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Technology, Business and Eco Responsibility
Technology, Business and Eco Responsibility Technology, Business and Eco Responsibility December 7, 2005 12:56 AM
Climate change is a hot topic right now. The Economist has a story on how global warming may affect the course of the Gulf Stream, and so send North-Western Europe in an ice age. Luckily Business Week is reporting that businesses are getting serious about emissions. [1]

Sun Microsystems has just hosted a very informative panel debate (video) on this topic with a very distinguished panel:

  • Michael Krasny : Professor of English at San Francisco State university, host and senior of Forum, a news and public affairs program that concentrates on the arts, culture, health, business and technology.
  • Christine Ervin: Former President and CEO, U.S. Green Building Council
  • Jonathan Koomey :Associate professor (consulting) of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford, staff scientist at Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, previously environmental manager at the Quaker Oats company.
  • Noah Horowitz: Senior Scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Dr. Amory Lovins: CEO, Rocky Mountain Institute.
  • Dr. Greg Papadopoulos: Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Sun Microsystems

The sparc for the debate is Sun's release of its new T1 chip (formerlly known as Niagara, and which I have mentioned before) which contains 8 cores with 4 threads each, and consumes less energy than a light bulb when in full use. Something that many server hosting places are very much looking forward to in order to cut their power bill: by using less power the T1 helps to cut the cooling bill, and its size and power helps dramatically reduce expensive rack space costs. For more technical information pointers I recommend Tim Bray's post on Niagara Day.

On the same topic of energy efficiency research I enjoyed listening to the Nerd TV interview of Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, author of the world renown article Why the Future does not need us, and now working for Kleiner Perkins. He even has a Wikipedia entry. In that interview he speaks about how he is building a yacht to study energy efficiency on an island like platform, the knowledge of which he can then use to make better investment decisions for Kleiner Perkins. A bit like me working on BlogEd to help me research the Semantic Web, I suppose...

[1] My recent trips have left me with a lot of time to catch up on current news, as you may see.

Loi pour abolir l'Open Source: vote la nuit du 23 Decembre au parlement a Paris
Loi pour abolir l'Open Source: vote la nuit du 23 Decembre au parlement a Paris Loi pour abolir l'Open Source: vote la nuit du 23 Decembre au parlement a Paris December 4, 2005 1:15 PM
D'après un article en anglais auquel mon frêre Nicolas a attiré mon attention, via un lien del.icio.us de Simon Phipps la SNEP (Syndicat National de l'Edition Phonographique), la SCPP (Société Civile des Producteurs Phonographiques), VU (Vivendi Universal), BSA (Business Software Alliance - financé par Microsoft), et d'autres soutiennent un amendement qui aurait pour conséquence d'interdire tout software de communication qui ne permettrait pas un droit de regard sur les communications des citoyens Francais. Une des conséquence de cette legislation serait d'interdire la distribution de logiciel Open Source, puisque celui ci pourrait être modifier pour contourner les mécanismes de surveillance. Cet amendement devrait être voté à la veille de Noël.

Tout ceci au moment même où Sun Microsystems est en train d'ouvrir le code source de toutes ces applications au public. Que pousse une multinationale à agir ainsi?
C'est pour une question de confiance (trust en Anglais). Dû a sa taille et sa complexité, il est impossible pour un individu ou une grande entreprise de maîtriser et vérifier tout le code source d'un système d'exploitation comme Solaris et ces applications. L'Open Source, permet à quiquonque de lire et de transformer ce code pour l'améliorer et le vérifier, et ceci par de million d'individus. Cela peux permettre aux chercheurs ou citoyen français de surveiller la pureté du code.
Pour cette simple raison il faut que la distribution du code se fasse sans encombrement pour la securité de tous. De plus lire et travailler ce code ne doit pas avoir de conséquence sur la liberté futur de de crée et d'inventer de son lecteur. Ceci n'est ce le cas pour ceux qui lisent le code de Microsoft. Dès le moment qu'ils posent leurs yeux dessus, leur futur et celui du géant de Seattle deviennent liés par les nombreuses loi sur le droit intellectuel dont le copyright, les patent, et d'autres. Ceci ne renforcera clairment pas l'objectivité de la critique. Le code de Sun Microsystems par contre est distribué sans restriction aucune. Vous pouvez batir une entreprise dessus sans que Sun ne puisse vous attaquer en justice. Ceux qui travailleront ce code auront donc une relation plus organique et personelle, puisqu'ils pourront en vivre librement. Permettre l'Open Source est donc un élément fondamental dans la confiance que l'on peut avoir sur les produits bâtis dessus.

Il n'est donc peut être pas si surprenant que ceux qui veulent passer une loi qui détruirait un pilier fondamental de la confiance sur le net, essaient de la passer en douce la veille de Noël.

Quelques autres articles sur le sujet:

Independent canadian music
Independent canadian music Independent canadian music November 20, 2005 5:22 PM

Following a lead by Tim Bray I discovered the cbc radio3 podcasts, an internet radio show featuring many excellent independent canadian musicians. I have not heard so much good music in a very long time [1].

Following a lead on cbc I ended up on a quebequian french podcast station bandeapart doing the same but with more emphasis on the french musicians [2]. I love the quebeque accent by the way. And the presenters are really great fun. I am hooked.

Speaking of Canada: have I mentioned the film site of a good friend of mine Chloe? She worked in Canada as a presenter on children's television and is now in London. Also very talented.

What's this all about Canada all of a sudden? I get the impression that this place is just a limitless pool of talent!

[1] well the bar at my current youth hostel has a pretty good selection too and the finger on the Tcheque music pulse: we went to see Moimir Papalescu and the Nihilists on Friday.
[2] They don't do a good job of making it easy to find their podcasts on their web site. I only found them after giving up and searching the latest iTunes podcasts section for "bandeapart".

Joshua Joshua October 24, 2005 10:41 PM
My mother just sent me this bust she made of Joshua, the newborn son of my brother Alex. This is the letter Alex sent us on the 21 July:
Hi everyone,
Here is the first official picture of our little baby boy. We have chosen the little boys name. 
After much caving-in on my part, we finally chose, as a couple and after having agreed on a 
compromised consensus, to call him Joshua Alexander Story.
It is with tears-filled eyes, a broken heart and shattered dreams that I write to you today. Little 
Joshua was diagnosed with Down syndrome yesterday. This means that he will forever stay a 
child, will always be happy and never realise the difference between himself and other children.  
Nadine and I are terribly pained but the child has, according to the doctors and nurses in the hospital, 
a great heart, a great pair of lungs and a healthy appetite. We were also told that Joshua will never good 
in maths – like Nadine or me, in fact.
Speak to you all very soon,
I/O podcasts: Simon Phipps
I/O podcasts: Simon Phipps I/O podcasts: Simon Phipps September 9, 2005 5:29 PM
I/O Podcasts is a podcast weblog by Richard Giles, where he has set out to interview various members of the Sun Open Source community. In his first podcast Richard interviewed Simon Phipps Sun's new Chief Open Source Officer, about this newly created and very important position.

Simon is a colleague of mine, and I was very pleased to meet him for the first time here in Zürich after hearing him give a very entertaining talk. Simon is great fun and also extreemly in tune with what is happening on the internet. If you need to know more about the politics, economics and ins and outs of Open Source, you'd could not do better than to invite him for a talk.

The I/O Podcasts is very informative and it is well worth adding to your iTunes podcast library by clicking here.

nerdTV: Andy Hertzfeld
nerdTV: Andy Hertzfeld nerdTV: Andy Hertzfeld September 9, 2005 3:08 PM
My brother Nick sent me a link to an interview of Andy Hertzfeld, the original Macintosh systems programmer, where he talks about Mac history and how he fell in love with Open Source Software. The format of the interview is very simple and very effective: the camera is just pointed at Andy and the very knowledgeable Bob Cringely just asks some excellent questions that leave Andy plenty of room to illustrate the history of engineering from the point of view of his extreemly rich nerdy life. I really look forward to the upcoming interviews of Max Levinch and Bill Joy - with a lot more to come, we are told.

The interviews are available in many different formats: video, video extracts, audio (mp3, aac, ogg vorbis), and there is even a text transcript (real important for searching the content). I listened to the full interview from the Paragon café opposite the Oerlikon train station in Zürich, after having downloaded the interview in less that 10 minutes using azureus a Java client that understands the BitTorrent protocol. BitTorrent is a Peer to Peer protocol that allows one to reduce the cost of publishing files, by distributing the cost onto the viewers. Each viewer of a file becomes itself a publisher of the file. The interview of Andy Hertzfeld is sponsored by PBS and distributed under a Creative Commons licence.

Open Document
Open Document September 5, 2005 12:40 AM
The success of the internet and the web are based on a process of open standards, agreed by a community of users and which permit competition on implementations and service. This standardisation process is an inevitable response to any gate keeper that for one reason or another through good luck and will power gets to define and charge for the service of being the first to do something useful. Inevitably after some time the price the gatekeepers charge gets to be way too high, and a standardisation move is made to break the stranglehold.

This is what has now happened with the document which encode the files produced by office suites of which the sole remaining major survivor is Microsoft with its Word, Excell, PowerPoint, and co package. By generalising the format used to create the web (HTML [1]) a markup language was created known as XML (Extensible Markup Language). This has been incredibly useful in nearly every field of computing where information has to be exchanged in a standardised way. A markup language is both a very simple and general tool. It is simply a way of bracketing parts of text to define properties of the bracketed strings. So to take a simple example:

This is some text. But is it emphasised?

If I want the phrase 'some text' in the above sentences to be bold I need to bracket it with a special bracket that "boldifies" the text. Since we don't want to keep inventing brackets for every type of way we want to mark up text we come up with an extensible bracket convention. We could come up with something like this for example (bold-some text). To state that the above text is bold we would then write the text like this:

This is (bold-some text). But is it (italic-emphasised)?

As long as we were to use the same brackets it would be easy to mark up text in any way we want. In the above example I have for example also added a special italic bracket around the word 'emphasis'. This is so general that it has the nature of a mathematical theory. If I remember correctly the great logician David Lewis in one of his articles on language used such a bracketing technique to define all possible grammars.

It should be clear from this how using such a general technique is at the core of any document format. And so it is not surprising that this can be used to create an open standard for such documents. This is what the OpenDocument group has done. And the state of Massachusets has now started requiring such a format to be used for all future documents it will publish. There are allready a number of Office Suites that implement this format of which the most advanced is the latest release of Open Office. For Apple Macintosh users there is the excellent NeoOffice/J.

With this in mind the details of how this came to be can be read in ample detail in the excellent article by David Wheeler entitled Why Open Document Won.

[1] HTMLtands for Hyper Text Markup Language. Every we page is built n this foundation. For a good example just use the view source button of any modern web browser. (HTML itself is a derivative of a much older similar technology called SGML)

working with people on the internet
working with people on the internet working with people on the internet August 26, 2005 12:48 AM
The last year most of my human relations have been with people that I mostly only ever interact with on the internet. Some of these interactions are very short term, such as when people send bug reports to the BlogEd mailing list, or sometimes they are much longer term, such as when interacting with the contributors to the Atom standard. I hardly meet any of my colleagues in person either. To meet Tim Bray I had to travel from France to JavaPolis in Belgium. Sometimes we get a little closer and have phone conferences. That feels quite amazing. A couple of times I even had a video chat. This in fact really helped a lot last year when I video conferenced with James Gosling: I don't think I would ever have believed that he was helping me get a job at Sun had I not seen him in "person".

Over the last year, starting from after I went to the Foaf Galway conference, I started maintaining and updating my Apple Address Book. Over time, and especially recently, I have become very assiduous in this task. Now whenever I interact with someone just a little bit, I try to add their e-mail address to my address book, and search the web for their blog and a photo of them. The photo is very important because the image will appear in Apple's Mail application to the right of the mail header I receive from that person. So I can immediately start associating the conversation I am having with the image. The laws of evolution and natural selection have I believe molded our brains to excell at recognises faces, so being able to use this evolutionary capacity is incredibly useful. An image is a hook on which one can hang all types of different memories. When this is all that one has it is vitally important to use it.

What the image is of is not necessarly so important. I can't always find a facial representation of the person I am interacting with. But their web site will often contain something very personal to them, that will help give me an anchor point to remembering them. Sometimes I do find the image of a face but I have to be a little skeptical of its veracity. For example on the Sun Internal NameFinder site Aimie, a colleague of mine, had a photo of a very very stern old lady glaring back at me. For a while I was really really worried, wondering what type of person this might be that I had to interact with. It occurred to me that this could be a fake, but then it occurred to me that it could be real. I just could not tell...

It takes a lot of time to put this information together, but it is very much worth it. The address card information's value is much greater in an OS which integrates it with the Mail and Chat app than it would be on its own. And there still is a long way to go for this integration. The AddressBook for example does not allow you to say that an e-mail address is no longer valid. So if someone changes jobs and you still want their image to appear in the old mails of your Mail.app you have to keep the out of date e-mail address. The Apple Calendaring application iCal does not highlight people's birthdays is another simple missing feature. One has to find a plug in on the internet to get some of that functionality. The iPhoto application does not use the address book to help one annotate the photos to decide who is on them the way flickr encourages one to do. All of this metadata working together is infinitely more valuable than any of the information alone. And here we are just considering metadata that one user has carefully put together himself. But that is part of my problem: why do I have to put so much of this information together myself, when most of it is allready being put together out there by other people? Why should I have to spend so much time searching for other people's metadata on the net? When they could all put it out there in RDF? Why RDF? Because it is the standard tool permitting us to merge information clearly and precicely from any source, and it is the merging of data that is so valuable. It is the universal data merging format. (I will myself publish more in RDF, when I have finished developing the tools needed for it)

In any case, whatever technological tools we have, it will still require organisation and assiduity to enquire about the people we are interacting with and build a model of their beliefs and personality (also known as empathising with them), which is as essential an element I believe in being able to debate an issue with them as knowledge of the domain itself.