All The World's Information, In A U-Haul Trailer

Tiny Thing, Big Deal
OK, if you can get 1 terabyte inside a 1-cubic-centimeter volume...

...and according to this UC-Berkeley study, the world produces about 1.5 billion gigabytes (1.5 million terabytes) of information each year...

Then, you could fit the entire world's yearly production of information inside a cube that measured...

cube-root(1.5 million) ~= 115 cm
..per side. That is, not as long in any dimension as most adults are tall, and only 1.5 cubic meters (53 cubic feet) in total volume.

Two whole copies would fit in U-Haul's smallest trailer.

OK, so how about we create a couple of these every year, and launch them into space, just in case something goes horribly awry with our planet?


Nonsensitivity Training
I hate it when you check your own blog for updates, but there aren't any.

Paul Graham: Adoption Via Repetition

Good Things For Those Who Wait Division
Paul Graham captures a crucial point in his essay, Being Popular:
So anyone who invents something new has to expect to keep repeating their message for years before people will start to get it. We wrote what was, as far as I know, the first web-server based application, and it took us years to get it through to people that it didn't have to be downloaded. It wasn't that they were stupid. They just had us tuned out.

The good news is, simple repetition solves the problem. All you have to do is keep telling your story, and eventually people will start to hear. It's not when people notice you're there that they pay attention; it's when they notice you're still there.

The rest of the essay is chock full of acquired wisdom, as well. I'm beginning to buy his implication that Lisp is due for a renaissance, perhaps helped along by his Arc project.

Department of Leading Indicators
The recession must be over, the Pets.com puppet has found a new gig.


Underappreciated Lyrics Series
Who says: Hard times?
I'm used to them
The speeding planet burns
I'm used to that
My life's so common it disappears
And sometimes even music
Cannot substitute for tears
Paul Simon, "The Cool, Cool River," on "The Rhythm of the Saints"

Kevin Marks: Canonical, Universal Content Identifiers Wanted

Ripe Ideas Series
A fellow named Kevin Marks writes in his blog, Epeus' epigone:
This is what we need for other media - a canonical, universal way to refer to a particular piece of music or other recording, that we can excerpt and link to as part of our own creation. Sending compressed copies of tunes synchronously once to a few listeners is imposing the limitations of radio onto a new medium that has the potential to be far more flexible and expressive - it is like early cinema, where a single fixed camera would film a whole play, with the proscenium arch neatly framed in the shot.
While we don't have excerpting down, the reliable identifiers used by Bitzi can refer to exact instances of media, and the MAGNET-URI proposal provides a way to handoff further processing from a website to one or more helper apps, such as cataloguing, sharing, or content-delivery utilities.

Further, the "Judio: P2P-Leveraged Net Radio" concept a few entries down is a more radical formulation of something Mr. Marks was also musing about recently. He suggested using actual local CD-tracks to feed virtual net radio channels, where I suggest P2P networks.

Palladium: Dead DRM Warmed Over

Slow Learners Class
Steven Levy in Newsweek/MNSNBC: The Big Secret, about a Microsoft plan, called Palladium, to rearchitect the PC to ensure total creation-to-grave information control (aka "security").

It'll never work, at least not as a way to prevent the intentional copying of mass-market media. It will fool many people for a few more years into believing that DRM -- if only backed by Microsoft -- could work. (As such, it will draw a number of companies and individuals in as willing accomplices to the further expansion of Microsoft's market power, in the name of "data security.")

Pithy Sayings Series
If there's one thing I've learned in all my days, it's that you can't have too much ambiguity in your life.

Judio: P2P Leveraged Net Radio

Ripe Idea Series
We need net "radio" that pulls its content, as-needed, from a P2P sharing space.

The "broadcaster" would really just provide an ever-refreshing playlist, a window on the last X minutes of contiguous content, with reliable (hash) identifiers naming each segment of media to play. "Tuners" would fetch the playlist, and scour any and all available sources for matching content fragments, grabbing them seconds to minutes before they are needed, playing them for the local listener in order and without gaps, resharing them for as long as possible, discarding them when necessary.

Some of the fragments might be content that is already widely available (popular tracks), perhaps listed as a series of acceptable alternates, while other fragments would be custom content, recorded and shared out over P2P networks nearly-live.

Call it "Judio", for "Judo-radio", because it emphasizes the use of a tiny, smart control channel to leverage a giant amount of content on outside networks. Generalization to video or other media content is an obvious extension. Latest-on-top blogs/feeds are the new broadcast networks, and all that jazz.

Gnutella and other P2P networks could conceivably be (or grow into) the role of being the content-cloud.

Would a station publishing such a playlist require a broadcasting license for the copyrighted content to which they refer? They are not making any copies; that is left up to the listeners.


Department of Public Works
I've cooked up a proposal for a generic, "open standard" way for websites to display links that handoff operations to client-side applications -- like file-management tools and P2P content-delivery networks or file-sharing applications.

It involves a new URI scheme called "magnet:".

(URIs, or Uniform/Universal Resource Identifiers, are the more general class of identifier-like things of which Uniform Resource Names (URNs) are just one kind.)

In a way, "magnet:" URIs could be thought of as project- and vendor- neutral versions of the P2P-system-specific URIs that have been proliferating. (Examples include "ed2k", "freenet", "mnet", "sig2dat", and probably others.) However, "magnet" URIs are more general and fuzzy in meaning -- a "magnet:" URI will bring up a list of locally available options, instead of telling a single program, which monopolizes the "magnet:" type, an exact action to take.

These URIs could be very useful for activating Gnutella servents, but would not be Gnutella-only.

For more info, please check out the details and examples at:

Comments welcome in the "magnet-uri" YahooGroup. Ideas for how this could be made more robust, general, & useful would be especially appreciated!

Media Companies Wise Up & Loosen Up

Emerging Trends Division
Common sense about digital media is breaking out all over -- even in the biggie media companies!

C|Net: Universal, Sony to trim download prices. Universal and Sony have started to sell individual downloadable singles, for $0.99-$1.49, which can be burnt to CD or transferred to portable music players. They're not yet in a totally flexible format like MP3, and I suspect the hassle of making individual payment decisions is still more of a deterrent than the price itself, but it's a step in the right direction. Which brings us to...

LATimes: AOL Selling Songs Online in Unprotected Format. Real, honest-to-goodness MP3s to do with as you wish for $0.99. Further, the charge is simply added to your AOL bill -- making it an easy impulse buy. (No word yet on whether the MP3s are individually serialized, so that if you share what you buy, AOL hits you like a ton of bricks.) At least for the duration of this test program, AOLTW seems willing to entertain the notion that the costs of "protecting content" outweight the benefits. Which brings us to...

New Scientist: Harry Potter released unprotected. Warner Home Video, another AOLTW division, has decided to leave off the "Macrovision" copy-fouling signal from the VHS and DVD versions of Harry Potter and the Sorecerer's Stone. Macrovision seems none too pleased, losing about 5¢ per shipped title in licensing fees, but Warner is being perfectly rational. Macrovision never stopped serious pirates -- who could easily work around it. (Perhaps it should be called "Maginotvision.") It only inconvenienced casual home copying. But nowadays, casual home copying will involve computers and the net, and Macrovisioning every physical copy won't prevent some dedicated person, somewhere, from creating and then making widely available good-quality digital copies.

Implications for the future? Spending money on futile mechanisms to constrain consumers' choices is going to look increasingly silly. It just doesn't add to the bottom line. Complicated DRM schemes won't draw further investment or media-company customers.

Broadcast TV Under Attack From All Quarters

Kill & Fuck Your Television Department
Broadcast TV is under attack from all quarters:

Andrew Odlyzko, Communications Professor, in Internet TV: Implications for the long distance network, July 2001:

The Internet is likely to have a a much larger impact on TV than TV will have on Internet backbones. There is vastly more storage than transmission capacity, and this is likely to continue. Together with the the requirements of mobility, and the need to satisfy human desires for convenience and instant gratification, this is likely to induce a migration towards a store-and-replay model, away from the current real-time streaming model of the broadcast world. Further, HDTV may finally get a chance to come into widespread use. The flexibility of the Internet is its biggest advantage, and will allow for continued experimentation with novel services.
Thomas W. Hazlett, Economist, in Abolish television, a week ago:
Nicolas Negroponte famously opined that while we were born into a world in which our phone calls were made over wires and our TV shows beamed through the air, we would die in a world in which this had been reversed. The digital moment has now come: toss the Negroponte switch. Countries further down the path to universal subscription TV - Belgium is now surpassing 96 per cent cable penetration - may well take the lead. Eliminating the wasteful duplication of off-air TV enforced by regulation would be popular with consumers and unlock exciting new opportunities for wireless entrepreneurs.
Stewart Alsop, in I Want My File-Served TV!, in this upcoming week's Fortune:
So if you believe that people do want to watch whatever they want whenever they want, you need a massively distributed system. Which brings us to "file-served television" and that TiVo board meeting. Having a PVR's really big hard disk in many living rooms creates a massively distributed system: Instead of relatively few hard disks owned by the cable operators, you have hundreds of thousands of hard disks owned by everybody. And thus the space to store a million hours of video content.
...Alsop continues...
That's file-served television. It is very different from today's TV: The popularity of content is controlled by users rather than broadcasters. It's a system flexible enough to adapt to a new TV standard like HDTV over time. It's a vision that's big enough, in fact, to contain all the previous visions of the television industry.

Longevity in Viruses?

Infectious Optimism Ward
CNN tells us Longevity lies in genes, and that scientists are looking for specific genes that confer extremely long life.

Equivalently, they should be looking for viruses that confer extremely long life.

Viruses are packages of portable genetic material that can cause a wide range of changes in infected organisms. We focus on -- and almost exclusively look for -- the bad, but since reading a David Brin short story ("The Giving Plague") 8 years ago, it has seemed perfectly natural to me that there should be subtly beneficial contagions all around us as well.

(I suggest that once a group of viruses that have net-beneficial effects on health are discovered, they be christened 'saluviruses' -- from the latin 'salus' for health. As of this moment, 'saluvirus' and 'saluviruses' return no hits on Google. They would be part of a larger group of long-term residents of the human body called commensal flora.)

Who knows? It may turn out that "infectious" optimism really is!

Machiavelli's Innovator's Dilemma

More Things Change Department
Machiavelli recognized a sort of "innovator's dilemma" in The Prince, nearly 500 years ago:
It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from the fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.

Will messages to the future (or from the past) be at the nano-scale?

Ripe Premise Series
Storage decays. Paper rots, fades, crumbles. Optical storage like CDs can become unreadable in a decade or two -- much sooner if exposed to sunlight or other stresses. Magnetic storage fades. None of these media are the stuff of a fossil record.

As a result, any project that hopes to communicate complex thoughts to the distant future may need to invent its own mass-density, long-lived archival media. For the Rosetta Project, as initiated by the Long Now Foundation, that media is a laser-etched nickel plate. But such plates still only have an expected usable life of 2,000 years.

Might molecular-level memories -- such as IBM's recently-announced "Millipede" -- be even more robust? If they could be mass-produced, and stored away from the rampant chemical and nuclear processes (life and sunlight) that lead to decay, might they have a chance to persist for millions of years?

Sure, only advanced technology could read these tiny, molecular digital messages. But if tiny molecular digital messages are the only media that endure, then tiny molecular digital messages will be all we can consider sending to the distant future.

Or all we might expect to get from the distant past.

Perhaps the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI) should be using microscopes as much as radio telescopes -- microscopes pointed at hard material scooped from places unlikely to have been disturbed for millions of years. Some terrestrial geologic formations might qualify, but nearby regions of outer space seem a better bet.

The closest thing to a 2001-like obelisk that humanity ever discovers might be a pockmarked speck of dirt. Rosetta dust.

Biovariant: If you can't guarantee that a storage medium will be undisturbed, you could make it self-replenishing, with the ability to copy and rebuild itself in reaction to external stresses. Hmm, do we know of any information-dense molecular entities that behave that way? Say, DNA? Might the Earth's genome have begun as a consciously-designed storage mechanism and/or intentional communication-to-the-future? Might any part of the original message still be recoverable at this point? (This idea also appeared in a 1993 Star Trek:TNG episode called The Chase, and a short story called We'll Return, After This Message, by AutoDesk founder John Walker, written in 1989 and published in 1993.)

NYTimes: IBM's Nanotech Punchcards

Tiny Thing, Big Deal
Wow. In A New System for Storing Data: Think Punch Cards, but Tiny, we get a clear description of IBM research in persistent molecular memory that may offer storage densities 25 times that available in today's magnetic hard disks.

160GB hard drives now go for under $250. What happens when 4 terabyte drives are available for the same price? That's the equivalent of 210 double-sided, double-layered DVDs, or 840 DVD-quality 2-hour movies, or around 5,000 almost-DVD-quality Divx-encoded 2-hour movies. In a single desktop drive. Perhaps by about 2010, it will be possible to wear a complete copy of all music ever recorded as a piece of jewelry, perhaps a bracelet or an oversized earring.

THEX Specification Draft Available

Department of Public Works
A draft of the Tree Hash Exchange (THEX) format, a specification by Justin Chapweske to which I've contributed, is now available. Hash trees can be used to efficiently perform fine-grained integrity checking of content within distributed content delivery networks. Comments would be best directed to the Open-Content Network developer discussion email list (ocn-dev).

"DRM Helmets: An Idea Whose Time Has Come" Slashdotted

Toot Own Horn Department
My OReillyNet weblog entry, DRM Helmets: An Idea Whose Time Has Come, has been Slashdotted. An excerpt from the piece:
I humbly suggest the most cost-effective and reliable solution to the copyright industries' troubles will be DRM helmets, bolted onto each dutiful consumer at the neck. When these helmets sense watermarked audio or video within earshot/eyeshot, they check their local license manager and instantly "fog up" if payment has not been delivered.

David Bowie Tells It Like It Is

Postcopyright Office
David Bowie sees the future clearly in this NYTimes story:
His deal with Sony is a short-term one while he gets his label started and watches the Internet's effect on careers. "I don't even know why I would want to be on a label in a few years, because I don't think it's going to work by labels and by distribution systems in the same way," he said. "The absolute transformation of everything that we ever thought about music will take place within 10 years, and nothing is going to be able to stop it. I see absolutely no point in pretending that it's not going to happen. I'm fully confident that copyright, for instance, will no longer exist in 10 years, and authorship and intellectual property is in for such a bashing."

"Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity," he added. "So it's like, just take advantage of these last few years because none of this is ever going to happen again. You'd better be prepared for doing a lot of touring because that's really the only unique situation that's going to be left. It's terribly exciting. But on the other hand it doesn't matter if you think it's exciting or not; it's what's going to happen."

Update: Monday night on Letterman, discussing the fact that "Heathen" is being released on both vinyl and CD:
LETTERMAN: "Why do people still want some of them on vinyl?"
BOWIE: "They're crazy! I download everything on the Internet. I don't bother with any format."
(As reported by Brad Hill.)

Nifty Word: diegesis

Nifty Word Corner
diegesis - the imaginary world in which a story (or film) takes place. Also: diegetic- present in that world.

For example, music that the characters hear is diegetic; mood music for the external audience is non-diegetic.

The Danger Of The Low-Cost Cruise Missile

Distant Early Warning Division
Could effective cruise missiles be assembled from relatively cheap and easy-to-acquire technology? This Kiwi thinks so: The Danger Of The Low-Cost Cruise Missile

Nifty Word: anhedonia

Nifty Word Corner
anhedonia-- inability to experience pleasure, or take interest, in normally pleasurable acts.

(Well, it's not so nifty of a word if you're experiencing it.)

Gatto on the real lessons of public schools

Department of Reeducation
John Taylor Gatto nails it in this biting essay, The Six-Lesson Schoolteacher. The concluding thought:
School is like starting life with a 12-year jail sentence in which bad habits are the only curriculum truly learned.