Utterances of a Zimboe

Programming the Internet.

Archive for the ‘Future’ Category

Earth, wind, fire, .. and .. uh, what was it…

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Bwah, I was really spoiled by my readings while I was traveling from Helsinki to Rovaniemi by train last night. At first I finished reading Hackers & Painters by Paul Graham, which was simply the best non-technical book about programming I’ve ever read. (For some of the others, you can check my LibraryThing.) It also got me considering using Lisp in an embedded system project. (Other strong candidate is OCaml—I’m having this hybrid season now—but the selection is a whole other blog post…)

And right after Hackers & Painters I started reading this short story collection Hackers. Oh boy, what a nice combination. I can definitely recommend if you’re really serious about software. (People without experience on functional languages don’t need to bother; trust me, I’ve been there. It’s a whole other realm on the other side.1)

And why was this so spectacular? While reading Painters, I came to realize that the more fundamental aspect of hacking may actually be the current (or becoming) leading edge in natural sciences. For example, there has already been heated discussion if information can escape black holes; scientists are starting to use information to represent physical phenomena. (Just mentioning here so that you can believe the facts instead of me. By the way, as a tip for youngsters, I’d be a little hesitant on choosing physics over compsci just because one has so much experience on computers already.) Furthermore, the more philosophical aspects of information theory may be the “leading” topic in metaphysics as well.

What I’m trying to say is that hacking is not just about programming computers, but it’s actually about the (current) most fundamental aspects of reality. Becoming the most “serious” of the “serious” sciences. (Compsci has traditionally been considered an order of magnitude less serious than math or physics, and universities adopting Java hasn’t really helped in this regard… ;)

This quote by Dijkstra is one of my all time favorites:

Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.

But we are still in the early days of comprehending and applying information. Do we have any good reason for not considering information (currently just merely 1 and 0) as the current water-fire-earth?

Just for the sake of context, lets remind here that in “ancient greece” the basic elements of nature were water, fire, and earth. At some point along came gravity and ether. In last century the hot topics were related to structure of matter and Theory of everything.

It would be interesting to know what are the “atoms” of information, but I’m not holding my breath here — getting from water et co. to atoms took quite a while, if measured in human lifetimes. (And we still don’t know shit about gravity.) Qubits may shed some light to this in the near future.

In any case, I’m pretty sure it’ll be interesting to try to master information. A purposeful goal for a lifetime or even few, I suppose.

All classes fear this relentless abstraction of the world, on which their fortunes yet depend. All classes but one: the hacker class. We are the hackers of abstraction. We produce new concepts, new perceptions, new sensations, hacked out of raw data.

— in A Hacker Manifesto, second paragraph

I’ve always been intrigued by sharp edges — it’s merely fascinating to get little cuts to your fingers every now and then. And what’s a more fundamental cutting edge than one that’s shared in philosophy as well.

ps. I just found out that in emacs you can duplicate line with shift-up/down. Neat. (And, in addition to the readily provided shift-left/right character transpose, I’ve had line and word transposes for a while as well. Recommend.)

pps. I’m quite confident that there’s a quite straightforward religious aspect in this philosophy as well… haha, the languages, naturally! Where Lisp is the One True God and pg is the head preacher. ;) (But, seriously. Programming languages are the tools for molding information. (And Lisp is the most abstract.))

1) Imperative programming is about abstracting computers, functional about abstracting information. The longer you deny it, the more you’ll regret.
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Written by Janne Savukoski

July 9, 2008 at 1:19 pm

Posted in Future, Programming

Social features

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Whoa, couldn’t’ve even dreamt to see something like this yet:

For instance, if you land on a Business Week article about IBM, the site will then look at your LinkedIn profile (assuming you’ve given it permission to do so) and highlight the people you know at IBM.

in The New LinkedIn Platform Shows Facebook How It’s Done.

That goes very much to the direction I super-briefly outlined before, even though these ‘features’ are only scratching the surface of the whole (dynamic! real-time?) SNS system.

And LinkedIn was thought to be dead already… Will 2008 bring pervasive social networks? And how will it mash with micro-stuff? The micro-ness is absolutely one of my favourite predictions. Exciting times ahead, hopefully also business/technology-wise (as in speaking of our little startup..)

Written by Janne Savukoski

December 29, 2007 at 9:54 pm

Posted in Future, Internet

Volatile (ie., highly dynamic) supergraphs

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Update: Chris Messina had similar thoughts a month earlier:

In fact, it’s no longer even in your best interest to store data about people long term because, in fact, the data ages so rapidly that it’s next to useless to try to keep up with it. Instead, it’s about looking across the data that someone makes transactionally available to you (for a split second) and offering up the best service given what you’ve observed when similar fingerprint-profiles have come to your system in the past.

Now back to my contribution…

Now that everyone’s frenzying over the gruffalo, I guess it’s as good a time as any (at least) to expand my graph post [also] a little. The post isn’t anything notable but it gives some context, if interested.

For the topic’s current initiation, see TBL on Giant Global Graph:

[Internet] made it simpler because of [instead?] having to navigate phone lines from one computer to the next, you could write programs as though the net were just one big cloud, where messages went in at your computer and came out at the destination one. The realization was, “It isn’t the cables, it is the computers which are interesting’.
[…]
The WWW increases the power we have as users again. The realization was “It isn’t the computers, but the documents which are interesting”.
[…]
Now, people are making another mental move. There is realization now, “It’s not the documents, it is the things they are about which are important”.

(See also a nice roundup on ZDNet, Who is afraid of the GGG?)

My views next.

Dynamic graphs

Put it simply, my approach to building a next-gen SNS would be to extends the current feed polling capabilities to the graph aspects as well (social networks etc). For example, I have Facebookimporting’ my Jaiku feed currently, so why FB couldn’t just as well import changes to my Jaiku contact list and apply them to the FB domain?

The underpinning aspect here is that the future services should not try to be exhaustive by themselves, but to present the whole graph from their point of view as well as possible — be that ‘entertainingly’ or whatever is their beef. More generally, services should fetch data all over the web, and decorate it in their own, valuable way. Services would be much more interesting if they combined all the data and not just tried to hold on to that very tiny fragment (eg., the FB account) of my overall graph so fiercely.

This implicates that services would need to adapt to whatever changes in the user’s social graph, and that happens to be exactly what I want at a very personal level — ofcourse, this is also professionally highly intriguing. In practice, it’d be even somewhat trivial; just import the damn changes as you read the feeds. The difference to feed polling here is that it’s not new content per se that is fetched, but changes to existing data. So, services need to delete stuff (relationships etc.) as well. For implementation details, see for example “Dynamic Graph Algorithms” by Eppstein et al., 1999, which appeared among the first google hits (can’t remember for what; try out). (‘Someone’ should probably adopt those to rails so we could get the ball rolling…)

Of course, the most prohibiting problem currently are the walled gardens. (I expected the Open Social to do something about this, but Google failed me.) There are however at least a couple of sites that publish more data, but it’s very little still. And note that the data here comprises is the basic building blocks of the semantic web, but semantic web drafts completely ignore the fluctuating nature of data; which is why I think the semweb is born retarded.

Supergraph instead of a flat global graph

Then there was my notion about ‘supergraphs’ in the title; volatile was just to emphasize the true dynamism — if you don’t store external data, you don’t need to synchronize it. (Keep it simple.) With supergraph I mean that different kinds of graphs should not be bluntly blended but the metadata should be used accordingly. Social networks provide a fine example here, too.

This ‘supergraph’ thing should be very intuitive also: if I ever wanted my LinkedIn contacts to be mapped to Facebook, it’d be extremely nice if the LI contacts were presented in a different style than my Jaiku contacts. And, perhaps, there could be some different tools available for each kind of network — please, no vampire stuff (like, wtf…) for the business contacts, aight?

And, just to note, not all contact networks should be mapped to every service (of course), but that’s a whole another graph story and I’ll leave it for later.

So, this ‘volatile supergraph’ thingy should be rather easy to implement (no hard non-trivialities) if you was a systems designer (and not part of the 80%) and I’d be very excited to have it working. I bet a few googol other zimboes would be as well.

Expect next: dynamic, rich graphs. (Or probably not. But still,) Thanks for listening!

Dynamist artists used the concept as part of a way of representing the complexity of processes, rather than be limited by the discrete and static moments within change, which also illustrated the limits of human perception.

— found in Wikipedia

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Written by Janne Savukoski

November 28, 2007 at 10:55 pm

Posted in Future, Internet

Brief note about ubiquitous communications

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I was just reminded of an ‘old’ thought, which I hadn’t written down anywhere. Nothing too relevant, though…

The reminder was in 10 More Future Web Trends, the prediction about “Integration into everyday devices”. I had played with a thought of applying XMPP to that domain: all those embedded terminals would contain simple XMPP clients and they would publish themselves as my latest communications resource as soon as I’d entered their presence. Thus, all my communications would follow me effortlessly. The terminals could—for example—use known bluetooth device addresses (ie., phones) to authenticate people, I guess it’s signal would be enough short-range for routing communcations somewhat correctly. Though, if I’d have the phone with me all the time what would be the point… But it’d be oh so neat. :)Nabaztag

Also, link-local would offer more lightweight m2m-comms compared to upnp.

Ah, and of course the Nabaztag should support natively use XMPP. That’s so trivial.

Tags: XMPP, Internet, Future

Written by Janne Savukoski

September 26, 2007 at 9:06 pm

Posted in Future, Internet

Phonebook as the social network

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Update 09/06: Aka Aki: Mobile Social Networking “Auf die straße”

“First heard” from Om Malik, at the GigaOM Show ep 3:

When you come to think of it, at the end of the day the only […] social network that really matters, is the […] people in our cell phone.

Nokia phonebookLike, hell yeah. Well, probably even I had heard this concept before, but now was the time for it to finally crystallize in full extent and clarity—and, ah, it’s so dead simple. Once again, so funny how the most obvious things are so hard to spot. It’s amazing how this realization took this long.

Ayo, technology! The only technical issue with the concept is to get your phonebook to the web—for which at least just about all Nokia phones already contain an adequate over-the-air synchronization solution. It’s actually scary how trivial this’d be.

Also, Jaiku is definitely in the prime spot for this; they already pwn your contact list so it’d be trivial for them to bring it to the web (although their technology may currently be limited to Nokia phones.) Albeit, for me Jaiku is still merely a microblogging platform and less of a Facebook, but it’s probably just me once again. (Or, perhaps do some minor brand tweaking in the future?) They must have thought about this a lot as Jyri is a social systems heavyweight.

And if Jaiku’s not willing to head this direction, I’m sure it’d be fun and interesting to build such a system—just ask if you need some technology or extra hands. :)

Btw., also the note about “IM chat list” by Joyce was delightful. Although, I’m sure these lists will soon converge into a single contact book. (Like, d’uh.)

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Written by Janne Savukoski

August 26, 2007 at 1:44 pm

Posted in Future, Internet

XMPP applications

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I just a moment ago managed to bump into this abstract by Flickr and Twitter folks. The description and the slides were very interesting in context of Xernel as it describes—with a somewhat fine accuracy—the case we’re pursuing. We’re tackling the human interaction and a more general systems integration parts of the whole, but the landscape is exactly the same. We’re also sporting a bit broader view on the integration than just the bot-aspect.

Twitter clearly seems to have greater plans for XMPP applications.

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Written by Janne Savukoski

June 16, 2007 at 6:43 pm

Posted in Future, Internet

On path to the underground

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Our local newspaper had an inspiring article (perhaps not that interesting, but inspiring) about PATH of Toronto. PATH itself isn’t anything special as it’s just a collection — the largest — of underground tunnels, but I realized just a moment ago that this might actually be the way we’re going to live in a few decades.

Toronto PATHAs the climate becomes less comfortable for us, all those more or less soothing scifi-visions of people living underground might just become reality in some sense. Not that we’d isolate ourselves complete from the bare sky (the world isn’t all black&white) but there might perhaps go days without being in touch with the outside.

A good friend told a story about how the people in Dubai avoid going outside in summer as it’s just too hot. They travel between the shopping malls in climate controlled cars, thus creating a kind of surface-tunneling system. Expensive and less scalable than an underground solution, but pretty much the same setup ideologically.

Perhaps if Al Gore would’ve been preaching in the sixties, we could have had a different kind of a future, but now it’s probably about time to start mentally adapting to the inevitable. We must of course do whatever in our power to limit our impact on the nature, but people-wise, we only need to think about adaptation. (I don’t have a car, and I pay extra for having electricity produced from non-carbon-emitting energy sources — this is green blogging. :)

So, stop investing in property that isn’t located near (planned) underground passages, and get out while it’s comfortable! :)

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Written by Janne Savukoski

June 2, 2007 at 11:51 am

Posted in Future