Saturday, December 02, 2006

In Defense of Complexity: The End of Joe Web Page, the Desperate Hacker

The modern combustion engine is a marvel of engineering in terms of the power to weight ratio for the efficient use of fuel. The principles are as simple as they have been since the end of the era in which it was invented now two centuries past: air, fuel, fire. If the internal combustion engine has these in the right mixture, it works.

As little as three decades ago, the average backyard mechanic could take one down to spare parts and put it back together if he or she had the time, the tools and the nerve, although to do it easily, one has to go back almost seven decades and then the principles which made it work weren’t that well understood in their implementation. Understanding and implementation have to scale out together but at some critical juncture, optimization of one of the applied principles will cause the complexity of the implementation to exceed the reach of the understanding.

So it is with the modern combustion engine: it works, it is efficient with respect to the power delivered for the fuel and the weight of the overall vehicle, thus adding more efficiency, but it is not something that the average backyard mechanic can rebuild. The tools required, the parts required and the knowledge of how they work in combination exceed his or her resources, understanding and nerve.

Complexity is just as much in the nature of the evolution of systems as simplicity is desirable. At some point, the demands of an environment or a market require complex solutions. While simplicity is a goal, it can also become a religion just as harmful as fundamentalism when pursued with a sword. Complex systems can do what simple systems cannot do. The goal that all systems be accessible can be met with open standards, but the goal that they be powerful, workable and light might not even as the principles over which they are built remain the same.

As I look at XAML, I know this design because it is the same markup design that the US Navy MID committee proposed for a notional browser twelve years ago. The winner was HTML. History has shown that HTML is to the MID what Henry Ford’s A-model and T-models were to a modern combustion engine: durable, affordable and fixable by the average web hacker, but ultimately also dirty, harsh on the environment, and not evolvable past some set of requirement for complex presentation and interaction. It is possible that with Vista and XAML, we are witnessing the end of the HTML-basic browser systems and staring at the fundamental weakness of the argument that Jean Paoli made to me in the hallway in Vancouver so many years ago and Tim Bray has been the champion of ever since: “It must be easy!”

Why must it? Perhaps that is true at the emergence of a technology, but then professionals take up the task because the job itself has changed. As with the fire, fuel air mixture that makes an internal combustion engine run, the fundamentals of URI, markup and objects are still the basics for web hypermedia, but the balance is shifting away from the primacy of fixed markup or the “Any color you want as long as it’s black.” browser to the primacy of variant markup by variant objects instead of a “faster horse”.

It is obvious that a sea change is upon us. It is obvious that this same change happens in all technologies in response to environmental and market demands. What is not obvious is how long it will take the once pioneering spirits grown stodgy in their success to realize that their principles where once the fuel for their personal and professional success are now the dirt in the modern engine of progress in need of cleaning. What we are seeing is the dawn of the modern professional web and the end of the backyard Joe Web Page. It's about time.

Friday, December 01, 2006

UFOs: The New Judas Goat for the Web

Peter Morville, author of Ambient Findability, extols a world some of us have been pondering for awhile. In my case, first as a means to make a virtual reality world more fun and real, then as a tool for real time monitoring and simulation for public safety systems.

Morville wants a world more dreadful than I thought I could imagine because a world I could imagine and did, he actually wants.

That means we are at the tipping point of unwisdom.

If IA and ambient findability are his goals, he has found a perfect Judas Goat. A prediction is quite easy. Collision detection, real time asset tracking, GPS to the map, querying from inside the application by through use of proximity emergent situations, these are all the favorite topics of the real-time 3D community, aka, Virtual Reality. This is now the faovrite topic of the security service companies and the public safety companies. IBM will push hard for standards for the 3D Internet, and these technologies will merge in the new Internet made possible by higher bandwidth technologies.

At the same time, technologies will be developed to shield some from the views afforded by others (it's easy to do using the fact of the update protocols for MU views), and some will have full access for the right price or the right political position. The Chinese will be unhappy if their people can see what the Americans are doing, same for some Muslim emirates, and so on. Laws will be discussed and past about the requirements of full fidelity or merely representational models at the coordinates of meatspace (can a VR map of New York still have the Twin Towers?) and so on.

Life will become a game in an ever more real and simultaneously virtual sense. Just as the filtering and bias of other media today enables warping of decisions made, this will drive it even more incredibly to believe the unbelievable and accept the unacceptable. So perhaps this new ambient findable world is the ultimate tool for the Overton flush.

Knowing a bit about how the machine grinds, Morville will soon be a favorite speaker at conferences that the TLA organizations fund and attend (say XML 2007, Semantic Web, etc.). Meanwhile, others will claim to have thought of all of this first (see Intergraph's new CTO, Peter Batty) and some will be implementing the prototypes as products slowly and others will be hooking up the ground-up technologies that emerge from the open technical lists. For example, searching out of an X3D world through the SAI is not a difficult problem. The problem is sorting the query return into something representable in a 3D world (not just text) and how complex that representation can be (Eg, does a screw have screw behaviors) and who's semantic definitions are applied (it's expensive to keep a world of very local behaviors instead of standard ones).

But that is future. For now, it is just real time tracking of tagged assets. As a small company wrote in their literature at the beginning of the 3D web, circa 1993-94, "Our products are used by the security agencies to track criminals and fight crime. Criminals use our products to manage warehouses and track assets."

Welcome to a civilization of pirates.

Nightmares and Analysis

I was sitting in our then CEO of Intergraph Public Safety's office before he was ousted by the current gal holding his job and explaining why I was so livid about Bush's speech at the UN which made it very clear that Bush was going to take us to war in Iraq. I was frustrated by the bloggers I was reading some of whom I knew personally who supported this, and I was angry in a way I am uncomfortable with given my right wing colleagues and boss who kept insisting this would be a short profitable war, that we would get their oil, they would welcome us, Saddam was evil and we are the good guys and what about the Kurds, and on and on. They saw the war in the same mythology and terminology as they see the Iron Bowl contest between Alabama and Auburn every year. With the exception of my boss and CEO, none had a memory old enough to include the debacle known as VietNam. Even if they did, they were of the ilk that 'Hippies and the liberal media lost the war'.

I said, "Doc, these people don't live in a historically real country, they have hundreds if not thousands of years of grudges to settle, and our only reason for being there is oil. This is a booty raid. You know that but you don't have a child old enough to fight it but he may be by the time this turns into the civil war because that's what's going to happen. We'll bust Saddam's chops, have to set up shop there, then all of the dozens of sides, sorry there are more than two, are going to start shooting with us in the middle. We'll have to pull out and then they'll have a proper civil war. At the end, whoever is left standing will sell their oil to the Chinese."

He looked at me incredulously as only the Brits can when their conversation is with a redneck primitive and asked, "Do you REALLY believe that, Leeeeen?"

"Yeah, Doc, I do. I've seen this movie before. It ends badly for us."

I was never a popular guy at Intergraph and wasn't bothered by that. An analyst makes the case, watches the decision makers do what they do, then analyses the results. He lost his job to someone more ambitious than he is, and she may lose hers when the risky behaviors of her direct reports come to the surface as the new owners evaluate their internal management problems, and so it will go. As an analyst, that will be studied and factored into the next study. Ad nauseam. It won't change anything until the culture of having one set of rules for one group and nothing but 'positive relationships' for the others changes into a company where the employees respect their managers for their fairness and even handed approach, as well as their insistence that the policies HR publishes are something they are bound by themselves. It could happen.

As for Iraq: this is not precisely VietNam. When we finally withdrew, we left a country where the outcome of the civil war was not in doubt, where there really were essentially two sides and ours was losing because it had no legitimate mandate from the population, where democracy was as it is in Iraq, something the people don't care that much about, but with the major difference that other than its people, it has little of value that the rest of the world cares about. The Middle East has a very different history with respect to its conquerors and with how it tolerates that. They don't tend to want to do business with them three decades hence.

Iraq has a different basis in religion. Most of all, it sits on a sea of oil that the rest of the world covets. In VietNam, we could withdraw reasonably confident that no other major power was going to screw around in there because there wasn't that much to gain.

In Iraq, that simply isn't true.

I'll pray for the Iraqis, but my analytical instincts are pessimistic. One thing the cops teach: a domestic violence call is the most dangerous of all. We can call for backup and work our way out, but the conditions that make it violent will not change as long as there is power to be had or money to be made from the sea beneath the desert. If we want to win the war on terrorism, we need to work as hard as we can as fast as we can to take out its engine. They will still kill each other over their history, but we can remove the reasons for the rest of the world to care past decent compassion for the suffering of the innocents there.

If we have the time... and that is where my worst nightmares come from. In America, we need to think about the rules we say we live by. Prior to Iraq and after the Mexican War, we have not been a modern country that practiced first strike warfare. In Iraq we allowed ourselves to be led to break a rule that keeps us out of the small wars that lead to the big wars. When we broke that rule, effectively our leadership made the case that for their party, there are no rules by which we will conduct business legitimately. This is a problem for any culture because it is the road to indecency, to infidelity, to loss of life, talent, skill, and the will to succeed. It turns a nation or a company into a collection of "show up when expected and do the minimum necessary to take home the booty", and as both of the subjects here should know by experience if not analysis, that is how companies and countries fail often led by precisely the same kinds of people with exactly the same goals.

Qui bono? No one. Nada. It's a wasteland.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Trust The Rules

Someone was discussing confusion with the stories in the Old Testament of the Bible tonight. I wrote a reply. If you don't care for religious statements of faith, you should skip this entry.

If one is a literalist, the Bible offers plenty of contradictions to confuse one. The old testament God is a vengeful wrathful God who destroyed whole cities, brought down plagues, and distributed misery in plenty to all. The covenant in the old testament is an exclusive covenant with the Jewish people, not a covenant with all of man.

On the other hand, if one is a biblical historian well acquainted with the means, times and people by which the modern canon came to be, one knows the Bible is not the literal word of God in printed form, but multiple texts from multiple times created by multiple personages named and unnamed with different purposes and intentions for their works.

That these are two irreconcilable points of view is uncontested and what contests there are have resulted in even more misery and suffering on the people of the world. Of all wars, religious wars are the most violent and useless for one takes away no lesson but death and no reward but suffering. Jesus wept. That is why.

If one is a person of both faith and science, there is a third view. If God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, then being in all times and places with all knowledge and power, nothing of God is beyond God. If all that is so, all that there is, is God and God is in all of that. When God made this world, he set down rules that we must live by. Gravity, weather, the limits to our lives, their endings in death, the colors of our skins, our gifts and our shortcoming, all are of God and all are in God. If the rules for us are God’s rules and God is in those rules, God does not violate those rules for to violate those rules is to violate God.

It is as if one had a boss who sets one set of rules for the employees but lived by another set for himself. A boss like that may have power but would get no respect, only fear.

Do you think God is like that boss? If all is God, does he fear himself? Does that make any reasonable sense?

At one time, some did think that and they wrote down stories and these stories became the old testament that is one part folk legend, one part history of the Jewish people, and one part holy truth, but you have to know what you believe and trust your belief to know which is which. That is the challenge God sets for us in the Bible because by giving us free will, he gave us the responsibility to choose which is which. God can break these rules for his creation just as you and I can put wholly discordant and bad sounds in our compositions, but we do not because that would violate their beauty and because that beauty is of us, it violates us. For God to do so is to do so is to violate our trust in him and to do that is violate his covenant with us.

Why did Jesus come as a baby and not a man or an all powerful king as some who studied the old testament believed he would? Because he was promised as a savior not a conqueror, a teacher, not a master. His covenant with us is to love us, not to use us or abuse us. To make a new covenant, a covenant of love for mankind thus to be loved by all of mankind, God proved that he would live as man, know what a man knows, feel what a man feels, taste what he tastes, and die as a man. Because of this sacrifice, no man can say to God, “you are almighty, why do you torment me, you have no understanding of me, just wrath”.

The God of the new testament says, “I gave my only begotten Son, and he is now your intercessor for he knows what you know and so do I. He is the proof of my promise, the gift of my love, and the way to your own salvation, not because I make it so, but because you choose to let me make it so. That is how a covenant of love in God, in marriage, or in life is realized: by living under one set of rules for all which none violate without violating themselves.”

Such a love is not hard to understand. We are God’s creation. God exults in creation. Give voice to this. When we sing, when we compose, when we come together, that is all we need to understand. We feel our love for each other and thus God knows we exult in his creation, and through this, is made glad.

Polyanna wasn’t wrong. Be glad for God loves us and that makes loving each other very simple. Trust the rules.

An HTML for Web 3D

This must be hot news. Bad Irving was touting it, and now the Australian press.


We've had one since the mid 90s. It was VRML then and it's X3D now. Of course, Linden Lab's Phillip Rosedale knows that. Rosey calls VRML "The academic 3D on the web" blithely bypassing his own failures are Real and promoting his raging success with SecondLife. IBM knows it but IBM watched Intel and Microsoft lose to a small determined group of 3D whiz kids with their mits on the ISO standard committee.

Now it is time for them to rewrite history, or at least publish enough articles to force PageRank to return their articles whenever anyone searches for 3D Web Standard. This is piracy of course, but that is what companies out to take the intellectual property out of the open market into their own portfolios do.

IBM is about to spend $100 million to chase this down. In the Web3D Consortium, we’ve had companies come after us before including Microsoft and Intel. If they played on our turf, they had to play fair and they did not like that. We survived it. This is different. This is the press and Linden Labs plus IBM coming to take the whole enchilada with false history being spit out at a high frequency. Pirates know how to take a community apart. They are pushing these articles for a reason: PageRank locking (the use of frequency and timeliness to pull the search engine toward them without buying the search terms).

I do hope people are ready for this. The best thing you can do from your desk is every time you see one of these articles, correct the author immediately before it disappears. Be sure to include two items: X3D is royalty free and is the ISO standard for web 3D.

Two things happen: 1) People read the rebuttal and those that don’t want to do business with IBM and LL or want to compete with them may come our way. 2) The search engines won’t go into a PageRank lock condition where all of those articles create a pull toward the propaganda.

It’s wrong to fool Mother Nature, but it is dammed easy to fool Google and once done, not difficult to fool everyone else. All you have to do is keep lieing until it becomes the accepted truth. See Clockwork Orange.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Irving: the 143 Fastest Gun in the East

Irving is yet another pundit enthralled with the new innovation called 3D On The Web. He seems to think standards will help and IBM is ready and working to create them.


Without the IP restrictions, of course. IBM doesn’t work on anything where they don’t own at least three critical patents. Working with standards organizations that already have and have had for the last decade open standards and running code is not what the IBM strategists want. They need bloggers to help them create a new history in which the old one didn't happen. Everyone learned the game from the web pioneers and now they are going to play it.

You better be ready to fight for it. With Linden Labs as the proxy, another wave of companies are about to claim the right to dictate the future of real-time 3D and VR. And just as Nicole said about O.J, they “will get away with it”. Why? The masses followed the press to get the facts. The press follows the money, not the facts. The web claims to have a higher moral majesty but the reality is, it is loose as a goose and ready to fleece anyone who buys into its mythology. Legends of wealth ‘just beyond the horizon’ are what the bandits who live out there use to get you into that wagon westward ho. And so it goes.

History is one subject in the humanities curriculum that technologists benefit from by mastering it. Unfortunately, the classes are filled with future lawyers in love with themselves and what they are about to obtain by legal means. That is why a lawyer is usually worse than a criminal. A criminal knows what he is doing is crooked; a lawyer knows it is merely unethical and immoral and he can afford to pay a blogger to get him out of that one just as Al Capone used to pay the Chicago press to write flattering stories about his soup kitchens that he closed as soon as the articles were published.

Yes, 3D on The Web is real alright. And it is the same old reality we've been facing On The Web that we've faced off of it; just faster. Sad, but so.

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