Sunday, October 26, 2008

UWB and the sins of another monopolist

There's a little history I want to get down before I forget too much of it. It has to do with wireless Ultra WideBand, used as a local interconnect technology.

The wikipedia (and other) articles have already been so denatured, lost, hidden, covered up, re-analyzed, etc., that the cuplrit seems a saint, and the tragic hero seems nothing but a buffoon.

I have no specific evidence. Motorola was, as large corporations tend to be, depending on secrecy as a weapon, hoping to get a leg up on iNTEL by surprising the market with fait acompli devices that would become defacto standards before iNTEL could foist its junk on the world yet again.

Uhm, no, secrecy is not a good weapon. So the tragic hero is something of a buffoon. Oh, well.

So my brother, who was directly involved, did not encourage me to do anything that would have blown their secrets, and I did not record things as I should have. So I can only give a rough outline of the events.

Somewhere around the year 2000, while everyone else was worried about the possible effects of cutting corners in business computing on dates, and on mechanized control procedures that depended on dates, my brother was arranging a soft landing as he was processed out of Motorola. A couple of friends who also left about the same time had started a company, eXtreme Spectrum (or something like that, remember the X fetishes about that time?) to work on utilizing certain "under-utilized" radio bands for low power, non-obtrusive local interconnect. Those friends invited my brother to join them, and he did.

The technology borrowed heavily from spread spectrum cryptography techniques. (Think Hedy Lamarr. Think no data wires between your computer and your printer and your monitor and your disk drive and your speakers. Safely. No spilling the data out into your neighbor's living room or the war-drivers' laptops.)

There was a rash of companies that were competing to bring a UWB technology to use that spectrum before the IEEE and the FCC at that time, but, according to my brother (and according to my own research), only eXtreme Spectrum was using the spread spectrum techniques right.

Because of the cryptographic implications, I was concerned that the NSA and others who think that secrets are powerful weapons would scuttle their efforts. I don't know of any specifics to indicate one way or the other about the involvement of the NSA et. al., FWIW.

I was also worried about iNTEL's (lack of) willingness to play fair, for the obvious reasons.

(Owning a piece of the pipes everyone is using is always a lucrative business plan -- on paper -- and the Constitution be damned.

Why is it that so many people think they have some right to be the only ones not required to play fair? Why is it that they can't see far enough ahead to recognize what that does to their own future business environment? What is the blindness of the guy who wants to be the "benevolent" tyrant? I mean, there is a reason there is only one God. Perfection means everything, and none of us who are not perfect -- be honest, now -- are up to the job. We always, always foul our own water supply. Upstream. Where we're going to have to drink it as it comes down.

No escaping that. You may think you can always jump streams, but you're only fooling yourself. There is only one stream. What goes around comes around.)

iNTEL bribed a lot of companies. (Okay, I have no proof except for silly behavior on the part of said companies.) They also set up a lot of phantom companies. (No? Well, where did all those companies in their forum go?) They played the "future feature list" game. (I. E., "The information presented here are forward looking and depend on technologies we hope to develop in the future, and we tell you this in the fine print so you can't sue us later when it turns out we promised 200% more performance than you're implementation will ever achieve.") The organized a forum of fools. They put out cheap hack "samples". Every classic dirty trick.

eXtreme Spectrum did draw first real silicon, delivering a complete integrated circuit product that was scheduled to be used in some (I think it was Samsung, and other) consumer products. The first chip was capable of streaming two or three clean video feeds across the air in large auditoriums, at low power, without dropouts, and without interference. It got FCC approval.

(My brother said that Apple was talking with them about plans for the iPod. Yeah, that was about two years before Apple "switched". Or twitched. Whatever.)

iNTEL claimed that eXtreme Spectrum somehow broke the rules by going to the FCC to get approval instead of letting them bog the thing down in the IEEE committee. (Oh, yeah. The committee. ISO isn't the only one.)

Motorola eventually bought eXtreme Spectrum a little before the digital semiconductor sector was split off as Freescale, and then there were two players left standing. When it was clear that iNTEL's group was never going to concede the playing field, Motorola or Freescale, I forget which, did not just offer to completely open their tech, but actually did. Not just so-called reasonable and non-discriminatory terms. No IP toll, period.

Of course, I knew that would not satisfy iNTEL, iNTEL wants to own the pipes outright. Being able to participate fairly is not in their plan. Period.

Well, the IEEE committee ultimately caved. The standard efforts were discarded.

And on the bloody morning after, we have wireless USB. On paper. Someday. If you really want to spill your data all over the ether on a "bus" that allows only one master. (Put in layman's terms, think of what it would be like if only one bus -- the other kind -- were allowed on the streets at once, remote controlled by the bus company.)

One tin soldier rides away.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Saving Microsoft

This post to /. is actually what lit the firecracker under me to start blogging. I wanted to expand on the idea a bit.

Of course, I could have done so on my /. journal. Mmmm, anyhow, I now have a blog here, so I'll use it and see if I like it.

Who on earth would want to save Microsoft? Okay, I know some people actually think they would want to prevent Microsoft from going away. They think they are dependent on Microsoft software, or something, I suppose. I can answer ever reason they can give logically, but, as I just admitted, humans are not creatures of logic.

I would not care to save Microsoft. Especially now that Open Office has (if you get good fonts) duplicated every essential feature of MSOffice, and almost all of the really important non-essentials, I cannot think of a single useful purpose in having Microsoft around.

No, keeping all the pseudo-engineers under one roof is not a useful purpose. The world would benefit greatly if they either had to learn how to do real software engineering, or get a job more suited to their talents.

(Did I say real software engineering? Heh. I know, I know, pipe dream. Not in this world.)

If, for some strange reason, I wanted to save Microsoft, I have thought of two approaches. (Did I say I have too much time on my hands? No, but sometimes on the train, my eyes are too tired to read anything I have with me.)

One approach, I thought of back when we still deluded ourselves that the government might have enough spine to split Microsoft up. Basically, split Microsoft down the product lines. So you'd have companies like
The Company That Supports the Software Formerly Known as Microsoft Word
The Company That Supports the Software Formerly Known as Microsoft Windows
And each company would be required to interface with the software of the others through a freely accessible, public API, so that if other companies wanted to compete, they could. Or, if that were impossible, simply require all the baby MSses to open up all their code under a license patterned after Apple's public license.

Eight years ago, such an approach could actually have saved Microsoft. It would have forced them to put the breaks on their unreasoning ambition to beat every feature list, and pursue a disciplined engineering approach.

But the cruft of eight more years of undisciplined programing has since accummulated. On top of that is the legal cruft of an undisciplined legal department that is seemingly in a race to make the US so dependent on their intellectual property that no one would dare defend the Constitution any more.

I don't think the APIs are possible to build any more. They would be so internally inconsistent that no one, including the theoretical baby Microsofts would be able to work through them, and if the courts required the baby MSses to not work together any other way, it would all fall apart.

(That might not be a bad thing, and might not be any worse, in terms of future lack of support, than the direction Microsoft is taking anyway, but the topic of this rant is saving Microsoft.)

And I doubt that opening the code up is possible any more, even if it might have, with a great deal of effort, been possible eight years ago. Too much legal funny business going on in the world of intellectual property, too many mutual destruction pacts signed by too many companies who seem to think they have no chance of making a living with real product, but that's yet another subject for yet another day.

The second approach also involves splitting Microsoft up, and also involves opening the code up, but I think it's a feasible approach.

Maybe. Human nature still stands in the way. Bill and Steve and all of us who have sucked up to them in the past. (Pardon my French.)

Anyway, the approach is a bit more direct.

Split Microsoft up into about five parts. Subdivisions? Probably not. Wholly owned subsidiaries would probably work better. As I posted to /.,

One company handles the legacy junk. Maintains it under current licenses (sans enforcement machinery) in more or less the way it is being maintained now. Maybe some necessary incremental improvements when there's no way to fix a vulnerability in the legacy framework. This company will ultimately be absorbed by the fourth company, but it is necessary for a few years.

Another company focuses on the various problems of open sourcing all the "IP" and "technology" in Microsoft's legacy products. This is important in establishing a way out for all of the customers Microsoft has locked in. This company also consults with the other companies to keep the whole operation clean on licensing. It will probably remain independent, to help it keep the other companies playing fair.

The third company focuses on hosting repositories of foss projects and on building Microsoft-specific distributions of Linux, BSD, maybe Plan 9, Apache, the Gimp, Open Office, PostGreSQL, and many other open source offerings. Oh, Wine, et. al., of course. But no funny business with the licenses. All strictly according to the open source rules, and all regularly feeding funding upstream from that huge capitalization. This company will also remain independent.

The fourth company puts the legacy stuff as unmodified as possible on top of solid foundations culled from open source. Again, no license shenanigans. Nothing from legacy is allowed here until the IP/tech group clears it. And it is kept as cross-platform as possible. This company will be absorbed into the the fifth company in twenty to fifty years.

The fifth company hunts for anything that was actually good from the legacy stuff and implements blue-sky projects to see what shakes out. The products will be primarily released under GPL3 or higher or Apache 2 or higher when implementing stuff that's really new, merged upstream or forked appropriately and without license conflicts when they borrow.

The bulk of the new income stream will be service agreements on the stuff the fifth company produces.

Why should they do this? Because it's their mess and they ought to clean it up, especially since they have all that money from making the mess.

Making such a plan work would require a small group of truly charismatic leaders dedicated to open source, with social skills to herd the cattle and the carnivores, with technical skills to keep the all the projects coordinated and on course, legal savvy to keep the frivolous, nuisance, and abusive legal activity at bay, and logical prowess to pierce the lies, damned lies, and statistics that would be generated.

And with bullet proof underwear, because somebody in the old guard would get in a panic about the intellectual property! OH NO! NOT THE INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY! every now and again.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

netbooks and the OLPC

I really wanted an OLPC. Unfortunately, the G1G1 campaign was limited to the US. 

I seriously considered asking my brother to snag me a pair, but I'm not making a lot of money, and my wife would not have given me peace had I got such a "Christmas present" for myself at that time.

Why do I want one?

Currently, I'm lugging an old clamshell iBook around to work. It's not bad, but the battery is long dead because the charging circuit is doing something or other funky. And it's too heavy to pop out of my bag and use while I'm standing up, hanging onto a strap on the train. 

I'm considering an eeepc or one of the near equivalents. But the screen is tiny. Seriously tiny. Well, okay, that's the point for the small eeepc -- about the size of a paperback novel. If the screen resolution were 1024 by 800, the size would be okay, but that kind of screen at that size is still too leading edge, I guess. But it can be used for writing e-mail, blog posts, and some kinds of source code.

The processor is iNTEL. I don't like to support companies with greater than 50% market share, especially when they don't seem to be able to refrain from unfair competition. Well, maybe I'm a little prejudiced, too. I believe in forgiving people, but it's hard to forgive the 80x86 when it's still strangling the computing landscape.

What a waste of engineering resources and rare earth minerals.

Oh. And the eeepc is only available in Japan in the MSWxp model. I asked a salesperson in the Yodobashi Camera store in Umeda why the Linux model isn't available, and he gave me this confused look and said, "But this is Japan." (Say what?)

Oh, I'm fully aware of the situation. Japanese society always follows the money. Money is prima facie evidence of righteousness. Yeah, the government uses Linux in servers and such, but, no, end users are not encouraged to know the issues well enough to make any informed decision other than the ones officially sanctioned by the experts with the most money. And geeks who are interested in Linux are expected to pay the Microsoft tax. Happily.

That probably has something to do with why nobody has protested the plans for computerized voting. There is talk about a proper paper trail, at least.

Anyway, I want an OLPC. I may end up with an eeepc, just because I need it now. Or I may just put up with the heavy, battery-less iBook and use the JPY 50,000 on something the family needs, instead.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

whoami ・ 自己紹介

Well, I thought I would root this blog in a little description of who the heck I claim to be.


Hmm. Okay, here's the official story:

I'm a US expatriate, living in Japan.

I sometimes go by the handle, "Joseph Daniel Zukiger", or "joudanzuki" when hanging around newsgroups and forums on the 'net (especially and /..)

Sometimes I go by my real name, too. (Left as an exercise to the interested reader, of whom I assume there are few.)

I've tried to figure out why I waste time on 'net forums, and I guess the only answer is that I start losing it if I don't maintain contact with my mother tongue.

And then sometimes I think I might as well just go with the tide and lose it and see if I can't just become Japanese.

My wife thinks she would like that. Except that then I wouldn't be American. She has a hard time with the ambiguities.

So do I.

I've worked (so to speak) in Japan as a computer programmer and as that glorified teaching assistant referred to as ALT (or AET) -- Assistant Language (English) Teacher.

I've also worked temp over holidays, sorting and moving parcels for one the Japanese parcel services, and such. Good, real-world experience, also helps to keep one sane, in addition to helping pay the bills.

No, teaching English in Japan is no longer a good way to get rich quick. (Never was, unless you accidentally lucked into making connections with the entertainers' guild or some such in the process, and not necessarily then, either.)

Some people think I have really radical views on politics, religion, social responsibilit, and such. I originally established this handle primarily as a flag, to indicate when I really want people to understand that I don't mind if they have different opinions.

(I really don't mind. Well, sometimes, if those opinions turn into actions that exceed certain bounds. As will probably be readily apparent by the time anyone reads this.)

Hiding behind this handle should also make it possbile for me to describe my experiences in Japan without breaching the privacy of innocent bystanders (like my family).

Heh. Well, if you read this far, I hope what you've read was useful. If not, well, get outside, get some sunlight and fresh air, go to the library or to a store. Get a job. Try to understand your religion. Lots of useful things to do in the real world.

The internet was originally just supposed to be a souped-up telephone index, you know.

Oh, and, yeah, I am Mormon.