Thursday, June 21, 2018

Software Heritage Archive Goes Live

June 7th was a big day for software preservation; it was the formal opening of Software Heritage's archive. Congratulations to Roberto di Cosmo and the team! There's a post on the Software Heritage blog with an overview:
Today, June 7th 2018, we are proud to be back at Unesco headquarters to unveil a major milestone in our roadmap: the grand opening of the doors of the Software Heritage archive to the public (the slides of the presentation are online). You can now look at what we archived, exploring the largest collection of software source code in the world: you can explore the archive right away, via your web browser. If you want to know more, an upcoming post will guide you through all the features that are provided and the internals backing them.
Morane Gruenpeter's Software Preservation: A Stepping Stone for Software Citation is an excellent explanation of the role that Software Heritage's archive plays in enabling researchers to cite software:
In recent years software has become a legitimate product of research gaining more attention from the scholarly ecosystem than ever before, and researchers feel increasingly the need to cite the software they use or produce. Unfortunately, there is no well established best practice for doing this, and in the citations one sees used quite often ephemeral URLs or other identifiers that offer little or no guarantee that the cited software can be found later on.

But for software to be findable, it must have been preserved in the first place: hence software preservation is actually a prerequisite of software citation.
The importance of preserving software, and in particular open source software, is something I've been writing about for nearly a decade. My initial post about the Software Heritage Foundation started:
Back in 2009 I wrote:
who is to say that the corpus of open source is a less important cultural and historical artifact than, say, romance novels.
Back in 2013 I wrote:
Software, and in particular open source software is just as much a cultural production as books, music, movies, plays, TV, newspapers, maps and everything else that research libraries, and in particular the Library of Congress, collect and preserve so that future scholars can understand our society.
Please support this important work by donating to the Software Heritage Foundation.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Four Most Expensive Words in the English Language

There are currently a number of attempts to deploy a cryptocurrency-based decentralized storage network, including MaidSafe, FileCoin, Sia and others. Distributed storage networks have a long history, and decentralized, peer-to-peer storage networks a somewhat shorter one. None have succeeded; Amazon's S3 and all other successful network storage systems are centralized.

Despite this history, initial coin offerings for these nascent systems have raised incredible amounts of "money", if you believe the heavily manipulated "markets". According to Sir John Templeton the four words are "this time is different". Below the fold I summarize the history, then ask what is different this time, and how expensive is it likely to be?

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

No-one could have predicted ...

... the threats posed by information technology to civil liberties. But my friend Robert G. Kennedy III came close. In April 1989 he wrote Technological Threats To Civil Liberties. From almost 30 years later it is an amazingly perceptive piece. Here are two samples to encourage you to read the whole thing:
An alarming synergy could occur when debit card data is accessed by connectionist machines (neural networks) for business applications. There are patterns to our behavior (economic and otherwise) of which we ourselves might be unaware; these can be extracted by neural nets without the need for formal rules, models, or a priori knowledge. A net is very, very good at pattern inference and recognition. ... One can see the potential for some truly subtle forms of embezzlement, irresistable invasive advertising keyed to surreptitiously acquired psychological profiles, or consumer fraud on a grand scale, among other things.
and:
An executive I know has told me of an office surveillance/attendance system being installed at his company, along the same lines as home security systems. Commercial versions have been on the market for over a year. It uses interactive badges and scanners, sort of transponders-in-an-ID, to track the location, time, and identity of personnel in a building: sort of an electronic leash. (He confided that it is silly to treat employees as bar-coded merchandise; for my part, I was polite enough not to mention the phrase, "Big Brother".)
As you read, remember that it was written two-and-a-half years before the first US Web page went up (which was around 6th Dec. 1991).

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Island of Misfit Toys

The Berkman Center's Johnathan Zittrain has a New York Times editorial entitled From Westworld to Best World for the Internet of Things starts:
Last month the F.B.I. issued an urgent warning: Everyone with home internet routers should reboot them to shed them of malware from “foreign cyberactors.”
Below the fold, some details and a critique of  Zittrain’s proposals for improving the IoT.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Cryptographers on Blockchains: Part 2 (updated)

Back in April I wrote Cryptographers on Blockchains; they weren't enthusiastic. It is time for some more of the same, so follow me below the fold.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Recreational Bugs

At the San Diego Usenix in January 1989 I presented Visualizing X11 Clients, a paper written by David Lemke and myself. In email conversation about his Pie Menus: A 30 Year Retrospective, Don Hopkins unearthed the script for the talk I gave, which I posted to the "xpert@athena.mit.edu" mail list. To record the script for posterity, a slightly edited version is below the fold.

Don also unearthed A Window Manager for Bitmapped Displays and Unix, the paper James Gosling and I wrote describing the Andrew window manager for the Alvey Workshop at Cosener's House, Abingdon (29th April to 1st May 1985) (DOI). The entire workshop proceedings were subsequently published as Methodology of Window Management, and are online here. The Andrew window manager tiled the screen with windows because, as the quote at the head of the paper said:
You will get a better Gorilla effect if you use as big a piece of paper as possible. Kunihiko Kasahara, Creative Origami.
In retrospect, this wasn't a great idea.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Pie Menus

Don's NeWS Pie Menu
IIRC it is 1988, and James Gosling and I are in the Sun Microsystems booth at SIGGRAPH demo-ing the NeWS window system. Don Hopkins walks up with a tape cartridge in his hand and says "load this". Knowing Don, we do, and all of a sudden all the menus in the system are transformed from the conventional pull-right rectangles to circles divided into pie-slices. And Don, at that time the most caffeinated person I'd ever met, is blazing through the menus faster than we've ever seen before.

Why am I writing this thirty years later? Follow me below the fold.