The future of computing

I am currently busy to finish a presentation about the future of computing. I am going to present at the Museum for Communication in Frankfurt on Thursday, 7 p.m.

If you have heard of a interesting technology, a future vision or application concept – please consider adding this to the Wiki here.


Someone anonymously added some text to the Wiki page saying that the items listed are nothing more than advances in material science and that “true” future lies in applications. I think the implication of that comment is that without good applications there is not much use of the advances in technology.

Well, agreed, but as with many issues the problem is twofold: sometimes it is the technology that spawns creativity for application design – sometimes it is an application idea that pushes the technology. Most of the technologies listed are researched with certain applications in mind. The “uncharted terrain” of applications is something that follows: developers and designers rethink the technology over and over again – sometimes creating a new perspective for further advancing a technology – sometimes inventing new services and products by mere re-combination of the available parts and software.

So I think it is not quite correct to say that “future of computing” is not depending on innovation in the hardware domain. From what I have learned so far, we are just in front of a wave of appliances that are driven by technology. And thus these are not just advances in material science.

English or not

I ask myself if native English speakers ever wonder that it costs non-native speakers quite some effort to run an english weblog. Peter Baumgartner just posted some thoughts about this. He would prefer to write in German only because most of his readers seem to be German speaking.

I also run a german weblog that I do neglect in preference for my english weblog (but then I run a whole pack (attention: page takes long time to load!)). I don’t know who is reading my weblog regularily. So here are some reasons for me running an English weblog:

  • I want to be open to non-german speakers (and I think English ist a must in the design community)
  • I practice my English while writing (but I’d need a coach that corrects my mistakes)
  • I have an easier time to incorporate blog posts from other blogs that happen to be mostly English (but then I have a hard time doing so with german blog posts)

I also wonder how English speakers characterize the language difficulties they see in English weblogs (and articles) of non-native speakers. I usually regard the quality of language a lot in German texts and I can’t meet my own quality measures in my English writing. It’s really a problem, but the only option I see to overcome it is to write even more (bad) English hoping that it will magically improve in the long run.

Update: There is a Topic-Exchange channel about multilingual blogging.

Temporal comments

Dave Winer suggests to solve the comment fraud problem by adding expiration dates to comments:

Here’s a free idea I had the other day while cleaning up a spewage of comment spam. What if comments, by default, were deleted after 24 hours? What if the owner of the site had to check a box in order for a comment not to be deleted? That way if a comment had lasting value, the owner of the site could make sure it sticks around.

Interesting idea. In fact this would be easy to add here. But until now all comments on this weblog are worth keeping. So maybe a “expire this comment” checkbox would be even better.

We saved American life

Sometimes I accidentally surf to very strange pages that stick with me for a while. For instance here: The 2004 Veteran Manhatten Project & Symbosium which is an event organized by the “Children of the Manhatten Project“.

Reading the agenda felt like going through a ghost party program: a bunch of old men (or children of old men) celebrating their pride and their heroic involvment with the development of the atomic bomb.

The I noticed the site has an “Atomic Bomb General Store” that sells items like this. or this (to be printed on a t-shirt). I suggest to contemplate about these images while listening to this audio excerpt of J. R. Oppenheimer (commenting the witnessing of the first successful atomic bomb explosion).

The store also sells a “War on Terror” video for $5 dollars with this description:

This 50+ sec. video clip tells it all. This is the “War on Terror” video clip that you have heard so much about but can’t find. We used to have this video on our web site but found that it was too graphic for some people.

This video was recorded from an Apache gunship in Iraq. The video clip opens with 3 members of Al-Qaida attempting to rig an explosive device in an abandoned tractor sitting along a highway. These are the types of explosives that have been killing & wounding so many American soldiers recently. What the Al-Qaida terrorists don’t realize is that their every move is being recorded. You will hear the forward air controller giving the commands to the airman manning the 30mm cannon aboard the Apache helicopter. In each instance he tells the gunner to ‘take him out’. One by one the terrorists are sent to meet Allah in a hail of 30mm cannon shells. The video is taken at night using a night-vision lens. The audio is very clear and compelling. This is a video clip that you will want to share. This .avi video clip is 1.75MB in size.

This is stranger than fiction. So if you can’t believe this you may rather turn to someone who helps you with that.

Experimenting with Tinderbox XML

After I sucessfully imported some parts of my old weblog I reconsidered the idea to publish with Tinderbox to a database instead of using it to render HTML. Here is the current idea:

  • A Python script will read the Tinderbox file and publish this into a MySQL database
  • The database will be synchronized with a copy on the server
  • The server uses Zope to publish content (but can use anything that works with MySQL)
  • Server will use meta data, link data and possibly other things to create the site

Some advantages:

  • No need for agents anymore, the searching/collecting is done entirely on the server
  • No need for export and rendering from Tinderbox
  • A wider range of possibilities when translating data to HTML (full scripting)
  • Agents and HTML export is still possible – e.g. to keep a “internal work site”
  • Can possibly be extended to work for other environments
  • Possibly opens a way to use other ways of translating ASCII text to HTML (e.g. ReStructuredText or Textile)
  • Could allow many authors to contribute to one site (but not edit content created by others)

Some disadvantages:

  • Obviously there is code needed
  • Needs Python and MySQL on the client and MySQL on the server
  • Concept for a database structure and content specifications needed (how to use actually information from the Tinderbox file in the site)
  • A great deal of development needed on the server to turn the database into a site
  • Changing the Tinderbox file a lot could break the system
  • It is a one-way process – so no edits on the server travel back to Tinderbox

I investigated PyXML and elementtree which I found via Uche Ogbujis article on I also found this XML & Python tutorial by Alexandre Fyolle very helpful. This Devshed tutorial on MySQL & Python reminded me about how to connect to the database. All this worked pretty well in first experiments.

The translation script will have to do some heavy work:

  • Translate Tinderbox commands (or invent own)
  • Maybe convert links and styles
  • manage images that are inside the Tinderbox file

Unmoderated announce lists and “swarm unintelligence”

One really odd phenomenon on the Internet is announcement mailing lists that are unmoderated. Especially if the receivers of that announcements never have learned that mail list servers have extra e-mail addresses for unsubscribe commands. Here is a true story:

An unnamed software vendor announced a new product release through his announcement mailing-list a number recipients had enabled an automatic vacation message going to the Reply-To address of that announcement – which happened to be the whole list itself. So someone on the list thought it might be better for him to unsubscribe. He simply hit “Reply” and typed “unsubscribe” ahead of the fully quoted message that was then again sent out to hundreds of people (instead of unsubscribing him from the list). Few other people were annoyed by this and decided to — what else — do exactly the same. Then numerous replies traveled the net with outrageous utterances like “Stop this bombardment!!!” – generating another load of unsubscribe messages from helpless people. A handful list members sent mails to the list explaining that there is a problem and that everyone who wants to unsubscribe should visit a particular page that explains how to get off the list. But instead of following this advice someone got so upset that he decided from now on to answer every mail coming from this list with a separate unsubscribe message to the whole list (and luckily he did not do so with his own messages he got in return). Someone thanked the whole list saying that this unsubscribe thing is amazing and that he never got so much e-mail in his inbox. Another sent a helpful reminder that it might be worth not replying to the replies.

I was not upset at all.

On the one hand I was not upset, because I feel people don’t have the slightest idea how much spam mail people get whose mail addresses have been out there for many years (my Inbox currently lists 1829 unread messages and my Junk mail folder counts 7581 unread mails – and it contains messages from just the last week). I really felt jealous about those who were able to get upset by this.

On the other hand I was amused watching those people throwing mud around screaming “Don’t throw mud around!”. Didn’t it appear to them that after receiving the first “unsubscribe” message that it has been delivered to the whole list and that probably trying this also would do the same? Obviously not. Very interesting.

Progress on site

I have been playing around with Tinderbox to manage this site for quite some time now. I am bumping into a homemade problem from time to time: I am publishing to a ZOPE server — the pages are stored as Zope Page Templates. While this gives me a lot of options (that I do not use yet), it can also break things if the HTML code generated by Tinderbox is not 100% valid.

Things I have acomplished so far:

  • background synchronisation and one-key saving & updating of this site
  • Posting via AppleScript from NetNewsWire to Tinderbox (requires target window to be frontmost, does not beautify the HTML yet)
  • context sensitive column on the right via user attribute
  • category pages and usable permanent URLs

What is still ahead is the import of all the old posts. I also need to add a bunch of articles (and I’d like to translate some others).

Redesign started

I just finished the first steps of redesigning this site in Tinderbox. There is a huge amount of things to look for. Many things need to be done in a particular way in Tinderbox. This does not necessarily mean it is harder than other tools – most of the time it is just different.

Another thing is: I do publish to a Zope server. So there is much under the hood that I can (and will) use together with Tinderbox. Zope will kick in everytime I need server-side functionality. But I am not yet there. First of all I have to get the templates straight and deal with a couple of open issues. It is not easy to do: Tempaltes there, content there, cascades of variables and parameters – this thing can get pretty complex very soon.

I jotted down some observations (and feature ideas).

Just a note: Someone used Tinderbox with XSL

Blogging lag…

I am currently too busy to blog. One of the projects I amtrying to get going is the “Intrazopista” project. We’re fed up with the campus Intranet systems available. Most of them are not easily extensible or customizable. We are working with Zope and other Python-based approaches to implement this. There is a lot to learn about the architecture to end up with a securre and scalable structure. Lots of information about all this on the IntraZopista weblog.