Open Source and Russell’s Paradox – A New Commons?

Jesus Villasante, a senior official at the European Union Commission in charge of Software Technologies in a spontaneous panel discussion on open source decided to shine a light on the lack of coordination, the influence of commercial interests, and the inability to evolve beyond current corporate paradigms. “Companies are using the potential of communities as subcontractors–the open-source community today (is a) subcontractor of American multinationals.” Mr. Villasante is completely correct in his analysis, although I doubt he will find many who will agree in either the corporate camp or in the open source camps.

Well, I do have extensive experience in this area. I co-pioneered the first Berkeley open source operating system using our own personal resources and with the support of the editor and staff of one of the most popular American technical magazines at the time – Dr. Dobbs Journal. Along with doing a complete novel port to the X86 architecture and new architectural design, we documented the porting process, kernel and architecture. We did not believe that simply reading the source was sufficient to understanding, and it required extensive documentation and open design review to provide releases that were reliable enough for researchers (much less consumers). This was the Berkeley way, and we cleaved to it with the support of the technical press.

Even with many releases, there was extensive documentation and careful attention to design trade-offs and discussion – for example, “Is it better to commit time to a patch if the Berkeley architectural goals from 1982 from Dennis Ritchie intended a new subsystem?” and “Are artifacts such as brk() wise in perpetuating so that some legacy programs can be run while impeding evolution in modularity?”. We addressed these and many other issues.

However, what we found is that various interests in the open source and business communities did not wish any new paradigms or evolution of the operating system if it required any changes to legacy applications (some suspiciously acquired). And this was the beginnings of a lot a bad blood in the Unix community.

Roomba, We’ve Waited for You All Our Lives

CNN has a delightful profile of Helen Greiner, Roboticist and Roomba inventor that is a must-read for young women in technology. “I think in the old days, robots had a perception of being kind of scary, and more science fiction than science fact. These robots are on a mission, and so are we: to bring robots into the mainstream. … We can make robots do a better job than humans in some cases.”

An admirer as an 11 year old girl of R2D2 in Star Wars, her latest consumer product (IRobot also has substantial military applications, but that’s not “consumer”) is the Roomba robotic vacuum. Imagine never having to tote around a vacuum again. The little Roomba scouts around the room, scooping up the dust and dirt, so you never have to. It’s not surprising that has sold over 1 million in two years. I’ve watched the little critter skitter around at Frys.

Fun Friday: Buckets of Bandwidth, SciFi High, and Silly Searches

First of all, my favorite search of the week from Google (search terms: NS32000 data sheet):
Jolitz Heritage – [ Diese Seite übersetzen ]
… Based on the NS32000 microprocessor, it was a portable no wait state …
In its latest incarnation, its on a huge fork mount made of sheet metal. … – 177k – Im Cache – Ähnliche Seiten

Wow, those first processors sure were huge!

Second, courtesy of Tom Foremski of SiliconValleyWatcher, Verizon is introducing a new service with real bandwidth:
5 Mbps down /2 Mbps up = $39
15 Mbps down /2 Mbps up = $49
30 Mbps down /5 Mbps up = $199

Sure beats the 128kbps that most SBC DSL users get stuck with. Of course, is it available in the heart of Silicon Valley, the land of innovation? Of course not. But Tom hasn’t given up hope: “I’m still trying to figure out how to use my friend as my new ISP. He’s in a canyon about 10 miles from me, so wireless won’t work. Maybe he’ll let me put my servers in his tool shed…”

Finally, Edward Rothstein of the NYTimes wrote a very thorough article on the new Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle. It even includes a display of robots from various science-fiction movies and television shows like “Lost in Space” and “Star Wars”. So if you couldn’t get all the robots in Bots (see Fun Friday: How Many Robots Can You Name?), visit the museum that Paul Allen’s money built – I’m sure you’ll spot a few familiar faces.

The Robots of Silicon Valley

There’s been such a nice response to the Bots video by Ben Jolitz and Rebecca Jolitz (see Fun Friday: How Many Robots Can You Name?). Some folks just like watching a little movie about robots made by two kids who love them. Others saw it as just one of the ways GenY’s can actualize their interests in an increasingly anti-science and anti-creative world. And finally, most folks recognized some robot or toy from their childhood or profession – we had a lot of NASA viewers who loved the “Mars with retractable lever arm” scene (hint why funny – did the little Mars rover have a lever arm?).

So in rereading East Coast, West Coast: Where Will We See the Future of “Robot Valley by Dr. Pete Markiewicz, where he argues (correctly) that a Hollywood styled “Matrix” is misleading to real robotics work, which relies on realtime systems programming and operation, I found his east coast argument well-honed, but missing the “big picture”, in both realtime design (and yes, we have a bit of that experience over the years) and current media trends.

Fortunately, realtime programming, board design, and minimalism in operating systems is still alive and kicking. Ben Jolitz is currently on the robotics team at his local high school, is knowledgeable in programming and systems, and has participated in a number of competitions. His younger sister Rebecca Jolitz has become accomplished in media production, and also has a serious science and astronomy interest. Finally, they both avail themselves of talks and information that abound here in Silicon Valley and from NASA. There are tremendous resources available to those who ask.

Pioneers are always few. Believe me – I know, given my involvement in doing the first open source Berkeley Unix operating system for the masses. When we started out at Berkeley so many years ago working on an X86 version *no one* believed in Unix except as an expensive customized solution, especially Intel. It is very different nowadays, isn’t it?

The fascination with massive multiplayer gaming and the Internet with the masses today stems from it becoming a mature market – it is no longer an emerging one. So look to the GenY’s of tomorrow – the ones who go to the talks and enter science fairs and even (yes, even) create stories and movies about robots as they dream of tomorrow. Like rare roses in a field of weeds, you might find them hard to spot, but they are definitely there. You just have to look harder, and believe.

You Can’t Con all of the Icons All of the Time

Bravo to Alan Deutschman of Fast Company on his Icon book review. According to Alan, since Jobs won’t cooperate with any biographer after Michael Moritz’s successful book “The Little Kingdom” in the 1980’s, “Jobs’ freeze-out gives two options to would-be biographers: Either they can succeed at a bit of investigative reporting, or they can plunder the work of those who have. Unfortunately, the authors of “iCon” are guilty mostly of the latter.” He then proceeds to rip the book apart, finding rehashes of his and Moritz’s work. “I felt disturbed reading the brief prologue of “iCon,” with its play-by- play of the crazed reaction of the crowd at the January 2000 Macworld convention when Jobs announced he was taking the title of CEO — the same scene I used in my similarly brief prologue to “Second Coming.” Then I relaxed while the next 135 pages were basically a condensed version of Young’s earlier bio (which drew much of its best material from Moritz’s “Little Kingdom”). Then, on Page 138, it began to seem as if Young had reached the end of his previous book — and had begun to condense my book.”

There is nothing more annoying than doing the hard work in original reporting / research, only to find someone rips it out of your book without even giving credit, or worse yet, distorts what you wrote so that it is completely wrong. I know – I had the same thing happen to me. I co-wrote a kernel design book, Operating System Source Code Secrets Volume 1: The Basic Kernel (see Jolix for more information) describing the design, implementation and internals of and incorporating original work. No one else had ever done this work before in any operating system – we had done the long series of technical articles in Dr. Dobbs Journal on which some of it was based, plus years out of Berkeley with the majority of work. The book was released in 1996 to good reviews, but it was about BSD of course, and focussed entirely on evolving that architecture.

The Last Man Standing

Tom Foremski of SiliconValleyWatcher spoke with Alex Gove and Steve Eskenazi of WaldenVC in San Francisco about media investments. According to Tom “I’ve often discussed how best to fund development of new media technologies – and I’ve said that I believe many new companies will use private funding, rather than venture capital.” Perhaps one of the reasons is that most VC firms aren’t up-to-snuff on the emerging digital Internet.

Tom believes that WaldenVC is on the ball here – “I was delighted to find that these guys “get” this whole thing I’m calling media technologies.” They’ve made ten quiet investments so far, apparently focussing on advertising / marketing – “Most of these companies are run by ad/marketing people and they need help growing the company” according to Steve.

Ads are one important revenue growth area for the Internet, but advertising and marketing mechanisms are followers, not leaders. It still remains to see who’s going to shape the real digital media Internet. Taking bets right now, but better put your wagers in soon.

Fun Friday: How Many Robots Can You Name?

Have you ever wondered how all those great filmmakers like George Lucas became “great”? By taking a camera and making a movie, like George did with THX-1138 (which was a USC student film project later expanded into a full film BTW).

So, what do you do with the kids around the house. How about giving them a digital camera (640×480 30fps preferred if you want DVDs) for a film festival. That’s just what Ben Jolitz and Rebecca Jolitz did this spring, and their result is Bots: An exhausted teenager on the high school robotics team dreams of robots, But he’s late for school! Will his sister get him up on time? A comedic homage to robots past and present. Near DVD format.

Done entirely using a Canon SD200 camera, their own scripting, acting, prop and effects skills, and using a beta of the ExecProducer FilmPro production storyboard, they assembled a complete movie in DVD high quality, Internet mp4, and flash over their Spring Break, ready for a film festival.

So I invite everyone to view Bots. And see if you can name all the robots we grew up with and loved.

“Well, We Can Save the Foot, but We Need to Cut Off Your Hand First”

One of the most cynical of scurrilous management tricks is to cut a major project that works so you can have their budget, be caught with your hand in the cookie jar by the public or journalists or favored customers such that you “have to give it back”, but then turn around and make them pay for your well-deserved embarrassment by knifing some other favorite project. Politicians know this one cold – the old “we’ve got to cut [Name of worthy project that everyone loves] to save [Name of another worthy project that everyone loves]” – conveniently forgetting there are a lot of “Stupid projects no one loves except my patron/master/boss” that could and should be cut. As noted political commentator Daffy Duck says “That’s despicable”!

Latest in the “Cut off your hand to save your foot because you didn’t let me cut off your foot in the first place” prize goes to NASA for targeting other missions to pay for Hubble, which they should have had budgeted to begin with. According to Tony Reichhardt in Nature, “Last week, NASA turned in a revised budget plan to Congress that includes cuts and delays to several programmes, including the roving Mars Science Laboratory and searches for planets like Earth. The proposed cuts would also lead to belt-tightening in the Hubble project itself, where grants for guest observers would be reduced by an average of 13%.”

You Never Know Who’s Watching You

Declan McCullagh of Cnet posted an item last week about Maureen O’Gara and Groklaw which spilled over into the bizarre world of open source paranoia. According to McCullagh, “Maureen O’Gara, a freelance writer who pens the weekly LinuxGram, alleged that Groklaw blog author Pamela Jones is a ’61-year-old Jehovah’s Witness with religious tracts in her backseat.’ O’Gara said she personally visited what appeared to be Jones’ apartment and Jones’ mother’s home in the New York City area.”

While that is mildly amusing, it’s not really surprising. The net allows people to assume, let’s call them “avatars”, that mask the real person with all their consequent flaws and frailties. But anonymity isn’t a Constitutional right, especially when you take center stage in a legal battle, as Groklaw has done. In fact, why be anonymous at all? Since Ms. Jones has lots of supporters who like her work, what’s the problem?

Fun Friday: Just Singing Those Conference Paper Registration Consternation Blues

OK, so we put together a very nice neat academic paper “Beyond Network Processors: Using Dataflow Architecture for Low-Power Low Latency TCP Processing” for a conference. A really fun paper to write and to read. So fun I’d rather place it in a journal, get paid, and get compliments from real readers than send it to a stodgy corporate fest (although a few conferences like ACE are real cool). But when you got to do it, you do it.

But you know how these things go – you submit a lot of work, get comments back of the variety of “you caaant spell” and “your such a bad writer” variety, get gonged by a “secret” competitor on the review panel that you all know is lurking there in the shadows, complain, resubmit, and so forth. After about a gazillion times (during which I’ve written more articles, books and papers than the entire committee together), you get an acceptance dependent on paying for your registration. Well, if the company pays, it’s OK with me.

But sometimes I just think these conferences are just too amateur to be tolerated, especially with respect to their deadlines and requirements. The one thing you’d be serious about is a deadline, right? Nope, maybe not…