ESPACE Memo #1

D. P. Mitchell

90/02/19

ESPACE: Environment for Secure Public Assembly and Commercial Exchange

I.   Introduction

ESPACE is a project to explore certain advanced concepts in electronic communication service.  The intent is to take a large step beyond electronic mail and electronic bulletin boards.  We believe that a sort of “virtual space” can be created in which people carry out a variety of associations including mail, elections, signing of documents, contracts, and fund transfers.

Recent work in the area of cryptography has resulted in a number of very interesting algorithms for accomplishing these tasks, but these advanced algorithms have never been integrated into a system, and a model for such a system does not yet exist.

II.  Related Work

British Telecom and three British universities are currently working on a project called COSMOS.  This is a formal study of group communication.  They are interested in issues like planning assistance, multi-media electronic mail, and active messages.

A collection of European universities is working on a project called AMIGO.  This is also a formal study of group communications, geared primarily for office automation.  They are heavily committed to the massive OSI message-handling and directory systems.

The ESPACE project differs considerably in intent.  We are interested in the application of advanced cryptographic protocols, and we want to build a system with more general goals than office automation.

III. Public Assembly

Our model for organizing communication is based on the concept of a Group.  A Group is more than a distribution list for mail or a bulletin-board discussion group.  A Group can behave like a first-class communicator in ESPACE.  It can receive messages, and it can send and sign messages.

The key concept is capability of signing messages, which then convey group authority.  The way in which a group signs a message is determined by its Constitution.  There may be a group leader who holds the official seal, an election may be required to generate a signature, etc.

A simple example of an application might be an electronic journal. People submit papers to an editor group.  The editors vote on papers, and if paper is accepted, the editor’s signature validates it as an entry in the journal.  Publication of the journal might be a completely separate process.  Perhaps a journal group would exist simply as a publically readable mailbox which only accepts messages signed by the editors.

IV.  Commercial Exchange

A number of standards for electronic fund transfers are forming now, mostly based on highly centralized algorithms which model electronic cheques or credit cards.  These are important, but in addition there are interesting cryptographic which support the concept of unmarked cash.  The service offered in that case is customer privacy.  It is interesting that these electronic-cash algorithms offer a number of protections from fraud and black-marketing, while still preventing customers from divulging personal patterns of commerce.

Many distributed system contain the concept of “capability”, getting permission to access an object by showing a certificate.  We think this can be extended easily to allow accounting by granting access permission in exchange for “cyberbuck” certificates.

One possible example of use for this would be to control message congestion in large popular bulletin boards.  It is possible that user may have to pay to publish a message widely, and that they may (or may not) receive payment in return if the message is deemed useful by its readers.  This is an example of a closed cyberbuck economy, where the currency only has meaning and value within ESPACE.

V.   Message Handling System

ESPACE rests on a simple and reliable binary message handling system. This system is inspired by X.400 and Grapevine, and the ISO Directory Service, but it is greatly simplified.  It provides name service and message routing in a unified manner.  It will also allow users to access ESPACE from any location.

VI.  User Interface

Some user interface will be required.  We would like to support multi-media messages.  Recent work on “virtual reality” has suggested that the user interface to a system like ESPACE could be a highly advanced 3D visualization of the objects and processes of the system. We prefer to concentrate on designing those objects and processes before considering any far-out “cyberspace” interfaces.

We have access to new “super smart cards” which may be an interesting part of a user interface, particularly important if users can enter ESPACE from any location.

VII. Conclusions

We hope to build a prototype system and test a user community of reasonable size.  One way to do that would be to test the system in the ARPANET environment.  This is one of the purposes of the ARPANET, and we should make use of this valuable resource.  In particular, we have thought about the possibility of starting a serious electronic journal in the ARPANET.

(note: this short-lived project took place inside AT&T Bell Labs)

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The urban time lapse video tends to be cliche, imitating scenes from the film Koyaanisqatsi (fast motion images of traffic, people walking through train stations, etc).  Image stabilization software has made it a lot easier to produce these effects with hand held cameras.  I think only a few of these type of videos are new and interesting.  The best I’ve seen recently is Rumble and Sway, by The Seventh Movement:

http://vimeo.com/75320274

CCD cameras have permitted vivid time exposures of the night sky, not easily done with film because of reciprocity failure.  There are countless desert night-sky videos, but an early favorite of mine is still

Mike Flores’ 2010 video made in Baja California:

http://vimeo.com/11892211

Chris Abbas made this surprising video from NASA footage of Saturn and its moons combined with well chosen music.  There have been several imitations of his video, but the original remains the best:

http://vimeo.com/24410924

One of the first and best polar aurora videos was this one by Nick Liveris, made in 2006 at the South Pole:

http://youtu.be/A9UjRUWO308

I sort of stopped liking The Oatmeal after his pro-Tesla/anti-Edison campaign, which was full of disinformation. When a moderating reaction was published in Forbes, oatmeal’s artist responded with an expletive-filled tirade. I gave a big chunk of money to the Tesla Museum, because his Shoreham site needed to be preserved, but I hope it will not become a pseudo-science installation.

http://theoatmeal.com/comics/columbus_day

Now we see this heaping dish of Howard Zinn’s cynical history, in easy-to-consume cartoon form. Zinn’s work is an important response to classical history, but it is just as biased and problematic as the history it criticizes, depicting the story of America as “relentless exploitation and deceit” as one critic said. Zinn himself made it clear that he viewed historical writing as a political tool, one he used to promote his fervent belief in Marxism.

Certainly Columbus was no saint, and a lot of his sailers were thugs. But many of the horrible stories about Columbus were written or fabricated by an even more dubious character, Francisco de Babadilla, who overthrew Columbus in a coup d’ etat and declared himself the new governor of the lucrative Spanish colony. The truth is unclear, but there is plenty of material to be used by anyone who views history as a propaganda tool.

Zinn’s historical views are biased, his portrayal of successful and innovative people are villainous caricatures of human beings. He has to be read with skepticism and in combination with other views, because history is fuzzy, uncertain, and open to interpretation. A People’s History of the United States is an important book, but it can be read by young folks who get swept away by it before they have the knowledge and experience to look at it critically and understand the ambition and agenda of intellectuals like Zinn. At least read Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer before wading into the media-saturated world of religious and political propaganda that surrounds us.

It’s good to know the myths about Columbus. People didn’t believe the Earth was flat. Some Vikings (maybe even the Chinese) landed on North America first. But ultimately the Viking discovery had little historical impact, because it failed to trigger the flood of colonization and the formation of America, which Columbus’s discovery did.

As for Bartolome, he sounds like a nice guy at first glance. Maybe he was, maybe not. It was nice of him to suggest that Indians should not be enslaved…considerably less nice that he advocated using Africans as slaves instead. If black slavery was his biggest impact on history, then replacing Columbus Day with Bartolome Day is certainly a bad idea.

Here is a critical look at Zinn: “Howard Zinn’s Influential Mutilations of American History”

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/112574/howard-zinns-influential-mutilations-american-history

There’s a common story in computer science that the term “bugs” in a program comes from Grace Hopper finding an insect stuck in a relay computer.  But to “get the bugs out” of a device is a very old phrase.  I found a reference of Edison using it in 1896, making a joke that was based on the fact that it was a well known phrase even at that time.  I think the origin of this saying is still unknown, and it greatly predates computer software.

Metal Lunch

Don P. Mitchell (1985, Whole Earth Review)

[Robots work at an assembly line viewed through transparent gears and works.
Toaster ovens roll by on the belt.  One robot sparks and stops working, but
the others do not notice.  Robot heads are blank metal ellipsoids.]

Narrator: (speaking rather tonelessly)

	How do you measure value?  By the price tag?  By the need?
	By the blood and sweat that goes into making something?  Robots
	do not produce labor value, though.  They are not part of the
	social contract.  There is no mechanical Karl Marx to save them.

[Robot leans against a lamp post smoking a cigarette.  Another robot
walks by and stops.  They walk off together into the black background.]

Narrator:

	Robots don't reproduce sexually.  They can't even come.  Even so,
	many of them engage in copulation.  No one knows why, but everyone
	agrees it is very unwholesome.  Perhaps it is done as satire.

[Robot sitting in an alley against a brick wall.  It pushes a metal probe
into an open access panel in its arm.  Camera switches to shot looking down
from directly overhead.]

Narrator:

	Robots have primitive concepts of reward and punishment to allow
	easy programming.  Some robots become junkies by searching for wires
	leading to their pleasure center and applying high voltage to
	them.  This is called "back planing" and eventually destroys the
	robot's electronic control system.

[Robot rivoted to a cross made of steel "I" beams.  Above it is a Latin
enscription: "Sic Biscuitus Disintegratum".  Camera is in front and above
the robot as in Dali's painting of the Crucifixion.]

Narrator:

	Robots have a cold, metallic religion that offers no sympathy.  They
	worship primitive mechanical Archetypes: The Screw, The Lever,
	The Incline Plane.

[Back to original scene of robots at assembly line.  One suddenly shoots
itself in the head.  Immediately, its head is replaced with a new one and
the robot goes back to work.]

Narrator:

	Occasionally, a robot is overcome by hopelessness and
	existential ennui, but there is no escape.

In 1971, the Soviet landing capsule of Mars-3 became the first spacecraft to land on the red planet. Two cycloramic cameras were installed, mechanically scanning vertically with a resolution of 500 pixels, a complete sweep would transmit a 6000 line panorama and 4 lines per second.  The signal was to be relayed to Earth by the main spacecraft, which went into orbit around Mars.

Unfortunately, contact with the lander was lost about 20 seconds, and only 79 lines of data were received.  As on the Venera landers, the video signal would have been periodically interrupted by bursts of digital science telemetry.  In the portion of the signal that was received, the beginning portion is this digital telemetry, followed by about 15 seconds of video with the characteristic sync pattern sent during the retrace interval.

The images above are derived from a photo of the signal as it was printed on a paper plotter, and a glimpse of the signal was also shown in a Soviet documentary film.  Only one camera transmitted initially.  If the lander had functioned, the second camera was to be activated a day later.  With an orange filter in one, and a green filter on the other, the two cameras would have provided stereoscopic views and color information.

The image has sometimes been turned on it side, and the pattern of data in the initial telemetry burst has been misinterpreted by amateur enthusiasts as an image of the horizon of Mars.  The actual video signal starts a few seconds later.  It was gray and featureless, despite intense analysis by Soviet experts hoping to find some hint of the Martian terrain.

At the time, Soviet scientists proposed that the probe was damaged by a sand storm on Mars.  It is more likely that the telemetry signal was broken off because the orbiter was not well positioned.  Privately, one of the camera builders told me that he fears the video was blank because the capsule had tipped over, or perhaps was covered up by its parachute (recent possible location of the Mars-3 lander by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter suggests the parachute landed far away from the capsule).

After some discussions with Arnold Selivanov about this, he became interested in the problem again and published a new highly processed view of the video signal.  Is it a view of the Martian surface, or video signal noise?  Difficult to be certain, but still an historically interesting image.

I was reading about the 10,000 Year Clock, which is an interesting and romantic idea.  But I can imagine a lot of things that could go wrong in 10,000 years, mostly involving changes in culture. The clock could be looted like the tombs of ancient Egypt, it could be take by a wealthy art collector like the Elgin Marbles, destroyed by religious fanatics like the Buddhist statues of Afghanistan, or dismantled and put on display in a museum by future people who don’t share or understand the philosophy of the project.

Geodetic Satellite

If I was going to build a long-lived machine, I would do something that specifically addresses the danger of future cultural failure.  Build a dense satellite, a sphere of tungsten perhaps, and put it into a 6000 km orbit, like a geodetic satellite that will stay in orbit for millions of years.  In the surface, embed solar batteries with thick quartz micrometeorite shields.  In the core, put robust solid state electronics that transmits a repeating radio signal containing a key scientific knowledge, like a summation of Feynman Lectures in Physics, text and diagrams preserving foundational ideas like the theory of atoms, mechanics, biological evolution, and so on.

This would act as a beacon and a guardian of scientific knowledge that could survive global disasters, both natural and man-made — a meteor strike that devastates our population, or a purge of science by some future religious or eco-political movement.  None of them could stop people from eventually finding a beacon in the sky that puts them back on the road to truth, progress and enlightenment.