Comfortless

I hadn’t fully realized the implications of moving from ExpressNet to a GoldsHake ComfortNet XL subscription at Telenet. The thing is, the ExpressNet subscription comes by default with free webspace (I believe some 50MB). This is a pretty standard offer, common practice among ISPs since the early Internet days. Across the years, I had once in a while made use of this handy online storage facility. I had a very good experience, knew the FTP credentials by heart. And it sort of was an easy gateway for me to store all kinds of artifacts and other legacy on the world wide web. Service provider maintenance means no hosting fees, no nothing else to worry about. Just works at your convenience and out of the box. Now here it comes: to my big surprise, I came to know today that ComfortNet does not include this hosting offering. A big disaster because with this loss, a lot of my precious memories have floated away too: stunning photos, heartfelt (dynamic) HTML and some crazy footage. In an effort to recover my legacy, I called up the Telenet helpdesk. Their explanation: since it has already been more than one year since the subscription change has taken place, there’s no backup available anymore. It is just gone, recklessly deleted, down the drains. Partially due to my naivety, false trust and stupidity, I must admit. But it shouldn’t be like that. Let me draw parallels here. If you move on to a new job and don’t use a skill anymore, you nonetheless still have the ability to excercise that particular skill. You just don’t lose it. It has become part of you. In a way, just like my own pandora webspace became part of me. Besides, I wonder how the diaspora project is doing. You can put your faith in a service provider, of course. There’s nothing wrong with that. But remember that you will never be in full control or entirely independent. From a customer service point of view, I think there’s much room to improve because with great power, comes great responsibility — it is just becoming embarassing how much I use this phrase so frequently lately. I also believe that service providers should take ownership of such issues. Built-in trust. Communicate with the end-user. Optimize workflow and introduce signaling capabilities. Think ahead of your client and beyond their current wishes. And to end with, I would like to state that data portability should become a civil right.

Accelerando Manfred Macx generation review

I am reading Charles Stross award-winning book Accelerando. My very first encounter with the popular science fiction theme called the singularity, in which human intelligence is surpassed by technological advances. Pretty heavy stuff, yes, not just highly entertaining, but an impressive piece of literature.

Accelerando describes how three generations of the Macx clan try to survive and thrive in an accelerated world. Below I am writing a review of the first generation as the three first chapters were so relatable and gripping. The setting is post-cyberpunk-like and it takes place in the early 21st century. Extra-terrestrial life and spacecrafts are elementary in the subsequent chapters,  and basically a completely transformed world is just not so much appealing to me. I rather prefer themes such as Otaku and globalization. Post-scarcity economics. My fantasy has issues putting up with space exploration and other things beyond human comprehension.

Accelerando has been in paperback already since 2006. Originally it was written as a series of novelettes in the period 2001 to 2004. So really it does not make so much sense to review the book (or novella in this case) when it is in “production” for such a long time already – let alone to notify the author of a typo in the book, which I did. Charles replied me that there is indeed no point in notifying the author of a typo in a book unless you catch it in the first edition within six months of publication. There may be time to correct the second/paperback edition, but once that’s gone to press there’s no re-typesetting unless the book goes out of print and is reissued (many, many years later, if ever). But still, I like the idea of crowd-sourced spelling like Cory’s expirement with self-publishing.

Writer Charlie Stross is distinct from fellow cyberpunk writers such as William Gibson, because he has a background in Pharmacy and brings something new to the table. He is specialized in hard science fiction and knows a few things about biochemistry and computer science. By leveraging these new elements, it really spices and levels up the story. One thing that is bothering me though is that he introduces too many ideas at one go and sometimes keeps rambling one. This makes it incomprehensible at times, but then it all suddenly makes sense again.

The story starts during a hot summer in Amsterdam Centraal Station. Manfred Macx, a VC with a high Whuffie factor, mind-uploader and fighter for AI emancipation, receives a FedEx package when he is enjoying a beer. The parcel contains a mobile phone and Manfred gets called, confronted with a KGB AI agent who wants to be set free. Most likely some spammy Russian capitalist spooks, and a failed robbery attempt, Manfred thinks. However, after bumping into the KGB AI agent a second time, he discovers they are uploaded spiny lobsters or nervous system vectors. It looks like he is then becoming tied up in a communist KGB plot. In the meantime, Manfred is also doing business with entrepreneur  Bob Franklin, to discuss an investment in the self-replicating robotics market. And he runs into his ex-fiancee Pamela. Manfred is all about a higher cause, he doesn’t believe in scarcity, competition or zero-sum games prevalent in the traditional economy. Pamela is totally opposite. She works for the Internal Revenue Service, being worried about such things like national debt, birth decline and environmental issues. Manfred still owes the government twelve million in taxes and she is chasing him for that. Apart from that, Pamela wants to get a grip on Macx and marry him.

Three years later, Manfred returns back to Europe.  In the UK, he loses his luggage which is on its way to Mombasa. Luckily, he manages to pick up a replacement luggage that looks exactly the same. Back in his hotel in Milton Keynes, he gets called up by tame attorney Alan Glashwiecz who is filing a lawsuit against one of his companies out of the blue. Manfred then gets the suspicion that this has something with Pamela’s divorcement settlement. So in order to blow this off, Manfred figures out a plan to make himself a temporary billionaire. In the UK he meets Parisian Arianne from Arianespace marketing, who he had met three years earlier in Amsterdam in connection with investor Bob Franklin – he falls for her. She turns out to be a CIA stringer who files dispatches from time to time. This comes in quite handy when Manfred needs to do a press release. However, because of this, the Copyright Control Association of America comes to know he is based in Paris. They are chasing him because he had been assisting music thieves. So they track him down, but the CCAA does not recognize him, since he is still completely in outfit from the previous night drugging and dress-up clubbing. In the meantime, Manfred comes to know of his daughter with Pamela, currently a frozen fertilized embryo. As he needs money for his divorce and to close the deal to get his luggage back, he thinks of selling his idea to interface a central planning system with a capitalist economy to the Italian Communist Party, represented by Gianni. For settling the divorcement, he gives all the music rights that he acquired from busted music cartels to Pam. However, he uploads the entirety of the 20th century out-of copyright music to an anonymized public network so that the Mafiya can’t stop it from being pirated. This way Manfred is able to fend off the CCAA, his dominatrix wife and her attorney.

Some time later, Manfred finds himself in Edinburgh, Scotland where he gets robbed by a young chap named Jack. He loses his very powerful glasses and belt pouch. Without his goggles, Manfred is lost, confused and suffering from amnesia due to the identity theft. Annette feels something is wrong and worriedly goes to look for Manfred after Gianni tells her that Manfred was going to talk to the Franklin Collective to get him a seat on the Confederacy Commission. The Franklin Collective is in fact a shared partial upload of venture billionaire Bob Franklin, a group mind through the brains of its members or collective borganism. The Franklin Collective has huge resources to help pass the Equal Rights Amendment, where all non-human intelligences are eligible to vote, own property, download, upload and sideload. Manfred makes it to the emergency department in the hospital, but ends of following Victorian men in dark suits and women in anachronistic garb. Meanwhile, Annette is interrogating Manfred’s robot cat Aineko, which eventually will bring her to Jack to get Manfred’s spectacles back while Manfred is with the Victorians. They help Manfred to get his consciousness back and with a memory backup, he is at least able to remember again. It then becomes clear that Manfred is there with the Franklin Collective to discuss Gianni’s election campaign. He gets an anxiety attack and madly explains the Collective about Gianni’s believe to achieve True Communism and make everybody rich. But Manfred is still considerably puzzled and falls asleep. Annette manages to find Manfred and the Collective, and together they try to turn around the ERA opposition. The ERA is a very important theological issue for the Collective, because the cult of individuality allows some of the Collective’s team to operate without  the other’s knowledge. This is countered by Manfred by saying that posthumanists also should be thinking about identity issues. Group minds, lobsters and aliens should get civil rights and be accounted for too. And that therefore a new legal concept for of what it is to be a person is needed. In the meantime  his daughter Amber has been defrosted and born, and is being brought up by Pamela. The Lobsters are thriving in colonies and very low entropy alien signals are starting to get picked up. Aineko the cat, starts deciphering these alien signals.

I really like the protagonist Manfred Macx and his character. By being generous, he is able to make people richer. Everything he does it for the betterness. That’s why he enjoys protection from multinational consumer protection groups. He is a smart-ass rebel who knows how to evade licensing issue and reminds me of Julian Assange in a lot of ways.

I like the distinction between meat and mindspace in the book. I like the fact that Stross uses popular culture elements and mixes them up in wicked ways. Wonferful and crazy themes and ideas: KGB lobsters that want to fleet from human occupied Internet, a Lockheed Martin and Boeing alliance, the decay of Europe, terminal outsourcing disease. I love how he thinks in terms of abundance instead of an economic model that relies on scarcity, where resource allocation is no longer a problem and money is associated with poverty.

My two cents on the BlackBerry outage

For three consecutive days now the RIM network is suffering from an outage. The consequences are vast to say the least. People are missing meetings,  are unreachable by family & friends because BlackBerry Messenger is broken down. And a PR disaster for RIM of course. By the way, it doesn’t seem to get much better, now that the US market (represent half of their customers) and their home market Canada are also affected.

So yesterday it was all over on CNN. After the news item, CNN had invited a psychologist to discuss the impact of technology on our lives. The psychologist explained that technology offers us some kind of security and at the same time technology is making our lives increasingly more easy. Bottom line is that we are dependent of technology.

Honestly – I think they are missing the whole point here.

The real deal is that RIM its service is failing. We shouldn’t be talking about running out of drugs when a drug dealer is not delivering. It is fair to point fingers to RIM in this case.

No offense, I do think the BlackBerry is a pretty cool and fancy device. Once manager assistant, now common good. Reason why I don’t have one? Exactly because of what happened. These are tethered appliances, controlled by a corporation.  BlackBerries are a single point of failure basically. This is in contrast with the Internet, which is distributed by nature and by design.

Much to learn from!

On Steve Jobs

The world has lost a man of vision with Steve Jobs passing away. Although I think it is kind of exaggerated, some even say he was a genius or a messiah – intended cartoon below and extra link (in Dutch). Nevertheless, it is a big loss and very sad, not for the tech industry alone. I want to write a few lines here as well as he also influenced me.

To me Steve Jobs was someone who made me buy 2 (expensive) Macintoshes, an iPod and iPod Touch. Like many others, I discovered Apple’s products by watching Steve’s phenomenal keynotes. He had so much drive and passion and was so confident about the things he was doing– computer animation studio Pixar is just one example of that. When you learn about his life, it all looks so eerie. As if he was destined to become very successful. He followed his curiosity and intuition and it all somehow worked out for him. Very remarkable. He entirely changed the music industry by making us pay again for songs through the iTunes model – the ironical thing though is that he was a pirate himself.

What he also should be remembered and credited for is that he took away computers from the geeks and turned them into a fashion statement. By introducing the NeXT, he actually made computers usable as Tim-Berners Lee expresses – engineered and designed in such a way that they are extensible on the inside and usable on the outside. Every day, I have a lot pleasure using the unconventional Apple products – sometimes I must admit though that using only one mouse button instead of two doesn’t make much sense when you are used to a context menu with a right button click. But then again, why not challenge the status quo like Steve Jobs consistently did?

In short, Jobs leaves behind a lot of legacy. Will Apple still flourish without him? Will Objective C remain very popular among programmers? What about iPhone sales and the iPad? All valid questions to be raised now that Steve Jobs died after already stepping aside as CEO. It is clear that Jobs had a very intriguing life and therefore I am kind of thrilled to see the respective upcoming Hollywood autobiography. Unfortunate though that I could not meet him in person just like I had the chance to speak to fellow inventor Steve Wozniak in early 2009. There’s so much to ask him about.