Director of the Internet and Computing Platforms Research Center at HP Lab:

“Croquet is a first in many ways. It represents a major step in our vision of computation as a communications platform and service, available anytime, anywhere, from any device. Soon, Croquet will run on everything, from a PDA through a set-top box; persistent Croquet worlds will be ubiquitous on the Internet, routed intelligently to each user through computational services overlays like PlanetLab. This will change the way people think about software and computation, from today’s device-oriented perspective to a perspective of computation as a persistent, pervasive, service”.

It took a day to sink in.

Eventually, people will want and get always-on connectivity for mobile devices, just as over half of American Internet users now get for fixed-position access. After demand evens out, I think device costs are first-order proportional to the number of chips, with the complexity of chips being a second-order effect. So the cost of a PDA capable of running Croquet will someday not be inherently much more expensive then a cell phone such as is now being given away by providers.

So, will we have telephones? Of any kind?

As far as I know, the Croquet developers didn’t set out to replace the telephone. If I had, my wife would have threatened divorce for such a hair-brained idea. And I’m not predicting that Croquet will displace the telephone. But it is interesting that progress in solving an abstract and general problem
mightlead to the merging of computers and telephones.

Posted in Inventing the Future | Also tagged , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)
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