Thursday, August 31, 2006


Texas A&M #5 in the Nation

Washington Monthly magazine listed Texas A&M University at No. 5 in its annual rankings of the best universities in the United States. The publication considered several variables in its ratings, including
1. research activity and spending
2. doctorates awarded in engineering and the sciences
3. the biggest TV ;)

SCREEN SIZE: 3,954 square feet (seven times larger than previous setup)
PANELS: 154 (total 590,000 pixels)
RIBBON BOARD: 1,130 feet in length

Sunday, August 27, 2006


Google Authentication vs. OpenID

In the last two entries, the usefulness of Edgar Cahn's social operating system analogy was recognized: Money is like a computer program that operates on top of this OS which is composed of family, neighborhood and community. Money is also like a rootkit in that it replaces components of this OS by annexing trust. The evolution of money and its shared dependencies with other code, like religion and law, was described.

Let's consider money and the social operating system. Just like software development, the development of money can be decentralized or centralized. Centralization requires gatekeepers.

Our money became centralized through the Federal Reserve Act of 1913. However, we should not forget that the first attempt at centralization failed. Paul Warburg met Republican Senator Nelson Aldrich in 1908. After failure during the Taft administration, Warburg and friends split the Republican vote in 1912 by funding Roosevelt so that Wilson could win. After the original failure, this power play, by necessity, was executed in secrecy.

Now let's switch to the web. As we know, in a similar way, Microsoft clumsily attempted to centralize identity on the web with Passport. They failed because they didn't realize what Google has. If you build a bunch of compelling applications for people to use and tie all of them to a central authentication service, then people will have accepted your scheme by default. Google is making this power play in secrecy. Shel Israel notes this secrecy in his blog and in a comment to Chris Messina's excellent post:
What really bothers me is that I never see anyone from Google joining these discussions.
At Barcamp Texas, during his talk, Matt Mullenweg, founder of Wordpress, acknowledged the near impossibility of integrating applications because each uses a different authentication system. I asked what he thinks about decentralized identity solutions like OpenID. He said that it seems like there's not enough incentive for players (like Wordpress) to cooperate.

If all the players pursue their own interest, then all of them except one will lose. That one will make the decision for them and will decide how and when applications exchange information.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


DLL Hell

Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century.
Suppose we take Cahn's analogy to its logical conclusion. Computer programs evolve over time. Before the web, new versions of software were packaged and sent to retailers so lengthy testing before release was important. In the mid-90s, it became typical for software to be distributed online. The cost of releasing a fix was drastically reduced, so software cycle times were reduced to be competitive, but releases were still at discrete intervals. The dawn of web applications saw real time patches to code.

Updates to the code running on top of the social operating system occur much less frequently, but they must still adapt to the environment around them. Just like your Windows desktop programs have had to deal with DLL Hell, so do the programs running on the social operating system. However, these programs (e.g. money) are, as Jacques Le Goff might say, deeply rooted and slowly changing.

Sometimes, when code is updated, it breaks other code. For instance, back in the good old Windows 9x days, DLL Hell was when a program upgrade modified a library it shared with another program. The other program would magically stop working.

The same thing can happen when the code to money is updated. Charging interest on loans was slowly added to the code. Unfortunately, this update broke the religion code which excommunicated members of the social operating system who charged interest. The code had already been shipped, so to speak, so, in the 13th Century, the religion code was patched with an innovation called purgatory.

Related: Google and the Eternal Life Fantasy

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Complexity is the Enemy of Social Justice

Edgar Cahn has a fantastic analogy but he could have taken it a lot further. Cahn says we have a social operating system which consists of family, neighborhood and community. It is the non-market economy upon which the market economy depends. National money is a computer program that runs on this operating system like MS Office runs on your Windows system. We notice there are problems with our system so we create other programs in vain efforts to fix the problems.

If you're a hacker, you know the best way to screw a system is to replace components of the operating system. You install a rootkit. National money is acting like a rootkit, replacing functions that used to be performed by the operating system. You can't restore operating system integrity with more programs. In particular, people tend to trust money instead of each other. Trust leaves a community when money leaves it. So, instead of your Windows 98 crashing, your society crashes.

Any security guy worth his salt uses attack trees. The time during which your attack tree does not represent new threats is called a vulnerability window. The whole point of Windows Update is not to add new features to your Windows system but to minimize vulnerability windows. A case could be made that the window has been about 100 years.

The majority of security incidents are caused by unnecessary complexity in code design. How does this work with the social system? Lessig taught us code is law.

Today's example concerns Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention:
Corn, the Army's former legal expert, said that Common Article 3 was, according to its written history, "left deliberately vague because efforts to define it would invariably lead to wrongdoers identifying 'exceptions,' and because the meaning was plain -- treat people like humans and not animals or objects." Eugene R. Fidell, president of the nonprofit National Institute of Military Justice, said that laws governing military conduct are filled with broadly described prohibitions that are nonetheless enforceable, including "dereliction of duty," "maltreatment" and "conduct unbecoming an officer."

Retired Rear Adm. John D. Hutson, the Navy's top uniformed lawyer from 1997 to 2000 and now dean of the Franklin Pierce Law Center, said his view is "don't trust the motives of any lawyer who changes a statutory provision that is short, clear, and to the point and replaces it with something that is much longer, more complicated, and includes exceptions within exceptions."
In Enron's pursuit of profit, computer programs calculated the cost of rewriting regulations to determine which changes would be profitable. These programs were called the Matrix. Perhaps similar ones are suggesting amendments to the War Crimes Act.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006



Some gorgeous pictures of Lebanon in this slide show. It seems the beach shown at the beginning of the show (and 50 more miles along the coast) is now home to 15,000 tons of oil slick. As Carlin says...
That man... men...males have pushed the technology that just about has this planet in a stranglehold. Mother Earth raped again, guess who..."hey she was asking for it."

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