Thursday, October 2, 2003

i have a hundred ideas in my head, none of which have gotten out for a little while. i guess that means that i'll just have to take my time, and write what i can, as i am able. no pressure, right? some of the things i have been thinking about are burningman, time travel, teleporting, space elevators, synchronized swimming, new devices and user interfaces, art, jobs, life, death, and onomy labs.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Autumn is coming. Kids are getting ready to go back to school. I fell the seasonal restlessness in my bones. It's time to harvest, time to store, time to take stock, and maybe plant some winter wheat.

And it's time to head off to burningman -- a week in the desert with an experience that I would describe like to a visit to the chiropracter for my mind. I'm looking forward to the heat, the new people to meet, the isolation from my usual tech environment, and the absence of adult supervision.

I'm sure that there will be more to say when I get back.

Tuesday, June 3, 2003

When will IT become just another competency like reading and writing?

Once upon a time it was uncommon to be able to read and write. Those trained were either members of a noble class, servants of a noble class, or members of a religious cult like friars, brothers, monks and priests. Arrival of the printed word encouraged the dissemination of the written word. Reading became much more common.

Last month, the National Research Council (as it calls itself, forgetting for a moment that it's the US National Research Council, not the Bolivian one...) published a report called "Beyond Creativity: Information Technology, Innovation, and Creativity". It is a report that reflects its inception during the high-tech boom. It does not question whether IT will go the way of reading and writing, and just become another competency of the educated. Instead, it holds it out as unique unto itself exempt from pedestrian analysis like productivity.

The world has moved past IT as a destination. The battle for digitization has been won. We're just starting the generations long effort to assimilate it into everyday life. Tracking its absorption will be just like tracking the daily use of dental floss -- interesting to the expert, surely with long-term consequences, but pretty inconsequential right this minute.

Thursday, May 8, 2003

I'm just back from the desert southwest, and have returned to civilized, not-very-wild Silicon Valley. The sky is closer, nature feels further away.

I enjoyed a week of geology, of new sights around every corner. I spent that week with a class of 8th graders on their last big field trip. They're still on the road for another 10 days or so. If it's anything like my week, it will be the trip of a lifetime.

It was great to see the kids evolving in real time. Trying new things, learning to take better care of themselves, pushing their limits, and learning everything from the domestic -- cooking and laundry -- to the geologic, the paleologic, the anthropologic, the social, and the climate.

Lucky.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

I Am

Which tarot card are you?
Nobody believes in technology anymore. At least we don't believe in the same blind faith way that we had come to before March 10, 2001. Back in those days, it was enough to simply imagine that you could put a prefix e or i before any concept, and it would sell.

But the house of cards built by the investment banks and the brokers on the savings of cardiologists and dentists who wanted to get rich quickly has collapsed.

Since we didn't really understand what was happening with digitization, we've changed our tune. We shifted our stance -- no longer a tribe of the faithful, but now, a tribe of doubters. Not a healthy doubt or skepticism, but a blind one.

This blindness and unbelief has not been without its benefits. Through painful loss, we have once again learned that stock analysis from "industry experts" is just another point of view that must be squared against reality. We now know that real work needs to be done in order to be successful. Powerpoint slides cannot tell us about the future.

What does tell us about the future?

Experience, our own life experience.

We need actual experiences to believe -- to get what powerpoint cannot provide. Experiences are the way that we can access our entire being as an interface -- our arms, legs, eyes, ears, gut, and mind.

This is a Catch-22. You need to have components of the future in order to build compelling experiences. These need to come from researchers, as they always have. The research needs to be funded so that innovative researchers are paid and incented. In order to raise funds, you need to convince funders that what you have is valuable. Without powerpoint and faith, what kind of tool can be used to make the case for investment?

We need a new medium. We need to use technology like clay to sculpt new experiences so that we can gain and share a glimpse of the future. We need to learn how to use technology to create evocative knowledge objects. Not just once, but as a new medium.

We're taking a crack at this challenge.

Monday, April 7, 2003

It's April...at last...and back to longer days and daylight savings time. I like the evening part of DST, but not the morning part. I wake up tired, and it takes until noon to catch-up. But it will make for good sailing into the evening, and that's what it's all about, isn't it?

Wednesday, February 5, 2003

There will be a special session at TED in Monterey later this month entitled: "What would you do with a million dollars?" What a great question.

I wonder just how much impact you could have with that, and whether there's enough leverage to actually change anything that could be generated by that amount of money. It's within one order of magnitude of the media reports of Al Queda funding. Clearly if it's carefully applied it's enough to do something.

Today's world is a complex adaptive system (in the sense that it is understood by researchers at the Santa Fe Institute). John Holland says that there are several four basic properties of any CAS: aggregation, nonlinearity, diversity, and flows. Brian Arthur identifies three mechanisms -- tags, internal models, and building blocks

In the Whole Earth Review, Donella Meadows wrote that there are these nine places to intervene in a system (lower numbers have increasing impact):

9. Numbers (subsidies, taxes, standards)
8. Material stocks and flows
7. Regulating negative feedback loops
6. Driving positive feedback loops
5. Information flows
4. The rules of the system (incentives, punishment, constraints)
3. The power of self-organization
2. The goals of the system
1. The mindset or paradigm out of which the goals, rules, feedback structure arise

These are both informative points of view, and in my mind (at least) complement eachother nicely.

So I have two ideas of where to spend $1,000,000.

First, use the funds to lay the foundation for The Open Polytechnic University of Dubai. Dubai is a relatively stable place in the Middle East, with a very large expatriate population. The day labor segment of that expat population come from India, Africa, and the Phillipines. The Open Polytechnic would be an institution to explore the mutual interaction of technology, business, and society. The students would all attend on scholarship. You would qualify if you posess the academic credentials and have a connection to the population (citizen and expat) of the country. The goal would be to export skilled, knowledgable, literate graduates linking the Mid-East with a new network of graduates that understand the forces of globalization. The $1m would be used to plan, lobby the Emir, and to recruit a Nicholas Negroponte type to head the polytechnic and raise the additional funds.

The second idea that I have is to turn the users of pirated software in the developing world into authorized users. I would use the million dollars to: understand the pirate software industry, establish a website to enable downloads of authorized versions of the nex-to-last release of software from as many sources as possible for $1. Give the downloaders fully-featured legitimate copies, and have the companies contact them with offers for upgrades to the current versions. This would be quickly self-sustaining, since I believe that most users around the world would want to have inexpensive but legitimate copies of software. Can you imagine what one billion authorized users would do for the high tech industry?

Just a couple of thoughts.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

The recent death of my friend Rich Gold makes me think about what we want technology to do. Rich worked hard to understand technology, and then make it do exactly what he wanted it to do. He used it mostly to tell stories, and to make the connections he saw visible to the rest of us. Mostly, his innovation was applying technology his way. A way that breathed a spark of life into silicon.

What I miss most about Rich isn't his words, or his cartoons, or his code. What I miss most is his presence. Knowing that he's simply around the corner, working in his office, calling on the phone, sipping a coffee across the table. And almost nothing technology does can create the illusion of his presence.

It's not his content. There's plenty of content that Rich created in his lifetime, from paintings, to cartoons, from electronic music to Little Computer People. The content is comforting. But the way that it's most comforting is that it gives me evidence that he was actually here just last week.

It's not just about better technology, either. We have technology, and if it's deployed (like true broadband wireless, or high-speed symmetrical WAN), it does pretty much what we expect. We are just learning about what we really want to use it for.

Kids swarm to IM. They use the technology to match something core in our beings -- the fact that through 2 million years of our evolution, we lived within earshot of eachother -- and scarf it to fit -- using what we have to recreate tribal presence with constant IM banter and 20 open windows.

Presence is the killer ap.