Sunday, October 31, 2004

More on Project Renaissance

We had a good thread on the Collab list the other day, wherein I explained my model the public/private cooperation might involve private firms sponsoring employes to work in NGOs, with an eye towards field testing equipment and building skills.

Project Renaissance
attempts to recreate a synergy we find in defense contracting. Private enterprise invents new weapons, and gets politicians to start wars in order to test them under realistic conditions in theater (and to generate new orders). However, I'm thinking a civilian focus would be less misanthropic all around.

My own private consultancy, 4D Solutions, subsidizes my participation in Collaborative Technologies in this way as well -- it's mostly about skill building, including management skills. Thanks to my time with Free Geek, I'm much more attuned to the ways in which open source solutions might fit the bill in NGO world (and in GO world as well, for that matter).

I syndicate a lot of my bookmarks by the way.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 29, 2004

Busy Day

Caught Terry's (Fresh Air) interview with Josh Rushing, the CENTCOM guy from Control Room. Good Marine. I'd say he has already contributed to bridging the communication gap vis-a-vis Palestine. I thought so when I saw the movie, but his willingness this afternoon to venture into civilian radio space with his heart-felt concerns was indeed refreshing and took real courage.

Met with an HPD (Hillsboro police) officer and an Intel security guy around the issue of how to build a basketball court in cyberspace, by which I mean, a fun, engaging space where youth and police have a chance to work out together, building rapport rather than animosity.

That's a sort of Norman Rockwell picture I realize (a real experience for some youth), but converging it with computers and open source sort of ain't (is a bit more surreal I'd have to say -- not necessarily a bad thing).

Jerritt Collord and I co-taught Adventures in Open Source at this police facility this June. I think we developed useful content, but the outreach and presentation techniques need to be fine tuned. The police should get more credit for this good faith effort.

Other meetings today as well. Still didn't have time to courier the Needs Assessment to MMT but that's OK as wheels are turning. Did manage some domestic fun, such as preparing the pumpkin for carving and watching a Japanese cartoon on DVD. That was at the top of my list today. I'm not interested in being a workaholic if that means no family life. Of course many knowledge workers feel the same way (and troops, all sides).

Monday, October 25, 2004

Blast from the Past

I got an email from Einar Thorstein recently. Way back when Russ Chu, Bonnie Goldstein, and Hal Hildebrand were thinking of doing the BFI archive in Smalltalk (Bonnie's initiative, Russ's motherboard, Hal's smarts), back when Yasushi Kajikawa came to UCLA to talk about his geometric investigations (Jay Baldwin, Ed Applewhite were there, among others), a big thread was how to modularize 5-fold symmetric geometries.

Yasushi's system had just been published in the Japanese edition of Scientific American. David Koski was exploring phi-scalable T-modules and other tetrahedral derivatives of the golden cuboid (had some excellent assemblies of well-known polyhedra -- great puzzles I thought). And Einar Thorstein was a 3rd, more geographically remote pioneer of a 5-fold symmetric building block system that we were talking about.

Now Einar has some more to say on the subject, and offered to send me a CD. Looking forward to it. Good to see us getting together again, and this thread re-awakening.

Followup Nov 5, 2004:

Got Einar's CD about FANG from Berlin -- a set of PDFs with lots of pictures, high production values, lots of new shop talk and abbreviations. David Koski has a new blog. All good.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Memo to Pundits

I think what a lot of you commentators are missing is that we now have proof that "shock and awe" was committed against an essentially defenseless country. No WMDs to protect the Iraqi homeland (something USAers reserve for themselves in more than ample abundance).

And there wasn't much bluffing: the Iraqis were somewhat in disarray, leading up to the attack, but essentially correct in their accounting to the United Nations.

Yet on USA TV there's precious little balance given to Iraqi casualties. You'd think the losing side would be less arrogant and chauvanistic, given where it's heading in the history books. Don't you at least want to say you're sorry? Apparently not. OK, then.

Followup, November 3, 2004:

The voiceless victims of Bush's misadventure
U.S. media ignores human toll of 'shock and awe'

Joe Conason
The New York Observer

While the nation's quality newspapers dutifully reported the Hopkins study, its release five days before the Presidential campaign may have robbed it of impact. Certainly there were no impassioned cable-television debates over what that troubling data means. Nobody seemed eager to ask whether 100,000 dead civilians might be too many -- particularly since we know there were no weapons of mass destruction threatening us, and no significant connection between the Al Qaeda terrorists and the Iraqi regime. Americans who consider the war an act of vengeance on behalf of those murdered on Sept. 11, 2001, ought to consider the proportion that these numbers suggest.

Full text

Saturday, October 23, 2004

King Lear (play review)

Talk about taking a play to heart!

Johnny Stallings enthralled us last night for a marathon performance of King Lear. He played all the parts -- a one man show. Sometimes one character might be prone or kneeling, another standing; he'd be back and forth without missing a beat, or a breath. Then, as earnest narrator, he'd break in and deftly bring us up to speed on background details, covert operations.

I'd never fully grasped the plot until Stallings laid it bare.

Plus he chatted amiably with the audience both before and after (after we'd snapped out of it and stopped sitting dumbstruck). There was no "off stage" in this scenario. His young assistant sold tickets at the door and ran the lights.

Brooklyn Bay, 1825 SE Franklin. Fridays and Saturdays through October.

I liked this space too, for its starkness and its industrial obscurity. Might be a good space to rent for a recruiting event some evening, complete with a 2K lumens projector (was eying them at Fry's on Friday) and a stellar audio system. I could roll up in my BizMo and give some mind-blowing overview.

Speaking of overview, another fun movie is Warriors of the Net, which I showed on my home network to my daughter and neighbor friend earlier last night. A simple cartoon about TCP/IP, but with pretty good production values.

Today, we went rollerskating. I'm terrible, but improved considerably in the 90 minutes I allotted myself.

FBI to Track Violations of Federal Funding Rules

From the current administration's White House web site:

Although you may invite participants to join in your organization's religious services or events, you should be careful to reassure them that they can receive government-funded help even if they do not participate in these activities, and their decision will have no bearing on the services they receive. In short, any participation by recipients of taxpayer-funded services in such religious activities must be completely voluntary. For example, a church that receives direct government aid to provide shelter to homeless individuals may not require those individuals to attend a Bible study or participate in a prayer preceding a meal as part of the government-funded services they provide. But they may invite those individuals to join them, so long as they make clear that their participation is optional. (Italics added).

I'm glad the FBI is starting to collect data around this issue. Reports of violations will be taken seriously by the executive branch, as this is the front line in the religions | state interface, which interface must not be allowed to degrade.

That the words "church" and "Bible" are used, and not "synagogue" and "Torah", or "sangha" and "Dharma" should not blind our executive branch enforcers to abuses outside the Christian sphere. No organized religion, Christianity included, is an official state religion in the United States, a fact outsiders sometimes find hard to fathom.

On this point of no official state religion, something to make very clear to Iraqis and Iranians (among others): if ever they're contacted by a member of a religious network and actively encouraged to confuse said network with USA OS (my name for the US operating system of government), they should contact the appropriate federal authorities with all relevant details (perhaps the Embassy in this case, given the FBI's purview is domestic).

The intent is for Homeland Security or any equivalent clearing house to make sure the information gets back to those best able to prosecute the case, should an investigation verify any religion's attempt at a covert and illegitimate power grab.

The USA is the puppet of no particular religion or theology, by design. The world still very much needs such entities. I would encourage the Iraqis and Iranians to respect our choice, even if theirs is to promote Islam as the official state religion.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Mark Satin at Powell's Books

I attended a presentation by Mark Satin at the local Powell's on Hawthorne last night. One of those C-SPAN type events: intimate book store setting, attentive and intelligent audience, super articulate speaker. His book is Radical Middle: The Politics we Need Now.

I haven't read the book yet (did buy it though), but just based on his rap, I see this as an ideal interface to a politics for my own school of thought.

Instead of coming off as apolitical, Mark comes off as intensely political, and radical, but not far left or far right -- reminds me more of Fuller in Grunch of Giants (like, how apolitical was that?).

He argues that all the mainstream camps are indulging in an artificially dumbed-down food fight that amuses, even enthralls, even while it panders to baser instincts. Is this Jon Stewart's problem with Crossfire too?

The cost is certainly enormous: we don't get any real work done. The whole system is stalled, while we pretend to be idiots.

I liked his invocations of Ben Franklin as a hero (one of mine as well). He does not apologize for moving to Canada during the Vietnam Era and running an underground railroad to help his peers escape an ideologically corrupt enterprise (retrospectively, their analysis stands up to scrutiny -- even secretaries of defense have said so).

However, looking ahead, he thinks a universal draft would be better -- one that puts non- or para-military options in the mainstream (no more esoteric CO program for a few Quakers -- turn that into a major program). So all serve (if young enough -- sex doesn't matter), but all have some choice over what one's service to one's country looks like, in practice. Of course, many will still choose the navy.

During the Q&A, I spoke up about how a universal draft might help with my reality TV projects. Capitalism uses product placement and slickly edited scenarios to broadcast new lifestyle options, many of which could be focused on these alternative service personnel and their new high tech gizmos ala the design science revolution and open source.

Maybe I'll finally get my bizmo (like an RV, but more compact and business oriented, wired), so I might get work done while recruiting for the home team (Satin makes good use of sports metaphors by the way).

Maybe at this level of commitment, we'd stop so one-sidedly focusing on the war toy generals -- those guys who come on TV and romanticize their missiles and jets (dot-mil soft porn), slobbering at the thought of seeing them in theater.

There's more worth longing for out of the USA than tired/expired neo-Roman imperialism (not Ben Franklin's trip either).

My thanks to Nick Consoletti, Ph.D. for finding out about this event (he asked a good question about Bohmian dialog) and to Michael Sunanda, also in my company for much of yesterday (see Adventures in Radioland).

Thursday, October 21, 2004

John le Carré on Bush

"Probably no American president in history has been so universally hated abroad as Bush: for his bullying unilateralism, his dismissal of international treaties, his reckless indifference to the aspirations of other nations and cultures, his contempt for institutions of world government, and above all for misusing the cause of anti-terrorism in order to unleash an illegal war — and now anarchy — upon a country that like too many others around the world was suffering under a hideous dictatorship but had no hand in the events of 9/11, no weapons of mass destruction and no record of terrorism except as an ally of the United States in a dirty war against Iran."

So writes John le Carré in yesterday's LA Times. How could it surprise anyone that the old guard CIA thinks the Bush Administration is a pack of rank amateurs? Administrations come and go, the lifers remain -- the first rule of civil service. John's fictionalized portrayals of circus life endeared him to two generations of cold warrior. Sure, Ian Flemming's various 007s got more screen, plus let's not forget Patrick McGoohan (The Prisoner) but le Carré takes the prize for his rich and textured virtual worlds, his fun house mirrors of spydom.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

We Are Borg

Had some fun today. I finally got to tour the PHS server farm and control center at the Tigard Business Center. Paid a visit to PHS666 (name changed to protect the innocent), a server I've long used, but never seen. Just some box in a rack, surrounded by any number of boxes just like it.

GE came up in our meeting a lot. An IT guy said any GE employee found in possession of posters or screen savers of the Borg Cube with a GE logo on it, was summarily terminated. No sense of humor if true, and confirmation that the image is accurate.


The conference call with GE went well. Centricity sounds like it will meet our needs, at least in terms of hemodynamics being open to outside queries and all that. I'm glad we got to talk.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Memo to the Media

OK, I'm ready for the media to reveal to me who are the anti-occupation political candidates in Iraq. What are their talking points? What have they said in their speeches? Show me their political advertisements (in translation, please).

These candidates must exist, must have had a lot to say by now, if the process in Iraq is at all democratic. Iraqi public opinion is strongly anti-occupation. To not have this view represented, among others, would make a joke, a charade, of the whole business.

So, please lift the curtain. Let's not be covert. Show us the Iraqi debates. Show us now, not after November 2.

Or, if these debates have not been occurring, then another conclusion must be reached: no real democracy is planned, and democracy in Iraq is not really the goal of the current troop deployment.

Saddam has been captured, compliance with the UN's no-WMD directives have been confirmed. The US should be free to declare mission accomplished and withdraw, since apparently democracy in Iraq is not really the policy goal, is just made-for-TV fluff (that's how it's looking, absent any media coverage that would lead me to think otherwise).

By definition, the US military can't be used as the tool of an alien ideology to scam the American people. Such actions would be anti-Constitution, and the US military, insofar as it exists, is loyal to the Constitution.

So despite all the decals, the military in Iraq is starting to look a lot like it's under the command of some anti-USA foreign power (media coverage of a genuine political debate in Iraq would help counter this perception -- show us we're not being systematically lied to).

So my message to the media is this: show us that the Iraqi democratic process is genuine, or let's be clear that a foreign military, posing as the USA's, is in cahoots with some secretive alien ideology that would scam the American people.

I ask again: has the US military been replaced by a private mercenary force working hand in glove with hidden bosses to hoodwink the USA's citizens, to make them think one thing (that democracy is really a goal in Iraq), while meanwhile it secretly plans something else?

Does anyone still defend the USA?

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Strange World (as always)

Chess champion Bobby Fischer, in a Japanese jail... it just boggles the mind sometimes.

Harmonic Convergence

Harmonic convergence of multiple memes: Furious George, Incurious George etc.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

In Memoriam

Today is the 4th anniversary of the car accident, in which my dad was killed, and my mom was severely injured. Mom and I were thinking about that yesterday, during a dinner party with friends around the prospect of their going to Bhutan. We were there to share our experiences. This time in Bhutan was a high point in our lives, dad's especially.

Adventures in Radio Land

So I've been collaborating on radio programming of late.

One project was this sound collage piece, a voice track mixed with other tracks. Brian, an experimental composer, edited my rap into his sampler for KBOO, a local FM station. I was able to hear myself on the air about 36 hours after laying the voice track with my counterpart, M. Sunanda, avatar from 21st Century hippie-dom. Program: Night of the Living Tongue, October 7, 2004.

Another recording project, same counterpart, happened today: a much more intensive 1.5 hour interview with a webcasting station out of Chicago. I'll post a link once the show appears in the archives. Our topic: Great Pirates (a crowd pleaser sure, but also a legitimate topic of discussion, thanks to Dr. Fuller and his astute writings on the subject).

John Edwards is in town to watch and cheer for Captain Kerry on TV tonight. I'll be taping the show, as I've got a Python meeting. When the chief architect of PythonCard is willing to share code and wisdom, I don't just sit on my butt watching politicians duke it out.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Re Python, Publishing (and Terrorism)

Jim Leisy, who publishes John Zelle's Python Programming: An Introduction to Computer Science, invited me to come down to Willamette University last Friday to attend a presentation on Python as a first computer language for computer science (CS) majors, and for students fulfilling a programming requirement.

Jim and I were along the wall, and helped field questions. The main presentation was by a professor from a small college in Idaho, who had attended one of Zelle's workshops and is now quite satisfied that Python fits the bill, in terms of sparking student enthusiasm and retaining their interest.

Jim had free books for all those present -- a shrewd move, as if even just a couple of profs in that room decide to try it, he'll more than break even selling to their students. But of course it's shrewd only if Python really is well-suited for CS (it is), and if Zelle's book does a good job (it does).

As I wandered off toward lunch, I noticed headlines screaming about Iraqi terrorist literature targeting Salem schools. Wow! But I found myself not really believing it. It smelled like a scare tactic. Sure enough, I'm learning today from the blogosphere, that this was another scam.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Election Day!

OK, it's the big historic first ever election in Afghanistan today. The USA president seized on that fact as an advertisement that his recipe for peace on earth is working. I'll be doing my best to find reports from some of the few journalist who actually have the courage to be there.

UN observers should also be there en masse, the USA State Department should have an official report, and television news coverage should be fairly detailed. This is a foretaste of what the coalition of the willing has planned for Iraq.

Regarding last night's town hall meeting, this was close to how I saw it too: -- but I wasn't quite so alarmed or disturbed as the author (William Rivers Pitt) because I don't see major decision making going through Bush's office most of the time (yes, depriving civilians of a clearly identifiable chief executive awkwardly distorts the office -- but then, the USA is but a mere shadow of itself these days, when moneymakers eclipse sensemakers. Not glory days, these).

Sounds like Afghan public is eager for free and fair elections. Women are getting into it. Lots of concern about illicit multiple voting ("vote early, vote often"). Not clear to me yet if the candidates' boycott is sour grapes, or well-based mistrust of the process. People in the USA have some experience with that one (re Florida in 2000, we know the mistrust was well-based).

Obviously Afghanistan would benefit from computerized rosters matched with personal ID, such that a voter's record gets checked off in the database. Staining a body part with ink is clearly an ad hoc measure, designed to make up for the absence of election-supporting infrastructure.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Project Renaissance

One aspect of Project Renaissance that wasn't clear to me earlier, is that the reality TV monitoring that goes on doesn't have to be live. Reality TV owes its success in part to slick editing.

Contrast this with the live NASA feeds showing people hunched over monitors at mission control. We're looking for story lines here, plots, character development -- we're not trying to play security guard (unless that's what we're getting paid to do).

The recording teams need to be more intimate and up close with their subjects -- or the subjects themselves may be the ones operating the recording equipment (more likely in high risk situations, where only the most highly trained, or most foolhardy, dare to tread).

Forward-thinking companies already have quite a bit of usable reality TV in the can, having taped their own product development experiments. The Rutan group, for example, with these two private commercial forays into outer space, has lots of recorded gold.

What other prototyping might be going on, around the props we'll need to stage a next step in our slow rise to competence?

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

USA Veeps' Debate

What I found especially notable regarding this debate of last night, was the Quaker Meeting the PBS exec managed to stage at the outset. Three or more minutes of silence, while the candidates wrote furiously, and then gave up. The audience sat hushed. Brilliant. Of course you had to be watching on C-SPAN to see any of this. I got it on tape.

As for the debate itself, now that it's over, I'm not sure whether Cheney is going to show his amazing leadership skills before or after some major USA city is lost to a thermonuclear device. I know that during such an event, he'd be safely under some mountain somewhere. But the day after, what is he telling us? That he would not have any qualms about taking out some other city in retaliation? Would it be on the basis of evidence as flimsey as in his brief for the war in Iraq? Would the nation he attacked be effectively defenseless against US fire power, as Iraq certainly was?

Edwards came off as more conservative. He kept wanting to turn the screws on Iran, but maybe that's because he's been reading the rumors that Chalabi was a double agent and set this administration up to do Iran's dirty work. That's certainly one of the conspiracy theories going around, and in the case of Chalabi, it's not all that unbelievable (although I more tend to think he really expected to have a big following among the Iraqi natives -- as an expat, he didn't realize he'd be so out of step). More believable to me was this other FBI story: that neo-cons are in bed with Sharon's Likud. Was that ever in doubt? They'll call you anti-semitic if you say it -- that's only a weak defense, as far as the FBI is concerned (the law is pretty clear, when it comes to the unauthorized sharing of highly classified materials with leaders of a foreign power -- especially when the planning involves taking the USA to war).

Back to Quakers: what cursory histories may miss, when thinking about early Quaker history, is that George Fox was beloved by the military. That also comes through in his friendship with William Penn, a military man. George wasn't a "peacenik" in the sense that he'd have any problem strolling around the Pentagon, hob-knobbing with the locals, regardless of rank. He was a peace-through-strength kinda guy, which type maybe they don't meet so often in the Pentagon, but I got the impression Col. L. Fletcher Prouty was like that (not that he was a Quaker mind you, but he could have been -- he was certainly good on making sure that nuclear war never happened).

Down to our day: Quakers remain attractive to military personnel. I do rotation with ex-Marines, ex-VietVets, all the time. Go to meetings with them, camp, whatever. Because now as before, the Quakers don't seem rabidly against people wearing swords. As George replied, when Penn asked him how long he could wear one, "as long as thou canst."

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

More on Education Reform

So I wrote this partial draft of a numeracy course I'd like to see. The language is both familiar and alien, by design. This is how the future creeps up on us, sort of like in Stephen King novels: everything seems quite ordinary and everyday, but off by a tad, and that's unnerving -- the predominant realism adds to the thrill.

Somewhat reassuring to capitalists, I think, will be all the bank talk, all the focus on money. Presumably, if I'm willing to teach children about banking, then I must not be one of those Islamic sharia types (Islamic banks exist though -- isn't Grameen Bank considered Islamic?). I don't shy away from talking about ethics though. Kids need to be warned about scams. Mathematics helps us audit one another. We have the independent means to form judgments, based on figuring.

I'd like to see the final draft cover concepts of interest, mortgage, yield, dividend. These comprise a big slice of modern living.

Euler's pervasive number e comes out as a limit of (1 + 1/n) raised to the nth power, as n increases without limit -- a computation related to compound interest.

Thinking about banking reminds me tensegrity structures: interest is an exponential function, meaning we experience an exponentially strong incentive to bring the debt back to zero or go bankrupt.

Many times, humans have tried to arrange their financial affairs using these exponential anti-debt springs, only to find the stresses become overwhelming. Loans go bad. Banks fail. Sure, maybe it's best to keep rolling those loans over and over (refinancing, using the next credit card or bond issue to pay off the previous debt) but there's a limit to how long one might keep on down this road, if the debt level keeps increasing.

Anyway, banking is just one of the subjects we'll want to phase in. Everyday life is definitely a focus. So relax. Invest with us. Swiss memes in the neighborhood. UrnerBank of Bhutan.

A high tech future is also presumed. We want to prepare kids for object oriented programming, and it helps to start early. Working with older programmers still stuck in a procedural mindset, trying to help them to think OO, is often difficult. You can only do so much paradigm shifting in a life time. True in all fields.

Best we not saddle kids with too many out-worn assumptions, such that they'll expend a lot of capital unlearning half of what we teach them. That's too inefficient. USA OS is about providing relevant education -- just in time learning.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Exit Strategy

The best way to get democracy and stability in Iraq would be to have anti-occupation campaigns win in Iraq, so that a representative government (representative of the majority of Iraqis), would be seen standing up to the Americans and asking them to leave. This would help show that democracy is actually effective, and isn't just some divide-and-conquer tool of a foreign ideology and imperial power.

Freedom and independence go together, in the American experience as well.

This outcome would actually be a win for the Americans, because most of them, especially the troops, want to leave. But they feel they can't, unless and until there's a stable government in place first.

Right now, what unifies Iraqis is a desire for freedom from occupation. This outcome would help cement that unity, perhaps averting the much feared civil war. The new government would have a measure of legitimacy, for having reversed an intensely unpopular state of affairs.

But isn't another goal to have Iraqis friendly to America? This too could be accomplished given the tremendous unpopularity of the current Bush administration's Iraq policy: some of the largest peaceful street demonstrations in history, and an historical record of strong denunciations from both liberals and conservatives (I'm distinguishing between conservative and neocon, which latter is actually a form of radicalism).

Americans and Iraqis would form a bond (I feel it even today), as both would be using democratic mechanisms to turn wildly unpopular policies around.

This only sketches the exit strategy in broad outline, and details do matter. However, it does suggest that a first and immediate step must be to include anti-occupation candidates and commercials in the Iraqi media, and to echo their message back to Americans, so that the beginnings of this new coalition might be established and nurtured.

I have written extensively about the need for a real democratic process in Iraq, meaning the need for anti-occupation points of view to get the full protection and support of those in a position to provide them.

I remain hopeful that the US military will see the wisdom in this exit strategy (General Wesley Clark, Ret. has sounded some positive notes lately, which could be indicative). It creates unity with the Iraqis, preserves democracy, provides a way home for the troops, which have already done any job they might reasonably be expected to do (Saddam captured, WMD-free status of Iraq verified).

The main long term cost is we'll need to flag any long term imperialist goals of the current occupation as anti-American. That's not a huge price to pay, as they most certainly are. It's a price we can well afford.