Podcast by Arthur Falls
Understanding Urbit #7 - Tlon Operations Community
Tlon COO Erik Newton and Community Manager Kenny Rowe join this session to provide some additional background to Tlon and the Urbit Community.
Erik Newton begins by explaining the relationship between the Tlon corporation and the Urbit project. We also discuss the reason behind the valuation of the address space, business opportunities, and plans for the launch of Urbit OS 1.
Then Kenny describes the cultural reach of the Urbit aesthetic and how he found himself pulled into the project from his prior employer, Maker. In particular the notion of the Kelvin versioning system evolving toward stability as opposed to complexity, and the power of unique terminology to avoid false cognates.
Kenny elaborates on the community on-boarding strategy of Urbit and its suitability for the collaboration needs of DAOs and front end requirements of smart contracts.
Understanding Urbit #6 - Built to Last
The recurrent theme of calm computing is explored more deeply in this discussion with Logan Allen whose focus is infrastructure and product at Tlon.
Logan sees the attention economy, with all it’s popups and news feed clickbait as a result of the way startups are organised and funded. In between rebukes of VC capital and the growth business model, Logan describes a software landscape where the user is king, extending the views of Christian and Anthony.
The only way Logan believes this can be achieved is to create a computing platform with different product design incentives.
Part of this picture is a unified tech stack that applications share rather than the bespoke, but very similar, internal tooling built individually by major tech companies like uber, facebook, airbnb and others.
For Logan, Urbit addresses this by standardizing a large part of the system stack. As an abstract I/O interface it separates the software and hardware layers in a way that allows applications to be developed for an environment that is consistent across hardware.
This makes Urbit a much more efficient way of developing software from a corporate perspective by reducing dev-ops and the size of the layer that security concerns can happen in.
One of Logan’s most powerful revelations is that today, system software, linux for example, is deeply complex and growing ever more so and the number of people who understand the way it works is shrinking proportionally to the task of maintaining that software. Designing a new platform that evolves toward stability may be the only way to ensure a secure computing landscape in the future.
Understanding Urbit #5 - Urbit & Bitcoin
Christian Langalis is the resident bitcoin ambassador to the Urbit team. His motto is sound money requires sound computing and this well describes his role is to develop Bitcoin infrastructure for the Urbit ecosystem.
Christian’s interest in Urbit derives from a desire for a sound foundation on which Bitcoin can operate. He makes the argument that for all its potential, bitcoin cannot offer the benefits of sound money (sound being a term that requires specific definition in this case) without a sound computing platform on which to operate. Unix sysadmins have access to this today, but that leaves the future unevenly distributed.
More than just a piece of Bitcoin infrastructure, Christian sees Urbit as a response to the shift toward unowned software and data caused the popularity of Software as a Service and content streaming platforms. He also sees the platform as an opportunity for individuals to access the full power of server computing, instead having to rent individual functionalities from subscription based services.
Christian views data harvesting, and the pursuit of user attention as deep personal abuses in a way that recalls Galen’s reference to Stockholm Syndrome in episode 1
Understanding Urbit #4 - Urbit ID & the Network
As Ted indicated in episode 2, The Urbit ID public key infrastructure and the Urbit network are core to the way individual Urbits communicate and maintain self-sovereignty. In this episode we hear from three members of the Tlon team, each explaining the part of the system they are most familiar with. OS lead Ted returns to introduce the subject.
Tlon engineer, Logan, Explains the use experience of Urbit ID, The reason for some of the design choices, and the topography of the Urbit Network.
Philip is a resident cryptographer at Tlon focussed on Public Key Infrastructure. He rounds this episode out by explaining what a PKI is, the differences between PKIs, and the way the Urbit ID PKI is implemented.
Understanding Urbit #3 - Technology & Freedom
The effect technology has on individual freedom is a recurring theme in lunchtime discussions in the Tlon office. Chief Product Officer, Anthony Arroyo has a background in linguistics and the philosophy of technology. This positions him well to explain the nature of this relationship and how Urbit positions itself between the two.
Anthony offered the key insight that today computers have evolved from their nature as tools into mechanical colonizers of our lives. More than just absorbing our attention, the online services advertising greater human connection are in reality limiting the way we relate to one another to a centrally defined mode of interaction. This extends to the way we consume news, poisoning the well of information and leading to a toxic mass social environment.
He offers Urbit as a solution that allows the user to determine their mode of interaction, and the scale of their social graph, rather than a graph that is global by default.
Anthony also introduces three characteristics of a virtual tool that are needed for it to conform to our expectations of physical tools. He describes those characteristics as simple, durable, and yours.
Finally, we learn about Urbit’s decrementing versioning system and the benefit of software that evolves toward stability.
Understanding Urbit #2 - Under the Hood of the Urbit OS
Engineer Ted Blackman works on the Urbit OS kernel. Like many Tlon employees, Ted initially came to the project as an open source contributor. In this discussion Ted breaks the operating system down into its components and explains its relationship to Urbit ID which we will cover in-depth in episode 4.
Ted begins by helping us establish a foundational understanding of what an operating system is and what roles traditional OSs excel in. Then he explores how Urbit functions as a layer above, creating a unique environment for applications to run within.
A major question raised by the first half of this discussion, and which many Urbit enthusiasts will already have in the back of their minds is how can such a minimalist, universal operating system take advantage of the task specific performance benefits some CPUs offer? The answer lies in a unique Urbit innovation called Jets. In understanding Jets we can grasp the inherent performance limitations of an operating system like Urbit, and understand how those limitations can be overcome.
Ted has a talent for making the complex understandable, so while this is a very advanced episode, even a non-technical person will find this discussion educational and entertaining.