Lily pads and Rooftops

Like everyone else who reads /., I saw Nicholas Negroponte’s article predicting that the future of the Internet lies in wireless lily pads. He makes a compelling case.

Nokia has one of the best products around for building that future: Nokia Rooftop. It’s tailor made for community networks, with good management features and exactly the kind of mesh routing support that Negroponte talks about.

Sadly, though, just five days before the Negroponte article hit, the BBC was reporting that Nokia had come out with this statement: “anyone using bandwidth without the permission of the person paying for it is simply stealing.”

I can see their point. But for Negroponte’s vision to workand I sincerely hope it doesthe granting of permission has to be easy and automatic. Negroponte doesn’t mind anyone accessing his wireless access point, and he certainly doesn’t want them pestering him to ask for permission. But right now there’s no way, short of knocking on the door and asking, to find out whether you’re allowed to use an access point or not.

Instead of attaching the “criminal” label to a lot of people who mean no harm, Nokia should instead be active in efforts to enhance the security of wireless access points, with the aim of making publicly-accessible lily pads a legal reality, while giving those who want to restrict their networks easier ways to do so.

In the process, they would help build the market for one of their best products.

LotY 2003

After a short but lively debate, the Language of the Year project seems to have settled down into a rough concensus on the language to be studied in 2003. And the consensus is: there will be at least three languages for 2003.

In 2002, it was fairly easy for everyone to settle on Haskell. But I think it was deceptively simple: partly it was self-selection. The organizers of the group already had their own hearts set on Haskell, and people who weren’t interested in that simply didn’t join. This year the true complexities came to the fore.

Of course, it’s impossible for such a group to settle on just one language every year. The goal of the group is to learn different things and stretch one’s mind, after all, and one person’s “wildly different” is another’s “what I grew up with.”

Some people will continue with Haskell, because they didn’t have time this year to learn it as well as they’d hoped. (I’m in that camp.)

I’m also part of a group that wants to learn advanced Common Lisp (especially macro usage) and CLOS. I’m doing more and more work in Ruby, and I suspect I’ll be doing more in Objective C; both of those languages are dynamic enough that I think the metaprogramming that is Lisp’s forte will come in handy.

Another group is planning to learn Oz. It certainly does look interesting, but I know myself well enough to know that I need to learn a little more about Oz as a background task before my enthusiasm will really build. (Besides, I’m already a quarter of the way through On Lisp.)

Emptiness

I’ve never really been interested in anime; I’m just one of those who don’t get it, I suppose. But ever since I saw the trailer a few weeks ago, I’ve been looking forward to seeing Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.

Last week I read an interview with Miyazaki by Roger Ebert. It contains this wonderful exchange:

I told Miyazaki I love the “gratuitous motion” in his films; instead of every movement being dictated by the story, sometimes people will just sit for a moment, or they will sigh, or look in a running stream, or do something extra, not to advance the story but only to give the sense of time and place and who they are.

“We have a word for that in Japanese,” he said. “It’s called ma. Emptiness. It’s there intentionally.”

Is that like the “pillow words” that separate phrases in Japanese poetry?

“I don’t think it’s like the pillow words.” He clapped his hands three or four times. “The time in between my clapping is ma. If you just have nonstop action with no breathing space at all, it’s just busyness. But if you take a moment, then the tension building in the film can grow into a wider dimension. If you just have constant tension at 80 degrees all the time, you just get numb.”

That helps explain why Miyazaki’s films are more absorbing and involving than the frantic, cheerful action in a lot of American animation.

I’m really pleased to learn that word, ma. I agree with Ebert and Miyazaki about this, and it helps to explain a lot of my tastes: why I like football, baseball, and cricket better than soccer and hockey. Why most action movies bore me. Why I like games like Myst and Riven better than the first-person shooters.

During my first year in college, I spent a lot of time in the student center playing pinball. (That’s just one of the reasons that my first year was the first of more than four.) This was 1981/82, near the beginning of the ascendancy of video games. Asteroids was aging but still popular, and I recall Tempest and Frogger being among the things people were excited about.

There was an assistant chemistry professor who hung out with us at the pinball machines a lot. He had just left Berkeley, and seemed almost a caricature: long red hair and beard, etc. One day, he gazed mournfully over at the video games on the other side of the room and launched into a lecture. “Those poor guys don’t understand excitement. Those games give them a constant mid-level excitement; it just doesn’t stop, and that makes them numb. It’s hard to sustain, and it’s even harder to go up from there.

“Pinball is different. You can go a long time without anything exciting happening at all. It gets frustrating. But that frustration actually builds tension that sticks with you, and the longer it builds, the more exciting it is when the ball finally starts falling right and you ride and ride to a record game. The boring, frustrating parts actually increase the excitement when a pinball game really goes just right. That’s something the video games can never match. Pinball is a lot closer to sex.”

Obviously that’s not an exact quote … it’s been many years. But that’s the gist of it, and as funny as I thought it was, there’s a lot of truth in it.

Forward references

I wonder if it’s ever happened before that a movie contained a reference to another movie that had not been made yet.

We bought Monsters, Inc. on Saturday, and I watched it twice yesterday … once with my son, and again with my wife with the directors’ commentary turned on. The directors didn’t say anything about this, but it was obvious both times. Near the end, in the scene where Sulley is finally putting Boo back into her own room, she excitedly shows him a bunch of her toys. One of them is Jessie from Toy Story 2, and the very next one is the orange clownfish that appears in the teaser trailer for Finding Nemo, which won’t hit theaters ‘til early next year, at least.

I wonder if that detail was in the original MI prints that played in theaters nearly a year ago. Nobody would’ve noticed, then, because no information about Finding Nemo had yet been released. But they were probably far enough along with the concept work on FN that they had the little clownfish modeled.

It would be difficult, I suspect, to prove that this is the first “forward reference” in movie history. I strongly suspect that in the early days of Hollywood some props which were prominent parts of movies had previously appeared in insignificant roles in other movies. But this one is certainly intentional, and I was delighted when I saw it.

Thank goodness it wasn’t Slashdot …

Logged in this morning and checked mail, and then the usual news sites that I read. Boy was I surprised to see that Lambda the Ultimate – a collaborative weblog about programming language issueshad pointed to The Tcl War, an archive I maintain of a no-longer-very-famous semi-flamewar that once took place on comp.lang.tcl.

My response on LtU is rather ironic. One of my most pointed criticisms of Lisp during the original debate was the implicit evaluation rules that make macros a necessity, where Tcl can make do with ordinary commands. Now I’m reading a book that is primarily about Lisp macros, trying to understand them better.

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