Interesting work at VPRI –

Xerox PARC developed Notecards, then Apple implemented HyperCard, a system that allowed non-programmers to implement “stacks” of information, based on a model like a stack of index cards. Xerox alumni at VPRI ( have implemented radically smaller (or less complex) implementations of common software systems, including text editors, networking stacks, and recently, a system capable of HyperCard-style behavior.

It will be interesting to see how these systems evolve over time, and whether an Objects/Services dichotomy will develop once scaling concerns force services to be distributed over a network.


Will systems thinking help our political leaders?

Has our new administration embraced systems thinking?

By systems thinking, I mean the holistic perspective – systems thinking attempts to illustrate that events are separated by distance and time and that small catalytic events can cause large changes in complex systems. Acknowledging that an improvement in one area of a system can adversely affect another area of the system, it promotes organizational communication at all levels in order to avoid “stovepipe thinking”.

Systems thinking techniques may be used to study any kind of system — natural, scientific, engineered, human, or conceptual.

Several people, including Charles Brown, LJ Furman, and Linda Booth Sweeney all have commented on President Obama’s tendency to think this way.

Can we build models and find a path out of the multiple dilemmas we face?

Wireless streaming video – the next ‘tragedy of the commons’

Are you ready for your cellular network to melt down in 2010?

The NFL and Major League Baseball are deploying streaming applications for the iPhone. Sending streaming video over a TCP/IP connection that uses acknowledgments is exceedingly stupid, since there are going to be tens of thousands of people who want to view this, all at the same time.

A UDP connection would be a better idea, because you can design a protocol that doesn’t expect acknowledgements for those video packets.

Years ago, when I worked on a project to build the Boston Community Information System, we used a broadcast channel. It scales to a million users as easily as it serves one user. We didn’t expect to clutter a packet switching network with content that had a large community of interest.

Where will the bandwidth come from?

Summary of 2008 – nothing is perfect

Two highlights as we ponder the end of 2008 and look forward to 2009:

Technology can fail, as this video from the DARPA Urban Challenge 2007 shows

People are fallible, too:
Crowdsourcing isn’t a panacea for identifying tough problems

And finally, Internet security is still broken (this one requires people and computers together)

For 2009, let’s be more careful out there. The best watchwords are: trust, but verify

The future history of the Education Commons

MIT Press has released a PDF version of the book “Opening Up Education”, (new link here -on dropbox) which is a series of articles on open educational content.

I found the most interesting piece was David Wiley’s “the OpenCourseWars” – 2005-2012, some speculative fiction on what will happen with the open content movement over the next few years.


Will the future be different? Or like the 1970s thought it would be?

I recently came across PaleoFuture, about the “the future that never was”.  They look at the history of predictions of the future.  These forecasts always seems to be more utopian, depicting a bright and shiny future more rosy than it actually turns out to be.

There’s always going to be conflicting opinion about whether or not the future will be better than the past, but it’s worth viewing the comments on the blog.

In 2008, with the global economic panic, there is more room for pessimism.

At the same time, there is room for optimism that we can avoid the distopian futures projected in the 1970s.

  • We can connect another billion people to the internet to help educate and solve problems
  • We’ve seen the excesses of fundamentalist thinking along the extremes capitalism and communism, and are ready to explore more cooperative approaches
  • We have the capacity for rational thought, and can design creative ways to solve pressing global issues

The education challenge – economics vs. decentralization

The success of the ‘industrial age’ school model is working against success in the ‘digital age’ school model.  Recent books by

Here’s what the Internet makes possible:

  1. What one person knows, everyone knows.
  2. Students can collaborate with other students, and teachers
  3. Students control the pace of their own learning

In the United States, the high school movement of the 1880 and early 1900s have led to a locally-controlled system of public education, but your student experience depends on these factors:

  • Your state’s willingness to provide a standardized curriculum
  • Availability of an approved distance education program in your state
  • The willingness of citizens to fund school programs through property tax levies
  • The state or local school board approval of programs that use technology to change how education is delivered
  • The willingness of school administrators to promote or accept innovations in course content and methods of delivery

Recent surveys of the education gap suggest that the decentralized system adopted as part of the ‘high school movement’ in the early 20th century are working against increased levels of attainment by students in the 21st century. 

Harvard educators Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz analyze the reasons for the education gap
The Race between Education and Technology

I found the review of Goldin and Katz’ book here: