Talking Above The Storm

Sitting out in the car at the moment, on account of being locked out of the house. It’s the suburbs. Blowing a hurricane as well, though you probably can’t tell from the photo:

So what about that Hurricane Sandy eh?

In six months time this will seem as… forgotten… as the Iranian Twitter Revolution seems now – but for future ref, yes we just had the annual “once in a lifetime” disaster, and it trashed New York. It also trashed Cuba and there’s another killer hurricane raging right now in Indonesia… but neither of those places have a self-obsession industry quite like America’s, so we don’t get to hear about them.

So with increasingly cartoon like predictability came the usual flurry of photo-ops and political positioning… people everywhere using it as an excuse to dust off the axe they were grinding this time last week… whether it be nutter Christians blaming it on homosexuality, or George Monbiot on the edge of his seat, rapier-fast at shutting down anyone who dares criticise Nuclear Energy…

… and an argument/discussion blew up between Vinay and George, in which George concluded that Vinay was a very dangerous individual, but not for the reasons he’d initially thought (that he was a Pentagon spy).

I’ve got a bit of a soft-spot for George. Before the internet he was one of the ONLY voices (that actually got published) that was actually on our side. These days though, he’s got about a 50/50 chance of getting it flat wrong… and I think the Vinay discussion kindof highlights why: he’s not a programmer, and Vinay is, and we appear to increasingly be confronted with scenarios that do actually need the sort of thinking that programmers tend to do, namely:

– programmers get exponentiality – and the ramifications thereof.
– programmers get modularity, redundancy, scalability, loosely/tightly coupled systems. YAGNI, etc etc.
– programmers get abstraction, (laissez-faire/dynamic) modelling, and layered architecture.
– programmers get recursion.

Which isn’t to say normal, well-adjusted people don’t get them as well… it’s just they’re part of programmer’s mental DNA. They’re that fundamental… they represent sub-grammatical patterns of meta-modelling. Or something. They’re also patterns that tend to show up under the influence of psychedelics, oddly enough.

(into the era of disaster continuity…)

In the 90s, corporate IT support came down with a strain of the political-correctness bug, and “Disaster Recovery” was quietly renamed to “Business Continuity”. IT support isn’t really programming though – “business continuity” is ALL about redundancy, but it’s kindof linear – it doesn’t have the same distributed/viral vision that a programmer would tend to bring… where redundancy isn’t a backup sitting somewhere, but is actually part of the architectural/functional philosophy that dictates *why* the system is being built in the first place.

Now – a lot of the programmer traits above, are kindof fundamental to understanding how environments work which ought come as no great surprise, as environments (aka: platforms) have been the core business of web programmers for about the last 10 years. It’s all about taking something small and simple, and designing it so it can exponentially scale, tribble-like, to fill every iota of available space (and more often than not, every last syllable of recorded time)… and do it as fast as humanly (or not) possible… and this process is needed to roll anything out on a large scale. It also works for small.

To put it in a nutshell… if you want to put plumbing into your house, you need a plumber. If you want to put sanitation into a town you need a civil engineer. (and some plumbers). If you want to roll sanitation out to a million people who don’t have access to proper roads then you need a programmer. (and at least one plumber, who can teach).

Which also works for a single house.

If you had a really big time-machine – you could take the Roman Army from the height of the Empire… and plonk it almost anywhere in Europe, any time in the following 1000 years and it would knock spots off any army that happened to be around at the time.


Why? Because the Romans could do logistics. Not just building a bridge over the Rhine in 10 days, then marching 40,000 people over it, having a fight, then marching back, taking the bridge with them; not just doing a full days march, then building a fortress at the end of it – every day; not just laying siege to a city by building a fortified wall around it… then building a fortified wall around that, facing outwards to fight on two 360° fronts at once… not just those, but also maintaining and managing supplies and local resources to live in the field for years. Anyone can learn to build and use a crossbow… medieval tech-advances would be assimilated in a matter of days… but being able to put 100,000 men in the field without losing 1/2 of them to disease? That takes an entirely different set of skills.

The Romans were really good at this stuff. Good at plumbing too.


And that is why The Pentagon likes Vinay’s hexayurts. Although the military is (as it was in Roman times) prey to the machinations and greed of corrupt old men (causing them to (among other things) waste so much money that it costs them their empire), they do have a gut-feeling for good logistics when they see it… and that is what hexayurts are about. They’re Programmer-POV logistics – logistics 2.0… ie: they’re about exponentiality, loosely-coupled systems, modularity… all the things above, including abstraction – going-meta… ie: they’re also a “way of working”, that can be applied to other areas of need. If you want to roll sanitation out to a million people within a period of time that you don’t wind up with a cholera epidemic, you ain’t going to do it with civil-engineering. You’re going to need Network-era thinking. You’re going to need (ironically) virality

Oh yea – nuke power stations are NOT network-era thinking. Sorry George.

So there was a degree of post-sandy huffing/puffing about the lack of cellphone-coverage post sandy. And yup – I kindof know what they mean. If NZ got cut off from the internet, the only way of finding out what was going on, would be to ring someone up in another country… and (probably) get them to see what Twitter was saying. If your phones and internet are down? Ham radio? Paper? Pigeons? A population without twitter is an isolated population.

And the stupid thing is – we’re all sitting on a great big, near-planetary scale mesh-network of personally-owned wifi routers. It really would not take much more than the collective decision to do so, to turn this into an internet that could never be shut down… and you could run the thing on batteries FFS.

It’s almost a national-security situation – in fact about 5 years ago, Reed Hundt was trying to sell web-connectivity as a national-security situation… but was advocating buying up TV spectrum radio… which is a whole lot stronger (I think) than the wifi spectrum.

But while that would be good for blanketing an entire town/region etc… real resilience has got to be modular, scalable, redundant, and virally deployed. We’ve already got the infrastructure – sitting in the car here I can see about 20 (locked) routers… all we need is a special sort of virus. Not to hack the machines… but to convey to the owners of the routers, the power of sharing.

Which sounds like it should be the title of another post. But not today. No… not today.

1 Comment » for Talking Above The Storm
  1. Patrick says:

    Have you seen this ->

    Also, a good place for resilient networking is the darknetplan subreddit ->