Friday, October 08, 2004

Who's Zoomin' Who: Web 2.0 Pundits and the Next Big Thing

Web 2.0 will likely be touted as where the advanced thinkers talked to the advanced business types who have made some pretty advanced fortunes using the Internet platforms. Discussions of the inevitability of open source, the evil Empire (we know the name, look up the number), FireFox over IE, REST vs web services, and all the usual cause de jours of the conspiracy-hungry zeitgeist will be debated in the hallways. The 'next big thing' will be featured on slides, and the Life of O'Reilly as pundit and prognosticator will be on display to up the ticket sales.

And the attendees will, as they usually do, miss the important developments in the evolution of the web.

Don't get me wrong. I've no prejudice against these events as technical theatre. They are fun to go to, one gets to rub elbows with the people whose cults of personality mean they are quoted more often in web circles than Karl Rove is in political circles, but one expecting to come away from an event like this with inside information, late breaking insights, etc., will leave with the same feeling as one who has eaten a two pound bag of pork rinds: full but unnourished. Why? Because these people came to promote a business: making money off the Internet. This is a cool thing, but it isn't a new thing and any conference that circles that topic will fall into the usual not-so-strange attractors of improving the user experience, network effects, power laws of sales, and the dot-bomb bust and how to avoid it. Developments, emergent and otherwise, that make for bad press don't amplify the feedback effects these folks are after at these events, so some urgent topics won't get discussed.

How about this: identity management systems for business transactions will not protect the individual or group from the application of wide-area sensor systems that aquire identity biometrically and pass it along the sensor web. The only protection will be built-in policy enforcement and these policies are as yet, non-existent.

Sensor webs ARE the 'next big thing' and I doubt that came up at Web 2.0. Even the developers of these systems recognize their implications for privacy and fundamental liberties, but say as the inventors usually do, that subject is beyond the scope of their work. It is political and even if it worries them, they aren't about to compromise funding or their careers worrying about that.

"Don't say that he's hypocritical
Say rather that he's apolitical
"Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down
That's not my department," says Wernher von Braun" - Tom Lehrer

People who do care will now have to pay very good attention to elections because political agendas do determine policy, not just as it is written, but as it is implemented. When the current reform bills for U.S. national intelligence are finally passed, under the Senate version, the National Intelligence Director has 90 days to provide a plan, and 270 days after that to begin implementing it.

It may be time to quit listening to O'Reilly and Company and start paying attention to what is being debated in the American Halls of Congress. The next big thing will be developed there, not in San Francisco.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Five Questions for the Presidential Candidates

In the next two presidential debates, there are five questions I would ask:

1. Given that the American defense policy has been proportional response, what would the American response be to terrorists exploding a nuclear, dirty, or biological weapon on US soil?

2. While it is good campaign strategy to duck the question of gay marriage by saying this is an issue to be decided by individual states, is this a credible response given that municipalities such as Seattle require companies from other states to provide domestic partner benefits to do business with the city? Doesn't this force the decision to go to the Supreme Court should a state outlaw gay marriage or does it force companies within that state to forgo doing business with these municipalities?

3. Given the rate at which the US military is using men and materiel, can we avoid a draft and higher taxes to replace diminishing stocks or must we withdraw from other commitments such as South Korea?

4. The cornerstone of a trusted information security network for homeland security is identity management. What is the candidate's position on national standards for driver's licenses and so-called 'breeder documents' such as birth certificates?

5. What is the appropriate doctrine for the use of and access to information held in private databases by government investigators for counterterrorism cases?

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Godspeed, Gordo

There is a poetry to the universe. Events occur proximately the way a theme in a great work of literature is repeated differently but close together in time or space reinforcing some noble truth to the observer. I find it uplifting that on the day a pilot flies SpaceShipOne into space without computer guidance, a man who flew a Mercury capsule back from 22 orbits manually when the onboard systems failed passed away. People who only know of the Faith 7 flight from movies like "The Right Stuff" don't know the whole story of Leroy Gordon Cooper.

Mercury capsules were straight out of the 1950s. Full of wire bundles and not-quite-shielded circuitry made before the advent of miniturization that is the supreme benefit of the American space program, a Mercury capsule would charge like a capacitor in the magnetosphere, and any water in the circuitry could cause them to short out. System by system, the longer one stayed in orbit, the effects would cause systems to fail. Gordon Cooper flew the last operational Mercury mission and the longest one. His laconic coolness on the stick was legendary. He slept on the pad and for eight hours during orbits 10 through 14. Informed about the problems, ground control fearing his automatic reentry system was also failing, Cooper manually lined up the capsule on the horizon, fired the retrorocket pack, and brought his ship down as close to the recovery ship, Kearsage, as any computer could have in May 1963.

Gordon Cooper was the first American to make a second orbital flight. He was the backup commander for Apollo 10. He drove fast cars and fast boats. He was Vice President for Research and Development/EPCOT for Walt Disney. He loved to design aircraft. He chased UFOs over the skies of Europe.

And he was a heckuva fisherman.

To say he had the right stuff has become a cliche. To say he was a real hero doesn't say enough. Yet his life was rounded by accomplishments that few will ever equal and his passing was as well-timed as his reentry from space in a flyable if cheesy spacecraft. Gordon Cooper was a good test pilot. That is finest compliment one can pay.

Godspeed, Gordo.

Monday, October 04, 2004

The Ansari X Prize and TV News

The increasing irrelevance of TV broadcast news becomes clear as I sit here watching the Ansari prize won by Bert Rutan and his company while ABC is showing Regis and Kelly interview a fellow from the Bravo hit show. The other major networks are showing something just as uninteresting.

As one who grew up watching Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, then the space shuttle, it is somewhat sad but then technology and the public taste do find their own level of commitment to each other. Perhaps the commitment of ABC to the transience of the Bravo show and adverstisers testifies that TV news has finally become merely entertainment and the Internet is where one goes to witness history being made.

Go Rutan! Yahooooo!

Comment Policy

If you don't sign it, I won't post it. To quote an ancient source: "All your private property is target for your enemy. And your enemy is me."