Sunday, March 06, 2011

Mesh Networks to the rescue of Freedom of speech and association

Wireless20MeshImage via WikipediaI have written before about the importance of mesh networking. Unfortunately due the government/corporation backed FUD campaigns about the "risks" of sharing your network connection, Mesh networking has not gained any significant traction, since the technology became available.

I don't need to explain how the widespread availability of mesh networking wound affect the business models of ISPs and telecoms. What motivates me to talk about mesh networking today is not at all related to economics, but to politics and human rights.

North AfricaImage via Wikipedia
We have all witnessed in the news, the serial uprisings taking place in North Africa. Time-and-again, the first reaction of the threatened governments shutdown the internet (and other communication networks) to try and block the people from communicating among themselves and with the outside world. It has been in the hand of hackers, trying to get these populations back online.

At this point in time, it is very important to sensibilize regulators to this issue. It is urgent that we de-regulate public access to wireless networks and stop the FUD. Technological solutions to robustify access to the internet will emerge naturally from communities, because the technology is ready and very cheap.

So how can you help? Talk to your favorite politician about it. If you're a hacker, start/join a mesh community one your area. Or just read more about this issue and discuss it with friends.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Paradox of Competence

Arthur C. Clarke has put it well decades ago:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

And I make the case here that:

Any sufficiently competent individual is indistinguishable from a charlatan".

Why would someone say something so outrageous? The answer is surprisingly simple, and any sufficiently competent individual will understand it immediately. ;-)

I takes a peer to recognize competence. Someone needs to understand what you do in order to tell if you can really do it. So, the higher up you are on any conceivable scale of excellence, the fewer people will exist in you immediate social context which can confidently attest to your competence. For example, If I was to play chess against a top grand master and another average chess player, I wouldn't be able to tell which one is the best because to me they would appear as simply "better than me" players.

Competence assessment may not be too challenging for skills which are easily and objectively measurable, like how fast you can run 100 meters. But even in sports, if you move to more complex modalities like figure skating, You need a panel of many specialists and the final veredict willl always depend on contextual variables, such as the quality of the ice, the choice of the music, luck, etc.

Even in professional categories where performance evaluations should be more "scientific", things are not that clearcut. Consider science. Competence in science is measured by the number of scientific papers published, weighted by the impact of the journals in which they appear. However, in order to maximize productivity, scientists have to carefully thread around the most complex problems and try to go for the low-hanging fruits, so to speak. So technically, the most competent scientists will be penalized by a lower productivity, if they give in to the temptation of tackling the hardest problems, they feel they can solve. This problem is even more dramatic, when you consider that the supply of minor scientific problems, bordering on the non-scientific, is virtually endless. To agravate this picture, there are always many, well documented, ways to cheat productivity indicators.

The situation gets even hazier when you move on to more mundane professional categories, where performance is not at all measurable in any objective way. When you apply for a job in <plug your profession here>, you have to talk about your competences and your evaluator has no clue whether you are really all that, or if you are making it up. In fact, the farther away your skill-set is from the set of skills of the interviewer, the higher the chance he/she will think you are making it up. Here candidates must walk a thin line between saying to little about themselves and being deemed inapproprate for the job, and saying too much and be considered a charlatan.

One might argue that in theory if someone is hiring you for a job they must be your peer, and most likely more competent than you. But although that would be desirable, it is not always the case. In today's world, human activities are being re-mixed into new revolutionary businesses all the time, and it is not at all uncommon for a business person, to be interviewing a mathematician, or for an engineer to be hiring a philosopher. To be honest, the risk is not only for the competent professional to be considered a charlatan. But there is also an enormous risk for the recruiter to hire a charlatan! And there is plenty of charlatans out there to make matters worse.

The other resource people use are recommendations, but even these are not guaranteed, since people exchange recommendations as if they were some kind of commodity, I recommend you and you recommend me in return. The best examples of this are to be found in professional network sites such as LinkedIn.

Is there any way out of this conundrum? Well, not easy or generally applicable ones. For professionals, one key thing is to strive to give visibility to your work. For example, if you are a software developer, and work on a proprietary software company, You have no code to show to attest your skills, so try to work on a open-source software project on the side. For Recruiters, Look for objective indicators of competence, remember that traditional or "official" indicators are the ones charlatans will excel at faking, so be creative in examining competence, use multiple evaluators and try to have a peer with no vested interest look into the candidate profile and production record.

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Sunday, October 04, 2009

Mobile Network of the Future

Have you noticed how most new mobile phone models have built-in wifi antenas. Have you Noticed how many of the hot new mobile phones are Unix based (Iphone, Android, Limo phones, Maemo, etc) and support 3rd party app development?

Now, what if we allow cell phones to work as wifi routers to a global mesh-network? Yes, it would be fatal to telecoms... but I would certainly be great for companies like Google which wouldn't depend on telecoms for moving content to a very important segment of the market.

Naturally, it would be fantastic for consumers, an it would bring low cost communications to the poorest parts of the globe more efficiently.

All that is required is a app, like the one we have on open-wrt, which enables our routers to form mesh-networks.

It is a wild idea, I know. But those are the ones that change the world!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Internet Manifesto

This document is a must read (see link at the end).

I want to add my own items to it:

1. Net Neutrality is not only protecting Internet content provider corporations' profits

We need to defend net neutrality in a way which goes beyond what is currently done: We need to establish fixed ip addresss for every private individual so that publishing rights don't have to be gatekeeped by large corporations such as Google and the like.

2. Copyright should not be sellable item.

The source of most of the confusion about whether copyright is a good thing or not in the information age, is the fact that most of the commercial exploration of copyrighted materials is not done by the original authors, but by large publishing houses which either coerce authors to give them the commercial right to their work in exchange for pennies, or exploit materials which should be in the public domain for as much as 70 years after the authors death.

3. Network Infrastructure ownership should not be a priviledge of large corporations.

The right to form open "ad hoc" wireless networks should be guaranteed globally, like we have with amateur radio for decades. This is the only way to assure the basic freedom of association and expression.

referente a: Internet-Manifesto (ver no Google Sidewiki)

Monday, June 20, 2005

Computo Ergo Sum

Writing, or the ability to register knowledge using an standardized set of symbols, has been available to most human cultures for millenia. Yet if we look at its popularity a mere couple of hundred years ago, we will find its use restricted to very small fraction of the population frequently associated with powerful social groups such as the clergy, the nobility etc. This fact is not surprising when we consider the value of knowledge in any time or age. Writing, being the main form of registering, transmitting and manipulating knowledge, has always been an intrument of intelectual emancipation.

In primitive societites, the ability to read and write was a skill restricted, by law to very specific professions such as scribes. Later in history, this strict restriction was found not to be necessary since most people did not gravitate towards it despite the increased availability of opportunities to learn to read and write. Even today, when iliteracy is not that prevalent, only a relatively small fraction of the population is able to use literacy in a productive way, that is produce text that can and will be used by others as a source of information. In the 21st century, most of us still relegate the recording of collective knowledge and culture to a few scribes.

In 1637, the french Philosopher Descartes coined the phrase Cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) to summarize the most distinctive attribute of the human existence: the ability to think, that is, the ability to process information with our minds in a rational way. In the dark ages, that was not a popular skill, especially since people were thaught to trust all important information was to be revealed by god, and not derived from evidence. This situation has improved a little in present days, but we still find many people willing to take information at face value without reasoning about its plausibility.

In the information age in which we live today, information is available to us in ever growing ammounts that already exceed the processing capabilitites of our brain and biological senses and require computational tools to be fully processed and received.
A human who is not competent to efficiently process this surge of information by making use of available computational tools is not a full member of the information age and society. Thus the theme of this Blog: "Computo Ergo Sum", I compute, therefore I am.