Saturday, February 19, 2011

Open Secrets

The Open Bastion
:: Steve Holden in Portlandia ::

Steve Holden knows how to throw a good party. Elizabeth Mazzara knows how to find a good venue. The Secret Society, as it's now called, has a long history as a HQS for fraternal organizations, i.e. mostly men.

Overcoming any "color barrier" in Masons was a part of its history. Thursday evening (February 17) we were breaking new ground by inviting many digerati and illuminati of Portland's legendary (and diverse) open source community. No, this wasn't the most wheelchair accessible of venues (Wayne couldn't have joined us).

Portland has this reputation, for being an open source capital, but is it for real? Steve assured us he'd be sorely disappointed if there was little substance behind the hype. He's shoved a lot of poker chips onto Pioneer Courthouse Square, one might say (metaphorically speaking). He's gambling (banking) on Portland's walking its talk, still being somewhat pioneering, brave even.

A party is also a switchboard, if properly designed, with the live music not too loud, drinks flowing freely. Steve and Elizabeth had seen to the chemistry, and I think we achieved critical mass. Many reported having satisfying encounters.

For my part, I had illuminating conversations with the new dean of PSU's School of Engineering and Computer Science, Renjeng Su, D.Sc., and with Bart Massey, one of the associate professors.

We talked about the proposed digital math curriculum for high schoolers, and the possibility of PSU eating its own dog food when it came to nuts and bolts course management software (currently outsourced, but amenable to a consortium-based approach).

Speaking of consortia, I got an ear full regarding the electronic medical records picture. The USG is using Medicare / Medicaid reimbursement as a lever. If you want to participate in a USG medical expenses reimbursement program, your software will need to meet certain standards, in terms of the reports that it gives. It's not enough to simply register events (e.g. patient X treated for condition Y). One needs to show one followed an accepted protocol, and provide information about outcomes.

In order to ensure compliance, it's not sufficient just to buy the "certified" software and have it sit on the shelf, unused. A doctors' office or hospital has to show (prove) "meaningful use", meaning said certified software has to be up and running for a specified length of time, with more than token patient coverage. The goal is to have the software gradually accommodate more and more of the USG's strict reporting requirements. As you might imagine, many vendors are happy to add to the cost of health care by providing this software at exorbitant prices.

Of course it'd have made more sense if the USG had ponied up early, put its money where its mouth is, and pumped some free and open source solutions of its own into the mix. Business bookkeeping software might have taken the same route.

Perhaps it's not too late.

In the meantime, small groups of early adopter doctors have seen the light and have begun to champion the idea of open source medical records software. I had the good fortune to meet a few of the core players in this domain.

Adam Lowry of Urban Airship was quick to offer good reality checks, when I shared with him my vision of a noSQL "scrap book" approach to medical records keeping.

My concern has been to keep it multi-paradigm and multi-lingual, such that "a witch doctor in Nepal" (a purposely incongruous image) could get a word in edge wise, should the patient wish such analysis (Dx and Rx) in the "scrap book" (EMR).

Perhaps most future doctors choose to avoid this patch of esoteric recordings, while one or two experts might mine that section, following related URLs, not just to devices with long memories (more expected in "western" hospitals), but to entire theories of health and illness, perhaps alien to most readers.

Lets just say I start out from a "zoomed out" point of view.

Anyway, Adam assured me that it was API and UI that I needed to think about, not so much the back end, as SQL / noSQL will generally co-exist in some complicated ecosystem (ala Facebook).

One measure of a system's efficacy and power is its ability to export to other systems. Vendor lock in is one of the biggest challenges facing any given patient, as if you commit to having your records stored in System A, yet later want to copy them to System B, you may or may not be out of luck.

This is mostly science fiction from the standpoint of current patients of course. We still live in the dark ages using 1900s IT. I'm glad the USG is trying to spur us on, much as it worked to expand the HDTV standard.

Yes, industries share these same goals and may be realistically modeled as having partially overlapping agendas vis-a-vis the USG.

Other systems may evolve in a more spectacular fashion, given the USA is not widely respected for its health care programming. Canadians do it better in many ways.

Speaking of democracy, or the lack thereof, we had a strong representation from political players, including from the Bus Project, Congressman Wu's office, and the Democratic Party of Oregon.

Private foundations were also represented.

Specific technologies also had their reps, or so one might presume to categorize. I think of Selena as a Postgres avatar, whereas Urban Airship sing's Python's praises (not that it's either/or obviously -- open source technologies form an ecosystem). OpenEMR is a LAMP stack project with P = PHP.

After our open bar and appetizers experience, some of us joined Steve for further conversation and edibles in Toro Bravo downstairs. The venue was packed, but not uncomfortable.

Our group proved adept at trading chairs, ala eXtreme Programming practice, the better to have more varied conversations. The switchboard experience continued, even around a long table.

And the communications continue in cyberspace, and are leading to follow-up meetings.

Steve made a splash, and scored a tactical victory of sorts, for our community as a whole. Thank you Steve. You're a world class catalyst.

Yes, "open secrets" is a bit of an oxymoron, as is The Open Bastion, Steve's newest company. Or think of it as a koan. We're open and freedom-loving, but we're not undefended and not without friends in high places. "Don't tread on me."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Other Mexico (movie review)

Speaking of Tahrir Square, that "square" in Mexico City, Zócalo, certainly saw crowds, during the contested elections, perhaps up to 3 million, with encampments lasting for 47 days. I had a camera's eye view of these 2006 events in an Italian production written and directed by Francesca Nava.

No, not from Laughing Horse Books. This was on loan from Multnomah County Library, chosen at random as I was escorting a young visitor.

I appreciated the Italian soundtrack, with English subtitles, with frequent delvings into Mexican dialects. I still find that Italian resonates with my Italian upbringing, adding fun spin.

This documentary is a generally sympathetic portrayal of Subcommander Marcos and The Other Campaign. By eschewing electoral politics, this network sought to play a role similar to that of the media conglomerates on the other side of the aisle.

The Italian talking head intellectuals have this curious spin on the word "utopian" such that it means both "implausible / unattainable" and "forever the albatross for the left, not the right."

The "right" always has that default aura of being the established order (status quo). I'm still thinking a pole flip might be in order, just to even out who carries the handicap.

Anyway, I'm curious how either end of the spectrum manages to shirk its responsibility to offer dreams for a brighter tomorrow. Doesn't any memeplex with some pretense to a half-life have its own version of Autorama or the Borg Cube?

Are we tracking with Paolo Solari, perhaps Gaudi? If not, then with whom? Where are you leading us, oh leaders? Seems an obvious question.

"The future" is not just for "the left" to have to concern itself with, if politics is to make any sense at all.

Oh sure, I've looked at NAZI positive futurism from the times, confirmation that not just liberals have to advertise a Tomorrowland.

But then my right winger friends are quick to assure me that that was a kind of socialism -- the NAZIs were leftists -- whereas my left winger friends remind me how many an Anglo-American capitalist was quick to cozy up to the fascists in Germany, Italy and Spain. Henry Ford only backed out at the last minute, occasioning some fury (or at least frustration) in the Fuhrer.

Both left and right still claim democracy as their own. Expedient? Some say it can't work, I realize.

Rallying around one individual as the leader is as non-democratic as scapegoating one individual. Sub-commander Marcos, a student of philosophy, walks a fine line. He listens, shares time at the microphone, is appreciative of others.

As a Subgenius, I can identify with the automatic humility the title Subcommander must confer. Praise Bob.

Again, how does "the right" manage to not be "utopian" and what is the meaning of that word? Obviously, I'm curious because of my American Transcentendalist ties, where we include such titles as Utopia or Oblivion.

Especially funny about this film, though not at its core (the film is not all that funny), were the theories as to why Subcommander Marcos always wears that mask. Is it because he's so handsome that if he took it off, he'd fall in love with himself in the mirror and forget about revolution?

Leave it to the Italians to ask such questions. Such a Romantic culture. At almost the same time, I was reading Bill Moyers on the corrosive effects of sentimentalism on democracy. Indulge in sappiness at the expense of the facts, at your peril.
The late scholar Cleanth Brooks of Yale thought there were three great enemies of democracy. He called them "The Bastard Muses": Propaganda, which pleads sometimes unscrupulously, for a special cause at the expense of the total truth; sentimentality, which works up emotional responses unwarranted by, and in excess of, the occasion; and pornography, which focuses upon one powerful human drive at the expense of the total human personality. The poet Czeslaw Milosz identified another enemy of democracy when, upon accepting the Noble Prize for Literature, he said "Our planet that gets smaller every year, with its fantastic proliferation of mass media, is witnessing a process that escapes definition, characterized by a refusal to remember." Memory is crucial to democracy; historical amnesia, its nemesis.
This video opened with an interesting preview about the Karen and their struggle to escape oppression by the Burmese. Prayer for Peace: Relief & Resistance in Burma's War Zones is another DVD to look for, next time I'm using the card catalog.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


LW is hoping Tahrir Square remains a nucleus or hub, a public HQS, a kind of clearinghouse and space for oratory, free and open debate (a forum). I see advantages in a city having like a permanent sound stage that's open to the public, a soap box. Could be a web site or coffee shop (with public oratory a variation on karaoke and/or funds-committing game playing).

She also pointed out that situations are unfolding differently across the various kingdoms, so generalizations about "revolution" need not be overdrawn. Egypt's story is but one in the Arabian Nights. Speaking of which: I've had lots of time in The Bagdad recently, in the wake of Jim Person's memorial service.

The bar wouldn't be as high as a community television studio, although there'd be overlap. A video feed emanates from the public "square". Any number do, as locals and tourists amble through, comparing notes and recording sound bites. We interview one another, and publish on Youtube. No one has to feel under cover to use the new spy stuff; just buy it at Costco, or check it out from the tools library.

PB was questioning the legitimacy of this or that group, based on sketchy criteria such as "numbers massed". KU (me) asked PB what made "legitimacy" a core criterion for anything.

SH thinks a lot about democracy and what it means. How might those advocating democratic ends invoke non-democratic means to "protect" or "attain" their goals?

Has real democracy ever been practiced or is it direction along some line of purpose? Coming from a Global U perspective, I get impatient with "nation-state talk" as a coherent tool of analysis. These are the Global U's "colleges" at some level, but at other levels our experimental prototype community of tomorrow has to cooperate supranationally in order to stay viable (semi-sustainable).

Democracy involves groups feeling their way forward through a process of alliances and oppositions. Legitimacy is implicitly extended to all by default and only withdrawn or diluted in special circumstances ("innocent until proved guilty" would be an analogy).

KBOO's, other talk shows (other formats), help give people a voice. We had an hour on conspiracy theories recently, focusing on 911 in particular. When people hear voices they recognize as expressing their own views, and sense these voices have secure channels and outlets, their fear level goes down. "People like me aren't being rounded up, imprisoned, disappeared, that's reassuring". Quakers couldn't assume safe access to any soap box in 1600s England.

SH and I have been sketching The Party Line (TPL), literally a set of "train cruises" for STEAM punks (picture geeks with wifi devices). STEAM = science, technology, engineering, anthropology, mathematics. Some cars will be set aside for Show & Tell, lightning talks, rants. In other cars we'll screen documentaries, other didactic content.

A dome car, for viewing the scenery, will hearken back to a golden age of passenger trains in America. Like an ocean cruise, the trains stop in various geek valhallas and nirvanas, eco-villages, other facilities. These experiences involve "learning new ropes". You may wish to a apply for a longer term internship in some of these communities, having sampled them as more of a tourist on an earlier pass.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Philosophy of Science

Nancy Cartwright's presentation was extremist in some ways. She carved out a space for symbolic expression (so-called "math"), being known as a mathematician of sorts, even though we were a lay audience. The coefficients included the Greek letters alpha and beta.

Her examples were well chosen (Bangladesh, California) but were somewhat few and far between: she was somewhat relentless is keeping to a high level of abstraction.

Her background was in physics and gravity, which to Tara made a lot of sense, explained her attitudes, her sense of certainty. Nancy said she only dared venture into more mushy terrain once assured of tenure. Many tenured are not nearly that brave, taking few if any risks.

If you educate young mothers about nutrition they will make better decisions when procuring foods, randomized studies show. What if mothers aren't permitted to procure? If you halve class size, disadvantaged children will especially benefit from the increased attention, studies show (and people believe). Yet doubling the number of teachers may flood the system with many unqualified and physical space may be in short supply, resulting in many vital courses getting crowded out by mediocre "more of the same".

The Speech & Debate community was there in some force (thanks to Mentor Graphics Foundation), Rose spotting Tara (old team mates reunited). I sat with other board, Steve Holden, hangers-on (smile). Terry was relaxed at the podium and effusive in his praise for Nancy, even though she's "terrified" of global warming (as she made clear during the Q&A (Terry sometimes poses as a skeptic (on many things controversial where the neg position seems poorly defended))).

Actually, thinking back, that was pretty bold what Terry did, taking on Icahn by the horns and defending Mentor's current management as community minded. That's what's so threatening to cowardly investors who hide behind rapacious money-making machinery that wreaks havoc, externalizes all risk (impossible on a spherical planet, where what goes around comes around -- quite literally).

Nancy's thesis: whereas the empiricists are right to thump the table in favor of randomized controlled studies, they're often just as confused about what these studies might legitimately establish or assert as the non-empirically minded. Her talk reminded me of Tom Siegfried's, as his message was similar: people don't get it about statistics, even when you think they would given their job descriptions as scientist types.

Causes need contributing factors to work their magic, catalysts. They're insufficient by themselves, nor are they necessary in the sense that if p then q, q, therefore p doesn't follow. You might get q for other reasons. Lung cancer need not be caused by cigs, which doesn't mean cigs don't cause lung cancer.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Wanderers 2011.02.09

Today's presentation by Kris Nelson is about applying Henry George style economics to boost "station area" communities within municipalities.

We were mainly imagining single or double line train stations, like along the Max line (Portland's light rail system). Victoria Station in London would be a whole different ball game, yet similar principles might apply (as above, so below).

Transit oriented development aims to bootstrap development along transit lines. Our presenter is working on a legislated tool that could be tested in various communities (LR 1632).

A Transit Benefit District (TBD) is defined as the real estate within say a quarter mile radius of a planned transit facility.

As property values increase, usually in two stages (once when the plans are unveiled, again when the station is installed), bond issues might be made against an increase in the taxes.

The public investments are of direct benefit to the speculators, who are then not taxed or taxed less on the improvements they make to their individual properties.

The ultimate blueprint might involve a two-tier taxation structure, weighted in favor of taxing rising land values versus privately funded improvements. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania took this approach of splitting the property tax awhile back and reportedly turned its economy around as a result.

The general goal is to return more of the benefits of public development to the public, in such a way as to still benefit property owners. Kris reports bipartisan interest in the idea. Lawmakers are sniffing around such schemes given the general collapse in public funding and the flat-lining of many sectors of the economy.

The talk was quite technical in its terms. The general idea is to give the public sector more leverage when it comes to developing mixed-use subdomains, including schools, parks, plazas and so forth.

Bill was interested in the question of pole shifts. A newspaper in Salem is reporting an accelerating rate of change in the position of the magnetic north pole and predicting dire consequences as a result. Is this a harbinger of a pole flip and perhaps the onset of a next ice age? Other sources point out that the poles wander and field strength fluctuates all the time, so these cannot be construed as evidence of any immanent flip.

We were honored to have Steve Holden with us this morning.

Friday, February 04, 2011

GNU Math


:: reading ::