Ordinateurs sans frontières

Lines on paper pre-1914

We are 100 years from the War To End All Wars and the ripples of this global tragedy still echo down through the century into our lives today. The boundaries drawn in 1919 as arbitrary lines on paper shaped all too many of the conflicts of the past one hundred years and are the root cause of many still in the world today.

Paul Mason, of Channel 4, recently asked the loaded question “How did the First World War actually end?” (Thanks to Jonathan Sugarman @WhistleIRL for finding this article). His view, and mine now too, is that it hasn’t ended. The guns stopped firing in Flanders, at Ypres and on the Somme at 11:00 am on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. It took just 26 days for hostilities to break out again, on December 7th 1918, in a squabble about the remains of the Ottoman Empire. Since then there have been 285 wars and only 26 days of peace.

As I was cycling to work this morning, listening to the excellent BBC series on WW1, I was thinking about the technology 100 years ago and tried to extrapolate what it might be 100 years from now. I had only fantasies. What about 20 years from now. Still only fantasies. How about just around the corner in the next decade?

Then it struck me that the peace trumpeted in 1918 might finally come soon from technology.

We are a planet of paper borders drawn decades, centuries, even millennia ago, but we live in an age of technology that flies across borders without passports or customs checks. Technology is eliminating meaningful borders despite lame attempts by national and local governments to enforce them. Being able to shop for the best price anywhere on the planet is empowering of shoppers and dis-empowering of corporations and governments. So why do we need borders any more?

Tribes (friends, family, colleagues, alumni, hobbyists, peers, factions) get together online more often than they ever did in person before the internet. Geography and (what we now would call) primitive communications constrained how we were able to participate in the governance of our lives. Representative government was created because we couldn’t all go to Washington but now we can (and do) comment on the issues of the day and participate and effect global changes.

Borders are becoming less and less relevant and the governments that enforce them more and more marginalized. Instead of fighting a losing battle against technology why not embrace it and exploit it.

So this is my prediction: Technology will continue to confound and frustrate governments who will bring increasingly draconian measures to bear on the use of technology across their borders. Technology will respond with innovative ways of operating that bypass and circumvent the restrictions. A breaking point will occur driven by over-regulation, overlapping-regulation and contradictory-regulation until  “de-regulation” will once again be on every tongue. Then there will be a free-for-all and much to exploit until we settle into a new era of commonsense, self-regulating use of technology across borders. Some borders will crumble (North Korea, China, USA’s isolation of Cuba) bringing chaos (and maybe tragedy) to them until they find a new equilibrium on a new world of information and access. Some new borders will emerge organically and transitionally (Catalunya, Kurdistan, one, two or even three new Ireland’s perhaps) based on affinity rather than geography. Cross-border, border-less communities will emerge and operate as quasi-states (Global-Jewish-State, Global-Islamic-State) and will be more representative of their communities as a whole than the narrowly focused, border-bound national governments they are connected to (Israel is not representative of Jewishness neither is Syria/Iran/Afghanistan representative of Islam).

My hope is that technology will empower individuals to define and act upon their affinities irrespective of the ancient and arbitrary lines drawn on paper. Technology enables border-less super-groups to emerge that are more successful in effecting change and combating injustice. Power in the hands of a few oligarchs, patriarchs or autocrats is diminished through the illumination that comes from technology’s light.

I’ve never yet seen a technology prediction that hasn’t been scoffed at one day only to find it trending the next. So it is with some trepidation that I stick my neck out here to suggest a future that flies in the face of human nature to cling to power at all costs. In many ways what I am suggesting is technology that is already here and already part of everyone’s daily life and the shift I describe is well underway.

But there is a major battle, perhaps even a war, coming between technology-openness  and controlling-power. We have seen the first skirmishes (Assange, Snowden). We have seen the first battles (Net Neutrality, Chinese censorship). The forces have not yet engaged all their might: they will.

So I’ll make one more prediction: For the first time in the history of warfare the victor will be chosen by the victims and not the protagonists. Victories will be measured by lines erased from the map. Casualties will be laws restricting free interaction and access and those people and corporations who wield power for their own sake and not “… of the people, by the people, for the people.”

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TCP/IP is 40 years old

In honor of the critical technology that underpins everything, not least of which is this little blog, there’s a TCP/IP party on Saturday.

Tickets are $25 and can be obtained here.

There is a great list of speakers:

Vint Cerf – with Bob Kahn, wrote the TCP spec, published in the IEEE Journal May 1974
Yogen Dalal – co-authored the first TCP Specification (RFC 675, INWG 72)
Judy Estrin –  worked on the initial TCP project at Stanford
Charles Goldfarb – Markup Languages
Dan Lynch – Founder of Interop, worked on TCP at SRI with BBN
Nancy Shepherd – Mayor of the City of Palo Alto
John Shoch – PARC Universal Protocol, PUP an important predecessor to TCP
Marc Weber – Internet Historian, Computer History Museum
Sean Askay – Google Earth Outreach

The team will be launching the “Conceiving the Internet” that is collecting stories about how the Internet began.

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Internet of Everything: Part 3: Data is the new oil

Internet of Everything
Device Data Decision

Edward Snowden would have us believe that everything is online already so worrying about how much personal information is out there maybe a quixotic fear at best.

And it is true, since Snowden’s and Assange’s revelations, we now realize just how much data is out there that comes from the telemetry of our daily lives. And we are suspecting there is much more than anyone cares to say.

Our phone tells the world so much about us. This strikes fear some people who think the government is planning to subjugate them by force. If I were planning to do something very bad, I too would be fearful of the reach of the state into what I am doing. But I am not planning to do something bad, and so I am not worried if the NSA knows I went to the gas station on Saturday and that I called my daughter in Florida who was also at the gas station at the time.

In my view everything, the IoE, cannot be online soon enough! I have so many questions and I want the answers now! Big Data means we can dream big.

Storage is cheap
The coolest thing about the IT industry is the pace of change driving down the cost of technology. Thank goodness the barrier to entry is low in high-tech. Imagine how much progress we might have made if Tech behaved like Pharma and protected its secrets for decades at prices that bear no relationship to the cost of production.

With the cost of online storage fast approaching zero (and for many consumers with cloud-based storage the cost is already zero) the price of storing everything is insignificant. Think of the complexity and difficulty of piecing together one’s family tree back more than a handful of generations. Compare that to our grand-children’s ability to reconstruct our histories down to the daily level as they read through the Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn archives 20 years from now.

All technology that is conceived today must make it a foundational principle that it reports its telemetry to the cloud. Who knows what insights we’ll get from our internet-connected refrigerator: a correlation between our ice-cream consumption and relationship status perhaps or a warning that the package of burger patties in the freezer has been recalled for containing donkey-meat? But not having that telemetry means not being able to get these insights.

The trend for wearable devices has been a giant consumer success. With these devices connected and delivering to the cloud we have yet more insight into who we really are.

Soon every wearable device will be part of the IoE: hearing aids that stream the TV and Radio sound and translate foreign languages, glasses that see and hear and record and upload (already here), pens that record what is written (already here) and pedometers that remind us to get up and stretch out legs (already here).

It’s all about the questions we ask
The new hot job title is going to be CQO, Chief Questioning Officer. This person will be responsible thinking of the right questions to ask and for creating the technology to answer them.

Every business, great and small, will be more successful if it delivers better goods and services with greater margins than its competitors. The IoE makes this possible. With all that data out there and with everything connected to every other thing creating more data new truths are awaiting discovery.

The IoE matters because it collects data about us and what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. It does so when we are asleep, driving, at our desk, whatever our activity. That data reveals more about us than we know ourselves. It means that organizations can see trends emerging in real-time and it means organizations can tailor products and services to individual needs (a la The Long Tail).

Why do we sell more flowers on Mondays than on Tuesday? Which cities should we stockpile the flu vaccines in this year? Where should I locate the electric car charging stations in London? And the answers are: correlate with Facebook status updates, compare with Google search results of flu symptoms and track the electric car owners paths through the city using the Congestion Charge camera data. Someone’s data contains your answers.

Data is the new oil: extract it, refine it and fuel your business with it.

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Internet of Everything Part 2: Nostalgia

Internet of Everything
Nostalgia is so yesterday

In part two we’re looking at the winners and losers in the Internet of Everything (IoE).

Movie theaters will become as anachronistic as libraries are today.
Producers will cut out the supply chain and deliver direct to the consumer’s TV and Laptop and Tablet and Car and keep them synchronized across all platforms by viewer. The better-than-movie-theater-quality-TV-and-sound-system will recognize the user and bring all the content to the screen ready to resume from where it left off. The infrastructure provided by the movie studios is so commoditized already that producers and directors can assemble what they need without the studio.

House of Cards on Netflix never aired on broadcast TV: it went straight to streaming. And there is more to come. I am one of a rapidly increasing segment in the US who does not have a cable provider. What I want to see streams to my iPad/Roku/Apple TV/Chromecast/Amazon Fire. My kids stream to their Xboxes. Cable providers who bundle 300 channels you don’t want with the dozen you actually watch will also go the way of dodo.

National boundaries will become increasingly meaningless because ex-patriots want to see their home TV shows and sporting events live in the language of their home. Restrictions about transmission out of country will disappear as artists and performers realize they have access to a global community.

7 billion people paying 1 cent is the same as 70 million people paying 1 Euro.

Content providers will have more direct connection to content consumers and the networks will be the big losers. Just like the movie studios and theaters.

Content providers will have more direct connection to content consumers and the networks will be the big losers. Just like the movie studios and theaters.

Ereaders and iPads are already the paper of the future. Most people get there news by device already today. Look at any commuter train carriage. The people with the newspapers are the older generation. Everyone else is locked into their tablet reading, listening and watching the news. Even the cross-word puzzle and Sudoku are an interactive online experience.

Print media cannot compete with Internet’s ability to let us see what our friends and colleagues are reading, to cross-reference and correlate stories with live information, make a multi-media experience.

A colleague said to me only this morning, “I used to love to read the newspaper but, by the time I pick it up now, I already know how the story turned out from my Google news feed.”

Newspapers and books will also continue as a piece of yesteryear, a living incarnation of a distant memory. And there is something to be said for the feel of a book and smell of the newspaper but it is only nostalgia that keeps us going there.

I’m sure, a century ago, the horse and buggy were seen as a technology that would soon pass into memory as the technological wizardry of the automobile began to dominate. We still take horse and buggy rides, they are not gone completely, but it is for special occasions and for the nostalgia.

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Internet of Everything: Part 1: Kitchen Politics

Internet of Everything
Change brings opportunity, opportunity brings profit

Check out the excellent post here on what is next for the Internet of Everything at PurpleWifi.

In the US, there is a fear that technology is eroding our civil liberties and powerful forces are at work trying to stifle innovation. Soon we will see that small countries, with more progressive societies and legislatures with a willingness to do something, will start to pull away from the US and Northern Europe in the Internet of Everything (IoE).

The IoE is changing how we see the world and interact with it. It continues to improve our lives and makes possible our wildest dreams.

Where there is change there is opportunity, where there is opportunity there is profit.

Far from infringing our civil liberties the IoE give us unprecedented access to information making it possible for us to choose a path in life that is both more fulfilling and more productive. Our ability to be more informed about the politics and the economics that govern our lives is unprecedented. And it will get more so.

There will be some change that people will resist. Full employment may be something we have to forget as a goal. Wealth may have to be redefined and redistributed so our societies can grow culturally, artistically and educationally instead of materially. Contribution to society may have to be measured in new ways that are not based on currencies.

Every walk of life (and even death) already has an app. In the IoE these apps join forces and assist each other in their tasks. The boundaries of the Internet expand to embrace more of our lives. Even the parts of our lives we thought were devoid of technology.

In the kitchen the refrigerator and the pantry will talk to doctor’s office and will recommend the dinner menu based on what ingredients are available and what the doctor has to say about one’s dietary needs. The fridge and the pantry will collaborate and order the food to be delivered so that we never again run out of milk. The oven will pre-heat in time for your arrival home which it will calculate by tracking your location on your commute. By reviewing your calendar the kitchen will know when Aunt May is coming to stay and order in her gluten-free flour and special brand of syrup for the pancakes she always makes. Even the dogs will be fed when your working late without you needing to worry. Irregularities in water and electrical consumption will be monitored and the plumber and electrician called before an appliance fails. When you hold a dinner party the menu planning app will know about everyone attending and their food preferences and allergy concerns.

Even politics is at risk. National boundaries, especially in Europe, are almost meaningless today. National governments provide a 19th century, centralized solution to the needs of a society where communication was slow and the population largely uneducated. In the 21st century communication is instant and all the world’s knowledge is in the palm of our hand. Why do we still insist on these arbitrary lines on maps that do not reflect who we are but who we were. Why do we need representative government when we can all vote by phone on the issues of the day as they happen? Why do we continue to place our faith in politicians who spend half of their time running for election and the half of their time raising the money to run for election. When do they ever do the business of the state. All politics is local, said Tip O’Neill, former Speaker of the House, in the future that can be literally true.

Basques can vote on Basque issues, Kurds on Kurdish ones irrespective of what the lines on the map say.

What will politicians do when the influence money is channeled to the voters instead? Will lobbyists be another anachronism that we look back at with nostalgia?

More nostalgia tomorrow.

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Change is changing

Wise advice

Wise advice

“People don’t look at their watches to see what time it is,” someone once told me “they look to see what time it isn’t.” Ever since then I have been surprised how true this is. In the same light I recently realized that “People don’t worry about how much work they have to do, they worry about the difference in the work they have to do.”

Luckily few people live in a micro managed world today. Perhaps the closest we each get to that state is when we are under the sway of our GPS-based navigation system. I find that when I am driving along I am relaxed and enjoying the journey but once the GPS speaks I become anxious and worry I might make a mistake and get on the wrong road. I don’t remember that being the case when I followed a paper map.

Why should it be that technology designed to improve the quality of life adds more stress than it relieves? It is the realization that the common, familiar practices are something we do not fear because we have already mastered then.  Any change, however, introduces uncertainty and demands a higher order of awareness and decision making.

As I look at what we use technology for today I see that it is the job of automation to take the tedium out of our daily tasks. Leaving us, the ones with the most adaptable, creative and effective processor to deal with exceptions. Yet there are many, and many people in IT, who see automation of IT as a job killer. Whereas automation is really a job enhancer: it does the repetitive for us so that we can do the interpretative and exceptional things computers cannot.

So let’s strive to automate everything in IT. We should be the paragons of technology exploitation and show the business world how it should be done! Are you up for it?

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Why are we running the debug code?

Dead weight

As every developer will tell you, when you build the application you can create a debug-version of the app. This has extra code added in that provides ongoing telemetry so that, if the application fails, the developer can see where, why and when the crash occurred.

Before the application is delivered to the users the debug code is removed making the application smaller, faster and it consumes fewer of those precious cpu-cycles.

That is the code debugger. What about the human debugger?

A big chunk of every application is code that will never be executed. This is code that is designed to help the users when they make an error. This code is the validation statements and actions and the compensating code to unwind changes that now cannot be committed.

A customer told me recently that they have to complete a form with six entries, one of which is pre-filled. They have to fill in this form, perhaps, once a month. The data is usually the same each time it is completed. This, to them, was tedious and in need of automation. Processing thousands of forms might seem as though something was being achieved but the real work is in dealing with the exceptions.

So what does this mean for computing?

Here is a the first program I ever wrote. It is in FORTRAN. It calculates the area of triangle using the semi-perimeter method.

      PROGRAM main
     
C     This program calculates the area of a triangle using 
C     the Semi-Perimiter method
C 
C     By Kevin Parker 
C                                                               
C     Area = SQRT( SP (SP - A) * (SP - B) * (SP - C) )
C     SP   = (A + B + C) /2                                                          
   
C     Variable definitions                                                           
      REAL sidea, sideb, sidec, sp, aot
      INTEGER n

C     Get the lengths of the three sides
      WRITE (unit=*, fmt=1001, advance="no")"Enter length of A: "
      READ (unit=*, err=91, fmt=1002) sidea
      WRITE (unit=*, fmt=1001, advance="no")"Enter length of B: "
      READ (unit=*, err=92, fmt=1002) sideb 
      WRITE (unit=*, fmt=1001, advance="no")"Enter length of C: "
      READ (unit=*, err=93, fmt=1002) sidec

C     Validate the data  
      IF (ABS(0.0 - sidea) < 0.000001) THEN
        PRINT *, 'Invalid triangle: length of side A is zero'
        STOP
      END IF

      IF (ABS(0.0 - sideb) < 0.000001) THEN
        PRINT *, 'Invalid triangle: length of side B is zero'
        STOP
      END IF
  
      IF (ABS(0.0 - sidec) < 0.000001) THEN
        PRINT *, 'Invalid triangle: length of side C is zero'
        STOP
      END IF

      IF (sidea < 0) THEN
        PRINT *, 'Invalid triangle: length of side A is negative'
        STOP
      END IF

      IF (sideb < 0) THEN
        PRINT *, 'Invalid triangle: length of side B is negative'
        STOP
      END IF

      IF (sidec < 0) THEN
        PRINT *, 'Invalid triangle: length of side C is negative'
        STOP
      END IF

      IF (sidea > sideb + sidec) THEN
        PRINT *, 'Invalid triangle: A is > than lengths of B + C'
        STOP
      END IF

      IF (sideb > sidec + sidea) THEN
        PRINT *, 'Invalid triangle: B is > than lengths of C + A'
        STOP
      END IF

      IF (sidec > sidea + sideb) THEN
        PRINT *, 'Invalid triangle: C is > than lengths of A + B'
        STOP
      END IF

C     Calculate the area
      sp = (sidea + sideb + sidec) / 2.0
      aot = (sp * (sp - sidea) * (sp - sideb) * (sp - sidec)) ** 0.5

C     And the result is
      WRITE (unit=*,fmt=1003) "Area of triangle ", sidea, ", ", sideb, 
     & ", ", sidec, " is ", aot

      STOP

91    PRINT *, 'Invalid data entered for side A'
      STOP
92    PRINT *, 'Invalid data entered for side B'
      STOP
93    PRINT *, 'Invalid data entered for side C'
      STOP
  
1001  FORMAT(a)
1002  FORMAT(f6.2)
1003  FORMAT(a,f6.3,a,f6.3,a,f6.3,a,f8.3)
1004  FORMAT(a,f9.6,a)
1005  FORMAT(a,i8,a)

      END PROGRAM main

Notice how much of the code is in red? All that code is code that, in the normal course of events, will never be executed. Once the user knows how to use the application they don’t make data entry errors so why validate the data.

In fact in this simple application the extra code increases the executable size by 10% and the run time by 40%. And the cpu cycles consumed to run are also increased by 40%.

Imagine telling your boss you can save 40% of the cpu cycles on your processors. And what if everything ran 40% faster. How much would that improve the user’s satisfaction with the system?

So am I advocating ripping out the validation code? No, not really. What I am proposing is that we might design the application such that it detects the user and determines if the user is an advanced one or a novice. If the user is an expert skip all the validation, if they’re a novice test everything until they become an expert.

Just a thought.

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