From: marcs <>
Replying To: David Wagner <>
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2002 16:39:22 -0700
Subject: Re: [e-lang] "Capability Myths Demolished" (was: Software security workshop)

On Wednesday 04 December 2002 03:17 pm, David Wagner wrote:
> Mark Miller writes:
> >If there are no C-lists-as-sets capability systems (plausible), and if 
> >Dennis & Van Horn had full Granovetter invocation, then I see no remaining 
> >useful distinction. So, contingent on further evidence, I withdraw my 
> >suggestion.
> At risk of prolonging this longer than necessary,
> how about "true capabilities" vs. "Lampson-style capabilities",
> when one needs to make a distinction?

Actually, I think this discussion does need to be prolonged a little longer, 
because the current situation is, for me personally, a disaster.  My full time 
job these days is marketing E, which means marketing capabilities. Too often 
to be ignored, when I use the word "capability", the security expert in the 
cluster of people I am briefing will hear the word and lose interest, because 
he thinks he already knows what it is, and that it is unimportant.

There are 3 things I can see to do from here: 

1. Stop trying to market capabilities.  Get a job configuring firewalls and 
wait 10-20 years until folks like jonathan get enough papers published, and 
enough old academicians die, so that capabilities are credible (this is the 
quantum theory strategy, as the physicists noted, the way quantum physics 
"won" over newtonian physics was by waiting till enough respected geniuses 
who couldn't accept it were dead). tyler

2. Invent a new word for what we have, acknowledging that "capability" has 
been as badly distorted as the term "hacker".  I have actually tried to pursue 
this strategy a couple of times, once on e-lang. However, I am just barely 
smart enough so that, if I get my brains bashed in several times, I will stop 
because it hurts so much. Consequently, I have stopped pursuing this; it 
might take even more deaths to make this possible than it would take to 
recover the term "capability" without adornment. tyler

3. Create a pair of adjectives, as David describes above.  The adjective 
describing E-style capabilities should suggest that there is something 
technical and sophisticated that the listener will immediately recognize is 
something that he doesn't already know about. Neither the E-style nor the 
non-E-style adjectives should be pejorative, otherwise it sounds like 
religion not technology. 

To meet the goals in #3, I like markm's term "lambda capabilities".  Attempting 
to model the mind of a person who "thinks he knows what capabilities are" in 
my own head, I believe that "lambda capability" would immediately sound 
distinctive enough so that the person would continue to pay attention because 
there might be something here that is new. I like "Granovetter capability" as 
well, but it is too long.

Then there is the question of what a non-lambda capability should be called.  
Since there seems to be considerable disputation possible about what Lampson 
actually meant, as opposed to what people understood him to mean, I am 
reluctant to use "Lampson capability". Besides, from a marketing perspective, 
it is probably suicide to name the broken, defective alternative after a 
person who is viewed practically as a god in some circles.

I think that David hit the crucial point right on the head when he said that  
a lambda capability combines designation with authority.  Talking with markm 
about where this might lead, I now propose that we call non-lambda, 
non-designation capabilities "ambient capabilities".

So,  I am currently leaning toward using "lambda capability" versus "ambient 
capability" when I talk to audiences that might include a computer security 
expert, or that might talk to a security expert when they leave the meeting. 
If someone has terminology they like better than lambda-vs-ambient that meets 
my criteria, I am happy to switch. However, starting next week I am going to 
start embodying this change in my standard pitch.... this is not merely of 
academic interest to me, I am right this moment on the front line of the 
educational effort, as I try to attract investment/procurement/sponsorship 
for capability-related efforts :-) daw tribble

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