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May 25, 2003

Secret Desire

Today is an excellent day for a number of reasons, but primarily because I can feel a good dose of geek pride. It may sound oxymoronic, but there is such a thing. Mine is tied to dreams of hermetic solitude and massive amounts of computing resources. On the hermetic front, there is excellent news:

Today, empty classroom seats, like the vacant offices once occupied by high-flying start-ups, are among the unmistakable repercussions of the dot-com bust.

Around 1998, I had convinced myself that I was going to get out of the software field for good. It had been taken over by hype and visual basic. I had been hoping and praying that all the slippery characters would get bored and go away, but it never happened. More and more money came into the industry. Businesses would buy anything. Ridiculous companies with retarded software were taking money away from the legitimate and serious company I worked for. I imagined that by the year 2000 it would be too crazy for a sane man.

Instead, a miracle happened late in 1999. I attended a huge event hosted by IBM at the Metreon in San Francisco called Computing at the Millenium. There, chief scientist Ivan Wladsky-Berger described n-tier computing and I was transfixed. What IBM is currently marketing as 'on demand computing' has its roots in the way they were facilitating those huge websites that we all believed were going to take over the world.

I was skeptical about a lot of things, but not that computing theory. I recall being on a shuttle bus and speaking to one of the principals of NetZero who was explaining to me the now debunked economics of free ISP service. It seemed impossible to believe that the edge of tech was funded by the whims of media buyers.

Today's news, that the industry is shrinking, is less true than it sounds. From my perspective, there's a whole lot of shaking out goin' round. It also means that I can get a great machine for a few dozen dollars. (Allow me once more to slap around defenders of the digital divide). The economics of computing are real and are bringing down the once mighty, but it also means that real geeks get power.

Stated simply, the new powers accrue to individuals. Education and technology get cheaper but organizational dynamics are still constrained by oldthink - especially in politics. So I'll create a computing splinter cell in my garage. I can run an IT empire of my own creation, or at least a Beowulf cluster. But I need time and silence. This reminds me of Winnepeg.

All I know about Winnepeg is that it's about 8 hours north of Minnesota (or is it Michigan?) There's about 600,000 people in the city and no suburbs. Winters are incredibly cold. It's the largest cold city, and it's isolated. Isolated in a city where the pace is literally glacial, one can remain in touch with the world through the net yet devote oneself to an avocation without the high overhead of a high zoot vocation. The property values will be cheap, the taxes will be low. Why? Location, location, location.

I feel a magical desire and attraction to such small towns where there is nothing to do but have a slow life, where terrorists don't bother to plot and airplanes fly over without looking down. So long as there is a decent broadband connection, electricity, fresh drinking water, supermarket and WalMart, what else do you need? The world is too much with, but we can escape and develop our flavor and present it as a gift to the world.

I felt this pull long ago, actually when Windows NT first arrived. We didn't need UNIX any more (and I didn't know much Unix) and you could build a website on a cheap Intel box. I dreamed of being the ISP for a Carribean island, or small town in Vermont. I feel it again today, and I hope I can get more time where I am. I've neglected the XRepublic and it's time to get back to it.

Posted by mbowen at May 25, 2003 07:34 AM

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