June 2007

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Microsoft Surface Parody


If you haven't seen the Microsoft Surface demo it's pretty exciting. It is like watching minority report with the promise of an actual product. The demo is here.

But then you can watch a parody of it too. It deflates the excitement quite a bit, but is hilarious. The parody is here.

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"Go Anteaters" -President Bush


The President held a reception at the White House for the NCAA Championship teams. Since UCI won the men's volleyball championship, they got to go. While making his remarks the president actually says "Go Anteaters". Click on the image on the left to see the clip.

The clip comes from the White House's web page here:President Bush Meets with NCAA Championship Teams

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Bren Hall Brick Campaign


In a previous blog entry I wrote about participating in a fund-raising campaign for the new Bren Hall which was dedicated yesterday. By giving a donation to the school, you get to etch a brick with a message that is placed in the walkway outside the school. On the left is the brick that I bought. Yes, there is a typo in the word "light" and they are working on that, but I'm happy to see my input engraved in the walk.

As I said in my previous blog entry:

"It is a portion of an old hymn (~1889), which I love, called "We Have Not Known Thee As We Ought". The lyrics are thoughtful and compelling. When I read it, I think about God's revelation to humans: "Specific" revelation through the Bible and "General" revelation through creation. Understanding general revelation is the whole goal of science. So when I hear this song, it reads to me like a scientist who is crying out to God for forgiveness for not pursing the knowledge that he should have, for wasting the talents and abilities that God has given him or her, and for not taking the job of scientist seriously enough."

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Sweet Pac-Man Skull


Sweet Pac-Man skull from here.

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Recently Heard Around The House

Flickr Image
Photo courtesy of wiseacre photo

Recently heard in the Patterson household:

"Can you guys please stop fighting with your dinosaurs and just eat them?"

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One Japanese Click - that's all I'm asking

FirefoxScreenSnapz001.jpg The image on the left links to a random website which has a funny interactive flash animation. Think Japanese factory workers running your mouse cursor.

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Sparta Flashmob UCI-Style


A few of my students participated in a flash mob on campus this week. It was inspired by the movie "300". Think many people spontaneously emulating a turtle with umbrellas and then attacking pedestrians. The youtube video is a little long, but fun. Notice the anteater on the pavement.

Click on the image on the left for the link to youtube.

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Cory Doctorow, Net Neutrality, and I

Flickr Image
Photo courtesy of duncandavidson

Cory Doctorow, known for many things but notably an author on boingboing.net, spoke here at UCI today. No one had any questions for him, so I spoke up and got to have a decent dialog with him about Net Neutrality.

Cory clearly is for net neutrality which, in a nutshell, means that all packets are delivered with equal effort by the people who control the internet (ISPs and communications companies like AT&T, QWest, etc.) without regard for their origin, their destination or their content.

In principle, I agree that this would be a nice world to live in, but the point that I tried to make is that net neutrality is a red herring. There is no such thing currently in our Internet. Businesses, and other organizations, for which getting packets to and from destinations is critical to their livelihood already spend an enormous amount of effort to get their packets delivered faster. This is done through buying better engineering solutions (putting their content closer to their consumers on fat pipes), as well as through reciprocal agreements with other organizations (I will pay you to guarantee that my packets get through preferentially as a quality of service agreement).

What the ISPs are suggesting by "breaking net neutrality" or in their terms "deregulating the Internet" is to actually degrade your traffic unless you pay them money to deliver content at full speed. Now to be clear, both ends of a connection, a consumer and a web site, for example, are already paying to connect to the Internet. What the ISPs are proposing is an additional charge to get a "good" connection to the Internet which is a "not degraded" connection now.

Clearly this would suck. But my position is that this is already the de facto condition now and so talking about net neutrality is rhetoric which aligns you with activists or corporations but does little to shine light on inequity.

My position is that we should let the ISPs do whatever they want in terms of charging consumers and here's why: If an average individual can't get their Google Video to play at home, they generally regard it as a fact of life created by their physical location and they also probably blame themselves for incompetence or a lack of a decent computer. If it became widely known that companies were degrading traffic or offering "premium" services they would begin to wonder if the problem wasn't the ISPs instead of their own problem.

Very quickly, other companies would emerge which would offer better service. In order to prove that they offer better service they would have to develop a method of measuring the service - something which doesn't exist now (or exists in some simple ways). There would be a shake out as the quality of various companies' ISP service could suddenly be measured and made transparent. At this stage, all of the current back room deals and investment in infrastructure would be clear and their would be a feedback loop created for under served, but high paying customers to get a better network. The end result would be *more* equality than what currently exists.

So to summarize my position:

  1. Net Neutrality doesn't really exist now, there is discrimination on the Internet, but we can't see it.
  2. But it could be worse.
  3. ISPs want to make it worse explicitly.
  4. If they make it worse there will be an incentive for new companies to prove they are better.
  5. This will cause the creation of metrics which measure service to prove they are better.
  6. Now the previously hidden discrimination will be made clear and customers who pay the same amount will get the same service

Cory countered with two points. The first was that allowing the market to work it out like this will cause a lot of people to get hurt before it gets better. Second, he pointed out that in the short term, the ISPs will make a lot of money by overcharging their customers and that this is going to be made by exploiting a monopoly granted to them by the government in the form of rights-of-way for their wiring.

I don't believe either of these points are strong enough to warrant legislating net neutrality. We currently have no way of measuring whether or not the Internet is actually neutral - there may be a lot of people getting hurt now that we don't now about. Secondly although the ISPs will make money off of the public resource which is embodied in the rights-of-way granted to their cable, wireless technologies are making those rights of way decreasingly valuable as time goes on. So even if they were at one time a great gift to communication companies on the public's back, the public is increasingly unable to monetize that same resource any more.

My prediction is that this fight is going to disappear because it's already lost. The net is not neutral any more. There was never any law saying it had to be. Let it go. We would be better off finding a way to publicly and objectively analyze the service from different providers.

Cory was a good speaker and a nice guy. Getting to have a public debate with him is one of the great joys of being a professor.

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