Posts Tagged ‘Internet’

Reclaiming Geek Culture

Monday, March 7th, 2011



When I started using computers as a little kid, it was all-inclusive; if you were interested, you were in the club. Eventually, communities were built around things like Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) that were places for getting email, downloading files, chatting with other people, and playing games.

The BBS operators wrote code and spent time designing a culture for their systems or communities. In the Northern California Foothills, we had what we called an MUPT meeting once a month. At our Modem User Pizza Thingy, we shared ideas, talked about communication, and generally were stupid, geeky nerds; and we loved it! I was too young to drive to the meeting so I had to be dropped off. Yet, that did not seem to matter to anyone. It was a blast and laid the foundation for my love of geek culture in motion and was ground zero for Northern California’s geek culture.

The BBS culture carried into the Internet and, wow, that’s where things got interesting. There was so much to learn, so much to do, so much more to talk about. Nothing was set in stone, there were no rules or regulations, and the only best common practices we could find were from the military. It was a free-for-all learning fest and that original MUPT/BBS culture remained intact. It was essentially the early days of online community building at its best.

Now, nearly 15 years have gone by and I have watched these groups of people that I deeply respect get older. Networking technology has aged with us and that original, youthful excitement has started to die. No longer is sharing considered a good thing. If you ask a “dumb” question on a large forum, you’re going to be flamed by some snarky person. This new culture has become one more akin to a “club” for only certain people and seems to be exclusive rather than inclusive like the geek culture I remember. Why is it that there are people that spend half of their day writing snide replies to prove that they are somehow smarter than the original poster?

It’s funny, as I was writing this post, I stumbled upon the Patton Oswalt article in Wired “Wake Up Geek Culture, Time to Die.” He had me in the first few sentences, particularly his phrase: “back when nerd meant something.” But, Oswalt experienced this more from a dedication to film and music, whereas I was devouring technology. Oswalt calls it an obsessive interest that led to deep knowledge and produced new artists. He points out that this innovation is missing today. We are just repurposing, manipulating past innovations.

Is this new culture the result or the reason for dwindling innovation?

Think about it; IPv4 has pretty much been mastered by the packet slingers that have learned everything there is to know about routing, load balancing, and networking. New technologies are faster and better, but are they new? The lack of interest in gathering, sharing in an “obsessive interest” manner, is creating an anti-geek culture.

All that said, I continue to choose to work in a start-up environment because I think it is one of the few remaining cultures that is working to foster innovation. It’s a place for creating and sharing new technologies to inspire. New ideas are new possibilities, and challenging the accepted is met with openness and consideration instead of arrogance or criticism. It feels brilliantly similar to the “old days.”

And if geek culture has gone to the trolls, then maybe it’s time we reclaimed it and restored it to its former glory. Being a true geek among peers requires comfort, trust, and the ability to be wrong, awkward, stupid, brilliant, genius, nerdy, and “out there” without ridicule – and for that, I salute my geeks!

The Internet is Beta

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010
Beta is an engineering way of saying “almost done” – the product is good enough to use but it’s not quite finished yet. Google often releases their new products with a cute little “BETA” logo. Gmail, the Google email system used by millions, has been in beta for five years.

Like Gmail, the Internet’s core protocol should also have had a Beta tag on it for an extended time – for the past 41 years to be precise. Generally speaking, it works pretty well, but the founding fathers of the Internet could not have anticipated that the software they were building would ever become what it is now: The infrastructure for all of society.

So it appears today that some major features were left out…but not because the people behind the design made a mistake. When MIT first used packet switching in 1965 to communicate with a remote computer in California (confirming that packet switching works), the furthest thing from anyone’s mind was security, network neutrality, network education, privacy, cyber warfare, and the slurry of problems that challenge both business and individual users of the Internet today.

In 1969, with the original workings of the Internet (ARPANET), security was simple: the network was tiny and users on the computers that were connected to it were trusted researchers. It was an open community. As Vint Cerf, one of the most notable developers of the Internet, was quote in Fatal System Error as saying, “My thought at the time, thirty-five years ago, was not to build an ultra-secure system, because I could not tell if even the basic ideas would work…We never got to do the production engineering.” The focus at the time, sensibly, was on fault tolerance, not security.
Vint Cerf – Photo by Charles Haynes

Now, nearly 41 years later, we read about Internet security issues constantly. The lack of security features in IP (Internet Protocol) has spawned entire industries, with vendors and service providers that are happy to sell you the next generation protect-all, whiz-bang software. If one were to ask a roomful of people in the security industry what they think about the security products, including their own, on the market today – if they think there are real solutions to the problems we all face – their answer would be a unified “NO”. No one thinks we are at the point where we can all just stop worrying about security.


Barack Obama
Courtesy The White House
The disturbing fact is that the engine that enables our modern global economy is based on a really cool experiment that was not designed for security. Risks can be reduced, but the naughty truth is that the ‘Net is not a secure place for business or society.

The role that the Internet plays in our economy places it in the category of a critical resource that the government must protect – just as it does our water supply and the national power grid. A threat to Internet security is a threat to national security. In May 2009, President Obama spoke about this issue and the plan his administration has to address it. He stated that the US is “not as prepared as it should be” to defend against cyber threats and he proposed new “digital infrastructure” initiatives to “ensure that these networks are secure, trustworthy and resilient.”

But can the US Government, or any other governing authority, ever adequately protect and defend the Internet? How can that be done if the Internet Protocol itself was not designed to, in Obama’s words, “deter, prevent, detect, and defend against attacks”?

Given the world economy’s substantial dependence on the Internet, wouldn’t it make sense to create a well-funded think-tank with the brightest minds in society to design a new protocol with a new vision? This time when we start the process, we will have the benefit of 41 years of Internet beta testing and we can rethink the vision to also include things such as:

  • Security: Transmitting data safely but easily without special software.
  • Privacy: Balancing anonymity and accountability. Allowing people to communicate freely but ensuring accountability to protect against abuses and criminal activity.
  • Routing Intelligence: Routing data without neutrality issues and allowing the protocol itself to route traffic based on a myriad of metrics, conditions, agreements, and other factors.
  • Enculturation and Education: Bringing new people (children, emerging nations, etc) onto the network with a step approach to ensure that they learn about network culture and functionality before they make mistakes.

I don’t think any of us who are involved with cyber security on a professional level can see the Internet as it is today functioning successfully for the next 50 years. I can envision a world of networking much different than today’s. So why not start turning the ship now?

Is designing a better protocol difficult? Yes. Can it be done? Absolutely!

I will be writing more on this topic in the coming months. Stay tuned.

“With software anything is possible!”

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

 

When Perry Wu and I started BitGravity, we had high hopes and dreams to build technology that may someday change the Internet. The thought of someday creating technology that pushes the limits of the Internet gave me the drive to build our first server farms in my garage, design a new traffic distribution system, and eventually take our baby and scale it across the entire planet.

As the company grew from my garage and a Starbucks “office”, our views began to culminate. I began to view software as art and not merely a means to an end. I also began to view our team of technologists as wizards that could create and accomplish anything. To this day, if I were to ask one of our principle engineers Edward Crump if something were possible he would undoubtedly respond with his token mantra:

“With software anything is possible!”

The view that Internet service engineering is an art with endless possibilities has become a philosophical pillar at BitGravity and within myself. We viewed the designs on the network, servers, drivers, kernels, and everything up the stack should be done as an art, not strictly a science that results in a bottom line.

It is my view that new technology is only possible because passionate people dream of new concepts and harness their passion to drive it to completion. It’s those same people who are not afraid to answer a question that appears to be impossible to solve.

As I continue to grow as a technologist and start new companies, I always see something unexpected: my customers’ creativity is exploding and I am in awe of their accomplishments.

I am pleased to introduce my blog, ‘Verbophobia’. Here on blyon.com I will be releasing free technology, views and opinions. This will be my playful outlet for technology and philanthropy that should give back to the general community that has helped me become successful.

When Perry Wu and I started BitGravity we had high hopes and dreams to build technology that may someday change the Internet. The thought of someday creating technology that pushes the limits of the Internet gave me the drive to build our first server farms in my garage, design a new traffic distribution system, and eventually take our baby and scale it across the entire planet.
As the company grew from my garage and a Starbucks “office”, our views began to culminate. I began to view software as art and not merely a means to an end. I also began to view our team of technologists as wizards that could create and accomplish anything. To this day, if I were to ask one of our principle engineers Edward Crump if something were possible he would undoubtedly respond with his token mantra:
“With software anything is possible!”
The view that Internet service engineering is an art with endless possibilities has become a philosophical pillar at BitGravity and within myself. We viewed the designs on the network, servers, drivers, kernels, and everything up the stack should be done as an art, not strictly a science that results in a bottom line.
It is my view that new technology is only possible because passionate people dream of new concepts and harness their passion to drive it to completion. It’s those same people who are not afraid to answer a question that appears to be impossible to solve.
As I continue to grow as a technologist and start new companies, I always see something unexpected: my customers’ creativity is exploding and I am in awe of their accomplishments.
I am pleased to introduce my blog, ‘Verbophobia’. Here on blyon.com I will be releasing free technology, views and opinions. This will be my playful outlet for technology and philanthropy that should give back to the general community that has helped me become successful.