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 (vpri.org) 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 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

Increasing independence with “sticky” energy

Andy Grove, former Intel CEO, and Robert Burgelman, Stanford business professor, suggest that energy resilience should be the goal of energy policy.

The article’s main points are:

  • energy independence goals have been set, and not reached
  • electricity-based technologies aren’t subject to supply shocks or interruptions
  • energy resilience should be the realistic goal, not independence
  • we should first switch gas-guzzlers to hybrid capability (gasoline and electric)

I agree that electricity is less portable, or more “sticky” than petroleum. Electricity generally needs to be consumed near the point of generation.  That means the only other barriers are driving behavior, climate and geography, because the infrastructure for electricity isn’t going to be everywhere you might want to drive.

Formal studies of other conversion projects like this have been done, primarily around a switch to hydrogen fuel. The EU’s matisse project has done economic studies of what this would mean, and similar work is needed for the hybrid question.

My concern is that the car consumer is already ahead of Mr. Grove here, and there will be little political support for this. So what is the best way to achieve the goal of switching SUV and Van fleets to gas/electric hybrid operation?

Corporate fleets of vans and trucks could be switched first, because:

  • A smaller number of companies and government entities are effected (easier data collection and enforcement)
  • For government fleets, the economic risks are spread across a larger tax base

Suggestions and pointers to models of switching costs are welcome.