Category Archive 'Oracle'

18 Oct 2012

Team Oracle Capsized in SF Bay

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The America’s Cup race is a match between a defending and a challenging sailing yacht, each representing an organized yachting club. Larry Ellison, the notoriously abrasive and egomanaical CEO of Oracle, early in the 2000s developed a yen to compete for the Cup, and needed a yacht club to represent.

Larry naturally first approached San Francisco’s venerable and aristocratic St. Francis Yacht Club. The St. Francis folks were initially happy with the idea of Larry Ellison flying their club pennon and competing in their name, but when Larry informed the St. Francis Club that he expected them to surrender majority control of the club’s governing board to him as part of the deal, the St. Francis Club demurred.

Larry responded by going down to road to a more modest and considerably more desperate organization, the Golden Gate Yacht Club, a much smaller, ordinary middle-class club, the sort of club a SF fisherman’s family (like Joe DiMaggio’s) might belong to, at the time in the process of going broke. Golden Gate welcomed Larry Ellison (and an additional 100 minions and lackeys) as new members, whose waterfall of dues wiped out the club’s deficit, and in return surrendered board control to King Larry, who does not, it seems, really bother to visit this latest small outpost of his personal empire. When the Golden Gate Club requires Larry Ellison’s attention, they come humbly to his door.

SF Examiner: New Home for America’s Cup

SF Examiner: Ellison Too Good For His Golden Gate Club

The chaps standing around the bar at St. Francis are doubtless having a good laugh today. Larry Ellison’s crew lost it on a turn on Tuesday and pitchpoled (overturned so that the stern pitched forward over the bow) his $8-million 72-foot Oracle Team catamaran.


The results were not pretty. One wing was basically shattered in fragments, and an ebb tide was sweeping the whole mess through the Golden Gate out to sea. Most of what was left was salvaged and dragged back to the dock, but Larry Ellison will be writing a very large check after this accident.

09 Jan 2006

Brittle Software, Antigorai, and Culture

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Jaron Lanier

Jarod Lanier (above) writes about Technology the way certain of my college friends used to talk about these kinds of things after a couple of hash brownies. This specific (brilliant, crossing the barriers of a variety of separate and distinct topics, wildly original and speculative, and a trifle daft) form of discourse was referred to in our circles as space-ranging. Criticized by his interlocutors for his prolixity, for the profusion of his ideas, for their chaotic disorganization, and for indulging in the characteristic intellectual overreach of the seriously stoned, one Early Concentration Philosophy classmate of mine, had on a particular occasion declared memorably in his own defense: “I am a Space Ranger!”

As the rings of Saturn fade distantly in the view-finder, Lanier remarks:

As it happens, I dislike UNIX and its kin because it is based on the premise that people should interact with computers through a “command line.” First the person does something, usually either by typing or clicking with a pointing device. And then, after an unspecified period of time, the computer does something, and then the cycle is repeated. That is how the Web works, and how everything works these days, because everything is based on those damned Linux servers. Even video games, which have a gloss of continuous movement, are based on an underlying logic that reflects the command line.

Human cognition has been finely tuned in the deep time of evolution for continuous interaction with the world. Demoting the importance of timing is therefore a way of demoting all of human cognition and physicality except for the most abstract and least ambiguous aspects of language, the one thing we can do which is partially tolerant of timing uncertainty. It is only barely possible, but endlessly glitchy and compromising, to build Virtual Reality or other intimate conceptions of digital instrumentation (meaning those connected with the human sensory motor loop rather than abstractions mediated by language) using architectures like UNIX or Linux. But the horrible, limiting ideas of command line systems are now locked-in. We may never know what might have been. Software is like the movie “Groundhog Day,” in which each day is the same. The passage of time is trivialized.


But, as is often the case in space ranges, there is some very good stuff in here. The concept of the Antigora, i.e., a privately owned marketplace whose owner benefits both from its use by, and from the volunteer labor of, entrants is potentially quite useful.

I have a strong suspicion that Lanier’s use of Agora, and variations thereon, as his preferred term for one kind of marketplace and another, stems from the influence of the late Samuel Edward Konkin III (1947-2004), founder of a unique strain of California counter-cultural Libertarianism which he called Agorism, whose theories were promulgated via Sam’s own Agorist Institute. Potlatch metaphors were also a characterististic trope of Konkinian Libertarianism. One can hear the echo of Sam Konkin’s sunny optimism in the following analysis:

Perhaps it will turn out that India and China are vulnerable. Google and other Antigoras will increasingly lower the billing rates of help desks. Robots will probably start to work well just as China’s population is aging dramatically, in about twenty years. China and India might suddenly be out of work! Now we enter the endgame feared by the Luddites, in which technology becomes so efficient that there aren’t any more jobs for people.

But in this particular scenario, let’s say it also turns out to be true that even a person making a marginal income at the periphery of one of the Antigoras can survive, because the efficiencies make survival cheap. It’s 2025 in Cambodia, for instance, and you only make the equivalent of a buck a day, without health insurance, but the local Wal-Mart is cheaper every day and you can get a robot-designed robot to cut out your cancer for a quarter, so who cares? This is nothing but an extrapolation of the principle Wal-Mart is already demonstrating, according to some observers. Efficiencies concentrate wealth, and make the poor poorer by some relative measures, but their expenses are also brought down by the efficiencies.


An amusing read and a fine provocation. John Perry Barlow, Eric S. Raymond, David Gelernter, and Glenn Reynolds will all be replying.


Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds.

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