Today is a good day to code

Our Parents Built Voyager 1 What Are We Building?

Posted: September 14th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »
Voyager 1

Voyager 1

While I am incredibly excited that Voyager has left the solar system; a glorious accomplishment for humankind and an incredible testament to human ingenuity and will, we have built the first great ambassador to the stars, I wish that ‘we’ included myself and my generation.  Voyager is travelling at a velocity which is mind-boggling, it is moving at 11 miles per second, greater than the gravity of the sun holding our planets locked in their orbits around itself.  This is an incredible feat, man has created a device which can travel faster than anything captured within the gravity well of our solar system.  We have created something so rare, an object with a hyperbolic trajectory moving away from the solar system, the very fact that it is indicates the sophistication and potential of mankind.

Voyager Chief Scientist Ed Stone, Credit: NASA/Carla Cioffi

Voyager Chief Scientist Ed Stone, Credit: NASA/Carla Cioffi

Voyager, Apollo, Mariner, Hubble  and the great space exploration missions of the past century were all made possible by the genius of our parents.  As far as I can tell, we have done nothing even remotely approximating the magnitude of scientific discovery generated by these missions.  My generation has made it possible to cut deep into NASA’s budget, taking the money and wasting it on everything and nothing at once.  We take our greatest scientific minds and put them to work on wall street, creating exotic mathematical tools to extract ever declining slices of abstract value from the real value being created by people working.  We put mathematical geniuses to work creating codes and breaking codes so that we can perpetuate our advantage over everyone else.  What are we doing?  We have the wealth, ability and the technology available, not only to our government, but also our private citizens, to solve so many crippling issues around the world, while at the same time furthering human understanding of both biological and extra-terrestrial systems.  There is no reason we can not do both.  Any rationale given is just an excuse, and one I will not accept after watching the way we the people find money for other inane pet projects.

The derivatives that are created in the financial markets are true genius, the cryptographic systems and computer technologies that have been created over the past 26 or so years are astounding, and I truly appreciate that.  What I am frustrated and embarrassed about is what we choose to do with these technologies.  PRISM and Xkeyscore?  Really? Is that where we are putting all of our efforts, on spying on each other?  We talk about creating jobs; what part of building up infrastructure on the moon is not about creating new jobs?  The effort to build a permanent settlement on the moon would put tens of thousands of people around the world at work in a new race to inhabit our moon.

I am thrilled to see companies like Space X, Blue Origin, and Planetary Resources taking up the mantle of exploration.  We should be able to create another ambassador to the stars, like Voyager 1 & 2.  This should not be a hard sell.  We need to build another probe, one that is faster and has more storage capacity than the original Voyager missions.  We should create dozens of them some of them, some with highly solar-elliptical orbits such that they can deliver information about what is around us.

Only government currently has the resources to fund this type of purely scientific endeavor.  Profit seeking entities will eventually get there, but only where there is money to be made or with the will of a great individual with massive personal resources.   If the governments around the world lack enough vision to see that we need to do this, I’d settle for a league of extraordinary individuals who will put their fortunes and minds to this work.  Once these people come forward, all that needs to happen is for the governments of the world to get out of their way.

I understand that some say that the space exploration missions were really covert ( or not so covert ) tests for ICBM technology, and this is likely true, however the actual science missions got funded.  People used to be genuinely interested in exploring the unknown.  Naturally a few remain, but they are finding it more impossible by the day to convince any one else that exploration and research are still valuable.  People frequently discuss practical and pragmatic solutions to problems here on Earth, but they fail to find the vision that many of the problems here on Earth can be solved by trying to get off of it.

The next time you are thinking about trying to build the next facebook, or that next hot dating startup, of the next pinterest, take a minute and think about building a quantum entangled energy transmission network, or a new kind of rocket, perhaps a new form of energy efficient CO2 scrubbing system instead.  We need to seriously consider our legacy.  Do we, as a generation, only want to be remembered for our memes ( not that there is anything wrong with a good meme)?  Or do we want to do something big?  It is critical that we elect people who have vision, a true vision that will set us heading in the right direction.  We must support entrepreneurs who want to take us to the stars.  We do not have that with any of our elected officials, at least none that is willing to put their reputation and career on the line to forward space research that I am aware of anyway, and I am afraid that it is this which is the first and  largest problem.  The second is that we need to stop selling ourselves short.

We can do what seems like science fiction, it is possible.  Entrepreneurs should have the vision and the guts to take the risks that will advance all of mankind.  Venture capitalists need to ensure that they are taking long bets like the funding team behind Planetary Resources.  It is like this that we get there, if these companies do what they are doing and then work together to move us further forward, even beyond their initial business plans, eventually the governments will follow.


If the FCC had never existed

Posted: March 12th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: android, Apple, AT&T, Companies, Google, Verizon | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

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Much of the tech media is thinking about the problem of wireless spectrum in the wrong way.  It is helpful to think about why the commission was created, and the problems that have been created in the market by its existence.

The FCC/FRC was created in response to complaints by large national carriers that smaller regional broadcasters of dubious quality were broadcasting on all available frequencies with such power that the national broadcasters couldn’t get a clear signal through. 

The government at the time thought it would be a good idea to control the broadcast frequencies so that they would have spectrum available for use with military equipment  domestically. 

So a deal of sorts was struck where in return for being regulated, national broadcasters would receive a monopoly on broadcast licenses.  This would later cause the breakup of these same broadcasters.

The spectrum was allocated by frequency with buffer zones between blocks.  Power output limits were also part of the regulation package, without which, the allocated frequency blocks would have been useless.  This represented a modern and efficient set of controls based on the technology of the era.

Skip ahead a hundred years and see what has happened.  The technology has improved, the regulatory framework is obviated by the technology. However, since we have an intruder in the market preventing normal forces from solving the problem, the same companies who were given the monopoly control which innovations consumers are allowed to buy.  These same companies set, fix prices, and collude to gouge both content companies and consumers to the tune of ridiculous profits.

Let’s spin back to the past and examine what would likely have happened if the FRC and subsequently the FCC had never been created.

In the late thirties, the first experiments with digital technology were beginning to be performed. At the same time, content companies were beginning to have difficulty broadcasting because of band saturation on radio and later television frequencies.

The war had and was driving incredible advances in communications technology, including experiments with digital broadcast technology.

What Bell would have done was to seek profit from all of the major broadcasters of the era. They would have said, “hey, we have this cool way of using digital transmission to allow us to send tremendous amounts of data from different sources to different destinations through the same frequency using codes to distinguish one broadcaster from another. Why don’t you all pay us a small fee to register yourselves with us, and we’ll build a network of general broadcast / receivers throughout the country.  We’ll use more frequencies as necessary, but since we can pack you in, we will always have plenty.”

This didn’t happen for many reasons, and has its own problems, but what would happen next would have been the rapid rise of bundlers.  Companies whose job it was to use the spectrum they chose as efficiently as possible to maximize their own profit. It would have sped the pace of innovation and prevented the mess we have now.

Eventually the government would have stepped in and mandated that these bundlers reserve spectrum for military and government use. The bundlers would have complied.

Fast-forward this system to today.  We would have hundreds of free market companies competing for the most efficient use of spectrum, with AT&T, T-Mobile, and hundreds if not thousands of competing Telecom and internet providers.  The barrier to entry for these providers would be very low since they would just need to pay the bundler of their choice which best suited their needs.

These bundlers would have built powerful networks of broadcast / receivers everywhere, on roadsides, inside buildings, etc.  There would be no lack of spectrum, and no need for excessive, heavy-handed regulation, as each advance in technology would allow the bundlers to use ever less spectrum and sell both the technology and license their spectrum to even more bundlers.

This didn’t happen, so where do we go from here?  There are few places where it is so obvious that regulatory interference has caused irrational behavior in the market as in wireless.  The FCC should embrace digital technology and require broadcasters to form independent corporations to act as the bundlers that I described.  These bundlers would manage the infrastructure for the broadcasters with the broadcasters riding on them.  Once the system was in place, the licensing system would be replaced by power output limits, and the FCC would assume a greatly reduced role.

There are many flaws to my proposal, but we have to get the FCC out of the spectrum licensing business.  Technology is sufficiently advanced that we do not need this frequency based system. It is causing more harm than good.  We need to let the market work to provide better access to everyone.  It is critical that the barriers to entry for wireless carriers to be lowered if we want real competition and innovation in wireless going forward.