The internet is us

February 6th, 2007

Great video visualization of the evolution of the web:

via as usual…

Taking ownership of information highways

February 4th, 2007

Bob Frankston continues his exploration of alternative information infrastructure ownership. He wonders, with the media (copper wires, fiber optics and radio waves) essentially commodity, what do we get from services providers that we cannot more efficiently provide for ourselves? With absurdly high communications bills of late, I can’t help but agree that there is a more cost effective model:

The idea is very simple. Our connectivity infrastructure is made up of Copper, Fiber and Radios and is a fixed asset that requires a small amount of maintenance. In the days of telegraphy and telephony it was deployed as a means of selling services.

Today the Internet and the networks in our homes make it clear that given the CFR we can do our own networking. Yet we fund the CFR by letting the incumbent service providers maintain their privileged ownership.

Funding the infrastructure by selling services makes no more sense that having men with pikes charging for use of their personal highways.

Issues like network neutrality are symptoms of far deeper problems with this model.

Continued here.


February 2nd, 2007

Very Minority Report (the movie that is). Apparently this amazing touch screen technology will soon be in mass production. I don’t know if that means it will really be affordable to most of us but I have no doubt it will be integrated into Smartboard-like devices and other presentation environments. Also potentially interesting for analysts where data visualization is an important tool to understand and explore relationships (see Intelligence 2.0).

Video is Jeff Han presenting at TED.

The web as a pidgin internet language

January 28th, 2007

or “How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet”

A disproportionate amount of brilliant stuff was written by Douglas Adams, who in 1999 had this to say about the internet:

the biggest problem is that we are still the first generation of users, and for all that we may have invented the net, we still don’t really get it. In ‘The Language Instinct’, Stephen Pinker explains the generational difference between pidgin and creole languages. A pidgin language is what you get when you put together a bunch of people – typically slaves – who have already grown up with their own language but don’t know each others’. They manage to cobble together a rough and ready lingo made up of bits of each. It lets them get on with things, but has almost no grammatical structure at all.

However, the first generation of children born to the community takes these fractured lumps of language and transforms them into something new, with a rich and organic grammar and vocabulary, which is what we call a Creole. Grammar is just a natural function of children’s brains, and they apply it to whatever they find.

The entire article is a great read, along with most of what he wrote in his lifetime.

A dark matter: structure of the universe influenced by dark forces?

January 19th, 2007

The indispensable New Scientist reports that

the distribution of dark matter has been mapped in 3D for the first time, revealing how the mysterious substance has evolved over the lifetime of the universe. The results confirm that dark matter provided the scaffolding that allowed ordinary matter to clump together to form galaxies and clusters of galaxies.

They provide this interesting visualization: an evolution of the distribution of dark matter over time. It shows that the dark matter is, similar to other matter, getting “clumpier” over time:

3D visualization of dark matter

An impressive video showing a 3D visualization of the distribution of dark matter over time is available in hi-res on the European information page for the Hubble Telescope: here. You can view it quickly below.

New Scientist also reports:

The behaviour of the Bullet cluster – the poster-child for the existence of dark matter – is provoking some cosmologists to propose that there might be a fifth fundamental force.

This hypothesis is based on preliminary calculations that a cluster of normal matter is accelerated by the presence of dark matter 20 percent more than expected based on the normal force of gravity. Skeptics abound and Occam’s razor is likely to prevail.

Internet Black Holes

January 14th, 2007

Reporters sans frontiers rally against “internet black holes” – sectors of the internet where liberty is severely restricted:

Internet black holes

This map is a tad simplistic, being more about black and white than shades of grey – and its the shades of grey that I think are particularly nefarious. That said, its a great start, it would be useful to be able to report infringements of internet freedoms I wonder who is doing the best job of tracking this sort of thing.

Via Information Aesthetics

Infreemational news for the new year

January 8th, 2007

More signs that the music industry is realizing just how bad DRM is for business and experimenting with distributing music without digital rights controls:

“The majors . . . have got to capitulate, or they will continue to have a fractured digital media market that will slow down and stagnate,” says Terry McBride, president of Nettwerk Music Group, management home of such acts as Sarah McLachlan and Avril Lavigne.

In the Canada file, Michael Geist writes for the Toronto Star reflecting on the Time person of the year – “you” – and the implications of internet culture for the future of Canadian society:

… the role of government will be to support the enormous economic and cultural potential of user-generated content, while avoiding steps that might impede its growth. It can do so by focusing on the three “C’s” – connectivity, content and copyright.

Joseph Stiglitz proposes stimulating innovation by offering medical research prizes instead of incenting intellectual property land grabs by private industry, which leads to enormous costs for society:

Research needs money, but the current system results in limited funds being spent in the wrong way. For instance, the human genome project decoded the human genome within the target timeframe, but a few scientists managed to beat the project so they could patent genes related to breast cancer. The social value of gaining this knowledge slightly earlier was small, but the cost was enormous. Consequently the cost of testing for breast cancer vulnerability genes is high.

Second life, the widely discussed online virtual world takes a bold move towards providing the platform for the “metaverse” by releasing its code as open source:

A lot of the Second Life development work currently in progress is focused on building the Second Life Grid — a vision of a globally interconnected grid with clients and servers published and managed by different groups.

On the whole, a very interesting new year!

Going Down the Tubes: The Illegal-ization of Culture

January 3rd, 2007

We’ve all heard the platitude before: today’s culture is going down the tubes. In recent history, major conduits for cultural influence have been “talking machines” (radio) and “boob tubes” (TV). More recently we have the rapid increase in influence of the internet (also composed of “tubes” if you listen to Senator Ted Stevens). Most of us who use the ‘net feel intuitively that something special and new is going on, due in part to its bidirectional, “read-write” nature and in part to the freedoms of its architecture compared with television and radio broadcasting. The internet makes it possible to “rip mix and burn,” something Larry Lessig of Creative Commons fame sees as a key aspect of the “democratization of culture.” The problem we arrive at is that back in the pre-internet day of mix tapes, big business couldn’t monitor the extent of “re-mixing” but in the age of Napster and MySpace today’s teenagers and aspiring artists can be a monitored and targeted by richly funded corporate copyright lawyers.

In the ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT presentation below, Larry Lessig summarizes how our culture is at risk to the increasingly draconian restrictions of intellectual property law, particularly the more recent interpretations of copyright in the USA, and its impact on creativity and expression. Make time to watch at least the first 15-25 minutes, the entire presentation is just under 50 minutes long.

Few things are as important to social democratization as what Larry Lessig has to say in this presentation. His discussion of John Phillip Souza is particularly poignant. Quoted from Wikipedia:

“Souza held a very low opinion of the emerging and upstart recording industry. In a submission to a congressional hearing in 1906, he argued that:

These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country. When I was a boy…in front of every house in the summer evenings, you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or old songs. Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day. We will not have a vocal cord left. The vocal cord will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape. “

There is a fair consensus that JPS was essentially right about the effect of the centralization of media production on local production. This situation seems to be turning around with the internet being less of a “talking machine” and more like a walkie-talkie, with its “long-tail” opportunities contributing to the potential for a renaissance of culture, assuming that the internet remains a neutral and bidirectional transport. This is already not the case with most ISP connections optimized for the downloading but not the uploading of content. But I digress. Watch the video, it will be time well spent.

For an interesting opinion that revolution, not evolution is required to reform the intellectual property system, scroll to John Perry Barlow‘s commentary at 1:08:12 and an excellent response from Lessig.

Amazing picture of Saturn and the Earth

December 29th, 2006

This is a stunning picture assembled from photographic data from the Cassini space mission to Saturn and Titan. What is truly remarkable is that the Earth is (barely) visible through the rings (a little Where’s Waldo challenge for you) in this photo.

Saturn backlit by the sun with the Earth barely visible

This picture was voted the best astronomy picture of 2006 here which also shows a closeup of the Earth through the rings of Saturn, just “in case” you couldn’t find it above.

In case you’re looking for a desktop background, the hi resolution source images are here.

Mathematical map of the internet

December 29th, 2006

Cool visualization of internet IP address allocation. The US department of defense has a pretty healthy chunk, as do a number of corporations.
Mathematical map of the internet