Sunday, January 21, 2007

Designed To Let Us Down... our deliberately frail cell phone system

cell-phone-p2pDr. Andrew J. Viterbi, an expert on communications theory at USC, spoke up recently in support of one of the concepts I have been pushing. Based upon the obscene situation that we saw during the Hurricane Katrina Crisis, when tens of thousands of victims found themselves cut off from the world, even though they had, in their pockets, sophisticated radio communications devices -- cell phones that betrayed folks the very moment they were needed most. Viterbi commented (and apologies for the embedded self-quotation):

Brin goes on to say that the teachable moment provided by Katrina was lost, and that the cellular industry could make a relatively simple, inexpensive change that would allow cell phones to still function to network survivors in a crisis :

emergency-cell-phone-network".... almost no attention has been paid to improving the reliability and utility of our cell networks, to assist citizen action during times of emergency. To the best of my knowledge. no high level demand has gone out - from FEMA or any other agency -- for industry to address cell-system problems revealed in the devastation of America 's Gulf Coast. A correction that should be both simple/cheap and useful to implement.

"What do we need? We need ways for citizens to self-organize, both in normal life and (especially) during crises, when normal channels may collapse, or else get taken over by the authorities for their own use. All this might require is a slight change -- or set of additions -- in the programming of the sophisticated little radio communications devices that we all carry in our pockets, nowadays.

"How about a simple back-up mode for text messaging? One that could use packet-switching to bypass the cell towers when they are down, and pass messages from phone to phone -- or peer-to-peer -- at least among phones that are of the same type? (GSM, TDMA, CDMA etc.) All of the needed packet-switching algorithms already exist. Moreover, this would allow a drowning city (or other catastrophe zone) to fill with tens of thousands of little spots of light, supplying information to helpers and reassurance to loved ones, anywhere in the world."

cell-phone-failureThese pushes of mine have not gone completely ignored or unnoticed. As Viterbi's riffs on the topic show, there have been some fascinating and insightful exchanges, discussing how the nation and public might benefit by adding peer-to-peer supplemental capabilities to the present cell system.

Some object that this development could cost millions. But that is not any real obstacle in an industry making hundreds of billions in the US alone. If either the government or the cell companies saw a clear benefit model, it would be trivial to justify the relatively small expense. Certainly far smaller than incorporating web browsers and MP3 players!

The problem is that top-down hierachy mentalities do not easily grasp the potential of flattened networks.... and this despite the clear example of the Internet itself, as a super-empowering, hierarchy-flattening phenomenon.

(Indeed, I believe that there are underlying PSYCHOLOGICAL REASONS that the twin examples of the Internet - and citizen competence on 9/11 - may have prompted an immune reaction against citizen empowerment, on the part of some members of the Paid Protector Castes. But that's another story.)

One more-cogent objection to the notion of augmenting cell phones with Peer-to-Peer capability: it takes a lot more energy to transmit than to receive. Most cell phones are actually very weak transmitters that function poorly without energetic base towers nearby.

P2PThe answer to this objection is simple. In order to use P2P effectively in a crisis, when the towers are down, personal cell phones do not have to carry voice. In an emergency, text messages can make a tremendous difference, e.g. in calling for help, or informing loved-ones that you are okay, or in passing crucial information to authorities. Especially since text messages can be transmitted with multiple repetition-redundancy, simple calculations show that pocket transmitters (cell phones) could pass these along at trivial power expenditure.

Obviously, this same answer deals with objections that P2P (peer to peer) does not carry voice well. So?The algorithms for passing along text messages are very little different from classic packet switching for email, on the Internet. Implementation ought to be trivial.

How to explain why this simple augmentation has not been implemented, even though it is clearly in the national and public interest? One theory is that the cell companies may feel threatened by P2P capabilities. Or that they see no way to make money off them. But this needn't be a problem. For one thing, it should be easy for each hand set to track passed-on messages and inform the network, for billing purposes. Or else the P2P system can be turned off, whenever there is a fully functional cell tower nearby! Thus, automatically reverting to P2P only under circumstances when the capability is actually needed!

201817627023139616_3LLO5hNJ_cMoreover, there is an added allure to this approach, one that could help the cell-cos make real money. By developing P2P capability, companies may open the door to a new method for solving their "last mile problem" - or how to extend coverage into dark zones, just beyond reach of their current network of towers. Think. Why not let customers who happen to be at the edge of the coverage area get a small pay-back fee for every text message that they pass through, from people who are just outside the covered zone? The same way people with solar or wind generators can make their meters run backward, feeding power into the grid.

If such customers had a more sophisticated home-cradle unit, they might even be able to pass through voice calls from a nearby dark zone. Reducing their own bill, helping the company, and making our entire communications system more robust.

Indeed, can anyone doubt that someday, somebody will realize there is a business plan in this? An entirely peer-to-peer network, in which, customers home-cradle units make up the bulk of an alternative cell system? But we'll save that futuristic sci fi scenario for another time. What I am talking about, here, is something that could be implemented in just one year, if anyone (like FEMA) were actually serious about fostering a more resilient and robust society. A pretty big "if" - apparently.

9-11The fact that cell phones served the national defense so well on 9/11, yet failed in Katrina, should have been enough to tell us that serious work is needed, work that has been entirely lacking while we let ourselves be distracted on other adventures. I mean, isn't it a no-brainer for Homeland Security and FEMA to support this kind of capability, in the national interest?

After thinking about it, how do YOU feel about the sophisticated little tranceiver radio in your pocket, now that you know that it was designed almost perfectly to let you down, someday, at the very moment that you might need it most?

==See more of my articles on Emergency Preparedness


Anonymous said...

There's one problem that I often see with with peer-to-peer, though. Not every peer can be trusted. How are we going to control, say, spam on this network?

Anonymous said...

doug, most security problems can probably be handled by a public key infrastructure.

The only real problem I see in the idea of pure-P2P voice calls is latency. Lots of it.

Anonymous said...

Spam is basically like a denial-of-service attack. I suppose you could have some kind of authentication system to filter badly behaved nodes, though?

Latency isn't much of an issue for text messaging, but it might be for voice.

Naum said...

Thank the RIAA and MPAA and congress critter friends that have embarked upon a campaign to see that such devices ARE NOT PRODUCED, or if such functionality is provided, it is HOPELESSLY CRIPPLED to the point that renders the device useless in that regard.

Any commercial P2P usage is bound to bump against these roadblocks.

I've wondered about this too, and as far back as 5 years ago other folks too were pondering and planning about this predicament.

Yes, I realize text messaging doesn't necessarily entail file transfers. But sending low-res (and if network could support high-res) images and support files across P2P networks could make the phones so much more useful but that will never see the light of day if a minority of short sighted beings continue in their control.

Kevin said...

Dr. Brin,
Thank you for another useful suggestion.
I think the social obstacle to this is deeper than your essay suggests.
I am reading an interesting essay by David Ronfeldt. Oops. You were the one who turned me on to that essay. (Another thank you)
In Ronfeldt's terms, the cell phone companies are well-functioning parts of the old order (tribal+hierarchy+market). Their assigned social role is to make money. We trust the market mechanism to ensure that they can only make money by doing something useful (providing cell phone service). They are good at that. (Or as good as quasi-monopolies with too much political clout will ever be)
It is not evil or incompetence or venality for them to not set up the wonderful peer-to-peer system you describe, it is immaturity. And not even their immaturity, but that of the newly emerging tribal+hierarchy+market+network order.
Which is not to deny that their obstruction can be highly frustrating. This is an interesting age to be visionary. Easy to see so much coming over the horizon but so frustrating to see what could be, easily could be, but does not happen not for technological reasons, but social ones.
By the way, does anyone anywhere have such a peer-to-peer system? How about the socially advanced Scandinavians? Or the South Koreans, who have cell phone networks far superior to ours?
Let's elect a pro-technological development president and congress in 2008 who will put the government behind the 21st century infrastructure building the same way that the New Deal helped build physical infrastructure and job skill infrastructure (GI Bill) and Lincoln helped build out the railroad network (Homestead Act), etc.

Kevin said...

Naum said...

Thank the RIAA and MPAA and congress critter friends that have embarked upon a campaign to see that such devices ARE NOT PRODUCED, or if such functionality is provided, it is HOPELESSLY CRIPPLED to the point that renders the device useless in that regard.

The lack of a way to handle "intellectual property" is a stranglehold choking our economy and society. (Reducing our annual growth rate to 2-3% from easily 20-30%.) But it is so imbedded in all societies advanced enough to reach this point that we do not even notice it much of the time or notice that it is all one issue.
We need a way to handle "intellectual property" that promotes both creation and dissemination. Treating it like air (aka piracy) is great for dissemination but undermines creation by failing to reward the work required. And discouraging creation eventually leaves less to disseminate. On the other hand, treating it like physical property (aka copyrights and patents) supports creation but cripples dissemination. And crippling dissemination eventually undermines creation too. For example, multiple pharmaceutical companies doing the same research because each must hide their work from the others, or useful technology purchased by owners of rival technology then hidden.
Right now, the likes of the RIAA and MPAA have well earned our wrath and contempt, but beyond them is a serious issue. One that will grow larger and more fundamental as long as we can outrun the more primitive issues (like Iraq). And one whose solution will involve a social transformation as great as the shift from feudal agriculture to modern industry. Or larger.

Anonymous said...

There are already cellphone handsets with point-to-point capability designed for first responders. I think they use a different cell infrastructure than commercial networks, though.

There have been consumer products with local P2P capability (such as the now-defunct Cybiko).

The trouble with putting P2P into cellphones is that companies would fear the loss of SMS revenue (which is bigger in most of the world than in the US). If it was mandated by law as an emergency-only feature, who would ensure that the system implemented actually worked when it really mattered, especially with the problem of scaling?

It's a nice idea, but maybe a better idea would be to provide emergency battery backup infrastructure, capable of routing text-only messages to special emergency numbers. Perhaps deployed on blimps (after the hurricane has gone)?

Don Quijote said...

Some object that this development could cost millions. But that is not any real obstacle in an industry making hundreds of billions in the US alone. If either the government or the cell companies saw a clear benefit model, it would be trivial to justify the relatively small expense. Certainly far smaller than incorporating web browsers and MP3 players!

MP3 Players and web browsers can easily be sold to the public and are not needed on every phone, the same would not be true for a P2P cell phone.

Not to belabor the obvious, but Corporations are not in the business of producing services or goods, they are in the business of making money.
If you want them to add emergency features to their cell phones, you are going to have it mandated by the State.

As a side note P2P are flat networks, and by definition anti-authoritarian, so why would the most authoritarian sector of our society do anything against it's ethos.

teflonjedi said...

I think this is a very interesting idea?

How does this system provide the knowledge to each of the individual mobile phones as to which way to pass individual messages? I'm not familiar with information network technology to the depth I would need to answer this question myself. I am only thinking of the internet, which knows which way to send messages because of the DNS and routing systems scattered across the system. (Didn't FIDOnet also work this way?) Here, I would only worry that each phone would have to send messages to all surrounding phones, so as to ensure transmission to the destination, and I would foresee a system cascade failure, as one message would keep bouncing through all phones in the network.

But, I'm betting I'm worried all for naught, and the answer to this problem is available out there somewhere...?

Anonymous said...

Some object that this development could cost millions.

Heh, it could indeed. And how much has Iraq cost so far?

Silly Old Bear said...

It doesn't take a nearby disaster to cripple the system.

I was caught up in the Rita "Let's Evacuate Houston with no real Plan" debacle. We live well over 100 miles inland and did without cell service for many days. Not because the towers were down (it barely rained here) but because everyone evacuating Houston jammed the airwaves, so you couldn't get a signal.

There's no traffic control, and no way to try and get around the problem - you either get a signal or you don't. On the internet you can look for a mirror of a site that is overloaded, at least.

I agree with others, though, that your average provider will not enable or include features that don't add to their bottom line unless it is shoved onto them by the regulators.

Anonymous said...

A minor idea to help sell it to the protector-caste:

A P2P text messaging system would be a great way to send out local emergency notices: school closings, disaster instructions, etc.

Of course, it would be nasty if it were used for voter intimidation or manipulation, but I think that could be controlled.

More would be needed, but to sell someone on change, one needs to phrase it in terms of what it will do for them.

David Brin said...

Very cogent summary by Kevin, of the balancing act required in sensible Intellectual Property law. The RIAA vs Open SOurce controversy would be far better solved if we recalled what IP was for.

I have tried to offer ways that the CellCos could benefit (or not be harmed) by a backup P2P text message capability. There are plausible ways that they could charge for such messages. At the opposite extreme, if this ability were federally mandated in the public interest, it could be turned off whenever a useful cell tower is in reach.

teflonjedi raises interesting questions re implementation. I believe that an ad hoc P2P network - say in a Katrina-like emergency - could quickly determine where there were phone that are still in good connection with active cell towers. With these cell phones serving as anchor points, their immediate neighbors in the afflicted areas would map pretty easily on a grid to receive messages from farther in.

SteveO I have tried to sell it to folks in charge. I often consult for defense meetings, I have a popular blog, and I know seven billionaires, and yet, you'd be amazed how little influence that buys me. We are all much farther from "influence" than we like to think.

Anonymous said...

Remember walkie-talkies? Could some company miniaturize them into a device to be clipped onto the cell phone for emergency service?

Or ... miniature CB radios with emergency channels 9 and 19?

Off-topic wild speculation: Could dark matter consist of trillions of Dyson spheres? ;-)

SpeakerToManagers said...

Preventing spam, at least during an emergency, isn't too hard. First, every message header needs to contain the full P2P path of nodes it has encountered since its origin. Then, make it a federal crime to interfere with emergency service commnunications (it's already a felony in some states), and explicitly define the sending of commercial messages over emergency networks as interference. If the penalty is several years in jail and 10 or 20,000 dollars fine per infraction (per message) for each person convicted, I suspect there wouldn't be very many people willing to chance it.

SpeakerToManagers said...

Off-topic wild speculation: Could dark matter consist of trillions of Dyson spheres? ;-)

I doubt it. There's a good deal of evidence that the structures of dark matter formed before the normal matter galaxies. That doesn't leave either a lot of time, or a lot of places, for intelligent beings to evolve and build Dyson spheres.

ERic said...

I don't think about it. I don't have a cellphone. I'm a technoluddite.

Anonymous said...

DB, your power is in your fiction.

I think I've suggested this before: Write a near-future technothriller showing super-cells in action!

* * *

I don't have a cell either. The thought of spending another $40 a month irks me. OTOH, I'm considering one of those cheap-oh pay-as-you-go phones, mostly for use while travelling.

False Data said...

As one of the people concerned about transmit power, I was going to ask if you had a link to the calculations, but to be honest I wouldn't have time to analyze them properly. (That's the problem with being in school--never enough time to do anything educational.) However, the main thing I'd be looking for is to see whether they take into account the routing traffic necessary to sustain the network.

Bottom line, though, is that this is one of those subjects that can trigger endless speculation. If you want to cut through the chaff, the best way might be to turn a bunch of Linux geeks loose on it. Initially, they could start developing the P2P network protocol and routing system, which they could do on any network-equipped computer. The text messaging system from the OLTP project might have some good stuff. Then, they can try it for real with the Green Phone once it becomes available.

On a hunch, I'd guess the largest technical challenge would be keeping the routing traffic each phone must handle under control as the number of phones in the network grows. Accepting the restriction that phones must be stationary for a reasonable amount of time, say 5-10 minutes, before they can participate in the network might help on this score.

David Brin said...

Wow, that Greenphone looks terrific. I do not have much in the way of contacts with the Linux crowd. Wish I did...

...or that I had time to go drum up excitement over there. I hope that someone might act as a bridge and mention-link this concept of P2P-text capability as an "Open" problem for the OS community.

In fact, it would seem to be perfect for them. Why not push for all citizens to have at least a baseline communications capability with the radios that they paid good money to carry around in their pockets?

False Data said...

I don't have a lot of contacts with that community, either. Usually, new projects get started when two or three coders with time--often either fresh out of college or still in it--can dive into it and act as a nucleus. I don't know anyone who currently fits that description. Here are a few possibilities, though.

The first would be a letter or article in Linux Journal. Most of their content is technical, but this idea might interest them, especially considering how excited they seem to be about the Green Phone.

The second is to see if any of Bruce Schneier's readers might be interested in taking up the challenge. They tend to be kind of--ok, almost entirely--on the opposite end of the spectrum from you when it comes to privacy rights vs. the transparent society, but they also tend to have a fairly strong libertarian streak that might find the idea of peer-to-peer messaging over cell networks attractive. The best approach there might be to e-mail Bruce Schneier and ask if he'd be interested in linking to a piece you've written describing the project.

The third, which is a long shot, would be to subscribe to GNU Radio's discussion list and see if there's any interest there. The GNU Radio project is a project to develop a software radio, a radio in which software replaces most of the hardware, so the only thing necessary to turn it from an AM to FM to shortwave to a wide range of other sorts of radios is to download new software into it. I believe they have at least considered GSM. Even if they're not interested, they might know someone who is.

Unfortunately, as I said, I'm stretched so thinly right now ("like too little butter spread over too much bread") that I can't take on any new projects.

False Data said...

OK, I've also sent an e-mail on the off chance any of my friends know anyone--it has a link back to your post--and have posted a blog entry for whatever good it does.

Sigh. I guess that reading assignment's just going to have to get done tomorrow.

David Brin said...

False Data, you take care of yourself and your studies first.

I would be happy to bounce a version of my P2P-textphone idea with some eager, half-influential person in the OS community, perhaps for co-authorship on one of their sites. Perhaps - if it evolved well, it might even find a place as an article on Salon, like my "Why Johnny Can't Code" article.

What I do not have time to do is to whip it into shape right now, on my own. There would be legwork and research involved that I simply cannot do, while facing a dozen deadlines and with even more kid-related duties.

If someone were to start by annotating my screed, applying citokate and supplying grist for the gaps, I would happily discuss the matter further.

Otherwise, this has to be one more bomb that I've tossed out there. Hoping it will roil the waters enough for some good to be done.

Anonymous said...
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Blake Stacey said...

I would be happy to bounce a version of my P2P-textphone idea with some eager, half-influential person in the OS community, perhaps for co-authorship on one of their sites. Perhaps — if it evolved well, it might even find a place as an article on Salon, like my "Why Johnny Can't Code" article.

Ouch. Are we ready for that again? The mind boggles and the blood runs cold when one imagines what Slashdotters will make of it.

"David Brin wants to destroy our cell-phone privacy!"

"David Brin loves rotary phones!"


Rob Perkins said...

I thought I had a handle on the details of such a thing and had it half-posted here before realizing I probably had a patent on my hands. (Want to collaborate?)

The fact is I can think of at least three different ways to implement your idea, David, and the simplest one is more social than technical: The FCC could permit (or require) CellCos to boost signal strengths on cells which lose contact with neighboring cells in an emergency, while also requiring them to drop all services except basic SMS messaging.

Of course, that would actually require the FCC to be agile in an emergency. And to coordinate with FEMA and DHS in that emergency.

David Brin said...

Rob, it all sounds intriguing.

Why don't we do this. Those of you who would like to form an exploratory committee with Rob, and willing to sign a mutual NDA, speak up here and offer your email to discuss ideas. It's about time this community of wise guys actually spawned some side ventures.

As for rotary phones, well, I have a few. One of them has a separate earpiece, mouthpiece, you know like in those old movies... and a REAL bell!

Anonymous said...

Stefan & Eric,

I'm with you....I don't have a cell, either. They're a nuisance I can do without, although I will concede their usefulness in certain emergencies. However, I believe their benefit to society is a net zero effect. They are a source of constant distraction for the majority of the population (just look around and watch all the babbling idiots frying their brains with these things day in and day out). They are as much a hinderance and impediment to productivity, if not more, than they are an enabler, and driving while talking on one (which most people do these days) is ridiculously unsafe, thus causing needless accidents, maiming and death.

I'm reminded of the woman in Florida who ran her car off the road into one of the many lakes and as her car precipitously sank, she dialed 911 and spoke to a 911 Operator. She drowned, in case you were wondering. Instead of getting the hell out of the car, she relied on the cell phone to save her.

So it goes.

Anonymous said...

Since Bill and Melinda Gates are into both technology and philanthropy, how about applying to their foundation for a research and implementation grant for peer-to-peer emergency communication?

Someone with a good technical background in cellphonery would have to write up the proposal.

David Brin said...

I stand ready to back up this idea - plus many others - with name-appeal and/or visionary prose and/or yeoman service editing solid proposals.

It will be up to others to form teams and do the preliminary legwork, lining up expertise, creating a discussion group - closed or open - and coming up with a plan.

IF - by some miracle - such a group actually gained momentum, there are lots of places to apply for grants. Not only foundations. I live near Qualcomm, for heaven's sake. I have contacts at Defense. Problem is that I have found such places want a lot more detail than I can provide. Visionary logic only goes so far.

If I had only one idea at a time, it might be much better. I'd have fewer. But maybe some would get finished.

Tony Fisk said...

Seem like time to do anything interesting is always at a premium!

Naive question:

what prevents a cell phone packet from being channelled through 902.1 wi-fi networks?
Transmission frequency might be one thing. What else?

Woozle said...

Some brass tacks:

1. I don't know if this qualifies as a "fan site", but maybe it will serve and it is open for discussion (the "Discussion" page provides a crude but flexible forum):

2. Do I have permission to re-post (and ruthlessly edit) your P2P-cellphone idea, so as to facilitate further discussion? (I will certainly give original-author credit and links back to the original writings; I'd offer to mark it as copyrighted and make it read-only, but that would kinda defeat the purpose, I'd think...)

3. Holocene: yes! Please add me to the list. No hurry on working out a demo date, though; I'd like to have some time to read the docs first, and maybe try to do some, ah, documentational paraphrasing...

David Brin said...

Woozle, thanks for setting up the ArchiTECHS site. I have edited slightly and added some stuff. I could also post some photographs, if it were easy and I knew how.


Please contact me via and I will put you on the list to be invited to a Holocene demo

You are welcome to crib & quote and refer to my blog entries as long as you link to the original. Good luck!

David Brin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rob Perkins said...

Some of these ideas are certainly prior art.

For example, Microsoft advertises a feature of Vista which is claimed to be useful for building ad-hoc p2p networks. The feature is called "People Near Me".

My suspicion, though, based on a presentation I saw today, is that the People Near Me algorithm is simply "who is on my IP subnet". That's useful for wired or wireless networks in a home, and there is greater utility in a well-designed network, but it might not be the thing we're looking for.

David, I'll certainly sign an NDA with you to explore these ideas. Let's exchange a bit of email.

David Brin said...

social networking is big and a true honeypot idea. It has drawn big buck and scads of work.

In contrast, "attention allocation" has been almost utterly neglected. Indeed, even professionals do not seem to have any grasp of what the two words, placed side by side, might possibly mean.

From your description, it sounds a lot like another stab at social networking. But I'd be happy to see more.

BTW, the patent office DID frind two small pieces of attention allocation prior art that forced us to modify the patent a bit. In contrast, folks at MIT Media, Computer-Human Interface and Google... and other kibbitzers for years... have found virtually none.

Oh, but here's the intriguing thing. Why does a statement (or assertion) like the one I just made, provoke so little CURIOSITY from bright folks and (in contrast) so much anger?

Indeed, not the assertive kind of anger that propels citokate, provoking some savvy fellow to put in real work to disprove the claim. But rather, the sullen kind that makes smartass aftar smartass mutter and growl and wander away, shaking his head and murmering "there's nothing there, there's nothing there, there CAN'T be anything there, there just can't be,..."

Even if the odds are 10:1 that I'm the deluded one, isn't it symptomatic that there's so little curiosity? Well, I'd a thought so.

Anonymous said...

Topic related link - PacketHop.

802.11b uses 'un-regulated' (actually lightly regulated) frequencies. Maybe base a cheap device for P2P texting around that, despite the relatively short range.

802.11b base stations could forward messages from nearby P2P Texting (P2PT) units over the internet, so that normally service is pretty decent. Encourage rapid creation of a "backbone" of such internet-connected base stations, by having mobile units "pay" the base station by displaying one new bitmap a minute from the base station.

If one is isolated, so that there's no known route to a base station, the P2PT would simply exchange messages with nearby P2PT units, hoping that one of them will eventually wander into contact with an active route. All messages would expire 24 hours after origination, whether they make it or not.

Off-topic - I found this editorial thought-provoking - "Don't you know your Left from your Right?" - asking why liberals supported a fascist (Sadaam) and remain opposed to helping Iraqi democracy against the various fascist insurgent factions.

reason said...

Twinbeam -
both the article, and the views of liberals of this issue are much more nuanced than your description of the issue.
I think I could summarise the issue this way, liberals care not just about the end result, but also the means by which it is obtained.

Tony Fisk said...

Twinbeam: as you say, where does wifi fit into this?

David, most people find it really, really hard to grasp an abstract concept. They need a concrete example before the light dawns. Even then, they may not be able to step back and apply that example more generally (it seems, from my observations, to be a big difference between people with scientific and engineering backgrounds. Oh the joys of applying concrete examples to concrete skulls! But, enough of my teaching methods...)

I must confess I've been scratching my head over what you've actually patented. With 'attention allocation', though, you seem to be finding words that convey the idea. Is it to do with our senses (vision in particular) focussing on only one or two things at any given time, and presenting the information of the 'holocene chat' session in a way that accomodates that focus?

That is, of course, one big problem with online conversations: hearing, our traditional communication medium, is much more diffuse than sight.

What were those 'minor prior arts' you unearthed?

reason said...

Of course the applies doubly when the end result is uncertain.

Anonymous said...

I don't know, why did those liberals like Ronald Reagan, Donald Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney support Saddam?
Picture of the liberal Donald Rumsfeld meeting Saddam at the bequest of liberal Ronald Reagan.

Patrick said...

David and Rob
I'd be willing to NDA to discuss, add me to any list.

Anonymous said...

Reason: certainly the article is more nuanced than my few lines of summary - but I think I accurately stated the author's core message. He's a liberal/leftist who thinks far too many liberals are simply wrong regarding Iraq.

Hawker - Note that I said the article was "thought-provoking" - not "on target".

As it happens, I don't agree with the author's conclusion that we need to keep messing around in Iraq, nor that the invasion was justified.

Knee-jerk opposition of the Right, as you displayed, is my own answer to the question the article's author raised - allowing the neo-con Right to set the agenda for the Left.

Anonymous said...

The answer to the question "Why did Liberals support Saddam?" is "They didn't. Why do NeoCons lie about who Liberals support?"

Taking Saddam out of power was a good thing. How we went about it was wrong. We had more important things to do with our treasure, soldier's blood, and time. To point this out isn't liberal (unless Pat Bucanan is a liberal now).

My "Knee jerk reaction" to the phrase "Why did liberals do (blank)" is to find out what liberals actually DID. Since in this particular case, I already knew what they had done, I just called up a little of the hypocracy of the right with thier claim of "Why did Liberals support Saddam".

Anonymous said...

Re-read the 'wonderful' article. It still reads like a neocon apolegetic. I didn't oppose the war because I'm anti-Bush or pro-Saddam, I opposed it because it was a waste of time, resources, and blood... something you once said about the difference between 'elective surgery and life saving surgery' I believe? Taking Saddam out of power was something that Needed To Be Done (Someday), but should have waited until we had nothing better to do with our military. Now our troops are tied up in Iraq, when they could be finishing the job in Afghanistan, or helping out in Somalia, or dealing with natural disasters, or preparing/preventing the next big terror attack.

Memory is a funny thing. I'm remembering a conversation I had with a fellow sailor in January of 2003. I was sure that Saddam had no WMD, he was sure that Saddam had them... and he said "When Saddam gasses our troops, I'm going to find you and laugh in your face." My response? "If Saddam gasses our troops, I'm going to cry for our dead troops."

David Brin said...

Hwker, you are a decent & wise fellow. But I think you are being unfair to Nick Cohen. His article was an appraisal of the sorry state of the left in Europe, and their countless spasmodic idiocies.

It was no defense of George W. Bush. Indeed, the author seems to be struggling to make the same liberal vs leftist distinction that comes easily to many Americans. Recall when he said "American democrats can go and fight Saddam, then return home to fight republicans."

Let us be clear. I utterly despise the neocons for "correcting" the betrayal of 1991 in such a grotesque way, lying and meddling and creating the stupidest war plan in 200 years, pissing in the faces of all our allies, frittering our world goodwill, tossing away our budget, creating 100x as many casualities - on both sides - as were ever necessary, and so on...

Still, I do not apologize for correcting that betrayal. The horror of Joe Lieberman and Hillary Clinton is not that they went along this path part of the way with Bush. The horror is that they did not stand up ans say: "You have no credibility to lead us in this manner. You are incompetents - at best - and we demand our right to follow better men than you, when America does go into battle."

Anonymous said...

Because I respect your opinion, I shall pause and reflect and go a-googling for more information.

Perhaps I am being knee-jerk... or perhaps it's because I've never seen any liberal/leftist defend Saddam.

reason said...

the left in Europe is healthier and more diverse than you give it credit for. It is however, much more pacifist than you seem to realise. This tends to make it of course knee-jerk anti-zionist and anti-american, more so than it should be. But don't take it personally. They can still be reasoned with. Remember Joschka Fischer and how he acted when in power.

Woozle said...

Just for reference since this entry is the source of the article, I've reposted the main article (with permission as given above) here.

Dr.B -- let me know if anything isn't right. Still planning to re-post more articles as time permits.

Prester K said...

Slashdot has a pointer to one attempt to address the fragile cell-phone system -- -- "A portable box, called the Tactical Base Station Router, can serve as a gateway for cellular communications and VoIP network calls. Developed by Alcatel-Lucent, it allows deployment of reliable services in disasters, search and rescue operations, and (as has seen use in recent years) military encounters. 'The TacBSR is available for U.S. government customers only' ..."
Which is very interesting in itself. No bottom-up outside-government-control systems here, by golly.

Anonymous said...

Hi David, long time.
Love your P2P idea, I'll bring it up next time I'm at m]Motorola. Someone posted the best answer to get your idea rolling- write about it in fiction. The list of things RAH developed in his stories is startling. A good story using your peer to peer concept is a great idea, or a movie. Disaster flicks do seem to be in vogue now!
Hope All is well,
Caterina Pryde

Anonymous said...

> the sophisticated little
> tranceiver radio ...

Folks, while waiting for the future, you all can easily become licensed ham radio operators. Have a radio in your pocket that will work now, _and_ work for change.

No Morse requirement any more.

There's an emergency ham operators group near you.

They check in with each other on several bands frequently. They probably will show up at your local fire station to get emergency communications going when the power goes out.

Don't just plead for technology to get better.
Get good at what we have now and then demand improvement from experience.

You can do this with a couple of hours' study of the question pool, available online, and an hour or so to take the exam. ARRL will have all you need to begin.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and the first news story at ARRL.ORG today?

Yes, the Federal Government really _does_ work actively to screw up ham radio use.

There are three or four broadband- over- powerline systems that don't interfere with ham bands. There's one that egregiously screws up ham radio.

That's the one the FCC has been most eager to approve. Yep, the one that interferes with ham radio.

Go figure.

"Court Finds FCC Violated Administrative Procedure Act in BPL Decision (Apr 25, 2008) -- The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit today released its decision on the ARRL's Petition for Review of the FCC's Orders adopting rules governing broadband over power line (BPL) systems. The Court agreed with the ARRL on two major points and remanded the rules to the Commission. ..."

Anonymous said...

Oh, and the first news story at ARRL.ORG today?

Yes, the Federal Government really _does_ work actively to screw up ham radio use.

There are three or four broadband- over- powerline systems that don't interfere with ham bands. There's one that egregiously screws up ham radio.

That's the one the FCC has been most eager to approve. Yep, the one that interferes with ham radio.

Go figure.

"Court Finds FCC Violated Administrative Procedure Act in BPL Decision (Apr 25, 2008) -- The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit today released its decision on the ARRL's Petition for Review of the FCC's Orders adopting rules governing broadband over power line (BPL) systems. The Court agreed with the ARRL on two major points and remanded the rules to the Commission. ..."

Ryan said...

What about dual mode cell phones that have an emergency switch on them to a satellite network to avoid cell tower and landline network congestion?

Danny said...

Looks like a six-year-old post, but I come here from youtube, where I saw that you're holding forth about this at the March 26, 2012 Google LA tech talk. I'm just remotely competent to respond, having worked for Intel, not the only hardware company on my resume, while my brother worked Verizon. And just off the cuff, this idea of peer-to-peer, would mean that it'd mean your cell phone's battery would run down within a matter of hours as it relayed other people's conversations around. But, perhaps you offer that there is generally no traffic to forward. However, the phone will will have to keep exchanging routing information with its neighours, in order to be *able* to forward traffic. This will suck the battery dry in a matter of hours. Now, before you set to work, trying to answer this 'battery life' issue, you might also consider that intermediate phones would be able to tap, reroute, or prevent any messages that you are contemplating. So this is a security issue (and those intermediate phones will meter your transmissions, too). Suppose that you dismiss that as a mere 'downside'. Then also, wireless links would have stupendous packet loss, which I think you stipulate, suggesting link layer retransmissions, which adds another quality issue, disastrous cumulative delay. And, if you've got no neighbors, you've got no calls. Imagine a car driving after a few hours, perhaps. Relays don't have to be in phones, to be an idea.

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Anonymous said...

For something inbuilt into current smartphones, you would want something like Qualcomm's LTE-Direct perhaps?

There was a an effort at low power mesh relays, called DuckLinks, using literal rubber duckies stuffed with relays...

There's the whole 5G enterprise private deployment thing (which is basically formalizing the private hidden cellphone networks that drug cartels in latin america were doing), which could be implemented with a GNUradio setup running your own basestation in unlicensed spectrum.

Or someone could formalize the ARMACHAT/Meshtastic ecosystem some more...