December 25, 2003

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon

The game, "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," is explained by Alberto-Laszlo Barabási in his new book, Linked. For a synopsis, see Gene Callahan's review .

The game is a fascinating one to computer scientists and financial cryptographers. If we were actors, we'd be only two degrees from Kevin Bacon.

Anguilla is the home of Financial Cryptography, and it is a favourite haunt of Kevin and his brother Michael.

FC really took its roots in the tiny island, through the first four conferences known by the same name. There, the very odd mix of geeks and academics blended in effortlessly into the relaxed island life of one of the Caribbean's misfits.

Anguilla was historically populated by escaped slaves, and escaped the plantation history of the Caribbean as nothing much can grow there. She is thus fiercely independent. But she has little of the baggage of suppression of the other islands, and no necessary need to lord it over the white visitors as revenge for centuries of slavery and plantations.

From abject poverty, this slightly open view allowed her, with a little help from British tax breaks and Canadian airport grants to create an island devoted to unspoiled tourism. By a quirk of fate, the locals banned franchises like MacDonalds and cruise ships; and only high-end, expensive resorts were permitted.

By universal acclaim, the Dune Preserve is the favourite place of visitors seeking that special beach therapy that other islands have on the posters only. Bankie Banks, who runs the Dune, also hosts the Moonsplash festival where the Bacon Brothers play most Marches, under a full moon.

And, Bankie Banks, who is in trouble as much as he is out, has almost certainly played in a movie sometime. If not, somebody will do it sometime!

Which leaves us all, in the FC community, 2 degrees from Kevin Bacon, if only we can get ourselves into a movie.

Posted by iang at December 25, 2003 12:29 PM | TrackBack

Reading your essay on the six degrees of Kevin Bacon brings back memories of FC '98, Bankie Banks and the Dune Preserve, the little pony riding ranch with the ponies that have seen better days, a wild boat trip with David Chaum, Lynwood Bell, and that Anguilla lawyer who is now a judge, to watch a total solar eclipse off the coast of a still smoking Montserrat volcano with the remains of the town sticking up from the ash...

There was that crypto "masquerade ball" thrown by the "dark prince" of Lichtenstein where among other attendees John Gilmore was dressed in tye-die robes and flipflops with darkeyeglasses with a fake nose and mustache (maybe that was normal for him). Plenty of caviar and fine wine was had by all at the Cap Jaluca.

I remember going snorkeling with Sameer Parekh, founder of C2Net, and seeing him turn white as a sheet and thinking he was probably going to die from hypothermia on a tropical island...

There I also met Vincent Cate and various security scientists from IBM and other companies. Bob Hettinga was still the host and in his prime and full of optimism about digital bearer certificates.

That one week in February 1998 had a strange effect on my future, my thinking, and I had no idea how many first degrees of connection I was establishing or would establish as a result of that one week "vacation" in Anguilla.

Later results from that conference even led to me having breakfast with David Chaum in the infamous Watergate Hotel in Washington DC... Having lunch with the CEO of Mocatta, Larry Scott - then chairman of the LBMA, who opened the bullion vault under the rubble of the WTC after they dug it out... It even led to me having lunch in 2002 with a guy named "Ibrahim" in Collage Park Maryland about setting up a digital gold dinar system - only to find out that Ibrahim was an architect for a Saudi construction company during the 1970's when his direct supervisor was Osama Bin Laden. So that puts me two degrees from Osama himself. I shook the hand that shook Bin Laden's hand.

Someone really should write a novel about the early years of FC and put some character on the people and their ideas for the sake of posterity. Maybe that person should be me. I'll keep writing notes and see if it turns into a book someday...

Send me your notes if you want them included.

Posted by: Ken at December 29, 2003 02:14 PM

FC98 was a fun event, and for e-gold, it was a triumph. Marketing wise, we established the name in the space, and the next year, the newcomers had their work cut out for them. People still talk about the e-gold event with Bankie playing up on the balcony, followed by Roots' band. Some people still have their tax free silver dollar :-)

Unfortunately, I spent most of the Ecliptic Curve cruise to Montserrat up in front of the bridge, trying not to lose my breakfast again...

For deep background, travel to Amsterdam, the font of all good things FC. Characters from the 'dam: Marcel, Gary, Branko, Zooko, Twan, Mike, Ray, Stefan, and of course David!

Posted by: Ian Grigg at December 29, 2003 03:01 PM