Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

From left to right: Kazuya Minami from Neoteny, David Smith and his son Asher
Yesterday morning, I picked up David at Tokyo Station where he arrived on the bullet train from Kyoto with his son Asher. We went to the Tsukiji fish market for some morning sushi and then I took them to our office where everyone was anxiously waiting to see David's Croquet demo.

David's demo reminded me of the early days of BeOS. Trying to explain the potential of an operating system, especially one with such a completely new and unlimited architecture is quite a task. David wrote the thing so there is also something mystical about getting a demo of a new OS by the person who wrote it.

Croquet is an amazing concept, but it is an old concept. It is based on Smalltalk/Squeak and is a totally object oriented collaborative environment. David is a 3D guru so he has made the interface completely 3D where you can fly around, see other users as avatars, create 3D objects with scripts and share them dynamically and in real time in the shared space. He is working on all of the necessary pieces to deal with identity and security as well. It is totally cross-platform and is "pure" in its portability. The architecture is incredibly clean and you can tell it is being designed top-down by someone who's done this before.

The main problem with new operating systems is that you need a killer ap to get it into the main stream. David calls Croquet a broadband phone call. There are obviously A LOT of educational applications.

When I saw the system, I thought of a few things. It would be a very cool environment for blogging. (When you are a blogger, everything looks like a blog or blog tool.) It would be really neat if you got an IM when your fellow bloggers were online and you could switch into the broadband/rich interactive mode and browse and point at micro content together. Last night I came up with what I think might be what I'm trying to say. I think we are mastering the art of micro content journalism. What Croquet made me imagine was some sort of object oriented journalism with smarter micro content which had behaviors and attributes. The Creative Commons license being one attribute that could be included in such an object attribute.

The other thought that I had was that the ability to change the attributes of the objects and environment (color, shape, etc) would be a great way to help people track privacy and identity issues. It would make the concept of access control and permissions much more intuitive for the average user and would help make clear the delineation between different computer spaces and who you are and what information you were bringing with you as you moved from server to server.

As I read some great comments by Dan Gillmor, Dave Winer and other bloggers about the shuttle tragedy, I was reminded about the story of one of the first Japanese submarines. Japan was doing research on submarines, but one of the first trials went terribly wrong. The submarine sank to the bottom of the ocean and the men began to die as oxygen was depleted. They recovered the diary of the captain of the ship. In the diary, the captain pleads to the government and the people of Japan to continue the research and not allow the failure of the mission to slow it down. The diary is quite moving. I bet that if the crew of the space shuttle had had the time to write, they probably would have written something similar.

The steaming suppon pot
The okoge
Today, we had lunch at Daiichi. It is my favorite restaurant. I first went to Daiichi with Shigeaki Saigusa, Ryo Hato and Hiroshi Yanai. Since then, Mizuka and I make it a point to go whenever we are in Kyoto. Daiichi is a suppon restaurant. Suppon is a kind of soft-shelled snapping turtle. There is no menu. The meal starts out with suppon blood (optional), pieces of suppon chilled, then the main course. The main course is suppon chopped up and stewed in a very heavy clay pot with sake and soy sauce. The chopped suppon is very gelatinous and tastes kind of like a cross between fish and chicken. You add hot sake to the amazing soup and drink it in a cup.

The pot is a special pot that requires extremely high temperatures to heat. These high temperatures can only be achieved using special coal which new restaurants are not approved to use. Once heated, the pot retains the boiling hot temperature for the duration of the course. They use sake instead of water and this sake is essential. During the war and in post-war Japan, sake was not available so you had to buy a bottle of sake on the black market and bring it with you in order to be served.

After the suppon stew comes the ozoni. The ozoni is prepared by putting rice in the pot with the soup, breaking a few eggs and stirring. After the first servings are removed from the pot, there is a little left on the bottom. This heats and gets crispy and brown. This crispy rice/egg stuff is very good and is called okoge. You have to be very careful when scraping the okoge from the pot. The pot is fragile and VERY old. If you break a pot they get VERY mad. If you ever break two, you are banned from the restaurant.

I think it must have something to do with the pot, but the suppon at Daiichi is superior to any other suppon I have ever had and it is consistently great.

From left to right: Joi, Alan, David
David Smith has been trying to introduce me to Alan Kay for quite awhile now. We also have a bunch of other mutual friends including Scott Fisher, my brother-in-law who used to work for Alan at Atari and Megan Smith. Alan, David, Kim and the "team" were visiting Kyoto so I invited them to dinner at Minoya, my favorite tea house in Kyoto which I've written about in my blog before. I found a picture of Kaoru, the owner and me from when she was staying with us in the US. I am 3 years old and she is 18 in this photo.

It's a bit difficult to talk about the past, present and future of computing surrounded by geisha in a tea house, but we tried. Alan talked about how so much of great computer science was invited in the 60's and 70's and we're just getting around to re-discovering some of it. It reminded me about my thoughts about ECD. People like to talk about quantum computing and nanotech because it is a long way away and is not threatening to the current products. Technology such as ECD's technology and Alan's architectures which have been feasible for decades is often ignored because it threatens business models and architectures today.

It's great that Japan really respects Alan Kay and gives him a great deal of credit for his discoveries. I think Ted Nelson also gets much more credit for his discoveries in Japan than he does in the US. Maybe foreigners aren't as threatening. ;-)

Alan and David are working on Squeak and are also developing a completely object oriented, cross-platform, networked, collaborative environment called Croquet which sounds very exciting. David's supposed to give me a demo tomorrow.

Yesterday was an interesting collision with reality for me. I had dinner with a business partner/friend and I talked about my thoughts regarding the problems with Japan. He asked me whether people called me a left wing radical. He said that many people would probably find what I was saying to be rather threatening and anti-establishment. That's probably true.

Later, I met some other friends in a bar and a very senior executive from a BIG Japanese company came over to our table and began talking to my friends in a rather rude tone. (He was able to do this because of the position of power he was in.) It was very annoying so I cut him off told him that I thought his tone was rude. He then threatened me, told me I was a threat to Japan and stormed off. After talking to people like Idei-san of Sony and Kobayashi-san of Fuji-Xerox, I think I had forgotten that there were still a lot of REALLY SCARY people in Japan. I should be careful. On the other hand, I think that unless people speak up against those who abuse power, no one will have the guts to begin to criticize the establishment.

It's easy to criticize the establishment in the mountains of Switzerland, but continuing to deliver the message in the halls of power in Japan will be difficult. I have to be smart about picking my battles, but I have to promise myself not to allow fear to stifle me.

Note to myself... Avoid going to bars likely to have powerful drunk people, even if invited by friends...

Update: I just talked to a friend who knows the "BIG company" well and he said that the guy who threatened me is on his way out and one of my friends in that company, who is actually quite a gentleman, is "on his way up." Good news. Maybe the world is getting sick of people who abuse power...