Silicon Valley and the war

Does Silicon Valley have a split personality in the war? The Frisco Chronicle thinks we do, because we produce high-tech weaponry but harbor a boatload of anti-war sentiment. Wind River’s president Jerry Fiddler’s not confused:

“This war is a catalyst that is shining light on a military that is always strong and present and here for one reason — to keep us safe,” he said in an e-mail. “The world today is a safer place because of American military capabilities. We’ve seen those capabilities used to end conflict recently in Kosovo, Bosnia, Rwanda and elsewhere. We owe a debt to our soldiers.”

And neither was former deputy secretary of defense David Packard.

But others are: Bob Taylor, ex- of Xerox PARC, Lee Felsenstein, once a personal computer pioneer of sorts, and a number of the elf bloggers, like Marc Canter, David Weinberger, Howard Rheingold, Lisa Rein, Meg Hourihan, Steve Kirsch, Joi Ito, et. al. Generally, the techies who oppose the war — and implicitly support a status quo that leaves Saddam Hussein in power — are not engineers, but “social implications of technology” people, self-appointed visionaries, dot-commers, and marketeers. The reality-based thinking that engineers practice doesn’t leave room for coddling dictators and sanctioning torture, so we want regime change. Besides, many of us have worked for managers who remind us of the Butcher of Baghdad, so we naturally sympathize with the oppressed.

Hollywood’s a different story, of course, because it’s full of the fuzzy-minded, who tend to have the same tunnel-vision we find in the Valley’s paratechnicals.

High-tech weaponry

This column by Walter Williams reminded me why the Soviet Union folded:

There were some highly classified equipment, operations and questions one of our hosts, Dr. Ace Summey, couldn’t show or discuss with us, but that which we saw convinced me that Saddam Hussein can only expect a zero to no chance of a successful battle engagement with our military. I was also convinced that CSS had given additional meaning to General George S. Patton’s admonition, “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.”

He discusses multi-spectral radar, Landing Craft Air Cushion and unmanned underwater vehicles, all nice arrows in the quiver in the war against terrorism.

Network is the engine of liberation

The Frisco paper ran an interesting story on the role of networking in the execution of Operation Iraqi Freedom:

In network centric warfare, U.S. forces are held together by a global communications grid. Ships, aircraft and land vehicles are all plugged in and can exchange information with each other — just like PCs and servers on the Internet.

One advantage of this approach is that forces can disperse, so they are less likely to be spotted and can maneuver with more agility. Because everyone on the net can share battle data with everyone else, each unit has a better picture of the battlefield.

Up to now the United States has had a clear edge in these kinds of military operations. Indeed, the British army may be the only other military force in the world that can operate with U.S. forces.

That last point underscores why the support of nations other than Britain is tactically irrelevant, even if it is politically desirable.

On the question of unilateralism, there’s an interesting exchange of e-mails between Andrew Sullivan and Tom Friedman on Sully’s blog.

WiFi without Relativity

Dave Weinberger’s Salon article claiming RF interference is a myth hasn’t gone over too well, according to Weinberger’s source, David Reed:

And of course, there are the usual angry letters that seem to think I’m claiming to have discovered the earth is flat, or that relativity is wrong (someone actually thought I was arguing that!)

Reed is most famous, perhaps, as one of the co-authors of the 1981 paper arguing for an architecture-neutral Internet. (If we’re going to start enumerating technical myths, I’d start with architecture neutrality; the Internet’s initial design wasn’t neutral, it was crippled with respect to real-time data transfer, but if you read this blog at all, you’ve seen that already.)

The weakest parts of Reed’s theories about RF signalling relate to non-informational sources of interference such as barriers, reflection, multipath, and entropy. Other than that, it’s a fine way to look at signalling in a vacuum, covering all the considerations that should be taken into account by the FCC the next time they deal with metaphysical policy.

Sometimes I think I could edit an entire blog devoted to nothing but debunking pseudo-technical BS.

No network vigilante bill

Hollywood’s man in Washington, ultra-liberal machine boss Howard Berman, has apparently decided to drop the network vigilante bill that got so many web elves upset when it was introduced last year:

This week, however, Berman said he may not revive the measure. For one thing, copyright holders may not need extra protection to combat file-sharing piracy, he said. And though Berman wasn’t deterred by complaints from consumer advocates, the concerns voiced by Hollywood studios — among the biggest beneficiaries of the bill, given their active anti-piracy efforts online — suggested that Berman was climbing out on a limb by himself.

This bill, as you may recall, allowed copyright holders to invade file sharing computers and launch legal denial-of-service attacks in order to protect their intellectual property. Hollywood reached a consensus that the risk of liability from doing these things where they weren’t warranted outweighed the benefits.

The reaction to this bill underscored the confusion that reigns in the minds of many of our good tech-topians about the different business interests of telecom and Hollywood. The tech-topian tendency is to conflate telcos and Hollywood into a monolithic axis of evil, as they do in the World of Ends document that delivers a stern lecture to both on the (largely imaginary) differences between the Internet and the phone net. The organized opposition to the Berman bill (which Dave Winer wrongly attributed to co-sponsor Howard Coble) came from the telcos, especially Verizon, because they don’t want Hollywood messing with their Internet business.

In the real world, telcos and Hollywood have very different interests, of course.

Sharing spectrum

According to Scott Mace’s Radio Weblog and Boing Boing, the second day at the Spectrum conference was productive. Scott:

David P. Reed: “What happened with 802.11, a small group of companies developed all kinds of crazy technologies to run in that space. Most of the companies failed. Gradually, industry said, we need to work together. Some of those committees were IEEE committee. Despite the fact I don’t think 802.11 is the be-all and end-all, it’s an amazingly successful example of governing a commons.”


Spectrum Etiquette: Two Proposals
Does the “unlicensed” spectrum band need etiquette rules at this time? Or should the FCC leave the space alone? This panel will address this general question, as well as specific etiquette proposals. Speakers from MSFT and Motorola, plus assorted commentators.

Two days on protocol regulation would be a good start.

Spectrum conference

I signed up for the Spectrum Conference at the Stanford Law School today and tomorrow, but decided to bail when FCC chairman Michael Powell bailed. Reading the blog accounts, like this one at Scripting News, maybe I didn’t miss much:

…these guys are part of a fraternity, they talk about things that mean nothing to me. I’m a stranger here. I don’t get it.

This is one of those deals where two worlds collide: policy makers and regulators don’t understand technology, and technologists don’t understand the policy and political issues. So they end up talking past each other, and don’t really say all that much of value anyhow. Plus, a couple blogs reported that clueless attendees were comparing cell phones and cameras, and neither my cell phone nor my camera is state of the art, so I would have felt bad.

As I’ve said before, there are problems with the way the FCC regulates spectrum, but they aren’t legal problems related to property rights vs. commons, they’re more technical. The FCC says how much power you can pump into a given frequency with or without a license, but they don’t say what you do with that power in terms that make any sense to computer networkers. They need to adopt an approach where they regulate not just the power but the protocols, because some protocols share bandwidth well and some don’t. Spectrum is a scarce resource, because God isn’t making any more of it. Yes, there are clever ways to share spectrum that need to be encouraged, and bad ways to use spectrum that don’t share well and need to be discouraged.

In unlicensed spectrum, protocols need to be regulated. The appropriate analogy isn’t the Internet, because its pipes don’t have an interference problem; the analogy that people can understand is spam. Some uses of spectrum are junk, and these need to be curtailed.

Connecting neighborhoods to the net with WiFi is a junk application, for example; there are better ways to do that.