Couldn't resist making of note of "T4bateriophage" (image) by Wes Unruh from Key23, etc. He was the author of Metamagical Grafitti, which I enjoyed thoroughly. Thanks for the cites, Wu, from my Corporate Metabolism series. Excellent work on formulations applying sublation. I'm particularly fond of track 15, "Infected Nativity", on the related work DrOwning Street Memo by the Philip K Nixon Experience. Many thanks to Alobar and other friends who've helped bring some of those articles to light recently.

The essence of the bacteriophage idea being invoked here, a là Margulis, et al., is that an enormous inter-network encircles the planet, linking untold billions of members which live in the depths of volcanic shafts, throughout the intestines of most all higher animals, the roots of our forests, and reaching up into the clouds even... I think about that, every time a cold starts me sneezing, a little dysentery follows a hiking trip, or some restaurants slips in a minor case of food poisoning: how we become the transport for bacterial "messages". What verges beyond odd and well into the truly strange is just how fast those "messages" can transmit globally across these networks. Through us. Changing their DNA slightly through transmission. Altering the alien DNA which lives within us, on which our metabolisms depend. Methinks that McLuhan had it all rather inverted.


three laws of avatarics

Susan Wu, an associate at CRV, wrote an excellent critique recently in the article Second Life: Incredible innovator, but probably not sustainable:

Their high technical barriers to participation and the fact that SL is a closed standards system ultimately deters them from reaching mass market adoption.
She followed a few days later with an example from the other end of the spectrum:
APIs, like open source, facilitate economies of scale around the development process and create network effects for the core product.
I agree with both points, but I'd like to look in closer detail about why a virtual world suffers by being "closed", and what it means to be "open". First, a little background... It's important to state: we do not live in virtual worlds, rather we project aspects of our persona into these worlds. We engage in interaction with other projected or automated personae - but we do so solely as observers of those worlds. For instance, the avatar sitting next to you at a conference in Second Life is most likely some projected persona of another observer, and the NPC you confront inside World of Warcraft is an automated persona, functioning as a relatively limited observer.

One area of systems theory called autopoiesis seeks to apply rigorous definitions from biology to explore notions of "openness" and "closure" for systems. It also examines projected aspects of observers, sustainability and regulation, and some basis for defining "cognition" in terms of interaction. I'll dive into systems theory in gory detail later, but it seems apropos for a review of Susan Wu's perspective. For now let's make a point that a virtual world can be called a "domain of discourse", and that we as users and businesses involved in a world represent projections of that world's observers.

Let's also note a special term: "personification". I use it to describe how we project our persona, our identity, crossing Edward Castronova's membrane into the many different online worlds. In the sense that "Web 2.0" successes were built on a foundation of "personalization", the successful virtual worlds will likely be those which find effective ways to manage and leverage "personification".

Some interesting conclusions follow from systems theory - issues not usually associated with "virtual reality", "social networks", or media in general, such as implications for how complex behaviors in-world may become computable and perhaps predicted based on cellular automata. More to our point, these open/closed world issues speak to what is permitted as actions by automated systems and intelligent machines. In other words, the relative "openness" of a virtual world such as SL is, according to theory, strongly coupled with what we would permit or require of robots. Not surprisingly, given how recent furor over "CopyBot" has created some of the fiercest philosophical and commercial disputes in SL's history.
As the Technical Director of HeadCase Humanufacturing, Inc., a start-up focused on avatars and related technologies, I recently looked online for a term to describe the study of avatars. While there may be several cheesy sites advertising "avatars" as personal icons for chat boards, there seemed to be little in the sense of science or other phenomenology. The fact that so many of us visit virtual worlds such as SL may currently be hot news in the pages of Wall Street Journal or Financial Times; however, what we do with our personifications in those worlds does not yet seem to rate its own name as a branch of academia.

Thinking that "avatars" might be considered analogous to "robots", I tried searching for the term "avatarics". Only one search hit appeared in Google, located in a German entry of Wikipedia (see English translation by its author). That page describes the concept of intellectics as suggested by Wolfgang Bibel:

Intellectics explains human intelligence by designing systems that possess it.
Bibel includes avatarics as a sub-discipline of intellectics, roughly translated as: The science that seeks to design ... anthropomorphic intelligent autonomous agents that act in virtual environments.

Now that we have a name to use, let's return to our point about virtual worlds, openness, and robots. Parallels between avatarics and robotics which Bibel mentions are not new. Many researchers - and several disciplines other than systems theory - have analyzed the overlap of robotics into virtual worlds. As virtual worlds evolve, a large existing body of engineering, sociology, economics, etc., could potentially be carried over from robotics - and vice versa. However, "what we would permit or require of robots" seems particularly interesting.

That got me thinking about Isaac Asimov, who stated his famous Three Laws of Robotics in 1941:
  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
For what it's worth, Asimov "prefixed" another law the following year: A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm. The first three gained the most notoriety, and let's focus on those.

There have been several variations on Asimov's original theme, popping up throughout literature and science. For example, Mark Tilden took a pass at those Three Laws as:

  1. A robot must protect its existence at all costs. ("assert thyself")
  2. A robot must obtain and maintain access to its own power source. ("sustain thyself")
  3. A robot must continually search for better power sources. ("get thee thither in a whirlwind")
Tilden's view lent a more practical, "life coach" approach for earnest robots. (Elizabethan parentheticals added to track subtext).
I tend to agree with elements of both Bibel and Tilden. Though my university studies and 20 years since in the industry have generally focused on "AI", I rarely believe the claims attributed to Strong AI. Bibel's description of "designing systems that possess human intelligence" meshes well with my preferred approach: solutions based on autopoiesis as an area of systems that incorporates a rigorous view of cognition. In other words, I build systems as networks of human interaction, where both the humans and the computers participate together as observers.

As for Tilden's view... When we first began to write specs for HeadCase, we sought technical criteria for rating the effectiveness of the avatar API in a particular online game or virtual world. In our development work, we have found the following three criteria to be helpful in determining the "openness" of various virtual words, with respect to third-party vendors:

  1. The world must provide external API for controlling avatars.
  2. The world must allow third-party to include code plugin/module.
  3. The world must support use of external web services (HTTP, XMPP, etc.)
As a third-party vendor in virtual worlds, I enjoyed how our criteria followed Tilden's pattern of "assert", "sustain", and "thither". I offer these criteria as the Three Laws of Avatarics for evaluating the viability of a virtual world with respect to its broader, external context of social and economic systems. Consider these as preconditions for the network effects that Susan Wu mentioned.

It's clear that SL is lacking (read: broken) in terms of its avatar API and LSL scripting. Much of what could be useful has been disabled, often justified by needs for security. Competing virtual world platforms such as There.com don't even begin to meet the criteria listed above. While there is the excellent Lua scripting language and interesting API support in WoW, it appears that Blizzard has a relatively poor track record when it comes to enabling third-parties and external services (though I'd love to be proven wrong about that). Considering the wealth of "Web 2.0" resources online, both Linden and Blizzard appear to have sequestered themselves into cozy little hideaways. Is that wise?

Intuitively, the answer would seem to be a loud, resounding "No!" Much of what has succeeded on the Internet has worked because of its inherent openness and interoperability. In terms of virtual worlds, however, I wanted to find a more analytic answer.
* * *
Back to our discussion of systems theory, Maturana and Varela stated in their seminal 1980 text on cognition that, "Everything said is said by an observer." (See pp. 38-40, especially...) Considering their discourse, I have a hunch that M&V would have described a virtual world as a "domain of discourse", had such ideas been within their realm of experience; it'd be a fun question to ask Maturana personally.

Randall Whitaker has commented on their work extensively. He paraphrased about observers with:
A cognizing system engages the 'world' only in terms of the perturbations in its nervous system, which is 'operationally closed' (i.e., its transformations occur within its bounds). To the extent that the nervous system recursively interconnects its components (as in our brains), the organism is capable of generating, maintaining and re-engaging its own states as if they were literal re-presentations of external phenomena.

I wouldn't expect many SL or WoW users to endure the post-modern jargon beloved by us systems theory geeks, but the part about "generating", "maintaining", and "re-engaging" makes an interesting callback to our "assert", "sustain", and "thither" criteria for virtual worlds. Whitaker and others describe more detailed properties of complex, sustainable (read: living) systems, including "self-creation", "self-maintenance", "self-reproduction", etc. Fritjof Capra and a few other authors have even managed to craft explanations of complex systems into entertaining texts. While their descriptions may not be quite as tightly packed as the "Three Laws", it looks to me as if Tilden was headed in a good direction.

Whitaker's mention of operational closure deserves a much closer look. Consider that Maturana and Varela had been working in biology - and think about some of the properties of living cells. A cell wall prevents the all-important protoplasmic goo inside from spilling out into its environment. At the same time it allows food to be "captured" and wastes to be "expelled". The system has properties which are both "open" and "closed". In the dynamics of a living cell, this effect provides operational closure as means for using selection to determine what goes in or out... as M&V described, in a process of cognition.

Looking at computer systems, particularly looking at behaviors on large networks, we find a similar property of operational closure at the heart of enterprise network security - at least for any good security practice. This is where Linden and Blizzard miss their mark, in terms of sustainable business models. On one hand, Linden has clamped down on its API and third-party support, ostensibly for the sake of security, and yet they've left SL flying high, wide and handsome when it comes to security breaches - which have nearly become a weekly spectacle. Their operational closure has been "aimed" in the wrong directions. Blizzard, on the other hand, is simply closed - with not much hope for sustainable "protoplasmic goo" there.

In contrast, based on theory reported by Maturana, Varela, Winograd, Capra, Whitaker, et al., I have a hunch that we can determine reasonable estimators to indicate whether or not a virtual world could sustain itself in the long run. In particular, I'd point toward the (relatively obscure) works of former Stanford professor Niklaus Luhmann, who made controversial applications of M&V's autopoietic theory in sociology. Again, be forewarned about profuse jargon, dense texts, and systems theory geekness, but if you can endure it you might gain a sense for an interesting theoretical basis of where and how virtual worlds may evolve. Required reading in the study of avatarics.


In my survey of the emerging metaverse, I must give ample credit to Trevor Smith, who articulated a very good set of criteria for Ogoglio City - looking beyond SL toward a next-generation approach. I agree with Susan Wu that APIs, like open source, facilitate economies of scale, since the trajectory of "Web 1.0" and "Web 2.0" seem utterly contingent on that point. From that perspective I highly recommend taking a good look at Trevor's work, along with a few others who seem to get the point. Efforts which follow our criteria also include Croquet, Uni-verse, and the RESTful, Ajax-based Hive7. It looks as if Multiverse could also fit the previously mentioned criteria, though its "60% of revenue" requirement seems questionable as a sustainable practice, albeit in line with their support base in Redmond and Hollywood. It recalls the haphazard form of closure practiced by Linden and Blizzard.

Meanwhile, we're keeping a close watch on avatarics and operational closure as these virtual worlds evolve. We have good company too, considering that IBM appears to be watching for similar properties to emerge.


sufi coffee shop

On a recent trip to Palo Alto, I had missed nearly a full day and a half without an actual meal. There were too many hassles enroute and then lots of exciting work to discuss, once I got on the ground.

By the time I had a chance to call home and then get a little food, not much around my hotel was open (or looked any good). I wandered, frustrated and hungry. Amazingly, here in the heart of Silicon Valley, I stumbled upon a jewel called Sufi coffee shop. After I ordered an enormous amount of food, the proprietor, Parviz Rasti, looked at me carefully and asked, "Have you not eaten in days?" "Actually," I replied, "not in about 1.5 days!"

Okay, this place has wonderful food - huge portions, great quality, reasonably low price. Even more wonderful is the ambience and the spirit of the place.

I'm hungry now, I'm heading back to Silicon Valley soon, and I'm looking forward to visiting Sufi.


aws rocks the free world

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is perhaps one of the most fundamental and far-reaching changes in the computer industry ... since perhaps when, recently, SecondLife hit the cover of BusinessWeek magazine. In fact, this news will be the cover story of BusinessWeek next week.

I knew about a friend working on this project a couple of years ago, and helped a little (on the sly) with documenation. So when it came time to provide offsite backup services for HeadCase, we thought it might be good to check out AWS. Price-performance comparisons showed 90% reduction in cost over going to an ISP or other backup service, plus the Amazon approach ("S3") had better reliability and other uses, such as tiered storage.

Overall their "cloud" of grid/utility computing services allows a small technology startup to begin playing with REALLY big scale services - it fits almost perfectly for those of us who share a perspective of REST + SOA. With "S3" as a storage grid, "EC2" as a compute grid (Linux images, Java API), "SQS" as a transaction message queue (somewhat reminiscent of IBM's MQ), and MTurk for the "human computation" and crowdsourcing, this business strategy precipitates a fundamental shift in how to plan for IT infrastructure, how to manage QA resources, etc.

As an engineering manager, I would expect to pay a lot to get access to that kind service - especially giving Amazon's remarkable quality of service. Instead, I pay pennies on the dollar compared with a hosted service - and moreover I don't have to staff up my operations, since Amazon handles that as "outsourcing". And thereby our firm inherits that quality of service, since the Amazon AWS services handle the public-facing aspects of our SOA.

The bottom line here: the fundamental issue with cost of scaling Internet infrastructure is not the processors (thank you very much, Dell or HP) but instead - as IBM knows oh so well - the utilities involved, such as power. Amazon is building out data centers in the Pacific Northwest, located near cheap, plentiful hydroelectric power generation. This has a significant Green effect, optimizing the electrical power generation and usage by collocation, then exporting the "refined" use as data center services.

This almost as major change in the industry as when DNS was invented, or HTTP/1.0 became accepted, or Skype launched. Wall Street is tending to comment that Amazon is not following a core strategy, without clearly understanding that Amazon has just put several big players on notice for substantive business model disruptions: notably IBM, Microsoft, Google, EMC, HP, BMC, (and for what it's possibly still worth) Sun. As the article in BusinessWeek does mention, this is clearly a good strategy for launching a tech startup with vastly reduced capital and substantially enhanced quality and scalability. In other words, in the eyes of VCs, that implies better opportunities to leverage capital.

Here is an example pattern of usage:

  1. Design your data model to be stored in the Amazon S3 storage grid. For example, we have requirements for running a Java JSR 170 content management system, which fits well with S3 capabilitities.
  2. Prepare images for your application servers (Java, PHP, whatever) to run on Amazon EC2.
  3. Point the client side of your applications, such as Ajax requests, at the Amazon SQS message queue.
  4. Allocate your server images in the EC2 cloud to pull requests off your SQS queue.
  5. Your middle tier processes requests within EC2, persisting data out to your S3 storage.

You can also run "back office" tasks such as reporting or data mining based on the same pattern - without disrupting customer services.

I've read about people beginning to use this kind of pattern to setup their QA environment for regession testing or load testing - again without disrupting other operations or requiring costly server + network replication.

It would seem to fit quiet well in, say, with Java Server Faces used for an Ajax UI... based on a tech stack that used Seam, clustered JBoss servers, Hibernate for the persistence layer, and clustered MySQL underneath that.

in praise of seitan

Recently my wife asked me how to cook eggplant. First, we had received some nice egg-shaped eggplant with our Greenling delivery last week. Secondly, there's a popular eggplant dish in Persian cuisine which I like to fix for the family, and Erin was perhaps hinting :)

The Persian word for eggplant is "bademjan". I remember a similar word used to describe a popular eggplant salad in Russia - which was delicious, but perhaps not quite as savory as the Persian variety.

However, this time we changed up the recipes a bit. We had a craving for "setian" - also called wheat roast or fu. So here goes one for our recipe book, an adaptation of a Persian lamb stew called "khoresh" with our substitutes for the meat - in prase of Seitan:

Slice eggplant - optionally peel them if the peels are too think and tough.

Soak eggplant in brine overnight, to leach out the bitterness - not required for Japanese style eggplant.

Drain eggplant, removing the bitter brine.

In a large iron skillet, heat a centimeter of grapeseed oil, adding freshly grated nutmeg, black pepper, and Hungarian paprika.

Once that begins to snap, add eggplant slices.

Cover and cook, stirring occaisionally so that all the eggplant becomes cooked evenly.

When the eggplant flesh becomes soft and somewhat brown/purple, add equal amounts of seitan (roasted kind).

Stir together, adding enough tomato paste to coat all the "meat".

I like to garnish with a chiffonade of cilatro and garlic chives, which just happen to be locally in season.

I also like to serve this over rice. A nice basmati should work well enough... Persian dishes tend to use a technique called "chelou bah tadig" where the rice is slightly under cooked, then placed into a tall pot which has hot oil and saffron in the bottom. Make "holes" with a wooden spoon all the way from top to bottom of the rice, and wrap the pot's lid with a towel.

The result is a golden crisp at the bottom, where the the rice above becomes a little fluffy and gains an almost "nutlike" or "popcorn" flavor. Place the tomato + seitan + bademjan mix atop that and you'll enjoy a tasty entree.

In fact, I have been tempted to name this dish The Great Seitan.



I prefer my food slow, local, and organic.

Eating at restaurants too often - in other words, more than a few times per week - just does not feel wholesome to me. Eating fast food often at all just feels wrong.

For one thing, I cannot stand the size of portions which are typical at American restaurants. It's absurd. A friend of mine in Japan remarked that it's great when he visits because he can just order one meal and then carry home another entire meal!

The amount of fat, the horrid condition of ingredients, the excesses in packaging - all of these factors make restaurant food unlikely for me, except for really good meals, which are probably 4x food cost anyway and not what I'd care to buy other than for a special treat or a social gathering outside a home.

I prefer slow food. I love to cook at home - and spent a whole bunch on building a nice home kitchen. After those early years where I earned my keep as a cook at times, and after so many fun evenings hosting dinner parties - or "FringeWare Fridays" back when we had the bookstore in the late 1990s - a meal cooked by a stranger just doesn't necessarily sound fun.

Ah, but where do all those lovely ingredients for fine home-cooked meals come from?

There has been a notion of CSA and excellent farmers markets around Austin for a long while - quite appealing. Several years ago I met the couple who run Tecolote Farm... imagine getting a basket of fresh, locally, grown organic vegetables delivered to your doorstep weekly. Then imagine having to wait on a list for a year or two! Alternatively, the Austin Farmer's Market is a treat - I enjoy taking my daughters there on the weekend. For that matter, Austin is the headquarters for both Central Market (which I adore, admittedly corporate but supportive of locals and independents) and Whole Foods (which I detest, ultra corporate green-posers aka "Hoalf Udz"), and the area features some wonderful natural food co-ops. We even have an organic farm inside the city - Boggy Creek Farm, which has sustained since the years when Austin was the source for most fresh spinach in the region.

As a home cook, I've been a fan of growing veggies, herbs, raising chickens, etc., since I was a kid... Growing up on the Central California coast, I had not questioned the idea of "slow food"... Local seafood was abundant - each week we ate the abalone which my uncle couldn't sell from his catch. Many of the neighbors were from Portuguese families which had immigrated there, largely for the fishing - and they showed up everbody when it came to fixing seafood well! Local farms featured fresh berries, apple orchards, all kinds of vegetables - especially artichokes - and fresh dairy. We used to buy a side of beef for the freezer, selecting a steer out on the ranch... ranches tended by families who had gained the land 200 years earlier as Spanish land grants, or often some Swiss-Italian immigrants who brought Tyrolian styles. And of course, what wasn't ranch or farm was soon to become wall-to-wall vineyards, with soil and microclimates approximating a range from Burgundy to Tuscany.

Moving away from SLO, I found the rest of the US held no such values. Especially in Texas, where a "meal" seems synonymous with a drive around the block to Whataburger.

There have been exceptions. One chef transplanted from France to Austin - Jean Luc Salles - teamed up with Boggy Creek Farm to feature local, organic vegetables in season at his bistro. I was lucky enough to catch Salles and author Carol Ann Sayle from Boggy Creek give a cooking course at Central Market, and I highly recommend Sayle's cookbook Eating in Season.

Of course, all of this requires extra time and effort, and probably would seem obscure to people who don't share my values (or half-French blood?)

Which is why I've been stunned to find the wonderful value of a new service called Greenling. They take the notion of "CSA" plus home delivery and cooking foods in-season - and bundle it into a family-oriented package. Wonderful. It convinced my wife, and is convincing my neighbors - about as fast as they hear about it. Greenling delivers an ice chest of fresh vegetables, plus extras - each 1-2 weeks. For our family, we've chosen 2 week intervals at first, but we're switching soon to weekly. We get a surprise selection of in-season produce from local organic farms. We manage our delivery account on the Greenling website, and can take on extras like organic dairy, honey, etc.

We're forced now to cook at home, using whatever is seasonal and local. It's delicious. I'm actually learning to love okra again. We've reduced our trips to the grocery store (I have mixed feelings, because I love to shop at Central Market, but I appreciate burning less fuel to drive there.) We've been sharing with neighbors and friends.

The idea of a CSA is great, but the close pairing of one farm to a set of subscriber families - it comes out a bit awkward. With a service like Greenling, there can be some economy of scale, some buffering and variety, by incorporating producer/consumer relations between many farms and many residences. I could imagine this kind of service hanging around the farmers market just about when it closes - to bid on what's left over.

More importantly, one could imagine this kind of service going national. Soon.


buzz about headcase

WSJ recently ran an article about HeadCase (subscription only). Nice to see the press.

Customer-service systems are another possibility, with avatars that could answer questions online -- and know when to give way to a human. "What if the system was smart enough to sense you swearing at it and brought on a human immediately?" Ms. Cox says.

Our investors are listed, both True Ventures and Burnt Norton. There will also be an upcoming talk about the firm by our CEO at Consumer Technology Ventures.


congrads, anousheh ansari

Congrads to Anousheh Ansari, first female private explorer in space, and first astronaut of Iranian descent (not to mention, a Trustee of Ansari X Prize, etc.)



iran, leading the blogosphere

Oh, this is amazing...

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, has a blog.

As my wife pointed out over my shoulder, now the real political leaders of the world not only have speech-writers, they must have blog-writers.

My paternal family name notwithstanding, I'm no fan of the Imams. Even so, their chess game played on the entire world over the past few decades (during all of my adult life, at least) has been brilliant. They've played the pieces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now the Levant, pulling in China, Russia, India, and even Europe to argue their side, while cutting a deal with the US under the table. For the punchline, they timed their endgame during a faltering Republican administration.

In comparison, the US has lagging media savvy. Hillary Clinton's blog seems like an f-ing joke, though John McCain's blog at least seems to represent the guy. Guiliani has no clue about blogs, apparently.

Reading the post by Ahmadinejad, admittedly the Iranians who stood up against Iraq - with the US and its "friends" antagonizing from all sides - showed more cojones than have ever been observed in Tel Aviv or Washington, DC. As were those who stood up to the "Shah", which I'm grateful was removed from this world. I guess that after compromising the Bush legacy this way, the next monster in line for Iran to defeat may be Wal-Mart :)

You know, I'm proud to be (half) Iranian, but today in particular I am really proud.

I'm sorry about warfare in the Levant, and especially sorry about the horror brought on beautiful Lebanon - but that horror will never end anyway until the US recognizes Syria, while pulling the pants off Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Of course, cutting the US dependency on petroleum will do that anyway. It's only a matter of time.


bedtime story

When asked to make up a bedtime story, my 2.5 year old daughter composed and recited the following:

One on a time
Something, something
All by myself.

...then giggled profusely - as a full body endeavor - in the way that only a toddler can.

I am amazed.


have software agents declined?

Have efforts toward developing effective software agents declined?

During the 1990s, it seemed as if "personal assistants", "intelligent agents", "bot", - whatever you want to call them - were poised to take over the Internet.

For what it's worth, Wikipedia does a fine job of defining what an "agent" is - or rather, what is not an agent.

Looking at a reference search site, such as Google Scholar, shows thousands and thousands of research papers from one PhD candidate or another who proposes a scheme or an architecture for agent-based simulation, etc. Given such a wealth of plans, where are the commercial successes?

Yet, looking at some of the sites which catalog work on agents, such as UMBC AgentWeb or BotSpot, it seems as if new items tapered off after the year 2000.

What happened? My hunch is that several things happened at once...

  • Circa 1997, Pattie Maes and company at MIT Media Lab emphasized having "agent" technology embedded within online communities, with the success of Firefly.

  • Circa 2000, the Internet "bubble" burst, but the successful examples among the so-called Web 2.0 firms - such as Google, Yahoo, MSN, Amazon, eBay - leveraged the notion of agency and personalization with their browser-based features and web services.

So far, no nascent "H.A.L." has emerged to handle searches better than Google - at least not for most people. Even so, circa 2006, are there "intelligent agents" on the horizon? Our firm wants to understand this issue better, so we asked the question on Google Answers.

What do you think?

tags: agents


first day at the new job

It was my first full day at the new job. Still in stealth, we're making good progress. As the Technical Director, my day starts out with a quick peek through Gmail. What's come in from our Executive Producer in Australia before she called it a night? There's a blurb from Google Calendar, describing my agenda for Skype meetings throughout the day. Any news from LA while I was alseep? A few personal messages, then check through Google Reader for interesting news - maybe I'll forward one or two to my partners. Shut down the iBook, time to spend a while with the kids, feed the chickens and the koi, do a few dishes, clean up my new "office" space in the oven-temperature garage, and then off to my real workplace... Just a short ride away on the mtn bike to park for a few hours in a local coffeehouse. Austin has 40C weather, but early in the day it's not so bad; ozone levels won't peak until much later in the day.

Curling up to a mocha and iBook, it's time to twiddle for a while on the company's network architecture diagram, then get to real work for the day on Second Life, winding my way through LSL. Two aging Boomers at the next table are scamming/being scammed for an investment in a bogus Third World water treatment technology. They stare nervously, trying to detect anyone who's seeking to steal their IP. I have my headset blasting Thirteenth Step to drown out the ambient babble so I may focus. This is how life was meant to be.

After a few espresso shots and plenty accomplished, I put my helmet and cleats back on, and ride back home just about the time the sitter is leaving. At few more dishes done, never enough of that with two toddlers in the house. Watching the younger girl while my wife gets a breather. Later, I'm back in Skype to catch a conf call with our Executive Producer and Creative Director, getting prepared for some video production work.

I have time again. Time to spend with my wife and kids. Time to think about what I'm working to build online, or what I need to write. Time to nurture a small urban farm, to show my daughters the different kinds of trees on our property. Time to cook food, slow food, the kind of food that doesn't cost 4x for convenience while causing excess obesity amongst the population, such as most of Corporate America "enjoys" for lunch. Food that makes me feel healthy, working at full potential. Time to rest. Time to return to my regular practice of yoga, fitness training, and mountain biking. Time to exist in my own personal terroir. Time to become, again.

On one hand, some things about my previous job will be missed dearly: some good friends met (online or in the office) daily, a wonderful developer team in Russia, the health insurance package, ... but not the mainframes. On the other hand, I'm enjoying the entertainment business much, much better already :)

Meanwhile, I tend to judge my quality of life based on a couple of factors: how few times per week I must drive a car, and how many times per day I get to cook my own meal. So far, so good!

tags: Second Life, Slow Food, Terroir