Saturday, February 28, 2009


The story on why Saturday's F2C price increase is delayed until Tuesday

Yesterday was a Friday to remember. About 11 AM the phone rang. "I'm trying to register for F2C: Freedom to Connect, but your system keeps rejecting my credit card," said the caller. In the middle of this one, I got a call-waiting beep; same problem. Several incoming calls later, I was holding a few thousand dollars worth of orders on little scraps of paper.

I got on the phone to CardService International, then to Linkpoint Central, bouncing from help desk to help desk, from Bangalore to Birmingham, and it was Not. My [i.e., their]. Problem. Finally, in frustration, I called the small ISP that hosts my server. Sorry, the receptionist said, [Name-Withheld] is on the other phone trying to solve a DNS problem with our secure server. Aha!

The problem got fixed about 4:00. [Name-Withheld] called me, sounding drained and relieved. I offered to flip a coin for who had the worst Friday. He acknowledged my ham-handed attempt at levity without himself laughing. He kindly, patiently stayed on the line while I verified that things were, indeed, back in working order.

So, here's the bottom line: if you tried to register for F2C: Freedom to Connect on Friday and hit this snag, try again now. If you didn't try, but still want to come, you too have three more days to register at the old price. Baring any more crises, on Tuesday, 3/3, the price goes up a hundred bucks to $595. And it'll be $795 at the door, and a few days before. The exhortation, "Register Now," has never been so true.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009


F2C at TechDirt

From the "Now I owe Masnick big-time" Department:

Mike Masnick, at TechDirt, has written up F2C: Freedom to Connect in glowing terms. He says,

. . . if you're anywhere in the area, you shouldn't miss it. It's a great event focused on "the emerging internet economy" with a strong focus on the policy angles related to internet connectivity these days. You're probably already aware of Isenberg from his regular writings on the subject, but he pulls together such a great braintrust for his events that you'd be crazy to miss it . . .

Prices go up a hundred bucks on Saturday at midnight, so if you want to go, register now.

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More on Fixing the Internet

[This post is so broad-brush, that I'm going to rule up front that nit-picking is out of order. If you want to pick details, I'm wrong, you're right, I give up. But if you sit back, take a deep breath and go with the flow of the big brush strokes, maybe you'll catch my drift, or even propel these lines of thinking in new directions. Thanks.]

I've been asking myself why there are some "disasters that have not happened yet" that I think are worth worrying about, while other supposed threats are "not so much."

In the former class, I'd put (a) Global Climate Disruption, (b) Nuclear War, and formerly, until it happened (c) Economic Collapse.

In the latter class, I'd put the pwning of the Internet, what at least one "fixer" called "Digital Pearl Harbor."

I wasn't always a worrier about Global Climate Disruption. I used to believe that humanity's infinite inventiveness would trump Earth's finite resources.

My climate worry jumped when I learned of two self-amplifying (positive) feedback loops in climate science. The first is that as polar ice and snow decrease, the open water and bare ground absorb more heat from sunlight than their ice and snow-covered equivalents, which, in turn, warms things up even faster. The second loop, more subtle but more profound, is that when land and ocean warms, each loses its ability to hold carbon; then the carbon gasifies into the atmosphere, increasing the greenhouse effect. No ameliorating processes are in sight that would slow either process until, e.g., polar ice coverage becomes negligible.

My worry about the economy increased over the last two years as the news piled up -- house prices rising way much faster than wages, middle-class incomes stagnating or worse, and obscene bonuses for the "innovators" of Wall Street. After early October the obvious story once again was self-amplifying feedback loops, from housing prices to the banking system, from Wall Street to Orchard Street, from deregulation to outright theft, from Nth-order derivatives to the value of the dollar and my ability to buy groceries.

Then there's nuclear war. I worry because there's a small finite probability that a bomb will be exploded somewhere on earth, and a much larger probability that other people will respond by exploding more nuclear bombs. Time is not on our side. There are no obvious self-amplifying processes, but on the other hand, there are no obvious self-correcting processes in sight.

In all three cases, "do the right thing" was generally the right thing. Who's to say no to conservation, economic fairness and peace? There are obvious counter-examples, of course. For the climate problem, fossil-fuel economy and the green revolution are two cases where the short-term "right thing" is proving disastrous in the long run. But in general, the intuitively moral path was also the anti-disaster route.

So let me posit three signs we're heading for a "disaster that has not happened yet."
1. Self-amplifying feedback loops that take us in the wrong direction.
2. Persistent finite probability of hair-trigger, self-amplifying event.
3. We're not going in the "Do the right thing," direction.

Now, about "fixing" the Internet.
Test 1: If anything, badware trends are self-damping, not self-amplifying.
Test 2: The Internet is so far removed from tightly-coupled, hair-trigger accidents-waiting-to-happen that David Weinberger titled his book about the Internet, Small Pieces Loosely Joined.
Test 3: The right thing can't be locking down a good thing -- as many people, including Jonathan Zittrain, have pointed out much more eloquently than I have. The right direction has to be more freedom, more creativity, more ideas, more generativity.

More people than ever are filing their taxes on line according to this Conference Board Report:
About 40 percent of online households are planning to file their federal taxes online this year, up from less than 34 percent four years ago, according to The Consumer Internet Barometer, a quarterly report produced by The Conference Board, the global business research and membership organization, and TNS, a global market insight and information group. The report surveys 10,000 households across the country and tracks who's doing what on the Internet.
Amazon sales are surging despite the economic downturn, and on line shopping in general, continue to increase; this is not a sign that malware is taking over or that people are trusting the Internet less.

If I saw that malicious trends on the Internet that were building on each other -- and maybe they are, and if so it would be important to discover and explicate them! -- then I might easily change my mind about whether the Internet needs fixing. But the trends are going the other way. And the benefits of the Internet are so huge it would be tragic to risk them in a baby-bathwater fix.

What do you think?

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Quote of Note: President Obama

"Our American story is not -- and has never been -- about things coming easy. It’s about rising to the moment when the moment is hard, converting crisis into opportunity, and seeing to it that we emerge from whatever trials we face stronger than we were before."

President Barack H. Obama, quoted here.

[I love writing "President Obama." Just yesterday I'd articulate the words, "President Obama" with a whiff of disbelief and a mouth full of irony. Today, I swallow those feelings and take a deep breath before "President Obama" rolls off my fingertips. Is it possible we could have elected the last two Presidents of the United States consecutively, or did I do a Rip van Winkle?]

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Nethead's Guide to the Stimulus Act (ARRA)

There's been a lot written in the last seven days since President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 on the $7.2 Billion allocated to deployment of broadband connections to the Internet.

For starters, it's best to get it from the Horse's Mouth, i.e., Whitehouse.Gov, where the relevant parts of the text of the Act [.pdf, 13.4 MB] are pages 4-5, 14, and 398-402.

In addition, there are several really good summaries on line.

This one, from Ian Littman at the U Colorado Ore Digger, right near the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, where President Obama signed the Act, is quirky but most excellent.

This one, by Harold Feld, focusses on the bigger picture. Harold writes,
The question is not “regulate” or “deregulate,” nor is the goal so narrow as simply building infrastructure. The stimulus bill embraces the idea of a “broadband ecology” in which we — as a matter of public policy — value broadband for its transformative effect rather than for its consumer value and place it within the communities we hope to positively transform.
Joan Engbretson, writing in Telephony Online, emphasizes how fast the money will be disbursed . . .
Phillip Brown, national policy director for Connected Nation . . . [says], “We’re hearing that if people are planning to apply [for the $2.5B in RUS funds], they should be ready to go by May first.” However, Engbretson reports, [Entities] "may have a bit longer to prepare to seek a portion of the remaining $4.7 billion in grants that legislators allocated for broadband. That money will be administered through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a division of the Commerce Department, which must award all funds by September 30, 2010."
But don't miss the systematic, thoughtful and synoptic summary by Jim Baller and Casey Lide here [.pdf, 7 pages]. Not only do Baller and Lide lay out the major points of the Act, but they also point out that therr are lots of other opportunities in the Act for broadband build-out. They write:

. . . the Act includes a vast amount of funding in areas that may produce opportunities for creative partnerships to facilitate broadband development:

• Transportation infrastructure funds: (approx. $46.5B) Highway/rail/transit infrastructure improvements may provide fresh opportunities to deploy broadband facilities in rights of way. Significant funding for high speed rail and intercity rail projects. Generally administered by state Departments of Transportation.

• Public housing infrastructure: (approx. $12B) Funds to local public housing agencies to
rehabilitate public housing, and neighborhood stabilization, could provide opportunity to address
connectivity issues, community computing centers, etc.

• Energy efficient housing retrofits: ($0.25B) Competitive grants to upgrade HUD low-income
housing to increase energy efficiency. Broadband could enable smart meters and smart homes.

• School construction: ($21B) For renovation, modernization, energy efficiency, and technology
improvements. Includes $6B for higher education institutions.

• Smart Grid Investment Program: ($11B) For R&D and pilot projects to modernize electricity

• Health Information Technology: ($19B) For widespread adoption and use of interoperable
health information technology, including e-health records, etc.
There's more, lots more, but that'll be in a different post.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009


A biological systems approach to "fixing" the Internet

My former Bell Labs colleague, Fernando Periera, writes,

. . . much of the discussion misses the fact that large assemblages of code, and so the net, that are supposed to run indefinitely, are in some ways like biological systems than like the simple, exactly describable engineered systems of the past. Code gets added, patched, disabled, copied and modified (cf. gene duplication), becomes dead because nothing calls it any longer (cf. pseudo-genes). Other code (viruses) latches onto functionality (receptors) to do its selfish deeds. An army of engineers (immune system) constantly scans for invaders and crashes, and makes patches. The big difference is that biocode does not have engineers to patch it — mutations and selection do the work over time. Still, every large long-running software system I have known resists attack and improves through incremental replacement of parts, with lots of trial and error, not by wholesale redesign.

The internet "fixers" goal is no more realistic than anyone's goal to avoid disease by redesigning their genome and rebooting their body.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009


JZ says Internet needs Fixing

Jonathan Zittrain, who I mercilessly straw-dog here, has blogged an essay that says, circumspectly, on its bottom line, [A new, fixed Internet] "is the change we've been waiting for."

A couple of brief observations on JZ's essay (why stop straw-dogging now?):

He uses several rhetorical tricks that I can't wait for a chance to apply to my own rhetoric.

First he characterizes the threat his opponants see in minimal terms. He says we're afraid of, "anti-libertarian control freaks and mercenary security vendors [and others] who benefit from rejecting [the Internet's] generative premise." Of course, these others who [wish they could] reject the Internet's generative premise include telephone companies, cable companies, publishers of books, records and movies, repressive governments and agencies of government, conservative wings of just about every major religion, et cetera, et cetera.

Then he frames the question so his opposition gets to say, "No," while he says "Yes." Excellent. From now on, the question is not "Does the Internet need to be fixed?" The new question is, "Is Internet 1.0 worth keeping?" Then I say, "Yes." He'll say goodbye, and I'll say hello.

Then he puts words in Farber IP List contributor Gene Spafford's mouth by saying, "As Gene says, the issue is not only with networks that are not secure, but also the endpoints," and I don't think Spafford said that in the letter JZ cites. I don't think Spafford sees that the main problem is with insecure networks. Spafford says the Stanford work is laudable, and I agree too, but NOT because I think the old Internet should be replaced. Here's Spafford's entire letter:
Needless to say, I agree with David Akin.

Furthermore, the Stanford effort is laudable but won't be enough even
if it succeeds. We continue to run weak systems at the endpoints.
It harkens back to my oft-quoted analogy about armored cars and park
benches -- secured transport is not sufficient if the endpoints are
weak. Actually, securing the transport can make things worse by
making the operators of the end-points think they are better off than
they are!
What do you think?

Then JZ mis-casts and minimizes my description of my own experience thus:
"Well, *I* don’t have problems with viruses; it’s just losers who don’t know how to protect their machines. Let them have a playpen, then.”
I never said anything like that. I have been a naturalist observing my own Internet usage for some 25 years. Former tech reporter David Akin's experience matches mine. So, apparently, do the three commentators here. When you gather enough expert observations, it starts to look like quantitative data. JZ doesn't say what his experience teaches him.

I could go on, but I have other fish to fry this morning. What's that lawyer aphorism, "When the facts aren't with you, go after the man?" Or woman, I guess. JZ is a most excellent lawyer. He got a standing O when he taught torts at Stanford. I'd want him on my side should I ever need to appear in court.

Plus I REALLY like JZ. He's smart, always willing to step back from his own positions, always willing to engage. None of the above means I don't like him. We agree on many, many things, many more things than we disagree on. We do disagree on this one, however, and on a couple of others. Thank goodness, the world is a richer place for it.

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Techdirt: Can We Stop Asking For A New Internet?

Techdirt reacts to the NYT story, Do we need a new Internet? It's from their Chicken Little Department. It's a good story, hits the right issues (except that it misses rapid, inexpensive market discovery).

Techdirt makes one big mistake. It says, "there's no evidence that any users actually want such a new Internet," and that's wrong. There's plenty of evidence -- ask almost any user, and they'll say the Internet is difficult to use and malware makes it worse. That there's so much evidence is the danger. The problem is who benefits if we offer a locked down net, and the baby-bathwater nature of the proposed fixes.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Major F2C Announcement Today

Announcing . . . (drum roll) . . .

More high-powered speakers for F2C: Freedom to Connect
March 30 & 31, Washington DC.
(Register now: Price goes up February 28!)

The speakers announced below join already-announced
speakers such as the CIO of San Francisco, the CTO of
Seattle, the Chief Technologist of the FCC, and the
visionaries of Lafayette LA and Burlington VT municipal

Also, see announcements below:
+ F2C Musician in Residence!
+ Special hotel deal for F2C participants.
+ New Collaborating Partners.
+ F2C on Facebook

>>>>>>>>> SPEAKERS:

1) Billy Ray, CEO, Glasgow (KY) Electric Power Board,
In the mid-80s, Billy was spurred by energy crisis #2 and
an unresponsive cableco to create a broadband network for
the citizens of Glasgow KY. By 2001 it was serving 75% of
Glasgow's households at less than 60% of the U.S. average
price. Today Ray is building FTTH and thinking about how
fiber can asuage the need for new electric power plants.

2) Kevin Werbach was co-leader of President Obama's
FCC Transition Team. He also produces the high-powered,
well-respected SuperNova tech conference, and he authored
the 1999 FCC report entitled, "Digital Tornado."
Kevin will discuss his experiences on the Obama FCC
Transition and the prospects for the new FCC

3) Andrew C. Revkin is the New York Times science reporter
on the "beat" of global climate disruption. He travels
the world, witnessing first-hand changes that may
indicate bigger changes to come. He's surfing the edge
of Internet reporting on his blog dotEarth . . .

4) L. Aaron Kaplan will discuss how Vienna Austria's
community-built, community-owned, 500-device, 30-km
diameter, Wi-Fi mesh network, free-of-charge to its
users has achieved financial sustainability. More:


John Jorgenson Quintet!!! John Jorgenson earned
"best guitarist" three years in a row from the Academy
of Country Music. The John Jorgenson Quintet plays
hot, hot, hot Django Reinhardt-style Gypsy Jazz.
The quintet boasts burning jazz fiddler Jason Anick
and a rhythm section so smokin I've bought carbon


The brand new Hampton Inn, across the street from F2C
and down a block, has offered us a real deal -- just
under $180 a night, which is substantially cheaper than
any other hotel within walking distance.
Aloysious Cory Phillips, Sales Manager
Phone: 301-563-3843


F2C depends on word-of-web to get the word out!
Here are a few of the Collaborating Partners who
are helping us with publicity, and what they're up to:

FTTH Council: Fiber to the Home Council is a non-profit
organization dedicated to the advancement of fiber to
the home networks. It has been a major driving force
in bringing fiber to American homes. It is also very
active in Europe and Asia. It's holding a service
provider workshop open to all in New Orleans, March 11.
Agenda here [.pdf] that
will include a very knowledgeable analysis of what's
in the Obama stimulus package to spur FTTH networks
by Tom Cohen. I went to the FTTH Workshop in Petaluma
CA -- a most fascinating day! The FTTH Council annual
meeting, also open, is another great event featuring
the superstars of fiber -- this year it is scheduled
for Houston, Sept. 27 through Oct. 1, info at

DSL Prime and and FastNetNews: Dave Burstein, editor,
is a close observer of the Internet scene, an original
who talks to everybody and calls it like he sees it
without regard for convention or what passes as wisdom.
I'm delighted to give him a plug, and I appreciate his
heartfelt enthusiasm for F2C! -- "Often interesting reporting."

New America Foundation: The New America Foundation
hosts the public-spirited network work of my friends
Michael Calabrese and Sascha Meinrath. Sascha's
co-chairing an F2C panel on "What we can learn from
Networking Failures," and he's one of the prime movers
behind M-Lab a suite of
tools announced two weeks ago designed to assess the
quality and neutrality your Internet connection.

Personal Democracy Forum: How Technology is Changing
Politics . . .
PDF's organizers, Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry are
friends and mentors. The annual PDF conference in June
2008 was stellar, unmissable. This year's PDF event
has not been announced yet, but it is certain to
be better. This is from the heart: I love these
guys and the spectacular events they do!

OpinionSource is a service that consolidates and
summarizes Op-Eds and other opinion materials,
and puts them all in one place, or slices and dices,
e.g., you can get the daily China summary, the
Middle East summary, etc. Friend Jack Hidary runs
this worthy operation.

>>>>>>>>>> F2C ON FACEBOOK

Join the Facebook event. Invite your friends.


F2C Musician in Residence wins Grammy

F2C: Freedom to Connect Musician in Residence John Jorgenson just won the "Country Instrumental" Grammy for playing in a seven-guitar collaboration entitled, "Cluster Pluck." Such a song is a superb fit in a Washington DC based discussion of Internet policy. The other six guitar players included Brad Paisley, Vince Gill, and Albert Lee.

I announced today that the John Jorgenson Quintet would be F2C: Freedom to Connect Musicians in Residence for 2009. The announcement said, in part,
John Jorgenson earned "best guitarist" three years in a row from the Academy of Country Music. The John Jorgenson Quintet plays hot, hot, hot Django Reinhardt-style Gypsy Jazz. The quintet boasts burning jazz fiddler Jason Anick and a rhythm section so smokin I've bought carbon credits.
According to the Redlands (CA) Daily Facts, Jorgenson's hometown newspaper, Jorgenson has played on two other Grammy winning recordings, one by Peter Frampton, the other by Bonnie Raitt. He's been nominated two more times for work with Earl Scruggs and The Desert Rose Band, which he co-founded. [Article]

Note: F2C: Freedom to Connect will be March 30 & 31, 2009 in Washington DC. A word to the SMART: Prices go up on 2/28 so register soon!

This is Cross-posted an amplification of a posting on from Freedom to Connect blog.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Ed Felten says, "New Internet? No Thanks."

Professor Felten writes:
The problem is not that the Net is broken or malfunctioning, it's that the endpoint devices are misbehaving -- so the best solution is to secure the endpoint devices. To borrow an analogy from Gene Spafford, if people are getting mugged at bus stops, the solution is not to buy armored buses.
This is a mere excerpt -- the whole thing is worth reading. [Source]

Felten concludes,
As I have said before, the Internet is important enough that it's worthwhile having people think about how it might be redesigned, or how it might have been designed differently in the first place. The Net, like any large human-built institution, is far from perfect -- but that doesn't mean that we would be better off tearing it down and starting over.
Very good. I might append, ". . . or changing it to keep the powerful from losing power," but even without such words, the point is made.

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Monday, February 16, 2009


Dumb when they want to be . . .

David Akin pointed me to this article in the Ottawa Citizen which describes CRTC initiatives aimed at getting the cablecos to pay into a fund that would support, "the creation of high-quality, high-cost, scripted Canadian broadcasting content in the new media."

In it, Ken Engelhart, senior vice-president of regulatory [affairs?] for Rogers Corp. is quoted saying,
"We're a dumb pipe. We don't know what you're downloading ... so how can we be responsible for the content?"
Wasn't it just yesterday that the providers of end-user Internet connections were caught red-handed managing BitTorrent, VOIP, pro-choice family planning messages and anti-Bush lyrics? Wasn't it just the day before that they said Google & Co. wasn't gonna use their pipes for free?

Oh, I get it. They're OK with categorizing content when they stand to MAKE money, but dead set against it when they stand to PAY money. There are higher principles at stake than Internet freedom, I guess.

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Others say, Don't Fix the Internet

A few other folks in addition to David Akin [quoted here] agree with my posting this morning entitled, "Fixing the Internet might break it worse than it’s broken now."

Michael Fraase writes, "Sound familiar? It’s the homeland portion of the Bush doctrine—trade liberty for security theater—all over again."

Scott Jarkoff writes, "Holding a drivers license has never proven to be an effective means of determining whether someone is capable of driving. Similarly, just because a person may be able to pass an 'Internet Licensing' test does not mean they will still adhere to said policies. It just reeks of short-sightedness designed to fix one problem, but which will most assuredly have unintended consequences leading to disaster."

Fernando Perriera, a former Bell Labs colleague who I have not seen since '97, writes, "The arguments for 'fixing' the internet are to me a mild form of arguments I would rather not have to be reminded of, given by Salazar's authoritarian regime I grew up under in Portugal, of how prior censorship, police control of the opposition, manipulated elections, and government-run unions were what kept us from the crime, pornography, and corruption of "decadent" countries like France (Gitane-somking leftists), England (youth-corrupting Beatles and miniskirts), the Netherlands (Amsterdam!), or Sweden (especially Sweden, with its neutrality, embrace of refugees from dictatorships, and openness about sex)."

I'm glad to see the fixers' arguments aren't being swallowed by everybody.

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My congressman does me proud!

TPM's man in Washington DC, Matthew Cooper, recently interviewed freshman Congressman Jim Himes, who lives in Cos Cob less than a mile from me, who I worked for when he was running against long-time incumbent Chris Shays, who (since way before he was running for Congress) I've worked *with* to get out the vote on election day, who rides his bicycle as a serious means of transportation, who I count as a friend and colleague . . . you get the picture, Jim Himes is very high in my book of wonderful people. I am so proud he is my Representative in Congress! [Representative Himes' Web site.]

Cooper points out that Jim represents a district that might as well be named Hedgefundistan (formerly Stepford, aka Greenwich CT), got more campaign money from TARP recipients than ANY other member of the House, used to work for Goldman Sachs, etc., etc., and from appearances and motivations, might be expected to be as strong advocate for the financial sector as anybody in Congress, he quotes Himes thus:

". . . the highest priority is transparency . . . I want to make sure that risk resides with the people who take it."

That's Jim. One of the best of the good guys. Cooper says Jim's voting pattern will be an indicator that Washington is really changing. I think the fact that Jim is there already shows it. I'm hoping that Jim keeps his moral compass in Washington DC. I think the fact that he kept it in Hedgefundistan is telling. Nevertheless, I'm going to visit him on a regular basis to remind him . . .

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David Akin comments on "fixing the Internet"

David Akin, whose posting on Farber's List triggered this blog's previous post on Fixing the Internet, sent the following note to me in response. It is a little window into why reporters think about (and write about) what they do. It is published with his permission.

Saw the post you sent around to Zittrain, Weinberger, Lessig et al -- nice!

Something else struck me as I was reading it: I've now been out of the tech game, if you will, for three years. (I've been reporting on federal politics here since then) And that means I've not been subject to the press
bumpf etc. from the computer security industry. Back when I was a tech reporter -- and getting all that security and privacy bumpf every day -- I worried a lot about, well, security and privacy.

Not anymore. The Internet -- thanks to all the great engineers who are constantly trying to patch the potholes -- works great and I hardly even notice.

In fact, some say the biggest danger for Canadian network users right now ain't from malicious hackers -- it's from our own federal government! [See:]

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Sunday, February 15, 2009


Fixing the Internet might break it worse than it's broken now.

Willis Alan Ramsey, who wrote "Muskrat Love," recorded one and only one studio album. The cognoscenti of country think it's a gem, an all time top ten. There's an apocryphal story that when Ramsey was pushed to make another record he allegedly retorted, "What's wrong with the first one?"

We who use the Internet every day risk losing sight of what a miracle it is, and the openness that keeps it so miraculous. "Sure, this thingy here is a printing press in my pocket. If I see something I want the world to know, I write it down, take a picture, make a movie, push this little button over here, and Presto! I've published it to the world. Instantly. For free. No gate keepers. No editorial board. No government censors (almost)." Freedom of the press is for anybody who can afford forty bucks a month.

We also lose sight of the fact that even as the Internet's miracles occur, it's almost always broken or malfunctioning or threatening or worse in many places along the line. It takes a licking and keeps on ticking, because it was designed to work just fine that way.

I made these points in 2001 in a little-noticed essay, "If It's Broke, Don't Fix It," in SMART Letter #57, which remains unnoticed by the many would-be Internet fixers that have come along since then. They continue to lobby for fixes. The most recent fixers include, e.g., Jonathan Zittrain, who argues for an Internet safety zone that, he says, would be safer than that degenerate sewer rife with malware, worms, viruses, spam, fraud, copyright abuse and sexual predation that is, yes, the plain old generic generative Internet we use every day. (Hear Zittrain, and my rebuttal, on the Voice of America, blogged here.)

Even Lawrence Lessig, a champion of the original Internet's original strengths, blogged "Zittrain told us so" the other day about a worm that appeared in early January [story]. However, Lessig isn't completely correct; this most recent worm did not bring the Internet down or markedly increase the amplitude of the normal background hysterical reaction against the Internet. I haven't even noticed its effect on my Internet use. Have you? Has this worm planted software that will make the Internet stop failing to fail? Dunno, but since I started using the Internet, many malicious malware manifestations have come and gone and the Internet keeps keeping on.

For sure, there's a very active community that hustles to get, and stay, on top of such attacks. (Hats off to them!!!) So far this community is succeeding in spades, and the same old Internet we know and love (and hate, and marvel at, and swear at, and nevertheless use every hour of every day) keeps on keeping on keeping on keeping on, giving the pink generator bunny a run for its money.

Today the New York Times has yet another story about yet another gang of Internet fixers, this time from Stanford. These fixers would . . .
create [an Internet that functioned as] a “gated community” where users would give up their anonymity and certain freedoms in return for safety.
This reminds me of the Ben Franklin quote that Dave Farber used to use in his email signature:
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
[Farber doesn't use this quote anymore. Correction: Farber says he *does* still use this quote when he (infrequently) uses his .sig.]

The New York Times article astutely observes,
As a new and more secure network becomes widely adopted, the current Internet might end up as the bad neighborhood of cyberspace. You would enter at your own risk and keep an eye over your shoulder while you were there.
This "bad neighborhood" argument is but one objection to segmenting the Internet. Even worse, suppose you came up with something new and cool but could not convince the keepers of the "safe" Internet that your application was worthy. Worse, suppose your new cool app is designed to appeal more to soccer kids and their moms than to suicide grrrrlz. If the soccer moms make their kids play on the padded, guarded "safe" side of the Internet, they might never discover it. The generativity of the Internet could degenerate in a hurry.

David Akin, former tech reporter for Toronto's Globe and Mail, agrees with me. Today he wrote to Dave Farber's list:

. . . it [is] a shame [that today's NY Times article] didn't explore some of [the fixers' ideas] a bit further and question the assumptions the Stanford researchers (and others) make that we're going to have to give up privacy and anonymity in exchange for stability and safety.

FWIW: I'm no computer scientist. I'm a plain vanilla Internet user who had his first e-mail account in (I think) 1987 or 1988. Since then, I have been running around the Internet using machines running DOS, Windows, and Mac operating systems. My home machines have never -- never! - been infected with a virus and, so far as I know, no one's stolen my credit card number or my identity. I'm pretty sure I've done to enjoy such good fortune is exercise a little common sense.

On the corporate networks I've been forced to use, I've seen precisely one security problem that affected the company's users. A virus knocked out the network for a company I once worked for for a few weeks. (That company, incidentally, was running Microsoft server products and a Microsoft operating system on its desktops. If you're running a server, why wouldn't you run OpenBSD?) My point here is: Time and time again, we've heard, mostly from companies who sell computer security products, that the world is ending, that there is a monster virus out there that's about to pull the whole thing down. I'm not convinced. Exercise a little common sense when you compute and I'm sure we'll all be fine.

In any event: If you build a new Internet and you want me to get a license to drive on it, sorry. I'm hanging out here in version 1.
Is David Akin's experience like yours? It certainly mirrors mine. All of the security problems I've had in the last 25 years of Internet use (that I can remember right now) have come from the Application Layer or from my own stupidity. True, I'm not a young girl beginning to explore my social self on (e.g.) MySpace, but danah boyd, Ph.D. has good data that indicates that most Internet threats to such Internet users come from kids their own age, and that the kids who are most vulnerable to Internet-generated risks, are also those most at risk in real life too. "These kids need help, not protection," says Dr. boyd.

So, we might ask, who wants the story of the dangerous Internet spread? Who wants the Internet to be seen as a dangerous place? Whose business models are becoming obsolete as the generic generative Internet grows and pervades? Who is threatened by the absence of gatekeepers? Then look who continues to pursue the story . . .

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President Obama's first major victory

On January 5, 2009, which seems like an eternity ago, President-to-be Obama laid out his plan for a $775 billion stimulus package to be on his desk, "no later than mid-February." [NY Times, 1/5/09]

Mission, if I dare use this phrase accurately for a change, Accomplished. [NY Times, 2/14/09]

On time. On budget ($787 v $775). The only thing Obama got wrong was the bi-partisan thing, and it seems that he's learning fast.

[UPDATE: In fact, it reminds me of the story where Babe Ruth pointed at the bleachers with his bat and hit the next home run right where he pointed. [Source for picture]]

It is still an open question whether it's enough money aimed at the right things in a timely enough fashion. However, for a First Big Move, where he said exactly what he'd do and when, then did it, it's awesome.

Today's Frank Rich column has more.

Now, Big Move #2?

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009


How about keys to the city for ATC?

The other day Captain Sullenberger, the hero who ditched his plane in the Hudson river after a bird strike and saved every soul on board, and his crew were feted all over New York City, and deservedly too!!! Heros of the first degree. The first responders who showed up in boats and copters before any of the victims got very wet or cold were celebrated too.

There's an especially good account in The Times of London, which says, in part,
Captain Sullenberger was asked: “Did you, at any point, pray?” He replied: “I would imagine somebody in back was taking care of that for me while I was flying the airplane.”
But who celebrated the Air Traffic Controllers? The ATC guy in New York Tracon was EXCELLENT. Grace under fire. If you have not heard the audio yet, give a listen. He -- on behalf of his ATC brothers and sisters -- deserves the Keys to the City too.

Let me tell you, I've been there, done that. One dark night, 3000 feet over eastern Pennsylvania, maybe 20 years ago, I flew my Cessna 172 through a vee of geese. The shadows flew inches from my head, I heard a thunk, the plane slewed to the right. I thought I was dead, but I pushed in the throttle, and my little putt actually gained altitude. I called ATC, and declared the emergency. The Tracon guy told me there was an airport four miles off my left wing. I looked, but all I saw was darkness. I said, "Got anything bigger?" And he said, Reading is nine miles straight ahead. I came over one hill, and there was Reading Airport, with all its lights blazing bright. It was only then I could see the goose lodged in the sheet metal of my right wing. I was never more glad to see a bunch of emergency vehicles, lights a flashing, waiting for me. They even asked if I wanted them to foam the runway! (I declined.) The next morning, there was my mug on the front of the Reading paper holding the one goose wing that wasn't stuck inside my airplane's sheet metal. Hero? No, I simply saved my own ass. The hero was the ATC guy who pointed me at Reading and talked me in.

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Sunday, February 08, 2009


Pic>1kWord: How bad is it?

[Source] Hat tip to Dewayne.

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Friday, February 06, 2009


It's been a long time coming, but I know change is gonna come . . .

Watch this!!!

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Sunday, February 01, 2009


Benkler analyzes Broadband in Stimulus Bills

Yochai Benkler has done a close reading of the broadband portions of both House and Senate stimulus bills. Nice work.

To summarize Yochai's summary:

House: $6 Billion, split between Commerce and Agriculture Depts., requires adherence to FCC's Four Internet Principles (the Martin FCC Version).

Senate: $9 Billion, via Commerce Department's NTIA, requires less specific "interconnection and nondiscrimination."

How much broadband can a Billion buy? My own rule of thumb; a million homes passed with fiber, or 500,000 homes connected. But if these billions are treated as *stimulus* perhaps the funds could be used a lot more effectively, e.g., to spur or shame incumbents, to remove specific barriers (e.g., to municipal networks), to develop, monitor or deploy key technologies rather than entire infrastructures, etc.

Benkler continues: the House bill also explicitly defines Advanced Broadband (at least 45 Mbit/s down and 15(!) up). and sets up the NTIA to build technical capabilities to study and benchmark broadband availability and performance.

He directly addresses the suspicion of more than a few Netheads that these Billion$ are giveaways to incumbents, saying,

. . . both the House and Senate bills clearly tie the funding to core goals intended to enhance distributed innovation and open participation, uncontrolled by the incumbents, and to begin to reintroduce the idea that competition from new entrants is important and requires some version of open access and interconnection regulation is a breath of fresh air.
However, Benkler reminds us, these are yet bills not laws, the sausage machine is still a-grinding, and we DO need to monitor carefully what's in the mix.

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