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St Kitts Nevis, Independence Day

VirtualWill

How should I organize things in case I pass away? I’ve recently been writing a document for my family and realized that I have made no plans for all my online projects. Maybe I should set up some sort of Continuity page like Eric S. Raymond did.

  • What should happen to Emacs Wiki? None of of my local friends are into Emacs, so it has to be one of the wiki users.
  • What should happen to Oddmuse?
  • What should happen to Community Wiki? (Lion?)
  • What should happen to Campaign Wiki?

And so on. Somebody needs to know passwords, pay for domain names and hosting or organize the transfer to interested parties.

In fact, Eric S. Raymond’s page is the only page I’ve seen that addresses this. Any other ideas?

I seem to recall that at one point you were interested in creating a foundation?

Well, if a property is valuable enough then maybe that is needed. But for me personally right now the question is “what instructions should I leave to my wife, stepmom, and best friend?” All three are not interested in my projects, so I need to leave instructions on how to hand them off and to whom. Or does one leave such instructions with a lawyer and 1000.- to hire an expert to do it? And how do I determine suitable heirs for lack of a better term? There’s the question of community representation to be considered as well. CorporateMembership might help I guess. I also ask myself how to make sure the setup is understandable to geek friends: cron jobs, scripts, little pieces here and there.

Our concerns are remarkably similar. While the business(es) will carry on as “immortal” corporations (at least as long as they remain “profitable”), I’ve accumulated quite a bit of stuff that I personally look after. One simple “for instance” is that I’ve been asked if I’ve made arrangements to keep paying the hosting bill at FlickR so that my PublicDomain images will endure.

Like you suggest, I’ve been writing a lot of code designed to do nothing but simplify & automate the various things that I’ve just been doing. At least in theory, it should be possible to effectively automate many of my “chores” and have them executed by automated systems that require very little “human” intervention. Then, all that is needed is to arrange for a small trust fund to “pay” for any minimal support that might be needed. One way of ensuring that this happens is to set the trust up as an Quarterly cash flow to a beneficiary that will be automatically paid (by the system) as long as the system is working.

It seems a reasonable approach, although if they keep extending IP laws (currently at “1 day + the 80th anniversary of death”) the “term certain” of the annuity payments may be eroded. There’s also the risk of unexpectedly high inflation.

I got teased quite a bit wen I started setting all of this up since I made the mistake of mentioning…

  • Kurzweil’s thinking regarding the possible attaining immortality, and
  • My opinion that we are likely to have “read” & “write” capabilities for memories within our lifetimes. Given the ability to store and port “egos”, I begin to take an even more “long-term” view. The resulting “tease” arose from the two ladies I was discussing this, with starting to ask some practical questions like…
  • Who gets custody of the “off” switch?

In all seriousness though, I have developed an automated “last will” program. I don’t expect it to be infallible, but I do think I’ll be able to contract for a defined “service level” that includes “pay for performance” conditions (like… “Don’t tell where the “off switch is!”).

I like the idea about people being unable to use the off switch. :)

In some cases, however, you want to hand something (like this wiki) to people who will continue to maintain it.

I’m still not sure what to do and will start writing more elaborate instructions. I will also have to approach others and ask them whether they’ll be willing to act as executers. :/

I started out doing much the same. When I found it was easier to write code (and test it) for a machine than it was to explain it to people, I extended my efforts into the development of a “PersonalDigitalAssistant?-ExpertSystem”. Based on my observations about the rate of change in the costs of Lawyers and Computers since 1972, I believe this is indisputably the “right” way to go. In fact, I think there are real business opportunities for this undertaking!

Hehe, maybe we should make this our business. ;)

Being in the middle of a set of Board meetings with lots of legal and accounting issues, I beginning to think we really do need to “automate” more of this.

As for the original focus on “perpetuating support” via a VirtualWill, I’ve been thinking about this more broadly. Initially, I focused on the CommunityWiki content since most of my personal concerns center on the explosive (disorganized) growth in my wikis (and Wiki-Hives and Wiki-Farms).

Since then, some more technical issues I’ve had to deal with have made me realize that the problem is very much larger when one starts to consider the the need to maintain the software and the operating environment, as well as provide to the evolution of all of these things. Clearly, it will be necessary to provide an “income” stream or an initial “endowment” to make all of this happen. And that will, of course, run against the grain of some of the Open Source concepts.

All I can say just now is that… “I think I better think it through again” – Oliver Twist’s “Fagan”

Software maintenance: With software, many people think that the best way to pass it on is to post the source code, the build files, the resulting executable, documentation, etc. on a host like Savannah ( http://savannah.gnu.org/ ), BerliOS? ( http://www.berlios.de/ ), SourceForge ( http://sf.net/ ), Google Code ( http://code.google.com/ ), etc. The latest Oddmuse source is already hosted on Savannah, right? Is there a generic name for such hosts? Is this or some other wiki a good place to post my list of such hosts?

Wiki maintenance:

Clearly I’ve been reading too many cryptography papers and spy novels recently, because my first thought is: Pretend we are in a spy novel, and apply some crypto algorithm with completely unnecessary cloak-and-daggers drama. What would James Bond do?

Give Trusted Person #1 a sealed envelope with instructions stapled to on the outside: “If die or am incapacitated, call this list of people. Read the CommunityWiki secret password to each and every one of them. The secret password is inside the sealed envelope. The list is: DavidCary +1(918)813-2279, LionKimbroHansWobbe …” Do you have the phone numbers and email addresses of everyone on the CommunityWikiAssemblyMemberList ?

Secretly give an identical sealed envelope with identical instructions to Trusted Person #2.

Then people who don’t want to maintain CommunityWiki, or are too busy to give it any attention, do nothing. Then the first one to ssh to CommunityWiki as root with that password and change the root password to something else “wins” control over CommunityWiki.

Also, a README.txt document in some obvious location (root’s home directory?) lists all the stuff the new sysadmin needs to know to keep it running.

While this protocol is filled with exciting drama, it only solves one small part of the problem. Further crypto complexity (a 2-of-N secret-sharing protocol; public keys; etc.) wouldn’t help solve the difficult parts of the problem. A high-availability wiki ( DistributedWiki ) could solve another part of the problem.

  • What happens if the first person to volunteer discovers that he doesn’t have quite enough information to keep it going? With this protocol, he doesn’t find out until it’s too late to ask for clarification.
  • What if the new maintainer needs physical access to the server? (Perhaps he wants to add a larger hard drive?)
  • What if the new maintainer wants to move “communitywiki.org” to a different server? After he has installed all the appropriate software and copied over all the page data, how does new maintainer convince the nice DNS people to point “communitywiki.org” to the new server? Is there anything else he needs to do? How do the nice DNS people reject requests by people who want to to point “communitywiki.org” to a server filled with phishing scams and other inappropriate content?
  • If some domain squatter somehow steals the “communitywiki.org” domain name – alas, this has already happened to several other wiki – how do we move to some other wiki so we can continue our conversation?

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