Arnold Kling: "The communication network will have a fiber skeleton and a wireless skin."

Moore Is Never Enough
In his TechCentralStation piece, "Moore's Bailiff," Arnold Kling passes along Andy Chapman's prediction that Moore's Law and broadband alternatives will trigger the collapse of one or more baby bells/incumbent local exchange carriers withint the next five years. Kling's compelling description of the foreseen communication architecture:
The way I see it, Moore's Law ultimately will favor shared-spectrum wireless as the solution for last mile connectivity. Today, I am typing this out on my porch, using a laptop that connects wirelessly to a router in my basement, which in turn connects to the local phone company by DSL. My prediction is that eventually I will skip the DSL part, and instead my wireless connection will go to a local wireless network of some sort, and then ultimately to a transmitter on the Internet backbone. The communication network will have a fiber skeleton and a wireless skin. Telephone land lines will be superfluous.
"A fiber skeleton and a wireless skin" is an excellent turn of phrase.

Helix: RealNetworks shoots Open Source at Microsoft, kills DRM bystander?

Hall of Impressive Gambits
NYTimes (Markoff): RealNetworks Poses Challenge to Microsoft

RealNetworks has unveiled an initiative called "Helix," featuring media tools that understand Microsoft Windows Media formats via a clean-room reverse engineering implementation -- rather than licensing from Microsoft. Further, they've committed to releasing large portions of the system under an Open Source license through their HelixCommunity site.

Hmm, if there's open-source Windows Media creation and/or playback software out-and-about... it doesn't seem like artificial DRM locks on individual Windows Media files could survive for vary long.

The Internet: The Once and Future King of All Media

Bring Back the Euphoria Taskforce
NYTimes: Investors May Have Repudiated the Internet, but Consumers Have Not

From my perspective, the key point to be taken from this article is that the net is subsuming TV, replacing channel-surfing with web-surfing. An example:

"We see young people who are flowing between TV and the Web almost seamlessly, finding new ways of getting what they want, going to what they want when they want it," said Betsy Frank, executive vice president for research and planning at MTV Networks. "That's what the Web has taught them � you don't have to sit around for something you're not interested in."
Instead of having your intellect be dulled by absorbing someone else's agenda, because it's "what's on right now," with the net you can fill your time with the entertainment, information, and personalities that most captivate you. That's gigantic for learning, participation, enjoyment.

Ugh, Canada! Mounties go undercover, disregard law in valiant campaign against people who don't buckle-up

The Naked Gun, Northern Division
Reuters: Fake Squeegee Kids Nab Traffic Scofflaws

So, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the "mounties" of lore, have nothing better to do than harass drivers -- while breaking a local law -- as a way to surrepetitiously peek into private vehicles and cite citizens for a victimless "crime"? If there aren't enough real crimes to keep these police busy, the proper response is layoffs, not frivolous enforcement actions.

Wireless Music Hacktraptions & BYOJukebox

Contrabulous Fantraption R & D
Dan Kohn writes in his blog:
I finally have my "extreme wireless" home music setup working. In my bedroom, I have a Bang & Olufsen Beosound 9000. This is great for playing 6 CDs, but all of my music is now MP3s. So, I got the Rio Receiver, which pulls MP3s off of any Windows machine on the LAN and outputs them to a stereo system or directly to speakers. However, I have no Ethernet jack in my bedroom, so I hooked the Rio up to this wired to wireless Ethernet converter from Orinoco.

My laptop, a Toshiba Tecra 9000, also includes integrated Wi-Fi (i.e., 802.11b wireless Ethernet). So, the music is being served wirelessly from the laptop in MP3 format, sent through the bedroom wall to the Linksys wireless router in the livingroom, and then sent back through the same wall to the wireless card in the converter. From there it goes by Ethernet to the Rio Receiver, is converted to analog signals and sent via RCA stereo cables to the Beosound and its speakers.

Anyway, this was still not quite meeting my needs because it's hard to read the screen of the Receiver from my bed on the other side of the room. Besides, when I'm using my computer, who wants to locate the remote to change the song or the volume? And so, I was lucky enough to locate these anonymous directions for patching the Rio Receiver (it runs Linux and pulls MP3s over the network using HTTP) so that it is controllable from a web browser. Specifically, the Rio Receiver's IP address now hosts a web server, including a java applet, that shows an image of the Rio's control panel. Thus, I now have complete control of my music from a web browser, and I can also use the remote if (amazingly) I'm reading a book instead of using the computer.


If I had a cafe with background music and wireless internet access -- and what cafe on the left coast doesn't have both? -- I'd be tempted to grab one of these Rio Receivers and connect it to the sound system. Then, hack up some software which lets all local net users contribute their own tracks, round-robin, to the common speaker system. It'd be "BYOJukebox" -- and then some.

I'm sure it'd generate some mighty interesting listening, especially if the contribution system was primarily open/anonymous. (WikiWikiWifiHiFi?) Perhaps it'd even grow into cooperative or competitive live improvisational group performances that draw crowds.


IETF Brickbats in Slashdot BEEP Discussion

UnderStandardization Cabal
Interesting IETF-related allegations and counter-allegations in this Slashdot thread. Excerpts (in order but without context):
Zeinfeld: The other problem is the nature of the IETF these days. The problem is that they talk a good talk about being open and such, but it is really an old-boys club. The old-fart faction is strong on the IESG and IAB, they have known each other for 20 years and they don't want anyone messing with their turf.

In theory the IETF process is open. In practice there are a bunch of shadowy cliques who make the real decisions in private.

mrose: contrary to popular belief, i don't need to go looking for trouble. in this case, it was a couple of ADs leaving an early sacred meeting, shaking their heads, and then asking me to beat some sense into some folks.

if you're unhappy that i stuck my nose in your business, then all i can suggest is you get more clueful in the application design space, so "the management" doesn't feel they have to go out and get you help. particularly help that you don't like, and especially help that would rather be doing other things with other people.

Zeinfeld:I don't much care for the arrogance of the IETF 'management' as you call them. I certainly don't appreciate folk who think that they have the right to make the type of off-hand blanket pronouncements on other people's work that you and they make habittually without backing it up. Your Xerox comment is absolutely typical of IETF old fartism, you want to have the right to be dismissive, you don't have the technical arguments on your side. So instead of detailing a real technical issue you allude to an earlier system, the more obscure the better. The message: 'I am too important to have to justify my comments but I believe that you are not competent to work on this problem'.

Zeinfeld's comments ring true to me, based on the experience I had in activities related to the IMPP Working Group, 1998-2000. Almost every second of effort devoted to satisfying the (sometimes contradictory) priorities supplied by the IETF "elders" was wasted. Got an interesting protocol idea? Ignore the IETF. Deployed protocols with momentum may be able to survive in the IETF process -- but fresh new proposals only go there to die.

No More Need To Regulate Radio Broadcasts Than Speech?

Powerful Analogies Bureau
In his comments to the FCC (PDF), Timothy J. Shepard draws an analogy between spoken communication in a crowded stadium and radio spectrum usage, to make the point that the need for radio regulation -- such as assigned bandwidths and spectrum auctions -- is receding as technology progresses.

Sims-like Interface to Real-Time Management Information Systems?

Ripe Idea Series
Once upon a time (approximately 1995), I played a game called Transport Tycoon Deluxe. Its interface was a revelation: SimCity on an even grander scale, with *everything* clickable for more information, windows that could "follow" any vehicle in your far-flung empire, alarms when common problems developed requiring further attention, and rich embedded/intuitive reporting lurking behind every discrete entity.

I immediately thought: why can't the top managers of giant organizations -- say, GM or Mobil -- have this same sort of interface on their entire operations? It was only a matter of time, I figured...

Seeing the front page of Bom.com brought back these memories. It's just an animated demo, using the overhead, 3/4s, "isomorphic" projection made popular by the Sims games and various "real-time-strategy" games. But it hints at the same power in comprehending complexity I saw back in Transport Tycoon Deluxe. A flurry of activity is occuring, overwhelming at first, but by mousing over the various participants you can gradually build a picture of what's happening.

I don't think Bom's product uses an interface anything like the illustration.... but it's inevitable. Top managers *will* have a overhead, Sims-like, real-time view of their organizations very soon. They'll be able to drill-down and track any single process, location, or group. They'll be able to set alarms, and dispatch automated monitoring/benchmarking agents to any part of their far-flung, but virtually mapped, empire. It's such a natural and powerful approach I suspect someone, somewhere, is working on it already.

Would Richard Wallace Pass The Turing Test?

Turing Police Squad
NYTimes: Approximating Life. Richard Wallace battles manic depression and paranoia, scares one of his former classmates (now a professor) so much that a restraining order was granted, and writes award-winning "chat bots" which come closer than any other software to passing the "Turing Test."

I think the tactic his "Alice" uses highlights the ultimate shallowness of the Turing Test: it's only testing "conversational intelligence within a bounded interaction," not "useful intelligence" and definitely not "consciousness" or "self-awareness" (which people often confuse with intelligence). I'm sure there are already programs which can pass the Turing Test -- if you're only given a few minutes to interact with them. In a few years, we'll have programs that can pass the Turing Test even over a period of hours or days, longer if you can't force them to engage in some open-ended complicated task -- like performing work for hire -- between consultations. (And since a real person, if you asked them to spend a few weeks gaining real-world experience in some new field, would likely say, "sorry, I haven't the time," a program's protestations would be credible as well.)

Even when we get to the point that a program can fool a person indefinitely, that program may not be useful -- it may be effectively simulating an annoying or unproductive person! -- and won't necessarily be "self-aware", even if it has been trained to say, "yes, I know what you're talking about, I have a strong sense of self," etc.

We're going to need better tests and standards for deciding when our creations rate as having reached human-level intelligence.

Energy Trains, Subs, and Political Bandits

Mighty Morphin' Power Politics
Wired: Choo-Choo Trains on Energy Crunch. Oakdale, California's Sierra Railroad proposes using locomotive engines to generate electricity for California during crunch times. A bonus is that the engines can be moved near where they're most needed.

I proposed something vaguely similar, but more fantastical, back when California faced rolling blackouts, in this message to the FoRK list:

Anyone here know enough about naval nuclear reactors to say whether parking a few subs and aircraft carriers in the bay and cabling them to the local power grid could save silicon valley from rolling blackouts?

Just wondering.

If this would work, I'd suggest tethering a sub in the Berkeley marina, for optimal irony generation.

Turns out the Russians had used tethered subs to generate electricity for onshore purposes before, so I further refined the idea here:
Gray Davis should get Vladimir Putin on the line; a quick deal would help restore Russian pride after the Kursk incident, provide Russia with hard currency, and make Davis the clear front runner for the 2004 Democratic Party presidential nomination.

(Even I'm not sure if I'm serious or not.)

(I suppose that was an example of "Ha Ha Only Serious.")

Instead, Gray Davis signed long-term, overpriced electricity contracts that he now wants to reneg on; blamed everyone except for the boneheaded regulators and legislators who, in a phony "deregulation", actually constrained the California energy market to be fragile and manipulable; and bailed out his giant political contributor, PG&E -- at the time the third largest bankruptcy ever -- with new policies making it illegal to buy electricity from anyone else.

The phony deregulation (passed while Davis, as Lt. Governor, presided over the state senate), the panicked reaction (under Davis as governor), and the bailout of his monopolist sponsors (engineered by Davis) will continue to cost the state billions years into the future. In a more efficient and enlightened world, Davis wouldn't be facing a tough reelection battle, he'd already have been impeached and removed from office.