Feeling under the weather so just a few interesting links offered without comment.
Cory at BoingBoing shares this unintentionally quirky video from 1959 that was produced at the behest of Simon Ramo, of TRW. It discusses an idea in which he was presumably interested, if not invested, a mouthful of jargon terms that essentially mean distributed, re-configurable computer components. The collection to which this digitized copy of the film belongs, the Prelinger Archives, is hosted at the Internet Archive.
What is described is nothing less than adding a network between the various components of a big iron mainframe–“distributed control, distributed arithmetics, distributed everything”. There are hints though of the sort of edge of network design with which we are so familiar today. The “switchboard” metaphor in the video also shares the ability to route around problems that even the earliest incarnations of the Internet possessed.
The presentation of the idea never quite escapes the dominant model of centralized computing resources of the day, for all its goose bump inducing flashes. For comparison I’d say that Murray Leinster’s story, “A Logic Named Joe”, is still much closer to the modern Internet. Leinster describes logics, or something very similar to a PC, much more tightly knitted into every day life. Ramo’s film is much more evocative of corporate back office computation rather than the information and entertainments Leinster envisioned. The residual centralization of resources in “Joe” is not too far from the variety of heavy duty servers increasingly labeled as just the cloud and put to very similar use.
My sole remaining question is where is there more information on the system mentioned at the very end of the film, the one that sounds like it was the culmination of even earlier work?
- Bjarne Stroustrop reflects on 25 years of C++ , Slashdot
- Wikileaks donations account shut down, Slashdot
- FCC approves changes to cable box rules
Slashdot links to a post at Hillicon Valley discussing this latest news in a long standing fight for competition and consumer choice. I can’t help but think that if the FCC, or Congress, had worked to keep DRM out of our media stack, as its embedding in the HDMI connector standard, that there would be less of a need for pushing Cablecard. On the flip side, with the first Google TV devices coming out, this could open the way to smarter set top devices being able to integrate much more seamlessly into our media ecosystem than ever before.
- French government may subsidize music downloads
There isn’t much more detail in the article to which Slashdot links, especially as to the detailed reasoning. This is an anti-piracy move but once the vouchers are spent, the effective prices will rise returning everything back to where it was. I’ll give them credit for trying but a more thorough shift is required, one that incents labels as much as young people to meet over legitimate online distribution sites.
- Blocker bugs snarl next Firefox 4 beta release, The H
- SSL in outbound links from search engines
EFF has a great post that discusses how search engines could help our privacy even further by linking to encrypted versions of pages in their results where possible rather than the plain text. Not surprisingly, the privacy conscious search engine, Duck Duck Go, is already doing this. I switch the search engine in my browser some time back to DDG and each new announcement of the concrete steps they are taking to protect my privacy makes me feel that much better about my choice.
- New book on Canadian digital copyright is out, including a free electronic edition
Cory shares the news from Michael Geist about this book from Irwin Law. At over six hundred pages, this is a considerable commitment to the subject. The focus is primarily on the most recent copyright debates in Canada, centered on the hotly contested bill C-32. The free PDF version is available under a Creative Commons license making the wealth of material available to, as the cover blurb suggests, be used freely to improve directly the quality of the discourse.
- The BBC covers the crowd funded plan to build a working analytical engine, BBC via Hacker News
- FSF launches a hardware focused initiative
According to the H, the “Respects your Freedom” program is an endorsement based on a device using free software, being built with free software, and allowing user installation of modified software. This reminds me of Neuros’ Unlocked mark from a couple of years back as it is also trying to draw attention to manufacturers that support end user freedom, an increasingly important issue when anti-jail-breaking stories seem to be showing up with increasing frequency.
- Government admits to Facebook spyring, Slashdot
- Suit claims Facebook leaked real names of users to advertisers, The Register
I’ve had a soft spot for the visionary work of Charles Babbage ever since I read Sterling’s and Gibson’s brilliant alternate history, “The Difference Engine“. James Graham-Cunning has a post at O’Reilly Radar that speaks to the tragedy of Babbage’s failure to realize his designs and contains a plea to complete a replica of the Analytical Engine, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished as of yet.
Soldiering on alone with the conviction that his machines would be of great benefit to mankind by taking what had been mental effort and making it mechanical, Babbage wrote that “Another age must be the judge” of his inventions.
Modern computers may be constructed of very different materials but as Graham-Cunning explains the parts and principles are very much recognizably the same. Further, the construction of the Difference Engine No. 2 and its printer using only period materials and techniques proves that, as he says, “Simply put, we live in that age”. Graham-Cunning wants to continue that proof, by settling on which of Babbage’s continually revised designs for the Analytical Engine should be built, modeling it in a simulation for feasibility, and then building a working model.
It might seem a folly to want to build a gigantic, relatively puny computer at great expense 170 years after its invention. But the message of a completed Analytical Engine is very clear: it’s possible to be 100 years ahead of your own time. With support, this type of “blue skies” thinking can result in fantastic changes to the lives of everyone. Just think of the impact of the computer and ask yourself how different the Victorian world would have been with Babbage Engines at its disposal.
“The Difference Engine” poses one answer to that question, far from the only one we can imagine as entertaining as it may be. More interesting is the implication of what research today, like Babbage’s may be far ahead of its time.
If you want to support Graham-Cunning’s efforts, he has launched Plan 28 to gather and coordinate support.
The 100-year leap, O’Reilly Radar
Slashdot links to this now concluded contest that sort of reminds me of the demo scene in terms of the constraint to bum down code as much as possible. The results are a bit more diverse, including many interactive games as well as passive animations. More so than a lot of recent and fairly contrived “HTML5” demos, the finalists in JS1K really showcase what modern browsers can do.
- Firefox Home adding more devices, social capabilities
Chris Cameron at ReadWriteWeb shares news of Mozilla’s plans for their Sync client for iPhone. Personally, I cannot wait to get an Android powered replacement for my iPod Touch and start running Fennec, their full mobile browser, but in the interim I’m happy that Home is getting such attention from the lizard wranglers. I especially cannot wait for the password sync support planned for a future release.
- Congress passes internet, smart phone accessibility bill, Washington Post
- Update to private cloud-based file system, Tahoe-LAFS, BoingBoing
- Android software piracy rampant, Slashdot
- A Review of Jason Scott’s “Get Lamp”
Text adventure games figured largely in my earliest experiences of computers. It was a no brainer for me to pick up a copy of Scott’s documentary on the subject. I enjoyed it immensely and am far from finished exploring all the material he has included in the two disc set. Jeremy Reimer at Ars Technica has a glowing review that resonates very strongly with my own experience of the work.
- EFF, others, support Microsoft in case trying to make patent invalidation easier, EFF
- Open HDCP software implementation released
Ars Technica, among others, has news of researchers using the recently leaked HDCP keys to build an open source program capable of decrypting encoded digital video streams. Peter Bright questions the utility of the effort as it would still require some sort of hardware to connect into your home media ecosystem. I think the overlooks the very strong tradition of these sorts of proofs of concept developed by security researchers interested in the system more so than its applications.
- Xerox PARC turns 40, The Register
- Scribd quietly moves users docs behind a paywall
Mike Masnick at Techdirt shares the realization by law professor Eric Goldman of this little publicized change. This action by the document sharing service defies reason. Goldman articulates how undoubtedly most of the users caught by this change must feel, used and trapped. Once again, this isn’t an issue with open or closed but moving from one to the other after a bargain was offered and a promise made. Even a much more clear shift would have been more tenable, if almost as unpalatable.
- Is Facebook turning on online activists it used to support?, ReadWriteWeb
- An open source, low bandwidth voice codec
Slashdot points to a project whose main developer also worked on the Speex codec, another effort tailored to efficient coding of just voice. Mainly Codec2 looks to be focused on replacing a current, proprietary codec used in amateur radio but its capabilities are compelling, almost 4 seconds of clear speech in just over 1 kilobyte. It would be nice of some of the unencumbered ideas might find application in high quality voice encoding, too, perhaps to help fuel an open alternative to Skype with similar sound quality. Of course, that’s just the podcaster in me thinking out loud.
- Mozilla joins Open Invention Network as licensee
- Wendy Seltzer discusses new IP enforcement bill
In this post on the Freedom to Tinker blog, Seltzer places the bill firmly in the context of piracy as a legal pretext for censorship. I didn’t touch on the issue of potential abuses but the point dovetails with what I explained yesterday about lowering friction. It simply becomes too easy to press a claim of infringement, legitimate or not, for the correct purpose or some lateral one such as suppressing dissenting speech.
- EP votes on controversial anti-piracy report, TorrentFreak
- Bill Tracker launched for legislation in the UK, BoingBoing
- Newton on an iPad
Ht @stephenjayl. The link, which I also saw on Hacker News, is to a write up on the latest fun with a pre-existing project, Einstein, that runs Newton OS on modern hardware via emulation. Earlier this month, the code was ported to iOS and the poster has embedded a video of it running on his iPad. I only ever had one on loan and enjoyed using it. My enjoyment of nostalgic computing and specifically the MessagePad overrides my current irritation with Apple enough that if I had a compatible device, I might try running this.
- Google Voice app approved in Apple’s app store
As Slashdot explains, it isn’t the first app that was infamously approved, rejected, and then removed from the store. However, Google Voice Mobile is apparently in the process of being re-submitted and re-considered. As with the changes in Apple’s developer agreement, this signals a softening of policies, most likely because of complaints resulting in FTC scrutiny.
- Modders bring emulation, homebrew games to PS3, Slashdot
- Swedish Pirate Party fails to retain seat in parliament, The Register
- Return to Castle Wolfenstein source code released, Slashdot
- iPhone app piracy tool, source code up for sale, ReadWriteWeb
- PostgreSQL 9.0 released
The H has the new features in this release that has been backing for a while. One of the most interesting is replication. It answers my questions, as a long time user of the database server, on how the feature works. It is targeted at hot standby, easing the replication of the write ahead log, so it is distinct from the kind of replication performed by newer, post-relational databases.
- Europe proposes international internet treaty, Slashdot
- Diaspora code fails to pass muster on security
On one hand, what The Register explains based on early analysis is hardly surprising. This code didn’t exist just a few months ago and it is clearly advertised as pre-alpha quality code. On the other hand, when will new projects really take to heart that security has to be a guiding principle from the first line of code write throughout the entire life of a project. On the gripping hand, a poor early impression of Diaspora’s quality isn’t going to help it compare favorably to Facebook which is gradually improving despite some notable gaffes.
- Dark patterns, recognizable techniques of scamming, exploits, BoingBoing
Via Hacker News, this not only tickles my sense of the hackish but is also a fitting tribute to the 25th anniversary of this particular flavor of assembly. Leo Laporte has a nice write up of 6502 and this special occasion.
- Massive loophole that allows tracking cookies in IE even when expressly disabled, New York Times
- Significance of European warez raids, Torrentfreak
- Ten things to look for in an anti-circumvention tool, Tor
Apologies for the paucity of posts today. I am feeling brain drain from a technical presentation at the $employer today. And my mind is still spinning on re-working my audio workflow under Linux now that my mixer is working.
- FSF calls on government to stop pushing Adobe Reader, The Register
- Mozilla slips in a stability beta, re-ordering betas slightly, http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/09/15/moz_suspends_firefox_updates/
- Humorous how-to on reading a patent, BoingBoing
- Babbage’s debugger
Via Hacker news, this blog post summarizes a paper the grandfather of computing wrote in contemplating the problems troubleshooting his early designs for purely mechanical computers. Despite its similarities to a sequence diagram, it is perhaps akin to the sort of mental contortions early coders went through in converting machine code to binary, as Babbage’s notion and examples deal with the lowest level of his proposed machinery.