Saturday, December 31, 2011

Goodbye 2011!

I don't usually write a year-end retrospective blog post but I thought 2011 was a pretty interesting year with many noteworthy events we should all take notice of and keep in mind. The events were of a sort that several science fiction authors, particularly of the cyberpunk variety, have been writing about since the '80s, and now it feels like their visions are materializing.

Let's start with the Japan earthquake disaster and Fukushima. I'm something of a Japanophile, so it was very saddening to see the devastation wrought by the earthquake and the ensuing tsunami. The Fukushima nuclear disaster was very sad to see for many reasons. First because of all the people it hurt/killed, particularly all the volunteers who selflessly exposed themselves to radiation trying to keep the nuclear reaction occurring in the broken remains of the reactor's core under control. I'm also saddened by the devastating effect this will have on public opinion about nuclear power, at a time when liquid thorium nuclear reactors seem like a promising near-term solution to the world's energy problems. The Fukushima disaster reminded me of the Miyazaki-animated music video for Chage and Aska's "On Your Mark," which takes place in the shadow of an entombed nuclear reactor.

To me at least, "Wikileaks" was the story of the year. Bradley Manning managed to sneak confidential diplomatic cables out of a secured government facility by burning them onto a CD-RW previously filled with Lady Gaga. Wikileaks began disclosing them, Julian Assange rose to celebrity because of it, and Freenet failed to fulfill its goal of being a useful platform for exactly this use case. I included the photo above which I took on the way to work one day (complete with tacky Instagram filters), which really makes me remark, "why not 'Free Bradley Manning?'"

The collateral damage the Wikileaks disclosure had on the world as a whole was absolutely remarkable. I think the disclosure of the diplomatic cables is the catalyst for the Arab Spring, in which dictators fell like dominoes. As terrible as the atrocities that occurred during these struggles were, I can't help but feel that some positive progress was made in the world, even when the future seems incredibly uncertain such as in Egypt.

BitCoin certainly caught my attention. The world now has a workable p2p currency scheme using crypto-coins as in the Cryptonomicon (except sans the gold backing). It's anyone's guess as to where it will go at this point, but it's a remarkable demonstration of the power p2p systems have to solve large-scale general problems in theoretical terms. Whether BitCoin proves to be a practical real-world currency remains to be seen. Critics have equated the value of the currency to the hype surrounding it, comparing it to things like beanie babies.

Both Anonymous and LulzSec made this year extra surreal. If nothing else, 2011 will be remembered as a year that many institutions started paying a hell of a lot more attention to infosec. It's a lesson Sony will certainly remember after the entire PlayStation Network was hacked and taken down. I thoroughly enjoyed the techno-anarchist spin that LulzSec originally put on their hacks, claiming quite ostensibly that they did it "for the lulz," and was somewhat disappointed to see them turn political after that. Still, the entire experience of having them in the world certainly felt like something out of a cyberpunk novel.

Steve Jobs died. It's really hard to imagine the scope of the effect the guy had on my life. Love him or hate him, Steve Jobs created the company that made the first home computer I ever used. WindowMaker, the window manager I used for nearly a decade before switching to OS X, was inspired by NeXTstep. At the end of 2011, I have a computer, tablet, and phone all running evolutions of NeXT's OS. The software I'm writing, DCell, also follows in NeXT's footsteps. I have a half-written blog post about that I hope to get published soon.

The IPv4 address space was exhausted. It seems like IPv6 will actually become a reality soon, forced by the increasing costs of obtaining IPv4 addresses when they're scarce due to the technology's limitations.

I saw an entire string of announcements in cancer and AIDS research this year that sounded extremely promising. The announcements spanned everything from using HIV to cure cancer to a vaccine for HIV comparable to the polio vaccine. The ability for modern medicine to cure disease never ceases to astound me and I hope that we will see bona fide generalized cures for both cancer and AIDS quite soon.

One of the craziest things I saw this year was a NOVA special on immortality (available on Netflix, btw). They had footage of human organs grown in vitro, first by taking an organ from a donor (which could be an animal), using a special chemical to wash away everything but the cartilage, then using someone's own stem cells to grow a replacement organ from the cartilaginous skeleton of a particular organ. The special showed lungs that breathe and a heart that beats. The future of organ replacement will be growing you a brand-new replacement from your own cells, using the cartilage structure from a dead animal (or potentially in the future constructing the cartilage from a 3D blueprint).

The Large Hadron Collider supposedly found the Higgs boson. We'll see what future experiments say, but it seems like the standard model has been validated and the particles we expected to be there exist.

Oh yes, we got Osama. AMERICA! Fuck yea!

Occupy Wall Street emerged, almost a liberal reaction to the Tea Party, a movement whose anger wasn't centered directly on the government, but on the financial institutions who made out like bandits with TARP money. No major financial reform has taken place, and the institutions which were too big to fail are still too big to fail, and getting back to the same tricks which tanked our economy in the first place. I'm not sure when the US government is going to eventually make the decision to try to better regulate Wall Street, but I can't see it happening before the 2012 election.

Speaking of 2012, happy 2012 everyone! The Mayans and Terrence McKenna believed that the world is going to end on December 21st. Let's hope humanity has many, many more years ahead of it :)

As for myself, I had quite the crazy year. I went to Switzerland and got back home to find my basement flooded. I lost two jobs and got two new jobs after half a decade of job security. I created Celluloid, stopped working on Reia (guess I should update my blog header). I moved to San Francisco, where I met Jose Valim, the scumbag who started working on a language just like Reia (just kidding Jose) who threw it away and started working on a much cooler version of the same language. I also met Chris Bertels, Steve Dekorte, Yehuda Katz, Carl Lerche, Ben Reesman, Tom Dale, Colin Campbell, Majd Taby, and Slava Pestov. I stuck it to Erlang as a language and Node as a community. And I happened to have about 4 months of time spent unemployed where I practically worked on Celluloid, DCell, and surrounding projects full-time. It was pretty nice.

Happy new year everyone!