Grant for Liberia, Quorum Status, Pitch Black Attack

Things have certainly picked up in the last week.

I was informed last week that there is an opportunity to push the work with the Liberian Literacy foundation forward much faster. There are two grants available, both for hefty sums, that would fund the full development of a network that is decentralized at every level for the city of Monrovia, Liberia. Between my two normal jobs, I have been working pretty fiercely to make sure that the appropriate research and paperwork is done so that we are positioned to be awarded at least one of the grants and hit the ground running.

I want to clarify exactly what it is that I’m doing, since I have not really given a clear explanation so far. I am helping design a completely decentralized computer network to provide access to the internet without a direct connection to what most people think of as the “traditional” internet. However, the work goes far beyond this. The intention is not simply to share a connection to the internet using a wireless network, but to make it easy and efficient for computers to share data with each other in the event of a disruption in internet service. Another still important aspect of this network is that information will be stored close to where it is requested, so that if computers in one area - say, a class room, need some documents or perhaps an interactive applet to demonstrate a concept to students, they may fetch it from each other instead of making their own request to the original source. This is obviously a much more efficient approach than having every student in a Liberian class room fetch a PDF from some server in California if the internet connection is limited.

I want to emphasize that this network is being designed for general purpose use. The application is not specific to a classroom and is designed to be very very scalable.

There are many more details than this and if you have any questions you should get in contact with me.

Since I have started my open source project, Quorum, I have only written very basic code to complete certain parts of what I want. What I have right now is a scraper for reddit that collects the conversations and topics of the most discussed articles in all of the main categories.

When I get a chance I will be developing an interface for users to systematically arrive at a conclusion or agreement(at least at some level). One thing that people keep telling me is that technology cannot solve “human” problems. I understand that when it is all said and done this statement may be true, but my aim is more to develop a tool that allows people to look at the facts of a situation and discuss something together in a logical way. I am not trying to cure all human differences.

Another very exciting thing that has happened for me recently has been that I have gotten approval from my university to study the Pitch Black attack on the Freenet network and spend a semester looking for the best way to counteract the attack. The Freenet project is probably one of the most important networking experiments out there, I highly suggest you check it out.

That’s it. I hope this post was a little more coherent than my last post.

Liberia, Quorum, Decentralized Internet: Challenges ahead

It has certainly been a while since I made my initial filler post. Sorry about that, I have been pretty busy doing many things at once.

Briefly I would like to mention a project I am working on at the moment that is very close to my heart and the focus of my attention. I am working with the Liberian Books foundation to help design an overlay network meant to run on extremely limited resources. The network will serve two purposes:

  •      Provide data redundancy in the face of server outages
  •     Automatically find the most efficient route to a data stream in a changing wireless mesh network. It is important to note here that data streams will be abstracted away from a specific location.

These two tasks alone will consume my attention in the coming weeks. Once these tasks are done, I will probably make a post dedicated to explaining the fine details of how both of these work. I am designing all of this for a grant proposal which is due on May 9, so hopefully there will be some details on here by then.

I have started a open source project to contribute to the Next net initiative called Quorum. The idea behind Quorum is a peer to peer debate and discussion system where all stakeholders in a discussion can come to a consensus about a decision that is relevant to them. If that’s not a broad definition I’m not sure what is. I’m still in the process of coding it and developing the concept a little.

I want to discuss the network architecture of Quorum for a second because it is an issue of special interest to me. The initial implementation of Quorum is using a distributed hash table. Although they are neat, there are many other better structures out there. If I could pick any network architecture I would look no further than the Freenet project’s routing algorithm. Freenet’s structure is (under ideal circumstances) a darknet that, through the small world phenomenon, provides access to data to anybody else on the network even though all users are connected only to their “friends”.

There are two reasons I am not immediately taking this approach:

  1. Freenet’s code is large and not well documented
  2. Ian Clarke is in the process of developing a completely decentralized, anonymous version of Twitter using Freenet’s routing techniques. I’m hoping that some of his code will be re-usable enough for me to simply adapt my already-existing code later.

Some concepts from Freenet that I am keeping are:

  1. A mandatory data store on each participating node
  2. Content-centric addressing. Content will have a hash, not an address.

Ultimately I would be delighted if the final product of my work were made compatible with Tahrir or Freenet or both. I doubt this will happen, but if it is possible I’d like to see it. I would go into the design of how Quorum works, but I think that is a topic long enough to merit several dedicated blog posts. Eventually. I have yet to make my first code commit, so I will try to accomplish that first.

I am constantly working on many other things at once, but this is the heart of what I am doing right now. Thanks for reading!

Filler First Post

This is a filler post in my first attempt at blogging called Wealth of Networks. I took this title directly from a book by Yochai Benkler from the Harvard law school which incidentally can be downloaded from here at no cost.

I’ll be using this blog to talk about a range of subjects. Aside from what the subtitle of the blog suggests, I’ll be covering how these topics relate to society and culture not only of developed or “first world” countries, but also in nations that are economically much worse off. In fact, conditions where the economics of the situation are particularly limited are of special interest to me along with societies that repress certain groups of people such as sexual deviants and people with unpopular religious beliefs.

Hopefully I’ll churn out my first real post here in a few days.

Stay tuned!