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    The Bungee Line was an audio podcast for web developers, covering web API's, software development, and the creation of richly interactive web applications.

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Pleistocene Park

I’m listening to Twilight of the Mammoths: Ice Age Extinctions and the Rewilding of America
right now, and it has me thinking about my disappointment from a recent visit to rewilding.org. Something ain’t quite right.

I first became familiar with the rewilding concept from Scientific American, some time ago, and blogged on Mammoth Cloning. The idea was compelling. But my takeaway was that the backers behind the article had a vision for a “Pleistocene Park.” What a great idea!

Essentially, they assert that North America is missing significant members of its mammalian megafauna. Giant ground sloths with prehensile tongues as large as elephants, mammoths and mastodons roaming in matriarchal herds, short-faced bears who stood on all fours with shoulders taller than I, native camels and horses, lions and cheetahs. These and other creatures disappeared from the landscape suddenly, just some 13,000 years ago. Right about the time that the first reliable evidence of humans appears. If you accept that overkill played a key part in their demise, the assertion that today’s North America may likely have had them still, if it were not for us humans.

That’s not a reason to rue our very existence. The Pleistocene Park idea is inspirational. The world still hosts rough analogy species, many endangered on their native continents. Patriating them to a new preserve in North America could roughly reconstruct some of the lost world. It’s far out, and would certainly be challenging to win. But the success of African game reserves show that the challenge would not be containment or management. It would more be getting the public behind the idea.

My disillusionment started when I found out that an EarthFirst! founder was involved. That made me skeptical that I might find an overly radical agenda. Their blog featured a couple stories about Greenpeace, using the same brand of sensational and righteously indignant style that lead me away from Greanpeace. Yet the site also features interesting, easy-to-understand principles of conservation science, such as diagrams for good-better-best geometry for wildlife habitat preserves (some courtesy of Michael Soulé, a UC Santa Cruz professor from who lectured for a class I once took). But the real disappointment was that the site no longer lead me to see anything achievable.

Instead of a Pleistocene Park (bold and visionary, albeit really hard to achieve), they now seem to advocate the rewilding of North America more in more general terms. That is, I don’t see an inspiring vision for species conservation coupled with a contextual justification based on analogous predecessors. I see a nebulous vision that feels a bit idyllic and nostalgic. What am I supposed to get behind? This blog post is really just to try to get one of them to comment on why they seem to have moved away from their most concrete idea.


The Rev’s Next Gig

Into Bell Labs
I’m now working within Bell Labs, which is part of the recently merged company Alcatel-Lucent. Bell Labs is renowned for its venerable history of major R&D innovations (such as the transistor, the solar cell, and the laser, and of course, the Unix operating system).

Where in Bell Labs would someone like me fit? Bell Labs has a start-up organization called Alcatel-Lucent Ventures, which is chartered with advancing Bell Labs’ innovations and other ideas into commercial products and services. One of the venture groups is a lean team (like, barely into double-digit headcount) called touchatag, and that is my new home.

About Touchatag
Touchatag is working in a space that is sometimes called “The Internet of Things,” a vision in which real world objects have online identities. By putting an identifier tag on any object, you can use that object in many new ways, such as accessing web-based information about it.

teds-social-business-card-qr-code_90Today, touchatag gives you two types of tags to work with: 2D barcode tags (also called QR codes), and a type of RFID tag for use with Near Field Communication (NFC) readers. The QR code shown at right is my “social business card.” If you have QR code reader software on your phone or computer, you can use it to take you to a web page showing many ways to find out more about me.

touchatag tag

RFID tags are the solid-state complement to QR codes. Small stickers, each embedded with a unique RFID, give you a more durable and less easily copied identifier that can be applied to any object. The scenarios currently available for use on touchatag’s site today is a mere pinhole glimpse at the breadth of possibilities that this technology will eventually yield…which brings us to my role at touchatag.

Assume Innovation Occurs Elsewhere
What do you do when the uses for an emerging technology’s potential extend far beyond what you can possibly deliver? Quoted in various ways, Bill Joy’s law advises:  “Most of the bright people don’t work for you–no matter who you are. You need a strategy that allows for innovation occurring elsewhere.” Perhaps Bell Labs, so well known for innovation, would be an unexpected source for that sentiment. Nevertheless, it’s why I am now at touchatag.

Developer networks are one of the more  powerful programs that companies use in order to accomodate Joy’s Law. Rather than trying to deliver everything for a technology or service unilaterally, providing developers opportunities and interfaces into that technology allows innovation to run far and wide. A well run developer program fosters mutual success and/or prosperity between the company and the 3rd party developers who adopt the company’s services.

Touchatag is building an online service that we hope will make it easy for developers to innovate extensively in the emerging space of NFC or QR codes, and the larger Internet of Things. My charter is to define and direct touchatag’s developer network.

For now, I’ll stay out of the details and simply say that the touchatag team and I have  a lot of interesting work ahead of us.

But What About Open Source?
If you’ve read my blog in the past, you may notice that I’ve dropped the old title “Open Source Advocacy with Reverend Ted.” While I still hold many of the ideals of Free Software, I hold other ideals that are much more dear to me.

When I was half my current age, I became conscious of environmental conservation, particularly the survival of species. Through 15 years of building a career in technology, I deepened my passion of the natural world by working to become more scientifically literate. I became increasingly focused on human consciousness and how it came about. In the process, I also developed a fascination for the Great Apes: bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans. These wonderful creatures, all severely endangered in the wild, are humanity’s closest kin. I never want to see our world without them.

Heidi Contemplates an ApeThis past summer, I met Heidi, a beautiful and intelligent woman who shares my interest. It’s both her hobby and her field of study. Together, she and I have formed a partnership in which we can collaborate on a shared cause. With Heidi, I see a path ahead in which my work in technology can contribute to something that is intensely important to me.

There are important ideals and ideas in the Free Software movement–I see it as a Humanist cause. But many of its proponents become singularly absorbed in its ideals, perhaps at the expense of more pressing issues. Poverty. Diseases, such as AIDS and malaria. Global human rights. Extinction. Climate change. There are serious problems in the world for humanity to address. I want to apply my efforts to affecting positive change.

I hope that those who come here for any reason will continue to read my posts about technology, but also my periodic posts about this other subject too.

Get a Touchatag Starter Kit
Touchatag Starter PackageIf you’re interested in checking out out how touchatag works, you can start using QR codes online today at no charge simply by registering on the touchatag website.

If you’d like to get into the RFID side of things, get yourself a Touchatag Starter Pack, which gets you a USB reader and your first 10 tags. (For my interested OSS bretheren, contact me about a Linux client.)
Thanks for your readership, especially during the long silences that have plagued this once very active blog.