Friday, October 31, 2008

Gandhi's Inspiration

I didnt know Gandhi was inspired by essays called "Unto this Last" by John Ruskin in South Africa.Its apt to
see something in 1860 thats critical of capitalist societies favoring a social economy.Here's the best quote from it:

As thus: lately in a wreck of a Californian ship, one of the passengers fastened a belt about him with two hundred pounds of gold in it, with which he was found afterwards at the bottom.Now, as he was sinking -- had he the gold? or had the gold him?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Edge

It is never worth a first class man's time to express a majority opinion. By definition, there are plenty of others to do that --- G.H.Hardy

The more and more I think about having an edge, the more I realized you have to know something that the rest of the world does not know. The rest of the world here is defined as someone not you. A better position is to know something that the rest of the world knows to be true (and you know it is false). This is a good situation for you to go and place a bet on this while staking all your life's earnings on it. Thats a surefire way to make progress assuming you are convicted on your belief about such things.

Note to Self: Whenever I hire new guys, I will ask them this question: what do you know about x that the rest of the world does not know? (where x can be anything that the candidate chooses)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Quite an Interview

One of the fun things to do is to pick prophesies from the past and see how well they turned out. Here's a quite good one from 15 years ago (pre-Internet) with George Gilder (originally from Wired)


: Your book, Microcosm, begins with a quote from physicist Carver Mead, who said, "Listen to the technology; find out what it's telling you." I was wondering, what is the current technology of modems, packet-switching, and fiber optics telling you?


: It's telling me that today we're at the same general point that we were with integrated circuits in about 1970. In 1970, people didn't anticipate that transistors would be virtually free by today. Today you can buy a transistor for 4,000-millionths of a cent. I think the same thing is on its way in fiber optics. We're going to gain access to the 25,000 gigahertz of capacity that's in each of the three windows in infrared spectrum that work with fiber optics. With 25,000 gigahertz, you get the equivalent to the number of phone calls in America during the peak moment on Mother's Day. Or take all the radio spectrum currently used for communications, from AM radio to KU-band satellite. It's 1,000 times that, on one thread of glass the width of a human hair.

I don't think people have come to terms with what fiber really means. You can simulate any kind of switching configuration you want. All of a sudden this huge apparatus of electronic switching that dominates our current communications becomes unnecessary. Suddenly, you're going to find that just as the integrated circuit rendered transistors - and hence mips and bits - virtually free, fiber optics is going to render bandwidth and hertz virtually free.

This world is quite different from the world that assumes bandwidth scarcity. A dearth of spectrum has to be regulated and parceled out carefully by sensitive federal bureaucrats beset by tens of thousands of lawyers. That whole apparatus, both the technology of it - the huge switching fabric of the phone companies - and the legislative apparatus and all its bureaucracies and legal accessories, are going to be rendered almost worthless over the next ten years.


: Every time I hear the phrase "virtually free" I think of the claim about nuclear power: "too cheap to meter." It's almost utopian. I find myself not believing it, as much as I want to go along with the idea. Am I too skeptical?


: Yep. It's just that when things become free you ignore them. Transistors that used to be seven bucks apiece now cost about a millionth of a cent. That means that you can regard them as insignificant, just as they're becoming ubiquitous and thus determining the whole atmosphere of enterprise.


: Well, you could say that aluminum - by the atom - has become virtually free, but that doesn't mean aluminum in any useful amount is free. As long as we have storage devices, we'll find things to fill them up with, so there will always be a demand for more. That means no matter how cheap storage becomes, it won't be free. It seems to me that the appetite for bandwidth is equally insatiable, so people will always want more than they have. It has to cost something.


: Of course it will. The point is that in every industrial revolution, some key factor of production is drastically reduced in cost. Relative to the previous cost to achieve that function, the new factor is virtually free. Physical force in the industrial revolution became virtually free compared to its expense when it derived from animal muscle power and human muscle power. Suddenly you could do things you could not afford to do before. You could make a factory work 24 hours a day churning out products in a way that was just incomprehensible before the industrial era. It really did mean that physical force became virtually free in a sense. The whole economy had to reorganize itself to exploit this physical force. You had to "waste" the power of the steam engine and its derivatives in order to prevail, whether in war or in peace.

Over the last 30 years, we've seen transistors (or switching power) move from being expensive, crafted vacuum tubes to being virtually free. So today, the prime rule of thrift in business is "waste transistors." We "waste" them to correct our spelling, to play solitaire, to do anything. As a matter of fact, you've got to waste transistors in order to succeed in business these days.

My thesis is that bandwidth is going to be virtually free in the next era in the same way that transistors are in this era. It doesn't mean there won't be expensive technologies associated with the exploitation of bandwidth - just as there are expensive computers employing transistors; but it does mean that people will have to use this bandwidth, they'll have to waste bandwidth rather than economize on bandwidth. The wasters of bandwidth will win rather than the people who are developing exquisite new compression tools and all these other devices designed to exploit some limited bandwidth.One of the key ways you economize on bandwidth is switching. Switching has been the whole foundation of our communications systems. You run narrow- band wires to some switch and then switch the data to its destination in order to avoid using lots of bandwidth to broadcast signals to every terminal.

It seems to me that we're going to start using fiber the way we currently address air. Instead of switching, we'll broadcast on fiber optic. We'll be tuning in rather than processing all the bits. And instead of using a lot of switching intelligence in order to economize on bandwidth, we're going to use bandwidth in order to economize on intelligence.


: Okay. In a world where physical force, switching, and computation are almost free, we now add almost-free bandwidth. What becomes expensive?


: The scarce resource is the human mind. People will be more valuable. People will get paid better. We need people to provide the software, the interfaces, the standards, and the protocols to all these systems that make it possible to exploit these increasingly cheap resources. So it's the human mind that you ultimately have to economize on. That's the reason I think it's utter garbage to say that our grandchildren won't live as well as we do. People who say this just don't see the technology. They live in this bizarre world of thermodynamics, where entropy rules, and we're dominated by our waste products. It is very short-sighted.


: I take it then that as a believer in the human mind as sort of the ultimate repository of wealth and power, that you're not a believer in artificial intelligence as an attainable thing?


: Artificial intelligence is obviously attainable, it just won't be human intelligence. It's a different function.


: Do you think there's a downside to having everything connected to everything else?


: I don't see any. There must be a downside to the telephone, but I can't remember what it is.


: Well, when you're in the middle of supper and some solicitor is calling you, you'll probably remember what it is.


: Yeah, that's the downside. But that's the downside all this stuff overcomes. When you can have intelligence in your telephone it can defer the calls you don't want to voice mail and still take emergency calls. It can be adapted to your needs. So, the chief effect of these technologies is to put you in command again. The trouble with top-down centralized technologies, which the telephone and television represent, is that they're dumb equipment attached to complex switching systems and broadcasting technologies. On the other hand, the chief virtue of distributed intelligence is that the network can be dumb and the control of it can be distributed to smart users. That means that technologies are much more servants than rulers of your life.


: When I look at networks I see counter-intuitive behavior. Distributed networks have a remarkable ability to be slightly out of anyone's control. They possess an organic out-of-control quality. Does that concern you?


: I think it's good. The Internet, for instance, is an exciting kind of metaphor for spontaneous order. It shows that in order to have a very rich fabric of services you don't need a regimented system of control. When there's a lot of intelligence at the fringes everywhere, the actual network itself can be fairly simple. The future is dumb networks.


: Dumb networks? Why not smart networks? We put smartness in everything else.


: There's smartness all around the network, but the actual network should be essentially dumb glass. The fibersphere, as I call it. I think the mistake that the phone companies sometimes make is to think that they can keep up with the computer. What they call "network intelligence" will usually appear as a bottleneck to a computer industry that's rapidly rushing forward into new possibilities. So what you really want is dumb networks where all intelligence is on the fringes. You'll have intelligent devices of various sorts that are easily reachable from the network but aren't part of the actual fabric of the network.


: What is the fabric of the network?


: Photons. Electronics are not good for communications. Photons - optical computing - are. What makes photons so great for communication is they don't interfere with each other. They collide and pass on unaffected. You can send them two-way, and they are not subject to electromagnetic disruption. Many signals can flow through one fiber. But the fact that photons don't affect each other means they are cumbersome for computing, since you want interactions in computing. You need to have the charges affect one another - that's the heart of computing. The heart of the transistor function is that you can control a bigger force with a smaller force. But photons don't control each other. So for computing functions I still think that electronics will prevail; but for communications, photonics will prevail.


: One would think that there is wealth to be made in the interface then between photons and electrons.


: Yeah, there is. Opto-electronics is very important. However, opto-electronics should not be in the middle of the network, it should be on the edges of the network where it links the computing functions to the communications functions.


: There are some network advocates who claim that we can get a lot of what we want in fiber optic by using the existing copper wires beefed up with the ISDN communication protocol. Do you go along with the idea of implementing (and paying for) ISDN right now?


: Yes. The phone companies should do ISDN. We might as well get as much out of the existing copper switch system as we can. ISDN is already installed in all the new switches; it's more a matter of getting the tariffs right so they can charge some reasonable amount for its use. There's no excuse not to do ISDN today. It won't detract from the fibersphere. But while they do ISDN, all-optical networks are going to be launched all over the place by different companies. Some people have this vision that either we devote our resources to ISDN, or we devote them to creating this fabulously expensive fiber network. My belief is that fiber network is going to get rapidly cheaper, so that we're going to be able to do both it and ISDN perfectly well.


: What role do you think the US government should play in laying data highways?


: The role for the US government is to make government as efficient as possible. Government operates leviathan laboratories, hospitals, universities, bureaucracies, and post offices, and they all should be interconnected with fiber.

The government always discovers a technology after its moment is passing. If you're a winner, you don't go to the government. You're too busy. You've got too many customers. It's the people with no customers who end up besieging the government. There are all these wise-asses in Washington who really think that they can choose technologies. They think they know better. They get bowled over by every earnest representative of IBM who comes up to talk to them. Just now the US government thinks that HDTV is absolutely the future of the world because all the old farts at Zenith, and the broadcasting moguls who aren't really making it with the new computer technologies, are converging on Washington. It's always going to be that way. It's not going to change with Clinton and Gore. The dog technologies run to Washington, decked out like poodles. The politician is always the dog's best friend.


: There is a myth, a utopian hope, that all these electronic connections (what I call the "advent of the net") are going to eliminate hierarchy. The belief is that we will come into a peer world, where everything is on a peer-to-peer level. All the experimental work that I have seen shows that that's probably not very likely. On the contrary, anything complex self- organizes into nested hierarchies, just in order to manage itself.


: Right. The complexity of digital systems requires a hierarchical organization. It's the only way to deal with the kind of combinatorial explosions that attend interlinking of billions of nodes, all functioning in parallel. You need nested hierarchies, but the real miracle of micro- electronics is that these extraordinarily complex hierarchies can be incorporated into individual silicon chips, with virtual supercomputer capabilities. This fabulous supercomputer power can be ubiquitously distributed in the fibersphere. So hierarchies do indeed exist, but they are ubiquitously distributed, which renders them an egalitarian force. When everybody commands a supercomputer, you give the average owner of a work station the power that an industrial tycoon commanded in the industrial era, or that a TV station owner commands in the age of broadcasting. In other words, the hierarchy is in the silicon rather than in the human organization. So you have this incredible distribution of power. This is a period of transition that resembles the transition between railroads and automobiles.


: How's that?


: When you ride a train you go to the railway station at a scheduled time, you travel with the people that happen to be on the train, you go to preset destinations. This is what the current television world is like. You tune into the stations that have been prescribed through some collaboration between advertisers and TV executives in New York and Hollywood. Moving from broadcast model to the teleputer is like moving from a railroad model to automobiles. Automobiles are essentially egalitarian transportation systems. They aren't organized - like the Internet. A Ferrari, say, and a Toyota Tercel look like radically different machines, but the fact is that any car endows the average person with more freedom than any railroad.


: You are a tireless champion of small business. For the last 20 years or so, really big projects have been considered arrogant, incapable of working because they are big. Now there is talk of Motorola's global satellite project Iridium. Do you think that the fibersphere gives us permission to think big again?


: There are going to be a lot of big fiber projects in the next decade. They're already coming right now. I'm sort of worried that they're going to think too small. I hope that the government, with its National Research and Education Network (NREN) doesn't end up buying a lot of obsolescent telephone company fiber systems that make networks with a total power of a gigabit rather than a gigabit per terminal. The fibersphere is a big project, and it will take scores of thousands of small companies to do it.


: What about big companies?


: Sure. Laboratories where lots of people work on their own special visions, with the luxury of very long-term goals, are very valuable. Such places are usually supported by relatively big companies and consortia of companies. IBM, AT&T, and Bell Labs developed most of the components for all optical networks. When you're producing millions of something it becomes a commodity, and almost by definition you have a big company. MS- DOS and Windows are commodity products, so Microsoft is a big company. There are cycles in which companies get big exploiting commodity products with wide distribution, which then mature and then are displaced by new products. It's relatively rare that the company that's triumphant in the commodity phase can move back to the insurrection phase. Insurrections are ordinarily led by entrepreneurs. I don't see any likelihood that will change anytime soon.


: What else is the technology telling you?


: What the technology tells me is that, among other things, Clinton's going to get a bonanza. He doesn't know what's coming, but technology's just going to be breaking out all over. Bush did virtually everything that Clinton promises to do, and because Bush has done it already it doesn't leave Clinton much room except to play cock-a-doodle-do. He'll get up on the post and crow as the marvelous sunrise technologies come blindingly to the fore during his administration. They're going to have 50,000 technology programs and lo and behold, a million technologies will bloom and they will take credit for it all.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Quote Du Jour

"Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assaults of thoughts on the unthinking" - Keynes

Corn Pone Opinions

You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, en I'll tell you what his 'pinions is.
I recently had a verbal duel over email with one of my friends on the Fed bailout issues which turned out to be particularly awkward for me. I lost the argument but won this key idea espoused by Mark Twain in his essay called Corn-Pone Opinions. I never knew I had some of those thinking most of my opinions were free spirited and independent.

My crime can be summarized in the following words in the essay:
A political emergency brings out the corn-pone opinion in fine force in its two chief varieties -- the pocketbook variety, which has its origin in self-interest, and the bigger variety, the sentimental variety -- the one which can't bear to be outside the pale; can't bear to be in disfavor; can't endure the averted face and the cold shoulder; wants to stand well with his friends, wants to be smiled upon, wants to be welcome, wants to hear the precious words, "He's on the right track!" Uttered, perhaps by an ass, but still an ass of high degree, an ass whose approval is gold and diamonds to a smaller ass, and confers glory and honor and happiness, and membership in the herd. For these gauds many a man will dump his life-long principles into the street, and his conscience along with them. We have seen it happen. In some millions of instances.

Its written in 1925 but seems very apt and relevant to the current day political situation. Or some of the parties I attend to..Or some of the business meetings you attend..or why some of the design discussions end up following a "tradition" rather than well thought out original idea

So, please be nice to people with original ideas because they have "moral courage" (which is rare..much common is physical courage) to stand by their ideas...

ps: mr. Y, ab teruko pata chala..tera khoon khoon hain aur mera khoon paani :)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day 2008

Today's Blog Action Day and people around the world speak out their mind about Poverty. Well, what can I say..Indira said in 1974 "Garibi Hatao" (Remove Poverty) and havent seen that happen. I then resigned to the fact that Poverty can be minimised and kept at that lowest possible limit but cannot be completely eliminated.

dont want to delve into that but let's a poverty that affects me professionally. As all of you know the Internet needs addresses and we use a certain protocol called IP version 4. In order for any device connected to the Internet to work you need an address allocated for you. Given our explosive growth so far, we are having a poverty of addresses which can be resolved by moving over to a new version.

Question: Did we really consume all of the addresses?.

A recent study found that a rather large number of allocated addresses are unused (look at blue sections above) and we can do better in this regard

So my plea is to end the poverty of IPv4 address space..( and if you indulge me the poverty of India reduced to its bare minima)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Song Du Jour

I have been humming this song ever since yesterday. Refreshing lyrics that make me feel young almost like back in college

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Best Non Fiction of the Year

I think Traffic is the best non fiction read of my reading year so far. It has a lot of counterintuitive stuff that I long suspected to be true but he lendd authority to his claims by poring over reams of data collected from all over the world. Some of it is even useful in my job (like adding an extra lane is only going to increase the mean waiting times for cars overall albeit looks like it should reduce)

What more, if you are a Data junkie like me the author even has a companion blog to the book which is even more mind tickling..Enzoi..

Friday, October 10, 2008

Bloodbath in the Markets

Its strange to see that you get numbed to your losses after a certain point. While the US is still reeling, I am over it (my net worth halved from the beginning of the year to now)

That said, there is this beautiful theorem which gives us hope there may be a bright new future for those who stand long....

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Overdrive on the Edges

To most readers it will be easy, after reading this tale, to accept Rover's theory that Man is set up deliberately as the antithesis of everything the Dogs stand for, a sort of mythical straw-man, a sociological fable.

This is underlined by the recurring evidence of Man's aimlessness, his constant running hither and yon, his grasping at a way of life which constantly eludes him, possibly because he never knows exactly what he wants.

                --- Clifford D. Simak, "City" , 1952.

I feel like a young dog given my past experiences in the last decade. I caught up with things I have chased without knowing what to do with them. I made many a mistake and learnt from very few of them. Its almost like one big journey that I have done on an overdrive mode. Thats what happens to rookies like me when they face something for which they dont have any experience.

After a while, you learn to use gears, not to zoom /pan constantly on the camera and pleasantly shift from that of being a young dog to that of a young man. Yes, that time has come for me. By abusing power I learnt the use of it. I always thought that only when you reach  'n+1' you know what n is. No, Sir. The trick is to given enough of such past experiences, you should predict 'n' when you are at 'n-1' (or atleast the probability of it even if that doesnt happen). Reminds of this joke: The difference between a good student and a bad student is that a bad student forgets the material five minutes before the test, while a good student five minutes afterwards.

While I was a bad student in the past, the situation isnt all that worse as I sense that I can still be redeemed. Time for another transformation (the alternative being a slow extinction path) and am looking forward to it. 

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A Thing of Beauty

can last more than 20 years. Look at Madras circa 1982