Wednesday, September 30, 2009

google wave

bbc article about google wave says "how e-mail would look if it were invented today" - actually it looks how Lotus Notes looked about 20 years ago.

what a lot of people using cr**ppy internet email today don't realize is that early systems for collaboration (Notes, but even Microsoft Exchange) started from a model of sharing documents and sharing editing of documents, and included facilities for managing groups, instant comment/annotation, privacy controls, and multimedia, and predate most of the internet wave of stuff - its amusing that google can rely on the lack of colective memory of the past, and claim they are inventing the future, when really all they've done is re-package an old old old idea (vanevar bush, rip, c.f.)

indeed, the backend for early systems like notes was a database, which meant search/index was optimised already so its even closer to google than you think...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

foundational computer science research "at risk"

we had a visit from the EPSRC's ICT team last week - for those people who don't know, ICT is Information and Communications Technology, wherein CS (including theory and systems and HCI and all the rest) is lumped alongside radio and optical and other low level engineering things, and is a term favoured by eurocrats who don't see why silos are bad, and incorrectly labelled silos are even worse.

Anyhow during the conversation between computer lab academics and EPSRC it was fairly clear that they didn't think it was important that the top ranked computer science department in the UK (and equal top ranked deparment in cambridge, the top ranked university in europe) currently had no EPSRC (i.e. UK government basic research) funding for its theory faculty.

Someone in the EPSRC is either asleep at the wheel, or else they have become slaves to the blairite mantras of industrial relevance. what they don't seem to get is that if the EPSRC only funds short term "industrial relevant" work, why would we need the EPSRC? we could go to the EU.

What is depressing about their taking the moral low-ground like this is that we wil lstart to go to the European Research Council (ERC) to get money first (i.e. the better places will try that) and this wil lstart a vicious cycle of driving EPSRC funded projects ever more short term, making my projection ever more likely...

the rot must be stopped...

Friday, September 25, 2009

new job title for programmers..

I think we should call them
software artistes
and systems analysts could become
computational magicians

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

patents, monopolies and innovation

I'm just reading Heroes of Invention: Technology, Liberalism and British Identity, 1750-1914, by Christine McLeod (CUP), and was thinking about
why we have patents and market failures

[aside: this was because I attended an excellent workshiop run by the
Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Lawin Cambridge earlier in the week, where we were discussing the nature of the invetor, the invention and the inventive step. ]

The market is supposed to deliver the best for consumer and producer (Adam Smith etc)
but it requires efficient (information rich) competition, Market failures are usually indicated by monopoly behaviour (price hiking) which can include cartels.
Markets are claimed to be good for social welfare...
Innovation is supposed to be protected by patents, and a large patent count is supposed to indicate innovation is happening.
Innovation is supposed to be good for social welfare..

What is happening these days (and was happening in the 1600-1700 period) was a lot of patents and a lot of monopolies or near monopolies. In the 17th century, this was regarded very badly and parliament put big changes in, what is happening is big companies are smarter - by analogy with high functioning autistics, who can emulate empathy by running a purely cognitive model of how they should feel, rather than actually feeling it, large companies run a "model" of how a competing company in a market should behave (as close to the line as they can get away with, occasionally overstepping it) - the idea is exemplified by Cisco, whose CEO has allegedly said that they always want to own the middle 50% of the market - i.e. neither be an innovator, nor truly work in the purely marginal business (bottom feeding?) of cheap and cheerful devices - similar observations could probably be made of microsoft and intel - they
tolerate the existence of low end and very high end, but only when its a small part of the market -
they use this to price as high as possible without appearing to have market failure.

they engage in generating as many patents as possible, as close to the line of
obviousness or inaaplicability as can be allowed, to give the appearance of being innovative without the reality.

this also puts a chill on innovation.

innovation often happens in computing related areas in government sponsored labs (same is often true in bio-medical in fact) and then is "absorbed" magically into these large organisations....typically by hiring of PhDs -

what universities should do is charge a LARGE finders fee for PhDs placed in companies.
what patent offices should do is have a revocation on patents that are not exploited with a VERY large revocation fee. the revocation interval should be set according to aggressive norms of the sector. revoked patents are put in the public domain.

Where do you want your Go To to go to, today, sir?

maybe, we should ask what happened to the "Come From" idea? is this google?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

why is #storm >> #planetlab

so if I wanted to develop an internet scale ap, why wouldn't I buy time on storm instead of Amazon EC2 or planetlab? eh? eh?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

cloud idea for future privacy architecture work

two areas (not unrelated) people want to do better security (both privacy and access control) are
1. social networks
2. cloud computing

I'm going to ignore the (hard) problem of traffic analysis and full on pseudanonymity for this blog for now...

since social nets run (mainly) in the clode, lets see if we can use 1 hammer for both rusty nails:

traditionally, we'd like to have a full subject/object matrix of capabilities - in general, for cntrolling who can see/use/alter what, for n objects, with k attributes and z access styles, we could end up with z*k*n^2 entries.
This doesn't scale for computers, and it doesn't scale for people.

In reality, many systems reduce the problem by two means
a) hierarchy (or multiple hierarchies with domain specific roots) reducing the space to k*z*ln(n) - think unix file systems and r/w/x
b) groups. n.b. with enough groups, you can do the entire s/o matrix of course, but that kind of defeats the purpose (which is simplification by aggregation)....think unix file systems and sudo and r/w/x for u/g/o, and then add newgrp etc etc

People do this sort of thing manually in their online existence by having multiple social net accounts and managing their friend lists differently on each one.

The problem (something Boris Dragovic did his phd on here a few years back) is that a hierarchy doesn't always capture what you want, but an ad hoc collection of exceptions
breaks things and makes things hard to remember for poor old humans again

so lets introduce two new things
1. Dunbar's work on social groups and layers of trust
2. games and BAR-T

In 1, we have a way to express trust relations which auto-magically gives us groups - the layers of trust in a social network are known to decrease as you move out from kinship, through friendship, through colelagues, then acquaintences. But, its dynamic, jim, and not necessarily, dynamic as we know it....
In 2, we have behaviours that are trustworthy (altruism, rational, byzantine) and measureabl, and can be attested to by witnesses....

SO we can build a system that creates defaults and learns and relearns the right settings in the (number of) hierarchy(s), and number of groups and access rights for each layer of the onion, both socially and technically.

We can also incorporate downgrading (or your reputation,creditworthiness, or access rights) forgetting (or un-friending) in the same architecure -

activity keeps friendships alive and rational or altruistic acivity keeps a cloud access right alive at some level.

Now we need a data structure that is an efficient representation of a tree but within a sparse representation of a (easy to update) matrix...that should be easy...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

s/w update process heading for 100% duty cycles

so every time I go away for more than 1 day, i live in fear of coming home or back to my office -no, its not the mountain of email (or spam) - I have the tools for that

its the s/w update on windows, linux, mac (and ditto smart phones) that is queued up waiting to install (and ask me to agree to terms I already agreed to 11 zillion times before for iTunes or Mac Office or foobarbaz antivirus)...

but also it's how **** slow the whole system goes (and there are lots of systems) and how unresponsive it is till all the stuff is done and dusted.....note this is not an anttimicrosoft rant - its just as bad on a Mac and not much better on linux boxen...

there really ought to be a better way (pre-click EULAs and then trickle the updates in is ok, but its not very green or even safe as I have to leave a zillion boxes on in my house - there should be a "sort merge " on the update (I know service packs do this, but perhaps not in enough permutations)...

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Post docs in Cambridge - could be a whole lotta fun

Horizon Project at Cambridge Computer lab is lookin for 2 researchers (fairly experienced/senior) - it's 5 year
mission, to boldly explore new pervasive computing universes and make them commercially relevant...

this could be a lot of fun...please pass it along!