I put the backpack up in the overhead compartment, but not before retrieving my Shures from the front jacket. I settle into the signature Boring Blue upholstered seat marked 17H and pull out my LocalHost and bring up Ether from idle state. As Ether scans the airwaves for advertised services, I pair the headphones and the LocalHost and start my travel playlist - soothing classical tracks which make me forget that I am sitting in an aluminium tube hurtling through thin air at more than 900 kmph.

Services start popping up on Ether’s left pane. Chat and Random Hookups are present aboard this Boeing 747-8 too, just as anywhere else in the world with electricity. Today’s Menu and Do More With Us! are at the top of the airline’s official service offerings. I have half a mind to whip up and publish a ‘How much do you hate us?’ fake-official poll but resist the temptation.

I take a peek at what the kid in 17I is up to on his Ether. Chat it is for Mr Green Streaks. Or should I say Mr Spiked?

<spiked>: The blonde serving the left aisle is really hot ^_^

I am equal parts amused and depressed. When I wrote Ether back in the day, of course I had anticipated this. You just can’t create a widely used network without opening it up to all kinds of junk. Hugh’s Law and all that.

Ether, in essence, is a very simple idea. It’s a piece of software to create an ad-hoc, peer-to-peer network and then create services and applications on top of that network. There’s no central controlling point. Services live and die as peers aggregate and disperse. The network can be distributed across the globe or localized to a room - it all just depends on how far a packet can travel. Or how far you let it travel. Anyone can create an application and then push it out over the network. If others accept the app and run it on top of Ether, great. If not, a few wasted programmer cycles and network packets. Nothing much.

The first app that I wrote for Ether was Chat. Well actually, I wrote Ether because I wanted Chat. The story goes something like this. It’s 2007 and we are munching on some pizzas and hashing out details for a hack fest called.. something, I forget what. Someone suggests it would be nice to have a local chat channel for folks to talk in. Then someone else suggests it would be nicer for folks to participate in ad-hoc polls - like ‘This speaker sucks. Agree/Disagree/I am playing FF XIV’. So that’s when I bang out version 0.1 of Ether - just to get chat, polls and food orders going at … that event. Damn, what was the name of that event?! Bar something, I think.

After Bar-something, I flesh out Ether a bit more and send the source files to a bunch of folks who I know would dig this stuff. Before long, much to my amazement and delight, a community of developers and application creators grows around Ether and in a short while, Ether gets ported to pretty much any device which has a CPU and can manage even a limp TCP handshake.

I can’t exactly pinpoint the tipping point but, one day Ether is this nerdy thing used by techno-geeks in a (ironically) closed network and the next day, folks are putting Ether on their laptops and PDAs and cellphones and discussing player stats in soccer stadiums and playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon in cinema halls and rating the tenderness of the Chef’s-special-lobster in an inner-Shanghai restaurant!

“Would you like something to drink, Sir?” she asks. I have to agree with Mr Spiked on this; she really is something. I ask for tomato juice, as always, and return to Ether on my LocalHost. I spot Auctions in the offerings and wonder what would people be selling in here. I click through and a list comes up in a few seconds.

* Barely used travel pillow
* Noise cancelling Sony headphones 
* Seat 20H
* Super Mario Fight

Seat 20H? Click.

Swap seat 20H.
Aisle seat. Miss World 2006 in the adjacent seat. ;-)

Hurry, bidding ends when plane leaves the gate!

As the safety announcement starts, I wonder if she’s in on the auction.