I've been away from blogging for a while, due mostly to a number of exciting
technical developments here, and partly to non-technical things that kept
me occupied for a bit. Let's see what happened in my absence:
"Let's go to my pad where we can wade through my virtual cash."
Bitcoin had an enormous rise and a partial fall, though it's holding
its own at the moment. As the inventor of Karma, one of the first
peer-to-peer currencies that preceded Bitcoin by half a decade, I
have some thoughts about Bitcoin and how to value the Bitcoin
economy. I guess this will have to wait for the next phase of
excitement involving everyone's new favorite virtual currency. And
no, unlike most academics, I do not believe that Bitcoins are worthless.
But nor have I stocked my survival shelter to the gills with
beans, ammo and offline bitcoins (By the way, here's my "CAP Theorem
for survivalists": "brains, brawn, and booze: pick at most two."
Guess which two I'm betting on. Bonus points for appreciating how
precisely my theorem models the CAP theorem, where the "three-way
tradeoff" is actually just a two way conflict between C and A. But
I digress?). Anyhow, the thinking-person's analysis on
Bitcoin needs to lie somewhere in between those two extremes and I
look forward to discussing Bitcoin.
There are a lot of exciting and major developments in distributed
systems, both from my group and from my colleagues elsewhere. I plan
to blog about some of the new results in distributed systems, as well as
some cool hacks, in the coming weeks; some of them are ground-breaking.
The Boston bombings had both me and the nation transfixed for a while.
I have no analysis to offer on this front; not my domain.
Some people just want to see the world burn. Those same people want
to see the world use inconsistent databases. These fine folks, some
of whom are close friends, seem to have gone on a jihad against what
they call the "bank example." Guys, by which I'm referring to
people at a specific school, named after a famous philosopher, whose
name starts with "B", and continues with "erkeley," I see that you're
pretty upset about a particular example that is covered in every
Databases 101 course at every school, including your own. Like
every good example, it derives its power from being simple, stark,
and stripped of all real-world accouterments in order to illustrate
a point about transactions. Attacking the bank example because it's
not realistic is like attacking Calvin and Hobbes because Calvin
looks two dimensional and tigers can't speak. You've missed the point.
There was a people's uprising in yet another country. This one is
squarely in my domain, not only because I was born there, or because
it was engineered entirely by online systems and social media, or
because it's possible to interpret social systems as distributed
systems whose aggregate behavior can be predicted without being able
to specifically predict the behavior of any single actor, but
because it impinges on the question of "what happens when
governments perform data mining en masse on their own people, press
and companies?" Everything we're going through in the US has
analogues elsewhere, and we can learn quite a bit from countries
that are further along in the big-brotherification process.
If she can stand for her rights, online and on the street, in a little black dress, without a gas mask, wearing open-toed shoes, and literally kick burning caustic gas canisters, any techie keyboard warrior can take a stance on political issues related to life online.
There were significant revelations about the extent of
eavesdropping and government surveillance. The debate about the
tradeoff between perceived security and individual privacy is
finally beginning to take place in the US. There is a lot to say on
this topic, and everyone in tech should have an opinion. I realize
that some people shun "taking a political stance." Being apolitical
is regarded as a virtue among a certain class of technocrats. Yet,
not having an opinion and refusing to take a stance on such a
crucial topic is in turn a political stance, and quite a regressive
one at that. Technologists are in a particularly gifted position, as
they can see what would happen if certain capabilities were to be
scaled up and taken to their logical conclusions. So we need to play
a much needed public role in this emerging national debate.
The cult classic Buffalo-66 had many iconic lines. I particularly like and use "the kid is back!" My friends prefer "you know why they call you Goon?"