Tuesday, December 30, 2008

xmas tv computing lecture website - fun for all the family...

Royal Inst. Xmas Lectures of 2008 were all about computing science - the web site has a lot of nice interaction tricks which should be 2nd nature to every primary school kid by the end of the recession:)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Reverse Engineering is like Physics

Its often been remarked that debugging is like science. But reverse engineering is even more like science. So when people measure the internet (e.g. Rocketfuel) to figure out how the topology and capacity have evolved , they are reverse engineering (and in the process, try to infer mechanisms that explain, and don't just describe the phenomenon) - similar work on measuring P2P, and IPTV and skype (the great Blackhat paper on dismantling skype) are all very good.

So next: facebook - lets dismantle that and replace it with something better shall we?

better = something where I get good default security and properties on objects I "own" flow properly/. Where I can pick up and move my entire facebook account to some other OSN, and can insist (provably) that they do not retain any of my data. better is something where one doesn't just write yet another faceboo app that spams everyone, but can modify the internals (e.g. to build a completely decentralised mobile ad hoc version of facebook) - a bit like haggle deconstructed google..

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

3 more internet ideas

after lastminuite.com, what about

lastminute.com - nanotech grey goo stories

lastminuet.com - fine music for arty assisted suicides

lastmenus.com - take out for deathrow

lastfirst.com - fundamentalist christian blog

Monday, December 15, 2008

innovation, provenance, nationalism and competition

recent debates on bail outs (banks, car companies, etc) has revealed an interesting mix of incomprehension and incredulity in the global eco-system we now inhabit.

lotsa people object to the US bailing out ford, chrylser and GM coz it is unfair competition by the US - on the other hand this sort of assumes a level playing field in the world - there isn't one because of lots and lots of reasons - choosing a few

1. initial conditions - different countries started with more or less advantage (lets mention the US stealing British IPR on becoming independent, basing the workforce on slavery, and government subsidy of research - all also true of the EU, the Arab states and China and India

2. appropriation of natural resources

3. economies of scale (e.g. internal market size)

Other examples will occur (supporters and detractors of Boeing and Airbus continually claim the other side started with massive government subsidy - this could apply all the way from grants to colelges to train aerospace students, up to government "buy or fly national only" policy...

and then there's the internet .. .. ... :)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

netheads are also foodies...

so i met up with a random set of people in NY yesterday pre-infocom TPC meeting, and we went to a fine bar and then a very interesting Ethiopian restaurant

It has been my general experience (since 1988) that people in the comms area are really not stereotypically geek at all at least when it comes to food and drink - we definitely have interesting (and not necessarily just expensive) taste:)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

From where does authority vest in a post-Internet era?

Reading Ben Goldacre's excellent Bad Science book&column, and reading Robert Peston's exemplary explanation of recent economic trends, and (just hot off the press) the latest judgment reversal by the the IWF, one could be confused about where real authority lies and from where it vests.

I think the problem is that the Internet (and before it, mass media like daily (tabloid) newspapers, radio and TV, while democratizing those previously elite owned systems, also removes the metadata that gives the information its authority.

Goldacre lambasts folks like "nutritionists" for having bogus qualifications (from non "accreddited" organisations) and for citing research that is not "properly" peer reviewed.

Let me say that we came very close in Cambridge University recently to not bothering to have our computer Science degrees accredited by the IEE (IET) and BCS because their processess were so annoying. Let me say that I have been on about 5 programme committees and 3 journal editor duties a year for 20 years and I frequently see papers published which are "peer reviewed" and do not disclose all the information necessary to verify, validate or reproduce (or, more scientifically correctly speaking, to falsify potentially) the results.... ....

so this has all gotten worse because of the Internet, the Web, Google, and Wikipedia etc

The authority possessed previously by Banks, Governments, Medical Science, the Church, partly vested in Big Buildings - impressive looking temples (go look at the bank of england or houses of parliament or guy's hospital - all look like ancient greek theophilists dreams:), all go to make the little guy (or even the middle man - trader, investor, sick patient or supplicant) to trust that the organisation the building stands for wont vanish or fall down ("fly by night").

Now this has all gone - sub prime and fine mortgages, good and bad shares, medical information and nutritionist marketting/misinformation, and random religions (flying spaghetti monsters and the scientologists) are all on a level playing field in the Flat Earth Infosphere...

How could we fix this? what could we add (and I am not just talking about syntactic sugar like the so-called semantic web) information that would lend support to people's discernment (learning and retaining) ? what would go to show that some item was the result of discipline and investment of real effort, rather than (like this blog itself) just a fad/fashion/press release?

I don't know, but we sure need it for all our wealth, health and sanity... ... ...

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

loss of meaning in RL

today they are taking down signs everywhere
because everyone has an iPhone with google maps
and every car has a satnav

only the libraries still
have real maps of the real world

so when I virus the GPS and Internet
how will people find their way
to the libraries, eh?

answer that one on a postcard...

zen koan for the day

in a small world
does a goldfish
remember saying
"go ahead,
make my day"
to the lone

Sunday, December 07, 2008

tivo on the radio - oh and finding lost remote controls

so why are there no cheap time shifting radio/ipods? it'd be great to tune in to some live radio show but then pause etc etc...??? eh? simple s/w extension to....

oh, and why don't remotes have in them radios so I can call them from a central gadget (e.g. my cell phone) and make them ring ? like i can with a dect phone?

Friday, November 28, 2008

startup midwifery and RAI*

i seem to find my life interleaved with helping new spinouts get going without being actually a founder or shareholder (number 12 yesterday - more news later) - its fun, but not-for-profit:-)

meanwhile thinking about RAI* (Redundant Arrays of Independent Stuff):-
An alphabet soup of these leads to some possibly neat ideas such as

Redundant Array of Independent Architectures = Virtualisation+Emulation
RAI Bytes - well this is just FEC
RAI Computers = Derek Murray/Steve Hand's Spread Spectrum Computing
RAI Disks (the original one:)
RAI Electricity (power supply backup/battery/diesel/solar etc)
RAI Frames = layered coded video
RAI Gods = polytheism (even more playing safe than Agnosticism:)
RAI Help = Google
RAI Internets = Virtualise the Internet
RAI Jobs = academics:)
RAI Kludges = s/w reliability technique used in aerospace quite a lot
RAI Links = Multipath
RAI Memory - obviously
RAI NOtifications - what you get from signing up to too many social net sites
RAI Objects = Eternity File System
RAI Projectors - coping with speakers who have Macs or Windows or Linux laptops
RAI Queues - being english
RAI Redundancy = Recursion - or maybe redundant array of indepenent recursions
RAI Security - what we really have - insecurity
RAI Testtubes = life sciences:)
RAI Users - Sys Admin view of the world
RAI Virtualisation = see recursion
RAI WOrk - see Academics
RAI Xen - 4.0, 5.0 etc
RAI Years - life, pain in diodes, left hand side, etc
RAI Zeros = fault tolerant implementation of /dev/null

we can replace Independent with Guardian, Times, Express

Redundant Array of Guardian Actions
for example...even makes sense and is a groovy Indian musical

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Great talk by Andrew Odlyzko here today

A talk by Andrew Oslyzko is always worth seeing/listening to! Indeed he posed this very question to the highly engaged audience - would we have attended if there were no slides/pictures? Answer, 100% yes. And would we attend if noone was allowed to speak (including him)? answer almost 100% no.

Several things I thought worth noting...

internet growth has slowed (from 100% to 50% or so - although some agencies still have it a bit higher) _ my take on this is that the internet growth is a series of step functions, and we've now got to the point where the only way to go up is a Very Big Step (i.e. fiber to the home) - my view (I put this to the speaker) is that a really worthy New deal project for the EU and US to do to invest our way out of recession would be to incentivise a set of parties to fix all the national utilities (e.g. 30% of UK water is lost in leaks) by employing a bunch of building industry people who are rapidly getting unemployed otherwise, to go dig up roads and put in new pipes including new fiber

the speaker claimed that there's little growth potential in the fixed internet - this may be true (modulo FTTH) but there's serious growth potential in 3G (High SPeed Packet)...

he claimed cloud computing doesn't really add up - his figures depend on someone uploading their entire disk - i think this is a bit misleading (his figures - a 300G drive, being uploaded over a 300kbps uplink takes 3 months) - in reality, IP backup is incremental - i don't back up the drive - jsut the deltas - over the lifetime of the machine (in my house, about 2-3 years) that might be a bit over 100% of the whole drive - no problem there then.

his coolest point was video download - everyone talks about streaming - andrew asked
"how many people want faster than real time video" - around 30% of the Cambridge audience said yes! this is unusual - most people don't get it - but the reality (e.g. a video flash player from youtube shows this in the grayed out bar ahead of the current play point) that a lot of the time you do get faster than streaming - at least 2 major reasons this is good
i) its essentially increasing the number of overall costumers (conservation law and work) and so you get a bunch more videos on average -
ii) an extreme case i that i am about to go on a trip and want to download several movies to my player - clearly i dont want to stream them - i want them ASAP!

I pointed out this is just the inverse of the TiVo time shifting case (or as Sky put it pause (and rewind) "live" TV - this is basically
Fast Forward (name of a startup from Berkeley a while back, who were too far ahead of their time:)

Last but not least - it isn't the sustained rate you want on your access link - it is the peak you get for bursts and the lower latency for those bursts - for human impatience (read, Game Players) this is key....

I couldn't agree more!!!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

today's puzzles

1. what is the maximum _width_ of a mobius strip?

2. why is my life pants? - women keep saying what sort of underware I should port. How is that fair?

3, if I was to say to you "eldritch", and "nameless horror" you would probably cry
"H.P.Lovecraft". But what about a band name generator based on the name?

We have "sauce type" "emotion/profession" and "vehicle"

so you could have
ketchup witchcraft
mustard loveboat
mint loveseat
brown likecar .... <- fail :)

4. Finally, (for today), is
transcendental physics a category error
like the God Delusion (or the Dog Allusion)?

Monday, November 24, 2008

accelerationistas! be careful what you wish for

So its my belief that the current economic woes of the west can be blamed on the accelerationistas! of the Internet era - basically, the old fogeys who "run" things in the financial service world, around the time of Clinton and Blair, actually believed what they were being told by the mad people who said - economics is not a zero sum game (c.f. Clifford Stross's novel, Accelerando, and many writings of people who read (but don't understand) Cory Doctorow, Lawrence Lessig, and the madder moments of the net e.g. Agassi's free cars)

So the spin gained traction but had no torque.

Especially with the .com fiasco at the end of the last boom....although there's evidence of cell phones and computers and even some drugs being close to free

But then
the governments of the world thought they'd try it in the realm of finance - now as far as I am concerned, the governments of the world look after my desiderata - as an English person, this is my home (castle), health, and shopping (food/consumables) and (I suppose) transport and heating/lighting - i want them defended - this means both against invaders real, and invaders economic -

Homes, food and transport/power/fuel are basically very a close to a zero sum game, and the price system should really be a convex optimisation problem - this is almost certainly precisely soluble through central planning on a Very Big Computer, or through a decentralised system such as a free market -
this all depends on people running free markets in these things unconstrained, but they don't.

Unfortunately, oil isn't a free market (the price is set in dollars which favours US businesses energy costs and set by a cabal called OPEC). food isnt a free market (the EU and US both conspire to run protectionist worlds).

On the other hand, where the whole non-zero sum game does operate (hi-tech industries such as computers, networks and bio-tech) is where there shouldn't be a normal market - indeed, there should be NO IPR either. basically,
entertainment (fulfillment and well-being) and health (longevity and well-being)
are aribtrarily consumable and so innovation can spiral.

But food, energy, housing - these are not amenable to the accelerationist dream,
and that's I guess what the world just found out.

Economics 2.1 alpha should include this concept

(yes, yes I know when we have nano-tech, then these other bastions of traditional scarce resource allocation may too fall before the burgeoning "technosaur").

So what I am saying is that the spiral (on house loans exceeding 2nd order derivative of the house price increase) is a simple lesson in controls on resources whose dynamics are limited by traditional physics. But that shouldn't mean we abandon the cool madness of hyperinflation on valuation of new tech work - just that we separate these two regimes until later....much later...

Friday, November 21, 2008

damn - got me in one, again

how not to keep your job

too much too young - flaws in early internet research

so looking back at some early (not as early say as the arpanet, but early compared to web 2.0) internet research, it looks to me like it is really worth re-vidsting some of the "well known" results from between (say) 1989 and 1999 (i.e. the decade before the last 10 years or so).

I can see several "well known" results (a.k.a. folk knowledge/science) that are probably wrong - often, these are architectural in scope, and are because someone (often from a well known institution) wrote a preliminary paper on a prototype (lets not mention names, but early RSVP code or IPv6 spring to mind) and drew conclusions which were taken, for want of a better word, as seminal - so some comments on scalability (e.g. of intserv and rsvp) and security (e.g. of 8+8), put people off working further in promising directions, and were not at all correct - we don't know what the right answer was because no-one has re-done the work in the context of later knowledge e.g of switch router design, or of crypto-assigned addresses, or of hardware support for fancy queueing and scheduling - there are lots of examples - the problem historically (and for the community and services and products) is that with an exponentially growing network, the tipping point is past, at least as far as today's IPv4 internet is concerned. But I worry that newcomers building new systems (e.g. IPv6 internet in china with Huawei) may take the old research as correct when it isnt.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

gender bender

reports that I (who write that blog) and probably a woman...
on the other hand
says this is by a man,
as is
my other blog - so right 2/3 of the time...

Friday, November 14, 2008

self plagiarism in code...and ip spoofing

has anyone ever run a plagiarism detecter (there are lots) on (say) the linux source tree? it'd be interesting to see how much redundant code there is:-)

oh so with ip spoofing - can we ask someone near by a source to attest that they have seen the host we are speaking to (i.e. they attest to seeing a packet with a low rtt)?
as a cheap and cheerful prevention of wide area ip soofing bots?

living in a material world

to quote someone who isn't a physicist,
we are all living in a material world,
and in that world we are limited to light cones
within which there are _causality_ principles
(as well as entropic) - hence relative locations have
a bearing on infrmation flow between objects

the ordering of messages on this mail list
(and the rate of increase of entropy in the universe)
Is bounded at least in part by latency
latency shows up quite a lot in distributed algorithms (routing,
location/mapping, memory/cpu speed/power, BFT schemes, etc etc:)

the internet to date lives in a virtual world and data oriented
mnetowkring likes to fool itself it is in some steady state in an
"infosphere" where we can plonk down copies of data willynilly, and
therefore see no latency.

reality bites - a lot more data goes in from, and even more usefully,
out to the real world. the points it goes in and out (ingress/egresss_
better be near people/devices/sensors/actuators that want the data

since some data ingresses from the real world (my typing) and out (you
reading on the screen >-here<-)
we better route messages on paths that don't spend too long going
arond the 13 dimensional infosphere too many times before they get

oh, and the folks "out there" (i.e. the 4billion cellphones) have a
better handle on how to do this than the folks "in here (the mere
1billion internet backwoodspeople)....

time to get more real...which is why i started
this thread on e2e which got led astray by some philosopher/wizard/physics/guru peeps:).

indeed if we think of this as an Onion
with RL as an outer layer, and SL as an inner layer
(and as many people have been doing, mining
interactions between RL and SL via footprints in the sand
in the SL) then one consideration about how one
creates mappings from id (in RL) to location (in RL/SL interface)
might be privacy, so the onion immediately brings to mind

of course, if all you are interested is SL, then let me onion
route you this:

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

brainy bumbershutes or the sentient umbrella

in this age where we have free bikes available in all intelligent (civilized) cities (e.g. Paris, Copenhagen, Amsterdam), and we are busy outfitting them with wireless sensors to report where they are, when, and what the weather is like (skidding, lights) and pollution (air/noise), we should note that these said same cities also haveunreliable humidity - so we need a citywide free umbrella system - the umbrellas could be kitted out with torches in the handles - these torches could be powered by batteries which contain sensors (so that we can find an umbrella)

a sentient umbrella city app on an [ig]-phone would pop up and buzz when the weather in the owners locale was about to turn rainy, and tell them "100 meters down the street on the right is a city-free umbrella - you can see it as I have just start ed flashing its light...and warned other people that this one is now yours for the next 1km/hour... ... ...

[if anyone can find the origin of the word "bumbershute" as an alternative for umbrella, please let me or tim griffin know asap:-)

automating creativity by application of ancient greek prefixes

It's not all Greek to me
automating creativity by application of ancient greek prefixes

Whenever you have an interesting problem, you hold it in your hands and look
at it, turn it around, look underneat (see if it has a makers marque),
peer inside, knock on it with your knucles and so on.

One thing you can do is to try and make a variation of the problem, and then
see if the variant is easier to solve....

The Greeks have a "system" of prefixes for words, which modify the meaning, in
a systematic way, to explore all the alternative "views" of that meaning.
Other languages are less systematic (obviously, English, being effectively
"panglossian", has lots of prefixes for all these including the Greek ones,
but then the most common one might be somethign else (even, ugh, Latin:)

So here's a (not comprehensive) list - think of them as functors, or
even illocutionary acts....

eu-meta-lateral thinking, so to speak

an - not

amphi- both

ana- back

anti- against

apo- away from

dia-, di- across

dys- ill, (dystopia v. utopia)

ex- out

ecto- on the outside (ectoplasm:-)

en-, em- in

endo- within

eso- inward

exo- outward

epi- upon

eu- well

kata- down

meta-, among/between

palin-, back again

para-, beside

peri- around

pro- before,

pros- to

syn-, together

hyper- above

hypo-, under

Monday, November 10, 2008

© God

so lets say creationists are right and intelligent design is the order of the day.
then, quite simply, patenting genes is obviously wrong, since they are derived products of the intelligent designers original. Hence all well and good.

but lets say darwin is right. then they are evolved and you can't patent them then either

nor can google

© 0000 God

Friday, November 07, 2008

poisoning p2p nets - does the RIAA pay for the copies?

so if some agency poisons a p2p file sharing system, e.g. to try to limit copyright theft,, presumably the use some sort of degraded version of the actual file (else it would be trivial to detect that they just have a completely incorrect check on the file, surely)

but if they use something that has even some of the original copyrighted material, it is a derived work

so do they pay the artists?

if not, aren't they just as bad (worse:)???

Sunday, November 02, 2008

hard sf fashion victims prisoners of history

i've noted before that GUI toolkit designers betray their age since the look and feel of given guis (think windows 98,nt,xp,vista, MacOS in various guises, or tcl/tk or X10 with athena widgets, xerox smalltalk browsers, etc etc,)
all look like hifi equipment from different eras - my hypothesis is that the GUI has the fashion of the designer's first hifi (60s clunk and wood, seventies brushed aluminium, eighties matt black, etc etc - same for knobs/buttons etc)

so in SF we see the same thing - when authors describe future scenes (in life, bars, clubs, etc) clothes, music, and so on all reflect the authors' teenage years - whether its 60s fun, or 70s glam (star wars), 80s punk/newave (stepheson/thrash skateboarder music), 90s goth (accelerando) etc etc

it would be nice if just for once, someone in the tech/geek/futurist world had the imagination and wit to do something less retro (as well as maybe, just for once pretty please, having characters and plot that don't reek of derivista).

Friday, October 31, 2008

Why don't apple wireles kb + mouse not have usb to recharge?

shockingly the bluetooth mouse/kb on my mac have batteries that run out every couple of months, but, obviously one would think having a rechargeable battery and a USB cable (like my phone has) would be rather a simple way to make them more sustainable

maybe Jobs/Apple has shares in Duracell :-(

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

social net (and other "cloud") content ownership

so i'm wondering about the amount of private data people keep on semi-public sites, and how to control it - the constant lament from people recently is how much they give away about their lives - recent papers (and > talks) have pointed out how many employers' HR departments now routinely scan applications online social net info to see what bad things the said applicants might have been up to...

it seems to me that there ought to be two technical solutions (this is assuming no-one can crack the problem of usability and privacy, which, for me, seems intractable).

1. I should retain control over the content even though it is on a "foreign" server - to this end, I think the content should be encrypted and require a key I supply to the server site, and I auto-delete frequently (e.g. daily, weekly, monthly or triggered by lack of accesses)

2. I keep the content it self

I require (economically, socially, legally,) proof that the server site software is checked by third parties that it doesn't just mine my data periodically and "archive" plaintext copies....

the penalties (for commercial, but also, crucially, for government agencies) for not respecting my right to delete should be very harsh (e.g. for individual, I should get equivalent of 1 years salary for each instance of violation).

3. what if I put some copyright stuff (that I have fair re-use rights over) on to a cloud? are the cloud folks now gonna find the RIAA chasin them?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

affective driving?

so here's an idea to make the roads safer (well, ok, maybe not safer, but at least
less unpleasant)

reading the very excellent book "Traffic" by Tom Vanderbilt (subtitle:
Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What it Says About Us, says it all)
which points out that cars "dumb us down" in that the bandwidth between people is reduced to hand signals and horn hooting....and this often leads to road rage etc etc

so why not put a webcam on the satnav computer and then connect it to a display on the front, back and sides of the car - and show other drivers of other cars nearby the actual mood of "this" driver?

this may sound hard, but Peter Robinson's gang in the Computer lab in cambridge have made great leaps at building mind reading machines already - nice
bbc article about it!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

anti-metcalf law - the voluntary balkanization of the net

the bbc reports a new gadget to filter unwanted phoen calls which (like many spam filters) discards calls silently.

As with e-mail a whole new generation of people don't use phones - they use cell phones and text messaging (and skype and im in preference to electronic mail and landlines)

so these communities are disconnected - sure they can inter-work across old and new technologies, but the "water-cooler moment" caused by a synchronised view of the social net that a phone, tv or flat-earth internet-wide email system gives, is gone - already - and there are obvious social effects of this (parents are dissociated from their childrens'world even further as the set of tools to be "aware" of what is happenin on the street (virtually speakin) are now different for different age groups - so we are actually seeing cultural diversity emerging across technologies, where previously it required geography or religion:)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

the bbc versus the guitar

the bbc versus the guitar

even when trying to help....

for a long time now I have suspected that the BBC hosts a demon
of massive anti-guitar inclinations - last note i watched the 3rd
episode of the Story of The guitar and amassed yet more evidence -
Yentob talked to pete twonshend about allegedly "ubiquitous"
Marshall amps - then proceede to
show several clips of The Who, not one of which had a marshallamp on stage - instead, Vox, Hiwatt and Fender...given the Marshall
amp is actually ubiquitous, they either "photoshopped" these
clips, or found weird rare footage - quite a trick:)

i then scanned through the last episode of guitar heroes and noticed
that two of the songs (Thin Lizzy and U2) were from top of the pops
and were blatantly mimes (i.e. from the period when TOTP routinely did
this) -

a set by Little Feat had the heinous, but omnipresent error BBC
music show producers commit (even on old Whistle Test footage and on
Later) of showing the rhythm guitarist or bass player's hands when the
lead (or in this instance, slide) player is doing his/her thing...


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Not Polite Complete

During the last 3 economic downturns in the UK
we notice an upturn in the number of people applying
to study computer science (at undergrad, masters and PhD level)

sadly, this upturn in numbers is not reflected in an upturn
in numbers of women in CS

methinks that this could just be an example of the old saying
The Lady's not for Turing

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

neal stephenson redux

zodiac - mad eco-hacker cyclist cleans up chemo-rot boston harbour

snow crash - mad samuri-swordmaster-hacker cleans up mindrot cyberspace with help of cute skateboard courier

diamond age - mad victorian futurist nano-tech hacker cleans up privacy and freedom in post-nation claves

cryptonomicon - mad geek coders clean up virtual global finances

the baroque cycle - mad women systems programmers re-design society

anathem - mad aetheist monks hack alien invaders

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

the role of university research (versus industry)

90% of science and technology research done in University should lead to a negative result - not necessarily no result, but a result that is essentially, to all intents and purposes, useless - i.e. non-exploitable

to this extent, then, universities are filters for bad ideas so that society/industry doesnt waste considerably more money pursuing bogus ends.

this does beg the question, though, how can industry decide which dead end research to fund? oh the joys of seeking funding in university:-)

of course, the arts and humanities don't have this problem at all, since they are 100% useless (in these terms:-)

Sunday, October 05, 2008

progress and the natural selection between good and bad ideas

so in technology (where I work) bad ideas are usually (at least eventually) beaten out
by better ideas - so we see "progress". But in philosophy, there is no way to kill a bad idea - there's no reason we assign it a cost that means that each new person who rediscovers it can tell how much worse an idea it is than another

hence bad ideas, li-ke Free Market Economics, and Religion, are very hard to eliminate
compared with horsedrawn carriages and sackcloth shirts.

how is that, pray?

Future of Wireless - on the edge of chaos

I just attended a very elegantly presented talk by Linda Doyle at the Vodafone series on Mobile, at the Royal Academy of Engineering on the future of wireless communications especially with regard to spectrum use/allocation.

Summarising the range of design choices - there are three points on the spectrum (so to speak) Of design for allocation of this resource

1. command&control (top down allocation by central authority -think: just like IP address allocation/registries) (curent regime, mainly)

plus point: stability of "market" so planning for deployment of infrastructure (e.g. basestation/tower and backhaul, plus handset technology choice) Is long term assured, plus and strong isolation between different users

minus point: hard multiplex and slow rate of allocation/recovery cycle means frequently poor utilisation

2. spectrum trading/market

plus point: potentially better use and possibly leads to more innovation in use of spectrum, retains isolation between users

minus point: potential for instability and less long term certainty about ownership (financial markets today don't offer much hope with regard to stability as a feature of trading:) - hoarding, hedging, futures/dervtatives in spectrum could cause many problems

3. A commons

plus point: high utilisation, price efficiency (zero!)

minus points: tragedy (of the commons)
this, in my view, is overstates - the tragedy of the commons is a phrase from
anthropology referring to historical problems with common land being overgrazed:
too many cattle eat all the grass, grass dies, cattle die. but radio spectrum does't die when there's too much interference - just as with congestion in today's internet, people go away when the performance is poor, until it is "just good enough", and then make progress. maybe, if done right, a spectrum commons could be accessed dynamically per user like tcp.

B. Underpinning this was a range of very interesting new technologies in software radios which allow one to build a variety of flexible, cognitive devices which can measure (possible in a cooperative way) the current demand on spectrum locally, and using this, and possibly historical data, plan access for a device or set of devices. This then permits a more "fluid" approach than the current "rigid" allocations.

There were a great many questions, (along the lines of the plus/minus points I outline above). The slides were very helpful (using the Rubik's Cube model of spectrum over space, time) and contained a number of very well chosen artisitic metaphors to help with understanding this very complex design space.

I think that in the end, the idea of a mixed economy seemed popular (I would vote for 50% license exempt myself:). Some technologies like fiber radio, and diverse routing/antennae and cooperative relaying, may mean that re-allocations can share backhaul, thus allowing a dynamic allocation not to undermine long term planning of the infrastructure...

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Moors law - alternative history from the Free Plotware Foundation

what if Islam had invented computers (not a crazy idea given they did zero:)

We could have fundamentalist wars (jihads) about bigendian (Sunni) and littlendian (Shia)? would we have search engines, inshallah? or enlightenment engines?

This would make a neat SF novel I think (although one might have to be a bit careful:)

Monday, September 29, 2008

The wisdom of dead crowds

bill thompson just wrote a nice article on eternity on the web, and namechecked a talk by steven johnson about the superb book, Ghost Map, which relates the history of Snow and Whitehead and their seminal comprehension of the cholera epidemic and its progress through voronoi diagrams of people's from houses with and without victims, walking distance from infected and uninfected water pumps. Johnson coined/modified the term
"the wisdom of dead crowds"

of course, being pedantic, I'd point out that the good doctor and reverend were smarter than that - they used both the living AND the dead to do the maps thus making this one of the most elegant pieces of scientific research I have ever read of.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I fought the internet law and the internet won...

web 2.0 ungovernance was what i spent monday doing - then I hopped on an easyjet hop to Nice to review Eurecom activities in researching the future (i.e. the law and the reality in one day:-) Interestingly enough a lot of the folks at the law thing seems to understand that reality is increasingly unreal...

to find out more,
read or listen here

Monday, September 22, 2008

internet of food - making it real - not just alice in wonderland:)

so imagine we have
1/ the semantic web
2/ edible RFID
3/ a complete food ontology

we should then be able to build an internet of food - as you eat something a search engine or rss feed or twitter will say, ah now, to go with that you really need
such-and-such a smoothie, or i wouldnt have anything else than sorbet for 6 hours
or ... ....

the semantic food web, embedded in reality!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Saturday, September 13, 2008

what if...

the earth is just a library for aliens, and humans are just books they borrow to read

what would that do for your blue-eyed soul, mr death?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

information leakage in the 21st century internet

one of today's big problems is information leakage - it is all around us - it leads to loss of privacy, identity, safety and many other rights and privileges. the big problem is unplugged Ethernet cables - every unplugged Ethernet cable can lead to 100 million bits per second of data being sprayed out willy nilly all over the shop. Indeed, an unplugged cable represents two sources of leakage - the cable and the empty socket.

one of the principal causes of cable unplugging is wireless Ethernet - people think that 11Mbps without being tethered is so much better than 100Mbps of indentured slavery. However, wireless Ethernet leads to another 11Mbps of leakage even if someone is receiving your bits. I blame data networking experts - if they'd listened to the telephone, they'd have realized that circuits are so much more secure, because everything goes around and then comes around, in a circuit - no leakage.

Clearly, one can see why there is so much misinformation and noise in the world - the immense growth in the outernet (leakage from the Internet) has completely overtaken the actual intentional transmission of meaningful information.

So that now, we are swamped with letters and phonecalls and blogs, just like this one.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

humans are just gating functions controling flow between...

I sit here staring at my laptop screen and occasionally typing - on the right of the screen is a power cable (electrons in) and on the right is an ethernet cable (electrons out).

All I do is occasionally allow some electrons in on one side, to cause some to go out on the other, depending on what the screen says and what my state is.

or thats what it might look like to some people - of course, the reverse is also true...

Friday, September 05, 2008

intensional networking....new idea?

so we have a LOT of examples of people doing stuff on the net (whether fixed or mobile, web or games) - could we not codify the patterns of use and then just optimize the hell out of the common cases - a bit like robot car painters (which are basically playbacks of tapes of humans) -

in the mobile case, for example, if you see someone's journey is the same as one of a small set of previous journey's by themself or other people, then all the congestion control, routing, handovers and radio signal stuff could just be replayed from those journeys in all the routers and switches and hosts...

mapreduce on the protocol stack...with cache prewarming:)

meanwhile, I was wondering if one could do IP over chattering teeth (i.e. people blue with cold, signalling IP packets by clicks) - blueteeth?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

why do americans write to me with a return address without USA?

indeed, why do US university and business headed notepaper not include +1 on phone/fax or USA at the end of addresses? is this arrogance or stupidity, or just that they treat these channels (like many treat email) as write-only?

Sunday, August 24, 2008


new social network idea for kids - forget bebo; forget upyourstreet; forget freindsreunited; this is for kids to find out whether they ar e being shortchanged in the chores/pocketmoney stakes compared with their peers - fully anonymous, but culture/location are all taken into account - i think this'd be a must have for all 10 year olds:)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

One Laptop Per Soul, proposal

we propose that there should be one laptop per soul - persons not carrying a laptop
shall be deemed to have no soul, and therefore can be terminated at anytime.

personas with more than one laptop may operate as terminators

persons termianting persons with laptops will have there laptops shutdown, and maybe subject to
a kill -9 at any time.

persons with non-sugar GUI laptops will be sent to bootcamp to learn better ways.

persons with laptops running any variant of Mac OSX or Windows shall be subject to
15 years kernel hacking in Siberia.

[* any similarity to an idea by Philip K. Dick, the UnPersons, is entirely intentional]

Monday, August 11, 2008

social net/recommendations, and turning tests

here's an idea

a turing test (like a capcha) should be based on whether someone can recognize a joke that a particular other person would find funny

Sunday, August 10, 2008

oldcastle....in southwest crete - well networked...

i've been going to various parts of greece since 1967 - most recently, though, a frequenter of crete - way back when, we had a number of network projects and the Institute of Computer Science in the University of Crete (Heraklion and Chania but also a lab called Forth - chap called Stelios) as they had a technical clue - this shows up today as internet access on Crete is extremely good and seems to survive even power outages (the commercial ISP they started is forthnet:) - coz of this, people find time to have web sites and blogs about all sorts of news and views
and foods in a fave summer spot we are heading for in just 1 week - only worry this year is being blown away by the
current reported high winds - on the other hand, maybe we can go to some different drinking, swimming, walking and eating (not necessarily in that order) places because of this...

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

pointless networks

so i just upgraded my mac and now I have a bluetooth wireless mouse and keyboard on my desk - great - 2 less wires:-)

but then I have to reboot the mac whenever the batteries go flat and i replace them, coz it can't auto-rediscover the devices:(

so the uni just upagraded the entire phone net to cisco VOIP kit - and now instead of 1 wire on my desk fro mthe phone, I have 3 wires - what is worse is the phone is now inline in the ethernet between my mac and the department's switch, which means if it fails, my net access breaks.
what is worse still is I cannot "login" to the phone and upload/download my address book (or synch the address book between my cell phone, my email and the voip phone.

progress? I think not.

Monday, August 04, 2008

reasoning about intentions, in communications protocols

so we've seen a lot of work on trading packet headers for protocol state. indeed, we've also seen predictive state (for compression or estimating retransmit timers etc) based on past data.

and in mobile systems, we have seen work on predicting mobility based on past location or proximity or even mobility patterns of a set of nodes (related or otherwise by organisation or by transportation/geography)

but what about the next level, intention? nodes can publish their intentions easily (say in a tuple space or even in the mobile tracking service) - hence a car or phone with GPS/satnav, can publish its intended route - this means we can do not only geo-routing, but we could pre-plan handovers, retransmit timers and even radio power.

it would be interesting to generalise the idea of intention-based communication over other domains too -

webcam, webmike, and webprivacy?

so dominic and i were shoooting the breeze in burham overy staith, and
thoght to ask why are there so many webcams but almost no webmikes?
why do people regard being seen as less of an invasion of privacy than being
over (or under) heard?


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

gene pool diversity and stuff of all kinds

so cycling into the computer lab today i noticed that there are
no two bikes the same in the cycle rack outside. this is remarkable. indeed, I noticed in gatwick airport last week that (aside from little old couples of american tourists traveling around) there were no two bags the same on the whole carousel.
then I relaized that on 5th avenue last week in NYC there were no two tourists with the same camera!

And yet I notice in the conference that almost all the laptops were from a gene pool of 3 (macbooks, ibm thinkpads, and dells).

then thinking back a couple of weeks, i recall that there were no two tents the same in glastonbury.

why is that, peg, I pray? what makes laptops special??? eh?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

his facebook fell on an eyewateringphone

so today I notice "11 of my friends have added the face book applcation to their iphones"

amazing - so 11 people i have as "friends" on faceboo kobviously just bought iphone 2s and there's a sucker born ever hour:)


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

nationalize congested resources?

vint cerf has mused - he suggests thinking about
nationalizing or at least thinking about
nationalizing the internet - wahay!!

I am a fan - i think we (the british) should nationalize the whole internet - we could definitely run it better than the americans. actually, more seriously treating the transmission infrastructure as a common good, like spectrum, and allowing licensees to operate it might not be a bad model at all, but the main problem is what I saracstically refer to above - that of under whose jurisprudence/diction ???

meanwhile, heathrow airport has never let me down - that is to say it has never allowed my flight to land on time - the claim it is congested seems to be the standard excuse - how can a circuit switched, hard deadline scheduled resource be congested? come on - get real guys - BAA over sold the resource - this is basically a criminal offence as I understand it. we have mathematical proofs that this must be what they are doing. time to shut them down and let someone more competent (the NHS, the british navy, the european commission - hey no-one could be worse) run it.

Monday, July 07, 2008

piracy hysteria in the EU

today the eu meps vote on the Telecom Packet bill thing - this is a barking mad set of measures to increase regulatory controls over what can and cannot be done on the Internet. Aside from the usual waste of time and money this involves, it is symptomatic of the government agencies wishes to be "seen to be doing something" rather than "actually being effective" about things. As has been commented elsewhere,
if there was any evidence that a musician had actually gone broke because of online music distribution, one might have more sympathy, but when one is bombarded with unskippable advert for unscrupulous agencies that support profiteering music and film companies, every time one lawfully buys a cd, dvd, or goes to the cinema, one is hardly likely to be sympathetic to these scum.

breach of copyright is not theft. repeat after me. Unless you can prove a loss (either of an item you had before, and don't have now, or of possible revenue) then copying
may constitute a crime, but it is not theft in the sense of the English language common understanding of the word. P2P is not piracy. P2P users might be software engineers using bit-torrent to send out new versions of Linux or other commercially viable products (even Cisco IOS:) or they might be ~attoo or iPlayer or other legitimate users of P2P for media distribution.

use of anonymization and encryption are not terrorism. I might just want privacy. just like I do when i want to do banking on line. or whistle-blowing.

It is not up to a government agency to decide when an activity constitutes illegality by looking at my content to do so. but that is not the main issue - the problem here is that the governments here want to legitimize the routine spying on my activities by commercial agencies to protect them against possible (rare) commercial losses.

pretty soon now I will have to disguise all of my network activities as tax returns (and MPs expense claims) so that there is enough cover traffic from accidental government data privacy breaches to cover my legitimate private communication:)

Thursday, July 03, 2008

write only: BBC Have Your Say Glastonbury bias!

I just got back from Glastonbury and look at the BBC's "Have your say" audience participation web feedback site - it is astounding - it is massively dominated by people who clearly hadn't actually gone to Glastonbury - for example, t he discussion (if one can glorify a bunch of rants about Amy and Jay-Z as such)) is almost 100% dominated by an agenda set by the press before the event - let me list stuff that I talked about afterwartds with friends who went

1. free unicycling lessons for kids

2. pedal powered phone recharging

3. Pint of Wherry for 3.20 (40p cheaper than London or Cambridge pubs)

4. Fine (cheap) local Cider, and pasties. And Thai, and French and Mexican food (typical lunch for 4 pounds). All in English breakfast (Sub-Aqua club) for 4 quid.

5. Hilariously bad (not Amy who was ok) - Brians Jonestown Massacre - several songs had to leave out band members as they obviously hadn't heard them before - violin player and welsh wife were bemused to say the least.

6. stuff that was just neither here nor there - e.g. Amy, Jay-Z, Neil Diamond (actualy, I'm a Believer was a really nice suprise - forgot he wrote that too!) - just not arguable

7 completely brilliant stuff people didn't mention on the bbc site: The National, Manu Chau, Suzanne Vega, Eric Bibb, Joan Armatrading, the Subways, the Raconteurs, Groove Armada, Vampire Weekend (actually I dont like the last two, but I have to admit they were good) + stuff about 2 people mentioned that was stellar: Leonard Cohen's entrance reciting the opening lines of Dance me to the End of Time, Mark Ronson, Massive Attack (lite show, and both with some good guest vocals) and the zutons - also pretty repsectable performances from the Kings of Leon (even if I dont like them) and Goldfrapp....and the Verve and ....oh i dunno it just beggars belief people stood at a stage and watched stuff they didn't like when there were more than 10 other things to do elsewhere in less than 5 mins from the same place -not even including the dancing til 5am, oh and crowded house getting the whole of the audience to do a wave to knock down the band from back of pyramid amphi to the front....oh, and buddy guy, oh, and....and...and ...

8. Shangri La rock n roll revival bar in wrecked aeroplane, Trash City art

9. Avalon Cafe all day fine pizza and other homemade and folk music and jazz

10. the weather.

and a lot of other good stuff (amusing side shows almost everywhere all day

for 155 quid - this is awesome - people whingeing about 2 bands they didn't like or see had 9 other stages to go to and no mud to stop them. what idiots. or liars (e..g if they weren't there).

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

freedom of information and CCTV and mobile phone location

more on location services:

couldn't we use CCTV footage in the UK?

all we need to do is to have people blog where they are roughly(as per cell info, as in the Barabasi et al Nature paper of infamous repute), and then demand CCTV footage under the freedom-of-information act
this would do 2 things.

1. really annoy the CCTV owners2
2. allow people to video blog their lives for free

wouldn't that be cool?

Monday, June 23, 2008

network convergence - less is more

so i have put in a wifi router and I have cordless phones and now instead of having 1 wire to get a phone line throughout the house for voice calls and internet dial up, i have
no wires for data or voice, but every dect phone and every laptop has to have a power supply

not only are all the power supplies on all day unless I go around turning things off, but the
system wont work if there's a power failure. ALso the wires are a LOT thicker than old twisted pair telephone cables.

what a stupid world

The IT crowd's main failing is...

...too much customer facing hair...

one of these days, though, they might get lucky on mice pace.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

XevEN Deadly Xins

Xust (Latin, luxuria) so many cores, so little xpu time
xluttony (Latin, gula) all the operating systems you can run before breakfast
Xreed (Latin, avaritia) all the data centers in the world are not enough
Xloth (Latin, acedia) the xidle loop?
Xath (Latin, ira) - guest OS overstayed its welcome?
Xenvy (Latin, invidia) - not being vmware?
Xide (Latin, superbia) - so much better than VM 360?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

latin & greek, literacy and numeracy, and the rest

so i suppose that geo. Bush is unaware
that when he counts
(e.g. votes, or American soldiers dead in Iraq)
he is using arabic numerals

just a bit ironic, in the style of the amusing San Quayle mis-speak
when touring central and south America, and apologizing that he
did'nt speak their language as he'd never studied Latin...

such is the stuff that Empires fall by

oh, gimme a break - back to xkcd

"but what has this got to do with the Internet?", I hear you cry.

Well once upon a time (true story) they we renumbering the telephone numbers
for london (once again, around the same time that they were
re-opening the shipyards, once again)
and a women wrote to the times and pointed out
that if only they'd kept the old dial phones
with letters and numbers on,
then 7 digits would have able to address
36^7, rather than just 10^7 phones

So if only we'd kept using those old IBM denary computers,
then the 32 digits in an IPv4 address
would let us reach 10^32 hosts. Easy as ABC :-) :-) :)

Of course, with our new
Sourceless Network Architecture, we will save the world. Well, ok, the Internet.
Well, ok, the NATted bits of the Internet. Well, ok, only if we can persuade several thousand geeks in the IETF to care. Well, ok, only if Microsoft and Cisco do it.

Oh, ok....what was that, I hear you cry?

Monday, June 09, 2008

What if Cisco did Hosts and Microsoft did routers?

what would the world look like
if Cisco had done DoS then Windows
and Microsoft had done IoS then MPLS?

probably exactly the same!

your answer on a postcard ...

Friday, June 06, 2008

e-books seem to be getting there!

someone here in madrid just showed me their cy-book - this is around 300 euros, and stores a whole bunch of opensource standard books, and uses e-ink and has a very nuice screen/formfactor - and is amazingly light AND lasts (literally) months on a battery charge - being eink, the screen works as well as paper in bright sunlight


I will be getting one of these as soon as the price hits around 100 bucks (or pounds or euros, whichever is best)

[oh, and he had a copy of accelerando on it!:)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

capacity of multihop networks...

We are interested in this as multihop networks may be built in an ad hoc way by consumers (same as P2P networks) and so the question is how much cpacity per user do you get as you scale up the number of users in a given area (or volume).

most useable radio frequencies mean we are not in near field (where there are really cool scaling results due to very fast fading) so as soon as you forward a signal more than one hop, you are causing interference with other nodes, and the question is
partly just geometric - increasing the number of nodes in a volume, with (say) a uniform random set of traffic between sources and destinations, the path length increases, so the number of hops that receive your signal (and therefore cannot receive someone else's signal) increases. However, the power needed to get the signal to a neighbour decreses (or the capacity increases at that shorter distance for the same power) - so there's a race between increasing capacity at each hop, and decreasign capacity because of the number of hops - the simplest answer is that the capacity of the system grows slower with N than the number of senders, so you get
a net that eventually has no capacity.

so there's a growing body of work on this topic - stemming, I guess, from the original work by Gupta/Kumar (1/srt(n ln (n)), then moving through the various modifications that allow for mobility (Grossglauser/Tse) (2 hop relaying has overall increasing capacity at expense of eventual diverging delay!), fading (various models, but typically still decreasing capacity with N), fading and mobility (has a worse lower bound than just mobility but better overall capacity in the system so growing with N), variable traffic demand (non uniform random traffic matrix, or multicast traffic).

All these are under the assumption of transmission on a "hop" being to one receiver, and all other senders to that receiver contributing noise, and all other receptions of that transmission being interference at other receivers. Of course, then one can add diversity (i.e. receive the signal from multiple diverse transmissions, and forward similarly) and there's constructive schemes for cooperative diversity (again due to Tse and others), which show you can increase the capacity again, including systems that have effectively fixed capacity per user no matter how many users, but require very good clock synch (well, perhaps similar to WCDMA).

so diversity is one trick - but I was wondering about _deliberate_ fading

can we take a simple 1D scheme with a set of nodes on a line at uniform (or random) distances from each other, and construct a transmission schedule where nodes relay in one direction in phase and nodes further "back" away from the forwarding path, re-relay out of phase. This is not quite the same as diversity - what we are trying to do is to build a "noise cancellor" from the previous hop to the current node. I have no idea if this is practical - but pretend the previous hop acts like a perfect radio mirror. we measure the distance between us and next hop, and previous hop and our next hop and any intermediate hops and we setup a reflection that is perfect multipath interference at the hops we dont want to receive our signal

Now re-do this in 2D (tricky) or 3D (trickier!)

problem (very bad) is that unlike diversity, this creates a massive growth in thermal (i.e. pure random) background...which will eventually swamp everything (except that it is also subject to some types of fading and path loss)...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

E-mail Decrepitude: "You'll have to speak up, I'm getting old and a bit deaf"

I've noticed more and more that people are responding to e-mails without having read them properly - either this is the ever advancing attention span deficit disorder, or else people are so overwhealmed with the sheer quantity of e-mail (that is, people that still use this obsolete technology) that they don't have time to absorb what was originally written. This response is, of course, counter productive as it generates more email for the sender, and then for them.

I propose a simple rate limit per to: field implemented in all MTAs. In fact, there should probably be two.

Rate limit 1 is an overall limit to the rate one can generate messages from a given
O/R name (sorry, posh, X.400 old fashioned terminology for originator or from:).

Rate limit 2 is a mean+peak (i.e. leaky bucket) rate applied to To: fields from a given from: one can trade between rates so that the sum of means is no more than rate limit 1, but by going slower to some people, can go faster to others for "chatty" conversations. Perhaps a check on the length of the email could be based on typical reading/writing speeds to make sure that the "new text" in each message is a plausible product of the interval since the last message...

This is not intended as an anti-spam technology per se, just a help....

of course it could be implemented by recipients to some extent but only if they collude

Reference: Deaf Sentence (novel) by David Lodge (2008).
See also a recent article in the
Intl Herald Tribune of all places, which seems to make some sense

Saturday, May 17, 2008

RF propagation and cray's law- useful children's metaphors

so my kids helped me paint the kitchen and various other things around the house that were not entirely intended for a clean slate - the distribution of paint reminded me of the black magic that is radio propagation - it so often goes where you dont want it, and not all where you do.

in the procedss of having a nice clean redecorated kitchen, i was reminded of Cray's statement (or is it amdahl's) about optimisation - now we have a clean kitche, the bathroom (that looked ok before) looks decidedly shabby...

oh well....optimisation is the name of the game (or is it
always look on the bright side of the pipeline?)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Euroclue meter

traveling a bit in europe as I have been,
i have visited hi tech labs in many countries
and what is remarkable, is not that there is much
variation in smartness of researchers, or
even in facilities, but in how
aware of what is going on in the rest of the world
a given lab is.

There seems to be a very strong variation in clue - not just a perctange difference - literally orders of magnitude -
a few examples

thomson labs in paris, MPI SWS in Sarbrucken, Ericsson research in Kista in Sweden, all showed increibly up to date knowledge of who (whether in japan, australia, US or within europe) was doing what that was cool - to the extent that (for example) I gave a tak in one lab and mentioned a talk I had seen the day before in Microsoft research 1500km away, and they commented on it as one of them had got slides and worked on related stuff....oh, add to this TID (Telefonica research lab in Barcelona) - really amazing set of people given how short a time it has been up and running!

on the other hand, there are people that write papers that don't appear to be aware of work done 2-3 years before...

it does seem to co-rrelate somewhat with the organisation of (national, not EU) funding and whether there is good evaluation of how national work compares with internatonal work....as well as (and this is just the histrical luck of the draw) whwther the local language is spoken in other parts of the world where one can recruit lots of cool PHD students ....

I don't want to list the negative experiences as I dont think that helps anyone:(

Saturday, May 10, 2008

robot vacuum cleaners - dalek free zone?

so its bad enough people want to sell us (homeopathic-like) devices to clean vacuums, but to enslave perfectly good robots and have them spend their whole lives cleaning a perfectly good spanking-clean vacuum seems adding virtual insult to virtual injury

mow that lawn, clean that window,
dust that broom, tote that shopping,
now, about greening the planet... ... ...

Friday, May 02, 2008

Percentage of humas that write books

lets say that there are about 20M books (18M in the British Library)
and about 10B people
if the population doubles every generation, then, since you Adam and Eve it,
there's 20B people

if eachauthor only ever writes 1 book, ten that is 1 in 1000 people that are auhors

if an author tends to write (say) 10 books, then it is one in 10,000 (sounds plausible)

how many books do you read (I have about 10,000 books I guess)...???

I am thinking of writing a new book about Kinky Dictators
Mao's Strap

would you give me an Advance?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

nobody ever dies on facebook

There are allegedly 70M people on facebook

How many of the facebook pages belong to dead people?

Do the math.

I see dead social networks, everywhere.

Will Self would love this - the cyberdead are here. Talk about zombies (half dead unix processes) and orphans (memory that is not referenced from anywhere). Hollywood has come to deadwood.

What we now need is a mortuary for the socially deceased. Perhaps (like in Evelyn Waugh's awful Loved One) they live on, ever accreting more friends - but are their friends all dead, or just mostly dead?

Given the political times in which we live (in), perhaps the Dalai Lama could go home and with the Chinese, set up a profitable startup running the
Tibetan Facebook of the Dead.

CSI Web, to appear on a flatscreen near you real soon. Slow motion action replays on youtube of how the site owner met their sticky end...(and remember, there is no resurrection this side of Cyber Heaven).

city route finding sites

in the last 7 months I've had the opportunity (nay, reader, necessity) to use route planning systems in 3 big cities: London, Paris and Madrid.
Google maps- forget it:)

in London, Transport for London run a pretty good site that covers all modes of transport including cycling (with fairly useful advice on routes for that most difficult mode)

weirdly, though, if i ask how to get from (say) King's Cross (St Pancras Innterational) to Heathrow Aiport, it offers tube+Heathrow express, when in fact the Picadilly line (if you limit it to tube only) involves no changes and is actually the same journey time and 26 pounds less return:)

So in paris, I recommend the Via Michelin site
which is excellent, and includes cycling as an option (as above) with accurate info.
only downside was airport advice which was a bit odd (in terms of RER to gare du nord being fine but thence, connection advice was a little lumpy:)

Finally, Madrid has a very good web site for visitors using public transport (which is possibly even better than Paris!) - see
but again the advice on getting to the airport from (say) Leganes (where I am on sabbatical at UC3M/IMDEA Networks). They said take the metro the whole way as it is only 2 euro (awesome) and 1.30mins, but the train from Leganes to Atocha, then train to Nuevos Minesterios, then metro line 8 is in the working day, way faster - it could just be they compute some average (out of working day, train waiting time could make it same journey!)....I will test this later in the week!

Anyhow, traveling across all 3 cities is really quite amazing (actually, was in Tokyo and Kyoto last summer and I should do a comparison with them, as they were cool too, although cycling in tokyo might be mad, it looked fine in Kyoto).

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

becoming less human through GPS

so in a taxi in madrid yesterday, i felt concerned that the satnav
system the driver used took all the skill (the "knowledge, as
london Hackney CarriageCab Drivers will tell you) out of the job
thru dumbing down.

then I thought "ah, but at least the driver cannot cheat me, as I can tell
that he's asked the satnav box for the right destination"

then I thought " ah, but if he's really smart, then he could hack the map
or algorithm to lie to me..."

then i thought "nah, if he was that smart, he'd either not have a satnav,
or he'd work for Nasa or Galileo or Garmin"...

either way, its demeaning...

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

uploading humans 1.0

consciousness! interesting stuff...not, as some think, the stuff of magic, but really a feature of reflection (CS idea) applied to indirection (CS idea) and abstraction (CS idea) - basically, humans have evolved the ability to consider multiple levels of intentionality - but even only 2 layers ("I think the he believes that she does X because") is sufficent if applied to oneself ...

ok, with that little hurdle out the way, then, one has a thread observing the other threads. Pause all the threads, save the state, and upload (think Xen Migration).

SO now you restart on different bare metal (metal! wow - post human!). Now, you have continuity (so ok, there's a pause, but it could be pretty quick so you might not notice more than a few missing interrupts). But....why is the old you not there anymore? surely (stop calling me shirley) just as with teleporting real stuff, tele-loading self() is copying - the old you has to be terminated (kill -9 old me - no, wait, the new me didnt copy right and the checksum() integrity check reported a missing memory:)

so this is interesting philosphically anyhow - so the locus of consciousness moves around a bit (a little bit of thinking in the past, some experience of NOW[], and a little prediciton about future. So halting self(), is a temporary death. restarting self) on new hardware , is that resusciutation or rebirth? memories of the way we were on the old hardware, they aren't actuall memories - they are restored backups of memories....

what ae the legal implications? coptyiright? right to die of corrupt self->old()?
patent on error correcting migrate(self())? etc etc

Thursday, March 27, 2008

succesful protocols are useful with only 1 end

just reading the iab's
What Makes For a Successful Protocol?
example 1: the first mobile phone was sold because you knew you could call any one of
600 million fixed fonrs from it (to think that last year in 12 months alone, more than
1 Billion cell phones were sold:)

example 2: www browsers could do ftp, gopher/ wais so you could get content immediately

example 3 skype - had voip but had PSTN call out capability from day 1, so you didnt
need another skype user to call

example 4: social nets - integrate web pages and youtube and mp3 sharing...

examples of doing it wrong -
noone used IPv6 coz the first code didnt do IPv4 intereworking from day 1.
noone uses sip as telephone people jumped on the sip bandwagon but didnt want to lose
business so noone did a sip client/proxy with skype style cal out

so all these things are complex....and call LOTS of stuff even when only 1 person deploys them

they all also breka postel's principle (badly) it seems to me...

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Learning to Lose L in ItaLian...but why...

can anyone say when the Italians lost the L in Florence (and Flora - e.g.
firenze and fiori) - it was sure there in Latin, and is still there for most latin
rooted languages...

lost letters are fun (look for cedillas in french- they indicate missing s...from old
french or even langue d'oc i believe) - of course, I might just be being naive
missing umlaut) - perhaps these letters were stolen by alients who had an increibly
advanced culter but no alphabet, and needed to make one up, but didnt have the
creativity to invent their own... or else perhaps the dolphins took them to put in a
museum to remember the best bits of earth...

ah, now what do the missing letters from all those languages spell?

oh, wat, i have it...they spell
"the secret to eternal life and happiness is.....arrghhhhhhhh!!!!"

Thursday, February 28, 2008

you know, patently speaking, if you started now, the Internet would never happen

so fighting patents (defending and attacking) is very like fighting a PhD (examining or

There's a bunch of novelty required, and someone else has to be able to reproduce the results from the document (dissertation), and some of the intellectual tricks of the debate are similar - indeed, for people familiar with UK vivas (an almost uniquely sadistic approach to the game), one even sees people with documents full of yellow postits - the whole gladatorial style of experts in the dock being deposed (US terminology) or CXed (in UK) is also a bit like the Scandinavian defense where other peple than the actual examiner and candidate fight it out.

the process is simliar too, to an academic conference programme committee meeting - various people have reviwed a paper - not all are in the room - there are advocates of the paper and there are opponents = proponents (provendus in ductch PhD defenses) might argue novelty then an opponent will counter with insufficiency, or a proponent might argue sufficiency, and another oppoenent might argue prior art (unoriginal).

Here's an idea - why not HIRE programe committees to judge patents (see another posting on another blog on peer to patent) ? they have the skills and they have the time. and academics are so much cheaper than lawyers coz they love talking for free (my better half tells me som as do my kids).

Meanwhile, I quite like wikileak thing, but even more relevant is

Why? well people submit pointless papers to conferences (papers they know will be rejected) just to get feedback - for thoughts on this and related problems of checks and balances (and cheques and bank balances) see a forthcoming paper Keshav, I and Nick McKeown have been cooking up on aligning incentives in academic conferences - a lot of simular work is going on in trying to revise and reform patent law.

I can see a new conference (indeed I might apply for a patent on it)... ... ...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Gender difference in strategies for getting un-lost

so there's this old cliche about what men and women do differently when they get lost while driving in unfamiliar territory. Stereo-typically, women stop and ask someone, and men don't.

Here's a possible explanation based on a talk I saw at Ecole Polytechnique last week in Paris.

Hunters use a search strategy for finding prey (I suppose hunter gatherers do too for finding nts and berries and stuff), which entails alternating between local accurate surveillance of a small area, with a levy walk (random walk with path length eponentially distributed, not uniform). So in evolutionary terms, you might expect male humans to have such a strategy, whereas female humans might be in the village looking after kids (look, this isn't a proposal, so don't assume I believe in biological determinism as a prescription for social organisation:)

Anyhow, so assume a male car driver is running such a strategy. Stopping and asking the way would mess up where he had got to in the algorithm, and I can imagine there is a cognitive burden to searching like this, which would map into annoyance if interrupted.

If the population density had been higher when there was survival value in finding onesway, hen presumably the strategy of stopping and asking the way would perhaps have dominated both genders, but once people got to be "post-darwinian"
(i.e. where most people survive to breed irrespecive of "fitness"), then such selection doesn't happen, and we need to acquire better strategies through nurture...

An interesting question: Is there a sweet spot in population size where communities are more likely to be helpful to strangers finding their way, and larger, where alienation kicks in and people don't help? anecdotally, this seems reasonable to me...when lost in africa, I've had lots of help. when lost in NY, Paris, Munich, TOkyo, Sao Paulo, not a lot:)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

9 plots and Dunbar's number - computer science, anthropology and literature

It has been said that there are only nine different plots (lots of people claim seven, but I think this is just for mystical reasons), and after hearing and Robin Dunbar talk about the social structure of human societies, I think I can explain this.

Social groups organise in a hierarchy of trust of degree (3+epsilon), so you get a social group of size (3+e)^n (1, 3, 9, 27, 81, 243) roughly - the epsilon varies with smartness and species. Dunbar also observes that the neocortex size of primates directly correlates with effective maximum group size (chimps 40, humans 150), and that this shows up in human societies in may many organisations (villages, armies, companies that are succesful). The explanation is that this is the maximum size that a group can maintain complete cohesion over, since everyone in the group has a model of everyone else - this reflects a species ability to infer intentionality (humans can do 5 levels reasonably well) and therefore trust relationships. One aspect of this is that humans have spoken language which abstracts, and therefore accelerate (expand, in graph terms) the range of grooming (essentially, by being able to gossip) rather than relying on physical grooming as a mechanism to achieve pairwise (or indeed, (3+e)-wise) cohesion.

OK - so now consider how we encode (neurologically speaking?) a simple description of another person's behaviour? We can use the distributed systems folks' model- BAR (Byzantine, Altruistic, Rational) - this has a game theoretic interpretation - but is also (I think) respectable in anthropology terms -

- Rational is basically selfish (think, selfish gene) and is just what Nash said. selfish is not bad since it is predictable, but it isn't "nice" in the normal selnse - it is also how naive economists describe the "market" and claim it is good - bah humbug

- Altruism is what happens (often, not always) when an individual behaves for the "greater good" at a disproportionally negative cost to themselves.

- Byzantive is mad/bad/sad - bonkers, people that do random harm - in network terms, hackers, script kiddies, whatever, that don't do it simply for personal gain.

Interestingly enough, one can reasonable assume that anyone can choose any of these behaviours, but that various incentives keep one in a particular state (kinship keep you mostly rational, occasionally atruistic), and social pressure will keep most people rational, but, and here's an observation about cities and the internet and the p2p systems and online games and facebook, once a group size is too big, there are enough places for people to go to other social groups, that there are ways one can be a serial byzantine bad person, and still survive - alienation, disaffection, etc, we all know about this - at a certan scale, if the rate of such behaviour is high enough, one sees social collapse...

ok - so in literature, (plays books films) many stories have 3 main characters. A plot consists of social dynamics. Lets think "eternal triangle", or "three princes" or any other archetype (or if you like, shakespeare tragedy, or wuthering heights or lord of the rings).

So 3 characters, 3 states- change 1 state
(gollum helps or hinders, heathcliff loves or hates, othello trusts or doesn't trust)
gives 9 plots.


indeed, classes of literature (jacobean tragedy - everyone starts luvvy, everyone dies) can be captured in this simple, elegant and ultimately futile and reductionist model:)

digital signatures and bots...

here is another really really bad idea that I really should patent, not.

I am forever being faxed documents which I then sign and fax back, thus wasting 2 copies (the blank input at the originator end and the signed input at my end)

what we need is a robot arm driven by a robot glove, and a fax protocol between the glove end and the robot end - then the document originator puts said document into the
faxsignator (TM), and I get a "ding" at my end, put my hand in glove, take up a pen, and "sign in the air", driving the bot at the originator end to reproduce my signature accurately on the original piece of paper.

Green and legal...surely?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

gerrymandering the news...

I just finished the Nick Davies work Flat Earth News - see also

quite a few of the arguments about PR are actually
previously extremely well analyzed in the book by
Jerry Mander (real name!) on TV

I was surprised this wasn't cited as it was written by an insider and
is very incisive...and around some time ago!

I thought the best material was the analysis of the construction of a
misinformed public awareness in US and UK on the buildup to war with iraq -
having just finished Alastair Campbell's fairly obviously carefully edited
diaries, one has to wonder at the brazenness of it all!

For me, what a lot of people working on traditional channels of information
vastly underrate is the accuracy, timeliness, and evidence of provenance
available on wikis and blogs and related content - for info, I recently put in a
proposal to the research councils in the UK to get funding to be a "media fellow"
(to improve public understanding of computer science) and proposed using
myspace/facebook + wiki/podcast- the reviewers all said "oh this is fun but i
should get a production company and do it on radio and TV 'properly'"!!
I was amazed - gven I was proposing something to reach "yoof" who watch/listen
to virtually no documentary programs on the legacy media, I thought my model was
relevant and plausible.

I guess the traditional media's continual assertion (without decent evidence) of the inaccuracy of information on the Net (as opposed to on TV, Radio, Newspaper) is because of their fear that with the right search tools and a little discernment, the average punter can find out a whole lot more about what is Really Going on via Cyber space, than via any of the PR, Security Agency and Corporate mindspeak that dominate the legacy media....


Mr Davies writes quite readably, albeit a tad repetitive (I guess quite a lt of the material was edited from other sources - I'd ask for minor corrections if it was a PhD dissertation:)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

primeval knowledge - when anomalies are commonplace...

so when you get an anomaly every day, surely it isn't anomalous anymore? eh, eh?

so what is with primeval anyhow? it looks more and more like a battle of boy and girl bands.

the "=" symbol should be read as "is easily confused with"
is a nice quote in John Day's new book on Communicatiosn Architectures (patterns thereof)

Saturday, February 09, 2008

founders at work - possibly re-imagining transformational government?

Founders at Work is a fantastic book with a huge array of internet talent on display, discussing the way their startups worked (and in some cases crashed and burned) in fascinating technical, social and economic detail. This is essential reading for anyone in the area - a few (amazon) reviewers commented that the book lacks analysis - it is true there's no pontification, but all the interviews are structured similarly, so that the analysis is emergent by seeing different gurus give their respective answers to similar questions.

For me, one crucial area is how these folks often didn't have insight into their own success (reasons for) until afterwards! e.g.

how many of the cool companies built 3 (or more) things before they
actually found the thing that made it big? often they didn't even
realize or understand what it was they had that made the thing succeed!

paypal's fraud detection, (not the e-cash)

hotmail's bottom of email banner viral advert/market, not the firewall busting

gmail too: auto-completion, not the search (wasn't even new - i was using
glimpse to search my mail and desktop/file systems for years before)

yeah, even google's click-thru advertising (not page-rank, which was only
marginally better than altavista at stoping people artificially boosting their site)

and, landsakes, RIM started by building realtime LANs before realising Mobile Email might be quite big:)


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

crossoverlay optimisation

new idea - combine cross layer optimisation and overlays - whaddya get -

Monday, February 04, 2008

a true history of wayback web browsing

so i live and work in about 6 places right now (2 labs in Paris, plus apartment, 1 London, 2 Cambridge) and typically am not in any one for more than a few days at a time. Flipside is that it is sometimes a few days between visits to any given place - so I tend to leave myself logged in (perhaps lock screen) on a Mac at each place - and so when I next show up, I have a bunch of tabs or windows open on activities that are a few days stale - e.g. news.bbc.co.uk, my facebook account my gmail account, a hotmail spaces and myspace - so on each of these, i see a snapshot as of 3,4,5 days ago - fascinating stuff - espeiclaly to se lcalization (sites dont show same thing - depends on your locale yur client ip address reverse looksup to...)

Friday, February 01, 2008

sexual rejection and journalism....and life

so andrew marr, in his fine book about the trade of journalism, says that being fired in a journalism job is like sexual rejection - it occurred to me to ask (since he said journalists are frequently fired) how often he had been rejected sexually. Then it occurred to me that this is actually quite an interesting question to ask anyone (especially any male one:) - how often do people "get it wrong" and chat up someone, only to be told no? I imagine some people are really accurate at picking people for whom attraction is mutual, and some might be really bad....and are men and women different in the average accuracy of their guesses.

while reading this book, the chap next to me on eurostar was reading a manuscript for a solo violin piece, and reading a book about it too - very distracting - it occurred to me that reading music is very like dancing about architecture, or watching star trek movies on french TV with Klingon translated into french - furthermore, someone was talking to someone on their cell phone in french, and i swear the conversation was one of those "so I says to him, i says, ...then he says to me, then she said, oh you never, you aint never gonna believe this..." blindiingly awful...

luckily, i was able to finish my book, read my email and get some fine beer

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

fashion diffusion

the web is to diverse and decentralised to really see much in the way of diffusion - in fact, the thing that makes the web (2.0, and all, facebook, myspace etc) is the opportunity it gives to the bottom dwellers on the long tail

but eurostar between London St Pancras and Gare Du Nord, Paris, is certainly causing rapid diffusion of culture - last nite i bumped into some folks I know in London getting on to the 7pm to paris - I didn't recognize them, there were so chic and cool and frenchified

on arriving at 10.20 pm in paris and getting on to a train on the RER B, I was dismayed by the grottiness - just like 1960s suburban railways in England, I thought

You win some, you lose some...

Friday, January 04, 2008

more on flocking helicopters

i just bought some picoo helicopters - really cool things for about 15 bucks a piece - fly like an arrow ....very nice. but here's the thing - for the price of a US airforce UAV, I could buy about 1Million of these things - now, imagine they can flock, and have a decent payload - could we organise some sort of mesh of them with a web/weave suspended above them (e.g. have a fixed spoke through ythe spindle to the rotors, and rest something on there -??

with enough of them, we could construct a dynamic carpet, possibly with enough lift (even with person standing above blocking some of the air in from above (could we arrange some to come in from the side?) so that we would have a flying carpet...

can you imagine how cool this woould be - ? how much cooler, say, than a flying saucer?

you could dress up as aladin, and fly over persia (if you were some megalomanic UK or US general).....or just have a LOT of fun in parties:)

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Pong of Pingsta

i just got 13 (yes 13) new year invitations to join pingsta this morning. This is a record - its a record with a scratch. what a pain - social networks are anathema to a sane existence. The Snark is a Boojum

faecbook=usenet+graphical sugar coating

so i've been social networking - i admit it - i've got acounts on half a dozen ,and have tried lots of the fancy applications (e..g compare the length of your )

about 10 years ago (or more) I tried a different experiment - i tried to read the last ten posts on all of the usenet newsgroups (a.k.a. bulletin boards_ that were live at UCL at the time - and then respond meaningfully to at least 1 message per board, in a 24 hour period. I got a lot of flames. Nevertheless, the experiment worked, and I have never read or contributed to a bboard knowingly since (oh, sure some email lists are also mirrored on newsgroups - that doesnt count)

Not only is the signal to noise on news (and facebook) very very bad - the interrupt rate just for meta-data is completely insane - noone could seriously have a RL and take part in more than a modicum of things in these spaces. Basically, though, the main conclusion I Have is that facebook (and all the others) add very little to Usenet beyond a fancy Graphical User Interface (a bit like
the web didn't add a whole lot to the Internet except nice brosers, at least until the advent of search engines)

For budding entrepreneurs out there then, what is the "search engine" killer app for social networking sites??? it aint obvious. of course we already have nearly unbrearable amounts of advertising:)

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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