Inventing the Future

Testing 1, 2, 3. Check. Check. …. Waiter?!

I’ve been working with some test harnesses for our Croquet worlds. It’s been a real pain working outside of Croquet: getting things to happen across multiple platforms. Moving data around. It’s all so much easier in a virtual space that automatically replicates everything.

Anyway, we finally got it working enough that there are several machines in Qwaq’s Palo Alto office that are all running around as robots in a virtual world, doing various user activities to see what breaks. Being (still!) in Wisconsin, I have to peek on these machines via remote. I’m currently using Virtual Network Computing (VNC), but there’s also Windows Remote Desktop (RDP). These programs basically scrape the screen at some level, and send the pictures to me. So when these robots are buzzing around in-world, I get a screen repaint, and then another, and then another. And that’s just one machine. If I want to monitor what they’re all doing, I have to use have a VNC window open for each, scraping and repainting away. Yuck. If only there were a better way….

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Inventing the Future

Open-Source Curriculum

M.I.T. decided couple of years ago to put their entire curriculum on-line. Anyone can use it for free. They feel that the value they provide as an institution is not threatened, but enhanced by making their materials publicly available.

Our preschool, Little City Kids, is now doing the same thing. There’s a lot of stuff we do charge for – individual child-care, franchising to help you run your own Little City Kids, and educational toys that for schools or for home. We have a lot of folks using our curriculum, and quite often, it brings them to our other services as well. That’s plenty. For example, we have quite a few home-schoolers use our curriculum, and they buy toys to go with it.

One of my themes in software development is that platforms tend to not directly make money for their creators. I think a curriculum is the equivalent of a platform for schools. It’s expensive to produce, but necessary if you’re doing something different that doesn’t let you use someone else’s. However, I no longer think it’s wise to expect open-sourcing to reduce costs. It can happen in some fashion, but it shouldn’t be the driver. Instead, you produce the platform because you need to, and you share it because it’s a good idea for helping you with your real product. I think wider use can help improve the quality of the platform, and that this applies to our curriculum. But we are not, at this time, trying to provide a means for people to directly contribute to the curriculum content itself. (More about this later…)

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Inventing the Future

Making a Living in Languages (Redux) part 7: Give ‘Em What They Want

Last time: “Can’t Make a Killing From Platforms Without Killing the Community,” in which I said that those who develop a platform rarely recoup their cost directly, and so they might look to reduce their cost through open-source efforts.
Now: How do you create demand for a platform?

[This is an excerpt from a Lisp conference talk I gave in 2002.]

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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.

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