Organick Lecture – University of Utah – Alan Kay (Part II)

After a great dinner at a local Greek restaurant, we returned to the
University of Utah to listen to the second presentation by Alan Kay – Learners, Powerful Ideas, and the $100 Laptop

As I have been following the progress of the $100 Laptop project, I
have a lot of my own ideas of where this device might succeed, and what
it might become. I’m looking forward to what Alan has to say
about this space.

Is a “$100 Laptop” Possible?
Alans slide showed a portable DVD player that has a 7″ TFT LCD
screen. The price on this product is $122.99 on-line.
Obviously, this proves out the fact that the raw hardware of a $100
Laptop is quite possible. Swap the DVD drive for a keyboard, and
add some flash memory and you have a decent computer. With the
addition of a real manufacturer – Quanta – everything has started to
fall into place.

Alan brought up an interesting point where these devices could create a
huge grey-market, where the laptops might not actually make it to
children. Instead, they might be grabbed up and used by others
… sold for various profits. They are intending to add features
to the products so that they are customized to the child so that it
will not work for anybody but that child.

The laptop is going to have mesh networking as a core feature, and they
are exploring various power options. The hand-crank is the most
well known, but they are also working on a tredle(?) design for foot
powering the device.

The “layers” of this device are:

  • The $100 hardware – the foundation for everything
  • Free Software – the operating system from RedHat and Squeak?
  • Authoring & User Interface – the first level of interaction with children
  • Content & Pedagogy – interaction to educate
  • Mentoring – a large list of things we don’t know how to make happen!

His comment refering to this list of layers – The Music Isn’t In The Piano!

Future of Printing?
Alan again went through his progression of the history of
printing. Where a new medium appears, and initially is used to
mimic the older mediums. It was 100 years after the creation of
the printing press that this new medium was exploited to massively
alter global society. It finally provided for the presentation
and distribution of radical new ideas.

How the Mind Works
Neuro-ethology is a newer study of the brain and behavior. He
talked about research being done with babies, and at 8 weeks some of
the things that they are capable of doing. One of these was that
a baby that young was able to use an artificial nipple, with some
electronics attached, to control the focus of a slide projector showing
a picture of their mother. Amazing …

He also talked about other pattern recognition tests done, and the
ability of babies to show interest in various patterns … and the
increase in interest in more complex patterns as the baby develops.

This led to a discussion of Human Universals vs. non-Universals.
Those things found in almost every culture around the world … vs.
those things that are not. Examples of the Universals:
Social, Communications, Language, Culture, Fantasies, Stories, Loud
Noises & Snakes – he had a longer list but these were very common and present in over 300 cultures studied.

Thge non-Universals are things that modern education are all about:
Democracy, advanced mathematics, equal rights, etc. – these are the
things that are only gained through deep thinking and teaching.
This appears to be much of what Alan believes can be brought to more
cultures in the world using the $100 Laptop!

He went on to do demonstrations of using Squeak, and talking about some
of the amazing educational advances that have been taking place.
All of which will only be available to more and more people on earth.

Overall, it was a great presentation and shows the commitment that Alan
has to making a difference in the world with his talents and
abilities. And the $100 Laptop will become a reality … and is
only going to spur more developments in this space.

Some of my final thoughts linked to his comments about security of the
devices, etc. I start to wonder what is going to occur as
unscrupulous people choose to take advantage of the children who are
given these machines. I also start to wonder how these children
in developing countries might end up being “remotely exploited” over
the Internet by these same types of people …

In either case, it is going to open whole new channels of
communications, and create a very different networked world … with
whole new sets of eyeballs, and new participants in
globalization. The next 10 years are going to be amazing to live

Organick Lecture – University of Utah – Alan Kay

Phil Windley
blogged about this lecture series, and the fact that Alan Kay
was speaking today. I had to take the time to come and hear Alan,
as his focus on computing for children and education demonstrates a
true commitment to the future.

I have often used his quote: The best way to predict the future is to invent it. His opening slide had the quote … slightly modified … toggling between:

  • Is the Best Way To Predict The Future To Invent It?
  • Is the Best Way To Predict The Future To Prevent It?

His talk is about about Computer Science and Software Engineering … are they Oxymorons?

Some points from his talk:

  • he feels that our industry has been mired for years … perhaps since the 1970’s
  • the commercialization of Personal Computers was a tremendous
    distraction from computer science … and we may never recover from
    this distraction
  • computer science is teaching non-scalable algorythms and data structures
  • this is like teaching gears … something that is non-scalable
  • the Internet is a vastly different solution that is highly distributed and operates non-stop … and scales
  • the human body consists of 100 trillions cells, created through only 50 cell divisions
  • all of the atoms in your body have been changed out within the last 7 years … even your bones!

He talked about Bob Barton, and his early work and papers. He
referenced a paper that outlines seven of the top ten things that
people ought to know about software. He said it is worth reading
the six page paper … that includes a full page bashing IBM. The
slide about Bob referenced the Burroughs B5000 built in 1961. Bob
taught by destroying traditional thought … allowing more freedom to
contemplate what is possible.

He began to talk about “engineering” and gave several examples of what
he feels is real engineering – the building of the Empire State
Building (<3000 people for <11 months start to occupancy), the
massive pumps that survived the longest during the Katrina hurricane – built in 1922 and 1912!

He talked about the real meaning of the word “Architecture” – the
building of arches. He used this to connect
analogies of Microsoft Windows, and the ancient pyramids of
Egypt. The Egyptians had no arches, and so they built the
pyramids by piling on rock, creating a “garbage dump”, and then
covering it with a “pretty UI”. It was only those who understood
and perfected the building of arches that truly developed architecture.

Humans have been on earth for ~100,000+ years, however Science has only
been around for ~400. But it didn’t emerge from genetic evolution
… so Science has always existed. He then showed the video
called “Private Universe” which was a series of interviews with Harvard
University graduates who were being asked basic questions about “What
causes the seasons?” and “What causes the phases of the moon?”
The majority were not able to answer accurately.

I have to admit that I stopped taking notes as Alan went into a very
interesting conversation about the Future of Printing. He started
to talk about the original printing press, and how it immediately began
to be used to mimic the handwritten manuscript books of the time …
instead of creating a new type of communications … a new medium to argue within society and to present new ideas.

Alan used this as a way
to describe the revelation that hit him when he first thought of
children using computers. Up to that point, they had simply
thought of computers looking like terminals, without the mainframe. He
drew a cartoon back in the 1960s of children using what would become
his idea of the dynabook.

He emphasized the stagnent aspects of computer science and software
engineering … at the end he questioned how students of these
disciplines were using yesterdays technologies – hardware and software
– when trying to create the solutions of the future. He commented
that it was only because his team was using $20,000 computers more
powerful than anything in its time, that they were able to create
solutions for the future. This is a really good point …

As usual … an amazing presentation that spurs a lot of thoughts.

February CTO Breakfast

Wow … what a crowd! This morning was quite packed, and there
was a good variety of people from many roles in Utah companies.

Phil started off talking with Hilarie Orman from Purple Streak.
It turns out that Phil was familiar with some of the previous work of
Hilarie, and some of the people that she worked with. This led
into an interesting conversation about security, encryption, and
quantum computing. She was involved in the Demo Conference … on
a security panel. She mentioned that Koogle(?) was one of the
more interesting demos.

Bruce Grant started to talk about his perspectives of Demo, and some of
the mobile applications and thoughts on where mobile devices are
going. He talked about the difficulty in developing software for
these devices due to all of the various operating systems, etc.
He also commented that there will be some sort of consolidation …
which I agree with. This is a standard EVO-DEVO pattern.

I commented that I believe that the Negroponte $100 laptop
is going to be one of the catalysts that is going to cause the
consolidation. I’m not so sure that this device is going to be in
high demand for the developed world, however it is going to drive
innovation and solutions that wil be delivered at a slightly higher
price point.

I missed a good bit of conversation going to get some food, but when I
returned we were well into a conversation about AJAX, and the new Web
2.0 trends. One of the people brought up a new Marc Andreessen
project called Ning. Very
cool … some very innovative ideas as a platform for the creation and
sharing of social application. This is a variation on JotSpot … and I’m going to do some experimenting.

Fun morning …

DevUtah February Geek Dinner

Tonight was the DevUtah Geek Dinner. There was a slightly smaller group, but there was a great topic – Agile & Adaptive Project Management.
David Spann kicked off by doing a quick exercise in thinking of the top
traits of a great leader/manager. Most of these ended up
centering around communications, trust, and involvement. He went
on to talk about the The Agile-Adaptive Management Model:

  • Know the Purpose and Organizational Value of any project
  • Hire great people – use the best people
  • Do Something Innovative!
  • Learn and Reflect – spend the time (often!) to look at what you are doing
  • Deliver Results – ensure that you are delivering on the project

If you follow this model, then innovation will occur. In addition, this is how knowledge is built.

Alistair then jumped in and gave some background on how he got going
in the industry, and how he began his writing career. He talked
about the history of the creation of the Agile Manifesto, and the follow on for managers of Agile projects – the Declaration of Interdependence.

He offered a fun way to think about software: Developing software consists of making ideas concrete in an economic context. In addition, he posits that software development – and most any business – can be seen as a cooperative game of invention and communication. This then leads to where Agile is a special case of software development.

Expanding on this, he summarized the Agile Manifesto as being values …

More Valuable Has Value
Individuals and Interactions Processes and Tools
Working Software Comprehensive Documentation
Customer Collaboration Contract Negotiation
Responding to Change Following a Plan

All of these work from: communication, trust, feedback, fluidity

David and Alistair progressed into Q&A to address many of the questions that were brought up:

  1. How do you convince business people to use Agile?
    • focus on ROI – delivering customer value which generates revenue
  2. How do you deal with Feature Creep?
    • base development on constant re-prioritization and customer renegotiation
    • do not use a fixed requirements model … constantly adjust and adapt with the customer

There was some other conversation … I got too interested in listening
and forgot to write. David closed with a good point and that was
that it’s easy to celebrate the “wins” and what was accomplished …
the real learning comes, however, when you can celebrate what didn’t go
well, or what could be improved.

It’s always fun to hear David and Alistair … they both consult in this area, and bring a lot of knowledge and experience!

Human Extensions

This is a great article, however I don’t know that it goes far
enough!  Seldom do we really think about the wide range of “tools”
that we depend on … that have become an extension of our own
humanity.  In this day and age, an automobile is now a necessary
extension … enabling us to collaborate with others.  And even wired
telephones … this form of communications is what allowed for the
creation of global virtual communities in the first place.  Well
… after the telegraph.  And smoke signals.  It is not only
here in America, but all over the globe that humans are developing
whole new capabilities based on these “gadgets” … these Human
Extensions …

Americans ‘Need’ Their Gadgets.
Whether it’s a personal computer, an iPod or TiVo, Americans are
growing increasingly dependent on personal technology. Not everyone
thinks this is healthy. [Wired News]

Realizing where you stand

In each day of our lives, it’s very easy to fall prey to the normal
complaining about our lives.  Oh me, oh my … what I don’t have
in my life … what I should have!  🙂

Miguel posted this link and it’s an amazing presentation to remind you
of where you stand in life … the majority of people on earth live on
less than the equivilent of $10/day.

Human Development Trends.

Various statistics of human development trends in
flash-tutorial form here By Miguel de Icaza ( [Miguel de Icaza]

Botnets … the unknown reality

I find it hard to believe that many people are not aware of botnets,
and what they are doing.  Of course, I’m so deep in technology and
the Internet that my “common sense” is now severely distorted. 
For those people who have not heard about botnets, this Washington Post botnet article is a great place to start.  It’s an eye opener.

When you read this article, just realize that this is about the botnets
that have been discovered and are known.  There are more out there
that are unknown, and the sizes of some of these botnets is staggering.  Read here, here, or here, about the FBI arrest of a many running a 400,000+ node botnet!  Oh yeah … and he was 20 years old.

Tagging++ … where the web is heading?

I have to admit that I really love RSS. Not necessarily
“blogging”, but the concepts of RSS itself. It is an amazingly
simple idea, and yet it can be used for extremely powerful
solution. The whole world of blogging, and news aggregators, is
built on the foundation of RSS.

Of course, then came “pinging”. When a RSS feed is updated with
new posts or data, it can “ping” a service to notify others that it has
been updated. This provides a way to subscribe to the updates of
huge numbers of RSS feeds and blogs. So if I can then get all of
these updates, how do I make sense of them? Enter “tagging” …

Tagging is an ingenious idea … it embraces the concepts of
“microformats” where additional metadata can be embedded into content
like RSS feeds and blogs. In the most simple cases, tagging
allows for a post to be “categorized” using simple keywords …
anything. So now if I subscribe to the updates of large numbers
of posts, I can scan each post for “tags” and create new outbound feeds
(which is what Technorati does) or do my own sorting and filtering based on tags.

Tonight I was reading about Edgeio in a post by Tom Raftery.
This is a whole new step in tagging … and it’s really getting me
thinking. This is where the tags can now designate a post in a
blog for a specific purpose! This is not just about categorizing
… but now hinting at what the content is … and allowing for
specialized engines – like Edgeio – to consume the posts to create new
aggregated solutions. In the case of Edgeio, the new tags are for
“listings” … posts about things that you want to have listed on the
Edgeio web site.

What I really like about this, is it that it represents the latest
turns in the whole microformat/tagging process. Now, I can simple
posts something in my blog, and provide some custom tags that will tell
various engines out in the Internet what my intentions are with that
post. Already I’m using tags to allow people to simply subscribe
to tag feeds … RSS feeds of posts along a particular topical
category. But now I’m able to tag a post to indicate to some
engine that this is a post that I want it to consume and take action
on! This is an impressive capability.

I can start to think of other directions that this could take. For example, Flickr
– the popular photo sharing web site – could now begin to support tags
that would indicate a post contains photos that are to be included into
Flickr. So instead of uploading my images … I simply blog about
my photos, including the images in my posts. Flickr could detect
these images based on tags that I include and automatically consume
them. This is where whole new types of tags and actions can begin
to take place … and create some interesting new directions with the
web. This introduces yet another “neural” aspect to the
applications emerging on the Internet.