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A couple months back, I did an interview with Sun’s VP of Engineering, Hal Stern. Hal’s an amazing guy, a really smart advocate for open standards and open systems. We had a great conversation:

HS As we start to look at the issues of identity and security and privacy, we also come up with trust. What is the purpose of actually keeping a secret? It’s so you can either control the flow of information where there is no trust or validate information where there’s imperfect trust or less-than-ideal secrecy or less-than-ideal security. You start to build up a model of what particular threats you’re worried about and how those threats represent themselves, and then you can ask, “Well, where is it that I need to go and enforce protection?” Is it keeping things on my laptop that are unencrypted, or is it that if I just keep everything in a network file storage mechanism somewhere, that’s as safe as keeping my money at the bank and just using the ATM for cash and cache, in both homophonic interpretations of the word.

I worry about accidentally divorcing people from their content. In the short-term there are things like theft, or losing your laptop with your book on it. But over longer periods of time, we have to worry about the encoding of the data. Do we actually know how to interpret that five, 10, 50 years from now? I don’t think we have that much experience with it. I think my mom probably asks me at least every six months when she can throw away the paper tape that’s in my old bedroom. It’s a very retro technology placeholder of 25 years ago, but that was the preferred storage and transfer mechanism, lacking anything else, and my Radio Shack TRS-80 with the cassette tape backup was a big improvement over that. It’s hard data, but where are you going to find a KSR 33 Teletype with a paper-tape reader on it? In some museum somewhere…


Update: Here’s the MP3 as well!

3 Responses to “Interview with Hal Stern, Sun VP of Software”

  1. Alys

    Great article/interview!

    And the geek in me is wondering where you got that t-shirt!

  2. M. Mortazavi

    As transaction cost economist Oliver Williamson has noted in his essays on “credible commitments,” and as philosopher Hubert Dreyfus has emphasized in his book On the Internet, trust ultimately springs from mutual vulnerabilities of roughly equal size. The puzzle is how such vulnerabilities are allowed to occur. It seems they arise form necessity and a leap towards solving particular problems we face. Some amount of repeated games theory might also have useful contributions to the constructing a theory of trust.

    In the information economy, whether at the scale of a real village or a global internet village, equal-value information held by “trusting” parties can create networks of trust.

    Consider also, in the software world, the Apache model for giving Karma!

  3. Barry

    Comment, about readng the paper tape – there is at least one company which does reading of old media/software their niche. They maintain both hardware and software so that when you bring in your whatever gadget with something written in ObscuroType 0.9, they can read it.

    This gets easier in an internet age, because finding niche service is much easier. The trick is that such information itself isn’t on the web, and that makes more and more of a difference every day.

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