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From the Editor in Chief... 

Water Music 



Robert E. Filman • NASA Ames Research Center • fiiman@computer.org 



In "The Green Isle in the Sea,"^ James Thurber 
relates a Lemony Snicket-style series of unfor- 
tunate events that happened to an old gentle- 
man one day, concluding with a moral amplifying 
a theme from Robert Louis Stevenson: "The world 
is so full of a number of things. I am sure we 
should all be as happy as kings, and you know 
how happy kings are/'^ 

How Happy Are Kings? 

On Wednesday evening, 17 July 1717, King George 
I took his nobles out for an evening dinner cruise 
on open barges, proceeding up the Thames to sup- 
per at Chelsea. One barge held fifty musicians 
playing George: Ffideric Handel's WfltefAfusic, 
composed especially for the occasion. The royal 
bash must have been a blast; the king liked the 
music so well he had it played three times, and the 
party didn't make it back to St James until after 
four in the morning. 

Sometimes it's good to be king. You can get 
Handel to compose symphonies for you and have 
command perfo.nnances.wMeyQu,,.d^^^ On ..the 
other hand, I have it much better than George in 
many ways. Although 1 can't summon fifty musi- 
cians to play Handel, I can choose to listen to works 
by Handel and a large variety of his successors 
nearly instantaneously, played by the best musi- 
cians in the world, who don't complain even when 
I demand five or six consecutive performances. 
Chelsea was a big trip for George; but I've flown 
thousands of miles in the time it took him to go 
there and bacL My palace, while not as large as St. 
James, is centrally heated and air conditioned. My 
doctors also know more tricks than just how to 
apply leeches. About the only thing George had bet- 
ter than the average IC reader was in the arena of 
personal service — George had a retinue to do his 
bidding, whereas all I have is Google. 

What, Me Worry? 

George worried about the Jacobite rebellion (and 



the attempts to restore Catholicism to England), 
how best to extract money from his position, and 
his inability to get along with his son, the future 
George 11. I worry about many things - among 
them, the Internet. 

What makes the kingdom of the Internet spe- 
cial is its universal, bidirectional availability. That 
is, anyone can be a publisher, posting whatever 
they like without someone else's approval; being 
a consumer is even easier because search mecha- 
nisms such as Google and its friends simplify 
matching up interested information producers, 
consumers, and exchangers; and the entire mech- 
anism is priced (at least for us twenty-first centu- 
ry kings) quite modestly 

What forces threaten our kingdom? Vandals, 
governments and economics. 

Vandals, Governments, 
and Economics 

The Internet grew out of a scientific experiment 
among cooperating laboratories. As often 
remarked, this arrangement deemphas securi- 
ty issues - the club's members could be expected 
to be well-behaved. Mechanisms such as really 
keeping track of who was sending which packets 
and changing which routing tables weren't criti- 
cal. Unfortunately, the low level of security appro- 
priate for an academic research platform seems 
inadequate for a world-wide system for business, 
commerce, and entertainment 

The imagination (and sometimes, lack of imag- 
ination) of those who abuse the system has been 
impressive. WeVe lost news to the hucksters and 
might be headed the same way with email and 
spammers. The typical computer user's naivete has 
made the Internet prime ground for phishing and 
identity theft. The increasing availability of wireless 
solutions for various devices will likely soon lead to 
laptop infections, caught solely through the devices' 
proximity to other machines, and perhaps even cell 
phone viruses. The number of ways that remote 



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mechanisms can cause programs to 
execute (and be embedded) on local 
machines, and the uses that attackers 
can put such drones to, are astounding. 
I tiy to avoid these problems by using 
older technology (I don't think my cell 
phone is smart enough to support a 
virus) and less-popular operating sys- 
tems. But as Thurber also observed of 
the fly who avoided the empty spider's 
web but rushed to the crowded flypa- 
per, "There is no safety in numbers, or 
in anything else."^ 

If the vandals don't do in the Inter- 
net, various governments just might. 
The purpose of government seems to 
be to pass laws, and those who pass 
laws are sure of the rightness of their 
opinions. We have European govern- 
ments trying to outlaw selling Nazi 
paraphernalia, commonwealth gov- 
ernments asserting the primacy of 
English-style libel laws, American 
states asserting demands for commer- 
cial disclaimers and puritan Web site 
content, and totalitarian governments 



subverting search engines to control 
what their populations can find out 
about. All are certain that their rules 
apply not only to people publishing 
things within their jurisdictions but 
also to people publishing things that 
might be viewed within their realms - 
that is, everybody. 

If governments' moral principles 
don't do in the Internet, their economic 
meddling, or lack thereof, just might. 
Every business would like to extract 
monopoly profits; for many activities, 
such as Internet connectivity and 
telecommunications, monopolies are 
natural equilibrium points. Monopolies 
increase one player's profits at a cost to 
society as a whole — hence, we have 
various rules and regulations governing 
corporate behavior. It's easy for govern- 
ments to get this kind of thing wrong, 
particularly because they're more sus- 
ceptible to ideology and external influ- 
ence than principled engineering. 

Economics holds other threats to 
the Internet. Just as it's not good for 



one player to gamer monopoly profits, 
it's also not good for there to be no 
profits. Our Internet must thus evolve 
to a point where service providers 
(whether telecommunication compa- 
nies, engineers, or creative artists) get 
the right amount of encouragement for 
their efforts. Globalization, winner- 
take-all conflicts, regulation, and 
deregulation all have the potential to 
so dirty the playing field that playing 
is no longer worthwhile. 



So that's how happy this king is. 
There is much to be optimistic 
about, but 1 hardly lack for worries. I 
suspect you're like that too. [D 

References 

1. J. Thurber, "The Green Isle in the Sea," The 
NcwYoTkcT, 17 Feb. 1940, 

2. R.L. Stevenson,^ Child's Garden of Verses, 
Chronicle Books, 1989. 

3. J. Thurber, "The Fairly batelligent Fly." The 
New Yorker, 4 F^h. 1939. 



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