Thursday, September 30, 2004
The flight is a landmark even though it is just the first of two required to win the Ansari X Prize. "If you look at it in terms of opening the door to a new era of commercial human spaceflight, you have already succeeded," said George Nield, an official at the US Federal Aviation Administration.
Indeed, officials mentioned plans for future spaceflight prizes - possibly with their own reality TV shows - after the X Prize is won.
It's that last paragraph that gets my attention. Here we have the model: prototyping, sponsors, and reality TV. This is what I anticipate for design science projects more generally, including in the area of prototypical housing units, ala Fuller's Fly's Eye Dome and so forth.
Monday, September 27, 2004
Sunday, September 26, 2004
Fuller had this way of approaching spatial geometry with a simplifying set of concepts. He contextualized a set of related polyhedra within a packed spheres matrix. It's harder to explain than it is to just show.
His driving idea was: if more people were scientifically literate, they'd realize we have the potential to make this a sustainably habitable planet. We'd reach a tipping point when a critical mass of folks understood our option to make it. Failing that, we'd squander our resources in killingry and wreck the planet instead.
So pushing for a math makeover was about more than getting DVD jukeboxes stocked with short math vidclips (imitating Sesame Street's inventory -- thousands of short clips about the letters A-Z and the numbers 1-12). It was about pushing us toward the tipping point, where we'd go for livingry over killingry.
Studying Bucky Fuller gained me access to this whole network of amazing people, some of whom I got to know personally. I'm very grateful to have overlapped with him in this way (and in other ways).
NCTM never wrote back. It did change its logo.
Saturday, September 25, 2004
From the Washington Post: The End of 'Network News' By Tom Rosenstiel, Sunday, September 12, 2004; Page B07
Thursday, September 23, 2004
USA citizens need the same information: they need to gauge the level of commitment to true democracy in Iraq. Will the security forces protect and give ample air time to candidates who represent Iraqi views, as measured by polling and interviews, such as this widespread view that the occupation must end, that it was illegal in the first place, that Iraqi companies should not have been auctioned off to foreign investors by the Bremer camp?
Sure, these won't be the only views. Allawi is free to offer his. But not only Allawi -- no way. Opposition must be vocal, well defined, and protected by security forces. Give them fortified accommodations in the green zone. And let us hear from them often. Otherwise, we're not really talking about creating a democracy at all. And we deserve to know that right now, today. Not after November 2. Not after hundreds of more Iraqis and USA soldiers are killed. We need to see the payoff for removing Saddam Hussein. No more dictatorship. Freedom of speech. OK, let's see it. Prove the USA is sincere. Let the many voices in this debate hold forth. Let's put down the guns and listen.
Does this mean political candidates for high office in Iraq should be allowed to come on TV and incite violence? No. The rhetoric should be reasonably confined to political solutions. The whole point is to urge freedom fighters (insurgents, terrorists, rebels, whatever) to put down their guns and tune in to the media, because there they will hear their heartfelt views reflected, by fellow Iraqis who share their dreams. This will prove to them that representative democracy has a chance. Or it least it will make the case. It's what the USA needs to be pushing to make happen, if the USA is really giving more than lipservice to the idea of democracy in Iraq.
Wednesday, September 22, 2004
I hadn't studied the reviews closely enough to know anything. I watched through the eye of an anthropologist. I thought maybe this was science fiction. Then it became more real.
So my view is this: the USA public schools should allow teachers to be role models when it comes to civic participation, i.e. it's OK for a teacher to talk about how she or he is active, has been active, or plans to become active, in the affairs of our Republic. However, it is not OK for the curriculum as a whole to neglect giving due attention to the views and opinions of the USA's
chief architects. And it is not OK for the curriculum to neglect basic training in the use of reasoning and logic, in support of civil discourse. So if the teacher shares his or her views, he or she must also allow that these views are open to scrutiny, analysis, and criticism in the light of logic and the principles of sound reasoning.
My view is that the USA, when founded, was boldly counter to many extant schools of thought, which would continue to fight the USA, both domestically and abroad. My view is that the USA public school system is not "neutral" on the matter of supporting and sustaining the core values of the USA, and people questioning what I mean by "core values" should join me in a study of the relevant literature, which is vast, but not all that fuzzy on many key points. We have the Constitution, we have the Bill of Rights, we have the great essays and speeches that have defined the contours of a philosophy and ideology. This literature is properly a focus of study in USA public schools.
I think it's possible that the USA might be terminated, as an experiment, removed from North America. Most likely, this wouldn't happen as a result of a nuclear holocaust or violent takeover. It would happen because the people living here no longer upheld the values and principles upon which the USA was founded. They would keep waving the flag, continue filling the offices, continue polishing the public buildings. And yet the USA would be gone, long gone, perhaps replaced by some Christian theocracy, at permanent war with Islam. This may sound like science fiction, but if the USA public schools do not do their job, then how do we imagine the USA will continue. The torch must be passed.
Tuesday, September 21, 2004
A note to William Rivers Pitt after reading Your Media is Killing You in truthout:
I think what you say is on target, and the reality of the matter is that the Internet, in many ways as powerful and sophisticated a technology as television, has become the new repository of serious journalism, even as it is the repository of garbage as well.
The web is a better medium for journalism anyway, in so many ways. It's more like print, and makes it easier to archive, link, fact check, cross check, consider.
It could be, with the rise of Fox News, that we're seeing the beginning of the end of television as a serious news medium. As a technology, it seems to beget sensationalism.
And it's just too tempting a tool for propagandists -- we could never keep the advertisers from owning it.
With Fox, we in the
Serious, cool-headed reasoning maybe just isn't a good fit for TV, at least not in prime time situations, with millions watching -- on cable, with its academic and community access channels, maybe it'll be different.
TV will remain an important social force and tool. "Reality TV," artificial though it is, is likely just the beginning of many branching genres, some of which may be worth celebrating (one of my hopes). And
But maybe this whole format of a talking head anchor is on the way out. Fun while it lasted?
I tune in TV news sometimes. But if I want to get a handle on what's going on in the world, I turn to the Internet. I expect it will become more and more this way.
Another core aspect of this thread is teaching Logic and Rhetoric. All those logical fallacies that debating teams need to study, for example. I'd like teachers to illustrate these fallacies, as well as well-constructed arguments, by grabbing material that matters, i.e. positions held by classroom participants, and current events.
In particular, I brought up a couple of fallacies of the form 'If p then q, and q, therefore p' (that's fallacious). Also, 'If p then q, and not p, therefore not q' (also fallacious).
I think adherence to this kind of logical thinking is important, and this political season is demonstrating that logic is in rather short supply. It may suit certain interests to have it go, but for the sake of our democracy (USA OS, or whatever we call it), I hope we manage to keep a grip.
Tuesday, September 14, 2004
Wednesday, September 08, 2004
So lawyers or other brands of legislator make changes in these gigantic, multi-volumed tomes we call the law (rule books), and engineers scramble to translate these changes into auto-executing software. Wouldn't it be interesting if more of the process were conceived in engineering terms right from the top? Of course that sounds like "social engineering," which it is, but then, what's this process of creating legislation, testing it in the courts, and enforcing it through some executive process, if not social engineering?
We'd consider it science fiction today, but what if the social life of a village were encoded in software, and when village councils met to consider changes, the discussion was in terms of making alterations to open source codes. We might add this new check box to this interface, this new column to table Y in the database, and if the box is checked, then this new process Z is triggered. If the changes are approved, then the code alterations are checked in (using a reversible version control system), and life goes on. Some company might sell a product called SmallTown, with all kinds of roles and rules predefined (mayor, police chief, council member, school superindendent...). A small town might purchase the package and be up and running quickly. The bureaucratic details would all be included in the code. Optional modules would be separately purchasable.
Clearly, the abstract level at which to consider the design of a small village, is not in terms of source code. Source code is an implementation strategy. Open source really means making the specifications, overview diagrams, big picture ideals and visions open -- in addition to the actual code.
I've invoked this idea at a more national level as well, writing about USA OS (OS = operating system). Again, the science fiction here is that we have an open architecture system, engineered and partly implemented in source code, that we continue to refine and enhance. I place USA OS next to an antiquated one, slow moving and corrupted, pillaged and cannibalized. When Fuller writes "the USA we have known is bankrupt and extinct" in
These concepts are relevant right now. Global businesses even today imagine themselves in engineering terms, meet internally to discuss the servers, connectivity issues, roles and permissions, interfaces, software systems for computing payroll, other forms of compensation and benefits, retirement accounts, inventory management, project management and so forth. When the business-minded extol the virtues of thinking in this way, and disparage government for being fifty years in the past, they're looking at the same contrast, between contemporary cybernetic systems, and creaky old pre-electronic ones, wherein billions of dollars simply disappear, unaccounted for. The perception is, if government were a tight ship, everything nailed down using well-understood software, with lots of logs and audit trails, there would be less room for corruption and waste. Right now, money managers become disgusted when the see how far behind the governmental sector has become -- they fight taxation in part because they see how downright ineffectual so many government programs are, if the money even gets to them, which often it doesn't.
But a governmental system would need to be more open source, more transparent, than some private business, answerable only to shareholders (or maybe only to family, if it's privately held). In terms of computer systems, this is a direction favored in some European circles, in Latin America, in Asia. There's an intuitive realization that government, if it's really of the people, for the people, by the people (an ideal that's percolated outward and around -- is not solely a USA-trademarked virtue by now), then its internal processes must be in the open, discussable, diagrammed and spelled out for all to see. The existing system does this a little, but for the most part its internal workings are submerged. We may attend lectures on how it's
In USA OS, we would have more of a sense of looking over the shoulders of office holders. Their view into public records would be our view. Going to the Interior Department web site, we would have quality GIS showing all federal lands, private lands, where logging is permitted, where not, what actions are pending in the queue, what legislation is being considered, and what is currently being enforced. Not that members of the public would see everything in as much detail as the actual office holder, but they would see enough to be able to follow along. When an office holder issued a memorandum or made a speech, those who'd been following, would have some clues as to where this was coming from. The processes would be transparent enough to make the actions of government understandable, and not just to a few insider lobbyists making a career out of influencing the decision-making.
I would submit that whereas our experience with new technology is encouraging us to move in this direction, the ideal of transparency goes against the grain of "us versus them" covert warfare, and that the machinery of government, including democratic ones, is often used in an "us versus them" manner. Transparency in government, however, is an ideal that transcends partisan politics, at least if one is at all sincere in advocating democratic forms.
And if you buy the World Game thesis that we have
Sunday, September 05, 2004
The slavery thread projects forward in a vision of robots pandering to our every need, but that means we need machines with a high degree of intelligence (slaves had that -- enough to understand a master's wants, and sometimes to plot an escape), and that feeds the Artificial Intelligence (AI) project. AI has so far proved a disappointment, at least to those who put stock in it in the first place. Robotics continues to make strides, but these days by divorcing itself from AI, which wasn't going anywhere any time soon, if ever.
Fuller joined these threads -- automatism and slavery -- by talking about energy slaves. He recognized that your living standards have something to do with the number of human energy slave equivalents you've got working on your behalf (something to measure in watts, joules per time frame). This was reassuring around the time of the Depression, because the mining of metals, copper in particular, in terms of pure tonnage consumed by industry, was going down, and that was a concern. But Fuller changed the emphasis to ergs per capita, and started expressing energy consumption using this energy slave idea. He suggested we had the physical living standards of kings, judging by pre industrial standards. One motor car already represented more horses in harness than most of nobility could afford to maintain. And he had a point.
However, ergs/time per capita is not the whole equation, when it comes to living standards. As the slave owners well knew, it was the ability to channel energy intelligently that mattered. That's why the emphasis on AI, humanoid robots in science fiction, and all the rest of it. Brute force joules just weren't going to hack it. We needed to be served by smarts, by brains, not just brawn.
At this point in his narrative (when it becomes clear that brute energy is not the whole story), Fuller starts invoking the computer, but not with much obvious imagery. He doesn't project humanoid robots at our beck and call. Quite the contrary: his brand of futurism is not bullish on the ability of the AI program to deliver. His trademark transcendentalism puts the human mind out of reach of mere machinery. In that regard, he sounds more like Roger Penrose: the computer is relegated to the computable, whereas the human mind is able to make leaps through a kind of noncomputable Platonic realm that is simply other-dimensional vis-a-vis automation.
So I think it fair to say that Fuller was banking more on the synthetic or synergetic power of human minds, knit by technology, e.g. by telecommunications or autopoesis, than on any AI breakthrough ala Marvin Minsky. He did not forecast the day when our cyber-creations (our artificial intellects) would transcend our human ones.
With global networking, the project is more one of creating a cell-silicon hybrid, a net connecting us together in new ways, achieving a level of parallelism and real time steering (a sense of governance) that's unprecedented. The collective ouija board has gone to a new level (and continues on to the next). But not because our neurons are being rendered obsolete. Rather, humans are being called to a new level of participation. A life of the mind is as necessary, more necessary, than ever before, to provide government (collective steering capability).
I like to think blogs are one manifestation of our new infrastructure. They're one tool among many.
For example, it's quite interesting that the World's Fair has fizzled in this day and age. The corporate giants aren't bullish enough on grand vision events to stage one.
Along the same lines, look at Epcot, Disney's Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Disney has completely backed away from Walt's vision. The word 'Epcot' is no longer broadcast as an acronmym for anything in particular, and the exhibits are downright retro at this point. The Kodak Pavilion hypes 1980s technology, or early 1990s at the latest.
Mission creep (or concerted repurposing, however you want to spin it) is so obviously symbolized by what's happened to Spaceship Earth itself (the BuckyBall, the golf ball, the geodesic thingy) -- it now sports Mickey Mouse ears, while a disembodied hand along side waves pixie dust on it. The message, to my eyes: we don't really know what this means, except we'd like to use it as our logo. It means The Mouse rules, or something like that.
To some extent, I think our being bottled up about the future, unable to make the next push, is by design. Fuller, himself a premier futurist, knew the birth would be difficult, and indeed the birth canal he sketched in Grunch of Giants is one to give us pause. It doesn't let us turn away from the difficulty of debugging a legalese to make it more suitable.
We've inherited a creaky, rickety old operating system (if "system" even pertains) and those who profit by it don't want to think or talk in terms of overhaul. They equate "overhaul" with "disaster" as if any major redesign just has to be bad for the bottom line.
That in itself is an assumption that deserves to be put under bright lights, and examined in some detail.
Let's go back to the dot com revolution, for example. This was prototypical of a Design Science Revolution, in that it was technology-driven. One might argue that it was hijacked and subverted by a money-making scamming mentality that sought to divert attention from underlying essentials, and focus on the gaming.
The game was the IPO, with privileged insiders raking off millions by flipping the new issues, getting kickbacks and so forth. It didn't really matter if the business was solid -- it just had to look high tech, have the superficial glow.
I recall being propositioned to move the New York City as a CEO of some dot com. The brains behind it sent me a spec sheet, a kind of prospectus. I read for technology, and saw nothing but buzzwords, a rephrasing of what it means to be an ISP (internet service provider). So what? But that wasn't the point. The point was the IPO, and he already had it scripted -- I'd take it through the hype phase, until the serious money was in, then I'd bail, to be replaced by someone who knew how to keep it running, if such could be found. I was somewhat flattered of course, to be propositioned to run a sexy startup, but I knew enough to turn it down.
Some people come away from the dot com experience disillusioned by the technology, but I think the real moral of the story is that casino-style Wall Street capitalism isn't yet mature enough to do any really serious planning. The short term gaming and scamming approach is doomed to fail, when the business models, if they're to work, need to be somewhat well thought out. But that's not what the new crop of investment bankers and financeers are up for doing, in large degree. They think hype is all that matters. And then they blame the technology, which may be quite solid, when the bubble bursts.
So am I arguing for some Soviet-style 'command economy'? No. The organicism of free enterprise is needed, the competition is needed, so that lots of experiments fail quickly, and the remaining business models show us how it might be done. Command economies are likely to put too many eggs in too few baskets, and come up empty handed -- failures every bit as dramatic as the dot com crash, but not so analyzed (because command economies tend to be secretive, closed), and so even harder to learn from.
I'm more inspired by Dee Hock's 'chaordic' metaphor, which is in turn inspired (by Visa in his case) by the example of the Internet. These protocols are really complex and detailed (cite the RFCs), but they're globally implemented and they work. That's a model that works. Linux too.
Open source and free software philosophers typically have greater than average awareness of Fuller's design science option with good reason I think: they see themselves as potentially inheriting the mission, as critical world game players, and/or navigators aboard Spaceship Earth. I think this self-perception is somewhat justified, and I encourage it, as we cannot afford to leave it all to the politicians who see themselves in this way.
The reality TV phenomenon builds on the power of television to merge scripted/programmed content into the so-called real world, and to create a lot of shared culture and mythos out of the blue.
The product placement phenomenon is sometimes about (not always) showing off lifestyle contexts for goods and services, meaning you don't leave it entirely to the viewer's imagination how this device, artifact, whatever, might fit into the script. You spell it out.
OK, so I've called this blog 'world game,' naming it after Bucky Fuller's brainchild (or mind-child, as he might have preferred). Instead of doing mega-simulations around war scenarios, acting out those scripts, we might use the reality TV motif, and the product placement motif, to show real people doing interesting and hopeful things in the world, using new technologies we'd like to use also. They're like test pilots, but also like celebrities, and the script isn't usually about doing things so unsafe that we can't envision joining them, eventually. And so, yes, I'm talking about recruitment -- trying to get people to enroll in their own possible better future.
So for example, Fuller was always storyboarding around these newfangled high tech housing units that were self-contained enough to be delivered by helicopter. Unlike contemporary manufactured homes and/or mobile homes, which are trucked to the site, and therefore have to conform to freeway dimensions (the double-wides are roughly two lanes across, but are delivered in halves), Fuller's manufactured homes are either assembled at the site (but easily, from components), or flown in. Of course other permutations are possible, but either way, it could make for some interesting television -- just gotta get central casting to deliver up the reality TV personalities.
This storyboard stems from the basic realization that we're not going to get any breakthrough high technology into the housing mainstream without the aid of television and its ability to generate new realities from scripts. The programs I'm talking about will of course be "premeditated" in the sense of not being entirely spontaneous. Commercial interests have an investment in having their products look good. So yes, I'm seeing where abuse and cover-up could enter into this picture -- which is good, in a way, as that means I'm not just writing idle utopian BS. I'm in touch with the dark side, meaning it could really happen (how's that for a modicum of cynicism, which I'll certainly cop to).
So maybe we deliver a bunch of Fly's Eye type dwelling machines to some remote location, and have people try them out. They might be a bit more nerdy/geeky than the average reality TV player today, given they have to cope with high tech. More like some in the cast of those Jurrasic Park movies. But that's OK. I'm not saying they can't be sexy. High tech and sexiness have already been combined in any number of permutations that work just fine. All the key ingredients of hot, many-eyeballs television, which the advertising sponsors crave, will be there, in spades.
But of course you can't do these little episodic things without having a sort of backdrop or big picture. Reality TV currently gets around that by using the game show format, which is familiar, and adding exotic locations, which fits with the travelogue motif. It's a way to "see the world" and get entertained. Not that all reality TV takes you out and around. Sometimes it's more claustrophobic, like the 'Big Brother' episodes. No matter. The point is that World Game Reality TV (if I may coin the concept) is going to have to admit to a larger agenda, which is that of the Design Science Revolution.
What Fuller did in Grunch of Giants was to try to corner the big corporations into exercising their positive potential to serve humanity, i.e. to harness the smarts and resources at their command (the metaphysical and physical assets) in order to raise living standards globally. However, if they weren't going to do this, then we'd be seeing a lot of things very clearly: that their ideological commitment, if misanthropic, is incompatible with the USA's (for example), meaning there'd come a time when the USA would be so undermined and riddled-through with corrupting anti-USA corporate values, that we'd have a hard time keeping the mythos of the USA itself alive. Uncle Sam would end up in the hospital, in intensive care. More and more people would start to realize that the legal form called The Corporation, might be one big multi-century mistake. Because look what it's doing to us! The Frankenstein imagery was all set to go. Fuller helped set that up.
So now, a couple decades down the road (Fuller died in 1983, after declaring the USA we have known bankrupt and extinct, and winning the Medal of Freedom from then President Reagan), we're pretty much at that point. Uncle Sam is in the emergency room, as crony capitalism eats at him from the inside, a parasitical infestation, taking over and privatizing military functions, reducing the Constitution to a quaint shadow of its former self. So-called "reality TV" is a mere distraction, like mega-sports events, used to keep the populace entertained and uninformed. The "news" organizations are left with the job of spinning the whole dismal matter in such a way as to postpone any final judgement that we've lost our way, big time. Reconnecting with Fuller's pronouncements would be one way to restore the narrative to sense (a great American sees what's in the works), but that's too threatening right now, as the brains behind the corporate infrastructure today are relatively unschooled in the sources and methods of World Game (i.e. they're unable to see any other way to play, having come up through the ranks under ideologies that, even if they're less relevant right now, are all they know).
The War on Terror is therefore the new 'reality TV' with little thought given to how we might find agreement on positive future visions. And yet it's a fact that Iranians copied much of my website to their engineering school in Tehran at one point, because Fuller's engineering-based approach is both apolitical, aesthetically attractive, and commensurate with God-centric rhetoric (he may have been a technocrat in some sense, but his transcendentalism is what sticks with the Islamist scholars who crack the covers of Synergetics, or read it on the web).
The potential to build tacit agreement around positive new lifestyles, across the cultural divide artifically set up by fundamentalist religionists on both sides, would be relatively easy to achieve. The Internet has already created the context. Regardless of ideology, governments see the logic and potential behind TCP/IP and the several services built on top of it (FTP SMTP HTTP and so on). This infrastructure heralds a layer of connectivity that we could extrapolate from, in a positive direction. Some level of collaboration in television programming would be a next step. But it would come off as quite other-worldly, alien (in the extraterrestrial sense), in comparison with all the terror talk, the dire threats, the fear-mongering. Trying to sound notes of hope and enthusiasm, based in sound engineering, just doesn't fit the apocalyptic agendas of many, or at the very least is a rhetoric and programming genre that contemporary politicians have not studied. However, politicians are often quick students and would be on-board in a heart beat. It's more the less visible "captains of industry" (so-called) who haven't the smarts or the courage (apparently) to steer in this more positive direction. We've noted this for the histories. We'd like them to not explode the whole planet out of shame (to erase the evidence of their cowardice).
In sum, I'm hoping at least some branch of entrepeneur sees the potential of television to link us together in a new configuration, an alternative mythos, that is less based in fear and more based in longing. That was the grand dichotomy as Fuller saw it (maybe he attributed it to Einstein or someone, but that's neither here nor there at the moment). Which is it to be? Currently, it's clearly the politics of fear. The politics of longing has been banished to the margins, to the blogs for example. We play World Game around the edges. We network. We consider. Which is about all anyone can do in such times.
Saturday, September 04, 2004
And why start a blog? Well, I was reading Johan Maurer's blog and wanted to post a comment, which led to registering, with the invitation to start a blog. Well, I'd already started one using downloaded software (pybloxsom -- reserving the right to fix typos by the way). But it's somewhat moribund at this point. Has the same name (Grain of Sand). So that's why. So now I'll go post that comment.