Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Open Source Science Fiction World

I like science fiction; I like open source. Today, as I was biking home from the bike shop (they actually did replace the middle chainring this time), I thought of a fun way to combine my two interests. Now, I don't know how viable this would be in the long run but it would be a fun thing to experiment with. Maybe someone's done it already.

The idea would be to create a world -- a future, a universe, a "verse" -- that anyone could write a story in. Although the stories could be copyrighted, anything that actually affected the world as a whole would have to be open source too. The project would require a benevolent dictator like Linus Torvalds to make sure that there was coherence in the timeline.

One reason that this appeals to me is that when I read science fiction, I often find myself more interested in the background than in the story itself. I'm curious about the history, the social changes, the economics, and the politics of the imaginary world. I love when an author takes time to write an essay giving background on the verse.

Anyway, I thought of a real easy one that I could start with just a simple tweak on real reality. This alternate reality, which doesn't have a name yet, diverges from our own timeline yesterday, on May 1st 2006. In my verse, which I plan to release under conditions similar to those I described above, the demonstrations of 5/1/06 are even bigger than they were in real reality. Twice as many people turn out for the demonstrations. San Francisco, LA, San Diego, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Houston, and NYC are shut down, Parisian style. I'm imagining they continue into the rest of the week, perhaps expanding into a more general walkout of low wage workers. Of course, much of the verse would be looking back on this as history and reflecting on implications rather than on the event itself.

Here's some info from Boing Boing on the demonstrations, which were pretty huge. Apparently they were pretty big in San Francisco, where I live. However, I didn't witness anything first hand -- I just read about it all on the Internets. Imagine if they had been big enough that every resident of San Francisco had first hand experience of the demonstrations. That's the kind of divergence I'm talking about.

Anyway, I won't go on right now. The point is, one could start with this single divergence and end up with a "platform" or "springboard" reality for science fiction.

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Monday, May 01, 2006

Net Neutrality

Save the Internet: Click here

Here's my letter to my congresswoman, Nancy Pelosi, as well as to my senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.

Subject: Save Network Neutrality

Altering the architecture of the Internet so that some content is treated differently than other content would hurt the network for everybody. Network neutrality is not simply good politics; it makes technical sense.

When the CEO of AT&T claims that companies like Google and Microsoft are attempting to use "his pipes" for free, he ignores the fact that they are already paying for Internet connectivity. In addition, extra fees for fast connections would hurt small businesses, startups, and individual contributors. Network neutrality promotes innovation.

I can envision a future in which everyone is producing and consuming high quality audio and video and transmitting it over the Internet. A few years from now, this may be common practice for teleconferencing. This is a future in which individuals are not just consumers, passively sitting in front of a television-like device. Rather, we are all participants in business and culture. This is a future in which telecom companies can make money but in which the democratic structure of the Internet is preserved.

Technically speaking, it's a bad idea to treat some bits differently than other bits. Also, I get nervous any time a big company with deep pockets and "ownership" over the "pipes" through which everyone's content is transmitted tries to exert power.

I don't think the vision of the Internet that AT&T and other telecoms are promoting has much of a future. Generally, the content provided by ISPs is not what people really want. Think of AOL ten years ago -- what people really wanted was the *real* Internet. AT&T won't get very far giving preferential treatment to "their content" because their content isn't very good.

I'm worried. Although the Internet has been great for democracy and the spread of knowledge throughout the world, our freedoms are increasingly under attack from content providers, telecommunications companies, and lawmakers who seem to take into account the interests of big corporations but not those of the people and small businesses. What will become of the Internet in five, ten, or fifteen years? Will we still have a vibrant marketplace, a place for innovation, and a realm for free speech? Or will the Internet become a shadow of itself, a form of television, through which media companies feed their content to passive consumers?

As a technology professional, I depend on the Internet for my livelihood. I will definitely take into account your vote on this issue when I go to the ballot box. Please let me know what you intend to do to preserve the democratic structure of the Internet and net neutrality.

John Markos O'Neill

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